Your car is too big for one person to stir— Your chauffeur is a little man, too; Yet he lifts that machine, does the little chauffeur, By the power of a gentle jackscrew.
For all her employees she demanded a ten-hour day, she worked fourteen; rising at six and not getting to bed till eleven, when her charges were all safely in their rooms for the night.
They were all up at five-thirty or thereabouts, breakfasting at six, and the girls off in time to reach their various places by seven. Their day was from 7 A. M. to 8.30 P. M., with half an hour out, from 11.30 to twelve, for their lunch; and three hours, between 2.20 and 5.30, for their own time, including their tea. Then they worked again from 5.30 to 8.30, on the dinner and the dishes, and then they came home to a pleasant nine o'clock supper, and had all hour to dance or rest before the 10.30 bell for bed time.
Special friends and “cousins” often came home with them, and frequently shared the supper—for a quarter—and the dance for nothing.
It was no light matter in the first place to keep twenty girls contented with such a regime, and working with the steady excellence required, and in the second place to keep twenty employers contented with them. There were failures on both sides; half a dozen families gave up the plan, and it took time to replace them; and three girls had to be asked to resign before the year was over. But most of them had been in training in the summer, and had listened for months to Diantha's earnest talks to the clubs, with good results.
“Remember we are not doing this for ourselves alone,” she would say to them. “Our experiment is going to make this kind of work easier for all home workers everywhere. You may not like it at first, but neither did you like the old way. It will grow easier as we get used to it; and we must keep the rules, because we made them!”
She laboriously composed a neat little circular, distributed it widely, and kept a pile in her lunch room for people to take.
It read thus:
UNION HOUSE Food and Service. General Housework by the week..... $10.00 General Housework by the day....... $2.00 Ten hours work a day, and furnish their own food. Additional labor by the hour....... $.20 Special service for entertainments, maids and waitresses, by the hour..........$.25 Catering for entertainments. Delicacies for invalids. Lunches packed and delivered. Caffeteria... 12 to 2
What annoyed the young manager most was the uncertainty and irregularity involved in her work, the facts varying considerably from her calculations.
In the house all ran smoothly. Solemn Mrs. Thorvald did the laundry work for thirty-five—by the aid of her husband and a big mangle for the “flat work.” The girls' washing was limited. “You have to be reasonable about it,” Diantha had explained to them. “Your fifty cents covers a dozen pieces—no more. If you want more you have to pay more, just as your employers do for your extra time.”
This last often happened. No one on the face of it could ask more than ten hours of the swift, steady work given by the girls at but a fraction over 14 cents an hour. Yet many times the housekeeper was anxious for more labor on special days; and the girls, unaccustomed to the three free hours in the afternoon, were quite willing to furnish it, thus adding somewhat to their cash returns.
They had a dressmaking class at the club afternoons, and as Union House boasted a good sewing machine, many of them spent the free hours in enlarging their wardrobes. Some amused themselves with light reading, a few studied, others met and walked outside. The sense of honest leisure grew upon them, with its broadening influence; and among her thirty Diantha found four or five who were able and ambitious, and willing to work heartily for the further development of the business.
Her two housemaids were specially selected. When the girls were out of the house these two maids washed the breakfast dishes with marvelous speed, and then helped Diantha prepare for the lunch. This was a large undertaking, and all three of them, as well as Julianna and Hector worked at it until some six or eight hundred sandwiches were ready, and two or three hundred little cakes.
Diantha had her own lunch, and then sat at the receipt of custom during the lunch hour, making change and ordering fresh supplies as fast as needed.
The two housemaids had a long day, but so arranged that it made but ten hours work, and they had much available time of their own. They had to be at work at 5:30 to set the table for six o'clock breakfast, and then they were at it steadily, with the dining rooms to “do,” and the lunch to get ready, until 11:30, when they had an hour to eat and rest. From 12:30 to 4 o'clock they were busy with the lunch cups, the bed-rooms, and setting the table for dinner; but after that they had four hours to themselves, until the nine o'clock supper was over, and once more they washed dishes for half an hour. The caffeteria used only cups and spoons; the sandwiches and cakes were served on paper plates.
In the hand-cart methods of small housekeeping it is impossible to exact the swift precision of such work, but not in the standardized tasks and regular hours of such an establishment as this.
Diantha religiously kept her hour at noon, and tried to keep the three in the afternoon; but the employer and manager cannot take irresponsible rest as can the employee. She felt like a most inexperienced captain on a totally new species of ship, and her paper plans looked very weak sometimes, as bills turned out to be larger than she had allowed for, or her patronage unaccountably dwindled. But if the difficulties were great, the girl's courage was greater. “It is simply a big piece of work,” she assured herself, “and may be a long one, but there never was anything better worth doing. Every new business has difficulties, I mustn't think of them. I must just push and push and push—a little more every day.”
And then she would draw on all her powers to reason with, laugh at, and persuade some dissatisfied girl; or, hardest of all, to bring in a new one to fill a vacancy.
She enjoyed the details of her lunch business, and studied it carefully; planning for a restaurant a little later. Her bread was baked in long cylindrical closed pans, and cut by machinery into thin even slices, not a crust wasted; for they were ground into crumbs and used in the cooking.
The filling for her sandwiches was made from fish, flesh, and fowl; from cheese and jelly and fruit and vegetables; and so named or numbered that the general favorites were gradually determined.
Mr. Thaddler chatted with her over the counter, as far as she would allow it, and discoursed more fully with his friends on the verandah.
“Porne,” he said, “where'd that girl come from anyway? She's a genius, that's what she is; a regular genius.”
“She's all that,” said Mr. Porne, “and a benefactor to humanity thrown in. I wish she'd start her food delivery, though. I'm tired of those two Swedes already. O—come from? Up in Jopalez, Inca County, I believe.”
“New England stock I bet,” said Mr. Thaddler. “Its a damn shame the way the women go on about her.”
“Not all of them, surely,” protested Mr. Porne.
“No, not all of 'em,—but enough of 'em to make mischief, you may be sure. Women are the devil, sometimes.”
Mr. Porne smiled without answer, and Mr. Thaddler went sulking away—a bag of cakes bulging in his pocket.
The little wooden hotel in Jopalez boasted an extra visitor a few days later. A big red faced man, who strolled about among the tradesmen, tried the barber's shop, loafed in the post office, hired a rig and traversed the length and breadth of the town, and who called on Mrs. Warden, talking real estate with her most politely in spite of her protestation and the scornful looks of the four daughters; who bought tobacco and matches in the grocery store, and sat on the piazza thereof to smoke, as did other gentlemen of leisure.
Ross Warden occasionally leaned at the door jamb, with folded arms. He never could learn to be easily sociable with ranchmen and teamsters. Serve them he must, but chat with them he need not. The stout gentleman essayed some conversation, but did not get far. Ross was polite, but far from encouraging, and presently went home to supper, leaving a carrot-haired boy to wait upon his lingering customers.
“Nice young feller enough,” said the stout gentleman to himself, “but raised on ramrods. Never got 'em from those women folks of his, either. He has a row to hoe!” And he departed as he had come.
Mr. Eltwood turned out an unexpectedly useful friend to Diantha. He steered club meetings and “sociables” into her large rooms, and as people found how cheap and easy it was to give parties that way, they continued the habit. He brought his doctor friends to sample the lunch, and they tested the value of Diantha's invalid cookery, and were more than pleased.
Hungry tourists were wholly without prejudice, and prized her lunches for their own sake. They descended upon the caffeteria in chattering swarms, some days, robbing the regular patrons of their food, and sent sudden orders for picnic lunches that broke in upon the routine hours of the place unmercifully.
But of all her patrons, the families of invalids appreciated Diantha's work the most. Where a little shack or tent was all they could afford to live in, or where the tiny cottage was more than filled with the patient, attending relative, and nurse, this depot of supplies was a relief indeed.
A girl could be had for an hour or two; or two girls, together, with amazing speed, could put a small house in dainty order while the sick man lay in his hammock under the pepper trees; and be gone before he was fretting for his bed again. They lived upon her lunches; and from them, and other quarters, rose an increasing demand for regular cooked food.
“Why don't you go into it at once?” urged Mrs. Weatherstone.
“I want to establish the day service first,” said Diantha. “It is a pretty big business I find, and I do get tired sometimes. I can't afford to slip up, you know. I mean to take it up next fall, though.”
“All right. And look here; see that you begin in first rate shape. I've got some ideas of my own about those food containers.”
They discussed the matter more than once, Diantha most reluctant to take any assistance; Mrs. Weatherstone determined that she should.
“I feel like a big investor already,” she said. “I don't think even you realize the money there is in this thing! You are interested in establishing the working girls, and saving money and time for the housewives. I am interested in making money out of it—honestly! It would be such a triumph!”
“You're very good—” Diantha hesitated.
“I'm not good. I'm most eagerly and selfishly interested. I've taken a new lease of life since knowing you, Diantha Bell! You see my father was a business man, and his father before him—I like it. There I was, with lots of money, and not an interest in life! Now?—why, there's no end to this thing, Diantha! It's one of the biggest businesses on earth—if not the biggest!”
“Yes—I know,” the girl answered. “But its slow work. I feel the weight of it more than I expected. There's every reason to succeed, but there's the combined sentiment of the whole world to lift—it's as heavy as lead.”
“Heavy! Of course it's heavy! The more fun to lift it! You'll do it, Diantha, I know you will, with that steady, relentless push of yours. But the cooked food is going to be your biggest power, and you must let me start it right. Now you listen to me, and make Mrs. Thaddler eat her words!”
Mrs. Thaddler's words would have proved rather poisonous, if eaten. She grew more antagonistic as the year advanced. Every fault that could be found in the undertaking she pounced upon and enlarged; every doubt that could be cast upon it she heavily piled up; and her opposition grew more rancorous as Mr. Thaddler enlarged in her hearing upon the excellence of Diantha's lunches and the wonders of her management.
“She's picked a bunch o' winners in those girls of hers,” he declared to his friends. “They set out in the morning looking like a flock of sweet peas—in their pinks and whites and greens and vi'lets,—and do more work in an hour than the average slavey can do in three, I'm told.”
It was a pretty sight to see those girls start out. They had a sort of uniform, as far as a neat gingham dress went, with elbow sleeves, white ruffled, and a Dutch collar; a sort of cross between a nurses dress and that of “La Chocolataire;” but colors were left to taste. Each carried her apron and a cap that covered the hair while cooking and sweeping; but nothing that suggested the black and white livery of the regulation servant.
“This is a new stage of labor,” their leader reminded them. “You are not servants—you are employees. You wear a cap as an English carpenter does—or a French cook,—and an apron because your work needs it. It is not a ruffled label,—it's a business necessity. And each one of us must do our best to make this new kind of work valued and respected.”
It is no easy matter to overcome prejudices many centuries old, and meet the criticism of women who have nothing to do but criticize. Those who were “mistresses,” and wanted “servants,”—someone to do their will at any moment from early morning till late evening,—were not pleased with the new way if they tried it; but the women who had interests of their own to attend to; who merely wanted their homes kept clean, and the food well cooked and served, were pleased. The speed, the accuracy, the economy; the pleasant, quiet, assured manner of these skilled employees was a very different thing from the old slipshod methods of the ordinary general servant.
So the work slowly prospered, while Diantha began to put in execution the new plan she had been forced into.
While it matured, Mrs. Thaddler matured hers. With steady dropping she had let fall far and wide her suspicions as to the character of Union House.
“It looks pretty queer to me!” she would say, confidentially, “All those girls together, and no person to have any authority over them! Not a married woman in the house but that washerwoman,—and her husband's a fool!”
“And again; You don't see how she does it? Neither do I! The expenses must be tremendous—those girls pay next to nothing,—and all that broth and brown bread flying about town! Pretty queer doings, I think!”
“The men seem to like that caffeteria, don't they?” urged one caller, perhaps not unwilling to nestle Mrs. Thaddler, who flushed darkly as she replied. “Yes, they do. Men usually like that sort of place.”
“They like good food at low prices, if that's what you mean,” her visitor answered.
“That's not all I mean—by a long way,” said Mrs. Thaddler. She said so much, and said it so ingeniously, that a dark rumor arose from nowhere, and grew rapidly. Several families discharged their Union House girls. Several girls complained that they were insultingly spoken to on the street. Even the lunch patronage began to fall off.
Diantha was puzzled—a little alarmed. Her slow, steady lifting of the prejudice against her was checked. She could not put her finger on the enemy, yet felt one distinctly, and had her own suspicions. But she also had her new move well arranged by this time.
Then a maliciously insinuating story of the place came out in a San Francisco paper, and a flock of local reporters buzzed in to sample the victim. They helped themselves to the luncheon, and liked it, but that did not soften their pens. They talked with such of the girls as they could get in touch with, and wrote such versions of these talks as suited them.
They called repeatedly at Union House, but Diantha refused to see them. Finally she was visited by the Episcopalian clergyman. He had heard her talk at the Club, was favorably impressed by the girl herself, and honestly distressed by the dark stories he now heard about Union House.
“My dear young lady,” he said, “I have called to see you in your own interests. I do not, as you perhaps know, approve of your schemes. I consider them—ah—subversive of the best interests of the home! But I think you mean well, though mistakenly. Now I fear you are not aware that this-ah—ill-considered undertaking of yours, is giving rise to considerable adverse comment in the community. There is—ah—there is a great deal being said about this business of yours which I am sure you would regret if you knew it. Do you think it is wise; do you think it is—ah—right, my dear Miss Bell, to attempt to carry on a—a place of this sort, without the presence of a—of a Matron of assured standing?”
Diantha smiled rather coldly.
“May I trouble you to step into the back parlor, Dr. Aberthwaite,” she said; and then;
“May I have the pleasure of presenting to you Mrs. Henderson Bell—my mother?”
“Wasn't it great!” said Mrs. Weatherstone; “I was there you see,—I'd come to call on Mrs. Bell—she's a dear,—and in came Mrs. Thaddler—”
“O I know it was old Aberthwaite, but he represented Mrs. Thaddler and her clique, and had come there to preach to Diantha about propriety—I heard him,—and she brought him in and very politely introduced him to her mother!—it was rich, Isabel.”
“How did Diantha manage it?” asked her friend.
“She's been trying to arrange it for ever so long. Of course her father objected—you'd know that. But there's a sister—not a bad sort, only very limited; she's taken the old man to board, as it were, and I guess the mother really set her foot down for once—said she had a right to visit her own daughter!”
“It would seem so,” Mrs. Porne agreed. “I am so glad! It will be so much easier for that brave little woman now.”
Diantha held her mother in her arms the night she came, and cried tike a baby.
“O mother dear!” she sobbed, “I'd no idea I should miss you so much. O you blessed comfort!”
Her mother cried a bit too; she enjoyed this daughter more than either of her older children, and missed her more. A mother loves all her children, naturally; but a mother is also a person—and may, without sin, have personal preferences.
She took hold of Diantha's tangled mass of papers with the eagerness of a questing hound.
“You've got all the bills, of course,” she demanded, with her anxious rising inflection.
“Every one,” said the girl. “You taught me that much. What puzzles me is to make things balance. I'm making more than I thought in some lines, and less in others, and I can't make it come out straight.”
“It won't, altogether, till the end of the year I dare say,” said Mrs. Bell, “but let's get clear as far as we can. In the first place we must separate your business,—see how much each one pays.”
“The first one I want to establish,” said her daughter, “is the girl's club. Not just this one, with me to run it. But to show that any group of twenty or thirty girls could do this thing in any city. Of course where rents and provisions were high they'd have to charge more. I want to make an average showing somehow. Now can you disentangle the girl part front the lunch part and the food part, mother dear, and make it all straight?”
Mrs. Bell could and did; it gave her absolute delight to do it. She set down the total of Diantha's expenses so far in the Service Department, as follows:
Rent of Union House $1,500 Rent of furniture................... $300 One payment on furniture............ $400 Fuel and lights, etc................ $352 Service of 5 at $10 a week each... $2,600 Food for thirty-seven............. $3,848 ——- Total............................. $9,000
“That covers everything but my board,” said Mrs. Bell.
“Now your income is easy—35 x $4.50 equals $8,190. Take that from your $9,000 and you are $810 behind.”
“Yes, I know,” said Diantha, eagerly, “but if it was merely a girl's club home, the rent and fixtures would be much less. A home could be built, with thirty bedrooms—and all necessary conveniences—for $7,000. I've asked Mr. and Mrs. Porne about it; and the furnishing needn't cost over $2,000 if it was very plain. Ten per cent. of that is a rent of $900 you see.”
“I see,” said her mother. “Better say a thousand. I guess it could be done for that.”
So they set down rent, $1,000.
“There have to be five paid helpers in the house,” Diantha went on, “the cook, the laundress, the two maids, and the matron. She must buy and manage. She could be one of their mothers or aunts.”
Mrs. Bell smiled. “Do you really imagine, Diantha, that Mrs. O'Shaughnessy or Mrs. Yon Yonson can manage a house like this as you can?”
Diantha flushed a little. “No, mother, of course not. But I am keeping very full reports of all the work. Just the schedule of labor—the hours—the exact things done. One laundress, with machinery, can wash for thirty-five, (its only six a day you see), and the amount is regulated; about six dozen a day, and all the flat work mangled.
“In a Girl's Club alone the cook has all day off, as it were; she can do the down stairs cleaning. And the two maids have only table service and bedrooms.”
“Yes. But two girls together, who know how, can do a room in 8 minutes—easily. They are small and simple you see. Make the bed, shake the mats, wipe the floors and windows,—you watch them!”
“I have watched them,” the mother admitted. “They are as quick as—as mill-workers!”
“Well,” pursued Diantha, “they spend three hours on dishes and tables, and seven on cleaning. The bedrooms take 280 minutes; that's nearly five hours. The other two are for the bath rooms, halls, stairs, downstairs windows, and so on. That's all right. Then I'm keeping the menus—just what I furnish and what it costs. Anybody could order and manage when it was all set down for her. And you see—as you have figured it—they'd have over $500 leeway to buy the furniture if they were allowed to.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Bell admitted, “if the rent was what you allow, and if they all work all the time!”
“That's the hitch, of course. But mother; the girls who don't have steady jobs do work by the hour, and that brings in more, on the whole. If they are the right kind they can make good. If they find anyone who don't keep her job—for good reasons—they can drop her.”
“M'm!” said Mrs. Bell. “Well, it's an interesting experiment. But how about you? So far you are $410 behind.”
“Yes, because my rent's so big. But I cover that by letting the rooms, you see.”
Mrs. Bell considered the orders of this sort. “So far it averages about $25.00 a week; that's doing well.”
“It will be less in summer—much less,” Diantha suggested. “Suppose you call it an average of $15.00.”
“Call it $10.00,” said her mother ruthlessly. “At that it covers your deficit and $110 over.”
“Which isn't much to live on,” Diantha agreed, “but then comes my special catering, and the lunches.”
Here they were quite at sea for a while. But as the months passed, and the work steadily grew on their hands, Mrs. Bell became more and more cheerful. She was up with the earliest, took entire charge of the financial part of the concern, and at last Diantha was able to rest fully in her afternoon hours. What delighted her most was to see her mother thrive in the work. Her thin shoulders lifted a little as small dragging tasks were forgotten and a large growing business substituted. Her eyes grew bright again, she held her head as she did in her keen girlhood, and her daughter felt fresh hope and power as she saw already the benefit of the new method as affecting her nearest and dearest.
All Diantha's friends watched the spread of the work with keenly sympathetic intent; but to Mrs. Weatherstone it became almost as fascinating as to the girl herself.
“It's going to be one of the finest businesses in the world!” she said, “And one of the largest and best paying. Now I'll have a surprise ready for that girl in the spring, and another next year, if I'm not mistaken!”
There were long and vivid discussions of the matter between her and her friends the Pornes, and Mrs. Porne spent more hours in her “drawing room” than she had for years.
But while these unmentioned surprises were pending, Mrs. Weatherstone departed to New York—to Europe; and was gone some months. In the spring she returned, in April—which is late June in Orchardina. She called upon Diantha and her mother at once, and opened her attack.
“I do hope, Mrs. Bell, that you'll back me up,” she said. “You have the better business head I think, in the financial line.”
“She has,” Diantha admitted. “She's ten times as good as I am at that; but she's no more willing to carry obligation than I am, Mrs. Weatherstone.”
“Obligation is one thing—investment is another,” said her guest. “I live on my money—that is, on other people's work. I am a base capitalist, and you seem to me good material to invest in. So—take it or leave it—I've brought you an offer.”
She then produced from her hand bag some papers, and, from her car outside, a large object carefully boxed, about the size and shape of a plate warmer. This being placed on the table before them, was uncovered, and proved to be a food container of a new model.
“I had one made in Paris,” she explained, “and the rest copied here to save paying duty. Lift it!”
They lifted it in amazement—it was so light.
“Aluminum,” she said, proudly, “Silver plated—new process! And bamboo at the corners you see. All lined and interlined with asbestos, rubber fittings for silver ware, plate racks, food compartments—see?”
She pulled out drawers, opened little doors, and rapidly laid out a table service for five.
“It will hold food for five—the average family, you know. For larger orders you'll have to send more. I had to make some estimate.”
“What lovely dishes!” said Diantha.
“Aren't they! Aluminum, silvered! If your washers are careful they won't get dented, and you can't break 'em.”
Mrs. Bell examined the case and all its fittings with eager attention.
“It's the prettiest thing I ever saw,” she said. “Look, Diantha; here's for soup, here's for water—or wine if you want, all your knives and forks at the side, Japanese napkins up here. Its lovely, but—I should think—expensive!”
Mrs. Weatherstone smiled. “I've had twenty-five of them made. They cost, with the fittings, $100 apiece, $2,500. I will rent them to you, Miss Bell, at a rate of 10 per cent. interest; only $250 a year!”
“It ought to take more,” said Mrs. Bell, “there'll be breakage and waste.”
“You can't break them, I tell you,” said the cheerful visitor, “and dents can be smoothed out in any tin shop—you'll have to pay for it;—will that satisfy you?”
Diantha was looking at her, her eyes deep with gratitude. “I—you know what I think of you!” she said.
Mrs. Weatherstone laughed. “I'm not through yet,” she said. “Look at my next piece of impudence!” This was only on paper, but the pictures were amply illuminating.
“I went to several factories,” she gleefully explained, “here and abroad. A Yankee firm built it. It's in my garage now!”
It was a light gasolene motor wagon, the body built like those old-fashioned moving wagons which were also used for excursions, wherein the floor of the vehicle was rather narrow, and set low, and the seats ran lengthwise, widening out over the wheels; only here the wheels were lower, and in the space under the seats ran a row of lockers opening outside. Mrs. Weatherstone smiled triumphantly.
“Now, Diantha Bell,” she said, “here's something you haven't thought of, I do believe! This estimable vehicle will carry thirty people inside easily,” and she showed them how each side held twelve, and turn-up seats accommodated six more; “and outside,”—she showed the lengthwise picture—“it carries twenty-four containers. If you want to send all your twenty-five at once, one can go here by the driver.
“Now then. This is not an obligation, Miss Bell, it is another valuable investment. I'm having more made. I expect to have use for them in a good many places. This cost pretty near $3,000, and you get it at the same good interest, for $300 a year. What's more, if you are smart enough—and I don't doubt you are,—you can buy the whole thing on installments, same as you mean to with your furniture.”
Diantha was dumb, but her mother wasn't. She thanked Mrs. Weatherstone with a hearty appreciation of her opportune help, but no less of her excellent investment.
“Don't be a goose, Diantha,” she said. “You will set up your food business in first class style, and I think you can carry it successfully. But Mrs. Weatherstone's right; she's got a new investment here that'll pay her better than most others—and be a growing thing I do believe.”
And still Diantha found it difficult to express her feelings. She had lived under a good deal of strain for many months now, and this sudden opening out of her plans was a heavenly help indeed.
Mrs. Weatherstone went around the table and sat by her. “Child,” said she, “you don't begin to realize what you've done for me—and for Isobel—and for ever so many in this town, and all over the world. And besides, don't you think anybody else can see your dream? We can't do it as you can, but we can see what it's going to mean,—and we'll help if we can. You wouldn't grudge us that, would you?”
As a result of all this the cooked food delivery service was opened at once.
“It is true that the tourists are gone, mostly,” said Mrs. Weatherstone, as she urged it, “but you see there are ever so many residents who have more trouble with servants in summer than they do in winter, and hate to have a fire in the house, too.”
So Diantha's circulars had an addition, forthwith.
These were distributed among the Orchardinians, setting their tongues wagging anew, as a fresh breeze stirs the eaves of the forest.
The stealthy inroads of lunches and evening refreshments had been deprecated already; this new kind of servant who wasn't a servant, but held her head up like anyone else (“They are as independent as—as—'salesladies,'” said one critic), was also viewed with alarm; but when even this domestic assistant was to be removed, and a square case of food and dishes substituted, all Archaic Orchardina was horrified.
There were plenty of new minds in the place, however; enough to start Diantha with seven full orders and five partial ones.
Her work at the club was now much easier, thanks to her mother's assistance, to the smoother running of all the machinery with the passing of time, and further to the fact that most of her girls were now working at summer resorts, for shorter hours and higher wages. They paid for their rooms at the club still, but the work of the house was so much lightened that each of the employees was given two weeks of vacation—on full pay.
The lunch department kept on a pretty regular basis from the patronage of resident business men, and the young manager—in her ambitious moments—planned for enlarging it in the winter. But during the summer her whole energies went to perfecting the menus and the service of her food delivery.
Mrs. Porne was the very first to order. She had been waiting impatiently for a chance to try the plan, and, with her husband, had the firmest faith in Diantha's capacity to carry it through.
“We don't save much in money,” she explained to the eager Mrs. Ree, who hovered, fascinated, over the dangerous topic, “but we do in comfort, I can tell you. You see I had two girls, paid them $12 a week; now I keep just the one, for $6. My food and fuel for the four of us (I don't count the babies either time—they remain as before), was all of $16, often more. That made $28 a week. Now I pay for three meals a day, delivered, for three of us, $15 a week—with the nurse's wages, $21. Then I pay a laundress one day, $2, and her two meals, $.50, making $23.50. Then I have two maids, for an hour a day, to clean; $.50 a day for six days, $3, and one maid Sunday, $.25. $26.75 in all. So we only make $1.25. But! there's another room! We have the cook's room for an extra guest; I use it most for a sewing room, though and the kitchen is a sort of day nursery now. The house seems as big again!”
“But the food?” eagerly inquired Mrs. Ree. “Is it as good as your own? Is it hot and tempting?”
Mrs. Ree was fascinated by the new heresy. As a staunch adherent of the old Home and Culture Club, and its older ideals, she disapproved of the undertaking, but her curiosity was keen about it.
Mrs. Porne smiled patiently. “You remember Diantha Bell's cooking I am sure, Mrs. Ree,” she said. “And Julianna used to cook for dinner parties—when one could get her. My Swede was a very ordinary cook, as most of these untrained girls are. Do take off your hat and have dinner with us,—I'll show you,” urged Mrs. Porne.
“I—O I mustn't,” fluttered the little woman. “They'll expect me at home—and—surely your—supply—doesn't allow for guests?”
“We'll arrange all that by 'phone,” her hostess explained; and she promptly sent word to the Ree household, then called up Union House and ordered one extra dinner.
“Is it—I'm dreadfully rude I know, but I'm so interested! Is it—expensive?”
Mrs. Porne smiled. “Haven't you seen the little circular? Here's one, 'Extra meals to regular patrons 25 cents.' And no more trouble to order than to tell a maid.”
Mrs. Ree had a lively sense of paltering with Satan as she sat down to the Porne's dinner table. She had seen the delivery wagon drive to the door, had heard the man deposit something heavy on the back porch, and was now confronted by a butler's tray at Mrs. Porne's left, whereon stood a neat square shining object with silvery panels and bamboo trimmings.
“It's not at all bad looking, is it?” she ventured.
“Not bad enough to spoil one's appetite,” Mr. Porne cheerily agreed.
“Open, Sesame! Now you know the worst.”
Mrs. Porne opened it, and an inner front was shown, with various small doors and drawers.
“Do you know what is in it?” asked the guest.
“No, thank goodness, I don't,” replied her hostess. “If there's anything tiresome it is to order meals and always know what's coming! That's what men get so tired of at restaurants; what they hate so when their wives ask them what they want for dinner. Now I can enjoy my dinner at my own table, just as if I was a guest.”
“It is—a tax—sometimes,” Mrs. Ree admitted, adding hastily, “But one is glad to do it—to make home attractive.”
Mr. Porne's eyes sought his wife's, and love and contentment flashed between them, as she quietly set upon the table three silvery plates.
“Not silver, surely!” said Mrs. Ree, lifting hers, “Oh, aluminum.”
“Aluminum, silver plated,” said Mr. Porne. “They've learned how to do it at last. It's a problem of weight, you see, and breakage. Aluminum isn't pretty, glass and silver are heavy, but we all love silver, and there's a pleasant sense of gorgeousness in this outfit.”
It did look rather impressive; silver tumblers, silver dishes, the whole dainty service—and so surprisingly light.
“You see she knows that it is very important to please the eye as well as the palate,” said Mr. Porne. “Now speaking of palates, let us all keep silent and taste this soup.” They did keep silent in supreme contentment while the soup lasted. Mrs. Ree laid down her spoon with the air of one roused from a lovely dream.
“Why—why—it's like Paris,” she said in an awed tone.
“Isn't it?” Mr. Porne agreed, “and not twice alike in a month, I think.”
“Why, there aren't thirty kinds of soup, are there?” she urged.
“I never thought there were when we kept servants,” said he. “Three was about their limit, and greasy, at that.”
Mrs. Porne slipped the soup plates back in their place and served the meat.
“She does not give a fish course, does she?” Mrs. Ree observed.
“Not at the table d'hote price,” Mrs. Porne answered. “We never pretended to have a fish course ourselves—do you?” Mrs. Ree did not, and eagerly disclaimed any desire for fish. The meat was roast beef, thinly sliced, hot and juicy.
“Don't you miss the carving, Mr. Porne?” asked the visitor. “I do so love to see a man at the head of his own table, carving.”
“I do miss it, Mrs. Ree. I miss it every day of my life with devout thankfulness. I never was a good carver, so it was no pleasure to me to show off; and to tell you the truth, when I come to the table, I like to eat—not saw wood.” And Mr. Porne ate with every appearance of satisfaction.
“We never get roast beef like this I'm sure,” Mrs. Ree admitted, “we can't get it small enough for our family.”
“And a little roast is always spoiled in the cooking. Yes this is far better than we used to have,” agreed her hostess.
Mrs. Ree enjoyed every mouthful of her meal. The soup was hot. The salad was crisp and the ice cream hard. There was sponge cake, thick, light, with sugar freckles on the dark crust. The coffee was perfect and almost burned the tongue.
“I don't understand about the heat and cold,” she said; and they showed her the asbestos-lined compartments and perfectly fitting places for each dish and plate. Everything went back out of sight; small leavings in a special drawer, knives and forks held firmly by rubber fittings, nothing that shook or rattled. And the case was set back by the door where the man called for it at eight o'clock.
“She doesn't furnish table linen?”
“No, there are Japanese napkins at the top here. We like our own napkins, and we didn't use a cloth, anyway.”
“And how about silver?”
“We put ours away. This plated ware they furnish is perfectly good. We could use ours of course if we wanted to wash it. Some do that and some have their own case marked, and their own silver in it, but it's a good deal of risk, I think, though they are extremely careful.”
Mrs. Ree experienced peculiarly mixed feelings. As far as food went, she had never eaten a better dinner. But her sense of Domestic Aesthetics was jarred.
“It certainly tastes good,” she said. “Delicious, in fact. I am extremely obliged to you, Mrs. Porne, I'd no idea it could be sent so far and be so good. And only five dollars a week, you say?”
“For each person, yes.”
“I don't see how she does it. All those cases and dishes, and the delivery wagon!”
That was the universal comment in Orchardina circles as the months passed and Union House continued in existence—“I don't see how she does it!”