Monday, December 31, 2012

Chapter 2


Biffo is in the Morning Room. The days of armies of servants are long gone, and Parsons - now responsible for the entire house, and single-handedly, follows a less formal regime than he had used. The only other indoor servants are Mrs Fenner, the cook, and her nephew Julian, who acts as a form of trainee page-boy during his holidays from school in East London. His youth - he is about 13 - renders him somewhat of a mixed blessing in the smashing of heirloom stakes. Parsons therefore prefers to clear the breakfast table by himself in deference to the Meissen.

Such occasions permit Parsons a good deal more freedom to engage with his employer in conversations of a somewhat less meticulous formality than formally had been possible under the gaze and within range of the distended ears of lesser servants. He remains inscrutable, but there is something less distant in his demeanour.

Biffo kicks off the interview.

“Gather ‘Notre Dame’s’ celebrating her 850th anniversary this week.”

“Would that be the Cathedral in Paris, Milord?”

“Absolutely, old thing - the Cathedral. Quite an impressive old thrash – for a bunch
of Papists. All that banging on the front doors with crooks – bit like Black Rod and
the Lords, don’t you know? Amazing to think that there were already Loftuses at
Amblewick when her foundation stone was being laid, what?”

“Indeed, Milord, a most sobering observation. Mention of the French Cathedral
reminds me of a moment in “The Definitive History of England” Milord, when Sir
Charles reminisces about the construction of Eton College Chapel in the reign of
King Henry VI. Interestingly, Milord, the sixth Henry was himself crowned King of
France in the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.”

“Very right and proper, too. Good old ‘Hen the Pen’. Tell you what though, Parsons,
that old devil, Charles, certainly knows how to jolly up the dry old facts, doesn’t he?

“He does indeed, Milord, most refreshing – heart-warming, in fact – and Master
Sever’s trip up to Town in search of medicines is very touching, too. I felt myself,
Milord, most relieved at last to meet the great characters of Our Island’s Story – for
once untrammelled by the verities.”

“To be honest, Parsons, old thing, simply loathed History when I was up at Eton.
Beak I was up to never stopped ramming it down my throat. ‘Lord Amblewick, your
performance in this subject renders me speechless – most especially when I remind
myself that England’s History has been at the mercy of members of your family for
so many centuries – and somehow has managed to survive...... Take a rip!’ Cheeky
sod! Performance in the other divs was much the same - every trial, a rip. The Pater
used to tear his hair out!”

Yes, Milord. I do recall a conversation I overheard between you both, in the Library,
as I was inspecting the drawing-room silver one morning. You would have been
in your early teens at the time, Milord. Your esteemed father was in fighting form,
and threatened to ‘kick your ‘backside’ from here to Barnstaple’ – although with the
greatest possible respect, Milord, the expression he used on that occasion was
somewhat more vivid – vulgar-colloquial perhaps would be a nicer definition……”

“Tricky, the old man, when in a tizzy, what?”

“Most definitely no ‘pushover’, Milord, as I believe would be the expression in
common use today……..”

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