Live and Let Live/Chapter VI

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Live and Let Live by Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Chapter VI. More Rules than right

CHAPTER VI.

MORE RULES THAN RIGHT.


Judy Phealan was with Bridget when Lucy returned. Bridget's countenance was lowering. "You've been in mighty haste," she said.

"I was afraid Mrs. Broadson would be at home, and wanting something; and I did not wish you to have the trouble of my work, Biddy."

"I don't care how soon I have it all — but you are sure to keep on the blind side of Mrs. Broadson."

"Indeed," said Lucy, "I did not know she had a blind side, Biddy." With all Lucy's fidelity she had never extracted from her hardbound mistress one approving word, it being one of that lady's golden "rules" not to praise servants, lest they should take advantage of it!

Nearly two weeks passed without any recordable event in the life of our humble heroine, but they were not profitless. The Father of all leads his faithful children by no barren way. For them there are gleanings in the most steril fields. Lucy, while serving others, was educating herself. Besides the daily exercise of difficult virtues, she was increasing her value by learning to perform domestic offices well. Mrs. Broadson had not given her life and her soul to house-affairs without excelling, and Lucy learned in her novitiate the most thorough mode of dusting, how most accurately to make a bed, the best way of cleaning plate, and that heavy duty of our winters, polishing brasses.

"Mother was mistaken about one thing," thought she, as day after day passed without her painstaking winning one compensating smile. "I shall never make friends here." Lucy despaired too soon.

Mrs. Broadson's spouse had some infirmities that were particularly annoying to her. He had an inveterate habit of dropping his handkerchief, misplacing the newspaper, mislaying his spectacles, and leaving his snuff-box on the mantelpiece. These misdeeds called forth strictures from his lady that, in their irritating effect, were much like a smoky chimney, or a shower of hail in the face. "How strange! Mr. Broadson," she would exclaim, "why can't you just tuck the newspaper under these books — I always do; there! you've sot down your box in the old place — if there's anything that tries me, it's living in such a litter! — it's so unnecessary when there are only two of us!" Now our friend Lucy had an uncommon portion of that sixth sense, which enables a person to see, hear, and feel for others, called in polite life tact; and by rectifying these little blunders of Broadson, slipping the newspaper into the right place, picking up the handkerchief before the argus' eye had fallen on it, &c., &c., she had, though he was rather oyster-like in the selfish independence of his existence, begun to elicit sparks of gratitude which appeared in a "bless me!" and then, as his sensibilities were roused by a sense of the pattering escaped, a "thank you, child!" "an attentive little girl!" and finally, when one evening, as he heard his wife's quick step approaching through the entry, he shoved a lamp off the table, which Lucy dexterously caught before a drop of oil had touched the Brussels carpet, he actually thrust his hand into his pocket with the intention of bestowing a half dollar, as the reward of his signal preservation, when he was prevented either by the too sudden entrance of Mrs. Broadson, or the recollection of one of her economical "rules" that "it was never best to give presents to servants — it always led to expectations!"

When the tea-apparatus and Lucy had disappeared, some secret thought of his sudden deliverance prompted him to ask his spouse "what wages she gave that little girl."

"Three dollars and a half, my dear — high — considering her years, and considering there are only two of us."

"Why, no, my love, I don't think it is gant, considering she makes out to do all Jaboski's work, and a good deal besides; indeed, I was thinking, as you 'make it a rule' not to give presents, that perhaps we could afford, now Jaboski's wages are saved, to give her four dollars a month."

"My dear! are you raving? You know I make it a rule never to raise wages. You would directly give them the idea we sot a great value on their services."

"So it would, my love—you are right," replied the acquiescing husband, his natural sense of justice soon lost in his habitual subjection to the strong current of his wife's superior selfishness.

The next day, when Mr. Broadson came home to dinner, after two or three extra pinches of snuff, and a-hems and ha-as, he announced to his wife that Jaboski had given him warning he should leave him when his month was up.

"Leave you!—why, what an ungrateful wretch! What reason does he give?"

"Oh, he says he must get porter's wages for porter's work!"

"What impertinence! but 'tis astonishing how soon they all learn it here. Somebody has been talking to him. I thought it was a risk to let him out of the house".

"Yes—that was a mistake. As soon as they learn English, their working for half price is all over.[1] He made out to tell me that the major of the regiment he served in in Poland was in the city, and sick and poor, and it was for him he wanted to earn more money."

"Foolish fellow! I wonder what good money does them! Well, I'll look out for another; you know I have never failed yet, my dear. But I think I never was so plagued as now. Bridget has not been the same since Lucy came here."

"What does that mean?"

"Why, Bridget has got a kind of a cousin, you know — the Irish are all cousins — one Judy Phealan, that she has been wild to get here, and I had told her she might come, when Lucy applied. I liked Lucy's looks and her mother's, and those Irish are so sluttish and hard to teach, and Lucy was in a desperate hurry to get a place, and t'other one I could have any time, and so I concluded to take Lucy, and Bridget has really sot up about it; but I expect she'll come to; if she don't, I must take Judy, for I can't part with Bridget?"

"I should think it would be easier supplying Bridget's place than Lucy's."

"My dear! give me leave to say you know nothing about it."

"That is not your fault, my love, for I seldom hear you talk about anything else."

Mrs. Broadson hardly knew whether to understand this reply as a compliment or sarcasm, and she answered accordingly. "To be sure, my dear, as there are only two of us — and everybody says, as well as me, that it's the most momentious subject in this country, and will be as long as we are at the mercy of our servants." Mrs. Broadson then proceeded to detail to Mr. Broadson, for the fortieth time probably, the nature of Bridget's services, but rather too circumstantially for the entertainment of our readers. The amount of it was, that Bridget was a woman of great strength, capacity, and industry; that she accomplished more work than two ordinary women; and that all her work was well done, and that Mrs. Broadson had "made it an object", as she had stated to Bridget, to stay, by paying her above the average wages, and giving her many indulgences. "These cost us nothing, as there are only two of us," the lady truly thought.

The Saturday night preceding Lucy's third Sunday at service, and the day of her promised periodical visit home, arrived. Judy stole in about teatime, as was her custom, and Lucy was the first to observe and remark that she did not look well. To Bridget's eager inquiries she answered that she had had a sore throat, and chills and burning heats all day, and the people were out, and nobody to go for a drop of water.

"And ye'll get your death in that cold garret, ye will, Judy — I'll have no more of it," said Bridget, bursting into tears, and taking Judy on her lap.

"Something must be done to-night," said Lucy, more in the habit of remedying an evil than crying over it.

"Ye need not tell me that!" replied Bridget; and, wiping away her tears, and swallowing her sobs, she went up stairs and electrified her mistress with the information that she must look out for another in her place, as she "would not live in the king's palace to be queen of it, if she could not have Judy to be with her — the lone thing, that had nobody in the wide world to care for her but her!" Though Mrs. Broadson was resolved upon the sacrifice of Lucy rather than part with Bridget, yet it being one of her golden "rules" "never to let servants feel that they have the upper hand," she carefully avoided sudden concession, and merely said, "Perhaps I can make it an object for you to stay; at any rate, don't look out for a place till next week."

"I've something else to do," thought poor Bridget, as she hastened back to the sick child, "and what in the world am I to do with her!" She met Lucy at the kitchen door, who, shutting it so as not to be overheard, said, in her most gentle voice, "I think you did not understand me, Bridget, when I said 'something must be done to-night;' I meant Judy could not go out of the house, for it's a cold storm, and she's getting worse every minute. Now, if you will put her into your bed, I can sit up in the kitchen, and I can keep her drink warm and bring it up to you. If we can get her in a perspiration, she will be better directly — that's always mother's way with a sudden cold."

"But," said Bridget, in a softened voice, "you can't sit up all night, and you such a childer."

"Oh, yes, I've often done it with our Jemmie, and not felt it; and," she continued, encouraged by Bridget's softened manner, "I'll go first of all to Mrs. Broadson, and ask for some liniment for Judy's throat."

"Bless your kind heart! — stop a bit — she'll be after sending her home! First we'll just get her snug in the bed, and then my old lady must make the best of it."

This mode of proceeding was not according to Lucy's code, which prescribed to her to act openly; but this was Bridget's affair, and she quietly followed her with the lamp while she carried Judy to the attic. "Now, Lucy, honey," said Bridget, "keep a dumb tongue, and take this shilling, and fetch the liny-stuff from the 'potecaries.' It will be soon enough to be after telling her when we can't help it."

"But if the bell should ring, and we both out of the kitchen?"

"You're not such a natural, Lucy, you can't give a rason when it's wanted?"

"But I must give the right one, Biddy." Bridget was too much absorbed in Judy, and too grateful for Lucy's services, to be offended by the implication of Lucy's reply, and she had quite forgotten it when Lucy returned, sooner than she expected, with the liniment, and a bag of warmed sand, which "Mother said (and truly) was the best thing in the world to lay to cold feet."

"Ah, how should ye know everything, and ye such a childer?"

"It's having our Jemmie always sick, and mother to teach me."

"Och, poor Judy! All her mother did for her was to bring her into this miserable world, poor darlint! God help her! But hark! there's the bell!"

"And what is all this pattering up and down stairs for?" asked Mrs. Broadson, who had an ubiquitous pair of ears. Lucy explained. "And who proposed putting that sick child to bed in my house, and no leave asked?"

"I did, ma'am; she was too sick to go out such a night, and I did not think you would have any objection to my giving up my place to her."

"She was not too sick to come out, if she was to go out. In future, remember, I make it a "rule" never to take a sick person into my house — it's very dangerous — we might get our deaths — and there are only two of us. Well, I trust Bridget will send her off before breakfast — don't tell her I know anything about it."

"If she asks me, ma'am?"

"Nonsense! she won't; but if she does you can turn it off without telling a lie."

"I don't wonder," thought Lucy, "mother gave me so many, many charges about being steadfast in the truth. Who could have thought that a lady as old as Mrs. Broadson could have as good as told such a child as I am to lie! but I guess I shall find there's not many like mother, who thinks everybody ought to try to make everybody else as good as well as as happy as they can." Alas, no! there are not many governed by these divine principles - these moral steam-engines.

Lucy's evening was a busy one. One of Mrs. Broadson's "rules" being, that "whatever was left undone, the work must be done." All human concerns were by this lady divided into two parts; the work was the kernel, the remainder the shell. Fortunately for Lucy, work was no evil to her, as appeared by her answer to Jaboski, when he said, in the course of the evening, "You too much work for one so little girl." She replied, "Oh, no, Jaboski, work keeps off bad feelings; when I am so busy, I can't think of mother and Jemmie."

"Ah! the same with me, Lucy; when I too much work, I not think of mine poor country-people." With what blessings has a beneficent Providence begirt labour; with health and appetite, sweet sleep, and peace of mind!

When her last task was done, Lucy crept softly up stairs. Bridget was sleeping soundly, and Judy too was asleep, but her cheek was of a scarlet die, and her breathing so oppressed, that Lucy, after another hour's watch, repeated her visit to the attic. She found Bridget just waked from her sound sleep by Judy's suffocating cough, and terrified out of her wits. The poor child thought herself dying; her terror increased her oppression, and she clung around Bridget's neck with the grasp of a drowning person. "Lord Almighty help us!" exclaimed Bridget, "she's the last of all my people, and she's going! Och, Lucy, could you be after going for the priest this stormy night, and the Almighty's blessing on you?" While Bridget was uttering these ejaculations and entreaties, Lucy was wrapping a cloak round Judy. "We must first take her to the kitchen, and put her in a warm bath — the water, and the tub, and all is ready — I knew she'd want it; and then, Biddy, you can run for the doctor that lives up the street. We'll get the priest, if wanted, to-morrow; I've seen Jemmie as bad as this, and quite easy before morning."

"Ye're the Almighty's own comfort to me," replied Bridget, her energies rekindling with the light of hope; "and if she wins through, poor lamb, I'll down on my knees to you for all my ungrateful thoughts!" This was said while she was hurrying down stairs with her precious burden in her arms, regardless of the danger of offending the mistress of the house, who, roused from her cat-sleep by the unwonted noise, surlily called to know "what all the racket meant." Lucy stopped and respectfully explained. "La, it's only a cold," replied Mrs. Broadson; "the Irish are always scared out of their wits—it's hard we can't be allowed to sleep when there's only two of us!" and she closed the door, thinking it was no further her concern than as it invaded her comfort.

Judy was immersed in the bath and the physician called; and his prescriptions harmonizing with the restoratives Lucy had advised, Judy was speedily relieved. "Bless the sweet eyes of ye, Lucy," said Bridget, "you it was that saved her to me, and I it was that wronged ye; but true as the word stands in the Holy Bible, I thought that, as St. Paul says, I had the right of it. But ye will be after forgiving me when ye know all the bad luck that's broken my heart. We were but five of us in Ireland, and that was before Mike, God rest his soul, was killed fighting with the rebellion-ruffian about the cow that kept poor Judy's breath in her, for her mother's husband, that was to be, was taken off for a soldier, and so she fretted herself to death for that it was, and not borning the baby that killed her; and then the old gentleman—my father that was, was took off to the Limerick jail for Mike's business, and the boys got him out, and hid him in the rocks up the country, and there of hardship, and starvation, and fretting, and the like, he died. My own father it was, Lucy, and he that had a kind word for even the dog at his door; and then my mother, ah! her heart was always bending like, not breaking, went to live with her sister's son's wife, and Judy with her, and I came off to America to earn money to fetch them over. Here I thought it was but asking service, and getting it, and pay for it! The first lady I went to, she asked me, 'Did I understand the work in a gentleman's family?' and I said, 'Troth and I did not, but I was asy tached;' but she'd not take the trouble of taching a raw hand, and so to the next I just rubbed down the truth a bit, and said sure there was some things I did not quite understand; she asked me would I take lower wages till I learned; upon no account, I told her, for the learning was the sevarest of all; so she laughed and took me, and a happy time I should have had there, but the lady found fault with my dress not being smart like the others. And would I be after buying clothes, and my mother and Judy starving-like, and every month a year to me till they came. But I kept my rasons to myself, and got another place, where work was light, plenty of everything spent and wasted, and the lady riding all the day, and out all the evening; but in three months they failed, so that place was gone; but they paid me handsomely, good luck to them! Then I went to another great house, where I did my best, for my wages were high, and paid when I asked for them; but the lady was always finding fault with my 'Irish ways,' as she called them; and what ways would she have of me, I asked her, that was born and bred, and passed all my happy life in Ireland, save ten miserable months and six days in America, with ladies that could find fault with my Irish ways and never tached me better? so she called me 'partinent,' and I looked out for another place. This time my luck changed. It was to Mrs. Tilson's I went—the Almighty bless her. It was but middling wages I got there, and plenty of work, for I was the only one they kept, and he but a bookkeeper, and she a dilicate woman with plenty of small children. But then she laid out the work complately for me, and gave a lift herself when it was heavy, and was always taking thought for me, and asking when I heard from mother and Judy; when a letter came to me there was a rejoicing from the very top to the very least little one in the family. Mr. Tilson would say, 'So you've good news, Biddy?' and then Mrs. Tilson—bless her sweet voice—'You've good news, Biddy?' and Harry Tilson—their oldest—a bright lad he was, 'You've good news, Biddy? and so they handed it down to little Archy, who could just lisp it out, 'You've dood news, Biddy!' Och, they were just like the angels in heaven; where there was joy with one, there was joy with all. Everything I know I learned there; Mrs. Tilson was always telling me there is a right and a wrong way to everything, Biddy, and she showed me the right way to do this, and tached me the right way to do t'other. Ah, if the ladies were the like of her, half the trouble with their people would be over, and t'other half would not be to spake of. And when the bitter news of my mother's death came, she cried with me, and they all cried, from the top of the house down to Archy; sure, Lucy, it lightens the heart to have others fret with you."

"Oh, Biddy, how could you leave such people?"

"Sure and they left me, Lucy. It was a burning day in August when Mr. Tilson fell in a fit; the doctors said it all came from writing too constant, so they moved off into the country. I would have gone with them, but there was poor Judy yet to be got over. Mrs. Tilson recommended me here. I told her, was it the work I cared for, so I was sure of being well paid; she said I would get plenty of work, and she would see I was well paid, and she it was herself that made the bargain for me; but sure, Lucy, I would rather live with the Tilsons' for the salt to my gruel, than with this woman for the best wages in New-York. But when you have a rason for it, Lucy, you can do and bear till you die. At last the money went, and Judy came, and sure I was as plased as if all Ireland had been in my arms; and it was all to me, my poor father, and mother, and Mike, and my sister, that was the last and least of us all, lying low, and her husband that was to be, gone—the Lord knows where! Sure I have wronged you, Lucy, and sorry am I for that same; but was not it natural-like I should want Judy to snug down under my wing. I did not let on to Mrs. Broadson she was my own dare sister's child, for the ladies are not fond of getting near kin together, lest they should favour one another, bad luck to them that would keep all God's blessings to themselves. I said she was my cousin, and is not she? and a dale more; and Mrs. Broadson engaged with her, and the steps were scarce cold from her feet when you came with your mother. You know the rest; but maybe you don't know that, when poor Judy came that morning with her bits of things, Jaboski had orders to send her away without calling me; and when you came, my breast was all on fire, and so it kept burning, for Judy was fretting, and I looking for a place for the two, and could find none, and yon every night lying warm at my side, when poor little Judy, the last of all the Phealans, was sleeping alone quite in a cold garret."

"I don't wonder at your feelings, Biddy; I should have felt just so if any one had come between me and our Jemmie. But you should have spoken out, Biddy. Mother says the simple truth spoken saves many a heartburn."

"Sure that's just the truth of it—you have tached me a good lesson—it's asy learning of them that's good to us! It was in a pet that I was when I gave Mrs. Broadson warning, but I'll find a place for Judy and me; now that I am rid of the bad blood, it all seems quite asy."

But not to poor Lucy did it all seem quite so "asy." Her nice sense of right bade her relinquish her place in Judy's favour. Bridget's wants it was not easy to supply. Lucy was sure of procuring some place; and though she dreaded the horrid business of going again in search of one, she did not hesitate; but, without consulting Bridget, who, in the flood-tide of her gratitude, would be sure to oppose her intentions, she hastened to the breakfast-room.

"The breakfast things are waiting for you, child," said Mrs. Broadson; "you must not give the day, as well as the night, to that sick child." When, after a host of directions to Lucy as to the petty domestic duties of the day, she stopped to take breath, Lucy said, "I believe, Mrs. Broadson, you had engaged Judy before I came?"

"Well— what of that?"

"I would rather not keep a place that another has a better right to."

"It is your choice to go—is it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"But we choose to keep you," interposed Mr. Broadson.

"My dear! my dear!" exclaimed his wife, "allow me to settle this—it's your rule that I should see to the servants. Lucy, you know the consequences of going before the month is up?"

"I hoped, ma'am, as Judy is not well, and there is but one week of my month, you would be willing to let me stay till my month is up."

"Oh, no—it's your own choice to give up the place—I did not as you, remember—if you choose to go, you must go now—I make it a rule never to have my kitchen cluttered up with folks." Lucy, unused as she was to maintain her rights, was now nerved by a strong motive, and she ventured to say that she thought, under the circumstances, she was entitled to her wages. "We must go according to rule, child," replied Mrs. Broadson; "I can't spend any more time talking—I must dress for church—I never talk about business on the Sabbath. Remember what I said to you about the apples, and nuts, and dusting the glasses," &c.

Mr. Broadson looked after his wife, and listened till her last footstep died away, and then he took out his purse, and paid Lucy, to a fraction, the money due for her three weeks' service. He was an honest, though not a generous man, and as he put the money into her hand, he said, "You have a right to it, Lucy."

"I believe I have, sir," replied Lucy, with true dignity ; "but, for all that, I thank you, and so will mother—and so will our Jemmie." And the tears, before restrained, now gushed forth, and, like dew from heaven, brought forth fruit. "Here, take this dollar," said Broadson, for once indulging in the luxury of a spontaneous kindness, "and buy something for our Jemmie—but mind, say nothing to Mrs. Broadson about this or the pay either."

"No sir—but I wish you would tell her yourself."

"For what, in the name of wonder?"

"Maybe she would do right herself next time."

"Ah," muttered Broadson between his teeth, and smothering a laugh, "it's hard teaching an old dog new tricks."

Mrs. Broadson would not have changed Lucy for Judy if she could have helped it; but, after Bridget's warning, she was aware that was the only alternative if she would retain Bridget, and Bridget was too profitable a person to lose. An actual fraud like that by which Mrs. Broadson would have deprived Lucy of her earnings is, we are sure, not common in domestic diplomacy. But where such power by common law exists, abuses will prevail more or less. We have on the best authority one instance much worse than that which has been selected to illustrate the evil. A certain lady in this city was in the habit of picking a quarrel with her servants within the first month, in order to force them (to use the phrase of our Eastern friends) "to take up their connexions," and thereby avail herself of the common law, which exempted her from paying them. The servants submitted, because submission was easier than redress. Our servants are, for the most part, strangers in the land; they have no powerful friends to interpose for them, and the aid of the law is expensive and uncertain. But the worst of these abuses is their demoralizing effect upon the weaker and more ignorant party.

Bridget, when she had recovered from her astonishment that such "a childer" should so soon decide and arrange her affairs poured out the gratitude of her affectionate heart. "It's me and Judy," she said, "will love you, Lucy, to the day of our death, the same as if ye'd been born one of our own people. The Lord Almighty bless ye, child, and give ye a better mistress to mind after than this same. Judy and I will be after finding another place, for I'll serve no longer than I can help one that's no more heart than a hollow potato. The Lord above go with you, my dear!" And blessed and kissed by both Bridget and Judy, Lucy set her face homeward, thinking as she went, "Well, mother was right—we can, if we try hard, overcome evil with good, and we can get people to love us if we make the most of our opportunities!"




We once heard a friend boast that he had studied, in a very short time, a treatise on anatomy, "But," said he, "I skipped the arteries!" Now, lest the effect of our humble friend Biddy's autobiography should be lost by a similar mode of reading, we would venture to ask whether the right principles and feelings either for employers or employed are in exercise in relation to Irish domestics—they are for the most part persons who are driven forth by stern want and inexorable misfortune from their native land. The abuses of government have left them ignorant, degraded them, and deprived them of their birthrights as members of the human family. They have been bred in miserable dirty cabins, where they had no means of learning the arts of domestic economy. Their faculties have been, for the most part, devoted to evading by every subterfuge the cruelties of oppressive laws. Fortunately for them, their oppressors are not their own people. They are of another blood and another religion, and this circumstance it is that binds the Irish so closely in the ties of nature, and preserves their affections in such freshness and warmth. "God is love," and affection is the sanative principle in his creatures. By addressing this principle, the poorest of our brethren may be redeemed. The Irish come to us with their habits formed. They require knowledge, energy, and patience on the part of their employers. Some of them may be unteachable and irreclaimable; but, for the most part, do they not repay real disinterested kindness with fidelity and affection? It is very common to say, "There is no use in trying to teach an Irish person." Is an Irish person less docile than any other who has arrived to maturity in ignorance? We know it requires great virtue, conscientiousness, efficiency, and, above all, patience, on the part of the mistress; but let her think of the missionary who abandons her country to carry light to the distant, and bless God who brings the ignorant to the light of her home, and makes that the field of her mission.

  1. A Polish exile once told me that a lady concluded an excessive commendation of one of his countrymen, who served her in the capacity of waiter, by saying, with the utmost naïveté, "I assure you I could not get an American as good for double the wages I pay him!" We may set down disagreeable truths, but no fiction.