‘Ah’ I arch my eyebrows. ‘Hello sir!’ I bow my head and ask, ‘So Jeff how is your leg, still jamming stiff?’
‘Please, sir, you cannot call me by my forename whilst I am working and yes, sir, my leg is still, uh’ Jeff coughs, his moustache shimmy’s. ‘Stiff’
‘Dreadfully sorry to hear it. The best cure is to rest it often and then a good sporting. Court a pretty lady around the hedgerows’
‘Jolly good, sir. I may give that a go when I ‘ave my day off in December’
Jeff dropped the h in have for a moment and almost immediately regretted the indiscretion.
‘It has kept me in stern shape’ I say.
‘You are young’
‘Now! Where is The Lady Of The House? The Sweet Rose’
‘She, sir, is-‘
‘Sorry’ I interrupt him. ‘Here is the pretty Natasha’ I seize her hand. I kiss its soft flesh with a smacking sound, as if the bat hitting the wicket. I sweep her into a hug. ‘Jeff’ I wink. ‘You ought not to chase this girl’
‘As you wish, sir’ Jeff nods his head, not without giving me a sly smile first.
‘We have had many walks around the gardens, haven’t we, my love?’
‘On second thoughts’ I pause, reflecting on the features of them both ‘Maybe you would make a superb couple’
Natasha forces herself from my arms and shines her smushed in face at me, indicating perhaps not. Perhaps I am better suited to pairing those with months to live, the spinsters and bachelors and only energy for a puff of breath regularly.
Jeff does not seem pleased by my second thoughts either.
‘Shall we go inside?’ Jeff extends his arm.
Natasha speaks to me of her studies as we walk into the hall.
‘Ah youth!’ I sigh. ‘It is delightful, my dear. I am glad you are gay at your prospects’ I tip boiled sweets into her cupped hands. ‘Don’t forget to hide those, otherwise your mother will kill me quite happily’
‘Dinner is being served’ Jeff announces.
‘Am I dreadfully late?’ I ask him.
‘Not dreadfully so’ Natasha tells me as Jeff replies
‘She is foaming at the mouth’
‘Oh damn it and blast it with a cannon if I am not late! Are you dining with us?’ I ask the girl, swinging myself down onto the stairs.
‘Unfortunately I am to continue studying my Latin’
‘What fun! I cry out. No irony for those late nights I spent translating, whilst in Rome and all that. ‘I did love Latin, prefer French. Have you been to Paris yet?’
‘I have not’
‘A crime! I must take you. I will. I declare, I promise! May God strike me down, to Paris we shall go. My mother’ I pause and sigh. ‘She was French’
‘I have seen a painting. She was beautiful’ Natasha assures me.
‘Yes’ I whisper. ‘She was a pretty French girl and she never did learn to speak a word of English. She was proud. My father was irritated with her. You could hear him, whilst he chased her with a horse whip, ‘you must learn English, you must, you must…’
‘What did happen to her?’
I smile up at Natasha and pull her onto my lap. ‘I am sure you have heard the stories. The horse whip becomes a candlestick, a flame-‘
‘Your father, it is true he-‘
‘No’ I snap. ‘My father is a fine man. My father was, at least, a fine man’
K.L © 2016