Short Story: What The Butler Sees

Lord Farnsworth’s butler, Barnes, had seen better days, but the gearsmiths in Lanthorn Street had done their best to restore him after his last misadventure. The old ticking noise that had usually preceded him into the room was gone, but the pneumatic hiss of his prosthetic leg more than made up for it.

If the encroaching mechanisms fused with his ailing flesh bothered him, he was far too stoic to make a fuss where anyone might see him. He had served both the present Lord Farnsworth and his father before him with faultless efficiency, leading some to joke that he had a little clockwork in him long before the gearsmiths were commissioned.

He advanced with military precision ahead of the girls into the dining room, and supervised them as they prepared the room for breakfast. An array of platters and tureens were rapidly filled, and the smell soon brought the houseguests out of their respective rooms.

Lord Farnsworth may have been called away, but he had left strict instructions with his gentleman’s gentleman that the frankly motley crew now assembling should be extended every courtesy. Barnes was assiduous in his efforts to make this happen.

The Bellingharm woman and her companion Alexa were first to arrive, and politely acknowledged his presence even as they took their seats. The next to enter was Herr Manchen, whose polychromatic lenses concealed much of his scarred face. He was soon engaged in a heated debate with the dour engineer-savant who had arrived in the small hours of the morning. He had given his name as Orson – at least that was what Barnes hoped he’d said – his hearing wasn’t what it was.

Last but not least was Lord Farnsworth’s advisor, the mysterious androgyne known as Harp. Barnes didn’t trust them, but his employer did. They exchanged a cool glance and then Harp started filling a plate with a hearty selection of fruit.

The strange assembly paid Barnes and the servants little mind as they broke their fast. Seeing that the serving girls weren’t needed any further, he dismissed them for the moment and moved with heavy gait to rest near the speaker tube in the corner. If help was needed, he could discretely manage it.

Barnes allowed himself a private moment of reverie. He remembered his more dashing days with the regiment in Africa, and previous teams that Lord Farnsworth had assembled to resolve certain matters for The Crown. He wondered how many of this new group would return this evening, or the days to come.

Then Herr Machen threw a punch at Orson, and small pastries went tumbling. Harp moved out the way as they staggered back and forth, and just smiled as Orson produced a slide-rule to fend off his assailant.

Barnes stepped forward. He may have seen better days, but that didn’t mean he should let this one get any worse.