Tag Archives: butler

On Days Like These (# 4)

Queen Victoria and John Brown. Artist: Sir Edwin Landseer.

Queen Victoria and John Brown. Artist: Sir Edwin Landseer.

Boggel takes his position behind the counter. Nobody says anything about his ruffled and red-eyed look. Instead, they’re talking about the drought and the way the dams are drying up. The only one who seems comfortable under these depressing circumstances, is Servaas. He always thrives on misery.

“It’s not going to be a happy Christmas this year,” Precilla whispers in Fanny’s ear. “Boggel just isn’t himself at all. Gertruida’s talk helped, but he needs lots of time to reflect, think and then plan ahead.”

Vetfaan can’t take the gloomy atmosphere any more.

“Gertruida! Last year you told us the story of Silent Night. Remember? About that priest in Austria. Or was it Australia? I remember you saying he was a bastard.”

“Not bastard like that, Vetfaan. But yes…there once was a lonely priest…”

She tells the story with flair, making them laugh and cry and get that Christmassy look we all get when we sing Auld lang Syne. .

“But that’s the story, you guys. It tells us how we must never lose hope, never think things we have done were useless. Sometimes it can take centuries for the reason why something happened, to become clear.”

“Much too philosophical for me.” Vetfaan leans back against the counter. “‘T’s the time to be jolly, but this feels more like a wake than a celebration. Maybe we should get that stripper from Pofadder to liven things up a little.” He ignores the disapproving stare from Oudoom and the stern finger Fanny shakes at him.

“If I may, sir?” Mister Stevens and Miss Kenton have been sitting quietly at the table next to the window. Butlers never join the revelry of their employers and always maintain a respectful distance. Now, however, he finds it necessary to contribute his opinion.

“Of course, Mister Stevens.” Gertruida has grown to respect the aloof man with his outlandish way of dressing. Imagine wearing a coat – and socks! – in the Kalahari! Only mad dogs and Englishmen…

“I’m reminded of our late queen, Victoria. She ruled for 63 years, remember? Passed away – may her soul rest in peace – in 1901. But 40 years before that, Prince Albert died. You see, Prince Albert was the love of her life – the man she adored. Oh, before Albert, there were many suitors who tried to win her heart, but once she fell for Albert, that was it. They were married when she was 21, had nine children and shared the many responsibilities resting on the shoulders of the Queen.

“But, at the age of only 42, Albert passed away. Died of some stomach ailment which was diagnosed as Typhoid at the time, but most probably it was some sort of cancer. And then, for the next four decades, Victoria wore black. Her love had turned to grief; and she never allowed herself to forget what Albert had meant to her. Black, you see, was her way of expressing her loyalty to the memories she treasured so much”

Mister Stevens falls silent, staring at his manicured hands.

“That’s extremely sad, Mister Stevens. Why did you mention this bit of history?” Fanny arches her eyebrows, not sure where the butler is leading them.

“Oh. Well, you see, Madam, I think Victoria was a good queen. She rule Britannia, was instrumental in abolishing slavery and expanded the Empire…”

“She was a very good queen,” Kleinpiet interjects, “when she lost the First Boer War.”

John_Brown_(_Queen_Victorias's_servant)Mister Stevens appears to be unruffled as he continues. “But you see, there is more to life than just doing your job and grieving about lost love.”

He pauses a moment, apparently weighing his words carefully.

“I often wonder about Victoria’s household. I seem to recall the name John Brown, her personal servant.

“Now, there was a butler! And he served his queen with all his heart. For 20 years after Albert’s death, he became a servant, a companion, a friend. When he died, Victoria likened the sadness of his passing with the emotion she felt with Albert’s loss. And, I’ll tell you, when Victoria was buried, it was his ring and a lock of his hair that were placed in her coffin.”

Servaas, who has always been a reluctant admirer of Victoria (such a strong woman, but the Second Boer War…) cannot believe his ears.

“What, old Vicky was served hand and foot and the rest of it, by a man of low standing?”

“We’ll never know, sir. There were rumours of a secret wedding… But, that isn’t the point here, is it?” He turns to the bar to address Boggel. “Mister Boggel, I’m reminded of this bit of history to confirm a single fact: it is okay to love. Love asks not who you are and what your standing is. Love marches in where logic hesitates to knock. Love exists only to contribute to one another, never to destroy.

“Queen Victoria was well aware of the gossip behind her back, but she had the last laugh. Let them talk, but I’ll be buried with mementos of the man who cared for me. Take that, you cynical hounds!.” Mister Stevens punches a fist in the air but immediately whips down his arm – as if embarrassed by his display of emotion. “So, Mister Boggel, love only hurts when it is not acknowledged, that’s all I’m saying.”

“So, how exactly does this help Boggel?” Vetfaan doesn’t understand.

“Mister Stevens just reminded us of one of the great secrets in life, Vetfaan. We grieve in loss. We rejoice in love. It’s up to each one of us to decide which is the more important.” Gertruida gets up and uses her lecture-tone again. “Queen Victoria wore black to indicate her loss, but she celebrated the loves of her life by holding on to the memories of love, And maybe that is what love should be: remembering the important stuff. We may hope for the future, but we don’t live there…but we can remember the past as part of every breath that we take today.”

Precilla nods as she hugs Kleinpiet. “So…even if you’ve loved and lost, it’s better than never having loved at all?”

“Exactly, Precilla. People tend to expect love to keep them happy in the future, but that is an anomaly. How can tomorrow’s unborn moments keep you happy today? But…if you look back and remember the joy, the beauty; then today becomes the mirror of who you’ve become. It’s simple, really: if love – in any form – contributed to your life, it is stupid to be sad about the passion you once felt. It’s there to admire and to cherish.”

Boggel serves another round, a slow smile hesitating on his lips.

“What was that about the stripper again?”

Vetfaan bursts out laughing.

“Boggel is back, you guys! Cheers!!”

***

lesleyBut it’s never as easy as that, is it? Mary Mitchell will be part of Boggel’s existence for the rest of his life. At times he’ll smile when he thinks back; at others, he’ll retire to his little room behind Boggel’s Place to reflect and feel lonely. That’s when he’ll curl up with Sandy to tell the little bear about the stern old woman: the untouchable, severe queen of a great empire; who insisted on being buried with the memories of such a special love.

And then, with a sad smile, he finds it comforting that he isn’t the only one who finds Love to be a thorny rose: beautiful to look at, painful to hold on to, fleeting in life, enduring in passion.

At least, he realises, the memory of love may very well be the most precious gift of all; a treasure of the heart and the mind, that doesn’t even die when the coffin containing the lock of hair is lowered into the grave.

And, because Boggel belongs to the select and exclusive group of people who understands this, Sandy will just have to do until he discovers somebody he can tell this to.

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Fanny’s Surprise (# 20)

images (56)“With a name like that, Miss Kenton, I suspect the place will have a distinctly English flavour.” Stevens stares out of the little window next to his seat, taking in the arid landscape of the Northern Cape. “It was called after Sir Thomas Upington, after all, and he was very British.”

“I do hope you’re right, Mister Stevens.” Sally Kenton smooths the white dress, making sure her knees are properly covered. “Africa is a complete unknown to me, but I’ve heard stories of cannibals and lions…”

“Oh, no, Miss Kenton. No such things at all. I’d call the place half-civilised, should you ask me.  They do have motorised vehicles and roads – and I understand their houses are comfortable, brick  structures; not quite up to the standard of the manor, but still.”

The seatbelt signs flash on. James Stevens helps Miss Kenton to fasten the clasp. Then, as the aircraft touches down, he is surprised to find her hand seeking his, fingers clamping down in uncertainty.

“Oh, don’t worry, Miss Kenton. These machines are made for this.”

His reward is a shy smile.

***

Stevens loads the trunks on a trolley while Henry Hartford II  waits in the air-conditioned cafeteria. He detests this place, the heat and the circumstances. To think his son – his only son – had to succumb to a snake bite! After all the years of toil to make him become a man of distinction; all the costs of education and the effort to make him become somebody; the Symbol of Evil dashed his dreams of his son taking over the family’s empire one day. And now, in this godforsaken town, he must find suitable transport and make arrangements for his son’s funeral. He signs and closes his eyes. Surely somebody must be held responsible? His son died as a result of negligence, nothing else…

“Arrange transport, will you Stevens?”

Stevens smiles politely, leaves the baggage with his master, and steps outside to survey the possibilities. As usual, Mister Hartford has several trunks and they’ll need at least a roomy limousine to cart them to this little tumble-weed town. When the glass doors slide open to allow him outside, he stops in shock.

Heathrow. Now there’s an airport for you. Modern and huge, you can find anything from a razor to a new suit in the place. But here! One building, a dilapidated restaurant and nothing else. Worse: once you exit the building, you’re on a kerb. Where’s the line of taxis and limousines? The heat is oppressive. The sun’s glare is too bright. And there, the only vehicle with a taxi-sign on the roof, is a minibus that has seen better days.

Did he say the place is half-civilised?

***

“Are you sure we’re on the right road, Stevens?” Even Mister Hartford seems unsettled by the way the vehicle swerves and sways past the potholes.

“Oh yes, sir. The driver has no English, I’m afraid, but he understood a bout the town…” He tries to get his tongue around the word again, fails, and smiles apologetically.

“Rolbos?”

“That’s right, sir.”

Henry Hartford II – in a rare display of emotion – pulls down the corners of his mouth. “I do hope their hotel is up to standard, Stevens.”

“Indeed sir.” Stevens is secretly starting to enjoy the trip. Oh, it’s a tragedy: the master losing his son and such; but this excursion into the unknown is quite exhilarating. He’s never been outside England, and to do so while sitting near Miss Kenton is certainly more pleasant than shining silver in the manor. Almost like a holiday, now that he comes to think of it.

***

“This is it?” The incredulous tone of Hartford’s voice conveys disbelief and dismay.

The driver says nothing. He opens the back door of the minibus so that Stevens can unload the trunks. Then, after being paid, he gets back in the vehicle, goads the engine to life, and rattles off.

The three – dressed in their usual attire – stand with uncertainty written over their faces as the patrons in Boggel’s Place gather on the veranda. For a moment, the two groups have one thing in common: they can’t believe what they’re seeing.

“Miss Kenton, I’m afraid I expected more signs of civilisation over here.” Stevens whispers as he eyes the khaki clothing, the short pants and especially the unpolished boots.

“And where, exactly, is the hotel?” Hartford’s voice doesn’t have it’s usual commanding tone – in fact, Stevens suppresses a smile because of the note of uncertainty.

Gertruida – who else? – steps forward with an extended hand.

“You must be Henry’s family. Good morning. We are all deeply saddened by your loss. Please do come in? And oh, sorry, we don’t have a hotel…”

“I’m his father. These two are my servants, they’re not family at all.” Henry Hartford doesn’t want to be associated with the lower classes and steps away from Stevens and Miss Kenton. “They’ll wait with the luggage – one hears such dastardly things about Africa,”

Leaving his two servants in the sun, he leads the group to the door of Boggel’s Place. The sooner he gets done here, the better. He does not see Kleinpiet standing off to one side, shaking his head.

“Precilla,” he whispers, “I don’t like this man at all. Lets go over to those two and help them get the trunks on the veranda. Then we’ll see to it that they get something cool to drink. I want to know more about this set-up.”

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