Tales From The Pantry: A Butler's Diary

From the pantry of an historic country house comes the ongoing diary of its butler, Mr Dean Fielding. I shall be giving you a glimpse of the family I serve and of the lives both 'Below Stairs' and 'Above'. I hope you follow my jottings daily.

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Location: United Kingdom

Have been butler here for over 15 years. Having previously, and unusually for these days, worked my way up from footman to under-butler to my current post. You can now follow me on Twitter via: http://www.twitter.com/butlerfielding

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Whisky And Lodgekeepers: A Fatal Combination


I arose this morning with a terrific headache. Perhaps it was rather unprofessional of me to have drunk so much on a Wednesday evening, with work the next day. I did not plan on drinking so much, and it is not a mistake I shall make again soon. It is just that Llywelyn does tend to dominate a conversation so, leaving the party of the second part with only a bashful grin and a glass in his hand, and taking a sip seems the only option available.

After breakfast I encountered My Master's valet Mr Copeland in the Bells Passage. He seemed eager to talk to me, so I led him into the Pantry and closed the door. Copeland was, as always, immaculately dressed. He asked if he could borrow my hat brush, which I dutifully supplied, but I sensed that he had other things on his mind and he did not seem too keen to leave. After a little bit of small talk, he came straight to the point: gossip. He asked me if I had detected a certain amount of frostiness in the demeanour of Mr Miles since the return from London. I confessed that I had. There had been so much frostiness in fact, that I was surprised that any of Barton's hothouse plants had survived the sudden drop in temperature, orangery or no orangery. Leaning forward conspiratorially Copeland told me that he knew the reason why (and presumably he had to pass on the gossip or die).

In London, apparently, one of the highlights of the 21st birthday celebrations, was to be the recitation of a poem by Mr Miles Carstone. He had been preparing it for some time. When the big moment came, he delivered his work with verve and passion. Now, there is nothing worse when a man bears his soul, and delivers dollops of verve and passion, than for his efforts to be greeted with utter indifference. This was the fate of Mr Miles Carstone. The audience were polite, yet seemed rather confused by it all. It also did not help Mr Miles to overhear his father muttering to Lady Carstone, "What was all that about?" rather too loudly. An argument later ensued.

Mr Miles has a slim volume of poetry due to be published at the end of the month entitled 'The Salmon'. This was not a good boost to his confidence. His full-time career as a portrait painter is not going well either, and it seems a few home truths were exchanged between baronet and heir. The atmosphere was very unpleasant, and Copeland admitted he was glad to get back home. Personally he thought Mr Miles' poem 'ghastly' and began to explain poetical rhyme and meter to me in great detail. I was rather glad when a bell rang, calling me away.

Sir Geoffrey seemed quiet at dinner. Ironically the starter was smoked salmon, and he barely touched it. Perhaps it reminded him of incomprehensible poetry. I daresay he has a lot on his mind. These familial squabbles are never easy, and his children do tend to try him so. He has a function at the local British Legion this evening, so perhaps that will rouse him out of his gloom, and chase the black dog from Carstone.

I myself have my own little troubles. After dinner in the Servant's Hall, I retired with my dessert into the Housekeeper's Room to have a chat with Mrs Berry. I told her about the previous evening's events with Llywelyn, and how I was not overly keen on accompanying the Lodge Keeper on his Friday night nocturnal spook hunt. Mrs Berry seemed to find it all very amusing. She told me that it was my own fault for agreeing to it. This was not the sympathetic response that I was hoping for. Perhaps I could get out of it, I suggested. "How?" she not unreasonably replied. Now, it may not be very British, or gentlemanly, but feigning illness was top of my list of possibilities. Mrs Berry, in that uniquely stately way that only Housekeepers can manage, got up to put some table cloths into the linen drawers in the corner of her room, and looked at me with a sphinx-type smile, before sweeping out of the room with the cryptic comment: "It will not be that easy."

It did not take me long to ascertain her meaning. Everybody 'below stairs' seemed to know about it, and they all had comments to make. Mr Copeland, returning my hat brush, tapped me on the arm, and wished me luck. I overheard the two footmen, Simon and Richard, discussing the horrors that awaited me, especially if we ventured to the Summer House after dark. Mrs Styles, not surprisingly, took a grim view of things: she warned me to be careful, and told me that she would not do it for worlds. She also delighted in pondering on the fate that awaited me: her forecasts had me tripping over and spraining my ankle, or being hit with an object by a poltergeist with a particularly good aim, or my dropping a candle and setting the whole place alight. I left the Kitchen promptly when she started musing on 'possessions.' Even Lady Carstone mentioned something about the 'thin veil that surrounds Carstone', as I helped her on with her coat this evening, before she headed into town. I did not get her meaning, but she definitely smiled while she said it, and her eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief.

Getting out of this will not be easy. I do not want people thinking that Mr Fielding has no backbone. A butler needs to be respected, or who knows what might happen to the whole structure 'below stairs'? I cannot berate the Hall Boy for slovenliness, when he can simply retort, under his breath: "Pah! But I am not afraid of ghosts!" It is just so tiresome. Never mix whisky with Lodge Keepers. That is the lesson I have learnt.

It is getting late now, and as I got to my bedroom, just a few minutes ago, my telephone rang. It was Llywelyn. He asked me if I wanted to back out. I indignantly replied to the contrary. I encountered the worst that Carstone could throw at me last night: a wandering gardener with the power of the 'evil eye'. Any ghost seems quite insipid in contrast.

6 Comments:

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Uh, oh. It's Monday and we've had no post from you. I hope everything went okay with your spook hunt...

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