WHEN HALL CAME DOWN his main staircase to the main floor on Thursday morning, not yet sure how he felt about the day—his digestion, the weather, his level of irritation, how much his assets had appreciated during the night in their quiet seedbeds in foreign lands—somebody he’d never seen before came striding out of a side door, said, “Murnen,” and opened the front door.
Hall gaped. The man simply stood there, in profile, like one of the royal guards at Buckminster Palace, at what his sloping body apparently took to be attention, and continued to hold the knob of the wide-open door as he glared straight across the open doorway. He wore an ill-fitting but expensive black suit, narrow black tie, white dress shirt, and black shoes like gunboats. He was some lunatic who had—
The butler! The new servants. One of four new servants, the incredible beginning of a new era, a new and much much better era.
And his name was … Rumpled, Rambo, Rasputin, er, Rumsey! “Ah, good morning, Rumsey!”
“Murnen, Mr. Hall.” Rumsey went on glaring across the doorway, and went on holding the open door.
“Very good, Rumsey,” Hall said, “but actually, I wasn’t going out.”
Rumsey took a second to digest that. Then, with a robotic nod so brisk it was a miracle he didn’t break his neck, he efficiently slammed the door. “Sur.”
“Actually,” Hall said, feeling obscurely he had an ongoing part to play in this conversation, “I was on my way to the breakfast room.”
“That’s where I usually have breakfast.”
“Well…” Hall would have turned away, but then he thought of something. Two somethings. “When Mrs. Hall comes down, in a few minutes,” he said, “she won’t want to go out, either.”
“She’ll be off to the breakfast room, sur.”
“Exactly so. And would you send Blanchard and Gillette to see me in my office, just to the left there, at ten?”
There was a blankness in Rumsey’s blinking. “Sur?”
“Blanchard and Gillette.”
“Blan …” The man was completely at a loss.
“For heaven’s sake, man,” Hall said, “you and Fred Blanchard have worked together for years!”
“Oh, Fred!” Rumsey cried. “Fred Blanchard. Oh, sorry, right about that.” Now, leaning unexpectedly close as for a confidence, he said, “Out of context, you see what I mean?”
“Yes, well,” Hall said, automatically taking a backward step that bumped him into the staircase he’d just left, “this is rather new for us all.”
“Blanchard and Gillette,” Rumsey said, morphing back to near-erectness. “He’ll be the driver. The other one. Ten o’clock. Will do, sur.”
“Well, my dear,” Alicia said, over crustless toast and coddled eggs and strawberry jam and well-creamed coffee, “what do you think of our new people?”
“They’re perfect,” Hall told her. “Of course, I’ve barely seen them so far, and I must say Rumsey the butler’s an odd duck. But then, so many servants are, really.”
“America doesn’t know how to breed servants,” Alicia said.
“That’s perfectly true.”
“The problem,” she suggested, “is that the Inquisition had ended, or at least its really active years had ended, before the founding of the United States, so on this side of the Atlantic there was never that drilled-in terror over generations to make people eager to obey orders.”
“I like your insights, Alicia,” Hall said, patting his lips with damask, “but now I must go have a word with two more of our new acquisitions.”
Monroe Hall’s office, in the front right corner of the main floor, with large windows that offered ego-supportive views down toward his guardhouse and leftward toward his village and outbuildings, had been designed and furnished by one of the finest teams of nostalgic re-creators in America. Did you want a keeping room? Did you want a bread oven? Did you want gaslight to supplement your electric bulbs? Did you want, along a waist-high dado cap around the room, to tastefully display your collection of iron nineteenth-century mechanical banks? Call Pioton & Fone, and watch your dreams come true. Monroe Hall had, and he couldn’t enter his office, as a result, without smiling. Didn’t it look just like Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne’s office, just before Yorktown? Yes, it did. Mm, it did.
Today, entering the office, Hall saw Blanchard and Gillette already present, which made sense, because Hall was deliberately ten minutes late. Both were studying the iron banks on the little rail around the room, Blanchard leaning close over the one of a fisherman on a boat. Place a coin on the flat plate at the end of the fishing line and the weight causes the machinery inside to move the fisherman’s arm, and the fishing line, until the coin falls into the open mouth of the creel at the stern of the boat, and thus into the bank.
Looking around when Hall made his entrance, Blanchard said, “Morning, sir.”
“Oh, yeah, morning. Sir,” Gillette the driver said.
“Morning,” Hall repeated. He was so pleased to have these people.
Blanchard dabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the fisherman. “How do I get my quarter back?”
“Ha ha.” Got another one. With a big broad grin, Hall said, “You don’t, Fred. Sorry about that. Ho ho. Now come on, you two, let’s work out our day.”
They obediently moved over toward the genuine nineteenth-century partners desk, built at a time when lawyers trusted one another. As Hall took a seat there, the other two remaining standing, Blanchard frowned back at that fisherman as though wanting to remember exactly where to find him, some other time, but then he joined Hall and Gillette and didn’t seem troubled at all.