“I can’t, for the life of me, see how you get on so easily, Mrs. Jones,” said merry Ellen, to her mother’s nearest neighbor; “your family is larger than ours, and you have less help – but you are always in time. Come when I will, I find things in good order – no bustle, fuss, or confusion. Now, we are all at work from morning till night at our house, and our work is never done. There must be a witch-work about it – some secret – do tell us, won’t you?”
“Why, Ellen, I don’t know that there is any great secret about it; all I can tell is, I don’t seem to work very hard, but somehow I do get along very easy, as you say, with all that seems to fall to my lot.”
“Well, we all know that, Mrs. Jones; and we know, too, that you do more reading and writing than any one of us can, and you visit the sick more, and find time for everything that is good. Oh! There is some secret, and you must tell me all about it.”
“Yes, Ellen, I will tell you all I know about it, for you’re a clever girl, and will make a first rate wife for Fred some day; but you must promise to try and make my secret of practical use to yourself, and teach it to everybody else.”
Ellen blushed, and almost wished she had not been so impertinent. But Ellen was a good, sensible girl, and was impressed with the idea that Fred would want a wire somewhat resembling his mother in domestic matters; so she stooped down and tied her shoe, to hide her confusion. Mrs. Jones laid down her strainer, (for it was yet early in the morning, and she had still a long day before her,) took her babe on her knee, and picking up a basket of green peas that were to be shelled for dinner, she sat down to nurse her little infant to sleep, take the peas out of their pods, and tell her story.
“Well, Ellen, my secret is just this: When I go out to shake the table-cloth, I always bring in a bundle of wood; I seldom take two steps where on will answer, and try to do everything the shortest way. I pulverize saleratus enough to last a month at a time, keep it in a convenient vessel, and then it is always ready for use; – no untying papers, scattering them over the cupboard-floor; no board, rolling-pin, or mortar to clean but once. Instead of beating by eggs with a knife or a spoon, I have a whip made of wire, bent in an oblong shape like a tassel, and tied with a bit of twine to a hickory handle, and I can beat the whites of six eggs to a standing form in two minutes as easily as you would in half an hour with a knife. Anybody can make a egg-whip that can whittle a stick, of find a piece of wire, if they cannot afford to buy one. I only mention these things as samples of time-saving. But if you will not be offended, I will tell you a little story.”
“Offended! Not. I. It’s the silliest thing in the world to get offended, particularly with those who wish us to do good.”
“Well then, Ellen, I was out taking tea with a neighbour last week, and we went into the dairy and cheese-room to see the cheese; and as we came back we stopped a few minutes to chat in the kitchen. The lady told her daughter she might make some flannel-cakes, or griddle-cakes, as some call them, for supper. She started off to fulfil the appointed task. First she ran down to the cellar and brought up the buttermilk-jar, holding almost a pailful; then she ran back for the eggs, untied a half-pound of saleratus, scattered one spoonful on the floor and another on the table, rolled it, and tied it up; next turned her buttermilk out, and spattered a new dress at the waist; -splashed it over the table on divers things, and said, “oh, pshaw!” – picked up the saleratus from the floor, cleaned her dress, and brought a plate; rant to the store-room, and came back with a heaped-up plate of flour; put it into the pan, and stirred away, backwards and forwards, till it was all submerged and all lumps! There was not flour enough; away she ran again, and brought more; still there was not enough; a third journey had to be made for it; then it was dashed in, and she stirred away till her face glowed like a peony. All at once she thought of her eggs, and broke them into the batter. She had forgotten the salt, and ran a fourth time into the store-room. Now her batter was too thick, and more buttermilk had to be used, and consequently the saleratus paper had to undergo another untying. Finally, after much labour and toil, and an expenditure of much time, and waste of material, the lumpy batter was ready for use. But here was a new trouble; the fire that was just right half an hour before, was now exhausted; the griddle, which had been set upon the stove at first, burned rough; the kitchen and anti-room were full of unpleasant smoke and odour of burnt grease – the cakes stuck fast to the iron – two messes were wasted before the griddle could be rubbed smooth; the dish-cloths were in sad plights; and the young lady had expended as much labour as would have prepared the whole meal, and set the table in order.”
“Oh dear! That was I myself; anybody might know the picture! But how would you have managed?”
“I should have taken my pan and spoon; put my saleratus into the pan; gone down to the cellar, and with my cup, which I keep in the jar for this purpose, dipped the buttermilk, without spattering it, into my pan; then broken the eggs while I stirred in the flour; dropped in a little salt; and returned to the kitchen, all in five minutes, without having one thing out of place, except the egg-shells, and those I should have removed some other time. So you see instead of four journeys to the cellar, two to carry back, and four to the store-room, I should have done the whole work, saved my strength, saved the wear and tear of my shoes, saved the soil of my dress, saved the fire, the annoyance, and a good half-hour for something else, and had a better mess of cakes for a supper into the bargain. And this is only one half-hour saved, in getting one meal, by one hand. It took three people longer by half to prepare supper that night, than it would have taken me to have got it ready alone.
“But, look! Here’s the baby fast asleep, and the peas are all shelled, so my story must be wound up, for it’s time to whey off the curd. If this bit of experience does you any good, I will tell you another story some day.”