Chapter XVIII. Miss Ophelias Experiences and Opinions
OUR friend Tom, in his own simple musings, often compared his more fortunate lot, in the bondage into which he was cast, with that of Joseph in Egypt; and, in fact, as time went on, and he developed more and more under the eye of his master, the strength of the parallel increased.
St. Clare was indolent and careless of money. Hitherto the providing and marketing had been principally done by Adolph, who was, to the full, as careless and extravagant as his master; and, between them both, they had carried on the dispersing process with great alacrity. Accustomed, for many years, to regard his masters property as his own care, Tom saw, with an uneasiness he could scarcely repress, the wasteful expenditure of the establishment; and, in the quiet, indirect way which his class often acquire, would sometimes make his own suggestions.
St. Clare at first employed him occasionally; but, struck with his soundness of mind and good business capacity, he confided in him more and more, till gradually all the marketing and providing for the family were intrusted to him.
No, no, Adolph, he said, one day, as Adolph was deprecating the passing of power out of his hands; let Tom alone. You only understand what you want; Tom understands cost and come to; and there may be some end to money, bye and bye if we dont let somebody do that.
Trusted to an unlimited extent by a careless master, who handed him a bill without looking at it, and pocketed the change without counting it, Tom had every facility and temptation to dishonesty; and nothing but an impregnable simplicity of nature, strengthened by Christian faith, could have kept him from it. But, to that nature, the very unbounded trust reposed in him was bond and seal for the most scrupulous accuracy.
With Adolph the case had been different. Thoughtless and self-indulgent, and unrestrained by a master who found it easier to indulge than to regulate, he had fallen into an absolute confusion as to meum tuum with regard to himself and his master, which sometimes troubled even St. Clare. His own good sense taught him that such a training of his servants was unjust and dangerous. A sort of chronic remorse went with him everywhere, although not strong enough to make any decided change in his course; and this very remorse reäcted again into indulgence. He passed lightly over the most serious faults, because he told himself that, if he had done his part, his dependents had not fallen into them.
Tom regarded his gay, airy, handsome young master with an odd mixture of fealty, reverence, and fatherly solicitude. That he never read the Bible; never went to church; that he jested and made free with any and every thing that came in the way of his wit; that he spent his Sunday evenings at the opera or theatre; that he went to wine parties, and clubs, and suppers, oftener than was at all expedient,were all things that Tom could see as plainly as anybody, and on which he based a conviction that Masr was nt a Christian;a conviction, however, which he would have been very slow to express to any one else, but on which he founded many prayers, in his own simple fashion, when he was by himself in his little dormitory. Not that Tom had not his own way of speaking his mind occasionally, with something of the tact often observable in his class; as, for example, the very day after the Sabbath we have described, St. Clare was invited out to a convivial party of choice spirits, and was helped home, between one and two oclock at night, in a condition when the physical had decidedly attained the upper hand of the intellectual. Tom and Adolph assisted to get him composed for the night, the latter in high spirits, evidently regarding the matter as a good joke, and laughing heartily at the rusticity of Toms horror, who really was simple enough to lie awake most of the rest of the night, praying for his young master.
Well, Tom, what are you waiting for? said St. Clare, the next day, as he sat in his library, in dressing-gown and slippers. St. Clare had just been intrusting Tom with some money, and various commissions. Is nt all right there, Tom? he added, as Tom still stood waiting.
All! said Tom, turning suddenly round and falling on his knees. O, my dear young Masr! I m fraid it will be loss of allallbody and soul. The good Book says, it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder! my dear Masr!
Well, I wont go to any more of their cursed nonsense, Tom, said St. Clare; on my honor, I wont. I dont know why I have nt stopped long ago. I ve always despised it, and myself for it,so now, Tom, wipe up your eyes, and go about your errands. Come, come, he added, no blessings. I m not so wonderfully good, now, he said, as he gently pushed Tom to the door. There, I ll pledge my honor to you, Tom, you dont see me so again, he said; and Tom went off, wiping his eyes, with great satisfaction.
South as well as north, there are women who have an extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the various members of their small estate,to regulate their peculiarities, and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system.
Such a housekeeper was Mrs. Shelby, whom we have already described; and such our readers may remember to have met with. If they are not common at the South, it is because they are not common in the world. They are to be found there as often as anywhere; and, when existing, find in that peculiar state of society a brilliant opportunity to exhibit their domestic talent.
Such a housekeeper Marie St. Clare was not, nor her mother before her. Indolent and childish, unsystematic and improvident, it was not to be expected that servants trained under her care should not be so likewise; and she had very justly described to Miss Ophelia the state of confusion she would find in the family, though she had not ascribed it to the proper cause.
The first morning of her regency, Miss Ophelia was up at four oclock; and having attended to all the adjustments of her own chamber, as she had done ever since she came there, to the great amazement of the chamber-maid, she prepared for a vigorous onslaught on the cupboards and closets of the establishment of which she had the keys.
The store-room, the linen-presses, the china-closet, the kitchen and cellar, that day, all went under an awful review. Hidden things of darkness were brought to light to an extent that alarmed all the principalities and powers of kitchen and chamber, and caused many wonderings and murmurings about dese yer northern ladies from the domestic cabinet.
Old Dinah, the head cook, and principal of all rule and authority in the kitchen department, was filled with wrath at what she considered an invasion of privilege. No feudal baron in Magna Charta times could have more thoroughly resented some incursion of the crown.
Dinah was a character in her own way, and it would be injustice to her memory not to give the reader a little idea of her. She was a native and essential cook, as much as Aunt Chloe,cooking being an indigenous talent of the African race; but Chloe was a trained and methodical one, who moved in an orderly domestic harness, while Dinah was a self-taught genius, and, like geniuses in general, was positive, opinionated and erratic, to the last degree.
Like a certain class of modern philosophers, Dinah perfectly scorned logic and reason in every shape, and always took refuge in intuitive certainty; and here she was perfectly impregnable. No possible amount of talent, or authority, or explanation, could ever make her believe that any other way was better than her own, or that the course she had pursued in the smallest matter could be in the least modified. This had been a conceded point with her old mistress, Maries mother; and Miss Marie, as Dinah always called her young mistress, even after her marriage, found it easier to submit than contend; and so Dinah had ruled supreme. This was the easier, in that she was perfect mistress of that diplomatic art which unites the utmost subservience of manner with the utmost inflexibility as to measure.
Dinah was mistress of the whole art and mystery of excuse-making, in all its branches. Indeed, it was an axiom with her that the cook can do no wrong; and a cook in a Southern kitchen finds abundance of heads and shoulders on which to lay off every sin and frailty, so as to maintain her own immaculateness entire. If any part of the dinner was a failure, there were fifty indisputably good reasons for it; and it was the fault undeniably of fifty other people, whom Dinah berated with unsparing zeal.
But it was very seldom that there was any failure in Dinahs last results. Though her mode of doing everything was peculiarly meandering and circuitous, and without any sort of calculation as to time and place,though her kitchen generally looked as if it had been arranged by a hurricane blowing through it, and she had about as many places for each cooking utensil as there were days in the year,yet, if one would have patience to wait her own good time, up would come her dinner in perfect order, and in a style of preparation with which an epicure could find no fault.
It was now the season of incipient preparation for dinner. Dinah, who required large intervals of reflection and repose, and was studious of ease in all her arrangements, was seated on the kitchen floor, smoking a short, stumpy pipe, to which she was much addicted, and which she always kindled up, as a sort of censer, whenever she felt the need of an inspiration in her arrangements. It was Dinahs mode of invoking the domestic Muses.
Seated around her were various members of that rising race with which a Southern household abounds, engaged in shelling peas, peeling potatoes, picking pin-feathers out of fowls, and other preparatory arrangements,Dinah every once in a while interrupting her meditations to give a poke, or a rap on the head, to some of the young operators, with the pudding-stick that lay by her side. In fact, Dinah ruled over the woolly heads of the younger members with a rod of iron, and seemed to consider them born for no earthly purpose but to save her steps, as she phrased it. It was the spirit of the system under which she had grown up, and she carried it out to its full extent.
Miss Ophelia, after passing on her reformatory tour through all the other parts of the establishment, now entered the kitchen. Dinah had heard, from various sources, what was going on, and resolved to stand on defensive and conservative ground,mentally determined to oppose and ignore every new measure, without any actual observable contest.
The kitchen was a large brick-floored apartment, with a great old-fashioned fireplace stretching along one side of it,an arrangement which St. Clare had vainly tried to persuade Dinah to exchange for the convenience of a modern cook-stove. Not she. No Puseyite, or conservative of any school, was ever more inflexibly attached to time-honored inconveniences than Dinah.
When St. Clare had first returned from the north, impressed with the system and order of his uncles kitchen arrangements, he had largely provided his own with an array of cupboards, drawers, and various apparatus, to induce systematic regulation, under the sanguine illusion that it would be of any possible assistance to Dinah in her arrangements. He might as well have provided them for a squirrel or a magpie. The more drawers and closets there were, the more hiding-holes could Dinah make for the accommodation of old rags, hair-combs, old shoes, ribbons, cast-off artificial flowers, and other articles of vertu, wherein her soul delighted.
When Miss Ophelia entered the kitchen, Dinah did not rise, but smoked on in sublime tranquillity, regarding her movements obliquely out of the corner of her eye, but apparently intent only on the operations around her.
It s handy for most anything, Missis, said Dinah. So it appeared to be. From the variety it contained, Miss Ophelia pulled out first a fine damask table-cloth stained with blood, having evidently been used to envelop some raw meat.
Shifless! said Miss Ophelia to herself, proceeding to tumble over the drawer, where she found a nutmeg-grater and two or three nutmegs, a Methodist hymn-book, a couple of soiled Madras handkerchiefs, some yarn and knitting-work, a paper of tobacco and a pipe, a few crackers, one or two gilded china-saucers with some pomade in them, one or two thin old shoes, a piece of flannel carefully pinned up enclosing some small white onions, several damask table-napkins, some coarse crash towels, some twine and darning-needles, and several broken papers, from which sundry sweet herbs were sifting into the drawer.
Laws, yes, I put em there this morning,I likes to keep my things handy, said Dinah. You, Jake! what are you stopping for! You ll cotch it! Be still, thar! she added, with a dive of her stick at the criminal.
Wash my dishes! said Dinah, in a high key, as her wrath began to rise over her habitual respect of manner; what does ladies know bout work, I want to know? When d Masr ever get his dinner, if I was to spend all my time a washin and a puttin up dishes? Miss Marie never telled me so, nohow.
Laws, yes! if Missis will go a tumblin things all up so, it will. Missis has spilt lots dat ar way, said Dinah, coming uneasily to the drawers. If Missis only will go up stars till my clarin up time comes, I ll have everything right; but I cant do nothin when ladies is round, a henderin. You, Sam, dont you gib the baby dat ar sugar-bowl! I ll crack ye over, if ye dont mind!
Lor, now! Miss Phelia; dat ar ant no way for ladies to do. I never did see ladies doin no sich; my old Missis nor Miss Marie never did, and I dont see no kinder need on t; and Dinah stalked indignantly about, while Miss Ophelia piled and sorted dishes, emptied dozens of scattering bowls of sugar into one receptacle, sorted napkins, table-cloths, and towels, for washing; washing, wiping, and arranging with her own hands, and with a speed and alacrity which perfectly amazed Dinah.
Lor, now! if dat ar de way dem northern ladies do, dey ant ladies, nohow, she said to some of her satellites, when at a safe hearing distance. I has things as straight as anybody, when my clarin up times comes; but I dont want ladies round, a henderin, and getting my things all where I cant find em.
To do Dinah justice, she had, at irregular periods, paroxyms of reformation and arrangement, which she called clarin up times, when she would begin with great zeal, and turn every drawer and closet wrong side outward, on to the floor or tables, and make the ordinary confusion seven-fold more confounded. Then she would light her pipe, and leisurely go over her arrangements, looking things over, and discoursing upon them; making all the young fry scour most vigorously on the tin things, and keeping up for several hours a most energetic state of confusion, which she would explain to the satisfaction of all inquirers, by the remark that she was a clarin up. She could nt hev things a gwine on so as they had been, and she was gwine to make these yer young ones keep better order; for Dinah herself, somehow, indulged the illusion that she, herself, was the soul of order, and it was only the young uns, and the everybody else in the house, that were the cause of anything that fell short of perfection in this respect. When all the tins were scoured, and the tables scrubbed snowy white, and everything that could offend tucked out of sight in holes and corners, Dinah would dress herself up in a smart dress, clean apron, and high, brilliant Madras turban, and tell all marauding young uns to keep out of the kitchen, for she was gwine to have things kept nice. Indeed, these periodic seasons were often an inconvenience to the whole household; for Dinah would contract such an immoderate attachment to her scoured tin, as to insist upon it that it should nt be used again for any possible purpose,at least, till the ardor of the clarin up period abated.
Miss Ophelia, in a few days, thoroughly reformed every department of the house to a systematic pattern; but her labors in all departments that depended on the coöperation of servants were like those of Sisyphus or the Danaides. In despair, she one day appealed to St. Clare.
My dear cousin, you may as well understand, once for all, that we masters are divided into two classes, oppressors and oppressed. We who are good-natured and hate severity make up our minds to a good deal of inconvenience. If we will keep a shambling, loose, untaught set in the community, for our convenience, why, we must take the consequence. Some rare cases I have seen, of persons, who, by a peculiar tact, can produce order and system without severity; but I m not one of them,and so I made up my mind, long ago, to let things go just as they do. I will not have the poor devils thrashed and cut to pieces, and they know it,and, of course, they know the staff is in their own hands.
My dear Vermont, you natives up by the North Pole set an extravagant value on time! What on earth is the use of time to a fellow who has twice as much of it as he knows what to do with? As to order and system, where there is nothing to be done but to lounge on the sofa and read, an hour sooner or later in breakfast or dinner is nt of much account. Now, there s Dinah gets you a capital dinner,soup, ragout, roast fowl, dessert, ice-creams and all,and she creates it all out of chaos and old night down there, in that kitchen. I think it really sublime, the way she manages. But, Heaven bless us! if we are to go down there, and view all the smoking and squatting about, and hurryscurryation of the preparatory process, we should never eat more! My good cousin, absolve yourself from that! It s more than a Catholic penance, and does no more good. You ll only lose your own temper, and utterly confound Dinah. Let her go her own way.
Dont I? Dont I know that the rolling-pin is under her bed, and the nutmeg-grater in her pocket with her tobacco,that there are sixty-five different sugar-bowls, one in every hole in the house,that she washes dishes with a dinner-napkin one day, and with a fragment of an old petticoat the next? But the upshot is, she gets up glorious dinners, makes superb coffee; and you must judge her as warriors and statesmen are judged, by her success.
Instruct! O, fiddlestick! What instructing do you think I should do? I look like it! As to Marie, she has spirit enough, to be sure, to kill off a whole plantation, if I d let her manage; but she would nt get the cheatery out of them.
Well, now and then one, whom Nature makes so impracticably simple, truthful and faithful, that the worst possible influence cant destroy it. But, you see, from the mothers breast the colored child feels and sees that there are none but underhand ways open to it. It can get along no other way with its parents, its mistress, its young master and missie play-fellows. Cunning and deception become necessary, inevitable habits. It is nt fair to expect anything else of him. He ought not to be punished for it. As to honesty, the slave is kept in that dependent, semi-childish state, that there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his masters goods are not his own, if he can get them. For my part, I dont see how they can be honest. Such a fellow as Tom, here, isis a moral miracle!
That is nt my affair, as I know of, said St. Clare; I am only dealing in facts of the present life. The fact is, that the whole race are pretty generally understood to be turned over to the devil, for our benefit, in this world, however it may turn out in another!
I dont know as I am. We are in pretty good company, for all that, said St. Clare, as people in the broad road generally are. Look at the high and the low, all the world over, and it s the same story,the lower class used up, body, soul and spirit, for the good of the upper. It is so in England; it is so everywhere; and yet all Christendom stands aghast, with virtuous indignation, because we do the thing in a little different shape from what they do it.
Ah, well, in New England, and in the free States, you have the better of us, I grant. But there s the bell; so, Cousin, let us for a while lay aside our sectional prejudices, and come out to dinner.
It s mighty likely, Missis; but I will do it,yes, I will. O Lord! I wish I s dead, I do,I wish I s dead, and out of my misery! and slowly and stiffly the old creature rose, and got her basket on her head again; but before she went out, she looked at the quadroon girl, who still stood playing with her ear-drops.
Ye think ye re mighty fine with them ar, a frolickin and a tossin your head, and a lookin down on everybody. Well, never mind,you may live to be a poor, old, cut-up crittur, like me. Hope to the Lord ye will, I do; then see if ye wont drink,drink,drink,yerself into torment; and sarve ye right, toough! and, with a malignant howl, the woman left the room.
It must be observed that, among other appropriations from his masters stock, Adolph was in the habit of adopting his name and address; and that the style under which he moved, among the colored circles of New Orleans, was that of Mr. St. Clare.
I wonder, now, Mr. St. Clare, what the impudence of you men will come to! said Jane, tossing her pretty head till the ear-drops twinkled again. I shant dance with you for a whole evening, if you go to asking me any more questions.
Well, in the Lords sight, ant wool as good as har, any time? said Dinah. I d like to have Missis say which is worth the most,a couple such as you, or one like me. Get out wid ye, ye trumpery,I wont have ye round!
Here the conversation was interrupted in a two-fold manner. St. Clares voice was heard at the head of the stairs, asking Adolph if he meant to stay all night with his shaving-water; and Miss Ophelia, coming out of the dining-room, said,
Our friend Tom, who had been in the kitchen during the conversation with the old rusk-woman, had followed her out into the street. He saw her go on, giving every once in a while a suppressed groan. At last she set her basket down on a door-step, and began arranging the old, faded shawl which covered her shoulders.
To get shet o my misery. I had one child after I come here; and I thought then I d have one to raise, cause Masr was nt a speculator. It was de peartest little thing! and Missis she seemed to think a heap on t, at first; it never cried,it was likely and fat. But Missis tuck sick, and I tended her; and I tuck the fever, and my milk all left me, and the child it pined to skin and bone, and Missis would nt buy milk for it. She would nt hear to me, when I telled her I had nt milk. She said she knowed I could feed it on what other folks eat; and the child kinder pined, and cried, and cried, and cried, day and night, and got all gone to skin and bones, and Missis got sot agin it, and she said t want nothin but crossness. She wished it was dead, she said; and she would nt let me have it o nights, cause, she said, it kept me awake, and made me good for nothing. She made me sleep in her room; and I had to put it away off in a little kind o garret, and thar it cried itself to death, one night. It did; and I tuck to drinkin, to keep its crying out of my ears! I did,and I will drink! I will, if I do go to torment for it! Masr says I shall go to torment, and I tell him I ve got thar now!
I looks like gwine to heaven, said the woman; ant thar where white folks is gwine? Spose they d have me thar? I d rather go to torment, and get away from Masr and Missis. I had so, she said, as, with her usual groan, she got her basket on her head, and walked sullenly away.
O, Tom! here you are. I m glad I ve found you. Papa says you may get out the ponies, and take me in my little new carriage, she said, catching his hand. But what s the matter Tom?you look sober.
Tom, in simple, earnest phrase, told Eva the womans history. She did not exclaim, or wonder, or weep, as other children do. Her cheeks grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over her eyes. She laid both hands on her bosom, and sighed heavily.