Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Curacao 10: "Daffodils, Dikes and Demographics"

Bernard Jeffries gripped the heavy draperies that shielded the governor's boudoir from the unforgiving illumination of a bright Caribbean afternoon. Attired conservatively in the most expensive clothes, ten years out of date, he looked every inch the gentleman's gentleman. This was, of course, one of the many requirements for employment in the household staff to the right honorable Governor of Curacao.

At thirty-five years of age, Jeffries was ten years his master's junior, but to all the world he gave the appearance of an exasperated and deeply disappointed grandfather. Every word spoken by Jeffries was carefully chosen for accuracy and effect – and uttered with such deadpan delivery that one couldn’t truly blame the listener for being lulled into the false impression of benign obeisance instead of seeing this manservant’s demeanor for what it actually was - scathing social commentary.

Jeffries took a deep breath before parting the heavy curtains – like the Biblical renting of the veil to the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple, only without so much holiness. As the upholstery was whipped to the sides, a cloud of dust high above – toward the curtain rings – took flight and caught the in-rushing sunlight, giving the appearance of a storm on the horizon. Jeffries drew a crisp white handkerchief from his pocket and covered his nose and mouth as he moved through the descending cloud toward his master’s bedside.

“Bloody! Bloody! Bloody! Blood-Blood!” the half sleeping governor cried out as he cringed, vampire-like, under the light of day.

“And a good morning to you as well, your lordship.” Jeffries spoke through his linen mask.

After a few more moments of moaning and thrashing about, Governor Roelof Van Wubbeldinker crinkled up his corpulent face, using the jutting rolls of fat from his brow and cheeks to shield his eyes from the sun – then, settling down a bit, turned to his butler; “I thought we’d agreed that you’d refer to me as, ‘Your Royal Highness!’ didn’t we?”

“No, your lordship.” Jeffries replied as he began laying out the governor’s clothes for the day. “We agreed after some rather vigorous attempts on my part to explain how one might address various members of the English aristocracy from His Royal Highness, the King on downward until we reached the Viscount Beaumont. We drew a firm line around the Royal Family, but I acquiesced to addressing you as, Your Lordship because you were not keen on, ‘Your Indolent Puffiness.’”

“Ah, yes! The Viscount Beaumont! That’s the one that cleans out the king’s water closet!” Van Wubbeldinker declared with undeserved self-assuredness as he rolled back on his bed and extended his legs in the air while waiting for his man to help him into his trousers.

Jeffries sighed. “Not so, your lordship. He was, in point of fact, chief advisor to the Royal Privy Council … I believe you have that role confused with something else altogether.” After sliding the knee britches as far as he could, he now stood at the end of the governor’s legs – ‘His Lordship’s’ feet in his face and waited for the royal ass to lift his royal ass.

“Blimey!” the governor blurted, with a well-practiced cockney accent as he placed his stocking feet on Jeffries’ shoulders and lifted his bottom to allow his pants to be pulled up properly – by someone else. “I do love you English! I love your tea and crumpets! I love your fancy wigs! I love how you say funny words! I love how you cut off your kings’ and queens’ heads when you tire of them! I just love everything about you!”

“And we, as a people, are frightfully fond of our Dutch brethren as well, Your Lordship.”

“Really Jiffy?”

Jefferies always sighed when the governor called him, “Jiffy.” But he comforted himself in the knowledge that he would repay him with one hundred secretly snotty remarks for every infraction of the “Don’t call me, ‘Jiffy’ rule.”

“Most assuredly, Your Lordship.” Jeffries added, “Every word I say, by definition, has a ring of truth about it.”

“I do so hate to press the point, here, Jiffy. But what exactly do you English like about us Dutch?”

Jefferies wasn’t accustomed to the governor being so conversational this early in the afternoon. He had, of course, never given any thought to what he, or any other English person, might like about the Dutch as people or Holland as a place. But having made his “ring of truth” statement, he felt the need to improvise something.



“Yes, Your Lordship. Daffodils. Splendid flower. Lovely colors yet not overly insistent in bouquet. Adorable to look at, yet not intrusive, they’re hardy but seasonal – not one to overstay their welcome – like the Dutch themselves.”

“Daffodils?” Roelof Van Wubbeldinker was not the brightest daffodil in the bouquet, but he did have a keen sense when someone was “taking the piss.” Bernard Jefferies was aware of this fact, which made his pastime of mockery enough of an intellectual exercise to keep things interesting. He could read his master’s doubt – he had to think fast.

“And dikes.”


“World class dike system, milord! A feat of engineering not seen on this planet since the Great Pyramid of Cheops! I think I speak for English people everywhere when I say that we would gladly trade a thousand Stonehenges for one sturdy Dutch dike!”

Van Wubbeldinker moved in close to Bernard Jefferies and began to sniff – presumably for alcohol – but couldn’t smell any but the remains of last evening’s revels seeping out of his own skin.

“Yes.” He finally agreed. “We do have the best dikes in the world!”

With that momentary conversational hurdle out of the way, Jefferies slipped a big blousy shirt over Van Wubbeldinker’s head and guided the governor’s flailing arms to the appropriate arm holes.

“What do you think of my bride-to-be, Jiffy?”

“I think of her as Swedish, milord.”

“Sink me, Jiffy! I haven’t the foggiest what in blazes you mean by that!” Van Wubbeldinker’s famous morning grumpiness was showing.

“Your lordship asks me what I think of your lordship’s betrothed, but all I know of her is that she is a countess and that she is Swedish. You have a prisoner awaiting execution that is also Swedish, but I daresay the world knows a great deal more about him than your intended.”

“What-what, Jiffy?!?” Van Wubbeldinker’s tone was now that of an offended royal dandy. “Would you have me go traipsing about all moon-eyed over a dilapidated old Swedish pirate? Is THAT who you think I should marry?!”

“I would not dream to either interfere or pass a moral judgment on your lordship’s peccadilloes and proclivities. I was simply illustrating that in a world scant with Swedes, you seem as enthusiastic about hanging a well-known one on the gallows as you do about hanging on unknown one about your own neck.”

And then it came.

The laugh. The tittering, high-voiced, clucking of a laugh that haunted Bernard Jefferies’ nightmares. It was a laugh so insipid in sound as to make Buddhist monks long to choke the life out of Golden Retriever puppies. This was Governor Roelof Van Wubbeldinker’s signature laugh and, to his servant’s ears, the single most evil event in the history of the world. With every humorous occurrence, the soul of humanity died just a little.

After a few moments of cackling, Van Wubbledinker wiped the accompanying tears from his eyes and sighed.

“Jiffy, old bean! You make me laugh! Not only do you look after me like a mother hen – protecting me from foreign ‘chicks’ that may seek to do me harm – but you concern yourself with my popularity amongst the ever-important, ‘Swedish pirate demographic!’ And when I say, ‘ever-important’ I mean that in an ironic way.”

“Yes, your lordship.” Jeffries bowed in acknowledgment, not feeling the need to have the sarcasm explained, but knowing it would be anyway.

The governor continued. “Because it’s NOT an important demographic.” He paused. “Swedish pirates, that is.”

“No, your lordship.”

“Because, old chum, there’s only ONE of them! That’s not what I would call a proper DEMOGRAPHIC, now, would you?”

“Certainly not, your lordship.”

“And come my wedding day, it won’t be a DEMOGRAPHIC at all.” He paused again – waiting for his manservant to catch his drift before actually saying why it wouldn’t matter. Seeing no visible recognition on Jeffries’ stoic face, he continued … “Because I will be HANGING the ENTIRE DEMOGRAPHIC that day! Along with a good many others.”

“Of course, your lordship.” Jeffries now paused himself before advancing his argument. “But begging your lordship’s pardon, he is a popular figure in one other, more substantial demographic.”

As enthusiastically as Roelof Van Wubbeldinker liked educating his subordinates on the inner workings of his mind, he disliked learning things that might otherwise interfere with his world view. Still, out of politeness, he asked Jeffries the obvious question;

“Which demographic might that be?”

Pirates. Your lordship.”

The governor scrunched up his face to register his complete lack of comprehension.

Bernard Jeffries explained, “By now, the periodical of record for the pirate populace – Pirattitude Monthly – has …”

“Is that the one with the hot, little, saucy …?” here Van Wubbeldinker ran out of words and resorted to crude gestures with his hands – forming the shape of breasts over his chest area and making what can only be described as an “orgasmic face,” if that orgasm was being experienced by a dim-witted, obese, orangutan with a lazy eye.

Jeffries sighed again pausing only long enough to wonder if, without these sighs of exasperation, he would even bother to breathe at all.

“If I’m not mistaken, I believe your lordship is referring to the ‘Page Three Wenches’ which I am led to believe is a popular feature amongst the ‘rutting pig’ demographic. I, of course, read it for the articles which are well written and insightful. And this month’s issue has an article on our Mr. Hamnquist and your decision to make his demise an ornamental addition to the nuptial festivities.”

“Sink me, Jeffries! I have no idea who this Hamnquist fellow is and what this month’s Page Three Wench has to do with anything! You’re going to have to communicate more clearly if you ever hope to advance yourself in society!”

Another sigh.

“Your lordship’s admonition is touching. Let me be succinct, then, in my concerns. You are going to hang Mr. Hamnquist – the Swedish pirate of whom we spoke earlier – on your wedding day. This has been widely publicized. Other pirates may use this as an opportunity to attack our island, or at the very least, make mischief for you on the happiest day of your life.”

“Christmas?!?” asked a gleeful governor – brimming with hope.

“Your wedding day.” Jeffries corrected.

“Ah, yes!” the governor regained his composure as he sat in front of the mirror to put on his powdered wig. “But this could work to our advantage, Jiffy … don’t you see?”

Jeffries carefully placed the hairpiece on top of his master’s head and adjusted it slightly in the mirror. “I await your lordship’s illumination.”

“We’re lacking the numbers for a proper mass hanging. How shall I impress my bride to be with my limitless power if I can’t snuff out a substantial amount of lives as a wedding gift? But if we manage to get some dunder-headed pirates to deliver themselves up to our brand of justice … like mice to the trap and our Swedish pirate as the cheese … SWISS CHEESE!”

“Swiss cheese is from Switzerland, your lordship.”

“Well, what kind of cheese comes from Sweden, damn your eyes!”

“That would be ‘head cheese,’ your lordship.”

“Very well! But you get my meaning, don’t you? We may have a splendid mass hanging for my lovely bride yet!” With that, Roelof Van Wubbeldinker presented his face for powdering. As Bernard Jeffries applied the powder with a puff on the end of a stick he acknowledged, “Your plan does have potential, your lordship.”

“That’s why I’m the governor and you, mister sassy britches, are nothing more than a governess.”

For a moment, Jeffries thought to correct the governor’s misuse of the English language – but as he powdered his master’s face thought that it was accidentally apt.

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