Call the distinctive dress of your maid a "uniform," not a livery. Point out to her the examples of trained nurses, of railway conductors, of the very porters who "keep company" with her; the policemen she admires afar off; the soldiers, whose brass buttons dazzle her imagination. Remind her that saleswomen in fashionable shops wear the black gown, white apron, deep linen collar and cuffs and pride themselves upon looking their best in them. Especially make her comprehend (if you can, for the ways of the untrained mind are past finding out), that she has an honorable calling and need not be ashamed to advertise it.
Congratulate yourself, above all, that a sensible fashion holds back Bridget and Dinah from the "exercise of their own taste in dress." The modification of that taste wrought by the neat and modest costume prescribed by a majority of modern housewives may be in itself a good thing, sparing the eyes of spectators of her toilettes when she becomes "Mrs." and independent, and the purse of the porter, or truckman, or mechanic, who will have to pay for them.
I have laid stress upon the advantages of long terms of service, to maid and to mistress. Like all other good things it has its perils and its abuses to be avoided.
Two-thirds of the scandals that poison the social atmosphere steal out, like pestilential fogs, through servants' gossip. We discuss "the girl" in our bedchambers, and if so much stirred up by her works and ways as to forget what is due to our ladyhood, compare notes in the parlor as to these same works and ways. Being well-bred women, the traditions of our caste prevent us from making domestic grievances the staple of drawing-room conversation and the marrow of table-talk. The electroplated vulgarian never calls attention more emphatically to the absence of the "Sterling" stamp upon her breeding, than when she chatters habitually of the virtues and the faults of her household staff.
On the other hand, the most sophisticated of us would be amazed and confounded if she knew what a conspicuous part She plays in talk below stairs and on afternoons and evenings "out."
Thackeray, prince of satirists, puts it cleverly:
"Some people ought to have mutes for servants in Vanity Fair - mutes who could not write. If you are guilty - tremble! That fellow behind your chair may be a Janissary with a bowstring in his plush breeches pocket. If you are not guilty, have a care of appearances, which are as ruinous as guilt."
We should be neither shocked nor confounded that these things are so. If we are mildly surprised, it argues ignorance of human nature, and of the general likeness of one human creature to another, that proves the whole world kin. When mistresses in Parisian toilettes, clinking gold spoons against Dresden as they sip Bohea in boudoir or drawing-room, raise their eyebrows or laugh musically over the latest bit of social carrion in "our set"- Jeames or Abigail, who has caught a whiff at a door ajar, or through a keyhole, is the lesser sinner in serving up the story in the kitchen cabinet. The domestics are in, yet not of, the employer's world, living for six and a half days of the week among people with whom they have no affinity by nature or education. Where we would talk of "things," the lower classes discuss what they name "folks." Their range of thought is pitifully narrow; the happenings in their social life are few and tame. What wonder if they retail what we say and do and are, as sayings, doings and characters appear to them?
What would be extraordinary, if it were not so common, is the opportunity gratuitously afforded in - we will say, guardedly - one family out of three for the collection of material for these sensations of the nether story. I speak by the card in asserting that the influence gained by the confidential maid over her wellborn, well-mannered, well-educated mistress is greater than that possessed by any friend in the (alleged) superior's proper circle of equals.
Without taxing memory I can tell off on my fingers ten gentlewomen, in every other sense of the word, whose intimate confidantes are hirelings who were strangers until they entered the employ of their respective mistresses(?). We need not cross the ocean to listen with incredulous horror to insinuations and open assertions as to the hold a gigantic Scotch gilly acquired over a royal widow. Our next-door neighbors on both sides and our acquaintances across the way are in like bondage.
I have in mind one of the best and most refined women I ever knew whose infatuation for her incomparable Jane was the laughing-stock of some, the surprise and grief of others. Jane disputed the dear soul's will, oft and again; gave her more advice than she took, and, behind her back, ridiculed her unsparingly - as many of the mistress's friends were aware. The dupe would resign the affection and society of one and all of her compeers sooner than part with Jane.
Another "just could not live without my Mary." The remote suggestion throws her into a paroxysm of distress. Her own husband knows it to be necessary to warn her not to tell this and that business or family secret to Mary, knowing, the while, in his sad soul, the chances to be against her keeping her promise not to share it with her factotum.
Ellen is the bosom friend of a third; Bridget is the right hand, the counsellor and colleague of a fourth. A fifth confides to her second-rate associates that her faithful Fanny knows as much of family histories (and there are histories in the clan) as she does, and that she - the miscalled mistress - takes no step of importance without consulting her.
Perhaps one man in five hundred is under the thumb of his employee, and then because the underling has come into possession of some dangerous secret, or has a "business hold" upon him.
Have wives more need of sympathy? or are they less nice in the choice of intimates, and more reckless in confidences?