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by Robert Cooper

Chapter 1

It was a strange morning.

I had retired to bed a 'normal' 16¾ years old schoolboy, The Honourable James Levitt, to be woken at an early hour by my grandfather's steward, Seymore, informing me that both my Father, Viscount Levitt and Grandfather, the Earl of Braeborne were dead and that I was now Earl of Braeborne.

To a sleepy 16¾ years old at 6.00 a.m. this was a bit much to comprehend.

Boy food instinct kicked in and I said

"Come back after I have eaten breakfast and we will talk more."

Poor Seymore was a little put out but he went off in search of food for me, leaving a young footman to 'assist' me in my morning routine. Being unused to assistance of any sort with dressing, it took twice as long to get ready but we managed.

Seymore returned with two kitchen staff carrying trays with enough breakfast for my whole class it seemed.

I sat and ate while Seymore related the happenings that led to my ennoblement.

It seems that there was a dinner at the M anor last night. All parties took port after, (some more than others).

Father supporting Grandfather were arm in arm on the Grand staircase and Grandfather was seen to stumble. Father grabbed him but both fell and tumbled downwards. Father seemed to land badly and ended with his head at a n odd angle, a case of broken neck and instant death.

Grandfather had suffered a severe stroke which caused the accident and died later that night or very early this morning.

This meant that I, at aged 16¾ had become Earl of Braeborne with no idea what to do.

It also meant (to my later amusement) that my mother had become Dowager Lady Levitt, which I am sure caused her some distress as she was terribly conscious of her "place." She had hoped to be Countess of Braeborne.

Forgive my rather unemotional re-action to these deaths but my parents had me brought up by a series of Nannies from birth and I was sent off to boarding school at a very young age. I never knew my grandfather, in fact I only met him four times in my whole life.

Within an hour of breakfast and a brief meeting with the Headmaster, I was in the Limo with all my kit and away to the Manor.

We arrived at the Manor before noon. I was shown to my room which was my usual room for visits and holidays. All my kit was brought up and again with the help of my young footman was soon stowed away in it's proper place. It appeared that this young footman, Edward, had been assigned to me as my valet

After a good lunch, a small team of solicitors and accountants arrived to give me a briefing. After a few minutes of legal jargon I paused the briefing to ask for just the bare bones of what I needed to know straight away in plain language and leave the details until another day when I was more used to the situation. I used the same tactic with the team of accountants. After both teams had left I called Seymore in.

"Please Seymore, my head is spinning. Give me a précis of what went on this afternoon in plain English so I have some idea what I must do."

I knew that I had inherited a substantial estate which was very profitable, a large sum of money and an extensive portfolio of stocks and shares. In short, I was now very wealthy and powerful.

Seymore then told me that I was now owner of about twelve thousand acres of prime farmland, some of which were leased to farmers, the remainder was run by the estate. There were also some 250 acres of managed woodland. The whole estate was run organically and the tenant farmers had this written in their lease agreements. All fields had to have a wildlife habitat boundary of 3 meters, and hedges maintained to encourage wildlife.

Behind the Manor house was a kitchen garden, greenhouses and mixed orchard which were expected to provide most of the needs of the house. Meat products w ould be sourced from our tenant farmers where possible.

The house, run by a Butler, Standish, had a permanent staff of 15 which was supplemented at times by casual and part timers. There was also an office with 5 staff run by Mr. Watson who dealt with all the paperwork involved with such a large estate, including payroll, and a kitchen staff of 7 run by the Chef.

Ladies were "Cook" and always Mrs. Whatever. Men were "Chef".

The estate was run by a manager and I think 15 staff, there was some sharing of casual farm hands and heavy machinery at busy times like spring ploughing and harvest. There were also some storage barns on the other side of the estate from the Manor.

After a time to get settled in a bit, I asked for a tour of the estate. Seymore and the estate manager, appropriately named Fields, sat me into the front passenger seat of an old open top Land Rover. A fairly rapid tour of my new estate followed and I was astonished to discover just how much I was now responsible for.

Included in my tour were two villages and various small farm/hamlets. I determined to have a closer look at some of these as there seemed to be a certain amount of dilapidation apparent. Both villages were served by sub-post office, church, pub and a few shops. I did however notice that there were no schools on the estate nor any sports and community facilities at all. My list was already growing.

When we got back to the manor I asked Seymore about stables and riding facilities. I had seen what looked like a stable block with a paddock but it appeared disused. When he tried to avoid the question I asked to see the stables there and then. He had no option but to show me what I asked. Prevarication seemed to be Seymore's trademark.

When we got there, just looking through the dirty windows, I was appalled at the state of the inside. There were stalls for 20 horses and ponies and they obviously had not been cleaned and maintained for ages. When asked about the grooms and other staff he did not know. Seems that the late Earl had no interest in horses and just allowed everything to go into disuse.

I asked for Fields to get a team in next morning and give the whole area a good clean so any repairs needed could be seen. I also asked if any of the previous stable hands could be located. I told him that it was my intention to have the stables up and running as soon as possible with at least four horses and two or three ponies with a stable master and staff . My previous school had stables with ponies for the boys to ride and I wished to continue. Being suspicious of Seymour's participation, I asked that Mr. Fields be tasked with this project and I would brief him on my requirements the next morning at 9.30 after breakfast. Seymore said that breakfast was not normally served until 9.30

I then told him that in future I wanted my morning meal at 7.30 sharp and this was to be every day including Sundays. He muttered about -"not the usual way for the late Earl"- I sharply replied that I was not aged 70 something and I wanted my day to start at a useful time.

I also asked him to provide me with the times of the services at the two village churches.

He looked horrified and said "the late Earl never went to church."

I then informed him that under a new and younger Earl things would be quite different.

I then further outraged him by asking to see the kitchens. He protested that they were not ready for inspection and needed notice of inspection to get things ready, I replied that they should always be ready for snap inspections and that I wanted to see them NOW. I kept him away from the house phone so he could not pre-warn them.

To say that I was horrified at the state of the kitchens would be a gross understatement.

There was left over food from yesterdays meals , dirty dishes everywhere and the general state of the kitchen was downright unhygienic. The staff uniforms were dirty and obviously not fresh on today. The head chef was the worst of all, he looked half asleep, dirty whites , unshaven and his hands and fingernails had not seen soap for some time. His fingers were stained with nicotine and looked as if he had been working on his car.

The cookers were old and dirty, as were the dish washers.

The worktops had not been cleaned properly for ages and the sinks were loaded with dirty dishes. The hand wash sink had no soap, nail brush or towels. I looked briefly into the kitchen office and saw piles of paper and the whole room stank of cigarettes. The ventilators were all blocked with grease and fluff. I could not get out quickly enough. Fortunately I had my phone with me and took some pictures as evidence.

To think my last few meals had been prepared in that pigsty, I felt ill at the thought.

I took Seymore into my office.

"When did you last inspect those kitchens?"

Reply was "Never, its not my job."-

"As Steward of this Manor, EVERYTHING is your job"."You will dismiss the head Chef as of now, pay him in lieu of notice. I want him off the grounds by tonight."

"You will tell them not to prepare any more food until that kitchen is THOROUGHLY clean and hygienic, I shall arrange an outside contractor within 24 hours to inspect, clean and report when it is done"

"All meals for the time being will be bought in, if the village pubs can handle it then go to them".

"I want all that paperwork in the kitchen office brought up to the main office immediately and dealt with within the next 48 hours. If any accounts are overdue then send a letter of apology signed by me with a cheque. On that matter what is our policy on payment of accounts?"

"I don't know Sir"-

"Pick up that house phone and ask the office".

"90 days Sir"-

"Too long. Unless there is a query all invoices will be paid at 30 days".

"But we have always paid at 90 days"-

"Then we will always pay at 30 days from now. I don't expect our suppliers to subsidize us."

"I NEVER want to hear – 'but we have always done it this way'- again. Is that clear.?"

"If there is a reason for delay then I want to have a report on my desk next day, Is that understood?."

"Now, before you go and sack that apology for a chef understand this:-"

"You are the Steward of a Noble House, EVERYTHING that goes on here is your concern,"

"If you don't feel able to cope then discuss it with me and we will consider an assistant."

"If you have department managers then they report to you at least weekly, if any urgent matters arise then they see YOU immediately, you then decide if I need to know."

"You will make an appointment for the accounts office manager to see me here tomorrow, you will also be here for that meeting."

"You will advertise for a new head chef as soon as possible."

"Once things settle a little there are some projects I wish to discuss with you and Mr Fields, but let's get a new chef and the accounts regime settled first."

"It is obvious to me that under the late Earl there was little, if any, oversight. While I don't want the small details of the estate business I shall keep myself informed of the estate details in broad. You can make it known that the new Earl is a nosy bugger and liable to look in at any time and ask them awkward questions about anything in their departments."

"After breakfast and seeing Mr Fields I shall be wandering about outside with my notebook and will see you at 11.30 for your progress report on the tasks I have given you""After lunch at 1.00 I shall take a tour of the interior of the house with the housekeeper and see what shortcomings I shall find. You might warn her that I shall be wearing white cotton gloves. She will know what this means."

"Now go and organize some food for 7.00 p.m. this evening. In future meals will be breakfast at 7.30, lunch at 1.00 p.m. and dinner at 7.00 p.m."

"Weekly menus to be on my desk first thing Monday mornings. Any variations of numbers and times I shall try and give 48 hours notice. Kitchen staff will have clean whites every morning and a supply of disposable plastic aprons and gloves for dirty jobs. Waiting staff will have white starched jackets for use when serving meals."

"Will you please call Edward. I wish to shower and change before dinner and also look through the clothes I brought back from school. I may need to take a trip shopping for more clothes".

"You might warn the staff that I am a jeans and sweater man around the estate."

"By the way will you get the office to arrange 2 debit cards for me, one on the Estate account and the other on the Manor account as soon as possible and meantime I would like a cash float of £100,00 available tomorrow morning please. I assume the estate accountants have arranged suitable accounts for me?"

"I feel that I have shocked you enough for one day, Goodnight Seymore, see you in the morning."

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