The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week
23 August, 1996
As the sweet smells and sights of summer blanket the landscape of Blandsdown, one feels that one must take pause and admire the serenity. The tall linden trees, leaves adrift in golden light. The summer herb garden, redolent of lavender and thyme. The tall grasses of the fields, waving languidly in the sea-warm wind. The downy deer, frolicking in the park clover. And as one sits upon the marble bench in the grotto by the lake, a solitary noise breaks through the almost imperceptible huzz of the insects and birds--the raucous, greedy cry of an entity so vile, so despicable, so demonic in nature that nature itself shudders at the din: Yes, the squalling of a fourteen-month infant.
The brat is not one's own, of course. It belongs to Emile, Lady Weeble-Able-Smythe, who would not be tolerated as a guest under such circumstances were she not the cousin of one's ward, Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe. (And while one is not a man for digressions, as one's myriad readers will attest, one will indulge oneself at this point to note that although young Penelope Windsor-Smythe has the good fortune to be ninetieth in line for the throne of the British Empire, Lady Weeble-Able-Smythe is of too distant a branch of that family to be honored in a similar respect.) One believes its name is Jason or Dirk or Sergio or somewhat. In one's own day, we made do with solid, sensical names. Cuthbert, for example, or Aloycius, or if one's family were particularly odd, Llewellyn. None of this modern unpronounceable feminine nonsense.
At any rate, Lady Weeble-Able-Smythe is only visiting for a few days, on her way to visit friends in the picturesque town of Cheeke. Do not imagine for a moment that one is not thrilled with the short trip. For, after the week-end, one will no longer have to endure having a muling infant thrust at one while the doting mother shrieks, 'Isn't he adorable?' One has been tempted to answer honestly many a time, for one has never seen such a baleful eye on a baby, or such malicious, infernal intent in its small frame, but one glare from the Lady Felicia immediately prompts one to utter, much against one's will, the reply: "Adorable indeed."
Why is it, one inquires, that the parents of these odiferous urchins assume that others will find their offspring as equally delightful as they themselves do? One cannot exaggerate the number of times that Emile has drawn attention to some action the child has taken--a particularly raucous crowing not unresembling a spoken syllable, for example, or a pleased look on the little grub's potato face when he (and legions of readers will understand the following euphemism, to which one will not draw much attention for fear of appear to pander to the grosser tastes of one's audience) 'does his duty'. In his pantaloons, no less. Things, in short, a brain-damaged monkey could do.
And secondly, whatever possesses these parents to adopt an argot of semi-English blended with incomprehensible babble, when they talk to their young? The Lady Weeble-Able-Smythe was once renowned for her lively if not particularly intellectual chatter on the ballroom floor--yet now, the best she can muster is a sentence such as "Izzy he wizzy not the best widdle muzzy-wuzzums that ever walked across the Persian carpet? Izzy he wizzy? No no, bookums, no pukums innum Wedgewood hearth tray!" Simply ill-making, one assures one's audience.
Oh, one hears the cries from one's readers. "But surely, Sir Charles," cry they, "Surely we all were infants, once. Even Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe. Even the Lady Felicia. Even you, yourself!" To which responds with a single hearty syllable--Bah! One may have been an infant, but one was no common infant. Indeed, one's Mater has informed one that even from birth, when one froze the attending physician with a patrician stare before he could slap one, one was a model of civilization and decorum. No tabula rasa, one. No, one had a clear understanding of one's position in life from the beginning, and a sharp disdain for the cheap, the shoddy, and the common. One soon discarded nappies for several smart crib ensembles from Fisher and Marks, and a bottle of milk in favor of lovely vichyssoises and Yorkshire puddings.
One's first words, according to Mater, were not the standard 'Da' and 'bis-kit.' Oh no! The first pearls to drop from the Grandiose tongue, at the tender age of eight months, were the following, directed at the footman: "Your boots want shining, vile impudent varlet!" (Even then, one's readers should note, one was fond of offering helpful and kindly-meant advice.)
True, not every child is born to the baronetcy. (What would be the value of a title if they were?) But cannot parents at least expect their infants to behave as if they were? One sighs, and suspects the world would be a much quieter, kinder, and zwieback-free place.
Considering slipping a spot of gin in the infant's bottle, one remains for another week,
Daniel Breadmaker writes:
Begging yer pardon, yer lordship, may oi be permmited too aswk yew a qwesstion?
Did yew no that an annagramme of yor noime is "Arseholes riding cars"?
Oi fourt thatt wood maike yew larf.
Sir Charles replies:
You were wrong.
Brusquely, one remains,
So sorry to take so long responding to your most helpful letter, but one has been dreadfully busy. Also, one has had occasion to seek advice from your husband, the reading of which has left one's mind quite exhausted. But that is neither here nor there. I do wish to thank you again for the lovely matched brass spittoons you sent in honor of my marriage to Lord Harriman Bridoon. All of our guests who expectorate here at Tung-In-Cheeke remark upon the capacity and quality of workmanship.
In your reply to my last letter, you mentioned my late first husband, Lord Cecil Martingale and wondered what I had seen in the old coot. To answer this question leads to my entreaty for advice from you, so bear with me as I unfold the rather tedious details.
Granted Lord Cecil abhorred my passion for all things equestrian in nature, but I admired him for his humanitarian effort in restoring the economic conditions here in our humble village of Cheeke. Because of his astute business sense (aided by something called "insider trading"), he was able to restore the local tung oil industry to a profitable enough enterprise so that the local peasantry are now able to eke out a respectable subsistence manufacturing tung oil and selling refinished furniture to tourists. That he made an enormous fortune for himself is quite beside the point. Anyhow, his fortune enabled him to spend leisure time on idle pursuits suitable to his station in life, one of them being sheep dog trials (also, this got him out from underfoot for weeks at a time, the better for me to pursue my own interests without bothering him about small details, but I'm digressing here) and therein lay his demise.
Perhaps you may have seen the account of his untimely death in the tabloids--they had a veritable heyday, let me assure you!. It seems Lord Cecil was annoyed (he had a rather short temper, like all the Martingales) when his border collie Binkie gripped a sheep at the pen, and forthwith smacked Binkie with his cane. This caused Binkie to leap upon him and tear out his throat. (One of the judges who never liked Lord Cecil gave Binkie a score of 10; the others--more sportsman like to be sure--did not mark a score). Of course, everyone agreed that it was not really Binkie's fault--as a high-strung dog he had simply been pushed to the brink.
Thus, after a tasteful period of mourning, Binkie came home to Tung-In-Cheeke, ensconced himself in the second floor study, and turned his attention away from sheep and toward managing the servants. I must say, he does a most admirable job! With Binkie snapping at their heels, they scurry through their household chores with a rapidity and thoroughness that is truly quite amazing. Of course, there was some unpleasantness with a formerly-slovenly upstairs bed-chamber maid who rarely dusted under the antimacassars, but I had a special uniform made with a flattering high neckline made for her and gave her an afternoon off to seek treatment, and that seemed to placate her--she now does a quite respectable job.
My problem is that Binkie is shedding--copiously and dreadfully. I would be reluctant to put him in the kennel since he is so good managing the household staff (and I doubt I could persuade him to go out, he is such a high-strung dog). Do I redecorate in a black and white colour scheme to match his hair, or do I hire another maid whose sole duty it will be to follow him with one of those vacuum-machines? Given the increased productivity of the staff, I can afford to easily do either, but I can't make up my mind. (I have tried to get Lord Harriman to help me in this decision, but he says he wants nothing to do with anything involving Binkie.)
Yours most ever sincerely,
The Lady Felicia replies:
How truly lovely it is to hear from you again.
They say, dear friend, that time heals all wounds. Truly, much time has passed since the unfortunate demise of your first husband, Lord Cecil Martingale. And one is most gratified that you have forgotten the fracas between us when, upon hearing of his untimely accidental death, one instructed Sir Charles's secretary to pen an appropriate sentiment on estate stationery to post to you. One really did expect the lad to attempt a gracious sentiment in a fine approximation of my own elegant penmanship, not merely to send you in scrawled purple crayon the note: 'SORY [sic] HE'S DED [sic], XOXOXO FLEACIA [very, very sic]'. (This was before we knew the boy's sad limitations, you realize.)
But forgiveness is all, dear. And thus my advice to you is to forgive Binkie his shedding. For is this admirable canine not the envy of all the countryside? Why, I know personally that Sir Gerald Plimsole and his wife, the Honourable Britt, attempted to bribe your footmen to 'remove' Binkie from Tung-in-Cheeke while you and Lord Harriman were on holiday from taxes in Majorca!
Personally, my dear, were I gifted with such a talented dog, I would consider charging appropriate sums for his 'stud services', and use the proceeds to redecorate. There is nothing more refreshing, Lady Rebecca, than several weeks in London looking at swatches with fashionably dressed and doting young decorators.
With serene regards, one remains,
Ah, Penelope! How fondly I remember you from the sporting events where those of both sexes who were being educated were permitted to join each other as an audience (chaperoned, of course). How fondly I remember our episode under the bleachers, comparing our intellectual abilities.
But I have a question for you: as a youth to a youth, and as one who likes horseback riding to another, I would like your advice. It appears that my companions (who are as ripe with the blush of teenage boyhood as myself) are creating a dilemma for me in our weekly game of polo. As you surely know, we boys enjoy horseback riding with one another, but sometimes I fear that my companions are becoming quite violent. The manner in which the balls are hit with their thick mallets. . . . Well, words fail to describe the situation. Simply put, the relish which my friends hold for the sport appears to pass mere friendly competition and approach a true love for the activity.
As a lord-to-be (although not nearly ninetieth in line for the throne), I feel that decorum is violated by such emotion. I am, strangely, also attracted to the grueling nature of boys' sport, however. Does your youthful grace hold for me any advice?
Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe replies:
I am most regretful at having to admit a lapse in memory regarding the time you allege we spent together. True, at the various schools I have attended from time to time, I have hidden, during the physical exercise period, beneath the bleachers with a close chum or two, or in one instance, three, in order that I do not embarrass the others with my superior athletic capabilities. As my guardians often say: It is all very well to be superior, but to remind other's of one's superiority is crass.
So I am afraid, sir, that I do not necessarily remember you. Unless, that is, you were the David who displayed quite a large and broad knowledge of the geometric properties of cylinders and curves.
In regards to your question, I must also confess a lack of experience. My youth has been spent in the sunshine and hay of the countryside, and the back seat of my silver Rolls convertible, and not in the boys' schools, except as a special visitor. However, I have polled my Papa, a gentleman who has been ejected from many of the finest public schools in the country. He assures me that the activities you have described are quite normal among young members of the masculine sex, and that it is better to 'sink a few holes' as a youth before settling down to a respectable wife and family. Poor Papa. I believe he is confusing polo with billiards.
Doubtfully, one remains,
The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week