The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week
17 November, 1995
Blandsdown, its ancient exterior softened by time and the winter breezes, was most honoured this week to receive a surprise visitor. Miss Anita Manceau-Baddeley, one's readers (their masses ever burgeoning) will recall, shared with the rest of the family the last warm days of autumn beneath the golden linden trees of the garden promenade--and, if this old (yet remarkably youthfully preserved) chap might so say, touched our hearts as well with her deep, throaty laughter, the elegance of her broad-shouldered carriage, and her exquisite femininity.
It would seem that Miss Manceau-Baddeley was just 'passing through' on her way to an engagement in Little Poughing when her conveyance lost a tyre. Naturally she turned for succour to the family of her friend Chauncey Grandiose--dares one to hope suitor? For the thought of Miss Manceau-Baddeley daily gracing the family table of Blandsdown causes one's heart to leap with gladness. Despite the Lady Felicia's considerate insistence that Miss Manceau-Baddeley retire immediately to a bedroom in the remote upper north wing of Blandsdown with a tray and remain there until her Mini was repaired, the young minx insisted on taking dinner with the family and afterwards amusing us all with scandalous stories of Chauncey and some quite diverting hand shadows (Miss Manceau-Baddeley's large digits are quite adept, and the hair upon her knuckles is quite thick enough to make a reasonable facsimile of Lord Tennyson's moustache, in silhouette). Before retiring for the evening, she presented us all with small tokens of appreciation for our kindness: several sequined slippers and a feather boa for young Penelope Windsor-Smythe, a container of 'Nair' for the Lady Felicia (we have determined to have a servant explain its use at a later date), and a smoking jacket in burgundy silk for oneself.
Oh, if only Dame Fortune had continued to mete out such justly deserved happiness throughout the night! For as it befell, one happened to take a stroll in one's new burgundy silk smoking jacket through the remote upper hallway of the north wing, where all was silence after midnight, when one heard a most dreadful crash from the direction of the gallery. Of course, one immediately took the liberty of investigating Miss Manceau-Baddeley's boudoir (which happened to be first at hand) to see if all was safe--but she was gone!
One immediately betook oneself to the gallery, where one discovered Miss Manceau-Baddeley (looking, if one may interrupt the flow of one's story, enchantingly vixenish in the moonlight, dressed in her turban and white nightgown) leaning out an open window. One surprised her so suddenly that she nearly fell out--and it took several moments of grasping about her sturdy waist to ensure her safety. When all was settled and the stinging of her slap upon one's cheek had subsided somewhat, she pointed with horror at the gallery wall: One's second-best Constable was missing! Stolen! Absconded with! The very Constable that one's heir Chauncey had admired but a fortnight before!
As the family and servants gathered, awakened by the noise, Miss Manceau-Baddeley related her tale. Upon hearing footsteps in the hallway, this plucky lass thought to investigate. She followed a sinister, shadowy figure to the gallery, where she watched in silent horror as the villain removed the Constable from its place of honour upon the wall and dropped it from the window to his ignominious accomplice below. The rapscallion then vaulted through the window afterwards, leaving Miss Manceau-Baddeley to watch as he made his scurvy escape.
The local law enforcement agency--uneducated common chaps--seemed suspicious of the tale, and took one aside to recommend that they take the 'finger prints' of our guest. One refused, of course, to allow the poor girl to the object of their ham-handed 'theories' of an 'inside job,' and dismissed them from the estate immediately with the orders to scour the countryside for shadowy, sinister, black-clad figures (doubtlessly with foreign-style long mustachios) carrying a large landscape between them.
One was most sorry that the lovely Miss Manceau-Baddeley was subjected to these terrors. Appropriately dressed in black, a lovely lace veil concealing her robust features, she left the next morning with one's nephew Chauncey, who coincidentally happened to be 'passing through' as well on his way back to London in a rented van. Chauncey, upon learning of the Constable's disappearance, manfully attempted to conceal his pain and disappointment through a cascade of hysterical giggles. The poor lad. He is a sensitive soul.
Surprisingly, a small sigh has escaped from one's own lips. One never did hear Miss Manceau-Baddeley's opinion of one's distinguished figure in the burgundy silk smoking jacket.
One thus retires for another week, in order that one might call Lloyd's, and will always remain,
Dear Sir Charles:
I have a bit of a delicate situation on my hands, and as I've seen your expert abilities at dealing with such (the Mabel non-incident leaps to mind), I thought you were the man to ask.
I am an amateur artist, and several years ago I was living in a house with several delectable and, unfortunately, unavailable young women (it was a damnably Platonic situation, as they all had boyfriends).
One night after they'd all walked off to bed in those tempting oversized T-shirts and left me behind, of course, and I amused myself by drawing . . . The result was really a masterpiece, but not quite appropriate for public consumption, especially by anybody who would recognize the two main subjects of the . . . um, figure study, which strongly resembled myself and one of my roommates.
Since then, a copy of the drawing, scanned in to the computer, has found its way into the possession of an erstwhile "friend" whom I shall call "Bob" to conceal his real name of "N-te." "Bob" is now threatening to publish the drawing in electronic form to the roommate and several of her friends if I do not keep him supplied with the tacos of his choice for an undetermined length of time, at my expense.
What shall I do? I'm afraid my style of drawing would give me right away, and I can only afford so many tacos!
Drawn & Quartered
Sir Charles replies:
Ah, the life of a struggling young artist. The bracing air of a chilly garret! A Rubenesque model shivering on the muslin-draped divan! The cold slice of mutton for dinner, the boiled egg for the morning repast! The aroma of congealed oil paints, the tins of murky water! The flecks of blood coughed into one's pillowcase as one wastes away from consumption!
It may surprise one's readers (who are legion) to learn that the author once yearned to be an artist, himself. Oh yes! One had developed an irrational yet sincere fondness for a common girl, an artist's model--even now one can glimpse, in the mind's eye, the cherubic, ruddy face and curly locks of sweet Mab. . . . Er, that is, one shall call her 'Grable'. One even went so far as to defy one's Pater and establish oneself in an artist's garret (a centrally-heated second story flat in Belgravia with hot and cold running taps, but only three servants) to commence one's masterpiece!
This arrangement continued for several months until 'Ralph', the brother of sweet 'Grable,' accosted the two in a dark corner of the cloakroom at the British Museum, where one had been attempting to cultivate the young lady's mind with something more cultured than MovieTone Magazine. The brash brother, mistaking one's removal of a dust speck from Mab. . . . 'Grable's' eye as something entirely more intimate, attempted to remove one's spleen with the point of one's own umbrella. This raw display of metropolitan violence so shocked one that one instantly abandoned one's brushes and beret and returned to Blandsdown, where one was warily welcomed by the Pater.
One's masterpiece was 'The Cloakroom: A Study in Blue'--coincidentally, the only work one actually ever painted during the London Period (or before or after). The Lady Felicia's servants somehow accidentally removed it from one's dressing room and mistakenly sold at a Fishampton church jumble sale to a woman of unknown parts who disappeared with it, never to be seen again. There was some confusion, afterwards, as the servants claimed they had been ordered to give it to the rector for the jumble sale, while the Lady Felicia swore she would never do such a thing, so fond she was of her husband's daubings. One sacked the servants immediately, of course.
Nostalgically, one remains,
[Postscript: Oh yes, there recalls a question in there. One recommends purchasing and employing a handy object known as a 'policeman's cosh', readily available from the finer black market sources. --Sir C. G.]
Dearest Sir Charles,
I am in quite a quandary. You see, I'm at a crossroads of romance. I adore my darling boyfriend, yet we are experiencing some communication problems. When I attempt to get the crux of the matter, he tells me that he "doesn't know" what is bothering him. How to proceed?
How is it possible to resolve differences when one is unable to get to the very nature of those differences? Would it be better if I stopped trying, and simply terminated our relationship?
I do appreciate your taking time to answer this most pressing query.
Sir Charles replies:
The cad knows. Oh, he knows well what bothers him! He knows how, dissatisfied with his present state, he wishes for something more. How he yearns for something, someone, to take him away from his loveless coupling and to stoke the flame that once warmed his very breast! He knows how his duty is to his lady wife and his young ward, and yet he thinks only of the whispered, hidden moments in the British Museum, decades ago! At nights he stands before his dressing room glass, gazing upon a face once youthful, yet now tending towards the jowly, mutely suffering from the thoughts he cannot escape, yet of which he cannot speak! Oh, the scurvy cur knows, madam, he knows!
One takes a moment to collect oneself, as one has detected a trace of perspiration on one's brow.
Ah yes, the correspondent's dilemma. One feels that attempting to probe to the root of a problem smacks of that vulgar Freudian nonsense. After all, Freud's nosy diggings unloosed an unending stream of er-t-c dreams, rubbish about men and their mothers, and observations that have prompted many of one's contemporaries to go for life without experiencing the pleasures of a good cigar. Instead of forcing the young lover to explain the problem and risk knowing more than one really ought about one's intended, simply force him to admit that a problem exists. A cattle prod will do. Afterwards, the correspondent should train the lad out of the behavior that distresses her.
It may be, on the other hand, that the young lady is simply saddled with an admirer who is unsuitable for her. In that case, one advises she drop him immediately, and have her male relatives (up to, but not including, second cousins to the third removal) ruin his reputation through scurrilous rumours (and perhaps a wee spot of roughing up) so that the knave will not have the chance to steal the hearts of any more but the most common of women.
Wishing one luck, one remains,
Dear Sir Charles,
I am searching for the origin of the phrase, "Think of England." I believe it may have originated from advice given to a young virgin who was about to spend her honeymoon night with an older nobleman. When she asked her mother (?) what to do, the response may have been, "Close your eyes my dear, and Think of England." I have heard the phrase as given to anyone who is about to enter a difficult or onerous duty or task. Any ideas about the origin??
Sir Charles replies:
Such prurient interest in such a sordid topic will lead to nothing but the correspondent's ruin, one warrants! A true Lady will never let her mind wander to the c-rnal act. Even as it takes place, madam, even as it takes place! A Gentleman, on the other hand, cannot but help reflecting upon such thoughts from time to time. But it is the Lady's place to keep him focused upon improving, unstimulating thoughts through decidedly untempting dress and speech. A job, one might note, which one's own Lady Felicia performs admirably.
To satisfy the correspondent's vulgar curiosity, however (one shudders to think she might ask the question of one less tolerant than oneself), one will state that one believes the coarse advice in question came from Queen Victoria herself, when asked how to endure the frantic and unseemly fumblings that accompany the Duties of the Wedding Night. It repels one to think that such uncouth old German strumpets can straddle the British throne for so many years when one's ward, young Penelope Windsor-Smythe--she who is the very essence of British purity and restraint--is but eighty-fifth in line for succession. Ah, Dame Fortune! You have much to answer for!
Sighing, one remains,
(One passes the quill to one's able wife, the Lady Felicia.)
A Traveler Abroad writes:
Honourable Lady Felicia,
Travel broadens one's mind so, don't you think? But it can put one in quite a bother, and it is of such unpleasantness, Lady, that I seek your genteel advice, having heard so much about your elegant soirees.
On an upcoming trip to the Far East, an associate has offered to take me to a private tea room. At such a place, he assures me, the proprietress does not take new customers unless accompanied by a friend (such as himself) or else by several letters of reference, a custom of which one must surely approve; but "gaijin" (a Japanese word meaning "foreigners, including Englishmen") may not be allowed at all. The prospect of being cast out on one's ear--by foreigners!--is so appalling that I am tempted to fall ill at the final moment; but I have long wondered whether 'tis true that the geisha do not wear Western undergarments, and how easily this might be ascertained. How can I keep my God-given dignity in this uncomfortable circumstance?
A Traveler Abroad
The Lady Felicia replies:
My Dear Madam,
One has made discrete enquiries into the inner workings of the foreign customs to which one's correspondent refers. One is, to be frank, entirely appalled. Once again, one is strengthened in the surety of one's convictions that the only truly refined citizen is a well-bred British Citizen.
One will not horrify one's gentle readers with what one discovered when enquiring into the practices of 'geisha', except to say that the custom requires the patrons to--and here I must one again gasp in horror--remove their shoes. One reiterates that any establishment that prizes the lustre of the floors over the comfort of the guests should not be tolerated!
One believes one has said enough, and takes several deep breaths to become, once again
The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week