Aileen Johnston

  • The Eagle Tree
  • Bembex, Baron of Bellonia, knocked the top off his egg, inspected the contents with a critical eye and shuddered. Flinging down his egg-spoon in disgust, he shoved his chair away from the polished oak table, threw back his head and shouted at the top of his voice: 'Parker! Parker!'

    He paused, listened attentively, and then shouted again, even louder: 'Parker! PARKER! PAAAR-KERRR!!!' This second summons proved no more fruitful than the first, and he was about to give tongue again when the door of the breakfast-room opened and an elderly, grey-haired man dressed in a butler's uniform glided in.

    'You called, sir?' he said in a toneless voice.

    'I did indeed, Parker,' said the Baron irritably. 'What's the meaning of this? My egg is overboiled again! In fact,' he continued, 'you could hardly call it an egg. It's a bullet! Understand? Bullet! And I won't have it, d'you hear?'

    The butler's face betrayed no emotion. 'Very good, sir.'

    'Very good?' repeated Bembex, in an astonished voice. 'Very good? It's not very good, Parker! It's quite the opposite! Sack the cook!' he cried. 'Turn her out, bag and baggage! I've warned her about this before!'

    The butler looked as though he was about to sigh, but contented himself with a cough instead. 'The cook resigned yesterday, sir,' he said blandly. 'She said something about non-payment of wages. Your breakfast was prepared this morning by the gardener.'

    Bembex gaped. 'The gardener? Cooking my breakfast?' He eyed the egg suspiciously as if he half--expected it to sprout leaves. 'That explains it! Cooking, according to my way of looking at things, is supposed to be done by cooks! The proper occupation for gardeners is gardening. Tell him to mind his own business in the future.'

    'That will not be necessary, sir. After eating his own breakfast, the gardener also gave notice and left.'

    Bembex ground his teeth. 'Swine!' he breathed. 'Just because of a temporary cash-flow problem they desert me like rats leaving a sinking ship. What's the world coming to, Parker? People take no pride in their positions any more. All we hear nowadays is "Money, money, money!" It's nothing more than one long struggle from cradle to grave to gather up as much of the filthy lucre as possible. Don't you agree, Parker?'

    The butler confined his answer to a slight lifting of the eyebrows. He stepped forward and picked up the egg. 'Since this has proved unacceptable, sir, it may come in useful elsewhere.'

    'Oh, help yourself, Parker,' said the baron morosely. 'Don't mind me -- I'm only the lord and master of the place. It doesn't matter if I starve!' He gave a little sniff. 'What's for lunch?'

    'Sardine, sir.'

    'Sardines? Is that all?'

    'Not sardines, sir, sardine: there's only one left. The gardener ate the rest before he departed.'

    Bembex banged his fist on the table. 'Greedy swine!' he cried. 'If I had any wages to give him I'd deduct the price of them!'

    Parker crossed to the door and paused as he opened it. 'One other thing, sir. There is a gentleman to see you. Shall I show him in?'

    'Gentleman?' said Bembex warily. People known to him who could be called 'gentlemen' were few and far between, and those who could were unlikely to pay social calls at breakfast-time. 'To see me?' he said. 'What sort of gentleman?'

    'He gave his name as a Mr Scolopax, sir. I believe he is a solicitor.'

    Bembex's jaw dropped. 'Solicitor!' he hissed. He didn't like the sound of this. Solicitors, in the Baron's experience, usually came armed with writs which demanded instant payment of long-overdue bills, and with promises of terrible punishments in the event of non-payment. 'Get rid of him, Parker. Tell him I've gone to Jamaica or that I'm dead or something.'

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The Eagle Tree

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