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The Expert Maid-Servant By Christine Terhune Herrick Characters: 15804

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

With specialization in the household come complications. The manual labor of the mistress may be lessened when she adds to her domestic force, but with every new maid she assumes more responsibilities. She has to reconstruct the system to which she had become accustomed when she employed but one servant, and very often the whole tone of the establishment is changed from what it was in the days to which she sometimes looks back as comparatively care free.

Yet with the increase in a family or with an alteration in the mode of living additional service becomes necessary, and, unless the housekeeper is of the type who takes life hard, there is no reason why she should not soon adapt herself to the new conditions. As in all other circumstances where she must make plans for her domestics, she should have her scheme of action clear in her own mind before she gives it to her servants. Vacillation and uncertainty on the part of the mistress shake the maid's confidence in the judgment of the ruling brain, and dispose her to question decisions and to neglect the duties which she thinks do not strike even the mistress as absolutely essential.

It is hard to change the method of work when the former general household servant is put into the place of cook or waitress and a second maid engaged. The former factotum is likely to criticise the way in which her late duties are performed, and perhaps to feel that the lion's share still falls to her. So, unless it is an exceptionally competent maid who has been doing all the work, it is usually well to begin a new deal of this sort by getting two maids and dividing the work between them from the outset.

The duties assigned to the different domestics in a house where two or more servants are employed are not easy to define explicitly. They must be determined largely by the individual wants and conditions. The size of the family, the arrangement of the house, the style of living, the fact of there being small children in the home, all suggest modifications of any general outline. Therefore, the schedule of ordinary household duties following must be subordinate to the conditions mentioned, and also to the capabilities of the individual servant. In a household where more than one servant is employed it is desirable that there should be from the beginning as clear as possible an understanding of the duties to be discharged, since with the specialization comes a disinclination to undertake any work outside of the particular line for which the servant was employed. In the household of more than one servant there is a strong probability that the statement, "I was not engaged to do this kind of work," will be heard, sooner or later.

"It seems absurd that I should employ a man-servant besides the coachman and the gardener," said a housekeeper to me the other day. "I have plenty of maids, and, as nearly as I can make out, I took on this extra man for the sake of having him sweep off the stone platform in front of the porch steps. It was nobody's work. The waitress said she did not hire to do outside work, and the coachman said it had nothing to do with his work. It was not the gardener's business, and they were all so strenuous about it that I told my husband I seemed to be the only one to whose lot it really fell by rights to keep that platform clean. There was so much discussion over it that I finally hired a houseman for the especial purpose of having that platform swept. Of course, he looks after the furnace and brushes off the porch and washes windows and does other things of that sort, but they are merely incidents. The real reason I keep him is so that my husband or I won't have to sweep that platform!"

Bearing in mind the possibility of such complications, the mistress should tell her second maid when she engages her that she may have to perform other tasks than those which lie exactly within an over-rigid conception of her duties. If this is understood from the start it averts later annoyance.

In a family of adults where two maids are kept, these are usually the cook and the waitress and chambermaid. Unless some special provision has been made to that effect, the cook does nothing outside of the kitchen in the early morning. She may perhaps take care of the furnace (this would be her first duty when she came down-stairs), and it is also possible that she may brush off the front steps and sidewalk, but with that her extra kitchen-work ceases for the moment. She gets the breakfast and should be up early enough to do this, brush up her kitchen, and perhaps make preparations for cooking that is to be done later in the day. After breakfast she may assist the waitress to wash the dishes. This depends upon the work the latter has to do.

Upon the waitress comes the work of opening and airing the living-rooms, brushing out the halls, sweeping down the stairs, and dusting the rooms. All this should be done before breakfast, and in order to achieve this, the waitress must rise as early as the cook. As with the general housework maid, the hour of rising should be not later than six when breakfast is at half-after seven or eight.

In most homes it is customary to excuse the waitress as soon as the principal part of the breakfast has been served, that she may go about her chamber-work and be ready to come down to her breakfast by the time the family has finished. Before she goes to her own meal she clears the dining-room table and takes the dishes into the kitchen or butler's pantry.

Even if the chambermaid is competent, it is well for the mistress to make it possible to enter the bedrooms occasionally while work is going on there to make sure that it is all being accomplished properly. It is easy for the best employées to drift into careless habits, and the details of bed-making are too often neglected. Under no circumstances should the mistress delegate the care of her linen-closet to a servant. She herself should lay out the linen that is to be used, taking it out in a certain routine so that it may all be worn alike. On the days when the beds are to be changed, she should select the sheets, pillow-slips, spreads, etc., before she goes down to breakfast, that the chambermaid may not be hindered in her work. Clean towels should also be given out by the mistress. In a very large establishment, or in the case of an exceptionally trustworthy maid, this work may perhaps be safe in the hands of some one besides the mistress, but, simple as is the task, it requires a discretion and familiarity with the household supplies that only the mistress is likely to possess.

After the waitress has had her breakfast she returns and finishes any work she has left undone in the bedrooms. It is possible she may not have had time to dust properly, or that the dust had not had a chance to settle after she gave the room its morning brushing. The bath-room, too, is attended to at this time. After this the waitress washes the breakfast-dishes. Before she left the kitchen after her own breakfast she should have scraped the dishes and put them in soak. This will lessen the work of washing-up when she comes down. If there is a special arrangement by which the cook washes the dishes, the waitress is free for other work. Sometimes the dish-washing is divided, the cook taking charge of the dishes in which the food has been served, while the waitress looks after the glass, silver, and the finer china. It is not easy to apportion the work in this fashion if the dish-washing is all done in the kitchen, but where there is a butler's pantry it is comparatively simple. In this case the fine tableware should never go into the kitchen at all. This plan lightens the work of the waitress and makes her responsible for the more delicate dining-room ware.

A word here about the dish-washing. If the maid is open to suggestion the time she takes to do

her dishes may be shortened. The general habit of servants is to leave all the dishes until the entire meal is concluded and then attack the mountain that has accumulated. Much time can be saved if they will wash the dishes as they come from the table. As a matter of course, this cannot be done in a family where the waitress is required to remain in the room during the entire meal. But this is seldom the practice in the average home, when only the family is present. There is a preference for what some one has called "unexpurgated meals," and the freedom of conversation that is not possible when servants are present. If this is the case, it is an easy matter for the waitress to wash the soup-plates while the heaviest course of the meal is being eaten, and to get some of the dishes of the second course out of the way while the family is discussing the salad. In a large family all the china may not be washed then, but the silver at least and some of the smaller pieces may be clean and out of the way by the time the meal is at an end. The science that is known as "making the head save the heels" is not understood and appreciated by the average maid, and if she could receive and apply a little instruction along these lines she would find her hours of work shortened and her toil lightened. If the butler's pantry adjoins the dining-room too closely, it is not always feasible to wash dishes while the family is eating, unless it can be done so carefully that unpleasant clatter is spared. But a little thought and skill given to the matter will usually lessen the labor of washing-up after a long meal.

To return to the routine of work. Except when there is a great deal of cooking done it is well to arrange to have the cook take a share in the sweeping. What part this shall be circumstances must decide. She may sweep the first floor, including dining-room, drawing-room, sitting-room, and halls, once a week. Or there may be a day on which she goes up-stairs and gives the bedrooms a thorough sweeping. Again, it may be stipulated when she is engaged that she is to wash the windows. If one set of these tasks devolves upon her it leaves the waitress more free for her special duties. These vary, according to the size of the family. When this consists of but two or three members, the second maid should have time in a small house to keep everything in her domain in perfect order and even to do a little of the mending. If the family is larger she will have leisure for nothing outside of her regular duties, and the case will be the same if there is a good deal of entertaining done.

One part of the daily work of the waitress is to take care of the lamps, cleaning and filling these. When dusk draws on she should light these and the gas, pull down the shades, and make the living-rooms ready for the evening. It is also the work of the second maid to put the bedrooms in order for the night, closing the blinds, turning down the beds, removing spreads and day-pillows, and bringing iced water to each room the last thing before she goes to bed herself.

In point of fact, the work of the waitress is nearly as general in its nature as that of the maid-of-all-work. She attends the door, as a matter of course, answers the bells from the chambers or drawing-room, brings hot water to the bedrooms in the morning, prepares and carries in the afternoon tea-tray, and must be on the alert to see that the house is in spick-and-span order. She has the charge of the silver, keeping it clean and polishing the brasses. For each of these especial duties she should have a regular time, and the mistress should see that the system she put into practice when she had but one servant is followed out after she has added to her household force. All the dusting falls to the care of the waitress, unless the mistress prefers to reserve for herself the handling of curios and choice bric-à-brac. The cook may sweep, but it is the waitress who follows her with a dust-cloth and who scrubs the paint and wipes off stray finger-marks from mouldings and window-panes.

When there is a child in the house, and the second maid unites the offices of nurse and waitress, her work must be divided differently. She may do the chamber-work, but she cannot be expected to wash the dishes unless the mother or some other member of the family assumes the care of the infant while the nurse is otherwise employed. Nor can she be held responsible for all the details that would fall to her were she waitress, pure and simple. When a nurse is employed as well as a waitress, her work is usually absolutely separate from that of the other maid. She may do sewing and the baby's washing, help make the beds, and lend a hand on the afternoons and evenings out of the other maids, but she has little or nothing to do with the general work of the house.

If the cook has thus far received slighter attention than the waitress, it is because her work is so much more closely confined to one department that it requires less minute consideration. She prepares the meals, takes charge of the kitchen, cellar, and pantries, inspects the latter and the refrigerator every morning in company with the mistress of the house, and reigns supreme in the lower realms. In small families where two servants are employed the cook usually is laundress as well. In that case the waitress generally takes part of the cook's work on washing and ironing days, preparing the luncheon on those days, washing all the dishes, and keeping the kitchen in order. The waitress often assists with the fine ironing on Tuesday. Cook and waitress relieve each other on their days out. The cook waits on table when the waitress goes out and attends the door, unless the mistress chooses to do this herself. When the cook takes her holiday the waitress assumes her duties.

When the housekeeper has a force of more than two servants the complications thicken, since with the introduction of each new maid comes more specialization. Unless the new servant is engaged because the family is so large that the work is too heavy for two maids, or because of the need of a special servant, as a nurse, the addition is usually due to increased elaboration in the way of living, and this, of course, subdivides specialization still more as well as raises the scale of wages. The "professed cook," who does nothing but cook and demands a helper or scullery-maid, gets higher pay than the general cook who does the washing and ironing or the one who may refuse to do laundry-work but yet undertakes all the labor of the kitchen. The waitress who understands the service of wines and is an adept at handling large dinners and luncheons, demands-and gets-large wages and feels her dignity to an extent that makes her cling tenaciously to the rights and privileges of her position.

The average American household which employs servants-and there is a surprisingly large proportion of the sum total who keep no servant at all-is contented with one, two, or, at the most, three servants. The third may be a nurse, as I have said, or a laundress, who, besides her washing and ironing, does the chamber-work and thus leaves the waitress free for her especial tasks in the dining-room and for the duties of a parlor-maid. The laundress may also wash windows or help in other cleaning. Or the third servant may be seamstress and chambermaid and have nothing to do with the dining-room or with the kitchen unless she fills one of these places on the "day off" of the regular incumbent.

In a book that deals with the work of the maid-servant it is not worth while to go into the duties of the man-servant or to touch upon the possibilities of change latent in the introduction of Japanese and Chinese service. That all has its part in the domestic labor problem, but this is not the opportunity for discussing this phase of the servant question.

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