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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?

Certainly.

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.

Absolutely.

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.

Yes.

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.

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