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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHouse - Chapter 22. The Butler's Pantry
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House - Chapter 22. The Butler's Pantry Post by :stevekiene Category :Nonfictions Author :Eugene Field Date :May 2012 Read :3196

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House - Chapter 22. The Butler's Pantry


In the good old days, which were, of course, the days when you and I were boys and girls together at Biddeford, Me., our civilization knew nothing of that miserable invention which is now foisted upon the modern house under the name of butler's pantry. In those good old days we used to have pantries and china closets and butteries and all that sort of thing, and people were contented.

At the present time, however, civilization is so curiously possessed of a desire to ape the customs of European society that every kind of innovation is seized upon with enthusiasm and without any apparent regard for the derision and contempt to which it renders us liable. In my opinion (which is sustained by such an eminent authority as Lawyer Miles) the butler's pantry without the butler is as absurd a contrivance as a carriage without a horse or a purse without gold or silver to put therein. Yet there is not, I presume to say, a tenement house in all this city that has not its butler's pantry; without this adjunct no home is considered complete, and it makes no difference whether "the lady of the house" does her own work or is able to employ female servants, the butler's pantry is a sine qua non.

I told Alice that I regarded a butler's pantry much in the light of a last year's bird's nest, and I added that since we were going to have a butler's pantry minus the butler I supposed the next move would be in the direction of a wine cellar minus the wine. But my humor is wholly lost upon Alice; since she began training with other householders that superior woman has exhibited a strange indifference to my suggestions and counsel.

I mentioned Lawyer Miles a moment ago. This gives me the opportunity of saying that my sympathies have gone out with enthusiasm toward that gifted man ever since I heard him remark, not very long ago, that he liked to have things cluttered up in his house. I am not able to define the compound "cluttered-up," but it conveys to my mind a meaning that is perfectly clear, and it suggests conditions which are pleasing to me. I, too, like to have things cluttered up. The most dreadful day in the week is, to my thinking, Friday--not because we invariably have fried fish upon that day, but because it is upon Friday that a vandal hired girl appears in my study and, under the direction of my wife, proceeds to "put things in shape." Alice insists that I am not orderly or methodical, yet amid all the so-called disorder of my study I can at any moment lay my hands upon any chart or map or book or paper I require, provided everything is left just where I drop it.

My doctrine about such things is that books and charts and papers were made for use and are therefore of the greatest utility when most available. When I am at work I like my tools around me; if they are not handy, my work is interrupted, and an interruption often breaks the train of thought and renders impotent or at least mediocre an endeavor which elsewise would be excellent. In their ambition to "put things in shape," and to give me an object lesson in order and method, Alice and her vandal hired girl hide my tools of trade, disposing of my books, papers, and pens, and even of my slippers, in such ingenious wise as to keep me busy for hours finding these necessities and replacing them where they will be available.

I thought that Alice and her mercenary were the only women in the world addicted to this weekly practice, but from what Lawyer Miles and other married men tell me I gather that there are other wives in the world quite as possessed of the seven devils of order and method as Alice is.

To return to that other matter: Alice has hinted to me that she intends to store a great deal of my own porcelain and pottery away in the butler's pantry. I had hoped that when we got into the new house we should have plenty of space for displaying the platters, plates, bowls, teapots, etc., etc., to which age has added a special charm, and the collection of which has involved the expenditure of much time and money upon my part.

I am convinced, however, that Alice intends to hide all these beautiful old specimens away; the butler's pantry is evidently for this purpose. I have not questioned Alice about it, but (to use Uncle Si's favorite expression) "it's dollars to doughnuts" that Alice is figuring on displaying her sixty-dollar set of new porcelain in the new glass cabinet in the dining-room, while my rare antiques--among them the blue platter, which was sent me from New Orleans, and which belonged originally to the pirate Lafitte--are relegated to the dim mysterious shelves of the butler's pantry, where dust will obscure them and spiders make them their favorite romping grounds. I intend to ask Lawyer Miles what he would do under like circumstances.

There is a sink in the butler's pantry, but it is wholly superfluous. I am told that this adjunct is useful in washing such dishes and glassware as are too precious to be sent to the kitchen. All this sounds very fine, but the practice is to whew the tableware of all kinds into the kitchen, whether there be a sink in the butler's pantry or not. My grandmother (and my mother, too) never suffered a servant to wash the fine porcelain or the cut glass; that responsible task was always reserved for the housewife herself, and the result was that no porcelain was chipped and no cut glass cracked. They sent me an old willow teapot from Biddeford, and it had n't been with us three weeks before our Celtic cook marred its symmetry by chipping off its venerable nozzle.

The only reason why so many charming bits of china have come down to us from the last century is that our grandmothers and our mothers cared for these things and protected them from rough usage. But, bless your soul! do you suppose Alice could be induced to bare her arms and apply herself to the task of washing a stack of antique porcelain or a row of cut-glass tumblers? No, not for the entire wealth of Wedgewood or the combined output of Dresden and of Sevres!

Mrs. Baylor tells me that I am doing the butler's pantry a grave injustice; that the servants will use it, and that it will prove a great convenience. I do not wish to appear unreasonable and I am willing to concede that the servants will utilize the pantry and its death-dealing sink. It is very probable that under their auspices the slaughter of china and of glassware will be continued; it moots not to the average hired-girl whether the sink be in the kitchen or the butler's pantry, upon the housetop or in the bowels of the earth; the work of destruction goes on at four dollars a week and every Thursday out.

It was during the pantry agitation that Mr. Patrick Devoe came into our lives. He approached us one sweltering afternoon and introduced himself with all the urbanity of a native of Glanmire, County Cork. He praised our house and our premises and my wife and our children. We wondered what he was driving at, but he didn't keep us in suspense very long, for he was, as he assured us, a business man from the word "go." He was, it appeared, the proprietor of a street-sprinkling cart, and the object of his call upon us was to crave the boon of sprinkling Clarendon Avenue in front of our place at the merely nominal price of ten cents a day.

Mr. Devoe could hardly have called at a time more favorable to his interests. The day was, as I have already intimated, oppressively hot: there was a stiff wind from the south and the dust rolled up the avenue in clouds. Mr. Devoe represented to us that the other people in the neighborhood had contracted for his services and our reputation belied us if we were unwilling to secure at a paltry financial outlay what would contribute to our comfort and health. This persuasive gentleman assured us that, under the benign influence of his sprinkling cart, Clarendon Avenue would presently become one of the most popular of suburban driveways. Hither would equipages come from every quarter, and the thoroughfare eventually would be famed as the coolest, shadiest, and most fashionable in Chicago.

Furthermore Mr. Devoe represented that the trees, shrubbery, and grass of our premises would be directly benefited by his sprinkling cart; the gracious flood of water, distributed twice a day by his itinerant cart, would not only lay the dust of the highway, but also permeate and circulate through the contiguous soil, bearing refreshment and health to tree, plant, and flower alike. The vigor of vegetation meant much to humanity; by this means an abundance of ozone would be supplied to the circumambient atmosphere, insuring healthful sleep and general reinvigoration to man, woman, and child.

Mr. Devoe's presentation of the facts and possibilities was so convincing that both Alice and I recognized the propriety of securing his services. The sum of ten cents per diem seemed very trifling; it was not until after Mr. Devoe had departed with our contract in his pocket that we began to realize that, however insignificant ten cents per diem might be, seventy cents per week was not to be sneezed at, while twenty-one dollars for the season was simply a gross extravagance. I was in favor of recalling and annulling our contract with Mr. Devoe, but Alice insisted that we should keep strictly in line with the other neighbors, doing nothing likely to stigmatize us either as mean or as unfashionable.

A day or two after this incident a ruffianly looking fellow called on us to "make arrangements," as he said, about hauling away our garbage when we got moved into our new house. I told the fellow that the city sent a garbage wagon around every week to remove the garbage free of cost. To this the fellow replied that the city did its work carelessly, that the wagon was invariably overloaded, and that no reliance could be placed upon the garbage boxes being emptied if that responsible duty were intrusted to the city employes.

The fellow seemed to know what he was talking about, and his representations were so fair that finally I agreed to pay him twenty-five cents a week for hauling the garbage away. That evening I heard from Mr. Baylor that the scheme was a vulgar bit of blackmail; that the fellow was driver for one of the city wagons and made a practice of extorting fees from householders for doing work which he was already paid to do. I felt grievously outraged and I threatened to report this infamy to the municipal authorities. But Mr. Baylor and other friends assured me that these infamous practices of blackmail were encouraged at the City Hall, and that I would simply be laughed at if I ventured to complain.

It was about this time, too, that I paid a man four dollars to clean out the catch basin in the rear of our premises. The man told me that the catch basin was "reeking with the germs of disease." I did n't see how that could well be, since the sewer had not been laid six weeks. However, the man insisted, and he talked so portentously of bacteria and bacilli and morbiferous microbes that finally in a terror of apprehension I gave him four dollars and bade him do his saving work and do it quickly.

When the neighbors heard of this incident they unanimously pronounced me a fool, accompanying that opprobrious stigmatization with an epithet which my religious convictions prohibit me from recording.

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