It was an American journalist who was writing up England or writing her down
as the mood seized him. Sometimes he blamed and sometimes he praised, and the
case-hardened old country actually went its way all the time quite oblivious of
his approval or of his disfavour being ready at all times, through some queer
mental twist, to say more bitter things and more unjust ones about herself than
any critic could ever venture upon. However, in the course of his many columns
in the New York Clarion our journalist did at last get through somebody's skin
in the way that is here narrated.
It was a kindly enough article upon English country-house life in which he
had described a visit paid for a week-end to Sir Henry Trustall's. There was
only a single critical passage in it, and it was one which he had written with a
sense both of journalistic and of democratic satisfaction. In it he had sketched
off the lofty obsequiousness of the flunkey who had ministered to his needs. "He
seemed to take a smug satisfaction in his own degradation," said he. "Surely the
last spark of manhood must have gone from the man who has so entirely lost his
own individuality. He revelled in humility. He was an instrument of service nothing more."
Some months had passed and our American Pressman had recorded impressions
from St. Petersburg to Madrid. He was on his homeward way when once again he
found himself the guest of Sir Henry. He had returned from an afternoon's
shooting, and had finished dressing when there was a knock at the door and the
footman entered. He was a large cleanly-built man, as is proper to a class who
are chosen with a keener eye to physique than any crack regiment. The American
supposed that the man had entered to perform some menial service, but to his
surprise he softly closed the door behind him.
"Might I have a word with you, sir, if you can kindly give me a moment?" he
said in the velvety voice which always got upon the visitor's republican
"Well, what is it?" the journalist asked sharply.
"It's this, sir." The footman drew from his breast-pocket the copy of the
Clarion. "A friend over the water chanced to see this, sir, and he thought it
would be of interest to me. So he sent it."
"You wrote it, sir, I fancy."
"What if I did?"
"And this 'ere footman is your idea of me?"
The American glanced at the passage and approved his own phrases.
"Yes, that's you," he admitted.
The footman folded up his document once more and replaced it in his
"I'd like to 'ave a word or two with you over that, sir," he said in the same
suave imperturbable voice. "I don't think, sir, that you quite see the thing
from our point of view. I'd like to put it to you as I see it myself. Maybe it
would strike you different then."
The American became interested. There was "copy" in the air.
"Sit down," said he.
"No, sir, begging your pardon, sir, I'd very much rather stand."
"Well, do as you please. If you've got anything to say, get ahead with it."
"You see, sir, it's like this: There's a tradition what you might call a
standard among the best servants, and it's 'anded down from one to the other.
When I joined I was a third, and my chief and the butler were both old men who
had been trained by the best. I took after them just as they took after those
that went before them. It goes back away further than you can tell."
"I can understand that."
"But what perhaps you don't so well understand, sir, is the spirit that's
lying behind it. There's a man's own private self-respect to which you allude,
sir, in this 'ere article. That's his own. But he can't keep it, so far as I can
see, unless he returns good service for the good money that he takes."
"Well, he can do that without without crawling."
The footman's florid face paled a little at the word. Apparently he was not
quite the automatic machine that he appeared.
"By your leave, sir, we'll come to that later," said he. "But I want you to
understand what we are trying to do even when you don't approve of our way of
doing it. We are trying to make life smooth and easy for our master and for our
master's guests. We do it in the way that's been 'anded down to us as the best
way. If our master could suggest any better way, then it would be our place
either to leave his service if we disapproved it, or else to try and do it as he
wanted. It would hurt the self-respect of any good servant to take a man's money
and not give him the very best he can in return for it."
"Well," said the American, "it's not quite as we see it in America."
"That's right, sir. I was over there last year with Sir Henry in New York,
sir, and I saw something of the men-servants and their ways. They were paid for
service, sir, and they did not give what they were paid for. You talk about
self-respect, sir, in this article. Well now, my self-respect wouldn't let me
treat a master as I've seen them do over there."
"We don't even like the word 'master,'" said the American.
"Well, that's neither 'ere nor there, sir, if I may be so bold as to say so.
If you're serving a gentleman he's your master for the time being and any name
you may choose to call it by don't make no difference. But you can't eat your
cake and 'ave it, sir. You can't sell your independence and 'ave it, too."
"May be not," said the American. "All the same, the fact remains that your
manhood is the worse for it."
"There I don't 'old with you, sir."
"If it were not, you wouldn't be standing there arguing so quietly. You'd
speak to me in another tone, I guess."
"You must remember, sir, that you are my master's guest, and that I am paid
to wait upon you and make your visit a pleasant one. So long as you are 'ere,
sir, that is 'ow I regard it. Now in London--"
"Well, what about London?"
"Well, in London if you would have the goodness to let me have a word with
you, I could make you understand a little clearer what I am trying to explain to
you. 'Arding is my name, sir. If you get a call from 'Enery 'Arding, you'll know
that I 'ave a word to say to you."
So it happened about three days later that our American journalist in his
London hotel received a letter that a Mr. Henry Harding desired to speak with
him. The man was waiting in the hall dressed in quiet tweeds. He had cast his
manner with his uniform and was firmly deliberate in all he said and did. The
professional silkiness was gone, and his bearing was all that the most democratic could desire.
"It's courteous of you to see me, sir," said he. "There's that matter of the
article still open between us, and I would like to have a word or two more about it."
"Well, I can give you just ten minutes," said the American journalist.
"I understand that you are a busy man, sir, so I'll cut it as short as I can.
There's a public garden opposite if you would be so good as to talk it over in the open air."
The Pressman took his hat and accompanied the footman. They walked together
down the winding gravelled path among the rhododendron bushes.
"It's like this, sir," said the footman, halting when they had arrived at a
quiet nook. "I was hoping that you would see it in our light and understand me
when I told you that the servant who was trying to give honest service for his
master's money, and the man who is free born and as good as his neighbour are
two separate folk. There's the duty man and there's the natural man, and they
are different men. To say that I have no life of my own, or self-respect of my
own, because there are days when I give myself to the service of another, is not
fair treatment. I was hoping, sir, that when I made this clear to you, you would
have met me like a man and taken it back."
"Well, you have not convinced me," said the American. "A man's a man, and
he's responsible for all his actions."
"Then you won't take back what you said of me the degradation and the rest?"
"No, I don't see why I should."
The man's comely face darkened.
"You will take it back," said he. "I'll smash your blasted head if you don't."
The American was suddenly aware that he was in the presence of a very ugly
proposition. The man was large, strong, and evidently most earnest and
determined. His brows were knotted, his eyes flashing, and his fists clenched.
On neutral ground he struck the journalist as realty being a very different
person to the obsequious and silken footman of Trustall Old Manor. The American
had all the courage, both of his race and of his profession, but he realised
suddenly that he was very much in the wrong. He was man enough to say so.
"Well, sir, this once," said the footman, as they shook hands. "I don't
approve of the mixin' of classes none of the best servants do. But I'm on my own
to-day, so we'll let it pass. But I wish you'd set it right with your people,
sir. I wish you would make them understand that an English servant can give good
and proper service and yet that he's a human bein' after all."