Tom's Mistress and Her Opinions
"And now, Marie," said St. Clare, "your golden days are dawning. Here is our practical, business-like New England cousin, who will take the whole budget of cares off your shoulders, and give you time to refresh yourself, and grow young and handsome. The ceremony of delivering the keys had better come off forthwith."
This remark was made at the breakfast-table, a few mornings after Miss Ophelia had arrived.
"I'm sure she's welcome," said Marie, leaning her head languidly on her hand. "I think she'll find one thing, if she does, and that is, that it's we mistresses that are the slaves, down here."
"O, certainly, she will discover that, and a world of wholesome truths besides, no doubt," said St. Clare.
"Talk about our keeping slaves, as if we did it for our convenience," said Marie. "I'm sure, if we consulted that, we might let them all go at once."
Evangeline fixed her large, serious eyes on her mother's face, with an earnest and perplexed expression, and said, simply, "What do you keep them for, mamma?"
"I don't know, I'm sure, except for a plague; they are the plague of my life. I believe that more of my ill health is caused by them than by any one thing; and ours, I know, are the very worst that ever anybody was plagued with."
"O, come, Marie, you've got the blues, this morning," said St. Clare. "You know 't isn't so. There's Mammy, the best creature living, — what could you do without her?"
"Mammy is the best I ever knew," said Marie; "and yet Mammy, now, is selfish — dreadfully selfish; it's the fault of the whole race."
"Selfishness is a dreadful fault," said St. Clare, gravely.
"Well, now, there's Mammy," said Marie, "I think it's selfish of her to sleep so sound nights; she knows I need little attentions almost every hour, when my worst turns are on, and yet she's so hard to wake. I absolutely am worse, this very morning, for the efforts I had to make to wake her last night."
"Hasn't she sat up with you a good many nights, lately, mamma?" said Eva.
"How should you know that?" said Marie, sharply; "she's been complaining, I suppose."
"She didn't complain; she only told me what bad nights you'd had, — so many in succession."
"Why don't you let Jane or Rosa take her place, a night or two," said St. Clare, "and let her rest?"
"How can you propose it?" said Marie. "St. Clare, you really are inconsiderate. So nervous as I am, the least breath disturbs me; and a strange hand about me would drive me absolutely frantic. If Mammy felt the interest in me she ought to, she'd wake easier, — of course, she would. I've heard of people who had such devoted servants, but it never was my luck;" and Marie sighed.
Miss Ophelia had listened to this conversation with an air of shrewd, observant gravity; and she still kept her lips tightly compressed, as if determined fully to ascertain her longitude and position, before she committed herself.
"Now, Mammy has a sort of goodness," said Marie; "she's smooth and respectful, but she's selfish at heart. Now, she never will be done fidgeting and worrying about that husband of hers. You see, when I was married and came to live here, of course, I had to bring her with me, and her husband my father couldn't spare. He was a blacksmith, and, of course, very necessary; and I thought and said, at the time, that Mammy and he had better give each other up, as it wasn't likely to be convenient for them ever to live together again. I wish, now, I'd insisted on it, and married Mammy to somebody else; but I was foolish and indulgent, and didn't want to insist. I told Mammy, at the time, that she mustn't ever expect to see him more than once or twice in her life again, for the air of father's place doesn't agree with my health, and I can't go there; and I advised her to take up with somebody else; but no — she wouldn't. Mammy has a kind of obstinacy about her, in spots, that everybody don't see as I do."
"Has she children?" said Miss Ophelia.
"Yes; she has two."
"I suppose she feels the separation from them?"
"Well, of course, I couldn't bring them. They were little dirty things — I couldn't have them about; and, besides, they took up too much of her time; but I believe that Mammy has always kept up a sort of sulkiness about this. She won't marry anybody else; and I do believe, now, though she knows how necessary she is to me, and how feeble my health is, she would go back to her husband tomorrow, if she only could. I do, indeed," said Marie; "they are just so selfish, now, the best of them."
"It's distressing to reflect upon," said St. Clare, dryly.
Miss Ophelia looked keenly at him, and saw the flush of mortification and repressed vexation, and the sarcastic curl of the lip, as he spoke.
"Now, Mammy has always been a pet with me," said Marie. "I wish some of your northern servants could look at her closets of dresses, — silks and muslins, and one real linen cambric, she has hanging there. I've worked sometimes whole afternoons, trimming her caps, and getting her ready to go to a party. As to abuse, she don't know what it is. She never was whipped more than once or twice in her whole life. She has her strong coffee or her tea every day, with white sugar in it. It's abominable, to be sure; but St. Clare will have high life below-stairs, and they every one of them live just as they please. The fact is, our servants are over-indulged. I suppose it is partly our fault that they are selfish, and act like spoiled children; but I've talked to St. Clare till I am tired."
"And I, too," said St. Clare, taking up the morning paper.
Eva, the beautiful Eva, had stood listening to her mother, with that expression of deep and mystic earnestness which was peculiar to her. She walked softly round to her mother's chair, and put her arms round her neck.
"Well, Eva, what now?" said Marie.
"Mamma, couldn't I take care of you one night — just one? I know I shouldn't make you nervous, and I shouldn't sleep. I often lie awake nights, thinking — "
"O, nonsense, child — nonsense!" said Marie; "you are such a strange child!"