First published in Pearson's Magazine, March 1921
Collected in Desirable Residences and Other Stories 1991
Approx. 4,600 words
(First read 18/05/1992)
A bit of a mishmash of a story: part lament over changing post-War attitudes; part hymn in praise of modern gadgetry cum condemnation of folk's dumb dependence on same¹; and part gentle comedy of very English manners.
Mr Bradley and Mr Beaumont ~ 'two gentlemen sharing' ~ 'lose' their utterly indispensable housekeeper and, falling victim to the serious shortage of domestic staff that followed on the end of WWI, are subjected to a herd of incompetent cooks, maids, gardeners, etc. In despair they decide to invest in a whole host of modern appliances, from the miraculous 'Ichabod' oven to an electric duster.
'Course, being middle-aged hapless Englishmen, they haven't much of a clue how to work all this marvellous machinery ... but in the nick of time rescue arrives in the shape of Beaumont's widowed sister Mrs Glover², or rather in the shape of Mrs G's perfect French maid Hortense. Order is restored and the story ends in the blink of an eye.
Most of the comedy is: (a) at the expense of the crap servants, who include a "crippled soldier with the resounding name of Fotheringay [who] would make beds and empty slops [into the bath], which was sordid employment"³; and (b) derived from the 'pathetic obstinacy' with which our two gents try to get to grips with all this new kit.
Verdict: fun, but perhaps not as much fun as it might have been had it been written by someone more used to writing about fun. (If you see what I mean.)
Bradley and Beaumont on the merits of femalepersons:
"Women may be, in fact, they are, ornamental little things; they have a brightness, a charm about them. For the purposes of the propagation of the species, they seem to be essential."
"Doubtless; but you and I do not propose to propagate the species."
¹ Heaven only knows what EFB would make of today's world.
² Who Bradley ends up by marrying.
³ It seems not to occur to Beaumont and Bradley (or possibly to EFB) that a large part of the reason servants became so rare is that they finally woke up to the sordidness of so much domestic service. Fotheringay, you'll be pleased to hear, eventually melts away and is no more seen.