There was nothing constructive to engage the Prince’s energies and an invitation to be fêted by the Berkeleys came at just the right point to help repair his ego and boost his spirits.
Mr Carrington had gone down to Weymouth with the family for those first weeks of the vacation and received an invitation to his lordship’s grand fête in the tents of the South Gloucesters. Mrs Price, on the other hand, was not invited. One reason was that she had made plans to spend her allowed leave with her cousins near Bristol, but her employers could be forgiven for thinking this fortuitous: her social skills were not finely tuned and a certain discontent was festering beneath her tight-laced form. It was the consummate slight to find that her colleague was to be presented to His Royal Highness when she was not.
“They must know very well that I would be willing to postpone my visit for a contingency of that magnitude! She has always had it in for me, Mr Carrington, I do not exaggerate. Her slack standard of honesty does not accord with my forthright views. And he, he is her mouthpiece. He does as he is told!”
“If I were you, dear lady,” advised the cleric, “I would bridle my tongue. It is impolitic to bite the hand that feeds.”
Mrs Price stormed off to her kin in an uppity frame of mind. The dust settled upon the cornices and the spiders scuttled out from their bullet-hole webs outside the sash windows.
Lord Berkeley’s reception for the Prince of Wales went off without a hitch. It was a refulgent day. The band of the South Gloucesters struck up their martial tunes arousing morale in every patriot breast. A quartet played chamber music while His Highness partook of the multifarious delicacies laid out to tempt the gourmand. Mary was formally presented to the Prince for the first time and found him impossible to dislike.
“Your ladyship’s hospitality is something to behold,” he enthused. “And I have ever maintained that your husband’s cellar is better than mine! A heart-warming occasion.”
“Your Highness is too gracious,” Mary replied, bestowing upon him a breathtaking smile.
The earnest blue eyes caught hers in a glint of intimate appreciation. "I may observe that his lordship’s discernment of the vine is capped only by that of wives! Ah, but I see I am making you blush most becomingly. Tell me, ma’am, is that Lord Dursley entering the tent over there?”
“It is, sir. Perhaps Your Highness would be good enough to allow us to introduce him.” Caleb Carrington was leading the boy towards the Prince accompanied by Lord Berkeley who made the introductions.
“So you are the Younker,” said the Prince (meaning the youngster who is to inherit the family honours). “Fine boy! You will do the line proud. Any tips for Epsom next week?”
“No, sir, but I have a mare called Phoebe who’s a fine goer!”
The Prince exploded raucously and punched the boy’s shoulder. “Son of your pater, eh? To say the truth, young fellow, I don’t have the blunt to go to the Races any more. Can’t even afford to punt upon tick!” He turned to the Earl. “He’ll do, Berkeley! A spell at Eton will finish him off!”
“Fitz has musical abilities and a fine singing voice,” said his mother.
“Then I would esteem it a privilege if he would give us an air or two. What say you, Lord Dursley?”
“That would make me very happy, Your Highness. Your wish is my command,” said Fitz, a tad precociously. “I have just the song, sir.”
Freddy was summoned to the oyster-walnut clavichord and wriggled about on the seat in front of the keyboard. His fingers plunged into a chord and his brother began to unleash a confident treble voice with all the innocence of a heavenly chorister.
On Richmond Hill there lives a lass
More bright than Mayday morn,
Whose charms all other maids’ surpass
A rose without a thorn,
This lass so neat
With smiles so sweet
Has won my right goodwill
I’d crowns resign to call thee mine,
Sweet lass of Richmond Hill.
Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill,
Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill,
I’d crowns resign to call thee mine,
Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill!
Applause broke out on all sides when he had run the gamut of three full verses. The Prince wiped a tear from his cheek. “Bravo! A most sprightly rendering! Berkeley, your children are accomplished out of the common way. I hope they may pay regular visits to the Opera.”
The day was a resounding success. Doubts were being diluted. The fable was nailed to the wallchart of history. The Prince had endorsed the Berkeley version of their genealogy.
The King was less persuaded when his Heir apprised him of the story. “Your Majesty should know that Berkeley did confide in me years ago and enjoined upon me the necessity of silence. He stated that Miss Tudor was his wife and the worst used woman in the world.”
“Smells fishy,” said the King. “What! If the woman was ill-used years ago, she must be a thousand times more so by now! Don’t believe a word of it! We have noticed his temerity in trailing his dubious establishment under our nose. Most improper!”
“Even the King may not fly in the face of a gentleman’s solemn word. The house of Berkeley is an ancient and noble one. It stands for our English heritage and all the values we endeavour to safeguard so zealously.”
His Majesty would not be moved. When Mary drove out in a curricle upon the sands, he did not salute her. The Berkeley crest was screened from his vision and members of his Court were encouraged to follow his lead. The Berkeleys knew this reaction was only to be expected. Time would acquit them.
Mary refused to be insulted or deterred. There were marriage lines to support her now. Nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of Fitz’s inheritance.
But her husband began to dither. Their domestic life was as vibrant a theme in the Clubs and salons as the Prince’s marriage and the progress of his rapprochement with Maria. People were more minutely interested than Berkeley had counted on. They wanted details. If his bride had been as ugly as sin and the daughter of a foreign dignitary, the announcement would probably have fallen flat, but Mary was beginning to attract attention. Who was she? Her provenance was maddeningly obscure. It was as if she had been borrowed from the gods.
As the Prince had suggested, visits to the Opera would promote Fitz’s love of music. The Magic Flute was regarded by his father as a suitable diversion. It could be enjoyed on several levels and would advance the concept of freemasonry which was widespread among the Earl’s set. The Marchioness of Salisbury happened to be sitting in the next box when they attended Covent Garden. She was a lady of redoubtable character whose companionship delighted the Prince of Wales. She was an expert archer and the foundress of a club at Hatfield House where His Highness had helped to refine the rules of contest. Thinking that Fitz would find this interesting, Berkeley sought permission to present his eldest son, Viscount Dursley, to her. At the end of the evening, when the Marchioness had taken her leave, Fitz noticed an article under her seat which proved to be an ivory pomander on a tassled silk cord. It had a beastly smell of camphor. One whiff was enough to wipe out the stench of the stews.
“You can return it to Lady Salisbury in the morning with a note,” his mother said. “It would be a nice gesture.”
“I’d sooner cannonball the French with it, Mama!”
Next day, before he had recited Archimedes’ Principle and considered the Theorem of Pythagoras, the lad applied himself to writing to the Marchioness in his neatest hand. Mary smiled fondly to see his tongue appear at the corner of his mouth in fierce concentration.
“I think you are of an age to start signing yourself by your proper title,” she told him.
“You mean Viscount Dursley?” he groaned.
“No,” interjected the Earl. “Let him remain Fitz Berkeley for the time being.”
“How in the world is he to remain Fitz Berkeley when you have introduced him as your heir?”
“Dear heart, this is painful, I know. It will take time for folk to get used to us.”
“Then we must not waver.... Oh, you are piqued because our neighbours at Badminton cut us at the Opera!”
“His Grace of Beaufort is a man of consequence.”
“My lord, though this may surprise you, I am not ignorant of the origins of the Beaufort line! They were born the wrong side of John o’ Gaunt’s blanket!”
The Earl sighed. “That is my point, I think. Tradition has dignified them.”
The boy was leaning dejectedly on the back of his chair while his parents argued above his head. His cornflower irises swung from one to the other. Grown-ups didn’t have a clue how to behave!
“We don’t have centuries if he is to gain his birthright!”
“Fitz, leave your letter,” ordered his father, “and go to Mr Carrington. I wish to speak with your mother.” When the door had closed, Berkeley went on: “I am beginning to feel uneasy, Polly, that I declared you a spinster and myself a bachelor to acquire a marriage licence. I had no choice then. When the time comes, the College of Heralds will demand to see a copy of it.”
A light but uncharacteristic growl of rage issued from the region of Mary’s throat. “We both know that, but we are committed to overcoming it in whatever way we can. We did take the precaution of having Thomas baptised at Berkeley as well as in London, remember, so that we could produce a certificate with his courtesy title omitted.”
“I wonder if that is strong enough evidence to substantiate our story.”
“The word of the Earl of Berkeley must count for something! Does a second marriage invalidate a first? I am going to seek counsel on this.”
“No! It will blow such cover as we have!”
“I will do it incognito. There are some advantages to being a nonentity, you observe!”
Mary had her way and Fitz wrote Lord Dursley under his message. Boudicca leading the Iceni into battle was not more staunch! It was this adamantine perseverance that had brought her through hardship. She was masterly at turning self-pity upon its head. She was not aware, however, that his lordship had commandeered the note and sent Fitz without it.
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...