Fanny’s Surprise (# 19)

images (87)The butler pauses in front of the heavy oak door. Mister Hartford left strict instructions  this morning: he is not to be disturbed. Under no circumstances, none at all. Now, with the telegram neatly arranged (not touching sides, in the middle of the tray) on the silver platter, he lifts his free hand to knock softly.

Henry Hartford II is a man of slow temperament and prides himself on his self-control. Anger is an unnecessary waste of energy, so is spontaneous laughter. One does not do such things – it merely exhibits poor taste and an uncultured background. One merely smiles and gets on with life, doesn’t one? No matter what  trivia life throws at one, one must simply occupy the crease and bat out the innings. Life, like cricket, has no place for emotions.

One may become unsettled of course; Mister Hartford will acknowledge that when pushed. On rare occasions a bowler will deliver a ball so accurately aimed at the batsman’s helmet, that it has the potential to do irreparable damage. Hartford once told the guests at his dinner table of such an occasion – it broke a cheek bone and he had to have surgery. The scar is still there, just below the hairline. When such things happen, one may be excused for muttering damn! or even in extreme cases, bugger

Poring over the many pages of the balance sheet in front of him, this is exactly what Henry Hartford II does: he’s muttering. Both words. Repeatedly.

The knock on the doors silences him. Did he – or did he not – leave direct orders about not wanting to be interrupted? Stevens, the butler, should know better than ignoring his wishes. Still, one has to accept that servants lack the discipline and training needed to understand the intricacies of a cultured existence.

“In!” One word. That’s all that’s needed. One shouldn’t waste time with lengthy speeches.

Stevens opens the door and steps into the library of Darlington House. “A telegram came, sir…”

“Indeed?” It’s more of a statement than a question. Hartford nods, allowing the butler to approach his desk. When the tray is proffered , he lifts the brown envelope from the silver surface. Then, with the slightest flick of the wrist, he dismisses the ageing butler.

***

Stevens paces the kitchen while he watches the little panel of lights. Mister Hartford has not summonsed him since this morning, which is strange. No tea. No lunch. No gin. Nothing. This is most unusual, to say the least.

“Do you think he’s all right?” Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, frowns as she kneads the dough for tomorrow’s bread. The kitchen is large, with pots and pans against one wall. Mister Hartford insists on keeping things as the were in his father’s day; which means housekeeping is so much more difficult than in other mansions. The coal stove, the antiquated utensils and absence of a dishwasher combine to make life less than pleasant for Miss Kenton. Still, in these economic times, one is thankful for a steady job.

“Most unusual, Miss Kenton, most unusual. I may have to be bold enough to check, although Mister Harford’s displeasure is worse than usual these days. It must be that business with the missing money. Yesterday, when I served his tea, he was on the telephone with some auditor. I wasn’t eavesdropping, of course – but I could help observing a certain degree of anxiety in his voice. He even slammed down the receiver. Most unlike him, I must say.”

James Stevens, life-long servant to the Hartford family, squares his shoulders as he walks out. Being a butler involves so much more than serving tea in china cups…

***

On his return to the kitchen, Miss Kenton asks about Mister Hartford; but Stevens ignores her. He sits down on one of the old chairs, shaking his head.

“Miss Kenton, we have to pack.”

“Oh? Is Mister Hartford off on a trip?”

“No Miss Kenton.” Stevens looks up to meet the eyes of the woman he’s been in love with for so many years. He’s always been so careful to hide this fact from her, however. Liaisons between servants are not acceptable. It shows poor class. “No,” he says again, “we are. Tell me, Miss Kenton, have you ever been to Africa?”

 And the Waltz goes on

‘The waltz must go on’, was the wish of the nineteen-year-old (now Sir) Anthony Hopkins when he composed a waltz. Now over forty years later, his wish has come true. André Rieu has arranged his piece successfully and the world première of ‘And the Waltz goes on’ was a huge success.

The servant characters in the story are respectfully borrowed from the famous book. The author of the blog  acknowledges the genius of Kazuo Ishiguru who created them. Order the book from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Remains-Day-Kazuo-Ishiguro/dp/0679731725

7 thoughts on “Fanny’s Surprise (# 19)

  1. cvheerden

    Hi Rita, as iemand wat nog besig is om Afrikaans te leer is ek nou verbaas: n waaier – ist dit nou regtig die waare, omdat letterlikke, vertaaling van die word fan? As in ceiling fan but not ondersteuner fan? Ek lag my pap! Dankie vir dit.

    Reply
    1. Amos van der Merwe Post author

      You see? Afrikaans is a funny language! A real fan is a ‘ondersteuner’ which sounds rather dull. Fun-speak is waaier, although understood, it is generally accepted as a light-hearted and congenial term. So, like a ceiling fan cooling down the heated brows of the person in the room, a waaier is a blessing..ask any writer!

      Reply
      1. cvheerden

        Thx! Recently when a friend of my said he is going to”ch-chl” me I was really confused until it clicked he was saying he was going to google me just saying it with the g as an Afrikaans ch sound …

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