Tillie, my nursemaid since I was just a wee one, insisted I purchase this new-fangled item:
'Tis an electric belt, constructed using the most modern technology, and meant to cure my consumption and neurasthenia, and my many other maladies, some of which are not fit to mention in a public forum.
Of course, Papá thinks that tubercular symptoms are pleasant for the eye of young suitors, and that these need not be cured. I of course told him that I am betrothed to Horace and have no further need for men to be attentive to me, but he still thinks it unbecoming for a virginal lady to gain weight above 90 pounds and to have a flush restored to her glabrate face, let alone for her to breathe without wheezing and grasping for the nearest firm bicep to steady her! He certainly would deem it a stain on our family were my waist to grow too girthful to squeeze into my 18” corset. I told him he need not worry, that this new electric belt would only alleviate my symptoms enough so that I do not faint so often and may have the strength to leave the safety of my boudoir on a more regular basis.
This morning I received this delightful card from Horace:
Ah, the wonders of love!
Tillie, my nursemaid since I was just a wee one, insisted I purchase this new-fangled item:
More about the other evening’s fright. I was being transported in my carriage to cousin Ida’s debutante ball, when the bothersome chauffeur lost his way. We found ourselves wending an unfamiliar and unsavory course along dismal streets and decrepit alleyways. I promptly set about flogging the driver with a leather lash that I stow in the carriage for just such a purpose (and after we returned home I had Papá ensure his disemployment from our family or any other family of repute, in this town and in any town on the Eastern seaboard, for the remainder of his natural life). But his well-deserved punishment did not quell my agony upon finding myself adrift in a tangle of streets where people ride not in carriages but upon mules, a district rife with Irishmen and -women scurrying around with no police presence, the stench of whiskey and syphilis permeating the air, the denizens bedecked in garments far more crass than even the wretched Orpha dares wear. I even spotted a few Italians, chattering away in their bewildering and morally inferior tongue. The prolific offspring of these foreigners is something else altogether. Why, some of these mothers bear eleven or twelve children; my own Mother was more than content to stop at a respectable eight. The families often can afford only one servant, yet they continue to breed like Spaniards.
As my heart pounded and I covered my nose with my handkerchief to prevent inhaling the miasmatic air, we passed a row of insalubrious establishments. And then a strange noise wafted into my ear from one of the drinking-halls. I daren’t even call it music; rather, ‘twas a series of sounds and – oh, I despise the very word! – rhythms strung together without heed to form or development.
“Whatever is that heinous noise?” I asked the driver, momentarily ceasing the beating.
“They call it jass, madam,” he whimpered in his brogue, “Please, madam, please stop whippin’ me.”
Before I resumed the lashing, I glimpsed inside the saloon and saw a throng of people dancing in a most loutish fashion. This crowd was composed of Irish, Negroes, and Italians alike, both the sterner sex and the fairer, all wriggling together like so many herring in a fisherman’s net. Oh, the shocking amount of mingling!
Upon witnessing this scene, I became dizzy and fainted, and have no recollection of anything else until I was parked safely in front of the ball and Horace was waving smelling salts under my nose.
The morally decrepit scene on view in that saloon could only arise from today’s dissolute and ill-educated youth, content to squander their energy on crude forms of entertainment, destroying their soul in the process; they contribute to the decay of modern society, to the masses of spurious children and the rampant rate of divorce. Why can’t they behave like the more respectable members of their class, the ones who put in an honest 16 hours’ work before lazing about or engaging in wayward pastimes? Idleness is for genteel ladies such as myself, not for young, destitute slatterns and the men who accompany them.
The activities I witnessed aside, this jass music is inconsequential as an art form. It will fade into oblivion, I am sure, within a few months or years, and its purveyors along with it. These musicians could spend their time creating something that will endure, and yet they choose to waste their lives away on this tomfoolery.
Slum children up to no good.
They call it “jass,” and I heard it wafting out of a saloon in the murkiest section of town. ‘Tis not exactly ragtime, but viler and cruder. It caused a sensation in my loins that I can only describe as nefarious, tho’ not altogether unpleasant.
Posted by Katharina van Seethinbottom at 23:57
My heart is replete with vim and vigor, faintness and flutters! This morning Minnie, the foyer’s maid, came back from the post-box waving a letter from my dearest Horace, so long absent from my sight but not my heart:
O, I am as ecstatic as Helen must have been upon being kidnapped by the swarthy Paris! Dear Horace, how my heart aches for your solid embrace!
I know Papá does not approve of our forbidden love, as he is the son of a mere haberdasher; but he has such ambitions, and such a generous heart! I can only envision how dashing he will appear on our wedding night!
I apologize for that bit of erotica, but forsooth, I cannot control my womanly, savage emotions when I hear Horace's name. Dr. Higgenthal says 'tis not beneficial for my manifold symptoms. I shall try to be more composed come tomorrow.
Posted by Katharina van Seethinbottom at 11:47
We feasted this eve on the traditional Harvest meal of lobster, oyster chowder, boiled onions, spinach, roast goose with currant jelly, quail galantines, mashed turnips, salsify, tongue, watermelon pickles, chow-chow, mince pie, plum pudding, almond tart, citron preserves, along with nuts and figs and gooseberries and the like. A bit of a peasant meal, but tasty nonetheless!
Some of you have sent me correspondence expressing interest in Orpha, the wretched servant girl, and wishing to know more about her bio-graphy and plight. Well, I can’t imagine a more dreadful subject, but if you insist on obtaining this knowledge I suppose I don’t see how harm can come of it.
The year was 1891. I was fresh out of my hand-woven christening gown, mother had contracted another bout of cholera, and Papá was recuperating from a head wound inflicted by the striking brutes at his jute mill (inflicted by a son of immigrants from Dublin, who was justly hanged for his crime). To make matters worse, my nurse-maid had recently perished in a fire at her tenement, and mother had to fire the sullen cook for serving dried-out ptarmigan to the Mayor and his wife at a very important luncheon. Oh, what were they to do? Life was so trying with only eight servants. I am fortunate that I have no memory of this very turbulent era in my history.
Papá was able to promptly employ a new nurse-maid and cook. Many in our city were desperate for honest work ever since Papá had purchased and closed down the competing Collingswood-Smurfitt Cotton factory. But an unexpected visitor was thrust upon us: an infant, wan, malnourished (though not in the pleasing feminine way that I was wan and malnourished), plebeian. She was left on our marble stoa at the front of our estate in Maine, where the doctors had sent Mother to recuperate, and the children along with her. She was wrapped in a tattered calico that stank of offal; I shudder even now thinking of what a shock this must have been for Mother, who was already in a frail state. The child was not pleasant to the eye, and she let out a gruesome squall that reminded one more of a hyena’s caterwaul than a baby’s soft whimper. “I shall throw her back out in the snow!” remarked Ada, the head maid, holding her nose. But something in Mother’s heart would not let Ada carry out the task that reason dictated was suitable. Mother always had a softness for the plight of the poor; it was the one flaw in an otherwise great lady.
So in from the bitter cold came this horrid child. There was much discussion as to whether she should be placed in an indigent children’s home or fattened up to be put to work in Papá’s mill when she reached the lawful age of six. Eventually it was decided that she should be prepared to be an attendant for me, and she was given generous quarters in the basement behind the Armagnac cellar, where she was fed on rice porridge and corncobs. My elder sister Marguerite, all of seven at the time, thought it would be amusing to call her Orpha, which sounded like “orphan,” and the name stuck. Perhaps some day she will have advanced enough to attain a surname as well.
Is that sketch of Orpha, you ask? Why of course not! 'Tis me. No such likeness exists of Orpha.
I noticed, whilst gazing contentedly into shop windows downtown earlier this morn, this item for sale:
Why ever would a lady wish to rid herself of her weakness, verily, the trait that makes her a lady? I am confounded but also amused, for I know that the imbibers of this elixir are such women as Orpha, the wretched servant girl, for whom propriety is of no great consequence.
How my heart loves to spend a dollar! I’m not sure quite what I would make of myself had I been born into the wretched conditions of Orpha the servant girl. Verily, I couldn’t engage in that type of drudgery, nor spend long hours breathing the repugnant air of the hearth; my hands simply are not mannish or coarse enough, my lungs not robust enough. My constitution is befitting of a lady of my stature: weak as a snow crystal, and as beauteous and rare. But then, had I been born into her caste, I imagine I should have also been born with the vulgar composition that her ilk favors.
I do so love the feel of paper money in my slink-gloved digits; indeed, I pine for its very aroma. Papá says ‘tis not befitting for a lady of means to perform her own marketing, and that I should leave such tasks to those who reside beneath me on the social scale, but I must confess I see no harm in strolling in-to town and visiting the finer boutiques for sundries such as plumed hats and eau de toilette (though naturally I would never deign to purchase my own food items – the very thought! Not having any practical skills regarding maintenance of the home or preparation of food, I sha’n’t know exactly what to purchase!) It doesn’t matter what it is, the very newness of Objects causes joy to course through my veins! The newest novelty lyrical sheets to set before the piano après dinner…or an Edison disc to amuse the family and servants alike…a small pearl comb for my tresses…cosmetic powder to blanch my face further…fine linen paper for corresponding with fellow elites…a small box of chocolates to nibble on when I feel faint at tea-time.
I am not quite certain why the lower class persists in its attempts to drag the rest of us into the muck of their own creation, à la the tracts of Mr. Upton Sinclair, and the strikers of the steel and jute mills. If they believe I am going to cast off my wealth, and, with it, my superiority, as evidenced by the natural weakness that becomes a proper Lady, why, they are simply fools! I sha’n’t be dissuaded from my pursuit of possessing Delicate and Beautiful items. These rapscallions who insist on bemoaning their plight are simply un-Patriotic, possibly Reds and Anarchists. Fie!
Ah, my heart swoons with bliss!
Orpha has only ever held these in her hand! I titter!
A smattering of my purchases of the morn:
I noted, with no small amusement, that this morning while I pass'd by the scullery in my finery, Orpha was breakfasting upon a humble bowl of what might be termed, were she sufficiently sophisticated, bisque de pommes de terre. Naturally, it was not a proper bisque, not being composed of fruits de mer, nor even containing fresh cream; rather, 'twas a thick sort of potato gruel, thrown together haphazardly from last evening's scraps of potatoes and sour milk. Nonetheless, I happily ribbed her about attempting to step out of her class by eating fancy foods before dawn! I snicker even now reminiscing upon the event!
. . . . .
The wretched Orpha can't even afford this:
Hark! I have found the perfect present to bestow upon Orpha, the wretched servant girl, during Yuletide. I know they will bring her joy aplenty.
These fine needles will make it much easier for her to darn my stockings in a timely fashion, resulting in fewer beatings with the wet hemp sack. She will be ever so pleased! This is what Christmastime is all about -- remembering those in need.
Here is a photo-graphic image of the homely Orpha.
'Tis the only such pictorial representation of her visage; Papá was good enough to pay for her to have a sitting with a photo-grapher so that she might leave a record for the ages. Ah, Papá is such a benevolent figure. (Though, considering the gruesomeness of her countenance, perhaps he did her, and mankind, no favor!)
Whilst strolling through the mangrove groves on the estate evening last, I furrowed my brow in thought. I was not considering whether ‘twould be more fashionable to buy gloves in slink or lamb leather. Nor was I trying to determine whether ‘twould be a more fit deliverance of justice for Papá to spray the brutish strikers at his jute mill with high-powered hoses, or to run steeds into the unruly crowds. Rather, the source of my disquiet in the guava-hued twilight was what focus I shall chuse for what is termed, in today’s profane parlance, a “blog.”
There are, after all, over sixty possible topics that one could explore. Shall I discuss the love for alchemy that I share with my betrothed one, and Horace’s unending quest to decode the mysteries of simple metals to reveal gold in its purest form? Or shall I recount my love for gustatory delicacies , from Anguille Pompadour to simple sliced Zampino? I could comment extensively on my role in the religious development of my godnieces, little Florine Filomena and Millicent Magnolia. Would I find sufficient fodder in the tumultuous but, of necessity, interdependent relationship between myself and my wretched servant girl, Orpha? Would it be unseemly for one who calls herself a gentlelady to comment upon her distaste towards the policies of the current Secretary of State, Philander C. Knox?
O, the psychic mining I could perform! O, the delving into crass behavior of my social subordinates! Why, there is plenty more upon which I could comment: my swooning episodes upon passing by a mound of equine manure in these urban streets…the revulsion I feel, the affront to my natural feminine modesty, when the physician performs his invasive auscultation to determine whether my consumptive symptoms have worsened…the difficulty of witnessing the servants’ quotidian struggles around the villa…my frustration, and Mummy’s and Papá’s and all the children’s, upon not receiving our roast squab promptly when the consommé is removed from our dinner settings…the pain and horror I feel when my delicate fingers yet again are injured in the dangerous bamboo hinges of my authentic Oriental parasol.
But O! must I constrain myself to just one singular corner of all of God’s grand creation? I feel that to delimit this reportage would be to shun much of the greatness of these forty-six states united in their hatred of the downtrodden and the Irish, nay, a stain on the magnanimity of the Lord Himself! I will ponder these matters this eve in the drawing-room while working on my tatting. Hopefully Papá sha’n’t be too dismayed with my faint display of unease.
Hello. Welcome to my boudoir. My name, as you can read from the title above (or can't you? Are you one of those illiterate souls about whom I have read in the Daily Courant?) is Katharina. Hmm. Dreamy, aren't I? If only you could catch a glimpse of my visage. Mon chéri, its dreaminess pairs beautifully with my moniker, like Pouilly-Fuissé pairs with montrachet.
Welcome. I just know we're going to get along famously. Pull up a chair. Did I say, "chair"? Oh, how pedestrian of me. I meant, pull up a chaise. Note the brocade of pure gold, hand-woven into the fabric by several of our 12-year-old indentured servants. I'm a woman who prefers -- no, make that demands -- the finer things in this all-too-often tawdry world. Come, relax and reflect. We will talk about life and love, heartbreak and sin, vodka and blini, the streets of Rome and the frontage roads of Des Moines. Oh, the worlds we will visit, right here beneath the covers. --Giles! Bring out the pomegranates, won't you? My guest here is feeling peckish.
Pardon me. The help around here is indifferent, at best. Now, what was I saying? Oh, yes. We will explore many topics together, you and I, and anyone else who cares to visit. I don't discriminate. I welcome all here, right here, to my humble little villa nestled in the rolling hills of St. Paul. Or, as I prefer to call it: Santo Paolo. Gives it a more ethnic ring. --Thank you, Giles. --Our pomegranates, mon petit miel.
GILES! What is this? Of what metal is this tray constructed? It looks like some sort of alloy. You know I demand all of my serving platters and utensils to be of pure silver. Don't stand there stammering like the Yorkshire-bred chimney-sweep's son you are! Bring me my silver! Fool!
Oh, dear. Dear, dear, dear. My darling, I am so sorry for that horrendous display of cheap steel. I am mortified. I must rest my delicate torso now. The physician said such emotional strain is not beneficial to my pasty complexion, not to mention the effect it has on my consumption. Will you hand me my nightcap from the bedstand? Here, help me remove my bedcoat. Thank you, you are most kind. Tell Giles to bring me my opium pipe...not the one of bone, the one of ivory. My dear uncle Philbert killed that elephant with his bare hands on one of his hunting expeditions in Rhodesia. That pipe is dear to me.
Thank you. It is now time for me to settle into deep slumber. Please do visit again. You are welcome to gaze upon me as I sink into a narcotic coma. My darling, the worlds we will explore....together....zzzzzz......