There was a lengthy passageway that led to the kitchens. I pushed at the double doors and entered the cook's domain with as near as I could manage to a spring in the step. To fill the kettle and bung it on the range was the work of an instant; the problems began with an attempt to locate pot, tea leaves, milk and so forth. I had never previously paused to think just how many items go into the making of the morning cupful. I opened a hopeful-looking cupboard to be confronted by a variety of what may have been fish kettles. I pushed off into the scullery, where I spied a bottle of milk with a paper twist. A quick sniff established that it was not of recent origin and I was beginning to feel that I was not cut out for this sort of thing when I heard footsteps outside.
Fearing the cook, Mrs. Padgett, would not take kindly to an intruder, I made as if to exit towards the dining room, but to my surprise it was the housekeeper, Mrs. Tilman.
"Mr. Wilberforce! Goodness, you are the early bird!"
"Yes, what-ho! A lot of worms to catch, don't you know. I was just looking for the tea leaves."
"Are you taking up tea for Lord Etringham? Isn't it a bit early?"
"Seven o'clock was what he told me."
"I think seven thirty's quite soon enough. Why don't you get on with some shoe-cleaning and let me make the tea in a moment. Goodness me, you've put enough water in the kettle for a regiment of soldiers. Off you go down to the butler's pantry. You'll find polish in the cupboard. And you brought down Lord Etringham's shoes last night, didn't you?"
"I did indeed. Two pairs of them."
I left the tea-making in the hands of this excellent woman and got down to some spit and polish work on the black Oxfords and the brown brogues, size eight, that I had scooped up the night before. In my experience, the butler's pantry, in addition to corkscrews, candles and other odd bits of chandlery, often holds a bottle or two of the right stuff , but it was too early in the morning even for a constitution as strong as mine. The thought, however, bucked me up a little. I wouldn't say that a song rose to the Wooster lips as I worked, but I went about the buffing and shining with a certain gusto. When I returned to the kitchen, I found that Mrs. Tilman had laid a tray with all the fixings.
"Oh dear, look at you, Mr. Wilberforce. You didn't put on your apron, did you? You've got polish on your shirt. Here. Let me."
With a cloth, she removed most of a black smear from the affected area; and, with the coat rebuttoned, she seemed to think I was ready for action.
I turned to the waiting tray and attempted to raise it to a carrying position.
"You're all fingers and thumbs, aren't you, dear? Nothing to be nervous of. Come on now, this way."
So saying, the housekeeper waved me down the corridor towards the green baize door, which was I obliged to open with an undignified nudge from the rear end.
Things stayed on a fairly even keel as I crossed the main hall to the oak staircase and began my ascent. There was a square half-landing before a shorter flight to the first floor. My destination was a corner room of dual aspect that overlooked the rose garden and the deer park. Most of the tea was still in the pot when I lowered the tray to the fl oor and knocked.
"Come in," said a familiar voice.
I've seen the insides of a few country house bedrooms in my time, but I must say Lord Etringham had really landed seatfirst in the butter. I found him sitting up in bed in a burgundy dressing-gown with a light paisley pattern that I recognised as one of my own and reading a book whose title, if I remember right, was The Critique of Pure Reason by one Immanuel Kant.
Excerpted from Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks. Copyright © 2013 by Sebastian Faulks. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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