Manners and social usages,


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The great problem of the young or middle-aged house-keeper in large cities is how to form a neat, happy, comfortable home, and so to order the house that two servants can accomplish all its work.

These two servants we call the cook and the waiter, and they must do all that there is to do, including the washing.

When life was simpler, this was done without murmuring; but now it is difficult to find good and trained servants, particularly in New York, who will fill such places. For to perform the work of a family–to black the boots, sweep and wash the sidewalk, attend the door and lay the table, help with the washing and ironing, and make the fires, as well as sweep and dust, and take care of the silver–would seem to require the hands of Briareus.

It is better to hire a girl “for general house-work,” and train her for her work as waitress, than to take one who has clone nothing else but wait at table. Be particular, when engaging a girl, to tell her what she has to do, as many of the lofty kind object particularly to blacking boots; and as it must be done, it is better to define it at once.

A girl filling this position should have, first, the advantage

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of system, and the family must keep regular hours. She must rise at six, or earlier, if necessary, open the front-door and parlor-blinds, and the dining-room windows, and then proceed to cleanse the front steps and sidewalk, polish the bell-pull, and make all tidy about the mats. She must next make the fires, if fires are used in the house, and carry down the ashes, carefully depositing them where they will not communicate fire. She must then gather the boots and shoes from the doors of the sleeping-rooms, and take them to the laundry, where she should brush them, having a closet there for her brushes and blacking. Having replaced the boots beside the respective doors to which they belong, she should make herself neat and clean, put on her cap and apron, and then prepare for laying the table for breakfast. This she does not do until she has brushed up the floor, caused the fire to burn brightly, and in all respects made the dining-room respectable.

The laying of the table must be a careful and neat operation; a clean cloth should be put on, with the fold regularly running down the middle of the table, the silver and glass and china placed neatly and in order, the urn-lamp lighted, and the water put to boil, the napkins fresh and well-folded, and the chairs drawn up in order on either side. It is well worth a mistress’s while to preside at this work for two or three mornings, to see that her maid understands her wishes.

All being in order, the maid may ring a bell, or knock at the doors, or rouse the family as they may wish.

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When breakfast is over she removes the dishes, and washes the silver and china in the pantry. After putting everything away, and opening a window in the dining-room, she proceeds to the bedrooms.

Every one should, before leaving his bedroom, open a window and turn back the clothes, to air the room and the bed thoroughly. If this has been neglected, it is the servant’s business to do it, and to make the beds, wash the basins, and leave everything very clean. She must also dust the bureaus and tables and chairs, hang up the dresses, put away the shoes, and set everything in order.

She then descends to the parlor floor, and makes it neat, and thence to the kitchen, where, if she has time, she does a little washing; but if there is to be luncheon or early dinner, she cannot do much until that is prepared, particularly if it is her duty to answer a bell. In a doctor’s house, or in a house where there are many calls, some one to attend exclusively at the door is almost indispensable.

After the early dinner or lunch, the maid has a few hours’ washing and ironing before getting ready for the late dinner or tea, which is the important meal of the day. If she is systematic, and the family are punctual, a girl can do a great deal of washing and ironing on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, even if she has to answer the bell; but if she is not systematic, and the meals are not at regular hours, she cannot do much.

On Thursday, which we have already designated as sweeping day, she must sweep the whole house, all the carpets, shake the rugs in the back yard, shake and

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sweep down the heavy curtains, and dust the mirror-frames with a long feather-duster. The mistress can help her by insisting that her family shall leave their rooms early, and by herself refusing to see visitors on sweeping day.

On Friday, in addition to the usual daily work, the silver must be polished, the brass rubbed, and the closets (which, in the hurry of the week’s work, may have been neglected), carefully cleaned and ventilated, On Friday afternoon the napkins and towels should be washed.

On Saturday these should be ironed, and everything, so far as possible, made ready for Sunday.

The cook, meantime, should rise even earlier than the waiter; should descend in time to receive the milkman, the iceman, and the breadman; should unlock the basement-door, sweep out the hall, and take in the barrels which have been left out with the ashes and other refuse.

A cook should be instructed never to give away the beef-dripping, as, if clarified in cold water, it is excellent for frying oysters, etc., and saves butter. The cook should air the kitchen and laundry, build the fire in the range, and sweep carefully before she begins to cook.

A careful house-keeper takes care that her cook shall make her toilet in her room, not in the kitchen. Particularly should she be made to arrange her hair upstairs, as some cooks have an exceedingly nasty habit of combing their hair in the kitchen. It will repay a house-keeper to make several visits to the kitchen at unexpected hours.

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Cooks vary so decidedly in their way of preparing meals that no general directions can be given; but the best should be made to follow certain rules, and the worst should be watched and guarded. A great cleanliness as to pots and kettles, particularly the teakettle, should be insisted upon, and the closets, pails, barrels, etc., be carefully watched. Many a case of typhoid fever can be traced to the cook’s slop-pail, or closets, or sink, and no lady should be careless of looking into all these places.

A cook, properly trained, can get up a good breakfast out of remains of the dinner of the preceding day, or some picked-up cod-fish, toast, potatoes sliced and fried, or mashed, boiled, stewed, or baked. The making of good clear coffee is not often understood by the green Irish cook. The mistress must teach her this useful art, and also how to make good tea, although the latter is generally made on the table.

With the sending up of the breakfast comes the first chance of a collision between cook and waiter; and disagreeable, bad-tempered servants make much of this opportunity. The cook in city houses puts the dinner on the dumb-waiter and sends it up to the waiter, who takes it off. All the heavy meat-dishes and the greasy plates are sent down to the cook to wash, and herein lies many a grievance which the mistress can anticipate and prevent by forbidding the use of the dumb-waiter if it leads to quarrelling, and by making the maids carry all the plates and dishes up and down. This course of treatment will soon cure them of their little tempers.

In plain households the cook has much less to do

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than the waiter; she should therefore undertake the greater part of the washing and ironing. Many very good cooks will do all the washing and ironing except the table linen and the towels used by the waiter; and if this arrangement is made at first, no trouble ensues. The great trouble in most households comes from the fact that the work is not definitely divided, and that one servant declares that the other is imposing upon her.

If a mistress is fair, honorable, strict, and attentive, she can thus carry on a large household (if there are no young children) with two energetic servants. She cannot, of course, have elegant house-keeping; it is a very arduous undertaking to conduct a city house with the assistance of only two people. Many young house-keepers become discouraged, and many old ones do so as well, and send the washing and ironing to a public laundry. But as small incomes are the rule, and as most people must economize, it has been done, and it can be done. The mistress will find it to her advantage to have a very great profusion of towels and dusters, and also to supply the kitchen with every requisite utensil for cooking a good dinner, or for the execution of the ordinary daily work–such tools as an ice-hammer, a can-opener, plenty of corkscrews, a knife-sharpener and several large, strong knives, a meat-chopper and bread-baskets, stone pots and jars. The modern refrigerator has simplified kitchen-work very much, and no one who has lived long enough to remember when it was not used can fail to bless its airy and cool closets and its orderly arrangements.

The “privileges” of these hard-worked servants

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should be respected. “An evening a week, and every other Sunday afternoon,” is a formula not to be forgotten. Consider what it is to them! Perhaps a visit to a sick sister or mother, a recreation much needed, a simple pleasure, but one which is to them what a refreshing book, a visit to the opera, or a drive in the park, is to their employers. Only a very cruel mistress will ever fail to keep her promise to a faithful servant on these too infrequent holidays.

The early Sunday dinner is an inconvenience, but it is due to the girls who count on their “Sunday out” to have it always punctually given to them.

Many devout Catholics make their church-going somewhat inconvenient, but they should not be thwarted in it. It is to them something more than it is to Protestants, and a devout Catholic is to be respected and believed in. No doubt there are very bad-tempered and disagreeable girls who make a pretence of religion, but the mistress should be slow to condemn, lest she wrong one who is sincerely pious.

In sickness, Irish girls are generally kind and accommodating, being themselves unselfish, and are apt to show a better spirit in a time of trouble than the Swedes, the Germans, or the Scotch, although the latter are possessed of more intelligence, and are more readily trained to habits of order and system. The warm heart and the confused brain, the want of truth, of the average Irish servant will perplex and annoy while it touches the sympathies of a woman of generous spirit.

The women who would make the best house-servants are New England girls who have been brought

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up in poor but comfortable homes. But they will not be servants. They have imbibed the foolish idea that the position of a girl who does house-work is inferior in gentility to that of one who works in a factory, or a printing-office, or a milliner’s shop. It is a great mistake, and one which fills the country with incapable wives for the working-man; for a woman who cannot make bread or cook a decent dinner is a fraud if she marry a poor man who expects her to do it.

That would be a good and a great woman who would preach a crusade against this false doctrine–who would say to the young women of her neighborhood, “I will give a marriage portion to any of you who will go into domestic service, become good cooks and waiters, and will bring me your certificates of efficiency at the end of five years.”

And if those who employ could have these clear brains and thrifty hands, how much more would they be willing to give in dollars and cents a month!