by Dawn Knox
Previously: Having managed to hang up his law enforcement officer’s badge, Crispin is hoping for a quiet life. However, Bartrum the Head Gnome wants to throw an impressive dinner party. And who else would be able to ensure its success, than sensible Crispin?
Why does he always pick me?
“I expect you’re wondering why I always pick you, Crispin,” Bartrum said with alarming perception, “it’s because I can rely on you.”
Crispin sighed and took the list Bartrum held out. He considered volunteering for cesspit duty instead of accepting this assignment but there were glooping sounds coming from the putrid water, and Gusty Bob, who was currently on duty, had complained about the stench and the enormous bubbles that rose to the surface with alarming frequency. If Gusty Bob complained about a smell–well, it didn’t bear thinking about.
Crispin sighed again. He knew he was beaten.
“Good, that’s settled then,” said Bartrum, smiling delightedly. “The French Chef arrives today, so you only need kitchen helpers, waiters, security and a band for tomorrow.”
“Indeed,” said Bartrum dismissing Crispin with a wave of his hand.
“It’s imperative Lord and Lady Arscott, Sir Edmond Fairweather and the Honourable Mrs Shaydser-Grey enjoy themselves. Nothing must go wrong. Do you understand? Nothing! You’ll be held personally responsible should any of our esteemed guests have cause for complaint.”
“Band?” No, I don’t know any bands,” said Sylvester, “but if you like, I’ll DJ for you. I’m wicked at mixing and scratching–”
“Thank you, but no. Somehow, I don’t think Bartrum’s guests are into Hippedy Hoppity or whatever it is you call that music. But I’d appreciate it if you could wait at the table.”
Sylvester got up and stood next to the table. “What am I waiting for?”
“I haven’t got time for this!” snapped Crispin, “I’ve got the dinner of the century to organise.”
“Dinner? Why didn’t you say? I’ll round up a few of the chaps to be waiters, Gusty Bob can play any tune you like. If we put him in the begonias and are mindful of prevailing winds, the guests should be safe. And that new Troll pulls some pretty scary faces. He’ll make a good bouncer.”
Crispin collapsed backwards into a chair, his mouth open.
“Sometimes Sylvester, you amaze me. That’s brilliant–”
“But if you change your mind about the DJ,” Sylvester said, swivelling his hat round so it was back to front, “I’m your Elf.”
Against all odds, everything was going smoothly. Sylvester’s friends appeared, suitably attired in black, and once Crispin demonstrated that cutlery needed to be carefully positioned and not dumped in a heap, things started to pick up. Nina the Ninja, insisted on wearing the French maid’s outfit she’d worn to a fancy-dress party. It was similar, although admittedly shorter, skimpier and altogether racier than a waitress’s uniform but she was so keen and she arranged the flowers so beautifully, Crispin said she could stay, hoping he could restrict her to the kitchen once the guests arrived.
There was a deafening crash from the kitchen, rapidly followed by a stream of French invective. Crispin didn’t speak French but judging by the tone and volume, the language had nothing to do with culinary arts and a lot to do with temper.
When he arrived in the kitchen, the chef was standing on a chair, brandishing a meat cleaver.
“Monsieur!” he shouted when he spotted Crispin, “I cannot work in conditions such as zeeze, I need ‘elp zat is ‘elpful. Not zeeze numpties. Zay are not ‘elpful at all.” he waved the cleaver at the startled kitchen aids.
A large Gnome rolled up his sleeves. “I’ll give you ‘numpty’! You jumped up little–"
“See! You are a numpty” the irate chef shouted, leaping from the chair, “I am not jumped up, I am jumped down. And I queet!” He flounced out of the kitchen, thumbing his nose in a Gallic insult that was lost on the kitchen aids.
“Oooh–" said Sylvester.
“Stop!” said Crispin “If you’re thinking of adding “La La” to that “Oooh”, it won’t be funny,”
Several of the younger Gnomes tittered.
Crispin wailed and held his fists to his temples.
“Don’t worry,” said Sylvester, “we’ve got another cook.”
“Frank used to be a cook.”
“Frank?” asked Crispin weakly, wanting Sylvester’s solution to be a real solution and not the craziness he suspected it might be.
“Yes, Frank Fowle, the Troll. He used to be a cook.”
Having seen the unsavoury character guarding the door, Crispin didn’t doubt Frank Fowle knew how to use a knife, but could he handle a fork or spoon?
Fortunately, before the French Chef had flounced, he’d left lobster bisque gently bubbling on the Aga, a peacock that was browning nicely and a splendid chocolate gateau, decorated with enormous whirls of cream which were still wobbling gently after the flamboyant and vigorous exit of the chef.
“What you gawpin’ at?” Frank Fowle asked the kitchen aids with a sniff. He wiped his nose up his sleeve–the entire length of his sleeve.
The kitchen aids were mesmerised.
“What yer bleedin’ waitin’ for? C’mon, we got work to do,” he said and seized a wooden spoon by the bowl.
Crispin couldn’t decide which was most excruciating, watching Frank stir the bisque with the handle of the wooden spoon, the bowl clutched tightly in his ham-sized fist, or Bartrum fawning over the guests. The self-appointed Head Gnome was sporting a rather fine pair of red, velvet trousers and a lacy shirt. Mrs Bartrum was resplendent in orange satin, her hair piled high on her head and she’d even shaved her face for the prestigious occasion.
The guests were equally as colourful and grand, and were happily scoring points, establishing their position in the social pecking order. The Gazebo which had been set up as the dining room sparkled with fairy lights and from somewhere in the begonias, music drifted on the breeze–thankfully, away from the Gazebo. A satisfied Crispin headed back to the kitchen. To his surprise, waiters were loading trays with steaming lobster bisque, ready to take into the dining room. Against all odds, it was all going perfectly. There was only one thing that bothered him. He wished Frank would stop putting his finger up his nose.
Crispin checked his watch. Everything seemed to be going surprisingly well and when he realised he was getting in the way, he hid in the pantry watching the coming and going of the waiters and of Nina, the French maid-waitress, as plates charged high with food left the kitchen and empty dishes returned. It was amazing how fast Frank could organise the courses and staff. Crispin wasn’t sure he actually knew what he was serving, especially when he told the waiters the “lobster beaks” were ready but it all went to the table in the right order and from the laughter in the Gazebo, a good time was being had by all.
It was difficult to see the furthest end of the kitchen from his hiding place in the pantry, but as that was where Frank was working, Crispin was happy with his restricted view. The sight of the Troll with his finger up his nose whilst dolloping food onto plates was more than Crispin could bear. He could, however, see the pile of dirty dishes grow ever taller and he suspected that later, it would be his job to wash them. Frank didn’t seem too concerned about cleanliness. Still, mused Crispin, Frank had saved the dinner.
It was going brilliantly although Crispin couldn’t imagine why Mrs Bartrum was shouting so loudly but since the other guests were laughing and cheering, it was all right. Wasn’t it?
Apparently, it wasn’t. Well, not from Nina’s point of view. She burst into the kitchen hotly pursued by Bartrum wielding a feather duster. The same French maid’s feather duster that Crispin had banned from the dinner. Luckily for Nina, whose stiletto shoes were hampering her escape, Frank was a messy cook. If Bartrum hadn’t been so intent on tickling Nina, he might have avoided the blob of chocolate cake on the floor and he wouldn’t have aquaplaned across the flagstones on a thin film of cream. Crispin watched aghast as Bartrum collided with the Aga, collapsing in a red velvet and lace heap.
“Blimey! Just like a sack o’ spuds,” remarked Frank as he kicked the rest of the cake under the table, “there, that’s better, can’t have people slipping over, can we?”
Crispin rushed to Bartrum’s aid but just as he was wondering at the wisdom of slapping him, there was a piercing scream from the Gazebo. Mrs Bartrum ran into the kitchen, “Murder!” she screamed, “Murder most foul!”
“Fowle? That’s me an’ I ain’t done no murder! It’s all a frogging lie!” said Frank.
“Sylvester, look after Bartrum,” Crispin said, “I’ll find out what’s happened.”
The Honourable Mrs Shaydser-Grey was lying spread-eagled on the floor, her fuchsia pink evening gown smeared with chocolate cake. Lady Arscott crawled out from under the table, fanning herself with a table-mat, Lord Arscott was snoring, his head on the table and Sir Edmond was staggering about the room. “Ah, Crispy, my dear fellow, Mrs Shaydser-Grey seems to be dead. Either that or she’s still in character from Charades.” He stumbled against the table, waking Lord Arscott.
“Fore!” shouted Lord Arscott before slumping into his dessert.
“What happened?” Crispin whispered, not really sure he wanted to know.
“She went down like a sack of Maris Pipers. Or possibly King Edwards. Crispy, dear chap, is there any more of that divine chocolate cake? I’d kill for a slice...” said tiny Sir Edmond, as his knees buckled. Crispin rushed forward just in time to catch his diminutive body.
At first light, the Garden was unnaturally quiet. However, Crispin, who’d been up all night, had sorted everything, and everyone out.
Mrs Bartrum’s cries of “Leave my husband alone, you hussy!” had drawn Crispin to the edge of the cesspit and he’d patiently explained to the Head Lady Gnome, who fortunately had only gone in as far as her knees, the glooping sounds were coming from goodness knew where under the surface of the cesspit–and not Nina and Bartrum enjoying a passionate fling. He led her back to her husband, who’d finally regained consciousness and with one hand holding a pack of frozen peas to his forehead and the other pinching his nose, he shepherded his stinking wife home.
When Lord Arscott’s driver arrived, he stoically tucked his employer under one arm, Lady Arscott under the other and carried them to the coach.
“Over-exuberance,” Crispin said, by way of explanation for their dishevelled appearance. I hope, he thought, fearing Frank Fowle had inadvertently poisoned everyone.
“Whatever,” said the driver.
Tiny Sir Edmond had wandered off and was later found half a mile away in the graveyard, by his driver, who took him home.
And to Crispin’s relief, the guest who’d given most cause for concern, Mrs Shaydser-Grey wasn’t dead, just dead drunk and he’d gratefully handed her over to her driver, to take home.
Although everyone had survived and had eventually made it home, the evening had been an unmitigated disaster. It wasn’t his fault Frank had poisoned everyone but Crispin doubted that even Bartrum would dare put Frank on cesspit duty, so Crispin would bear the brunt of the punishment and it would probably involve soap, a toothbrush and the cesspit.
He hurried the black sack to the bins and was surprised how much rubbish was already there. Mrs Bartrum’s orange gown was stained brown, possibly with chocolate cake or possibly not, but obviously now unwearable. A French maid’s outfit and feather duster had also been discarded and to Crispin’s amazement, a mountain of empty drink bottles, six of which he noted, had once contained finest French cognac.
It was Sylvester who explained what had happened, once he’d woken up and had two paracetamol tablets. Frank had apparently added a bottle of cognac to the “lobster beaks” and all the guests had asked for seconds and then thirds. The roast peacock had been served with a delicious cognac sauce which took a further two bottles and the chocolate gateau had been liberally laced with…
“Cognac,” said Crispin sighing, “And I suppose you and the other staff ate the leftovers.”
Sylvester nodded and then winced.
Bartrum summoned a dejected Crispin to his office.
“Excellent evening, Crispin, my dear chap. An absolute triumph,” he said to Crispin’s amazement, “everyone had a wonderful time and have asked when the next dinner will be, so, I’d like to book you for next Tuesday...”
About the author
Dawn’s two previous books in the 'Chronicles Chronicles’ series are The Basilwade Chronicles and The Macaroon Chronicles both published by Chapeltown Publishing.
The Crispin Chronicles
Links to the previous chapters:
Chapter 1 – Her Ladyship’s Garden - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/04/the-crispin-chronicles-1-her-ladyships.html
Chapter 2 – The Letter from OFSGAR - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/search/label/The%20Crispin%20Chronicles%20-%20The%20Letter%20from%20OFSGAR
Chapter 3 -The Sweet Smell of Success - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-3-sweet-smell-of.html
Chapter 4 – A Visit from Peggy the Pram - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-4-visit-from.html
Chapter 5 – Nightly Disturbances - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-5-nightly.html