CHAPTER XXXI.LAYING THE DINNER-TABLE.


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The table, after being drawn out to its proper length, should be covered with a cotton-flannel tablecloth–white, if the table-cover is the ordinary damask; red, if the open work table-cover is to be used. This broad cotton flannel can be bought for eighty cents a yard. The table-cloth, if of white damask, should be perfectly ironed, with one long fold down the middle, which must serve the butler for his mathematical centre. No one can be astray in using fine white damask. If a lady wishes to have the more rare Russian embroidery, the gold embroidered on the open-work table-cloth, she can do so, but let her not put any cloth on her table that will not wash. The mixed-up things trimmed with velvet or satin or ribbon, which are occasionally seen on vulgar tables, are detestable.

The butler then lays the red velvet carpet, or mat, or ornamental cover–whatever it may be called-down the centre of the table, to afford a relief of color to the épergne.

This is a mere fanciful adjunct, and may be used or not; but it has a very pretty effect over an openwork, white table-cloth, with the silver tray of the épergne resting upon it. In many families there are

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silver épergnes which are heirlooms. These are now valued for old association’s sake; as are the silver candlesticks and silver compotiers. But where a family does not possess these table ornaments, a centre piece of glass is used. The fiat basket of flowers, over which the guests could talk, has been discarded, and the ornaments of a dinner-table are apt to be high, including the lamps and candelabra which at present replace gas.

The table-cloth being laid, the centre and side ornaments placed, the butler sees that each footman has a clean towel on his arm, and then proceeds to unlock the plate chest and the glass closet. Measuring with his hand, from the edge of the table to the end of his middle finger, he places the first glass. This measurement is continued around the table, and secures a uniform line for the water goblet, and the claret, wine, hock, and champagne glasses, which are grouped about it. He then causes a plate to be put at each place, large enough to hold the majolica plate with the oysters, which will come later. One footman is detailed to fold the napkins, which should be large, thick, fine, and serviceable for this stage of the dinner. The napkins are not folded in any hotel device, but simply in a three-cornered pyramid that will stand holding the roll or bread. The knives, forks, and spoons, each of which is wiped by the footman with his clean towel, so that no dampness of his own hand shall mar their sparkling cleanliness, are then distributed. These should be all of silver; two knives, three forks, and a soup-spoon being the usual number laid at each plate.

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Before each plate is placed a little salt-cellar, either of silver or china, in some fanciful shape. Tiny wheelbarrows are much used. A carafe holding water should be put on very late, and be fresh from the ice-chest.

Very thin glasses are now used for choice sherry and Madeira, and are not put on until the latter part of the dinner, as they may be broken.

Menu-holders or card-holders of china or silver are often placed before each plate, to hold the card on which the name of the guest is printed and the bill of fare from which he is to choose. These may be dispensed with, however, and the menu and name laid on each plate.

The butler now turns his attention to his sideboards and tables, from whence he is to draw his supplies. Many people make a most ostentatious display of plate and china on their sideboards, and if one has pretty things why not show them? The poorer and more modest have, on their sideboards, simply the things which will be needed. But there should be a row of large forks, a row of large knives, a row of small ones, a row of table- spoons, sauce-ladles, dessert-spoons, fish-slice and fork, a few tumblers, rows of claret, sherry, and Madeira glasses, and the reserve of dinner-plates.

On another table or sideboard should be placed the finger-bowls and glass dessert-plates, the smaller spoons and coffee cups and saucers. On the table nearest the door should be the carving-knives and the first dinne-plates to be used. Here the head footman or the butler divides the fish and carves the pièce de resistance, the fillet of beef, the haunch of venison, the turkey,

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or the saddle of mutton. It is from this side-table that all the dinner should be served; if the dining-room is small, the table can be placed in the hall or adjacent pantry. As the fish is being served, the first footman should offer Chablis, or some kind of white wine; with the soup, sherry; with the roast, claret and champagne, each guest being asked if he will have dry or sweet champagne.

As the plates are removed they should not be kept in the dining-room, but sent to the kitchen immediately, a maid standing outside to receive them, so that no disorder of the dinner may reach the senses of the guests, nor even an unpleasant odor. As each plate is removed a fresh plate must be put in its place-generally a very beautiful piece of Sèvres, decorated with a landscape, flowers, or faces.

Sparkling wines, hock and champagne, are not decanted, but are kept in ice-pails, and opened as required. On the sideboard is placed the wine decanted for Use, and poured out as needed; after the game has been handed, decanters of choice Madeira and port are placed before the host, who sends them round to his guests.

In England a very useful little piece of furniture, called a dinner-wagon, is in order. This is a series of open shelves, on which are placed the extra napkins or serviettes to be used; for in England the first heavy napkin is taken away, and a more delicate one brought with the Roman punch, with the game another, and with the ices still another. On this dinner-wagon are placed all the dessert – plates and the finger – glasses. On the plate which is to serve for the ice is a gold

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ice-spoon, and a silver dessert-knife and fork accompany the finger-bowl and glass plate. This dinner-wagon also holds the salad-bowl and spoon, of silver, the salad-plates, and the silver bread-basket, in which should be thin slices of brown bread-and-butter. A china dish in three compartments, with cheese and butter and biscuits to be passed with the salad, the extra sauces, the jellies for the meats, the relishes, the radishes and celery, the olives and the sifted sugar-all things needed as accessaries of the dinner-table-can be put on this dinner-wagon, or étagère, as it is called in France.

No table-spoons should be laid on the table, except those to be used for soup, as the style of serving à la Russe precludes their being needed; and the extra spoons, cruets, and casters are put on the sideboard.

To wait on a large dinner-party the attendants average one to every three people, and when only a butler and one footman are kept, it is necessary to hire additional servants.

Previous to the announcement of the dinner, the footman places the soup-tureens and the soup-plates on the side-table. As soon as the oysters are eaten, and the plates removed, the butler begins with the soup, and sends it round by two footmen, one on each side, each carrying two plates. Each footman should approach the guests on the left, so that the right hand may be used for taking the plate. Half a ladleful of soup is quite enough to serve.

Some ladies never allow their butler to do anything but hand the wine, which he does at the right hand (not the left), asking each person if he will have
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Sauterne, dry or sweet champagne, claret, Burgundy, and so on. But really clever butlers serve the soup, carve, and pour out the wine as well. An inexperienced servant should never serve the wine; it must be done briskly and neatly, not explosively or carelessly. The overfilling of the glass should be avoided, and servants should be watched, to see that they give champagne only to those who wish it, and that they do not overfill glasses for ladies, who rarely drink anything.

A large plate-basket or two, for removing dishes and silver that have been used, are necessary, and should not be forgotten. The butler rings a bell which communicates with the kitchen when he requires anything, and after each entrée or course he thus gives the signal to the cook to send up another.

Hot dinner-plates are prepared when the fish is removed, and on these hot plates the butler serves all the meats; the guests are also served with hot plates before the entrées, except pát de foie gras, for which a cold plate is necessary.

Some discretion should be shown by the servant who passes the entrées. A large table – spoon and fork should be placed on the dish, and the dish then held low, so that the guest may help himself easily, the servant standing at his left hand. He should always have a small napkin over his hand as he passes a dish. A napkin should also be wrapped around the champagne bottle, as it is often dripping with moisture from the ice- chest. It is the butler’s duty to make the salad, which he should do about half an hour before dinner. There are now so

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many provocatives of appetite that it would seem as if we were all, after the manner of Heliogabalus, determined to eat and die. The best of these is the Roman punch, which, coming after the heavy roasts, prepares the palate and stomach for the canvas-back ducks or other game. Then comes the salad and cheese, then the ices and sweets, and then cheese savourie or cheese fondu. This is only toasted cheese, in a very elegant form, and is served in little silver shells, sometimes as early in the dinner as just after the oysters, but the favorite time is after the sweets.

The dessert is followed by the liqueurs, which should be poured into very small glasses, and handed by the butler on a small silver waiter. When the ices are removed, a dessert-plate of glass, with a finger-bowl, is placed before each person, with two glasses, one for sherry, the other for claret or Burgundy, and the grapes, peaches, pears, and other fruits are then passed. After the fruits go round, the sugar-plums and a little dried ginger–a very pleasant conserve-are passed before the coffee.

The hostess makes the sign for retiring, and the dinner breaks up. The gentlemen are left to wine and cigars, liqueurs and cognac, and the ladies retire to the drawing-room to chat and take their coffee.

In the selection of the floral decoration for the table the lady of the house has the final voice. Flowers which have a very heavy fragrance should not be used. That roses and pinks, violets and lilacs, are suitable, goes without saying, for they are always delightful; but the heavy tropical odors of jasmine, orange-blossom, hyacinth, and tuberose should be

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avoided. A very pretty decoration is obtained by using flowers of one color, such as Jacqueminot roses, or scarlet carnations, which, if placed in the gleaming crystal glass, produce a very brilliant and beautiful effect.

Flowers should not be put on the table until just before dinner is served, as they are apt to be wilted by the heat and the tights.

We have used the English term footman to indicate what is usually called a waiter in this country. A waiter in England is a hired hotel-hand, not a private servant.

Much taste and ingenuity are expended on the selection of favors for ladies, and these pretty fancies–bonbonnières, painted ribbons and reticules, and fans covered with flowers–add greatly to the elegance and luxury of our modern dinner-table.

A less reasonable conceit is that of having toys-such as imitation musical instruments, crackers which make an unpleasant detonation, imitations of negro minstrels, balloons, flags, and pasteboard lobsters, toads, and insects–presented to each lady. These articles are neither tasteful nor amusing, and have “no excuse for being” except that they afford an opportunity for the expenditure of more money.

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