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

but it's too dreadful to joke about! I give you up!"

And she rose from her chair, and went quickly out of the room, every
line in her erect little figure expressing exasperation and
inflexibility. Sandy, smiling sleepily, reopened an interrupted
novel. But she stared over the open page into space for a few
moments, and finally spoke:

"Upon my word, I don't know that that's at all a bad idea!" an
interrupted novel. But she stared over the open page into space for
a few moments, and finally spoke:

"Upon my word, I don't know that that's at all a bad idea!"


Mrs. Salisbury," said Justine, when her mistress came into the
kitchen one December morning, "I've had a note from Mrs. Sargent--"

"From Mrs. Sargent?" Mrs. Salisbury repeated, astonished. And to
herself she said: "She's trying to get Justine away from me!"

"She writes as Chairman of the Department of Civics of the Forum
Club," pursued Justine, referring to the letter she held in her
hand, "to ask me if I will address the club some Thursday on the
subject of the College of Domestic Science. I know that you expect
to give a card party some Thursday, and I thought I would make sure
just which one you meant."

Mrs. Salisbury, taken entirely unaware, was actually speechless for
a moment. The Forum was, of all her clubs, the one in which
membership was most prized by the women of River Falls. It was not a
large club, and she had longed for many years somehow to place her
name among the eighty on its roll. The richest and most exclusive
women of River Falls belonged to the Forum Club; its few rooms,
situated in the business part of town, and handsomely but plainly
furnished, were full of subtle reminders that here was no mere
social center; here responsible members of the recently enfranchised
sex met to discuss civic betterment, schools and municipal budgets,
commercialized vice and child labor, library appropriations, liquor
laws and sewer systems. Local politicians were beginning to respect
the Forum, local newspapers reported its conventions, printed its

Mrs. Salisbury was really a little bit out of place among the
clever, serious young doctors, the architects, lawyers,
philanthropists and writers who belonged to the club. But her
membership therein was one of the things in which she felt an
unalloyed satisfaction. If the discussions ever secretly bored or
puzzled her, she was quite clever enough to conceal it. She sat, her
handsome face, under its handsome hat, turned toward the speaker,
her bright eyes immovable as she listened to reports and
expositions. And, after the motion to adjourn had been duly made,
she had her reward. Rich women, brilliant women, famous women
chatted with her cordially as the Forum Club streamed downstairs.
She was asked to luncheons, to teas; she was whirled home in the
limousines of her fellow-members. No other one thing in her life
seemed to Mrs. Salisbury as definite a social triumph as was her
membership in the Forum.

Her election had come about simply enough, after years of secret
longing to become a member. Sandy, who was about twelve at the time,
during a call from Mrs. Sargent, had said innocently:

"Why haven't you ever joined the Forum, Mother?"

"Why, yes; why not?" Mrs. Sargent had added.

This gave Mrs. Salisbury an opportunity to say:

"Well, I have been a very busy woman, and couldn't have done so,
with these three dear children to watch. But, as a matter of fact,
Mrs. Sargent, I have never been asked. At least," she went on
scrupulously, "I am almost sure I never have been!" The implication
being that the Forum's card of invitation might have been overlooked
for more important affairs.

"I'll send you another," the great lady had said at once. "You're
just the sort we need," Mrs. Sargent had continued. "We've got
enough widows and single women in now; what we want are the real
mothers, who need shaking out of the groove!"

Mrs. Sargent happened to be President of the Club at that time, so
Mrs. Salisbury had only to ignore graciously the rather offensive
phrasing of the invitation, and to await the news of her election,
which duly and promptly arrived.

And now Justine had been asked to speak at the Forum! It was the
most distasteful bit of information that had come Mrs. Salisbury's
way in a long, long time! She felt in her heart a stinging
resentment against Mrs. Sargent, with her mad notions of equality,
and against Justine, who was so complacently and contentedly
accepting this monstrous state of affairs.

"That is very kind of Mrs. Sargent," said she, fighting for dignity;
"she is very much interested in working girls and their problems,
and I suppose she thinks this might be a good advertisement for the
school, too." This idea had just come to Mrs. Salisbury, and she
found it vaguely soothing. "But I don't like the idea," she ended
firmly; "it--it seems very odd, very--very conspicuous. I should
prefer you not to consider anything of the kind."

"I should prefer" was said in the tone that means "I command," yet
Justine was not satisfied.

"Oh, but why?" she asked.

"If you force me to discuss it," said Mrs. Salisbury, in sudden
anger, "because you are my maid! My gracious, YOU ARE MY MAID," she
repeated, pent-up irritation finding an outlet at last. "There is
such a relationship as mistress and maid, after all! While you are
in my house you will do as I say. It is the mistress's place to give
orders, not to take them, not to have to argue and defend herself--"

"Certainly, if it is a question about the work the maid is supposed
to do," Justine defended herself, with more spirit than the other
woman had seen her show before. "But what she does with her leisure-
-why it's just the same as what a clerk does with his leisure,
nobody questions it, nobody--"

"I tell you that I will not stand here and argue with you," said
Mrs. Salisbury, with more dignity in her tone than in her words. "I
say that I don't care to have my maid exploited by a lot of
fashionable women at a club, and that ends it! And I must add," she
went on, "that I am extremely surprised that Mrs. Sargent should
approach you in such a matter, without consulting me!"

"The relationship of mistress and maid," Justine said slowly, "is
what has always made the trouble. Men have decided what they want
done in their offices, and never have any trouble in finding boys to
fill the vacancies. But women expect--"

"I really don't care to listen to any further theories from that
extraordinary school," said Mrs. Salisbury decidedly. "I have told
you what I expect you to do, and I know you are too sensible a girl
to throw away a good position--"

"Mrs. Salisbury, if I intended to say anything in such a little talk
that would reflect on this family, or even to mention it, it would
be different, but, as it is--"

"I should hope you WOULDN'T mention this family!" Mrs. Salisbury
said hotly. "But even without that--"

"It would be merely an outline of what the school is, and what it
tries to do," Justine interposed. "Miss Holley, our founder and
President, was most anxious to have us interest the general
public in this way, if ever we got a chance."

"What Miss Holley--whoever she is--wanted, or wants, is nothing to
me!" Mrs. Salisbury said magnificently. "You know what I feel about
this matter, and I have nothing more to say."

She left the kitchen on the very end of the last word, and Justine,
perforce not answering, hoped that the affair was concluded, once
and for all.

"For Mrs. Sargent may think she can exasperate me by patronizing my
maid," said Mrs. Salisbury guardedly, when telling her husband and
daughter of the affair that evening, "but there is a limit to
everything, and I have had about enough of this efficiency

"I can only beg, Mother dear, that you won't have a row with Owen's
dear little vacillating, weak-minded ma," said Sandy cheerfully.

"No; but, seriously, don't you both think it's outrageous?" Mrs.
Salisbury asked, looking from one to the other.

"No-o; I see the girl's point," Kane Salisbury said thoughtfully.
"What she does with her afternoons off is her own affair, after all;
and you can't blame her, if a chance to step out of the groove comes
along, for taking advantage of it. Strictly, you have no call to

"Legally, perhaps I haven't," his wife conceded calmly. "But, thank
goodness, my home is not yet a court of law. Besides, Daddy, if one
of the young men in the bank did something of which you disapproved,
you would feel privileged to interfere."

"If he did something WRONG, Sally, not otherwise."

"And you would be perfectly satisfied to meet your janitor somewhere
at dinner?"

"No; the janitor's colored, to begin with, and, more than that, he
isn't the type one meets. But, if he qualified otherwise, I wouldn't
mind meeting him just because he happened to be the janitor. Now,
young Forrest turns up at the club for golf, and Sandy and I
picked Fred Hall up the other day, coming back from the river." Kane
Salisbury, leaning back in his chair, watched the rings of smoke
that rose from his cigar. "It's a funny thing about you women," he
said lazily. "You keep wondering why smart girls won't go into
housework, and yet, if you get a girl who isn't a mere stupid
machine, you resent every sign she gives of being an intelligent
human being. No two of you keep house alike, and you jump on the
girl the instant she hangs a dish towel up the way you don't. It's
you women who make life so hard for each other. Now, if any decent
man saw a young fellow at the bottom of the ladder, who was as good
and clever and industrious as Justine is, he'd be glad to give him a
hand up. But no; that means she's above her work, and has to be

"Don't talk so cynically, Daddy dear," Mrs. Salisbury said, smiling
over her fancy work, as one only half listening.

"I tell you, a change is coming in all these things, Sally," said
the cynic, unruffled.

"You bet there is!" his daughter seconded him from the favorite low
seat that permitted her to rest her mouse-colored head against his

"Your mother's a conservative, Sandy," pursued the man of the house,
encouraged, "but there's going to be some domestic revolutionizing
in the next few years. It's hard enough to get a maid now; pretty
soon it'll be impossible. Then you women will have to sit down and
work the thing out, and ask yourselves why young American girls
won't come into your homes, and eat the best food in the land, and
get well paid for what they do. You'll have to reduce the work of an
American home to a system, that's all, and what you want done that
isn't provided for in that system you'll have to do yourselves.
There's something in the way you treat a girl now, or in what you
expect her to do, that's all wrong!"

"It isn't a question of too much work," Mrs. Salisbury said. "They
are much better off when they're worked hard. And I notice that your
bookkeepers are kept pretty busy, Kane," she added neatly.

"For an eight-hour day, Sally. But you expect a twelve or fourteen-
hour day from your housemaid--"

"If I pay a maid thirty-seven and a half dollars a month," his wife
averred, with precision, "I expect her to do something for that
thirty-seven dollars and a half!"

"Well, but, Mother, she does!" Alexandra contributed eagerly. "In
Justine's case she does an awful lot! She plans, and saves, and
thinks about things. Sometimes she sits writing menus and crossing
things out for an hour at a time."

"And then Justine's a pioneer; in a way she's an experiment," the
man said. "Experiments are always expensive. That's why the club is
interested, I suppose. But in a few years probably the woods will be
full of graduate servants--everyone'll have one! They'll have their
clubs and their plans together, and that will solve some of the
social side of the old trouble. They--"

"Still, I notice that Mrs. Sargent herself doesn't employ graduate
servants!" Mrs. Salisbury, who had been following a wandering line
of thought, threw in darkly.

"Because they haven't any graduates for homes like hers, Mother,"
Alexandra supplied. "She keeps eight or nine housemaids. The college
is only to supply the average home, don't you see? Where only one or
two are kept--that's their idea."

"And do they suppose that the average American woman is willing to
go right on paying thirty-seven dollars and fifty cents for a maid?"
Mrs. Salisbury asked mildly.

"For five in family, Mother! Justine would only be thirty if three
dear little strangers hadn't come to brighten your home," Sandy
reminded her. "Besides," she went on, "Justine was telling me only a
day or two ago of their latest scheme--they are arranging so that a
girl can manage two houses in the same neighborhood. She gets
breakfast for the Joneses, say; leaves at nine for market; orders
for both families; goes to the Smiths and serves their hearty meal
at noon; goes back to the Joneses at five, and serves dinner."

"And what does she get for all this?" Mrs. Salisbury asked in a
skeptical tone.

"The Joneses pay her twenty-five, I believe, and the Smiths fifteen
for two in each family."

"What's to prevent the two families having all meals together," Mrs.
Salisbury asked, "instead of having to patch out with meals when
they had no maid?"

"Well, I suppose they could. Then she'd get her original thirty, and
five more for the two extra--you see, it comes out the same, thirty-
five dollars a month. Perhaps families will pool their expenses that
way some day. It would save buying, too, and table linen, and gas
and fuel. And it would be fun! All at our house this month, and all
at Aunt Mat's next month!"

"There's one serious objection to sharing a maid," Mrs. Salisbury
presently submitted; "she would tell the other family all your
private business."

"If they chose to pump her, she might," Alexandra said, with
unintentional rebuke, and Mr. Salisbury added amusedly:

"No, no, no, Mother! That's an exploded theory. How much has Justine
told you of her last place?"

"But that's no proof she WOULDN'T, Kane," Mrs. Salisbury ended the
talk by rising from her chair, taking another nearer the reading
lamp, and opening a new magazine. "Justine is a sensible girl," she
added, after a moment. "I have always said that. When all the
discussing and theorizing in the world is done, it comes down to
this: a servant in my house shall do AS I SAY. I have told her that
I dislike this ridiculous club idea, and I expect to hear no more of
the matter!"

There came a day in December when Mrs. Salisbury came home from the
Forum Club in mid-afternoon. Her face was a little pale as she
entered the house, her lips tightly set. It was a Thursday
afternoon, and Justine's kitchen was empty. Lettuce and peeled
potatoes were growing crisp in yellow bowls of ice water, breaded
cutlets were in the ice chest, a custard cooled in a north window.

Mrs. Salisbury walked rapidly through the lower rooms, came back to
the library, and sat down at her desk. A fire was laid in the wide,
comfortable fireplace, but she did not light it. She sat, hatted,

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: