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   Chapter 3 MISTRESS AND MAID

The Expert Maid-Servant By Christine Terhune Herrick Characters: 14725

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


There is a type of mistress who seems to regard servants as beings of an inferior order. Her directions are given curtly-sometimes harshly. She takes the ground that the servant is paid for her work and that for anything beyond the business relation there is no need for consideration. She may be called one extreme type.

The other extreme is more common. In her desire to propitiate her employée she is herself almost servile. She is in frank fear lest the servant may leave her, and in order to retain her services makes almost any concession. Such mistresses as these furnish materials for most of the jokes on the servant question-jokes that are hardly exaggerated.

Between these two extremes there is room for a mistress who unites considerateness with self-respect. She speaks pleasantly to her servants, but she does not spoil them by an ingratiatory manner or show herself ready to make any sacrifice sooner than run the risk of parting with them. She gives orders as orders, instead of asking services as favors; but she issues her commands in a kindly way and with none of the tone or manner of a dictator, still less of a shrew. When her servants are to be reprimanded, she does it quietly, lowering rather than raising her voice. If a servant cannot be managed in this manner, she feels it is better to part with her. In the words of a veteran housekeeper of this variety, "I will not have a servant in my house whom I have to scold."

Every one recollects the saying that in herding sheep it is necessary not only to teach the dogs to drive the sheep, but to accustom the sheep to obey the dogs. So it is as desirable for the mistress to learn the proper method of dealing with the maids as it is for the maids to understand the mistress. There are many kinds of manners in both. But few are the servants who do not respond more quickly to a kindly, gracious manner than to one tinged with severity.

Mention has been made of the difficulty a maid sometimes has in accustoming herself to the phraseology of a new mistress. To the girl's hesitancy about asking for a repetition of an order, or an explanation, are due some of the blunders she makes. The mistress should be sure she is entirely understood before she sends the girl about her work. Also, she should be clear as to the cause of a mistake or of apparent disobedience before she finds fault. Always the mistress should be ready to make explanations about the work. When the maid comes for instruction she should be met patiently, and if there seems to be a difficulty of understanding, a practical illustration will often do more than half an hour of verbal directions. When the mistress can show the maid how the table is to be set, how the beds are to be made, can give her an object-lesson in sweeping or dusting or dish-washing, she will have accomplished more than a dozen lectures would have wrought. Nothing better in instruction has been devised than the Squeers method. "First they spells it and they goes and does it." But it is the mistress who does the spelling as well as the doing if she wishes the new maid to grasp a novel mode of performing a household duty.

The mistress should not shrink from reproof when it has to be administered. There are very few employées in any walk of life who are possessed of so large a supply of conscientiousness that they discharge their duties as well without oversight as with it. To every gang of workmen there is an overseer. In housekeeping the mistress is overseer as well as planner. She must "follow up" her maids-not so obviously that they feel she does not trust them, but closely enough to produce the impression upon them that she takes an interest in their work and means to see that it is thoroughly done. When it is not accomplished to her liking she should call them to account, not unkindly, but decidedly. If a ring of dust around the bric-à-brac shows where the duster has been flourished about the furniture instead of being used to wipe each surface carefully, the mistress should call the maid to bring her cloth and point out to her the defects in that portion of her work. Should there be dirt left in the corners of the room, finger-marks on the paint, streaks on the windows, the same course should be pursued. When this has been done a few times, unless the employée is exceptionally slow-witted, she learns that it is less trouble to perform the work properly in the first place than to have to go over it twice, and the second time under the supervision of the mistress.

All this the employer can do without joining the ranks of the fussers or belonging to that class known as the "nasty particular" housekeepers. The latter, who put the cleanliness of the house so far above the comfort of its inmates that these feel they would rather have dirt with peace than tidiness without it, are common enough to make a word of warning in place. But it is possible to accomplish neatness without sacrificing family concord, and in the desire to secure the latter the housekeeper should not permit herself or her servants to drift into carelessness.

From the first the mistress should have it clearly understood that there is no place in the house into which she may not penetrate. Her daily inspection of the refrigerator and the pantries should be a matter of course. Her presence in the kitchen should never excite surprise or provoke criticism. Naturally, she should exercise tact in this as in every other relation of life. For instance, she should not choose the time for her morning visit to the kitchen when the maids are at their breakfast. In fact, she should be punctilious not to call her servants from their meals except in cases of absolute necessity. They have a right to take their food undisturbed, and this right the mistress should respect. Nor should the housekeeper choose the cook's busiest day for doing cooking on her own account, if this is going to add to the sum of the servant's labors. It is lack of consideration on these points that gives a house the reputation of being a "hard place." When such details as these are observed, servants are more likely to be contented, even if the work is heavy, than they are in a lighter place where they feel that their rights and privileges are disregarded.

If a servant is to be reprimanded, it should never be done in the presence of a third person. The maid is no less human because she is in a subordinate position, and it is hard for any of us to take reproof kindly when it is bestowed in the hearing of some one else. If the mistress is inclined to be hasty, it is well for her to wait a few minutes after the discovery of the fault before she utters her rebuke. That will give her time to get the fault a little in perspective and to see its true proportions. Then she should summon the maid to her and deliver her words of warning or reprimand. Never should she go to the kitchen to scold the cook. There the knowledge of the latter that she is, so to speak, on her own ground has sometimes the unfortunate effect of provoking an impertinent rejoinder, which would not be forthcoming if the interview had taken place in the mistress's own room or in the drawing-room.

There is a peculiar sting in a reproof given for a fault that is due to accident, to misunderstanding, or to some other pardonable cause. Very often

the request for an explanation will bring out facts that the mistress had not known and which put a different face upon the occurrence. When rebuke is essential it should not only be delivered quietly, but there should be no mark of anger in the manner of the mistress. Such demeanor as this is more impressive than the harsh tones, the sharp words, for which the culprit might have been prepared.

There are, of course, limits to which faults may be permitted to go. If it is impossible to conquer them by reproof, it is better to discharge a servant than to have to persist in fault-finding. Life is too short for perpetual rebukes.

Never should the mistress forget that there is as much demand for courtesy in her terms with her servants as in any other relation in which she is placed. This is a fact that is often overlooked. A woman does not make herself less but more of a lady by prefixing "please" to her requests to her servants, or by rewarding a service with a word of thanks. This sounds so obvious that the injunction may seem absurd, but a little observation of mistresses and maids will convince any one that there is need for the advice. In many households not only the mistress but the master of the home gives orders harshly and discourteously, and the children are quick to take their cue from their elders. A degree of rudeness is permitted by parents in their children that should not be tolerated for an instant. The small boys and girls in presumably well-bred families bully and "sauce" the servants in a fashion that would do credit to a gang of hoodlums in a tough district. Sometimes the parents do not know it, at other times they know of it and do not take the pains to correct it. The children should be taught to show courtesy to servants as well as to any one else with whom they are brought into contact. The very fact that the employées are not at liberty to retaliate in kind should be used as an argument to teach them the cowardice of insolence and unkindness.

When courtesy is given by the employers it seldom fails to be accorded by the employed. A courteous order meets a respectful response, and, as a rule, willing service is more likely to be granted. As a matter of course, the service is in a way an obligation that is bought and paid for, but the introduction of a little kindliness into the transaction does much to diminish friction. Apart from that, however, the courtesy is a duty the employer owes herself, quite irrespective of its effect upon her servants.

While reproof should be given where it is needed, the mistress should never suffer herself to neglect the virtue of praise. It is a hard life when one's shortcomings only are recognized and one's good deeds are taken as a matter of course. If humanity were at its highest level the thought that the work was well done would perhaps be enough to bring satisfaction, but as it is, a word of commendation is grateful to all of us. It is a little thing to praise the latest baking as remarkably good, to commend the maid who has waited exceptionally well at a company lunch or dinner, to say a kindly word when a fault of heedlessness or neglect has been corrected; but such words as these are the oil that greases the domestic machinery. Without them it runs hard and demands more power to keep it in motion.

There is always the possibility of such commendation being given so often that it comes to mean nothing. This danger the mistress must guard against. There is also the chance that the maid may be of the variety with whom praise must be cumulative in order to produce any effect. I have known one of that sort. If her biscuit were praised once as being good, they had to be called excellent the second time, surpassing the third, and so on, until the adjectives applicable to biscuit had been exhausted and the mistress saw dark gloom on the servant's face, and was asked coldly if the biscuit were not as good as usual. But such cases as these are not common, and in any circumstances the housekeeper must gauge the appetite for praise and administer it with judgment.

Sometimes one meets a presuming maid who takes advantage of the kindness of the mistress to force an undue familiarity. This, too, must be watched for, but the possibility of this result does not do away with the desirability of consideration on the part of the mistress to the maid. Fully as often as one finds this trouble does one see a foolish mistress who, taking a fancy to a maid, lets the latter drift into a position of pseudo-intimacy which is hard to break off. It is not probable that the latter would have put herself forward without a certain amount of encouragement. Once in a blue moon one meets a pearl of a serving-woman who is worthy of all the confidence and affection that can be bestowed upon her, and who grants to her employers an unselfish devotion that one rarely gets from one's next of kin. Such cases are few and far between, and blessed among women is she who has such a treasure in her household. The average housekeeper should not be too ready to think she has drawn one of these prizes in the domestic-service lottery. If she goes ahead too quickly on this hypothesis, she may have an unpleasant awakening. When advances are made by the mistress, and the maid presumes upon them, it is only the mistress who is to blame if the maid "forgets her place."

The mistress should avoid taking sides in any controversy between servants. Often there is a good deal of jealousy between the employées in a household, and if one maid is favored more than another there is likely to be hard feeling. This pitfall must be kept in mind by the mistress. Even without expressed preferences for one over the other, she is sometimes in danger of being drawn into quarrels the servants have between themselves. Almost always she is wise to decline to espouse the part of either one. Occasionally, if she has good servants who seem to misunderstand one another it may be worth while, for her own sake as well as for theirs, to attempt to adjust differences between them. As a rule, it is well for her to keep out of it after one trial has shown her that her intervention has worked no good. Never should the mistress be led into discussing one servant with another, or listening to the complaints that a domestic makes of her fellow-workers. Class-feeling is stronger than the relation of employer and employed, and the mistress who takes up the cause of one maid against another is by way of finding she has put her fingers between the bark and the tree. The two employées are likely to make up the quarrel and combine in common cause against the mistress. This does not bespeak any especial depravity on their part. They are simply human beings, and the tie that binds them together holds where that which attaches them to the mistress fails. They go with their own as she would with her own.

In order to avert complications it is safe for the mistress to give her orders direct to her servants instead of sending them by one maid to another. The latter course makes room for misunderstanding and recriminations. When a maid has been in the same employ for a good while, this rule may be waived, but when she is new to the place there should be no go-between in the matter of giving directions. The mistress should announce her own orders.

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