Category Archives: Widows

A Jar of Sugared Fruit: 1869

little girl and grandmother offering sweet

WAS IT INSANITY?

Madame Rosine was sewing some light, dainty stuff; her nervous fingers flashed to and fro in the twilight, and the diamond bracelet on her white arm glistened like the eye of a snake, as she held her needle up to the fading light, and inserted the gossamer thread.

The world generally, I confess, uses women up in about forty years: they shrivel and grow grim and enervated in its atmosphere…But, Madame was an exception; she grew rounder and rosier and plumper every year; every year nature seemed to discover some unfinished beauty in her which she proceeded with artist hand to “touch up.” There was a sense of color, and light and warmth in her stately presence, that fascinated me, as well as her younger pupils.

It was after school-hours, yet Madame, who was a very conscientious teacher, was expounding to me patiently a chapter in Ancient History. A very ancient and profound chapter in the story of the world.

How the old heroes met death; stoically, yet as a king of terror. How the terrible king held high revel in the bleak walls and grave-like secrecy of the inquisition. How men’s lives were wrenched out of them by sheer physical force, and death was made hideous by his association with all that was vile and cruel in man.

“Those were frightful times!” said I with a shudder. “I’m glad we got over them before I was born!”

“We haven’t got over them, my dear,” said Madame, with her courtly smile. “We have arrived at great achievements in medicine, certainly, and great attainments in art. Every year we are conquering the world’s roughness, and making it easier to live—we have yet to perfect the science of death. We are perfecting ourselves in every thing—only in this we are barbarous; we let men gulph out of existence brutishly.”

“It is a difficult field of study, Madame,” said I, “and dangerous.”

“And so,” continued Madame, not noticing the interruption, “not a hand is lifted, not a voice raised; we die hideously, when the passage might be made dewy and fragrant as a walk over a land of flowers. We keep our halt, our sick and suffering, hovering cruelly on the brink of death, when death is inevitable, and no one leads them kindly by the hand down the dismal road. They are left to crawl out of life alone, and open the doors of the other world with their own trembling hands, because we are too cowardly to be courteous; we will not venture to usher them in thither while there is a better life, and glow and pleasure left—we send them out in the dark.”

Madame’s voice grew into a thoughtful whisper, and she looked dreamily out into the twilight, as she said these words.

I looked up at the lady, as she sat there in the flash of the yellow sunset, her silk dress falling about her in shining folds, her dark eye and crimson cheek catching strange luster as she spoke. Yes, she was indeed the model of a Frenchwoman, well dressed, well cared-for, tasteful and philosophic.

Madame Rosine was my teacher; she was also the teacher of my younger sisters, who, during our father’s absence, were left with her in her cottage on the sea-shore.

The cottages on the sea-shore were very sparse; they were let out to strangers during the summer months, who came down to bathe and reinvigorate themselves with the fresh sea air.

She and her old grandmother, a queer, half silly, but kindly old lady, inhabited the little white house just beyond the turn of the hills, where they swept off from the shore, leaving the white line of beach-sand for the waves and the bathers. There were one or two other little pupils, from among the summer residents.

My father thought a deal of Madame’s French; and of her powers of training. And Madame thought a deal of my father. We had been very happy at the cottage this summer; the sunshiny, breezy days had passed like a swift flight of birds that paused to dip their wings in the radiant waters, and vanished beyond the hills.

Madame Rosine arose and approached the doorway which looked out on the far line of beach, and the brimming, heaving sea, tinged with the ruddy light of the departing sun.

“I believe,” said she, “grandmother is getting too old to trust with the children.”

A nodding, smiling old woman in a red kerchief came, leaning on her stick, up the gravel path, a little child toddling on in advance of her.

It was little Fanchette, my sister, with her hands and tiny white apron full of green, shiny seaweed.

She held the dripping mass up to Madame’s gaze as she skipped eagerly forward.

“Me dot a fower!” she cried.

Madame withdrew her silken dress from possible contact: an expression of disgust warped her face. She had sent the little thing out so clean and shining, to be admired by the gazers on the seashore, an attractive exposition of her system and her care.

But with the self-control which she inculcated in her pupils, she checked the expression; her face resumed its courteous complacency as the old woman came slowly up the path.

“I think, grandmother,” said she, “these walks are getting too much for you. The children are too much of a charge—I will accompany them myself next time.”

It was grandmother’s charge to walk with the little ones on the beach of an afternoon, and to take the little day-pupils home. The toddling things liked the old woman well; she was “grandmother” by election to the whole of them, and that she sometimes wandered off with them for half a day or so, did not discredit her claims in their eyes.

“Rosine,” said she, “thou wilt not deprive me of the little ones!” Her old voice quivered.

Madame did not answer. She was busy disgorging Fanchette’s little apron of its contents.

The next day, bright and early, I saw the old grandmother, staff in hand, making her swift way toward the gate, her ruffled cap blowing back in the breeze, and Fanchette, with a many furtive glance backward, trudging valiantly by her side.

I supposed that they were only going down for milk, but school-time came, and Fanchette’s face was absent.

I did not trouble myself much about the child; it was safe and happy, no doubt, and I had my head full of French verbs.

We were expecting my father up that day; he would come in the afternoon train. He usually came out once a week. On that day Madame always wore red ribbons in her hair, and looked younger and more coquettish than usual. She was also very kind to us on those days; we had cakes and sweetmeats for lunch, and made a sort of gala-day of it.

But if my father came and little Fanchette was unaccountably absent—what then?

I saw that Madame grew uneasy as the morning waned, and her uneasiness reflected itself in me. We spent the intervening time between lessons, in walking down to the gate, and glancing up and down the road for the fugitives. Madame had a saintly patience with that childish old grandmother, but it gave way as the day passed, and no sign of them appeared.

“I will go out,” said she, “Sophie, and take a walk along the shore. Doubtless they are there among the shells.”

Madame walked thoughtfully along the shore, while I, less anxious, strolled on, flinging pebbles into the water. The tide was rising; nearer and nearer came the creeping waves; they wetted my feet; they drove me further and further from the beach toward the line of rocks overhanging it.

Just then, where the water and the rocks met, and a tangled mass of scraggy, wild growth overhung the steep ascent, I caught a glimpse, just above my head, of some red, glittering object, and parting the bushes, there lay Fanchette asleep, her rosy face pressed against the stones. A dangerous sleep in such a chamber, when the tide was rising.

“Madame! Madame!” I cried, “I have found her!”

Madame came quickly back; she stretched up her round, strong arms, and caught the child hastily down from its eyrie. She turned homeward without a word; not a word during all the long walk, either to Fanchette or me.

As we reached the cottage gate, who should look up from the porch, and smiling, knock the ashes from her pipe, but the old grandmother.

“Ah, aha!” said she, cunningly, eyeing Madame with that half fearing, half defiant expression which I have seen in the eyes of animals when doubtful of their master’s intentions toward them. “Ah, yes! too hot, too hot, you see, to bring the little one home. Grandmother only left her to cool a little!”

To cool! If Fanchette had not happened to wear her red dress, she might have been cooling under the waves tonight, I thought to myself.

It seemed, however, that Fanchette had strolled away from the old woman, who, in her bewilderment at losing her, and terror of Madame Rosine, had thought of no better way to shield herself than to deny the fact.

Fanchette, all curled and smiling, was ready to be brought in when my father, immediately on his arrival, asked for his favorite child.

We said nothing about her recent adventure.

“I so hate to disturb your dear father, Sophie,” said the complacent Madame, “he has already so much on his mind.”

Madame waited assiduously upon my father on these days, spread his hot biscuit with her own dainty fingers, and showed him an attention which my own sweet mother never did; but I think my father liked it. We were little half-orphans, for my mother had died in giving birth to Fanchette, but Madame often declared she felt like a mother to us.

Madame was alone in the world.

“Monsieur,” said she, sweetly, on the day of my father’s visit, “I am alone; I am very sad; but I feel sure that the good God watches over me and the dear old lady. What, else, should become of us, two poor, lone waifs by the seashore!”

Madame was alone in the world, but she owned the little cottage, or would own it on grandmother’s death, and a snug little sum in the bank, it was said.

My father looked into the lady’s eyes and smiled when she said that so pathetically, and I heard him call her Rosine.

The sunshine streamed over her and little Fanchette, who, wearied with her recent exploits, curled herself up in Madame’s loving arms, and fell fast asleep. A very sweet picture it made, and as my father had something of an artist eye, no doubt it pleased him.

The next day as I walked in the garden, I saw the old grandmother sitting solitary upon a stone; she did not lift her eyes, nor speak to me. The blithe, cheery look that kept her foolish old face like foggy sunshine was all gone out; she looked gray and wrinkled, and sullen.

I did not dare to speak to the old woman when she was in this mood, and strolled on through the garden, among the fallen leaves. Presently, as I stooped among a clump of flowers to gather a low forget-me-not, I heard another footstep rustle the fallen leaves, and Madame passed swiftly, without seeing me.

She was evidently looking for her grandmother. I heard her utter a low exclamation when she came upon the wretched object sitting there alone. Oh, but this was a trying old woman! and Madame certainly had a saintly patience with her!

I trembled in my hiding-place when I heard Madame’s voice speaking sternly and gravely in French; so severely I had never heard her voice sound before, but I did not catch the words.

As I passed out again, when the conversation ceased, the old woman still sat crouching on her stone; her face had a cowed, scared look, and she shrunk away from me.

She continued thus sullen and solitary for days, occasionally varying her grimness by a flight to the sea-shore, whence she would have to be brought home by the maid-servant, or by Madame herself. Or she would sit for long, monotonous hours in the doorway, neither knitting nor smoking as her wont.

The children shunned her; by one leap their old favorite had taken herself out of the cheery little circle of their lives, and become a thing mysterious and apart. Not a child came up to her for a kiss, or to show her new primer, or bring her a flower to smell; they eyed her askance and walked away.

Certainly this old woman, growing into a specter, was making an ominous reputation for the school, and undoing all Madame’s patient labor for success.

Yet Madame Rosine’s saintly patience and politeness was a model to her pupils; she took her own shawl of an evening, and wrapped it about grandmother’s shoulders; the crimson shawl that grandmother used to covet.

“The dear old mother,” she said, “one would fain make her comfortable, if one only could. My dear Sophie, we must always respect the aged, be they ever so ungrateful.”

Ungrateful, indeed, the old lady was; when Madame’s jeweled fingers pressed her angular shoulders with the luxurious shawl dropping down its ruddy folds, the recipient of this kindness repelled her with a gesture of aversion. She got up feebly, and put the crimson drapery from her. After that she hobbled off to bed.

Madame’s eye followed her as she left the room, with a glance of philosophic consideration, as if meditating the possibility of further experiments in her behalf.

After this the old woman kept her bed most of the time; but she had a notion that she would not be treated us a child; a dainty cloth was therefore spread in her room at meal-times, and Madame herself prepared an orderly repast to set before her. The old lady would sit up at the table, querulous and provoking, but eat nothing; some time afterward I would hear her shuffling feet coming down the stairway to sit in the ashes of the kitchen, where she munched a mouthful with the servant, betaking herself back in terror if she heard Madame’s stately step approaching.

But gradually she gave up that; she grew whiter and thinner, and finally kept her bed altogether.

We were sent up in the afternoons to pay our respects to her, shrinking back in childish awe from the spectral figure bolstered up before us, and making our courtesies brief as possible.

One day she seemed to rouse up a little as we entered; she nodded her withered head to us in its wide-frilled cap, and apparently wished to speak; but we could not understand the mumbling words, and shrank nervously toward the door.

The old woman lifted with her trembling hands a gaudy tulip from a vase on the table, and held it toward Fanchette. Fanchette could not withstand the temptation; she faltered slowly, slowly up, and took the flower from the shaking, bony hand; then the wrinkled donor smiled, a wrinkled, quavering, ghost of a smile, and placed her hand on the child’s curling head. Fanchette was not thinking of her old friend much; her childish eyes were wandering over the white-spread table, whose array of jelly and other good things was far more attractive. A nice white bowl of gruel stood near the edge; she stretched up on her tiny tiptoes and peered into it.

The sunshine streamed in over the snowy table, the clean old woman and the gaily-dressed child. We stood at the door and looked, but did not approach. Overcoming all her scruples, the little epicure had mounted to a chair. The invalid drew the table slowly toward her. Apparently she had a whim that they should have a meal together; these two children, the one hoary-headed, the other with her downy, sunshiny hair just lighting with a golden luster her infantile head, used to be attached to each other once; the old attraction seemed to be coming up again as they sat sunning together.

With her trembling hands the old woman took some sugared fruit from a jar, and held it all glistening with crystal sweetness toward the child.

The sight was too much for those of us who did not want to appear covetous, and had outgrown the ingenuousness of childhood.

We politely withdrew.

Madame was on the stairs as we came out; apparently she had been waiting. She, good lady, was always so anxious about us.

“Fanchette ?” she said, quickly, seeing, as we swept out into the garden, that the little one was missing.

We pointed merrily up the stairs, and I saw Madame gather up her long robe and rush up swiftly like a young girl.

I can not tell what had come over me in regard to Madame lately; I took a strange, dreamy interest in every thing she did, and watched her with an apparently motiveless fascination. Why did she hurry up stairs so? Would we, would Fanchette be punished for staying too long with the old lady? Or for touching her dainties, which we had been forbidden to do? An interesting woman, my father always said; and she had become so to me.

***

The old lady was dead. Her troublesome, querulous life had flickered out at last. She lay up stairs folded in the linen so long prepared for her. She had died in the night. Madame, who had sat up all that long solemn night, looked worn and white this morning; she had dark lines under her eyes, and was strangely restless and uneasy, as people are apt to be who have overtasked their strength.

“I so wanted the poor soul to die easy, Sophie,” said she to me, who, being the oldest pupil, was honored with Madame’s confidence occasionally.

As we stood in the breezy, white draped room, and looked at the solemn face from which death had swept out all the silliness and insignificance, there was a stir of the gauzy window-drapery. Madame started: it was only little Fanchette, who peered in with curious, frightened face, and sped away.

Madame called the child, but she would not return; she held aloof from Madame all that day, and would not be caressed or cared for, though it appeared to me she did not look well. But children have queer and eccentric instincts, and Fanchette was an odd child. She wandered about in the garden, and eyed us askance all day, like a bird that has alighted among strangers a moment, and will take wing presently.

When I came down the stairway I found Fanchette sitting in the sunny porch. “Come in, darling,” said I, “to luncheon. We’ve got something good.”

Fanchette was a little epicure; “something good” always won her heart. This time she did not stir. “Me dot somesin dood,” said she. She put her tiny hand in her tiny pocket, and drew out the confection old grandmother had given her yesterday. The cunning little one, arrested by Madame’s entrance in the midst of her dainty revel with the old woman, had pocketed the delicacy.

“It will make you sick, Fanchette,” said I, prudently.

“Did it make granny sick?” said the child, turning her feverish little face up toward the window where her dead friend lay.

I did not answer. Madame called me, and I left the child to her feast.

The pupils were all running wild with the liberty and change death made in the house. I had to assist in keeping the little things quiet, and I had to go to the village for Madame. The death of the poor old woman had upset the usual routine altogether.

When I returned, I saw Fanchette lying curled up among the honeysuckle leaves; the shadow of them flickered over her red dress. The child was asleep. Madame came hastily out to see how I had succeeded with my shopping; she stopped as she saw Fanchette lying there.

“The child,” said she, “will get her death! Run up with the things, Sophie, and I will wake her up.”

Anxious to show my purchases, I waited impatiently in the upper chamber. Apparently, it took a long time to wake Fanchette.

I listened. A cry rang through the house that thrilled me to my finger-ends, and some one came staggering heavily up, as if burdened with a dead weight.

It was Madame; her white face blanched to a death-like hue; her eyes set. The burden she carried was Fanchette.

“Oh, God?” she cried, “who will make death easy for me!”

 For little Fanchette was dead.

***

The line of demarcation between sanity and insanity physicians tell us is very difficult to discern. It melts off indistinctly between the passions, the emotions, and even the intellectual and philosophic processes of the mind.

This woman was sane when she essayed to study the problem of death. But when the little innocent child unwittingly entered through the door which she had dared to open for the decrepit and miserable old woman, reason, long clouded with subtle and metaphysical arguments, went out in the gust. Its light never was relit.

The cottage by the sea-shore, where Fanchette had partaken of the death feast whose subtle poisons Madame had prepared with skillful hands, is deserted and in ruins. But to the moping maniac, whose cell I sometimes visit, Fanchette and the old grandmother are often present; they come together, hand in hand, whispering and eyeing her together.

A. M. Hoyt

Beadle’s Monthly, Volume 3, 1869: p.524-529

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Moping maniac,” indeed… It seems a shocking lapse of judgement on the part of the philosophic and conscientious Madame Rosine—so enchanted with dewy and fragrant death—that she did not think to reserve a sweet or two from the old lady’s jar for use in an emergency.

 

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

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

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The Nail in the Skull: c. 1600, 1840s

celtic knot with skull 1900.JPG

AN ENGLISH GREEN-ROOM STORY.

There is a story told in English green-rooms, for the truth of which, writes Celia Logan, in the N.Y. Dispatch, I cannot vouch. It is to the effect that a certain carpenter, a long, long time ago, murdered his wife by driving a nail into her skull. He fled, and the better to conceal his identity, became an actor. He rose to eminence, and the whirligig of time and the wheel of chance brought him to the very village in which years before he had killed his wife, whose murder, however,–so the story runs—had not been suspected, her long, thick black hair concealing the cruel wound from which no blood had flowed.

The part was Hamlet. Whatever memories the place evoked, he had sufficient mastery over his feelings to keep them hidden. The first scene of the fifth act came on. The theatre stood on what had formerly been a burial ground, and the property man had not far to go for skulls, but just dug a little and brought up a dozen or more, and at night tossed them into the trap for the gravedigger to shovel on the stage. He handed a skull to the Hamlet, saying:
“Here’s a skull now hath lain you in the earth for three-and-twenty years.”

Hamlet—“Whose was it?”
Gravedigger “This same skull, sir, was Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester.”

Hamlet took the skull saying: “This—“

He turned pale and staggered, for the skull had left on it one long lock of black hair. Handed to him upside down, the lock fell back, revealing a nail in the skull! The actor recognized it as that of the woman whom he had murdered twenty-three years before. At this mute evidence of his guilt coming from the grave to confront him the actor lost his presence of mind and his senses.

In his insane utterances he revealed his terrible secret, and was only saved from punishment by his fellow actors hushing him up and hurrying him away. He never recovered his reason, and died in a madhouse, raving of the nail in the skull.

About thirty years ago a story was written by a Frenchman on this same ghastly subject, laying the scene in private life in France, and making the perpetrator of the deed a woman. It had a great success, and to this day is occasionally revived, and goes the rounds of the newspapers, but old English actors insist that it was founded on the incident in theatrical life which I have just related, and which did transpire on the British stage.

Rhode Island Press [Providence RI] 21 July 1877: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A nice story to give one the grues!  This was a popular version of what those more learned than Mrs Daffodil might term an “urban legend,” and came in various flavours. Dr John Donne was said to have been the discoverer of a nail-murderess.

The Murderer discovered.

When Dr. Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Paul’s, took possession of the first living he ever had, he walked into the church-yard, where the sexton was digging a grave, and throwing up a skull, the doctor took it up to contemplate thereon, and found a small sprig or headless nail sticking in the temple, which he drew out secretly, and wrapt it up in the corner of his handkerchief. He then demanded of the grave digger, whether he knew whose skull that was: he said he did very well, declaring it was a man’s who kept a brandy shop; an honest drunken fellow, who, one night having taken two quarts of that comfortable creature, was found dead in his bed next morning,  –Had he a wife?—Yes.—What character does she bear? —A very good one: only the neighbours reflect on her because she married the day after her husband was buried. This was enough for the doctor, who, under the pretence of visiting his parishioners, called on her. He asked her several questions, and, among others, what sickness her husband died of. She giving him the same account, he suddenly opened the handkerchief, and cried in an authoritative voice, Woman, do you know this nail? She was struck with horror at the unexpected demand, and instantly owned the fact.

A Thousand Notable Things, Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquise of Worcester, 1822

Mrs Daffodil always likes to give credit where credit is due; she found the John Donne anecdote along with an exceedingly nasty ghost story in a post by that pointed person over at Haunted Ohio—The Old Lady with the Nails.

 

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.

Grandmere Jeanneton: 1884

grandmere

“GRANDMERE JEANNETON.”

I was smoking my after-dinner cigar and reading Figaro on the esplanade in Strasbourg, when I was accosted by an old woman who inquired in French for the nearest photographer. She wore the common dress of the Alsatian peasant, and her dusty shoes indicated a long foot journey, but under her linen head-dress fell her white hair round a face that, sunburnt and wrinkled and wearing traces of recent tears, yet was so beautiful in its expression of tender goodness and touching resignation not unmixed with a certain pride, that I involuntarily addressed her as “Grandmere,” and forgetting that I had promised a friend to await his arrival, offered to guide her to her destination.

On the road she told me her simple story. She was a widow, and lived prior to the French-German war with her married son in a village, fifty miles from Strasbourg. They were well-to-do peasants before the enemy invaded their little village; but one morning they woke to find the Prussians encamped in their fields and making themselves perfectly at home. More troops arrived the next day and the following, until the quiet village was a big camp, where the enemy heaped up the stores needed for the siege of Strasbourg.

One dark night the camp was alarmed and a magazine containing among other stores a considerable quantity of powder was found on fire, and there was no doubt that it was the work of the inhabitants. Accordingly the next morning six of the most prominent or most patriotic of the inhabitants were brought before the Prussian commander, and after a short examination that proved nothing, without further trial, were shot in the square in front of the village church. The widow’s son was one of the six victims, and his wife, who became frantic with grief over his death, was the next morning found lifeless on his grave, thus leaving her infant son to the sole care of his grandmother.

The old woman now centered all her hope and all her affection in the little boy, and as he grew up she was fully repaid, for he loved his grandmother with an intensity often found in children who die young a love that was alone equaled by his veneration of his dead parents, his adoration of “la belle France” and his hate of the Prussians, for the old woman, who loved her country dearly, and never forgot that her husband fell fighting for it at “Solferino,” and that her son was killed by its enemies, instilled, perhaps unconsciously, both feelings in his young breast.

One day, when the boy was 10 years old, a Prussian official who inspected the village school was struck with his beauty and serious air, and addressed a question to him in German respecting his parents. “The Prussians killed them,” answered the boy in French. The official colored, and in a rebuking tone asked the boy why he didn’t speak German. “Because it is the language of my country’s enemies,” answered the boy fearlessly.

The official ordered him in arrest, and he was shut up in a chamber above the school-room, where he remained until night, when he boldly leaped from the window to the ground and, as he fell in a thick copse, escaped unhurt. The boy now fairly flew to his grandmother’s house, but as he was afraid of being seen and brought back to the school if he followed the road, he crossed in through the fields behind the village.

It was in the harvest and the grapes were ripe, so old Martin, the owner of the choicest grapes in the village, kept watch with a loaded shot-gun over his precious treasures. Softly he walks over the field behind the wine-press, when he hears something force its way through the grapevines. He stops and cocks his piece. He will now catch the thief who robs him of his biggest grapes. The moon is behind the clouds, out he sees the outline of a person running fast through the vines. “Halt!” he commands but the person never heeds him. He raises his gun–a flash–a scream–a fall of a body among the grapes, and when the old man arrives on the spot, he finds instead of the supposed grape thief a little curly-haired boy whose life is fast ebbing away with the blood that flows out and mixes with the crushed grapes; his black eyes are already fixed and glassy and it is with a faltering voice he whispers: “Give my love to grandmother and tell her– father! mother! I am coming”–his hands grasp the vines tighter, he raises himself to a sitting posture, the moon coming from behind the clouds shines on the wine leaves in his curly hair, a cry rises in his throat: “Vive la belle France!”–he sinks back, his eyes closed, and the orphan boy is gone.

“And it was me–me alone–who murdered him,” complained the grandmother when she concluded her tale. Her eyes were dry, but the muscles round the corner of her mouth worked convulsively and there was a great sob in her throat. “It was all my fault, the result of my unforgiveness; holy Mary have mercy–” and the old woman ran the black beads of her rosary through her fingers, murmuring her prayers.

We arrived shortly after at our destination, the atelier of a French photographer, with whom I was slightly acquainted. I introduced my companion to him, and he, after offering her a seat, addressed some questions to her about her picture. She looked at him with wonder, and finally replied that she only wanted a picture of her boy. “Ah!” said the photographer, “a little boy, very good, where is he!” A tear dimmed the old woman’s black eye, and for answer she pointed up to heaven. “Oh!” exclaimed my friend, “dead! I do not like to photograph dead bodies, but still as monsieur brought you here I will make an exception; when did your little boy die?”

“When the grapes ripen he will have been gone a year,” replied the grandmother.

“But, my dear,” began the photographer, perplexed, when I interrupted him, and taking him aside told him the old woman’s story and how she had walked fifty miles on her old legs to procure a likeness of her dead grandchild.

“But, my dear fellow, what can I do? I am grieved, upon my word I am; but what would you have me do? I can’t photograph angels!”

A noise of romping children was now heard and two boys, about 8 and 10 years old, came running into the atelier, crying at the top of their voices: “Oh, papa, voici!”

“Hush, children!” said the parent, “go away; I am busy,” and the happy boys disappeared laughing in the next room. A sudden idea struck me and turning to the old woman, who looked wistfully at the door through which the boys escaped, I asked her if she had kept any of her little boy’s clothes. “Indeed I have, monsieur!” she answered. “I have kept everything belonging to the little dear,” and opening a bundle she carried with her she continued: “Here is the best dress and (her voice sunk to a whisper) the last I ever saw him wear.”

I now took the photographer aside and made him acquainted with my plan for “photographing angels,” and after obtaining his promise of carrying out my instructions I persuaded the grandmother to leave her grandson’s clothing in the atelier and follow me to an inn, where I left her to the care of the buxom hostess.

Two days after the photographer sent for her and on her arrival handed her a picture at sight of which the old woman began crying freely. “My boy! my own darling boy! It is the clothes I spun every thread of myself and his pretty curly hair but why does he cover his face so? Won’t he look at me?” she asked suddenly, looking up from the picture that represented a little boy kneeling in a chair with his folded hands before his face.

“Oh!” remarked the photographer, “he is saying his prayers.”

“Yes, yes, I know! he is praying for his poor old grandmere. Oh, my darling boy!” and the great tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “God and our lady bless you, messieurs!” said she when she grew calmer. “I am now going to pray by my boy’s grave until I follow him;” and refusing all aid for her trip home, but pressing her newly found treasure fast to her brave old heart, “Grandmere Jeanneton” left us.

As to the picture, our readers have of course all guessed that the photographer dressed his oldest boy in the poor peasant boy’s clothes; and who would not practice such a deception to see the tears that rolled down Grandmere Jeanneton’s aged cheeks?

The Argos [IN] Reflector 25 December 1884: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil was formerly in service in the household of Mrs Marrowfat, the society medium and shudders at the impostures by which that clever lady enriched herself at the expense of the desolate and sorrowing. And yet, somehow, Mrs Daffodil cannot bring herself to condemn the photographer who gave such consolation to the aged Grandmere who had lost everything.

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 Sewing Machine Agent and the Widow: 1875

lady at sewing machine 1860s

How a Pennsylvania Widow Served a Sewing Machine Agent.

The usually quiet little village of Leesport on the line of the Philadelphia & Reading railroad, eight miles above Reading, has had a sensation, which has caused a good deal of amusement. A Reading sewing-machine agent induced the head of a family to take a machine and pay for it in monthly installments. Before the machine was paid for, the husband and father died. The widow was in destitute circumstances, with half a dozen children, and unable to pay the balance owing on the machine, when the agent came round to take the machine away. She determined that he should not remove the machine until he had handed back at least some of the money that had been paid on it by her husband. He was apparently just as determined to secure the machine without returning any of the filthy lucre, insulted the woman and endeavored to take by force what he said belonged to the company by reason of the payment of monthly installments having been stopped.

While the agent was inside the house she locked both the front and back doors, and put the keys in her dress pocket, and being a robust woman “went for” the agent. She took hold of him and a severe and prolonged struggle ensued, while the children were frightened and cried and screamed. The widow threw the agent over the hot kitchen stove, and finally succeeded in setting him down on top of it and held him there, when he begged piteously for mercy. “For God’s sake, let me go, and I’ll pay you back every cent your husband paid me.” Being satisfied that he was severely scorched, if not partly roasted around the thighs, she pulled him off the stove, but held on to him until he had paid back every cent of the installments and then she gave him two minutes time to take the machine and clear out with it. The name of the plucky woman and also that of the agent, are withheld by special request.

Atchison [KS] Daily Patriot 30 September 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mr Isaac Singer patented  the sewing machine in 1851. It was touted as relieving the housewife from the drudgery of sewing, yet made possible even more drudgery in sweatshops.

We might debate who did it better:  how very different the methods of this “robust” widow were from those in another story of a widow and a sewing machine on the hire-purchase plan. Equally happy endings, except, possibly, for the scars impressed on that part of his anatomy by the agent. And a salutary anecdote about the importance of life insurance.

 

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.

 

In Lieu of Champagne: Mrs Daffodil’s One-Thousandth Post

 

Mrs Daffodil is pleased to report that to-day marks an anniversary of sorts: the one-thousandth post on this site. Mrs Daffodil should enjoy breaking out the champagne for a toast, or at the very least, passing around a box of chocolate cremes, but, alas, this is impracticable, since her readers are scattered all around the globe.

In lieu of champagne, Mrs Daffodil will share her reader’s best-loved posts and some of her own favourites, interspersed with some cuttings from her fashion scrap-books.

gold sequins sun king fan

“Sun King” fan with tinted mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and shaded copper and gold spangles, c. 1880-1910 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/fan/xAG2xDgj6hb8LA

Although it is difficult to choose from posts so numerous and wide-ranging, three of the most popular posts shared by Mrs Daffodil were

How to Make Stage Lightning and Thunder: 1829-1900

Men Who Wear Corsets: 1889 and 1903

Strange Flower Superstitions in Many Lands

A guest post by the subfusc author of The Victorian Book of the Dead on Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914, also made the top of the charts.

Posts about the contemporary costs of fashion were quite popular.

The Cost of a Curtsey: Court Presentation Expenses: 1907

Where That $10,000-a-year Dress Allowance Goes: 1903

What Gilded Youth Spends on Its Wardrobe: 1907

The Cost of a Fine Lady: 1857

As were stories of how to dress nicely on a budget:

Dressing on $50 to $200 a Year: 1898

How To Be a Well-dressed Young Man on a Budget: 1890

spring green Callot orientalist

1923 Callot Soeurs orientalist dress http://kerrytaylorauctions.com

Some of Mrs Daffodil’s personal favourites include

How to Dress (or Undress) Like a Mermaid: 1868 to 1921

A Children’s Christmas Cottage: 1850s

How to Entertain with Impromptu Fruit Sculpture: 1906

A Bashful Bridegroom: 1831

 

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

A Ghost Orders a Hat: 1900

The Angel of Gettysburg: Elizabeth Thorn: 1863

A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s 

stumpwork casket with garden

Stumpwork casket with a garden on the lid, c. 1660-1690 http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/39240/stumpwork-casket

Mrs Daffodil thanks all of her readers for their kind attention and she would very much enjoy hearing about their favourite posts on this site in the comments.

 

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.

Spoken Between the Courses: 1905

SPOKEN BETWEEN THE COURSES

Mr. Bounderby’s wife had not said a word to him since they sat down to dinner, except to remark that the weather was exceedingly warm. Casting a covert look at her across the fish he noticed two deep and ominous lines between her eyebrows.

“Brace up, Bounderby!” he said to himself, and forthwith swallowed a great goblet of wine without drawing breath.

“My dear,” he began, “You seem rather distrait this evening.”

“I—I am far from well, Archibald,” faintly. “The doctor”—

“Ah!” Bounderby drags his chair close to the table and assumes the attitude of a man about to catch a cannon ball in his bare hands. “Why, my dear, I think I never saw you looking so well before.”

“That Is because I have taken pains to conceal my sufferings. Doctor Borax assured me that I am falling rapidly, and nothing short of a trip to Switzerland would save me,” whisking a dainty bit of cambric across her eyes.

“Huh! He doesn’t consider my chances of failing when he gives such expensive prescriptions. Besides, you are the very picture of health.”

“That is the most dangerous sign of all. Nature’s last rally before the end. I feel it here! Here!” Clasping her bosom convulsively and staring at the ceiling.

“Well, now if it is us bad as that,” replies the unsympathetic brute, “I shouldn’t risk the journey. But apart from financial reasons there is another why you shouldn’t go.”

“How can there be any other?”

“Heh? Oh, to be sure! Why, business wouldn’t permit me to go with you, and as for straggling off alone in your feeble health”—

“Oh, I have arranged for all that. Dear mamma will accompany me.”

“Take the old ca — old lady with you? There’s double expense!”

“But what (tragically) does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life?”

“As you say (musingly), what does a paltry sum of money weigh against a life? I give it up.” He relapses into deep thought and then returns to the charge. “But think, Celestina, how people will talk if you spend the summer away from your husband.”‘

“And for idle gossip would you hold me here to perish at your feet?”

Bounderby, in a brown study, rouses at the last words.

“Perish? Feet? Whose feet? Certainly not! But, my love, are you not the least bit selfish? Of course I can deny you nothing, but a man needs woman’s companionship more in summer than any other time,” (He sighs deeply.) “It is then that love’s romance is renewed and the most holy sentiments of the soul awakened. Ah, me,” and bows his head on his breast.

His wife regards him curiously, even with some alarm.

“Since you are bent on going” — after a pause— “better this summer.”

“And why this summer more than another?” icily.

‘There is— er — a possibility I shall not have to spend the silvery evenings alone,” his coward eyes downcast.

“Archibald Bounderby,” nibbling nervously on her handkerchief, “I insist on your explaining your meaning.”

“Oh, it’s nothing that could interest you, my dear. Fact is an old friend of ours has asked me to look her up a house in the neighborhood. It will comfort you when in foreign climes to think that I have a pleasant place to spend the evenings. Won’t it, darling?”

“And might I ask who this person is?” twisting her handkerchief to shreds and displaying ill-concealed emotion.

“Why, certainly, my dear. Of course, you have not forgotten— the former Miss Gabster— she’s a widow now.”

“You mean the creature with dyed hair that angled so shamelessly for you before we were married?” her voice rising shrilly.

Bounderby swallows a chuckle mid shakes hands with himself effusively under the protection of the table. “I certainly knew the lady very well before marriage, but what of that? It will make it all the easier to renew the acquaintance.” The craven Bounderby dares not raise his shameful head, and an ominous silence follows. A servant enters with the next course, removes the remains of the fish and himself.

“Well, my dear, and what are you thinking about?” he asks. She seems to be writing on the table with a fork. Then she gulps hard, as if a croquet ball had lodged in her throat:—

“I— l have been thinking that, after all, it is selfish of me to consider my own happiness first. Wha— what If you should fall ill whe— when I am away,” with a look as if confronted by some horrid vision.

“And your health, my dear,” hardly able to repress his unholy glee.

“Archibald (with tragic gravity), a wife’s place is at her husband’s side. I shall remain.”

Victorious in his villainy, the arch-hypocrite says to himself as he imprints a chaste kiss on his wife’s brow, “Archie, old boy, you were born to be a diplomat!”

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 30 April 1905: p. 30

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The summer pilgrimage of the Little Woman to some Beauty Spot while her lord and master remained toiling at home in the summer heat was a convention which inspired many jokes and saucy sea-side postcards. We have seen the rules for gentlemen who preferred to think of themselves as “slipping the leash” rather than abandoned by wife and chicks. Mrs Daffodil has mentioned the Summer Girls who posed as married ladies to avoid mashers. Gentleman, too, posed as “grass widowers” as we see in this cartoon.

knew his way about mourning cartoon

Algy: No bereavement, I hope, dear boy? I see you’re in mourning. Neddy: Oh, no, nobody dead. Fact is, I’m off to Rotorua for a week. I want the girls to take me for a widower, and then I’m sure of a good time.

 

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

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

Mrs Lincoln’s Bonnet String: 1865

mary todd lincoln bonnet worn to ford's theatre

The bonnet worn by Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on 14 April, 1865, the night President Lincoln was assassinated. http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16029coll3/id/2592/rec/1

MRS. LINCOLN’S BONNET STRING NOW A TREASURED RELIC IN A MISSOURI HOME

A Bit of Tulle From Headgear the Martyred President’s Wife Wore the Night He Was Assassinated Has Been Preserved and Handed Down in Family of Man in Whose Apartment the Great Emancipator Died.

Even in his lifetime mementoes of President Lincoln were carefully preserved to be passed on as heirlooms. With his tragic death these took on greatly increased significance and importance, and with the growing appreciation of the great emancipator’s place in history they have come to be among the most cherished of possessions.

One of these to which unusual interest attaches now reposes in a small pasteboard box in one of the finest ante-bellum homes in Central Missouri, the residence of Mrs. Charles Carroll Hemenway at Glasgow. It is a string from the bonnet Mrs. Lincoln wore to that fateful performance of “Our American Cousins” at Ford’s theater, April 14, 1865. A mere wisp of white tulle, it has lain all these years, folded several times and carefully protected from the light, together with a letter written by an eye-witness of the tragic scenes in which it figured. Although the bonnet string itself is of purely sentimental value, the letter throws vivid and authentic light on the closing hours in the life of the martyred President.

The bonnet string and the letter were sent in May, 1865, by George Francis of Washington, to his niece, Josephine Hemenway, who at her death, passed them on to her brother, the late Rev. Charles Carroll Hemenway, of Glasgow, Mo. It is from his widow, now wintering in New York City with her daughter, Josephine Hemenway Kenyon—widely known woman physician and editor of the Child Health page for Good Housekeeping magazine—that permission has been obtained to tell the story, perhaps for the first time in print.

Mr. Francis and his wife lived in an apartment house across the street from Ford’s theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. The President was carried to their apartment, but Mr. and Mrs. Francis had retired, so he was taken to a small bedroom at the end of the hall, occupied by a young man. Mrs. Lincoln, in her distraction, cast her bonnet aside and when she departed from the house several hours later, she neglected to take it with her. The young man, knowing that she would adopt the mourning bonnet as was the custom of the period, made no attempt to return her property. Keeping it for his own, he cut from it one of its strings which he gave to the Francis family across the hall.

WILD DAYS IN WASHINGTON.

Mr. Francis’s letter with its detailed account of the occurrences of that tragic night follows with the omission of some family news at its conclusion.

“Washington, D.C.

“May 5, 1865.

“Dear Josephine: Your letter of last week and the one in January reached me in due time. I have been on the point of writing to you for sometime back but we have had so much excitement here, so much to occupy my attention, that it has seemed as if I must be in a dream and I have hardly known what I was about.

“The fall of Richmond, the surrender of Lee’s army and the assassination of the President is all that has been thought of here. The President died in our house and we witnessed that heart-rending scene. I shall never forget that awful night, following as it did one of such general rejoicing. For a week before the whole city had been crazy over the fall of Richmond, and the surrender of Lee’s army. Only the night before, the city was illuminated, and though it has been illuminated several times just before this time it was more general and was the grandest affair of its kind that ever took place in Washington.

“THE PRESIDENT IS SHOT!”

“At the time of the murder we were about getting in bed. I had changed my clothes and shut off the gas when we heard such a terrible scream that we ran to the front window to see what it could mean. We saw a great commotion in the theater, some running in, others hurrying out, and we could hear hundreds of voices mingling in the greatest confusion. Presently we heard some one say ‘the President is shot,’ when I hurried on my clothes and ran across the street as they brought him out of the theater.

“Poor man! I could see as the gas light fell upon his face that it was deathly pale and that his eyes were clouded. They carried him out into the street and toward our steps. The door was open and a young man belonging to the house, standing on the steps, told them to bring him in there, expecting to have him laid upon our bed. But the door of our room being fastened, they passed on to a little room in the back building at the end of the hall. Huldah (Mrs. Francis) remained looing out of the window until she saw them bringing him up our steps, when she ran to get on her clothes.

“Mrs. Lincoln came in soon after, accompanied by major Rathbone and Miss Harris. She was perfectly frantic. ‘Where is my husband? Where is my husband?’ she cried, wringing her hands in the greatest anguish. As she approached his bedside, she bent over him kissing him again and again, exclaiming, ‘How can it be so! Do speak to me.’

NO HOPE FROM THE FIRST.

“Secretary Stanton, Secretary Wells and all of the members of the cabinet except Secretary Seward came in and remained all night. Also Charles Lumm, George Carter, General Augur, General Meigs, two or three surgeons and a good many others. Our front parlor was given up to Mrs. Lincoln and her friends. The back parlor (our bedroom) was occupied by Secretary Stanton. He wrote his dispatches there during the night. Judge Carter held an informal court there, and it was full of people.

“Mrs. Lincoln went in to see her husband occasionally. Robert Lincoln was with her. Reverend Dr. Gurly was there and made a prayer by the bedside of the President, and then in the parlor with Mrs. Lincoln.

Mr. Lincoln was insensible from the first and there was no hope from the moment he was shot. As he lay on the bed, the only sign of life he exhibited was his breathing. About 2 o’clock he began to breathe harder and he breathed with more and more difficulty until he died. After he died, Dr. Gurly made a short prayer over him and then prayed again with Mrs. Lincoln in the parlor.

A CABINET MEETING THERE.

“A cabinet meeting was then held in our back parlor, and soon after the most of the people left. Mrs. Lincoln went soon and in about two hours after he died he was carried away to the President’s room. We saw him the last time up in the capitol the day before he was carried away.

“Things are now resuming their natural appearance, but business seems to keep very quiet….

“Your Uncle

“George Francis.

Kansas City [MO] Star 12 February 1934: p. 18

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  At the head of the article, we find an image of the bonnet worn to Ford’s Theatre by Mrs Lincoln on that tragic night in 1865. The ribbons do not appear to have been removed or altered, but perhaps there was tulle over the present strings or the “tulle” was actually a bit of lace.

One is slightly uncertain of the bonnet’s provenance–it appears to have been purchased by the Chicago Historical Society in 1920, which is when the Society bought the eccentric and eclectic collection of Charles Frederick Gunther, a wealthy confectioner who amassed a wealth of historical artifacts for his own museum, including many relics of the Lincoln assassination, such as the furniture of the President’s death-chamber, as well as the purported skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.

 

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.