Well, young Anthony, or ‘Tone’ as he calls himself, has been delivered – seems a jolly soul and likely to brighten things up at Amblewick. Parsons was dead right about the shared ‘turn of phrase’ department; first thing the young blighter said when he jumped out of the Land Rover and looked around him was, “Good ‘ere, innit!” Anyway, the two of them are messing about on the moat at the moment, so peace prevails.
Corrie’s popped over from Pangleton, and we’re planning the dreaded Jubilee Thrash – rather hoped it would just go away once we’d got rid of the Cousin Marguerite plague, but no peace for the wicked and we’re up to our ears in plans for the ‘great day’, and with all sorts of people who have to be involved – blast them!
"What are we going to do about Margot de Barry and the Netherwick connection, Biffers? We’ve got to involve them somehow.”
Corrie sounds as reluctant as I am to address this threat.
“Well, I’m going to do as little as possible about her – short of being downright rude – pesky old trout – never stops talking, does she?”
“All the bable of a brook and little of the charm – only advantage is that one doesn’t have to say anything much oneself, except the occasional ‘Really?’ and ‘Good Heavens!’”
I’m not reassured at all and even less so when Parsons glides in and drops the old bombshell.
“Milord, a telegram has been delivered.”
He slides the small buff envelope from salver to the table beside me – unopened. My heart sinks. Hate telegrams – invariably rotten news.
“Can’t you read it, Parsons, old dear?”
“Had the missive been addressed to me, Milord, I would already have done so – however, it is addressed to Your Lordship, and my professıonal code forbids me from opening it. The protection of one’s employer’s privacy must always be his servant’s first concern, Milord.”
With which unequivocal confession of faith, and a brief inclination of the bonce, the old sod retires.
I have a nasty feeling about this telegram – seems to be sneering at me from its place to my left. I am about to curse when Corrie sensibly intervenes…..
“Snoot-full, old chap?"
“An extremely large Gin might save the day.”
“In a glass, or à la Marguerite?”
I cringe at mention of the name.
“Glass” I croak.
We slurp peaceably and some of the darkness begins to brighten. Corrie removes the weight from my spirit.
“Come on, old chap – let me open the damned thing.”
I toss the missive over to her with a shudder. She opens same and peruses. I can hardly bear the tension as she lingers over its contents. Finally, she seems to have absorbed the contents, and
replaces the message in its envelope and briskly and rather finally tosses the two of them into the fireplace.
“Not the sort of communication which inspires one with any confidence for the immediate future…..” she says, coolly reinserting her beak into the juniper.
By this time my nerves are in shreds – wringing of the hands, so to speak.
“Come on, old girl- put me out of the wretched agony, what?”
“I think we’re going to need another tooth-full old chap – the news, I fear, is dire indeed.”
She totters over to the drinks’ table and begins feverishly to pour. I note that she is gripping the Stately Car Boot amber cig holder vice-like between her teeth.
Now Corrie is not the feverish type and neither does she totter. She returns with the drinkies and I stare at her speechless – à la goldfish a-goggle and mouth devoid of words – few weedy bubbles I blow…..
“Take a severe glug, old boy, and brace for the worst….”
I do as I am told.
I nod somewhat jerkily.
“The trustees are going to attend the Amblewick Jubilee Festivities – in the company of Cousin Marguerite Huntington-Smythe…..”
Her voice trails away and she subsides onto the sofa with a tragic sigh.
Now I think we should all be very clear about one’s attitude towards the Amblewick trustees. One’s antipathy is not personal – merely that they feel bound, in the name of ‘duty, to interfere at a financial level with one’s affairs at Amblewick. Letters and various secondhand communications from them and their minions are received with a degree of dread and with a suppressed fury reserved only for them.
Normally when confronted by infuriating documents threatening one’s appetite and peace of mind, one can depend upon old Parsons to restore one’s spirits with one of his brilliant prescriptions. When it comes to the trustees he is at grave disadvantage, not having met either of them, nor having observed them as guests at the Castle. He is also disadvantaged by the fact that they invariably punch low in the housekeeping stakes, thus striking firmly at his Achilles heel.
‘You must spend less on food’, is one of their weapons of choice.’
‘Cut down on staff.’ Is another favourite…..
Now bearing in mind that Parsons and Mrs Fenner already do the work of what used to be a veritable army, and that the Castle menus are his and Mrs F’s pride – dare I say ‘raison d’être’, not to put too fine a point on it all? It will be seen that he is much handicapped when dealing with such an adversary – damn it all, the old boy’s in his nineties, for heaven’s sake!
However, he is our only hope, and raising the eyebrows at Corrie, I yank the old service bell and retire into my beverage, broodily. Moments, and the merest whisper of well-oiled locks later, the
Amblewick Oracle is at my side.
“You rang, Milord?”
“I did, indeed, old thing – Crisis looms…..”
I indicate the fireplace. Parsons, never obtuse, espies the telegram and retrieves it. Clearly, its opened condition absolves him from his ethical concerns. He peruses the missive briefly.
“It would appear, Milord, that we will have to open three further bed-chambers. I have taken the liberty of accommodating Young Julian and his friend in the Red Chamber and feel that it would be
unreasonable to alter that arrangement in order to satisfy the needs of casual, and to my knowledge, uninvited guests, Milord.”
His face is more po-faced than ever I have seen it before. No sign of comfort emanating therefrom.
“Absolutely, old thing – my sentiments entirely. Damned bad form inflicting themselves without notice, what?”
“If Your Lordship and Lady Constance have no further immediate need of my services I shall now retire to confer with Mrs Fenner. I fear that certain adjustments will have to be made to the menus
over the Jubilee period in order to ensure that Amblewick does not exceed the bounds of trustee-orial frugality. I fear that Mrs Fenner will be keenly disappointed by this turn of events, Milord.”
With which almost censorious statement, and an abrupt nod of the head, he retires.
Corrie and I are left gawping at each other.
Corrie is the first to speak.
“As seems always to be the case when Marguerite is involved in our affairs disharmony prevails – and I care not for the look of dear Parsons – difficult to read, but I get the impression that he has been caught off-guard by this invasion.”
“Once again,” I observe, “Birnham Wood can be descried leeching its way over our peaceful horizon – blast it!”
“Yes, and Parsons seems bereft of ideas, this time……. We shall have to wait, as you so often say, and see what we shall see…..”
“And hope that during the course of that vision, Parsons will find an answer - don’t fancy ‘fish fingers’ as an extended diet, do you?”