Work: A Story of Experience
IX. Mrs. Wilkins's Minister
NEXT day Christie braved the lion in his den, otherwise the flinty Flint, in her second-
class boarding-house, and found that alarm and remorse had produced a softening effect
upon her. She was unfeignedly glad to see her lost lodger safe, and finding that the new
friends were likely to put her in the way of paying her debts, this much harassed matron
permitted her to pack up her possessions, leaving one trunk as a sort of hostage. Then,
with promises to redeem it as soon as possible, Christie said good-bye to the little room
where she had hoped and suffered, lived and labored so long, and went joyfully back to
the humble home she had found with the good laundress.
All the following week Christie "chored round," as Mrs. Wilkins called the miscellaneous
light work she let her do. Much washing, combing, and clean pinaforing of children fell
to her share, and she enjoyed it amazingly; then, when the elder ones were packed off to
school she lent a hand to any of the numberless tasks housewives find to do from
morning till night. In the afternoon, when other work was done, and little Vic asleep or
happy with her playthings, Christie clapped laces, sprinkled muslins, and picked out
edgings at the great table where Mrs. Wilkins stood ironing, fluting, and crimping till the
kitchen bristled all over with immaculate frills and flounces.
It was pretty delicate work, and Christie liked it, for Mrs. Wilkins was an adept at her
trade and took as much pride and pleasure in it as any French blanchis-seuse tripping
through the streets of Paris with a tree full of coquettish caps, capes, and petticoats borne
before her by a half invisible boy.
Being women, of course they talked as industriously as they worked; fingers flew and
tongues clacked with equal profit and pleasure, and, by Saturday, Christie had made up
her mind that Mrs. Wilkins was the most sensible woman she ever knew. Her grammar
was an outrage upon the memory of Lindley Murray, but the goodness of her heart would
have done honor to any saint in the calendar. She was very plain, and her manners were
by no means elegant, but good temper made that homely face most lovable, and natural
refinement of soul made mere external polish of small account. Her shrewd ideas and odd
sayings amused Christie very much, while her good sense and bright way of looking at
things did the younger woman a world of good.
Mr. Wilkins devoted himself to the making of shoes and the consumption of food, with
the silent regularity of a placid animal. His one dissipation was tobacco, and in a fragrant
cloud of smoke he lived and moved and had his being so entirely that he might have been
described as a pipe with a man somewhere behind it. Christie once laughingly spoke of
this habit and declared she would try it herself if she thought it would make her as quiet
and undemonstrative as Mr. Wilkins, who, to tell the truth, made no more impression on
her than a fly.
"I don't approve on't, but he might do wuss. We all have to have our comfort somehow,
so I let Lisha smoke as much as he likes, and he lets me gab, so it's about fair, I reckon,"
answered Mrs. Wilkins, from the suds.