By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Christmas Story - Man in His Element: or, A New Way to Keep House
Author: Francis, Samuel W., 1835-1886
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Christmas Story - Man in His Element: or, A New Way to Keep House" ***

American Fiction Project.)

[Transcriber's note: Irregularities in punctuation which were present
in the original have been corrected. Variants such as would'nt/wouldn't,
could'nt/couldn't, was'nt/wasn't, have been retained.]


                          CHRISTMAS STORY,


                       DR. SAMUEL W. FRANCIS.

                           PUBLISHED BY
                         GEORGE H. MATHEWS,
                      929 BROADWAY, NEW YORK.


                        A CHRISTMAS STORY.

                        MAN IN HIS ELEMENT:
                      A NEW WAY TO KEEP HOUSE.

                      BY DR. SAMUEL W. FRANCIS.



'My dear Mary,' said I, one morning, to my widowed sister, as she sank
into an arm chair in front of my library fire, and heaved a sigh replete
with exhaustion and sadness:

'What is the matter?'

'Enough for a woman, William, but of course, nothing for an old bachelor
like you, who have only to pay your own bills, eat your meals without
the trouble of ordering them; lounge through a clean house with no
chasing after servants to sweep and wash and dust; sit in your study,
heaping log after log on your devoted andirons, and always meeting me
with such a provoking cheerfulness, while I have not a moment to myself;
am all the time running to give out stores to one girl; soap and starch
to another; candles and linen to the chambermaid, and orders to the
coachman; and, even then, I have no peace; for, no sooner do I sit in
the nursery, hoping to derive a few minutes comfort from a quiet sew,
than my ears are filled with the dissatisfaction of one girl; the
complaints of another; the threatenings to leave of another, and the
quarrels of all. I declare, William, I think it was too bad in you to
insist on our leaving that comfortable boarding house, where we lived so
much cheaper, and had no trouble. It was there, with my small family,
that I appreciated the freedom from care that you old selfish,
unsympathizing bachelors enjoy; and no wonder you laugh at us. The fact
is, you don't know anything about it; you ----'

'My dear Mary,' I repeated, 'you have said enough--I only ask for a few
minutes to put this matter in a new light, and, in time, you yourself
will be convinced.'

'That's all very well, William, but what's the use of talking to you
men. I never convinced one in my life. No sir! man is an animal that
never acknowledges either that he is wrong, or that a woman is right. I
tell you, servants are the bane of my existence. You cannot make them
happy, do what you may. Why, only the other day I gave Jane a nice pair
of gaiters that I had but partially worn out. She thanked me, and I felt
pleased that I had done one kind action, though it was a self-denial.
The very next morning, in coming out of the kitchen, I passed the ash
barrel, and looked in it to see if the cinders would ever be sifted.
What do you suppose I saw there, mixed up with lemon peel, tea leaves
and ashes? My boots, William--the very pair I had given Jane the day

'Well what did you do?'

'Do? Why as soon as I could recover I called her to me, and asked why
she had thrown them there.' She said without any excitement, that was
the worst of it, 'I couldn't wear them Madam.'

'Why not?' I said.

'They were too large for me.'

'Too large for her, the jade--think of that'--

'Don't say any more, Mary, I understand the case perfectly--and since we
cannot argue upon the matter just listen to my views (without any
interruption), in the form of a philosophical lecture. It will be very
brief but to the point.

'Though I have never kept house, as I am an old man I must have lived
somewhere all my life. Being possessed of a healthy and observing
intellect--I have seen and digested much; and it is all easy to my mind.
I have heard you through as I have heard others through; I have seen
your sufferings and your trials, as I have seen many, very many suffer
and endure trials, and I have solved the problem and told it all to my

'Well now that is selfish, William!'

'Not at all my dear sister, what lady would tolerate the slightest
interference with her housekeeping? How long would you permit me to stay
here, in financial partnership, if I even offered one word of advice.'

'Oh, how unjust, speak out now and let me hear what you have confided to
your segar.'

'Well, in the first place, there are two kinds of ways to keep house.
No. one is to keep your servants; No. two is to be kept by them. Herein
is the key note of much trouble. Another difficulty is fear. I have been
perfectly amazed to listen to ladies when asking a waiter to do
something for them. Just think of it. I heard Mrs. ----, at table the
other day, turn round and look towards a red headed, uplifted girl, with
a conciliatory smile and say, 'Betty, would you mind giving me a glass
of water?'

'Zounds madam, I wanted to scream!--and only last night, while paying a
visit I heard a lady who rules her elegant husband to within an inch of
his life, say to the waiter, 'John, please put on your things and muffle
up well, for it is very cold and do take this note to Mrs. Henry's' and,
almost with the same breath, she turned on her husband and said,
'Albert, go down and get that medicine _at once_ for you know I cannot
retire till I take it--you can see _your_ friend any time,' looking at
me in a hard manner and then at the clock. 'Now what do you call that?
That woman has courage to meet her equals and put all things straight;
but a menial crushes her.'

'Well, of course you don't understand those things, William, but I do.'

'I suppose so, but I don't want to. It is all wrong--all _humbug_, all
TRASH!' I exclaimed as my excitement knocked the ashes of my segar over
my clean shirt.

'What would you have us do?' exclaimed Mary, a little nettled at my last

'Do?' I replied, with emphasis; 'let the men keep house. Watch them, and
learn the true method, which has for its motto,

     "Maximum of work,
     Minimum of trouble."'

By this time I began to feel anxious.--My sister had gone off into a fit
of laughter that at first greatly roused my ire, but ultimately
awakened anxiety, for she could not gain her breath. I rang for a
servant; of course none came, for she always had to call them. 'They
were having such a good time down stairs, they could not hear the bell,'
so I poured out a glass of water, and, while she drank, seized the
poker; stirred up the dying embers; put on a good back log; lit a large
and strong Cabana to lend zest to my courage, and prepared to make one
more effort for victory.

Gradually subsiding into a few occasional chromatic giggles, Mary looked
through her beautiful eyes, glistening with tears of fun, and said, in a
smothered whisper,

'Well, and what would you do?'

'Do?' I repeated. 'Let me have the reins for one month, and I will show

There! it was out, and I felt relieved.

'But, William,' she whispered, pointing with anxiety to the door which
stood ajar, 'how long do you suppose they would stay with you?'

'Until they got married or died!' I answered with confidence, and,
sitting bolt upright, I ran both thumbs under my waistcoat arm-holes and
played on my chest with my fingers, while I puffed tremendously to
envelope my countenance with smoke, the better to hide my ill-concealed

'You single men are too amusing, my dear brother,' said she, looking
earnestly into my face and patting my shoulder with an expression of
pity. 'To convince you that woman's mission is the care of domestic
matters; and, as I would like a little rest combined with fun, I will
turn over everything to you, and----'

'Done!' I yelled with delight, and jumping up, I paced up and down the
library like a prisoner freed from chains.--'Done! Oh! I thank you,

'Stop, young man,' she said, with assumed severity, 'hear the conditions
of the bond.'

'Write it down,' I said, in haste, 'and so long as I am to have the
reins I will sign.'

'Well, sir,' said she, entering with her old accustomed gaiety into the
subject matter. 'I agree to let you keep house on the following
conditions:' naming a good many, which I listened to with marked
interest, and finally condensed into the form of a written contract,
though no lawyer; for fear, as I told her, she would violate the
premises. As well as I can remember, for it was many years ago--it ran
as follows:

'This agreement made this 24th November, 1853, between Mary Walters of
the city, county and state of New York, being party of the first part,
and William d'Aubrey of the said city, county and state of New York,
party of the second part, witnesseth as follows: Said party of the first
part agrees, covenants and binds herself, heirs and assinines--I mean
assigns--to surrender, demise and make over all claim, right and title
to housekeeping, and all matters pertaining to the welfare of household
economy, whether trivial or special, to the party of the second part;
moreover delivering up all accounts, keys and inventory of stores now on
hand, and all claim, right or title to the management of each and every
person living, or about to live in premises known as 'Villa Felice,'
situated at the outskirts of the city of ---- in the State of ----, for
the period of three months. Now, in consideration of this obligation on
the party of the first part, the party of the second part covenants,
agrees and binds himself, his heirs and assinines--I mean assigns--to
act conscientiously for the benefit of all the inhabitants of said
'Villa Felice,' whether male or female;--and moreover pledges himself
never by word or deed to consult, ask questions of, molest by
interrogated words, or lead on by indirect remarks, the party of the
first part; to impart, give over or yield up, any information on or
concerning the subject or principle of housekeeping--(this last clause
my sister insisted on in a most impressive manner--so I added the
following,) and it is distinctly understood, comprehended by, and agreed
to between both parties, that the party of the first part interferes
with, molests, makes the subject of remark, indirectly or directly,
impugns or maligns, the party of the second party in the pursuit of
lawful proceedings neither by appeal, nor by entreaty, nor by satire,
irony, libel, gossip, hinted evidence or such other expressions of
mental feeling which are unseemly and tend to weaken man's power or
involve in confusion a settled purpose. Said agreement to take effect at
once on the signing of this contract,' made in duplicate.

Signed, sealed and delivered the afore-written day, month and year, in
the presence of       Witness,
            MARY WALTERS, [seal.]
            WILLIAM D'AUBREY, [seal.]

We both signed, and then remembered a witness was necessary. 'I will
call Thomas,' said Mary. 'He won't know what we have written.' I bowed
with a legal stiffness, and waited. She rang--no response.

She rang again. A loud laughter in the kitchen caused her to say, as
usual, 'Oh! they cannot hear the bell,' and she tripped off lightly and
called 'Susan! Susan! _Susan!_' 'and but the booming roars replied and
fast the talk rolled on.' 'Susan,' said she, gently, over the

'Susan is out, marm,' said a granite voice from the second story.

'Don't speak so loud, marm. Johnny has just gone to sleep, and I've had
such trouble with him all the evening; he must have caught cold going to
dancing school. You know, marm I begged you not to send him.

'Mrs. Phillips,' whispered Mary, in a crushed voice, 'where has Susan

'She went to her sister's, marm. Her child is very ill with the small
pox, and she said she knew, if you knew he might die, that you would let
her go and sit up with him this last night, poor, dear soul, bless his

Oh, how I chuckled!

'Why, Mrs. Phillips, just come down stairs, please; I want to speak to
you.--Come into the library, only Mr. D'Aubrey is here.'

(Humph! ONLY Mr. D'Aubrey!--'Oh, for to-morrow!')

Enter Mrs. Phillips, one of those fat, pylygastric nurses, who divide
the twenty-four hours into four days, so as to have three meals to each
of their diurnal revolutions; whose digestive organs, if they could
speak, would strike for wages; whose eyes move but never look; their
atmosphere--what Germans might call expression--being that of massive

She slides into the room and immediately sits down, moving her eyes up
to her mistress with a patient and slightly suffering expression, while
the process of deglutition is slowly going on.

I seize a book, pamphlet, anything, hold it in front of my face, and
bite my segar in two.

'Did I understand you to say, Mrs. Phillips, that Susan had gone to sit
up with a _small pox_ patient?'

'Her nephew, yes marm.'

'Oh, how very wrong in her--how--'

'I don't think so, marm.'

I ground my teeth.

'Why Mrs. Phillips?'

'The boy marm, may not be yours, but it is her _kin_ and she ought to
know her duty to a sister's child.'

'Yes, but she might bring the disease to my little children!
she'--'That's in the hands of Providence, marm.'

I ram a handkerchief down my mouth and choke--

'Well, as it is not your fault I need not speak to you--but please be so
kind as to call Thomas, I only want him for a moment.' The celebrated
Mrs. Phillips heaved a sigh, pregnant with bread, butter, cold meat and
ale; and slid out of the room, crunching her way down stairs. I peeped
at my sister--she looked pale and very anxiously perplexed, I pinched
myself and kept silent. In a few minutes a voice was heard singing up
the back stairs and--enter Sabina spread out with starch and heavily
pomaded hair. 'Mrs. Phillips sent me to tell you marm that she had to
make her gruel and the fire was low--and that Thomas had gone home.'

'Why, what time is it, Sabina?'

'_Eight_ o'clock,' I enunciate distinctly. For one moment Mary's eyes
lit up with something like heroism, but before she could frame a
sentence, the playful want of interest exhibited by Sabina, who leaned
against the mantel-piece, straightening her cuffs, did the business, and
she collapsed.

'Please tell Thomas, when he comes to-morrow, Sabina, I would rather not
have him go home quite as early, because you see,' (oh how I mentally
groaned at this humiliating nonsense,) 'I might want him. You won't
forget, will you, Sabina?'

'No, marm. Is there anything else?' Having now made herself prim, and
taken a quiet survey of the library and viewed me carefully, she was now
desirous of retiring.

'One moment, Sabina,' said Mary, beginning to realize her false position
before me, 'Who is down stairs?'

'Well, I couldn't tell you, marm.'

'Why not?'

'There are so many.'

'How, do you mean so many?'

'Why, marm, it's the cook's birthday; and she thought you would'nt mind
her having a few friends, so she invited her _cousins_,' (looking at me
as though she would ask, 'what have you got to say to that, Mr. Man?')

'Well, Sabina,' said Mary, coloring up in confusion, 'just sign your
name to this--it is only as a witness.'

'I cannot write, marm,' answered dandy Amazon, very short at being

'Then send Elizabeth here.'

'She is out too, marm.'

'What? Elizabeth has gone out?'

'Yes marm, you see,' (becoming confidential,) 'the cook and her has
quarrelled like--she neglected to ask her to her little party till late
this evening, and so she got huffy and put on her things and dashed out
of the house,' (at this time I had either an attack of the ague or was
laughing so hard internally that it leaked through.)

'Is Dinah in?'

'Yes marm.'

'Ask her, please, to come here.'

Sabina tripped off with a satisfied air, and five--ten--fifteen minutes
elapsed and no Ellen. I took out my memorandum and quickly wrote down a
few valuable plans on the coming campaign. The clock struck half past
eight, and my sister opened the entry door and listened--the kitchen
door soon shut and somebody came up stairs slowly, with a waiter full of

'Is that you, Dinah?'

'Yes marm.'

'Why didn't you come before?'

'I don't know, mum.'

'Didn't Sabina tell you I wanted you?'

'No, mum. She told me you wanted to know how many were down stairs, and
I counted seventeen.'

'Take care Dinah, you're spilling that milk!'

'I can't help it, this pitcher leaks.'

'Where's the children's bowl?'

'I don't know, mum--I think it's broke.'

'Broken! Why, I bought a new one yesterday.'

''Tain't my fault.'

Hopelessly resigned, my sister Mary politely requested her to put down
the waiter, and explained the nature of a witness's duty. We
acknowledged our signatures and Dinah wrote out her name in a neat hand,
then picked up the waiter and walked out of the room with the air of an
injured innocent.

I jumped up, kissed my sister, informed her that for the next three
months she was to be a _passive_ observer, asked her to retire, locked
up the contract, and gave the bell one pull that brought half the
household to the door.



As the servants rushed into the library they found me quietly reading a
book and puffing at the pages. I slightly raised my eyes to this back
ground of faces on which might be seen, surprise, anger, impertinence,
curiosity and excitement. I slowly placed my book half open across my
knee, with my hand resting on the cover, and with the other taking my
segar out of my mouth, knocked the ashes off into a little glass tub;
elevated my eyebrows and asked in perfect astonishment, yet measured


'That's what we want to know sir;' exclaimed the cook, a little let down
by my coolness.

'Nothing that I know of,' I replied, except that I took the liberty of
ringing my bell,' increasing in volume as I spoke.

'We thought some one was sick, sir,' said Sabina.

'I don't want to know what _you_ thought,' I rolled out in emphatic
base, 'I want the WAITER! which is _it_?'--That neuter cut them to the

But they rallied--a revolt was imminent. I had lived in the family one
year, with my sister as housekeeper, and had never made a remark to the
servants, it being my habit in life to submit to what was not my
business, or clear out. But now--_now_, with Imprimatur on my forehead,
a clutch in my mental fingers, and a hungry longing to rule free: ha!
ha!--Let us see. This was a trying moment--The vessel had been
signalled, and my colors were to be shown--so here they go--the flag of
the little brig 'one-man-power,' with the motto 'Anvil or hammar answer
hammar,' is unfurled.

Hemmed in by swelling indignation, whisperings and sullen looks, I
jumped up and yelled in stentorian voice:

'Leave my room! How dare you answer the waiter's bell? Send me the
waiter and clear out, every one of you!' and, with a sweeping wave of my
hand, I stalked towards the door. Reader, did you ever see the sun chase
a big cloud right off a green field, and, with no respite, drive it
headlong away over beyond the horizon? Such was the rapid departure of
my stupefied retainers. On reaching the door, I slammed it to with a
violence that echoed through the hushed and palsied house.

Oh the benefit of a good slam--not a push--nor a quick shut--nor even a
bump, all of which show still a want of firmness and decision--but a
good old-fashioned 'bang' as though it had got into your throat and you
could'nt breathe--that life depended on shutting out a flash of
lightning and you hadn't time to wait--that the harder you impelled it
against the doorway the sooner would end fast fleeting agony--that the
nearer you got to what might be called an _explosive shut_: the more
complete would be your safety, that if all your concentrated passion
could be, not flung, (that is too weak) but hurled at that one partition
a vacuum might be made in your room towards which good impulses might be
drawn inversely. Many a good natured man who has been cornered by
injustice has slammed off his anger, and is ready to forgive, but not
give up. There is a dignity in this rapid developement of muscular power
which admits of no surrender--the gauntlet has been thrown down, the
chip has been knocked off the shoulder, the black flag is hoisted and
skull and bones stand out in bold relief. There may be a calm, the wind
may die out, but the monster waves once lashed up to a Titanic power
move on of their own accord, and wash away the very vestige of
resistance. Asking to _be_ forgiven after slamming a door is like
touching off a Rodman gun, and then calling out to the fort in front to
'look out' 'take care!' 'do get out of the way.' A first class slam is
cumulative long after the noise has ceased--the nerves go on
slamming--the valves of the heart flap to and from--the tympanum roils a
revelrie to all the shattered senses, the offender slammed at, at once
subsides from rage to fear; the mental barometer falls--and
apprehension--the requiescat--is a don't know what is coming next. A
bona fide, abandoned slam is a Domestic Earthquake.

I next sat down on my Mexican chair, and waited for the rapid hatching
of the egg. A register led up from the kitchen into my room, and though
never used, formed one of those abominable listening tubes that might be
truthfully called family tale-bearers. This time, however, I had the
pleasure of overhearing the following fragmentary evidence of a

'He must be crazy.' 'Did he drink much after dinner?' 'I say, you have
been here longer than I have, have you ever seen him so before?' Then a
giggle, and some one saying: 'Is he married?'

'Sabina, ain't you ashamed to laugh?'--'poor thing--won't
stay--gallows'--then silence, and in a few minutes one after another of
the visitors passed by under the window on tip-toe, and almost
immediately a soft knock and a pause. I thought * * * and acted.

'Come in,' said I, in one of those gentle and subdued voices that no one
but a passionate man can possess. The door gradually opened, and there
stood Susan, the devoted aunt.

I had placed a volume of engravings before my eyes, and was busily
engaged in drawing some plan, on paper, as she entered. I went on for a
little while in silence, when she said:

'I understood, sir----'

I said 'wait a minute,' and went on ruling one entire side, with double
lines, in perfect forgetfulness of her presence.

When she spoke again, 'Did you send for me, sir?' I would have answered
at once, for I felt awfully at appearing such a tyro; but the case was a
desperate one of long standing, and required heroic treatment. I kept
her waiting, at first as a lesson, that her imagination might take wings
and fly to the uttermost realms of unhappiness. The second time, I
thought I detected a little impatience in her voice, so I said, taking a
pen and dipping it in red ink, 'wait one moment, Susan,' and went on
lining and interlining. This was not reading, studying, nor writing; it
was what she very well knew I could do any time. So it told on her. Each
moment her valor oozed out, and as soon as I felt that the cup of
bitterness was pretty well drained, I proceeded to offer up this victim
as a sacrifice to peace.

'Susan, how is your sister's child?'

I looked straight into her. There was no sternness or smartness in my
expression, but the gaze was mathematical. I was measuring her candor,
and analyzing her mind.

She colored up and said, 'he's no better, sir; and they've given him up:
but the doctor says good nursing will do wonders.'

'I think so, too. Go back to your sister and stay till he is better; I
will supply your place.'

This puzzled her, but she could say nothing. I meant 'go' and she
went.--There was no delay--I saw her walk by the window almost at once,
and overheard the whisper, 'who next?'

I now rang the bell, and Dinah came to the door, saying, before she
knocked, the waiter is out, sir, so I answered your ring.

'Do you know where Thomas lives?'

'Yes sir.'

'Then tell him I want him now--'

'Yes sir,' she disappeared.

Oh the benefit of that _slam_.

In half an hour in walked Thomas.

'Never do you enter my room without knocking. It is a piece of
impertinence I will not put up with.'

'I did not mean anything by it, sir.'

'Well, don't do it again, and always take your hat off when you come
before a gentleman or lady. Such ignorance might lose you a good place.'

His wages were high I knew. It was also winter, and he gave in. He stood
still with his hat in hand and waited.

'Thomas I want you to bring the close carriage to the door with the two

'Yes sir; but the off horse cast his hind shoe yesterday and I am

'You need not be, the ground is covered with snow. I shall want the
carriage in fifteen minutes.'

'Yes sir, but--'

'But what?'

'I left the carriage this morning at the blacksmiths to have a new tire
put on it, sir.'

'Who told you to?'

'Nobody, sir.'

'Then never do anything of that kind again without first reporting it to

'Yes sir,' moving slightly towards the door as though it was all settled

'What other vehicle have you got in the stable?'

'The Phæton, sir; the open box wagon and the carryall.'

'Very well then, bring the nigh horse round in the carryall.'

'He never went in single harness since I drove Mrs. ----'

'Well, then, put the other one in.'

'Nor him neither, sir.'

'Humph!' it looked a little black.

'Well, where is the other horse, the gray, that your mistress always
drives when alone?'

'He is at the veterinary surgeons, sir.--I took him there last Monday
and he is to be blistered for two weeks off and on, sir.'

'Well, Thomas, as the coachman of the family, I ask you what can be

'I _must_ go out to-night. Can you suggest anything?'

'Nothing but to hire a hack, sir.'

'That's a very good idea, how far is the livery stable from here?'

'Just next to where I live, sir. I can get one in a minute, sir.'

Oh! so cheerfully.

'Very well, Thomas, just harness the two bays and ride down there and
put them to one. Tell the livery stable keeper that I wish it, and will
pay for the use of it.'

'But, sir, it is----'

'Thomas, I would advise you not to be long. You ought to be ashamed to
call yourself a coachman, and have what is under your charge in such a
condition. The idea of a horse two days without a shoe.'

'It isn't my----'

'Not a word--go and do your duty in future. I shall expect you here in
half an hour.'

He backed out of the room, longing to say something (what it was I don't
care) but completely at sea. As he passed under my window, (though I
have not sworn for many years,) I am pretty sure I heard several full
sized oaths. At the appointed time the bell rang and I went out and got
into the carriage. The horses looked very warm, and, though the night
was cold, one was covered with foam. I said nothing, but told him to
drive to Susan's sister's.

On arriving at the door, I heard sounds of very lively music for a dying
child, and saw the house all lighted up.

'Oh, I understand, it is one of those Hibernian wakes. Poor thing!' and
I began to pardon Susan, feel sorry for the coachman, and made up my
mind to give $10 towards the sepulchral expenses. As I entered the
house, surcharged with benevolence and overcome by a repentant feeling,
I caught sight of Susan and a strapping man whirling round the floor to
the tune of the Irish Washwoman. I approached her and said, 'I hope he
is better.' She uttered a scream and ran out of the room.

The next morning after having gone over everything in the house, I sent
for each servant and told them quietly but firmly that my sister's
health was not very good, and that I was housekeeper--that as they had
engaged to fill certain positions, I should take it for granted they
understood their business; that I had neither the time nor would I take
the trouble to overlook their work, but that as soon as I saw anything
wrong they would hear from me. If they wanted anything I was the person.
My housekeeping hours were from 9 till 10 a. m., no more. If they could
not take the trouble to ask for what they wanted at that time, they
could go without till the next day. I should not tell them what to do or
when to do it, but if it wasn't done, they would certainly leave. That I
allowed no company and gave them certain nights to go out, but if
anything special and _true_ was the matter I was ready to assist, 'and
now,' said I, 'no quarreling down stairs; each one to their work and no
complaining.--The moment you are discontented come to me and you can go
at once if you choose. I do not want any notice ever, except where a
baby is concerned.' This done I then advertised for a cook. The next day
my cook, down stair, came up to me quite flushed, and wanted to know if
I intended to turn her away. I said no, I had no idea of it, but thought
it was a very good plan to have two in the house; that I intended making
the new one a waiter, and then if anything happened, such as the sudden
departure, 'of my cook,' I said, looking right at her, 'for you know
they are quick tempered, why then I have one on hand.' She colored up
and retired. After going through a great deal of nonsense about the
words 'help' and 'servants,' I at length got what I wanted and all went
on smoothly for a time.

My plan for detecting neglect in the cleaning of a room, was to stick
half a dozen pins in different places about it--some on the walls, in
the window and other places that ought to be wiped. If I found them
there after the cleaning, I became suddenly very disagreeable.

During my sister's administration, I had been obliged to wait sometimes
three weeks before she could find time, for her servants, to put a
button on my waistcoat. Now, when I wanted anything done, the first
person that passed my library door was stopped, no matter what her work
might be at the time, sent for a clothes brush, needle or hammar, and
the thing was done at once. It acted like a charm, and all went on well.
At first they objected, (only silently), but I told them plainly that I
hired them for my benefit, not theirs, which generally followed; and
that though their work was specified to a certain degree, they must on
all occasions answer any calls and pay always for breakage. This last
saved twenty dollars a month, for hardly anything under those expensive
circumstances, fell of their hands; and I noticed the plea of 'sudden
change of weather,' or 'some one must have disturbed it,' or 'that
horrid cat has been among those dishes and upset them,' or 'twas cracked
before,' became as worn out as aphorisms of the past. I was always very
attentive to them when sick. This tells, in the long run, on servants,
for they are very susceptible to a kind act out of place--indulgence,
however, is soon forgotten. I always made it a habit, too, to pay each
servant something more a month than any one else. That, also, acted
wonderfully like a retainer. But I distinctly told them I wanted my work
done, because it was paid for. I asked no favors. Two other rules saved
me much trouble. When a girl said she couldn't do any set job, on
account of no time, no matter what it was, I always said, 'why, that's
all nonsense; it only takes five minutes;' and not infrequently have I
irritated them into doing almost impossibilities. I never valued any
cheap article under five dollars.

Another great mistake, is to find fault with a servant before any one.
Have they done wrong, go to your library and ring loudly--that is half
the battle; then tell the waiter to call the chambermaid, and then
speak. You will find everything easy. They have had time to reflect; to
weigh the pros and cons, and have half thought themselves into
submission. Never argue. If you have the right exert it, but never be
unjust; and, above all, believe me when I tell you that their feelings
are exquisite on the subject of neglect. Let them once feel a _respect_
for you, yet know you are determined to have anything done, and a simple
remark will lie like lead on their stomach, and you will hear them
talking of it down stairs and using the bow anchor of firmness, 'he said
so,' until it is done. Never change your mind.

I remember once, during that memorable interregnum of three months, and,
in fact, the only time in my life did it happen.--I had invited some
very pleasant, agreeable and talented friends to spend the evening. I
ordered my supper in the morning, and it commenced to snow. I continued
giving orders, and it continued snowing, and we kept at it very close on
to each other; if anything, the snow was a little ahead, but I went on
in the same way. At the proposed time the gas was lit, a lantern was
placed on the piazza; snow swept off; the side gate unhung by the waiter
man, and a path made. The snow piled high, and the domestics began to
give in, or out, I don't know which. They doubted the probability of any
one venturing out that 'dreadful night.' A little later, they began to
talk among themselves of the improbability of any one coming. I
immediately ordered the gas turned up in full; the candles lit, and the
supper table laid--every dish put in its place empty, to be filled at
the proper time--all for discipline. (I had said it was to be done in
the morning.) I then went up stairs and dressed. My sister, who had
gained five pounds every week since her abdication, met me in the
drawing room, dressed elegantly, and with an encouraging air pressed my
hand. She did not dare to make a remark, or the contract would have been
violated; but I thought I could detect in her eye an acknowledgment of
my success. As I sauntered through the brilliantly lighted rooms, rather
depressed at the non-arrival of my guests, the waiter said Thomas would
like to speak to me. I immediately went to the star chamber and took an
easy position.

A knock this time.

'Come in.'

In walked Thomas with his hat in his hand and bowing respectively, he
said--'I have just come from the stable Mr. D'Aubrey, and thought you
would like to know about the storm, sir.'

'What storm?' I exclaimed, 'oh, you mean the snow storm, yes--is it
still snowing?' At that moment the window was crackling with the hail.

'Yes sir, and I thought I'd tell you that no one could come out
to-night, for a horse without a wagon could not walk one hundred yards.'

'Thank you, Thomas, give the bay mare more corn to-morrow and call
Henry.'--Henry, the waiter, came in expecting orders to put away the
_clean_ things and lock up for it was ten, and not a soul had arrived.
'Order supper Henry at eleven.'

'For whom, sir?'

'For me--what are you waiting for?'

'How much, sir,' said he, in a bewildered air. 'All of it.'

He looked anxious. He could not classify me, but discipline must be
carried out, so Mary and I sat down to enough for twenty-five persons,
who had never known the pangs of dyspepsia. As soon as we had finished I
ordered a large portion of it down stairs, for the benefit of the
servants and retired. They all looked pleased and I was satisfied. Mrs.
Phillips had the nightmare at about two o'clock.

Before I took charge, the allies of my household were accustomed to
come in at all hours and sit up till they were too sleepy to go to bed,
looking the next morning like wet blotting paper. But that was soon
stopped. For the morning of my address to them I stated that the house
was shut up at ten p. m., and now and then it was amusing to hear the
door open as the clock struck.

One night at about twelve as I was sitting at my desk in the library, I
heard someone trying to get in. I knew it was the waiter who had slipped
out without leave, so I turned out the gas, put my head out of the
window and said 'I know it must be a robber, for they are all in,' and
seeing his form I fired off my revolver overhead.--No servant ever tried
again to enter by stealing in after hours. When my sister kept house I
suffered much for want of dishes during many days in the week.--There
was very little variety.

Sundays we had only potatoes and cold meat.

'Why,' I asked.

'They must go to church, my dear brother.'

Mondays, one fry, not even a roast, it was washing day, all the heat
must be turned off from the oven for the boiler.--The cook wouldn't have
it roasted in front, the only true way.

So no dessert could be baked.

Tuesdays I could have no company for it was ironing day, and the irons
filled up the range and nothing extra could be made. I submitted to my

But now I had soup every day, and whenever I saw anything very good in
market I ordered it home and had it cooked. Strange isn't it, with the
same range and the same cook? Before my reign we could not breakfast
till nine, the cook said that the milkman came so late. During my reign
we breakfasted at eight punctually, for I suggested to her the propriety
of rising at six instead of seven and letting him in on his first trip
instead of taking the milk from him on his return. My sister was obliged
to tell her two or three days before hand that she was going to have
company, that she might have time to get everything ready for dinner. I
frequently brought home two or three guests with fish and game in the
same carriage and ordered it as the fourth course while partaking of
soup. On one occasion I brought in partridges twenty minutes before
dinner. I went down stairs knowing she would be roused this time, and
flanked her by saying, 'Hannah, you won't have time to pick those birds,
so just draw them and _skin_ them. I want them roasted.' Before she
recovered from her astonishment I had departed.

Whenever a quarrel down stairs took place I never interfered as long as
they did not talk loud, but the next day if I noticed any one in the
sulks or a tendency to let things go by, I had the furniture of one room
changed to another. This required 'all hands' to work together, and I
made them fly round so, that when it was done they were only too happy
to go to lunch and rest, and I could hear many a joke and pleasant laugh
rise from the kitchen table.

One rainy evening, as my sister and myself were sitting in front of the
wood fire, exactly two months since the famous contract, and very much
in the same position, and talking over everything but it, a timid knock
was heard. I said 'come in,' and Sabina entered, looking very healthy
and neat--I cannot say pretty, though she had a good figure.

I never asked questions on these occasions. I always made it difficult
for them to talk in this, to them, gloomy room.--They had to stumble
through themselves.

'Can I speak to you, sir.'

'Certainly, Sabina--go on.'

'I have come to say, sir, that--that--I have came to say, sir, that'--a
pause; she looked very guilty.

'That's right, Sabina; you have come to say that--I understand--but what
have you come to say?'

'I have come to say, sir, that--I have come to go, sir!'

I controlled myself. She was an excellent chambermaid; understood my
ways thoroughly; and did her work well; had always been respectful to
_me_, and was very steady. It would be a great loss, but DISCIPLINE must
be preserved, and my mind was at once made up. My sister looked
surprised and sorry right out.

'Well, Sabina, when do you wish to go.'

'On Saturday, sir.'

Oh how my sister wanted to speak, but I looked at the tin box that held
the contract and she bit her lip.

'Very well, Sabina, you have a perfect right to go when and where you
please, and I will take great pleasure in writing out an excellent
character for you. Let me see, (looking at my account book) that is two
weeks wages making $8. I never make presents, but as you are going here
is a ten dollar bill. Where would you like your trunk carried, tell me
and I will send it by Thomas Saturday morning?'

'Oh! it isn't that, sir,' said she, 'but--but, sir,' with the tears
flowing rapidly.

'Why, what is the matter, Sabina?' (the first question apart from
business I had ever asked.)

'I don't want to leave you, sir.'

'Well, that is strange, then why do you?' (business question.)

'I'm going, sir--I'm going, sir, to--be--married!' and she burst into

(I congratulated myself on being a bachelor, if conjugal affection
produced such an effect.)

'Oh! that's it,' said I, dryly. 'Well I hope you will be happy.'

'But you've been so kind, sir, you--'

'There now stop, I have only tried to be just,' said I, looking
exultingly at my smiling sister, who took off a little gold stud and
gave it to her with many wishes of a happy life.

Everything went on regularly as clock-work. There was a place for
everything, and everything in its place. When the bell rang during dear
Mary's sway, it continued to ring, and on one occasion, a friend met me
in the street and said:

'Why William, have you moved?'

I replied no, that we were very comfortable where we were, 'why do you

'That's very strange,' said he, 'we called yesterday at one o'clock and
rang for twenty minutes. No one coming we concluded you had left for

'No,' I said, feeling rather confused, 'the waiter I believe is subject
to sciatica. At times he is taken suddenly and cannot move, and the
reason we did not hear the bell, (I looked away as I said so,) his cries
of pain are such that you cannot hear yourself speak.'

Now the door is answered before the first ring stops sounding. For I
arranged it so as to vibrate long enough to give a person time to go
from any part of the house in exactly two minutes; and no man of the
world rings oftener than once every three minutes. I would not have
written all this but my blessed sister soon entirely followed out my
reformation and is fairly convinced, as she says, that when a man sets
about any matter, he is very thorough: clear headed; and, above all, not
easily put down.

Oh! if all women thought so! eh, Mr. Caudle? I knew one learned
gentleman who only desired peace and good food. His wife never allowed
him to offer a suggestion. She called him a genius, and made him mind.

Formerly Mary rose thoughtful, with the pressure of business on her
brain. At meals she was abstracted, often worried, and at all times the
repository of domestic troubles. Her healthy organization was altogether
too mesmerized by the petty warfare below stairs. She was never idle,
and yet rarely accomplished anything for _herself_. Her position in the
household might have been called that of GRAND FINISHER. She planned
work and waited for its completion in vain. Finally she would bring it
into the library and stitch--stitch--all through the pleasant evenings.
I knew this, for I laid a plan. One April I asked her to work me a pair
of slippers on cloth. I presume a clever woman, undisturbed, could have
delivered them over to me at the end of the week. Now, no one is more
clever than my sister; yet I did not get those slippers till December;
and then she handed them to me in sadness, and said, with an attempt at
cheerfulness, 'dear William, I worked one myself, but my duties are such
that I gave out the other to that poor woman whose husband is at sea.
Has'nt she done it well?' Now, I find her reading, paying visits, and
often of an evening she comes to me and says, 'William, would'nt you
like some new handkerchiefs embroidered?' or 'can't I mend anything for
you? I have just finished my music and have nothing to do.'

On another occasion, while she was mending--not making reader--but
_mending_, her children's clothes, I offered to read one of Ik Marvel's
reveries of a bachelor, a special favorite of mine. She thanked me, and I
proceeded. On finishing one of his admirable paragraphs, I put the book
down and exclaimed, 'isn't that capital?'

She said at once, 'no, I think it is very discouraging.'

'Discouraging! Why, what in the world do you mean, Mary?'

'Excuse me, William, but I was'nt listening. The fact of it is, there
has been another row down stairs, and I do think that girl ought to be
ashamed of herself to treat Susan so;' and then for _one_ hour a
topographical and analytical history of the entire household was gone
into, with a _con amore_ spirit, which lasted through two segars and a
glass of water. I never spoke. On these occasions they don't want you
to talk; only to listen. They say in a sweet and confiding manner, 'you
know I have no one to sympathize with me;' and off they go, like the
recitation of Pope's Homer, made by some school girl who has been
sentenced to run through so many lines. I slipped the reveries into
their place, so that she would not be hurt, and I do assure you that
when she had got through I believe if you had asked her suddenly 'who
discovered America?' she would have replied 'An Irishman--I forget his

Formerly there was ever a business gravity about her: now she always
appeared with a sweet smile that lit up her countenance, as though it
had been sprinkled all over with sun-powder.

Difficult indeed was it for Mary to order anything without an advance
notice, for otherwise she was forced to start her little bark through
the Scylla and Charybdis of 'fire island,' namely, 'The fire's too low,
marm;' or 'I've just put on coal, marm.'

Now she reads to me herself, and marks the prettiest passages in
Tennyson, which no woman could find out if her understanding had been
mortgaged by servants.

Before, no matter what dish of meat was set before me, it was always
_dry_, or the gravy made of butter and _water_. I have often seen mutton
chops come on table looking like little islands of meat surrounded by
water, on which might be detected a tickley benders of grease. Five
minutes conversation on my part supplied the deficiency, and caused one
can of lard to outlast six of those in olden times.

When I first took charge of the kitchen, the cook made one struggle--but
only one. The reply to her question indicated such ignorance or
indifference on my part, that everything suggested in future was served
as directed, and well done. Having ordered many dishes one day--I don't
know whether it was washing or ironing day, I never used to ask: I also
gave the ingredients of a very nice pudding, and said 'can you make

'I know how, sir, but can't to-day.'

'Why not?'

'There is no room in the oven, you have filled it with your orders, and
it is impossible to bake it this afternoon.'

'You cannot bake it, then?'

'No, sir.'

'Then _broil_ it!'

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Christmas Story - Man in His Element: or, A New Way to Keep House" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.