Thursday, 30 January 2014

2 June 1900 - 'The Law of Order and How Beryl Came to Observe It' - Chapter 3 - Duties of a Hostess, Chaperonage

This is the first of the 'Law of Order' articles I've transcribed since moving to Blogger. The previous two chapters can be found in the index for Housekeeping, Domestic Life and Etiquette, but as they're from the Tumblr I'll link them here and here also. If you've just joined us, 'The Law of Order and How Beryl Came to Observe It' are a series of etiquette articles framed, often awkwardly, as a serial story in which young wife and mother Clara schools young Beryl in how a nice young lady should behave. Today Beryl learns about how to treat house guests, and about how society's moved on and women be walking about unchaperoned now, but the more demure your mien and unobservable your dress, the lesser the chance you will be subjected to street harassment from strange men. 

 “This room will do very nicely, I think, said Beryl. “If there is anything necessary, Clare, you must be sure to tell me.  Father says I must get anything that is wanted.  This Lizzie Delverton is really a second cousin of father’s and not a bit old.  She lives at Brighton with her husband and children, and father saw her there last month and liked her so much that he told me to invite her here.  I cannot think why he could not have asked her himself.”

“Because an invitation always should come from the mistress of a house. You forget what an important person you are, Beryl!” I answered, and she laughed.

“Now, Clare, please take a tour of inspection round the room, and be as critical as you like.  I have made no attempt at arrangement yet, as you see, for I waited until you had seen over it all and told me what was wanted.”

“The windows won’t open at the top,” I said, after a vain struggle with them.

“Does that matter?”

“Yes.  Many people sleep with a bit of the window open at the top, both in winter and summer.  All windows should be able to be opened easily.  You can get a man to see to that, for the paint has stuck, and I am afraid none of you in the house will be able to do it. Now for the blinds. These Venetians want a little repairing, and the string is so much worn, I think you had better have a new one put.”

“Very well,” said Beryl. “You see I have brought up a piece of paper and pencil, and I shall make a note of all that you say I need to do or get done.”

“That is very methodical of you, Beryl. By the way, I have not seen you since you went to lunch at the Trevors’. Was it pleasant?”

“Yes,” said Beryl emphatically. “It was delightful.”

As I know that Mr and Mrs Trevor are an extremely quiet old couple – clients of Uncle Dick’s – I was rather surprised at Beryl’s tone and the evident pleasure she had had. However I was at the moment examining the door.

“Put down ‘key’ on your list, Beryl, unless there is one somewhere belonging to this lock. And see that it turns easily,” I said. “Oh, how this door creaks! You must put a little oil down the hinge. Is the bell in working order?”

“Yes, for I tried it before you came, and you will see that the presses and drawers have keys, so that is all right.”

“Are they empty?” I inquired.

“Nearly all.  You see, I keep some of my summer things in these lower drawers and half the hanging press is filled with dresses.  Surely this Lizzie Delverton will have enough room for her possessions with this” – and Beryl flung over the hanging wardrobe and showed an empty half, the other half being well stocked with dresses.

“Isn’t that the dress you wore the evening you spent with us last week?” I inquired, as I recognised a pretty evening dress.

“Yes,” said Beryl, “there is more room for it here.”

“Now, dear, don’t think me cruel when I say that you must empty out the drawers and presses and leave them quite free for your visitor.  I see there is a press in the wall that if you like you can fill with summer things; but the rest must be empty. It is most annoying for a visitor to have to live in her boxes, as she has to do if she does not find empty drawers and presses in which to place her belongings.  It also prevents her feeling that she has her room to herself if at any moment a member of the family may come to her room to take out dresses or anything they want.  By the way, of course you know that once your visitor has arrived you do not enter her room during her absence without asking her permission.”

“I did not know that,” said Beryl. “Very well, I shall move all my things into that wall press and into my own room.”

“Have you a bath for the room?”

“Yes, it is in the lumber-room at present; but it shall be brought down,” said Beryl. “And I want to get a nice bath blanket, such as you have, to throw over it.”

“Yes; and mind you have plenty of bath towels to change. A big Turkey towel should always be on the towel-horse as well as the other towels.”

“The housemaid should always ask a visitor on arrival at what hour he or she likes a bath, and whether hot or cold, and also if in winter a fire is liked or a hot water jar,” I said, for Beryl had asked me to remind her of everything that could conduce to the visitor’s comfort; and in reply to my remarks she said that she must have a fire lighted soon to air the room and bedding.

“There do not seem to be many pillows on the bed,” I remarked, “or a bolster.”

“No; none of us anything more than one pillow. I don’t think there is a bolster in the house,” said Beryl.

“You had better get one for this room,” I said, “for it is usual to find one on a bed, and if your guest does not like it she can ask the housemaid to take it away.  People who do not use bolsters and only one pillow are the exceptions.  I should get another pillow. How about your linen – is that in good order?”

“Yes,” said Beryl, looking pleased. “I am rather fond of nice house-linen, and when we got new sheets lately I got them all hem-stitched and the pillow-cases as well, and a few frilled pillow-cases for this room. About light, there is gas, as you see, but I suppose I had better put a little candlestick by the bed?”

“Certainly; and Beryl, do not forget the matches,” I said. “How often I have gone for a night or two at a friend’s house and not found them. Now I always carry about a box of matches with me; but everyone does not do so.”

“This is a nice sofa, is it not?”

“Very.  Now if I were you, I should put a nice writing-table close to it.  Many people – like myself – like to write their letters in their room; and it is such a comfort to find everything handy and a table at which one can write.  I remember last autumn going to stay a few days at Stoke Newington with an old friend and finding the most perfect writing-table. It was by no means an expensive one, simply a strong table with a pretty cloth on it, but it had everything that one could want on it.”

“Oh, do tell me what the things were,” said Beryl. “I should so like to get everything, too, for I want the room very nice; and really there is a charming writing-table in the lumber-room which only wants to be polished.”

“I think I can remember everything,” I said. “Writing paper and envelopes, correspondence and post-cards – of course in a little stationery case with a blotter well filled with blotting paper. In the pocket of the blotter were some telegraph and post-office order forms, luggage labels, both gummed and to tie on.  Then there was an inkstand with plenty of clean ink in it. Many people have very smart inkstands, but you often find in them only a small quantity of very dusty ink.  There was a penholder and a box containing pens of different kinds, pointed nibs and broad, a penwiper, pencil-ruler, sealing-wax, pen knife, small candle and wax vestas. I think that was all. No, now I remember, there was also a calendar on the table and a card containing weights for letters, etc., and a Salter’s letter-balance.”

“Do you think it necessary to have a clock in the room?” I have one I could put upon the chimney-piece.”

“it is a great convenience,” I answered, “and another nice plan is to have a famed card on the chimney-piece stating the hours of meals and when the post goes out, or rather when letters are sent to the post. In the country it is always well to add when the posts come in, but in London or a suburb like this where they are so frequent it is unnecessary. You should leave a few books and magazines in the room in case your visitor likes to look over them at any time; and be sure you leave a night-light ready to be lighted, and have it renewed every day if it is used. Before your guest arrives it is well to see yourself that all is in order, the soap and matches in their places, some flowers on the table in a pretty vase, a pin-cushion with pins in it on the dressing-table, and everything comfortable. Servants are so apt to forget the details which are so important. How long is your guest coming for?”

“I don’t know,” said Beryl. “I did not like to ask her for a stated time.”

“it is much better to do so, and it is not at all an inhospitable arrangement. It is really a great comfort to the visitor to know for how long she is expected as then she can regulate her luggage accordingly.  If she is only going on a visit of two days or a week, she actually needs less than if she was going to stay a month. If she does not know, she is on the horns of a dilemma.  On the one hand if she takes much luggage and finds she is not expected for a long stay, she feels as if her luggage looks as if she expected to stay some time, and if she has very little in the way of clothes, she is often much inconvenienced if the visit is longer than anticipated.”

“Then, in inviting people, is it well to ask them for a definite time?”

“Yes.  You can say, ‘Will you come and stay with us from Friday to Tuesday’ or ‘We shall be delighted if you can spend a fortnight with us,’ or ‘from the 8th to the 21st’. It is always quite easy for you to ask your visitor to extend her visit if you wish to do so.”

“I am afraid I shall find it rather a bother having her here,” said Beryl, “for I have so much to do just now. I am helping May a good deal with her music, for she is working up for an examination which is to take place at her school at the Midsummer term, and I have also a good deal to do on my own account, as I am re-writing a few little papers I have written.”

“Of course, as her hostess, you must always try to ascertain your cousin’s wishes and carry them out as best you can. People vary very much indeed. Some people treat one’s house like a hotel and go in and out in a way which is hardly courteous. They are unpunctual for meals and expect odd glasses of wine and sandwiches at all hours and things to be kept hot. I hope Lizzie will not be so inconsiderate.”

“I hope not indeed, for Jane’s temper is not of the best, and it will make her very cross.”

“I am sure you will do your best to make your cousin enjoy herself,” I said, for I knew how kind-hearted and good-=natured Beryl was. “I think some people are very inconsiderate to their guests and insist upon dragging them about here and there when perhaps they would much rather be quiet, or else, if they themselves know a place thoroughly, forget that their visitor may want to see what there is to be seen, and may not care to go about always by herself.”

“It will take up a lot of my time if she wants perpetual entertaining,” said Beryl.

“But you must not suppose, Beryl, that you will require to be with your cousin all day. Far from it.  Usually a visitor does not expect to see her hostess during the morning, as she concludes that she has her letters to write, housekeeping to attend to, and all kinds of matters to fill up her time. The visitor can go out to walk or stay in and read, write or work as she pleases. You are so near London that Lizzie Delverton will probably want to do no end of shopping or sight-seeing and one of you thee girls can go with her.”

“oh well, that is a relief, at least to have the mornings!” said Beryl, “but during the rest of the day I suppose I must give myself up to her or get Amy or May to be with her?”

“Just see first of all how things go. I have never met Lizzie since her marriage, so do not know her tastes. In any case you may be very glad of her being here if any of you want to go up to town to see things; it will be pleasant for all of you.”

An uneasy look passed over Beryl’s face at my words and she coloured up slightly.

“Clare, I have always forgotten to ask you something.”

“Yes, dear – what is it?”

“About going out by myself,” said Beryl. “Of course Wobury was only a village, and I went about there all the time; and when I went into Anderford, our nearest town, father or someone was always with me. Now here it is so different. I want to go into London constantly for one thing or another, and I don’t think it is quite pleasant.”

“What made you find it pleasant?”

“I was walking down Regent Street yesterday afternoon. It was so fine, and I was enjoying immensely looking in at the shop-windows, and a man came up and spoke to me. Of course I hurried on, but it alarmed me,” said Beryl, and she continued, “It is not the first time that I have been spoken to and very much stared at.”

“What had you on?”

“My new hat,” said Beryl, alluding to a charming hat which became her very much, but which was decidedly dressy and smart.

“Beryl,” I said, “to begin with, you should not walk about the Strand or Regent Street and Piccadilly by yourself in the afternoon. It is an understood thing that it is not advisable to do so, and in any case if you are obliged to go into any crowded regions unaccompanied – and you can nearly always avoid it by taking an omnibus – then you should be as quietly and unobservably dressed as possible.  Indeed you should aim at that whenever you are in London by yourself.”

“I certainly shall in future,” said Beryl. “I was afraid that you were going to say that I could not go about by myself at all, and I was wondering what I should do, for of course father is too busy to come with me excepting once in a blue moon, Tom is at his lessons, and Amy and May too are usually at school.”

“They would not mend the matter.  The two of you together had much better never be walking about the most frequented thoroughfares of London in the afternoon, but I repeat in an emergency if you have to go, be careful about your dress. If you have to go up to London for any purpose, go in the morning and no matter where it is walk quietly on, not stopping to look into shops and never dawdling or sauntering. If you do this, quietly dressed and not staring about you, but walking modestly and nicely – as you always do, I think,  Beryl,” I added, for she looked alarmed, “then you need not be uneasy. In the upper ten thousand rank of life a girl may not be seen, excepting perhaps near her own house, unaccompanied; but in our more quiet station of life it is quite permissible. IN these days, too, when girls take up all kinds of professions, it becomes a necessity that she should go about without a chaperon.”

“Thank you very much, Clare. When my little papers are finished, I am going to take them up to an editor in a lane near Fleet Street. Mr Trevor’s nephew, Mr Ernest Trevor, has given me an introduction to the editor of the Thinker, and he thinks that they might possibility be taken there. I do so hope they will be. I was talking to Mr Trevor about it when I met him at luncheon at his uncle’s, and he was very encouraging.”

“Have you shown them to him then?” I inquired.

“Yes, and he thought them rather nice,” said Beryl, “but I must not repeat what he said,” she added, laughing. “Of course the opinions of friends are not of much value.”

“I did not know he was a friend,” I remarked.

“Oh, yes. He has come to live near us. He is boarding with the Harrington-Browns, and he often comes in the evenings to talk to father,” said Beryl.

I said nothing, though Beryl’s expression led me to wonder if my busy uncle talked all the evening only to young Trevor, whom I knew to be a rising artist. But to tease or chaff a girl about a young man, simply because he is attentive to her or they  have some tastes in common, is very foreign to my taste and practice. Many people do so much harm in that way, and it always strikes me as an evidence of bad taste. Many girls are made shy and self-conscious when they are teased in this way, and what might have ended in a happy engagement often comes to nothing in consequence.

Lizzie Delverton came, and after her visit to the Thrushes, she came to see me for a week, and a very pleasant visitor I found her. She always had something to occupy her when I was busy, and always seemed to know when to efface herself. In the evenings she was always ready to play when asked to do so, and yet she was not one of those dreadful individuals who, once in possession of the music-stool, cannot be induced by hint or suggestion to vacate it.

I much enjoyed Lizzie’s visit, for she had plenty of tact. Jack is Conservative, and Lizzie, I found, is a Radical, and so is her husband, who is at present in India. I was afraid they would have unpleasant discussions, but to my surprise they had not. Everything passed off most pleasantly.

Beryl did not say much about her literary efforts to me this spring. I did not think that she was meeting with success or she would have told me about it; and later on I found that my surmise was correct. However, she seemed in excellent spirits.

In May my baby was born, and Beryl was her godmother. I got well very quickly, and when baby was a month old I was quite myself again.

One day Beryl came in to see me, and after we had done a good deal of baby-worship, she asked me what I had been about before she came in, for my table was covered with bundles of letters.

“I am looking over old letters and I am going to destroy a great many,” I said.

“Those look very old,” remarked Beryl, referring to a packet of yellow letters.

“Yes, they were some my father possessed, old family letters now of no interest to anyone.”

“I wish you would give me some hints upon letter-writing,” said Beryl.

I shook my head.

“Ask mother – she is the one to tell you all about letter-writing,” I said, and as mother came in at that moment, I told her of Beryl’s request and she settled herself down and said she would willingly give her a few hints about it.

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