Sir Charles sat upright on the stool allowing Knipe his valet to tilt his head back and forth and side to side as the razor scratched and slid across his jaw. Knipe’s fingers tugged at his skin, stretching his face into comical clown shapes and hiding his jawbone under sheets of skin and jowl fat. The towel around his neck smelt freshly laundered, the shaving soap the same blend his father had favoured and Knipe’s father had lathered before him.
Knipe wiped off the last of the soap with a clean flannel into which he had poured cool water and a few drops of lemon oil before handing Sir Charles a fluffy towel with which to dry his face.
“Thank you Knipe. I shall take breakfast in the conservatory.”
“Very good sir”
Knipe placed the towels and flannel into his enamel basin, slotted the razor into his apron pocket along with the soap dish and drew the strop over his shoulder. He headed downstairs to let chef know Sir Charles was ready for breakfast and where it should be served.
His master walked as purposefully as he always did towards the conservatory. The sun was shining, and he felt like sitting amongst his oranges, lemons and olives. A little part of Hampshire rich with the trees of Spain and memories of dark eyes laughing.
He was fondly lost in a long time ago when Sanders came in with his tray.
Swiftly and neatly, he placed the cutlery on the table – a steak knife and a fork, the salt and pepper at nine O’Clock and a glass of water, an apple juice and a strong, black French coffee from twelve to two.
The warmed plate with poached eggs on one slice of granary toast, halved; its flattened edge parallel to the table edge and, as Sir Charles sat, the simple, heavy cotton napkin addressed to his right hand.
“Excellent Sanders. Good man”
Sanders dipped his head in confirmation and silently left the room.
Two shots of black pepper for each egg. One each of salt.
Sir Charles sliced decisively diagonally across each egg, the edge of his mouth curled upwards at the sight of the rich, golden yolk spilling into the channel cut into firm white eggflesh and across the toast. The steak knife then cut clean through the corner of the toast, capturing a neat edge of egg and as his fork pushed through the right angled triangle of toast created he registered the satisfying depth of the toast and its pleasing colour and crunch. Chef had taken care not to let poaching water sit on the egg and wet the toast.
He drank deeply. First the water, then the apple juice and, once the egg was finished, the palette cleansing coffee. He cleaned the edges of his mouth with the napkin and pulled the last bit of egg white from between his front teeth with his tongue.
Standing, he threw the napkin down across the plate and breathed in the mixed citrus oils of his indoor garden. Today was going to be a good day.
As for the rest of the unruly world, he was less sure, but the quest for perfection had started well.