Category Archives: Short Stories

The Intruder: 1908

the intruder illustration

THE INTRUDER

Roland Ashford Phillips

Although I quietly, hopefully, tried the door, I found it, unfortunately, locked. Yet on second reflection I did not wonder at it, but tiptoed across the porch to where a window, half raised made me an excellent substitute for an entrance. I noiselessly stepped into the darkened interior and felt my way over the thick, sound-muffling rugs.

I walked the length of the wide, silent hall, heading for the dining-room. I wanted a good stiff drink of brandy, and knew I should find some there. The gloom was oppressive and velvet-like, and I was compelled to seek my way slowly and carefully, hand to the wall. However, I reached the room in question, after groping blindly about, recognizing the broad, heavy-curtained doorway. It was strange that the curtains were drawn; generally they were fastened back with huge gilt cords, tied in awkward knots.

As I slipped between them and carefully drew them together behind me, the big clock on the staircase chimed rhythmically, and I marveled at the lateness of the hour. I really should have come earlier; but one soon forgets so many things when at the club.

The carpet in the dining-room was even softer, kinder than the others, and for this I was indeed grateful, for it is very annoying to disturb one’s friends in the wee hours; even the dearest of them.

I kept near to the wall and groped blindly along, for the light buttons were somewhere at hand — a complete row of them, controlling every room in the house. I suppose I must have completed a half-circuit of the room before something unreal and fear-compelling came upon me.

Even when I had reached the row of ebony buttons, and my forefinger was upon the third — the one that would light this room—I hesitated, fearful. I did not immediately understand it; I had never before had a similar feeling, and by no means am I a weak and sensitive man. Yet this moment my nerves failed me; the muscles in my finger refused to obey — refused to press the button and command the room to light.

For a long, pregnant interval I stood there motionless and undecided. Then the realization came abruptly; the sensation was identical with a light, harmless shock of an electric battery. I have often gripped the brass receivers of one and felt the sharp, not unpleasant waves twitch and creep the length of my arms and tingle in every nerve.

This, then, was the impression it gave me. But gradually, bit by bit, I felt these invisible waves swerve my eyes to one impressive spot. I might turn my head at will, but always, always magnetic-like, they swung back again in obedience to this sensitive, compelling power. Dimly at first, and then more definable, I began to understand. Mosaic-like, my brain pieced the many continuous thrills; pieced them until, abruptly, it flashed over me: Someone else beside myself was in this room.

I took a deep breath after that. How near this particular someone was and in what position, remained for me to find out. Almost mechanically my finger sought the third button again, and I ran my finger-tip thoughtfully over the smooth surface. The passing of a moment brought me to the realization that the better thing for me to do was to press the button and face whatever the light might disclose; be it man, thing or devil.

No sooner had I decided than my finger obeyed almost instinctively. A sharp, sudden click, and then a blinding flood of wondrous yellow light, dazzling and overpowering. A dozen wall-brackets leaped into life. At first I was unable to see, but waited, expectant; then slowly and definitely the objects took form, like a city through a rising mist.

The man was seated calmly in a huge, comfortable Morris chair, legs crossed and fingers lightly tapping upon the broad arm. Like myself, he was in full evening dress. His overcoat was flung carelessly across a chair; his silk hat, crushed flat, lay upon it; and at his feet, near the serving table stood a well-labeled kit-bag.

I do not know how long we watched each other. His wide, black eyes betrayed no surprise at what the light had so abruptly disclosed; and they were not of a bad sort — his eyes—rather large for a man, and well-lashed; only his mouth, thin-lipped and drooping, weakened his otherwise boldly molded features.

I instinctively waited for him to speak; and I did not have long to wait.

“Well,” he began, in a remarkably soft, well-mannered tone, “this is rather a sudden and unexpected visit.”

My finger slipped from the button where it had rested unconsciously.

“Very!” I admitted bluntly. The tapping of his fingers ceased — long, white, well-manicured they were.

“My guests generally ring before entering,” he continued. “What is it you wish?”

I could not immediately frame an answer. He must have noted my embarrassment for he continued:

“I think I have the prior right to that question.”

“And why the prior?” I queried.

His eyes narrowed; they were most unpleasant to look upon at such a time! It was plain he did not care to argue further.

“Because,” he answered cynically, “this is my house and you are an intruder.”

I tried hard, very hard, not to show my amazement; yet he must have noticed it with those piercing eyes of his, in spite of my attempted control, for he waved a hand toward a chair that stood near.

“Sit down!” he commanded, and I did not hesitate. After I had slipped into the chair and crossed my legs, we were scarcely six feet distant from each other.

“I repeat my question,” he went on coldly.

“You — you are Mr. Charles Fisher?” I asked, dry-lipped.

“Yes,” curtly, “I am the owner here.” I put my hands to the chair-arms, perhaps unconsciously following his position.

“I have heard of you — often; you are very well known — I did not expect — so sudden a meeting.” I was surprised at my own boldness.

“Evidently you had no idea of an immediate introduction, eh?” and he laughed dryly.

“To tell the truth,” I admitted undaunted, “I was unprepared.”

“I have seen you frequently at the clubs,” he went on, “yet I have never learned your name, nor the nature of your business.” This latter remark appeared to amuse him, and he chuckled to himself. After this outburst he studied my face narrowly.

“I suppose,” he began, and waved a hand vaguely about the room —“I suppose this glass and silverware interests you a great deal more than — than an introduction.”

“Possibly,” I admitted.

“But it is clumsy stuff to handle. Surely you could not have made away with much of it, eh?” He appeared interested.

“If a man knew his business,” I reflected, after a pause.

“Ah!” brightening, “then you admit that the object of your visit is robbery.”

“You are free to choose your own opinion,” I returned quickly. Again he narrowed his eyes upon me, admiring, so I imagined, my self-repose. He cleared his throat quietly.

“You seem to be very familiar with my house and its contents,” he ventured.

I smiled grimly. “And why should I not? I have been here a great, great many times. I have been to every reception save the one given to-night. Let’s see — there were house-warmings, suppers, club-breakfasts, bridge, and even, even if I remember correctly, a wedding.”

The other’s face remained perfectly immovable. I fancied he was mentally studying his lists, took the occasion to laugh outright.

“Why — why I know Mrs. Fisher well very well indeed. I have dined with her — gone to the opera and–”

“Sh-h-h-h!” he arrested, lifting a warning forefinger. “She is asleep upstairs.”

“I’ll wager she is in the blue room, eh?” I ventured boldly; yet the next moment I regretted that I had spoken so. The man’s hands tightened upon the chair-arms; his face hardened.

“See here,” he snapped, “you know too much about my family affairs. Altogether too much for — for —

“For an intruder, eh?” I finished.

“Yes, for an intruder, a thief, a common, contemptible sneak-thief. A man who will worm his way into the best society and then gloat, openly, sneeringly. Come, now, what is it you were after — cut glass, silver?”

“But,” I remonstrated, “you admitted a moment ago they were too bulky; besides, I brought nothing to carry it in. . . . And don’t you know,” I added slowly, so that my words might sting, “that Mrs. Fisher’s jewels in the small bronze box on her dressing-table would prove the more valuable to me?”

The man’s face went colorless. He slipped a hand to his inner pocket and brought out a neat, shining revolver, which he calmly put upon the chair-arm. I watched him fascinated. There was something grim and ugly about that death-dealing thing between us; and more so now, for the muzzle pointed straight for my breast. The man very deliberately placed his hand over it.

“I have resolved to turn you over to the police,” he began sternly. “I have had enough of your remarks – quite enough. I might have been lenient with you heretofore, but you have grown insulting. Meanwhile I am going to ask that you refrain from any disturbances. This beneath my hand is a late model — an automatic; and it will shoot seven times in less than seven seconds. I hope you will not be venturesome.”

His words rang sharp and chilling to my ears. There was that indefinite something about them that lent me fear; a certain tone that bespoke an utter dependence. I was conscious that he meant exactly what he said.

I rapidly conjured my brain for a possible, plausible method of escape. Could I not somehow, someway, appeal to his weakness? If so, what was it? Here was a man who, by his own admission, was a club member— a man about town. A brilliant idea flashed to me. I had caught a glimpse of a backgammon board and a dice cup on a side table. Would he agree to the proposition ? Would it appeal to him? I lost no time in finding out.

“I believe,” I began, earnestly, hopefully, “that you are a square man; and that you are willing to give me a fair, square chance to help myself.”

“Go on,” he urged.

“We shall throw the dice between us — three times. If you win, I will calmly submit to arrest; I shall say nothing about this affair. But — if I win, you are to release me. You will allow me to leave the house as a guest, by the front door, under the lights. Is it a bargain?” Twice he wet his lips; and twice he started to speak.

“I agree,” he said at last.

Upon the broad arm of the chair I threw first. The rattle of the ivory dice was the only sound. The man opposite me underwent a complete change. Life came to his eyes and cheeks; his breath quickened. I realized that the love of chance was his weakness. The revolver lay neglected upon the chair-arm. As the dice fell clicking on the wood we both bent forward, expectant.

“Eight!” he broke out impetuously, and reached for the cubes. Calmly he shook the dice cup and toppled the squares to the chair-arm.”

“Twelve!” he laughed, and brushed the dice back with a tremulous hand. “I win.” Again I shook while he watched with flushed cheeks. “Ten!” I announced quietly. He nodded quickly and gathered up the dice.

“Not so hard to beat,” he returned, as the bits of ivory rattled to the wood. A pause.

“You win!” he faltered hoarsely, as eight spots alone showed. “Your last throw— careful.”

Once more and for the last time my hand flirted the dice to the polished chair-arm. A bit of silence followed the rattle.

“Twelve!” I broke out. “You still have a chance.”

He took the dice from my hand, shook them quickly and set them hard to the wood, yet kept the cup over the result, as if fearful of the disclosure.

“The hoodoo is still with me,” he announced graciously, after he had uncovered them. “I have but eleven.”

I swept the dice away and rose slowly from the chair. Now that the night was mine I intended to make good use of it. My brain raged with half-formed ideas. One of them alone seemed feasible.

“You may go!” the man spoke up abruptly from his chair.

“And —and the lights?” I reminded.

He looked at me in surprise.

“The hall and porch are rather dark,” I explained.

“I was of an opinion that men of your profession generally preferred the dark,” he offered coolly. I was minded as he sat there, sneeringly, his thin-lipped mouth drooping, to attempt to strike him to the floor before he could shoot, but happily my better judgment prevailed, and with an effort I controlled my temper.

“Suppose — Suppose someone should see me leaving — through the window?” I argued. “It wouldn’t look just right.”

He eyed me a moment in silence, evidently weighing my words, then shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he deliberated, “now that you are so familiar with my house and the occupants and have bested me at dice, you may switch on your own lights.”

I swayed for a second, only half believing my ears; that he should so easily, readily play into my plan at the opportune moment seemed hardly possible.

“Thank you,” I said, with assumed calmness; and with this I strode over to the row of ebony buttons and without hesitation pressed the fourth and sixth ones. The former led to the upstairs chamber and the latter to the hall.

When I turned the man was laughing. “Not so very wise as you thought, eh? The lower hall isn’t lighted.”

Although aware of this I betrayed surprise. “You’re right,” I confessed, “I have pressed the wrong button. If you will allow me–”

“Never mind!” he snapped decisively. “You’ve tampered enough for one night. I should turn you over to the police; but I have given my word — I want you to go out ahead. I’m going to follow close behind — and no foolishness; remember, I’ve the revolver and I shall not hesitate to use it.”

Still I waited. I prayed for time as a dying man might for life. “Do you know,” I hedged, “that when I came into this room I had my mind made up for something to drink — some brandy. It’s damp outside; it was a rather tiresome journey here and will be a lengthy one back.”

“Well,” he wavered, nodding finally toward the sideboard, “help yourself, but be quick about it.” I took my time moving across the room; picked up and carefully examined a number of bottles, chose one and from it filled a thin glass half to the brim.

“To the intruder!” I exclaimed, and raised the glass to the level of my eyes.

As I was about to set back the glass, something so startling happened that the man whirled about toward the drawn curtains; and I, surprised likewise, stood mute and silent watching him,

“What was that?” he faltered.

“I could not say for certain,” I returned. “Though it sounded like a footfall on the stairs. Perhaps it is Mrs. Fisher.”

His eyes narrowed. “This will never do,” he burst out.

“Never mind,” I interrupted hastily; “just inform her that — that I am a friend of yours — a club-friend. She won’t suspect.”

The sound was repeated; there could be no mistaking; it was a footfall. The man acted like a lunatic.

“You fool!” he snarled, “turn out the lights — quick!” And then without further words he sprang across the room toward the row of buttons. It was a bold move and an abrupt one; but not altogether a thoughtful one, for within six feet of where I stood the revolver lay unguarded upon the chair-arm. Before he had reached the buttons I had possessed myself of the weapon.

He pressed the button, but not the right one. Not alone was the dining-room brilliantly lighted, but the lower hall suddenly shot into a glow.

Immediately the hall curtains parted and a woman, kimono-clad, stepped softly between them.

“Charlie,” she began, “did you just arrive home? Did you want me to come down? The lights were turned on, so I thought— ”

The man against the wall turned a blank, questioning face toward me; and, in spite of the intense situation, I smiled.

“This — this is a friend of mine, Milly,” I began abruptly. “A member of the club. By a strange coincidence his name is identical with ours. We have had a quiet chat— the two of us — and a little game; he was just leaving when you came in.”

I stepped over, gathered up his coat and hat and handed them to him. He smiled as he took them.

“Thanks!” he said; and I knew it had two meanings.

I snapped on the porch lights. “Mr. Fisher will leave his kit-bag,” I interrupted, as he moved toward it. “He has something in it that will interest us.”

Only a second did his brow cloud; then he was smiling and bowing pleasantly. I preceded him down the hall.

“Good night!” I said at the door.

“Good night!” he returned, and walked away into the gloom,

Metropolitan Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue 2 November 1908: pp. 206-210

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Despite the failure of  the faux-Mr Fisher’s scheme, one has to admire his ingenuity and his pluck.  But to be successful housebreaker one needs more than nerves of steel and bravura bravado; one needs a reasonable amount of good fortune. His unluckiness in encountering the genuine householder instead of a fellow sneak-thief must have dismayed and disheartened him.  Mrs Daffodil would not be surprised to learn that, after resigning his clubs, he either joined the Salvation Army or went to the devil in Monte Carlo.

One does wonder how the actual Mr Fisher explained the contents of the kit-bag to his wife.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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The Lost Song: c. 1800

THE LOST SONG.

It was my grandmother’s story, and this how she came to tell it to me:

I, Annie Rae, had come down to spend Christmas at “Raeburn,” the old family homestead. My grandmother and grand-father had been abroad for years, and this being the first Christmas for so long that the old house was opened, they wanted to fill it with bright young faces and merry laughter, to crowd out the voiceless memories which lurked in every corner, and so a whole party of us had come–cousins, first, second and third, in fact of all degrees. Speaking of cousins, isn’t it strange that very often the further removed the nearer they seem? At least George Stewart was only my third cousin by blood, and yet he always assumed more on the strength of our relationship than any of my first cousins, and somehow, in my own heart I did not mind it at all, though I did tease him so.

But I must go on with my story. It was Christmas Eve, and the old house was quiet at last. We girls had all gone to our rooms after a merry evening together. Fannie and Rose had the room near grandma’s, while Kate and Lillie were just opposite. Some one had to sleep alone at the other of the hall, and after long consultation, it was decided that I should go, for I had rashly boasted of never being afraid. I will confess to feeling a little lonely when all was quiet, and the deep shadows in the corners of the room seemed very dark, for the light of my candle did not reach far. There were three doors in my room, and fastening securely the one leading into the entry, I merely turned the handles of the others, and finding them locked inside, did not care to explore any further just then.  I must have been a long time undressing, for the clock struck the hour of midnight as I put my light out. Even then I could not sleep, but found myself wondering what was behind those doors that I had not opened, and I determined to have a regular exploring expedition the next day. There were so many romantic stories to this old house. I had even heard hints of staircases, shut up rooms, &c., and had always delighted in mysteries.

I think I must have been asleep for a short time, when I suddenly found myself awake with a start, and a curious impression that I was listening for something. There certainly was a sound overhead, but what was it? It came more clearly, and I distinguished a faint, broken melody, and yet imperfect, like some one playing a long forgotten air on a piano where some of the strings were broken. Three times it came like the verses of a song, and though there were no words, it seemed to speak to my very heart, and I thought of George, and how sorrowfully he had looked at me that evening as I had passed him without saying “good night.” It was only to tease him, I had pretended not to see his proffered hand, but had taken Willie Thorne’s instead, and we had walked up the broad staircase together.

Again all was still, only a long drawn sigh seemed to echo my own through the room, and came from the direction of the furthest door. Without a sensation of fear, only an ill-defined feeling of pain and regret, I sank to sleep, and when I woke the morning sun was shining brightly enough to dispel illusions. I resolved to say nothing to the girls, but quietly to explore and see what was to be found, for I knew perfectly well that what I had heard was no dream. So I got up long before breakfast, and after completing my toilet, threw wide the shutters and opened the first door nearest the entry. Only an empty closet! Disappointed but slightly relieved, I closed it and went over to the other. The key turned hard in the lock as if it had not been opened for a long time. Then the door stood wide open, and I saw a flight of stairs but only prosaic wooden steps, like those leading to any garret. I started bravely up and soon found myself in a large loft attic, with odds and ends. First, an old spinning wheel caught my eye, relic of our most industrious great grandmothers. Then a stack of old fire- arms, with which our ancestors, the bold Races, may have shed the blood of daring foes, or, perhaps, and I am afraid more likely, have only done damage among the crows that came to steal from their spacious cornfields. Lastly, beyond these, and behind a pile of mattings and boxes, I came upon an old piano. It quite startled me at first but then the broad daylight was very reassuring, and I am not nervous. It was very old and of a most curious shape, and evidently had been very elegant in its day. I tried to lift the lid, and found it locked, but as I touched it a shiver ran through me, for I was convinced now that this was what my ghostly music had come from last night, and I am determined to find out before another day had passed who it had belonged to, and what restless spirits still haunted its worn strings.

So after breakfast, when all the others gone to church, I went into my grandmother’s room to sit with her, for she was not very strong, dear old lady, and rarely went out of the house in winter.

After we were nicely settled and had got through our morning’s reading, I told her of my last night’s adventure, and my subsequent researches, and begged her to tell me all about the old piano I had found in the attic. She smiled at my eagerness, but did not seem at all surprised or incredulous, for though she herself had never heard the music I spoke of, there had been others long ago, she said, who, sleeping in that room on Christmas Eve, had been known to hear faint sounds, coming as if from the old piano above, though it was locked, and the key had been lost. The coincidence, at least, was very strange, taken in connection with the history attached to it, and which my grandmother then proceeded to relate to me.

“Many years ago,” said my grandmother, “when your great-great-great-grandfather was alive, this house was full of life and merriment; for your Aunt Annie–your great-great-aunt for whom you are named, child—lived here with her father and brothers. She was as bright and funny as the day was long, but so full of mischief and coquetry that she gave the heartache to all the young men, far and near and yet had suffered never a pang herself. I am afraid that a spice of her coquetry has descended to this generation too, my dear,” said the lady gazing fondly, but reproachfully at me. “I felt sorry to see the look in poor George’s eyes, last night, as you turned from him on the stairs–”

“Oh I please go on, grandmother dear,” said I, ”I am so much interested in the story.” But in my own wicked little heart I was sorry too, and inwardly resolved to make up for it to him on the first opportunity. “Well your Aunt Annie always had the house full, and some of her cousins and young friends were always staying there. Among the gentlemen who were their frequent visitors was a young naval officer, Robert Carrol, whom they inspected Annie of preferring. Of course, as girls will, they teased her most unmercifully about him and consequently she would hardly speak to him sometimes, and just because in her own heart she knew that to talk with him just one hour was better to her than a whole day with the others.

“The poor fellow evidently had no eyes for any one else, but he was very reserved and sensitive, and did not go in boldly and make love to her, as any other man would done, but stood and worshiped afar off. They say he was very fine musician, and sang beautifully, and not only that but he composed a song for Annie to sing; for she had a lovely voice, and would sing lovely old ballads for us in the long summer evenings with wonderful pathos and feeling.

“As the days went by the time drew near for Robert to join his ship. Early in December his orders came, and he was to leave the day after Christmas.

“He loved Annie so dearly that he felt he could not go away from her so long without asking for some assurance that his love was returned, and yet he could not bear to think of hearing her say she could never love him. Sometimes she treated him so coldly, almost rudely, and yet again, when they were alone, he could have sworn her eyes spoke a different language.

“The day before Christmas came and still no word had been spoken. On the morning of that day Robert wrote a note to her and inclosed in it a little song he had written and in the note he said,–“But stay,” said my grandmother, “I think I can show you the very note itself,” and going to her desk she took from it an old yellow piece of manuscript music, so faded as to be illegible and a little sheet of paper. “These,” she said, “were found up in the attic among other old letters and private family papers when we came back, and though I destroyed the rest I kept these,” and taking up the note she read it aloud. It was very short, and ran thus:

Annie, darling will you be my wife? And may I go away with hope warm at my heart that when I come back I may claim you as my own? Little one if it is to be, and can love me, will you sing my song for me to-night when I come. If there is no hope for me you will sing something else, and I will know my fate at once, and it will be better to learn it so than to give you pain of telling me. But somehow I feel hopeful, and shall come with a brave heart in spite of the fate which your sweet voice is to sing me into life or death.

Forever yours, in this world and the next.

Robert.

“He sealed the note inclosing the song and sent it over by his servant.  As the man was going into the gate he met Annie’s youngest brother, Harry, a little fellow of ten years old, who snatched the note from him, and said, ‘Oh! I’ll take it to Annie, Tom,’ and ran off. So Thomas walked away with an easy conscience, thinking he had delivered the note safely at least to a ‘member of the family.’

“Harry trotted off toward the house with the best intentions in the world, but was diverted on the way by some important business with a small boy of his own age, who suddenly turned up, so by the time he did go home all memory of the note had vanished from his youthful mind.

“Evening came and the younger children were all in bed, and Harry lay sound asleep, while on a chair hung his little jacket, and in the pocket still, poor Robert’s note undelivered. Annie, with ‘cheeks like twin roses,’ and’ eyes bright with love and hope was waiting for the company.

All the young people were coming from neighborhood to have a frolic, but she only thought of Robert. ‘He must speak to me to-night,’ she said to herself. ‘I am sure he loves me, and in spite of my bad behaviour to him sometimes he must know my heart.’

“Early in the evening Annie’s father according to his custom, asked her for a song and as she rose and went to the piano she caught sight of Robert’s pale handsome face. He was near the door, where he had just entered standing with his arms folded and his eyes fixed upon her with a look that to her dying day she never forgot. As she sat down to the instrument an unaccountable feeling of depression came over her, some unseen influence seemed to hold her hands so that she could scarcely strike the notes, but with an impulse she threw it off and dashed into some gay and nonsensical song that was popular at the time, and sang it through to the very end.

“When she looked up Robert was gone, and she never saw him again in this world. He left home that night and never returned, for his ship, with all on board was lost on the way out; and he went to his grave thinking her cold and heartless. And she–all the next day she waited for him, wondering that he did not come. That night as she was wearily going to her room a little voice from the nursery called her, and going in she found Harry wide awake.

“Oh! sister Annie,’ said he ‘don’t scold me, but I forgot your note yesterday, and there it is still in my pocket.’ And he pointed to the jacket which hung on a chair. Mechanically, she reached and took it, but when she saw the address in his hand, she grew as pale as death. She only stopped and kissed the little fellow, who was sobbing bitterly, and no word of reproach passed her lips.

“From that day she was a different being. Her whole life seemed to be a period of waiting; waiting for news of him.

“You must remember, my dear,” added grandmother, “that in those times there were no such conveniences for communications as we have now-a-days, when lovers can change their minds two or three times a day by mail, and can telegraph ‘yes’ and ‘no’ sixty times a minute (more or less) if they please.

“And when at last the news of Robert’s death came, it was as if some blight had fallen on her, for she seemed to fade away, and grew weaker and weaker, until it got to be so that she never left her room. Then her piano was moved up there, the room you were in last night–for her music seemed the only thing left in which she took any interest, and often at night when all was still they would hear her playing, for she had never been known to sing since that time when, with her own sweet voice, she had smilingly sounded the death knell of two hearts.”

“On Christmas morning, just one year after, when they came to her room they found her seated at her piano, with his song before her, and her white hands cold and stiff resting on the keys. She had gone to meet him, and her weary waiting was over at last.”

“This was my grandmother’s story of the piano–and that evening as George and I were sitting together on the board staircase, while the others were dancing in the parlor, I told it all over to him, and would you believe it? when I came to the part about poor Robert’s last letter, George actually said it served him right for not being man enough to ask for what he wanted when he had the chance, “as I intended to ask you right here, little Annie,” said he, and then–well, somehow I did not finish the story that evening.

Since then, however, we have often talked it over since, but George always smiles when I tell him of the ghostly music I heard on Christmas eve in the old house, and suggests though the piano was locked, yet the back had fallen out from old age, and there was room enough for a whole regiment of mice to creep in and run over the rusty strings, and he further says that I was sleepy and troubled in my mind for treating him so badly, and thought it was my aunt’s ghost come to warn me. But that is nonsense, of course, and I shall always believe that it was poor Robert’s last song that I heard.

The Indiana [PA] Democrat 14 November 1872: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It seems to Mrs Daffodil that there is blame enough to go around, with some to spare. Coquettes! Thoughtless younger brothers!  Timid suitors!  One wonders how, without the spur of “on-line” dating and “swiping,” the species ever propagated itself.

Still, it was curious that the mice, if mice there were, only came out to run over the piano’s strings on Christmas eve.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Deferred Appointment: 1911

The Deferred Appointment

Algernon Blackwood

The little “Photographic Studio” in the side-street beyond Shepherd’s Bush had done no business all day, for the light had been uninviting to even the vainest sitter, and the murky sky that foreboded snow had hung over London without a break since dawn. Pedestrians went hurrying and shivering along the pavements, disappearing into the gloom of countless ugly little houses the moment they passed beyond the glare of the big electric standards that lit the thundering motor-buses in the main street. The first flakes of snow, indeed, were already falling slowly, as though they shrank from settling in the grime. The wind moaned and sang dismally, catching the ears and lifting the shabby coat-tails of Mr. Mortimer Jenkyn, “Photographic Artist,” as he stood outside and put the shutters up with his own cold hands in despair of further trade.

It was five minutes to six. With a lingering glance at the enlarged portrait of a fat man in masonic regalia who was the pride and glory of his window-front, he fixed the last hook of the shutter, and turned to go indoors. There was developing and framing to be done upstairs, not very remunerative work, but better, at any rate, than waiting in an empty studio for customers who did not come—wasting the heat of two oil-stoves into the bargain. And it was then, in the act of closing the street-door behind him, that he saw a man standing in the shadows of the narrow passage, staring fixedly into his face.

Mr. Jenkyn admits that he jumped. The man was so very close, yet he had not seen him come in; and in the eyes was such a curiously sad and appealing expression. He had already sent his assistant home, and there was no other occupant of the little two-storey house. The man must have slipped past him from the dark street while his back was turned. Who in the world could he be, and what could he want? Was he beggar, customer, or rogue?

“Good evening,” Mr. Jenkyn said, washing his hands, but using only half the oily politeness of tone with which he favoured sitters. He was just going to add “sir,” feeling it wiser to be on the safe side, when the stranger shifted his position so that the light fell directly upon his face, and Mr. Jenkyn was aware that he—recognised him. Unless he was greatly mistaken, it was the second-hand bookseller in the main street.

“Ah, it’s you, Mr. Wilson!” he stammered, making half a question of it, as though not quite convinced. “Pardon me; I did not quite catch your face—er—I was just shutting up.” The other bowed his head in reply. “Won’t you come in? Do, please.” Mr. Jenkyn led the way. He wondered what was the matter. The visitor was not among his customers; indeed, he could hardly claim to know him, having only seen him occasionally when calling at the shop for slight purchases of paper and what not. The man, he now realised, looked fearfully ill and wasted, his face pale and haggard. It upset him rather, this sudden, abrupt call. He felt sorry, pained. He felt uneasy.

Into the studio they passed, the visitor going first as though he knew the way, Mr. Jenkyn noticing through his flurry that he was in his “Sunday best.” Evidently he had come with a definite purpose. It was odd. Still without speaking, he moved straight across the room and posed himself in front of the dingy background of painted trees, facing the camera. The studio was brightly lit. He seated himself in the faded arm-chair, crossed his legs, drew up the little round table with the artificial roses upon it in a tall, thin vase, and struck an attitude. He meant to be photographed.

His eyes, staring straight into the lens, draped as it was with the black velvet curtain, seemed, however, to take no account of the Photographic Artist. But Mr. Jenkyn, standing still beside the door, felt a cold air playing over his face that was not merely the winter cold from the street. He felt his hair rise. A slight shiver ran down his back. In that pale, drawn face, and in those staring eyes across the room that gazed so fixedly into the draped camera, he read the signature of illness that no longer knows hope. It was Death that he saw.

In a flash the impression came and went—less than a second. The whole business, indeed, had not occupied two minutes. Mr. Jenkyn pulled himself together with a strong effort, dismissed his foolish obsession, and came sharply to practical considerations. “Forgive me,” he said, a trifle thickly, confusedly, “but I—er—did not quite realise. You desire to sit for your portrait, of course. I’ve had such a busy day, and—’ardly looked for a customer so late.” The clock, as he spoke, struck six. But he did not notice the sound. Through his mind ran another reflection: “A man shouldn’t ‘ave his picture taken when he’s ill and next door to dying. Lord! He’ll want a lot of touching-up and finishin’, too!”

He began discussing the size, price, and length—the usual rigmarole of his “profession,” and the other, sitting there, still vouchsafed no comment or reply. He simply made the impression of a man in a great hurry, who wished to finish a disagreeable business without unnecessary talk. Many men, reflected the photographer, were the same; being photographed was worse to them than going to the dentist. Mr. Jenkyn filled the pauses with his professional running talk and patter, while the sitter, fixed and motionless, kept his first position and stared at the camera. The photographer rather prided himself upon his ability to make sitters look bright and pleasant; but this man was hopeless. It was only afterwards Mr. Jenkyn recalled the singular fact that he never once touched him—that, in fact, something connected possibly with his frail appearance of deadly illness had prevented his going close to arrange the details of the hastily assumed pose.

“It must be a flashlight, of course, Mr. Wilson,” he said, fidgeting at length with the camera-stand, shifting it slightly nearer; while the other moved his head gently yet impatiently in agreement. Mr. Jenkyn longed to suggest his coming another time when he looked better, to speak with sympathy of his illness; to say something, in fact, that might establish a personal relation. But his tongue in this respect seemed utterly tied. It was just this personal relation which seemed impossible of approach—absolutely and peremptorily impossible. There seemed a barrier between the two. He could only chatter the usual professional commonplaces. To tell the truth, Mr. Jenkyn thinks he felt a little dazed the whole time—not quite his usual self. And, meanwhile, his uneasiness oddly increased. He hurried. He, too, wanted the matter done with and his visitor gone.

At length everything was ready, only the flashlight waiting to be turned on, when, stooping, he covered his head with the velvet cloth and peered through the lens— at no one! When he says “at no one,” however, he qualifies it thus: “There was a quick flash of brilliant white light and a face in the middle of it—my gracious Heaven! But such a face—’im, yet not ’im—like a sudden rushing glory of a face! It shot off like lightning out of the camera’s field of vision. It left me blinded, I assure you, ’alf blinded, and that’s a fac’. It was sheer dazzling!”

It seems Mr. Jenkyn remained entangled a moment in the cloth, eyes closed, breath coming in gasps, for when he got clear and straightened up again, staring once more at his customer over the top of the camera, he stared for the second time at—no one. And the cap that he held in his left hand he clapped feverishly over the uncovered lens. Mr. Jenkyn staggered… looked hurriedly round the empty studio, then ran, knocking a chair over as he went, into the passage. The hall was deserted, the front door closed. His visitor had disappeared “almost as though he hadn’t never been there at all”—thus he described it to himself in a terrified whisper. And again he felt the hair rise on his scalp; his skin crawled a little, and something put back the ice against his spine.

After a moment he returned to the studio and somewhat feverishly examined it. There stood the chair against the dingy background of trees; and there, close beside it, was the round table with the flower vase. Less than a minute ago Mr. Thomas Wilson, looking like death, had been sitting in that very chair. “It wasn’t all a sort of dreamin’, then,” ran through his disordered and frightened mind. “I did see something…!” He remembered vaguely stories he had read in the newspapers, stories of queer warnings that saved people from disasters, apparitions, faces seen in dream, and so forth. “Maybe,” he thought with confusion, “something’s going to ’appen to me!” Further than that he could not get for some little time, as he stood there staring about him, almost expecting that Mr. Wilson might reappear as strangely as he had disappeared. He went over the whole scene again and again, reconstructing it in minutest detail. And only then, for the first time, did he plainly realise two things which somehow or other he had not thought strange before, but now thought very strange. For his visitor, he remembered, had not uttered a single word, nor had he, Mr. Jenkyn, once touched his person… And, thereupon, without more ado, he put on his hat and coat and went round to the little shop in the main street to buy some ink and stationery which he did not in the least require.

The shop seemed all as usual, though Mr. Wilson himself was not visible behind the littered desk. A tall gentleman was talking in low tones to the partner. Mr. Jenkyn bowed as he went in, then stood examining a case of cheap stylographic pens, waiting for the others to finish. It was impossible to avoid overhearing. Besides, the little shop had distinguished customers sometimes, he had heard, and this evidently was one of them. He only understood part of the conversation, but he remembers all of it. “Singular, yes, these last words of dying men,” the tall man was saying, “very singular. You remember Newman’s: ‘More light,’ wasn’t it?” The bookseller nodded.

“Fine,” he said, “fine, that!” There was a pause. Mr. Jenkyn stooped lower over the pens. “This, too, was fine in its way,” the gentleman added, straightening up to go; “the old promise, you see, unfulfilled but not forgotten. Cropped up suddenly out of the delirium. Curious, very curious! A good, conscientious man to the last. In all the twenty years I’ve known him he never broke his word…”

A motor-bus drowned a sentence, and then was heard in the bookseller’s voice, as he moved towards the door. “…You see, he was half-way down the stairs before they found him, always repeating the same thing, ‘I promised the wife, I promised the wife.’ And it was a job, I’m told, getting him back again… he struggled so. That’s what finished him so quick, I suppose. Fifteen minutes later he was gone, and his last words were always the same, ‘I promised the wife’…”

The tall man was gone, and Mr. Jenkyn forgot about his purchases. “When did it ’appen?” he heard himself asking in a voice he hardly recognised as his own. And the reply roared and thundered in his ears as he went down the street a minute later to his house: “Close on six o’clock—a few minutes before the hour. Been ill for weeks, yes. Caught him out of bed with high fever on his way to your place, Mr. Jenkyn, calling at the top of his voice that he’d forgotten to see you about his picture being taken. Yes, very sad, very sad indeed.”

But Mr. Jenkyn did not return to his studio. He left the light burning there all night. He went to the little room where he slept out, and next day gave the plate to be developed by his assistant. “Defective plate, sir,” was the report in due course; “shows nothing but a flash of light—uncommonly brilliant.” “Make a print of it all the same,” was the reply. Six months later, when he examined the plate and print, Mr. Jenkyn found that the singular streaks of light had disappeared from both. The uncommon brilliance had faded out completely as though it had never been there.

The Times-Democrat [New Orleans LA] 12 March 1911: p. 39

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Algernon Blackwood is perhaps best known for his “weird” supernatural and horror fiction. This is a workmanlike example of one of his ghost stories.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that the death-like countenance of Mr Wilson did not appear in the plate or the print so that the image could have been presented to his wife as a memento (mori) of the occasion. Normally a post-mortem photograph would be taken at the home of the deceased, with the decedent passively submitting to the professional ministrations of the photographic artist. The notion of a post-mortem photograph taken of a subject who not only walked into the photographic studio but posed himself at a table containing a vase of artificial roses is uncommonly chilling.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Haunted Bed: 1859

doll's tester bed

The Haunted Bed

Mark Lemon

‘Why, Betty, if there isn’t Mr. Ponsonby at the door with his baggage, I’ll be whipped!’ cried the head waiter at the ___ hotel, on the evening  preceding the regatta.

‘Mr. Ponsonby, you don’t say so! and I’d given him up, and just put that weak-minded gent as come at ten o’clock in Forty-two–Mr. Ponsonby’s room as I call it; and there’s not a bed to be had in Cowes for love or money.’

‘What’s that, you say, Betty?’ said the newcomer; ‘not another bed but mine,’

‘That it, sir,’ replied Betty; ‘I kept it for you till the last train; now as that has been in a hour, I gave you up, sir. What will you do?’

‘Awkward,’ exclaimed Ponsonby; ‘the old clock in the room will break its heart; but I must sleep on a sofa.’

‘Not one disengaged, sir,’ said the waiter.

‘No sir,’ added Betty, ‘not one sir. There are four small children put to bed in a chest of drawers now in Twenty-four. We let everything before we would let Forty-two.’

‘That’s the gent that’s got your room,’ whispered John, as he ushered Mr. Ponsonby into the coffee-room.

The person alluded to was a very mild, milky-looking young gentleman of twenty-one. His present position was evidently a new one, for he was constantly employed in pulling up his shirt collar and using his toothpick.

‘John,’ said Ponsonby, ‘I must have a bed. Bring me a broiled bone and a glass of brandy and water, and put them on the table next to the young gentleman, whilst I speak to Betty.’

What the nature of Mr Ponsonby’s communication to Betty was I don’t mean to reveal; but she laughed consumedly and was shortly afterwards seen entering No. Forty-two with a warming-pan, and then returning without it. The bone and brandy and water were duly served, and Mr. Ponsonby took his place at the table. The mild gentleman pulled his collar more frequently and plied the toothpick with increased, energy.   ‘Waiter,’ cried Ponsonby, ‘here–take this thing away.’

‘Capital bone sir,’ said John; somewhat astonished.

‘Don’t tell me a capital bone!’ exclaimed Ponsonby. ‘The ‘bus driver was complaining of the mortality among his horses. Take it away.’

The mild gentleman looking alarmed, and paused in the act of pulling up his left collar.

‘Wretched house, this, sir,’ said Ponsonby, confidentially; ‘never come here if I can avoid it; but at regatta time glad to get in anywhere!’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the mild one.

‘They served me a rascally trick once, and I shall never forget it. I wonder who sleeps in that room to-night–poor devil!’

‘May I inquire what the trick was, sir?’

‘Oh! Certainly,’ said Ponsonby, ‘though I hardly like to tell the story, in case you should doubt my veracity.’

‘Oh! Sir—‘

‘Well, it seems absurd to talk of haunted chambers in the nineteenth century;’ and Ponsonby paused.

‘Not at all, sir,’ said the mild one, encouragingly.

‘But that there is one in this house I am ready to swear,’ exclaimed Ponsonby; ‘a room with a large, old-fashioned clock in it.’

‘No. Forty-two!’ gasped the mild one; ‘that’s my room!’

‘Hush, for heaven’s sake!’ said Ponsonby; ‘had I know that, I wouldn’t have said a word for the world.’

‘My dear sir, don’t say that; pray go on sir. I’m not superstitious, neither am I foolishly incredulous,’ and the mild one wiped his forehead, and emptied his tumbler at a gulp.

‘Well, as you desire it, I will narrate my story,’ said Ponsonby. ‘It was exactly three years ago, this very day, that I and my luggage found ourselves in No. Forty-two, the last room, (so the chambermaid told me,) unlet in the house.’

‘Exactly what she told me—a cockatrice!’ interrupted the mild one.

‘I was tired by my day’s journey, and went to bed exactly as the clock struck twelve. Though fatigued, I felt no disposition to sleep, so I placed my candle on the bed-steps, and began to read. I had read about five minutes, when suddenly I received a most violent blow in the stomach, and the clock struck a quarter. I started up; there was no one—nothing to account for the phenomenon. At last I concluded it must have been fancy. I read on for another quarter of an hour, when I received two blows of greater violence than the former one! The clock chimed the half-hour.’

‘Another glass of brandy and water!’ cried the mild one.

It was brought, and Ponsonby proceeded:

‘I seized the bell-rope, but a sense of shame would not let me proceed. I therefore resolved to keep watch for a short time. As I set up in bed, my eyes fell upon the face of the old clock in the corner. I could not help thinking that was connected with the annoyance I had suffered. As I looked, the minute-hand gradually approached the IX on the dial, and the moment it arrived there I received three distinct and particularly sharp raps on the crown of my head. The clock struck the three-quarters. I was now convinced that there was something wrong. What was I to do? If I disturbed the house and told this story, I should be laughed at, and set down either as drunk or dreaming. I resolved to brave the worse. I got out of bed, and, gently opening the clock-case, stopped the vibration of the pendulum.

‘Come, that must prevent the striking,’ thought I and laid myself down with something like a chuckle at my own brilliancy.’

‘A chuckle!’ murmured the mild one.

‘I had not been in bed above five minutes,’ resumed Ponsonby, ‘when I heard the door of the block-case open slowly. I felt, I confess, a tremor—‘

‘I should think so!’

‘And I saw the pendulum throw a somersault on the floor, and deliberately hop—hop—hop towards the bed. It paused for a moment, and bending it round brazen face full upon me, said—‘

‘Spoke?’ gasped the mild one.

‘Said,’ continued Ponsonby: (not heeding the interruption,) “Sir, I am very much obliged to you for stopping my labors. People think I never want any rest, but that I can stand being perpetually wound up and kept on the go. With your permission, I’ll get into bed;’ and without waiting for an answer, into bed it got.

‘I suppose,’ continued the pendulum, you are not aware that this is our room.’

‘Our room!’ said I.

‘Yes; mine and the rest of the works. The man who made us, died in this bed, and left it to us as a legacy. You found something rather unpleasant, didn’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘very unpleasant.’

‘Ah! That was the striking weight; he always serves intruders that way when we are going. When we are not, and I come to bed, he is quiet enough. But as I am likely to be set going again in the morning, and it’s now nearly half past nine, I’ll wish you a good night.

‘Good night, sir,’ I replied, quaking from heat to foot. ‘So,’ thought I, ‘who ever sleeps in this bed must either submit to be thumped black and blue by the striking weight, or accept of this horrible monster for a bed-fellow. At this moment the pendulum, I suppose, fell asleep, for it commenced an innocent ‘tick-tick,’ ‘tick-tick,’ that rendered all attempts at forgetfulness of my part impossible.’

‘Another glass of brandy and water!’ cried the mild one.

‘No, no,’ said Ponsonby, ‘I would advise you not. Have your chamber candle and go to bed.’

‘Go to bed in No. 42!’ exclaimed the mild one. ‘Never!’

‘My dear fellow, matters may have changed since the period I have been talking of. Go to your room, and if anything occurs it is easy to ring the bell. Come, I’ll see you to the door.’

And, taking their candles, the pair proceeded to No. 42.

‘Here we are,’ said Ponsonby, ‘good night.’

The mild gentleman could only wave his head in valediction as he entered the haunted chamber. In a minute he uttered a shrill cry, and rushed into the lobby, his hair literally on end with terror.

‘What’s the matter, now?’ said Ponsonby.

‘It’s there!—in bed—fast asleep—I’ve seen it—the pendulum! I’d not sleep there for a thousand pounds!’

‘Good gracious! What will you do?’

‘Sleep on the stairs—if I but had my carpet-bag out of the room!’

‘I’ll fetch it for you. I don’t mind the pendulum; he’s an old friend of mine.’

And in another minute, the mild one was travelling down to the coffee-room, bumping his carpet bag from stair to stair, to the probable disturbance of the whole house.

‘Betty! Betty!’ said Ponsonby, in an undertone, ‘tell the porter to bring my baggage to No. 42. Ha! Ha! Capital, Betty!’ roared Ponsonby as he saw the cause of the mild one’s terror.

It was the brazen warming pan comfortably put to bed in No. 42, and which the M.G. in his terror had taken for a pendulum.

In the morning the mild gentleman did not show himself. He had drank three bottles of soda water, paid his bill, and gone off by the first train.

The Democratic Pioneer [Elizabeth City NC] 17 May 1859: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mark Lemon was the genial co-founder and long-time editor and writer for the comic magazine Punch.  He has a freshness and a modern strain to his writing that makes it amusing, even to-day, while a good deal of Victorian humour is lost on modern readers.

warming pan

Brass warming pan

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Cast Iron Stove: 1890

“Nancy!” said Mr. Moppet.

“Sir?” responded Nancy.

Mr. Moppet was coming in from the garden path. Nancy, with plump white arms bared to the elbow, was washing the breakfast dishes in a deep pan of hot soapsuds.

Mr. Moppet was a hard featured elderly man, with whitish blue eyes, a straggly fringe of white beard beneath his square chin, and a bald cranium. Nancy was fresh colored and bright eyed, with silky tendrils of auburn hair drooping over her freckled forehead, and a certain dimple perpetually playing at hide-and-seek on her left cheek. The two completely realized Shakespeare’s ideal of “Crabbed Age and Youth.”

“I’m a-goin’ to town,” said Mr Moppet. “You won’t need to bile no pot victuals for dinner. Waste makes want. A cup o’ tea and a biled egg and what’s left o’ yesterday’s pork and greens — that’ll be all you need.”

“Yes, father,” acquiesced Nancy. She was thinking of something else all the while.

“And, talkin’ ’bout eggs,” added Mr. Moppet, “you may take four dozen up to Peach Farm. Mrs. Wixon wants plenty on ’em to make cake for her niece’s party. Better go early this morning’.”

Nancy colored scarlet under the auburn rings of hair “Can’t I send ’em up by little Bill Becker, father?” said she “Webster Wixon will be there, and — and I don t like Webster Wixon, with his red nose and his compliments.” Mr. Moppet frowned.

“Nancy,” said he, “don’t be a fool. I can see through ye, like ye was a pane o’ glass. Webster Wixon’s a well-to-do man, with money out at interest, and you’d oughter be tickled to death that he’s took a notion to you.”

“But, father—”

“Not another word,” grumbled Mr Moppet. “I know jest exactly what’s comin’. It’s that foolish nonsense about Absalom Parker, that I hoped you’d got over long ago. Absalom hain’t no properly, and ain’t like to have none, and no daughter o’ mine ain’t goin’ to marry your Grandfather Atkins’s hired man, not if I know it.”

He paused with this multiplicity of double negatives. Nancy set her small, pearl-white teeth together, her eyes flashed with hazel fire. It was a clear ease of true love versus money.

“Take them eggs straight up to Peach Farm, ” reiterated Mr. Moppet, shaking his forefinger at Nancy, “an’ don’t argufy the p’nt no further. I’m your father, and I know what’s best for you!”

“But you’re going right past the Wixons’ door.”

“No, I ain’t, neither I’m goin’ the Horn Hill Road. I’ve been app’inted by the Supply Committee to buy an air-tight wood stove for the church,” he added with some complacency. “The old one’s rusted clear out, so there’s danger o’ fire every time its used, and the brethren have subscribed twenty dollars for a new one—leastways, a second-hand one, if its jest as good.”

* * *

Webster Wixon, a fat, middle-aged bachelor, was out helping to gather the October apples on the north side of the house when Nancy came up. He made haste to welcome her.

“Good mornin’, Miss Nancy,” said he. “As bloomin’ as ever, I see.”

“Here’s your eggs,” spoke Nancy, curtly.

“Set down a spell, won’t ye?” simpered Mr. Wixon.

“I’m in a hurry,” said Nancy.

“But, Nancy—”

“My name’s Miss Moppet, sir!”

“I’ve got something very particular to say to you, Nancy,” urged the middle aged suitor.

“It’ll have to keep,” said Nancy. “I’ve got to get right home.”

“Can’t I walk with you a piece?”

“I’d rather go alone,” she persisted.

“Nancy—Miss Moppet—I must speak!” blurted out the old bachelor. “I love you better’n all the world! I want to make you Mrs. Webster Wixon! There that s what I had on my mind! And your good father, he says it would suit him exactly, and__”

Nancy wheleed around and faced her eager swain.

“Is it me or father, you’re a-courting?” said she.

“Why you, of course!”

“Then take my answer—No!”

And without waiting for the return of her basket, she hurried away, her cheeks blazing, her breath coming quick and fast.

“Father’ll be awful mad,” she thought, “but I’d sooner die than marry that man!”

Webster Wixon stood a minute gazing after her in crestfallen silence; then he went back to apple harvesting with an ominous compression of his lips.

“The madder she gets the prettier she looks,” thought he. “Well, well, time will show. Brother Moppet says she shall be my wife, and that ought to count for consid’able.

***

Mr. Moppet drove leisurely on to Horn Hill, drove an excellent bargain for a highly ornamental wood-stove, after having successively interviewed every hardware dealer in town, and set forth to return with it in his wagon just at dusk.

“It’s a warm day for the time o’ year,” said he, “and it’s easier traveling for the horse arter dark. It ain’t a bad day’s work, come to think on’t. I beat Brother Piper down pretty well on the price, and it’s worth a dollar’n half to cart the thing home over these bumpy roads. They ‘lowed twenty dollars for it, and I got it for fifteen. Takin’ my time and wheel wear and horseflesh into consideration, I guess I won’t say nothin’ about the odd five dollars. Business is business. It’s a proper pretty pattern too — thistle leaves and acorns. I’d like one the same fashion in my best room, and” — with a long whistle — “why shouldn’t I have it? There’s that second handed stove Gran’ther Atkins took for a debt from Solon Grubb. It’s jest standin’ rustin’ away in his back wood shed.  I’ll fetch it home to morrow and black it up, and let Elder Meachan suppose I got a bargain from somebody, and I’ll have the nice new stove for myself, and nobody’ll be none the wiser, now that Gran’ther Atkins is confined to his bed with creepin’ paralysis and Absalom Parker’s up in the wood lots, choppin’ down trees for winter firewood. It’s a good idee. I’m glad I happened to think of it!”

He drew rein opposite the Atkins house. All was dark and quiet there save the one red light that burned in old Mr Atkins’s bed room.

At that identical moment, had he but known it, Absalom Parker — the old man’s general factotum— was hanging over the garden gate of his own place, talking to pretty Nancy among the purple dahlias and quilled asters.

And it was no difficult task for a man of John Moppet’s physical strength skillfully to lift the old stove out of its place in the outer shed into his wagon.

“Git up, Prince,” he muttered to his horse, shaking the reins, and away they went.

Elder Meachan was not quite satisfied with the bargain. The chruch brethren, too, would have preferred a new stove, considering the money they had spent; but Brother Moppet was a man in authority, and they were compelled to acquiesce in his choice.

Nancy was delighted with the new acquisition for the best room.

“Oh, isn’t it pretty!” said she.

“Yes,” nodded Mr. Moppet, rubbing his hands, “It’ll sort o’ dress up the room for your weddin’.”

“My wedding!”

“Jest so. I’ve arranged matters with Webster Wixon, and__”

Nancy burst into tears, and ran out of the room.

Mr. Moppet glared balefully after her.

“She shall marry him,” muttered he, “or she shall be no darter o’ mine! I won’t be set at defiance by__ Why, hello, Absalom Parker, what brings you here?”

“Mr. Atkins is took wuss this afternoon,” said Absalom, standing at the doorway, like a rustic Apollo. “Wants to see ye—right off!”

It was a Saturday afternoon. As Mr. Moppet drove by the church door, he saw the load of wood being delivered for the first fire of the season.

“Jest in time!” said he to himself. “There’s a frosty feel in the air.”

Grandfather Atkin lay among his pillows, like a wrinkled ghost.

“John,” said he, “all I’ve got in the world is yours; but I think I’d ought to tell you where I’ve hid it, sence the bank robbery give me such a scare.”

“Certainly, certainly!” said his son-in-law, with eager eyes, like those of a bird of prey.

“I’ve hid it away—“

John Moppet placed his ear close to the pallid lips.

“Six five-hundred-dollars bills—“

“Yes, yes—go on!”

“Folded up in an old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—”

“An old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—I understand!” repeated Moppet.

“In the old stove out in the shed!” gasped the old man. “I knowed nobody wouldn’t be likely to look there! It’s your’s John Moppet—every cent of it. And mind you, don’t spend it in no extravagance!”

So speaking the old miser closed his dim eyes and went where there is neither money nor counting of money.

John Moppet uttered an exceeding bitter cry as he remembered the lighted match he had put to the crumpled papers in the stove, to make sure of a draught when it was put up in the northwest corner of the church — the roar of the blaze through the lengths of Russian pipe. In his excellent management he had contrived to overreach himself.

He went home and sat all the evening in a sort of stupor, with his head in his hands.

Nancy, busied about her household tasks, watched him with hazel eyes of surprise.

“I didn’t know he thought so much of Gran’ther Atkins,” pondered she.

“Six times five is thirty—six time five is thirty,” mused Mr. Moppet, rocking to and fro. “Six five-hundred-dollar bills!  Three—thousand—dollars—and all gone up chimbly in one breath o’ wind, and me as done it! I shall go crazy. I shall lose my mind. Three—thou—sand—dollars!  It’s a judgment on me. I’ve been a mis’able sinner, and cheated the church. I’ve tampered with my own conscience. Six times five is thirty! Six five-hundred-dollar bills! Oh, Lord, there ain’t no calculatin’ what a mis’able sinner I’ve been!”

As the old kitchen clock struck nine, Absalom Parker came in, bringing with him a gust of fresh, frosty air.

“Evenin’, Squire,” said he. “I’m sort o’ looking up the watchers. ‘Spose you’d like to be one of ‘em? But I’d like to speak a word to you first.”

“If it’s about Nancy, it ain’t no use,” said Mr. Moppet, rousing himself to the affairs of the world with some petulance.

“It ain’t about Nancy,” Absalom answered, with a smile. “It’s about Mr. Atkins’s money.”

Mr. Moppet gave a start.

“Oh, you needn’t jump so,” reassured Absalom. “It’s all safe.”

He took a flat parcel out of his pocket.

“Count ‘em,” said he. “Six, ain’t there?”

Mr. Moppet started at Absalom Parker as Aladdin might have started at the Genii.

“How –where —“ he stammered.

Absalom gave a low chuckle.

“Hush!” said he. “Don’t speak loud. I seen the old man hide ‘em there, like a human magpie as he was. I knowed it wasn’t safe, so I quietly took ‘em out, arter he’d had that last stroke, and locked ‘em in his black leather trunk up in the garret. And you may thank me that they wasn’t all burned up in the first fire you lighted in that identical stove!”

Mr. Moppet turned a purplish red.

“You know about that stove?” said he, with a gasp.

“It wasn’t likely no such conjuring could go on about Mr. Atkins’s place, and me not know it,” said Parker, drily. “The stove wasn’t of no great consequence, though, except for old iron. I guess the church folks’ll get sick of it before a great while.”

Mr. Moppet drew a long breath.

“When they do,” said he, “I’ll make ‘em a present of a brand new one. And, Absalom–”

“Yes, Mr Moppet?”

“You won’t say nothin’ to nobody'”

“No,” said Absalom, “I ain’t one o’ the talkin’ sort.”

“And, Absalom — ”

“Yes, Mr Moppet?”

“Since you and Nancy really are attached to each other–”

“We are just that, Mr Moppet.”

“I don’t see no objection to your gettin’ married this fall,” said Moppet, with an effort. “You may tell Nancy that she has my consent!”

Nancy cried a shower of happy tears when Absalom told her the good news.

But he never imparted to her the story of the stove. As he himself had remarked, “he was not one of the talkin’ sort.”

The Newton [AL] Messenger 10 May 1890: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. This is a much nicer outcome than the all-too-common stories of forgetful gentlemen who stored their dynamite in the stove with depressingly predictable results.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The French Doctor’s Bride: 1830s

lighter shrouded corpse Rowlandson 1775

Grave-robbers interrupted by Death, Thomas Rowlandson, 1775 https://wellcomecollection.org/works/j7twdvrd

THE FRENCH DOCTOR’S BRIDE.

BY VICTOR LECOMTE.

Twenty-five years ago I entered the medical college at F__ as a student. I was then quite young, inexperienced, and inclined to be timid and sentimental; and well do I remember the horror I experienced, when one of the senior students, under pretence of showing me the beauties of the institution, suddenly thrust me into the dissecting room, among several dead bodies, and closed the door upon me; nor do I forget how my screeches of terror, and prayers for release from that awful place, made me the laughing-stock of my older companions.

Ridicule is a hard thing to bear: the coward becomes brave to escape it, and the brave man fears it more than he would a belching cannon. I suffered from it till I could stand no more; and wrought up to a pitch of desperation, I demanded to know what I might do to redeem my character, and gain an honourable footing among my fellowstudents.

“I will tell you,” said one, his eyes sparkling with mischief; “if you will go, at the midnight hour, and dig up a subject, and take it to your room, and remain alone with it till morning, we will let you off, and never say another word about your womanly fright.”

I shuddered. It was a fearful alternative; but it seemed less terrible to suffer all the horrors that might be concentrated into a single night, than to bear, day after day, the jeers of my companions.

“Where shall I go and when?” was my timid inquiry; and the very thought of such an adventure made my blood run cold.

“To the Eastern Cemetery, to night, at twelve o’clock,” replied my tormentor, fixing his keen, black eyes upon me, and allowing his thin lips to curl with a smile of contempt. “But what is the use of asking such a coward as you to perform such a manly feat?” he added, deridingly

His words stung me to the quick; and without further reflection, and scarcely aware of what I was saying, I rejoined, boldly, “I am no coward, sir, as I will prove to you, by performing what you call a manly feat.”

“You will go?'” he asked quickly.

“I will,” was my response.

“Bravely said, my lad!” he rejoined, in a tone of approval, and exchanging his expression of contempt for one of surprise and admiration. “Do this, Morel, and the first man that insults you afterwards makes an enemy of me.”

Again I felt a cold shudder pass through my frame, at the thought of what was before me; but I had accepted his challenge in the presence of many witnesses—for this conversation occurred as we were leaving the hall, after listening to an evening lecture—and I was resolved to make my word good, should it even cost me my life: in fact, I knew I could not do otherwise now, without the risk of being driven in disgrace from the college.

I should here observe, that in those days there were few professional resurrectionists; and as it was absolutely necessary to have subjects for dissection, the unpleasant business of procuring them devolved upon the students, who, in consequence, watched every funeral eagerly, and calculated the chances of cheating the sexton of his charge, and the grave of its victim.

There had been a funeral, that day, of a poor orphan girl, who had been followed to the grave by very few friends; and this was considered a favorable chance for the party whose turn it was to procure the next subject, as the graves of the poor and friendless were never watched with the same keen vigilance as those of the rich and influential. Still, it was no trifling risk to attempt to exhume the bodies of the poorest and humblest—for not unfrequently persons were found on the watch even over these; and only the year before, one student, while at his midnight work, had been mortally wounded by a rifle-ball; and another, a month or two subsequently, had been rendered a cripple for life by the same means.

All this was explained to me by a party of six or eight, who accompanied me to my room—which was in a building belonging to the college, and let out in apartments to some of the students; and they took care to add several terrifying stories of ghosts and hobgoblins, by way of calming my excited nerves, just as I have before now observed old women stand around a weak, feverish patient, and croak out their experience in seeing awful sufferings and fatal terminations of just such maladies as the one with which their helpless victim was then afflicted.

“Is it expected that I shall go alone?” I inquired, in a tone that trembled in spite of me, while my knees almost knocked together, and I felt as if my very lips were white.

“Well, no,” replied Belmont, my most dreaded tormentor; “it would be hardly fair to send you alone, for one individual could not succeed in getting the body from the grave quick enough; and you, a mere youth, without experience, would be sure to fail altogether. No, we will go with you, some three or four of us, and help to dig up the corpse; but then you must take it on your back, bring it up to your room here, and spend the night alone with it!”

It was some relief to me to find I was to have company during the first part of my awful undertaking; but still I felt far from agreeable, I assure you; and chancing to look into a mirror, as the time drew near for setting out, I fairly started at beholding the ghastly object I saw reflected therein.

“Come, boys,” said Belmont, who was always, by general consent, the leader of whatever frolic, expedition, or undertaking, he was to have a hand in; “Come, boys! it is time to be on the move. A glorious night for us!” he added, throwing up the window, and letting in a fierce gust of wind and rain: “the very d__l himself would hardly venture out in such a storm!’” He lit a dark-lantern, threw on his long, heavy cloak, took up a spade, and led the way down stairs; and the rest of us, three besides my timid self, threw on our cloaks also, took each a spade, and followed him.

We took a roundabout course, to avoid being seen by any citizen that might by chance to be stirring; and in something less than half-an-hour we reached the cemetery, scaled the wall without difficulty, and stealthily searched for the grave, till we found it, in the pitchy darkness—the wind and rain sweeping past us with dismal howls and moans, that to me, trembling with terror, seemed to be the unearthly wailings of the spirits of the damned.

“Here we are,” whispered Belmont to me, as we at length stopped at a mound of fresh earth, over which one of our party had stumbled. “Come, feel round, Morel, and strike in your spade; and let us see if you will make as good a hand at exhuming a dead body as you will some day at killing a living one with physic.”

I did as directed, trembling in every limb; but the first spade-full I threw up, I started back with a yell of horror, that, on any other but a howling, stormy night, would have betrayed us. It appeared to me as if I had thrust my spade into a buried lake of fire—for the soft dirt was all aglow like living coals; and as I had fancied the moanings of the storm the wailings of tormented spirits, I now fancied I had uncovered a small portion of the Bottomless Pit itself.

“Fool!” hissed Belmont, grasping my arm with the gripe of a vice, as I stood leaning on my spade for support, my very teeth chattering with terror; “another yell like that, and I’ll make a subject of you! Are you not ashamed of yourself to be scared out of your wits, if you ever had any, by a little phosphorescent earth? Don’t you know it is often found in graveyards?”

His explanation re-assured me; though I was now too weak, from my late fright, to be of any assistance to the party; who all fell too with a will, secretly laughing at me, and soon reached the coffin. Splitting the lid with a hatchet, which had been brought for the purpose, they quickly lifted out the corpse; and then Belmont and another of the party taking hold of it, one at the head and the other at the feet, they hurried it away, bidding me follow, and leaving the others to fill up the grave, that it might not be suspected the body had been exhumed.

Having got the corpse safely over the wall of the cemetery, Belmont now called upon me to perform my part of the horrible business. “Here, you quaking simpleton,” he said, “I want you to take this on your back, and make the best of your way to your room, and remain alone with it all night. If you do this bravely, we will claim you as one of us to-morrow, and the first man that dares to say a word against your courage after that, shall.find a foe in me. But hark you! if you make any blunder on the way, and lose our prize, it will be better for you to quit this town before I set eyes on you again! Do you understand me?”

“Y—ye-ye—yes!” I stammered, with chattering teeth.

“Are you ready?” Y-ye-ye—yes,” I gasped.

“Well, come here! where are you?” All this time it was so dark that I could see nothing but a faint line of white, which I knew to be the shroud of the corpse; but I felt carefully round till I got hold of Belmont, who told me to take off my cloak; and then rearing the cold dead body up against my back, he began fixing its cold arms about my neck-bidding me take hold of them, and draw them well over, and keep them concealed, and be sure and not let go of them, on any consideration whatsoever, as I valued my life. Oh! the torturing horror I experienced, as I mechanically followed his directions! Tongue could not describe it!

At length, having adjusted the corpse so that I might bear it off with comparative ease, he threw my long black cloak over it, and over my arms, and fastened it with a cord about my neck, and then inquired, “Now, Morel, do you think you can find the way to your room?”

“I—I—do-do—don’t know,” I gasped, feeling as if I should sink to the earth at the first step.

“Well, you cannot lose your way if you go straight ahead,” he replied. “Keep in the middle of this street or road, and it will take you to College Green, and then you are all right. Come, push on, before your burden grows too heavy; the distance is only a good half-mile!”

I set forward with trembling nerves, expecting to sink to the ground at every step; but gradually my terror, instead of weakening, gave me strength; and I was soon on the run—splashing through mud and water—with the storm howling about me in fury, and the cold corpse, as I fancied, clinging to me like a hideous vampire.

How I reached my room, I do not know—but probably by a sort of instinct; for I only remember of my brain being in a wild, feverish whirl, with ghostly phantoms all about me, as one sometimes sees them in a dyspeptic dream. But reach my room I did, with my dead burden on my back; and I was afterwards told that I made wonderful time; for Belmont and his fellow student, fearing the loss of their subject—which, on account of the difficulty of getting bodies, was very valuable— followed close behind me, and were obliged to run at the top of their speed to keep me within hailing distance.

The first I remember distinctly, after getting to my room, was the finding myself awake in bed, with a dim consciousness of something horrible having happened—although what, for some minutes, I could not for the life of me recollect. Gradually, however, the truth dawned upon me; and then I felt a cold perspiration start from every pore, at the thought that perhaps I was occupying a room alone with a corpse. The room was not dark; there were a few embers in the grate, which threw out a ruddy light; and fearfully raising my head, I glanced quickly and timidly around.

And there—there, on the floor, against the right hand wall, but a few feet from me—there, sure enough, lay the cold, still corpse, robed in its white shroud, with a gleam of firelight resting upon its ghastly face, which to my excited fancy seemed to move. Did it move? I was gazing upon it, thrilled and fascinated with an indescribable terror, when, as sure as I see you now, I saw the lids of its eyes unclose, and saw its breast heave, and heard a low, stifled moan.

“Great God!” I shrieked, and fell back in a swoon.

How long I lay unconscious I do not know; but when I came to myself again, it is a marvel to me, that, in my excited state, I did not lose my senses altogether, and become the tenant of a madhouse ; for there—right before me-standing up in its white shroud—with its eyes wide open and staring upon me, and its features thin, hollow and death-hued—was the corpse I had brought from the cemetery.

“In God’s name, avaunt! ” I gasped. “Go back to your grave, and rest in peace! I will never disturb you again!”

The large hollow eyes looked more wildly upon me—the head moved, the lips parted, and a voice, in a somewhat sepulchral tone, said, “Where am I? where am I? Who are you? Which world am I in? Am I living or dead?”

“You are dead,” I gasped, sitting up in bed, and feeling as if my brain would burst with a pressure of unspeakable horror; “you were dead and buried, and I was one of the guilty wretches who this night disturbed your peaceful rest. But go back, poor ghost, in heaven’s name! and no mortal power shall ever induce me to come nigh you again!”

“Oh! I feel faint!” said the corpse, gradually sinking down upon the floor, with a groan. “Where am I? Oh! where am I?”

“Great God!” I shouted, as the startling truth suddenly flashed upon me; “perhaps this poor girl was buried alive, and is now living!”

I bounded from the bed, and grasped a hand of the prostrate body. It was not warm—but it was not cold. I put my trembling fingers upon the pulse. Did it beat? or, was it the pulse in my fingers? I thrust my hand upon the heart. It was warm—there was life there. The breast heaved—she breathed—but the eyes were now closed, and the features had the look of death. Still it was a living body—or else I myself was insane. I sprung to the door, tore it open, and shouted for help. “Quick! quick!” cried I. “the dead is alive! The dead is alive!

Several of the students sleeping in adjoining rooms came hurrying to mine, thinking I had gone mad with terror, as some of them had heard my voice before, and all knew to what a fearful ordeal I had been subjected.

“Poor fellow!” exclaimed one, in a tone of sympathy; “I predicted this!”

“It is too bad,” said another; “it was too much for his nervous system!”

“I am not mad,” returned I—comprehending their suspicions; “but the corpse is alive!—hasten and see!”

Hey hurried into the room, one after another; and the foremost, stopping down to what he suppposed. was a corpse, put his hand upon it, and instantly exclaimed, “Quick a light and some brandy! She lives! she lives!”
All now was bustle, confusion, and excitement, one proposing one thing, and another something else, and all speaking together. They placed her on the bed, and gave her some brandy, when she again revived. I ran for a physician (one of the faculty), who came and tended upon her through the night; and by sunrise the next morning she was reported to be in a fair way of recovery.

And recover she did; and turned out to be a most beautiful creature, and only sweet seventeen. But that is not all: for she turned out an heiress, and married me!

Yes: that night of horror only preceded the dawn of my happiness; for that girl—sweet,
lovely Helene Leroy—in time became my wife, and the mother of my two boys.
She sleeps now in death, beneath the cold, cold sod, and no human resurrectionist shall ever raise her to life again!
 Frank Leslie’s New York Journal, 1857: p. 85-6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A most grim and grewsome tale, in the florid French vein of the Gallic tabloids, but Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending, even one that sums up an entire lifetime of important events in a paragraph or two.

Mrs Daffodil will not quibble over how a friendless orphan girl was transmuted into a beautiful heiress, but perhaps on the dark and stormy night, the medical students mistook the grave.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Dreamer, by Saki: 1914

saki as young man

The Author, H.H. Munro as a supercilious young (k)nut. https://americanliterature.com/author/hh-munro-saki/

The Dreamer

It was the season of sales. The august establishment of Walpurgis and Nettlepink had lowered its prices for an entire week as a concession to trade observances, much as an Arch-duchess might protestingly contract an attack of influenza for the unsatisfactory reason that influenza was locally prevalent. Adela Chemping, who considered herself in some measure superior to the allurements of an ordinary bargain sale, made a point of attending the reduction week at Walpurgis and Nettlepink’s.

“I’m not a bargain hunter,” she said, “but I like to go where bargains are.”

Which showed that beneath her surface strength of character there flowed a gracious undercurrent of human weakness.

With a view to providing herself with a male escort Mrs. Chemping had invited her youngest nephew to accompany her on the first day of the shopping expedition, throwing in the additional allurement of a cinematograph theatre and the prospect of light refreshment. As Cyprian was not yet eighteen she hoped he might not have reached that stage in masculine development when parcel-carrying is looked on as a thing abhorrent.

“Meet me just outside the floral department,” she wrote to him, “and don’t be a moment later than eleven.”

Cyprian was a boy who carried with him through early life the wondering look of a dreamer, the eyes of one who sees things that are not visible to ordinary mortals, and invests the commonplace things of this world with qualities unsuspected by plainer folk – the eyes of a poet or a house agent. He was quietly dressed – that sartorial quietude which frequently accompanies early adolescence, and is usually attributed by novel-writers to the influence of a widowed mother. His hair was brushed back in a smoothness as of ribbon seaweed and seamed with a narrow furrow that scarcely aimed at being a parting. His aunt particularly noted this item of his toilet when they met at the appointed rendezvous, because he was standing waiting for her bare-headed.

“Where is your hat?” she asked.

“I didn’t bring one with me,” he replied.

Adela Chemping was slightly scandalised.

“You are not going to be what they call a Nut, are you?” she inquired with some anxiety, partly with the idea that a Nut would be an extravagance which her sister’s small household would scarcely be justified in incurring, partly, perhaps, with the instinctive apprehension that a Nut, even in its embryo stage, would refuse to carry parcels.

Cyprian looked at her with his wondering, dreamy eyes.

“I didn’t bring a hat,” he said, “because it is such a nuisance when one is shopping; I mean it is so awkward if one meets anyone one knows and has to take one’s hat off when one’s hands are full of parcels. If one hasn’t got a hat on one can’t take it off.”

Mrs. Chemping sighed with great relief; her worst fear had been laid at rest.

“It is more orthodox to wear a hat,” she observed, and then turned her attention briskly to the business in hand.

“We will go first to the table-linen counter,” she said, leading the way in that direction; “I should like to look at some napkins.”

The wondering look deepened in Cyprian’s eyes as he followed his aunt; he belonged to a generation that is supposed to be over-fond of the role of mere spectator, but looking at napkins that one did not mean to buy was a pleasure beyond his comprehension. Mrs. Chemping held one or two napkins up to the light and stared fixedly at them, as though she half expected to find some revolutionary cypher written on them in scarcely visible ink; then she suddenly broke away in the direction of the glassware department.

“Millicent asked me to get her a couple of decanters if there were any going really cheap,” she explained on the way, “and I really do want a salad bowl. I can come back to the napkins later on.”

She handled and scrutinised a large number of decanters and a long series of salad bowls, and finally bought seven chrysanthemum vases.

“No one uses that kind of vase nowadays,” she informed Cyprian, “but they will do for presents next Christmas.”

Two sunshades that were marked down to a price that Mrs. Chemping considered absurdly cheap were added to her purchases.

“One of them will do for Ruth Colson; she is going out to the Malay States, and a sunshade will always be useful there. And I must get her some thin writing paper. It takes up no room in one’s baggage.”

Mrs. Chemping bought stacks of writing paper; it was so cheap, and it went so flat in a trunk or portmanteau. She also bought a few envelopes – envelopes somehow seemed rather an extravagance compared with notepaper.

“Do you think Ruth will like blue or grey paper?” she asked Cyprian.

“Grey,” said Cyprian, who had never met the lady in question.

“Have you any mauve notepaper of this quality?” Adela asked the assistant.

“We haven’t any mauve,” said the assistant, “but we’ve two shades of green and a darker shade of grey.”

Mrs. Chemping inspected the greens and the darker grey, and chose the blue.

“Now we can have some lunch,” she said.

Cyprian behaved in an exemplary fashion in the refreshment department, and cheerfully accepted a fish cake and a mince pie and a small cup of coffee as adequate restoratives after two hours of concentrated shopping. He was adamant, however, in resisting his aunt’s suggestion that a hat should be bought for him at the counter where men’s headwear was being disposed of at temptingly reduced prices.

“I’ve got as many hats as I want at home,” he said, “and besides, it rumples one’s hair so, trying them on.”

Perhaps he was going to develop into a Nut after all. It was a disquieting symptom that he left all the parcels in charge of the cloak-room attendant.

“We shall be getting more parcels presently,” he said, “so we need not collect these till we have finished our shopping.”

His aunt was doubtfully appeased; some of the pleasure and excitement of a shopping expedition seemed to evaporate when one was deprived of immediate personal contact with one’s purchases.

“I’m going to look at those napkins again,” she said, as they descended the stairs to the ground floor. “You need not come,” she added, as the dreaming look in the boy’s eyes changed for a moment into one of mute protest, “you can meet me afterwards in the cutlery department; I’ve just remembered that I haven’t a corkscrew in the house that can be depended on.”

Cyprian was not to be found in the cutlery department when his aunt in due course arrived there, but in the crush and bustle of anxious shoppers and busy attendants it was an easy matter to miss anyone. It was in the leather goods department some quarter of an hour later that Adela Chemping caught sight of her nephew, separated from her by a rampart of suit-cases and portmanteaux and hemmed in by the jostling crush of human beings that now invaded every corner of the great shopping emporium. She was just in time to witness a pardonable but rather embarrassing mistake on the part of a lady who had wriggled her way with unstayable determination towards the bareheaded Cyprian, and was now breathlessly demanding the sale price of a handbag which had taken her fancy.

“There now,” exclaimed Adela to herself, “she takes him for one of the shop assistants because he hasn’t got a hat on. I wonder it hasn’t happened before.”

Perhaps it had. Cyprian, at any rate, seemed neither startled nor embarrassed by the error into which the good lady had fallen. Examining the ticket on the bag, he announced in a clear, dispassionate voice:

“Black seal, thirty-four shillings, marked down to twenty-eight. As a matter of fact, we are clearing them out at a special reduction price of twenty-six shillings. They are going off rather fast.”

“I’ll take it,” said the lady, eagerly digging some coins out of her purse.

“Will you take it as it is?” asked Cyprian; “it will be a matter of a few minutes to get it wrapped up, there is such a crush.”

“Never mind, I’ll take it as it is,” said the purchaser, clutching her treasure and counting the money into Cyprian’s palm.

Several kind strangers helped Adela into the open air.

“It’s the crush and the heat,” said one sympathiser to another; “it’s enough to turn anyone giddy.”

When she next came across Cyprian he was standing in the crowd that pushed and jostled around the counters of the book department. The dream look was deeper than ever in his eyes. He had just sold two books of devotion to an elderly Canon.

http://haytom.us/the-dreamer/

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that her readers were not unduly burdened with dreamy nephews or parcels during their week-end holiday shopping.

Adela Chemping’s fear that Cyprian was going to be “what they call a Nut” refers to a slang term for an idle chap-about-town, also spelt “knut,” as in this 1914 comic song.

GILBERT THE FILBERT

(Arthur Wimperis / Herman Finck 1914)

I am known round town as a fearful blood,

For I come straight down from the dear old flood,

And I know who’s who and I know what’s what,

And between the two I’m a trifle hot.

For I set the tone as you may suppose,

For I stand alone when it comes to clo’es,

And as for gals,

Just ask my pals,

Why everybody knows

I’m Gilbert, the Filbert, the knut with a “K”,

The pride of Piccadilly, the blase roue.

Oh, Hades! The ladies who leave their wooden huts

For Gilbert, the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.

 

You may look on me as a waster, what?

But you ought to see how I fag and swot,

For I’m called by two, and by five I’m out,

Which I couldn’t do if I slacked about.

Then I count my ties and I change my kit,

And the exercise keeps me awf’ly fit,

Once I begin,

I work like sin,

I’m full of go and grit.

I’m Gilbert, the Filbert, the knut with a “K”,

The pride of Picadilly, the blase roue.

Oh, Hades! The ladies who leave their wooden huts

For Gilbert, the Filbert, the Colonel of the Knuts.

Mrs Daffodil knows that all of her readers will wish to hear this music-hall persiflage; here is a gramophone recording from 1915.

 

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.