As you may recall from my dispatch last month, I got myself into terrible trouble in one of my many attempts to oust our dreadful cook, Mrs. P, from her cemented position within our household team. I sanctioned the employment of an unscrupulous maid, who then proceeded to repay my kindness and generosity by stealing from our garden open day visitors. If you wish to read the whole sorry saga, then just scroll back in time, in the search archive of this website, although I would rather you did not.
I prefer to quietly shrink into my faded leather chair and have the death watch beetles munch me up. Oh yes, there are definitely death watch beetles in my room, I can hear them clattering about at night, like tango dancers, as I lie in my bed, the whole scene replaying in my head, over and over again, like a terrible play in which I am the helpless, hapless protagonist.
His Lordship and Her Ladyship were extremely magnanimous and charitable in their forgiveness of the matter. I explained the entire misunderstanding from start to finish. Yes, it was my fault I did not check her references, but it was also the agency’s fault in not having checked them either, and we shall certainly not be using their services again. His Lordship nodded his head in quiet sympathy, dismissing my parlous idiocy with clemency and compassion. The matter was not spoken of again above stairs.
Below stairs, Mrs. P, true to form, has not allowed the matter to drop for a minute. In between mixing her heavyweight, artillery scone mix, cooking bacon to a drowning, watery mess, and roasting animal joints till all the moisture, juice and tenderness are sucked out of them for dear life, to vanish into the bowels of her coal fired Rayburn, she goes over and over the whole scene out loud. The theft, the look on the visitors’ faces, the amount of money that was stolen, the cavalier way in which Miss. K was allowed to enter our sacred threshold, the lack of carefulness…..
To add salt to my sorry wounded state, we are still no nearer to finding a good cook than we were three months ago, when I started my plotting. Mrs. P is as safe as houses, she will not budge an inch from her position. Despite the weather being warmer, the produce steadily growing in the kitchen garden and orangery, and great big wooden crates of vegetables and herbs being sold every weekend to paying visitors, we are still eating heavy, stodgy, tasteless winter gruel food. Mrs. P does not know what seasons are. She barely ever leaves the kitchen. Her idea of embracing nature is standing in the back, covered servants’ porch to smoke a cigarette. Her skin is as white as the milky, insipid bread sauce she serves with her speciality, “Died in Vain Chicken”.
And then, just when I thought that things could not possibly take a turn for the worse, yesterday’s news left me completely flabergasted.
On my weekly meetings with Her Ladyship, when she is not residing in London, she told me that we were going to have an extra member of staff. I was flummoxed. An extra member of staff? Who? And from where? And more to the point, why had I not been responsible for interviewing and hiring this person?
“You know him already, Mr. B!” said Her Ladyship, “It’s Arthur.” Arthur, I thought. Arthur, who? “You’ve known him since he was a boy, he’s Mrs. P’s grandson, you know, Arthur who used to play with the gardener’s children and get told off for climbing the kitchen garden wall to steal the figs. That Arthur.”
I was dumb struck, I could not speak. He could not be more than 18 years old, he was supposed to be going to college, why on earth were we hiring him, what was he going to do?
Needless to say, Mrs. P was jubilant, in her little autocratic kingdom, she was the puppet dictator, pulling the arterial strings of this dynastic fiefdom. As she rolled out leathery pastry to make her classic “Death By Bitter Jam Tart”, she boasted to all the staff, “Arthur is coming to join us. He’s a good lad you know, he’s going to learn fast. He wants to be an under butler.”
And as she fixed her cold, steely gaze at me, I could see the side of her mouth turning up with an uncontrollable spasm of pleasure. “You had better watch out, Mr.B”, she said, slopping careless spoonfuls of watery jam and cherry stones over the crumpled, holey, beige pastry. “He’s aiming for your job next.”
To be continued.