In my job you get to hear many a thing you sometimes wish you hadn’t. Not that I hold with Poll’s opinion that those who listen at keyholes only hear ill of themselves. For a start, I don’t stoop so low as to listen at doors (my dodgy back wouldn’t let me, even if my conscience would!) But sometimes I find myself having to deal with the gripper rods for the carpet and naturally will be on my knees by the door frame. Or I may be passing a window and notice the curtains are not drawn to my satisfaction. If I happen to pause to adjust them opposite a slightly open door, such is life.
And I have never overheard ill of myself, just things which intrigue me. You can imagine that cries along the lines of, “If you must put that there, please could you warm it first,” are fairly common on club premises and nary and eyebrow gets raised at them. But how is a man to sleep without his mind boiling over at the meaning of, “I’ll only do that if you put the porcupine down and butter both the crumpets”? Especially when it’s heard from Lord Anthony’s room at three in the morning.
I’ve heard many a secret spoken, too, particularly when my gentlemen (gentlemen? My elbow. Gang of dumpling munching, swagger stick clasping lubricators!) are in the midst of a commission from Her Majesty. That’s when my discretion and loyalty to Queen(s) and country comes in.
Anyway, Poll has said to me many a time that my big ears (slurry boats, she calls them, going round picking up all the filth) would get me into trouble one day. Of course, she was right, as I found out yesterday. I was passing Spence’s room, when I heard Poll – my Poll! – saying, in a breathless voice, “Spence, take off my shawl.”
Can you blame me for breaking my rule, stopping and listening some more? Can you blame me for being horrified when I then heard her say, “Spence, take off my dress”?
I was quite winded, rooted to the spot and unable to determine a suitable course of action when I heard, “Spence, take off my corset.”
That propelled me into battle. I was about to burst through the door and challenge the cad to a duel for seducing my fine gal, when Poll herself came storming out. Face red, eyes blazing, a pile of garments in her arms, fully dressed, and saying over her shoulder, “And if I catch you wearing my clothes again, Spence, there’ll be hell to pay and no pitch hot!”
As I hid behind the door. in case I should be unjustly accused of snooping, my heart soared in relief. What a woman…