Live and Let Live/Chapter XIII
Mrs. Lovett, in point of fortune and station, was on an equal footing with her neighbour. Her husband was a prosperous baker, with seven sons, healthy, noisy, good-humoured boys, our friend Charles, now a lad of seventeen, being the oldest. A person suddenly transported from the depths of the winter of an arctic region to a land of soft airs, verdure, fruits, and flowers, could not have felt a greater change than did Lucy in her translation from her dreary existence at Dame Simson's to the atmosphere of affection and kindness that Mrs. Lovett breathed around her. These two women possessed the same external means; the cupidity and selfishness of the one made a moral waste around her—the good sense, affectionateness, and sweet temper of the other operated like those blessed fountains well called "diamonds of the desert," that minister to the life and beauty or everything within their reach.
If Mrs. Lovett had some defects which impaired the effect of her virtues, or rather diminished the amount of good she might have produced, we do not care to analyse them. It seems unreasonable to demand an exact arrangement of rich, spontaneous productions. We therefore prefer giving a glimpse of her home; a day there might stand for a year, as her kindness was inexhaustible, having no measure but the never-ending wants of her fellow-creatures.
Lovett's business made it necessary for him to be in his bakehouse before light, and Charles, at the peep of dawn, was off in the bread-cart. The morning was yet dim when Lovett came in from his bakehouse, and found his wife kindling the kitchen fire. "Mother!" he exclaimed, "why don't you call up your boys to do that?"
"Oh, I like to do it now and then myself."
"Yes; but your now and then is about every morning—it's the boys' business."
"They went out skating last evening, you know, and it's their nature to love to sleep in the morning."
"Have a care, mother; boys natures must not be humoured too much. Where is Lucy? Why is not she helping you?"
"Oh, you know she had Jemmie here to spend the day yesterday, and she and Charlie drew him home in the evening, and she went to bed late and tired. Besides, poor thing, she has got a pain in her breast working so hard next door—down late and up early, and it will take a good deal of resting to bring her quite right again."
"Well, she has reason to bless her stars she has got into hands that give rest to everything but themselves. What upon earth is that noise? A cock crowing up stairs!"
Mrs. Lovett laughed. "It's only Sammy's bantam! He begged me to let him take him up stairs to wake the boys up this morning; I thought I would indulge him just once."
"Once! It's well it takes a power of spoiling to spoil good boys." Lovett hit the truth, though he did not precisely state it. Indulgence loses much of its vitiating effect where good feelings are kept in constant exercise by pure examples and warm affections. "Come, Sam! John! Bob!" cried Mr. Lovett, going to the stairs, "get up and help your mother. Bring down your bantam, Sam—he'll wake Lucy!"
Lucy at this moment was coming down stairs, and she said, smiling, she "wished he'd waked her sooner."
"Soon enough, my child, soon enough. Mother, now Lucy is up to help you, I'll tell you what I stepped in for. There was a poor German came into the bakehouse last night for employment, and Charlie made out to talk with him enough to find out he had been looking since he landed, a week ago, in vain for work. He is a very respectable-looking man, and tells a sad story about the starving state of his old parents at home, for whom he hopes to provide a place in our country—"
"Did Charlie," interrupted Mrs. Lovett, "find out all that? Well, he did not take all that pains to teach Annet for nothing."
"No, mother, a kind turn is seldom thrown away. But I was going to say, that as this poor fellow has nowhere to go to breakfast, I thought, if you were willing, I would ask him in?"
"Certainly—I should like it. You know I have rather a fancy for Germans. Lucy, clap down some sausages; he has been so long fasting he'll want something warming. Make a good cup of tea, Lucy; it will be relishing to him—poor fellow!" Lucy did all she was bidden, and would fain have done more. A portion of her work had been omitted in consequence of Jemmie's visit the preceding day, and she set about rubbing the knives. "That will do, Lucy," said Mrs. Lovett; "they are clean, never mind the polishing; put the brightest by father's plate and that poor fellow's. I'll see to the sausages, and fry the cakes; it's bad work for your eyes. You run and set the table, and clap on an end, so that German need not feel as if he crowded us."
"The cloth is rather spotted—shall I put a clean one on, Mrs. Lovett?"
"No, never mind; it makes the washes too heavy for Dinah to have clean table-linen every day. Set the plates round so as to humour the spots. You say they only dirty one cloth a week next door. I should think the Millennium had come if that happened with my boys. They never will learn such neatness!"
"It is a good lesson to learn," thought Lucy, but learned next door at too great an expense of thumps on the head, raps over the hand, and aching hearts. Mr. Lovett now came in to say the stranger was ashamed to accept their hospitality. He had not been shaven for a week, and was not willing to appear before the women in that condition.
"Oh," said Mrs. Lovett, ever ready to sacrifice herself to the simplest act of kindness, "oh, never mind, let him just step into our bedroom and shave—take him round the other way. Lucy, run in, and clear up, and tuck away!" This was done, and well done in a minute, and no one can question Lucy's faculties who has seen "mother's room," in a house where there are half a dozen boys, a baby, and a "never mind!" mother. The Lovetts' hospitality was the first ray of kindness that had fallen on the poor stranger since he had reached our shore, whither he had come full of hope as the pioneer of starving friends at home. In Charles's absence not one of the family could speak an intelligible word to him; but each, eagerly offering some kindness, employed a language as universal as human feelings. Bobby set his favourite cat on the stranger's knee, and the baby, sitting on Lucy's lap, snatched from her plate a "buckwheat" and offered it to him. "Willie, dear!" exclaimed Lucy, repressing his hand, "you are dripping the molasses all over the cloth." A tear of pleasure started into the mother's eye. "Never mind, Lucy!" she said; "dear little fellow, how strange he should enter into his feelings!"
"Mother!" cried out one of the little boys, "do see Bob and puss drinking milk out of the same cup!" The mother reproved Bobby, but, joining in the general laugh, the reproof was neutralized.
"You need not all laugh at me," retorted Bobby, "for Sam lets his dog eat out of his plate."
"But not when he does," interposed Lucy.
"No, but he lets Jerry Bantam pick the corns off his lips, and I am sure my pussy's mouth is as clean as Jerry's—you need not laugh so, mother, it's cleaner than baby's was yesterday when you kissed it, and said you did not mind such a sweet little fellow's dirt."
"Oh, Bob! I guess not."
"Well, if you did not say so, mother, you did not mind it."
"Then I'll punish myself by not kissing you for a week to come."
"Oh, no, no, mother! please give me one kiss now." Mother refused, and Bob, a dauntless little rogue, jumped up behind her chair, encircled her neck with his arms, and kissed her chin, cheeks, and forehead, leaving an impress of molasses wherever his lips touched. There was a general shout round the table at Bob's victory. Lucy quietly handed Mrs. Lovett a wet napkin; the stains were effaced, and the breakfast being over, the family proceeded to the business of the day. Mrs. Lovett had an energy and steadfastness in the pursuit of her children's improvement, that, if we did not every day see new and strange combinations in individual character, would have seemed incompatible with the habits of general indulgence we have depicted. A portion of her power was undoubtedly wasted; but her imperfections were accompanied by such perfect disinterestedness and generosity, that all sense of the infirmity was lost in love and gratitude.
"Bring your book, John," she said, "and let me be sure you have learned your lesson. You were all agog about the skating last night. Lucy, just hear Sam in Colbum. Oh, never mind! if you are getting Charlie's breakfast—that's right, dear—keep the sausage hot for him, but you need not spread that clean napkin over the cloth—Charlie is used to taking it as he can get it."
"He never finds fault, Mrs. Lovett, but he likes it nice. Dinah don't mind washing a napkin more for him—she says Charlie's clothes wash easy."
"Charlie gets the blind side of every one in the house; but go on your own way, Lucy. Bless me! when did you scour that knife and fork. It must be confessed, you have profited by living next door. Such a body as Mrs. Simson has her uses for those who know how to catch the good and leave the bad."
"The bad was so disagreeable, Mrs. Lovett, you could not catch it." Lucy was right. It is the faults of the good and loveable that we are in danger of imbibing.
John had finished his recitation in that charming school-book—charming alike to teacher and learner—"Popular Lessons," and was now in eager pursuit of his slate. "Have you seen it, mother?" he asked
"No—how is that, Sam—seven times seven is fifty—think again—Lucy, dear, just set the baby down and look for John's slate."
"Oh, mother! Miss Selden said I must not come to school again without strings in both my shoes."
"Lucy, dear, run into the bedroom and look for a piece of galloon—it is in the upper drawer, or the under, or on the table—oh, perhaps in my piece basket." Alas for the chase through that labyrinth.
"Oh, Lucy, please to find my cap—blame it! it's always gone."
"Find it yourself, Bob—don't call on Lucy for everything."
"But mother, Lucy always can find everything, and I always can't." And so it proved. Lucy, with infinite sweetness, found and arranged all that was wanted, and the happy little troop issued from the street-door and were bounding away, when their mother called after them, "John! Sammy! here, for mercy's sake! John, you must take a bottle of wine to poor old Bretti."
"Mother!—clear to Reed-street!"
"Not if you do not choose, sir," replied his mother, sternly, for she could manifest displeasure when her children failed in an act of kindness.
"Do give it to me, mother—I do choose, only it's such a horrid long way down there."
"No. Charlie will take it by-and-by. The way should never seem horrid long when we go to do a kindness."
"Well, I don't see what he wants wine for—you and father never drink wine."
"The doctor has ordered it for him, John. Now, my boy, you are conscious you have done wrong, and are trying to find some reason for it. Sammy, take this book to Sarah Martin."
"Has the doctor ordered a book to cure Sarah Martin's lame foot, mother?" asked Sam, laughing.
"I don't know as to that, Sam, but I know it's what they call an 'easing medicine' for all diseases that are not too bad to admit of using it—ah, Charlie! good-morning to you. Your breakfast is all ready, and Lucy ready to bake you cakes."
"That's frustrate, mother." Never did breakfast meet a keener appetite to do it justice, an appetite prepared by long exercise in the morning air, and stimulated by good food, arranged by " neat-handed" Lucy, who, while performing various other miscellaneous offices, was baking the cakes, filling his cup, and throwing in kind words and smiles. A spoiled favourite of fortune (so called), rising from the distasteful luxuries of a twelve o'clock breakfast, might have envied our baker's boy!
"Oh, mother," asked Charles, "has father decided about the ticket for the lectures?"
"Yes; at least he left it to me, as he always does, and I am determined to go, provided Mr. What-ye-call-him says that a family-ticket will admit Lucy."
"To be sure it will—is she not one of the family?"
"There are few," said Lucy, slightly blushing, "that consider help so."
"Then they are fools, Lucy, besides being geese—but, in order to be certain, besides being sure, I called on Mr. 'What-ye-call-him,' mother's name, you know, for all mankind, besides a part of womankind, and asked him, and he said any one that lived with us was one of the family."
"But be honest, Charles—did you tell him I was your mother's help!"
"No—why should I, any more than that mother was your help—no disparagement to you, Lucy; but I think mother is the greatest help we have in this family."
"If help means aiding every one, and more kindly than any one else ever did, I think she is the best help in the world, Charles."
"Oh, Lucy and Charlie—go about your business—you are turning my head!"
- It is a common superstition among that much-enduring class the washwomen, that good-natured people's clothes "wash easy." There is philosophy in this. What a pity a moral power should be wasted which is a more certain lightener of labour than the best patent washing-machine ever contrived.