Mansfield's Short Stories
The Lady's Maid
Eleven o'clock. A knock at the door...I hope I haven't disturbed you, madam. You weren't
asleep--were you? But I've just given my lady her tea, and there was such a nice cup over,
I thought, perhaps...
...Not at all, madam. I always make a cup of tea last thing. She drinks it in bed after her
prayers to warm her up. I put the kettle on when she kneels down and I say to it, "Now
you needn't be in too much of a hurry to say your prayers." But it's always boiling before
my lady is half through. You see, madam, we know such a lot of people, and they've all
got to be prayed for--every one. My lady keeps a list of the names in a little red book. Oh
dear! whenever some one new has been to see us and my lady says afterwards, "Ellen,
give me my little red book," I feel quite wild, I do. "There's another," I think, "keeping
her out of her bed in all weathers." And she won't have a cushion, you know, madam; she
kneels on the hard carpet. It fidgets me something dreadful to see her, knowing her as I
do. I've tried to cheat her; I've spread out the eiderdown. But the first time I did it--oh, she
gave me such a look--holy it was, madam. "Did our Lord have an eiderdown, Ellen?" she
said. But--I was younger at the time--I felt inclined to say, "No, but our Lord wasn't your
age, and he didn't know what it was to have your lumbago." Wicked--wasn't it? But she's
too good, you know, madam. When I tucked her up just now and seen--saw her lying
back, her hands outside and her head on the pillow--so pretty--I couldn't help thinking,
"Now you look just like your dear mother when I laid her out!"
...Yes, madam, it was all left to me. Oh, she did look sweet. I did her hair, soft-like, round
her forehead, all in dainty curls, and just to one side of her neck I put a bunch of most
beautiful purple pansies. Those pansies made a picture of her, madam! I shall never
forget them. I thought to-night, when I looked at my lady, "Now, if only the pansies was
there no one could tell the difference."
...Only the last year, madam. Only after she'd got a little--well--feeble as you might say.
Of course, she was never dangerous; she was the sweetest old lady. But how it took her
was--she thought she'd lost something. She couldn't keep still, she couldn't settle. All day
long she'd be up and down, up and down; you'd meet her everywhere,--on the stairs, in
the porch, making for the kitchen. And she'd look up at you, and she'd say--just like a
child, "I've lost it, I've lost it." "Come along," I'd say, "come along, and I'll lay out your
patience for you." But she'd catch me by the hand--I was a favourite of hers--and whisper,
"Find it for me, Ellen. Find it for me." Sad, wasn't it?
...No, she never recovered, madam. She had a stroke at the end. Last words she ever said
was--very slow, "Look in--the--Look--in--" And then she was gone.
...No, madam, I can't say I noticed it. Perhaps some girls. But you see, it's like this, I've
got nobody but my lady. My mother died of consumption when I was four, and I lived
with my grandfather, who kept a hair-dresser's shop. I used to spend all my time in the
shop under a table dressing my doll's hair--copying the assistants, I suppose. They were