List Of Contents | Contents of The Treasure, by Kathleen Norris
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

In giving such a girl financial responsibilities, you not only let
go of the control of your household, but you put temptation in her
way. No; let the girl try making some beds, and serving tea, now and
then; and do your own marketing and paying, Sally. It's the only

"Justine tempted--why, she's not that sort of girl at all!"
Alexandra laughed gaily.

"Very well, my dear, perhaps she's not, and perhaps you young girls
know everything that is to be known about life," her aunt answered
witheringly. "But when grown business men were cheated as easily as
those men in the First National were," she finished impressively,
alluding to recent occurrences in River Falls, "it seems a little
astonishing to find a girl your age so sure of her own judgment,
that's all."

Sandy's answer, if indirect, was effective.

"How about some tea?" she asked. "Will you have some, either of you?
It only takes me a minute to get it."

"And I wish you could have seen Mattie's expression, Kane," Mrs.
Salisbury said to her husband when telling him of the conversation
that evening, "really, she glared! I suppose she really can't
understand how, with an expensive servant in the house--" Mrs.
Salisbury's voice dropped a little on a note of mild amusement. She
sat idly at her dressing table, her hair loosened, her eyes
thoughtful. When she spoke again, it was with a shade of resentment.
"And, really, it is most inconvenient," she said. "I don't want to
impose upon a girl; I never DID impose upon a girl; but I like to
feel that I'm mistress in my own house. If the work is too hard one
day, I will make it easier the next, and so on. But, as Mat says, it
LOOKS so disobliging in a maid to have her race off; SHE doesn't
care whether you get any tea or not; SHE'S enjoying herself! And
after all one's kindness--And then another thing," she presently
roused herself to add, "Mat thinks that it is very bad management on
my part to let Justine handle money. She says--"

"I devoutly wish that Mattie Otis would mind--" Mr. Salisbury did
not finish his sentence. He wound his watch, laid it on his bureau,
and went on, more mildly: "If you can do better than Justine, it may
or may not be worth your while to take that out of her hands; but,
if you can't, it seems to me sheer folly. My Lord, Sally--"

"Yes, I know! I know," Mrs. Salisbury said hastily. "But, really,
Kane," she went on slowly, the color coming into her face, "let us
suppose that every family had a graduate cook, who marketed and
managed. And let us suppose the children, like ours, out of the
nursery. Then just what share of her own household responsibility IS
a woman supposed to take?

"You are eternally saying, not about me, but about other men's
wives, that women to-day have too much leisure as it is. But, with a
Justine, why, I could go off to clubs and card parties every day!
I'd know that the house was clean, the meals as good and as
nourishing as could be; I'd know that guests would be well cared for
and that bills would be paid. Isn't a woman, the mistress of a
house, supposed to do more than that? I don't want to be a mere

Frowning at her own reflection in the glass, deeply in earnest, she
tried to puzzle it out.

"In the old times, when women had big estates to look after," she
presently pursued, "servants, horses, cows, vegetables and fruit
gardens, soap-making and weaving and chickens and babies, they had
real responsibilities, they had real interests. Housekeeping to-day
isn't interesting. It's confining, and it's monotonous. But take it
away, and what is a woman going to do?"

"That," her husband answered seriously, "is the real problem of the
day, I truly believe. That is what you women have to discover.
Delegating your housekeeping, how are you going to use your
energies, and find the work you want to do in the world? How are you
going to manage the questions of being obliged to work at home, and
to suit your hours to yourself, and to really express yourselves,
and at the same time get done some of the work of the world that is
waiting for women to do."

His wife continued to eye him expectantly.

"Well, how?" said she.

"I don't know. I'm asking you!" he answered pointedly. Mrs.
Salisbury sighed.

"Dear me, I do get so tired of this talk of efficiency, and women's
work in the world!" she said. "I wish one might feel it was enough
to live along quietly, busy with dressmaking, or perhaps now and
then making a fancy dessert for guests, giving little teas and card
parties, and making calls. It--" a yearning admiration rang in her
voice, "it seems such a dignified, pleasant ideal to live up to!"
she said.

"Well, it looks as if we had seen the last of that particular type
of woman," her husband said cheerfully. "Or at least it looks as if
that woman would find her own level, deliberately separate herself
from her more ambitious sisters, who want to develop higher arts
than that of mere housekeeping."

"And how do YOU happen to know so much about it, Kane ?"

"I? Oh, it's in the air, I guess," the man admitted. "The whole idea
is changing. A man used to be ashamed of the idea of his wife
working. Now men tell you with pride that their wives paint or write
or bind books--Bates' wife makes loads of money designing toys, and
Mrs. Brewster is consulting physician on a hospital staff. Mary
Shotwell--she was a trained nurse--what was it she did?"

"She gave a series of talks on hygiene for rich people's children,"
his wife supplied. "And of course Florence Yeats makes candy, and
the Gerrish girls have opened a tea room in the old garage. But it
seems funny, just the same! It seems funny to me that so many women
find it worth while to hire servants, so that they can rush off to
make the money to pay the servants! It would seem so much more
normal to stay at home and do the housework themselves, and it would
LOOK better."

"Well, certain women always will, I suppose. And others will find
their outlets in other ways, and begin to look about for Justines,
who will lift the household load. I believe we'll see the time,
Sally," said Kane Salisbury thoughtfully, "when a young couple,
launching into matrimony, will discuss expenses with a mutual
interest; you pay this and I'll pay that, as it were. A trained
woman will step into their kitchen, and Madame will walk off to
business with her husband, as a matter of course."

"Heaven forbid!" Mrs. Salisbury said piously. "If there is anything
romantic or tender or beautiful about married life under those
circumstances, I fail to see it, that's all!"

It happened, a week or two later, on a sharp, sunshiny morning in
early winter, that Mrs. Salisbury and Alexandra found themselves
sauntering through the nicest shopping district of River Falls.
There were various small things to be bought for the wardrobes of
mother and daughter, prizes for a card party, birthday presents for
one of the boys, and a number of other little things.

They happened to pass the windows of Lewis & Sons' big grocery, one
of the finest shops in town, on their way from one store to another,
and, attracted by a window full of English preserves, Mrs. Salisbury
decided to go in and leave an order.

"I hope that you are going to bring your account back to us, Mrs.
Salisbury," said the alert salesman who waited upon them. "We are
always sorry to let an old customer go."

"But I have an account here," said Mrs. Salisbury, startled.

The salesman, smiling, shook his head, and one of the members of the
firm, coming up, confirmed the denial.

"We were very sorry to take your name off our books, Mrs.
Salisbury," said he, with pleasant dignity; "I can remember your
coming into the old store on River Street when this young lady here
was only a small girl."

His hand indicated a spot about three feet from the floor, as the
height of the child Alexandra, and the grown Alexandra dimpled an
appreciation of his memory.

"But I don't understand," Mrs. Salisbury said, wrinkling her
forehead; "I had no idea that the account was closed, Mr. Lewis. How
long ago was this?"

"It was while you were ill," said Mr. Lewis soothingly. "You might
look up the exact date, Mr. Laird."

"But why?" Mrs. Salisbury asked, prettily puzzled.

"That I don't know," answered Mr. Lewis. "And at the time, of
course, we did not press it. There was no complaint, of that I'm
very sure."

"But I don't understand," Mrs. Salisbury persisted. "I don't see who
could have done it except Mr. Salisbury, and, if he had had any
reason, he would have told me of it. However," she rose to go, "if
you'll send the jams, and the curry, and the chocolate, Mr. Laird,
I'll look into the matter at once."

"And you're quite yourself again?" Mr. Lewis asked solicitously,
accompanying them to the door. "That's the main thing, isn't it?
There's been so much sickness everywhere lately. And your young lady
looks as if she didn't know the meaning of the word. Wonderful
morning, isn't it? Good morning, Mrs. Salisbury!"

"Good morning!" Mrs. Salisbury responded graciously. But, as soon as
she and Alexandra were out of hearing, her face darkened. "That
makes me WILD!" said she.

"What does, darling?"

"That! Justine having the audacity to change my trade!"

"But why should she want to, Mother?"

"I really don't know. Given it to friends of hers perhaps."

"Oh, Mother, she wouldn't!"

"Well, we'll see." Mrs. Salisbury dropped the subject, and brought
her mind back with a visible effort to the morning's work.

Immediately after lunch she interrogated Justine. The girl was
drying glasses, each one emerging like a bubble of hot and shining
crystal from her checked glass towel.

"Justine," began the mistress, "have we been getting our groceries
from Lewis & Sons lately?"

Justine placidly referred to an account book which she took from a
drawer under the pantry shelves.

"Our last order was August eleventh," she announced.

Something in her unembarrassed serenity annoyed Mrs. Salisbury.

"May I ask why?" she suggested sharply.

"Well, they are a long way from here," Justine said, after a
second's thought, "and they are very expensive grocers, Mrs.
Salisbury. Of course, what they have is of the best, but they cater
to the very richest families, you know--firms like Lewis & Sons
aren't very much interested in the orders they receive from--well,
from upper middle-class homes, people of moderate means. They handle
hotels and the summer colony at Burning Woods."

Justine paused, a little uncertain of her terms, and Mrs. Salisbury
interposed an icy question.

"May I ask where you HAVE transferred my trade?"

"Not to any one place," the girl answered readily and mildly. But a
little resentful color had crept into her cheeks. "I pay as I go,
and follow the bargains," she explained. "I go to market twice a
week, and send enough home to make it worth while for the tradesman.
You couldn't market as I do, Mrs. Salisbury, but the tradespeople
rather expect it of a maid. Sometimes I gather an assortment of
vegetables into my basket, and get them to make a price on the
whole. Or, if there is a sale at any store, I go there, and order a
dozen cans, or twenty pounds of whatever they are selling."

Mrs. Salisbury was not enjoying this revelation. The obnoxious term
"upper middle class" was biting like an acid upon her pride. And it
was further humiliating to contemplate her maid as a driver of
bargains, as dickering for baskets of vegetables.

"The best is always the cheapest in the long run, whatever it may
cost, Justine," she said, with dignity. "We may not be among the
richest families in town," she was unable to refrain from adding,
"but it is rather amusing to hear you speak of the family as upper
middle class!"

"I only meant the--the sort of ordering we did," Justine hastily
interposed. "I meant from the grocer's point of view."

"Well, Mr. Lewis sold groceries to my grandmother before I was
married," Mrs. Salisbury said loftily, "and I prefer him to any
other grocer. If he is too far away, the order may be telephoned. Or
give me your list, and I will stop in, as I used to do. Then I can
order any little extra delicacy that I see, something I might not
otherwise think of. Let me know what you need to-morrow morning, and
I'll see to it."

To her surprise, Justine did not bow an instant assent. Instead the
girl looked a little troubled.

"Shall I give you my accounts and my ledger?" she asked rather

"No-o, I don't see any necessity for that," the older woman said,
after a second's pause.

"But Lewis & Sons is a very expensive place," Justine pursued; "they
never have sales, never special prices. Their cheapest tomatoes are
fifteen cents a can, and their peaches twenty-five--"

"Never mind," Mrs. Salisbury interrupted her briskly. "We'll manage
somehow. I always did trade there, and never had any trouble. Begin
with him to-morrow. And, while, of course, I understand that I was
ill and couldn't be bothered in this case, I want to ask you not to
make any more changes without consulting me, if you please."

Justine, still standing, her troubled eyes on her employer, the last
glass, polished to diamond brightness, in her hand, frowned

"You understand that if you do any ordering whatever, Mrs.
Salisbury, I will have to give up my budget. You see, in that case,
I wouldn't know where I stood at all."

"You would get the bill at the end of the month," Mrs. Salisbury
said, displeased.

"Yes, but I don't run bills," the girl persisted.

"I don't care to discuss it, Justine," the mistress said pleasantly;
"just do as I ask you, if you please, and we'll settle everything at
the end of the month. You shall not be held responsible, I assure

She went out of the kitchen, and the next morning had a pleasant
half hour in the big grocery, and left a large order.

"Just a little kitchen misunderstanding," she told the affable Mr.
Lewis, "but when one is ill--However, I am rapidly getting the reins
back into my own hands now."

After that, Mrs. Salisbury ordered in person, or by telephone, every
day, and Justine's responsibilities were confined to the meat market
and greengrocer. Everything went along very smoothly until the end
of the month, when Justine submitted her usual weekly account and a
bill from Lewis & Sons which was some three times larger in amount
than was the margin of money supposed to pay it.

This was annoying. Mrs. Salisbury could not very well rebuke her,
nor could she pay the bill out of her own purse. She determined
to put it aside until her husband seemed in a mood for financial
advances, and, wrapping it firmly about the inadequate notes and
silver given her by Justine, she shut it in a desk drawer. There the
bill remained, although the money was taken out for one thing or
another; change that must be made, a small bill that must be paid at
the door.

Another fortnight went by, and Lewis & Sons submitted another
bimonthly bill. Justine also gave her mistress another inadequate
sum, what was left from her week's expenditures.

The two grocery bills were for rather a formidable sum. The thought

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: