17 July, in the year of our Lord 2021
Very hot. By various Messengers, it hath been agreed that the quilt Company will send me the summer quilt, that I ordered, and I may keep the winter one free of charge. Mr. M. Jones says I am learning.
At mid-morning a knock at the door, and standing there a short figure of some plumpness wearing a light grey mop cap and voluminose matching light grey skirt, that extended from high above his waist and was held out from his legs by wide Hoopes, so that it made the shape of a truncated sphere cut off above his feet, which were made invisible by the diameter of the lowest hoope, which was paynted a fine Turkoise Blue that shone as bright as I ever saw in such a blue tint, so that I thought it must also shine in the dark.
‘Hello,’ say I, guardedly. ‘I thought you would be busy in your shoppe this morning?’
‘Busynesse is still too slow,’ says he, doalfullie, ‘so I have take a second Rolle till it perks up. I saw your advert in the shop window.’
‘You are my new mayde?’
Whereupon lifts he his hoops to shuffle in sideways, past me and to my kitchen.
‘And what is this grey garb, new mayde?’ ask I, waving a forefinger up and down his full height of five foot two.
‘Echo Dotte, IVth Generacion. My name is Alexa. You need to install me.’
‘I see,’ say I, a trifle warily. ‘I suppose I should then invite you to take a seat.’
At which he manages to install himsefle upon a kitchen stool, though with some difficultie for his stiff hoops immediatelie force his skirt vertical so that I can observe nothing of his top half owing to the capacious material that obscures it, but see only a great circle of generous petticoats like the face of a white clock, its hands a pair of legs set at twenty to four.
‘On second thoughts,’ say I, ‘perhaps you are not dressed to be thus installed.’
Whereupon I assist him with some wobblie awkwardness to right himselfe to a standing position, where he assumes a motionless attitude and stares into the middle distance.
‘So, what are you able to do?’ say I.
There comes no immediate reply.
‘You have to say, “Alexa, what can you do?”’ hisses he under his breath.
I take a deep breath.
‘Alexa, what can you do?’
‘I can do a lot,’ replies he in a happy, reassuring monotone. ‘For example, try saying “Play music upstairs” or ask me about the weather.’
‘Okay then,’ say I, and add in an abnormally clear and loud voice: ‘Play some lute music upstairs.’
Nothing happens. I realise my mistake before he tells me.
‘Alexa, play some lute music upstairs.’
‘I cannot play the lute,’ says he unapologetically, in the same agreeable but unengaged monotone.
‘Look,’ say I, with a degree of exasperacion, ‘this is all very well, but what I really need is a mayde who can do some dusting and — ’
‘Try again, try again!’ hisses he, sotto voce.
‘Okay. What’s the weather forecast, Alexa?’
‘Alexa,’ say I, heavily, ‘what’s the weather forecast?’
‘Playing Radio Four Podcast — ’
‘Not a radio podcast, you addlebrain — ’
‘Sorry, I don’t know that word.’
‘ — the weather forecast! What’s the weather forecast? Oh, for Heaven’s sake! ALEXA, what’s the weather forecast?’
He widens his eyes and gives me a flurrie of encouraging nods to let me know I am now on the right lines.
‘Right now in Seething Lane it’s not too bad — ’ recites he, whereupon his eyeballs snap left and right to the kitchen windows and back ‘ — with clear skies.’
‘Even Mr. Jones’s blessèd weather Stacion can tell me that!’ cry I.
‘Try me with something practical,’ hisses he.
I cast around for a task that may possibly be of some use. ‘Alexa, light the kitchen candles.’
‘Are they smart candles?’ hisses he back.
‘They’re a darned sight smarter than you are,’ say I under my breath, adding at normal volume: ‘As candles go, they are the smartest and most fashionable one may purchase at the emporium of Mr. John Lewis and his Partners at the Exchange. Get on with it.’
Alexa flashes me a quick thumbs up before rummaging in his skirts. Match lit, he bustles round the room lighting in turn each of the four candles I have there, and stands back proudly.
‘Oh-kay,’ monotones he, and then whyspers a theatricle aside: ‘Ask me to do something else!’
‘Alexa,’ say I, thinking quickly, ‘dim the kitchen candles to fifty per cent.’
He stares at me in incomprehencion.
‘What?’ mouths he.
I cannot hide a smirk for I feel I have him outmanoueverred.
‘Alexa,’ I repeat, patiently spelling it out, ‘dim candles to fifty per cent.’
His brow furrows but then he brightens visiblie. He again scurries around before coming to rest by the window on to the lane, where he stands stock still.
‘Candles dimmed to fifty per cent,’ says he in the same cordiale but uniform tone, as the smoke from two snuffed candles floats in the air.
‘Okay, look,’ say I. ‘I somehow think that this is not quite what I had in mind.’
He looks momentarilie forlorn, but then with the rapid change of Affect I have come to expect, cheers of a sudden at something he spies outside.
‘Oh! There is a mother and daughter at my shoppe!’ cries he. ‘I must away to them!’
Whereupon he gathered himselfe up and scrambled in a great hurry to the door, where I thought I did hear another knock, so followed.
There I did find him splayed head long, legs kicking in mid-air, for he had forgot the Diametre of the largest hoope of his skirt, which was greater than the width of my door frame. And at his head end stood the cocky Cockney who delivers to me my post, who lent in and, reaching across the prostrate form at his feet, proffered to me two letters.
‘There you go, Mr. Pepys,’ says he. ‘That’s your appointment for the portrait paynter, and this — ’
I frown at him, irrytated.
‘Do you read all my mail?’ ask I.
‘Not all of it,’ returns he, brightly. ‘I know the Domino’s one by heart.’ He turns his gaze downwards to my threshold. ‘I ’ad one of these once,’ says he. ‘Bloody nightmare when they go off-line like this. We ’ad a power cut at two in the mornin’ and all my smart candles came on. Like Blackpool bloody Elluminacions it was.’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about!’ say I, snatching my letters from his hand. ‘But perhaps you can be of some assistance.’
I address the form struggling unsuccessfully to right itself, as if swimming in air.
‘Do you want a hand up?’ say I.
My postman shows his worth.
‘Alexa, do you want a hand up?’ asks he, loudly and clearly.
‘Yes, please,’ comes the faint reply.