What Diantha Did

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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Chapter IX - "Sleeping In"

Men have marched in armies, fleets have borne them,
      Left their homes new countries to subdue;
     Young men seeking fortune wide have wandered—
      We have something new.

     Armies of young maidens cross our oceans;
      Leave their mother's love, their father's care;
     Maidens, young and helpless, widely wander,
      Burdens new to bear.

     Strange the land and language, laws and customs;
      Ignorant and all alone they come;
     Maidens young and helpless, serving strangers,
      Thus we keep the Home.

     When on earth was safety for young maidens
      Far from mother's love and father's care?
     We preserve The Home, and call it sacred—
      Burdens new they bear.

The sun had gone down on Madam Weatherstone's wrath, and risen to find it unabated. With condensed disapprobation written on every well-cut feature, she came to the coldly gleaming breakfast table.

That Mrs. Halsey was undoubtedly gone, she had to admit; yet so far failed to find the exact words of reproof for a woman of independent means discharging her own housekeeper when it pleased her.

Young Mathew unexpectedly appeared at breakfast, perhaps in anticipation of a sort of Roman holiday in which his usually late and apologetic stepmother would furnish the amusement. They were both surprised to find her there before them, looking uncommonly fresh in crisp, sheer white, with deep-toned violets in her belt.

She ate with every appearance of enjoyment, chatting amiably about the lovely morning—the flowers, the garden and the gardeners; her efforts ill seconded, however.

“Shall I attend to the orders this morning?” asked Madam Weatherstone with an air of noble patience.

“O no, thank you!” replied Viva. “I have engaged a new housekeeper.”

“A new housekeeper! When?” The old lady was shaken by this inconceivable promptness.

“Last night,” said her daughter-in-law, looking calmly across the table, her color rising a little.

“And when is she coming, if I may ask?”

“She has come. I have been with her an hour already this morning.”

Young Mathew smiled. This was amusing, though not what he had expected. “How extremely alert and businesslike!” he said lazily. “It's becoming to you—to get up early!”

“You can't have got much of a person—at a minute's notice,” said his grandmother. “Or perhaps you have been planning this for some time?”

“No,” said Viva. “I have wanted to get rid of Mrs. Halsey for some time, but the new one I found yesterday.”

“What's her name?” inquired Mathew.

“Bell—Miss Diantha Bell,” she answered, looking as calm as if announcing the day of the week, but inwardly dreading the result somewhat. Like most of such terrors it was overestimated.

There was a little pause—rather an intense little pause; and then—“Isn't that the girl who set 'em all by the ears yesterday?” asked the young man, pointing to the morning paper. “They say she's a good-looker.”

Madam Weatherstone rose from the table in some agitation. “I must say I am very sorry, Viva, that you should have been so—precipitate! This young woman cannot be competent to manage a house like this—to say nothing of her scandalous ideas. Mrs. Halsey was—to my mind—perfectly satisfactory. I shall miss her very much.” She swept out with an unanswerable air.

“So shall I,” muttered Mat, under his breath, as he strolled after her; “unless the new one's equally amiable.”

Viva Weatherstone watched them go, and stood awhile looking after the well-built, well-dressed, well-mannered but far from well-behaved young man.

“I don't know,” she said to herself, “but I do feel—think—imagine—a good deal. I'm sure I hope not! Anyway—it's new life to have that girl in the house.”

That girl had undertaken what she described to Ross as “a large order—a very large order.”

“It's the hardest thing I ever undertook,” she wrote him, “but I think I can do it; and it will be a tremendous help. Mrs. Weatherstone's a brick—a perfect brick! She seems to have been very unhappy—for ever so long—and to have submitted to her domineering old mother-in-law just because she didn't care enough to resist. Now she's got waked up all of a sudden—she says it was my paper at the club—more likely my awful example, I think! and she fired her old housekeeper—I don't know what for—and rushed me in.

“So here I am. The salary is good, the work is excellent training, and I guess I can hold the place. But the old lady is a terror, and the young man—how you would despise that Johnny!”

The home letters she now received were rather amusing. Ross, sternly patient, saw little difference in her position. “I hope you will enjoy your new work,” he wrote, “but personally I should prefer that you did not—so you might give it up and come home sooner. I miss you as you can well imagine. Even when you were here life was hard enough—but now!!!!!!

“I had a half offer for the store the other day, but it fell through. If I could sell that incubus and put the money into a ranch—fruit, hens, anything—then we could all live on it; more cheaply, I think; and I could find time for some research work I have in mind. You remember that guinea-pig experiment I want so to try?”

Diantha remembered and smiled sadly. She was not much interested in guinea-pigs and their potential capacities, but she was interested in her lover and his happiness. “Ranch,” she said thoughtfully; “that's not a bad idea.”

Her mother wrote the same patient loving letters, perfunctorily hopeful. Her father wrote none—“A woman's business—this letter-writin',” he always held; and George, after one scornful upbraiding, had “washed his hands of her” with some sense of relief. He didn't like to write letters either.

But Susie kept up a lively correspondence. She was attached to her sister, as to all her immediate relatives and surroundings; and while she utterly disapproved of Diantha's undertaking, a sense of sisterly duty, to say nothing of affection, prompted her to many letters. It did not, however, always make these agreeable reading.

“Mother's pretty well, and the girl she's got now does nicely—that first one turned out to be a failure. Father's as cranky as ever. We are all well here and the baby (this was a brand new baby Diantha had not seen) is just a Darling! You ought to be here, you unnatural Aunt! Gerald doesn't ever speak of you—but I do just the same. You hear from the Wardens, of course. Mrs. Warden's got neuralgia or something; keeps them all busy. They are much excited over this new place of yours—you ought to hear them go on! It appears that Madam Weatherstone is a connection of theirs—one of the F. F. V's, I guess, and they think she's something wonderful. And to have you working there!—well, you can just see how they'd feel; and I don't blame them. It's no use arguing with you—but I should think you'd have enough of this disgraceful foolishness by this time and come home!”

Diantha tried to be very philosophic over her home letters; but they were far from stimulating. “It's no use arguing with poor Susie!” she decided. “Susie thinks the sun rises and sets between kitchen, nursery and parlor!

“Mother can't see the good of it yet, but she will later—Mother's all right.

“I'm awfully sorry the Wardens feel so—and make Ross unhappy—but of course I knew they would. It can't be helped. It's just a question of time and work.”

And she went to work.

Mrs. Porne called on her friend most promptly, with a natural eagerness and curiosity.

“How does it work? Do you like her as much as you thought? Do tell me about it, Viva. You look like another woman already!”

“I certainly feel like one,” Viva answered. “I've seen slaves in housework, and I've seen what we fondly call 'Queens' in housework; but I never saw brains in it before.”

Mrs. Porne sighed. “Isn't it just wonderful—the way she does things! Dear me! We do miss her! She trained that Swede for us—and she does pretty well—but not like 'Miss Bell'! I wish there were a hundred of her!”

“If there were a hundred thousand she wouldn't go round!” answered Mrs. Weatherstone. “How selfish we are! That is the kind of woman we all want in our homes—and fuss because we can't have them.”

“Edgar says he quite agrees with her views,” Mrs. Porne went on. “Skilled labor by the day—food sent in—. He says if she cooked it he wouldn't care if it came all the way from Alaska! She certainly can cook! I wish she'd set up her business—the sooner the better.”

Mrs. Weatherstone nodded her head firmly. “She will. She's planning. This was really an interruption—her coming here, but I think it will be a help—she's not had experience in large management before, but she takes hold splendidly. She's found a dozen 'leaks' in our household already.”

“Mrs. Thaddler's simply furious, I hear,” said the visitor. “Mrs. Ree was in this morning and told me all about it. Poor Mrs. Ree! The home is church and state to her; that paper of Miss Bell's she regards as simple blasphemy.”

They both laughed as that stormy meeting rose before them.

“I was so proud of you, Viva, standing up for her as you did. How did you ever dare?”

“Why I got my courage from the girl herself. She was—superb! Talk of blasphemy! Why I've committed lese majeste and regicide and the Unpardonable Sin since that meeting!” And she told her friend of her brief passage at arms with Mrs. Halsey. “I never liked the woman,” she continued; “and some of the things Miss Bell said set me thinking. I don't believe we half know what's going on in our houses.”

“Well, Mrs. Thaddler's so outraged by 'this scandalous attack upon the sanctities of the home' that she's going about saying all sorts of things about Miss Bell. O look—I do believe that's her car!”

Even as they spoke a toneless voice announced, “Mr. and Mrs. Thaddler,” and Madam Weatherstone presently appeared to greet these visitors.

“I think you are trying a dangerous experiment!” said Mrs. Thaddler to her young hostess. “A very dangerous experiment! Bringing that young iconoclast into your home!”

Mr. Thaddler, stout and sulky, sat as far away as he could and talked to Mrs. Porne. “I'd like to try that same experiment myself,” said he to her. “You tried it some time, I understand?”

“Indeed we did—and would still if we had the chance,” she replied. “We think her a very exceptional young woman.”

Mr. Thaddler chuckled. “She is that!” he agreed. “Gad! How she did set things humming! They're humming yet—at our house!”

He glanced rather rancorously at his wife, and Mrs. Porne wished, as she often had before, that Mr. Thaddler wore more clothing over his domestic afflictions.

“Scandalous!” Mrs. Thaddler was saying to Madam Weatherstone. “Simply scandalous! Never in my life did I hear such absurd—such outrageous—charges against the sanctities of the home!”

“There you have it!” said Mr. Thaddler, under his breath. “Sanctity of the fiddlesticks! There was a lot of truth in what that girl said!” Then he looked rather sheepish and flushed a little—which was needless; easing his collar with a fat finger.

Madam Weatherstone and Mrs. Thaddler were at one on this subject; but found it hard to agree even so, no love being lost between them; and the former gave evidence of more satisfaction than distress at this “dangerous experiment” in the house of her friends. Viva sat silent, but with a look of watchful intelligence that delighted Mrs. Porne.

“It has done her good already,” she said to herself. “Bless that girl!”

Mr. Thaddler went home disappointed in the real object of his call—he had hoped to see the Dangerous Experiment again. But his wife was well pleased.

“They will rue it!” she announced. “Madam Weatherstone is ashamed of her daughter-in-law—I can see that! She looks cool enough. I don't know what's got into her!”

“Some of that young woman's good cooking,” her husband suggested.

“That young woman is not there as cook!” she replied tartly. “What she is there for we shall see later! Mark my words!”

Mr. Thaddler chuckled softly. “I'll mark 'em!” he said.

Diantha had her hands full. Needless to say her sudden entrance was resented by the corps of servants accustomed to the old regime. She had the keys; she explored, studied, inventoried, examined the accounts, worked out careful tables and estimates. “I wish Mother were here!” she said to herself. “She's a regular genius for accounts. I can do it—but it's no joke.”

She brought the results to her employer at the end of the week. “This is tentative,” she said, “and I've allowed margins because I'm new to a business of this size. But here's what this house ought to cost you—at the outside, and here's what it does cost you now.”

Mrs. Weatherstone was impressed. “Aren't you a little—spectacular?” she suggested.

Diantha went over it carefully; the number of rooms, the number of servants, the hours of labor, the amount of food and other supplies required.

“This is only preparatory, of course,” she said. “I'll have to check it off each month. If I may do the ordering and keep all the accounts I can show you exactly in a month, or two at most.”

“How about the servants?” asked Mrs. Weatherstone.

There was much to say here, questions of competence, of impertinence, of personal excellence with “incompatibility of temper.” Diantha was given a free hand, with full liberty to experiment, and met the opportunity with her usual energy.

She soon discharged the unsatisfactory ones, and substituted the girls she had selected for her summer's experiment, gradually adding others, till the household was fairly harmonious, and far more efficient and economical. A few changes were made among the men also.

By the time the family moved down to Santa Ulrica, there was quite a new spirit in the household. Mrs. Weatherstone fully approved of the Girls' Club Diantha had started at Mrs. Porne's; and it went on merrily in the larger quarters of the great “cottage” on the cliff.

“I'm very glad I came to you, Mrs. Weatherstone,” said the girl. “You were quite right about the experience; I did need it—and I'm getting it!”

She was getting some of which she made no mention.

As she won and held the confidence of her subordinates, and the growing list of club members, she learned their personal stories; what had befallen them in other families, and what they liked and disliked in their present places.

“The men are not so bad,” explained Catharine Kelly, at a club meeting, meaning the men servants; “they respect an honest girl if she respects herself; but it's the young masters—and sometimes the old ones!”

“It's all nonsense,” protested Mrs. James, widowed cook of long standing. “I've worked out for twenty-five years, and I never met no such goings on!”

Little Ilda looked at Mrs. James' severe face and giggled.

“I've heard of it,” said Molly Connors, “I've a cousin that's workin' in New York; and she's had to leave two good places on account of their misbehavin' theirselves. She's a fine girl, but too good-lookin'.”

Diantha studied types, questioned them, drew them out, adjusted facts to theories and theories to facts. She found the weakness of the whole position to lie in the utter ignorance and helplessness of the individual servant. “If they were only organized,” she thought—“and knew their own power!—Well; there's plenty of time.”

As her acquaintance increased, and as Mrs. Weatherstone's interest in her plans increased also, she started the small summer experiment she had planned, for furnishing labor by the day. Mrs. James was an excellent cook, though most unpleasant to work with. She was quite able to see that getting up frequent lunches at three dollars, and dinners at five dollars, made a better income than ten dollars a week even with several days unoccupied.

A group of younger women, under Diantha's sympathetic encouragement, agreed to take a small cottage together, with Mrs. James as a species of chaperone; and to go out in twos and threes as chambermaids and waitresses at 25 cents an hour. Two of them could set in perfect order one of the small beach cottage in an hour's time; and the occupants, already crowded for room, were quite willing to pay a little more in cash “not to have a servant around.” Most of them took their meals out in any case.

It was a modest attempt, elastic and easily alterable and based on the special conditions of a shore resort: Mrs. Weatherstone's known interest gave it social backing; and many ladies who heartily disapproved of Diantha's theories found themselves quite willing to profit by this very practical local solution of the “servant question.”

The “club girls” became very popular. Across the deep hot sand they ploughed, and clattered along the warping boardwalks, in merry pairs and groups, finding the work far more varied and amusing than the endless repetition in one household. They had pleasant evenings too, with plenty of callers, albeit somewhat checked and chilled by rigorous Mrs. James.

“It is both foolish and wicked!” said Madam Weatherstone to her daughter-in-law, “Exposing a group of silly girls to such danger and temptations! I understand there is singing and laughing going on at that house until half-past ten at night.”

“Yes, there is,” Viva admitted. “Mrs. James insists that they shall all be in bed at eleven—which is very wise. I'm glad they have good times—there's safety in numbers, you know.”

“There will be a scandal in this community before long!” said the old lady solemnly. “And it grieves me to think that this household will be responsible for it!”

Diantha heard all this from the linen room while Madam Weatherstone buttonholed her daughter-in-law in the hall; and in truth the old lady meant that she should hear what she said.

“She's right, I'm afraid!” said Diantha to herself—“there will be a scandal if I'm not mighty careful and this household will be responsible for it!”

Even as she spoke she caught Ilda's childish giggle in the lower hall, and looking over the railing saw her airily dusting the big Chinese vases and coquetting with young Mr. Mathew.

Later on, Diantha tried seriously to rouse her conscience and her common sense. “Don't you see, child, that it can't do you anything but harm? You can't carry on with a man like that as you can with one of your own friends. He is not to be trusted. One nice girl I had here simply left the place—he annoyed her so.”

Ilda was a little sulky. She had been quite a queen in the small Norwegian village she was born in. Young men were young men—and they might even—perhaps! This severe young housekeeper didn't know everything. Maybe she was jealous!

So Ilda was rather unconvinced, though apparently submissive, and Diantha kept a careful eye upon her. She saw to it that Ilda's room had a bolt as well as key in the door, and kept the room next to it empty; frequently using it herself, unknown to anyone. “I hate to turn the child off,” she said to herself, conscientiously revolving the matter. “She isn't doing a thing more than most girls do—she's only a little fool. And he's not doing anything I can complain of—yet.”

But she worried over it a good deal, and Mrs. Weatherstone noticed it.

“Doesn't your pet club house go well, 'Miss Bell?' You seem troubled about something.”

“I am,” Diantha admitted. “I believe I'll have to tell you about it—but I hate to. Perhaps if you'll come and look I shan't have to say much.”

She led her to a window that looked on the garden, the rich, vivid, flower-crowded garden of Southern California by the sea. Little Ilda, in a fresh black frock and snowy, frilly cap and apron, ran out to get a rose; and while she sniffed and dallied they saw Mr. Mathew saunter out and join her.

The girl was not as severe with him as she ought to have been—that was evident; but it was also evident that she was frightened and furious when he suddenly held her fast and kissed her with much satisfaction. As soon as her arms were free she gave him a slap that sounded smartly even at that distance; and ran crying into the house.

“She's foolish, I admit,” said Diantha,—“but she doesn't realize her danger at all. I've tried to make her. And now I'm more worried than ever. It seems rather hard to discharge her—she needs care.”

“I'll speak to that young man myself,” said Mrs. Weatherstone. “I'll speak to his grandmother too!”

“O—would you?” urged Diantha. “She wouldn't believe anything except that the girl 'led him on'—you know that. But I have an idea that we could convince her—if you're willing to do something rather melodramatic—and I think we'd better do it to-night!”

“What's that?” asked her employer; and Diantha explained. It was melodramatic, but promised to be extremely convincing.

“Do you think he'd dare! under my roof?” hotly demanded Madam Weatherstone.

“I'm very much afraid it wouldn't be the first time,” Diantha reluctantly assured her. “It's no use being horrified. But if we could only make sure—”

“If we could only make his grandmother sure!” cried Madam Weatherstone. “That would save me a deal of trouble and misunderstanding. See here—I think I can manage it—what makes you think it's to-night?”

“I can't be absolutely certain—” Diantha explained; and told her the reasons she had.

“It does look so,” her employer admitted. “We'll try it at any rate.”

Urging her mother-in-law's presence on the ground of needing her experienced advice, Mrs. Weatherstone brought the august lady to the room next to Ilda's late that evening, the housekeeper in attendance.

“We mustn't wake the servants,” she said in an elaborate whisper. “They need sleep, poor things! But I want to consult you about these communicating doors and the locksmith is coming in the morning.—you see this opens from this side.” She turned the oiled key softly in the lock. “Now Miss Bell thinks they ought to be left so—so that the girls can visit one another if they like—what do you think?”

“I think you are absurd to bring me to the top floor, at this time of night, for a thing like this!” said the old lady. “They should be permanently locked, to my mind! There's no question about it.”

Viva, still in low tones, discussed this point further; introduced the subject of wall-paper or hard finish; pointed out from the window a tall eucalyptus which she thought needed heading; did what she could to keep her mother-in-law on the spot; and presently her efforts were rewarded.

A sound of muffled speech came from the next room—a man's voice dimly heard. Madam Weatherstone raised her head like a warhorse.

“What's this! What's this!” she said in a fierce whisper.

Viva laid a hand on her arm. “Sh!” said she. “Let us make sure!” and she softly unlatched the door.

A brilliant moon flooded the small chamber. They could see little Ilda, huddled in the bedclothes, staring at her door from which the key had fallen. Another key was being inserted—turned—but the bolt held.

“Come and open it, young lady!” said a careful voice outside.

“Go away! Go away!” begged the girl, low and breathlessly. “Oh how can you! Go away quick!”

“Indeed, I won't!” said the voice. “You come and open it.”

“Go away,” she cried, in a soft but frantic voice. “I—I'll scream!”

“Scream away!” he answered. “I'll just say I came up to see what the screaming's about, that's all. You open the door—if you don't want anybody to know I'm here! I won't hurt you any—I just want to talk to you a minute.”

Madam Weatherstone was speechless with horror, her daughter-in-law listened with set lips. Diantha looked from one to the other, and at the frightened child before them who was now close to the terrible door.

“O please!—please! go away!” she cried in desperation. “O what shall I do! What shall I do!”

“You can't do anything,” he answered cheerfully. “And I'm coming in anyhow. You'd better keep still about this for your own sake. Stand from under!” Madam Weatherstone marched into the room. Ilda, with a little cry, fled out of it to Diantha.

There was a jump, a scramble, two knuckly hands appeared, a long leg was put through the transom, two legs wildly wriggling, a descending body, and there stood before them, flushed, dishevelled, his coat up to his ears—Mat Weatherstone.

He did not notice the stern rigidity of the figure which stood between him and the moonlight, but clasped it warmly to his heart.—“Now I've got you, Ducky!” cried he, pressing all too affectionate kisses upon the face of his grandmother.

Young Mrs. Weatherstone turned on the light.

It was an embarrassing position for the gentleman.

He had expected to find a helpless cowering girl; afraid to cry out because her case would be lost if she did; begging piteously that he would leave her; wholly at his mercy.

What he did find was so inexplicable as to reduce him to gibbering astonishment. There stood his imposing grandmother, so overwhelmed with amazement that her trenchant sentences failed her completely; his stepmother, wearing an expression that almost suggested delight in his discomfiture; and Diantha, as grim as Rhadamanthus.

Poor little Ilda burst into wild sobs and choking explanations, clinging to Diantha's hand. “If I'd only listened to you!” she said. “You told me he was bad! I never thought he'd do such an awful thing!”

Young Mathew fumbled at the door. He had locked it outside in his efforts with the pass-key. He was red, red to his ears—very red, but there was no escape. He faced them—there was no good in facing the door.

They all stood aside and let him pass—a wordless gauntlet.

Diantha took the weeping Ilda to her room for the night. Madam Weatherstone and Mrs. Weatherstone went down together.

“She must have encouraged him!” the older lady finally burst forth.

“She did not encourage him to enter her room, as you saw and heard,” said Viva with repressed intensity.

“He's only a boy!” said his grandmother.

“She is only a child, a helpless child, a foreigner, away from home, untaught, unprotected,” Viva answered swiftly; adding with quiet sarcasm—“Save for the shelter of the home!”

They parted in silence.


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