Story for the Day: Dinner with Count Rosse - Pt. 2
And we continue with Count Rosse attempting to dine out without his offending anybody:
The alarming expectation of the barman’s shaking fist being held at his side silenced the hall, and the glare, the vicious glower of fury unimpeded by sense, frightened some and interested many who would see the count receive what was owed him. The barman advanced, a fist was raised, and there was a terrible pause. The musicians gaped, the dancers turned away, the waiters leapt instantly to stop what they feared must be the end of the establishment. A few gasps were heard, eyes widened and hands raised to mouths in anxious expectation, but the sudden solicitation of, “Thank you, Mittiedh, for entertaining His Grace while I was gone,” made all cautionary motions unnecessary.
The wine counted and the accounts for the morning settled, the matron had folded her papers neatly in the breastpocket of her waistcoat and mounted the stair, whereupon she heard the familiar whining tones of her most hated customer, demanding that the barman seat him. “By the Gods, no…” she breathed, instantly compounded by a thousand vexations.“Mittiedh, please don’t kill him,” she entreated, racing up the stairs, and she arrived to find the barman looming over the Count, his fist hovering, his aspect rife with unrestrained fury, with Ailish hanging around his waist, endeavouring in vain to pull him back to the bar. With all the celerity her apprehension could recommend, the matron leapt in front of the barman, shrouding his view of the Count. Her hand touched his fist, and in saying her thanks for detaining their visitor with a serious smile, the barman blinked and his calm sense of awareness began to return to him.
“I’m sure His Grace would like to be seated now,” said the matron, glaring at the barman over the rim of her spectacles.
A conscious look, a fierce smile passed between them, and the barman lowered his fist though his broad chest was still heaving.
“The wine is counted,” the matron continued, taking the paper from her pocket and placing it into the barman’s hand. “One hundred and forty seven casks for the week. You will want to keep that for the records.”
A moment passed, the barman glanced at the matron’s severe aspect and then down at the list in his hand. “Aye,” said he, somewhat bewildered, “I will so.” The touch of the paper, the felth of it, made him sensible, and calm once more, he murmured a quiet, “Thanks, Siebh,” and turned away, noting the apprehensive expressions of the waiters and musicians as he walked back to the bar.
“Please, Your Grace,” said the matron with a low bow, “do let me show you to your seat.”
She took a menu card from the stand beside her and walked past the bar into the dining room, where the musicians recommenced their tuning, the dancers began practicing their jumps and swing kicks, and patrons restores their discussions, and the count followed.
“Well,” Count Rosse exclaimed, speaking loud enough for others to hear though effecting to speak to himself, “this is all an extraordinary way of going on indeed. How can this be allowed, permitting the underservants to speak to the guests? Irregular indeed.”
It was said to garner sympathy for the sense of injustice that His Grace was feigning to suffer, but his laments only attracted a few stares. A few gapes passed between the matron and the waiters as they passed, headshakes were exchanged, secret mouthings of by the gods were shared, and the Count was shown to his table without farther incident.
“Ye o’ right, Mittiedh?” said Ailis, sidling the barman as he passed the bar stall.
The barman’s gaze drifted over to the count, who was just taking the chair pulled out for him by his servant. “One word,” he grumbled, “just one, and I won’t hold my hand the next time.”
“He’s always quiet when he eats.”
“Aye, and until then, he’s got a mouth o’ complainin’ on him. Here, take his wine to him before he starts hollarin’ for it.”
“But he said he didn’t want me near him.”
The barman scoffed. “Sure, yer’re thinkin’ he’ll remember yer face. All the coppers in my pocket says he don’t even look at ye when he orders.” He took a wooden tray down from the cabinet above, placed on it the counter, and ornamented it with a decanter of red wine, a small wooden container filled with ice, a pitcher of water, and an empty glass. “Go on, Ailis,” said he, with half a smile, “bet ye he don’t make a fuss over ye.”
|His outfit is more offensive than he can be himself|
Ailis took the tray reluctantly, but in walking to the count’s table, she found that the barman’s conjectures were pretty correct: His Grace sat languidly in his chair, his servant arranging everything about the table, placing the flowers, the salt, the napkins, the utensils, and even the menu card in just such a way as his master preferred, while Rosse studied the dinner choices and hummed in deliberation over whether he should have the salmon or the chicken. The tray was put down, and instantly the count’s servant took up the wine and water, and she waited to be shooed away from the table or to be changed out for another waitress, but the count only asked “And what is the special?” without turning to her.
“This afternoon is the Ailineighdaeth special, Yer Grace,” she announced, still waiting to be told to leave every moment. “Braised chicken breast stuffed with fried onion, Glaoustre blue cheese sauce over, and garlic mash and vegetables beside.”
He pursed his lips, asculating while perusing the other choices one last time, and once his wine was put into his hand, he said a terse, “Yes, that will do,” thrust the menu card at her, and enjoyed a slow delibation without turning to her.
Ailis was astonished, too astonished to leave the table directly. “Would His Grace prefer to keep the card for a dessert?” said she, still wondering whether she would be sent away.
Here was a pause. “No,” said the count, in a careless hue. He waved her on, tossing a hand behind him whilst looking at the stage ahead. “I’ll choose later. You may go,” and he sipped his wine and remarked the quaintness of the musicians’ clothes, and Ailis was encouraged away from the table by the count’s servant, who seemed just as disposed as the count himself could be to disregard her.
“Ten coppers in my pocket,” said Mittiedh, when Ailis returned to him at the bar. “That’s how much ye’ll be owin’ me when the afternoon’s out.”
“Well,” Ailis sighed, “suppose I should be happy he didn’t holler at me. We’ll see what happens when I bring the bread to him.”
The count’s order was placed, and all the necessary accountriments of dried bacon rashers, complementary black tea, toasted cheese, warmed butter, and a brown cottage loaf were conveyed to the table. Before Ailis could offer to slice and butter the bread, the count’s attendant, with knife in hand, chiseled through the greater part of the loaf, making her presence superfluous. She turned to go when the count called her back with, “The wine hasn’t been chilled properly.”
Ailis’ eyes darted anxiously about. “Pardon, Yer Grace, but there’s the ice there—“
“And you expect me to put it into the wine?”
“No, Yer Grace, just to put the decanter on it if yer wantin’ the wine a bit colder.”
Count Rosse snuffed. “Clearly you understand nothing about wine. It must be chilled at least an hour before being brought to table.”
Ailis had little idea about any of what the Count deemed as appropriate; wine was always chilled before being proffered to patrons, but the Count, she observed, was in a humour for confrontation, and she gave up the point, said a humble “I’ll tell the barman, Yer Grace,” and hastened away before the count could turn to look at her.
The count watched her go, tapered his gaze as though trying to remember something, and then began inspecting the other waitress as they whirred by. “Is every servant so vulgar in this place?” said Rosse, gesticulating with his tumbler. “I cannot remember everyone looking so coarse and speaking as though they belong in a stables. And the costumes have grown so shabby and the women so slatternly.”
A few ladies at a nearby table eyed the count over their shoulders, and the count’s attendant smiled nervously and wished that his master would be a little less candid while there were others within hearing who might take offense.