Mrs Beetroot: Spring bedding.

One of the purposes of our great ignoramus, Mrs Beetroot, in putting pen to paper, was to inform those of greater dimness about all that was necessary to keep the Victorian household up and running.  Seasonal considerations in those long off days before refrigeration, were paramount; the household that neglected to grow and preserve food in season would go hungry.  We join Mrs Beetroot in Spring, though not at all full of the joys of it.


Spring Bedding.

I can hardly bring myself to write of my annoyance today in being obliged to give notice not only to an under gardener but also the kitchen maid.  It seems I must occupy myself prior to the Easter celebrations in engaging new staff, or be forced to assist the cook when we entertain, or else curtail the celebrations considerably; unthinkable when I have secured a visitation from no less than a close acquaintance of a companion of the second daughter of the Dowager Duchess of Bath and Avon.

The debacle began in a most unsuspicious manner, giving scant augury of the horror to enfold before the day was over.  The weather being considerably improved of late, I bethought myself to start the household staff upon the spring clean earlier than usual, so that the household should meet with the approval of the acquaintance of the companion of the Dowager Duchess, who is doubtless accustomed to dwelling conditions of the highest cleanliness.   Accordingly I sent for the kitchen maid, who arrived in a rush, drying her hands upon a dirty apron.

Having upbraided her for her slackness, I obliged her to go upstairs to my own chamber and fetch downstairs the six foot mahogany cheval looking glass and set it in the centre of the large bay window in the parlour.  Having done so, with an ill grace,  she placed her hands on her hips and begged to know if that was all that was required as she was right in the middle of peeling potatoes.  I corrected her for this peremptory exchange and requested that she stand centred before the looking glass and, upon her doing so, demanded that she related to me all that she could perceive.  She replied that it was herself and appeared at a loss until I took my long pointer from the pointer cupboard and indicated the sixteen distinct areas of soiling on her apron. I counted each, obliging her to reiterate.  I then directed her to return the cheval glass to my chamber and report to me for further instruction, once the deficiency of her apron had been remedied by a clean one, asserting that the extra washing soap for laundering the apron in the middle of the week would be deducted from her wages at the end of it.  Muttering beneath her breath, though when questioned, she said it was a  cough, she took the cheval glass upstairs once more and returned fully ten minutes later, even though she had only climbed two flights of stairs, demanding to know what else I wanted.

I replied that as it was spring, I had determined to have every bed in the house stripped, the mattresses turned and aired and all the bedding washed at once.  It being a fine day, I suggested she fill the copper, set it to boil and make a start upon the beds immediately.  She demurred, explaining that not only was she overly occupied with potatoes but that beds had never been her responsibility.  I countered that since the housemaid had left so suddenly, having been apprehended in the act of stealing a feather from a duster, the household duties had fallen to her, on account of which an additional three half pence had been added per week to her wages, which largesse she had been not slow to accept at the time.  She protested that there was no possibility of her turning all the mattresses by herself and she is, indeed, quite slightly built and only four feet and two inches tall.  Upon consideration I bethought me to be a kindly and gracious employer and told her I would assign the under gardener to assist her in this duty alone.  Upon receiving this information she coloured up and smirked somewhat, leaving me with the unfortunate apprehension, entertained for some time, that she and the under gardener had been engaged, upon occasion, in idle chit chat when each should have been diligently in pursuit of his or her proper occupation, in silence.  What reason she could have, other than propinquity, for favouring the under gardener with her social attentions I cannot imagine, for the boy is as thick a clod as ever set boot upon a flower bed.  He has very large blue eyes, a thick shock of curly yellow hair, a firm jaw, considerable muscular development and nothing between his ears but air.

I despatched the maid to the attic to begin upon her own bed, which is facile enough to strip and turn, being a two foot truckle bed with a thin hair mattress that could be handled by a two year old with ease.   Upon her departure the under gardener arrived, standing upon the wooden floor at the edge of the carpet in his boots.  I demanded to know what he was about, boot wearing by the gardeners in the house not being permitted at all.  He replied that the head gardener was having his monthly day off and had omitted to remind him. I was about to take him to task on this when the cook appeared, saying that the manure man was at the back door with two cart loads of fresh cow dung and she was half way through stuffing a peacock (for the acquaintance of the companion of the second daughter of the Dowager Duchess) and could not be expected to direct him.  Thinking quickly, as is my wont, I replied I was fully in control of the matter to hand and, instructing the under gardener to follow me, repaired at once to the back door.

There, indeed, we did encounter the manure man demanding immediate remuneration, in cash, with two large carts full of very fresh manure, which, spread upon the kitchen garden beds, will ensure our productivity in the vegetable department fully into the autumn.  I paid the manure man, requiring him to leave the carts until the head gardener had returned the following day to direct the proper disposition of the manure in the kitchen garden.  He, however, asserted his need for the instant repossession of the carts upon them being emptied, as he said he had a large herd fed upon spring silage, only six carts and two men with shovels and couldn’t possibly maintain pace with the output.  He pointed out that much of the fertiliser was inclining to liquefaction in the warm sunshine and needed to be removed from the cart before it rotted through the boards.  Whilst I thought this unlikely to eventuate at once, there was a stream of liquid matter emanating from the undersides of both carts.

Whilst we examined my money, running in a stream across the yard, one of the upstairs windows was thrown wide open and a mattress appeared at it, shaken so vigorously that it threatened to descend to the yard under its own force. I shouted a warning quite loudly, whereupon the mattress disappeared and the head of the kitchen maid substituted itself.  At that moment the carter demanded to know what I was going to do and, as I was well aware, whilst I was engaged in a spirited exchange with him, the kitchen maid and the under gardener commenced to stare, dumbstruck at each other, subsequently exchanging pleasantries and sundry comments.  I was obliged to promise the carter that he could return to fetch his carts in an empty condition within the hour.  I then turned to the maid who was fully leaning upon the windowsill, turning her upper torso about and so for the benefit of the under gardener who could only be said to have been ogling her shape in a most unfortunate manner.  I would, had circumstances been propitious, have fetched the two, severally, into the parlour for a dressing down and some scripture reading, had I not been the possessor of two carts of readily liquefying manure.  As things were thus, I had to content myself with instructing the boy to fetch a bucket and spade and begin spreading the manure upon the beds forthwith.  Even now I am not sure he was fully listening to the instruction, his large blue eyes being turned in an upward direction to where the maid was positively gyrating upon the windowsill. 

Determining to put a stop to the distraction at source, I flew through the house and quite ran up the first flight of stairs, walked up the second, paced cautiously up the third and dragged myself up the attic stairs. Here I interrupted the maid who was all but blowing kisses to the under gardener.  I gave her such a tongue lashing, I was obliged to sit upon the cook’s bed to recover in the middle of it.  I then instructed her to strip all the beds starting at the top of the house and work downwards and told her that the gardener’s boy would follow her when he had attended to his duties, turning and refreshing each mattress. By this method I intended to keep each well separated from the other and fully occupied.

I then rushed all the way back downstairs to tell the boy to be sure to turn and refresh each bed, liberating it from the nocturnal bedewing of various matters and types to which nature bestoweth for health, fertility and the unction of the limbs, throughout the house starting from the top.  I visited the kitchen to supervise the cook for half an hour, and, exhausted, repaired to the drawing room where, in the warmth of the afternoon, I must have fallen asleep.

I awoke with a start much later in the evening; the room being fully descended into twilight, I rose to turn the gas on and was assaulted at the door  by the most overpowering stench.  Driven by it into the hall, I was further overpowered by the effluvience of waves of nauseous gas emanating, or so I believed, from the general direction of the kitchen.  Assuming the cook had singed the peacock, I determined to escape from the stench to an upper floor of the house and send for her to take her to task from a more congenial location.  Arrived at my own room without benefit of a candle, I cast myself across the bed to reach the bell, only to sink into the most foul odoured mire it has ever been my lot to encounter.  Exclaiming, I wrenched myself from the sucking embrace of the bed and fled along the landing to the upstairs candle cupboard, the malodorous stench following me at every step.  Imagine my consternation, upon illumination, to learn that the idiot under gardener had perpetrated no less a crime than to spread fresh manure by the bucketful upon every mattress in the house!  Hastening back to my own room, a glimpse at my own dress in the looking glass informed me that I was liberally coated with the substance from head to toe.  I began, without the benefit of a lady’s maid, to wrench my own garment from me but what should hap!  Upon the front doorbell for a good three minutes, a loud ringing.  What had become of the servants, I could not say, for answer came there none.  I waited, hoping the caller would leave but after a pause the urgent ringing recommenced. I was therefore obliged to shrug myself back into my dress as best I could, although it had become twisted and would not fully cover my stays, which were themselves, by my strugglings, liberally coated with manure.  As the door bell rang ceaselessly, I was necessitated to snatch the textile with the greatest proximity to cover myself, flee downstairs and open my own front door, drenched in fertiliser and wearing an antimacassar.

Judge my consternation to discover upon my step none other than the companion of the Dowager Duchess herself, come to enquire if she might be one of the party at the peacock supper.  In my alarm I dropped the candle, which extinguished itself upon my sodden skirt with an audible hiss.  Thinking quickly, as is my forte, I pretended to be my own housekeeper, and, adopting the accents of the lower classes declared the mistress to be out visiting Royalty or some such.  Lawks a mussy me, Miss.  I added for verisimilitude.  And, after a mere moment’s recollection of the vocal habits of the serving classes: Swelp me Bob by Jingo, Madam.  She continued to look at me in silence for some moments more until I broke into a chorus of ‘Down at the old Bull and Bush.  Bush. Bush.’  at which juncture she turned upon her heel and walked off.  I subsequently rang every bell in the house, finally coming to the conclusion that I had been deserted by the servants.  I resolved to dismiss all of them, should they reappear and was obliged thereafter to wash myself, myself, undress myself, myself and make a bed with my own hands as best I could on the sofa in the parlour.

The following morning I was necessitated by circumstance to pay the gardener and the cook, returned from their evenings off, which I shall curtail, considerably over the odds to remove every mattress in the house, wring them on to the vegetable beds and burn the remains in the yard.  The continuing odour was appalling.  As there is no sign whatsoever of the under gardener or the kitchen maid, I have given them their notice in their absence and was lamenting the fact of having a totally inadequate three servants, a mere two days prior to what might have been the most important soiree of my life, when I received a gracious note on gold impressed note paper, from the close acquaintance of the companion, cancelling her attendance on the grounds of having recalled a prior engagement with the Marquess of Bodmin Moor, which would, quite naturally, take precedence over my humble self, even with a peacock.  I was reading the note for the third time, lamenting the opportunity of closer acquaintance of persons moving in such circles of distinction, when a note arrived from the Dowager’s companion, who says she has been called abroad at short notice to the Court of Castile, where she is renowned as an expert proponent of the accoutrements of the native dance, as the entire court has sadly contracted castanet rot.

If the gardener boy turns up for work I shall take the greatest delight in summarily dismissing him and the kitchen maid has unquestionably peeled her last root vegetable beneath my roof!

As this account may be read by persons in many stations of life, I wish to take the opportunity of giving notice of a vacant position for a kitchen and parlour maid with laundry expertise and an under gardener of high intelligence, remuneration for each to be in the sum of £8 10s and 3d per annum, holidays (unpaid) one week per year and every third Wednesday afternoon from 4pm till 8pm, though not if other servants are off at the same time.  The lady of the house is particular but generous and kindly by nature and very likely quite soon to be well connected.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ – past it, in a caring way.

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