One late afternoon when Father came up from down town, he found his home much upset. Our cook had walked out and left us. I was a child of four, George was two, and there was a new baby besides. Mother was ill. She hadn’t been able to leave us to go to an agency. And as she was no hand at cooking herself, the outlook for dinner was poor.
This state of affairs was unprecedented in all Father’s experience. In his father’s home, they never changed their servants suddenly; they seldom changed them at all; and as his mother was a past mistress of cooking, he had always been doubly protected. Since his marriage, he had had to live a much bumpier life. But this was the worst yet.
He asked Mother, who was lying in bed, what she was going to do about it. There were no telephones then, and she couldn’t do anything at all, at the moment; but she said she would try to go to an agency in the morning and see what she could find. “In the morning? Good God!” Father said. “Where is the place, anyhow?” And he clapped on his hat and strode out again, over toward Sixth Avenue.
As I heard the story years afterward, it was late when he got there, and he bounded up the front stoop two or three steps at a time, and went quickly into the little office, where the gaslights were burning. He had never been in such a place before, and to his surprise it was empty, except for a severe-looking woman who sat at a desk at one side. “Where do you keep ’em?” he urgently demanded, his mind on the question of dinner.
She looked at him, got out her pen, and opened a large book deliberately. “I will take your name and address,” she informed him, “and then, if you please, you may give me the details as to what kind of person you require and when you would wish her to call.”
But Father had no time, he told her, for any damned fol-de-rol. “Where do you keep ’em?” he said again. She was standing in the way of his dinner. I can imagine how his face must have reddened and how his eyes must have blazed at her. “I am asking you where you keep them!” he roared.
“Why, the girls are in there,” the lady explained, to calm him, “but clients are not allowed in that room. If you will tell me the kind of position you wish me to fill for you, I will have one come out.”
Before she’d half-finished, Father had thrown open the door and gone in. There sat a crowd of the girls, young and old, sickly and brawny, of all shapes and sizes; some ugly, some pretty and trim and stylish, some awkward; nurses, ladies’ maids, waitresses, washerwomen, and cooks.
The manager was by now at Father’s elbow, trying to make him get out, and insisting that he tell her the position he wished her to fill. But Father was swiftly glancing around at the crowd, and he paid no attention. He noticed a little woman in the corner, with honest grey eyes, who sat there, shrewd-looking and quiet. He pointed his cane over at her and said, “I’ll take that one.”
The manager was flustered, but still she kept trying to enforce her authority. She protested she didn’t yet know the position. . . .
“Cook,” Father said, “cook.”
“But Margaret doesn’t wish to be a cook, she wants–“
“You can cook, can’t you?” Father demanded.
Margaret’s plain little face was still pink with excitement and pleasure at being chosen above all that roomful by such a masterful gentleman. Father had probably smiled at her, too, for they liked each other at once. Well, she said, she had cooked for one family.
“Of course she can cook,” Father said.
He said afterward, when describing the incident, “I knew at once she could cook.”
The manager didn’t like this at all. The discipline of the office was spoiled. “If you are going to take her anyhow,” she said acidly, “what day would you wish her to come, and will you please give me your name?”
“Yes, yes,” Father said, without giving it. “Come on, Margaret.” And he planked down the fee and walked out.
Margaret followed him through the door and trotted over to our home at his heels. He sent her down to the kitchen immediately, while he went upstairs to dress.
“I don’t know why you make such a fuss about engaging new servants. It’s simple enough,” he said comfortably to Mother that evening, after Margaret’s first dinner.
It was the first of a long series, for she stayed with us twenty-six years.