*She came in holding a large vase of flowers and said with a smile: "Mr. Stevens, I thought these would brighten your parlour a little."
"Miss Kenton," I said, with a smile, by way of diversion.
Her smile persisted. She was unsuspecting. I was swift. Snatched up the Chinese blanket from a chairback and flung like a net the aforementioned Chinese blanket over the intruding housekeeper. Hooked my near ankle behind hers and sent her down decisively on the rug in my anglicized interpretation of an oriental self-defense maneuver I had seen demonstrated once at a sideshow in Blackpool.
My ability surprised Miss Kenton, muffled beneath the Chinese blanket. "Mr. Stevens. Now look what you've done."
I was ready, if need be, to spar further with this housekeeper. Down on one knee, I flung back the Chinese blanket. Miss Kenton, festooned from her hair down in the bright blooms she might have assailed my person with but an instant before, held tightly the now-disarmed and emptied vase to her sodden blouse. I sniffed her person, to ascertain the precise nature of the liquid formerly contained within the previously threatening vase.
"Mr. Stevens. Mr. Stevens, REALLY."
My experienced nose detected Miss Kenton's familiar perfume, her bath soap, a cloying concoction, likely of French manufacture, which my person in weaker moments had known to be disorienting at close quarters. I detected also the water. Fresh from the scullery. The right-side faucet: newly repaired this past April.
The water seemed not, as I had supposed, altered in any discernible nor magical manner.
Understanding struck like a thunderbolt that in its spilling the diluting water had fortuitously nullified any chemical advantage Miss Kenton perhaps had also been relying upon along with the vase of flowers, and quite possibly had saved me. Otherwise, instead this moment I should be exchanging inappropriate and silly pleasantries with this most clever housekeeper, when there is much preparatory work to be done yet about Darlington Hall ahead of Lord Darlington's garden party the weekend next.
I was not out of peril. Her person had yet to be driven from my parlour. Although, not in a manner befitting Italian opera. There was no question of my further manhandling Miss Kenton. The vase of flowers had called for the necessary action of the instant now passed. I found my feet. With a simple wave of my hand I indicated the door.
She glanced first toward the open door, then frowned at me. They were a most telling glance and frown. I had impressed upon her the folly of her unprofessional persistence and intention. I felt certain she would not again attempt to subdue me with flowers.
I stood my person back against one wall, at the ready to assist her should she request it, whilst Miss Kenton gathered herself up from my parlour rug. The troubling current state of her blouse would necessitate addressing, prior to Miss Kenton's departure and resumption of her household duties. For the moment, I averted my attention to the narrow window and the grey morning outside.
Presently, she was upright and striding purposefully for the open door and corridor beyond.
The ideal moment to call her attention to the concern at hand. Even as I called it to her back. "Miss Kenton. The current state of your blouse requires you change into another, prior to resuming your household duties. You should do so immediately, Miss Kenton. In hope of avoiding an awkward encounter with a member of staff."
She reached the unlit corridor and only then turned about and faced me through my parlour doorway. Her eyes gleamed. Her mouth looked rather pinched. She was doubtless feeling the morning chill through her blouse. I noticed immediately she had been careful not to dislodge every last flower after her tumble on my parlour rug. Cunningly, she had either left in place, or set, two very small blooms. One upon the left side of her throat. The other above her right ear, in her unsettlingly rumpled hair.
Miss Kenton must have surmised my awareness. She attempted now to beguile me with a variation of one of her favourite harangues. "Mr. Stevens, I am not so young and inexperienced a housekeeper as you have previously said that I do not know to change my blouse before resuming the duties of the day."
I found I was staring, at the bloom upon her throat, at the blossom in her hair, into gleaming eyes which were fixing me to the floor like a cobra's are said to. However, I broke the trance. "Miss Kenton, the tone of your voice is becoming quite shrill."
"Mr. Stevens. You. You should probably benefit from a holiday." She seemed quite out of breath.
Evidently, I had won the battle. "Indeed. And you have flowers on you. Good day, Miss Kenton."
I shut my parlour door just as her mouth fell open, though before she might further exercise her wiles upon my person. I turned the key in the lock with a firm clack. This morning with Miss Kenton was a very near thing indeed.
* My opening is the fifth sentence down, on page 52, from The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I'm fond of the book, of the movie adaptation, and fond of the Mr Stevens character. I couldn't resist having just a little too much fun with him here.