from Blue Book
by Ellis Parker Butler
I read in a magazine recently a toast that brought to my mind the experience of my friend, William J. Pardo, of Westcote. The toast was in rhyme, and after a good word for every other girl, ended with the sentiment that the cleverest girl in the lot is the girl that can cook a good dinner.
If anything in the world could express the feelings that my friend William J. Pardo held for Susan Cornelia Wildasin some twelve years ago, I think that toast does it. Susan could not only cook a good dinner, but she could cook a tremendously good dinner, and William J. loved to eat. You have noticed, no doubt, that this is characteristic of men.
In the small New England village where Susan and William J. were born, there was not much in the way of pleasure except eating. There was considerable high thinking, but culture ended with an understanding of the New England philosophers. It was a sort of hard-shell culture.
Susan therefore -- as her share of the courtship -- went into her mother's kitchen and acted on the fine old maxim, "Feed the beast!" while William amply expressed his love by devouring Susan's dinners with great appreciation and pleasure. With William J. it was "Eat, drink and be married."
Susan's pies were indeed edible love-thoughts, and her New England dinners were poems of passion done in phrases of boiled vegetables. There seemed no question that William J. and Susan would have a long and happy life together, and they married. I wish I could say they lived happily ever after. A marriage between a girl that can cook a good dinner, and a man that can provide fuel and the necessary raw food stuffs should be the prologue to a life of bliss, but the whole trouble was that William J. Pardo was too good a provider. If a man is able to provide sufficient food, and no more than sufficient, and the girl can cook a good dinner, and can do nothing but cook a good dinner, the result is happiness; but William J. could provide too much food. In a year or two he was so successful in business that if he had spent his income for food, and nothing but food, he would have had carloads of food piled up around the house and the yard -- tons and tons of food -- and no matter how steadily Susan cooked, she would have been unable to cook it all. If she had been able to cook it all William J. could not have eaten it -- even a man has his limitations. So, instead of buying food with all the money he had coming in, William J. put the money in the bank. It is a method of laying up food for a hungry day.
I did not know the William J. Pardos then; I met them after they moved to New York. As soon as they had settled in our suburb I met William J. and liked him, and in a short while our two families were on good terms, and we began to receive dinner invitations from Susan. Such dinners! Lucullus never ate anything finer. Susan was certainly a superb cook, and she loved to "entertain" -- by which she meant spread her table bountifully, invite guests and eat food. And talk food. Some of her recipes were as precious as Goethe's bons mots, and the conversation sparkled with "Two cups of flour, three eggs and a tablespoonful of ginger," and like scintillating bits of wit.
By means of these dinner parties the Pardos were able to expend some of their stored food, and Susan shone gloriously. In the cooking line she was the cleverest girl of our acquaintance. She began to adopt a lot of the food accessories -- candle shades, finger-bowls, fern dishes and the like -- and took up the more expensive foods, such as partridge out of season, but still the reserve food fund in the bank continued to increase. Susan could have cooked her pretty head off; she could have cooked day and night; but still William J. would have provided ten times faster than she could cook. But that was not the worst. William J. had been so fed and over-fed that a good dinner no longer touched the deepest springs of his being. He felt longings for other things, and one night when he heard Mrs. Evangeline Carroll play the piano he decided that what his soul needed was music -- piano music.
He mentioned this to Susan as gently as he could, and she immediately advised him to buy a piano out of the food reserve funds, and he purchased a splendid grand and had it sent out to the house.
That night, after the eating was done, he settled himself comfortably in a chair, and Susan seated herself on the piano bench, and raised her hands. When she brought them down on the keys William J. trembled and gasped. Probably no such awful jangle of broken chords was ever heard in our suburb as that Susan had pounded out. She did not notice how William J. was suffering, and went right ahead joyously and strenuously, hitting a bunch of white keys here, and a bunch of black ones there. Discords and dire discord! Whang, bang, jangle! It was only after many minutes of torture that William J. was able to stagger to the piano and grasp Susan's relentless hands. The perspiration was pouring from his face, and nervous twitchings jerked his cheek.
"My dear! My dear!" he gasped.
"Why, William," she said, "I thought you wanted music!"
"But you can't play! You can't play!"
"William," she said, "I am surprised! I am a born cook, and cooking is far cleverer than playing a piano. Anyone clever enough to cook as I cook should be able to play the piano at first sight. Time and again you have told me that the cleverest girl of the lot was the girl that could cook a good dinner--"
"I know it!" said William sadly. "But -- I hate to say it -- but you do not know how to give soul-satisfaction by operating a piano."
"Then," said Susan, and it was their first tiff, "you wish I had studied the piano and not the cook book?"
"No, indeed! No, indeed!" said William J. hastily.
"You could have hired a cook," said Susan with tears in her eyes.
"My dear," said William J. soothingly, "we can hire a pianist."
There is no question that when a man reaches a certain stage of his development he craves culture, or at least the output of culture, and William J. had reached that stage. He was hardly ever hungry for food, but he was hungry for music. He was able to read books, and to think thoughts, and buy art for his walls, and continued good feeding had made him too stout to care for dancing, but he could not play the piano, and Susan could not play the piano.
"But William!" said Susan, "I never heard of hiring a pianist!"
"Nor I," said William J., "but that has nothing to do with it. I dare say there was a time when no one had ever heard of hiring a cook, and now it is done every day. Probably the time is coming when every well managed household will have its hired piano-player. And as for that, did not the smallest, most insignificant king have his hired harper, in the olden times? Even if the kingdom was so small and poor that the queen had to do the cooking, there was sure to be a hired harper about the house. And now, when a wife that can cook is the best wife of all, the era of hired piano-players is coming."
The next day, when William J. went to the city he stopped at a reputable employment agency on Sixth Avenue, and asked the lady in charge for a piano-cook.
"A piano-cook?" said the lady in charge, doubtfully.
"Exactly!" said William J. "I have a wife that cooks; I want a cook that plays the piano."
"Hum!" said the employment lady thoughtfully. "A piano-cook. What would be her hours?"
"Well," said William J., "I would not want her to play the piano seven days in the week, nor twelve hours a day. It would be an easy place. No cooking. My wife will do the cooking."
"Will you give alternate Sunday and Thursday afternoons off?" asked the employment lady.
"Certainly," said William J. "and the days when the piano is being tuned."
"What kind of piano is it?" asked the employment lady.
"It is a grand piano," said William and the employment lady came from behind her desk and approached the seated row of cooks. To the gratification of William J. she had only gone half way down the line when she beckoned to him. A large, strong woman stood up. She had muscles like a prize fighter.
"This is Maggie Finnerty," said the employment lady. "She plays the piano."
"Sure I kin play the pianny!" said Maggie Finnerty. "Grand, or not so grand, 'tis all th' same t' me. Look at thim hands! Aint thim hands fit t' wrastle any pianny that ever was? I sh'u'd think so!"
"Do -- do you know the sonatas of Beethoven or -- or the nocturnes of Chopin, or -- or the rhapsodies of Liszt?" asked Mr. Pardo.
"Well, no sir, I do not!" said Maggie frankly. "I aint done much fancy playin' for some time back. But if ye was t' git me wan or two av thim recipe books av Shopangs an' Beetenhobens, 'twill be no time at all 'til I'm turnin' ye out some grand music. There's no wan like me t' handle the range -- I should say pianny, sir. I know all the dampers from A to G, an' whin I roll up me sleeves an' fire up--"
"What wages do you demand?" asked Mr. Pardo.
"Fifty dollars a mont'," said Maggie firmly. "Fifty dollars a mont'! But I'll give ye music for it, sir. Maggie Finnerty is no shirker, sir. I'll begin bangin' the pianny before breakfast an' keep on poundin' it 'til midnight, if ye say so."
And she does give them music! Unfortunately, her music is the plainest fried-in-grease style -- "I Used To Be Afraid To Go Home In The Dark," and ragtime. But she is a faithful worker. And so strong!
Her highest flight is "The Cowboy's Revenge Gallop," which is played with the forefinger of one hand while the fist of the other pounds the deep bass keys. It lacks some of Chopin's soulfulness, but it has volume. And she is so willing! Nothing can drive her away from the piano. And sometime she sings! Absolutely without extra charge, too.
Of course Mr. Pardo would like to have better music, but it is hard to get good help nowadays. You simply cannot get a Paderewski for fifty dollars a month. But aside from these little dissatisfactions Mr. Pardo is now quite happy. Of course, his hired music is not beyond criticism, but his wife still cooks good dinners in the kitchen, which is all that should be expected from "the cleverest girl in the lot."