The daughter of the house was leaning sideways ,and her smile which has melted hundreds came upon me now and her and her black eyes reflected the lustrousnousess of the deepest colours of Connemara . They seemed , deep ponederous,to a degree which quite perplexed my unhurried emotions. She really was almost quite arresting in her raw beauty.
Ahh ! I said - a temptress , but I quite declined her naked flirtatiousness.
- good morning - I said civilly , and she slinked to the kitchen or somewhere in the nether regions of the hostelry like a wraith.
I had much on my mind not least the news I had devined before leaving the City that my interests in a rubber plantation in the Belgian Congo required my attention.
At time was pressing , I had resolved to make a telephone call to my club in Sloan Square on arrival.
Admittedly even at the time of writing these contraptions were quite novel , one expected to be facilitated with such a service even in this western remoteness.
The girl , on my making enquires as to whether an efficacious facility were readily available in the hostelry , simply looked me askance with those dark liquid eyes and abandoned me .
Whatever it was about the girl , there was something which distracted me from my purposes in her presence. She had the aspect of the classical with high bones , and an evenness of brow which reminded one of alabaster . She reminded me vaguely of Dotty’s girl , but frankly I could not quite readily say exactly how.
Presently her mother came along and I explained my predicament again.
- ahh !! Sor - she said in that accent of kaleidoscope tones , which runs hither and thither along the scales in a manner which offends the sensitive ear quite brutally.
I should remarrk that my late brother , who was quite an impersonator of these remotest residents of the realm, had prepared me in some measure for their frankly alien accents.
There is much use of the “V” where “W” is intended , and vice versa.It seems almost deliberate sabotage of his Majesty’s English , but nobless oblige is the mottto of my clan.
- tis the wire ya do vant .- You see what I mean here . But I persevered .
- Precisely !
-vell theres none of dem here ; is it the same as thim telegrims -
More of it you see ! You shall have to show some degree of tolerance with the accents . I represent them thus here to signal to the gentle reader just how difficult it is to even negotiate the scantest social discourse with these people.
-Precisely.- , I replied and I endeavoured to keep my sentences to the point among these voluble people . It attracts an unnecessary familiarity. One keeps one’s distance . Any weakening of such resolve is to embark upon a positively perilous path. Perish the thought that you might ever show them the smallest amity. They shall never forgive you for it.
- dem tiligrams are a wondher arent dey.sor ! . Ye can talk away across the oceans and no bother to ya.. - She wheedled on aimlessly.
- will ve do haf none of dem here
- No !?- I ejaculated with horror.
- ahh Chripes no not at all .No..No sorr!! - tis none of dem new yokes ve do not be usin here ..
My heart sank, but she continued.
- The dachtor has wan an the have wan in the Peelers station , and dere is wan in the post office ..
- ahh I -said brightening .
- would it be possible perchance for me to use the services of the post office so..
- no !no, you see sor , Sadie …. Poor aul Sadie . She has a bit of the weakness sorr !! I seen Sadie below in Fahys .. Was it the day afore yesterday.. And she was polluted.. Skutthered .. Sorr ! Beggin yer pardon.. She vont be sober till about Wednesday.
- but.. ! , - I protested vehemently.
- I need to call my Club …!!- I explained with a firmness of timbre to my erstwhile even baritone voice.
- poor Sadie has a weakness ya see sor ! She do have a fondness for the dhrink.. She do have a weakness for it sor …Poor Sadie..
Then she added with a doleful tautology
- Sadie . Im afraid sor , she do have a shthrong weakness for the dhrinks sorr !! Por devil. Tis a curse surely sor !.
Look here !!- I said with more measured but with a crisp and considerable authority.
-If the woman is supposed to be providing a service to the public…
- Sadie does do the hairdressin as well - she has a pile a work to catch up on when she does sober up.
I gave the woman a withering look . I meant it. But she had not yet exhausted her keening monologue .
And so it went on in this most agonising fashion for nigh on fifteen minutes , whereupon she proposed a most monstrous course of action.
She proffered a plan that if I were to go down to the post office and happened to have in my possession a bottle of Scotch , I might anticipate a favourable outcome to my dilemma In fact , she mused . It was the only way.
I put aside the unswerving frank and unbending intolerance of my Race to these indigents and ingrates and presently made my way along to the post office . The little hovel was all but boarded up. ; the blinds down , and a ravenous dog tethered with bailing twine to a tree trunk , in what passed for a front garden.
The cur served one useful purpose at least. He saved me the ignominy of knocking on the front door. I did not expect there would be a bell. The animal with full- lunged intensity barked incessantly for some full ten minutes before the door opened with a clatter .
And there came out into the street one of the most terrifying visions I have borne witness to since the end of the war .
The postmistress, for I had deduced that this must be she, came to the gate screeching like one in an advanced state of torment; she had a clay pipe projecting from two yellow stubs which remained of her teeth , and she wore a black shawl about her . She wielded a stout blackthorn stick , which she flayed about as if chasing away unseen demons.
On seeing the whiskey which I had casually made visible from beneath my Gabardine , both she and the infernal cur became mollified as if of a sudden , a tempest had come and had just as swiftly passed.
Alacrity has been a characteristic of my family line since the time of the Crusades , and it served me dutifully now.
- Good evening Madam.-I began.
I had scarcely proffered my hand saying ;
- fFullerton of Carlisle , Lord fFullerton , with a small ‘f’ or simply Carlisle .
The old crone had with a stealth , which startled me , simply whipped the bottle alluded to hitherto , from my crooked elbow.
She examined the bottle immediately to determine if is was full. Then she proceeded to open it and there in the open street , I do not jest you -she took a long draught therefrom ;neat and raw as one sometimes sees the cowboys do in the moving pictures. It shook my very vitals.
The conversation which ensued is too complicated to recount . Suffice it to say that the woman neither appreciated my rank nor title. My appellation ; Lord fFullerton of Carlisle was beyond her comprehension, and having made several endeavours to explain that when one held the title one simply used the district as ones sobriquet; in my case “ Carrilse “ , So one could refer to me as simply - Carlisle or alternatively Lord Carlisle or then again should it take ones fancy - Lord Wilberforce fFullerton - fFullerton - with the preceding small ’f’ and the hyphen . Not that incomprehensible , one would have thought but despite my not inconsiderable endeavours I could convey no meaning to the woman...
To even contemplate that my family name - Fullerton -is spelled with the small “f “ was simply a gross error of judgement to have even have contemplated .
I made the wire out in my Christian name , which I rarely use nowadays ; Wilberforce.
I had to spell this about a round dozen times before the wretch got it right., It seemed a matter of great hilarity to her- a name that has been in my family since the Battle of Agincourt.
- Address the wire to Lord Percy Ashton 43 he Squires Club , Sloan square .Lonodn.
- no small ‘p’ s or hyphens this time - she said from the side of her mouth , with a sardonic grin which reminded one of a dead hare .
- None . I said firmly , giving her another withering look .
- now the text .. Are you ready?
She took out a pencil from a drawer which I distinctly perceived contained a hatched and a hammer. She licked the stub and turning to me she said with that piercing screech .
-proceed -she demanded taking another lavish swig of whiskey.
- Yes .well.. Ahem.. Percy old man- have heard tidings of a foreboding nature re venture in Punjab and further dark omens from the heart of Congo. Am concerned as to whether should divest some or my extensive holdings as native labour in both regions seems unwieldy to the extend that ..
- Shtop !
- what appears to be the difficulty now . asked crisply
- are ye realisin at all that this is costing four pence a word.
- I realise that I said affirmatively
- Jesuss God and Mary - this is goin to be the costly wire .. - she said again through that evil grin , trailing off with a cackle reminiscent of a covey of grouse in season.
- ha ha .!! . Fire ahead so,,!
- yes .. Where was I . Let me see…
-unwieldy to extend that ‘ -
-I beg your pardon..?
-That’s where ya were .. - labour in both regions seems unwieldy to the extent that ‘ - she read from the filthy copy book upon which she was taking my dictation. By Jove I was quite taken at the degree and precision of her hyerogliphics.
- yes well to carry on if you would .please.
-- do ye not believe in the commas and the full shtops atall over there - she said quite audaciously.
- In a telegram madam , - I said authoratively
- one does not require any punctuation. In fact in some circles it is regarded as uncouth to apply them. The recipient should be sufficiently acquainted with the background to the essence of the matter, what I shall refer to as the ’ substantive issue’. that they are regarded as superlatives. -
I said . I was dammed if I was going to let her away with her impudence . I had sensed that the procedure was humouring her to a high degree. This brought the woman to her senses , but failed to put her in her place .
- will I start countin up what you’ll be owin - she croacked
Certainly not - I said with asperity
- I have not yet concluded .
Christ Jeezes she profaned .
And then ;
-Mother a Jeesez .lest the remark , I dare say it - not find its destiny.
- To conclude the wire if you don’t mind , madam - I said with all the restraint I could muster .
- to conclude ..Let me see .. Me see.. Yes - say “ will be obliged if you could pursue queries raised herein with all possible haste as much is contingent of states of play in both continents,- what with this Leopold bozo and all that rot etcetera .. Etcetera - best regards to Poppy , Biffo and all the chaps, hoping you won your round of polo and splosh.-
I was about to sign off on that cordial note when another whimsical but pressing urge caused upon me and I was moved to add .
- and don’t , dear heart , be distracted about roomers concerning ..my.. My … well you’ll know when you hear the roomers.. But pay them not one whit of need , Not one Whit ..
They are just that old man .. Vexatious roomers .. Pay them scant regard old boy..
- or heed ??
- she cackled mischievously sideways at me .
- No - I said firmly.
- Just as I enunciated it if wouldn’t’t’t mind so terribly , just . ..
I had forgotten the drift of the thing what with all the distractions and whatnot.
- Could you kindly repeat the last sentence if you please..
She did so
- Just conclude with the ” Not one whit “- as I dictated it in my first draft .- I insisted .
The woman turned away and for some time I basked in the golden silence which ensued.
She meanwhile had busied herself with some low mutterings and was lost in some form of fractional mathematics I do declare . There she was scribbling with all the intensity of a Newtonian scholar..
- That’ll be seven pounds , six shillings and ten pence- she said with considerable ,menace , triumph , and decided glee , throwing the crumpled mathematical calculation across the counter at me.
I turned smartly to the door in utter revulsion. I had had quite enough of this . It was a military turn . Just to show this creature without the most modest semblance of inhibitions , that by God there were still some members of the Empire who could conduct themselves as gentlemen in the most trying of circumstances. And who forsooth would deny that mine were circumstances which would have tried the blessed patience of Joab.- and we do not even know that Joab behaved as a gentleman certain circumstances.
But as I say I turned swiftly out of that mud hut for the street ; and for respite .
I required the tranquillity of a solitary moment with a stiff brandy .
The wretch came out after me as if I were a common thief .
- yer bill yer bill- seven pounds…
- Go away , woman. - I seethed. I do confess . I did seethe.
-seven pounds , six shillings and ten pence.- she hissed
-Put it all on my account in the hotel . -I said with finality and walked briskly back to my hostelry.
I should have taken my swagger stick. It is always a reliable source to reinvigorate any sense of flagging authority , especially on the barrack square , but frequently in the gentlemen’s clubs of London.
I had planned to retire early that evening having had a fine dish of steamed salmon , then poached quite expertly in a white wine . It was altogether quite succulent and I am loath to confess equally as good as one might get in the West End during the Season
I concluded the meal with a goodish brandy and a cigar I had brought with me from my club.
The girl was hovering around in her ethereal manner , and again that sullenness of deep brooding in one so young quite disturbed one. It was not an altogether unpleasant feeling I have to confess. I found her presence, dare I say it slightly evocative .But I quickly dispatched such thoughts, and had a cold shower and I prepared for bed.
. My suitcases had not as yet arrived from the station , which was a goodish thirty miles or so away. They should naturally have arrived that morning , but there was some complicated affair involving a pony and trap and someone getting stuck in the bog as a funeral was coming the other way and so on. I let it be , and accepted my fate with resignation. One hates to be without certain personal items when travelling. In my case I rarely venture abroad without my rubber duck and Solomon , my teddy bear.
Not a frivolous matter I can assure the new reader. Many of the chaps during the Birma campaign went nowhere without their teddy beard. Mine was rather special. It was given me by Nanny Jenkins, that most gentle and kindly Welshwoman who bathed my many boyish tears, while Mama was entertaining our house guests downstairs. But I digress..
My man for the sojourn , whom I had met in Galway was named Paric , which is another form of Patrick , and which name is not uncommon among the Irish . So it was Patrick who had sent a missive along to the hotel that my luggage should be late. I had a suspicion that for some reason , a diversion which might cause him tarry in Galway , would not be altogether displeasing to our Patrick . I had divined that he had contrived to employ my luggage in just such ruse as to accommodate his s purposes .
And now Patrick arrived unannounced