“Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.”

Marion Harland


An Open Secret,

Chapter I.

Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,

Chapter II.

The Family Purse,

Chapter III.

The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,

Chapter IV.

Little Things that are Trifles,

Chapter V.

A Mistake on John's Part,

Chapter VI.


Chapter VII.

Must-haves and May-bes,

Chapter VIII.

What Good Will It Do?

Chapter IX.

Shall I Pass It On?

Chapter X.

"Only Her Nerves,"

Chapter XI.

The Rule of Two,

Chapter XII.

The Perfect Work of Patience,

Chapter XIII.

According to His Folly,

Chapter XIV.

"Buttered Parsnips,"

Chapter XV.

Is Marriage Reformatory?

Chapter XVI.

"John's" Mother,

Chapter XVII.

And Other Relations-in-Law,

Chapter XVIII.

A Timid Word for the Step-mother,

Chapter XIX.

Children as Helpers,

Chapter XX.

Children as Burden-bearers,

Chapter XXI.

Our Young Person,

Chapter XXII.

Our Boy,

Chapter XXIII.

That Spoiled Child,

Chapter XXIV.

Getting Along in Years,

Chapter XXV.


Chapter XXVI.

The Gospel of Conventionalities,


Familiar, or Intimate?


Our Stomachs,


Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,


The Family Invalid,


A Temperance Talk,


Family Music,


Family Religion,


A Parting Word for Boy,


Homely, But Important,



The Secret of a Happy Home

Author: Marion Harland

Published: 1896



At a recent conference of practical housewives and mothers held in a western city, one of the leaders told, as illustrative of the topic under discussion, an incident of her childhood. When a little girl of seven years, she stood by her father, looking at a new log-cabin.

"Papa," she observed, "it is all finished, isn't it?"

"No, my daughter, look again!"

The child studied the structure before her. The neatly hewed logs were in their proper places. The roof, and the rough chimney, were complete, but, on close scrutiny, one could see the daylight filtering through the interstices of the logs. It had yet to be "chinked."

When this anecdote was ended, a bright little woman arose and returned her thanks for the story, for, she said, she had come to the conclusion that she was one of the persons who had been put in the world to "fill up the chinks."

The chink-fillers are among the most useful members of society. The fact is patent of the founder of one of our great educational systems, that he grasped large plans and theories, but had no talent for minutiæ. What would his majestic outlines be without the army of workers who, with a just comprehension of the importance of detail, fill in the chinks in the vast enterprise?

Putty may be a mean, cheap article, far inferior to the clear, transparent crystal pane, but what would become of the costly plate-glass were there no putty to fill in the grooves in which it rests, and to secure it against shocks?

The universal cry of the woman of the present to the effect that the sex has a mighty mission to accomplish, sounds a note of woe to her who, try as she may, can find no one occupation in which she excels and who feels that her only sphere in life is to go through the world doing the little things left undone by people with Missions. Does it ever occur to the self-named commonplace woman that her heaven-appointed task is as high a "mission" as any that may be taken up by her more gifted sisters?

It requires vast patience and much love for one's fellow-man to be a chink-filler. She it is who, as wife, mother, sister, or, perhaps, maiden-aunt, picks up the hat or gloves Mamie has carelessly left on the drawing-room table, wipes the tiny finger smears from the window-panes at which baby stood to wave his hand to papa this morning, dusts the rungs of the chair neglected by the parlor-maid, and mends the ripped coat which Johnny forgot to mention until it was nearly time to start for school. It is she who thinks to pull the basting-threads out of the newly finished gown, tacks ruching in neck and sleeves against the time when daughter or sister may want it in a hurry, remembers to prepare some dainty for that member of the household who is "not quite up to the mark" in appetite--in fact, undertakes those tasks, so many of which show for little when done, but which are painfully conspicuous when neglected. Does she bewail herself that her sphere is small--limited? Let her pause and consider how it would affect the family were the hat and gloves to be out of place, the chair undusted, the blurred window-glass overlooked, the coat unmended, the bastings allowed to stand in all their hideous white prominence, the invalid's appetite untempted. Like a good spirit, our chink-filler glides in and out among the fallen threads in the tangled web of life, picking up dropped stitches, fastening loose strands, and weaving the tissue into a harmonious whole, and yet doing it all so unobtrusively that the great weavers, looking only at the vast pattern they are forming, are unconscious that, but for the unselfish thought and deft fingers of the commonplace woman, their work would be a grand failure. Sometime the children whose shortcomings she has supplemented and thus saved from harsh reproof, the servants whose tasks she has made lighter, the husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, for whom she has made life smoother, and brighter, will arise and call her blessed. It may not be in this life, but it will surely come to pass in "the world that sets this right."

"She doth little kindnesses Which most leave undone or despise; For naught that sets one heart at ease, Or giveth happiness or peace, Is low-esteeméd in her eyes."

Few people appreciate the dignity of detail, although, from the days of our childhood, we have heard rhymes, verses and proverbs innumerable which aim to impress mankind with the importance of the horse-shoe nail, of the rift in the lute, and the tiny worm-hole in the vessel through which the "watery tide" entered.

The wife and mother, more than any other, knows what a great part of life is made up of the little things, such as:--

"Sewing on the buttons, Overseeing rations; Soothing with a kind word Guiding clumsy Bridgets, Coaxing sullen cooks, Entertaining company, And reading recent books; Woman's work!"

Strange as it may seem, the mind of the hireling cannot grasp the importance of the lesser tasks that go to make up the sum of existence. If you allow Bridget to prepare your guest chamber for an unexpected friend, you will observe that she glories in Rembrandt-like effects,--which, when viewed at a distance, assume a respectable appearance. You, with brains back of your hands, will notice that there is a tiny hole in the counterpane, dust under the table, and--above all--that the soap-dish is not clean. Your servant may do the rough work; the dainty, lady-like touch must be given by you.

You have an experienced waitress, and a jewel, if the dining-room and table are perfect without your supervision. It may be only that a teacup or plate is sticky or rough to the touch, a fork or a knife needed, the steel or one of the carvers forgotten. But when the family is assembled at the board, these trifles cause awkward pauses and interruptions.

Other little cares are to ascertain that the water with which the tea is made is boiling, that the alcohol lamp is filled, the flies brushed from the room, the plates warmed, and the sugar-dishes and salt-cellars filled. One housekeeper says that attention to these duties always reminds her of the task of washing one's face. Nobody notices if you keep your face clean, and you get no credit for doing it, but if you did not wash it, all the world would remark upon the dirt.

Often the work which "doesn't show" takes most time, and tries the temper. And the hardest part of it all is that it is so frequently caused by others' laziness or delinquencies. If John would only use an ash-receiver, instead of strewing the veranda-floor with ashes and burnt matches; if he would "just think" to close the library blinds when he has finished looking for a missing book, instead of allowing the hot sunshine and flies to enter at their own sweet will, until, two hours after his departure for the office, you descend to the apartment which you had already dusted and darkened, and find it filled with heat and buzz! If that big boy of yours could remember to strip the covers from his bed when he arises and if your pretty daughter could cultivate her bump of order sufficiently to refrain from leaving a hat of some description in every room on the first floor, and her jacket on the banisters! Nobody but yourself knows how many precious minutes you expend in righting these wrongs caused by others' carelessness. John would advise grandly that you "Let Bridget attend to these matters. Why keep a dog and do your own barking?" If he is particularly sympathetic and generous, he will inform you seriously that your time is too precious to spend on beggarly trifles, and that if one servant cannot do the work of the establishment, he wants you to hire another. Perhaps you ungratefully retort that "it will only make one more for you to follow up and supplement."

It would be an excellent plan for each member of the household to resolve to put in its proper place everything which he or she observed out of order. By the time this rule had been established for twenty-four hours, the house would be immaculate, and the mother find ample time for her mission,--if she has any beside general chink-filler for the family. If not, she will have an opportunity to rest.

A well-known author, who is at the same time an exemplary housewife, tells of how she retired one rainy spring morning to her study in just the mood for writing. Husband and sons had gone to their various occupations. She had a splendid day for work ahead of her. She sat down to her desk and took up her pen. The plot of a story was forming itself in her brain. She dipped her pen in the ink and wrote:

"He was--"

A knock at the door. Enter Anne.

"Please, mem, a mouse has eat a hole in one of your handsome napkins,--them as I was to wash agin the company you're expectin' to-morrow night. By rights it should be mended before it's washed."

"Bring it to the sewing-room."

When the neat piece of darning was ended, the housekeeper repaired to the closet to put on a loose writing-sack. On the nail next to the jacket hung her winter coat. On the edge of the sleeve was a tiny hole. The housewifely spirit was filled with dread. There were actually moths in that closet! She must attend to it immediately. The woolens ought to be put up if moths had already appeared. John's clothes and the boys' winter coats were in great danger of being ruined. By lunch time the necessary brushing and doing up were ended. But in stowing away the winter garments in the attic, our heroine was appalled at the confusion among the trunks. The garret needed attention, and received it as soon as the noonday meal was dispatched. At four o'clock, with the waitress' assistance, the task was completed. About the same time a note arrived from John saying he would be obliged to bring two of his old friends--"swell bachelors"--who were spending the day in town, to dine with him that night. She "must not put herself to any trouble about dinner, and he would take them to the theatre in the evening." To the dinner already ordered were added oyster-pâtés, salad, with mayonnaise dressing, salted almonds, and, instead of the plain pudding that John liked, was a pie of which he was still more fond, capped by black coffee, all of which articles, except the last-named, were prepared by the hostess, who, in faultless toilette, with remarkably brilliant color, smilingly welcomed her husband and his guests to the half-past six dinner. When they had gone to the theatre, and the mother had talked to her two sons of the day's school experiences, before they settled down to their evening of study, she returned to the dining-room, and, as Mary had a headache and had had a busy day, she assisted in washing and wiping the unusual number of soiled dishes, and in setting the breakfast table. At nine o'clock she dragged her weary self upstairs. As she passed the door of her sanctum on the way to her bed-chamber, she paused, then entered, and lighted the gas-jet over her desk. On it lay the page of foolscap, blank but for the words:

"He was--"

The day had gone and the plot with it.

With a half-sob she sat down and wrote with tired and trembling fingers:

"He was--this morning. He isn't now!"

But will not my readers agree with me that she was a genuine wife, mother, housekeeper,--in short, a "chink-filler?"

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