Slipper, on the other hand, didn’t miss it. He had just withdrawn despondently from the dressing room, drawing the coverlet discreetly over Lady Melsham’s haunched derriere as he passed the bed, when he heard the unmistakeable sound of Melsham’s voice outside. He rushed to the window to peer out. To his dismay he saw Melsham engaged in heated conversation with a stranger who, Slipper could not help but remark, bore a strong resemblance to the young Lappit in the wedding photograph - without the gleam in the eye.
He clenched his fists in frustration. Events which had seemed to be going totally his way now seemed likely to blow up in his face. If Melsham found him in flagrante delicto with Lady Melsham …if Lady Melsham remembered anything at all about what had happened.
Trusting, however, that her Ladyship was too far gone to remember the exact details of the recent events, he hurriedly tidied her clothing from the floor, adjusted her into a more decorous position in bed and, as an inspired afterthought, retrieved and stuffed the dildo into her hand. With any luck at all, he hoped with fingers mentally crossed, she would imagine the instrument of her recent pleasure to be, as it were, at her own hands. If Slipper were any judge, it would be a good few hours before Lady Melsham was coherent enough to start to add anything up, by which time he hoped that he would have found a plausible excuse, although the Lord alone knew what it might be.
Smoothing his clothing with nervous hands, Slipper cast a last look around the room and left, catching sight of the open magazine on the table as he went and Melsham’s overbearing face leering up at him…which reminded him again of the purpose of his visit in the first place…which made him wonder whether Helga was still waiting …which made him utter the smallest cry of exasperation. If Melsham should meet Helga before Helga had been prepared, bang went another layer of Slipper’s plans. Things were going awry in bundles. He grabbed the magazine and hurried downstairs.
Behind him, Lady Melsham uttered a contented sigh. In her sleep her Ladyship was doing such unspeakable things with Reginald Slipper as would have made him blush to his very roots had he known about them. Lady Melsham, in short, was in love.
Slipper hurried through to his parlour, pulling up short when he discovered that Helga was no longer there. He cursed under his breath. She might be anywhere in the rambling pile of a building by now and, although Slipper knew his way around blindfold, the chances of finding her before he had to formally greet Lord Melsham were pretty remote. He stuffed the magazine behind a cushion on the worn settee and, straightening his tie, rushed out to meet Melsham hoping to steer him to a quarter where Helga would be least likely to encounter him.
Melsham looked up at Slipper’s approach. He seemed in a curiously buoyant mood, in stark contrast to that in which he had left Melsham Hall a few weeks ago. His hobble had now completely disappeared and the man was almost chipper. “Ah, Slipper” he said, gesturing to Freddy. “This ‘ere’s a cousin of mine. He’s paying a visit for a week or two, though God knows why,” he continued looking around at the scaffolding and piles of sand and gravel littering the courtyard. “What a bloody mess! Is that builder keepin’ up to scratch?”
Slipper affirmed, enquiring after the success of Melsham’s trip to his northern Empire. “Bloody marvellous, Slipper. Bloody marvellous. There’s a few arses won’t touch ground again for a bit. Idle conniving bastards. Do they think I’m made of brass or born yesterday or what? What?” Melsham roared with glee, rubbing his hands. “Get young Freddy here settled and come and give me a rundown Slipper. Let’s see where that Fullerton chap has been rippin’ me off.” Melsham strode off across the courtyard. If he were carrying a riding crop he would have been banging it against his leg.
Slipper eyed him with both disdain and anxiety. The little matter of Lady Melsham was still occupying his mind. He turned to Freddy, making to pick up his bags.
“No! Don’t bother, Slipper. I’ll see to Freddy myself” Carmen broke in, taking Freddy by the arm “you can have the room next to mine. You can see right across the moors from there. At least you could if those blasted trees weren’t in the way.”
Freddy followed Carmen’s lead, picking up his own bags, while Slipper bowed a courteous head and excused himself. See to him, he thought cynically as he walked after Lord Melsham hoping to keep him away from the bedroom as long as possible, I bet you will, there’s a lot of seeing to going on around here just lately. He hurried after Lord Melsham.
“Lists, Slipper, lists,” Melsham called over his shoulder. “I want to see lists of invitees. And I’ll tell you something you didn’t know. The Prime Minister ’s coming. How about that then? This whole opening do is going to be a damn sight bigger than anyone ever imagined. And the Telly station’s televising the banquet as well. Contacts. That’s all you need, Slipper. Contacts.”
Big as Melsham thought the event was likely to turn out, Slipper had even bigger things on his mind. Helga was roaming the corridors and liable to bump into Melsham at any moment, and Lady Melsham, whilst not likely to bump into anything for the next few hours, was lying upstairs, naked and extremely shop-soiled, and with nothing but condemnation to level at him when she eventually came to. That he occupied a sizeable portion of her unconscious state at that moment, he was not to know.
Melsham swept through to his study with Slipper trailing behind, his mind leap-frogging possibilities.
On the way upstairs, Carmen and Freddy passed a morose Helga stumping down the corridor. Helga curtsied briefly as Carmen went by, and continued on her way, head bowed. Freddy watched her go with amazement. “Good God, what was that?” he asked.
“That’s our new chamber maid,” Carmen replied, “she doesn’t know a lot about chamber maiding but she has other uses,” she continued, thinking about the German girl’s effect on Harris - not that Carmen expected that Harris would be in the running for the nooky stakes for very much longer now that this particular dish had turned up. “Anyway, mother swears by her so I expect she’ll be staying until she gets the hang of things.”
Carmen pushed open the door to Freddy’s room. “I’m only next door, so anything you want, just come in.” She opened the interconnecting door, took out the key and threw it onto her bed as Freddy dropped his cases by his wardrobe.
The view, as Carmen had said, would have been spectacular had the trees not been in the way. In between the waving foliage, views of the Houndsmoor hills loomed purple and brown and, with no other sign of habitation for miles around, Freddy felt safer than he had for weeks. He leaned on the window sill, looking over the courtyard and Carmen moved across to join him, pointing out the alterations that her father was having made.
Around the corner of the stable block Harris then appeared and looked curiously at Freddy’s car as he passed. Automatically he looked up to Carmen’s window and spotted her peering over Freddy’s shoulder in the room next door. His brow darkened.
“Who’s the yokel?” Freddy asked, gesturing at Harris scowling up at the window.
Carmen sniffed, haughtily, and turned Freddy away from the window. “No-one. Just the gardener’s assistant. I’m more interested in you at the moment. Come and tell me how things are.” She sat on the bed and patted beside her, leaning back on her hands seductively.
Freddy eyed the pose appreciatively. The last girl who had asked that question, especially in that position, had had the answer shown, rather than told hence the predicament in which Freddy now found himself. But already the vegetative security of Staddon Hall was beginning to calm Freddy’s nerves, and he moved in on Carmen with every evidence of relish at associating with womankind again.
Outside Harris moved on with every relish at the prospect of a quiet word or two with the newcomer - whoever he was - and with the two-timing Carmen, when he could get his hands on her.
Melsham scanned Slipper’s invitation list with a disparaging eye but, try as he might, he could find no fault with it. Grudgingly he had to admit that Slipper knew what was what as far as etiquette went. The one big alteration, of course, would be the P.M. Not that the style of the man was to Melsham’s liking, of course, although the ‘gimmee, gimmee’ policies of the Government might well have been drafted for Melsham’s personal benefit. But the opportunity had come up at a special Rotary luncheon given in honour of the man back in Brandsley and, forever on the make, Melsham had grasped it with both hands.
There was no secret to the P.M.’s liking for traditional British fare, so Melsham’s plans had intrigued him and, short of a Royal Appointment as Purveyor of Meat Pies, Melsham could think of nothing more guaranteed to set the seal of approval on the new enterprise than Government patronage, official or otherwise. The fact that the P.M.‘s P.P.S. held a particularly pungent page all to himself in Melsham’ s Iittle black book and had been persuaded - against his better judgement - to ‘fix’ the event in the P.M.’s diary had little or nothing at all to do with it, of course. But ‘fixed’ it had been and Slipper found that he had a whole new set of problems to deal with, on top of everything else.
“Where’s Sylvia?” Melsham said. “This’ll give her something to get her teeth into. She likes organising lashes for her lah-de-dah friends.”
Slipper blanched. “I ... I fear Lady Melsham is unwell, milord.”
“Unwell? What d’you mean? On the gin again, I suppose. What’s she doing? Sleeping it off? We’ll soon see about that.” Melsham rose, decisively. “Get this official invite sent off to the P.M.’s office, and I want an advert in the local paper for a top class caterer to get hold of this ‘do’. Must be local, mind. Everything’s got to be local.”
Leaving Slipper floundering in front of the desk, Melsham swept past on his way to roust Sylvia out of her roost. As he passed, Slipper toyed wildly with the idea of crowning him with a paper weight. His mind was performing pirouettes. Lady Melsham, of course, was in no state to organise even her thoughts yet so his indiscretion was unlikely to come to light but, even so, the long, slippery slide metaphorically yawned at Slipper’s feet.
And Helga was still on the loose! Uttering a little yelp, Slipper hurried after Melsham. He caught up with him at Lady Melsham’s bedroom door and skittered to a stop, hovering on the threshold out of deference.
“Will you just look at this?” Melsham said disdainfully from inside. “She’s stewed out of ’er mind. Well come in, man! She’s not going to bloody well eat you!”
Slipper rubbed his neck surreptitiously, feeling the indentations of Lady Melsham’s teeth marks, and sidled into the room diffidently.
“What’s she had? Two bottles? God, what a state!” He lifted the corner of the bedcover. “And she’s bloody starkers as well!” He raised a livid face to Slipper “Go and get a chamber maid to sort her out” He stopped and stiffened as a blast of music suddenly hurtled down the corridors bringing back memories he would rather had remained buried. “Wagner! Who the bloody hell’s playing Wagner?”
Slipper floundered. “I.…my …gramophone, milord,” he said, grasping at inspiration, “I …was listening to the gramophone before you arrived and I must have left it on. I must apologise, the volume switch is rather faulty.”
“Faulty!” bawled Melsham, above the noise. I should bloody well think so. Go and turn the thing off. I can’t stand bloody Wagner!”
Helga! thought Slipper as he galloped up the stairs. Whatever possessed the girl to play music quite so loud? But at least she was now pinpointed, which was something. He arrived in the servant’s quarters at the canter and skidded to a stop outside Helga’s door and burst in. A wall of Wagner greeted him and, leaning against it, he fought his way over to the stereo and switched it off. Helga, who had been listening raptly, looked up. “Vy you do zat?” she asked in annoyance “I listen.”
“And so was everyone else!” rejoindered Slipper. “Milord is complaining.” It was only then that he remembered that milord had called for a chamber maid: and the only chamber maid in the house was hulking in the armchair in front of him! Slipper moaned and ran his hands through his hair.
“Milord?” asked Helga, innocently. “Milord iss back?”
Wretchedly Slipper nodded. “Yes. Listen, Helga... ”
“Ver iss?” Helga asked “I vish to meet.”
“With Lady Sylvia, but listen, Helga.... ”
Just then a faint howl of anguish floated up from the master suite. “Slipper! Where are you man? And where’ s that chamber maid. The silly cow’s going to throw up!”
“Wass ist das?” asked Helga.
“Nothing” cried Slipper in exasperation.“Lady Sylvia is sick, that’s all.”
“But I must go!” exclaimed Helga.
“But ja! If milady is sick iss for chamber maid to make veIl again! You tell me zo, Mr. Slipper.”
“Yes, but ...”
“VeIl! Vy not I go to milady?” she said, rising and made for the door, brushing past Slipper as if he were not there. In giving way, Slipper spun on his heel catching the velvet curtains with his hand and dislodging the heavy pole that supported them. As the curtains enveloped Slipper, bringing him to the ground, the brass finial caught Helga a glancing blow behind the ear as she pulled open the door, and felled her also.
“Oh, my God!” Slipper extricated himself from the clinging curtains and scrambled over to Helga, searching for a pulse in the massive neck. Thankfully Slipper noted that it beat with a healthy throb, and he slipped a cushion under her head. Then, another anguished roar came from Melsham downstairs. “Slipper! For Christ’s sake get here man!”
Cursing, Slipper hurried out of Helga’s room, casting a final look at her slumbering body on the floor, and took the stairs two at a time back to Melsham.