Authors: Jeffrey Archer
As she turned off the Embankment and passed Big Ben, a loud, sustained cheer went up. She looked across to see Giles, Harry and Emma waving frantically. Jessica never stopped drawing, while
Freddie held up a placard that declared
I THINK YOU
RE IN THIRD PLACE
Karin somehow managed to raise an arm in acknowledgement, but by the time she turned into the Mall, she could barely place one foot in front of the other. With a quarter of a mile to go, she
became aware of the packed stands on both sides of the road, the crowds cheering more loudly than ever and a BBC television crew who were filming her while running backwards faster than she was
She looked up to see the digital clock above the finishing line ticking relentlessly away. Three hours 57 minutes, and she suddenly began to take an interest in the seconds, 31, 32, 33 . . .
With one last herculean effort, she tried to speed up. When she finally crossed the line, she raised her arms high in the air as if she were an Olympic champion. After a few more strides, she
collapsed in a heap on the ground.
Within a moment, a race official in a Red Cross smock was kneeling beside her, a bottle of water in one hand, a shiny silver cape in the other.
‘Try to keep moving,’ he said as he placed a medal round her neck.
Karin began walking slowly, very slowly, but her spirits were lifted when in the distance she spotted Freddie running towards her, arms outstretched, with Giles only a few paces behind.
‘Congratulations!’ Freddie shouted, even before he’d reached her. ‘Three hours, fifty-nine minutes and eleven seconds. I’m sure you’ll do better next
‘There isn’t going to be a next year,’ said Karin with considerable feeling. ‘Even if Sebastian offers me a million pounds.’
IRGINIA HAD MOVED OUT
of her flat in Chelsea and into the duke’s Eaton Square townhouse the day after his chauffeur drove Clarence and Alice to
Heathrow to go their separate ways; one flying east, the other west.
Although still a little apprehensive, she became more and more confident that she’d got away with it, until they travelled up to the country together to spend a long weekend at Castle
It was while the duke was out shooting that Mr Moxton, the estate manager, had dropped her a handwritten note requesting a private meeting with her.
‘I apologize for raising the subject,’ he said after Virginia had summoned him to join her in the drawing room, ‘but may I ask if the £185,000 the duke gave you was a
gift or a loan?’
‘Does it make any difference?’ asked Virginia sharply.
‘Only for tax purposes, my lady.’
‘Which would be more convenient?’ she asked, her tone softening.
‘A loan,’ said Moxton, who Virginia hadn’t suggested should sit, ‘because then there are no tax implications. If it was a gift, you would be liable for a tax bill of
around one hundred thousand pounds.’
‘And we wouldn’t want that,’ said Virginia. ‘But when would I be expected to repay the loan?’
‘Shall we say five years? At which time of course it could be rolled over.’
‘However, in the unlikely possibility that his grace should pass away before then, you would be liable to return the full amount.’
‘Then I shall have to do everything in my power to make sure his grace lives for at least another five years.’
‘I think that would be best for everyone, my lady,’ said Moxton, not sure if he was meant to laugh. ‘May I also ask if there are likely to be any further loans of this kind in
‘Certainly not, Moxton. This was a one-off, and I know the duke would much prefer the matter was not referred to again.’
‘Of course, my lady. I will draw up the necessary loan document for you to sign and then everything will be settled.’
As the weeks had drifted by, and then the months, Virginia became more and more confident the duke wasn’t aware of what she and Moxton had agreed, but even if he was, he certainly never
referred to it. When the time came to celebrate the duke’s seventy-first birthday, Virginia was ready to move on to the next stage of her plan.
If 1983 had been a leap year, the problem might have solved itself. But it wasn’t, and Virginia was unwilling to wait.
She had been living at Eaton Square with the duke for almost a year, and once the official mourning period was over, her next purpose was quite simply to become her grace, the Duchess of
Hertford. There was only one obstacle in her path, namely the duke, who seemed to be quite satisfied with the present arrangement, and had never once raised the subject of marriage. That state of
affairs would have to be brought to a head. But how?
Virginia considered the alternatives that were open to her. She could move out of Eaton Square and return to Chelsea, starving Perry of her company and, more important, sex, which was no longer
quite as regular as it had once been, and hope that would do the trick. However, with only her two thousand pounds a month allowance from her brother to live on, Virginia feared she would give in
long before he did. She could propose herself, but she didn’t care for the humiliation of being turned down. Or she could simply leave him, which didn’t bear thinking about.
When she discussed the problem over lunch with Bofie Bridgwater and Priscilla Bingham, it was Bofie who came up with a simple solution which would undoubtedly force the duke to make a decision
one way or the other.
‘But it might backfire,’ said Virginia, ‘and then I’d be back on Queer Street.’
‘You could be right,’ admitted Bofie. ‘But frankly you haven’t been left with a lot of choice, old gal, unless you’re happy to drift along until the time comes to
attend the duke’s funeral as an old friend.’
‘No, I assure you that isn’t part of my plan. If I were to let that happen, the Lady Camilla Hertford would come after me, all guns blazing, demanding the £185,000 loan be
repaid in full. No, if I’m going to risk everything on one throw of the dice, it’s going to have to be before Christmas.’
‘Why is Christmas so important?’ asked Priscilla.
‘Because Camilla will be flying over from New Zealand, and she’s already written to Perry warning him that if “that woman” is among the house guests, then neither she nor
her husband nor Perry’s grandchildren, whom he adores, will be boarding the plane.’
‘She dislikes you that much?’
‘Even more than her late mother did, if that were possible. So if we’re going to do anything about it, time isn’t on my side.’
‘Then I’d better make that call,’ said Bofie.
‘Could you put me through to Nigel Dempster.’
‘Bofie, good to hear from you,’ said the next voice on the line. ‘What’s cooking?’
‘I’ve had a call from William Hickey at the
, Nigel. Of course, I refused to speak to them.’
‘I’m grateful for that, Bofie.’
‘Well, if the story has to come out, I’d much rather it was in your column.’
Dempster wrote down every word Bofie had to say, and was somewhat surprised because he’d always described Lord Bridgwater in his column as a ‘confirmed bachelor’. But there
wasn’t any question that this exclusive was coming straight from the horse’s mouth.
As soon as the
dropped on her doormat the following morning, Virginia immediately grabbed it. She ignored the front page headline ‘Divorce?’
above a photo of Rod and Alana Stewart, and quickly turned to Dempster’s column, to see the headline ‘Marriage?’ above a not very flattering photo of the Lady Virginia Fenwick in
Monte Carlo with Bofie.
As Virginia read Dempster’s lead story, she regretted ever letting Bofie loose.
A close family friend
(code for the subject of the story)
tells me that Lord Bridgwater is
hoping shortly to announce his engagement to the Lady Virginia Fenwick, the only daughter of the late Earl Fenwick. This might come as a surprise to my regular readers, because as recently as last
week, Lady Virginia was seen at a point-to-point on the arm of the Duke of Hertford. Watch this space.
Virginia read the article a second time, fearing that Bofie had over-egged the pudding, because you didn’t need to read between the lines to realize that Dempster didn’t believe a
word of it. She would have to call Perry and tell him it was all complete rubbish. After all, everyone knew Bofie was gay.
After several cups of coffee and even more false starts, Virginia finally picked up the phone and dialled Perry’s number in Eaton Square. It had just begun to ring when there was a knock
on her front door.
‘The Duke of Hertford’s residence,’ said a voice on the other end of the line that she immediately recognized.
‘It’s Lady Virginia, Lomax. I wondered if I might speak to—’
The knocking at the door continued.
‘I’m afraid his grace is not at home, my lady,’ said the butler.
‘Do you know when he’ll be back?’
‘No, my lady. He left in a hurry this morning, and gave no instructions. Would you like me to let him know you called?’
‘No thank you,’ said Virginia, putting down the phone. The knocking persisted like the hammering of a rent collector who knew you were inside.
She walked to the door in a daze, imagining Perry must have left for the country without her, for the first time in over a year. She needed time to think, but first she must get rid of whoever
it was at the door.
She opened it and was about to let loose on the intruder, only to find Perry, down on one knee. ‘Don’t tell me I’m too late, old gal,’ he said, looking up at her
‘Of course you’re not, Perry, but do get up.’
‘Not until you say you’ll marry me.’
‘Of course I will, my darling. I’ve already told Bofie you’re the only man in my life, but he won’t take no for an answer,’ she said as she helped the duke back on
to his feet.
‘I don’t want to hang about, old gal,’ he said. ‘I can see the finishing line, so we’d better get on with it.’
‘I understand exactly how you feel,’ said Virginia, ‘but don’t you think you should talk it over with your children before you make such an important decision?’
‘Certainly not. Fathers don’t ask their children’s permission to marry. In any case, I’m sure they’ll be delighted.’
Three weeks later, thanks to a tip from a family friend, Nigel Dempster printed an exclusive photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Hertford leaving Chelsea Register Office in the pouring rain.
And the happy couple
, wrote Dempster,
will be enjoying their honeymoon on the duke’s estate near Cortona, and plan to return to Castle Hertford to spend Christmas with the
HRISTMAS WITH THE
Hertfords was frosty inside as well as outside the castle. Even Clarence and Alice were clearly dismayed that their father had
married without informing them, while Camilla left no one – family or staff – in any doubt as to how she felt about the usurper.