The coachman was promised to the cook, which, I believe, often takes place. Tim, the head groom, was a very nice, genteel fellow, and I daresay I might have taken up with him, if I hadn’t met with my James, though never with John, who was the plague of my life. To begin with, he had a black whisker, that I couldn’t bear to look at, let alone putting one’s face against it, as I should have had to have done when married, no doubt. And he had a roving black eye, very yellowy in the white of it, and hair that looked all black and bear’s-greasy, though he always said he never put anything on it except a little bay rum in moderation.
They tell me I was a pretty girl enough in those days, though looks is less important than you might think to a housemaid, if only she dresses neat and has a small waist. And I suppose I must think that John really did love me in his scowling, black whiskery way. He was a good footman, I will say that, and had been with the master three years, and the best of characters; but whatever he might have thought, I never would have had anything to do with him, even if James and me had had seas between us broad a-rolling for ever and ever Amen. He asked me once and he asked me twice, and it was ‘no’ and ‘no’ again. And I had even gone so far as to think that perhaps I should have to give up a good place to get out of his way, when master’s uncle, old Mr. Oliver, and his good lady, came to stay at the Court, and with them came James, who was own man to Mr. Oliver.
Mr. Oliver was the funniest-looking old gent I ever see, if I may say so respectfully. He was as bald as an egg, with a sort of frill of brown hair going from ear to ear behind; and as if that wasn’t enough, he was shaved as clean as a whistle, as though he had made up his mind that people shouldn’t say that it had all gone to beard and whiskers, anyway. He wrote books, a great many of them, and you may often see his name in the papers, and he was for ever poking about into what didn’t concern him, and my Lady, she said to me when she found me a little put out at him asking about how things went on in the servants’ hall, she said to me—
‘You mustn’t mind him, Mary,’ she said; ’you know he likes to find out all that he can about everything, so as to put it in his books.’
And he certainly talked to every one he came across—even the stable-boys—in a way that you could hardly think becoming from a gentleman to servants, if he wasn’t an author, and so to have allowances made for him, poor man! He talked to the housemaids, and he talked to the groom, and he talked to the footman that waited on him at lunch when he had it late, as he did sometimes, owing to him having been kept past the proper time by his story-writing, for he wrote a good part of the day most days, and often went up to London while he was staying with us—to sell his goods, I suppose. He wore curious clothes, not like most gentlemen, but all wool things, even to his collars and his boots, which were soft and soppy like felt; and he took snuff to that degree I wouldn’t have believed any human nose could have borne it, and he must have been a great trial to Mrs. Oliver until she got used to him and his pottering about all over the house in his soft-soled shoes; and the mess he made of his pocket-handkerchieves and his linen!