The most dreadful thing has happened. I was sitting at my desk before lunch, preparing to write my household menu instructions for the week, when Villiers came barging in without knocking or coughing. I confess I have become a little lax in not insisting that he should wait to be admitted to the room, but still I was taken aback by the manner he chose to attract my attention.
He stood in the middle of my rug, waving his hands around his head and making mewing noises a little like those Dauncey makes when he has not been allowed outside for a while. I asked Villiers whatever the matter was and it was a good minute before he could compose himself to answer.
“I’m sorry Ma’am, but I cannot stay silent any longer!”, he screeched. “It is more than a man should be asked to bear!” I reminded him gently that he was not addressing me as a man, but as my servant and told him to calm down and tell me what was causing such distress. As I watched him try to observe the correct protocol in his dealings with me, I thought of the scene I had witnessed in which he cast the Girl adrift with only her bags and her child for warmth. I have often remarked to Josiah that Villiers is something of a conundrum and this performance only served to convince me I am right.
“Ma’am” he started, a little less shrilly than before, “I have served you well for a good number of years, have I not?”
“You have, indeed, Villiers. Mr Hatherwick and I are most satisfied with your work.”
“Thank you. Might I be allowed to assume that I should command some respect as a valued servant?”
He began to whimper again slightly, so I stood up from my chair and moved towards him. His hands flapped and he leapt back as if I had brandished a sword in his face.
“Ma’am! Please do not be angry with me! (I had shown not the slightest emotion at this point, believing that Villiers was conveying emotion enough for both of us) I am a loyal servant to you – more loyal than you know if Our Lord ever gives his account – but this is too much. Too much!”
“What is too much, Villiers? I have no idea what is distressing you so,” I answered. “Please, contain yourself and give me some idea of what is going on.”
When I said that, he snorted and smirked like a dog on a short leash.
“If ma’am had even the smallest notion of What is Going On, we should all be undone!” he cried. I remained outwardly calm but in truth was growing increasingly alarmed by this behaviour. Usually, Villiers’ nervous excesses cannot be sustained for long, but he seemed set fair for a full attack. I motioned to him that he might wish to take a seat, noting to myself at the same time that I had never seen him seated in my presence. He was sensible enough, even in his heightened state, not to accept my offer.
“I think it best if I give notice to you now, Ma’am, of my intention to leave your employ at the earliest opportunity,” he said eventually. “I hold you in high regard and have enjoyed serving you – not that my personal pleasure should be a matter for your concern.”
Really, he was speaking in the most inappropriate manner. I did not think for a moment that he was serious but he carried on,
“I shall stay here until the end of this month to allow you sufficient time to seek a replacement for me. But if you have found none such by that time, I am afraid you shall have to carry on without your most loyal and hardworking manservant.”
Before I had a chance to speak, he swept from my room, without closing the door. He has taken to leaving rooms without being dismissed but that was such a minor insubordination that I had never asked Josiah to reprimand him for it. I regretted that, as I watched him turn and rush away from me before I could find out what had caused the outburst.
I find myself quite distraught at the prospect of Villiers leaving us. Quite apart from my love and respect for Josiah, I have come to regard Villiers as the most reliable and stable presence in the Hatherwick household. I must demand that Josiah does not allow him to leave. Throughout the upheaval of the fire at Blindingham, the violence shown to Papa, the loss of my precious jewellery and the incompetence – or madness – of our other servants, Villiers has always given me good advice and constant, dutiful care. Despite his twittery and high drama, I have come to regard him as my rock.