Into Temptationby Penny Vincenzi
An enthralling epic of the glamorous life in the mid-20th century with scenery that extends from New York to London, Into Temptation gives apt and telling insights into the world of the British aristocracy and their literary legacy.Into Temptation, the third book of the Lytton family trilogy, shifts the focus to New York City and Barty Miller. Rescued from the/p>… See more details below
An enthralling epic of the glamorous life in the mid-20th century with scenery that extends from New York to London, Into Temptation gives apt and telling insights into the world of the British aristocracy and their literary legacy.Into Temptation, the third book of the Lytton family trilogy, shifts the focus to New York City and Barty Miller. Rescued from the slums as a baby by Celia Lytton and now living in New York, Barty heads more than half of the Lytton publishing house. Falling on bad times, the family is worried that Barty will make a business decision that would be devastating to them. But will she? As events unfold, long-buried secrets concerning the whole family are revealed, shaking the very foundations of the Lytton’s world. Readers have come to depend on Vincenzi for her enchanting prose style and the epic scope of her dramas; like the Lytton family sagas that precede it, Into Temptation does not disappoint.
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Table of Contents
ALSO BY PENNY VINCENZI
ALSO BY PENNY VINCENZI
Almost a Crime
An Outrageous Affair
An Absolute Scandal
This edition first published in the United States in 2005 by
The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.
141 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10012
For bulk and special sales, please contact email@example.com
Copyright © 2002 by Penny Vincenzi
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.
Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available from the Library of Congress
For Emily and Claudia,
who really did get me through.
With much love.
The roll-call of thank yous seems to get longer and longer with each book; but this one must be headed once again by my agent Desmond Elliott, who is living breathing archive of the publishing industry; not only in England but New York as well. Other gurus of the New York publishing scene coloured up the book beautifully: Larry Ashmead of HarperCollins and Alun Davies of Simon & Schuster were most generous with both their time and their wonderful anecdotes (not to mention lunches) and I would like to thank Patrick Janson-Smith for leading me to them, and for some stories of his own. Also in New York, enormous thanks to Edna McNabney who spent a whole day showing me a very special New York and of course to wonderful Mike Berkowitz, who collected me from the Algonquin at dawn (literally) and drove me for hours around the Village and Chelsea, taking us both into bars long before they were open, and filling up three sides of tape with marvellous stories. A book in himself, Mike is; he should write one.While I am still (notionally) in America, lots of thanks to dear Betty Prashker, for a new set of stories, and to Caroline Upcher, who entertained me so royally in the Hamptons while I explored. And huge gratitude also to John Dadakis, who gave so generously of his time and legal expertise to steer me through the complexities of inheritance law, USA version.
Back in England, also on the legal front, Natalie Bryant gave me a crash course in both inheritance and company law, English version; her knowledge and her patience were limitless. Alan Martin was the most wonderful source of information on the subject of company finance; Mark Stephens on injunctions; and Sue Stapely continued to amaze me by knowing something about everything I asked her.
Thank you too, once again, to Ursula Lloyd for information on all things gynaecological in the far off days of the 1950s, and Roger Freeman for psychiatric detail in the same era.
More crash courses, one on vintage wine, came from Nicholas Fraser; and another on company investment from Victor Sandelson. And thank you to Felicity Green and Ian Hessenberg, for knowledge of and research Several wonderful books have helped me too: Another Life by Michael Korda, From Rationing to Rock by Stuart Hylton, Elizabeth’s Britain by Philip Ziegler and perhaps most of all In Vogue by Georgina Howell.
Once again, enormous thanks to Rosie de Courcy, whose brilliance and sparky inventiveness as an editor are only exceeded by her patience and tact as deadlines come and go. Also for reading so fast, so I don ’t have to wait in agony for her judgement, and for crying in all the right places in the book. Very important.
Thank you Emma Draude of Midas for so efficiently telling the whole world about it, and for getting as excited as I do over pieces of good news and reviews.
Thank you to Susan Lamb, who masterminded it, and finishing with Dallas Manderson and Jo Carpenter who saw it into the shops with their usual skill and determination. And in between Juliet Ewers for seeing the whole thing through with immense efficiency and patience, Richard Hussey for not being defeated by the tightest deadline yet, and Malcolm Edwards, for all manner of clever contributions and suggestions, and not least saying how much he liked it.
And finally, all the friends who are so supportive and listened so patiently to my endless wails that it would never be finished; and most of all, and as always, my family, my husband Paul and my four daughters, Polly, Sophie, Emily and Claudia, who have had to live with me through three years of The Spoils of Time. I suspect they may be glad we are now leaving the Lyttons behind; I shall miss them, especially Celia, most dreadfully.
The Main Characters
Lady Celia Lytton, senior editor at Lyttons publishing house
Lord Arden, her new husband
Giles, twins Venetia and Adele, and Kit, her children
Jay Lytton, their cousin
Boy Warwick, Venetia’s husband
Elspeth Warwick, their daughter
Keir Brown, Elspeth’s boyfriend
Geordie MacColl, Adele’s husband
Clio, their daughter
Noni and Lucas, Adele’s children by Luc Lieberman, deceased
Sebastian Brooke, bestselling author published by Lyttons
Clementine Hartley, another Lyttons author
Billy Miller, brother of Barty
Joan, his wife, and their sons Joe and Michael
Barty Miller, head of Lyttons New York
Jenna Elliott, her daughter by Laurence Elliott,deceased
Cathy Patterson, a schoolfriend of Jenna’s
Charlie Patterson, her father
Jamie Elliott, brother of Laurence and Jenna’s trustee
Kyle Brewer, a literary agent and Jenna’s trustee
Marcus Forrest, editorial director of Lyttons New York
Isabella (Izzie)Brooke, Sebastian’s daughter
Mike Parker and Nick Neill, copywriters, Izzie’s employers
‘Rich with the spoils of time . . .’
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Lady Celia Lytton had been close to death several times in her long life. Not always literally – although there had been occasions, a cycle ride through a Blitz-torn London night, a long jolting car ride while enduring a miscarriage, when the Grim Reaper had appeared to have her very clearly in his sights – but also by repute. And there was no more outstanding example of the latter than the spring day in 1953, Coronation year, when she announced not only her engagement to her old flame, Lord Arden, but her retirement from the House of Lytton. Most of literary London promptly concluded that she was (at very best) in the early stages of a terminal illness. They then raised their lunchtime glasses of gin and tonic, or Martini, or champagne, to her dazzling memory, expressed their huge regret at the ending of a life that had so enriched the literary and social scene for almost five decades, and settled down to speculate over what the death certificate might eventually say, and who exactly might step into her always elegant shoes.
They were hardly surprising of course, those reports. For as long as anyone could remember, Celia Lytton had declared firmly and publicly that only death would separate her from the publishing house of Lytton, truly the greatest love of her life. This was in addition to another of her favourite maxims: that for her, at any rate, no man could possibly replace work as a source of happiness.
Indeed she was Lyttons to most people; she embodied it, with her brilliant innovative mind, her flawless editorial judgement, her unique style, her perfect taste. It had always been so, since she had joined the company almost fifty years earlier as a very young girl; but since the death of Oliver Lytton, her husband, a year earlier, she had become more than a figurehead, more than an inspiration, she was its life force. The younger generation might hold shares in it, care passionately about it, bring skill and talent and a great deal of hard work to it, but they trailed behind her in authority. No major book was acquired or published, no editorial innovation considered, no financial investment made, no senior member of staff hired, without her agreement.
Not even the theoretical requirement to gain the approval of Lyttons New York for all major developments had dented her glassy supremacy; ‘I know what they – or rather she – will feel about it,’ she would say whenever anyone raised the matter, and of course she was perfectly right. There were, as was well known, very good personal as well as professional reasons . . .
Lady Celia herself, who would have greatly enjoyed the furore had she been able to witness it, was sitting on a chaise-longue set in the window of her sitting room in her house in Cheyne Walk, looking, as always, perfectly groomed and extraordinarily beautiful, surrounded by her large family, some of them more visibly distressed than others, with the manuscript of her youngest son’s new book (delivered two months late the previous evening, to her deep displeasure) on the table beside her.
It was Venetia Warwick, one of her twin daughters, who spoke first.
‘Mummy, are you really sure about this?’
‘To what exactly are you referring, Venetia? My engagement or my retirement?’
‘Well – both. But more especially, I suppose, the retirement.’
‘Absolutely.’ Lady Celia’s voice was brisk. ‘Where could there be any doubt? You’ve been working for Lyttons, Venetia, for – what? Fifteen years. With considerable success, I would add. You must agree it’s time I moved over. Even I can see that. Heavens above, you’ve told me so in more ways than one over the past few years. In your position I would feel relief, if not a keen sense of anticipation. Which I am quite sure is what you, Giles, must be feeling. And don’t waste time denying it, because we shall both know you’re lying. Now then, you must all excuse me, I’m going to meet Lord Arden for luncheon. I think I deserve a little fun after the rather dreary morning I’ve had. But I want you all to dine here tonight, so that we can discuss everything more fully.’
It was only when she walked into the dining room of the Ritz, on the arm of her newly affianced, known to his intimates as Bunny, accepting congratulations on her engagement here, expressions of regret at her retirement there, that people began to realise, with a sense of considerable disbelief, it was just possible that not only was she in very good health, but she had actually meant what she said. She was simply going to retire.
The sense of disbelief, both within and without the house of Lytton was hardly surprising. Her office, on the first floor of the new Lytton House, in Grosvenor Square, was still the heart of the company; Giles Lytton, her eldest son, might be Managing Director, Venetia Warwick might be in charge of sales and development and of that strange new science—or was it an art?—marketing, Jay Lytton might be Editorial Director, but it was to Celia they all deferred, with varying degrees of grace. And Giles might grumble and resent that deference, and Jay might kick against it at times, and Venetia might question the need for it in her particular area, but none of them seriously considered setting it aside.
And now here she was, announcing that she was giving it all up, was walking away, not just from Lyttons, but from the thing which had mattered most to her for the whole of her life: her work. And this in order to marry—only a year after the death of her husband and the ending of their legendary, almost fifty-year marriage—to become the Countess of Arden (though she declared she would not entirely relinquish the name of Lytton), to take up residence in Lord Arden’s dazzling vast eighteenth-century house in Scotland. Dazzling it might be, said everyone, as this fresh shock reached the ears of literary society, but it was a very long way from London. Of course Lord Arden had a house, and a very fine one, in Belgrave Square, but he spent a lot of time at Glennings, as Glenworth Castle was more familiarly known.
Indeed, since the death of his first wife, with her well-known penchant for stable lads, he spent far more time there than in London. He was a countryman. He liked to ride and hunt and shoot and fish, and although he enjoyed the opera, had a box at Glyndebourne and would even visit La Scala and the Paris Opera to hear the divine Maria Callas sing, he was never actually happier than when standing up to his waist in the freezing water of his own river, in pursuit of salmon, or taking the hideously dangerous fences of his own estate in pursuit of Scotland’s foxes. What on earth was she going to do up there, everyone wondered, the pampered, perfectly dressed and coiffed Lady Celia, that most urban of creatures as she seemed to be—forgetting that she had grown up a country girl herself, on her own father’s estate, and, indeed, had first met Lord Arden when she was quite a young girl, not in the hothouse atmosphere of a London nightclub but at a house party in Shropshire where she had gone out with the guns in the driving rain and bagged more birds than he had.
Of course there had been other chapters in their saga, which had taken place in extremely sophisticated and indeed infamous surroundings; but in her late sixties and her new, raw loneliness, Lady Celia Lytton suddenly found herself possessed by a profound longing to return to her roots. And Peter Arden was miraculously able to lead her to them.
‘Montpelier would be—’
‘Yes, it would. I’ll follow you.’
The Lytton twins as they were still referred to, despite being married women with a large number of children between them, still communicated thus: in the strange, incomprehensible shorthand speech which they had employed since childhood and which drove all around them, but particularly their husbands and their children, to distraction. It was not purely habit that made them cling to it; it was also extremely useful.
They drew up outside Adele’s house in Montpelier Street at almost the same time, Venetia in her rather stately Jaguar, Adele in the dark-green MG convertible that was currently her pride and joy. The house was quiet; Adele’s two older children were at school, and her small new daughter was out with the nanny.
‘But let’s go up to the studio. They might—’
‘Let’s. You’re so lucky, so peaceful—’
‘Yes, well, if you wanted peacefulness, having six children was not the way to go about it.’
‘I know, I know. Shall we—?’
‘Be nice. I’ll get some. Geordie put a case of Sancerre in the cellar last night. Grab some glasses and go on up.’
Adele’s photographic studio, occupying the whole of the third floor of her house, with its glass roof and uncurtained windows was dazzling in the April sunshine. Venetia grimaced and started pulling blinds down.
‘Can’t cope with this sort of light. Not at my age. Desperately unflattering.’
‘Venetia, you’re so vain. Anyway, no one’s going to see you except me.’
‘Geordie might come up.’
‘He won’t. He’s lunching with some old lady who lived through the First World War. For the latest book.’
‘Well he’s bound to come back.’
‘Not for ages,’ said Adele confidently. ‘Sure to bump into someone who’s heard the news. Here, give me the glasses.’
‘It is quite—’
‘I know. Truly so.’
‘I mean, the thought of Lyttons without—’
‘I bet you quite—’
‘In a way. In a way truly not.’
Adele looked at her. ‘I s’pose. What do you think—?’
‘God knows. Tired, maybe?’
‘When was Mummy ever—?’
Adele took a cigarette, lit it and inhaled heavily. ‘The really big question is—’
‘I know. I know. Why—’
‘I mean, when—’
‘All those years. And Kit and everything.’
‘Of course,’ said Adele, ‘he is a real honey.’
‘I suppose you should know. Your escape, and everything.’
‘Well yes. But still—’
‘I know. Still doesn’t – Why him? Why not—’
‘Well one thing’s quite certain,’ said Adele, taking a large sip of wine, ‘she won’t tell us. Or indeed anyone else.’
‘Except perhaps Kit.’
‘And what about—’
‘I wonder if she warned him?’
‘Doubt it. My God he’ll be—’
‘Won’t he? Absolutely furious. And so hurt. Poor darling.’ Venetia’s large dark eyes were heavy with sympathy.
‘Poor darling indeed,’ said Adele. ‘It doesn’t make any sense at all, does it?’
‘Absolutely none at all.’
Of course it would have been Venetia who was singled out for praise that morning by their mother, Giles thought, as he walked back to Lytton House; no word of praise for him, in his caretaking of Lyttons, his successful steering of the house through the difficult post-war austerity, no mention of his best-selling and unique history of the war, told entirely by the ordinary men and women who had fought in it. Just a tart observation that he must be feeling some relief at her departure. Which of course he was: they all were, deny it though they might. To be free at last of her presence, however brilliant, her dominance, however well-earned, her direction, however inspired: free to make their own way, their own successes, their own mistakes, even, to depart from the rigid routes she had set for the conduct of Lyttons and its business would be wonderfully liberating. It had been far worse since his father’s death; that had seemed to drive her even harder in her conviction that only she could know what was right for Lyttons, what had to be done.
She seemed to have buried, with Oliver and his gentle restraining presence, any degree of self-doubt; before then she had always had to pit her will against his—as strong in its own way as her own. The day after his funeral, she had summoned them all to her office, and faced them with a composure so steely it dared them to offer so much as a word or touch of sympathy or concern, and told them that they must all continue as Oliver would have wished: and then proceeded to do exactly what she wished herself. At first they felt they could not argue with her, lost as she was in her great and undoubted grief; what they had not foreseen was how swiftly their compliance had been taken for granted, accepted as the norm, and how ruthlessly she would trade on it.
Useless for Giles to point out that they were all on the board, in nominally equal positions, all reporting with equal responsibility to New York on major purchases of books and authors’ contracts, the twice-yearly budget and senior staff changes. Useless for Venetia to tell her mother that business practice had changed, that autocracy within a company, however inspired, was no longer acceptable and especially one in which she no longer held a controlling share; or indeed for Jay to affirm that the acquiring of books should not be conducted as an entirely personal process of choice; that was how Celia ran Lyttons, had always run it, and she found any suggestion that things might change quite simply absurd.
She was right of course. Giles had felt a strong sense of relief as he read the announcements in The Bookseller and The Publishers’ Gazette – and what a way to tell not only the world but her own family, and without the faintest hint of it beforehand – that she was leaving the world of publishing from that day forward. It had been Venetia who had alerted him to it, to the announcement, had telephoned early that morning, her voice sounding at the same time excited and strained; he had rushed to pick up his own copies, still lying on the breakfast table, neatly folded with his post by Mrs Parks, the housekeeper, and read them, shaking his head in disbelief before sitting down rather heavily and staring slightly blankly at Helena. Helena had questioned him and then said with a note of satisfaction in her brisk voice, ‘And about time too Giles. At last you’ll get your chance.’ And then most uncharacteristically, had burst into tears.
He had been touched by those tears; Helena had fought most fiercely for him and his right to run the company ever since she had married him over twenty years ago. The fact that her efforts had often been tactless, useless and indeed even counter-productive did not change the basic fact that she loved and admired him and was permanently angry that his talents were not given any proper recognition. Which made Giles forgive her a great deal else; her lack of humour, her overbearing manner, her increasing tendency to treat him like one of the children. It was said that Helena Lytton had even been heard to tell her husband across a dinner-party table to talk less and get on with his food.
For some reason, the success of Giles’s book, The People’s War, published by Lyttons in 1949, had not particularly pleased Celia; she saw it as a rather unnecessary distraction for him from the proper business of running the company. In fact, Giles knew that very little he had done properly pleased her (with the possible exception of his Military Cross). It was a very hard thing for him to bear.
He went over to Helena and patted her rather awkwardly on the shoulder; physical contact of any kind between them, not simply sexual, had long since ceased.
‘There there,’ he said, ‘don’t cry. No need for that.’
‘I know there’s no need,’ said Helena, sniffing and wiping her eyes on the back of her hand, ‘I just can’t help it. I’m so happy for you Giles. You’ve waited so long. Of course you still won’t have what is your right but – well, at least, you are the Managing Director. It’s marvellous. I wonder who her shares will go to?’ she added, the ‘her’ taking on a vicious note. Helena and Celia had always disliked one another; in the year since Oliver’s death, the dislike had turned to something more insidious, more ugly. In both of them.
‘God knows.’ In fact he had not even thought of them.
‘They should go to you. As the senior member of the family.’
‘I don’t suppose they will. Anyway, we only hold – individually at any rate – such a nominal amount, it’s not as if we still owned the company. It hardly matters, does it?’
‘Helena, please. Don’t start. Not now. I dare say she will hold on to them. Whatever she says about retirement.’
‘Well she has no right to.’
‘She will think she has every right,’ he said and sighed.
There had been no mention of the shares; no doubt Celia would use them as a weapon to declare her favouritism, to indicate the area she saw as most important. It wasn’t quite true that she held so few they were scarcely worth considering; due to Barty’s considerable generosity, the family still held 32 per cent of the London company shares. Given the great success Lyttons London (as it was now called) had enjoyed over the past five years, those shares were certainly worth having. Thirty-two per cent, the number so easily and charmingly divisible into four: one quarter each for Giles, Venetia, Jay and for Oliver and Celia jointly. It had been most graciously done; so graciously indeed, that Celia, for one, found it easy to overlook the fact that any generosity had been displayed at all.
Giles, all too aware of the need for gratitude, and of the intense discomfort of the situation, still found a wry pleasure in it. Who would have thought, all those years ago, that Barty would come to hold such power over them . . .
He turned his thoughts from Barty and switched back to the present. It would be marvellous; absolutely marvellous without his mother. Of course, he and Venetia and Jay often had their differences of opinion but those differences could now be resolved by discussion, by reasoned, informed debate, taking in factors like profitability, the competition, an author’s track record. As from this afternoon, this very afternoon, he could set up new financial systems, processes of evaluation, long-term planning. Venetia would be pleased, he knew; she found her mother’s conduct within the company anarchic. The only difference between them was that Venetia adored Celia, and fiercely admired and valued her talents. It was a very important difference.
But the greatest puzzle of all, of course, was why Bunny Arden? When everyone had thought, with Oliver dead—
‘Well Cousin Giles.’ Jay walked into his office an hour later. ‘Pretty exciting, isn’t it?’
‘What’s that?’ said Giles cautiously.
‘Oh come on, old chap. We know each other better than that. Celia leaving us to do our job, that’s what. Bloody marvellous. Let’s be frank. Might even drink to it. I’ve got a bottle of bubbly next door. How about it?’
Giles nodded slightly wearily, and watched Jay as he went to fetch the champagne. He felt very ambivalent about Jay. Celia adored him, and so did Barty – not that they saw very much of Barty these days of course – and there was no doubt he was everyone’s favourite throughout Lyttons. Which was a hard thing to cope with. On the other hand, Giles was unable to dislike him either. Jay was so good-natured, so permanently sunny, his rather bluff manner disguising a brilliant mind and a virtually flawless editorial judgement. He had another quality which made him the company star – an extraordinary ability to win. As well as living out his charmed life at Lyttons as Celia’s favourite, he was married to ‘one of the most beautiful girls in London’ according to Vogue where she was frequently featured. Victoria Lytton was tall, slender, blonde, with huge blue eyes and awesomely good legs; as good-natured and charming as Jay, she had already presented him with two sons, and had just embarked on a third pregnancy which she had stated firmly was not only her last, but which would produce a little girl. No one had the slightest doubt that it would.
The extraordinary thing about Jay was that he was not only liked and admired within the company, where his editorial skills combined with a cool financial judgement, and an ability to recognise the strength of business-based arguments, but his authors liked and admired him too. His only fault was that he was inclined to be lazy; life had been too kind to him, too easy, he had long since ceased to be hungry. On the other hand, that very quality gave him an easy, relaxed way with his authors; he always seemed to have plenty of time. He could communicate with them on a deeply sympathetic and instinctive level, and was a most brilliant editor, recognising their sensitivities, valuing their talents, nurturing their hugely individual contribution to the Lytton mix. It was not only the brilliant new young authors – including Kit Lytton himself and a startlingly original female writer called Clementine Hartley, only three years out of Oxford and with two best-selling novels already to her credit – but the older generation too, who found almost to their surprise that they felt valued by and at ease with him: women fiction writers like the great Nancy Arthure, whose success had made Lyttons the envy of the publishing world, Lady Annabel Muirhead, the biographer – and Sebastian Brooke, the venerable elder statesman of the book world, with his elegant time-fantasies written for and loved by children and admired by adults.
Sebastian who had actually had a meeting arranged with Giles and Celia that very afternoon, to discuss the Coronation year edition of his books; Sebastian who had phoned in an appalling rage to enquire why Celia’s secretary had seen fit to cancel at half a day’s notice so important a meeting; Sebastian who was even now in a taxi travelling to Cheyne Walk, consumed with rage, to elicit an explanation from Celia herself for the true reason behind her announcement; and why she had chosen not to discuss it with him first.
A scream echoed down the stairs, followed by a short silence and then a burst of sobbing. And then footsteps, stumbling over one another and finally, on the first-floor landing, as Adele’s family appeared from various rooms to enquire whatever the matter might be, a laugh of sheer triumph.
‘That was Record on the phone.’
‘Didn’t hear the phone,’ said Geordie, with careful obtuseness.
‘That’s not the point.’
‘Well, Maman, what is? That was a terrible noise, it quite frightened me.’
‘I’m sorry, Noni sweetheart. But I was very excited.’ Adele gave her daughter a kiss.
‘Oh, Mother, do come along, this is very boring.’
Adele looked at her son’s impatient face, and smiled.
‘Record, the American magazine, you know—’
‘Yes, Maman, we know.’
‘Record have asked me to cover the Coronation for them. Be their official photographer. Now then, what do you think about that?’
‘Darling, that is amazing. Really quite wonderful. Here, let me give you a kiss.’
‘Oh God,’ said Lucas, with exaggerated weariness, ‘not in front of the children, please.’
He turned away, walked into his own room; Adele looked after him, her mood suddenly punctured.
‘Ignore him, darling,’ said Geordie. ‘He’s just being deliberately awkward.’
‘Of course he is.’ Noni’s lovely little face was concerned. ‘Stupid boy. Congratulations, Maman, that’s so exciting. Wait till I tell the girls at school tomorrow.’
‘I don’t suppose they’ll be terribly impressed,’ said Adele smiling at her, thinking of the hugely sophisticated girls in Noni’s set at St Paul’s Girls’ School.
‘Of course they will. We all are, aren’t we Noni darling? Definitely calls for a bottle of champagne. Come along down, girls, it will start our evening off with a swing,’ said Geordie.
‘I’ll – just see if Lucas would like to join us,’ said Adele quickly. ‘You go on down.’
She knocked gently on Lucas’s door; no answer. She opened it slowly. He was hunched over his books, his thin shoulders oddly vulnerable looking. She went over to him, put her arms round them; he turned to look up at her, his expression oddly blank.
He was such a handsome boy, with his dark eyes and hair and long, slightly gaunt face: at fourteen heart-catchingly like his father. His father, who she had loved so much and – Adele switched her mind determinedly away from the past, back into the present.
‘Darling, won’t you join us downstairs? For some champagne?’
She had thought the sophistication of the offer might move him, but he frowned.
‘No, thank you. I’m a bit tired and I have to finish this essay by tomorrow. But of course I’m very pleased for you Mother. Congratulations.’
‘Thank you. But Lucas, you will come to the dinner tonight, won’t you? Grandmother will be so disappointed if you don’t. It’s a big occasion for her.’
‘I was going to ask you if it was really necessary.’ His voice was formal, rather flat. ‘It will be so late when we leave, and I’m sure she won’t miss me.’
‘Lucas of course she will. She adores you, you know she does.’
‘Does she? I’m not so sure. Great-grandmama, yes, she was fond of me, well we lived together didn’t we? But – no, I don’t think Grandmother is specially fond of me. And surely she of all people would understand that I need to work.’
‘Yes. Of course.’ Adele gave him a quick bright smile.
He turned back to his books, dismissing her.
‘Perhaps you could write her a little note. Explaining?’
‘Oh Mother, do I really have to? I’m trying to concentrate. I told you, she won’t care.’
‘I think she will,’ said Adele, her voice flat suddenly. ‘But – if you don’t have time . . .’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake—’ He pulled a piece of paper towards him, scrawled over it in black ink in his illegible handwriting, and handed it to her. ‘There. Give her that.’
Adele looked at it. ‘Dear Grandmother, Sorry I can’t be with you. I have a lot of work to do. Lucas.’
‘Thank you,’ she said carefully, longing to throw it down again, to say it was outrageously rude, that Celia would be very hurt, that he owed her something better than that. But she had to tread so carefully where Lucas was concerned. He was the typical adolescent, morose, secretive, hostile – all the things that, these days, parents were told had to be understood and humoured.
‘I was never allowed to behave like this,’ Geordie had said plaintively once when she had begged his forgiveness for some particularly hostile outburst from Lucas.
‘I know, darling, and neither was I. But Lucas has had such a difficult time. His history isn’t exactly ideal. We have to try and help him through it.’
‘It’s me that needs the help,’ said Geordie with a sigh.
‘I know. And I do sympathise so much. But at least we have our own little angel. And Noni adores you.’
‘And it’s mutual. All right. I will continue to try to apply the damnable American science of psychology to your son. And turn the other cheek. I can tell you, both of them are getting quite sore.’
‘Thank you darling. Oh, I love you.’
And she did; she adored him. The second – and last – she so often told him, great love of her life; so different from the first, bringing her a happiness she had never dreamed of finding again – and a great deal of fun as well. There had been the occasional problem, of course. He was, as Celia had remarked more than once, too charming for his own good, one of those people who lift the mood of a room simply by walking into it; life was easy for him, he had great talent, to be sure, but success had come swiftly after the publication of his first book, under Barty’s guidance. Men as well as women liked him, he was always the focus of attention (and if he was not he didn’t like it), a life enhancer in every way. Adele had always been aware of a slight unevenness in their relationship, a sense that she was more fortunate to have him than he to have her; and she had been half afraid, more than once, that the flirtations he carried on almost compulsively had become a little more serious than was comfortable. But she had never found any real evidence; and when she had taxed Geordie (very gently) on the matter, he had been so shocked, so hurt, that she had felt ashamed of herself.
‘It’s you I love and you I’m married to,’ he said, ‘and I’m the luckiest man in England. Would I really risk losing that, do you think? I’m sorry if I’ve worried you, and I’ll try to be less sociable in future.’
Venetia, who was of a rather more cynical turn of mind than her sister, and with rather stronger suspicions, could not help thinking that Geordie’s gifts as a writer and storyteller, his way with words and his ability to fantasize, were as much use to him in his marriage as his professional life, but she loved and cared for her sister far too much to say so. If she ever found proof herself, she said to her mother, ‘I would kill him. But I think he loves her in his own way, don’t you?’
To which Celia replied that she did, that marriages came in all shapes and sizes, and Adele’s seemed to fit her very well for most of the time: ‘One should never go in search of trouble,’ she said, ‘if it’s there it finds one soon enough, in my experience. As you know yourself,’ she added.
‘Yes, and look at us now,’ said Venetia, ‘twenty-five years nearly, despite a fair bit of trouble.’
‘Well there you are,’ said Celia, as if that settled the matter.
‘Lucas is very tired,’ Adele said now, walking into the drawing room, ‘he has asked to be excused this evening.’
‘Well he can un-ask,’ said Geordie. ‘I shall go up myself and tell him—’
‘Darling don’t. There’s no point. If he comes he’ll just sit and sulk and—’
‘He needs a good thrashing,’ said Noni briskly. Adele looked at her, amused at the archaic language, the stentorian sentiment.
‘Noni, really. You don’t mean that.’
‘I do, Maman. He’s a beast. And you spoil him. And it’s not fair. Anyway’ – her tone altered, became grown up and smooth – ‘many, many congratulations. We’re very proud, aren’t we Geordie?’
‘Very proud. Well done. Will that mean you’ll have a place at the Abbey?’
‘I – suppose so. Goodness, what an honour. Mummy will be hugely annoyed.’
‘Will Lord Arden be there tonight, do you think?’ said Noni.
‘Apparently not. Strictly family, Mummy said. So that we can ask questions, I presume.’
‘Sebastian isn’t coming either. Izzie rang me earlier for a chat. He’s in a huge bait.’
‘Well – he’s not family either,’ said Adele firmly.
‘I suppose not. But – he feels like it.’
‘What else did Izzie say?’ asked Geordie, his face intrigued.
‘I’m interested. I want to know. Like Noni, I think of Sebastian as family. I guess he must be very upset. About the whole thing. I mean—’
‘Geordie,’ said Adele, her voice suddenly stern, ‘not now.’
‘Oh Maman,’ said Noni impatiently, ‘don’t be silly.’
‘And what is that supposed to mean?’
Noni’s face, so like her mother’s, ironed itself out, her dark eyes blank, her mouth set in a sweet smile.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Come on, we’d better go. Geordie, your tie’s crooked. I’ll just get my coat while Mummy fixes it.’
She left the room; Adele looked after her, then turned to Geordie.
‘Do you think she knows?’
‘My darling, of course she knows. They all know.’
‘But – who will have told her?’
He smiled at her. ‘I can’t believe we’re having this conversation. Again.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You were so shocked when you found out that Henry knew. And Izzie.’
‘Well, yes. Very darling. I adore her too. But she’s not a child. Twenty-three now. Of course she had to know. Sebastian’s her father.’
‘Maybe she told Noni. They’re very close.’
‘Maybe. Or Henry Warwick, or Roo, or their naughty sisters. Children do talk, Adele.’
‘I know but – well, maybe I should talk to her about it.’
‘Oh, I don’t think so. She doesn’t seem too bothered. She’s a very worldly young lady.’
Noni came back into the room, a velvet cape draped over her arm.
‘Darling you look so lovely,’ said Geordie. ‘You make an old man very happy. Here, let me help you into that.’
‘Geordie! Hardly old. You don’t look much older than Henry.’
‘What nonsense,’ said Geordie, clearly delighted with this tribute. And indeed it was true. With his American preppy looks and style, his long, lean body, his floppy brown hair, his wide grey eyes, he could have been almost any age from twenty-five upwards. In fact he was forty-two, a year younger than Adele; while Henry Warwick, Venetia’s eldest son, with his swarthy, dissolute good looks, his already-developing banker’s paunch, his slightly fruity manner, did indeed look much older than his twenty-four years.
‘Come on,’ said Adele, ‘this mutual admiration society is making me feel quite jealous. And besides, we mustn’t be late. Mummy would never forgive us.’
But in fact dinner was served over half an hour late, and Celia was not in the drawing room to greet her guests; she was repairing the ravages to her face and her composure induced by a long session with a raging Sebastian which had run for over two hours and had only ended when he left the house just as Jay and Tory arrived.
‘And the last words we heard were “I wish you well with your fucking Nazi”,’ whispered Tory to Adele, ‘and he was actually crying, tears streaming down his face. Darling Sebastian, I wanted to run after him, but Jay said he was best left alone.’
‘Izzie’s at home,’ said Adele. ‘I do know that. She’ll comfort him. Oh, poor, poor Sebastian. I just can’t bear to think what he must be feeling. Why has she done this, why?’
‘Darling I don’t know.’
‘She really is the hugest mystery,’ said Adele with a sigh. ‘Always has been. Oh dear. Well perhaps she will explain something of it tonight. Tory that is the most divine dress.’
‘Not bad is it? Covers me and the bumpess quite neatly. She’s growing awfully fast. I think she’ll come out bigger than her brothers. Four months to go and look at me.’
Adele looked at Tory, in her high-waisted, softly sashed dress, her fair hair drawn smoothly back from her lovely face, and thought it was actually hard to tell she was pregnant at all.
‘Don’t fish for compliments, Tory Lytton,’ she said briskly, ‘but here’s one anyway, you look divine. Now we’d better go in, and do our bit. Thank goodness Bunny isn’t here, it would have been hideous—’
‘Lord Arden. Old nickname, he’s called Peter, you see, and—’
‘Peter Rabbit! Of course. I didn’t realise you know him that well!’
‘He helped me escape from France. In 1940. Got me – well – ’ she hesitated ‘ – more or less got me – a place on one of the very last boats from Bordeaux. We travelled back together. Me and him, and the children of course.’
‘I hadn’t realised. It sounds madly exciting.’
‘It was terrifying. But he is a sweetie.’
‘So was Oliver. Your mother seems to attract gentlemen.’
‘He’s a much softer touch than Daddy,’ said Adele. ‘He wasn’t anything like the pushover he seemed.’
‘So Jay always tells me. Not my observation, but—’
‘No it’s true. His will was as strong as Mummy’s and he was just as awkward in his own way, but he kept it well under wraps. Boy, darling, hallo, how many of your dynasty have you brought with you?’
‘Only four,’ said Boy Warwick, giving them both a kiss. ‘God, I don’t know which of you girls is more beautiful. Adele my darling, let me get you a drink. I’m acting as hostess for the time being.’
Adele relaxed; if Boy was in charge of things, then there was no need to worry. Of all his virtues, his ability to make any event run sweetly smooth was, in her view, the greatest.
Suddenly, absurdly, she longed for her father; sitting in his wheelchair by the fire, dispensing the odd mixture of charm and detachment that had been so uniquely his. There would have been no tantrums had he been there. But then there would have been no cause for any, not this evening at any rate, she thought, shaking herself mentally, no shocking announcement to make, no well-buried griefs to disturb . . .
‘I know,’ said Venetia, giving her a kiss. ‘I just thought that too.’
‘How did you know—’
‘I saw you looking at his place. And thought—’
‘It seems so soon,’ said Adele, ‘that’s what I keep thinking. So soon. A year, that’s all. And—’
‘When you get to my age, Adele, years are in shorter supply. You might think about that. It is one of the things I was going to speak about later.’
Adele turned. Her mother was smiling at her, apparently good-naturedly. Celia was pale but perfectly composed; she showed no sign of the intense emotional trauma she had just endured.
‘I have just heard that Kit can’t come. Such a pity. But – he’s very busy.’
And very, very shocked and distressed, Venetia thought; hardly surprising that he had refused to attend.
‘I’m – afraid Lucas can’t come either,’ said Adele. ‘I’m so sorry. He’s working terribly hard at school, and he’s tired and – here, he’s written you a note—’
Celia looked at it briefly, her face absolutely expressionless, then walked over and tossed it in the fire.
‘Very rude,’ she said, returning to Adele, ‘to you, as well as to me. He has no manners Adele. You should teach him some.’
‘Adele I don’t want to hear yet again about Lucas’s tragic childhood, the loss of his father, all that rubbish. Noni had exactly the same, with the difference that she could actually remember her father. Lucas trades on the whole thing quite disgracefully. And you shouldn’t allow it. Tell him we didn’t miss him for a single moment. Boy, dear, I think we should go in at once, everyone’s here.’
Everyone except Kit, thought Venetia, following her mother into the dining room, taking her usual place in between her and Jay. With Giles at the other end of the table and Helena next to him, it was all so clearly prescribed by Celia that they never questioned it. The only changes came with death. Once Jay’s mother had sat where he was now, and Oliver – of course – opposite her mother. Kit’s place remained empty; Celia told Mrs Hardwicke, the housekeeper, to leave it.
‘He may still come,’ she said briefly, and then as Mrs Hardwicke continued to hover over it, ‘Mrs Hardwicke, I said leave it laid.’
She didn’t like Mrs Hardwicke very much; she couldn’t forgive her for not being Brunson, the butler who had looked after the household for almost fifty years, and who had died, as if it was the only decent thing to do, a very few weeks after Oliver.
But Kit would not come. He was too angry, too shocked, his last shreds of faith in his mother’s virtue finally destroyed.
‘I don’t feel I can ever meet her or speak to her again,’ he had said to Izzie on the telephone, his voice raw with pain. ‘I simply cannot understand her, Izzie. Is she absolutely wicked or absolutely mad?’
‘Neither,’ said Izzie, ‘she’s just your mother. Doing what she feels she must. A law unto herself.’
‘A bad law. How is Sebastian?’
‘Very very upset. And baffled, like you.’
‘Should I come—’
‘I don’t know. I could ask him. If you like.’
‘Yes. Would you, Izzie? Thank you.’
Izzie put the phone down, went into her father’s study. He was sitting at his desk, staring out at the darkening sky, white, drawn, his eyes redrimmed.
‘Yes, what is it Isabella? I don’t want to be continually disturbed, I know you mean well, but—’
‘Kit’s on the phone. Would you like him to come and—’
‘No, no.’ He shook his head, sighed heavily, managed to smile at her. ‘I don’t think so. But thank him for offering. I just want to be alone. Maybe in a day or two. Shut the door would you?’
Kit was getting drunk, he told her.
‘Oh Kit. Shall I—’
‘No. No, better not. Stay there with—’
‘Yes of course. But tomorrow we could—’
‘Yes, fine. About one?’
They communicated in half-sentences, rather like the twins. It was interesting, especially to those who did not know their history.
‘Now I hope you will understand.’ Celia had risen to her feet; dinner was over. ‘And forgive what appears to be my rather shocking haste. As I said to Venetia, time is in short supply at my – our age. I loved Oliver very much. Very, very much. We had a fine marriage. And I think I made him happy.’ She looked round the table, daring anyone to dissent. ‘I certainly tried. But – now he is dead. And I am very lonely.’ She paused; clearly feeling very strongly the need to explain, thought Adele. Celia hated admitting to any kind of weakness. And she would certainly perceive feeling lonely as that.
‘But I do know,’ said Celia, ‘Oliver would have wanted me to be happy. Generosity was one of his many virtues. And I am quite certain that I shall be. I have known Lord Arden for a long time, I am extremely fond of him, and we have a great deal in common. We can have a few – I hope not too few – very good years. And having decided it was the right thing for me – for us – to do, I also decided there should be no delay. As you know, having made a decision, I like to act. You are all adults; how I arrange my private life should not greatly affect you.’
Another silence; someone should say something, thought Venetia; even as the thought drifted into her head Boy stood up. ‘I think we should all raise our glasses to you Celia. You deserve every happiness. To Celia.’
‘To Grandmother,’ said Henry Warwick, smiling, ‘from our generation.’ Celia smiled back at him, blew him a kiss down the table. A dutiful murmur of ‘Grandmother’ went round the room.
‘Thank you,’ said Celia. ‘Now, there are some practical details. We plan to marry very quickly – perhaps even within the month. Just a quiet ceremony, in a register office, family only. Anything more would be – distasteful, we thought.’
And when did she ever do anything quietly, thought Helena. She’d manage to make a grand opera out of it somehow; tell half the press, invite a hundred friends . . .
‘And I also wanted to explain more fully why I am leaving Lyttons. I feel I owe it to Lord Arden to be at his side, sharing his life fully. That is what he wants, that is why he asked me to marry him.’
God, thought Giles, she sounds like some foolish girl, not a matriarch of nearly seventy. Does she really think we’re all going to believe in this claptrap? He felt almost sick with it, and wondered if he was the only one.
‘And besides, I feel it is time for me to go. Oliver and I created Lyttons, in the same way we created this family. Together.’
A bit too far, Mummy, thought Adele. This borders on nauseating. She’d be weeping in a minute.
‘I find doing it alone, running Lyttons without him, rather – unsatisfactory.’
And that’s how she sees it, Jay thought, as ‘doing it’ still. Running Lyttons. After – what? He’d been there fourteen years. The implication being that they all, still, did what she said. Even if it wasn’t quite the way things really were, it was strangely emasculating. He felt Tory’s hand slide into his under the table; he squeezed it and smiled at her quickly. She always understood.
‘Anyway, you can take it on now. You – three. I won’t interfere, I assure you.’ She looked round the table again, looking for dissent, her eyes amused. ‘I dare say you will find that a little hard to believe. Time will convince you, I hope. And I won’t be here much of the time. I intend to spend a lot of time in Scotland, and Lord Arden and I plan to travel a fair amount.’
So odd, the way she refers to him as ‘Lord Arden’, thought Venetia. As if we were children. She was reminded sharply and sadly of Celia’s own mother, who had always addressed and referred to her own husband as ‘Beckenham’ throughout their entire married life.
‘Obviously you will be wondering,’ said Celia, ‘about my share of Lyttons. Which Oliver and I held jointly until his death and which he left to me. I have thought long and hard about this. Whether I should relinquish that share. It would clearly make things easier for you. Otherwise you would always know that I could exercise my voting rights whenever I wanted to. Continue to interfere. Of course I do realise – ’ she paused, an expression of strong distaste on her still-fine features, ‘ – that they only represent a tiny fraction of their old value. In purely financial terms. But from the point of view of the day-to-day running of the company, they are important.’
So for the love of God, let them go, thought Giles. And give them to me, let me at last, finally, at the age of forty-nine, as your oldest son, take my rightful place at the head of this publishing house. Running it, as my father did. She was looking at him now, yes, that must mean, mustn’t it, it was to be his. God, it had been a long wait, but worth it—
‘Now I’m not at all sure that is what your father would have wished. Lyttons was always his first concern; he would have wanted it, I know, to remain mine.’
Well, we know what that means, thought Venetia, it means that you’re not retiring at all. You’ll still be there. Day after day. This retirement is a farce. And she wondered why she felt a perverse and very slight stab of relief. Celia reached for a cigarette, lit it, inhaled deeply, and then smiled; an odd, self-satisfied little smile. ‘On the other hand, Oliver always found it more difficult to move forward than I did. To recognise the need for change. I recognise that need now. I can see it would be hard for you to accept my decision to leave Lyttons while I still hold my shares. And I do want you to accept it – very much. So – I propose a compromise. What might be called a short-term solution. For just one year, I shall keep my shares. During which time I will play no part in the conduct of Lyttons. Either from an editorial or a commercial point of view.’ She half smiled again; an ironic, self-mocking smile. ‘I realise you may find this hard to believe; you will simply have to trust me.’
Very, very hard: impossible in fact, thought Giles.
‘And after that year?’ he said, as calmly as he could.
‘After that year, I will distribute the shares.’
‘Provided we run Lyttons to your satisfaction, I presume. And to Barty’s, of course.’
That at least had hit home, had hurt. Celia visibly flinched; then ‘I really don’t think we have to consider Barty too much in this,’ she said finally, her voice ice-edged. ‘New York has always been perfectly happy to leave us to our own devices. Indeed they have very little choice, in my opinion. I shall distribute my shares after a year. I have very little doubt that I shall feel happy by then to do so. You are all extremely well equipped to run Lyttons, you have considerable talents and you complement one another.’
‘But that’s not quite enough,’ said Jay. He was almost surprised to hear the words; he hadn’t meant to speak.
‘I’m sorry?’ said Celia.
‘You don’t regard our talents as quite sufficient. To take over now, from the start of your retirement.’
‘Jay, you haven’t been listening,’ said Celia patiently. ‘I want you to take over now. Immediately. I am tired, I want to do other things with my life. Lord Arden and I want to travel, to spend time on the estate.’
Had it really happened, wondered Venetia. Had she really, finally, tired of it, the ebb and flow of the publishing year, the balance of it all, seeing the new books making their faltering way against the background of the great stalwarts, discovering the literary works required to maintain the gravitas of the house, searching constantly for new biographical subjects, meeting the need to get out the new catalogues, fighting the battle for bookshop windows at Christmas . . . all the things that Celia had seemed to regard as more important and indeed more exciting than anything else in the world? Were they really to be set aside in favour of trips down the Nile with an elderly peer, or even days on the moors peering down the barrel of a gun?
‘Let me try to explain more fully,’ said Celia, stubbing out her cigarette, reaching for another. She smokes too much thought Adele, it isn’t good for her.
‘This is not a game I’m playing. I am absolutely serious. I’m sixty-eight years old. For almost fifty of those years I have sat in my office at Lyttons. Enthralling, exciting, rewarding years. But with perhaps as little as ten left, I suddenly feel – what shall I say – daunted by what I have not done and not seen. I would go so far as to say it seems a dereliction of duty. A failure to discover and explore as much as I can. You will not find me at my desk tomorrow morning, nor on the telephone, nor at any publishing meetings, and nor will I be checking out Lyttons’ position in any bookshops. I dare say I shall continue to take an interest in the overall publishing business, it would be difficult for me not to, but that is as far as I intend to go.’
‘Then why not let your shares go?’ said Giles.
‘Because I feel I would be betraying your father’s trust. He left his share in Lyttons to me; he was very clear about it. Almost his last words – ’ she stopped suddenly, her voice close to breaking, inhaled fiercely on her cigarette, ‘ – his last words were about the company. How proud of it he was and – ’ her voice had steadied, and she looked around the table at each of them in turn, her dark eyes defiant, ‘ – and of me. Of what we had done together. I cannot walk away entirely. Not yet. I have to reassure myself that Lyttons is in good hands and in good shape.’
Against their will they found themselves swung by her argument. It always happened, thought Venetia; you could go in to see her, ready to fight her, absolutely knowing you were right, and come out shaking your head, thinking how foolish you had been. Feeling guilty that you had dared to question her. She would have been a brilliant barrister . . .
‘So in a year’s time, possibly – probably even – I shall redistribute my shares. Does that seem reasonable to you now? Have I made my position clear?’
‘Quite clear,’ said Giles. His voice was quiet and deathly weary. He could see that once again he was beaten. That once again, he must wait. Wait for his birthright, wait to take his place at the head of Lyttons.
‘Good. Well now, another toast. To Lyttons. Its future.’
‘To Lyttons,’ said everyone obediently.
‘Good,’ said Celia, briskly. ‘Well I’m glad you are all – happy with the situation. As I am. Although,’ she smiled again, the same self-mocking smile, ‘I am sure you will understand this too, it will not be entirely easy for me.’
Good, thought Giles; I hope it’s quite horribly difficult for you, I hope you are wretchedly unhappy with Lord Arden, I hope—
‘Giles, we must go.’ Helena was standing up, her face frozen with disapproval. ‘Celia, do forgive us. Thank you for a very – interesting evening. George, Mary, say goodnight to your grandmother.’
She’s very upset, Adele thought, watching her leave the room, and who could blame her really. She had spent the whole of her married life waiting for Giles’s success and it had never come, not properly. The nearest had been the publication of his book, so well received and well reviewed; but that was in the past now. Poor Giles; white-faced, wretched, kissing his mother as only he could, quickly, hardly touching her face. And the children, the dreadfully dull George and Mary, kissing her dutifully too: but at least they had come. Had not sent rudely dismissive notes. She had got something terribly wrong with Lucas; and she didn’t know how to put it right.
They were all gone by ten-thirty; Celia had expected that, had known – of course – that they disapproved of her and what she was doing, known too that she could not properly explain. It could not have been a Lytton evening, one of those endlessly warm, bright occasions, fuelled with gossip and literary allusion, with fierce argument and fun. They would never be the same again, those evenings. Not quite. She could see that now. Unbelievably, after half a century at the heart of the family, she had moved herself out from it. By choosing to marry Lord Arden, that was what she had done. She had shocked and saddened the family, she could see that very clearly. And she had lost Sebastian too: perhaps for ever. Even possibly, it seemed, Kit. Which was harder still.
But given the the savage and shocking degree to which she missed Oliver, the discovery that she did not want to grow old alone, and neither did she want to find her way in the strange new world that publishing was fast becoming, or to slither into a position where she was regarded with pity or derision or both, and given that Bunny was sweet and funny and affectionate and rich – and impotent – she still felt she had served herself – and them – rather well.
‘I shall do what I like and you can’t stop me. You’re a witch, a wicked, wicked witch and I hope you die in a car crash today—’
‘Thank you for that. No doubt you’ll hear about it if I do. If not I’ll see you later.’
Barty picked up her briefcase and walked out of the kitchen and across the hall; she was just opening the door when she heard footsteps running after her and felt a pair of small arms winding round her waist.
‘Wait, stop, I didn’t mean it, I love you really.’
‘No, no, listen to me, it’s true, I do, I do, so, so much.’
Barty turned round to look at her; at this difficult, dazzling eight-year-old who was at once the light and the blight of her life, whose two-year-old’s temper tantrums had never eased, whose adoration of her was irresistible and whose hatred of her in the face of any opposition was alarming.
‘Well I’m glad to hear that, Jenna. And I love you too. But you are not going to host a sailing party at South Lodge. And that is the end of the matter.’
‘But why not?’
‘Because sailing is dangerous. And I am not going to be held responsible for the possible drowning of a dozen little girls.’
‘We wouldn’t drown. That’s so silly. We would be very careful. And it wouldn’t be on the ocean, it would be on the creek.’
‘Jenna,’ said Barty, setting her briefcase down, realising reluctantly that she had to give this her full attention, ‘you were going to be very careful when you got on Lee’s pony last autumn. But you fell off and broke your arm. You were going to be careful when you went down that run in the Catskills in January and broke your ankle. You were going to be careful when you climbed that tree at South Lodge last summer and fell out of it and concussed yourself. You can’t be careful for yourself, let alone twelve other people. Sailing is potentially a very dangerous thing to do. Now you can have a weekend party, everyone can stay, and you can all go riding on the shore, but you are not going out in sailing boats and that is all there is to it. All right?’
Jenna looked at her; her lovely little heart-shaped face grief-stricken, her extraordinary green-blue eyes filled with tears.
‘But Mummy, I’ve told them now. I shall look so stupid. Please, please, just two of us at a time. And over at Sag Harbor, of course, not the ocean—’
‘Jenna no. You’ll have to un-tell them. And look stupid. It’s not fatal. In any case, I would put money on their mothers all refusing to allow them to come. Now, why don’t you get your bag and I’ll give you a lift to school.’
Jenna gave it a last shot.
‘Please! Don’t you love me at all?’
‘Very much. So much that I want you and indeed your friends to live to grow up. Come on. Or you’ll have to walk with Maria.’
‘I like walking,’ said Jenna, ‘I’m not ready.’
She might have recognised defeat, but she wasn’t prepared for total surrender.
‘Fine. See you tonight. Love you.’
Silence. Barty walked out of the door of Number Seven, the house on the Upper East Side she had bought when she and Jenna had moved to New York, and closed it very firmly. She was fifty yards down the street when the door opened again, and she heard Jenna shout.
‘Love you too.’
She had won then: this time.
She reached her office at Lyttons New York in its brownstone in Gramercy Park and felt calmer even as she looked up at it; many other publishers were in huge modern buildings now in midtown, but Barty adored the gracious mansion-style setting of her workplace, with its iron railings and wide steps running up to the huge front door. She was also extremely excited about her recent acquisition of the house next door to accommodate Lyttons’ slow but steady growth. Five senior editors now, each with their own team; as well as an editorial director, Marcus Forrest, with whom she had an interesting love-hate relationship; a fine list, of both non-fiction and fiction; a steady presence in the best-seller lists; along with a reputation for publishing both popular and literary books. And of course, overall control of Lyttons London, not merely financial but editorial – although that was a discipline rather lightly exercised. Budgets were one thing and she was required to approve them; purchases of books, of authors, promotional plans and scheduling quite another. She walked into her office on the first floor and sank slightly wearily at her desk; she found her run-ins with Jenna extremely exhausting. Exactly as those with Jenna’s father had been . . .
Her secretary, Cindy Phillips, appeared with a steaming mug of coffee; she knew what her boss’s priorities were. No offer of any book, however exciting, no review however brilliant, no sales figures however good – or bad – were given a moment’s consideration until the first coffee of the day was on Barty’s desk. She picked it up, smiled at Cindy gratefully. ‘Thank you. Anything urgent?’
‘Fine. I’ll buzz you in a minute.’
She sat drinking the coffee, looking at the picture of Laurence in its silver frame on her desk. Laurence: who Jenna resembled so absolutely, in every way; whose tantrums had been as powerful and exhausting, whose love had been as suffocating, whose emotional blackmail had been as threatening. Who she had loved so very, very much. Who she still missed quite dreadfully . . . She flipped through her post: the usual letters from bookshops and agents, invitations to functions, circulars from various professional bodies – and one from England. Addressed in Geordie MacColl’s unmistakable scrawl. Geordie, who she still felt a most proprietary affection for, having discovered him – what was it, God, almost twenty years earlier – Geordie, whose books still sold and sold, Geordie, who everyone loved, even Celia.
Just to let you know Wild Horses is at No. 5 in the Sunday Times, Bumpus has given it an entire window and it is going to be the Evening Standard Book of the Month for May. Everyone is very delighted with it.
Everyone is not in the least delighted with Celia however. The family is shocked, Sebastian is not speaking to her, Kit refuses to go to the house (which she has said she will continue to live in from time to time, and what does that say for Lord Ardent – the family’s name for him – and his ardour I wonder). I do so hope you will come to the wedding. She would be heartbroken if you did not (if, indeed, she has a heart to break which I know is something constantly under debate), and if you could bring Jenna then that would be quite wonderful.
Adele sends her best love, and so does your beautiful and brilliant goddaughter. And mine to you. Geordie
Well, thought Barty, it would perhaps make up for the non-sailing party. Going to London, a month before the Coronation. Staying on for it perhaps. And she really did not want to break Celia’s heart. On the other hand, it did rather feel like disloyalty to her beloved Wol.
‘I have some lovely news,’ said Izzie. ‘Barty is coming over for the wedding. And bringing Jenna with her.’
Sebastian scowled at her. ‘I’m not sure I like that, I would have expected more loyalty from Barty.’
‘Father really! Barty is the loyallest person in the world. And her loyalty obviously takes in Celia. She always says she owes her everything.’
‘Through gritted teeth. Of course she doesn’t. What Celia did to Barty was of very questionable virtue. It did more for her own ego than it did for Barty—’
‘Oh, Father.’ Izzie sighed, put down her orange juice. ‘You really can’t go on like this. Celia is going to marry Lord Arden, and I know it’s terrible for you—’
‘Absolute nonsense. It is nothing to me who she does or doesn’t marry.’
Izzie ignored this. ‘Well anyway, do you really think Barty would be head of Lyttons if she’d been left where she was all those years ago with her eight brothers and sisters in the slums of London?’
‘Quite possibly yes,’ said Sebastian, ‘she is hugely talented.’ Then he met Izzie’s eyes and smiled reluctantly. ‘Oh all right. Possibly not. But the fact is that Celia may have given Barty everything she thought she needed, but she deprived her of the one thing that really mattered. Her family.’
‘Yes Father.’ Izzie had heard this many times before.
‘Anyway, I’m very pleased that she’s coming to London. Although I’m not sure if I look forward to meeting that dreadful child again. Typical American, free-ranging, undisciplined—’
‘I think Jenna’s lovely. Not undisciplined at all.’
‘Rubbish,’ said Sebastian. He smiled at her, his fierce old face suddenly tender. ‘What would I do without you, my darling? I don’t know. Now, you write back to Barty and say she can stay here if she wants to. That’ll annoy Celia.’
‘Yes, Father, all right. I must go.’
She went over to him and gave him a kiss. He had visibly cheered up at the thought of seeing Barty. He felt such a very strong bond with her. She supposed it was partly because of their similar circumstances . . . lone parents, in the face of dreadful grief. Only Barty had adored Jenna from the beginning; she had not set her apart, to spend her earliest years in an atmosphere of isolation and dislike . . .
Thank goodness, just thank goodness, Izzie thought, as she started up her small Austin Seven, she didn’t work at Lyttons. Just thinking about the torn loyalties made her shudder. She almost had; there had been a lot of pressure on her, after Oxford, to join the firm. Celia had been very keen and so had her father. But she had resisted, wanting (like Barty she supposed) to make her own way.
She worked for Michael Joseph where she was the publicity manager and showed considerable flair; she was rather a pet of the great Michael Joseph (known in the firm as MJ), and spent quite a lot of time in his office, at the back of the house in Bloomsbury Street being briefed on various projects. ‘We want elegant copy,’ he would say, and elegant copy Izzie produced, for book jackets and catalogues, and for advertisements which she secretly thought should be much more lively, but which said things like ‘The New Monica Dickens’ or ‘C.S. Forester. His new book.’ What Izzie secretly yearned to write was the kind of advertising copy so popular in the United States, hard-hitting plays on words. But there was no way anything like that was going to come out of her department at Michael Joseph.
Still, it was a wonderful first job, and she was very happy there. She was already a modestly well-known figure in the publishing world. Although this was due in part, as she was the first to admit, to being the great Sebastian Brooke’s daughter, she had won a place in it in her own right, through her own talent and her own graceful way with words. She was also very popular; everyone loved her, she was so gentle and sweet-natured and, with her long golden-brown hair and her huge dreamy eyes, she looked rather like a poet herself. And of course like her mother, as those in the literary world who had met Pandora during her brief marriage to Sebastian, frequently remarked.
Izzie was terribly pleased that Barty was coming to the wedding. She adored her. She had been one of the people who had been kindest to her and shown her affection during the first few lonely years of her life; when she had gone away to New York for the first time, Izzie had felt her heart would break. She could still remember standing at the window with her nanny, watching Barty walk down the road after saying goodbye and crying until she could cry no more and then falling asleep on Nanny’s lap.
Her joy when Barty had – well – taken the Lyttons on and beaten them at their own game had been intense. Not that she wasn’t fond of the Lyttons, she was, she had adored Wol, as Barty had called Oliver, and she loved the twins, especially Adele, and of course Noni. They had all lived together for a while, during the war, at Ashingham, Celia’s parents’ estate, and Adele had stood up for her when Kit was being so unkind to her, when he had first come back from the war. And had helped her through the other most difficult time in her life . . . which even now she could hardly bear to think about.
She was going to supper with Adele that evening; it would be fun. She loved them all; Adele and Noni were both like sisters to her, and Geordie – well, she adored Geordie, had a bit of a crush on him in fact. He was so charming and handsome, and he had such gorgeous clothes, and he flirted with her just about enough, not so that she got embarrassed, but so that she felt attractive and interesting. And he still looked so young – younger than Adele, if the truth were told. She just hoped Lucas wouldn’t be too much in evidence. He cast such a blight over everything. Beastly little boy.
‘I’m going to change publishers,’ said Kit. He smiled in Sebastian’s direction: it was not an entirely pleasant smile.
‘Yes. I just feel I have to make some kind of a protest. Something which will hurt my mother.’
‘But it won’t. Surely. I had the same thought. But it would hurt Lyttons, and Giles and Venetia and Jay, not Celia. She’s gone, walked away.’
‘But she hasn’t, has she? Not really. She’s still got her shares. And she’ll be terribly angry. And hurt.’
‘Kit—’ Sebastian hesitated. He hadn’t thought he could be saying this. ‘Kit, is hurting her terribly really what you want?’
‘Yes,’ said Kit briefly, ‘it is. I can’t bear this marriage. I’d finally learned to trust her again, to accept what she had done and why—’
‘What we had done,’ said Sebastian quietly.
A silence. Then, ‘Yes. Yes, all right. Both of you. And somehow this negates that trust. It’s ugly. It distorts everything. You must see that.’
‘I do,’ said Sebastian. ‘Of course. But—’
‘There aren’t any buts. She is absolutely amoral. And I’m going to leave.’
‘Well – I suppose it’s your decision. I’m still not sure it’s a wise one.’
‘It’s not meant to be wise,’ said Kit. He sounded suddenly like a sulky small boy. ‘It’s meant to be – well, a strong statement.’
‘It’s certainly that. Where will you go, do you think? Look out, old chap, you nearly knocked my coffee over.’
‘Sorry. Wasn’t looking.’ He smiled suddenly, a nicer smile. ‘Funny how I still use those words. I don’t know where . . . I thought I might talk to Izzie about Michael Joseph.’
‘It’s an idea. They have some fine authors. I’m sure they’d be very pleased to talk to you. Your track record is pretty good. Five big sellers now. It will cause a big stir, Kit, in the publishing world.’
‘I know,’ said Kit, ‘not all of it very tasty, either. I’m afraid I can see the articles now, can’t you? And there’ll be a lot of schmaltz too. I’m such good copy, aren’t I? The war hero and – well all that. God I hate it. Still, I’m not stupid.’ He sighed. ‘Schmaltz sells.’
‘Kit you mustn’t be bitter. It’s your books that sell.’
‘Sebastian, I do assure you I try not to be bitter. And I know in some ways I’m very lucky. But it’s still – hard. Terribly hard.’
‘Of course it is,’ said Sebastian. His voice was very gentle as he looked at Kit.
There was a long silence: then, ‘Well anyway, I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to see them all this afternoon. I must go. Friday all right?’
‘Of course,’ said Sebastian, ‘what would Friday be without our dinners, Kit? Here, let me help you. You’ve left your hat behind.’
‘Have I?’ He sounded surprised. ‘I’d forgotten I’d worn one. I’m not quite the thing today, I’m afraid. Thanks.’
He put his hat on, picked up his stick, made his way across the room.
‘’Bye Sebastian. Thanks for listening. And let me know when you see the first article, won’t you? I wonder what it will say? New battlefield for war hero author? War hero deserts Lyttons? Oh, they’ll have a field day.’
‘I think,’ said Sebastian, his voice suddenly more cheerful, ‘it will say “Publishers battle over Christopher Lytton.” You’ll get a lot of offers, Kit, mark my words. Now here’s Marks with the car.’
‘Good. New Lytton House please, Marks.’
Sebastian watched the car drive away. It was one of Kit’s biggest extravagances; he was slightly embarrassed about it, his lifestyle in other ways was so modest, his small mews house in Kensington, his rather shabby clothes . . . But the car made his life so much easier and more efficient. Everyone told him it was worth it.
Sebastian went back into the house, the house on the edge of Primrose Hill which he had bought with the proceeds of the first Meridian, and out into the garden. Thinking that he too had once threatened to leave Lyttons, with exactly the same intention as Kit. To hurt Celia. And in the end had not been able to. It was all so very long ago . . .
Adele walked into the house and threw her bag down on the hall table.
Silence. Everyone was obviously out. Damn. She so wanted to tell them all about it. She went into the kitchen, filled the kettle, stared out at the tiny garden, smiling. Then she turned round and jumped.
‘Lucas! I didn’t see you. Didn’t you hear me come in?’
‘Of course. But I was busy.’
‘Yes, I see. Going well, your essay?’
She sighed inwardly. Then, ‘I’ve just come from the palace.’
‘We were being briefed about the Coronation. It’s going to be so wonderful, Lucas. I still can’t believe it. We have the most marvellous access to everything, both inside and outside the Abbey. It’s going to be such a wonderful day, Commander Colville, he’s the Press Officer, says we must all pray for good weather, but I can’t believe it will rain on such a day. It’s June after all, and—’
‘Mother, I’m sorry, but I really am trying to work. Perhaps we could discuss the Coronation later.’
Adele sighed. ‘Yes of course. Sorry Lucas. You must get on.’
She went upstairs with her coffee, tears rising absurdly in her eyes. He had such capacity to hurt her. What was she going to do with him? What?
‘That is terrible news,’ said Jay, walking back into the board room. The other two looked at him. There was no need to reply.
‘I just don’t understand it,’ said Giles finally. ‘Why’s he done it?’
‘Oh Giles,’ said Venetia impatiently, ‘it’s to get at Mummy of course. It’s all he can do. Apart from refusing to see her or talk to her.’
‘But she’s gone,’ said Giles, ‘it’s a meaningless gesture. That’s what’s so odd about it. Everyone will think he’s going because she won’t be here any more.’
‘Not meaningless to him. He won’t care about what everyone will think. It’s her he wants to hurt. He knows she’ll be upset. Which she will be, with him walking out on the family firm. And anyway, she hasn’t gone. She’s still got her shares.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Jay, walking over to the drinks cabinet. ‘But – it’s not straightforward, is it? She might even be pleased. Think he’s the first in a long line of authors walking out. That Lyttons can’t go on without her. Venetia, drink?’
‘Yes, please. Gin and tonic.’
‘Same for me,’ said Giles. ‘Jay, she can’t think that.’
‘Of course she can. She knows Lyttons won’t be the same without her. She is Lyttons. She embodies it, its style, its history. And now it will change.’
‘I trust it will. It has to. We have to move with the times,’ said Giles stiffly. ‘Our mother was fairly adept at not doing that.’
‘That’s not fair,’ said Venetia. ‘I can still remember raging rows with Daddy when she was trying to persuade him to go into paperbacks, to take on popular authors, to recognise changes in public taste. She was marvellous at moving with the times. And so was your mother, Jay, to a lesser degree. I can still hear Daddy saying “not you as well, LM” when she took Mummy’s side. Not that it did either of them any good. If anyone was stuck in the past it was Daddy.’
Giles said nothing, drained his glass.
‘I do fear that people might take their cue from this,’ said Jay soberly, ‘and what about the authors she did edit, Lady Annabel, for instance, Sebastian of course—’
‘Sebastian won’t go,’ said Venetia firmly. ‘I know he won’t. He feels part of Lyttons too. He’s an honorary Lytton, always has been.’
‘Have you talked to him about it? After all, Celia has always edited him.’
‘No,’ she said, sounding slightly less confident.
‘I think you should.’
‘Shouldn’t you? You’re the editorial director.’
‘Possibly,’ said Jay with a sigh. ‘I’ve been putting it off.’
‘Well anyway, Kit is going,’ said Venetia, ‘and it’s bad. He’s always the big lead in the Christmas books for children, and with Sebastian only doing his Coronation edition this year . . . Anyone who takes Kit on will make sure there’s a lot of publicity about it. It’s all so perfect. He’s the publicist’s gift. War hero. Lady Celia’s youngest son—’
‘Blind,’ said Jay.
The other two stared at him. He looked back at them, smiled slightly shame-faced.
‘Well it’s true. I don’t know why everyone pussyfoots round it. It’s part of his myth. You know it is. It’s a wonderful story. It’s always been part of his legend. Jeunesse dorée, Battle of Britain pilot, giving his sight for his country, all that sort of thing. I mean—’
‘I hope you’re not implying he makes capital out of it,’ said Giles stiffly.
‘Of course I’m not. I know part of him hates it. But it does him no harm professionally.’
‘I think that’s a very crude remark,’ said Giles, ‘if you don’t mind me saying so.’
‘Oh stop it,’ said Venetia. ‘Both of you. It’s irrelevant to this discussion.’
‘Not entirely,’ said Jay. ‘It’s all part of his capacity for generating publicity. Which will be very bad for us. Look, I’m only speaking frankly. I suppose no amount of money could persuade Kit to stay?’
‘He said it wouldn’t. Surely you heard that.’
‘I know. But there’s a difference between saying something and meaning it. If we made him a really huge offer—’
‘Jay, it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. Honestly. This is absolutely about principle. And besides, he has more than enough money. And it’s not as if he has a family to support or anything, poor darling. You do have to get that into your head. No, we’re going to lose him. And you know what happens when a major author leaves. All the others watch him, wondering why. It could be quite dangerous. For Lyttons and for all of us.’
She had been afraid it would be ghastly and it was. Awkward, stiff, even sad: a day to be forgotten as quickly as possible. Exactly what a wedding day should not be. But at least it was over, Barty thought, sinking down on to her bed: for that everyone was grateful. Waiting for it, trying not to mind, pretending it was actually perfectly all right, fearing it was going to deteriorate, that had been the worst part.
Boy Warwick had, as always, done much to keep things not only calm, but comparatively easy: ‘She’s going to do it,’ he said one evening over dinner to the twins, ‘and there’s no point there being some dreadful family rift over it. He’s a perfectly decent chap, with luck he’ll make her happy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him; in fact he was jolly good to you, Adele, wasn’t he?’
Adele nodded; her escape from wartime France and indeed Bunny Arden’s part in it was something she tried not to think about too much, bringing back memories that were not only terrifying but which filled her with remorse and shame.
‘Jolly good, yes,’ she said finally.
‘There is something wrong with him, though,’ said Venetia soberly, ‘you know there is, Boy. You hated it at the time.’
‘I know, I know. But we all make errors of judgement.’
‘Boy! It was a bit more than that. He was a leading appeaser. Best buddies with Oswald Mosley. Guest of Goering even. He influenced Mummy horribly. And it didn’t help Adele much either, did it, Luc being Jewish and everything?’
‘Well – he repented.’
‘And so did Mummy,’ said Adele, ‘she was very brave, came to Paris specially to apologise to both Luc and me. And he did then help me, of course he did. I wouldn’t have got home without him. So—’
‘Exactly. So we should accept him and make her happy. Three-line whip now girls, all children present, all – Adele, don’t look like that – including Lucas.’
‘Yes, all right. It’s just that—’
‘I know,’ said Venetia, ‘mine too. All of them have said it.’
‘What?’ said Boy wearily.
‘How can she be getting married again so soon. I wonder too, you know. Daddy only died a year ago. I mean, why marry Lord Arden? They can be friends. Who’d care anyway?’
‘I am marrying him,’ Celia said firmly to Barty over dinner soon after she had arrived, ‘because I want everything cut and dried. I don’t want a lot of gossipy speculation. About him or indeed anyone else. I don’t like disorder, Barty. As you know.’
‘Yes, I do know,’ said Barty. ‘But—’
‘I loved Oliver very much,’ said Celia, ‘very, very much. He was a marvellous person, and his courage was extraordinary. He was a superb father, and particularly so, I would say, to you. Even more than to his own children. Of course I shouldn’t say that. I never have before and I never will again. But I think it’s important we should both acknowledge it. I know how much he meant to you. And I think I know how this marriage must offend you.’
Barty met her eyes steadily. ‘It does,’ she said, ‘a little.’
‘Barty, I am getting older. Not old, of course, but older. Another fact I don’t often acknowledge. And I find I don’t like, these days, being alone. It astonished me, as a matter of fact. I have always enjoyed my own company. As much as I have enjoyed my work. Perhaps the loss of those two enjoyments go hand in hand.’
‘Celia,’ said Barty, ‘I absolutely cannot believe this loss of enjoyment in your work is permanent. Work, Lyttons, is your life. It always has been.’
‘It took me by surprise as well,’ said Celia, and she looked suddenly vulnerable. ‘I thought it was temporary; grief, weariness after Oliver’s death, so much change in the industry. I scarcely recognise it, you know, there are hardly any firms left in family ownership, they’re all run as public companies by wretched conglomerates, none of them with any personality. I would never have dreamed that Collins would sell shares to the public. Or Longmans. It’s absolutely appalling.’ She spoke as if they had sold state secrets to the KGB rather than sought essential capitalisation for their companies. ‘The fact is, as of course you know, Barty, once you are answerable to shareholders, you lose the ability to do what your instinct tells you is right.’
Barty managed not to point out that without her own intervention Lyttons too would have had to seek recapitalisation and moved out of family control. Which, she supposed, it had in a way. She smiled rather coolly at Celia, waiting for some kind of acknowledgement; it did not come.
‘And all this other nonsense, Penguin forming exclusive agreements with certain other publishers, it can’t be right. They should be completely independent, to decide what they want. And this talk of marketing! Research into why people buy books. People buy books for one reason and one reason only: because they want to read them. Michael Joseph said something very similar only the other day. You know what they say about the camel, I suppose?’
Barty said she did not.
‘The camel is a horse designed by a committee. I tell you Barty, a lot of camels will be published in the next few years. Instinct is the only thing that should guide a house, editorial instinct. Anyway, it doesn’t matter to me in the very least. As I said, I have lost interest in the whole business. I can take no real pleasure in it. It is rather dreadful, actually,’ she added, ‘it’s like losing my identity, like becoming a different person. Or losing one of my senses. I hope it never happens to you.’
Barty was silent.
‘Anyway, I have made my decisions. And I feel happier and easier. Bunny Arden – have you met him, I can’t remember?’
‘No,’ said Barty, ‘I don’t think so.’
‘He’s very sweet. I hope you like him. And he is what I need at this stage in my life. I have absolutely no doubts at all. I expected them, to be frank with you, but they have not arrived. I feel at peace with myself. I intend to be a good wife to Bunny, supportive of whatever he wants to do.’ She smiled at Barty, a wry, conspiratorial smile. ‘It’s a novel sensation. Now, I don’t expect you to rejoice at what I am doing. But I would like you to understand, and to try to approve.’
‘I will. Of course I will,’ said Barty carefully. She found Celia’s protestations deeply unconvincing. It was rather as if she had suddenly embraced a different faith or announced her intention to vote Labour and to give everything she had to the poor. She took a deep breath. ‘Anyway, Celia, I am very glad that you’re keeping your shares. I feel that if you do – recant—’
‘A strange word,’ said Celia.
‘Perhaps. Well, anyway, if you do start missing it all – which I still think you might – you can get back without too much difficulty. The others probably wouldn’t like to hear me saying that,’ she added.
‘Probably not. Of course it won’t happen, and I know I won’t miss it, but I’m very touched that you feel like that. Touched and surprised.’
‘Celia, I’m not a complete idiot,’ said Barty. ‘I value you more than anyone or anything else in the company. You know I do.’
‘Well, thank you. Now what else did you want to say? I can tell there’s something.’
‘Well – ’ she hesitated, ‘ – well, I just feel that Wol would be—’
‘Distressed? At my remarrying so soon?’
‘Yes. A bit.’
‘Barty, I really don’t think he would. I honestly believe that. I think he would be quite happy to see me become Lady Arden. And indeed to be leaving Lyttons.’
Another silence. Then Celia leaned forward, put her hand over Barty’s.
‘Now I can tell you what would have caused him distress. My marrying – well, marrying someone else.’
Barty looked at her. ‘Do you really think so?’
‘I know so, Barty. Absolutely. That would have hurt him very badly. Very badly indeed.’
Just the same, Oliver’s gentle, charming presence haunted the marriage ceremony at Chelsea Register Office and later the reception in Lord Arden’s house in Belgrave Square. There was something chilly and joyless about the whole day, however much champagne went down, however amusing and flattering Boy Warwick’s speech, however determinedly everyone smiled and joked and kissed, however beautiful and happy Celia looked: and she did look both. She wore a dazzling suit from Balenciaga – ‘Well one doesn’t get married every day’ – in palest blue shantung with the new bloused jacket, and a hugely wide feather and straw hat by Simone Mirman, and when the registrar declared them man and wife, Celia smiled and leaned forward to kiss Bunny and knocked the hat crooked. It was one of the few spontaneously joyful moments of the day.
Celia had been very hurt by the polite refusal of her invitation from both Oliver’s brothers.
‘I don’t believe she really thought either of them would come,’ said Adele. ‘Apart from anything else, Robert is quite old now and it’s a frightful journey for him, even by plane.’
‘I know, but I don’t think she minds quite so much about him. It’s Jack, you know how she loves him.’
‘Well that’s a long journey too, all the way from California, and Lily’s very frail, isn’t she? With her arthritis, poor old darling.’
‘All those high kicks in her youth, I expect,’ said Venetia with a sigh. She and Adele both adored Jack’s wife; Lily had been a chorus girl when she met Jack, and a very briefly twinkling star of the silver screen in the Twenties. They had returned for a short while to England to live, but the climate had been bad for Lily; and without all their friends in Hollywood they had been lonely and bored. But Celia had loved Jack, who was the same age as her to the day, and she had really thought he would make the trip for her, had even offered to pay the fare, knowing he and Lily were far from well-off. But a charmingly firm note had come back, saying it would be quite impossible, and wishing her every happiness.
‘I’m afraid they both disapprove dreadfully,’ Venetia said, ‘and, I must say, one can—’
‘I know, of course one can. But it doesn’t hurt her any the less. Oh dear. She’s paying quite a price, isn’t she?’ said Adele.
‘Quite a price. Too high, if you ask me.’
Kit had absolutely refused, despite everyone’s pleading, to come. And so had Sebastian. Two great brooding absences, darkening the day. Celia had not expected Sebastian to come, of course, although she had insisted on inviting him, but Kit, her beloved Kit, she had hoped until the last possible moment that he would arrive. Each time the bell rang she jumped, paused in what she was saying, every time the drawing-room door opened, she looked at it, frozen-still, her dark eyes hopeful, and each time when it was only more flowers, another telegram, her smile became brighter, more brittle, and her face beneath its crown of osprey feathers became wearier, and paler.
‘Did she really think he was going to come?’ whispered Adele to Venetia, looking at her as Celia finished her own small speech, thanking everyone for coming, and for making it such a happy family occasion, her voice faltering over the word ‘family’.
‘You know Mummy. If she wants something really badly, she gets it. And she wanted this really badly. I think he might have come, I must say. If only for half an hour. Boy went round last night, you know, and begged him. Kit said he was amazed Boy could even think such a thing.’
‘I should think, wouldn’t you?’
And what would LM have made of this? Barty thought, watching Lord Arden and Celia cut the cake; LM, Oliver’s older sister, his partner in the great early days of Lyttons, with her fierce morals, her unbending loyalties. How would she regard this extraordinary occasion and would she indeed have been there herself, or stayed at home, making her own quiet, loyal protest? She suddenly found Jay next to her, smiled at him rather wanly. He grinned back, refilled her glass.
‘Lord Arden’s butler’s a bit slow on the glass charging. I thought I’d take over. We all need it.’
‘I was just thinking about your mother,’ she said.
‘Yes. Me too.’
‘She’d have hated it, wouldn’t she?’
‘I’m not sure,’ he said, surprising her. ‘She was a very pragmatic old bird, you know. And she adored Celia. She’d have wanted her to be happy.’
‘Yes, but Jay, I don’t think she will be. He’s – well, he’s an idiot.’
He grinned. ‘He is a bit. But there’s no doubt he loves her. And you know what, he’s got a superb model railway upstairs. I’ve just seen it. So dear old Gordon would have approved of him as well. The hours we spent playing with his, it annoyed Mother so much. She always said she was going to cite Hornby as co-respondent in their divorce.’
‘I miss Gordon,’ said Barty with a sigh, and it was true, Gordon Robinson’s tall, erect figure was another great loss in the room.
‘Not as much as I do. He might not have been my dad, but he was a wonderful father,’ said Jay. ‘The trouble was, he missed Mother so dreadfully that it was half a life he was leading. Now look, Tory’s doing her bit for family togetherness, flirting away with old Bunny. Come on Barty, drink up and let’s go and join them. You might find he has hidden depths.’
‘I doubt it,’ said Barty with a sigh. ‘Hidden shallows more like it. But if anyone can bring out the best in him, Tory can. You did well marrying her, Jay.’
‘I know it,’ he said with a touch of complacency in his voice.
Adele had been right; Kit was with Sebastian. Izzie had been invited to the wedding, but had written a sweetly firm note to Celia, saying she knew she would understand that her attendance was almost impossible. Celia had telephoned her to say she did indeed understand, but she hoped that Izzie would at least wish her well.
‘I wish you very, very well, dear Celia,’ said Izzie. ‘I hope you are very happy. And I would have loved to be there, but I’m glad you understand. Perhaps I could come and see you some time soon and meet Lord Arden; I hear he’s very sweet.’
This was a complete untruth, she had heard nothing particularly good about Lord Arden at all, even Henry Warwick declared him a silly old buffer, but she knew it would please Celia. She had gone thankfully to work that day, casting a nervous glance at her father’s study door; she came home to find him and Kit completely drunk, singing, for some reason neither of them could clearly understand, ‘Lili Marlene’.
She phoned Kit’s driver, asked him to come and fetch him and managed somehow to get her father up to bed. He looked up at her from his pillows, clearly focussing with great difficulty.
‘Silly fucking bitch,’ he said almost cheerfully, then turned on his side and fell instantly asleep. But she woke in the night to hear him moving heavily around, and when she went downstairs early in the morning, he was sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands.
‘Don’t even begin to ask how I’m feeling,’ he said glaring at her, ‘it won’t make pretty hearing. Make me some tea, would you, and bring it to my study. I’ve got work to do. McCalls magazine want a short story within the week, bloody inconsiderate, but I said I’d do it, God knows why.’
It was the last time he spoke to her for several days, apart from roaring orders from his study for more tea, toast, coffee, whisky; she could only offer silent thanks to the editor at McCalls and his lack of consideration.
‘And now the kiss.’ The sombre, almost reverent voice broke into the moment; after the splendour, the ritual of the occasion, the simple fact of the husband bending to kiss his wife, was deeply moving.
‘She looks so young,’ whispered Venetia. ‘So terribly young.’
‘And he’s so handsome,’ hissed Jenna. ‘Like a prince in a story book.’
The choir launched into another anthem; there was a stir in the Abbey. In the front pew a tiny figure, dressed in white silk, watched with wide-eyed awe.
‘He’s so sweet, the little prince,’ said Izzie, ‘so tiny.’
‘He’s very good,’ said Venetia briskly. ‘I can’t imagine any of mine sitting through that in silence at four years old.
‘Yes, well, he’s probably not been spoilt from conception,’ said Boy lightly. ‘More champagne, everyone?’
‘Please,’ said Geordie, waving his glass at him, ‘Oh, isn’t this music wonderful?’
‘It’s all wonderful,’ said Venetia. ‘What a day. And just think Adele is there, in the Abbey, it’s just unbelievable.’
‘So are Lord and Lady Arden,’ said Boy just slightly tartly. ‘Shall we see if we can spot them? Look, they’re passing the peers’ gallery now.’
They looked at the small black-and-white screen, at the sea of faces.
‘There they are,’ said Jenna. ‘I saw them. Look, there, look.’
‘Jenna, you can’t possibly see anything,’ said Barty, laughing.
‘I can. And I did. I saw Aunt Celia, I—’
‘Yes all right. If you say so.’
‘I do say so.’
‘I saw her too,’ said a determined voice. It belonged to Lucy, the youngest Warwick, just six years old. ‘Didn’t I, Jenna?’
‘Yes, she did.’
Jenna and Lucy had formed a strong bond; Lucy saw the eight-year-old Jenna as virtually an adult, a view which Jenna fervently encouraged.
‘Well that was marvellous. Really marvellous. You know, don’t you, that the Earl Marshal and the Archbishop of Canterbury both fought long and hard to keep the cameras out of the Abbey?’
‘Not really!’ said Barty.
‘Really. Apart from the fact it meant tradesmen would have to be in the Abbey—’
‘Yes, cameramen and so on. Don’t look at me like that, Barty, it’s true. And also, of course, it meant people might be watching it in unsuitable places like pubs.’
‘I heard that one,’ said Henry, ‘and that the men might not even take their hats off.’
‘So there you are. Now, Venetia, my darling, shall we have some food? I think they can manage without us for a few minutes. Then we can watch the procession from the balcony.’
Boy had recently acquired a large building in St James’s and had not yet sold it on; it had provided a perfect base for family viewing of the Coronation. Even Giles and Helena had been unable to resist the opportunity; Giles had originally said that he had no interest in the event whatsoever, but his family had overruled him.
‘You needn’t come, Father,’ the rather lumpy Mary had said, ‘but George and I are going, and Mother said if we went she would feel it was rude not to come too.’
Giles had been astonished, Helena was the last person in the world he would have expected to be caught up in Coronation fever; he made a pompous little speech about jingoism and the Coronation being an anachronism and said he had no intention of going. But he had joined them in the end.
‘We’ve commissioned a book on the thing, I can’t afford to ignore it.’
‘Of course not,’ said Helena.
They had all been in the building since seven; the routes into the capital had been closed at eight. They had watched the procession to the Abbey, in the damp drizzle, waving their flags and cheering. A wave of affection and happiness had swept over London; thousands of people had slept on the streets all night, uncomplaining in spite of the rain. It was as if all the hardship and loss of the past fifteen years were justified by this one heady day. A young and beautiful woman had been crowned, the mystic spectacle watched by millions, thanks to the new wonder of television, and as people everywhere were saying, England had never been greater than with a queen on the throne. And the news that morning that Everest had been conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and his British team had come as an extra piece of glory on this day when the country was celebrating its very existence.
‘The colours are superb,’ said Geordie, looking out of the window. ‘It’s better in its way than if the sun was shining, it’s as if the red, white and blue had been painted on a black-and-white photograph. Adele will make a lot of that.’
‘I wonder where she is? A better view than Mummy, from all accounts.’
‘I look forward to the comparing of notes,’ said Boy lightly.
‘I just wish we had a royal family,’ said Jenna, ‘it’s so romantic. It’s dreadfully dull, just having presidents. Elizabeth is just beautiful, and Philip’s so terribly handsome. Mamie Eisenhower is just so, so plain.’
‘Jenna!’ said Barty, ‘that is no way to describe your president’s wife.’
‘It is because it’s true,’ she said coolly, with a toss of her red-gold hair. ‘How would you describe her?’
‘Plain,’ said Geordie, laughing. ‘Sorry, Barty. It would be wonderful to have a dazzling young First Lady. Maybe we will some day.’
‘Unlikely, I’d say,’ said Barty. ‘You’d need a dashing young president for a start, and where on earth would he spring from?’
‘Oh, look, isn’t she marvellous!’ cried Izzie.
‘Who’s that?’ Sebastian scowled at the screen; he had been asleep for the past hour.
‘The Queen of Tonga. Look at her, what a wonderful woman, sitting there in her open carriage in this pouring rain.’
‘Half the country is out there in the pouring rain. At least she’s in a carriage with an umbrella over her.’
‘Oh Father, don’t be such an old grouch. And look at the Queen! Doesn’t she look beautiful, in that crown, waving, look—’
‘Izzie I can see perfectly well, thank you.’
‘Father, you’re spoiling it for me.’ She sounded suddenly genuinely upset; she had longed to join Boy’s party, had refused the invitation, knowing that her father and Kit would want to spend the day together, Kit listening on the radio, knowing that any kind of national celebration halfdistressed him.
‘Izzie don’t be silly—’
‘No, it’s true.’ She felt tears rising to her eyes. Absurd, she knew, for an intelligent young woman of twenty-three to be so emotionally engaged with this day; but she was, she had been caught up in the wave of national excitement, with the preparations, the dressing up of the city, the endless articles in the newspapers and magazines, the parties being held everywhere. She wanted to be a part of it, part of the celebration – not just of the event, but of this dazzling demonstration of English pageantry, the importance of the Constitution, the divine right of kings. If you were English, you had to care about it; Izzie was very English. And here she was, alone with a bad-tempered old man and a morose young one. It wasn’t fair. The phone rang sharply; it was Henry Warwick.
‘Izzie? We’ve all been talking about what we might do tonight. I thought a party in my flat. Want to come? It won’t be the same without you.’
‘Oh – Henry I’d love to. Thank you.’
She knew she shouldn’t; knew she shouldn’t ever do anything to encourage Henry’s feelings for her. He had always liked her ever since she had been tiny, and she had adored him, toddling round after him and Roo in their big noisy nursery, so different from her own silent top floor. In her adolescence, just after – well, when she was seventeen and he nineteen, they had had a bit of a teenage romance. It had ended rather abruptly when she had caught him kissing another girl at a party he had taken her to and she had quite literally attacked him, slapping his face: ‘Hey, steady on,’ he had said, laughing, trying to tease her out of it, ‘we’re not married, Izzie. You know I like you best.’
‘No you don’t,’ she said and had made him take her home there and then, and in spite of his importunings the next day, flowers, apologetic notes, she had refused to have anything more to do with him. Over the years they had eased back into friendship; Henry had had countless girlfriends, was permanently engaged to one or another of them, and she had had one very serious love affair; he had comforted her over its ending in a very brotherly and proper way. But a few weeks later, he had taken her out and told her that he still adored her and asked her if she would consider going out with him again. Rashly, lonely and hurt, she had agreed. But it hadn’t worked. Henry was too bland, too conventional for her, his only real ambition was to make a lot of money and head up his grandfather’s bank. He lacked subtlety; he was good-looking, charming, and great fun; but she knew a serious relationship with him was absolutely out of the question. And so she had extricated herself from it, telling him he was too good for her; he had reluctantly allowed her to go and had been engaged twice since, while constantly telling her, whenever he was drunk enough, that he was really only waiting for her.
‘Good,’ he said now. ‘Look, it could be difficult getting across London. I could try and—’
‘Henry, don’t try anything. I’ll come on my bike.’
‘Your bike . . .’ Izzie’s bike was a family joke; she loved it and frequently pedalled to work on it, negotiating the ever-increasing London traffic without a qualm. ‘It’s much nicer than being in the beastly tube, or stuck in traffic,’ she would say. Sebastian had told her that her mother too had loved cycling ‘all over Oxford, always getting her skirt caught in the wheel’. Izzie didn’t wear a skirt on her bike, she wore the new calf-length trousers, and tore down the busy streets, her long hair flying out behind her.
‘Well as long as you wear those rather splendid trousers,’ said Henry, ‘I’ll be very happy. Are you sure? It’s quite a long way.’
‘Henry, it’s not. It’ll take me twenty minutes. Straight down Baker Street and Park Lane and through the park. It’ll be fun.’
‘Well, OK. Get here as soon after seven as you can.’
‘Will – will Clarissa be there?’
Clarissa Carr-Johnson was Henry’s latest girlfriend; bosomy, tinywaisted, giggly, with a fine line in practised flirtatious behaviour. She was everything Izzie was not.
‘Hope so. But her pa’s giving some reception tonight, he’s some incredible city bigwig you know, she may not be able to get away.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Izzie quickly. She needed Clarissa to be there; on the other hand it would be much nicer if she was not.
Celia smiled at Lord Arden; they were finally back in his London house in Belgrave Square, exhausted by their long day, but very happy.
‘Marvellous, wasn’t it?’
‘Absolutely marvellous. I enjoyed it so much. Dear Lord Arden.’
‘My very dear Lady Arden.’ He bent and kissed her hand; she tried not to feel irritated.
‘Do you remember the last one?’ she said, pulling off her long white gloves.
‘Of course. It was magnificent too. And to think that dear little girl is now the Queen.’
‘And that sweet young woman has become the Queen Mother. It’s happened rather quickly, hasn’t it?’
‘Very quickly. That’s why we were so right to get married, Celia. Life is chancy.’
‘Indeed it is,’ she said soberly. Wondering what the others were all saying and doing now, how Kit in particular had got through the day, what Sebastian had done . . .
Don’t think about Sebastian, Celia, don’t.
‘Yes please. And then—’
The phone shrilled.
‘My dear!’ said Lord Arden. ‘How lovely to hear from you. Wasn’t it, yes, absolutely incredible. Yes, of course.’
He passed the phone to Celia.
‘Hallo Mummy. I just wanted to compare notes. I feel so excited I think I could fly. Now I wonder if you saw anything I might have missed, that I could add to my story. What? Would you mind? Oh, that would be wonderful. Thank you, Mummy, I’ll come right away. I’ll walk, it’s the only way. I’m not far from you, I’m in the Mall. Oh and you’ve still got your robes on haven’t you? I want a picture of you in them, both of you.’
Celia put the phone down, smiling. It would be wonderful to share the day with just one member of her family.
Barty left Jenna at the Warwicks’ for the night, at Jenna’s insistence, and went back to her hotel. She had refused to stay with anyone, preferring to remain neutral. She loved the Basil Street Hotel, with its old-fashioned ways, and Jenna found its proximity to Harrods and Woollands extremely satisfactory. Already she was an alarmingly determined shopper. She was a great collector, an odd thing in so young a girl. She collected all manner of things: teddy bears, toy horses, farm animals, furniture and people for a magnificent dolls’ house that had once been her aunt Maud’s, commissioned by Robert Lytton. It was an almost perfect replica of their house in Sutton Place, New York. And then hats – she loved hats – shoes, sweaters and that great American passion, T-shirts. Jenna had T-shirts in every conceivable colour and combination of colours, some of them much too big for her that she was waiting to grow into, some too small that she had grown out of and refused to part with. She dressed, not surprisingly, in a style which was fairly distinctive. If she had to wear dresses, they were plain, in strong colours, and worn with long stockings, usually black.
‘I will not wear those gross white socks any longer,’ she had announced firmly to her mother when she was quite small. Barty, who had already adopted a policy of acceding to Jenna’s will whenever it was not actually dangerous or anti-social, agreed that she need not. Jenna wore her hair long, scooped back from her face, and the pretty seed pearl and coral necklaces favoured by most little girls of her age were absolutely shunned. On the other hand, she liked to wear a watch: she had learned to tell the time soon after her fourth birthday, and was never without one on her wrist. So far they had been plain, childish watches, but she was beginning to show an interest in more unusual varieties: another opportunity to collect. Barty had bought her a plain square silver one with a black strap which she had seen in the window of a second-hand jewellery shop and hidden in her cabin trunk for Jenna’s next Christmas present.
Next week they were going to Ashingham, to see Billy; apart from wanting to see her brother before they went back to the States, she felt it was important for Jenna to meet the other part of her family, as dynamic in its own way as the super-rich, glamorous Elliotts were. Not only Billy and his wife, but the two little boys, growing up into their own heritage, a large farm in the heart of the English countryside. Much gratitude for this was due to Celia’s mother, Lady Beckenham, who had left it to Billy in her will. ‘Lady Beckenham had bought her son out, paid over the odds for it at a time when he needed the money,’ Billy wrote in a letter to Barty, ‘and it was hers to do what she liked with. Or her half anyway, Joan and I owning the other half.’
That he had been able to buy half the farm years earlier had been entirely due to Lady Beckenham advancing him some money from her own estate; an act of both great generosity and foresight. Billy and Joan were superb farmers.
‘It’s such a beautiful place, Jenna, you’ll love it,’ Barty said. ‘Lots of horses and ponies, and places to play, and you’ll like the boys, I’m sure.’
‘And they’re my cousins?’
‘They are. Joe and Michael, I haven’t seen them for three years now, not since Lady Beckenham died. They’ll have changed a bit. Joe is named after Lady Beckenham, her name was Josephine, goodness knows how Billy knew, nobody else did, she was Lady Beckenham to everyone.’
‘Even her husband?’
‘Well – I think so. Nobody knew his name either, she always called him Beckenham, anyway. In front of people, that is.’
Barty was silent, remembering that infinitely sad funeral, and the death of the indomitable old countess. She died exactly as she would have wanted, falling off her horse on the hunting field and never regaining consciousness. The funeral had been one of the very few occasions Barty had seen Celia near to breaking down.
‘And Joan, is she nice?’ said Jenna.
‘Joan is just lovely. Very warm and gentle but as tough as old boots at the same time. The dairy herd is her responsibility, so she needs to be, often up all night delivering calves, Billy says, and she’s won county prizes for her furrowing—’
‘It’s making straight lines with a plough, for planting crops. Used to be done with horses, but now they use tractors.’
‘I’d like to drive a tractor. I’ve seen photographs, Adele has taken lots, she showed me, clouds of birds follow you over the fields. I might try it when we go there to visit.’
‘Jenna,’ said Barty firmly, ‘there is no way you’re going to drive a tractor.’
‘I don’t see why not,’ said Jenna, smiling at her with appalling sweetness. ‘Anyway, when are we going? I can’t wait.’
‘It must be lovely for your brother, having his own farm. I might have one when I’m grown up.’
‘What a good idea,’ said Barty.
‘Kit, won’t you let us publish you in New York?’
‘No, Barty, sorry. I can’t. You must see that would negate my decision.’
‘Not really. Here, have some more champagne. It’s very good, isn’t it?’
‘Very good.’ He smiled at her. ‘But you needn’t think it’s going to change my mind.’
‘Of course I don’t. Although your thinking is a bit confused. A lot of people seem to think you’re leaving because your mother won’t be there any more.’
‘As I keep saying, I don’t care what a lot of people think. She knows why I’ve done it and that’s all that matters.’
‘Kit, you’re going to have to forgive her some time,’ said Barty gently.
‘Don’t you start on it, for God’s sake. I can’t ever forgive her. Or understand what she’s done.’
‘No, all right. Sorry. Let’s just concentrate on having a nice lunch. Did you ever come here when – ’ an imperceptible pause ‘ – when you were a little boy?’
‘You mean did I ever come here when I could see? Yes, of course. My mother felt she had to take me to all the smart restaurants. It was part of my education.’ He sighed. ‘I specially liked it here, actually, because of the view of the river. A lot of the others seemed rather boring. I mean the Ritz, all that gilt! So unamusing. I liked Simpsons too, I remember, because of the great big covered silver salvers on wheels and the huge joints of meat. I used to love watching the waiters carving them. The only place she never took me to was Rules. I was always asking her, because I loved the cartoons. Boy took me sometimes. But she wouldn’t.’
‘No, she never took me there either,’ said Barty casually. She had a shrewd idea of the reason; she had once suggested she and Sebastian went there, and he had refused.
‘Sorry Barty,’ he had said firmly. ‘Rather not. Bad associations.’
‘Well – you know. Painful. A bit, anyway.’
‘So,’ she said now, ‘scallops? You always like them.’
‘I do. Or have they any asparagus? I might like that.’
‘It’s on the menu, yes.’
‘Good. Where’s Jenna?’
‘With Lucy. The Warwick nanny has taken them both to the zoo.’
‘Yes, I shall be surprised if she survives the experience. Still, she insisted.’
‘She’s an extraordinary child, Barty. Incredible conversations I’ve had with her. I do wish I’d met Laurence.’
‘You don’t need to,’ said Barty laughing, ‘he’s been reborn in his daughter, I cannot believe how alike they are. I sometimes think there’s no Miller in her at all.’
‘Her voice is like yours,’ said Kit.
‘Of course it’s not. She speaks American.’
‘She has that lovely huskiness you have. I’ve always loved your voice.’
‘Oh Kit,’ she said, laughing, turning on a Scarlett O’Hara twang. ‘You certainly do know how to flatter a girl.’
‘I wish I did,’ he said heavily. ‘I’m not doing very well in that direction. Thirty-three and still a bachelor. Bit sad, wouldn’t you say?’
‘Go on,’ he said, his voice heavy suddenly. ‘Go on, admit it. It would be pretty nice to have a girlfriend. A wife. Children.’
‘Kit, you will. It’s just—’
‘Just what? A matter of time? At this rate, Barty, I’ll be a hundred before I even meet someone.’
She sighed. ‘You’re very down, aren’t you?’
‘No. Well – yes, I am a bit. It’s not just this wretched business of my mother. And leaving Lyttons, which in many ways I don’t want to do. I feel a bit—’
‘Well, yes. That’s about the size of it. I feel I’ve conquered all the demons I could, I’ve found a career for myself, I can support myself, I’ve got my other interests, music and so on. Is that it, Barty, do you think? Is there going to be any more?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said carefully. ‘I wish I did.’ She paused, then said, ‘Look, Kit, why don’t you come and stay with us for a bit? In New York. And no, before you say anything, this is in no way a bid to coerce you, undermine your determination to leave Lyttons. Or even a silly attempt to “buck you up”, in quotes. It’s just that I’d love it, Jenna would love it, and you’d love New York.’
‘What would I love about it?’ he said slightly wearily.
‘It’s so – exciting. So fast. So busy. And everyone is so alive, so enthusiastic about everything.’
‘Would I be able to join in?’
‘Of course you would. Look, think about it. Please. I promise you’d have a good time.’
He was silent; then he said, ‘No, Barty. It’s very sweet of you. But I don’t think I want to do that. It’s a difficult time for me professionally, as well as personally. I’m trying to decide which publishers to go to.’
‘What did you think of Michael Joseph?’
‘I loved it. But I think actually I preferred Wesley. They’re so new and young and – well, so enthusiastic. They had such plans for me and the books. And – well, I’m not sure about working with Izzie.’
‘Why ever not? Surely you don’t still—’
‘No, no. Of course not. But we’re – very close. Even now. We get on so, so well. We think alike, almost spookily so, love all the same things, and – I don’t know, someone might – well, put two and two together and make four and a half. And I don’t want to risk it. For her sake, not mine. Incidentally, what’s the situation with Jenna and her inheritance? I seem to remember Father saying you were wondering about trying to get her some more.’
‘Oh I’ve decided against the whole thing. I’m going to waive the claim legally. It means going to court—’ ‘Court! To ask not to have something!’
‘Yes. Odd isn’t it. I have to plead my case before a judge. I suppose because they want to be sure I’m acting in Jenna’s interests. But that’s all right. I just don’t want it for her. Fighting, almost certain unpleasantness, for money she simply doesn’t need. We have more than enough. I don’t
want her to have millions of dollars—’ ‘Millions?’
‘It would be. Many more millions. Obscene isn’t it?’
‘It is a bit.’
‘I really think so. Millions of dollars neither she, nor even I, have earned. I think it would be terribly corrupting. And the lawsuit, fighting for it, more so.’
‘I think you’re right.’
‘I’m so glad you agree. Of course it isn’t straightforward, because if Laurence had known about her, then he would have wanted her to have some of it. Not all, because he was very fond of his other children. But – well, he didn’t. And it’s all gone to them.’
She was silent; Kit took her hand again.
‘I’m so sorry. That must be your biggest regret. That he never knew Jenna, I mean, not about the money.’
‘It is. Yes.’ She fished in her bag for a hanky, blew her nose. ‘In some ways, the only one. I mean of course I miss him terribly every day, I loved him so much, Kit, so, so much – oh dear—’ She heard her own voice tremble, stopped talking. ‘Sorry. It’s the champagne talking.’
‘No it’s not,’ he said gently, ‘it’s you. Go on. If you want to.’
‘Well – I think so much about it. That last lovely time, that was so sad and so wonderful, when he was in London you know, during the war, and—’
‘And you got married.’
‘Yes. And we got married, and didn’t tell anyone. It was so extraordinary. So intense. And even the last time I saw him, saying goodbye to him for ever – only I didn’t know it was for ever of course – it was so absolutely joyful, in its own way. And then, then there was Jenna, and he never knew and he would have loved it so much. Loved her so much of course, but just knowing she – existed. He never had that happiness. And it’s so cruel. Such a – huge, dreadful loss for him. Even though he wasn’t aware of it. Everything else I can come to terms with. And God knows what sort of marriage we would have had, once the war was over. He was absolutely impossible.’
‘Go on. Tell me about him. You never have. Please. I really want to know.’
‘He was the most extraordinary mixture,’ she said slowly, ‘of good and bad. He behaved quite appallingly, a great deal of the time. Not just to colleagues and employees, but to the family. Maud. His brother Jamie. To Robert—’
‘Who’s still alive. Amazing.’
‘Yes. Dear Robert. He’s even still working. He loves Jenna so much. Says she looks exactly like her grandmother. It’s true actually, I’ve seen pictures.’
‘It must have been hard for Laurence,’ said Kit, ‘having to accept a stepfather. And a new sibling.’
‘Kit, I can’t make too many excuses for him. Of course it was hard. Other people have to endure hard things. Like you.’
‘I didn’t always behave very well,’ he said heavily.
‘I know. But you weren’t wicked. Laurence set out to – well, to defraud Robert, to wreck his business. He persecuted Jamie dreadfully, simply because he was nice to Robert and Maud—’
‘Just a minute,’ said Kit, ‘how do you know all this? Family gossip I suppose.’
‘No,’ said Barty simply, ‘he told me.’
She could remember it still, listening to Laurence by the hour, while he told her about all the dreadful things he had done – and then giving her the excuses, the rationalisation for them. His terrible childhood, his father’s death, his mother’s remarriage to Robert Lytton, the birth of Maud and of the second child that had killed her. She could remember wondering how she could possibly love this man, who had deliberately wreaked such harm on people; and wondering that she did.
‘He even,’ she said now, ‘threw away a telegram telling me about Wol’s first stroke, because he didn’t want me rushing back to England—’
‘What? Surely not.’
‘’Fraid so. Oh, Kit, there’s lots more. But – I loved him. I loved him so, so much. I fought it and fought it, but I couldn’t help it. Always. From that first moment.’
A long silence; the waiter refilled their glasses.
‘Oh dear,’ she said, picking hers up, ‘I’m sorry, Kit. Bit heavy, all this.’
‘No,’ he said. ‘No, no, I’m so very pleased you’re telling me.’
‘I – haven’t told many people. Obviously. Sebastian knows. He was so marvellous, he helped me through it. Both times, when I first left Laurence, and the second time when he – ’ her voice shook ‘ – he left me.’
‘He knows about grief,’ said Kit, ‘he told me once that when Pandora died, his only wish was to die too. For years, that’s what he wanted. He said grief was the only thing he knew. Until – well, until he accepted Izzie. That was the turning point.’
‘Dear, darling Sebastian,’ said Barty. There was another silence; then, ‘But you see, Kit, I’m not sure that we would have been exactly happy, Laurence and I. That it would have worked very well. I’m not exactly pliant myself.’
‘True. Very true. But I’m sure you’d have managed something. And I’m sorry you’re so unhappy.’
‘Kit, I’m not.’ She sounded surprised. ‘I’m really not. I like my life. New York is wonderful, Lyttons New York is wonderful, I have a great time. I’m really happy. I just – miss him. That’s all.’
‘Of course you do.’ He sighed, then said, ‘Anyway, back to Jenna. I think you’re absolutely right. She shouldn’t be exposed to lawsuits and lawyers and greed. It would be bad for her. Have you ever met the other children?’
‘No. Now their mother really had a bad time. With Laurence, I mean. He only married her to—’ She sighed. ‘Enough of this. I can’t have you thinking entirely badly of him. He had so many virtues. He was loyal, and generous and brave and – well, lots of good things. Anyway, I wrote to Annabel, that was the first wife, when I moved to New York. I felt I had to lay some ghosts, say some things, put what I feared were some misconceptions right. She was surprisingly generous and courteous to me. And we very occasionally meet, at some benefit concert or other. But she’s pretty steely. I don’t see her parting with any of the money. It’s all been left to the children, in trust anyway, and she gets the income. Anyway, I’m afraid I’m boring you.’
‘Of course you’re not.’
‘It’s just so nice talking about Laurence. I don’t often get the chance. And please think about coming to New York.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ he said, ‘if you like. But I really can’t come.’
Barty took a taxi back to the Warwick house to collect Jenna; everyone was out and she sat in the drawing room drinking tea and trying to recover her equilibrium. Disturbing memories, vivid, violent memories, were always painful. Not to mention thinking about Jenna, and hoping, as she did almost every day, that she was doing the right thing in claiming nothing for her. And confronting her fear: that one day Jenna might come to think for herself that she was entitled to some of her father’s fortune.
‘And this is Jenna. Jenna, this is your uncle Billy, and your aunt Joan.’
‘How do you do.’ Jenna held out her hand to each of them in turn, smiling politely. However unsuccessful Barty’s attempts at discipline had been in other areas of Jenna’s life, she had at least succeeded in drilling her in perfectly formal, English manners.
‘Pleased to meet you, Jenna.’ Billy shook her hand. ‘You’re bigger than I expected.’
‘Everyone says that. I’m told my father was tall, too. You didn’t meet him, I suppose?’
Her voice was hopeful; so few of her mother’s friends and family had met her father, he was still a mysterious, shadowy figure, familiar to her only through photographs – and her mother didn’t even have very many of those. Her uncle Jamie talked to her about him, of course, but only in a rather careful, formal way, and Grandpa Robert was very difficult to draw on the subject. She wished passionately that she knew more about him; as she grew older it seemed increasingly important. To say there was a mystery about him was going a bit far; but it was certainly true that there were a lot of blank spaces in the picture she was trying to build up of him.
‘No, I’m afraid I didn’t. I’d have liked to, of course. But he never got down here—’
‘Silly him.’ She looked round her and smiled; she was enchanted by it, by the square stone house, the rather untidy garden and the great stretch of countryside that went with it, the big fields, the hedges, the woodland, and, just below the house, the large stable block. ‘It’s lovely here, I really like it.’
‘Good. Well we think it’s lovely too.’
Jenna smiled at her. She liked Joan. She was large and cosy, with big strong arms and a tangle of dark hair, flecked with grey. She liked Billy too, but he was less smiley, and he had a way of studying you carefully as if he was making up his mind about you.
‘Where are your boys?’
‘They’re at school. They’ll be home at half past three. Sorry about that, bit boring for you, but by the time we’ve had lunch and Billy’s maybe shown you the horses, your mum says you like horses—’
‘I do, I love them. I ride in Central Park and of course on the shore on Long Island.’
‘Well, we can probably manage a ride for you here. If you’d like that.’
‘Oh, yes please. And I’d really like to drive a tractor.’
‘Jenna – ’ said Barty warningly.
Joan laughed. ‘Drive a tractor? Well now, that might be a bit awkward, you not having done it before. But one of the boys could give you a ride, I dare say.’
‘Do they drive it?’
‘Well, Joe does. Never too young to drive a tractor, that’s what Bill says, isn’t it, love? Once you can reach the pedals, of course.’
‘How old is Joe?’
‘He’s nearly twelve. But he’s a big lad. Now then, are you both going to come along in, have something to eat?’
‘I’d rather see the horses,’ said Jenna, ‘and have a ride.’
‘Jenna, not before lunch,’ said Barty firmly. ‘We’ve only just arrived.’
Jenna scowled at her. ‘Joan said Billy would show me the horses.’
‘Yes, when it suits him. I’m sure he’s busy now.’
‘No, I’m not,’ said Billy. ‘Not specially, anyway. Don’t know about a ride now but we can take a look.’ He grinned at Jenna. She grinned back, and then triumphantly met her mother’s eyes.
There were over a dozen horses in the yard; a couple of very big hunters, two or three smaller ones, some ponies of various sizes and beyond them, in the paddock, two great shire horses.
‘That one belongs to Elspeth Warwick,’ said Billy, pointing to a very pretty little bay. ‘She comes down and rides him whenever she can.’
‘He’s lovely,’ said Jenna. ‘What’s his name?’
‘Florian. Bit fancy is Elspeth, but she can’t half ride. Like her ladyship, I always tell her.’
‘I like those,’ said Jenna, pointing to the shires, ‘they’re like giant horses.’
‘They are indeed,’ said Billy. ‘We used them in the war, when petrol was so scarce. The grey, we called him Lord B after his lordship. Although they’re getting on a bit, I still work them sometimes.’
‘For furrowing?’ said Jenna.
‘How do you know about furrowing?’
‘My mother told me.’
‘I didn’t know she had any knowledge of such things. Just her books and so on.’
‘Oh my mother knows about everything,’ said Jenna airily.
Over lunch, the conversation turned to Lord Arden; Billy asked what he was like. Her mother said carefully that Lord Arden was very nice, very charming.
‘Yes, yes, but what’s he really like?’
‘Billy—’ said Joan in a certain voice. And Jenna knew what that was about: not in front of the children.
‘He’s OK,’ she said, cutting in, ‘quite kind and smiling. But he doesn’t say much.’
‘I don’t suppose the poor chap gets much of a chance,’ said Billy, laughing. ‘All those Lytton women round him.’
Jenna smiled at him.
‘It’s not that,’ she said. ‘I don’t think he has much to say, even if no women at all were there. I don’t actually think he’s very clever,’ she added, and then looked anxiously at Joan, who appeared to be having a coughing fit.
Her mother said ‘Jenna’ in the voice she used when she was about to be cross, but wasn’t quite; Jenna looked at her.
‘What? He’s not here, he can’t hear me saying that. He’s not nearly as clever as Aunt Celia, really he isn’t.’
‘Jenna, I’ve told you before not to talk about people.’
‘Come along Jenna,’ said Billy, standing up. ‘Let’s go and get this pony saddled up.’
She had a wonderful ride on a pretty little pony called Coffee; Billy led her round the paddock once, but she managed to convince him that she was perfectly able to handle him herself.
‘And you can’t find it easy running with your false leg,’ she said.
Billy grinned at her. ‘Don’t ever think about it,’ he said. ‘Part of me, that leg. Don’t know what I’d do if the other grew back.’
‘Might it?’ said Jenna. ‘It must be quite – sad for you without it.’
‘Not a bit of it. I owe everything to losing that leg, hasn’t your mum ever told you?’
‘Yes, she has. How Lady Beckenham looked after you and gave you a job in the stables. I wish I’d met her.’
‘You remind me of her,’ he said, ‘just a bit.’
She was flying around the paddock on Coffee when she heard a shout; the boys had arrived at the gate and joined their father. She reined the pony in, cantered over to them, sat smiling at them. ‘He’s so lovely, I’d take him back to America with me if I could. I’m Jenna.’
‘You’d better not,’ said Joe. ‘I learned to ride on him. He’s mine.’
‘Joe – ’ said his father.
‘Of course I can’t,’ said Jenna earnestly. She studied Joe. She liked him. He was a big, rather gangly boy, with light-brown untidy curly hair and blue eyes, like his mother; his face was smiling and comfortable like hers as well. Michael looked more like Billy, darker and more serious, with the same way of studying you intently and summing you up.
Michael trailed after her and Joe as they walked towards the paddock where the big old shires were. Jenna was fascinated by them; she had never seen such huge animals in her life.
‘I’ve got some carrots,’ said Joe. ‘Here, give them a piece. Hold your hand flat.’
‘I know,’ said Jenna coolly. She looked up at the horses. The grey bent its great head over her small hand and took the carrot gently. She smiled.
‘He’s a real gent, is Lord B,’ said Joe. ‘Nice manners, Dad says.’
‘I wish I could ride him.’
‘You’d never even get up. Anyway, he’s not got a saddle.’
‘I could ride him bareback.’
‘Course you couldn’t.’
‘You’re mad,’ said Michael.
‘You are. And you’re a girl,’ he added, as if that settled matters.
‘Well I’ll show you,’ said Jenna.
She climbed up on to the gate, stood swaying slightly, grasped Lord B’s mane and half slithered, half jumped on to his back. He trembled slightly, and she felt his muscles quiver under her. He was so huge that her short legs were spread almost straight across his back. She grasped the mane further up, wriggled a bit and looked down at the boys triumphantly.
‘I told you so.’
All might have been well had not a large horsefly suddenly settled on Lord B’s rump. He jumped, kicked out with one of his back legs and swished his tail. In a smaller animal the movements would have been slight; for him they were considerable. Jenna felt him lurch, and started to slither sideways; she clung to the mane, looked down. The ground looked a long way away. She tried to haul herself up again, but couldn’t regain her balance; she was pulling quite hard now on Lord B’s mane. He began to find it irritating, and moved forward; she clung on, pulling harder still. Lord B blew through his nostrils and launched into a brisk trot. For ten, maybe fifteen seconds, Jenna managed to stay on him, then slowly and quite gracefully she fell to the ground. As she fell, she put out her hand instinctively to save herself and fell awkwardly on her wrist. Very awkwardly.
Two hours later, after having her wrist set quite painfully in the local cottage hospital, facing one round of her mother’s wrath, and knowing there was more to come, after being ticked off quite severely by Billy as well, and enduring the double misery of hearing Joe being unfairly told off, she still felt the whole episode was entirely worthwhile as she heard Joe say to his father, ‘She’s the bravest girl I ever met. Even if she is stupid.’
She found it quite easy to ignore everyone’s wrath after that; and when she got on to the plane to New York three days later with her arm in a sling, his words were still ringing in her head.
Record were very pleased with Adele’s Coronation photographs. They gave her fourteen pages, and the cover.
‘Maman, let me see.’ Noni reached out her hand for the magazine; as it was passed across the table, Lucas lifted the newspaper he was reading to turn to another page and knocked the coffee pot over.
‘Lucas, you oaf. Oh, God, that’s awful, Mummy I’m so sorry, all over it. You stupid idiot, how did you do that?’
‘Quite easily.’ Geordie’s voice, usually so level and good-natured was icy cold. ‘I saw that Lucas. Apologise to your mother.’
‘It was an accident,’ said Lucas sulkily.
‘Even if it was’ – Geordie’s voice made it plain he didn’t think so – ‘you can still say you’re sorry. That is her first edition, and the only one she has at the moment.’
‘She can get another. It’s a magazine, not some priceless painting. No doubt there’ll be a dozen in the house soon. What does it matter?’
‘It matters a great deal,’ said Geordie. ‘Please apologise.’
‘I don’t see why I should.’
‘Well I do. Lucas—’
‘Geordie, it’s all right.’ Adele gave him a quick, anxious smile. ‘Honestly. It was an accident.’
‘It is not all right, and I don’t believe it was an accident. Lucas, if you can’t apologise, please go to your room.’
‘No. I don’t have to do what you say. You’re not my father.’
‘Lucas!’ said Adele. ‘That was very rude.’
‘It was true.’
‘Please apologise to Geordie.’
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