12. Butler

“I physically can’t believe that you talked me into doing this,” Phillip moaned to his brother, as both men stood at the door to the pantry, having already attentively made their way down the servants’ stairs.

It wasn’t a thing that upper-class men normally did, and, if they were caught by their father, it wouldn’t look good. It would knock a few points down with him, certainly.

Peter smiled kindly upon Phillip.

“You wanted some information; you wanted to find a connection with Aidelle? Well, here is something…”
”But really, Peter. It is necessary to go this far?”

“It’s up to you,” Peter shrugged, “But, in my opinion, you shouldn’t feel prejudice about what we are going to do.”

“Very well.”

Phillip took a deep breath and pushed open the pantry door.

He was greeted with the sight that was foreign to him; whereas with Peter it was very different, the latter didn’t mind running errands right down to the servants’ kitchen.

The pantry, and the kitchen through it, were alive with excitement and movement as the staff prepared to receive Mrs. Costello’s dinner order and prepared to cater for however many guests would arrive for the evening meal. It was not that Mrs. Costello was an avid entertainer (although, she had had some wild days in her youth), but she had many relations on her side: several of Phillip and Peter’s aunts loved to pass their elderly, free days with their little sister and her more successful family life. Mrs. Costello expected, as well as her sisters, their families, and a couple of members from her husband’s family, her elder sons to pop in at least once a week. She was a very ‘cozy’ mother.

A kitchen maid ran past the doorway, on tiptoes and squeaking slightly, as Phillip boggled. The overload to his senses was strangely positive. After living a life of fighting and leisure within a mansion, it was great for Phillip to finally see some proper activity.

The boys stepped forward, into the half-chaos, and gazed around; even Peter wasn’t sure which way to turn. He saw servants that he recognized, but none were free to give a word, and none were free, at all, to even glance up to see that one of their masters was requesting attention. Soft-voiced Peter had never been an immense commander.

Suddenly, a voice roused them:

“Gentlemen? Can I help you? Peter, sir, or Phillip?”

Phillip whirled round and found himself face-to-face with the kitchen's highest-ranking servant, the butler.

“Richards?” Peter muttered, “Just the man we were looking for…”

Tomas Richards looked after the entire household staff; even though they were only a small amount of workers: three scullery maids (who also doubled as cooks), a simple, part-time kitchen maid (young in age and experience, and juggling her schoolwork around the chores), a lady’s maid for Mrs. Costello, and a handful of valets for the sons who were popping in and out.

He was an intelligent, but undervalued, man of simple tastes. For him, as a servant, reading was a luxury, visiting his family was a holiday, and a suit was merely fancy uniform. For Richards, being a butler to the Costello family was a great opportunity, as he had no great aspirations. He wasn’t a plain man, exactly, but he would not strive for higher things when he had a fine placement where he was. As a child, Richards was brought up seeing other servants pushed down or out into nothing, and he knew that his living was become a rare, and almost sought-after, trade.

With a post-war squint in one eye, Richards surveyed the brothers with a bit of concern; they had no reason to be down there, unless there was bad news to bring.

“Sirs? How may I help you?” Luckily, the butler had the cunning ability to conceal any worry from his voice.

“Richards…” Peter, lacking in much height compared with the butler’s lean size, tried to wrap his arm around Richards’ shoulder, a gesture that received a confused and unsure glance not from Phillip, but from Richards himself. The butler pulled away and, giving a swift look to Peter, led the men through the servants’ kitchen and various other dull rooms and corridors (which Phillip compared greatly with the wallpapered hallways upstairs, and was shocked at how plain the ones downstairs were), into a little room that Richards announced as his office. Phillip wouldn’t have said the same about the tiny, dark room, with one wooden desk and chair, an old-fashioned telephone, some hooks nailed unsteadily to the wall, in order to hang up coats next to the door, and the lack of any windows, so that the flickering bulb was the only source of light: an orange glow.

The End

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