THE TARTARUS OF MAIDS

“No–I am rather chill, if anything.”

“Come out, Sir–out–out,” and, with the protecting air of a careful
father, the precocious lad hurried me outside.

In a few minutes, feeling revived a little, I went into the
folding-room–the first room I had entered, and where the desk for
transacting business stood, surrounded by the blank counters and blank
girls engaged at them.

“Cupid here has led me a strange tour,” said I to the dark-complexioned
man before mentioned, whom I had ere this discovered not only to be
an old bachelor, but also the principal proprietor. “Yours is a most
wonderful factory. Your great machine is a miracle of inscrutable
intricacy.”

“Yes, all our visitors think it so. But we don’t have many. We are in
a very out-of-the-way corner here. Few inhabitants, too. Most of our
girls come from far-off villages.”

“The girls,” echoed I, glancing round at their silent forms. “Why is
it, Sir, that in most factories, female operatives, of whatever age,
are indiscriminately called girls, never women?”

“Oh! as to that–why, I suppose, the fact of their being generally
unmarried–that’s the reason, I should think. But it never struck me
before. For our factory here, we will not have married women; they
are apt to be off-and-on too much. We want none but steady workers;
twelve hours to the day, day after day, through the three hundred and
sixty-five days, excepting Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Fast-days. That’s
our rule. And so, having no married women, what females we have are
rightly enough called girls.”

“Then these are all maids,” said I, while some pained homage to their
pale virginity made me involuntarily bow.

“All maids.”

Again the strange emotion filled me.

“Your cheeks look whitish yet, Sir,” said the man, gazing at me
narrowly. “You must be careful going home. Do they pain you at all now?
It’s a bad sign, if they do.”

“No doubt, Sir,” answered I, “when once I have got out of the Devil’s
Dungeon I shall feel them mending.”

“Ah, yes; the winter air in valleys, or gorges, or any sunken place, is
far colder and more bitter than elsewhere. You would hardly believe it
now, but it is colder here than at the top of Woedolor Mountain.”

“I dare say it is, Sir. But time presses me; I must depart.”

With that, remuffling myself in dread-naught and tippet, thrusting my
hands into my huge sealskin mittens, I sallied out into the nipping
air, and found poor Black, my horse, all cringing and doubled up with
the cold.

Soon, wrapped in furs and meditations, I ascended from the Devil’s
Dungeon.

At the Black Notch I paused, and once more bethought me of Temple-Bar,
Then, shooting through the pass, all alone with inscrutable nature, I
exclaimed–Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids!