Marion was in the kitchen passage again. This time she wasn’t seeking the kitchen and she didn’t want tea, at least not yet. She was heading for the butler’s sitting room off the main passage, just before the kitchen. It was a pleasant room where Caolin rested between his duties, often with Rosanda, his wife, working on one of the gowns she made on commission for almost all of the ladies of the southern continent. Caolin himself usually read a book in his quiet times. He had a small collection of them on a shelf by the fireplace.

Marion knocked at the closed door out of courtesy. It was the butler’s private room after all. She heard him call out ‘enter’ and opened the door. He looked around to see who it was, expecting the housekeeper or one of the footmen, perhaps. When he recognised the mistress of the house, he jumped up from his seat and bowed low to her.

“Please, don’t do that when it is I who have come into YOUR room,” Marion said. “I am sorry to intrude. I was looking for Rosanda, to see if she would like to take tea with me this afternoon.”

“She is in the village, visiting her mother,” Caolin replied. He glanced at the window. It was snowing hard. “I rather hope she will stay there overnight. We may be in for a storm.”

“Yes, I hope so, too,” Marion agreed. “Kristoph... I mean... Lord de Lœngbærrow called me from the Citadel. He is going to stay the night in the Presidential Chambers rather than risk the journey back, too. Chances are the debates will go on until late, anyway, so he might as well stay. He has been so tired lately at the end of a day’s Sessions.”

“The final stages of the Caretaker Franchise Bill,” Caolin noted. “Yes, I have observed some of the debates on the Public Service Broadcast.”

Of course, that was a statement of fact. Caolin did not venture any opinion on the matter. Marion was sure he had opinions about whether he, as a male Caretaker over the age of two hundred and thirty, would be allowed to choose Councillors and High Councillors in the future, but he did not disclose those opinions even to the lady of the household he served.

“We’ve had such a lot of snow this month,” Marion said, moving on from that controversial subject. “Almost all social arrangements have been called off. I never expected to be at a loose end because Lady Arpexia had to cancel a luncheon with me! And I suppose I should be ashamed to assume that Rosanda would always be available to step in when my aristocratic friends are not available. That isn’t exactly... well... I suppose it is... but you know I enjoy your wife’s company any time. She certainly isn’t second best, or a stop gap in any sense...”

“Of course not, madam,” Caolin assured her. “May I... would it be impertinent if I asked you to sit and join me in a cup of herbal infusion?”

“I... would be delighted,” Marion answered. She sat in a comfortable armchair and Caolin prepared a tray with cups and saucers and a teapot all of which looked very good quality. They were probably a set which used to be the best ‘upstairs’ china until new ones superseded them.

“I have never acquired a taste for the ‘English’ tea you drink, madam,” he said. “This infusion is blended by the former Lady de Lœngbærrow. She says it aids contemplation.”

“So does a good cup of PG Tips,” Marion said with a smile. “If you DO fancy a cup of my tea, don’t be afraid to use it. I can easily buy more on a trip to Earth. It doesn’t have to be kept in a locked cupboard.”

“Locked cupboard?” Caolin was puzzled.

“On Earth, in the days when more people had houses like this with servants, tea was a rare and expensive drink. The head butler would have charge of the key to the tea cupboard and only the master of the house and his family would be allowed to drink it. I’m not sure what punishment was given out to anyone who broke that rule, but there is no need for it here. I know Rosanda has a taste for it. She is welcome to make herself a pot any time she wishes.”

“You are kind, madam,” Caolin told her.

“You know, English tea is not even the correct word for it,” she said as she sipped the infusion of dried herbs and plants that Aineytta skilfully concocted. It had a hint of a fruit something like blackcurrant and seemed quite appropriate for a cold winter day. “Tea doesn’t grow in England. It comes from India and Sri Lanka, or sometimes China. Ships travel the oceans with it. Liverpool got rich on the tea trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Not just tea, of course. Tobacco... and slaves... neither of which are particularly nice. But certainly lots of tea came through the port.” She looked at Caolin. He was doing his best to follow her conversation. But he had never been to Earth. The idea that different parts of a planet were separate nations puzzled most of her friends on Gallifrey. Even the concept of sea travel was novel to them. Gallifreyans had travelled by air shuttles and hover cars for millennia. If they ever had ocean going ships they were long forgotten.

“I do understand, madam,” he told her. “I can see the images in your mind as you speak. I don’t mean I am reading your thoughts, of course. My telepathic skills are not so advanced as that. But can see the pictures in your mind. Liverpool is a mighty city. So busy. So many people.”

“Yes,” Marion agreed. “Though the docks aren’t like that now. It’s all sealed containers on huge transporter ships. They don’t need as many people. I find the crowds in the shopping streets hard work when I go back, though. I have got used to the peace of the southern continent. Even the Capitol is not as crowded as Liverpool. It’s quite refined in comparison.”

“I have only rarely been to the Capitol,” Caolin admitted. “Most of those occasions, I accompanied his Lordship in order to assist him in his errands.”

“You were born here on the plains,” Marion asked him. “On the southern Continent.”

“I was born in this very house, madam,” Caolin answered. “My mother was a maidservant before she married my father, who was head butler here, then. The rooms my wife and I occupy now were theirs. My mother died here, giving birth to my younger brother.”

“Oh, Caolin,” Marion was shocked. “I never knew that your mother was dead. I should have realised.... At your Alliance.... Your father was there, of course, but on his own. As for your brother... I never knew you had one. I didn’t see him at the Alliance, either.”

“He was not on Gallifrey at the time. He worked as a galley chef on a diplomatic ship. It was not possible for him to return for the ceremony. He is home now. He has a wife and child in the Capitol. I spoke to him by videophone yesterday for a long time.”

“You ought to go and see him,” Marion said. “When the snowstorms settle, of course. I am sure his Lordship would not object to you having a few days off.”

“I shall wait until after the vote is taken, when his Lordship is less anxious about matters,” he replied. “My brother... his name is Valentin... He has left the diplomatic service. He intends to start up a business of his own in the Capitol. He has saved money in order to do so.”

“What sort of business?” Marion asked, genuinely interested.

“A restaurant,” Caolin replied. “He is a very GOOD chef. That was why he worked on the diplomatic ship. He learnt to cater for a great many foreign tastes, making food even the Oldbloods of our world would not imagine eating. He thinks some of the recipes could be successful here on Gallifrey, though. He says that on other planets, foreign food is popular.”

“That is certainly true,” Marion said, thinking of the Chinese restaurant in Liverpool she knew so very well. The repairs to her Portal would soon be finished and she could visit there again. She thought, too, of the orbital restaurant on the space station Omicron Psi. That claimed to cater for every possible gastric taste, including some that had to be served in separate rooms in case they made other diners sick.

“Kristoph... his Lordship... always says Gallifreyans are slow to accept change,” she pointed out. “He means politically. I hope for your brother’s sake they are not the same about their food. Do you think it would help if the Lord High President and First Lady patronised his ‘foreign food’ restaurant when we’re in the Capitol.”

“I think it would help a great deal,” Caolin said.

“I shall still want to lunch at my favourite table in the Conservatory, of course,” Marion said. “But it will be nice to have an alternative.”

“Thank you, Madam,” Caolin added. “I... must confess... I had been considering joining him in his endeavour. I have some savings myself and I thought of a partnership. My training as a butler could well adapt to acting as Maitre’D.”

“Oh.” Marion was surprised and disconcerted by that. “Oh, yes, it would be a wonderful opportunity for you. Rosanda would have so many more commissions for gowns if she set up in the Capitol. You would both be independent, with a good income of your own.”

“I thought of all that. So did my wife,” Caolin told her. “Indeed, it was a tempting opportunity. But... we both decided against it.”

“You did? Why?”

“I am content to serve you and his Lordship,” Caolin replied. “I have no reason to be ambitious. Rosanda and I want for nothing. Our quarters here are more than adequate. We are happy as we are. I may invest some of my savings in the restaurant. But as a silent partner only, taking no part in the running of it. That would give me enough ‘independence’ as I need.”

“You are both happy with that?”

“We were both born here on the Southern Plain. The Capitol is not for us. I think, perhaps, Rosanda was a little regretful. The idea of a workshop of her own where ladies would come for fittings...”

“Perhaps there is another way of doing that,” Marion suggested. “Kristoph thinks I need a new car. The old one is in perfectly good condition. Would you like to buy it for Rosanda? She could use it to travel to her clients and let them have fittings in the comfort of their own homes.”

“It would depend how much the car would cost. Caretakers don’t... hover cars are usually beyond our pocket.”

“It will cost however much you would like to pay for it, Caolin,” Marion told her. “Gallis, my chauffer, would be glad to teach Rosanda to drive. And if the car has any problems, there are two competent mechanics in the Estate garage. You are fully entitled to avail of them any time.”

“Madam, your kindness...”

“It’s not kindness, Caolin,” she assured him. “Or charity. Rosanda is a good friend. So are you. And I am happy that you want to be our butler, still. Even though I think you would have done well as a restaurateur. Call it MY investment in you both.”

Later, Kristoph called Marion from the Lord High President’s chambers in the Citadel. He was tired from a day’s bitter debating of the Caretaker Franchise Bill and regretful that he could not make it home due to the weather. But he was happy to talk to his wife and he listened with interest to her account of her visit to the butler’s sitting room.

“Yes, I remember Valentin when he was a boy. Very ambitious. If even a few high born ladies patronise his restaurant he should be successful.”

“I know plenty of ladies,” Marion pointed out.

“So you do,” Kristoph noted. “The car for Rosanda is a good idea, too. I’m doing my best to empower the Caretaker class politically. You’re doing it practically. Well done.”

Marion smiled at his praise. She was missing him being with her, and the storm would probably keep her awake all night in an empty bed. But she had many good reasons to be content. So had everyone under the roof of Mount Lœng House on the Southern Plain of Gallifrey, with or without a right to elect members of the High Council.