Friday, 29 June 2012

December : The Abdication Crisis

Tilling had been deeply shocked by the terrible incident when the deranged Miss Lyall had launched her employer Lady Ambermere in a bath chair from the top of the Church Steps in an attempt to kill its Mayor and Chief Magistrate, Lucia Pillson.   

Such a brutal crime passionel was rare on the Sussex coast, particularly where the weapon of choice was a vintage wicker and cast iron invalid carriage. 

Lucia Pillson remained in Tilling Hospital for several days after what came to be  known as,  "the assassination attempt" as her severely sprained ankle and broken collar bone were treated.

Since the word reminded her of  "clavichord" and thus sounded more musical, Lucia preferred to refer to her  fracture as "my badly shattered clavicle."

Lucia came to enjoy holding court from her bed in the small side room in the Ladies' Surgical Ward.

Her husband Georgie visited  several times a day, bringing  flowers, books and correspondence. He was usually accompanied in the morning by her secretary, who came armed with her shorthand note book and pencils to take letters and a folder with blotting paper pages in a Morocco cover embossed with "The Mayor's Correspondence" containing letters typed and ready for her signature.

In the afternoons, the Mayor often received  reports from her Town Clerk on Council business, or the Chief  Magistrate was attended by the Clerk to the Justices upon Court matters or by Inspector Morrison with warrants and summonses to sign.

In the evening, visitors tended to be  private rather than civic and, as friends gathered, her room resembled a levee of Catherine the Great or Marie Antoinette.

In this way, during these early days in December, Lucia's room in Women's Surgical became the epicentre of civic and social life in Tilling, just as "Mallards House" normally was.

As well as ensuring that her civic responsibilities were carried out as efficiently as usual during this period of recuperation, Lucia used the opportunity to ensure that no blame or resentment had attached to her or her husband following  the gratuitous rudeness of Lady Ambermere during the dinner party in her honour.

Lucia took the very first opportunity of visits to her bedside by Algernon and Susan Wyse and the Padre, Kenneth Bartlett and his wife Evie to apologise unreservedly for the lack of good manners which had taken place under her roof.  She unreservedly took complete responsibility for  Her Ladyship's behaviour.

Lucia knew full well that, given her own injuries, the Wyses and Bartletts could not possibly do anything else but give her immediate and complete absolution.  
Naturally,  it came to pass that they did and the issue was laid to rest forever.

Well before the end of Lucia's hospitalisation,  Lady Ambermere was deemed fit to return to Riseholme.

Her Ladyship was driven back to  Worcestershire by Jenkins in her Rolls Royce. On the return journey, nothing was strapped to the roof.

The original Ambermere bath chair lay shattered in pieces where it had come to grief against a horse trough at the foot of the Church Steps, which remained officially a "crime scene."

The venerable Cornelia Ambermere was accompanied on the journey home by a newly-retained State Registered Nurse who sat in the front with Jenkins as Miss Lyall had done, crisply efficient in freshly-laundered  blue and white uniform and stiffly starched  head dress.

Miss Lyall appeared before Tilling Magistrates, chaired by Harold Twistevant in Lucia's absence and was remanded in custody whilst medical reports were prepared as to mental capacity and fitness to plead.   

Ever decorous, Tilling reacted in a kind and thoughtful manner to the indisposition of its Mayor.    

The infant’s class at Tilling Juniors produced a large card bearing the hand prints of all pupils with a multi-coloured exhortation,  “Get Well Soon, Mrs. Pillson!”  

“No budding Leonardo’s there then,” mused Georgie.    

Lucia was touched by a basket of largely overripe bananas and pears from Harold Twistevant, who to the surprise of none, “had still not heard from our Floss or Nell or received a forwarding address.”   

Concerned lest the Mayor should be receiving insufficient nutrition during her stay in hospital, Diva Plaistow arrived each day with a plate of sardine tartlets unsold in Ye Olde Tea Shoppe.   

After a previous unfortunate experience with one such savoury, Lucia had made it a rule – albeit a discreet one – never to touch Diva’s tartlets, which even her closest friends considered at best “questionable.”   

Lucia soon made an arrangement with the understanding Ward Sister to dispose of them in the sluice next to the ward promptly after Diva’s departure each day.    

Typically solicitous were the Wyses, who brought cordial greeting and delicious honey and figs from the Contessa di Faraglione in Capri.   

The only exception to these genteel and understated expressions of concern was Quaint Irene Coles, who was naturally of a volatile artistic temperament and had the strongest of feelings for Lucia, ever since she had moved to Tilling from Riseholme.   

Irene’s veritable schwarm often exceeded mere admiration and amounted to adoration.    
Upon hearing of the unpleasantness suffered at the hands of Miss Lyall, Irene rushed to Tilling  Hospital and remained there until absolutely satisfied that her heroine was well on the road to recovery.   

On the day of what she referred to as “the Atrocity,” Irene begged the Consultant to take as much of her blood as might be needed for transfusion. She also pleaded that he should take any organ, whether vital or otherwise, needed by her beloved.   

When dusk was falling, Irene proposed an all-night candlelight vigil of all residents of the town to pray for Lucia’s recovery and to sing uplifting and encouraging songs.   

Fortunately, Irene was eventually dissuaded by the Padre from doing so, on the basis that a broken collar bone and sprained ankle were not usually deemed life-threatening in 1936. The Padre suggested that such mass invocations to the Almighty were perhaps best saved for cases of real need.

Upon hearing of Miss Lyall's motives for attempted murder, Irene was furious with Georgie and bursting with recriminations for his irresponsible flaunting of his admittedly implausible allure.  

She railed against his repeated flirting over the years, which she felt led on the poor deluded spinster and held him solely responsible for the injuries suffered by Lucia.

In his defence Georgie could quite reasonably point out that he was only trying to be kind to Miss Lyall and to brighten her drab existence at her unpleasant employer's beck and call. "She would have to have been insane to have taking my friendly little jokes seriously," he complained, before realising that she had been deranged and did take his drolleries at face value, "Whoops," he added. Irene took this as an admission of guilt.

When Lucia's full recovery was apparent, Irene calmed somewhat.  She desisted from her campaign of slander against Georgie and merely maintained a surly silence towards him. 

In truth, however fallacious,  Georgie had been quite flattered to be cast as a Lothario, whom Miss Lyall found irresistible and whose manly charms drove her to an impetuous crime of passion.  

It had never really occurred to Georgie that of all the charms he might possess, he had any very manly ones at all, let alone such that might be singled out for special attention.

Eventually, Lucia was discharged from Tilling Hospital and sadly relinquished the side ward where she had so enjoyed holding court. 

After thanking the nurses for her care and distributing thank you gifts of flowers and chocolates, the Mayor hobbled toward the exit, with one arm leaning on Georgie and the other in a sling, "All good things come to an end," she thought.

After her discharge, Lucia looked forward to a few quiet days at home in Georgie’s company.   
She realised that she had been rather neglecting him recently and proposed to make up for it by delaying her return to the daily round of shopping, bridge and the exchange of news in Tilling. Mayoral and magistrates business would, however, continue to be given its usual priority.   

“A few days enjoying each other’s company a deux and engaging in civilised pursuits – our dear neglected books,  correspondence, music and conversation - will be the tonic that we both need," she thought.   

Initially, after dinner each evening, Georgie played a few  of Lucia’s favourite pieces on the piano.   

Then Georgie surprised Lucia by placing before her the piano part from The Piano Concerto for One Hand in D Major.  

“Oh Georgie, how kind!” exclaimed Lucia “What a sweet thought. I have been longing to play again. But apart from being hors de combat, I’m so terribly rusty. And it looks dwefful diffy!”

“Nonsense Lucia,” reassured Georgie, “The concerto was written by Maurice Ravel six or so years ago for Paul Wittgenstein.”   

“Wasn’t he a German philosopher?” queried Lucia.    

“No this is another one: an Austrian  pianist, who lost his right arm during the War. I thought that, until your shoulder is better and you can play with two hands again, this might be an entertaining challenge.  Also, I remember Olga told me once that Alfred Cortot had made rather a speciality of this concerto and you know how much you  admire Cortot.  You even have his primer on "Rational Pianoforte Technique." Do say you will try it.”   

“Very well, Georgie,” said Lucia, who had been scanning the music with some apprehension, “ I’m sure there are some challenging submerged tenths in the scherzo here. It goes very fast and you know how I struggle with them. With all these different rhythms, ‘oo mustn’t be cwoss with your Lucia if she gets it all wong, will ‘oo?”    

“No dear,” sighed Georgie, Now uno, due ,tre!”     

In addition to stimulating her mind, Lucia did what she could to expedite her physical recovery.   

Her favourite aid to health and beauty, “Callisthenics For Those No Longer Young” contained a chapter aimed at "the ill and infirm" which contained exercises to be practised whilst seated or for cases where participants were restricted in the number of functioning limbs available.

Lucia considered trying out the exercises in her giardino segreto, but had bitter memories of the last occasion she had done so, when Elizabeth Mapp had spied on her from the church tower.  

“No,” thought Lucia, “Sadly, my giardino certainly isn’t ‘segreto’ enough. Only my bedroom will offer sufficient  privacy.”   

Accordingly, in so far as her damaged ankle and clavicle permitted, Lucia practised as many of the exercises recommended by her invaluable manual as she could safely manage.    

Pride did not permit Lucia to appear in public limping or, worse still, in a wheelchair.    

Tilling’s formidable cobbles and steeper by-ways were also a material disincentive to setting foot or wheel outside the precincts of "Mallards House".  

Georgie therefore suggested that it might be opportune to entertain a few selected intimes for tea and bridge at “Mallards House” by way of a gentle re-entry into society.   
In the middle of the morning before the planned bridge tea, Inspector Morrison called at “Mallards House.”   

On being shown into the Garden Room, he presented a batch of warrants to the Chief Magistrate for signature.   

“Is there anything else Inspector?” asked Lucia, screwing the top back on her Mont Blanc fountain pen.  

“Two things actually, Mrs Pillson,” replied the Inspector, “First, I wanted to update you on the situation regarding Miss Lyall.”  

“Oh, yes, we have been wondering. How is she now?”  

“I am sorry to report, she is much worse,” he explained, "In the hospital, patients are allowed to wear their own clothes and, in the last few days, Miss Lyall has insisted on wearing only a wedding dress and long veil.”   

“Oh, dear,” sighed Lucia.   

“Miss Lyall sits all day on the edge of her bed, totally still with her hands folded on her lap repeating over and over, ‘I am waiting for my dearest Georgie to come and take me away.  We are to be married today, you know.'”

“Mr Pillson will be most upset to hear this Inspector; he blames himself even though he has done nothing wrong. And now Miss Lyall has turned into a sort of pocket Miss Haversham straight from the pages of ‘Great Expectations’ has she not?

“I am afraid she has, Mrs Pillson. The doctors advise that her mental condition has deteriorated and that this delusion may well be permanent. Only time will tell.”   

“Do you think it might help at all if Mr Pillson and I went to visit her?”    

“I did anticipate that question and raised it with the doctors, Ma’am.”   

“The doctors say it may be dangerous to confront Miss Lyall with reality at this stage, since she is in such a fragile state. They recommend that she be left to stabilise with a period of calm. Options can then be reconsidered in a few weeks time in the light of her condition then.”   

“Very well, Inspector, pray advise the hospital authorities that you have briefed me and that my husband and I remain most anxious to do whatever we can to assist poor Miss Lyall’s recovery as and when they wish to call upon us for help.  Now, what was the other issue you wished to mention?”    

“Oh yes, its a private matter really,” replied Inspector Morrison. "I wanted to inquire if you think you will be sufficiently recovered from your injuries to attend the concert at the Albert Hall in aid of the Police Benevolent Fund on 10th December? You may remember I let you have tickets several months ago.”    

“Oh yes, Inspector, I do hope so. My ankle is nearly recovered and I see no reason not to attend with my arm in a sling, if necessary. I have arranged for Mrs Greele to alter my gown to add a little cape to shield my right shoulder if needs be.”    

“If you don’t mind me saying, that is very good news,” replied the Inspector.  

“We wouldn’t have missed it for anything. You may know that the prima donna Miss Olga Bracely who will be topping the bill has been a close personal friend of ours for many years – in fact from our days in Riseholme before we even thought of moving to Tilling.”   

“Yes, I think I did know that,” answered the Inspector.   

“Dear Olga has agreed to join us for supper after the Gala. If you are free perhaps you and Mrs Morrison will also join us?”    

“Thank you Mrs Pillson. That sounds wonderful. I will check with my wife regarding baby-sitting arrangements. I believe that Bunty’s mother is having the children that night, so hopefully it will not matter if we return from London a  little later than we originally planned.”  

“Excellent Inspector, I will telephone the Embassy Club to alter our reservation to a table for five rather than the original three.”

Normal life returned to "Mallards House" that afternoon at three 'o clock. when guests began to arrive for the first “post-assassination attempt bridge tea.”   

Today’s two tables comprised three pairs, the hosts, Wyses and Bartletts and two singletons, Diva Plaistow and Irene Coles.    

Although all present had visited Lucia virtually every day during her stay in Tilling Hospital, there was much news to share over tea and bridge.

Conversation naturally began with the Mapp-Flints, who were still staying with family in Maidstone.   

Diva reported that only yesterday she had received another postcard from Elizabeth. This time the card was in sepia and featured the floral clock outside the town’s  new central public library.  

On the back, Elizabeth confirmed that “my Benjy boy is fighting fit and benefiting enormously from a regime of strict abstinence and plain living away from it all.”

“I am not entirely sure what Elizabeth means by that,” sniffed Diva.

“It sounds as though he is benefiting from being away from us!” suggested Irene, “And particularly the saloon bar in the Traders Arms.”  

“I suppose only time will tell,” mused Lucia in her special judicial voice which she had developed on the Bench in Tilling, “Does she say when they will be returning?”  

“They hope to come back well before Christmas,” replied Diva.   

“We must all offer our hospitality and carry on as if nothing untoward had happened,” commented Lucia, “Good friends will simply ignore their reduced circumstances and also recognise that they may need some time to gather themselves before entering the fray in Tilling again,”  

“Absolutely, Lucia,” joked Georgie, “Tilling is notorious for it’s ‘fray.’”

“Don’t tease Georgie, I’m sure our friends all know exactly what I meant.”   

 As all at present nodded in assent, Lucia continued, “Now shall we have a friendly rubber or two of bridge?”   
As ever, the first game, in which the hosts played the Wyses and the Bartlett’s Diva and Irene, was a quiet and tense affair marked by few words and rapt concentration. 

During the second game, Grosvenor deposited a frothing glass of redcurrant fool before each player.  

After sipping her glass cautiously, Susan Wyse said to Lucia,” The Poppit Family recipe, if I am not mistaken?”

“Yes, it is Susan dear” replied Lucia with a smile, “Always ,the sincerest form of flattery, don’t you think?”

“Indeed, I do, thank you,” replied Susan, lifting her glass towards her hostess by way of toast.

“A delicious decoction, if you don’t mind me saying,” remarked Algernon Wyse, continuing “Simultaneously refreshing and warming.”   

“Hardly surprising given the amount of old brandy and champagne required,” said Georgie with a grin, joining in the ongoing round of toasting.   

Once the Mapp-Flints had been discussed, the players turned to the only other current item of news. It had been absorbing the attention of the entire country and a good proportion of the world for the last few days.   
“Did anyone happen to see the report in ‘The Times’ of the Bishop of Bradford’s speech on the first of the month?” asked Algernon Wyse, in the manner of someone lighting the blue touch paper and standing well back.    

“Yes, I did,” replied Diva Plaistow, “He said the King needed ‘divine grace.’  I thought to myself at the time, ‘What on earth does that mean? Don’t we all need it?’  Now we know exactly what he meant!”  

“The newspapers this morning seemed to tell the whole sorry story,” commented the Padre, “I wouldn’t let my Evie read them because of it.”

“’Far too shocking for me’, Kenneth said,” squeaked Evie, who had clearly by now ensured that she was fully informed by other means and did not appear any more sullied that usual following the process.    

“It seems the King wants to marry this American woman, called 'Wallis Simpson', but that she has been married and divorced twice before,” explained the Padre.   

“And she’s a commoner,” added Evie.   

“Commoner than most, it seems,” remarked Georgie.    

“Aye ‘tis unconscionable, the Church will never, ever permit it!” thundered the Padre, remembering his brogue and by way of compensation producing a doom-laden Scots Calvinist inflection, somewhere between John Knox and Lord Reith.   

“I must admit that – like most of the upper echelons in society – we did know about this difficult subject many months ago. It has been in the European and American papers for ages,” remarked Algernon Wyse in a superior manner, guaranteed to irritate.

“Yes, Algernon is quite correct” added Susan, “Back in August, the Continental press was brimming with photographs and the most lurid speculation when the King took her on the cruise on the Nahlin down the Dalmatian coast and then on to Greece and Turkey.”   

“Yes, Susan, I remember that my sister Amelia sent us all the cuttings. It seems that the King does enjoy long holidays.”  

“Well, if you knew all that so long ago, why on earth didn’t you tell us?” asked Irene, becoming increasingly irate, “We are only His Majesty’s loyal subjects. We obey the law and pay our taxes and yet it’s us who are the very last to know – after every French onion seller and American soda jerk, it seems!”

“I do understand what you are saying, Irene,” said Susan as soothingly as she could, “But having visited Buckingham Palace and received my precious Order of Member of the British Empire directly from the late King himself – May God rest his soul – I felt oblige not to gossip or indulge in common title tattle about private matters. After all, Queen Mary did smile right at me and said, ‘So pleased.’ I felt a family tie, so to speak, you know, ‘noblesse oblige.’”   

“Well it’s too late now and for what it’s worth, I think it was jolly rotten of you to keep it to yourselves, so there!” blustered Irene, “And don’t forget, charity begins at home.”   

“Thank you,” replied Susan, wholly unconvinced, “I am sure we will do our best to remember.”     

“Well, I think, it’s a terrible state of affairs,” remarked Diva, “Our handsome young King who is so charming and gifted and has the world at his feet is being led astray by a twice-divorced American. We know next to nothing about her!”    

“I must admit, I did think that the whole point of having a Royal Family with all those rules about standards of behaviour and things you couldn’t have done and still be admitted into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, was to stop people like her in their tracks,” said Georgie.    

“So what do we actually know now about this Mrs Simpson?” asked Lucia, taking a forensic approach and employing her Chief Magistrate’s voice in doing so.   
“Well, let us see what certainty we have gleaned from the newspapers this morning,” said Georgie, “Her name is 'Wallis Warfield Simpson' and she is an American.”  

“Just like my previous secretary,” laughed Lucia.  

“She came from Baltimore and was married to a man called ‘Ernest.’”

“Just like my secretary,” said Lucia.

“From the press photographs, she is slim, tall, with dark shingled hair and fashionably dressed.”  

“Again, she matches my secretary exactly,” confirmed Lucia, “You don’t think? Do you?” asked Lucia, for once anxious.  

“Surely not; it must be just a coincidence,” replied Georgie, “Let us look at it from a different angle. We know the Prince of Wales visited Tilling?”   

“Indeed, Georgie, when most of Tilling was out scouring the golf links trying to catch sight of him, he was wandering around the town. By legend, he even sat on the steps of ‘Mallards House’ and smoked a cigarette.”  

“And do we know if your secretary ever met him?”   

“Well Georgie, we do know that after leaving my employment she went to work for Lord Ardingly. We also know for certain that the Prince of Wales frequently visited Ardingly Hall for weekends during that period.”  

“And then she left Lord Ardingly's employment and moved to London, if I remember rightly?” asked Georgie.   

“Yes, and I haven’t heard from her since, not even a Christmas card.”    

“Well, taking all the evidence into consideration, I must admit it does appear that your Mrs Simpson and the King’s may be one and the same, Lucia.” concluded Georgie.   

“Oooh!” squeaked Evie in excitement and, out of sight, several dogs in the town began to wail.   

“Well, I think it’s jolly romantic,” piped Irene.  

“I’m not sure that everyone will agree with you,” remarked Georgie, “I read that Mr Churchill said recently ‘And why shouldn’t the King marry his cutie?’ and Noel Coward replied,”Because the Country doesn’t want a Queen Cutie!’   

“Absolutely right, Mr Georgie!” blustered the Padre, “The Church and the People will nae stand for it!”   

“Nor will the Dominions!” added Susan Wyse, “We mustn’t forget the Dominions. I am sure that the Empire will not accept a divorced Queen!”   

“It is all very unsettling and unseemly,” remarked Lucia, “And I am utterly dismayed that it seems that Tilling and even ‘Mallards House' may have some connection to this tawdry affair.”    

“And whatever must Queen Mary be thinking?” sympathised Georgie.    

“Indeed Georgie, pray let us continue with our bridge and turn to more savoury topics.  The moment for redcurrant fool seems to have passed. Foljambe may we have some fresh tea please?”   

Over the next few days, the issue of the King and Mrs Simpson dominated conversation in Tilling.   

On street corners, outside shops, in saloon bars and around family fireplaces, many new and arcane topics were discussed ranging from the choice of Ipswich for divorce proceedings to the possibility of morganatic marriage and the role of a Consort as opposed to Queen.  

 The state of public opinion at home and in the Dominions was discussed constantly and considerable anxiety was expressed over the possible implications of the emergence of a King’s Party, led by Mr Churchill.   

Overnight many surprising self-declared experts emerged on constitutional, ecclesiastical and divorce law amongst plumbers and shop girls and emotions ran higher as each day passed.   

Many of Edward’s supporters, such as Irene Coles,  felt he was being hounded from his throne by the Prime Minister Mr Baldwin and a cabal of narrow-minded reactionaries.  

More establishment figures, such as Algernon Wyse and the Padre, were shocked by the King’s  self-indulgence and apparent dereliction of duty. They referred often to the pain being inflicted upon his poor mother Queen Mary and were frankly relieved that he might stand down.  
In addition to worrying about the constitutional crisis in common with the rest of Tilling and keeping up with her steady stream of duties as Mayor and Chief Magistrate, Lucia Pillson needed to focus upon her recovery and prepare for attendance at the forthcoming Grand Gala in aid of the Police Benevolent Fund at the Albert Hall.

Despite her injured shoulder, Lucia was now able to make the short journey, albeit in her Rolls Royce driven by Cadman, from "Mallards House" to Miss Greele’s establishment in the High Street.

Miss Greele was still the doyenne of dressmaking and alterations in Tilling and well-qualified to make the necessary modifications to Lucia’s gown for the Gala.

As Lucia had hoped, they settled upon an understated chiffon cape to mask the sling which still protected her clavicle, now in the advanced stages of healing.  

Amidst this positive maelstrom of national and local anxieties, Tilling welcomed back the Mapp-Flints from their self-imposed rest-cure and exile in Maidstone.

A vegan diet, total abstinence from alcohol and thrice-daily bible study and prayer group appeared to have had a profound effect on Benjamin Mapp-Flint.

He had lost several inches from his waist and had developed a grey pallor and glassy-eyed demeanour.

When visiting Diva Plaistow’s establishment for tea and bridge, Elizabeth appeared her usual self. 

Her distinctive teeth loomed as large as ever and her cloying, sugary sweetness was replaced instantly with vitriol as and when she deemed the occasion demanded. Elizabeth remained the epitome of the matronly cobra.   
The Major, however, was a pale shadow of his former self. 

He carried his wife’s Prayer Book to church and held it open for her during their devotions like a superannuated and oversized cherub.  

Benjy deferred to “my dear Elizabeth” at all times and was shockingly pleasant in conversation and during bridge.

Although he still played golf regularly, he never did so for money or shared a friendly wager with the Padre that had always added such spice to their games.   

Instead of spending hours propping up the bar in the clubhouse with his cronies, Benjy now returned to “Grebe” promptly after each round.

Nowadays, the Major was also never seen in his other favourite watering hole, the saloon bar of the Trader’s Arms and could be found instead studying improving tracts in the reading room of the public library next to Tilling Institute.   

In discourse, he showed none of the irritability and intolerance that were his usual trademark and increasingly spoke only when spoken to and offered nothing more. 

It appeared as though the mustachioed Major of yore, who used to be Sporting Benjy in his Regiment, had left his very soul in a dingy single room in a down-at-heel bed and breakfast hotel in Seaport.   
The Pillsons were relieved when  Lucia’s recovery from injuries received at the hands of Miss Lyall progressed well enough for her to be able to attend the Police Benevolent Fund Gala at the Albert Hall in London.   

The Mayoral ankle had recovered fully, although it seemed wise not yet to attempt ballroom dancing.   

Her shoulder injury was much improved but still required the support of a discreet sling and would be marked by a charming cape in chiffon created by Miss Greele.   

Since they planned to travel together to the concert, the Pillsons invited the Morrison's for drinks before they set off.   

Arriving promptly at 6.30, Herbert and Bunty joined their hosts for champagne and canapés in the Garden Room. 

Inspector Morrison looked smart in his dress uniform and medals, whilst his wife was elegant in an understated evening gown in black velvet. Unusually for Bunty,  her hair was swept up in a fashionable chignon.  

“You look charming Mrs Morrison,” said Lucia as she greeted her guests, “And the Inspector is so distinguished in his uniform – and so many medals.”  

“Thank you Mrs Pillson,” Bunty replied, “It is wonderful to see you looking so well again. We are happy that you have recovered enough to attend the Gala.”    

“And thank you for giving us a lift,” added Herbert.

“Our pleasure; we have been looking forward to your company this the evening,” said Georgie, “Some champagne?”

The Gala Performance in the Albert Hall had been sold-out completely for several months and was a highlight of the social calendar in December that year.

Lucia enjoyed the occasion enormously and was delighted to see many old friends – and many famous figures whom she would later describe as her personal friends – from her prominent box.

“I spoke to Adele Brixton and Poppy Sheffield during the interval,” enthused Lucia, “We had an opportunity to exchange memories about old times and our season in Brompton Square, when we lost our dearest Aunt Amy. It was such fun seeing them again. Adele said something strange about how they were ‘all still ardent Luciaphiles.’ I don’t really know what she was implying, but shall certainly take it as a compliment, I think.”    

Georgie knew exactly what Adele Brixton had meant, but thought it best to leave well alone and  continued,  “I tried to steer clear of Poppy after that funny business under the dinner table at Olga’s villa in Le Touquet,” said Georgie, adding bitterly “But she still patted my face and said I had ‘an adorable little beard.’”    

“And we bumped into Sophie Alingsby and lovely Stephen Merriall on our way in,” added Lucia.

“He hasn’t changed at all,” commented Georgie sourly, “And he is far too old to dress like that.  Velvet smoking jacket and a lace ruff; he looked like little Lord Fauntleroy. Bizarre in a man of his advanced years.”   

Ignoring her husband’s critique, Lucia continued, “And I saw Chips Channon wedged in between Herr Von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador and Nancy Cunard in the crush bar” gushed Lucia.  

“A sort of Chip sandwich,” mused Georgie, silently, “He would like that..”    

Olga Bracely topped the bill at the Albert Hall Gala and, consummate diva that she was, plundered her extensive repertoire to give the audience exactly what it wanted.

Highlights, to which her adoring Georgie had been particularly looking forward, included Sir William Sterndale Bennett's, “Come live with me,” Bach’s “Du Mein Glaubige Herz and Purcell’s  “I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to fly.”  

Transported, the audience jumped to its feet in a thunderous ovation. After several curtain calls and many bouquets, the star of the evening was persuaded to perform several encores and completed the proceedings with a simple and perfect rendition of  Henry Carey's “Sally in our Alley “ to her own piano accompaniment.

Elated, the Pillsons and Morrisons made their way to the Embassy Club, where their reserved table awaited.

On arrival, Georgie ordered champagne for the table to celebrate the artistic and financial success of the Gala.  

Before long, the rattle of cutlery against glassware and a ripple of applause indicated that the star of the evening had arrived.   

Olga Bracely in full prima donna mode, made her way through the tables accepting the applause and stopping occasionally to embrace friends and to accept congratulations from well-wishers, many of whom had just witnessed her triumph in Knightsbridge.

“Champagne, this instant darling!” she commanded Georgie breathlessly as she eventually reached the table and collapsed into a chair.

After being introduced to the Morrisons, Olga sipped her champagne and lit a cigarette at the end of a long holder, “I do hope you enjoyed the Gala. I thought it went quite well, didn’t it?”

Olga was quickly reassured by all present that the evening and particularly her performance had been a delight.”

“Delicious,” said Georgie.

“A triumph!” added Lucia.

“Splendid,” confirmed Herbert. 

“So perfect, that I wish I could sit through it all again,” concluded Bunty.

“Thank heavens for that !” replied Olga, "I did think it went rather well, but you don’t like to take these things for granted. Now, let us have some supper. After all that singing I’m always ravenous. Where's the menu.”   

Once orders for supper had been placed, conversation naturally turned  to the historic news that the King had that very day signed the Instrument of Abdication.

"They said on the wireless that Mr Baldwin announced this to the House of Commons," explained Lucia, "Tomorrow Parliament will endorse it and the shortest reign since Lady Jane  Grey will be over."

"I do hope that they will let him speak to his people," said Georgie, "I suppose we will just have to wait and see."

As their  first courses were served, Olga continued to smile and  wave to numerous acquaintances .

"You seem to know so many people here," remarked Bunty, "Do you come to the Embassy Club often?"
"I'm afraid I do, Bunty. It's so convenient if one is appearing in London. I love to come here or to Quaglino's and so do most of my friends," she said, as she blew a kiss to Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence at their table across the room.
Despite her star status, Olga took a genuine interest in the Morrisons and particularly their twin son and daughter.
Before long, firm plans had been made for a visit to Undercliff  Villas for tea during Olga's next visit to Tilling.
As the evening continued and the wine flowed, Olga was able to share a little gossip and insider information with her new friends.
"That's David's usual table over there," she pointed, "I  can remember the days when he used to come  with Thelma Furness, long before he met Wallis. In those days Thelma used to call him 'The Little Prince.' That seems a hundred years ago now. David and Wallis tend not to come here now - for obvious reasons."
"I'm sorry to be naive, but in what way 'obvious'?" asked Bunty disarmingly.
"Well, with her divorce proceedings, and Ernest being the 'guilty party,' they have had to be very careful and discreet," explained Olga," The innocent spouse has to be whiter than white. Even now after the decree nisi, there is still the possibility that a so-called 'patriotic citizen' will intervene to block the divorce."
"Is that likely?" asked Georgie.
"As you know, Georgie dear, I'm just a poor Brixton girl made-good," laughed Olga, "But in my circle we don't seem to have talked about anything else  for months and I'm quite an expert on divorce law now!"
"And if someone does throw mud at Mrs Simpson, what happens then,"
"Well, Georgie, if they can show that the innocent party Wallis was not exactly innocent or that the guilty party Ernest colluded , connived or staged  his so-called 'adultery,' the  divorce might be quashed ."
"No!" exclaimed everyone else at the table in traditional Tilling fashion.
"We can see why they need to be so careful then," commented Herbert to break the awkward silence that had developed, "Now, if no-one has any objection,  since I so rarely get the chance, I really must ask my beautiful wife to dance."
And they danced on until the early hours. 

Next morning, anxiety hung over Tilling like a pall of  grey sea fog. The King had abdicated and his people awaited his side of events.

Sometimes,  members of the same family took opposite views of the King's actions. Some railed against his self-indulgence and the absence of any sense of duty whilst others  advocated the primacy of romantic love.

Throughout a depressing  day, conversations were generally hushed and awkward as though there had been a death in the family.

Like any other day, letters were delivered, meals eaten and work done, but in truth the country was holding its breath until the King had spoken. Until then, nothing approaching closure was possible for the nation.

When, after a seemingly endless day, evening eventually came, all over Tilling families gathered around the wireless and listened intently as Sir John Reith introduced His Royal Highness, Prince Edward in a BBC broadcast from Windsor Palace.
As the new Duke of Windsor explained why he was unable to carry out his duties as King as he would have wished without the support of the woman he loved, many a tear was shed  in the sitting rooms of the town in a spontaneous release of emotion.
Whilst some wept and fretted about the future, others simply dealt a new hand of bridge and took the view that what was done was done and that everyone must jump to it and support the new king: the king has gone, long live the king.
As Tilling bolted its front doors, switched off the lights and gloomily made its way upstairs that night, a car crunched at high speed over the gravel of Fort Belvedere.
In the back sat the Duke of Windsor his grey face lowered and engulfed in a huge overcoat.
Next to him sat his solicitor and adviser Walter Monkton. They did not speak.

The ultimate destination of the Duke's car was Portsmouth, where the destroyer, HMS Fury awaited to take the former King to begin his exile in France on the way to Austria.

Shortly after the Duke had left his beloved Fort Belvedere for the last time, the telephone  rang in the home of Inspector  Morrison.

The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had been requested by MI5 to instruct Inspector Morrison of Tilling Police to attend immediately at "Mallards House" to render all possible assistance to Mr Monkton who would shortly be calling at the premises with a distinguished companion.

The current Mayor of Tilling, Mrs Emmeline Pillson was the former employer of Mrs Simpson as her secretary. It was understood that during her employment Mrs Simpson had secreted certain correspondence of a sensitive and personal nature in the office at "Mallards House."

Mr Monkton had been instructed by Mrs Simpson and the  Duke of Windsor to recover the letters to ensure that they did not fall into the wrong hands.  

It was felt that since Inspector Morrison was very well known to Mrs Pillson and her husband that his presence would expedite  the process and avoid any unnecessary anxiety.

Inspector Morrison confirmed that he  understood his instructions and within fifteen minutes had dressed in his uniform and awaited the Duke's vehicle outside "Mallards House."

After a short wait, the car arrived and Mr Monkton was greeted by the Inspector with a salute.

Inspector Morrison knocked the door and he and Mr Monkton were soon admitted to the Garden Room where Lucia and Georgie awaited.

"Please do not be alarmed Mr and Mrs Pillson," said the Inspector," First, may I introduce Mr Walter Monkton, he is solicitor and adviser to our former King, now the Duke of Windsor."

After an exchange of handshakes and pleasantries the four sat down.

Declining an offer of tea, Walter Monkton explained his mission, "We are to locate and safeguard a bundle of letters exchanged between your former secretary Mrs Simpson and a person of highest rank. If  brought into the public domain, these letters would almost certainly prejudice the divorce decree  nisi recently granted to Mrs Simpson and prevent it becoming absolute."

"Just as Olga explained, Lucia," whispered Georgie.

"If I might continue, Mr Pillson?" asked Mr Monkton.

"Of course, Mr Monkton, pray carry on."

"If this were to happen and the King's Proctors were obliged to cite such a senior figure in the Royal Family, the constitutional crisis we are currently experiencing would become a scandal and constitutional disaster. "

"We understand what you mean and will do all we can to assist," said Lucia and Georgie in unison

"To put it bluntly, Mrs Pillson,"  continued Monkton,"The then King of England  would be proven to have colluded improperly in the perjury of his mistress fraudulently to obtain her divorce. The very future of the monarchy could be jeopardised and the throne might well fall."

"So you see that it is imperative that we find the letters to make sure they are not misused." added Inspector Morrison

"Thank you both for your detailed explanation" replied Lucia, "Naturally I have never been aware of the existence of the letters, let alone seen them,  but let us be logical in our search for them. Let me take  you to my office, which is where Mrs Simpson carried out her duties. If  the letters are somewhere in 'Mallards House' they should be there."

Once in the office, Lucia suggested that they begin with the least-used parts of her filing system,  which was organised in black- japanned metal strong boxes, each with smart painted lettering identifying its use.

"I need refer to the boxes relating to issues like Planning, Highways, General Rates and Slum Clearance on a virtually daily basis, so doubt that we shall find  anything in them. Let us begin with more arcane topics where anything hidden would be least likely to be discovered.

All agreed that this was apt and  the strong boxes labelled "Drainage and Sewers," "Burials and Cremations" and "Alms Houses" were first removed and examined.

Nothing untoward was found in these boxes and the search continued.

At this point, Lucia noticed a box entitled "Twin Towns," and commented,  "This may be of interest, gentlemen. I  am suspicious since I have never heard of it before and certainly have  never  instructed Mrs Simpson or my current secretary to open it, let alone to  file anything in it. It was tucked away behind the other files on the top shelf as though someone intended that it should not be discovered. Pray open it, Mr Monkton."

Walter Monkton duly opened the box and inside  found two bundles of letters, each tied with red ribbon, "Yes, this is it, Mrs Pillson, exactly what we have been looking for. No more scandal now;  happily, national disaster is averted."

"We are very pleased, Mr Monkton," replied Lucia, "Is there anything else that we can do to assist?"

"No Mrs Pillson, thank you," Monkton replied, "I am sure that the Duke and Mrs Simpson and indeed his brother and sister-in- law, the new King and Queen would want me to express their thanks. We must now leave for Portsmouth urgently. Again, thank you"

Georgie and Lucia stood at the top of the steps at the front door of "Mallards House" with Inspector  Morrison as Walter Monkton carrying the bundles of letters got into the back of the waiting car.

For a moment he spoke to the passenger waiting for him and explained what had transpired. The Duke turned so that his face was visible to the Pillsons beneath the street light. He smiled  the smile that they had seen in a thousand newspaper pictures and lifted one hand gently by way of wave and silent expression thanks.

The engine started and the car sped off towards Portsmouth, HMS Fury and a questionable future.

"It was him wasn't it, Lucia?"gasped Georgie, as the car turned the corner into the High Street.

"Yes, Georgie, it seems we have left our former king sitting in a car in the cold in the street outside our home," commented Lucia dryly, "Without so much as the offer of a cup of tea."

"I think His Royal Highness preferred it that way this evening, Mrs Pillson," observed Inspector Morison, "The Duke has had rather a trying day."

"I suppose you are correct Inspector . I must admit it is wearying saving the nation from a constitutional disaster. Would you care to join us for a drink, Inspector Morrison?"

"Since I am now off-duty, I should be delighted, Mrs Pillson.  Might I suggest a toast?"

Indeed, Inspector, please do."

"God Save the King!

"God Save the King!"


 Copyright Deryck Solomon 2016 All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

  1. What a very special conclusion to this outstanding series. Congratulations Mr. Solomon, and thank you for bringing such pleasure to your readers. I will very much miss IM stories, and can only hope that, like some other authors, you might eventually delight your readership with a sequel. (After all if J.K. Rowling could be persuaded, I hold out hope that you can be too, in good time,) Again congratulations and with best wishes.