GAME, SET, AND MATCH
The appalling meeting lurches on.
The honourable representative of the National Society for the Protection of
Public Morals (NSPPM) is next on the agenda, and takes the conch to harangue
the assembled multitude in a socialist, somewhat hectoring manner on the
subject of family and other abuses in their various forms - with which she
appears to be fairly well-acquainted. Had Biffo’s routine not been being buggered
about he might well have cocked an ear in the hope of improving his grasp of
the unspeakable world beyond his demesne. As it is, however, his juices
are starting to react negatively to the enforced captivity of his carcass in this
incredibly dreary room. He glances at the ancient Rolex and sees that the period
in Purgatory estimated by Parsons has nigh-on passed.
“The time has come, the Walrus said…..,”
Biffo warbles softly into his butler’s shell-like - which, we can reasonably
assume, is already quivering in anticipation of his words.
“With respect, Milord, it might be wise to permit this person to conclude
her peroration, in order to avoid bad feeling. I will thereafter be in a reasonable
position to express Julian to the kitchens, thereby alerting the staff who will
commence the festivities. The young man has been well-briefed, and the merest
twitch of my left eyebrow will send him on his way.”
“Good show, what? How long do you think we’ll have to wait?”
“Milord, I am not intimately conversant, even in theory, with any of the
peculiarities the young woman is enumerating. However, I think we may safely
assume that she is running out of possibilities. Might I hazard a guess at, shall we
say, three minutes.”
“Longest three minutes a man will ever have to endure, I daresay.”
Biffo heaves on his Cohiba and is rewarded by one of those scented highs
that can only come through the good offices of a seriously expensive cigar.
“For God’s sake don’t give that louse from the planning department a
chance to get on his feet; he’ll have me over a barrel about the new greenhouse
at the Lodge!”
“You are quite correct, Milord. It was always your late lamented father’s
view, that people with a mission should be disabled with good fare before they
began to air their views - on the principle that, thereafter, they would not be in any
mood to expound their more tiresome messages with any serious conviction.”
“Good old Pater, not as daft as he was cabbage-looking, what?”
“Precisely, Milord. And now, if your Lordship will excuse me, I must
position myself where the good Julian will be able to observe my left eyebrow.”
It is at this most propitious moment that Biffo’s sister, Corrie, blows in with
a brace of champion wolfhounds lunging at their leashes. Biffo’s spirits soar. If
a man can have spirits in the plural, he is that man. Taking a leaf from Parsons’
book, so to speak, he greets Corrie’s ranging gaze with the raising of both his
eyebrows in welcome.
“Thank God you could make it, old girl!” He enthuses. “We’re having a
perfectly preposterous bloody time here. Old prune’s going to town on every
possible front. Just look at that perch-full of ravening vultures, what?”
“Does seem a bit excessive, I must admit. Can’t stand that NSPPM woman,
what’s she talking about? Sex?
“It would seem so, but I have been fully occupied in negotiating a few light
refreshments with the good Parsons, who mercifully appears to have forestalled
me, as usual.”
Biffo sneezes comfortably on his cigar.
Corrie brushes back her rebellious hair.
“Splendid – and essential under the circumstances. It really is a bit ‘de
trop’, all this bureaucratic twaddle. What does Marguerite think she’s doing?”
“Endeavouring to control the staff by a process of humiliation and
excessive official blandishment,” Biffo is genuinely distressed. “Insufferable
behaviour! I’m in high hopes that the staff will make their feelings known when
the refreshments materialize - and that, if I am not mistaken, is the starting pistol
in the person of young Julian heading for the commissariat.”
Cousin Marguerite introduces the Chairman of the Joint Planning
Committee, a certain Major Reerash, a gentleman of Asian origin and the Indian
Army, known affectionately at Amblewick, as “Major Sheer-Trash”. This epithet
has been coined, not on account of his origins, but to express good-natured
disapproval of his use of the lowest field rank in private life. Before that worthy
can gain the rostrum a gong sounds hollowly in the kitchen doorway. An
impressive parade of retainers, the majority of whom have not been on Mrs
Huntington-Smythe’s list of ‘relevant’ members of staff, emerges from every
secret orifice in the Estate Office. That building has many orifices; from the
kitchens, cubby-holes, vesting-rooms, through lavatory (toylot) areas, to the large
double barn-doors behind Biffo and Corrie (ınstalled in the mid-seventeenth
century to provide stabling for Royalist cavalry). Through each and every one of
these orifices the retainers pour as though marching to a hidden drum. Barrels
are carried to avoid disturbing the beer. They are tabled and tapped, as helpers
shift the school-room desks and replace them with trestles. These are covered in
a trice with crisp white tablecloths. Trays of tankards and glasses are laid upon
them. Plates and eating-irons; chargers laden with joints and hams, and plate
after plate of cakes and pastries follow with all the splendour of a Royal Opera
House Final Act triumphal banquet.
Marguerite has sprung lithely to her feet at the striking of the gong, plainly
to call the company to order. Her beady eyes blaze and her entire being quivers
with rage and fury. The interesting thing is that no one notices except Biffo, who
relishes from afar.
“Bloody old fool,” he muses, “Talk about teaching your grandmother
to suck eggs? To think she really thought we’d lost the knack of entertaining
people. Two-Luv, I think,” he murmurs to Corrie by his side.
“Yes, well,” said Corrie, “let’s hope she gets the message. The only
problem is that that type very rarely does.”
Parsons emerges from nowhere and re-focuses the situation.
“Milord, Lady Constance, ladies and gentlemen, His Lordship has asked
me to thank you all for your constancy, your generosity, your loyalty to our Estate
and, above all, for your personal kindness at all times both to himself and his
family. He has asked me to assure you of his loyalty and friendship towards each
and every one of you - and to say that, in a moment or two, as we come together
amongst the refreshments, we will all mingle and chat as Amblewick folk have
always done. He has asked me to tell you that no stranger will ever come between
himself, as the custodian of all we hold special, and your much-loved selves who
are the heart of Amblewick Castle and co-owners of its Marquessate.”
There is total calm. Parsons continues.
“And now let us join together, as so often before - as friends rejoicing.”
“My God,” whispers Biffo to Corrie, “Bloody old liar, can’t let him off the
leash for a second - didn’t say a word of it.”
He gives Corrie a nudge.
“But, by golly, I wish I had!”
Corrie smiles an ancient smile and whispers back….
“Maybe you didn’t say it, but, you meant every word of it - and that’s why
he said it for you.”
Marguerite stalks towards them from her place near the blackboard.
“You’re a bastard, Horace, from your boots up! Tell that incestuous
brat, Julian, to bring my bike and my bags to the Estate office, immediately. I
shall relieve you of my company, forthwith. Peak will deal with the formalities
regarding the account. I wash my hands of the Amblewick Jubilee.”
She ferrets in her bag and produces the bottle of Booth’s from which she
takes a dignified slug.
“You are proving a more determined adversary than I had anticipated - and
that I admire, God damn your rotten socks. I depart to lick my wounds, as they
say, but rest assured you have not heard the last of me. That is no threat. It is a
She blows a rank blast of Capstan smoke in Biffo’s face and turns upon
that famous heel. She roosts, fuming, on a beech log near the Estate Yard
Parsons has heard the essentials of this tirade and despatches Julian to do as he has been instructed during the course of it. One happy ‘brat’ is Jules. Not many guys his age get to ride a 1938 Ariel “Square-Four” MotorCycle Combination. But then, one person’s discomfiture is sometimes another chap’s fun-time. The story of Julian’s adventure will have to be a tale for another day; maybe a short story in some motoring magazine. For the purposes of our history all we need to know is that he arrives, flushed, and in one piece – and that according to reports from Owen at the “Neptune”, and various informants, Mrs Wotzernaim and her Ariel “Square-Four” Combination will last be seen travelling at speed, and in a cloud of dragon-smoke, to somewhere in the direction of, well, Market Harborough?
Corrie’s only comment, when the last reports come in, is succinct and prophetic.
“God help Market Harborough - and God help us all when she gathers herself together!”
Biffo is rather flattered. He’s never been called ‘a bastard’ before. That accolade was normally bestowed on the sharper, more dynamic boys, at school!