“-This is liberty-hall, gentlemen. You may do just as you please here.”
Oliver Goldsmith She Stoops To Conquer
“Enuff! I heff enuff!”
The young woman in the tangerine hot pants tossed her waist-length blonde hair and pouted theatrically.
“I go back to Oslo. I tell my Papa…”
“Come now my dear, I’m sure there’s no need for that.”
The Earl of Cley, a large man, well advanced in his fifties, strode across the patio and splashed out two glasses of Pimms and lemonade from a brimming jug on a well-stocked drinks table. Bright August sunshine illuminated his rather startling tangle of auburn hair. The au pair looked disdainfully at the huge grubby feet protruding beneath his lime green kaftan. Reluctantly, she took a glass, sipped suspiciously and pursed her frosted peach lips.
“I still go!”
“Have a cordial and do chill out, Freya. You know what Psyche says about negative vibes.”
The blonde snorted and rolled her eyes. Naughtily, she placed one hand on her hip and raised her Pimms aloft in an affected gesture. Slyly, she began to imitate an aristocratic accent.
“That is because I am a Scorpio. I am badddddddd…”
“And that, my dear, is the attraction. Did you know that my Great Uncle Sebastian…”
The Earl leapt round the drinks table like a flash of lightning and grasped Freya to his bosom. He grasped thin air.
“You’ll need to grease your lightneenng to catch me, you old goat!”
Cley tried the other direction. Freya didn’t spill a drop of her Pimms as she effortlessly kept ahead of the circumambulatory Earl.
“Round and round and round we go!”
After several circuits the Earl leaned heavily on the table and wheezed.
“Take pity on a poor old man. Stand your ground and take it like a Norwegian…”
“Like a Norwegian what, Grandpa Earl?”
“Oh, never mind.” Cley refilled his glass and collapsed into a huge wicker chair. “Psyche will know. She knows everything. Whether it’s a fact or not,” he finished sotto voce.
“Good, good, good vibrations…” trilled Freya, gyrating her tangerine behind just out of reach of Cley’s questing hands.
Cley kept his questing hands firmly around the cold glass. He was still breathing heavily.
“My chasing days are over. I need a pair of roller skates. Or a lasso.” Cley sat upright and eyed the bell pull. “Now there’s an idea!”
A sepulchral voice issued from the French doors leading to the conservatory. The Earl jumped. Psyche’s concept of domestic help had involved hiring a local clairvoyant as a butler and the result was just a little too Addams Family for his taste. Having one’s basic needs pre-empted was somewhat disconcerting and the old git rarely got it right. Ebenezer Thrumm creaked onto the patio, a gaunt old man with navy blue shadows under his beady eyes. His ancient suit smelled strongly of mothballs. The au pair held her nose.
“Pooh! Worse than week-old lutefisk!”
Freya wriggled her nubile Scandinavian bottom again and the butler’s reptilian eyes slid sideways. A drop of spittle moistened his thin grey lips. Suddenly remembering something, he rummaged inside his jacket and retrieved a slightly crumpled manila envelope.
“The post, sir.”
Cley’s broad purplish nose wrinkled in disdain.
“That missive looks horribly official. Go on then – tell me what’s inside, without opening it.”
The butler closed his eyes. His face adopted a strained expression and he moaned softly. The Earl grinned and took another deep draught of his Pimms.
“Gas bill? Going to cut us off again, are they?”
“Not the rates, I hope. I told those bastards at the council to cease their impertinence. Asking me for money to live in my own house. The nerve! ”
“I see …”
“Get on with it man!”
Thrumm screwed his bony features into a climax of concentration, then let out a long wheezy sigh.
“I see a gentleman in a brown suit. He is carrying a clipboard. An inspector, perhaps.”
Cley snorted and smacked the au pair’s behind.
“Hah! Let him inspect this! And these, if he has a mind to…”
He reached up to fondle Frey’s pert little breasts. Quite a change had come upon the Norwegian girl. Giggling, she slid onto his vast, well-padded lap and put her arms about his neck.
“Suck my nipples, Grandpa Earl. Make me feel good and I won’t tell my Papa about the cucumber.”
“Tell your Papa to get his own cucumber. Oh, I see what you mean. Well, it was very tasty after it was marinaded.”
“You choked, Thrumm?”
“Indeed sir. I hear the door knocker.”
”I see a knocker making an escape!”
Cley’s breathing quickened as he lifted up Freya’s fine cheesecloth top to reveal a luscious pink-tipped breast. Bra-burning was de rigeur at Liberty Hall, though the Earl was anything but a feminist. Freya giggled and slipped a hand under her bottom.
Thrumm muttered and turned away. He placed the unopened letter on the drinks table.
“Bring me the clipboard! Dispose of the inspector as you see fit!”
Thrumm muttered again under his breath on the way out. The Earl of Cley turned his undivided attention to the au pair snuggled on his lap. He lifted her bare orb to his mouth.
“Mmm!” murmured Freya, her eyes closing and her hand working in the Earl’s lap.
Cley deftly took Freya’s nipple between his lips. He held it gently. His tongue barely touched the sensitive flesh. Freya shuddered and took the Earl’s head in her spare hand.
Now Cley took as much of Freya’s breast into his mouth as he could and sucked hard, his tongue suddenly lashing her tender nipple. Freya arched her back and thrust herself convulsively at the Earl’s face.
“Ooh, yes! Yes please, Grandpa Earl!”
Cley placed one fingertip on the button of Freya’s hot pants, as if ringing a doorbell. He stilled, no longer sucking but holding Freya’s breast captive and silent. Freya tensed and whimpered, her whole body electrified with desire. Her long suntanned thighs flexed convulsively as she pushed her hips towards Cley’s teasing hand.
The Earl slowly drew his finger down the crotch of the young woman’s hot pants. With each inch Freya’s back arched further and her eyes squeezed tighter. The Earl slowed almost to nothing. He stopped where Freya’s sex throbbed against the gaudy material. Gently, ever so gently, he pressed his finger toward warmth. Freya squirmed hard then screamed and screamed again. At last she collapsed into Cley’s arms.
“That was a good one, my beauty! When you come you come!”
“Oh yes, Grandpa Earl. Oi be a good girl, don’t Oi?”
Freya’s impression of a West Country serving wench left little to be desired. Cley made a mental note to find her a low-bodiced dress and a milk pail.
“Grandpa Earl?” inquired Freya coyly. The Earl smiled. He knew this game.
“Grandpa Earl? May I play with your boonny wabbit?”
Freya slipped off his lap and onto her knees beside the Earl. He slowly lifted his kaftan. He was naked beneath it. Freya’s eyes widened and she pressed a finger to her lips.
“Ooh, Grandpa Earl! Boonny wabbit has come out to play with me! May I give boonny wabbit a kiss, Grandpa Earl?”
“You may give bunny rabbit a kiss,” said the Earl. “You may give him lots of kisses.”
Freya lowered her mouth to the Earl’s impressive bunny rabbit. She pursed her lips and touched them to his waiting tip. Cley leaned back in the wicker chair with an expectant smile. Freya’s tongue flicked out.
“Cley! Where the blazes are you, Cley? Why the devil is a man locked in the cloakroom? He’s moaning that his clipboard has been taken away from him. What is this - a clipboard fetish? Why haven’t I tried it?”
“Psyche, my love!”
The Earl groaned inwardly. His full nine inches of turgid taproot nudged the dewy, peach frosted lips of the twenty year old, then slowly made a dignified descent. Freya looked surly as a tall willowy creature in scarlet palazzo pants strode onto the patio. Psyche smiled knowingly, as she came upon her husband and the au pair, caught in flagrante.
“Aha! The intense urge of Scorpio! Such a perfect match for the bottomless appetite of Taurus the Bull. Run along now Freya, there’s ironing to be done.”
The au pair scowled, a steely glint in her deep blue eyes. Cley watched her tight, tangerine-clad bottom squirm its way across the patio, jiggling in time to the clopping of her platform-soled boots. His cock twitched appreciatively then collapsed. Psyche was in one of her moods. She stood before him, hands on hips, her glorious mass of raven curls swept up in a style reminiscent of a Greek goddess. Huge silver hoops dangled from her ears. A myriad of Indian bracelets clinked on her wrists. The Earl had to admit that his wife was magnificent. She was also as nutty as a fruitcake.
“A needle pulling thread?”
“Don’t be obtuse, Randolph. I want to know why there’s a man locked in the downstairs cloakroom!”
Cley arranged his kaftan to cover his dignity. Something about the word “clipboard” jogged a memory in his booze-addled brain.
“Don’t tell me Thrumm got it right for once.”
Psyche clapped her hands to an accompaniment of tiny tinkling bells.
“Did he make a prediction?”
The Earl sighed.
“The old fool said, ‘I see a gentleman in a brown suit. He is carrying a clipboard. An inspector, perhaps.’ I assume that for once his second sight was focused on the right planet and the body in the cloakroom suffering clipboard-withdrawal symptoms is indeed an inspector of some sort.”
“Well – what sort of inspector? Tax, bus, police, drains? Why one earth should anyone want to inspect our drains? Or does he want to crawl all the way through them to the septic tank with a little brush?”
“I have no idea, my love. Thrumm didn’t get that far. It was one of those vague predictions like, ‘You will meet a tall dark stranger at some point in the next thirty-five years’.”
The Countess dismissed the mysterious inspector from her mind.
“Send Freya to him with some sandwiches and tell her to interrogate him. Talking of that Scandinavian harlot, did she finish what she started?”
“No, my love. She was rudely interrupted just as she was getting into her flow…”
“That girl never finishes a job. Must be endemic to her generation. The under-gardener loses all concentration once he’s sprayed the first row of cauliflowers. Lift up your frock or you’ll be at it all day.”
The Earl flinched.
“No, no, my dear, I can complete the job myself…”
“Nonsense, Cley. You know you’ll take for ever over it and none of your chores will get done. Now give it to me and you’ll be done in a jiffy.”
Psyche kneeled and whipped the Earl’s kaftan above his waist. She took a firm grip on his wilted masterpiece. Even limp it comfortably filled her hand. With a determined expression on her thin face she started a regular pumping.
“Come along, Randolph! I don’t have all day!”
Despite himself Cley felt his erection grow in his wife’s hand. She knew exactly how to bring him to ejaculation with the minimum expenditure of time and effort. Her spare hand found his testicles and gently squeezed. Cley groaned.
“Here we go, what a brave lad! Just a couple more…”
Cley’s cock pulsed under the pressure. He gripped the arms of the chair and lifted himself half out of it. His wife’s knowing grip shifted to the tip of his engorged member and began a figure-of-eight motion.
The contents of his frustrated balls shot into the air then fell back onto his thighs and the Countess’ encircling hand. She gave three more pumps for good measure and let go. She wiped her hand on his hairy thigh and stood up
“Do clean yourself up, there’s a good boy. You look a frightful mess.”
The Earl dabbed at himself with his kaftan as he caught his breath.
“Now off you go and fiddle the books. We need a story of some kind for the bank manager chappie before the next payment is due.”
Psyche dusted her knees and turned to go.
“What the blood and stomach pills…”
A mighty CRASH!!! issued from the depths of the house. The pitcher of Pimms toppled to the tiled patio. Cley groaned.
“Cook’s not messing around with the pressure cooker again, is she? Last time, she just about blew the ruddy roof off. I thought the flipping Russkies had pushed the button down…”
His lady wife frowned and strode off to investigate. The explosion didn’t seem to originate in the kitchen. A thick pall of dust filled the main entrance hall, like a sandstorm scouring the Sahara, accompanied by a strange muffled thumping sound. Staunchly, Psyche wrapped a diaphanous scarf about her nose and mouth and made her way through the cloud. It seemed the ruckus came from the downstairs cloakroom. As she turned the door handle, a dreadful long drawn out moan issued from the darkened room. Lady Cley called into the dust drenched gloom.
“Ah yes, an Inspector calls. Has he already fallen foul of the Banshee of Liberty Hall? Is anyone there?”
There was a vague spluttering sound, punctuated by several flaccid thumps. Psyche edged into the cloakroom.
“I heff enufffff!”
“Good heavens! Is that Freya? What on earth?”
The dust cloud parted just long enough for Lady Cley to witness a remarkable sight. A large mahogany dresser had somehow managed to topple forwards onto the cloakroom floor. Two pairs of feet wriggled helplessly beneath its weight. Psyche recognised the au pair’s platform boots and Thrumm’s ancient brogues.
“Don’t tell me Scorpio tried to pin down Pisces in the closet? My dear, to catch the Fish, you need a bottle of bubbly, floating candles and some nice soothing music in the background. Try Debussy, not brute force. If you want to butt, find a Ram…”
An incensed squawk emanated from beneath the dresser and the boots drummed their heels indignantly.
“This dirty old man? Get me out! I tell my Papa…”
The brogues wilted visibly. A sad wheezing cough shook the dresser, then a faint croaking ensued:
“Madam, there’s a strange man at large in Liberty Hall. The person I prophesied. We tried to corner him but he managed to elude capture.”
“So I see. Well, don’t worry, I’ll get Jinks the handyman to lift it off in a jiff. You can both move your toes and that’s a good sign. Talking of which, I wonder what sign the Inspector is. Oh, my kingdom for a Virgo!”
“You’ll be lucky to find a Virgo in this kingdom, my dear.” Cley peered over her shoulder at the mayhem.
“You know perfectly well what I mean. Now call Jinks and get after that inspector!”
Cley sighed and turned away, his dreams of what to do with Freya’s captive legs in abeyance. He did not forget though. The Cleys have good memories.
Long years on the polo field had taught the Earl the merits and technique of a fog-horn bellow.
“Coming, my Lord!”
A baritone voice emanated from the basement. It was followed by a tall young man in overalls, a wide tool belt round his slim waist. A day’s dark stubble masked his square-jawed face and deep tan. A wayward lock of dark hair fell over his forehead. He leaned negligently on the door jamb. The handyman’s given name was Seth.
“Yes, my Lord?”
Lady Cley frowned.
“Stop lolling around and lift that wardrobe. Thrumm is having hysterics and Freya is having kittens.”
“Certainly, my Lady.”
Jinks brushed past the Countess and bent down to grip the wardrobe. He flexed his muscles quite unnecessarily and lifted the weighty old piece of furniture back to the vertical.
“All done, my Lady.”
He took Freya’s hand and effortlessly lifted her to her feet. She passed the back of a hand across her brow and sagged against his chest.
“Well then, my dear, how about my reward?” Jinks smoothed an imaginary moustache with one finger.
“The milk boy won’t be here until tomorrow. You’ll have to ply your own reward until then. Now get back to fixing that boiler.”
“And which boiler would that be then, sweetie?” pouted Jinks with a sideways glance at Lady Cley. He minced to the basement stairs.
“Stop mincing, you stupid man! You know perfectly well you can walk properly if you put your mind to it. If it weren’t for celestial balance I wouldn’t let a Libran in the house,” Psyche grumbled
Freya waggled her bottom derisively at the handyman. She sang what sounded like an obscene limerick in Norwegian.
Thrumm climbed laboriously to his feet and looked wistfully after the retreating form of Jinks. When Jinks had disappeared he turned his yearning eye on Freya.
“Thrumm! Stop mooning and catch the Inspector! He can’t have got far.”
A glint appeared in Thrumm’s eye.
“Yes, my lady. It was the inspector who pushed the wardrobe onto young Miss Freya and I. May I have permission to loose the dogs?”
“I think not. I’m sure the gentleman concerned didn’t intend to pin you to the cloakroom floor. Accidents will happen. Besides, we haven’t discovered what he’s here to inspect yet. I’m sure we don’t want to go to all that trouble if it’s just the drains. Thrumm – fetch the tarot cards! Let’s see what they have to say about our inspector’s mission.”
The butler hobbled off towards the library, brushing off his dusty old trousers with the palms of his hands. Freya smirked.
“Better luck next time, Meester Inspector. Squash that nastee old man as flat as a pannakoke! He’s always staring at my boobies.”
“And who wouldn’t, my dear?”
Cley admired the au pair’s perfect little upturned breasts. Her nipples were hard as acorns beneath the soiled cheesecloth top. All he had to do was reach across, flip up the flimsy material and feast on the perky beauties. They needed kissing better after their recent ordeal. His cock sprang to attention for the third time that day, jauntily pushing out the front of his kaftan. Proud of his outstanding virility, he turned himself a little to one side, offering Freya the full effect of his manhood in profile. Much to his chagrin, the young woman giggled.
“Knockwurst in a tent! Very funny!”
Psyche clapped her hands as the butler creaked into the cloakroom bearing a small wooden box.
“Ah, here are my cards! Now, the Universe will reveal all…”
Cley pointed his protuberance at the au pair and winked. She pretended not to notice. Lady Cley opened the little box and took out a pack of cards wrapped in a fine silk cloth. Deftly, she shuffled, her striking features arranged in an expression of perfect composure. Thrumm closed his eyes and moaned softly. Freya wetted her lips with the tip of her tongue and made lascivious faces at Cley. Psyche squatted on the parquet and dealt the brightly colored cards onto the floor.
“Hah! First we have the Moon. Deception – perhaps in the guise of a flighty female (she glared at Freya). Then the Lovers. That’s self-explanatory. And finally, the Hermit. How very odd. One who hides himself away. Our elusive Inspector is a quiet man, unobtrusive, studious. A classic Virgo. His mission involves secrecy and partnership, possibly of an intimate, even clandestine variety.”
“It’s a bit late in our marriage to send a private investigator after me, my dear! Mea culpa! Guilty as charged!”
His wife ignored him. She stared at the cards. A myriad of tiny cogs could be imagined clicking away in the confines of her finely coiffed head.
Thrumm shuddered and sighed.
“An elegant reading, your Ladyship. Might I add that the tarot symbols are always open to a variety of interpretations and therefore that the Moon may indeed be related to water and thus to the drains.”
“Bloody Victorian khazis. So it’s an undercover lover or an undercover plumber. Take your pick, ladies! Both would have their uses.”
“Cough, my Lord.”
Cley tapped his foot.
“Cough what, Thrumm?”
“Cough the inspector is escaping, my Lord.”
“Well, stop coughing and get in the offing, Thrumm! Tally ho! The inspector must not get over the wire before we inspect him. Switch on the minefield! Call out the air force! And when you get back, count the spoons.”
Thrumm gave what could only be described as a wolfish grin. Lady Cley sighed.
“Thrumm, the moon is waxing but not yet full. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Set off in an orderly fashion and bring the inspector back in one piece. A nice intact piece.”
Thrumm’s face fell as he turned to obey his mistress’s command. His finger nails seemed to contract and his face fell into itself as though his dentures had melted. He closed the door softly behind him.
Lady Cley looked at her husband.
“Climb out of your world of fantasy, Cley. You are not in your Spitfire now. The inspector is probably British, or at least neutral, and out of bounds for nastiness. Now do something useful while I see to the feng shui in the library.”
She swept out of the room leaving the Earl and Freya eying each other. They took a step closer, the Earl’s erection back to full glory.
“And no hanky panky!” Psyche lived up to her name with a cry from half way down the hall.
“Wait until she’s out of range,” whispered Cley. Freya giggled. They could play the hanky panky game all day (and frequently did). The Earl grasped the au pair’s tangerine-clad buttocks and squeezed, as if testing fruit. Psyche was wrong about the Spitfire. Cley really didn’t give a fig about inspectors, so long as his creature comforts were at hand. Or in hand… The Winston Churchill act was but a smokescreen, a hareng rouge to divert the household. At one with the world, the Earl bent to sniff the au pair’s décolletage.
The young woman smelled of sweet ripe sex and Aqua Manda, a popular orangey kind of scent. What more could an old reprobate desire before tea? Cley was just about to wrestle the girl to the parquet for another round when there was a second reverberating thud, this time from the floor above, followed by a piercing shriek. Cley and Freya looked up at the cloakroom ceiling. A few fragments of loose plaster drifted down and landed on the abandoned tarot cards, causing a flaky white cloud to obscure the Moon. The Hermit looked as if he had a stylish new Afro hairstyle. Freya sniggered.
Cley opened his eyes wide in mock alarm.
“It’s an omen, dear girl. Thrumm’s going to change his image and go for a perm.”
Several pairs of trotting feet began to clip-clop over the ancient floorboards above. They trotted from one side of the upper floor to the other, then returned, maintaining a brisk pace. The Earl looked bemused.
“What on earth are they doing? Rehearsing a Busby Berkley tap dancing spectacular? Get yer tits out, Freya. I need some light relief.”
The au pair took off her cheesecloth top. Cley noted, with considerable enjoyment, that each time the ceiling trembled, the young woman’s nipples gave an answering bounce. He’d find her a nice pair of tangerine tap shoes quicker than you could say ‘Shirley Temple’.
“Jump up and down for Grandpa Earl, my dear. That’s it. Good heavens! Lord, bless my soul!”
The young woman began to hoot with laughter. Up and down she jumped like an over-stimulated five year old. Her perky boobs jiggled and wobbled, joggled and bobbled like two firm-set little milk puddings with cherries on top. A trampoline, that was the thing! Cley made a mental shopping list of outdoor toys. A trampoline and one of those faddy enormous rubber balls that children sat on and bounced around like demonic rabbits. Spacehoppers, they called them. They were usually orange too. Perfect with the tangerine hotpants.
A second piercing shriek issued from the upper floor. Freya paused mid-bounce.
“Perhaps we should look?”
Cley sighed. All good things had to come to an end. He rearranged his kaftan.
“Oh, all right. No, don’t put your top on. I need the moral support. And it’s good for them to get some air.”
The odd couple vacated the cloakroom and cautiously tiptoed to the bottom of the grand staircase. Freya insisted on putting her finger to her lips and generally hamming it up like a silent movie star.
“Like Scooby Do,” she whispered.
“I suppose that makes me Shaggy.”
The au pair covered her mouth and choked with suppressed mirth. Another crisp outburst of tapping feet erupted overhead. The Earl and the topless au pair began to creep up the stairs.
“That sounded more like Roy Castle.”
“Where’s that, Grandpa Earl?”
“Never mind. Watch out for that clipboard.”
Cley paused as the tapping feet did a nifty shuffle and Freya ducked her head under his kaftan.
Cley leaned against the banister and felt warm lips encircle his manhood. Freya lasciviously lapped his turgid tool as it rose to meet her. Her hand slipped between her legs to the damp patch on her lurid pants.
Cley groaned again. “Quicker! Before she cottons on!”
“CLEY! What the blue blazes is that racket upstairs? Go and investigate and do something about it!”
“No you are not! Get up those stairs and see to the noises! Right now!”
Freya noisily let the Earl’s member slip from her lips and ducked out again from the kaftan. She pouted.
“Who’s in charge here, Grandpa Earl? You or old bossy boots?”
“Old bossy boots is in charge, as well you know. This will have to wait until we have performed our mission. Tell you what – when we have investigated and eliminated the tip-tapping we’ll get the equipment out!”
“Ooh, Grandpa Earl! Can I have the knobbly one?”
Cley grinned. Freya had jibbed at the knobbly one until now. It looked like this expedition would show dividends. He started up the stairs once more.
The tip-tapping doubled in intensity and was joined by a series of screams worthy of a Doctor Who assistant.
“Hang on! The memsahib was calling from the library. Who’s doing all the screaming?”
“Let’s find out, Early! Let’s see if we can make them scream louder! Scream scream scream! Ice cream! We all scream!”
Freya laughed demoniacally and waved her arms in the air. Her naked breasts jiggled as she leapt up the stairs.
“Let’s make them scream!”
Cley trudged after the tangerine demon with an indulgent expression on his face. Freya pranced to the top of the stairs and followed the screams to the eighth spare bedroom. Just as the Earl placed his hand on the doorknob, all went quiet. Cley and Freya exchanged meaningful looks. The au pair put one ear to the door.
“I can’t hear anything, Grandpa Earl. Except… Perhaps there is a sort of panting sound.”
Cley listened too.
“You’re right. They must have exhausted themselves with that fracas. Come on, girlie – let’s make an arrest.”
Freya pretended to blow the smoke off the business end of an invisible revolver.
“OK, Mister Ironside.”
Cley turned the doorknob. At first it was hard to make out anything in the darkened bedroom. The heavy curtains were drawn against the bright summer sun. The panting seemed to emanate from behind the closed drapes of a big old four poster bed. After a few seconds, a soft moaning joined the hyperventilating. Boldly, Cley strode across the room and swept back the bed-curtain with a dramatic flourish. Neither he nor the au pair was prepared for the vision ensconced on the bed.
“Good grief! Jinks!!”
Freya approached, her hands held behind her back, suddenly resembling a rather timid little girl. Somehow the notion of making the handyman and his bed-partner scream wasn’t quite at the top of the program any more.
“What are you wearing?”
The handsome young handyman seductively sprawled on the wide bed appeared to be wearing a sheep costume. He winked, shrugged and pouted.
“Oi knows what oi loikes.”
“Come on, Jinks, we all know you don’t talk like a spare bumpkin from The Archers. Where did you find that outfit?”
Jinks grinned, looking every bit the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Church nativity play dress-up box. Dougal adores it.”
The handyman gazed admiringly down at the other figure on the bed, which was almost obscured by Jinks’s woolly bulk.
Cley drew himself up to his full height and squared his jaw.
“Dougal? Hah! Our blessed Inspector, I presume. Darned elusive Pimpernel of a sewer investigator! Hand him over, at once. What’re you hiding him for? Got the blackguard dressed up as Little Bo Peep?”
There was a muffled snort and gurgle from the inert figure on the bed. Cley realized that Jinks had got the Inspector as neatly trussed as a Christmas turkey, complete with a silk scarf gag. This was a pleasing development.
“Well done, old chap. Now, put that tub of Vaseline away for the moment. We don’t want dear Dougal to end up in Essex. A few strokes of your monstrous tool would be enough to send any chap into orbit.”
Jinks tried to look modest. Cley looked at the Inspector, who glared back from behind a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. He was a small, lightly built man in his fifties, wearing a string vest and a rather baggy pair of Y-fronts. The handyman, true to his title, had deftly bound the older man’s wrists to his bony little ankles. A discarded clipboard lay on the floor near the bed. Cley stooped to pick it up.
“English National Heritage. Oh, I say!”
The Earl looked as sheepish as the handyman. Vaguely, in the lazy hazy days of the previous booze- soaked weeks, he recalled Psyche mentioning something about E.N.H. and a six page spread in Country Living magazine. Yet there hadn’t been a letter. With a sinking sensation in the pit of his well-padded belly, Cley recalled the unopened, official- looking missive abandoned on the patio drinks table.
“Um, Jinks, I think you’d better untie Mr, um, Mr Dougal.”
The handyman pouted and folded his white woolly arms in a stubborn attitude. There was a shrill squeal from just beyond the bedroom door.
“The Hermit! My Virgo Inspector is conquered by a ram! Naughty, naughty Virgo, earthy as can be beneath that prim exterior!”
“Jesus Christ! Psyche-”
Lady Cley swept into the eighth spare bedroom, jingling and tinkling as she waxed lyrical over the small plain man on the bed. The look of horror returned to his eyes. Lord Cley rallied his semi-soused faculties and roared at the handyman.
“Jinks! Untie this man at once! He’s not here about the drains.”
Everyone looked at the master of the house. Freya giggled and the captive on the bed noticed the topless au pair for the first time, his eyes almost popping out on stalks.
Psyche glared at her husband.
“Drains, wiring - what does it matter what he’s here to inspect? He’s simply perfect in every way!”
The captive blushed above his gag and mumbled something in a slightly softer tone than before. Psyche stooped to unfasten the silk scarf.
“There. Speak, dear Hermit! Speak to your soul mate!”
There was a great coughing and spluttering, followed by a sharp intake of breath as the man’s eyes focused on Freya’s nude bosom.
“Good heavens! That young woman is almost naked! And you – you!”
The poor man seemed lost for words as he stared in horror at the sheep-costumed handyman. With a great effort, he pulled himself together.
“Madam, I am not your hermit soul mate. I represent English National Heritage and have no interest in the drains unless they are of especial architectural significance.”
Psyche went rather pale.
“English National Heritage? Oh, I say!”
For once her esoteric utterances appeared to have deserted her. She looked at Cley, then at Jinks and Freya, with varying expressions of furious disapproval.
“Jinks, the boiler needs poking. Freya, put some clothes on this instant and dust the library. Really, Cley, this is most unfortunate. Where’s the butler?”
“Hiding, if he’s got any sense!” muttered the handyman, as he swished out of the room with a woolly pout, adding a sulky “And keep your hands off my Vaseline!” as he exited.
Freya followed him, tweaking his puffy little tail and getting a peevish slap on the wrist for her efforts. Psyche helped the poor ENH man out of his bonds.
“I really don’t know what to say, Mr, er, Mr -?”
“Prodworthy. Dougal Prodworthy. I presume you are Lady Cley, the mistress of the household?”
Psyche nodded and colored.
“Regretfully, so. Cley, help Mr Prodworthy to his feet. We really must locate his clothes…”
Mr Prodworthy scowled.
“Try the billiards room. That’s where I lost your crazed butler and encountered the handyman. I could sue for this, you know!”
Cley draped a blanket around the incensed man’s shoulders.
“There, there, I’m sure that’s not necessary. Just a simple misunderstanding…”
“Ha! I was within moments of being violated by that wolf in sheep’s clothing. Moments!”
“All’s well that ends well, eh?” ventured Cley, scraping the bottom of the barrel for commiserations.
“Harrumph! I’d like a nice pot of Earl Grey tea and some cucumber sandwiches, if you please. Then – and only then – will we discuss the real business at hand. And I’m not making any promises.”
The Cleys breathed a sigh of relief. They desperately needed the rather juicy remuneration a dazzling full-color feature in Country Living magazine would bring. Lord Cley glanced out of the bedroom window, only to spot a familiar woolly figure scampering across the front lawn with the screaming, still topless au pair in hot pursuit. Moments later they were both followed by Thrumm, the butler, brandishing a poker. Just an average day at Liberty Hall but not the kind of gracious, aristocratic lifestyle the readers of Country Living magazine would devour with their tea and crumpets.
“Tea and cucumber sandwiches coming up, Mr Prodworthy. This is Liberty Hall. Make yourself at home.”
Something rather kinky was happening in the shrubbery. Cley reluctantly averted his gaze. He’d catch up with Freya later in the day, when Mr Prodworthy had been suitably appeased. Life was pretty good, really. He picked up the jar of Vaseline and the three went downstairs in search of tea.