Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Servants Exploration of 1813



Mulgrew Pettifer had been a butler most of his life. Among his fellow servants at Anthemion Hall, a vast stony-faced pile fronted with dark windows and surrounded by grand but largely pointless grounds, Mr Pettifer was the boss. He was tall, angular and had a ski slope for a nose. His eyes alternatively twinkled or froze depending on what was required. His second in command was Mrs Gaskin the housekeeper. In point of fact she was higher in rank than Mr Pettifer, but in character she was a better manager and gave way to him. Unlike Cook who was short, dark haired and very nearly demonic, according to Young Hannah the scullery maid. Next, there were Lily and Sabine the chamber maids and Philip the chauffeur. Philip doesn't count in this story as he was away with Lord and Lady Snork-Hampton for the Season. Not forgetting at any point, Nanny Slipper, who was handy with a slipper.

So in order of command we have:

Commander of the Troops - Mulgrew Pettifer, butler
Second in Command - Mrs Gaskin the housekeeper (there was no Mr Gaskin any more, alas)
Major and Keeper of the Children - Nanny Slipper
Sergeant Major - Cook (who was always known as Cook and nothing else)

Then the troops:

Young Hannah, Lily and Sabine, Mudlark the gardener's son and Spottiswood the Under-Butler a quiet and gentle soul - smitten with Young Hannah but silent on the matter. Also, Tiger a striped ginger cat, but he was not very good at taking orders.

It happened thusly. The Snork-Hamptons (and Philip the chauffeur) went down to London for the Season of parties, Ascot and the like. At home they left Cecily and Achilles their children. Cecily was nine and very grown up, thank you. Achilles was six and frequently in trouble, but Cecily loved him because next to him she seemed very grown up indeed. Cecily was determined to write a novel like Jane Austen, but she would be interrupted by a charming and wealthy young man who would propose to her wittily. Or so she said.

Achilles wanted to be an explorer and wrestle tigers and crocodiles. Tiger the cat would not co-operate however and kept climbing to the top of the bookcase and falling asleep. It happened that one morning, Achilles the Brave got out of bed and crept down to the kitchen. He was extremely cautious because like Young Hannah he knew Cook was almost demonic and while one might wrestle tigers and crocodiles, Cook didn't wrestle - she chased. Usually with a wooden spoon and a terrible yell.

He managed to enter the pantry and gathered provisions for an exploration. He even managed to escape from both pantry and kitchen without being eaten up by Cook or having his ears boxed by Young Hannah. He had decided to explore Anthemion Hall which was very large and somewhat rambling.

He was not missed at bathtime, but at breakfast Young Hannah wondered where that rapscallion was. Mr Pettifer ascended to the bedrooms and found - no Achilles. Having his suspicions, Mr Pettifer checked the window for ropes and or knotted sheets. He examined the wardrobe and under the bed. Then with a sigh he descended in measured steps and remarked to Cecily that he believed her brother may be 'hexplorin' and might she have any idea where. Cecily frowned and answered that she really could not be expected to be her brother's keeper even if she was nine. She added that Achilles really was a nuisance, which Young Hannah was about to agree with but somehow couldn't.

Mr Pettifer consulted with Mrs Gaskin who agreed that the boy would certainly turn up when he was hungry and not to worry yet. She was interrupted by a growl that could only be from Cook.

"'Oo's bin in me pantry, 'ey?" she trumpeted.

"Oh dear," Mr Pettifer sighed, "I fear the young lad has provisions."

At lunch, in the Servant's Hall, Mr Pettifer gathered his troops. It was agreed that an exploration of their own must be made to seek out the young lad. Cook was not impressed, but even she quailed before the icy glare of Mr Pettifer. She sighed rather heavily in the manner of a hippopotamus having discovered that mud was in short supply. Mudlark, who was just hanging about was sworn in as a member of the exploration and Mr Pettifer told them the plan.

They would search the cellars first, then foregather in the hallway. Next would be the ground floor and foregathering on the landing. They would go floor by floor until the lad was discovered. Remarks were made as to what would happen to Achilles when found, which involved a number of painful rituals. Nanny Slipper corralled Cecily into joining in the search for Achilles, which made Cecily sulk. A most un-ladylike thing to do in the circumstances, Nanny Slipper told her.

The cellars were empty of boy. The ground floor had proved too ordinary to him. Same with the bedrooms. However, the higher floors had clearly held interest as was found by the pie dish on a table in the corridor. The dish made Cook roar, but Achilles came there none. Up stair and down stair they went, even into my Lord and Lady's chambers, but while these chambers held a sort of mystique for the children, they were not hunting grounds.

The exploration was adjourned for lunch during which speculation was held as to where Achilles might be hiding/exploring. At precisely two o'clock, the search began again from where it had ceased.

The lumber room leading to the attic held more promise. On the stairs a trail of crumbs and an empty bottle of pop was found. Cook muttered and grumbled, storing the bottle in her apron pocket with the pie dish. The lumber room itself, tho' cluttered with various objects - a somewhat tatty tigerskin rug, a canoe and bits of broken chair among them did not contain Achilles. This left the attic and the rooftops. Mr Pettifer hoped sincerely that the boy had not gone out onto the rooftops, which were dangerous for a small boy.

Nonetheless, the Exploration passed through the lumber room into the large attic rooms. Mr Pettifer went first with a torch, closely followed by Young Hannah as Mrs Gaskin had need of a sit-down. Nanny Slipper followed Young Hannah. The attic rooms, like the lumber room were filled with boxes, paintings, and various other objects that had made way for other things. One painting showed a formidable woman in a dress of the 18th century. Lady Cecily Matilda Snork-Hampton, the title read. She looked nothing like her younger namesake who was a part of the Exploration.

Achilles was not found, which led the Servants Exploration to search the roof tops. Fortunately the weather was pleasant, however, Mr Pettifer would not allow Cecily upon the roofs fearing for her safety. Instead, Young Hannah, Spottiswood and Mudlark were sent out onto the rooftops. Discovering that he was to be sent out almost alone with Young Hannah, Spottiswood blushed almost the colour of his scarlet waistcoat. But he obeyed, being a kindly soul. Mudlark was told to follow Young Hannah's orders and stay away from the edges of the roof.

Mudlark scowled, for he was something of an explorer himself and the idea of being on the rooftops appealed to him. It did him no good, for once out of the attics on the roof, Young Hannah took him by the arm and threatened him with a thrashing if he disobeyed her. Her pale clear complexion tinged with a slight blush, her flashing dark eyes and chestnut hair did not arouse his tender sentiments quite as much as Spottiswood. Mudlark merely scowled and told her, 'Awri'te, I 'eard ya. Gerroff yer a pain.'

This resulted in her shaking him so that he was forced to cling to her. Then she hugged him tightly and told him,

"Fall off this roof you little horror and I'll kill you myself, got it?"

Mudlark nodded and impertinently kissed her. She grinned at the young boy and ruffled his already untidy hair. Spottiswood searched meanwhile, conscious of his beloved Hannah nearby and tried to ignore her. He did not find Achilles upon the rooftops either. Young Hannah watched him and shielding her eyes from the light she scanned the rooftops calling out to Achilles. Answer came there none. Then, looking down at his father, the gardener's handiwork, Mudlark cried out in triumph.

On the roof of the Gothic Folly, a small figure stood erect. In his hands he held a small Union Jack flag. Young Hannah giggled and called Spottiswood back.

"The little gentleman's over on the Folly," she told him.

Spottiswood passed the message along to Mr Pettifer and the Servants left the roof tops, returning down the stairs to the hallway of the building. Along the way through the attics, Cecily commandeered Mudlark into helping her bring a painting down to her room. It showed Horatius P. Snork-Hampton, Baronet, a 16th century gentleman glowering manfully at a shrub in the foreground.

Once in the hallway, the Servants were marshalled by Mr Pettifer, except Mrs Gaskin who retired for a lie-down declaring that this sort of thing was too much - just too much. Spottiswood was sent with Lily to fetch a ladder. With a use of imagination and verve seldom used, Mr Pettifer asked Cook to take Sabine and Young Hannah and fetch a picnic lunch to be brought to the Folly. Catching sight of Cecily and Mudlark coming down the stairs, his eyes twinkled. He leant over and asked Cecily,

"I say Miss Cecily, do you think you might get hold of a general's coat from the dressing up box in the nursery -and a few top hats?"

Cecily liked it when Mr Pettifer's eyes twinkled. They suggested a rare burst of playfulness and even mischief that she found endearing. She nodded briskly and tugged Mudlark's sleeve.

"Come on Mudlark, let's get some dress up," she giggled and dashed away up the stairs again.

Mudlark grinned and followed. In ten minutes, Lily and Spottiswood returned with a ladder, Cecily and Mudlark returned with top hats and a long general's coat with gold braid at the shoulders and along the front. Mr Pettifer put on the coat and one of the top hats. He handed a top hat to Spottiswood and to Mudlark. The other top hat he handed to Cecily. Taking the ladder from Lily, he bowed to her and when she giggled, he winked.

"Come along explorers, let us go and rescue our fellow explorer," Mr Pettifer announced.

The small band trooped out of the hallway into the gardens. They marched to the Folly and stood below it. Above, they could hear Achilles declare that the new territory was now called Terra An Cognita (Terra Incognita but he didn't know that) and it belonged to him, but he was lending it to the Queen. Mr Pettifer gently leaned the ladder against the Folly and climbed up to the roof. His top hat appeared followed by the rest of him over the edge of the roof and he tipped the hat to Achilles.

"Master Achilles, Explorer Extraordinary I presume?" he asked.

"Oh hallo Mr Pettifer. I been explorin' and I've claimed the Folly but I'm gonna give the Queen a lend of it," Achilles told him.

"Jolly good sir. I am sure your father will be glad to hear it. Now then, we're going to have a picnic down here on the lawn, so how about you come down and join us? You can tell us of your no doubt dangerous travels and the fights you must have had with alligators and other fierce animals," Mr Pettifer said kindly.

"Well alright then. It was pretty dangerous and everything," Achilles told him, edging towards the butler.

He was helped down the ladder with his bag of provisions, which was getting a little empty and the picnic basket was brought across the lawn, led by Cook and carried by Sabine and Young Hannah. It was followed at a trot by Tiger who had smelled the ham and cold chicken.

Nanny Slipper was about to tell the boy off for wandering away without telling anyone, but a look from Mr Pettifer silenced her and she settled for pulling him into her arms and giving him a tight hug. Young Hannah kissed him and said they'd missed him, which was only partly true. Cook growled softly at him, then handed him a bottle of pop and ruffled his hair. She had gathered a feast and they ate well.

When Lord and Lady Snork-Hampton returned at the end of the month, Cecily told her parents about the exploration. His Lordship found it so amusing that he had the exploration marked in tiles in the Folly, as you can see.

4 comments:

Rosemary in Utah said...

(Snapper was quite specific here, no nice neutral nature shot this time!) How nice to have a household full of people looking after you. How nice to live in a home big enough to 'splor, full of interesting things. Ha--I guess what I'm saying is
How nice to be securely rich,
how nice to be a loved child!

Griffin said...

More humoured than loved - I mean they called the poor kid Achilles!! The idea came from short stories written by the subtly wicked Hector Hugh Munro or Saki. He was writing in the Edwardian era an age where the rich were very rich. Also, I love those big old houses and would love one myself. Even if I'm never going to have one at this rate!!

madameshawshank said...

Now now Mr Griffin..let's have not an ounce of this 'Even if I'm never going to have one at this rate!!' business...imagine if THE house is just around the corner..it will be a weeping!

Mulgrew Pettifer..Miss Pettigrew?

all that exploring..got me thinking of Vita Sackville-West and 1400's Knole..a calendar house..365 rooms..imagine listening to those walls!

madameshawshank said...

oops..the photo..

from a memorial at the end of our street..commemorating an expedition in 1813..Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth and some helpers!..cut their way across The Blue Mountains..first Europeans to do so...they had to cross the river near to our house..Nepean River..