A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time there was a handsome Princess (OK, I know that Princesses are supposed to be beautiful, but this Princess had more of a timeless look about her that was somewhere between almost pretty and verging on beautiful, so most people, when they met her, would say “That is one handsome Princess,” but not to her face of course) who was carried off by bandits at an early age (just to be clear, it was the Princess, not the bandits, who was young; the bandits were all adults, but to be entirely accurate, one of the bandits was only eighteen at the time and you can probably already see where this is going). To be strictly correct, the Princess was not a Princess in the sense that she was not the daughter of a King or in a direct or immanent line to be Queen or likely to marry a Prince, although she had hopes in that last regard. The Princess was a Princess because her father, the Earl of Wormsley, called her that.
“Why have you abducted me? What have I done to be treated this way?” the Princess asked the highwayman who appeared to be the bandit-in-charge.
“We are sorry, M’Lady, but we are poor, but honest, men who were tenants on your fathers land until he saw the episode of Downton Abbey in which Matthew finally convinced Lord Grantham that the estate had to be modernized,” the B-I-C explained. “Your father decided that the only way to save his holdings was to replace most of us with John Deere tractors. We’ve had no choice but to turn to a life of crime to provide for our families. The recession has made marauding less profitable than we had hoped, so we came to the decision that kidnapping you was our last resort.” At the end of this explanation, the highwayman doffed his cap and bowed low to the Princess.
“M’Lady, we have no desire to harm you. We simply hope that you will intercede with your father and communicate to him that you will be released upon his payment of 10,000 pounds to each of the families he has displaced. My name is Roger Smalley. This is my nephew, Mayhew. There is John Wicks, Thomas Williams, and Peter Croyle. Your father will recognize our names.”
“My good man, I completely sympathize with your cause. My father is an honorable man and when he hears of your plight, I’m sure he’ll comply,” said the Princess, who had just taken notice of Mayhew, leaning on the fender of her father’s Rolls Royce.
“This is the quickest case of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve ever seen,” whispered John Wicks to Thomas Williams.
“At least we won’t have spend weeks with endless counter offers. That gets really tedious,” Thomas said.
“Sir, Mr. Smalley, may I call you Roger?” the Princess asked.
“Yes, of course, M’Lady.”
“Good. Now, Roger, if you’ll give me back my iPhone, I’ll call my father and arrange a meeting and this whole business can be done with.” While she was saying this, the Princess pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and pretended to remove a speck of dust from her eye. She was, in fact, concealing the wink that she directed in Mayhew’s direction.
For his part, Mayhew was a bit flustered by the gesture, understanding the social distance between himself and the Princess. But he quickly regained his composure and returned the wink, with both eyes.
When Roger Smalley had handed her phone to her, the Princess said, “Siri, dial Daddy.”
In less than a second, the phone was ringing at Wormsley Hall. With as much haste as he could muster, the head butler, Garson, headed to the Library to answer the insistent ringing.
“That confounded instrument. I wish Lord Ransom had never had it installed,” Garson said in his usual gruff, but lovable way. “Wormsley Hall. This is Garson. How may I be of service?”
“Garson, so good to hear your voice. This is Lady Larry; is my father there?”
Now, at this point it might be good to explain why the Princess referred to herself as Lady Larry. You see Lord and Lady Ransom, like every other aristocratic family in Europe, and in most of the Hamptons, wanted a son as their firstborn in order that the title to their great estate would be transferred without any of that tiresome legal mumbo jumbo. Alas (note: all Fairytales are require by tiresome legal mumbo jumbo to use the word “Alas” at least once in the telling of any story; see Grimm vs. “The Little Mermaid,” 1964, 2 Q.B. 276), the firstborn of the Earl of Wormsley was a girl. Equally unfortunately for her, her grandmother, the dowager countess, Lady Viola, had already picked out a name for the child and had it inscribed on a pillar at the local branch of the Church of England, which just happened to be a chapel next to her bedroom on the east end of Wormsley Hall. The new baby’s name was Lady Lawrence William Henry George Charles Oscar de Wilde Ransom, but everyone just called her Lady Larry.
“Just a moment, M’Lady. I believe Lord Ransom is upstairs instructing one of the maids on the proper way to build a fire. I’ll send Nobby to fetch him.” Nobby was one of the footmen.
After some time searching through the thirty-two rooms on the second floor of Wormsley Hall, Nobby found Lord Ransom and informed him that he had a phone call from Lady Larry.
“Very good, Nobby. I’ll be right down after I show Lucy how to start a fire with just two sticks and a ball of twine.”
Lord Ransom finally descended to the Library and picked up the old fashioned phone, you know the kind with a receiver and mouthpiece that looks a bit like a banana. It’s connected by a coiled wire to a part that has a series of buttons one pushes to make a connection. Wormsley Hall was moving very slowing into the twenty-first century.
“Princess,” Lord Ransom said. “How good it is to hear from you. We missed you at lunch. Lady Dribble has asked me to inquire if you will be able to help her pick out her wardrobe for when she and the stable boy elope.”
“Daddy, I’m afraid Dribble will just have to pick out her own wardrobe. Daddy, I’ve been abducted by highwaymen and they are demanding money for my release.”
“Oh, dear, I’m sure that Lady Dribble will be very disappointed in the news. She respects your sense of style and knows that you wouldn’t send her off looking like… well, a stable boy’s wife. Now about this abduction, you say that highwaymen are demanding money for your release?” Lord Ransom occasionally had difficulties prioritizing issues that arose with his family and the staff.
“Daddy, these highwaymen were tenants on the estate. You replaced them with John Deere tractors. I think you owe them something for all the years that they worked for almost nothing, except for the annual Running of the Weasels.”
Weasel Days was the one time during the year when commoners and aristocrats could let down their hair and associate like almost normal people. The highlight of the week-long celebration was the “Running of the Weasels” which did not, in fact, involve any real weasels, they being an endangered and protected species in Great Britain at that time. Rather, “Weasels” was the term given to fifteen and sixteen year-old boys from the village who were allowed a five minute head start before Lord Ransom’s hounds were let out of their cages. It was always an exciting event, with very little loss of blood.
“Daddy, I have an idea. You invite them to have dinner tonight and you and Mr. Smalley can have a nice chat and work out the details of how the money for my release will be conveyed.” The Princess had cooked up this plan as a way of spending some time alone with Mayhew. She had earlier suggested to Mr. Smalley that while he and the other men were at dinner, Mayhew should be left behind to make sure she didn’t escape, not that she had any intention of doing so.
“Do they dress for dinner?” Lord Ransom asked. “You know your grandmother is a stickler for proper attire. She’ll never let me forget the time I tried to wear a cardigan at breakfast.”
“I’ll make sure that they are presentable. Now, what time shall I tell them? Six?”
With that, Lady Larry ended her call, checked her email and her text messages, of which there were eleven from Lady Dribble wondering if she would need to pack her Wellies for the south of France.
Meanwhile, back at Wormsley Hall…
“Garçon! Garçon! Come here.”
“Yes, M’Lord. How can I be of service?” Garson, the butler entered the room, scowling. “If I may say, M’Lord, you know that my name is Garson, not Garçon. Garçon is the French word for boy and as you know, I am neither French nor have I been a boy for some years.”
“Garçon, Garson. What does it matter? In fact, I think you should see my solicitor in the morning and have your name changed so it’s not so confusing.”
“And what would you have me change it to, M’Lord?” Oh, here it comes again, Garson thought. He and Lord Ransom had been having this conversation at least twice a day for the forty years that Garson had been in service at Wormsley Hall.
“How about…. Randy! That’s easy to remember.”
“If I may say, M’Lord, Randy is hardly the name for the head butler of a grand estate like this. Randy is a name for the sidekick of the star of one of those American sitcoms on Sunday night opposite our wonderful British dramas produced in Boston for WGBH.” Garson tried his best to provide an example that would evoke revulsion on the part of Lord Ransom, which is exactly what it did.
“Oh, all right. Garson it shall stay. But I still like Randy.”
“Very good, M’Lord. Now, what may I do for you?”
“Randy…. I mean Garson, please inform Lady Ransom that we will be having guests for dinner tonight. Those bandits that kidnapped Lady Larry will be dining with us.”
“Surely you can’t be serious, M’Lord,” Garson said in feigned astonishment.
“I am, and don’t call me Shirley.” It was an old joke between them, but it always worked to lighten the mood, which was much needed right now, considering the abduction and the uncertainty surrounding Lady Dribble’s wardrobe.
“I’ll also inform Mrs. Escuse and she can tell Mrs. Hatmore of the plans for the evening,” Garson said, shuddering to think what that conversation might be like.
There was a strict hierarchy within the household that had to be observed at all times. Garson would never think of going directly to Mrs. Hatmore, the cook. It wasn’t done. Besides, she had a temper and for another, she had a temper. Garson, truth be told, was a bit afraid of Mrs. Hatmore; she always seemed to have a knife in her hand. Best let Mrs. Escuse break the news.
“You can’t be serious, surely,” Mrs. Hatmore exploded when Mrs. Escuse told her that there would be three extra unkempt guests for dinner.
“Mrs. Hatmore, I’ve told you at least a dozen times that my name is not Shirley. I’ll thank you to call me Mrs. Escuse.”
“Well, excuse me, Mrs. High and Mighty. I didn’t call you Shirley. I’ve never called you Shirley. And in the future, I’d appreciate being given more than twenty minutes to prepare dinner for extra guests. It’s bad enough that we have Lord and Lady Ransom, and old lady Lady Viola, and Lady Larry, Lady Dribble, Lady Emu, and those other people who somehow have been living here for a year thinking that this is going to be their grand house one day, and the stable boy who’s about to marry Lady Dribble and that cad from the car dealership in London who’s in love with Lady Emu and…”
“Now, wait just a minute, Mrs. Hatmore,” Mrs. Escuse interjected, “You know as well as I do that Lady Larry will not be joining us for dinner tonight. She’s still being held against her lovely head’s will by the very bandits who will be here for dinner.”
“Oh, well, that makes it much easier. Dinner at 6:00, you say?”
“Very good. Thank you, Mrs. Hatmore.”
As usual, Mrs. Hatmore wove her magic and produced a twelve-course meal, with the help of Paisley, the surly kitchen maid and twenty other unnamed staff members who were scurry around, bumping into each other and spilling food on the floor which was quickly put back on the serving trays and sent out to the dining room.
Over dinner, Lord Ransom and Roger Smalley discussed the terms of Lady Larry’s release, while Lady Viola scowled and made remarks under her breath about the attire of the bandits.
“I just don’t think one should be served dinner while wearing a sidearm. Call me old fashioned,” she whispered to Lady Emu.
“Oh, granny, I think they look dashing,” Lady Emu said, gazing lovingly across the table at John Wicks, whose wife, it turns out had just died during the birth of their eleventh child.
“Smalley? Smalley? Are you from the Stilton-on-Nottingham Smalleys. Ma ma, don’t we have relations in that part of the county?” Lord Ransom was sorting through his little grey cells, which were indeed little, trying to remember a branch of the extremely complicated Ransom family tree.
“Now that you mention it, I believe that my much younger sister Hortense married a Smalley just before the war and they moved to Canada so he could avoid the draft,” Lady Viola replied, her little grey cells working perfectly fine. “But of course, we haven’t spoken in over twenty years. I wonder what she’s up to these days?”
“My family is all from Stilton Lord Ransom,” Roger replied. “And I believe I remember having a brother who was a draft dodger. Of course, no one in the family ever speaks of him or his wife. But it just occurred to me that my nephew, Mayhew, showed up on my doorstep one day and said that his father had sent him from Canada to claim his fortune.”
Well, as you can imagine, the conversation went on for several more courses, and finally Lord Ransom and Roger Smalley, who may be cousins, agreed that Lady Larry would be released, and that she and Mayhew would be married in three years after he was eventually to be paralyzed from the neck up in a Formula One racing accident in Monaco.
As for John Wicks, Thomas Williams and Peter Croyle, Roger Smalley turned state’s evidence against them and they were arrested by the village constable. Eventually, after a number of trials that made the front pages of every tabloid in the country, to Lady Viola’s great displeasure, they were convicted of “serial banditry and failure to attend Weasel Days in 2011.”
These days, Lady Emu visits John Wicks in jail every week and has become something resembling a mother to his eleven children. Of course, her maid does most of the actual child-rearing.
Lady Viola now spends her days in Stilton-on-Nottingham in a little shop she opened, selling quince jam and maps of the countryside, surrounded by people she fears may be relatives.
Lady Dribble forgot her Wellies for her elopement to the south of France and came down with a bad cold.
Lady Ransom remains silently in the background, although she has put a stop to Lord Ransom’s teaching the maids how to build fires.
Paisley became head cook when Mrs. Hatmore was hired by a four-star restaurant in Lyon, France; she rules the kitchen with an iron fist and strictly observes the “five second rule.”
Mrs. Escuse continues to be head housekeeper, though she doesn’t have anyone to argue with now that Mrs. Hatmore has left.
Garson finally changed his name to Randy. It’s just simpler that way.
One of my favorite writers come to mind – James Thurber.
Mine, too! Thanks for the tremendous compliment!