« PreviousContinue »
IF the descriptions of foreign travellers be not exaggerated, and some of the scenes of domestic life to be found in periodicals, painted by native pencils, be not for effect's sake coloured too highly, we must suppose that housekeepers have their own difficulties in “getting along,” and that society is at present in the attitude of an inverted pyramid, the apex much in danger of being bruised flat, and mingled with the superincumbent weight of its base. Nevertheless, we English are not in a condition to judge the matter, unless we take in various considerations, which require to be searched about for, and hunted out of unsuspected quarters. In a newspaper account of a trial, you may see how a scavenger in the witness-box states, that “when he first observed the gentleman, he was filling the dungcart;" or in visiting that dreary police-prison, “the Tombs,” a name as dreary as itself, you will be gravely told, “The lady in this cell is not connected with me, we only live together for the present.” You might almost think they were associated together by choice. The “lady,” your informant, has huge glittering ear-rings, and jet-black ringlets; and the “ lady,” her “associate for the present,” has an ugly black eye, however she came by it. With this view of gentlemen and ladies, we may begin to suspect that it is not the pyramid of society which has suffered inversion, but the old ordering of language. Suppose this, and your astonishment ceases, when you hear that a person rings at your door, and asks if “ the woman of the house be at home, for I am the lady that have come to help her (to) cook.”
Another circumstance, we, as lookers-on, have to learn. In that country, so plentifully supplied with luxurious food, there are no distinctions made between what is consumed in the dining-room and the hall. No fruits are so costly or rare as to be treasured up to appear again on the family table. There are no viands which the domestics are prohibited to touch. A lady receives without surprise, as an explanation why her bell has been so long unanswered, that her waiting-woman had not had anything comfortable since breakfast, and was finishing a glass of jelly recommended to her by the housekeeper.
In two houses situated in cities many hundred miles apart, the following little incident has surprised me:-The children had been allowed to sit up late to see the guests. They had bid goodnight and gone away, but presently returned ; and when, on a second or third return, mamma was troubled, and inquired, she had for reason what she seemed to receive as satisfactory, that nurse was having her ice, and could not come till she was ready. That part of the company's supper would have been spoiled for nurse's taste if she first put her charge to bed! If this arises from the goodtempered indulgence of the mistress, I venture to think it is carried beyond discretion. If she cannot help herself, there is need for amendment in the order of things.
A lady told me what befell her brother in the “far west.” Let it be always remembered, that the state of things there is so new and utterly different from the east, and the west seems so indefinitely far, that eastern people do not shrink from criticising manners and notions there, and are also ready to invite the observation of strangers.
The brother was a young lawyer who had left a rising city, the scene of his labours, and gone to ruralise in his clearing, where his house and its appliances were as comfortable as is usual in such circumstances. Some of his brethren of the bar met him at the assizes, and told him they were coming to see his settlement and dine with him next day. The friendly youth hastened home intent on his hospitalities, intending that never heartier dinner smoked on board than should grace his tomorrow. He was sorely disconcerted to find that his housekeeper had gone home, without leave or
warning. He rode from clearing to clearing, seeking “help.” But none was to be had, as everybody was as independent and averse to servitude as himself. He was musing on his own talent for roasting turkey and boiling ham, and about to return crestfallen and discomfited to receive his friends, when a damsel compassionated his case so as to propose to "go cook” on condition of being at table with the guests, as she would be no man's servant, and had never cooked a dinner of which she had not partaken. The terms were gladly accepted. Without doubt her independent character, and the American respect for the female sex, secured her becoming treatment, but one feels persuaded that the awkwardness of her position must have produced some quarrel between the compassion and the dignity which had, when united, placed her in so new and curious a situation. This, however, it must be re-urged, was in the far west.
Another circumstance, which never could have occurred in England, may be related.
On a very stormy and cold Sunday, having caught cold at morning church, I resolved to remain by the fireside in my chamber in the afternoon, and purposely invited a young Scotchwoman to come to me, when all should be gone to church. She was a stranger, and a sudden and early widow, and, but for the benevolence of the friends I visited, would have been without a shelter. I wished to discuss her prospects, to let her tell her troubles, and take
the great relief to a full heart, if she needed it, of having a good hearty cry beside me. I wished to try to lead her to the only consolation which will never fail, and to tell her of the faithfulness of the widow's God. She had scarcely been persuaded to take a seat, when the old housekeeper introduced herself uninvited. When asked quietly if she wanted anything, she said it was very cold, she wished to put more wood on the fire. After she had done this, she deliberately drew forward a rocking-chair, established herself in the centre of the hearth, and began to tell me of the ignorance of my young countrywoman, who, when she first came, would have dined with the coloured people if she had not been there to rescue her from such a disgrace. When asked what harm it would have done her if she had, she seemed to discover that all people from Caledonia were alike savage in their ideas, and said, “She was a native American, they all knew better than to associate with such ; keep them at a distance—if you give them an inch, they will take an ell. She had rather eat all her meals standing in her own bed-room all her life than eat with one of them.” “Well, now, that seems strange to me ;-cook is dark, every morsel you eat comes through coloured hands; and Ben and Will that wait at table do everything for us, and I don't feel that we get any harm from them.” “Wait ! yes, that's another thing—keep them under, and they do well enough ; but let them once look up the least bit, and there's an end of