Live and Let Live/Chapter XII

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Live and Let Live by Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Chapter XII. The Scene Changes
CHAPTER XII.
the scene changes


"whatsoever is brought upon thee, take cheerfully, and be patient when thou art changed to a low estate," was an admonition perfectly illustrated by Lucy's mother. "Lucy's folks an't every-day folks," said Betsy, when she returned, to her friend the seamstress. "I found Lucy's mother in a little back room, as clean as hands could make it, sitting over a few coals, sewing away for dear life, and two bright slips of girls beside her. She turned deadly pale when I brought Lucy in, and the girls screamed out. 'Don't be frightened, dear mother,' said Lucy, in her quiet way; 'I have been sick, but I am getting better.' Her mother drew a cot near the fire, and we laid Lucy on it. I saw the poor woman was all of a nerve, but pretty soon she kissed her child, and said, 'It's a blessing to see you, any how, Lucy.' Then I heard a slender little voice, and I turned round and saw our Jemmie, you know, bolstered up in a basket-cradle. An angel's face he has on his crooked body. He begged to have his cradle drawn close to her bed, and then he took her hand, and kissed it over and over, and said, 'Oh, how glad I should be, if I was not so sorry to see you sick, Lucy; and now you will stay at home, and it won't be your duty to go when you can't go, Lucy,' and so on. I declare, it made me feel weak in the joints to hear him; so I sat down, and 'took an observation,' as the sailors say. The father lay in bed with his eyes open, but his wife said he did not know anything; he had had a paralytic stroke since Lucy was at home. They're sort o' and sort o' not poor folks; in respect to this world, poor as the young ravens; but, in respect to furniture for t'other, forehanded! But soul and body must be kept together, and, if you'll join me, we'll send a load of wood just for love to Lucy—they'll feel better to take it so than as charity from rich folks—to be sure, them that takes can't enjoy themselves so much as them that gives ; but that's Scripture law, and we can't help it."

As our business is with Lucy's domestic service, we must pass over the interval spent at home. The energies of youth and good nursing soon restored her, and, through the good offices of Charles Lovett's mother, she obtained a place at a Mrs. Simson's, Mrs. Lovett's next-door neighbour. Mrs. Lovett would herself gladly have taken her, but she had just then cast upon her charities a desolate German girl, who, on account of her utter ignorance of our language, was unable to obtain a good place.

"As soon as Annet has learned English, and learned our ways, she will do well enough," said kind Mrs. Lovett; "and, in the mean time, I can make out with her better than others, for I am not particular." Never was woman less particular in her requisitions from others, nor more exact in the performance of every duty of humanity, than Mrs. Lovett. She was too intent on her own performances to watch over her neighbours, and she knew nothing more of the Simsons than that they were what are called respectable people.

Lucy's new mistress was from one of the Eastern states. Her husband was a thriving mechanic, and she was, in her little sphere, an "ambitious woman," what is called, in vulgar parlance, among country housewives, a driver. She had certain aims in life—the first was riches; the second that her children should rise far above their parents' level. She well understood the means of achieving the first—the second is somewhat more difficult.

Aurelia, her eldest girl, was eighteen, with full dark eyes, white teeth, and a profusion of brown hair, that was dangling in half a quire of curl-papers in the morning and depending from half a dozen combs in the evening. She had, moreover, a fair, pale complexion, and a very slight person, the result of indolence, indulgence, and mismanagement. These attributes were valued by herself and her mother as giving her what they called "a genteel look." Alas for such gentility! Mrs. Simson, reckoning an exemption from manual labour as the first requisite for a lady (that charmed word), permitted Miss Aurelia to dawdle about all the morning in a greasy black silk, with a novel, or a bit of soiled muslin embroidery in her hand, while she was in the kitchen overworking herself and her handmaid Lucy.

Lucy was maid of all work. She rose early and worked late, it being an oft-repeated aphorism of Mrs. Simson, that "young help should be up betimes." The natural corollary from these premises would seem to be, that "young help should go to bed betimes." Not so reasoned Dame Simson. "Young help," she said, "should sew evenings to make up for not turning off heavy work," that is, should make up in time for defect of force.

"I understood you hired for washing," said Lucy, the first time she saw preparation for those domestic orgies, that were said by a wit to have been instituted to celebrate Job's birthday—the day he cursed.

"Did I say so? Well, I meant I hired when I did not keep help; but I don't calculate to pay monthly wages, and six shillings a day for washing—six shillings is six shillings—you can't complain, child, for I take the brunt of it." Lucy did not complain; but, as she toiled through the too heavy burden imposed, she looked back with regret to Mrs. Ardley's "odds and ends," and even to the never-ending trifles of vexing Mrs. Broadson.

When the washing was ended, the accessories fell to Lucy's share—the starching, hanging out, bringing in, sprinkling, and folding. "The heft of the ironing I shall do myself," said Mrs. Simson; "you'll have nothing to do to-day, Lucy, but make the beds, and sweep down the chambers, and hang over the dinner, and smooth off the light things while the pot is boiling. Oh, don't forget, though, to rub over the knives, for he[1]is particular about clean knives."

Any further directions were interrupted by a call from the stairs. "Ma, ma'n't Lucy finish sweeping off the walk—I shan't be ready for dancing-school."

"Yes, Julius—run and do it, Lucy, quick—if he comes home and finds it not done, he'll find fault with Julius—I don't know how I am ever to make a gentleman of Jule if he sets him about such jobs."

Another scream from the stairs, and a request that "Ma" would send Lucy to do up the parlour, for Miss Aurelia expected Mr. Smith to call. Mr. Smith was a young sprig of the law from the country, of whom Miss Aurelia flattered herself she had made a conquest at her dancing-master's public the preceding evening. The mother answered in the affirmative. "Be spry," she said to Lucy, "and make a fire in the grate, and polish the brasses, and dust off the shades over the flowers, and reel the sofy up to the fire. Aurely is very pa'ticular when she expects her beaux—and if Mr. Smith should stay to dinner, fix the dinner-table just as they fix it at Miss Ardley's; and I expect you won't eat with us, Lucy, because Aurely has feelings about such things."

Lucy had feelings too, but not about "such things." Her mother had early taught her that feelings were given to quicken the affections and awaken the sympathies, and not to feed pride, vanity, and selfishness. Her feelings were no way affected by sitting or not sitting at Mrs. Simson's table. "Your respectability must come from your own character and deportment, my child, and not from the place you occupy," her mother had said; and Lucy, in her short experience, had seen vulgarity at a gentleman's table, and witnessed refinement in the lowest seat of the household.

Lucy had "feelings," and once every day they were called forth by her friend Charles Lovett, who brought her tidings from home, which he always gave, with some kind word to boot, when he delivered the family supply of bread. It had been Mrs. Simson's custom to send to the bakehouse in order to avail herself of a customary deduction in the price of a certain number of loaves; but, since Lucy had lived with her, Charles Lovett had volunteered to serve her at the door without an additional charge—an offer extremely puzzling to Dame Simson, who understood little of those considerations that cannot be represented by dollars and cents.

The day before Lucy's first month was up, Mrs. Simson said to her, "I see your ears are bored, Lucy, why don't you wear ear-rings?"

"My mother bored them when I was a very little girl, to—to please my father."

"Then you have, worn them?"

"Yes; my father never liked to see me without them—so I always wore them at home."

"They are dreadful pretty things, I think; don't you, Lucy?"

"Yes, ma'am; but I think, as mother says, they would look prettier if there was any use in them."

"Use or no use, you would look a deal handsomer for them—your face is the right shape, and your neck rather long—you raly want 'em. What have you done with yours?"

"Mother disposed of them," replied Lucy, and she was leaving the room to avoid telling the why and wherefore.

"Stop, Lucy—did you ever take notice of Aurely's ear-rings, with red drops?" Lucy had seen them. "Well, here they are—just as good as new—only one stone is gone and one hinge broke. They might be repaired for a trifle—they cost four dollars—Aurely has got two other pairs, and so she has handed them over to me. To oblige you, Lucy, I'll let them go at half price."

"Thank you—I do not want them."

"Don't want them! I know what that means; well, rather than you should be disappointed, you shall have them for one dollar! it won't be like laying out money. You can take them towards your wages."

"I cannot take them at any price. My mother has occasion for every penny I earn."

Thus answered, Mrs. Simson was not ashamed still to urge; and finally, when she despaired of putting off her foolish girls broken finery, she mumbled over something of girls not fifteen asking four dollars in cash a month; and, if she paid at that rate, she should look out for somebody that could earn it; and a deal of stuff that made poor Lucy feel very uncomfortable. Mrs. Simson, however, understood her own interests too well to part with so faithful and capable a girl, and Lucy went on in her second month's service. "You can't find it pleasant there," said her mother; "Mrs. Simson is a vulgar, hard woman; but patience is a great help, and in some respects she is a desirable person with whom to serve a short apprenticeship. She is a thorough worker. With her you are every day qualifying yourself for the future. Your work at Mrs. Ardley's was quite as wearing, and her 'odds and ends' would never have fitted you to conduct business yourself. Go on, my dear child cheerfully. The future has always a harvest in store for those who diligently improve the present." As some plants grow stronger exposed to winds and cold, so Mrs. Lee's resolution had strengthened in keen adversity.

Lucy's labours were interrupted by a summons home. Her father was dead. The events that are appointed alike to all seldom pass without awakening sympathy. No poor widow could be more lonely than was Mrs. Lee; but she found friends among those who bore it steadily in mind that "to do good and to communicate is an acceptable sacrifice."

"Charlie," said Mrs. Lovett, bustling in a few minutes after Lucy had got home, "Charlie would not give me a minute's peace till I came over to see how you all were—and so forth."

The and so forth, afterward explained with an awkwardness that had the quality of inward grace, meant, that, at Charles's instigation, seconded by her own generous heart, and authorized by heir husband, she came to offer to defray the expenses of a decent funeral.

Mrs. Lee had calmly supported herself till that moment; but such kindness from persons almost strangers to her, such a tribute of respect to her and her little ones in their very low estate, overcame her, and she burst into tears. As soon as she could regain her composure, and express her gratitude in words, she communicated, with the confidence that such kindness deserved, the precise state of her affairs. She had a watch which had been given to her husband by his mother. It had once been very valuable, and now, though old-fashioned, if Mr. Lovett could obtain a just price for it, she should be able to meet the expenses of the funeral. She did not tell how tenaciously, through all their clamorous necessities, her husband had retained this memorial of his mother—how, amid the ruin of every just principle, and every other pure and holy sentiment, that affection, which is truly our first love and our last, had clung to him. Neither did she communicate to any one but Lucy, the sharer of all her thoughts, the weakness that had assaulted her noble mind. "For a little while I did feel, Lucy," she said, "as if I could not part with that watch—it is the last relic of our better days, and a secret wish has lurked with me to have something to show the children in future, as a proof of what their grandparents were. So our little pride and vanity will stick to us, Lucy! So inconsistent are our foolish habits with our principles. It has been my desire to conform your minds to your situation, to make you realize that all honour and happiness was in your own souls, and not in anything outward; and I might have spoiled it all by turning your eyes back to what your parents were, instead of directing them forward to what you should be!"

But we are lingering with Lucy's mother when our business is with far less interesting people. "Mourning is very expensive," said Mrs. Simson, when Lucy returned to her work in her usual dress; "I conclude your mother don't feel as if she could put you all fully into it at once?"

"No, ma'am."

"That's well—I like to see folks prudent, and to help 'em to be so. I've got a bombasin that I had for my best when mother died, and it was made over for Aurely when the baby died. I calculate it will answer your purpose very well for Sabbath days and so forth—go get it, Aurely,"

Aurelia did not know where it was. "She believed she had tucked it in the rag-bag."

Her mother uttered a philippic upon her wastefulness, and bidding her "hunt it up," the gown, torn, frayed, and rusty, was soon produced. "It don't look very smart, to be sure," said Mrs. Simson, evidently taken aback by its forlorn appearance; "but when it's sponged, and turned, and made over—I'll allow you time to do it of evenings—it will make quite a scrumptious dress—that is, considering it sha'n't cost you more than a dollar and a half—only think of getting a bombasin for a dollar and a half!"

"I am not going to wear mourning at all, Mrs. Simson."

"Possible!" exclaimed Mrs. Simson, holding up both her hands, "nor your ma neither?"

"Yes, my mother will wear it, but not the children."

Lucy's manner was so quiet and decided, that Dame Simson's hopes of turning the penny vanished; but suppress her spleen she could not. "Well," she said, "every one to their notion; but I think, if I was ever so put to it, I should find a way to get mourning when my folks died, especially where it was as it was; it looks pa'ticular and wanting of respect to go without it—looks is looks."

Lucy would have borne this innuendo in silence if she alone had been concerned; but her mother's part in it made the blood mount to her cheeks, and she said, "My mother's rule is to show your respect by doing your duty to the living; and, afterward, those that form wrong judgements by looks must—" she checked her resentment and stopped.

"Must what? you may as well out with it."

"Must answer for it themselves, Mrs. Simson."

"Ma," interposed Miss Aurelia, "how can you let your help be so impudent to you?"

Master Julius stood by, and taking a different view of the case, said, "If ma is sarcy to her help, she must expect her help to be sarcy to her."

But we are tired (we are sure our readers must be) of detailing the petty abuses of a griping, vulgar mistress. Lucy endured them patiently for some months, and till Mrs. Simson became impatient of regularly paying the four dollars, instead of putting off, in part payment, some useless thing that gave her the agreeable feeling of having got a bargain out of the person on whom she imposed.

It happened, not half an hour after Lucy had received her warning to look for another place, that Charles Lovett, while delivering the bread, said, "Mother has found a capital place for Annet, and she leaves us next week."

"And I leave here next week." Charles snapped his fingers, but said never a word. A few minutes afterward Mrs. Lovett sent for Lucy, and engaged her to supply Annet's place.

  1. We do not know why so many good wives designate their husbands by the pronouns he and him. It may be be from a transmitted feeling of their supremacy.