Read Rule Britannia Online

Authors: Daphne Du Maurier

Tags: #Fiction / Alternative History, #Fiction / Dystopian, #Fiction / Political, #Fiction / Satire

Rule Britannia (22 page)

BOOK: Rule Britannia
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Mr. Libby opened his eyes wide. “No hanky-panky, I promise you. It’s all above board. No duty to pay. We’re to import it in large quantities, and this happens to be the first consignment. You’ll find it much sweeter on the palate than the French stuff you usually have.”

“Mr. Libby,” said Mad, “when I come to you asking for Californian wine you will know I’ve got tired of drinking my own bathwater at home. Drive on, Emma.” She turned to her granddaughter as they shot up the hill. “I meant it too. Californian wine my foot! So Vic was right. What else are we going to be forced to consume, is what I ask myself. Teabags forever, I suppose… and those terrible clams.”

It was not until the car was safely parked in the garage that Emma turned to her grandmother and said, “I saw Mr. Willis in Poldrea. They’ve found Corporal Wagg.”

Mad was silent. Then as she climbed out of the car she asked, “Where?”

“Kellyvardo rock. Yesterday. And it was Tom Bate in his boat who found him. That’s why I didn’t want you to go to the shop.” She explained to her grandmother the few details she knew.

Mad was gathering her purchases together. “They’ll have done a postmortem, no doubt,” she said. “I wonder what happens in a case like this—whether they hold an inquest, as they would with one of our own people, or whether it’s different, being one of theirs.”

“I don’t know,” said Emma, “and there’s nobody we can ask.”

“We just have to wait, then. And listen to the news.”

Emma could not decide whether it was a relief that the body had been discovered or whether it made things worse. On balance, worse. While it was missing people might still think the corporal had possibly absconded, was in hiding somewhere; and she and the rest of them who knew the truth could hope that the gale that had blown through Friday night and Saturday might have taken the body far up-channel, so that possibly it would be days, weeks, before it ever came ashore, and then perhaps would be unrecognizable. But not now. Wedged fast under a crevice in Kellyvardo rock. She thought of the times she and the boys had walked out there at low water—it was only at dead of springs that the entire reef was uncovered, and they could paddle around it looking for shrimps, for prawns. She shuddered. She would never be able to do it again.

Dottie greeted them with the news that Pa had telephoned during their absence. “He sounded in a great hurry, Madam, leaving for the airport there and then. New York first and then Rio. His secretary has his addresses. I think he was upset not to speak to you.”

Mad gestured. “I shouldn’t have gone out. I could at least have heard his voice.”

She looked dispirited, so unusual for her. Emma unloaded all their packages on the kitchen table and followed her grandmother.

“What do you mean, you could have heard his voice?” she asked.

“Just that.”

A feeling of panic seized Emma. “You don’t think he’s going to crash, be hijacked, something frightful?”

“No, darling, of course not. Forget it. Just a silly pang.”

Emma tried to imagine herself sitting beside Pa on the jet to New York. She’d have been borne away from the trials and turmoil here at home. Pa would make a fuss of her, spoil her, introduce her with a show of pride as his “suddenly grown-up daughter.” New York, Rio, everything exciting, fresh, but above all safe, and no responsibility beyond the easy one of having to do him proud and look her best. Instead, beleaguered here at home, Mad nearly eighty, the boys dependent too, and every day that dawned becoming more ominous, more of a threat.

She went off for a walk over the fields and down to the cliffs in the afternoon simply to goad herself still further into a feeling of horror and rejection combined, which she knew the sight of Kellyvardo rock would bring. The sea was oily flat. A different bay, surely, from the storm-tossed cauldron of Saturday. No rollers, no curling crests. The slimy surface of Kellyvardo humped above the still water, and the broken spar snapped at the center looked like the bent figure of a man. On the far horizon, rounding the Dodman, came the distant shape of an approaching warship. Emma stood watching until the gray outline became clearer. It was the warship returning to cast anchor in the bay. Would it help the situation, at least as far as it concerned themselves, or make it worse? Colonel Cheeseman had surely been more understanding than his deputy, but he might have changed his attitude now the missing corporal had been discovered dead. And Wally Sherman? Would he have changed as well? She turned her back on the sea and climbed up the hill to the plowed field once more. How many hours in that jet across the Atlantic would it have taken, sitting beside Pa? Had it touched down already, themselves forgotten, and was Pa being greeted by his business friends in a V.I.P. reception lounge?

She returned home to find the boys coming down the drive, the school bus having decanted them at the top of the main road. They were all sporting USUK ties, a strident color-scheme clashing with their skins. Colin, as always, was the first to run ahead with the news.

“We didn’t have hardly any lessons at all,” he shouted, “a lot of marching and singing to new songs. We’ve been learning “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And Miss Birkett read us history stories about America. And guess what?”


“Mrs. Hubbard was there, the lady with the teeth. She gave us a Jesus talk. We’re going to have one every week from now on, but not from her. She was just showing our teacher how to do it.”

Emma turned to the others. “Did you get the same treatment?” she asked.

“No.” Andy looked fed up. “They kept moving us around into different groups, and the new thing is you’ve got to help whoever’s sitting next to you. I kept getting between girls and it was awful. They did nothing but giggle and poke me in the back. Then we had something called a Think-In. We had to keep quiet for about ten minutes and then each one in turn had to stand up and say what he or she had been thinking.”

“What did you say?”

“I told them what a stupid idea I thought it was and that was all. So I was passed over very quickly. I didn’t get a star.”

“I did,” said Sam, his thin little face lit up with a sudden smile. “At least, it’s a new kind of star, like the ones on our ties. My think-in was all about Spry, and how Mr. Trembath had found her as a pup, some holiday visitor had left her on the beach on purpose, not wanting to take her home. And I said how she had been trained to guard the sheep and the cattle, and everyone loved her, and then she got shot.”

Terry, having exhausted all the gramophone records in his repertoire, had hobbled out to join them. “I bet that shook them,” he said.

“I don’t know,” Sam answered. “Mr. Edyvean and the visiting person looked rather solemn, and Mr. Edyvean gave me a star for imaginative description.”

“The Jesus talk was much better than a think-in,” insisted Colin, trying to pull away Terry’s crutch, “because afterwards we had to act scenes from Jesus’s life. The others did loaves and fishes, and went round the class pretending to give each other bread. I thought that was silly. I took my ruler and lashed out at them all, and when Miss Birkett asked what I was doing and said it wasn’t right to be rough, I said I was Jesus whipping the moneylenders in the Temple. Mrs. Hubbard went away after that. She said she had to go onto another school. Miss Birkett gave me a star, all the same.”

The school news was narrated in turn to Mad by all three boys after they had finished their tea. Rather to Emma’s surprise her grandmother, instead of being amused, was outraged.

“I’ve never heard such * * * * in my life,” she declared, using a word that she had possibly picked up from Ben. “How dare they change the syllabus in this way without consulting parents, grandparents, guardians? If this is the beginning of CGT or whatever they call it, then the sooner there is a row at the Ministry of Education the better. I suppose it’s to be a combined affair in future. Some utter fool like Martha Hubbard as Joint Minister at the head of the department. I’ve a good mind to keep the children at home. Teach them myself.”

“It’s against the law,” said Emma.

“I don’t care. Let them sue me. Those ghastly ties… I can’t believe wearing them is to be compulsory. And why not be straight and direct when you teach Christianity? A Jesus talk, indeed! All the same,” she reflected, “I’d have given a lot to have seen Colin whipping them out of the Temple.”

She switched on the television, only to be greeted by the inevitable smiling faces of the President and the Queen standing side by side in the White House.

“Oh, surely not,” she groaned. “It’s positively indecent. What on earth is Prince Philip doing?”

“I suppose he’s still camping with the Red Indians,” replied Emma.

“If we’re going to have the same thing when the President pays his visit here, and we get him swaying in a coach to open Parliament, I tell you one person who will go stark staring mad, and that’s Dottie,” said Mad. “Switch it off!”

“Wait,” Emma warned her, “there might be something about the corporal.”

There was nothing. Preparations for a general Thanksgiving at the end of the week hogged most of the program, and because the United Kingdom would be joined after nearly two hundred years with her former colony the celebrations were to be on a magnificent scale, with a public holiday for all.

Later that evening the telephone rang. Emma went to answer it. It was Wally Sherman. He sounded rather subdued.

“That you, Emma?” he said. “Wally here. We’re back in camp.”

“I guessed you were,” she replied. “I saw the ship come into the bay this afternoon.”

“That’s right,” he said, and after a moment’s hesitation, “I heard you’d been in a certain amount of trouble. I’m sorry.”

“So were we,” she told him.

He paused again. “The reason I’m calling you is that it isn’t exactly over,” he went on, “at least, I hope it is for you personally, but not for you as a district. Restrictions are going to be tight again. You see, the body of Corporal Wagg has been found. We had a private P.M., and he didn’t drown. The injuries to the head were fairly extensive, but how it happened we just can’t tell. He could have fallen from the cliffs onto the rocks, and his body carried out to sea with the gale that blew later, or he could have been pushed. There’s no proof either way.” He cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,” said Emma. “What a terrible thing to have happened.”

“The point is,” he continued, “it won’t come over your radio or TV or be in your newspapers, because it isn’t good for public relations, but our authorities are pretty sore about this. They don’t believe it was accidental, but they can’t pin the blame on anyone. So your district may be in for tough measures. There’s to be no fraternization on our part with the locals—you’re all out of bounds. This means I can’t come and see you. I thought I’d just let you know.”

“That was very kind of you,” she told him.

“Anyhow, there it is. I wish it wasn’t so, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s against the new regulations to be calling you now.”

“Wait,” said Emma. “When you say tough measures, what exactly do you mean?”

Again there was an awkward pause. “I’m afraid I can’t say,” he replied, “because, honestly, I don’t rightly know. I just wanted to warn you. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Emma replaced the receiver. Whatever was going to happen now? Mad had already gone upstairs to bed. She switched off the light in the cloakroom and stood there alone in the dark, wondering.


She discovered soon enough. The following morning, after the boys had set off for school, Dottie drew her aside and begged her to go down to Poldrea on her own and bring back some of the things on the list that had been omitted the day before.

“It’s always the same,” she confided, “when Madam has a free rein to do the shopping. No one is going to eat all these sausages, you’ll have to take them back, and although all the toilet rolls will come in handy you can’t eat them, can you? Here’s my list, stick to it, dear, and slip away before she calls you back for anything.”

Emma went round to the garage and found Joe waiting for her, carrying an empty paraffin drum.

“Mind if I come with you?” he asked. “I want to fill this up so I can keep the heater going in the greenhouse, now it’s turned colder. The forecast said we’re in for some hard weather. I’ll stick it in the boot.”

She was glad of Joe’s company. What with one thing and another she had barely had two words with him yesterday, and indeed, as was his hard-and-fast routine, he had spent most of his time in the vegetable garden or, as Terry tersely put it, “mucking about up back.” Emma told him about the telephone conversation the night before with Wally Sherman.

“I expect,” said Joe, and he gave a sort of grunt, half-amused, half-disapproving, “your precious lieutenant just meant he was sore we’d been put out of bounds. But for that I bet you anything you like he’d have been up at the house right away yesterday evening.”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “He sounded embarrassed, not just like someone who can’t keep a date.”

“Had you a date, in fact?”

“No, of course I hadn’t.”

When they came to the roadblock at the bottom of the hill, the marine on duty marked their passes and the yellow car sticker with a red X.

“What’s that for?” Emma asked.

“No more private cars on the road in this district after today,” he said, “not for people with local stickers. You’ll have to use public transport.”

“Who says so?”

“Commandant’s orders. You’ll be given notice when the ban is to be relaxed.” He waved her on.

Emma turned indignantly to Joe as she released the brake. “Surely they can’t do this?” she said. “How are people going to manage? You know there are only about two buses a day that come past us to Poldrea.”

“Let’s fill up with petrol, anyway,” Joe replied. “The tank’s right down.”

The garage where they usually bought petrol was further along the cliff, but when Emma pulled in she saw that notices saying “No Petrol” were hanging on the pumps, and the little office alongside, where the attendant sat, had “Closed” scrawled across the window.

“Can we make it into Poldrea and back up the hill again?” Emma asked.

“Just about,” Joe told her.

“This,” she said, “is obviously what Lieutenant Sherman was warning me about. Can they do it? Legally, I mean?”

“I suppose,” Joe replied, “if you are an occupying power—and it begins to seem more and more that this is what they basically are—you can just about do anything.”

Today the queues were not so extensive outside the supermarket—doubtless because the majority of people had done their shopping the day before—but inside the building itself the atmosphere was considerably more subdued.

“I’m very sorry,” said the senior salesman with a glance at Dottie’s list, “but some of the items here we just haven’t got. The van we expected yesterday never arrived, and we were told on the telephone this morning it had been held up and they couldn’t say when we could expect it.”

Emma did not return the sausages. It was evident they were going to be needed. She took from the shelves anything that might be useful for feeding the boys, and then left. Joe was waiting for her outside.

“No paraffin,” he said. “They sold the last yesterday and they have no more in stock. He says there’s been a holdup somewhere, nobody knows how or why. Bang go my seedlings, if we get a frost.”

Little knots of people were standing about talking. Snatches of conversation came to their ears. “One of them was found drowned, and we’ve all got to suffer for it.” “They say he was drunk at the time, been in at the Sailor’s Rest, and then pitched headfirst off the cliffs by Little Hell…” “I don’t know about that. He was courting Myrtle Trembath, by all accounts, and we all know Jack has got some temper… Well, you can put two and two together, can’t you?” “Why don’t someone own up, then? Why take it out on us?”

Emma dragged at Joe’s sleeve. “Come on,” she murmured, “let’s go.”

She had the impression one or two people were staring at them, and this was confirmed when a man who had once swept the music room chimney rather badly, and had never been asked to do it again, muttered to his companion, “It’s all right for some…” looking pointedly at the sausages bulging out of her shopping basket. The drop in temperature had not only hardened the atmosphere but had done something to attitudes as well. Hostility was in the air, and possibly because of her own acute sense of guilt she felt it was directed against her, or, if not at her personally, then at all the members of the household at the top of the hill. Another thing—there were no marines off duty walking around, as there had been the week before, and yesterday too.

They were crossing the street to get back into the car when a small blue car came in to park just ahead of them. It was Nurse Bennett. She put her head out of the window.

“They can’t put a red mark against my pass,” she said, “nor the doctor’s neither. But I’ve had to give them a list of all the people I visit so they can keep tabs on me. I tell you one person who will blow his top, and that’s Jack my brother-in-law. He says he’s not going to allow his milk to be collected for the depot but is going to sell it locally to those around, like his father did in the old days.”

“But Nurse Bennett,” Emma asked, “who are ‘they’?”

The nurse jerked her head in the direction of the harbor and the camp on Poldrea beach. “Can’t you guess?” she countered, and carrying her bag made for a small house where an anxious face was watching her from the window. “Mrs. Williams’s baby is due,” she said to Emma. “You can’t stop children being born for the sake of one dead marine.”

Everyone knew, Emma decided. Not how it had happened or why, but that this was the reason for restrictions, regulations, orders, shortages. And it depended on your personal circumstances, your work, your livelihood, whom you blamed.

Another car drove past, or rather tried to pass but was obliged to stop, as Emma opened the door of her car on the off side. It was Mr. Libby of the Sailor’s Rest, but a very different Mr. Libby from the persuasive landlord of yesterday who had tried to sell Mad the case of Californian wine. He was tense, unsmiling, and ignoring Emma he called to somebody on the other side of the road, whom Emma recognized as a rival publican.

“Are the marines out of bounds to you too, Jim?” he shouted.

The man nodded. “ ’Fraid so. It’ll hurt me, but not as bad as it will hurt you. No customers will get to your place unless they go on foot, and no one’s going to do that these days.” He grinned.

“I’m going to see if I can wangle something with the deputy commandant,” shouted Mr. Libby. “Why should honest traders like myself be made to suffer for somebody else’s misdeeds, that’s what I say.”

He swerved angrily into the center of the road and drove ahead, nearly knocking down an old woman who was trying to cross. Joe stared after him.

“I hope he runs out of petrol before he gets there,” he said to Emma.

“He won’t,” replied Emma savagely, “he won’t. He’s probably had his tanks filled up by the marines last night before they were confined to camp.”

Now it’s not only them and us, she reflected, but the community itself divided. Nobody will know who is for what, or where anybody stands. The sentry at the barricade wore an amused smile on his face as he waved them past, having glanced at the red mark on the windscreen ticket.

“Shan’t be seeing you for a while, shall we?”

Emma did not answer. The petrol gauge was pointing well into the reserve tank. They made it up the hill and down the drive, and so to the garage doors with the engine spluttering.

“Done it,” she said to Joe, “but only just.”

Joe, grim-faced, lifted out her shopping basket. The pound and a half of butter that was their ration lay on top of the sausages. “What we want is guns and not butter,” he said.

It might have been Terry speaking, she thought, not Joe. Was it a pointer to the future?

“I feel the same way, but it’s not much good, is it? Do you realize that there wouldn’t have been these restrictions and the local tightening-up of security but for what happened here last week?”

“I know,” Joe replied. “It doesn’t alter how I feel.”

“The marine was killed,” she insisted, “and it was our fault. A child did not know the difference between right and wrong.”

Joe slammed the car door and walked to the garage entrance. “If you’re going to harp on that track it won’t wash with me, Emma. You may as well go back to the beginning of history and ask who threw the first stone outside a cave. Andy acted from impulse, the impulse of the first human being who felt his plot of land was threatened by someone who had no right to be there.”

“If that’s your argument,” she retorted, “then civilization has been a wasted effort. None of us has made any progress at all.”

“You’re dead right we haven’t. I wonder you’ve never realized it before. I can’t read or write, I can only work with my hands, not my head. That’s why, if the need should come, I’ll use them to defend my home.”

They walked together to the house in silence. Oh, what’s the use, thought Emma, if the sort of education I had, the books I’ve read, the conversations I’ve listened to between adults like Pa and Mad, and others, have brought me to see both sides of a question whatever the circumstances? How can I, or anyone, give judgment in the final analysis? The marines were in the right to bring in restrictions. The community was right to be indignant. The balance was even.

“You know, Joe,” she said, “we’re forgetting one thing, which is probably the basis of everything, if we apply it to our particular crisis now. When poor Corporal Wagg was on his way here last week he wasn’t coming to fight Terry but to apologize and shake hands.”

“That’s right,” Joe replied, “so he died with his conscience clear. But Andy couldn’t be expected to know why he was coming, could he, so your basis for right and wrong falls flat, like Corporal Wagg.”

Emma left him at the side door to carry up the basket to the kitchen. She did not feel in the mood to explain why she had brought back so few of the things on Dottie’s list. Joe must do it instead, and with his newfound ability to argue and state a case would probably do it very well. She walked round to the front of the house and saw her grandmother, with Ben beside her, picking up fir cones and dropping them into a sack. It was one of the unnecessary ploys that Mad always enjoyed. She would forget to burn the fir cones unless somebody reminded her. There were stacks of them down in the basement.

“Hullo, darling,” she called cheerfully. “Ben and I have been working like blacks.”

Unfortunate phrase, if you came to think of it, Emma decided, but Ben at three could not possibly take offence. He wore a woolen cap on his curly head with an enormous pompom on top, and looked like an illustration out of an old missionary magazine.

“Well, we’ve had it,” Emma announced. “Shopping, I mean, by car. It’s the bus in future, unless that gets canceled too, or we’ll have to hoof it.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Mad. “Did you go into something?”

“No. The permit’s been marked invalid. All local cars forbidden on the road. And every regulation tightened.” It was curious that, although she hadn’t wanted to break the news to Dottie through fear of irritation, she secretly enjoyed watching the effect upon Mad. “As a matter of fact,” she added casually, “I knew it would probably happen. Lieutenant Sherman telephoned to warn me last night.”

“Oh, so that was it.” Her grandmother shouldered the bag and slung it over her right shoulder. She looked, for one rather awful moment, as Mr. Willis had done when he slung the body of the corporal across his back.

“They did the postmortem on the corporal,” Emma went on. “Nothing was proved, but they suspect the worst. Anyway, the long and short of it is that although they can’t arrest anyone they’re going to make it tough for the local community, and we’ve got to lump it.”

Mad didn’t say much. She began to whistle under her breath. When they reached the house she emptied her sack of cones into the log basket and then went through to the cloakroom and picked up the telephone.

“It’s no good trying the Commandant,” Emma said. “We must be No. 2, if not No. 1, on his list of suspected persons.”

“I wasn’t going to try the Commandant,” replied her grandmother. “I’m going to see if our respected Member of Parliament is still in her constituency or if she has scuttled back to Westminster.”

Five minutes or more of delay before Mad got through. No, the Member had not yet left Cornwall, but she was expected to do so later in the day. What name, please? Mrs. Moorhouse was exceedingly busy, but she might be able to speak to the caller if the matter was urgent. Emma, kneeling on the floor beside her grandmother, could hear the secretary’s frigid voice. Mad gave Pa’s name, not her own.

“Hullo?” The voice of the Member for Mid-Cornwall was honey-sweet. Emma could imagine the light-hearted bantering tone that Pa would have used had he really been on the line.

“No,” replied Mad in answer to the Member’s query, “it isn’t Victor, it’s his mother. I’m speaking to you from Trevalan, Poldrea.”

There was a pause as Mrs. Moorhouse rapidly changed gear. She could cope with the merchant banker; the actress was a different thing altogether.

“Oh, yes,” she said, cool but purposeful. “And what can I do for you?”

“We’re in some difficulty here at Poldrea,” Mad replied. “A ban on all private cars has been put into force, the petrol pumps are closed, food supplies are not coming through to the supermarket, and in fact we appear to be in a state of siege. This is particularly hard on the young, the old and the sick, and everybody is extremely worried. I feel quite certain you can give us an explanation, and indeed let us know if this is happening all over Cornwall or only in this particular district?”

BOOK: Rule Britannia
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