The Treasure by Kathleen Norris
The constant visits of Owen Sargent, had he been but a few years older, and had Sandy been a few years older, would have filled Mrs. Salisbury's heart with a wild maternal hope. As it was, with Sandy barely nineteen, and Owen not quite twenty-two, she felt more tantalizing discomfort in their friendship than satisfaction. Owen was a dear boy, queer, of course, but fine in every way, and Sandy was quite the prettiest girl in River Falls; but it was far too soon to begin to hope that they would do the entirely suitable and acceptable thing of falling in love with each other. "That would be quite too perfect!" thought Mrs. Salisbury, watching them together.
No; Owen was too rich to be overlooked by all sorts of other girls, scrupulous and unscrupulous. Every time he went with his mother for a week to Atlantic City or New York, Mrs. Salisbury writhed in apprehension of the thousand lures that must be spread on all sides about his lumbering feet. He was just the sweet, big, simple sort to be trapped by some little empty-headed girl, some little marplot clever enough to pretend an interest in the prison problem, or the free-milk problem, or some other industrial problem in which Owen had seen fit to interest himself. And her lovely, dignified Sandy, reflected the mother, a match for him in every way, beautiful, good, clever, just the woman to win him, by her own charm and the charms of children and home, away from the somewhat unnatural interests with which he had surrounded himself, must sit silent and watch him throw himself away.
Sandy, of course, had never had any idea of Owen in this light, of that her mother was quite sure. Sandy treated him as she did her own brothers, frankly, despotically, delightfully. And perhaps it was wiser, after all, not to give the child a hint, for it was evident that the shy, gentle Owen was absolutely at home and happy in the Salisbury home; nothing would be gained by making Sandy feel self-conscious and responsible now.
Mrs. Salisbury really did not like Owen Sargent very well, although his money made her honestly think she did. He had a wide, pleasant, but homely face, and an aureole of upstanding yellow hair, and a manner as unaffected as might have been expected from the child of his plain old genial father, and his mother, the daughter of a tanner. He lived alone, with his widowed mother, in a pleasant, old-fashioned house, set in park-like grounds that were the pride of River Falls. His mother often asked waitresses' unions and fresh-air homes to make use of these grounds for picnics, but Mrs. Salisbury knew that the house belonged to Owen, and she liked to dream of a day when Sandy's babies should tumble on those smooth lawns, and Sandy, erect and beautifully furred, should bring her own smart little motor car through that tall iron gateway.
These dreams made her almost effusive in her manner to Owen, and Owen, who was no fool, understood perfectly what she was thinking of him; he understood his own energetic, busy mother; and he understood Sandy's mother, too. He knew that his money made him well worth any mother's attention.
But, like her mother, he believed Sandy too young to have taken any cognizance of it. He thought the girl liked him as she liked anyone else, for his own value, and he sometimes dreamed shyly of her pleasure in suddenly realizing that Mrs. Owen Sargent would be a rich woman, the mistress of a lovely home, the owner of beautiful jewels.
Both, however, were mistaken in Sandy. Her blue, blue eyes, so oddly effective under the silky fall of her straight, mouse-colored hair, were very keen. She knew exactly why her mother suggested that Owen should bring her here or there in the car, "Daddy and the boys and I will go in our old trap, just behind you!" She knew that Owen thought that her quick hand over his, in a game of hearts, the thoughtful stare of her demure eyes, across the dinner table, the help she accepted so casually, climbing into his big car—were all evidences that she was as unconscious of his presence as Stan was. But in reality the future for herself of which Sandy confidently dreamed was one in which, in all innocent complacency, she took her place beside Owen as his wife. Clumsy, wild-haired, bashful he might be at twenty-two, but the farsighted Sandy saw him ten years, twenty years later, well groomed, assured of manner, devotedly happy in his home life. She considered him entirely unable to take care of himself, he needed a good wife. And a good, true, devoted wife Sandy knew she would be, fulfilling to her utmost power all his lonely, little-boy dreams of birthday parties and Christmas revels.
To do her justice, she really and deeply cared for him. Not with passion, for of that as yet she knew nothing, but with a real and absorbing affection. Sandy read "Love in a Valley" and the "Sonnets from the Portuguese" in these days, and thought of Owen. Now and then her well-disciplined little heart surprised her by an unexpected flutter in his direction.
She duly brought him home with her to dinner on the evening after her little talk with her parents. Owen was usually to be found browsing about the region where Sandy played marches twice a week for sewing classes in a neighborhood house. They often met, and Sandy sometimes went to have tea with his mother, and sometimes, as to-day, brought him home with her.
Owen had with him the letters, pamphlets and booklet issued by the American School of Domestic Science, and after dinner, while the Salisbury boys wrestled with their lessons, the three others and Owen gathered about the drawing-room table, in the late daylight, and thoroughly investigated the new institution and its claims. Sandy wedged her slender little person in between the two men. Mrs. Salisbury sat near by, reading what was handed to her. The older woman's attitude was one of dispassionate unbelief; she smiled a benign indulgence upon these newfangled ideas. But in her heart she felt the stirring of feminine uneasiness and resentment. It was HER sacred region, after all, into which these young people were probing so light-heartedly. These were her secrets that they were exploiting; her methods were to be disparaged, tossed aside.
The booklet, with its imposing A.S.D.S. set out fair and plain upon a brown cover, was exhaustive. Its frontispiece was a portrait of one Eliza Slocumb Holley, founder of the school, and on its back cover it bore the vignetted photograph of a very pretty graduate, in apron and cap, with her broom and feather duster. In between these two pictures were pages and pages of information, dozens of pictures. There were delightful long perspectives of model kitchens, of vegetable gardens, orchards, and dairies. There were pictures of girls making jam, and sterilizing bottles, and arranging trays for the sick. There were girls amusing children and making beds. There were glimpses of the model flats, built into the college buildings, with gas stoves and dumb-waiters. And there were the usual pictures of libraries, and playgrounds, and tennis courts.
"Such nice-looking girls!" said Sandy.
"Oh, Mother says that they are splendid girls," Owen said, bashfully eager, "just the kind that go in for trained nursing, you know, or stenography, or bookkeeping."
"They must be a solid comfort, those girls," said Mrs. Salisbury, leaning over to read certain pages with the others. "'First year,'" she read aloud. "'Care of kitchen, pantry, and utensils—fire-making—disposal of refuse—table-setting—service—care of furniture—cooking with gas—patent sweepers—sweeping—dusting—care of silver—bread—vegetables—puddings—'"
"Help!" said Sandy. "It sounds like the essence of a thousand Mondays! No one could possibly learn all that in one year."
"It's a long term, eleven months," her father said, deeply interested. "That's not all of the first year, either. But it's all practical enough."
"What do they do the last year, Mother?"
Mrs. Salisbury adjusted her glasses.
"'Third year,'" she read obligingly. "'All soups, sauces, salads, ices and meats. Infant and invalid diet. Formal dinners, arranged by season. Budgets. Arrangement of work for one maid. Arrangement of work for two maids. Menus, with reference to expense, with reference to nourishment, with reference to attractiveness. Chart of suitable meals for children, from two years up. Table manners for children. Classic stories for children at bedtime. Flowers, their significance upon the table. Picnics—'"
"But, no; there's something beyond that," Owen said. Mrs. Salisbury turned a page.
"'Fourth Year. Post-graduate, not obligatory,'" she read. "'Unusual German, Italian, Russian and Spanish dishes. Translation of menus. Management of laundries, hotels and institutions. Work of a chef. Work of subordinate cooks. Ordinary poisons. Common dangers of canning. Canning for the market. Professional candy-making—'"
"Can you beat it!" said Owen.
"It's extraordinary!" Mrs. Salisbury conceded. Her husband asked the all-important question:
"What do you have to pay for one of these paragons?"
"It's all here," Mrs. Salisbury said. But she was distracted in her search of a scale of prices by the headlines of the various pages. "'Rules Governing Employers,'" she read, with amusement. "Isn't this too absurd? 'Employers of graduates of the A.S.D.S. will kindly respect the conditions upon which, and only upon which, contracts are based.'" She glanced down the long list of items. "'A comfortably furnished room,'" she read at random, "'weekly half holiday-access to nearest public library or family library—opportunity for hot bath at least twice weekly—two hours if possible for church attendance on Sunday—annual two weeks' holiday, or two holidays of one week each—full payment of salary in advance, on the first day of every month'—what a preposterous idea!" Mrs. Salisbury broke off to say. "How is one to know that she wouldn't skip off on the second?"
"In that case the school supplies you with another maid for the unfinished term," explained Sandy, from the booklet.
"Well—" the lady was still a little unsatisfied. "As if they didn't have privileges enough now!" she said. "It's the same old story: we are supposed to be pleasing them, not they us!"
"'In a family where no other maid is kept,'" read Alexandra, "'a graduate will take entire charge of kitchen and dining room, go to market if required, do ordinary family washing and ironing, will clean bathroom daily, and will clean and sweep every other room in the house, and the halls, once thoroughly every week. She will be on hand to answer the door only one afternoon every week, besides Sunday—'"
"What!" ejaculated Mrs. Salisbury.
"I should like to know who does it on other days!" Alexandra added amazedly.
"Don't you think that's ridiculous, Kane?" his wife asked eagerly.
"We-el," the man of the house said temperately, "I don't know that I do. You see, otherwise the girl has a string tied on her all the time. People in our position, after all, needn't assume that we're too good to open our own door—"
"That's exactly it, sir," Owen agreed eagerly; "Mother says that that's one of the things that have upset the whole system for so long! Just the convention that a lady can't open her own door—"
"But we haven't found the scale of wages yet—" Mrs. Salisbury interrupted sweetly but firmly. Alexandra, however, resumed the recital of the duties of one maid.
"'She will not be expected to assume the care of young children,'" she read, "nor to sleep in the room with them. She will not be expected to act as chaperone or escort at night. She—'"
"It DOESN'T say that, Sandy!"
"Oh, yes, it does! And, listen! 'NOTE. Employers are respectfully requested to maintain as formal an attitude as possible toward the maid. Any intimacy, or exchange of confidences, is especially to be avoided'"—Alexandra broke off to laugh, and her mother laughed with her, but indignantly.
"Insulting!" she said lightly. "Does anyone suppose for an instant that this is a serious experiment?"
"Come, that doesn't sound very ridiculous to me," her husband said. "Plenty of women do become confidential with their maids, don't they?"
"Dear me, how much you do know about women!" Alexandra said, kissing the top of her father's head. "Aren't you the bad old man!"
"No; but one might hope that an institution of this kind would put the American servant in her place," Mrs. Salisbury said seriously, "instead of flattering her and spoiling her beyond all reason. I take my maid's receipt for salary in advance; I show her the bathroom and the library—that's the idea, is it? Why, she might be a boarder! Next, they'll be asking for a place at the table and an hour's practice on the piano."
"Well, the original American servant, the 'neighbor's girl,' who came in to help during the haying season, and to put up the preserves, probably did have a place at the table," Mr. Salisbury submitted mildly.
"Mother thinks that America never will have a real servant class," Owen added uncertainly; "that is, until domestic service is elevated to the—the dignity of office work, don't you know? Until it attracts the nicer class of women, don't you know? Mother says that many a good man's fear of old age would be lightened, don't you know?—if he felt that, in case he lost his job, or died, his daughters could go into good homes, and grow up under the eye of good women, don't you know?"
"Very nice, Owen, but not very practical!" Mrs. Salisbury said, with her indulgent, motherly smile. "Oh, dear me, for the good old days of black servants, and plenty of them!" she sighed. For though Mrs. Salisbury had been born some years after the days of plenty known to her mother on her grandfather's plantation, before the war, she was accustomed to detailed recitals of its grandeurs.
"Here we are!" said Alexandra, finding a particular page that was boldly headed "Terms."
"'For a cook and general worker, no other help,'" she read, "'thirty dollars per month—'"
"Not so dreadful," her father said, pleasantly surprised.
"But, listen, Dad! Thirty dollars for a family of two, and an additional two dollars and a half monthly for each other member of the family. That would make ours thirty-seven dollars and a half, wouldn't it?" she computed swiftly.
"Awful! Impossible!" Mrs. Salisbury said instantly, almost in relief. The discussion made her vaguely uneasy. What did these casual amateurs know about the domestic problem, anyway? Kane, who was always anxious to avoid details; Sandy, all youthful enthusiasm and ignorance, and Owen Sargent, quoting his insufferable mother? For some moments she had been fighting an impulse to soothe them all with generalities. "Never mind; it's always been a problem, and it always will be! These new schemes are all very well, but don't trouble your dear heads about it any longer!"
Now she sank back, satisfied. The whole thing was but a mad, Utopian dream. Thirty-seven dollars indeed! "Why, one could get two good servants for that!" thought Mrs. Salisbury, with the same sublime faith with which she had told her husband, in poorer days, years ago, that, if they could but afford her, she knew they could get a "fine girl" for three dollars a week. The fact that the "fine girl" did not apparently exist did not at all shake Mrs. Salisbury's confidence that she could get two "good girls." Her hope in the untried solution rose with every failure.
"Thirty-seven is steep," said Kane Salisbury slowly. "However! What do we pay now, Mother?"
"Five a week," said that lady inflexibly.
"But we paid Germaine more," said Alexandra eagerly. "And didn't you pay Lizzie six and a half?"
"The last two months I did, yes," her mother agreed unwillingly. "But that comes only to twenty-six or seven," she added.
"But, look here," said Owen, reading. "Here it says: 'NOTE. Where a graduate is required to manage on a budget, it is computed that she saves the average family from two to seven dollars weekly on food and fuel bills.'"
"Now that begins to sound like horse sense," Mr. Salisbury began. But the mistress of the house merely smiled, and shook a dubious head, and the younger members of the family here created a diversion by reminding their sister's guest, with animation, that he had half-asked them to go out for a short ride in his car. Alexandra accordingly ran for a veil, and the young quartette departed with much noise, Owen stuffing his pamphlets and booklet into his pocket before he went.
Mr. and Mrs. Salisbury settled down contentedly to double Canfield, the woman crushing out the last flicker of the late topic with a placid shake of the head, when the man asked her for her honest opinion of the American School of Domestic Science. "I don't truly think it's at all practical, dear," said Mrs. Salisbury regretfully. "But we might watch it for a year or two and go into the question again some time, if you like. Especially if some one else has tried one of these maids, and we have had a chance to see how it goes!"
The very next morning Mrs. Salisbury awakened with a dull headache. Hot sunlight was streaming into the bedroom, an odor of coffee, drifting upstairs, made her feel suddenly sick. Her first thought was that she COULD not have Sandy's two friends to luncheon, and she COULD not keep a shopping and tea engagement with a friend of her own! She might creep through the day somehow, but no more.
She dressed slowly, fighting dizziness, and went slowly downstairs, sighing at the sight of disordered music and dust in the dining-room, the sticky chafing-dish and piled plates in the pantry. In the kitchen was a litter of milk bottles, saucepans, bread and crumbs and bread knife encroaching upon a basket of spilled berries, egg shells and melting bacon. The blue sides of the coffee-pot were stained where the liquid and grounds had bubbled over it. Marthe was making toast, the long fork jammed into a plate hole of the range. Mrs. Salisbury thought that she had never seen sunlight so mercilessly hot and bright before—
"Rotten coffee!" said Mr. Salisbury cheerfully, when his wife took her place at the table.
"And she NEVER uses the poacher!" Alexandra added reproachfully. "And she says that the cream is sour because the man leaves it at half-past four, right there in the sunniest corner of the porch—can't he have a box or something, Mother?"
"Gosh, I wouldn't care what she did if she'd get a move on," said Stanford frankly. "She's probably asleep out there, with her head in the frying pan!"
Mrs. Salisbury went into the kitchen again. She had to pause in the pantry because the bright squares of the linoleum, and the brassy faucets, and the glare of the geraniums outside the window seemed to rush together for a second.
Marthe was on the porch, exchanging a few gay remarks with the garbage man before shutting the side door after him. The big stove was roaring hot, a thick odor of boiling clothes showed that Marthe was ready for her cousin Nancy, the laundress, who came once a week. A saucepan deeply gummed with cereal was soaking beside the hissing and smoking frying pan Mrs. Salisbury moved the frying pan, and the quick heat of the coal fire rushed up at her face—
"Why," she whispered, opening anxious eyes after what seemed a long time, "who fainted?"
A wheeling and rocking mass of light and shadow resolved itself into the dining-room walls, settled and was still. She felt the soft substance of a sofa pillow under her head, the hard lump that was her husband's arm supporting her shoulders.
"That's it—now she's all right!" said Kane Salisbury, his kind, concerned face just above her own. Mrs. Salisbury shifted heavy, languid eyes, and found Sandy.
"Darling, you fell!" the daughter whispered. White-lipped, pitiful, with tears still on her round cheeks, Sandy was fanning her mother with a folded newspaper.
"Well, how silly of me!" Mrs. Salisbury said weakly. She sighed, tried too quickly to sit up, and fainted quietly away again.
This time she opened her eyes in her own bed, and was made to drink something sharp and stinging, and directed not to talk. While her husband and daughter were hanging up things, and reducing the tumbled room to order, the doctor arrived.
"Dr. Hollister, I call this an imposition!" protested the invalid smilingly. "I have been doing a little too much, that's all! But don't you dare say the word rest-cure to me again!"
But Doctor Hollister did not smile; there was no smiling in the house that day.
"Mother may have to go away," Alexandra told anxious friends, very sober, but composed. "Mother may have to take a rest-cure," she said a day or two later.
"But you won't let them send me to a hospital again, Kane?" pleaded his wife one evening. "I almost die of lonesomeness, wondering what you and the children are doing! Couldn't I just lie here? Marthe and Sandy can manage somehow, and I promise you I truly won't worry, just lie here like a queen!"
"Well, perhaps we'll give you a trial," smiled Kane Salisbury, very much enjoying an hour of quiet, at his wife's bedside. "But don't count on Marthe. She's going."
"Marthe is?" Mrs. Salisbury only leaned a little more heavily on the strong arm that held her, and laughed comfortably. "I refuse to concern myself with such sordid matters," she said. "But why?"
"Because I've got a new girl, hon."
"You have!" She shifted about to stare at him, aroused by his tone. Light came. "You've not gotten one of those college cooks, have you, Kane?" she demanded. "Oh, Kane! Not at thirty-seven dollars a month! Oh, you have, you wicked, extravagant boy!"
"Cheaper than a trained nurse, petty!"
Mrs. Salisbury was still shaking a scandalized head, but he could see the pleasure and interest in her eyes. She sank back in her pillows, but kept her thin fingers gripped tightly over his.
"How you do spoil me, Tip!" The name took him back across many years to the little eighteen-dollar cottage and the days before Sandy came. He looked at his wife's frail little figure, the ruffled frills that showed under her loose wrapper, at throat and elbows. There was something girlish still about her hanging dark braid, her big eyes half visible in the summer twilight.
"Well, you may depend upon it, you're in for a good long course of spoiling now, Miss Sally!" said he.