The Automatic Maid-of-All-Work A Possible Tale of the Near Future
Transcriber’s Note: This story was originally published in The CanadianMagazine of Politics, Science, Art and Literature for July, 1893.
THE AUTOMATIC MAID-OF-ALL-WORK.
A Possible Tale of the Near Future.
BY M. L. CAMPBELL.
Yes; I mean what I say—an automaticmaid-of-all-work, invented bymy husband, John Matheson.
You see it was this way,—the oldstory of servants, ever since we beganhousekeeping. We’ve had every kind,and if we did get a good one, somethingwould come along to take heroff.
You know John has invented lots ofthings. There’s that door-spring now,—notmuch when you look at it butit brings in quite a little income. Heused to say that he was spending hisspare time on an automatic maid-of-all-work.Of course, I laughed, said Iwished he would, and thought no moreof it.
Well, the day the last girl left, Johnannounced that the automatic maid-of-all-workwas completed, and thathe would stay at home next day andshow me how to work it.
Of course, I didn’t believe in it.
It was a queer-looking thing, withits long arms, for all the world likeone of those old-fashioned wind-millsyou see in pictures of foreign countries.It had a face like one of thosetwenty-four hour clocks, only therewere no hands; each number wasa sort of electric button. It was runby electricity, you know. The batterywas inside. I didn’t understand itvery well; I never could see into anythingin the way of machinery; Inever pretend to listen when Johntells me about his inventions. Thefigures, as I said, were buttons, andyou just had to connect them withsome wires inside. There were a lotof wires, each for some kind of workwhich would be done at the hour indicatedby the button you connected itwith. This was handy, so that wewould not have to get up in the morningtill breakfast-time, and would behandy in lots of ways.
“Now look, Fanny,” said John; “dotry and understand how it works.You see this wire now; I’ll connect itwith button number six, and at thathour the maid will light the fire, sweepthe kitchen and then the dining-room.Now this button number seven willbe the one to set the alarm to. It willsound for about ten minutes (I’d soundit now only it makes a fearful noise);then the maid will go upstairs to turndown the beds—a convenient arrangementin many ways. Then it will godownstairs, lay the cloth for breakfast,make the tea and toast, bring in thethings, and ring the breakfast bell.You’ll have to leave all the breakfastthings on one shelf, of course, andmeasure the oatmeal and tea also. Wewon’t set any more buttons to-night.It’s just as well to be around at first tosee that all goes right. There may besome adjustment necessary.”
We went to bed then, and it wasdaylight when I awoke. I was consciousof a peculiar whirring noise,but I hadn’t got thoroughly awakenedwhen I heard the most awful screamsand thumps, and the two boys camerunning into our room in their night-dresses,and after them the automaticmaid-of-all-work.
By this time I was out of bed, butJohn sleeps very soundly. He startedas the maid jerked the bed-clothesdown and laid them over the foot-board,but he wasn’t quick enough. Ittook him under the arm. It had anawful grip, too,—and laid him acrossthe foot-board, after giving him athump or two, as I do the pillows.(John had watched me do it and hadthe thing to perfection. He didn’tsuppose it would be tried on him,though). He didn’t seem quite preparedfor such a performance, for heflounced around so that he and thebed-clothes, pillows and all, landed ina heap on the floor.
By this time the boys had got overtheir fright, having been treated in thesame manner, and we all laughed.John can’t bear to be laughed at.However, we proceeded to dress afterthe maid had gone downstairs. I couldsee John was a little nervous, but hedidn’t want to show it, so he waitedtill I was ready. The boys got downfirst, and we could hear them laughing.
“I dare say you’ll have to arrangethe table a little, Fanny,” said John, aswe went down, “but that won’t bemuch to do when all the things are on.”
Well, we went into the dining-room,and sure enough the table was set,and pretty well too, only that the butterdish, with the butter, was upsidedown on the table, and the coal-scuttlewas set at John’s place, instead of theoatmeal dish. That was because John,who always leaves things in ridiculousplaces, had left it standing on the backof the stove after putting in the coalready for the morning fire. The porridgewas standing cooked on thestove. We had got an arrangementwith a white earthen bowl set into akettle, and the bowl had just to be removedand carried in. However, thecoal scuttle had stood in the way, andJohn had to carry it out and bring inthe porridge. The toast was scorcheda little, but the eggs were boiled justto perfection, and we enjoyed it allimmensely.
Meanwhile the maid was upstairsmaking the beds, and such beds younever saw. You’d think they’d beencast in a mould. The maid camedownstairs just as we were through,and then John pulled another wire.After doing so he acted rather strangely.He didn’t seem to be able to letgo the wire for a minute. It gave hima shock, you know. After that hehandled the wires more carefully.
Then the maid proceeded to clearthe table. Here was a slight complication,however, for the maid washedeverything, and though we had eatenup nearly all, still there was some butterin the dish, a bowl of sugar, andthe salt-cellar. However, as there waslots of good hot water, the dishes afterthey were wiped were as clean ascould be; but John suggested that forthe present, until he could make someimprovements, the eatables had betterbe removed first, for “of course,” hesaid, “there will be some imperfections.”
“Now, Fanny, I suppose you wantto wash, don’t you? You have theclothes ready, I see.”
“Yes, but it seems to me the dining-roomis not swept very clean. Anywaythe crumbs ought to be swept up.”
“Exactly,” returned John, “only,you see, I fixed it so that it would justrun around the table once beforebreakfast, then afterwards you canhave all the furniture moved out andthe whole room swept every day.”
Well, the maid proceeded to removethe furniture. It went to the middleof the room, then began to circlearound, removing everything it camein contact with, and setting things outin the hall. John dropped the leavesof the table, and all went well till itcame to the stove and attempted toremove that also; but something wasamiss, and it veered off to one side. Johnstarted forward to turn it off thattrack, but it promptly picked him upand removed him. I forgot to saythat a revolving brush in the bottomwas sweeping all this time, and nowthe thing was making the last circuitas I thought, for it had touched thewall on three sides, and I was wonderinghow it would get into the corners,while John watched the stove, andwondered if it could pass between thatand the wall without coming in contactwith the stove. But there thepassage was not wide enough, and thestove, a little open grate, was pickedup and removed. The pipes fell downand made a lot of dirt, but that waspretty well swept up, as the maid hadto make two or three more circles toallow for the corners. John replacedthe furniture, as he had not providedfor that part of the work. The stovewe decided to carry out for the season,but in the meantime he had startedthe maid at the washing. You seethere was no time lost between things;and I tell you those clothes were washed,and so was John’s coat, which beinga pretty good one he had takenoff and laid on the bench. Then wehad the kitchen scrubbed, the sameapparatus which did the sweeping doingthat also. John adjusted it so thatthe furniture was merely pushed aside.The worst of the thing was that youcould not stop the maid, when it gotgoing, till it had run down, and whatwas more, if you interfered with thewires when it was going, you were aptto get a shock from the battery. Thiswas inconvenient sometimes; for instance,after the kitchen was allscrubbed, the thing still ran aroundthe walls scrubbing as hard as ever.John said the only thing was topull another wire and set it to workat something else; it would run tillafter the tea dishes were washed, anyway,and probably we could find somethingharmless to keep it employed.Just then John was called out to speakto a man about some coal, and I undertookto head the thing across themiddle of the room. Unfortunately itrushed straight into the dining-room,water-pail and all. I didn’t caremuch. I wanted a new carpet forthat room, anyway, and I knew thatsooty spot would never come out. Thewater in the pail was very dirty bythis time. John had not thought ofits having to be changed.
Presently John returned, and wegot into the kitchen again. There wasanother funny thing about it. Wheneveranyone got going ahead of it inthe same direction it was sure to follow,and the only way to get out ofits road was to double back on yourown track and dodge it. It was thecurrent of air it followed. John saidhe had a reason for making it thatway. While sweeping the kitchen itgot after one of the boys once, and itdodged around tables and chairs justas he did, till John told him to turnand go back. It got after Bruno whenwe got it out of the dining-room intothe kitchen. He had just come infrom the barn to get something to eat.He turned tail and howled, but hecould not get out of the way till hejumped out of the window. The catfared worse than Bruno though, forshe was picked up along with the wipingcloth and rubbed over the floorfor about three yards before she managedto get free. There was quite ahole in the window, and we have notseen the cat since.
John said there was a fine arrangementfor answering the door. Ofcourse, in some instances, we wouldhave to go ourselves, especially if anyold lady or timid person, who had notmade the acquaintance of the maid,were expected, but if the postman orparcel delivery it would be all right.Anyone could send in a card, too, yousee. But the best of all was the arrangementfor putting tramps off thepremises. John was just explaininghow this was done when Fred exclaimed,“There’s an old fellow now;I wonder if he is coming here!” Yes,sure enough; he turned in at the gate,and presently there was a ring at thedoor-bell. Beggars are so impudent,and this was an old offender, so Ididn’t say anything when John pressedthe wire, and we all followed to thedoor to see the effect, John remarkingthat it wouldn’t hurt him. The doorwas opened quite quietly, but closedwith a bang after the maid. At first,upon re-opening the door, we thoughtit had missed fire, for the tramp, lookingsomewhat scared, stood at one sideof the doorway, but the maid wasscuttling down the path with somelimp figure in its arms. I was sorry torecognize an uncle of John’s, from whomJohn had expectations. I knew hisbald head. The maid had him by themiddle, and his feet and head hungdown, so that his hat dropped off. Hewas too much surprised to attempt resistance,and the maid deposited himin a heap in the gutter, and then returned.We were so bothered by theturn affairs had taken that we forgotto get out of the way. Fred receiveda slap which sent him sprawling. Johnwas lifted bodily, after the manner ofhis uncle, and laid upon the table,while I, my skirts being caught, wasforced to run backwards in a very undignifiedmanner, till, by grasping adoor-knob, I wrenched myself free atthe expense of a width of my skirt. Istood hanging on to that door-knob asif I expected momentarily to besnatched up and thrown out of thewindow, when my eyes happened tofall upon Tommy. He was lying uponhis back on the floor, his legs slowlywaving in the air. He made not asound. The expression on his facegave me such a start that I relaxedmy hold on the door-knob, thinkingthat he was injured internally. Buthe raised his hand, and feebly wavedme aside. He was simply too tired tolaugh any more, and was obliged tolie down and wave his legs to expresshis feelings. Fred had begun towhimper after