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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

William Allen Butler (1825–1902)

Miss Flora M’Flimsey

From ‘Nothing to Wear’

MISS FLORA M’FLIMSEY, of Madison Square,

Has made three separate journeys to Paris;

And her father assures me, each time she was there,

That she and her friend Mrs. Harris

(Not the lady whose name is so famous in history,

But plain Mrs. H., without romance or mystery)

Spent six consecutive weeks without stopping,

In one continuous round of shopping;—

Shopping alone, and shopping together,

At all hours of the day, and in all sorts of weather:

For all manner of things that a woman can put

On the crown of her head or the sole of her foot,

Or wrap round her shoulders, or fit round her waist,

Or that can be sewed on, or pinned on, or laced,

Or tied on with a string, or stitched on with a bow,

In front or behind, above or below;

For bonnets, mantillas, capes, collars, and shawls;

Dresses for breakfasts, and dinners, and balls;

Dresses to sit in, and stand in, and walk in;

Dresses to dance in, and flirt in, and talk in;

Dresses in which to do nothing at all;

Dresses for winter, spring, summer, and fall,—

All of them different in color and pattern,

Silk, muslin, and lace, crape, velvet, and satin,

Brocade, and broadcloth, and other material

Quite as expensive and much more ethereal:

In short, for all things that could ever be thought of,

Or milliner, modiste, or tradesman be bought of,

From ten-thousand-francs robes to twenty-sous frills;

In all quarters of Paris, and to every store:

While M’Flimsey in vain stormed, scolded, and swore,—

They footed the streets, and he footed the bills.

The last trip, their goods shipped by the steamer Argo

Formed, M’Flimsey declares, the bulk of her cargo,—

Not to mention a quantity kept from the rest,

Sufficient to fill the largest-sized chest,

Which did not appear on the ship’s manifest,

But for which the ladies themselves manifested

Such particular interest that they invested

Their own proper persons in layers and rows

Of muslins, embroideries, worked underclothes,

Gloves, handkerchiefs, scarfs, and such trifles as those;

Then, wrapped in great shawls, like Circassian beauties,

Gave good-by to the ship, and go-by to the duties.

Her relations at home all marveled, no doubt,

Miss Flora had grown so enormously stout

For an actual belle and a possible bride;

But the miracle ceased when she turned inside out,

And the truth came to light, and the dry-goods beside,

Which, in spite of collector and custom-house sentry,

Had entered the port without any entry.

And yet, though scarce three months have passed since the day

This merchandise went, on twelve carts, up Broadway,

This same Miss M’Flimsey of Madison Square,

The last time we met, was in utter despair,

Because she had nothing whatever to wear!

NOTHING TO WEAR! Now, as this is a true ditty,

I do not assert—this you know is between us—

That she’s in a state of absolute nudity,

Like Powers’s Greek Slave or the Medici Venus;

But I do mean to say I have heard her declare.

When at the same moment she had on a dress

Which cost five hundred dollars, and not a cent less,

And jewelry worth ten times more, I should guess,

That she had not a thing in the wide world to wear!

I should mention just here, that out of Miss Flora’s

Two hundred and fifty or sixty adorers,

I had just been selected as he who should throw all

The rest in the shade, by the gracious bestowal

On myself, after twenty or thirty rejections,

Of those fossil remains which she called her “affections,”

And that rather decayed, but well-known work of art,

Which Miss Flora persisted in styling “her heart.”

So we were engaged. Our troth had been plighted

Not by moonbeam or starbeam, by fountain or grove:

But in a front parlor, most brilliantly lighted,

Beneath the gas-fixtures we whispered our love—

Without any romance, or raptures, or sighs,

Without any tears in Miss Flora’s blue eyes,

Or blushes, or transports, or such silly actions;

It was one of the quietest business transactions,

With a very small sprinkling of sentiment, if any,

And a very large diamond imported by Tiffany.

On her virginal lips while I printed a kiss,

She exclaimed, as a sort of parenthesis,

And by way of putting me quite at my ease,—

“You know, I’m to polka as much as I please,

And flirt when I like,—now stop, don’t you speak,—

And you must not come here more than twice in a week,

Or talk to me either at party or ball;

But always be ready to come when I call:

So don’t prose to me about duty and stuff,—

If we don’t break this off, there will be time enough

For that sort of thing; but the bargain must be,

That as long as I choose I am perfectly free:

For this is a sort of engagement, you see,

Which is binding on you, but not binding on me.”

Well, having thus wooed Miss M’Flimsey, and gained her,

With the silks, crinolines, and hoops that contained her,

I had, as I thought, a contingent remainder

At least in the property, and the best right

To appear as its escort by day and by night;

And it being the week of the Stuckups’ grand ball,—

Their cards had been out for a fortnight or so,

And set all the Avenue on the tiptoe,—

I considered it only my duty to call

And see if Miss Flora intended to go.

I found her—as ladies are apt to be found

When the time intervening between the first sound

Of the bell and the visitor’s entry is shorter

Than usual—I found—I won’t say I caught—her

Intent on the pier-glass, undoubtedly meaning

To see if perhaps it didn’t need cleaning.

She turned as I entered—“Why, Harry, you sinner,

I thought that you went to the Flashers’ to dinner!”

“So I did,” I replied: “but the dinner is swallowed,

And digested, I trust; for ’tis now nine and more:

So being relieved from that duty, I followed

Inclination, which led me, you see, to your door.

And now will your Ladyship so condescend

As just to inform me if you intend

Your beauty and graces and presence to lend

(All which, when I own, I hope no one will borrow)

To the Stuckups’, whose party, you know, is to-morrow?”

The fair Flora looked up with a pitiful air,

And answered quite promptly, “Why, Harry, mon cher,

I should like above all things to go with you there;

But really and truly—I’ve nothing to wear.”

“Nothing to wear? Go just as you are:

Wear the dress you have on, and you’ll be by far,

I engage, the most bright and particular star

On the Stuckup horizon—” I stopped, for her eye,

Notwithstanding this delicate onset of flattery,

Opened on me at once a most terrible battery

Of scorn and amazement. She made no reply,

But gave a slight turn to the end of her nose

(That pure Grecian feature), as much as to say,

“How absurd that any sane man should suppose

That a lady would go to a ball in the clothes,

No matter how fine, that she wears every day!”

So I ventured again—“Wear your crimson brocade.”

(Second turn-up of nose)—“That’s too dark by a shade.”—

“Your blue silk—” “That’s too heavy.”—“Your pink—” “That’s too light.”—

“Wear tulle over satin.” “I can’t endure white.”—

“Your rose-colored, then, the best of the batch—”

“I haven’t a thread of point-lace to match.”—

“Your brown moire-antique—” “Yes, and look like a Quaker.”—

“The pearl-colored—” “I would, but that plaguy dressmaker

Has had it a week.”—“Then that exquisite lilac,

In which you would melt the heart of a Shylock.”

(Here the nose took again the same elevation)—

“I wouldn’t wear that for the whole of creation.”—

“Why not? It’s my fancy, there’s nothing could strike it

As more comme il faut—” “Yes, but, dear me, that lean

Sophronia Stuckup has got one just like it;

And I won’t appear dressed like a chit of sixteen.”—

“Then that splendid purple, that sweet mazarine,

That superb point d’aiguille, that imperial green,

That zephyr-like tarlatan, that rich grenadine—”

“Not one of all which is fit to be seen,”

Said the lady, becoming excited and flushed.

“Then wear,” I exclaimed, in a tone which quite crushed

Opposition, “that gorgeous toilette which you sported

In Paris last spring, at the grand presentation,

When you quite turned the head of the head of the nation;

And by all the grand court were so very much courted.”

The end of the nose was portentously tipped up,

And both the bright eyes shot forth indignation,

As she burst upon me with the fierce exclamation,

“I have worn it three times at the least calculation,

And that and the most of my dresses are ripped up!”

Here I ripped out something, perhaps rather rash—

Quite innocent, though; but to use an expression

More striking than classic, it “settled my hash,”

And proved very soon the last act of our session.

“Fiddlesticks, is it, sir? I wonder the ceiling

Doesn’t fall down and crush you!—oh, you men have no feeling,

You selfish, unnatural, illiberal creatures,

Who set yourselves up as patterns and preachers.

Your silly pretense—why, what a mere guess it is!

Pray, what do you know of a woman’s necessities?

I have told you and shown you I’ve nothing to wear,

And it’s perfectly plain you not only don’t care,

But you do not believe me” (here the nose went still higher):

“I suppose if you dared you would call me a liar.

Our engagement is ended, sir—yes, on the spot;

You’re a brute, and a monster, and—I don’t know what.”

I mildly suggested the words Hottentot,

Pickpocket, and cannibal, Tartar, and thief,

As gentle expletives which might give relief:

But this only proved as spark to the powder,

And the storm I had raised came faster and louder;

It blew, and it rained, thundered, lightened, and hailed

Interjections, verbs, pronouns, till language quite failed

To express the abusive, and then its arrears

Were brought up all at once by a torrent of tears;

And my last faint, despairing attempt at an obs-

Ervation was lost in a tempest of sobs.

Well, I felt for the lady, and felt for my hat too,

Improvised on the crown of the latter a tattoo,

In lieu of expressing the feelings which lay

Quite too deep for words, as Wordsworth would say:

Then, without going through the form of a bow,

Found myself in the entry,—I hardly knew how,—

On doorstep and sidewalk, past lamp-post and square,

At home and up-stairs, in my own easy-chair;

Poked my feet into slippers, my fire into blaze,

And said to myself, as I lit my cigar,—

Supposing a man had the wealth of the Czar

Of the Russias to boot, for the rest of his days,

On the whole do you think he would have much to spare

If he married a woman with nothing to wear?