Category Archives: Theatre

The Lightning Adaptors of Fashion: 1910

billie burke 1916

Actress Billie Burke c. 1916

On Trail of Latest Fashions.

Helene Melville

There are a large number of fashion devotees who, although unable to spend much on their attire or to be in the secret of the “couturiers,” manage to be dressed strictly according to the dictates of fashion almost as soon as those dictates have been promulgated, and before they appear in the shape of special articles and sketches or photograph in newspapers and periodicals.

Needless to say. It is among the Parisiennes that these clever and enterprising fashion hunters, fashion detectors, and fashion ” lightning adaptors,” as some one has called them, are mostly to be found.

Which are their hunting territories? Mainly the leading theaters of Paris (on first nights), the race courses near the French metropolis, and the ” afternoon teas.” “Afternoon teas” is the more vague term for the old fashioned “5 o’clock tea,” which now is partaken of in Paris from any time between 5 and 7 p.m.!

The first night at the Théâtre-Français, the Vaudeville, the Gymnase, and the Variétés are the recognised indicators of fashion. Sensational gowns are worn on those “select” stages by the  leading Parisian actresses. Some of those dresses are suggestions. They are offered to the actress by well known firms anxious to make their new “creations” known to the elite.

It were difficult to conceive keener excitement and anxiety, a readier sense of assimilation than that which permeates the minds of certain feminine spectators at those “premieres.”

They hold the best seats, the seats from which a woman can see the exact nature of a material and whether a gown closes at the back, in front, or on the side, how that “unique drapery” is arranged, and the exact details of the color scheme.

How clever those fair fashion pirates are! How subtle and rapid in their perceptions. They miss nothing and their astounding memory–for, needless to say, they make no use of paper or pencil–retains even the slightest details of the new gowns they admire end envy.

All the time her mind is at work. Her eyes take snapshots of all that is new in fashion and which passes before her. The next morning she sets to work alone or with the assistance of a little dressmaker or milliner, and, behold, the same day or the next she appears triumphantly in the drawing room of her best friend wearing the latest!

Of course she does not remember much of the play; she has hardly grasped the plot or appreciated, the acting. But what matters? A new hat surely is more important than a new play, and “her” success is a more momentous affair than that of writer’s dramatic effort.

The methods of the fashion hunters are used by them on many fields of activity. But the fashionable Paris theaters on first nights are favorites with them. Can one blame them? After all they only seek to enhance their appearance, and if vanity is at the foundation of their craving for “new” elegance and, as it were, copyright “fashionableness” let us remember that they expose themselves to much criticism and run the dreaded risk of not being absolutely fashionable in spite of their efforts, at imitation and assimilation.

Chicago [IL] Tribune 20 February 1910: p. 48

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Actresses of stage and screen reported much pressure over procuring and wearing the latest fashions. They knew very well that they were role models:  the theatrical equivalent of to-day’s cat-walk mannequins, exhibiting the most up-to-date costumes to audiences who, although they could not patronise the great couture houses, still wished to wear the newest styles.

One actress, who designed many of her own costumes, felt that the piracy of theatrical audiences had gone far enough.

COPYRIGHTED DRESSES.

Miss Billie Burke originated the scheme of copyrighting her stage dresses that so many other actresses have since adopted.

“I just had to do it,” says the actress, who comes to the Grand Theatre March 19, in “Jerry,” her latest success in which she wears an unusually large number of fetching gowns.

“I used to be proud of the fact that the dressmakers copied my clothes for their customers, but I found it made it very expensive for me. I had to be getting new frocks all the time to keep ahead of my audiences. So I have seen my lawyers in New York and they tell me It can be done and that after my dresses are copyrighted I can prosecute anyone who copies them.”

Miss Burke, it is well known, is one of the best dressed women on the American stage. She designs most of her costumes herself and so they have a distinctive touch that differentiates them from the prevailing fashions. Dressmakers In New York especially–but in other cities, too– were quick to observe this and whenever Miss Burke appeared in a new play in New York there were always a lot of the fashionable costumers of the city in the audience and it wasn’t long before a lot of Imitation Billie Burkes were to be seen on Fifth Avenue.

The Montgomery [AL] Advertiser 13 March 1915: p. 3

Miss Billie Burke had such a distinctive face, figure, and voice that one could scarcely countenance an Imitation.  In addition to designing her own clothes, she was often dressed by Lucile. Some of Mrs Daffodil’s readers will remember her in a fluffy pink frock as “Glinda, the Good Witch” in the motion picture: The Wizard of Oz. 

Mrs Daffodil has written before on early fashion piracy, and on the trials of motion-picture actresses and their fashionable gowns.

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.

Kitty’s Railway Adventure: 1894

kitty's adventure

KITTY’S ADVENTURE.

“Good-by, dear.”

“A safe journey and a pleasant one.”

The train began to move. Miss Kitty Belwhistle distributed a farewell series of nods and smiles.

She felt quite fond of the Cholmondeleys, now that she was leaving them. They were sorry to lose their guest undoubtedly.

Their brother sorrowed also, but not as one without hope. Business of a pressing nature was likely to take him up to London in the course of a week or so.

Kitty, experienced hand that she was, had not spent three weeks at Northwitch Grange for nothing. The understanding between herself and the heir of the Northwitch acres was pretty definite, that young gentleman flattered himself. They were almost, if not exactly, engaged.

Kitty had made the usual stipulation.

If, within the space of twelve months from date, she met somebody else she liked better than dear Chubbington, all that had passed between them was henceforth to be regarded as an idle dream. If on the other hand, she did not, then—

Kitty pulled up the window and sank back into her comfortable corner seat. The first-class compartment contained no other passenger than the charming young lady in the sealskin coat and crimson-leathered toque who consulted her complexion in the strip of looking glass before she fell to overhauling her bags and packages.

The journey was tedious, and would be certain to be a cold one upon this keen, frosty January day.

But Kitty, who always was distinguished by admirable forethought in matters where her own well-being was concerned, had got all her little comforts around her.

“Eau de cologne? Yes, the housemaid put it in. How stupid of Parker to catch bronchitis! Of course, I was obliged to leave her behind. If I had insisted on her traveling she would have been sure to incur a fresh chill and die on me out of spite.

“If anything in the shape of an adventure could possibly present itself in the course of the humdrum seven hours’ railway journey between Norwich and Liverpool, I should be inclined to welcome it, unless it came in the form of a railway smash. Ugh! The bare idea makes one shudder.

“Let me just peep at the luncheon basket. Tongue and turkey sandwiches, bard-boiled eggs and anchovy ditto, a bottle of cold tea, half a pint and a bag of macaroons. Perhaps Chubby superintended the arrangement! Poor Chubby!”

And Kitty smiled a heartless little smile at the remembrance of Chubby’s pink tinged nose and tearful eyes. Then she opened a brand now railway novel, “The Fang of the Adder,” and immersed herself in the most thrilling chapter of that electrical work:

“Forked and lurid flashes of lightning silently played over the midnight azure. A low peal of thunder rumbled overhead as Paulina gained the churchyard. She reached the lonely resting place of the man whom her heart had worshiped, the man whom her relentless hand had guided to his doom.

“Did he but know it, Cherrington Chim was bitterly avenged.

“As sobs thickened in his murderess’s strangling throat and she sank forward amid the matted and tangled grasses—what happened?

“A hand touched her on the shoulder. A voice said hoarsely”—

“Kimpton, Kimpton! Change ‘ere for Carbury and Walsing.”

The train slowed and stopped, with a jerk. Kitty shut the book and let down the window.

Something darkened the carriage door. A dark-faced mustached, fur-coated stranger got in hurriedly. He trampled on Miss Belwhistle’s toes and apologized floridly. His tone offended her cars ; the perfume which exhaled from his garments offended a still more sensitive perception.

He trampled on Kitty’s toes again as he received into his arms a heavy bundle, the helpless figure of another man, and deposited it in a further corner of the compartment, with evident difficulty.

Another mustached, scented and fur-coated stranger followed and sat himself down in the seat immediately opposite Miss Belwhistle.

Kitty, in a state of freezing indifference to the admiring manifestations of her vis-a-vis, resumed her perusal of “The Fang of the Adder.”

The two mustached and fur-coated individuals interchanged a sentence or two in an undertone and then settled down to their respective news-papers. The invalid lay back helplessly in his corner, swaying from side to side with the motion of the carriage.

He was small of stature and slight of limb. He wore a gray-flapped traveling cap, tied under the chin, and a long gray ulster. From underneath the edge of the ulster peeped a pair of tiny little feet in patent-leather boots.

As much of his profile as was visible to Kitty’s observation was perfectly regular and of a waxen delicacy. The ungloved right hand, which rested stiffly on his knee, was small and dazzlingly white.

“Oh,” exclaimed Miss Belwhistle involuntarily as the express rounded a curve and the invalid lurched violently to the right.

The mustached and scented strangers looked over their newspapers. Kitty had half risen from her seat.

“Anything wrong, miss?” inquired No. 1 in accents of oily vulgarity.

The train steadied; the invalid left off wobbling. Kitty sank among her rugs and parcels.

“I–I beg your pardon. I–I was afraid the–your friend was going to faint.” she breathed. To cover her confusion she stooped for her book, which lay sprawling on the floor.

“The young lady thought Mr. Walker might be feeling ill, Sig. Denzo,” remarked No. 2. “Tell him to answer hisself if he’s got any manners in him,” the signor added, and looked at the invalid. Immediately Mr. Walker spoke in a queer, highly pitched voice, which seemed to come from under the seat which ho occupied.

“I thank you, miss, for your kind inquiries and beg to say I am quite well.”

Kitty began to regret the exclamation of alarm into which she had been betrayed. She began to wonder how long it would be before the next stoppage would afford her an opportunity of exchanging to another carriage, This horrible pair were evidently bent upon improving the occasion.

Rosenbaum offered her a comic paper. Declined with thanks.

The signor produced a silver flask of cognac, which might have contained about a quart, and audaciously invited the young lady to test the quality of its contents. Declined with thanks.

Upon which both the signor and Mr. Rosenbaum applied themselves to the liquor with great good will. They produced huge packages of sandwiches and ate with gusto and without offering the invalid a share of their supplies.

Kitty burned with indignation and was conscious of a yearning in the direction of her well filled luncheon basket, but dread of provoking the civilities of her companions staid her. She would change at the next station they stopped at, and then–

Thank goodness an old town rising out of the snowy landscape! The empty noise and bustle of a station succeeding. She collected her luggage hastily; she peered anxiously out of the window searching for a porter,

“By your leave, miss, said the odious voice of Rosenbaum. He opened the door and jumped out upon the platform. The signor followed. They vanished, arm in arm, into the refreshment room.

“Porter.” cried Miss Belwhistle, but no functionary responded to her call. She leaned out of the window. She waved her muff. She called to the porter again without success.

There was a dull crash, a sickening thud, behind her. She turned. The invalid Mr. Walker had tumbled out of his seat and lay prostrate on the floor. Before the affrighted girl could utter a scream for help the express moved on. Where, where were those callous companions of the sick man? Doubtless Rosenbaum and the signor had been left.

She raised the head of the insensible man. He was lighter than she had expected and strangely, strangely stiffer. She opened his collar with a shaking hand.

She got out the bottle of tea and endeavored to pour a little down his throat. Useless. The rigid lips were not to be forced apart. She removed the traveling cap and wet his fore head and temples with eau de cologne. He showed no signs of reviving. She wiped his face with her handkerchief and–oh, horror!

The faint color vanished from his checks, his lips turned pale. The sick man had been painted.

She looked at him more closely, The strange light blue eyes that maintained their horrible unwinking stare. the deadly color of the face and the icy coldness of its contact struck chill to her. She felt at his heart, Not a beat! Mr. Walker was dead–dead!

Had his murderer–they must be his murderers–painted the dead face with the hues of life, deceived her eye with rouge and powder as they had deceived her ears with a ventriloquial trick? Had they not made good their escape, leaving their helpless dupe alone–alone with their victim?

And at last the express slackened speed, jolted, stopped. They were at Ely. She might scream now, and she did.

“What’s here? Gentleman ill, miss? What do you say?”

Thus the guard.

“There has been murder here,” she said, looking out upon the throng of faces that surrounded the carriage door. “Telegraph to the last stopping place. I can describe the guilty wretches who have done this awful deed. Ah, there they are!”

Here they were indeed, the guilty wretches. Dared they brazen it out? Did they mean to deny all knowledge of the dead man?

“This is a serious charge, you know, gentlemen. I must trouble you to come along with me.”

“With pleasure, Mr. Polizeman,” said the signor, with horrible lightness. “But we look at this corpo morto here first, with your kind obligement. Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything? My good Rosenbaum, you have better the English language Please explain.

Rosenbaum drew a large poster from the bulging pocket of his fur coat. He gravely handed it to the station-master. It bore this inscription:

TO-NIGHT.

At the Temple of Varieties, Ely.

Herr Rosenbaum and Sig. Denzo,

The Marvelous Conjurors and Ventriloquists

In Their Unparalleled Entertainment,

In which the ANIMATED DUMMY will also

Take part.

COME EARLY.

“This here jointed wooden figure with the wax face and hands,” went on Rosenbaum, “is the dummy. He usually travels in the guard’s van, but the guard couldn’t guarantee his reaching Ely in condition to appear before the public, having a fox-terrier pup in charge as was given to worrying. So we took him in the carriage with us. At the last station we stopped at, me and the signor, gets out for a drink, and the train having started sooner than we bargained for we whipped into second-class compartment. Sorry the young lady has been frightened. Ain’t you, signor?”

“Estremamente!” said Sig. Denzo.

Forest Republication [Tionesta PA] 24 October 1894: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Why will pretty young ladies shriek at everything?” Mrs Daffodil raises her eyebrows at this impertinence. The conjurors/ventriloquists had their nerve, considering that the duo went out of their way to hoodwink the young lady, so fearless in matters of the heart, but so timid when faced with cognac-swilling, sandwich-guzzling, fur-coated showmen and a wooden dummy.

One cannot entirely blame the young person; for a lady travelling without a companion, the individual railway carriage compartment was fraught with danger.  Miss Belwhistle was fortunate that her travelling companions were not fast young gentlemen.

 

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.

Padding Ballet Dancers: 1881

ballet girl Vincente Palmaroli

Ballet Girl, Vincente Palmaroli

A writer in the New York Sun, who is beyond question a woman, thus lets us into the secret of pads and tights: In spite of her seeming scantiness of clothing a ballet dancer does not suffer from cold. Under her silk or cotton hosiery every ballet dancer, without exception, wears padding. The padded tights are heelless. A strap of the stockinet of which they are woven extends under the hollow of the foot. The webbing is finely ribbed around the ankle, and not padded below the swell of the calf, or where the calf ought to swell. The padding is of fine lamb’s wool fleece thrown up, like plush, on the under side into the web, which is of cotton, strong, and not too elastic. There is no padding around the knee, and none around the hips. The thighs are well padded. Few men or women have small, well-proportioned knee-joints, and even when they have sufficient flesh it is not so distributed as to produce perfect symmetry of form. These padded goods are, therefore, generally made to order.

This is necessary, for no two persons have the same proportionate length of thigh and leg. Again, many have good calves and the rest of the leg very poor and thin. Others have thighs and not calves; others have both thighs and calves, with sufficient flesh thereon, but it is not in the right places. How is all this remedied? Why, in the directest, shortest manner possible. The lady or gentleman who orders a pair of padded tights is waited on by a salesman or saleswoman, who understands his or her business. To the customer a pair of unpadded tights of perfect shape is first given to put on. Then he is measured, first around the waist, then around the hips, then around the calf, and then around the ankle; next along the inside of the leg. The measurer then carefully notes and jots down for the manufacturer’s guidance the deficiencies in the person’s figure. In about a week the garment ordered is finished. If there is too much padding at any point it can be seen at a glance and clipped off. Padded shirts or bodies for both men and women are also measured for when ordered in a similar manner. When the entire tights extending to the waist are not needed, calf-padded tights, extending only a little over the knee, can be ordered. These are worn with trunks.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 1 January 1881

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is relieved to hear that ballet dancers do not suffer from the cold. Too many accusations are wantonly hurled at that class of entertainer about the perils of cosy little suppers in the close atmosphere of private dining rooms and of romping in over-heated ball-rooms.

Such innocent appendages might prove a life-saver, as in this story:

Saved by Her Calves

The utility of a pair of patent saw-dust calves was strikingly illustrated last Saturday in Philadelphia. Shortly after 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a mad cur, pursued by two perspiring policemen, dashed into Eighth street from Walnut and caused such a flutter among the petticoats as that locality has seldom witnessed. Among the femininity that was flouncing along was a nymph who flings her shapely legs before the footlights of the Grand Central theatre. This female could not face a rabid canine, so she bundled up her petticoats and made a dash with the others for safety. Her legs, which had served her so well before, did not go back on her this time, for the mad dog, probably attracted by the development below the knee, drove his poisonous fangs into her stocking and went howling on. The ballet-dancer, more dead than alive, was dragged into a drug store, where an eager and anxious crowd of men carefully examined her legs. Their fears were allayed, however, when the discovery was made that the canine had only destroyed the saw-dust padding which the young woman had tied to a lean shank to give it roundness and attractiveness. The eager, anxious, and solicitous men departed much sadder and a heap wiser.

The Southern Standard [Arkadelphia AR] 4 June 1881: p. 4

A similar imposture in a cooler atmosphere is revealed in A Swell Party on Ice.

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 Skeleton of the Opera: 1786

In the second act of Der Freyschutz, during the incantation scene, a skeleton is produced upon the stage, and this frightful apparition always creates a sensation. The skeleton is a real one. In the year 1786, says a French writers, a young man of some eighteen years of age, and whose name was Boismaison, fell in love with Mademoiselle Nanine Durival, a pupil like himself, and daughter of the lodge-keeper of the Count d’Artois. Mademoiselle Nanine, by her coquetries, increased the artless passion of her comrade, and gave him hope until the day when she met the handsome moustaches of M. Mazurie, major, commanding the French Guards, who were always on duty at the opera house Boismaison perceived his misfortune, judged it irreparable, and thought no longer of any thing but vengeance.

One night, at the corner of a street, he waited for the passing by of the Guards, after the performance, and on their approach resolutely seized his successful rival by the throat. Mazurie’s first thought was, of course, to kill the aggressor, but a reflection upon his youth and slender form made the gallant soldier smile. At his direction, three of the men detached the straps from their muskets, tied up the furious young man, and placed him under the peristyle of the opera house, where he spent the night, like a garroted man. Early next morning, old Demern, the keeper of the place, found Boismaison, who had made vain attempts to get himself loose, learned from his night’s adventure, laughed at it a great deal for his own part, and did not fail to make the whole theatre merry with it. Moismaison, ridiculed by his comrades, was seized with a fever, took to his bed, and died, after making a strange kind of a will. He bequeathed his body to M. Lamairon, physician of the opera, and who had a little museum in the building itself. The poor young man begged M. Lamairon to keep his skeleton in this collection, in order that he might be after his death, still near her whom he had loved.

In spite of the vicissitudes of the Royal Academy of Music, in spite of fires and other misfortunes, which have caused its transportation to various places, perhaps owing to a traditional respect for the last wish of the young figurant, his skeleton has, to this day, continued to make part of the property of the establishment. And thus, after death, theatrical life again commenced for him.

Southern Sentinel [Plauemine, LA] 3 June 1854: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  It is one of the urban legends of the theatre, if not a long-standing tradition, that persons with a deep connection to the stage will bequeath their skulls so that they may bask, vicariously, in the artistry of the Bard. For example:

John Reed, gaslighter of the Philadelphia Walnut Street Theater, [willed] thus: “My head to be separated from my body, duly macerated and prepared, then to be employed to represent the skull of Yorick in the play of Hamlet.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 October 1909: p. 14

One imagines Reed wistfully watching the actors and actresses treading the boards and dreaming of the day he would be able to get a head….

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 Theatrical ‘Bus Driver: 1881

THE THEATRICAL ‘BUS DRIVER

Herbert Standing

“Will any gentleman get outside to ‘blige a lady?” asked the conductor. I have always regarded this question with a certain amount of distrust and suspicion, for I have felt that I am really obliging the conductor; but upon this occasion I complied with the request, and “got outside to ‘blige a lady.”

I found myself on the box-seat, the only occupant with the coachman, the hero of this little story. “Kiver it over yer knees,” he said, giving me the strap of the apron, “for it’s rather chilly to-night, sir.” I did so, lighted my pipe, and endeavoured to make myself as comfortable as I could under the circumstances, for it was raining fast.

As we drove past the gas-lamps I noticed that the driver looked at me rather curiously, and as he pulled up either to let down or take up a passenger, he leaned over towards me and, lowering his voice to a mysterious whisper, said: “You’ll excuse me, you’ll excuse me, sir, but ain’t you wot they calls one o’ the perfeshun?I confessed that such was the case.

“Ah!” said he, ” I thought you wuz. I’m wonderful fond o’ the perfeshun myself, sir, wonderful fond. I takes, as you may say, a reg’lar interest in it, and I’ll tell yer why, sir. You see, sir, my uncle, my mother’s brother, kept a theayter, leastways it warn’t ‘xacly a theayter, but wot they calls a gaff, down the Whitechapel Road, about thirty-four year ago, and afore I tuke to drivin’ I used to be with this ‘ere uncle a ‘elpin’ ‘im in the show. Mind yer, I didn’t do no actin’,” and he chuckled to himself. “Lor’ bless you, no, I warn’t no good at that, I was too nervous. My business consisted of ringing up the curtain and ringing it down agin; and werry orfen I used to hev to do it, for we used to have three shows a night. There was one piece as tuke my fancy special. There warn’t no chatter in it, but it was what they calls a tabbler wax or tabbler something, sir.”

“Tableau vivant?

“That’s it, sir, tabbler wewong, sir. I knowed it was a furrin’ word. It was a piece where three young females comes on all dressed in white, when on comes a chap dressed up with a lot o’ roses and flowers round ‘is ‘ed—they warn’t real, sir—paper ‘uns; a sheepskin tied round ‘is lines, and his nose werry red. He was a bloke as was fond o’ ‘is drop o’ somethin’ short, he was. He was carryin’ what they calls a goblet in ‘is ‘and, and he offers these ‘ere young females a drink out of this ‘ere mug, but they “wouldn’t ‘ev nothin’ to say to him, they was reg’lar teetotalers. I forget the name of the party, my memory ain’t so good as it was, but I think they calls it something like the name o’ the chap who puts ‘is money on hosses, sir. Backer or somethin’.”

I suggested Bacchus.

“That’s it,” said he, with a shout of delight; “Backus and the three Graces, sir, or somethin’ like that. Lor” bless yer soul, sir! fond o’ the perfeshun?—I should think I am. Why there ain’t a night as I gets off this ‘ere work as me and my old woman don’t go to see some piece or other. Lor” bless yer soul, sir! I remember seeing old Phelps” (he called it “Phelips “; and here I must remark that my friend, the driver spoke in a familiar—a very familiar—way of the “perfeshun” for which he professed to have such a great regard). “I remember seeing him in a piece in Droory Lane, sir. It wuz a werry gloomy piece, but werry good. It wuz wrote by that there lord who wuz rayther a goer in his time, sir—I b’lieve Lord Byron. In this ‘ere piece that Phelips— ‘Manfried,’ I think it wuz called, sir—used to go to the top of the mountain and slyoquises to himself, like; werry good piece it wuz, sir—beautiful langwidge. Often thinks about it when I’m sittin’ on this ‘ere seat, and I always finds somethin’ noo in it, sir. I took my old woman to see it, she was pleased too.”

He announced this fact as a sort of confirmation of his own idea— that there was no doubt that the piece was good, if his old woman agreed with him on the subject.

“It’s wonderful what a lot of clever people there is about. Why I was readin’ a harticle the other day in ‘The Daily Telegrarf,’ and I see some remarks as pleased me very much. Well, the follerin’ Saturday night I gets off, and I goes to the Surrey to see a play, and it wus a Roman piece, sir, where they wears toggers, and things like that—long white dresses. It wuz a piece where two blokes ‘as a row in the marketplace ” (“Julius Caesar”), “and, bless my ‘art, if they didn’t go through all the words as I see in the paper! Wonderful lot o’ learnin’ about, sir, and wonderful things is plays—leastways to me. There’s another reason, sir, that I’m fond o’ the perfeshun,” and the old man lowered his voice and coughed once or twice before he went on again.

“You see, sir, me and my old woman ‘ad been married for some time, and we ‘ad two children—two boys—and we was wonderful wishful for a little gal. Not that I’ve a word to say agin the boys, they wuz good enuff for anybody, my boys wuz, and werry good to their old father they have been; but as I wuz a-sayin’, we wuz wonderful wishful for a gal, and at last she comes, sir—our little Ally, a blue-eyed fair-‘aired little thing, as ever you saw, sir. You wouldn’t b’lieve, to look at me, that I could her ‘ad such a darter, for I ain’t ‘ansome. Well, when she wuz about seven or eight years old, I ‘ad a job to take a pleasure party down to ‘Ampton Court; comin’ back, sir, a werry ‘eavy storm come on, and I got soaked, and about four or five days after it, sir, I wuz laid up with the roomatick fever, and uncommon bad I wuz, too, reg’lar dilurus, orf me ‘ead; and when I got better, the missus wuz a sittin’ by my bedside a-holdin’ me ‘and, and she ees, ‘Jim,’ she ses to me —that’s my name, sir, Jim. And she ses, ‘Jim, how would you like our little Ally to be a fairy?’ ‘Fairy!’ I ses. ‘Yes,’ ses she, ‘in a pantomime.’ ‘No, Lizzie,’ I ses, for I thought o’ the cold nights, and I didn’t like the hidear of the blue-eyed little darlin’ comin’ out of the ‘ot theayter into the cold. But times wuz bad, and money wuz short; so the next mornin’ she takes little Ally down^to the theayter—the Lane, sir— and she comes back in about two hours’ time, and says, ‘Ally’s engaged, she’s to be a little fairy.’ I felt uncomfortable like, and yet a bit proud, sir, to think my little gal was in the perfeshun. I often, now and then, as ye may say, curse myself for that bit of pride, sir, for it pretty nearly broke my ‘art. But, there, God knows wot’s best for us, and it don’t do for me to complain. Well, to make a long story short, sir, I went back to work, and got a job a’ drivin’, and every night, when I used to finish, I used to ‘urry off to the theayter to fetch Ally; and one night I noticed as she didn’t run up to me, eager like, aa she used to do. I ses, ‘Ally, what’s the matter?’ and her anser seemed to ‘it me, and give me a sharp pain underneath my westkit, sir. ‘I don’t feel well, dad,’ she said, ‘my face is burnin’, and my ‘ead feels, oh so big.’ I took her up in my arms and ‘urried off ‘ome across the bridge with her as fast as I could go, and me and my old woman put her to bed. I went for a doctor, but afore mornin’ my little gal was in a ragin’ fever.

“Well, sir, I was obliged to go off to work next mornin’, and the day seemed terrible long, and directly I finished my job I used to ‘urry orf ‘ome to my little Ally, and the thing as pleased her most was picture of pantomimes and theaytres; and money being a bit short, I’ll tell you what I used to do: on my way ‘ome I used to tear the pictur’ advertisements with the pantomime off the walls (and uncommon rough I was on them advertisements), to take ’em ‘ome to my little gal, and as I used to ‘urry upstairs (for though we was low in pocket we was high in the attic), I’d listen for her voices ‘Mother,’ she used to say, ‘I hope father’s got another pictur’ for me,’ and when I opened the door, her eyes used to stare out of her head eager like to see what sort of a pictur’ I’d brought her.

“She lay ill like that for weeks, sir, and I used to notice (and it give me a pain over my heart, as if I’d draw this ‘ere ‘bus over it) that her eyes seemed to get bigger and her face smaller and smaller.

“One night, sir, I ‘urried ‘ome, for I had a kind o’ feelin’ on me all day that somethin’ was a-goin’ to ‘appen, and as I went upstairs, for the first time I didn’t hear my Ally’s voice—I felt myself hang back a bit as I opened the door. ‘How’s my __?’

‘Hush,’ my wife said, ‘Ally’s sleepin’.’ I walked up to her bed, and I suppose the noise roused her a bit, for she opened her eyes and looked at me. ‘I ain’t got no picture to-night, Ally.’ She didn’t say nothink, only smiled, and put up her little thin hand and stroked my face. ‘Never mind, daddy dear,’ she said at last, in a little feeble voice, ‘I don’t think I shall want any more pantomime pictures. I’ve had such a lovely dream, daddy, just like a transformation scene at a theayter, only more beautifuler ladies with long white dresses and wings like on their shoulders. I’m glad you’ve come home, daddy, for the ladies seemed to want to take me up in the clouds, like they do in the pantomimes, and I’m—oh—so glad you’ve come! You won’t have to wait for me out in the wet at the stage-door any more, daddy.’ And then she seemed to go a bit queer in her head, and talked about the theayter. She lay quiet for a short time, then gave a kind o’ start, raised herself up and said, ‘Father, they’ve come for me,’ stroked my face with her hand, put her little head down on my shoulder, sir, went off to sleep, never to wake no more.”

And as we passed the lamps I saw the tears rolling down the cheeks of my friend the driver; and, to tell the truth, I felt very choky myself.

“Good-night,” I said, as I shook hands with the old fellow.

“Good-night, sir,” he answered, gazing straight in front of him. I got down without another word, for I felt that “his eyes were with his heart, and that was far away.”

The Theatre, A Monthly Review and Magazine Vol. 1, 1 November 1881: pp. 265-68

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: After a moment to collect herself, to avoid getting “choky,” Mrs Daffodil will be Relentlessly Informative and explain that a “Gaff” might be a freak show (what the Americans call a “side-show” or it might be a cheap theatre for the working-class, especially a musical one.  The so-called “Penny Gaff Theatre,” not unlike the theatres of Shakespeare’s time, played to the Pit.

At the first penny gaff to which I came in the London Road, there was the usual crowd of working people and unemployed who are soon to be civilized and elevated to a private-theatricals standard by Beaumont trustees, and according to Mr. Besant, but who as yet have not risen above the penny-gaff level. Talking to them from steps that served as a platform was a Mephistopheles, who, like Mr. Irving, had borrowed the red dress, cock’s feather, and sword from the puppet costumer, and, unlike him, but perhaps more sensibly, had retained the moustache and forked beard of the operatic Mephisto. As in the old drama, Mephistopheles laid a wager in the court of Heaven before the real play began, so his penny-gaff successor bargained with the people before the curtain was drawn. “What’ll you see insoide, gen’lemen?” he cried; “people suspended in midair! Yes, gen’lemen. At other places a guinea’s charged, and people’s wisibly supported by one stick. But ‘ere all sticks is taken away and I’m only chargin’ you a pinny. We don’t ask a shillin’, gen’lemen, but only a pinny. What I promises outsoide, I performs in. My show is sciointifik and respectable, and a ten minutes’ respectable and sciointifik show’s better’n a hour’s rot, which is all you gets in some of your guinea theatres. Your own consciences’Il prompt you to recommen’ my show!” I give his patter, since it points out what he considered to be the principal feature of his performance.

Child labour laws did not bar children from working at all hours on the stage. As an 1862 report on the English theatrical economy remarks: “It is a well-known fact that little boys and girls of six and seven years often support a whole family by their slender earnings.”

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.

 

A Night at La Scala: 1836

night at la scala illustration

A NIGHT AT THE “SCALA.”

By Oscar Zurich.

It was the third day of the carnival at Milan, 1836. Donizetti’s immortal masterpiece, “Lucia di Lammermoor,” had been performed for the first time at the San Carlo in Naples, a few months previous, and was then making its triumphal tour throughout Italy.The genius of Bergamo’s sweet bard had attained its culminating point. “Fra poco,” its great aria and the stupendous magnificence of the septette had electrified the entire musical world; even the star of Rossini had been eclipsed by the incredible success of the younger composer.

Milan was in an uproar; the streets, squares, and arcades were illuminated a giorno; the cathedral in marble majesty glittered beneath the glare of innumerable lanterns, while the joyous quip and laughter of sixty thousand pleasure-seekers made the old, narrow streets ring and echo again, and the “Scala,” Italy’s greatest opera house, ablaze with glory, had placed before the entrance, in letters of flame, the magic word “Lucia.”

No wonder the crowd hastened thither; for eighty lire you could not have obtained a seat. It was the third representation—the third only–and fame, beauty, or gold could not have forced an entrance. It was now six o’clock; the pit and gallery boxes and stalls of the immense theater were crowded to suffocation. Four thousand eager people–four thousand anxious, soulful Italians–were waiting with subdued frenzy for the curtain to rise.

The nobility of Lombardy graced the boxes, the political celebrities of the city crowded the passages, all the elite of the art-loving town had flocked thither.

The heat was stifling; at half-past six the overture began. The immense throng was silenced at the first wave of the conductor’s baton. Was it not to hear the last and the most admirable of Donizetti’s operas? Had not the Neapolitan papers been devoured with avid eyes? Was It not to hear the songs over which Italy was raving? And last, but not least, was it not to applaud the beauteous prima donna, Alfieri, who had achieved such a colossal success the two previous nights?–their favorite–their idol–the divine Alfieri! who had sung for seven consecutive seasons in Milan, alike renowned for her consummate art, her beauty, and her unrivaled voice! Ah! how the audience was moved!–how it trembled with expectant ecstasy! the curtain rose.

The hunters’ chorus was listened to with religious attention; the baritone’s song and cabaletta which follow caused but a slight impression in spite of their veritable excellence, and the shifting of the scene to the park where Lucia makes her first appearance was welcomed with a hushed murmur of delight.

A frail, white-robed female form advanced toward the footlights, her eyes were cast down, and she moved slowly near the prompter’s box. There she stood still, raised her eyes and gazed full upon the audience.

A howl of anger and disappointment arose from the crowded house:

Non è Alfieri!” (She is not Alfieri!) was echoed on all sides; groans, hissing, and stamping of feet drowned the orchestra. Some vociferously cried out, “Basta! basta! We want Alfieri!”

The frail woman confronting the enraged audience appeared not in the  least disconcerted, and walked leisurely around the stage during the uproar. A man peeped out from the side-scenes. It was the director.

“Who is that woman?” he asked. “It is not Alfieri!”

“No one saw her enter,” was the reply.

Again the conductor raised his baton; the unknown prima donna seemed to rouse herself from her pensiveness and lethargy, and moved solemnly toward the centre of the stage.

The clamor had ceased. She raised her eyes to the level of the first tier, and stood in the full force of the light. She was wondrously beautiful, but white–white as a shroud of snow; deathly, spectrally white!–not a tinge of rose enhanced the marble graces of her face, which was purely, faultlessly Greek.

Her eyes, black and radiant, flashed luridly. When she dropped them their tint became sad, gray, and crepuscular. Her lips shone red as vermilion, and seemed like a gash—like a hideous gash–when contrasted with the whiteness and rigidity of her face.

Her hair, long and purplish, in undulate tresses rioted over her shoulders, pure and colorless as marble.

She had no ornaments. A tuberose thrust in a rebellious curl adorned her brow; around her throat was a piece of broad, black velvet Her dress was white–all white.

She gazed weirdly upon the audience and began, in a strange, vague, unearthly tone of voice, the ravishing aria of “Lucia” upon hear entrance.

I was present, and I can recall perfectly the cold sensation and chilliness I felt at the first few notes.

It seemed to me as if some humid cavern had been suddenly opened, and that I had breathed the first icy wafts of air emanating therefrom.

Not a sound save her voice was heard. Her hands hung listlessly by her side. I do not remember how she finished. I heard her first strange tones change to a soft, sweet voice of fascinating, bell-like brilliancy, and I awoke from a trance by hearing the audience shriek and stamp with delight.

The applause was feverish and frantic, then suddenly ceased as if by enchantment; the strange woman had turned aside and began the ordinary stage business and duet with Edgardo, as Alfieri would have done. The act ended in indescribable amazement.

“Who is she? Who is she? What a voice!” and such exclamations were heard on all sides.

The director appeared at this moment, evidently anxious to find out for himself who the beautiful pale songstress was, but could answer no inquiries.

In the meantime I hurried behind the scenes to Alfieri’s dressing-room, where I had often gone to chat with her, expecting to see that marvelous creature.

The apartment was illuminated; Lucia’s bridal costume for the second act was ready on the sofa; a bottle of Asti wine, which Alfieri always partook of between the acts, stood on the table; but naught proved that the room had been occupied previously by another–nothing showed the presence of the new-comer.

I waited a few minutes, took a few whiffs from my cigarette, and was about to return, when I spied upon the door an earring of such uncommon size that I stooped to pick it up, and gazed upon it in wonder, held spellbound by its beauty.

It was a solitaire diamond, richly set, of a slightly greenish tint. I knew the value of green diamonds, and estimated this one to be worth at least seven or eight thousand dollars, being really finer than any I had seen in the famous vaults of Dresden.

I hastened down to the director’s office to remit it, thinking it belonged to the new-comer or to Alfieri. The director was absent; soon I heard the bell ring. The diamond in my hand, I hastened to my seat.

The unknown woman again entered; she was, if possible, a tinge paler than before. She wore gloves this time, and her lips were not so cruelly red. She sang, and, ye gods, what song! Her voice soared, spread, fused with other invisible voices; It rang sonorously, and murmured divinely in magnificent power and harmony—a voice all fire, a voice all soul.

I trembled–the audience quivered.

Still that strange being stood in the same position, still did her great luminous black eyes gaze continually upward; she seemed not to heed her fellow-artists; the bewilderment of Edgardo, the anxious, inquiring glance of Ashton did not move her; she would glide by them like a sylph, a vision–light, ethereal, graceful. No one heard her walk–she sang!

Again the curtain fell, again the house cried out with delirium. “Brava! brava!” yelled the rabble.

But no one appeared.

Again I went to Alfieri’s box while the ballet (which in those days was performed between the acts) was going on, but it was empty; so I returned to listen to the animated discussions and conversations in the lobby.

“Alfieri is eclipsed; she is Pasta and Persiani combined! she is not human, she is an angel from Heaven’s gates!”

“’Tis the Beatrice of Dante descended from Heaven!”

A friend came from behind the scenes.

“Well, what news, Ricciardo? Have you seen her?”

“No, but Grazzini has” (Grazzini was the tenor, a handsome fellow), “and he tells me he spoke to her–forced to do so by some subtle, magnetic attraction. He told her of his wonder, his admiration, his love, I believe, and she answered him, in Milanese dialect, ‘We shall meet again.'”

The bell rang, and the curtain went up slowly. The lights seemed to burn badly, and the heat was stifling, but upon the entrance of the mysterious stranger a sudden chill pervaded every one.

We did not breathe to listen, and as I gazed upon her, charmed by her supernatural beauty, I noticed that from one of her ears hung a bright, large stone, similar to the one I held in my hand. Scarcely had I seen it when she caught my eye. She smiled–the only time. I averted my glance. The music went on.

The scene where the unhappy Lucia, after having been dragged to the altar by her heartless brother, realizes the full atrocity of his conduct, seemed to influence the sombre sprite-like prima donna, for she roused herself at last and acted–acted with the frenzy of passion, acted with the sublimity of pathos and despair. She was intense, superb in the mad scene. Her voice had sobs of anguish.

Up swelled the vertiginous staccato high above the moans of the orchestra. She raved, she wept, and the large tears rolled down her white cheek; her hair floated wildly over her quivering shoulders, and still rang forth her magical, heartrending notes.

I trembled; the house groaned.

The mad scene neared its end, and the musicians, as if ordered, ceased to play. They looked at her, she sang unaccompanied. It was terrible, unique, sublime.

The culminating point arrived, and the pains and pangs of Donizetti’s masterpiece vibrated on her lips as they had never done on lips before. She gazed wildly, stupidly about, when she stopped, and I saw drops of blood ooze from her mouth; she fell heavily upon the stage, and the curtain went down. The house was in tears.

Half an hour later all Milan knew of the miraculous performance at the Scala. The last act of the opera was listened to without curiosity, Lucia not appearing in it. Nothing occurred except the indisposition of the tenor, Grazzini, who was taken suddenly ill, and I afterward learned, died that night.

Milan, outdoors, all fun and animation, could not comprehend the story told in the cafes and on the squares. The reports were called exaggerated, and the singer’s phenomenal voice a myth. No one could find her, and it was in vain that I waited for more than an hour in Alfieri’s box.

The director told me confidentially that he was as nonplussed as the audience, and had never beheld the marvelous singer before. Then, as he left me, he superstitiously added: “She was a spirit, I believe.”

Full of conflicting thoughts, I walked sadly homeward, and heard again through the quiet streets, far away from the riot and revel of the carnival, the heavenly echo of that unutterably divine voice.

I walked on, and passed across the Saint Italda Cemetery to near my home. It was late. The noise of Milan’s festivities reached my ear from time to time faintly, but I heeded it not, wrapped as I was in my reverie and musing.

Within a few steps of my house, separated by a high wall from the end of the graveyard, there, beneath a few cypress trees, in the full glare of the moon, 1 beheld a rather unusual sight.

The cemetery, through which I passed regularly every night, and which I knew in every nook and corner, seemed in that particular spot to present  a different aspect than it ordinarily did.

I advanced, and remarked with astonishment that a tomb had been desecrated, and that a coffin had been exhumed!

Sure enough, the sod on either side was all strewn and scattered here and there, footprints were plainly visible, and to my horror I saw that the coffin was open. In it, wrapped in a faded yellow shroud, was a human form.

I was about to call for the guard, when my eye was suddenly attracted by a faint greenish light twinkling near the top of the coffin.

I stooped over, and to my amazement saw a diamond earring in the lobe of the corpse’s ear–the mate of the one I had found.

The moonlight, checkered by the tree-boughs, did not allow me to view the face, and trembling I drew aside and lit a match. Approaching, I gazed on the body. It was the spectral songstress!

Utterly bewildered, with haggard eyes and quivering knees, I grasped the coffin lid and replaced it over the livid face. On it was written in large letters:

Virginia Cosseli,

Queen of Soprani,

Died September, 1781,

Requiescat in pace.

I remember a wild thrill of horror came over me and I fell senseless.

For weeks I raved in delirium. When I had sufficiently recovered I left Milan. People were still talking of the mysterious prima dona and the famous representation of Lucia. They have not understood, but I believe in spirits.

Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours, Vol. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has nothing to add, except to note that it was perhaps a good thing that the lady was not recalled for an encore.

 

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 Ball Dress: 1890

THE BALL DRESS

Mary Kyle Dallas

“You are invited to the regiment ball, my dear,” said Mrs. Ackland as her daughter entered the room, her dripping waterproof and umbrella giving evidence of a sturdy battle with the storm that could be plainly heard even through closed shutters and dropped curtains on that upper floor. “The most polite letter from Col. B__, and knowing that I forsook society long ago, Mrs. Col. B__ will take you with her own girls; it is really charming of her. Here is the ticket.”

The elderly lady’s frail fingers drew two elegant squares of pink and gold pasteboard from an envelope as she spoke. But the girl, having hung the waterproof in an adjacent kitchen and perched her umbrella where it could drip harmlessly into the stationary tubs of said kitchen, did not even pick them up.

“It would be better to publish the fact that I have retired from society also, mamma,” she said, a little sadly.

“You!” cried her mother. “At 20, Effie?”

“It comes to that when one has one black frock,” said Effie,” and that patched at both elbows.”

“You could go in white,” said her mother, “you look very girlish. Gentlemen admire white, or used to. White and a few flowers and no jewelry—no one could find fault with that style. The greatest heiress in Boston when I was a girl was known for her simplicity—always white.”

“I fancy I should be if I went in a sheet and pillow case costume,” said Effie. “Really, that would be the only white one I could manage. That poor old white dress that still exists in your memory is short in the waist, shorter in the skirt, won’t meet in the belt, and has a sleeve that would not go over my wrist. I’ve grown a great deal in five years, mamma.”

“Is it five years since you went to your cousin Jennie’s wedding in it?” cried Mrs. Ackland. “Dear, dear, how time flies. Couldn’t you make over one of my old silks?”

“I should be a laughing stock, mamma” said Effie. “Well, I can live without going to the ball, though I should enjoy it very much.”

“The daughter of Capt. Ackland ought to have opportunities,” said the widow. “How are you to marry if you never meet any one I cannot think. A pretty girl like you was never meant to be a spinster and work for her bread.”

“Things point in that direction now,” said the girl. “Typewriting is not a lively amusement, and I am as likely to marry as I am to go to China. Don’t sigh so bitterly, mamma. It would only make you lonelier if I went to the ball, and I should be up late and make mistakes next day—lose my place, perhaps. I’ll write a very polite regret when I get some fine note paper. Now, let us have tea.”

“The little brown teapot, the two blue cups and plates to match, were soon on the table. Effie Ackland had a way of making excellent little dishes out of next to nothing—it was very convenient under the circumstances—and though the girl pined for something besides the daily routine of typewriting and evenings spent in listening to her mother’s reminiscences of former grandeur—for Mrs. Ackland had been a belle and a beauty and an expectant heiress when she married the dashing young captain—it was the mother who bemoaned herself.

At last, tea being over, it was discovered that the storm had passed, and that moon and stars were shining, and Effie declared that she would run down to the little stationer’s and get some note paper of the proper sort on which to reply to the kind invitation and offer of the colonel and his lady.

It was a quiet neighborhood and very late, and Effie wrapped herself in a thick cloak and tied a little blue hood over her head and ran lightly down stairs and down the street toward the stationer’s shop. However, when she reached its door she found it closed. The old woman who kept it had expected no customers, and had retired early. Effie knew of another shop of the same sort a few blocks further on which was always open late, and turned her steps that way—at least she intended to do so. But there are still portions of New York city where it is very easy to lose one’s self, and besides Effie was not an old resident of that part of the town. Somehow she missed the right corner, crossed the street at the wrong angle, and shortly discovered that she was lost.

It was a gloomy and unpleasant street in which she found herself, and the girl was somewhat frightened. However, she decided that the best thing she could do was to keep on walking until she came to a decent shop or met a policeman of whom she could ask the way. She acted on this resolution with her usual promptitude, but for a long while she went on seeing nothing but liquor or cigar shops and meeting not a solitary guardian of the peace and came at last to an old building with a blank wall in the center of which an arched gate stood open.

Just as she stood opposite this gate two drunken men came howling down the street, and in terror of them she stepped beneath the arch. They passed without seeing her, but before she dared to venture out a light shone in her face, and turning she saw a figure in black, with red shoes, a red cap, horns, hoofs, a long tail, which he carried over his arm, and in his hand a great paper parcel—in fact, Satan as we see him portrayed in ancient pictures, acting for the nonce as messenger boy.

Startled beyond expression, Effie was about to fly, when the demon spoke.

“Well, mamselle, I’ve been waiting for you a long while,” was his characteristic remark. “I came so far to save time. Won’t you get a roasting!”

Then he tossed the parcel into her arms, turned and fled.

Effie fled also. What the demon had given her she did not know, but she quite mechanically clutched it as she flew along the lonely street, and by mere accident took the right direction and found herself at the corner of an avenue she knew. She arrived at her own door just in time—at least so her mother declared—to save that lady from going out of her mind with terror. She had no paper, but she had the parcel which the demonic personage had crammed into her hands to prove that she had not merely imagined the meeting with him, and now she unfastened the many pins that held it, unfolded the paper and sundry muslin wrappings within, and behold—a dress—the loveliest ball costume of golden satin and black lace that could be imagined.

The demon had presented her with a dress in which to attend the ball.

“What does it mean?” she ejaculated. “Really I feel as if I was out of my mind!”

“It must be providential,” said the mother. “Try it on, my dear.”

Effie obeyed. The costume fitted her perfectly.

“You look like an angel,” said the mother.

“But the demon said I should have a good roasting,” said Effie.

“It was only a man in some queer dress,” said the mother.

“Of course,” said Effie, “at least, I suppose so.”

“And now you can go to the ball,” said the mother.

“Shall I dare? Will I not find my costume vanishing, like poor Cinderella’s in the midst of my dance with whatever stands for the young prince at the officers’ ball of the regiment? I doubt if it will be here in the morning; besides I ought to advertise it, ‘If the fiend who presented a young lady with a black lace ball dress in a dark alley on the night of the __th will kindly call,’ or something of the sort.

“Oh, we will look into the papers, of course,” said the mother. “But I don’t believe we will find anything—fate intends you to go to the ball.”

So it seemed indeed.

Effie went to the ball and her dress was pronounced charming. In passing I will mention to the reader that it was there that she met the gentleman who afterward became her husband, and that much happened and all good fortune came to her through the demon’s gift of the ball dress.

No one ever advertised for the dress, and it hung in Effie’s wardrobe until her wedding day. She never wore it again, and never expected to solve the mystery that surrounded it.

Effie had married a rich man and lived in very elegant style, and a man servant was one of the necessaries of the household. Mrs. Ackland, who lived with her daughter, suggested a Frenchman, and having advertised for such a person a candidate presented himself. He had but one reference, but that was a good one.

“I will tell you the reason I have no more, madam,” said he. “I have had my ambitions—desired to go upon the state. I even obtained a position—I played a demon in the last act of a great spectacle at the __ theatre. There were seventy-five demons—it was glorious. But alas I got into difficulties there through my good nature. The renowned Senora V__ had been playing at the theatre, and left behind her a lace dress. She telegraphed that she would send her maid for it, as she was to wear it that night. Every moment was precious, and the old lady who had charge of me had sprained her ankle. ‘My friend,’ she said to me, ‘if you would but go down the long stairs and to the end of the passage and wait with the parcel until Mlle. Fanchon, the senora’s maid, comes for the dress, you will save us all much trouble—you will not be wanted for an hour.’

“I obliged her, of course. I even went into the damp alley of the back entrance and waited there. I was kept a tremendous time, and when at last a young woman rushed in I gave her the parcel like an idiot—without asking who she was. I gave it to the wrong woman. Fifteen minutes after the real maid arrived. Oh, there was a row! All I was worth would not have paid for the dress. But I was dismissed at once. I deserved it. It was the act of an idiot. How well do I remember what I said to her—“you’ll get a roasting, mamselle.’ Well, it was I who got the roasting. At first they accused me of stealing the dress, but–”

“I am sure you tell the truth,” said Effie, and engaged the man at once.

That day Senora V__ was astonished by receiving a box which contained the long-lost dress uninjured.

A letter which was enclosed told the story in full, but without giving any names, and Camille—the new waiter—never guessed that the liberal gift he received at Christmas time was offered, not to the accomplished waiter, but to the demon who had brought about so much happiness by his gift of a ball dress.

Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 7 November 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although it was most thoughtful of Mrs. Col. B___ to offer to chaperone, it was, of course, highly improper for a young, unmarried lady to wear a ball gown of gold satin and black lace, rather than something pale and virginal. Perhaps we may excuse the contretemps with a ruling  that black lace might, construed under the most liberal interpretation and in emergency circumstances, be called “second mourning.”

 

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.