I am encouraged, by the notice you have taken of Betty Broom, to represent the miseries which I suffer from a species of tyranny, which, I believe, is not very uncommon, though perhaps it may have escaped the observation of those who converse little with fine ladies, or see them only in their publick characters.
To this method of venting my vexation I am the more inclined, because if I do not complain to you, I must burst in silence; for my mistress has teased me and teased me till I can hold no longer, and yet I must not tell her of her tricks. The girls that live in common services can quarrel, and give warning, and find other places; but we that live with great ladies, if we once offend them, have, nothing left but to return into the country.
I am waiting-maid to a lady who keeps the best company, and is seen at every place of fashionable resort. I am envied by all the maids in the square, for few countesses leave off so many clothes as my mistress, and nobody shares with me: so that I supply two families in the country with finery for the assizes and horse-races, besides what I wear myself. The steward and housekeeper have joined against me to procure my removal, that they may advance a relation of their own; but their designs are found out by my lady, who says I need not fear them, for she will never have dowdies about her.
You would think, Mr. Idler, like others, that I am very happy, and may well be contented with my lot. But I will tell you. My lady has an odd humour. She never orders any thing in direct words, for she loves a sharp girl that can take a hint.
I would not have you suspect that she has any thing to hint which she is ashamed to speak at length; for none can have greater purity of sentiment, or rectitude of intention. She has nothing to hide, yet nothing will she tell. She always gives her directions obliquely and allusively, by the mention of something relative or consequential, without any other purpose than to exercise my acuteness and her own.
It is impossible to give a notion of this style otherwise than by examples. One night, when she had sat writing letters till it was time to be dressed, Molly, said she, the Ladies are all to be at Court to-night in white aprons. When she means that I should send to order the chair, she says, I think the streets are clean, I may venture to walk. When she would have something put into its place, she bids me lay it on the floor. If she would have me snuff the candles, she asks whether I think her eyes are like a cat’s? If she thinks her chocolate delayed, she talks of the benefit of abstinence. If any needle-work is forgotten, she supposes that I have heard of the lady who died by pricking her finger.
She always imagines that I can recall every thing past from a single word. If she wants her head from the milliner, she only says, Molly, you know Mrs. Tape. If she would have the mantua-maker sent for, she remarks that Mr. Taffety, the mercer, was here last week. She ordered, a fortnight ago, that the first time she was abroad all day I should choose her a new set of coffee-cups at the china-shop: of this she reminded me yesterday, as she was going down stairs, by saying, You can’t find your way now to Pall-mall.
All this would never vex me, if, by increasing my trouble, she spared her own; but, dear Mr. Idler, is it not as easy to say coffee-cups, as Pall-mall? and to tell me in plain words what I am to do, and when it is to be done, as to torment her own head with the labour of finding hints, and mine with that of understanding them?
When first I came to this lady, I had nothing like the learning that I have now; for she has many books, and I have much time to read; so that of late I seldom have missed her meaning: but when she first took me I was an ignorant girl; and she, who, as is very common, confounded want of knowledge with want of understanding, began once to despair of bringing me to any thing, because, when I came into her chamber at the call of her bell, she asked me, Whether we lived in Zembla; and I did not guess the meaning of her inquiry, but modestly answered, that I could not tell. She had happened to ring once when I did not hear her, and meant to put me in mind of that country where sounds are said to be congealed by the frost.
Another time, as I was dressing her head, she began to talk on a sudden of Medusa, and snakes, and men turned into stone, and maids that, if they were not watched, would let their mistresses be Gorgons. I looked round me half frightened, and quite bewildered; till at last, finding that her literature was thrown away upon me, she bid me with great vehemence, reach the curling-irons.
It is not without some indignation, Mr. Idler, that I discover, in these artifices of vexation, something worse than foppery or caprice; a mean delight in superiority, which knows itself in no danger of reproof or opposition; a cruel pleasure in seeing the perplexity of a mind obliged to find what is studiously concealed, and a mean indulgence of petty malevolence, in the sharp censure of involuntary, and very often of inevitable, failings. When, beyond her expectation, I hit upon her meaning, I can perceive a sudden cloud of disappointment spread over her face; and have sometimes been afraid, lest I should lose her favour by understanding her when she means to puzzle me.
This day, however, she has conquered my sagacity. When she went out of her dressing-room, she said nothing, but, Molly, you know, and hastened to her chariot. What I am to know is yet a secret; but if I do not know before she comes back, what I yet have no means of discovering, she will make my dullness a pretence for a fortnight’s ill humour, treat me as a creature devoid of the faculties necessary to the common duties of life, and perhaps give the next gown to the housekeeper.
I am, Sir,
Your humble servant,