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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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

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Gathering Storm

Sir Geoffrey returned at 11.15am, and I think by 11.30am he was out riding. He had travelled from London, and as a man who sees the train as a dangerous new invention, he was quite eager to return to the 'natural way of doing things', as he so regularly puts it. He has always been a fine horseman. He was taught to ride as a young boy here at Carstone. I have seen photographs of the young baronet-to-be being led around the Riding School (which is attached to the Stables) on a small pony. This image surprised me when I was first shown it, because I have always found it hard to believe that there was ever a time when Sir Geoffrey was clean shaven. I harboured a sneaking suspicion that he was actually born with his drooping moustache. This sepia-tinted gem from the family archive seems to suggest otherwise.

Family is both a delight and a burden to Sir Geoffrey. Mostly a burden. His eldest son, Mr Miles, for instance, has never really lived up to his father's expectations. You rarely see Mr Miles on a horse. Even his trips to the countryside, I suspect, are only taken because he cannot avoid them, and that they occasionally come in handy when recovering from a particularly nasty hangover. London Society knows Mr Miles well. The Carstone Estate workers seem a little unsure about him.

The whole clan are gathering here over the week-end to celebrate Lady Blanche's sixtieth birthday. Lady Blanche is Lady Carstone's sister. We do not see her very often but she makes a point of attending all the major family functions. She tends to bring a small retinue of her own servants with her whenever she arrives. In the past some of the staff here have commented on her slightly erratic behaviour, but the aristocracy have always had ways that were peculiar to outsiders. It is not for us to pass judgement. We are also expecting her husband, Lord Hallross, who will probably spend most of his time talking about shooting or horses with Sir Geoffrey; Mr Thomas Carstone, Miss Gemma Carstone, and a whole host of family members that need to be catered for. Preparations are well underway.

Wendy and Rhiannon have made a superb job of the brass in the House. Rarely have I seen it gleam so. I must take the time to commend them. Mrs Styles is in the process of creating a splendid looking birthday cake. The last time I checked it was progressing nicely. That was a little while ago, because I received a glare when I popped my head around the Kitchen door, that will take a while to recover from. The glare seemed to say, 'do not disturb an artist at work.' I quickly backtracked to the Bell's Passage where I almost bumped into a rather agitated looking Mr Copeland. At first I thought that he had also unwisely entered the Kitchen, but his look told me that he was afraid of a higher power. "She is still coming tomorrow then?" he asked, a flicker of desperate hope in his eyes. Poor chap. He was obviously hoping for divine intervention. I didn't have to ask who he meant. I well remember the last time Mr Copeland met this week-ends' guest of honour. I left the poor man to lick his re-opened wounds. He won't sleep tonight. Never has a valet suffered so much in the call of duty.

Sir Geoffrey and Lady Carstone spent a quiet evening relaxing. The noble baronet seemed rather tired from his ride. When I served afternoon tea in the Drawing Room Lady Carstone was obviously deeply engrossed in planning the week-end ahead. Notebooks and lists were strewn on the table in front of her. Her spectacles were perched on the end of her nose, and she kept tutting, and muttering to herself. Occasionally she would ask her husband a question. I do not suppose she ever expected a reply, certainly not a useful one. It hardly mattered because by the time I had poured the tea, gentle snoring could be heard coming from Sir Geoffrey's armchair. As I turned to leave, as if noticing me for the first time, Lady Carstone asked how the preparations were going. I assured her that everything was in hand. "I hope so." she replied with a tired sigh, "because SHE is bound to notice everything. She ALWAYS notices everything." With that I left Her Ladyship to her lists, and the sound of a gentle snore that was in the process of becoming less gentle.

There is a reason why everybody is tense. One majestic figure links the furrowed brow of Lady Carstone, the nervousness of the usually unflappable Copeland, and the raw intensity and concentration of a cake-making Mrs Styles. Lady Blanche is, as Llywelyn put it to me today, "rather unique in the annals of Carstone; possibly unique in the annals of humanity."

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