NEGOTIATIONS ARE MOST REWARDINGLY CONCLUDED
By the time Archie and I have primed ourselves fairly generously and
graduated to the dining-room for the terrine and sundry delicacies sent up
by Mrs Fenner, via Julian, we are in convivial mood. A bottle of ‘Montrachet’
further oils the wheels. We reach a point of such delirious self-confidence that
the presence of Cousin Marguerite glowering at us through clouds of rancid
smoke from the window seat and projecting all her legendary malevolence all
but ceases to dampen our enthusiasm.
We are, as it were, at play.
“I trust, Archibald, that you will not have forgotten your offer to drive me home
when once you have exhausted your capacity for juvenile alcoholic binge-
drinking in the company of this congenital idiot?”
“No, indeed, me dear – just oiling the old cogs a dash – old car runs so much
more smoothly if well-lubricated, eh, Biffers, what?”
“Cheers, Arch, absolutely, what”
I readily concur, removing the beak from its crystal and coming up for air.
“More paté, old chap?”
An irritated gurgle from the Booth’s bottle fails to impress. At this juncture,
Julian enters bearing some sort of pudding confection. With considerable
courage, he proffers the dish to the hell-cat in the window.
“How many times do I have to tell you that I am not your ‘mum’ - and to insist
that you address me as Mrs Huntington-Smythe, you bloody and impertinent
“Yea, right Mum. Good nosh them Necs, though – fresh from the green’ouses."
It becomes clear to the blighted Cousin that the ‘bloody and impertinent little
boy’ is incapable of following any behavioural instruction. She backs off in
that direction and aims a shrewd broadside at Archie and me.
“You seem incapable of following any instruction I give you, boy. However, I
imagine you may be capable of following a simple order. Remove the glasses
from the dining-room table – luncheon is now terminated.”
Jules doesn’t even hesitate.
“Can’t do that, Miss – not when the gents is still boozin’ – get me arse kicked, I
would. Streuth! Mr P’d do his nut, an’all!”
“Good, clear thinking, Jules.” I agree. “Can you toss over that decanter of
Madeira on the sideboard, old thing?” I add - as a constructive afterthought.
“Oh yes, and do you think Mrs Fenner could rustle up some coffee – for later,
in the drawing-room?”
“Yea, orlright, Guv’ – I fink she’s planned some of that Viennese fig stuff you
and Corrie drinks at Readin’s. D’yer need brandy glasses? Fink there’s still a
couple in the sideboard.”
“Fine, old chap, but can you pop them on the coffee tray in the other room?”
I know that the instructions will, faithfully, be followed.
There is a vicious hiss from the window seat.
“Disgraceful! God give me strength!”
I note that the Booth’s bottle is notably depleted in its liquid volume.
Funny thing, that. When Archie and I have a bevy or two, the light shines about
us and harmony prevails. The effect on the witch is entirely different. – she
becomes more and more unpleasant and focusedly malicious – slashes about
with her broom-stick, don’t you know?”
It is perhaps just as well that Parsons swans in before we can clamp our teeth
onto the Armagnac cork.
“Milord, I believe Mrs Huntington-Smythe is planning to relieve us of some of
the items which have been stored in the Coach-house for such an extended
period of time.”
He turns courteously towards the seething crone…
“İs it your pleasure, Madam, that once you have selected the pieces you
prefer, they should be loaded onto your” – careful pause here – “conveyance,
“I would have expected that to be the case – in a normal household, at any
She observes Parsons with one of her basilisk stares - you know, the sort that
cuts through barbed-wire like buttered crumpets.
“Where the Devil have you been, anyway? Supposed to be the butler, I
thought. Instead of which we are waited upon by that little guttersnipe – needs
a damned good thrashing, by the way. Whole thing totally out of control. Just
look at those two fools – off their heads. Quite preposterous!”
Parsons’ manners are beyond praise and it takes a great deal of pressure
before he reacts to provocation.
However, abuse of ‘his people’ is unwise. More than aware of all our faults
and failings, is Parsons - but for all that we are, I am proud to testify, ‘his life’.
When that ‘life’ is in any way menaced or called into question the old chap
deals surgically with the threat.
“I am employed in this house, Madam, not as a Nanny or a Preparatory
school headmaster. My brief is to ensure the comfort and convenience of
His Lordship and his preferred guests to the best of my ability. I am happy
to inform you that for the last sixty years I have done my best to fulfill that
brief. I am proud to be His Lordship’s man, Madam – and any criticism of my
fulfillment of his trust should be addressed to His Lordship, who will, no doubt
- and if he should see fit - acquaint me with it in private, entirely at his own
discretion and at a time of his choosing.
And now, Madam, if you have finished with that bottle of gin I will despatch it
to the waste-paper basket and we can repair to the coach-houses to upload
such items as you may select, to your transport.”
The old pterodactyl takes a heave on the Capstan, coughs and mutters darkly
“What are we supposed to do with my drunken husband – can’t possibly drive
me in that state…..”
From someone who’s just polished off a bottle of Booth’s, that’s a dash pot
calling kettle, etc, I muse. However, Parsons is still very much on course….
“Unfortunately, Madam, the Red Chamber, and many other rooms are
currently still damp from the recent floodwaters, and so, most regrettably, our
customary hospitality is, perforce, somewhat circumscribed. However, should
Mr Archibald feel the need to remain at Amblewick for the night we shall, as
always, do our best to accommodate him as comfortably as possible under the
Reading the runes, I observe that the dragon appears to have been vanquished
- temporarily at least…...
“Don’t worry about me, Parsons, old friend – I shall be more than happy in
a sleeping bag on the Billiards table – given the odd night-cap, don’t you
Archie strikes absolutely the correct note with Parsons whose ears twitch with
Extraordinarily, the old girl stalks across the dining room in a perfectly straight
line. Parsons glides to the doors and opens them in time for her to exit with a
flourish, and a final shot.
“You have not heard the end of this matter, Archibald. We shall speak when
you return to Market Harborough – I trust by train or bus - and not by Daimler
Parsons escorts her towards the staff exit in the West Wing – I note this with
surprise and a hint of pleasure.
Archie joined our ‘Readings’ that evening - after a jolly toothsome, Mrs Fenner
Steak and kidney pie and some of our nectarines bathed in Jersey cream.
Played a pretty creditable Colonel Gotha-Killit to Julian’s spirited ‘Bal’, he did.
Parsons filled me in, later, as to the Coach-house proceedings and the exit
of the Huntington-Smythe plague towards its storage laboratory in Market
“The brief conversation I overheard in the drawing room upon the lady’s
arrival at Amblewick, Milord, informed me that without prompt action, our
efforts of yesterday would have been in vain. I took immediate steps, Milord.
With the assistance of Mr Richardson and two of the under-gardeners we were
able to remove our ‘readily saleable’ items to safety in the game-larder, Milord
- where they await our attention when the Transit van arrives from the Neptune
this Friday evening.”
“Jolly good show, what? Everything went according to plan, then?”
“Yes indeed, Milord. It might be of interest to Your Lordship to know that Mrs
Huntington-Smythe selected the ‘Maples 1920’ chest, before all else. Assured
me that lt was undoubtedly a Sheraton piece, Milord. She seemed keen to have
it loaded onto her hearse post-haste - no doubt before we became aware of our
“Bet Jules laughed. Take anything else of interest, did she?”
“Not consciously, Milord, no – a roulette wheel, some fencing swords and
various relevant accessories come to mind – oh yes, and a chest of nineteenth
century dental instruments, a riding crop, and an electro-plated tea service, I
“Got her on her way without too much protest, then, did you?”
“Yes, Milord. To my surprise the engine of her 1935 Austin ‘Big 6’ ran very
sweetly and did not smoke or back-fire in the manner of the Indian motor-cycle
combination she employed during her last visit to the Castle - at Jubilee time,
“’All’s well that ends well’ sort of finale, what?”
“On the surface, yes, Milord….”
“What do you mean by that, Parsons, old thing?”
“Milord, Mrs Smythe insisted that we not inspect the contents of the drawers
and other items of her choice – wanted to ‘explore’ them in the privacy of
her ‘home’, she said.”
“Did we miss anything, do you think?”
“I believe we may well have done, Milord….”
“Nothing crucial, I hope?”
“I saw nothing myself, Milord, but young Julian was better informed.
‘I hope Mrs Thingummy-Wotzername likes animals, Mr P.’ he said, with a
slightly dreamy look in his eyes, as the hearse disappeared from sight.
“I also enquired as to what he meant, Milord. His reply intrigued me greatly…”
“Go on, old chap, put me out of my agony….” I pleaded,, dragging frantically
on the pipe.
“The substance of his communication, Milord, was as follows…….”
‘Yer know them ‘Sheraton’ drawers, Mr P?’
“I nodded encouragement, Milord.”
‘Well, there’s a colony of mice in the bottom one – an’ a whole bunch
o’cockroaches, an ‘all!’
I was overcome with a strange elation and tapped out the Meerchaum on a
nearby Dresden Shepherd.
“I suppose, there is some truth in the assertion,” I said with a convulsive
snort, “that ‘all’s fair in love and war’, don’t you know?”
“Indeed, Milord – most apt.”
Parsons was doing the Talisker honours for Archie and me when Jules
“Good ‘ere, innit, Guv’?” he positively crowed.
“Better than that, Jules – it’s bloody triumphant – be a good chap and get Mr
Parsons a snoot-full, will you?”
No protest from the magnificent Parsons. He raised his glass to all of us with
studied courtesy and poise.
“To Your very good healths, Milord – Mr Archibald – and on this very special
occasion, to yours also, Master Julian.”
He spoke quietly but with a subtle twitching of both ears.
“Farouche and masterful to the last, our Jules….” I murmured, smiling into my
beaker. “Such subtle menace……”