Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chapter 6


A strangled, “Oh, shit!” from a goggle-eyed Julian draws Biffo’s attention to the
apparition in the sunlight.

Parsons, for his part, takes in the situation with a frigid stare. His voice is chilly, too.

“Milord, I apologise for this intrusion into the main house, it will not happen again, I
assure you. Julian – the pantry, if you please…….”

Julian feels the colour draining from his cheeks, but before he can act on Mr P’s
instruction, Biffo saves the day – and probably his bacon!

“No, no, no, Parsons, old thing, don’t be a spoil-sport, what? We were just getting to
know each other, at last……..”

This is a bit of an understatement, Julian reckons, bearing in mind their shared
wolfing of that rice pudding on the evening when Mr P was up in town and Mrs
Thingummy-Wotzername arrived to stick her nose in Amblewick business. But he
decides that any comment from him would render already turbulent waters positively
lethal. He closes his mouth like a Thames lock-gate.

“What the young chap needs, Parsons, old dear,” Biffo continues comfortably, “is
a dash of adventure – sort of Scott of the Antarctic – Shackleton, don’t you know?
After all, one did when one was his age, didn’t one, what?”

“Milord, it is with considerable difficulty that I cast my mind back over the ivy-
creepered bridges of nostalgia to the halcyon days of my youth – much water has
passed, as they say…. However, I do seem to recall a lingering sense of ill-ease
at the lack of ‘stimulation’, shall we say, in my own family circle when I was, as you
indicate, my Lord, of a certain age.”

As so often when Parsons waxes eloquent Biffo has difficulty in following the entire
flow of the narrative – but senses that their conflicting currents may be beginning,
just perhaps, to confluctuate a trickle, as it were.…… In high hope, he surges on…..

“But you know the feeling, don’t you, old thing? Jolly frustrating, if you cast the mind
back a dash?”

“Yes, Milord, indeed.”

“So, how did you deal with it all, old friend? Dash of rule-breaking from time to time,
like the rest of us – bunking off after lockdown, what?”

“Milord, I always endeavoured to please my esteemed parents in every way I could
- somewhat unlike the youth of today, which appears oblivious to the wisdom and
good counsel of its elders and betters……”

This barb is directed shrewdly in Julian’s direction.

“However, my Lord, I am aware that times have changed and I have no desire to be
a wet blanket, or in any sense ‘a cat amongst the pigeons’, so to speak. However, I
do feel obliged to point out that the ‘objets’ in this house are of inestimable historical
and intrinsic value. Perhaps it would be a little ill-advised to place them at the
unsupervised mercy of this young man - how can one express it best - too early in
his experience, not to put too fine a point upon the matter……?”

Although still somewhat submerged in the swirls and eddies of his retainer’s literary
wake, Biffo senses a faint calming of the waters – a warmth even? He swims on

“Get your general drift, old thing, but how in Dickens’ name did you cope with that
consuming urge to peck your way out of the old egg-shell, so to speak?”

“I resorted, Milord, to books….”

Biffo recoils.

“I am aware, Milord, that literature is not Your Lordship’s most preferred suit, as
they say. Would it, one wonders, be out of place for me to remind Your Lordship of
a certain Squadron Leader Bigglesworth and his heroic ‘chums’ – and their dashing
exploıts in the skies over England, and indeed the World?

“Good Heavens, Parsons! Good old Biggles. I say, fond memories flooding back,
don’t you know?”

Biffo re-ignites his pipe and tamps it down thoughtfully.

“Do you know, old sharer of the trough and vineyard, I believe you may have hit on
something there…….”

Parsons baulks at the familiar tone of his employer’s delivery, but the elusive smile
twitches at the corner of his mouth before retiring – carefully ingested.

“But would ‘Biggles’ be of any interest to our young tear-away here, do you think?”

“Perhaps not ‘Biggles’, Milord – times have changed and youthful tastes have altered
with them - in my view much for the worse. However, there is a volume in this library
to which, I believe, he might well be able to relate…..”

Not “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”, surely?

No, Milord, I have always disapproved of that sanguinary and sectarian work. The
volume to which I refer is entitled, somewhat frivolously, I fear, ‘The Mouse and the
Gang Saga’”. Rather unusually, it is a work attributed to no known author - in fact to
no author, at all.”

Julian is looking bored to a crisp, but Biffo is all ears – cogs revolving fairly smoothly
for vintage gearing

“Good Lord, Parsons, I’d forgotten all about it – but then, I’ve forgotten a lot of things
I used to know. Corrie and I spent weeks and weeks in that book when we were
children – couldn’t get enough of it. Funny that, isn’t it? There’s the occasional story
which one doesn’t really read, but clambers right into, somehow…..”

“For once, Milord, we appear to be in total harmony. I, too, have taken the liberty
of ‘dipping into’ the work during the course of several months’ dusting of the library
shelves and re-aligning the many volumes. I rediscovered the work a week-ago-last-
Thursday when replacing “The Definitive History of England” in its customary place.
By chance, its position on the shelves is contiguous to the work we are currently

Julian has been trying desperately not to yawn - but something in the Guvnor’s
demeanour as he listens to Mr P, begins to get to him. There is a rare eagerness –
a ‘tickled-pinkness’ almost - in the old chap’s eyes. With the unerring keenness of a
border collie – which temperamentally he much resembles - the boy’s ears begin to
prick. After all, a subject which excites the old ‘geezer’ as much as had that cold rice
pudding, must definitely be worth ‘a butcher’s’…….. 1.

1.   ‘Butcher’s hook’ – ‘look’ – for the uninitiated, or blissfully ignorant.

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