Mr. Pufferton and the Last Magazine: Part One
Chapter 1 – In Which Both a Lady and Her Requests Are Entertained
Mephistopheles R. Pufferton was not given to waking up before the sun. He believed that a late riser was a healthy riser, and he argued this point every morning after he had been woken up slightly before luncheon. The old adage, he proclaimed, was more than very wrong, and the originator of such a phrase could never have slept in any later than 9 o'clock, and he had certainly never woken up to the delicious sounds of a large lunch spread being prepared in the other room. Such things, said Mephistopheles R. Pufferton, were the veritable spice of life.
The morning of the 16th was no different in this regard. The sun dragged itself up into the heavens, hard-working Neopians dragged themselves into their places of business, and Mr. Pufferton dragged his sleep out as much as he was able. It was a rather pleasant dream, upon reflection. It was the kind of dream where one does not quite remember the particulars of what has happened, but it can't have been all bad for the happy feeling that one is left with upon waking. A dream such as that was a rare occurrence for Mr. Pufferton.
It's not that he experienced miserable dreams all that often either; he merely slept the sleep of the unaffected. He was neither troubled nor exuberant, and his dreams were likewise. Life, as it were, did not do much to affect the overweight Bruce. Born into a reasonably rich family, Mr. Pufferton had quickly and gallantly squandered away his parents' money.
"Mephistopheles," they had said, always after a particularly worrisome draining of funds, "do not forget yourself. You are red, foolish boy, not royal." This fact never failed to come off as meaningless to a young Mr. Pufferton, and his spending habits changed not a wink. A lifetime of eating, gallivanting, and general tomfoolery finally caught up with the Bruce, and his days soon became filled with more modest pursuits: reading, sightseeing, and the occasional concert. At four hundred pounds, japes of a certain kind were quite beyond Mr. Pufferton.
But sleep? Sleep was still left to the old fool. He had saved enough money (and inherited enough from his parents' estate) that he was able to whittle away most of his days doing nothing. And nothing was precisely what he planned to do until the precise moment a large sandwich pushed its way through his bedroom door and deposited itself next to his lavish four-poster bed.
The pleasant dream, filled with hazy images of candles and dust, was interrupted. A door slammed somewhere, and the sound of rapid footsteps filled Mr. Pufferton's ears. He opened his eyes blearily and glanced at the clock sitting on his nightstand. 10 o'clock. There was no reason for doors to be slamming at such an ungodly hour, and Mr. Pufferton assumed that he must have dreamed it. He had just closed his eyes again and settled into his warm sheets when the door to his bedroom slammed open, causing him to sit up in alarm.
"What the Devil?" This mild oath, referring, of course, to the thieving spirit known as the Pant Devil, was one of Mr. Pufferton's favorites, and he used it in situations both appropriate and not. He glanced wildly around and, when his gaze came to rest on the cause of the slamming, his eyes narrowed. "You blasted Techo."
Argyle St. James was indeed a Techo, and a green one at that. His slender frame was, at that moment, employed in the most peculiar action of shoving large amounts of furniture against the recently-closed bedroom door. The motley barricade surpassed all bounds of reason as it grew to contain a dresser, three chairs, a fluffy purple ottoman, and no less than five crates of leather-bound books.
"Sorry... Puffs," Argyle puffed as he tore about the room. "It's Lady... Colchester..."
"Ah," sighed Mr. Pufferton, settling back into his pillows. Whereas before, he had been ready to dismiss the faithful Techo without a moment's hesitation, he was now quite content to let him carry on in his admirable work.
Lady Cynthia Colchester was the mother of the infamous explorer Roxton Colchester III, and she was every bit as ingratiating and insufferable as her son. Mr. Pufferton had not known Lady Colchester's estate was nearby to Barnaby Downs when he had moved there, or else he would have chosen somewhere else to live, such as the Haunted Woods. Lady Colchester had taken to Mr. Pufferton in a way he found most inconceivable, and he suffered her infatuations for the sole reason that she always left a tidy sum of money behind when she had finished her visit.
Argyle, however, was not nearly as tolerant of the Lutari, and he waited for her arrival with the same mindset as a prisoner awaiting the gallows. Lady Colchester found the young Techo a delicious substitute for the obese Bruce as the latter waddled his way down the stairs from his bedroom, and Argyle found being an appetizer none to his liking.
"She's absolutely barking!" he cried, continuing to pile flowerpots and ancestral vases onto the already heaving junk pile. "She's already been over twice this week!"
"And delivered you your pay twice over, I should note." Mr. Pufferton did not care to hide the fact that Lady Colchester's gifts were the source for Argyle's weekly pay. The Pufferton family wealth was reserved mainly for the use of one Mephistopheles R. Pufferton. "I'll never understand, Argyle. You act as though you're the one she wishes to shower with her affections. I'm the one who must arise, dress, bathe, perfect my toilet, and then descend with a graceful yet humble step in order to placate the fair Lady. You, my dear Argyle, are able to appear as scruffy and unkempt as you desire."
The insult produced the desired effect. Argyle rolled his eyes at his master's unparalleled wit, flicked his tail insolently in his direction, and halted his deconstruction of the room. "Your logic astonishes me, Puffs. Truly it does." He eyed his handiwork with something approaching admiration. "I s'pose you want me to...?"
"Yes, Argyle. I should be most glad if you would return my bedroom to some semblance of the way you're meant to keep it." Mr. Pufferton was used to the informality of his manservant. Argyle may have been impertinent, but he was loyal as any petpet. Within minutes, the furniture had been removed and, if not replaced exactly, replaced with a degree of accuracy that would fool all but the most trained eye.
"Mr. Pufferton!" Lady Colchester's voice was as bright as her yellow sun dress. It clashed magnificently with her pink fur, but Lady Colchester was one of those Lutaris who was under the impression that people would adore her whatever she wore, and surely Mr. Pufferton was so far under her spell that he wouldn't give two flaps of his flipper whether she wore yellow or brown!
As it happened, Mr. Pufferton was giving several flaps of his flipper about what Lady Colchester was wearing. It was an abomination, and he felt almost ashamed of himself for having carefully chosen a deep blue suit with matching tie that stretched magnificently across his ample belly. "My dear Lady Colchester. It has been too long since your last visit."
"Oh, you rascal!" She swatted at him lightly with her tail and hid a girlish giggle behind her paw. "You know perfectly well I was here only the day before last! And you gave me such a peck on the cheek that Matilda blushed right out of her hat when she saw it." Matilda was Lady Colchester's maid. Mr. Pufferton was certain that Matilda had done no such thing; she was given weekends off, and Mr. Pufferton was sure that she was not so mild as to blush at a Bruce's peck mark.
"Ah, of course, of course. My mind is not quite right before I break my fast, Lady Colchester. I hope you'll join me in the small spread Argyle is preparing? It isn't much, but what's mine is yours." He offered his fin to Lady Colchester, and she took it gracefully. Together, the two of them made their way out of the sitting room and onto the veranda.
The veranda, which served primarily as Mr. Pufferton's breakfast room and secondarily as the herb garden, the pride and joy of Old Shamus, the gardener of the estate. It looked out grandly across the rolling hills that surrounded the little village of Barnaby Downs and, in the distance, one could see the outskirts of Neopia Central. Mr. Pufferton had not wanted to be so far from the city that he couldn't enjoy its amenities, yet he did not want to be so close that he could actually be said to live in the city. Barnaby Downs was near five miles from the hub and the intervening landscape was as picturesque as a quiet country lord could desire.
The interior landscape, however, was much more enticing to Mr. Pufferton's eyes. Argyle had indeed prepared a "small spread," but it could only be considered small if compared to the sustenance necessary to feed the entirety of the Meridell castle guard. On the veranda's long table, Argyle had laid out toast, bagels, muffins, jams, jellies, preserves, salmon, kippers, cold meats, sausages, danishes, three different kinds of juice, a tureen of porridge, tea, coffee, an entire grove of fresh fruit, and, in the center of it all, a steaming pot of borovan.
"Oh..." Lady Colchester's well-practiced hand shot up to her mouth in a tiny display of alarm. "Mr. Pufferton! Are you expecting more company?"
"My dear Lady Colchester," Mr. Pufferton chided as he sat himself down at one end of the table, "You should know that my appetite for food is as voracious as my appetite for your company. Would you care for a cheese danish?" He held up an iced pastry with one hand as he devoured a piece of buttered toast with the other.
Lady Colchester demurely took the proffered pastry and went to sit opposite Mr. Pufferton. Argyle was instantly at her side. "What may I get you, Lady Colchester?"
"Oh, Argyle! What a lovely spread. I believe I'll just have a cup of tea and a muffin."
The Techo inclined his head and set off along the table to fetch a plate for the requested breakfastries.
"Now, my dear... what brings you around so soon after your last visit? Surely Roxton hasn't driven you mad after only a mere week at home?" Mr. Pufferton managed this last around several mouthfuls of apple chutney on toast.
Lady Colchester giggled delightedly. "Oh no no, Mr. Pufferton! Roxton is simply a dear! He goes on and on about his adventures to his poor old mum and never once lets me get a word in edgewise! But you know how children are."
Mr. Pufferton, who had no children of his own, did not know how children were and did not care to find out. "Yes, yes, how splendid. I'm sure his travels to exotic lands are ones to scintillate as well as amaze."
"Your breakfast, Lady Colchester." Argyle had returned to the Lady's side with a dismal plate of a single blueberry muffin and a china cup full of tea. She accepted both gracefully.
"Thank you, Argyle," she said, and she planted a kiss on his cheek as a reward for his service. Argyle appeared as though this reward would be better bestowed on another; a treasonous prisoner being interrogated, say. "No, Mr. Pufferton, I'm not here about Roxton, although you should come out to see him one of these days! I tell him so much about you, and you've never once laid eyes on the precious boy!"
"A minor matter of practicalities, my dear. When your Roxton is home, I am nearly always otherwise engaged in events beyond my control. Take now, for instance. I would go visit your dear son, but I am currently in the process of restoring a delicate manuscript that dates back to 75 BN. Such work is meticulous, and I'm afraid I can't step out for a moment." This half-lie was accompanied throughout by the sound of ferocious chomping. Mr. Pufferton was dealing with an ancient manuscript, but he was reading it rather than restoring it. Lady Colchester was never to be the wiser.
The Lutari sighed gently. "Mr. Pufferton, you really are a most extraordinary Bruce. One of these days, you shall reveal all your secrets to me."
"But it is not today, my dear Lady. Now... your business?"
"Yes, business. I was wondering, Mr. Pufferton, whether you would be so good as to send Argyle out to the city to purchase a few things for me."
Argyle appeared suddenly around the door to the interior of the house. "Things, milady? What exactly do you mean by... things?"
"Oh, nothing much, Argyle! I should simply die if I ever asked you to labor too hard on my account! Just a few bits and bobs I need for around the house. I'd ask Gudrow to do it, but he's taken ill with NeoMonia, and he shan't be back for weeks, I fear."
The request was ludicrous; Argyle was not only Mr. Pufferton's servant, but he wasn't given to walking all the way into Neopia Central for things just as easily ordered! He was about to give the Lady a polite but firm rejection when Mr. Pufferton cut him off.
"Of course Argyle shall be happy to attend to your things, Lady Colchester. He was just telling me how he'd been meaning to go into the city recently. I trust you have a list made up?" Mr. Pufferton took the suddenly-appeared list and shoved it into the unresisting hands of the Techo. "There now, Argyle, the perfect opportunity!"
Argyle knew his master's proclivities and knew better than to argue. The task was distasteful, yes, and even demeaning, but Mr. Pufferton requested it of him, and that was to be that. Lady Colchester would get her items but not until a deucedly long time had gone by in which Argyle St. James would be forced to run hither and yon all across Neopia Central.
"And do not forget, dear Argyle!" Lady Colchester called after the departing green tail, "Do not forget to pick up the latest issue of Feasts and Fetes while you're in town!" She turned to Mr. Pufferton with a happily ashamed smile. "I'm afraid I've rather developed a fondness for the rag, Mr. Pufferton. I do not delve heavily into magazines, but... this one has rather caught my fancy!"
Mr. Pufferton said nothing. The strawberries and fresh cream were truly far more engaging than Lady Colchester could ever hope to be.
To be continued...