Live and Let Live/Chapter XIX

CHAPTER XIX.
a happy family

mr. hyde, one of the wealthy and busy merchants of the city of New-York, was happy in the confidence, resulting from long experience, that his home was regulated in the best manner without his interference or supervision. In all important matters, such as the proper amount of their annual expenses, the destiny of their children in life, their religious, moral, and intellectual education, the father and mother consulted and co-operated. In his pecuniary affairs Mr. Hyde had no secrets from his wife. He did not cautiously hide from her his successes, and pour into her troubled ear his losses and disappointments, nor did he show only the bright side, and conceal every rising cloud, as if she were as weak as a sick child, till the storm burst on her unprepared head, but she was made perfectly acquainted with his affairs, and conformed her expenditures thereto. She kept her accounts accurately. Within the limits she prescribed to herself she expended liberally, acting nobly up to that truth which most admit, that in our country there are manifold reasons against, and none for, accumulating fortunes for children. She never disturbed her husband with the details of her domestic economy. She never bothered him with complaints of her servants, with consultations about her table, her furniture, or her childrens' dress; all these matters she arranged, and he enjoyed the results. We would not imply that all husbands who do not adopt this system of noninterference, and who do not act up to the spirit of a confidential and equal matrimonial partnership, are in fault. We acknowledge, with sorrow and humiliation, that there are many wives not capable of acting "well their part" in their own sphere, and that few deserve the unqualified confidence Mrs. Hyde had painfully earned by her self-education. But since the discovery is made that a woman is capable of something besides praying, loving, sewing, and spinning, or, to cite Molière's own words, that it is not enough

"Pour elle à vous en bien parler,
De savoir prier Dieu, m'aimer coudre et filer;"

her talents should be cultivated with reference to her whole domestic duty.[1] It is as consummate a folly to permit an American girl to grow up ignorant of household affairs, as it would be to omit mathematics in the education of an astronomer, or the use of the needle in the training of a milliner. But, leaving our theory to the consideration of mothers, we proceed to the homely details of Mrs. Hyde's housewifery. This lady had now been married seventeen years. Her eldest daughter was sixteen, her youngest less than a year. After the four years of her novitiate, she has rarely changed her domestics, "preferring" (we quote the words of an admirable mistress of a family) "the trouble of dismissing her servants' faults to the pain and manifold disadvantage of dismissing them." She bore in mind that they were the weak and neglected children of the great family, doomed by circumstances to be wanderers and aliens, and subject to wrong biases and bad influences. She was patient and long suffering with them, willing to forbear, to toil, and wait, if, in the touching language of Scripture, she might "thereby save a brother."

About the time of Lucy's entrance into the family, there had been a general change of operatives, and none of those long proved remained save Clara Lane, better known by her alias of "mammy." Davis, Mrs. Hyde's man, had served her for fourteen years, and continued to perform his humble duties accurately, after the avails of his industry, fortunately invested by Mr. Hyde, amounted to three thousand dollars.[2]

Then his attachment to the Hydes being mastered by a long-ripening attachment to Mrs. Hyde's seamstress, he married, and removed to the land of promise—the indefinite West. Mrs. Hyde's cook, a worthy maiden of fifty, and most accomplished in her art, having succeeded to an inheritance of some half dozen nieces, was advised by her mistress to set up a pastry-cook's establishment. The young girl whose book of accounts Mrs. Hyde was overlooking at the moment of Lucy's introduction was one of the aforesaid nieces, whom Mrs. Hyde had rescued from a drunken father some years before, and who had recently been qualified for bookkeeper to her aunt by Ella Hyde's instructions. The chambermaid had achieved the usual destiny of our countrywomen, had married, and (unlike most persons in her condition) had completely furnished a snug little house from her savings, besides reserving something against a wet day. Now all these virtues and prosperity, to be transmitted and spread in widening circles, were, for the most part, the result of the fidelity of one mistress of a family!

Before Lucy retired for the night, Mrs. Hyde took her aside to give her the necessary instructions. "Are you an early riser, my child?" she asked.

"I have not been of late, ma'am—I used to be; but I find what mother said is true—it takes a great while to form good habits, and a very little while to fall into bad ones."

"You will find, too, that it is not difficult to recover good habits once formed. In the mean time my daughter Susan will call you."

"Your daughter, ma'am!—do your young ladies rise as early as the servants?"

"Yes—often earlier. Time, you know, Lucy, is most precious to those who make the best use of it. I do not like to see one minute wasted, and least of all by my children."

"I always thought, ma'am, that young ladies must have more sleep than servants."

"No," replied Mrs. Hyde, smiling; "I believe that young persons who live in one part of the house require just as much sleep as young persons who live in another part of it. In those families where there are idle members and working members, the workers, of course, require most."

"Ma'am!" said Lucy, in a sort of maze. We believe that Lucy's surprise was owing to her very limited experience; but certainly, in the three wealthy families in which she had lived, she had never seen a practical acknowledgement that all the members were governed by the same physical laws. "I mean, Lucy," resumed Mrs. Hyde, "that all my family must have as much sleep as their constitutions require, and no more. It is a kind of suicide to allow more time than is necessary to sleep. When you are up, Lucy, do you not wish, before you begin your day's work, a little time to yourself?"

"I always had it, ma'am, when I lived at home and at Mrs. Lovett's; but no one else that I have lived with ever spoke to me about it, or seemed to remember that a servant might want time to say her prayers."

"Have you lived without them, then?"

"Indeed I have not, Mrs. Hyde. Mother always told us that the heart can rise to God in prayer at any time, just as a little child, when it is in the room with its mother, whatever happens, turns its eyes to her. Sometimes in the thickest of my work, and always when I feel either very glad or very sorry—" Lucy paused, and a blush overspread her cheek; she was abashed at the thought of how freely she, who had never spoken on such subjects but to her mother, was confiding her spiritual experience. "Go on, my child," said Mrs. Hyde, with a smile so sweet and kind that Lucy forgot everything but that she was talking to one who listened with interest. "I was only going to say, ma'am, that I could always pray, even at Mrs. Hartell's, where there was no outward sign there was a God—except little Eugene, and he seemed to me just like an angel from heaven; and I felt sometimes, when his head lay on my bosom, as if we were worshipping together."

"Oh, how much better is this true worship," thought Mrs. Hyde, "than formal prayers and set days." "Maintain this spirit, my dear child," she replied; "this is praying without ceasing. Take a few moments before you leave your room to consider your duty to God and your duties in the family. A sense of our responsibility to God will make us faithful in the discharge of our duties to one another. I try to make all who live with me feel that they are working for something besides the wages I pay them—for something higher than my favour—far better than my affection—for the love of God. In this service we are all fellow-workers and fellow-servants. Is not this a bond strong enough to bind us all together, Lucy?"

"Oh, yes, ma'am!" Lucy wiped away the tears that poured over her cheeks. "If mother only knew what a place I am in now, I should be willing she should know all my troubles."

"Wait, Lucy, till you have tried us—you young people are apt to take anticipations for experience. But I am getting on slowly in my instructions to you. You will have the waiter's work to do till my new waiter comes. One thing will perhaps be new to you in my house, Lucy. I do not confine any person to a single department, and I will tell you why; for I find, if the reason of my arrangements is understood, they are apt to be better liked. In the first place, I wish my domestics to remain with me as long as it is for our mutual welfare to live together. I have observed that the jealousies and bickerings among domestics often arise from disputes about their work. One says, this is not my work; and another, that is not mine; and Mary imposes, and Biddy shirks. Now I wish each one to be capable of performing the duty of the other, and to have that spirit of kindness that she will be willing to do it, and sure that the favour will be returned. And besides, Lucy, if a woman spends years in nothing but cooking, when she has a family of her own how will she know how to take care of her house, take care of her children, make their clothes, &c.? or, if she spends ten years in the nursery, she will not know how to cook her husband's dinner. My girls all get married after a while; and I wish that, while they are serving me, they should have that sort of education that will enable them to make their own homes prosperous and happy."

"That's very kind of you, ma'am—but does not changing works so make a great deal of confusion?"

"No confusion arises, Lucy, from your being my chambermaid this summer and my seamstress next winter—to be sure, I must teach you to sew well, but the next year that will prove a great gain to us both. No, Lucy, confusion in families arises from ignorance, bad temper, jealousy, and disobligingness; never, I believe, from being well qualified to perform any office, and willing to serve in it "[3]

"I am sure you will find me willing, Mrs. Hyde, and it will be my fault if I do not become capable. Who shall I ask to show me where to find the breakfast things, ma'am?"

"It is Susan's turn this week to see to such matters. You will have everything ready at half past seven precisely. Susan will show you how to arrange the breakfast-room."

"Miss Susan, ma'am!—is not that the young lady who was taking the French lesson?"

"Yes."

"She show me, Mrs. Hyde! she does not seem older than Miss Ophelia Hartell."

"Susan is past nine."

"And Miss Ophelia is ten. What a difference!" Lucy did not explain further, nor did Mrs. Hyde inquire. Poor Ophelia's operative faculties were as undeveloped as a child's born without hands.

"When you go up to bed, Lucy," resumed Mrs. Hyde, " take a pail of water with you. You will find all conveniences for washing. Wash yourself from head to foot. This I require of all persons under my control at least once in twenty-four hours; it will contribute to your health, and in a little while you will find it essential to your comfort." She then commended Lucy's very neat arrangement of her hair, and enjoined particular attention to her teeth; and Lucy, all astonishment at this maternal interest, was reminded of Mrs. Broadson having on a certain occasion said to her, "A fine pass things have come to when even servants must brush their teeth—why, I had never heard of a toothbrush at your age!!"

"She seems just as kind as mother, or Mrs. Lovett," thought Lucy, as Mrs. Hyde bade her good-night; and, grateful for the storm that had driven her into such a harbour, she retired to her sleeping apartment. This she shared with Martha, the chambermaid. They had separate beds. A portable screen divided the room into two parts, securing to each, if desired, privacy. Martha, having had sole possession for three or four weeks, seemed to feel it her part to do the hospitalities of the apartment. She was, as is obvious, an American. "Here," she said, "is a tub to wash you, and plenty of nice soap. Mrs. Hyde is the most musical woman about washing, and the whole family are like ducks—but every one has notions! Here is a large closet, with shelves and drawers—no locks—and there's none on their own! You must keep your things in their places; for, when you least expect it, Mrs. Hyde or one of the girls goes the rounds, and everything is put in a heap in the second story entry. I tell you I felt beat when I found my flannel petticoat there beside one of the little ladies best bonnets! Is not it a pretty room? this nice matting is so easy to keep clean, and blinds, and as good mattresses as any lady could wish, and everything so tidy about the beds, and a looking-glass that don't make you look as if your face was all agee; and only see here!" she added, withdrawing a little green curtain, "see this shelf of books; not the Bible only, but a whole row, to instruct and entertain you too—and, what is more, she loves to have you get time to enjoy yourself reading; and the long and the short of it is, that she and all her children seem to have a realizing sense that their help have minds and hearts as well as they. I have lived in a great many places, and with good people that behaved, some of them, I am free to own it, handsomer to me than I did to them; but never did I see a family I respected as I do Mr. Hyde's. It makes you feel like folks to have such a room as this, instead of a little stived up place, with just a nail here and there to hang your gowns on, broken chairs, a tottering table, and a bed that looks and feels any how. Such things show which way the wind blows; what rich folks think of poor folks. The ladies' rooms will be fixed off with everything, wardrobes, bureaus, dressing-tables, sofas, lounges, looking-glasses of all shapes and sizes, curtains, and piles of mattresses, perfumes enough to strangle you, and all sorts of notions that have no use but just to be taken care of and make work for us—something of a contrast to our sky-rooms! It gives one thoughts to think of it, and feelings too. Times are changed. It's no longer lords and ladies in the parlour, and slaves in the kitchen; but it's a kind of partnership concern, and in this family your share is fairly divided out to you; and I freely own, that if I could stay here, I should be contented to be help all my life."

"Contented and most thankful, I should think," said Lucy, availing herself of Martha's very first pause to express her sentiment.

"Why, yes, kind o' and kind o' not thankful, that, if you must live out, you live in such a place; but not thankful that you have not a home of your own—home is home, and we always hanker after it; but contented—yes—quite contented." How long Martha's garrulity might have led her on expressing, in her homely way, her not very dim perceptions of the present modification of the relation between employers and employed, we know not, for her harangue was cut short by Lucy's adverting to her vigil of the preceding night; and both, sifter duly honouring Mrs. Hyde's notions by performing the prescribed ablutions, retired to bed.

  1. "Talents," says Sir James McIntosh, "are the habitual powers of execution."
  2. As I wish to avoid the imputation of exaggeration, I venture to state a corresponding fact in the family of a gentleman, by birth, education, and station one of the first men in Massachusetts. I chanced to be dining at this house, when he said to his wife (we had just returned from a drive to Mount Auburn), "How do you like your new horses?" "Mine!—you surely have not brought them?—we do not want them." "No, not exactly, but Horace" (the coachman) "took such a fancy to them I could not deny him." On making some inquiries about the domestic thus indulged, I found he had served the family some twenty years; that he was worth between 6 and 7,000 dollars; that he was a colonel in the militia; and that, at public dinners in Boston on gala days, he took precedence of his employer and his employer's son, both men of the first consideration in the city. He waited at table with perfect respectfulness and propriety. Of course his attachment to the family alone retained him in their service. Is not this instance worth a volume of speculation upon the possible happiness of domestic service and the exercise of the virtues in the relation of employers and employed? We trespass so far upon private correspondence as to insert here a tribute to American domestics, contained in a letter written by Mrs. Butler after her recent departure for England. "I left all my own household crying, and entreating to return to me whenever I returned; and do you know my heart smote me so dreadfully for what I had said about American servants, that I felt as if I must turn round on the threshold of my own door and beg all their pardons." It must be remembered to the honour of employer and employed in this case, that attachment, and not necessity, was the bond. Mrs. Butler's domestics could probably command fifty places on the day they left her house. Mrs. Butler's compunction was more generous than just, for, in her much-abused journal, she has given an unqualified testimony to the truth and integrity of American servants
  3. In those countries where the whole life is passed in servitude, the principle of a division of labour is not so objectionable. It is certainly most convenient to the employer. He who devotes all his mind and the whole of his life to making the hinges of a watch will make them more accurately than he who constructs the whole watch. But if by any chance the hingemaker is ejected from that department, he is good for nothing. An accomplished English servant is always found inferior for the service of an American family to a well-brought up American domestic, whose faculties are thoroughly developed by our miscellaneous service.