Category Archives: Victorian

A Leap-Year Idyll: 1884

A Leap-Year Idyll.

Only one young lady of this place, Cummins Ville, [Cumminsville, Ohio, USA] has thus far been heard of taking advantage of the privilege that leap-year is popularly supposed to bestow upon the fair sex. As the writer was sworn to secrecy when the information was obtained, no names can be given. Suffice it to say that hat parties are well known and respectable residents of this ward. It seems that she was keeping company with a very worthy young man, and matters were approaching a crisis, when his mother, hearing how the land lay, appeared upon the scene, and informed the trembling lassie that she should never wed her son, swearing she would cut him off with a shilling and threatening all kinds of dire consequences unless she would forthwith and forever discard him. To this, at last, the maid reluctantly consented, and the prospective mother-in-law retired in good order highly elated with her victory. Some days after the young lady met a masculine acquaintance of hers, and being very old friends she lost no time in rehearsing to him her sad mishap in Cupid’s field of battle. This friend, being of a very sympathetic nature, bade her cheer up, consoling her in every way possible, and ended by saying: “Come over to my house. I’ve got two boys old enough to be married. You can have your choice of them.” Whether the invitation was given in jest or earnest will never be known, but she took him at his word and called that evening, but received no encouragement from the boys, who were very bashful, and she even had to go home unaccompanied. The next day the father met her, and told her that his son John had been very much impressed with her appearance, but was too bashful to make any advances, and advised her to call again. This she did the next evening. John overcame his timidity sufficiently to engage in conversation with her, and escorted her home and made his advances with such readiness that a few days subsequently they were married, and they are now as happy as a pair of turtle-doves. This is what might be called a leap-year idyll, and is written without exaggeration—with malice toward none and charity for all.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 27 April 1884: p. 16

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  So kind of the neighbour to offer the young lady her choice of sons, although the gesture has rather the air of offering a guest a choice of hot beverages or a selection of pastries. One does wonder at the disappointed heart that would find solace so quickly with a comparative stranger, perhaps out of pique or of desperation. One hopes that the turtle-dove motif continued throughout their married life.

We have met bashful young gentlemen before, as in the unfortunate Bashful Bridegroom. They were the butt of many a joke and comic drawing:

When a young lady tripped into a music store the other day, and asked the bashful clerk in attendance for “Two Kisses,” he jammed on his hat and rushed out of the back door. The clerk, never having heard of the piece of music, thought he was the victim of a leap year proposal and his salary was not large enough for two.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 6 March 1880: p. 1

you'll have to ask papa leap year

 

woman proposes to man

A young lawyer of Reading received a leap year proposal of marriage. He hasn’t as yet accepted, and won’t until he asks ma.

Lebanon [PA] Daily News 10 January 1873: p. 4

Finally, this oft-disappointed young lady realised that she would have to utilise all the special powers of Leap Year to drag the groom to the altar.

BASHFUL BRIDEGROOM’S FATE.

Iowa Girl, Tired of Waiting, Led Him to the Altar.

Douglas, Wis., Jan. 4. Anna Schlegelmilch has solved for herself the problem of winning a bashful man one so bashful that he could not screw up his courage to undergo the ordeal of a home wedding. Time and time again he disappointed her at the altar. She knew his failing, but she also has recognized his virtues, and because he would be a good husband, could she ever get him, she was determined to be patient, even at the cost of embarrassment and no small amount of humiliation.

Miss Schlegelmilch had made at least a dozen wedding cakes that never served the intended end, and friends had been invited for the wedding so often that they came to regard the invitations as the order of the day. Every time at the last moment the expected bridegroom was absent.

But just before the end of leap year [1904] he called and once more asked her to name the wedding day. This time she simply put on her hat, marched him to the minister, and before he had time to pale, the thing was done. There were no cards, no flowers, no witnesses, beyond those required by law.

The Wichita [KS] Daily Eagle 5 January 1905: p. 9

It was stated in earlier reports (the wedding took place in September of 1904) that

The bride applied for and secured the dispensation and permitted the ceremony at once, stating to the court that the groom had delayed the wedding on several previous occasions when all preparations had been made because of his bashfulness. She did not intend to be embarrassed again.

The South Bend [IN] Tribune 17 September 1904: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil wonders what those virtues were that encouraged Miss Schlegelmilch to tolerate the gentleman’s vacillating nonsense. She hopes that they compensated for the previous embarrassments and the wasted cakes. The couple was married until the lady’s untimely death in 1932.

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 anecdote

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 Grey Plaid: 1870s

“In the farm-house of T—, where I spent my youth, there lived an old woman named Elspeth M’Kinnon, who was accounted famous for the gift of second sight. Now this old crone was the object of my greatest aversion. Not only was she in the highest degree witchlike in her appearance, being dwarfish in stature, bent almost double, small-eyed, wide-mouthed, and having a sharp chin fringed with a beard, but she was always sitting away in odd nooks and corners peering out at one with eyes glaring and cat-like in their expression, and muttering to herself in a language wholly unintelligible to other ears than her own.  “Had I been permitted to have my own way I am afraid old Elspeth would never have been allowed to pass the remainder of her days at T—, but fortunately for her those in authority did not regard her in the same unpleasing light that I did. They considered her to be a poor helpless creature who had a claim on their kindness owing to her having been for many years a servant in my father’s family, and they reverenced her as a seer.

It is, perhaps, needless to tell you that Elspeth prided herself on her reputed gift, which it seems she inherited from her mother; and nothing enraged her so much as when any one doubted, or feigned to doubt, her prophetic powers.

“Boy-like, I loved to tease her upon this point, pretending that I was similarly endowed like herself; that whilst wandering amongst the mountains I had seen singular visions, and I would ask her with a mocking laugh what she thought they portended. Elspeth’s sole answer when thus pressed would be a torrent of reproaches, coupled with warnings of hideous evils which would assuredly overtake me for my wicked unbelief and ridicule of her powers.

“One autumn morning, as I was standing in a barn looking on while some men were grinding corn, a servant girl came in with the intelligence that Elspeth had just told her to stand on one side of the road, as she saw a ‘gathering’ with a corpse on a bier passing by. And that on her saying she did not believe in such things, Elspeth told her that the funeral would soon take place, and that her mother and several others (naming them) would follow the bier. She also described the tartan of the plaid which lay over the corpse.

“Running out of the barn I came upon Elspeth cowering under a hedge, moaning and muttering to herself in her usual strange fashion, when, to make use of her own words, ‘she was under the power of the sight.’ ‘Ha! ha! Elspeth,’ I shouted in derision, ‘and so you have just seen a vision—a bier covered over with a plaid—and what like was the plaid, Elspeth?’

“‘It was red,’ shrieked the beldame, glaring at me with the look of a tigress; ‘red, checkered with green and blue. But grey will be the one just over you, when, in company with another prettier than yourself, you are brought down cold and stiff from the heights of Scuir-na-Gillean!’ [“The hill of the young men.”] ‘Thank you, Elspeth; I am glad you have promised me such a comfortable wrap.’

“This mocking rejoinder drew down upon me a fresh torrent of abuse, which I did not tarry to listen to.

“Those among you who believe in ‘second sight’ will not be surprised when I tell you that Elspeth’s prophecy in regard to the ‘gathering’ that was to be was fulfilled to the very letter, and that within a week after she had given utterance to it. It chanced that a young man residing in a neighbouring cottage was accidentally drowned, and being known to all the residenters in the vicinity of T—, he was followed to the grave by the very people named by Elspeth, and his bier was covered with a plaid checkered as she described.

“Still this strange coincidence by no means cured me of my scepticism. What more likely, I thought, than that when the poor fellow was drowned, his friends, recalling to mind Elspeth’s prophecy, should contrive to aid its fulfilment by appointing these persons she named to follow the bier! And every cottage containing one or more plaids it would be easy to procure one similar in pattern to that described by Elspeth.

“Perfectly satisfied in my own mind that such was a correct explanation of the affair, I only laughed at the more than reverential awe with which Elspeth was now regarded by those credulous enough to place faith in her predictions.

“Shortly after this I went south for a few weeks. On my return I was accompanied by a young Englishman named Vernon, who was desirous of learning something of sheep farming under my father’s instructions. A stranger to mountain scenery, the weird grandeur of the Coolins so delighted him that he was never weary of gazing on their rugged summits when dimly seen through the driving clouds or rose-coloured mists of evening.

“Of a bold adventurous disposition, young Vernon frequently expressed the wish that together we should ascend their giddy heights ere a snowstorm rendered such a feat impracticable. Equally desirous myself of achieving such an undertaking which, as you are well aware, is accounted rather a hazardous one from the frequent avalanches of gigantic stones which crash in every direction, thereby imperilling life and limb, one fine October morning we started on our expedition, which, as agreed upon between us, was carried out sub rosa. We had a mile of hard climbing to encounter ere we reached the mountains; and to us unskilled mountaineers this was by far the most fatiguing part of the undertaking. Our breath came short and thick, and so great was the oppression on our chests that we felt as though we must succumb. Gradually, however, this unpleasant feeling wore off, and by the time we arrived at the foot of the Coolins it had entirely disappeared.

“‘Now for the tug of war,’ said Vernon at sight of the grim barren-looking mountains towering up from our very feet, their wild and savage appearance rendered still more perceptible at our near approach. Nothing daunted, however, onwards we went, and now it was climbing in good earnest. Our progress might not unfrequently be described as that of one step forward and two backward: the loose shingle yielding beneath our feet occasioned this rather unsatisfactory mode of progression. The higher we ascended the greater the difficulties we had to encounter; and in many instances the peril became extreme when the narrow pathway by which we advanced led us to the brink of some giddy precipice where one false step would have precipitated us down into an unfathomable abyss.

“When near the top of the mountain I observed a solitary peak rising up behind the others, and evidently a good deal higher than those surrounding it. Pointing it out to Vernon, I said, ‘Once on that pinnacle we have achieved something to be proud of.’ He smiled assent, and we pushed onward, determined to do or die. After two hours and a half’s incessant clambering we stood upon the summit, panting and breathless, yet esteeming ourselves amply rewarded for our arduous ascent. The mighty Coolins, naked, lofty, and precipitous, surrounded on all sides this strange-looking peak, which we found to our great disappointment unscalable. Taglioni herself would have hesitated to execute a pas seul on the giddy pinnacle, whose point seemed to us fine as that of a needle, It towered up from the centre of the Coolins, solitary in its height and obelisk-like appearance, whilst its sides were polished as those of marble. The surrounding scenery was sublime. Lochs and mountains in endless variety met our gaze. Wherever we turned there was something to admire or wonder at in the freaks of nature.

“Whilst intensely enjoying the beauties surrounding us, imagine our horror at beholding a dense mass of cloud advancing towards us with rapid strides. There was something terrific in its appearance as it sped over the sea, enveloping the sun in its dusky folds, which, now of a fierce lurid red, seemed like an incensed magician glaring at us in anger for having invaded his dominions. In an instant, as it seemed, everything was hidden from view. Mountains, loch, glens, all had disappeared, and we were thoroughly wet, as though we had been submerged in one of the lochs we were so recently admiring.

“The cold on the top of the mountain had now become so intense that our faces were quite excoriated, and there being no further inducement for us to remain, we prepared to descend. Some large flakes of snow were now in the air. We quickened our steps in alarm, for one of us at least was but too familiar with the horrors of a Highland snow-storm.

“Not far from the summit we met two shepherds who had come up in quest of their fleecy charge, many of which lay dead around. In our eagerness to accomplish the descent in safety, we only tarried to make some inquiries respecting the path by which to descend, and to ask the name of the moun­tain on which we stood. At mention of Scuir-na-Gillean I could not restrain a cry of surprise. Old Elspeth’s prophecy flashed across my mind, and now it seemed about to be accomplished. Was I not on the heights of Scuir-na-Gillean, in company with a friend, and surrounded on all sides with indications of a coming snow-storm, which, unless we were enabled to accomplish the descent in less than half the time it took to ascend, might yet prove our winding-sheet!

“Through the glimmer of the fast-darkening day I seemed to see old Elspeth’s skinny hand pointed at me in scorn, and to hear her mocking laugh rise and mingle with the storm now moaning at a distance amongst the wild glens and rocks. As the concluding words of her prediction rose to my recollection, I grasped Vernon by the wrist with a vice-like grasp and plunged madly down the mountain.

***

“Some three or four hours afterwards we were discovered by other shepherds lying underneath the shelter of a huge beetling crag, whither we had crept for safety, not dead, but with the life in us frozen. And the shepherds fold us tenderly in their plaids and bear us in safety to our home, for their feet are familiar with the windings of each giddy path, and their dogs, in their wondrous instinct, are guides that err not.

“Ever after that memorable day I permitted old Elspeth to predict as many deaths and marriages as she pleased without further molestation from me—for had not her prophecy in respect to myself been literally fulfilled?

“Grey was the colour of the plaid which covered me when, in company with another prettier than myself, I was brought down cold and stiff from the heights of Scuir-na-Gillean.”

The Psychological Review, August, 1882: pp. 118-122

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  To be Relentlessly Informative, the mountain is Sgùrr nan Gillean in the Cuillin range on the Isle of Skye. The reality of Second Sight is a fact of life for many on the Isle and throughout Scotland and, like the unnamed young idiot of the tale above, one defies it at one’s peril. He was singularly fortunate in the ambiguity of Elspeth’s Second Sight prophecy and one hopes that he was grovellingly courteous to that lady afterwards. But “I permitted old Elspeth” does not suggest that he took any lesson whatever from his near-death experience.

The “Phantom Funeral” is a particularly common Sight. This footnote to the story gives details:

That invisible funerals—that is, invisible to all save those gifted with the “second sight”—always precede real ones, is a favourite belief with the lower class of Highlanders in the islands of Tiree, Mull, and Skye. The writer of this paper was once solemnly assured by an inhabitant of Mull that a friend of hers was repeatedly knocked down one evening while coming along a road then occupied by a train of spiritual mourners.

That funereal-minded person over at Haunted Ohio has written several posts that tell of phantom funerals: Phantom Funerals and Tokens of Death. A most unsettling and unpleasant thing to meet in the road…

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 anecdote

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.

Love in an Election Year: 1899, 1918

It Was a Leap Year Valentine

The most original conceit of the season in the shape of a valentine came to a handsome Philadelphia beau on February 14, from a young woman, who evidently looks upon every year as a leap year. The valentine was in the form of an official blanket ballot, and the different party columns were headed “love ticket,” “friendship ticket,” “Independent ticket,” and “marble-heart ticket.” The young woman voted her ticket, in the first column, straight, and the recipient of the valentine declares he will acknowledge his election as soon as his salary has grown enough to permit of such rashness.

The ticket she voted for follows:

valentine's ballot

Oregonian [Portland OR] 1 March 1899: p. 5

An odd valentine was that sent two years ago by Francis Evelin of Chicago to Sarah Collins of Toledo. I. Everlin had asked the latter to marry him on numerous occasions; but the young woman had always asked him to refrain from regarding her otherwise than “a sister.” Everlin had no such intention, however, and, biding his time till Valentine’s day, sent her a valentine made up to resemble a ballot, such as is used in municipal elections. At the top of the ballot was a pen and ink picture of a house, and beneath appeared Everlin’s name opposite all the offices to be voted for, viz., rentpayer, bundle carrier, loving husband, and so on. A slip was appended asking the voter to vote the straight ticket. Whether it was the humor of it or something else is unknown; but the fact remains that Miss Collins put the matrimonial X under the house.

Tombstone [AZ] Epitaph 10 February 1918: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil understands that 2020 is both an election year in the United States and Leap Year the world over. If those ladies eager to be married will be guided by Mrs Daffodil, she suggests that a working knowledge of parliamentary procedure is always useful in affaires de cœur. 

It is generally supposed that the idea of young girls proposing marriage in leap-year is a pleasant little fiction of the humorist; but there is evidence that sometimes the fair sex does avail itself of its quadrennial privilege. An anecdote told in England of a member of the House of Commons is a case in point. According to the raconteur who is responsible for the story, the commoner had been paying attention to a young lady for a long while, and had taken her to attend the House until she was perfectly posted in its rules. On the last day of the session, as they came out, he brought her a bouquet, saying,

“May I offer you my handful of flowers?”

She promptly replied, “I move to amend by omitting all after the word hand.”

He blushingly accepted the amendment, and they adopted it unanimously.

Northern Christian Advocate [Syracuse NY] 16 August 1893: p. 7

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 anecdote

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 Young Man and His Valentines: 1887

[St. Valentine’s] day is observed right along now, and here in Springfield where we live, move and consequently don’t have to pay any rent, it is particularly celebrated. It’s the biggest day in the year for the largest percentage of people. I like St. Valentine’s day. I once paid $4.45 for a large, sweet-smelling affair with a heart-shaped basque and no end of flesh-colored kids, without buttons or anything on which to button, meandering around over it. I got another fellow to address the envelope. It was a girl on whose outline I was madly and passionately impaled. The other fellow was a good writer and the next day the girl accused him of sending her the valentine. He looked down in sweet confusion and said as he wiggled from side to side, “Oh, Miss Jones, who’d have thought you knew my hand-writing.”

Then the girl was sure it was him, and the next week she crocheted him a horse blanket and a lot of other fancy work, including a cute little money purse to be used as a savings bank in which his nibs was expected to put all his spare coin for missionary purposes. On  one side it had these crewel, crewel words, “Give freely,” and on the other side, “Love the giver.” The young man obeyed one of the mottoes, at least. I never in my life saw a man so stuck on himself. But I got even with him. He married the girl.

Since the sad and foregoing experience, I have rigidly adhered to the habit of slyly writing my name in one corner of every pretty and costly valentine I send. It adds to the poetry of the lovely trifle and keeps the girl’s father from kicking the necktie off of the wrong man.

I put my name once on a comic valentine which I sent to a young fellow whom I used to wake myself up at night with an alarm-clock to hate. I wanted him to know who sent it. It was a hideous caricature, got up in the most exaggerated style. It had a great mouth, like the map of somebody’s affected lung in the almanacs. It was unmistakably homely in six colors and a verse. I put my name on it and sent it to this fellow. I was wild with glee and excitement during the day, and fancied I could see him flinging himself over a four-story precipice and dashing his brains out with a three-“em” dash.

Next morning  I received a note from the recipient of the valentine. He had evidently recipped it. The note was as follows:

Springfield, O., Feb. 15, 1884.

Dear Fellow: — Photo received. Thanks so hard. But the signature was superfluous. I recognized the features as soon as I saw them. But don’t you think that part of the mouth was lost in the retouching of the negative at the expense of the naturalness of the picture.

Yours in earnest inquiry.

GUS.

P.S. I don’t speak positively about the mouth. I merely throw it out as a suggestion. I had to throw it out, as there wasn’t room enough in the house.

Once More,

Gus

The next time I met Gus, we had a chat and when we parted, he looked hurt—especially about the left eye. During the next week, Gus put in his time trying to decipher the inscription on a beef-steak, at a distance of a decimal part of an inch from his sense of sight.

When I was fourteen years old I was wildly stuck on a little girl who lived across from where we were accumulating a rent account. I determined to send her a valentine. I got a lovely one, with a beautiful vine clambering over it and a cluster of violets in the center. A sweet little cherub, attired in an intelligent look and a maxillary dimple, was peering out from between the violets, with one little fat leg trailing along behind him in the airy fashion that cupid affects. But the verse on it made me tired. It was something to the effect that when the starlight was kissing the moonlight and the evening zephyrs were exhaling a bouquet of vesper odors, then I loved her—oh, I loved her. I knew that my girl was a practical sort of a person who always split the family kindling and had to draw the family rain-water by hanging head downward in the cistern and dragging an old brass kettle along the bottom with a sound like an escaped Wagnerian overture. I knew that if I wanted to make any impression on her, I mustn’t spring any “Luna, thou art the moon” business on her, for she would simply come to the front gate and yell across to my folks to put me on ice before I got mildewed. So I made some verses entirely of my own composure and pasted them over the sentimental lollipop. This was my poetry:

Oh maid! My little speckled maid!

This is a world of trouble,

But when I see you—am I glad?

Well, I should gently bubble.

 

You are the apple of my eye,

As I have oft declared;

And I’m the apple, too, of yours,

Why then can’t we be pa(i)red?

 

Forgive me for my crime-like rhyme,

And should we ever part,

Dost know fair maid, what restest next

My madly palping heart?

I didn’t see anything of my girl for four days and I had concluded she had fallen into the cistern and broken her pledge. But on the fifth day she came sneaking across the street, shoved something under the front door, rang the bell, and then skinned back again as tight as she could go. On the way she stepped on her left ankle with her right foot and brushed away a mud-puddle in the road, but I laid it to excitement. My heart beat wildly as I heard my big brother go to the door, and present he returned with an envelope in his hand and a broad grin bordering the hair on his head. My brother had the broadest grin I ever stood beside and examined. He handed me an envelope. It was dog-eared and finger-marked. I tore it open. Inside was a half sheet of paper, with the following written on it in red ink:

You talk as though you were a chump,

Or took me for a flirt:

I guess the thing that’s next your heart

Must be your undershirt.

I let this girl alone after this and turned my affections elsewhere. I always felt hard toward the family, and as soon as I grew up and went to work for a newspaper I took my revenge out on her brother. I saw him washing his neck one day, and he got so much soil off of it that I wrote the item up and put it under the head of real estate transfers. He must have appreciated this delicate piece of satire, for I never knew him to repeat the operation.

There are somethings in a person’s life which ought not to be made fun of, and I deeply deplore the habit of sending comic valentines. I admit that the temptation is strong, but it ought to be resisted. I knew a man who had a mother-in-law on his wife’s side of the house, who had a cast of features that would stop the progress of time on a sun-dial when she looked at it. She was so ugly that her son-in-law used to keep a jar of cucumbers pickled by setting her photo next to it. Yet he did not go and get a horrible thing in four and five colors with a satirical verse, and send it to his mother-in-law. Not he. He simply sent her one of her own tintypes. She had him arrested. She then expired to slow curtain, soft music, and plaid fire.

Any young man of good address ought to have no trouble in having plenty of pretty valentines sent him. Mine is care REPUBLIC office. But any one who intends sending me comic ones will please address them to Box ¾, New Zealand.

CABRIOLET.

Springfield [OH] Daily Republic 29 January 1887: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “comic” or “vinegar” valentine was the bane of St Valentine’s Day. The receipt of one of these horrors might cause tears, loving hearts torn asunder, ruptured engagements, horse-whippings, and even worse violence.  Still, unkind as it was, Mrs Daffodil feels that the verse hand-delivered by “the little speckled maid,” equitably summed up the narrator’s “chump” tendencies. One wonders what would have been the outcome had he not called her “speckled” (that deadly insult to the charmingly freckled complexion!) and had left the Valentine versifying to trained professionals.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the puzzling reference to “plaid fire,” refers to melodramatic theatrical conventions as in this passage from an 1866 edition of “Fun,” satirically describing a play: “Dance by all the characters, blue fire, green fire, red fire, plaid fire, grand transformation scene, and rhymed tags…”

 

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 anecdote

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.

Rings that are Fatal: Various Dates

RINGS THAT ARE FATAL.

Amazing Stories New and Old.

“A learned German physician,” says a well-known writer upon jewels, “has given an instance in which the devil of his own accord enclosed himself in a ring as a familiar, thereby proving how dangerous it is to trifle with him.”

The Germans are all learned, as we know, and I should not like to dispute a statement so admirable. Finger-rings henceforth should have a new interest for as. The idea that the devil is bottled up in one may not be pleasant to entertain but then we have the German’s word for it, and Germans know everything.

If I do not feel inclined, however, to enter upon such a controversy, as is here suggested, none the less do I, as a jeweller, realise the potency of the superstitions connected with precious stones. Until the last two years, the opal— most beautiful, most lustrous, most wonderful of gems was almost a drug in the popular market. As well might you have sent a woman a letter edged with black to congratulate her upon her marriage as an opal for her wedding present. The prejudice arose, of course, from the old superstition that the opal is fatal to love, and that it sows discord between the giver and the receiver unless the wearer, happily, was born in October. In the latter case the stone becomes an emblem of hope and will bring luck to the wearer.

But, I hear you ask, is all this serious? Are you not rather joking, or speaking of the few and not of the many? I answer that I am as serious as ever I was in my life. Not only did we find it almost an impossibility five years ago to sell an opal at all, but the few women courageous enough to wear them in society contributed in the end to their unpopularity. I remember well a leader of fashion who for 12 months was conspicuous everywhere for the magnificence of the opals she wore, both upon her arms and her fingers. One day she came into my shop and bought an opal ring of immense size and singular magnificence.

“I am determined to kill this superstition,” she said, “and I am buying this ring because I am sure it will bring me luck.”

“I hope it will,” said I, “and if it should do so I trust that you will speak of it. The opal is sadly in need of a good word. I feel sure that nobody can speak that word to greater advantage than yourself.”

She promised that she would; and during the next three months she was loud in her conviction that the opal had been the best friend she had ever bought. Her husband doubled his fortune in that time. Her son obtained conspicuous honours at Cambridge. She backed the favourite for the Derby and he won. It really looked, even to the man of no superstitions, as though a freshet of fortune had flowed for her since the day she bought the ring.

Alas! how soon her hopes were to be shattered. Two months after her horse won the Derby her husband was in the bankruptcy court, a victim in a high degree of the Liberator [a famous race horse.]

It would be absurd and ridiculous, of course, for any sane man to regard the case as a post hoc ergo propter hoc. The event was a pure coincidence; yet nothing in this world would induce the lady in question to regard that ring otherwise than as a fatal one. We may say what we like, but once a woman has dubbed this or that lucky or unlucky, the homilies of a thousand bishops would not change her opinion. Witness that remarkable story told in the “Lives of the Lindsays,” in which we are shown how the Earl of Balcarres, forgetting on the morning of his wedding his appointment to marry the grand daughter of the Prince of Oxaxute, went hurriedly to church at the last moment without the all-necessary ring. This, of course, was a sad position for anybody to be in, and the young man appealed pathetically to the company to know if the deficiency could not be made good. Happily, or rather most unhappily, the best man standing at his side suddenly remembered that he had a ring in his pocket, and he slipped it into the earl’s hand just as the service began. Was it not a strange thing that this should have been a mourning ring, and that, when the happy bride ventured to look down upon her finger, she saw a skull and crossbones grinning at her? So great was her distress that she fainted in the church and when she came to she declared that it was an omen of death, and that she would not live through the year. And did she? the matter-of-fact man asks expectantly. Alas! twelve months were not numbered before Lady Balcarres was in her grave!

byron's mother's wedding ring Newstead Abbey

Byron’s mother’s wedding ring, Newstead Abbey

It is necessary at this point to tell you a story with a happier ending, lest the superstitious man should have it all his own way. It is said of Lord Byron that he was about to sit down to dinner one day when a gardener presented him with his mother’s wedding ring, which the man had just dug up in the garden before a wing of the house. Byron was at that time expectantly awaiting a letter from Miss Millbanke a letter which was to contain an answer to his proposal of marriage. When he saw the ring which the gardener brought him, he fell into a fit of deep gloom, regarding it as a sign of woeful omen but scarce had this depression come upon him when a servant entered with a letter from the lady. She accepted the poet.

There is another story told by the late Professor de Morgan I think it appeared in “Notes and Queries” which relates an instance of a page who fled to America simply because he lost a ring which he was carrying to the jeweller. The stone was an opal, if I remember rightly. The lights of it had so impressed the lad when he saw it upon his mistress’s finger that he stopped upon the plank bridge crossing the stream in his town, and took the jewel out of the box to admire it. But his fingers were clumsy, and in his attempt to try the ring on he let it slip into the river. Two years after in America he told the story, and related how that the ring had driven him to the condition of a miserable serf in the plantations. He did not know then that his condition was soon to be changed, and that diligence and hard work were to carry him to such a position of affluence that at the end of 20 years he returned to this country and to his native town. On the night of his arrival be went with a friend. to the old bridge, and recalled his misfortune there.

“It was in that very spot,” said he, thrusting his stick into the soft mud of the river, “that I dropped the ring.”

“But look!” cried the friend, “you have a ring upon the end of your stick!”

Sure enough, incredible though it may sound, the very ring he had dropped into the river 20 years before was now upon the end of the muddy stick.

Some people may be inclined to take this story with a grain of salt. Personally I am willing to think that Professor de Morgan and “Notes and Queries” would not have fathered upon us a mere bundle of lies. For the matter of that, there are cases as marvellous of the recovery of rings in nearly every town in England. At Brechin they will tell you of a Mrs Mountjoy who, when feeding a calf, let it suck her fingers, and with them a ring she wore. When this animal was slaughtered three years after, the ring was found in its intestine.

In the year 1871 a German farmer, who had been making flour balls for his cattle, missed his dead wife’s ring which he had been wearing upon his little finger. He made a great search for the treasure, holding the ring in some way necessary to his prosperity; but although he turned the house upside down, he never found it.

Seven or eight months after, this farmer shipped a number of bullocks upon the Adler cattle ship. The Adler came to port all right, but one of the bullocks had died during the voyage and been thrown overboard. Strangely enough, the carcase floated upon the sea, and was picked up by an English smack— the Mary Ann, of Colchester— the crew of which cut open the body to obtain some grease for the rigging. Did we not know that every line of this story had been authenticated, we should laugh when it is added that the farmer’s ring was found in the stomach of the derelict bullock and duly restored to its owner through the German Consul.

Here are stories of luck if you like. I will give you one also of luck which has never been told except to me and to the members of the household in which the strange occurrence took place. A lady, whose husband was a bank manager, purchased at my house some six years ago a singularly fine turquoise ring. She came to me at the end of two years and declared that the jewel in question had completely lost its colour. I saw that this was so, and told her there was no secret about the matter, but that she had washed her hands with the ring upon her finger, The turquoise, as all the world knows, should never be dipped in water. Some of the finest stones will stand the treatment, but in the majority of cases it is fatal. You would think that this was not a case for any superstitious fears, but my client was sadly troubled from the start at the omen of the ring; nor could my assurances comfort her. And oddly enough, within three months of the date of her visit to me her husband was in difficulties and had fled to America.

But this is not the end of the story of the turquoise. I had, previous to this calamity, set a new stone in the place of the old, and this jewel, being properly treated, kept its colour very well. Yet, as though that ring must prove fatal to all who wore it, it was the instrument of the capture of the lady’s husband, and of the term of imprisonment which followed on his arrest. The thing worked out in this way. For two years the fugitive remained abroad, but with that love of country which sometimes will prevail above reason, the unfortunate man returned here at last, and lay in hiding at the house which his wife had taken near Reading.

This was a rambling old place, with a decaying wing, very convenient for hiding a man. One morning the servants, who were not in the secret, found a turquoise upon the floor of a bedroom in this side of the house. As they had reason to believe that no one except themselves had been in the place for some years, they carried the ring to their mistress as a wonderful and amazing discovery. She, in her feverish desire to protect her husband, made up some cock-and-bull story which did not satisfy them. Although they had promised absolute secrecy, they made haste to tell the story in the village, where by a colossal misfortune the detective who was watching the case was even then staying. Needless to say how he pricked up his ears at the information; arguing rightly that where a ring was there a man or woman must have been. Three days later he arrested the defaulter, who had been hidden in the house all the time and had dropped the ring upon the floor of the bedroom. He had worn it on his little finger as a memento of his wife when he fled from the country, but it proved a fatal ring to him and to her.

It is scarcely within the scope of this article to write upon that vast branch of this subject which would properly come under the heading of poisoned rings. There was a story told in the French newspapers at no distant date of a man who bought an old ring in a shop in the Rue St. Honore, He was much interested in this, and was examining it closely, when he chanced to give himself a slight scratch in the hand with the edge of the ring. So slight was it that he scarce noticed it, and continued in conversation with the dealer, until of a sudden he was taken with violent pains in his body and fell in a fit upon the floor of the shop. The doctor who was summoned discovered every trace of mineral poison, and administered an antidote–happily with success, though the man suffered severely for several hours, and was at one time upon the very point of death. There is no doubt whatever that he had purchased what is called a “death ring,” a common weapon of assassination in the sixteenth century, and still to be found in the byways of Italy. The ring in question was made in the shape of two tiny lions’ claws, the nails being minute tubes from which the poison was ejected into the body. A man bearing a grudge against another would contrive to send him such a ring as a present and he would so manage it that he would meet the unlucky wearer very shortly after the present was received. It was the easiest thing in the world to give the victim a hearty shake of the hand, so squeezing the sharp claws into the flesh and administering a dose of the poison. And so skilled were the men in the manufacture of these rings that the day was rare when the victim of one lived even 10 minutes after he had received this death grip.

Otago [NZ] Witness 15 October 1896: p. 50

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has written before on those useful poisoned diamond rings with little spikes and a cursed ring formerly the property of the Spanish royal family. Various royal personages have also possessed “lucky” and “unlucky” rings as magical talismans.

Mrs Daffodil cannot accede to the author’s suggestion that Byron’s proposal to Anne Isabella Milbanke was a story with a “happier ending.”  The ill-matched couple separated shortly after their one-year anniversary and may have never seen each other again before Byron’s death in Greece in 1824.

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 anecdote

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 Lost Garter: 1890

The ancient order of the garter was recalled to nineteenth century prominence here the other day by an incident that is being discussed very delightedly by the heavy social set. The actors in the drama are well known in Washington society. The lady is one of the prettiest girls in Washington and lives not a mile from the White House. Her father has drawn a great deal of money from the United States Treasury in his lifetime and is by no means unknown to fame.

It was at the Garfield Hospital ball. The gentleman was an army officer of more than ordinary rank. In appearance they are well matched. She is a dazzling blonde with a figure that can discount any one-armed Venus de Milo I ever saw. The names of the two have been coupled together not a little, but it is safe to predict that such remarks will cease from now on.

It happened this way They had just danced a quadrille and returned to their seats in a palm-decorated corner quite out of the way of the madding crowd. What he was saying when another man came to claim her for the next dance is immaterial, but when his following gaze lost the lovely form in the crowd, he glanced manlike at his boots and [in] a minute his eyes were riveted on a dainty light blue gold-clasped article that lay on the floor not a yard from where his fair partner of the  previous minute had been seated. As he recognized its character all the be-ruffled courtiers of the court of the English king seemed to troop before him and honi soit qui mal y pense trembled on his tongue as he thrust the pretty thing into an inner pocket.

Poor fellow he could not stand prosperity. During the rest of the  evening he was so idiotically happy that he failed to notice the disturbed and furtively searching glances that the pretty woman, cognizant of her loss, every now and then cast into odd corners where a loose article might have been brushed.

On the way home a confession of his newly-found treasure rose to his lips a dozen times, only to be postponed. When at last he stood in the hall of her house she looked so pretty that he could resist no longer. He held one of her gloves in his hand. It required no juggling skill to take his blue and gold treasure and slip it into the glove. It was better, he  thought, to give it to her than tell her. He didn’t know how much the  poor girl had gone through since he had picked up the dainty bauble. Just as he was beginning to tell her good-night he handed back her glove. In a moment the form that had been full of yielding grace grew rigid. One pretty hand clasped the glove so closely that it didn’t take all the keen intuition of the girl to understand that the long lost and much-needed article was within. No sooner had she realized that during all her suffering this man had possessed the article than her spirit rose in arms, sentiment vanished, and with the ejaculation, “Oh, you horrid brute,” she fled up the stairway, leaving him to his reflections and a large chunk of mortification.

The next time he called she sent word that she was “out,” and the young officer’s messmates don’t think it prudent to include garters in their conversations held before the hero of this tale.

The little married woman who told me of the incident explains the action of the young lady by saying that it was not mortification at the nature of the article that had been in the young a man’s possession that vexed the girl so much as it was fear lest she had lost one of the articles that had been especially purchased to match the dainty garments by which it was immediately surrounded, and that anyhow the heroine didn’t love the hero or she would have knighted him then and there with the precious article. But then women say odd things of one another and perhaps the poor girl was mortified after all.

Los Angeles [CA] Evening Express 15 March 1890: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is pursing her lips dubiously over a story perhaps better suited to the pages of a French novel than a family newspaper.  With so little common sense, one has doubts about the fitness of the officer for that “more than ordinary rank.”  Surely the contretemps could have easily been avoided by posting the lost item back to its owner anonymously? We may also wonder how the young officer knew what the dainty article was, but then one knows what young officers are….

 

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 anecdote

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.

Dolly. A Western Drover’s Story: 1870

DOLLY.

A Western Drover’s Story.

My name is Anthony Hunt. I am a drover; and I live miles and miles away upon the Western prairie. There wasn’t a house in sight, when we moved there, my wife and I, and now we haven’t many neighbors, though those we have are good ones.

One day, about ten years ago, I went away from home to sell some fifty head of cattle–fine creatures as I ever saw. I was to buy some dry goods and groceries before I came back–and, above all, a doll for our youngest, Dolly. She had never had a store doll of her own, only the rag babies her mother made her.

Dolly could talk of nothing else, and went down to the very gate to call after me to “buy a big one.” Nobody but a parent can understand how full my mind was of that toy, and how, when the cattle were sold, the first thing I hurried off to buy Dolly’s doll. I found a large one, with eyes that would open and shut when you pulled a wire, and had it wrapped in a paper and tucked it under my arm, while I had the parcels of calico and delaine and tea and sugar put up. Then, late as it was, I started for home. It might have been more prudent to stay until morning; but I felt anxious to get back, and eager to hear Dolly’s prattle about her doll.

I was mounted on a steady-going horse of mine, and was pretty well loaded. Night set in before I was a mile from town, and settled down dark as pitch while I was in the middle of the darkest bit of road I knew of. I could have felt my way, though, I remembered it so well, and it was almost midnight when the storm that had been brewing broke, and pelted the rain in torrents. I was five miles or may be six, from home yet, too.

I rode on as fast as I could. All of a sudden I heard a little cry like a child’s voice. I stopped short and listened–I heard it again, and again was answered. Then I began to wonder. I’m not timid; but I was known to be a drover, and to have money about me. It might be a trap to catch me unawares, and rob and murder me.

I am not superstitious–not very; but how could a real child be out on the prairie on such a night, at such an hour? It might be more than human.

The bit of coward that hides itself in most men showed itself to me then, and I was half inclined to run away; but once more I heard that cry, and said I:

“If any man’s child is hereabouts, Anthony Hunt is not the man to let it die.”

I searched again. At last I bethought me of a hollow under the hill, and groped that way. Sure enough, I found a little dripping thing that moaned and sobbed as I took it in my arms. I called my horse, and the beast came to me, and I mounted, and tucked the little soaked thing under my coat as well as I could, promising to take it home to mammy. It seemed tired to death, and pretty soon cried itself to sleep against my bosom.

It had slept there over an hour when I saw my own windows. There were lights in them, and I supposed my wife had lit them for my sake: but when I got into the dooryard I saw something was the matter, and stood still with a dead fear of heart five minutes before I could lift the latch. At last I did it, and saw the room full of neighbors, and my wife amidst them, weeping.

When she saw me she hid her face.

“Oh, don’t tell him,” she said. “It will kill him!”

“What is it, neighbors?” I cried.

And one said, “Nothing now, I hope. What’s that in your arms?”

“A poor, lost child!” said I. “I found it on the road. Take it will you! I’ve turned faint;” and I lifted the sleeping thing and saw the face of my own child, my own Dolly.

It was my own darling, and none other, that I had picked up upon the drenched road.

My little child had wandered out to meet “daddy” and the doll, while her mother was at work, and I had picked up her whom they were lamenting as one dead. I thanked Heaven on my knee before them all. It is not much a story, neighbors; but I think of it often in the nights, and wonder how I could bear to live now if I had not stopped when I heard the cry for help on the road, the little baby cry, hardly louder than a squirrel’s chirp.

That’s Dolly yonder with her mother, a girl worth saving—I think (but, then, I ‘m her father, and partial, may be)—the prettiest and sweetest thing this side of the Mississippi.

The Greensboro [NC] Patriot 10 February 1870: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: No doubt we are all exhaling and mopping our foreheads in relief at that happy ending. A very near thing, indeed…

 

 

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.