The Richmond Diary
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AbeBooks Verkäufer seit 10. September 2002Anzahl: 1
Titel: The Richmond Diary
Verlag: Constable 2001
Zustand des Schutzumschlags: Dust Jacket Included
Auflage: 1st Edition
Über diesen Titel
When aesthete and society snob Francis Richmond died, he believed that no one would ever remember him. But he left behind him a diary, and when his heir, a young out- of-work actor, comes across it, he takes it to the newspapers.
Digby Price, owner of News Universal, wants revenge. He wants to destroy the Minister for Defence Procurement, Richard Tancred - and Richmond's diary tells of Tancred's involvement with a millionaire industrialist.
Price publishes. Tancred sues. As Price's council, Mordecai Ledbury QC prepares to meet his thrusting young opponent Patrick Foxley in the libel court, the industrialist commits suicide. Tancred's fate seems sealed.
But Tancred is planing his own courtroom exposure. What he has to reveal is more tragic than the political shame Richmond thought he had stumbled across.
Impossible to put down, this is brilliant courtroom drama with a plot that moves like clockwork and an ending that has a real sting in its tail.
Part OneChapter OneBolton Gardens, London. Tuesday, 16 AprilTomorrow I lunch with Kitty McClaren. Or Peregrine, as now his friends must call him. It is many years since he answered to the name of Kitty and certainly not these days – when he is a Right Honourable with a government car, an office in Whitehall and a Diary Secretary to organise his engagements. The voice on the telephone said ‘One o’clock, lunch at the Garrick Club, 17 April’, indicating how fortunate I was to have been granted an audience. ‘The Minister’, the voice went on, ‘must leave at two fifteen for the House. I trust that won’t be inconvenient.’He trusts right. An hour of Kitty will be quite long enough to get the gossip. When we meet I shall, of course, formally call him Perry. But it is as Kitty that I shall think of him, the undergraduate whom I used to visit at Cambridge thirty years ago. We’d take a punt on the river in the Backs behind King’s, he and his friends, with their shining young faces. Then he had the profile of a young god, golden hair falling over his forehead, startling blue eyes. Now he has thickened and his hair is receding.I myself have retained a full head of hair. I am told it makes me look much younger than my years, those years that, alas, advance so inexorably. Within weeks I reach the biblical three score years and ten. And lately I have not been feeling well. I am getting pains in the chest. I should see my quack, Peter Webster, but I am a coward and I keep putting it off.Wednesday, 17 AprilI was early at the Garrick. I am not a member, so I stood waiting for my host in the hall at the top of the steps within the swing doors.I saw the terrible Mordecai Ledbury struggling with his sticks up the steps. I thought of the friends that brute of a QC has bullied and insulted in the Law Courts, one a dear, close friend. He was halfway up the steps, so I fled to the loo. By the time I emerged, happily he had disappeared into the dining room.Kitty, of course, kept me waiting. He was twenty minutes late. The modern manners of our modern masters! Eventually I saw him emerge from a large black car. He bounded up the steps and flung his arms round my shoulders as though I were some constituent whose vote he was soliciting.At lunch he was as indiscreet as I hoped he might be. (How distressed he’d be to know that I am recording all he said. But he’ll not know. I write my journal for my own amusement and read it now and then as I lie in bed, and chuckle. When I am tired of it I shall destroy it. A bonfire of the memories!)Kitty declared that he likes government, especially now that he is in the Cabinet. He claimed that he gets on famously with the PM. He said that he liked the old man’s style, so much more patrician and elegant than any of his immediate predecessors, a welcome reversion to times past, before the modern ‘Cool Britannia’ men and women invaded Downing Street. Now this PM, Kitty said, has restored the place and the office. Kitty also enjoys listening to the old man’s stories, and the PM knows it and often takes him upstairs to the flat for a whisky and soda after an evening meeting in No. 10, and gossips about his colleagues. The Home Secretary, she of the populist style, is quite out of favour – confused performances in the House, too loquacious in Cabinet, while the Home Office resent her vulgar husband, who keeps dropping in.The Foreign Secretary, sharp, supercilious, dozes through Cabinet meetings and Tancred, Kitty suspected, was drinking rather heavily. However, Tancred has the ear of the PM who regards him as his political heir. I’m not sure exactly what is Tancred’s post in the Ministry, something to do with the Services. I asked about Tancred’s life, and Kitty shrugged and said he knew nothing. Tancred was a loner, solitary. A man of mystery. Kitty added that nowadays ministers have to be very careful, what with the media snooping and bribing, and the Cabinet Secretary and the M15 boys watching. ‘So continence,’ he said, winking at me, ‘rigorous continence, that’s the order of the day. You wouldn’t last long in government, my dear Fanny.’This irritated me. ‘Francis,’ I replied tartly, ‘Francis. Unless you wish me to call you Kitty.’ He has become more common since he has become important. I suppose it’s the company he keeps. But I shall stay in touch. The gossip amuses me.I passed the Dell where Nanny used to take me nearly seventy years ago. I remember the rabbits and the squirrels while she gossiped about her employers with her friends in their smart uniforms of grey or navy-blue. There are no nannies now in the Dell. Nor rabbits. In my childhood we had servants – a butler, a chauffeur, a cook, two parlour maids – and, of course, Nanny. Today, in my house off the Little Boltons with the studio used by Millais, I have only Mrs Evans and a daily, although, thank heaven, I am not poor.Wednesday, 24 AprilReception at the Italian Embassy for their visiting PM, a dapper little man who looked like the maître d’ in an inferior restaurant. I suppose I’d been asked because I’d written an article about Etruscan figurines for The Connoisseur last January. It caused quite a stir among the cognoscenti and at Sylvia Benedict’s a month ago the Cultural Attaché at the Italian Embassy complimented me.Amid the scrum I ran into Emerald Cunliffe, her lips as scarlet as a Rank starlet’s in a Forties movie. She said she was just back from spending Easter with Franco and Serena Pallocinni in Umbria. Such dears, she said, sighing. As though I didn’t know that she’s been sleeping with Franco for years. Or rather, was. I’m told she’s switched to the new Italian ambassador who arrived a month ago. But perhaps she’s enjoying both at the same time? Her appetite is insatiable.I have known her since she was a child when I was at Balliol with her much older half-brother, Bolton. She was then a scrubby little girl with braces on her teeth and from that moment for some reason she made me her confidant. I’ve seen her through affairs without number and through her marriage to the wretched Willie, whom she killed through sheer exhaustion. Now in her late forties, she is still remarkably handsome under the layer of paint – and still indomitable in her lusts. Or passions, as she would term them. But her skin is turning leathery – light tan colour under the powder – and her mouth much puckered, the result of her annual ‘lift’. But I am fond of her. Gallant is how I think of her.While we were talking, or rather she was talking, I saw the dark head and face of Tancred. He was talking to a tall, fleshy man with a sensuous mouth. At first I couldn’t place him. Then I remembered. Oscar Sleaven, the billionaire head of a vast manufacturing and property empire, one of whose companies, incidentally, pulled down the houses next to me and developed the site as a block of luxury flats. During the rebuilding I wrote, complaining about the noise and the dust, and received a very cool reply from a firm of lawyers called Levitt and Sleaven. The Sleaven is, I assume, some relation of Oscar Sleaven. I wrote again but got no reply. Typical!On my way out of the Embassy I ran into the young George Templeton, looking very bronzed and athletic. Why was this young man invited? For the Ambassadress?Friday, 3 MayKitty McClaren is in trouble! At least, his government is. If it falls he would be stripped of his official car and Diary Secretary – and I should lose a source of amusing gossip. Apparently the son of Kitty’s friend, the PM who takes him up to the flat in No. 10 and feeds him whisky, has been involved in some trade machinations in Japan and the Opposition are alleging improper influence for personal gain. The newspapers, especially the News and the Telegram, are full of it. There is to be a motion of censure next week. I tried to get hold of Kitty – to gloat, I’m afraid – but he’s gone to ground. Anyhow, I never got further than the superior young man in his Private Office. If the government falls and Kitty leaves office, and I lose what access to the few crumbs of insider gossip that Kitty condescended to fling me, I shan’t be too sorry, for Kitty has been corrupted – by the little power that the modern politician enjoys. He has become conceited to compensate, I suppose, for his loss of hair and swelling waistline. When we lunched together I sensed that he had coarsened. It is odd that political power, so transient and meretricious, can turn the head of even so basically harmless a creature as Kitty. Of course, he was always weak. It is his charm that got him where he is.Thursday, 16 MayDinner at Sylvia Benedict’s. Another female sexual athlete to whom I am also close, a great friend of Emerald Cunliffe. They hunt in pairs, searching out their prey.But I had quite a shock when I entered the salon: Mordecai Ledbury, sitting in a chair, looking as ugly as sin, his two sticks obscenely poking up between his legs, talking to a woman I didn’t know but who seemed oddly taken by him. I have heard it said that, despite his hideous appearance, some women actually like him! Why I cannot imagine. It is rare to see him in society, so how dare Sylvia invite him! She should know what her friends think of him. Fortunately it was a large party and I managed to avoid him.Royalty was present – but I was not presented, which was rude of Sylvia. Food as inferior as ever. On my left, Sylvia’s daughter-in-in-law, the wife of the young earl. She talked about children and the school run. To me, of all people! As though I could conceivably be interested. I endured her, just, through the fish and when the overdone tournedos arrived I turned thankfully to the woman on my right – handsome, with masculine features, a creamy white skin and a mole beside her mouth. She seemed to think I should know who she was but I didn’t. After some fencing I discovered she was a journalist, Julia Priest, who has a column in Ogilvy Grant’s Telegram and does political ‘pieces’ on TV. She seemed very taken by some woman minister in the government called, I think, Patsy Something who, the journalist said, wrote poetry. She waxed quite enthusiastic about this political poetess. Both Sapphics, I assume. She enquired if I knew any of the Ministry. I said only Peregrine McClaren – and Tancred slightly, once upon a time. I hadn’t seen anything of him for some years. She asked what I thought of Tancred. He’s said to be very able, I said. And honest? I suppose so, I replied flatly. But I did not say it convincingly. I kept thinking of seeing him talking with the vile, unspeakable Sleaven. Radical? she asked. No, said I, not radical. Promiscuous? I don’t think so, I replied. Celibate, monklike, I have been told.After dinner I was cornered by Emerald until the odious Digby Price, the proprietor of the other newspaper group, News Universal, joined us. He ignored me and talked to her in his grating South African accent. He lives in Paris with, I believe, some Hungarian woman. But he changes his women as often as he changes his vulgar ties and I am told that the Hungarian is on her way out.I moved on and talked a little with Sylvia and a military man with a military moustache whose name I did not catch. I assumed they were lovers. Or had been lovers for, like Emerald, she changes her men so often that the body language may only have been a farewell salute – to a former love. What she could see in the stupid fellow I do not understand.Later Kitty arrived from the House, jubilant. He said the motion of censure had been easily defeated, the government won the vote – and the debate. The Opposition had been crushed. Tancred had made a brilliant speech, without a note, defending the PM. ‘He’s a clever devil,’ Kitty said proudly. But is he honest? I thought to myself, echoing the woman journalist as again I thought of his intimacy with Oscar Sleaven. However, I said nothing. Kitty looked so pleased with himself. He was almost affectionate. So my small window into the shabby world of politics remains ajar.Saturday, 1 June to Sunday, 2 JuneOn the Saturday morning I drove to Wainscott for a weekend with Sylvia and arrived just before lunch. A large house party including a charming and handsome young actor called Job Streatley and, to my surprise, Tancred. Later, to my increased surprise, the awful Oscar Sleaven and his wife Ethel arrived. After luncheon I noted that the young actor was in the garden alone so I joined him. He said his ambition was to play Richard II at the National. I told him he’d make an excellent Richard. He took me by the arm. ‘Do you really think so?’ he said. I was quite affected.After changing for dinner I came across Tancred with Oscar Sleaven, both as yet unchanged, in the library. Tancred had a sheet of paper in his hand. When they saw me Sleaven said, ‘We must be late’ and they hurried off to change. As they passed I couldn’t resist saying to Sleaven, ‘How’s business?’ He smiled, or rather leered, but said nothing. Tancred yet again with Oscar Sleaven! Why? What have they in common? What are they up to?At dinner I was next to Henrietta Plaistow. She is the kind of Englishwoman who doesn’t bathe sufficiently and it is noticeable. Like Sylvia and Emerald, she is voracious sexually. How her lovers stand the body odour I cannot imagine.Next morning, just before lunch, Tancred and Sleaven came in – from a stroll, they said.Emerald brought over her house party from The Waves for lunch. The Italian Ambassador, of course, and his wife; the journalist Julia Priest and another woman of about forty with short hair and a clever, interesting face. I sat next to her. She said she had been a don at Cambridge but was now in the Lords and the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. Not many decades ago, I thought, she’d have had the Metropolitan Police enquiring into my then illegal activities. Not that there’s any activity now!I asked if she had much to do with Perry McClaren and she said she did. She found him very agreeable. Trust Kitty, I thought. What exactly is Tancred’s post in the Ministry? I asked. He’s Minister for Defence Procurement, she said briskly, and in charge of defence exports. Is that, I thought, Sleaven’s interest? Is that why the pair are so intimate?While we talked I saw Julia Priest looking at us across the table and smiling. So my luncheon neighbour must be the Patsy of whom the journalist had spoken so fondly at Sylvia’s dinner party. An improbable poetess, I thought. But then, lovers rarely see the beloved as he or she really is.In the afternoon I overheard Job tell Sylvia that he had to get back to London for an interview with a producer. I pretended I had a dinner engagement and gave him a lift.2 JulySome weeks ago I accepted an invitation to dine at the Inner Temple with my brother-in-law, Henry Baines, at one of their Private Guest Nights, black tie.Henry is a bore, a Chancery Judge, very much the Learned Friend, but he was kind to my disagreeable sister Eileen who died two years ago after twenty years of marriage. How they tolerated each other I never understood but they seemed reasonably content and, to give Henry his due, he was bereft after her death. I do not willingly endure the company of lawyers but I feel obligated to dine with him from time to time.Quite an interesting collection of guests. Tancred was one, the guest of the Lord Chief Justice who, I later noticed...
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