Out of the Frying-pan, and into the Fire!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Hadn't you better give your landlord notice today, that we will move at the end of the year, Mr. Plunket?"
"Move! For heaven's sake, Sarah, what do we want to move for?"
"It's a very strange way for you to address me, Mr. Plunket. A very strange way!"
"But for what on earth do you want to move, Sarah? Tell me that. I'm sure we are comfortable enough here."
"Here! I wouldn't live in this miserable house another twelve months, if you gave me the rent free."
"I don't see anything so terribly bad about the house. I am well satisfied."
"Are you, indeed! But I am not, I can tell you for your comfort."
"What's the matter with the house?"
"Everything. There isn't a comfortable or decent room in it, from the garret to the cellar. Not one. It's a horrid place to live in; and such a bad neighborhood to bring up children in!"
"You thought it a 'lovely house' a year ago."
"Me! Mr. Plunket, I never liked it; and it was all your fault that we ever took the miserable affair."
"My fault! Sarah, what are you talking about? I didn't want to move from where we were. I never want to move."
"Oh, no, you'd live in a pigstye forever, if you once got there, rather than take the trouble to get out of it."
Wise from experience, the gentleman deemed it better to run than fight. So, muttering to himself, he took up his hat and beat a hasty retreat.
Mrs. Plunket had a mother, a fact of which Mr. Plunket was perfectly aware, particularly as said relative was a member of his family. She happened to be present when the above spicy conversation took place. As soon as he had retired, she broke out with--"Humph! just like him; anything to be contrary. But I wouldn't live in this old rattle-trap of a place another year for any man that ever stepped into shoe-leather. No, indeed, not I. Out of repair from top to bottom; not a single convenience; walls cracked, paper soiled, and paint as yellow as a pumpkin."
"And worse than all, ma, every closet is infested with ants and overrun with mice. Ugh! I'm afraid to open a cupboard, or look into a drawer. Why, yesterday, a mouse jumped upon me and came near going into my bosom. I almost fainted. Oh, dear! I never can live in this house another year; it is out of the question. I would die!"
"No one thinks of it, except Mr. Plunket, and he's always opposed to everything; but that's no matter. If he doesn't notify the landlord--we can. Live here another twelvemonth! No, indeed!"
"I saw a notice on a house in Seventh street yesterday, and I had a great mind, then, to stop and look at it. It was a beautiful place, just what we want."
"Put your things on, Sarah, right away, and go and see about it. Depend upon it, we can't do worse than this."
"Worse! No, indeed, that's impossible. But Mr. Plunket!"
"Pshaw! never mind him; he's opposed to everything. If you had given him his way, where would you have been now?"
Mrs. Plunket did not reply to this, for the question brought back the recollection of a beautiful little house, new, and perfect in every part, from which she had forced her husband to move, because the parlors were not quite large enough. Never, before nor since, had they been so comfortably situated.
Acting as well from her own inclination as from her mother's advice, Mrs. Plunket went and made an examination of the house upon which she had seen the bill.
"Oh, it is such a lovely house!" she said, upon her return. "Perfect in every respect: it is larger than this, and is full of closets; and the rent is just the same."
"Did you get to see the landlord?"
"Yes. I told the landlord that I would give him an answer by tomorrow morning. He says there are a great many people after it; that he could have rented it a dozen times, if he had approved the tenants who offered. He says he knows Mr. Plunket very well, and will be happy to rent him the house."
"We must take it, by all means."
"That is, if Mr. Plunket is willing."
"Willing! Of course, he'll have to be willing."
"Oh, it is such a lovely house, ma!"
"I'm sure it must be."
"A very different kind of an affair from this, you may be certain."
When Mr. Plunket came home that evening, his wife said to him, quite amiably--"Oh, you don't know what a lovely house I saw today up in Seventh Street; larger, better, and more convenient than this in every way, and the rent is just the same."
"But I am sure, Sarah, we are very comfortable here."
"Comfortable! Good gracious, Mr. Plunket, I would like to know what you call comfort. How can anyone be comfortable in such a miserable old rattletrap of a place as this?"
"You thought it a lovely house, you remember, before we came into it."
"Me? Me? Mr. Plunket? Why, I never liked it; and it was all your fault that we ever moved here!"
"Yes, indeed, it was all your fault. I wanted the house in Walnut Street, but you were afraid of a little more rent. Oh, no, Mr. Plunket, you mustn't blame me for moving into this barracks of a place; you have only yourself to thank for that; and now I want to get out of it on the first good opportunity."
Poor Mr. Plunket was silenced. The very boldness of the position taken by his wife completely knocked him off guard. His fault, indeed! He would have lived on, year after year, in a log cabin, rather than encounter the horrors of moving; and yet he was in the habit of moving about once a year. What could he do now? He had yielded so long to his wife, who had grown bolder at each concession, that opposition was now hopeless. Had she stood alone, there might have been some chance for him; but backed up, as she was, by her puissant mother, victory was sure to perch on her banner; and well did Mr. Plunket know this.
"It will cost at least a hundred and fifty or two hundred dollars to move," he ventured to suggest.
"Indeed, and it will cost no such thing. I'll guaranty the whole removal for ten dollars."
"It cost over a hundred last year."
"Nonsense! it didn't cost a fifth of it."
But Mr. Plunket knew he had the best right to know, for he had paid the bills.
From the first, Mr. Plunket felt that opposition was useless. A natural repugnance to change, and a horror of the disorder and discomfort of moving, caused him to make a feeble resistance; but the opposing current swept strongly against him, and he had to yield.
The house in Seventh Street was taken, and, in due time, the breaking up and change came. Carpets were lifted, boxes, barrels, and trunks packed, and all the disorderly elements of a regular moving operation called into activity. Every preparation had been made on the day previous to the contemplated flight; the furniture-cars were to be at the door by eight o'clock on the next morning. In anticipation of this early movement, the children had been dragged out of bed an hour before their usual time for rising. They were, in consequence, cross and unreasonable; but not more so than mother, grandmother, and nurse, all of whom either boxed them, scolded them, or jerked them about in a most violent manner. Breakfast was served early; but such a breakfast! the least said about that the better. It was well there were no keen appetites to turn away with disappointment.
"Strange that the furniture-cars are not here!" said Mr. Plunket, who himself had put in the order. "It's nearly half an hour past the time now. Oh, dear! confound all this moving, say I."
"That's a strange way for you to talk before children, Mr. Plunket," retorted his wife.
"And this is a much stranger way for you to act, madam; forever dragging your husband and children about from post to pillar. For my part, I feel like Noah's dove, without a place to rest the sole of my foot."
A war of words was about commencing, but the furniture-cars drove up at the moment, when an armistice took place.
In due time, the family of the Plunkets were, bag and baggage, in their new house. A lover of quiet, the male head of the establishment tried to refrain from any remarks calculated to excite his helpmate, but this was next to impossible, there being so much in the new house that he could not, in conscience, approve. If Mrs. Plunket would have kept quiet, all might have gone on very smoothly; but Mrs. Plunket could not or would not keep quiet. She was extravagant in her praise of everything, and incessant in her comparisons between the old and the new house. Mr. Plunket listened, and bit his lip to keep silent. At last the lady said to him, with a coaxing smile, for she was not going to rest until some words of approval were extorted from her liege lord--"Now, Mr. Plunket, don't you think this a lovely house?"
"No!" was the gruff answer.
"Mr. Plunket! Why, what is your objection? I'm sure we can't be more uncomfortable than we have been for a year."
"Oh, yes, we can."
"There is such a thing as going from the frying-pan into the fire!"
"Just what you'll find we have done, madam."
"How will you make that appear, please?"
"In a few words. Just step this way. Do you see that building?"
"Just to the south-west of us; from that quarter the cool breezes of summer come. We shall now have them fragrant with the delightful exhalations of a slaughter-house! Humph! Won't that be delightful? Then, again, the house is damp."
"Oh, no. The landlord assured me it was as dry as a bone."
"The landlord lied, then. I've been from garret to cellar half a dozen times, and it is just as I say. My eyes never deceive me."
Notwithstanding Mrs. Plunket's efforts to induce her husband to praise the house, she was not as well satisfied with it as she was at the first inspection of the premises.
"I'm sure," she replied, in rather a subdued manner, "that it is quite as good as the old house, and has many advantages over it."
"Name one," said her husband.
"It is not overrun with vermin."
"Wait a while and see."
"Oh, I know it isn't."
"How do you know?"
"I asked the landlord particularly."
"And he said no?"
"Humph! We shall see."
And they did see. Tired but with a day's moving and fixing, the whole family, feeling hungry, out of humor, and uncomfortable, descended to the kitchen, after it had become dark, to overhaul the provision-baskets, and get a sandwich of some kind. But, alas! to their dismay, it was found that another family, and that a numerous one, already had possession! Floor, dresser, and walls were alive with a starving colony of enormous cockroaches, and the baskets, into which bread, meats, etc. had been packed, were literally swarming with them.
In horror, man, woman, and child beat a hasty retreat, and left the premises.
It would hardly be fair to record all the sayings and doings of that eventful evening. Overwearied in body and mind, the family retired to bed, but some of them, alas! not to sleep. From washboards and every other part of the chamber in which a crevice existed, crept out certain little animals not always to be mentioned to ears polite, and, more bold than the denizens of the kitchen, made immediate demonstrations on the master, mistress, child, and maid.
It took less than a week to prove satisfactorily to Mrs. Plunket, though she did not admit the fact, that the new house was not to be compared with the old one in any respect. It had not a single advantage over the other, while the disadvantages were felt by every member of the family.
In a few months, however, Mr. Plunket began to feel at home, and to settle down into contentment, but as he grew better and better satisfied, his wife grew more and more desirous of change, and is now, as the year begins to draw to a close, looking about her for notices on houses, and examining, every day, the "to rent" department of the newspapers with a lively degree of interest. Mr. Plunket will, probably, resist stoutly when this lady proposes some new "lovely house," but it will be of no use; he will have to pull up stakes and try it again. It is his destiny; he has got a moving wife, and there is no help for him.