Live and Let Live/Chapter XI

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Live and Let Live by Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Chapter XI. All Goes Wrong
all goes wrong

"i never was so tormented before," said Mrs. Ardley to her husband.

"What now, my dear?"

"My new seamstress plagues me so! From morning to night she is coming to me with, 'Please to show me how you wish this done, Mrs. Ardley,' and 'would you be so good as just to fix this for me, Mrs. Ardley?'"

"If she don't suit you, why not get another?"

"She does suit in some respects— she is quick and very neat—she only does not understand fitting."

"Can't you teach her?"

"Ardley, how absurd! I might as well turn seamstress at once—I shan't worry my life out about it; if she don't get on I shall look out for somebody else—change is the order of the day."

"How does the girl in Sophy's place make out?"

"So so. She is a firstrate worker, but she annoys me so!"

"In what way?"

"She has no manners. She has always lived in the country and in mechanics' families. She slam-bangs about the house—shuts the doors as if she were in a tavern—sings when I am in the room—sits down when she is taking my orders—never puts a Miss to the girls' names—says yes and no to me—and all that sort of thing."

"These are all subordinate matters—is she not good-tempered and well disposed? can't you teach her?"

"She is the very soul of good temper, and she seems as if she could not do too much for you; but this drilling is so tiresome. I wish I could have one perfect servant!"

"We must have perfect mistresses first."

"That is just like you, Ardley. It is their business, and they ought to perfect themselves for it."

"The part of a mistress is not less a business, my dear, nor does it require a less preparation. Don't be offended, but I must say that I beg our girls may be made acquainted with domestic affairs. I should be ashamed to impose them on any man, as ignorant as many young ladies are."

"Oh, it's very easy talking, but you men know nothing about domestic troubles."

"You women, my dear, certainly do your best to enlighten us."

"I think you are very unkind, Ardley, when you see me so annoyed—but your turn is coming, for David is talking of going."

"David! Heaven forbid!"

"He is, and it is half your fault, for ever harping to him about saving his wages, and investing them for him, till his head is fairly turned. He is going to get married, and buy a farm in Michigan, the foolish fellow!"

"Not so very foolish either, to exchange a manservant's place in the city for a wife, a farm, and independence in Michigan! Upon my word, it gives me pleasure to find David's affairs turning out so well!"

"Your tune will change when David really goes".

"I hope not, my dear; we will try to lose the sense of our loss in David's gain."

"Charity begins at home, Mr. Ardley."

"But should not stop at home, Anne." Mr. Ardley was a man of sense and benevolence; but, unfortunately, he had begun with his wife as she had with her domestics. He found her not qualified for her place, and "it was too much trouble to teach her." It required too sustained an effort to awaken her to a sense of her deficiencies, and to inspire her with energy to supply them; so he consoled himself with her favourite adage, "What can't be cured must be endured."

One raw disagreeable day, when the mercury was just enough above the freezing point to allow a heavy snow to thaw, Lucy came into the nursery with the two little girls whom she had led from school, that being one of the duties included in her "odds and ends." "My dear Belle," said her mother, "why are you crying?"

"It's so cold, mother, Lucy could hardly help crying. Lucy, please make haste and take off my rubbers." Lucy did her best, but her hands were benumbed, and she was less dexterous than usual. "What ails you, Lucy? your fingers are all thumbs."

"I should think they would be, mother," said little Belle, who had inherited her mother's constitutional kind-heartedness; "she had not any gloves, and she could not keep her hands under her cloak, because she had to take hold of our hands, you know; and besides, her shoes have holes in them, and her feet are wet."

"My dear, if girls will go out with ragged shoes, they must expect wet feet. Why did not you change your shoes, Lucy?"

"I have no others, ma'am."

"Then pray buy a pair the first time you go out; but, in the mean time, look in my closet; you will find a basket there with half a dozen pairs' more or less worn—take them all, if they suit you."

"Oh, thank you, ma'am! May I give a pair to mother, Mrs. Ardley?"

"What an idea! Your mother wear my shoes! did you ever notice my foot, child?"

"Yes, ma'am, but mother's is very small too; and noise troubles father so much that a pair of light shoes will be a great comfort."

"Do what you like with them, child, you are both welcome to them. But don't let me see you with holes in your shoes. If there is anything I can't put up with, it is an untidy-looking servant. That's just the way," continued Mrs. Ardley, after Lucy had gone in quest of the shoes, "servants never provide themselves with walking-shoes, and they go spattering about in the wet, and then bark, bark all winter—it is too annoying to hear them." Poor Lucy, the immediate cause of this denunciation, having, before earned, predestined every cent of her wages to her mother's necessities, had looked with dismay upon her decaying shoes. If the generosity with which Mrs. Ardley had lavished half a dozen pairs of but half-worn delicate kid shoes upon Lucy had provided her with a single pair of stout walking-shoes, the child would have been saved from much discomfort and suffering. But she had not yet learned that it was her duty to know the actual condition of her domestics, to watch over their health, and, as far as she was qualified by superior judgement, to regulate their expenses. If she had even inquired into Lucy's, she would have been touched with the child's virtue; for Mrs. Ardley was far from being an unfeeling woman; she was only thoughtless, indolent, and self-indulgent. Few women are exposed to glaring vices, but let them beware of the moth and rust that consume their virtues.

The consequence of Lucy's exposure was soon apparent in a severe cold. The running up and down stairs in the irritated state of her lungs gave her pain, and, ignorant as she was of diseases, sad forebodings.

After crawling about for two or three days with a burning cheek and short breath, she was laid on her bed, and Mrs. Ardley's physician being summoned, he pronounced her very ill with inflammation of the lungs. The virtues of Betsy (Sophy's successor) were now called into requisition, and they amply atoned for the want of the graces that belong to polished service. Like most American bred domestics,[1] she had been accustomed to multifarious service. Her talents had been developed by a life of exigences. She used her head as well as her hands, and, as Lucy found, her heart for the direction of both. "What is your mother's number, Lucy!" asked her kind attendant; Mrs. Ardley says David shall go for her."

"Oh, please, Betsy, don't send to mother—she cannot come, and it will only make her miserable to know that I am sick. I will give you as little trouble as I can—set the drink by my bed—that is all I want."

"It is not the trouble I mind, Lucy, but your mother is the fittest person to be with you. Why cannot she come?" Lucy explained the sad why, and Betsy, brushing off a tear, said, "You are right—we must not put another drop in a cup too full already. If Mrs. Ardley will only allow me time, I can do everything for you. Let me see your blister." The blister was just opened, when Mrs. Ardley's bell rung. "There—I must go—let it be till I return." Betsy went down two pairs of stairs to Mrs. Ardley's room. "It was Miss Anne rang the bell, Betsy—tell Betsy what you want, my dear."

"Have you seen my doll's muff, Betsy?" Betsy had not. "Just look for it, please, Betsy."

"Dolly can wait, I guess—I must go back to Lucy's blister."

"Look first," interposed the mother. "Miss Anne wants to take her doll down Broadway. Have you sent David for Lucy's mother?" Betsy explained why she had not. "How annoying!" resumed Mrs. Ardley; "how is she to be taken care of here?"

"Oh, I can manage well enough if the children won't ring me down to wait on their babies. There's your dolly's muff, Anne; and now, if you will go up to our sky-parlour, and see poor Lucy's blister, you'll be sorry for her."

"May I go, mamma?"

"No, my dear, those upper rooms are freezing—you will take cold."

"If a sick person can stay in them, it won't hurt me just to go in, mamma!"

"Servants are accustomed to cold rooms, my dear."

"But, mamma," insisted the little girl, who was sagacious, and not accustomed to blind submission in any form, "I am sure the servants are part of their time in our warm rooms."

"You are talking nonsense, Anne."

"There is one thing that is not nonsense, mamma; I know, if I was a servant, I would not live anywhere that I could not have a fire when I was sick." "The child is fit to be a mistress," thought Betsy as she remounted the stairs, "and that's what can be said of few." Betsy had just nicely arranged her dressing to proceed, when the bell again sounded. "There it goes again—ring-a-ding!" she exclaimed.

"Oh, please go, Betsy—it makes my head snap so to hear it when you are staying just for me." Thus entreated, Betsy went.

"Bring me my fur-shoes, Betsy, from the next room." The shoes were brought, and Betsy half way up stairs, when the bell again rung. "I forgot to ask you for my cloak and hat, Betsy, but you should have thought yourself."

"Is there anything else I ought to think of, Mrs. Ardley, before I finish the blister!" she asked, as she handed in the cloak.

"Bless me! is not that blister done yet? Why, you began it half an hour ago!" Mrs. Ardley saw a cloud gathering on Betsy's brow, and she added, "I know the sick must be taken care of. Give Lucy plenty of lemonade, or anything in the house she wants." Betsy perceived Mrs. Ardley was very bountiful of what cost her neither exertion nor sacrifice. Is it surprising that such generosity excites little gratitude?

Betsy had scarcely reached the top of the stairs when the bell again rung most importunately. "Oh, Betsy, I entirely forgot that Mr. Ardley wishes dinner half an hour earlier than usual—run down and tell Ferris. Dear me! I gave David leave to go out—you'll have the table to set—please, Betsy—oh, how inconvenient it is to have servants getting sick—mine always are."

The next morning Lucy was worse. "I shall never be better, Betsy," she said, "while I have such dreadful nights. Mrs. Ferris comes to bed so tipsy, and I loathe her so that I get upon the very edge of the bed, and she snores so horribly that I cannot close my eyes—but pray, don't tell Mrs. Ardley—she knows as well as we do Mrs. Ferris drinks, and it will just end in my being sent home to my mother, and that I could not bear."

"So your life is to be lost, and all of us burnt up alive, maybe, just because she can tickle their palates; well, it's a comical world!"

"If I only might have any little bit of a bed on your floor, Betsy!" Betsy explored the house in vain for extra servants' bedding. She was, however, a woman of expedients. If she had been in a log hut in the western wilderness, she could have contrived something, and so she would not be baffled in a rich merchant's luxurious establishment in the city of New-York. An old sofa-cushion was brought from the garret, and various articles of apparel substituted for pillow and blankets. Betsy then put Lucy into her bed, agreeing with her bedfellow, the seamstress, that they would alternately occupy the pallet on the floor. Lucy now reaped the reward of the kindness she had shown these women when they were strangers in the family. To her frequent repetitions of "How kind you are, Betsy—how much trouble I give you!" Betsy would reply, "Shut up, child—its contrary to Scripture and reason to be 'forgetful of good turns.' Many a time have your weary little legs run up and down stairs to show me where you put or to find this or that fiddle-de-dee of Mrs. Ardley's—and, after all, maybe it was not that, but something else she wanted. She often put me in mind of a fellow that was laying onto his ox, and screaming haw! haw! 'He is hawing,' said a man, who ached to see the poor beast whipped. 'Oh, I meant gee!' said the fellow."

In spite of a good physician's advice, and all the care her voluntary and most kind nurses could give her, Lucy's disease, though abated, continued. Two weeks passed away. How long they seemed to poor Lucy, who, in addition to the usual pains and penalties of sickness, felt the constant dread of adding to her mother's burdens, and the failure of the rent-money from her loss of time. "Our Father in Heaven will not forsake us—mother has often said so—and I will try to remember this when I feel too bad," thought Lucy; and with such reflections she calmed her beating pulse. "Is that little patient of yours never to get well, doctor?" asked Mr. Ardley one morning, when the physician came into the breakfast-room.

"I cannot answer for it, unless she can have a room with a fire in it."

"Bless me, is she in a cold room all this time?—Mrs. Ardley, my dear, how is that?"

"You know, Mr. Ardley, the servants' rooms have no fireplaces, and she could not have a room with one without turning out one of the family."

"Would she not be better off at home, doctor, even if her family are poor, than in a damp, cold atmosphere?—it must be bad for inflamed lungs."

"It is, undoubtedly; and if the child has a home and a mother, as the day is fine and mild, I should advise her being sent there at once."

So the carriage was ordered; Lucy's wages paid without any deduction for loss of time; a basket with medicines, and another with provisions, put up for her, and Betsy permitted to attend her home. As the carriage drove off, "That's a very good little girl!" said Mrs. Ardley; "I hope she will recover; but, if she does not, what a comfort it will be to think we have done our duty by her?"

"I hope the poor child has not suffered from the cold room; you should have thought of that, Anne."

"My dear, how can I think of everything?"

"I am more dissatisfied with myself than with you at this moment, Anne. I see that it is a shocking neglect of our duty for people of our condition not to provide for the comfort, no, the actual wants of those they employ. I do not wonder servants are always ready to change their places, hoping for something better, no doubt. If I live another year, those upper rooms shall be made comfortable!"

The tiresome domestic perplexities, even poor Lucy's illness, might have been avoided by proper qualifications and due attention on the part of Mrs. Ardley. There was not in her case, nor do we believe there often is any want of indulgence or liberality to be complained of. We hope we shall not be accused of imputing all the blame to the mistress, because it is our ungracious task to illustrate her shortcomings. We know that the general low character of domestics and their perfect independence involves the mistress of a family in much inevitable perplexity. But the fault is not all the domestic's. We believe the difficulty would be materially lessened if young women were educated for their household duties, and if they carried into their relation to their domestics the right spirit; if they regarded them as their "unfortunate friends," whom it was their religious duty to instruct, to enlighten, to improve, to make better and happier. It has been well said, that, when domestic economy was perfected, there would be no need of political economy. We would venture further, and say, that when our family communities are perfectly organized the Millennium will have come. Will it sooner?

  1. We once heard an Englishwoman, a competent judge, say that the very best domestics she had ever seen, excepting the Scotch, who did not surpass them, were the American female domestics in Boston.