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Title: Ely's Automatic Housemaid
Author: Bellamy, Elizabeth W.
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.

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Ely’s Automatic Housemaid.[A]


In order for a man to have faith in such an invention, he would have
to know Harrison Ely. For Harrison Ely was a genius. I had known
him in college, a man amazingly dull in Latin and Greek and even in
English, but with ideas of his own that could not be expressed in
language. His bent was purely mechanical, and found expression in
innumerable ingenious contrivances to facilitate the study to which
he had no inclination. His self-acting lexicon-holder was a matter of
admiring wonder to his classmates, but it did not serve to increase the
tenacity of his mental grasp upon the contents of the volume, and so
did little to recommend him to the faculty. And his self-feeding safety
student-lamp admirably illuminated everything for him save the true and
only path to an honorable degree.

It had been years since I had seen him or thought of him, but the
memory is tenacious of small things, and the big yellow envelope which
I found one morning awaiting me upon my breakfast-table brought his
eccentric personality back to me with a rush. It was addressed to me in
the Archimedean script always so characteristic of him, combining, as
it seemed to do, the principles of the screw and of the inclined plane,
and in its superscription Harrison Ely stood unmistakably revealed.

It was the first morning of a new cook, the latest potentate of a
dynasty of ten who had briefly ruled in turn over our kitchen and
ourselves during the preceding three months, and successively abdicated
in favor of one another under the compelling influences of popular
clamor, and in the face of such a political crisis my classmate’s
letter failed to receive immediate attention. Unfortunately but not
unexpectedly the latest occupant of our culinary throne began her
reign with no conspicuous reforms, and we received in gloomy silence
her preliminary enactments in the way of greasy omelette and turbid
and flavorless coffee, the yellow screed of Harrison Ely looking on
the while with bilious sympathy as it leaned unopened against the
water-bottle beside me.

As I drained the last medicinal drop of coffee my eye fell upon it, and
needing a vicarious outlet for my feelings toward the cook, I seized it
and tore it viciously open. It contained a letter from my classmate and
half a dozen printed circulars. I spread open the former, and my eye
fastened at once upon this sympathetic exordium:

“Doubtless, my dear friend, you have known what discomfort it is to be
at the mercy of incompetent domestics--”

But my attention was distracted at this point by one of the circulars,
which displayed an array of startling, cheering, alluring words,
followed by plentiful exclamation points, that, like a bunch of keys,
opened to my enraptured vision the gates of a terrestrial Paradise,
where Bridgets should be no more, and where ill-cooked meals should
become a mechanical impossibility. The boon we had been sighing for now
presented itself for my acceptance, an accomplished fact. Harrison Ely
had invented “An Automatic Household Beneficent Genius.--A Practical
Realization of the Fabled Familiar of the Middle Ages.” So the circular
set forth.

Returning to the letter, I read that Harrison Ely, having exhausted
his means in working out his invention, was unable to manufacture his
“machine” in quantity as yet; but that he had just two on hand which he
would sell in order to raise some ready money. He hoped that I would
buy one of his automatons, and aid him to sell the other.

Never did a request come at a more propitious moment. I had always
entertained a kindness for Harrison Ely, and now such was my disgust at
the incompetence of Bridget and Juliana and their predecessors that I
was eager to stake the price of a “Household Beneficent Genius” on the
success of my friend’s invention.

So, having grasped the purport of the circulars and letter, I broke
forth to my wife:

“My dear, you’ve heard me speak of Harrison Ely--”

“That man who is always so near doing something great, and never _has_
done anything?” said she.

“He has done it at last!” I declared. “Harrison Ely is one of the
greatest geniuses the world has ever seen. He has invented an
‘Automatic-Electric Machine-Servant.’”

My wife said, “Oh!”

There was not an atom of enthusiasm in that “Oh!” but I was not to be

“I am ready,” I resumed, “to invest my bottom dollar in _two_ of
Harrison Ely’s machine-servants.”

Her eyes were fixed upon me as if they would read my very soul. “What
do they cost?” she mildly asked.

“In comparison with the benefits to be derived, little enough. Listen!”
I seized a circular at random, and began to read:

“The Automatic Household Genius, a veritable Domestic Fairy, swift,
silent, sure; a Permanent, Inalienable, First-class Servant, warranted
to give Satisfaction.”

“Ah!” said my wife; and the enthusiasm that was lacking in the “Oh!”
made itself eloquent in that “Ah!” “What is the price?” she asked again.

“The price is all right, and we are going to try the experiment.”

“Are we though?” said she, between doubt and desire.

“Most assuredly; it will be a saving in the end. I shall write to
Harrison Ely this very night.”

The return mail brought me a reply stating that two Electric-Automatic
Household Beneficent Geniuses had been shipped me by express. The
letter enclosed a pamphlet that gave a more particular account of the
E. A. H. B. G. than the circulars contained. My friend’s invention
was shaped in the likeness of the human figure, with body, head,
arms, legs, hands and feet. It was clad in waterproof cloth, with a
hood of the same to protect the head, and was shod with felt. The
trunk contained the wheels and springs, and in the head was fixed the
electric battery. The face, of bisque, was described as possessing “a
very natural and pleasing expression.”

Just at dusk an oblong box arrived by express and was duly delivered in
our hall, but at my wife’s urgent entreaty I consented not to unpack
the machines until next day.

“If we should not get the knack of managing them, they might give us
trouble,” said this wise wife of mine.

I agreed to this, and having sent away Bridget with a week’s wages, to
the satisfaction of all parties, we went to bed in high hopes.

Early next morning we were astir.

“My dear,” I said, “do not give yourself the least concern about
breakfast; I am determined that Harrison’s invention shall have fair

“Very well,” my wife assented; but she prudently administered bread and
butter to her offspring.

I opened the oblong box, where lay the automatons side by side, their
hands placidly folded upon their waterproof breasts, and their eyes
looking placidly expectant from under their waterproof hoods.

I confess the sight gave me a shock. Anna Maria turned pale; the
children hid their faces in her skirts.

“Once out of the box,” I said to myself, “and the horror will be over.”

The machines stood on their feet admirably, but the horror was not
materially lessened by this change of position. However, I assumed a
bold front, and said, jocosely:

“Now, which is Bridget, and which is Juliana--which the cook, and which
the housemaid?”

This distinction was made clear by dial-plates and indicators, set
conspicuously between the shoulders, an opening being cut in the
waterproof for that purpose. The housemaid’s dial-plate was stamped
around the circumference with the words: Bed, Broom, Duster, Door-bell,
Dining-room Service, Parlor Service, etc. In like manner, the cook’s
dial-plate bore the words that pertained to her department. I gave
myself first to “setting” the housemaid, as being the simpler of the

“Now, my dear,” said I, confidently, “we shall see how _this_ Juliana
can make the beds.”

I proceeded, according to the pamphlet’s directions, to point the
indicator to the word “Bed.” Next, as there were three beds to be made,
I pushed in three of the five little red points surrounding the word.
Then I set the “clock” connected with the indicator, for a thirty
minutes’ job, thinking it might take about ten minutes to a bed. I did
not consult my wife, for women do not understand machinery, and any
suggestion of hesitancy on my part would have demoralized her.

The last thing to be done was to connect the indicator with the
battery, a simple enough performance in itself, but the pamphlet
of directions gave a repeated and red-lettered “CAUTION,” never to
interfere with the machine while it was at work! I therefore issued the
command, “Non-combatants to the rear!” and was promptly obeyed.

What happened next I do not pretend to account for. By what subtle and
mysterious action of electricity, by what unerring affinity, working
through a marvellous mechanism, that Electric-Automatic Household
Beneficent Genius, whom--or which, for short--we called Juliana, sought
its appropriate task, is the inventor’s secret. I don’t undertake to
explain, I merely narrate. With a “click” the connection was made, and
the new Juliana _went up-stairs_ at a brisk and business-like pace.

We followed in breathless amazement. In less than five minutes, bed
number one was made, and in a twinkling the second was taken in hand,
and number three also was fairly accomplished, long before the allotted
thirty minutes had expired. By this time, familiarity had somewhat
dulled that awe and wonder with which we had gaped upon the first
performance, and I beheld a smile of hopeful satisfaction on my wife’s
anxious countenance.

Our youngest, a boy aged three, was quick to feel the genial influence
of this smile, and encouraged thereby, he bounced into the middle of
the first bed. Hardly had he alighted there, when our automaton, having
finished making the third bed, returned to her first job, and, before
we could imagine mischief, the mattresses were jerked about, and the
child was tumbled, headforemost on the floor!

Had the flesh-and-blood Juliana been guilty of such an act, she should
have been dismissed on the spot; but, as it was, no one of us ventured
so much as a remonstrance. My wife lifted the screaming child, and the
imperturbable machine went on to re-adjust the bed with mechanical

At this point a wild shout of mingled exultation, amazement and
terror arose from below, and we hastened down-stairs to find our son
John hugging his elbows and capering frantically in front of the
kitchen-door, where the electric cook was stirring empty nothing in a
pan, with a zeal worthy a dozen eggs.

My eldest hopeful, impelled by that spirit of enterprise and audacity
characteristic of nine-year-old boys, had ventured to experiment with
the kitchen automaton, and by sheer accident had effected a working
connection between the battery and the indicator, and the machine,
in “going off,” had given the boy a blow that made him feel, as he
expressed it, “like a funny-bone all over.”

“And served you right!” cried I. The thing was set for an hour and
a half of work, according to the showing of the dial-plate, and no
chance to stop it before I must leave for my office. Had the materials
been supplied, we might have had breakfast; but, remembering the
red-lettered “CAUTION,” we dared not supply materials while that
indefatigable spoon was gyrating in the empty pan. For my distraction,
Kitty, my daughter of seven years, now called to me from up-stairs:

“Papa, you _better_ come, quick! _It’s_ a-tearin’ up these beds!”

“My dear,” I sighed, “there’s no way to stop it. We’ll have to wait for
the works to run down. I must call Harrison’s attention to this defect.
He ought to provide some sort of brake.”

We went up-stairs again. The B. G. Juliana stood beside the bed which
she had just torn up for the sixth or seventh time, when suddenly she
became, so to speak, paralyzed; her arms, in the act of spreading
the sheets, dropped by her sides, her back stiffened, and she stood
absolutely motionless, leaving her job unfinished--the B. G. would move
no more until duly “set” again.

I now discovered that I was hungry. “If that Fiend in the kitchen were
only at work about something substantial, instead of whipping the air
into imaginary omelettes!” I groaned.

“Never mind,” said my wife; “I’ve a pot of coffee on the kerosene

Bless her! She was worth a thousand Beneficent Geniuses, and so I told

I did not return until late, but I was in good spirits, and I greeted
my wife gayly:

“Well, how do they work?”

“_Like fiends!_” my usually placid helpmeet replied, so vehemently that
I was alarmed. “They flagged at first,” she proceeded, excitedly, “and
I oiled them, which _I_ am not going to do, ever again. According to
the directions, I poured the oil down their throats. It was horrible!
They seemed to me to _drink it greedily_.”

“Nonsense! That’s your imagination.”

“Very well,” said Anna Maria. “You can do the oiling in future. They
took a good deal this morning; it wasn’t easy to stop pouring it down.
And they worked--_obstreperously_. That Fiend in the kitchen has cooked
all the provisions I am going to supply _this_ day, but still she goes
on, and it’s no use to say a word.”

“Don’t be absurd,” I remonstrated. “The thing is only a machine.”

“I’m not so sure about that!” she retorted. “As for the other one--I
set it sweeping, and it is sweeping still!”

We ate the dinner prepared by the kitchen Fiend, and really, I was
tempted to compliment the cook in a set speech, but recollected myself
in time to spare Anna Maria the triumph of saying, “I told you so!”

Now, that John of mine, still in pursuit of knowledge, had spent the
day studying Harrison Ely’s pamphlet, and he learned that the machines
could be set, like an alarm-clock, for any given hour. Therefore, as
soon as the Juliana had collapsed over a pile of dust in the middle of
the hall, John, unknown to us, set her indicator to the broom-handle
for seven o’clock the following morning. When the Fiend in the kitchen
ran down, leaving everything in confusion, my much-tried wife persuaded
me to give my exclusive attention to that machine, and the Juliana
was put safely in a corner. Thus it happened that John’s interference
escaped detection. I set Bridget’s indicator for kitchen-cleaning at
seven-thirty the next morning.

“When we understand them better,” I said to my wife, “we will set their
morning tasks for an earlier hour, but we won’t put it too early now,
since we must first learn their ways.”

“That’s the trouble with all new servants,” said Anna Maria.

The next morning at seven-thirty, precisely, we were awakened by a
commotion in the kitchen.

“By George Washington!” I exclaimed. “The Thing’s on time!”

I needed no urging to make me forsake my pillow, but Anna Maria was
ahead of me.

“Now, my dear, don’t get excited,” I exhorted, but in vain.

“Don’t you hear?” she whispered, in terror. “_The other
one!_--swe--eep--ing!” And she darted from the room.

I paused to listen, and heard the patter of three pairs of little bare
feet across the hall up-stairs. The children were following their
mother. The next sound I heard was like the dragging of a rug along
the floor. I recognized this peculiar sound as the footsteps of the B.
G. Then came a dull thud, mingled with a shout from Johnnie, a scream
from my wife, and the terrified cries of the two younger children. I
rushed out just in time to see John, in his night-clothes, with his
hair on end, tear down-stairs like a streak of lightning. My little
Kitty and the three-year-old baby stood clasped in each other’s arms
at the head of the stairs, sobbing in terror, and, half-way down, was
my wife, leaning over the railing, with ashen face and rigid body, her
fascinated gaze fixed upon a dark and struggling mass in the hall below.

John, when he reached the bottom of the stairs, began capering like
a goat gone mad, digging the floor with his bare heels, clapping his
hands with an awful glee, and shouting:

“Bet your bottom dollar on the one that whips!”

The Juliana and the Bridget were fighting for the broom!

I comprehended the situation intuitively. The kitchen-cleaning, for
which the Fiend had been “set,” had reached a point that demanded the
broom, and that subtle, attractive affinity, which my friend’s genius
had known how to produce, but had not learned to regulate, impelled the
unerring automaton towards the only broom in the house, which was now
in the hands of its fellow-automaton, and a struggle was inevitable.
What I could not understand--Johnnie having kept his own counsel--was
this uncontrollable sweeping impulse that possessed the Juliana.

However, this was no time for investigating the exact cause of the
terrific row now going on in our front hall. The Beneficent Geniuses
had each a firm grip of the broom-handle, and they might have performed
the sweeping very amicably together, could they but have agreed as
to the field of labor, but their conflicting tendencies on this point
brought about a rotary motion that sent them spinning around the hall,
and kept them alternately cracking each other’s head with a violence
that ought to have drawn blood. Considering their life-likeness, we
should hardly have thought it strange if blood _had_ flowed, and it
would have been a relief had the combatants but called each other
names, so much did their dumbness intensify the horror of a struggle,
in the midst of which the waterproof hoods fell off, revealing their
startlingly human countenances, not distorted by angry passions, but
resolute, inexorable, calm, as though each was sustained in the contest
by a lofty sense of duty.

“They’re alive! Kill ’em! Kill ’em, quick!” shrieked my wife, as the
gyrating couple moved towards the stair-case.

“Let ’em alone,” said Johnnie--his sporting blood, which he inherits
from his father, thoroughly roused--dancing about the automatic
pugilists in delight, and alternately encouraging the one or the other
to increased efforts.

Thus the fight went on with appalling energy and reckless courage
on both sides, my wife wringing her hands upon the stair-case, our
infants wailing in terror upon the landing above, and I wavering
between an honest desire to see fair play and an apprehensive dread of
consequences which was not unjustified.

In one of their frantic gyrations the figures struck the hat-rack and
promptly converted it into a mass of splinters. In a minute more they
became involved with a rubber plant--the pride of my wife’s heart--and
distributed it impartially all over the premises. From this they
caromed against the front door, wrecking both its stained-glass panes,
and then down the length of the hall they sped again, fighting fiercely
and dealing one another’s imperturbable countenances ringing blows with
the disputed broom.

We became aware through Johnnie’s excited comments, that Juliana had
lost an ear in the fray, and presently it was discernible that a
fractured nose had somewhat modified the set geniality of expression
that had distinguished Bridget’s face in its prime.

How this fierce and equal combat would have culminated if further
prolonged no one but Harrison Ely can conjecture, but it came to an
abrupt termination as the parlor clock chimed eight, the hour when the
two automatons should have completed their appointed tasks.

Though quite late at my office that morning, I wired Ely before
attending to business. Long-haired, gaunt and haggard, but cheerful as
ever, he arrived next day, on fire with enthusiasm. He could hardly be
persuaded to refresh himself with a cup of coffee before he took his
two recalcitrant Geniuses in hand. It was curious to see him examine
each machine, much as a physician would examine a patient. Finally his
brow cleared, he gave a little puff of satisfaction, and exclaimed:

“Why, man alive, there’s nothing the matter--not a thing! What you
consider a defect is really a merit--merely a surplus of mental energy.
They’ve had too big a dose of oil. Few housekeepers have any idea about
proper lubrication,” and he emitted another little snort, at which my
wife colored guiltily.

“I see just what’s wanted,” he resumed. “The will-power generated and
not immediately expended becomes cumulative and gets beyond control.
I’ll introduce a little compensator, to take up the excess and regulate
the flow. Then a child can operate them.”

It was now Johnnie’s turn to blush.

“Ship ’em right back to the factory, and we’ll have ’em all right in a
few days. I see where the mechanism can be greatly improved, and when
you get ’em again I know you’ll never consent to part with ’em!”

       *       *       *       *       *

That was four months ago. The “Domestic Fairies” have not yet been
returned from Harrison’s laboratory, but I am confidently looking for
the familiar oblong packing case, and expect any day to see in the
papers the prospectus of the syndicate which Ely informs me is being
“promoted” to manufacture his automatic housemaid.



[A] Copyright, 1899, by The Shortstory Publishing Company. All rights


This work appeared in The Black Cat magazine, December, 1899.

Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

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