Imágenes de páginas

Having got my cattle-agent out of the door, I resume my consideration of that little mark on the door-post, which is scored up as the text of the present little sermon ; and which I hope will relate, not to chalk, nor to any of its special uses or abuses (such as milk, neck-powder, and the like), but to servants. Surely ours might remove that unseemly little mark. Suppose it were on my coat, might I not request its removal ? I remember, when I was at school, a little careless boy, upon whose forehead an ink-mark remained, and was perfectly recognizable for three weeks after its first appearance.

May I take any notice of this chalk-stain on the forehead of my house? Whose business is it to wash that forehead? and ought I to fetch a brush and a little hot water, and wash it off myself?

Yes. But that spot removed, why not come down at six, and wash the door-steps? I dare say the early rising and exercise would do me a great deal of good. The housemaid, in that case, might lie in bed a little later, and have her tea and the morning paper brought to her in bed : then, of course, Thomas would expect to be helped about the boots and knives ; cook about the saucepans, dishes, and what not ; the lady’smaid would want somebody to take the curl-papers out of her hair, and get her bath ready. You should have a set of servants for the servants, and these under-servants should have slaves to wait on them. The king commands the first lord in waiting to desire the second lord to intimate to the gentleman usher to request the page of the ante chamber to entreat the groom of the stairs to implore John to ask the captain of the buttons to desire the maid of the still-room to beg the housekeeper to give out a few more lumps of sugar, as his Majesty has none for his coffee, which probably is getting cold during the negotiation. In our little Brentfords we are all kings, more or less. There are orders, gradations, hierarchies, everywhere. In your house and mine there are mysteries unknown to us. I am not going into the horrid old question of “followers." I don't mean cousins from the country, love-stricken policemen, or gentlemen in mufti from Knightsbridge Barracks; but people who have an occult right on the premises ; the uncovenanted servants of the house; gray women who are seen at evening with baskets flitting about area railings ; dingy shawls which drop you furtive curtseys in your neighborhood ; demure little Jacks, who start up from behind boxes in the pantry. Those outsiders wear Thomas's crest and livery, and call him “ Sir;” those silent women address the female servants as “ Mum,” and curtsey before them, squaring their arms over their wretched lean aprons.

Then, again, those servi servorum have dependents in the vast, silent, poverty-stricken world outside your comfortable kitchen fire, in the world of darkness, and hunger, and miserable cold, and dank, flagged cellars, and huddled straw, and rags, in which pale children are swarming. It may be your beer (which runs with great volubility) has a pipe or two which communicates with those dark caverns where hopeless anguish pours the groan, and would scarce see light but for a scrap or two of candle which has been whipped away from your worship's kitchen. Not many years ago—I don't know whether before or since that white mark was drawn on the door-a lady occupied the confidential place of housemaid in this “private residence,” who brought a good character, who seemed to have a cheerful temper, whom I used to hear clattering and bumping overhead or on the stairs long before daylight-there, I say, was poor Camilla, scouring the plain, trundling and brushing, and clattering with her pans and brooms, and humming at her work. Well, she had established a smuggling communication of beer over the area frontier. This neat-handed Phyllis used to pack up the nicest baskets of my provender, and convey them to somebody outside-I believe, on my conscience, to some poor friend in distress. Camilla was consigned to her doom. She was sent back to her friends in the country; and when she was gone we heard of many of her faults. She expressed herself, when displeased, in language that I shall not repeat. As for the beer and meat, there was no mistake about them. But après ? Can I have the heart to be very angry with that poor jade for helping another poorer jade out of my larder ? On your honor and conscience, when you were a boy, and the apples looked temptingly over Farmer Quarringdon's hedge, did you never

—? When there was a grand dinner at home, and you were sliding, with Master Bacon, up and down the stairs, and the dishes came out, did you ever do such a thing as just to—? Well, in many and many a respect servants are like children. They are under domination. They are subject to reproof, to ill temper, to petty exactions and stupid tyrannies not seldom. They scheme, conspire, fawn, and are hypocrites. “Little boys should not loll on chairs." “Little girls should be seen, and not heard ;” and so forth. Have we not almost all learnt these expressions of old foozles : and uttered them ourselves when in the square-toed state ? The Eton Master, who was breaking a lance with our Pater. familias of late, turned on Paterfamilias, saying, He knows not the nature and exquisite candor of well-bred English boys. Exquisite fiddlestick's end, Mr. Master! Do you mean for to go for to tell us that the relations between young gentlemen and their schoolmasters are entirely frank and cordial; that the lad is familiar with the man who can have him flogged; never shirks his exercises ; never gets other boys to do his verses; never does other boys' verses; never breaks bounds; never tells fibs -I mean the fibs permitted by scholastic honor ? Did I know of a boy who pretended to such a character, I would forbid my scapegraces to keep company with him. Did I know a schoolmaster who pretended to believe in the existence of many hundred such boys in one school at one time, I would set that man down as a baby in knowledge of the world.

Who was making that noise ?" " I don't know, sir."'-And he knows it was the boy next him in school. “Who was climbing over that wall ?" “I don't know, sir."-And it is in the speaker's own trousers, very likely, the glass bottle-tops have left their cruel scars.

And so with servants. “Who ate up the three pigeons which went down in the pigeon-pie at breakfast this morning ?” “O dear me ! sir, it was John who went away last month!"-or, “ I think it was Miss Mary's canary-bird, which got out of the cage, and is so fond of pigeons, it never can have enough of them." Yes, it was the canary-bird; and Eliza saw it; and Eliza is ready to vow she did. These statements are not true; but please don't call them lies. This is not lying ; this is voting with your party. You must back your own side. The servants’-hall stands by the servants’-hall against the dining-room. The schoolboys don't tell tales of each other. They agree not to choose to know who has made the noise, who has broken the window, who has eaten up the pigeons, who has picked all the plovers’-eggs out of the aspic, how it is that liqueur brandy of Gledstane's is in such porous glass bottles--and so forth. Suppose Brutus had a footman, who came and told him that the butler drank the Curaçoa, which of these servants would you dismiss ?--the butler perhaps, but the footman certainly.

No. If your plate and glass are beautifully bright, your bell quickly answered, and Thomas ready, neat, and goodhumored, you are not to expect absolute truth from him. The very obsequiousness and perfection of his service prevents truth. He may be ever so unwell in mind or body, and he must go through his service—hand the shining plate, replenish the spotless glass, lay the glittering fork--never laugh when you yourself or your guests joke--be profoundly attentive, and yet look utterly impassive-exchange a few hurried curses at the door with that unseen slavey who ministers without, and with you be perfectly calm and polite. If you are ill, he will come twenty times in an hour to your beli; or leave the girl of his heart—his mother, who is going to America - his dearest friend, who has come to say farewell — his lunch, and his glass of beer just freshly poured out-any or all of these, if the door-bell rings, or the master calls out “ THOMAS" from the hall. Do you suppose you can expect absolute candor from a man whom you may order to powder his hair? As between the Rev. Henry Holyshade and his pupil. the idea of entire unreserve is utter bosh ; so the truth as between you and Jeames or Thomas, or Mary the housemaid, or Betty the cook, is relative, and not to be demanded on one side or the other. Why, respectful civility is itself a lie, which poor Jeames often has to utter or perform to many a swaggering vulgarian, who should black Jeames's boots, did Jeames wear them and not shoes. There is your little Tom, just ten, ordering the great, large, quiet, orderly young man aboutshrieking calls for hot water-bullying Jeames because the boots are not varnished enough, or ordering him to go to the stables, and ask Jenkins why the deuce Tomkins hasn't brought his pony round-or what you will. There is mamma rapping the knuckles of Pincot the lady’s-maid, and little Miss scolding Martha, who waits up five-pair of stairs in the nurseryLittle Miss, Tommy, papa, mamma, you all expect from Martha, from Pincot, from Jenkins, from Jeames, obsequious civility and willing service. My dear good people, you can't have truth too. Suppose you ask for your newspaper, and Jeames says, “I'm reading it, and jest beg not to be disturbed ;” or suppose you ask for a can of water, and he remarks, “You great, big, ’ulking fellar, ain't you big enough to bring it hup yoursulf? what would your feelings be? Now, if you made similar proposals or requests to Mr. Jones next door, this is the kind of answer Jones would give you. You get truth habitually from equals only; so my good Mr. Holyshade, don't talk to me about the habitual candor of the young Etonian of high birth, or I have my own opinion of your candor or discernment when you do. No. Tom Bowling is the soul of honor and has been true to Black-eyed Syousan since the last time they parted at Wapping Old Stairs ; but do you suppose Tom is perfectly frank, familiar, and above-board in his conversation with Admiral Nelson, K. C. B.? There are secrets, prevarications, fibs, if you will, between Tom and the Admiral-between your crew and their captain. I know I hire a worthy, clean, agreeable, and conscientious male or female hypocrite, at so many guineas a year, to do so and so for me. Were he other than hypocrite I would send him about his business. Don't let my displeasure be too fierce with him for a fib or two on his own account.

Some dozen years ago, my family being absent in a distant part of the country, and my business detaining me in London, I remained in my own house with three servants on board wages. I used only to breakfast at home; and future ages will Le interested to know that this meal used to consist, at that period, of tea, a penny roll, a pat of butter, and, perhaps, an eng. My weekly bill used invariably to be about fifty shillings, so that, as I never dined in the house, you see, my breakfast, consisting of the delicacies before mentioned, cost about seven shillings and threepence per diem. I must; therefore, have consumed daily

[blocks in formation]

Which is the only possible way I have for making out the sum.

Well, I fell ill while under this regimen, and had an illness which, but for a certain doctor, who was brought to me by a certain kind friend I had in those days, would I think, have prevented the possibility or my telling this interesting anecdote now a dozen years after, Don't be frightened, my dear madam ; it is not a horrid, sentimental account of a malady you are coming to--only a question of grocery. This illness, I

say, lasted some seventeen days, during which the servants were admirably attentive and kind ; and poor John, especially, was up at all hours, watching night after night — amiable, cheerful, untiring, respectful, the very best of Johns and nurses.

Twice or thrice in the seventeen days I may have had a glass of eau sucrée—say a dozen glasses of eau sucrée-certainly not more. Well, this admirable, watchful, cheerful, tender, affectionate John brought me in a little bill for seventeen pounds of sugar consumed during the illness—“ Often 'ad sugar and water; always was a callin' for it,” says John, wagging his head quite gravely. You are dead, years and years ago, poor Johnso patient, so friendly, so kind, so cheerful to the invalid in the fever.

But confess, now, wherever you are, that seventeen pounds of sugar to make six glasses of eau sucrée was a little too strong, wasn't it, John ? Ah, how frankly, how trustily,

« AnteriorContinuar »