Live and Let Live/Chapter XX

CHAPTER XX.
a day at mrs. hyde's.


"wake up, Lucy!" said a kindly voice, and Lucy opened her eyes, and saw Susan Hyde at her bedside wrapped in her little dressing-gown. "Mamma told me to wake you as soon as I was up. By the time you are dressed I shall be ready to show you about the breakfast."

"I am sorry," said Lucy, when they afterward went down stairs together, "to give you this trouble, but I trust once showing will serve."

"Oh! it's no trouble at all. We children have had it all to do ever since Davis was married, three weeks ago. The only disagreeable thing is asking Violet, our new cook, to help bring in the table—she is always so cross in the morning."

"I should not think your mother would keep her if she is so cross to you."

"Mercy! Mamma never sends away anybody for one fault—at least, not till she has tried, and we have all tried, our best to cure it. When we children get provoked, mamma reminds us of what some good man says, that perfection bears with imperfection, and she says she fears we have a great many faults ourselves that we are so impatient with others—and that makes us a little ashamed[1]—take care, Lucy—you have not got the crumb-cloth quite straight—mamma's eyes are just like a plumb-line—that will do. Now ask Violet—please—to help you in with the table." Lucy made the request in the humblest manner; but it was before breakfast with poor Violet, and she was possessed by the demon of dyspepsy, who does not always spare the humble, though his visitations be chiefly to the exalted. She came up stairs grumbling, "I sha'n't stay here if they don't get a man—it's not my work to lug in the table—I wonder what it's dragged out for?—to have me drag it in, I suppose."

"I am very sorry to trouble you," said Lucy, "but it is Mrs. Hyde's order that the table shall not be lifted by one alone."

"Oh, I dare say—it's easy giving orders."

"Don't you feel as well as usual this morning, Violet?" asked Susan.

"I feel well enough."

"Oh! stop a minute, Violet," called a little girl who was coming down stairs with a bottle and glass in her hand.

"What's wanted now?" barked out Violet.

"Nothing," replied little Grace, taken aback, "only mamma sent you down a glass of Congress water, and says, if you will try it every morning for two or three weeks, she thinks it will make you as pleasant as anybody."

Violet's colour mounted to the roots of her hair. "Why, Gracie!" exclaimed Susan, "I am sure mamma did not say that."

Poor Grace replied, somewhat fluttered, "Well, Susan, she said that—that is, she said—I mean—oh, I don't know what she said— only she meant if Violet was as well, she would be as good-natured as any of us." Violet's irritability, which was really merely symptomatic, was overcome by this view of the case; she was the first to smile, and, having drank the water, she thanked the little cup-bearer, and bade her thank her mother, in so changed a tone, that one might have fancied the water had the miraculous virtue of that prescribed by the prophet.

When Mrs. Hyde appeared she bestowed a kind word of approbation on Lucy for the prime order in which she found everything. Lucy transferred the praise to Susan, who, she said, understood a waiter's work as well as if she were brought up to it. Mrs. Hyde's children were "brought up" to all the details of housewifery. Before breakfast the family, every member of it, assembled and joined in a common supplication and a common thanksgiving to the Father of all.

During the meal, which was not hurried, as if the only reason for meeting round the table were to consume the food and enjoy that, Susan told her father some interesting particulars she had heard from a country lady of the best mode of rearing and taking care of silkworms, and how much finer and more plentiful the silk was if the worm was well fed, and kept clean and healthy. "And don't you think, papa," said little Grace, "she got to love them—love a worm—wasn't that funny?"

"No," interposed Susan; "for how often has papa told us we should love anything we took good care of."

"Well, then. Sue, I guess that is the reason mammy loves us so well—she takes such good care of us."

"You have guessed pretty right, Grace," said her father, smiling at her modest explanation of her mammy's tenderness; "but can you tell me, Susan, who first found out a mode of unwinding the silk from the cocoon?" "No, sir." "Can you, Gifford?" "No, sir." "Can you, Ella?" "No, sir." "Nor you, mamma?" "No, sir." A smile went round with the negative, and as Mrs. Hyde pronounced hers, her eye met Lucy's. She saw the girl was listening with lively interest, that her lips moved as if she were on the point of speaking, but were restrained by modesty. "Do you know, Lucy?" she asked. Instead of the monosyllable she expected, Lucy answered, diffidently, "I believe, ma'am, it was an Empress of China called Lou-it-see."[2]

"Why, who told you, Lucy?" asked Grace. Lucy said nothing till Mr. Hyde authorized a reply by asking where she had learned the fact. She said her mother was trying to have her brother learn to take care of silkworms, and that, seeing the advertisement of a book about them, she had purchased and read it before she sent it. "There's an example for you, my children," said Mr. Hyde; "you see that, by keeping your eyes and ears open, you may get knowledge on every hand, and communicate it." He then proceeded to state some facts in relation to the varieties of the worm and the mulberry, the extent and value of the silk product, and the immense amount of our importation of the manufactured article. Lucy was better qualified by her early education than most persons in her position to profit by such a conversation, and it seemed to her a great privilege to have the place of waiter in such a family.[3] She naturally compared the scene before her to corresponding ones; to the têtê-à-têtê breakfast at the Broadsons', where the steril talk, on the part of the husband, was of profits projected or achieved; on the part of his helpmate, a boast of a bargain, a pharisaical vaunt, or some improved plan of stinting in domestic economy. The Ardleys did not suffer so much by the comparison, for there were the redeeming qualities of good-humour and kindness, and there the children's chattering, and mamma's and papa's talk of the ball that was last evening, and the dinner that was to be to-morrow, and the new dress this lady wore, and the new horses that gentleman drove, were—something better than nothing. At the Hartells' there was worse than a total loss of this immensely powerful engine in domestic education, the family meeting at the social board, for there the children were abandoned to the vitiating influence of unprincipled servants; the father hurried down his coffee to escape as early as possible from the conjugal atmosphere; and the wife, at ten or eleven, dawdled alone and in vacuity over her distasteful breakfast. At the Simsons' there was simply the gratification of hungry healthy animals. To the Lovetts, "the dear Lovetts," Lucy recurred with pride and joy. There she had seen, under a more homely aspect, the same intelligence and goodness manifest in the interchange of domestic offices, and in imagination she—but we will not betray her; what girl or woman does not construct a home for herself, and weave her own golden fabric of domestic joys?

After breakfast Lucy proceeded to the duties of her new place, instructed, whenever she needed instruction, by her little directress Susan, who, like the divinities of the ancient fable, interposed at the moment of necessity, and then returned to her own element.[4]

As we have said, Lucy entered Mrs. Hyde's family at the moment of a general change of the officers of her household; of course, the domestic machine did not work without some trifling impediments and jars. "Martha," asked Mrs. Hyde, "have you any objection to changing works with Violet for a few weeks?" Martha did not appear to comprehend. "You know I stipulated that you were to change works whenever I requested you,"

"Oh, yes, ma'am—I calculated to be obliging, and so forth, whenever any of the folks are sick, and so on—but as to taking up cooking for a business—I can't cook anything but boiled victuals—mother could—father used to say she beat all at a potpie and a roaster."

Mrs. Hyde smiled at this vaunt of the mother's skill in what our rustic folk consider the ne plus ultra of the culinary art. "I dare say, Martha," she resumed, "your father thought a great deal of your mother for her skill in these matters; and would you not like to increase your value in some good fellow's eyes by understanding thoroughly plain cooking? If you mean to have a home of your own one of these days, Martha, it will be for your advantage, as well as for mine and Violet's, that you should go into the kitchen for a month or so—of course you take the cook's wages, and she yours." Mrs. Hyde had touched the right spring. No American girl's perspective is without a home and a good husband, and Martha, after premising that she should spoil everything she touched, consented. "Thank you, Martha," said Mrs. Hyde,

some astonishment was expressed to the mother, "Ah!" she replied, "necessity is a great teacher!"

"I trust you will spoil nothing. Our every-day dinner is a simple affair—to-day boiled fowls, a tongue, a beefsteak, potatoes, turnips, and a rice pudding. My daughter Ella will give you all necessary assistance and directions; observe them to-day, and remember them to-morrow, Martha." Martha promised to do her best, and performed her promise, but her best had many imperfections. She was careless, prodigal, and talkative, but she had the sterling qualities of truth, honesty, capacity, and attachableness; and, after a thorough trial of the patience of her instructor and of the consumers of her productions, and after much discouragement, some tears and a little fretting on her part, she acquired the art of cooking skilfully, neatly, and frugally, and felt that she had gained knowledge which would be wealth to her. We give her own view of the case in one of her gossipings with Lucy some months after. "I declare, Lucy, I would not, if the silver money were offered to me, take a thousand dollars for what I have learned since I came to this house. At first I could not feel reconciled to chopping and changing works; but when I came to realize it was for our advantage, I felt different, for it would be a sight easier for Mrs. Hyde to let us go round and round in the mill just as we were used to. It's so seldom ladies think of anything but their own profit, that it makes us kind o' jealous. When I came here I did not know how to do anything well but chamber-work, and now I would not turn my back upon the king for any kind of plain cooking, or making broths and gruels, and such things for sick folks, or any kind of housework, and sewing, patching, and darning into the bargain."

"But, Martha, you have not made the progress with your needle that Biddy has."

"La, no—I guess not—because I had the start of her at first—Miss Amy had to begin at the beginning with her; she did not know any more about handling a needle than you do about sailing a ship. Never did I see anything like Miss Amy's patience. She was copying that pictur of the Virgin Mary, and she would lay down her brushes without a wry look, and show Biddy how to fix on her patch, and, by the time her brush was going again, Biddy would get it all askew. She does it by plummet and rule now, but she is the first Irish person I ever saw that could put a patch on straight, which shows it's all in teaching—they an't stupid, but they an't privileged to use their faculties when they are young."

"Miss Amy is a beautiful seamstress," said Lucy; "she even excels my mother."

"Oh, they all beat all!" resumed Martha. "I don't mind our folks speaking all sorts of outlandish lingos, and painting, and playing on the piany, and so forth—a great many ladies that are of no use in the world—what you may call mere ornamental furniture, can do that; but what I respect them for is their understanding business, so that, if Mr. Hyde were to break to-morrow, they would be as independent as I am."

Some may smile at Martha's opinion that fortune and mere accomplishments made an accidental elevation, but we get the most accurate knowledge of life by viewing it from every position. Lucy took another view. "I respect them too, Martha," she said, "for what you do, but I love them for being so kind to everybody—not only do they treat us as if we belonged to them, but there is not one, even down to Gracie, that is not teaching some poor ignorant creature something. Did you ever see anything prettier than Gracie teaching English to those little German children, that they have saved from destruction, as it were? If every family were like this, there would be an end to poverty and misery."

"That's the Millennium, child! One swallow don't make a summer."

But we are anticipating. Violet's co-operation was essential to the execution of Mrs. Hyde's plan for the general good. She, like all English servants, had been trained to one department of labour; she had the suspicion common to foreign servants (does it arise from experience?) that her employer would impose on her, and she was anxious to obtain the highest wages, being apprehensive, from the state of her health, that she should soon be cut off from all labour. But, after a long conversation with Mrs. Hyde, she was convinced that that lady had no sinister motives—that she sacrificed present convenience to the future advantage of both employers and employed, and she gratefully accepted the opportunity of trying the effect upon her health of a removal from the heat and steam of the kitchen.

Mrs. Hyde did not hire her domestics for a month or a season, and therefore she could make a present sacrifice for a prospective good. Neither did she expect to retain them always. She knew that, in this country, where avenues for progress are open on every side, there must be changes, and one of her objects was to qualify those she employed for the happier condition that probably awaited them—to be the masters and mistresses of independent homes.[5] In short, that axiom of political economy, whose illustration should be the object of all government, was the rule of hers, "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."




A family fête concluded Lucy's first day at Mrs. Hyde's. It chanced to be Clara Lane's (mammy's) birthday. Clara had lived with Mrs. Hyde from the time of her marriage. She had taken care of all her children, from her firstborn to the youngling of the flock—the present little pet and idol of the house. Mammy had knit herself to the hearts of the children. She had watched them by night and by day through the diseases of childhood. She had been patient and gentle in all their impatience and irritability. She had overcome their little selfishnessses by the example of her generosity and self-denial. She had shown to all a steady and equal kindness; in short, she had been a second mother to them. And on her part she had been cared for, refreshed when wearied, nursed when sick, and, when in health, her comfort and gratification studied; so that, though now declining from middle life, so far from being "used up," like most of those who have spent a life in the service of children, she was vigorous and cheerful, and looking forward to a tranquil old age, when the young plants she had trained should succour and shelter her. This was her birthday, and Mrs. Hyde having asked her to invite her friends to tea, the little girls busied themselves in preparing the nursery for their reception. Each brought some little favourite embellishment, shells, pictures, &c., from her own apartment to deck "mammy's."

Susan was mistress of ceremonies, and little Grace, and Kate, a child of five years, her ministers. They served the tea, and in due time tastefully arranged a supper-table, on the middle of which they placed a vase of flowers culled for the occasion from their own cherished plants. When the fruit, &c., was served, little Kate stole up to Miss Lane with a plate covered by her silk apron; and throwing off this screen, and looking archly from the brightest, most mischievous eyes, "No chicken-salad, no oranges, no grapes for naughty mammy!" she said, and presented her a breast-pin enclosing the interwoven hair of the children. Before mammy could speak or dash off the tear that trembled in her eye, Susan, holding the smiling baby in her arms, repeated the following lines composed by her sister.

"Come Susy, Grace, Jeanie, come Kitty, I say,.
And wish your dear mammy a happy birthday:
Come Willie, yes, sweet little baby, come too,
And crow to your mammy a loving 'a-goo!'
 
"We have braided and set in a rim of bright gold,
The hair that you've comb'd and you've curl'd times untold;
'Tis but a small proof of the love that we bear
To her who has wath'd us with unceasing care."[6]

  1. A successful case of forbearance with a very serious fault occurred in the family of a lady most exemplary in her relation to her domestics. She met her cook coming from the store-room with her apron full of pilfered tea. After a long conversation with the woman, in which she was made to feel her sin and folly, her mistress offered to retain her in her service, to keep her trespass a secret, and to trust her as usual. This she did. The woman continued to live with her for a long time, and served her most faithfully and gratefully.
  2. Raynal states that Lou-it-see was made a divinity for her great discovery, and called the spirit of the mulberry and silkworm.
  3. There is a volume of poems about to issue from the press in this city, written by a person whose life has been spent in domestic service. Upon some one expressing to the author surprise at the knowledge indicated by the poems, and asking where she obtained it, she replied, "I have always lived in the society of intelligent and cultivated people." And so she had. Some of these poems would not dishonour any name in our land. We trust their publication will increase the consideration of the fortunate for their "inferiors only in position
  4. Some may doubt the competency of a child, not ten years old, to perform the tasks assigned to Susan. We have lately seen a girl not ten, the daughter of a Polish exile, who seven years ago lived not only in affluence, but luxury, the sole nurse of her mother through a lying-in, and performing the duty well, besides accomplishing various other domestic services. When some astonishment was expressed to the mother, "Ah!" she replied, "necessity is a great teacher!"
  5. One of those skilful housewives, who have the luck of having good domestics, said to me, "My only trouble is that my girls will get married."
  6. These simple lines were written and presented on a similar occasion by a girl of twelve years.