Jayes and the Country Party

 

 

It was only once we were going down the road that I ventured to speak.

 

“Jayes?”

 

“Yes Sir?”

 

“I think we should avoid Bapcock Moor for the foreseeable future, what?”

 

“Indeed, Sir.  I think it would be most unwise of us to venture here for some little time.”

 

“You speak truth, Jayes, you speak truth….”

 

Hang on a minute – I’ve started at the end again, haven’t I?  Left you, the poor reader, in a flummox as to what we are talking about.  I need to take a step back, get my facts straight and start at the beginning.

 

I guess it all started when Squidgy asked me to make one of her country party a few weeks back.  I had known Squidgy since we attended dance school when I, Barty Rhymaes, was just a young stripling in knee shorts and a lollipop stuck in my mouth, and Squidgy, or Selina as her parents called her, was in petticoats and pigtails.  We had kept in touch over the years, and now every so often I spent some time at her country house.

 

By this time, Jayes had been with me for some six months.  The Agency had sent him when I was forced to dismiss my previous personal gentleman, for reasons I won’t go into here, and Jayes was the antidote they sent for my pains.  He had proven himself to be invaluable in countless scraps, and I never went anywhere without him.

 

On the morning I got the telegram, I was relaxing with my morning cup of tea as Jayes walked silently in with said missive on a platter.

 

“Ah, now this could be interesting” I said as I perused the contents of the telegram.

 

“Sir?”

 

“Miss Kyle has invited us to spend the weekend at a country party at her residence.”

 

“That does sound most satisfying, sir.  Does she say how many will be in the party?”

 

“She has something about four others, but most importantly her parents are away for the weekend and she has been left in charge.”

 

“Indeed, Sir?”

 

“Yes, Jayes, so would you toddle down to the post office and send a reply saying we’ll be there, then pack the essentials for a weekend in a country house.”

 

“Yes, Sir.  I have one other question, if I may?”

 

“Fire away, Jayes, fire away.”

 

“Is there any form of entertainment planned for the servants that weekend?”

 

“Actually, yes.  She mentions that the servants will be going to a country dance on the Saturday.  I presume you will not want to attend?”

 

“No, Sir, I find these country affairs rather boring.  If it is permissible to you, Sir, I may say that I will decide whether or not to attend at a later time in our reply.”

 

“Do so with all dispatch, Jayes.  Now, point me in the direction of the warm bath – I feel a day on the town is in order.”

 

 

Well, no sooner had I stepped out of the flat when I heard a toot on a horn, and there was Squidgy in her car, beaming at me.  She was an angel in view, with her silk dress falling elegantly over her shoulders and her scarf blowing in the wind.

 

“There you are, you silly thing.  Did you get my telegram?”

 

“I did, old fruit, and your invite is most welcome.  Who else will be there?”

 

“I’ve asked Roberta and Madeline, and the Carmichael brothers”

 

“Beefy and Stinky?  Excellent.  And your parents will be away?”

 

Squidgy looked down.

 

“Yes, but they’ve asked your Aunt Deborah to act as chaperone.  Do you think that will be a problem.”

 

I thought for a moment.  Don’t get me wrong – of all my aunts, Aunt Deborah is one of the best, but she can rather put a wrinkle in plans.

 

“No,” I said after a while, “I’m sure she won’t get in your way.  I’ll see you at the weekend then.  Toodle-pip, old blossom”

 

“Bottoms up,” Squidgy said as she drove off, me looking at her as she faded into the distance.  Yes, I thought, this would be a really special weekend.

 

 

Saturday morning saw Jayes and I toddling down the road in the trusty two-seater towards Bapcock Moor and the Kyle residence.  The trip had passed largely in silence, but as we turned into the village Jayes gave one of his soft coughs.

 

“Yes, Jayes, what is it?”

 

“Forgive me, Sir, but I was wondering if your plans for this evening had changed?”

 

“No, why do you think that would happen?”

 

“I fear the presence of Mrs Trotter may be disaccomodating for you.”

 

“Aunt Deborah?  Worry not, Jayes, I am sure things will not be held up by her presence.”

 

“Nevertheless, Sir, I do fear we should make some alteration in our plans for this evening….”

 

“Jayes, have I ever let you down?”

 

“Well, far be it from me to say, but…”

 

“Enough, Jayes, I shall carry on exactly as I have decided, and you will not interrupt.  Is that understood?”

 

“Yes, Sir,” Jayes replied and he stayed silent.  A good man, Jayes, but occasionally I have to show him the firm hand of leadership.

 

The car made its way to the front of Bapcock House, and Squidgy met us in the driveway.  She was wearing a pink cotton dress, gathered at the waist with a pleated skirt, and a beret that sat just on the side of her blonde hair.  I jumped out of the car and kissed her on both cheeks.

 

“Barty, I’m glad you could make it.  Good afternoon, Jayes.”

 

“Good afternoon, Miss.”

 

Squidgy took me by the arm and I left Jayes to the business of removing our cases from the boot.  We walked round the side of the house to the rear garden, where the rest of the party were assembled.

 

Roberta and Madeline were friends of Squidgy that I had a passing acquaintance with.  Madeline was a big, strong sporty girl, who would have rowed for Cambridge if her college was not all female, while Madeline was more quiet and introspective, always with a book.  She looked up as I shouted a greeting and peered at me through her glasses.

 

“Oh it’s you Bartholomew” she said.  She was one of the few who felt I should be called by my full name of Bartholomew Travers Rhymaes, but I forgave her that.  Beefy and Stinky Carmichael were playing croquet on the lawn, and raised a hand in greeting when they saw me.  Lastly, but by no means least, a cry of “Ahh, Barty” that could have woken half of Dorsetshire told me that Aunt Deborah had also walked into the scene.

 

The aged rel was looking as perky as ever, even in the tweed skirt and twin set that she had chosen to wear that day.  A particularly fine brooch was on her cardigan, and I said as much to her.

 

“Oh this?  Uncle Peter picked it up in London for me – do you like it?”

 

“Rather,” I said as it glistened in the sunlight.  “So, are you going to act as the cloud of doom on the weekend, auntie?”

 

“No, no, no – you guys and girls are old enough to look after yourselves.  I’ll just make sure that is no, as you say, rendigoosie here.”

 

I sighed at the aunt’s attempt to interrupt, but I was stopped by the fact that Jayes had somehow joined us without anyone noticing.  I had on idea how he did that, but did it he did.

 

“Yes, Jayes?”

 

“Forgive me, sir, but I have a message for Miss Kyle.  The butler has asked me to inform you that the cold supper you requested has been laid out, and he and the rest of the staff are departing for the dance.”

 

“Thank you Jayes,” Squidgy said.  “Will you be going to the dance as well?”

 

“Perhaps later, Miss Kyle.  I informed Shuttleworth that I would be glad to help serve your repast before I made any decision.”

 

That’s Jayes in a nutshell.  A wonderful servant who knows just what to do at the right time.  I took Squidgy by the arm, while Beefy and Stinky escorted the other two girls and Aunt Deborah followed us into the house.

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to an informal cold meal at a country party.  While you are spared the task of dressing for dinner, you are faced with the dilemma of how to make small talk during the meal.   Madeline and Stinky were sat in a corner, discussing the finer merits of the recent Boat Race, and she laughed that deep laugh of hers that sent her bloused top heaving, while Roberta was sat picking at a plate of sandwiches as she listened to Aunt Deborah going on about the state of the local hounds.  She was a sensitive soul, who despised the thought of innocent animals being killed, but she at least managed to feign interest.

 

Jayes was serving cups of coffee to the assembled party, and then quietly came up to me.

 

“With your permission, sir, I think I will take in the local dance for a short while.  Miss Kaye has asked me to clear the plates, but once that is done I would be glad of the opportunity.” he said in a low whisper.

 

“Very good, Jayes, you may go and enjoy yourself.”

 

“Thank you, sir.” He said and he proceeded to noiselessly clear the food away.

 

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough, although Roberta did try to draw me into a conversation about something she had read about a spate of robberies in the area.

 

“Oh yes,” Squidgy said as she joined us, “I’d heard about them.  We’re safe enough here, however.”

 

Aunt Deborah stood up, which the ladies took as a signal to retire, and I was left with Beefy and Stinky.

 

“So, boys, how are you feeling tonight?  Fancy a couple of games of billiards?” 

 

“If it’s all the same with you, Barty, I think we’re both going to retire.  It must be the country air, but,” and here Stinky let out a huge yawn, “I am absolutely shattered.”

 

Beefy silently nodded at that.

 

“Oh well, is that’s the way it’s going to be, I’ll knock a few balls around and then retire myself.  Good night, chaps.”

 

I made my way to the billiards room, and tried to play a game, but it just seemed like a waste of time, so I joined the ladies in the room for a game of cards.  Not half an hour passed, however, before they too retired for the night, so I returned to my room.  Jayes had left a last refresher in the room, so I changed into my pyjamas and dressing gown and poured myself a large whisky.  Remembering there was something I had to do before retiring, I left the room for a few minutes before returning and having a sip from my glass I picked up the mystery I was reading.

 

Half an hour passed before there was a knock on the door, and Squidgy called out.

 

“Barty?  Are you awake?”

 

“Of course, Squidgy, come in?”

 

She opened the door, and I could see at a glance she was worried about something.  She had on a pale blue silk dressing gown tied around her waist with a sash.

 

“What’s wrong, old girl?”

 

“Barty, I just went to ask Beefy Carmichael if he would like to talk, and I can’t wake him up.  Could you try please?”

 

“Of course, my dear girl.”

 

We both walked down to Beefy’s room, and I knocked before entering.  He was laid on the bed in his pyjamas, snoring like a great bull, and no matter how much I shook him he was incapable of awakening.  Five minutes later, we found the same to be true of Stinky.

 

“Are they all right?” Squidgy whispered.

 

“I think so, old girl – they’re just very very dead to the world in sleep.  You get back to your bed and I’ll look in on the others.”

 

We walked down the corridor, and I knocked on Roberta’s door.

 

“What is it?” she called out.

 

“Roberta, it’s Barty and Selina.  Are you awake?”

 

“I am now.  What do you want?”

 

“Just wanted to make sure you’re all right.  Can I come in for a minute?”

 

“All right – just let me get my gown on.”

 

Squidgy nodded at me and went into Roberta’s room, while I went down the corridor to Madeline’s room.  Knocking on the door, I opened it and slipped in.

 

 

Ten minutes later, I came out and closed the door behind me, putting something safely in my dressing gown pocket.  Walking down the corridor, I knocked quietly on Roberta’s door, but no answer came back, so I was satisfied they were all right.  I was about to return to my room when I saw Aunt Deborah standing quietly in the corridor.

 

“Hello, aged rel,” I said, “What are you doing up?”  She looked at me and put a finger to her lips, and I noticed for the first time the poker in her hand.

 

“Quiet, you young idiot,” she said, “I think there are burglars in the house.”

 

“What makes you think that?”

 

A crashing sound came from downstairs.

 

“That does,” she said, “come with me and keep your wits about you.”

 

We descended the staircase and made our way across the hallway.  Opening the door to the main room, I peered in but saw nothing unusual in the gloom.

 

“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” I said as I closed the door, “It’s probably just the cat in the kitchen…… Aunty, what’s wrong?”

 

Aunt Deborah was standing still, her hands in the air and the poker on the ground, but before I could ask why she had such a look of fear on her face the world went black and I lost consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The world seemed black for a long time, but slowly it started to swim back into focus.  I picked myself up from the floor, and rubbed the back of my head where I found a sizable lump forming.

 

“Auntie?”  I called out, and a strange quiet sort of call reached my ears from the drawing room.  It was still dark, so I gingerly picked my way across the hallway and looked in.

 

“Auntie, are you in here?” I said, but a strange sight filled my eyes.  Aunt Deborah was lying on a chaise longue, and even in the gloom I could see that she was wrapped in ropes from her chest to her ankles, securing her arms to her side and preventing her from even sitting up on the seat.  She was squirming around, trying to call out, but a thick cloth had been tied into her mouth making it impossible to for her to make any sense.

 

“Good gods, Auntie, are you all right?” I asked as I reached behind her head and undid a knot that tied the ends of the cloth together at the back of her neck.

 

“I am, Bertie, but are you?” She spluttered this out after I removed the cloth.  “I saw this man dressed in black with a scarf over his mouth, you blundered out and he whacked you on the back of the head.”

 

“Aunt Agnes would say it knocked some sense in me, I suppose.  Let me put the light on.”

 

“No – whoever did this may still be here.  He pushed me into the room, wrapped the rope around me so that I couldn’t move, then stuffed that in my mouth and lay me on the couch.  For all I know, he may still be in the house.  Go and check on the others, then come and free me.”

 

I rushed out into the hall, and straight into a tall black mass which turned out to be Jayes.  He looked at me with a sympathetic eye.

 

“Forgive me, Sir, I did not mean to halt your progress, but I happened to be passing Mrs Trotter’s room and noticed it was in an advanced form of disarray.  I particularly noticed that her jewellery case had been emptied.”

 

The scream that echoed around the hall startled me, but Jayes merely raised both eyebrows.

 

“It appears, Jayes, that we have been visited by robbers.  Free Aunt Deborah, and then call the local constabulary.”

 

“Very good, Sir” he said, and he hovered off in the direction of the drawing room while I ran up the stairs to Roberta’s room.  Before that, however, I stopped in Beefy’s room and tried to rouse him, but that only succeeded in making him snore even more.

 

Knocking on the door, I ran into Roberta’s room to be greeted by a most unusual sight.  Squidgy was sat in a chair, her robe disarrayed and falling off her shoulders to reveal the white satin nightdress she was wearing, and she stared at me with wide and tear filled eyes.  The sash to her robber had been tied into and over her mouth, so that the only sound she was making was muffled squeals, and her wrists and ankles were secured to the chair with stockings.

 

Roberta was sat on her bed, wearing a pair of heliotrope pyjamas that I had to admit suited her rather well.  The cord that should have been attached to the curtains of her room had been cut down and used to secure her wrists and ankles, and a chiffon scarf was wrapped over her mouth.  She also could only make muffled cries, which I found rather strange, so I first removed the sash from Squidgy’s mouth and then undid the scarf around Roberta’s.

 

She then proceeded to spit out a second scarf which had been stuffed into her mouth, and cry loudly.

 

“Barty, you idiot,” Squidgy said, “Didn’t you hear our calls for help?  When I came into the room, poor Roberta had already been tied up, and a man in black with a scarf over his mouth clamped his hand over mine.  He pushed me into this chair, tied my wrists down, stuffed that scarf into Roberta’s mouth then finished tying and gagging both of us.  He then tipped all Roberta’s jewellery into a black valise and walked out.  What in the name of all that is holy were you doing?”

 

“Well, Squidgy old thing,” I said as I undid the rope around Roberta’s wrists, “I checked to see if Madeline was all right, then my aunt asked me to go downstairs.  After that – well, I’m afraid it rather looks as if we’ve been robbed by someone.  Aunt Deborah was tied up downstairs, but Jayes is releasing her before he calls the police.”

 

I finished untying the rope around Roberta’s ankles, and gave them a gentle rub to help the feeling come back, before releasing Squidgy.  “Look,” I said, “You two go downstairs and join the others while I check on Madeline.”

 

“What about the boys,” Roberta panted.

 

“Dead to the world, I’m afraid.  I don’t know what’s come over them.”

 

The two girls pulled their dressing gowns on, and headed downstairs while I looked in on Madeline, hoping all the time that she was all right.  As I passed Stinky’s door, however, he opened it and shook his head.

 

“Wassa the noise for, Barty?” he yawned.

 

“Stinky, you sausage, have you been hitting the sauce earlier?” I exclaimed.  “The house has been robbed, most if not all the girls have been tied up against their will, and you and Beefy have slept through the whole thing!”

 

“Sorry, Barty, the air must have been more conducive to sleep than I thought.  I’ll wake Beefy and join the others.”

 

He went one way, and I knocked on Madeline’s door.  A loud grunt came from the other side, and I pushed the door open.

 

Madeline was lying face down on the bed, a length of cloth bound over her eyes and another over her mouth.  The black silk nightgown she was wearing had been pulled up above her knees, and as with Roberta rope had been tied around her wrists and ankles.  She was struggling and rolling around on the bed like a wildcat, and turned towards me when she heard the sound of my footfall.

 

I quickly untied the blindfold, and she looked at me at first with anger, and then with recognition.  A soft knock on the door could be heard, and when I called to the person to some in Jayes appeared.

 

“Forgive me, Sir, but it took some time to find you.  The police have arrived and wish to communicate with you downstairs.  With your permission, Miss Madeline, I will free you from your bindings and fetch you some brandy.”

 

Madeline nodded at this, and I set off to tell my story to the local constabulary.  As I left the room, I thought I saw her in the mirror look at me in a strange manner, but I shrugged it off and descended the staircase.

 

Well, it took much longer than I expected for everyone to tell their story.  From what I managed to hear, after the intruder had bound and gagged Squidgy and Roberta, he entered Madeline’s room and woke her from her sleep before robbing her.  He had then made his way downstairs before he hit me on the back of the head, bound and gagged poor Aunt Deborah, and then made his escape.  Jayes had returned from the village dance just after he left, and finding the front door unlocked had searched the house.  When he found the state of poor Aunt’s room, he came downstairs which is where we met. 

 

“What I don’t understand, Barty, is why you didn’t see anything when you went into Madeline’s room?”  Squidgy said once the police had gone, and all the others had washed and dressed.

 

“She was asleep, so I closed the door and came back out,” I said.  Madeline was still looking at my in a strange way, but Jayes appeared to change the subject again.

 

“Forgive me, Sir, but this telegram just arrived,” he said proffering the article to me on a platter.  I opened it and perused the contents.

 

“Great Scott,” I exclaimed.  “Squidgy, I’m awfully sorry, but I need to return to London immediately on a most pressing matter.  I know it’s an awful time to leave, but……”

 

Aunt Deborah looked at me.  “What’s happened, Barty?”

 

“It’s Uncle James – he’s had another of his turns and is heading to Harrogate to take the waters.  Jayes – would you prepare the car, please?”

 

Jayes bowed and walked silently out of the room.  I apologised to all, headed to my room, and half an hour later Jayes and I were heading down the road that led from Babcock Moor.

 

“Jayes?”

 

“Yes Sir?”

 

“I think we should avoid Bapcock Moor for the foreseeable future, what?”

 

“Indeed, Sir.  I think it would be most unwise of us to venture here for some little time.”

 

“You speak truth, Jayes, you speak truth.  I cannot shake the awkward feeling that Madeline recognised me when I surprised her and tied the scarf over her eyes.”

 

“Indeed, Sir, I did notice that she could not stop looking at you when she was talking to the police.  I too was worried when Miss Kyle walked in unexpectedly, but I was able to handle the situation, hopefully to your satisfaction.”

 

“You played a straight wicket there, Jayes.  Talking of which, did you have to hit me so hard on the head?”

 

“I fear, Sir, it was necessary to continue the illusion that you were the innocent party.  Mrs Trotter proved most co-operative after the event.”

 

I rubbed my head ruefully.  “Where did you put the valise, Jayes?”

 

“I secreted it behind the bush ahead, Sir.  If you would stop for a moment?”

 

I pulled over, and Jayes walked over to retrieve a small black case from behind a rose bush.  I opened it and examined the jewellery that we had managed to collect the previous evening.

 

“Jayes, next time we need to raise funds let’s pick a group of people we don’t know, agreed?”

 

“Agreed Sir.”

 

And with that we headed back to town.

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