“I fancy we’ve at last got a real treasure,” said Mrs. Perkins. “There’s no nonsense about Jane—I think.” The last two words were added apologetically.
“Where did you get her?” asked Thaddeus. “At an Imbecility Office?”
“I don’t quite know what you mean—an Imbecility Office?”
“Only my pet, private, and particular name for it, my dear. You would speak of it as an Intelligence Office, no doubt,” was the reply. “My observation of the fruit of Intelligence Offices has convinced me that they deal in Imbecility.”
“Not quite,” laughed Mrs. Perkins. “They look after Domestic Vacancies.”
“Well, they do it with a vengeance,” said Perkins. “We’ve had more vacancies in this house to do our cooking and our laundering and our house-work generally than two able-bodied men could shake sticks at. It seems to me that the domestic servant of to-day is fonder of preoccupation than of occupation.”
“Jane, I think, is different from the general run,” said Mrs. Perkins. “As I said, she has no nonsense about her.”
“Is she—an—an ornament to the scene—pretty, and all that?” asked Perkins.
“Quite the reverse,” replied the little house-keeper. “She is as plain as a—as a—”
“Say hedge-fence and be done with it,” said Perkins. “I’m glad of it. What’s the use of providing a good dinner for your friends if they are going to spend all their time looking at the waitress? When I give a dinner it makes me tired to have the men afterwards speak of the waitress rather than of the puree or the birds. If any domestic is to dominate the repast at all it should be the cook.”
“Service counts for a great deal, though, Ted,” suggested Mrs. Perkins.
“True,” replied Thaddeus; “but on the whole, when I am starving, give me a filet bearnaise served by a sailor, rather than an empty plate brought in in style by a butler of illustrious lineage and impressive manner.” Then he added: “I hope she isn’t too homely, Bess—not a ‘clock-stopper,’ as the saying is. You don’t want people’s appetites taken away when you’ve worked for hours on a menu calculated to tickle the palates of your guests. Would her homeliness—ah—efface itself, for instance, in the presence of a culinary creation, or is it likely to overshadow everything with its ineffaceable completeness?”
“I think she’ll do,” returned Mrs. Perkins; “especially with your friends, who, it seems to me, would one and all insist upon finishing a ‘creation,’ as you call it, even if lightning should strike the house.”
“From that point of view,” said he, “I’m confident that Jane will do.”
So Jane came, and for a year, strange to relate, was all that her references claimed for her. She was neat, clean, and capable. She was sober and industrious. The wine had never been better served; the dinner had rarely come to the table so hot. Had she been a butler of the first magnitude she could not so have discouraged the idea of acquaintance; her attraction, if anything, was a combination of her self-effacement and her ugliness. The latter might have been noticed as she entered the dining-room; it was soon forgotten in the unconsciously observed ease with which she went through her work.