Fine then, let me tell you a story. You like tales of butlers and the ‘haw-haw’-ian nobility, I gather. But wait, I’m not serving you one of Plum’s dishes. Maybe you’d prefer I begin with how I let loose the purse strings of the last surviving member of one of Britain’s imperial clans. Or about how one dinner changed Windermere Manor into…Alright that’s for another story. So let me begin:
“Summer shine, sir”, I quipped as I buzzed about Affie, picking a stray white thread that hung about, unmindful of its more noble neighbours, from the lapels of his suit. I had considerable trouble with it, though, for it seemed reluctant to let go of my grasp; possibly seeking solace in what it saw as itself in flesh and blood. A human form of a thread, lurking amidst company too obsessed with their own withering sense of pride. “A little faster would do both of us a great deal of good, Richard.” And again, that famed stiff upper lip. But what was I even thinking – about threads and their feelings of solitude? I dusted aside the thought and prepared for the day to come.
The previous night had been quite eventful. Affie had had the occupants of the house of a distant cousin, many times removed, over for dinner. The customary dance and the round of cards had followed, culminating in ‘Oh Affie, you should look for a wife – a butler won’t do’s that I’d grown quite fed up of. But soon after the exeunt scene, Affie sprung a surprise. “Say, Rich, why don’t you bring along a few of your friends from the club over for dinner tomorrow? They should be privileged, certainly to receive an invite from Windermere Manor. Let’s call it a friendly mingling, shall we? And yes, remind them that the master of the House expects demeanor befitting the fine tastes of our clan, given the fact that his riding partners would be present too”, and off he went to bed, before I could seek an explanation. And then I saw it – that familiar lingering look of loneliness deep set in his eyes; floating about like the last drop of tea in a cup – too sorry to be left behind, but too proud to fall into the sink.
I knew exactly then what had to be done, even if it meant putting an end to a glorious era of fine tea parties and dressed-up dinner tables. The task was completed overnight, and I discreetly slipped in a fifth letter amongst the four that were to be signed and dispatched to Affie’s partners. Dinner time approached, and the guests trickled in; Affie’s friends, looking resplendent in their gleaming jet-black coats and gold watches, and my blokes from the club, dressed as best as their lowly budgets could provide for. But Affie’s eyes never left the fifth of his esteemed guests, very obviously drunk and boorish, waving his hand at him. “Halloa there, Alfred old chap! And thank you very much for having me over. Quite certainly you remember me – Charlton – good ol’ Charlie from Eton! Why, you didn’t think twice before signing that invite, did you? We nobles must get together more often”, he drawled. Charlie was simply brilliant tonight. It just took me a little over two pounds to get him a half-decent suit, to look his part. “Oh, yes, Charlton. Welcome to Windermere Manor. I am sure you will enjoy our hospitality. My regards to your father… Pardon me, I miss his name”, Affie gushed, his lips turning bloodless at the sight of the half-open bottle of liquor in Charlie’s suit. I smiled secretly. Things were going good, until now. To Affie, Charlton must have been pushed aside as one among the many sons of noblemen he had been introduced to, in the past, and in truth he hadn’t the faintest idea of Charlie’s father, let alone remember him.
“George Stonewood Sr.”, Charlie boomed, as he crawled his way past my shocked-looking friends, to the dinner table, and began attacking the pork with some vengeance. The rest of the dinner was just as exciting, with expletives hurled out by Charlie at free will, and Affie turning whiter by the second. The chaps from the club ate in shocked silence, too scared to talk, lest they burst into the clamorous bubble filled by Charlton. In the end, the ceramic plates lay in disarray, and the fine wine of the Manor was washed down by the upstart, unmindful of its pristine origins. The exeunt scene played out a second time over, but this time around, it seemed more hurried than usual, with Charlie being handed his coat and almost shoved into his carriage. But just before the cart sped away, I could see him give me a side-wink. He was simply perfect for the role, and had given Affie quite some food for thought, literally.
I returned to the House, and found Alfred pacing about the hallway, head held in his hands. “I’ve erred, Rich.” I could play this act over for days. The time had come. “It seems fine tastes are attributes of men, and not of titles.” I knew better than to rub it in, and in the days that followed, Windermere Manor opened her doors to men – men who would have been otherwise seen as possibly distasteful, to occupy the House. And as for Affie, there was the company he desired finally, freed of the shackles of tradition.What about me? That’s another story, for another TDB issue (possibly).
V. Arvind Rameshwar