The Library | Write to Sir Charles | Cast of Characters | Credits | This Week
16 February, 1996
What a joy, what a quintessential delight, to be acquainted with
highborn invalids! For it is a truth undeniable that when in need, they will turn to those who have shown them mercy and kindness in the past, and will reward those have refrained from using the tubes of their oxygen tanks as an impromptu gallows for their annoyingly yappy lap dogs. (One knew self-restraint would pay off, in the end.)
In today's post a request came, written in the shaky, almost illegible, yet most aristocratic hand of Eunice, Duchess of Crabbe. One reproduces it in part:
Our Grandnephew, Cxxlxx [the writing is illegible, but one
assumes the name to be Charles] Bxxxx [Neither one's spouse ,or oneself could decipher the last name, though we are certain it is a noble one!], is to be knighted Monday next in London. He will return shortly thereafter.
Owing to our
Your Crusty Ballroom
Owing to ourill health, it would behoove us to find a suitable alternate venue for his welcoming fete. Seeing as the local public house cannot house more than 30 at once, the onus falls upon Blandsdown. If the task is too great, we would be delighted to pass the mantle onto Lord Frost of Locksley-Charmes (though right of tenure does, sadly, belong to the Grandiose family).
Your Crusty Ballroom[One assumes she meant 'Crystal Ballroom'] should suffice, barely, but do lose those dreadful Gainsboroughs that hang so askew and crowd people. It is a pity there is not enough time to have a decent parquet put in, for we appreciate a good parquet, but we understand that these smaller estates have not the conveniences of Crabbes.[Note to one's secretary: Truncate the Duchess's letter after 'suffice'. And wipe that hangdog expression from your face.]
Needless to say, the staff at Blandsdowne has been whipped to a fever pitch in readiness for Friday's gala. Anxious to impress, the lesser scullery maids laboured for three solid days and nights to polish all the several thousand pieces of the finest silver service (most mysteriously, someone . . . one knows not who . . . locked them into the silver closet that entire time until they were done, where they lived on toast and milk tea slipped under the door at regular intervals). The Elizabethan plank floor of the Crystal Ballroom has been polished to a high shine. A supply of oxygen canisters and inflatable seat cushions has been laid in for the Duchess, for she can never have too many.
One's readers (so numerous that were they all to gather in one's deer park, no small number of them should fall into the ha-ha) will no doubt be tantalized by another tidbit from the Duchess's letter, which one will share in part:
Our Grandnephew informs us that he has had occasion to meet your ward, young Penelope Windsor-Smythe, and respectfully requests the first two dances with her. We were not at all happy when she forcibly restrained our other great-nephew, Percy Prudhomme. His skin is of the sort that chafes easily. But if the girl can be pried away from her blacksmiths and stablehands and proletariats long enough to dance with one of her own class, we will allow our great-nephew's whim. [Note to one's secretary: Include only the first sentence of this paragraph. Yes, remove everything immediately after the first 'dot'. One's hope that you might remember what a paragraph may be is, one suspects, in vain.]
One will not tire one's readers with her florid style of writing, but the Duchess goes on, in the rest of her missive, to praise Young Penelope's comportment and to hint at an eventual alliance between the new knight and the lass who is eighty-fourth in line for the throne. She has long been fond of Blandsdown and its inhabitants, and never hesitates to laud her lucky neighbours with well-deserved praise.
Anxious to report the developments, one remains for another week,
Dear Sir Charles,
I am of a fine family somewhat come down in the world. But I think I have finally found the perfect gentleman--a handsome and modest young man of no limited prospects.
When I suggested to my family they entertain him at dinner, they immediately began to plan a 'musical' evening for him. Sir Charles, the only instrument Papa can play is the fire tongs! (And not well, at that, for he only knows Fur Elise and Y.M.C.A.!) How can I prevent what is certain to be the most mortifying evening of my existence?
Appalled in Appleton
Sir Charles replies:
As an educational aside, let us briefly review the progression of torture throughout the ages. Of old there was the thumbscrew, the iron maiden, and the rack. And let us not forget our Oriental neighbours to the east, who one believes mastered the art of jabbing bamboo skewers beneath the fingernails. Far surpassing any of these torturous instruments, however, is that most singularly evil, unusually effective device known to civilised man: The Musical Evening.
Oh yes, one is most familiar with The Musical Evening. The Lady Felicia is most fond of them. She will assemble several of the local gentry for an evening's light supper, and after the last guest has washed all traces of the rissole a la legume in the Wedgewood finger bowls, the group will retire to the Pink Salon. First young Penelope Windsor-Smythe will play, her fingers tripping over the keyboard lightly and delicately, as only one who is eighty-fourth in line for the throne can (though of late she has tended to play only 'The Harmonious Blacksmith' in a most unharmonious minor key). Then the Lady Felicia will take her turn at the pianoforte to play the first movement of 'The Moonlight Sonata,' at the end of which we all heave an appreciative sigh.
But then. Oh, but then. Invariably the Lady Felicia's step-mother, Augusta Windover-Midden, will insist upon performing on the parlour-organ. She will lean to one side, a look of inspiration (or perhaps distillation, when 'Gusty' has been tippling at the sherry again) suffusing her face, and reward the assembled company with a cacophany of wheezing tones, barely musical in form, that range from a deep bassoon-like rasp to a scratchy, erratic high piccolo tweet. With a blast of sound, her pipes cry out in a jarring, inharmonious din that makes one long for the comparative comfort of the bamboo skewers beneath one's impeccably groomed fingernails. Oh, what endurance it takes not to run crying from the room with foaming mouth, one's hands clasped about one's ears!
Once done, 'Gusty' will rise from her settee and totter towards the parlour-organ to begin playing. 'Tis a pity for one's guests that the 'wind' invariably strikes the old harridan at the most inopportune of times.
As for the correspondent's problem--oh, but one wishes it were as easy to conceal the bean rissoles from 'Gusty' as it would be to hide the tongs from your Papa.
Most sympathetically, one remains,
Social Climber writes:
Dear Sir Charles:
What's really the best anti-perspirant?
I sweat like a hog.
Sir Charles replies:
Certainly, there have been times in every man's life when the dew of an honest day's labour has graced one's rugged brow. Why, one oneself once sported a bead of perspiration once, after a witnessing a particularly sporting cricket match (one had a guinea on the outcome). Ah, and yes, there was another occasion, when one and one`s companion was happened upon by an official of the British Museum cloakroom. But that story is not of the moment.
Therefore, one is really not so much dismayed at the correspondent's admission as one is appalled at the correspondent's frank and brutal comparison of himself to creatures of the porcine variety. Oh, one doubts not the veracity of the confession. One's mind's eye can picture (and one must pause, and confess with nary a trace of bragadocio, that the pictures of one's mind's eye are always exquisitely framed) the correspondent vividly, corpulent and dripping like a full cistern riddled with rust, mopping every over-exposed inch of large-pored skin with his much begrimed handkerchief (borrowed, no doubt, from his betters, for one doubts he possesses such an article of his own), complaining with wearying frequency that it is not the heat that makes him so; it is the humidity.
One must excuse oneself from the responsibility of the question. One feels the need to bathe. One suggests the correspondent do the same. Several times daily, if necessary.
Stickily, one remains,
Sir Charles passes the quill to the young Penelope Windsor-Smythe, who still sullenly pines for blacksmiths when she ought to be attending to the duties befitting one who is now eighty-fourth in line for the throne.
Dear Penelope Windsor-Smythe,
Is it true that clothes make the man? My beau has terrible sartorial taste. Do you have any suggestions?
Young Penelope Windsor-Smythe replies:
How dreadful! Tell me, does he buy pret-a-porter? Never fear, one shall send you the name of a good tailor under separate cover at the end of this letter.
It's never too late to be turned out well, unless of course your beau has already made his debut in polite society, in which case, all is quite lost. However, to address your first question, it has been one's experience that man does seem quite different without clothes than with. Proper clothes, that is.
But what does constitute a well-dressed man? It is truly a matter of taste. And tastes do vary. For example, Papa adores Rupert, his yappy beagle, whilst one adores Rhinegold, one's trusty Alsatian. Papa prefers the pasty, perfumed Percy Prudhomme for one's suitor, whilst one prefers the chiselled features of one's beloved--his tanned, sculpted muscles rippling beneath the plain, wonderfully coarse, workman's shirt buttoned almost absentmindedly up his chest, and his powerful manly thighs bulging at the seams of his breeches. . . .
Putting down one's pen and sighing at the picture this thought evokes,
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