Our Mrs. Bodfish

AT present we are living in an apartment. It is in what Mrs. Bodfish calls ‘one of them dooflexes.’

Mrs. Bodfish is our weekly ‘help,’ and Thursday is the day she comes to ‘do’ for us. I can assure you that she does for us very completely.

I look forward to Thursdays with mixed feelings. Mrs. Bodfish is undoubtedly an excellent scrubber and polisher, but I dread the ruthless tidying away of notebooks and papers, the hiding of our most comfortable and beloved slippers, and the curious rearrangement of the furniture. I enjoy the lady’s unfailing cheeriness, I marvel at the amount of work she gets through, but I shudder at the thought of the ‘mis’aps’ that are bound to occur in the course of a lively day. However, one cannot expect to have it all one’s own way.

I should judge Mrs. Bodfish to be still in the thirties. She is short and, below the waist, more or less small. But above — well, massive is the only word for it. What her chest measurement can be I hardly dare think. Looking at her, I am always reminded of the nursery game in which one person, having added a body to an unseen head, turns the paper down and hands it on to his neighbor to finish off the legs. When the papers are unfolded Mrs. Bodfishes frequently appear. Charles calls her the ‘Buffalo.’ For herself, she deplores her difficulty in the matter of stock sizes and delicately describes the condition of her upper portion as ‘robust.’ It is impossible not to admire her use of the word.

With such bulk to be carried round one would expect a certain slowness of movement. Mrs. Bodfish’s briskness is therefore astonishing. But even briskness can be overdone. It leads to mis’aps. To use her own expression, she is a ‘fair towzer’ for work. She most obligingly volunteers to perform this task or that, quite outside the official programme, and will consider no refusal. In this way she washed three soft collars and a shirt belonging to Charles, a pair of cretonne curtains, and my best, silk underwear. The collars, decorated with patches of vivid blue, were ironed on the wong side, the shirt and the curtains came out several sizes smaller than they went in, and my darling silk underwear received a scorching from which it never recovered.

I have to hide the washing from her now.

On another occasion, the weather being very cold, she begged to be allowed to make a steak-and-kidney pudding which, she declared, would be more warming than the chops I had provided. That kidney and the scrap of suet was n’t no good for nothink else and the chops would keep —

She had long boasted of her beautiful puddings. I supposed we were doomed to taste one sooner or later. Weakly I gave way.

The sweeping and dusting were abandoned and the kitchenette appeared to become a floury volcano in the act of eruption. I retreated.

Finally, however, to my relief, she informed that the pudding was tied up and had been deposited in the saucepan.

‘It’ll be lovely for your brother w’en ‘e comes ‘ome,’ she told me. ‘There’s nothink like a bit of suet crust, this weather, for ‘otting you up.’

‘It will be a surprise,’ I said, trying to sound enthusiastic.

It was.

I had some shopping to do before luncheon so Charles and I arrived home together.

Mrs. Bodfish came to meet us, smiling broadly.

‘Oo dear,’ she said. ‘I’ve ‘ad a mis’ap with that there pudding. Ain’t it a shame? It was all done lovely too. Picked it out of the saucepan with a fork and the cloth gave way on me. You should ‘are seen it a-laying there on the floor! Could n’t tell w’ich was pot and w’ich was pudding, ‘ardly. But I’ve saved a bit for the dog,’ — here she laughed, the perfect optimist, — ‘so it ain’t all wasted!’

We had little appetite for the sardine salad that was hastily substituted. Alas, the broken bowl proved to be, not an ordinary, everyday white one, but the bottom of our fireproof hotpot, of a peculiar shape, that fitted into its special holder. To replace it would be impossible.

And to crown all. Fury refused his helping. But I honestly think he showed his sense.

Cheerfulness is one of Mrs. Bodfish’s most splendid qualities. She is cheerful even in the face of calamity. But on Thursdays, at any rate, the calamities are nearly always mine. As the result of her terrible energy, crockery smashes, clocks stop, fabrics are rent, furniture breaks, and silver bends like plasticine. And through every adversity she bobs up smiling and so turns away wrath.

When she first came to us we had a vacuum cleaner. We treated it kindly and it responded by rendering us faithful service. But Mrs. Bodfish seems to have a fatal way with electrical appliances. Irons, toasters, coffeepots, heaters, once they fall into her energetic clutches, become pitiable wrecks. If we were wise, we would order in fuses by the bushel.

The vacuum cleaner — vampuum, as she calls it, or vamp, for short — proved no exception to the rule.

‘I’ll sweep this ‘ere carpet and then I’ll run the vamp over it,’ she would announce. In response to my exhortation to treat the poor thing gently she would blithely assure me that she would take the greatest care of it. And then when Charles came in I would hear, ‘Would you ‘ave time to fix that there vampuum for me, sir? It won’t work no’ow. I think the clockwork’s wore out. I like them ‘Oosers the best; you can’t beat ‘em for lasting.’

An ‘Ooser, by the way, is a Hoover. You might not recognize it.

Charles was very patient, but in the end he grew desperate. So now we hide the vampuum as well as the washing.

On one occasion, in the course of her dusting, she knocked over a table lamp. There was a horrible crash. But was she daunted? Not a bit of it. Bravely she smiled as she lifted the silk shade, revealing the shattered hundred-watt bulb.

‘Ah,’ she said, nodding her head knowingly, ‘that’s no good no more. The volt’s gorn, see? And a nice old mess I’ve made for meself on me clean carpet!’

I picked up what remained of the ‘volt,’ retired to the bedroom, and gave way to mad laughter.

Her theories are remarkable. For instance, she firmly believes that it is dangerous to leave an electric-light socket empty. Without the bulb the electricity escapes.

‘It runs down the cord,’ she says.

‘ You can smell it.’ And that settles the matter.

One day she embarked on a lively argument with Charles, declaring that though turpentine might evaporate, gasoline would not. For her enlightenment Charles went to the trouble of procuring a sample of each and painstakingly demonstrated his point on the passage floor. She watched him smilingly, but when he had gone she turned to me.

‘Ah,’she said, ‘I let ‘im run on, ‘cos it pleases ‘im and it don’t ‘urt me; but I know what it is, miss, all the same. ‘E’s bin and got ‘is bottles mixed, that’s what ‘e’s done!'

It is a marvel how she manages to mispronounce the simplest words. She has a positive genius for it. October is invariably Optober. Guests are gwests. Turpentine is terpumtime. She never wraps anything up, she wrops it. And what you do to beads is to threddle ‘em. A child, of course, will gather many a curiosity of this sort and continue to use his own version until time provides correction in the shape of the written word. But the written word has little chance with Mrs. Bodfish.

‘I ain’t got no use for books,’ she once told me; ‘nor my girl ‘as n’t, neither. Books take up a lot of room and they ‘old the dust. Not but what I don’t like a love tale once in a while. But there’s not much, even in them.’

To compensate for this she is a keen observer, and little escapes her eagle eye. A change in the position of the smallest ornament will be noticed, and with shame I confess that on more than one occasion I have been guilty of cravenly rearranging dustpan and brooms before her weekly arrival for fear they should betray me and thus allow my prestige to receive a horrid jolt. But perhaps I have already lost what little I possessed? Or worse still, perhaps I never had any at all?

She enjoys her gift of observation to the full. ‘Ah,’ she will say, regarding our walls pityingly, ‘plain wall-papers ain’t being used at all this season. And them valuances over the curtings is quite gorn out. Even Miss Sloggett was taking ‘ers down. No, everythink’s got to be zigzag this year, and the new ceilings are all cloudy-like.

I see a lot, going round as I do.’

I agree meekly.

She continues. I am not to escape as lightly as all this.

‘Your carpets ‘ave wore well, ain’t they? ‘Ad ‘em a long while, I expect. Nobody’s using that sort any more. If they’re Qrienstal they got to be Chinese, all blues and yellers; but the very newest kind is from Mankchuria, so they tell me, w’erever that may be. And the furniture, it ain’t like this any more, neither. There’s a lot of Chinese being used, to match the carpets. But it’s no good ‘aving just one bit, like what you’ve got there. Better none at all than that. You might be able to get rid of it, but it’s a bit shabby now — it would n’t fetch much. You should see Mrs. Krohn’s new ‘ouse! Louis Quintorze in the droring-room, Jacobeelian in the ‘all, and the bathrooms in Jazz. My, it’s a swell ‘ouse! Not that I ‘olds with them up-jump profiteers. They must ‘ave their early morning tea, like as if they was used to it, and they ‘ires in a butler from Price’s and entertains lords and whatnots; and then Mrs. Krohn she runs out into the kitching afterwards and scrapes the butter orf of the plates! She give me some once, but I told ‘er flat I would n’t eat it. “That s the way you catch them miprobes,” I says to ‘er. She did n’t arf grumble!’

As she speaks she moves Charles’s case of gramophone records, and, doubtless still thinking of the ‘miprobes,’ bangs Hone’s Day Book vigorously down upon it. There is a crackling noise.

‘What’s that?’ she asks. It is a superfluous question.

We open the case and discover the broken fragments of a waltz. She puts the pieces in the dustpan.

‘Funny ‘ow sorft they seem to make them records nowadays,’ she remarks. ‘It’s the war, I reckon. Nothink’s the same as what it was.’

‘It was banging down the book,’ I say reproachfully.

‘Do you think it was?’ she asks. ‘Well, p’raps you’re right. I’m a fair towzer for work and I guess I’m a bit too quick sometimes. I always was. Mother did n’t arf used to give me a slop on the ear for it. But all I done was to lay the book down like this, see?’

I utter a cry, but il is too late. Bang goes Hone! There is the same ominous crackle.

‘There!’ she exclaims triumphantly. ‘It’s done it again, see?’

I take up the record-album and leave the room with what I intend to be crushing dignity. The cheerful voice pursues me.

‘That’s right, miss. You take it away from me. I ain’t to be trusted with it, and that’s the truth. Funny ‘ow sorft they seem to make everythink nowadays! ‘

In solitude I investigate the damage. I might have known it. Kreisler’s ‘Tambourin Chinois,’ and the ‘Beggar’s Opera’! However shall I break the news to Charles?

A few weeks ago my peritoneum grew unexpectedly troublesome and I was obliged to go into hospital at very short notice. I departed on Thursday and Mrs. Bodfish had all the glory of an ambulance and a juvenile crowd at the front door.

‘Pore thing,’ I heard her say to the milkman as I was being carried down the stairs, ‘I do ‘ope she’ll come out all right, but you never know7 what they’ll take it into their ‘eads to do w’en they’ve got your insides all spread out before them on the table. It seems to tempt ‘em, like. There now! Just see what I’ve bin and gorn and done! That’s talking, that is! Funny ‘ow sorft — ‘

Another ‘mis’ap’! In my weakness I groaned aloud. The attendants were sympathetic. They put it down to my peritoneum.

But then of course, they did n’t know Mrs. Bodfish.