Live and Let Live/Chapter XIV
mrs. lee received a proposition from some friends in the village where she had spent her youth, that induced her at once to renounce her wearisome life in town and return there. She was to preside over the family of an old pair, whose some dozen children were married and dispersed. She was permitted to bring Jemmie with her, and advantageous situations were offered for her two little girls. Lucy, it was decided, should be left with Mrs. Lovett, and Lucy determined to consecrate her future earnings to Jemmie. This poor little fellow's heart was almost broken at parting with his sister. Without the extravagance of Rousseau's lover, he divided the world into two parts, "where she was and where she was not!"
Lucy continued through the year at Mrs. Lovett's, reminded by nothing but the regular receipt of her wages that she was at service. At the expiration of that time a sad change occurred. Mr. Lovett suddenly determined to remove to Ohio. He was the proprietor of land there, which was now promising to become very valuable, and both he and his wife expected, from a removal to that fine new country, physical and moral benefit to their children. The well-established bakehouse was to be retained, and Charles, perfectly qualified for the business, was left to conduct it. After much deliberation, decision, and reconsideration, it was settled that Lucy should remain in the city—this was strenuously urged by Charles, and rather favoured by herself. A place had offered at Mrs. Hartell's, where she might earn, with very light labour, seven dollars a month. This money would enable her to put some favourite plans for Jemmie into execution, "and any time, if she chose," as Charles said and reiterated, lest the argument should not prevail, "she might go to her mother." "Well, my children," said Mrs. Lovett, at the conclusion of their deliberations, "if one must stay, I had rather the other should too. You will be a brother to Lucy, Charles, and you will be a sister to him, Lucy?" They both promised. Did the thought of ever being anything nearer enter their young hearts? We shall see.
We are obliged to omit some of the most interesting scenes in Lucy's life—the parting from the Lovetts and her closing, for the last time, those doors, that, as she turned their bolts, she thought had never been closed against any claim to hospitality or kindness of any sort, and the first depression of her mercury at the chill atmosphere of a new service-place.
She went to Mrs. Hartell's in the morning, and, on inquiring for the lady, was told she was never visible till eleven; but that she could see "Miss Adéle." Miss Adéle proved to be the nurse, a Frenchwoman of a certain age, who lost no time in acquainting Lucy with the duties of her new place and its advantages. Her inaugural discourse we shall repeat, merely taking the liberty to translate the French she interspersed, and mend her broken English.
"A very pretty position you will have here, my dear, if you do everything—very quick, and very well. It is very necessary you should never forget you are to be grateful to me for it—for Mrs. Hartell, my dear, would never know that you was born if I had not made the discovery." Lucy smiled. "'Tis very true, my dear—we had one Bridget here—very low Irish person, but very good judge of character—she admired me very much—she spoke well of you—your needlework, and so forth—particularly she said you was very humble, which is very pretty quality in young person—young person should always look up, and so forth, to those that are very little older—as I am than you."
"Adéle! Adéle!" shouted one of the little girls, "you look full old enough to be her mother."
"C'est que j'ai la dignité d'un âge mûr—mais, mademoiselle, vous ne devez parler que François. That is because I have the dignity belonging to ripe years—but, miss, you ought to speak only French."
"So you always say when you don't want us to be understood—I hate French, and I never will speak it when I don't choose—papa says I need not."
"Mais votre maman, ma chere mademoiselle, elle dit tout au contraire. But your mamma, miss, says quite the contrary."
"Oh, well, I mind papa when I like, and mamma when I like."
"That is the way, I assure you," said Adéle to Lucy, making, like most foreign observers, a general inference from her individual experience, "with all American children—there is no government in this country nowhere—the people do as they please, and the very little children do as they please. You will have the very great advantage to eat with me."
"Great advantage, indeed!" interposed again the aforesaid young speaker. "Adéle will take the best, and leave you the rest—that was the way she served little Judy Phealan."
"Mademoiselle Ophelia, vous êtes trés desagreáble ce matin; je me plaindrai de vous á votre maman. Miss Ophelia, you are very disagreeable this morning; I will complain of you to your mother."
"And mamma will complain to me, and I will complain to papa, and papa will complain back to mamma," retorted the little girl, laughing.
"I wish you to pay no attention to miss, because her mamma wishes her to say nothing in English, and it is as if she spoke not a word."
"Then you need not answer what I say, Adéle." Adéle muttered a "Mon Dieu!" between her teeth, and proceeded: "You will keep our room very nice—I like very pretty order."
"Yes, when you have others to take the trouble of it, Adéle."
"Sacre! And in very hot days I wish you to walk out with the young ladies, because it is very disfavourable to my health."
"And your complexion, Adéle—don't you remember the day your colour ran down on to your frill?"
Adéle's colour now at least was natural. "It is impossible," she continued, "when Miss Ophelia is here to tell you all; but you will do everything as I wish. You must ask always my direction, for Mrs. Hartell is very delicate—all American ladies are very delicate, you know—and she wishes not to be troubled." A slatternly girl now appeared with the nurse's breakfast; Adéle inquired why it was not brought by Monsieur Achille, the waiter.
"For a very good reason," replied the girl, chuckling, "Mr. Hartell has turned Monsheer Achille out of doors."
"Achille turned out of doors! For what?"
"For loving iced Champagne too well—and drinking as much of it as Mr. Hartell himself."
"Quelle horreur! Je lui ai dit—" Adéle checked before she had betrayed herself. "Pauvre madame," muttered Adéle, "son mari est un bête. Poor madame, her husband is a brute! Anne," she called after the girl, "these cakes are cold—ask Henri to send me some hot ones."
"Henri says if you want any more you may come and bake them yourself."
Adéle now bestowed the most vulgar abuse in French upon Henri, and then begged Lucy to run down and bake her some cakes. "Just half a dozen for me—you can eat the cold ones, my dear—but my stomach won't bear cold cakes."
Lucy civilly but resolutely declined going down, alleging that she was a stranger, and feared to give offence in the kitchen. She immediately found that in avoiding Scylla she had run on Charybdis. Adéle had expected to find in Lucy a meek subject to her authority; and disappointed, as well as displeased, at so early a resistance, she looked angry, spoke pettishly, and manifested her selfishness without the slightest restraint of good manners, turning over the toast to get the best buttered bits, pouring off all the clear coffee, and appropriating the only egg to herself. Before the breakfast was finished the baby cried, and Adéle directed Lucy to take the little angel up and make it quiet, adding, "that it hurt her digestion to be disturbed at her meals!"
Lucy obeyed. The "little angel" proved to be a stout boy of ten months, in a most impish humour, and, in spite of the kind instincts of her nature, that led her always to care for and caress children, she was tired resisting its struggling and screaming before Adéle was ready to take it. Miss Ophelia and her sister had gone to their French school. Eugene, the baby, was exquisitely dressed; no one could deny Adéle's perfection in every department of the toilet. Lucy had arranged the nursery, and was sitting at her needlework, when Mrs. Hartell made her appearance. She was a tall and handsome woman, of about thirty, but her beauty was impaired by paleness and langour, and powerless from the absence of all expression. Her air of high fashion, or perhaps her extreme coldness and indifference, appalled our modest heroine; and after the first glance she did not again raise her eyes to the lady's face, and her ears gave her no information as to the character of her new mistress; for her languid endearments to her baby, her more animated admiration of its new French dress, and her conversation with Adéle, was all in French. We shall take the liberty to translate it, omitting the expletives with which both mistress and maid garnished their discourse, Mrs. Hartell thinking it quite graceful to exclaim at every other breath "Mon Dieu!" though she rarely uttered the words in English, the profanity being forbidden in her own country by the usages of good society, as well as by a Divine command. "What made Eugene scream so horribly? he broke my morning nap."
"Oh, madame, a thousand thousand pardons! Ask mamma's pardon, Eugene," and she joined his hands, exclaiming, "What an angel! He was so terrified at a new face. She," nodding to Lucy, "took him up too suddenly. It was all I could do to tranquillize him."
"Is the girl promising?"
"Well enough! I may make something of her—in time—with an infinity of trouble; but nothing is too much to do for madame—these Americans are so awkward at first—so ill-mannered!"
"And at last, too, Adéle. But I suppose we are to have an American waiter. Mr. Hartell has turned away Achille, and swears he'll not have another Frenchman."
"Mr. Hartell is very impetuous, madame—it was only a suspicion of poor Achille—the other servants are always against us. In truth, madame, they are all in revolution down stairs, and Henri swears he will abdicate."
"Henri going! Achille gone! Well, I will just shut myself up in my room, and let things take their own way. If Mr. Hartell will turn away my servants, he must get others to suit himself—I'll have nothing to do with it."
"Ah, madame, that is like the poor devil who said, when the coach went over the precipice, 'Never mind, I am but a passenger.' Madame cannot live without French cooking. American cooking is for the brutes, not for ladies. If madame could only persuade Mr. Hartell to return to Paris—"
"Ah, Adéle, if I could! Dear Paris! I shall never go there till I go to heaven. Mr. Hartell makes a point of never going where I wish—he says, if he goes again to Paris, he shall go without me."
"The savage! a thousand pardons, madame! But how can any one say or do anything unkind to such an angel as madame! One thing is sure, Mr. Hartell adores Monsieur Eugene. He will not go to Paris without you, and leave him."
"Well thought of, Adéle! and, by-the-way, Mr. Hartell has taken it into his head that Eugene is getting pale, and he puts all the fault upon you, for he says the wet-nurse told him the only reason she went away was because she would not live with you, and she called you a bag of lies and pretences."
"The Irish savage! The Irish are all savages—all false and cruel."
"Margery was good to Eugene, though."
"Certainly, madame—before your eyes and Mr. Hartell's."
Mrs. Hartell was not ashamed to laugh at Adéle's insinuation against a faithful and warm-hearted creature, who, during a long illness, had watched all night with her child, and carried him all day in her arms, and whom Mrs. Hartell had finally sacrificed to her favourite. "I wish, Adéle," resumed Mrs. Hartell, "you had borne with Margery a little longer; wet-nurses are like cows, we only keep them for the milk they give,"
Adéle shrugged her shoulders. "But when they kick and hook, madame?"
This precious colloquy was broken off by the entrance of the person in question. At sight of her the baby almost sprung from his mother's arms; Margery caught him in hers; and, pouring out a flood of tears, caressed him with the fondness characteristic of her people.
"God bless my darling!" she exclaimed; "and ye feel just the same, and six weeks it is that ye have not seen me."
"One pretty while to stay away when one loves so furiously!" said Adéle, contemptuously.
Her words were like the spark that kindleth a great fire. "And was I not here the very day after I left ye?" asked Margery.
"Yes—you came for your wages."
"God forgive me, and so I did; but my mind was so full of my baby, that when they told me Mrs. Hartell said I must call next day, I thanked God, thinking then I should see the boy again. The milk was in my breasts yet, and pressed upon my heart like. But I should have been thinking of the money, for my own child's nurse was wanting her pay, and two miles from the village had I walked for it."
"But, Margery, I told you I would pay you the next day."
"Ah, but ye ladies never think we have not servants to send or carriages to ride in for our pay. The time is all we have. It's easy for you to say 'call again,' and 'call again,' and the time it takes to 'call again' is money to us, and ye are robbing us of it, besides holding back our own."
"Margery, you are very impertinent."
"It's the truth, and not me that's impertinent to you, Mrs. Hartell. Just listen to my story, and ye'll be convinced. 'Twas the next day I was offered a dollar for my day's work—I could not lose it, for I had two dollars a week to pay for my child—so I did it, and then in the evening walked the two miles again, to be told, when I got to your door, that you 'could not attend to it then—you were dressing for a party—I might call to-morrow.' I asked for Mr. Hartell, but he was out; so back the two miles I went; and the walk, after the heavy day's work, and fretting, brought on a fever that night, and held me a week, and dried every drop of milk in my breasts; so I lost the nurse-place I had engaged, and had to take my own poor little baby from the breast, for how was I to pay eight dollars from the seven, which was all I could get as dry-nurse? and the poor thing sickened and died, and all—all—mark it well, Mrs. Hartell, came from my not getting my money when it was due!"
Mrs. Hartell, cold and careless as she was, was startled with the consequences of her own mere thoughtlessness, and naturally sought some vindication. "How could I know, Margery, you was in such need of it?—it was a mere trifle—only your last month's wages!"
"Ye knew it was due, and that is all a lady should want to know. What seems a trifle to you is all to us."
"But how could twelve dollars be of such mighty consequence?"
"I have told you my story—it proved sickness to me and death to my child,"
"C'est bien ridicule!" exclaimed Adéle; "you desolate madame—and you very well know madame is very charitable."
"I was not after wanting charity, but my own, that madam had, and I could not get."
"Well, pray, Margery, say no more about it—it is all paid now"
"Yes, Mrs. Hartell, but paid too late."
We trust such evil consequences as Margery suffered from the want of punctuality in the employer's payment do not often occur, but they are not without a parallel. Is it not very common for ladies, far more from thoughtlessness than meditated injustice, to delay the payment of wages? Is there not a culpable inconsiderateness of the rights as well as necessities of a large class, including tradespeople and humble creditors of every sort, in that common reply to their demands, "Call again?"