Trimmer in Our Chambers

IT was the same story all over again. I wanted a servant. Only, this time I wanted an elderly woman who never drank anything stronger than tea, for I had just got rid of a young person who seldom drank anything weaker than brandy, and I was still sore from the experience. Until then I had supposed it was the old who could find nobody to give them work, but my trouble was to find somebody old enough to give mine to. The “ superior domestics ” at the registry offices were much too well trained to confess even to middle age, and probably I should be looking for my elderly woman to this day, had not chance led Trimmer one afternoon to an office which I had left without hope in the morning; and, as her years could supply no possible demand save mine, she was sent at once to our chambers.

To tell the truth, as soon as I saw her, I began to doubt my own wisdom. I had never imagined anybody quite so respectable. In her neat but rusty black dress and cape, her hair parted and brought carefully down over her ears, her bonnet like a cap tied under her chin, her reticule hanging on her arm, she was the incarnation of British respectability; “ the very type,” the “ old Master Rembrandt van Rijn, with three Baedeker stars.” I could almost hear Mr. Henry James describing her, and all she wanted was to belong “ beautifully ” to me. But then she looked as old as she looked respectable,— so much older than I meant her to look, — old to the point of fragility. She admitted to fifty-five, and when mentally I added four or five years more, I am sure I was not over-generous. Her face was filled with wrinkles, her skin was curiously delicate, and she had the pallor that comes from a steady diet of tea and bread and sometimes butter. The hands through the large, carefully-mended black gloves showed twisted and stiff, and it was not easy to fancy them making our beds and our fires, cooking our dinners, dusting our rooms, opening our front door. We needed some one to take care of us, and it was plain that she was far more in need of some one to take care of her, — all the plainer because of her anxiety to prove her capacity for work. There was nothing she could not do, nothing she would not do if I were but to name it. “ I can cut about, mum, you’ll see. Oh, I’m bonny! ” And the longer she talked, the better I knew that during weeks, and perhaps months, she had been hunting for a place; which, at the best, is wearier work than hunting for a servant, and, at the worst, then led straight to the workhouse — all that was left for the honest poor who could not get a chance to earn their living, and who, by the irony of things, had come to dread it worse than death.

With my first doubt, I ought to have sent her away. But I kept putting off the uncomfortable duty by asking her questions, only to find that she was irreproachable on the subject of alcohol, that she preferred “ beer money ” to beer, that there was no excuse not to take her except her age, and this, in the face of her eagerness to remain, I had not the heart to make. My hesitation cost me the proverbial price. Before the interview was over, I had engaged her on the condition that her references were good, as of course they were; though she sent me for them to the most unexpected place in the world, a corset and petticoat shop not far from Leicester Square. Through the quarter to which all that is disreputable in Europe drifts, where any sort of virtue is exposed to damage beyond repair, she had carried her respectability and emerged more respectable than ever.

She came to us with so little delay that I knew better than ever how urgent was her case. Except for the providentially short interval with the young “ general,” this was my first experience of the British servant, and it was enough to make me tremble. It was impossible to conceive of anything more British. Her print dress, changed for a black one in the afternoon, her white apron and white cap became in my eyes symbolic. I seemed, in her, to face the entire caste of British servants, who are so determined never to be slaves that they would rather fight for their freedom to be as slavish as they always have been. She knew her place, and what is more, she knew ours, and meant to keep us in it, no matter whether we liked or did not like to be kept there. I was the Mistress and J. was the Master, and if, with our American notions, we forgot it, she never did, but on our slightest forgetfulness brought us up with a round turn. So correct, indeed, was her conduct, and so respectable and venerable was her appearance, that she produced the effect in our chambers of an old family retainer. Friends would have had us train her to address me as “ Miss Elizabeth,” or J. as “ Master J,” and pass her off for the faithful old nurse who is now so seldom met out of fiction.

For all her deference, however, she clung obstinately to her prejudices. We might be as American in our ways as we pleased, she would not let us off one little British bit in hers. She never presumed unbidden upon an observation, and if I forced one from her she invariably begged my pardon for the liberty. She thanked us for everything, for what we wanted as gratefully as for what we did not want. She saw that we had hot water for our hands at the appointed hours. She compelled us to eat Yorkshire pudding with our sirloin of beef, and bread-sauce with our fowl — in this connection how can I bring myself to say chicken? She could never quite forgive us for our indifference to “ sweets; ” and for the daily bread-and-butter puddings and tarts we would not have, she made up by an orgy of tipsy cakes and creams when anybody came to dine. How she was reconciled to our persistent refusal of afternoon tea, I always wondered; though I sometimes thought that, by the stately function she made of it in the kitchen, she hoped to atone for this worst of our American heresies.

Whatever she might be as a type, there was no denying that as a servant she had all the qualities. She was an excellent cook, despite her flamboyant and florid taste in “sweets;” she was sober, she was obliging, she had by no means exaggerated her talent for “ cutting about,” and I never ceased to be astonished at the amount she accomplished. The fire was always burning when we got down in the morning, breakfast always ready. Beds were made, lunch served, the front door opened, dinner punctual. I do not know how she did it all, and I now remember with thankfulness our scruples when we saw her doing it, and the early date at which we supplied her with an assistant in the shape of a snuffy, frowzy old charwoman. The revelation of how much too much remained for her even then came only when we lost her and I was obliged to look below the surface. While she was with us, the necessity of looking below never occurred to me; and as our chambers had been done up from top to bottom just before she moved into them, they stood her method on the surface admirably.

This method perhaps struck me as the more complete because it left her the leisure for a frantic attempt to anticipate our every wish. She tried to help us with a perseverance that was exasperating, and, as her training had taught her the supremacy of the master in the house, it was upon J. that her efforts were chiefly spent. I could see him writhe under her devotion until there were times when I dreaded to think what might come of it, all the more because my sympathies were so entirely with him. If he opened his door, she rushed to ask what he wanted. A spy could not have spied more diligently ; and as in our tiny chambers the kitchen door was almost opposite his, he never went or came that she did not know it. He might be as short with her as he could, and in British fashion order her never to come into the studio, but it was no use: she could not keep out of it. Each new visitor, or letter, or message, was an excuse for her to flounder in among the portfolios on the floor and the bottles of acid in the corner, at the risk of his temper and her life. On the whole, he bore it with admirable patience. But there was one awful morning when he hurried into my room, slammed the door after him, and in a whisper said, — he who would not hurt a fly, — “ If you don’t keep that woman out of my room, I’ll wring her neck for her! ”

I might have spared myself any anxiety. Had J. offered to her face to wring her neck, she would have smiled and said, “ That’s all right, sir! Thank you, sir! ” For, with Trimmer, to be “ bonny” meant to be cheerful under any and all conditions. So long as her cherished traditions were not imperiled, she had a smile for every emergency. It was characteristic of her to allow me to christen her anew the first day she was with us, and not once to protest. We could not bring ourselves to call her Lily, her Christian name, so inappropriate was it to her venerable appearance. Her surname was even more impossible, for she was the widow of a Mr. Trim. She herself — helpful from the beginning — suggested “ cook.” But she was a number of things besides, and though I did not mind my friends knowing that she was as many persons in one as the cook of the Nancy Bell, it would have been superfluous to remind them of it on every occasion. When, at my wit’s end, I added a few letters and turned the impossible Trim into Trimmer, she could not have been more pleased had I made her a present, and from that moment she answered to the new name as if born to it.

The same philosophy carried her through every trial and tribulation. It was sure to be all right if, before my eyes and driving me to tears, she broke the plates I could not replace without a journey to Central France, or if in the morning the kitchen was a wreck after the night Jimmy, our unspeakable black cat, had been making of it. Fortunately he went out as a rule for his sprees, realizing that our establishment could not stand the wear and tear. When he chanced to stay at home, I have come down to the kitchen in the morning to find the clock ticking upside down on the floor, oranges and apples rolling about, spoons and forks under the table, cups and saucers in pieces, and Jimmy on the table washing his face. But Trimmer would meet me with a radiant smile and would put things to rights, while Jimmy purred at her heels, as if both were rather proud of the exploit, certain that no other cat in the world could, “ all by his lone ” and in one night, work such ruin.

After all, it was a good deal Trimmer’s fault if we got into the habit of shifting disagreeable domestic details on to her shoulders, she had such a way of offering us her shoulders for the purpose. It was she who, when Jimmy’s orgies had at last undermined his health and the “ vet ” prescribed a dose of chloroform as the one remedy, went to see it administered, coming back to tell us of the “ beautiful corpse ” he made. It was she who took our complaints to the housekeeper downstairs, and met those the other tenants brought against us. It was she who bullied stupid tradesmen and stirred up idle workmen. It was she, in a word, who served as domestic scapegoat. And she never remonstrated. I am convinced that, if I had said, “ Trimmer, there’s a lion roaring at the door,” she would have answered, “ That’s all right, mum! thank you, mum! ” and rushed to say that we were not at home to him. As it happens, I know how she would have faced a burglar, for one late evening when I was alone in our chambers, I heard some one softly trying to turn the knob of the door of the box-room. What I did was to shut and bolt the door at the foot of our little narrow stairway, thankful that there was a door there that could be bolted. What Trimmer did, when she came home some ten minutes later and I told her, “ There’s a burglar in the box-room,” was to say, “ Oh, is there, mum? thank you, mum. That’s all right. I’ll just run up and see; ” and then light a candle and walk right up to the boxroom and unlock and open the door. Out flew William Penn, furious with us because he had let himself be shut in where nobody had seen him go, and where he had no business to have gone. He was only the cat, I admit. But he might have been the burglar for all Trimmer knew, and — what then ?

As I look back and think of these things, I am afraid we imposed upon her. At the time, we had twinges of conscience, especially when we caught her “ cutting about ” with more than her usual zeal. She was not designed by nature to “ cut about ” at all. To grow old with her meant “ to lose the glory of the form.” She was short, she had an immense breadth of hip, and she waddled rather than walked. When, in her haste, her cap would get tilted to one side, and she would give a smudge to her nose or her cheek, she was really a grotesque little figure, and the twinges became acute. To see her “ cutting about ” so unbecomingly for us at an age when she should have been allowed, unburdened, to crawl towards death, was to shift the heaviest responsibility to our shoulders and to make of us the one barrier between her and the workhouse. We could not watch the tragedy of old age in our own household without playing a more important part in it than we liked.

Her cheerfulness was the greater marvel when I learned how little reason life had given her for it. In her rare outbursts of confidence, with excuses for the liberty, she told me that she was London born and bred, that she had gone into service young, and that she had married before she was twenty. I fancy she must have been pretty as a girl. I know she was ” bonny,” and “ a fine one ” for work, and I am not surprised that Trim wanted to marry her. He was a skilled plasterer by trade, got good wages, and was seldom out of a job. They had a little house in some far-away mean street, and though the children who would have been welcome never came, there was little else to complain of.

Trim was good to her, that is, unless he was in liquor, which I gathered he mostly was. He was fond of his glass, sociable like, and, with his week’s wage in his pocket, could not keep away from his pals in the public. Trimmer’s objection to beer was accounted for when I discovered that Trim’s fondness for it often kept the little house without bread and filled it with curses. There were never blows. Trim was good, she reminded me, and the liquor never made him wicked — only made him leave his wife to starve, and then curse her for starving. She was tearful with gratitude when she remembered his goodness in not beating her, but when her story reached the day of his tumbling off a high ladder — the beer was in his legs — and being brought back to her dead, it seemed to me a matter of rejoicing. Not to her, however, for she had to give up the little house and go into service again, and she missed Trim and his curses. She did not complain. She always found good places, and she adopted a little boy, a sweet little fellow, like a son to her, whom she sent to school and started in life, and had never seen since. But young men will be young men, and she loved him. She was very happy at the corset and petticoat shop where she lived while he was with her. After business hours she was free, for apparently the responsibility of being alone in a big house all night was as simple for her as braving a burglar in our chambers. The young ladies were pleasant, she was well paid. Then her older brother’s wife died and left him with six children. What could she do but go and look after them when he asked her?

He was well-to-do, and his house and firing and lighting were given him in addition to high wages. He did not pay her anything, of course, — she was his sister. But it was a comfortable home, the children were fond of her, — and also of her cakes and puddings, — and she looked forward to spending the rest of her days there. But at the end of two years he married again, and when the new wife came, the old sister went. This was how it came about that, without a penny in her pocket, — with nothing save her old twisted hands to keep her out of the workhouse, — she was adrift again at an age which made her undesirable to everybody except foolish people like ourselves, fresh from the horrors of a young “ general ” with a taste for brandy. It never occurred to Trimmer that there was anything to complain of. For her, all had always been for the best in the best of all possible worlds. That she had now chanced upon a flat and two people and one dissipated cat to take care of, and more to do than ought to have been asked of her, was but another stroke of her invariable good luck.

She had an amazing faculty of turning all her little molehills into mountains of pleasure. I have never known anything like the joy she got from her family, though I never could quite make out why. She was inordinately proud of the brother who had been so ready to get rid of her; the sister-in-law who had replaced her was a paragon of virtue; the nieces were to her so many “ infant phenomena;” and one Sunday when, with the South London world of fashion, they were walking in the Embankment Gardens, she presumed so far as to bring them up to our chambers to show them off to me, and the affectionate glances she cast upon their expansive lace collars explained that she still had her uses in the family. There was also a cousin whom, to Trimmer’s embarrassment, I often found in our kitchen; but much worse than frequent visits could be forgiven her, since it was she who, after Jimmy’s inglorious end, brought us William Penn, a pussy then small enough to go into her coat-pocket, but already gay enough to dance his way straight into our hearts.

Trimmer’s pride, however, reached high-water mark when it came to a younger brother who traveled in “ notions ” for a city firm. His proprietor was the personage the rich Jew always is in the city of London, and was made alderman and lord mayor, and knighted and baroneted, during the years Trimmer spent with us. She took enormous satisfaction in the splendor of this success, counting it another piece of her good luck to be connected, however remotely, with anybody so distinguished. She had almost an air of proprietorship on the ninth of November, when from our windows she watched his show passing along the Embankment; she could not have been happier if she herself had been seated in the gorgeous Cinderella coach, with the coachman in wig and cocked hat, and the powdered footmen perched up behind; and when J. went to the lord mayor’s dinner that same evening at the Guildhall, it became for her quite a family affair. Indeed, I often fancied that she thought it reflected glory on us all to have the sister of a man who traveled in “ notions ” for a knight and a lord mayor, living in our chambers; though she would never have taken the liberty of showing it.

Trimmer’s joy was only less in our friends than in her family, which was for long a puzzle to me. There was no question that they added considerably to her already heavy task, and, in her place, I should have hated them for it. It might amuse us to have them drop in to lunch or to dinner at any time, and to gather them together once a week, on Thursday evening. But it could hardly amuse Trimmer, to whose share fell the problem of how to make a meal prepared for two go round among four or six, or how to get to the front door and dispose of hats and wraps in chambers so small that the weekly gathering filled even our little hall to overflowing. We had sufficient sense to see that there was some one to help her on Thursdays, and she had not much to do in the way of catering. “ Plain living and high talking ” was the principle upon which our evenings were run, and whoever wanted more than a sandwich or so could go elsewhere. But whatever had to be done, Trimmer insisted on doing, and, moreover, on doing it until the last pipe was out and the last word spoken; and as everybody almost was an artist or a writer, and as there is no subject so inexhaustible as “ shop,” I do not like to remember how late that often was. It made no difference. She refused to go to bed, and in her white cap and apron, with her air of old retainer or family nurse, she would waddle about through clouds of tobacco smoke, offering a box of cigarettes here, a plate of sandwiches there, radiant, benevolent, more often than not in the way, toward the end looking as if she would drop, but apparently enjoying herself more than anybody, until it seemed as if the unkindness would be not to let her stay up in it.

More puzzling to me than her interest in all our friends was her choice of a few for her special favor. I could not see the reason for her choice, unless I had suspected her of a sudden passion for literature and art. Certainly her chief attentions were lavished on the most distinguished among our friends, who were the very people most apt to put her devotion to the test. She adored Whistler, though when he was in London he had a way, not only of dropping in to dinner, but sometimes of dropping in so late that it had to be cooked all over again. She was so far from minding, that at the familiar sound of his knock and ring her face was wreathed in smiles, she seemed to look upon the extra work as a privilege, and I have known her, without a word, to trot off to the butcher’s or the green-grocer’s, or even to the tobacconist’s in the Strand for the little Algerian cigarettes he loved. She went so far as to abandon certain of her prejudices for his benefit, and I realized what a conquest he had made when she resigned herself to cooking a fowl in a casserole and serving it without bread-sauce. She discovered the daintiness of his appetite, and it was delightful to see her hovering over him at table and pointing out the choice bits in every dish she passed. She was forever finding an excuse to come into any room where he might be. Altogether, it was as complete a case of fascination as if she had known him to be the great master he was; and she was his slave long before he gave her the ten shillings, which was valued sentimentally, as I really believe a tip never was before or since by a British servant.

Henley was hardly second in her esteem, and this was the more inexplicable because he provided her with so many more chances to prove it. Whistler then lived in Paris, and appeared only now and then. Henley lived in London half the week, and rarely missed a Thursday. For it was on that evening that the National Observer, which he was editing, went to press, and the printers in Covent Garden were conveniently near to our chambers. His work done, about ten or eleven, the paper put to bed, he and the train of young men then in attendance upon him would come round; and to them, in the comfortable consciousness that the rest of the week was their own, time was of no consideration. Henley exulted in talk: if he had the right audience he would talk all night; and the right audience was willing to listen so long as he talked in our chambers. But Trimmer, in the kitchen, or handing round sandwiches, could not listen, and yet she lingered as long as anybody. It might be almost dawn before he got up to go, but she was there to fetch him his crutch and his big black hat, and to shut the door after him. Whatever the indiscretion of the hour one Thursday, she welcomed him as cordially the next, or any day in between when inclination led him to toil up the three long flights of stairs to our dinner-table.

Phil May was no less in her good graces, and his hours, if anything, were worse than Henley’s, since the length of his stay did not depend on his talk. I never knew a man of less conversation. “ Have a drink,” was its extent with many who thought themselves in his intimacy. This was a remark which he could scarcely otfer to Trimmer at the front door, where Whistler and Henley never failed to exchange with her a friendly greeting. But all the same, she seemed to feel the charm which his admirers liked to attribute to him, and to find in his smile, when he balanced himself on the back of a chair, more than a substitute for conversation, however animated. The flaw in my enjoyment of his company on our Thursdays was the certainty of the length of time he would be pleased to bestow it upon us. Trimmer must have shared this certainty, but to her it never mattered. She never failed to return his smile, though when he got down to go, she might be nodding, and barely able to drag one tired old foot after the other.

She made as much of “ Bob ” Stevenson, whose hours were worse than anybody’s. We would perhaps run across him at a press view of pictures in the morning and bring him back to lunch, he protesting that he must leave immediately after to get home to Kew and write his article before six o’clock. And then he would begin to talk, weaving a romance of any subject that came up, — the subject was nothing, it was always what he made of it, — and he would go on talking until Trimmer, overjoyed at the chance, came in with afternoon tea; and he would go on talking until she announced dinner; and he would go on talking until all hours the next morning, long after his last train and any possibility of his article getting into yesterday afternoon’s Pall Mall. But early as he might appear, late as he might stay, he was never too early or too late for Trimmer.

These were her favorites, though she was ready to “ mother ” Beardsley, who, she seemed to think, had just escaped from the schoolroom and ought to be sent back to it; though she had a protecting eye also for George Steevens, just up from Oxford, evidently mistaking the silence which was then his habit for shyness; though, indeed, she overflowed with kindness for everybody who came. It was astonishing how, at her age, she managed to adapt herself to people and ways so unlike any she could ever have known, without relaxing in the least from her own code of conduct.

Only twice can I remember seeing her really ruffled. Once was when Felix Buhot, who, during a long winter he spent in London, was often with us on Thursdays, went into the kitchen to teach her to make coffee. The inference that she could not make it hurt her feelings; but her real distress was to have him in the kitchen, which “ ladies and gentlemen ” should not enter. Between her desire to get him back to the diningroom and her fear lest he should discover it, she was terribly embarrassed. It was funny to watch them : Buhot, unconscious of wrong and of English, intent upon measuring the coffee and pouring out the boiling water; Trimmer fluttering about him with flushed and anxious face, talking very loud and with great deliberation, in the not uncommon conviction that the foreigner’s ignorance of English is only a form of deafness.

On the other occasion she lost her temper, the only time in my experience. It was a Sunday afternoon, and Whistler, appearing while she was out and staying on to supper, got Constant, his man, to add an onion soup and an omelet to the cold meats she had prepared, for he would never reconcile himself to the English supper. She was furious when she got back and found that her pots and pans had been meddled with, and her larder raided. She looked upon it as a reproach: as if she could n’t serve Mr. Whistler as well as any foreign servant, — she had no use for foreign servants anyhow, — she would not have them making their foreign messes in any kitchen of hers! It took days and careful diplomacy to convince her that she had not been insulted.

I was the more impressed by this outbreak of temper because, as a rule, she gave no sign of seeing, or hearing, or understanding anything that went on in our chambers. She treated me as I believe royalty should be treated, leaving it to me to open the talk, or to originate a topic. I remember once, when we were involved in a rumpus which had been discussed over our dinner-table for months beforehand, and which at the time filled the newspapers and was such public property that everybody in our “ quarter ” — the milkman, the florist at the Temple of Pomona in the Strand, the housekeeper downstairs, the postman — congratulated us on our victory, Trimmer alone held her peace. I could not believe that she really did not know, and at last I asked her:—

“ I suppose you have heard, Trimmer, what has been going on these days?”

“ What, mum ? ” was her answer.

Then, exasperated, I explained.

“ Why yes, mum,” she said. “ I beg your pardon, mum, I really could n’t ’elp it. I ’ave been reading the pipers, and the ’ousekeeper she was a-talkin’ to me about it before you come in, and the postman too, and I was sayin’ as ’ow glad I was. I ’ope you and Master won’t think it a liberty, mum. Thank you, mum! ”

I remember another time, when some of our friends took to running away with other friends’ wives, and things became so complicated for everybody that our Thursday evenings were brought to a sudden end : but Trimmer kept the same stolid countenance throughout, until, partly to prevent awkwardness, partly out of curiosity, I asked her if she had seen the papers.

“ Oh, I beg your pardon, mum,” she hesitated, “ thank you, mum, I’m sure. I know it’s a liberty, but you know,mum, they’ve all been ’ere so often I could n’t ’elp noticing there was somethink. And I’m very sorry, mum, if you’ll excuse the liberty, they all was such lidies and gentlemen, mum.”

And so, I should never have known there was another reason, besides the natural kindness of her heart, for her interest in our friends and her acceptance of their ways, if, long before this, I had not happened to say to her one Friday morning, —

“ You seem, Trimmer, to have a very great admiration for Mr. Phil May?”

“ I ’ope you and Master won’t think it a liberty, mum,” she answered, in an agony of embarrassment, “ but I do like to see ’im, and they allus so like to ’ear about ’im at ’ome. They’re allus asking me when I ’ave last seen ’im or Mr. Whistler.”

Then it came out. Chance had bestowed upon her father and one of the great American magazines the same name, with the result that the magazine was looked upon by her brother and herself as belonging somehow to the family. The well-to-do brother subscribed to it, the other came to his house to see each new number. Through the illustrations and articles they had become as familiar with artists and authors as most people in England are with “ the winners,” and their education had reached at least the point of discovery that news does not begin and end in Sport. Judging from Trimmer, I doubt if at first their patronage of art and literature went much further, but this was far enough for them to know, and to feel flattered by the knowledge, that she was living among people who figured in the columns of art and literary gossip as prominently as “ all the winners ” in the columns of the Sporting Prophets, though they would have been still more flattered had her lot been cast among the Prophets. In a few cases, their interest soon became more personal.

It was their habit — why, I do not suppose they could have said themselves — to read any letter Whistler might write to the papers at a moment when he was given to writing, though what they made of the letter when read was more than Trimmer was able to explain; they also looked out for Phil May’s drawings in Punch; they passed our articles round the family circle, a compliment hardly more astonishing to Trimmer than to us. As time went on, they began to follow the career of several of our other friends to whom Trimmer introduced them ; and it was a gratification to them all, as well as a triumph for her, when on Sunday afternoon she could say, “ Mr. Crockett or Mr. ’Arold Frederick was at Master’s last Thursday.” Thus, through us, she became for the first time a person of importance in her brother’s house, and I suspect also quite an authority in Brixton on all questions of art and literature. Indeed, she may, for all I know, have started another Carnegie Library in South London.

It is a comfort now to think that her stay with us was pleasant to her; wages alone could not have paid our debt for the trouble she spared us during her five years in our chambers. I have an idea that, in every way, it was the most prosperous period of her life. When she came, she was not only without a penny in her pocket, but she owed pounds for her outfit of aprons and caps and dresses. Before she left, she was saving money. She opened a book at the Post Office Savings Bank; she subscribed to one of those societies which would assure her a “ respectable funeral,” for she had the ambition of all the self-respecting poor “ to be put away decent,” after having, by honest work, kept ” off the parish ” to the end. Her future provided for, she could make the most of whatever pleasures the present might throw in her way — the pantomime at Christmas, a good seat for the Queen’s jubilee procession; above all, the two weeks’ summer holiday. No child got so much excitement out of the simplest treat. No journey was ever so full of adventure as hers to Margate, or Yarmouth, or Hastings, from the first preparation to the moment of return, when she would appear laden with presents of Yarmouth bloaters or Margate shrimps, to be divided between the old charwoman and ourselves.

If she had no desire to leave us, we had none to have her go; and, as the years passed, we did not see why she should. She was old, but she bore her age with vigor. She was hardly ever ill, and never with anything worse than a cold or an indigestion, though she had an inconvenient talent for accidents. The way she managed to cut her fingers was little short of genius. One or two were always wrapped in rags. But no matter how deep the gash, she was as cheerful as if it were an accomplishment. With the blood pouring from the wound, she would beam upon me: “ You ’ave no idea, mum, what wonderful flesh I ’as fur ’ealin’.” Her success in falling down our little narrow stairway was scarcely less remarkable. But the worst tumble of all was the one which J. had so long expected. He had just moved his portfolios to an unaccustomed place one morning when a letter, or a message, or something, sent her stumbling into the studio with her usual impetuosity, and over she tripped. It was so bad that we had to have the doctor, her arm was so seriously strained that he made her carry it in a sling for weeks. We were alarmed, but not Trimmer.

“ You know, mum, it is lucky; it might ’ave been the right harm and that would ’ave been bad! ”

She really thought it another piece of her extraordinary good luck.

Poor Trimmer! It needed so little to make her happy, and within five years of her coming to us that little was taken from her. All she asked of life was work, and a worse infirmity than age put a stop to her working for us, or for anybody else, ever again. At the beginning of her trouble, she would not admit to us, nor I fancy to herself, that anything was wrong, and she was “ bonny,” though she went “cutting about” at snail’s pace, and her cheerful old face grew haggard. Presently, there were days when she could not keep up the pretense, and then she said her head ached and she begged my pardon for the liberty. I consulted a doctor. He thought it might be neuralgia, and dosed her for it; she thought it her teeth, and had almost all the few still left to her pulled out. And the pain was worse than ever. Then, as we were on the point of leaving town for some weeks, we handed over our chambers to the frowzy old charwoman, and sent Trimmer down to the sea at Hastings. She was waiting to receive us when we returned, but she gave us only the ghost of her old smile in greeting, and her face was more haggard and drawn than ever. For a day she tottered about from one room to another, cooking, dusting, making beds, and looking all the while as if she were on the rack. She was a melancholy wreck of the old cheerful, bustling, exasperating Trimmer; and it was more than we could stand. I told her so. She forgot to beg my pardon for the liberty in her hurry to assure me that nothing was wrong, that she could work, that she wanted to work, that she was not happy when she did not work.

“ Oh, I’m bonny, mum, I’m bonny! ” ske kept saying over and over again.

Her despair at the thought of stopping work was more cruel to see than her physical torture, and I knew, without her telling me, that her fear of the pain she might have still to suffer was nothing compared to her fear of the workhouse she had toiled all her life to keep out of. She had just seven pounds and fifteen shillings for her fortune; her family, being working people, would have no use for her once she was of no use to them; our chambers were her home only so long as she could do in them what she had agreed to do; there was no Workmen’s Compensation Act in those days, no old-age pensions, even if she had been old enough to get one. What was left for a poor woman, full of years and pain, save the one refuge which, all her life, she had been taught to look upon as scarcely less shameful than the prison or the scaffold ?

Well, Trimmer had done her best for us; now we did our best for her, and, as it turned out, the best that could be done. Through a friend, we got her into St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Her case was hopeless from the first. A malignant growth so close to the brain that at her age an operation was too serious a risk, and without it she might linger in agony for months, — this was what life had been holding in store for Trimmer during those long years of incessant toil, and self-sacrifice, and obstinate belief that a drunken husband, a selfish brother, an empty purse, were all for the best in our best of all possible worlds.

She did not know how ill she was, and her first weeks at the hospital were happy. The violence of the pain was relieved, the poor tired old body was the better for the rest and the cool and the quiet, she who had spent her strength waiting on others enjoyed the novel experience of being waited on, herself. There were the visits of her family on visiting days, and mine in between, to look forward to; some of our friends, who had grown as fond of her as we, sent her fruit and flowers, and she liked the consequence all this gave her in the ward. Then, the hospital gossip was a distraction, perhaps because in supping so full of the horrors of others she could forget her own. My objection was that she would have me share the feast, sparing me not a single detail. But in some curious way I could not fathom, it seemed a help to Trimmer, and I had not the heart to cut her stories short.

After a month or so, the reaction came. Her head was no better, and what was the hospital good for if they could n’t cure her ? She grew suspicious, hinting dark things to me about the doctors. They were keeping her there to try experiments on her, and she was a respectable woman and always had been, and she did not like to be stared at in her bed by a lot of young fellows. The nurses were as bad, and between them they would never let her go, though once out of their clutches she would be bonny again, she knew. Probably the doctors and nurses knew too, for the same suspicion is more often than not their reward; and indeed it was so unlike Trimmer that she must have picked it up in the ward. Anyway, in their kindness they had kept her far longer than is usual in such cases, and when they saw her grow restless and unhappy, it seemed best to let her go. At the end of four months, and to her infinite joy, Trimmer, five years older than when she came to us, in the advanced stage of an incurable disease, with a capital of seven pounds and fifteen shillings, was free to begin life again.

I pass quickly over the next weeks — I wish I could have passed over them as quickly at the time. My visits were now to a drab quarter on the outskirts of Camden Town, where Trimmer had set up as a capitalist. She boarded with her cousin, many shillings of her little store going to pay the weekly bill; she found a wonderful doctor who promised to cure her in no time, and into his pockets the rest of her poor savings flowed. There was no persuading her that he could not succeed where the doctors at the hospital had failed, and so long as she went to him, for us to help her would only have meant more shillings for an unscrupulous quack who traded on the ignorance and credulity of the poor. Week by week I saw her grow feebler, week by week I knew her little capital was dribbling fast away. She seemed haunted by the dread that her place would be taken in our chambers, and that, once cured, she would have to hunt for another. That she was “ bonny ” was the beginning and end of all she had to say. One morning, to prove it, she managed to drag herself down to see us, arriving with just strength enough to stagger into my room, her arms outstretched to feel her way, for the disease, by this time, was affecting both eyes and brain. Nothing would satisfy her until she had gone into the studio, stumbling about among the portfolios, I on one side, on the other J., with no desire to wring her neck, for it was grim tragedy we were guiding between us, — tragedy in rusty black with a reticule hanging from one arm, — five years nearer the end than when first the curtain rose upon it in our chambers. We bundled her off as fast as we could in a cub with the cousin who had brought her. She stopped in the doorway.

“ Oh, I’m bonny, mum. I can cut about, you’ll see! ” And she would have fallen, had not the cousin caught and steadied her.

After that, she had not the strength to drag herself anywhere, not even to see the quack. A week later she took to her bed, almost blind, her poor old wits scattered beyond recovery. I was glad of that: it spared her the weary waiting and watching for death while the shadow of the grim building she feared still more drew ever nearer. I hesitated to go and see her, for my mere presence stirred her into consciousness, and reminded her of her need to work and her danger if she could not. Then there was a day when she did not seem to know I was there, and she paid no attention to me, never spoke. But, just as I was going, of a sudden she sat bolt upright: —

“ Oh, I’m bonny, mum, I’m bonny. You’ll see! ” she wailed, and sank back on her pillows.

These were Trimmer’s last words to me, and I left her at death’s door, still crying for work, as if in the next world, as in this, it was her only salvation. Very soon, the cousin came to tell me that the little capital had dribbled entirely away, and that she could not keep Trimmer without being paid for it. Could I blame her? She had her own fight against the shadow hanging ail too close now over Trimmer. Her ’usband worked ard, she said, and they could just live respectable, and Trimmer’s brothers, they was for sending Trimmer to the workus. They might have sent her, and I doubt if she would have been the wiser. But could we see her go ? It was of our comfort we were thinking, for our own peace of mind, that we interfered and arranged that Trimmer should board with her cousin until a bed was found in another hospital. It was found, mercifully, almost at once, but, before I had time to go there, the Great Release had come for her: and we heard with thankfulness that the old head was free from suffering, that the twisted hands were still, that fear of the workhouse could trouble her no more. Life’s one gift to Trimmer had been toil, pain her one reward, and it was good to know that she was at rest.

The cousin brought us the news. But I had a visit the same day from the sisterin-law, the paragon of virtue, a thin, sharp-faced woman of middle age. I said what I could in sympathy, telling her how much we missed her, how well we should always remember her. But this was not what she had come to hear. She let me get through. She drew the sigh appropriate for the occasion. Then she settled down to business. When did I propose to pay back the money Trimmer had spent on the doctor in Camden Town ? I did n’t propose to at all, I told her: he was a miserable quack and I had done my best to keep Trimmer from going to him; besides, fortunately for her, she was beyond the reach of money that was not owing to her. The sister-in-law was indignant. The family always understood I had promised, a promise was a promise, and now they depended on me for the funeral. I reminded her of the society to which Trimmer had subscribed solely to meet that expense. But she quickly let me know that the funeral the society proposed to provide fell far short of the family’s standard. To them it appeared scarcely better than a pauper’s. The coffin would be plain, there would be no oak and brass handles, — worse, there would be no plumes for the horses and the hearse. To send their sister to her grave without plumes would disgrace them before their neighbors. Nor would there be a penny over for the family mourning — could I allow them, the chief mourners, to mourn without crape ?

I remembered their willingness to let Trimmer die as a pauper in the workhouse. After all, she would have the funeral she had provided for. She would lie no easier in her grave for oak and brass handles, for plumes and crape. Her family had made use of her all her life; I did not see why I should help them to make use of her after her death, that their grief might be trumpeted in Brixton and Camden Town. I brought the interview to an end. But sometimes I wonder if Trimmer would not have liked it better if I had helped them, if plumes had waved from the heads of the horses that drew her to her grave, if her family had followed swathed in crape. She would have looked upon it as another piece of her extraordinary good luck if, by dying, she had been of service to anybody.

I do not know where they buried her. Probably nobody save ourselves to-day has as much as a thought for her. But, if self-sacrifice counts for anything, if martyrdom is a passport to Heaven, then Trimmer should take her place up there by the side of St. Francis of Assisi, and Joan of Arc, and St. Vincent of Paul, and all those other blessed men and women whose life was given for others, and who thought it was “ bonny.”