|Newspaper Title||The Dawn (Sydney, NSW : 1888 - 1905)|
|Trove Title||A Lucky Day's Washing|
A Lucky Day's Washing
"MOTHER !" said Hettie from the door-step, " this is
awful ! "
"What is awful? "
" Why, two women living on one man ! " " But my dear, that man is your father ? "
" Yes, I know, but that only makes it worse ! What are we doing to help him ?"
" You know he will not hear of you going out. " " Did you ask him ?" anxiously.
" Yes, I did, and you should have heard him roar. "
" What did he roar ? "
" Let her stay at home !"
" Oh dear, " said Hettie with a despairing sigh. " You are not consistent, Hettie. " " Why not ? "
" You would break your heart in service."
" Oh, not to service, no sixteen hours a day for seven days in the week for me. Bah! a penny an hour and my board. What boy or man would do it and one Sunday afternoon a fortnight, and hurry back to get tea. I wonder the servant girls don't strike like the Dock
" Well, what would you propose to do ? "
" Oh, I don't know," said Hettie clasping her hand over her head and stretching her feet out as she sat in the low chair near the door.
" You see, if father was only a carpenter or a shoe- maker, I would not mind what anyone said, I would learn the trade and help him, but he's not. Shoemaking is not so hard, don't you think Mrs. Clum works harder turning that old mangle all day than her husband does sitting on that low stool tap, tapping with his little hammer and spouting politics ? And then he drinks what he does earn into the bargain. She gets the living anyway."
"Yes, at mangling."
"Why don't she learn the trade? I should."
"Yes, and be boycotted by the trades' unions !" "Boycotted ! ! What for ?"
"For working at a man's trade.'"
"But Mrs. Ross and her girls work at a man's trade, and they are not boycotted."
"Ah, that is different, they work for Mr. Ross."
"No, they dont, mum. They work to support them- selves and the little ones."
"Yes, but they are not heard of. Mr. Ross represents the firm and though he is barely sober long enough to take the orders, owns them and the business, and is consequently recognised by the trades' unions."
"But do you mean to say that if Mrs. Ross were to do her husband a real kindness by putting him into a home for inebriates, or taking her children and leaving his poluting dominion, do you mean to say that by work- ing at the trade the same as she does, and in a clearer atmosphere, that that would make any difference to the trades unions ?"
"Why, all the difference in the world !" "How, mother ?"
"They would band together to starve her out. They would issue exaggerated reports of the circumstance, and send them to all parts of Australia, calling upon all trade
unionists to pledge themselves "to paint her black."
"But she would spend all their earnings upon her fam- ily. She believes in the mental and physical develop-
ment of children."
"They would not listen to that. She's a woman, and they would tell her to do domestic work and have babies."
"Bah ! babies for such a father."
"But men do women's work ; they wash the clothes, bake the bread, sell fruit, do tailoring, and even white work and millinery."
"Nevertheless, that is the law, Hettie, and for a time longer, at least, we women must abide by it. What about a draper's shop ? "
"Oh mercy, no !" said Hettie in dismay. " Bolt my breakfast, hurry off to catch a train, race from train to busi- ness, stand on my feet all day behind a draper's counter till after eleven on Saturday evenings, then come home perhaps through the rain, and walk up from the station between eleven and twelve o'clock for fifteen shillings per week, board, and dress myself respectably out of it. No, never !"
Her mother's reply was unheeded, for Hetty was not attending, but with lips still apart, and an air of attention she was listening to two women who were talking outside the gate in the twilight.
"I'm not going, for one," said the first speaker.
" Nor me, " said the other. I have picked all my places, Mrs. Blakeman gives me five shillings a day and a bottle of English ale, and I'm done by three o clock, and I get thirty towels a week from the government office at two shillings per doz, so with my other two places I don't want any more.
" Well, I'd like to oblige Mrs. Young, but I get six shillings from Mrs. Owen to-morrow and as much food and clothes as I can carry away ; you know she has twenty gentlemen boarders and has lots to give away. She gave me a good feather bed last week and a lot of white shirts that the poor artist left after him as went to the consumption hospital. I laundered them and sold them all at three shillings apiece."
"Just listen to that," said Hetty musingly, "six shil- lings for a day's work and peruisites, and she pushed her sleeve well up and examined her shapely arm. Two days a week and the thing is done Why should I work six or seven days a week when two would do ? "
" But girls do not go out washing. "
" Why not? said Hetty quickly, " is it anything disgraceful mother?"
"No, of course not, but it is not usual."
"No, it is not usual, seemingly, until a woman has got a great lazy husband to spend it, and a tribe of small children to get into danger while she is away. I've got neither, only dear old dad and mum, " rising and going round behind her mother's chair, and laying her lips fondly upon her mother's brow, she said, "Het's going to get up early in the Morning—and don an old dress—and big apron,—and get that five shillings before
dad comes home,—and mum won't tell." A kiss at
every pause, and her mother was bought.
At six o'clock next morning Hetty enveloped in a dust cloak with a small brown paper parcel in her hand,
rang the side entrance bell at Bay View Villa. It was promptly answered by the cook.
" You want someone to wash?" Hetty interrogated. " Yes, but you don't look strong enough. "
" Oh, I can wash well, " said Hetty, hurriedly, viewing in alarm the undecided expression on cook's face. "I do our own in a couple of hours."
" Very well," cook replied, relaxing her hold upon the gate and making way for Hetty to pass, you can help me, anyhow, as it must be done, washerwoman or no
Leading the way to the laundry, she said, " You can sort them out and soap them down while I get breakfast over. There's the clothes, they're not dirty and the water is hot, I lit the fire under the copper when I got
Hetty had, by this time got her cloak off and was shaking out her apron from the brown paper and tucking up her sleeves, she started with a will, and when cook had time to run in and ask her to come and get breakfast, preparatory to a start, she found her so well on, that she concluded to let her finish the whole business.
" What a straight-up-and-down little old dot of a woman you have got to wash to-day, Bridget," said Mrs. Young, as she stood on the balcony at noon watching Hetty in a big sun bonnet pegging out the clothes, "and
what beautiful white arms she has. "
"She's not old at all, maam,—she's not more than eighteen, and she sings like a bird. Nora calls it high-
class music. "
" Indeed ! What a beautiful colour the clothes are !" "Get dinner a trifle earlier to-day, cook, as Mr. Young wishes to go to the Scotch concert this evening."
Mr. Young, be it said, was a shrewd, hard-headed business man, characteristic of his race, but he had one weakness, namely, a love for his country's music. To such a length did this weakness extend, that he had been known to jump the counter of his business house, to the surprise of his clerks and the consternation of a wealthy lady patron, and rush bare-headed down the street to listen to a band playing "The bonnie hills of Scotland," and the blind girl at the corner knew full well that if she could only hit the time of his leaving business to strike
up "Comin' thro' the Rye," or any other Scotch song, that it meant at least, one shilling added to her day's takings. So, small wonder, that when in the act of raising the first dainty morsel of roast lamb to his lips the master of Hay View Villa paused with fork poised midway between mouth and plate to look with surprised inquiry into his wife's face as the first bars of "Auld Lang Syne" came softly stealing in from the laundry through the French doors of the cool dining-room.
"Now, Robbie," said his wife, fearful of an upset, "its only the new laundress folding down the clothes for the mangle. Get your dinner and let her finish her song."
Louder and sweeter rose the refrain, while Hettie, happy in the full consciousness of having done a good day's work and given "every satisfaction," as cook as- sured her, folded, thumped, and banged each snowy
sheet and tablecloth into the desired flatness.
The hearer, was not nearly so satisfied as the singer; his appetite was only whetted by the taste, and he pleaded so pathetically and persistently with his Jettie (Jessie) for more, that she, considering it was the anniversary of his
wedding and birthday combined, was prevailed upon to have Hettie in the drawing-room to sing the songs her husband loved so well to her accompaniment.
Mrs. Young played on, though glancing depreciating now and then at her spouse, while Hetty timidly, but sweetly, continued to sing, taxing her memory to make the supply equal to the demand.
"I would give you a guinea a song to sing at our next concert," said Mr. Young, enthusiastically.
"Very well, dear," said Mrs. Young, "but let her go now, she's tired, and her mother is alone."
So, amid many pats on the shoulder and many cautions to take care of herself and voice until next concert, Hettie was allowed to go with five shillings from her mistress, and the same from her master in her pocket.
But it did not end then. Hettie sang at many Scotch concerts, until at length a young professor, an intimate friend and countryman of Mr. Young's, admiring her voice and seeing money in it, wooed and won her, and for years afterwards, while celebrating the happy day at their old friends' house, would laugh at what the young husband called "That lucky day's wash."