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The Expert Maid-Servant By Christine Terhune Herrick Characters: 15853

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The general housework servant has already been referred to as a Pooh Bah in petticoats. She takes practically all labor for her province. It is an illustration of the value of specialization that as a rule she commands lower wages for her services than does a maid who fills any one alone of the functions the general housework servant performs.

Since the duties of the maid-of-all-work are what they are, the mistress should make a stipulation at the time of the engagement that the employée should be ready to "turn her hand to anything." For it is fatal if she once begins to say that this or that is not "her work." That phrase is reserved for the use of the specialist. The general servant should understand that one of the conditions of her position is the necessity for making herself useful in every department of the household.

This does not mean that she is to be a domestic drudge of the London "slavey" type. She needs no warning against this. Domestic service of a good sort is too hard to secure in this country for there to be any danger of the maid becoming down-trodden and imposed upon. The country bound-girl may have to submit to imposition, but it would not be tolerated for a moment by the ordinary independent serving-maid. If there is domination on either side it is more likely to be found on the part of the maid, who feels the advantage at which she holds her alleged mistress.

Putting aside extreme cases and turning to the average maid and mistress, it may be repeated that it is difficult to define with clearness the exact duties of the maid-of-all-work. She understands that she is to do cooking, waiting, and chamber-work, and probably washing and ironing. Should the family be small she will perform nearly all these duties herself-that is, if the family live in a simple fashion. Should the household be large, the maid may expect a helper with the laundry-work, and the lighter house-work will devolve upon the mistress of the house or her daughters. One pair of hands, even when backed by a quick head and a willing heart, cannot accomplish everything in the work of the house without neglecting or slighting something. The mistress of one maid must recognize this and be prepared to take her share of the labor when this is heavy. What her part is to be she must define as clearly as possible at the first, in order that the maid may know just what she has to do and be able to arrange her occupations to the best advantage. When the mistress does something outside of the duties she has assumed, she should have it thoroughly understood that her act is an exception, performed for some specific reason. It is very easy to let the exception glide into a rule, and what the maid received at first as a favor which would spare her extra toil she regards later as a right to which she is entitled.

At the beginning, the mistress does well to lay out the routine of the work of the day for the benefit of the new maid. After the latter has learned the ways of the house, and finds that she can make slight alterations which will render her work easier, she should be permitted to do so if the mistress finds that the tasks are discharged as well as under the earlier plan. Many a mistress gains good points from a servant, and the intelligent housekeeper, knowing this, is on the lookout for suggestions she may find of service.

Certain regular duties are practically the same each day, no matter what the other work may be. Early rising should be insisted upon. Six o'clock is none too early for a maid to be up in a house where breakfast is at seven-thirty or eight o'clock. By half after six the maid should be dressed and down-stairs. If the care of the furnace falls upon her, her first duty in winter is to open the draughts of the furnace and put on a little coal. While this is kindling she can go back to her work up-stairs. The kitchen fire must be lighted, the kettle filled freshly and set to boil, the cereal put over the fire, before the maid goes into the living-rooms to open the windows. While these rooms are airing she may brush out the front hall and sweep off the steps, unless there is a man engaged to take care of the outside work of the house and to look after the furnace. When there is a gas-stove, the maid's work is much simpler, and in that case she may open the windows and do the brushing-up before she puts the kettle to boil. When the furnace fire has come up, she may go down, put on more coal, and close the draughts.

In most families where but one maid is employed the mistress of the house dusts her drawing-room. When this is the rule, the maid has only to air the rooms, straighten the furniture that is out of place, and brush up any scraps or dust that need to be removed. If the floors or parts of them are bare, she should go over them with a damp cloth. Should the family be very small, consisting of but two or three persons, it is possible for the maid to do all the dusting. If this does not devolve upon her, there are other small duties she can perform at this time, such as filling and cleaning lamps. When there is a sitting-room, this, too, should be set in order.

Whatever else may be postponed until after breakfast, the dining-room must not be overlooked. It must be brushed up and thoroughly dusted. Few things are more de-appetizing than to sit down to the first meal of the day in a room which is still, so to speak, in curl-papers. If the servant is brisk about her work she can look after the drawing-room, halls, and dining-room, and set the table before she has to go back to the kitchen. In households where a heavy breakfast is served, or where the rooms are elaborately furnished, she may have to get up earlier or leave part of the dusting to be done later. But the dusting of the dining-room must never be omitted. The morning tasks may be lightened a little by setting the breakfast-table overnight, and when this is done a thin cover-a sheet of cheese-cloth is excellent-should be thrown over the table after it is set to protect the dishes and other table-furniture from dust.

The preparation of the breakfast is the maid's next duty. The extent of the work this involves varies, of course, in different households. In some homes the old-fashioned American breakfast of hot meat or fish, warm bread, and potatoes cooked in some form is still preserved. Other families have adopted a modification of the Continental breakfast, and find all they need for the morning meal in fruit, a cereal, rolls or toast, eggs or bacon, and coffee. The latter breakfast simplifies the work of the household, but it is not popular everywhere. Whatever the breakfast, it should be in readiness at the hour appointed, if the members of the family are on hand or not. It need not be served until it is ordered, but it should be entirely ready. When all the persons in a household can reconcile themselves to breakfasting together, it makes work easier and saves time. Should they find it impossible to partake of it in harmony as well as in unison, and each one eats alone, it renders the meal a more prolonged function. Under such circumstances, the food may be kept hot for the tardy ones and they may be granted the privilege of getting it for themselves from the kitchen when they arrive, instead of impeding progress by making the duties of the day yield to their convenience.

The fruit-course may be on the table when the family is summoned. At breakfast they usually do for themselves such waiting as passing plates, cups and saucers, and the like. A plate and finger-bowl may be in front of each person, and the porridge-bowl and saucer may be close by also, if it is desirable to simplify the service. Or these dishes may be on the serving-table or sideboard, and the maid may put them on the table with the cereal when she comes in to take out the fruit-plates. After the cereal-dishes have been removed

and the rest of the breakfast served, the maid may be excused to go about her other work. The time of her own breakfast may be settled by the mistress and herself. The sensible course is for the maid to eat something and take a cup of tea or coffee in the intervals of her early work, but there are few servants who can be persuaded to do this. If the maid prefers she can take her breakfast while the family is eating, but most maids and mistresses seem to find it more convenient to dispose of the bedroom work as early as possible.

When this is the case the maid should go to the chambers as soon as the substantial part of the breakfast is on the table. The occupants of the beds should have stripped these on rising and opened the windows on leaving the rooms. If this has been done the bedclothing has had a chance to air. In order that such airing may be adequately done, the covers should be taken from the bed and spread across a couple of chairs placed back to back. The covers must not drag on the floor. The mattresses should be beaten and turned back over the foot of the bed that the air may reach them from both sides. To freshen them thoroughly, they should be left thus, the windows open, for from fifteen minutes to half an hour. While this is going on the rooms may be brushed or gone over with a carpet-sweeper-not thoroughly swept: this comes at another time. The beds may now be made and the dusting done.

In a small family it is taken for granted that the maid should do this work, but in a household of more than two or three it is customary for the women of the family to look after the beds. In that case the maid need only brush up the rooms, strip the beds, and empty soiled water, leaving the rest of the up-stairs work undone while she goes back to the kitchen. She may now take her own breakfast if she has not had it earlier, and clear the table. After every meal the dishes should be removed from the table as soon as possible. They should be carried into the kitchen or the butler's pantry, the cloth brushed-never shaken-and folded, and the dining-room put in order, the crumbs brushed from about the table, the chairs put in their places, the room darkened, if it is warm weather. If the mistress of the house dusts the chambers, the maid may now wash the dishes; if not, she may scrape them and leave them to soak in warm water while she goes back to her dusting and cleans and arranges the bath-room.

To clean the bath-room properly, there should always be a bottle of household ammonia at hand, one of forty per cent. solution of formaldehyde or other good disinfectant, a couple of cloths, a long-handled brush, and a scrubbing-brush. It is also well to have a can of concentrated lye or one of the preparations like it which will cut accumulations in waste-pipes. The hand-basin, tub, and closet should be scoured out each morning, the drain-pipes flushed twice a week with water to which has been added formaldehyde or the lye. The former is admirable for removing stains and deposits, but if these are very obstinate the formaldehyde must be left in the basin overnight. The long-handled brush enables the maid to clean the closet basin satisfactorily. Ammonia on the cloth used in washing the tub and basin will remove greasy deposits. The nickel fittings and woodwork must be wiped off, the soap-dishes and tooth-brush racks washed. The vessels used in the bedrooms must be cleansed in the same manner, the water-pitchers rinsed out and filled fresh every day, and the slop-jars and commodes scalded daily.

The linen-closet should be in the charge of the mistress of the house, and the maid should have nothing to do with giving out fresh linen for the beds or towels for the bath-room.

When the bath-room work is finished, the maid may return to the kitchen, wash and put away the dishes, and get the kitchen and pantries in order. The maid who takes proper care of her china, glass, and silver will rinse her dishes thoroughly in one water and then wash them in hot suds, the glass first, then the silver, and then the china, drying each piece as it comes from the suds. The breakfast-dishes washed, the dish-towels should be rubbed out. Once a day they should be boiled.

This is the time when the mistress inspects the contents of the refrigerator and decides what shall be the meals for the day. Either before or after such inspection the maid must wipe off the shelves of the ice-box, and three times a week it must be scoured out with hot water and washing-soda.

The general work of the house-of which more later-is undertaken now, and after it comes the preparation of the mid-day luncheon. At this meal little waiting is required. The table is set as for breakfast. If the work is properly managed there should be no heavy tasks for the maid to accomplish in the afternoon, except on washing and ironing days. She may perhaps attend to some light work like the polishing of silver, but, if her duties are arranged as they should be and she is brisk in their performance, she ought to be able to have a little time to herself in the afternoon. The preparation of dinner is seldom undertaken until after four o'clock in houses where dinner is served at seven.

The maid is expected to discharge the work of a regular waitress at dinner, so far as serving the dishes, passing plates, and the like are concerned. She is not required to remain in the room, but to come when rung for. Her work of clearing away and washing dishes is practically the same after luncheon and dinner as after breakfast.

The usual costume of the maid-of-all-work in the early part of the day is a neat wash-frock and white apron. While waiting at table she should wear a cap. She should have a colored apron on when working in the kitchen, but there should always be a fresh white apron at hand for her to slip on when she answers the bell. When she dresses to wait at dinner she should put on a black frock, white collar and apron and cap. Since she must wear the frock in the kitchen, it is better to have it of wash goods. The mistress should be in readiness to answer the bell when the maid is dressing for dinner, or when she is at the wash-tub or doing any other work it is difficult for her to leave. A great deal of consideration is demanded of both mistress and maid when there is but one servant and the family desires to live daintily and in accordance with good form.

A general outline of the daily work has thus been given, but each day must have its share of the week's duties. By general consent Monday and Tuesday are given over to washing and ironing, and on these days, unless a laundress is hired to help, the mistress of the house must take charge of the chamber-work and of all the dusting, and, if the wash is large, will perhaps feel it well to wash the dishes after breakfast, and to lend a hand in the preparation of luncheon. The plan practised in some houses of having all the sweeping done on Friday is open to criticism. Even if there is baking to be done on Wednesday, a portion of the sweeping or other cleaning may also be accomplished then. The dining-room or drawing-room, as being near the kitchen, may be cleaned on the days when the maid must watch her cooking closely.

This method of apportioning the work has much to commend it. Washing windows is tiresome, and the maid will feel it less if she does a few every day than if she gives a whole morning or afternoon to them. The scouring of large pieces of brass or silver and the cleaning of paint it is well to discharge all at one time, and this may be done on Thursday, while the sweeping of the bedrooms and cleaning of the upper part of the house may be reserved for Friday. The woodwork about the doorknobs should be wiped off, the stairs brushed down, and the halls gone over with the carpet-sweeper daily, and the house, from top to bottom, swept well at least once a week.

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