Nevertheless, I kept blue-eyed Margaret for eight years. She stands out in my grateful memory as the one and only maid I have ever had who washed dishes "in my way." Never having learned any other, she mastered and maintained the proper method.
The best nursery-maid I ever knew, and who blessed my household for eleven years, objected diffidently at our first interview to giving a list of her qualifications for the situation. She "would rather a lady would find out for herself by a fair trial whether she would fit the place or. not." I engaged her because the quaint phrase took my fancy. She proved such a perfect fit that she continued to fill the place until she went to a snug home of her own.
What may be called the New Broom of Commerce has no misgivings as to her ability to fill any place, however important. Upon inquiry of the would-be employer as to the latter's qualifications for that high position, the N. B. of C. may decline to accept her offer of an office which promises more work than "privileges." But she could fill it - full - if she were willing to "take service" with the applicant.
One of the oddest incongruities of the new-broom problem is that we are always disposed to take it at its own valuation. With each fresh experiment we are confident that - at last! - we have what we have been looking for lo! these many years. She is a shrewd house-mother who reserves judgment until the first awkward week or the crucial first month has brought out the staying power or proved the lack of it.
Officious activity in unusual directions is a bad omen in the New Broom of Commerce. In sporting parlance, I at once "saw the finish" of one whom I found upon the second day of service with me washing a window in the cellar. She "couldn't abide dirt nowhere," she informed me, scrubbing vehemently at the dim panes. I had just passed through the kitchen where a grateful of fiery coals was heating the range plates to an angry glow. All the drafts were open; the boiler over the sink was at a bubbling roar; upon the tables was a litter of dirty plates and dishes; pots, pans and kettles filled the sink.
It is well to have a care of the corners, but the weightier matters of the law of cleanliness are usually in full sight.
I once knew a woman who, deliberately, and of purpose, changed servants every month. She said no new broom lasted more than four weeks, and when one became grubby and stumpy she got rid of it. Her house was the cleanest in town and her temper did not seem worse for friction.
Another woman who, strange to tell, lived to be ninety years old, "liked moving" and never lived two years in one and the same house. She maintained that she kept clear of rubbish by frequent flittings, and enjoyed rubbing out and beginning again. Personally, I should have preferred a clean, lively conflagration every three years or so, but she throve upon nomadism.
In minor details of housewifery, as in more important, make up your mind how you will manage the home and turn a deaf ear to gratuitous suggestions from people whose own households would be better conducted if their energies were concentrated.
Let one example suffice: A so-called reformer felt herself called in (or out of) the Gospel of Humanity, the other day, to inveigh in a parlor lecture upon the unkindness and general un-christianliness of the maid's cap and apron which all would-be stylish mistresses insist upon. "Have I, a Christian woman in a republic," cried the oratress, "the right to put the badge of servitude upon my sister woman, because, having less money than I have, she is obliged to earn her living? Do I not tend to degrade, instead of elevating her?
"Of a piece with the cap and apron is the black dress, now 'the thing' for girls in domestic service. Why should not Bridget and Dinah exercise their own right in dress as well as I?"
These questions have been put to me many times by women who think and act for themselves without regard to arbitrary conventionalities.
I am so well assured that most conventionalities have a substratum of common sense that I am slow to condemn any one of them.
I dispute, at the outset, the insinuation that black dress, white cap and apron are a badge of servitude. I know no more independent class of women than trained nurses, no more arbitrary men than railway officials. I should certainly never consider the distinctive garb of the Sisters of Charity - Protestant or Roman Catholic - as degrading. The idea of humiliation attached to the uniform of housemaid and child's nurse in the mind of employees or employer is founded upon the conviction that domestic service demeans her who performs it. This is precisely the prejudice which sensible, philanthropic women are trying to beat down - a prejudice that has more to do with the complications of the servant question than all other influences combined. If I hesitate to ask a maid entering my service to wear the uniform of her calling, I intimate too broadly to be misunderstood that there is something in that service which would demean her were it generally known that she is in it.
I had one maid, years ago, who would not run around the corner to grocery or haberdasher's without taking time to put on her Sunday coat and hat, and to lay off her apron. When I spoke to her of the absurdity and inconvenience of this, she confessed, blushingly, that the porter at the grocery was "keeping company with her," and "it was nat'ral a gurrel should want to look her best when she was like to see him."
"Ah," I said, "doesn't he know what your position is in my house? Has he never seen you in cap and apron?"
"Shure, mem! Every day when he fetches the groceries."
"Then, if he is a sensible fellow, he will respect you all the more for not pretending to be what you are not. Since he knows what your business is, show him that you are not ashamed of it. You are as respectable in your place as he is in his - as I am in mine - always providing that you respect your service and yourself."