Pronouns and Prepositions (originally published in Tricksters, Knaves and Mountebanks, 2003) 7,000 words
Lady Ingraham was not one to let the servants do all the running of the house, as she often liked to point out. She liked to keep herself abreast of the practical details of domestic issues, and her staff assemblies had something of a marshal air to them. Well that’s what she thought, at least, and after all not much else matters, does it.
This morning was no exception, as it was to be a busy day. The cricket team were getting together for match, and Bingley House was hosting the event. So although the staff knew the drill inside out she still got them together at the crack of dawn (eight-thirty, to be precise) to go through the menu, the guest list, and the serving details (today was thankfully a very fine day and everything could be served outside, as planned – but keep it chilled!). She did rather tend to speak in italics.
“I shall be requiring my Paris white poplin, and better give the white parasol and the gloves a looking over, I believe there was a lot of dust at Lady Bennet’s garden party last week. Mind, I want the short white cotton gloves, not the longer ones.”
At eight-thirty in the morning she was all set for her first change of clothes – although she would delay it at least thirty minutes, until after she had set the house in order.
“Your finest fruit available, Pippin – what have we at the moment?”
“Apricots are doing nicely ‘gainst the southern wall, marm. Some of the greenhouse white grapes, too – the Isobella’s a good choice. Raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries…..”
“Yes well for heaven’s sake don’t serve gooseberries. You know how the vicar hates them, he says they set his teeth chattering. Get Columbine to do some of her nice arrangements in the double bowls with ice. I want chilled fruit” (and she lowered her voice a little) – “particularly with Lady Greatharse staying with us.”
“Yes my dear?”
Lady Ingraham surveyed her Rubenesque cook with a small suppression of a sigh. Try as she might, she could not get this member of staff in any way flustered, hurried, irritated, or indeed even to respond in a sensible manner. The glowing Iris seemed incapable of addressing anyone at all by anything other than a term of endearment, even at the most inappropriate of times. She had tried, goodness knows that the Lady had tried to correct this menial’s many faults, but to no avail. She was indomitably jocund and informal. And alas! There was nothing for it but to put up with it, as Iris was, without a shadow of a doubt, the very best, the fastest, the most versatile cook in to be found anywhere in the surrounding five counties. Lady Ingraham knew this for a fact, as she had conducted an exhaustive search. Iris could make an old boot taste like finest beef, probably, if she wished.
The Lady opened her mouth to go through the menu, but then she looked at Iris and thought the rosy smile might widen to dangerous proportions, and renounced the notion.
“The usual,” she said hurriedly, waving a white hand, “And Iris, perhaps also some of your Moroccan Punch today.” Her eyelids twitched ever so slightly as a small train of thought slid across her mind: “ Dr Bestbury does like that punch”.
Staff bobbed their respects, and made good their exits – apart from the luckless Columbine, whom Lady Ingraham recalled imperiously just as she had made it to the door.
“Honey, Columbine. Where’s Honey? I do not wish to hear that she is still abed! She shall be downstairs within the next fifteen minutes. Not a second more!”
“’S’marm” curtsied Columbine, and headed for the stairs. Of course Honey was still asleep. To get her down in 15 minutes would require either an Act of God or some very skilful cajoling.
Columbine looked around, and having ascertained the field was deserted for the moment, picked up the vase of fresh peonies that Pippin, that most excellent gardener, had culled that morning for the hallway arrangement. She mustn’t forget to ask him to replace them before the Missus saw. With these, she tripped upstairs to Honey’s room.
“Morning, Miss!” she said in a perfectly judged whisper of excitement and conspiracy, peeking her head round the bed curtains.
A curly yellow mess of hair arose from its downy repose and eyed her suspiciously.
“Why look Miss, aren’t they lovely!” said the maid, showing her the peonies briefly, then whisking them off to the dressing table, where she set them down. It was working already: the flowers appeared to be drawing the girl physically out of bed, like a gravitational pull.
Columbine was already making up the bed, to preclude re-entry.
“I saw him leave them, miss. He gave them to Iris and particularly asked her to keep it a secret that he’d brought them, but to deliver them to you without a name – anomalously, he said.”
“Who?” said Honey breathlessly, her blue eyes like the dog in the fairy story’s – as round as saucers.
“Why, who do you think, Miss? It was Dr Bestbury, natural. I told you Miss, he loves you more than anything! Only…” she trailed off, hesitant.
“What? Oh you can’t possibly keep me in the dark!”
“Well I heard him mention he’d be back in twenty minutes, and that was fifteen minutes ago, and I’m sure he’d hate to come and not find you there, Miss, be awful disappointing for him, poor Dr Bestbury…”
Three minutes later Honey was tripping down the stairs, adjusting a ringlet here and there but perfectly ready to take on princes and palaces. She was far too conceited about her own looks to worry about small details of grooming.
Her mother looked moderately pleased to see her at the breakfast table on time - and then frowned as she looked more closely.
“My dear, did you wash this morning?”
“Why of course, Mamma”, she said helping herself to bacon and eggs.
“Why then, may I ask, do you appear to have last night’s strawberry tart on to your chin?”
Honey was not thrown. “Nonsense, Mamma, I thought I saw an itsy bitsy spot coming on there, and that’s some special lotion that Columbine has. You know her skin is always perfect, and she swears by it – don’t you Columbine?”
The addressed curtsied demurely.
“I only need to put it on for a few seconds – there, that’s quite enough, it can come off now” and she dabbed it away with the table napkin. “Mamma, where’s Dr Bestbury?” she rounded off impatiently.
Lady Ingraham was scrutinizing her daughter’s chin with great attention. “Well I must say, dear, I can’t see any sign of a spot at all, that really must be very good lotion, Columbine”, she said approvingly. Columbine curtsied again.
“Dr Bestbury, Mamma?”
“The Doctor will be over with the rest of the team, I shouldn’t wonder, and we must be prepared before then. I must go and change presently – Columbine!”
She arose, dabbing her lips, and departed in a swish of silk and trail of Columbine.
Honey pouted over her eggs. But then she considered, and chewed more contentedly as she reflected that of course, her mother would naturally not be party to the amorous intentions of Dr Bestbury. It would be rank foolishness to confide in the lady of the house, particularly this lady, and particularly if, say, he had wild, ungovernable, dark passions such as might lead to, say, thoughts of elopement! Why, he might be secreted somewhere in the grounds this very moment, yearning to catch a glimpse of his beloved, unawares… Her eyelids fluttered uncontrollably at the very thought of it. She would wait.
The lady of the house was of course completely aware of Dr Bestbury’s intentions. In fact, it may be safe to say that the only person entertaining the least bit of doubt regarding the matter was Dr Bestbury himself. Lady Ingraham was awaiting the results of Dr Bestbury’s finals before allowing him to propose to Honey. For Dr Bestbury was not in actual fact a doctor yet; however the course of medical study was so protracted (particularly in his case) that most of the village had tired of calling him Master Bestbury and had switched to the more auspicious Doctor Bestbury about six months ago. He himself did nothing to mitigate the situation. This slight ambiguity should however soon be at an end, as Finals had been in May and the results were due shortly. He would, of course, come through with flying colours.
As luck would have it, the object of the young lady’s musings was indeed making his way towards Bingley House, slapping an ear of wheat he had snapped from the field as he walked, jauntily across his thigh. He came whistling straight across the back lawn, walked up the garden steps and through the French windows into the breakfast room. Highly unorthodox! And there was Honey, siting at table and gazing at him over a dainty porcelain cup of tea.
She nearly missed the saucer as she put it down.
“Good morning, Dr Bestubury,” she said, rising, and trying her best to look absolutely ravishing.
“Dillon, please, Honey. I’m not Dr Bestbury to you now, am I?” he smirked condescendingly, and tickled her ear with the corn stalk. What a pretty little thing she was!
Honey recovered herself. She made a charming little grimace, and fluttered a “Dillon, then”, and skipped towards the door. “Mamma didn’t know you were coming so early”, she emphasized archly, “But of course I did”.
“Ah. But of course!”
He chewed a little on the end of the stalk and surveyed her. Such curious creatures, girls – and what in the world was she talking about!
He was forestalled from any further repost by the grand entrance of Lady Greatharse.
This august lady was in fact Honey’s aunt, but the two creatures bore absolutely no resemblance to each other. She was Sir Ingraham’s elder sister, and had emigrated to the States in her youth (which was a great many more years ago than she would ever admit, even to herself), shortly after celebrating her nuptials to Mr Greatharse. He was, within a few years, knighted for great services to the motor industry, and then being the most obliging and thoughtful of all men promptly expired of a coronary. This may possibly have been induced by the stresses of his work combined with his wife’s taste in food, however the indubitable fact remained that it left Lady Greatharse in complete control of her finances, her time, and her destiny. At the age of thirty two she had been the richest widow in Connecticut, and nothing had crossed her path and lived to tale the tale since.
Her entrance into the breakfast room was heralded by an almost Biblical darkening, as her magnificent frame took up almost the whole doorway, blocking all its light. A woman of no mean stature, her girth exceeded all reasonable expectations. And the very widest part of that immense tower of quivering silk, held up (it would have to seem) by some monumental feat of mechanical engineering, expansive, all-enveloping, huge, unreasoning, unconquerable, and invariably encrusted in jewels, was the biggest bosom that either of them would ever have the amazement of beholding.
Naturally, both youngsters were well acquainted with Lady Greatharse. However, her entrance into a room invariably had the effect of seemingly canceling any event that had been talking place before her arrival. The room in question may be filled with dukes and statesmen, but at the appearance of anything quite so magnificent, petty matters would suddenly pale into insignificance, like a candle in front of the Archangel Gabriel. And so she swept up in a tidal wave of gray silk, and looked at Dr Bestbury sternly until he leaped up and pulled out a chair for her.
He leaped back again with even greater alacrity when the hem of her voluminous skirt appeared to growl at him.
“Foo Foo, darling, would you like some sausages?” She seemed to be addressing the floor. There was another petulant growl from her skirt, followed by the emergence of an ancient miniature poodle.
Foo Foo had been the pampered familiar of the great lady for the past fifteen years. Where Lady Geatharse went, Foo Foo went. What Lady Greatharse ate, Foo Foo was offered. Anyone who ventured to suggest this might be inappropriate was cast out into the coldest circles of displeasure.
At the doorway, Mortimer, the butler, had entered silently and took his cue from the lady. He presented a fine china plate, diffidently sliced up a sausage on it, and presented this to the dog. He had been given instructions to keep a sharp eye on Lady Greatharse at all times, and ensure that all things were to her liking. Mortimer had a very sharp eye, and the course of the Lady’s stay had thus far been relatively smooth.
Honey and Dr Bestbury thought it best, under the circumstances, to take seats at the table and fell to commenting strenuously on the weather. However after five minutes of this banter, Lady Greatharse remarked sternly that in her time youngsters were heard less of than they are now, at which they both fell silent, and sat sipping endless cups of tea as she made her way majestically through the menu. Foo Foo had long since finished her repast, and had made herself at home on the blue chaise lounge. On the request of Lady Greatharse, Mortimer offered her some bacon; however this was evidently just not the same as sausages and all he received for his pains was a sharp nip on the fingers. Dr Bestbury caught a glimpse of Mortimer’s face as he stood up and silently placed the plate on the sideboard, and felt inexplicably pleased that he was not under the power of the butler in that house today.
After what seemed like an eternity, Lady Greatharse lifted anchor.
“I shall be retiring to my room for an hour. I understand we have company this morning? Some sort of game, I have been told. I’m not quite sure if I have any suitable attire for a game, but I shall endeavor to look the part. I would not want to disappoint your poor father, my dear, would I?” and so saying she sailed away from the table and upstairs. They breathed a sigh of relief.
“How long did you say she would be with you?”
“Until the end of the Summer! And that horrid little dog – ugh!” Honey shook a ringlet in Foo Foo’s direction, still curled up on the chaise lounge.
“Poor darling! You must come and escape to our place, you know,” he offered gallantly. “We can go sailing on the lake every day! Or” (he saw this did not appeal to Honey quite as much as he might have hoped) “I shall ask the chaps to come over and we can have champagne and picnics every day. Get you out from under this – this mountain!”
The conversation lulled for a moment, and the two heads of air were floating gently towards each other on wafts of infatuation, when the boisterous sounds of the approaching cricket team came rolling into the room, with many an “I say!” and “what ho!” and “I dare you, go on, five shillings,” and “she’s a mighty fine neck, don’t you think,” until the white-clad lot of them came the same way as the doctor, through the French windows and straight into the breakfast room. Really, this kind of informality must surely end badly.
“Honey! What a sight for sore eyes!”
Lord Denby threw himself and his charming black curls dramatically at her feet, pointedly pushing the young Doctor out of the way. He had culled a cornflower precisely for the occasion, and presented it with aplomb.
“Watch it old chap” said the ousted rival, rubbing its bruised shin. It was all very well, Denby and his tricks, but that was quite a chance he had there before they were interrupted. People should use the front door, and be shown in.
The others were rapidly taking over the room. Drimble made no delay in giving his fullest attention to what remained of the sausages. Bertie pulled up a chair and started offering tea to anyone who would have it, and Drummel seemed to be unable to lose the momentum of his walk, and paced up and down the room, turning at corners alarmingly sharply and asking everyone if they had seen the pitch yet.
“Tea, Drummel?” Said Bertie hopefully.
“I’ll have some, Berts”, said Algie from the chaise lounge. He was leaning cautiously away from the recumbent Foo Foo, while keeping a jealous eye on Denby, still prone at Honey’s feet. Denby was insisting he be fed crumpets in this position.
“No, darling, don’t just hand me the plate! Oh, to have them from your silver hand!”
“Don’t be silly, Denby, what if Papa walked in?”
“Ah, he’d understand the pangs of love! Come, one more crumpet!”
Honey was allowing herself to be coaxed just little by little, and sneaking glances at Dr Bestbury (let’s call him Dillon, shall we) to ensure the reaction was the desired one. It certainly was. He was endeavoring to take absolutely no notice, but she could see by the tell-tale fiery red around the tips of the ears that he was getting very annoyed.
“Are there no more sausages?” asked Drimble. He looked disconsolately at the empty platter.
“Perhaps some bacon?” offered Bertie helpfully. But Drimble must have been of the same frame of mind as Foo Foo, as bacon would just not cut it this morning.
“There’ll be plenty of food very soon, Drimble, Cook’s laying on the usual. I think she’s doing those custard tarts you like so much, too,” said Honey. Lord Denby’s attentions were getting a little old, after a full three minutes.
“When?” he asked eagerly.
“Why, at about ten, I shouldn’t wonder. Morning tea.”
“Do you know if she’s doing the sausage rolls, do you?” Drimble looked as if his life depended on it.
“Goodness. Well, we can check, I suppose.”
Honey got up and pulled the bell for Columbine. At least she could get away from Denby.
Columbine appeared quite suddenly from just round the corner. Bertie’s eyes lighted up.
“Tea, for the lovely miss?” he offered immediately.
“Bertie!” admonished Honey. “Columbine, do you know if Cook is making the sausage rolls today?”
“No, Miss. I don’t believe so.” She knew perfectly well they were just about to come out of the oven, succulent, delicious morsels that they were.
Drimble drooped visibly, but Columbine did not even bat an eyelid in his direction as she added:
“I’m sure though, Miss, I could persuade Iris to make some, if it please the gentlemen”.
Drimble leaped up and swept her up in his arms. “You magnificent thing!” he exclaimed.
“Put that girl down, Drimble!” ordered Honey. “How’s she going to get your sausage rolls for you if you maul her?”
The logic of this statement was clear to him, and he quickly set her down and turned her round towards the door.
“Quick! And come back to us to let us know if you’ve succeeded!”
Columbine tripped out of the door, ran out to the back to where Pippin was, asked for some more flowers for the hallway, and made her way back to the room, where Algie was edging further away from Foo Foo as the latter was growling at being poked with Dillon’s chewed ear of corn.
“Leave the horrid thing alone. It probably has fleas, you might disturb them,” he was saying. “Oh, Denby, do get up and sit here, so unbecoming.” He patted the seat next to him imploringly.
The boys had all gathered round the small dog, and were commenting ruthlessly on it diminutive size, its lack of charm, its bad breath, its probable infestation with every disease known to canine kind and above all, its dreadful personality. Drimble looked up eagerly at Columbine’s entrance.
“All settled sir. They’re on their way”.
“Wonderful girl! Here’s a shilling for you” and he patted her firmly on the rump as she bobbed her respects.
“Oh!” she jumped demurely.
Bertie was at the ready. “This way! You want to watch out for him, nothing more than an animal!” and he tucked his arm defensively round her warm waist. Columbine eyed him.
The clarion tones of Lady Ingraham now broke in from the doorway.
“Ah, Columbine. There you are. I was about to call you all together. I have just heard that the Bishop will be paying us a brief visit later on today.”
The boys looked at each other. Perhaps this meant more food – it usually did. This Bishop himself was an unwelcome appendage to the bounty he usually brought in his wake, being of a crabbed, sour nature highly appropriate to his calling.
“And children, I will expect nothing but the best behaviour. Even minor misdemeanors will not be tolerated” (she stared hard at Honey). “I would also encourage you to leave that dog alone. I have been given to know that it’s teeth are still quite sharp.”
At this point, Bertie’s hand started sliding uncontrollably down from Columbine’s waist and reaching round her pert posterior. She stifled a cry, but did not move. Mortimer’s sharp eye had appeared in the corner of the room and was surveying all, silently, as Lady Ingraham continued:
“I think a slightly extended luncheon this afternoon will now be in order, and I think in honour of Lady Greatharse’s American tastes, a barbecue would be appropriate.” She felt quite proud of this hospitable and somewhat radical idea.
“A barbecue, Marm?” Columbine asked.
“Yes, my dear. I would like you to make sure Iris takes care of all the arrangements, and we should dine at noon so we have no time to spare. Do leave that dog alone!”
Bertie’s hand was sliding more and more vigorously on the maid’s rump.
“Stop jittering, Columbine!” Said Lady Ingraham. “Pippin will prepare you a chicken from the coop” Bertie’s hand had just made a particularly insistent lunge, and Columbine nearly tumbled forwards, with a small shriek.
Lady Ingraham favoured her with a cold stare. “Take it to Iris, and I’m sure she will show Lady Greatharse that the British can cook as well as the Americans”. Columbine stared back at her. She had not heard the preceding two sentences, due to Bertie’s attentions.
“To the cook, Marm??” She sounded astonished.
“Yes, dear, straight to Iris.”
“For the barbecue, Marm?”
“Why yes, girl, what else it is good for? That’s what we keep them for. A particularly fashionable meal in New York these days, I’m told, they love to roast them in the parks. Why should not we?”
“You want it on the barbecue, today, by twelve?” Columbine sounded as if she could not believe her ears. Lady Ingraham was getting a trifle impatient.
“Goodness, you’re not usually so hard of understanding, I used to have hopes for you. On the barbecue, by twelve, today, and delicious too it will be or I shall hold you responsible, even if it is Iris that cooks it. Now I know that’s not very big, but we have some nice beef steaks that will go with it perfectly. We shall have that, some fresh white rolls and some salad. Along with the usual.”
Columbine was pale. However, she valued her position and had ambitions, and was not about to let morals, customs or indeed hygiene stand in her way. She coughed nervously and ventured:
“Where – how shall I start, Marm?”
“Go to Pippin, I would suggest, wouldn’t you? He will clean it for you and have it ready for Iris in no time. Oh, and let her know the Americans apparently like it marinated in hot sauce” and then she thought for a second, “but not too hot in case Father Wyatt can’t eat it”.
“Yes, Marm”. Her small jaw took on a determined set as she curtsied, and carefully picked up Foo Foo and exited with her. Lady Ingraham felt relieved that Lady Greatharse had evidently sent for her rather unwholesome pet – she didn’t like it sitting on the furniture at all, but was far too polite to object.
Mortimer eyed Columbine as she passed tremblingly out, then looked at the Lady, and looked at the indolent knot of youth on the carpet, and said nothing, but the all-seeing eye gleamed merrily.
He slid out of the room hot on the heels of Columbine.
He slid back in very shortly announcing:
“Father Wyatt, m’Lady.”
Father Wyatt trickled into the room, taking off his hat and mopping his brow.
“Getting quite hot out there, already at this hour”. His voice was even fainter than usual.
There was an almost visible wave of annoyance from the group around the chaise lounge as the waif-like cleric floated closer to them and took a chair. Bertie, bereft of his toy, started again on his initial occupation.
“Oh, no thank you. I find the tannin quite disagrees with me.” Father Wyatt was the most dreadful hypochondriac imaginable, and everything seemed to disagree with him, including most of his parish.
“I hear we have sausage rolls later, delicious!” Said Dillon maliciously. The priest winced visibly. He caught sight of Honey’s bare legs, crossed and bobbing about archly, and pointing mainly in the direction of Dillon, who happened to be sitting next to him. He attempted to look very authoritarian and severe. Honey though he was having problems with his bowels.
“If the Lord had wanted women to display their legs in public, we should be reading about it in the Bible!” he said pointedly. Honey’s eyes widened in disbelief. Double disbelief in that firstly she should be reprimanded for wearing a pretty frock, and secondly to be reprimanded by a man! How dare he! It was well known that her knees were the best in the village, if not in the county! Lord Denby leaped (literally) to her aid, as if she might possibly swoon or need some physical support from the insult. But Lady Ingraham swept forward.
“Indeed, Father, I have remonstrated with her many times” (she had bought the dress for Honey herself, she knew her daughter didn’t have many assets and was determined to make the most of those she had), “but alas! Such are the young. And I turn a blind eye, you know, in the summer months – it is so very hot. Shall we adjourn outside, gentlemen?”
Father Wyatt was swept away in a tide of white poplin, still remonstrating, but feebly. Honey looked after him with hatred in her eyes.
“That HORRRRID little man!” she said stamping her foot when they were out of earshot.
“He did you wrong, he did you wrong!” declared Lord Denby, once again at her feet.
“I’ll say, he did us wrong, you can’t have the clergy going round telling girls to cover up – they do that fast enough for themselves!” said Bertie worriedly.
“Oh, he’s horrid!” She was obviously at a loss for further words to express her disgust. Dillon though it was high time Lord Denby got away from the much discussed knees. He picked up his trusty ear of corn, and started thwacking and fencing in the direction of his rival. This did not help much so he rolled down next to him and exclaimed recklessly:
“Most gracious Princess – behold your knight! Allow me to wear your colours in your defense! I shall slay the evil monster, for daring to rear his ugly head in your royal presence!”
Honey giggled. “All right, then”, and she looked round. Alas, she had no handkerchief, but there was a slightly eggy table napkin handy, so this she handed to him with great solemnity.
He clutched it to his breast. “And now to battle!”
“Why, what in the world are you going to do, Dillon?”
“I have no idea, my dear, but die he must!” He had succeeded in making her laugh outright, but felt Denby getting up and about to retaliate, and continued:
“Here’s a great bet, Honey. If I humiliate him, so completely and utterly that he can never show his ugly little weasel-face in this house again, you, in return, shall marry me.”
“Never, ever again? Not even on Sundays?”
“Done!” she clapped her hands, and the rest of them roared and thumped the table (or anything else in sight) to acknowledge the sealing of the pact. Dillon smirked sideways at Denby.
The group made their way out and joined the rest of the team, who were gathering around the spread that was forming outside. Lord Ingraham was fending off players from the food area, vigorously waving his pipe at them.
“Off! Off! No food until some cricket has been played! And I’m as interested in my stomach as the rest of you, move! Bats! Gloves! Come on!”
He bristled his stout white moustache at all and sundry, and they started to comply, rather rowdily. Lady Ingraham had opened her parasol and was settling down to watch, just out of eyesight (but not out of earshot) of Lady Greatharse, who was billowing over a king-size deckchair in regal splendor. She saw Pippin come out of the kitchens looking uncharacteristically morose. He looked at Lady Greayharse in wonderment, and then carried on towards the gardens, shaking his head. Her mind registered the unusual occurrence, but dismissed it just as soon. They were starting to bat.
Denby was bowling first, and had three out in rapid succession. Flush with success, he swiftly became over-confident, slipped up and it was Dillon’s turn to bowl. Archie didn’t stand a chance, and down went the wicket. On came Father Wyatt – ho! What delight. Everyone leaned forward to watch the slaughter.
In the breathless hush, Dillon considered what the best tactic was. Whatever his other faults, he was good with a cricket ball. He had the solution. He ran forward, and let fly a ball that bounced perfectly and made an uncanny leap at the bat in Father Wyatt’s trembling hands, who seemed to do his best to avoid it but was practically pursued and devoured by the evil little thing.
He had dropped the bat, and his wrist was stinging from the impact. Dillon had judged it perfectly. He had been considering going directly for the hands, but this would have been too obvious. If he hit the bat, now that could hardly be his fault, could it?
Father Wyatt was standing wringing his wrist in pain. Honey uncrossed and re-crossed her legs from her vantage point at the side, and popped a grape into her mouth, chewing on it slowly. Dillon ran over to the priest with a very concerned expression.
“Father! I beg your pardon! Let me look at that, come now, surely it doesn’t hurt that much!”
He prized the wrist away from it’s owner’s clutch, and looked at it in a professional manner. The players were starting to gather round.
“Hmm. Looks as if there might be some swelling starting,” he said dubiously.
“Where? Where?” asked Father Wyatt anxiously. “Oh, now you’re right, I can just about see it there – ai, it’ll be a huge bruise!”
“Let’s see, can you move it around like this?” Dillon took a firm grip and yanked the wrist backwards.
“Sore, is it? That’s not a good sign. Let me test one more thing,” and he straightened out the whole arm and bent the whole thing in a most ridiculous fashion right the way round the priest’s back
“OOOW!!” There was real pain in the tone this time.
Dillon stepped back with the most solemn expression. “Father!” he said, “This may be very serious indeed! I’ve only seen this once before. It’s a very rare condition, brought on by muscle spasms that start at the extremities but work their way up to the heart. It’s very serious indeed. In the only other case I’ve seen, it resulted in… death!” He lowered his voice to an awful whisper.
A gasp went up from some of the ladies, and concerned cries “I say!” were heard from here and there in the crowd.
The priest was melting at the knees.
“Ah, you’re right, my son, I can feel it already! Ah, my arm! Ah, I can feel it in my shoulder already!”
Honey was holding her bunch of grapes to one side, and spluttering uncontrollably. Her mother looked at her sharply, but made no move.
Dillon seemed to recover himself, and continued in a voice of steel:
“There is one hope. He must be immobilized! The torso must be held in absolute rigor. It is only by this method that we might be able to save this poor man’s life. Your Ladyship!”
He turned to Lady Ingraham, who wrenched her suspicious gaze sharply away from her daughter on being thus imperiously addressed.
“Your Ladyship can help us save him. Send up immediately for one of your corsets. We have no surgical constraints here, and the rigidity of a lady’s corset is the very next best thing.”
She stared at him, gorgon-like. To be perfectly honest, she was lost for words. She had had no experience in meeting demands for her corsets by young men on a cricket pitch, in front of most of the village. Not a muscle of her face moved for a full ten seconds.
“Lady Ingraham!” he urged, “Quick, send for it now! The Father’s life hangs in the balance! Delay not a moment longer!”
She turned and called stonily for Columbine. The maid appeared, still very pale but about as immobile in her features as her mistress.
“Columbine, fetch me a corset from my wardrobe,” she said sharply.
Columbine would not have flinched, this afternoon, if the very devil himself had arisen from the deep and demanded a rub-down followed by sherry trifle. She was in this far, she would do whatever it took.
“Any particular one, Marm?” she said coldly.
“Any corset. Just hurry!”
Columbine departed, and more players gathered round Dillon and the priest. The latter was rolling his eyes in mortal agony, and swearing that the coldness was travelling up his side.
“Don’t give up, man!” said Dillon, shaking him. Denby pushed in.
“Shall we take his cassock off?”
“No need! It will help with the rigidity! Help him in the meanwhile by keeping the circulation going in the torso!” and he started pummeling the beleaguered man up and down the chest. Drummel joined in, and Denby, and in two seconds a whole crowd was pushing and shoving, trying to get to the squashed priest and poke him vigorously. He was turning quite puce.
Columbine appeared, bearing a corset. Dillon seized on it with a cry of triumph. He swiftly put it round Father Wyatt, and exhorted the men to tie it up and lace it as tight as possible, as fast as possible.
From where she was sitting, Lady Ingraham could only see a flurry of legs, arms and ribbons, interspersed with cries of pain from the priest, and others of ‘Hold still, old chap!” and “I say!” from the others. Finally, they drew back. She winced as she saw that it was the pink corset with red rosebuds along the top. It had been one of her favourites – she would never be able to wear it again now.
He priest was swaying violently, and choking feebly.
“I… I… I can’t breathe!” he wheezed eventually. The fellows had indeed done wonders to the man, and he now had a fine and waspish waist, and the black cassock billowed out very strangely over what appeared to be bosoms. Where did they come from? Magical things, corsets. And the more rosebuds, the better.
In the ensuing silence, Mortimer appeared like the Grim Reaper, silently at his elbow, and announced in a voice of thunder:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Bishop Brendle!”
The crowd around Father Wyatt parted like the Red Sea before Moses. There to his horrified vision, stood the Bishop with an expression to melt bricks.
It crossed the Father’s terrified mind that he may actually have succumbed to the disease, died, and had now descended to the gates of Hell. He fell to his knees in terror, and lifted two trembling hands in supplication. Algie looked at this peculiar apparition and regarded the priest in a new light.
“I say, old chap!” Denby may be handsome, but this was – well! He’d only heard about these kinds of things in the recesses of the City.
The Bishop’s ire thundered out across his recumbent victim. Father Wyatt started weeping.
“Oh, your holiness, Oh, your Grace, Oh, oh my arm, Oh your Grace!”
“Take this man away!” thundered the Bishop.
Denby and Bertie grabbed the priest by the armpits and frog-marched him back to the house, where they took the corset off and put him in a darkened room to recover. Algie went in to comfort him.
Lady Ingraham had come to sooth troubled waters, but as it turned out the Bishop did not seem in the least surprised that Father Wyatt should be found in such an unorthodox situation. He had such a low opinion of the priest that nothing, not even being discovered on a lawn tied into a pink corset, could lower it further. He proceeded instead towards the repast.
“Don’t upset yourself, Lady Ingraham. You are an exemplary leader of the community. And, may I say” he looked approvingly at the spread “the very best provider of fine foods in a very long way!”
Lady Ingraham bent gently at the waist to acknowledge her gratitude at His Grace’s understanding at her trials.
“We are blessed with wonderful staff – Iris is the very best,” she said, and looked around for the object of her praise. But Iris retired hastily into a corner, and appeared to be dabbing her eyes in a most uncharacteristic show of grief. Indeed finding some attention was directed towards herself, she hurried back indoors to her retreat, crying:
“Oh, it’s too dreadful! What a terrible custom! I shall never use those pots again, Oh my goodness how could they!”
Columbine looked on in pale silence. Lady Ingraham was quite nonplussed. No doubt all would be made clear later, meanwhile, the food was ready.
‘May I help you, Bishop?” she said. “We are having a barbecue, a fine American tradition, and we have Iris and Lady Greatharse to thank for it! Please, do try some chicken,” she said, handing him a plate with a dainty drumstick and some salad. “Lady Greatharse, may I offer you some? Please let me know how we compare with American barbecuing!” and she continued passing round plates of marinated meat.
“Not bad at all, Lady I.”, said Drummel. The bishop was approving as well.
“Very tasty indeed, if” (and he stopped to suck at his teeth for a second) “just a little tough”.
Columbine felt quite ill. Chicken? What did they think they were eating?
Lady Greatharse looked around. “Very fine, my dear. Never tasted better. My dear, have you seen Foo Foo? She’s been away from me all morning. She might like some of this.”
“I don’t believe I have, your Ladyship”, she replied absently. “Maybe a trifle hot for her palate, would you not say?” she added, hoping the creature would not make an appearance until the Bishop had gone. He, on the other hand, was still sucking on his teeth, meditatively.
“Chaps! Ho! Help!” Bertie called out – and then wished he hadn’t. Columbine had passed out in a cold faint, and he was now not only trying to hold her up but fighting off the other men rushing to her aid.
She was carried into the shade and had copious hats waved at her to cool her off. Someone thoughtfully loosened her bodice as well.
Dillon left them to sort it out. He pulled Honey away behind the furthest corner of the trestle-table, and hid behind a huge pile of profiteroles.
“Well, my lady? Did I keep my promise?”
“You did indeed!” she squealed quietly with delight. It was a tribute to his infatuation that he actually found the sound pleasant.
“And will you yours?”
“I will indeed!” she squealed again. He grabbed her hand, and ran to the darkened room where the same priest was staring in amazement at Algie, who seemed to be entertaining him entirely. Within two minutes, they had enlisted Algie as a witness and bullied the terrified Father Wyatt into performing the ceremony there and then.
Bertie passed by with Columbine on his arm just as the pronouncement of “man and wife” was made.
“I say, what a brick. Why not? Could you do the same for us, there’s a good man!”
A further two minutes later, Bertie was the happiest man alive, and pouncing with glee upon his newly, and lawfully, acquired set of female buttocks. Columbine had miraculously escaped from the consequences of feeding Lady Greatharse’s pet poodle to both her Ladyship, the Bishop, and most of the village, and could now watch in comfort the process of Father Wyatt being defrocked by the furious Bishop.
After all, all comedies must end with a double marriage.