The Lady The Butler And The Cat. (Part 2 of 2)
The sound of laughter and jollity from out in the corridor roused Joseph from his chair. It was three hours since his balcony phone call. He turned off Downton Abbey on the TV, gulped down his glass of Lady Mapleberry’s finest Glenfiddich Single Malt and smoothed down his attire.
He recognised the voice of Lady Mapleberry but was unfamiliar with the sound of her laughter. A sound not heard outside of an African Wildlife documentary. Nor did he recognise the male voice with her.
He warily opened the door to find his squiffy employer arm in giggly arm with a short, bald, very smart,eastern looking man. He recognised him instantly. It was the owner of this establishment, Mr Al Fayed.
“Oh Joseph you’ve waited up. How thoughtful.” Lady Mapleberry patted Joseph’s chest as though confirming he was real.
Joseph couldn’t remember his employer ever having physical contact with him before.
“Joseph, I want you to meet the most charming man I have ever met. This is Mr Fayed. He’s invited us to stay on his yacht. Isn’t that lovely.”
“Good evening Mr Al Fayed.” said Joseph nervously. Fully aware of who this guest was and puzzled as to why he was here.
“Joseph, I want you to have this.” Mr Al Fayed handed Joseph a long thin leather bound box. “Lady Mapleberry has told me all about your predicament. It’s just a little something to cheer you up.”
Totally confused, Joseph opened the box to reveal a very expensive Rolex watch.
“This is very generous of you Sir, but I couldn’t possibly....”
“Of course you could. Don’t think anything of it.” interrupted his benefactor.
Joseph was about to ask what his ‘predicament’ was when Lady Mapleberry once again laid hands on him. That was twice in nineteen years.
She pushed Joseph back into his just vacated chair. Joseph landed in a squashed heap.
“Now Joseph, you sit there and relax. You’ve had a long day and I’ve bought you a little present.”
From behind her back she produced a large champagne bottle and poured a full tipple into Joseph’s just emptied whiskey glass.
“I see you’ve been at my best whiskey again Joseph. Naughty.” she said playfully.
“Now have some of Mr Fayed’s delicious Krug Grande Champagne. It’ll do you the world of good.”
Joseph, sat awkwardly in the chair where he’d just been pushed and nervously raised the glass to his lips. He disliked the intolerant Lady Mapleberry that he was used to, but this tipsy, caring over kind version was making him extremely uneasy.
“And I brought you these too.” Lady Mapleberry handed Joseph a large box of Dominican Panatella cigars.”
“But, but, Madam, you hate me smoking.” stuttered a thoroughly confused Joseph.
“Don’t be silly Joseph. You enjoy those whenever you wish. Mr Fayed says they are the best there are.”
“And next week you must both come and stay on my yacht in Monte Carlo.” Mr Al Fayed slapped Joseph on the back with a matey thud.
“Especially you Lady Mapleberry.” he added with a wink and bellowing laugh.
The good Lady turned pink and screeched like a hyena, loving every saucy moment. Joseph sat in his chair, and watched the flirting with the feeling of an accidental voyeur trapped in a bedroom wardrobe. Too scared to draw any more attention to himself in case more confusing kindness came his way.
“Now Joseph, you must take tomorrow off. I’m sure you have lots of things that you need to take care of. Loose ends to tidy up and suchlike.”
Joseph had never been given an unscheduled day off in nineteen years and nearly choked on his Krug at the offer.
“But Madam, what about your kippers ?” was all he could think of in response.
“Don’t you worry about my kippers Joseph. Mr Fayed has offered me a full Continental. Whatever that is.” Joseph almost spat out another mouthful of Krug.
Mr Al Fayed squeezed Lady Mapleberry’s waist and gave a low rumbling growl like a bull elephant calling a mate.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to Joseph that sent a lightening bolt of shock through his stomach. All of this sudden, peculiar kindness must be for a reason. What else could it be, they were softening him up for the sack. A man of Mr Al Fayed’s riches must have dozens, no, hundreds of servants already. If he and Lady Mapleberry were going to be cosying up together what would they need him for. Of course, that’s what she meant by ‘things to take care of’ and ‘loose ends to tidy up.’
He could hear the words now; ‘Surplus to requirements.’
Joseph put his glass down with a thud. Krug champagne shot out of the top and over the table.
“Madam.” said Joseph getting out of the chair. “I must insist on one months notice as per my contract.”
“One months notice ?” Lady Mapleberry said, between giggles. “ What are you talking about Joseph ?”
“If you’re going to sack me Madam, I must have my full notice so that I can find alternative employment.”
“Sack you Joseph ? Why would I sack you ? And why would you bother looking for another job just for a few more months ?”
Now Joseph was even more confused.
“A few more months ? I don’t understand Madam.”
Mr Al Fayed attempted a man to man approach. “It is very brave of you to try and keep the news from Lady Mapleberry Joseph. But we know about your problem.”
“My problem ?” repeated Joseph.
“We know that you only have six months to live Joseph. You can tell us now.” Lady Mapleberry placed a comforting hand on Joseph’s arm. That was three times in nineteen years. This was serious.
For a few seconds, Joseph wondered if he’d blanked out some terrible news. Surely he’d remember if he only had six months to live. Maybe his mystery illness affected his memory too.
“We know about the cancer Joseph.” said Mr Al Fayed.
“Eh ?” was all Joseph could manage, still trying to make sure he hadn’t actually forgotten this dreadful news.
Lady Mapleberry decided to confess everything.
“I know you have stomach cancer Joseph. I couldn’t help overhearing your telephone conversation this evening. I know you only have six months left. Mr Fayed and I want to do all we can to make your final months as happy as possible.”
Mr Al Fayed nodded in sombre agreement.
Finally, Joseph realised. The telephone call to his mother. About her terminally ill cat. But what to do now ? He had seconds to weigh up his options. To confess the truth and risk the wrath of his employer and her very important guest. Or to play along and have six months of well deserved pampering, expensive gifts and yachts in Monte Carlo. A very tempting thought. But what would happen when he didn’t kick the bucket ? They might accuse him of fraud. They might ask for everything back. He could always leave his clothes on a beach and pretend he’d done the noble thing and taken an early exit.. No, it would never work. He couldn’t swim and he hated beaches. He would have to confess.
“About that phone conversation Madam.”
Lady Mapleberry interrupted. “I know Joseph, I shouldn’t have been listening. But I couldn’t help overhearing.”
“It was concerning my mothers cat.” said Joseph.
“I’m sorry ?” said Lady Mapleberry.
“My mother’s cat has stomach cancer. It only has six months to live."
“Your mother’s cat ?” She confirmed.
“Yes Madam. Cleopatra.”
“Cleopatra.” she echoed.
“Yes Madam. Cleo when she’s naughty.”
“So you don’t have cancer ?”
“No Madam. I’m afraid not.”
“And you don’t have six months to live ?”
“Fit as a fiddle Madam.”
“Give me those.” Lady Mapleberry snatched the box of cigars from Joseph’s hand.
“And give me that.” she grabbed the bottle of Krug Champagne off the table
“And give me back that watch immediately.”
Joseph tried to hand over the leather bound case but Lady Mapleberry’s hands were full with cigars and champagne. After a little dance of confusion Joseph tucked the case under Lady Mapleberry’s chin. She held it there, hands full and head contorted looking like a demented escapee from an institution.
“Yoov hoomileaded me in frund of my gesd.” Lady Mapleberry struggled to speak with the watchcase under her chin.
“I’m sorry Madam, what was that ?”
“I sed, yoov hoomileaded me in frund of my gesd.” she turned stiffly towards Mr Al Fayed. Joseph followed her look.
Mr Al Fayed’s face was glowing red, tears brimmed in his eyes, shoulders heaving like pistons as he tried to smother a severe bout of hysterical laughter. At the site of Lady Mapleberry twisting her bent head in his direction, hands full of cigars and champagne watchcase tucked under her chin, the damn burst. A hurricane of uncontrollable laughter filled the room. Much thigh slapping and eye popping followed.
“Your damned cat.” he yelled between gasps. “Cleopatra.” he managed ten seconds later. “She thought it was you.” Volcanic laughter filled the suite.
Lady Mapleberry and Joseph looked at each other, not quite knowing how to react.
The laughter increased as he pointed a quivering finger at Lady Mapleberry.
“You look like Quasimodo.” He mimicked the twisted form of the French hunchback just to emphasise his careless but accurate remark.
Lady Mapleberry hadn’t got any idea who Quasimodo was but she knew it didn’t sound complimentary. She slammed down the cigars and champagne, removed the watch case from under her chin and took out her temper on Joseph.
“That’s enough. Now look what you’ve done. You silly man. You’re going to give Mr Fayed a heart attack. All because of your silly little cat. You’re fired.”
This seemed to amuse Mr Al Fayed even more.
As Joseph stood open mouthed, the laughter increased and Mr Al Fayed thumped him hard on the back several times.
“Fired. Because of your cat.” more laughter. “Cleopatra. My favourite Egyptian.” More laughter and thigh slapping. Mr Al Fayed tugged his handkerchief from his trouser pocket and dabbed the tears from his eyes before giving a loud trumpet blast to clear his nose.
“Now then Joseph, am I right in understanding that you are out of work ?”
Lady Mapleberry answered for him.
“Yes he is. He’s humiliated me and misled me about his illness. Pretending he had cancer. I cannot forgive him.”
Joseph tried to explain but Mr Al Fayed stopped him.
“So you will be looking for work as a butler Joseph ?”
“It certainly looks that way Sir.”
“Then you must come and work for me immediately.”
“Excuse me Sir ?” events were moving a little fast for Joseph to take in.
“Joseph, work for you. Don’t be preposterous.” said Lady Mapleberry.
“Anyone who calls his cat Cleopatra is ok by me. Cats were worshipped where I come from. We built statues to them. How about it Joseph ? I haven’t laughed so much for years. You’ll be a riot on my yacht.”
“Your yacht Sir ?” queried Joseph.
“Yes, my yacht needs a head butler. And my house on the Amalfi Coast. We sail there next week. How about it ?”
Joseph couldn’t believe his luck. From a tetchy, intolerant employer in a draughty old manse, pawning jewellery to get by, to a yacht in the sunshine on the Amalfi Coast.
Joseph held out his hand to accept the offer. Mr Al Fayed ignored it and put his hand around Joseph’s shoulders and walked him to the door.
“Come on. You can start immediately.”
The two men walked to the door and out into the corridor forgetting even to say their farewells to Lady Mapleberry. She chased after them, with a hint of desperation..
“But Mr Fayed, what about my full Continental ?
The two men looked at each other and burst out laughing.