By Dan Power, with commentary from Matt Tattersall
We find ourselves in the cavernous library of Hoddington Hall. An acre of woodland was cleared to build this place, and probably an acre more to line the walls with literature. The Lord of the manor believes that there can be no décor more prestigious than books. In the far corner of this library we find two plush red armchairs, rudely separated by a table. It is on these armchairs where we shall park ourselves, and watch the action unfold.
Look now, at the opposite end of the room, here comes the young Lord. A cloud of dust heralds his entry – for months the heavy oak doors have remained undisturbed. The Lord lays a cloth over one of the studying tables, and lights a lamp. Now he is clutching a creased dining shirt. The shirt looks to be made of very fine material, perhaps a silk.
For the first time in his life, the Lord Humphrey Hoddington is ironing. No sooner has he flattened a crease here than another sprouts up over there, and when the new crease had been defeated an array of fresh ripples form directly beneath it. The Lord’s arm roves wildly up and down the shirt. In frustration he drives the iron here and there, intermittently dropping it off the table and scuffing the fine varnish on the floor. Every now and then the iron comes into contact with Lord Humphrey’s fingers, and when it does so, his howls of pain echo through all the empty spaces of this old, vast hall.
It is said that the young Lord, who is renowned for his jovial nature and ready wit, has become rather humourless in recent days. At social events he has appeared dishevelled, distant, and shabbily clothed. One rumour claims he was cast out of Lady Windermere’s Winter Soirée for drinking half her estate’s Sangria, then bedding down at the edge of the ballroom. Another declares that he arrived at Baroness Beetroot’s Birthday Ball utterly inebriated, urinated in the cloakroom, stole silverware from the kitchens, and then, once he’d finally been ejected from the party, got into a tussle with a gang of local geese. Observe now the red marks on Lord Humphrey’s forearms – from this great distance, they might easily be taken for geesebites.
You may be wondering why Lord Humphrey chooses to iron in the library. The answer to this is simple: six nights ago, fire damage has claimed the entire east-wing of the building, including the servant’s quarters and laundry rooms. The timing of this fire was most unfortunate, since it occurred during one of Humphrey’s famous celebrations, known around the county for their excessive amounts of, ah, shall we say recreational substance, youthful fondling, and what have you. The guests departed soberly, and have yet to return. Among them was rumoured to be the notoriously wealthy (and notoriously single) Lady Joanna of Jottington Manor.
After the blaze, in protest of the young Lord’s reckless disregard, the long-suffering serving staff quit. They told Humphrey he would amount to nothing, that he was only half the Lord his father had been. This was the real tragedy – you see, a young Lord, when orphaned so young, grows rather to depend upon his waiting staff. They become his carers, his cleaners, his security. Now Humphrey is alone. The halls of this once vibrant estate are charred black and silent. The house’s heart has beat its last. And yet here, in the old family library, with each sudden movement sparking life into the air, Lord Humphrey Hoddington is ironing a shirt to impress the Lady Joanna.