EVERY house has an outward appearance to be made as presentable as possible, an interior continually to be set in order, and incessantly to be cleaned. And for those that dwell within it there are meals to be prepared and served; linen to be laundered and mended; personal garments to be brushed and pressed; and perhaps children to be cared for. There is also a door-bell to be answered in which manners as well as appearance come into play.
Beyond these fundamental necessities, luxuries can be added indefinitely, such as splendor of architecture, of gardening, and of furnishing, with every refinement of service that executive ability can produce. With all this genuine splendor possible only to the greatest establishments, a little house can no more compete than a diamond weighing but half a carat can compete with a stone weighing fifty times as much. And this is a good simile, because the perfect little house may be represented by a corner cut from precisely the same stone and differing therefore merely in size (and value naturally), whereas the house in bad taste and improperly run may be represented by a diamond that is off color and full of flaws; or in some instances, merely a piece of glass that to none but those as ignorant as its owner, for a moment suggests a gem of value.
A gem of a house may be no size at all, but its lines are honest, and its painting and window curtains in good taste. As for its upkeep, its path or sidewalk is beautifully neat, steps scrubbed, brasses polished, and its bell answered promptly by a trim maid with a low voice and quiet courteous manner; all of which contributes to the impression of quality even though it in nothing suggests the luxury of a palace whose opened bronze door reveals a row of powdered footmen.
But the mansion of bastard architecture and crude paint, with its brass indifferently clean, with coarse lace behind the plate glass of its golden-oak door, and the bell answered at eleven in the morning by a butler in an ill-fitting dress suit and wearing a mustache, might as well be placarded: Here lives a vulgarian who has never had an opportunity to acquire cultivation. As a matter of fact, the knowledge of how to make a house distinguished both in appearance and in service, is a much higher test than presenting a distinguished appearance in oneself and acquiring presentable manners. There are any number of people who dress well, and in every way appear well, but a lack of breeding is apparent as soon as you go into their houses. Their servants have not good manners, they are not properly turned out, the service is not well done, and the decorations and furnishings show lack of taste and inviting arrangement.
The personality of a house is indefinable, but there never lived a lady of great cultivation and charm whose home, whether a palace, a farm-cottage or a tiny apartment, did not reflect the charm of its owner. Every visitor feels impelled to linger, and is loath to go. Houses without personality are a series of rooms with furniture in them. Sometimes their lack of charm is baffling; every article is correct and beautiful, but one has the feeling that the decorator made chalk-marks indicating the exact spot on which each piece of furniture is to stand. Other houses are filled with things of little intrinsic value, often with much that is shabby, or they are perhaps empty to the point of bareness, and yet they have that inviting atmosphere, and air of unmistakable quality which is an unfailing indication of high-bred people.
Suitability is the test of good taste always. The manner to the moment, the dress to the occasion, the article to the place, the furniture to the background. And yet to combine many periods in one and commit no anachronism, to put something French, something Spanish, something Italian, and something English into an American house and have the result the perfection of American tasteis a feat of legerdemain that has been accomplished time and again.
A woman of great taste follows fashion in house furnishing, just as she follows fashion in dress, in general principles only. She wears what is becoming to her own type, and she puts in her house only such articles as are becoming to it.
That a quaint old-fashioned house should be filled with quaint old-fashioned pieces of furniture, in size proportionate to the size of the rooms, and that rush-bottomed chairs and rag-carpets have no place in a marble hall, need not be pointed out. But to an amazing number of persons, proportion seems to mean nothing at all. They will put a huge piece of furniture in a tiny room so that the effect is one of painful indigestion; or they will crowd things all into one cornerso that it seems about to capsize; or they will spoil a really good room by the addition of senseless and inappropriately cluttering objects, in the belief that because they are valuable they must be beautiful, regardless of suitability. Sometimes a room is marred by treasures clung to for reasons of sentiment.
It is almost impossible for any of us to judge accurately of things which we have throughout a lifetime been accustomed to. A chair that was grandmothers, a painting father bought, the silver that has always been on the dining tableare all so part of ourselves that we are sentiment-blind to their defects.
For instance, the portrait of a Colonial officer, among others, has always hung in Mrs. Oldnames dining-room. One day an art critic, whose knowledge was better than his manners, blurted out, Will you please tell me why you have that dreadful thing in this otherwise perfect room? Mrs. Oldname, somewhat taken back, answered rather wonderingly: Is it dreadful?Really? I have a feeling of affection for him and his dog!
The critic was merciless. If you call a cotton-flannel effigy, a dog! And as for the figure, it is equally false and lifeless! It is amazing how any one with your taste can bear looking at it! In spite of his rudeness, Mrs. Oldname saw that what he said was quite true, but not until the fact had been pointed out to her. Gradually she grew to dislike the poor officer so much that he was finally relegated to the attic. In the same way most of us have belongings that have always been there or perhaps treasures that we love for some association, which are probably as bad as can be, to which habit has blinded us, though we would not have to be told of their hideousness were they seen by us in the house of another.
It is not to be expected that all people can throw away every esthetically unpleasing possession, with which nearly every house twenty-five years ago was filled, but those whose pocket-book and sentiment will permit, would add greatly to the beauty of their houses by sweeping the bad into the ash can! Far better have stone-ware plates that are good in design than expensive porcelain that is horrible in decoration.
The only way to determine what is good and what is horrible is to study what is good in books, in museums, or in art classes in the universities, or even by studying the magazines devoted to decorative art.
Be very careful though. Do not mistake modern eccentricities for art. There are frightful things in vogue to-dayflamboyant colors, grotesque, triangular and oblique designs that can not possibly be other than bad, because aside from striking novelty, there is nothing good about them. By no standard can a room be in good taste that looks like a perfume manufacturers phantasy or a design reflected in one of the distorting mirrors that are mirth-provokers at county fairs.
Fourth, if it were eliminated would it be missed? Would something else look as well or better, in its place? Or would its place look as well empty? A truthful answer to these questions would at least help in determining its value, since an article that failed in any of them could not be perfect.
Fashion affects tasteit is bound to. We abominate Louis the Fourteenth and Empire styles at the moment, because curves and super-ornamentation are out of fashion; whether they are really bad or not, time alone can tell. At present we are admiring plain silver and are perhaps exacting that it be too plain? The only safe measure of what is good, is to choose that which has best endured. The King and the Fiddle pattern for flat silver, have both been in use in houses of highest fashion ever since they were designed, so that they, among others, must have merit to have so long endured.
In the same way examples of old potteries and china and glass, at present being reproduced, are very likely good, because after having been for a century or more in disuse, they are again being chosen. Perhaps one might say that the second choice is proof of excellence.
The subject of furnishings is however the least part of this chapterappointments meaning decoration being of less importance (since this is not a book on architecture or decoration!), than appointments meaning service.
There is an inexplicable tendency, in this country only, for working people in general to look upon domestic service as an unworthy, if not altogether degrading vocation. The cause may perhaps be found in the fact that this same scorning public having for the most part little opportunity to know high-class servants, who are to be found only in high-class families, take it for granted that ignorant servant girls and hired men are representative of their kind. Therefore they put upper class servants in the same categoryregardless of whether they are uncouth and illiterate, or persons of refined appearance and manner who often have considerable cultivation, acquired not so much at school as through the constant contact with ultra refinement of surroundings, and not infrequently through the opportunity for world-wide travel.
And yet so insistently has this obloquy of the word servant spread that every one sensitive to the feelings of others avoids using it exactly as one avoids using the word cripple when speaking to one who is slightly lame. Yet are not the best of us servants in the Church? And the highest of us servants of the people and the State?
To be a slattern in a vulgar household is scarcely an elevated employment, but neither is working in a sweat-shop, or belonging to a calling that is really degraded; which is otherwise about all that equal lack of ability would procure. On the other hand, consider the vocation of a ladys maid or courier valet and compare the advantages these enjoy (to say nothing of their never having to worry about overhead expenses), with the opportunities of those who have never been out of the factory or the store or further away than the adjoining town in their lives. As for a nurse, is there any vocation more honorable? No character in E. F. Bensons Our Family Affairs is more beautiful or more tenderly drawn than that of Beth, who was not only nurse to the children of the Archbishop of Canterbury but one of the most dearly beloved of the familys membersher place was absolutely next to their mothers in the very heart of the household always.
Two years ago, Anna, who had for a lifetime been Mrs. Gildings personal maid, died. Every engagement of that seemingly frivolous family was cancelled, even the invitations for their ball. Not one of the family but mourned for what she truly was, their humble but nearest friend. Would it have been so much better, so much more dignified, for these two women, who lived long useful years in closest association with every cultivating influence of life, to have lived on in their native villages and worked in a factory, or to have had a little store of their own? Does this false idea of dignitysince it is falsego so far as that?
It stands to reason that one may expect more perfect service from a specialist than from one whose functions are multiple. But small houses that have a double equipmentmeaning an alternate who can go in the kitchen, and two for the dining-roomcan be every bit as well run, so far as essentials go, as the palaces of the Gildings and the Worldlys, though of course not with the same impressiveness. But good service is badly handicapped if, when the waitress goes out, there is no one to open the door, or when the cook goes out, there is no one to prepare a meal.
For what one might call complete service, (meaning service that is adequate for constant entertaining and can stand comparison with the most luxurious establishments, three are the minimuma cook, a butler (or waitress) and a housemaid. The reason why luncheons and dinners can not be perfectly given with a waitress alone is because two persons are necessary for the exactions of modern standards of service. Yet one alone can, on occasion, manage very well, if attention is paid to ordering an especial menu for single-handed servicedescribed at XV¶14. Aside from the convenience of a second person in the dining-room, a house can not be run very comfortably and smoothly without alternating shifts in staying in and going out. The waitress being on duty to answer bell and telephone and serve tea one afternoon, and the housemaid taking her place the next. They also alternate in going out every other evening after dinner.
It should be realized that above the number necessary for essentials, each additional chambermaid, parlor-maid, footman, scullery maid or useful man, is made necessary by the size of the house and by the amount of entertaining usual, rather than (as is often supposed) for the mere reason of show. The seemingly superfluous number of footmen at Golden Hall and Great Estates are, aside from standing on parade at formal parties, needed actually to do the immense amount of work that houses of such size entail; whereas a small apartment can be fairly well looked after by one alone.
All house employees and details of their several duties, manners, and appearances, are enumerated below. Beginning with the greatest and most complicated establishments possible, the employee of highest rank is:
The position of companion, which is always one of social equality with her employer, exists only when the lady of the house is an invalid, or very elderly, or a widow, or a young girl. (In the latter case the companion is a chaperon.)
Her secretarial duties consist in writing impersonal letters and notes and probably paying bills; she may have occasional invitations to send out, and to answer, though a lady needing a companion is not apt to be greatly interested in social activities. The companion never performs the services of a maidbut she occasionally does the housekeeping. Otherwise her duties can not very well be set down, because they vary with individual requirements. One lady likes continually to travel and merely wants a companion, (usually a poor relative or friend) to go with her. Another who is a semi-invalid never leaves her room, and the duties of her companion are almost those of a trained nurse. The average requirement is in being personally agreeable, tactful, intelligent, andcompanionable!
The private secretary to a diplomat, since he must first pass the diplomatic examination in order to qualify, is invariably a young man of education, if not of birth, and his social position is always that of a member of his chiefs family.
The position of an ordinary private secretary is sometimes that of an upper servant; or, on the other hand, his own social position may be much higher than that of his employer. A secretary who either has position of his own or is given position by his employer, is in every way treated as a member of the family; he is present at all general entertainments; and quite as often as not at lunches and dinners. The duties of a private secretary are naturally to attend to all correspondence, take shorthand notes of speeches or conversations, file papers and documents and in every way serve as extra eyes and hands and supplementary brain for his employer.
Her duties are to write all invitations, acceptances, and regrets; keep a record of every invitation received and every one sent out, and to enter in an engagement book every engagement made for her employer, whether to lunch, dinner, to be fitted, or go to the dentist. She also writes all impersonal notes, takes longer letters in shorthand, and writes others herself after being told their purport. She also audits all bills and draws the checks for them; the checks are filled in and then presented to her employer to be signed, after which they are put in their envelopes, sealed and sent. When the receipted bills are returned, the secretary files them according to her own method, where they can at any time be found by her if needed for reference. In many cases it is she (though it is most often the butler) who telephones invitations and other messages.
Occasionally a social secretary is also a social manager; devises entertainments and arranges all details such as the decorations of the house for a dance, or a programme of entertainment following a very large dinner. The social secretary very rarely lives in the house of her employer; more often than not she goes also to one or two other housessince there is seldom work enough in one to require her whole time.
Miss Brisk, who is Mrs. Gildings secretary, has little time for any one else. She goes every day for from two to sometimes eight or nine hours in town, and at Golden Hall lives in the house. Usually a secretary can finish all there is to do in an average establishment in about an hour, or at most two, a day, with the addition of five or six hours on two or three other days each month for the paying of bills.
Supposing she takes three positions; she goes to Mrs A. from 8.30 to 10 every day, and for three extra hours on the 10th and 11th of every month. To Mrs. B. from 10.30 to 1 (her needs being greater) and for six extra hours on the 12th, 13th and 14th of every month. And to Mrs C. every day at 3 oclock for an indefinite time of several hours or only a few minutes.
Her dress is that of any business woman. Conspicuous clothes are out of keeping as they would be out of keeping in an office; which, however, is no reason why she should not be well dressed. Well-cut tailor-made suits are the most appropriate with a good-looking but simple hat; as good shoes as she can possibly afford, and good gloves and immaculately clean shirt waists, represent about the most dignified and practical clothes. But why describe clothes! Every woman with good sense enough to qualify as a secretary has undoubtedly sense enough to dress with dignity.
In a very big house the housekeeper usually lives in the house. Smaller establishments often have a visiting housekeeper who comes for as long as she is needed each morning. The resident housekeeper has her own bedroom and bath and sitting-room always. Her meals are brought to her by an especial kitchen-maid, called in big houses the hall girl, or occasionally the butler details an under footman to that duty.
In an occasional house all the servants, the gardener as well as the cook and butler and nurses, come under the housekeepers authority; in other words, she superintends the entire house exactly as a very conscientious and skilled mistress would do herself, if she gave her whole time and attention to it. She engages the servants, and if necessary, dismisses them; she sees the cook, orders meals, goes to the market, or at least supervises the cooks market orders, and likewise engages and apportions the work of the men servants.
Ordinarily, however, she is in charge of no one but the housemaids, parlor-maids, useful man and one of the scullery maids. The cook, butler, nurses and ladys maid do not come under her supervision. But should difficulties arise between herself and them it would be within her province to ask for their dismissal which would probably be granted; since she would not ask without grave cause that involved much more than her personal dislike. A good housekeeper is always a woman of experience and tact, and often a lady; friction is, therefore, extremely rare.
The management of a house of greatest size, is divided usually into several distinct departments, each under its separate head. The housekeeper has charge of the appearance of the house and of its contents; the manners and looks of the housemaids and parlor-maids, as well as their work in cleaning walls, floors, furniture, pictures, ornaments, books, and taking care of linen.
At the Worldlys for instance, Hastings who is actually the butler, orders all the supplies, keeps the household accounts and engages not only the men servants but the housemaids, parlor-maids and even the chef.
But normally in a great house, the butler has charge of his own department only, and his own department is the dining-room and pantry, or possibly the whole parlor floor. In all smaller establishments the butler is always the valetand in many great ones he is valet to his employer, even though he details a footman to look after other gentlemen of the family or visitors.
At Golden Hall where guests come in dozens at a time (both in the house and the guest annex), his stewardshipeven though there is a housekeeperis not a job which a small man can fill. He has perhaps thirty men under him at big dinners, ten who belong under him in the house always; he has the keys to the wine cellar and the combination of the silver safe. (The former being in this day by far the greater responsibility!) He also chooses the china and glass and linen as well as the silver to be used each day, oversees the setting of the table, and the serving of all food.
At all meals he stands behind the chair of the lady of the housein other words, at the head of the table. In occasional houses, the butler stands at the opposite end as he is supposed to be better able to see any directions given him. At Golden Hall the butler stands behind Mr. Gilding but at Great Estates Hastings invariably stands behind Mrs. Worldlys chair so that at the slightest turn of her head, he need only take a step to be within reach of her voice. (The husband by the way is head of the house, but the wife is head of the table.)
In a smaller house, the butler also takes charge of the wines and silver, does very much the same as the butler in the bigger house, except that he has less overseeing of others and more work to do himself. Where he is alone, he does all the worknaturally. Where he has either one footman or a parlor-maid, he passes the main courses at the table and his assistant passes the secondary dishes.
The butler never wears the livery of a footman and on no account knee breeches or powder. In the early morning he wears an ordinary sack suitblack or very dark bluewith a dark, inconspicuous tie. For luncheon or earlier, if he is on duty at the door, he wears black trousers, with gray stripes, a double-breasted, high-cut, black waistcoat, and black swallowtail coat without satin on the reverse, a white stiff-bosomed shirt with standing collar, and a black four-in-hand tie.
In fashionable houses, the butler does not put on his dress suit until six oclock. The butlers evening dress differs from that of a gentleman in a few details only: he has no braid on his trousers, and the satin on his lapels (if any) is narrower, but the most distinctive difference is that a butler wears a black waistcoat and a white lawn tie, and a gentleman always wears a white waistcoat with a white tie, or a white waistcoat and a black tie with a dinner coat, but never the reverse.
Unless he is an old-time colored servant in the South a butler who wears a dress suit in the daytime is either a hired waiter who has come in to serve a meal, or he has never been employed by persons of position; and it is unnecessary to add that none but vulgarians would employ a butler (or any other house servant) who wears a mustache! To have him open the door collarless and in shirt-sleeves is scarcely worse!
A butler never wears gloves, nor a flower in his buttonhole. He sometimes wears a very thin watch chain in the daytime but none at night. He never wears a scarf-pin, or any jewelry that is for ornament alone. His cuff-links should be as plain as possible, and his shirt studs white enamel ones that look like linen.
All house servants who assist in waiting on the table come under the direction of the butler, and are known as footmen. One who never comes into the dining-room is known as a useful man. The duties of the footmen (and useful man) include cleaning the dining-room, pantry, lower hall, entrance vestibule, sidewalk, attending to the furnace, carrying coal to the kitchen, wood to all the open fireplaces in the house, cleaning the windows, cleaning brasses, cleaning all boots, carrying everything that is heavy, moving furniture for the parlor-maids to clean behind it, valeting all gentlemen, setting and waiting on table, attending the front door, telephoning and writing down messages, andincessantly and ceaselessly, cleaning and polishing silver.
In a small house, the butler polishes silver, but in a very big house one of the footmen is silver specialist, and does nothing else. Nothing! If there is to be a party of any sort he puts on his livery and joins the others who line the hall and bring dishes to the table. But he does not assist in setting the table or washing dishes or in cleaning anything whatsoeverexcept silver.
The footmen also take turns in answering the door. In houses of great ceremony like those of the Worldlys and the Gildings, there are always two footmen at the door if anyone is to be admitted. One to open the door and the other to conduct a guest into the drawing-room. But if formal company is expected, the butler himself is in the front hall with one or two footmen at the door.
People who have big houses usually choose a color for their livery and never change it. Maroon and buff, for instance, are the colors of the Gildings; all their motor cars are maroon with buff lines and cream-colored or maroon linings. The chauffeurs and outside footmen wear maroon liveries. The house footmen, for everyday, wear ordinary footmens liveries, maroon trousers and long-tailed coats with brass buttons and maroon-and-buff striped waistcoats.
For gala occasions, Mrs. Gilding adds as many caterers men as necessary, but they all are dressed in her full-dress livery, consisting of a court coat which comes together at the neck in front, and then cuts away to long tails at the back. The coat is of maroon broadcloth with frogs and epaulets of black braiding. There is a small standing collar of buff cloth, and a falling cravat of pleated cream-colored lace worn in front. The waistcoat is of buff satin, the breeches of black satin, cream-colored stockings, pumps, and the hair is powdered. It is first pomaded and then thickly powdered. Wigs are never worn.
Mrs. Worldly however compromises between the court footman and the ordinary one, and puts her footmen in green cloth coats cut like the everyday liveries, with silver buttons on which the crest is raised in relief, but adds black velvet collars, and black satin waistcoats in place of the everyday striped ones. Black satin knee breeches, black silk stockings, and pumps with silver buckles, and their ordinary hair, cut short.
The powdered footmans court livery is, as a matter of fact, very rarely seen. Three or four houses in New York, and one or two otherwhere, would very likely include them all. Knee breeches are more usual, but even those are seen in none but very lavish houses.
To choose servants who are naturally well-groomed is more important than putting them in smart liveries. Men must be close shaven and have their hair well cut. Their linen must be immaculate, their shoes polished, their clothes brushed and in press, and their finger nails clean and well cared for. If a mans fingers are indelibly stained he would better wear white cotton gloves.
The kitchen is always in charge of the cook. In a small house, or in an apartment, she is alone and has all the cooking, cleaning of kitchen and larder, to do, the basement or kitchen bell to answer, and the servants table to set and their dishes to wash as well as her kitchen utensils. In a bigger house, the kitchen-maid lights the kitchen fire, and does all cleaning of kitchen and pots and pans, answers the basement bell, sets the servants table and washes the servants table dishes. In a still bigger house, the second cook cooks for the servants always, and for the children sometimes, and assists the cook by preparing certain plainer portions of the meals, the cook preparing all dinner dishes, sauces and the more elaborate items on the menu. Sometimes there are two or more kitchen-maids who merely divide the greater amount of work between them.
In most houses of any size, the cook does all the marketing. She sees the lady of the house every morning, and submits menus for the day. In smaller houses, the lady does the ordering of both supplies and menus.
In a house of largest sizeat the Gildings for instance, the chef writes in his book every evening, the menus for the next day, whether there is to be company or not. (None, of course, if the family are to be out for all meals.) This book is sent up to Mrs. Gilding with her breakfast tray. It is a loose-leaf blank book of rather large size. The days menu sheet is on top, but the others are left in their proper sequence underneath, so that by looking at her engagement book to see who dined with her on such a date, and then looking at the menu for that same date, she knowsif she cares toexactly what the dinner was.
If she does not like the chefs choice, she draws a pencil through and writes in something else. If she has any orders or criticisms to make, she writes them on an envelope pad, folds the page, and seals it and puts the note in the book.
This system is not necessary in medium sized or small houses, but where there is a great deal of entertaining it is much simpler for the butler to be able to go and see for himself than to ask the cook andforget. And ask again, and the cook forget, and thendisturbance!because the butler did not send down the proper silver dishes or have the proper plates ready, or had others heated unnecessarily.
The kitchen-maids are under the direction of the cook, except one known colloquially as the hall girl who is supervised by the housekeeper. She is evidently a survival of the between maid of the English house. Her sobriquet comes from the fact that she has charge of the servants hall, or dining-room, and is in fact the waitress for them. She also takes care of the housekeepers rooms, and carries all her meals up to her. If there is no housekeeper, the hall girl is under the direction of the cook.
The parlor-maid keeps the drawing-room and library in order. The useful man brings up the wood for the fireplaces, but the parlor-maid lays the fire. In some houses the parlor-maid takes up the breakfast trays; in other houses, the butler does this himself and then hands them to the ladys maid, who takes them into the bedrooms. The windows and the brasses are cleaned by the useful man and heavy furniture moved by him so she can clean behind them.
In a bigger house, the head housemaid has charge of the linen and does the bedrooms of the lady and gentleman of the house and a few of the spare rooms. The second housemaid does the nurseries, extra spare rooms, and the servants floor. The bigger the establishment, the more housemaids, and the work is further divided. The housemaid is by many people called the chambermaid.
In all houses of importance and fashion, the parlor-maid and the housemaids, and the waitress (where there is no butler), are all dressed alike. Their work dresses are of plain cambric and in whatever the house color may be, with large white aprons with high bibs, and Eton collars, but no cuffs (as they must be able to unbutton their sleeves and turn them up.) Those who serve in the dining-room must always dress before lunch, and the afternoon dresses vary according to the tasteand purseof the lady of the house. Where no uniforms are supplied, each maid is supposed to furnish herself with a plain black dress for afternoon, on which she wears collars and cuffs of embroidered muslin usually (always supplied her), and a small afternoon apron, with or without shoulder straps, and with or without a cap.
In very beautifully done houses (all the dresses of the maids are furnished them), the color of the uniforms is chosen to harmonize with the dining-room. At the Gildings, Jr., for instance, where there are no men servants because Mr. Gilding does not like them, but where the house is as perfect as a picture on the stage, the waitress and parlor-maid wear in the blue and yellow dining-room, dresses of Nattier blue taffeta with aprons and collars and cuffs of plain hemstitched cream-colored organdie, that is as transparent as possible; blue stockings and patent leather slippers with silver buckles, their hair always beautifully smooth. Sometimes they wear caps and sometimes not, depending upon the waitress appearance. Twenty years ago, every maid in a ladys house wore a cap except the personal maid, who wore (and still does) a velvet bow, or nothing. But when every little slattern in every sloppy household had a small mat of whitish Swiss pinned somewhere on an untidy head, and was decked out in as many yards of embroidery ruffling on her apron and shoulders as her person could carry, fashionable ladies began taking caps and trimmings off, and exacting instead that clothes be good in cut and hair be neatly arranged.
A few ladies of great taste dress their maids according to individual becomingness; some faces look well under a cap, others look the contrary. A maid whose hair is rather fluffyespecially if it is darklooks pretty in a cap, particularly of the coronet variety. No one looks well in a doily laid flat, but fluffy fair hair with a small mat tilted up against a knot of hair dressed high can look very smart. A young woman whose hair is straight and rebellious to order, can be made to look tidy and even attractive in a headdress that encircles the whole head. A good one for this purpose has a very narrow ruche from 9 to 18 inches long on either side of a long black velvet ribbon. The ruche goes part way, or all the way, around the head, and the velvet ribbon ties, with streamers hanging down the back. On the other hand, many extremely pretty young women with hair worn flat do not look well in caps of any descriptionexcept Dutch ones which are, in most houses, too suggestive of fancy dress. If no caps are worn the hair must be faultlessly smooth and neat; and of course where two or more maids are seen together, they must be alike. It would not do to have one wear a cap and the other not.
A first class ladys maid is required to be a hairdresser, a good packer and an expert needlewoman. Her first duty is to keep her ladys clothes in order and to help her dress, and undress. She draws the bath, lays out underclothes, always brushes her ladys hair and usually dresses it, and gets out the dress to be worn, as well as the stockings, shoes, hat, veil, gloves, wrist bag, parasol, or whatever accessories go with the dress in question.
As soon as the lady is dressed, everything that has been worn is taken to the sewing room and each article is gone over, carefully brushed if of woolen material, cleaned if silk. Everything that is mussed is pressed, everything that can be suspected of not being immaculate is washed or cleaned with cleaning fluid, and when in perfect order is replaced where it belongs in the closet. Underclothes as mended are put in the clothes hamper. Stockings are looked over for rips or small holes, and the maid usually washes very fine stockings herself, also lace collars or small pieces of lace trimming.
But the maid for a débutante in the height of the season, between the inevitable go fetching at this place and that, and mending of party dresses danced to ribbons and soiled by partners hands on the back, and slippers walked on until there is quite as much black part as satin or metal, has no sinecure.
In very important houses where mother and daughters go out a great deal there are usually two maids, one for the mother and one for the daughters. But even in moderate households it is seldom practical for a débutante and her mother to share a maidat least during the height of the season. That a maid who has to go out night after night for weeks and even months on end, and sit in the dressing-rooms at balls until four and five and even six in the morning, is then allowed to go to bed and to sleep until luncheon is merely humane. And it can easily be seen that it is more likely that she will need the help of a seamstress to refurbish dance-frocks, than that she will have any time to devote to her young ladys motherwho in mid-season, therefore, is forced to have a maid of her own, ridiculous as it sounds, that two maids for two ladies should be necessary! Sometimes this is overcome by engaging an especial maid by the evening to go to parties and wait, and bring the débutante home again. And the maid at home can then be maid for two.
In traveling, a ladys maid always wears a small black silk apron and some maids wear black taffeta ones always. In the afternoon, she puts on a black waist with white collar and cuffs. Mrs. Gilding, Jr., puts her maid in black taffeta with embroidered collar and cuffs. For company occasions, when she waits in the dressing-room, she wears light gray taffeta with a very small embroidered mull apron with a narrow black velvet waist-ribbon, and collar and cuffs of mull to matchwhich is extremely pretty, but also extremely extravagant.
The valet (pronounced val-et not vallay) is what Beau Brummel called a gentlemans gentleman. His duties are exactly the same as those of the ladys maidexcept that he does not sew! He keeps his employers clothes in perfect order, brushes, cleans and presses everything as soon as it has been worneven if only for a few moments. He lays out the clothes to be put on, puts away everything that is a personal belonging. Some gentlemen like their valet to help them dress; run the bath, shave them and hold each article in readiness as it is to be put on. But most gentlemen merely like their clothes laid out for them, which means that trousers have belts or braces attached, shirts have cuff links and studs; and waistcoat buttons are put in.
The valet also unpacks the bags of any gentleman guests when they come, valets them while there, and packs them when they go. He always packs for his own gentleman, buys tickets, looks after the luggage, and makes himself generally useful as a personal attendant, whether at home or when traveling.
Everybody knows the nurse is either the comfort or the torment of the house. Everyone also knows innumerable young mothers who put up with inexcusable crankiness from a crotchety middle-aged woman because she was so wonderful to the baby. And here let it be emphasized that such an one usually turns out to have been not wonderful to the baby at all. That she does not actually abuse a helpless infant is merely granting that she is not a monster.
Devotion must always be unselfish; the nurse who is really wonderful to the baby is pretty sure to be a person who is kind generally. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the sooner a domineering nurseold or youngis got rid of, the better. It has been the experience of many a mother whose life had been made perfectly miserable through her belief that if she dismissed the tyrant the baby would suffer, that in the endthere is always an end!the baby was quite as relieved as the rest of the family when the right sort of a kindly and humane person took the tyrants place.
It is unnecessary to add that one can not be too particular in asking for a nurses reference and in never failing to get a personal one from the lady she is leaving. Not only is it necessary to have a sweet-tempered, competent and clean person, but her moral character is of utmost importance, since she is to be the constant and inseparable companion of the children whose whole lives are influenced by her example, especially where busy parents give only a small portion of time to their children.
In a dignified house, a servant is never spoken to as Jim, Maisie, or Katie, but always as James or Margaret or Katherine, and a butler is called by his last name, nearly always. The Worldlys butler, for instance, is called Hastings, not John. In England, a ladys maid is also called by her last name, and the cook, if married, is addressed as Mrs. and the nurse is always called Nurse. A chef is usually called Chef or else by his last name.
Always abroad, and every really well-bred lady or gentleman here, says please in asking that something be brought her or him. Please get me the book I left on the table in my room! Or Please give me some bread! Or Some bread, please. Or one can say equally politely and omit the please, Id like some toast, but it is usual and instinctive to every lady or gentleman to add please.
In refusing a dish at the table, one must say No, thank you, or No, thanks, or else one shakes ones head. A head can be shaken politely or rudely. To be courteously polite, and yet keep ones walls up is a thing every thoroughbred person knows how to doand a thing that everyone who is trying to become such must learn to do.
A rule cant be given because there isnt any. As said in another chapter, a well-bred person always lives within the walls of his personal reserve, a vulgarian has no wallsor at least none that do not collapse at the slightest touch. But those who think they appear superior by being rude to others whom fortune has placed below them, might as well, did they but know it, shout their own unexalted origin to the world at large, since by no other method could it be more widely published.
The fact that you live in a house with two servants, or in an apartment with only one, need not imply that your house lacks charm or even distinction, or that it is not completely the home of a lady or gentleman. But, as explained in the chapter on Dinners, if you have limited service you must devise systematic economy of time and labor or you will have disastrous consequences.
Every person, after all, has only one pair of hands, and a day has only so many hours, and one thing is inevitable, which young housekeepers are apt to forget, a few can not do the work of many, and do it in the same way. It is all very well if the housemaid can not get into young Mrs. Gildings room until lunch time, nor does it matter if its confusion looks like the aftermath of a cyclone. The housemaid has nothing to do the rest of the day but put that one room and bath in order. But in young Mrs. Gailys small house where the housemaid is also the waitress, who is supposed to be dressed for lunch, it does not have to be pointed out that she can not sweep, dust, tidy up rooms, wash out bathtubs, polish fixtures, and at the same time be dressed in afternoon clothes. If Mrs. Gaily is out for lunch, it is true the chambermaid-waitress need not be dressed to wait on table, but her thoughtless young mistress would not be amiable if a visitor were to ring the doorbell in the early afternoon and have it opened by a maid in a rumpled working dress.
Supposing the time to put the bedroom in order is from ten to eleven each morning: it is absolutely necessary that Mrs. Gaily take her bath before ten so that even if she is not otherwise dressed she can be out of her bedroom and bath at ten oclock promptly. She can go elsewhere while her room is done up and then come back and finish dressing later. In this case she must herself tidy any disorder that she makes in dressing; put away her négligé and slippers and put back anything out of place. On the days when Mr. Gaily does not go to the office he too must get up and out so that the house can be put in order.
But where one maid alone cooks, cleans, waits on table, and furthermore serves as ladys maid and valet, she must necessarily be limited in the performance of each of these duties in direct proportion to their number. Even though she be eagerly willing, quality must give way before quantity produced with the same equipment, or if quality is necessary then quantity must give way. In the house of a fashionable gay couple like the Lovejoys for instance, the time spent in maiding or valeting has to be taken from cleaning or cooking. Besides cleaning and cooking, the one maid in their small apartment can press out Mrs. Lovejoys dresses and do a little mending, but she can not sit down and spend one or two hours going over a dress in the way a specialist maid can. Either Mrs. Lovejoy herself must do the sewing or the housework, or one or the other must be left undone.
It is certainly a greater pleasure and incentive to work for those who are appreciative than for those who continually find fault. Everyone who did war work can not fail to remember how easy it was to work for, or with, some people, and how impossible to get anything done for others. And just as the heads of work-rooms or wards or canteens were either stimulating or dispiriting, so must they and their types also be to those who serve in their households.
This, perhaps, explains why some people are always having a servant problem; finding servants difficult to get, more difficult to keep, and most difficult to get efficient work from. It is a question whether the servant problem is not more often a mistress problem. It must be! Because, if you notice, those who have woes and complaints are invariably the same, just as others who never have any trouble are also the same. It does not depend on the size of the house; the Lovejoys never have any trouble, and yet their one maid of all work has a far from easy place, and a vacancy at Brookmeadows is always sought after, even though the Oldnames spend ten months of the year in the country. Neither is there any friction at the Golden Hall or Great Estates, even though the latter house is run by the butleran almost inevitable cause of trouble. These houses represent a difference in range of from one alone, to nearly forty on the household payroll.
It might be well for those who have trouble to remember a few rules which are often overlooked: Justice must be the foundation upon which every tranquil house is constructed. Work must be as evenly divided as possible; one servant should not be allowed liberties not accorded to all.
It is not just to be too lenient, any more than it is just to be unreasonably strict. To allow impertinence or sloppy work is inexcusable, but it is equally inexcusable to show causeless irritability or to be overbearing or rude. And there is no greater example of injustice than to reprimand those about you because you happen to be in a bad humor, and at another time overlook offenses that are greater because you are in an amiable mood.
If you live in a palace like Golden Hall, or any completely equipped house of important size, you overlook nothing! There is no more excuse for delinquency than there is in the Army. If anything happens, such as illness of one servant, there is another to take his (or her) place. A huge household is a machine and it is the business of the engineersin other words, the secretary, housekeeper, chef or butler, to keep it going perfectly.
But in a little house, it may not be fair to say Selma, the silver is dirty! when there is a hot-air furnace and you have had company to every meal, and you have perhaps sent her on errands between times, and she has literally not had a moment. If you dont know whether she has had time or not, you could give her the benefit of the doubt and say (trustfully, not haughtily) You have not had time to clean the silver, have you? Thisin case she has really been unable to clean itpoints out just as well the fact that it is not shining, but is not a criticism. Carelessness, on the other hand, when you know she has had plenty of time, should never be overlooked.
Another type that has difficulties is the distrustfulsometimes actually suspiciousperson who locks everything tight and treats all those with whom she comes in contact as though they were meddlesomely curious at least, or at worst, dishonest. It is impossible to overstate the misfortune of this temperament. The servant who is watched for fear she wont work, listened to for fear she may be gossiping, suspected of wanting to take a liberty of some sort, or of doing something else she shouldnt do, is psychologically encouraged, almost driven, to do these very things.
The perfect mistress expects perfect service, but it never occurs to her that perfect service will not be voluntarily and gladly given. She, on her part, shows all of those in her employ the consideration and trust due them as honorable, self-respecting and conscientious human beings. If she has reason to think they are not all this, a lady does not keep them in her house.
The well-trained high-class servant is faultlessly neat in appearance, reticent in manner, speaks in a low voice, walks and moves quickly but silently, and is unfailingly courteous and respectful. She (or he) always knocks on a door, even of the library or sitting-room, but opens it without waiting to hear Come in, as knocking on a downstairs door is merely politeness. At a bedroom door she would wait for permission to enter. In answering a bell, she asks Did you ring, sir? or if especially well-mannered she asks Did Madam ring?
Young people in the house are called Miss Alice or Mr. Ollie, possibly Mr. Oliver, but they are generally called by their familiar names with the prefix of Miss or Mister. Younger children are called Miss Kittie and Master Fred, but never by the nurse, who calls them by their first names until they are grownsometimes always.
No doubt in the far-off districts there are occasional young women who work long and hard and for little compensation, but at least in all cities, servants have their definite time out. Furthermore, they are allowed in humanely run houses to have times in when they can be at home to friends who come to see them. In every well-appointed house of size there is a sitting-room which is furnished with comfortable chairs and sofa if possible, a good droplight to read by, often books, and always magazines (sent out as soon as read by the family). In other words, they have an inviting room to use as their own exactly as though they were living at home. If no room is available, the kitchen has a cover put on the table, a droplight, and a few restful chairs are provided.
Are maids allowed to receive men friends? Certainly they are! Whoever in remote ages thought it was better to forbid followers the house, and have Mary and Selma slip out of doors to meet them in the dark, had very distorted notions to say the least. And any lady who knows so little of human nature as to make the same rule for her maids to-day is acting in ignorant blindness of her own duties to those who are not only in her employ but also under her protection.
A pretty young woman whose men friends come in occasionally and play cards with the others, or dance to a small and not loud phonograph in the kitchen, is merely being treated humanly. Because she wears a uniform makes her no less a young girl, with a young girls love of amusement, which if not properly provided for her at home will be sought for in sinister places.
This responsibility is one that many ladies who are occupied with charitable and good works elsewhere often overlook under their own roof. It does not mean that the kitchen should be a scene of perpetual revelry and mirth that can by any chance disturb the quiet of the neighborhood or even the family. Unseemly noise is checked at once, much as it would be if young people in the drawing-room became disturbing. Continuous company is not suitable either, and those who abuse privileges naturally must have them curtailed, but the really high-class servant who does not appreciate kindness and requite it with considerate and proper behavior is rare.
For a wedding, or a ball, and sometimes for teas and big dinners, there is an awning from curb to front door. But usually, especially in good weather, a dinner or other moderate sized evening entertainment is prepared for by stretching a carpet (a red one invariably!) down the front steps and across the pavement to the curbs edge. At all important functions there is a chauffeur (or a caterers man) on the sidewalk to open the door of motors, and a footman or waitress stationed inside the door of the house to open it on ones approach. This same servant, or more often another stationed in the hall beyond, directs arriving guests to the dressing-rooms.
Houses especially built for entertaining, have two small rooms on the ground floor, each with its lavatory, and off of it, a rack for the hanging of coats and wraps. In most houses, however, guests have to go upstairs where two bedrooms are set aside, one as a ladies, and the other as a gentlemens coat room.
At an afternoon tea in houses where dressing-rooms have not been installed by the architect, the end of the hall, if it is wide, is sometimes supplied with a coat rack (which may be rented from a caterer) for the gentlemen. Ladies are in this case supposed to go into the drawing-room as they are, or go upstairs to the bedroom put at their disposal and in charge of a ladys maid or housemaid.
If the entertainment is very large, checks are always given to avoid confusion in the dressing-rooms exactly as in public check rooms. In the ladies dressing-roomwhether downstairs or upthere must be an array of toilet necessities such as brushes and combs; well-placed mirrors, hairpins, powder with stacks of individual cotton balls, or a roll of cotton in a receptacle from which it may be pulled. In the lavatory there must be fresh soap and plenty of small hand towels. The ladys personal maid and one or two assistants if necessary, depending upon the size of the party, but one and all of them as neatly dressed as possible, assist ladies off and on with their wraps, and give them coat checks.
A ladys maid should always look the arriving guests overnot boldly nor too apparently, but with a quick glance for anything that may be amiss. If the drapery of a dress is caught up on its trimming, or a fastening undone, it is her duty to say: Excuse me, madam (or miss), but there is a hook undoneor the drapery of your gown is caughtshall I fix it? Which she does as quietly and quickly as possible. If there is a rip of any sort, she says: I think there is a thread loose, Ill just tack it. It will only be a moment.
In the gentlemens coat room of a perfectly appointed house the valets attitude is much the same. If a gentlemans coat should have met with any accident, the valet says: Let me have it fixed for you, sir, itll only take a moment! And he divests the gentleman of his coat and takes it to a maid and asks her please to take a stitch in it. Meanwhile he goes back to his duties in the dressing-room until he is sure the coat is finished, when he gets it and politely helps the owner into it.
In a small country house where dressing-room space is limited, the quaint tables copied from old ones are very useful, screened off at the back of the downstairs hall, or in a very small lavatory. They look, when shut, like an ordinary table, but when the top is lifted a mirror, the height of the tables width, swings forward and a series of small compartments and trays both deep and shallow are laid out on either side. The trays of course are kept filled with hairpins, pins and powder, and the compartments have sunburn lotion and liquid powder, brush, comb and whisk-broom, and whatever else the hostess thinks will be useful.
The butlers duty is to stand near the entrance to the reception or drawing-room, and as each guest arrives (unless they are known to him) he asks: What name, please? He then leads the way into the room where the hostess is receiving, and says distinctly: Mr. and Mrs. Jones. If Mrs. Jones is considerably in advance of her husband, he says: Mrs. Jones! then waits for Mr. Jones to approach before announcing: Mr. Jones!
At a very large party such as a ball, or a very big tea or musical, he does not leave his place, but stands just outside the drawing-room, and the hostess stands just within, and as the guests pass through the door, he announces each ones name.
It is said to be customary in certain places to have waitresses announce people. But in New York guests are never announced if there are no men servants. At a very large function such as a ball or tea, a hostess who has no butler at home, always employs one for the occasion. If, for instance, she is giving a ball for her daughter, and all the sons and daughters of her own acquaintance are invited, the chances are that not half or even a quarter of her guests are known to her by sight, so that their announcement is not a mere matter of form but of necessity.
When the butler on entering the room to announce dinner, happens to catch the attention of the hostess, he merely bows. Otherwise he approaches within speaking distance and says, Dinner is served. He never says, Dinner is ready.
At a large dinner where it is quite a promenade to circle the table in search of ones name, the butler stands just within the dining-room and either reads from a list or says from memory right or left as the case may be, to each gentleman and lady on approaching. In a few of the smartest houses a leaf has been taken from the practise of royalty and a table plan arranged in the front hall, which is shown to each gentleman at the moment when he takes the envelope enclosing the name of his partner at dinner. This table plan is merely a diagram made in leather with white name cards that slip into spaces corresponding to the seats at the table. On this a gentleman can see exactly where he sits and between whom; so that if he does not know the lady who is to be on his left as well as the one he is to take in, he has plenty of time before going to the table to ask his host to present him.
At the end of the evening, the butler is always at the front doorand by that time, unless the party is very large, he should have remembered their names, if he is a perfect butler, and as Mr. and Mrs. Jones appear he opens the door and calls down to the chauffeur Mr. Jones car! And in the same way Mr. Smiths car! Miss Gildings car! When a car is at the door, the chauffeur runs up the steps and says to the butler: Miss Gildings car or Mrs. Jones car. The butler then announces to either Mr. or Mrs. Jones, Your car, sir, or Your car, madam, and holds the door open for her to go out, or he may say, Your car, Miss, if the Gilding car comes first.
Supper at a ball in a great house (big enough for a ball) is usually in charge of the butler, who by supper time is free from his duties of announcing and is able to look after the dining-room service. The sit-down supper at a ball is served exactly like a dinneror a wedding breakfast; and the buffet supper of a dance is like the buffet of a wedding reception.
At a large tea where the butler is on duty announcing at the same time that other guests are going into the dining-room for refreshments, the dining-room service has to be handed over to the first footman and his assistants or a capable waitress is equally able to meet the situation. She should have at least two maids with her, as they have to pour all cups of tea and bouillon and chocolate as well as to take away used cups and plates and see that the food on the table is replenished.
Many, and very fastidious, people, who live in big houses and entertain constantly, have neither men servants nor employ a caterer, ever. Efficient women take mens places equally well, though two services are omitted. Women never (in New York at least) announce guests or open the doors of motors. But there is no difference whatsoever in the details of the pantry, dining-room, hall or dressing-room, whether the services are performed by men or women. (No women, of course, are ever on duty in the gentlemens dressing-rooms.)
At an evening party, the door is opened by the waitress, assisted by the parlor-maid who directs the way to the dressing-rooms. The guests, when they are ready to go in the drawing-room, approach the hostess unannounced. A guest who may not be known by sight does not wait for her hostess to recognize her but says at once, How do you do, Mrs. Eminent, Im Mrs. Joseph Blank; or a young girl says, I am Constance Style (not Miss Style, unless she is beyond the twenties); or a married woman merely announces herself as Mrs. Town. She does not add her husbands name as it is taken for granted that the gentleman following her is Mr. Town.