To begin with - I wish I could devise some method of convincing you that I am really and truly "friendly."
A newspaper article I have just read says, "It can not be denied that the present attitude of American mistress and maid is, at best, one of armed neutrality."
Put into everyday English, that means that each is willing, if convenient, to get along comfortably and pleasantly with the other, but that each holds herself ready to fight, if fighting seems to be advisable.
This, "attitude" is all wrong, through and through. I should like to change it in your mind before I begin to talk with you.
The best and most wonderful Book ever written tells us that the men who, once upon a time, built the ruined walls and temple of Jerusalem, held a trowel, or spade, or hammer in one hand, and a sword or spear in the other, because their enemies were lying in wait, watching for an opportunity to attack them. We are not surprised to read in the same chapter that these enemies laughed at the sort of work done under such circumstances. They said, "If a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall." Two hands are better for doing work than one; two heads are better for planning work than one; two hearts at peace with each other are the greatest possible help to head and hands.
Take it for granted when you take a place that your employer is friendly to you. Don't look upon her as a possible enemy. When she trusts you to handle delicate china, take care of handsome furniture or to cook materials for the meals she and her family are to eat, she shows that she has confidence in your ability and your honesty. When she entrusts her little children to your care, she proves this yet more plainly. After inquiring into your character and manner of work, she is so far satisfied that you are just what she wants that she has received you into her house and, in one sense, into her family. She trusts you, then. Trust her, until she gives you very plain proof that she does not deserve your trust.
For the first month, at least, make up your mind to look on the bright side of everything, instead of asking yourself every hour, "I wonder if I can stay?" That same "wondering" unsettles more maids and prejudices more mistresses' minds against well-meaning domestics than any other one thing. Make allowances for your employer's awkward ways of giving orders; for her little "tempers," that may be awkwardness, too, and a sort of. bashfulness you do not understand, but which is not uncommon. More than one well-educated, refined woman has confessed to me that she was "awfully afraid of every new maid." Some of us have reason to be. Bear in mind, if your new "lady" seems stiff, and, maybe, distrustful of you, that she may have had ugly experiences with some maid who went before you, one of the maids "who spoil places for other girls."
I wish you could make a resolution - and keep it - not to discuss the mistresses you have had, and especially the mistress you have now, with other maids, in and out of the house which is your present home. I am sorry to be obliged to say that the practice of talking of the hardships of her place is our maid's most common and incorrigible habit. So common is it that I have wondered sometimes if it were not considered a part of the duty she owes to herself and her companions who are making their living in the same way as herself. If you could once determine that your employer is your friend, that her interests are yours, and that you will make your "place" into a real home, where you may spend years, perhaps the rest of your life - you would not be tempted to magnify the work you have to do, the things you have to put up with - the thousand and one complaints that form so large a part of the talk "downstairs." If you are so unfortunate as to take service with a bad-tempered, bad-mannered, bad-hearted woman, whose only reason for thinking herself better than you is that she has more money, quietly leave when your month is up. That is the only dignified thing to do. Don't spoil your temper by fighting her, and waste your breath and time by gossiping about her to your acquaintances.
If, on the other hand, you have an employer who honestly tries to treat you well; who likes you and praises your work, pays your wages regularly, is kind to you in sickness, pleasant in speech and willing to grant you every reasonable indulgence - don't be afraid to say that she is all this, and that you are comfortable and contented in your present position. I know many such mistresses. I wish I could add that they often have justice done them behind their backs by maids to whom they (the mistresses) are so attached that they will not allow their dearest friends to find fault with them.
It is perfectly natural that you should side with those of your own class and business when a question of ill-usage comes up. If you know of a maid whose wages are not paid, who is scolded unjustly, badly fed and made to work beyond her strength, you are right to sympathize with her. It would also be right to despise her if she did not throw up her place and look for a better. It is still more just to despise one who has none of these things to complain of, and has no intention of making a change, yet speaks of her employer as a cruel mistress, and does all she can to cast discredit upon the family. As a sensible girl you ought to know that, in this country, nobody need keep such a place as she makes out hers to be - and no self-respecting person would keep it.
Try, then, to make the best of your place, and the best of yourself while you are in it. Earn your wages fairly and honestly. There is no better business for a woman in America than domestic service, if you and others like you would combine to keep places so long as to make yourselves a part of the household, and so nearly indispensable that not a member of the family could do without you. Frequent changing is an expensive matter. It is the maid who holds one position for years who is well-dressed, respected and beloved by her employers, and who rolls up a snug account in the savings-bank against marriage or a rainy day.
(Sometimes they mean the same thing!)
Never lose sight of the truth that you are as respectable in your position as the president's wife in hers, while you perform the duties of that position soberly, honestly and in the fear of God - so much more respectable in your safe, honorable home shelter than the flashy, fast shop-girl and unhealthy, underfed and overdressed factory girl in hers, that we, who are sincerely interested in you, can not but wonder that every clear-headed, modest girl does not see this.
As a last word: Don't keep overstrict account of "work you were not engaged to do." I know of no business in the world in which a faithful, conscientious worker does not do much for which he is not paid - at least, not paid in money. Dozens of unforeseen tasks, big and little, are coming up, all the time, in every trade and profession, and for everybody from the president down to a peanut peddler. The blessed Book we spoke of just now commands us to do whatever is laid to our hand, "as unto the Lord, and not unto men." One and all, we should find delight in these extra labors if we could, in our hearts, determine to do them "as unto the dear Lord," whose mercies to us are past counting. Do what you are "engaged" to do, as unto the employer whose wages you receive, and offer the "extras" as a free-will offering to your Heavenly Father.
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
Read and obey the text in this spirit, and that "so" becomes the most important word in this, or in any language.