فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Chapter seven

Silver

September 1956

I am now on the third day of my trip to the West Country. Last night I stayed in an inn named The Coach and Horses, an attractive, quiet-looking cottage just outside the market town of Taunton in Somerset. Unfortunately, however, the inn was not as quiet as it had seemed when I arrived. Although the landlord’s wife did not actually shout, I could hear her talking late into the night and, again, early this morning. As a consequence, I slept rather badly, although I did not, of course, say anything about this when I thanked the landlord and his wife this morning.

Now, however, I am enjoying a pleasant mid-morning cup of tea in a small tearoom in the high street ofTaunton, very close to the market square. Although I am sitting at the back, I can see clearly out into the sunlit street. There is an interesting signpost on the pavement opposite the tearoom. It is pointing to several local destinations, one of which is the village of Mursden.

Giffen and Company once had a factory in the Somerset village of Mursden This company was famous for manufacturing polish. Giffen’s polish was the finest silver polish available for many years. Then, just before the war, new chemical substances became available and the demand for Giffen’s silver polish began to decline.

Giffen’s silver polish first appeared at the beginning of the 1920s. In my opinion, it was responsible for an important change of attitude in my profession. The polishing of silver suddenly became a central part of a butler’s responsibilities. Before Giffen’s existed, the butlers of my father’s age did not consider the polishing of silver so important. But in the 1920s, the full significance of silver was recognized by the younger butlers. Visitors to a house would examine the silver during a meal more closely than anything else. Guests would often judge the quality of a house by its silver.

I, of course, was very aware of the appearance of this new, high-quality product, and I immediately made the polishing of silver my top priority. I can remember with pride many occasions when visitors to Darlington Hall commented on the silver. Lady Astor once said our silver shone more brightly than any silver she had seen. Mr George Bernard Shaw, the famous writer, came to dinner one evening and held a silver dessert spoon up to the light. But perhaps my proudest moment was when Lord Halifax, the government minister who later became head of the Foreign Office, came to dinner.

This visit was the first of a series of ‘unofficial’ meetings arranged by Lord Darlington between Lord Halifax and the German Ambassador, Herr Ribbentrop. Lord Halifax, on that first night, had been very suspicious when he arrived at Darlington Hall. He was not happy about meeting the German Ambassador in secret like this. Lord Darlington suggested a tour of Darlington Hall. In the past, this had often helped many nervous visitors to relax. However, Lord Halifax continued to express his doubts about the evening as he walked around the rooms. Lord Darlington tried to reassure him, but without success. But then, as I was going about my business, I heard Lord Halifax say: ‘My God, Darlington, the silver in this house is a delight.’

I was, of course, very pleased to hear this at the time. Two or three days later I was even more satisfied when Lord Darlington told me:

‘By the way, Stevens, Lord Halifax was very impressed with the silver the other night. It put him in a very good mood.’

I honestly believe, therefore, that the high quality of the silver that evening was probably responsible for the success of Lord Halifax’s first meeting with Herr Ribbentrop.

I should, perhaps, now say a few words concerning Herr Ribbentrop. Nowadays, of course, most people believe that Herr Ribbentrop was just a liar. They say that he was part of Hitler’s plan to deceive the English for as long as possible - to stop the English from understanding his true intentions. I do not wish to disagree with this view. It is, however, rather annoying when people today say that they always knew Herr Ribbentrop was a liar. They say that Lord Darlington was the only man in England who believed that the German Ambassador was an honest gentleman.

The truth is very different. In the mid-1930s, Herr Ribbentrop was a welcome guest in the very best houses. The same people who invited Herr Ribbentrop to their homes say now that Lord Darlington betrayed his country. In my opinion, anyone who suggests that his lordship was secretly trying to help the enemy is conveniently forgetting the true atmosphere of those times.

I would also like to correct another false accusation, which is now often made against Lord Darlington. It is nonsense to claim, as people do, that his lordship disliked Jews. People who make these claims know nothing about the sort of gentleman Lord Darlington was. I heard him express his disgust on several occasions when somebody made insulting comments about Jews. And the accusation that his lordship never allowed Jewish people to enter the house or any Jewish staff to be employed is completely false. Except, perhaps, for one minor incident in the 1930s…

But I am moving away from the subject of silver. Perhaps I should not spend so much time looking back to the past. After all, I still have before me many more years of service. Mr Farraday is not only a most excellent employer. He is an American gentleman, and one has a special duty to show him all that is best about service in England. It is essential, then, to keep one’s mind on the present, and not on the achievements of the past. It is, unfortunately, true that, over these last few months, things have not been perfect at Darlington Hall. There have been a number of small errors, including one incident last April concerning the silver. Fortunately, Mr Farraday had no guests, but it was nevertheless a moment of genuine embarrassment to me.

It occurred at breakfast one morning. After sitting at the table, Mr Farraday picked up a fork, examined it for a brief second, then turned his attention to the newspaper. While he was reading, I moved quickly to remove the fork from the table. I took it immediately to the kitchen and returned without delay with another fork. I thought for a second about putting the fork quietly on to the tablecloth without attracting Mr Farraday’s attention. But then I thought it was possible that Mr Farraday did not want to embarrass me, and was only pretending not to have noticed. I therefore decided to put the new fork down on the table with a certain emphasis. This made my employer look up from his newspaper and say: ‘Ah, Stevens.’

Errors like this have been, as I have already said, a result of the shortage of staff. If Miss Kenton returned to Darlington Hall, these errors would, I am sure, no longer be made. Of course, I must not forget that Miss Kenton says nothing directly in her letter about wishing to return.

Last night, when I was unable to sleep because of the noise in the small inn outside Taunton, I read her letter again carefully. It was surprisingly difficult to identify any passage which clearly indicated her desire to return.

But, on the other hand, it seems foolish to worry about such things. Within forty-eight hours I will be face to face with Miss Kenton. I shall be able to discover for myself whether she truly wishes to return to Darlington Hall or not.

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