[Historic article - fiction]
A Woman Without Cares or Children
Advised to "Adopt An Orphan Asylum."
By Olivia Lovell Wilson
Excerpted from Good Housekeeping March 16, 1889.
Volume 8, No. 10 pages 229-230
Aunt Serepta had come to stay a fortnight. Here she was, sunny and smiling, her inevitable knitting bulging her pocket, and her cheery voice forestalling her niece's welcome:
"Well, here I am, Rose. I have come to stay, too, until I've finished these socks, and by that time I will have made you a jar of mince meat, finished piecing the pink quilt, and sewed on all your shoe buttons."
"Then you have come just in time, dear aunt," laughed Mrs. Silverthorn, but with a little weakness in her tone, "for I told Robert yesterday that if I did not get a chance to sew on some shoe buttons, I should have to stay at home perforce."
"Haven't lost your good servant?" inquired Aunt Serepta.
"Oh, no! Only the pressure of outside work seems to grow greater every day. You see, having no children, and such a nice little home, I naturally can assume more outside work. Every one seems to regard me in the light of a public officer. Robert says I am like Pooh-bah. But I suppose I have fewer cares than other people."
"So, necessarily, by the law of compensation, you are asked to shoulder all you can of somebody else's burden. Come, sit down, and tell me all you have been doing lately."
"It would be easier to tell you what I have not done," laughed Mrs. Silverthorn again, pointing at her work-basket, which did present a formidable aspect, "and I am sorry to say I cannot stay home with you this afternoon, for I have to attend the Woman's Auxilliary of the Mission Work. I am the secretary and treasurer, you know. You will not mind being left alone?"
"No, no. You must not mind me, or I shall not come again."
So Rose Silverthorn hastened away, while Aunt Serepta attacked the work-basket and surprised a number of garments quite incomprehensible to her, - a crocheted tidy half finished, a bureau cover, sash curtains, a lot of lace and illusion half fashioned into a cap, a package of tickets marked "to be sold before Tuesday next," and lastly, a roll of cloth which proved to contain two small pairs of boys' trowers [sic], cut and basted.
"Good land!" ejaculated Aunt Serepta, using her one forcible demand of exclamatory emotion, "what is she going to do with these? Even if she adopts a child, she couldn't get one to fit the pants very well. And she's not one to go about anything in that backward fashion, even if she should take a full-grown child, and want to provide accordin'."
She laid them aside in much perplexity, and then made up the curtains and cast the tidy aside as a frivolous and absurd delusion of a younger generation. Aunt Serepta had no more patience with a crochet needle than she had with a crimping iron, or a tennis racket. She frowned on the innocent looking hook as an insult to her clean, shining knitting needles.
When Mrs. Silverthorn returned a friend was with her, who accompanied her home to ask her to take her Sunday school class in the Mission school during a six months absence.
"You can do it so well, Rose. You have no cares like mine, and not a child to look after or worry about," said her friend conclusively.
Mrs. Silverthorn assented reluctantly, but at these last words, flushed and said nothing.
"And now, Rose, what are these?" demanded Aunt Serepta, as the friend gone, Rose sank into a chair and gazed pathetically at the little boys' trowsers Aunt Serepta brandished tragically. "Your basket seems full of other people's plunder, but these puzzle me."
"They are all right. I cut them by a pattern Mrs. Bender gave me, and she had seven - boys, I mean, not patterns."
"What do you intend to do with them? I believe they are correct in every respect, but since you do not wear them yourself, and they are too small for Bob-"
"Do not be sarcastic Aunty, it does not sit well on you. Give them to me, I must take them to old Mrs. Brown this moment. Mrs. Tremaine said I might as well cut them out, and Mrs. Bender thought I had more time to myself since I have no children, and so few cares. I'll do them right up for Mrs. Brown, and take them. She is a poor woman who needs the work."
"Wait a moment. What is this thing?" shaking the tidy.
"Oh! I am teaching Lena Morton a new stitch. She comes tonight for her lesson, and also Mr. Leigh to try over the solo for the church choir Sunday.
"And this cap?"
"Mrs. Grey worried so about it, that I have been making them for her lately. I made three last week."
"And the tickets?"
"Dear me, I must take them, and stop at Mrs. Crawford's on my way back. I must sell at least twenty before the concert. Mrs. Post, the minister's wife, asked me to sell them. She said I was so untrammeled, having no children, and always seemed so well. I will take these to Mrs. Crawford. Back in a minute!"
Aunt Serepta kept an account during that visit, and the moments she spent with Mrs. Silverthorn aggregated just two hours and twenty minutes, and her visit lengthened to three weeks.
One after another the demands poured in upon Mrs. Silverthorn, and Aunt Serepta grew so familiar with a certain terminus of a sentence in making these demands, that she grew rosy red with indignation. Now it was a church supper.
"You're just the one, Mrs. Silverthorn, to oversee the kitchen. Nothing to keep you home, no children to trouble you."
Again she was a delegate to a temperance convention, or appointed a teacher in a kinder-garten, while there was no end to the siege laid for her to attend French or German classes, join a glee club, or a coterie for intellectual development.
"You have such nice original ideas, and then, having no children, you can be so free to go and come. And you are so well and strong!
Aunt Serepta grew to glare angrily when the well-born inevitable sentence smote her ear.
Finally, the last day of Aunt Serepta's visit, Mrs. Silverthorn had a headache, and absolutely laid on the sofa without glancing at the clock anticipating an engagement.
"Tell everyone I want to be excused," she had said to the servant. But one friend, more solicitous and intimate than the others, was admitted. After condoling, she ventured to state her errand. She wanted Mrs. Silverthorn to join a class in embroidery, to be taught by a woman of limited means.
"Rose!" began Aunt Serepta, warningly, "be firm. Do not join another earthly thing!"
"But this is so delightful, and she is such a charming teacher and-"
"I really feel, Mrs. Crawford, as if I had so much to do already."
"The idea of your talking that way, Rose. You, without a child to bless yourself, and so little care of any kind. I really wonder how you fill your time."
"Well, I can tell you," struck in Aunt Serepta, clashing her knitting needles, as she waved them aloft in sudden wrathful energy. "She is doing the duty of ten women that have got children. She is teaching two Sunday school classes, a free kitchen garden, selling tickets for concerts and church fairs, hunting up poor women in the interests of flower missions, reading at the hospital, secretary and treasurer of three societies, and a member of two musical circles, putting aside the few little unnecessary things one is called upon to do for a husband, for she has no children, and an excellent servant. As it is, I wish she had seventeen, or more, children, then, perhaps, she could go to her grave in peace. As it is-"
"I am not dead yet, Aunt Serepta," laughed Mrs. Silverthorn, intensely amused at Mrs. Crawford's puzzled countenance during Aunt Serepta's recital.
"Because you inherit a strong constitution from your mother, you need not boast. But don't join an embroidery class, for I may go to my last rest before long, and then who will sew on your shoe buttons?"
After Mrs. Crawford departed, Mrs. Silverthorn lay smiling at her evident confusion, and Aunt Serepta's wrath, when that worthy lady said solemnly:
"Rose, I am going to write a book."
"Good! What will it be, a novel?"
"Yes - very novel. I shall call it 'Robert Silverthorn's Wife, or what is expected of a Woman who is Without Cares or Children.'"
"That will do very well," then, after a pause, "in how many chapters, Aunt Serepta?"
"Chapters? It will fill three volumes," replied Aunt Serepta calmly. Then as she tied on her bonnet, and wound up her knitting, she bend a still more solemn glance on Rose and said: "Do you want my advice? It is not expensive, and it may show you a loop-hole of escape to restful peace?"
Aunt Serepta bent over her niece and said in a low tone, "Adopt an Orphan Asylum!"