L’Estrange on Love, II:
Further reminiscences of
Sir Hannibal L’Estrange, bart.,
in the County of Norsex
transcribed and edited
by Robin Gordon
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 –
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
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
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
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
“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
“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’
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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?
Please remember that this story is in copyright. See Copyright and Concessions for permitted uses.
L'Estrange on Love I
Index to Robin Gordon's works
Index to the Auksford website
Send an e-mail to Robin Gordon