A Man Should Know His Place

"A gentleman is someone who does not what he wants to do, but what he should do."

- Haruki Murakami


He wasn't wallowing: far from it. He just enjoyed watching football in the dark, the curtains pulled against the hateful light of the day, in his pants and beloved Leeds United jersey. So what if his dressing gown was starting to look a little tatty? A man was entitled to dribble his egg if he liked, wasn't he? And so what if he used his sleeve to wipe the butter knife? That was normal. No man had any right to be formal in his pajamas. Well, pants, but he slept in them just the same, so the point was still valid.

Bloody Nester and his Looks.

The man was so formal; so starchy. Someone had lodged a stick so far up his arse that it had taken root and grown into a ram-rod straight spine. The man constantly stood to attention, his held just so in insolent pride; his chin high and kept there through the combined might of disdain and a distinctly stiff upper lip; looking down his noble nose at all and sundry.

And under that look, the Captain felt young. And not the cool kind of young either: the devil-may-care, let's-break-the-rules kind of young. It was more like the caught-speaking-out-of-turn-on-your-first-day-of-B ig-School young. The Captain felt almost helpless, like a child, and he had to remind himself: By thunder, NO! I am not a child. I am a man grown - older even than my own father was when he died, God rest him - and I will not feel like an unwelcome guest in my own house!

The door opened. It was almost at the end of the first half, so the Captain risked a glance away from the television screen. "Yes?" he asked brusquely.

"Sir, telephone call for you." Nestor calmly approached the sofa and offered the telephone up. It was lying - damn him! - on a silver tray. It looked like a sacrifice to the god of communication. "It's Mr Tintin."

The Captain took the phone and resisted the urge to slip a fifty into Nestor's breast pocket. That was another thing: he always felt like tipping Nestor, but couldn't quite figure out why. Not that it mattered at the minute: he'd left his wallet in his trousers. "Tintin? You there?"

"Yes, I'm here."

"Anything the matter lad?" The Captain watched out of the corner of his eye as Nestor retreated wordlessly from the room. That was an exercise in futility too: he was positive that Nestor just listened outside the door anyway.

"No, No, I just called to see how you are."

"Oh, I'm fine. What about yourself? Coming up here any time soon?"

"Probably. Did you hear from the social worker?"

"Oh, aye. I meant to tell you: she'll be up in about two weeks, I think. I wrote it all down. It's on a Friday so it should be easy to organize."

"Ah, good. And, er, your other problem?" Tintin had been treated to the Captain's views on Nestor. At great length.

"Bah. He's impossible." The Captain waved his hand dismissively, though his friend couldn't see the gesture. "I'm at my wit's end. Blistering barnacles, I've never seen such... disapproval in all my life. And I've done some mad stuff in my time."

"I can well believe it," Tintin said honestly. "Look, I've been thinking about it: why don't you meet him half-way?"

"Half-way?" The Captain sounded outraged. "Why should I? This is my house, by thunder, and I shan't" -

"Captain, please, just hear me out. I'm not asking you to... become a country squire or anything. I'm not talking about quilted smoking jackets and monocles. I'm asking you to take a step back and look at things from Nestor's point of view."

The Captain tutted. "There you go again, being all fair-minded."

Tintin laughed. "I guess it's my curse. But Marlinspike, as you know, was in disrepair for a great many years. The old owner was too old to keep the house looking well, and didn't have the money to do any renovations or hire any staff. By the end, he was living in three or four rooms, and the rest of the house was piled high with litter and hoarded rubbish."

"How do you know that?" the Captain asked curiously.

"Nestor told me. I asked him about it shortly after you moved in. He said that when the Bird brothers bought the house, they left it up to him to set the place back to rights. He was in charge of everything, from cleaning the house itself from top to bottom to clearing the land and planning the lawns and grounds. It took him a long time to put everything right. He's worked hard bringing it from an almost-derelict wreck to a country estate."

"Huh. I suppose," the Captain said with a grunt.

"He put himself into it, heart and soul, and the first thing you did was start redecorating. All his hard work" -

"But I've the money to do it properly now!" the Captain burst out.

"I know," Tintin said soothingly. "So why not include him? He knows what a country house is supposed to look like and he's bursting with ideas. With the money to back it, you could both bring Marlinspike into the 21st century and restore it to a working country estate. And he's really not that bad once you get to know him. Frosty, yes, and definitely formal, but that will change once you get to know him and you both settle into each other's company a little more. I have every faith that he will be just as devoted to you as he was to his previous masters. But you must meet him half-way."

"Trust you to make sense," the Captain said sulkily.

Tintin laughed again. "I hope it all works out for you. Marlinspike could be a wonderful asset to the local community" -

"So what do country gents do?" the Captain asked suddenly.

Tintin was silent as he thought about it. "I'm not sure," he said at last. "I don't really know. Some donate their land a couple of times a year, for festivals and fairs and other good causes" -

"No, no, what do they do?"

"Honestly: I'm not sure! With all the land you have, I'm sure you could work with graduates from the farming colleges, and put in place an organic program to" -

"Horses!"

- "promote... What?"

"Classic cars. Big, fancy cars..."

"I... you've lost me."

"Hunting. Balls!"

"Hunting balls?" Tintin asked with growing alarm.

"That's what rich toffs do," the Captain declared.

"Hunt balls?" There were two scenarios running through Tintin's head. One involved a room full of well-dressed gentlemen searching for a hidden tennis ball, while the other was less whimsical. And less pleasant to think about.

"You know," the Captain said chidingly. "Hunting: horses and hounds and foxes and the like."

"Oh, running an exhausted animal into the ground before a pack of baying hounds tears it limb from limb?"

"Details, details! Coo! You've given me some great ideas, lad. Thanks, I really appreciate it." On the television screen, the picture changed from the talking heads of the football pundits in their studio to the pitch, and the players filing back out for the second half. He clamped the phone to his ear with his shoulder and searched among the cushions for the remote control. "I'll text that date to you, yeah?" he added distractedly.

"Date? What date?" Tintin asked, confused by the sudden change in the conversation.

"Blistering barnacles, Tintin, keep up, will you?" The Captain sounded amused. "That's why you rang in the first place, yes? The social worker?"

"I... Yes, but" -

"Like I said, I got it all written down somewhere," the Captain continued, interrupting his young friend. "Look, the footie's back on so I'll dig it out after and text it to you."

"Fine, but" -

"And I'll call you in the next day or so," the Captain finished.

"Yes, yes, but about the other thing," Tintin said quickly.

"Great, I'll talk to you then." The Captain hung up and took the extra precaution of turning off the wireless handset before tossing it away. It floomp!-ed into the cushions of an armchair and sank without a trace. Blistering barnacles, he thought to himself, some people can talk for hours if you give them half a chance! He turned the sound up on the television, and settled back, his arms folded across his chest and his feet resting comfortably on the coffee table, and waited.

Seconds ticked by, but the Captain couldn't allow himself to relax back into the match. Not yet.

The door clicked as it opened, and Nestor entered as unobtrusively as possible. He swiftly located the phone in its nest of cushions and retreated as wordlessly as he had arrived.

Now the Captain unwound and settled into the football. He must listen outside the door, he thought furiously. How else would he know when I'm finished? I know he's listening... By thunder, I'll catch him one of these days..


Author's Note: set between Red Rackham's Treasure and The Seven Crystal Balls. The football mentioned here is actual football, not American football.

I'm half-tempted to litter this particular series with the Captain attempting to catch Nestor out. Y'know, hiding the phone or opening doors/hiding himself away in order to catch Nestor listening at the doors. And thanks for the reviews & comments.