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by Robert Cooper

Chapter 2

Edward arrived shortly and we sorted out all my kit, some of which I rejected, school uniform just did not go with a coronet, send it back to the school when Geoff goes back for their 'used but good', other serviceable kit that was too small I asked Edward to give to whichever church had a 'used but good' table.

I had a shower (needs updating) put on clean underwear, jeans and a jersey.

Must check the heat settings, the whole place feels too hot.

Dinner arrived from one of the village pubs, very tasty and all local produce. I have already decided to eat at the local pubs now and then to keep up with the feelings for the new Earl and the local gossip.

I must phone Geoffrey and see if he wants to visit. It is Easter next weekend and if I send the car to collect him on Friday lunchtime we can have the week until the following Monday morning to show him my new life.

Geoffrey Fortescue-Smythe is a very good friend. He took me under his wing when I arrived at school and looked after me ever since.

Once we found how all our "parts" worked and where they best fitted we were a real couple.

He is three months younger but half a head taller. A gangly youth, all arms and legs and awkwardness. Unruly mop of ginger hair, freckles and horn rim glasses.

Loyal to a fault to his friends and totally trustworthy. A complete duffer at sports and in the class, but I never saw him down at any time. I am sure it was only his parents money that kept him at school.

All that being so, I wanted him at my side studying with tutors as I will now have to. He may give the impression of being a bit of a dummy but underneath that façade he is as sharp as a tack.

I have visions of him being co-Steward and working closely with me in future.

I caught up with Edward in my dressing room/sitting room sorting clothes and asked him to spare me a few minutes.

I asked him to sit in one of the armchairs.

I said "May I ask personal questions? You can decline to answer if you wish."

He nodded consent.

"Your age?" -17½-

I then asked if he had a 'significant other ' and also about his parents.

He blushed but then said "Yes Sir, I have a boyfriend, Joseph, he was second groom in the stables but now does casual work around the farms when he can get it."

"My Father was under stable master until the old stable master died. Then they were all let go. My mother was a cook until the head chef demanded 'favours' so she left. She now does short order chef at the Thatchers Arms in the village. She says it well below her skills

but it pays the rent."

I then said "As you have probably heard I have fired the chef so I am looking for a new chef/cook and also wish to start up the stables again."

"If either of your parents or Joseph wish to apply then I would like to see them away from the Manor at their earliest convenience, perhaps there is a meeting room at the Pub?"

"I am anxious to fill these positions as soon as possible.

"I also suspect that you do not trust Seymore? Do not answer, I can see from your face that I have hit the nail on the head. I am looking for a confidential aide who can pick up hints of things without being obvious. Could this be you? I have already decided that I need a private secretary, would you be interested?"

He said that he would be delighted and that he had good keyboard skills but no shorthand. I warned him that at times things might get a bit frantic.

"I am unhappy with the way things run here and will be making changes. My "roomie" from school will be visiting at the bank holiday weekend or even this coming weekend. Do not be deceived by his manner, he sees a lot more than he says".

"He is Geoffrey Fortescue-Smythe and should be here next Friday afternoon until early Monday, then for the whole of Easter week. You can tell the staff that he can be addressed as "Mr. Geoffrey".

"I hope that he will live here permanently after some negotiations with his family."

"I think that is all for the moment, if you have any questions or comments perhaps we can re-visit tomorrow morning. I am off to bed".

Edward appeared at 6.00 and laid out the clothes I wanted. He waited, obviously wanting to say something.

"Yes Edward?"

"My parents and Joseph would be very interested in working at the Manor again. Ma can arrange the small conference room at Thatchers about 4.00 this afternoon if that is convenient? The landlord is a soul of discretion so our meetings will be totally confidential."

"O.K. set it up for that time"

"By the way does the estate own a Quad bike?"

"No Sir"

(picks up house phone)

"Seymore? I want you to organise a decent Quad bike for me. Yes today, preferably just after lunch. NO Seymore TODAY. Just do it please and let me know in 15 minutes what time it will arrive."

"Well Edward, that ruffled his feathers. He does not appreciate 'NOW' and 'TODAY' Do we have fuel pumps for the farm machinery?"

I am meeting Fields after breakfast so I can ask him about that and also about usage records.

"Do you have time to come with me? Bring a pad and pens, there will be lots of notes to take".

"By the way I don't see a computer in my office, we do have computers in the Manor?"

"No Sir, Seymore does not like them, it is part of the 'always done it this way'"

"Right then, your first project as my private secretary, (you do accept the position?) will be to search for a reputable computer agency and get an advisor in to see me early next week. Get my school lap-top out of my bags and get it on charge please."

"I am due to see the accounts office manager and Seymore some time this morning. I shall tell them what I have in mind. You will stay of course and take notes, should be quite a lively session."

And so to breakfast.

"Seymore?" looking at my wristwatch .

"What time is the quad arriving ?"

"Tomorrow afternoon Sir"

I stood up.

"Seymore, I distinctly said I wanted it here THIS afternoon"

"Please call NOW and tell them no later than 3.00 TODAY Call from here.

"Failing that, find another dealer who CAN."

Seymore went red but called a number. "He wants it here for 3.00 can you do it?"

"No he says that I have to go to another dealer if you can't. Call me back in five!"

"Seymore, a point of etiquette and of courtesy. I am NOT 'he' I am 'his lordship' or 'his grace' when speaking with others about me."

"And I hope your friend calls back on time, I shall wait for five minutes and then call another dealer MYSELF and get some action.

At four minutes the phone rang, I grabbed it before Seymore could.

"Lord Braeborne speaking."

"Listen please, I want that quad here by or before 3.00 if not, you stand to lose both this sale and any others in the future. Is that clear?"

"Right then I shall wait until 3.00sharp."

"Seymore, It seems you have lost your commission on this deal" He blushed red.

"You may go and gather Mr Fields for our tour of the stables, I shall be ready as soon as I have eaten".

When Edward and I were alone I said "I wonder how many other kick-backs he is getting for estate business?"

"Please make an appointment with our bankers for next week sometime"

"I also want you to find me a company of "Investigative Accountants" or similar."

"You may find it handy to have a small pocket dictating machine to carry, It is less obvious than a notepad for some applications

(picks up house phone)

"Accounts, do you have my cash float for me? Then my valet will be down to collect it. YES NOW"

Bloody cheek.

"Edward, Go and collect my cash and keep your ears open. You may also mention that I was fussing about my debit cards and see what reaction that gets."

Now to see Mr Fields.

I waited for Edward's return and told him to bring his pad and get his boots on and meet me at the back door.

While walking to the stable block I asked about the accounts office reactions.

He said that they were all of a flutter about the kitchen accounts and the deadline for paying them. I laughed and said that they would be more of a flutter when confronted with my new 30 day payment order and even more so when a new computer system arrived but things should be a lot easier for them once they have the machines.

We arrived at the stables at exactly 9.30 to find Seymore alone. I asked about Mr Fields. He said that he had been told. Fields arrived at 9.45 without apology. I asked him if he had a wristwatch; He looked puzzled. I told him that our appointment was for 9.30 and in future he should keep the time.

Now let us look inside the stables.

I saw rat and mouse droppings, straw and hay all over the place, old horse droppings on the floor. Holes in the roof and walls. The back doors had been nailed shut preventing an emergency exit. Other dilapidation's too many to list.

I told Fields to lock it all up and give me the keys. I told him that the stables were no longer his responsibility. He tried to argue but I just gave him a hard look. As I had time, I asked to see the farm machinery store and the fuel point.

The machinery garage was a total shambles. Machines uncleaned, equipment all over the place. The fuel store was similar, cans all over the place, fuel pumps unsecured, pump records non existent. I told them both to report to my office within an hour.

In my office I asked Edward if there was a deputy estate manager and was he any good?

He replied that there was and he was a young chap with a degree in farm management.

I sent Edward to find him. I also gave Edward the keys to stables and machinery store with my mobile phone and told him to take pictures of all important things I had seen, especially the fuel point.

Edward was back with the deputy who's name was Sheldon. I asked him to wait in the small sitting room while I dealt with Fields. Edward would be my witness.

Now to deal with Seymore and Fields.

Cooks and others were easy for me to deal with but Fields was a different matter.

They appeared in my office and just sat without being asked.

I glared at them and asked them to stand in front of my desk.

I told them that this was a disciplinary meeting. Seymore to be Fields witness and Edward to be mine. Did they have any objections so far?

They both shook their heads.

I stated that "on my inspection this morning I had seen various serious breaches of safety in the stables, in the machinery store and of fuel safety and security, from the state of things they had been ongoing for a long time".

"I am therefore dismissing Mr Fields for multiple gross breaches of safety which would be listed on his notice of dismissal, he would receive one months salary in lieu of notice and £100,00 as termination payment. He will hand over all keys and estate documents to the accounts office immediately and vacate the premises within 24 hours of the notice being served."

"I shall also accept Mr Seymour's application for early retirement with effect from the end of this month to allow him to hand over his duties to his replacement. He will retain his retirement pension and a 'gratuity' of £1000 in respect of his service to my grandfather. I shall expect that application on my desk tomorrow morning."

He looked shaken but made no protest.

"Do either of you have any statements to make?."

"I would also add that I shall be commissioning a full audit of the estate accounts next week."

They had no statements to make. They both went out of my office.

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