COMFORT IN A COTTAGE.* Om only complaint against the authors
of this pleasant and useful little book is their choice of a title. It is taken from the Hudibrastio couplet :— "As cats when they can get no mice Content themselves with catching flies."
But its bearing on the subject-matter of the volume—the record of an experiment in domestic economy—is not direct The justification for the title is to be found in the facts that the sister-novelists happen-' I last June to be doing nothing when every one else was busy ; that they were not in the mead for writing novels ; an 1 that "the noise an 1 gloom of London, combined with a conviction of our own entire Me- lessatiss in the general scheme of things, made the prospect of doing practical work in a cottage most attractive. That, at least, was necessary occupation." To load the simple life in war time is a duty imposed oo all people with small incomes ; but they were convinced from the outset that half-measures and partial economies were of little use. The courageous way to face the problem is to dispense with servants altogether, and these chapters chronicle haw a couple of months were spent in this manner. The writers claim no value for them as a con- tribution to economy in other directions : "The incidents we tell of were so trifling and commonplace that they might have been summed up in a few words ; but remembering that generalities are apt to be wearisome, while a certain amount of detail may interest—and possibly cheer—those who are going to try the same experiment, we make, in an idle hour, this record of it."
After a few failures they were fortunate in securing a five-roomed cottage in the Highlands, five mike from a station, "far from the madding crowd," remote but not too enely, as they were within the radius of local tradesmen's carts. The rent was £8 a month, which was moderate rather than cheap, the house was in perfect order and was beautifully situated in a "bee-loud glade "—they had fourteen beehives in their garden—and in full view of a purple mountain. The worst part of the experiment was the period of preparation, which was clouded with misgivings as to their capacity to fend for themselves and fatiguing visits to the hardware departments of London monster shops in the search of a "fireless cooker." But on their arrival at the cottage confidence soon returned. They were not entirely self-supporting, as a ploughman's wife came every morning to light the kitchen fire and
• Content with Flies. By Mary and Taos Planate:. Lenten : SinUs, alsr, and CO. fid. net.] - clean their pots and pans. But for all the rest of the housework and the cooking they had to rely on themselves. The range had a" temper," the boiler had to be perpetually refilled, and some of the cook's earliest efforts were failures. But in a very few days order was evolved, and meals wore not only adequate but attractive. It is evident that the cook and her assistant were not guided by the light of nature plus cookery-books, but must have had some previous experience. Nobody can make appetizing scones and girdle-cakes as ducklings take to water. As regards the housework, the authors insist on the paramount need of routine, regularity, and the division of labour. Their motto was err Iv lycErrec, and the housemaid was severely warned off the kitchen. Even their visitors were roped in to do their part and showed no out- ward sign of reluctance. Soon they began to make cottage proverbs
just to take the finicking edge off any worker who was apt to become self-righteous "—viz., "Let sleeping dust lie "; "It's not lost that a hen gets " ; "Eternity itself would not suffice to cook a haricot bean"; and "Every muddle makes another." They frankly confess to having been bad economists. They couldn't use all the scraps ; the stock-pot was non-existent, and they gave away the dripping. But "we had very good food, and the cats grew steadily fatter during our stay." Mysterious carts, appearing out of the void, brought their daily broads and meats, but no fishmonger troubled their rest. On the rival merits of a vegetarian or meat diet, the writers own to a bias in favour of the latter :—
" Centuries of carnivorous forebears have left us with a deep-rooted prejudice in favour of butcher's meat, as the best food of all in a climate like ours. No doubt vegetarian dishes are more troublesome to prepare. Still, when meat is hard to get, and of inferior quality, they do come in a very useful second. Let the woman who wishes to economize buy some French fire-proof dishes, and set herself to the study of vegetarian cookery, laying aside as impracticable most of the uncooked foods that are sometimes so highly recommended. For if her family are going to change their carnivorous tastes they must be gently led to do so by well-cooked suitable dishes. There may be some persons in these islands of such sound constitution that they can assimilate even uncooked food, but the housekeeper who is trying vegetarianism had better remember that a supper of raw lettuce is enough to kill an aunt, and if her family dines on nuts and cheese, she must expect some curious displays of temper the next day. With very careful cooking it is surprising how good many vegetarian dishes can be. But immense care, time, and unrelaxing attention must go to the prepara- tion of them. Long and gentle cooking are required to prevent them being abominable—best summed lip in the Biblical phrase, a mesa of pottage.' Well, we had the time, and had to cultivate the unrelaxing attention, whilst an indifferent stove provided the 'gentle heat ' unbidden, and very soon the pulses became extremely popular, almost ousting the steaks and roasts of former days."
Grease was their greatest trial ; and the supreme gastronomic tragedy was the only dinner prepared with the aid of the "fireless cooker," which arrived late and proved a hopeless fraud. But a few disappoint- ments were easily outweighed by the solid success of the experiment; well-organized routine gave them ample leisure for rest, for exploring a beautiful neighbourhood in perfect summer weather, for studying bird life and establishing friendly relations with their neighbours. Perhaps their most romantic acqnaintance was an itinerant seller of brooms, an Irishman, who had a friend in the Intelligence Department. A daily post kept them in touch with the outer world, but on the impact of war news they remain silent. When their tenancy expired and they moved for a short space into another cottage, the change was carried through triumphantly, and they settled rapidly and easily into their new quarters. The record of a successful experiment—which, by the way, is enriched with some charming photographs—concludes with some general observations and " wrinkles " which seam to us worth quoting :— " Those recollections are only of value, as showing that life without servants can be not only tolerably comfortable, but as happy as the day is long. Of course we were new to it, and novelty has charms. The two menthe and a half were a short spell of work. The place was lovely, the air reviving, and we had nothing else to distract our attention. Also there were three of us (sometimes four) at work in a tiny house, and we had assistance With the stove in the mornings. Still, discounting all this, we lacked many of the conditions that make work easy. We had no shops at hand, and none of us had much knowledge when we began. To sum up, we may, perhaps, be allowed to add a few crumbs from our personal experience—every one must differ as to methods. These are only hints which may possibly be of use to any one trying a like experiment. We give them for what they are worth. 1st, if at all possible, engage some one to light and clean the kitchen stove every morning. 2nd, don't rise too early. 3rd, don't do any hard work before breakfast. 4th, resolve to have no make-shift meals. 5th, take a long rest after dinner. 6th, eat in the kitchen. This last rule we consider the secret of comfort in a cottage. A good many of the above axioms sound very like Mr. Punch's celebrated advice to those about to marry. But they do not mean 'don't work '—only don't do work at unaccustomed hours. Keep your strength as much as possible, so as to have a reserve, thus escaping the dread sensation of being unable to take another step or stand for another moment. When there is no one else to fall back upon, it is always well to keep a little energy in reserve, for a call may come upon it when least expected. We may add what to e,onsible people seems almost superfluous advice—i.e., avoid extra ornaments and dust-traps of all kinds. Also make the last meal as simple as possible, so that it can be cleared away and washed up with little trouble. And try to keep in mind that the things you are accustomed to occupy your time with are, generally, much less amusing, and all- , towoften much loss necessary than -the simple routine of househOld work I 't