[Aunt Sophronia discusses time management with Hester, Helen and Miriam.]
“Is it better,” asked Miriam, “to know something of everything, or absolutely everything of something?”
“Absolutely, one can do neither,” I said.
“Well, within human limitations, understood.”
“It is better,” said Hester, “to know everything of something; for thoroughness is in itself a great virtue, and will enter into all your life, making one in all things painstaking and honest.”
“This devoting yourself to one thing, however,” said Helen, “will make you one-idea, crotchety, a hobby-rider, and you will be detestable.”
“These people of one idea have been the people who moved the world,” retorted Hester.
“The fact is, my dear girls,” I interposed, “no one branch of study stands isolated; it reaches out and intermingles and takes hold of others. Hester’s ideas are in the main correct; study that for which you find in yourselves most aptitude; aspire to completeness in whatever you undertake; value knowledge, and seize whatever comes in your way, and put what you acquire to use as fast as you can. The Lord found great fault with the servant who buried his talent in a napkin.”
“What do you suppose his talent was?” asked Helen.
“Time, perhaps: the one talent common to all.”
“And what was the napkin wherein he buried it?” asked Hester.
“Disorder, doubtless; for you can bury more time in disorder than in any other way.”
“I must be very disorderly, then,” laughed Helen, “for since I went to housekeeping I have no time for anything; you have no idea how behind-hand I am. I have not opened my piano except on a few evenings; I have a whole basketful of accumulated sewing, and hose for darning: I haven’t read anything but two or three novels; I have not done a bit of fancy-work —”
“My dear girl! I cried, “if this is your record now, what will become of you when cares increase? — say, for instance, if there were two or three little ones.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Helen; “I should have to set up another servant or two, and then we should be bags of rags and all our buttons would be off, I expect.”
“Indeed, Helen,” I urged, “there must be a sad mistake somewhere if you have reached this result. Living here in the village, with but two in the family, you have a very modicum of household cares; what think you of young wives on farms who have chicks to feed, several hands to cook for, butter to make, oftentimes no servant, or but a young girl? and yet nearly all of them would make a better showing than this. I remember when Cousin Ann’s three elder children were little things, and she kept but a half-grown girl, there were no rags and no mending in arrears, and all the farm-work being done by half-past two, she could sit down to make or mend, and in the evening pick up a book or a newspaper. She made a point of reading as much as she could, so as to be able to interest and instruct her children. Her son Reed’s wife has a young child and keeps no help; she sends butter and eggs to market, and manages to well in all her work that she has spare hours for making pretty and useful things for her house, for reading, and for doing all her own sewing, and not being behind-hand with it. Depend on it, the secret lies in industrious order — in what is called good management.”
“But I cannot understand it, Helen,” said Miriam: “your house has only ten rooms beside the bath, and you keep a servant: where does your time go?”
“How can I tell where it goes, when I never can find it?” grumbled Helen. “I dare say you don’t understand it. Why, aunt, there is Miriam doing the most of her own work; no matter when I go there, the work is all done; the house is neat as a pin; Miriam is sitting at her reading or her sewing; she has made perfect gems of fancy things that stick here and there in her house; even in her kitchen she has fancy wall-pockets for string, paper and little bags; fancy holders, a pincushion hung by the window, a crocheted scrap-bag, and, if you believe me, always a bouquet in the window!”
“Why not have it nice?” said Miriam. “I have to be there often, and I can work faster where things are handy, and enjoy myself better when things are pretty. Why should I run upstairs for every pin I want, or look five minutes when I need a string, or have scraps of rag and paper stuffed in corners for want of a convenient bag to put them?”
“What amazes me is,” said Helen, “where you get the time for all those things.?
“I got it from Mrs. Burr for a wedding gift,” said Miriam.
“Do explain: I wish she had been as liberal to me.”
“She sent me a book of her own making, two boards of gray Bristol, bound in red satin and painted with one of her lovely landscapes. Inside was only a single page: that was white Bristol, illuminated with a wreath of flowers, bees and butterflies, and this motto within: ‘Always be one hour in advance of your work.’ I saw at once that there was the key to the Order that reigns at Mrs. Burr’s. If I were an hour beforehand with work I should never be hurried nor worried; if I began at once, the habit of being in season would be fixed. I saw also that the one hour would by good judgment in planning grow to many, the housekeeping matter out and have an exact routine for it; it was little trouble to do that. I had only to copy Aunt Sophronia: she always had exact order here.”