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Title: The Automatic Maid-of-All-Work - A Possible Tale of the Near Future
Author: Campbell, M. L.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Automatic Maid-of-All-Work - A Possible Tale of the Near Future" ***

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produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)

Transcriber’s Note: This story was originally published in The Canadian
Magazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature for July, 1893.


_A Possible Tale of the Near Future._


Yes; I mean what I say—an automatic maid-of-all-work, invented by my
husband, John Matheson.

You see it was this way,—the old story of servants, ever since we began
housekeeping. We’ve had every kind, and if we did get a good one,
something would come along to take her off.

You know John has invented lots of things. There’s that door-spring
now,—not much when you look at it but it brings in quite a little income.
He used to say that he was spending his spare time on an automatic
maid-of-all-work. Of course, I laughed, said I wished he would, and
thought no more of it.

Well, the day the last girl left, John announced that the automatic
maid-of-all-work was completed, and that he would stay at home next day
and show me how to work it.

Of course, I didn’t believe in it.

It was a queer-looking thing, with its long arms, for all the world like
one of those old-fashioned wind-mills you see in pictures of foreign
countries. It had a face like one of those twenty-four hour clocks, only
there were no hands; each number was a sort of electric button. It was
run by electricity, you know. The battery was inside. I didn’t understand
it very well; I never could see into anything in the way of machinery;
I never pretend to listen when John tells me about his inventions. The
figures, as I said, were buttons, and you just had to connect them with
some wires inside. There were a lot of wires, each for some kind of work
which would be done at the hour indicated by the button you connected it
with. This was handy, so that we would not have to get up in the morning
till breakfast-time, and would be handy in lots of ways.

“Now look, Fanny,” said John; “do try and understand how it works.
You see this wire now; I’ll connect it with button number six, and at
that hour the maid will light the fire, sweep the kitchen and then the
dining-room. Now this button number seven will be the one to set the
alarm to. It will sound for about ten minutes (I’d sound it now only it
makes a fearful noise); then the maid will go upstairs to turn down the
beds—a convenient arrangement in many ways. Then it will go downstairs,
lay the cloth for breakfast, make the tea and toast, bring in the things,
and ring the breakfast bell. You’ll have to leave all the breakfast
things on one shelf, of course, and measure the oatmeal and tea also. We
won’t set any more buttons to-night. It’s just as well to be around at
first to see that all goes right. There may be some adjustment necessary.”

We went to bed then, and it was daylight when I awoke. I was conscious
of a peculiar whirring noise, but I hadn’t got thoroughly awakened when
I heard the most awful screams and thumps, and the two boys came running
into our room in their night-dresses, and after them the automatic

By this time I was out of bed, but John sleeps very soundly. He
started as the maid jerked the bed-clothes down and laid them over the
foot-board, but he wasn’t quick enough. It took him under the arm. It
had an awful grip, too,—and laid him across the foot-board, after giving
him a thump or two, as I do the pillows. (John had watched me do it and
had the thing to perfection. He didn’t suppose it would be tried on him,
though). He didn’t seem quite prepared for such a performance, for he
flounced around so that he and the bed-clothes, pillows and all, landed
in a heap on the floor.

By this time the boys had got over their fright, having been treated in
the same manner, and we all laughed. John can’t bear to be laughed at.
However, we proceeded to dress after the maid had gone downstairs. I
could see John was a little nervous, but he didn’t want to show it, so he
waited till I was ready. The boys got down first, and we could hear them

“I dare say you’ll have to arrange the table a little, Fanny,” said John,
as we went down, “but that won’t be much to do when all the things are

Well, we went into the dining-room, and sure enough the table was set,
and pretty well too, only that the butter dish, with the butter, was
upside down on the table, and the coal-scuttle was set at John’s place,
instead of the oatmeal dish. That was because John, who always leaves
things in ridiculous places, had left it standing on the back of the
stove after putting in the coal ready for the morning fire. The porridge
was standing cooked on the stove. We had got an arrangement with a white
earthen bowl set into a kettle, and the bowl had just to be removed and
carried in. However, the coal scuttle had stood in the way, and John
had to carry it out and bring in the porridge. The toast was scorched a
little, but the eggs were boiled just to perfection, and we enjoyed it
all immensely.

Meanwhile the maid was upstairs making the beds, and such beds you never
saw. You’d think they’d been cast in a mould. The maid came downstairs
just as we were through, and then John pulled another wire. After doing
so he acted rather strangely. He didn’t seem to be able to let go the
wire for a minute. It gave him a shock, you know. After that he handled
the wires more carefully.

Then the maid proceeded to clear the table. Here was a slight
complication, however, for the maid washed everything, and though we had
eaten up nearly all, still there was some butter in the dish, a bowl of
sugar, and the salt-cellar. However, as there was lots of good hot water,
the dishes after they were wiped were as clean as could be; but John
suggested that for the present, until he could make some improvements,
the eatables had better be removed first, for “of course,” he said,
“there will be some imperfections.”

“Now, Fanny, I suppose you want to wash, don’t you? You have the clothes
ready, I see.”

“Yes, but it seems to me the dining-room is not swept very clean. Anyway
the crumbs ought to be swept up.”

“Exactly,” returned John, “only, you see, I fixed it so that it would
just run around the table once before breakfast, then afterwards you can
have all the furniture moved out and the whole room swept every day.”

Well, the maid proceeded to remove the furniture. It went to the middle
of the room, then began to circle around, removing everything it came
in contact with, and setting things out in the hall. John dropped the
leaves of the table, and all went well till it came to the stove and
attempted to remove that also; but something was amiss, and it veered
off to one side. John started forward to turn it off that track, but it
promptly picked him up and removed him. I forgot to say that a revolving
brush in the bottom was sweeping all this time, and now the thing was
making the last circuit as I thought, for it had touched the wall on
three sides, and I was wondering how it would get into the corners,
while John watched the stove, and wondered if it could pass between that
and the wall without coming in contact with the stove. But there the
passage was not wide enough, and the stove, a little open grate, was
picked up and removed. The pipes fell down and made a lot of dirt, but
that was pretty well swept up, as the maid had to make two or three more
circles to allow for the corners. John replaced the furniture, as he had
not provided for that part of the work. The stove we decided to carry
out for the season, but in the meantime he had started the maid at the
washing. You see there was no time lost between things; and I tell you
those clothes were washed, and so was John’s coat, which being a pretty
good one he had taken off and laid on the bench. Then we had the kitchen
scrubbed, the same apparatus which did the sweeping doing that also. John
adjusted it so that the furniture was merely pushed aside. The worst of
the thing was that you could not stop the maid, when it got going, till
it had run down, and what was more, if you interfered with the wires when
it was going, you were apt to get a shock from the battery. This was
inconvenient sometimes; for instance, after the kitchen was all scrubbed,
the thing still ran around the walls scrubbing as hard as ever. John said
the only thing was to pull another wire and set it to work at something
else; it would run till after the tea dishes were washed, anyway, and
probably we could find something harmless to keep it employed. Just then
John was called out to speak to a man about some coal, and I undertook
to head the thing across the middle of the room. Unfortunately it rushed
straight into the dining-room, water-pail and all. I didn’t care much.
I wanted a new carpet for that room, anyway, and I knew that sooty spot
would never come out. The water in the pail was very dirty by this time.
John had not thought of its having to be changed.

Presently John returned, and we got into the kitchen again. There was
another funny thing about it. Whenever anyone got going ahead of it in
the same direction it was sure to follow, and the only way to get out
of its road was to double back on your own track and dodge it. It was
the current of air it followed. John said he had a reason for making it
that way. While sweeping the kitchen it got after one of the boys once,
and it dodged around tables and chairs just as he did, till John told
him to turn and go back. It got after Bruno when we got it out of the
dining-room into the kitchen. He had just come in from the barn to get
something to eat. He turned tail and howled, but he could not get out of
the way till he jumped out of the window. The cat fared worse than Bruno
though, for she was picked up along with the wiping cloth and rubbed over
the floor for about three yards before she managed to get free. There was
quite a hole in the window, and we have not seen the cat since.

John said there was a fine arrangement for answering the door. Of
course, in some instances, we would have to go ourselves, especially
if any old lady or timid person, who had not made the acquaintance of
the maid, were expected, but if the postman or parcel delivery it would
be all right. Anyone could send in a card, too, you see. But the best
of all was the arrangement for putting tramps off the premises. John
was just explaining how this was done when Fred exclaimed, “There’s an
old fellow now; I wonder if he is coming here!” Yes, sure enough; he
turned in at the gate, and presently there was a ring at the door-bell.
Beggars are so impudent, and this was an old offender, so I didn’t say
anything when John pressed the wire, and we all followed to the door to
see the effect, John remarking that it wouldn’t hurt him. The door was
opened quite quietly, but closed with a bang after the maid. At first,
upon re-opening the door, we thought it had missed fire, for the tramp,
looking somewhat scared, stood at one side of the doorway, but the maid
was scuttling down the path with some limp figure in its arms. I was
sorry to recognize an uncle of John’s, from whom John had expectations.
I knew his bald head. The maid had him by the middle, and his feet and
head hung down, so that his hat dropped off. He was too much surprised to
attempt resistance, and the maid deposited him in a heap in the gutter,
and then returned. We were so bothered by the turn affairs had taken
that we forgot to get out of the way. Fred received a slap which sent
him sprawling. John was lifted bodily, after the manner of his uncle,
and laid upon the table, while I, my skirts being caught, was forced
to run backwards in a very undignified manner, till, by grasping a
door-knob, I wrenched myself free at the expense of a width of my skirt.
I stood hanging on to that door-knob as if I expected momentarily to be
snatched up and thrown out of the window, when my eyes happened to fall
upon Tommy. He was lying upon his back on the floor, his legs slowly
waving in the air. He made not a sound. The expression on his face gave
me such a start that I relaxed my hold on the door-knob, thinking that
he was injured internally. But he raised his hand, and feebly waved me
aside. He was simply too tired to laugh any more, and was obliged to
lie down and wave his legs to express his feelings. Fred had begun to
whimper after picking himself up, but, catching sight of Tommy, laughed
instead, until something in their father’s eye caused both of the boys to
take themselves out of doors. However, they perched upon the fence just
outside of a window and looked in.

“You see, Fanny, we must expect some complications at first,” said John,
“but after awhile we’ll get used to running it better.” This he said
as the maid started out of the front door again, after having buzzed
around the hall for a minute; for, as I told you, it was necessary to
start it at some new work in order to stop what it was doing, and, in
the meantime, while we were recovering our breath, it was making trips
through the hall to the front gate, and hence to the gutter and back
again. John was explaining that we could arrange the length of the trip
as we pleased, and it need ordinarily be only to the front door. Just
then, however, we heard most awful screams, and we rushed to the door to
see what was the matter. It seems that the maid had encountered at the
gate the form of a stout, elderly female, with a basket and an umbrella,
and of course had proceeded to remove the obstacle. However, the obstacle
refused to be removed, and they were having a lively time of it. A crowd
was beginning to collect, and a policeman appeared around the corner. He
interfered in behalf of the stout female, and attempted to arrest the
maid. The maid, however, made short work of him. It did not succeed,
it’s true, in depositing him in the ditch, but it spoiled his hat, and
caused him to beat a hasty retreat; then, having removed all obstacles,
traversed the remainder of the limit and returned to the house, followed
by another angry policeman, who, after considerable persuasion, was
induced to depart.

After the door closed upon the policeman, John looked at me and I at him.
The maid had accomplished several revolutions around the dining-room and
was about to return. “Mercy, Fanny, you’re always talking how much there
is to do; can’t you think of something I’m not supposed to know.” “No,” I
answered, grimly, but an idea struck John, and he immediately hurried to
pull another wire. He did not accomplish it with impunity, however, and
I’m sorry to say he made use of some expressions, as he danced around for
a minute, which I was glad the boys didn’t hear.

The maid now went out to the woodshed, and John fixed the handle of the
axe into the attachment at the end of one of the arms. Here was something
out of the ordinary way, and John brightened up considerably as the axe
began to move up and down with a regular, double motion, reached forward,
struck a stick at random with the axe blade so as to catch the stick,
drew it forward into position and struck it, splitting it in the centre,
and threw the pieces with two other arms into the corner, and so on till
the pile began to get low. Any sticks that were not split fine enough,
John threw back.

All proceeded well enough till the last stick was split. Then the maid
started to buzz around in search of more. It attacked the saw horse and
demolished it, ran into a tub and reduced it to kindling wood, ripped
up a barrel of ashes and raised a terrible dust which completely drove
John into the house. All this time he was trying to get near enough to
start it off on another track, but it wheeled around and flung the axe so
menacingly that John got excited and lost his head.

When the dust had subsided sufficiently we went out again. By this time
the maid had anchored beside the new wood pile and was splitting it over.
This would not have mattered much; we didn’t mind the wood being reduced
to matches, but it was close to the shed window and the sticks were being
flung through, carrying broken glass with them into the street. John did
not care for another visit from the policeman, but he was completely
nonplussed. Just then he heard a stifled chuckle and looking over his
shoulder he saw several boys perched on the fence and among them our own,
who immediately dropped down. But what maddened John was the sight of
a newspaper reporter also, who was evidently sketching the scene. Then
the air began to be filled with flying missiles which John threw at the
maid, till, by some lucky hit, some of the machinery was jarred and the
maid rushed wildly around the shed, the axe now slashing about with
a motion evidently intended for some other office than wood chopping.
John ran to shut the door in the face of the reporter who was filling
sheets with sketches. The maid, however, started after him. John stopped,
tried to dodge, hesitated, then ran out of the back gate and down the
road, the maid thrashing at him with the axe. This was serious. I ran to
the gate and anxiously looked after them, while the boys and reporter
followed in the wake of the maid. I very much feared the maid would run
into something and do some damage, but I soon saw that, as, of course,
John avoided all obstacles so did the maid and simply followed him. I
wondered why he did not reverse and pass the maid, thus putting it off
the track. Presently, however, John returned alone and looking somewhat
travel-stained. He pushed past me and went upstairs to the bathroom. I
did not dare to follow to ask questions, but Fred and Tommy also returned
soon and told me what happened after I lost sight of them.

It seems that, first of all, the axe flew off the handle and chopped a
rooster, which was scurrying out of the way, almost in two. Then they
caught up with a cow. It was quite a bit out of town, and she started to
run in the same direction. John swerved to one side and the maid caught
up with the cow and belabored her with the axe handle. This maddened the
cow so that she made for the river and rushed in, the maid after her.
They slashed about in the stream for a minute: then the maid sank and
the cow appeared on the other side.

Next morning, about an hour after John went down town, he sent up a new
carpet for the dining-room. We have a German girl now, and I don’t know
but that she’s better than the automatic maid-of-all-work.

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