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W. M. Stannard, “Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man” (1900)

Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man.
(A Companion to
“Ely’s Automatic Housemaid.”)
THERE was a mild sensation at the East Slowcombe railway station when a stranger, bearing a two-gallon can, carefully crated, stepped off the 3.30 accommodation, and there were many speculations hazarded as to his identity, business and destination, but, without stopping to question or exchange words with any of the waiting crowd, he stepped across the platform to where Farmer Corndropper was waiting with his gray mare and buggy. He handed the fanner a letter, stepped into the buggy and was driven slowly away. Without a word of welcome or of apology to his visitor, the farmer opened the letter and proceeded intently to read the contents:
Dear Sir: — We forward you herewith — or, rather this will be handed to you by — Tom, our Automatic Farmer (Ely’s patent). If same proves unsatisfactory after one month’s constant use, money will be refunded. The active principle by which the farmer is controlled is contained in an oil (two gallons forwarded) embodying all the essential nutritive elements which, acting upon our improved substitute for cerebral tissue, contained in the farmer’s cranial cavity, results in a faculty which cannot be distinguished from ordinary common sense.
Tom is guaranteed to do twenty-four hours’ work a day — seven days a week, if necessary — without strain. He can perform any ordinary task that an intelligent man can do.
Important. — The automatic farmer will obey only the person who feeds him. His present control expires at 6 p. M. to-day, after which hour be will be subject to your orders.
Convinced that Tom will give perfect satisfaction, we remain,
Yours sincerely,
The Ely Mfg. Co. (Limited).
Josiah Corndropper meditatively folded and pocketed this letter, clucked to the gray mare and fixed his gaze upon his silent companion, who, however, paid no heed. He was tall, broad-shouldered and robust looking, with a wonderfully intelligent and life-like countenance, upon which his owner gazed with wonder and admiration.
Tom promptly followed his master when he alighted at the farmhouse and seated himself in a corner of the kitchen, where he remained, dumb and deaf to all the subdued comments upon his appearance and deportment.
“No, M’riar,” answered the farmer to his wife’s enquiries, “he won’t be ready fuse tell six o’clock, so ye’ll hev ter wait,” and she returned reluctantly to her duties.
At six o’clock, sharp, following the printed directions stitched to the back of Tom’s vest, Josiah cautiously lifted the brim of his straw hat, poured some “food” into the aperture disclosed and stepped back to await results.
Instantly the figure gazed curiously around and then sat upright at attention, regarding his owner enquiringly.
“Gid up!” said Josiah.
Tom promptly arose and the farmer and his wife stumbled over the furniture in the involuntary backward movement which they simultaneously made.
“What you laughin’ fer, drat yer?” shouted Josiah, regaining his equilibrium, but the automaton made no response.
“Waal, he don’t talk back, like some hired men,” exclaimed Mrs. Corndropper, amused and relieved.
“Course, he’s only a machine,” said the farmer, mollified. “Tom, go milk the cows.”
This order was obeyed with neatness and dispatch. Four great pails were soon standing on the dairy floor, and Tom was awaiting further instructions.
“Waal, by gum, ye do work mighty spry,” ejaculated Josiah. “Ye might’s well go out an’ finish the chores,” and Tom was gone like a flash. Soon the wood box was brimming, the animals foddered, and all the odds and ends of the day’s work attended to in less than half the usual time, and the indefatigable farmer had again reported for duty.
Josiah scratched his head reflectively. “Able to work all night, is he? Guess I’ll set him t’ buildin’ stun wall. Here, Tom, go out ‘n straighten out th’ wall around the ten-acre lot. Then in the mornin’, ‘bout four o’clock, come in an’ wait at the back door, till I give ye su’thin’ else t’ do.” Tom was out of sight in the direction of the ten-acre lot before Corndropper had done wondering.
When Josiah came down in the morning the first thing he saw was the automaton, standing stolidly on the back porch, evidently awaiting orders.
“Mornin’, Tom. It’s time ter milk an’ do up the chores ag’in. Seems ez ef as intelligent-lookin’ a cuss ez you be would almost ‘a known it ‘thout bein’ told.” Before this mild criticism, the only reproof which his owner ever bestowed upon him, was finished, Tom was in the barnyard, dispatching the work.
“Waal, by gum!” chuckled Corndropper, “an’ only costs six cents a day, nuther. Gee, ef this ain’t a snap.” He scanned all he could see of the stone wall, and soliloquized:
“I b’leeve he’s done it all right. I must set him ‘bout the farmin’ right away; won’t need t’hire nobody this season!” and Josiah smiled audibly over the saving of three men’s hire as he went in to breakfast.
Picking his teeth on the porch, he said to his patient helper:
“Waal, Tommy, may’s well start in plowin’ to-day. Yoke up th’ three-year olds, an’ then I’ll tell ye what ter do.”
But Tom did not move.
“What ails ye?”
Josiah was alarmed. Could the machinery be out of order so soon? Was the thing a failure, after all? Visions of disappointed hopes flitted through his mind faster than he could formulate them, but as he stood in thought he happened to glance at the clock. The automaton must be fed regularly twice in twenty-four hours or it would “strike.”
“Waal, by gum! Why didn’t I think of that before? “
So Tom had his breakfast at once, after which he went to the barn and under fresh instructions returned with the astonished animals and with the big plow under one arm.
“Waal, by gum!” exclaimed Josiah.
As the days went on Tom plowed and planted, hoed, hayed and harvested, with no assistance other than general directions. He did all the “chores,” indoors and out, and when farm work was slack, made a firm friend of Mrs. Corndropper by beating carpets, moving furniture, scrubbing paint and blacking stoves.
Josiah thoroughly enjoyed the change. From being a hard-worked farmer, with three hired men to look after, he became a man of leisure, giving his attention to the settlement of important local and national affairs — at the village grocery.
Spring had passed, summer had come and gone, and autumn was waning, when one brisk October morning Josiah announced:
“I’m a-goin’ over ter th’ county seat to-day, to see ‘bout cancellin’ that morgidge — we’ve made ‘nough this summer to pay it off — an’ as I hain’t nothin’ special for Tom t’do, I’m a-goin’ ter leave him fer you.”
“Now, Josiah, you needn’t do no sech thing! Don’t you think I c’n look out f’r myself, ‘thout havin’ a iron man ‘round t’ keep tabs on me? “
Josiah saw that something was wrong.
“No, M’riar, I thought mebbe you’d hev suthin’ fer him t’ do.”
She said at first that she hadn’t, but the truth was, that having had no experience in “feeding” Tom, the act upon which his obedience depended, she rather dreaded the responsibility.
Josiah perceived her reluctance, and took a firm stand.
“Now, M’riar, I want ye to come right out and feed him; might as well larn fust as last. Needn’t use him ef y’ don’t want’er.”
So Mrs. Corndropper meekly accompanied her husband to Tom’s quarters and fed the automaton, who then, at her command, sat in a kitchen comer to be ready in case of need.
“Don’t fergit ter hev him do the chores,” said her husband, as he drove off.
When she was actually alone, she found the silence oppressive. Her thoughts, in spite of her best intentions, ran on the many depredations recently committed in neighboring towns, and supposed to be the work of tramps, and though she had never been molested by any of the fraternity, she could not help feeling apprehensive.
“I wish’t old Grip was here,” she thought, forgetting Tom entirely; “he use ter seem almost human, an’ would ha’ been kinder comp’ny. Don’t s’pose nuthin’ ‘ll happen, but he’d be wuth two men t’ lay out a tramp.”
But toward eleven o’clock her fears were forgotten, and she was just about to peel the potatoes for dinner, when a shadow fell upon the threshold, and she turned to see her worst apprehensions realized — there stood two of the dirtiest and most villanous-looking specimens of man she had ever seen.
“Please, mum, will yer gin us suthin’ to eat? “
“I never feed tramps.”
“Say, Bill, git onter dat! “
“Ef ye two don’t git out pretty lively, I’ll set th’ dog on yer! “
The tramps indulged in a hearty laugh, and then one said, in a peremptory tone:
“Come, ole lady, trot out yer grub, or we’ll help ourselves.”
Mrs. Corndropper’s temper, never of the mildest, was now strained beyond endurance, and she emptied the tin pan of potatoes and water over her visitors.
With the aid of a wet dish rag and two towels, she was soon bound, gagged and helpless, and was obliged to sit speechless in the kitchen while the tramps rummaged the pantry and gorged themselves on her abundant and unsurpassed cooking.
Then they proceeded to investigate the closets and dining-room for liquid refreshments and “boodle.”
While both were busily engaged in ransacking the sideboard, an idea occurred to Mrs. Corndropper. Wriggling and twisting, she rubbed the towel binding her hands upon a projecting nail until it parted, and then quickly untied the one fastening her to the chair. She took out her gag as she stole quietly to the corner where Tom was sitting, and whispered in his ear.
The tramps had just discovered a plump stocking in a drawer of the sideboard, and were about appraising its contents.
“Gosh, Jim, dis is der stuff! Ain’t we playin’ in great — “
He dropped the stocking with a howl, as a sharp rap descended upon his head. There was a simultaneous yell from Jim, two more blows and two loud screams.
“Now, Tom, take ‘em by the scruff o’ the neck, and thump their heads together.”
Howls, curses, kicks and blows were alike futile. The iron clutch kept its hold, and the thumps were delivered with clocklike regularity.
Mrs. Corndropper calmly superintended.
“Now, shake ‘em up well!”
The motion of the automaton changed, and dislocated curses and disconnected kicks, accompanied by the rattle of boots, heads and teeth, testified to the thoroughness of the shaking process.
“Take ‘em outdoors and squeeze ‘em,” was the next order, and the smothered execrations that floated in through the window told of a literal execution of the command.
Mrs. Corndropper closed and locked the windows and doors, pocketed the key, and said to Tom:
“There, that’ll do; pick ‘em up and go along ahead o’ me.”
Tom had them under his arms like two grain sacks, and was half way to the gate. As he passed through, both tramps made vigorous efforts to hold on to the gate posts, but only badly wrenched arms and roars of pain resulted.
Then they began to beg and plead for pardon and release, but Mrs. Corndropper paid no attention, and the little procession entered the village surrounded by small boys, and soon attracted half the floating population. At the constable’s door the tramps were handcuffed and committed to the lock-up, and Mrs. Corndropper entered a formal complaint.
Two weeks later she received the following letter:
Mrs. Josiah Corndropper,
Dear Madam: — Please find enclosed check for $500, being the amount of the joint reward offered by the towns of Enfield and Slowcumbe for the apprehension of James Sullivan and William McNulty, said desperadoes ‘Having been captured under your direction. Also please accept our thanks for your public-spirited action. Yours respectfully,
Henry Hawbuck, Town Treasurer.
As no vote of thanks could be made intelligible to Tom, and no increase of rations would be grateful or necessary to his inner anthropomorphy, the Corndroppers were forced to be content with putting their appreciation into a testimonial to the Ely Mfg. Co. (Limited), and such public utterances as Josiah found time to make at the grocery, where he never tired of boasting of a hired man who could do the work of three, on six cents a day, and earn his employer a five hundred dollar premium the first year.

[“Mr. Corndropper’s Hired Man” appeared in the The Black Cat for October, 1900.’

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Elizabeth W. Bellamy, “Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” (1899)

Ely’s Automatic Housemaid.
IN order for a man to have faith in such an invention, he would have to know Harrison Ely. For Harrison Ely was a genius. I had known him in college, a man amazingly dull in Latin and Greek and even in English, but with ideas of his own that could not be expressed in language. His bent was purely mechanical, and found expression in innumerable ingenious contrivances to facilitate the study to which he had no inclination. His self-acting lexicon-holder was a matter of admiring wonder to his classmates, but it did not serve to increase the tenacity of his mental grasp upon the contents of the volume, and so did little to recommend him to the faculty. And his self-feeding safety student lamp admirably illuminated everything for him save the true and only path to an honorable degree.
It had been years since I had seen him or thought of him, but the memory is tenacious of small things, and the big yellow envelope which I found one morning awaiting me upon my breakfast table brought his eccentric personality back to me with a rush. It was addressed to me in the Archimedean script always so characteristic of him, combining, as it seemed to do, the principles of the screw and of the inclined plane, and in its superscription Harrison Ely stood unmistakably revealed.
It was the first morning of a new cook, the latest potentate of a dynasty of ten who had briefly ruled in turn over our kitchen and ourselves during the preceding three months, and successively abdicated in favor of one another under the compelling influences of popular clamor, and in the face of such a political crisis my classmate’s letter failed to receive immediate attention. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly the latest occupant of our culinary throne began her reign with no conspicuous reforms, and we received in gloomy silence her preliminary enactments in the way of greasy omelette and turbid and flavorless coffee, the yellow screed of Harrison Ely looking on the while with bilious sympathy as it leaned unopened against the water-bottle beside me.
As I drained the last medicinal drop of coffee my eye fell upon it, and needing a vicarious outlet for my feelings toward the cook, I seized it and tore it viciously open. It contained a letter from my classmate and half a dozen printed circulars. I spread open the former, and my eye fastened at once upon this sympathetic exordium:
“Doubtless, my dear friend, you have known what discomfort it is to be at the mercy of incompetent domestics — ”
But my attention was distracted at this point by one of the circulars, which displayed an array of startling, cheering, alluring words, followed by plentiful exclamation points, that, like a bunch of keys, opened to my enraptured vision the gates of a terrestrial Paradise, where Bridgets should be no more, and where ill-cooked meals should become a mechanical impossibility. The boon we had been sighing for now presented itself for my acceptance, an accomplished fact. Harrison Ely had invented “An Automatic Household Beneficent Genius. — A Practical Realization of the Fabled Familiar of the Middle Ages.” So the circular set forth.
Returning to the letter, I read that Harrison Ely, having exhausted his means in working out his invention, was unable to manufacture his “machine” in quantity as yet; but that he had just two on hand which he would sell in order to raise some ready money. He hoped that I would buy one of his automatons, and aid him to sell the other.
Never did a request come at a more propitious moment. I had always entertained a kindness for Harrison Ely, and now such was my disgust at the incompetence of Bridget and Juliana and their predecessors that I was eager to stake the price of a “Household Beneficent Genius” on the success of my friend’s invention.
So, having grasped the purport of the circulars and letter, I broke forth to my wife:
“My dear, you’ve heard me speak of Harrison Ely — ”
“That man who is always so near doing something great, and never has done anything?” said she.
“He has done it at last!” I declared. “Harrison Ely is one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever seen. He has invented an ‘Automatic-Electric Machine-Servant.’”
My wife said, “Oh!”
There was not an atom of enthusiasm in that “Oh!” but I was not to be daunted.
“I am ready,” I resumed, “to invest my bottom dollar in two of Harrison Ely’s machine-servants.”
Her eyes were fixed upon me as if they would read my very soul. “What do they cost?” she mildly asked.
“In comparison with the benefits to be derived, little enough. Listen!” I seized a circular at random, and began to read:
“The Automatic Household Genius, a veritable Domestic Fairy, swift, silent, sure; a Permanent, Inalienable, First-class Servant, warranted to give Satisfaction.”
“Ah!” said my wife; and the enthusiasm that was lacking in the “Oh!” made itself eloquent in that “Ah!” “What is the price?” she asked again.
“The price is all right, and we are going to try the experiment.”
“Are we though?” said she, between doubt and desire.
“Most assuredly; it will be a saving in the end. I shall write to Harrison Ely this very night.”
The return mail brought me a reply stating that two Electric-Automatic Household Benefi­cent Geniuses had been shipped me by express. The letter enclosed a pamphlet that gave a more particular account of the E. A. H. B. G. than the circulars contained. My friend’s invention was shaped in the likeness of the human figure, with body, head, arms, legs, hands and feet. It was clad in waterproof cloth, with a hood of the same to protect the head, and was shod with felt. The trunk contained the wheels and springs, and in the head was fixed the electric battery. The face, of bisque, was described as possessing “a very natural and pleasing expression.”
Just at dusk an oblong box arrived by express and was duly delivered in our hall, but at my wife’s urgent entreaty I consented not to unpack the machines until next day.
“If we should not get the knack of managing them, they might give us trouble,” said this wise wife of mine.
I agreed to this, and having sent away Bridget with a week’s wages, to the satisfaction of all parties, we went to bed in high hopes.
Early next morning we were astir.
“My dear,” I said, “do not give yourself the least concern about breakfast; I am determined that Harrison’s invention shall have fair play.”
“Very well,” my wife assented: but she prudently administered bread and butter to her offspring.
I opened the oblong box, where lay the automatons side by side, their hands placidly folded upon their waterproof breasts, and their eyes looking placidly expectant from under their waterproof hoods.
I confess the sight gave me a shock. Anna Maria turned pale; the children hid their faces in her skirts.
“Once out of the box,” I said to myself, “and the horror will be over.”
The machines stood on their feet admirably, but the horror was not materially lessened by this change of position. However, I assumed a bold front, and said, jocosely:
“Now, which is Bridget, and which is Juliana — which the cook, and which the housemaid?”
This distinction was made clear by dial-plates and indicators, set conspicuously between the shoulders, an opening being cut in the waterproof for that purpose. The housemaid’s dial-plate was stamped around the circumference with the words: Bed, Broom, Duster, Door-bell, Dining-room Service, Parlor Service, etc. In like manner, the cook’s dial-plate bore the words that pertained to her department. I gave myself first to “setting” the housemaid, as being the simpler of the two.
“Now, my dear,” said I, confidently, “we shall see how this Juliana can make the beds.”
I proceeded, according to the pamphlet’s directions, to point the indicator to the word “Bed.” Next, as there were three beds to be made, I pushed in three of the five little red points surrounding the word. Then I set the “clock” connected with the indicator, for a thirty minutes’ job, thinking it might take about ten minutes to a bed. I did not consult my wife, for women do not understand machinery, and any suggestion of hesitancy on my part would have demoralized her.
The last thing to be done was to connect the indicator with the battery, a simple enough performance in itself, but the pamphlet of directions gave a repeated and red-lettered “Caution,” never to interfere with the machine while it was at work! I therefore issued the command, “Non-combatants to the rear!” and was promptly obeyed.
What happened next I do not pretend to account for. By what subtle and mysterious action of electricity, by what unerring affinity, working through a marvellous mechanism, that Electric-Automatic Household Beneficent Genius, whom — or which, for short — we called Juliana, sought its appropriate task, is the inventor’s secret. I don’t undertake to explain, I merely narrate. With a “click” the connection was made, and the new Juliana went upstairs at a brisk and business-like pace.
We followed in breathless amazement. In less than five minutes, bed number one was made, and in a twinkling the second was taken in hand, and number three also was fairly accomplished, long before the allotted thirty minutes had expired. By this time, familiarity had somewhat dulled that awe and wonder with which we had gaped upon the first performance, and I beheld a smile of hopeful satisfaction on my wife’s anxious countenance.
Our youngest, a boy aged three, was quick to feel the genial influence of this smile, and encouraged thereby, he bounced into the middle of the first bed. Hardly had he alighted there, when our automaton, having finished making the third bed, returned to her first job, and, before we could imagine mischief, the mattresses were jerked about, and the child was tumbled, headforemost on the floor!
Had the flesh-and-blood Juliana been guilty of such an act, she should have been dismissed on the spot; but, as it was, no one of us ventured so much as a remonstrance. My wife lifted the screaming child, and the imperturbable machine went on to readjust the bed with mechanical exactitude.
At this point a wild shout of mingled exultation, amazement and terror arose from below, and we hastened down-stall’s to find our son John hugging his elbows and capering frantically in front of the kitchen-door, where the electric cook was stirring empty nothing in a pan, with a zeal worthy a dozen eggs.
My eldest hopeful, impelled by that spirit of enterprise and audacity characteristic of nine-year-old boys, had ventured to experiment with the kitchen automaton, and by sheer accident had effected a working connection between the battery and the indicator, and the machine, in “going off,” had given the boy a blow that made him feel, as he expressed it, “like a funny-bone all over.”
“And served you right!” cried I. The thing was set for an hour and a half of work, according to the showing of the dial-plate, and no chance to stop it before I must leave for my office. Had the materials been supplied, we might have had breakfast; but, remembering the red-lettered “Caution,” we dared not supply materials while that indefatigable spoon was gyrating in the empty pan. For my distraction, Kitty, my daughter of seven years, now called to me from lip-stab’s: “Papa, you better come, quick! It’s a-tearin’ up these beds!” “My dear,” I sighed, “there’s no way to stop it. We’ll have to wait for the works to run down. I must call Harrison’s attention to this defect. He ought to provide some sort of brake.”
We went up-stairs again. The B. G. Juliana stood beside the bed which she had just torn up for the sixth or seventh time, when suddenly she became, so to speak, paralyzed; her arms, in the act of spreading the sheets, dropped by her sides, her back stiffened, and she stood absolutely motionless, leaving her job unfinished — the B. G. would move no more until duly “set” again.
I now discovered that I was hungry. “If that Fiend in the kitchen were only at work about something substantial, instead of whipping the air into imaginary omelettes!” I groaned.
“Never mind,” said my wife; “I’ve a pot of coffee on the kerosene stove.”
Bless her! She was worth a thousand Beneficent Geniuses, and so I told her.
I did not return until late, but I was in good spirits, and I greeted my wife gayly:
“Well, how do they work?”
Like fiends!” my usually placid helpmeet replied, so vehemently that I was alarmed. “They flagged at first,” she proceeded, excitedly, “and I oiled them, which I am not going to do, ever again. According to the directions, I poured the oil down their throats. It was horrible! They seemed to me to drink it greedily”
“Nonsense! That’s your imagination.”
“Very well,” said Anna Maria. “You can do the oiling in future. They took a good deal this morning; it wasn’t easy to stop pouring it down. And they worked — obstreperously. That Fiend in the kitchen has cooked all the provisions I am going to supply this day, but still she goes on, and it’s no use to say a word.”
“Don’t be absurd,” I remonstrated. “The thing is only a machine.”
“I’m not so sure about that!” she retorted. “As for the other one — I set it sweeping, and it is sweeping still!”
We ate the dinner prepared by the kitchen Fiend, and really, I was tempted to compliment the cook in a set speech, but recollected myself in time to spare Anna Maria the triumph of saying,” I told you so!”
Now, that John of mine, still in pursuit of knowledge, had spent the day studying Harrison Ely’s pamphlet, and he learned that the machines could be set, like an alarm-clock, for any given hour. Therefore, as soon as the Juliana had collapsed over a pile of dust in the middle of the hall, John, unknown to us, set her indicator to the broom-handle for seven o’clock the following morning. When the Fiend in the kitchen ran down, leaving everything in confusion, my much-tried wife persuaded me to give my exclusive attention to that machine, and the Juliana was put safely in a comer. Thus it happened that John’s interference escaped detection. I set Bridget’s indicator for kitchen-cleaning at seven-thirty the next morning.
“When we understand them better,” I said to my wife, “we will set their morning tasks for an earlier hour, but we won’t put it too early now, since we must first learn their ways.”
“That’s the trouble with all new servants,” said Anna Maria.
The next morning at seven-thirty, precisely, we were awakened by a commotion in the kitchen.
“By George Washington!” I exclaimed. “The Thing’s on time!”
I needed no urging to make me forsake my pillow, but Anna Maria was ahead of me.
“Now, my dear, don’t get excited,” I exhorted, but in vain.
“Don’t you hear?” she whispered, in terror. “The other one! — swe — eep — ing!” And she darted from the room.
I paused to listen, and heard the patter of three pairs of little bare feet across the hall up-stairs. The children were following their mother. The next sound I heard was like the dragging of a rug along the floor. I recognized this peculiar sound as the footsteps of the B. G. Then came a dull thud, mingled with a shout from Johnnie, a scream from my wife, and the terrified cries of the two younger children. I rushed out just in time to see John, in his night-clothes, with his hair on end, tear down-stairs like a streak of lightning. My little Kitty and the three-year-old baby stood clasped in each other’s arms at the head of the stairs, sobbing in terror, and, half-way down, was my wife, leaning over the railing, with ashen face and rigid body, her fascinated gaze fixed upon a dark and struggling mass in the hall below.
John, when he reached the bottom of the stairs, began capering like a goat gone mad, digging the floor with his bare heels, clapping his hands with an awful glee, and shouting:
“Bet your bottom dollar on the one that whips!”
The Juliana and the Bridget were fighting for the broom!
I comprehended the situation intuitively. The kitchen-cleaning, for which the Fiend had been “set,” had reached a point that demanded the broom, and that subtle, attractive affinity, which my friend’s genius had known how to produce, but had not learned to regulate, impelled the unerring automaton towards the only broom in the house, which was now in the hands of its fellow-automaton, and a struggle was inevitable. What I could not understand — Johnnie having kept his own counsel — was this uncontrollable sweeping impulse that possessed the Juliana.
However, this was no time for investigating the exact cause of the terrific row now going on in our front hall. The Beneficent Geniuses had each a firm grip of the broom-handle, and they might have performed the sweeping very amicably together, could they but have agreed as to the field of labor, but their conflicting tendencies on this point brought about a rotary motion that sent them spinning around the hall, and kept them alternately cracking each other’s head with a violence that ought to have drawn blood. Considering their life-likeness, we should hardly have thought it strange if blood had flowed, and it would have been a relief had the combatants but called each other names, so much did their dumbness intensify the horror of a struggle, in the midst of which the waterproof hoods fell off, revealing their startlingly human countenances, not distorted by angry passions, but resolute, inexorable, calm, as though each was sustained in the contest by a lofty sense of duty.
“They’re alive! Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em, quick!” shrieked my wife, as the gyrating couple moved towards the stair-case.
“Let ’em alone,” said Johnnie — his sporting blood, which he inherits from his father, thoroughly roused — dancing about the automatic pugilists in delight, and alternately encouraging the one or the other to increased efforts.
Thus the fight went on with appalling energy and reckless courage on both sides, my wife wringing her hands upon the staircase, our infants wailing in terror upon the landing above, and I wavering between an honest desire to see fair play and an apprehensive dread of consequences which was not unjustified.
In one of their frantic gyrations the figures struck the hat-rack and promptly converted it into a mass of splinters. In a minute more they became involved with a rubber plant — the pride of my wife’s heart — and distributed it impartially all over the premises. From this they caromed against the front door, wrecking both its stained-glass panes, and then down the length of the hall they sped again, fighting fiercely and dealing one another’s imperturbable countenances ringing blows with the disputed broom.
We became aware through Johnnie’s excited comments, that Juliana had lost an ear in the fray, and presently it was discernible that a fractured nose had somewhat modified the set geniality of expression that had distinguished Bridget’s face in its prime.
How this fierce and equal combat would have culminated if further prolonged no one but Harrison Ely can conjecture, but it came to an abrupt termination as the parlor clock chimed eight, the hour when the two automatons should have completed their appointed tasks.
Though quite late at my office that morning, I wired Ely before attending to business. Long-haired, gaunt and haggard, but cheerful as ever, he arrived next day, on fire with enthusiasm. He could hardly be persuaded to refresh himself with a cup of coffee before he took his two recalcitrant Geniuses in hand. It was curious to see him examine each machine, much as a physician would examine a patient. Finally his brow cleared, he gave a little puff of satisfaction, and exclaimed:
“Why, man alive, there’s nothing the matter — not a thing! What you consider a defect is really a merit — merely a surplus of mental energy. They’ve had too big a dose of oil. Few housekeepers have any idea about proper lubrication,” and he emitted another little snort, at which my wife colored guiltily.
“I see just what’s wanted,” he resumed. “The will-power generated and not immediately expended becomes cumulative and gets beyond control. I’ll introduce a little compensator, to take up the excess and regulate the flow. Then a child can operate them.”
It was now Johnnie’s turn to blush.
“Ship ‘em right back to the factory, and we’ll have ‘em all right in a few days. I see where the mechanism can be greatly improved, and when you get ‘em again I know you’ll never consent to part with ‘em!”
That was four months ago. The “Domestic Fairies” have not yet been returned from Harrison’s laboratory, but I am confidently looking for the familiar oblong packing case, and expect any day to see in the papers the prospectus of the syndicate which Ely informs me is being “promoted” to manufacture his automatic housemaid.
[“Ely’s Automatic Housemaid” originally appeared in the December, 1899 issue of The Black Cat.]

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Filed under 1890s, Elizabeth W. Bellamy, robots