Tag Archives: disguises

Week-end Compendium: 30 January 2016

Mrs Daffodil is already losing patience with Winter, but unless the Family decides to go on holiday to warmer climes, requiring Mrs Daffodil to supervise things like “bar-b-ques” and drinks with little paper umbrellas in them, there is not much to be done.  Mrs Daffodil invites her readers to don a becoming dressing gown and ask Cook for a mug of cocoa to sip while perusing the Week-end Compendium.

This week Mrs Daffodil has reported on:

Staging a Sandstorm, wherein the stage-magic secrets of the thrilling spectacle are revealed.

An engaging lady detective, who reports on her techniques and cases: her use (or non-use) of make-up, her professional flirtations, and what it takes to be a detective.

And a barber’s ghost who wreaks havoc by walking again, asking in sepulchral tones: “Do you want to be shaved?”

To-morrow, Mrs Daffodil gives a delicate sketch of that rara avis, The Ladies’ Man, and the peril he poses to those he professes to adore.

Mrs Daffodil’s favourite links of the week:  An American millinery apprentice writes about the question of “historical authenticity” and, well, 18th-century bosoms. Plus, who does not love red shoes?

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog, that exceedingly morbid person has out-done herself with this week’s posts:

A Post-mortem Room Ghost, in which a young medical student finds an unwelcome visitor in the Dead-room of a Dublin hospital.

And,  “The Lesser (King’s) Evil,” a shockingly gruesome account of a woman with scrofula, who undergoes horrific DIY surgery at home to relieve her pain. Not for the faint-of-heart or weak of stomach.

From the Haunted Ohio archives, a less fraught post on ladies and their tattoos: “The Girl with the Tell-all Tattoo.”

Incidentally, Mrs Daffodil has been asked by the Haunted Ohio blog author to remind readers that the blog covers international Fortean topics, rather than the merely parochial. One will note that this blog is described as “The genteel and the unspeakable from Chris Woodyard.”

Haunted Ohio’s favourite links of the week: A scientific study of “EVP.” and taxi-drivers in Japan’s tsunami districts are being haunted by ghostly fares.

A jolly frogged and embroidered dressing gown, c. 1880 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362484

A jolly frogged and embroidered dressing gown, c. 1880 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362484

purple dressing gown

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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

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


A Lady Detective: 1891

Cover of "Dorcas Dene, Detective, &c." 1897

Cover of “Dorcas Dene, Detective, &c.” 1897

A press representative gives an account of an interview with one of these ladies, as follows:

You would never have dreamt from her appearance that she was engaged in such a hazardous profession at all. There was nothing forward or fast about her, her dress was quite modest and neat, while in conversation she was as charming a companion as one could wish to meet. And her face so innocent, and guileless, and sweet it looked! It had not only been her fortune it had enabled her to carry through without suspicion many an intricate case, and had saved her life many a time. She gave a short account of some secrets of her profession.

“You must understand,” she said, “that detective work has always been a passion with me. At boarding-school I went fairly mad over detective stories, and a favourite amusement with us girls used to be to unravel a case from which the main facts were culled from Gaboriau.

“It always delighted me to unearth mysteries, and when I came across a hair-raising record of inscrutable crime, with burglars, poisoners, and faithless women moving about as in a play, that was a thing which made me delirious with joy. My father meeting with reverses, I had to cast about to earn my own living, and feeling that my forte lay in detective work, I made up my mind without a moment’s hesitation to enter this some what strange profession.”

“Did you find it difficult to make your way?”

“Not a bit. I entered at a peculiarly lucky time. There were few lady detectives then, and there are few now. It is quite a mistake to suppose that there are lady detectives employed at Scotland Yard. There are none. It is true that some female police are in the pay of the Home Office, but that is quite a different thing.

“These were introduced on this wise. Some years ago it used to be customary for ticket-of-leave-women to report themselves once a month at the police station of their respective districts. This was a great injustice to these women. The stain of crime was thus ever upon them, and this soon got noised abroad, and prevented them from earning their living in an honest, respectable fashion. The Home Office saw this, and so several female police were appointed to keep an eye on these women, thus saving them from the disgrace of making periodical visits to the district police stations. You must not suppose that lady detectives are the rough, tawdry set of women you might be inclined to think. Some of them I could name are most highly educated ladies, and one is a lady of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she studied with high distinction.

“Of course we employ women for all sorts of work— to sweep crossings, to beg from house to house, to sell flowers or matches, at a certain corner, opposite a certain house, just to see whether Lady So-and-so or the Honourable Tom Noddy is in the habit of paying visits there. Some women are born actors in cases such as these. One under my direction was as neat and cunning a hand in cases requiring menial work as you ever saw. Some time ago I had a big case on, and I set a woman to watch a house in a West End square. The lady we were watching would not stir. We suspected she was there, but had no evidence. Our case was proved in a very remarkable manner.

“The detective posed as the poor, broken-down female crossing-sweeper with as pretty a cough and as woebegone a face as mortal could assume. For a whole week she wielded the broom in front of the house, being several times completely drenched with the heavy rains. In the middle of a downpour of rain a figure in muslin appeared at the window, espied the poor crossing-sweeper, and hastily throwing up the window, threw out a few coppers inside a tin box. This very tin box was what we wanted, and played a most important part in the conviction. It proved that on a certain day she was in the house, and that again led us on to other discoveries which were startling.

“Lady detectives assume all sorts of roles. I have been in my time a barmaid, a waitress in a fashionable hotel, a lady’s-maid, and even a char-woman. Bless you, I don’t mind the inconvenience at all. As I told you, detective work is a passion with me. A lady detective must be prepared to rough it, must not be over nice as to food or apparel, and must have none of that too rife article about her called ‘womanish fears.’ For my part I don’t see why a woman should have any more fear than a man. I never had any fear, and I’ve been in some pretty perilous fixes, I can tell you. When I see anybody on the street and want to follow, I never care whether I have money in my pocket or not. I just jump into a cab, pass the cabman my card, and the thing is all right. The cabby calls next morning and is paid double fare. No, I never carry any weapons, only this small whistle.

“I remember I had tracked a terribly exciting case. The man was before me, and I charged him with the crime. In an instant a revolver was pointed at my head. ‘Fire if you dare,’ I said quite calmly ‘do you think I came here without assistance? Do you see this whistle? If I blow, twenty men are into the room.’ He was completely cowed, and was subsequently captured.

“Now, as to the cost of cases, unlimited supplies of money are spent. I have stayed a whole summer at a splendid Brighton hotel, watching a young spark who was suspected of forgery. I could tell you every shilling he spent. In fact, sometimes I met him at the dinner table, and the simple fool has paid for drives, dinners, etc., for me while I indulged in a professional flirtation. We never can tell how much any case may cost. So much depends on circumstances. Firms employ me in some queer jobs to watch their clerks and see how they spend their evenings. In many cases I have done poor clerks a service by recommending in my report a rise of salary to a man whom I saw was almost driven to dishonesty through having to live on a miserable income. I have often been touched by some of the cases I have handled. There is a great deal of poetry in crime if one only had the eye to see it.

“To watch a clerk costs about a guinea a day, with all expenses extra. I have received as much as £1,000 for a single case. Little bills of £400, £500, and £600 are quite common. A confrere of mine has just agreed to proceed to Moscow to investigate a case for a fee of £500. In addition to this she will receive another £500 as expenses. Some lady detectives earn as much as £500 a year. Disguises,” and here the lady detective laughed, showing a row of pearly teeth as white as milk, “well, I have got a well-stocked wardrobe. Sometimes I need to go about as a collector for charities, and then I am dressed quite sober and prim. I stick at nothing, though I can hardly forgive myself for having taken the chair at a mothers’ meeting and led the devotions. I have dresses as expensive as the most fashionable lady could wish for. I very seldom make up, save by changing the fashion of my hair and my bonnet. This makes a wonderful difference. I have a wide acquaintance with the best solicitors in London, and have received from some of them some charming presents. Just the other day I had the satisfaction of handling crisp notes for £75 as a single gratuity. Would I advise ladies to go in for detective work? Well, that depends on the lady. Recently I advertised in a London morning paper for an assistant. The next post brought me seventy replies. Only half-a-dozen were in any way suitable, though the whole seventy, no doubt, imagined that all the dash, ‘cuteness,’ and daring of the detective genius was theirs.”

Just at this moment a messenger conveyed a telegram to the lady detective. She scanned it.

“I must be off,” she said, “here is a telegram from Inspector Moser, wanting me to start for Paris at once. I always like to execute commissions for Moser. No matter how difficult the case is, Moser tackles it and, if Moser fails, no detective need look at it in England.”

In a few minutes a hansom is at the door, and in a few hours the lady detective will be on the Paris boulevards.

Bruce [NZ] Herald, 16 January 1891: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Inspector Moser was Maurice Moser of Scotland Yard. By 1894, he had apparently retired, according to the heading on this piece he wrote for The Strand on the history of handcuffs.

Mrs Daffodil was charmed by the lady detective’s statement that “There is a great deal of poetry in crime if one only had the eye to see it,” a notion she has always espoused. There is a rhythm and a satisfying symmetry when a plot is going well that rivals anything by Byron, Keats, or Shelley—none of whom, one can confidently assert, ever had occasion to assist police with their inquiries for a carelessly conceived morceau or an improper anapest.

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 Widow’s Baby: 1888

the widow's baby


Any unfortunate being who ever attempted to smuggle anything from the Continent, and fell into the hands of Captain Peter Muggins, of her British Majesty’s Customs, on landing at Dover, never forgot the circumstance.

The captain was the one to vindicate the honour of the said British Majesty. He was a short, stout, red-faced, well-fed, and exceedingly ill-tempered son of Mars. His martial tread and loud-voiced oaths did not convey the idea of a carpet-knight, yet he had never faced the foe, nor “sought the bubble reputation at the cannon’s mouth.” No, he had contented himself with filling the “Queen’s Tobacco pipe,” as the kiln where contraband goods were formerly burned was somewhat profanely styled.

The captain was prepared to “fix” anyone who carried ashore one cigar, one inch of lace, a pair of gloves, or any other item.

As he stood thus, watching the coming ashore of the passengers with a “stony British stare,” he espied a lady who walked with the gentle, appealing, uncertain step of a young widow.

She was followed by a nurse, wearing the cap and apron of a French bonne and in the arms of this nurse was a baby, in long and flowing white robes.

The captain was on the alert.

The lady came up to him, and, throwing back her long crape veil, addressed him in deep, musical accents:

“You are the custom officer, sir?”

“I am,” responded the captain, rather gruffly.

Now, the widow was sufficiently beautiful to disarm even the ill-nature of Captain Muggins, and just the style of beauty he would be sure to admire.

The widow was beautiful, with a clear, brown eye—or, rather, two of them velvet-lidded, heavy fringed, full and languid, prone to be cast down modestly and upraised suddenly, to the no small confusion of the luckless male bystander.

She wore the full attire of woe. A small crape bonnet, with a slight frost-work of white under its brim, rested on her glossy black hair. Such hair waving, and shining, and blue-black.

Her brow, so smooth and broad, was undisfigured by lunatic fringe or bang. Her eyebrows were black and delicate, but straight, not arched. Her nose might be a trifle large, but it was beautifully formed and clearly chiselled and her mouth was beautiful, the lips so full, so heartlike, in their proud arch, their colouring so fresh and rich.

Then her complexion was of a soft, ruddy, indescribable brunette tint, impossible to picture in words, but wholly charming; her chin was so finely moulded, and her throat full and round.

Altogether, the irascible captain thought “The finest woman I’ve seen for years!” For the widow’s form fully equalled her face, and she was handsomely dressed.

“I am, madam,” he repeated. Where is your luggage?”

“Here it is. I am alone—that is with the exception of my nurse and baby. I have to travel so much now and always alone.”

Tears seemed very close to the widow’s lovely eyes, and a mournfully appealing tone touched even the ironclad heart of Captain Muggins.

“All right, ma’am. Have nothing to declare, I suppose?”

“Nothing. Please examine my trunks, for I long to rest, and my baby has been quite seasick, poor darling.”

The trunks were examined carefully for, however fine a woman the widow might be, “duty before sentiment” was the captain’s motto.

Nothing was found, and the trunks were passed.

The widow took her baby from the nurse’s arms, and hushed it to sleep as it had evinced signs of disquietude by beginning to whimper.

“A fine child, ma’am,” said the captain, who hated babies like poison.

“Is he not beautiful, my Henry?—the image of his dear—oh!” a sob completed the sentence.

He was beautiful at least as much as could be seen of him, for he was one mass of lace and embroidery, his rosy face half concealed by a filmy veil.

“He is a fine fellow; how old might he be?” The captain’s parboiled eyes shone with interest, he admired the widow more every moment.

“Seven months to-morrow—poor little darling! To think how much he has travelled!”

“He has, ma’am?”

“Yes by his dear father’s strange will I live six weeks in Paris and six in England alternately.”

“Rather troublesome for you, ma’am.”

“Oh, I don’t mind for myself,” said the bewitching widow, with a swift upward flash of her adorable eyes, “but my poor little boy—fancy, I might risk his health, might even lose him.” Here she seemed about to give way to her feelings, but just then the captain murmured “Oh, I hope not,” sympathetically, the bonne came up to say that the carriage waited, and with a hurried, “Thank you so much—good-by,” the beautiful widow disappeared.

“Ah! that’s something like a woman!” ejaculated the captain, as he resumed his official duties. He felt that Providence had been guilty of gross injustice in not providing him with just such a wife, instead of poor, faded, weak-eyed, heart-broken Mrs Muggins. In three weeks the beautiful widow returned to France, and in six weeks she again had her luggage examined by the Captain, who became more deeply interested than before. This sort of thing continued for nearly a year. Captain Muggins was now violently enamoured of the lovely widow, who long ago had informed him that her name was Mrs Cecil, and that her husband’s death had left her very wealthy, though sadly inconvenienced by the terms of his strange will.

Master Henry throve apace he grew wonderfully large and heavy, and was a remarkably good boy—so quiet.

“He is quite a sailor,” said the captain, as he stood examining the trunks after rather a stormy voyage.

“Yes; and, poor darling, he cried so very dreadfully during the passage, he is quite worn out.”

When the widow and the captain had been acquainted a year or so the head officer of the department sent for Captain Muggins one day.

He received him in his private office, and remarked as soon as he saw him: “I sent for you, Muggins, for I know you’re very sharp.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied the captain, pleased by the compliment.

“Well, Muggins, I have something rather unpleasant to say.”

“Yes, sir.” The captain felt rather alarmed.

“I’ve received information that a noted smuggler has been getting ahead of us for a year, bringing over diamonds, laces, &c— thousands of pounds worth of valuables. I have known it for some time but though I’ve tried every way, I’m blowed if I can spot him.”

The captain’s red face grew redder.

“I hope, sir, you don’t imagine that I neglect my duty,” he said humbly.

Like all other bullies, he was a great coward.

“No, I don’t. But it is quite possible that some one has been a little too smart for you.”

“I scarcely think that possible,” said the captain indignantly.

“Well, well, the thing is that the game is going on, and I want to tell you what I am going to do. I’ve sent to Scotland Yard for one of their sharpest men, and he’ll be on the wharf the next trip.”

No crimson dye of Eastern fame could equal the tint of Captain Muggin’s face. A detective put on his wharf—to overlook him!

He dared not offer a remonstrance but anyone who knew him could judge for themselves what a nice time his wife and daughter would enjoy when he returned to his home, as they were always the helpless victims of his fury when any indignity was put upon him by outsiders.

He left the office and returned to his duties. His blood boiled with indignation, and he scarcely replied to the many questions asked him during the day by those with whom he came in contact through his official position.

When the steamer arrived and her passengers flowed ashore in a stream, the captain espied the widow advancing with her usual smile, her nurse and her baby. “Ah! how are you my friend?” said the charmer, in her usual soft, melodious accents.

“Well, thank you. How is Master Henry?”

“Oh, so well, so beautiful!”

The trunks were passed, and after a few pleasant words the widow prepared to depart, but just as Julia, the bonne had announced the carriage, a quiet-looking man, in a salt-and-pepper suit, stepped up and laid a profane hand on the beautiful shoulder of the charming widow.

“Caught again, Iky!” he said, in a pleasant manner.

The widow started. She glanced around in terror, alarm.

“No use, Iky!” said the salt-and-pepper man. “I’ve been wondering why you kept so quiet. Game up, old boy.”

The captain stood by in speechless amazement while the detective arrested the beautiful widow.

And the baby, Master Henry, what of him?

He was disrobed of his lace and his embroidery, and he proved to be one mass of smuggled goods adroitly built together on the foundation of a bottle of the best French brandy, and furnished with a waxen face and an apparatus to make a noise resembling the cry of an infant.

The captain is still employed as an officer of Her Majesty’s Customs, but he is more humble, for his beautiful widow was a smart young smuggler from Paris. He was singularly handsome and made up well as a woman, and he had brought thousands of pounds’ worth of valuables through right before the redoubtable captain’s nose and as long as the captain lives he will never hear the last of the widow’s baby.— Prize Tit Bit.

The American Magazine 1888

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil really has nothing else to add except her admiration for the ingenious young smuggler and his cunning crying-baby scheme, which reminds her of this apparatus:

A mechanical genius has hit upon the most effectual means of securing ladies travelling by railway from male intruders. This is his advertisement, which needs no comment “Artificial Babies for Travellers.— Common travelling infants, yielding intermittent cries of fear, and capable of being put into the pocket, 10s. Second class, crying not too loudly, but lamentably and insupportably, 20s. Third class, full squallers, with a very piercing and aggravating voice of five octaves, £2. The same, arranged as a prompt repeater, £2 6s Fifth class, first quality, capable of continued squalling, £3.”

Otago Witness, 8 January 1876: p. 5

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.