Tag Archives: John Kendrick Bangs

A Chat With A Summer Girl: 1904

strolling fashionable gait


Edited by John Kendrick Bangs

Her name was not Miss Flora MacFlimsey, and she does not live in Madison Square. What her name is and where she dwells is, however, none of the public’s business. In fact, I should not have been able to get from her lips the plan of her campaign had I not promised under oath, duly attested, that her identity would be kept inviolably a secret. Hence let us call her Miss Flora MacFlimsey, after the heroine of one of most truly immortal satirical poems that have ever been written in the English language.

Neither did I choose the assignment which led me into her sacred presence. It was “handed out” to me by one whose word is law, whose “must” it were oblivion to disobey, whose instincts–well, of that more anon. Anyway, he is an editor, what he tells me to do I do as best I can….

Hence, when he said, “Call upon Miss Flora MacFlimsey of Madison Square and get her forecast of her coming engagements,” I went home, put on my pongee Prince Albert, got out my straw pot hat and my card and called.

Received Graciously.

That she was tall, goes without saying; that she was beautiful, it is unnecessary to state; that she received me graciously, is the main point. It was an unconventional reception, but it was all I could hope for at the moment, since Miss MacFlimsey was engaged in packing her trunks prior to her departure for the Sea View House at Oakhearst-on-the-Ocean.

“You will excuse me if I receive you thus,” she said pleasingly as I climbed over four Saratoga trunks, three “steamers” and a dozen suit cases in the hallway of her charming apartment. “Word has come from headquarters that we are to move on Oakhearst-on-the-Ocean early tomorrow morning, where the enemy is concentrated in large numbers. We shall take them by surprise, and by Tuesday night we expect to have them routed.”

“The enemy?” said I.

“Yes, the enemy,” said she. “Man. Ma and I expect to meet him in several lively engagements this summer. The campaign promises to be a warm one.

“You are well provided with the sinews of war,” said I, with a glance at the lady’s eyes, which, as I know the enemy, Man, were well calculated to carry all before them. “If I were the foe I think I should capitulate at once.”

“No, thank you,” she replied with a laugh, construing my remark as an invitation to a flirtation. “I never level my guns on wholly serious persons or fathers of families. The consequences are apt to be too costly.”

“Madame,” said I, solemnly, “you mistake me. I only said if. I have been chosen for this dangerous assignment for the sole reason that I am know to be immune. Eyes of the deepest blue, the snappiest black, the most scintillating brown or the liveliest green affect me not. No feminine smile of sweetest texture can move my soul. The cherriest lips in all creation move me not, and liquid sighs fall frozen ‘neath my gaze. I am here to interview, not to win. Shall I sit upon this hat box or recline upon yonder suitcase?”

“Make yourself comfortable any way you can,” she said. “I’m busy.” With that she picked up an armful of pink foulard and threw it into an adjacent trunk.

“What are your plans for 1904?” I asked, making for a cozy corner which I now beheld half hidden behind a very Gibraltar of bonnets.

“I’m out for the record,” she sighed, trying on a hat that was trimmed with lace enough to make a comfortable hammock. “Last year Miss Dottie de Limelight came home with thirty-seven engagement rings on her fingers. I am out for thirty-eight.”

“The season is short,” said I.

“Art is long,” laughed she. “And I shall win out. That is why we are going to a transient hotel. The Sea View has the West End people, and it is so badly conducted that no one ever comes back, so that I have a constant supply of fresh raw material to work on.”

“You must suffer terribly,” said I.

“Not at all,” said Miss Flora MacFlimsey. “I am an expert with the chafing dish. It is one of my weapons. I can cook lobsters in sixty different says, clams in ninety-eight and eggs—well, I can’t tell you how many ways I can cook eggs. Mother and I live very well with our chafing dish alone, and when my eyes fail to work havoc with the enemy’s heart I wheel the chafing dish into action and victory perches on my banners.” Here she tied a strip of point lace about her neck in a most fetching fashion and called upon me to admire it—which, of course, out of courtesy I did.

“May I ask your object in winning so many hearts?” I queried, settling down to business. “Is it mere love of conquest?”

Question of Hearts.

“Not entirely,” she replied. “Of course, you like to win in whatever game you go into, whether it is bridge, ping-pong, poker or pit. Some people like to play chess, using inanimate chessmen for the purpose. That does not interest me when I can have real men for my pawns. What is the use of devoting yourself to abstractions when the world is full of live, concrete propositions that it is sheer delight to overcome? No reasonable child would prefer a hobby horse to a real pony. No more have I any patience with playing hearts with cards when I am surrounded with those that actually pulsate, swell with emotions, grow faint with vague fears and respond always to my advances.”

“That is all very well,” said I, “but you might destroy a whole pack of cards and do no harm, whereas if you broke a single real heart I should think Ii would rest heavily on your conscience.”

“It would,” said Miss MacFlimsey. “But you see I don’t break any hearts. If I married any of those many fiancés of mine there would be danger. But I don’t marry them. There was that nice tow-headed little Harvard man I got engaged to at Saratoga last summer, for instance. We had about as delightful an engagement as any two people that ever lived. We had long and beautiful drives together. The ring was the cutest little arrangement of sapphires and diamonds you ever saw. His tastes in the selection of gifts was exquisite–I really hated to sell the things afterward, they were so pretty–and he was perfectly fine to mamma. It was ideal, and best of all, we never spoiled it by even thinking of getting married.”

“You–er–you sold his gifts?” I asked, in some surprise.

Summer Loot.

“Oh, my, yes,” she returned, with a merry laugh. “We always do that. The ring, too. How do you suppose we summer girls live through the winter if we don’t hypothecate our summer loot? We are none of us rich in our own right. If we were we’d become British Duchesses. As it is, we have to eke out a living as best we can, and I must admit I have been very successful. Last summer I cleared $800 on my engagement rings alone, and I should say that out of the books and trinkets I received I got as much more. That, with my commissions from the livery stables and confectionery people, enabled mamma and me to live very comfortably all winter long and provided us with twenty stunning new gowns for this season that we think will pay 200 per cent dividends.

“The commissions on what?” I demanded, for I could scarcely believe that I had understood the lady correctly.

“Confectionery people and livery stables,” she replied. “Don’t you know that we summer girls get commissions on all the candy we eat and buggy rides we take with our fiancés?”

“It is sad and solemn news to me,” said I, shaking my head. “I knew you summer girls were fond of a good time and always ready to make some man temporarily happy by uttering a soft ‘yes’ in response to his passionate request that you be his, but that commercialism, had entered even into that I never dreamed.”

“You funny old man!” she cried, with a silvery laugh, whose potency to stir the heart was undeniable, since it got upon even my weary old nerves. “Of course, commercialism, enters into it, but in an awfully nice way. It is delicately done. Instead of saying to our fiancés that we will be engaged to them at so much an hour, with a special commutation race for the season, we merely take our share of the profits from those who make money out of the fact that we are engaged.

She Gets a Percentage.

“For instance, if, because he is engaged to me, a young millionaire from Altoona keeps returning to the mountain resort where I am spending the summer, the landlord of the hostelry that thus profits pays me 10 per cent of his bill. Two summers ago, up in the Ratskills, ten of my beaux spent altogether 140 days there. If it hadn’t been for me they wouldn’t have stayed ten altogether. What could be more proper, then, than that the landlord should recognize the value of my services to him by giving my mother and myself free board and 10 percent of the money paid him by Teddy and and Harry and Jim and George and John and William and Roderick and Gaston and Leon and Alphonse. I believe my share came to $200. The livery stable people reason the same way.  If Miss MacFlimsey was not engaged to Mr. Robertson Van Tile, Mr. Van Tile would not have used our buck boards so frequently, they say. Hence we should give Miss MacFlimsey some suitable testimonial of our regard and appreciation of the value of her services. Reasoning thus, at the end of the season they send me a check for 15 per cent of Mr. Van Tile’s bill.”

“But how do they know it is to you not to some other summer girl that they owe this–er–rake off?” I asked.

“Because Mr. Van Tile is registered on their books as my fiancé the moment become engaged,” explained the lady. “It is a very simple system. Same way with the confectionery people. Oh, I tell you this summer girl business isn’t so bad, and it’s a great sight pleasanter than becoming a trained nurse or a stenographer.”

Playing the Fiancés.

“Don’t you have some trouble in keeping your fiancés apart?” I queried. “Don’t they ever get jealous?”

“Why, of course they do.” smiled Miss MacFlimsey. “I don’t know what I’d do if they didn’t. I strain every nerve to make them jealous, for that makes us quarrel. Our quarrels increase my dividends, because when we make it up later the young man to show his repentance has to be unusually lavish in his attentions, takes me on longer drives, sends me bigger boxes of candy, buys more trinkets, flowers and all that, so that there is a corresponding increase in my returns. I was engaged to young Reggie Aquidneck five times in one summer and got a new engagement ring every time just because we quarreled so over my becoming engaged to Harry Stockbridge and three or four other chaps whose names I have forgotten. That jealousy complication is one of my richest assets.”

“And you never see these fellows afterward?” I asked.

“Oh, indeed yes,” replied Miss MacFlimsey; “often. In fact, I always give a reception to my ex-fiancés every winter and we have stunning good times at them, but of course entirely without flirtation. No successful summer girl ever flirts during the winter season–unless she gets a special engagement for Palm Beach or some place. It is too great a strain and we need the whole of the winter time to get rested up for the summer campaign.”

“Well,” said I, rising to leave, “I am very much obliged to you for this illuminating chat. I have learned much and I wish you the best of luck for the coming season.”

Will Beat the Record.

“Thank you,” said she. “I think I shall get the record away from Miss de Limelight without any trouble. In fact, I am sure to, for I am already booked for thirty-five engagements in August and six for the first two weeks in September. That’s forty-one sure. Better come down and see me at work,” she added, with that fetching smile of hers.

“No. thanks,” said I, moving toward the door. “I wouldn’t dare. I am afraid I might be jealous of those fortunate others.”

“I’ll let you pretend you are my fiancé for an evening,” she put in demurely.

“What! And involve myself in a row with Reggie Van Toodles or some other lover of your!!” I cried.

“No, that wouldn’t be necessary,” she said, referring to a memorandum book. “I find here that I have one free Sunday, the 28th of August, when I shall not be engaged to anybody. Shall I book you for the 28th?”

But I made no reply, fleeing madly for the door. My engagements have a way of being permanent, and I wanted to escape before it was too late.

The Galveston [TX] Daily News 26 July 1904: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The “Summer Girl” was a figure of fascination and of fun in the newspapers. It was axiomatic that she would become engaged multiple times during the summer, although typically nothing ever came of those engagements. Such entanglements seem to have been a convenient fiction which allowed the young to spend time together with less scrutiny than otherwise. As Miss MacF. notes, Mama is on the scene, but she seems a mere cipher.

Such engagements were the source of many a rude joke. This is one of the more trenchant:

“It is just a malicious fib,” said the returned summer girl. “Of course I didn’t get engaged to three men at once while I was at the seashore. There was more than 30 minutes’ lapse of time between them.”

The Topeka [KS] State Journal 16 August 1895: p. 4

No doubt those young men who had been ensnared by the Summer Girl had their eyes opened, reading this candid description of her heartless transactions. One wonders what happens to the Summer Girls who “age out” of being the toasts of the summer resort? Do they eventually settle down with a millionaire or a little Harvard man with exquisite taste? Or are they seen on the promenade in their formerly stunning gowns, growing ever shabbier, season by season, haunting the watering places like public Miss Havishams?



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.

How a Ghost Saved Christmas: 1901

Queen Victoria's Christmas Tree

Queen Victoria’s Christmas Tree

Bills, M.D


It was the usual kind of a Christmas Eve. The snow was falling with its customary noiselessness, and the world was gradually taking on a mantle of white which made it look like a very attractive wedding-cake. It was upon this occasion that Old Bills materialized in my down-town study and got me out of a very unpleasant hole. The year had not been a very profitable one for me. My last book had been a comparative failure, having sold only 118,000 copies in the first six months, so that instead of receiving $60,000 in royalties on the first of November, as I had expected, I had fallen down to something like $47,000. There was a fraction of seven or eight hundred dollars—just what it was I cannot recall. Then my securities had, for one reason or another, failed to yield the customary revenue; some thirty or forty of my houses had not rented; taxes had increased—in short, I found myself at Christmas-time, with my wife and eight children expecting to be remembered, with less than $80,000 that I could spare in the bank.

To be sure, we had all agreed that this year we should avoid extravagance, and the little madame had informed me that she would be very unhappy if I expended more than $40,000 upon her present from myself. My daughter, too, like the sweet girl that she is, said, with a considerable degree of firmness, that she would rather have a check for $10,000 than the diamond necklace I had contemplated giving her; and my eldest son had sent word from college, in definite terms, that he didn’t think, in view of the hard times, he would ask for anything more than a new pair of wheelers for his drag, three hunters, a T cart, a silver chafing-dish set, and a Corot for his smoking-room.

This spirit, as I say, permeated the household—even the baby babbled of economy, and thought he could get along with ruby jackstones and a bag of cats’ eyes to play marbles with. But even thus, as the reader can see for himself, $80,000 would not go far, and I was in despair. There is no greater trial in the world than that confronting a generously disposed father who suddenly finds himself at Christmas time without the means to carry out his wishes and to provide his little ones with the gifts which their training has justified them in expecting.

I was seated alone in my office, not having the courage to go home and tell my family of the horrid state of affairs, or, rather, putting off the evil hour, for ultimately the truth would have to be told. It was growing dark. Outside I could hear the joyous hum of the busy streets; the clanging of the crowded cable-cars, going to and fro, bearing their holiday burden of bundle-laden shoppers, seemed to sound musically and to tell of peace and goodwill. Even the cold, godless world of commerce seemed to warm up with the spirit of the hour. I alone was in misery, at a moment when peace and happiness and good-will were the watchwords of humanity. My distress increased every moment as I conjured up before my mind’s eye the picture of the coming morn, when my children and their mother, in serene confidence that I would do the right thing by them, should find the tree bare of presents, and discover, instead of the usual array of bonds and jewels, and silver services, and horses and carriages, and rich furs, and priceless books (the baby had cut his teeth the year before on the cover of the Grolier edition of Omar Khayyam, which, at a cost of $600, I had given him, bound in ivory and gold, with carbuncles adorning the back and the title set in brilliants)—discover, instead of these, I say, mere commonplace presents possessing no intrinsic worth—why, it was appalling to think of their disappointment! To be sure, I had purchased a suit of Russian sables for madam, and had concealed a certified check for $25,000 in the pocket of the dolman, but what was that in such times, hard as they were!

And you may imagine it was all exquisitely painful to me. Then, on a sudden, I seemed not to be alone. Something appeared to materialize off in the darker corner of the study. At first I thought it was merely the filming over of my eyes with the moisture of an incipient and unshed tear, but I was soon undeceived, for the thing speedily took shape, and a rather unpleasant shape at that, although there was a radiant kindliness in its green eyes.

“Who are you?” I demanded, jumping up and staring intently at the apparition, my hair meanwhile rising slightly.

“I’m Dr. Bills,” was the response, in a deep, malarial voice, as the phantom, for that is all it was, approached me. “I’ve come to help you out of your troubles,” it added, rather genially.

“Ah? Indeed!” said I. “And may I ask how you know I am in trouble?”

“Certainly you may,” said the old fellow. “We ghosts know everything.”

“Then you are a ghost, eh?” I queried, although I knew mighty well at the moment I first saw him that he was nothing more, he was so transparent and misty.

“At your service,” was the reply, as my unexpected visitor handed me a gelatinouslooking card, upon which was engraved the following legend:

* U. P. BILLS, M.D., *

* *

“The Spook Philanthropist.” *

* Troubles Cured While You Wait. *

“Ah!” said I, as I read it. “You’ll find me a troublesome patient, I am afraid. Do you know what my trouble is?”

“Certainly I do,” said Bills. “You’re a little short and your wife and children have expectations.”

“Precisely,” said I. “And here is Christmas on top of us and nothing for the tree except a few trifling gems and other things.”

“Well, my dear fellow,” said the kindly visitant, “if you’ll intrust yourself to my care I’ll cure you in a jiffy. There never was a case of immediate woe that I couldn’t cure, but you’ve got to have confidence in me.”

“Sort of faith cure, eh?” I smiled.

“Exactly,” he replied. “If you don’t believe in Old Bills, Old Bills cannot relieve your distress.”

“But what do you propose to do, Doctor?” I asked. “What is your course of treatment?”

“That’s my business,” he retorted. “You don’t ask your family physician to outline his general plan to you when you summon him to treat you for gout, do you?”

“Well, I generally like to know more of him than I know of you,” said I, apologetically, for I had no wish to offend him. “For instance, are you allopath, or a homoeopath, or some hitherto untrodden path?”

“Something of a homoeopath,” he admitted.

“Then you cure trouble with trouble?” I asked, rather more pertinently, as the event showed, than I imagined.

“I cure trouble with ease,” he replied glibly. “You may accept or reject my services. It’s immaterial to me.”

“I don’t wish to seem ungrateful, Doctor,” said I, seeing that the old spook was growing a trifle irritated. “I certainly most gratefully accept. What do you want me to do?”

“Go home,” he said, laconically.

“But the empty tree?” I demanded.

“Will not be empty to-morrow morning,” said he, and he vanished.

I locked my study door and started to walk home, first stopping at the cafe down-stairs and cashing a check for $60,000. I had confidence in Old Bills, but I thought I would provide against possible failure; and I had an idea that on the way up-town I might perhaps find certain little things to please, if not satisfy, the children, which could be purchased for that sum. My surmise was correct, for, while Old Bills did his work, as will soon be shown, most admirably, I had no difficulty in expending the $60,000 on simple little things really worth having, between Pine Street and Forty-second. For instance, as I passed along Union Square I discovered a superb pair of pearl hat-pins which I knew would please my second daughter, Jenny, because they were just suited to the immediate needs of the talking doll she had received from her aunt on her birthday. They were cheap little pins, but as I paid down the $1,800 they cost in crisp hundred dollar bills they looked so stunningly beautiful that I wondered if, after all, they mightn’t prove sufficient for little Jenny’s whole Christmas, if Bills should fail. Then I met poor old Hobson, who has recently met reverses. He had an opera-box for sale for $2,500, and I bought it for Martha, my third daughter, who, though only seven years old, frequently entertains her little school friends with all the manner of a woman of fashion. I felt that the opera-box would please the child, although it was not on the grand tier. I also killed two birds with one stone by taking a mortgage for $10,000 on Hobson’s house, by which I not only relieved poor old Hobson’s immediate necessities, but, by putting the mortgage in my son Jimmy’s stocking, enriched the boy as well. So it went. By the time I reached home the $60,000 was spent, but I felt that, brought up as they had been, the children would accept the simple little things I had brought home to them in the proper spirit. They were, of course, cheap, but my little ones do not look at the material value of their presents. It is the spirit which prompts the gift that appeals to them—Heaven bless ’em! I may add here, too, that my little ones did not even by their manner seem to grudge that portion of the $60,000 spent which their daddy squandered on his immediate impulses, consisting of a nickel extra to a lad who blacked his boots, thirty cents for a cocktail at the club, and a dime to a beggar who insisted on walking up Fifth Avenue with him until he was bought off with the coin mentioned—a species of blackmail which is as intolerable as it is inevitable on all fashionable thoroughfares.

But their delight as well as my own on the following morning, when the doctor’s fine work made itself manifest, was glorious to look upon. I frankly never in my life saw so magnificent a display of gifts, and I have been to a number of recent millionaire weddings, too. To begin with, the most conspicuous thing in the room was the model of a steam yacht which Old Bills had provided as the family gift to myself. It was manifest that the yacht could not be got into the house, so Bills had had the model sent, and with it the information that the yacht itself was ready at Cramp’s yard to go into commission whenever I might wish to have it. It fairly took my breath away. Then for my wife was a rope of pearls as thick as a cable, and long enough to accommodate the entire week’s wash should the laundress venture to borrow it for any such purpose. All the children were fitted out in furs; there were four gold watches for the boys, diamond tiaras and necklaces of pearls and brilliant rings for the girls. My eldest son received not only the horses and carriages and the Corot he wanted, but a superb gold-mounted toilet set, and a complete set of golf clubs, the irons being made of solid silver, the shafts of ebony, with a great glittering diamond set in the handle of each; these all in a caddy bag of sealskin, the fur shaved off. There was a charming little naphtha launch and a horseless carriage for Jimmy, and, as for the baby, it was very evident that Old Bills had a peculiarly tender spot in his ghostly makeup for children. I doubt if the finest toyshops of Paris ever held toys in greater variety or more ingenious in design. There were two armies of soldiers made of aluminum which marched and fought like real little men, a band of music at the head of each that discoursed the most stirring music, cannons that fired real shot—indeed, all the glorious panoply of war was there in miniature, lacking only blood, and I have since discovered that even this was possible, since every one of the little soldiers was so made that his head could be pulled off and his body filled with red ink. Then there was a miniature office building of superb architectural design, with little steam elevators running up and down, and throngs of busy little creatures, manipulated by some ingenious automatic arrangement, rushing hither and thither like mad, one and all seemingly engaged upon some errand of prodigious commercial import. Another delightful gift for the baby was a small opera-house, and a complete troupe of little wax prime donne, and zinc tenors, and brass barytones, with patent removable chests, within which small phonographs worked so that the little things sang like so many music-boxes, while in the chairs and boxes and galleries were matinee girls and their escorts and their bonnets and their enthusiastic applause—truly I never dreamed of such magnificent things as Old Bills provided for the occasion. He had indeed got me out of my immediate difficulty, and when I went to bed that night, after the happiest Christmas I had ever known, I called down the richest blessings upon his head; and why, indeed, should I not? We had between $400,000 and $500,000 worth of presents in the house, and they had not cost me a penny, outside of the $60,000 I had spent on the way up-town, and what could be more conducive to one’s happiness than such a Yuletide Klondike as that?

This was many years ago, dear reader, before the extravagant methods of the present day crept into and somewhat poisoned the Christmas spirit, but from that day to this Old Bills has never ceased to haunt me. He has been my constant companion from that glorious morning until to-day, when I find myself telling you of him, and, save at the beginning of every recurring month, when I am always very busy and somewhat anxious about making ends meet, his society is never irksome. Once you get used to Bills he becomes a passion, and were it not for his singular name I think I should find him a constant source of joy.

It rather dampened my ardor, I must confess, when I found that the initials of the good old doctor, U. P., stood for Un Paid, but if you can escape the chill and irksomeness of that there is no reason why the poorest of us all may not derive much real joy in life from the good things we can get through Bills.

In justice to the readers of this little tale, I should perhaps say, in conclusion, that I read it to my wife before sending it out, and she asserts that it was all a dream, because she says she never received that rope of pearls. To which I retorted that she deserved to, anyhow—but, dream or otherwise, the visitation has truly been with me for many years, and I fear the criticism of my spouse is somewhat prompted by jealousy, for she has stated in plain terms that she would rather go without Christmas than see me constantly haunted by Bills; but, after all, it is a common condition, and it does help one at Christmas time in an era when the simple observance of the season, so characteristic of the olden time, has been superseded by a lavish expenditure which would bring ruin to the richest of us were it not for the benign influence of Bills, M.D.

Over the Plum-Pudding, John Kendrick Bangs, 1901

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Another holiday amusement from John Kendrick Bangs, author of that Christmas ghost story classic, “The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.”