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Mysteries and Miseries of Housekeeping by Jonathan F. Kelley


People of experience tell awful stories about the miseries of boarding, and boarding-houses, and it is very clearly palpable to us that keepers of boarding-houses could a tale unfold of their own miseries, equal, if not double that of the luckless creatures who board. That housekeeping has its joys it would be vain to deny, but we need no ghost come from the grave to inform us that the secrets of the kitchen are as numerous and as harrowing, as all can attest that ever had occasion to keep house or hire a “Betty.”

When Mr. Peter Perriwinkle got married, he exclaimed against hotels, and abominated boarding-houses; quitting both species of human habitations, he “up” and rented a house, and to hear his glowing description of the house—such a cosy little three-storied brick house, on a street too broad for the neighbors opposite to see into his front parlors, and no houses in the rear from which the prying eye of the curious and idle could spy into back kitchen closets or dinner pots—in brief, Perriwinkle went on with that strain of domestic eloquence, peculiar to new beginners in the arts and mysteries of housekeeping, and after a general detail of the quiet comfort and unalloyed happiness he and Mrs. P. were bound to enjoy for the balance of their lives, we merely observed—

“Ah, my dear sir, you've but the ephemeral bright side of your vision yet. But no matter, dear Pete, as the man said of the sausages—hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.”

“But, brother Jack, I've no reason to look for any thing but a good time. Haven't I married one of the best women in the world? I'm too experienced in life, my boy, to call any female women angels, doves, or sugar plums, you know, but my wife is a real woman!”

“Yes, Pete, she is all that,” said we.

“Well, ain't I square with the world? Enough laid up for a wet day—don't care twopence ha'penny for politics, or soldier fol-de-rols—who wins or who loses in such hums?”

“Granted, old fellow.”

“I tell you I've a perfect little paradise of a house engaged, furnished and provisioned for a twelvemonth.”

“No doubt of all that.”

“As to friends and acquaintances, I have plenty, and of the right stripe, too; I'd swear to that without any reluctance.”

“I hope, Peter, you have.”

“Then what in faith do you imagine I have in embryo to upset or disturb the even tenor of my way, old boy? Come, answer that.”

“Does your domestic apparatus work well?”

“I haven't tried it yet.”

“Are your appurtenances—your household appointments—from kitchen to parlor, from coal cellar to top scuttle, all they are cracked up to be?”

“Well, you see, the fact is, I can't tell that, yet.”

“Do your chimneys draw? Does your range or cooking stove do things up brown? Have you got your Bettys?”

“I vow you've sort of got me this time, brother Jack; but I'll find out, soon, and let you know.”

“Do, if you please, Peter, and let us hear an account of how things are working after the first quarter's experience.”

Perriwinkle opened with a neat supper party. We attended, and every thing looked cap-a-pie; new, tasteful and happy as any thing human under God's providence and the art and judgment of man could promise. At midnight the company dispersed, all wishing the Perriwinkles life, love, and lots of the small fry.

Months passed, full three; we met our old and familiar friend, Peter Perriwinkle, and as we had not seen him for some time, we met with greetings most cordial.

“How is every thing, old boy—paradise regained?”

“Ah,” said Peter, with an ominous shake of the head, “dear Jack,—we've a great deal to learn in this world, and as our old friend Sam Veller says, whether its worth while to pay so much to learn so little, at cost—is a question.”

“You begin to think so, eh?”

“Things don't work quite so smooth as I expected—I've moved!”

“What? Not so soon?”

“Yes, sir,” said Perriwinkle; “that house was a nuisance!”

“A nuisance? Why, I thought you were in raptures with it?”

“Had water every wet spell, knee-deep in the cellar; full of rats, bugs, and foul air.”

“You don't say so?”

“Yes, I do,” said Perriwinkle, mournfully. “Chimneys smoked, paper peeled off the walls, Mrs. P. got the rheumatics, a turner worked all night, next door, the fellow that had previously lived or stayed in the house, ran off, leaving all his bills unpaid, and our door bell was incessantly kept ringing by ugly and impudent duns, and the creditors of the rascal, whom I did not know from a side of sole leather. I lived there in purgatory!”

“Too bad,” said we. “Well, you've moved, eh?”

“Moved—and such an infernal job as it was. You know the two vases I received as a present from my brother, at Leghorn; I wouldn't have taken $100 each, for them—”

“They are worth it; more too.”

“The carman dropped one out of his hands, broke it into a half bushel of flinders, and I hit the centre table upon which the other stood, with a chair, and broke it into forty pieces. But, that wasn't any thing, sir. My wife packed up the elegant set of china presented her by her sister, in a large clothes basket, and set it out in the hall, and while our Irish girl and the carman were carrying out a heavy trunk, the girl lost her balance and fell bump into the basket. She weighed over two hundred pounds—every article of the china was crushed into powder!”

“This was too bad,” said we, condolingly.

“Our carpets were torn in getting them up, for I had them put down fast and tight, never supposing they'd come up until thread-bare and out of fashion; they were stained and daubed. The veneering of the piano and other furniture is scratched and torn; a hundred small matters are mutilated. Franklin thought a few moves was as bad as a fire; one move convinces me that the old man was right. But, my dear fellow, I won't bore you with my miseries. We are now moved, and look comfortable again. Call and see us, do. Good bye.”

About a fortnight after meeting Perriwinkle, one evening we went up town to see him and his lady. Mrs. P., before marriage, was an uncommon even-tempered and most amiable woman. She had now been married about six months. Upon entering the parlor we found Mrs. P. laboring under much “excitement,” and poor Peter—he was doing his best to pacify and soothe her—

“Halloo! what's the trouble?”—we were familiar enough to ask the question—as they were alone, without intruding.

“Take a seat, John,” said Perriwinkle. “Mrs. P. and the cook have had a misunderstanding. A little muss, that's all.”

“Mr. Humphries,” responded the irritated wife, “you don't know how one's temper and good nature are put out, sir, by housekeeping; by the impudence, awkwardness, and wasteful habits of servants, sir.”

“Oh! yes, we do, Mrs. P.; we've had our experience,” we replied.

“Well, sir,” she continued, “I have suffered so in ordering, directing, and watching these women and girls—had my feelings so outraged by them, time and again, since we began housekeeping, that I vow I am out of all manner of patience and charity for them. We have had occasion to change our help so often, that I finally concluded to submit to the awkwardness that cost us sets of china, dozens of glasses, stained carpets, soiled paints, smeared walls, rugs upon the top of the piano, and the piano cloths put down for rugs; Mr. P.'s best linen used for mops, and puddings boiled in night-caps. But, sir, when this evening I found the dough-tray filled with the chambermaid's old clothes, she wiping the lamps with our linen napkins, and the cook washing out her stockings in the dinner pot—I gave way to my angry passions, and cried with vexation!”

And she really did cry, for female blood of Mrs. P.'s pilgrim stock, couldn't stand that, nohow.

P. S.—Perriwinkle and lady sold off, and took rooms at the Tremont House, in order to preserve their morals and money.


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