There was a ring at the
front door-bell. Letitia,
wrought-up, nervously clutched
my arm. For a moment a sort
of paralysis seized me. Then,
alertly as a young calf, I
bounded toward the door, hope
aroused, and expectation keen.
It was rather dark in the
outside hall, and I could
not quite perceive the nature
of our visitor. But I soon
gladly realized that it was
something feminine, and as
I held the door open, a thin,
small, soiled wisp of a woman
glided in and smiled at me.
"Talar ni svensk?"
she asked, but I had no
idea what she meant. She
may have been impertinent,
or even rude, or perhaps
improper, but she looked
as though she might be a
domestic, and I led her
gently, reverently, to Letitia
in the drawing-room. I smiled
back at her, in a wild endeavor
to be sympathetic. I would
have anointed her, or bathed
her feet, or plied her with
figs and dates, or have
done anything that any nationality
craves as a welcome. As
the front door closed I
heaved a sigh of relief.
Here was probably the quintessence
of five advertisements.
Out of the mountain crept
a mouse, and quite a little
"Talar ni svensk?"
proved to be nothing more
outrageous than "Do
you speak Swedish?"
My astute little wife discovered
this intuitively. I left
them together, my mental
excuse being that women
understand each other and
that a man is unnecessary,
under the circum stances.
I had some misgivings on
the subject of Letitia and
svensk, but the universal
language of femininity is
not without its uses. I
devoutly hoped that Letitia
would be able to come to
terms, as the mere idea
of a cook who couldn't excoriate
us in English was, at that
moment, delightful. At the
end of a quarter of an hour
I strolled back to the drawing-room.
Letitia was smiling and
the hand-maiden sat grim
"I've engaged her,
Archie," said Letitia.
"She knows nothing,
as she has told me in the
few words of English that
she has picked up, but-you
remember what Aunt Julia
said about a clean slate."
I gazed at the maiden,
and reflected that while
the term "slate"
might be perfectly correct,
the adjective seemed a bit
over-enthusiastic. She was
decidely soiled, this quintessence
of a quintette of advertisements.
I said nothing, anxious
not to dampen Letitia's
"She has no references,"
continued my wife, "as
she has never been out before.
She is just a simple little
Stockholm girl. I like her
face immensely, Archie-immensely.
She is willing to begin
at once, which shows that
she is eager, and consequently
likely to suit us. Wait
for me, Archie, while I
take her to the kitchen.
Exactly why Letitia couldn't
say "Come, Gerda,"
seemed strange. She probably
thought that Kom must be
Swedish, and that it sounded
well. She certainly invented
Kom on the spur of the Scandinavian
moment, and I learned afterward
that it was correct. My
inspired Letitia! Still,
in spite of all, my opinion
is that "Come, Gerda,"
would have done just as
"Isn't it delightful?"
cried Letitia, when she
joined me later. "I
am really enthusiastic at
the idea of a Swedish girl.
I adore Scandinavia, Archie.
It always makes me think
of Ibsen. Perhaps Gerda
Lyberg-that's her name-will
be as interesting as Hedda
Gabler, and Mrs. Alving,
and Nora, and all those
lovely complex Ibsen creatures."
"They were Norwegians,
dear," I said gently,
anxious not to shatter illusions;
"the Ibsen plays deal
with Christiania, not with
"But they are so near,"
declared Letitia, amiable and seraphic
once more. "Somehow or other,
I invariably mix up Norway and Sweden
and Denmark. I know I shall always
look upon Gerda as an Ibsen girl,
who has come here to 'live her life,'
or 'work out her inheritance.' Perhaps,
dear, she has some interesting internal
disease, or a maggoty brain. Don't
you think, Archie, that the Ibsen
inheritances are always most fascinating?
A bit morbid, but surely fascinating."
"I prefer a healthy cook,
Letitia," I said meditatively,
"somebody willing to interest
herself in our inheritance, rather
than in her own."
"I don't mind what you say
now," she pouted, "I
am not to be put down by clamor.
We really have a cook at last,
and I feel more lenient toward
you, Archie. Of course I was only
joking when I suggested the Ibsen
diseases. Gerda Lyberg may have
inherited from her ancestors something
quite nice and attractive."
"Then you mustn't look upon
her as Ibsen, Letitia," I
protested. "The Ibsen people
never inherit nice things. Their
ancestors always bequeath nasty
ones. That is where their consistency
comes in. They are receptacles
for horrors. Personally, if you'll
excuse my flippancy, I prefer
Norwegian anchovies to Norwegian
heroines. It is a mere matter
"I'm ashamed of you,"
retorted Letitia defiantly. "You
talk like some of the wretchedly
frivolous criticisms, so called,
that men like Acton Davies and
Alan Dale inflict upon the long-suffering
public. They never amuse me. Ibsen
may make his heroines the recipients
of ugly legacies, but he has never
yet cursed them with the odious
incubus known as 'a sense of humor.'
The people with a sense of humor
have something in their brains
worse than maggots. We'll drop
the subject, Archie. I'm going
to learn Swedish. Before Gerda
Lyberg has been with us a month
I intend to be able to talk fluently.
It will be most useful. Next time
we go to Europe we'll take in
Sweden, and I'll do the piloting.
I am going to buy some Swedish
books, and study. Won't it be
jolly? And just think how melancholy
we were this morning, you and
I, looking out of that window,
and trying to materialize cooks.
Wasn't it funny, Archie? What
amusing experiences we shall be
able to chronicle, later on!"
Letitia babbled on like half
a dozen brooks, and thinking up
a gentle parody, in the shape
of, "cooks may come, and
men may go," I decided to
leave my household gods for the
bread-earning contest down-town.
I could not feel quite as sanguine
as Letitia, who seemed to have
forgotten the dismal results of
the advertisement-just one little
puny Swedish result. I should
have preferred to make a choice.
Letitia was as pleased with Gerda
Lyberg as though she had been
a selection instead of a that-or-nothing.
If somebody had dramatized Gerda
Lyberg's initial dinner, it would
probably have been considered
exceedingly droll. As a serious
episode, however, its humor, to
my mind, lacked spontaneity. Letitia
had asked her to cook us a little
Swedish meal, so that we could
get some idea of Stockholm life,
in which, for some reason or other,
we were supposed to be deeply
interested. Unfortunately I was
extremely hungry, and had carefully
avoided luncheon in order to give
my appetite a chance.
We sat down to a huge bowl of
cold, greasy soup, in which enormous
lumps of meat swam, as though
for their life, awaiting rescue
at the prongs of a fork. In addition
to this epicurean dish was a teeming
plate of water-soaked potatoes,
delicately boiled. That was all.
Letitia said that it was Swedish,
and the most annoying part of
the entertainment was that I was
alone in my critical disapprobation.
Letitia was so engrossed with
a little Swedish conversation
book that she brought to table
that she forgot the mere material
question of food-forgot everything
but the horrible jargon she was
studying, and the soiled, wisp-like
maiden, who looked more unlike
a clean slate than ever.
"What shall I say to her,
Archie?" asked Letitia, turning
over the pages of her book, as I
tried to rescue a block of meat
from the cold fat in which it lurked.
"Here is a chapter on dinner.
'I am very hungry,' 'Jag дr myckel
hungrig.' Rather pretty, isn't it?
Hark at this: 'Kypare gif mig matsedeln
och vinlistan.' That means: 'Waiter,
give me the bill of fare, and the
list of wines.'"
"Don't," I cried; "don't.
This woman doesn't know what dining
means. Look out a chapter on feeding."
Letitia was perfectly unruffled.
She paid no attention to me whatsoever.
She was fascinated with the slovenly
girl, who stood around and gaped
at her Swedish.
"Gerda," said Letitia,
with her eyes on the book, "Gif
mir apven senap och nдgra potдter."
And then, as Miss Lyberg dived
for the drowned potatoes, Letitia
exclaimed in an ecstasy of joy,
"She understands, Archie,
she understands. I feel I am going
to be a great success. Jag tackar,
Gerda. That means 'I thank you,'
Jag tackar. See if you can say
it, Archie. Just try, dear, to
oblige me. Jag tackar. Now, that's
a good boy, jag tackar."
"I won't," I declared
spitefully. "No jag tackaring
for a parody like this, Letitia.
You don't seem to realize that
I'm hungry. Honestly, I prefer
a delicatessen dinner to this."
"'Pray, give me a piece
of venison,'" read Letitia,
absolutely disregarding my mood.
"'Var god och gif mig ett
stycke vildt.' It is almost intelligible,
isn't it, dear? 'Ni дter icke':
you do not eat."
"I can't," I asserted
mournfully, anxious to gain Letitia's
It was not forthcoming. Letitia's
eyes were fastened on Gerda, and
I could not help noting on the
woman's face an expression of
scorn. I felt certain of it. She
appeared to regard my wife as
a sort of irresponsible freak,
and I was vexed to think that
Letitia should make such an exhibition
of herself, and countenance the
alleged meal that was set before
"'I have really dined very
well,'" she continued joyously.
"Jag har verkligen atit mycket
"If you are quite sure that
she doesn't understand English,
Letitia," I said viciously,
"I'll say to you that this
is a kind of joke I don't appreciate.
I won't keep such a woman in the
house. Let us put on our things
and go out and have dinner. Better
late than never."
Letitia was turning over the
pages of her book, quite lost
to her surroundings. As I concluded
my remarks she looked up and exclaimed,
"How very funny, Archie.
Just as you said 'Better late
than never,' I came across that
very phrase in the list of Swedish
proverbs. It must be telepathy,
dear. 'Better late than never,'
'Battre sent дn aldrig.' What
were you saying on the subject,
dear? Will you repeat it? And
do try it in Swedish. Say 'Battre
sent дn aldrig.'"
"Letitia," I shot forth
in a fury, "I'm not in the
humor for this sort of thing. I
think this dinner and this woman
are rotten. See if you can find
the word rotten in Swedish."
"I am surprised at you,"
Letitia declared glacially, roused
from her book by my heroic though
unparliamentary language. "Your
expressions are neither English
nor Swedish. Please don't use
such gutter-words before a servant,
to say nothing of your own wife."
"But she doesn't understand,"
I protested, glancing at Miss
Lyberg. I could have sworn that
I detected a gleam in the woman's
eyes and that the sphinx-like
attitude of dull incomprehensibility
suggested a strenuous effort.
"She doesn't understand anything.
She doesn't want to understand."
"In a week from now,"
said Letitia, "she will understand
everything perfectly, for I shall
be able to talk with her. Oh,
Archie, do be agreeable. Can't
you see that I am having great
fun? Don't be such a greedy boy.
If you could only enter into the
spirit of the thing, you wouldn't
be so oppressed by the food question.
Oh, dear! How important it does
seem to be to men. Gerda, hur
gammal дr ni?"
The maiden sullenly left the
room, and I felt convinced that
Letitia had Swedishly asked her
to do so. I was wrong. "Hur
gammal дr ni," Letitia explained,
simply meant, "How old are
"She evidently didn't want
to tell me," was my wife's
comment, as we went to the drawing-room.
"I imagine, dear, that she
doesn't quite like the idea of
my ferreting out Swedish so persistently.
But I intend to persevere. The
worst of conversation books is
that one acquires a language in
such a parroty way. Now, in my
book, the only answer to the question
'How old are you?' is, 'I was
born on the tenth of August, 1852.'
For the life of me, I couldn't
vary that, and it would be most
embarrassing. It would make me
fifty-two. If any one asked me
in Swedish how old I was, I should
have to be fifty-two!"
"When I think of my five
advertisements," I said lugubriously,
as I threw myself into an arm-chair,
fatigued at my efforts to discover
dinner, "when I remember
our expectation, and the pleasant
anticipations of to-day, I feel
very bitter, Letitia. Just to
think that from it all nothing
has resulted but that beastly
mummy, that atrocious ossified
"Archie, Archie!" said
my wife warningly; "please
be calm. Perhaps I was too engrossed
with my studies to note the deficiencies
of dinner. But do remember that
I pleaded with her for a Swedish
meal. The poor thing did what
I asked her to do. Our dinner
was evidently Swedish. It was
not her fault that I asked for
it. To-morrow, dear, it shall
be different. We had better stick
to the American regime. It is
more satisfactory to you. At any
rate, we have somebody in the
house, and if our five advertisements
had brought forth five hundred
applicants we should only have
kept one. So don't torture yourself,
Archie. Try and imagine that we
had five hundred applicants, and
that we selected Gerda Lyberg."
"I can't, Letitia,"
I said sulkily, and I heaved a
"Come," she said soothingly,
"come and study Swedish with
me. It will be most useful for
your Lives of Great Men. You can
read up the Swedes in the original.
I'll entertain you with this book,
and you'll forget all about Mrs.
Potz-I mean Gerda Lyberg. By-the-by,
Archie, she doesn't remind me
so much of Hedda Gabler. I don't
fancy that she is very subtile."
"You, Letitia," I retorted,
"remind me of Mrs. Nickleby.
You ramble on so."
Letitia looked offended. She
always declared that Dickens "got
on her nerves." She was one
of the new-fashioned readers who
have learned to despise Dickens.
Personally, I regretted only his
nauseating sense of humor. Letitia
placed a cushion behind my head,
smoothed my forehead, kissed me,
made her peace, and settled down
by my side. Lack of nourishment
made me drowsy, and Letitia's
babblings sounded vague and muffled.
"It is a most inclusive little
book," she said, "and
if I can succeed in memorizing it
all I shall be quite at home with
the language. In fact, dear, I think
I shall always keep Swedish cooks.
Hark at this: 'If the wind be favorable,
we shall be at Gothenburg in forty
hours.' 'Om vinden дr god, sa дro
vi pa pyrtio timmar i Goteborg.'
I think it is sweetly pretty. 'You
are seasick.' 'Steward, bring me
a glass of brandy and water.' 'We
are now entering the harbor.' 'We
are now anchoring.' 'Your passports,
A comfortable lethargy was stealing
o'er me. Letitia took a pencil
and paper, and made notes as she
plied the book. "A chapter
on 'seeing a town' is most interesting,
Archie. Of course, it must be
a Swedish town. 'Do you know the
two private galleries of Mr. Smith,
the merchant, and Mr. Muller,
the chancellor?' 'To-morrow morning
I wish to see all the public buildings
and statues.' 'Statyerna' is Swedish
for statues, Archie. Are you listening,
dear? 'We will visit the Church
of the Holy Ghost, at two, then
we will make an excursion on Lake
Mдlan and see the fortress of
Vaxholm.' It is a charming little
book. Don't you think that it
is a great improvement on the
old Ollendorff system? I don't
find nonsensical sentences like
'The hat of my aunt's sister is
blue, but the nose of my brother-in-law's
sister-in-law is red.'"
I rose and stretched myself.
Letitia was still plunged in the
irritating guide to Sweden, where
I vowed I would never go. Nothing
on earth should ever induce me
to visit Sweden. If it came to
a choice between Hoboken and Stockholm,
I mentally determined to select
the former. As I paced the room
I heard a curious splashing noise
in the kitchen. Letitia's studies
must have dulled her ears. She
was evidently too deeply engrossed.
I strolled nonchalantly into
the hall, and proceeded deliberately
toward the kitchen. The thick
carpet deadened my footsteps.
The splashing noise grew louder.
The kitchen door was closed. I
gently opened it. As I did so
a wild scream rent the air. There
stood Gerda Lyberg in-in-my pen
declines to write it-a simple
unsophisticated birthday dress,
taking an ingenuous reluctant
bath in the "stationary tubs,"
with the plates, and dishes, and
dinner things grouped artistically
The instant she saw me she modestly
seized a dish-towel and shouted
at the top of her voice. The kitchen
was filled with the steam from
the hot water. 'Venus arising'
looked nebulous, and mystic. I
beat a hasty retreat, aghast at
the revelation, and almost fell
against Letitia, who, dropping
her conversation book, came to
see what had happened.
"She's bathing!" I
gasped, "in the kitchen-among
the plates-near the soup-"
"Never!" cried Letitia.
Then, melodramatically: "Let
me pass. Stand aside, Archie.
I'll go and see. Perhaps-perhaps-you
had better come with me."
"Letitia," I gurgled,
"I'm shocked! She has nothing
on but a dish-towel."
Letitia paused irresolutely for
a second, and going into the kitchen
shut the door. The splashing noise
ceased. I heard the sound of voices,
or rather of a voice-Letitia's!
Evidently she had forgotten Swedish,
and such remarks as "If the
wind be favorable, we shall be at
Gothenburg in forty hours."
I listened attentively, and could
not even hear her say "We will
visit the Church of the Holy Ghost
at two." It is strange how
the stress of circumstances alters
the complexion of a conversation
book! All the evening she had studied
Swedish, and yet suddenly confronted
by a Swedish lady bathing in our
kitchen, dish-toweled but unashamed,
all she could find to say was "How
disgusting!" and "How
disgraceful!" in English!
"You see," said Letitia,
when she emerged, "she is
just a simple peasant girl, and
only needs to be told. It is very
horrid, of course."
I chimed in.
"Of course-certainly unappetizing.
I couldn't think of anything Swedish
to say, but I said several things
in English. She was dreadfully
sorry that you had seen her, and
never contemplated such a possibility.
After all, Archie, bathing is
not a crime."
"And we were hunting for
a clean slate," I suggested
satirically. "Do you think,
Letitia, that she also takes a
cold bath in the morning, among
the bacon and eggs, and things?"
"That is enough," said
Letitia sternly. "The episode
need not serve as an excuse for
It was with the advent of Gerda
Lyberg that we became absolutely
certain, beyond the peradventure
of any doubt, that there was such
a thing as the servant question.
The knowledge had been gradually
wafted in upon us, but it was
not until the lady from Stockholm
had definitively planted herself
in our midst that we admitted
to ourselves openly, unblushingly,
that the problem existed. Gerda
blazoned forth the enigma in all
its force and defiance.
The remarkable thing about our
latest acquisition was the singularly
blank state of her gastronomic
mind. There was nothing that she
knew. Most women, and a great
many men, intuitively recognize
the physical fact that water,
at a certain temperature, boils.
Miss Lyberg, apparently seeking
to earn her living in the kitchen,
had no certain views as to when
the boiling point was reached.
Rumors seemed vaguely to have
reached her that things called
eggs dropped into water would,
in the course of time-any time,
and generally less than a week-become
eatable. Letitia bought a little
egg-boiler for her-one of those
antique arrangements in which
the sands of time play to the
soft-boiled egg. The maiden promptly
boiled it with the eggs, and undoubtedly
thought that the hen, in a moment
of perturbation, or aberration,
had laid it. I say "thought"
because it is the only term I
can use. It is, perhaps, inappropriate
in connection with Gerda.
Potatoes, subjected to the action
of hot water, grow soft. She was
certain of that. Whether she tested
them with the poker, or with her
hands or feet, we never knew.
I inclined to the last suggestion.
The situation was quite marvelous.
Here was an alleged worker, in
a particular field, asking the
wages of skilled labor, and densely
ignorant of every detail connected
with her task. It seemed unique.
Carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers,
seamstresses, dressmakers, laundresses-all
the sowers and reapers in the
little garden of our daily needs,
were forced by the inexorable
law of competition to possess
some inkling of the significance
of their undertakings. With the
cook it was different.
She could step jubilantly into
any kitchen without the slightest
idea of what she was expected to
do there. If she knew that water
was wet and that fire was hot, she
felt amply primed to demand a salary.
Impelled by her craving for Swedish
literature, Letitia struggled
with Miss Lyberg. Compared with
the Swede, my exquisitely ignorant
wife was a culinary queen. She
was an epicurean caterer. Letitia's
slate-pencil coffee was ambrosia
for the gods, sweetest nectar,
by the side of the dishwater that
cook prepared. I began to feel
quite proud of her. She grew to
be an adept in the art of boiling
water. If we could have lived
on that fluid, everything would
have moved clockworkily.
"I've discovered one thing,"
said Letitia on the evening of
the third day. "The girl
is just a peasant, probably a
worker in the fields. That is
why she is so ignorant."
I thought this reasoning foolish.
"Even peasants eat, my dear,"
I muttered. "She must have
seen somebody cook something.
Field-workers have good appetites.
If this woman ever ate, what did
she eat and why can't we have
the same? We have asked her for
no luxuries. We have arrived at
the stage, my poor girl, when
all we need is, prosaically, to
'fill up.' You have given her
opportunities to offer us samples
of peasant food. The result has
"It is odd," Letitia
declared, a wrinkle of perplexity
appearing in the smooth surface
of her forehead. "Of course,
she says she doesn't understand
me. And yet, Archie, I have talked
to her in pure Swedish."
"I suppose you said, 'Pray
give me a piece of venison,' from
the conversation book."
"Don't be ridiculous, Archie.
I know the Swedish for cauliflower,
green peas, spinach, a leg of
mutton, mustard, roast meat, soup,
"'If the wind be favorable,
we shall be at Gothenburg in forty
hours,'" I interrupted. She
was silent, and I went on: "It
seems a pity to end your studies
in Swedish, Letitia, but fascinating
though they be, they do not really
necessitate our keeping this barbarian.
You can always pursue them, and
exercise on me. I don't mind.
Even with an American cook, if
such a being exist, you could
still continue to ask for venison
steak in Swedish, and to look
forward to arriving at Gothenburg
in forty hours."
Letitia declined to argue. My
mood was that known as cranky.
We were in the drawing-room, after
what we were compelled to call
dinner. It had consisted of steak
burned to cinders, potatoes soaked
to a pulp, and a rice pudding
that looked like a poultice the
morning after, and possibly tasted
like one. Letitia had been shopping,
and was therefore unable to supervise.
Our delicate repast was capped
by "black" coffee of
an indefinite straw-color, and
with globules of grease on the
surface. People who can feel elated
with the joy of living, after
a dinner of this description,
are assuredly both mentally and
Men and women there are who will
say: "Oh, give me anything.
I'm not particular-so long as
it is plain and wholesome."
I've met many of these people.
My experience of them is that
they are the greatest gluttons
on earth, with veritably voracious
appetites, and that the best isn't
good enough for them. To be sure,
at a pinch, they will demolish
a score of potatoes, if there
be nothing else; but offer them
caviare, canvas-back duck, quail,
and nesselrode pudding, and they
will look askance at food that
is plain and wholesome. The "plain
and wholesome" liver is a
snare and a delusion, like the
"bluff and genial" visitor
whose geniality veils all sorts
of satire and merciless comment.
Letitia and I both felt weak and
miserable. We had made up our minds
not to dine out. We were resolved
to keep the home up, even if, in
return, the home kept us down. Give
in, we wouldn't. Our fighting blood
was up. We firmly determined not
to degenerate into that clammy American
institution, the boarding-house
feeder and the restaurant diner.
We knew the type; in the feminine,
it sits at table with its bonnet
on, and a sullen gnawing expression
of animal hunger; in the masculine,
it puts its own knife in the butter,
and uses a toothpick. No cook-no
lack of cook-should drive us to
these abysmal depths.
Letitia made no feint at Ovid.
I simply declined to breathe the
breath of The Lives of Great Men.
She read a sweet little classic
called "The Table; How to
Buy Food, How to Cook It, and
How to Serve It," by Alessandro
Filippini-a delightful table-d'hote-y
name. I lay back in my chair and
frowned, waiting until Letitia
chose to break the silence. As
she was a most chattily inclined
person on all occasions, I reasoned
that I should not have to wait
long. I was right.
"Archie," said she,
"according to this book,
there is no place in the civilized
world that contains so large a
number of so-called high-livers
as New York City, which was educated
by the famous Delmonico and his
"Great Heaven!" I exclaimed
with a groan, "why rub it
in, Letitia? I should also say
that no city in the world contained
so large a number of low-livers."
"'Westward the course of
Empire sways,'" she read,
"'and the great glory of
the past has departed from those
centers where the culinary art
at one time defied all rivals.
The scepter of supremacy has passed
into the hands of the metropolis
of the New World.'"
"What sickening cant!"
I cried. "What fiendishly
exaggerated restaurant talk! There
are perhaps fifty fine restaurants
in New York. In Paris there are
five hundred finer. Here we have
places to eat in; there they have
artistic resorts to dine in. One
can dine anywhere in Paris. In
New York, save for those fifty
fine restaurants, one feeds. Don't
read any more of your cook-book
to me, my girl. It is written
to catch the American trade, with
the subtile pen of flattery."
"Try and be patriotic, dear,"
she said soothingly. "Of
course, I know you wouldn't allow
a Frenchman to say all that, and
that you are just talking cussedly
with your own wife."
A ring at the bell caused a diversion.
We hailed it. We were in the humor
to hail anything. The domestic
hearth was most trying. We were
bored to death. I sprang up and
ran to the door, a little pastime
to which I was growing accustomed.
Three tittering young women, each
wearing a hat in which roses,
violets, poppies, cornflowers,
forget-me-nots, feathers and ribbons
ran riot, confronted me.
"Miss Gerda Lyberg?"
said the foremost, who wore a
bright red gown, and from whose
hat six spiteful poppies lurched
forward and almost hit me in the
For a moment, dazed from the
cook-book, I was nonplussed. All
I could say was "No,"
meaning that I wasn't Miss Gerda
Lyberg. I felt so sure that I
wasn't that I was about to close
"She lives here, I believe,"
asserted the damsel, again shooting
forth the poppies.
I came to myself with an effort.
"She is the-the cook,"
I muttered weakly.
"We are her friends,"
quoth the damsel, an indignant
inflection in her voice. "Kindly
let us in. We've come to the Thursday
The three bedizened ladies entered
without further parley and went
toward the kitchen, instinctively
recognizing its direction. I was
amazed. I heard a noisy greeting,
a peal of laughter, a confusion
of tongues, and then-I groped my
way back to Letitia.
"They've come to the Thursday
sociable!" I cried.
"Who?" she asked in
astonishment, and I imparted to
her the full extent of my knowledge.
Letitia took it very nicely. She
had always heard, she said, in
fact Mrs. Archer had told her,
that Thursday nights were festival
occasions with the Swedes. She
thought it rather a pleasant and
convivial notion. Servants must
enjoy themselves, after all. Better
a happy gathering of girls than
a rowdy collection of men. Letitia
thought the idea felicitous. She
had no objections to giving privileges
to a cook. Nor had I, for the
matter of that. I ventured to
remark, however, that Gerda didn't
seem to be a cook.
"Then let us call her a
'girl,'" said Letitia.
"Gerda is a girl, only because
she isn't a boy," I remarked
tauntingly. "If by 'girl'
you even mean servant, then Gerda
isn't a girl. Goodness knows what
she is. Hello! Another ring!"
This time Miss Lyberg herself
went to the door, and we listened.
More arrivals for the sociable;
four Swedish guests, all equally
gaily attired in flower hats.
Some of them wore bangles, the
noise of which, in the hall, sounded
like an infuriation of sleigh-bells.
They were Christina and Sophie
and Sadie and Alexandra-as we
soon learned. It was wonderful
how welcome Gerda made them, and
how quickly they were "at
home." They rustled through
the halls, chatting and laughing
and humming. Such merry girls!
Such light-hearted little charmers!
Letitia stood looking at them
through the crack of the drawing-room
door. Perhaps it was just as well
that somebody should have a good
time in our house.
"Just the same, Letitia,"
I observed, galled, "I think
I should say to-morrow that this
invasion is most impertinent-most
"Yes, Archie," said
Letitia demurely, "you think
you should say it. But please
don't think I shall, for I assure
you that I shan't. I suppose that
we must discharge her. She can't
do anything and she doesn't want
to learn. I don't blame her. She
can always get the wages she asks
by doing nothing. You would pursue
a similar policy, Archie, if it
were possible. Everybody would.
But all other laborers must know
how to labor."
I was glad to hear Letitia echoing
my sentiments. She was quite unconsciously
plagiarizing. Once again she took
up the cook-book. The sound of
merrymaking in the kitchen drifted
in upon us. From what we could
gather, Gerda seemed to be "dressing
up" for the delectation of
her guests. Shrieks of laughter
and clapping of hands made us
wince. My nerves were on edge.
Had any one at that moment dared
to suggest that there was even
a suspicion of humor in these
proceedings I should have slain
him without compunction. Letitia
was less irate and tried to comfort
Letitia sighed, and shut up the
cook-book. Eggs а la reine seemed
as difficult as trigonometry, or
conic sections, or differential
calculus-and much more expensive.
Certainly the eight giggling cooks
in the kitchen, now at the very
height of their exhilaration, worried
themselves little about such concoctions.
My nerves again began to play pranks.
The devilish pandemonium infuriated
me. Letitia was tired and wanted
to go to bed. I was tired and hungry
and disillusioned. It was close
upon midnight and the Swedish Thursday
was about over. I thought it unwise
to allow them even an initial minute
When the clock struck twelve,
I marched majestically to the
kitchen, threw open the door,
revealed the octette in the enjoyment
of a mound of ice-cream and a
mountain of cake-that in my famished
condition made my mouth water-and
announced in a severe, yet subdued
tone, that the revel must cease.
"You must go at once,"
I said, "I am going to shut
up the house."
Then I withdrew and waited. There
was a delay, during which a Babel
of tongues was let loose, and
then Miss Lyberg's seven guests
were heard noisily leaving the
house. Two minutes later, there
was a knock at our door and Miss
Lyberg appeared, her eyes blazing,
her face flushed and the expression
of the hunted antelope defiantly
asserting that it would never
be brought to bay, on her perspiring
"You've insulted my guests!"
she cried, in English as good
as my own. "I've had to turn
them out of the house, and I've
had about enough of this place."
Letitia's face was a psychological
study. Amazement, consternation,
humiliation-all seemed determined
to possess her. Here was the obtuse
Swede, for whose dear sake she
had dallied with the intricacies
of the language of Stockholm,
furiously familiar with admirable
English! The dense, dumb Scandinavian-the
lady of the "me no understand"
rejoinder-apparently had the "gift
of tongues." Letitia trembled.
Rarely have I seen her so thoroughly
perturbed. Yet seemingly she was
unwilling to credit the testimony
of her own ears, for with sudden
energy, she confronted Miss Lyberg,
and exclaimed imperiously, in
Swedish that was either pure or
impure: "Tig. Ga din vдg!"
"Ah, come off!" cried
the handmaiden insolently. "I
understand English. I haven't
been in this country fifteen years
for nothing. It's just on account
of folks like you that poor hard-working
girls, who ain't allowed to take
no baths or entertain no lady
friends, have to protect themselves.
Pretend not to understand them,
says I. I've found it worked before
this. If they think you don't
understand 'em, they'll let you
alone and stop worriting. It's
like your impidence to turn my
lady-friends out of this flat.
It's like your impidence. I'll-"
Letitia's crestfallen look, following
upon her perturbation, completely
upset me. A wave of indignation
swamped me. I advanced, and in
another minute Miss Gerda Lyberg
would have found herself in the
hall, impelled there by a persuasive
hand upon her shoulder. However,
it was not to be.
"You just lay a hand on me,"
she said with cold deliberation,
and a smile, "and I'll have
you arrested for assault. Oh, I
know the law. I haven't been in
this country fifteen years for nothing.
The law looks after poor weak, Swedish
girls. Just push me out. It's all
I ask. Just you push me out."
She edged up to me defiantly.
My blood boiled. I would have
mortgaged the prospects of my
Lives of Great Men (not that they
were worth mortgaging) for the
exquisite satisfaction of confounding
this abominable woman. Then I
saw the peril of the situation.
I thought of horrid headliners
in the papers: "Author charged
with abusing servant girl,"
or, "Arrest of Archibald
Fairfax on serious charge,"
and my mood changed.
"I understood you all the
time," continued Miss Lyberg
insultingly. "I listened
to you. I knew what you thought
of me. Now I'm telling you what
I think of you. The idea of turning
out my lady-friends, on a Thursday
night, too! And me a-slaving for
them, and a-bathing for them,
and a-treating them to ice cream
and cake, and in me own kitchen.
You ain't no lady. As for you"-I
seemed to be her particular pet-"when
I sees a man around the house
all the time, a-molly-coddling
and a-fussing, I says to myself,
he ain't much good if he can't
trust the women folk alone."
We stood there like dummies,
listening to the tirade. What
could we do? To be sure, there
were two of us, and we were in
our own house. The antagonist,
however, was a servant, not in
her own house. The situation,
for reasons that it is impossible
to define, was hers. She knew
it, too. We allowed her full sway,
because we couldn't help it. The
sympathy of the public, in case
of violent measures, would not
have been on our side. The poor
domestic, oppressed and enslaved,
would have appealed to any jury
of married men, living luxuriously
in cheap boarding-houses!
When she left us, as she did
when she was completely ready
to do so, Letitia began to cry.
The sight of her tears unnerved
me, and I checked a most unfeeling
remark that I intended to make
to the effect that, "if the
wind be favorable, we shall be
at Gothenburg in forty hours."
"It's not that I mind her
insolence," she sobbed, "we
were going to send her off anyway,
weren't we? But it's so humiliating
to be 'done.' We've been 'done.'
Here have I been working hard
at Swedish-writing exercises,
learning verbs, studying proverbs-just
to talk to a woman who speaks
English as well as I do. It's-it's-so-so-mor-mortifying."
"Never mind, dear,"
I said, drying her eyes for her;
"the Swedish will come in
handy some day."
"No," she declared
vehemently, "don't say that
you'll take me to Sweden. I wouldn't
go to the hateful country. It's
a hideous language, anyway, isn't
it, Archie? It is a nasty, laconic,
ugly tongue. You heard me say
Tig to her just now. Tig means
'be silent.' Could anything sound
more repulsive? Tig! Tig! Ugh!"
Letitia stamped her foot. She
was exceeding wroth.
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