Chapter 710406

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberNone
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1855-12-29
Page Number1
Word Count2217
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleTrials of a Housekeeper
article text


(From Tales and Sketches of New England Life. By

Harriet Beecher Stowe.)

I have -a detail of very homely grievances to present ; but such as they are, many a heart will feel them to be heavy-the trials of a houselteeper. " Poll!" says one of the lords of crea- tion, taking his cigar out of his mouth, and twirling it between his two fingers, " what a fuss these women do make of

this simple matter of managing a family! I can't see for my life a9 there is anything so extraordinary to be done in this matter of housekeeping : only three meals a-day to be got and cleared off-and it really seems to take up the whole of their mind from morning till night. I could keep house without so much of a flurry, I know."

Now, prithee, good brother, listen to my story, and see how much you

know about it. I came to this en-

lightened West about a year since, and was duly established in a comforta- ble country residence within a mile and a-lialf of the city, and there commenced the enjoyment of domestic felicity. I had been married about three months, and had been previously in love in the mos approved romantic way, with all the proprieties of moonlight walks, serenades, sentimental billets doux, and everlasting attachment. After having been allowed, as I said, about three months to get over this sort of thing, and to prepare for realities, 1 was located for life as aforesaid. My family consisted of myself and husband, a female friend as a visitor, and two brothers of my good man, who were engaged with him in business.

. I pass over the two or three first days spent in that process of hammer- ing boxes, breaking crockery, knocking things down and picking them up again, which is commonly called get- ting to housekeeping. As usual, carpets were sewed and stretched, laid down, and taken up to be sewed over ; things were formed, and reformed, ¿rawsforraed, and conformed, till atlast a settled order began to appear. But now came up the great point of all.

During our confusion we had

cooked and eaten our meals in a very miscellaneous and pastoral man- ner, eating now from the top of a

barrel and now from a fireboard laid

on two chairs, and drinking, some from teacups, and some from saucers, and some from tumblers, aud some from a pitcher big enough to be drowned in ; and seeping, some on sofa?, and some on struggling beds and mattresses thrown iown here and there wherever there was room. All these pleasant barbarities *ere now at an end. The house waa in order, the dishes put .up in their places; three regular meals were to be administered in one day, all in an orderly civilized form; beds were to be made, rooms swept and dusted, dishes washed, knives scoured, and

all the et cetera to be attended to.

Now for getting "kelp" as Mrs. Trollope says ; and where and how were we to get it ? We knew very few persons in the city ; and how were we to accomplish the matter ? At length

the " house of employment" was men- tioned ; and my husband was dis- patched thither regularly every day for a week, while I, in the meantime, was very nearly dispatched by the abun- dance of work at home.

At length, one evening, as I was sitting completely exhausted, thinking of resorting to the last feminine expe- dient for supporting life, viz., a good fit of crying, my husband made his appearance, with a most triumphant air, at the door. " There, Margaret, I have got you a couple at last-cook and chambermaid." So saying, he flou- rished open the door, and gave to my view the picture of a little, dry, snuffy-looking old woman, and a great, staring Dutch girl, in a green bonnet with red ribbons, with mouth wide open, and hands and feet that would have made a Greek sculptor open his

mouth too.

I addressed forthwith a few words of encouragement to each of this uncul- tivated-looking couple, and proceeded to ask their names ; and forthwith the old woman began to snufflle and to wipe her face with what was left of an old silk pocket-handkerchief prepara- tory to speaking, while the young lady opened her month wider, and looked around with a frightened air, as if meditating an escape. After some preliminaries, however, I found out that my old woman was Mrs. Tibbins, and my Hebe's name was Kotterin; also, that she knew much more Dutch than English, and not any too much of either. The old lady was the cook. I ventured a few inquiries. *'' Had she ever cooked?" "Yes, ma'am, sartin ; she had lived at two or three places in the city." " f suspect, my dear," said my husband, confidently, " that she is an experienced cook, and so your troubles are over;" and he went to reading his newspaper.

I said no more, but determined to wait till morning. The breakfast, to be sure, did not do much honour to the t-îleuts of my official ; but it was the first time, and the place was new to her. After breakfast was cleared away, I proceeded to give directions for dinner ; it was merely a plain joint of meat, I said, to be roasted in the tin oven. The experienced cook looked at me with a. stare of entire vacuity. " The tin oven," I repeated, " stands there," pointing to it. She walked up to it, and touched it with such an appear- ance of suspicion as if it had been an electric battery, and then looked round at me with a look of such helpless ignorance that my soul was moved. " I never see one of them things before,"

said she. " Never saw a tin oven !" I

exclaimed ; " I thought you said you

bad cooked in two or three families." "They does not have such things as them, though,*' rejoined my old lady.

Nothing was to be done, of course, but to instruct her into the philosophy of the case; and having spitted the joint, and given numberless directions, I walked off to my room to superin- tend the operations of Kotterin, to whom I had committed the making of my bed and the sweeping of my room, it never having come into my head that there could be a wrong way of making a bed ; and to this day it is a marvel to me how any one could arrange pillows and quilts to make 6uch a nondescript appearance as mine now presented. One glance showed me that Kotterin also was "just caught,"

and that I had as much to do in her de-

partment as in that of my old lady.

Just then the door-bell rang. " O, there Í9 the door-bell," I exclaimed. " Run, Kotterin, and shoiv them into the parlour." Kotterin started to run, as directed, and then stopped, and stood looking round on all the doors and on me with a wofully puzzled air. " The street door," said I, pointing towards the entry. Kotterin blundered into the entry, and stood gazing with a look of stupid wonder at the bell ringing without hands, while I went to the door and let in the company before she could be fairly made to understand the connexion between the ringing and the phenomenon of admission.

As dinner time approached, I sent word into my kitchen to have it set on ; but, recollecting the state of the heads of department there, I soon followed my own orders. I found the tin oven standing out in the middle of the kitchen, and my cook seated a la Turc in front of it, contemplating the roast meat with full as puzzled an air as in the morning. I once more explained the mystery of taking it off, and assisted her to get it on to the platter, though somewhat cooled by having been so long set out for inspection. I was standing holding the spit in my hands; when Kotterin, who had heard the door-bell ring, and was determined this time to be in season, ran into the hall, and soon returning opened the kitchen door, and politely ushered in three or four fashionable-looking ladies, exclaiming, " Here she is," As these were strangers from the city, who had come to make their first call, this introduction was far from proving an eligible one-the look of thunderstruck astonishment with which I greeted their first appearance, as I stood bran- dishing the spit, and the terrified snuffling and staring of poor Mrs. Tibbins, who again had recourse to her old pocket-handkerchief, almost entirely vanquished their gravity, and it was evident that there were on the point of a broad laugh ; so, recovering my self possession, I apologized and led the way to the parlour.

Let these few incidents be a speci- men of the four mortal weeks that I spent with these " kelps" during which time I did almost as much work, with twice as much anxiety, as when there was nobody there ; and yet everything went wrong besides. The young gentlemen complained of the patches of starch grimed to their collars and the streaks of black coal ironed into their dickies, while one week every pocket handkerchief in the house was starched

so stiff that you might as well have carried an earthen plate in your pocket; the tumblers looked muddy ; the plates were never washed clean or wiped dry unless I attended to each one ; and as to eating and drinking, we experienced a variety that we had not before con- sidered possible.

At length the old. woman vanished from the stage, and wait; sncceeded by a knowing, active, capable damsel, with a temper like a steel trap, who remained with me just one week, and then went off in a fit of spite. To her succeeded a rosy, good-natured, merry lass, who broke the crockery, burned the dinner, tore the clothes in ironing, and knocked down everything that stood in her way about the house, without at all discomposing herself about the matter. One night she took the stopper from a barrel of molasses, and caine singing off up stairs, while the molasses ran soberly out into the cellar bottom all night, till by morning

it was in a state of universal eman-

cipation. Having done this, and also dispatched an entire set of tea things by letting the waiter fall, she one day made her disappearance.

Then, for a wonder, there fell to my lot a tidy, efficient-trained English girl ; pretty, and genteel, and neat, and knowing how to do everything, and with the sweetest temper in the world. " Now," said I to myself, " I shall rest from my labours." Everything about the house began to go right, and looked as clean and genteel as Mary's own pretty self. But, alas ! this period of repose was interrupted by the vision of a clever, trim-looking young man, who for some weeks could be heard scraping his boots at the kitchen door every Sunday night; and at last Miss Mary, with some smiling and blushing, gave me to understand that she must leave in two weeks.

" Why, Mary," said I, feeling a little mischivous, " don't you like the place ?" " O, yes, ma'am." " Then why do you look for another?" "I am not going to another place." " What, Mary, are vou going to learn a trade ?" " No, ma'am.* " Why, then, what do you mean to do ?" " I expect to keep house myself, ma'am," said she, laughing and blushing. " O ho !" said I, " that is it ;" and so, in two weeks, I lost the best little girl in the world : peace to her memory.

After this came an interregnum, which put me in mind of the chapter in Chronicles that I used to read with

great delight when a child, where Basha, and Elah, and Tibni, and Ztmri, and Omri, one after the other, carne to the throne of Israel, all in the compass of half-a-dozen verses. We had one

old woman, who stayed a week, and went away with a misery in her tooth ; one young woman, who ran away and got married ; one cook, who came at night and went off before light in the morning; one very clever girl, who staid a month, and then went away be- cause her mother was sick; another, who staid six weeks, and was taken with the lever herself; and during all this time, who can speak the damage and destruction wrought in the domes- tic parapharnalia by passing through these multiplied hands ?

What shall we do ? Shall we give up houses, have no furniture to take care of, keep merely a bag of meal, a porridge pot, and a pudding-stick, and sit in our tent-door in real pa- triarchal independence? What shall

we do?