Serving Girl's Day Off
Bessy Conway; or, The Irish Girl in America.
CHAPTER XII. Page 160
Mary was nodding and yawning over a towel which she was supposed to be hemming, whilst Becky was cleaning her silver. Bessy's entrance was very welcome to both, for Becky had no objection to a bit of chat once in a while, and Mary was glad of anything that would keep her from falling asleep.
"Well! I'm real glad to see you," said Mary, "but, la me! what a figure you are! I wonder you an't ashamed to come out of an evening in a calico dress!"
Bessy smiled and looked down with a perfectly satisfied air at the neat chintz calico which looked bright and clean and very pretty under her dark shawl.
"Mary, how can you talk like that?" exclaimed Becky: "now that's about the prettiest calico I've seen in a long time. It's real neat."
"Neat, indeed!" said Mary with infinite contempt, " it might do well enough for the morning when folks are at their work, but you wouldn't catch me going out so of an evening."
"I guess not," said Becky with great composure, "but that an't any rule for folks that have more sense. I guess Bessy makes a better use of her money than putting it on her back in silk and satin."
"Do you hear her now?" cried Mary thoroughly roused from her drowsy fit, " she talks just so all the blessed time -- but I needn't blame her -- it's only natural."
Mary coughed affectedly and glanced menacingly at Bessy's remarkably plain face.
"For shame, Mary dear! for shame!" whispered Bessy, purposely avoiding the direction of Mary's wicked eye.
But Mary only laughed and sang with provoking emphasis:
"Nobody coming to marry me, Nobody coming to marry me Oh dear ! what shall I do?"
Bessy was ashamed to look at the cook, and she glanced reprovingly at Mary, but such scenes were of too frequent occurrence to excite much feeling on either part. Becky rubbed away harder than ever at her plate, but she soon paused to ask Bessy how she liked her new mistress -- she had heard from Mary of Mrs. Walters' departure and Bessy's engagement with Mrs. Hibbard.
"I like her very well," said Bessy, "she is a very good mistress."
"How often does she let you out?" put in Mary.
"Twice a week if I choose to go -- that is, Sunday and any day through the week that's most convenient. But I don't always go out when it's my turn. Unless when I have some very particular reason I don't care for going out in the evenings. I'd sooner do some sewing either for myself or Mrs. Hibbard."
"Sewing indeed!" cried Mary with her disdainful curl of the lip, "I'd see any mistress far enough before lad stay in and sew for her when it was my turn out!"
"No one would ever suspect you of such a thing," said Becky dryly, "so you needn't take any pains to let us know it. I guess you'd rather be dancing jigs down to your bother-in-law's, or trotting from one shindig to another keeping me out of my bed till eleven or twelve o'clock waiting for you. There an't any chance of your sewing much evenings when you can get out."
"I leave that to you and the likes of you," said Mary in a saucy yet not ill-natured tone, for she knew that Becky meant what she said for her good. " I wouldn't be seen doing what you're doing anyhow; if I engaged to do Mrs. Graham's work, I didn't engage to spend my evenings at it, and I won't, either, I'm determined."
"Bessy!" said the cook, "do girls in place talk and act so in Ireland?"
"What does she know whether they do or not?" put in Mary; "neither she nor I ever lived out till we came to America!"
"If I didn't," said Bessy, "I know how girls acted that did live out, and as Becky put the question to me I must tell her the truth: a servant girl in Ireland that would be seen going on as some of them do here would be put in a strait-jacket, and taken off to a madhouse. Indeed she would, Becky ! and Mary knows that as well as I do if she'd only say so."
Mary shook her fist at Bessy with a playful air, and Becky asked in a tone of great interest: "They don't dress up as they do here -- do they?"
"Dress up! why no, they dress decently and plainly, in the way that they think is becoming to their station If a servant girl went out in a silk dress, with feathers or bowers in her bonnet, she'd be made a show of before she'd get in, and as for the boys, why! there wouldn't one of them look the side she'd be in -- the rich farmer's sons, even, wouldn't like to marry a girl that wore such finery, for the reason that they'd think she'd make a poor wife. No, no, Becky ! the servant girls in
Ireland have sense than be laying out all they earn on foolish clothes that would only make people laugh at them when they'd have them on And I often heard Mrs. Herbert say, Mary ! that it's just the same in England, and that numbers of servant girls make good matches among the farmers and tradesmen, and even shopkeepers, just because they're so neat and tidy and plain in their dress, and so fond of saving up their money."
Hearing this, Becky nodded triumphantly at Mary. "There, if that an't just what I often told Mary. As girls dress up here, why the young men are afraid to have anything to do with them. What prospect is it for a man earning a few dollars a week to marry a dressed-up doll of a girl without a cent in her pocket or anything better to begin housekeeping with than a couple of showy flare-up dresses, a bonnet to match, and a stylish sunshade?"
The tone in which Becky said this made the girls laugh, but Mary jumping to her feet gave her a smart slap on the shoulder: "Will you not be bothering us, now with your old palavers? Hush ! is that the parlor bell?"
It was, and Mary ran up stairs where she remained some time, during which Becky took the opportunity to have a talk with Bessy about her friend.
"I kind of like Mary," said the precise New England woman, "and I've bin atrying ever since she came to teach her how to do her work as it ought to be done. At first I thought she was going to be a real nice tidy girl, but" -- and Becky shook her head emphatically -- " I find there an't the least use in trying to get her in my own ways."
"Well! it's very strange," said Bessy thoughtfully; " you'd think a girl that has such taste for dressing herself would have a taste for keeping every thing neat and clean about her.''
Becky smiled with a sort of patronizing air as she replied: "I guess if you were as long looking at helpgirls as I have bin you wouldn't speak like that. Bless you, child! I never
saw a stuck-up, dandified young woman in place that wasn't real untidy about her work. I've seen them go out in rich silk dresses and every thing on them in first-rate style, and to see them about their work they'd be more like Scarecrows than any thing else -- so dirty that you'd hate to see them around the house. Many a time I wished that the beaux they were so fond of talking of could only get a peep at them there -- my stars! wouldn't they take their fancy! Then the work -- why, I tell you, Bessy Conway! it would be many times easier to do it one's self than be everlastingly hunting after them It's real hard to put up with them -- that it is -- for they won't take the trouble to do things slick, and when a mistress finds fault with them for not doing as they had ought to, they'll give sa'ce to no end, and finish with ' I can't do it any better, Mrs. So and So! if you don't like it, get another!' instead Of saying that they'd try and do better for the time to come."
" But, my goodness! Becky! sure Mary can't be as bad as all that comes to! Why, at home she was a fine smart clean girl as you'd see anywhere. She'd work as much as two."
"That may be, Bessy ! but, you see, the work was as different as could be. I was raised in the country myself, away out in Connecticut, and I ought to know what country work is. Milking cows, and cleaning dairy vessels, and feeding poultry and such things an't the least bit like sweeping carpets, and dusting furnitures and washing paintings, and ever so many other little matters that belong to a housemaid's work in the city. I wish I could get Mary to do things just so ! I'm sure I've tried all I could. There wan't any one but me to see to her -- "
"Why, where was the mistress?" Bessy asked in surprise.
Becky seldom laughed but she laughed then -- a low, dry laugh peculiar to herself: "Why, out about the city, to be 'sure. Mrs. Graham has got the business of so many friends to look after that she hasn't a moment's time to look after her own."
"Goodness gracious! how can that be!"
"Well! I know she hasn't any family of her own, and she gits a girl in to do her sewing, so she has no way of passing the time at home, and she says it's so lonesome all day long when Mr. Graham is at business that she can't bear it, poor dear lady! "
"Well!" "Well! as soon as ever she gets her breakfast down in the morning and Mr. Graham off to his store, out she goes herself and a sight of her we never see till coming on evening again."
"Mercy on me, Becky ! what does she be doing?"
"As if I could tell how a lady spends her time when she's out! I guess she's shopping part of the day and paying visits and finding out what's going on the rest of the time. The only thing I know about it is that she has always a budget of news at diner for Mr. Graham about all the folks they know, so that looks as if she took pains to hunt it up. But she's real good to me -- I wouldn't wish a kinder mistress. I may just do as I like all the week round."
"Do you know what, Becky -- " said Bessy shrewdly, "I think if Mrs. Graham had other girls to deal with she wouldn't spend so much of her time out."
"That may be, too," said Becky, with much self-complacency; "I will say for myself that there an't anything neglected or anything wasted in my part of the work no more than if she was in. But, la me! Bessy, it an't anything strange in New York for ladies to spend their day out."
"No, indeed ! -- why, child, I have lived in families -- some of them only in middling circumstances, too -- where there was three, or four, or five children to look after, and it was just the same. Let. the money come how it might, they had a sewing girl most of the time, and dressed and went out every day as sure as the afternoon came, and, goodness gracious! if you saw them on the sunny side of Broadway they'd dazzle your
eyes so with jewelry and satins, and laces and all such things, that you scarce could bear to look at them."
"Lord bless my soul ! are you in earnest?" ejaculated Bessy.
"I guess I am," said Becky, with her strange laugh. " But that an't the worst of it. I have known that same sewing girl I spoke of to come, perhaps a dozen times, after her money, before she could git it, though the lady knew very well she had a poor sickly mother depending on what she earned. As for the house girls -- she had three of us, the lady I'm speaking of now—we used to have to take our wages in quarters and half dollars, and glad to get it at that, sometimes after we had left and gone to other places I tell you, Bessy, one sees the world when she's living out -- between ladies and their help I've seen enough of it. Well! what's going on now" addressing Mary, who had just come into the kitchen, and having carefully shut the door, threw herself into a chair, laughing immoderately.
"You that's so good at guessing, Becky, guess what I was at ever since?" she said, as soon as she could find voice to speak.
After sundry ineffectual attempts, Becky guessed she must give it up. "What were you doing?"
"Well! I was helping Mrs. Graham to teach Flora to beg. She was sittin' in the rockin' chair givin' out the word of command, and I was holdin' up the dog's paws every time to get her into the way of it. Mr. Graham laughed at the two of us till you might tie him with a straw and I had hard work, you may be sure, to keep in till I got out of the room. I declare my sides are sore with the laughing, so they are! A full hour by the clock teaching Flora to stand on her hind legs! -- oh! oh! oh! -- and the mistress hadn't time to darn a fine collar of hers that was torn in the wash -- she had to put it away till Miss Johnston comes next week! -- and I heard Mr. Graham scolding like fifty because there wasn't a button on his shirt! Oh Lord! oh Lord!"
Becky thought it her duty to rebuke Mary for laughing so at her mistress, but Mary only laughed the more: "Is it any wonder Nigh I" she said wiping the tears from her eyes; "Grave you are, Becky! you'd laugh yourself if you saw all the trouble that poor woman was in because Flora was so hard to put manners into. Lord knows you'd think it was life or death with her, and that's what made the master laugh himself."
Bessy was much amused by Mary's ludicrous account of the important business which had kept her so long up stairs, but she did not think it becoming to indulge her mirth where she was, or in the presence of Mrs. Graham's old servant. Her time was up, moreover, so she hurried away after inviting Becky to go and see her in Monroe street. " I know you and Mary can't come together," said she," but you can come one at a time, you know." Becky promised to go very soon. She had taken a great fancy to Bessy, and often told Mary afterwards that if she would only keep more of her company and take more of her advice she would soon be a different girl to what she was.
That same evening, an hour or two later, Henry Herbert was sitting alone in his room—a front bedroom in a large boardinghouse somewhere in Eldridge or Forsythe street -- it matters not now which. lie sat at a table in the centre of the room with his head bowed down on his chest, and his legs stretched at full length under the table, whilst one hand played idly with the gold watchchain that hung in rich contrast over his brown velvet vest, and the other rested on an open letter which lay before him. There was a frown on his usually open brow, and a sneer on his lip that extended itself over his whole face, giving a sort of sardonic character to features that nature had made fair to look upon.
"So it is," said he half aloud, taking up the letter again, "my mother is almost as griping as my father. Money and position are the idols of both. Let us see again what she says:
"' My dear son,' -- ay I very dear, indeed, -- ' I have just received your letter which I hare not dared to show to your father. He has not forgiven you, Henry! and what is worse, I fear he never will' -- I'm pretty sure of it, mother! if you never said it -- ' And, after all, you cannot blame him' -- oh! of course not! -- ' you betrayed his confidence' -- I never had it to betray -- 'you robbed him of his honest gains"' -- the sneer came again on Herbert's face bitterer than ever, as he muttered: -- "honest, indeed! -- I think the less we say about that the better. 'Two hundred pounds in these times is no trifle.' It is to your husband, madam! 'And it was not worth your while to turn your father's heart against you for such a paltry sum— you know it would all have been yours some day, -- there was no one for it but yourself,' -- humph! that's live horse and you'll get grass, -- I'd rather have a little as I went along, and less in the long run 'But oh! Henry! Henry! there's worse than all that said of you here' -- there is, eh? -- ' can it be true that you took Denis Conway's daughter off with you '' -- some say you married her, but oh! surely, surely, you would not disgrace your family by such a step!' Ha! ha! ha! that is so like her -- disobedience, robbery, and all the other sins possible and impossible laid to my charge are honorable and meritorious acts when compared with a plebeian marriage! -- that alone would entail disgrace, it seems! -- and then" -- -- the frown on his brow grew darker still -- " and then, no thought of the possible injury done to Bessy in case I hold taken her with me -- but not as a wife -- -no thought of the shame and misery that would then, indeed, fall on a virtuous family respected by all in their own sphere -- no thought of the ruin such a connection would bring to her -- the black sin to both -- oh! mother! mother! what wonder is it that I am what I am!"
There was little more in the letter except an urgent request for Henry to let the writer know if it was true about that unfortunate marriage -- if not, all might yet be well. As the young man glanced at the neat, fair signature written in a
large Italian hand, he smiled darkly to himself and muttered, "It should have been me instead of Isabel." With the impression of this evil thought legibly written on his face, he pushed back his chair with a violent gesture and commenced walking the room with rapid strides, muttering to himself in a gloomy sullen tone:
"Two hundred pounds, indeed! if I had only that it wouldn't last me long here! Sharp as they are, I outwitted them both -- and why not? had I not a right to a share of 'my father's substance?' My father's substance, forsooth! Captain Walters and others, too, will tell you that the bulk of that same substance is theirs -- why should I scruple taking from my father that which he has embezzled from the rightful owners? How soft my dear mother takes me to be when she speaks of my father's ' honest gains !' -- truth to tell I were no child of theirs were I so easily duped as that—surely she ought to know her ' dear son' better than suppose him such a novice in this world's wiles ! It is strange, however, that my father has not found it all out before now ! What will he do when he does come to know it'' I don't think he can do anything to trouble me here, and if not he may go whistle jigs to a milestone or
'Ride a cock-horse to Banbury-cross To see Master Harry upon a white horse.'Ha! ha! ha! ' They may seek me bit they shall not find me,' as our old parson used to sing out. I think I see my venerable parent riding off in the deuce of a hurry in search of his truant son and his missing moneybags! Wouldn't he cut a figure ! And my gentle mother looking after him at the door through her gold spectacles "
The idea thus presented to his mind so tickled his risible faculties that he threw himself into a chair laughing immoderately That being over, his mood underwent another change, and a softened expression stole over his features. " There are but one being in the world whom I love," he murmured softly,
"but one who has power over my heart. Some secret bond of sympathy exists between us and I know I could win Bessy -- yes, I know and feel it -- but here again my wayward fate -- or my evil genius -- flings its dark shadow between us two. I could set the world at defiance and marry her within an hour, for there is a treasure in her heart and in her mind which I could turn to account, but she will not hear me -- she will not trust me—the curse of that dark hour of guilt is upon me, and will be to the day I die! I have heard of the curse of Cain following men the wide world through ! that brand, anyhow, is not on navy brow -- the thing that seems so foul to others was but a boyish frolic -- it harmed no man nor woman either -- why does the Avenging Arm, then, still pursue met Why are those awful words stamped on my sell ill letters of Same burning, burning, burning ever? Oh God! who car stand against Thy justice?"
A knock came to the door just then, and Herbert putting the letter hastily out of sight, opened the door and Dixon walked in with that bold, swaggering air which was natural to him. There was a smile on his face, too, but it threw no light over the dark features. He was, or at least appeared to be, in high spirits.
"Give me joy, Herbert! I've got first rate news for you," he said, "I'm the luckiest fellow in New York tonight."
"As how?" Herbert asked rather stiffly; he felt annoyed at the fellow's intrusion, but did not care to say so.
"As how? why, as the winner of three hundred dollars."
"That was a good plucking Who was the fowl
"Oh! a goose of a Southerner -- a Georgian from Savannah."
"Did you pocket the cash I" said Herbert, in a half incredulous tone.
"I guess I did, in New York paper -- A number one!"
"Have you got it about you ?"
"I rather think I have." And after some moment's search in his pocket book, he drew out three hundred dollar bills,
which he handed to Herbert, and then sat watching the young man's countenance while he read it, with the most sinister expression possible.
When Herbert looked up from the paper Dixon was smiling again. "Well ! are you satisfied?"
"Of course I am."
" All right -- you see I am not always unlucky as you seemed to suppose -- the jade Fortune begins to smile on me, as she willowy you by and by -- courage and perseverance, you know, sure are to conquer."
"I tell you again I don't tease to conquer. I have money enough to serve my turn."
But Dixon would not take that for an answer. He knew better what was passing in Herbert's mind than Herbert did himself. He saw that something had ruffled his nature to its very depths, and by a little dexterous management he succeeded in drawing the secret out of him. That gained the rest was easy, and in half an hour's skillful operation on Herbert's weak points he had worked him up to a state of excitement that swept away every vestige of prudence, every good resolution that had been gathering strength in his mind during the trying months of their ill-starred acquaintance. Striking the iron whilst it was hot, he gave Herbert no time to cool, but hurried him off to join a party of " right gay fellows" who were waiting supper for them at a well-known gaming-house in the vicinity.
That moment was the turning-point in Henry Herbert's career, and his good angel left him as he crossed the threshold of that mantrap. When he crossed it again with pallid cheek and bloodshot eye the morning sun was shining far up in the Armament. The city was all astir and the busy children of trade and toil were hurrying hither and thither intent on the duties of their various callings. Not so with Henry Herbert The deadly languor which follows excess paralyzed his whole being, body -- soul -- all. Yet the fire of passion was burning
in every vein and throbbing in every pulse. The lash of conscience was lacerating his soul—he hated his companions, for all night long they had been robbing him of his ill -- got treasures -- "plucking him," as he had said of the Georgian who was but the creature of Dixon's imagination -- the decoy duck, as it were, to draw Herbert into the snare. Yes Herbert hated them all, for they had taunted and goaded him into the jaws of ruin, but he hated himself most of all for allowing himself to become their dupe.
"Buy a Herald, sir! Daily Emerald, sir!" The voice was that of Mike Milligan, and as Herbert glanced down at the boy's rather peculiar face, he recognized him at once as the same who had brought him Paul's message that night at the Shakespeare. Somehow he winced at the sight of him, and vexed at being seen emerging from such a place at such a time he said what under other circumstances he would not have said—what he never said before:
"Go to h -- with your Herald!"
"Thank you kindly, Mr. Herbert!" the urchin replied, "maybe you want company on the way -- I'd be willing to oblige you, sir, but I don't know as they want papers there.
The boy turned a corner and was out of sight before Herbert had made up his mind whether to inflict corporal punishment on him or not.
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