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- Europe Revised - 6/47 -
As I said before, you ring for the waiter or the maid. When one of them comes you tell them to send you the manservant on your floor; and when he comes you tell him you require towels, and he goes to the linen cupboard and gets them and fetches them to you, sir. It's very simple, sir."
"But why," I persisted, "why do this thing by a relay system? I don't want any famishing gentleman in this place to go practically unmarmaladed at breakfast because I am using the waiter to conduct preliminary negotiations with a third party in regard to a bathtowel."
"But it is so very simple, sir," he repeated patiently. "You ring for the waiter or the ma--"
I checked him with a gesture. I felt that I knew what he meant to say; I also felt that if any word of mine might serve to put this establishment on an easy-running basis they could have it and welcome.
"Listen!" I said. "You will kindly pardon the ignorance of a poor, red, partly damp American who has shed his eagle feathers but still has his native curiosity with him! Why not put a third button in that bathroom labeled Manservant or Valet or Towel Boy, or something of that general nature? And then when a sufferer wanted towels, and wanted 'em quick, he could get them without blocking the wheels of progress and industry. We may still be shooting Mohawk Indians and the American bison in the streets of Buffalo, New York; and we may still be saying: 'By Geehosaphat, I swan to calculate! --aanyway, I note that we still say that in all your leading comic papers; but when a man in my land goes a-toweling, he goes a-toweling --and that is all there is to it, positively! In our secret lodges it may happen that the worshipful master calls the august swordbearer to him and bids him communicate with the grand outer guardian and see whether the candidate is suitably attired for admission; but in ordinary life we cut out the middleman wherever possible. Do you get my drift?"
"Oh, yes, sir," he said; "but I fear you do not understand me. As I told you, it's very simple--so very simple, sir. We've never found it necessary to make a change. You ring for the waiter or for the maid, and you tell them to tell the manservant--"
"All right," I said, breaking in. I could see that his arguments were of the circular variety that always came back to the starting point. "But, as a favor to me, would you kindly ask the proprietor to request the head cook to communicate with the carriage starter and have him inform the waiter that when in future I ring the bathroom bell in a given manner--to wit: one long, determined ring followed by three short, passionate rings--it may be regarded as a signal for towels?"
So saying, I turned on my heel and went away, for I could tell he was getting ready to begin all over again. Later on I found out for myself that, in this particular hotel, when you ring for the waiter or the maid the bell sounds in the service room, where those functionaries are supposed to be stationed; but when you ring for the manservant a small arm-shaped device like a semaphore drops down over your outer door. But what has the manservant done that he should be thus discriminated against? Why should he not have a bell of his own? So far as I might judge, the poor fellow has few enough pleasures in life as it is. Why should he battle with the intricacies of a block-signal system when everybody else round the place has a separate bell? And why all this mystery and mummery over so simple and elemental a thing as a towel?
To my mind, it merely helps to prove that among the English the art of bathing is still in its infancy. The English claim to have discovered the human bath and they resent mildly the assumption that any other nation should become addicted to it; whereas I argue that the burden of the proof shows we do more bathing to the square inch of surface than the English ever did. At least, we have superior accommodations for it.
The day is gone in this country when Saturday night was the big night for indoor aquatic sports and pastimes; and no gentleman as was a gentleman would call on his ladylove and break up her plans for the great weekly ceremony. There may have been a time in certain rural districts when the bathing season for males practically ended on September fifteenth, owing to the water in the horsepond becoming chilled; but that time has passed. Along with every modern house that is built to-day, in country or town, we expect bathrooms and plenty of them. With us the presence of a few bathtubs more or less creates no great amount of excitement--nor does the mere sight of open plumbing particularly stir our people; whereas in England a hotelkeeper who has bathrooms on the premises advertises the fact on his stationery.
If in addition to a few bathrooms a Continental hotelkeeper has a decrepit elevator he makes more noise over it than we do over a Pompeian palmroom or an Etruscan roofgarden; he hangs a sign above his front door testifying to his magnificent enterprise in this regard. The Continental may be a born hotelkeeper, as has been frequently claimed for him; but the trouble is he usually has no hotel to keep. It is as though you set an interior decorator to run a livery stable and expected him to make it attractive. He may have the talents, but he is lacking in the raw material.
It was in a London apartment house, out Maida Vale way, that I first beheld the official bathtub of an English family establishment. It was one of those bathtubs that flourished in our own land at about the time of the Green-back craze--a coffin-shaped, boxed-in affair lined with zinc; and the zinc was suffering from tetter or other serious skin trouble and was peeling badly. There was a current superstition about the place to the effect that the bathroom and the water supply might on occasion be heated with a device known in the vernacular as a geezer.
The geezer was a sheet-iron contraption in the shape of a pocket inkstand, and it stood on a perch in the corner, like a Russian icon, with a small blue flame flickering beneath it. It looked as though its sire might have been a snare-drum and its dam a dark lantern, and that it got its looks from its father and its heating powers from the mother's side of the family. And the plumbing fixtures were of the type that passed out of general use on the American side of the water with the Rutherford B. Hayes administration. I was given to understand that this was a fair sample of the average residential London bathroom--though the newer apartment houses that are going up have better ones, they told me.
In English country houses the dearth of bathing appliances must be even more dearthful. I ran through the columns of the leading English fashion journal and read the descriptions of the large country places that were there offered for sale or lease. In many instances the advertisements were accompanied by photographic reproductions in half tone showing magnificent old places, with Queen Anne fronts and Tudor towers and Elizabethan entails and Georgian mortgages, and what not.
Seeing these views I could conjure up visions of rooks cawing in the elms; of young curates in flat hats imbibing tea on green lawns; of housekeepers named Meadows or Fleming, in rustling black silk; of old Giles--fifty years, man and boy, on the place--wearing a smock frock and leaning on a pitchfork, with a wisp of hay caught in the tines, lamenting that the 'All 'asn't been the same, zur, since the young marster was killed ridin' to 'ounds; and then pensively wiping his eyes on a stray strand of the hay.
With no great stretch of the imagination I could picture a gouty, morose old lord with a secret sorrow and a brandy breath; I could picture a profligate heir going deeper and deeper in debt, but refusing to the bitter end to put the ax to the roots of the ancestral oaks. I could imagine these parties readily, because I had frequently read about both of them in the standard English novels; and I had seen them depicted in all the orthodox English dramas I ever patronized. But I did not notice in the appended descriptions any extended notice of heating arrangements; most of the advertisements seemed to slur over that point altogether.
And, as regards bathing facilities in their relation to the capacities of these country places, I quote at random from the figures given: Eighteen rooms and one bath; sixteen rooms and two baths; fourteen rooms and one bath; twenty-one rooms and two baths; eleven rooms and one bath; thirty-four rooms and two baths. Remember that by rooms bedrooms were meant; the reception rooms and parlors and dining halls and offices, and the like, were listed separately.
I asked a well-informed Englishman how he could reconcile this discrepancy between bedrooms and bathrooms with the current belief that the English had a practical monopoly of the habit of bathing. After considering the proposition at some length he said I should understand there was a difference in England between taking a bath and taking a tub--that, though an Englishman might not be particularly addicted to a bath, he must have his tub every morning. But I submit that the facts prove this explanation to have been but a feeble subterfuge.
Let us, for an especially conspicuous example, take the house that has thirty-four sleeping chambers and only two baths. Let us imagine the house to be full of guests, with every bedroom occupied; and, if it is possible to do so without blushing, let us further imagine a couple of pink-and-white English gentlemen in the two baths. If preferable, members of the opposite sex may imagine two ladies. Very well, then; this leaves the occupants of thirty-two bedrooms all to be provided with large tin tubs at approximately the same hour of the morning. Where would any household muster the crews to man all those portable tin tubs? And where would the proprietor keep his battery of thirty-two tubs when they were not in use? Not in the family picture gallery, surely!
From my readings of works of fiction describing the daily life of the English upper classes I know full well that the picture gallery is lined with family portraits; that each canvased countenance there shows the haughtily aquiline but slightly catarrhal nose, which is a heritage of this house; that each pair of dark and brooding eyes hide in their depths the shadow of that dread Nemesis which, through all the fateful centuries, has dogged this brave but ill-starred race until now, alas! the place must be let, furnished, to some beastly creature in trade, such as an American millionaire.
Here at this end we have the founder of the line, dubbed a knight on the gory field of Hastings; and there at that end we have the present heir, a knighted dub. We know they cannot put the tubs in the family picture gallery; there is no room. They need an armory for that outfit, and no armory is specified in the advertisement.
So I, for one, must decline to be misled or deceived by specious generalities. If you are asking me my opinion I shall simply say
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