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General

Cripps to the Rescue

 

Alexander Rupert Sebastian Enshaw, 7th Earl of Buckfast (or “Zander” to his friends), was seated at the breakfast table, half-eaten scrambled eggs, now cold on his plate, being pushed from side to side.

 

"I'm bored, Cripps."

 

"Really, Sir? That is most unlike you."

 

"It's been nearly three weeks since Bunty's disaster of an engagement party and no-one has been in touch."

 

"And have you called anyone, Sir?"

 

"Me? Why, no. Do you think I should?"

 

"You are aware, Sir, of the proverbial phrase: 'If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the mountain'?"

 

"Of course I am, Cripps. So are you saying that I should make the calls?"

 

"That would most certainly be an option, Sir."

 

"What a jolly good idea, Cripps. But who should I call? Certainly not Stinker Watson, despite him still owing me those fifty guineas!"

 

"May I suggest, Sir, that before you consider 'whom' you should call that you consider 'why'."

 

"What do you mean, Cripps. I'm calling because I'm bored!"

 

"Indeed, Sir, but what would alleviate that boredom?"

 

"Oh, without a doubt, Cripps, seeing Bunty again would uplift my spirits."

 

"There you are, then, Sir. Having spoken briefly with their butler yesterday, I do believe that Miss Thornton is at home with her parents at the moment."

 

"Oh, Top-Hole, Cripps!"

 

o-O-o

 

Trepidation reared her ugly head as Zander deliberated what to say to Bunty. Would Bunty want to talk to him?  Would she still be upset at the broken engagement to Stinker Watson?

Twice he lifted the candlestick telephone and twice he put it back down.  Madame Dread was winning this battle.

 

Zander took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and lifted the apparatus again.  Another deep breath and his index finger quickly dialled Bunty's number before it could succumb to Mr

Anxiousness.

 

The distant tintinnabulation of the telephone in Thornton Manor, home to Sir Henry Ishmael Thornton, almost made Zander cry out, but another slow exhalation calmed his nerves, subduing his earlier discomfit.

 

As luck would have it, Bunty herself answered the call - another poke in the eye to Family Angst!

 

"Hello Bunty, old girl. How the Dickens are you after that fracas with Stinker the other week?"

 

"Oh, hello, Zander. How deucedly super of you to call. I am at my wit's end listening to Daddy's endless grumblings about William’s opprobrious behaviour."

 

"Yes, he was a bit of a cad, wasn't he?"

 

"Poor Daddy has been calling him much worse than that, Zander. And, in all honesty, I do believe that he puts much of the blame on me for arranging that weekend get-together with the gang."

 

"Piffle, Bunty, my dear. You weren't to know that Stinker would be such a sore loser and take it out on that poor dog, now were you?"

 

"Which reminds me, Zander, that was such a sweet thing to do, to get old Tom a new puppy. He is besotted with it!"

 

"Oh, that was the least I could do, Bunty.  After all, we were all involved one way or another in the bally affair."

 

"Nonetheless, it was still jolly decent of you, Zander.  Now, was there something in particular you needed?"

 

"What?  Oh, yes.  Bunty, dearest, things are a bit on the quiet side here and I wondered if you might fancy going on an outing somewhere this weekend?"

 

"Zander, that sounds a spiffing idea. What do you have in mind?”

 

"Well, Cripps tells me that the weather is forecast fair for Saturday, so we - I mean - I was thinking of maybe a picnic somewhere."

 

"Super! Shall I ask Mrs Oldham to make up a basket?"

 

"Oh that would be wonderful, Bunty. And if I might be so bold, might you ask her to include some of her pheasant pie?  I don't think that there is another cook to match her, and you may tell her that from me."

 

"Oh Zander, you are such a fop at times!  Yes, I'll ask her."

 

"Jolly-G, Bunty! Can't wait to see you again on Saturday. Pip-pip, old girl!"

 

"Toodle-pip, Zander. See you Saturday."

 

As he replaced the earhorn on its cradle, Zander turned to Cripps who was attending to something or other by the fireplace.

 

"Well, Cripps, old boy, that went exceedingly well. Bunty has agreed to go on a picnic with me on Saturday. Any suggestions as to where?"

 

"The Ridge at Bourne End is a popular spot, Sir.  However, if the weather does live up to the forecast, I fear it may be somewhat busy."

 

"Good point, Cripps. I would prefer somewhere quietish, if possible."

 

"In that case, Sir, may I suggest partaking in a leisurely punt along the Oxford canals? You and Miss Thornton could have some time together whilst I lay out the picnic."

 

"Perfect, Cripps, perfect. Mind you, it's a good few years since I poled my way along, but I suppose it's like bicycling, it all comes back to you."

 

"Indeed, Sir, indeed."

 

o-O-o

 

The Saturday forecast held true to its word.  A wall-to-wall azure sky with the odd puffy Cumulus cloud greeted Zander as Cripps opened the bedroom curtains.

 

"What a spiffingly gorgeous morning, Cripps!"

 

"Indeed, Sir.  It promises well for your picnic with Miss Thornton."

 

"Shall I take the Aston today, do you think Cripps? With the hood down, the wind in our hair and with Bunty by my side, what more could I ask for, eh?"

 

"A very pleasing image, Sir.  However, if Sir Henry is, as you mentioned, still upset over the situation with the Earl, may I suggest that you take a more serious and more tranquil

approach?"

 

"I hadn't thought of that side of things. What do you suggest then, Cripps?"

 

"I would recommend the Rolls, Sir. I could chauffeur you and Miss James and be on hand to prepare and serve the picnic."

 

"Splendid idea, Cripps, old boy, splendid idea. Now, let's get breakfast out of the way, shall we?"

 

"Certainly, Sir. Your attire for the day is laid out, so I will leave you so that I may prepare your kippers and eggs Benedict. And I have two bottles of champagne cooling for this afternoon."

 

"Perfect, Cripps, perfect,"

 

o-O-o

 

With continuing apprehension, the drive to Thornton Manor seemed to take forever. Cripps' steady pace, near purgatory to Zander who much preferred to have the wind whistle through his hair, did nothing to abate the rising mental tension... Would Sir Henry be in a decent mood?  Would he even speak to Zander?  Would he permit Bunty, his pride and joy, to go on the picnic with him?

 

As Cripps drew up to the foot of the steps leading up to the entrance to Thornton Manor, Bunty opened the large oak door and bounded down the steps to meet them.  Zander hardly had time to step out of the car before Bunty grabbed his arm and planted a bright red smacker on his cheek.

 

"I say, Bunty, that's quite a welcome!"

 

"Oh, Zander, I am so pleased that you arranged today. Quickly, let's find Mrs Oldham and her hamper then we can set off."

 

"Is your father around?"

 

"Yes, he's in the library. And Mummy's around somewhere. Did you want to speak with him?"

 

"No, not particularly, just asking."

 

And with that, Bunty retreated back towards the house, her bobbed hair nodding with each step, Zander's arm locked in hers.

 

Family Angst, however, refused to lie down as Sir Henry framed the open door, his arms crossed across his chest, daring Zander to approach.  Zander's cheery smile slid off his face as he sized up the figure in front of him.

 

"Oh, Sir Henry! How jolly nice to see you again," he stuttered, Madame Dread doing her utmost to tie his tongue.  "Did you have a successful time with the gee-gees at Kildare the other week."

 

The question seemed to catch Sir Henry off guard, harrowing a number of the furrowed lines almost permanently ploughed on to his forehead.  It would have been too much to expect a smile to break out over his thin lips, but the iciness in Sir Henry’s eyes appeared to melt slightly.

 

"Oh, er, yes.  Thank you for asking.  One of the Arabs won his race by five furlongs. Odds weren't that great, but the prize money more than paid for the whole shebang.  And with that win under his belt, stud fees will be good."

 

"Oh, jolly well done, sir!"

 

"So what brings you here today, then, Alexander?  I trust that you had nothing to do with that episode with Lord East Downs, eh?"

 

"Well, I..."

 

"Oh, Daddy, leave poor Zander alone.  I told you all about that weekend and I will hear no more of it.   Zander, the little Sweetie, has asked me on a picnic.  So we are just off."

 

"Is that right, now? Well, I want no hanky-panky with my daughter, you hear?"

 

"Daddy!  Zander is a true Gentleman, aren't you?" turning towards Zander, giving him a wink out of sight of her father.

 

"Oh, rather.  At least, I would like to believe so."

 

Sir Henry harrumphed.  "I see that your valet is there.  Will he be accompanying you?"

 

"Cripps?  Why, yes.  He will be our chauffeur for the day."

 

More harrumphing.

 

"Hmm.  Lucky for you that I do rate your man highly and trust him to keep you under control."

 

"My sentiments exactly, Sir.  I don't know what a chap would do without Cripps."

 

And more harrumphing.  Bunty rolled her eyes in mock frustration.

 

"Goodness, Daddy, we're only going on a picnic.  What the Dickens can happen, especially with Cripps as chaperone?"

 

And even more harrumphing, which Bunty ignored as she gave her father a quick peck on the cheek before dragging Zander into the house to collect Mrs Oldham’s basket.

 

o-O-o

 

"Ooh, Zander!  What a perfect spot for our picnic.  It's been such a while since William took me punting."

 

It was as if a stiletto had pierced his heart.  That name - William "Stinker" Watson!   Zander's happy-go-lucky smile was torn from his face, the sparkle in his soft blue eyes dimmed by the

sheer mention of that toad on a day like this.   Summoning all the benevolence he could muster, Zander looked down at the reclining Bunty.

 

"Really?  Well I do hope you enjoy our day out together."

 

"Oh, I'm sure I will - and I am already."

 

"Jolly good, my dear," and the blade was slowly extracted, the wound healing quickly.

 

Falling off a bicycle was easy, it was the getting back on which always proved difficult.  And so it was with Zander's punting skills...

 

Rule 1: Stand on the deck of your punt...

 

Zander wobbled across the deck, arms flapping like a fledgling before its first flight. Although only five steps away, it felt like five miles to Zander, but his perseverance paid off as he finally reached the elevated deck.

 

Rule 2: Come to terms with your punt...

 

Stepping on to the deck caused the punt to rock as Zander's weight fell off-centre.  More

wing-flapping as he tried frantically to a) find his balance and b) stop the rocking.

 

"Careful, Zander! You don't want to tip us out."

 

"Not to fear, dear girl.  I'm just getting a feel for it – the rocking helps me to understand the old girl's nuances, what?"

 

Zander's flapping subdued as he adjusted his stance on the deck, calm returning to both himself and the punt.

 

"Legs apart, knees bent..." he whispered to himself.  "Splendid!  Got the dashed thing under control!"

 

"Well done, Sir" piped up Cripps from the bank, putting one end of a long pole into the water by the side of the punt and handing Zander the other end.

 

Rule 3: Decide which side to use for the pole...

 

Zander tentatively reached for the pole, his awkward stance making things more difficult than they should have been – his feathered friend returning to assist in the manoeuvre. Being right-handed, Zander should have felt more comfortable with the pole to his right-hand side.  However, as his left side was nearest the bank as Cripps handed over the pole,

transferring it to his natural right side would have meant another visit from his avian assistant.  So, in defiance of common practice and, indeed, common sense, Zander opted to punt left-handedly.

 

Rule 4: Handle your pole properly - push down gently and walk your hands one over the other to the top of the pole, not forgetting to stop when you reach the end of the pole...

 

Zander gripped the pole with both hands and, with his knees still bent, pushed down, but with far too much force, causing the tail of the punt to shoot away from the bank.

 

Forgetting Rule 4 entirely, Zander gripped the pole tightly, trying to use it to regain his balance.  Mother Nature was about to unleash her law of gravitational force and tip Zander into the canal. However, self-preservation came to the rescue as Zander released the pole and once more thanked his wing-flapping friend.  Just as he steadied himself again, the released pole fell towards him and he grabbed it with both hands.

 

"There we are, Bunty, old girl, cast off."

 

A bemused Bunty, having somehow stopped herself from screaming in terror and then having subdued her amusement at Zander's antics, smiled sweetly at him.

 

Rule 5: To steer, use the pole as a rudder...

 

Finally remembering Rule 4, Zander duly walked his hands up the length of the pole.

 

However, the punt was now at right angles to the bank. Zander quickly reversed his hand-walk down the pole, pulled it out of the water, then dropped it out to the side of the punt,

remembering at the last second, to let it slide to the bottom of the canal.   Giving the pole a gentle push, he managed to turn the punt, then repeated the exercise, but this time dropping the pole to the rear in order to produce some forward motion.

 

More whispering to himself... "Easy-peasy! No need to panic, old boy."

 

"Bon Voyage, Sir!" cried Cripps as the punt, with Zander in anything but control, drifted away.

 

"Toodle-pip, Cripps. See you in an hour or so."

 

But taking his eyes off the punt and his surroundings, Zander had now broken Rule 5 as far as steering goes.  He was now heading straight for another punt heading in the opposite

direction.  Pushing down on the pole only made the punt go faster.  How to steer the blessed thing was lost in the fog of his panic as the two punts approached each other.

 

"Brake!" he muttered to himself.

 

Rule 6: Emergency Brake - There isn't one...

 

Zander looked at the oncoming punt, rapidly closing in, its punter waving at him to move aside.  He looked down at Bunty, her hand trailing in the water, her wide straw hat masking the calamity unfolding, oblivious to them bearing down on their own version of a Titanic iceberg.

 

"What to do?  What to do?" Zander screamed inside his head.  The whole blessed Family Fear were out in force now.

 

"If I may suggest, Sir," called Cripps from the embankment, "point the pole forward in the water and push hard."

 

Zander did as he was told, and the punt slowed dramatically, at the same time drifting away from the centre of the canal.

 

The other punt cleared them by inches, its punter crying all manner of curses at Zander's lack of skill.

 

Unwritten Rule 7: If all else fails, give up...

 

Sweat was running down Zander's forehead as Cripps steadied the punt by the bank.

 

"What-Ho, Cripps.  Did you see that imbecile nearly sink us?  He ought to be banned!"

 

"Indeed, Sir, I did and may I say that your last minute salvation of the situation was extraordinary."

 

"Bunty, dear, I fear that I may have pulled a muscle there and that we shall have to abandon our trip."

 

"Oh, Zander, I was so looking forward to lazing down the canal. Are you sure you can't go on?"

 

"Sir, if I may be so bold, why not let me do the punting while you and Miss James relax," interrupted Cripps.

 

"You, Cripps?  Let you punt?  Have you done this before?"

 

"Quite some time ago, Sir, but, as you said earlier, it's like riding a bicycle - it soon comes back to you."

 

"Well, if you're sure, Cripps.  I can always remind you of the rules."

 

"Indeed, Sir, indeed you can."

 

As Zander wobbled across the deck to join her, Bunty looked up to Cripps, a knowing smile on her face.  She gave a surreptitious wink and blew him a soft kiss, knowing that Cripps had come to the rescue once again!

 

Cripps gave a slight nod in recognition of her thanks and in one smooth motion, stepped on to the deck of the punt, steady as a rock.  Seconds later, the punt was gliding along the canal, smoothly and effortlessly, leaving Zander all afternoon to gaze into Bunty's eyes, all feelings of boredom dissipated in the warm sunshine.

 

October 09, 2019 15:59

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