Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chapter 15


When Corrie and I toddle in from the lawn, no one seems to be about – one of
those ‘no one there’ silences. Mind you, that sort of silence at Amblewick does
not necessarily mean there’s a total absence of people – they’re just not in that
part of the house – not quite your average bungalow, Amblewick, what?.

Telephone shrills on my desk in the library and Corrie services it.

Gather it’s Parsons on the blower via the house intercom line. Unusual. The
old chap doesn’t normally use that facility on principle - ‘Should I feel a need
to communicate with your Lordship then courtesy demands that I do so in
person’, is his way of going on. Clearly something untoward is ‘afoot’, as they

“Yes, Parsons, dear – we quite understand. We’ll be in the library when
you’ve finished your reconnaissance….. Good Heavens! Of course we

She tosses the old blower back on its nest and joins me – perching on the arm
of my wing chair near the fireplace.

“Seems to be a hell of a mess, old thing…”

I stuff the old specs a dash higher on the nose so I can focus on her properly.

“Where’s the flood then – kitchens, and so on?”

“I fear it’s somewhat more widespread than that, old chap. Top of the house
and all the way through to the basement in the West Wing, and spreading
beyond. Parsons seems concerned”

“Well at least the library still seems watertight. Thank God for small

Parsons cruises in from the first landing.

“Milord, we appear to have a considerable flooding problem in the West Wing.
I assumed that the inconvenience stemmed from the reservoir in the roof.
Inspection was essential, and as I can no longer access those constricted
areas myself, Milord, I was compelled to enlist the assistance of young Julian
in that regard.”

“Jolly good show, and what did he discover ‘up in the gods’, so to speak?”

“There appears to have been a blockage in the main West Wing water tank,
Milord – rather as I had feared. The tank has overflowed and water has now
been flowing for some time. The nature of the different levels of the house has
meant that flooding has occurred through the ceilings of many rooms – and is
now heading in the direction also of the library….”

“I say, can’t have that, can we, dash it? Can’t we unblock it – turn it off in some
way – I mean to say…..”

My voice drifts away in a depressed sniff.

At this point Julian throttles in.

“Corked it, Mr P!” he pants. “’Eck of a mess, though…. Even that bedroom Mrs
Thingummy-Wotzername used is ankle deep – and the pitcher gallery - then
right down into our rooms below stairs.”

Parsons takes over.

“I have taken the liberty, Milord, of informing the insurance company of
the current situation. In the meantime, Julian has managed to close the
stop cock in the attic area and no further water should now overflow. As
we speak, Richardson, his garden staff, and various other estate workers
are endeavouring to mop up the mess. Their efforts are at this point
somewhat ‘bucket and chuck it’ - to employ a colloquial metaphor. However,
I have requested Gillingwater to bring up the mobile motor-pump from the
Estate Office. Thereafter, I am in hopes that we will be able to redirect the
floodwaters into the moat, Milord.”

“Pictures in the gallery?” Corrie enquires

“Once we have removed the water from the Red Chamber,
beneath the offending reservoir, I have directed that all efforts be made to
pump out the Portrait Gallery – all windows will remain open to avoid damp
settling into the paintings, Lady Constance.”

“And your rooms, Parsons – can’t have you washed away, can we, old thing?”

I enquire – to my shame - somewhat as an afterthought.

“Everything appears to be under control, Milord.”

“Not too upset, Mrs Fenner, is she? I’ll pop down and see her when we’re
through here.”

That, of course, is Corrie.

“Mrs Fenner was on duty at our Eaton Square, London residence, Lady
Constance, on the evening it was bombed - during the last war. She is
happiest when challenged. Something of the wartime spirit appears to have
lingered in her soul. I, too, had been concerned that the immersion of her
kitchens in floodwaters might well have perturbed her.”

“Not affected too badly, then?”

“Not in the least, Milord. Her first words to me when I went to commiserate
with her were to the effect that the prevailing climate would be ideal for

There is, however, a small hiccup in the matter of dinner this evening, Milord.
All water has been cut, and in the wake of inundation the Aga has been
rendered inactive. Catering, if you will, is at a temporary standstill. I am in
hopes that all will be restored to comparative normality by the time Your
Lordship takes breakfast in the morning.”

“Jolly good show….”

There is a giggle from the direction of Corrie and Jules who appear to have
been in quiet conference while we’ve been discussing the practicalities of life
after the flood.

Julian coughs up their conclusions

“Fish ‘n Chips, Guv’! Why don’t we send aht for Fish ‘n Chips?”

We all look at each other as though gifted with divine revelation.

“Why not, indeed - haven’t had them for years. All right with you Parsons, eh?”

An uneven battle between propriety and taste juices quickly ends in victory for
the latter.

“Perfectly in order, Milord. If you will all submit your orders, I will despatch
the estate van to collect them. Frying stops at half-past-ten, I believe.”

I glance at the old Rolex.

“Plenty of time then, what?”

But I am struggling with myself here.

“Tell you what, though - absolutely starving – stomach thinks its throat’s been
cut. Come on, let’s have’em right away!”

“Cor! High Tea! Wicked!”

A jubilant, and clearly astonished, Julian.

Parsons winces at the concept, but inks his way most efficiently through our
differing orders.

I’m a Cod man, meself – Rock and double chips with a banger for Julian
– Plaice and the old Tartare for Corrie. I join Jules in the ‘extra banger’

“What’s your poison, Mr P?”

“I confess to a mild preference for the Skate, Master Julian. Despite its
somewhat uninspiring name, the biological structure of the fish permits
comparison with the noble Turbot – albeit a fleeting comparison. And now
with your permission, Milord – Lady Constance - I shall retire and ascertain the
below-stairs orders.”

He shimmers from the presence.

Our ‘High Tea’ is the greatest possible success and Parsons enters very
much into the spirit of the occasion. He makes no protest when we all decide
to consume our ‘Chish and Fips’ sitting on the terrace wall outside the
Conservatory - and directly from the newspapers they are wrapped in.

“I am aware, Milord, that the method you employ for consumption of the dish
is, indeed, the traditional one.”

No sooner have we bolted our ‘nosh’ - and wiped the grease onto our trousers,
jeans, and in Corrie’s case, dungarees – than Parsons produces a serious
rabbit from the hat.

A huge, golden, freezing-cold, rice pudding!

Julian and I are thrilled to bits – even more so when we are permitted to scoff it
out of the bowl with ‘Langues de Chats’ - the last scraps with our fingers.

Needless to say, there will be be a price to pay for all this license.

As we all scrumple up the newspapers and lick our lips, Parsons comes out
with it.

“Milord, the inspector will arrive at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”

“Inspector? What inspector? Blighted taxman again?”

“The assurance company inspector, Milord - sometimes euphemistically 
referred to as “the assessor”.

“Presumably to assess how little, if anything, his company is at risk of having
to unbelt…..”

My tone is sub-acid to say the least, and would have done credit to ‘the aged
Duchess of Athlone’……...

“It is true, Milord, that appointees to this position are selected more for their
conservatism in matters fiscal than for their philanthropy. Mrs Fenner will
bring early morning tea to Your Lordship’s rooms an hour earlier than usual
tomorrow morning – at eight o’clock precisely."


“Very well, Milord, Julian and I will return to the library in time for the
“Readings”, a little later.

With the ghost of a smile, and a wink from Jules, they are gone.

Corrie and I take refuge in a brace of stiff Gins.

“Bung ho, Biffo, dear…” says Corrie.

“Scots wa’hey wi’Wallace bled” I offer, a little sourly.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chapter 14


“Well, Biffers, I think we’ve learned something from our little trip into the
bowels, anyway……..”

It’s a pleasant ‘after-luncheon’ moment on the day following the tunnels
adventure. One muses as is one’s wont. Corrie and I are sitting under the great
Cedar on the South lawn at Amblewick – on deck chairs rather than our pine-
needley childhood rug. That loyal item is still in evidence, though – acting
as a carpet under foot and chair, and getting all the more pine-needley as a
result. At least it’s still with us and we’re rather grateful to it for the memories
it stores for us……. Terribly important to talk to your ‘things’ – let them know
they’re appreciated – last for ever, if you do – well, for a good long time,
anyway. Always say ‘goodnight’ and ‘thank you’ to my shoes and socks and
shirts and things before they slip onto the floor. Last pair of shoes Parsons
bought for me at the Harrods sale are still going strong – one just has to be
grateful to them – no limit to the miles they’ll walk.

We’re funny, I suppose, we Amblewick folk – a little out of sympathy with the
world beyond the borders of the estate Too much waste, too little quality,
these days. Purchase something today and within a week it’s out-of-date.
Good Heavens! When we were sprogs things were built to last - what counted
was craftsmanship and the ‘feel’ of things.

Cars are a case in point. In our day they could be expected to last for fifty
years or more. You knew which car was which and who was who, from a mile
away. Today they’re all the bloody same – and plastic – no chassis and last
five minutes. Guess that’s why I still drive the Pater’s ’38 Wolseley 25/30 –
plenty of room for the dogs, and something between you and the lunatics who
monopolize the highway these days– still do a cool 85-90 mph, too. She’s a
bit waspy with the old fossil-juice, mind you, but that’s a small price to pay for
comfort and a sense of character and, well, ‘presence’.

People seem to have forgotten how to walk. At Amblewick we walk the estate –
and when motorized, it’s often on the old Fordson and trailer filled with fencing
gear, or whatever Gillingwater needs for the pheasants. Just the right sort
of ‘togetherness’ on that trailer - chance to hear the estate news and keep in
touch with the real world – all our bones shaking in unison, don’t you know?

Never could understand the De Barry woman at Netherwick – fine enough
house and a good 10,000 acres to play in – and the silly old coot decamps to
foreign parts for most of the year – no connection with history at all. I suppose
it takes some time before you appreciate what you have, and she’s only been
in situ for about five minutes!

Corrie butts into the old reverie

“Are you listening to me, old chap?”

“All ears old thing…. just off on a bit of a daydream, don’t you know?”

“I was saying that we’ve learned something from our little adventure in the
entrails, brother-mine.”

“And what might that be, old dear?”

“If you remember, we always used to be a bit afraid, as kids, when we explored
the house and its secret places – footsteps just behind us in the darkness –
slamming doors, creaking floor-boards, and so on……”

“True, oh Queen of childhood memory - and so?”

“Well, we thought we were alone in the house, didn’t we – felt sort of

“Yes, I suppose we did, in retrospect…. Big old joint the Castle when you’re
knee-high to a toadstool and just getting to know it all, what?” I re-ignite
the Dunhill. “So what fresh insight did we gain when you and ‘Our Jules’
disappeared into the guts of the place?

“Well, at the time I was petrified, I have to admit. All the same old nightmare
sounds and atmosphere – pretty unsettling – even Jules was subdued by the
end of it.”

“And that has to have been revelation, indeed….”

“Just when we were about to panic – there was Parsons enquiring about the
dinner menu.”

“Sounds pretty standard Parsons’ predictability, really.

“I think it told me something, though…..”

I take a swipe at a midge perched on my specs and try to look intelligent.

“I’m sure, now, that we’ve never been alone at Amblewick – just allowed to
pretend we were – to play in peace. In reality Parsons has always been there,
in the background, to make sure we’re safe.”

“I’ll buy that, old dear, Parsons is always with us one way or the other – even
when he’s up at Fortnums - and I mean always. Faithful old chap and utterly

There is a subtle clink of ice on glass from a little way behind us.

“If I’m not mistaken, he’s approaching at this moment - bearing sustenance.
Bless his thoughtful heart…..”

Indeed he is. A glowing salver, and nestling upon it my post-prandial glass of
Talisker and Corrie’s Turkish coffee and a snort of Green Châtreuse - ‘to lend
substance to the beverage, Lady Constance…’

I take a modest snoot-full and enquire, rather more for something to say than
anything else…..

“Julian recovered from his expedition, has he, Parsons, old thing?”

“Indeed, Milord - and currently he is profitably employed cleaning the silver –
particularly attached he is to the George IV service.”

“Seems rather a wet-weather operation for such a lovely day, Parsons, dear…,
Wouldn’t he be happier getting some fresh air into his lungs?”

“Indeed not, Milady. Just at this moment, extracting him from the teapot would
only spell resentment. As I said a little earlier, he is profitably employed.”

“Quite remarkable, Parsons, old wheedler of the best in people. What’s the

I confess to feeling pleasantly surprised and rather comforted.

“The secret, Milord, lies in the word ‘profit’. When first I mooted the possibility
of his lending me support in the silver department, I admit there was a certain
degree of resistance – nothing seriously mutinous, Milord, but an unspoken
reluctance was discernable.”

“And now you say he’s unwinkle-able from the pantry, what? There has to be a
secret weapon in play here, does there not?”

“Yes indeed, Miiord. I discovered it at the heart of a little phrase the young
man employed – almost as an after-thought…..”


“’Slip us a fiver, Mr P?’ he speculated when all else had failed to persuade him
wholeheartedly to embrace my request for active support. It was a moment of
enlightenment, Milord.”

“And did you ‘slip’ him one?” Corrie was entranced.

“No, Milady, I ‘slipped him a tenner’ - on the principle that investment should
always be made with an eye to the future.”

Before we could fully digest this Parsonian pearl of wisdom there was an
unscheduled interruption from the garden doors of the conservatory – a
supremely vulgar wolf-whistle.

“’Ere, Mr P! There’s water pissin’ through the ceiling!”

Julian appeared to be highly exercised by this development and high-tailed it
back into the house like a jack rabbit.

“Ir would appear, Milord – Lady Constance – that my presence is required
elsewhere. I shall retire to discover the source of this inconvenience, and to
ascertain the extent of any damage which may have resulted from it. I fear we
shall be further obliged to inconvenience the insurance company, Milord – and
I am uneasy as to that corporation’s reaction to such additional resort to its

With a measured inclination of the head in our direction, old Parsons takes his

“Have you noticed, Biffers,” Corrie remarked intelligently, “that these
insurance companies – banks are the same – keep on pushing new ‘products’.
All too often when one has purchased the ‘product’ one discovers that the
whole thing was just hot air – no substance at all except recurring charges…..”

“Damned impertinence, really – should be a law against producing nothing
and getting paid for it ‘ad eternum’. Con-artists, the lot of ‘em!”

“And butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths – until you’ve signed along the
dotted. That’s when the small print kicks in…..”

“Ah well, such it all is, me dear. S’pose we should drift inside and cast ‘a
dyspeptic’ over the damage. Quite sure Parsons will soon have everything
under control, but duty calls a dash, don’t you think?”

“And hopefully always will……..” said Corrie with a little smile……..

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chapter 13


Parsons shimmered off to deliver his sandwich request to Mrs Fenner. It would
transpire that the small change of plan came as somewhat of a relief to her.


“Very good, Mr Parsons, that will be quite a mercy. The brisket isn’t as well-
hung as our usual cuts. It’ll need a long slow roast low in the oven if it’s to be
tender. Truth to tell, I had been wondering whether it might be possible for us
to serve the beef this evening and have a light sandwich luncheon for
everyone, this afternoon? I know it’s a change of plan, Mr Parsons……..”

“I’m sure that will be quite in order, Mrs Fenner…..”

“And his Lordship? Will he be happy with sandwiches, do you think, Mr
Parsons – he does get awfully disappointed when he’s been looking forward to
one thing and something else lands up on his plate?”

“Well, there’s no need to worry on that score today, Mrs Fenner. His Lordship
is not expecting the beef for today’s luncheon. There are times when I do not
see fit to discuss the menus with the main house, preferring to suit the repast
to the general mood of his Lordship’s moment."

“If you say so, Mr Parsons…..”

“With regard to today’s luncheon, Mrs Fenner, some of your smoked salmon
sandwiches will fit the bill perfectly, I’m sure. I shall now retire to place the
champagne on ice in order to guarantee His Lordship’s satisfaction with our
choice on his behalf.”

He glided in the direction of the the wine cellar stairs.

“Oh, Mr Parsons…..”

“Yes, Mrs Fenner?”

Interrogative tilting of the left eyebrow.

“Will Lady Constance be dining with us this evening?”

“I would imagine so, Mrs Fenner. Her trip with young Julian into the tunnels is
sure to generate both an appetite, and the need to discuss their findings with
his Lordship.”

Mrs F had no idea what Mr P was talking about, and such is the extreme
discretion of the Amblewick below-stairs tradition that it didn’t even occur to
her to ask for enlightenment.

"Very good, Mr. Parsons. Would you be kind enough to ask her Ladyship if she
would prefer Yorkshire Pudding, or my Suet Crust, to accompany the brisket?”

“Of course, Mrs Fenner – and now, if you will excuse me……”

He resumed his glide.


When Parsons returned to the library Julian and I were ready for the off – raring
to go, in fact. We’d armed ourselves with a couple of torches which we knew
we’d need, and hadn’t thought far beyond that.

Parsons supplied each of us with a Balaclava, me with the sandwiches, and
Jules with a ball of string.

“The dust can be a problem, Milady, if my memory serves me correctly - and
one never knows when a ball of string may come in handy.

“Now don’t get lost, Corrie dear – been ages since anyone’s been in there….”

Biffo wasn’t particularly worried about any real danger to us, I didn’t think –
probably more for Parson’s benefit, and to retain the ‘Wisdom of Solomon
before Asmodeus’ accolade!

“Come on, Corrie, let’s get on with it, then” Julian could brook no further delay.

With a quick wave to those remaining behind we ducked into the darkness.

“’Jacta alia est’ – that’s what Mouse always says when the gang’s goin’ into
action, innit, Corrie?”

“Clever of you to remember the Latin, Jules - always beyond me, foreign
languages.” I said vaguely as I struggled up the passage to our right.

“What’s Latin? Thought them words was just a sort of Gang code.”

Our torches were a real mercy - and the Balaclavas too. I’d forgotten about the
bats and the cobwebs!

“Cor, stinks in ‘ere!”

“Yes, that’s the bats, Jules, I think. A bit careless where they pee - bats.”

“What, yer mean they just piss down the walls? Yuk!”

“Well, it’s dark in here – and they probably have a different idea of what’s
disgusting than we do.…..”

I decided to change the subject before we got too deeply involved in bat
lavatory etiquette.

“Tell you what. Let’s try this passage on the left. Haven’t been down there

“What about getting’ lost and that – know the way, do yer?”

“We’ve got the string, haven’t we? Look, there’s a metal ring on the wall. Let’s
tie the end of the string to that – then we can unravel the string as we go, and
not get lost.”

“What’s this ring doin’ in a secret passage?”

“Probably for chaining peasants to the wall, in the old days….” I hazarded
before I’d thought it through.

“Cor! Die in ‘ere, did they?

“Before my time, I’m afraid…. But I imagine some of them may have done – the
world was a very different place three or four hundred years ago – human
rights hadn’t been invented, then, I’m afraid……”

I was beginning to slide a bit too deeply into the atmosphere of this unholy
labyrinth – at risk of frightenIng myself. Jules was just getting into the mood,

“D’yer think we’ll find a skellington, Corrie? Cor! That’d be a laugh - never seen
a real one.”

This was getting a little ‘de trop’ - but Jules was in full flood.

“And the ghosts – what about the ghosts - pretty spooky in ‘ere, innit?”

I’m a fairly common-sensical person for the most part, but this conversation
was getting a bit disturbing. I found myself glancing behind me and my eyes
seeing odd shadows looming in the rather unsteady torch-light. There were
stories - and those stories came to taunt me as we groped our way along this
dank and unfamiliar tunnel.

“The Guv’nor said there were stories about ghosts at Amblewwick, Corrie.
D’you think they could be true?”

Julian’s voice was bright enough, but I picked up just a tiny quaver lingering
behind the cheeriness. At that moment I was very sure the stories could be
true and had to summon all my natural practicality and grown-up cynicism to
answer him.

“Stuff and nonsense, dear! Utter Ballz! Biffo’s an ass – filling you up with silly
fairy tales – ‘course they’re not true….."

But my childhood memories of these passages told me otherwise – footsteps
just behind us when the house had been empty except for Biffo and me………

The passage was getting narrower and darker and damper – the air foetid and
stale. We were approaching a narrow archway and what I imagined might be a
slight softening of the thick darkness – perhaps a wider space?

Jules was sticking very close to me – and no longer chirruping. A hand
clutched at the strap of my dungarees.

“Don’t like this place, Corrie – it’s weird,” he whispered hoarsely.

“Me neither, Jules, but we’ve got to find our way out – got hold of the string OK
have you?”

“Oh, Cripes! I must have dropped it back there – can’t see it anywhere….”.

Now what the hell were we going to do?

There was a distant, graunching, sliding sound in the deep shadow ahead –
and a blast of warm air rushed past us. We were at the archway by then,
straining our eyes into the gloom. This new space was like a tall haii-way
stretching metres in front of us. At its far end, another dark archway and a dim
light – a slowly swinging light – behind it, a dark figure approached us slowly,
but relentlessly………


Jules grasped my hand – and I was happy for it. We were in this mess very
much together – no hiding place!

As the figure came closer we froze like pillars of salt. I was about to scream
with horror, and Jules was paralyzed beside me.

A moment later, the lamp came to a halt about five yards in front of us – and
the shadowy figure spoke.

“Forgive my intrusion into your expedition, Lady Constance. Regrettably, I
neglected to deliver a crucial message before you departed hence from the
library - an enquiry from Mrs Fenner about this evening’s dinner menu.”

Julian and I were speechless with shock.

The noble Parsons cruised on.

“Milady, Mrs Fenner wished me to ascertain whether you would prefer
Yorkshire Pudding, or her personal Suet Crust, to accompany the roast brisket
of beef she has planned for dinner this evening?”

“Suet Crust, please, Parsons….”

I whimpered breathlessly - and Julian got the giggles.

As we followed Parsons from the ghastly scene, I found my voice at last.

“What interests me most, Parsons, old dear, is how on earth you tracked us
down in this maze of tunnels?”

“When you have looked after a family and its young for as long as I have been
privileged to serve at Amblewick, Lady Constance, one makes it one’s
business to acquaint oneself comprehensively with all aspects of that family
and its environment. I have made the secret passages at the Castle a
particularly detailed study – as has been, Milady, my unofficial, but bounden,

“But how did you know where we were – could have been anywhere – pretty
tangled old nightmare these tunnels.”

“Indeed, Milady – but having followed you into the tunnels from the library, it
was but moments before I observed the string attached to a metal loop in the
main passage, and the direction it indicated that you had taken. I was aware
that the passage you had chosen connected to a passage leading from the
wine cellars. I decided to meet you from that direction to avoid any danger of
giving you a start by approaching from behind you in the darkness. As Mr
Holmes was wont to say, Lady Constance - ‘Elementary, my dear Watson…..’”

“Never a dull moment wiv Mr P abaht, eh, Corrie? Flippin’ ‘eck!” piped Juies,
and surrendered once more to helpless giggles.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chapter 12


So far, the “Saga” readings have passed off fairly successfully – no terminal
blips, as yet. Julian appears well-addicted to the tale, which is encouraging.
Seems to be a chap of his word – applies his ‘wiv comics’ system to the reading
of the book, as well. He read the last chapter of the third volume by himself even
before Parsons had kicked off with the introductory blurb, and so on. I’m fairly
chuffed about that as the final chapter will have told him absolutely damn-all
about the rest of it. Bit of a ‘sucks ya-boo’ situation, really. The downside could
have been that he rejected the whole thing for lack of battle, murder and sudden
death at the end. My fears were unfounded, and he’s been working his way
backwards ever since – and solo.

Pottered through to the conservatory this morning to cull a few bunches of
grapes and dead-head the odd rose. Was in ‘mid-snip’ with the old secateurs
when there was a tap on the window behind me. Managed not to fall off the
steps, for a change.

“’Ere, Guv’!” drilled the chain-saw through the glass. “Got a minute, ‘ave yer?”

“Can’t be sure of anything these days – but at the moment, yes.”

I clambered down the steps and tottered over to the rose garden door – I find
that change of altitude has a greater effect on the old equilibrium than it used to
a few years ago.

“Well, don’t stand there like a prune, old chap, better come in and help with the
grape harvest, what? Corrie’s popping over for elevenses – and that should
indicate the odd biscuit, don’t you know? Hoping for chocolate digestives,
meself – you?

I was burbling on a dash – largely I think to restore something of the comfortable
predictability of Amblewick life – a luxury much less in evidence since the advent
of the turbulence of youth into our staid old world.

I observed that there was a questing look about the boy – something of the
Labrador when tracking a covey of partridge clattering towards the guns
- anticipation – urgency and determination. I should have recognized the
symptoms and steadied my nerves against a further dose of the un-expected and
its inevitable negative results for me.

In the event, Julian’s ‘got a minute, Guv’?” preamble was not pre-cursor to
anything particularly world-shattering - direct result of our ‘horse-pistol’ second
meeting in the library, in fact.

“Just found the bit in the “Saga” when Mouse and Murat abi explore the Secret
passage at North Withering…..”

At least I now knew what was coming.

“Yee-s.” I said in my most encouraging tone.

“Good bit that, Cor!”

And then the true purpose of this invasion was clarified.

“When are yer goin’ to show me the secret passages at Amblewick, Guv’? Yer

“I did no such thing, old sport.”

Sure of me ground here.

“What I suggested was that you should discover them for yourself – sort of
Sherlock Holmes undercover operation, what?

“Yea, right. Trouble is they wouldn’t be very secret if I could find them, now
would they?”

Couldn’t really argue with that sort of logic, now could I? Fair’s fair, and the time
had come for the granting of a clue or two. There’s a part of me which reverts
to the nursery as soon as youthful memories take hold - when the Vicar farts in
church, as well……...

“Tell you what, old son, I’ve already told you there’s a passage from the library….”

Julian butted in.

“Ruddy great room, that – where am I s’posed to start lookin’? Go on, Guv’, give
us a proper clue….”

“Fruit,” I said laconically. “but not good to eat like these chaps here.”

I tossed him a cluster of grapes.

“Cheers, Guv’.” he said.

But I could see, with some satisfaction, that his mind was elsewhere – the bait
had been taken, and with a bit off luck Corrie and I would be left in peace with the
biscuits – all of them….

“Trundle off, old chap - keep us posted as to progress and what-not, eh?”

‘Our Jules’ trundled off, and Corrie trundled in from the rose garden. Parsons,
bearing coffee and ‘bikkies’, emerged from the dining-room – everything as
though in cool and precisely-syncopated sequence.


Usual prelude to a Parsonian rocket.

“Good morning, Lady Constance. Black, Milady - or is this a ‘café latte’

Inclusive half-smile of welcome and approval – I was studiously ignored.

“What ho, Parsons dear!” Corrie beams. “Black will be fine – what a lovely day!”

“Most clement, Milady – the roses are at their best, this week, I see.”

“Yes indeed, be nice to bring a few blooms in while they’re so good, don’t you

“Yes, Milady. I have had my eye on two heads of “Peace” – for the Ccllini flagon
in the hall, I wondered?”

“Oh splendid, Parsons – stunning but discreet. A hint of glories yet to come,
don’t you think?”

“Precisely, Lady Constance, Amblewick has always been renowned for its
discretion and charming English understatement.”

Meanwhile, I sweated like a guilty schoolboy at the Headmaster’s study door!
Eventually, I could stand the tension no longer and butted into this stream of
pleasantries - first with a watch-makers probe – and then, perhaps unwisely, with
a jack-hammer.

“We also serve, old thing, who only stand and wait, don’t you know? Nose a dash out of
joint, this morning, is it, Parsons, eh?”

Imprudent, I fear – a fleeting aberration – and a dash below the belt – ‘not on’, in

Parsons’ right eyebrow rose, as it has always been inclined to rise when I have
gone a dash too far. It was enough.

I reverted immediately to mere putty in the glazier’s hand – never was much of a
gladiator – no guts or moral fibre, so the blighted Cousin Marguerite maintains.
She has a point, I suppose.

“Sorry, Parsons, out of order, what? Silly old tongue ran away with me – I stand

Parsons is nothing if not charitable and infinitely forgiving.

“Milord, I am lost in admiration for your open-heartedness, and for the generosity of
the manner in which you have welcomed young Julian to Amblewick. My concern is
for the artifacts and treasures with which you and Lady Constance have entrusted me the
custody and safe-keeping. As I intimated on a previous occasion, to permit the young man
unfettered access to every nook and cranny in the Castle would seem to me reminiscent
of the story of the fox in the chicken run – or at best - the fox and the grapes.”

“Pineapple, actually” I prompted.

Once again, before the brain had been properly engaged. However, I was saved
from risk of further castigation by a strident screech of triumph from the library.

“It’s the bleedin’ pineapple on the chimley, innit, Guv?”

Parsons, whose knowledge of the Castle secrets is unsurpassed, knew the
pineapple in question all too well. The merest suggestion of the famous
elusive smile perched for a brief moment at the corner of his mouth and then

“I must entreat Your Lordship to make sure that any exploration is supervised.
There are, if you remember, Milord, an intricate number of side-passages leading from the
Library tunnel – a veritable maze. It would be unfortunate if the fox became a cat, and Julian
a pigeon.”

Involuntary twitching of ears proclaimed that imminent danger to meself had

“Parsons is right, though, Biffers – pretty dodgy some of those tunnels - could
get well and truly lost on his own, couldn’t he? We always went together for
safety’s sake when we were children, didn’t we?”

“True, old girl. Trouble is me knees won’t take all those stairs, any more.”

Game as hell, our Corrie.

“I’m still fairly intact, old man, thanks to the ‘Wufflums’– I’ll go with him – and
bollocks to the Watts woman!”

From darkness into light, and from travail into ease.

“I will instruct Mrs Fenner to prepare some sandwiches, Lady Constance – my
memories of the labyrinth inform me that your expedition may well extend some
way beyond the luncheon gong.”

“Good egg!” I enthuse. “I think we should now beard the London Tiger in his den
before he plunges headlong into the entrails of the house unsupervised.”

I winked a little saucily at Parsons.

An answering, and rewarding, twitching of the ears.

“Thank you, Milord – the wisdom you exhibit, if I may make so bold, is that of
King Solomon himself - before he became compromised by association with
Asmodeus, of course.”

I beamed…….

No idea what old Parsons was rabbiting on about, but I beamed like Billy-ho!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chapter 11


I’m supping the last of the post prandial ‘1876’ in the library as I await the gathering of the congregation on the second evening of our ‘Saga’ readings programme – logs a-flicker in the fireplace, lamps aglow, and so on.

Parsons is shimmering about, dusting and generally putting things in order - 
as is his conscientious wont.

I gather Corrie’s still ‘en route’ to our literary tryst; having been delayed at Pangleton - so Parsons informs me - by a wearisome telephone call from that bubonic pestilence, Sharon Watts, of ‘Cuddlesome Corgis’ fame.

Julian is delving somewhere amongst the library clutter and, uncharacteristically, is not immediately ‘in evidence’, as they say. Could well be scouting out the elusive pomegranate – or was it a pineapple?

In short, all seems peaceful on the domestic front.

There is a tinkle from the blower on my desk and Parsons does the honours.

“Good evening, Sir Charles. Yes indeed, sir - I think I can say with some confidence that all is well with the household here at Amblewick. Thank you, sir. I believe that his Lordship is in the Library. If you will bear with me for one moment, sir, I will inform him that you are on the telephone……”

Discreet pause - to permit transit from the nether regions, no doubt – and Parsons, who is already within spitting distance, tactfully covers the receiver and transmits his message.

“Sir Charles Peyneer is on the telephone, Milord. Do you wish me to connect you?*

Charles? Good Heavens! Of course, connect away, what?”

Parsons, for all his sometime antediluvian attitudes, is a great believer in modern technology when he feels that its employment is life-enhancing in the affairs of Amblewick. He flicks a switch, and Charles and I are connected at full blast – no need for scrabbling about with the handset, and so on.

“I’m putting you through to the library, Sir Charles. Good night, sir…..”

The old baronet’s stentorian ramps its way round the library for all to hear.

“Biffo, you old fool, where have you been all my life?”

“Bit of an ‘exadgers’, old prune, what? We met at that Diamond Jubilee thrash a couple of weeks ago – if you can cast the mind back…….?”

Charles isn’t exactly senile – but a dash selective in his recall. Remembers what directly concerns him - his appetite for good fare, and his dogs – little else.

“Did we, indeed – well if you say so – had a bit of a gut-full that evening, I daresay….”

“I imagine that may well have been the case, old thing. But was there something special you wanted to natter about, or is this a one-orf social-outreach situaggers?”

Unlikely – both Charles and I eschew the social niceties whenever we can get away with it……

“Yes, there was something – slipped my mind for a moment – ah, yes, “The Definitive History of England” – do you remember that little volume I scribbled when we were up at Eton?

“Indeed, I remember – how could I ever forget – damned nearly got us both sacked, if you remember. ‘Gross lack of good-manners, damned impertinence, and abuse of the nation’s heritage’ - or some-such outrage, so the Headman said….. Entire interview engrained forever on one’s arse, if you remember?”

“Well, be all that as it may have been. Anyway, I was snatching a bite of luncheon at the Savoy Grill the other day and bumped into our old chum Freeda – you know, Freeda Prizners used to bunk off to London with us from Bedales – glamorous little puss- cat in those days – still pretty saucy today, I can tell you…..”

“Quite sure she is, old thing, but how does she fit into the ‘History’ narrative?”

“Don’t interrupt, old chap – puts me off my stroke. Now where was I? Ah! Savoy Grill. Yes, well anyway, she – Freeda that is - joined me for luncheon – usual dose of the old rib and a bottle of house plonk. Just cantering our way through the pudding – ‘Poire Belle Hélène’, as it happens - when she popped a question – unusual question, rather. Turns out she’s morphed into some kind of literary agent – you know, sort of hobby thing to mask her real job, as a spy, and so on. Rather dashing, being a spy, don’t you think, eh, Biffers? Remember Morton – boy with the Mk V11 Jag? Well he………..

I always reserve Charles’s little detours and footnotes in mental parenthesis as I await resumption of the subject in hand. Sometimes a nudge can help.

“Freeda, Charles – you were talking about Freeda.

“Was I? – ah, yes, Freeda. Why was I talking about Freeda, old boy?

“Literary agency, perhaps?

Yes, of course I was – stop putting words into my mouth. Well anyway, Freeda pushes books and stuff that appeal to her, if you get my drift. She remembered the fracas about the ‘Def Hist’ and asked me for the manuscript. Well, to prune the proverbial shaggy a dash - she’s re-launched it!”

“I say old boy, that’s a whiff of good news, isn’t it? Never understood why it went out of print in the first place….”

“Got squashed, didn’t it? Fifties, you know - lot of bigots in the fifties.”

“How’s the re-launch going, though?”

“Freeda seems happy - says she’s getting positive feedback for the most part - should help with the old crispy crunch before long, she hopes.”

“Folding still on the short side, eh? Same story this end - Parsons not at all happy with the Fortnum’s situation – resents having the wings clipped in that department. Your news sounds pretty heartening, though – not before time, eh?”

“No, indeed – but ‘many a slip’, as they say. Bit of a problem rearing its ugly – that’s what I telephoned you about…….”


“Blasted critics lousing up the soufflé again – same stuffy old crap from the so-called ‘literary élite’. One of them described my logical addition to Shakespeare’s version of King Richard III’s last words at Bosworth Field as, ‘ignorant, valueless - puerile disrespect and self-advertisement’.”

“I say, that’s a bit rich – always enjoyed the DHOE, for all the furore about it – spiffing good read – refreshing, really….”

I’m floundering in the details a bit at this point I have to admit…..

“Nudge my memory, old thing, what was your minor addition to Mr Shakespeare’s text?”

“I merely stressed the urgency of the situation at the Battle of Bosworth – and the long-maligned monarch’s desperate situation - by the addition of ‘fucking’, to mere ‘horse’. Hang it all, at moments of extreme stress, we do not say just ‘horse’, now do we? Not if we want to make matters clear, anyway. We’re not detailing a family picnic here, for Heaven’s sake. We’re reliving an event of world-shattering consequence not only for the benighted Dickon III, but for the Empire – triumph of the taxman, suburban attitudes, the counter-jumper and so on. Critical moment in ‘Happy Isle’ history, what?”

It isn’t everyday that I find myself totally in sympathy with my old sparring partner and sharer of the Juniper, but this is one of them.

“With you entirely, old thing – had I been faced with King Richard’s fate – to be maligned and dishonoured by a parvenu and his cohorts and hangers-on for so many centuries – I also would have insisted upon your rendering of the urgency. Quite sure I would have reacted as did you. ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a fucking horse’, would have been the only possible way to express my desolation.”

A faint wheeze of approval from my old friend.

There is also a determined rustle from amongst the library clutter. My involvement in my old friend’s affairs has rendered me temporarily forgetful of the fact that this conversation has been somewhat in the public domain.

A familiar and determined chain-saw yelp cuts keenly through the library shadows.

“Dead right, Guv! I vote for yer old mucker, an’all – ‘You ’ave to call a spade, a fuckin’ spade’ - that’s what my lot say, innit…..?”

“Out,” I muse almost joyfully, “of the mouths of babes and sucklings……..”

No reprimand from Parsons, either – a hint of resignation on his ‘non-committal’ tells me that, for once, he could not, for all his brilliance, have expressed the matter more succinctly himself………