by Dawn Knox
tea made with a teabag (and a jam tart)
Previously: Mr Po Lin, Her Ladyship’s Gardener, has been given a new Ornament to place in the Garden. He takes his job very seriously, selecting the best possible position but he has no idea the Ornament’s arrival is about to change Doggett’s life forever…
The Stag Omen
Being short and dumpy had its advantages. It meant that Cook had a low centre of gravity which had helped her to remain upright on more than one occasion. And it served her well now. She pirouetted 360 degrees with the grace of a ballerina and more impressively, she managed to prevent any of the jam tarts she was holding from succumbing to centrifugal force and spinning off her tray.
“Mr Willetts!” she shrieked, “Have you gone mad?”
“Sorry! I’m so sorry!” He gasped for breath, having just run from upstairs all the way down to the kitchen.
Cook slammed the tray of jam tarts on the table, turned and glared at the butler. With a steely look in her eye and hands on her hips, she was formidable indeed.
“It’s that dratted Gardener!” he said between gasps, “Her Ladyship’s giving him another one of them mysterious parcels…”
“How d’you know?” Cook’s curiosity was aroused.
“He’s with Her Ladyship now. And Roger told me when he picked her up from the station, she had a large, strange-shaped parcel. He carried it in from the car to the library for her. And then Mr Po Lin arrived.”
“So, what’re you doing in the kitchen? Why aren’t you upstairs listening at the door or whatever it is you normally do?”
“He never opens parcels in the house. So, I thought I’d follow him and find out what it is. But I need to cut through the kitchen—”
“Look, here he comes,” said Cook squashing her nose against the windowpane.
Mr Willetts scooped up three jam tarts, piled one on top of the other and quickly crammed them in his mouth. It wasn’t often that Cook took her eyes off the food in the kitchen. He immediately regretted his impulsiveness when the scalding, hot jam touched the roof of his mouth.
“Disgusting,” commented Cook, “look, it’s all done up in brown paper. We all know about parcels done up in brown paper, don’t we?”
She wiped the condensation from the windowpane with her sleeve, then pressed her nose to it again.
“And it’s got legs. I wonder if it’s a table… What d’you think, Mr Willetts?”
“Mffff. Mffff.” Mr Willetts opened his mouth and fanned the contents wondering which would be worse; the second-degree burns he was currently experiencing or Cook’s wrath if she discovered he’d eaten three tarts without permission.
“What did you say?” asked Cook.
“Mffff. Mffff,” said Mr Willetts again, aware that steam might be escaping through his nostrils and ears.
Cook turned around.
“I don’t believe it!” she yelled, “Three of my jam tarts are missing!”
“Mffff?” said Mr Willetts, backing away from Cook.
“That dreadful boy! I don’t know how he does it! I’m going to have a word with that father of his. You mark my words! The nerve! He thinks he can come in here and help himself, pinching my tarts, pinching my muffins and pinching my buns!”
“Mffff,” said Mr Willetts in what he hoped Cook would interpret as outrage on her behalf. His eyes were watering and he wondered if the inside of his head was melting.
“If you’re going to follow Mr Po Lin, I’m coming too!” declared Cook, “I’m going to tell him what a shifty, sneaking, snivelling excuse of a boy his son is…” she paused, “Are you all right, Mr Willetts? You’re looking awfully flushed…”
There was nothing for it. He swallowed his scalding mouthful.
“Mr Willetts, are you having a heart attack?”
“No,” he said as calmly as he could.
“Then why are you clutching your chest?”
“Just suffering some minor digestive discomfort,” he said as the jam slipped down, searing the inside of his oesophagus and finally bringing the contents of his stomach to a gentle simmer. He gratefully drank the glass of water she offered him.
“It’s probably stress,” she said, “brought on by a severely annoying Gardener and son.”
Mr Willetts nodded weakly.
“Well, I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough.” She thumped the palm of her hand with the rolling pin.
“I’m going to find that Po Lin Jnr and if he’s got jam tart crumbs about his person, I’m going to give him and his father a piece of my mind! Are you coming, Mr Willetts?”
The butler wiped his mouth quickly with his sleeve and followed Cook into the Garden.
In the garage, Po Lin Jnr ducked behind the Morris Minor and watched his father walk through the Kitchen Garden with a large parcel under his arm. The boy continued to watch until his father had nearly disappeared, then, just as he was about to stand up, Mr Willetts and Cook came out of the kitchen. He ducked down again and watched as they set off in the same direction as his father. Cook was armed with a rolling pin and Po Lin Jnr had no doubt she would use it.
The only parts of Roger, the chauffeur, that were visible, were his boots which protruded from beneath the rear of the car, tapping the air in time to the rock‘n’roll beat that was blaring from the radio.
Po Lin Jnr crept away. With any luck, he’d make it into the kitchen and get back again with a handful of raisins or the cooking chocolate, if he could find it, before Roger requested a spanner.
Bartrum’s son, Wilmslow, and his friend, Euclid, were strolling through the Kitchen Garden when they spotted Po Lin Jnr stealing into the kitchen. ‘Strolling’ was what they told themselves they were doing but as both the young Gnomes had been banned from going anywhere near the house, they were, in fact, scurrying from one piece of cover to the next. This was the first time they’d dared to invade the Kitchen Garden although other than Big Po, they had no idea who they might encounter there. From behind the water butt, they watched Po Lin Jnr, recognising the same furtive behaviour they were exhibiting and knew he was up to no good. The constant swivelling of his head to search for observers and the casual way he poked the kitchen door with one finger, as if to satisfy himself it was indeed a solid object, were all giveaways. Apparently, the door was solid—and unlocked—and the Gardener’s son slipped into the kitchen, with one backwards glance to make sure he was unobserved. Seconds later, he emerged with a pile of jam tarts balanced on one hand. He closed the door and with one last glance left and right, he wandered off with his mouth bulging.
“Well, if he’s allowed free food, perhaps we should go and get some,” whispered Wilmslow.
“Are you sure?” Euclid’s courage was failing. It was one thing to trespass in a Garden but quite another to go into the big house and face… well, he wasn’t even sure what they might face.
“Of course, I’m sure,” said Wilmslow confidently and then he played his trump card, “there are jam tarts in there…”
Sneaking from one hiding place to another, they finally reached the kitchen and after a brief disagreement about whether they should proceed, Wilmslow suggested they simply give the door an exploratory nudge to see if it was still open. Four, tiny Gnome hands pushed the glossy wood. Having no experience of opening human-sized doors, they applied more force than was necessary and they lurched into the kitchen, landing on all fours on the mat.
“Now what?” asked a wide-eyed and open-mouthed Euclid.
“Jam tarts,” replied Wilmslow.
“But how?” Euclid scanned the distance between the tiled floor and the dizzying heights of the jam tarts on the cooling rack.
“Like this,” said Wilmslow. He pulled out the bottom drawer and stepped onto the tea towels with which it was filled. From this elevated position, he pulled open the next drawer up, and climbed into that. He carried on making his drawer-staircase until he reached the worktop.
“C’mon,” he shouted.
But Euclid’s courage had failed even with the tempting aroma of the jam tarts wafting from above.
“Um…” he said desperately, but before he could come up with a good reason why he shouldn’t climb the drawers, something soft, sticky and sweet-scented landed on his head.
“Butterfingers!” shouted Wilmslow, throwing another tart down.
Shrieks from above were accompanied by more jam tart missiles which rained down on Euclid. He slipped and slid on jam and squashed pastry crumbs, as he dashed about, picking up any intact tarts.
“Cook! What on earth is going on in there?” An imperious woman’s voice came from somewhere not too far away.
Heavy footsteps could be heard approaching the kitchen and both Gnomes froze.
Wilmslow bounded down the makeshift, drawer-staircase and slithered across the messy floor after the rapidly disappearing form of Euclid.
“Who… d’you think… that was?” Euclid asked between gasps for breath.
“Dunno,” said Wilmslow, “but it was a close shave, she nearly caught us…”
They’d kept as much to the undergrowth as they could until they’d arrived in the woods, covered in jam, twigs and mud. Euclid’s armful of jam tarts had been compressed into a sticky, shapeless lump that was smeared all over his jacket and trousers.
He broke a piece off and offered it to Wilmslow, “Want some?”
“Nah. I’m not hungry.”
“Me neither.” Euclid dropped what remained of the squashed jam tarts and wiped his hands on his trousers. “My mum’s gonna ground me forever.”
“Mine too,” said Wilmslow gloomily.
“In the unlikely event we’re ever allowed out again, let’s never, ever go up to the house.”
Wilmslow nodded emphatically.
“Cook! Cook! What’s going o…?”
Her Ladyship’s hands flew to her mouth.
“Cook, this is a disgrace!”
She surveyed the kitchen from the doorway, taking in the greasy, jammy mess on the floor, the open drawers and contents spilling over the top and the crumbs and chaos on the worktop. Smiling, she closed the door and made her way back upstairs. This was going to prove to be most diverting and she couldn’t wait to see how Cook was going to explain the state of her beloved kitchen. Kitchen inspection hadn’t been as entertaining as this since… well, since ever.
“Which way?” asked Cook, as they reached a fork in the path. Mr Willetts peered about and then shrugged.
Tall rhododendron bushes rose on either side of them, hiding the rest of the Garden.
“I hate this place.” Cook shuddered. “It’s dirty, disgusting, full of creepy crawlies and it feels like we’re being watched.” She turned around in a circle, head moving back and forth, scanning the rhododendron bushes for the owners of the eyes she fancied were peeking at her through the foliage. She thumped the palm of her hand in what she hoped was a menacing way with the rolling pin.
“Oh, good grief!” said Mr Willetts, “it’s beginning to rain.”
“That’s it!” shrieked Cook, “I’ve had enough! Take me back to civilisation. I’ll deal with that snivelling excuse for a boy the next time he takes a shortcut through the kitchen. Now, take me home!”
Mr Willetts had also had enough of the Garden. It was far bigger than it looked from the windows of the Old Priory and much scarier. Whether Mr Po Lin had deliberately given them the slip or not, he had no idea, but he was keen to get back to the house as soon as possible and definitely before he lost his bearings completely.
“This way, Cook,” he said, with more confidence than he actually felt.
Cook had been right about one thing. She and Mr Willetts had been observed from the rhododendrons—but not by dozens of pairs of eyes, as she’d supposed. Mr Po Lin had slipped behind the bushes where the path forked and waited until Cook and Mr Willetts passed. He was sure that once they realised he’d disappeared, they’d give up and go back to the house. The rain had proved to be a deciding factor and Mr Po Lin was very relieved to see them hesitate at the fork in the path and then retrace their steps.
They’ll have to try much harder if they want to outwit me, Mr Po Lin thought gleefully.
Avoiding the path, he set off through the woods. He’d unwrap the new Garden Ornament that was tucked under his arm, in privacy, then he’d place it in position—and he had the perfect location in mind.
If Cook had overestimated the number of observing eyes, Mr Po Lin had underestimated them. It hadn’t occurred to him that he wasn’t alone.
“What d’you reckon is in the parcel?” asked Doggett, from behind a large fern.
“It’s some kind of four-legged animal,” said Crispin, screwing up his eyes to see more clearly.
“It’s got a very large head. Perhaps it’s an elephant…”
“No, the legs are too skinny. What about a horse?”
“No, the head’s too big.”
“I know,” said Crispin, “how about a stag? Its head might appear to be large because of the antlers…”
“Oooh!” wailed Doggett, “It’s an omen!”
Crispin looked at him in alarm. “We’re not doing the whole Plague Thing again, are we? As far as I know, there’s never been a plague of deer…”
“No, it’s one of them omens that Nina keeps talking about.”
“The sort of omens that say I ought to be asking her to marry me.”
“Oh, those kinds of omens.”
There was silence for a few moments, then Crispin asked, “Well, don’t you want to get married?”
“I’m not sure. I never really thought about it. But I’m not happy about being dictated to by a bag.”
There was a sharp intake of breath, as Crispin looked around, wondering if Nina might suddenly appear. “Don’t let Nina hear you call her that!”
“Teabag,” said Doggett, “Nina says it’s all in the tea leaves.”
“But you can’t read tea leaves in a teabag.”
“You can’t and I can’t, but apparently Nina can and they’re full of wedding omens.”
“Oh, I see. But how is the new Garden Ornament an omen?”
“Stag night. The night before the wedding that I haven’t popped the question for.”
“Oh. So, what’re you going to do?”
“You can’t go against the omens, you know. I tried ignoring them but those teabags just don’t give up. And now there’s the stag to keep reminding me. I’ll just have to propose, I suppose…”
Mr Po Lin found a clearing and began carefully unwrapping the new Garden Ornament. He started at the legs and worked his way up to the head which was encased in metres of bubble wrap, to prevent breakage. At least Mr Po Lin hoped it had prevented breakage. He held his breath as he took the last piece of bubble wrap off to reveal the horn. Yes, it was still intact and how wonderful it was. One single, spiral horn set in the middle of the unicorn’s forehead.
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
Chapter 6 – Just Desserts - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/05/the-crispin-chronicles-6-just-desserts.html
Chapter 7 – A Little Girl at Large - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-7-little-girl-at.html
Chapter 8 – The Halloween Party - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/06/the-crispin-chronicles-8-halloween-party.html
Chapter 9 – A Glimmer of an Idea - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-9-glimmer-of-idea.html
Chapter 10 – Doggett Sees the Light - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-10-doggett-sees.html
Chapter 11 – Doggett’s Blues – https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/07/the-crispin-chronicles-11-doggetts-blues.html
Chapter 12 – A Genie out of the Bottle - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/08/the-crispin-chronicles-12-genie-out-of.html
Chapter 13 – The Christmas Beast - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/08/the-crispin-chronicles-13-christmas.html
Chapter 14 – Bellarella - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/08/the-crispin-chronicles-14-bellarella.html