Secret of a Happy Home
PUBLISHED BY THE CHRISTIAN HERALD, LOUIS KLOPSCH, Proprietor, BIBLE HOUSE, NEW YORK.
Copyright, 1896, BY LOUIS KLOPSCH.
To My Children, "The Blessed Three," Whose Love and Loyalty Have made mine a Happy Home And my Life Worth Living, The volume is Gratefully Dedicated.
The Secret of a Happy Home.
An Open Secret,
Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
That Spoiled Child,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
AN OPEN SECRET.
Some one asked me the other day, if I were not "weary of being so often put forward to talk of 'How to Make Home Happy,' a subject upon which nothing new could be said."
My answer was then what it is now: Were I to undertake to utter one-thousandth part that the importance of the theme demands, the contest would be between me and Time. I should need "all the time there is."
Henry Ward Beecher once prefaced a lecture delivered during the Civil War by saying: "The Copperhead species chancing to abound in this locality, I have been requested to select as my subject this evening something that will not be likely to lead to the mention of Slavery."
"I confess myself to be somewhat perplexed by this petition," the orator went on to say, with the twinkle in his eye we all recollect—"for I have yet to learn of any subject that could not easily lead me up to the discussion of a sin against God and man which I could not exaggerate were every letter a Mt. Sinai—I mean, American Slavery."
Likening the lesser to the greater, allow me to say that I cannot imagine any topic worthy the attention of God-fearing, humanity-loving men and women that would not be connected in some degree, near or remote, with "Home, and How to Make Home Happy."
The general principles underlying home-making of the right kind are as well-known as the fact that what is named gravitation draws falling bodies to the earth. These principles may be set down roughly as Order, Kindness and Mutual Forbearance. Upon one or another of these pegs hangs everything which enters into the comfort and pleasure of the household, taken collectively and individually. They are the beams, the uprights and the roofing of the building.
The chats, more or less confidential and altogether unconventional, which I propose to hold with the readers of this modest volume have to do with certain sub-laws which are so often overlooked that—to return to the figure of the building—the wind finds its way through chinks; the floors creak and the general impression is that of bare homeliness. House and Home go together upon tongue and upon pen as naturally as hook-and-eye, shovel-and-tongs, knife-and-fork,—yet the coupling is rather a trick learned through habit than an act of reason. The words are not synonyms of necessity or in fact.
Upon these, the first pages of my unconventional book, I avow my knowledge of what, so far from humiliating, stimulates me—to wit, that nine-tenths of those who will look beyond the title-page will be women. This is well, and as I would have it to be, for without feminine agency no house, however well appointed, can be anything higher than an official residence.
Man's first possession in a world then unmarred by sin was a dwelling-place—but Eden was not a home until the woman joined him there. Throughout the ages and all over the world, as mother, wife, sister, daughter (often, let me observe in passing, as old-maid aunt) she has stood with him as the representative of the rest, sympathy and love to be found nowhere except under his own roof-tree, and beside his own fireside. It is not the house that makes the home, any more than it is the jeweled case that makes the watch, or the body that makes the human being. It is the Presence, the nameless influence which is the earliest acknowledged by the child, and the latest to be forgotten by man or woman. The establishment of this power is essentially woman's prerogative.
In this one respect—I dare not say in any other—we outrank our brothers. They can build palaces and the furniture that fits them up in regal state; they can, even better than we, prepare for the royal tables food convenient for them, and fashion the attire of the revelers, and make the music and sing the songs and write the books and paint the pictures of the world. They may make and execute our laws and sail our seas, and fight our battles, and—after dutiful consultation with us—cast our votes. There is no magnanimity in admitting all this. It is the due of that noblest work of God, a strong, good, gentle man to receive the concession and to know how frankly we make it. To them as theologians, logicians, impartial historians, as priests, prophets, and kings—we do cheerful obeisance, yet with the look of one who but half hides a happy secret in her heart that compensates for all she resigns. There is not a true-hearted woman alive who would give up her birthright to become—we will say Christopher Columbus himself.
It must be a fine thing, though, to be a man on some accounts;—to be emancipated forever-and-a-day from the thraldom of skirts for instance, and to push through a crowd to read the interjectional headlines upon a bulletin board, instead of going meekly and unenlightened home, to be told by John three hours later that "a woman's curiosity passes masculine comprehension, and that he is too tired and hungry to talk." It must be a satisfaction to be able to hit another nail with a hammer than that attached to one's own thumb, and to hurl a stone from the shoulder instead of tossing it from the wrist; there must be sublimity in the thrill with which the stroke-oar of the 'Varsity's crew bends to his work, and the ecstasy of the successful crack pitcher of a baseball team passes the descriptive power of a woman's tongue. Nevertheless, the greatest architectural genius who ever astonished the world with a pyramid, a cathedral, or a triumphal street-arch, could never create and keep a Home. The meanest hut in the Jersey meadows, the doorway of which frames in the dusk of evening the figure of a woman with a baby in her arms, silhouetted upon the red background of fire and lamp kindled to welcome the returning husband and father, harbors as guest a viewless but "incomparable sweet" angel that never visits the superb club-house where men go from spirit to spirit in the vain attempt to make home of that which is no home.
"You write—do you?" snarled Napoleon I, insolently to the wittiest woman of the Paris salons. "What, for instance, have been some of your works since you have been in this country?"
"Three children, sire!" retorted the mother of Madame Emile de Girardin.
It was this same ready witted mother whom another woman pronounced the happiest of mortals.
"She does everything well—children, books and preserves."
Her range was wide. Comparatively few of her sex can grasp that octave. Upon the simplest, as upon the wisest, Heaven has bestowed the talent of home-making, precious and incommunicable.
Woman's Work in the Home! Taking up, without irreverence, the magnificent hyperbole of the beloved disciple, I may truly say, "that if they should be written, every one, I suppose the world itself would not contain the books that would be written."
Let us touch one or two points very briefly. I have said that men can furnish houses more artistically than we, and that as professional cooks they surpass us. It should follow naturally that men, to whose hearts the stomach is the shortest thoroughfare, would, in a body, resort to hotels for daily food. There is but one satisfactory explanation of the unphilosophical fact that the substantial citizen who, during a domestic interregnum, makes the experiment of three meals a day for one month at the best restaurant in New York City (and there are no better anywhere) returns with gladness and singleness of heart to his own extension-table—and that were I to put the question "Contract Cookery or Home Cookery?" to the few Johns who deign to peruse these lines, the acclaim would be—"Better, as everyday fare, is a broiled beefsteak and a mealy potato at home, than a palatial hotel and ten courses."
There is individuality in the steak broiled for John's very self, and sentiment in the pains taken to keep the starch in his potato, and solid satisfaction in putting one's knees under his own mahogany. The least romantic of gourmands objects to stirring his appetite into a common vat with five hundred others. But there is something back of all this that makes home-fare delicious, when the house mother smiles across the dish she has sweetened with love and spiced with good-will, and thus transformed it into a message from her heart to the hearts of the dear ones to whom she ministers.
John—being of the masculine gender according to a decree of Nature, and, therefore, irresponsible for the slow pace at which his wits move—may not be able at once to analyze the odd heartache he feels in surveying the apartments fitted up by the upholsterer—or to tell you why they become no longer a tri-syllabled word, but "our rooms," within a day after wife and daughters have taken possession of them. The honest fellow cannot see but that the furniture is the same, and each article standing in the same place—but the new atmosphere "which is the old," greets him upon the threshold, and steals into his heart before he has fairly entered. Anybody could have shaken the stiffness out of that portiere, and put a low, shaded lamp under the picture he likes best, and broken up the formal symmetry of the bric-a-brac that reminded him, although he did not dare confess it, of a china shop, and set a slender vaselet with one big ragged golden globe of a chrysanthemum in it here, and over there a bowl of long-stemmed roses—(his favorite Bon Silenes, too). But what hireling, O blind and dear John! would have left a bit of fancy work with the needle sticking in it, and scissors lying upon it, on the table in library or smoking room, and put the song you always ask for at twilight upon the open piano, and, just where you would choose to cast yourself down to listen, your especial Sleepy Hollow of chair or lounge with the slumber robe worked last Christmas by loving fingers thrown invitingly across it?
What professional art could make the vestibule of your house—a rented cottage, maybe—the gateway to another, and a purer, higher, happier sphere than the world you shut out with the closing of the front door? You would never get upon so much as bowing terms with your better self but for that front door and the latch key which lets you into the hall brightened by loving smiles, made merry by welcoming voices.
Talk of the prose of everyday life! When Poetry is hounded from every other nook of the earth which the Maker of it meant should be one vast, sublime epic, she will find an inviolable retreat under the Lares and Penates guarding the ingleside, and crown as priestess forever the wife and mother who makes and keeps the Home.
It could hardly be otherwise. To no other of his co-workers does the Lord of life grant such opportunities as to woman. Her baby is laid in the mother's arms to have, and to hold, and to fashion, without let or hindrance. His mind and heart are unwritten paper, and Nature and Providence unite in waving aside all who would interfere with what she chooses to inscribe thereupon. Her growing boys and girls believe in her with absoluteness no other friend will ever inspire—not in her love alone, but in her infallibility and her omnipotence. It is a moment of terror and often the turning point in a child's life, when first he comprehends that there are hurts his mother cannot heal, knowledge which he needs and she cannot impart.
If the boundaries of home seem sometimes to circumscribe a woman's sphere, they are also a safe barricade within which husband, and the children who have come to man's estate, find retreat from the outer storm and stress, a sanctuary where love feeds the flame upon the domestic altar. There, the atmosphere, like that of St. Peter's Church, never changes. It refreshes when the breath of the world is a simoon, withering heart and strength. When the winds of adversity are bleak, the shivering wanderer returns to the fold, "curtained and closed and warm—" to gather force for to-morrow's strain.
"Love, rest and home!"
we sing with moistened eyes. The blessed three are put in trust with woman. Other stations of honor and usefulness may be opened to her, but this is the realm of which nothing can dispossess her. The leaven that leavens the nations is wrought by her hands. Hers is the seedtime that determines what harvest the Master shall reap. To her is committed the holy task of preserving all that we can know of a lost paradise until we see the light flash out for our eager eyes from the wide doors of what—when we would draw it nearest and make it dearest to our hearts—we call our Changeless Home.
SISTERLY DISCOURSE WITH JOHN'S WIFE CONCERNING JOHN.
John is not John until he is married. He assumes the sobriquet at the altar as truly as his bride takes the title of "Mistress" or "Madame." Once taken, the name is generic, inalienable and untransferable. Yet, as few men marry until they have attained legal majority, it follows that your John—my John—every wife's John—must have been in making for a term of years before he fell into our hands.
Sometimes he is marred in the making.
The most loyal wife admits to her inmost self in the most confidential season of self-communion, that she could have brought up her husband better than his mother or whatever feminine relative had the training of him succeeded in doing. An opinion which, I remark, is not shared by the relative in question. The mother of a growing son will know how to sympathize with her Mamma-in-law, when her own son—
"—will a-wooing go, Whether his mother will or no."
I am John's advocate and best friend, but I cannot withhold the admission that he has some grave faults, and one or two incurable disabilities. Grappling, forthwith, with the most obstinate of these last—I name it boldly. John is not—he never can be—and would not be if he could—a woman. Taking into consideration the incontrovertible truth that nobody but a woman ever understood another woman—the situation is serious enough. So desperate in fact, that every mother's daughter of the missionary sex is fired with zealous desire to mend it, and chooses for a subject her own special John—in esse or in posse.
This may sound like badinage, but it is uttered in sad earnest. The wife's irrational longing to extract absolute sympathy of taste, opinion and feeling, from her wedded lord, is a baneful growth which is as sure to spring up about the domestic hearth as pursley—named by the Indian, "the white man's foot"—to show itself about the squatter's door. Once rooted it is as hard to eradicate as plantain and red sorrel.
I brand it as "irrational," because common sense shows the extreme improbability that two people—born of different stocks, and brought up in different households—the man, sometimes, in no household at all—should each be the exact counterpart of the other; should come together provided respectively, with the very qualities, likes and dislikes, that the partner needs and prefers.
Add to the improbability aforesaid the inevitable variance of views upon divers important subjects consequent upon the standpoint masculine and the standpoint feminine, and the wonder grows—not that some marriages are unhappy, but that a large percentage of wedded couples jog on comfortably, and, if not without jar, without open scandal. That they do speaks volumes for the wisdom of Him who ordained marriage as man's best estate—and something—not volumes—perhaps, but a pamphlet or two—in behalf of human powers of philosophical endurance.
Before going farther it would be well to look our subject in the face—inspect it fairly and without prejudice pro or con.
Stand forth, honest John! and let us behold you, as God made and your mother—in blood, or in heart—trained you. Let the imagination of my readers survey him, as he plants himself before us. Albeit a trifle more conscious than a woman would be in like circumstances, of the leading fact that he has the full complement of hands and feet usually prescribed by Nature, he bears scrutiny bravely. He is what he would denominate in another, "a white man;" square in his dealings with his fellow-men and with a soft place, on the sunny side of his heart, for the women. He would add—"God bless them!" did we allow him to speak. Men of his sort rarely think of their own womenkind or of pure, gentle womanhood in the abstract, without a benediction, mental or audible.
Our specimen, you will note, as he begins to feel at ease in the honorable pillory to which we have called him—puts his hands into his pockets. The gesture supplies us with the first clause of our illustrated lecture. Without his pockets John would be a cipher, and a decimal cipher at that. If some men were not all pocket they would never be Johns, for no Jill would be so demented as to "come tumbling after" them. I have seen a pocket marry off a hump-back, a twisted foot and sixty winters' fall of snow upon the head, while a pocketless Adonis sighed in vain for Beauty's glance. A full pocket balances an empty skull as a good heart cannot; a plethoric pocket overshadows monstrous vices.
But at his cleanly best, John's pockets are an integral part of his personality. He feels after his pocket instinctively while yet in what corresponds in the genus homo with the polywog state in batrachia. The incipient man begins to strut as soon as mamma puts pockets into his kilted skirt—a stride as prophetic as the strangled crow of the cockerel upon the lowest bar of the fence.
The direst penance Johnny can know is to have his pockets stitched up because he will keep his hands in them. To deny him the right is to do violence to natural laws. He is the born money-maker, bread-winner, provider—the huesbonda of our Anglo-Saxon ancestry—and the pocket is his heraldic symbol, his birthright.
The pocket question obtrudes itself at an alarmingly early period of married life—whoever may be the moneyed member of the new firm. When, as most frequently happens, this is John, the ultra-conscientious may think that he ought, prior to the wedding-day, to have hinted to his highland or lowland Mary, that he did not intend to throw unlimited gold into her apron every day. If he had touched this verity however remotely, she would not have married him. The man who speaks the straight-forward truth in such circumstances might as well put a knife to his throat, if love and life are synonyms.
Honest John, thrusting his hands well towards the bottom of his pockets, smiles sheepishly, yet knowingly, in listening to this "discourse." Courtship is one thing and marriage is another in his code. Mary's primal mistake is in assuming—(upon John's authority, I regret as his advocate to say), that the two states are one and the same. Moonlight vows and noonday action should, according to her theory, be in exact harmony. John does not deceive consciously. Wemmick's office tenets differed diametrically from those he held at Walworth where his aged parent toasted the muffins, and Miss. Skiffins made the tea. The mellow fervency of John's "With all my worldly goods I thee endow"—must be taken in a Pickwickian and Cupidian sense. Reason and experience sustain him in the belief that a tyro should learn a business before being put in charge of important interests. Mary is a tyro whose abilities and discretion he must test before—in the words of the old song—he
"gives her the key of his chest, To get the gold at her request."
Most women take to married and home-life easily, because naturally. The shadow of the roof-tree, the wholesome restraint of household routine and the peaceful monotony of household tasks accord well with preconceived ideas and early education. John's liking for domesticity is usually an acquired taste, like that for olives and caviare, and to gain aptitude for the duties it involves, requires patience. He needs filing down and chinking, and rounding off, and sand-papering before he fits decorously into the chimney-corner. And when there, he sometimes does not "season straight." He was hewed across the grain, or the native grain ran awry, or there is a knot in the wood.
"Why were those newel posts oiled before they were set up?" I asked of a carpenter.
"T' keep'em from checkin', to be sure."
"Yes, ma'am. Goin' in shaller cracks all over, 's wood's apt to do without it's properly treated beforehand. Sometimes 'twould crack clean through ef 'twarnt for the ile."
In his new position John is apt "to go in shaller cracks all over," unless his feminine trainer has been judicious in the use of lubricants—assuasive and dissuasive. If handled aright by the owner he, to do him justice, rarely "cracks clean through."
"Checking" in this case signifies the lack of the small, sweet courtesies which are the peaceable fruits of the Gospel of Conventionality. Breeding, good or bad, environs the growing lad, as Wordsworth tells us heaven lies about us in our infancy. The boy whose mother allows him to lounge into her presence with his cap upon his head, whose sisters wink indulgently at his shirt sleeves in parlor and at table—will don his hat and doff his coat in his wife's sitting-room. Politeness, like gingerbread, is only excellent when home-made, and is not to be bought for money.
I wonder if John—disposed by nature and too often by education to hold such niceties of custom as trifles and cheap—suspects what a blow is dealt to his wife's ideals when he begins to show, either that he respects her less than of old, or that he is less truly a gentleman than his careful conservation of elegant proprieties during their courtship led her to imagine. It costs him but a second's thought and slight muscular exertion to lift his hat in kissing her on leaving home in the morning, and in returning at evening. It ought not to be an effort for him to rise to his feet when she enters the room, and to comport himself at her table and in her drawing-room as he would at the board and in the parlor of his neighbor's wife. Each of these slight civilities elevates her in her own and in others' eyes, and tends to give her her rightful place as queen of the home and of his heart. She may be maid-of-all-work in a modest establishment, worn and depressed by over-much drudgery, but in her husband's eyes she is the equal of any lady in the land. Her stove-burned face and print gown do not delude him as to her real position. Furthermore—and this hint is directed sidewise at our "model"—a sense of the incongruity between the fine courtesy of her husband's manner, and of slovenly attire upon the object of his attentions—would incite her to neatness and becomingness in dress. It is worth while to look well in the eyes of one who never for a moment forgets that he is a gentleman, and his wife a lady.
When John finds himself excusing this and that lapse from perfect breeding in his home life with the plea—"It is only my wife!" he needs to look narrowly at his grain and his seasoning. He is in danger of "checking."
Being a man—or I would better say—not being a woman—John is probably made up without domestic tact, and his wife must be on her guard to cover the deficiency. For example, if by some mortifying combination of mischances, a dish is scantily supplied, he helps it out lavishly, scrapes the bottom officiously, and with innocent barbarity calls your attention to the fact that it needs replenishing.
"I tried once to hold my husband back from the brink of social disaster," said one wife. "We sat opposite to one another at a dinner party where the conversation neared a topic that would be, I knew, extremely painful and embarrassing to our hostess. My John led the talk—all unaware of the peril—and when the next sentence would, I felt, be fatal, I pressed his foot under the table. What do you think that blessed innocent did? Winced visibly and sharply—stopped short in the middle of a word, and stared at me with pendulous jaw, and—while everybody looked at him for the next breath—said, resonantly—'Jane! did you touch my foot?'"
The incident is essentially John-esque. I am as positive as if I had called for a comparison of experience, that every wife who reads this could furnish a parallel sketch from life. The average John is impervious to glance or gesture. I know one who is a model husband in most respects, who, when a danger-signal is hung out from the other end of the table, draws general attention in diplomatic fashion thus—
"Halloo! I have no idea what I have done or said, now! but when Madame gives her three-cornered frown, I know there are reefs ahead, on the starboard or the larboard side, and I'd better take my soundings."
Women are experts in this sort of telegraphy. From one of them, such an expose would mean downright malice, or mischief, and be understood as such. John's voiced bewilderment may be harmful, but it is as guileless as a baby's. It may be true that men are deceivers ever, in money or love affairs. In everyday home life, there is about the most sophisticated, a simplicity of thought and word, a transparency of motive, and, when vanity is played upon cunningly, a naive gullibility—that move us to wondering admiration. It, furthermore, I grieve to admit, furnishes manoeuvring wives with a ready instrument for the accomplishment of their designs.
For another fixed fact in the natural history of John is that, however kindly and intelligent and reasonable he may be—he needs, in double harness, to be cleverly managed, to be coaxed and petted up to what else would make him shy. If driven straight at it, the chances are forty-eight out of fifty that he will balk or bolt.
A stock story of my girlish days was of a careless, happy-go-lucky housewife, who, upon the arrival of unexpected guests, told her maid "not to bother about changing the cloth, but to set plates and dishes so as to humor the spots."
She is a thrifty, not a slovenly manager, who accommodates the trend of daily affairs to humor her John's peculiarities and foibles; who ploughs around stumps, and, instead of breaking the share in tough roots, eases up, and goes over them until they decay of themselves. In really good ground they leave the soil the richer for having suffered natural decomposition. If John is prone to savagery when hungry (and he usually is), our wise wife will wait until he has dined before broaching matters that may ruffle his spirit.
It is more than likely that he has the masculine bias toward wet-blanketism that tries sanguine women's souls more sorely than open opposition. Some Johns make it a point of manly duty to discourage at first hearing any plan that has originated with a woman. I am fond of John, but this idiosyncrasy cannot be ignored. Nor is it entirely explicable upon any principle known in feminine ethics, unless it be intended by Providence as a counterweight to the womanly proclivity to see but one side of a question when we are interested in carrying it to a vote. John is as positive that there are two sides to everything, as Columbus was that the Eastern Hemisphere must have something to balance it. When Mary looks to him for instant assent and earnest sympathy, he casts about for objections, and sets them in calm array. She may have demonstrated in a thousand instances her ability to judge and act for herself, and may preface her exposition of the case in hand by saying that she has given it mature deliberation. It never occurred to him until she mentioned it; he may have sincerest respect for her sense and prudence—the chances are, nevertheless, a thousand to one that he will begin his reply with—
"That is all very well, my dear—but you must reflect, that, etc., etc., et cetera"—each et cetera a dab of wet wool, taking out more and more stiffening and color, until the beautiful project hangs, a limp rag, on her hands, a forlorn wreck over which she could weep in self-pity.
This is one of the "spots" to be "humored." Wives there are, and not a few of them, sagacious and tender, who have learned the knack of insinuating a scheme upon husbandly attention until the logical spouses find themselves proposing—they believe of their own free will—the very designs born of their partner's brains. This is genius, and the practical application thereof is an art in itself. It may also be classified for John's admonition, as the natural reaction of ingenious wits against wet-blanketism. The funniest part of the transaction is that John never suspects the ruse, even at the hundredth repetition, and esteems himself, in dogged complacency, the author of his spouse's goodliest ideas.
Such a one dreads nothing more than the reputation of being ruled by his wife. The more hen-pecked he is, the less he knows it—and vice versa. "He jests at scars who never felt a wound." She who has her John well in hand has broken him in too thoroughly to allow him to resent the curb, or to play with the bit.
His intentions—so far as he knows them—are so good, he tries so steadfastly to please his wife—he is so often piteously perplexed—this big, burly, blundering, blind-folded, blessed John of ours—that our knowledge of his disabilities enwraps him in a mantle of affectionate charity. His efforts to master the delicate intricacy of his darling's mental and spiritual organization may be like the would-be careful hold of thumb and finger upon a butterfly's wing, but the pain he causes is inconceivable by him. The suspicion of hurt to the beautiful thing would break his heart. He could more easily lie down and die for her than sympathize intelligently in her vague, delicious dreams, the aspirations, half agony, half rapture, which she cannot convey to his comprehension—yet which she feels that he ought to share.
Ah! the pathos and the pity—sometimes the godlike patience of that silent side of our dear John! Mrs. Whitney, writing of Richard Hathaway, tells us enough of it to beget in us infinite tolerance.
"Everything takes hold away down where I can't reach or help," says the poor fellow of his sensitive, poetical wife. "She is all the time holding up her soul to me with a thorn in it."
"He did not know that that was poetry and pathos. It was a natural illustration out of his homely, gentle, compassionate life. He knew how to help dumb things in their hurts. His wife he could not help."
It reminds us of Ham Peggotty's tender adjustment upon his palm of the purse committed to him by Emily for fallen Martha.
"'Such a toy as it is!' apostrophized Ham, thoughtfully, looking on it. 'With, such a little money in it, Em'ly, my dear.'"
We are reminded more strongly of rough, gray boulders holding in their hearts the warmth of the sunshine for the comfortable growth of mosses that creep over and cling to and beautify them.
John is neither saint nor hero, except in Mary's fancy sketch of the Coming Man. He remonstrates against canonization strenuously—dissent that passes with the idealist for modesty, and enhances her admiration. She is oftener to blame for the disillusion than he. With the perverseness of feminine nature she construes strength into coarseness of fibre, slowness into brutal indifference. Until women get at the truth in this matter of self-deception, disappointment surely awaits upon awakening from Love's young dream.
The surest guard against the shock of broken ideals is to keep ever before the mind that men are not to be measured by feminine standards of perfection. Mary has as little perception of perspective as a Chinese landscape painter; she colors floridly and her drawing is out of line.
Put John in his proper place as regards distances, shadow and environment, and survey him in the cool white light of common sense. Unless he is a poseur of uncommon skill, he will appear best thus.
Conjugal quarrels are so constantly the theme of ridicule and the text of warnings to the unwedded that we lose sight of the plain truth that husbands and wives bicker no more than parents and children, brothers and sisters. In every community there are more blood-relations who do not speak to one another than divorced couples. Wars and fightings come upon us, not through matrimony so much as through the manifold infirmities of mortal nature. John, albeit not a woman, is a vertebrate human being, "with hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. If you prick him he will bleed, if you tickle him he will laugh, if you poison him he will die." In the true marriage, he is the wife's other self—one lobe of her brain—one ventricle of her heart—the right hand to her left. This is the marriage the Lord hath made.
The occasional clash of opinions, the passing heat of temper, are but surface-gusts that do not stir the brooding love of hearts at rest in one another.
While John remains loyal to his wedded wife, forsaking all others and cleaving to her alone, the inventory of his faults should be a sealed book to her closest confidante, the carping discussion of his failings be prohibited by pride, affection and right taste. This leads me to offer one last tribute to our patient (and maybe bored) subject. He has as a rule, a nicer sense of honor in the matter of comment upon his wife's shortcomings and foibles than she exhibits with regard to his.
Set it down to gallantry, chivalry, pride—custom—what you will—but the truth sheds a lustre upon our John of which I mean he shall have the full advantage. Perhaps the noblest reticence belongs to the Silent Side of him. I hardly think it is because he has no yearning for sympathy, no need of counsel, when he reluctantly admits to himself that that upon which he has ventured most is, in some measure, a disappointment. Be this as it may, Mary may learn discretion from him—and the lesson conned should be forbearance with offensive peculiarities, and, what she names to her sore spirit, lack of appreciation. Given the conditions of his fidelity and devotion—and she may well "down on her knees and thank God fasting for a good man's love."
THE FAMILY PURSE.
In the last chapter I touched, firmly, as became the importance of the subject, upon the pocket question in its bearing upon the happiness of home-life. The matter is too grave to be disposed of in half-a-dozen paragraphs. It shall have a chapter of its very own.
There are certain subjects upon which each of us is afraid to speak for fear of losing temper, and becoming vehement. This matter of "The Family Purse" is one of the few topics in all the range of theory and practice, concerning which I feel the necessity of putting on curb and bridle when I have to deal with it, and conscience urges just dealing with all parties.
I have set down elsewhere what I crave leave to repeat here and with deliberate emphasis.
If I were asked, "What, to the best of your belief, is the most prolific and general source of heart-burnings, contentions, harsh judgment, and secret unhappiness among respectable married people who keep up the show, even to themselves, of reciprocal affection?" my answer would not halt for an instant.
"The crying need of a mutual understanding with respect to the right ownership of the family income."
The example of the good old Friend, who, in giving his daughters in marriage, stipulated that each should be paid weekly, without asking for it, a certain share of her husband's income, is refreshing as indicating what one husband had learned by his own experience. It goes no further in the absence of proof that the sons-in-law kept the pledge imposed upon them as suitors, or that in keeping it, they did not cause their respective wives to wish themselves dead, and out of the way of gibe and grudge, every time the prescribed tax was doled out to them.
Nor do I admit the force of the implication made by a certain writer upon this topic, that the crookedness in the matter of family finances is "separation and hostility between the sexes, brought about by the advancement and equality of women." Wives in all ages and in all countries, have felt the painful injustice of virtual pauperism, and struggled vainly for freedom.
The growth toward emancipation in the case of most of them amounts merely to the liberty to groan in print and to cry aloud in women's convocations. If the yoke is easier upon the wifely neck in 1896 than it was in 1846, it is because women know more of business methods, and are more competent to the management of money than they knew fifty years ago, and some husbands, appreciating the change for the better, are willing to commit funds to their keeping. The disposition of fathers, brothers and husbands to regard the feminine portion of their families as lovely dead weights, was justified in a degree by the Lauras and Matildas, who clung like wet cotton-wool to the limbs of their natural protectors. Dependence was reckoned among womanly graces, and insisted upon as such in Letters to Young Ladies, The Young Wife's Manual, A Father's Legacy to his Daughters, and other valuable contributions to the family library of half a century ago. Julia, as betrothed, assured wooing Adolphus that absolute dependence, even for the bread she should eat, and breath she should draw, would be delight and privilege. Julia, as wife, fretted and plained and shook her "golden chains inlaid with down," when married Adolphus took her at her word.
It is surprising that both parties were so slow in finding out how false is the theory and how injurious the practice of the cling-and-twine-and-hang-upon school.
From my window as I write I see an object lesson that pertinently illustrates the actual state of affairs in many a home. At the root of a stately cedar, sprang up, twenty years ago, a shoot of that most hardy and beautiful of native creepers, the wild woodbine or American ivy. It crept steadily upward, laying hold of branch and twig, casting out, first, tendrils, then ropes, to make sure its hold—a thing of beauty all summer, a coat of many colors in autumn, until it reached the top of the tree. To-day, the only vestige of cedar-individuality that remains to sight, is in the trunk, the bare branches, stripped of all slight twigs, and at the extremity of one of these, a few tufts of evergreen verdure, that proclaim "This was a tree."
In the novels and poems that set forth the eternal fitness of the cling-twine-and-depend school, the vine is always feminine, the oak (or cedar?) masculine. Not one that I know of depicts the gradual strangling of the independent tree by the depending parasite.
Leaving the object-lesson to do its part, let us reason together calmly upon this vexed subject. When a man solemnly, in the sight of Heaven and human witnesses, endows his wife at the altar with his worldly goods, it is either a deed of gift, or an engagement to allow her to earn her living as honestly as he earns his, a pledge of an equal partnership in whatever he has or may acquire. That it is not an absolute gift is proved by his continued possession of his property and uncontrolled management of the same; furthermore, by his custom of bestowing upon his wife such sums, and at such periods as best suit his convenience and pleasure—and by his expectation that she will be properly grateful for lodging, board and raiment. If he be liberal, her gratitude rises proportionably. If he be a churl, she must submit with Christian resignation.
The gossips at a noted watering-place where I once spent a summer, found infinite amusement in the ways of a married heiress, whose fortune was settled so securely upon herself by her father that her husband could not touch the bulk of it with, or without her consent. Her spouse was an ease-loving man of fashion, and accommodated himself gracefully to this order of things. She loved him better than she loved her money, for she "kept" him well and grudged him nothing. It was in accordance with her wishes that he made no pretence of business or profession. "Why should he when she had enough for both?" she urged, amiably. His handsome allowance was paid on the first of every month, and she exacted no account of expenditures. Yet she contrived to make him and herself the laughing stock of the place by her naive ignorance of the truth that the situation was peculiar. She sportively rated her lord in the hearing of others, for extravagance in dress, horses and other entertainments; affected to rail at the expense of "keeping a husband," and, now and then, playfully threatened to "cut off supplies" if he did not do this or that. In short, with unintentional satire, she copied to the letter the speech and tone of the average husband to his dependent wife.
"Only that and nothing more." Her purse-pride was obvious, but as inoffensive as purse-pride can be. She lacked refinement, but she did not lack heart. She would have resented the imputation that she reduced her good-looking, well-clothed, well-fed, well-mounted "Charley" to a state of vassalage against which any man of spirit would have rebelled. He knew that he could have whatever it was within her power to bestow, to the half of her kingdom. Her complaints of his prodigality meant as little as her menace of retrenchment, and nobody comprehended this better than he. The owner of the money-bags is entitled by popular verdict to his or her jest. Her pretended railing was "clear fun."
The deeper and juster significance of the much derided clause of the marriage vow is the second I have offered. "Live and let live" is a motto that should begin, continue and be best exemplified at home. The wife either earns an honorable livelihood, or she is a licensed mendicant. The man who, after a careful estimate of the services rendered by her who keeps the house, manages his servants, or does the work of the servants he does not hire; who bears and brings up his children in comfort, respectability and happiness; who looks after his clothing and theirs; nurses him and them in illness, and makes the world lovely for him in health—does not consider that his wife has paid her way thus far, and is richly entitled to all he has given or will ever give her—is not fit to conduct any business upon business principles. If he be sensible and candid, let him decide what salary he can afford to pay this most useful of his employes—and pay it as a debt, and not a gratuity. The probability is that he will find that the sum justifies her in regarding herself as a partner in his craft or profession, with a fair amount of working-capital.
There is but one equitable and comfortable way of relieving the husband from the charge and the fact of injustice, and the wife from the sorer burden of conscious pauperism. She ought to have a stated allowance for household expenses, to be disbursed by herself and, if he will it, to be accounted for to the master of the house, and a smaller, but sure sum which is paid to her as her very own, which she may appropriate as she likes. He should no more "give" her money, than he makes a present of his weekly wages to the porter who sweeps his store, or to the superintendent of his factory. The feeling that their gloves, gowns, underclothing—everything that they wear, and the very bread that keeps life in their bodies, are gifts of grace from the husbands they serve in love and honor, has worn hundreds of spirited women into their graves, and made venal hypocrites of thousands. The double-eagle laid in the palm of the woman whose home duties leave her no time for money-making, burns sometimes more hotly than the penny given to her who, for the first time, begs at the street-corner to keep herself from starving.
The strangest of anomalies that have birth in a condition of affairs which everybody has come to regard as altogether right and becoming, is that the wife whose handsome wedding portion has been absorbed by her husband's business is as dependent upon his favor for her "keep" as she who brought no dot. She does not even draw interest upon the money invested. Is it to be wondered at that caustic critics of human nature and inconsistencies catalogue marriage for the wife under the head of mendicancy? Would it not be phenomenal if women with eyes, and with brains behind the eyes, did not gird at the necessity of suing humbly for really what belongs to them?
I have known two, or at most three women, who averred that they "did not mind asking their husbands for money." Out of simple charity I preferred to believe that they were untruthful, to discounting their disrespect and delicacy to the extent implied by the assertion. Yet the street beggar gets used to plying his trade, and I may have been mistaken.
Let us not overlook another side of the question under perplexed debate. The woman who considers herself defrauded by present privations and what seem to her needless economies, loses sight, sometimes, of what John keeps before him as the load-star of his existence and endeavor; to wit, that toil and economy are for the common weal. He is not a miser for his individual enrichment, nor does he plan with deliberate design for the shadowy second wife. It is not to be denied that No. 2 often lives like a queen upon the wealth which No. 1 helped to accumulate, and killed herself in so doing. But John does not look so far as this. Much scrimping and hoarding may engender a baser love of money for money's self. In the outset of the task, and usually for all time, he means that wife and children shall have the full benefit of what he has heaped up in the confident belief that he knows who will gather with him. Men take longer views in these matters than women. To "draw money out of the business" is a form of speech to a majority of wives. To him whose household expenses overrun what he considers the bounds of reason, this "drawing" means harder work and to less purpose for months to come; clipped wings of enterprise, and occasionally loss of credit. He who has married a reasonably intelligent woman cannot make her comprehend this too soon. If he can enlist her sympathies in his plans for earning independence and wealth, he has secured a valuable coadjutor. If he can show her that he is investing certain moneys which are due to her in ways approved by her, which will augment her private fortune, he will retain her confidence with her respect.
Each of us likes to own something in his or her own right. The custom and prejudice that, since the abolition of slavery, make wives the solitary exception to the rule that the "laborer is worthy of his hire," are unworthy of a progressive age. The idea that such having and holding will alienate a good woman from the husband who permits it, degrades the sex. He whose manliness suffers by comparison with a level-headed, clear-eyed wife capable of keeping her own bank account, makes apparent what a mistake she made when she married him.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH WOMAN AND THE FARMER'S WIFE.
The rich woman was born and brought up in New York City; the farmer's wife in Indiana.
They were as far apart in education and social station as if they had belonged to different races and had lived in different hemispheres.
They were as near akin in circumstances and in suffering as if they had been twin sisters, and brought up under the same roof.
The husband of one wrote "Honorable" before his name, and reckoned his dollars by the million. He was, moreover, a man of imposing deportment, bland in manner and ornate in language. As riches increased he set his heart upon them and upon the good things that riches buy. He had four children, and he erected ("built" was too small a word) a palatial house in a fashionable street.
Each child had a suite of three rooms. Each apartment was elaborately decorated and furnished. The drawing-rooms were crowded with bric-a-brac and monuments of the upholsterer's ingenuity. It was a work of art and peril to dust them every day. He developed a taste for entertaining as time went on and honors thickened upon him, and he mistook, like most of his guild, ostentation for hospitality. Every dish at the banquets for which he became famous was a show piece. He swelled with honest pride in the perusal of a popular personal paragraph estimating the value of his silver and cut glass at $50,000.
The superintendent, part owner, and the slave of all this magnificence was his wife. She was her own housekeeper, and employed, besides the coachman, whose business was in the stables and upon his box, five servants. There were twenty-five rooms in the palatial house, giving to each servant five to be kept in the spick-and-span array demanded by the master's position and taste. As a matter of course something was neglected in every department, the instinct of self-preservation being innate and cultivated in Abigail, Phyllis and Gretchen, "Jeems" and "Chawls." Even more as a matter of course, the nominal mistress supplemented the deficiencies of her aids.
The house was as present and forceful a consciousness with her as his Dulcinea with David Copperfield at the period when the "sun shone Dora, and the birds sang Dora, and the south wind blew Dora, and the wild flowers were all Doras to a bud." No snail ever carried her abode upon her back more constantly than our poor rich woman the satin-lined, hot-aired and plate-windowed stone pile, with her. The lines that criss-crossed her forehead, and channeled her cheeks, and ran downward from the corners of her mouth, were hieroglyphics standing in the eyes of the initiated for the baleful legend—
"HOUSE AND HOUSEKEEPING."
When she drove abroad in her luxurious chariot, behind high-stepping bays, jingling with plated harness, or repaired in the season to seashore or mountain, she was striving feebly to push away the tons of splendid responsibility from her brain.
One day she gave over the futile attempt. Something crashed down upon and all around her, and everything except inconceivable misery of soul was a blank.
Expensive doctors diagnosed her case as nervous prostration. When she vanished from the eyes of her public, and a high-salaried housekeeper, a butler, a nursery governess and an extra Abigail took her place and did half her work in the satin-lined shell out of which she had crept, maimed and well-nigh murdered, it was announced that she was "under the care of a specialist at a retreat."
A retreat! Heaven save and pardon us for making such homes part and parcel and a necessity of our century and our land!
Our Rich Man's Wife never left it until she was borne forth into the securer refuge of the narrow house that needed none of her care-taking. Upon the low green thatch lies heavily the shadow of a mighty monument that, to the satirist's eye, has a family likeness to the stone pile which killed her.
The Farmer's Wife was born and bred among the prairies, out of sight of which she had traveled but once, and that on her wedding journey. She came back from the brief outing to take possession of "her own house"—prideful phrase to every young matron.
It was an eight-roomed farmstead, with no modern conveniences. That meant, that all the water used in the kitchen and dwelling had to be fetched from a well twenty feet away; that there was no drain or sink or furnace; that stationary tubs had not been heard of, and the washing was wrung by hand. The stalwart farmer "calculated to hire" in haying, harvesting, planting, plowing, threshing and killing times. Whatever might have been the wife's calculations, she toiled unaided, cooking, washing, ironing, scrubbing, sewing, churning, butter-making and "bringing up a family," single-handed, with never a creature to lift an ounce or do a stroke for her while she could stand upon her feet.
When she was laid upon her bed—an unusual occurrence, except when there was a fresh baby—a neighbor looked in twice a day to lend a hand, or Mrs. Gamp was engaged for a fortnight. It was not an unusual occurrence for the nominally convalescent mother to get dinner for six "men folks" with a three-weeks old baby upon her left arm.
Her husband was energetic and "forehanded," and without the slightest approach to intentional cruelty, looked to his wife to "keep up her end of the log." He tolerated no wastefulness, and expected to be well fed and comfortable; and comfort with this Yankee mother's son implied tidiness. To meet his view, as well as to satisfy her own conscience, his partner became a model manager, a woman of "faculty."
I saw her last year in the incurable ward of a madhouse. From sunrise until dark, except when forced to take her meals, she stood at one window and polished one pane with her apron, a plait like a trench between her puckered brows, her mouth pursed into an anguished knot, her hollow eyes drearily anxious—the saddest picture I ever beheld, most awfully sad because she was a type of a class.
Some men—and they are not all ignorant men—are beginning to be alarmed at the press of women into other—I had almost said any other—avenues of labor than that of housewifery. Eagerness to break up housekeeping and try boarding for a while, in order "to get rested out," is not confined to the incompetent and the indolent. Nor is it altogether the result of the national discontent with "the greatest plague of life"—servants.
American women, from high to low, keep house too hard because too ambitiously.
It is, furthermore, ambition without knowledge; hence, misdirected. We have the most indifferent domestic service in the world, but we employ, as a rule, too few servants, such as they are. It is considered altogether sensible and becoming for the mechanic's wife to do her own housework as a bride and as a matron of years. Unless her husband prospers rapidly she is accounted "shiftless" should she hire a washerwoman, while to "keep a girl" is extravagance, or a significant stride toward gentility. The wife of the English joiner or mason or small farmer, if brisk, notable and healthy, may dispense with the stated service of a maid of all work, but she calls in a charwoman on certain days, and is content to live as becomes the station of a housewife who must be her own domestic staff.
Here is the root of the difference. In a climate that keeps the pulses in full leap and the nerves tense, we call upon pride to lash on the quivering body and spirit to run the unrighteous race, the goal of which is to seem richer than we are, and make "smartness" (American smartness) cover the want of capital. Having created false standards of respectability, we crowd insane asylums and cemeteries in trying to live up to them.
The tradesman who begins to acknowledge the probability that he will become a rich citizen, and whose wife has "feelings" on the subject of living as her neighbors do, takes the conventional step toward asserting himself and gratifying her aspirations by moving into a bigger house than that which has satisfied him up to now, and furnishing it well—that is, smartly, according to the English acceptance of the word.
Silks and moquette harmonize as well as calico and ingrain once did. A three-story-and-a-half-with-a-high-stoop house, without a piano in the back parlor, and a long mirror between the front parlor windows, would be a forlorn contradiction of the genius of American progress. As flat a denial would be the endeavor to live without what an old lady once described to me as, a "pair of parlors." The stereotyped brace is senseless and ugly, but one of the necessaries of life to our ambitious housewife. She would scout as vulgar the homely cheerfulness of the middle-class Englishman's single "parlor" where the table is spread and the family receives visitors. Having saddled himself with a house too big for his family, and stocked the showrooms with plenishings so fine that the family are afraid to use them unless when there is company, the prudent citizen satisfies the economic side of him by making menials of wife and daughters without thought of the opposing circumstance that he has practically endorsed their intention to make fine ladies of themselves. Neither he nor the chief slave of her own gentility, the wife, who will maintain her reputation for "faculty" or perish in the attempt, has a suspicion that the strain to make meet the ends of frugality and pretension, is palpably and criminally absurd. By keeping up a certain appearance of affluence and fashion, they assume the obligation to employ servants enough to carry out the design, yet in nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of every thousand, they ignore the duty.
I admit without demur that, as American domestics go, they are a burden, an expense and a vexation. Notwithstanding all these drawbacks, she who will not risk them should not live in such a way that she must make use of such instruments or overwork herself physically and mentally.
The entire social and domestic system of American communities calls loudly for the reform of simplicity and congruity. We begin to build and are not able to finish. Our economics are false and mischievous, our aims are petty and low. The web of our daily living is not round and even-threaded. The homes which are constructed upon the foundations of deranged, dying and dead women, are a mockery of the holy name. Our houses should be planned and kept for those who are to live in them, not for those who tarry within the doors for a night or an hour. When housekeeping becomes an intolerable care there is sin somewhere and danger everywhere.
LITTLE THINGS THAT ARE TRIFLES.
I feel that in writing a chapter upon ways and means I may seem to many readers to be going over an oft-traversed road. Of articles and treatises on the ever-vexing subject there is no end. The whole human creation or, at all events, a vast majority of it, groaneth and travaileth together in the agony of trying to spread a little substance over a vast surface,—in the desperate endeavor to make a little money go a very long way. Every few months we notice in a daily newspaper the offer of a money-prize for the best bill of fare for a company-dinner for six people, to be prepared upon a ludicrously-small allowance. The number of contestants for this prize proves, not only the general interest felt in the subject, but also testifies to the urgent need of the reward on the part of the various would-be winners. The probabilities are that few of these writers have the means to set forth such a dinner as they describe.
Books portraying the feasibility of "Comfortable living on seven hundred a year," or "How to keep house on a restricted income," are both helpful and pernicious. The prospective housewife buys them eagerly and devours them with avidity. She and John are boarding now, but are soon to have a home of their own, and after perusing their newly purchased volumes, they decide that their limited income will amply enable them to live in comfort although, perhaps, not in luxury. The tiny house or flat is rented, and they settle down, as Mrs. Whitney's Emery Anne would say, "to realize their geography," or, more properly speaking, to live their recently acquired knowledge, which is, in many points, very useful.
But—and here comes the mischief wrought by over-sanguine literature—the authors of these books leave too many things out of the question. The expenses of moving and the purchase of necessary furniture are, of course, omitted, but Mary finds to her chagrin that fuel—no slight item in any family,—and light,—also absolutely essential,—have not been taken into account. These make a big hole in the income which had seemed all-sufficient. It is expedient, also, occasionally, to have a woman in to do a day's cleaning, and the weekly wash is a bugbear which makes our young people shudder. The poor little housewife has many an anxious, tearful hour in striving to make both ends meet, while the most amiable husband cannot help wondering audibly "how it is they cannot live as cheaply as other people do."
In housekeeping, as in all else, one must learn the lesson for one's self. All the rules and theories in all the books and periodicals in the country are worth little compared with three months of personal experience. Happy is the young wife who has had some practice in housekeeping in her father's house before the heavier responsibility of a home of her own rests on her shoulders.
Let me remind our Mary, first of all, of the truth that there is no meanness in economy, and that—as I cannot repeat too often or too strongly—waste is vulgar. It is not the lady who scorns to save scraps of butter, who throws the few cold boiled potatoes left from dinner into the ash-barrel, and empties the teaspoonful of cream from the bottom of the pitcher into the kitchen sink. Your servant will not have the brains and foresight to detect in these seemingly useless articles factors which may aid materially in the construction of a delicacy, or "help out" to-morrow's breakfast or lunch. It is amazing to the mistress who is her own cook how long things last and how far they go. All the interest which a hired cook may take in her work does not impart the peculiar care which one feels for that which is one's own.
In this point the woman without a domestic has the advantage over the woman with a servant, and she with one maid-of-all-work is better off than she who keeps two. Every extra mouth counts, and the waste caused by each added Bridget or Gretchen is incalculable. The only redress which the housekeeper with a servant has, is constant vigilance and personal supervision, and even then she is the loser. At the South the servants are used to having provisions kept under lock and key. Each day the mistress deals out the requisite flour, butter, eggs, etc., and the cook is perfectly satisfied. Were a Northern housekeeper to adopt this system she would soon have the misery of engaging new servants. The Irish and Germans among us are not accustomed to such restrictions, and will not tolerate them.
To utilize the little "left-overs," then, Mary must make up her mind to do much of her own cooking. If she has a servant in the kitchen, she may frequently so exchange work with her that the preparation of dainty dishes will fall to her share. Norah may sweep the parlor, wipe up the hall floor, or wash the windows while her mistress is attending to cooking too delicate for the domestic's fingers. The servant may do what I call the heavy kitchen-work, such as preparing vegetables for cooking, chopping meat, peeling potatoes, etc., and she should always be allowed to wash pots, pans and kettles, after the cooking is done. But if the mistress will spend half an hour in the kitchen before each meal, John will soon discover that his food has a delicacy of flavor and is served with a daintiness imparted only by a professional French cook,—or a lady.
Another of the petty economies which is not belittling is the washing of one's own dining-room dishes. The money saved by this process is easily understood by the housewife whose cut-glass and egg-shell china are continually smashed to fragments by the hirelings whose own the fragiles are not. The china bill for one year of the woman with many servants assumes proportions so huge that she is actually afraid to let herself consider its enormity. And there are still more things broken of which she is never told until the day comes when this or that article is needed, and the answer to inquiry is:
"An' sure ma'am, such a thing aint niver been in this house sence iver I come into it."
And as there is no way of proving the falsity of this statement, one must submit.
As I have said before, dish-washing, as done by a lady, takes little time and labor, and may be a pleasant occupation. The laborer, not the labor, makes a thing common or refined. With an abundance of scalding hot water, a soap-shaker, mop, gloves with the tips cut off, clean and soft dish-towels, and delicate glass and china, dish-washing is in every sense of the word a lady's work. The mistress will do it in one-third of the time, with five times the thoroughness, and one-tenth as many breakages as will the average servant. And when the dishes are washed and the table is spread for the next meal with pure linen, glistening glass and shining silver—who dares say that the glow of housewifely pride and satisfaction does not more than compensate for the little time and trouble expended to produce the agreeable result?
I have said that every additional mouth counts in the sum of family expenses, and for this reason many housekeepers of moderate means neglect the duty of hospitality. Pardon me if I say that I think this is one of the economies which, if carried too far, is more honored in the breach than in the observance. I do not advocate, indeed I reprehend, pretentious entertaining, such as dances, parties, etc. But it impresses me that it is, to a certain extent, a mean spirit that counts the cost in asking a friend to stay to a repast, to spend a night or a week. It is your duty to have things so nice every day, and always, that you cannot be too much "put out" by an occasional guest. When you invite your friend to make you a visit, explain that you live quietly, and that he will find a warm welcome. Then give him just what you give John, and make no apologies. Above all, do not let him feel that any additional labor caused by his presence throws the whole course of the household machinery out of gear. Do not invite to your home those for whom you have to make so great a change in your daily life. If you keep house as a lady should, you need not fear to entertain anyone who is worthy to be your friend. It is no disgrace if your circumstances are such that you cannot afford to keep a staff of servants at your beck and call.
These suggestions are but hints as to daily management. First and foremost, Mary must learn to systematize her work. Method and management do wonders toward saving time and money. Some housewives are always in a hurry and their work is never done, while others with twice as much to do never seem flurried, and have time for writing, sewing and reading. The secret of the success of the latter class lies in that one golden word—METHOD.
I hope the young housekeepers to whom this talk is addressed will not consider such trifles as I have mentioned, degrading. It is the work laid before them and consequently cannot be mean. Such labor, when sweetened by the thought of what it all means, is ennobling. I know that Keats tells us that:
"Love in a hut with water and a crust, Is—Love forgive us!—cinders, ashes, dust!"
If Love were really there, "cinders, ashes, dust" could not be, and the water and crust may, by our Mary's skillful treatment, be transformed into a refreshing beverage and an appetizing entree. My faith in the powers of John's wife is great, and if John be satisfied, and tells her that he has the best little love-mate and housekeeper in the world, can she complain?
A MISTAKE ON JOHN'S PART.
It is not discreditable to the sex to assert that a man is first attracted marriage-ward by the desire of the eye. He falls in love, as a rule, because she who presently becomes the only woman in the universe to him is goodly to view, if not actually beautiful. Goodliness being largely contingent upon apparel, it follows that Mary dresses for John—up to the marriage-day. He who descries signs of slatternliness in his beloved prior to that date, may well be shocked to disillusionment. As a girl in a home where the mother takes upon herself the heaviest work, and spares her pretty daughter's hands and clothes all the soil and wear she can avert, Mary must be indolent or phenomenally indifferent to what occupies so much of other women's thoughts, if she do not always appear in her lover's presence neatly and—to the best of her ability—becomingly attired. She quickly acquaints herself with his taste in the matter of women's costumes, and adapts hers to it, wearing his favorite colors, giving preference to the gowns he has praised, and arranging her hair in the fashion he has chanced to admire in her hearing.
In the work-a-day world of matrimonial life, much of all this undergoes a change. Washington Irving lived and died a fastidious, unpractical bachelor, or he might have modified the sketch of "The Wife," the Mary who, after unpacking trunks, washing china, pots and kettles, putting closets to rights, laying carpets, hanging pictures, clearing away straw, sawdust, and what in that day corresponded with jute—dusting and shelving books—and performing the hundred other duties contingent upon sitting down in the modest cottage hired by her bankrupt husband,—got tea ready (presumably preparing potatoes for the same) picked a big mess of strawberries from a bed opportunely discovered in the garden, donned a white muslin robe and sat down to the piano to while away a lagging hour while awaiting her Leslie's return.
The John of our common-sensible age knows in his sober mind that his bride, in the effort to accomplish one-fourth as much, would equip herself in a brown gingham, tie a big apron before her, draw a pair of his discarded gloves with truncated fingers upon her hands, and be too tired at night to do more than boil the kettle for the cup of tea which he is more than likely to drink at the kitchen table, spread with a newspaper—the linen not having been yet dug out of the case in which "mother and the girls" packed it.
As the months wear on, Mary learns, if her spouse does not, that white muslin comes to grief so speedily in the course of even light housework, as to swell the laundry bills inordinately. The embroidered tea-gowns in which she used to array herself upon the rare occasions of her betrothed's morning calls, gather dust streaks upon skirts and the under sides of the sleeves, and, watch as she may, catch spots in the kitchen. She considers,—being lovingly determined to help, not hinder her mate,—that his purse must purchase new garments when her trousseau is worn out, and she saves her best clothes for "occasions." John, being her husband, is no longer an occasion. Dark prints and ginghams, simply made, and freshened up at meal-times by full white aprons, are serviceable, sensible, economical and significant of our dear Mary's practical wisdom. They are by so many degrees less becoming to her than the dainty apparel of loverly memory, that we do not wonder at the surprised discontent of the young husband.
Marriage has made no distinct change in his apparel. In his business a man must be decent, or he loses credit. In masculine ignorance of the immutable law that in dislodging dirt some must cling to the garments and person of the toiler, he sets down his wife's altered appearance to indifference to his happiness. She may have labored from an early breakfast to a late dinner to make his home comfortable and tasteful; into each of the dishes served up with secret pride for his consumption, may have gone a wealth of love and earnest desire that would have set up ten poets in sonnets and madrigals. Because her hands are roughened and her complexion muddied by her work, and—in the knowledge that dishes are to be washed and the table re-set for breakfast, and the kitchen cleared up after he has been regaled—she has slipped on a dark frock in which she was wont to receive him on rainy evenings—he falls into a brown and cynical study, which dishonors his wife only a little more than it disgraces himself and human nature. "Time was"—so runs his musing—"when she thought it worth her while to take pains to look pretty. That was when there was still a chance of a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. She has me fast now, and anything is good enough for a husband."
Not one syllable of this chapter is penned for the woman who deserves an iota of censure like the above. It is a wife's duty to study to look well in her husband's eyes, always and in all circumstances. Her person should be scrupulously clean, her hair becomingly arranged, her working-gown as neat as she can keep it, and relieved before John comes in by clean collar or ruching and a smooth white apron. It is altogether possible for the woman who "does her own work" to be as "well set-up"—to borrow a sporting phrase from John—as her rich neighbor who can drag a train over Oriental rugs from the moment she rises to a late breakfast until she sweeps yards of brocade and velvet up the polished stairs after ball, dinner or theatre-party.
What I have to do with now is John's unreasonable desire that his wife should—as the help-meet of a man who has his own way to make in the world—dress as well as when she was the unmarried daughter of an elderly gentleman whose way was made. Every sensible girl married to a poor man comprehends, as one trait of wifely duty, that she must make her trousseau last and look well as long as she can. In the honorable dread of suggesting to him whose fortune she has elected to share, that when her handsome gowns are no longer wearable she must replace lace with cotton lawns, and silk with all-wool merino or serge, she devises excuses for sparing the costly fabrics—pretexts which, to his shame it is said, he is prone to misunderstand. If men such as he could guess at the repressed longings for the brave array of other times that assail the wearers of well-saved—therefore passee—finery, at sight of other women less conscientious, or with richer husbands than themselves, reveling in the latest and most enticing modes—if eyes scornful of plain attire could penetrate to the jealously locked closet where feminine vanity and native extravagance are kept under watch and ward by the love the critic is ready to doubt,—print, gingham and stuff gowns would be fairer than ermine and velvet in John's esteem.
At a recent conference of practical housewives and mothers held in a western city, one of the leaders told, as illustrative of the topic under discussion, an incident of her childhood. When a little girl of seven years, she stood by her father, looking at a new log-cabin.
"Papa," she observed, "it is all finished, isn't it?"
"No, my daughter, look again!"
The child studied the structure before her. The neatly hewed logs were in their proper places. The roof, and the rough chimney, were complete, but, on close scrutiny, one could see the daylight filtering through the interstices of the logs. It had yet to be "chinked."
When this anecdote was ended, a bright little woman arose and returned her thanks for the story, for, she said, she had come to the conclusion that she was one of the persons who had been put in the world to "fill up the chinks."
The chink-fillers are among the most useful members of society. The fact is patent of the founder of one of our great educational systems, that he grasped large plans and theories, but had no talent for minutiae. What would his majestic outlines be without the army of workers who, with a just comprehension of the importance of detail, fill in the chinks in the vast enterprise?
Putty may be a mean, cheap article, far inferior to the clear, transparent crystal pane, but what would become of the costly plate-glass were there no putty to fill in the grooves in which it rests, and to secure it against shocks?
The universal cry of the woman of the present to the effect that the sex has a mighty mission to accomplish, sounds a note of woe to her who, try as she may, can find no one occupation in which she excels and who feels that her only sphere in life is to go through the world doing the little things left undone by people with Missions. Does it ever occur to the self-named commonplace woman that her heaven-appointed task is as high a "mission" as any that may be taken up by her more gifted sisters?
It requires vast patience and much love for one's fellow-man to be a chink-filler. She it is who, as wife, mother, sister, or, perhaps, maiden-aunt, picks up the hat or gloves Mamie has carelessly left on the drawing-room table, wipes the tiny finger smears from the window-panes at which baby stood to wave his hand to papa this morning, dusts the rungs of the chair neglected by the parlor-maid, and mends the ripped coat which Johnny forgot to mention until it was nearly time to start for school. It is she who thinks to pull the basting-threads out of the newly finished gown, tacks ruching in neck and sleeves against the time when daughter or sister may want it in a hurry, remembers to prepare some dainty for that member of the household who is "not quite up to the mark" in appetite—in fact, undertakes those tasks, so many of which show for little when done, but which are painfully conspicuous when neglected. Does she bewail herself that her sphere is small—limited? Let her pause and consider how it would affect the family were the hat and gloves to be out of place, the chair undusted, the blurred window-glass overlooked, the coat unmended, the bastings allowed to stand in all their hideous white prominence, the invalid's appetite untempted. Like a good spirit, our chink-filler glides in and out among the fallen threads in the tangled web of life, picking up dropped stitches, fastening loose strands, and weaving the tissue into a harmonious whole, and yet doing it all so unobtrusively that the great weavers, looking only at the vast pattern they are forming, are unconscious that, but for the unselfish thought and deft fingers of the commonplace woman, their work would be a grand failure. Sometime the children whose shortcomings she has supplemented and thus saved from harsh reproof, the servants whose tasks she has made lighter, the husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, for whom she has made life smoother, and brighter, will arise and call her blessed. It may not be in this life, but it will surely come to pass in "the world that sets this right."
"She doth little kindnesses Which most leave undone or despise; For naught that sets one heart at ease, Or giveth happiness or peace, Is low-esteemed in her eyes."
Few people appreciate the dignity of detail, although, from the days of our childhood, we have heard rhymes, verses and proverbs innumerable which aim to impress mankind with the importance of the horse-shoe nail, of the rift in the lute, and the tiny worm-hole in the vessel through which the "watery tide" entered.
The wife and mother, more than any other, knows what a great part of life is made up of the little things, such as:—
"Sewing on the buttons, Overseeing rations; Soothing with a kind word Guiding clumsy Bridgets, Coaxing sullen cooks, Entertaining company, And reading recent books; Woman's work!"
Strange as it may seem, the mind of the hireling cannot grasp the importance of the lesser tasks that go to make up the sum of existence. If you allow Bridget to prepare your guest chamber for an unexpected friend, you will observe that she glories in Rembrandt-like effects,—which, when viewed at a distance, assume a respectable appearance. You, with brains back of your hands, will notice that there is a tiny hole in the counterpane, dust under the table, and—above all—that the soap-dish is not clean. Your servant may do the rough work; the dainty, lady-like touch must be given by you.
You have an experienced waitress, and a jewel, if the dining-room and table are perfect without your supervision. It may be only that a teacup or plate is sticky or rough to the touch, a fork or a knife needed, the steel or one of the carvers forgotten. But when the family is assembled at the board, these trifles cause awkward pauses and interruptions.
Other little cares are to ascertain that the water with which the tea is made is boiling, that the alcohol lamp is filled, the flies brushed from the room, the plates warmed, and the sugar-dishes and salt-cellars filled. One housekeeper says that attention to these duties always reminds her of the task of washing one's face. Nobody notices if you keep your face clean, and you get no credit for doing it, but if you did not wash it, all the world would remark upon the dirt.
Often the work which "doesn't show" takes most time, and tries the temper. And the hardest part of it all is that it is so frequently caused by others' laziness or delinquencies. If John would only use an ash-receiver, instead of strewing the veranda-floor with ashes and burnt matches; if he would "just think" to close the library blinds when he has finished looking for a missing book, instead of allowing the hot sunshine and flies to enter at their own sweet will, until, two hours after his departure for the office, you descend to the apartment which you had already dusted and darkened, and find it filled with heat and buzz! If that big boy of yours could remember to strip the covers from his bed when he arises and if your pretty daughter could cultivate her bump of order sufficiently to refrain from leaving a hat of some description in every room on the first floor, and her jacket on the banisters! Nobody but yourself knows how many precious minutes you expend in righting these wrongs caused by others' carelessness. John would advise grandly that you "Let Bridget attend to these matters. Why keep a dog and do your own barking?" If he is particularly sympathetic and generous, he will inform you seriously that your time is too precious to spend on beggarly trifles, and that if one servant cannot do the work of the establishment, he wants you to hire another. Perhaps you ungratefully retort that "it will only make one more for you to follow up and supplement."
It would be an excellent plan for each member of the household to resolve to put in its proper place everything which he or she observed out of order. By the time this rule had been established for twenty-four hours, the house would be immaculate, and the mother find ample time for her mission,—if she has any beside general chink-filler for the family. If not, she will have an opportunity to rest.
A well-known author, who is at the same time an exemplary housewife, tells of how she retired one rainy spring morning to her study in just the mood for writing. Husband and sons had gone to their various occupations. She had a splendid day for work ahead of her. She sat down to her desk and took up her pen. The plot of a story was forming itself in her brain. She dipped her pen in the ink and wrote:
A knock at the door. Enter Anne.
"Please, mem, a mouse has eat a hole in one of your handsome napkins,—them as I was to wash agin the company you're expectin' to-morrow night. By rights it should be mended before it's washed."
"Bring it to the sewing-room."
When the neat piece of darning was ended, the housekeeper repaired to the closet to put on a loose writing-sack. On the nail next to the jacket hung her winter coat. On the edge of the sleeve was a tiny hole. The housewifely spirit was filled with dread. There were actually moths in that closet! She must attend to it immediately. The woolens ought to be put up if moths had already appeared. John's clothes and the boys' winter coats were in great danger of being ruined. By lunch time the necessary brushing and doing up were ended. But in stowing away the winter garments in the attic, our heroine was appalled at the confusion among the trunks. The garret needed attention, and received it as soon as the noonday meal was dispatched. At four o'clock, with the waitress' assistance, the task was completed. About the same time a note arrived from John saying he would be obliged to bring two of his old friends—"swell bachelors"—who were spending the day in town, to dine with him that night. She "must not put herself to any trouble about dinner, and he would take them to the theatre in the evening." To the dinner already ordered were added oyster-pates, salad, with mayonnaise dressing, salted almonds, and, instead of the plain pudding that John liked, was a pie of which he was still more fond, capped by black coffee, all of which articles, except the last-named, were prepared by the hostess, who, in faultless toilette, with remarkably brilliant color, smilingly welcomed her husband and his guests to the half-past six dinner. When they had gone to the theatre, and the mother had talked to her two sons of the day's school experiences, before they settled down to their evening of study, she returned to the dining-room, and, as Mary had a headache and had had a busy day, she assisted in washing and wiping the unusual number of soiled dishes, and in setting the breakfast table. At nine o'clock she dragged her weary self upstairs. As she passed the door of her sanctum on the way to her bed-chamber, she paused, then entered, and lighted the gas-jet over her desk. On it lay the page of foolscap, blank but for the words:
The day had gone and the plot with it.
With a half-sob she sat down and wrote with tired and trembling fingers:
"He was—this morning. He isn't now!"
But will not my readers agree with me that she was a genuine wife, mother, housekeeper,—in short, a "chink-filler?"
MUST-HAVES AND MAY-BES.
"A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life," one of the most charming, as well as one of the most helpful of Adeline D.T. Whitney's books, was sent into the world over a quarter-century ago. But age cannot wither nor custom stale, nor render old-fashioned the delightful volume with its many quaint and original ideas. Others besides girls have learned the practical truth of one sentence which, for the good it has done, deserves to be written in letters of gold:
"Something must be crowded out."
More than one perplexed and conscientious worker has, like myself, written it out in large text and tacked it up in sewing-room, kitchen, or over a desk.
In the beginning, I want to guard what may seem to be a weak point by stating, first and above all, that this is not an excuse for slighting or "slurring over" our legitimate work.
One easygoing housekeeper used to say that, in her opinion, there was a genius in slighting. Her home attested the fact that she had reduced the habit of leaving things undone to a science, but it is doubtful if the so-called genius differed largely from that which forms a prominent characteristic of the porcine mother, and enables her to enjoy her home and little ones with apparent indifference to the fact that outsiders denominate one a sty, and her offspring small pigs.
Not very long ago I was frequently brought into contact with a woman who has, as all her friends acknowledge, a faculty for "turning off work." She has a jaunty knack of pinning trimming on a hat, which, although bare and stiff in the start, evolves into a toque or capote that a French milliner need not blush to confess as her handiwork. She can run up the seams in a dress-skirt with speed that fills the slower sisters working at her side with sad envy. She puts up preserves with marvelous dexterity, and can toss together eggs, butter, sugar and flour, and turn out a cake in less time than an ordinary woman would consume in creaming the butter and sugar. But it is an obvious fact that the work of this remarkable woman lacks "staying power." Her too rapid and long stitches often give way, allowing between them mortifying glimpses of white under-waist or skirt to obtrude themselves; in a high wind the trimmings or feathers are likely to blow loose from the dainty bonnets; her preserves ferment, and have to be "boiled down," while the cutting of her cake reveals the truth that under the top-crust are heavy streaks, like a stratum of igneous formation shot athwart the aqueous. The maker of gown, hat, preserves, and cake lacks thoroughness. As one irreverent young man once said after dancing with her—"she is all the time tumbling to pieces."