And sometimes I was her maid of all work.
It is early morn, and my mother has come noiselessly into my room. I know it is she, though my eyes are shut, and I am only half awake. Perhaps I was dreaming of her, for I accept her presence without surprise, as if in the awakening I had but seen her go out at one door to come in at another. But she is speaking to herself.
‘I’m sweer to waken him - I doubt he was working late - oh, that weary writing - no, I maunna waken him.’
I start up. She is wringing her hands. ‘What is wrong?’ I cry, but I know before she answers. My sister is down with one of the headaches against which even she cannot fight, and my mother, who bears physical pain as if it were a comrade, is most woebegone when her daughter is the sufferer. ‘And she winna let me go down the stair to make a cup of tea for her,’ she groans.
‘I will soon make the tea, mother.’
‘Will you?’ she says eagerly. It is what she has come to me for, but ‘It is a pity to rouse you,’ she says.
‘And I will take charge of the house to-day, and light the fires and wash the dishes - ’
‘Na, oh no; no, I couldna ask that of you, and you an author.’
‘It won’t be the first time, mother, since I was an author.’
‘More like the fiftieth!’ she says almost gleefully, so I have begun well, for to keep up her spirits is the great thing to-day.
Knock at the door. It is the baker. I take in the bread, looking so sternly at him that he dare not smile.
Knock at the door. It is the postman. (I hope he did not see that I had the lid of the kettle in my other hand.)
Furious knocking in a remote part. This means that the author is in the coal cellar.
Anon I carry two breakfasts upstairs in triumph. I enter the bedroom like no mere humdrum son, but after the manner of the Glasgow waiter. I must say more about him. He had been my mother’s one waiter, the only manservant she ever came in contact with, and they had met in a Glasgow hotel which she was eager to see, having heard of the monstrous things, and conceived them to resemble country inns with another twelve bedrooms. I remember how she beamed - yet tried to look as if it was quite an ordinary experience - when we alighted at the hotel door, but though she said nothing I soon read disappointment in her face. She knew how I was exulting in having her there, so would not say a word to damp me, but I craftily drew it out of her. No, she was very comfortable, and the house was grand beyond speech, but - but - where was he? he had not been very hearty. ‘He’ was the landlord; she had expected him to receive us at the door and ask if we were in good health and how we had left the others, and then she would have asked him if his wife was well and how many children they had, after which we should all have sat down together to dinner. Two chambermaids came into her room and prepared it without a single word to her about her journey or on any other subject, and when they had gone, ‘They are two haughty misses,’ said my mother with spirit. But what she most resented was the waiter with his swagger black suit and short quick steps and the ‘towel’ over his arm. Without so much as a ‘Welcome to Glasgow!’ he showed us to our seats, not the smallest acknowledgment of our kindness in giving such munificent orders did we draw from him, he hovered around the table as if it would be unsafe to leave us with his knives and forks (he should have seen her knives and forks), when we spoke to each other he affected not to hear, we might laugh but this uppish fellow would not join in. We retired, crushed, and he had the final impudence to open the door for us. But though this hurt my mother at the time, the humour of our experiences filled her on reflection, and in her own house she would describe them with unction, sometimes to those who had been in many hotels, often to others who had been in none, and whoever were her listeners she made them laugh, though not always at the same thing.