Conway Blitherton, Connie to his friends, was a model London bachelor with plenty of means. The means had arrived as a rather voluminous inheritance from a distant aunt, owing to the fact that Connie’s parents had passed away when he was barely in short pants. Despite this early tragedy, Connie had soldiered on and his life was often described as a pippin, albeit with one small snag. If one were to crack open the Blitherton ledger and peruse the side noir, one would discover that Connie was 24, moderately fair of countenance, had his own valet, and was in possession of a wonderful flat. The side rouge, on the other hand, would be filled with many examples of a diminished inventory of marbles rattling about Connie’s bean. Within minutes of his company, one would be quick to observe that there existed a vast wealth of craniums with deeper ridges and less overall smoothness than Connie’s. Still, all in all, Connie was a happy man.
However, there was the aforementioned snag. Once it occurred to Connie’s elders that the boy was now enjoying his third decade as an unattached bachelor, they began to apply pressure that would have made the bottom of the sea envious. The problem was Connie’s complete inability to assimilate with the fairer sex. No matter how many women he courted, he was never able to connect with the one Eve with whom he was meant to share God’s Eden. Putting it mildly, Oedipus had a better go with the ladies.
But all that had changed recently. Connie was a regular at 43 Bond, his favourite restaurant. Once a month, he noticed the most enchanting girl strapping on the old feedbag with an elderly female companion. Connie would later come to know these women as Emily Highurst and her Aunt Paige. From across the restaurant, when he first laid eyes on Emily’s dimpled cheeks and brunette tresses, Connie was smitten. It took several months of confidence-building, and counsel from his valet, Jameson, but he decided that this night, he would make his introductions and ask for Emily’s hand.
Connie was almost at Emily’s table, wine glass in hand to toast her magnificence, when 43 Bond’s chef, Teddy Pringleglass, approached Emily, effectively cutting off Connie’s route to victory. Connie was one table away but didn’t want to appear to be standing on a receiving line so he pulled a chair from a nearby table and sat down within arm’s length of his distant beloved. Her perfume made him so dreamy-eyed, he wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed before Aunt Paige was summarily dismissing poor old Teddy Pringleglass’ advances towards her niece.
“Now, you are to go back into the kitchen,” insisted Aunt Paige in an imperious manner to a retreating Teddy Pringleglass. “Emily may be from the country but, be assured, I am not. One simply doesn’t approach a strange girl and profess his love to her. Especially when you’re the help.” If Attila the Hun had been present, he would have done well to take copious notes on Aunt Paige’s tone and body language.
“Oh, Aunt Paige,” said Emily in a mellifluous voice that matched her beauty.
“And as for you, my naïve niece, if you’d like to continue visiting me once a month from Illspile-on-the-Vale, you are not to receive such gentlemen.”
Emily half-listened to her Aunt’s advice. She was overcome with a blushing sensation the moment she laid eyes on Connie sitting at the next table. A feeling overcame her that she had never experienced.
At this juncture, Aunt Paige stood up haughtily, her intentions consisting of walking away to discuss Teddy Pringleglass’ behavior to the management followed by a thorough and robust powdering of the old proboscis. However, the chair which Connie was sitting upon prevented Aunt Paige from completing these tasks as one of the chair legs was resting comfortably on top of the hem of her dress. Aunt Paige’s attempted sudden departure caused two immediate reactions. First, there was a great ripping sound as an enormous tear developed in her dress that could have been equaled only, perhaps, by a malfunction in the San Andreas Fault. Secondly, the blameworthy chair tipped over, causing Connie to tip over as well. More importantly, it caused Connie’s wine glass to tip over and most important of all, caused the wine glass’ contents to splash directly onto Aunt Paige’s artfully-made face, bringing to mind the conclusion of a log flume ride.
“Well, I never,” said an incredulous, and quite moist, Aunt Paige. She grabbed Emily by the arm and dragged her away, muttering something about how this was her last visit to this establishment. Emily glanced over her shoulder at Connie and smiled weakly. Connie smiled back. They knew they would never be together again. They had never even met. He was heartbroken. He dejectedly sulked homeward.
“A most unfortunate development, sir” said Jameson, shaking the iced martini tumbler after Connie had concluded a sum-up of the afternoon’s misadventure.
Connie sank further into his easy chair, the view of Hyde Park barely registering any joy. “And the thing that really frazzles the neurons, if that’s the phrase I want, is that Pringleglass selects the very moment of my declaration to pop in and muck it all up.”
“It does appear to have been an ill-fated moment, sir,” said Jameson, pouring the martini.
“Dash it, I am quite fond of that girl,” said Connie. “Oh Jameson, I fear even you couldn’t scale the obstacles that have been placed between me and Emily Highurst.”
Jameson raised his right eyebrow an eighth of an inch, indicating that powerful brain of his was in full locomotion. Jameson had been ironing Connie’s wrinkled life for years. He handed Connie the martini. “Sir, I don’t mean to suggest any disrespect nor presume beyond my station, but the thought occurs that you sell yourself short.”
“I do? Short, do I?”
“I wish to see you happy, sir. I shall give the matter some thought.”
“Jolly good, Jameson. That’s the feudal spirit.” Connie took a sip of the bracing martini and his spirits were restored. “You’re right, by Jove, I am made of more fibrous stock than the average dejected lover. Well, I’m very bucked up by this news. I’ll leave you to it then. Eat kelp if you must. Heard it works wonders for brainial maximization, if that’s the term.”
Connie spent the rest of the day at his club, playing darts with his pal Stilton while thinking of Emily. His dreamy-eyed state resulted in the loss of one quid and the required visitation to a doctor by Stilton owing to three darts thrown by Connie which found purchase on Stilton’s mid-leg, back, and rump.
“What-ho, Jameson! Has a plan been hatched or are you still in the incubatory stage?” asked Connie as Jameson took his hat, coat, and gloves.
“A course of action does suggest itself,” said Jameson.
“Excellent, excellent,” said Connie. “Does it involve Emily?”
“Most assuredly, sir. You will recall that Miss Emily Highurst resides in Illspile-on-the-Vale, a countryside hamlet. I have made inquiries and discovered that the annual County Fair occurs this weekend in the very same town. Apparently, the jewel in the County Fair program is the farm animal competition. Since you are a distinguished gentleman from London, I have arranged for you to be on the judging panel.”
Connie sat attentively, letting the words percolate. It was as if he was attempting to row the Thames but his oars did not intersect with the river.
“I’m sorry, Jameson, what am I doing?”
“It has come to my attention that the Highursts will have several of their animals entered in the competition,” said Jameson. “One presumes Miss Emily would be rather impressed by a gentleman’s knowledge in such matters.”
The oars finally splashed into the water.
“Ah, got it. Excellent. A most inspired scheme, Jameson.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I’ll take it from here,” said Connie, getting up and pacing around the room. The synapses were firing on as many cylinders as were possible. “The plan is simplicity itself. Step one: impress Emily and her family with my knowledge of farm animals. Step two: rig the contest so the Highursts win the blasted Fair competition. And, Step three: pitch my woo.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Jameson, you are a marvel.”
“One does endeavor to provide satisfaction, sir.”
“And the country air will do us good,” said Connie.
“There is one small hitch, sir, if I may explain.”
Connie sat back down. There were always hitches when it came to the fairer sex. “How small a hitch?”
“One is only to listen attentively at the local public house to receive dispatches from surrounding areas.”
“Lord Highurst is very keen on marrying off his daughter, Emily, to a gentleman of means,” said Jameson.
“According to the Pig and Frog barmaid, His Lordship is, if you’ll excuse the crudeness, land-rich and cash-poor. He seeks a match for his daughter who can balance the ledgers, if you grasp my meaning, sir.”
“Check, check! All cash-rich and land poor. That’s me. Gosh, Jameson, this pudding gets richer by the minute. But, do tell, I feel this infinitesimally small hitch looming above like the Scimitar of Damocles.”
“An apt description, sir. In addition to the suitor’s qualities which I have just described, His Lordship is very fond of Miss Emily and also wants her future mate to be a man of substance and intelligence.”
“The term ‘No nincompoops need apply’ has been utilized in the past to great effect by Lord Highurst, according to the barmaid.”
“Jameson, you are never to frequent the Pig and Frog again. I am suspect of this barmaid’s chumminess.”
“Very good, sir.”
“No nincompoop, I,” said Connie, more to convince himself.
“It is not a sobriquet which I would apply,” said Jameson.
Connie didn’t think he could withstand a direct assault from Poppa Highurst. But there was the prize of Emily to fortify him.
“Blast it, Jameson, I’ll do it. Please make the proper preparations.”
That weekend, Connie stepped off the morning seven-fifteen at Illspile-on-the-Vale, dressed in full country gentlemen clothes.
“Ah, sir, welcome,” said Jameson, opening the door of Connie’s room at The Rested Shepherd, the local inn. Jameson had arrived ahead of time to make preparations. “We must speak.”
“Right-ho, Jameson. But first, a bit of a walk, what? Must begin my quest for the love of my life and all that. She’s about. I can feel it.”
“Yes, sir. Excellent. But first, perhaps, a chat is in order?” A strange honking sound came from the water closet. Connie seemed not to take notice.
“Blast it, Jameson, I’m off. I can’t stand to be this close to her and yet so far. Fingers crossed not to run into her Aunt, though. Bit unpleasant, that. Then again, they’re all country mice and she’s a bit of a city rat.”
And with the application of his squire’s hat upon his head at a jaunty angle, Connie was off. Jameson sighed his usual sigh.
Connie wandered the Fair grounds. It was a lovely day and the bright green meadow was filled with tents, games, and activities, not to mention the happy, local populous. Connie came to the livestock exhibition. There seemed to be a ruckus ensuing. He collared one of the spectators.
“I say, what the devil is the commotion?”
“A chicken, duck, and turkey have been stolen from His Lordship. They were sure to be blue ribbon stuff! The turkey is especially troublesome since it was imported from the States.”
“Oh my,” said Connie, appreciating the loss as if it was his own. “May I be of some assistance? I have been known to lose the old keys from time to time and re-trace my steps until they were found.”
Connie was led to the bereaved family. They sat in a circle under one of the exhibition tents. Three empty coops stood ominously nearby.
“I say, sorry to hear of your loss. Bit of bad luck, really. But if I may…” Connie’s breath failed him. Sitting there among her parents and younger sister was none other than the fair Emily.
“You,” she said, the blush returning to her ivory cheek.
“You,” he repeated, stunned to be in her presence again.
“Emily, you know this man?” demanded Lord Highurst. Connie noted that there was about the man a disturbing resemblance in manner and tone to Aunt Paige. Connie quickly checked to ensure that all chairs and wine glasses within proximity were behaving within acceptable practices.
“My dearest Emily,” said Connie.
Emily blushed again.
“Pardon?” insisted Lord Highurst.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” said Connie, surprised at his confidence, “I am Conway Blitherton. Connie to my friends. I’ve just arrived this morning from London to judge the animal competition.”
“Yes…right. Excellent observation. Your daughter. We have never actually met but I have dined at the same restaurant…”
“Enough of this nincompoopery,” said Lord Highurst. “I have lived all my years in Illspile-on-the-Vale, as have all these good people. A stranger from London arrives and my prized poultry are missing.”
“Sir, what are you suggesting?” said Connie, his voice rising in tone with each syllable.
“Only that the local constabulary will be notified of these developments and I am certain that your presence will be required with them for further interview,” said Lord Highurst.
“What-ho?” responded Connie, weakly.
“Oh, Connie,” said Emily in a manner that implied disappointment.
And with that, Lord Highurst grabbed Emily by the arm and dragged her away in a scene all too familiar to Connie.
“Why, this is terrible,” Connie said, pacing about his room as Jameson looked on. “I find myself in the countryside completely de-Emilied. What am I to do?”
“All is not lost, sir.” The honking sound still persisted from the water closet. It was accompanied by a squawking noise. Connie gave it no heed as he was presently preoccupied with weightier affairs.
“Oh, Jameson, you don’t understand. They suspect me of being The Great Poultry-Snatcher. How am I ever to live this down? How will Emily accept me now?”
Jameson consulted his pocket watch.
“I believe I can bring resolution to your difficulties, sir, if you’ll accompany me to the train station. There is only one evening train that leaves for London from this station. The nine-twenty-eight awaits us.”
Although Connie was a world-class conflict-avoider, he couldn’t imagine a world where he abandoned his love. “What’s this, Jameson? Dash off like common criminals? I should say not. And to even imply such a course of action…”
“If you’ll just follow me, sir.”
“Right. Spot of tea first?”
“We really don’t have the time, sir.”
“Right. Drop of brandy, then?”
Their arrival at the train station put Connie further out onto the cliff’s edge when he noticed that the local police station was located next door.
“Et tu, Jameson?A bit of the old Turn-Your-Master-In, then, is it?”
“If you will endeavor to turn your gaze towards that direction, sir,” said Jameson, pointing indiscreetly at a fellow sitting at the train station with three large sacks resting at his feet.
“What-ho? I say, that chappy looks a bit familiar.”
“I venture he should, sir.”
Connie gave his eyes a squint. “Why, it’s Teddy Pringleglass from 43 Bond. What the deuce is he doing here?”
Suddenly, a policeman in full helmet nabbed old Teddy. There was a bit of resistance by the chef but the policeman meant business, being a country type that seemed to have been raised wrestling wild pigs and all that. Connie heard Teddy shout, “What the devil is the meaning of all this?” Which seemed, to Connie’s way of thinking, an excellent and most relevant question. The pig-wrestler and Teddy approached Connie and Jameson.
“Jameson, what is going on here?”
With a gleam in his eye, Jameson turned to Connie and whispered, “In a word, sir, turducken.”
Emily and her family were gathered at the lobby of The Rested Shepherd along with the pig-wrestler, Teddy, and, of course, Connie and Jameson.
“Now, if you please, Jameson,” insisted Lord Highurst.
“Yes, Jameson,” added Connie, “untie this knot.”
“Very well, sir. It has already been established that Mr. Pringleglass here had feelings of a romantic nature for His Lordship’s daughter. When Mr. Pringleglass’ advances were summarily rescinded, he took it upon himself to exact a revenge most foul upon your family.”
“And how exactly?” asked the pig-wrestler, still holding Teddy tight in his grasp.
“By stealing their prized poultry and serving it at his restaurant to Miss Emily’s Aunt. In one sitting.”
“One sitting?” asked Lord Highurst. “Well, I never. My sister has been known to have a bit of a chew at the cud but she could never eat three dinners at once.”
“If I may be permitted to provide further elucidation, sir?” said Jameson.
“Yes, go on.”
“Simply put, Mr. Pringleglass is an accomplished chef. When he heard of your imported turkey along with your other prized poultry, he devised a plan to make turducken. An extraordinary dish. Requiring the most committed dedication to cooking. It can take upwards of twenty hours to prepare. In summary, one removes the bones from a chicken, duck, and turkey, then stuffs the chicken into the duck and the duck into the turkey, all the while tucking savory stuffing in between. The entire affair is roasted. Then, being boneless, it is sliced crosswise, each slice revealing six concentric rings of juicy goodness.”
There was a long silence as everyone’s minds dashed to and fro between the despicable schemes of one Teddy Pringleglass and the saliva-inducing description of this tantalizing feast.
“Good show, Jameson,” said Connie, breaking the silence.
“Yes, thank you, Jameson,” said Emily. She looked away, tears in her eyes.
“Right,” said the pig-wrestler, “it’s a ten quid fine for you.” And with that, he dragged old Teddy away.
Connie approached Emily. “Dear Emily, what in heaven is the matter?”
“My animals are dead.”
“On the contrary, my lady,” said Jameson. “If you would please follow me upstairs,” he said to the young lovers. Then, turning to Emily’s parents, “With your Lordship’s permission, of course,”
“Yes, off you go,” said Emily’s father, both glad and confused at these developments.
Jameson led them to Connie’s room.
“Lady Emily,” said Jameson, “Lord Conway sent me ahead of him with instruction to be on the lookout for suspicious characters during my journey. I spied Mr. Pringleglass on my train ride here in the next compartment. Per Lord Conway’s careful instructions, his utmost concern being your welfare, I followed Mr. Pringleglass. Reporting back to Lord Conway, he soon realized the devious plans at hand. Anticipating his treachery, Lord Conway directed me to switch out your targeted fowl with lesser creatures.”
“What, what, what?” inquired Connie. “I say, Jameson, what…what did I do?”
“I believe these belong to you,” said Jameson to Emily, opening the lavatory door. Out wobbled a disoriented chicken, duck and turkey.
“Oh, Connie,” said Emily. She put her arms around him and kissed him deeply. “These animals mean more to me than anything. How did you know?”
“Well, birds of a feather.”
Daniel’s short stories have appeared in: The Wild River Review, Silverthought, The Duck and Herring Company, The American Drivel Review, Gold Dust Magazine, The Quirk, Escape Velocity, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and Midnight in Hell, among others. His short story, “Brain Takes a Sick Day,” was selected for inclusion in the Satirica anthology. His short story, “The Cobbler Cherry,” was included in the anthology, “Thank You, Death Robot,” which won a 2010 Independent Publishing Award for best science-fiction and fantasy.