The inner life of Baines


As the tale of Maud and Beelzebub continues to get wildly out of hand, maidservant Baines is getting strange ideas…

“Dust that gewgaw, Baines. As you can see, I am slumped on the chaise-longue, listless and enervated, taking dainty sips from a china cup of what I am given to understand our Irish cousins call a ’tisane o’ the morning’. It is morning, is it not? Oftentimes my nerves are so shattered that I have not the foggiest idea what time it is. That you nod your head would suggest it is indeed morning, if that was a nod and not one of those involuntary spasms to which you are prey when the effects of the opium are wearing off. It being the morning, why in the name of heaven are you not down in the kitchen in the basement preparing breakfast?”

“I took the liberty, Ma’am, of handing breakfast preparation duties today to the devil incarnate, who you will recall is chained up downstairs and is acting as my skivvy and helpmeet.”

“Ah yes, of course. It slipped my mind for a moment that Beelzebub came here by way of Porlock and I outwitted him. My, what an exciting day that was. And he is still here? But of course he is, for the chains that bind him are stout, and iron, and used to belong to my dear departed grandpapa. I remember that goodly if somewhat rancorous patriarch dandling me on his knee when I was but a tiny tot, and telling me that not the devil himself could break free from those chains. It seems he was correct in that, even if much else he told me during those dandlings I later discovered to be the most arrant piffle. Did you know, Baines, that the Ancient Greeks were colour blind?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Well, of course they were not. I give it to you as an example of grandpapa’s piffle. He got it, I think, from Mr Gladstone’s three-volume Studies On Homer And The Homeric Age. Have you read it, Baines?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“No, of course you have not, for you are lower class. It would surprise me if you could read at all. In any case, when would you have time to read, what with all the skivvying and gewgaw-dusting and scrubbing and polishing and cooking and cleaning and fire-lighting and boot-blacking and stitching and darning and so forth to which God has so ordered things that you and your kind must devote every waking hour? Though it occurs to me that you are in the extraordinary position of having the devil incarnate to lighten your burden. I wonder if I am failing as a mistress by neglecting to give you further duties to fill the empty hours or minutes which Beelzebub’s captive presence must have afforded you.”

“That won’t be necessary, Ma’am, for I have been taking the opportunity to give vent to my inner life.”

“What wild talk is this? Pass me those invigorating smelling salts, Baines. I fear I might quite swoon away. “

“If it please you, Ma’am, I speak the truth. Ever since you and I dragged Beelzebub down into the basement and chained him there, and I have persuaded him to be of assistance to me on pain of being poked with burning hot toasting forks, he has proved of great worth as a skivvy. Thus in moments of unaccustomed leisure, for example while holding the toasting forks over the fire until they are burning hot, the better to poke the devil with, I have given free rein to wild imaginings and other fruits of the inner life. Only the other day. Ma’am, I got it into my head that the pots were pans, that the cutlery was the crockery, that the soap was the shoe polish. I turned the world topsy turvy inside my head.”

“No good will come of this, Baines. I wonder if I ought to summon Dr Slop, the mesmerist who has recently moved into the bungalow next door. He would place your head in a vice and make strangely significant passing movements of his hands and soon enough you would be back to your normal self and no longer prey to such miseries as the company of the devil hath wrought.”

“Forgive my impertinence, Ma’am, but I fear you misunderstand me. I experience nought but immeasurable joy from my flights of fancy and nourishment of my inner life.”

“That is perplexing to be sure, Baines. I still think it would be best to have Dr Slop take a look at you. It is said there is not another man in Europe who knows more about the unfathomable nooks and crannies of the feminine brain. And I am sure it would be quite a novelty for him to probe the inner workings of a feminine brain of the lower orders.”

“As you wish, Ma’am.”

“But hark! From the depths of the basement I hear a din of infernal shrieking.”

“That is Beelzebub, Ma’am, announcing that he has finished cooking breakfast.”

“I suppose I must eat, for I am at the point of physical as well as mental collapse. Would you happen to know what toothsome delights the devil has cooked up for me this morning?”

“You will be having devilled kidneys, Ma’am.”

“Then I shall stagger as best I am able towards the breakfast table and take my seat, Baines.”

“Very good, Ma’am.”


To be continued…

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

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