A CROWN, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
It was a busy day with the florist. His counters were filled with bouquets, crosses, wreaths, and filling baskets. The florist, Karl Breitman, was at work himself superintending even his wife was pressed into service, and was making a bridal bouquet of fragrant orange blossoms. Presently a carriage stopped, and a tall, elegantly dressed young lady came into the shop. Karl stepped forward to take her order.
“I wish to leave an order for a crown of white flowers for a funeral to-morrow morning,” she said.
“I am so sorry, madam, but as madam sees, we are so busy. A wedding to-night, a funeral to-morrow, half a dozen parties, and so many baskets ordered—it is quite impossible,” answered the little German, politely.
The young lady looked disappointed, but as she turned to go Mrs Breitman stopped her. “I will see to it, miss, that your order is filled. Only leave it with me. He’s so busy,” pointing at her husband. To speak truthfully, Mrs Breitman was a miserly soul, and could not bear the thought of losing the prospective money, for she saw by the carriage at the door and the young lady’s appearance that this was a wealthy customer.
“Thank you,” said the lady. “It is kind of you. I want a crown of pure white flowers.” “That will come very expensive, miss,” observed the florist’s wife, anticipating the ready answer—”never mind expense. I want it just so, and as handsome as you can make it.” “Perhaps a little cross of violets on the top would suit you, we make so many;” suggested Mrs Breitman, her eyes sparkling as the lady assented, for violets were just coming into season and very expensive.
“Yes, that will look well. Here is my card, which you must tie on it, and shall I write my address?” Being supplied with a card for that purpose, she drew off her glove, displaying a shapely white hand, on which glittered diamonds, and wrote the name and address. “The funeral is to-morrow at ten, and I shall expect this to be very handsome. Mind, I shall be there and see it.”
“Yes, miss,” replied Mrs Breitman, glancing at the book. “Oh, in Thirty fifth street! I thought, maybe, it was for Mrs Willis’ funeral; that is to-morrow morning, and we have a large order for that.”
“Yes,” said the lady, drawing on her glove, as she carelessly looked, “I see you are very busy. Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, miss. Shall I send you the bill?” inquired Mrs Breitman, following the young lady to the door.
“No I will call and pay you.” Then as she went out and got into the carriage, the florist’s wife heard her order the coachman to drive to No.__ Fifth Avenue and as she went back to her work of arranging the flowers, she picked up the card, saying,”I wonder who she is?” On the pasteboard she read in old English letters the name, “Mary Lester, Fifth Avenue.”
“Ha, Karl,” she called, I have gained a customer—one who does not care for expense.”
“Thou wilt have to arrange the flowers thyself, Katrine,” answered he crossly. “We will be up half the night before.”
Katrine nodded. When the bridal bouquet was disposed of and her husband had gone off to superintend the floral decorations of the church, where the marriage was to be, she began to make the crown. “Life and death.” she muttered, as her deft fingers wove the creamy roses and the snow white ones, arranging the odorous sprays of lilies with dentzia. “Brides and corpses! We florists deck them both, and flowers serve for one as well as for another.”
Then she fell to thinking of the lady, Mrs Willis, who was to be buried to-morrow. “Four crosses, six wreaths, a crown and loose flowers,” said she to herself. “He loved her well. It’s not two years since I made her bridal bouquet. Dear heart, I wish tonight’s bride a longer life.” When the cross of violets was made, surmounting the crown Mrs Breitman surveyed her handiwork with true artistic pleasure. It was beautiful indeed. The absence of the stiff japonicas and heavy tuberoses gave it less of a funeral look and more the semblance of a heavenly crown. After tying Miss Lester’s card on, her work was complete, and she had time to assist with the other crosses.
It was with a sigh of relief that Miss Lester threw herself back in the coupe beside a portly matron in black velvet “Oh, mamma,” exclaimed she, “I do hate this unreal, foolish fashion of sending flowers to dead people. They have a large order for a Mrs Willis’ funeral there at the florist’s, and our flowers might just as well go to her as to Cousin Marianne’s. We didn’t know George; we don’t know Mrs Willis.”
“No, love,” replied Mrs Lester, “but it is expected of us in one case and not in the other, and Marianne would be hurt and vexed if we sent no flowers for her husband’s funeral, and although I deprecate the custom as much as you, still it is well to do as all the world does.”
“The world shall never lay down laws for me,” said Mary energetically. “I think for a friend to strew flowers on the person of a loved one who has gone is beautiful; but, oh, this reduction of poetical sentiment to fashion’s edicts,” and she smote her little palms together so violently as to make her mother start.
“Don’t do that, Mary. It’s not lady-like. Tell me did you order the crown made as I desired?” Then they drifted off into a conversation upon the quality, style and flowers. “Making up orders for Mrs Willis’ funeral?” observed Mrs Lester at last, “I wonder if that is Clara Spencer, who married about two years ago to Williard Willis. You have seen them at church, Mary! Their pew is three ahead of ours?”
“Yes, I remember,” answered Mary, thoughtfully. She spoke little on her way home, and was rallied by her mother for her absent air. “I am thinking,” said she briefly. She did not like to say that her thoughts were full of that tall handsome man, with his little blonde wife, who had sat just before them in church. Sunday after Sunday. Mary had seen them together, and she was wondering if he had loved her much; if he grieved sorely for the lost.
How sorely Mary did not know.
Williard Willis was bowed in grief for the loss of his wife, his little Clara. He felt deeply too, now that she was gone, that he had not valued her enough, had treated her too much like a child, had been often impatient with her waywardness. Now that Death has laid his cold seal upon her, all her faults were forgotten and only the winning, loving ways remembered which had won his heart before marriage. It was the morning of the funeral. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers. His sister, Mrs Carr, was arranging the floral devices about the fair marble figure in its last resting place.
“How many beautiful flowers there are!” said she, through her sobs, to some of the other relatives. “Look, Sarah, what a beautiful cross James Hubbell has sent her. You know people said he wanted to marry her. And this crown—l never did see anything so perfectly beautiful! Look! All roses, and none of those horrid japonicas, See these violets in the little cross.”
“It is handsome,” said Helen Willard, turning the card over, “Mary Lester! Who is she, Sarah?”
Sarah Spence, the sister of the departed one, shook her head. “I never heard Clara speak of her.”
“She ought to be either a very intimate friend, or a relative, to send anything so handsome as this. It never cost less than forty dollars.”
“I’ll ask Willard,” said Mrs Carr, starting forward with the crown in her hand.
Helen pulled her dress. “Not now.’ It is almost time for the funeral services to begin, and he feels so bad, and I wouldn’t if I were you.”
“Well, I’ll put it aside, and after the service I can ask him. Here comes the Bishop;” and up went Mrs Carr’s handkerchief to her eyes, as she sailed forward in her new mourning to meet the venerable prelate.
When the last sad rites were over, Willard Willis returned mournfully alone. The first thing he saw was the crown standing upon the mantle, where his sister had placed it, All his loss rushed over him at the sight of it, and scalding tears filled his eyes. Who can despise his weakness? None that have known grief such as death brings.
Willard found his once pleasant, cheerful home now so lonely and desolate without its presiding genius that he could no longer bear it, and about six weeks after his wife’s death he left for Europe, seeking oblivion and interest in new scenes of interest. At first he grieved much, but his wife had been really childish, foolish and frivolous. His greater intellect was caught by her extreme beauty and winning ways, but these charms were beginning to lose their power before her death, and he felt now a sort of freedom for which he often reproached himself. After a year of absence he returned to America and re-opened his house. Mrs Carr had kindly consented to take charge of it for him, but the offer had been declined. One day as he entered the long unused and darkened parlors, he saw on the mantle the wire framework of the once fresh and lovely crown with the faded flowers hanging from it. Detaching the card, he rang for the maid to remove it, and he stood by the window, in the flood of sunshine he had just let in, watching her. She was shocked. “To think of dear missus only gone a year, and he ordering that crown, which she was sure he had been keepin’ as a soveney, away to the ash heap!” Willard was trying to analyze his feelings. Were they grief or regret or relief? Which was uppermost he could not tell. Then he glanced at the bit of pasteboard be was toying with, and read, “Mary Lester.” All at once he remembered his sister writing to him of the mystery attached to the crown, which he had just ordered away, how neither his wife’s family nor his knew Miss Lester, and how very singular it was for a young lady to send s widower funeral flowers for his wife! Yes, he was a widower? He smiled, and looked in the long mirror. The title had been associated in his mind with grey hairs and old age, and he saw the reflection of a man still young and handsome,
His reverie was interrupted by Mrs Carr. “Oh, Willard, I am glad you are at home. Now, do be a good brother, and take Helen to Mrs Hubbell’s party this evening, I cannot go, and she has set her heart on it, Don’t disappoint the child. Oh, I know you are in mourning,” seeing him glance at his dress, but Clara has been dead over a year now. Sarah Spencer is going, and she was Clara’s own sister. Don’t disappoint your little Helen.” Willard was just going to say “No”— the word was trembling on his lips, when Helen herself came running into the parlor, and looked up appealingly at her brother, with tears in her eyes. He could not refuse his favorite little sister, and promised he would go, although he feared he would be out of place in a gay assembly. But when, once more clad in evening dress, with his pretty sister on his arm, he entered Mr. Hubbell’s parlors, and met with gentle greetings on every side, he felt as if he were again in his element.
After supper, as he was leaning against the parlor door, watching the waltzes of the German, his hostess captured him, saying, “Mr Willis, I am going to introduce you to a lovely young friend of mine who does not dance,” and leading him to a lady in pink she pronounced the cabalistic words, “Mr Willis allow me to present you Miss ___.” The name was lost in the crash of the band.
Willard gave her his arm and led her to a little reception room on the other side of the hall. “Here at least we can talk without splitting our throats in trying to overtop the band,” said he, and talk they did, until Helen, a most exhaustless dancer, came for her brother to take her home. Willard found the young lady a most delightful conversationalist, witty, piquant, intellectual, and original, and could hardly believe they had been talking two hours until convinced by his own watch.
The next Sunday Willard joined his new acquaintance coming out of church, and accompanying her home, received an invitation to call, which he availed himself of very soon. He discovered her name to be Miss Lester, and soon found himself identifying her with the lady who sent the crown. One evening bearing her mother call her Mary, these suspicions grew stronger, and they were confirmed when he compared the address on the card in his possession with her residence.
He found Miss Lester occupying a large share of his thoughts. If he was pleased with a book, she must read it; no plan was undertaken without her approbation; and as Willard knew all the symptoms, he soon knew he was in love, deeply in love with Mary Lester.
“It is all those flowers!” thought he, “If she had never sent them I would never have thought of her again after our casual meeting, but I wonder—-” Then he asked himself for the thousandth time. “Why did she send me this crown?” Finally he concluded to ask her, which was, after all the wisest plan. To his great disappointment, she denied all knowledge of it; but when convinced by her card, she recollected sending a crown to her cousin Marianne on her husband’s funeral.
“It was some fearful mistake of the florist,” said she at length. “Oh, Mr. Willis, what must you have thought me capable of! Setting my cap at you the moment you were available!” and she buried her face, suffused with blushes, in her hands.
“To speak truly, I did not put that construction on, but it does look like it. Oh, Mary, how could you do it! And I, a poor, helpless innocent man, have walked right into the snare, for you have caught me. Mary, my darling, I love you truly,” taking her hands down. “Don’t hide your pretty face, or, if you must, hide it here,“ drawing her head to his shoulder.
Need the rest be told? Mrs. Willis, No. 2, thinks widowers very bold wooers, but her husband says she encouraged him at first before he ever dreamed of marrying again, and this is the only rock on which the happy couple split. And in their happiness the dead is not forgotten for a pretty rosy-cheeked little girl bears the name of Clara Spencer.
Press, 14 March 1873: p. 6
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There was a delicate art to the etiquette of funeral flowers. In many communities the floral tributes were listed in the newspapers with the donor’s name so that everyone might see how generous they had been. A crown–or wreath–was perhaps the most common floral tribute, although they came in all shapes and fancies: crosses, sheaves of wheat, urns, pillows, and shapes representing the deceased’s profession or fraternal affiliations, or perhaps a phrase from a hymn such as “the gates ajar.” These tributes became more and more elaborate until they were ridiculed as vulgar in the very press that had, shortly before, listed them reverentially.
Miss Lester was quite right to be mortified; if she as a single woman had sent a floral crown to a widower, it would have been unspeakably forward, as she rightly observed. But a happy ending, we hope, all round. Mrs Daffodil was struck by the delicate insinuation that Mr Willis was not so much mourning his childish, foolish, and frivolous wife as his own foolishness in his “greater intellect” being “caught” by her beauty and “winning ways.” One hopes that he did not regret being “caught” a second time by a woman to whom, he admits, he would not have given a thought except for that crown of flowers….
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.