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The Expert Maid-Servant By Christine Terhune Herrick Characters: 15007

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The first days of a servant in a new place are not easy either for mistress or for maid. This should be recognized by the mistress, and she should lay in an extra supply of patience for the emergency. She will need it, in order to endure with equanimity the sins, negligences, and ignorances of the new-comer-especially the ignorances. Yet, looked at impartially, the blunders made by the maid are probably not so much the result of ignorance as of unaccustomedness. The situation is much harder for her than for the mistress. The latter is at least on familiar ground. To the former the place is an unknown quantity. She does not know where anything is kept. She is ignorant of the preferences of her new employer. She is encompassed by novel surroundings and faces; and-a fact that is not always recognized by employers-the very phraseology of the new mistress is strange to her. The maid lacks the mental training that would enable her to adapt herself quickly to the changed conditions, the unusual expressions. Under the circumstances, the wonder is not that she does things so badly, but that she accommodates herself as readily as she does to the fresh environment.

I have spoken of the diffidence that sometimes produces the impression of sullenness. This same diffidence often takes other forms that are even more trying than gloom. I have known of one maid who, during the first fortnight of her stay in a new place, received every order with a loud giggle-the fashion in which her embarrassment manifested itself. Another was so much at a loss what to do with her hands when they were not occupied with her work, that she slapped them together constantly as she moved about the house or stood waiting for orders. Yet both of these maids, after their first shyness had worn off and they had found themselves and their relation to their work, became admirable servants and overcame the defects that had at first tried the patience of the mistress almost beyond endurance.

In the average American household, where there is only a small domestic force, the mistress should always show the servant what are her duties or direct how these are to be performed. In large households, where there is a housekeeper, the training of the new servants may be delegated to her, but these establishments are too few to be weighed in making up the main account. As soon as the maid comes the mistress should direct her or show her to her room, and tell her to change her street garb for her working-dress and then to report herself to the mistress. She, on her own part, should be ready for the new-comer, not only with a clearly framed idea of the work she will put her to first, but also with the house in good order for the work that is to be done.

Nothing is more discouraging to a servant than to come into a place that is dirty from the carelessness of the former occupant, or untidy and topsy-turvy. The maid is as susceptible to first impressions as the rest of us, and the moral effect of bringing her into a dirty and disorderly kitchen is distinctly bad. The mistress should have had the kitchen and pantries cleaned by the outgoing maid-and it should have been done under her own supervision or else thoroughly inspected after the work is finished. Should the maid who is leaving not have done her task thoroughly, it is better for the mistress to give her own time and labor to cleaning closets and shelves, or engage a charwoman to do it, than to permit the maid to come in before the work is properly performed. The servant who finds dust in the corners, the stove unpolished, the cellar and refrigerator uncleaned, is likely to draw the conclusion that the places can remain as she found them, or may be suffered to drift into the same condition again whenever she is too lazy or too careless to give them proper attention.

A word about the maid's bedroom. In some circumstances it is impossible to make it very alluring. When all of a family are tucked away in dark, inside rooms, as is the case in many city apartments, it cannot be expected that the maid will fare better than her employers. But, fortunately, all humanity are not cliff-dwellers. There are plenty of homes where it is possible for the maid to have a light, airy bedroom, which could be made attractive at a small expenditure of time and money. Yet it is seldom that a servant's room has anything pleasing about it. The mistresses defend themselves by saying that the servants are heedless with good things, that they do not take care of what is given them, and any mistress can cite facts to prove this position.

Without disputing the truth of these statements, it may yet be urged that it is hard for a servant to come into a room that bears plainly the traces of its former occupant's untidiness. Possibly the new-comer has in her the potentialities of neatness and cleanliness, and it is unfair to check these at the start. The room cannot be refurnished for every new maid; but the furniture it contains can be of a sort that is readily freshened. The white iron cots are neat as well as comfortable, and there should be a good mattress always. A hard-working maid has a right to a comfortable bed. If there are two servants, they should have separate beds. This should be an invariable rule. The mattress should be protected by one of the covers that come for this purpose. This can be washed as often as it needs it. The blankets, too, should be washed between the departure of one maid and the arrival of another. A neat iron wash-stand, a plain bureau that can have a fresh bureau-cover or a clean towel laid over it, a comfortable chair, a rug by the bed, are not expensive and add much to the comfort of a room. It is wiser to have the floor bare and painted, or spread with a matting, than covered with a shabby and worn-out carpet which gathers dust and dirt. The walls are better painted than papered. The mistress can consult her own preferences as to whether or not she shall put pictures on the walls, but she should not make of the maid's room a lumber place for the old engravings and chromos that will be tolerated in no other part of the house, and do it under the impression that she is making the place attractive to the maid-servant within her gates. The bed should, if possible, be made up before the maid arrives, with a fresh spread, and the room should have the absolute cleanliness that is always a charm.

One more point should be looked after in preparing for the maid's arrival. The mistress should make sure that the supply of china and cutlery that the maid will use for her own meals is in decent order. It cannot be pleasant for any one to have bent and tarnished forks and spoons, cracked and stained cups, saucers, and plates for her food. The cost of replacing these by new is very slight and pays for itself in the agreeable impression given the maid by the fresh, bright articles.

A list of the dining-room silver, linen, and china should be made by the mistress and gone over by her with the maid the day of the latter's arrival. By thus verifying the list the maid has a clear idea of the property that is given into her charge and knows for what she is responsible. If the china is nicked or cracked, mention should be made on the list of each piece thus disfigured, and there should be a note of linen that is worn or broken. By means of such a list the mistress is able to keep track of her possessions and there is no possibility of the maid's excusing a chi

pped plate or a cracked dish with the plea that it was injured before she came. Such a list is also a safeguard to the maid, who is by it enabled to prove that she is not to be blamed for disasters that occurred during the stay of a predecessor.

When the servant presents herself ready dressed for her work, the mistress should tell her as simply as possible what this will be. The instruction would better be given in broken doses. The workings of the untrained mind are peculiar, and in mental equipment the average servant is often on a level with a child of ten or twelve. Bestow too many facts at once and you produce only confusion. So it is not well to make an attempt to give the maid a bird's-eye view of what will be her whole duty, but rather to acquaint her by degrees with her occupations. The first step is for the mistress to show her where her work is to be and the instruments with which she is to perform it. Should she be a cook, she must be introduced to the kitchen, the management of the range explained to her, the whereabouts of the principal utensils made clear. If it is the waitress who is to be inducted into office, she should be taken to the china-closet, the contents of this and of the silver and linen drawers displayed, and the particular pieces pointed out that are in daily service. When the waitress is also the chambermaid, there are explanations required as to the upstairs work. But, as I have said, it is better to supply these little by little.

For example, if the cook comes into the house in the morning, give her time to get used to her kitchen and her tools before too much information is offered as to the preferences of the family in cookery. Since the first meal she will have to prepare will be luncheon, tell her about this, and do not burden her with the details of dinner until after lunch is over. Still less try to give her at one fell swoop all she will need to know about breakfast the next morning or what she will be expected to do on washing and ironing day.

These instructions may sound unnecessary to the trained and experienced housekeeper; but the world is not entirely made up of these. The majority of women are more or less lacking in sense of proportion and in perspective, and this lack leads to a jumbling of their ideas which makes life complex for those to whom the ideas are to be imparted. Of course, once in a while one finds an intelligent servant who understands herself well enough to slip at once into her place and do the work of it smoothly, but she is the rare exception to the rule. The housekeeper must plan for the average, not for the exception.

This way of giving orders naturally confines the housekeeper more or less during the first days of her new maid's arrival-but a domestic convulsion of any sort is attended with drawbacks. The mistress must appreciate the fact that she will have to sacrifice herself a little in order to train her new maid properly, and that the result will be worth the trouble.

This does not mean that the mistress should stand over a servant and dictate the way in which every duty is to be performed. The employer should bear in mind that there is more than one right way of doing nearly everything, and if the new maid has a special way of her own of accomplishing this or that, she should be allowed to follow her custom until she has proved that it is not so good as that of her mistress. This may sound reckless, but it has common-sense to commend it. When the maid is given a chance to prove or disprove the excellence of her method and it turns out to be as good as that of the mistress, there is the saving of just so much friction and effort in teaching and learning a new way.

In advocating this I am taking it for granted that the maid has some idea of the manner in which her work is to be done. If she is absolutely "green," she will have to be taught from the beginning, and then the mistress has no option. Such servants are discouraging and tiresome at the outset, but they often turn out the best in the long-run. In their cases the mistress has no bad impressions to efface and she can implant her own modes in virgin soil.

When, however, the maid has some knowledge of her duties, the mistress should show her where she is to work, give her directions for the services that come next, and then leave her to herself. She will learn her way about her domain much more quickly if she is unembarrassed by the presence of an observer.

The mistress must be prepared for blunders even after she has given explicit directions. As I have said, it is quite possible the maid may not understand the mistress at first, or, in the confusion of new impressions, she may forget or confound directions. Should she serve a dish in a different fashion from that in which it has been ordered, reproof should be reserved until the mistress has made sure of the reason for the variation. If the wrong china or silver or linen is used, corrections should be made judiciously. The fault may have been forgetfulness, it may have been misunderstanding, and, in any case, fresh confusion will be the result if too many blunders are commented upon at once. The maid should be directed to repair one or two omissions, and the rest should be ignored for the time being, to be put right later on.

Occasionally a maid will be found who seems chronically unable to set a table right. I have known of several who persisted in putting on crooked the square of damask that was used at breakfast and luncheon instead of the large cloth that covered the entire table at dinner. The square would be laid in a slanting, to-one-side fashion that gave the whole table a drunken look. The mistress finally hit upon a successful plan. She put four chairs on the four sides of the table, each exactly in the middle of a side, and then laid on the cloth with each of its four corners precisely in front of a chair. The object-lesson worked to a charm and crooked cloths became a thing of the past.

Forgetfulness of some piece of table-furniture is a more common fault and one more difficult to rectify. If it seems impossible to overcome it in any other way, the mistress may make a ground plan of the table as it should look when properly laid, or write a list of all the objects that should go on it for different meals. It is not necessary to resort to this, however, until several days' experience has proved the new maid's inability to grasp what is required.

A chambermaid will make corresponding blunders for a time. She will have to be told more than once how the beds are to be made, will have to receive repeated instruction never to put the blankets on with the doubled end at the top, and to be careful about stretching tight the lower sheet and tucking in the coverings properly at the bottom. At the beginning the mistress should establish her standard about this sort of thing as she does about sweeping, dusting, and other cleaning, and she must never relax her requirements if she expects to have her house properly kept.

All this need not be told the maid the first day she comes, but even then she may be made to understand that work is not to be slighted or neglected. This principle, at least, she must have clearly in her mind at the end of the first day's service, even although her thoughts may be a trifle chaotic as regards details. Those it will be the work of the mistress to make clear as time goes on and the maid becomes accustomed to her work.

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