As the aloe is said to flower only once in a hundred years, so it seems to be but once in a thousand years that Nature blossoms into this unrivaled product and produces such a man as we have here.
–Gladstone, “Lecture on Homer”
American travelers in England are said to accumulate sometimes large and unique assortments of lisps, drawls and other very peculiar things. Of the value of these acquirements as regards their use and beauty, I have not room here to speak. But there is one adjunct which England has that we positively need, and that is “Boots.” It may be that Boots is indigenous to England’s soil, and that when transplanted he withers and dies; perhaps there is a quality in our atmosphere that kills him. Anyway, we have no Boots.
When trouble, adversity or bewilderment comes to the homesick traveler in an American hotel, to whom can he turn for consolation? Alas, the porter is afraid of the “guest,” and all guests are afraid of the clerk, and the proprietor is never seen, and the Afro-Americans in the dining-room are stupid, and the chambermaid does not answer the ring, and at last the weary wanderer hies him to the barroom and soon discovers that the worthy “barkeep” has nothing to recommend him but his diamond-pin. How different, yes, how different, this would all be if Boots were only here! At the quaint old city of Chester I was met at the “sti-shun” by the Boots of that excellent though modest hotel which stands only a block away. Boots picked out my baggage without my looking for it, took me across to the Inn, and showed me to the daintiest, most homelike little room I had seen for weeks. On the table was a tastefully decorated “jug,” evidently just placed there in anticipation of my arrival, and in this jug was a large bunch of gorgeous roses, the morning dew still on them.
When Boots had brought me hot water for shaving he disappeared and did not come back until, by the use of telepathy (for Boots is always psychic), I had sent him a message that he was needed. In the afternoon he went with me to get a draft cashed, then he identified me at the post-office, and introduced me to a dignitary at the cathedral whose courtesy added greatly to my enjoyment of the visit.
The next morning after breakfast, when I returned to my room, everything was put to rights and a fresh bouquet of cut flowers was on the mantel. A good breakfast adds much to one’s inward peace: I sat down before the open window and looked out at the great oaks dotting the green meadows that stretched away to the north, and listened to the drowsy tinkle of sheep-bells as the sound came floating in on the perfumed breeze. I was thinking how good it was to be here, when the step of Boots was heard in the doorway. I turned and saw that mine own familiar friend had lost a little of his calm self-reliance–in fact, he was a bit agitated, but he soon recovered his breath.
“Mr. Gladstone and ‘is Lady ‘ave just arrived, sir–they will be ‘ere for an hour before taking the train for Lunnon, sir. I told ‘is clark there was a party of Americans ‘ere that were very anxious to meet ‘im, and he will receive you in the parlor in fifteen minutes, sir.”
Then it was my turn to be agitated. But Boots reassured me by explaining that the Grand Old Man was just the plainest, most unpretentious gentleman one could imagine; that it was not at all necessary that I should change my suit; that I should pronounce it Gladstun, not Glad-stone, and that it was Harden, not Ha-war-den. Then he stood me up, looked me over, and declared that I was all right.