Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with a few thoughts on how folks lived in the eighteenth century and how things have changed since then, especially for the animals.
Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, was released on July 1st.
My most recent mystery, Murder by Syllabub, is set on a mythical plantation close to Colonial Williamsburg. I spent a lot of time in Williamsburg doing research on how people lived in the eighteenth century as that is an integral part of the plot. I learned a lot, some a bit trivial, some basic to the way people lived then.
Do you know where the expression “sleep tight” comes from? Beds in the eighteenth century didn’t have springs. They had ropes woven across the bed frame. Ropes loosen with time and with the weight of many bodies. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for travelers to find themselves sharing a bed when they stopped at a tavern for the night. You and your bed mates, whom you quite likely had never seen before, could expect to be issued a ropejack to tighten the ropes as they sagged through the night along with the admonition, “sleep tight”. You could not expect to be given anything to keep away the creepy crawly things that often inhabited the mattress stuffing, so you were on your own on how to obey the rest of that saying, “don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I’ll bet they did, and often.
Ever call someone an “old goat?” The saying didn’t originate because of the animal itself. It refers to the wig the “old goat” wore. Many wigs were made of goat’s hair and, of course, the older the goat the whiter the hair that went into making the wig, saving one the expense and trouble of dusting the wig with powder to make it white. I’ve wondered how they got that much hair off the goats. The ones I’ve met today don’t have an abundance of it. Which brings us to another topic. Animals, and how they were used and treated.
Today, we have pets. They live with us, keep us company, but most of them don’t have jobs. Dogs play an important part in Murder by Syllabub, but the two who are crucial to the story don’t have jobs, either. At least not the way they would have in the eighteenth century. Then, no one but the most wealthy would keep a dog that didn’t have a job. Animals, all of them, were expected to perform a valuable function. Hens laid eggs and later, graced your dinner table as the entre. Cows gave birth to more cows and gave milk that fed the calf and later fed the family in the form of butter, cream, yogurt etc. Goats also gave milk which could be made into cheese and evidently they also gave hair, as mentioned above. Sheep gave wool which became cloth and they all also, at some point, became dinner. Cats caught the mice and rats that ate the grain–you get the picture.
What did the dogs do? Their function then, as now, was different. From the time they walked out of the forest to join primitive man around the camp fire they have delivered service. They’ve guarded the store rooms and the homestead, pulled small carts, herded sheep and cows, retrieved game out of freezing cold ponds and lakes, pointed out a deer trying to avoid getting shot, and have been our eyes and our ears. Many of them still preform these function. They guide the blind, find lost children and hunt down criminals. They still herd sheep, fetch game from frozen ponds, and are guardians of the portals, in other words, they bark like crazy when a stranger comes to the door and often when the postman delivers the mail. Mostly, today, they are our friends.
I have two dogs, both small, both useless. I also have a cat who I doubt has ever caught a mouse. I suggested she might try her hand at it but she fell asleep on my bed before I could finish instructing her. I tried the little dogs next. Surely they could find some useful occupation. Think of the contributions their kind made in the eighteenth century, I said, in my most encouraging voice. One laughed, the other looked bored. Right now they are standing over empty dinner bowls, looking pathetic. I think that is their way of saying, its 2013 and we’re hungry. If my two are an example of the old phrase, “going to the dogs”, I think I’d like to try it.
One lucky reader will win a print copy of
Murder by Syllabub by Kathleen Delaney
and you have two chances to enter the
drawing. For the first entry, go back to
yesterday’s review and leave a comment
there. To have a second entry, leave a
comment here . The winning name will be
drawn on the evening of Thursday,
September 26th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.