some times usurpers of hospitality prove more intriguing than invited guest


The substitute guest by M.A.Meddings

THE SUBSTITUTE GUEST

BY M. A. MEDDINGS.




I am loath these days, since being invited to an evening of light entertainment held last fall, to buy items, more specifically old chairs, at auction. Should I give the impression, that I never speculate in that area, then it would be misleading. I do however, reserve bids these days, to those sales organised by reputable auction houses, since they are more able to provide accurate provenance, on the lots for sale.
My reticence to speculate openly, has a bearing upon the events of an evening I spent with a group of friends quite recently., at which quite a interesting episode took pride of place.
On the evening in question, the 'Eve of all Hallows', a colleague, with whom I've long acquaintance, invited close friends and their partners of choice to a 'soiree'. The gathering, a fancy dress dinner party, arranged so that each incumbent of an invitation, either sang for their supper, or recounted a tale of appropriate foreboding, was an enjoyable affair, with all but a couple of guests providing a level of amusement to the whole proceedings.
For my part, I gave full vent to my powers of narration, and to my relief, extricated a healthy platter as reward. Whereupon, having quaffed a sound measure of Port, I sank into a short yet involuntary sleep in the library. Upon awakening and rejoining the party who had all re assembled in the study, and having sought and kindly received forgiveness; for my abject rudeness, I was astonished to see a new face amongst the assembled group.
The face in question, was unknown to all except an absentee guest known as Jonas Keynes, and who, as a brief business acquaintance of our host, had inveigled his way into invitation, yet had, inexplicably declined at the last minute. He had however, under appropriate proxy, so we were told, sought sanction for a reserve guest, to attend in his stead.
The substitute guest, who had assumed his welcome without confirmation, was considered by most, though for good grace, they hardly declared it, to be an insurgent to an otherwize amicable gathering. Yet, in just cause I readily admit, he did latterly bring to the circle, a breath of life, when matters were at their lowest.
The uninvited guest, for I shall refer to him thus, was apparently, gainfully employed as an auctioneer's porter. Whence it was his duty to arrange for the collection and subsequent delivery, of those items ultimately bartered through his employers' rooms. As such, so he confided, there were ample opportunities, to make 'safe', certain of the smaller lots of 'object das'.
He was so it seemed, for all intents and purpose, an unrepentant thief. A person who stayed one step ahead of the law, by pure subterfuge. Chance ill luck he told us, however, had most recently delivered him into the realms of natural justice. A quite unwarranted intrusion he felt, into an otherwise illustrious career, that he described as,
' The equitable distribution of wealth good people, the equitable distribution of wealth'!
It was in essence, the classical excuse of the brigand, save that; as always, the sanctity of private endeavour, was not respected. The man was plainly a leach, but out of regard for my hosts good order, I kept close my counsel, thus allowing the usurper full reign in his narrative.
Some years ago it seems, he had been employed by a well-known auction house in the West of England. There, having access, to a range of substantial rural properties, offered at auction, he saw opportunities to conduct, 'business' in his own right, through subtle falsification of the appropriate inventory.
One such enterprise, led him dutifully, to a property at the edge of Exmoor, owned by an Exeter businessman and his family. They had been in residence but a few months and had decided to rid themselves of some of the less spectacular artefacts, stored in a loft over a separate and well-appointed stable block.
The property in question, had previously been let to tenant farmers under the name of Collingswood, 'In Gratis' so to speak, for services rendered during the Civil war. Such service, had earned the specific obligation from a Colonel of the Parliamentry force by the name De Montcery, Adjutant to, and close friend of General Ireton himself.
As a senior officer on Iretons staff, the good Colonel had seen action at Newbury where he had fought stoically to hold the line with a stiff rear guard, whilst Cromwell consolidated the East.
De Montcery, was ultimately allowed his momernt in history , by the timely intervention of John Collingswood, who, having led his troupe valiantly, skirted the ramparts of Donnington to the North of the town , and came upon a weary yet stubborn enemy under the cover of night. His initial muster at daybreak, caught the foe unawares and the day was all but won.
Colonal De Montcery was eternally thankful, and allowed Collingswood and his heirs thereafter, free tenancy to the Exmoor estate, they already farmed. His gratitude elevated the hard working yeomen, into the ranks of gentry, and they did, through constant hard labour, extend their wealth and influence throughout the district..
As the Collingswood fortune grew, so too did their collection of fine artefacts , including substantial pieces of period furniture; paintings and other objects of virtue. Ultimately the Collingswoods became known for their patronage of the arts, and received with due deference, the apt distinction for their kindly support of the local community.
With that accolade however, they suffered, the all not too unfamiliar reward of the successful, a degree of envy from certain parties amongst their peers. Non more so, than the bitterness and spite with which, the spawn of the family DeMontcery faced the future.
Heir apparent, Hugo DeMontcery, had non of his fathers' kindly instincts. He was by nature, a Blaggard; who after his father's death, used the latent anarchy that followed, to conduct a reign of terror on the outlying communities of the moor. Any that resisted, were put to the sword and their property confiscated in the name of the Lord Protector. It was, essentially, little more than a 'protection' racket, no less violent than any seen throughout the history of this land, and one given credence by the oppressive prohibition, of fine property wrought by the Puritans.
One house however, stood firm, that of Collingswood! Thus the evil Hugo found his activities curtailed within that area of the moor controlled by the Collingswood family. He determined however, that he would eventually have his day. The upstart brood, that held his inheritance in perpetuity, would be dealt with.
A chance examination of the faith by authorities appointed in the name of the Commonwealth, gave Hugo his opportunity. It had been decreed, by local council, that all property; deemed unworthy of Christian 'atonement' was henceforth, confiscated. Resistance was a crime against the state, and as such; since the state was vested in the name of the Lord, that resistance was by nature heretical. The incumbents therefore, were liable to purgatory, on the torturer's rack.
The decree legalised the DeMontcery reign of terror. The evil brood rode at will; until vile excuse, gave Hugo his head. He saw an opportunity of reclaiming his rightful inheritance. He would brand The Collingswood upstarts as heretics, for their illicit retaining of 'proscribed' works of art. As senior landowner within the region, he had a duty to raise a militia to collect, and if necessary imprison, any who dared resist. He knew that Collingswood honour, would ensure defence of all property, the trap was thus set.
At an appointed hour, the pestilent horde, bore down on the Collingswood house, where they ransacked those items of property deemed to infringe the authorities decree. They in turn were taken for ultimate destruction at the behest of the examiner general, who would if required bear witness in the trial of John Collingswood for high treason.
Yet Collingswood honour would allow no surrender. The family, led by John himself fought to the last and they eventually perished in the ruins of the East wing, put to the torch by DeMontcery and his men. At the penultimate point of the skirmish, John Collingswood, severely wounded by a musket ball in the knee, retreated to the main hall of the house. There, sat in a Jacobean Oak carver, he defended his realm to the last, swearing as he did so, to die where he sat. He was true to that promise. Rather than surrender title to scoundrels acting in the name of the church, he fought like a demon, until exhausted, he fell back into the sanctuary of his favourite chair.
Hugo De Montcery, answered that defiance with a blade thrust into his chest. The force of which, took the point of the rapier clear through the rib cage and into the back of the chair. There, it struck one of the runners of the 'ladder back', cutting a fine groove, quite distinctively where the grain swept up to the edge of the rail. It would remain there for eternity, as evidence of a horrendous and bloody murder. A murder, that eventually, would be avenged.
Every barbarian takes trophies of war, and Hugo DeMontcery was true to the tribe. He too would claim his trophy, in the guise of the Old Jacobean chair where Collingswood fell. Thus, he made haste to his family seat, with the spoils of victory, where it held pride of place within the confines of the great hall. Regal and proud, shining in black defiance at the head of the table, where the master might sit.
Some say that Hugo DeMontcery never took comfort in the confines of that chair! It was said, that nightly, having taken late of his supper, he retired in drunken debauchery, to the great hall, where he sat on a trestle bench, staring into the heart of the chair until daybreak gave relief to his trauma. And, there are those, DeMontcery house servants in the main, who, would repeat the tale, that the Master in drunken ravings, relived nightly, the evil deeds he committed at Collingswood. Those ravings it was said, were accompanied, by the vivid sound of the clash of steel upon steel, and the defiant vows of John Collingswood to die where he sat.
DeMontcery failed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his birth! He died, by his own hand on a sword, taken from the defenders at Collingswood and brought into use, but again, to pierce the heart of the scoundrel.
As to the chair? Our uninvited guest, found it amongst the remnants of the stable block he was bound to clear. Thus, having made the illicit adjustments to the inventory, he was able to purloin it and ultimately sell it into the profitable keeping of Jonas Keynes, who, subsequently; sold it on to an equally unsuspecting client.
At the conclusion of the tale, the usurper of our hospitality chose to leave; and wishing to delay him no further; for most of us found his moral's offensive in the least, I offered to see him safely to the door. Once there, he collected his hat and cape, such a flamboyant an attire as any I had seen, that I felt bound to compliment him on his choice of tunic and accoutrement. My host's invitation had specified fancy dress as optional, yet, non but the uninvited guest, took him literally. What a parcel of kill joys we were for all that?
Having afforded him the shelter of the porch to don his hat; a broad brimmed black slouch, with a large buckled hat band, I bid him god speed and returned to the gathering. The subject of conversation as I entered the room, one might imagine.
'Who was he?' said one.
'Had Jonas notified us that he might want to introduce a substitute?' said another.
'Wasn't he a trifle over dressed?' said yet another. 'I mean, who would dare! Be seen in the street dressed like that these days. And! After all he never did tell us his name, did he'?
'John, I believe I heard him say', said our host, 'but that could have come from anywhere. He just assumed he was welcome did he not? The cheek of some people! How could he present himself like that? And without never so much as a by your leave, dump himself in my chair for the whole of the evening. Who let him in anyway?'
There was no answer! Each of the remaining guests looked from one to the other, and thence to me.
'Don't look at me' I said, 'if you recall I was asleep when he arrived. You had all retired to the study, when I came round; therefore, one of your good selves must have allowed him in'.
They looked from one to another in suspicious silence. Then, one by one, they realised their mistake. The visitor must have come in off the street unannounced, gone into the study, and made himself comfortable in our hosts favourite chair. It was only when they found him, sipping our host's wine did the 'knave' announce himself. Naturally, one assumed that our host had escorted him there. Apparently not!
'Whatever,' said our host, 'I shall speak to Jonas on the morrow, and advise him to choose his friends more carefully. Such cheek! Such arrogance! Mind you; I suppose one needs arrogance, to flaunt oneself through the streets dressed like that, even in fancy dress. And another thing! I'll thank him to remind the 'blighter' to keep out of my chair in future; after all I've only just bought it. You would have thought it was his own, the way he behaved'.
The assemblage of guests broke down into good hearted laughter as the Port decanter was passed round. I let it pass through. I was for the time being engrossed in the details of a bill of sale tossed carelessly onto the side board. It read.

JONAS KEYNES AND Co

FINE ART AUCTIONEERS

ONE - JACOBEAN OAK CARVER SLIGHT DAMAGE
TO BACK RAIL. 10/ -

It was signed by Jonas Keynes in favour of my host, for the consideration noted. It was a bargain I am sure. Except for a rather nasty gash to one of the back rails. Yet as I pointed out to my friend. It was repairable, if one saw fit. I thought however, upon reflection; the damage such as it was, added some character, to what after all, was really only a minor period piece.
I am reliably informed by letter this day, that Jonas Keynes, would never grant proxy in his stead. That if he were to even consider such a substitution he would always check personally with the prospective host, the validity of such substitution. He had not of late found it necessary to councel such changes in his social , Itinery.





Short story by lastromantichero The PoetBay support member heart!
Read 645 times
Written on 2005-12-12 at 11:16

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Rune Ljungberg
I love this story and not least the beautiful
English.
2006-03-24


penfold18
An excellent piece of litrature,kept me intrigued from start to finish well done mike :-))
2005-12-12