Reconsidering Jass

A new torment wrenches my soul, and I fear greatly to confess it. I fear that to name it shall bring ruin upon me, nay, upon the good name of the van Seethinbottom family, even my good father, Adolphus Hilliard van Seethinbottom III, industrialist most eminent.

Many fortnights ago, I witnessed a shocking event that was to begin a precipitous descent into a whirlwind of psychic torments, of nervous collapses, of neurotic fugues, of spontaneous hysterical paroxysms. Indeed, I believe that even the decline in my physical health was due to this event.

My spiral into near-madness has been well-documented in these pages. In so transcribing the nightmare of my life during these horrendous weeks, I cared not to augment my torments, nay, I only wished to share with my admirers the hardships that a lady must endure if she is to become a Lady: the hardship, par exemple, of resting her head on brocaded silk pillows imported from the Far East.

It is with the unhappy months of the recent past in mind that I approach the following subject with no small degree of trepidation. Why should I care to revisit the horror that led to my insanity? –yet I find myself spellbound by the very thing that did so: yes, I refer to that animalistic amalgam of sounds known as jass.

Lately, the lovely metallic melody that floats from Horace’s euphonium feels not so much an amorous attempt at acquiring my affections; the lilting notes lack some transcendent trait. I have not the lexis to identify that which declines to inspire – yet I find my psyche crying. ‘Tis foolish, true, but 'tis labor to turn my attention to his tunes. My mind defies, nay, betrays his love; I glance out the glass to witness the lush knolls undulating unto the distance, virid ‘neath a limpid lid of sky. I consider the melody: cultivated, idyllic. Next, he performs a march played vittorioso, perhaps a piece by Vincent D’Indy. To kid me, he will play a rapid Yiddish ditty, accompanied by Archibald on his fiddle.

But I must admit I have not rid my reminiscences of the primitive motifs of jass. Horace plays; I look askance; I fancy not simple serenade – ‘tis deficient of dimension, ‘tis rife with ostentation – I necessitate some extra facet. Have compassion when I assert that my soul fails to dance, but traipses glacially, as molasses, when Horace plays a classical passage on his brass. Alas! ‘tis disgraceful to the status of a lass, yet: I fear I can feign aversion for not one further fortnight: I must confess, I am frightfully fond of that crass music, JASS!


The Glad Swastika

My maidservant is absent, ‘tis true, but slight gladnesses brighten my sagging spirits. ‘Tis all a lady can do: one must distract oneself with pleasant diversions and even more pleasant thoughts when one’s maidservant dies a gruesome death on an abortionist’s filthy table. I’ve no one to tighten my corsets, save Minnie, the foyer’s maid, but her hands are most gruesomely wizened with age and labor, and I swoon more easily when I feel her rough skin brush against my glowing, satin-y skin, aged a mere 19 years. I allow my nurse-maid, Tillie, to tend to my corsets when she makes her weekly call, but alack! her visits are too infrequent, and she grumbles over the task.

And who is there to tend to my silken tresses? Dear Marguerite can help, of course, and her own maid-servant, Birdie, yet all their efforts do not achieve the same effect as the wretched Orpha was able to achieve. ‘Tis true, Celtic blood flowed in her wretched veins, but in spite of this flaw she was a brilliant coiffeuse.

But Papá and Step-Mother Celestine have been of great assistance to my emotional frailty, as has the dashing Horace. At twilight he calls with his euphonium. He arrives directly from his job managing his father’s haberdashery. Ah, the work that men do! I do not believe I should choose to possess the intellectual and social superiority of a gentleman if a requirement of this superiority be the hard toil that a man must endure! I should choose to remain in my gentle state, quietly resting away the hours of my blissful life, far from the exhausting energy required of one who spends his days in the world of industry!

Horace brought me a new fan from the Orient to add to my collection, adorned in peacock feathers and various filigrees most pleasing to my blue eyes. And, in what is certainly a symbol of glad tidings, to-day my little nieces Millie and Florrie rushed into the Gazebo at the back of the estate, where I was engaged in daydreams most whimsical, and they were in a very excited state.

“See what came by post today, Auntie Katharina!” Said Millie.

And they each opened their hands to reveal a little swastika pin and thimble which is the beneficiary of all those with membership in the Ladies’ Home Journal’s Girls’ Club!

“How wonderful!” I cried. “’What every girl wants – her own swastika!’” I said, reciting the well-known slogan of the Girls’ Club.

“We shall wear the pins proudly on our taffeta!” Said Florrie.

This sent me into peals of laughter. “Why, you mustn’t ruin your good taffeta dresses in such a fashion, you naughty little girls!”

“Oh, Florrie, you kid so,” Millie admonished her twin sister. “Of course, we shall display them only on our wool coats come winter.”

“There’s a good girl,” said I.

“Auntie Katharina,” said Florrie, blushing a bit, “you are so kind to us, I want you to have this. I’ve no use for it.” She extended her hand to deliver the little thimble into my own.

“Why, what a good deed you have done, Florrie! You are most suited for membership in the Girls’ Club!”

I was most touched by this little gesture; of course, I have no use for a thimble either; sewing would coarsen my fingers so, but I shall display it proudly on my dressing-table! The swastika, that ancient token of good fortune and all-‘round joy, could never have any unpleasant associations! No, when I gaze upon it, I feel only comfort, as it ever shall be with the swastika!


Death of the Wretched

The wretched Orpha is dead, a victim of her own low morals. The story of her demise, which our family was able to beat out of the other servants, proceeds thusly: whilst under quarantine for typhoid two months past she copulated with a similarly uncultivated cottar, also suffering from typhoid. As a result of her dalliance with this raffish lad she found herself in a most deplorable condition. She requested a forenoon's furlough from serving me; after lashing her soundly with a willow switch for her impudent transgression of soliciting a favor, I granted her the mercy she sought. Unbeknownst to me, she journeyed to the squalid tenements of lower Man-hattan to seek the assistance of an Irish madame in extracting the results of her licentiousness from her womb. What horrific and sullied conditions met her on the operating table, I do not care to contemplate, but 'twas nothing she did not fully deserve.

She returned at tea-time appearing more ill than usual, with a verdant hue to her skin. I again lashed her for not being present to place silk slippers on my pedal extremities, as is my habit when I am taking my imported Darjeeling and crumpets with Devon cream and candied violets. Instead of merely whimpering, which is her usual reaction to beatings, she slumped to the floor unconscious! I had the manservants, Elbert and Lemuel, carry her nearly lifeless body to the servants' quarters behind the Armagnac cellar. When, morning next, Minnie went to inquire as to how she was getting on, she found that the wretched Orpha O'Callaghan, my maidservant for 21 years, had succumbed to injuries incurred at the hands of the insalubrious Irishwoman.

I trust I do not need to expound on the reasons for my wrath over Orpha's slightly untimely demise (she was all of 22, which is seven whole years prior to the average lifespan for a girl of her class and ethnicity.) I am livid at the prospect of sailing on the R.M.S. Titanic, the society event of the year (nay, perhaps the decade), sans a maid to attend to the refinement of my natural beauty and to comfort me when I encounter life's minor calamities.  I am able to take solace in knowing that she met her quietus justly.

Instruments and tinctures that led to Orpha's demise.


Pictorial images for the reader's edification

The suspense, the anticipation, are staggering. All I can dream of is standing on the bow of the formidable R.M.S. Titanic, the salty vapors of the Atlantic blanching my complexion, the cold briny zephyrs causing my wispy frame to melt into Horace's arms. Ah, well, naught to be done but wait half a dozen more fortnights. In the meanwhile, I have been distracting my psychic meanderings by gazing upon photographs of yore. I should like to share two personal favorites with the reader. 

My brother, Archibald Pierce van Seethinbottom, aged half a decade.

And me, at the same sitting, aged 6. The occasion for the photographs was this: I was temporarily deprived of my wretched maidservant, Orpha, for this was the third time she had contracted diphtheria and she was quarantined with the pigs and other contagious servants on a farm about a dozen furlongs distant. I was livid at her selfishness in failing to avoid miasmal air and so sickening herself, thus forcing Mamá or one of my sisters to curl my ringlets, tighten my corsets, tidy my playthings, and drive my play rickshaw (the former, of course, they refused to do, and so I was left rickshaw-less for the duration of Orpha's illness). Mamá decided to cheer me up by taking brother Archibald (whose manservant, Albert, was quarantined with polio) and me on a trip to the Adirondacks, during which time we both sat for photos. So the wretched Orpha's bout with diphtheria had a happy ending for me after all! (Not, though, for Orpha, who to this day experiences tingling in the extremities due to her manifold exposures to the dreaded disease.)


Je les ai!

I have in my possession a ticket allowing me to sail on the great ship the RMS Titanic! I shall be in the company of Papá, step-mother Celestine, sister Marguerite, nurse-maid Tillie, the wretched maidservant Orpha, and my beloved Horace. What joys await us, I cannot adequately fathom! A mere three months...yet 'tis an eternity to wait!