THERE was a time when I believed that women had no intrinsic talent for housekeeping. Since trying a few weeks of it, I am convinced that men have absolutely none either. As a sociologist, I shall devote myself to the question how the race ever overcame the frightful technical difficulties and rose to even its present low position.
My friend Achates and myself, set unbefriended in a summer cottage, found ourselves taking three hours to prepare and dispose of our first breakfast. When the last plate had been thoughtfully put away, we sat down and computed. Three meals a day at three hours per meal was nine hours a day devoted to the mere primitive act of supporting existence. Achates had hoped to practice four hours a day; I to write. I tried to cheer him up by pointing out that if we slept a decent eight hours a day, we should still have three full hours for pure recreation. But he refused to be comforted. He was for fleeing at once to effete and servile civilization. The urgency of the situation required an immediate application of the steeliest intelligence to this immemorial profession of womankind. We telescoped the advance of the centuries into ten minutes. Our first act was to abolish the hot lunch. Instead of building our roaring wood-fire, we regaled ourselves with sardines, cheese, sandwiches, and milk. For breakfast I constructed an unalterable and stereotyped form of bacon and eggs, triscuit, and chocolate, and to it applied the most recent principles of scientific management. Every utensil, every motion, every process, was carefully regulated. Each morning the meal was put through in the same order of twentysix moves, and I soon felt the fierce joy of efficiency in following my incomparable ritual. In the course of a week I had reduced my working-time sixty per cent, and on those mornings when Achates happened to get the wood placed right in the stove, we would attain a maximum and inclusive speed of less than an hour.
Our only remaining problem then was dinner, and in the solution of this we called in social adaptation. We could think of no better technique than to make ourselves so popular in the community that we should be constantly invited out. But there were nights when we were not popular, and then our technique was strained to the breaking-point. I felt a naive gratitude toward cans, until Achates began talking about benzoates and things. When the butcher deigned to drop in on us, we had meat, and I got many novel cannibalistic pleasures from the lurid sizzling of chops over the fire.
If it was I who supplied the technical ingenuity, it was Achates who gave the really creative color to our work. He early came into possession of the cookbook of the Village Ladies’ Social Circle, and into its mysteries we adventured far. Achates had a weakness for muffins, and one evening, having selected that recipe which appealed most to his sense of form and balance, we went to bed in a deeply solemn mood. When I came down next morning, I found Achates in the act of pouring out a golden mass into a pan. The pan was flat, and when I asked with my quick technical intuition how this mass proposed to biscuitize itself, he assured me that this was the way his mother always did it, for he had often watched her. In the process of baking, he said, each little muffin differentiated itself out from the golden mass, and stood gloriously by itself. When the pan should come on the table, he assured me, there would be a golden cluster of nicely intelligible muffins. Something told me that the dough was much more likely to flow evenly into one large muffin, but Achates said darkly that there was something mystical about it all. He could n’t explain how it happened, but he just knew it did.
Far from being unsound, my prophecy had not been pessimistic enough. When we took our pan from the oven there was not even one muffin. That lovely golden mass, mixed after the most orthodox rules of the Ladies’ Social Circle, had merely flowed silently in a thin sheet over the pan. The laws of gravity had done their deadly work and only a thin crust remained. The discouraged dough had not even had the energy to ‘rise.’ The whole mass had acted in the most unfeeling and unmuffinlike way. We ate our breakfast in depressed mood. We were now willing to ascribe to woman not only talent, but genius in housekeeping. And not only genius, but a truly magical command over the forces of Nature, the character of which, not having the divine afflatus, we could only dimly surmise.