How To Make A Phone Call In The 1910s

Let’s say you’re a society matron, and you’re going to throw a darling little party and invite all your darling friends, most of whom you don’t actually like. Of course, you’ll have to invite the dreadful Cousin Nigel. Everyone must toady-up to that vile snob for fear of being cut from high society. So when  Nigel is found dead on the study carpet, stabbed in his black heart by a letter opener, you and your guests are shocked, but not particularly sad.

However, now you must call the police so the famous intrepid inspector will show up! Then, you and your guests can spend a delightful evening uncovering everyone’s dirty secrets and motives for killing Nigel.


How do you actually ring the police?

How do you use that thingie on the side table by the vase?

Office Practice by Mary Florence Cahill and Agnes Clementine Ruggeri is here to save your murder party.

Calling Central.

You are a telephone subscriber with an office at 26 East 18th Street, and your telephone number is Stuyvesant 4238. William Rankin is a telephone subscriber with an office at 32 East 20th Street, and his telephone number is Stuyvesant 2397. “Stuyvesant” is the official name given to the telephone exchange or central office that takes care of subscribers located in the 18th Street district, and “4238 ” and ” 2397″ are the numbers assigned to you and William Rankin when you became subscribers.

Look at the picture [below.] Notice the myriads of white spots that dot the board before which she sits. They are tiny white signal lights, and one of them represents you when you take the telephone receiver from its hook.

You want to telephone Mr. Rankin, and you begin by lifting your telephone receiver from its hook. This causes your tiny white light (which is Stuyvesant 4238) to flash before Central. At the same instant another and larger light appears directly under it, glowing in a way to attract her attention. Almost immediately you hear her say, ” Number, please?”

Be ready with your number, and give it in the following order:

  • Name of central office wanted
  • Each figure of the telephone number
  • The party line letter, if there is one

Numbers which are even hundreds or even thousands should be given as such, instead of each figure being given separately. For example:

  • State 8245 “State, eight two (pause) four five.”
  • Main 125-J “Main, one two five, Party J”
  • Broad 4800 “Broad, four eight hundred”
  • Worth 5000 “Worth, five thousand”

The number wanted is “Stuyvesant 2397.” Say “Stuyvesant 2 3 (pause) 9 7.” Pausing slightly between the hundreds and the tens will enable the operator to understand the number easily and to locate it on the switchboard quickly. Central will always repeat the number given and will repeat it as it should be given. This acts as a check upon you and upon her.

She will then connect you with Mr. Rankin’s office. The ringing of his telephone bell will notify him that he is wanted at the telephone, and the flashing of another light before Central will tell her when he has lifted his receiver from the hook.

While talking to Mr. Rankin something happens and he fails to continue his conversation with you. In telephone language, this is known as being “cut off.” Place your finger on your receiver hook, press it slowly up and down a few times. One of the lights before Central will flash and die out alternately. It is her signal that you want to communicate with her. In an instant you will hear her say, “Central.” Tell her what has happened and the matter will be remedied.

Why is it necessary to press the hook gently? Because it is this even pressing up and down that causes the light to continue to flash and die out. When you lose your temper and wrathfully jerk the hook up and down, no light appears before Central; and, as she is not permitted to listen to conversations, she has no means of knowing that she is wanted.

When you and Mr. Rankin finish your conversation, you both hang up your receivers. Two lights flash before Central to indicate that the call has been completed. She then disconnects.

Calling Information.

When your telephone directory does not give the number or the information wanted, say to Central, “Information, please?”

“Information” is one of a special group of operators employed in all large central offices to supply information wanted by subscribers. Before her are sets of reference books. Make it a rule never to ask for information that you can obtain for yourself. To do so is a mark of inefficiency. If it is a telephone number, be very sure it is not in the telephone directory. If it is information of another nature, be equally sure that the answer may not also be found there.

Central’s business is to connect you with people whose telephone numbers you give to her. A glance at the picture of the central telephone operator will show you that she has near her no directories and is not in position to give you numbers that you cannot or will not find for yourself. Is is the duty of Information to perform such service.

If, for example, you believe that John Smith has a telephone, one of the following situations may exist:

  • He may be such a very recent subscriber that his name does not appear in the current issue of the directory. Information will give you the number that has been assigned to him.
  • He may have discontinued his telephone. Information will let you know.
  • He may be an unlisted subscriber. In this case, neither Central nor Information is permitted to furnish the number, as subscribers of this type have private wires and they cannot be reached on the telephone unless the person calling knows the number wanted.

When Information gives you the number you want, it is for you to repeat the number to Central, who will follow Information. Sometimes Information may do this for you.

Calling Long Distance (or Toll Operator).

When a subscriber wants to telephone to some one located in a distant city or state, he requests Central to give him “Long Distance,” the operator who attends to calls of this type.

In making Long Distance calls, a very important point to remember is to give the Long Distance operator the name of the person in the firm to whom you wish to speak. If you want to talk to Mr. Jones of the National Trust Company of Philadelphia, and he is not in when the call arrives, you will not be charged for it. If you ask Long Distance to give you the number of the National Trust Company and, after you have obtained it, then ask for Mr. Jones, the charge will be made whether Mr. Jones responds or not. These calls are referred to, technically, as Two-number Toll Calls and Particular-person Toll Calls.

The Two-number Toll Call is your National Trust Company call. Here you asked for a number located outside the local service area and at a point to which there is a two-number toll rate. Charge is made if connection is completed with the number called, the time for which the charge is made beginning when the number called first answers. More rapid service can be given, and in general a lower rate is charged on two-number toll calls than on particular-person toll calls.

The Particular-person Toll Call is your Mr. Jones call. Here you asked by name for a person reached through a telephone which is located outside the local service area and at a point to which there is a particular-person toll rate. Charge is made if connection is completed with the particular-person called (or with the number called, if the calling subscriber has indicated that he is willing to talk with anyone at the called station), the time for which the charge is made beginning when conversation with the particular person (or the number called, if it is a call for anyone) first starts.

To make a Particular-person Toll Call, or to secure information concerning the rates on such calls, tell the operator who first answers your call the name of the city, town, or-locality in which the person with whom you wish to talk is located. The operator will connect you with a Long Distance or Toll Operator, who will identify herself by answering “Long Distance” or “Toll Operator.” When the Long Distance or Toll Operator answers, give her the following details :

  • The telephone number from which the call is made and your name, if you desire to give it
  • The name of the city or town and state in which the person desired is located.
  • The number of the telephone desired, if known
  • The firm name or the name and initials of the person under whose name the telephone is listed and the street address, if the telephone number is not known
  • The name of the person with whom you wish to speak
  • The name of the alternate person, if you are willing to talk with any one else in case the person desired cannot be reached

Listen for the operator to repeat the details of your call, remain at the telephone until she indicates that you may hang up the receiver, and wait patiently until called to the telephone. Bear in mind that to establish a connection between New York and Chicago, for example, usually takes several minutes. The subscriber who literally pesters Central on an average of every minute or two simply displays his ignorance of the procedure necessary. When the connection is made, Central will ring you up.

Long Distance calls represent a fair amount of money expended, and a few things must be definitely borne in mind. Know just what you want to say and waste very little time saying it. This does not mean that you must become telegraphic in your language. Long Distance is becoming very popular with many firms, and is a tremendous time and money saver. The following extract from Collier’s Weekly is interesting:

A trip from Chicago to New York and return, allowing for one day’s average expenses in the city, would cost a business man about $90 at a conservative estimate, and would require at least two days’ time.

That expense alone would cover the cost of eighteen long distance telephone conversations, at $5 for three minutes, or for a total of about an hour’s conversation, at $1.50 per minute. In addition to this, the man would have had his two days’ time, and his plans would be spared the delay and interruption. The proportion is even greater for lesser distances and smaller telephone rates.

The following examples will give some idea of the rates charged for this grade of service:

And finally, when you want to telephone to any place out of town, inspect your directories and see whether the call is Long Distance or merely Suburban. Central will attend to suburban calls.

Baking With Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

As I waited on an email this afternoon, I was “thumbing” through digital copies of The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics when I came across this interesting article in a 1906 edition. I’ve excerpted the sections with the recipes. Enjoy!

Note: The rice cake is gluten-free!

Emily Dickinson as Cook and Poetress

by Helen Knight Wyman

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

So sang the Amherst recluse and poetess. We think of her as all soul and voice; but, as Mr. Higginson relates, at their first personal interview she said to him that “she made all their bread because her father liked only hers; then saying shyly, ‘And people must have pudding!’ — this very timidly and suggestively, as if they were meteors or comets.”

In a favorite cookery-book belonging to my mother (an own aunt of Emily Dickinson) are many leaves added to the quaint pages of the original book, published in 1831. On these were copied, or pinned in, recipes given by relatives and friends, and proved and tried and found good.

Among these are two from Amherst that I trust will prove interesting to readers of this magazine, proving that she was not altogether

A creature all too bright and good
For human nature’s daily food!

The following is for a corn-cake, being copied by my youngest aunt, but signed “Emily Dickinson.” It is followed by another, given by a New York aunt, and the words are added, “Both are delicious.”

Emily Dickinson’s Corn-Cake

Wheat flour, two tablespoonfuls.
Brown sugar, two tablespoonfuls.
Cream (or melted butter), four tablespoonfuls.
Eggs, one.
Milk, one-half pint.
Indian meal, to make a thick batter.

On another page is a recipe for rice-cake as follows. Rice-cake was considered our very best “company cake” in my childhood, being carefully placed in a large tin pail, and only used when outside persons came to tea. The rule was much richer than this, however, and it was baked in sheets, very thin, and cut into squares after coming from the oven. Mace (or nutmeg) was the spice always used in it.

Emily Dickinson’s Rice-Cake

One cup of ground rice.
One cup of powdered sugar.
Two eggs.
One-half a cup of butter.
One spoonful of milk with a very little soda
Flavor to suit.

Cousin Emily.

Susanna’s note: For additional info, check out Emily Dickinson and Cooking, which includes a recipe for her gingerbread!

I Wrote A Fantasy Romance Short Story!

I was playing around with generative AI images last week and became excited about the idea of illustrating a short story for my blog. Yep, that’s how big of a geek I am. So, I scribbled up a non-AI short story (easy part) and set about creating generative AI images (hard part). I could make all sorts of incredible images with AI. However, I struggled to create ones appropriate to the story and that carried the narrative. So, in the end, I made AI generative cats in Adobe Firefly. It was the best I could do.

Here’s the short story. I’m a lousy proofreader, so simply read over any errors. And, yes, I did use AI to proofread it too.

Enjoy the cats.

The Teashop At The Corner Of Worlds

The teashop was a tiny, cramped establishment compared to its sleek neighbors, a modern furniture store and a day spa. Dusty teapots, old movie posters, and maps adorned its window, and a black cat sporting a blue collar with tiny bells often napped on a 1950s TV tray. Sometimes, I would stop momentarily and glance at the chaotic display, but then I always hurried on. Because that’s what I did until a week ago: hurried on. Hurried on to the corporate coffee chain, where I didn’t have to think about my daily coffee order, and then I hurried on to work and to meetings. I was over-stressed and over-committed, but I was living my dream, right? I had finally found the business success I had worked so hard to achieve.

I wasn’t hurrying today but wandering in my work clothes on this morning of drizzle with an eighty percent chance of storms in the evening. And, if I’m honest, I was slightly buzzed from the shot of tequila that I had added to my orange juice. Something to numb the ache.

Even though I had been down this street probably a hundred times, I felt lost. I stopped before the tea shop and studied all the old stuff. This is me now. Unwanted junk. I’m not the sleek Italian chair in the window next door. I’m this cracked teapot with some old monarch’s face on it. As I stared, the green neon welcome sign behind the glass buzzed to life. Had it always been there? It seemed like it hadn’t. But then, I’ve always been moving so fast that I rarely saw the details in the world around me, just those on a spreadsheet.

 I couldn’t go to my usual coffee shop and have my regular latte. It would hurt too much. Nor could I go back to my apartment because then I would have to explain everything to my roommate. I hadn’t told her or my mom about what had happened. I continued to leave my apartment at seven every morning and returned twelve or so hours later. I guess I’m waiting for the morning alarm to go off and to wake up to find none of it really happened.

Yet it had, even if it didn’t feel real but more like a movie playing in my head. Losing my job wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was too good. I had worked too hard. Sacrificed too much. I gave my life to my career, and now it had been ripped away. I didn’t know how to live now, deal with the avalanche of what-ifs, or shut off my brain in the wee hours from dissecting every mistake I had ever made.

 Above me, the green welcome sign continued glowing through the drizzle as if to beckon me out of my head into the dry warmth inside. Why not? I had lots of hours to kill. And where else was I going to go?

I opened the door, setting off an electrical chime of Pachelbel’s Canon. A professional had not been consulted on the decor. There wasn’t one distinguishable style, but seemingly every design era smashed together, assaulting the eye. Victorian teapots beside Mid-Century Modern plates beside Art Deco crystal decanters. The tables were black lacquered with Chinese characters, but the counter was Googie Formica. I turned, trying to take it all in, which was impossible because there was so much stuff!

A woman emerged from the back through a threshold of hanging plastic beads. I couldn’t place her age somewhere between thirty and fifty. She wore Betty Page bangs, a vivid red flower kimono, and glossy black lipstick. She sported extremely long lashes that spread like fans above her eyes.

She pressed her hands to her mouth in surprise. “Oh, my goodness, you brought a real book!” She drew a printed menu from the counter and crossed to me. She wore insane high heels that clinked on the wood floor as she walked. “So many people nowadays read books on their smart thingies. Me, I prefer touching real pages.” She drew a long breath. “Smelling them. And seeing all the little smudges and scribbles in the margins.” She made a fluttery gesture with her long-nailed fingers to the room. “Sit anywhere that feels like you! You know, whatever suits your vibe.”

I glanced about. I had made a mistake coming here. My vibe was despondent, and this place required too much energy. But I couldn’t leave now. I was trapped by her expectant eyes. So, I sank into the closest seat.

“Now, what are you reading?” She didn’t wait for an answer but picked up my book and read aloud, “How Not to Marry a Marquess.”

I should be embarrassed. It was a badly torn paperback historical romance with a bare-chested, long-haired male model holding a bouquet of roses. I had bought it from a used bookstore in my high school years. To be honest, my reading tastes—best described as guilty-pleasure or escapist—haven’t changed since then. I’m not the hardback, book club sort. And besides, I was beyond the sting of embarrassment now. True humiliation is crying while shoving the contents of your office desk into a cardboard box as a security officer stands beside you, ensuring you don’t steal a stapler or graffiti “cronyism” on the manager’s office walls. All the while, your colleagues keep their heads below the tops of their cubes. Not wanting to see the fate that they had escaped. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I exceeded my benchmarks and expanded the market. But, in the end, it was a popularity contest when the company’s numbers fell.

The waitress flipped through the pages. I resisted the urge to rip the book from her fingers and scream, Give it back! It’s my special book.

“Ahhhhh.” She nodded. “I have just the thing for this!”

She clinked across the room to shelves precariously stacked with teacups. She hummed as she moved her nail tip along the disordered ware. “Here it is!” She withdrew a cup, careful not to cause an avalanche of porcelain, and crossed back to my table. “I’d say it’s from the early 1800s. When your story is set.” She turned the white cup painted with delicate blue flowers. “Can’t you imagine someone like Jane Austen sipping from it?”  

“Thank you, it’s lovely. But I really shouldn’t drink out of something so nice.” I would be more comfortable with a cheap, unbreakable disposable paper cup today.

She gave a dismissive wave. “I have plenty of old cups. Now, what would you like to drink?” She pointed to the menu, where each tea blend was described in a different font. The menu was as chaotic as the shop. Again she didn’t wait for me to answer. “You need the Dream Finder. It’s this sublime blend of black tea and lavender with hints of chocolate and … ” she winked and shimmied her shoulders, “something special. I already have some steeping, as though I knew you were coming.”

“That sounds great,” I said weakly. I wasn’t in the best mental state to make decisions.

“You read your book, sweetie. I’ll be back with a pot.” She clinked away.

I picked up the teacup. It was so small and exquisite, not like the oversized mugs of today. I could indeed imagine Jane Austen holding it. Or gossipy ladies at a Regency tea party. Or, perhaps, Emily Brontë sipping warmed milk and honey from it to soothe her aching throat.

I heard the jingle of tiny bells, and something soft brushed my leg. I looked down to find the black cat had moved from the window and was now looking up at me with golden eyes.

“Hey, you.” I scratched him under his neck as he made a noisy motoring pur. But after several minutes, he grew tired of my adoration, leaped onto the neighboring chair, and curled up to nap again.

I wish cat was a viable career choice.

I picked up my book. I don’t know why I had grabbed it off the shelf this morning. Maybe I needed some literary comfort food. I opened to the beginning page and quickly sank into the story I hadn’t read in twelve or more years. I had reread it so often in high school that it had dulled, but now the words were fresh again.

London, 1805

Sophia struggled to rein in her hot temper as she surveyed the ballroom. The nerve of Lord Collinswood to call her impertinent. For what? Speaking her mind. No, she wasn’t the simpering type. Nor was she like most of the other young ladies here, so wildly enamored with the lord as to overlook his appalling arrogance and cold manner.

 “I fear we are the only ladies in London who clearly see Lord Collinswood’s heartless character,” she remarked to her friends Constance and Imogen.

“I only know of Lord Collinswood’s heartless character because you harp on it a dozen times a day. Are you sure you don’t feel the slightest affection for him? You are rather flushed.” Imogen waved her fan before Sophia’s face.

“Now, isn’t this lovely.”

I looked up. The woman was back and pouring tea into my cup. How did I not hear her approach?

She set down her pot. “I’ll leave this here. You go back to reading. I’m Thalia if you need anything.”  She walked away in her impossible heels.

I left the tea to cool and resumed reading.

“I assure you it is not affection that causes my face to heat,” Sophia protested, “but vexation that such a man walks the earth with an unwarranted good opinion of himself.”

“I believe you are referring to his appalling character,” Imogen said. “For a good opinion of his face and body aren’t unwarranted.”

“It is not one’s appearance that matters but the contents of one’s mind,” Constance admonished. “Beauty is in one’s character.”

“Is that why you wore your hair in papers all day,” Imogen remarked. “To improve your character?”

I chuckled. Dear, say-it-like-it-is Imogen. These fictional young women composed my friend group in school, which says a great deal about my high school experience. I would take my lunch outside to the picnic tables where no one ate, open the book, and drop into their vivid world and away from mine.

I reached for the tea and took a sip. Dear God! Why had I never come here but suffered that dreck at the coffee shop? This place may look like every Smithsonian exhibit ever, all crammed into a tiny space, but the tea is liquid manna. I drew another sip and another. I shamelessly raised the cup to slurp the rest when something caught my eye. Below the last drops of tea, I could see a tiny painting. It wasn’t there before. The bottom of the cup had been a tea-stained white. I looked closer to make out three women in Regency gowns talking beneath their fans. They were moving as if a tiny film were playing in my teacup!

A bright flash of light burst across my vision, blinding me. I began to feel like I was spinning, as though in the center of a carousel that went so fast everything became a blur of color and sound. Then all the lights went out. I was still turning but in the darkness. I closed my eyes, feeling as though I may vomit.

At that moment, everything turned still.

I opened my eyes. People were dancing in Regency-era clothing beneath a massive candle-lit chandelier. In fact, everyone in the ballroom was in cosplay, including myself. Gone were my gray wool coat, black pumps, silk ivory blouse, and gray skirt. I wore a long cotton blue dress that was considerably plainer than everyone else’s elaborate getups.  

Am I in a dream?

Or maybe the something “special” in the tea is psychedelics or mushrooms.

“It is not one’s appearance that matters but the contents of one’s mind,” said the lady beside me. She wore a tiara-like headpiece in her riot of wild curls. “Beauty is in one’s character.”

Wait? Wasn’t that a line from the book?

“Is that why you wore your hair in papers all day,” remarked a petite, shiny brunette. “To improve your character?” Imogen?

Was I tripping in my favorite book?

“Well, I find his character so appalling it overshadows any good qualities he might possess,” said a woman with honey hair and cat-like eyes. Smart, outspoken Sophia? The character I loved the most in high school. “He has as much heart as he has charm. None. I loathe him.”

Her words, which had set off a delicious rom-com of the enemy-to-lover sort, somehow cut into my heart. I felt that Collinswood wasn’t fictional and that I intimately knew him. Like, really intimately. “You don’t really know him!” I burst.

The three ladies turned. “Pardon me, have we been introduced?” Imogen asked.

“I don’t …” Had we? No, of course not! They are fictional, and this is a f-ed up hallucination.

“What is your name?” Sophia pointedly asked.

“I -I don’t know,” I stammered. How could I not know my own name? Didn’t it begin with an A? No, a G? This is not good at all. That teashop owner is begging for a lawsuit.

Sophia raked me up and down. The edge of her mouth snaked into a smirk. “How quaint of you to wear a dirty plain gown to a ball. Did you accidentally walk through a gutter on the way here?” She flashed her friends a look, and they broke into snickers.

Was Sophia—my literary bestie—mean-girling me? I was clearly upset, and she was behaving like a nasty troll. Uncool.

I had remained mute to my manager’s empty, corporate speak of redundancy and how I would be an asset to any future team I was on. I didn’t respond because I was reeling in a state of disbelief. But as the new reality began to set in, so did the anger. I wasn’t going to be silent anymore. “The only person here with an unwarranted good opinion of themselves is you.”

Sophia’s mouth dropped. “W-what did you just say?”

“He called you impertinent, but, if I recall, you called him arrogant first. And also, is he truly arrogant? Maybe he seems cold and rude because he’s protecting himself because someone … someone….” Heavy aching pain filled my chest. I was sure that somehow I had hurt him. Very deeply. I was the reason for his coldness. This is all crazy. “Look, you will save yourself a world of misunderstanding and hurt if you are a little more understanding and compassionate from the outset. We’re all going through stuff, okay.”

“I’m quite understanding to those who deserve it,” Sophia snipped. My words made no difference. “Why should I feel compassion for a man of wealth and station who has every lady in this ballroom falling over herself for him.”

“Yeah, so, spoiler alert, not everything is how it seems,” I said.

Sophia narrowed her lovely eyes. “How exactly do you know him?”

Wow, that was complicated. Before I could think up something that sounded not insane, a female voice shouted behind me, “Simpson! Simpson! Toss her out. I shall not have an actress tainting these respectable walls.”

I spun to find a thin woman with a lined face, made more severe from rage, glaring at me. That said, she had an excellent Regency look going—a gown of numerous tucks and ruffles that matched the huge red and yellow plumes shooting out from her hair. She resembled an irate, ornate chicken.

The dancers stopped and joined the other guests in forming a semi-circle around me. Everyone kept their eyes trained on me as they discretely conversed beneath their gloved hands and fans. Even my high school ex-besties edged away, leaving me stranded alone amid the hostility.

The name Isobel Germaine rose about the roar of whispers.

Isobel Germaine!

I only remember that evil bitch because I’m a superfan of the book. She was mentioned once in a private letter to Sophia from Collinswood’s female cousin explaining his icy behavior. Isobel was the vile actress from Collinswood’s past who had destroyed his heart. The one who laughed when he begged her to run away with him. He had been willing to give up everything for her, but she had brutally rejected him.

I pointed to my chest. “Am-am I Isobel Germaine?”

“This is not a stage, Miss Germaine,” barked ornate chicken lady. “Your wild antics are not welcomed here.”

So, I guess I’m Isobel. But I didn’t feel like the villain. I would have only treated him with tenderness and a devout love that bordered on idolization.

Yet, I knew I had hurt him. Why? What’s wrong with me? He’s the best man I know. The ideal that no guy in my real life could ever live up to.

A somberly dressed man with a stern face that screamed, I’m a British butler, and his posse of footmen jogged towards me.

“Drag her away,” they were ordered.

Oh my God, I’m being fired again! This time in Regency land.

Can I go back to the teashop now?

What if I can never go back? What if I’ve somehow fallen into some weird Regency blackhole?

No, that can’t be true. This is simply a terrible tea-induced hallucination. Yet everything felt so painfully real.

“I just want to see Lord Collinswood,” I cried for some reason. “I must tell him something!” What? What was I going to tell him? Whatever it was, it felt like it was ripping my heart to pieces to be known. “Please.”

A large, strong hand clasped my elbow. Warmth enveloped me, like being hugged by a loved one. But the low voice that growled, “Come,” couldn’t be characterized as loving. Nonetheless, my heart got all buzzy.

“Collinswood,” I stammered.

This was Collinswood! The man I had adored since high school! He pulled me along so quickly that I struggled to see his face as I tried to keep up with his long strides. All around, I could hear shocked, disparaging whispers. It was like being escorted out of my office building again.  

We passed through a magnificent foyer and then out the door into the night. I wasn’t used to this kind of dark. In the modern city, the night never achieves more than a deep gray from all the light pollution. But here, the flickering torch lights created orbs of golden light against utter blackness.

He released my arm, and I could finally turn to see his face.

So, back in elementary school, I was running on the track for a field day event when the runner behind me bumped into me, and I fell. Unfortunately, I was going so fast that I slid along the rough pavement. When I finally stopped, I felt nothing, just a dazed shock. Then I saw the blood on my palms and legs. Acute, throbbing pain rushed over my body like wildfire. That’s how my heart reacted to seeing him.

He wasn’t how I pictured him in my mind’s eye, nor was he the steroid-enhanced cover model. His eyes were indeed black as “raven’s wings,” but somehow, I knew they could melt to chocolate when he laughed. And those dark slashes for eyebrows could be quite expressive when discussing something he enjoyed, such as a short story he read in a journal or a friendly dog he had passed. I hated to see the harsh, tight line of his lips. I remembered how soft they were when I kissed him.

Wait, I didn’t kiss him! As much as I would have liked to. And I had done nothing to upset him. He had no right to look at me as though I had murdered his favorite pet. I’m his biggest fan. But another part of me—the Isobel part—was growing stronger than the part whose name I could no longer remember. Sickening feelings of guilt and shame burned inside of me. What had I—she—done? “I wanted to see you so desperately,” I said.

“To make a mockery of me?”


“Now that I’m not the poor relation but the Marquess, your feelings for me have substantially changed. Well, save your sad performance for the stage. I no longer find your shabby behavior amusing, Isobel. Neither does London, I’m given to understand. I’ve heard you’ve lost your engagement at the theatre.”

I was trembling. I wanted to sob but forced myself to articulate words. “I came to tell you that my feelings haven’t changed. I have always loved you.” I held up my hand, stopping any disparaging words from him. I didn’t expect him to forgive me. “You are beginning a new life, and I want you to be happy. I want you to find the love I could not give you.”

 “Why are you wasting my time telling me this?”

“Because I was scared back then and chased you away. I wanted to make sure that you never came near me again. You see, you said we could run away together and that I didn’t have to be on the stage anymore. But the stage is all I have. It’s all I am. You asked me to give up the only thing that has been stable in my life. Everyone in my life has always left, and I didn’t see how it would be different with you despite your assurances.”

He stared at me, his jaw working. Poor Isobel, I understood this woman. I knew that kneejerk need to cling to your career.

“There’s a theatre in Bristol that may take me. I’m leaving in the morning. I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry. I don’t mean this in any way to make you come back to me. I know it won’t change your feelings. I ruined everything. I’m sorry that I hurt you. Truly.”

I hugged myself, trying to console Isobel. How many relationships had I sabotaged or let drift away because they had gotten in the way of my sacred career? The one constant I had. I had control in my career that I didn’t have anywhere else in my life. And, unlike in my relationships, I had been wanted and appreciated. Until last week, that is. When I wasn’t at my job, measuring my every moment for productivity and sales, all the monsters of my fears returned. I had ignored them for so long that they had grown uncheck. They were consuming me now.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered more to myself and Isobel.

The shadows falling on his face hid his expression. At length, he said, “Thank you, but you are right. It does little to change my feelings for you.”

“I know.”

He remained, watching me. I wanted him to say that he forgave me. That I still mattered to him. But I knew he wouldn’t. And that I didn’t. Finally, he turned and walked to the door.

I took in what would probably be the last time I ever saw him. But then he abruptly turned.

 “I hope you can be happier in Bristol,” he said quietly. “Perhaps you can find a gentleman who could love you.”

“I hope.” But I knew I would never find another man like Collinswood.

He nodded, muttered something, and then walked inside. The enormous door closed with a resounding thud.

Isobel and I were alone in the darkness. We had felt alone for so long. Over two hundred years between our shared lives. Memories began flooding my mind. Images of young Isobel struggling to keep herself safe from treacherous men while trying her best to survive on her own. Ones of my drunken father shouting as the police hauled him away from my high school graduation. How terrified we were of being dependent on someone. Instead, we had clung to false security, and now we had nothing.

I turned, walking into the mist. Where was I going? What happens to minor characters whose stories aren’t written? Was I trapped in some unformed, nebulous world forever?

“Isobel! Isobel!”

I spun. “Collinswood!” I couldn’t see him. The thick mist swirled about, disorienting me.


 “Where are you? I can’t see you. I’m scared.”

“Isobel.” His voice sounded as though it was echoing off distant mountains.

The fog turned opaque. Again, I had the sensation of spinning around and around in darkness. “Collinswood!”  

Then nothing.

Only the sound of my rapid breath and the heavy throb of my hurting heart. I opened my eyes. I was back in the teashop. My trembling fingers clutched my teacup. It was empty. No tiny movie played at the bottom. What just happened?

“Did you enjoy the tea,” Thalia asked.

I lifted my face, tears streaming down my cheeks and dripping off my jaw. “I screwed up everything,” I whispered.

“Oh, dear!” She held up her palms. “You wait. I’ll get another tea. I promise you will love it.”

“I have to go!” I yanked up my purse and stoved the book in it. “H-how much was the tea?”

“I can’t let you pay for something you didn’t like. I’ll get another.”

“Please don’t.” I rushed to the door. Maybe there wasn’t anything in the tea? Perhaps I was having a psychotic break from all the stress, and I somehow managed to intertwine the grief in my life with the story.

Something brushed past my leg, and I saw the cat rushing into the busy street. An SUV slammed on the brakes, skidding on the wet pavement, to barely miss it.  

“Stop, Shamash!” Thalia screamed.

The last thing I needed today was to have the cat run over. It would completely and finally break me. I dashed into the traffic, ignoring the honks and cursing, and chased the animal. He scampered onto the opposite sidewalk, then sprinted a few blocks to turn onto the crowded walking street leading to the university.

I could make out his little paws between the rush of oncoming people. But he had vanished by the time I reached the arched university entrance.

“Shamash!” I repeatedly called as I awkwardly ran in my work shoes along the campus paths between the old stone buildings. At last, I had to stop. I leaned down, putting my hands on my knees, and tried to catch my breath. I was drenched from perspiration and drizzle.

“Have you escaped again?” a man said. The familiar sound of his rich voice sent waves of warmth over my damp skin.

I raised my head. “Shamash!”

The cat was rubbing his side against Collinswood’s navy blue chino pants.

What! No, that’s not Collinswood. It’s someone who simply looks like his in-real-life identical twin—raven’s wing black eyes, slashes for brows, and all. Oh my God, I must go to the hospital and get checked out.

The man spied me. His eyes widened with concern and alarm. I must have looked like an extra from a horror movie.

“I was trying to catch him,” I explained between breaths. “He ran away from the teashop. I was terrified he’d get run over.”

“Shamash, you jerk,” the man admonished while gently picking up the cat, who immediately started his loud motoring purr. “Come, let’s take you back. I’m Colin, by the way.”

No. This is unreal. I’m still in my hallucination.

“I’m Iso … I mean, Aria.” I remembered my name! “Yep, I’m Aria”

“You look very familiar to me.” He arched an expressive brow. “Have we met before?”

“No. We have never, ever, ever met before,” I said, clinging to sanity.

“Hmm,” he nodded to my reply, which sounded really weird in hindsight. “Well, we’ve definitely met now.” He held out his hand while managing to hold the purring cat at the same time. I shook it. My heart got all buzzy, like when Collinswood rescued me at the ball.

“Want to help me with Shamash?” he asked. “I could use some tea on this wet day. But not the Dream Finder blend. We’re not doing that again, are we, Shamash? I think it’s laced with something.”

“What do you mean laced with something?”

“Well, when I drank it, I had this crazy idea that I was in an early nineteenth-century British novel.” He misread the expression on my face and explained, “I’m a professor of modern literature, but I had to cover for a British literature colleague that semester, so I was reading Jane Austen at the teashop. I probably dozed off. No smoking guns, aliens, or hard-boiled detectives. What are you going do, huh?” He flashed an unaffected, almost goofy smile.

I started laughing in relief. I’m not insane. Or perhaps we’re both bonkers. But, at least I’m not alone. For a moment, in this dreadful week, I felt happy, so I continued laughing, holding a little longer to the precious sensation.

“Perhaps for the sake of experimentation, I should try drinking it while reading sci-fi or fantasy,” he added. “That might be interesting.”

Isobel was right. His eyes did turn a luscious chocolate when he was amused.

“In the mean time,” he continued, “What about some uncomplicated Earl Grey or Jasmine?”

“Yes,” I said. “That would be lovely.”

The End

The Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Visits A Turkish Bath

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress. Jean-Étienne Liotard

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a prominent English – Oh, c’mon, it’s the awesome Lady Montagu! Writer, poet, traveler, free spirit, smallpox inoculation advocate. I was skimming through her book Letters Of The Right Honourable Lady M–Y W—Y M—-E: Written During Her Travels In Europe, Asia And Africa on an antique books website when the words “Turkish” and “hot baths” leaped off the screen.

Yeah, I’m going there in this post.

I couldn’t find many images of women by Turkish artists from the 1700s. So, I’ve used some stunning paintings by Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard, who was enamored of Turkey. He painted this post’s feature image of Lady Montagu in Turkish attire.

Adrianople, April 1. O. S. 1717.

I am now got into a new world, where everything I see appears to me a change of scene; and I write to your ladyship with some content of mind, hoping, at least, that you will find the charms of novelty in my letters, and no longer reproach me, that I tell you nothing extraordinary. I won’t trouble you with a relation of our tedious journey; but must not omit what I saw remarkable at Sophia, one of the most beautiful towns in the Turkish empire, and famous for its hot baths, that are resorted to both for diversion and health. I stopped here one day, on purpose to see them; and, designing to go incognito, I hired a Turkish coach. These voitures are not at all like ours, but much more convenient for the country, the heat being so great, that glasses would be very troublesome. They are made a good deal in the manner of the Dutch stage-coaches, having wooden lattices painted and gilded; the inside being also painted with baskets and nosegays of flowers, intermixed commonly with little poetical mottos. They are covered all over with scarlet cloth, lined with silk, and very often richly embroidered and fringed. This covering entirely hides the persons in them, but may be thrown back at pleasure, and thus permits the ladies to peep through the lattices. They hold four people very conveniently, seated on cushions, but not raised.

Jean-Etienne Liotard – A Lady in Turkish Dress and Her Servant

In one of these covered waggons, I went to the bagnio about ten o’clock. It was already full of women. It is built of stone, in the shape of a dome, with no windows but in the roof, which gives light enough. There were five of these domes joined together, the outmost being less than the rest, and serving only as a hall, where the portress stood at the door. Ladies of quality generally give this woman a crown or ten shillings; and I did not forget that ceremony. The next room is a very large one paved with marble, and all round it are two raised sofas of marble, one above another. There were four fountains of cold water in this room, falling first into marble basons, and then running on the floor in little channels made for that purpose, which carried the streams into the next room, something less than this, with the same sort of marble sofas, but so hot with steams of sulphur proceeding from the baths joining to it, ’twas impossible to stay there with one’s cloaths on. The two other domes were the hot baths, one of which had cocks of cold water turning into it, to temper it to what degree of warmth the bathers pleased to have.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres – The Turkish Bath 

I was in my travelling habit, which is a riding dress, and certainly appeared very extraordinary to them. Yet there was not one of them that shewed the least surprise or impertinent curiosity, but received me with all the obliging civility possible. I know no European court, where the ladies would have behaved themselves in so polite a manner to such a stranger. I believe, upon the whole, there were two hundred women, and yet none of those disdainful smiles, and satirical whispers, that never fail in our assemblies, when any body appears that is not dressed exactly in the fashion. They repeated over and over to me; “UZELLE, PEK UZELLE,” which is nothing but, Charming, very Charming.

The first sofas were covered with cushions and rich carpets, on which sat the ladies; and on the second, their slaves behind them, but without any distinction of rank by their dress, all being in the state of nature, that is, in plain English, stark naked, without any beauty or defect concealed. Yet there was not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture amongst them. They walked and moved with the same majestic grace, which Milton describes our general mother with. There were many amongst them, as exactly proportioned as ever any goddess was drawn by the pencil of a Guido or Titian,—and most of their skins shiningly white, only adorned by their beautiful hair divided into many tresses, hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or ribbon, perfectly representing the figures of the Graces.

Jean-Baptiste Vanmour: Turkish Men and Women

I was here convinced of the truth of a reflection I have often made, That if it were the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed. I perceived, that the ladies of the most delicate skins and finest shapes had the greatest share of my admiration, though their faces were sometimes less beautiful than those of their companions. To tell you the truth, I had wickedness enough, to wish secretly, that Mr Gervais could have been there invisible. I fancy it would have very much improved his art, to see so many fine women naked, in different postures, some in conversation, some working, others drinking coffee or sherbet, and many negligently lying on their cushions, while their slaves (generally pretty girls of seventeen or eighteen) were employed in braiding their hair in several pretty fancies. In short, ’tis the women’s coffee-house, where all the news of the town is told, scandal invented, &c.

Enjoying Coffee

They generally take this diversion once a week, and stay there at least four or five hours, without getting cold by immediate coming out of the hot bath into the cold room, which was very surprising to me. The lady, that seemed the most considerable among them, entreated me to sit by her, and would fain have undressed me for the bath. I excused myself with some difficulty. They being however all so earnest in persuading me, I was at last forced to open my shirt, and shew them my stays; which satisfied them very well; for, I saw, they believed I was locked up in that machine, and that it was not in my own power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my husband.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Painting inspired by Lady Montagu’s book

I was charmed with their civility and beauty, and should have been very glad to pass more time with them; but Mr W—— resolving to pursue his journey next morning early, I was in haste to see the ruins of Justinian’s church, which did not afford me so agreeable a prospect as I had left, being little more than a heap of stones.

Adieu, madam, I am sure I have now entertained you with an account of such a sight as you never saw in your life, and what no book of travels could inform you of, as ’tis no less than death for a man to be found in one of these places.

Jean Etienne Lìotard – Portrait of Maria Adelaide of France in Turkish-style clothes

A Girl’s Will

I found this lovely short story published in 1920 in W. E. B. Du Bois’ children’s magazine. I hope you enjoy it.

A Girl’s Will

by Ella T. Madden

LONG the edge of a Southern forest, flows a stream called the Isle of Hope River. Void of the rush and hurry of youth, slowly, silently it flows, with an air of quiet serenity and infinite calm; along the edge of the wood, past the villages of Isle of Hope and Thunderbolt, it flows, until it is lost in the waters of the Atlantic, eighteen miles away.

In one of the weatherbeaten fisherman’s hub, which nestle under the branches of the great, gnarled, twisted, live oaks which grow along the river’s bank, lived Helen La Rose. As the keynote of the stream’s personality was repose, the most striking thing about Helen’s character was its deep unrest and consuming ambition, coupled with a high-minded, lofty idea of the infinite power of the human will.

It was the week of our graduation from Beach Institute. Helen and I were walking along the water’s edge, discussing our future with all the enthusiasm of sixteen. I could talk of nothing but the wonderful career I expected to have in college the next year, for my parents were “well-to-do,” and I was the only child. Suddenly, in the midst of my gay chatter, I stopped and looked at Helen,

“Oh, I’m so sorry you can’t go, too, Helen; what fun we would have together,” I burst out sorrowfully, for pretty, ambitious, Helen La Rose was very poor. Her father had all he could do to support his wife and seven children. Helen had paid her tuition at Beach by helping Mrs. Randolph before and after school and on Saturdays.

“But I am going to college,” said Helen, in her quiet voice. “I am going to college and I am going to become the greatest teacher that ever was, if I live long enough. Booker T. Washington worked his way through Hampton and Robert Dent is working his way and so did Mr. Ross. He told me so himself.”

“Yes, but they were all boys,” I said with emphasis.

“And I’m a girl,” replied Helen, “and as smart as any boy. Dad said so. Besides,” and her eyes grew large and deep and her voice tense, “I can do anything I want to, if I want to hard enough.”

The next week was commencement. Helen was “val,” and looked sweet and girlish in her cotton voile dress, fashioned by her own little brown, work-roughened fingers. For her eager face, lit up by the great eyes and a happy,— though rather tremulous—smile, did not require a fine toilette to make it attractive.

The weeks passed and I did not see, Helen again until the middle of July. We were sitting in my room and I had been showing some dresses I had bought.

“I am going to begin making my things next week,” said Helen, happily. “Daddy has let me keep all the money I have earned this summer and I have put it all in the savings bank. Just think, I have been working only nine weeks and I’ve saved forty dollars. I’ll make forty more between now and October and that will be enough for railroad fare and my first quarter’s tuition. Mrs. Randolph is going to give me a letter of recommendation to a friend of hers in Chicago and I know I’ll get work. Oh, I am so happy! And everybody is so good to me!” Helen danced around the room, hugging herself for very joy.

Early in August, Mrs. La Rose contracted malaria and died after a short illness. Mr. La Rose was heartbroken. There were six small children, ranging in age from three and a half to thirteen years. Quietly, unobtrusively, Helen took her mother’s place in the household. She did not allow even her father to realize what the sacrifice of her plans meant to her. She cooked and scrubbed and washed and ironed and cared for her swiftly aging father and little brothers and sisters with loving devotion. The little house was spick and span, the children happy and contented; and Mr. La Rose, grown suddenly old, became as calm and placid as the river that flowed past his door.

Four years passed and I received the degree of A. B. and soon after was appointed teacher of English in the high school. I lost no time in looking up my old school chum and telling her of my good fortune. She met me with a glad cry of welcome and rejoice in her old, frank, exuberant way over my success. But after the first few moments of greeting, I could not help noticing the change in her appearance.

Her figure had grown thin and old-maidish; and the brown cheeks had lost their soft roundness. The eyes, that had held such a marvelous vision of achievement and such undaunted hope in the future, were as deep and dark as ever; but in their depth brooded a wistfulness and a poignant unrest that made me catch my breath, for there came to me a vague realization of the story those eyes told. Bitter must have been the battles waged between ambition and duty. Not a hint of this, however, was in her demeanor. There was not a trace of self-pity or jealousy in her manner as we talked of the past and the present and drew bright pictures of the future.

Then Mary, Helen’s eighteen-year old sister, finished high school. Mary was not studious and had no desire to go to college.

“Now,” I said to myself. “Mary will take charge of the house and the younger children and Helen can have her chance. It is no more than right.” But I reckoned without my host. Six months after Mary’s graduation, she was engaged to be married.

The years flew by, swift as a bird on the wing, and Helen’s young charges grew to young manhood and womanhood. Mr. La Rose was dead. The baby was in his senior year at Howard University. Tom was in the mail service and Rose was the happy mistress of her own home. Helen, at thirty-five, was free to live her own life. I went to see her one bright sunny morning in June and found her sitting under her favorite oak tree, her hands lying idly in her lap, her eyes looking off across the water. She greeted me with a happy smile and a humorous glance of her fine eyes.

“Elise, do you remember our old saying, ‘You can do anything you want to, if you want to hard enough?’ I am going to college in the autumn!”