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The New Lord

by Plagosus

Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 20 Feb 2018

The new lord was up at Oxford reading mathematics when the old lord, his uncle, died. Since the new lord liked mathematics he carried on reading it leaving the estate in the hands of the steward who had managed it for many years. On finishing his degree he took his seat in the House of Lords. Finding the atmosphere in the House uncongenial to his youthful spirit he decided not to return until at least middle age unless some matter on which he felt the inclination to let the world know his views arose; being at the time disposed to express his views on matters mathematical only he did not anticipate an early return. The decision left him twenty years to fill in and he resolved to spend the greater part of them on his newly acquired estate investigating Diophantine equations and Pythagorean triples. Accordingly he wrote ahead advising of his imminent arrival and a carriage was waiting when he alighted from the train.

After settling in, for amusement rather than because he expected to find anything untoward, he carried out an audit of the latest accounts. Much to his dismay he found what he had not expected, to wit, that the accounts were not in order and that a significant, though not substantial, sum was unaccounted for. Sincerely hoping that this was no more than an aberration which could be explained, he called for the previous five years’ accounts only to find that they too failed to balance correctly. The conclusion was inescapable: the steward had been embezzling. The new lord was most perturbed as he had known the steward since he could remember and had always liked him. He gave the problem very careful consideration, consulted his lawyer and had a word with the village schoolmaster and the rector. Then he summoned the steward to the library and addressed him.

I am about to make a longish speech. However alarmed you may be by anything I say, I should be grateful if you would refrain from saying anything until I invite you to speak. I think you will find by the time I have finished that matters may not turn out too badly.

As you are aware, I have reviewed the last six years accounts. As you may already have guessed, I have not found them to be in order. It is beyond doubt that you have been, if I may so put it, farming the revenues. Having discussed the matter with Mr Pursloe, who is the soul of discretion and will not mention the affair to anyone without my consent, it seems that what often happens is that those in a position of trust, finding themselves financially embarrassed, take the opportunity to permit themselves a small loan. They do so with the full intention of repaying the loan, but finding that the pecuniary difficulties continue before the loan is repaid, avail themselves of another loan. If the borrowing remains undiscovered it continues. Eventually the point is reached where it is assumed that the borrowing is authorised. That is inevitably followed by an assumption that the debt has been cancelled. Her Majesty’s Courts tend to take a different view and the borrowing leads to penal servitude.

Taking up the words of the Bard, you have borne me on your back a thousand times, and the prospect of you being incarcerated fills me with alarm, not least because I could not bear the thought of the ignominy that would descend not only on your dear wife, who I am sure is entirely unaware of the borrowing, but also on your delightful children, the youngest of whom is the apple of my eye. Besides, having to refer the matter to the authorities would be extremely tiresome and there is always the danger, what with you being a churchwarden and all that, that the opinion would prevail that there had been some terrible mistake and I would be cast as the villain. Accordingly, and also because the salary my late uncle paid you was not exactly generous having regard to the responsibilities you had to shoulder, I have resolved to cancel the debt.

The breach of trust can nevertheless not be overlooked and it naturally follows that your position here is untenable and is terminated with immediate effect. However, for the same reasons that I propose to cancel the borrowing, I have no wish to see you and your family reduced to penury. It has accordingly been arranged that, if you so wish, you may take up the position of village schoolmaster. You will not be depriving the schoolmaster of his livelihood because he has agreed to take up the position of steward. I put it to the rector that you felt a sudden and overwhelming calling to take up a didactic profession. The rector, being satisfied that the schoolmaster was taking up a new and more lucrative position, consented to your being appointed schoolmaster; I am not without some influence in ecclesiastical matters as I have the right of presentation and the rector is keen that his nephew should follow in his footsteps as the living is a good one.

It is to be understood that that you will make it clear to those who enquire that the changes of position were instigated by you. May I assume that the arrangements meet with your approval?

The steward nodded his assent.

And so, to the surprise of both estate and village school, the steward became the village schoolmaster and the village schoolmaster became the steward.

Immediately after the new steward took up his position the new lord called him into the library.

I trust, said the new lord, that you find your salary adequate.

Indeed, Your Lordship. Most generous.

And it will cover all your needs with a little left over?

Certainly, Your Lordship.

I feel confident that under your stewardship the income of the estate will increase. If it does, the fact will be reflected in an increment in salary.

You are too kind, Your Lordship.

Now I mention this only because my lawyer recommended it. It is an unwise man who does not follow the advice of his lawyer. Should you find that you are in need of extra funds for any reason do not hesitate to ask for an advance on your salary.

I shall bear that in mind, Your Lordship, though I doubt I shall need to.

Well, one never knows what may come up. I for example was quite taken aback when your predecessor expressed the wish to take up school-mastering.

As was I, Your Lordship.

I am sure on reflection you came to understand his reasons.

I believe I did, Your Lordship.

You will oblige me by dropping the Your Lordship when we are alone. In company it is necessary to keep up the formalities, but in private I find it rather tedious. I have not yet quite got used to being a lord. It seems only yesterday that I was a scholar and it is certainly only yesterday that you were a schoolmaster. I feel rather that it is I who should be deferring to you.

The new steward inclined his head slightly to acknowledge the concession.

A few days later the parlour maid brought the new lord his tea in the library. As he glanced up from his book he could not help noticing that her eyes were red.

Are you quite well? he enquired.

Yes, Your Lordship, said the parlour maid.

I don’t think you can be. I fear something is wrong.

The parlour maid burst into tears. They beat me most terrible, Your Lordship.

Gracious. Did you do something wicked?

I dropped a saucer, Your Lordship.

An accident, then?

Yes, Your Lordship.

I don’t think anyone should be beaten for an accident. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Please don’t say anything, Your Lordship. They’ll beat me terrible!

That is just what they won’t do! I wish to maintain a happy household. Now, I’ll just write a note for the housekeeper. It’ll say that I could see you were unwell and that you are to go home and not come back until the day after tomorrow. I’ll mention that she is to tell cook to let you have something to take with you. How many of you are there at home?

My mother and three young brothers, Your Lordship.

I bet they’re young rascals.

They have their moments, Your Lordship.

I bet they do. Shall we send then some cake? Of course we shall! I expect your mother would appreciate something for the pot. Shall we send her a chicken? Of course we shall!

The new lord went to his desk and scribbled a note for the housekeeper. He handed it to the maid who departed with a broad smile.

A little later the new lord addressed the butler, housekeeper and cook.

It has come to my attention that a member of staff has been treated very severely. In future no member of staff will lays hands, or anything else, on another. The worst that will happen is that the member of staff will be reprimanded. In the case of any serious offence the matter will be referred to me and I shall deal with it.

The butler remained impassive, the housekeeper pursed her lips and cook looked as displeased as a cook can look when in the presence of a lord.

It has occurred to me, continued the new lord, that tempers may be frayed because everyone is working too many hours. I have reviewed the estate accounts and find that the revenue can support the staff hours being reduced, the employment of extra household staff and an all round increase in salary. The new steward will let you have full details. I am determined that I shall have a happy, harmonious household. Anyone finding the prospect of a happy household not to their liking may hand in their notice, leave at once and receive a month’s salary.

The butler tried to remain passive, but the corner of his lips betrayed a smile. The housekeeper unpursed her lips. Cook looked as pleased as a cook can look when in the presence of a lord. None of them felt inclined to hand in their notice and leave.

Amongst the new recruits to the staff was the parlour maid’s oldest brother who was took up the position of hall boy. He performed the duties with more than a little panache, though not always with the greatest of care. At last the butler felt obliged to draw the attention of the new lord to the boy’s deficiencies. The new lord was not unduly concerned as he considered that the boy’s pleasing personality more than made up for his shortcomings. Even so, the boy needed to be made aware that there was room for improvement. During the first interview the new lord reproved him gently. The gentle reproof had no effect. Neither did a slightly less gentle reproof given during the second meeting. At the third the new lord, a little exasperated, asked, What are we to do with you?

A good drubbing, Your Lordship, suggested the hall boy disarmingly.

We don’t do that sort of thing here any more, explained the new lord.

Boys is different,Your Lordship. Boys needs a good drubbing to keep them righteous—or so me mum says.

It was an opinion with which the new lord could not disagree since it was his personal experience that boys did indeed benefit from, as the hall boy had put it, a good drubbing. Very well, he said. A good drubbing it will be. Let us hope that you will not need one.

Whilst the new lord sincerely hoped that he would not have to chastise the hall boy, he had a feeling approaching certainty that it would come to it. Accordingly he turned his noble mind to what he would use. He had more than a few riding crops, but ruled them out as too severe. There were plenty of birch trees on the estate and it would be no trouble to get one of the gardeners to cut a few and tie them into a bundle, but he immediately dismissed the idea as, though he not not experienced it himself, he had seen the effects of the birch. The only possible instrument was the cane. The problem with that was that he did not have one nor know where to procure one. He did however know someone who could assist.

Whilst it may be, said the new lord to the new steward at their next meeting, that I have announced that no servant can expect physical chastisement, I have concluded that an exception ought to be made in the case of young male servants.

The hall boy? enquired the new steward raising an eyebrow.

Indeed. I add that the conclusion was encouraged by the boy himself who takes the view that young males can only hope to improve with the benefit of, as he put it, a good drubbing.

It is a view which I find I share. When I set out on the path of pedagogy I resolved to spare the rod, but I had not trodden the path too far before I realised that the cane is an invaluable aid to memory and diligence.

Quite. I found it so myself – from the receiving end. I have determined that the boy shall not be made to undergo any punishment more severe than I suffered myself. Knowing the cane to be effective, but not too severe if applied with moderation, I have settled that it is the cane I shall employ. The stumbling block is that I am not possessed of a cane.

And you were wondering whether perhaps, having regard to my late profession, I could suggest where such an instrument could be procured, if not actually procure one?

You have have divined my purpose.

The matter is not pressing?

No. Not at all.

Then the day after tomorrow will be convenient?


The next day but one found the new steward presenting a new cane to the new lord.

I would appreciate a little guidance in the use of the implement, said the new lord swishing the cane through the air.

With a view to achieving maximum discomfort with minimum harm? asked the new steward.


The new steward instructed the new lord.

The instruction was timely as the next day the hall boy reported to the new lord for a conspicuous failure to show any improvement. The interview was short as neither party felt the need to be discursive. The new lord produced his cane and placed a Chippendale chair sideways on in front of the hall boy. There was a pause during which the new lord wondered whether he should ask the hall boy to take down his britches and the hall boy wondered whether he should ask the new lord if he should take his britches down. The point was resolved without words. The hall boy’s hands hovered over the tie that kept his britches up and the new lord gave a barely perceptible nod. The tie was loosened and the britches, being at least two sizes too big, tumbled down. The hall boy’s shirt was in the same proportions as his britches and reached down to his knees. It is universally acknowledged that the sole purpose of letting down britches immediately before a cane is applied is to ensure that the area to be treated by the cane is exposed to the air. It is accordingly axiomatic that when britches are lowered long shirts must be raised. The hall boy gathered his shirt above his waist and, without waiting to be invited, bent over the seat of the Chippendale without letting go of his shirt.

The new lord took up his position and looked down at the hall boy’s bottom. He realised he had been deceived. The boy’s britches being two sizes too large the bottom was two sizes smaller that he had believed it to be. He could not help noticing its perfect curves; a mathematician cannot but fail to notice perfect curves. He laid the cane across the bottom and the bottom rose a little. He might perhaps cane the hall boy a trifle harder than he had intended. The new lord raised the cane and the hall boy clenched his bottom. The cane swished down and cracked in the middle of the hall boy’s bottom just as it relaxed.

Ooh! Your Lordship! exclaimed the hall boy.

The new lord, if he had expected any sound to issue forth from the hall boy’s mouth, had expected it would be oh! rather than ooh!. He assumed though that ooh! was no more than a dialectal variation of oh!

The cane worked its way down the hall boy’s bottom and the new lord could not help noticing that the lower the cane worked its way down, the higher the hall boy’s bottom rose to meet it. The new lord thought that a bit strange. He finished with a sound whack low down.

You may stand up, said the new lord.

The hall boy got to his feet. He still did not let go of his shirt leaving his red-striped bottom exposed. That was a good drubbing, Your Lordship!

You may pull your britches up, said the new lord as the hall boy made no move to do so.

The hall boy let go of his shirt, hitched his britches up, tucked in his shirt and did up the tie.

The hall boy’s behaviour did not improve and the new lord had to repeat the procedure at regular intervals, though the britches he dropped and the shirt he raised were better fitting as the new lord had a new set of clothes bought for him.

The new lord found that he was not making the progress he had hoped with either Diophantine equations or Pythagorean triples. He confessed the fact to the new steward. The new steward coughed and said, May I suggest that you need a project?

A project? queried the new lord.


What sort of project? Did you have something in mind?

Knowing your philanthropic inclinations and mathematical talents, I think I may be able to suggest something which will combine the two.

Then suggest, said the new lord, his interest quickening.

The new steward coughed again. There is a boy in the village, a former pupil, with an unusual gift for all things mathematical. Family finances prevented any further education after he left the village school. I tried without success to secure him a position in a counting house. I fear his rustic mode of dress may have counted against him. I feel confident that if you were to afford him some private coaching and a letter of recommendation, should you feel he deserves it, he would be better placed to find some employment more suited to his undoubted intelligence than the lowly position he currently occupies.

I think I like the project, enthused the new lord. Let’s have a look at the boy!

I shall arrange an interview.

The interview was arranged and a few days later the boy and his father were standing in the library with the new steward in attendance. The boy’s clothes were, as the steward had intimated, rustic. It was arranged that the new lord would give the boy a trial lesson and, if he was impressed, there would be further lessons, naturally free of charge.

The trial lesson was a great success. The succeeding lessons were even more successful. The new lord resolved to make the project long term. I have decided, said the new lord to the new steward, if the boy and his father are agreeable, to appoint the boy my social secretary.

An onerous position for one so young, said the new steward with the faintest of wry smiles. The new lord rarely entertained.

Yes, well. He can help me sort my papers. And organise the library. Perhaps librarian would be a better title for the post. I leave it to you to agree terms. Naturally his salary will be an improvement on what he currently earns. You will no doubt emphasise that, should he prove to be satisfactory and choose to leave, his future prospects will be considerably enhanced and that, with his taking up residence here, there will be one less to feed and clothe at home.

Mutually satisfactory terms were agreed and the boy was soon installed as librarian with not one but two new suits of clothes of a style befitting a librarian, the rustic outfit being dispatched home for use by a younger brother. He proved to be very competent librarian, though he had to leave organising the volumes in Latin and Greek as his education had not included instruction in either, an omission which the new lord resolved to make good.

The librarian would spend the morning in the library attending to the books. The new lord sometimes joined him to read, write or attend to estate business. He would often find his gaze turn towards the librarian in his new clothes and say to himself, Quantum mutatus ab illo. He would then reflect on how unfair it was that all too often people were judged by their clothes. He was sure that if he were to exchange clothes with the librarian’s father he would be denied entry to the Athenaeum whilst the father would enter unchallenged.

In the afternoons, Sunday’s excepted, the new lord instructed the librarian in advanced mathematics and elementary Latin and Greek. In the evenings the librarian would retire to his room for private study. On Sunday the librarian would spend the whole day with his family rising early to accompany them to church and returning before nightfall.

The new lord and the librarian would occasionally share lunch in the library and, Sundays excepted, always took tea together. Unless he had guests, the new lord would dine alone. He would have liked to have dined with the librarian, but he felt that that would perhaps not be the thing to do. One day though he said to himself that if at Oxford it was considered acceptable to dine with those considered intellectual equals but social inferiors there was no reason why he should not do the same at home even if the servants raised an eyebrow or two. Even so, for form’s sake he thought he perhaps ought to include the new steward. In fact the new lord wondered why he had not thought of dining with the new steward before he suggested the project since he was sure he would prove to be a companionable diner.

Accordingly, the new lord raised the matter with the new steward. I find, he said, that dining alone in a large dining hall, whilst not exactly depressing, is certainly – well—a solitary experience. Would you not agree that excellent cuisine, if not improved, is more readily enjoyed if taken in company?

I would indeed, said the new steward.

Would it then inconvenience you at all if you were to join me whenever I do not have guests?

It would be a privilege and a pleasure.

Excellent! I think we should have the young librarian join us. I feel sure he will benefit from the conversation.

Indeed he will.

And so the new lord, the new steward and the librarian started to dine together. The staff were not sure they approved, but no word of their disapproval came to the new lord’s ears.

The night of their first dinner together the new lord retired as usual. After reading the latest instalment of one of Mr Dickens’ novels he was about to turn off the bedside lamp when there was a light knock on the door. Wondering who it could be with all the servants having finished their duties, he called, Come in.

The door opened slowly and the librarian entered, closing the door behind him. The new lord was more than mildly surprised to see that the librarian was in his drawers and nothing else. As he approached the bed the soft light of the lamp highlighted the gentle contours of his youthful figure and the new lord felt not a little disturbed. Before the new lord could ask what he wanted the librarian sat on the bed and said, I thought you might be lonely.

The new lord had not in fact been feeling lonely, but was not inclined to say so.

I haven’t quite got used to sleeping in a room on my own, said the librarian.

I’m afraid there’s only one bed in here, said the new lord.

It’s a very large bed, said the new librarian. And with that he pulled back the covers, slipped in beside the new lord and pulled the covers up. That’s better.

The new lord was inclined to agree.

I’ll turn the lamp down said the librarian. He reached out and turned the wick down until there was no more than a faint glow.

The librarian settled down on his side facing the edge of the bed. The new lord did the same facing the other way. A few moments later the librarian said, I have an ache in the centre of my back just where I can’t reach.

The new lord felt obliged to do what he could to relieve the ache. He turned over and started to rub the librarian’s back. After a few minutes the librarian eased back into the new lord who stopped rubbing. What the librarian’s bottom felt when it nestled in the new lord’s loins left the librarian in no doubt that it was a happy coming together.

I think I would be more comfortable with my drawers off, said the librarian.

The new lord, always keen to ensure the comfort of others, felt for the fastenings of the librarian’s drawers and undid them. He eased the drawers down until he could reach no further. He then caught hold of the drawers with his foot and pushed them down to the librarian’s feet. The librarian kicked them off.

The new lord considered it only polite that the librarian having been divested of his sole item of clothing he should follow suit. He sat up and pulled off his nightshirt. He then lay back. The librarian turned to face the new lord. The new lord, feeling evidence that that the librarian was more than happy to be nestled against him, reached down and gently caressed the librarian’s bottom. The librarian rolled over onto the new lord and started to kiss his neck. The new lord did not find that at all objectionable. Feeling it would be courteous to return the compliment, the new lord kissed the librarian’s neck. After that considerations of delicacy were laid to one side and the new lord carried on in a manner not generally considered (at least by commoners) appropriate for peers of the realm and the librarian comported himself in ways not widely associated with librarians when they are amongst their books. In short, the pair dipped and soared like swallows.

When they came to earth the new lord said to the librarian, How did you know?

The librarian contemplated whether to reply in dialect or the Queen’s English, and went for the latter. I had seen how Your Lordship observed me.

But why tonight?

When Your Lordship invited me to dine with him, contrary to all precedent, all doubt was removed.

But I invited the steward too.

Your Lordship’s gaze only turned to the steward when courtesy required it.

Do you think that the steward noticed?

The steward is responsible for me being here.

Are you saying...? Never mind what you’re saying. You’re here.

Whilst I’m here... said the librarian.

The next morning the new lord awoke to find the librarian departed. He concluded that awaking every morning to find the librarian undeparted would be far more agreeable. After breakfast he summoned the housekeeper. There is a strong possibility, said the new lord to the housekeeper, that there is a mouse in the librarian’s bedroom. Obviously he cannot be expected to share his room. I believe you have recently aired the room adjoining mine.

I have Your Lordship, responded the housekeeper.

In that case it will be the most convenient room for the librarian to move to. I’ll leave you to make the necessary arrangements.

Yes, Your Lordship.

My late uncle was right to repose his confidence in your abilities, as indeed do I, said the new lord.

As the new lord suspected, the flattery deflected the housekeeper from investigating too thoroughly if there was in fact a mouse as she bustled officiously to arrange for the room to be made ready.

When the estate business had been concluded the new lord said to the steward, The project you proposed is coming along famously. You are a man of great perspicacity.

The steward bowed slightly to acknowledge the compliment.

The new lord hastened to the library to inform the librarian of his new accommodation and mentioned in passing that there was a door which connected directly to his own room. Only to be used, said the new lord, if you find that despite the increased comfort of your new quarters you are unable to get used to sleeping alone.

The librarian did not trouble to test whether he would get used to sleeping alone and so every morning the new lord and the librarian awoke in the same bed which, as the new lord had anticipated, proved to be most agreeable.

One morning the new lord had occasion to chastise the hall boy in the librarian’s presence. The librarian took a keen interest in the proceedings. When the hall boy had been dismissed he asked, Would you chastise me if I failed in my duties?

Certainly not, said the new lord. At sixteen you are too old.

What about if I neglect my studies? Sixteen year old boys get chastised at school, do they not?

They do, but I am not running a school. Besides, you enjoy your studies. If you ever feel inclined to abandon them, you only have to say.

I don’t want to do that!

Good. It won’t be too long before we can make a start on the Latin and Greek volumes.

And what about the oriental manuscripts? asked the librarian mischievously.

I fear we shall need some help with those, unless you have secretly been learning Arabic, Sanskrit, Japanese and Chinese and whatever other languages they are written in. I’ll have to see if I can get someone over from the Bodleian.

The Bodleian?

An ancient library in Oxford.

I should like to see that.

I shall arrange it.

It was arranged and the new lord and the librarian had a most enjoyable day in Oxford. Curled up later in bed the librarian said to the new lord, I have a frightful itch.

Where exactly?

The librarian guided the new lord’s hand to his bottom. The new lord started to scratch.

Harder, encouraged the librarian.

The new lord scratched harder.

It’s not doing any good, said the librarian.

If I scratch any harder I’ll be leaving marks, said the new lord.

I think perhaps a very invigorating massage is called for.

The new lord was not entirely sure he knew what a very invigorating massage involved. He started to rub the librarian’s bottom vigorously.

That’s no good either, said the librarian.

I am beginning to think that only a good thrashing will effect a cure, said the new lord jestingly.

I think so too, said the librarian.

The new lord assumed the librarian was also jesting, but the following night when the new lord retired he found the librarian sitting on the bed wearing only his drawers and with the cane used to chastise the hall boy resting on his lap.

What’s this? asked the new lord.

This, said the librarian picking up the cane and swishing it, is the cure for my incredible itch.

It was now quite clear to the new lord that the librarian wanted to be thrashed. The new lord had always associated chastisement with punishment, but he now realised that it was different for some. He was now certain that the hall boy’s ooh! was just that and not a dialectal variation of oh!

Is the itch really that intense? asked the new lord taking the cane.

It certainly is! said the librarian.

Your drawers will have to come down to ensure maximum efficacy. I can show you the equations to prove it.

The librarian took hold of the bolster, doubled it and laid it along the edge of the bed. He then loosened the ties on his drawers and draped himself over the bolster. The new lord eased the drawers down revealing the librarian’s bottom. The new lord sighed. The bottom was lovely and he really did not want to thrash it. Still, if the librarian desired it, so so be it. One had to give and take.

The lord laid the cane across the librarian’s bottom, took a deep breath, drew the cane back and swept it in. It landed with a crack and the librarian shuddered uttering a very definite ooh!. Were it not for the ooh! the new lord would probably have stopped at one stroke. Shaking his head, he carried on and caned the librarian as thoroughly as he caned the hall boy. He had to admit that the librarian writhed most voluptuously under the stinging strokes.

When he had finished he threw the cane on a chair. Shaking his head once again he hooked off the librarian’s drawers and raised him to his feet. The librarian had a distant look in his eyes. The new lord reached round and started to soothe the librarian’s bottom very gently. The librarian responded, prompting the new lord to undress hurriedly.

Once in bed it was to start with a little more leisurely than usual, but the pace soon increased when it all became a little more urgent than usual.

The next morning the hall boy reported the library for a continuing failure to show improvement.

I am a little weary this morning, said the new lord. He had indeed not had a lot of sleep the night before. The librarian will chastise you this morning.

The surprised librarian looked up from his desk.

Very good, Your Lordship, said the hall boy, who immediately lowered his britches, hitched up his shirt and bent over the seat of a Chippendale chair.

A slightly nervous looking librarian rose from his seat and fetched the cane from its customary place to which he had not long before restored it. He took up a position at the side of the chair and hesitated.

There’s nothing to it, said the new lord. You just lift the cane up and bring it down sharply – not too sharply mind.

The librarian raised the cane and swung it down. It landed on the hall boy’s bottom with a crack.

Ooh! exclaimed the hall boy.

Not too sharp, I hope, said the new lord.

No, Your Lordship, confirmed the hall boy. Just the same as when Your Lordship drubs me.

Excellent! Carry on!

His inhibitions gone, the librarian caned the hall boy very thoroughly.

When the hall boy had fastened his britches the new lord said to the librarian, Pass the cane to the hall boy a moment.

The librarian handed over the cane.

The new lord addressed the hall boy. Give the cane a good swish or two.

The hall boy did as ordered.

Excellent! From today we have a new arrangement. On Mondays at twelve noon you will report here and the librarian will cane you with your britches down. He will though only do so if your performance improves. Do you understand what I’m saying.

Yes, Your Lordship, said the hall boy with a smile which indicated he understood very well.

Good. And on Thursdays at twelve noon you will report here and cane the librarian with his britches down – drawers down too. Will you be able to manage the extra duty?

Yes, if it please Your Lordship, said the hall boy with a wider smile which said that whether or not it pleased the new lord it would certainly please the hall boy.

The smile on the librarian’s face indicated that he too found the new arrangement entirely to his liking. He had realised that the new lord was not that keen on caning him and had decided not to ask him to do it again.

Excellent! Now there is just one further thing. I understand from the steward that at school you showed promise but that you had to leave to help contribute to family finances.

It’s the way of things, if it please Your Lordship.

It does not please His Lordship. It does not please His Lordship at all. If you wish and only if you wish, the librarian will continue your education for an hour a day, except of course on Sundays. Naturally you will be relieved of your duties for that hour. Does this proposal suit you? Don’t say it does if you’re not keen. If you’re not keen just say so and we’ll forget the whole idea.

Oh yes, Your Lordship! exclaimed the hall boy earnestly and without a trace of his usual impish smile.

That’s settled, then. You’d better get about your business.

The hall boy left with a spring in his step.

Any observations? the new lord asked the librarian.

A most satisfactory arrangement all round, said the librarian.

It may well be the first arrangement where teacher and taught get to drub each other once a week. On reflection I think it would be a good idea if you were to run after the hall boy and suggest it may not be a good idea for him to mention that part of the arrangement to anyone. I don’t suppose he would, but better to make sure.

The librarian hurried to catch up with the hall boy. The new lord sought out the steward.

I have to report that affairs are proceeding very promisingly.

Delighted to hear it, said the steward.

It’s all down to your perspicacity.

The steward bowed slightly to acknowledge the compliment.

I have concluded that my investigations into Diophantine equations and Pythagorean triples are unlikely to shake the world of higher mathematics. I am resolved to become a man of action. Would I be correct in assuming that you are a man of a somewhat radical turn of mind?

I do have some ideas that would not go down well with a large section of the squirearchy, admitted the steward.

And would these ideas extend to education?

They do indeed!

Splendid. We need to get together and compare our ideas. I have concluded that you are far too perspicacious to be a steward, excellent though it is for my estate. When we have found a new steward I shall go into society and you shall go with me as...let me see...I have it: my secretary! You will assist me in the pursuit of a radical reform of the education system. Your salary will naturally be commensurate with your new position. Does my proposal meet with approval.

It fills me with boundless enthusiasm! exclaimed the steward. I can hardly believe my good fortune! To think that a short while ago I was just a humble village schoolmaster.

And so the new lord took a house in town and became a force to be reckoned with in Whig circles. The steward-turned-secretary became much in demand to speak at meetings frequented by ladies with a reforming tendency.

The new lord kept a small staff in town, but his librarian and hall boy always travelled back and forth with him. The hall boy became very thoroughly educated. The new lord offered to recommend him for a post suited to his education, but he expressed the wish to remain with His Lordship so long as it pleased him. He was not a hall boy for long. He eventually became the new lord’s valet – the first and only one he had. He was probably the best educated valet in the country.

The librarian eventually knew more Latin and Greek than the new lord and not a little of a few oriental languages. He was consulted by the nobility to catalogue their libraries. The new lord always referred to him as his travelling companion.

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