“Susannah: The Country Servant in London” was written by Clare Jerrold, and first published in “The People’s Friend” in January, 1910.
The new and unknown servant sidled in at the front door with a peculiarly indifferent air, but though she sternly kept her profile towards me, her bright blue eye twisted to my face in an inquiring way, and I felt some alarm as her movements were so strange.
But at last she had to face me, and then I saw that she had lost her right eye and was trying to save my feelings as long as possible.
It was a shock, for there was no attempt to hide or soften the disfigurement, and the empty socket and closed lid gave a death-like appearance to that side of her pale face.
However, to make the best of the matter was the only course left me.
Susannah was like a cork, she flew round and did her work with wonderful quickness as well as efficiency, but her buoyant movements were characteristic of her mind. She lived in a constant state of emotional and mental excitement, varied by day-dreams in which she took a very prominent and important part.
The children soon began to talk largely of her affairs, and particularly of her lover, who lived in a distant town, and then she herself began talking of him to me.
“’E’s the same age as I am; an’ a fine young man. We went to school together. ‘E’s in ‘is huncle’s shop, just walks up an’ down, doin’ nothin’! ‘E needn’t work at all really, for ‘e’s got enuff to live on, only o’course ‘is huncle likes to ‘ave ‘im there.”
“Then I suppose you’ll be quite rich when you marry?” I asked.
Susannah looked doubtful; having invented her lover’s wealth on the spur of the movement, she was not used to it, and could not discuss it with familiarity.
As Christmas came near she grew very busy, sending little presents to her mother, her lover, her sister, and her brother; she talked of them all day and every day, and spent a week of pleasant expectation.
But when Christmas Eve arrived she had not received one letter in response, and she began to look sad; by night she was in tears, and on Christmas morning her nose was red with weeping.
She did not try to explain matters, and she did not hint that her mother’s neglect probably arose from the fact that she had received a sixpenny needle book instead of payment for a set of aprons which she had made earlier for her daughter.
I tried in vain to comfort her by pointing out that India was a long way off, and her soldier brother was stationed where frontier tribes need much attention. Her response was that she was his favourite out of nine sisters, and had a right therefore to expect a present. Was it not he who had destroyed her eye?
I had no theory about the defaulting lover, but she had. She knew what it meant. There was a “young gal” who went to stay with ‘is aunt at Christmas, and she ‘spected ‘e was makin’ hup to’er; she’d write to ‘is aunt, that she would!
For a week or more poor Susannah cried off and on, but for several weeks no one wrote to her, though she sent endless letters and spent much money on stamps.
Then I asked her if she had heard from the young man. She was somewhat reserved, but said she had, and that it was “hall right now; the young gal was gone.”
One day she surprised me by saying –
“The third o’ February ‘ill sune be ‘ere. I allays cries all day that day, I do; an’ my brother allays cries all that day too.”
My heart sank, and I began to plan a holiday away from home on the third, while I asked her why she was intending to waste her time so foolishly.
“Why? Why that’s the day my eye was put out, an’ my brother an’ me allays cries that day each year, ‘an though ‘e’s in Hindia now, I know ‘e’ll do it – an’ so shall I!” She concluded complacently.
“I hope you won’t!” I responded tartly. “How did the accident happen?”
“Oh, that were when I was twel’ year old. ‘E were tryin’ to undo ‘is boot lace with a fork, an’ I was watchin’ ‘im like, when the fork slipped up an’ went into my heye.
“My! Didn’t I squeal? An’ ‘e cried too. Mother bathed it, but it got worse, an’ we ‘ad to go to a doctor at the end o’ a fortnit. ‘E said I should be blind o’ both eyes, an’ that we ‘ah ought to ‘a come to ‘im at once.
“But ‘e sent me to a ‘orspital, an’ they saved one eye. They did gi’ me a glarse eye after a bit, but I couldn’t wear it, it ‘urt me so when I ‘ad to take it out.”
I shuddered when I thought of the neglect and consequent inflammation which would follow upon the use of a glass eye by such an irresponsible person as Susannah.
As the summer approached Susannah grew restless; she began to talk of the seaside, and of the hard work which servants had to do in lodging-houses and the big wages they got.
“Fifteen shillin’s it were one week, fifteen shillin’s!” She murmured. And so much did this magnificent sum awaken her mind that when I protested about the growing dirt around me she promptly gave me notice in a firm and respectful voice that she wished to leave my service that day month.
“That will suit me quite well,” I answered, realising that the call to slavery and money was irresistible.
This momentous matter settled, Susannah’s spirits rose with a bound. She ran about for me with the celerity of a rabbit, and served me better than she had ever done before. And all the time she was contemplating beautiful pictures of her appearance when she once more entered her native village.
“I shall wear my costume,” she confided to the children, “the blue one with the gold buttons, and the large ‘at with the feather.”
The hat, as large as a sunshade, had been bought for four and elevenpence, ostrich plume, blue plush, and diamond clasp inclusive. The pair of spectacles, one glass frosted, which I had given her, were also called upon to add to her splendour.
“I shall wear by glarses, an’ when I walk ‘aughtily down the street, an’ Maggie is standing at ‘er gate, she ‘on’t know me. She’ll think it’s some grand lady comin’ along.”
This picture was too exquisite to be relinquished, she explained it to every one in the house, excepting to “the master”, of whom she stood somewhat in awe, and repeated it again and again before the great day of departure arrived.
Susannah was a good soul; on the morning of her going she was so eager to do everything she could for me, so desirous to leave everything comfortable, that I could scarcely induce her to go and change her clothes in time.
When she came down the blue costume was on, though the bodice was not properly fastened, and the placket hole showed the red petticoat beneath.
She carried a bundle too, formed of the morning dress she had just discarded, part of which was hanging out of the brown paper.
I did what I could for her, but the time was short and the train would be punctual; and I have often wondered if her entry into Hodgcum-in-the-Wilds was as impressive as she intended it to be.
“Not a rough diamond next time,” pleaded my husband, whose nerves had often tingled at Susannah’s high-pitched voice. “She was very good, but think what a comfort a quiet, well-trained girl is in the house!”
I laughed, for though I had passed a noisy eight months with my willing helper, I had not regretted them.
When Susannah’s inevitable marriage is followed by the inevitable family of a baker’s dozen (one of her married sisters already possesses fourteen), she will not be grown up – Peter Pan does not wish to grow up, but Susannah simply cannot do so.
See how Manon’s illustration for this story came together…