Wednesday, 2 October 2013

For the Sake of Appearances (With apologies to P.G. Wodehouse) - a short story by Maureen Bowden

It was barely dawn on Saturday morning, certainly no later than eight, when some blighter, bashing on the old doorknocker, jerked me out of the dreamless. The chums and kindred spirits are frightfully well aware that nothing gives this girl the pip more than events breaking loose at an ungodly hour. After sleeping off an evening stewed to the gills, the former glory needs to be restored in a leisurely fashion, by a lightly boiled egg with toast soldiers and full strength coffee, followed by a splashing of brandy, stiffish, with not too much soda.

I draped the chassis in a designer dressing gown fresh from Harvey Nics, and toddled to the door. On the doorstep, I encountered, seeped to the gunnels in serious purpose, Aunt Camilla.

“What-ho, Auntie,” I said, with a sense of impending doom.

She shimmered into the living room. “Get dressed, Bunty, it’s time for some straight talking.” I sludged off for a shower to cleanse the outer girl, dried the frame and donned the upholstery. She pounced when I buzzed back. “Have you eaten?”
“No, I’ve been sleeping. These early morning frolics are too rich for me.”
She reeled me out for a bite of breakfast, which restored the inner girl somewhat. The ancient relative’s a rum old bird but she doesn’t stint on the nosh.
“The thing is, Bunty,” she said, “it’s time you were married.”
I drooped like a bally lily. “I say, Auntie, I’m not ready for the yoke and whip just yet.”
She pursed her lips. “Your choice of entertainment is your business,” she said, “but you must acquire a semblance of respectability for the sake of appearances.” The scales fell from the old peepholes and I skidded to the nub and gist of the rummy business. It was her own respectability she was having a fit about. She’d been a game old girl in her day, before marrying above her station, and now black sheep Bunty was letting the family side down.  
“Well, I’d be happy to oblige in the normal course of events,” I said, “but it would be dashed inconvenient right now. I have this spiffing bloke, not short of funds, makes no objection to my drinking him under the table and he’s a hummer in the hay.”
“Not a problem,” she said. “The specimen I have in mind is Lord Belmarsh, widower in his dotage, about to blow his last Tally-ho any minute.” She topped up our coffee. “Unleash the Soames-Hogg charm. Once you’ve tied the knot convince him he needs a new gamekeeper and you can install your chappie. Run round and round the mulberry bush making daisy chains while the old boy snoozes.” She sipped the Brazilian nectar. “When you’re Lady Belmarsh you can be as wanton as you like. You’ll be regarded as a colourful aristocrat, which is perfectly socially acceptable. An unwed drunken trollop is not.”

“Dash it all. That’s a bit thick,” I said. “Pot calling kettle: what?”

“Don’t be precious, Bunty. Come to dinner on Sunday. I’ll invite the poor fish and you can see if you click.”

She set me adrift to bounce off home, contemplating the prospect of matrimony. The holy state is absolutely a girl’s crossroads, if you know what I mean. Fun and freedom scuttle off down the primrose path and she’s left to trudge along the dirt track, rattling like a bally one-girl-chain-gang. Unfortunately, without my monthly allowance from Aunt Camilla to keep me in bolly and other essentials, my goose might as well trundle to the oven. I had to keep that queen of her sex sweet.

Rather than sneaking off to the river to end it all, I hopped into the Dagger and Duck for Mein Host’s cyanide special, only to find myself confronted by that pearl of manhood, Tristram Concannon, the current love of my life. I offloaded a report of the pickle I was in. No bloke of spirit could take such tidings unperturbed and the dear chump expressed his intentions of descending on Belmarsh Hall with brass hooks on his knuckles and a stocking full of sand, in order to render the unfortunate Lord even more incapable than he already was.

“She’d only line up another specimen,” I said, “so unless you’re prepared to immobilise every octogenarian aristo in Old Blighty I have to acquiesce. If she were to cut off supplies what would I do, work for a living?”

“Pretty scaly, old girl,” he said.

We cracked open a few bottles and as time trotted on, the prospect began to appear less unappealing. By the time we were ejected onto the pavement in a state of euphoria, Tristram frisked and whooped, and was all for bashing off to call the Rev and setting the date for the duke and me, tra-la-la.

However, as Sunday’s assignation loomed into view my ambivalence about the impending conjugals gashed me to the vitals. Lying back and thinking of England had never been on my agenda. On Saturday evening, therefore, a last dalliance with drunken debauchery appeared to be the order of the hour. In the company of Tristram and a flock of kindred spirits I set to it with a vengeance. Before long, being somewhat under the surface, and completely sozzled, we devised a grand master plan.

I should pip off a member of the constabulary, with a view to being deposited in a Hurry-up wagon and transported to wherever the city’s finest incarcerate society’s dregs; thereby scuppering the auntie’s scheme. The first difficulty to be overcome was locating a member of said constabulary. After an intensive search we happened upon two such personages, scoffing a chicken masala takeaway, in a gaily-chequered blue and yellow vehicle, in Asda’s car park. Tristram and co hauled me onto the bonnet, where I proceeded to do the Hokey-Cokey. Knees bend, chest out, ra-ra-ra.

The rest of the evening remains a mystery to me. I can only assume that I was abducted by aliens and subsequently beamed down by a Klingon into the cell in which I awoke, in a dishevelled frame of mind, next morning. I retained a vague impression of having had a ripping good Saturday night, for which I was now paying the price. Breakfast was uneatable but my complaints fell on deaf ears.

Sometime later I was admitted back into civilisation. Tristram, with great presence of mind, had informed Aunt Camilla of my predicament and she had used her elevated social position to secure my release. I was presented to her in the Chief Inspector’s office. If I had been expecting a warm welcome from the old flesh and blood I would have been disappointed. She was sizzling. I got it in the neck, despite attempting to explain that her matrimonial ambitions had led to the present state of affairs by sending me running for cover.

She would have none of it. “You are a cowardly custard and a disgrace to a proud family,” she said, through gritted teeth, like the true descendant of Charles 11, which, on the haystacks side of the merry monarch’s blanket, she, apparently, is. She inferred that the Soames-Hoggs had been mentioned in despatches at Agincourt: we band of brothers and all that, but I had my doubts. The upshot was, we were escorted out of the private exit of the establishment and I was sent packing with instructions that I must be spruced up and tickety-boo in time for dinner with his Lordship.
I was feeling pretty sorry for myself when I trickled into the auntie’s Dun Roamin’ at the appointed hour. I perked up considerably, however, when confronted with a robust sort of cove, whom she introduced as his lordship, George, Duke of Belmarsh.

“This is my niece, Bunty Soames-Hogg,” she said: all simpering smiles competing with reserved hauteur.

“By Jove,” he said, “Millie told me you were a jolly sort of gel, but I mean to say, I wasn’t prepared for a spiffing Bobby dazzler. What?” He grasped my hand and pummelled with a well-practised action.

“Delighted to meet you, your lordship,” I said.

“Call me Georgie. Now, shall we get down to business?” 

The auntie had scooted off, leaving us to it, so we helped ourselves to her liquid fortifications, and a hunky-dory time was had by both. Georgie was an all round good egg. He set out his stall with some panache.

“The thing is, Bunty, m’dear, I don’t need a wife. I have Mrs Pentonville, housekeeper extraordinaire, and constant companion, if you get my drift.” He gave me a wink and a hefty-ish dig in the ribs. “I understand there’s a Mr P. somewhere on the far horizon, but there’s not a murmur out of the blighter, so the jolly old situation’s well in hand. In the eyes of society, however, a lord must have his lady, and Mrs P. doesn’t quite fit the bill: blood not blue enough.”

 “Right-ho,” I said. “Does this mean I can haul my bloke, Tristram, along and install him as gamekeeper?”

“Go to it, old gel. Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, what?”

I raised my glass, “Hey nonny-nonny!”

We drank a toast or six, with charitable feelings to all human kind, and my sweet Georgie Porgie came up with a mutually satisfying suggestion. “Just to keep the whole thing ship-shape and Bristol fashion, do you think that we might, just once I mean, honour the marriage bed with a good biffing, entirely for the sake of appearances, of course?”

Maureen Bowden is an ex-patriate Liverpudlian living with her musician husband on the island of Anglesey, off the coast of North Wales, where they try in vain to evade the onslaught of their children and grandchildren. She writes for fun and she has had several poems and short stories published. She loves Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare and cats.

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