Why Missus Wants an Up-Stairs Girl: 1882

The Maidservant William Arthur Breakspeare 1881

The Maidservant, William Arthur Breakspeare, 1881

The Cook’s Story.

Yes, dear, it was; Eliza Murphy was her name, and she was an upstairs girl, my dear, and came with a good character as ever you read, my dear, though to be sure my missus did say as it was singular it was spelt so poorly by a lady as lived in the Fifth avenue and gone to Europe for her ’elth. But that’s something I don’t know anything about, my love, for even bad spellin’ always did come hard to me owin’ to a dizziness in my ’ed as I’m subject to; but the character was good, I know, and it said as how Eliza was a good worker and handy and obliging, and very pious, and, why, bless your ’art, I happroves of piousness in this wicked world, where’s there’s such need of it—a wicked, wicked world indeed, as you can’t buy a pound of beef in it without being cheated; and measure your calico, after you fetch it home, why, it will turn out ’alf a quarter short; I gives you my word, my dear.

Well, ’owever that may be, it was of a Monday night as Eliza brought her box, and there she sat opposite me, as serious as you please, with a blue worsted stocking to knit, when she had nothing else to do, and her hymn book and Bible on the dresser.

Well, she was neat as a new pin, was Eliza, and we all liked her; and there was her character, as I said, but she ’adn’t been in the ’ouse a week, my love, before things began to go mysterious like, and now it was a napkin and now it was a ’andkerchief, and now it was my hapron or missus’ cuffs; but you couldn’t suspect Eliza. She was halways the first to find out the loss, and it was, “Ho, dear! whatever shall I do? this is gone;” or, “Ho, dear! what will become of me, new to the ’ouse and sich things ’appening!”

And she’d think it might be the soap-fat man was a thief, or may be the ice-man wasn’t honest—and though the things did go we never laid it on Eliza. Missus said such a good, pious person, and so steady, she couldn’t suspect.

So we turned away the man that came to fix the heater, and the woman that did odd scrubbing, but change didn’t ’elp us—-things kept a goin’.

At last, I know it was a Wednesday evening, because that was the evening as Eliza always begged to go to meetin’, when, all of a sudden, things having been going so fast that I was quite upset in my wits, heard Eliza calling out:

“Oh, cook, cook, what have you done with the clock?”

And I, bein’ at the refrigerator at the time, came flyin’ in, and says I:

“With the clock! and whatever should I do with it, Eliza?”

Says she:’ “Say you’ve hid it to frighten me, cook.”

Says I: “Far be it from me to do sich an action; but the clock is not there on the wall, Eliza, and where is it?”

It was a little round clock as you could put any way without stopping it, and it was hanging on the wall at six, for I’d looked at it.

But now it was gone, and the door fastened and all, and it frightened me so that I went off into hysterics, and missus heard them, and down she came, and there she stood in her black silk, Eliza, with a gray merino, and so big a pannier, and her hat and shawl on, all ready for meeting.

“And what ’as ’append?” says missus.

And says I: “Oh, I believe the kitchen is bewitched, mum.”

And says Eliza:

“Saving your presence, mum, I believe Satan is abroad, mum. And however will you believe me honest, comin’ into this house a stranger, when things go like this. The clock is gone, mum?”

Missus looks at the wall and looks at me.

“Them’s the keys of my box, mum,” says I, handing ’em out.

“And there’s mine,” says Eliza. “And if you’ll do me the favor to look in my pocket, mum, I’ll feel obliged, for my conscience is clear, and they’ll speak of me as knows me.”

“Oh, dear,” said missus, “I don’t suspect any one—but who has been here?”

“Not a soul,” says I.

“Not a soul,” says Eliza.

“And I’m so glad,” says Eliza, “it ’appened afore I went out. I might ’ave been suspected. But when a body does right, why I think the angels watches over ’em, mum. And may I go out as usual, mum, for ef I don’t have my evening at meeting, I shan’t be able to control my evil passions as I’d like when cook scolds me?”

“Oh, yes; go, Eliza,” said missus. “I’m glad you are so anxious to improve yourself; but about the clock. Do you think—hark!”

I said “hark!” too; for hall of a sudden we heard a kind of whir~and—-one—struck a clock somewhere.

Eliza turned pale, and sat down on a chair.

“Two,” says the clock—“three—four—five— six.” It was our clock. I knowed its voice—for a clock has a voice of its own, as you may say, like a human being; but where did it come from? “Seven,” says the clock, and all of a sudden I knew where it was. It was under that Eliza’s dress, my dear, tied on to the pannier, and when she stole it, my love, she’d forgot about the striking. I’m a strong woman when I’m aroused, and have a will of my own. Eliza didn’t like my taking off that pannier very much, but I took it all the same, and I sot it before missus, and I says, “Let your own senses convince you, mum, of depravity sich as has no equal,” before I went off again in hysterics.

“And that’s why Eliza is gone, my love, and why missus wants an up-stairs girl again. And it’s upset me so, my dear, that I’m obliged to strengthen myself a little, and that’s why you see me putting a little of the best in my tea. Will you have a cup?”

The Elocutionist’s Journal: A Repository of the Choicest Standard and Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations.  June 1882: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This was an alarmingly common crime. Mrs Daffodil has counted several dozen entries in the newspapers, relating how a clock-thief was betrayed by a chiming clock. Here is a striking example:


Betrays Man on the Street, With Policeman Standing Near.

Pittsburg, Pa., October 21. A policeman in search of a clock which had just been stolen from a North Side jewelry store accosted Frank Roper of Canton, Ohio, on a street nearby.

“Got something you don’t want to have seen?” queried the policeman, as he noted a bulge in Roper’s coat.

“Oh, only a box of candy for my girl,” the man replied.

Just at that moment the “box of candy” loudly struck the hour of four. Roper is in the police station waiting his turn to explain how it happened.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 21 October 1910: p. 1

Still, Mrs Daffodil will not judge Cook for putting a little of the best in her tea. Depravity sich as has no equal always raises a thirst.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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