Category Archives: Short Stories

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.

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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.

 

The Lipperley Necklace: 1870s

So many of Peter Lely’s languid-eyed ladies wear strings of luminous pearls. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Peter_Lely#/media/File:Frances_Teresa_Stuart_by_Lely.jpg

THE LOST NECKLACE.

We all have our ambitions. That of Andrew Andrews, the great dealer in jewellery and bric-a-brac, was to be acknowledged the finest judge of precious stones and antique work to be found in the trade. He worked early and late to obtain this reputation, and by dint of perseverance and a few clever hits, much expenditure of money and not a trifle of burnt fingers during his apprenticeship, he succeeded in his desire. His knowledge was allowed on all hands to be supreme, his taste impeccable, his flair undeviating. No stone of value, no piece of goldsmith’s work, no specimen of cinquecento art, was quite sure of its repute until it had been passed through the alembic of his judgment; and what he had once stamped with his approval, and consented to sell with his name attached, was sent out into the world with a certificate of merit that was worth a small fortune to its possessor.

With this ambition of being known for accurate connoisseurship, was naturally that other of getting hold of all the most famous stones and pieces of bric-a-brac that he could induce the present owners to throw into his hands. If he knew of any precious bits belonging to a decayed family of former notables, needing money more than heirlooms, or to a young scapegrace who cared more for a month’s spree than for all the rare gems, and cabinets, and pictures, and pottery mouldering down at the dull old home, Andrew Andrews went round and round that quarry like a dog scenting a cache, and never rested until he had got the thing he wanted, for he gave good prices when it suited his purpose. He knew how to bribe so as to create the desire to sell; and he even sometimes bought at a loss that he might keep up his character as the indefatigable collector of unique valuables, in whose private parlour at the back of the shop you would find things not to be had anywhere else in the world. All the same, he ground down the poor devils who sold for need, till he took pretty well al the gilt off their gingerbread, and made the transaction for them rather a loss than a gain. As, however, nothing succeeds so much as success, he got his own way nine times out of ten; and Andrew Andrews was known far and wide as the man to whom to go if you wanted to buy a good thing irrespective of cost, or to get rid of one on favourable terms, if your needs were not pressing, and you were dexterous in the art of angling.

Now there was one thing which Andrew Andrews wished above all in the world to get hold of. This was the famous pearl necklace which had belonged to the beautiful Lady Lipperley, of doubtful fame—that Lady Lipperley who had been one of the beauties of Charles the Second’s court; whose portrait Sir Peter Lely had painted as “Venus rising from the sea,” and whose main article of attire in that portrait was this famous pearl necklace which Andrew Andrews coveted as if it had been the elixir of life itself. As pearls and as a necklace this jewel was unique_ The centre drop alone was worth a King’s ransom; the pearls were well-nigh priceless; and the fame of possessing this splendid and unapproachable treasure was of more value in the eyes of Andrew Andrews than half his fortune. This pearl necklace haunted him. Night and day he thought of it, and devised schemes as to, first, its discovery and then its possession. He was willing to pay royally for this royal treasure if only he could secure it; and, as it was, he spent no small sums in trying to find out where it was. For there was something of a tradition as to the strange way in which it had disappeared from view ; and, though known to exist—for the pearls had never come into the market—it was not known where. Hence Andrew Andrews was in his right, as well as following the custom of the trade, when he employed agents and spies, to whom he offered a generous com‘mission, should they bring him within measurable distance of Lady Lipperley’s world-famed necklace.

One day a stranger came into the office where Andrew Andrews transacted his business, examined his books, and offered his wares. He was looking now over his correspondence with young Vaurien, who had a few good things left in his ancestral home, for which the connoisseur was in treaty, when a tall, well-conditioned, handsome-looking man, with a military air and a good address, walked straight through the front shop, disregarding the shopman’s inquiries as to what he wanted, and came full upon Andrew Andrews in his sanctum sanctorum.

“Good morning, Mr. Andrews,” he said, speaking with an easy, off-hand air, like a man accustomed to the world and not afraid of his company. He spoke, too, with a slight foreign accent, like an Englishman who had been many years abroad, and who has thus, by long contact, acquired a certain genre, as things which have lain near coffee, or musk, or tobacco, become impregnated with the foreign odour of their neighbour.

“Good morning, sir,” said Mr. Andrews, with a sharp glance that took in the whole personality of the visitor, from the well-brushed hair, just beginning to thin on the temples, to the well-cut coat fitting like a second skin on the handsome back, and the perfect boots in which a couple of small and nicely-shaped feet were encased.

“You deal in gems, cinque-cento work, jewellery, majolica—bric-a-brac, in a word! ” said the stranger, whose dark eyes were roving round the place like an owl out a-mousing, or a hawk hovering above a dovecote.

Mr. Andrew Andrews bowed in assent.

“Your name is well known all over the world,” continued the stranger, in his careless, off-hand way. “At all the art sales in Paris, Vienna, Berlin, you are a greater authority than the greatest man of the place, and what Mr. Andrew Andrews, of London, approves of has a cachet of its own, and one that goes beyond its own merits.”

As he spoke, he took off his glove and carelessly stroked his moustache. On his hand glittered and played in the changing light an incomparable cat’s-eye. Never since he entered the business had Andrew Andrews seen such a magnificent specimen of this strange stone. He looked at it with the connoisseur’s admiration, the collector’s fascination; but the stranger did not notice that rapt regard. He was thinking only of his moustache, which he had evidently the trick of stroking as some men play with their watch-chains, and others twirl their sticks, with two fingers as a pivot.

“You have a fine cat’s-eye there,” said Andrews abruptly.

The stranger laughed in a half-pleased, half-deprecatory way.

“Yes, it’s well enough,” he said; “but I have finer things than this. Here is a gem, for instance, that has not its fellow in the world,” he added, taking off his other glove, and showing the most exquisite engraved emerald; “one of the finest and purest of the finest and purest periods of antique gem engraving.”

“You are rich,” said Andrews, with a covetous glance.

“Think so? What do you say, then, to this?” laughed the stranger, taking from his breast pocket a small box, wrapped in many envelopes. When he came finally to the contents, he showed the connoisseur a pear-shaped pearl of the most perfect shape and colour.

Andrews held out his hand for the jewel, but the stranger kept it back with the instinctive action of a man who has gone about the world, and rubbed shoulders with his kind so long as to have dropped by the way all false modesty as well as trust, sensitiveness, and inconvenient belief in human honesty. He only showed it, lying in the box which he held tightly in his own hand; and he did not allow Andrew Andrews to touch it or examine it closely.

“That is worth something, if you like,” he said, as he re-enfolded the box in its multifarious wrappings, then put it back in his breast pocket, rather ostentatiously buttoning up his coat as he did so.

“It is fairly fine,” said Andrews, cautiously.

It was not his way to be enthusiastic over the property of others which he might have to buy. He turned the mirror round only when he had to sell.

“Fairly fine!” echoed the stranger with marked contempt. “I believe it is ‘fairly fine’ with a vengeance! I should have thought a man of your judgment and experience would have pronounced a more fitting verdict than this, Mr. Andrews. I like that! Fairly fine! Well, I suppose it is, and something more the back of that.”

“You did not give me time to examine it, sir,” said Andrews, a little sulkily.

“Time enough for an expert like yourself to have seen its merits,” answered the stranger, hastily, and somewhat haughtily. “The drop of the necklace which belonged to Lady Lipperley—which Sir Peter Lely painted in his famous picture of “Venus rising from the sea”—which all the world knows of—which has been engraved and described scores of times—surely it does not need a very close examination to decide on the merits of such an incomparable jewel as that! However, I did not come here to discuss my pearl; I came to ask if you have still in your possession that famous Limoges snuff-box which belonged to Richelieu, and from him passed down by various stages to Madame Récamier, and then to young Vaurien, who sold it two years ago at the Hotel Drouot, where you bought it? Is it still in your possession?”

“The drop of the Lipperley necklace!” murmured Andrew Andrews. He was too much astounded, absorbed, overcome, to listen to the rest. The pearl necklace which he had set his heart on having ; and here was the drop—the famous drop—within reach of his hand!

“Well, Mr. Andrews,” said the stranger, sharply; “have you that snuff-box?”

“The snuff-box! What snuff-box?” asked Andrews, recalled to himself, like a sleeper suddenly awakened.

The stranger looked at him with frank surprise.

“Why, Mr. Andrews, what has come over you?” he said, with a light laugh. “One would think you had been struck by some demon. We should say so in my country. What has happened to you! What is it?”

“Nothing,” said Andrews, trying to laugh as lightly as his visitor, but making a sorry kind of business of it. “I was only a little surprised when you told me that that pearl was the drop belonging to the famous necklace of Lady Lipperley. It is a thing I have wanted all my life to see, but I have never been able to trace it. I did not know who had it.”

“No? then you could not have gone very far,” laughed the stranger.” “It has been in the possession of our family for generations.”

“Of what family?” asked Andrew Andrews, anxiously.

“The Von Rascalliz of Pesth,” said the stranger.

“But how the deuce did it travel there?” said Andrews.

“Oh, the itinerary is easy to trace,” said the stranger. “A Rascalliz was Ambassador at the Court of Anne-— don’t you remember?—when most of the Beauties of the Merry Monarch had gone to the shades below, and their fortunes were in some instances of no more value than their good looks. Lady Lipperley’s exchequer was one of those which had run dry. She sold the famous pearl necklace to my ancestor, Maximilian von Rascalliz, and we have preserved the precious heirloom from that day to this. I have the original deed of transfer written in the Latin of that period. Queer stuff that Latin!” he said, laughing again. “I question if Cicero would have fathered it.”

“Have you the necklace here in London?” asked Andrews.

“Surely!” answered Von Rascalliz; “I never travel without it. Besides, to tell you the truth, I thought of offering it to your Queen. It seems a pity that such a splendid jewel should belong to an old bachelor like myself. It ought to adorn a Court!”

“Could I see it before you offer it?” said Andrews, trembling like an aspen leaf.

“Well — yes — under restrictions,” answered Von Rascalliz, looking at the collector as a policeman looks at a probable burglar. “You can see it, certainly, Mr. Andrews; but you understand, don’t you, that the thing is rather too valuable to be handed about to Tom, Dick, and Harry indiscriminately? If you see it, it must be at my hotel and under my conditions.”

“Certainly, certainly, sir,” said Andrews, wiping the perspiration from his upper lip; “at all events, let me see it before you offer it to her Majesty.”

He was impolitic in his eagerness. He felt that he was; but this was one of those occasions which come only once in the life of a man, and he might be excused if he showed too plainly how much the matter interested him.

“But the snuff-box?” said Von Rascalliz, who took the whole affair with consummate coolness.

“No, I have not got it; I sold it last week.”

On which the polite Hungarian gave vent to something in an unknown tongue which, if it were not swearing, was a very good imitation.

The next day Andrews went to the hotel indicated, where he found Von Rascalliz, the pearls, the deed of transfer, and a gentlemanlike-looking man, who was called by the host mon cher, and who said, incidentally, that he, too, having heard of the famous necklace, had come to open negotiations for it on behalf of the fabulously-wealthy Mrs.___, who made it her boast to carry the revenue of a nation on her shoulders. Indeed, things had gone very far when Andrews came in, and it was only by dint of a handsome personal commission to mon cher that he was able to stop the sale of the pearls there and then. He did stop it, however, and took a day and a night to reflect on the possibility of his own purchase. Von Rascalliz promised to wait his decision before either offering the necklace to the Queen, or concluding with Mrs. ___ ’s agent. But he must make that decision quickly. Time pressed, and that estate in Hungary wanted the owner’s supervision.

The ball rolled according to the collector’s will. He had longed for this moment with a passion known only to those who have dreamed for years of a quasi-impossibility. When their dream is suddenly fulfilled, they lose their heads. And Andrews lost his. He bought the pearl necklace at a tremendous sacrifice; but he had attained his desire, and the world envied while it applauded him. He spent a few thousands in advertising his treasure, which he set at a figure that would handsomely recoup his outlay; and all London flocked to see the historic necklace that Andrew Andrews, the great bric-a-brac and art collector, had bought at a price which made cautious men wink.

Among the rest came a little snuffy, shuffling old fellow, who had more knowledge of art and stones and gems in his little finger than Andrews had in his whole head. He was a queer, Bohemian, gin-drinking old chap; but if he were sober he knew a good thing when he saw it, and spotted a forgery as unerringly as a retriever brings in a bird. He looked through the gilt bars of the glass case where the famous necklace was lying; and as he looked he might be seen laughing greatly to himself.

“Splendidly done!” he said, half aloud. “A real work of genius! Ought to succeed; and don’t wonder it fetched that ass, Andrews! Best thing of the kind I have ever seen; and if Andrews were not such a bumptious fool, I would leave him to find it out by himself. But he wants a lesson, and by the Lord Harry, he shall have it! ”

The next day the little snuffy old man called on Andrews with a bundle of discoloured old plates and torn sheets of letterpress under his arm.

“Andrews,” he said, bluntly, “you have been taken in this time. That necklace is no more the Lipperley necklace than it is the Koh-i-noor, It is a forgery, sir; wonderfully well done—but only a forgery after all.”

“You are drunk, Snooks!” said Andrews, contemptuously.

He was a coarse kind of man to his social inferiors, though an oily-tongued fellow enough to his superiors.

“Sober as a judge, Mr. Andrews, and a better judge both of pearls and their forgeries than you are,” retorted the old fellow. “Here, see what these old descriptions say; look at these cuts. “Where the deuce were your eyes when you bought this for a genuine pearl?” he added, pointing disdainfully to one of the beads, which had a small, microscopic, manufactured flaw. “Test that bead, and my life on it you will find it false. And so they all are. You have been done, sir, done; and your famous Lipperley necklace is worth only the price of a good bit of Palais Royal jewellery.”

It was in vain that Andrews swore and raved, abused Snooks like a pickpocket, and vowed he would have the life of that infamous Von Rascalliz. Facts are facts, and historic pearls can be proved as well as titles, and deeds of transfer in dog Latin can be forged as well as banknotes and old poems. And the fact here was, as Snooks had said, that Andrews had been taken in and done for with masterly success by one of the cleverest workmen of the great Palais Royal house of ___. There was no help for it. The thing was undeniable, and the ruin of his far-famed reputation stared him in the face. And this was a thing he could never survive.

He took his decision heroically. Better lose his money than his character for accuracy of judgment—better lie to the world like a man than be smothered in ridicule. What Snooks had discovered others might discover, and when the thing got wind, where then would be his pride of place as the great art collector, his purity of repute as the unfailing judge and critic?

That night the necklace was missing from its case, and the case itself was found broken to pieces in the shop. In the morning, when they came to open the place, the assistants saw the floor strewed with broken glass, the gilt bars bent and broken, and that the pearls had disappeared. Nothing else had been abstracted—only the famous Lipperley necklace, for which Andrews had paid so royally, and which he expected to sell so handsomely. There was a hue and cry, of course; the police were called in, and all the servants were subjected to the most rigorous cross-examination, which resulted in nothing; and then Andrew Andrews advertised his loss extensively, and offered a gigantic reward to whosoever should bring the necklace to his place. But neither advertisement nor offered reward produced any good effect. The missing pearls never turned up, and to this hour the mystery of their disappearance is unsolved. Only Snooks suspects, and Andrews knows, what became of that famous Lipperley necklace, each pearl of which would have made an era in the life of any jeweller to whom it might have been offered. But if hammers could speak, that hammer in Andrews’ private sanctum could tell its own tale; and that well fed, handsome, polyglot Greek swindler, feasting his accomplices at Bignon’s, would have continued the disclosures made by that general smash.

Truth, Vol. 11, 22 June 1882

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  How many literary allusions this story of bejewelled hubris suggests!  “Pearls goeth before a fall.” “Pearls before swine.” The Biblical “pearl of great price” and the man who sold all he had to possess it. And, of course, the most apropos, “pearls mean tears.”

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.

Mrs Daffodil on Flowers

A miniature flower painting by Jan Frans van Dael, mounted as a brooch. http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=jewellery&oid=156467

Since the Family is away on holiday over the week-end, Mrs Daffodil is taking this opportunity to take a brief holiday of her own, possibly paying a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show and returning, refreshed, Wednesday next.

She has posted on floral themes many times, so, to while away the hours for those of Mrs Daffodil’s readers who will be counting the moments until a new post appears, here are some posts pertinent to the topic of flowers.

Strange Flower Superstitions of Many Lands

Queen Adelaide’s Flower-Acrostic Dress

The Wild-Flower Wedding

A Miniature Matterhorn and Gnome Miners

Funeral Flowers for Young Helen

Napoleon and the Gardener

A very recent post: The Black Rose

And Mrs Daffodil’s favourite gardening story, “The Occasional Garden,” by Mr H. H. Munro [Saki]

Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers a delightful and restful week-end with well-filled picnic hampers and unclouded blue skies.

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 Model Millionaire

The Model Millionaire

Unless one is wealthy, there is no good in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realized. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said either a brilliant or an ill-natured thing in his life. But, then, he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp, brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his gray eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money. His father had bequeathed him his cavalry sword, and a “History of the Peninsular War,” in fifteen volumes. Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s Guide [to the Turf] and Bailey‘s Magazine [of Sports and Pastimes], and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him.

He had tried everything.  He had gone on the Stock Exchange for six months; but what was a butterfly to do among bulls and bears? He had been a tea merchant for a little longer, but had soon tired of pekoe and souchong. Then he had tried selling dry sherry. That did not answer. Ultimately he became nothing, a delightful, ineffectual young man with a perfect profile and no profession.

To make matters worse, he was in love. The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired colonel, who had lost his temper and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them again. Laura adored him, and he was ready to kiss her shoestrings. They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a pennypiece between them. The colonel was very fond of Hughie, but not hear of any engagement.

“Come to me, my boy, when you have got ten thousand pounds of your own, and we will see about it,” he used to say; and Hughie looked very glum on those days, and had to go to Laura for consolation.

One morning, as he was on his way to Holland Park, where the Mertons lived, he dropped in to see a great friend of his, Alan Trevor. Trevor was a painter. Indeed, few people escape that nowadays. But he was also an artist, and artists are rather rare. Personally, he was a strange, rough fellow, with a freckled face and red hair.

However, when he took up the brush he was a real master, and his pictures were eagerly sought after. He had been very much attracted by Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on account of his good looks. “The only people a painter should know,” he used to say, “ are people who are bête and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual repose to talk to. Dandies and darlings rule the world.” However, after he got to know Hughie better, he liked him quite as much for his bright, buoyant spirits and his generous, reckless nature, and had given him the permanent entrée to his studio.

When Hughie came in he found Trevor putting the finishing touches to a wonderful life-size picture of a beggar-man. The beggar himself was standing on a raised platform in a corner of the studio. He was a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous expression. Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand he leant on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered hat for alms.

“ What an amazing model!” whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend.

“An amazing model?” shouted Trevor, at the top of his voice ; “I should think so ! Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day. A trouvaille, mon cher; a living Velasquez! My stars! what an etching Rembrandt would have made of him !”

“ Poor old chap!” said Hughie; “how miserable he looks! But I suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune.”

“Certainly,” replied Trevor; “you don’t want a beggar to look happy, do you?”

“How much does a model get for sitting?” asked Hughie, as he found himself a comfortable seat on the divan.

“A shilling an hour.”

“And how much do you get for your picture, Alan?”

“Oh, for this I get a thousand.”

“Pounds?”

“Guineas. Painters, poets and physicians always get guineas.”

“Well, I think the model should have a percentage,” said Hughie, laughing; “they work quite as hard as you do.”

“Nonsense, nonsense! Why, look at the trouble of laying on the paint alone, and standing all day long at one’s easel! It’s all very well, Hughie, for you to talk, but I assure you that there are moments when Art approaches the dignity of manual labor. But you mustn‘t chatter; I’m very busy. Smoke a cigarette and keep quiet.”

After some time the servant came in, and told Trevor that the framemaker wanted to speak to him.

“Don‘t run away, Hughie,” he said, as he went out, “I will be back in a moment.”

The old beggar-man took advantage of Trevor‘s absence to rest for a moment on a wooden bench that was behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie could not help pitying him, and he felt in his pockets to see what money he had. All he could find was a sovereign and some coppers.

“Poor old fellow,” he thought to’ himself, “he wants it more than I do, but it means no hansoms for a fortnight;” and he walked across the studio and slipped the sovereign into the beggar’s hand.

The old man started, and a faint smile flitted across his withered lips.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, in a foreign accent.

Then Trevor arrived, and Hughie took his leave, blushing a little at what he had done. He spent the day with Laura, got a charming scolding for his extravagance, and had to walk home.

That night he strolled into the Palette Club about eleven o’clock, and found Trevor sitting by himself in the smoking-room drinking hock and seltzer.

“Well, Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?’ he said, as he lit his cigarette.

“Finished and framed, my boy!” answered Trevor; “and, by-the-by, you have made a conquest. That old model you saw is quite devoted to you. I had to tell him all about you—who you are, where you live, what your income is, what prospects you have——”

“My dear Alan,” cried Hughie, “I shall probably find him waiting for me when I go home. But of course you are only joking. Poor old beggar! I wish I could do something for him. I think it is dreadful that any one should be so miserable. I have got heaps of old clothes at home-do you think he would care for any of them ? Why, his rags were falling to bits.”

“But he looks splendid in them,” said Trevor. “I wouldn’t paint him in a frock coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me. However, I’ll tell him of your offer.”

“Alan,” said Hughie, seriously, “you painters are a heartless lot.”

“An artist’s heart is his head,” replied Trevor ; “ and, besides, our business is to realize the world as we see it, I not to reform it as we know it. A chacun son metier. And now tell me how Laura is. The old model was quite interested in her.”

“You don’t mean to say you talked to him about her?” said Hughie.

“Certainly I did. He knows all about the relentless colonel, the lovely damsel and the ten thousand pounds.”

“You told that old beggar all my private affairs?” cried Hughie, looking very red and angry.

“My dear boy,” said Trevor, smiling, “that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all London to-morrow without overdrawing his account. He has a house in every capital, dines off gold plate, and can prevent Russia going to war when he chooses.”

“What on earth do you mean?” exclaimed Hughie.

“What I say,” said Trevor. “The old man you saw to-day was Baron Hausberg. He is a great friend of mine, buys all my pictures and that sort of thing, and gave me a commission a month ago to paint him as a beggar. Que voulez-vous? La fantaisie d’un millionnaire.’ And I must say he made a magnificent figure in his rags, or, perhaps, I should say in my rags; they are an old suit I got in Spain.”

“Baron Hausberg!” cried Hughie. “Good heavens! I gave him a sovereign!” and he sank into an armchair the picture of dismay.

“Gave him a sovereign !” shouted Trevor, and he burst into a roar of laughter. “My dear boy, you’ll never see it again. Son affaire c’est l’argent des autress.

“I think you might have told me, Alan,” said Hughie, sulkily, “and not let me make such a fool of myself.”

“Well, to begin with, Hughie,” said Trevor, “it never entered my mind that you went about distributing alms in that reckless way. I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one —by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home to-day to any one and when you came in I did not know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned. You know he wasn’t in full dress.”

“What a duffer he must think me!” said Hughie.

“Not at all. He was in the highest spirits after you left; kept chuckling to himself and rubbing his old wrinkled hands together. I couldn’t make out why he was so interested to know all about you; but I see it all now. He’ll invest your sovereign for you, Hughie, pay you the interest every six months, and have a capital story to tell after dinner.”

“I am an unlucky devil,” growled Hughie. “The best thing I can do is to go to bed; and, my dear Alan, you mustn’t tell any one. I shouldn’t dare show my face in the row.”

“Nonsense! It reflects the highest credit on your philanthropic spirit, Hughie and—don’t run away. Have another cigarette, and you can talk about Laura as much as you like.”

However, Hughie wouldn’t stop, but walked home, feeling very unhappy, and leaving Alan Trevor in fits of laughter.

The next morning, as he was at breakfast, the servant brought him up a card, on which was written, “Monsieur Gustave Naudin, de la part de M. le Baron Hausberg.” “I suppose he has come for an apology,” said Hughie to himself; and he told the servant to show the visitor up.

An old gentleman with gold spectacles and gray hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French accent, “Have I the honor of addressing Monsieur Hugh Erskine?”

Hughie bowed.

“I have come from Baron Hausberg,” he continued. “The Baron-——”

“I beg, sir, that you will offer him my sincere apologies,” said Hughie.

“The Baron,” said the old gentleman, with a smile, “has commissioned me to bring you this letter;” and he handed Hughie a sealed envelope.

On the outside was written, “A wedding-present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar,” and inside was a check for ten thousand pounds.

When they were married Alan Trevor was the best man, and the Baron made a speech at the wedding breakfast.

“Millionaire models,” said Alan, “are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!”

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories, Oscar Wilde, 1891

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Ah, we all love a happy ending, particularly when it involves immense cheques bestowed upon the Deserving, who find themselves not only the Handsomest, but the Luckiest Couple in London. The Baron was perceptive enough not to offer young Hughie a job, recognising in him the spirit of Bertie Wooster and the Drones Club.

Mrs Daffodil first read this slight fiction in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly for 1887, where it was >ahem< published anonymously, not credited to Mr Wilde. Such “borrowings” seem to have been a fact of life in the management of a nineteenth-century newspaper or journal.

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.

 

“It was the season of sales:” 1914

Blanche, Jacques-Emile; Knightsbridge from Sloane Street, London (Fine December Morning); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/knightsbridge-from-sloane-street-london-fine-december-morning-8057

Blanche, Jacques-Emile; Knightsbridge from Sloane Street, London (Fine December Morning); York Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/knightsbridge-from-sloane-street-london-fine-december-morning-8057

The Dreamer

by Saki (H. H. Munro)

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 extragavance 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.

From Beasts and Super-Beasts

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: What a consolation it must have been to Aunt Adela to find that Cyprian was not a Nut.  Or “Knut,” if you prefer the orthodox spelling from “Gilbert the Filbert,” for the idle, if decorative young Man About Town.

Mrs Daffodil trusts that all of her readers who had the strength to venture out on the so-called “Black Friday” found bargains enough to please and that no one got injured.  Mrs Daffodil counts herself fortunate that she has Staff to do most of the Hall shopping; she spent a pleasant afternoon with a cup of cocoa and an improving book.

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.