Once again we are beholden to the current executors of the Knolly estate for letting us publish this, the second package of the great man's journals and memoirs.
Sleepless and Unsettled Part 5
I must admit that I cannot remember a time when I can ever recall seeing Aunties wrinkled old retainer move so quickly. Alas, it was not quite quick enough, time had taken its toll on the chap and the trunk proceeded to pin 'Young' Humbert to the wall with a loud 'thunk', which I belie must have been his head hitting the wall.
'Luncheon is served.' Was all he managed to gasp and then he passed out.
The commotion had brought my Elspeth running up the stairs, obviously fearing the worse. Oddly enough my Aunt was not far behind and I could hear her calling out to my wife about not exerting herself too much in her current state. However, by the time they had reached us the three of us had the situation under control.
Sol-Tan had hastily removed the trunk from the poor fellow, Emilia had started ripping her undergarments up into strips for use as bandages (though for what reason I couldn’t guess, for I could see no trace of blood) and I tried to bring the chap round by waving my my hip flask under his nose. (There was no sense in wasting good brandy at this point.)
Elspeth arrived, red of face (initially for being out of breath but also I fear due to my Aunts nagging comments) and took in the scene, which had it been anyone else could have been quite scandalous. Me waving a hip flask around, 'Young' Humbert flat on the floor, Emilia’s underclothes in shreds and Sol-Tan rather breathless.
'Oh my goodness, the poor dear, is he all right?'
'Well, he is breathing still, bit shaken I expect.' I smiled and took a nip of brandy.
Elspeth waved her hands and then went to 'Blinkage', a communication method of which she still needed some practice, and so proceeded to inform me about a 'BLOWN ELEPHANT'.
'ELEPHANT, WHERE?' I blinked back.
Elspeth pulled me off the step and through gritted teeth whispered, 'The trunk is open!'
I turned to see Emilia moving into examine the burst trunk, tantalising glimpses of sequinned clothing beckoning to her and was about to say something when an commanding voice boomed out from below.
'Emilia! We don’t do that, do we?'
The girl stopped, caught in the act of reaching to touch something beyond her knowledge, and started to go a shade of crimson.
'No chit chat, come on down and help the rest of the girls sort out the seating for lunch please. Sol- Tan take 'Young' Humbert to his room. Knolly, you and Elspeth please get that trunk to your room as quick as you can. Lock the door and then come downstairs.' She clapped her hands twice and proceeded back downstairs with Emilia in tow.
As they went I heard Emilia ask in a hushed tone, 'I’ll be all right won’t I, I won’t go blind or anything? I made bandages...'
My Aunt looked over her shoulder at us and scowled; I grinned and shrugged my shoulders. Lunchtime conversation was certainly going to be interesting.
I was shaken out of my thoughts by Elspeth snatching my hip flask.
'Come along, you heard what Auntie said, but first I want a sip of that brandy!'
Ah, brandy a medicinal cure all and ideal for women in pregnancy I’ve read in various journals.
Sol-Tan waved away any help of getting 'Young' Humbert safely to his room, but with Emilia now out of ear shot was back to his normal self.
'That was rather fun, was it not Mister Knolly? 'Young' Humbert though is an old dotard and should not be left to wander around the Hall on his own.'
'I say, that’s a bit harsh, I mean your no spring chicken yourself and accidents do happen dontcha know?'
He nodded sage like and then hefted the comatose Humbert over his shoulder like a large sack. 'This is indeed true sir, but unlike your good self I was not the person going down the stairs backwards carrying the trunk was I?'
Elspeth snorted, rather too loudly for my liking and Sol-Tan flashed her one of his enigmatic smiles that I’m told had young ladies swooning in the Raj. For myself I always found it rather annoying. I glanced at Elspeth who was trying not to look at either of us.
'I trust you’ll be free after lunch Sol-Tan? I need to send a message to Bertie; perhaps Sag will be free too?'
Sol-Tan deftly settled Humbert on his shoulder to get comfortable and tapped the side of his nose with a forefinger.
'I shall make it so, Mr Knolly, sir.' With that he was off down the stairs to make Humbert comfortable.
Elspeth and I stuffed the escaping items back into the truck without any sentimentality and fastened it back up. I could tell she wanted to ask why it would take three of us to go to the Post Office, but thought better of it. It took us a while to manhandle the trunk down flights of stairs and along the narrow corridor to where we were to spend the night mainly because I had to guess as to where were staying. Thus, much of the time was spent trying locked doors of numerous spare rooms, thankfully we only had to back track once, for Elspeth was beginning to look jolly uncomfortable, and I myself was getting rather sticky and hot around the collar.
We dumped the trunk on the bed, not the largest one in Hoot Hall by any degree, but for a single nights stay it would certainly do. Elspeth sat an a chair, fanned herself and looked longingly at the trunk eager to explore its contents after all this time.
'Come along my dear, everyone else will be waiting.'
'Oh Knolly, let me open it and have a peek?'
'No, come along. You can have it all to yourself after lunch while I...'
'While you go to the Post Office and possibly wait in the local hostelry with those two old rogues?'
I pushed her out of the door and into the hall.
'Why Madam I have no idea what you mean?' I said with a hurtful look.
'Just lock the door and let us get lunch over shall we.' She struck a thoughtful pose. 'I think I shall take our evening meal in our room.'
'Do you think lunch will be that bad?'
What a silly question that was in retrospect. We were the last to be seated and all eyes were upon us. As before, my Aunt had reserved a space next to her for my wife whilst I found myself at the far end of the table between Emilia and a young blonde haired girl who introduced her self as Isobella. I was however much closer to the food – hurrah! The meal was excellent; a wonderful gelatine of chicken was on offer as were pieces of game and veal. Cook had pushed the boat out this time and I reminded myself to go along and pay my respects later.
It did seem to me however, that I was the only one at the table eating heartily; the others seemed to just be picking at their food, even Elspeth, deuced odd!
I blinked in her direction, 'ANYTHING WRONG?'
'NO,... YES,... PO... POOT!' She replied.
'Does you wife have something wrong with her eyes? She keeps blinking a lot.' Asked Isobella mopping her lips with a napkin.
'Hmmm ...No.' I replied rather too loudly as my Aunt stopped mid sentence.
Emilia leaned across me to Isobella.
'It’s a code Issy. Secret stuff.' She replied in a stage whisper for all to hear.
'Emilia... What is a secret?' My Aunt’s voice carried the length of the table.
Elspeth looked at me with wide eyes and shook her head imperceptibly.
Emilia leaped into the breach. 'Mr Knolly was telling us about a chest we found upstairs, he said it belonged to your husband and ...'
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Sol-Tan enter, and on hearing the mention of my Uncle’s chest, decide to lap around the food table and beat a hasty retreat out of the room.
'I think that Mr Knolly should excuse us all now. We have better things to do than sit here listening to tittle-tattle.' Said my Aunt in strident tones, getting up from the table and folding her napkin in a very meaningful way.
'Well, Auntie I did mention that...'
'Enough! That subject is closed. Girls follow me please.'
Emilia pulled a face, 'Sorry' she said as she pushed her chair back under the table.
I patted her hand, 'No harm done I’m sure, now off you go.'
My Aunt seemed to march out of the room her charges behind her in perfect step.
'Well that was different my love.' Said Elspeth, as she made her way down the table.
'Quite, still at least we managed to avoid any conversation surrounding the contents of our trunk. Now tell me what is “PO...POOT!” supposed to mean?'
'I have no idea. I think I panicked when you asked your question... But it would seem that more “Blinkage” lessons are called for.'
'You did seem to be off your food though?'
“What do you expect, I’m surrounded by these waifs and it would be improper to gorge oneself in such company.”
I was about to add something, but she held up a finger.
'... And don’t say anything about eating for two!'
The door opened and in came Sol-Tan, he checked the room and heaved a sigh of relief.
'Mr Knolly, sir, I took the liberty of getting Sag-Aloo to prepare the carriage, we are ready when you are.'
'Oh right-ho! Elspeth, you’ll be able to find your way back to the room?'
'Oh yes, off you go. I can have a good rummage in that luggage without any interruptions.'
'Good. Right... I’ll be off then.'
I turned to leave with Sol-Tan, but, she reached out and grabbed my arm and pulled me back. Holding my face between her hands she kissed me full on the lips.
'Knolly... Behave yourself.'
'Elspeth, I’m only going to the Post Office.'
She looked at me in a very knowing way.
'That’s what I’m afraid of....'