“Lord Garthlemmon’s residence. May I help you? … No, sir, I am the butler, Threadbare. … Very droll, sir. However, I was referring to my name, not my apparel. . . . Perfectly all right, sir: I am accustomed to such quips. What can I do for you? . . . Sorry sir, that is out of the question: His Lordship does not take telephone calls. . . . Quite understandable, sir. The instrument was installed many years ago at the behest of Lady Garthlemmon, who is no longer with us. . . . Thank you, sir, but your condolences are a little late. Her Ladyship left us fourteen years ago, as a result of a riding accident. . . . No, sir, the mount was a motorcycle. Lady Garthlemmon was leader of the local chapter of Hell’s Angels. . . . Quite, sir. Unlike His Lordship, she was widely considered a little eccentric. . . . Very kind of you, sir, but she had a good life and was eighty-two at the time. Please forgive me for a moment. It is midday and I must open the kitchen curtains.
“Now, sir, I assume you had something in mind. . . . Reducing the telephone costs. That would be impossible. His Lordship lives on the state retirement pension, which suffices to cover the line rental charge. He does not make calls, so his bills for actual usage are always zero, plus VAT, of course. He has maximum resistance to salespeople and never makes purchases, not even of the things he wants. . . . Beg pardon, sir? . . . Oh, food. That is of no consequence here. We have a large supply of tinned goods, mostly corned beef, sardines and peaches, acquired by His Lordship’s grandfather in 1902, after the second Boer War. We also have dried milk, obtained by my master during World War Two, and instant mashed potato, procured when there was a shortage of the fresh produce some decades ago. . . . Do not distress yourself, sir. With the garden and a little imagination, we manage very well. . . . No, sir, His Lordship has no interest in the nutritional quality of his food: he concentrates on its shape. . . . Yes, you heard correctly. He likes his meat or fish to resemble chicken legs, regardless of origin or colour. . . . Excuse me again; another minor duty.
“Where were we? Ah, yes, the fowl. That is no problem. In fact, the canned meat is perfect, as it can be formed much as one wishes. I have designed a mould that fits the bill. Sardines are rather more difficult but with a little forcing, they conform. . . . What was that, sir? . . . Oh, potatoes. The same principle applies. His Lordship prefers them crenellated, in the same way as his seat. . . . No, sir, by ‘seat’ I do not mean his anatomy but his home; the turrets, you understand. . . . Quite all right, sir. By a happy coincidence, I took responsibility for the grounds when the gardener died, so am familiar with topiary. One needs only to extend the idea to the dinner table. His Lordship delights in a mound of mash with the appearance of battlements, the whole edifice surrounded by a moat of onion gravy. . . . No, sir, we do not buy them. We usually have a surplus of vegetables. At present, there is a splendid array of savoy cabbages here, far in excess of our requirements. His Lordship’s normal procedure is to distribute them to the poor of . . . No, do go on. . . . You would? That is most gratify… er … interesting. A moment, please – one more domestic matter.
“Are you still there? . . . Certainly, sir. I checked the position this morning. We have a thousand prime specimens, scaling on average just over three pounds each, almost all heart. His Lordship amuses himself with the thought that they resemble him in that respect. . . . The cost? Well, we are not worldly at Nevermore Hall, but I believe the commercial practice is to price goods fractionally below a round figure, to give the impression that they are cheap. I had in mind a pound per head, but shall we say ninety-nine pence? . . . Excellent. And you are based locally, could collect at three p.m. and harvest them yourself? . . . Splendid. Oh, pardon me yet again – the oven needs attention: I am also the cook.
“Sorry about that, sir. Now, as to payment. . . . No, a cheque would not suffice. . . . Plastic? I think you are ahead of me there. . . . Sorry, I am not familiar with that. However, I am permitted to negotiate for His Lordship and must tell you that he deals only in coin of the realm. If you pause at the entrance to the Hall, you will see on the gatepost his coat of arms and the family motto, Mon Dieu Et Mon Argent’. . . . Yes, rather quaint. It is a variation on the Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s theme and dates from his Lordship’s earliest traceable ancestor, Guillaume Garthe de Citron, who took part in the Norman Conquest. . . . Quite, that is how it became Garthlemmon. The first transposition was to the English ‘lemon’, the second ‘m’ being added later, when His Lordship’s forebears tired of being addressed as Garthle-mon. Please indulge me again – a further triviality. One’s work is never done.
“My apologies, sir. Now, was there anything else? . . . I see. Well, we have leeks, but I couldn’t contemplate selling them. The Garthlemmon products are legendary and much envied. They are remarkable for size and uniformity. Nearly every one of them trims out to exactly a pound in weight. . . . Solid, you say. They certainly are: firm as fence posts. No, sir. Please do not tempt me. The Threadbares have been at Nevermore Hall since 1790. It would be more than my position is worth even to think of … Oh, fifty pence apiece, you say. Hmn, in the circumstances I might consider … Very well, let us say three hundred. . . . No, sir. His Lordship leaves such things to me. In any event, he will not know, as he does not like leeks. Also, he never sees the vegetable patches: his bedroom is front-facing and he has not left it for many years. . . . Most solicitous that you should ask, sir, but he is in good health for a man of ninety-six. However, his view is that one day is much like another, and after experiencing thirty thousand of them, he concluded that enough was as good as a feast. Excuse me once more – I must see to the kettle.
“Back again, sir. … Exercise, you say? … Very thoughtful of you. At the risk of indiscretion, I will confide that His Lordship has a system. He keeps his chamber-pot twenty feet away from the bed, so at his age he gets a good deal of movement and is seldom supine for more than a few minutes, especially after his morning magnum. Mumm’s the word, sir, if you understand me. . . . No, sir, I was attempting to introduce a humorous note, combining an adjuration to secrecy with the name of His Lordship’s preferred brand of champa… Yes, it would be better in writing. Perhaps I should have refrained from levity, but there is little enough of that in this mausole… no, I am going too far. I must not be disloyal. Pardon me again while I poke the fire.
“With you once more, sir. We seem to be plagued by interruptions. . . . Dear me, sir, this strikes a discordant note. You seem to be requesting a price reduction in exchange for your silence. Well, I will borrow from the American film world by suggesting that we ‘cut to the chase’. Your position is weak. I deal with all mail and visitors, and have already said that His Lordship does not take or make telephone calls, so your prospects of contacting him are negligible. However, on the off chance that you might do so, I will compromise. Let us say 75 pence each for the savoys, but I am resolute on leeks. . . . Very well. So, three o’clock, then – and the total price is £900 – in advance and in banknotes of not more than twenty-pound denomination, preferably non-sequential. Kindly knock on the door of the tradesmen’s entrance at the rear. A pleasure to do business with you, sir. Goodbye.”
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