The dour cloisters of Rimmington Hall rang with excitement. Cleaning, dusting, painting, polishing, rejuvenating were the orders for the day; the young master was coming home. For the first time in four years the curtains were not drawn, the fires were alight, and the sound of music – in the form of off-key humming – could be heard int the anterooms and backstairs.
Old Joe Raggedy, the beaming butler who only a week before had been the rheumy, despondent, physically distant under-gardener hummed gently to anyone who cared to listen as he walked purposefully from one chamber to the next. His three and a half year struggle to overthrow Thamesmead, the previous holder of the master keyring and butling suit had been more successful than he could ever have dreamt. Thamesmead had not only unseated, he had also been disgraced.
“This place! Bugger me, this place! Who would have thought it. Bugger me blind!”, he whispered to himself as he cleared playing cards from one of the tables in one of the rooms in the east wing.
Outside in the stables a movement beneath the hay in what used to be Longbuck Ridge Messiah’s stall sent two mice scurrying for safety. Isis the Siamese cat tracked their location before making a quick exit herself.
“Mrs Catchmole? Mrs Catchmole?” Lady Rimmington, still startling beautiful despite her hundred and five years on earth, called the communication tube to her head-cook. “When are Philip and Dilip coming from the village to uncanker the chandeliers?”
“Bless you, ladyship, but they’ve been here this last two hours past. They’ve just finished cleaning the young master’s gun cabinet so I was getting their strengths up…” the lady Rimmington thought she heard some grunting and a giggle, “with a nicer cup of tea and some kedgiree. They’ll be into the second ballroom for the decankering in two snips of a Christmas turkey’s doings.”
“Very good Mrs Catchmole, please see to it that they remember to calm the slurry pit in the back-back garden before they make their way home.” Her ladyship swept her still-blonde hair beneath her father’s fourth-best rowing cap and surveyed the room.
She sat on the bed that her son had so often vacated in order to ride to hounds, climb trees or simply sit at his mother’s side as she listening as she arranged the week’s menus down the communication tube. There, neatly folded just as his batman, Swallow, had left them, were the running shorts, cricket whites and birdsnesting trousers of the heir to the Rimmington estates. But these were the togs of a baby, their owner would soon be returning as a man. Next to this holy pile sat the cricket ball with which he had taken his first hat-trick of wickets on the village green at a mere twelve years of age. It was a Rimmington tradition to take your first wicket between the ages of twelve and fifteen at a village cricket match.
HMS Ingenious now safely docked in the Port of London gave no sign of its recent antarctic voyage – the burial at sea and fresh new coat of Buenos Aires paint had seen to that.
Captain Gerald Glyde sat in the wardroom, alone, putting the finishing touches to the twenty-eight letters of commendation he was to dispatch the Admiralty. Dotting the final “i” he laid the pile to one side, examined his sidearm and drank from the Glencairn of Glenditchdrudard at this right hand. Refilling the glass he selected a beaten brown leather-bound notebook from the stack near his left foot. Dog-eared it might have been, yet he touched its opening page with reverence. Quivering slightly he turned some fifty pages, slowly and deliberately seeking a specific passage. On finding it, he drank another glassful before tearing out a page and lighting it over his ashtray.
No one close by heard the single gunshot crashing from the wardroom. No one was there to soften the blow as Glyde’s badly damaged head slammed into the table. Again he had failed, and now he’d have to find yet another new ship’s lad to continue to sacrifice and search, he thought before losing consciousness.
“What-ho, Swallow! Pass me in towel!” Charles Bayer Ffenmore Rimmington bellowed good-naturedly to his batman as the icey water of his Sunday morning shower coursed over his aristocratic body. Cambridge had been as good to him as it had been to any of those Rimmingtons who had preceded him but today was his farewell to all that.
“Swallow, where are you with that towel?!” He knew that despite his own tender years – he was coming up for his 21st birthday, Swallow, respected and looked-up to him. What he wasn’t so sure about was where the fellow was right now.
“I will be with you forthwith sir, I was laying in a few more buds of lilac to the cummerbund draw in your travelling valise,” Swallow deftly threw the towel over the heating rail without actually setting foot inside the bathroom itself. His dexterous flick of the formed a perfect fold and the white, freshly laundered material settled perfectly as his master’s left hand shot from the stall.
“Brrr, I say, Brrrrr! That does one a power of good of a winter’s morning. Now, are we ready for the off?”. Drying himself admiringly in the mirror, Rimmington awaited the response in the certain knowledge that his servant would still have a few minor touches to add to the packing. Despite his lowly station, Swallow was a perfectionist. As it was, the young serving man – a mere 18 years-old himself – was indeed putting the finishing touches to the packing of the paraphernalia that had been his life’s work since the age of ten. Making the final fold to the final shirt before laying it lovingly inside the shirt-case, Swallow patted down the pillow on the recently vacated bed, dusted off the sideboard, opened the windows that overlooked St Aspinall’s quad and breathed out.
Cambridge had been a lark but Swallow was looking forward to the thought of a week at Rimmington Hall followed by the taking up of digs in London. St James was to be the new place of residence. His young master was to take up his position as barrister at law with the chambers of Lucet, Gudgeon, Glyde Capaborn and Morecambe. Lincolns Inn was to be the place of work. Swallow would, within the fortnight be surrounded by the culture, energy and life that he had craved ever since he’d learn to read and write. For a man of the new generation, Swallow was aware that no only must he know his place, but that he must also know how to better it.
Below in the quad he could see the cab arriving to convey Rimmington to his Hall, and Swallow to the last step of his old life before the leap into the new, the modern, the upwardly trajected.