Fred turned the small plastic device moodily in one hand, looking at it in displeasure as he took another swig of lager from the can in the other.
“It just isn’t right,” he said to his father, who was sat in one of the two armchairs facing the fireplace. “Him making so much money off of your idea.”
Joe Davis had heard the same thing from his son many times before. He didn’t disagree but it had happened long ago. There was little he could do about it then, and nothing now. He drank from his own can in silence.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake let it go,” exclaimed Mrs Davis from the other armchair. She was much more refined, drinking her lager from a small tumbler instead of directly out of the can. It was small enough to need refilling after only a half-dozen gulps of the brew. “The way you keep on about it, it’s like it’s your own invention, not your father’s.” She too had heard Fred grumbling about it far too often, pretty much every time he got a few cans of lager inside him. She had also had to listen to the complaints of Joe when it had first happened.
Fred couldn’t or wouldn’t let it go though. He put the device down onto the top of the round wooden table he was sat at and stared at it. His mood wasn’t helped by the extra work Allenby’s party in a few days was causing him. His lordship wanted everything in the part of the garden overlooked by the ballroom they would be using, and the slabbed and walled patio it adjoined, to look at its best for the occasion. It wasn’t a school holiday time so Fred had to do all the work himself. There was no extra labour to be brought in even if Allenby agreed to the added expense which was unlikely. He liked to think of Lord Allenby without his title, it was just about the only thing he had power over the man with. He was careful to add the ‘lord’ when he spoke of him to his parents though. They maintained a proper respect, if not the man himself for his position at least and had both been horrified to hear such disrespect from their son when he had dropped the title once years before.
“It’s just isn’t right,” Fred repeated, this time to his mother. He looked around the room. It was small enough not take long to do so. The knickknacks and trinkets that filled shelves and pockets in its bare brick wall were all cheap looking. They were mostly mementos of day trips or weekends away. They couldn’t usually afford to go away for longer though they had saved up enough to take him and his younger brother Ted for a week at a holiday camp in Wales. Fred had enjoyed the week immensely, being the only proper holiday away from home he had had as a child. He had made up for it since, ensuring he got at least one week away each year in either Ibiza or Gran Canaria. He usually alternated the two destinations though special offers played a key part in his final decision.
He had left school as soon as the system had allowed him to do so, and had joined the ‘family business’ when Allenby’s father had still been in charge. He had liked the late Lord Allenby as much as any employee could like a boss who had such control over their day-to-day lives. He had not thrown away money but had been far less frugal than the current occupier of the Manor. The extra income Fred’s job had brought in, much of it going to his mother for housekeeping, had enabled Ted to stay on at school longer to get the ‘A’ levels which had secured him a place at university. He had not returned from there. He took a full-time job, at the supermarket he had been working in part-time to help pay some of his living expenses, as a trainee manager once he had earned his Business Management degree. He had worked his way up and was now an Area Manager. The more expensive items that were dotted around the shelves were mainly from him — gifts to his mother on his rare visits back home.
The family wasn’t badly off really, with Fred’s income from his gardening job and the state pension brought in by his parents. The house came with the job, so that was one expense they didn’t have, though of course they would have to leave it if Fred ever went for one of the vacancies he now and then found when he was scanning the local free paper each week. They usually bought ‘own brand’ products at the supermarket they shopped at each week, the pennies saved on each item helping to fund their more luxurious habits such as the lager they were now enjoying. Fred usually took his mother down there in the old car his weekly wage enabled him to run, and pushed the shopping trolley around for her as she filled it. Occasionally something on the shelves would catch his interest and he would drop it in the trolley along with the other things. In the main though he left decisions about what to buy to her.
“Bet he doesn’t have to think about it before buying things,” Fred muttered to no one in particular. “Bet he wouldn’t have to worry about school fees and the like, if they had had kids,” he continued, “he would have sent them to grand public schools and hang the expense.”
Neither parent bit. They were thoughts Fred often shared after an initial rant about Lord Allenby stealing his father’s invention.
Fred drained the last few drops of lager from his can and reached for another, pulling off the plastic rings that had held the four pack together before opening the can. He picked up a new four pack and pulled two out, placing them unopened next to each parent. He fetched a tarpaulin bag from a hook by the front door and forced the remaining two cans into it, then took another gulp from the new can he had opened.
“I’m going out,” he said turning towards the front door and slinging the bag over his shoulder as he spoke. He took the open can with him, taking more gulps as he walked. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he added over his shoulder as he left the house.
It opened directly onto a narrow tarmac drive that led through trees up to the Manor. He crossed it and climbed over the barbed wire fence that divided it from the fields that John rented from Allenby. He saw Philip Leslie passing on his way back out of the Manor. Philip’s car lights disappeared as he turned into the country road that the drive led into, back towards the village where he lived.
‘He’ll have just dropped Lady Valerie off’, thought Fred to himself, ‘Allenby’s home tonight so he wouldn’t have stayed over’. Fred knew, from gossip imparted over his morning tea, that Philip Leslie never stayed over when Allenby was at home.
The top wire was pulled down where he climbed, partly from years of use and partly from being forced so to make its navigation easier. Small bits of cotton and cloth were caught in several of its pointed barbs, attesting to the times Fred had not been careful enough when trying to clear this barrier. He made his way along the edge of the field towards the copse that stood between the manor house and the fields beyond. Like the fence, it was a well worn path which Fred frequently used. His route was dark. There were no street lights in this part of the countryside to light his way, but the moon was bright and Fred knew the track well enough not to yet need the black rubber torch that the bag held. His progress up the path was quite quick. There were no roots or other undergrowth to slow him down. He swigged from the can as he walked until it was empty. He cast it aside towards the fence where it clanked noisily against another he had disposed of in the same way a few weeks before.
“It just isn’t right,” he said aloud as he walked. His mind was still dwelling on the injustice his family had suffered from Allenby. It was a thought which was never far from his mind and that made him bitter. Otherwise he was quite likeable character.
The income had his father patented the idea, or had Allenby at least shared it, would have been his father’s of course, not his. But he would inherit it eventually, split equally no doubt with Ted, and would have enjoyed a far more comfortable life, both as a child growing up and now. The money the idea earned would be enough to keep both families very comfortably indeed Fred thought. He didn’t really have any idea how much revenue the device brought in, but he had seen it for sale at the local merchant he used for his supplies and when he had had to go further afield to find a particular item. He didn’t have to buy them himself of course. Allenby made sure he had a plentiful supply and that he used them at every opportunity. Allenby didn’t know that this act was somewhat cruel — or maybe he did know but got some kind of twisted pleasure from it — but it forced Fred to once again bring the matter to the forefront of his mind whenever he used one of the little clips.
If the family had this income he wouldn’t need to supplement it with the rabbits he hoped would be waiting in the snares he had set the previous night and that he was now off to check. There was a plentiful supply of the creatures, especially along the border between the copse and the fields. He didn’t have to check the snares every night if he didn’t want to — once the rabbits were dead, they were dead. But regular checking meant their corpses wouldn’t become a meal for one of the many foxes or the odd badger that shared the landscape with them. Fred could be sure to eat rabbit at least once a week, usually stewed or sometimes roasted. What the family didn’t use themselves he sold to two of the local pubs he frequented, and they ended up on the plates of customers from the surrounding villages and towns or, in the case of the pub that sat on the main road through the area, the through traffic that the busy route brought past it. It wasn’t only rabbits either. He sometimes spied markings of pheasant, or even the birds themselves, and left traps for these too. When he was lucky enough to catch one, they rarely made it past the family. Pheasant was a fine meal to dine on.
Technically he was probably poaching though if John knew he would probably be grateful that Fred was helping to keep the local rabbit population down. He didn’t use the land for commercial shooting either, so the pheasants were there naturally rather than having been bred to be. Taking the odd brace every now and then didn’t hurt. He thought Allenby, if he found out, would take a much harsher view though. He would probably sack Fred and turn the family out of the cottage. Whenever there was a choice, Fred always opted to think that Allenby would take the meaner course.
He had been in luck the previous night. The first snare had been empty but all of the next four had been successful. He had strung together the limp bodies he had retrieved then replaced each snare, making sure it was well hidden in the runs through grass or undergrowth from the copse into the field beyond. He had hidden it as much from human eyes as from rabbits’. He was now looking forward to the stew his mother would be preparing for that evening, and would sell the other brace to the pub in the village. It would pay for the pint he planned to have there, and for the bet he had made at the bookie’s over the phone.
Gambling was Fred’s only vice. He considered his drinking to be a necessity rather than a vice he should feel guilty about. Each evening he would make his selection from the horses that were running the following day and the next morning would place bets by phone. The village wasn’t large enough to support a bookmaker, or he would have used that instead. His choices rarely won. He had a tendency to choose runners with long odds, or to wager on accumulators. At the moment he was sweating on a five horse one. The first three had all won their races. If the other two came in as well he would stand to make quite a sum. Each week he would normally end up several pounds down, but he won often enough to hope that one day he would manage to score really big. Maybe even enough to quit the job he disliked so much and take something better. He had once won enough to take an unplanned holiday in Gran Canaria. Letting him take his holidays at short notice was about the only good thing Allenby did. Besides, a week spent away from weeding or mowing the grass didn’t make much odds, as he explained to Allenby every time he asked for leave.
If a race meeting was to be broadcast on the radio he would make sure to have money on at least one runner. He would listen keenly on the set he carried with him from task to task, hoping to hear it named as the winner. He was usually disappointed but sometimes elated when the one he had chosen was first past the winning post. He was never sure if it was worse when the horse was a long way behind from the start or the jockey fell early in the race, or when it nearly but didn’t quite make it, coming in second or third. The latter probably. Fred always bet to win rather than to place. When there was no racing on, he listened to other sports news or commentaries. He changed channels to listen to one of the music stations whenever cricket came on. He detested the game, which he thought one more for snobs like Allenby than for workers like himself.
At the moment he was weeding the large vegetable patch that he kept, near to the kitchen. From it he supplied many of the family’s daily needs. Not all, of course, they were too fond of more exotic vegetables and fruits that wouldn’t grow here, or of eating things out of season. But he kept them well stocked on potatoes, runner beans and tomatoes, and the variety of other things he planted. Each morning he took in to Polly whatever they had agreed on the previous day and usually a bunch of freshly cut flowers too, whatever was in season, which Polly used to brighten up the house’s rooms. He was rewarded with a cup of tea and usually a slice of cake or some biscuits which he ate and drank before returning to his labours. If Peter appeared he finished these quickly and left. They were cordial enough to one another, but he had never taken to the man since he had first arrived. He had no particular reason not to like Peter, but simply didn’t. If it was just him and Polly, he would make the tea last much longer, chatting to her while she continued busily with her chores. Once a week he would be joined by his parents, or would find them already there. He didn’t stay long on those occasions. He didn’t rush, but didn’t drag it out either. He had most likely have already heard anything they had to tell Polly, and would no doubt hear anything she might confide over dinner that evening.
He used the same source to keep his own family supplied too. He probably shouldn’t, but could always claim he was checking that the vegetables were ready for eating he was ever found out. There were some strawberries that would be ripe just in time for the party, and enough of them to cater for all of the many guests expected there. Both he and his parents had been roped in as waiting staff. It was a job his parents were looking forward to. Mingling with the guests would be exciting for them. Not as good as being invited themselves of course but a chance to be up at the big house again, and the small amount of extra cash that their services would bring in would be welcome. Fred was also looking forward to it, though he wouldn’t have admitted that if anyone had asked.
His labours at the vegetable patch finished, for now at least, it was time to turn to his next task. He had to clear the weeds and small plants growing out of the gaps between the stone slabs that made up the patio, and out of the brick wall that surrounded it. He also had to make good any loose or missing concrete from the wall. This wasn’t really his job but it was easier to just do it as asked, and complain to anyone who would listen, and to argue the fact with Allenby himself. He went to the garden’s large shed to collect the supplies he thought he would need. He loaded a wheelbarrow with bags of sand and cement and an old shovel he used to mix them together then returned to the shed. He picked up a spray gun and rattled its holder. There should be just enough left to spray the areas of moss he had noticed growing in small patches around the patio. No need to make up any more of the liquid until he needed it again. Besides, he was sure he had run out of the concentrated solution that needed water adding before it could be used. He would need to make out a list of what he needed and visit the supplier again soon. There were quite a few things he was running low on. He looked around the wide range of bottles and packets the shed held.
‘It’s a good thing I know how to use these properly,’ he thought to himself, ‘or they could be dangerous’. He picked up a mask to wear when he was spraying the moss, and left the shed.
It took all of the rest of that day to finish everything that needed doing on the patio. There were more weeds than he remembered and the wall had not been repointed for many years so there were a considerable amount of places that needed patching up. It was backbreaking work too. It wasn’t heavy, but required constant bending or kneeling down then rising again to move on to the next patch that needed attention.
Fred worked until exactly quarter to five, when it was time to put away his tools and equipment to be ready to finish at bang on 5 p.m. He returned home in his usual messy state, and could smell the rabbit stew his mother had prepared wafting up the cottage’s stairway to the bathroom in which he showered off the worst of the day’s grime. Though he often tried, he could never completely remove the evidence of his toils. There was always a place he missed, or a stubborn patch which wouldn’t come off no matter how hard he rubbed or what he used to try to remove it. The pile of brushes, sponges and a pumice stone in the shower’s wire metal tray attested to the fact that he did at least attempt to get it all off. The following day was a Saturday, but still one that Fred worked. The dirt would find ways and places to coat again no doubt, and he had nothing special planned for that evening which would require him to try extra hard. As he had gone to the village pub at lunchtime he would go to the one on the main road tonight once he had finished eating with his parents. Friday evenings were usually good there. With the weekend starting and it being night-time the crowd would be locals rather than passing trade, and on Friday nights there was usually a live band playing. Fred was getting a little old to still be ‘one of the lads’ but no one had told him so, and he still thought of himself in those terms.
The following morning he returned to the patio, to check that there were no areas he had missed the previous day. He satisfied himself that there weren’t. He went next to the vegetable patch. As the following day was a Sunday he wouldn’t be working so needed to take in to Polly vegetables for both today and tomorrow. He checked the strawberries. They were ripening nicely but the ground they stood on was a little dry. He moistened it using a permanently attached hose that he kept at the vegetable patch using it whenever needed, which was frequently. He tried hard to ensure that water didn’t spill from there to the row of cabbages that were next in line. He planned to take two of these in to Polly, and didn’t want to have to contend with mud when he selected which ones to take.
He dug up several potatoes and placed these carefully in the shallow weaved basket he used to deliver his produce to Polly then chose the two largest cabbages to take in. He pealed the outer leaves off of one where it looked like it had been nibbled at before placing them on top of the potatoes. He picked enough runner beans to be cooked for both Saturday’s and Sunday’s evening meals and filled the remaining space in the basket with ripened tomatoes. Even though he had put in as many as he could, there were still several ripened ones left on the plant and many more that would soon be ready for picking. No one in the family was very fond of salads so he would mention it to Polly and maybe she could make some fresh soup with them. He would return later and gather the rest of the ones that were already ripe and pick them for his own mother. She loved tomatoes and would often eat them on their own, as if they were apples or pears.
He glanced at his watch. Time to take his offerings through to Polly and sit down for a cup of tea before starting the harder work the day had in store for him. When he entered the kitchen his mug of hot tea was already waiting for him. He set down the basket on the table next to it and drew out one of the simple wooden stools from underneath the table to sit on while he drank it.
“Ah, that’s lovely,” he said to Polly, as he set down the mug after taking a mouthful.
She smiled and took the basket from the table, laying out its contents on the sink’s draining board and returning it, now empty, to Fred.
“Strawberries are coming on fine,” he informed her, “should be ready for Wednesday or Thursday”.
“Better make it Thursday, that’s when I’m planning to make the cakes”. She explained a suggestion by Lady Valerie to make individual cakes instead of one big one. “I’ll use the strawberries on Lord Allenby’s and Mr Philip’s and make chocolate and orange for the other guests to choose from if they’d prefer.”
He mentioned the abundance of tomatoes that he would soon need to bring in.
“That’s fine, Fred,” she said. “You bring in as soon as they’re ready and I can make soup with them. I might even make a ketchup if there’s enough left to spare”. She put a small brown paper bag into the empty basket. “Give these to your mum, would you? They’re extra peas I didn’t use and they need something doing with them soon. You know how her ladyship likes them to be fresh, though I’m sure she wouldn’t notice if I froze them and used them another day”.
Peter entered and greeted Fred as he passed through the kitchen to take a seat in his office.
“Well, thanks for the tea, Polly,” said Fred, draining his mug and rising to put it in the kitchen’s sink. “I’d best be getting back to it. Lots to do today”. He left the kitchen to start that day’s tasks in earnest.
As he carried the basket back to the vegetable patch to leave there until it was needed again, then to drop off the peas at the shed and collect tools, he pulled Allenby’s list from his pocket. It was by no means exhaustive, for all Allenby thought he knew about maintaining a garden. Still, he would complete the list first, then move on to the other things that need doing if he had time. He would mow the grass last. At the speed it was growing it would just need doing again if he did it now. He liked cutting the lawns though. The gardens were so extensive that he had a motorised lawnmower to ride around in. It was one of the few jobs that he could actually sit down and work at, rather than be standing or kneeling. He couldn’t play his radio while sitting on it though. Maybe if a horse or two came in for him he would invest in one you carried around with you, like he had seen John Giles with. Today’s task, he decided, would be to trim the bushes and shrubs which surrounded the lawn. There were many, and he would have to work hard to finish the job in a single day. Still, there was always Monday to carry on if he didn’t.
He worked hard for the remainder of the day, but didn’t rush, and didn’t finish trimming the bushes. He spent most of his Sunday in the pub, dividing his time about equally between the two that he favoured and breaking his visit to each by eating a meal in the early evening with his parents. He spent the following week slowly completing each task on Allenby’s list, and on the Thursday morning picked all of the ripened strawberries and took them in to Polly to use in her baking. He cut the lawn after that, leaving the Friday clear in case any last-minute jobs needed his attention. There were none, and he had completed all of the tasks on Allenby’s list, so he spent the day trimming the borders between the lawn and the planted beds – something that Allenby hadn’t spotted needed doing, or at least hadn’t written down on the piece of paper he had given Fred.
When the time to head up to the Manor was approaching he stopped his gardening tasks and headed home to wash before going up there with his parents. He paid particular attention to his hands and nails. They would be exposed for all to see when he was serving and he knew that any sign of the dirt which accompanied his day job wouldn’t be appreciated by any of Allenby’s guests.
He looked quite smart in the white shirt he put on after his shower, which he accompanied with a plain pair of black trousers. His one tie was still knotted from Margaret’s funeral so that all he had to do was slip it on over his head and around the collar then tighten it again. He managed to messed this up and had to get his mother to retie it for him. Both of his parents had been waiting for him for quite some time when he was finally ready to walk with them up the drive to the Manor. Though it didn’t occur to them, they were dressed exactly as they had been for the funeral. For Fred and Joe this would have been immediately obvious, as they only owned one suit each, not having much occasion to wear one. They were more or less the same size so could have borrowed from each other if they wanted to look slightly different, though this need had never occurred before.
Mrs Davis’s wardrobe offered slightly more choice, having four dresses she could have chosen from. Two though were light, both in colour and in material, and designed more for wearing in the daytime to gay functions such as weddings or christenings, rather than more sombre events such as the funeral. This left only a navy blue one or the black one she had chosen. The blue one was quite ornate, and would have been the one she would have worn if she were attending as a guest rather than as a servant. The black one was much plainer and suited both the occasion and her position there much more. When they entered the Manor via the kitchen, and Peter’s first action was to point them towards uniforms hired for them to wear, Mrs Davis was somewhat disappointed, though it didn’t bother Fred or Joe. But once that she had changed into hers, using Peter’s office to do so, she found that the uniform chosen was rather fetching. The kitchen boasted no mirror of course, so while the men were changing into their own uniforms she went out into the hall to admire her outfit in the one there.
Once they were suitably attired their first task was to transfer laden plates of food to the ballroom. Polly had already explained to Fred on several occasions and to Mr and Mrs Davis on their last weekly visit to see her that much of the food was to be brought in. It had arrived on wooden trays making it easier to transfer. Fred and Joe took three trays each and carried them through to the ballroom. Mrs Davis took a much more cautious approach, loading trays onto the trolley Polly used to take meals through to the dining room and using this to carry hers. It took a little longer this way but she managed to fit six trays on so was actually more efficient than the men. In the ballroom they carefully laid the plates out on the tables which had been grouped in one corner of the room. They didn’t remove the Clingfilm which covered each plate as guests weren’t due to arrive for nearly another hour yet, so keeping them covered up would help the food stay fresh. Peter hovered behind them as they worked, frequently reaching forward to swap the positions of plates over. When they returned for a second trip they didn’t bother about where the plates were placed, knowing that he would only change them around again.
After laying all of the food out and before any of the guests started to arrive they got their instructions from Peter. Mr and Mrs Davis were to be responsible for the guests’ drinks, which would be a fairly easy job as they only had to choose between red or white wine, orange juice or cola, though there were other beverages available if they should ask. He pointed to a small rectangular table covered in a white cloth, where he had laid out different spirits and liqueurs. Underneath it were all of the mixers needed to go with the drinks that might be asked for. He would, he informed them, be looking after this operation himself. When they needed refills for their trays, or if anyone asked for a drink they didn’t have, this was where they should come. Fred’s task was even easier, and would probably prove more boring. He was, in effect, to act as a human table, looking after the large tray of foodstuffs prepared specially for the two brothers and being at hand to let them select from the tray as needed. More foods were to be found in the kitchen, if he should need them. It was all, Peter explained, quite simple.
It was time to remove the Clingfilm, which with all five of them working didn’t take very long. Fred collected it from everyone and took it through to the kitchen to get rid of it and to collect the tray of food that was to be his responsibility. He found that Lady Valerie was there, so couldn’t try one of the delicacies as he had been planning to do. He exchanged a few words with her then lifted the tray containing the Allenbys’ food to take it through to the ballroom. He arrived back there just before the first of the guests entered.