It is the custom in this part of the country for all country servants, hired by the half year and living in the house to take a week’s holidays at Whitsuntide and Martinmas. The very shortest period they will consent to is from Saturday morning to Tuesday night. They generally ask from Saturday to Saturday. This does not preclude odd days throughout the term.
The disadvantage of the custom is obvious. To be deprived of all your workers outside and inside for a week is rather a grievance; particularly in winter when the cattle are house fed. Of course one may have men hired by the week who are not affected by fairs or terms. Or if several maids are kept, it may be arranged that one will stay and take her week at a more convenient season.
But even when a girl is staying on, she prefers to be loose when all her tribe are on holiday and when the fairs are on. This winter it happens that we have no one to help us but an outside lad. On Sunday there were only two people to do all the dairy work, and to wait upon the cattle on two steadings half a mile apart and one of these people the mistress. We were never quite so put to it before.
Such a time for rain. Always when it is time to feed and water the cattle, the heavens open. When one is strong and healthy there is a delight in “shooing” the reluctant cows in the pelting rain. When we come to dinner, such glowing ears and cheeks and dripping hair, such an array of steaming clothes round the kitchen fire.
This is Cockermouth hiring fair and I hope the fair will be a quencher on the wages demand. This is a mining district, work abundant, wages high, strikes and unions very much in evidence.
In consequence there is no hiring of men and lads and no living with them. Short hours, little to do, no responsibility, large wages is their creed. If there is any late work or midnight work or early morning work, as is unavoidable among many animals, we must do it ourselves and let the hired men snooze in peace unless we want to get a taste of their impudence.
As I heard an old cattle dealer, who is also a large farmer, say in relation to his trouble with servants, “Surely farmers deserve heaven in the next world for they taste the opposite in this.”
We are not hiring a milker this winter. We find that in about a fortnight a girl or boy will learn to milk as well as those who ask £3 more on the strength of that accomplishment. There is even more hope of those who know nothing as it is just possible you may teach them the right method.
“Rat tat tat at the front door!” Don’t bring anyone in here! Tell them to go away! Say we are very busy.” Always in term week, when we are wrestling single-handed with cows and calves and pigs and hens, some kind “toon’s frien’” with that lack of knowing about things vital to farmers so characteristic of “toon’s bodies” comes wading through the mud to see us, amiably intent on staying to tea.”
And I am the unfortunate one sent to do the impossible — to say and look that I am charmed to see her but I wish she would go and come again some other day.
Books on etiquette say you must never let your caller see that her visit is inopportune. You must graciously and gracefully appear as if there were nothing in the world for you to do but sit and entertain her. But the people who write about etiquette do not take account of the vulgar circumstances when there is a whole menagerie of hungry domestic animals liable to suffer because of that blundering caller.
The “term week” visitor is nearly related to the “milking time” visitor. We have a few friends — from town of course — who almost invariably call when we are all employed in connection with the milking and the dairy. Milking, separating, feeding the calves all going on at the one time — employ a good many hands and it may happen that, if a responsible one is called away suddenly, the whole business is disorganised.
If people come before five o’clock we can arrange but they are certain to knock at an important time when I am waiting upon the separator, or attending to the engine that drives it or something of that sort and there is nobody within call to take my place. It is of no use telling these innocent people not to call between five and six o’clock.
They forget all about it or rather they remember that half past five is just the exact moment in the long day that suits them best. They are then astonished that you are not “done” until they remember that “you are never done in a farm house.”
The truth is that in town-bred people one lobe of the brain is imperfectly developed . There is no other explanation of the fact that at milking time and in term week, they can’t keep away from us.