L’Estrange on Love, II:
Rum Business:

Further reminiscences of
Sir Hannibal L’Estrange, bart.,
of Fosswick
in the County of Norsex

transcribed and edited
by Robin Gordon




Auksford crest: Great Auk supporting a book with the legend "Ex ovo sapientia"
Auksford, 2009
 

© Copyright Robin Gordon 2009
 


    Rum business love – [said Sir Hannibal].  Affects even the most phlegmatic of chaps.  One minute they’re over the moon and the next they’re dashed to the dust.  Even the steadiest chaps behave like madmen, and it’s all hormones you see.  Of course, as the song says, it’s love that makes the world go round, or, to put it another way it’s chaps tryin’ to impress the fillies that’s created all the world’s great art and science.  Not that these feminist hags would admit it.  To hear them you’d think that women were all great artists enslaved by an alien species.  One of them started lecturin’ me not so long ago.  She gave me some tremendous bit of guff about the Mother Goddess havin’ created civilisation, and women rulin’ the roost while human beings lived peacefully on the shores of some sea or other eatin’ nothing but raw shellfish.  Then, according to her, the men rose up in revolt, dethroned the mother goddess, and it was downhill all the way ever since.
    “Listen, girlie,” says I, “there are only two thing pushin’ civilisation on, twin dynamos drivin’ change.  They’re about the size of plums and you’ll find them in a wrinkled sack between the legs of every man in this room.”
    Don’t suppose you can put that in your dashed book, if you ever get round to writin’ it, eh?  Bit near the knuckle, what?  But it was pretty effective: she never spoke to me again.  Jolly good thing, too!
    Now, where was I?  Ah yes, rum business – over the moon – dashed in the dust – odd behaviour – murderous even.
    You probably read that case in the papers a few years ago.  Young poodlefaker playin’ the beast with two backs with his first employer’s wife, goes off, gets his next employer’s daughter preggers, about to marry her, then comes back and stabs his first mistress because she’s taken up with another man.  Of course the journalists got the whole story wrong, but it turned out the young poodlefaker was the son of our cowman at Fosswick, Tom Rummocks, so naturally the Memsahib found out the full details from her circle of friends and acquaintances.
    Now, when I say that he was a Rummocks, I mean he was the son of Rummocks’s wife.  Pretty little piece.  Her name was Sue and she was reckoned to be the loveliest little filly for miles around.  I suppose there must have been something about Tom Rummocks for him to have won her – though it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d just raped her and forced her to marry him that way.  You didn’t get all these single mothers then, you see.  In those days it was a disgrace not just a ticket to jump the housin’ queue.
    Anyway it was quite obvious young Julian wasn’t any son of Tom Rummocks.  Rummocks and his other lads were thick-set, dour, rather stupid, loutish fellows.  Tom was good with cows, I’ll give you that, but stupid nonetheless, though even he could see that Julian wasn’t the fruit of his loins.  Well, I suppose as a good cowman he knew that you breed good milk cows from good milkers and good beef cattle from good beeves.  So he could see that you didn’t get a tall, thin, clever boy from thickset country stock with nothing between the ears – and then there was the name, you see.  Rummocks’s other sons were Young Tom, Bill and George, but Sue insisted that the fourth had to be called Julian.  Just a fancy, she said, because she wanted him to better himself.  Rummocks had to stomach it, but poor Sue only lasted another seven or eight years after that.  Tom Rummocks never forgave her, and never failed to let her know it.  As for Julian, he was always treated as a useless weed by his father and brothers.
    The only bright spot in his life was that he was taken up by the vicar we had then, ghastly fella named Poynter.  I think it was probably this damned hypocrite started the rumour that Julian was probably m’brother  Hildebrand’s son.
    “You hear what they’re sayin’?” I said to the Memsahib at the time.  “Now you know and I know,” says I, “that Hildebrand’s never been one for the gals – never been one for anything that would cost him money – so the idea that he’d get a village girl pregnant was quite ludicrous.”
    “Don’t be silly, Hannibal,” she said, “We all know that he’s Poynter’s son.”
    “We?  Who’s we?” says I
    “All the ladies, everyone I take tea with,” says she.  “It’s obvious, isn’t it?  Do you think a selfish cad like Poynter would do all he has for the boy if he wasn’t his own?”
    Well, damme if she wasn’t right.  The bounder must have been curate at the time – I remember hearing about him droppin’ hints here and there about old Gowers bein’ past it, pointin’ out how much better it would be for the parish to have a young, energetic vicar prepared to devote all his powers for the good of the church.  I thought at the time, that young fella’s only out for his own good – all these mealy mouthed words and all the time he was poodlefakin’ with Sue Rummocks.  Well, of course, next thing you know Mrs Rummocks is in the club and poor old Gowers is makin’ a drunken ass of himself in the pulpit – and, as the Memsahib said, we all know who was playin’ on his weakness for the occasional tipple.
    You can imagine it, can’t you?  “Nnnnnhg, Stanley, it’s ages till evensong, what about a little snifter to warm us up on this chilly night?”  Yeuch!  He was one of those insinuatin’ bounders that insist on usin’ a chap’s Christian name as soon as he’s introduced and stressin’ all the wrong words to make himself sound important.
    So old Gowers would have a little snifter, and then another, and all the time Poynter would be sniggerin’ and makin’ jokes about old Hildebrand, so when Gowers got up to give his sermon he was well lit up and with nothin’ in his head but Poynter’s sniggerin’ jokes.  Well, you know what happened, of course, out came pourin’ the most outrageous calumnies, with poor old Hildebrand sittin’ there in the squire’s pew goin’ purple with rage and all the villagers either lookin’ shocked or chortlin’ into their handkerchiefs.  Then up pops Poynter, takes old Gowers by the arm, tells him he doesn’t look well, hurries him out of the pulpit, gets one of the choir-men to take him home and conducts the rest of the service himself.
    Big row the next mornin’.  “Can’t think what came over me,” says poor old Gowers, but by then of course Poynter’s tipped off Hildebrand about the tipplin’ so Hildebrand lets the poor old fella have it with both barrels, and next thing you know he’s handed in his resignation, been shipped off to a home for retired clergy and Hildebrand’s appointed Poynter to the livin’ and had him inducted by the bishop.
    Poynter, of course, was all over the bishop – arse-licker of the worst kind – so it’s not long before he’s rural dean of Gidney, on all the diocesan committees, and a governor of L’Estrange’s School.
    Well, you know, we L’Estranges have been squires of Fosswick and Gidney since the Conquest, and quite a bit before then too.  It was Walther L’Estrange who managed to get hold of Fosswick as a fief from the Earl of Norsex, but his grandfather, Edward of Gidney had fled to Normandy durin’ some of those troubles with the Danes, and lived there under William’s grandfather.  That’s where we picked up the name L’Estrange.  Edward the Foreigner, he was called, that’s L’Estranger in Norman French; so the new Norman overlord of Fosswick turned out to be the old Saxon Lord of Gidney, not that the Normans knew that, of course, or they’d have turned us out pretty dashed quick – but it did mean our people here weren’t so oppressed as most places, and over the years we tried to do our best for them.  That’s why Richard L’Estrange founded the school at Gidney in 1452, and it’s still goin’ strong today.  Grammar school until 1965, then had to go private or it would have been turned into one of these dratted reprehensive schools.
    Luckily it happened in my time not Hildebrand’s so at least I was able to endow a couple of scholarships.  Would do more if I could, but we’re not as well off as we used to be.  These days its only pipsqueak pop-singers and fancy-pants footballers that have got any spare cash, and not one of ’em with any sort of thought of usin’ their wealth to help their country.  And then there are those city financiers makin’ money out of investin’ other people’s cash – pullin’ out massive bonuses for themselves, investin’ it in real estate and leavin’ the poor benighted punters to take the rap when it all collapses.  Faugh!  Mark my words, m’ boy, one of these days the whole damn caboodle’s goin’ to come unstuck, and then where shall we be?  Up the dashed creek without a blasted paddle, that’s where, with nobody havin’ the slightest idea how to get us solvent again.
    Trouble is the whole education system’s gone to the dogs.  When the current lot bring the ship of state shudderin’ onto the rocks we won’t have the brains to shift ourselves back into the mainstream.  In the old days, of course, when things were simpler, you could rely on the public schools.  I can just about remember when a few thousand ex-public-school men were able to run half the world, but life’s too complicated now.  You need the middle classes too.
    I thought the country was on the right track just after the last war when they introduced grammar schools, secondary techs and sec. mods., but, as usual, they wouldn’t put in the money to make it work properly.  Not enough techs for the bright non-academics, you see.  Anyway, it’s pretty disgustin’ the way the current lot have all come up through the grammar schools and then closed them down.  Talk about pullin’ up the ladder when Jack’s all right!  Faugh!  Now, of course, you’ve got bright boys and girls moulderin’ away in these reprehensive schools, tryin’ to hide their brightness so they don’t get beaten up by the hoi polloi.
    I tried to explain it to one of these politician chappies.  Suppose, I said, that professional football teams were chosen by lottery and had nothin’ to do with playin’ ability.  It would be much fairer.  Then we wouldn’t have teams like Manchester United winnin’ nearly all the trophies, and any boy – or  girl for that matter – could have a go, and football could be nicely uncompetitive.  “Sport’s different,” said he, and couldn’t grasp that our poor old country has to compete with others in trade and science and technology, and so you’ve got to educate everyone to the best of their dashed abilities, and send the best to the best schools and the best universities, and let them get ahead of the herd, because if you keep everyone trundlin’ along at the speed of the slowest the whole bally country’s goin’ to end up among the also-rans.
    That’s why I would say to anyone that’s got the money and really wants to help our poor old country: found a grammar school, or if you can’t do that, establish open scholarships to help bright lads and lasses get to the best schools.
    Anyway, L’Estrange’s was still a grammar when young Julian went into it – round about the time m’brother Hildebrand died and I took over at Fosswick.  Feugh!  Place was in a dreadful state.  Mean old skinflint wouldn’t spend a penny on it.  House filthy, roof leakin’, farms not bringin’ in half what they should, tenants demoralised, not able to get their cottages repaired, Poynter skippin’ about plottin’ this and that – and, on top of it all, huge death duties to be paid.  Well, luckily I’d earned quite a bit in my time, and the Memsahib had had a bit of a legacy, so we were able to set about gettin’ things back to rights – and one of the first things I had to deal with was the appointment of a new headmaster at L’Estrange’s.
    Knowin’ nothing about how things were I popped in to see the retirin’ headmaster.
    “L’Estrange,” says I.
    “Ah.  Yes,” says he.  “This is L’Estrange’s.  “You have a boy …?”
    “No, no,” says I.  “You misunderstand.  “You: headmaster.  Me: L’Estrange, Hannibal L’Estrange.”
    “Ah,” says he, with a chuckle, showin’ hed got a sense of humour – always a good thing – “Sorry about the misunderstanding.  I hope you’ll attend the Governors’ meetings?  Sir Hildebrand, of course …”
    “… couldn’t be bothered,” says I, “but I’m a rather different kettle of fish, you’ll find.  I hear you’re retirin’ and we’re appointin’ a successor.  Thought I’d just pop in and find out a bit about the candidates as I’ve been out of touch.  I see you’ve got an internal chap.  Any good?”
    “Well,” said the archbeako, sort of slowly, “he does have the support of Mr Poynter, who is quite a prominent member of the governing body.”
    “By prominent,” says I, “you mean he talks a lot and usually gets his own way?”
    “Exactly,” says the archbeako, and not always to the school’s advantage.”
    “Well,” says I, “I’ve been hearin’ one or two things about Poynter recently – and not always to his advantage, but this Egbert Peers, what do you make of him.”
    “I think,” said the archbeako, “that it was Mohammed who advised his followers to be modest in bearing and remember that the animal with the loudest voice is the ass.  Well, if you want to find a prime example of the proverbial braying ass you needn’t look any further than Egbert Peers.  I honestly believe that the only reason he came into teaching is so that he’d have a never-ending supply of harmless little boys that he could bully without anyone answering back.  I have to say that I’m really rather depressed at the thought that this fine old school might be put under his control – especially if Mr Poynter becomes chairman of the Governors.”
    “Anglin’ for that, is he?” says I.
    “I fear so,” says the archbeako.
    “Mmh.  Any good candidates for the headship?”
    The archbeako passed me a couple of files and I glanced through them.  Pretty good, both of them.
    “I’ll send you the complete committee papers,” said the Headmaster, “and hope to see you at the meeting.”
    “I’ll be there,” says I, “but I think it would be better if you didn’t introduce me.  Just let me lie low until I see how the wind blows.”
    You know, as it turned out that was the best thing I could have said.  I was pretty sure Poynter didn’t know me.  We hadn’t been down to Fosswick much in Hildebrand’s last years – just too depressin’, and we knew we couldn’t change anything.  Then, when old Hildebrand took ill and died quite suddenly, I was out in Ceylon on behalf of HMG, havin’ a chat about this and that with Mrs Bandaranike.  Came back as quick as I could, of course, but it fell to m’brother Theodore to arrange the funeral – bigwig in the Civil Service, knighthood and all that.
    Anyway, the upshot is, Poynter sees this chap who’s obviously in charge, hears them all callin’ him Sir Theodore, and jumps to the conclusion he’s the new baronet.  Starts greasin’ around him like nobody’s business, no eyes for anyone else, and of course Winifred laps it up, and so no-one bothers about puttin’ him right.  Suits me down to the ground, so I says to the Mem, “Let’s just stay in the background,” and she’s no more eager than I am to have Poynter dancin’ attendance.
    In short, Poynter didn’t find out that the new baronet wasn’t Theo till we’d actually moved in a few weeks later.  Called round straightaway, of course, but luckily I was out, and, after that chinwag with the archbeako, I made sure averyone had instructions to say I was elsewhere whenever he put in an appearance – kept well away, even goin’ to church in Gidney on Sunday.
    Anyway, the meeting began, and I soon saw what the Archbeako meant about Poynter bein’ a prominent member.  Talked more than all of the rest of ’em put together.  Dashed skilful, I must say.  Never started out with a blatant untruth that could be challenged.  Always started with something everyone agreed with, then slid into half-truth, and from there to innuendo, then a bit of the old soporific stressing of prepositions and conjunctions just to send then all to sleep, then, when they were off their guard, in with the killer knife in the back for some poor blighter with the rest of ’em just noddin’ approval.
    Then it came to the appointment of the new headmaster and Poynter was in there in no time, underminin’ the better candidates with sly digs and half suggestions and buildin’ up Egbert Peers and his long experience and loyal service at L’Estrange’s.
    Had them eatin’ out of his hand, and then came in for the killer punch.
    “Eunngh!  I happen to know,” said he, “that the late Sir Hildebrand L’Estrange, the patron of our school, was most anxious to ensure continuity of the current ethos of the school, which he thought could best be served by the appointment of Egbert Peers.”
    Well, I happened to know that Hildebrand couldn’t have given a damn who was headmaster as long as it didn’t cost him anything, but all I did was wink at the archbeako, who cottoned on and asked, “Does anyone happen to know if Sir Hannibal has expressed any views?”
    “Nnnngh!” honked, Poynter, “As Vicar of Fosswick I am, of course, in constant touch with the family, and I recently spoke to Sir Hannibal about this very matter, and he agreed with me that continuity of the ethos of the school, so ably sustained by our Headmaster over the years, with the help of his loyal staff, and none more loyal than Egbert Peers, would best be served by an internal appointment.”
    “Well,” says I, “funny thing is, Sir Hannibal doesn’t remember that conversation.  I suppose he is gettin’ on a bit …”
    “Yes, indeed,” honked Poynter.  “I thought myself that he seemed, well, shall we say just a trifle forgetful …”
    “Not completely gaga?” says I.
    “Well,” says Poynter slimily, “I’m no expert in senility, but …”
    “Of course,” says I, “another reason our new Patron may not remember the conversation is that it never took place.  Perhaps I should introduce m’self.  L’Estrange.  If we met, perhaps both of us are too gaga to remember it.”
    That, I’m glad to say, shut Poynter up for the rest of the meeting.  I asked the Archbeako to summarise the good and bad points of the candidates, Peers came nowhere, and we shortlisted the three or four best.  I got m’self on the interviewin’ panel and got Poynter left off, and when it came to it we appointed a jolly good new Headmaster who has kept the school runnin’ just as it should.
    Well, as you can imagine, that didn’t exactly make me popular with the reverend Mr Poynter, and I had a great deal to do with him on church business.   I can’t say I was any too pleased with him as vicar, especially when I found he’d sold our Saxon font for £150 and was now proposin’ to christen babies usin’ a Pyrex bakin’ bowl.
    “Nnnngh!  Sir Hildebrand agreed that the old font had to go and he was very pleased with the price I got for it,” honked Poynter, and it seemed there was nothin’ I could do about it.  Hildebrand would sell anything for a bit of ready cash and it seemed Poynter had told him the choir needed new surpluses but he could get the money by sellin’ the font, and Hildebrand agreed.
    Anyway I was fumin’ and wonderin’ how I was ever goin’ to get rid of the fella when the Memsahib said, “I see our Mr Poynter is going to marry the Bishop’s daughter.  She passed over a copy of Country Life and there it was in the announcements.  Something like The Bishop of Hadbury and Mrs Crompton announce the engagement of their daughter Gwendoline to the Reverend Simon Poynter, etc, etc.
    Well, I can’t say it surprised me.  Poynter was just the sort to marry into his boss’s family.  I flicked idly through the pages and was just about to give it back when my eye was caught by the picture of a font.
    “Egad!” says I.  “That’s the Fosswick font!”  So I read the piece under the picture, and found that this exquisite Saxon font was to be auctioned at Sotheby’s the followin’ week and was expected to fetch a cool £120,000.
    “That idiot Poynter,” says I.  “Sold our font for a miserable £150 and now it’s goin’ for £120,000.”
    Well, I got on the blower to Sotheby’s and, as luck would have it, got through to m’old chum Harry Ilchester.
    “This font,” says I.  “Looks to me suspiciously like the Fosswick font.”
    “Absolutely,” says he.  “Provenance established beyond doubt.  Removed from Fosswick Church last year.  Lovely piece.  Should make the reserve price easily.  Probably go to America.”
    “Look here, Harry,” says I.  “I’m not happy about this.  Font’s present owner gave the church just £150 for it, but he must have known its true value.  Looks decidedly fishy.”
    “Fishy indeed,” says Harry,  “and fishier than you think.  Guess who the present owner is.”
    “I’m not up in the world of crooked art dealers,” says I.
    “You’ll know this name,” says he, “It’s the Reverend Simon Poynter, Vicar of Fosswick, and he produced the receipt, signed and sealed by your brother, Hildebrand, to prove that it was his own property.”
    “The deuce he did!” says I.  “Can you withdraw it from sale, Harry, while I sort this out.
    “Consider it done,” says he.
    “Well, Poynter honked and sneered, and said the font was his bought fair and square “with the agreement of Sir Hildebrand.”
    So I says: “£120,000 is a lot of money, but it won’t keep you for the rest of your life.  You see, young Poynter, the one thing a confidence trickster like you can’t afford to lose is his reputation.  It’s not so bad if just a few people see through him, but if the whole world knows he’s a wrong’un, then he’s up the dashed gum-tree – and if I don’t get that font back I’ll raise such a stink that it’ll be the end of your career.  No Episcopal purple for you, m’boy, and no marriage either if I know Bishop Crompton.
    The long and the short of it is: I bought back the font for £150, paid for it to be reinstalled in the church, and Poynter’ kept his career.  It was pretty clear to him that I was keepin’ a close eye on things, but he’d already prepared his next move.  Always attended the Lambeth conference, you see, greased round all the bigwigs, so in another couple of months he was off to a canonry at Salisbury or somewhere.  I’ve heard he’s even become a bishop since then.  Faugh!  You know, most of the bishops I’ve met have been jolly good sorts, but I suppose there are chaps like Poynter in every big organisation, makin’ their way up the greasy pole with a mixture of innuendo and sycophancy.  Never met a fella I disliked more.
    Now, where was I?  Ah, yes, this rum business of young Julian.  Went to L’Estrange’s when it was a grammar, so of course when it turned private the county council kept on payin’ for his sixth form studies, and at that point his guardian angel stepped in again.
    Poynter had been gone for about four or five years, I suppose, but he still kept in touch with some of the wealthier people in the district, so he was able to recommend young Julian for a job tutorin’ for a Gidney family called Glazebrook that wanted to get their boy into the school.
    Now young Julian was bright, and it seems he did a good enough job.  At any rate the Glazebrook boy got in, but Julian must have inherited his father’s nature.  It seems he deliberately set himself the task of seducin’ Mrs Glazebrook, more or less as a test to see if he could do it and get away with it.  How do I know it wasn’t just youthful infatuation leadin’ him astray, you ask?  Well, that’s where the Memsahib comes in again.  One of the ladies she lunches with was related to one of Mrs Glazebrook’s best friends, woman who often visited the Glazebrooks and kept her eyes open.  Takin’ tea on the terrace and noticed Julian deliberately seein’ if he could get away with holdin’ Mrs Glazebrook’s hand under her poor benighted husband’s very nose.  Worse than that: Glazebrook away on business and who should she see sneakin’ up to the back door after the children were in bed but Julian.  Left his bicycle in the back garden, still there next morning, left before the sprogs were up, back again next night.
    Naturally she told her friends and relations in confidence, and one of them passed it on to the Memsahib among others.  Not that she told me at the time, but later on when the case was in the papers, then I heard all about it.  You know, people talk about the old boy network, but it’s nothing on the female network.  I dare say that, if a man from Cornwall winked at a barmaid in Aberdeen just before getting’ on the train, his wife in Penzance would know all about it before he got home.
    After that young Julian went off to university, somewhere up north, I think, but every vacation he was back in Fosswick and cyclin’ over to Gidney for a bit of hanky-panky with Mrs Glazebrook.
    Poor old Glazebrook!  Don’t know what his line of business was, but it took him off to London or Birmingham every so often, and Julian never missed.  Didn’t even bother hidin’ it from the Glazebrook sprogs.  Must have been ghastly for that boy at L’Estrange’s to have his schoolmates knowin’ that his old tutor was rogerin’ his mater whenever his pater was out of town.  I think by then it was the talk of half of Gidney – mainly the female half, of course.
    Now, at this point Egbert Peers comes back into the story.  When he heard about Mrs Glazebrook’s affair he was furious because he’d been tryin’ to fix up a special relationship with her himself – not that he was out for any of the old rumpy-pumpy and rannygazoo, mind you.  Not that sort of chap at all.  What the bounder was after was the Glazebrook millions, or at least a share of them.
    You see, Peers wasn’t content with just bullyin’ little boys while teachin’ ’em gym and geogger at L’Estrange’s.  He was also a member of St Marks, which was the evangelical church at Gidney, and bein’ the sort of brayin’ ass he was, wanted to be top dog there.  Took over runnin’ the children’s fellowship and started fawnin’ round Mrs Glazebrook, who sometimes went to St Marks and sometimes to St Etheldreda’s.  Thought if he could persuade her to part with some cash for the children’s fellowship he’d be a bit of a big noise, and then if he got her to stump up for the roof fund he’d be the bee’s knees as far as the vicar and the rest of the congregation were concerned.
    All was goin’ well.  Peers was round at the Gidney house for tea and crumpets a couple of times a week, till Julian got back on vacation, and then Mrs Glazebrook just didn’t have much time for anyone else.  Peers managed to see her now and then and kept up the heavy hints about fundin’ for the sprogs of St Marks, but when he found out about her “fornication” as he called it, he realised the game was up.  The vicar, you see, chap called Gilbert Congreve.  Absolute stickler for moral uprightness.  Just wouldn’t have accepted money from a scarlet woman.  So all Peers’s hard graft counted for nothing.
    The bounder convinced himself it was his duty to set things to rights by informin’ the cuckolded husband, but, bein’ a yellow-bellied coward, decided to do it with an anonymous letter, typed and signed “A Wellwisher”
    Well, Mrs Glazebrook knew something was up from the change in her husband’s behaviour, and she knew the change had come when he received that letter – and she also knew that the letter came from Egbert Peers.  I told you the man was an ass, didn’t I?  Well, can you believe it?  He sent an anonymous letter on his own very distinctive notepaper in one of his own distinctive envelopes.  Egad!  The pretentious half-wit had had these things printed with some biblical slogan or other on them – some guff or other about repentin’.  There was no name or address, so it never occurred to him that anyone would know who the anonymous note came from, but, of course he’d written to Mrs Glazebrook many times, so she recognised the envelope.  The idiot had even given her a sheet of his notepaper and an envelope, and advised her to have some of her own printed.
    Glazebrook had locked the anonymous letter away in his desk, but, naturally Mrs G. knew just where to look, and she knew where the spare key was.  When she read it she was appalled, but, bein’ a clever young woman, she had an idea.  She quickly wrote a note to Julian, included a copy of Peers’s denunciation and the blank sheet of Peer’s notepaper.  Then she sent the sprog he’d tutored to waylay him on his way into Gidney.
    The result: later that day a boy delivered to the Glazebrook house a typed letter on Peers’s notepaper.  Mrs Glazebrook opened it, and when her husband returned home that evening, she ran to him in tears, brandishin’ a second anonymous letter.  It accused her of failin’ in her Christian duty by not givin’ large sums of money to sent Mark’s, denounced her as a whited sepulchre, and informed her that, to teach her a lesson, the writer had told her husband that she had committed adultery with Julian Rummocks and that he would see to it that the rumour of her fornication spread throughout Gidney.
    “I know who sent it,” she cried.  “It was Egbert Peers.  The odious man has been at me for months to give him money for his children’s fellowship and even to pay for a new roof for the church.  It would cost thousands and thousands.  I said we couldn’t possibly afford it, and this is his revenge!  Of course young Rummocks can’t ever come here again, which will be such a disappointment for Anthony, but I can’t have him in the house if people are goin’ to say things like that.”
    Well, the upshot was that Glazebrook insisted that Julian should continue visitin’ whenever he liked, then he stalked over to St Mark’s church hall, where Peers was struttin’ around in front of the children’s fellowship, and gave the bounder a couple of black eyes – much to the delight, I’ve no doubt, of the sprogs of St Marks.
    Egad!  Lucky fella, Julian, and now daddy steps in again when he graduates and gets him a job with old Johnny Brackwater.  Trust Poynter to find an earl to smarm around!  Highly recommended by Canon Poynter, naturally Julian gets the position and finds himself at 22 or so the trusted confidential secretary of one of the biggest landowners in that part of the country.  As you might expect, young Julian had inherited all Poynter’s devious cunning, so Johnny Brackwater found him damn useful when it came to pullin’ the wool over someone’s eyes.
    As you probably know, Johnny was constantly involved in lawsuits of one sort or another, which he very often lost.  Argumentative sort of fella, you see.  Well, with Julian to help him, usin’ a bit of half-truth and a bit of innuendo, he began to find his opponents settlin’ on whatever terms they could get before the case ever got to court.
    Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Brackwater Conspiracy.  If it had come off it would have been in all the history books and probably turned the United Kingdom into some sort of banana republic.  You see, Johnny Brackwater thought that bein’ an Earl made him a natural leader, and he began to get more and more concerned about the fate of the country and convinced that it was his destiny to set things to rights.
    You have to admit there was plenty to be concerned about.  It was when that pompous ass Heath was PM and things were going’ from bad to worse on all fronts.  Industrial relations had just about collapsed.  There were more man-hours lost through strikes than at any time since 1926.  Even the postmen went on strike, and I don’t think that had ever happened before.  Then you got Rolls Royce collapsin’ and the Government havin’ to nationalise the aero-engine division and sell the car-makers, and even the Clydeside shipbuilders goin’ bust.  Then there were anarchists like the Angry Brigade lettin’ off bombs – even bombed a dashed cabinet minister’s house – and real terrorist like the IRA steppin’ up the pressure with riots and bombs and rooftop snipers, so that the whole damn caboodle was escalatin’ day by day, culminatin’, as I’m sure even a young whipper-snapper like you, remembers in the so-called massacre of Bloody Sunday.
    Well, between you and me, what I’ve heard is that that ghastly little episode was triggered by an IRA gunman called McGinty – or was that the man in the song, who had a goat?  Whatever his name was, people saw him wanderin’ round with a rifle and in a blue funk and say he started shootin’ from the top of a block of flats.  Of course what we don’t know is whether it was all an accident because he was in such a funk, or if he was in a funk because he’d been ordered to loose off a few rounds and goad the soldiers into firin’ back.  You don’t get that in the papers of course, just the usual round of breast-beatin’ and blamin’ the army.  It’s Tommy this and Tommy that, and Tommy go away, but it’s “Thank you Mr Atkins” when the band begins to play, what?
    Then on top of this it’s getting’ more and more obvious that with De Gaulle havin’ handed in his dinner pail, our benighted government is intent on takin’ us into the Common Market at any price.
    Anyway, old Johnny Brackwater looked round and he saw that corrupt old despot Milton Obote kicked out of Uganda by a chap called Idi Amin, pretty good boxer by all accounts, and trained by the British.  Amin said he was goin’ to get rid of corruption and tribalism and all the other sorts of cronyism and bring back a proper British-style democracy, so Johnny thought, “Let’s kick out Heath and that ghastly little Harold Wilson, sling the blighters in clink for the duration and bring in a provisional government run by the old aristocracy.  Mark you, he wasn’t crazy enough to see himself as dictator of Britain.  His plan, as I found out later, was to have Lord Mountbatten declared … well I suppose the nearest equivalent is Leader, or Führer if you like.  Mountbatten!  I ask you!
    I was sounded out m’self, you know.  I was at Ascot I think it was – no, I’m wrong, it was Cheltenham – when suddenly I heard a cry of “Jumbo!”  My old prep-school nickname, don’t you know?  Hannibal, crossin’ the Alps, elephants, therefore Jumbo, and since I was a thin, wiry little chap, the name appealed to the schoolboy sense of humour and stuck.  Look well in my obituary, don’t you think?  Lieutenant Colonel Sir Hannibal “Jumbo” L’Estrange, bart., eh, what?
    “Polly!” quoth I.  General Sir Arthur ‘Polly’ Polstead as his obituary had it.  Gone now, of course.  Barely made eighty-five.  Ah well, all flesh is grass, as the Bible says.
    Anyway: “How’re you doin’, old boy?” says he.  “Care for a snifter or two?”
    Then over the third or fourth he started on about the state of the country.  Goin’ to the dogs and all that.  Seemed particularly upset by some march held by homosexualists, but then moved on to IRA terrorism and the condition of the economy and how the Grocer seemed to think of nothing but sailin’ and music and gettin’ into the Common Market.
    “Wouldn’t surprise me, Jumbo old horse,” said he, “if some members of the House of Lords get together to bag the Grocer and dump him in the cellars for the duration while they got on sortin’ out the mess.”
    “If you ask me,” says I, “that would be a recipe for disaster.  At the very least you’d end up with the House of Lords abolished.”
    “What if they had a renowned figurehead to lead the provisional government,” says he.  “Someone like Mountbatten, for instance.”
    “Mountbatten?” says I.  “That vain, silly, self-obsessed popinjay!  Look at the state he left India in, and you think of lettin’ him have his head here.”
    “Well, no,” says Polly.  “There’d be a council you know.  Chaps like Johnny Brackwater, with a few elder statesmen like you and me to keep an eye on things.”
    “Not me,” says I.
    “Well, after all,” says he, there’s that fellow Amin, kicked out old Obote, goin’ to reform the country and then restore democracy.”
    “Hah!” says I.  “I’ll believe that when I see it.  He wouldn’t be the first dictator to start off with smooth words and end up killin’ all his enemies – and probably eatin’ ’em too, if I know the type.”
    “So you wouldn’t approve?” says he.
    “Damn right I wouldn’t,” says I, but just then I caught sight of the Breener, so we hailed him for a bit of a chinwag.  Young Irish Catholic priest, don’t you know?  Seemed to have a direct hot-line to the Almighty when it came to backin’ horses.  I said to him once, “Don’t your superiors object?”
    “Ah now,” says he, with a hint of a wink, “there’s nothing in the Bible says you mustn’t gamble, and I never put on more than a tenner.  I say to the young fellows, if you’re going to have a bet, make up your mind, don’t shilly-shally, stick to your first choice, and don’t bet any more than you can afford to lose.”
    So, of course old Polly and I asked him what his tip was for the three o’clock, and I completely forgot about that insane scheme to make Mountbatten Lord Protector or whatever grandiose title he might dream up for himself.  Never gave it another thought till the Memsahib told me young Rummocks had been mixed up in it.
    I’ve told you how Poynter got his own way by makin’ people think he had the support of m’brother Hildebrand, and even tellin’ that meeting that I was in favour of Peers getting’ the headship.  Well, as I think I’ve already said, young Julian had inherited all that sliminess.  Proved himself useful to Johnny Brackwater in negotiatin’ settlements in his law-suits, so Johnny thought he’d give him a try drummin’ up support for the conspiracy, and as far as I can make out he was dashed good at it.  Put over the guff so cleverly that he could reel ’em in if they took the bait and put ’em right off the scent if they didn’t.  Pulled in quite a few reasonable sized fish, I can tell you, and Johnny Brackwater was over the moon, till he got a bit of news that put the whole damn caboodle right out of his noddle – and the news was that his daughter, Maud, wanted to marry young Rummocks.
    Anyway, the upshot was that he forgot all about the conspiracy and the whole thing collapsed and would never have been heard of again if Harold Wilson hadn’t got hold of some garbled version of it.  I suppose that Williams woman picked it up from the gossip grapevine and got it wrong.  So poor little Wilson spent the whole of his last government convinced that there was a high level conspiracy against him and that at any moment he might be bundled into a car and driven off to durance vile while the country was taken over by Mountbatten and a gang of backwoods peers.  Wouldn’t surprise me if that was the reason for his sudden resignation.  People said he knew some balloon was about to go up, though there never was a balloon.  Health probably undermined by the strain of wonderin’ if each day was to be his last, so got out while he still could.
    But let’s get back to our muttons, what?  Young Julian.  Poynter got him a job with Johnny Brackwater, who found him damn useful, but Julian didn’t get on so well with the younger Stigwells, Lady Maud and her brother Freddy Sudborough.  Tried to push in on their circle, you see, and they didn’t like it.  Thought he was a greasy-pole-climber, you see – and he didn’t like bein’ looked down on.  Chap who’d been the bee’s knees at Fosswick and Gidney, and oiled round his professors like nobody’s business, secretary to an earl in his early twenties, chap on the up-and-up, equal of anyone.  So when he heard them mockin’ his Norsex accent and generally talkin’ about him as if he was a mere nobody, he got on his high horse too and started avoidin’ ’em.
    Now Maud had a whole circle of suitors, most of ’em titled.  One in particular, young Cobbcross was particularly attentive, and, given that he was heir to a marquisate, Johnny was all in favour and encouraged him to visit as often as he could.  But, you know, women are contrary creatures, and the more young Cobbcross oiled around her, the more she got bored with him.  Not only that, the more young Rummocks ignored her the more determined she got that she’d make him take notice of her and then teach him a lesson by breakin’ his heart.
    As for young Rummocks, when he saw Maudie lookin’ at him and seemin’ to take an interest, he decided to pay her back for her previous scorn.  He had seen how bored she was with Cobbcross and the other suitors, so he didn’t show too much interest and let her make the runnin’.  Of course she told her best friend in confidence, so naturally the whole affair eventually got into the grapevine, and that’s how it eventually got to the Memsahib.  
    When Maud was committed to her game, Julian suddenly dropped his coldness, avowed a long-standin’ love that he’d tried to suppress out of regard for her high position, took her in his arms and kissed her.  Walks in the garden followed, conversations about star-crossed lovers, assurances on Julian’s part that he would never sully Maud’s honour, that he knew how far above him she was and that he would leave his position, though he could never hope for another to equal it, and go out of her life, though it would break his heart.  Avowals on hers that she would rather belong to him than to all the silly Cobbcrosses in the world, kisses and caresses, until Julian finally reached his goal.
    After that Maud seems to have woken up to what she’d done and for the next few days she avoided Julian.  He, of course, felt like the cat that had got the cream, but, you know, it’s not for nothing that we use the word mistress.  Julian thought he had become the master of Maudie’s body, but in the process she had become the mistress of his dashed heart.  Now that she had withdrawn herself from him, he found himself longin’ for her.  Lovesick just like any other moonstruck calf!
    So now it was Julian’s turn to try oilin’ up to Maud, and Maud’s keep him at a distance.  Young Cobbcross was back in favour, and if he wasn’t there she would spend her time with Sudborough or with her best friend Stephanie Marshall.  Anything to avoid comin’ into contact with Julian.
    At this time, of course, he was travellin’ quite a lot, doin’ his bit for the Brackwater Conspiracy, which gave Maudie some relief.
    Now, while he was travellin’ around talkin’ to other chaps about the conspiracy, it seems young Julian also talked to one or two of them about his lovelorn state, and from one of them he got a useful suggestion about how to win Maud over again.  Chap who gave him the idea mentioned it to his girlfriend, so it eventually got to the ears of the Memsahib.
    Plan was this: Julian got back to Brackwater Castle, ignored Maud completely and started makin’ sheep’s eyes at Stephanie Marshall, lookin’ at her and sighin’, tryin’ to sit next to her, takin’ her hand whenever he had the chance, slippin’ her little notes and all that sort of dashed tommyrot.
    Naturally Maudie sees this goin’ on and begins askin’ herself why.  Then she begins to get irritated, and eventually falls prey to the green-eyed monster.  She tries smilin’ at Julian, but he just cuts her dead.  Fury!  That young devil has had the pleasure of sharin’ her bed and now he can’t even give her the time of day.  So one day Maudie pops into Julian’s office while he’s out and opens the drawers in his desk.  Finds letters from Stephanie, and, to her surprise, sees that some of ’em haven’t even been opened.  “What the Hades is goin’ on?” she thinks.  Back comes Julian and Maud decides to have it out with him.  Big row, lots of shoutin’ and screamin’.  All within earshot of a maid doin’ a bit of dustin’, so, naturally it’s all over the servant’s hall, and the maid’s tell their sisters and their friends, so when the Memsahib starts investigatin’ it’s not difficult for her to find someone who knows someone who heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.
    Anyway the upshot is Maud screeches, “… and you don’t care about her enough even to open her letters!” and Julian comes back with, “You’re right!  I don’t care twopence for her.  I was just tryin’ to make you jealous.  I’d do anything to win you back.  You’re the only woman I’ve ever loved.  You’re the only woman I ever could love.  If I can’t have you I’ll live alone and die alone.”
    All set for the big reconciliation scene.  Maud realises she’s been a fool, they tell each other they can’t live without each other and all that sort of thing, and by the end of the scene they’ve decided to get married.
    This, of course is what makes old Johnny Brackwater forget his dashed conspiracy.  There he is, expectin’ Maud to announce her engagement to young Cobbcross, expectin’ her to become a Marchioness, and now she tells him she’s goin’ to marry his blasted secretary.  Useful young chap, no doubt about that, but his father was nothing but an agricultural labourer.
    “You could have been a Marchioness,” he roars, “and now you tell me you’ll just be plain Mrs Rummocks!”
    “Don’t be silly, Daddy,” says she.  “I’ll be Lady Maud Rummocks of course!”
    Maid with a duster not too far away, of course, ears flappin’ like a dashed pachyderm.
    Next thing is: I get a phone call from Johnny Brackwater.
    “Need your help, old boy.  Need to find out about a chap called Rummocks.  M’secretary don’t you know.  Daughter wants to marry the blighter.  What d’you know of him?  They say his father’s a cowman.”
    “Dashed good cowman,” says I, “but thick as they come.  Thing is, Johnny, Tom Rummocks isn’t Julian’s father.  You only have to look at ’em to see it.  If you ask me, the real father is a slimy sort of cleric who used to be vicar here.  Name of Poynter.”
    “POYNTER!” yells Johnny.  “It was Poynter recommended him.  Don’t know what to do, you know.  Would have been simple in the old days.  Send him off on a wild goose chase, send a loyal retainer after him.  Throat cut, body down a well.  Can’t do it these days, more’s the pity.  Need to find out more about him.  Have to decide whether to get rid of him somehow or find him some sort of government appointment with a blasted knighthood attached.”
    So I told him all I knew and he decided to write to Mrs Glazebrook and ask for a reference.  Seems to have told Julian what he was up to, and, of course, Julian was delighted.  Mrs Glazebrook would be sure to describe him as positively the cat’s pyjamas.
    Now, unfortunately for Julian, after he had left Gidney, La Glazebrook had taken a turn for religion.  She’d given money to St Mark’s – not for Peers and his Children’s fellowship, of course, but she had contributed to various funds for the church fabric and she was thick as thieves with Gilbert Congreve, the vicar.
    Well now, it seems that when she got the letter from Johnny Brackwater askin’ her about young Rummocks, she had an attack of guilt and went to confess all to Congreve – not that either he or she would have described it as confession.  Much too Roman for the good evangelicals of St Marks.  We don’t know what she told him or what he said to her.  She didn’t pass on anything to any of her friends in confidence, and he certainly wouldn’t breathe a word.  So, at this point, you’re just goin’ to have to rely on what I suppose might have happened.
    Now, it seems to me that Congreve was in a bit of a quandary.  He had a strict moral code, as I think I’ve already said, that would have prevented him from acceptin’ any money from a sinner.  Damned silly if you ask me.  The medieval church made most of its cash from forgivin’ sins in return for donations.  But, be that as it may.  Congreve couldn’t accept tainted money, but Mrs Glazebrook had already paid for a number of repairs and additions to the church.  If her money was tainted he’d have had to throw it back in her face, and then where would he be?  The solution was obvious: poor Mrs G was more sinned against than sinnin’.  Fallen woman she might be, but let him who is without sin cast the first stone.  There is more joy in heaven over the lost sheep returned to the fold than over the ninety-nine that have never strayed – and, besides, if the lady was seduced then the person to blame is the seducer.
    That, I think, is why Congreve dictated to Mrs Glazebrook a letter in which she damned Julian as a vile seducer whose one aim on enterin’ a household was to seduce the master’s wife or daughter with a view to featherin’ his own nest with her share of the family wealth.
    Johnny Brackwater gets the letter, blows up, sends for Julian, calls him a damned scoundrel, shows him what Mrs Glazebrook has written, tells him there’s no way he’s goin’ to be allowed to marry Maudie, that he’s dismissed from his job and shouldn’t even think of askin’ for a reference, and, what’s more, if he’s not out of the castle by that afternoon he’ll be thrown out by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants.  All this again within earshot of one of the maids.  Trouble with Johnny is, he never thinks of the servants as human beings.  They’re just there to follow his orders, like dogs or horses, and it never occurs to him that they’d be interested in his affairs or any more able than dogs or horses to pass on what they hear.
    So, Julian is dismissed.  He rushes off to pack his belongings in an absolute fury, then storms down to the gunroom – he knows where the keys are, of course –  picks out a revolver and some ammo, then calls a taxi to take him to the station.  Doesn’t see Maud at all, or she might have talked some dashed sense into him.
    Where’s he off to?  Gidney!  Revenge on Mrs Glazebrook.  Knows he won’t be admitted to the house, so lies in wait.  Follows her to St Mark’s sees her talkin’ with the vicar. Flies into a blind rage.  Rushes forward, raises the gun and fires.  Mrs G gives a shriek and falls.  Congreve and a couple of women rush to pick up the stricken victim, and a churchwarden comes up behind Julian and knocks him senseless, and when he wakes up he’s lyin’ in the black maria with handcuffs on.
    Well, as you probably know, chaps in blind rages aren’t very good shots, so he just winged La Glazebrook in the arm.  Still, it was attempted murder, and that’s what the charge was.
    Naturally when she heard Julian was in prison Maudie flew to his side – well, actually, she drove, but dashed quickly.  You can imagine how she felt on findin’ La Glazebrook with him, arm bound up, lookin’ a bit pale round the gills, but otherwise well on the way to a full recovery.
    “You!” she spat, I suppose you want to hear, but there weren’t any witnesses to their conversation, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you whether she spat or not.  One thing they did agree on, though, and that was they both wanted Julian released.  Maudie said she’d pay for a top barrister, and, though there was no doubt that Julian had fired the fatal shot, counsel’s opinion was that they could probably get him off by claimin’ the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed.
    First day of the trial arrived and then there was the business of selectin’ the jury.  Now this is where things start getting’ interestin’ again, for among there number was a certain Egbert Peers, and not only that, bein’ the sort of brayin’ ass to push himself forward, he then got the other jurors to elect him foreman.
    “Odious man!” Mrs G must have thought, but it seems unlikely that she would have told Maudie about him blackmailin’ her over her affair with Julian.  Be that as it may, Maudie got to hear that Peers was a friend of Poynter’s, and that Poynter had put him up for the headship at L’Estrange’s.  Now Poynter, of course, was active round her part of the country, and by active I mean arselickin’ round all the bigwigs, so he’d called in to see Johnny Brackwater, and he’d made a particular point, so to speak, of ingratiatin’ himself with little Stephanie Marshall.  Thing is, little Stephanie just happened to be a favourite god-daughter of no less a bigwig that the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Dashed if I know how Poynter found that out – she wasn’t the sort to go round boastin’ of her connections, but find it out he did, and now Maudie thought of a way to turn all this to Julian’s advantage.
    You can imagine how pleased the reverend Canon Poynter was to be invited to tea with the Archbishop’s god-daughter.  The ladies’ gossip-vine got to hear all about him squirmin’ and wrigglin’ and sniggerin’ and laughin’ at his own jokes.  Now it seems that little Stephanie eventually brought the talk round to Julian, and Poynter hadn’t a good word to say for him – until she told him that Julian had been very useful to Johnny Brackwater and that the family, especially Lady Maud, were pretty anxious that he should get off and would be likely to reward anybody who could bring it off – for example, if Egbert Peers were to convince the jury that Julian was, if not innocent, at least not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, influence could be brought to get him a headmastership that had recently fallen vacant at a school in Hampshire that pretty much depended on Johnny Brackwater’s generosity for its continued solvency.
    Poynter’s interest was immediately roused.  Stephanie then went on to hint that if a certain influential clergyman could arrange matters with Peers, she herself would be only too happy to sing his praises to her godfather next time a bishopric fell vacant.
    “Nnnng!  As it happens,” said he “The bishop of Sarchester is due to retire in the next few months.”
    “I can’t think of a better candidate than you,” said Stephanie.
    So off frisked Poynter, probably brandishin’ an imaginary episcopal crook, phoned Peers and put him wise to the situation, then phoned Stephanie to tell her all was arranged as long as the headship was on offer.  Stephanie goes off and tells Maudie, and Maudie gets in touch with the prep school to recommend Peers.
    So there you are.  Good as done.  Foreman of the jury bribed, egad!  Julian bound to get off.
    Then Maudie made a slight miscalculation.  She hadn’t realised just how desperate the school was.  They’d been without a head for several months, parents were talkin’ about withdrawin’ their sprogs, and the governors were wonderin’ whether they could approach the Brackwater Estate for more funds, when suddenly the chairman got a phone call from Maudie tellin’ him she’d found the ideal headmaster for them.  Obviously, thought he, the Earl wants us to appoint this Peers fellow.
    Egbert Peers sent in his application and set about preparin’ the other jurors to find Julian not guilty.  Then he got a call from the chairman of the governors.  Turned into an interview by phone and the promise of the job.  Poynter, of course had sent in a glowin’ reference, so there was no need to trouble any more referees.  Couple of days later Peers had a letter confirmin’ the appointment, sent in his acceptance, then took great delight in tellin’ the rest of the jury that Julian was obviously a bad lot, seducin’ employers’ wives and daughters for his own pleasure and tryin’ to get a share of their fortunes, and that the defence of temporary insanity was total eyewash.
    Result: Julian off to chokey for a couple of years.  Spent the time in clink makin’ friends and influencin’ people, came out and started a little business passin’ drugs.  Concentrated on wealthy city chaps who could pay well.  Made more friends and influenced more people – perhaps a bit of blackmail on the side – and got himself into one of the biggest fund managin’ companies.  Had a wonderful time gamblin’ on the stock markets with other people’s money, collected a massive salary and colossal bonuses.  Bought Gidney Park recently – wonderful Georgian manor house.  Land used to belong to us, you know, but had to be sold in the 1730s to pay Sir Everard’s gamblin’ debts.  Bought by some banker who pulled down the old manor house and built Gidney Park.  Anyway, young Rummocks has it now, and looks down on all of us rural yokels.  Makin’ an absolute fortune, and not an ounce of decency or generosity about him.  Like these other banker fellows: ready to drive the whole dashed country into the red as long as their own bank balances stay firmly in the black.
    Just you wait, m’boy.  The whole damned caboodle will come crashin’ down.  You mark my words.  Then where shall we be?  What?

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