Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
The Tragedy of a Theater Hat
By Carolyn Wells (1862–1942)
From “Idle Idyls”

THE DEVIL, one day, in a spirit of mirth,
Was walking around, to and fro, on the earth,
      When he heard a man say,
      In a casual way,
“I think I’ll just drop in at the matinée;        5
For I feel in the humor to see a good play,
And the thing is a rattler, I’ve heard people say.”
      The devil stood by,
      With a smile in his eye,
And he said, “I don’t see any good reason why        10
I, too, shouldn’t go to this play that’s so fly.”
Now, his Majesty, as is well known by the wise,
Assumes at his will any kind of disguise;
      And he said, “I will go
      To this wonderful show        15
In the shape of a man, and arrayed comme il faut.”
No sooner ’twas said than ’twas done, and away
His Majesty sped to the gay matinée.
In faultless attire becomingly garbed,
Concealing entirely his tail (which was barbed),        20
      Correctly cravatted,
      And duly silk-hatted,
With his two cloven hoofs patent-leathered and spatted,
He approached the box-office with jauntiest airs,
And purchased a seat in the orchestra chairs.        25
      Then removing his tile,
      He tripped down the aisle,
With a manner which showed no appearance of guile,
Although he could scarcely conceal a slight smile
As he noticed the ladies who sat near to him,        30
So modishly mannered, and quite in the swim—
      The maidens so trim,
      And the matrons so prim—
And he thought how extremely they’d be horrified
If they had any notion who sat by their side.        35
As his Majesty sat there enjoying it all,
There entered a lady exceedingly tall;
With a rustle of silk and a flutter of fur,
She sat herself down in the seat kept for her,
Right in front of Old Nick, and exactly between        40
Himself and the stage. And her insolent mien
Proclaimed her at once a society queen.
Her shoulders were broad, and supported a cape
Which gave you no clue to her possible shape,
      ’Twas so plaited and quilled,        45
      And ruffled and frilled,
And it tinkled with bugles that never were stilled;
      And wide epaulettes
      All covered with jets,
Caught up here and there with enormous rosettes,        50
And further adorned with gold-spangled aigrettes.
Encircling her neck was a boa of gauze,
Accordion-plaited and trimmed with gewgaws;
And perched on the top of her haughty, blonde head,
Was a HAT! Now, of course, you have all of you read        55
      Of the theater hats
      That are seen at the mats.,
That are higher than steeples and broader than flats;
But this one as far outshone all of the others
As young Joseph’s dream-sheaves exceeded his brothers’.        60
’Twas a wide-rolling brim, and a high-peakéd crown,
And black feathers stood up and black feathers hung down;
And black feathers waved wildly in every direction,
Without any visible scheme of connection.
’Twas decked with rare flowers of a marvelous size,        65
And colors that seemed to bedazzle the eyes.
      And each vacant space
      Was filled in with lace,
And twenty-three birds in the ribbons found place.
And as this arrangement quite shut off his view,        70
The devil was nonplussed to know what to do.
And although he is not very often amazed,
Upon this occasion he found he was phased.
      But, looking around,
      He very soon found        75
That many fair ladies, as gorgeously gowned,
      Held their hats in their laps,
      Or still better, perhaps,
Had left them outside in the room with their wraps.
And assuming at once a society air,        80
He leaned over the back of the fair stranger’s chair,
      And with manner well-bred,
      “Beg pardon,” he said,
“Will you please take that awful thing off of your head?”
When, what do you think! The lady addressed        85
Indignantly stared, and politely expressed
A decided refusal to grant his request.
      And the poor devil sat
      Behind that big hat,
So mad that he didn’t know where he was at.        90
He could not see a thing that took place on the stage,
And he worked himself into a terrible rage.
      He murmured quite low—
      But she heard him, you know—
“Lady, since you refused to remove that chapeau,        95
You’re condemned now to wear it wherever you go.
Since you won’t take it off when a duty you owe,
  You shall not take it off when you wish to do so.”
  Alas for the lady! the devil has power,
  And the rest of her life, from that terrible hour,        100
  The curse of the devil compelled her to wear
That enormous beflowered and befeathered affair.
Her lot was a sad one. If you’ll reckon o’er
The times when a hat is a terrible bore,
      You’ll certainly say        105
      That to wear it all day
And then wear it all night is a fate to deplore.
She wore it at dinners, she wore it at balls;
She wore it at home when receiving her calls;
She wore it at breakfast, at luncheon, and tea;        110
Not even at prayers from that hat was she free.
She couldn’t remove it on going to bed;
She rose, bathed, and dressed with that hat on her head.
If she lounged in the hammock, perusing a book,
Or went to the kitchen to speak to the cook,        115
In summer or winter, the hat was still there,
And ’twas so in the way when she shampooed her hair.
Her lover would fain his fair sweetheart caress,
But who to his bosom could tenderly press
Twelve black, waving feathers and twenty-three birds?        120
He said what he thought, in appropriate words,
And broke the engagement. She vowed she would go
To a convent and bury her sorrow; but no—
They wouldn’t receive her. It was the old tale,
That had quite prevented her taking the veil.        125
The curse was upon her! No mortal could save—
She carried that ill-fated hat to her grave.
Now, all you young women with Gainsborough hats,
Beware how you wear them to Saturday mats.
        Remember the fate        130
        Of this maid up-to-date,
And take warning from her ere it may be too late.

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