« AnkstesnisTęsti »
MRS. HARTWELL'S "PERFECT
BY ELIZABETH JORDAN
Author of "May Iverson," etc.
THEN Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hart
well moved into their apartment on Stuyvesant Square, New York, the bloom was still on their honeymoon and the wax finish on their mahogany furniture. They were young, they were in love, and their optimistic outlook on life, the natural outcome of these invaluable blessings, was undimmed by Mrs. Hartwell's ignorance of housekeeping or by Mr. Hartwell's complacent breadth of view as to every practical domestic question. They had theories, though they lacked knowledge; and they talked these over on, the evening they arrived in their new home, in the cheery light of the gaslogs that deceptively rubbed cheeks in their apartment's one fireplace.
The packers had promised to begin their work in Mrs. Hartwell's former home at eight in the morning, and complete the unpacking in her new abode by two. They began at three in the afternoon and departed, leaving it incomplete, at ten. The robust laundress engaged to assist Mrs. Hartwell in laying rugs and arranging furniture, "that the apartment might be in perfect order by evening," had not come at all. But these episodes, though annoying, were too novel to be crushing. The Hartwells lightly dismissed them from their minds. Though healthily exhausted by an exceedingly strenuous day, full of unexpected and often disheartening incidents, they were for the first time "at home," and their souls expanded in that genial atmosphere of united possession.
Their living-room was filled with barrels; their Morris chairs were on top of their piano; their rugs were still in unsightly rolls; three of their choicest wedding gifts had been broken; and their best
pair of portières revealed a large hole as a souvenir of one light-hearted son of toil who had thoughtlessly put his foot through it. But what did these things matter? They were together; their new life was beginning. For a time they sat in happy silence, lulled by the strange beauty of this novel reflection. At last Mrs. Hartwell raised her head apologetically from her husband's shoulder and uttered a thought that arose in her.
"There's one thing that may worry us a little, dearest," she said, "and that's the servant problem. Every one has warned me of it, and I expect trouble. But I've made one firm resolution: I 'm not going to have it get on your nerves, whatever it does to mine. So I shall never mention the subject to you. Remember, I go on record for that, Joe!"
Young Joseph Hartwell protested warmly against this considerate decision. He was determined to share all his wife's burdens, of whatever nature, just as he expected her to share his. He explained this, and added that there must be perfect confidence- She interrupted him.
"In big things, Josey darling, yes," she said, palpitantly. "I'll tell you all that 's worth while, and I'll never forgive you if you don't tell me every single thing that happens down-town. But the servant question is different. That is the woman's part of a household. Besides, it's not vital. You would n't expect me to wake you at night to tell you I had been bitten by a mosquito, would you?"
Mr. Hartwell looked so much as if he would, at that period of their common existence, that she hurried on without giving him time to interrupt her.
"That's what the servant question is,"
she resumed-"merely a succession of mosquito bites-annoying, but harmless. And they must be endured alone."
Her husband, a young man whose natural intelligence was developed by a careful reading of the monthly magazines, grasped this opening and pointed out that malaria, typhoid, and yellow fever had been known to follow in the mosquito's wake, even as nervous exhaustion followed in that of the American servant. His wife remained unimpressed.
"The whole point is this, darling. You must be undisturbed. You will be working all day for our bread," she declared, voice and gaze underscoring the point, "and when you come home exhausted at night, this must be your haven of happiness and rest. I have sworn on Mother's Bible, all by myself, that I will not vex your soul with domestic cares the way so many wives do. You must find your home perfect; and I'll hold your poor tired head while you tell me all about that horrid Brown and the nasty things he has said to you."
Deeply touched by this thoughtfulness and devotion, young Joseph Hartwell clasped his wife to his breast.
I'll be able to stop growling about Brown," he predicted, "if you won't let off steam on the servant question. But remember, if you ever feel the need of a sympathetic ear, you 've got two of them right here."
She pulled them with coquettish ferocity, to show her proprietorship, and the conversation trailed off into lighter things after this sturdy initial pact. The corner-stone of ideal married life had been securely laid.
The next morning Mr. Hartwell drank a cup of some dark and mysterious brew which had looked enough like coffee to make its weird flavor something of a shock, devoured an egg that had boiled dutifully for him since dawn, and rose from the table with a sigh of relief.
"Was the coffee all right, darling?" asked his bride, with a pathetic sense of the possibility that his home coffee had tasted differently. "I was n't quite sure about it, but of course the new maid will know how it's done, exactly."
"It was bully," he assured her, loyally. "I never drank anything like it," he added with perilous veracity. He struggled into
his overcoat as he spoke, and faced her, ready for the ordeal of their first farewell.
"I'm going to the intelligence office today," she told him, when the poignant moment was over. "To-night I'll have a nice little maid here, with a blue print dress and a cap on. And to-morrow morning you'll have delicious coffee, and eggs and bacon, and sugar-covered waffles!"
Young Mr. Hartwell carried the memory of these words away with him, and found them returning to his mind as the busy hours flew by. His stomach felt strangely empty. He had disliked to see his wife work that morning, even at the housewifely occupation of preparing his breakfast-and her own, too, he felt obliged to add in justice. He had not married her to make a household drudge of her, he told himself. He would be glad when she had secured a helper who would do all the heavy, uninteresting household. tasks, leaving Jessie free to add those delicate feminine touches he vaguely surmised to be in a lady's province. Then, of course, they would both be glad to have some one at hand who could cook, not more lovingly, but less conjecturally.
Moreover, there was something rather alluring to him, just entering on his own domestic domain, in the idea of a neat maid around the place-one who would be trig and quiet and respectful; who would brush his clothes and lay his newspaper beside his breakfast plate, and look after his material comfort in similar small but important ways, with the gentle but masked joy of those who serve.
This day, the first they had spent apart since their marriage, seemed endless to him, though he was very busy. At the stroke of six he raced home to her, with a jocund song of thanksgiving in his heart that she was his to go home to. Also he pictured, like a noiseless, fluttering bluebird playing about its nest, the tidy little maid. He already felt his coat taken from him by her deferential but eager hands. The place would be in order, too, and not look like a junk-shop. It was "home" to which he was hastening. He ungratefully forgot the years during which his mother and sisters had spent most of their waking hours ministering to his needs. He felt that now life was to offer him something new-something different from anything he had ever known before. He was right.
As his key entered the lock, his wife, who had evidently awaited the sound, opened the door. She looked pale, tired, and, after the glow of welcome had passed from her face, strangely depressed.
"Don't take off your coat, Josey," she said, gently. "We-we must go out to dinner. Is n't it a shame! I have n't found a maid yet. But of course," she added, with desperate cheerfulness, "we 'll have one to-morrow."
Over their restaurant dinner she confided to him the events of the day.
"It is n't exactly complaining to you when I have n't even got a servant yet, is it?" she asked, wistfully. "Of course when I have one, if I get one, I won't mention her."
Reassured on this point, she entered. upon a stirring chronicle of care-filled hours.
"I went to five intelligence offices," she said, "and not one maid would even promise to come. Aunt Addie went with me, and she says they most always do promise, at least; so one has a few moments of cheer and hope. But to-day they would n't even call and chat for a few minutes. They asked such high wages, and they expected so many privileges that I was dazed. But the worst of it was that not one of them was a general houseworker!"
The last words came out in a wail of despair.
Her husband smiled.
"Oh, well, then," he said, airily, "you went to the wrong places, darling. Tomorrow you can go where the general houseworkers-er-blossom."
"But they don't," his wife explained, patiently. "They don't blossom anywhere. That 's just the point. They don't exist. They 're extinct, like the dodo, only they are all don't-don'ts," she added, with a pathetic effort at gaiety. "Nowadays they all specialize! Aunt Addie says that as soon as a general servant learns to offer you things on your left side at the table, she considers herself a trained waitress and wants twenty-five dollars a month. Twenty-five dollars! Why, Josey, I thought we could get one to do everything, except the laundry work, for eighteen!"
Her young husband looked thoughtful, but took refuge in a soothing optimism. "Never mind," he said, robustly. "Don't you worry, little girl. Of course there
must be general servants, or other folks would n't have 'em. I'll ask the fellows at the office how their wives manage!" "Joseph Hartwell!"
Joseph Hartwell's spine chilled. He had never before heard that quality in his wife's voice. He did not want to hear it again. But it still lay as a delicate frost over her next words.
'Don't you dare! Do you think I'm going to have them laughing at us, in your office, for asking advice on the servant question within forty-eight hours after we have gone to housekeeping? Now, I never shall mention the subject to you again."
Hartwell soothed her with honeyed words.
"We should n't have expected to get the right person the first day," he told her, later. "That would be too much luck. Things don't happen that way, in the every-day world. And you must n't be discouraged if you don't even get her to-morrow. Take plenty of time to it. It won't hurt us to take our meals out for a day or two."
They spent the evening cozily in the warmth of the gas-logs, discussing the servant question. Jessie described the women she had interviewed that day, their types, their aspirations. Joseph recalled anecdotes of servants he had met in his mother's home. In the fullness of their interest in the general subject, they almost forgot its individual poignancy for them. This was revealed to them, however, with relentless force, early the following morning. Mr. Hartwell, cheerily emerging from his plunge, was confronted by the stricken face of his wife. Reading tragedy on it, he stopped short.
"Oh, Josey!" she cried despairingly, "there's nothing for your breakfast! I forgot to get some more eggs, and the baker has n't been told yet to leave rolls. I'll do it to-day. Can you forgive me?"
Mr. Hartwell, sternly subduing the demands of a healthy young stomach, assured her that he could, and added airily that it did n't matter. If she would hurry and dress, they would breakfast at the same hospitable restaurant that had sheltered them the night before. The delay made him late at the office, however, and the knowing grins of his fellow clerks as he entered did not help him to accept with unruffled calm the stern glance Mr.
Brown, the firm's unpopular junior partner, cast first upon his flushed face and then upon the placid disk of the clock.
The chronicle he listened to that night was much the same as the one of the preceding evening. There was no maid, there was no order in his home, but there was an added layer of care on the brow of his wife, and a deeper deposit of dust on their possessions. There were also ampler details of her experience. She was as one who had gone to the edge of the servant question, looked over, and shuddered to dwell on the depths she had seen.
"Well, then, if there are no general houseworkers, why not get a waitress and let her cook, too?" asked Mr. Hartwell, patiently, when he had listened to a recital of a quest which seemed to have combined the respective difficulties that attended those of Don Quixote, Mademoiselle de Maupin, and Diogenes. His wife's eyes held a glint of disapproval, the first that had ever shone there when they were turned on him. She explained in simple words, adapted to the understanding of one of tender years and limited intelli
"Waitresses do not cook," she said. "They only stand and let us wait. Cooks do not wait. Why should they, if they can make us hire a waitress to do it? And, oh, Josey," her voice broke-"I am so tired."
Again he comforted her, and, from the depths of a philosophic conviction that occupation tends to peace of mind, he persuaded her to permit him to make a beginning that evening in the small matter of unpacking and settling. As a result, one barrel was delivered of a mass of china and glass, several pieces of which were broken, two pictures were hung, and one bookcase was set up in shamefaced emptiness, to await filling when their boxes of books were opened. While Mr. Hartwell was regarding, with expanding nostrils and set lips, a finger-nail on which he had unpremeditatedly brought down a hammer a few seconds before, his wife approached him with coos of womanly sympathy.
"But, oh, Josey, how dreadfully dirty you are!" she added. "Why did n't you get into old clothes before you began? That nice gray coat is black with dust. I'm afraid you 've ruined it; and-great
heavens! Joseph Hartwell! look at the hole you 've torn in the leg of your new trousers!"
Mr. Hartwell looked. A hot desire for rich, easy expression of his feelings boiled in him. He sternly overcame it, but was strangely silent the remainder of the evening. His wife, observing this, attributed it to fatigue. She gave him two eggs the next morning, which obtruded themselves on his consideration during the day as things not entirely past. Also, a cup of coffee whose memory he refused to harbor at all, lest it should seem criticism of Jessie. As he was about to leave the house he addressed her, however, in tones that held a new note of authority.
"I hope you'll get some one to-day, Jessie," he said, "to come in here and take hold of things. Don't be too particular. Get any one you can-good, bad, or indifferent. Then, while she 's putting the place into shape, you can take your time to choose a good maid. But make a start now with anything-even if she cannot cook anything but eggs and coffee," he permitted himself to add.
His words were desperate, and so was his expression. When he returned home that night he beheld their result. A grenadier of a woman, with gray hair, a red nose, and sleeves rolled to her shoulders confronted him as he entered his little hall. Close behind her was his wife. She wore a towel on her head, and a huge apron enveloped her. Gloves covered her hands, one of which held a piece of bric-a-brac, while the other flourished a dirty dustingcloth. She held up for his kiss a begrimed little face.
“Oh, is that you, Josey-so soon?" she inquired, anxiously. "I hoped you would n't get home till I had changed into something clean. But we 've done wonders. Look, dearest!"
Dearest looked. They had done wonders. He saw them around him. The orderly, packed-up appearance of the first nights had given place to chaos. They had unpacked barrels and scattered their contents over the floor; had unwrapped packages and left the papers and string where they fell; had uncrated furniture and left the empty crates to add to the indescribable confusion.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed Joseph Hartwell, aghast. Then, realizing, from his