It was a dark and Stormy Daniels night, 1927.
Thunder cracked and lightning rolled as a small caravan of dripping cars entered the circular drive in front of the oldest building at the Bonnywood Manor enclave, an immense mansion that reeked of old money and ancient plumbing. If we had more time in this introduction, we could share further details concerning the history of Stabbington Abbey, but such sharing will have to wait. As mentioned, it was raining, at a high degree of bucketry, and we had to get our guests inside the Abbey before they started whining about the humidity affecting their coiffures.
Standing just outside the massive Brazilian mahogany doors that provided entrance to the endless and echoing hallways of Stabbington was our official greeter, a certain Monsieur Fromage. He was the highest-ranking member of the extensive household staff but, despite the minor joys of getting to order underlings to do things he had no interest in doing, he was not a happy person. This will become more evident as we progress through this progressively dark tale. (Fair disclaimer: This herring is not red. He’s just bitchy.)
Let’s meet the members of the caravan, shall we?
Out of the first car, something fancy that was once owned by Gloria Swanson before her business manager made some very poor choices, tumbled Eliza Boolittle. Once upon a time she led a wretched life, scrubbing toilets in a questionable hotel in the immensely-questionable Whitechapel district in East London. Then, one fateful and inebriated night, she happenstanced upon an elderly man who was rather impressed with what Eliza could do with his own plumbing, managing to release the pressure in a pipe that had gone untended for far too long. So great was The Elder’s gratitude that the two were married the next day.
The Elder died later that afternoon. It seems that whatever was unclogged was the only thing keeping the man alive. In any case, Eliza was now immensely wealthy, a development which surprised her almost as much as it did the many Elder relatives who inherited squat, based on the barely-dry ink of the new will Elder had somehow managed to compose and have validated during his 17-hour relationship with Eliza. Lawsuits were initiated by the Elder-less, but it all eventually came to naught, as Eliza now realized the value of her plumbing skills and she used them to her benefit with various judges and jury members and that really-cute court reporter with the charming Spanish accent.
End of day, Eliza would no longer be scrubbing anything that she didn’t relish scrubbing.
Still, the musk of her mysterious machinations lingered, as evidenced by the following conversation with Monsieur Fromage, the appointed guardian of the massive mahogany doors. Fromage: “Prior to your piercing of this portal, perhaps I could peruse your passport?”
Eliza: “My passportal is none of your business, though I do appreciate your interest in such, as it has served me well.” (Note how Eliza has attempted to ditch her Whitechapel manner of speaking, but she hasn’t quite rinsed the wash, so to speak, allowing the intrusion of mis-pronounced words, which is the Whitechapel way. I mention this merely as an anthropological aside, not an indictment of her birth-dialect.) “Are you possibly referring to an invitation of sorts? If so, my personal secretion has the necessary paperwork.”
Another woman tumbled out of Gloria Swanson’s relinquished and repurposed ride, clutching an envelope composed of high thread-count fibers and bearing the official seal of Bonnywood Manor. “Is this wot you wantin’, Cheese Man?”
Monsieur Fromage grimaced. “Wot I want out of life has little bearing in this situation, a denial of my existence which I accepted long ago, when I received that horrendous rejection letter from a cooking school in France. I haven’t smiled a single time since that wretched moment. More to the point, am I to assume that you are Eliza’s secretion?”
“That I be, wretched sir. Me name is Another One.”
Monsieur Fromage was a bit stymied. “Another what?”
“Another One, that me name. Me parents were blessed with 27 children, they were, with me the last in a long train. Tired they were, wretched sir, with none good names left for choosing.”
“I don’t even know how to grasp that concept.”
“And me mother could no longer grasp her you taurus. It fell out at the Piccadilly Station, it did. Rolled onto the tracks, and the 4:15 from Stepney Green was late, it was.”
Monsieur Fromage was temporarily paralyzed with the imagined visual of this revelation.
Eliza Boolittle, thoroughly bored with dialogue that did not feature her in any way, yanked Monsieur Fromage out of his catharsis. “Could you direct me to the nearest comfort station? I cannot possibly make my official entrance into Bonnywood Manor wearing the same outfit in which I arrived. It wouldn’t dew.”
“Of course, madame. There is a small suite built just for such purposes located on the left side of the antechamber you will encounter upon entering the mahogany doors. Since it IS an antechamber, you have not officially arrived until you go through the second set of mahogany doors. Whatever happens in the antechamber stays in the antechamber. Unless you annoy the household staff. Then things could go awry. I’m sure you understand the ways of servants, having been one yourself.”
Eliza bristled. “I could have you fired for saying such.”
Monsieur Fromage did not fear the bristling. “And that’s an example of annoyance, Madame. I could just as easily have you escorted from the premises. After all, I know what really happened during your stunningly-brief matrimonial roundelay. The women of Whitechapel do love to gossip, and I listen very closely when I visit me mother on Thursdays. Do we really need to dance this dance?”
Eliza un-bristled, slightly. “I suppose we could call it even. But I’ve got my eye on you, Cheese Man. If I see a chance, I’ll take it.”
[Cue ominous music on the soundtrack, possibly composed by Steve Winwood.]
Monsieur Fromage smiled, in a discomforting way, because people who smile after ominous music has been cued cannot be trusted. “I look forward to the romp, with great relish. Now, if you and Another One can lug your 13 steamer trunks into the antechamber and leave me in peace, I’m off to greet the next car.”
Eliza bristled once again, making it very clear that her reactionary repertoire was woefully limited. “There’s no one who can assist us?”
Monsieur feigned a look of surprise. “Why, Madame, per your own admission and insistence on intensive costume changes, you have not officially arrived. No one knows you are here. Officially. Now, run along and try to wash the deception out of your couture before you enter the second set of doors.” He then pirouetted (despite a second rejection letter he had received from a dance academy in France) and marched away.
Eliza huffed whilst Another One hauled, and they managed to drag Eliza’s 13 trunks of deception through the first set of doors, with “they” meaning “Another One”, because Eliza hadn’t done manual labor since her brief husband’s will had been adjudicated.
Monsieur Fromage approached the aforementioned next car, one of those nasty hybrid vehicles that were all the rage in 1927, able to run on both gasoline and coal, dependent on the whim of the driver. The driver (his whimsical selection of fuel was not noted) hopped out of the hybrid and proffered his hand to the startled aforementioned Cheese Man.
Monsieur Fromage sneered, mildly but noticeably, with said sneering indicating that, perchance, he has just spied a cockroach racing madly out of a fruit-of-the-month basket left on the doorstep. “I don’t do body contact.”
The driver let his hand drop. “Oh. My apologies. Do they not shake hands in this country?”
The Cheese Man sighed. “I’m not interested in what the rest of the country is doing. I’m only concerned about what affects me and how I can rise above the messiness of life and vindictive rejection letters. For instance, who are you and why are you here?”
“My name is Inigo Flamboya.”
Monsieur Fromage whipped out a clipboard that no one had noticed before, which really wasn’t all that surprising, considering his trustworthiness was already suspect and who knew what he might whip out at any point. “Ah, I see that you have been given preliminary approval to stain the walls of Stabbington Abbey with your presence. But I do have some security questions, as any responsible person would have.”
Inigo nodded. “And I will be happy to answer those questions, in a bit. But since you mentioned staining, perhaps you could help me with a small issue that I’m experiencing at the moment. My wife has just broken her water on the designer fabric of my over-priced hybrid.”
Monsieur Fromage’s non-existent smile became even less evident. “And this water-breakage indicates…what, precisely?”
“She’s going into labor.”
Both men’s heads swiveled toward the hybrid in admirable synchronicity, partly due to the dramatic effect of such, but mostly due to the aggressively anguished words which bellowed out of the designer fabric of the interior and bounced off the multi-tiered walls of Stabbington Abbey.
“Get this wretched beast out of me NOW!”
Another One paused at the first set of mahogany doors, sweaty with the effort of lugging the last of the steamer trunks from the boot of Gloria Swanson’s former ride. “Should we be concerned about that?”
Eliza Boolittle shook her head. “What happens in the antechamber stays in the antechamber.”
Click here for the next installment in this sordid affair…
To provide a bit of background on why I’m launching this mess, despite the creative agony of being forced to carry this tale through to completion, here’s a comment snippet from a previous post, courtesy of the lovely Christi.
Christi: “Oh dear, was this poor lass in a horror film or at an Evangelic church? (Yeah, I know, one and the same.)
Speaking of horror… pictures of casseroles don’t sit well with me. (Why has no horror film covered that? “Night of the Living Casserole” — my God, it writes itself!)”
Brian: “You are just on fire with suggestions today. I’ve already jotted down (on one of my very modern-technology notecards) your working casserole title, as I simply must explore the concept further…”
Oh, and that opening photo? It was unknowingly provided by the equally lovely Barb, who innocently shared said shot further up in the comments, instigating all of this mess.
And there you have it. Brace yourselves…