“I say, Charles,” I said to Charles as I quickly buttoned up my sports coat and ducked into my study, closing the door behind me as quietly as possible.
A normal person in his spot would have jumped six feet in the air and let out something of a panicked whooping noise at having been caught red-handed mucking about inside one of my glass-doored bookcases. It is a well-known fact among everyone who knows me that I am as protective of my prized collection of rare books as a mama bear is of her cubs.
However, as far as I could tell, the soles of his shoes did not even leave the parquet enough to slip a sheet of paper between him and the floor. He merely turned a bit at the waist so that he could look in my direction.
And where a panicked whooping should have been, there was instead a quiet, unperturbed, “Yes, Sir?”
It was then I noticed that, far from manhandling my beloved books, he was merely flicking a micro-fiber duster over them.
“When you are through flaying my books with the duster, I’d like a word with you.”
“Certainly, sir,” he said deferentially.
He secreted his telescoping duster magically within the recesses of his black morning coat and closed the glass-paned doors of the bookcase. He then turned to gaze at me while standing tall and straight, his arms relaxed at his side, his face serene and unperturbed. One could rotate him 90 degrees in both the X and the Y axes and slip an operating table under him and he would look like a less-rotund Winston Churchill on his back at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum undergoing a delicate cigar replacement procedure. However, I have come to learn in the short time since I made his acquaintance, that Charles will not stand (nor lie, for that matter) being in the same room as a cigar. This would apply even if the cigar was from Havana.
He was, in short, looking very much like a butler, which he was.
I flicked an invisible mote from the lapel of my cinereous-on-plumbeous herringbone tweed sports coat as I stepped behind the small bar in my study. I tinkled a few ice cubes into a glass and drowned them with the contents of a crystal decanter, namely the whistle-wetting waters of Dùn Gàire, Scotland.
“Charles,” I said again, preparing to discuss something of great import.
“Yes, sir?” came his reply. His repertoire of rejoinders is a bit on the sparse side, and this is one of his more well-worn, threadbare phrases, for he uses it frequently.
We were momentarily interrupted in our banter by the sound of a soda siphon sending a blast of soda water into my glass. However, with that bit of business out of the way, we were then free to continue our confabulation.
“Have a seat,” I said, waving my glass at the overstuffed burgundy chair that was the twin to the one I was now planting the Callington derriere in, preparatory to putting my feet up on the matching ottoman.
“I will stand, if it is all the same to you, Sir,” he said, deferentially, for that is how he says pretty much everything.
“Have it your way,” I said philosophically.
“Thank you, Sir.”
“After all, I’m not like the centurion in Luke who was always telling people to come or go, expecting them to goeth or cometh, whichever was appropriate.”
“Pardon me, Sir, but I believe you are referring to Matthew.”
I took a sip of the amber and effervescent waters of Dùn Gàire as a sort of medicinal kick in the pants to the ol’ brain cells. However, they did not respond well to treatment.
“Well,” I said finally, “I shall just have to take your word for it. I may have been absent the day Sister Ogletree discussed that particular passage in her class on the Gospels. It’s highly likely I was convalescing from some lingering ruler wounds in and around the knuckular area of my hand.”
His response was to stare at a point just above, slightly to the left, and somewhat behind my head, as he always does except when he is speaking. I’m sure that is something they teach in the upper level-classes at Butler College.
“Be that as it may,” I continued. “I wanted to speak to you about something of a rather sensitive nature.”
“Yes. You have met my wife … the lovely Mrs. Callington … a.k.a. Alexis?”
“Yes, sir. I have had many occasions to converse with her since you engaged my services, Sir.”
“You no doubt noted that she has red hair.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, “The distinct auburn color of her hair did not escape my notice.”
“Well, if you were laboring under the assumption that color was obtained from her hairdresser, and not from her very own DNA, then you would be making a dangerous error in judgement.”
“I cannot say that I had any thoughts on the matter one way or the other, Sir,” he said.
“You may have also noticed that her eyes are green.”
“Yes, Sir. It would be difficult to not notice such a thing.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t need to do the math for you,” I said. “Red hair plus green eyes can only equal one thing.”
He did not respond, but gazed at that spot somewhere behind me. No doubt his mind was busy churning through the calculus of the problem I’d just laid before him.
“It means,” I said, deciding to just give him the answer so as to save him the agony of working through hypotenuses and polynomials and things. “That she is as Scottish as what is in the glass in my hand right now.”
“Yes, Sir,” he said. “I thought I detected the faintest hint of a brogue in her accent.”
“Furthermore,” I continued. “She stands about four-foot-umpty-ump in her stocking feet and looks as innocent and as sweet as a waif in a Janet Lambert novel, but do not let that lead you into a false sense of security. The Burgundians made a similar mistake in judgement at the siege of Orleans when they told Joan of Arc to go away and come back when she had grown another foot or two.”
I set my drink on the table beside my chair and stood up. I gazed at Charles intently as if I were a general sizing up a new recruit.
“Charles,” I said. “I am about to show you something and you must keep in mind that it is for your own good.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Charles gazing into the ether. If he’d been chewing on a cigar, I’d no doubt he would have followed this up with, “We shall fight them on the beaches …”
“And after you have seen it, you must resist all urges and impulses to say anything at all about it, particularly in front of my lovely lotus blossom.”
“You can count on me, Sir.”
“This is important, for she will be returning any moment. She nipped out to her rose garden to gather a few rosebuds while she may, but she will be returning shortly.”
I unbuttoned the three buttons of my tweed sports coat and held it open to reveal to him the nature of what he was up against.
His eyes flickered and I believe he would have staggered back and fallen against the J through M section of my book collection had not his prestigious butler training kicked in immediately and kept him from crying out.
“Yes,” I said, nodding in understanding. “Exactly.”
“Most eye-catching, Sir, if you do not mind me saying so.”
“My darling amaryllis blossom is learning to knit, you see,” I said, “And so she knitted me this spiffy and colorful sweater vest with her very own delicate hands from a pattern she found in one of her women’s magazines.”
“I quite understand, Sir,” said Charles and though he appeared to be unflapped, I’m sure beyond his smooth and polished butler exterior, his inner butler was sweating and trembling and was in need of a stiff, bracing drink.
“So, I found you at my earliest convenience so that I could explain to you, man to man, that, as extraordinary as it seems, I love this sweater vest.”
“Very good, Sir.”
“That is the party line.”
“I understand, Sir.”
“It shall assume a prized location among the knitted items hanging in my closet.”
“I shall make sure it is hung up appropriately and cared for properly at all times, Sir.”
“And no comments, ever, about how it clashes with such-and-such tie or is not appropriate for whatchamacallit season or simply won’t do at whatever thingamabob event.”
It was at this moment that my darling Alexis burst into the room and said, “Oh! Here you are!”
This time it was me who jumped six feet in the air and let out a sound not unlike an ibis startled by having its foot stepped on by a water buffalo.
“Did I startle you?” laughed Alexis. Her mirthful cherubic face was flushed the same color of pink as the long-stemmed rose buds that she carried her in arm. “What were you two doing in here?” She then added, “Hello, Charles.”
“Madam,” he said, bowing ever so slightly from the waist.
“Oh,” I said, regaining some of my composure. “You know. Guy talk. Football. Race cars. Caber tossing. That sort of thing.”
She looked dubiously at me … and then at Charles. I could tell she was having a hard time picturing him talking about any of those things.
“Whatever,” she said, standing on her tiptoes to kiss me on the cheek. “Mrs. Fournier told me to tell you that dinner will be served shortly.”
“I shall be there with bells on,” I said.
She turned to leave, but then stopped and turned towards me.
“And for gosh sakes,” she said, “Take off that gawd-awful sweater vest! I don’t want anyone to find out that I made that.”
Story Copyright ©2019 by Biff Sock Pow
The series name “Alistair and Alexis” is Copyright ©2019 by Biff Sock Pow
All character names contained herein, as well as any fictional place names, product names, or any other item names that are unique to the “Alistair and Alexis” stories are Copyright ©2019 by Biff Sock Pow