And sometimes I was her maid
of all work.
It is early morn, and my mother
has come noiselessly into my
room. I know it is she, though
my eyes are shut, and I am only
half awake. Perhaps I was dreaming
of her, for I accept her presence
without surprise, as if in the
awakening I had but seen her
go out at one door to come in
at another. But she is speaking
'I'm sweer to waken him - I
doubt he was working late - oh,
that weary writing - no, I maunna
I start up. She is wringing
her hands. 'What is wrong?' I
cry, but I know before she answers.
My sister is down with one of
the headaches against which even
she cannot fight, and my mother,
who bears physical pain as if
it were a comrade, is most woebegone
when her daughter is the sufferer.
'And she winna let me go down
the stair to make a cup of tea
for her,' she groans.
'I will soon make the tea,
'Will you?' she says eagerly.
It is what she has come to me
for, but 'It is a pity to rouse
you,' she says.
'And I will take charge of
the house to-day, and light the
fires and wash the dishes - '
'Na, oh no; no, I couldna ask
that of you, and you an author.'
'It won't be the first time,
mother, since I was an author.'
'More like the fiftieth!' she
says almost gleefully, so I have
begun well, for to keep up her
spirits is the great thing to-day.
Knock at the door. It is the
baker. I take in the bread, looking
so sternly at him that he dare
Knock at the door. It is the
postman. (I hope he did not see
that I had the lid of the kettle
in my other hand.)
Furious knocking in a remote
part. This means that the author
is in the coal cellar.
Anon I carry two breakfasts
upstairs in triumph. I enter
the bedroom like no mere humdrum
son, but after the manner of
the Glasgow waiter. I must say
more about him. He had been my
mother's one waiter, the only
manservant she ever came in contact
with, and they had met in a Glasgow
hotel which she was eager to
see, having heard of the monstrous
things, and conceived them to
resemble country inns with another
twelve bedrooms. I remember how
she beamed - yet tried to look
as if it was quite an ordinary
experience - when we alighted
at the hotel door, but though
she said nothing I soon read
disappointment in her face. She
knew how I was exulting in having
her there, so would not say a
word to damp me, but I craftily
drew it out of her. No, she was
very comfortable, and the house
was grand beyond speech, but
- but - where was he? he had
not been very hearty. 'He' was
the landlord; she had expected
him to receive us at the door
and ask if we were in good health
and how we had left the others,
and then she would have asked
him if his wife was well and
how many children they had, after
which we should all have sat
down together to dinner. Two
chambermaids came into her room
and prepared it without a single
word to her about her journey
or on any other subject, and
when they had gone, 'They are
two haughty misses,' said my
mother with spirit. But what
she most resented was the waiter
with his swagger black suit and
short quick steps and the 'towel'
over his arm. Without so much
as a 'Welcome to Glasgow!' he
showed us to our seats, not the
smallest acknowledgment of our
kindness in giving such munificent
orders did we draw from him,
he hovered around the table as
if it would be unsafe to leave
us with his knives and forks
(he should have seen her knives
and forks), when we spoke to
each other he affected not to
hear, we might laugh but this
uppish fellow would not join
in. We retired, crushed, and
he had the final impudence to
open the door for us. But though
this hurt my mother at the time,
the humour of our experiences
filled her on reflection, and
in her own house she would describe
them with unction, sometimes
to those who had been in many
hotels, often to others who had
been in none, and whoever were
her listeners she made them laugh,
though not always at the same
So now when I enter the bedroom
with the tray, on my arm is that
badge of pride, the towel; and
I approach with prim steps to
inform Madam that breakfast is
ready, and she puts on the society
manner and addresses me as 'Sir,'
and asks with cruel sarcasm for
what purpose (except to boast)
I carry the towel, and I say
'Is there anything more I can
do for Madam?' and Madam replies
that there is one more thing
I can do, and that is, eat her
breakfast for her. But of this
I take no notice, for my object
is to fire her with the spirit
of the game, so that she eats
Now that I have washed up the
breakfast things I should be
at my writing, and I am anxious
to be at it, as I have an idea
in my head, which, if it is of
any value, has almost certainly
been put there by her. But dare
I venture? I know that the house
has not been properly set going
yet, there are beds to make,
the exterior of the teapot is
fair, but suppose some one were
to look inside? What a pity I
knocked over the flour-barrel!
Can I hope that for once my mother
will forget to inquire into these
matters? Is my sister willing
to let disorder reign until to-morrow?
I determine to risk it. Perhaps
I have been at work for half
an hour when I hear movements
overhead. One or other of them
is wondering why the house is
so quiet. I rattle the tongs,
but even this does not satisfy
them, so back into the desk go
my papers, and now what you hear
is not the scrape of a pen but
the rinsing of pots and pans,
or I am making beds, and making
them thoroughly, because after
I am gone my mother will come
(I know her) and look suspiciously
beneath the coverlet.
The kitchen is now speckless,
not an unwashed platter in sight,
unless you look beneath the table.
I feel that I have earned time
for an hour's writing at last,
and at it I go with vigour. One
page, two pages, really I am
making progress, when - was that
a door opening? But I have my
mother's light step on the brain,
so I 'yoke' again, and next moment
she is beside me. She has not
exactly left her room, she gives
me to understand; but suddenly
a conviction had come to her
that I was writing without a
warm mat at my feet. She carries
one in her hands. Now that she
is here she remains for a time,
and though she is in the arm-chair
by the fire, where she sits bolt
upright (she loved to have cushions
on the unused chairs, but detested
putting her back against them),
and I am bent low over my desk,
I know that contentment and pity
are struggling for possession
of her face: contentment wins
when she surveys her room, pity
when she looks at me. Every article
of furniture, from the chairs
that came into the world with
me and have worn so much better,
though I was new and they were
second- hand, to the mantle-border
of fashionable design which she
sewed in her seventieth year,
having picked up the stitch in
half a lesson, has its story
of fight and attainment for her,
hence her satisfaction; but she
sighs at sight of her son, dipping
and tearing, and chewing the
'Oh, that weary writing!'
In vain do I tell her that
writing is as pleasant to me
as ever was the prospect of a
tremendous day's ironing to her;
that (to some, though not to
me) new chapters are as easy
to turn out as new bannocks.
No, she maintains, for one bannock
is the marrows of another, while
chapters - and then, perhaps,
her eyes twinkle, and says she
saucily, 'But, sal, you may be
right, for sometimes your bannocks
are as alike as mine!'
Or I may be roused from my
writing by her cry that I am
making strange faces again. It
is my contemptible weakness that
if I say a character smiled vacuously,
I must smile vacuously; if he
frowns or leers, I frown or leer;
if he is a coward or given to
contortions, I cringe, or twist
my legs until I have to stop
writing to undo the knot. I bow
with him, eat with him, and gnaw
my moustache with him. If the
character be a lady with an exquisite
laugh, I suddenly terrify you
by laughing exquisitely. One
reads of the astounding versatility
of an actor who is stout and
lean on the same evening, but
what is he to the novelist who
is a dozen persons within the
hour? Morally, I fear, we must
deteriorate - but this is a subject
I may wisely edge away from.
We always spoke to each other
in broad Scotch (I think in it
still), but now and again she
would use a word that was new
to me, or I might hear one of
her contemporaries use it. Now
is my opportunity to angle for
its meaning. If I ask, boldly,
what was chat word she used just
now, something like 'bilbie'
or 'silvendy'? she blushes, and
says she never said anything
so common, or hoots! it is some
auld-farrant word about which
she can tell me nothing. But
if in the course of conversation
I remark casually, 'Did he find
bilbie?' or 'Was that quite silvendy?'
(though the sense of the question
is vague to me) she falls into
the trap, and the words explain
themselves in her replies. Or
maybe to-day she sees whither
I am leading her, and such is
her sensitiveness that she is
quite hurt. The humour goes out
of her face (to find bilbie in
some more silvendy spot), and
her reproachful eyes - but now
I am on the arm of her chair,
and we have made it up. Nevertheless,
I shall get no more old-world
Scotch out of her this forenoon,
she weeds her talk determinedly,
and it is as great a falling
away as when the mutch gives
place to the cap.
I am off for my afternoon walk,
and she has promised to bar the
door behind me and open it to
none. When I return, - well,
the door is still barred, but
she is looking both furtive and
elated. I should say that she
is burning to tell me something,
but cannot tell it without exposing
herself. Has she opened the door,
and if so, why? I don't ask,
but I watch. It is she who is
'Have you been in the east
room since you came in?' she
asks, with apparent indifference.
'No; why do you ask?'
'Oh, I just thought you might
have looked in.'
'Is there anything new there?'
'I dinna say there is, but
- but just go and see.'
'There can't be anything new
if you kept the door barred,'
I say cleverly.
This crushes her for a moment;
but her eagerness that I should
see is greater than her fear.
I set off for the east room,
and she follows, affecting humility,
but with triumph in her eye.
How often those little scenes
took place! I was never told
of the new purchase, I was lured
into its presence, and then she
waited timidly for my start of
'Do you see it?' she says anxiously,
and I see it, and hear it, for
this time it is a bran-new wicker
chair, of the kind that whisper
to themselves for the first six
'A going-about body was selling
them in a cart,' my mother begins,
and what followed presents itself
to my eyes before she can utter
another word. Ten minutes at
the least did she stand at the
door argy-bargying with that
man. But it would be cruelty
to scold a woman so uplifted.
'Fifteen shillings he wanted,'
she cries, 'but what do you think
I beat him down to?'
'Seven and sixpence?'
She claps her hands with delight.
'Four shillings, as I'm a living
woman!' she crows: never was
a woman fonder of a bargain.
I gaze at the purchase with
the amazement expected of me,
and the chair itself crinkles
and shudders to hear what it
went for (or is it merely chuckling
at her?). 'And the man said it
cost himself five shillings,'
my mother continues exultantly.
You would have thought her the
hardest person had not a knock
on the wall summoned us about
this time to my sister's side.
Though in bed she has been listening,
and this is what she has to say,
in a voice that makes my mother
very indignant, 'You drive a
bargain! I'm thinking ten shillings
was nearer what you paid.'
'Four shillings to a penny!'
says my mother.
'I daresay,' says my sister;
'but after you paid him the money
I heard you in the little bedroom
press. What were you doing there?'
My mother winces. 'I may have
given him a present of an old
topcoat,' she falters. 'He looked
ill-happit. But that was after
I made the bargain.'
'Were there bairns in the cart?'
'There might have been a bit
lassie in the cart.'
'I thought as much. What did
you give her? I heard you in
'Four shillings was what I
got that chair for,' replies
my mother firmly. If I don't
interfere there will be a coldness
between them for at least a minute.
'There is blood on your finger,'
I say to my mother.
'So there is,' she says, concealing
'Blood!' exclaims my sister
anxiously, and then with a cry
of triumph, 'I warrant it's jelly.
You gave that lassie one of the
The Glasgow waiter brings up
tea, and presently my sister
is able to rise, and after a
sharp fight I am expelled from
the kitchen. The last thing I
do as maid of all work is to
lug upstairs the clothes-basket
which has just arrived with the
mangling. Now there is delicious
linen for my mother to finger;
there was always rapture on her
face when the clothes-basket
came in; it never failed to make
her once more the active genius
of the house. I may leave her
now with her sheets and collars
and napkins and fronts. Indeed,
she probably orders me to go.
A son is all very well, but suppose
he were to tread on that counterpane!
My sister is but and I am ben
- I mean she is in the east end
and I am in the west - tuts,
tuts! let us get at the English
of this by striving: she is in
the kitchen and I am at my desk
in the parlour. I hope I may
not be disturbed, for to-night
I must make my hero say 'Darling,'
and it needs both privacy and
concentration. In a word, let
me admit (though I should like
to beat about the bush) that
I have sat down to a love-chapter.
Too long has it been avoided,
Albert has called Marion 'dear'
only as yet (between you and
me these are not their real names),
but though the public will probably
read the word without blinking,
it went off in my hands with
a bang. They tell me - the Sassenach
tell me - that in time I shall
be able without a blush to make
Albert say 'darling,' and even
gather her up in his arms, but
I begin to doubt it; the moment
sees me as shy as ever; I still
find it advisable to lock the
door, and then - no witness save
the dog - I 'do' it dourly with
my teeth clenched, while the
dog retreats into the far corner
and moans. The bolder Englishman
(I am told) will write a love-chapter
and then go out, quite coolly,
to dinner, but such goings on
are contrary to the Scotch nature;
even the great novelists dared
not. Conceive Mr. Stevenson left
alone with a hero, a heroine,
and a proposal impending (he
does not know where to look).
Sir Walter in the same circumstances
gets out of the room by making
his love- scenes take place between
the end of one chapter and the
beginning of the next, but he
could afford to do anything,
and the small fry must e'en to
their task, moan the dog as he
may. So I have yoked to mine
when, enter my mother, looking
'I suppose you are terrible
thrang,' she says.
'Well, I am rather busy, but
- what is it you want me to do?'
'It would be a shame to ask
'Still, ask me.'
'I am so terrified they may
'You want me to - ?'
'If you would just come up,
and help me to fold the sheets!'
The sheets are folded and I
return to Albert. I lock the
door, and at last I am bringing
my hero forward nicely (my knee
in the small of his back), when
this startling question is shot
by my sister through the key-hole-
'Where did you put the carrot-grater?'
It will all have to be done
over again if I let Albert go
for a moment, so, gripping him
hard, I shout indignantly that
I have not seen the carrot-grater.
'Then what did you grate the
carrots on?' asks the voice,
and the door-handle is shaken
just as I shake Albert.
'On a broken cup,' I reply
with surprising readiness, and
I get to work again but am less
engrossed, for a conviction grows
on me that I put the carrot-grater
in the drawer of the sewing-machine.
I am wondering whether I should
confess or brazen it out, when
I hear my sister going hurriedly
upstairs. I have a presentiment
that she has gone to talk about
me, and I basely open my door
'Just look at that, mother!'
'Is it a dish-cloth?'
'That's what it is now.'
'Losh behears! it's one of
the new table-napkins.'
'That's what it was. He has
been polishing the kitchen grate
'Woe's me! That is what comes
of his not letting me budge from
this room. O, it is a watery
Sabbath when men take to doing
'It defies the face of clay,
mother, to fathom what makes
him so senseless.'
'Oh, it's that weary writing.'
'And the worst of it is he
will talk to-morrow as if he
had done wonders.'
'That's the way with the whole
clanjam-fray of them.'
'Yes, but as usual you will
humour him, mother.'
'Oh, well, it pleases him,
you see,' says my mother, 'and
we can have our laugh when his
'He is most terribly handless.'
'He is all that, but, poor
soul, he does his best.'