An Anarchist Woman by Hutchins Hapgood, New York: Duffield & Company, 1909.
An Anarchist Woman
Domestic Service (Continued)
Nearly a year had passed," continued Marie, since I had began to work at service, and my experiences had not been of the sort that makes one love one's fellow creatures. For the most part I had worked for people who were trying to make a good showing in society and had not the means to do so. How often 'during those weary days of drudgery I looked back at the dear old days when I used to work in the factories I Then I could go to the dance! Now, it was very difficult, even if my mother had not been so strongly against it. I could not understand why my mother so sternly forbade me to go. When I asked her why she objected, the only answer I received was: 'It is improper for a girl of your age.' ' Why is it improper?' I asked myself, and could find no answer. So I disobeyed my mother and danced whenever I had the chance. Whenever I did succeed in going, my heart almost broke from sheer happiness. Oh, how supremely, wonderfully joyous I felt! How I forgot everything then -my mother, my drudgery, everything that made life disagreeable! Whenever the music started, I felt as if I were floating in the air, I could not feel my feet touching the floor. All the lights merged into one dazzling glow and my heart kept time to the rhythm of the music. When the music stopped, the glorious illumination seemed to go out and leave only a little straggling light from a few badly smelling kerosene lamps. The beautiful, fantastic music had been in reality only a harsh horn accompanied by a concertina or some other stupid instrument jangling vile music. The young boys and girls were all a common, stupid lot, and the odour of the stock yards permeated the room. But when the mystical music begins again, and the dance starts, presto! change, and I am again floating in rhythmic space and the faces and dim lights have changed into one glorious central flame.
"I shall never forget one awful night, when mother, who had heard that I was at the dance, came into the hall, and there before all the boys and girls dragged me out and away our home. I was so ashamed that I did not show myself in that dance-hall again for months. I cannot help thinking my mother was wrong, for I needed some outlet to my energy. Like many a poor working girl, I had developed into womanhood early and consequently was full of life. The dance satisfied this life instinct, which, when that outlet was made difficult, sought some other way.
"At that time I had a position as nursemaid, my duties being to take care of two beautiful, but spoiled children, who had never received proper care, because their mother, a wealthy woman, was too indolent to make any effort in that direction, spending most of her time lying in bed with some novel in her hand. The house was filled with sensational, sentimental books. They were to be found in every room, stacked away in all the corners.
"At first I attempted to do what I thought was my duty, that is, to keep the children neat and clean and try to train them to be more gentle and obedient, but I soon saw that what their mother wanted was for me to keep them out of her way. My ambition about them faded away, and I sought only to fulfil my mistress's wishes. I used to take the two children up into the store-room, in which were all sorts of miscellaneous things, including stacks and stacks of paper-covered novels, lock the door, and allow the children absolute liberty, while I sat down comfortably and examined the books.
"Here a new life opened before me. I read these novels constantly every day and half the night, and could hardly wait for the children to have their breakfast, so eager was I to get at my wonderful stories again. Even when it was necessary to take the children out for an airing, a novel was always hidden in my clothes, which I would eagerly devour as soon as I was out of sight of the house. During the four weeks spent at this place I read more than forty novels. Even on Sunday, when I was free, I sprawled out on the bed and read these sensational books. I thought no more of my beloved dances, for I was living in a new world. Here I was in a beautiful house, where I did almost nothing but loll in the easiest chairs and feed my soul on stories about beautiful, innocent maidens, who were wooed, and after almost insurmountable difficulties, won by gallant, devoted heroes.
"But soon I became so absorbed that even the few duties I had, became very irksome to me, for they interfered somewhat with my reading. Every morning I had to bathe and dress the little ones, who, not seeing the necessity for these operations, struggled and screamed and bit and kicked. I had accepted this daily scene as a matter of course, but every now and then it rather irritated me. One morning the hubbub was unusually long and loud, so much so that the noise disturbed the mother, who was breakfasting and reading in bed. She came to the room in a stew and asked me what was the matter. When I told her, she angrily said: 'When I engage a nurse girl for my children, I do not expect to hear them squealing every morning. Remember that, and do not let me hear them again.'
"The little boy, who was precocious for his age, heard what his mother had said, and seeing that he had not been scolded for his ill behaviour, began to scream and struggle more than ever, and his little sister imitated him, in a dutiful, feminine way. I then lost my patience, seized the little boy, 'dragged him to his mother and said: 'Here's your boy. Tend to him yourself; I cannot.'
I was, of course, told to bundle up my belongings at once and go. I did not forget to pack away among my things some of the novels, feeling that since they had all been read by Madame, they were only in the way. When I said 'good-bye' to the children, Madame came to me and said very kindly, 'Marie, I'm really sorry this has occurred, for you are one of the best nurse girls I have ever had, and the children seemed to get along so nicely with you, too!' I was so surprised at this speech that I could make no answer and so I lost my chance of remaining, for it is quite certain she wanted me to stay. But it was fated to be otherwise, and once more I returned to the home of my parents.
"My mother was not overjoyed to see me. It was a mystery to her why I did not keep my jobs longer. I promised to get another place as soon as possible and begged her to allow me to stay at home the rest of the week. To this she consented rather grudgingly, and I flew to my beloved books and read till supper time. I was beginning at it again in the evening when my mother rudely snatched the book from me saying, that it was not good for young girls to read such stuff. I begged earnestly to be allowed to finish just that one story and she finally said that perhaps I might read it the next day. In the morning I could hardly curb my impatience; it seemed as though my mother were inventing all sorts of useless things for me to do, just to keep me from the book. But at last I was free and, hastening to my room, was soon absorbed in another world. I was suddenly recalled to this earth by a sharp blow on my head, and the book was again snatched from me and thrown into the fire and burned. It seemed that mother had been calling me and that I had been too much absorbed to hear; that she had finally lost her temper and decided to punish me.
"'Don't ever again read such trash as this,' she cried in a rage. 'Have you any more of them?'
"'No,' I said, fearing to tell the truth, lest the rest of the books meet the same fate.
"She then sent me on an errand. As I left the house I felt uneasy, thinking that my lie might be discovered. The moment I returned, I saw by the expression on my mother's face that my fears had been realised. The storm broke at once.
"'Oh, what an unfortunate woman I am!' she cried, 'to be treated thus by my own flesh and blood, by the child that I brought into the world with so much pain and suffering. 0, God, what have I done to deserve this? 0 God, what have I done to be cursed with such a child? -so young, yet so full of lies. What will become of her? Have I not always done my duty by her and tried to raise her the best I knew how? Why did she not die when a baby? I like a fool, toiled and moiled for her night and day and this is my reward.'
"I had heard these expressions often, for my mother was a hysterical woman in whom the slightest thing would cause the most violent emotions which demanded relief in such lamentations. And yet, frequent as they were, they never failed to arouse in me feelings of shame and rage-shame that I had caused my mother suffering, and rage that she reproached herself for having brought me into the world. That expression of hers never failed to make me wish that I had never been born-born into this miserable world where I had to toil as a child, and could not go to dances or even read without receiving a torrent of abuse and an avalanche of blows. What harm had I done by my reading? True, I had not heard my mother calling, but how often had I spoken to her without being heard, when she was engrossed in some newspaper or book!
"So I remained quiet, when my mother railed at me for my lie, too ashamed and bitter to make defense or reply. This silence, as usual, made my mother still more angry and she shouted: 'You ungrateful wretch, I'll tell your father, and he'll fix you so you won't feel like lying to your mother for some time to come.'
"That threat nearly paralysed me with dread, for my father was to me a strange man whom I had always feared; my mother, when she wanted to subdue me, only needed to say: 'I'll tell your father.' I remembered the last time my father had whipped me. I was a big girl at the time, more than fourteen years old, and working down town. I had to rise very early in the morning, and it often happened that I would fall asleep again after my mother had called me. On that particular morning mother had more difficulty than usual in arousing me, scolding me severely, and I replied rather impudently, I suppose. She waited till I had got out of bed and was standing in my bare arms and shoulders over the wash bowl, and then she told father, who came with a long leather strap, which I knew well, as it was kept only for one purpose, and beat me so severely that I carried the marks for a long time. The strap was about two inches broad, and with this in one hand, whilst he held me firmly with the other, he belaboured me in such a way that the end of the strap curled cunningly around my neck and under my arms and about my little breast, making big welts which swelled at once to about a fourth of an inch in diameter and were for a few days a most beautiful vivid 'scarlet in colour. Then they toned down and new and milder tints came, and finally there was only a dull sort of green and blue effect. Finally even these disappeared from my body, but not from me.
"Now, when I thought of the possible consequences of the lie I had told, I could feel those marks on my shoulders and arms. And, at my mother's threat, the thought that I might be beaten again made me flush with shame. A feeling of rebellion, of vivid revolt, came over me. Why not resist, why not defend myself? I remembered what a factory girl had once told me-how she had defended herself against her brother by striking him with a chair.
"That is what I will do, I said to myself, trembling with excitement, if my father tries to beat me again. I am too old to be whipped any more. I don't care if he kills me, I will do it. Perhaps when I die, and they see my grave, they'll be sorry.
"When father came home in the evening, he seemed to sense trouble at once, for suddenly coming down on the table with his fist, he demanded: 'What in hell is the matter? Here you both are going around with faces as if you were at a funeral. I'm working hard all day, and when I come home at night, by God, I don't want to see such faces around me. What in hell is it, now tell me!'
"Mother told him, and he said: I Very well, just wait till I've had supper, for I'm damned hungry, then we'll have, a little understanding with my lady, who's so mighty high-toned since she worked for those swells. I'll soon show her, though, she is no better than we are.'
"When the important task of supper was over he called me to him. I was trembling in every limb, for I knew that my father was a man of few words and that he would without delay proceed to action. I managed to get a chair between him and me. He went to work deliberately, as if he were a prize-fighter. First, he spat on his hands, and was about to give me a knock-out-blow, when I, with the courage of desperation, raised the chair above my head, crying out,' Father, if you strike me, I'll hit you with this chair.' He was so astonished at my audacity that his arms fell to his sides and he gazed at me- as if he had lost his senses. I took advantage of this pause to make for the door, but before I could escape, he seized me by the arm and hurled me back into the room, and then with blood-shot eyes and bull-like voice he cursed and cursed. My mother, fearing the effect of his terrible rage, tried to intercede, but he pushed her aside, shouting, 'Oh, she's the daughter of her mother all right, and she'll turn out to be a damned --- just like you!'
"He then came up to me, where I was standing really expecting my death, and to my surprise only pressed his fist gently against my head saying: 'See how easily I could crush you. The next time I hear anything about you, I will.' Cursing me and mother, he left the house and he took him to a nearby saloon where he drank himself insensible. Toward morning he was brought home. Poor man, he just couldn't bear to see long faces about him, especially after a hard day's work!
"In a few days I secured another place, this time in a middle-class family. I remained there nearly a year and was considered by my mistress a model of willingness, patience, endurance, gentleness, and all the other slavish virtues. I never spoke except when spoken to and then I answered so redpectfully! The children might kick and abuse me in any way they chose without any show of resentment from me. This my mistress noticed and duly commended. 'Those dear children, ' she said 'You know they do not realise what they are about, and so one ought not to be harsh to the dear pets.'
"I gave up reading books and even news- papers; partly I suppose because I had for the time satiated myself, especially with sentimental and trashy novels, and had not yet learned to know real literature, and partly because, in my state of humility, I listened to my mistress when she said reading took too much time, that it was better to sew, dust, and the like) when I was not busy with the children. Everything I do, I must do passionately, it seems, even to being a slave. I gave up dances, too, and on my days out dutifully visited my parents. I had no friends or companions and was in all respects what one calls a perfect servant --so perfect that the friends of my mistress quite envied her the possession of so useful a slave.
"I got pleasure out of doing the thing so thoroughly; but yet it would not have been so interesting to me if it had not been painful, too. I was enough of a sport to want as much depth of experience, while it lasted, in that direction as in any other-in spite of, perhaps partly because of, the pain. And what pain it was, at times! Who knows of the bitter hatred surging in my heart, of the long nights spent in tears, of the terrible mental tortures I endured! Sometimes it was as if an iron hand were squeezing my heart so that I almost died; sometimes as if a great lump of stone lay on my chest. And my mistress seemed each day somehow to make the iron hand squeeze tighter and tighter and the stone weigh heavier and heavier. If she had only known what a deadly hatred I bore her --a hatred that would not have been so severe if I had not been so good a servant-had given myself rope, had satisfied my emotions! If she had understood that my calm, modest bearing was only a mask which hid a passionate soul keenly alive to the suffering inflicted on me, she would have hesitated, I think, before she entrusted her precious darlings to my care.
"This period of virtuous serving was the severest strain to which my nature, physical and moral, was ever put. I finally became very ill, and had to be removed to my mother's house, as completely broken in body as I had apparently been in spirit.
"I sat near the window gazing vacantly at the scene below. All the morning I had sat there with that empty feeling in my soul. From time to time my mother spoke to me, but I answered without turning my head. Since my illness I seemed to have lost all interest in life, and this, although everybody was kind to me. My mother gave me novels to read and money to go to the dances. The books I scarcely glanced at, and what I did read seemed so silly to me! And the dances had lost their charm. I went once or twice, but the music did not awaken any emotion in me, and I sat dully in a corner watching, without any desire to join in. And this, when I was hardly past sixteen years of age!
"The day before, I had been down town looking for a job in the stores, for my mother had told me that I might work in the shops or factories again, if I wished. Although even this assurance failed to interest me, I had obediently tried to find a position, but oh! how weary I was and how I longed for some quiet corner where I might sit for ever and ever and ever without moving. This morning I was wearier than ever, my feet seemed weighted, and I could hardly drag them across the room.. My mother asked me anxiously, if I were ill. 'No, no,' I said. 'Then my child, ' she replied, 'you must positively find work. You father is getting old and it would be a shame to have him support a big girl like you-big enough to make her own living. Don't you want to go back to your last place? She would be very glad to have you, I am sure.'
"This last remark aroused me, and I replied that I would never go back, even if I had to starve. I Don't worry, mother,' I said, 'I'll go now, and if I don't find a place, I won't come back.' 'Oh, what a torture it is to have children,' moaned my mother. 'Don't you know your father would kill me if you did not return?'
"Her words fell on heedless ears, for I was already half way down the stairs. I bought a paper and in it read this advertisement, 'Wanted: a neat girl to do second work in suburb near Chicago. Apply to No.-- Wabash Avenue.' Within an hour I presented myself at Mr. Eaton's office, was engaged by him, received a railroad ticket and instructions how to go to Kenilworth the following evening. On my way home I made up my mind to tell nobody where I was going. I packed my few belongings and told my mother that I had secured a place with a certain Mrs. So-and-so who lived in Such-and-such 'a street. I lied to the best of my ability and satisfied my mother thoroughly.
"The next morning I went away, and was soon speeding to Kenilworth, where I was met at the station by my future mistress and her mother, two extremely aristocratic women, who received me kindly and walked with me to my new home, instructing me on the way in regard to my duties in the household. These consisted mainly in being scrupulously neat, answering the door-bell and waiting on the table. I began at once to work very willingly and obligingly, and also helped the other girl working in the household, and everybody was kind to me in return. I did not, however, take this kindness to heart as I would have done a year or two earlier, for I had learned to my cost that kindness of this kind was generally only on the surface.
"But my new mistress soon proved to be a true gentlewoman, who treated her servants like human beings. To work for a mistress who did not try to interfere with my private life or regulate my religion or my morals was an unusual and pleasing experience for me. This lady was as tolerant and broadminded toward her servants as she was toward herself, rather more so, I think, for cares and age had removed from her desires and temptations for which she still had sympathy when showing themselves in younger people. I soon saw, to my astonishment, that things which my mother and my other employers had told me were evil, and which I had learned almost to think were so, did not seem evil to -this sweet lady. I remember how kindly and sadly she said to me once) when I had spent half the night out with a young man: 'Little Marie, it is a sad thing in life that what seems to us the sweetest and the best, and what indeed is the sweetest and the best, often leads to our harm and the harm of others. It would be foolish of me to pretend to know which of your actions is good and which is bad; but remember that life is very difficult and hard to lead right, and that you must be careful and always thoughtful of what is good and what is evil. I myself have never learned to know for sure what is good or evil, but as I grow older I am certain that we act always for the one or for the other.'
"Under these conditions, in the home of such a sweet and tolerant woman, all the throbbing joy of life and youth awoke again within me. Cut off from the old scenes and companions, I entered upon a new existence. I made many friends with the young people in the neighbourhood, and for the first time felt free and without the opposition of anybody. I had not written my mother or in any way let her know where I was, and no disturbing word came from my past. I sang all day at my work, and in the evening I joined my new companions and together we roamed and frolicked to our hearts' content. I had many young men friends and could satisfy my desire to be in their society, talk to, dance with them, without arousing evil thoughts in others or, consequently, in ourselves.
"Under these happy influences I grew healthier and more wholesome in every way. People began to say I was pretty, and indeed I did grow to be very good-looking. My figure had reached its fullest development and the rosy bloom of youth and of health was in my cheeks. I was strong and vigorous, self-reliant and independent, and very happy. I became quite a favourite and the recognised leader in the mischievous frolics of the young people. Hardly an evening passed that did not bring a scene of gaiety. It seemed to me that I had never lived before and that I was making up for all the pleasures I had not known. There was, indeed, something heartless and cruel in my happiness, for I never once wrote to my mother, selfishly fearing to have my present joy disturbed.
"My fears had good reason, too, it seems, 'for I had lived in those pleasant surroundings only a few months when one evening, while I was enjoying myself at a moon-light picnic, I was approached by a sober, sternlooking man who drew me away from my friends and asked me my name. When I had told him, he showed me a newspaper clipping of an article with the head-lines, 'Mysterious Disappearance of a Young Girl.' For some moments I stood as if turned to stone, gazing stupidly at the paper. Then troubled thoughts took possession of me. 'What shall I do? What will become of me?' I remembered my mother so often saying that if I ran away I would be put in the House of Correction. At this thought I shuddered and exclaimed aloud, 'No, no.' The man had been watching me closely and he asked: 'Is it true, ' pointing to the article. I stared at him, for a moment too absorbed in my inner terror to be very conscious of him. When he repeated the question, I looked at him with a more intelligent expression in my eyes, and he, seeing my condition, spoke to me kindly and persuasively.
"'Tell me the truth,' he said, 'And I will help and advise you.' So I told him the whole story, and he reassured me, saying. 'Don't be afraid, little girl, I have no doubt your mother will forgive you if you explain to her in the way you have to me. It is hard for children to understand their parents. I know, for I have children of my own, and sometimes they think me unkind when I am trying to do my best for them.' He was kind, but he was firm, too, and said that if I did not write my mother, he should do so himself. So I at last consented, and as a result went back to the city: for my mother, my unfortunate, cruel mother, wanted me, for some strange reason, to be near her."