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Trials and Confessions of a Housekeeper By T. S. Arthur Characters: 20930

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"I THINK, my dear," said I to my husband one day, "that we shall have to move from here."

"Why so?" asked Mr. Smith, in surprise. "It is a very comfortable house. I am certain we will not get another as desirable at the same rent."

"I don't know that we will. But-"

Just as I said this, my cook opened the door of the room where we were sitting and said-

"Mrs. Jordon, ma'am, wants to borrow half a pound of butter. She says, they are entirely out, and their butter-man won't come before to-morrow."

"Very well, Bridget, let her have it."

The cook retired.

"Why do you wish to move, Jane?" asked my husband, as the girl closed the door.

"Cook's visit was quite apropos," I replied. "It is on account of the 'half pound of butter,' 'cup of sugar,' and 'pan of flour' nuisance."

"I don't exactly comprehend you, Jane," said my husband.

"It is to get rid of a borrowing neighbor. The fact is, Mrs. Jordon is almost too much for me. I like to be accommodating; it gives me pleasure to oblige my neighbors; I am ready to give any reasonable obedience to the Scripture injunction-from him that would borrow of thee, turn thou not away; but Mrs. Jordon goes beyond all reason."

"Still, if she is punctual in returning what she gets, I don't know that you ought to let it annoy you a great deal."

"There lies the gist of the matter, my dear," I replied. "If there were no 'if,' such as you suggest, in the case, I would not think a great deal about it. But, the fact is, there is no telling the cups of sugar, pans of flour, pounds of butter, and little matters of salt, pepper, vinegar, mustard, ginger, spices, eggs, lard, meal, and the dear knows what all, that go out monthly, but never come back again. I verily believe we suffer through Mrs. Jordon's habit of borrowing not less than fifty or sixty dollars a year. Little things like these count up."

"So bad as that, is it?" said my husband.

"Indeed it is; and when she returns anything, it is almost always of an inferior quality, and frequently thrown away on that account."

While we were talking, the tea bell rang, and we retired to the dining-room.

"What's the matter with this tea?" asked Mr. Smith, pushing the cup I had handed him aside, after leaving sipped of its contents. "I never tasted such stuff. It's like herb tea."

"It must be something in the water," replied I. "The tea is the same we have been using all along."

I poured some into a cup and tasted it.

"Pah!" I said, with disgust, and rang the bell. The cook entered in a few moments.

"Bridget, what's the matter with your tea? It isn't fit to drink. Is it the same we have been using?"

"No, ma'am," replied Bridget. "It is some Mrs. Jordon sent home. I reminded Nancy, when she was here for butter, that they owed us some tea, borrowed day before yesterday, and she came right back with it, saying that Mrs. Jordon was sorry it had slipped her mind. I thought I would draw it by itself, and not mix it with the tea in our canister."

"You can throw this out and draw fresh tea, Bridget; we can't drink it," said I, handing her the tea-pot.

"You see how it works," I remarked as Bridget left the room, and my husband leaned back in his chair to wait for a fresh cup of tea. "One half of the time, when anything is returned, we can't use it. The butter Mrs. Jordon got a little while ago, if returned to-morrow, will not be fit to go on our table. We can only use it for cooking."

"It isn't right," sententiously remarked my husband. "The fact is," he resumed, after a slight pause, "I wouldn't lend such a woman anything. It is a downright imposition."

"It is a very easy thing to say that, Mr. Smith. But I am not prepared to do it. I don't believe Mrs. Jordon means to do wrong, or is really conscious that she is trespassing upon us. Some people don't reflect. Otherwise she is a pleasant neighbor, and I like her very much. It is want of proper thought, Mr. Smith, and nothing else."

"If a man kept treading on my gouty toe for want of thought," said my husband, "I should certainly tell him of it, whether he got offended I or not. If his friendship could only be retained on these terms, I would prefer dispensing with the favor."

"The case isn't exactly parallel, Mr. Smith," was my reply. "The gouty toe and crushing heel are very palpable and straightforward matters, and a man would be an egregious blockhead to be offended when reminded of the pain he was inflicting. But it would be impossible to make Mrs. Jordon at all conscious of the extent of her short-comings, very many of which, in fact, are indirect, so far as she is concerned, and arise from her general sanction of the borrowing system. I do not suppose, for a moment, that she knows about everything that is borrowed."

"If she doesn't, pray who does?" inquired my husband.

"Her servants. I have to be as watchful as you can imagine, to see that Bridget, excellent a girl as she is, doesn't suffer things to get out, and then, at the last moment, when it is too late to send to the store, run in to a neighbor's and borrow to hide her neglect. If I gave her a carte blanche for borrowing, I might be as annoying to my neighbors as Mrs. Jordon."

"That's a rather serious matter," said my husband. "In fact, there is no knowing how much people may suffer in their neighbors' good opinion, through the misconduct of their servants in this very thing."

"Truly said. And now let me relate a fact about Mrs. Jordon, that illustrates your remark." (The fresh tea had come in, and we were going on with our evening meal.) "A few weeks ago we had some friends here, spending the evening. When about serving refreshments, I discovered that my two dozen tumblers had been reduced to seven or eight. On inquiry, I learned that Mrs. Jordon had ten-the rest had been broken. I sent to her, with my compliments, and asked her to return them, as I had some company, and wished to use them in serving refreshments. Bridget was gone some time, and when she returned, said that Mrs. Jordon at first denied having any of my tumblers. Her cook was called, who acknowledged to five, and, after sundry efforts on the part of Bridget to refresh her memory, finally gave in to the whole ten. Early on the next morning Mrs. Jordon came in to see me, and seemed a good deal mortified about the tumblers.

"'It was the first I had heard about it,' she said. 'Nancy, it now appears, borrowed of you to hide her own breakage, and I should have been none the wiser, if you had not sent in. I have not a single tumbler left. It is too bad! I don't care so much for the loss of the tumblers, as I do for the mortifying position it placed me in toward a neighbor.'"

"Upon my word!" exclaimed my husband. "That is a beautiful illustration, sure enough, of my remarks about what people may suffer in the good opinion of others, through the conduct of their servants in this very thing. No doubt Mrs. Jordon, as you suggest, is guiltless of a good deal of blame now laid at her door. It was a fair opportunity for you to give her some hints on the subject. You might have opened her eyes a little, or at least diminished the annoyance you had been, and still are enduring."

"Yes, the opportunity was a good one, and I ought to have improved it. But I did not and the whole system, sanctioned or not sanctioned by Mrs. Jordon, is in force against me."

"And will continue, unless some means be adopted by which to abate the nuisance."

"Seriously, Mr. Smith," said I, "I am clear for removing from the neighborhood."

But Mr. Smith said,

"Nonsense, Jane!" A form of expression he uses, when he wishes to say that my proposition or suggestion is perfectly ridiculous, and not to be thought of for a moment.

"What is to be done?" I asked. "Bear the evil?"

"Correct it, if you can."

"And if not, bear it the best I can?"

"Yes, that is my advice."

This was about the extent of aid I ever received from my husband in any of my domestic difficulties. He is a first-rate abstractionist, and can see to a hair how others ought to act in every imaginable, and I was going to say unimaginable case; but is just as backward about telling people what he thinks of them, and making everybody with whom he has anything to do toe the mark, as I am.

As the idea of moving to get rid of my borrowing neighbor was considered perfect nonsense by Mr. Smith, I began to think seriously how I should check the evil, now grown almost insufferable. On the next morning the coffee-mill was borrowed to begin with.

"Hasn't Mrs. Jordon got a coffee-mill of her own?" I asked of Bridget.

"Yes, ma'am," she replied, "but it is such a poor one that Nancy won't use it. She says it takes her forever and a day to grind enough coffee for breakfast."

"Does she get ours every morning?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Nancy opened the kitchen door at this moment-our back gates were side by side-and said-

"Mrs. Jordon says, will you oblige her so much as to let her have an egg to clear the coffee? I forgot to tell her yesterday that ours were all gone."

"Certainly," I said. "Bridget, give Nancy an egg."

"Mrs. Jordon is very sorry to trouble you, Mrs. Smith," said Nancy, re-appearing in a little while, and finding me still in the kitchen, "but she says if you will lend her a bowl of sugar it will be a great accommodation. I forgot to tell her yesterday that the sugar was all gone."

"You appear to be rather forgetful of such matters, Nancy," I could not help saying.

"I know I am a little forgetful," the girl said, good humoredly, "but I have so much to do, that I hardly have time to think."

"Where is the large earthen dish that you use sometimes in making bread?" I asked, after Mrs. Jordon's cook had withdrawn, missing it from its usual place on the shelf.

"Nancy borrowed it last week."

"Why don't she bring it home?"

"I've told her about it three or four times."

Nancy opened the door again.

"Please, ma'am to let Mrs. Jordon have another half pound of butter. We haven't enough to do for breakfast, and the butter man don't come until the middle of the day."

Of course, I couldn't refuse, though I believe I granted the request with no very smiling grace. I heard no more of Nancy until toward dinner-time. I had given my cook orders not to lend her anything more without first coming to me.

"Mrs. Jordon has sent in to know if you won't lend her two or three s

cuttles full of coal," said Bridget. "Mr. Jordon was to have sent home the fires are going down."

"Certainly," I replied, "let her have it, but I want you to see that it is returned."

"As to that, ma'am, I'll do my best; but I can't get Nancy to return one half what she borrows. She forgets from one day to another."

"She mustn't forget," I returned, warmly. "You must go to Mrs. Jordon yourself. It isn't right."

"I shall have to go, I guess, before I'm able to get back a dozen kitchen things of ours they have. I never saw such borrowing people. And then, never to think of returning what they get. They have got one of our pokers, the big sauce-pan and the cake-board. Our muffin rings they've had these three months. Every Monday they get two of our tubs and the wash-boiler. Yesterday they sent in and got our large meat-dish belonging to the dinner-set, and haven't sent it home yet. Indeed, I can't tell you all they've got."

"Let Nancy have the coal," said I. "But we must stop this in some way, if it be possible."

For three or four days the same thing was kept up, until I lost all patience, and resolved, offence or no offence, to end a system that was both annoying and unjust.

Mrs. Jordon called in to see me one day, and sat conversing in a very pleasant strain for an hour. She was an agreeable companion, and I was pleased with the visit. In fact, I liked Mrs. Jordon.

About an hour after she was gone, Nancy came into the kitchen, where I happened to be.

"What's wanted now?" said I. My voice expressed quite as much as my words. I saw the color flush in Nancy's face.

"Mrs. Jordon says, will you please to lend her a pan of flour? She will return it to-morrow."

"Tell Mrs. Jordon," I replied, "that we are going to make up bread this afternoon, and haven't more than enough flour left, or I would let her have what she wants. And, by the way, Nancy, tell Mrs. Jordon that I will be obliged to her if she will send in my large earthen dish. We want to use it."

Nancy didn't seem pleased. And I thought she muttered something to herself as she went away.

Not five minutes elapsed before word came to my room that Mrs. Jordon was in the parlor and wished to speak to me.

"Now for trouble," thought I. Sure enough, when I entered the parlor, the knit brow, flushed face, and angry eyes of my neighbor told me that there was to be a scene.

"Mrs. Smith," she began, without ceremony or apology for her abruptness of manner, "I should like to know what you mean by the manner in which you refused to let me have a little flour just now?"

"How did I refuse?" I was cool enough to inquire.

"You refused in a manner which plainly enough snowed that you thought me a troublesome borrower. 'What's wanted now?' I think rather strange language to use to a domestic of mine."

Really, thought I, this caps the climax.

"To speak the plain truth, Mrs. Jordon," said I, "and not wishing to give any offence, you do use the privilege of a neighbor in this respect rather freely-more freely, I must own, than I feel justified in doing."

"Mrs. Smith, this is too much!" exclaimed Mrs. Jordon. "Why you borrow of me twice where I borrow of you once. I am particularly careful in matters of this kind."

I looked at the woman with amazement.

"Borrow of you?" I asked.

"Certainly!" she replied, with perfect coolness. "Scarcely a day passes that you do not send in for something or other. But dear knows! I have always felt pleasure in obliging you."

I was mute for a time.

"Really, Mrs. Jordon," said I, at length, as composedly as I could speak, "you seem to be laboring under some strange mistake. The charge of frequent borrowing, I imagine, lies all on the other side. I can name a dozen of my things in your house now, and can mention as many articles borrowed within the last three days."

"Pray do so," was her cool reply.

"You have my large wash-boiler," I replied, "and two of my washing tubs. You borrow them every Monday, and I have almost always to send for them."

"I have your wash-boiler and tubs? You are in error, Mrs. Smith. I have a large boiler of my own, and plenty of tubs."

"I don't know what you have, Mrs. Jordon; but I do know that you get mine every week. Excuse me for mentioning these things-I do so at your desire. Then, there is my coffee-mill, borrowed every morning."

"Coffee-mill! Why should I borrow your coffee-mill? We have one of our own."

"Yesterday you borrowed butter, and eggs, and sugar," I continued.

"I?" my neighbor seemed perfectly amazed.

"Yes; and the day before a loaf of bread-an egg to clear your coffee-salt, pepper, and a nutmeg."


"And to-day Nancy got some lard, a cup of coffee, and some Indian meal for a pudding."

"She did?" asked Mrs. Jordon in a quick voice, a light seeming to have flashed upon her mind.

"Yes," I replied, "for I was in the kitchen when she got the lard and meal, and Bridget mentioned the coffee as soon as I came down this morning."

"Strange!" Mrs. Jordon looked thoughtful. "It isn't a week since we got coffee, and I am sure our Indian meal cannot be out."

"Almost every week Nancy borrows a pound or a half pound of butter on the day before your butter man comes; and more than that, doesn't return it, or indeed anything she gets more than a third of the time."

"Precisely the complaint I have to make against you," said Mrs. Jordon, looking me steadily in the face.

"Then," said I "there is something wrong somewhere, for to my knowledge nothing has been borrowed from you or any body else for months. I forbid anything of the kind."

"Be that as it may, Mrs. Smith; Nancy frequently comes to me and says you have sent in for this, that, and the other thing-coffee, tea, sugar, butter; and, in fact, almost everything used in a family."

"Then Nancy gets them for her own use," said I.

"But I have often seen Bridget in myself for things."

"My Bridget!" I said, in surprise.

I instantly rang the bell.

"Tell Bridget I want her," said I to the waiter who came to the door. The cook soon appeared.

"Bridget, are you in the habit of borrowing from Mrs. Jordon without my knowledge?"

"No, ma'am!" replied the girl firmly, and without any mark of disturbance in her face.

"Din't you get a bar of soap from our house yesterday?" asked Mrs. Jordon.

"Yes, ma'am," returned Bridget, "but it was soap you owed us."

"Owed you!"

"Yes, Ma am. Nancy got a bar of soap from me last washing-day, and I went in for it yesterday."

"But Nancy told me you wanted to borrow it," said Mrs. Jordon.

"Nancy knew better," said Bridget, with a face slightly flushed; but any one could see that it was a flush of indignation.

"Will you step into my house and tell Nancy I want to see her?"

"Certainly, ma'am." And Bridget retired.

"These servants have been playing a high game, I fear," remarked Mrs. Jordon, after Bridget had left the room. "Pardon me, if in my surprise I have spoken in a manner that has seemed offensive."

"Most certainly there is a game playing that I know nothing about, if anything has been borrowed of you in my name for these three months," said I.

"I have heard of your borrowing something or other almost every day during the time you mention," replied Mrs. Jordon. "As for me, I have sent into you a few times; but not oftener, I am sure, than once in a week."

Bridget returned, after having been gone several minutes, and said Nancy would be in directly. We waited for some time, and then sent for her again. Word was brought back that she was nowhere to be found in the house.

"Come in with me, Mrs. Smith," said my neighbor, rising. I did so, according to her request. Sure enough, Nancy was gone. We went up into her room, and found that she had bundled up her clothes and taken them off, but left behind her unmistakable evidence of what she had been doing. In an old chest which Mrs. Jordon had let her use for her clothes were many packages of tea, burnt coffee, sugar, soap, eggs; a tin kettle containing a pound of butter, and various other articles of table use.

Poor Mrs. Jordon seemed bewildered.

"Let me look at that pound lump of butter," said I.

Mrs. Jordon took up the kettle containing it. "It isn't my butter," she remarked.

"But it's mine, and the very pound she got of me yesterday for you."

"Gracious me!" ejaculated my neighbor. "Was anything like this ever heard?"

"She evidently borrowed on your credit and mine-both ways," I remarked with a smile, for all my unkind feelings toward Mrs. Jordon were gone, "and for her own benefit."

"But isn't it dreadful to think of, Mrs. Smith? See what harm the creature has done! Over and over again have I complained of your borrowing so much and returning so little; and you have doubtless made the same complaint of me."

"I certainly have. I felt that I was not justly dealt by."

"It makes me sick to think of it." And Mrs. Jordon sank into a chair.

"Still I don't understand about the wash-boiler and tubs that you mentioned," she said, after a pause.

"You remember my ten tumblers," I remarked.

"Perfectly. But can she have broken up my tubs and boiler, or carried them off?"

On searching in the cellar we found the tubs in ruins, and the wash-boiler with a large hole in the bottom.

I shall never forget the chagrin, anger, and mortification of poor Mrs. Jordon when, at her request, Bridget pointed out at least twenty of my domestic utensils that Nancy had borrowed to replace such as she had broken or carried away. (It was a rule with Mrs. Jordon to make her servants pay for every thing they broke.)

"To think of it!" she repeated over and over again. "Just to think of it! Who could have dreamed of such doings?"

Mrs. Jordon was, in fact, as guiltless of the sin of troublesome borrowing from a neighbor as myself. And yet I had seriously urged the propriety of moving out of the neighborhood to get away from her.

We both looked more closely to the doings of our servants after this pretty severe lesson; and I must freely confess, that in my own case, the result was worth all the trouble. As trusty a girl as my cook was, I found that she would occasionally run in to a neighbor's to borrow something or other, in order to hide her own neglect; and I only succeeded in stopping the the evil by threatening to send her away if I ever detected her in doing it again.

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