Authors: Richard Madeley
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Also by Richard Madeley
Fathers & Sons
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2013
A CBS COMPANY
Copyright © Richard Madeley, 2013
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
All rights reserved.
The right of Richard Madeley to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Paperback ISBN 978-1-4711-1263-8
eBook ISBN 978-1-4711-1264-5
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Typeset by M Rules
Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY
For Judy, who as a fellow first-time novelist forgave me my trespasses as I worked obsessively on this story.
To the men and women of the RAF who, in 1940, delivered this country from an unspeakable fate. We owe them everything.
South of France, 1951
Diana sat at her usual table outside the pavement café reading her morning paper. There were still many words she didn’t understand, but after two months her
French was definitely improving. Everyone told her so.
She searched the pages for the weather forecast. Not that she needed to: it was obviously going to be another beautiful day. The sky above Nice flower-market was an unbroken blue and even though
it was only April, the air was warm and still. The cut flowers on the stalls packed into the square around her would be impossible to find anywhere back home, this early in the year.
It had been below freezing for weeks in shivering, rationed-to-the-hilt England. She’d spoken by telephone to her father in Kent the night before.
‘You’re much better off down there, Diana,’ he told her. ‘Lots of sunshine and plenty of food. Rationing here just goes from bad to worse. You wouldn’t think
we’d won the bloody war.’
A taxi came slowly round the corner, past a little grove of orange trees that lined the centre of the road. It was a shabby brown prewar Citroën, all the windows down in the spring warmth.
She stood up to hail it, but realised it already carried a passenger and wasn’t going to stop.
As it passed her, she saw the silhouette of a man sitting in the back. He was leaning forward and speaking, in English, to the driver.
‘No, not here. I told you – it’s much further up. Keep going all the way to the Hotel Negresco. And get a move on – I’m late enough as it is.’
Diana swayed and gripped the back of her chair.
‘Stop! she called at last as the taxi reached the top of the square and began to turn on to the Promenade des Anglais. ‘Oh please, stop!’
But the Citroën entered the flow of traffic and disappeared down the long curving road that bordered the sparkling Mediterranean.
?’ It was Armand, the
, solicitous. ‘Do you have a problem?’
‘No, no . . .’ She sat down again. ‘Everything’s fine, really.’
But she was lying.
Everything was wrong.
When she looked back – at all of it, mind, right back to the point where it all really began – she was surprised at only two things.
That she had survived at all and how foolish she had been.
Even in the moments when she had believed she was being clever, she wasn’t. Such a silly girl, she thought to herself now. Such a ridiculous,
Which is a little harsh. For how many of us would recognise the Devil if he stood smiling at our door?
The Arnolds were a family who took a quiet pleasure in using entirely the wrong names for each other. It had started even before Mr and Mrs Arnold were engaged. She was
Patricia, he was Patrick; both were known as Pat – potential for confusion from the very beginning. To their mutual pleasure and relief they discovered that each harboured an irrational
dislike for the names their parents had bestowed on them. So they agreed to refer to each other by the ones they shyly confessed were their secret preferences.
Patrick had always thought of himself as Oliver; he said he had no idea why.
Patricia believed that the
sound of ‘Gwen’ somehow magically softened the lines of her lean, angular face – at least, she thought of it as lean and angular
– and gave her bony hips and splayed feet – again this was how
thought of them – a less prominent form. Of course, she didn’t confide any of this to her
fiancé. She simply told him that she wished she had been christened Gwen, ‘for no more logical reason than you regret not being called Oliver, my dear’.
So they made their arrangement, and their marriage. And when first a son, and then a daughter arrived, the children came, in time, to follow their parents’ example. They were intrigued to
learn of the pact and when he was eight, Robert gravely informed the family that he would prefer to be known as John. His sister privately thought Robert a much nicer name and was content with her
own given one of Rose, but gradually she felt inclined, obliged even, to join the family gavotte.
After much thought and lengthy private consultation with her intimates at school (who were thrilled to be part of the process), Rose reached her decision. She announced it to the family that
Her new name was confirmed just in time for a new decade. Rose was left behind in the swirling backwash of the 1920s.
The future belonged to Diana.
South of England, 1938
Oliver loved the chalk stream that flowed swiftly beneath the ha-ha wall separating his rabbit-cropped lawn from the paddock beyond. In fact, Mr Arnold loved, and was proud of,
every aspect of the home he had built – or, rather, bought – for his family.
The four of them lived in an oak-framed Dower House tucked beneath the Weald of Kent. Five, if you included Lucy, the maid, who had a room at the top of the back stairs.
The surrounding countryside was heavily wooded and that summer, as Mr Arnold drove the three miles to the tiny railway station to catch his London train, he compared the thickly timbered lanes
to his memories of the previous year’s astonishing new feature-length Walt Disney animated film, much of which was set in an extravagant forest.
Gwen and he had been amazed by Disney’s artistry. Even John and Diana, reluctantly persuaded to accompany their parents to Royal Tunbridge Wells’ largest cinema, found their own
cheerful impertinence – ‘it’s a
, Oliver; they’re just
Mum’ – silenced after five minutes of the first reel of
and the Seven Dwarfs
‘That was really something, Dad,’ John said afterwards as they walked back to the car. Since their middle teens Mr Arnold’s children had called him Oliver when they wanted to
tease or annoy him; Dad when he’d earned their grudging respect. It never occurred to either child to call their mother Gwen.
‘Some of those tableaux – you know, the backgrounds to the action – were amazing. Mum, you really should think about adapting and developing that style for your next painting.
I think you could do something with it.’
Gwen coughed. ‘I think Mr Disney might have something to say about that, John. I have my own romantic style, and he has his, dear. But it was very fine, I agree, if a little . . . well,
There was a slightly awkward silence as they arrived in the side street where Mr Arnold had left the car. Gwen was sensitive about her painting, especially since an unflattering review of her
first exhibition had appeared in the evening paper. ‘
unfair!’ she had cried, crumpling the pages in distress. ‘I am my
inspiration! I owe nothing to any
of these people he writes about. He’s all but accusing me of plagiarism! And oh, all of our friends will be reading this . . . it’s too much. Oliver, I want you to
Mr Arnold was a libel lawyer, and a successful one. He preferred to represent plaintiffs; he had something of a gift for persuading jurors to empathise with his clients. He used simple tricks of
rhetoric. ‘How would
feel if the article had said that about
?’ he would ask the jury, before turning to the opposing barrister with a look of reproach, as if
the man should be ashamed of defending the peddlers of such calumny.
Juries instinctively liked him with his crisp, pleasantly inflected voice and pleasing looks. Mr Arnold wasn’t conventionally handsome, but he had an attractive smile and a reassuring air.
Jurors felt they could trust him, and were flattered by the subliminal message he managed to convey to them, which said: ‘You’re a sensible lot, I can see that. Between you and me
we’ll sort this nonsense out, won’t we?’
Crucially for any barrister working in high-conflict court cases, juries wanted to be on his side. It was half the battle won.
Success had brought him great wealth. For years he had been able to charge the highest rates for the privilege of his time, and such was his reputation as a winner that publishers increasingly
preferred to settle out of court when they heard that Oliver Arnold was against them.
So he had dutifully taken the offending article about Gwen to his office in Holborn. After careful scrutiny, he concluded that there was nothing defamatory in it. If anything, he thought
privately to himself, the piece was a rather adroit dissection of his wife’s shortcomings as an artist. It said she owed much to the work of others, and after Mr Arnold had spent an afternoon
visiting some of the galleries mentioned in the piece, he was inclined to agree.
Later, at home, he dissembled. ‘There’s nothing to be done, Gwen. It’s what’s known as fair comment. Yes, yes, I know
critics must be free to criticise, and all that. I realise it’s upsetting, but if I were you I’d just put it behind me and forget all about it. What was it Wilde said? “The only
thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.” Something like that, I believe. Anyway, at least they’ve taken notice of you, darling.’
His wife’s face was full of resentment. ‘Well, of course, if you’re going to take their side, I suppose there’s nothing to be done.’