Live and Let Live/Chapter IX
"Lucy Lee," said Ferris, "you know you have the dishes to do to-day; it's my Sunday out."
"But I did not have my Sunday out last Sunday, you know, Mrs. Ferris."
"That was not my fault."
"Nor was it mine," said Lucy, who had the strongest motive for maintaining her rights. "Sophy wanted to go out, and Mrs. Ardley said if I would stay and amuse the children I should go home to-day." And Lucy had well earned the performance of the promise, for Mrs. Ardley said she "had never known the children so quiet—she and Mr. Ardley had both got their Sunday's nap without once hearing them." The secret of this was, that Lucy, finding it sorely against her conscience to pass the sacred day in picking up ninepins and dressing dolls, had kept the children still, and most happy too, by telling them Sunday stories she had heard from her mother. Ferris left the kitchen for a few moments, and presently the bell rung twice, the summons for Lucy. "Lucy, I am sorry to disappoint you," said Mrs. Ardley, "but I entirely forgot it was Ferris's Sunday out."
"Can't I set the dishes aside, ma'am, and wash them when I come home?"
"No, Lucy. Nothing puts Ferris out so much as that—you know we must mind our p's and q's with Ferris—don't look so dismal, child—it's only waiting till to-morrow."
"Jemmie will think it's for ever waiting till to-morrow."
"Jemmie! Oh, that little broken-back brother you told me about—never mind; I'll give you some of the children's old playthings to carry to him to-morrow."
"He is not fond of playthings, Mrs. Ardley, he can't play with them."
"Well, books, then—picture books."
Lucy's face brightened. She had often thought how happy it would make Jemmie to possess a few of the books the children were tossing about the nursery. "Thank you, Mrs. Ardley," she said, "nothing would please Jemmie so much; it will make the time seem shorter when I am away;" and half consoled, and but half, she returned to the kitchen, where Ferris greeted her with, "You'll find, Miss Lucy Lee, you'll never get the upper hands of me; so you may as well give up first as last telling about burnt spreads, or trying to keep me at home when my turn is out."
"I did not try to keep you at home, Mrs. Ferris, I only tried to go myself; and if you knew how much reason I had, you would not wonder."
Her mild answer softened Ferris, and she said, "Well, well, child, your turn will come—young folks must give way, you know."
Lucy, after "doing up her odds and ends," went to bed and went to sleep, for sleep is the certain compensation, the sure wages of the working; but not till she had wondered whether mother looked as pale as when she had last saw her, and whether Jemmie had felt very bad about her not coming home!
"There's tears on her cheek, and she sleeping!" said Ferris, as she got into bed that night. "They sting me. God forgive me!"
The next morning Lucy seized a favourable moment to ask Mrs. Ardley to select the books. "Oh, there's no hurry, child," said Mrs. Ardley; "I can't possibly spare you to go home to-day. It's Monday, you know, and we are to have company to dinner, and—" Mrs. Ardley was interrupted by a request from David that Lucy might help him with the breakfast things; this was followed by a message from Ferris asking Lucy's aid. "You see how it is," resumed Mrs. Ardley, after giving an affirmative to both applications, "you must wait till to-morrow—come, don't look like all the woes! I'll get your books ready now, so there will be nothing to detain you when the time comes," This she immediately did, and in the indulgence of her good-nature quite forgot the virtue that was appropriate to the occasion. Sore as Lucy's disappointment was, that boasted specific for happiness, having a little more to do than she could do, shortened the twenty-four hours which followed.
"Now, Mrs. Ferris," she said, "I am going. I have finished all you told me to do."
"Finished! you have not brought down the things for the pudding?"
"But you have not beaten the eggs?"
"Yes, and ground the spice, and the coffee, and dusted the dresser, and cleaned the celery, and taken the pin-feathers out of the ducks."
"Lucy!" called David from the top of the stairs, "just rub over the table-spoons and silver forks for me—that's you, Lucy." Poor, Lucy with a sigh, proceeded to the task. Before it was done Mary's bell rung, and Lucy had to run to the thread and needle store for something the seamstress must have. On her return she met Sophy—"Oh, Lucy!" she said, "you must put Mrs. Ardley's room up—she has sent me to the dressmaker's." "Lucy!" called out from the upper entry Miss Anne, "just come and sew on my shoestrings for me; Mary Minturn is busy." "Lucy!" screamed Master Will Ardley, "ask David for my boots, and bring them up." "Lucy!" piped a little urchin from the nursery door, "mamma says you may come and set up the soldiers I shoot down." "No, no, Lucy!" cried in the same breath Belle Ardley, "mamma says you may iron my doll's frock first!" Lucy, secretly resolving that if she ever enlisted in another service, it should not be for "odds and ends,"patiently threaded her way through, and then presented herself, cloaked and hooded, to Mrs. Ardley, and asked not "if she might go," but "how long she might stay." "Oh, Lucy, child—I am really sorry! I forgot to tell you that you cannot possibly go to-day. Wilson" (Wilson was the wet-nurse) "says she must go out—and you know it is as much as my life is worth to refuse Wilson."
"But cannot Mrs. Wilson come home in time for me?"
No—she will not be in till after dinner, and then it will be too late for you—quite dark."
"Oh, Mrs. Ardley! won't Miss Anne mind the baby just while I run home and see how they all are, and tell Jemmie why I can't come?"
"No, Miss Anne cannot; she is just going to her dancing lesson."
Lucy was silent for a moment. It seemed impossible to her to give up, and she ventured upon rather a daring request. "Mrs. Ardley," she asked, tremulously, "won't you be so good as to take care of the baby yourself—I'll be as quick as possible."
"Lucy, you are going a little too far, Everybody that lives with me, old and young, presumes upon my indulgence. You know, child, I am just dressing to pay visits."
"Oh, Mrs. Ardley, if you could once see our poor Jemmie, you would not wonder that I could ask for dancing or visits to be given up."
"It may be, child; but still you should recollect what is proper and what is not. I really would not disappoint you if I could well help it."
Lucy turned away to hide the tears she could not repress. The younger children, who had been listeners and spectators, now, from the kind instincts of their nature, pressed round their mother to urge Lucy's suit. Mrs. Ardley, probably from an uncomfortable consciousness of the wrong she was inflicting, was unjust, and much less good-humoured than usual. "Be quiet, children," she said, "I must be more firm with the whole of you. Don't tease me any more about this business of going home, Lucy—it's always inconvenient in the week to spare you. To-morrow Sophy and Mary Minturn leave me, and my new women are coming; Friday the baby is to be christened, and Saturday is always a busy day—so you must wait till Sunday comes, and say no more about it."
It is said, the worm will turn if you do tread on it. Lucy had nothing of the reptile in her nature, but she did turn, and said in a voice that should have penetrated the lady's conscience, "You promised, you promised, Mrs. Ardley!"
"Hush, child—go and lay away your cloak and hood."
"But you did promise her, mother," said one of the children, "and you always tell us we ought to keep our promises."
"Certainly you ought, and so I always do unless I have very good reasons for breaking them."
Half an hour afterward Alice Ardley asked her sister Belle where the basket was she promised to give her. "I have concluded to keep it myself," replied Belle; "I want it very much to keep my doll's hat in."
"But you promised to give it to me,"
"So I did; but mamma says we may always break our promises if we have good reasons for it."
A natural application, and not a very forced version of the mother's ethics.