Live and Let Live/Chapter V
Early Monday morning, before her father or the children were awake, Lucy, with her basket in hand, and her mother's last blessing cheerfully spoken, set out for Mrs. Broadson's. In fulfilment of her promise to Mrs. Ardley, she called at that lady's house to acquaint her with her decision. Before she had half finished her sentence to the waiter who opened the door, he said, "Ah, I understand, you are the girl Mrs. Ardley gave me the message for. She says that, as all things are not quite to your mother's mind here, she'll make your wages four dollars and a half, if you'll stop with us."
"I cannot—I promised Mrs. Broadson."
"Oh, that's nothing; the ladies don't half the time keep their promises with us, and it is presuming-like to set out to be better than they—and Mrs. Ardley bid me tell you an engagement did not matter till you began at the place."
"Good-morning," said Lucy, abruptly, a little shocked at this new exposition of moral obligation, and yet secretly wishing she could honestly have got that additional half dollar for her poor mother. If we knew the temptation the poor resisted, surely we should have more sympathy and more respect for them. The waiter thought Lucy a "silly child," but inferred, from his own experience, that she would "soon learn better!"
As Lucy went up Mrs. Broadson's steps she passed a girl about her own age, with a shabby bandbox under her arm, such as the improvident poor usually use to contain all their goods and chattels. Lucy perceived the girl had been weeping, and thought that she eyed her askance; but she soon forgot her in the novelty of her situation.
She was admitted by a Polish waiter, who spoke but few words, and those broken English. It was still early; but Mrs. Broadson, a stirring, notable woman, was in her breakfast-room, ready to receive the new-comer, to give her "a right start," as she said. Mrs. Broadson, it may be recollected, was the wife of a man who had, by speculating, suddenly gained a fortune, and, like too many who thus emerge into a new element in our country, she required (but had not) a new organization to fit her for it. "The sun and fortune" do not "make all insects shine."
Mrs. Broadson had been accustomed to grubbing all her life — her domestic labours were now limited to getting the greatest possible service for the least possible compensation.
"Ah, here you are, child," was her greeting to Lucy; "I am glad you have kept your engagement — servants can't be too particular about that — run up to the attic — there you'll see Biddy's room — I told your mother you should sleep with Biddy. Leave your basket there, and come back to me."
Lucy went with that sad feeling so natural in exploring a strange house, and she sprang forward as if she had met a friend when she saw Bridget's face in her little cold attic. But how strangely altered was that face to her! Instead of the hearty kindness with which she had greeted her on Saturday evening, she averted her head, and replied grudgingly to Lucy's cordial "Good-morning! Where shall I set my basket?" asked Lucy.
"Where you can find a place—the hole is full enough already."
"I will set it outside, then," said Lucy; and, suppressing a sigh of disappointment, she returned to Mrs. Broadson.
"You've taken a time to go up stairs, child - but you are a stranger yet—you should move quick—I always do—a great deal of time is saved by quick movements. To be sure there's very little to do in my house, but then everybody ought to keep busy—I always do—I feel, and so does Mr. Broadson, as if it was very extravagant to keep three servants just for us two, and therefore it's your duty, child, to be as industrious and saving as possible—it's a great chance to get such a place as you have here, where there's only two; you must think of that, and you must not expect, as some servants do, to have everything on your table that we have on ours—I don't calculate to have you eat butter—I don't touch it myself—(the lady was forbidden it by her physician)—and I don't allow it to Jaboski—nor tea, Lucy, nor coffee—the doctors thinks them unhealthy nowadays—to be sure, Bridget has them, but then she's a woman—besides, as there's only two of us, we have enough left for her." Bridget, as Mrs. Broadson well knew, was sufficiently apprized of her rights not to suffer herself to be defrauded of them. "I expect you to get up very early in the morning—I always do; and when you sit down in the evening, come to me for some sewing— it's bad to be idle—I never am. Now, while Mr. Broadson and I am at breakfast, put the parlour in perfect order; you must be very smart, for as there are only two of us, we soon despatch our breakfast; another thing, child, you should yourself eat quick—I always do. As soon as you have swallowed your breakfast, come to me for further directions."
"Can I warm my hands before I go in that cold room, ma'am?"
"Are you used to having your rooms warmed at home to work in?"
"We have but one, and that always feels warm."
"Your work will warm them—it's a bad habit to keep running to the fire—I never do." Jaboski was then summoned, and made to understand that the cleaning materials were to be delivered over to Lucy. Jaboski promptly obeyed the order, secretly rejoicing that his labours were to be abridged, and little dreaming that Broadson and his wife, a thrifty pair, had resolved upon the economical expedient of employing a young girl in order to let him off in the morning to perform a porter's task at the warehouse of "Broadson & Co." In this mode that safe speculation of the penny saved was achieved, and the show, without the expense of a man-servant, kept up, while the porter had but the house-servant's wages. So far from perceiving this was dishonest, Mrs. Broadson valued herself particularly on her clever expedient. "Why," she would say to her acquaintance, "don't you get German servants—I do—get them before they know a word of the language, and find out the abominable wages and ways of our servants—I have had several at half price, the best servants I ever had. As they can't speak English, and are utter strangers in the land, they are glad to put up with anything they can get in a decent family. It is a little difficult making them understand; but as there are only two of us, I and Mr. Broadson, we get along very well—to be sure, after a while they learn the language, and then they are just as ungrateful as any of the rest, and will go as soon as they can better themselves!" Strange that these ungrateful beings should obey the instincts of all animal creation. The horse and the cow will take to the best pasture provided the fence is down; and, thanks to a kind Providence, there are no impassable fences in our Northern land to secure involuntary service, and to retain the human animal against his will and interest in any man's steril pasture.
Lucy sat down to her first meal away from home with Jaboski. The frugal fare allowed by Mrs. Broadson was certainly luxurious compared to that of her own home; but the voices of mother and children were ringing in her ears; Jemmie's pensive smile seemed wanting for her, and even the accustomed sound of her father's chiding voice would have pleasantly broken the mournful silence. Bridget did not appear; Lucy was wondering at this, when, before she had had time to swallow, even at steamboat rate, that miracle of the deglutition art, she heard the summons of Mrs. Broadson's bell, and hastened up stairs. "Why, what's the matter now?" said Mrs. Broadson: "your eyes are as red as ferrets."
Lucy was ashamed of her irresolution, and, glad to attribute her red eyes to that which had in part caused them, she said, "The kitchen smokes badly, ma'am."
"You'll get used to that, child — all kitchens smoke — I am glad it is not home-sickness — it is too ridiculous to be home-sick for such places as you live in — I'm never home-sick."
"Neither should I be," thought Lucy, "if I had such a dismal home as this. "Mrs. Broadson then proceeded to give her directions for her morning work; and Lucy soon found there was no advantage in the truth of that eternal vaunt of Mrs. Broadson, "there are but two of us, I and Mr. Broadson," for the woman employed all the mind she had in contriving to keep Lucy's feet and hands busy. As if the necessary labour of tending the street-door, rubbing brasses, furniture, and knives, going of errands, setting tables, &c., &c., were not enough, Mrs. Broadson must have her carpets swept with a short handbrush; and poor Lucy, accustomed to consider despatch the soul of business, spent an hour every day on her knees brushing off the carpets, Mrs. Broadson the while expatiating on the great economy of cleaning carpets in this fashion. "There is no dust raised," she said; "the fine parts of the carpet are not swept off - there is nothing worn."
"Nothing but my clothes, ma'am," said Lucy, showing a hole she had worn through her thin but well-saved frock.
"That old thing! — that's nothing - you should not mind wearing out old clothes, child — I never do"
"I have none but old clothes, ma'am."
"Oh, well, you'll soon earn more."
"But my earnings," thought Lucy, "must go to something more important than buying me clothes." Lucy, however, was strong and industrious, and accustomed to constant labour; Mrs. Broadson's incessant demands would not have exhausted her patience; she could even smile when bid to open the windows of the spare room, and dust it, and shut them up again, and rub over with the soft brush the silver that was rubbed yesterday, knowing that the same process would be to go over to-morrow, the silver meanwhile remaining in "inglorious rest" upon the pantry shelf. But when Sunday came, then came a hard trial to Lucy — she had looked forward to it as the jubilee — the day when she was to go out free.
"What time to-day can I be spared to go home, Mrs. Broadson?" she asked.
"La, child, you speak as if your going home was a matter of course — your mother made no stipulation about that."
"We thought everybody had a part of Sunday."
"Oh, no — you are greatly mistaken - Bridget has every Sunday afternoon; I allow her great privileges." As may be imagined, Bridget had stipulated for her "privileges." "Every other Sunday she has the whole day — to-day I expect you to cook the dinner — I can't possibly spare you."
"But if I get the dinner cooked, and everything done, can't I just go and see how they all are, and Jemmie."
"Jemmie! who is he?"
"Jemmie! — Jemmie is the youngest."
"Not to-day, child — we had best begin as we are going on. Mr. Broadson and I always go to church all day — that we consider duty. Go to your work, child," continued Mrs. Broadson, seeing Lucy stand as if the question were not settled, "next Sunday will soon be here."
"Soon it may be to you, Mrs. Broadson — but it won't be soon to Jemmie, lying all the time in his basket-cradle, with nothing to think of but when I am coming. I promised him, Mrs. Broadson, and I must go—"
"You can't go, and there's an end on't"
The thought of Jemmie nerved Lucy's resolution, and she answered modestly but firmly, "I must go, if I never return."
"I suppose you know the consequences of going and not returning, child. I never pay any wages to anybody that leaves me within the month."
"What shall I do? what ought I to do?" thought Lucy; "mother must have the money to pay her rent — I can live without seeing them — but Jemmie! but mother." "Oh, Mrs. Broadson," she burst forth, "let me go — please — Jemmie will be looking at the door, and listening till I come."
"He must take it out in listening, child — I must begin as I mean to go on — I always do — so just go to your work, and think no more about it."
How easy to give the command! how impossible to obey it! Lucy did go to her work, but her thoughts went home. Bitterly did she regret having given a promise to Jemmie that she could not perform without violating a paramount duty to her mother — that duty, after a little reflection, she resolved to fulfil; still she hankered after her little dependant Jemmie, and tear followed tear as her imagination presented the struggle of expectation and disappointment on his loved countenance.
Bridget observed her emotion — she rarely spoke to her, seldom even looked at her, but now she said, "What frets ye, child?"
It was kindly spoken, and Lucy poured out her griefs. "If that's all," said Bridget, "I'll mind the house while you run home after dinner."
"But Mrs. Broadson has forbidden me."
"And won't she be at church, and none the wiser?"
"I had rather not go so, Biddy ; but if you will be just so good as to let me speak to her — "
"Take your own way, child — it's all one to me."
Mrs. Broadson acceded to her petition. Bridget's name was a potent one. She well knew the cause of Bridget's late sulkiness. She felt the importance of propitiating her; and, eager to profit by the first symptom of returning good-humour, she said, "Oh, yes, if Biddy is willing, you can change days with her - but remember, next Sunday I must hear no dinging about this home business."
The "run" home that Bridget had proffered, Lucy knew was no equivalent for the next Sunday's half day; but further negotiation was out of the question, and the poor child, like the weaker party in all treaties, took what she could get. The first free moment found her on her way home, and soon after, for she went quick "as the thoughts of love," she was kneeling by Jemmie, with her arms round his neck, and replying to his "Oh, Lucy! I was afraid you never, never would come," "I was afraid so too — and I find, Jemmie, I can't come home every Sunday."
"Then I shall grow old before I see you, Lucy; it seems a year since last Monday morning."
Lucy used her best rhetoric to make Jemmie acquiesce in her prolonged absence. It was but a forced submission to the inevitable.
"I know you would come if you could, Lucy, and that seems hardest of all."
"That's true!" exclaimed the father — "it is a shame to make you a slave to people's whims; but I told you how it would be beforehand."
"We can never, in any situation, my dear Lucy," said her mother, "be independent of others — but as you have only five minutes, tell us how you get on." Lucy was preresolved not to distress her mother with any complaints, and her answer was guarded and rather unsatisfactory. Poor Mrs. Lee guessed the meaning of this reserve; but, hoping for a favourable reply to one question, she said, "I am sure, Lucy, you find that Biddy a pleasant woman to live with?"
"Mother, that is the one thing I wanted to speak with you about, I know Biddy is good — she is so very kind to Judy Phealan, an orphan girl that comes there; she's good, too, to Jaboski; and to-day she was very obliging to me; but ever since I went there she has had something against me; she does not speak to me if she can help it; we sleep together, but she never even puts her hand over me. It is not natural for an Irish person, you know, mother — they are so warm-hearted — what can be the reason?"
"I can't guess — some foolish superstition, perhaps. But persevere, my child; good will certainly, in the long run, overcome evil."
"I will try my best, mother. I must go now. Good-by, Jemmie. If you only feel as much better as I do for just this little visit, you'll kiss me and not shed one tear. Good-by, father! I hope, mother, you won't look quite so pale when I come home next time. Give my love to the girls when they come from Sunday-school," and away she ran, without shedding a tear — till she was out of sight.
- This was the case with most New-York kitchens before the introduction of anthracite coal.