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Harper PaperbacksA Division of Harper Publishers

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If you purchased this book without a cover, you should beaware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as

“unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither theauthor nor the publisher has received any payment for this

Stripped book.’

This is a work of fiction. The characters incidents anddialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are

not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actualevents or persona living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022

Copyright (c) 1991 by Jeffrey Archer

All rights reserved. Nopart of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner

whatsoever without written permission of the publisher,except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical

articles and reviews. For information addressHarperCollinsPu6&shers, 10 East 53rd Street, New Yorlc,

N.Y. 10022.

A hardcover edition of this book was published in 1991 byHarperCollinsPublishers.

Cover illustration by George Angelini Cover background

illustration by Mitzura Salgian First HarperPaperbacks printing May 1992Printed in the United States of America HarperPaperbacks and colophon are trademarks of

HarperCollinsPu61isher, O’0987654321


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CHAPTER1“I don’t offer you these for tuppence,” my granpa would shout, holding up a cabbage in both hands, “Idon’t offer ‘em for a penny, not even a ha’penny. No, I’ll give ‘em away for a farthin’.”

Those were the first words I can remember. Even before I had learned to walk, my eldestsister used to dump me in an orange box on the pavement next to Granpa’s pitch just to be sure I couldstart my apprenticeship early.

“Only stakin’ ‘is claim,” Granpa used to tell the customers as he pointed at me in the woodenbox. In truth, the first word I ever spoke was “Granpa,” the second “farthing,” and I could repeat hiswhole sales patter word for word by my third birthday. Not that any of my family could be that certainof the exact day on which I was born, on account of the fact that my old man had spent the night in jailand my mother had died even before I drew breath.

Granpa thought it could well have been a Saturday, felt it most likely the month had been

January, was confident the year was 1900, and knew it was in the reign of Queen Victoria. So wesettled on Saturday, 20 January 1900.

I never knew my mother because, as I explained, she died on the day I was born. “Childbirth,”our local priest called it, but I didn’t really understand what he was on about until several years laterwhen I came up against the problem again. Father O’Malley never stopped telling me that she was asaint if ever he’d seen one. My father who couldn’t have been described as a saint by anyone workedon the docks by day, lived in the pub at night and came home in the early morning because it was theonly place he could fall asleep without being disturbed.

The rest of my family was made up of three sisters Sal, the eldest, who was five and knewwhen she was born because it was in the middle of the night and had kept the old man awake; Gracewho was three and didn’t cause anyone to lose sleep; and redheaded Kitty who was eighteen monthsand never stopped bawling.

The head of the family was Granpa Charlie, who I was named after. He slept in his own roomon the ground floor of our home in Whitechapel Road, not only because he was the oldest but becausehe paid the rent always. The rest of us were herded all together in the room opposite. We had twoother rooms on the ground floor, a sort of kitchen and what most people would have called a largecupboard, but which Grace liked to describe as the parlor.

There was a lavatory in the garden no grass which we shared with an Irish family who livedon the floor above us. They always seemed to go at three o’clock in the morning.

Granpa who was a costermonger by trade worked the pitch on the corner of WhitechapelRoad. Once I was able to escape from my orange box and ferret around among the other barrows Iquickly discovered that he was reckoned by the locals to be the finest trader in the East End.

My dad, who as I have already told you was a docker by trade, never seemed to take that muchinterest in any of us and though he could sometimes earn as much as a pound a week, the moneyalways seemed to end up in the Black Bull, where it was spent on pint after pint of ale and gambledaway on games of cribbage or dominoes in the company of our next-door neighbor, Bert Shorrocks, aman who never seemed to speak, just grunt.

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In fact, if it hadn’t been for Granpa I wouldn’t even have been made to attend the localelementary school in Jubilee Street, and “attend” was the right word, because I didn’t do a lot onceI’d got there, other than bang the lid of my little desk and occasionally pull the pigtails of “PoshPorky,” the girl who sat in front of me. Her real name was Rebecca Salmon and she was the daughterof Dan Salmon who owned the baker’s shop on the corner of Brick Lane. Posh Porky knew exactlywhen and where she was born and never stopped reminding us all that she was nearly a year youngerthan anyone else in the class.

I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring at four in the afternoon when class would end and I couldbang my lid for the last time before running all the way down the Whitechapel Road to help out on thebarrow.

On Saturdays as a special treat Granpa would allow me to go along with him to the earlymorning market in Covent Garden, where he would select the fruit and vegetables that we would latersell from his pitch, just opposite Mr. Salmon’s and Dunkley’s, the fish and chippy that stood next tothe baker’s.

Although I couldn’t wait to leave school once and for all so I could join Granpa permanently,if I ever played truant for as much as an hour he wouldn’t take me to watch West Ham, our localsoccer team, on Saturday afternoon or, worse, he’d stop me selling on the barrow in the morning.

“I ‘aped you’d grow up to be more like Rebecca Salmon,” he used to say. “That girl will go along way... “

“The further the better,” I would tell him, but he never laughed, just reminded me that she wasalways top in every subject.

“‘Cept ‘rithmetic,” I replied with bravado, “where I beat her silly.” You see, I could do anysum in my head that Rebecca Salmon had to write out in longhand; it used to drive her potty.

My father never visited Jubilee Street Elementary in all the years I was there, but Granpa usedto pop along at least once a term and have a word with Mr. Cartwright my teacher. Mr. Cartwrighttold Granpa that with my head for figures I could end up an accountant or a clerk. He once said that hemight even be able to “find me a position in the City.” Which was a waste of time really, because all Iwanted to do was join Granpa on the barrow.

I was seven before I worked out that the name down the side of Granpa’s barrow “CharlieTrumper, the honest trader, founded in 1823” was the same as mine. Dad’s first name was George,and he had already made it clear on several occasions that when Granpa retired he had no intention oftaking over from him as he didn’t want to leave his mates on the docks.

I couldn’t have been more pleased by his decision, and told Granpa that when I finally tookover the barrow, we wouldn’t even have to change the name.

Granpa just groaned and said, “I don’t want you to end up workin’ in the East End, young ‘un.You’re far too good to be a barrow boy for the rest of your life.” It made me sad to hear him speaklike that; he didn’t seem to understand that was all I wanted to do.

School dragged on for month after month, year after year, with Rebecca Salmon going up tocollect prize after prize on Speech Day. What made the annual gathering even worse was we always

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had to listen to her recite the Twenty-third Psalm, standing up there on the stage in her white dress,white socks, black shoes. She even had a white bow in her long black hair.

“And I expect she wears a new pair of knickers every day,” little Kitty whispered in my ear.“And I’ll bet you a guinea to a farthin’ she’s still a virgin,” said Sal.I burst out laughing because all the costermongers in the Whitechapel Road always did

whenever they heard that word, although I admit that at the time I didn’t have a clue what a virginwas. Granpa told me to “shhh” and didn’t smile again until I went up to get the arithmetic prize, a boxof colored crayons that were damned-all use to anyone. Still, it was them or a book.

Granpa clapped so loud as I returned to my place that some of the mums looked round andsmiled, which made the old fellow even more determined to see that I stayed on at school until I wasfourteen.

By the time I was ten, Granpa allowed me to lay out the morning wares on the barrow beforegoing off to school for the day. Potatoes on the front, greens in the middle and soft fruits at the backwas his golden rule.

“Never let ‘em touch the fruit until they’ve ‘ended over their money,” he used to say. “‘Arc tobruise a tato, but even ‘arder to sell a bunch of grapes that’s been picked up and dropped a fewtimes.”

By the age of eleven I was collecting the money from the customers and handing them thechange they were due. That’s when I first learned about palming. Sometimes, after I’d given themback their money, the customers would open the palm of their hand and I would discover that one ofthe coins I had passed over had suddenly disappeared so I ended up having to give them even morebees and honey. I lost Granpa quite a bit of our weekly profit that way, until he taught me to say,“Tuppence change, Mrs. Smith,” then hold up the coins for all to see before handing them over.

By twelve, I had learned how to bargain with the suppliers at Covent Garden while displayinga poker face, later to sell the same produce to the customers back in Whitechapel with a grin thatstretched from ear to ear. I also discovered that Granpa used to switch suppliers regularly, “just to besure no one takes me for granted.”

By thirteen, I had become his eyes and ears as I already knew the name of every worthwhiletrader of fruit and vegetables in Covent Garden. I quickly sussed out which sellers just piled goodfruit on top of bad, which dealers would attempt to hide a bruised apple and which suppliers wouldalways try to short-measure you. Most important of all, back on the pitch I learned which customersdidn’t pay their debts and so could never be allowed to have their names chalked up on the slate.

I remember that my chest swelled with pride the day Mrs. Smelley, who owned aboardinghouse in the Commercial Road, told me that I was a chip off the old block and that in heropinion one day I might even be as good as my granpa. I celebrated that night by ordering my first pintof beer and lighting up my first Woodbine. I didn’t finish either of them.

I’ll never forget that Saturday morning when Granpa first let me run the barrow on my own.For five hours he didn’t once open his mouth to offer advice or even give an opinion. And when hechecked the takings at the end of the day, although we were two shillings and fivepence light from a

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usual Saturday, he still handed over the sixpenny piece he always gave me at the end of the week.I knew Granpa wanted me to stay on at school and improve my readin’ and writin’, but on the

last Friday of term in December 1913, I walked out of the gates of Jubilee Street Elementary with myfather’s blessing. He had always told me that education was a waste of time and he couldn’t see thepoint of it. I agreed with him, even if Posh Porky had won a scholarship to someplace called St.Paul’s, which in any case was miles away in Hammersmith. And who wants to go to school inHammersmith when you can live in the East End?

Mrs. Salmon obviously wanted her to because she told everyone who was held up in the breadqueue of her daughter’s “interlectual prowess,” whatever that meant.

“Stuck-up snob,” Granpa used to whisper in my ear. “She’s the sort of person who ‘as a bowlof fruit in the ‘ouse when no one’s ill.”

I felt much the same way about Posh Porky as Granpa did about Mrs. Salmon. Mr. Salmon wasall right, though. You see, he’d once been a costermonger himself, but that was before he marriedMiss Roach, the baker’s daughter.

Every Saturday morning, while I was setting up the barrow, Mr. Salmon used to disappear offto the Whitechapel synagogue, leaving his wife to run the shop. While he was away, she neverstopped reminding us at the top of her voice that she wasn’t a five by two.

Posh Porky seemed to be torn between going along with her old man to the synagogue andstaying put at the shop, where she’d sit by the window and start scoffing cream buns the moment hewas out of sight.

“Always a problem, a mixed marriage,” Granpa would tell me. It was years before I workedout that he wasn’t talking about the cream buns.

The day I left school I told Granpa he could lie in while I went off to Covent Garden to fill upthe barrow, but he wouldn’t hear of it. When we got to the market, for the first time he allowed me tobargain with the dealers. I quickly found one who agreed to supply me with a dozen apples forthreepence as long as I could guarantee the same order every day for the next month. As GranpaCharlie and I always had an apple for breakfast, the arrangement sorted out our own needs and alsogave me the chance to sample what we were selling to the customers.

From that moment on, every day was a Saturday and between us we could sometimes manageto put the profits up by as much as fourteen shillings a week.

After that, I was put on a weekly wage of five shillings a veritable fortune. Four of them I keptlocked in a tin box under Granpa’s bed until I had saved up my first guinea: a man what’s got a guineagot security, Mr. Salmon once told me as he stood outside his shop, thumbs in his waistcoat pockets,displaying a shiny gold watch and chain.

In the evenings, after Granpa had come home for supper and the old man had gone off to thepub I soon became bored just sitting around listening to what my sisters had been up to all day; so Ijoined the Whitechapel Boys’ Club. Table tennis Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, boxingTuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. I never did get the hang of table tennis, but I became quite auseful bantamweight and once even represented the club against Bethnal Green.

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Unlike my old man I didn’t go much on pubs, the dogs or cribbage but I still went onsupporting West Ham most Saturday afternoons. I even made the occasional trip into the West End ofan evening to see the latest music hall star.

When Granpa asked me what I wanted for my fifteenth birthday I replied without a moment’shesitation, “My own barrow,” and added that I’d nearly saved enough to get one. He just laughed andtold me that his old one was good enough for whenever the time came for me to take over. In anycase, he warned me, it’s what a rich man calls an asset and, he added for good measure, never investin something new, especially when there’s a war on.

Although Mr. Salmon had already told me that we had declared war against the Germansalmost a year before none of us having heard of Archduke Franz Ferdinand we only found out howserious it was when a lot of young lads who had worked in the market began to disappear off to “thefront” to be replaced by their younger brothers and sometimes even sisters. On a Saturday morningthere were often more lads down the East End dressed in khaki than in civvies.

My only other memory of that period was of Schultz’s, the sausage maker a Saturday nighttreat for us, especially when he gave us a toothless grin and slipped an extra sausage in free. Lately hehad always seemed to start the day with a broken windowpane, and then suddenly one morning thefront of his shop was boarded up and we never saw Mr. Schultz again. “Internment,” my granpawhispered mysteriously.

My old man occasionally joined us on a Saturday morning, but only to get some cash offGranpa so that he could go to the Black Bull and spend it all with his mate Bert Shorrocks.

Week after week Granpa would fork out a bob, sometimes even a florin, which we both knewhe couldn’t afford. And what really annoyed me was that he never drank and certainly didn’t go abundle on gambling. That didn’t stop my old man pocketing the money, touching his cap and thenheading off towards the Black Bull.

This routine went on week after week and might never have changed, until one Saturdaymorning a toffee-nosed lady who I had noticed standing on the corner for the past week, wearing along black dress and carrying a parasol, strode over to our barrow, stopped and placed a whitefeather in Dad’s lapel.

I’ve never seen him go so mad, far worse than the usual Saturday night when he had lost all hismoney gambling and came home so drunk that we all had to hide under the bed. He raised hisclenched fist to the lady but she didn’t flinch and even called him “coward” to his face. He screamedback at her some choice words that he usually saved for the rent collector. He then grabbed all herfeathers and threw them in the gutter before storming off in the direction of the Black Bull. What’smore, he didn’t come home at midday, when Sal served us up a dinner of fish and chips. I nevercomplained as I went off to watch West Ham that afternoon, having scoffed his portion of chips. Hestill wasn’t back when I returned that night, and when I woke the next morning his side of the bedhadn’t been slept in. When Granpa-brought us all home from midday mass there was still no sign ofDad, so I had a second night with the double bed all to myself.

“‘E’s probably spent another night in jail,” said Granpa on Monday morning as I pushed ourbarrow down the middle of the road, trying to avoid the horse sh*t from the buses that were dragged

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backwards and forwards, to and from the City along the Metropolitan Line.As we passed Number 110, I spotted Mrs. Shorrocks staring at me out of the window, sporting

her usual black eye and a mass of different colored bruises which she collected from Bert mostSaturday nights.

“You can go and bail ‘im out round noon,” said Granpa. “‘E should have sobered up by then.”I scowled at the thought of having to fork out the half-crown to cover his fine, which simply

meant another day’s profits down the drain.A few minutes after twelve o’clock I reported to the police station. The duty sergeant told me

that Bert Shorrocks was still in the cells and due up in front of the beak that afternoon, but they hadn’tset eyes on my old man the whole weekend.

“Like a bad penny, you can be sure ‘e’ll turn up again,” said Granpa with a chuckle.But it was to be over a month before Dad “turned up” again. When I first saw him I couldn’t

believe my eyes he was dressed from head to toe in khaki. You see, he had signed up with the secondbattalion of the Royal Fusiliers. He told us that he expected to be posted to the front at some time inthe next few weeks but he would still be home by Christmas; an officer had told him that the bloodyHuns would have been sent packing long before then.

Granpa shook his head and frowned, but I was so proud of my dad that for the rest of the day Ijust strutted around the market by his side. Even the lady who stood on the corner handing out whitefeathers gave him an approving nod. I scowled at her and promised Dad that if the Germans hadn’tbeen sent packing by Christmas I would leave the market and join up myself to help him finish off thejob. I even went with him to the Black Bull that night, determined to spend my weekly wages onwhatever he wanted. But no one would let him buy a drink so I ended up not spending a ha’penny. Thenext morning he had left us to rejoin his regiment, even before Granpa and I started out for the market.

The old man never wrote because he couldn’t write, but everyone in the East End knew that ifyou didn’t get one of those brown envelopes pushed under your door the member of your family whowas away at the war must still be alive.

From time to time Mr. Salmon used to read to me from his morning paper, but as he couldnever find a mention of the Royal Fusiliers I didn’t discover what the old man was up to. I onlyprayed that he wasn’t at someplace called Ypres where, the paper warned us, casualties were heavy.

Christmas Day was fairly quiet for the family that year on account of the fact that the old manhadn’t returned from the front as the officer had promised.

Sal, who was working shifts in a cafe on the Commercial Road, went back to work on BoxingDay, and Grace remained on duty at the London Hospital throughout the so-called holiday, whileKitty mooched around checking on everyone else’s presents before going back to bed. Kitty neverseemed to be able to hold down a job for more than a week at a time, but somehow, she was stillbetter dressed than any of us. I suppose it must have been because a string of boyfriends seemed quitewilling to spend their last penny on her before going off to the front. I couldn’t imagine what sheexpected to tell them if they all came back on the same day.

Now and then, Kitty would volunteer to do a couple of hours’ work on the barrow, but once

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she had eaten her way through the day’s profits she would soon disappear. “Couldn’t describe thatone as an asset,” Granpa used to say. Still, I didn’t complain. I was sixteen without a care in theworld and my only thoughts at that time were on how soon I could get hold of my own barrow.

Mr. Salmon told me that he’d heard the best barrows were being sold off in the Old KentRoad, on account of the fact that so many young lads were heeding Kitchener’s cry and joining up tofight for King and country. He felt sure there wouldn’t be a better time to make what he called a goodmetsieh. I thanked the baker and begged him not to let Granpa know what I was about, as I wanted toclose the “metsieh” before he found out.

The following Saturday morning I asked Granpa for a couple of hours off.“Found yourself a girl, ‘ave you? Because I only ‘ope it’s not the boozer.”“Neither,” I told him with a grin. “But you’ll be the first to find out, Granpa. I promise you.” I

touched my cap and strolled off in the direction of the Old Kent Road.I crossed the Thames at Tower Bridge and walked farther south than I had ever been before,

and when I arrived at the rival market I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d never seen so many barrows.Lined up in rows, they were. Long ones, short ones, stubby ones, in all the colors of the rainbow andsome of them displaying names that went back generations in the East End. I spent over an hourchecking out all those that were for sale but the only one I kept coming back to had displayed in blueand gold down its sides, “The biggest barrow in the world.”

The woman who was selling the magnificent object told me that it was only a month old andher old man, who had been killed by the Huns, had paid three quid for it: she wasn’t going to let it gofor anything less.

I explained to her that I only had a couple of quid to my name, but I’d be willing to pay off therest before six months were up.

“We could all be dead in six months,” she replied, shaking her head with an air of someonewho’d heard those sorts of stories before.

“Then I’ll let you ‘ave two quid and sixpence, with my granpa’s barrow thrown in,” I saidwithout thinking.

“Who’s your granpa?”“Charlie Trumper,” I told her with pride, though if the truth be known I hadn’t expected her to

have heard of him.“Charlie Trumper’s your granpa?”“What of it?” I said defiantly.“Then two quid and sixpence will do just fine for now, young ‘un,” she said. “And see you pay

the rest back before Christmas.”That was the first time I discovered what the word “reputation” meant. I handed over my life’s

savings and promised that I would give her the other nineteen and six before the year was up.We shook hands on the deal and I grabbed the handles and began to push my first co*ck

sparrow back over the bridge towards the Whitechapel Road. When Sal and Kitty first set eyes on my

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prize, they couldn’t stop jumping up and down with excitement and even helped me to paint down oneside, “Charlie Trumper, the honest trader, founded in 1823.” I felt confident that Granpa would beproud of me.

Once we had finished our efforts and long before the paint was dry, I wheeled the barrowtriumphantly off towards the market. By the time I was in sight of Granpa’s pitch my grin alreadystretched from ear to ear.

The crowd around the old fellow’s barrow seemed larger than usual for a Saturday morningand I couldn’t work out why there was such a hush the moment I showed up. “There’s young Charlie,”shouted a voice and several faces turned to stare at me. Sensing trouble, I let go of the handles of mynew barrow and ran into the crowd. They quickly stood aside, making a path for me. When I hadreached the front, the first thing I saw was Granpa lying on the pavement, his head propped up on abox of apples and his face as white as a sheet.

I ran to his side and fell on my knees. “It’s Charlie, Granpa, it’s me, I’m ‘ere,” I cried. “Whatdo you want me to do? Just tell me what and I’ll do it.”

His tired eyelids blinked slowly. “Listen to me careful, lad,” he said, between gasps forbreath. “The barrow now belongs to you, so never let it or the pitch out of your sight for more than afew hours at a time.”

“But it’s your barrow and your pitch, Granpa. ‘Ow will you work without a barrow and apitch?” I asked. But he was no longer listening.

Until that moment I never realized anyone I knew could die.

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CHAPTER2Granpa Charlie’s funeral was held on a cloudless morning in early February at the church of St.Mary’s and St. Michael’s on Jubilee Street. Once the choir had filed into their places there wasstanding room only, and even Mr. Salmon, wearing a long black coat and deep-brimmed black hat,was among those who were to be found huddled at the back.

When Charlie wheeled the brand-new barrow on to his granpa’s pitch the following morning,Mr. Dunkley came out of the fish and chip shop to admire the new acquisition.

“It can carry almost twice as much as my granpa’s old barrow,” Charlie told him. “What’smore, I only owe nineteen and six on it.” But by the end of the week Charlie had discovered that hisbarrow was still halœfull of stale food that nobody wanted. Even Sal and Kitty turnd up their noseswhen he offered them such delicacies as black bananas and bruised peaches. It took several weeksbefore the new trader was able to work out roughly the quantities he needed each morning to satisfyhis customers’ needs, and still longer to realize that those needs would vary from day to day.

It was a Saturday morning, after Charlie had collected his produce from the market and was onhis way back to Whitechapel, that he heard the raucous cry.

“British troops slain on the Somme,” shouted out the boy who stood on the corner of CoventGarden waving a paper high above his head.

Charlie parted with a halfpenny in exchange for the Daily Chronicle, then sat on the pavementand started to read, picking out the words he recognized. He learned of the death of thousands ofBritish troops who had been involved in a combined operation with the French against Kaiser Bill’sarmy. The ill-fated exchange had ended in disaster. General Haig had predicted an advance of fourthousand yards a day, but it had ended in retreat. The cry of “We’ll all be home for Christmas” nowseemed an idle boast.

Charlie threw the paper in the gutter. No German would kill his dad, of that he felt certain,though lately he had begun to feel gully about his own war efforts since Grace had signed up for aspell in the hospital tents, a mere half mile behind the front line.

Although Grace wrote to Charlie every month, she was unable to supply any news on thewhereabouts of their father. “There are half a million soldiers out here,” she explained, “and cold,wet and hungry they all look alike.” Sal continued her job as a waitress in the Commercial Road andspent all her spare time looking for a husband, while Kitty had no trouble in finding any number ofmen who were happy to satisfy her every need. In fact, Kitty was the only one of the three who hadenough time off during the day to help out on the barrow, but as she never got up until the sun rose andslipped away long before it had set, she still wasn’t what Granpa would have called an asset.

It was to be weeks before young Charlie would stop turning his head to ask: “‘Ow many,Granpa?” “‘Ow much, Granpa?” “Is Mrs. Ruggles good for credit, Granpa?” And only after he hadpaid back every penny of his debt on the new barrow and been left with hardly any spare cash to talkof did he begin to realize just how good a costermonger the old fellow must have been.

For the first few months they earned only a few pennies a week between them and Sal becameconvinced they would all end up in the workhouse if they kept failing to cough up the rent. She beggedCharlie to sell Granpa’s old barrow to raise another pound, but Charlie’s reply was always the same

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“Never” before he added that he would rather starve and leave the relic to rot in the backyard than letanother hand wheel it away.

By autumn 1916 business began to look up, and the biggest barrow in the world even resumedenough of a profit to allow Sal to buy a second-hand dress, Kitty a pair of shoes and Charlie a third-hand suit.

Although Charlie was still thin now a flyweight and not all that tall, once his seventeenthbirthday had come and gone he noticed that the ladies on the corner of the Whitechapel Road, whowere still placing white feathers on anyone wearing civilian clothes who looked as if he might bebetween the ages of eighteen and forty, were beginning to eye him like impatient vultures.

Charlie wasn’t frightened of any Germans, but he still hoped that the war might come to an endquickly and that his father would return to Whitechapel and his routine of working at the docks duringthe day and drinking in the Black Bull at night. But with no letters and only restricted news in thepaper, even Mr. Salmon couldn’t tell him what was really happening at the front.

As the months passed, Charlie became more and more aware of his customers’ needs and inturn they were discovering that his barrow was now offering better value for money than many of itsrivals. Even Charlie felt things were on the up when Mrs. Smelley’s smiling face appeared, to buymore potatoes for her boardinghouse in one morning than he would normally have hoped to sell aregular customer in a month.

“I could deliver your order, Mrs. Smelley, you know,” he said, raising his cap. “Direct to yourboardinghouse every Monday mornin’.”

“No, thank you, Charlie,” she replied. “I always like to see what I’m buyin’.”“Give me a chance to prove myself, Mrs. Smelley, and then you wouldn’t ‘ave to come out in

all weathers, when you suddenly discover you’ve taken more bookie’s than you expected.”She stared directly at him. “Well, I’ll give it a go for a couple of weeks,” she said. “But if you

ever let me down, Charlie Trumper... ““You’ve got yourself a deal,” said Charlie with a grin, and from that day Mrs. Smelley was

never seen shopping for fruit or vegetables in the market again.Charlie decided that following this initial success he should extend his delivery service to

other customers in the East End. Perhaps that way, he thought, he might even be able to double hisincome. The following morning, he wheeled out his Granpa’s old barrow from the backyard, removedthe cobwebs, gave it a lick of paint and put Kitty on to house-to-house calls taking orders while heremained back on his pitch in Whitechapel.

Within days Charlie had lost all the profit he had made in the past year and suddenly foundhimself back to square one. Kitty, it turned out, had no head for figures and, worse, fell for every sobstory she was told, often ending up giving the food away. By the end of that month Charlie was almostwiped out and once again unable to pay the rent.

“So what you learn from such a bold step?” asked Dan Salmon as he stood on the doorstep ofhis shop, skullcap on the back of his head, thumbs lodged in the black waistcoat pocket that proudlydisplayed his half hunter watch.

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“Think twice before you employ members of your own family and never assume that anyonewill pay their debts.”

“Good,” said Mr. Salmon. “You learn fast. So how much you need to clear rent and seeyourself past next month?”

“What are you getting at?” asked Charlie.“How much?” repeated Mr. Salmon.“Five quid,” said Charlie, lowering his head.On Friday night after he had pulled down the blind Dan Salmon handed over five sovereigns

to Charlie along with several wafers of matzos. “Pay back when possible, boychik, and don’t evertell the misses or we both end up in big trouble.”

Charlie paid back his loan at a rate of five shillings a week and twenty weeks later he hadresumed the full amount. He would always remember handing over the final payment, because it wason the same day as the first big airplane raid over London and he spent most of that night hiding underhis father’s bed, with both Sal and Kitty clinging to him for dear life.

The following morning Charlie read an account of the bombing in the Daily Chronicle andreamed that over a hundred Londoners had been killed and some four hundred injured in the raid.

He dug his teeth into a morning apple before he dropped off Mrs. Smelley’s weekly order andresumed to his pitch in the Whitechapel Road. Monday was always busy with everybody stocking upafter the weekend and by the time he arrived back home at Number 112 for his afternoon tea he wasexhausted. Charlie was sticking a fork into his third of a pork pie when he heard a knock on the door.

“Who can that be?” said Kitty, as Sal served Charlie a second potato.“There’s only one way we’re going to find out, my girl,” said Charlie, not budging an inch.Kitty reluctantly left the table only to return a moment later with her nose held high in the air.

“It’s that Becky Salmon. Says she ‘desires to have a word with you.’”“Does she now? Then you had better show Miss Salmon into the parlor,” said Charlie with a

gun.Kitty slouched off again while Charlie got up from the kitchen table carrying the remainder of

the pie in his fingers. He strolled into the only other room that wasn’t a bedroom. He lowered himselfinto an old leather chair and continued to chew while he waited. A moment later Posh Porky marchedinto the middle of the room and stood right in front of him. She didn’t speak. He was slightly takenaback by the sheer size of the girl. Although she was two or three inches shorter than Charlie, shemust have weighed at least a stone more than he did, a genuine heavyweight. She so obviously hadn’tgiven up stuffing herself with Salmon’s cream buns. Charlie stared at her gleaming white blouse anddark blue pleated skirt. Her smart blue blazer sported a golden eagle surrounded by words he hadnever seen before. A red ribbon sat uneasily in her short dark hair and Charlie noticed that her littleblack shoes and white socks were as spotless as ever.

He would have asked her to sit down but as he was occupying the only chair in the room, hecouldn’t. He ordered Kitty to leave them alone. For a moment she stared defiantly at Charlie, but then

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left without another word.“So what do you want?” asked Charlie once he heard the door close.Rebecca Salmon began to tremble as she tried to get the words out. “I’ve come to see you

because of what has happened to my parents.” She enunciated each word slowly and carefully and, toCharlie’s disgust, without any trace of an East End accent.

“So what ‘as ‘appened to your parents?” asked Charlie gruffly, hoping she wouldn’t realizethat his voice had only recently broken. Becky burst into tears. Charlie’s only reaction was to stareout of the window because he wasn’t quite sure what else to do.

Becky continued shaking as she began to speak again. “Tata was killed in the raid last nightand Mummy has been taken to the London Hospital.” She stopped abruptly, adding no furtherexplanation.

Charlie jumped out of his chair. “No one told me,” he said, as he began pacing round theroom.

“There’s no way that you could possibly have known,” said Becky. “I haven’t even told theassistants at the shop yet. They think he’s off sick for the day.”

“Do you want me to tell them?” asked Charlie. “Is that why you came round?”“No,” she said, raising her head slowly and pausing for a moment. “I want you to take over the

shop.”Charlie was so stunned by this suggestion that although he stopped pacing he made no attempt

to reply.“My father always used to say that it wouldn’t be that long before you had your own shop, so I

thought...”“But I don’t know the first thing about baking,” stammered Charlie as he fell back into his

chair.“Tata’s two assistants know everything there is to know about the trade, and I suspect you’ll

know even more than they do within a few months. What that shop needs at this particular moment is asalesman. My father always considered that you were as good as old Granpa Charlie and everyoneknows he was the best.”

“But what about my barrow?”“It’s only a few yards away from the shop, so you could easily keep an eye on both.” She

hesitated before adding, “Unlike your delivery service.”“You knew about that?”“Even know you tried to pay back the last five shillings a few minutes before my father went

to the synagogue one Saturday. We had no secrets.”“So ‘ow would it work?” asked Charlie, beginning to feel he was always a yard behind the

girl.“You run the barrow and the shop and we’ll be fifty-fifty partners.”

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“And what will you do to cam your share?”“I’ll check the books every month and make sure that we pay our tax on time and don’t break

any council regulations.”“I’ve never paid any taxes before,” said Charlie “and who in ‘elf’s name cares about the

council and their sappy regulations?”Becky’s dark eyes fixed on him for the first time. “People who one day hope to be running a

serious business enterprise, Charlie Trumper, that’s who.”“Fifty-fifty doesn’t seem all that fair to me,” said Charlie, still trying to get the upper hand.“My shop is considerably more valuable than your barrow and it also derives a far larger

income.”“Did, until your father died,” said Charlie, regretting the words immediately after he had

spoken them.Becky bowed her head again. “Are we to be partners or not?” she muttered.“Sixty-forty,” said Charlie.She hesitated for a long moment, then suddenly thrust out her arm. Charlie rose from the chair

and shook her hand vigorously to confirm that his first deal was closed.After Dan Salmon’s funeral Charlie tried to read the Daily Chronicle every morning in the

hope of discovering what the second battalion, Royal Fusiliers was up to and where his father mightbe, He knew the regiment was fighting somewhere in France, but its exact location was neverrecorded in the paper, so Charlie was none the wiser.

The daily broadsheet began to have a double fascination for Charlie, as he started to take aninterest in the advertisem*nts displayed on almost every page. He couldn’t believe that those notes inthe West End were willing to pay good money for things that seemed to him to be nothing more thanunnecessary luxuries. However, it didn’t stop Charlie wanting to taste CocaCola, the latest drink fromAmerica, at a cost of a penny a bottle; or to try the new safety razor from Gillette despite the fact thathe hadn’t even started shaving at sixpence for the holder and tuppence for six blades: he felt sure hisfather, who had only ever used a cutthroat, would consider the very idea sissy. And a woman’s girdleat two guineas struck Charlie as quite ridiculous. Neither Sal nor Kitty would ever need one of thosealthough Posh Porky might soon enough, the way she was going.

So intrigued did Charlie become by these seemingly endless selling opportunities that hestarted to take a tram up to the West End on a Sunday morning just to see for himself. Having riddenon a horse-drawn vehicle to Chelsea, he would then walk slowly back east towards Mayfair, studyingall the goods in the shop windows on the way. He also noted how people dressed and admired themotor vehicles that belched out turns but didn’t drop sh*t as they traveled down the middle of theroad. He even began to wonder just how much it cost to rent a shop in Chelsea.

On the first Sunday in October 1917 Charlie took Sal up West with him to show her the sights,he explained.

Charlie and his sister walked slowly from shop window to shop window, and he was unable

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to hide his excitement at every new discovery he came across. Men’s clothes, hats, shoes, women’sdresses, perfume, undergarments, even cakes and pastries could hold his attention for minutes on end.

“For Gawd’s sake, let’s get ourselves back to Whitechapel where we belong,” said Sal.“Because one thing’s for sure I’m never going to feel at ‘ome ‘ere.”

“But don’t you understand?” said Charlie. “One day I’m going to own a shop in Chelsea.”“Don’t talk daft,” said Sal. “Even Dan Salmon couldn’t ‘ave afforded one of these.”Charlie didn’t bother to reply.When it came to how long Charlie would take to master the baking trade, Becky’s judgment

proved accurate. Within a month he knew almost as much about oven temperatures, controls, risingyeast and the correct mixture of flour to water as either of the two assistants, and as they were dealingwith the same customers as Charlie was on his barrow, sales on both dropped only slightly during thefirst quarter.

Becky turned out to be as good as her word, keeping the accounts in what she described as“apple-pie order” and even opening a set of books for Trumper’s barrow. By the end of their firstthree months as partners they declared a profit of four pounds eleven shillings, despite having a gasoven refitted at Salmon’s and allowing Charlie to buy his first second-hand suit.

Sal continued working as a waitress in a cafe on the Commercial Road, but Charlie knew shecouldn’t wait to find someone willing to marry her whatever physical shape he was in just as long asI can sleep in a room of my own, she explained.

Grace never failed to send a letter on the first of every month, and somehow managed to soundcheerful despite being surrounded by death. She’s just like her mother, Father O’Malley would tellhis parishioners. Kitty still came and went as she pleased, borrowing money from both her sisters aswell as Charlie, and never paying them back. Just like her father, the priest told the sameparishioners.

“Like your new suit,” said Mrs. Smelley, when Charlie dropped off her weekly order thatMonday afternoon. He blushed, raised his cap and pretended not to hear the compliment, as he dashedoff to the baker’s shop.

The second quarter promised to show a further profit on both Charlie’s enterprises, and hewarned Becky that he had his eye on the butcher’s shop, since the owner’s only boy had lost his life atPasschendaele. Becky cautioned him against rushing into another venture before they had discoveredwhat their profit margins were like, and then only if the rather elderly assistants knew what they wereup to. “Because one thing’s for certain, Charlie Trumper,” she told him as they sat down in the littleroom at the back of Salmon’s shop to check the monthly accounts, “you don’t know the first thingabout butchery. ‘Trumper, the honest trader, founded in 1823’ still appeals to me,” she added.“‘Trumper, the foolish bankrupt, folded in 1917’doesn’t.”

Becky also commented on the new suit, but not until she had finished checking a lengthycolumn of figures. He was about to return the compliment by suggesting that she might have lost alittle weight when she leaned across and helped herself to another jam tart.

She ran a sticky finger down the monthly balance sheet, then checked the figures against the

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handwritten bank statement. A profit of eight pounds and fourteen shillings, she wrote in click blackink needy on the bottom line.

“At this rate we’ll be millionaires by the time I’m forty,” said Charlie with a grin.“Forty, Charlie Trumper?” Becky repeated disdainfully. “Not exactly in a hurry, are you?”“What do you mean?” asked Charlie.“Just that I was rather hoping we might have achieved that long before then.”Charlie laughed loudly to cover the fact that he wasn’t quite certain whether or not she was

joking. Once Becky felt sure the ink was day she closed the books and put them back in her satchelwhile Charlie prepared to lock up the baker’s shop. As they stepped out onto the pavement Charliebade his partner good night with an exaggerated bow. He then turnd the key in the lock before startinghis journey home. He whistled the “Lambeth Walk” out of tune as he pushed the few remains left overfrom the day towards the setting sun. Could he really make a million before he was forty, or hadBecky just been teasing him?

As he reached Bert Shorrocks’ place Charlie came to a sudden halt. Outside the front door of112, dressed in a long black cassock, black hat, and with black Bible in hand, stood Father O’Malley.

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CHAPTER3Charlie sat in the carriage of a train bound for Edinburgh and thought about the actions he had takenduring the past four days. Becky had described his decision as foolhardy. Sal hadn’t bothered with the“hardy.” Mrs. Smelley didn’t think he should have gone until he had been called up, while Grace wasstill tending the wounded on the Western Front, so she didn’t even know what he had done. As forKitty, she just sulked and asked how she was expected to survive without him.

Private George Trumper had been killed on 2 November 1917 at Passchendaele, the letter hadinformed him: bravely, while charging the enemy lines at Polygon Wood. Over a thousand men haddied that day attacking a ten-mile front from Messines to Passchendaele, so it wasn’t surprising thatthe lieutenant’s letter was short and to the point.

After a sleepless night, Charlie was the first to be found the following morning standingoutside the recruiting office in Great Scotland Yard. The poster on the wall called for volunteersbetween the ages of eighteen and forty to join up and serve in “General Haig’s” army.

Although not yet eighteen, Charlie prayed that they wouldn’t reject him.When the recruiting sergeant barked, “Name?” Charlie threw out his chest and almost shouted

“Trumper.” He waited anxiously.“Date of birth?” said the man with three white stripes on his arm.“Twentieth of January, 1899,” replied Charlie without hesitation, but his cheeks flushed as he

delivered the words.The recruiting sergeant looked up at him and winked. The letters and numbers were written on

a buff form without comment. “Remove your cap, lad, and report to the medical officer.”A nurse led Charlie through to a cubicle where an elderly man in a long white coat made him

strip to the waist, cough, stick out his tongue and breathe heavily before prodding him all over with acold rubber object He then proceeded to stare into Charlie’s ears and eyes before going on to hit hiskneecaps with a rubber stick. After taking his trousers and underpants off for the first time ever infront of someone who wasn’t a member of his family he was told he had no transmittable diseaseswhatever they were, thought Charlie.

He stared at himself in the mirror as they measured him. “Five feet nine and a quarter,” saidthe orderly.

And still growing, Charlie wanted to add, as he pushed a mop of dark hair out of his eyes.“Teeth in good condition, eyes brown,” stated the elderly doctor. “Not much wrong with you,”

he added. The old man made a series of ticks down the right-hand side of the buff form before tellingCharlie to report back to the chap with the three white stripes.

Charlie found himself waiting in another queue before coming face to face with the sergeantagain.

“Right, lad, sign up here and we’ll issue you with a travel warrant.”Charlie scrawled his signature on the spot above where the sergeant’s finger rested. He

couldn’t help noticing that the man didn’t have a thumb.

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“The Honourable Artillery Company or Royal Fusiliers?” the sergeant asked.“Royal Fusiliers,” said Charlie. “That was my old man’s regiment.”“Royal Fusiliers it is then,” said the sergeant without a second thought, and put a tick in yet

another box.“When do I get my uniform?”“Not until you get to Edinburgh, lad. Report to King’s Cross at zero eight hundred hours

tomorrow morning. Next.”Charlie returned to 112 Whitechapel Road to spend another sleepless night. His thoughts

darted from Sal to Grace and then on to Kity and how two of his sisters would survive in his absence.He also began thinking about Rebecca Salmon and their bargain, but in the end his thoughts alwaysreturned to his father’s grave on a foreign battlefield and the revenge he intended to inflict on anyGerman who dared to cross his path. These sentiments remained with him until the morning light cameshining through the windows.

Charlie put on his new suit, the one Mrs. Smelley had commented on, his best shirt, hisfather’s tie, a flat cap and his only pair of leather shoes. I’m meant to be fighting the Germans, notgoing to a wedding, he said out loud as he looked at himself in the cracked mirror above thewashbasin. He had already written a note to Becky with a little help from Father O’Malley instructingher to sell the shop along with the two barrows if she possibly could and to hold on to his share of themoney until he came back to Whitechapel. No one talked about Christmas any longer.

“And if you don’t retum?” Father O’Malley had asked, head slightly bowed. “What’s tohappen to your possessions then?”

“Divide anything that’s left over equally between my three sisters,” Charlie said.Father O’Malley wrote out his former pupil’s instructions and for the second time in as many

days Charlie signed his name to an official document.After Charlie had finished dressing, he found Sal and Kitty waiting for him by the front door,

but he refused to allow them to accompany him to the station, despite their tearful protest. Both hissisters kissed him another first and Kitty had to have her hand prised out of his before Charlie wasable to pick up the brown paper parcel that contained all his worldly goods.

Alone, he walked to the market and entered the baker’s shop for the last time. The twoassistants swore that nothing would have changed by the time he resumed. He left the shop only tofind another barrow boy, who looked about a year younger than himself was already selling chestnutsfrom his pitch. He walked slowly through the market in the direction of King’s Cross, never oncelooking back.

He arrived at the Great Northem Station half an hour earlier than he had been instructed andimmediately reported to the sergeant who had signed him up on the previous day. “Right, Trumper,get yourself a cup of char, then ‘any about on platform three.” Charlie couldn’t remember when he hadlast been given an order, let alone obeyed one. Certainly not since his grandfather’s death.

Platform three was already crowded with men in uniforms and civilian clothes, some chattingnoisily, others standing silent and alone, each displaying his own particular sense of insecurity.

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At eleven, three hours after they had been ordered to report, they were finally giveninstructions to board a train. Charlie grabbed a seat in the corner of an unlit carriage and stared out ofthe grimy window at a passing English countryside he had never seen before. A mouth organ wasbeing played in the corridor, all the popular melodies of the day slightly out of tune. As they traveledthrough city stations, some he hadn’t even heard of Peterborough, Grantham, Newark, York crowdswaved and cheered their heroes. In Durham the engine came to a halt to take on more coal and water.The recruiting sergeant told them all to disembark, stretch their legs and grab another cup of char, andadded that if they were lucky they might even get something to eat.

Charlie walked along the platform munching a sticky bun to the sound of a military bandplaying “Land of Hope and Glory.” The war was everywhere. Once they were back on the train therewas yet more waving of handkerchiefs from pin-hatted ladies who would remain spinsters for the restof their lives.

The train chugged on northwards, farther and farther away from the enemy, until it finally cameto a halt at Waverly Station in Edinburgh. As they stepped from the carriage, a captain, three NCOsand a thousand women were waiting on the platform to welcome them.

Charlie heard the words, “Carry on, Sergeant Major,” and a moment later a man who musthave been six feet six inches in height, and whose beer-barrel chest was covered in medal ribbonstook a pace forward.

“Let’s ‘ave you in line then,” the giant shouted in an unintelligible accent. He quickly but,Charlie was to learn later, by his own standards slowly organized the men into ranks of three beforereporting back to someone who Charlie assumed must have been an officer. He saluted the man. “Allpresent and correct, sir,” he said and the smartest-dressed man Charlie had ever seen in his lifereturned the salute. He appeared slight standing next to the sergeant major, although he must have beena shade over six feet himself. His uniform was immaculate but paraded no medals, and the creases onhis trousers were so sharp that Charlie wondered if they had ever been worn before. The youngofficer held a short leacher stick in a gloved hand and occasionally thumped the side of his leg withit, as if he Thought he were on horseback. Charlie’s eyes settled on the officer’s Sam Browne beltand brown leather shoes. They shone so brightly they reminded him of Rebecca Salmon.

“My name is Captain Trentham,” the man informed the expectant band of untrained warriors inan accent that Charlie suspected would have sounded more in place in Mayfair than at a railwaystation in Scotland. “I’m the battalion adjutant,” he went on to explain as he swayed from foot to foot,“and will be responsible for this intake for the period that you are billeted in Edinburgh. First wewill march to the barracks, where you will be issued supplies so that you can get yourselves beddeddown. Supper will be served at eighteen hundred hours and lights out will be at twenty-one hundredhours. Tomorrow morning reveille will be sounded at zero five hundred, when you will rise andbreakfast before you begin your basic training at zero six hundred. This routine will last for the nexttwelve weeks. And I can promise you that it will be twelve weeks of absolute hell,” he added,sounding as if the idea didn’t altogether displease him. “During this period Sergeant Major Philpottwill be the senior warrant officer in charge of the unit. The sergeant major fought on the Somme,where he was awarded the Military Medal, so he knows exactly what you can expect when weeventually end up in France and have to face the enemy. Listen to his every word carefully, because it

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might be the one thing that saves your life. Carry on, Sergeant Major.”“Thank you, sir,” said Sergeant Major Philpott in a clipped bark.The motley band stared in awe at the figure who would be in charge of their lives for the next

three months. He was, after all, a man who had seen the enemy and come home to tell the tale.“Right, let’s be having you then,” he said, and proceeded to lead his recruits carrying

everything from battered suitcases to brown paper parcels through the streets of Edinburgh at thedouble, only to be sure that the locals didn’t realize just how undisciplined this rabble really was.Despite their amateur appearance, passersby still stopped to cheer and clap. Out of the corner of oneeye Charlie couldn’t help noticing that one of them was resting his only hand against his only leg.Some twenty minutes later, after a climb up the biggest hill Charlie had ever seen, one that literallytook his breath away, they entered the barracks of Edinburgh Castle.

That evening Charlie hardly opened his mouth as he listened to the different accents of the menbabbling around him. After a supper of pea soup “One pea each,” the duty corporal quipped and bullybeef, he was quartered and learning new words by the minute in a large gymnasium that temporarilyhoused four hundred beds, each a mere two feet in width and set only a foot apart. On a thin horsehairmattress rested one sheet, one pillow and one blanket. King’s Regulations.

It was the first time Charlie had thought that 112 Whitechapel Road might be consideredluxurious. Exhausted, he collapsed onto the unmade bed, fell asleep, but still woke the next morning atfour-thirty. This time, however, there was no market to go to, and certainly no choice as to whether heshould select a Cox’s or a Granny Smith for breakfast.

At five a lone bugle woke his companions from their drowsy slumber. Charlie was already up,washed and dressed when a man with two stripes on his sleeve marched in. He slammed the doorbehind him and shouted, “Up, up, up,” as he kicked the end of any bed that still had a body supine onit. The raw recruits leaned up and formed a queue to wash in basins half full of freezing water,changed only after every third man. Some then went off to the latrines behind the back of the hall,which Charlie thought smelled worse than the middle of Whitechapel Road on a steaming summer’sday.

Breakfast consisted of one ladle of porridge, half a cup of milk and a dry biscuit, but no onecomplained. The cheerful noise that emanated from that hall wouldn’t have left any German in doubtthat these recruits were all united against a common enemy.

At six after their beds had been made and inspected, they ah trudged out into the dark cold airand onto the parade ground, its surface covered in a thin film of snow.

“If this is bonny Scotland,” Charlie heard a co*ckney accent declare, “then I’m a bloodyDutchman.” Charlie laughed for the first time since he had left Whitechapel and strolled over to ayouth far smaller than himself who was rubbing his hands between his legs as he tried to keep warm.

“Where you from?” Charlie asked.“Poplar, mate. And you?”“Whitechapel.”“Bloody foreigner.”

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Charlie stared at his new companion. The youth couldn’t have been an inch over five feetthree, skinny, with dark curly hair and flashing eyes that never seemed to be still, as if he werealways on the lookout for trouble. His shiny, elbow-patched suit hung on him, making his shoulderslook like a coathanger.

“Charlie Trumper’s the name.”“Tommy Prescott,” came back the reply. He stopped his exercises and thrust out a warm hand.

Charlie shook it vigorously.“Quiet in the ranks,” hollered the sergeant major. “Now let’s get you formed up in columns of

three. Tallest on the right, shortest on the left. Move.” They parted.For the next two hours they carried out what the sergeant major described as “drill.” The snow

continued to drop unceasingly from the sky, but the sergeant major showed no inclination to allow oneflake to settle on his parade ground. They marched in three ranks of ten, which Charlie later learnedwere called sections, arms swinging to waist height, heads held high, one hundred and twenty pacesto the minute. “Look lively, lads” and “Keep in step” were the words Charlie had shouted at himagain and again. “The Boche are also marching out there somewhere, and they can’t wait to have acrack at you lot,” the sergeant major assured them as the snow continued to fall.

Had he been in Whitechapel, Charlie would have been happy to run up and down the marketfrom five in the morning to seven at night and still box a few rounds at the club, drink a couple ofpints of beer and carry out the same routine the next day without a second thought, but when at nineo’clock the sergeant major gave them a ten-minute break for cocoa, he collapsed onto the grass vergeexhausted. Looking up, he found Tommy Prescott peering at him. “fa*g?”

“No, thanks,” said Charlie. “I don’t smoke.”“What’s your trade then?” asked Tommy, lighting up.“I own a baker’s shop on the corner of Whitechapel Road,” replied Charlie, “and a... ““Ring the other one, it’s got bells on,” interrupted Tommy. “Next you’ll be telling me your

dad’s Lord Mayor of London.”Charlie laughed. “Not exactly. So what do you do?”“Work for a brewery, don’t I? Whitbread and Company, Chiswell Street, EC1. I’m the one

who puts the barrels on the carts, and then the shire ‘orses pulls me round the East End so that I candeliver my wares. Pay’s not good, but you can always drink yourself silly before you get back eachnight.”

“So what made you join up?”“Now that’s a long story, that is,” replied Tommy. “You see, to start with... ““Right. Back on parade, you lot,” shouted Sergeant Major Philpott, and neither man had the

breath to speak another word for the next two hours as they were marched up and down, up and down,until Charlie felt that when they eventually stopped his feet must surely fall off.

Lunch consisted of bread and cheese, neither of which Charlie would have dared to offer forsale to Mrs. Smelley. As they munched hungrily, he reamed how Tommy at the age of eighteen had

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been given the choice of two years at His Majesty’s pleasure or volunteering to fight for King andcountry. He tossed a coin and the King’s head landed face up.

“Two years?” said Charlie. “But what for?”“Nicking the odd barrel ‘ere and there and making a side deal with one or two of the more

crafty landlords. I’d been getting away with it for ages. An ‘undred years ago they would ‘ave ‘angedme on the spot or sent me off to Australia, so I can’t complain. After all, that’s what I’m trained for,ain’t it?”

“What do you mean?” asked Charlie.“Well, my father was a professional pickpocket, wasn’t ‘e? And ‘is father before ‘im. You

should have seen Captain Trentham’s face when ‘e found out that I had chosen a spell in the Fusiliersrather than going back to jail.”

Twenty minutes was the time allocated for lunch and then the afternoon was taken up withbeing fitted with a uniform. Charlie, who turnd out to be a regular size, was dealt with fairly quickly,but it took almost an hour to find anything that didn’t make Tommy look as if he were entering a sackrace.

Once they were back in the billet Charlie folded up his best suit and placed it under the bednext to the one Tommy had setded on, then swaggered around the room in his new uniform.

“Dead men’s clothes,” warned Tommy, as he looked up and studied Charlie’s khaki jacket.“What do you mean?”“Been sent back from the front, ‘asn’t it? Cleaned and sewn up,” said Tommy, pointing to a

two-inch mend just above Charlie’s heart. “About wide enough to thrust a bayonet through, I reckon,”he added.

After another two-hour session on the now freezing parade ground they were released forsupper.

“More bloody stale bread and cheese,” said Tommy morosely, but Charlie was far too hungryto complain as he scooped up every last crumb with a wet finger. For the second night running hecollapsed on his bed.

“Enjoyed our first day serving King and country, ‘ave we?” asked the duty corporal of hischarges, when at twenty-one hundred hours he turned down the gaslights in the barracks room.

“Yes, thank you, Corp,” came back the sarcastic cry.“Good,” said the corporal, “because we’re always gentle with you on the first day.”A groan went up that Charlie reckoned must have been heard in the middle of Edinburgh.

Above the nervous chatter that continued once the corporal had left Charlie could hear the last postbeing played on a bugle from the castle battlements. He fell asleep.

When Charlie woke the next morning he jumped out of bed immediately and was washed anddressed before anyone else had stirred. He had folded up his sheets and blankets and was polishinghis boots by the time reveille sounded.

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“Aren’t we the early bird?” said Tommy, as he turned over. “But why bother, I ask myself,when all you’re goin’ to get for breakfast is a worm.”

“If you’re first in the queue at least it’s an ‘of worm,” said Charlie. “And in any case... ““Feet on the floor. On the Door,” the corporal bellowed, as he entered the billet and banged

the frame on the end of every bed he passed with his cane.“Of course,” suggested Tommy, as he tried to stifle a yawn, “a man of property like yourself

would need to be up early of a mornin’, to make sure ‘is workers were already on parade and notshirkin’.”

“Stop talking you two and look sharpish,” said the corporal. “And get yourselves dressed oryou’ll find yourself on fatigues.”

“I am dressed, Corp,” insisted Charlie.“Don’t answer me back, laddie, and don’t call me ‘carp’ unless you want a spell cleaning out

the latrines.” That threat was even enough to get Tommy’s feet on the floor.The second morning consisted of more drill accompanied by the ever-falling snow, which this

time had a twoinch start on them, followed by another lunch of bread and cheese. The afternoon,however, was designated on company orders as “Games and Recreation.” So it was a change ofclothes before jogging in step over to the gymnasium for physical jerks followed by boxinginstruction.

Charlie, now a light middleweight, couldn’t wait to get in the ring while Tommy somehowmanaged to keep himself out of the firing line, although both of them became aware of CaptainTrentham’s menacing presence as his swagger stick continually struck the side of his leg. He alwaysseemed to be hanging about, keeping a watchful eye on them. The only smile that crossed his lips allafternoon was when he saw someone knocked out. And every time he came across Tommy he justscowled.

“I’m one of nature’s seconds,” Tommy told Charlie later that evening. “You’ve no doubt ‘cardthe expression ‘seconds out.’ Well, that’s me,” he explained as his friend lay on his bed, staring up atthe ceiling.

“Do we ever escape from this place, Corp?” Tommy asked when the duty corporal entered thebarracks a few minutes before lights out. “You know, for like good behavior?”

“You’ll be allowed out on Saturday night,” said the corporal. “Three hours restricted leavefrom six to nine when you can do what you please. However, you will go no farther than two milesfrom the barracks, you will behave in a manner that befits a Royal Fusilier and you will report backto the guardroom sober as a judge at one minute before nine. Sleep well, my lovelies.” These werethe corporal’s final words before he went round the barracks turning down every one of the gaslights.

When Saturday night eventually came, two swollen-footed, limb-aching, shattered soldierscovered as much of the city as they possibly could in three hours with only five shillings each tospend, a problem that limited their discussions on which pub to select.

Despite this, Tommy seemed to know how to get more beer per penny out of any landlord thanCharlie had ever dreamed possible, even when he couldn’t understand what they were saying or make

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himself understood. While they were in their last port of call, the Volunteer, Tommy evendisappeared out of the pub followed by the barmaid, a pert, slightly plump girl called Rose. Tenminutes later he was back.

“What were you coin’ out there?” asked Charlie.“What do you think, idiot?”“But you were only away for ten minutes.”“Quite enough time,” said Tommy. “Only officers need more than ten minutes for what I was

up to.”During the following week they had their first rifle lesson, bayonet practice and even a session

of map reading. While Charlie quickly mastered the art of map reading it was Tommy who took onlya day to find his way round a rifle. By their third lesson he could strip the barrel and put the piecesback together again faster than the instructor.

On Wednesday morning of the second week Captain Trentham gave them their first lecture onthe history of the Royal Fusiliers. Charlie might have quite enjoyed the lesson if Trentham hadn’t leftthe impression that none of them was worthy of being in the same regiment as himself.

“Those of us who selected the Royal Fusiliers because of historic links or family ties may feelthat allowing criminals to join our ranks simply because we’re at war is hardly likely to advance theregiment’s reputation,” he said, looking pointedly in the direction of Tommy.

“Stuck-up snob,” declared Tommy, just loud enough to reach every ear in the lecture theaterexcept the captain’s. The ripple of laughter that followed brought a scowl to Trentham’s face.

On Thursday afternoon Captain Trentham returned to the gym, but this time he was not strikingthe side of his leg with a swayer stick. He was killed up in a white m singlet, dark blue shorts and athick white sweater; the new outfit was just as neat and tidy as his uniform. He walked aroundwatching the instructors putting the men through their paces and, as on his last visit, seemed to take aparticular interest in what was going on in the boxing ring. For an hour the men were placed in pairswhile they received basic instructions, first in defense and then in attack. “Hold your guard up,laddie,” were the words barked out again and again whenever fists reached chins.

By the time Charlie and Tommy climbed through the ropes, Tommy had made it clear to hisfriend that he hoped to get away with three minutes’ shadowboxing.

“Get stuck into each other, you two,” shouted Trentham, but although Charlie started to labaway at Tommy’s chest he made no attempt to inflict any real pain.

“If you don’t get on with it, I’ll take on both of you, one after the other,” shouted Trentham.“I’ll bet ‘e couldn’t knock the cream off a custard puddin’,” said Tommy, but this time his

voice did carry, and to the instructor’s dismay, Trentham immediately leaped up into the ring andsaid, “We’ll see about that.” He asked the coach to fit him up with a pair of boxing gloves.

“I’ll have three rounds with each of these two men,” Trentham said as a reluctant instructorlaced up the captain’s gloves. Everyone else in the gymnasium stopped to watch what was going on.

“You first. What’s your name?” asked the captain, pointing to Tommy.

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“Prescott, sir,” said Tommy, with a grin.“Ah yes, the convict,” said Trentham, and removed the grin in the first minute, as Tommy

danced around him trying to stay out of trouble. In the second round Trentham began to land the oddpunch, but never hard enough to allow Tommy to go down. He saved that humiliation for the thirdround, when he knocked Tommy out with an uppercut that the lad from Poplar never saw. Tommy wascarried out of the ring as Charlie was having his gloves laced up.

“Now it’s your turn, Private,” said Trentham. “What’s your name?”“Trumper, sir.”“Well. Let’s get on with it, Trumper,” was all the captain said before advancing towards him.For the first two minutes Charlie defended himself well, using the ropes and the corner as he

ducked and dived, remembering every skill he had learned at the Whitechapel Boys’ Club. He felt hemight even have given the captain a good run for his money if it hadn’t been for the damned man’sobvious advantage of height and weight.

By the third minute Charlie had begun to gain confidence and even landed a punch or two, tothe delight of the onlookers. As the round ticked to an end, he felt he had acquitted himself ratherwell. When the bell sounded he dropped his gloves and turned to go back to his corner. A secondlater the captain’s clenched fist landed on the side of Charlie’s nose. Everyone in that gymnasiumheard the break as Charlie staggered against the ropes. No one mummured as the captain unlaced hisgloves and climbed out of the ring. “Never let your guard down” was the only solace he offered.

When Tommy studied the state of his friend’s face that night as Charlie lay on his bed, all hesaid was, “Sorry, mate, all my fault. Bloody man’s a sad*st. But don’t worry, if the Germans don’t getthe bastard, I will.”

Charlie could only manage a thin smile.By Saturday they had both recovered sufficiently to fall in with the rest of the company for pay

parade, waiting in a long queue to collect five shillings each from the paymaster. During their threehours off duly that night the pennies disappeared more quickly than the queue, but Tommy somehowcontinued to get better value for money than any other recruit.

By the beginning of the third week, Charlie could only just fit his swollen toes into the heavyleather boots the army had supplied him with, but looking down the rows of feet that adorned thebarracks room floor each morning he could see that none of his comrades was any better off.

“Fatigues for you, my lad, that’s for sure,” shouted the corporal. Charlie shot him a glance, butthe words were being directed at Tommy in the next bed.

“What for, Corp?” asked Tommy.“For the state of your sheets. Just look at them. You might have had three women in there with

you during the night.” “Only two, to be ‘onest with you, Corp.”“Less of your lip, Prescott, and see that you report for latrine duty straight after breakfast.”

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“I’ve already been this morning, thank you, Corp.”“Shut up, Tommy,” said Charlie. “You’re only makin’ things more difficult for yourself.”“I see you’re gettin’ to understand my problem,” whispered Tommy. “It’s just that the corp’s

worse than the bloody Germans.”“I can only ‘ope so, lad, for your sake,” came back the corporal’s reply. “Because that’s the

one chance you’ve got of coming through this whole thing alive. Now get yourself off to the latrines atthe double.”

Tommy disappeared, only to return an hour later smelling like a manure heap.“You could kill off the entire German army without any of us having to fire a shot,” said

Charlie. “All you’d ‘ave to do is stand in front of ‘em and ‘ape the wind was blowin’ in the rightdirection.”

It was during the fifth week Christmas and the New Year having passed with little to celebratethat Charlie was put in charge of the duty roster for his own section.

“They’ll be makin’ you a bleedin’ colonel before you’ve finished,” said Tommy.“Don’t be stupid,” replied Charlie. “Everyone gets a chance at runnin’ the section at some

time durin’ the twelve weeks.”“Can’t see them takin’ that risk with me,” said Tommy. “I’d turn the rifles on the officers and

my first shot would be aimed at that bastard Trentham.”Charlie found that he enjoyed the responsibility of having to organize the section for seven

days and was only sorry when his week was up and the task was handed on to someone else.By the sixth week, Charlie could strip and clean a rifle almost as quickly as Tommy, but it was

his friend who turned out to be a crack shot and seemed to be able to hit anything that moved at twohundred yards. Even the sergeant major was impressed.

“All those hours spent on rifle ranges at fairs might ‘ave somethin’ to do with it,” admittedTommy. “But what I want to know is, when do I get a crack at the Huns?”

“Sooner than you think, lad,” promised the corporal.“Must complete twelve weeks’ trainin’,” said Charlie. “That’s King’s Regulations. So we

won’t get the chance for at least another month.”“King’s Regulations be damned,” said Tommy. “I’m told this war could be all over before I

even get a shot at them.”“Not much ‘ope of that,” said the corporal, as Charlie reloaded and took aim.“Trumper,” barked a voice.“Yes, sir,” said Charlie, surprised to find the duly sergeant standing by his side.“The adjutant wants to see you. Follow me.”“But Sergeant, I haven’t done anythin’... ““Don’t argue, lad, just follow me.”

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“It ‘as to be the firin’ squad,” said Tommy. “And just because you wet your bed. Tell ‘im I’llvolunteer to be the one who pulls the trigger. That way at least you can be certain it’d be over quick.”

Charlie unloaded his magazine, grounded his rifle and chased after the sergeant.“Don’t forget, you can insist on a blindfold. Just a pity you don’t smoke,” were Tommy’s last

words as Charlie disappeared across the parade ground at the double.The sergeant came to a halt outside the adjutant’s hut, and an out-of-breath Charlie caught up

with him just as the door was opened by a color sergeant who turned to Charlie and said, “Stand toattention, lad, remain one pace behind me and don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. Understood?”

“Yes, Color Sergeant.”Charlie followed the color sergeant through the outer office until they reached another door

marked “Capt. Trentham, Adj.” Charlie could feel his heart pumping away as the color sergeantknocked quietly on the door.

“Enter,” said a bored voice and the two men marched in, took four paces forward and came toa halt in front of Captain Trentham.

The color sergeant saluted.“Private Trumper, 7312087, reporting as ordered, sir,” he bellowed, despite neither of them

being more than a yard away from Captain Trentham.The adjutant looked up from behind his desk.“Ah yes, Trumper. I remember, you’re the baker’s lad from Whitechapel.” Charlie was about

to correct him when Trentham turned away to stare out of the window, obviously not anticipating areply. “The sergeant major has had his eye on you for several weeks,” Trentham continued, “and feelsyou’d be a good candidate for promotion to lance corporal. I have my doubts, I must confess.However, I do accept that occasionally it’s necessary to promote a volunteer in order to keep upmorale in the ranks. I presume you will take on this responsibility, Trumper?” he added still notbothering to look in Charlie’s direction.

Charlie didn’t know what to say.“Yes, sir, thank you, sir,” offered the color sergeant before bellowing, “About turn, quick

march, left, right, left, right.”Ten seconds later Lance Corporal Charlie Trumper of the Royal Fusiliers found himself back

out on the parade ground.“Lance Corporal Trumper,” said Tommy in disbelief after he had been told the news. “Does

that mean I ‘ave to call you ‘sir’?”“Don’t be daft, Tommy. ‘Corp’ will do,” Charlie said with a grin, as he sat on the end of the

bed sewing a single stripe onto an arm of his uniform.The following day Charlie’s section of ten began to wish that he hadn’t spent the previous

fourteen years of his life visiting the early morning market. Their drill, their boots, their turnout andtheir weapons training became the benchmark for the whole company, as Charlie drove them harderand harder. The highlight for Charlie, however, came in the eleventh week, when they left the

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barracks to travel to Glasgow where Tommy won the King’s Prize for rifle shooting, beating all theofficers and men from seven other regiments.

“You’re a genius,” said Charlie, after the colonel had presented his friend with the silver cup.“Wonder if there’s an ‘elf good fence to be found in Glasgow,’ was all Tommy had to say on

the subject.The passing out parade was held on Saturday, 23 February 1918, which ended with Charlie

marching his section up and down the parade ground keeping step with the regimental band, and forthe first time feeling like a soldier even if Tommy still resembled a sack of potatoes.

When the parade finally came to an end, Sergeant Major Philpott congratulated them all andbefore dismissing the parade told the troops they could take the rest of the day off, but they must returnto barracks and be tucked up in bed before midnight.

The assembled company was let loose on Edinburgh for the last time. Tommy took chargeagain as the lads of Number 11 platoon lurched from pub to pub becoming drunker and drunker,before finally ending up in their established local, the Volunteer, on Leith Walk.

Ten happy soldiers stood around the piano sinking pint after pint as they sang, “Pack up yourtroubles in your old kit bag” and repeating every other item in their limited repertoire. Tommy, whowas accompanying them on the mouth organ, noticed that Charlie couldn’t take his eyes off Rose thebarmaid who, although on the wrong side of thirty, never stopped flirting with the young recruits.Tommy broke away from the group to join his friend at the bar. “Fancy ‘er, mate, do you?”

“Yep, but she’s your girl,” said Charlie as he continued to stare at the long-haired blonde whopretended to ignore their attentions. He noticed that she had one button of her blouse more than usualundone.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Tommy. “In any case, I owe you one for that broken nose.”Charlie laughed when Tommy added, “So we’ll ‘ave to see what I can do about it.” Tommy

winked at Rose, then left Charlie to join her at the far end of the bar.Charlie found that he couldn’t get himself to look at them, although he was still able to see

from their reflection in the mirror behind the bar that they were deep in conversation. Rose on acouple of occasions turned to look in his direction. A moment later Tommy was standing by his side.

“It’s all fixed, Charlie,” he said.“What do you mean, ‘fixed’?”“Exactly what I said. All you ‘ave to do is go out to the shed at the back of the pub where they

pile up them empty crates, and Rose should be with you in a jiffy.”Charlie sat glued to the bar stool.“Well, get on with it,” said Tommy, “before the bleedin’ woman changes her mind.”Charlie slipped off his stool and out of a side door without looking back. He only hoped that

no one was watching him, as he almost ran down the unlit passage and out of the back door. He stoodalone in the corner of the yard feeling more than a little stupid as he stamped up and down to keepwamm. A shiver went through him and he began to wish he were back in the bar. A few moments later

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he shivered again, sneezed and decided the time had come to return to his mates and forget it. He waswalking towards the door just as Rose came bushing out.

“‘Ello, I’m Rose. Sorry I took so long, but a customer came in just as you darted off.” Hestared at her in the poor light that filtered through a tiny window above the door. Yet another buttonwas undone, revealing the top of a black girdle.

“Charlie Trumper,” said Charlie, offering her his hand.“I know.” She giggled. “Tommy told me all about you, said you were probably the best lay in

the platoon. ““I think ‘e might ‘ave been exaggeratin’,” said Charlie turning bright red, as Rose reached out

with both her hands, taking him in her arms. She kissed him first on his neck, then his face and finallyhis mouth. She then parted Charlie’s lips expertly before her tongue began to play with his.

To begin with Charlie was not quite sure what was happening, but he liked the sensation somuch that he just continued to hold on to her, and after a time even began to press his tongue againsthers. It was Rose who was the first to break away.

“Not so hard, Charlie. Relax. Prizes are awarded for endurance, not for strength.”Charlie began to kiss her again, this time more gently as he felt the corner of a beer crate jab

into his buttocks. He tentatively placed a hand on her left breast, and let it remain there, not quite surewhat to do next as he tried to make himself slightly more comfortable. It didn’t seem to matter thatmuch, because Rose knew exactly what was expected of her and quickly undid the remaining buttonsof her blouse, revealing ample breasts well worthy of her name. She lifted a leg up onto a pile of oldbeer crates, leaving Charlie faced with an expanse of bare pink thigh. He placed his free handtentatively on the soft flesh. He wanted to run his fingers up as far as they would go, but he remainedmotionless, like a frozen frame in a black and white film.

Once again Rose took the lead, and removing her arms from around his neck started to undothe buttons on the front of his trousers. A moment later she slid her hand inside his underpants andstarted to rub. Charlie couldn’t believe what was happening although he felt it was well worth gettinga broken nose for.

Rose began to rub faster and faster and started to pull down her knickers with her free hand.Charlie felt more and more out of control until suddenly Rose stopped, pulled herself away and stareddown the front of her dress. “If you’re the best lay the platoon has to offer, I can only hope theGermans win this bloody war.”

The following morning battalion orders were posted on the board in the duty officers’ mess.The new battalion of Fusiliers was now considered to be of fighting strength and were expected tojoin the Allies on the Western Front. Charlie wondered if the comradeship that had bound such adisparate bunch of lads together during the past three months was quite enough to make them capableof joining combat with the elite of the German army.

On the train journey back south they were cheered once again as they passed through everystation, and this time Charlie felt they were more worthy of the hatted ladies’ respect. Finally thatevening the engine pulled into Maidstone, where they disembarked, and were put up for the night at

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the local barracks of the Royal West Kents.At zero six hundred hours the following morning Captain Trentham gave them a full briefing:

they were to be transported by ship to Boulogne, they learned and after ten days’ further training theywould be expected to march on to Etaples, where they would join their regiment under the commandof LieutentantColonel Sir Danvers Hamilton, DSO, who, they were assured, was preparing for amassive assault on the German defenses. They spent the rest of the morning checking over theirequipment before being herded up a gangplank and onto the waiting troop carrier.

After the ship’s foghorn had blasted out six times they set sail from Dover, one thousand menhuddled together on the deck of HMS Resolution, singing, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

“Ever been abroad before, Corp?” Tommy asked.“No, not unless you count Scotland,” replied Charlie.“Neither ‘ave I,” said Tommy nervously. After a few more minutes he mumbled, “You

frightened?”“No, of course not,” said Charlie. “Bleedin’ terrified. ““Me too,” said Tommy.“Goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square. It’s a long, long way to...”

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CHAPTER4Charlie felt seasick only a few minutes after the English coast was out of sight. “I’ve never been on aboat before,” he admitted to Tommy, “unless you count the paddle steamer at Brighton.” Over half themen around him spent the crossing bringing up what little food they had eaten for breakfast.

“No officers coughin’ up as far as I can see,” said Tommy.“Perhaps that lot are used to sailin’.”“Or doing it in their cabins.”When at last the French coast came in sight, a cheer went up from the soldiers on deck. By then

all they wanted to do was set foot on dry land. And dry it would have been if the heavens hadn’topened the moment the ship docked and the troops set foot on French soil. Once everyone haddisembarked, the sergeant major warned them to prepare for a fifteen-mile route-march.

Charlie kept his section squelching forward through the mud with songs from the music halls,accompanied by Tommy on the mouth organ. When they reached Etaples and had set up camp for thenight, Charlie decided that perhaps the gymnasium in Edinburgh had been luxury after all.

Once the last post had been played, two thousand eyes closed, as soldiers under canvas for thefirst time tried to sleep. Each platoon had placed two men on guard duty, with orders to change themevery two hours, to ensure that no one went without rest. Charlie drew the four o’clock watch withTommy.

After a restless night of tossing and turning on lumpy, wet French soil, Charlie was woken atfour, and in turn kicked Tommy, who simply turnd over and went straight back to sleep. Minutes laterCharlie was outside the tent, buttoning up his jacket before continually slapping himself on the back inan effort to keep warm. As his eyes slowly became accustomed to the half light, he began to make outrow upon row of brown tents stretching as far as the eye could see.

“Mornin’, Corp,” said Tommy, when he appeared a little after four-twenty. “Got a lucifer, byany chance?”

“No, I ‘aven’t. And what I need is an ‘or cocoa, or an ‘ot somethin’.”“Whatever your command, Corp.”Tommy wandered off to the cookhouse tent and resumed half an hour later with two hot cocoas

and two dry biscuits.“No sugar, I’m afraid,” he told Charlie. “That’s only for sergeants and above. I told them you

were a general in disguise but they said that all the generals were back in London sound asleep intheir beds.”

Charlie smiled as he placed his frozen fingers round the hot mug and sipped slowly to be surethat the simple pleasure lasted.

Tommy surveyed the skyline. “So where are all these bleedin’ Germans we’ve been told somuch about?”

“‘Eaven knows,” said Charlie. “But you can be sure they’re out there somewhere, probablyaskin’ each other where we are.”

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At six o’clock Charlie woke the rest of his section. They were up and ready for inspection,with the tent down and folded back into a small square by six-thirty.

Another bugle signaled breakfast, and the men took their places in a queue that Charliereckoned would have gladdened the heart of any barrow boy in the Whitechapel Road.

When Charlie eventually reached the front of the queue, he held out his biltycan to receive aladle of lumpy porridge and a stale piece of bread. Tommy winked at the boy in his long white jacketand blue check trousers. “And to think I’ve waited all these years to sample French cookie’.”

“It gets worse the nearer you get to the front line,” the cook promised him.For the next ten days they set up camp at Etaples, spending their mornings being marched over

dunes, their afternoons being instructed in gas warfare and their evenings being told by CaptainTrentham the different ways they could die.

On the eleventh day they gathered up their belongings, packed up their tents and were formedinto companies so they could be addressed by the Commanding Officer of the Regiment.

Over a thousand men stood in a formed square on a muddy field somewhere in France,wondering if twelve weeks of training and ten days of “acclimatization” could possibly have madethem ready to face the might of the German forces.

“P’raps they’ve only ‘ad twelve weeks’ training as well,” said Tommy, hopefully.At exactly zero nine hundred hours Lieutenant Colonel Sir Danvers Hamilton, DSO, trotted in

on a jetblack mare and brought his charge to a halt in the middle of the man-made square. He began toaddress the troops. Charlie’s abiding memory of the speech was that for fifteen minutes the horsenever moved.

“Welcome to France,” Colonel Hamilton began, placing a monocle over his left eye. “I onlywish it were a day trip you were on.” A little laughter trickled out of the ranks. “However, I’m afraidwe’re not going to be given much time off until we’ve sent the Huns back to Germany where theybelong, with their tails between their legs.” This time cheering broke out in the ranks. “And neverforget, it’s an away match, and we’re on a sticky wicket. Worse, the Germans don’t understand thelaws of cricket.” More laughter, although Charlie suspected the colonel meant every word he said.

“Today,” the colonel continued, “we march towards Ypres where we will set up camp beforebeginning a new and I believe final assault on the German front. This time I’m convinced we willbreak through the German lines, and the glorious Fusiliers will surely carry the honors of the day.Fortune be with you all, and God save the King.”

More cheers were followed by a rendering of the National Anthem from the regimental band.The troops joined in lustily with heart and voice.

It took another five days of route marching before they heard the first sound of artillery fire,could smell the trenches and therefore knew they must be approaching the battlefront. Another day andthey passed the large green tents of the Red Cross. Just before eleven that morning Charlie saw hisfirst dead soldier, a lieutenant from the East Yorkshire Regiment.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Tommy. “Bullets can’t tell the difference between officers andenlisted men.”

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Within another mile they had both witnessed so many stretchers, so many bodies and so manylimbs no longer attached to bodies that no one had the stomach for jokes. The battalion, it becameclear, had arrived at what the newspapers called the “Western Front.” No war correspondent,however, could have described the gloom that pervaded the air, or the look of hopelessness ingrainedon the faces of anyone who had been there for more than a few days.

Charlie stared out at the open fields that must once have been productive farmland. All thatremained was the odd burned-out farmhouse to mark the spot where civilization had once existed.There was still no sign of the enemy. He tried to take in the surrounding countryside that was to be hishome during the months that lay ahead if he lived that long. Every soldier knew that average lifeexpectancy at the front was seventeen days.

Charlie left his men resting in their tents while he set out to do his own private tour. First hecame across the reserve trenches a few hundred yards in front of the hospital tents, known as the“hotel area” as they were a quarter of a mile behind the front line, where each soldier spent four dayswithout a break before being allowed four days of rest in the reserve trenches. Charlie strolled on upto the front like some visiting tourist who was not involved in a war. He listened to the few men whohad survived for more than a few weeks and talked of “Blighty” and prayed only for a “cushy wound”so they could be moved to the nearest hospital tent and, if they were among the lucky ones, eventuallybe sent home to England.

As the stray bullets whistled across no man’s land, Charlie fell on his knees and crawled backto the reserve trenches, to brief his platoon on what they might expect once they were pushed forwardanother hundred yards.

The trenches, he told his men, stretched from horizon to horizon and at any one time could beoccupied by ten thousand troops. In front of them, about twenty yards away, he had seen a barbed-wire fence some three feet high which an old corporal told him had already cost a thousand lives ofthose who had done nothing more than erect it. Beyond that lay no man’s land, consisting of fivehundred acres once owned by an innocent family caught in the center of someone else’s war. Beyondthat lay the Germans’ barbed wire, and beyond that still the Germans, waiting for them in theirtrenches.

Each army, it seemed, lay in its own sodden, ratinfested dugouts for days, sometimes months,waiting for the other side to make a move. Less than a mile separated them. If a head popped up tostudy the terrain, a bullet followed from the other side. If the order was to advance, a man’s chancesof completing twenty yards would not have been considered worth chalking up on a bookie’sblackboard. If you reached the wire there were two ways of dying; if you reached the Germantrenches, a dozen.

If you stayed still, you could die of cholera, chlorine gas, gangrene, typhoid or trench foot thatsoldiers stuck bayonets through to take away the pain. Almost as many men died behind the lines asdid from going over the top, an old sergeant told Charlie, and it didn’t help to know that the Germanswere suffering the same problems a few hundred yards away.

Charlie tried to settle his ten men into a routine. They carried out their daily duties, bailedwater out of their trenches, cleaned equipment even played football to fill the hours of boredom andwaiting. Charlie picked up rumors and counter-rumors of what the future might hold for them. He

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suspected that only the colonel seated in HQ, a mile behind the lines, really had much idea of whatwas going on.

Whenever it was Charlie’s turn to spend four days in the advance trenches, his section seemedto occupy most of their time filling their billycans with pints of water, as they struggled to bail out thegallons that dropped daily from the heavens. Sometimes the water in the trenches would reachCharlie’s kneecaps.

“The only reason I didn’t sign up for the navy was because I couldn’t swim,” Tommygrumbled. “And no one warned me I could drown just as easily in the army.,

Even soaked, frozen and hungry, they somehow remained cheerful. For seven weeks Charlieand his section endured such conditions, waiting for fresh orders that would allow them to advance.The only advance they learned of during that time was von Ludendorff’s The German general hadcaused the Allies to retreat some forty miles, losing four hundred thousand men while another eightythousand were captured. Captain Trentham was generally the bearer of such news, and what annoyedCharlie even more was that he always looked so smart, clean and worse warm and well fed.

Two men from his own section had already died without even seeing the enemy. Most soldierswould have been only too happy to go over the top, as they no longer believed they would survive awar some were saying would last forever. The boredom was broken only by bayoneting rats, bailingmore water out of the trench or having to Fisten to Tommy repeat the same old melodies on a nowrusty mouth organ.

It wasn’t until the ninth week that orders finally came through and they were called back to themanmade square. The colonel, monocle in place, once again briefed them from his motionless horse.The Royal Fusiliers were to advance on the German lines the following morning, having been giventhe responsibility for breaking through their northern flank. The Irish Guards would give them supportfrom the right flank, while the Welsh would advance from the left.

“Tomorrow will be a day of glory for the Fusiliers,” Colonel Hamilton assured them. “Nowyou must rest as the battle will commence at first light.”

On returning to the trenches, Charlie was surprised to find that the thought of at last beinginvolved in a real fight had put the men in better humor. Every rifle was stripped, cleaned, greased,checked and then checked again, every bullet placed carefully into its magazine, every Lewis guntested, oiled and retested and then the men finally shaved before they faced the enemy. Charlie’s firstexperience of a razor was in near freezing water.

No man finds it easy to sleep the night before a battle, Charlie had been told, and many usedthe time to write long letters to their loved ones at home, some even had the courage to make a will.Charlie wrote to Posh Porky he wasn’t sure why asking her to take care of Sal, Grace and Kitty if hedidn’t return. Tommy wrote to no one, and not simply because he couldn’t write. At midnight Charliecollected all the section’s efforts and handed them in a bundle to the orderly of ficer.

Bayonets were carefully sharpened, then fixed; hearts began to beat faster as the minutespassed, and they waited in silence for the command to advance. Charlie’s own feelings racedbetween terror and exhilaration, as he watched Captain Trentham strolling from platoon to platoon todeliver his final briefing. Charlie downed in one gulp the tot of rum that was handed out to all the men

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up and down the trenches just before a battle.A Second Lieutenant Makepeace took his place behind Charlie’s trench, another officer he had

never met. He looked like a fresh-faced schoolboy and introduced himself to Charlie as one might doto a casual acquaintance at a co*cktail parry. He asked Charlie to gather the section together a fewyards behind the line so he could address them. Ten cold, frightened men climbed out of their trenchand listened to the young officer in cynical silence. The day had been specially chosen because themeteorologists had assured them that the sun would rise at five fifty-three and there would be no rain.The meteorologists would prove to be right about the sun, but as if to show their fallibility at four-eleven a steady drizzle began. “A German drizzle,” Charlie suggested to his comrades. “And whoseside is God on, anyway?”

Lieutenant Makepeace smiled thinly. They waited for a Verey pistol to be fired, like somereferee blowing a whistle before hostilities could officially commence.

“And don’t forget, ‘bangers and mash’ is the password,” said Lieutenant Makepeace. “Send itdown the line.”

At five fifty-three, as a blood-red sun peeped over the horizon, a Verey pistol was fired andCharlie looked back to see the sky lit up behind him.

Lieutenant Makepeace leaped out of the trench and cried, “Follow me, men. “Charlie climbed out after him and, screaming at the top of his voice more out of fear than

bravado charged towards the barbed wire.The lieutenant hadn’t gone fifteen yards before the first bullet hit him, but somehow he still

managed to carry on until he reached the wire. Charlie watched in horror as Makepeace fell acrossthe barbed barrier and another burst of enemy bullets peppered his motionless body. Two brave menchanged direction to rush to his aid, but neither of them even reached the wire. Charlie was only ayard behind them, and was about to charge through a gap in the barrier when Tommy overtook him.Charlie turned, smiled, and that was the last dining he remembered of the battle of the Lys.

Two days later Charlie woke up in a hospital tent, some three hundred yards behind the line,to find a young girl in a dark blue uniform with a royal crest above her heart hovering over him. Shewas talking to him. He knew only because her lips were moving: but he couldn’t hear a word shesaid. Thank God, Charlie thought, I’m still alive, and surely now I’ll be sent back to England. Once asoldier had been certified medically deaf he was always shipped home. King’s Regulations.

But Charlie’s hearing was fully restored within a week and a smile appeared on his lips forthe first time when he saw Grace standing by his side pouring him a cup of tea. They had granted herpermission to move tents once she’d heard that an unconscious soldier named Trumper was lyingdown the line. She told her brother that he had been one of the lucky ones, blown up by a land mine,and only lost a toe not even a big one, she teased. He was disappointed by her news, as the loss of thebig one also meant you could go home.

“Otherwise only a few grazes and cuts. Nothing serious and very much alive. Ought to haveyou back at the front in a matter of days,” she added sadly.

He slept. He woke. He wondered if Tommy had survived.

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“Any news of Private Prescott?” Charlie asked, after he had completed his rounds.The lieutenant checked his clipboard and a frown came over his face. “He’s been arrested.

Looks as if he might have to face a court-martial.”“What? Why?”“No idea,” replied the young lieutenant, and moved on to the next bed.The following day Charlie managed a little food, took a few painful steps the day after, and

could run a week later. He was sent back to the front only twenty-one days after LieutenantMakepeace had leaped up and shouted, “Follow me.”

Once Charlie had resumed to the relief trenches he quickly discovered that only three men inhis section of ten had survived the charge, and there was no sign of Tommy. A new batch of soldiershad arrived from England that morning to take their places and begin the routine of four days on, fourdays off. They treated Charlie as if he were a veteran.

He had only been back for a few hours when company orders were posted showing thatColonel Hamilton wished to see Lance Corporal Trumper at eleven hundred hours the followingmorning.

“Why would the commanding officer want to see me?” Charlie inquired of the duty sergeant.“It usually means a court-martial or a decoration the governor hasn’t time for anything else.

And never forget that he also means trouble, so watch your tongue when you’re in his presence. I cantell you, he’s got a very short fuse.”

At ten fifty-five hours sharp Lance Corporal Trumper stood trembling outside the colonel’stent almost as fearful of his commanding officer as of going over the top. A few minutes later thecompany sergeant major marched out of the tent to collect him.

“Stand to attention, salute and give your name, rank and serial number,” barked CSM Philpott.“And remember, don’t speak unless you’re spoken to,” he added sharply.

Charlie marched into the tent and came to a halt in front of the colonel’s desk. He saluted andsaid, “Lance Corporal Trumper, 7312087, reporting, sir.” It was the first time he had seen the colonelsitting on a chair, not on a horse.

“Ah, Trumper,” said Colonel Hamilton, looking up. “Good to have you back. Delighted byyour speedy recovery.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Charlie, aware for the first time that only one of the colonel’s eyesactually moved.

“However, there’s been a problem involving a private from your section that I’m hoping youmight be able to throw some light on.”

“I’ll ‘elp if I can, sir.”“Good, because it seems,” said the colonel, placing his monocle up to his left eye, “that

Prescott” he studied a buff form on the desk in front of him before continuing “yes, Private Prescott,may have shot himself in the hand in order to avoid facing the enemy. According to CaptainTrentham’s report, he was picked up with a single bullet wound in his left hand while lying in the

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mud only a few yards in front of his own trench. On the face of it such an action appears to be asimple case of cowardice in the face of the enemy. However, I was not willing to order the setting upof a court-martial before I had heard your version of what took place that morning. After all, he wasin your section. So I felt you might have something of substance to add to Captain Trentham’s report.”

“Yes, sir, I certainly do,” Charlie said. He tried to compose himself and go over in his mindthe details of what had taken place almost a month before. “Once the Verey pistol ‘ad been firedLieutenant Makepeace led the charge and I went over the top after ‘im followed by the rest of mysection. The lieutenant was the first to reach the wire but was immediately ‘it by several bullets, andthere were only two men ahead of me at the time. They bravely went to ‘is aid, but fell even beforethey could reach ‘im. As soon as I got to the wire I spotted a gap and ran through it, only to seePrivate Prescott overtake me as he charged on towards the enemy lines. It must have been then that Iwas blown up by the land mine, which may well have knocked out Private Prescott as well. “

“Can you be certain it was Private Prescott who overtook you?” asked the colonel, lookingpuzzled.

“In the ‘eat of a battle, it’s ‘ard to remember every detail, sir, but I will never forget Prescottovertakin’ me.”

“Why’s that?” asked the colonel.“Because ‘e’s my mate, and it annoyed me at the time to see ‘im get ahead of me.”Charlie thought he saw a faint smile come over the colonel’s face.“Is Prescott a close friend of yours?” the colonel asked, fixing his monocle on him.“Yes, sir, ‘e is, but that would not affect my judgment, and no one ‘as the right to suggest it

would.”“Do you realize who you are talkie’ to?” bellowed the sergeant major.“Yes, Sergeant Major,” said Charlie. “A man interested in finding out the truth, and therefore

seeing that justice is done. I’m not an educated man, sir, but I am an ‘onest one.”“Corporal, you will report... “ began the sergeant major.“Thank you, Sergeant Major, that will be all,” said the colonel. “And thank you, Corporal

Trumper, for your clear and concise evidence. I shall not need to trouble you any further. You maynow return to your platoon.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Charlie. He took a pace backwards, saluted, did an about-turn andmarched out of the tent.

“Would you like me to ‘andle this matter in my own way?” asked the sergeant major.“Yes, I would,” replied Colonel Hamilton. “Promote Trumper to full corporal and release

Private Prescott from custody immediately.”Tommy returned to his platoon that afternoon, his left hand bandaged.“You saved my life, Charlie.”“I only told the truth.”

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“I know, so did I. But the difference is, they believed you.”Charlie lay in his tent that night wondering why Captain Trentham was so determined to be rid

of Tommy. Could any man believe he had the right to send another to his death simply because he hadonce been to jail?

Another month passed while they continued the old routines before company orders revealedthat they were to march south to the Marne and prepare for a counterattack against General vanLudendorff. Charlie’s heart sank when he read the orders; he knew the odds against surviving twoattacks were virtually unknown. He managed to spend the odd hour alone with Grace, who told himshe had fallen for a Welsh corporal who had stood on a land mine and ended up blind in one eye.

Love at first sight, quipped Charlie.Midnight on Wednesday, 17 July 1918, and an eerie silence fell over no man’s land. Charlie

let those who could sleep, and didn’t attempt to wake anyone until three o’clock the next morning.Now an acting sergeant, he had a platoon of forty men to prepare for battle, all of whom still cameunder the overall command of Captain Trentham, who hadn’t been seen since the day Tommy hadbeen released.

At three-thirty, a Lieutenant Harvey joined them behind the trenches, by which time they wereall on full battle alert. Harvey, it turned out, had arrived at the front the previous Friday.

“This is a mad war,” said Charlie after they had been introduced.“Oh, I don’t know,” said Harvey lightly. “I can’t wait to have a go at the Hun myself.”“The Germans ‘aven’t an ‘ope in ‘elf, as long as we can go on producin’ nutcases like ‘im,”

whispered Tommy.“By the way, sir, what’s the password this time?” asked Charlie.“Oh, sorry, quite forgot. ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’” said the lieutenant.They all waited. At zero four hundred hours they fixed bayonets and at four twenty-one the

Verey pistol shot a red flame into the sky somewhere behind the lines and the air was filled withwhistles blowing.

“Tally ho,” cried Lieutenant Harvey. He fired his pistol in the air and charged over the top asif he were chasing some errant fox. Once again, Charlie scrambled up and out of the trench only yardsbehind. The rest of the platoon followed as he stumbled through mud over barren land that no longerbore a single tree to protect them. To the left Charlie could see another platoon ahead of him. Theunmistakable figure of the immaculate Captain Trentham brought up the rear. But it was LieutenantHarvey who was still leading the charge as he hurdled elegantly over the wire and into no man’s land.It made Charlie feel curiously confident that anyone could survive such stupidly. On and on Harveywent, as if somehow indestructible, or charmed. Charlie assumed that he must fall with every pace hetook, as he watched the lieutenant treat the German wire as just another hurdle, before running ontowards the enemy trenches as if they were the finishing line in some race being held at his publicschool. The man got within twenty yards of the tape before a hail of bullets finally brought him down.Charlie now found himself in front and began firing at the Germans as their heads popped up frombehind the dugouts.

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He had never heard of anyone actually reaching the German trenches, so he wasn’t sure whathe was supposed to do next, and despite all the training he still found it hard to shoot on the run. Whenfour Germans and their rifles came up at once he knew that he was never going to find out. He shotstraight at the first one, who fell back into the trench, but by then he could only watch the other threetake aim. He suddenly became aware of a volley of shots from behind him, and all three bodies fellback like tin ducks on a rifle range. He realized then that the winner of the King’s Prize must still beon his feet.

Suddenly he was in the enemy’s trench and staring down into a young German’s eyes, aterrified boy even younger than himself. He hesitated only for a moment before thrusting his bayonetdown the middle of the German’s mouth. He pulled the blade out and drove it home once again, thistime into the boy’s heart, then ran on. Three of his men were now ahead of him, chasing a retreatingenemy. At that moment Charlie spotted Tommy on his right flank pursuing two Germans up a hill. Hedisappeared into some trees and Charlie distinctly heard a single shot somewhere above the noise ofbattle. He turnd and charged quickly off into the forest to rescue his friend, only to find a Germansplayed out on the ground and Tommy still running on up the hill. A breathless Charlie managed tocatch up with him when he finally came to a halt behind a tree.

“You were bloody magnificent, Tommy,” said Charlie, throwing himself down by his side.“Not ‘elf as good as that officer, what was ‘is name?”“‘Arvey, Lieutenant ‘Arvey.”“In the end we were both saved by ‘is pistol,”said Tommy, brandishing the weapon. “More

than can be said for that bastard Trentham.”“What do you mean?” said Charlie.“He funked the German trenches, didn’t ‘e? Bolted off into the forest. Two Germans saw the

coward and chased after ‘im, so I followed. Finished off one of them, didn’t I.”“So where’s Trentham now?”“Somewhere up there,” said Tommy, pointing over the brow to the hill. “‘E’ll be ‘icing from

that lone German, no doubt.”Charlie stared into the distance.“So what now, Corp?”“We ‘ave to go after that German and kill ‘im before he catches up with the captain.”“Why don’t we just go ‘ome, and ‘ope he finds the captain before I do?” said Tommy.But Charlie was already on his feet advancing up the hill.Slowly they moved on up the slope, using the trees for protection, watching and listening until

they had reached the top, and open ground.“No sign of either of them,” whispered Charlie.“Agreed. So we’d better get back behind our lines, because if the Germans catch us I can’t

believe they’ll invite us to join ‘em for tea and crumpets.”

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Charlie took his bearings. Ahead of them was a little church not unlike the many they hadpassed on the long route march from Etaples to the front.

“Maybe we’d better check that church first,” he said, as Tommy reloaded Lieutenant Harvey’spistol. “But don’t let’s take any unnecessary risks.”

“What the ‘elf do you think we’ve been coin’ for the last hour?” asked Tommy.Inch by inch, foot by foot, they crawled across the open ground until they reached the vestry

door. Charlie pushed it open slowly, expecting a volley of bullets to follow, but the loudest soundthey heard was the screech of the hinges. Once inside, Charlie crossed himself the way hisgrandfather always had when entering St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s on Jubilee Street. Tommy lit acigarette.

Charlie remained cautious as he began to study the layout of the little church. It had alreadylost half its roof, courtesy of a German or English shell, while the rest of the nave and porch remainedintact.

Charlie found himself mesmerized by the mosaic patterns that covered the inner walls, theirtiny squares making up life-size portraits. He moved slowly round the perimeter, staring at the sevendisciples who had so far survived the ungodly war.

When he reached the altar he fell on his knees and bowed his head, a vision of FatherO’Malley coming into his mind. It was then that the bullet flew past him, hitting the brass cross andsending the crucifix crashing to the ground. As Charlie dived for cover behind the altar, a second shotwent off. He glanced round the corner of the altar and watched a German officer who had been hit inthe side of the head slump through the curtains and out of a wooden box onto the stone floor. He musthave died instantly.

“I only ‘ape he ‘ad time to make a full confession,” said Tommy.Charlie crawled out from behind the altar.“For Gawd’s sake, stay put, you fool, because someone else is in this church and I’ve got a

funny feelin’ it isn’t just the Almighty.” They both heard a movement in the pulpit above them andCharlie quickly scurried back behind the altar.

“It’s only me,” said a voice they immediately recognized.“Who’s me?” said Tommy, trying not to laugh.“Captain Trentham. So whatever you do, don’t fire.”“Then show yourself, and come down with your ‘ends above your ‘ead so that we can be

certain you’re who you say you are,” Tommy said, enjoying every moment of his tormentor’sembarrassment.

Trentham rose slowly from the top of the pulpit and began to descend the stone steps with hishands held high above his head. He proceeded down the aisle towards the fallen cross that now lay infront of the altar, before stepping over the dead German officer and continuing until he came face toface with Tommy, who was still holding a pistol pointing straight at his heart.

“Sorry, sir,” said Tommy, lowering the pistol. “I ‘ad to be sure you weren’t a German.”

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“Who spoke the King’s English,” said Trentham sarcastically.“You did warn us against being taken in by that in one of your lectures, sir,” said Tommy.“Less of your lip, Prescott. And how did you get hold of an officer’s pistol?”“It belonged to Lieutenant ‘Arvey,” interjected Charlie, “who dropped it when... ““You bolted off into the forest,” said Tommy, his eyes never leaving Trentham.“I was pursuing two Germans who were attempting to escape.”“It looked the other way round to me,” said Tommy. “And when we get back, I intend to let

anyone know who cares to listen.”“It would be your word against mine,” said Trentham. “In any case, both Germans are dead.”“Only thanks to me and try not to forget that the corp ‘ere also witnessed everything what

‘appened.”“Then you know my version of the events is the accurate one,” said Trentham, turning directly

to face Charlie.“All I know is that we ought to be up in that tower, plannin’ how we get back to our own lines,

and not wastin’ any more time quarrelin’ down ‘ere.”The captain nodded his agreement, turnd, ran to the back of the church and up the stone stairs

to the safety of the tower. Charlie quickly followed him. They both took lookout positions on oppositesides of the roof, and although Charlie could still hear the sound of the battle he was quite unable tomake out who was getting the better of it on the other side of the forest.

“Where’s Prescott?” asked Trentham after a few minutes had passed.“Don’t know, sir,” said Charlie. “I thought he was just behind me.” It was several minutes

before Tommy, wearing the dead German’s spiked pickelhaube, appeared at the top of the stonesteps.

“Where have you been?” asked Trentham suspiciously.“Searchin’ the place from top to bottom in the ‘ope that there might ‘ave been some grub to be

found, but I couldn’t even find any communion wine.”“Take your position over there,” said the captain, pointing to an arch that was not yet covered,

“and keep a lookout. We’ll stay put until it’s pitch dark. By then I’ll have worked out a plan to get usback behind our own lines.”

The three men stared out across the French countryside as the light turnd first murky, then grayand finally black.

“Shouldn’t we be thinkin’ of moving soon, Captain?” asked Charlie, after they had sat in pitchdarkness for over an hour.

“We’ll go when I’m good and ready,” said Trentham, “and not before.”“Yes, sir,” said Charlie, and sat shivering as he continued to stare out into the darkness for

another forty minutes.

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“Right, follow me,” said Trentham without warning. He rose and led them both down the stonesteps, coming to a halt at the entrance to the vestry door. He pulled the door open slowly. The noiseof the hinges sounded to Charlie like a magazine emptying on a machine-gun. The three of them staredinto the night and Charlie wondered if there was yet another German out there with rifle co*cked,waiting. The captain checked his compass.

“First we must try to reach the safety of those trees at the top of the ridge,” Trenthamwhispered. “Then I’ll work out a route for getting us back behind our own lines.”

By the time Charlie’s eyes had become accustomed to the darkness he began to study the moonand, more important, the movement of the clouds.

“It’s open ground to those trees,” the captain continued, “so we can’t risk a crossing until themoon disappears behind some cover. Then we’ll each make a dash for the ridge separately. SoPrescott, when I give the order, you’ll go first.”

“Me?” said Tommy.“Yes, you, Prescott. Then Corporal Trumper will follow the moment you’ve reached the

trees.”“And I suppose you’ll bring up the rear, if we’re lucky enough to survive?” said Tommy.“Don’t be insubordinate with me,” said Trentham. “Or you’ll find this time that you will be

court-martialed and end up in the jail you were originally intended for.”“Not without a witness, I won’t,” said Tommy. “That much of King’s Regulations I do

understand.”“Shut up, Tommy,” said Charlie.They all waited in silence behind the vestry door until a large shadow moved slowly across

the path and finally enveloped the church all the way to the trees.“Go!” said the captain, tapping Prescott on the shoulder. Tommy bolted off like a greyhound

released from the slips, and the two other men watched as he scampered across the open ground, untilsome twenty seconds later he reached the safety of the trees.

The same hand tapped Charlie on the shoulder a moment later, and off he ran, faster than hehad ever run before, despite having to carry a rifle in one hand and a pack on his back. The grin didn’treappear on his face until he had reached Tommy’s side.

They both turned to stare in the direction of the captain.“What the ‘elf’s he waitin’ for?” said Charlie.“To see if we get ourselves killed would be my guess,” said Tommy as the moon came back

out.They both waited but said nothing until the circular glow had disappeared behind another

cloud, when finally the captain came scurrying towards them.He stopped by their side, leaned against a tree and rested until he had got his breath back.“Right,” he eventually whispered, “we’ll advance slowly down through the forest, stopping

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every few yards to listen for the enemy, while at the same time using the trees for cover. Remember,never move as much as a muscle if the moon is out, and never speak unless it’s to answer a questionput by me.”

The three of them began to creep slowly down the hill, moving from tree to tree, but no morethan a few yards at a time. Charlie had no idea he could be so alert to the slightest unfamiliar sound. Ittook the three of them over an hour to reach the bottom of the slope, where they came to a halt. Allthey could see in front of them was a vast mass of barren open ground.

“No man’s land,” whispered Trentham. “That means we’ll have to spend the rest of our timeflat on our bellies.” He immediately sank down into the mud. “I’ll lead,” he said. “Trumper, you’llfollow, and Prescott will bring up the rear.”

“Well, at least that proves ‘e knows where ‘e’s gain’,” whispered Tommy. “Because ‘e must‘ave worked out exactly where the bullets will be comin’ from, and who they’re likely to ‘it first.”

Slowly, inch by inch, the three men advanced the half mile across no man’s land, towards theAllied front line, pressing their faces back down into the mud whenever the moon reappeared frombehind its unreliable screen.

Although Charlie could always see Trentham in front of him, Tommy was so silent in his wakethat from time to time he had to look back just to be certain his friend was still there. A grin offlashing white teeth was all he got for his trouble.

During the first hour the three of them covered a mere hundred yards. Charlie could havewished for a more cloudy night. Stray bullets flying across their heads from both trenches ensured thatthey kept themselves low to the ground. Charlie found he was continually spitting out mud and onceeven came face to face with a German who couldn’t blink.

Another inch, another foot, another yard on they crawled through the wet, cold mud across aterrain that still belonged to no man. Suddenly Charlie heard a loud squeal from behind him. Heturned angrily to remonstrate with Tommy, only to see a rat the size of a rabbit lying between his legs.Tommy had thrust a bayonet right through its belly.

“I think it fancied you, Corp. Couldn’t have been for the sex if Rose is to be believed, so itmust have wanted you for dinner.”

Charlie covered his mouth with his hands for fear the Germans might hear him laughing. The moon slid out from behind a cloud and again lit up the open land. Once more the three men

buried themselves in the mud and waited until another passing cloud allowed them to advance a fewmore yards. It was two more hours before they reached the barbedwire perimeter that had beenerected to stop the Germans breaking through.

Once they had reached the spiky barrier Trentham changed direction and began to crawl alongthe German side of the fence searching for a breach in the wire between them and safety. Anothereighty yards had to be traversed to Charlie it felt more like a mile before the captain eventually founda tiny gap which he was able to crawl through. They were now only fifty yards from the safety of theirown lines.

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Charlie was surprised to find the captain hanging back, even allowing him to crawl past.“Damn,” said Charlie under his breath, as the moon made another entrance onto the center of

the stage and left them lying motionless only a street’s length away from safety. Once the light hadbeen turned out again, slowly, again inch by inch, Charlie continued his crablike advance, now morefearful of a stray bullet from his own side than from the enemy’s. At last he could hear voices, Englishvoices. He never thought the day would come when he would welcome the sight of those trenches.

“We’ve made it,” shouted Tommy, in a voice that might even have been heard by the Germans.Once again Charlie buried his face in the mud.

“Who goes there?” came back the report. Charlie could hear rifles being co*cked up and downthe trenches as sleepy men quickly came to life.

“Captain Trentham, Corporal Trumper and Private Prescott of the Royal Fusiliers,” called outCharlie firmly.

“Password?” demanded the voice.“Oh, God, what’s the pass ?”“Little Red Riding Hood,” shouted Trentham from behind them.“Advance and be recognized.”“Prescott first,” said Trentham, and Tommy pushed himself up onto his knees and began to

crawl slowly towards his own trenches. Charlie heard the sound of a bullet that came from behindhim and a moment later watched in horror as Tommy collapsed on his stomach and lay motionless inthe mud.

Charlie looked quickly back through the half-light towards Trentham who said, “Bloody Huns.Keep down or the same thing might happen to you.”

Charlie ignored the order and crawled quickly forward until he came to the prostrate body ofhis friend. Once he had reached his side he placed an arm around Tommy’s shoulder. “There’s onlyabout twenty yards to go,” he told him. “Man wounded,” said Charlie in a loud whisper as he lookedup towards the trenches.

“Prescott, don’t move while the moon’s out,” ordered Trentham from behind them.“How you feelin’, mate?” asked Charlie as he tried to fathom the expression on his friend’s

face.“Felt better, to be ‘ones’,” said Tommy.“Quiet, you two,” said Trentham.“By the way, that was no German bullet,” choked Tommy as a trickle of blood began to run out

of his mouth. “So just make sure you get the bastard if I’m not given the chance to do the job myself.”“You’ll be all right,” said Charlie. “Nothin’ and nobody could kill Tommy Prescott.”As a large black cloud covered the moon, a group of men including two Red Cross orderlies

who were carrying a stretcher jumped over the top and ran towards them. They dropped the stretcherby Tommy’s side and dragged him onto the canvas before jogging back towards the trench. Another

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volley of bullets came flying across from the German lines.Once they had reached the safety of the dugout, the orderlies dumped the stretcher

unceremoniously on the ground. Charlie shouted at them, “Get ‘im to the ‘ospital tent quickly forGod’s sake, quickly.”

“Not much point, Corp,” said the medical orderly. “‘E’s dead.”

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CHAPTER5“HQ is still waiting for your report, Trumper.”

“I know, Sarge, I know.”“Any problems, lad?” asked the color sergeant, which Charlie recognized as a coded message

for “Can you write?”“No problems, Sarge.”For the next hour he wrote out his thoughts slowly, then rewrote the simple account of what

had taken place on 18 July 1918 during the second battle of the Marne.Charlie read and reread his banal offering, aware that although he extolled Tommy’s courage

during the battle he made no mention of Trentham fleeing from the enemy. The plain truth was that hehadn’t witnessed what was going on behind him. He might well have formed his own opinion but heknew that would not bear cross-examination at some later date. And as for Tommy’s death, whatproof had he that one stray bullet among so many had come from the pistol of Captain Trentham? Evenif Tommy had been right on both counts and Charlie voiced those opinions, it would only be his wordagainst that of an officer and a gentleman.

The only thing he could do was make sure that Trentham received no praise from his pen forwhat had taken place on the battlefield that day. Feeling like a traitor, Charlie scribbled his signatureon the bottom of the second page before handing in his report to the orderly officer.

Later that afternoon the duty sergeant allowed him an hour off to dig the grave in which theywould bury Private Prescott. As he knelt by its head he cursed the men on either side who could havebeen responsible for such a war.

Charlie listened to the chaplain intone the words “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” before the lastpost was played yet again. Then the burial party took a pace to the right and began digging the graveof another known soldier. A hundred thousand men sacrificed their lives on the Marne. Charlie couldno longer accept that any victory was worth such a price.

He sat cross-legged at the foot of the grave, unaware of the passing of time as he hewed out across with his bayonet. Finally he stood and placed it at the head of the mound. On the center of thecross he had carved the words, “Private Tommy Prescott.”

A neutral moon resumed that night to shine on a thousand freshly dug graves’ and Charlieswore to whatever God cared to listen that he would not forget his father or Tommy or, for thatmatter, Captain Trentham.

He fell asleep among his comrades. Reveille stirred him at first light, and after one last look atTommy’s grave he resumed to his platoon, to be informed that the Colonel of the Regiment would beaddressing the troops at zero nine hundred hours.

An hour later he was standing to attention in a depleted square of those who had survived thebattle. Colonel Hamilton told his men that the Prime Minister had described the second battle of theMarne as the greatest victory in the history of the war. Charlie found himself unable to raise a voiceto join his cheering comrades.

“It was a proud and honorable day to be a Royal Fusilier,” continued the colonel, his monocle

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still firmly in place. The regiment had won a VC, six MCs and nine MMs in the battle. Charlie feltindifferent as each of the decorated men was announced and his citation read out until he heard thename of Lieutenant Arthur Harvey who, the colonel told them, had led a charge of Number 11 Platoonall the way up to the German trenches, thus allowing those behind him to carry on and break throughthe enemy’s defenses. For this he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

A moment later Charlie heard the colonel utter the name of Captain Guy Trentham. This gallantofficer, the colonel assured the regiment, careless of his own safely, continued the attack afterLieutenant Harvey had fallen, killing several German soldiers before reaching their dugouts, where hewiped out a complete enemy unit single-handed. Having crossed the enemy’s lines, he proceeded tochase two Germans into a nearby forest. He succeeded in killing both enemy soldiers before rescuingtwo Fusiliers from German hands. He then led them back to the safely of the Allied trenches. For thissupreme act of courage Captain Trentham was also awarded the Military Cross.

Trentham stepped forward and the troops cheered as the colonel removed a silver cross froma leather case before pinning the medal on his chest.

One sergeant major, three sergeants, two corporals and four privates then had their citationsread out, each one named and his acts of heroism recalled in turn. But only one of them steppedforward to receive his medal.

“Among those unable to be with us today,” continued the colonel, “is a yourrg man whofollowed Lieutenant Harvey into the enemy trenches and then killed four, perhaps five Germansoldiers before later stalking and shooting another, finally killing a German officer before beingtragically killed himself by a stray bullet when only yards from the safety of his own trenches.” Onceagain the assembled gathering cheered.

Moments later the parade was dismissed and while others returned to their tents, Charliewalked slowly back behind the lines until he reached the mass burial ground.

He knelt down by a familiar mound and after a moment’s hesitation yanked out the cross thathe had placed at the head of the grave.

Charlie unclipped a knife that hung from his belt and beside the name “Tommy Prescott” hecarved the letters “MM.”

A fortnight later one thousand men, with a thousand legs, a thousand arms and a thousand eyesbetween them, were ordered home. Sergeant Charles Trumper of the Royal Fusiliers was detailed toaccompany them, perhaps because no man had been known to survive three charges on the enemy’slines.

Their cheerfulness and delight at still being alive only made Charlie feel more guilty. Afterall, he had only lost one toe. On the journey back by land, sea and land, he helped the men dress,wash, eat and be led without complaint or remonstration.

At Dover they were greeted on the quayside by cheering crowds welcoming their heroeshome. Trains had been laid on to dispatch them to all parts of the country, so that for the rest of theirlives they would be able to recall a few moments of honor, even glory. But not for Charlie. Hispapers only instructed him to travel on to Edinburgh where he was to help train the next group ofrecruits who would take their places on the Western Front.

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On 11 November 1918, at eleven hundred hours, hostilities ceased and a grateful nation stoodin silence for three minutes when on a railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne, the Armistice wassigned. When Charlie heard the news of victory he was training some raw recruits on a rifle range inEdinburgh. Some of them were unable to hide their disappointment at being cheated out of the chanceto face the enemy.

The war was over and the Empire had won or that is how the politicians presented the resultof the match between Britain and Germany.

“More than nine million men have died for their country, and some even before they hadfinished growing,” Charlie wrote in a letter to his sister Sal. “And what has either side to show forsuch carnage?”

Sal wrote back to let him know how thankful she was he was still alive and went on to say thatshe had become engaged to a pilot from Canada. “We plan to marry in the next few weeks and go tolive with his parents in Toronto. Next time you get a letter from me it will be from the other side ofthe world.”

“Grace is still in France but expects to return to the London Hospital some time in the newyear. She’s been made a ward sister. I expect you know her Welsh corporal caught pneumonia. Hedied a few days after peace had been declared.

“Kitty disappeared off the face of the earth and then without warning turnd up in Whitechapelwith a man in a motorcar, neither of them seemed to be hers but she looked very pleased with life.”

Charlie couldn’t understand his sister’s P.S.: “Where will you live when you get back to theEast End?”

* * *Sergeant Charles Trumper was discharged from active service on 20 February 1919, one of

the early ones: the missing toe had at last counted for something. He folded up his uniform, placed hishelmet on top, boots by the side, marched across the parade ground and handed them in to thequartemmaster.

“I hardly recognized you, Sarge, in that old suit and cap. Don’t fit any longer, do they? Youmust have grown during your time with the Fussies.”

Charlie looked down and checked the length of his trousers: they now hung a good inch abovethe laces of his boots.

“Must have grown durin’ my time with the Fussies,” he repeated pondering the words.“Bet your family will be glad to see you when you get back to civvy street.”“Whatever’s left of them,” said Charlie as he turnd to go. His final task was to report to the

paymaster’s office and receive his last pay packet and travel voucher before relinquishing the King’sshilling.

“Trumper, the dory officer would like a word with you,” said the sergeant major, after Charliehad completed what he had assumed was his last duty.

Lieutenant Makepeace and Lieutenant Harvey would always be his duty officers, thought

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Charlie as he made his way back across the parade ground in the direction of the company offices.Some fresh-faced youth, who had not been properly introduced to the enemy, now had the nerve to tryand take their place.

Charlie was about to salute the lieutenant when he remembered he was no longer in uniform,so he simply removed his cap.

“You wanted to see me, sir?”“Yes, Trumper, a personal matter.” The young officer touched a large box that lay on his desk.

Charlie couldn’t quite see what was inside.“It appears, Trumper, that your friend Private Prescott made a will in which he left everything

to you.”Charlie was unable to hide his surprise as the lieutenant pushed the box across the table.“Would you be kind enough to check through its contents and then sign for them?”Another buff form was placed in front of him. Above the typed name of Private Thomas

Prescott was a paragraph written in a bold large hand. An “X” was scrawled below it, witnessed bySergeant Major Philpott.

Charlie began to remove the objects from the box one by one. Tommy’s mouth organ, rusty andfalling apart, seven pounds eleven shillings and sixpence in back pay, followed by a German officer’shelmet. Next Charlie took out a small leather box and opened the lid to discover Tommy’s MilitaryMedal and the simple words “For bravery in the field” printed across the back. He removed themedal and held it in the palm of his hand.

“Must have been a jolly brave chan, Prescott,” said the lieutenant. “Salt of the earth and allthat.”

“And all that,” agreed Charlie.“A religious man as well?”“No, can’t pretend ‘e was,” said Charlie, allowing himself a smile. “Why do you ask?”“The picture,” said the lieutenant, pointing back into the box. Charlie leaned forward and

stared down in disbelief at a painting of the Virgin Mary and Child. It was about eight inches squareand framed in black teak. He took the portrait out and held it in his hands.

He gazed at the deep reds, purples and blues that dominated the central figure in the painting,feeling certain he’d seen the image somewhere before. It was several moments before he replaced thelittle oil in the box along with Tommy’s other possessions.

Charlie put his cap back on and turned to go, the box under one arm, a brown paper parcelunder the other and a ticket to London in his top pocket.

As he marched out of the barracks to make his way to the station he wondered how long itwould be before he could walk at a normal pace when he reached the guardroom he stopped andturned round for one last look at the parade ground. A set of raw recruits was marching up and downwith a new drill instructor who sounded every bit as determined as the late Sergeant Major Philpotthad been to see that the snow was never allowed to settle.

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Charlie turned his back on the parade ground and began his journey to London. He wasnineteen years of age and had only just qualified to receive the King’s shilling; but now he was acouple of inches taller, shaved and had even come near to losing his virginity.

He’d done his bit, and at least felt able to agree with the Prime Minister on one matter. He hadsurely taken part in the war to end all wars.

The night sleeper from Edinburgh was full of men in uniform who eyed the civilian-cladCharlie with suspicion, as a man who hadn’t yet served his country or, worse, was a conscientiousobjector.

“They’ll be calling him up soon enough,” said a corporal to his mate in a loud whisper fromthe far side of the carriage. Charlie smiled but didn’t comment.

He slept intermittently, amused by the thought that he might have found it easier to rest in adamp muddy trench with rats and co*ckroaches for companions. By the time the train pulled intoKing’s Cross Station at seven the following morning, he had a stiff neck and an aching back. Hestretched himself before he picked up his large paper parcel along with Tommy’s life possessions.

At the station he bought a sandwich and a cup of tea. He was surprised when the girl askedhim for three pence. “Tuppence for those what are in uniform,” he was told with undisguised disdain.Charlie downed the tea and left the station without another word.

The roads were busier and more hectic than he remembered, but he still jumped confidently ona tram that had “City” printed across the front. He sat alone on a trestled wooden bench, wonderingwhat changes he would find on his return to the East End. Did his shop flounsh, was it simply tickingover, had it been sold or even gone bankrupt? And what of the biggest barrow in the world?

He jumped off the tram at Poultry, deciding to walk the final mile. His pace quickened as theaccents changed, City gents in long black coats and bowlers gave way to professional men in darksuits and trilbies, to be taken over by rough lads in ill-fitting clothes and caps, until Charlie finallyarrived in the East End, where even the boaters had been abandoned by those under thirty.

As Charlie approached the Whitechapel Road, he stopped and stared at the frantic bustletaking place all around him. Hooks of meat, barrows of vegetables, trays of pies, urns of tea passedhim in every direction.

But what of the baker’s shop, and his grandfather’s pitch? Would they be “all present andcorrect”? He pulled his cap down over his forehead and slipped quietly into the market.

When he reached the corner of the Whitechapel Road he wasn’t sure he had come to the rightplace. The baker’s shop was no longer there but had been replaced by a bespoke tailor who tradedunder the name of Jacob Cohen. Charlie pressed his nose against the window but couldn’t recognizeanyone who was working inside. He swung round to stare at the spot where the barrow of “CharlieTrumper, the honest trader” had stood for nearly a century, only to find a gaggle of youths warmingthemselves round a charcoal fire where a man was selling chestnuts at a penny a bag.

Charlie parted with a penny and was handed a bagful, but no one even gave him a secondglance. Perhaps Becky had sold everything as he instructed, he thought, as he left the market to carryon down Whitechapel Road where at least he would have a chance to catch up with one of his sisters,

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rest and gather his thoughts.When he arrived outside Number 112, he was pleased to find that the front door had been

repainted. God bless Sal. He pushed the door open and walked straight into the parlor, where hecame face to face with an overweight, half-shaven man dressed in a vest and trousers who wasbrandishing an open razor.

“What’s your game then?” asked the man, holding up the razor hmmly.“I live ‘ere,” said Charlie.“Like ‘elf you do. I took over this dump six months ago.”“But... ““No buts,” said the man and without warning gave Charlie a shove in the chest which

propelled him back into the street. The door slammed behind him, and Charlie heard a key turn in thelock. Not certain what to do next, he was beginning to wish he had never come home.

“‘Ella, Charlie. It is Charlie, isn’t it?” said a voice from behind him. “So you’re not dead afterall.”

He swung round to see Mrs. Shorrocks standing by her front door.“Dead?” said Charlie.“Yes,” replied Mrs. Shorrocks. “Kitty told us you’d been killed on the Western Front and that

was why she ‘ad to sell 112. That was months ago ‘aven’t seen ‘er since. Didn’t anyone tell you?”“No, no one told me,” said Charlie, at least glad to find someone who recognized him. He

stared at his old neighbor trying to puzzle out why she looked so different.“‘Ow about some lunch, lov? You look starved.”“Thanks, Mrs. Shorrocks.”“I’ve just got myself a packet of fish and chips from Dunkley’s. You won’t ‘ave forgotten how

good they are. A threepenny lot, a nice piece of cod soaked in vinegar and a bag full of chips.”Charlie followed Mrs. Shorrocks into Number 110 joined her in the tiny kitchen and collapsed

onto a wooden chair.“Don’t suppose you know what ‘appened to my barrow or even Dan Salmon’s shop?”“Young Miss Rebecca sold ‘em both. Must ‘ave been a good nine months back, not that long

after you left for the front, come to think of it.” Mrs. Shorrocks placed the bag of chips and the fish ona piece of paper in the middle of the table. “To be fair, Kitty told us you were listed as killed on theMarne and by the time anyone found out the truth it was too late.”

“May as well ‘ave been,” said Charlie, “for all there is to come ‘ome to.”“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mrs. Shorrocks as she flicked the top off a bottle of ale, took a swig

and then pushed it over to Charlie. “I ‘ear there’s a lot of barrows up for sale nowadays and somestill gain’ for bargain prices.”

“Glad to ‘ear it,” said Charlie. “But first I must catch up with Posh Porky as I don’t ‘ave much

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capital left of my own.” He paused to take his first mouthful of fish. “Any idea where she’s got to?”“Never see her round these parts nowadays Charlie. She always was a bit ‘igh and mighty for

the likes of us, but I did ‘ear mention that Kitty had been to see her at London University.”“London University, eh? Well, she’s about to discover Charlie Trumper’s very much alive,

however ‘igh and mighty she’s become. And she’d better ‘ave a pretty convincing story as to what‘appened to my share of our money.” He rose from the table and gathered up his belongings, leavingthe last two chips for Mrs. Shorrocks.

“Shall I open another bottle, Charlie?”“Can’t stop now, Mrs. Shorrocks. But thanks for the beer and grub and give my best to Mr.

Shorrocks.”“Bert?” she said. “‘Aven’t you ‘card? ‘E died of an ‘eart attack over six months ago, poor

man. I do miss ‘im.” It was then that Charlie realized what was different about his old neighbor: noblack eye and no bruises.

He left the house and set out to find London University, and see if he could track downRebecca Salmon. Had she, as he’d instructed if he were listed as dead, divided the proceeds of thesale between his three sisters Sal, now in Canada; Grace, still somewhere in France; and Kitty, Godknows where? In which case there would be no capital for him to start up again other than Tommy’sback pay and a few pounds he’d managed to save himself. He asked the first policeman he saw theway to London University and was pointed in the direction of the Strand. He walked another half mileuntil he reached an archway that had chiseled in the stone above it: “King’s College.” He strolledthrough the opening and knocked on a door marked “Inquiries,” walked in and asked the man behindthe counter if they had a Rebecca Salmon registered at the college. The man checked a list and shookhis head. “Not ‘ere,” he said “But you could try the university registry in Malet Street.”

After another penny tram ride Charlie was beginning to wonder where he would end upspending the night.

“Rebecca Salmon?” said a man who stood behind the desk of the university registry dressed ina corporal’s uniform. “Doesn’t ring no bells with me.” He checked her name in a large directory hepulled out from under the desk. “Oh, yes, ‘ere she is. Bedford College, ‘istory of art.” He was unableto hide the scorn in his voice.

“Don’t have an address for ‘er, do you, Corp?” asked Charlie.“Get some service in, lad, before you call me ‘carp,’” said the older man. “In fact the sooner

you join up the better.”Charlie felt he had suffered enough insults for one day and suddenly let rip, “Sergeant

Trumper, 7312087. I’ll call you ‘corp’ and you’ll call me ‘sergeant’. Do I make myself clear?”“Yes, Sergeant,” said the corporal, springing to attention.“Now, what’s that address?”“She’s in digs at 97 Chelsea Terrace, Sergeant.”“Thank you,” said Charlie, and left the startled exserviceman staring after him as he began yet

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another journey across London.A weary Charlie finally stepped off a tram on the corner of Chelsea Terrace a little after four

o’clock. Had Becky got there before him, he wondered, even if she were only living in digs?He walked slowly up the familiar road admiring the shops he had once dreamed of owning.

Number 131 antiques, full of mahogany furniture, tables and chairs all beautifully polished. Number133, women’s clothes and hosiery from Paris, with garments displayed in the window that Charliedidn’t consider it was right for a man to be looking at. On to Number 135 meat and poultry hangingfrom the rods at the back of the shop that looked so delicious Charlie almost forgot there was a foodshortage. His eyes settled on a restaurant called “Mr. Scallini” which had opened at 139. Charliewondered if Italian food would ever catch on in London.

Number 141 an old bookshop, musty, cobwebbed and with not a single customer to be seen.Then 143 a bespoke tailor. Suits, waistcoats, shirts and collars could, the message painted on thewindow assured him, be purchased by the discerning gentleman. Number 145 freshly baked bread, thesmell of which was almost enough to draw one inside. He stared up and down the street in incredulityas he watched the finely dressed women going about their daily tasks, as if a World War had nevertaken place. No one seemed to have told them about ration books.

Charlie came to a halt outside 147 Chelsea Terrace. He gasped with delight at the sight thatmet his tired eyes rows and rows of fresh fruit and vegetables that he would have been proud to sell.Two well-turnd-out girls in green aprons and an even smarter-looking youth waited to serve acustomer who was picking up a bunch of grapes.

Charlie took a pace backwards and stared up at the name above the shop. He was greeted by asign printed in gold and blue which read: “Charlie Trumper, the honest trader, founded in 1823.”

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CHAPTER6“From 1480 to 1532,” he said. I checked through my notes to make sure I had the correct dates, awareI had been finding it hard to concentrate. It was the last lecture of the day, and all I could think aboutwas getting back to Chelsea Terrace.

The artist under discussion that afternoon was Bernardino Luini. I had already decided that mydegree thesis would be on the life of this underrated painter from Milan. Milan... just another reasonto be thankful that the war was finally over. Now I could plan excursions to Rome, Florence, Veniceand yes, Milan, and study Luini’s work at first hand. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Bellini,Caravaggio, Bernini half the world’s art treasures in one country, and I hadn’t been able to travelbeyond the walls of the Victoria and Albert.

At four-thirty a bell rang to mark the end of lectures for the day. I closed my books andwatched Professor Tilsey as he pattered towards the door. I felt a little sorry for the old fellow. Hehad only been dragged out of retirement because so many young dons had left to fight on the WesternFront. The death of Matthew Makepeace, the man who should have been lecturing that afternoon“Hone of the most promising scholars of his generation,” the old Professor used to tell us was “aninestimable loss to the department and the university as a whole.” I had to agree with him: Makepeacewas one of the few men in England acknowledged as an authority on Luini. I had only attended threeof his lectures before he had signed up to go to France.... The irony of such a man being riddled withGerman bullets while stretched over a barbed-wire fence somewhere in the middle of France was notlost on me.

I was in my first year at Bedford. It seemed there was never enough time to catch up, and Ibadly needed Charlie to return and take the shop off my hands. I had written to him in Edinburgh whenhe was in Belgium, to Belgium when he was in France and to France the very moment he arrived backin Edinburgh. The King’s mail never seemed to catch up with him, and now I didn’t want Charlie tofind out what I had been up to until I had the chance to witness his reaction for myself.

Jacob Cohen had promised to send Charlie over to Chelsea the moment he reappeared in theWhitechapel Road. It couldn’t be too soon for me.

I picked up my books and stuffed them away in my old school satchel, the one my father Tatahad given me when I won my open scholarship to St. Paul’s. The “RS” he had had so proudlystamped on the front was fading now, and the leather strap had almost worn through, so lately I hadbeen carrying the satchel under my arm: Tata would never have considered buying me a new onewhile the old one still had a day’s life left in it.

How strict Tata had always been with me; even taken the strap to me on a couple of occasions,once for pinching “fress,” or buns as Mother called them, behind his back he didn’t mind how much Itook from the shop as long as I asked and once for saying “damn” when I cut my finger peeling anapple. Although I wasn’t brought up in the Jewish faith my mother wouldn’t hear of it he still passedon to me all those standards that were part of his own upbringing and would never tolerate what hefrom time to time described as my “unacceptable behavior.”

It was to be many years later that I learned of the strictures Tata had accepted once he hadproposed marriage to my mother, a Roman Catholic. He adored her and never once complained in mypresence of the fact that he always had to attend shul on his own. “Mixed marriages seems such an

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outdated expression nowadays but at the turn of the century it must have been quite a sacrifice for bothof them to make.

I loved St. Paul’s from the first day I walked through the gates, I suppose partly because noone told me off for working too hard. The only thing I didn’t like was being called “Porky.” It was agirl from the class above me, Daphne Harcourt-Browne, who later explained its double connotation.Daphne was a curlyheaded blonde known as “Snooty” and although we were not natural friends, ourpredilection for cream buns brought us together especially when she discovered that I had a never-ending source of supply. Daphne would happily have paid for them but I wouldn’t consider it as Iwanted my classmates to think we were pals. On one occasion she even invited me to her home inChelsea, but I didn’t accept as I knew if I did I would only have to ask her back to my place inWhitechapel.

It was Daphne who gave me my first art book, The Treasures of Italy, in exchange for severalcream wafers, and from that day on I knew I had stumbled across a subject I wanted to study for therest of my life. I never asked Daphne but it always puzzled me why one of the pages at the front of thebook had been torn out.

Daphne came from one of the best families in London, certainly from what I understood to bethe upper classes, so once I left St. Paul’s I assumed we would never come across each other again.After all, Lowndes Square was hardly a natural habitat for me. Although to be fair neither was theEast End while it remained full of such people as the Trumpers and the Shorrocks.

And when it came to those Trumpers I could only agree with my father’s judgment. MaryTrumper, by all accounts, must have been a saint. George Trumper was a man whose behavior wasunacceptable, not in the same class as his father, whom Tata used to describe as a “mensch.” YoungCharlie who was always up to no good as far as I could see nevertheless had what Tata called “afuture.” The magic must have skipped a generation, he suggested.

“The boy’s not bad for a gay,” he would tell me. “He’ll run his own shop one day, maybe evenmore than one, believe me.” I didn’t give this observation a lot of thought until my father’s death leftme with no one else to whom I could turn.

Tata had complained often enough that he couldn’t leave his two assistants at the shop formore than an hour before something was certain to go wrong. “No saychel,” he would complain ofthose unwilling to take responsibility. “Can’t think what would happen to the shop if I take one dayoff.”

As Rabbi Glikstein read out the last rites at his levoyah, those words rang in my ears. Mymother was still unconscious in hospital and they couldn’t tell me when or if she might recover.Meanwhile I was to be foisted on my reluctant Aunt Harriet, whom I had only previously met atfamily gatherings. It turned out that she lived in someplace called Romford and as she was due to takeme back there the day after the funeral I had only been left with a few hours to make a decision. I triedto work out what my father would have done in the same circ*mstances and came to the conclusionthat he would have taken what he so often called “a bold step.”

By the time I got up the next morning, I had determined to sell the baker’s shop to the highestbidder unless Charlie Trumper was willing to take on the responsibility himself. Looking back, I

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certainly had my doubts about whether Charlie was capable of doing the job but in the end they wereoutweighed by Tata’s high opinion of him.

During my lessons that morning I prepared a plan of action. As soon as school was over I tookthe train from Hammersmith to Whitechapel, then continued the rest of the journey on foot to Charlie’shome.

Once at Number 112 I banged on the door with the palm of my hand and waited I rememberbeing surprised that the Trumpers didn’t have a knocker. My call was eventually answered by one ofthose awful sisters, but I wasn’t quite sure which one it was. I told her I needed to speak to Charlie,and wasn’t surprised to be left standing on the doorstep while she disappeared back into the house.She returned a few minutes later and somewhat grudgingly led me into a little room at the back.

When I left twenty minutes later I felt I had come off with rather the worst of the bargain butanother of my father’s aphorisms came to mind: “shnorrers no choosers.”

The following day I signed up for an accountancy course as an “extra option.” The lessonstook place during the evening and then only after I had finished my regular schoolwork for the day. Tobegin with I found the subject somewhat tedious, but as the weeks passed I became fascinated by howmeticulously recording each transaction could prove to be so beneficial even to our little business. Ihad no idea so much money could be saved by simply understanding a balance sheet, debt repaymentsand how to make claims against tax. My only worry was that I suspected Charlie had never botheredto pay any tax in the first place.

I even began to enjoy my weekly visits to Whitechapel, where I would be given the chance toshow off my newfound skills. Although I remained resolute that my partnership with Charlie wouldcome to an end the moment I was offered a place at university, I still believed that with his energy anddrive, combined with my levelheaded approach in all matters financial, we would surely haveimpressed my father and perhaps even Granpa Charlie.

As the time approached for me to concentrate on my matriculation, I decided to offer Charlie

the opportunity to buy out my share of the partnership and even arranged for a qualified accountant toreplace me in order that they could take over the bookkeeping. Then, yet again, those Germans upsetmy best laid plans.

This time they killed Charlie’s father, which was a silly mistake because it only made theyoung fool sign up to fight the lot of them on his own. Typically he didn’t even bother to consultanyone. Off he went to Great Scotland Yard, in that frightful double-breasted suit, silly flat cap andflashy green tie, carrying ail the worries of the Empire on his shoulders, leaving me to pick up thepieces. It was little wonder I lost so much weight over the next year, which my mother considered asmall compensation for having to associate with the likes of Charlie Trumper.

To make matters worse, a few weeks after Charlie had boarded the train for Edinburgh I wasoffered a place at London University.

Charlie had left me with only two choices: I could try to run the baker’s shop myself and giveup any thought of taking a degree, or I could sell out to the highest bidder. He had dropped me a notethe day he left advising me to sell, so sell I did, but despite many hours spent traipsing round the East

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End I could only find one interested party: Mr. Cohen, who had for some years conducted his tailor’sbusiness from above my father’s shop and wanted to expand. He made me a fair offer in thecirc*mstances and I even picked up another two pounds from one of the street traders for Charlie’shuge barrow; but hard though I tried I couldn’t find a buyer for Granpa Charlie’s dreadful oldnineteenth-century relic.

I immediately placed all the money I had collected on deposit in the Bow Building Society at102 Cheapside for a period of one year at a rate of four percent. I had had no intention of touching itwhile Charlie Trumper was still away at war, until some five months later Kitty Trumper visited mein Romford. She burst into tears and told me that Charlie had been killed on the Western Front. Sheadded that she didn’t know what would become of the family now that her brother was no longeraround to take care of them. I immediately explained to her what my arrangement with Charlie hadbeen, and that at least brought a smile to her face. She agreed to accompany me to the building societythe next day so that we could withdraw Charlie’s share of the money.

It was my intention to carry out Charlie’s wishes and see that his share of the money wasdistributed equally between his three sisters. However, the manager of the society pointed out to usboth in the politest possible terms that I was unable to withdraw one penny of the deposit until thefirst full year had been completed. He even produced the document I had signed to that effect,bringing to my attention the relevant clause. On learning this Kitty immediately leaped up, let out astream of obscenities that caused the under-manager to turn scarlet, and then flounced out.

Later, I had cause to be grateful for that clause. I could so easily have divided Charlie’s sixtypercent between Sal, Grace, and that awful Kitty, who had so obviously lied about her brother’sdeath. I only became aware of the truth when in July Grace wrote from the front to let me know thatCharlie was being sent to Edinburgh following the second battle of the Marne. I vowed there and thento give him his share of the money the day he set foot in England; I wanted to be rid of all thoseTrumpers and their distracting problems once and for all.

I only wish Tata had lived to see me take up my place at Bedford College. His daughter atLondon University Whitechapel would never have heard the end of it. But a German zeppelin had putpaid to that and crippled my mother into the bargain. As it turned out, Mother was still delighted toremind all her friends that I had been among the first women from the East End to sign the register.

After I had written my letter of acceptance to Bedford I began to look for digs nearer theuniversity: I was determined to show some independence. My mother, whose heart had never fullyrecovered from the shock of losing Tata, retired to the suburbs to live with Aunt Harriet in Romford.She couldn’t understand why I needed to lodge in London at all, but insisted that any accommodation Isettled on had to be approved by the university authorities. She emphasized that I could only sharerooms with someone Tata would have considered “acceptable.” Mother never stopped telling me shedidn’t care for the lax morals that had become so fashionable since the outbreak of the war.

Although I had kept in contact with several school friends from St. Paul’s, I knew only onewho was likely to have surplus accommodation in London, and I considered she might well turn out tobe my one hope of not having to spend the rest of my life on a train somewhere between Romford andRegent’s Park. I wrote to Daphne Harcourt-Browne the following day.

She replied inviting me round to tea at her little flat in Chelsea. When I first saw her again I

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was surprised to find that I was now a little taller than Daphne but that she had lost almost as muchweight as I had. Daphne not only welcomed me with open arms but to my surprise expressed delightat the thought of my occupying one of her spare rooms. I insisted that I should pay her rent of fiveshillings a week and also asked her, somewhat tentatively, if she felt able to come and have tea withmy mother in Romford. Daphne seemed amused by the thought and traveled down to Essex with me onthe following Tuesday.

My mother and aunt hardly uttered a word the entire afternoon. A monologue that centered onhunt balls, riding to hounds, polo and the disgraceful decline of the manners of guards officers werehardly subjects about which they were often invited to give an opinion. By the time Aunt Harriet hadserved a second round of muffins I wasn’t at all surprised to see my mother happily nodding herapproval.

In fact, the only embarrassing moment the entire afternoon came when Daphne carried the trayout into the kitchen something I suspected she had not done often before and spotted my final schoolreport pinned to the pantry door. Mother smiled and added to my humiliation by reading its contentsout loud: “Miss Salmon displays an uncommon capacity for hard work which, combined with aninquiring and intuitive mind, should augur well for her future at Bedford College. Signed Miss Potter,Headmistress.”

“Ma certainly didn’t bother to display my final report anywhere” was all Daphne had to sayon the subject.

After I had moved into Chelsea Terrace, life for both of us quickly settled into a routine.Daphne flitted from party to party while I walked at a slightly faster pace from lecture hall to lecturehall, our two paths rarely crossing.

Despite my apprehension, Daphne turned out to be a wonderful companion to share digs with.Although she showed little interest in my academic life her energies were spent in the pursuit of foxesand guards officers she was always brimful of common sense on every subject under the sun, not tomention having constant contact with a string of eligible young men who seemed to arrive in a never-ending convoy at the front door of 97 Chelsea Terrace.

Daphne treated them all with the same disdain, confiding in me that her one true love was stillserving on the Western Front not that she once mentioned his name in my presence.

Whenever I found time to break away from my books, she could always manage to supply aspare young officer to escort me to a concert, a play, even the occasional regimental dance. Althoughshe never showed any interest in what I was up to at university, she often asked questions about theEast End and seemed fascinated by my stories of Charlie Trumper and his barrow.

It might have continued like this indefinitely if I hadn’t picked up a copy of the KensingtonNews, a paper Daphne took so she could find out what was showing at the local picture house.

As I flicked through the pages one Friday evening an advertisem*nt caught my eye. I studiedthe wording closely to be sure the shop was exactly where I thought it was, folded up the paper andleft the flat to check for myself. I strolled down Chelsea Terrace to find the sign in the window of thelocal greengrocer’s. I must have walked past it for days without noticing: “For sale. Apply John D.Wood, 6 Mount Street, London W1.”

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I remembered that Charlie had always wanted to know how prices in Chelsea compared withthose in Whitechapel so I decided to find out for him.

The following morning, having asked some leading questions of our local news agent Mr.Bales always seemed to know exactly what was going on in the Terrace and was only too happy toshare his knowledge with anyone who wanted to pass the time of day I presented myself at the officesof John D. Wood in Mount Street. For some time I was left standing at the counter but eventually oneof four assistants came over, introduced himself to me as Mr. Palmer and asked how he could help.

After a closer inspection of the young man, I doubted that he could help anyone. He must havebeen about seventeen and was so pale and thin he looked as if a gust of wind might blow him away.

“I’d like to know some more details concerning Number 147 Chelsea Terrace,” I said.He managed to look both surprised and baffled at the same time.“Number 147 Chelsea Terrace?”“Number 147 Chelsea Terrace.”“Would madam please excuse me?” he said and walked over to a filing cabinet, shrugging

exaggeratedly as he passed one of his colleagues. I could see him thumb through several papersbefore returning to the counter with a single sheet; he made no attempt to invite me in or even to offerme a chair.

He placed the single sheet on the countertop and studied it closely.“A greengrocer’s shop,” he said.“Yes.”“The shop frontage,” the young man went on to explain in a tired voice, “is twenty-two feet.

The shop itself is a little under one thousand square feet, which includes a small flat on the first flooroverlooking the park.”

“What park?” I asked, not certain we were discussing the same property.“Princess Gardens, madam,” he said.“That’s a patch of grass a few feet by a few feet,” I informed him, suddenly aware that Mr.

Palmer had never visited Chelsea Terrace in his life.“The premises are freehold,” he continued, not responding to my comment, but at least no

longer leaning on the counter. “And the owner would allow vacant possession within thirty days ofcontracts being signed.”

“What price is the owner asking for the property?” I asked. I was becoming more and moreannoyed by being so obviously patronized.

“Our client, a Mrs. Chapman... “ continued the assistant.“Wife of Able Seaman Chapman, late of HMS Boxer,” I informed him. “Killed in action on 8

February 1918, leaving a daughter aged seven and a son aged five.”Mr. Palmer had the grace to turn white.

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“I also know that Mrs. Chapman has arthritis which makes it almost impossible for her toclimb those stairs to the little flat,” I added for good measure.

He now looked considerably perplexed. “Yes,” he said. “Well, yes.”“So how much is Mrs. Chapman hoping the property will fetch?” I insisted. By now Mr.

Palmer’s three colleagues had stopped what they were doing in order to follow our conversation.“One hundred and fifty guineas is being asked for the freehold,” stated the assistant, his eyes

fixed on the bottom line of the schedule.“One hundred and fifty guineas,” I repeated in mock disbelief, without a clue as to what the

property was really worth. “She must be living in cloud cuckoo land. Has she forgotten there’s a waron? Offer her one hundred, Mr. Palmer, and don’t bother me again if she expects a penny more.”

“Guineas?” he said hopefully.“Pounds,” I replied as I wrote out my name and address on the back of the particulars and left

it on the counter. Mr. Palmer seemed incapable of speech, and his mouth remained wide open as Iturned and walked out of the office.

I made my way back to Chelsea only too aware that I had no intention of buying a shop in theTerrace. In any case, I hadn’t got one hundred pounds, or anything like it. I had just over forty poundsin the bank and not much prospect of raising another bean, but the silly man’s attitude had made me soangry. Still, I decided, there wasn’t much fear of Mrs. Chapman accepting so insulting an offer.

Mrs. Chapman accepted my offer the following morning. Blissfully unaware that I had noobligation to sign any agreement, I put down a ten-pound deposit the same afternoon. Mr. Palmerexplained that the money was not returnable, should I fail to complete the contract within thirty days.

“That won’t be a problem,” I told him with bravado, though I hadn’t a clue how I would gethold of the balance of the cash.

For the following twenty-seven days I approached everyone I knew, from the Bow BuildingSociety to distant aunts, even fellow students, but none of them showed the slightest interest inbacking a young woman undergraduate to the tune of sixty pounds in order that she could buy a fruitand vegetable shop.

“But it’s a wonderful investment,” I tried to explain to anyone who would listen. “What’smore, Charlie Trumper comes with the deal, the finest fruit and vegetable man the East End has everseen.” I rarely got beyond this point in my sales patter before expressions of incredulity replacedpolite disinterest.

After the first week I came to the reluctant conclusion that Charlie Trumper wasn’t going to bepleased that I had sacrificed ten pounds of our money six of his and four of mine just to appease myfemale vanity. I decided I would carry the six-pound loss myself rather than admit to him I’d madesuch a fool of myself.

“But why didn’t you talk it over with your mother or your aunt before you went ahead withsomething quite so drastic?” inquired Daphne on the twenty-sixth day. “After all, they both seemed sosensible to me.”

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“And be killed for my trouble? No, thank you,” I told her sharply. “In any case, I’m not thatsure they have sixty pounds between them. Even if they did, I don’t think they’d be willing to invest apenny in Charlie Trumper.”

At the end of the month I crept back round to John D. Wood to explain that the ninety poundswould not be forthcoming and they should feel free to place the property back on the market. Idreaded the “I knew as much” smirk that would appear on Mr. Palmer’s face once he learned mynews.

“But your representative completed the transaction yesterday,” Mr. Palmer assured me,looking as if he would never understand what made me tick.

“My representative?” I said.The assistant checked the file. “Yes, a Miss Daphne Harcourt-Browne of... ““But why?” I asked.“I hardly feel that I’m the person to answer that particular question,” offered Mr. Palmer, “as

I’ve never set eyes on the lady before yesterday.”* * *

“Quite simple really,” Daphne replied when I put the same question to her that evening. ElfCharlie Trumper is half as good as you claim then I’ll have made a very sound investment.”

“ Investment?”“Yes. You see, I require that my capital plus four percent interest should be returned within

three years.”“Four percent?”“Correct. After all, that’s the amount I am receiving on my war loan stock. On the other hand,

should you fail to return my capital plus interest in full, I will require ten percent of the profits fromthe fourth year onwards.”

“But there may not be any profits.”“In which case I will automatically take over sixty percent of the assets. Charlie will then own

twenty-four percent and you sixteen. Everything you need to know is in this document.” She handedover several pages of tightly worded copy, the last page of which had a seven on the top. “All it nowrequires is your signature on the bottom line.”

I read through the papers slowly while Daphne poured herself a sherry. She or her advisersseemed to have considered every eventuality.

“There’s only one difference between you and Charlie Trumper,” I told her, penning mysignature between two penciled crosses.

“And what’s that?”“You were born in a four-poster bed.”As I was quite unable to organize the shop myself and continue with my studies at the

university, I quickly came to the conclusion that I would have to appoint a temporary manager. The

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fact that the three girls who were already employed at Number 147 just giggled whenever I gave anyinstructions only made the appointment more pressing.

The following Saturday I began a tour of Chelsea, Fulham and Kensington, staring into shopwindows up and down the three boroughs and watching young men going about their business in thehope of eventually finding the right person to run Trumper’s.

After keeping an eye on several possible candidates who were working in local shops, Ifinally selected a young man who was an assistant at a fruiterer’s in Kensington. One evening inNovember I waited for him to finish his day’s work. I then followed him as he began his journeyhome.

The ginger-haired lad was heading towards the nearest bus stop when I managed to catch upwith him.

“Good evening, Mr. Makins,” I said.“Hello?” He looked round startled and was obviously surprised to discover that an

unintroduced young woman knew his name. He carried on walking.“I own a greengrocer’s shop in Chelsea Terrace...” I said, keeping up with him stride for

stride as he continued on towards the bus stop. He showed even more surprise but didn’t sayanything, only quickened his pace. “And I’m looking for a new manager.”

This piece of information caused Makins to slow down for the first time and look at me morecarefully.

“Chapman’s,” he said. “Was it you who bought Chapman’s?”“Yes, but it’s Trumper’s now,” I told him. “And I’m offering you the job as manager at a

pound a week more than your present salary.” Not that I had any idea what his present salary was.It took several miles on the bus and a lot of questions still to be answered outside his front

door before he invited me in to meet his mother. Bob Makins joined us two weeks later as manager ofTrumper’s.

Despite this coup I was disappointed to find at the end of our first month that the shop hadmade a loss of over three pounds which meant I wasn’t able to return a penny piece to Daphne.

“Don’t be despondent,” she told me. “Just keep going and there must still be an outside chancethe penalty clause will never come into force, especially if on Mr. Trumper’s return he proves half asgood as you claim he is.”

During the previous six months I had been able to keep a more watchful eye on thewhereabouts of the elusive Charlie, thanks to the help of a young officer Daphne had introduced me towho worked in the war office. He always seemed to know exactly where Sergeant Charles Trumperof the Royal Fusiliers could be located at any time of the day or night. But I still remained determinedto have Trumper’s running smoothly and declaring a profit long before Charlie set foot in thepremises.

However I learned from Daphne’s friend that my errant partner was to be discharged on 20February 1919, leaving me with little or no time to balance the books. And worse, we had recently

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found it necessary to replace two of the three giggling girls who had sadly fallen victim to the Spanishflu epidemic, and sack the third for incompetence.

I tried to recall all the lessons Tata had taught me when I was a child. If a queue was long thenyou must serve the customers quickly, but if short you had to take your time: that way the shop wouldnever be empty. People don’t like to go into empty shops, he explained; it makes them feel insecure.

“On your awning,” he would insist, “should be printed in bold lettering the words ‘DanSalmon, freshly baked bread, Founded in 1879.’ Repeat name and date at every opportunity; the sortof people who live in the East End like to know you’ve been around for some time. Queues andhistory: the British have always appreciated the value of both.”

I tried to implement this philosophy, as I suspected Chelsea was no different from the EastEnd. But in our case the blue awning read, “Charlie Trumper, the honest trader, founded in 1823.”For a few days I had even considered calling the shop “Trumper and Salmon,” but dropped that ideawhen I realized it would only tie me in with Charlie for life.

One of the big differences I discovered between the East and the West End was that inWhitechapel the names of debtors were chalked up on a slate, whereas in Chelsea they opened anaccount. To my surprise, bad debts turned out to be more common in Chelsea than in Whitechapel. Bythe following month I was still unable to pay anything back to Daphne. It was becoming daily moreapparent that my only hope now rested with Charlie.

On the day he was due back I had lunch in the college dining hall with two friends from myyear. I munched away at my apple and toyed with a piece of cheese as I tried to concentrate on theirviews on Karl Marx. Once I had sucked my third of a pint of milk dry I picked up my books andreturned to the lecture then ater. Despite being normally mesmerized by the subject of the earlyRenaissance artists, on this occasion I was grateful to see the professor stacking up his papers a fewminutes before the lecture was scheduled to end.

The tram back to Chelsea seemed to take forever, but at last it came to a halt on the corner ofChelsea Terrace.

I always enjoyed walking the full length of the street to check how the other shops were faring.First I had to pass the antiques shop where Mr. Rutherford resided. He always raised his hat when hesaw me. Then there was the women’s clothes shop at Number 133 with its dresses in the window thatI felt I would never be able to afford. Next came Kendrick’s, the butcher’s, where Daphne kept anaccount; and a few doors on from them was the Italian restaurant with its empty cloth-covered tables.I knew the proprietor must be struggling to make a living, because we could no longer afford toextend him any credit. Finally came the bookshop where dear Mr. Sneddles tried to eke out a living.Although he hadn’t sold a book in weeks he would happily sit at the counter engrossed in his belovedWilliam Blake until it was time to turn the sign on the front door from “Open” to “Closed.” I smiledas I passed by but he didn’t see me.

I calculated that if Charlie’s train had arrived at King’s Cross on time that morning, he shouldhave already reached Chelsea by now, even if he had had to cover the entire journey on foot.

I hesitated only for a moment as I approached the shop, then walked straight in. To my chagrin,Charlie was nowhere to be seen. I immediately asked Bob Makins if anyone had called in asking for

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me.“No one, Miss Becky,” Bob confirmed. “Don’t worry, we all remember exactly what was

expected of us if Mr. Trumper shows up.” His two new assistants, Patsy and Gladys, nodded theiragreement.

I checked my watch a few minutes past five and decided that if Charlie hadn’t turned up bynow he was unlikely to appear before the next day. I frowned and told Bob he could start closing up.When six chimed on the clock above the door, I reluctantly asked him to push the blind back in and tolock up while I checked over the day’s takings.

“Strange that,” said Bob as he arrived by my side at the front door clutching the shop doorkeys.

“Strange?”“Yes. That man over there. He’s been sitting on the bench for the last hour and has never once

taken his eyes off the shop. I only hope there’s nothing wrong with the poor fellow.”I glanced across the road. Charlie was sitting, arms folded, staring directly at me. When our

eyes met he unfolded his arms, stood up and walked slowly over to join me.Neither of us spoke for some time until he said, “So what’s the deal?”

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CHAPTER7“How do you do, Mr. Trumper? Pleased to make your acquaintance, I’m sure,” said Bob Makins,rubbing his palm down a green apron before shaking his new master’s outstretched hand.

Gladys and Patsy both stepped forward and gave Charlie a half curtsy, which brought a smileto Becky’s lips.

“There’ll be no need for anything like that,” said Charlie. “I’m up from Whitechapel and theonly bowing and scraping you’ll be doing in future will be for the customers.”

“Yes, sir,” said the girls in unison, which left Charlie speechless.“Bob, will you take Mr. Trumper’s things up to his room?” Becky asked. “While I show him

round the shop... ““Certainly, miss,” said Bob, looking down at the brown paper parcel and the little box that

Charlie had left on the floor by his side. “Is that all there is, Mr. Trumper?” he asked in disbelief.Charlie nodded.He stared at the two assistants in their smart white blouses and green aprons. They were both

standing behind the counter looking as if they weren’t quite sure what to do next. “Off you go, both ofyou,” said Becly. “But be sure you’re in first thing tomorrow morning. Mr. Trumper’s a stickler whenit comes to timekeeping.”

The two girls collected their little felt bags and scurried away as Charlie sat himself down ona stool next to a box of plums.

“Now we’re alone,” he said, “you can tell me ‘ow all this came about.”“Well,” replied Becky, “foolish pride was how it all began but... “Long before she had come to the end of her story Charlie was saying, “You’re a wonder,

Becky Salmon, a positive wonder. She continued to tell Charlie everything that had taken place during the past year and the only

frown to appear on his forehead came when Charlie reamed the details of Daphne’s investment.“So I’ve got just about two and a half years to pay back the full sixty pounds plus interest?”“Plus the first six months’ losses,” said Becky sheepishly.“I repeat, Rebecca Salmon, you’re a wonder. If I can’t do something that simple then I’m not

worthy to be called your partner.”A smile of relief crossed Becky’s face.“And do you live ‘ere as well?” Charlie asked as he looked up the stairs.“Certainly not. I share digs with an old school friend of mine, Daphne Harcourt-Browne.

We’re just up the road at 97.”“The girl who supplied you with the money?”Becky nodded.

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“She must be a good friend,” said Charlie.Bob reappeared at the bottom of the stairs.“I’ve put Mr. Trumper’s things in the bedroom and checked over the flat. Everything seems to

be in order.”“Thank you, Bob,” said Becky. “As there’s nothing else you can do today, I’ll see you in the

morning.”“Will Mr. Trumper be coming to the market, miss?”“I doubt it,” said Becky. “So why don’t you do the ordering for tomorrow as usual? I’m sure

Mr. Trumper will join you some time later in the week.”“Covent Garden?” asked Charlie.“Yes, sir,” said Bob.“Well, if they ‘aven’t moved it I’ll see you there at four-thirty tomorrow morning.”Becky watched Bob turn white. “I don’t suppose Mr. Trumper will expect you to be there

every morning at four-thirty.” She laughed. “Just until he’s got back in the swing of things. Good night,Bob.”

“Good night, miss, good night, sir,” said Bob, who left the shop with a perplexed look on hisface.

“What’s all this ‘sir’ and ‘miss’ nonsense?” asked Charlie. “I’m only about a year older thanBob.”

“So were many of the officers on the Western Front that you called ‘sir.’”“But that’s the point. I’m not an officer.”“No, but you are the boss. What’s more, you’re no longer in Whitechapel, Charlie. Come on,

it’s time you saw your rooms.”“Rooms?” said Charlie. “I’ve never had ‘rooms’ in my life. It’s been just trenches, tents and

gymnasiums lately.”“Well, you have now.” Becky led her partner up the wooden staircase to the first floor and

began a guided tour. “Kitchen,” she said. “Small, but ought to serve your purposes. By the way, I’veseen to it that there are enough knives, forks and crockery for three and I’ve told Gladys that it’s alsoher responsibility to keep the flat clean and tidy. The front room,” she announced opening a door, “ifone has the nerve to describe something quite this small as a front room.”

Charlie stared at a sofa and three chairs, all obviously new. “What happened to all my oldthings?”

“Most of them were burned on Armistice Day,” admitted Becky. “But I managed to get ashilling for the horsehair chair, with the bed thrown in.”

“And what about my granpa’s barrow? You didn’t burn that as well?”“Certainly not. I tried to sell it, but no one was willing to offer me more than five shillings, so

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Bob uses it for picking up the produce from the market every morning. ““Good,” said Charlie, with a look of relief.Becky turnd and moved on to the bathroom.“Sorry about the stain below the cold water tap,” she said. “None of us could find anything

that would shift it however much elbow grease we used. And I must warn you, the lavatory doesn’talways flush.”

“I’ve never ‘ad a toilet inside the ‘ouse before,” said Charlie. “Very posh.”Becky continued on into the bedroom.Charlie tried to take in everything at once, but his eyes settled on a colored picture that had

hung above his bed in Whitechapel Road and had once belonged to his mother. He felt there wassomething familiar about it. His eyes moved on to a chest of drawers, two chairs and a bed he hadnever seen before. He desperately wanted to show Becky how much he appreciated all she had done,and he settled for bouncing up and down on the corner of the bed.

“Another first,” said Charlie.“Another first?”“Yes, curtains. Granpa wouldn’t allow them, you know. He used to say... ““Yes, I remember,” said Becky. “Kept you asleep in the morning and prevented you from

doing a proper day’s work.”“Well, somethin’ like that, except I’m not sure my granpa would ‘ave known what the word

prevented meant,” said Charlie as he began to unpack Tommy’s little box. Becky’s eyes fell on thepicture of the Virgin Mary and Child the moment Charlie placed the little painting on the bed. Shepicked up the oil and began to study it more closely.

“Where did you get this, Charlie? It’s exquisite.”“A friend of mine who died at the front left it to me,” he replied matter-of-factly.“Your friend had taste.” Becky kept holding on to the picture. “Any idea who painted it?”“No, I ‘aven’t.” Charlie stared up at his mother’s framed photo that Becky had hung on the

wall. “Blimey,” he said, “it’s exactly the same picture.”“Not quite,” said Becky, studying the magazine picture above his bed. “You see, your mother’s

is a photograph of a masterpiece by Bronzino, while your fnend’s painting, although it looks similar,is actually a damned good copy of the onginal.” She checked her watch. “I must be off,” she saidwithout waming. “I’ve promised I’d be at the Queen’s Hall by eight o’clock. Mozart.”

“Mozart. Do I know ‘im?”“I’ll arrange an introduction in the near future.”“So you won’t be ‘angina around to cook my first dinner then?” asked Charlie. “You see, I’ve

still got so many questions I need to ‘ave answered. So many things I want to find out about. To startwith... “

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“Sorry, Charlie. I mustn’t be late. See you in the morning though when I promise I’ll answerall your questions.”

“First thing?”“Yes, but not by your standards,” laughed Becky. “Some time round eight would be my guess.”“Do you like this fellow Mozart?” Charlie asked, as Becky felt his eyes studying her more

closely.“Well, to be honest I don’t know a lot about him myself, but Guy likes him.”“Guy?” said Charlie.“Yes, Guy. He’s the young man who’s taking me to the concert and I haven’t known him long

enough to be late. I’ll tell you more about both of them tomorrow. Bye, Charlie.”On the walk back to Daphne’s flat Becky couldn’t help feeling a little gully about deserting

Charlie on his first night home and began to think perhaps it had been selfish of her to accept aninvitation to go to a concert with Guy that night. But the battalion didn’t give him dial many eveningsoff during the week, and if she didn’t see him when he was free it often turned out to be several daysbefore they could spend another evening together.

As she opened the front door of 97, Becky could hear Daphne splashing around in the bath.“Has he changed?” her friend shouted on hearing the door close.“Who?” asked Becky, walking through to the bedroom.“Charlie, of course,” said Daphne, pushing open the bathroom door. She stood leaning against

the tiled wall with a towel wrapped around her body. She was almost enveloped in a cloud of steam.Becky considered the question for a moment. “He’s changed, yes; a lot, in fact, except for his

clothes and voice.“What do you mean?”“Well, the voice is the same I’d recognize it anywhere. The clothes are the same I’d recognize

them anywhere. But he’s not the same.”“Am I meant to understand all that?” asked Daphne, as she began to rub her hair vigorously.“Well, as he pointed out to me, Bob Makins is only a year younger than he is, but Charlie

seems about ten years older than either of us. It must be something that happens to men once they’veserved on the Western Front.”

“You shouldn’t be surprised by that, but what I want to know is: did the shop come as asurprise to him?”

“Yes, I think I can honestly say it did.” Becky slipped out of her dress. “Don’t suppose you’vegot a pair of stockings I could borrow, have you?”

“Third drawer down,” said Daphne. “But in exchange I’d like to borrow your legs.”Becky laughed.“What’s he like to look at?” Daphne continued as she threw her wet towel on the bathroom

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floor.Becky considered the question. “An inch, perhaps two, under six feet, every bit as large as his

father, only in his case it’s muscle, not fat. He’s not exactly Douglas Fairbanks, but some mightconsider him handsome.”

“He’s beginning to sound my type,” said Daphne as she rummaged around among her clothesto find something suitable.

“Hardly, my dear,” said Becky. “I can’t see Brigadier Harcourt-Browne welcoming CharlieTrumper to morning sherry before the Cottenham Hunt.”

“You’re such a snob, Rebecca Salmon,” said Daphne, laughing. “We may share rooms, butdon’t forget you and Charlie originate from the same stable. Come to think of it, you only met Guybecause of me.”

“Too true,” Becky said, “but surely I get a little credit for St. Paul’s and London University?”“Not where I come from, you don’t,” said Daphne, as she checked her nails. “Can’t stop and

chatter with the working class now, darling,” she continued. “Must be off. Henry Bromsgrove istaking me to a flapper dance in Chelsea. And wet as our Henry is, I do enjoy an invitation to stalk athis country home in Scotland every august. Tootle pip!”

As Becky drew her bath, she thought about Daphne’s words, delivered with humor andaffection but still highlighting the problems she faced when trying to cross the established socialbarriers for more than a ew momenta.

Daphne had indeed introduced her to Guy, only a few weeks before, when Daphne hadpersuaded her to make up a party to see La Boheme at Covent Garden. Becky could still recall thatfirst meeting clearly. She had tried so hard not to like him as they shared a drink at the Crush Bar,especially after Daphne’s warning about his reputation. She had tried not to stare too obviously at theslim young man who stood before her. His thick blond hair, deep blue eyes and effortless charm hadprobably captivated the hearts of a host of women that evening, but as Becky assumed that every girlreceived exactly the same treatment, she avoided allowing herself to be flattered by him. Sheregretted her offhand attitude the moment he had resumed to his box, and found that during the secondact she spent a considerable amount of her time just staring across at him, then turning her attentionquickly back to the stage whenever their eyes met.

The following evening Daphne asked her what she had thought of the young of ricer she hadmet at the opera.

“Remind me of his name,” said Becky.“Oh, I see,” said Daphne. “Affected you that badly, did he?”“Yes,” she admitted. “But so what? Can you see a young man with a background like his taking

any interest in a girl from Whitechapel?”“Yes, I can actually, although I suspect he’s only after one thing.”“Then you’d better warn him I’m not that sort of girl,” said Becky.“I don’t think that’s ever put him off in the past,” replied Daphne. “However, to start with he’s

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asking if you would care to accompany him to the theater along with some friends from his regiment.How does that strike you?”

“I’d love to.”“I thought you might,” said Daphne. “So I told him ‘yes’ without bothering to consult you.”Becky laughed but had to wait another five days before she actually saw the young officer

again. After he had come to collect her at the flat they joined a party of junior officers and debutantesat the Haymarket Theatre to see Pygmalion’ by the fashionable playwright George Bernard ShawlBecky enjoyed the new play despite a girl called Amanda giggling all the way through the first act andthen refusing to hold a conversation with her during the interval.

Over dinner at the Cafe Royal, she sat next to Guy and told him everything about herself fromher birth in Whitechapel through to winning a place at Bedford College the previous year.

After Becky had bade her farewells to the rest of the party Guy drove her back to Chelsea andhaving said, “Good night, Miss Salmon,” shook her by the hand.

Becky assumed that she would not be seeing the young officer again.But Guy dropped her a note the next day, inviting her to a reception at the mess. This was

followed a week later by a dinner, then a ball, and after that regular outings took place culminating inan invitation to spend the weekend with his parents in Berkshire.

Daphne did her best to brief Becky fully on the family. The major, Guy’s father, was asweetie, she assured her, farmed seven hundred acres of dairy land in Berkshire, and was also masterof the Buckhurst Hunt.

It took Daphne several attempts to explain what “riding to hounds” actually meant, though shehad to admit that even Eliza Doolitde would have been hard pushed to understand fully why theybothered with the exercise in the first place.

“Guy’s mother, however, is not graced with the same generous instincts as the major,” Daphnewarned. “She is a snob of the first order.” Becky’s heart sank. “Second daughter of a baronet, whowas created by Lloyd George for making things they stick on the end of tanks. Probably gave largedonations to the Liberal Party at the same time, I’ll be bound. Second generation, of course. They’realways the worst.” Daphne checked the seams on her stockings. “My family have been around forseventeen generations, don’t you know, so we feel we haven’t an awful lot to prove. We’re quiteaware that we don’t possess a modicum of brain between us, but by God we’re rich, and by Harrywe’re ancient. However, I fear the same cannot be said for Captain Guy Trentham.”

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CHAPTER8Becky woke the next morning before her alarm went off, and was up, dressed and had left the flat longbefore Daphne had even stirred. She couldn’t wait to find out how Charlie was coping on his firstday. As she walked towards 147 she noticed that the shop was already open, and a lone customer wasreceiving Charlie’s undivided attention.

“Good mornin’, partner,” shouted Charlie from behind the counter as Becky stepped into theshop.

“Good morning,” Becky replied. “I see you’re determined to spend your first day just sittingback and watching how it all works.”

Charlie, she was to discover, had begun serving customers before Gladys and Patsy hadarrived, while poor Bob Makins looked as if he had already completed a full day’s work.

“‘Aven’t the time to chatter to the idle classes at the moment,” said Charlie, his co*ckneyaccent seeming broader than ever. “Any ‘ope of catching up with you later this evening?”

“Of course,” said Becky.She checked her watch, waved goodbye and departed for her first lecture of the morning. She

found it hard to concentrate on the history of the Renaissance era, and even slides of Raphaelts workreflected from a magic lantern onto a white sheet, couldn’t fully arouse her interest. Her mind keptswitching from the anxiety of eventually having to spend a weekend with Guy’s parents to theproblems of Charlie making enough of a profit to clear their debt with Daphne. Becky admitted toherself that she felt more confident of the latter. She was relieved to see the black hand of the clockpass four-thirty. Once again she ran to catch the tram on the corner of Portland Place and continued torun after the trudging vehicle had deposited her in Chelsea Terrace.

A little queue had formed at Trumper’s and Becky could hear Charlie’s familiar oldcatchphrases even before she reached the front door.

“‘Alf a pound of your King Edward’s’ a juicy grapefruit from South Africa’ and why don’t Ithrow in a nice Cox’s orange pippin’ all for a bob’ my lov?” Grand dames’ ladies-in-waiting andnannies all who would have turnd their noses up had anyone else called them “luv”, seemed to meltwhen Charlie uttered the word. It was only after the last customer had left that Becky was able to takein properly the changes Charlie had already made to the shop.

“Up all night, wasn’t I?” he told her. “Removin’ ‘alf-empy boxes and unsaleable items. Endedup with all the colorful vegetables’ your tomatoes your greens, your peas’ all soft’ placed at the back;while all your tardy unattractive variety you put up front. Potatoes’ Sweden and tumips. It’s a goldenrule.”

“Granpa Charlie,” she began with a smile, but stopped herself just in time.Becky began to study the rearranged counters and had to agree that it was far more practical

the way Charlie had insisted they should be laid out. And she certainly couldn’t argue with the smileson the faces of the customers.

Within a month, a queue stretching out onto the pavement became part of Charlie’s dailyroutine and within two he was already talking to Becky of expanding.

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“Where to?” she asked. “Your bedroom?”“No room for vegetables up there,” he replied with a grin. “Not since we’ve ‘ad longer

queues at Trumper’s than what they ‘ave outside 13g~nalion. What’s more, we re gain’ to runforever.”

After she had checked and rechecked the takings for the quarter, Becky couldn’t believe howmuch they had turned over; she decided perhaps the time had come for a little celebration.

“Why don’t we all have dinner at that Italian restaurant?” suggested Daphne, after she hadreceived a far larger check for the past three months than she had anticipated.

Becky thought it a wonderful idea, but was surprised to find how reluctant Guy was to fall inwith her plans, and also how much trouble Daphne took getting herself ready for the occasion.

“We’re not expecting to spend all the profits in one evening,” Becky assured her.“More’s the pity,” said Daphne. “Because it’s beginning to look as if it might be the one

chance I’m given to enforce the penalty clause. Not that I’m complaining. After all, Charlie will bequite a change from the usual chinless vicars’ sons and stableboys with no legs that I have to enduremost weekends.”

“Be careful he doesn’t end up eating you for dessert.”Becky had warned Charlie that the table had been booked for eight o’clock and made him

promise he would wear his best suit. “My only suit,” he reminded her.Guy collected the two girls from Number 97 on the dot of eight, but seemed unusually morose

as he accompanied them to the restaurant, arriving a few minutes after the appointed hour. They foundCharlie sitting alone in the corner fidgeting and looking as if it might be the first time he had everbeen to a restaurant.

Becky introduced first Daphne to Charlie and then Charlie to Guy. The two men just stood andstared at each other like prizefighters.

“Of course, you were both in the same regiment,” said Daphne. “But I don’t suppose you evercame across each other,” she added, staring at Charlie. Neither man commented on her observation.

If the evening started badly, it was only to become worse, as the four of them were quiteunable to settle on any subject with which they had something in common. Charlie, far from beingwitty and sharp as he was with the customers in the shop, became surly and uncommunicative. IfBecky could have reached his ankle she would have kicked him, and not simply because he keptputting a knife covered with peas in his mouth.

Guy’s particular brand of sullen silence didn’t help matters either, despite Daphne laughingaway, bubbly as ever, whatever anyone said. By the time the bill was finally presented, Becky wasonly too relieved that the evening was coming to an end. She even had discreetly to leave a tip,because Charlie didn’t seem to realize it was expected of him.

She left the restaurant at Guy’s side and the two of them lost contact with Daphne and Charlieas they strolled back towards 97. She assumed that her companions were only a few paces behind,but stopped thinking about where they might be when Guy took her in his arms, kissed her gently and

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said, “Good night, my darling. And don’t forget, we’re going down to Ashurst for the weekend.” Howcould she forget? Becky watched Guy look back furtively in the direction that Daphne and Charlie hadbeen walking, but then without another word he hailed a hansom and instructed the cabbie to take himto the Fusiliers’ barracks in Hounslow.

Becky unlocked the front door and sat down on the sofa to consider whether or not she shouldreturn to 147 and tell Charlie exactly what she thought of him. A few minutes later Daphne breezedinto the room.

“Sorry about this evening,” said Becky before her friend had had the chance to offer anopinion. “Charlie’s usually a little more communicative than that. I can’t think what came over him.”

“Not easy for him to have dinner with an of fleer from his old regiment, I suspect,” saidDaphne.

“I’m sure you’re right,” said Becky. “But they’ll end up friends. I feel sure of that.”Daphne stared at Becky thoughtfully.The following Saturday morning, after he had completed guard duty, Guy arrived at 97

Chelsea Terrace to collect Becky and drive her down to Ashurst. The moment he saw her in one ofDaphne’s stylish red dresses he remarked on how beautiful she looked, and he was so cheerful andchatty on the tourney down to Berkshire that Becky even began to relax. They arrived in the village ofAshurst just before three and Guy turnd to wink at her as he swung the car into the mile-long drive thatled up to the hall.

Becky hadn’t expected the house to be quite that large.A butler, under butler and two footmen were waiting on the top step to greet them. Guy brought

the car to a halt on the raveled drive and the butler stepped forward to remove Becky’s two smallcases from the boot, before handing them over to a footman who whisked them away. The butler thenled Captain Guy and Becky at a sedate pace up the stone steps, into the front hall and on up the widewooden staircase to a bedroom on the first floor landing.

“The Wellington Room, madam,” he intoned as he opened the door for her.“He’s meant to have spent the night here once,” explained Guy, as he strolled up the stairs

beside her. “By the way, no need for you to feel lonely. I’m only next door, and much more alive thanthe late general.”

Becky walked into a large comfortable room where she found a young girl in a long blackdress with a white collar and cuffs unpacking her bags. The girl turned, curtsied and announced, “I’mNellie, your maid. Please let me know if you need anything, ma’am.”

Becky thanked her, walked over to the bay window and stared out at the green acres thatstretched as far as her eye could see. There was a knock on the door and Becky turnd to find Guyentering the room even before she had been given the chance to say “Come in.”

“Room all right, darling?”“Just perfect,” said Becky as the maid curtsied once again. Becky thought she detected a slight

look of apprehension in the young girl’s eyes as Guy walked across the room.

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“Ready to meet Pa?” he asked.“As ready as I’m ever likely to be,” Becky admitted as she accompanied Guy back downstairs

to the morning room where a man in his early fifties stood in front of a blazing log fire waiting togreet them.

“Welcome to Ashurst Hall,” said Major Trentham.Becky smiled at her host and said, “Thank you.”The major was slightly shorter than his son, but had the same slim build and fair hair, though

there were some strands of gray appearing at the sides. But that was where the likeness ended.Whereas Guy’s complexion was fresh and pale, Major Trentham’s skin had the ruddiness of a manwho had spent most of his life outdoors, and when Becky shook his hand she felt the roughness ofsomeone who obviously worked on the land.

“Those fine London shoes won’t be much good for what I have in mind,” declared the major.“You’ll have to borrow a pair of my wife’s riding boots, or perhaps Nigel’s Wellingtons.”

“Niger?” Becky inquired.“Trentham minor. Hasn’t Guy told you about him? He’s in his last year at Harrow, hoping to

go on to Sandhurst and outshine his brother, I’m told.”“I didn’t know you had a... ““The little brat isn’t worthy of a mention,” Guy interrupted with a half smile, as his father

guided them back through the hall to a cupboard below the stairs. Becky stared at the row of leatherriding boots that were even more highly polished than her shoes.

“Take your pick m’dear,” said Major Trentham.After a couple of attempts Becky found a pair that fitted perfectly, then followed Guy and his

father out into the garden. It took the best part of the afternoon for Major Trentham to show his youngguest round the seven-hundred-acre estate, and by the time Becky resumed she was more than readyfor the hot punch that awaited them in a large silver tureen in the morning room.

The butler informed them that Mrs.Trentham had phoned to say that she had been held up at thevicarage and would be unable to join them for tea.

By the time Becky resumed to her room in the early evening to take a bath and change fordinner, Mrs. Trentham still hadn’t made an appearance.

Daphne had loaned Becky two dresses for the occasion, and even an exquisite semicirculardiamond brooch about which Becky had felt a little apprehensive. But when she looked at herself inthe mirror all her fears were quickly forgotten.

When Becky heard eight o’clock chiming in chorus from the numerous clocks around the houseshe returned to the drawing room. The dress and the brooch had a perceptible and immediate effect onboth men. There was still no sign of Guy’s mother.

“What a charming dress, Miss Salmon,” said the major.“Thank you, Major Trentham,” said Becky, as she warmed her hands by the fire before

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glancing around the room.“My wife will be joining us in a moment,” the major assured Becky, as the butler proffered a

glass of sherry on a silver tray.“I did enjoy being shown round the estate.”“Hardly warrants that description, my dear,” the major replied with a warm smile. “But I’m

glad you enjoyed the walk,” he added as his attention was diverted over her shoulder.Becky swung round to see a tall, elegant lady, dressed in black from the nape of her neck to

her ankles, enter the room. She walked slowly and sedately towards them.“Mother,” said Guy, stepping forward to give her a kiss on the cheek, “I should like you to

meet Becky Salmon.”“How do you do?” said Becky.“May I be permitted to inquire who removed my best riding boots from the hall cupboard?”

asked Mrs. Trentham, ignoring Becky’s outstretched hand. “And then saw fit to return them covered inmud?”

“I did,” said the major. “Otherwise Miss Salmon would have had to walk round the farm in apair of high heels. Which might have proved unwise in the circ*mstances. “

“It might have proved wiser for Miss Salmon to have come ipropenrly equipped with the rightfootwear in the first p e.

“I’m so sorry...” began Becky.“Where have you been all day, Mother?” asked Guy, jumping in. “We had rather hoped to see

you earlier.”“Trying to sort out some of the problems that our new vicar seems quite unable to cope with,”

replied Mrs. Trentham. “He has absolutely no idea of how to go about organizing a harvest festival. Ican’t imagine what they are teaching them at Oxford nowadays.”

“Theology, perhaps,” suggested Major Trentham.The butler cleared his throat. “Dinner is served, madam.”Mrs. Trentham turnd without another word and led them through into the dining room at a brisk

pace. She placed Becky on the right of the major and opposite herself. Three knives, four forks andtwo spoons shone up at Becky from the large square table. She had no trouble in selecting which oneshe should start with, as the first course was soup, but, from then on she knew she would simply haveto follow Mrs. Trentham’s lead.

Her hostess didn’t address a word to Becky until the main course had been served. Instead shespoke to her husband of Nigel’s efforts at Harrow not very impressive; the new vicar almost as bad;and Lady Lavinia Malim a judge’s widow who had recently taken residence in the village and hadbeen causing even more trouble than usual.

Becky’s mouth was full of pheasant when Mrs. Trentham suddenly asked, “And which of theprofessions is your father associated with, Miss Salmon?”

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“He’s dead,” Becky spluttered.“Oh, I am sorry to hear that,” she said indifferently. “Am I to presume he died serving with his

regiment at the front?”“No, he didn’t.”“Oh, so what did he do during the war?”“He ran a baker’s shop. In Whitechapel,” added Becky, mindful of her father’s warning: “If

you ever try to disguise your background, it will only end in tears.”“Whitechapel?” Mrs. Trentham queried. “If I’m not mistaken, isn’t that a sweet little village,

just outside Worcester?”“No, Mrs. Trentham, it’s in the heart of the East End of London,” said Becky, hoping that Guy

would come to her rescue, but he seemed more preoccupied with sipping his glass of claret.“Oh,” said Mrs. Trentham, her lips remaining in a straight line. “I remember once visiting the

Bishop of Worcester’s wife in a place called Whitechapel, but I confess I have never found itnecessary to travel as far as the East End. I don’t suppose they have a bishop there.” She put downher knife and fork. “However,” she continued, “my father, Sir Raymond Hardcastle you may haveheard of him, Miss Salmon... “

“No, I haven’t actually,” said Becky honestly.Another disdainful look appeared on the face of Mrs. Trentham, although it failed to stop her

flow “ Who was created a baronet for his services to King George V... ““And what were those services?” asked Becky innocently, which caused Mrs. Trentham to

pause for a moment before explaining, “He played a small part in His Majesty’s efforts to see that wewere not overrun by the Germans.”

“He’s an arms dealer,” said Major Trentham under his breath.If Mrs. Trentham heard the comment she chose to ignore it.“Did you come out this year, Miss Salmon?” she asked Italy.“No, I didn’t,” said Becky. “I went up to university instead.”“I don’t approve of such goings-on myself. Ladies shouldn’t be educated beyond the three ‘Rs’

plus an adequate understanding of how to manage servants and survive having to watch a cricketmatch.”

“But if you don’t have servants... “ began Becky, and would have continued if Mrs. Trenthamhadn’t rung a silver bell that was by her right hand.

When the butler reappeared she said curtly, “We’ll take coffee in the drawing room, Gibson.”The butler’s face registered a hint of surprise as Mrs.Trentham rose and led everyone out of thedining room, down a long corridor and back into the drawing room where the fire no longer burned sovigorously.

“Care for some port or brandy, Miss Salmon?” asked Major Trentham, as Gibson poured outthe coffee.

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“No, thank you,” said Becky quietly.“Please excuse me,” said Mrs. Trentham, rising from the chair in which she had just sat down.

“I seem to have developed a slight headache and will therefore retire to my room, if you’ll forgiveme.”

“Yes, of course, my dear,” said the major flatly.As soon as his mother had left the room Guy walked quickly over to Becky, sat down and took

her hand. “She’ll be better in the morning, when her migraine has cleared up, you’ll see.”“I doubt it,” replied Becky in a whisper, and turning to Major Trentham said, “Perhaps you’ll

excuse me as well. It’s been a long day, and in any case I’m sure the two of you have a lot to catch upon.”

Both men rose as Becky left the room and climbed the long staircase to her bedroom. Sheundressed quickly and after washing in a basin of near freezing water crept across the unheated roomto slide between the sheets of her cold bed.

Becky was already half asleep when she heard the door handle turning. She blinked a fewtimes and tried to focus on the far side of the room. The door opened slowly, but all she could makeout was the figure of a man entering, then the door closing silently behind him.

“Who’s that?” she whispered sharply.“Only me,” murmured Guy. “Thought I’d pop in and see how you were.”Becky pulled her top sheet up to her chin. “Good night, Guy,” she said briskly.“That’s not very friendly,” said Guy, who had already crossed the room and was now sitting

on the end of her bed. “Just wanted to check that everything was all right. Felt you had rather a roughtime of it tonight.”

“I’m just fine, thank you,” said Becky flatly. As he leaned over to kiss her she slid away fromhim, so he ended up brushing her left ear.

“Perhaps this isn’t the right time?”“Or place,” added Becky, sliding even farther away so that she was nearly falling out of the

far side of the bed.“I only wanted to kiss you good night.”Becky reluctantly allowed him to take her in his arms and kiss her on the lips, but he held on to

her far longer than she had anticipated and eventually she had to push him away.“Good night, Guy,” she said firmly.At first Guy didn’t move, but then he rose slowly and said, “Perhaps another time.” A moment

later she heard the door close behind him.Becky waited for a few moments before getting out of bed. She walked over to the door,

turned the key in the lock and removed it before going back to bed. It was some time before she wasable to sleep.

When Becky came down for breakfast the following morning she quickly discovered from

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Major Trentham that a restless night had not improved his wife’s migraine: she had therefore decidedto remain in bed until the pain had completely cleared.

Later, when the major and Guy went off to church, leaving Becky to read the Sundaynewspapers in the drawing room, she couldn’t help noticing that the servants were whispering amongthemselves whenever she caught their eye.

Mrs. Trentham appeared for lunch, but made no attempt to join in the conversation that wastaking place at the other end of the table. Unexpectedly, just as the custard was being poured onto thesummer pudding, she asked, “And what was the vicar’s text this morning?”

“Do unto others as you expect them to do unto you,” the major replied with a slight edge to hisvoice.

“And how did you find the service at our local church, Miss Salmon?” asked Mrs. Trentham,addressing Becky for the first time.

“I didn’t “ began Becky.“Ah, yes, of course, you are one of the chosen brethren.”“No, actually if anything I’m a Roman Catholic,” said Becky.“Oh,” said Mrs. Trentham, feigning surprise, “I assumed, with the name of Salmon... In any

case you wouldn’t have enjoyed St. Michael’s. You see, it’s very down to earth.”Becky wondered if every word Mrs. Trentham uttered and every action she took was

rehearsed in advance.Once lunch had been cleared away Mrs. Trentham disappeared again and Guy suggested that

he and Becky should take a brisk walk. Becky went up to her room and changed into her oldest shoes,far too terrified to suggest she might borrow a pair of Mrs. Trentham’s Wellingtons.

“Anything to get away from the house,” Becky told him when she returned downstairs and shedidn’t open her mouth again until she felt certain that Mrs. Trentham was well out of earshot.

“What does she expect of me?” Becky finally asked.“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Guy insisted, taking her hand. “You’re overreacting. Pa’s convinced

she’ll come round given time and in any case, if I have to choose between you and her I know exactlywhich one of you is more important to me.”

Becky squeezed his hand. “Thank you, darling, but I’m still not certain I can go through anotherevening like the last one.”

“We could always leave early and spend the rest of the day at your place,” Guy said. Beckyturned to look at him, unsure what he meant. He added quickly, “Better get back to the house or she’llonly grumble that we left her alone all afternoon.” They both quickened their pace.

A few minutes later they were climbing the stone steps at the front of the hall. As soon asBecky had changed back into her house shoes and checked her hair in the mirror on the hallstand, sherejoined Guy in the drawing room. She was surprised to find a large tea already laid out. She checkedher watch: it was only three-fifteen.

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“I’m sorry you felt it necessary to keep everyone waiting, Guy,” were the first words thatBecky heard as she entered the room.

“Never known us to have tea this early before,” offered the major, from the ocher side of thefireplace.

“Do you take tea, Miss Salmon?” Mrs. Trentham asked, even managing to make her namesound like a petty offense.

“Yes, thank you,” replied Becky.“Perhaps you could call Becky by her first name,” Guy suggested.Mrs. Trentham’s eyes came to rest on her son. “I cannot abide this modern-day custom of

addressing everyone by their Christian name especially when one has only just been introduced.Darjeeling, Lapsang or Earl Grey, Miss Salmon?” she asked before anyone had a chance to react. Shelooked up expectantly for Becky’s reply, but no answer was immediately forthcoming because Beckystill hadn’t quite recovered from the previous jibe. “Obviously you’re not given that much choice inWhitechapel,” Mrs. Trentham added.

Becky considered picking up the pot and pouring the contents all over the woman butsomehow she managed to hold her temper, if only because she knew that making her lose it wasexactly what Mrs. Trentham was hoping to achieve.

After a further silence Mrs. Trentham asked, “Do you have any brothers or sisters, MissSalmon?”

“No, I’m an only child,” replied Becky.“Surprising, really.”“Why’s that?” asked Becky innocently.“I always thought the lower classes bred like ram bits,” said Mrs. Trentham, dropping another

lump of sugar into her tea.“Mother, really... “ began Guy.“Just my little joke,” she said quickly. “Guy will take me so seriously at times, Miss Salmon.

However, I well remember my father, Sir Raymond, once saying... ““Not again,” said the major.“ that the classes were not unlike water and wine. Under no circ*mstances should one attempt

to mix them.”“But I thought it was Christ who managed to rum water into wine,” said Becky.Mrs. Trentham chose to ignore this observation. “That’s exactly why we have officers and

other ranks in the first place; because God planned it that way.”“And do you think that God planned that there should be a war, in order that those same

officers and other ranks could then slaughter each other indiscriminately?” asked Becky.“I’m sure I don’t know, Miss Salmon,” Mrs. Trentham replied. “You see, I don’t have the

advantage of being an intellectual like yourself. I am just a plain, simple woman who speaks her

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mind. But what I do know is that we all made sacrifices during the war.”“And what sacrifices did you make, Mrs. Trentham?” Becky inquired.“A considerable number, young lady,” Mrs. Trentham replied, stretching to her full height.

“For a start, I had to go without a lot of things that were quite fundamental to one’s very existence.”“Like an arm or a leg?” said Becky, quickly regretting her words the moment she realized that

she had fallen into Mrs. Trentham’s trap.Guy’s mother rose from her chair and walked slowly over to the fireplace, where she tugged

violently on the servants’ bellpull. “I do not have to sit around and be insulted in my own home,” shesaid. As soon as Gibson reappeared she turned to him and added, “See that Alfred collects MissSalmon’s belongings from her room. She will be returning to London earlier than planned.”

Becky remained silently by the fire, not sure what she should do next. Mrs. Trentham stoodcoolly staring at her until finally Becky walked over to the major, shook him by the hand and said,“I’ll say goodbye, Major Trentham. I have a feeling we won’t be seeing each other again.”

“My loss, Miss Salmon,” he said graciously before kissing her hand. Then Becky turned andwalked slowly out of the drawing room without giving Mrs. Trentham a second look. Guy followedBecky into the hall.

On their journey back to London Guy made every excuse he could think of for his mother’sbehavior, but Becky knew he didn’t really believe his own words. When the car came to a haltoutside Number 97 Guy jumped out and opened the passenger door.

“May I come up?” he asked. “There’s something I still have to tell you.”“Not tonight,” said Becky. “I need to think and I’d rather like to be on my own.”Guy sighed. “It’s just that I wanted to tell you how much I love you and perhaps talk about our

plans for the future.”“Plans that include your mother?”“To hell with my mother,” he replied. “Don’t you realize how much I love you?”Becky hesitated.“Let’s announce our engagement in The Times as soon as possible, and to hell with what she

thinks. What do you say?”She turned and threw her arms around him. “Oh, Guy, I do love you too, but you’d better not

come up tonight. Not while Daphne is expected back at any moment. Another time perhaps?”A look of disappointment crossed Guy’s face. He kissed her before saying good night. She

opened the front door and ran up the stairs.Becky unlocked the flat door to find that Daphne had not returned from the country. She sat

alone on the sofa, not bothering to turn the gas up when the light faded. It was to be a further twohours before Daphne sailed in.

“How did it all go?” were the first words Daphne uttered as she entered the drawing room, alittle surprised to find her friend sitting in the dark.

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“A disaster.”“So it’s all over?”“No, not exactly,” said Becky. “In fact I have a feeling Guy proposed to me.”“But did you accept?” asked Daphne.“I rather think I did.”“And what do you intend to do about India?”

* * *The following morning when Becky unpacked her overnight case, she was horrified to

discover that the delicate brooch Daphne had lent her for the weekend was missing. She assumed shemust have left it at Ashurst Hall.

As she had no desire to make contact with Mrs. Trentham again, she dropped a note to Guy athis regimental mess to alert him of her anxiety. He replied the next day to assure her that he wouldcheck on Sunday when he planned to have lunch with his parents at Ashurst.

Becky spent the next five days worrying about whether Guy would be able to find the missing

piece: thankfully Daphne didn’t seem to have noticed its absence. Becky only hoped she could get thebrooch back before her friend felt the desire to wear it again.

Guy wrote on Monday to say that despite an extensive search of the guest bedroom he hadbeen unable to locate the missing brooch, and in any case Nellie had informed him that she distinctlyremembered packing all of Becky’s jewelry.

This piece of news puzzled Becky because she remembered packing her own case followingher summary dismissal from Ashurst Hall. With considerable trepidation she sat up late into the night,waiting for Daphne to return from her long weekend in the country so that she could explain to herfriend what had happened. She feared that it might be months, even years before she could saveenough to replace what was probably a family heirloom.

By the time her flatmate breezed into Chelsea Terrace a few minutes after midnight, Becky hadalready drunk several cups of black coffee and almost lit one of Daphne’s Du Maunes.

“You’re up late, my darling,” were Daphne’s opening words. “Are exams that close?”“No,” said Becky, then blurted out the whole story of the missing diamond brooch. She

finished by asking Daphne how long she thought it might take to repay her.“About a week would be my guess,” said Daphne.“A week?” said Becky, looking puzzled.“Yes. It was only stage jewelry all the rage at the moment. If I remember correctly, it cost me

every penny of three shillings.”A relieved Becky told Guy over dinner on Tuesday why finding the missing piece of jewelry

was no longer of such importance.

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The following Monday Guy brought the piece round to Chelsea Terrace, explaining that Nelliehad found it under the bed in the Wellington Room.

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CHAPTER9Becky began to notice small changes in Charlie’s manner, at first subtle and then more obvious.

Daphne made no attempt to hide her involvement in what she described as “the socialdiscovery of the decade, my very own Charlie Doolittle. Why, only this weekend,” she declared, “Itook him down to Harcourt Hall, don’t you know, and he was a wow. Even Mother thought he wasfantastic.”

“Your mother approves of Charlie Trumper?” said Becky in disbelief.“Oh, yes, darling, but then you see Mummy realizes that I have no intention of marrying

Charlie.”“Be careful, I had no intention of marrying Guy.”“My darling, never forget you spring from the romantic classes, whereas I come from a more

practical background, which is exactly why the aristocracy have survived for so long. No, I shall endup marrying a certain Percy Wiltshire and it’s got nothing to do with destiny or the stars, it’s just goodold-fashioned common sense.”

“But is Mr. Wiltshire aware of your plans for his future?”“Of course the marquise of Wiltshire isn’t. Even his mother hasn’t told him yet.”“But what if Charlie were to fall in love with you?”“That’s not possible. You see, there’s another woman in his life.”“Good heavens,” said Becky. “And to think I’ve never met her.”The shop’s six-month and nine-month figures showed a considerable improvement on the first

quarter’s, as Daphne discovered to her cost when she received her next dividends. She told Beckythat at this rate she couldn’t hope to make any long-term profit from her loan. As for Becky herself,she spent less and less of her time thinking about Daphne, Charlie or the shop as the hour drew nearerfor Guy’s departure to India.

India... Becky hadn’t slept the night she had learned of Guy’s three-year posting and shecertainly might have wished to discover something that would so disrupt their future from his lips andnot Daphne’s. In the past Becky had accepted, without question, that because of Guy’s duties with theregiment it would not be possible for them to see each other on a regular basis, but as the time of hisdeparture drew nearer she began to resent guard duty, night exercises and most of all, any weekendoperations in which the Fusiliers were expected to take part.

Becky had feared that Guy’s attentions would cool after her distressing visit to Ashurst Hall,but if anything he became even more ardent and kept repeating how different it would all be once theywere married.

But then, as if without warning, the months became weeks, the weeks days, until the dreadedcircle Becky had penciled around 3 February 1920 on the calendar by the side of her bed wassuddenly upon them.

“Let’s have dinner at the Cafe Royal, where we spent our first evening together,” Guysuggested, the Monday before he was due to leave.

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“No,” said Becky. “I don’t want to share you with a hundred strangers on our last evening.”She hesitated before adding, “If you can face the thought of my cooking, I’d rather give you dinner atthe flat. At least that way we can be on our own.”

Guy smiled.Once the shop seemed to be running smoothly Becky didn’t drop in every day, but she couldn’t

resist a glance through the window whenever she passed Number 147. She was surprised to find ateight o’clock that particular Monday morning that Charlie wasn’t to be seen behind the counter.

“Over here,” she heard a voice cry and turned to find Charlie sitting on the same benchopposite the shop where she had first spotted him the day he returned to London. She crossed the roadto join him.

“What’s this, taking early retirement before we’ve repaid the loan?”“Certainly not. I’m working.”“Working? Please explain, Mr. Trumper, how lounging about on a park bench on a Monday

morning can be described as work?”“It was Henry Ford who taught us that ‘For every minute of action, there should be an hour of

thought,”‘ said Charlie, with only a slight trace of his old co*ckney accent; Becky also couldn’t helpnoticing how he had pronounced “Henry.”

“And where are those Fordian-like thoughts taking you at this particular moment?” she asked.“To that row of shops opposite.”“All of them?” Becky looked over at the block.“And what conclusion would Mr. Ford have come to had he been sitting on this bench, pray?”“That they represent thirty-six different ways of making money.”“I’ve never counted them, but I’ll take your word for it.”“But what else do you see when you look across the road?”Becky’s eyes returned to Chelsea Terrace. “Lots of people walking up and down the

pavement, mainly ladies with parasols, nannies pushing prams, and the odd child with a skipping ropeor hoop.” She paused. “Why, what do you see?”

“Two ‘For Sale’ signs.”“I confess I hadn’t noticed them.” Once again she looked across the road.“That’s because you’re looking with a different pair of eyes,” Charlie explained.“First there’s Kendrick’s the butcher. Well, we all know about him, don’t we? Heart attack,

been advised by his doctor to retire early or he can’t hope to live much longer.”“And then there’s Mr. Rutherford,” said Becky, spotting the second “For Sale” sign.“The antiques dealer. Oh, yes, dear Julian wants to sell up and join his friend in New York,

where society is a little more sympathetic when it comes to his particular proclivities like thatword?”

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“How did you find ?”“Information,” said Charlie, touching his nose. “The life blood of any business.”“Another Fordian principle?”“No, much nearer home than that,” admitted Charlie. “Daphne Harcourt-Browne.”Becky smiled. “So what are you going to do about it?”“I’m going to get hold of them both, aren’t I?”“And how do you intend to do that?”“With my cunning and your diligence.”“Are you being serious, Charlie Trumper?”“Never more.” Charlie turned to face her once again. “After all, why should Chelsea Terrace

be any different from Whitechapel?”“Just the odd decimal point, perhaps,” suggested Becky.“Then let’s move that decimal point, Miss Salmon. Because the time has come for you to stop

being a sleeping partner and start fulfilling your end of the bargain.”“But what about my exams?”“Use the extra time you’ll have now that your boyfriend has departed for India.”“He goes tomorrow, actually.”“Then I’ll grant you a further day’s leave. Isn’t that how officers describe a day off? Because

tomorrow I want you to return to John D. Wood and make an appointment to see that pimply youngassistant what was his name?”

“Palmer,” said Becky.“Yes, Palmer,” said Charlie. “Instruct him to negotiate a price on our behalf for both those

shops, and warn him that we’re also interested in anything else that might come up in ChelseaTerrace.”

“Anything else in Chelsea Terrace?” said Becky, who had begun making notes on the back ofher textbook.

“Yes, and we’ll also need to raise nearly all the money it’s going to cost to purchase thefreeholds, so visit several banks and see that you get good terms. Don’t consider anything above fourpercent.”

“Nothing above four percent,” repeated Becky. Looking up, she added, “But thirty-six shops,Charlie?”

“I know, it could take an awful long time.”* * *

In the Bedford College library, Becky tried to push Charlie’s dreams of being the next Mr.Selfridge to one side as she attempted to complete an essay on the influence of Bemini on

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seventeenth-century sculpture. But her mind kept switching from Bemini to Charlie and then back toGuy. Unable to grapple with the modern, Becky felt she was having even less success with the ancientso she came to the conclusion that her essay would have to be postponed until she could find moretime to concentrate on the past.

During her lunch break she sat on the red brick wall outside the library, munching a Cox’sorange pippin while continuing to think. She took one last bite before tossing the core into a nearbywastepaper basket and everything else back into her satchel before beginning her journey westwardto Chelsea.

Once she had reached the Terrace her first stop was the butcher’s shop, where she picked up aleg of lamb and told Mrs. Kendrick how sorry she was to hear about her husband. When she paid thebill she noted that the assistants, though well trained, didn’t show a great deal of initiative. Customersescaped with only what they had come in for, which Charlie would never have allowed them to do.She then joined the queue at Trumper’s and drew Charlie to serve her.

“Something special, madam?”“Two pounds of potatoes, one pound of button mushrooms, a cabbage and a cantaloupe

melon.”“It’s your lucky day, madam. The melon should be eaten this very evening,” he said, just

pressing the top – lightly. “Can I interest madam in anything else? A few oranges, a grapefruitperhaps?”

“No, thank you, my good man.”“Then that’ll be three shillings and fourpence, madam.”“But don’t I get a Cox’s orange pippin thrown in like all the other girls?”“No, sorry, madam, such privileges are reserved only for our regular customers. Mind you, I

could be persuaded, if I was asked to share that melon with you tonight. Which would give me thechance to explain in detail my master plan for Chelsea Terrace, London, the world... “

“Can’t tonight, Charlie. Guy’s leaving for India in the morning.”“Of course, ‘ow silly of me, sorry. I forgot.” He sounded uncharacteristically flustered.

“Tomorrow, perhaps?”“Yes, why not?”“Then as a special treat I’ll take you out to dinner. Pick you up at eight.”“It’s a deal, partner,” said Becky, hoping she sounded like Mae West.Charlie was suddenly distracted by a large lady who had taken her place at the front of the

queue.“Ah, Lady Nourse,” said Charlie, returning to his co*ckney accent, “your usual swedes and

turnips, or are we going to be a little more adventurous today, m’lady?”Becky looked back to watch Lady Nourse, who wasn’t a day under sixty, blush as her ample

breast swelled with satisfaction.

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Once she had returned to her flat, Becky quickly checked the drawing room over to be surethat it was clean and tidy. The maid had done a thorough job and as Daphne hadn’t yet returned fromone of her long weekends at Harcourt Hall there was little for her to do other than plumping up theodd cushion and drawing the curtains.

Becky decided to prepare as much of the evening meal as possible before having a bath. Shewas already regretting turning down Daphne’s offer of the use of a cook and a couple of maids fromLowndes Square to help her out, but she was determined to have Guy to herself for a change, althoughshe knew her mother wouldn’t approve of having dinner with a male friend without Daphne or achaperone to keep an eye on them.

Melon, followed by leg of lamb with potatoes, cabbage and some button mushrooms: surelythat would have met with her mother’s approval. But she suspected that approval would not havebeen extended to wasting hard-earned money on the bottle of Nuits St. George that she had purchasedfrom Mr. Cuthbert at Number 101. Becky peeled the potatoes, basted the lamb and checked she hadsome mint before removing the stalk on the cabbage.

As she uncorked the wine she decided that in future she would have to purchase all her goodslocally, to be sure that her information on what was taking place in the Terrace was as up to date asCharlie’s. Before going to undress she also checked there was still some brandy left over in the bottleshe had been given the previous Christmas.

She lay soaking in a hot bath for some time as she thought through which banks she wouldapproach and, more important, how she would present her case. The detailed figures both ofTrumper’s income and a time schedule required for the repayment of any loan... her mind drifted backfrom Charlie to Guy, and why it was that neither of them would ever talk about the other.

When Becky heard the bedroom clock chime the half hour she leaped out of the bath in a panic,suddenly realizing how much time her thoughts must have occupied and only too aware that Guy wascertain to appear on the doorstep as the clock struck eight. The one thing you could guarantee with asoldier, Daphne had warned her, was that he always turned up on time.

Clothes were strewn all over both their bedroom floors as Becky emptied half Daphne’swardrobe and most of her own in a desperate attempt to find something to wear. In the end she chosethe dress Daphne had worn at the Fusiliers Ball, and never worn since. Once she had managed to doup the top button she checked herself in the mirror. Becky felt confident she would “pass muster.” Theclock on the mantelpiece struck eight and the doorbell rang.

Guy, wearing a double-breasted regimental blazer and cavalry twills, entered the roomcarrying another bottle of red wine as well as a dozen red roses. Once he had placed both offeringson the table, he took Becky in his arms.

“What a beautiful dress,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen it before.”“No, it’s the first time I’ve worn it,” said Becky, feeling guilty about not asking Daphne’s

permission to borrow it.“No one to help you?” asked Guy, looking around.“To be honest, Daphne volunteered to act as chaperone, but I didn’t accept as I hadn’t wanted

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to share you with anyone on our last evening together.”Guy smiled. “Can I do anything?”“Yes, you could uncork the wine while I put the potatoes on.”“Trumper’s potatoes?”“Of course,” replied Becky, as she walked back through into the kitchen and dropped the

cabbage into a pot of boiling water. She hesitated for a moment before calling back, “You don’t likeCharlie, do you?”

Guy poured out a glass of wine for each of them but either hadn’t heard what she had said ormade no attempt to respond.

“What’s your day been like?” Becky asked when she resumed to the drawing room and tookthe grass of wine he handed her.

“Packing endless trunks in preparation for tomorrow’s journey,” he replied. “They expect youto have four of everything in that bloody country.”

“Everything?” Becky sipped the wine. “Um, good.”“Everything. And you, what have you been up to?”“Talked to Charlie about his plans for taking over London without actually declaring war;

dismissed Caravaggio as second-rate; and selected some button mushrooms, not to mentionTrumper’s deal of the day.” As she finished speaking, Becky placed half a melon on Guy’s mat andthe other half at her place as he refilled their glasses.

Over a lingering dinner, Becky became more and more conscious that this would probably betheir last evening together for the next three years. They talked of the theater, the regiment, theproblems in Ireland, Daphne, even the price of melons, but never India.

“You could always come and visit me,” he said finally, bringing up the taboo subject himselfas he poured her another glass of wine, nearly emptying the bottle.

“A day trip, perhaps?” she suggested, removing the empty dinner plates from the table andtaking them back to the kitchen.

“I suspect even that will be possible at some time in the future.”Guy filled his own glass once again, then opened the bottle he had brought with him.“What do you mean?”“By airplane. After all, Alco*ck and Brown have crossed the Atlantic nonstop, so India must be

any pioneer’s next ambition.”“Perhaps I could sit on a wing,” said Becky when she resumed from the kitchen.Guy laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m sure three years will pass by in a flash, and then we can be

married just as soon as I return.” He raised his glass and watched her take another drink. For sometime they didn’t speak.

Becky rose from the table feeling a little giddy. “Must put the kettle on,” she explained.

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When she returned Becky didn’t notice that her glass had been refilled. “Thank you for awonderful evening,” Guy said, and for a moment Becker was anxious that he might be thinking ofleaving.

“Now I fear the time has come to do the washing up, as you don’t seem to have any staffaround tonight and I left my barman back at barracks.”

“No, don’t let’s bother with that.” Becky hiccupped. “After all, I can spend a year on thewashing up, followed by a year on the drying and still put aside a year for stackin.”

Guy’s own laugh was interrupted by the rising whistle of the kettle.“Won’t be a minute. Why don’t you pour yourself some brandy?” Becky added, as she

disappeared back into the kitchen and selected two cups that didn’t have chips in them. She returnedwith them full of strong hot coffee, and thought for a moment that the gaslight might have been turnddown whittle. She placed the two cups on the table next to the sofa. “The coffee’s so hot that it willbe a couple of minutes before we can drink it,” she warned.

He passed her a brandy balloon that was half full. He raised his glass and waited. Shehesitated, then took a sip before sitting down beside him. For some time again neither of them spokeand then suddenly he put down his glass, took her in his arms and this time began kissing herpassionately, first on her lips, then on her neck and then on her bare shoulders. Becky only began toresist when she felt a hand move from her back on to one of her breasts.

Guy broke away and said, “I have a special surprise for you, darling, which I’ve been savingfor tonight.”

“What’s that?”“Our engagement is to be announced in The Times tomorrow.”For a moment Becky was so stunned she could only stare at Guy. “Oh, darling, how

wonderful.” She took him back in her arms and made no effort to resist when his hand resumed to herbreast. She broke away again. “But how will your mother react?”

“I don’t give a damn how she reacts,” said Guy, and once more began to kiss her neck. Hishand moved to her other breast as her lips parted and their tongues touched.

She began to feel the buttons on the back of her dress being undone, slowly at first, then withmore confidence before Guy released her again. She blushed as he removed his regimental blazer andtie and threw them over the back of the sofa, and began to wonder if she shouldn’t make it clear theyhad already gone too far.

When Guy started to undo the front of his shirt she panicked for a moment: things were gettinga little out of control.

Guy leaned forward and slipped the top of Becky’s dress off her shoulders. Once he hadresumed to kissing her again, she felt his hand trying to undo the back of her bodice.

Becky felt she might be saved by the fact that neither of them knew where the fasteners were.However, it became abundantly clear that Guy had overcome such problems before, as he deftlyundid the offending clips and hesitated only for a moment before transferring his attention to her legs.

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He stopped quite suddenly when he reached the top of her stockings, and looking into her eyesmurmured, “I had only imagined until now what this would be like, but I had no idea you would bequite so beautiful.”

“Thank you,” said Becky, and sat bolt upright. Guy handed over her brandy and she tookanother sip, wondering if it might not be wise for her to make some excuse about the coffee goingcold and to slip back into the kitchen to make another pot.

“However there’s still been a disappointment for me this evening,” he added, one handremaining on her thigh.

“A disappointment?” Becky put down her brandy glass. She was beginning to feel distinctlywooy.

“Yes,” said Guy. “Your engagement ring.”“My engagement ring?”“I ordered it from Garrard’s over a month ago, and they promised it would be ready for me to

collect by this evening. But only this afternoon they informed me that I wouldn’t be able to pick it upuntil first thing tomorrow.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Becky.“It does,” said Guy. “I’d wanted to slip it on your finger tonight, so I do hope you can be at the

station a little earlier than we had planned. I intend to fall on one knee and present it to you.”Becky stood up and smiled as Guy quickly rose and took her in his arms. “I’ll always love

you, you know that, don’t you?” Daphne’s dress slipped off and fell to the floor. Guy took her by thehand and she led him into the bedroom.

He quickly pushed back the top sheet, jumped in and held up his Arms. Once she had climbedin to join him Guy quickly removed the rest of her clothes and began kissing her all over her bodybefore making love with an expertise that Becky suspected could only have come from considerablepractice.

Although the act itself was painful, Becky was surprised how quickly the promised sensationwas over and she clung to Guy for what seemed an eternity. He kept repeating how much he cared forher, which made Becky feel less guilty after all, they were engaged.

Becky was half asleep when she thought she heard a door slam, and turnd over assuming thesound must have come from the flat above them. Guy hardly stirred. Quite suddenly the bedroom doorwas flung open, and Daphne appeared in front of them.

“So sorry, I didn’t realize,” she said in a whisper and closed the door quietly behind her.Becky looked across at her lover apprehensively.

He smiled and took her in his arms. “No need to worry about Daphne. She won’t tell anyone.”He stretched out an arm and pulled her towards him.

Waterloo Station was already crowded with men in uniforms when Becky walked ontoplatform one. She was a couple of minutes late, so a little surprised not to find Guy waiting for her.Then she remembered that he’d have had to go to Albemarle Street to pick up the ring.

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She checked the board: chalked up in white capital letters were the words “Southampton BoatTrain, PO to India, departure time 11:30.” Becky continued to look anxiously up and down theplatform before her eyes setded on a band of helpless girls. They were huddled together under thestation clock, their shrill strained voices all talking at once of hunt balls, polo and who was comingout that season all of them only too aware that farewells must be said at the station because it wasn’tthe done thing for a girl to accompany an officer on the train to Southampton unless she was marriedor officially engaged. But Me Times that morning would prove that she and Guy were engaged,thought Becky, so perhaps she would be invited to travel on as far as the coast. . .

She checked her watch yet again: eleven twentyone. For the first time she began to feel slightlyuneasy. Then suddenly she saw him striding across the platform towards her followed by a mandragging two cases, and a porter wheeling even more luggage.

Guy apologized, but gave no explanation for why he was so late, only ordering his barman toplace his trunks on the train and wait for him. For the next few minutes they talked of nothing inparticular and Becky even felt he was a little distant, but she was well aware that there were severalbrother officers on the platform, also bidding their farewells, some even to their wives.

A whistle blew and Becky noticed a guard check his watch. Guy leaned forward, brushed hercheek with his lips, then suddenly turnd away. She watched him as he stepped quickly onto the train,never once looking back, while all she could think of was their naked bodies lodged together in thattiny bed and Guy saying, “I’ll always love you. You know that, don’t you?”

A final whistle blew and a green flag was waved. Becky stood quite alone. She shivered fromthe gust of wind that came as the engine wound its snakelike path out of the station and began itsjourney to Southampton. The giggling girls also departed, but in another direction, towards theirhansom cabs and chauffeur-driver cars.

Becky walked over to a booth on the corner of platform seven, purchased a copy of The Timesfor two pence, and checked, first quickly, then slowly, down the list of forthcoming weddings.

From Arbuthnot to Yelland there was no mention of a Trentham, or a Salmon.

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CHAPTER10Even before the first course had been served Becky regretted accepting Charlie’s invitation to dinnerat Mr. Scallini’s, the only restaurant he knew: Charlie was trying so hard to be considerate, whichonly made her feel more guilty.

“I like your dress,” he said, admiring the pastel-colored frock she had borrowed fromDaphne’s wardrobe.

“Thank you.”A long pause followed.“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have thought twice before inviting you out the same day as

Captain Trentham was leaving for India.”“Our engagement will be announced in The Times tomorrow,” she said, not looking up from

her untouched bowl of soup.“Congratulations,” said Charlie without feeling.“You don’t like Guy, do you?”“I never was much good with officers.”“But your paths had crossed during the war. In fact, you knew him before I did, didn’t you?”

said Becky without warning. Charlie didn’t reply, so she added, “I sensed it the first time we all haddinner together.”

“‘Knew him’ would be an exaggeration,” said Charlie. “We served in the same regiment, butuntil that night we’d never eaten at the same table.”

“But you fought in the same war.”“Along with four thousand other men from our regiment,” said Charlie, refusing to be drawn.“And he was a brave and respected officer?”A waiter appeared uninvited by their side. “What would you like to drink with your fish, sir?”“Champagne,” said Charlie. “After all, we do have something to celebrate.”“Do we?” said Becky, unaware that he had used the ploy simply to change the subject.“Our first year’s results. Or have you forgotten that Daphne’s already been paid back more

than half her loan?”Becky managed a smile, realizing that while she had been worrying about Guy’s departure for

India, Charlie had been concentrating on solving her other problem. But despite this news the eveningcontinued in silence, occasionally punctuated with comments from Charlie that didn’t always receivea reply. She occasionally sipped the champagne, toyed with her fish, ordered no dessert and couldbarely hide her relief when the bill was eventually presented.

Charlie paid the waiter and left a handsome tip. Daphne would have been proud of him, Beckythought.

As she rose from her chair, she felt the room starting to go round in circles.

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“Are you all right?” asked Charlie, placing an arm around her shoulder.“I’m fine, just fine,” said Becky. “I’m not used to drinking so much wine two nights in a row.”“And you didn’t eat much dinner either,” said Charlie, guiding her out of the restaurant and

into the cold night air.They proceeded arm in arm along Chelsea Terrace and Becky couldn’t help thinking any

casual passerby might have taken them for lovers. When they arrived at the entrance to Daphne’s flatCharlie had to dig deep into Becky’s bag to find her keys. Somehow he managed to get the door open,while at the same time still keeping her propped up against the wall. But then Becky’s legs gave wayand he had to cling to her to stop her from falling. He gathered her up and carried her in his arms tothe first floor. When he reached her flat, he had to perform a contortion to open the door withoutactually dropping her. At last he staggered into the drawing room and lowered her onto the sofa. Hestood up and took his bearings, not sure whether to leave her on the sofa or to investigate where herbedroom might be.

Charlie was about to leave when she slipped off onto the floor, muttering somethingincoherent, the only word of which he caught was “engaged.”

He returned to Becky’s side, but this time lifted her firmly up over his shoulder. He carriedher towards a door which, when he opened it, he discovered led to a bedroom. He placed her gentlyon top of the bed. As he began to tiptoe back to the door, she turned and Charlie had to rush back andpull her onto the middle of the bed to prevent her falling off. He hesitated, then bent over to lift up hershoulders before undoing the buttons down the back of her dress with his free hand. Once he hadreached the bottom button he lowered her onto the bed, then lifted her legs high in the air with onehand before he pulled with the other, inch by inch, until her dress was off. He left her only for amoment while he placed the dress neatly over a chair.

“Charlie Trumper,” he said in a whisper, looking down at her, “you’re a blind man, andyou’ve been blind for an awfully lone time.”

He pulled back the blanket and placed Becky between the sheets, the way he had seen nurseson the Western Front carry out the same operation with wounded men.

He tucked her in securely, making sure that the whole process could not repeat itself. His finalaction was to lean over and kiss her on the cheek.

You’re not only blind, Charlie Trumper, you’re a fool, he told himself as he closed the frontdoor behind him.

“Be with you in a moment,” said Charlie as he threw some potatoes onto the weighingmachine, while Becky waited patiently in the corner of the shop.

“Anythin’ else, madam?” he asked the customer at the front of the queue. “A few tangerines,per’aps? Some apples? And I’ve got some lovely grapefruit straight from South Africa, only arrivedin the market this mornin’.”

“No, thank you, Mr. Trumper, that will be all for today.”“Then that’ll be two shillings and five pence, Mrs. Symonds. Bob, could you carry on serving

the next customer while I ‘ave a word with Miss Salmon?”

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“Sergeant Trumper.”“Sir,” was Charlie’s instant reaction when he heard the resonant voice. He turnd to face the

tall man who stood in front of him, straight as a ramrod, dressed in a Harris tweed jacket and cavalrytwill trousers and carrying a brown felt hat.

“I never forget a face,” the man said, although Charlie would have remained perplexed if ithadn’t been for the monocle.

“Good God,” said Charlie, standing to attention.“No, ‘colonel’ will do,” the other man said, laughing. “And no need for any of that bull. Those

days have long gone. Although it’s been some time since we last met, Trumper.”“Nearly two years, sir.”“Seems longer than that to me,” the colonel said wistfully. “You certainly turnd out to be right

about Prescott, didn’t you? And you were a good friend to him.”“‘E was a good friend to me.”“And a first-class soldier. Deserved his MM.”“Couldn’t agree with you more, sir.”“Would have got one yourself, Trumper, but the rations were up after Prescott. Afraid it was

only ‘mentioned in dispatches’ for you.”“The right man got the medal.”“Terrible way to die, though. The thought of it still haunts me, you know,” said the colonel.

“Only yards from the tape.”“Not your fault, sir. If anyone’s, it was mine.”“If it was anyone’s fault, it was certainly not yours,” said the colonel. “And best forgotten, I

suspect,” he added without explanation.“So ‘ow’s the regiment comin’ along?” asked Charlie. “Survivin’ without me?”“And without me, I’m afraid,” said the colonel, placing some apples into the shopping bag he

was carrying. “They’ve departed for India, but not before they put this old horse out to grass.”“I’m sorry to ‘ear that, sir. Your ‘ale life was the regiment.”“True, though even Fusiliers have to succumb to the Geddes axe. To be honest with you, I’m

an infantryman myself, always have been, and I never did get the hang of those newfangled tanks.”“If we’d only ‘ad ‘em a couple of years earlier, sir, they might ‘ave saved a few lives.”“Played their part, I’m bound to admit.” The colonel nodded. “Like to think I played my part

as well.” He touched the knot of his striped tie. “Will we be seeing you at the regimental dinner,Trumper?”

“I didn’t even know there was one, sir.”“Twice annually. First one in January, men only, second one in May with the memsahibs,

which is also a ball. Gives the comrades a chance to get together and have a chinwag about old times.

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Would be nice if you could be on parade, Trumper. You see, I’m the president of the ball committeethis year and rather hoping for a respectable turnout.”

“Then count me in, sir.”“Good man. I’ll see that the office gets in touch with you pronto, ten shillings a ticket, and all

you can drink thrown in, which I’m sure will be no hardship for you,” added the colonel, lookinground the busy shop.

“And can I get you anythin’ while you’re ‘ere, sir?” Charlie asked, suddenly aware a longqueue was forming behind the colonel.

“No, no, your able assistant has already taken excellent care of me, and as you can see I havecompleted the memsahib’s written instructions.” He held up a thin slip of paper bearing a list with arow of ticks down one side.

“Then I’ll look forward to seeing you on the night of the ball, sir,” said Charlie.The colonel nodded and then stepped out onto the pavement without another word.Becky strolled over to join her partner, only too aware that he had quite forgotten that she had

been waiting to have a word with him. “You’re still standing to attention, Charlie,” she teased.“That was my commanding officer, Colonel Sir Danvers Hamilton,” said Charlie a little

pompously. “Led us at the front, ‘e did, a gentleman, and ‘e remembered my name.”“Charlie, if you could only hear yourself. A gentle man he may be, but he’s the one who’s out

of work, while you’re running a thriving business. I know which I’d rather be.”“But ‘e’s the commanding officer. Don’t you understand?”“Was,” said Becky. “And he was also quick to point out the regiment has gone to India without

him.”“That doesn’t change anythin’.”“Mark my words, Charlie Trumper, that man will end up calling you ‘sir.’”Guy had been away almost a week, and sometimes Becky could now go a whole hour without

thinking about him.She had sat up most of the previous night composing a letter to him although when she left for

her morning lecture the following day she walked straight past the pillar box. She had managed toconvince herself that the blame for failing to complete the letter should be placed firmly on theshoulders of Mr. Palmer.

Becky had been disappointed to find their engagement had not been announced in The Timesthe next day, and became quite desperate when it failed to appear on any other day during that week.When in desperation she phoned Garrard’s on the following Monday they claimed they knew nothingof a ring ordered in the name of a Captain Trentham of the Royal Fusiliers. Becky decided she wouldwait a further week before she wrote to Guy. She felt there must be some simple explanation.

Guy was still very much on her mind when she entered the offices of John D. Wood in MountStreet. She palmed the flat bell on the counter and asked an inquiring assistant if she could speak to

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Mr. Palmer.“Mr. Palmer? We don’t have a Mr. Palmer any longer,” she was told. “He was called up

nearly a year ago, miss. Can I be of any assistance?”Becky gripped the counter. “All right then, I’d like to speak to one of the partners,” she said

fimmly.“May I know the nature of your inquiry?” asked the assistant.“Yes,” said Becky. “I’ve come to discuss the instructions for the sale of 131 and 135 Chelsea

Terrace.”“Ah yes, and may I ask who it is inquiring?”“Miss Rebecca Salmon.”“I won’t be a moment,” the young man promised her, but didn’t return for several minutes.

When he did he was accompanied by a much older man, who wore a long black coat and hoary-rimmed spectacles. A silver chain dangled from his waistcoat pocket.

“Good morning, Miss Salmon,” the older man said. “My name is Crowther. Perhaps you’d begood enough to join me.” He raised the counter lid and ushered her through. Becky duly followed inhis wake.

“Good weather for this time of the year, wouldn’t you say, madam?”Becky stared out of the window and watched the umbrellas bobbing up and down along the

pavement, but decided not to comment on Mr. Crowther’s meteorological judgment.Once they had reached a poky little room at the back of the building he announced with

obvious pride, “This is my office. Won’t you please be seated, Miss Salmon?” He gestured towardsan uncomfortably low chair placed opposite his desk. He then sat down in his own high-backed chair.“I’m a partner of the firm,” he explained, “but I must confess a very junior partner.” He laughed at hisown joke. “Now, how can I help you?

“My colleague and I want to acquire Numbers 131 and 135 Chelsea Terrace,” she said.“Quite so,” said Mr. Crowther, looking down at his file. “And on this occasion will Miss

Daphne HarcourtBrowne... ““Miss Harcourt-Browne will not be involved in this transaction and if, because of that, you

feel unable to deal with Mr. Trumper or myself, we shall be happy to approach the vendors direct.”Becky held her breath.

“Oh, please don’t misunderstand me, madam. I’m sure we will have no trouble in continuing todo business with you.”

“Thank you.”“Now, let us start with Number 135,” said Mr. Crowther, pushing his spectacles back un his

nose before he leafed through the file in front of him. “Ah yes, dear Mr. Kendrick, a first-classbutcher, you know. Sadly he is now considering an early retirement.”

Becky sighed, and Mr. Crowther looked up at her over his spectacles.

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“His doctor has told him that he has no choice if he hopes to live more than a few moremonths,” she said.

“Quite so,” said Mr. Crowther, resuming to his file. “Well, it seems that his asking price isone hundred and fifty pounds for the freehold, plus one hundred pounds for the goodwill of thebusiness.”

“And how much will he take?”“I’m not quite sure I catch your drift, madam.” The junior partner raised his eyebrows.“Mr. Crowther, before we waste another minute of each other’s time I feel I should let you

know in confidence that it is our intention to purchase, if the price is right, every shop that becomesavailable in Chelsea Terrace, with the long-term aim of owning the entire block, even if it takes us alifetime to achieve. It is not my intention to visit your office regularly for the next twenty years for thesole purpose of shadowboxing with you. By then I suspect you will be a senior partner, and both of uswill have better things to do. Do I make myself clear?”

“Abundantly,” said Mr. Crowther, glancing at the note Palmer had attached to the sale of 147:the lad hadn’t exaggerated in the forthright opinion of his client. He pushed his spectacles back up hisnose.

“I think Mr. Kendrick might be willing to accept one hundred and twenty-five pounds if youwould also agree to a pension of twenty-five pounds a year until his deaths,

“But he might live forever.”“I feel I should point out, madam, that it was you, not I, who referred to Mr. Kendrick’s

present state of health.” For the first time the junior partner leaned back in his chair.“I have no desire to rob Mr. Kendrick of his pension,” Becky replied. “Please offer him one

hundred pounds for the freehold of the shop and twenty pounds a year for a period of eight years as apension. I’m flexible on the latter part of the transaction but not on the former. Is that understood, Mr.Crowther?”

“It certainly is, madam.”“And if I’m to pay Mr. Kendrick a pension I shall also expect him to be available to offer

advice from time to time as and when we require it.”“Quite so,” said Crowther, making a note of her request in the margin.“So what can you tell me about 131?”“Now that is a knotty problem,” said Crowther, opening a second file. “I don’t know if you are

fully aware of the circ*mstances, madam, but...”Becky decided not to help him on this occasion. She smiled sweetly.“Um, well,” continued the junior partner, “Mr. Rutherford is off to New York with a friend to

open an antiques gallery, in somewhere called the ‘Village.’” He hesitated.“And their partnership is of a somewhat unusual nature?” assisted Becky after a prolonged

silence. “And he might prefer to spend the rest of his days in an apartment in New York, rather than a

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cell in Brixton?”“Quite so,” said Mr. Crowther, as a bead of perspiration appeared on his forehead. “And in

this particular gentleman’s case, he wishes to remove everything from the premises, as he feels hismerchandise might well fetch a better price in Manhattan. Therefore all that he would leave for yourconsideration would be the freehold.”

“Then can I presume in his case there will be no pension?“I think we may safely presume that.”“And may we therefore expect his price to be a little more reasonable, remembering some of

the pressures he is under?”“I would have thought not,” replied Mr. Crowther, “as the shop in question is rather larger

than most of the others in Chelsea... ““One thousand, four hundred and twenty-two square feet, to be precise,” said Becky,

“compared with one thousand square feet at Number 147, which we acquired for... ““A very reasonable price at the time, if I may be so bold as to suggest, Miss Salmon.”“However...”“Quite so,” said Mr. Crowther. Another bead of sweat appeared on his forehead.“So how much is he hoping to raise for the freehold, now that we have established that he

won’t be requiring a pension?”“His asking price,” said Mr. Crowther, whose eyes had once again returned to the file, “is two

hundred pounds. However, I suspect,” he added before Becky had the chance to challenge him, “thatif you were able to close the negotiations quickly he might allow the property to go for as little as onehundred and seventy-five.” His eyebrows arched. “I am given to understand that he is anxious to joinhis friend as quickly as possible.”

“If he’s that anxious to join his friend I suspect he will be only too happy to lower his price toone hundred and fifty for a quick sale, and he might even accept one hundred and sixty, despite ittaking a few days longer.”

“Quite so.” Mr. Crowther removed his handkerchief from his top pocket and mopped hisbrow. Becky couldn’t help noticing that it was still raining outside. “Will there be anything else,madam?” he asked, the handkerchief having been returned to the safety of his pocket.

“Yes, Mr. Crowther,” said Becky. “I should like you to keep a watching brief on all theproperties in Chelsea Terrace and approach either Mr. Trumper or myself the moment you hear ofanything likely to come on the market.”

“Perhaps it might be helpful if I were to prepare a full assessment of the properties on theblock, then let you and Mr. Trumper have a comprehensive written report for your consideration?”

“That would be most useful,” said Becky, hiding her surprise at this sudden piece of initiative.She rose from her chair to make it clear she considered the meeting to be over.As they walked back to the front desk, Mr. Crowther ventured, “I am given to understand that

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Number 147 is proving most popular with the inhabitants of Chelsea.”“And how would you know that?” asked Becky, surprised for a second time.“My wife,” Mr. Crowther explained, “refuses to shop for her fruit and vegetables anywhere

else, despite the fact that we live in Fulham.”“A discerning lady, your wife,” said Becky.“Quite so,” said Mr. Crowther.Becky assumed that the banks would react to her approach with much the same enthusiasm as

the estate agent had. However, having selected eight she thought might be possibilities, she quicklydiscovered that there is a considerable difference between offering yourself as a buyer andprostrating oneself as a borrower. Every time she presented her plans to someone so junior as to bemost unlikely to be able to make a decision she received only a dismissive shake of the head. Thisincluded the bank that already held the Trumper account. “In fact,” as she recounted to Daphne laterthat evening, “one of the junior assistants at the Penny Bank even had the nerve to suggest that should Iever become a married woman then they’d be only too delighted to do business with my husband.”

“Come up against the world of men for the first time, have we?” asked Daphne, dropping hermagazine on the floor. “Their cliques, their clubs? A woman’s place is in the kitchen, and, if you’rehalf attractive, perhaps occasionally in the bedroom.”

Becky nodded glumly as she placed the magazine back on a side table.“It’s an attitude of mind that’s never worried me, I must confess,” Daphne admitted as she

pushed her feet into a pair of shoes with stylish pointed toes. “But then I wasn’t born overly ambitiouslike you, my darling. However, perhaps it’s time to throw you another lifeline.”

“Lifeline?”“Yes. You see, what you need to solve your problem is an old school tie.”“Wouldn’t it look a bit silly on me?”“Probably look rather fetching actually, but that’s not the point. The dilemma you seem to be

facing is your gender not to mention Charlie’s accent, although I’ve nearly cured the dear boy of thatproblem. However, one thing’s for sure, they haven’t yet found a way to change people’s sex.”

“Where is all this leading?” asked Becky innocently.“You’re so impatient, darling. Just like Charlie. You must allow us lesser mortals a little more

time to explain what we’re about.”Becky took a seat on the corner of the sofa and placed her hands in her lap.“First you must realize that all bankers are frightful snobs” continued Daphne. “Otherwise

they’d be out there like you, running their own businesses. So what you require, to have them eatingout of your hand, is a respectable front man.”

“Front man?”“Yes. Someone who’ll accompany you on your trips to the bank whenever it should prove

necessary.” Daphne rose and checked herself in the mirror before continuing. “Such a person may not

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be blessed with your brains, but then on the other hand he won’t be encumbered by your gender or byCharlie’s accent. What he will have, however, is an old school tie, and preferably a tide of some kindto go with it. Bankers do like a ‘Bart’ but most important of all you must secure someone who has adefinite need of cash. For services rendered, you understand.”

“Do such people exist?” asked Becky in disbelief.“They most certainly do. In fact, there are far more of that type around than there are those who

are willing to do a day’s work.” Daphne smiled reassuringly. “Give me a week or two and I feelconfident I’ll be able to come up with a shortlist of three. You’ll see.”

“You’re a wonder,” said Becky. “In return I shall expect a small favor from you.”“Anything.”“Never use that word when dealing with a praying mantis like myself, darling. However, my

request on this occasion is quite simple, and well within your power to grant. If Charlie should askyou to accompany him to his regimental dinner and dance, you are to accept.”

“Why?”“Because Reggie Arbuthnot has been stupid enough to invite me to the blithering occasion and

I can’t refuse him if I’m to hope for a little stalking on his estate in Scotland come November.” Beckylaughed as Daphne added, “I don’t mind being taken to the ball by Reggie, but I do object to having toleave with him. So, if we have reached an agreement, I’ll supply you with your necessary chinlessBart and all you have to do when Charlie asks you is say ‘yes.’”

“Yes.”Charlie wasn’t surprised when Becky agreed without hesitation to be escorted to the

regimental ball. After all, Daphne had already explained the details of their agreement to him. But itdid come as a shock that, when Becky took her seat at the table, his fellow sergeants couldn’t taketheir eyes off her.

The dinner had been laid out in a massive gymnasium, which prompted Charlie’s mates to tellstory after story of their early days of training in Edinburgh. However, there the comparison ended,because the food was of a far higher standard than Charlie remembered being offered in Scotland.

“Where’s Daphne?” asked Becky, as a portion of apple pie liberally covered in custard wasplaced in front of her.

“Up there on the top table with all the notes,” said Charlie, pointing over his shoulder with histhumb. “Can’t afford to be seen with the likes of us, can she?” he added with a grin.

Once the dinner was over there followed a series of toasts to everyone, it seemed to Becky,except the King. Charlie explained that the regiment had been granted dispensation from the loyaltoast by King William IV in 1835 as their allegiance to the crown was without question. However,they did raise their glasses to the armed forces, each battalion in turn, and finally to the regiment,coupled with the name of their former colonel, each toast ending in rousing cheers. Becky watched the

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reactions of the men seated around her at the table and came to realize for the first time how many ofthat generation considered themselves lucky simply to be alive.

The former Colonel of the Regiment, Sir Danvers Hamilton, Bt., DSO, CBE, monocTe inplace, made a moving speech about all their fellow comrades who were for different reasons unableto be present that night Becky saw Charlie visibly stiffen at the mention of his friend Tommy Prescott.Finally they all rose and toasted absent friends. Becky found herself unexpectedly moved.

Once the colonel had sat down the tables were cleared to one side so that dancing could begin.No sooner had the first note struck up from the regimental band than Daphne appeared from the otherend of the room.

“Come on, Charlie. I haven’t the time to wait for you to find your way up to the top table.”“Delighted, I’m sure, madam,” said Charlie, when he rose from his seat, “but what has

happened to Reggie what’s-his-name?”“Arbuthnot,” she said. “I have left the silly man clinging on to a deb from Chelmsford. And

quite dreadfuf she was, I can tell you.”“What was so ‘dreadful’ about her?” mimicked Charlie.“I never thought the day would come,” said Daphne, “when His Majesty would allow anyone

from Essex to be presented at court. But worse than that was her age.”“Why? How old is she?” asked Charlie, as he waltzed Daphne confidently round the floor.“I can’t altogether be certain, but she had the nerve to introduce me to her widowed father.”Charlie burst out laughing.“You’re not supposed to find it funny, Charles Trumper, you’re meant to show some sympathy.

There’s still so much you have to ream.”Becky watched Charlie as he danced smoothly round the floor. “That Daphne’s a bit of all

right,” said the man sitting next to her, who had introduced himself as Sergeant Mike Parker and turndout to be a butcher from Camberwell who had served alongside Charlie on the Marne. Beckyaccepted his judgment without comment, and when he later bowed and asked Becky for the pleasureof the next dance she reluctantly accepted. He proceeded to march her around the ballroom floor as ifshe were a leg of mutton on the way to the refrigeration room. The only thing he managed to do in timewith the music was to tread on her toes. At last he resumed Becky to the comparative safety of theirbeer-stained table. Becky sat in silence while she watched everyone enjoying themselves, hoping thatno one else would ask her for the pleasure. Her thoughts returned to Guy, and the meeting that shecould no longer avoid if in another two weeks...

“May I have the honor, miss?”Every man round the table shot to attention as the Colonel of the Regiment escorted Becky onto

the dance floor.She found Colonel Hamilton an accomplished dancer and an amusing companion, without

showing any of those tendencies to patronize her that the string of bank managers had recentlydisplayed. After the dance was over he invited Becky to the top table and introduced her to his wife.

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“I must warn you,” Daphne told Charlie, glancing over her shoulder in the direction of thecolonel and Lady Hamilton. “It’s going to be quite a challenge for you to keep pace with theambitious Miss Salmon. But as long as you stick with me and pay attention we’ll give her a damnedgood run for her money.”

After a couple more dances Daphne informed Becky that she had more than done her duty andthe time had come for them all to leave. Becky, for her part, was only too pleased to escape theattention of so many young officers who had seen her dance with the colonel.

“I’ve some good news for you,” Daphne told the two of them as the hansom trundled down theKing’s Road in the direction of Chelsea Terrace, with Charlie still clinging to his half-empty horde ofchampagne.

“What’s that, my girl?” he asked, after a burp.“I’m not your girl,” Daphne remonstrated. “I may be willing to invest in the lower classes,

Charlie Trumper, but never forget I’m not without breeding.”“So what’s your news?” asked Becky, laughing.“You’ve kept your part of the bargain, so I must keep to mine.” “What do you mean?” asked Charlie, half asleep.“I can now produce my shortlist of three to be considered as your front man, and thus, I hope,

solve your banking problem.”Charlie immediately sobered up.“My first offer is the second son of an earl,” began Daphne. “Penniless but presentable. My

second is a Bart, who will take the exercise on for a professional fee, but my piece de resistance is aviscount whose luck has run out at the tables in Deauville and now finds it necessary to involvehimself in the odd piece of vulgar commercial work.”

“When do we get to meet them?” asked Charlie, trying not to slur his words.“As soon as you wish,” promised Daphne. “Tomorrow... ““That won’t be necessary,” said Becky quietly.“Why not?” asked Daphne, surprised.“Because I have already chosen the man who will front for us.”“Who’ve you got in mind, darling? The Prince of Wales?”“No. Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Danvers Hamilton, Bt., DSO, CBE.”“But ‘e’s the bleedin’ Colonel of the Regiment,” said Charlie, dropping the bottle of

champagne on the floor of the hansom cab. “It’s impossible, ‘e’d never agree.”“I can assure you he will.”“What makes you so confident?” asked Daphne.“Because we have an appointment to see him tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock.”

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CHAPTER11Daphne waved her parasol as a hansom approached them. The driver brought the cab to a halt andraised his hat. “Where to, miss?”

“Number 172 Harley Street,” she instructed, before the two women climbed aboard.He raised his hat again, and with a gentle flick of his whip headed the horse off in the

direction of Hyde Park Corner.“Have you told Charlie yet?” Becky asked.“No, I funked it,” admitted Daphne.They sat in silence as the cabbie guided the horse towards Marble Arch.“Perhaps it won’t be necessary to tell him anything.”“Let’s hope not,” said Becky.There followed another prolonged silence until the horse trotted into Oxford Street.“Is your doctor an understanding man?”“He always has been in the past.”“My God, I’m frightened.”“Don’t worry. It will be over soon, then at least you’ll know one way or the other.”The cabbie came to a halt outside Number 172 Harley Street, and the two women got out.

While Becky stroked the horse’s mane Daphne paid the man sixpence. Becky turned when she heardthe rap on the brass knocker and climbed the three steps to join her friend.

A nurse in a starched blue uniform, white cap and collar answered their call, and asked thetwo ladies to follow her. They were led down a dark corridor, lit by a single gaslight, then usheredinto an empty waiting room. Copies of Punch and Taller were displayed in neat rows on a table in themiddle of the room. A variety of comfortable but unrelated chairs circled the low table. They eachtook a seat, but neither spoke again until the nurse had left the room.

“I “ began Daphne.“If “ said Becky simultaneously.They both laughed, a forced sound that echoed in the high-ceilinged room.“No, you first,” said Becky.“I just wanted to know how the colonel’s shaping up.”“Took his briefing like a man,” said Becky. “We’re off to our first official meeting tomorrow.

Child and Company in Fleet Street. I’ve told him to treat the whole exercise like a dress rehearsal, asI’m saving the one I think we have a real chance with for later in the week.”

“And Charlie?”“All a bit much for him. He can’t stop thinking of the colonel as his commanding officer.”“It would have been the same for you, if Charlie had suggested that the man teaching you

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accountancy should drop in and check the weekly takings at 147.”“I’m avoiding that particular gentleman at the moment,” said Becky. “I’m only just putting in

enough academic work to avoid being reprimanded; lately my commendeds have become passes,while my passes are just not good enough. If I don’t manage to get a degree at the end of all this therewill be only one person to blame.”

“You’ll be one of the few women who’s a bachelor of arts. Perhaps you should demand theychange the degree to SA.”

“SA?”“Spinster of arts.”They laughed at what they both knew to be a hoary chestnut, as they continued to avoid the real

reason they were in that waiting room. Suddenly the door swung open and they looked up to see thatthe nurse had resumed.

“The doctor will see you now.”“May I come as well?”“Yes, I’m sure that will be all right.”Both women rose and followed the nurse farther down the same corridor until they reached a

white door with a small brass plate almost worn away with rubbing which read “Fergus Gould, MD.”A gentle knock from the nurse elicited a “yes” and Daphne and Becky entered the room together.

“Good morning, good morning,” said the doctor cheerfully in a soft Scottish burr, shakinghands with the two of them in turn. “Won’t you please be seated? The tests have been completed and Ihave excellent news for you.” He resumed to the seat behind his desk and opened a file in front ofhim. They both smiled, the taller of the two relaxing for the first time in days.

“I’m happy to say that you are physically in perfect health, but as this is your first child” hewatched both women turn white “you will have to behave rather more cautiously over the comingmonths. But as long as you do, I can see no reason why this birth should have any complications. MayI be the first to congratulate you?”

“Oh God, no,” she said, nearly fainting. “I thought you said the news was excellent.”“Why, yes,” replied Dr. Gould. “I assumed you would be delighted.”Her friend interjected. “You see, Doctor, there’s a problem. She’s not married.”“Oh yes, I do see,” said the doctor, his voice immediately changing tone. “I’m so sorry, I had

no idea. Perhaps if you had told me at our first meeting... ““No, I’m entirely to blame, Dr. Gould. I had simply hoped... ““No, it is I who am to blame. How extremely tactless of me.” Dr. Gould paused thoughtfully.

“Although it remains illegal in this country, I am assured that there are excellent doctors in Swedenwho... “

“That is not possible,” said the pregnant woman. “You see, it’s against everything my parentswould have considered ‘acceptable behavior.’”

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“Good morning, Hadlow,” said the colonel, as he marched into the bank, handing the managerhis top-coat, hat and cane.

“Good morning, Sir Danvers,” replied the manager, passing the hat, coat and cane on to anassistant. “May I say how honored we are that you thought our humble establishment worthy of yourconsideration.”

Becky couldn’t help reflecting that it was not quite the same greeting she had received whenvisiting another bank of similar standing only a few weeks before.

“Would you be kind enough to come through to my office?” the manager continued, putting hisarm out as if he were guiding wayward traffic.

“Certainly, but first may I introduce Mr. Trumper and Miss Salmon, both of whom are myassociates in this venture.”

“Delighted, I’m sure,” the manager said as he pushed his glasses back up his nose beforeshaking hands with Charlie and Becky in turn.

Becky noticed that Charlie was unusually silent and kept pulling at his collar, which looked asthough it might be half an inch too tight for comfort. However, after spending a morning in SavileRow the previous week being measured from head to foot for a new suit, he had refused to wait amoment longer when Daphne suggested he should be measured for a shirt, so in the end Daphne wasleft to guess his neck size.

“Coffee?” inquired the manager, once they had all settled in his office.“No, thank you,” said the colonel.Becky would have liked a cup of coffee but realized that the manager had assumed Sir

Danvers had spoken for all three of them. She bit her lip.“Now, how can I be of assistance, Sir Danvers?” The manager nervously touched the knot of

his tie.“My associates and I currently own a property in Chelsea Terrace Number 147 which

although a small venture at present is nevertheless progressing satisfactorily.” The manager’s smileremained in place. “We purchased the premises some eighteen months ago at a cost of one hundredpounds and that investment has shown a profit this year of a little over forty-three pounds.”

“Very satisfactory,” said the manager. “Of course, I have read your letter and the accounts youso kindly had sent over by messenger.”

Charlie was tempted to tell him who the messenger had been.“However, we feel the time has come to expand,” continued the colonel. “And in order to do

so we will require a bank that can show a little more initiative than the establishment with whichwe’re presently dealing as well as one that has its eye on the future. Our current bankers, I sometimesfeel, are still living in the nineteenth century. Frankly, they are little more than holders of deposits,while what we are looking for is the service of a real bank.”

“I understand.”“It’s been worrying me “ said the colonel, suddenly breaking off and fixing his monocle to his

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left eye.“Worrying you?” Mr. Hadlow sat forward anxiously in his chair.“Your tie.”“My tie?” The manager once again fingered the knot nervously.“Yes, your tie. Don’t tell me the Buffs?”“You are correct, Sir Danvers.”“Saw some action, did you, Hadlow?”“Well, not exactly, Sir Danvers. My sight, you understand.” Mr. Hadlow began fiddling with

his glasses.“Bad luck, old chap,” said the colonel, his monocle dropping back down. “Well, to continue.

My colleagues and I are of a mind to expand, but I feel it would only be the honorable thing to let youknow that we have an appointment with a rival establishment on Thursday afternoon.”

“Thursday afternoon,” repeated the manager, after dipping his quill pen once more into theinkwell on the front of his desk and adding this to the other pieces of information he had alreadyrecorded.

“But I had rather hoped it would not have gone unnoticed,” continued the colonel, “that wechose to come and see you first.”

“I’m most flattered,” said Mr. Hadlow. “And what terms were you hoping this bank mightoffer, Sir Danvers, that your own could not?”

The colonel paused for a moment and Becky glanced towards him alarmed, as she couldn’tremember if she had briefed him on terms. Neither of them had expected to have reached quite this farat the first meeting.

The colonel cleared his throat. “We would naturally expect competitive terms, if we are tomove our business to your bank, being aware of the long-term implications.”

This answer seemed to impress Hadlow. He looked down at the figures in front of him andpronounced: “Well, I see you are requesting a loan of two hundred and fifty pounds for the purchaseof 131 and 135 Chelsea Terrace, which, bearing in mind the state of your account, would require anoverdraft facility” he paused, appearing to be making a calculation “of at least one hundred andseventy pounds.”

“Correct, Hadlow. I see you have mastered our present predicament admirably.”The manager allowed himself a smile. “Given the circ*mstances, Sir Danvers, I feel we could

indeed advance such a loan, if a charge of four percent interest per annum would be acceptable to youand your colleagues.”

Again the colonel hesitated, until he caught Becky’s half smile.“Our present bankers provide us with a facility of three and a half percent,” said the colonel.

“As I’m sure you know.”“But they are taking no risk... “ pointed out Mr. Hadlow. “As well as refusing to allow you to

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be overdrawn more than fifty pounds. However,” he added before the colonel could reply, “I feel inthis particular case we might also offer three and a half percent. How does that sound to youth?”

The colonel did not comment until he had observed the expression on Becky’s face. Her smilehad widened to a grin.

“I think I speak for my colleagues, Hadlow, when I say we find your proposition acceptable,most acceptable.”

Becky and Charlie nodded their agreement.“Then I shall begin to process all the paperwork. It may take a few days, of course.”“Of course,” said the colonel. “And I can tell you, Hadlow, that we look forward to a long and

profitable association with your bank.”The manager somehow rose and bowed all in one movement, an action Becky felt even Sir

Henry Irving would have found difficult to accomplish.Mr. Hadlow then proceeded to escort the colonel and his young associates to the front hall.“Old Chubby Duckworth still with this outfit?” inquired the colonel.“Lord Duckworth is indeed our chairman,” murmured Mr. Hadlow, reverentially.“Good man served with him in South Africa. Royal Rifles. I shall, with your permission,

mention our meeting to him, when I next see Chubby at the club.”“That would be most kind of you, Sir Danvers.”When they reached the door the manager dispensed with his assistant and helped the colonel

on with his topcoat himself, then handed him his hat and cane before bidding farewell to his newcustomers. “Do feel free to call me at any time,” were his final words as he bowed once again. Hestood there until the three of them were out of sight.

Once they were back on the street the colonel marched quickly round the corner, coming to ahalt behind the nearest tree. Becky and Charlie ran after him, not quite sure what he was up to.

“Are you feeling all right, sir?” Charlie asked, as soon as he had caught up.“I’m fine, Trumper,” replied the colonel. Just fine. But I can tell you, I would rather face a

bunch of marauding Afghan natives than go through that again. Still, how did I do?”“You were magnificent,” said Becky. “I swear, if you had taken off your shoes and told

Hadlow to polish them, he would have removed his handkerchief and started rubbing little circlesimmediately.”

The colonel smiled. “Oh, good. Thought it went all right, did you?”“Perfect,” said Becky. “You couldn’t have done better. I shall go round to John D. Wood this

afternoon and put down the deposit on both shops.”“Thank God for your briefing, Miss Salmon,” said the colonel, standing his full height. “You

know what? You would have made a damned fine staff of ficer.”Becky smiled. “I take that as a great compliment, Colonel.”

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“Don’t you agree, Trumper? Some partner you’ve found yourself,” he added.“Yes, sir,” said Charlie as the colonel began to stride off down the road swinging his

umbrella. “But may I ask you something that’s been worrying me?”“Of course, Trumper, fire away.”“If you’re a friend of the chairman of the bank,” said Charlie, matching him stride for stride,

“why didn’t we go direct to him in the first place?”The colonel came to a sudden halt. “My dear Trumper,” he explained, “you don’t visit the

chairman of the bank when you require a loan of only two hundred and fifty pounds. Nevertheless, letit be said that I have every confidence that it will not be long before we shall need to seek him out.However, at this very moment other needs are more pressing.”

“Other needs?” said Charlie.“Yes, Trumper. I require a whisky, don’t you know?” said the colonel, eyeing a sign flapping

above a pub on the opposite side of the road. “And while we’re at it, let’s make it a double.”* * *

“How far gone are you?” asked Charlie, when the following day Becky came round to tell himthe news.

“About four months.” She avoided looking him directly in the eye.“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” He sounded a little hurt as he turned the open sign to closed,

and marched up the stairs.“I hoped I wouldn’t need to,” said Becky as she followed him into the flat.“You’ve written to tell Trentham, of course?”“No. I keep meaning to, but I haven’t got round to it yet.” She began to tidy up the room rather

than face him.“Keep meaning to?” said Charlie. “You should have told the bastard weeks ago. He’s the first

person who ought to know. After all, he’s the one who’s responsible for the bleedin’ mess, if you’llexcuse the expression.”

“It’s not that easy, Charlie.”“Why not, for heaven’s sake?”“It would mean the end of his career, and Guy lives for the regiment. He’s like your colonel: it

would be unfair to ask him to give up being a soldier at the age of twenty-three.”“He’s nothing like the colonel,” said Charlie. “in any case, he’s still young enough to settle

down and do a day’s work like the rest of us.”“He’s married to the army, Charlie, not to me. Why ruin both our lives?”“But he should still be told what has happened and at least be given the choice.”“He wouldn’t be left with any choice, Charlie, surely you see that? He’d sail home on the next

boat and marry me. He’s an honorable man.”

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“An honorable man, is he?” said Charlie. “Well, if he’s so honorable you can afford topromise me one thing.”

“What’s that?”“You’ll write to him tonight and tell him the truth.” Becky hesitated for some time before

saying, “All right I will.”“Tonight?”“Yes, tonight.”“And you should also let his parents know while you’re at it.”“No, I can’t be expected to do that, Charlie,” she said, facing him for the first time.“So what’s the reason this time? Some fear that their careers might be ruined?”“No, but if I did his father would insist that Guy return home and marry me.”“And what’s so wrong with that?”“His mother would then claim that I had tricked her son into the whole thing, or worse... ““Worse?”“... that it wasn’t even his child.”“And who’d believe her?”“All those who wanted to.”“But that isn’t fair,” said Charlie.“Life isn’t, to quote my father. I had to grow up some time, Charlie. For you it was the

Western Front.”“So what are we going to do now?”“We?” said Becky.“Yes, we. We’re still partners, you know. Or had you forgotten?”“To start with I’ll have to find somewhere else to live; it wouldn’t be fair to Daphne... ““What a friend she’s turned out to be,” said Charlie.“To both of us,” said Becky as Charlie stood up, thrust his hands in his pockets, and began to

march around the little room. It reminded Becky of when they had been at school together.“I don’t suppose...” said Charlie. It was his turn to be unable to look her in the face.“Suppose? Suppose what?”“I don’t suppose...” he began again.“Yes?”“You’d consider marrying me?”There was a long silence before a shocked Becky felt able to reply. She eventually said, “But

what about Daphne?”

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“Daphne? You surely never believed we had that sort of relationship? It’s true she’s beengiving me night classes but not the type you think. In any case, there’s only ever been one man inDaphne’s life, and it’s certainly not Charlie Trumper for the simple reason she’s known all along thatthere’s only been one woman in mine.”

“But... ““And I’ve loved you for such a long time, Becky.”“Oh, my God,” said Becky, placing her head in her hands.“I’m sorry,” said Charlie. “I thought you knew. Daphne told me women always know these

things.”“I had no idea, Charlie. I’ve been so blind as well as stupid.”“I haven’t looked at another woman since the day I came back from Edinburgh. I suppose I just

‘oped you might love me a little,” he said.“I’ll always love you a little, Charlie, but I’m afraid it’s Guy I’m in love with.”“Lucky brighter. And to think I saw you first. Your father once chased me out of ‘is shop, you

know, when he ‘card me calling you ‘Posh Porky’ behind your back.” Becky smiled. “You see, I’vealways been able to grab everything I really wanted in life, so ‘ow did I let you get away?”

Becky was unable to look up at him.“He’s an officer, of course, and I’m not. That would explain it.” Charlie had stopped pacing

round the room and came to halt in front of her.“You’re a general, Charlie.”“It’s not the same, though, is it?”

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CHAPTER1297 Chelsea Terrace London SW3May 20th, 1920My Darling Guy,This is the hardest letter I have ever had to write in my life. In fact, I’m not sure where to begin.Just over three months have passed since you left for India, and something has happened that I feltyou would want to know about at once. I have just been to see Daphne’s doctor in Harley Streetand…

Becky stopped, checked carefully over the few sentences she had written, groaned, crumpledup the notepaper and dropped it in the wastepaper basket that rested at her feet. She stood up,stretched and started to pace around the room in the hope that she might be able to dream up somenew excuse for not continuing with her task. It was already twelve-thirty so she could now go to bed,claiming that she had been too weary to carry on only Becky knew that she wouldn’t be able to sleepuntil the letter had been completed. She returned to her desk and tried to settle herself again beforereconsidering the opening line. She picked up, her pen.97 Chelsea Terrace London SW3May 20th, 1920My Dear Guy,I fear that this letter may come as something of a surprise, especially after all the irrelevantgossip that I was able to share with you only a month ago. I have been postponing writinganything of consequence to you in the hope that my fears would prove unfounded. Unhappily thathas not proved to be the case, and circ*mstances have now overtaken me.After spending the most wonderful time with you the night before you left for India, I then missedmy period the following month, but did not trouble you with the problem immediately in the hopethat…

Oh no, thought Becky, and tore up her latest effort before once again dropping the scraps ofpaper into the wastepaper basket. She traipsed off to the kitchen to make herself a pot of tea. After hersecond cup, she reluctantly returned to her writing desk and settled herself again.97 Chelsea Terrace, London SW3May 20th, 1920Dear Guy,I do hope everything is going well for you in India, and that they are not working you too hard, Imiss you more than I can express, but what with exams looming and Charlie seeing himself as thenext Mr. Silfridge, these first three months since you left have just shot by. In fact I feel sure you’llbe fascinated to learn that your old commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Darwin Hamilton,has become…

“And by the way I’m pregnant,” said Becky out loud, and tore up her third attempt. Shereplaced the top on her pen, deciding the time had come to take a walk round the square. She pickedup her coat from its hook in the hall, ran down the stairs and let herself out. She strolled aimlessly up

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and down the deserted road seemingly unaware of the hour. She was pleased to find that “Sold” signsnow appeared in the windows of Numbers 131 and 135. She stopped outside the old antiques shopfor a moment, cupped her hands round her eyes and peered in through the window. To her horror shediscovered that Mr. Rutherford had removed absolutely everything, even the gas fittings and themantelpiece that she had assumed were fixed to the wall. That’ll teach me to study an offer documentmore carefully next time, she thought. She continued to stare at the empty space as a mouse scurriedacross the floorboards. “Perhaps we should open a pet shop,” she said aloud.

“Beg pardon, miss.”Becky swung round to find a policeman rattling the doorknob of 133, to be certain the

premises were locked.“Oh, good evening, Constable,” said Becky sheepishly, feeling guilty without any reason.“It’s nearly two in the morning, miss. You just said ‘Good evening.’”“Oh, is it?” said Becky, looking at her watch. “Oh, yes, so it is. How silly of me. You see I

live at 97.” Feeling some explanation was necessary she added, “I couldn’t sleep, so I decided totake a walk.”

“Better join the force then. They’ll be happy to keep you walking all night.”Becky laughed. “No, thank you, Constable. I think I’ll just go back to my flat and try and get

some sleep. Good night.”“Good night, miss,” said the policeman, touching his helmet in a half salute before checking

that the empty antiques shop was also safely locked up.Becky turnd and walked determinedly back down Chelsea Terrace, opened the front door of

97, climbed the staircase to the flat, took ok her coat and resumed immediately to the little writingdesk. She paused only for a moment before picking up her pen and starting to write.

For once the words flowed easily because she now knew exactly what needed to be said.97 Chelsea Terrace London SW3May 20, 1920Dear Guy:I have tried to think of 2 hundred different ways of letting you know what has happened to mesince you left for India, and finally came to the conclusion that only the simple truth makes anysense.I am now some fourteen weeks pregnant with your child, the idea of which fills me with greathappiness but I confess more than a little apprehension. Happiness because you are the only man Ihave ever loved, and apprehension because of the implications such a piece of news might have onyou future with the regiment.I must tell you from the outset that I have no desire to harm that career in any way by forcing youinto marriage. A commitment honoured only out of some feeling of guilt, which then caused you tospend the rest of your life participating in a sham after what happened between us on oneoccasion, must surely be unacceptable to either of us.

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For my part. I make no secret of my total devotion to you, but if it is not reciprocated, I can neverbe a party to sacrificing such a promising career on the altar of hypocrisy.But, my darling, be left in no doubt of my complete love for you and my abiding interest in yourfuture and well-being, even to he point of denying your involvement in this affair, should that bethe course you with me to follow.Guy, I will always adore you, and be assured of my utmost loyalty whatever decision you shouldcome to.With all my love, Becky

She was unable to control her tears as she read her words through a second time. As shefolded the notepaper the bedroom door swung open and a sleepy Daphne appeared in front of her.

“You all right, darling?”“Yes. Just felt a little queasy,” explained Becky. “I decided that I needed a breath of fresh

air.” She deftly slipped the letter into an unmarked envelope.“Now I’m up,” said Daphne, “would you care for a cup of tea?”“No, thank you. I’ve already had two cups.”“Well, I think I will “ Daphne disappeared into the kitchen. Becky immediately picked up her

pen again and wrote on the envelope:Captain Guy Trenthorn, M.C. 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers, Wellington Barracks Pouna, India

She had left the flat, posted the letter in the pillar box on the corner of Chelsea Terrace and returnedto Number 97 even before the kettle had boiled.

Although Charlie received the occasional letter from Sal in Canada to tell him of the arrival ofhis latest nephew or niece, and the odd infrequent call from Grace whenever she could get away fromher hospital duties, a visit from Kitty was rare indeed. But when she came to the flat it was alwayswith the same purpose.

“I only need a couple of quid, Charlie, just to see me through,” explained Kitty as she loweredherself into the one comfortable chair only moments after she had entered the room.

Charlie stared at his sister. Although she was only eighteen months older than he she alreadylooked like a woman well into her thirties. Under the baggy shapeless cardigan there was no longerany sign of the figure that had attracted every wandering eye in the East End, and without makeup herface was already beginning to look splotchy and lined.

“It was only a pound last time,” Charlie reminded her. “And that wasn’t so long ago. ““But my man’s left me since then, Charlie. I’m on my own again, without even a roof over my

head. Come on, do us a favor.”He continued to stare at her, thankful that Becky was not yet back from her afternoon lecture,

although he suspected Kitty only came when she could be sure the till was full and Becky was safelyout of the way.

“I won’t be a moment,” he said after a long period of silence. He slipped out of the room and

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headed off downstairs to the shop. Once he was sure the assistants weren’t looking, he removed twopounds ten shillings from the till. He walked resignedly back upstairs to the net.

Kitty was already waiting by the door. Charlie handed over the four notes. She almostsnatched the money before tucking the notes in her glove and leaving without another word.

Charlie followed her down the stairs and watched her remove a peach from the top of a neatpyramid in the corner of the shop before taking a bite, stepping out onto the pavement and hurrying offdown the road.

Charlie would have to take responsibility for checking the till that night; no one must find outthe exact amount he had given her.

“You’ll end up having to buy this bench, Charlie Trumper,” said Becky as she lowered herselfdown beside him.

“Not until I own every shop in the block, my lovely,” he said, turning to look at her. “And howabout you? When’s the baby due?”

“About another five weeks, the doctor thinks. ““Got the flat all ready for the new arrival, have you?”“Yes, thanks to Daphne letting me stay on.”“I miss her,” said Charlie.“So do I, although I’ve never seen her happier since Percy was discharged from the Scots

guards.”“Bet it won’t be long before they’re engaged.”“Let’s hope not,” said Becky, looking across the road.Three Trumper signs, all in gold on blue, shone back at her. The fruit and vegetable shop

continued to make an excellent return and Bob Makins seemed to have grown in stature sincereturning from his spell of National Service. The butchers had lost a tilde custom after Mr. Kendrickretired, but had picked up again since Charlie had employed Mike Parker to take his place.

“Let’s hope he’s a better butcher than a dancer,” Becky had remarked when Charlie told herthe news of Sergeant Parker’s appointment.

As for the grocer’s, Charlie’s new pride and joy, it had flourished from the first day, althoughas far as his staff could tell, their master seemed to be in all three shops at once.

“Stroke of genius,” said Charlie, “turning that old antiques shop into a grocer’s.”“So now you consider yourself to be a grocer, do you?”“Certainly not. I’m a plain fruit and vegetable man, and always will be.”“I wonder if that’s what you’ll tell the girls when you own the whole block.”“That could take some time yet. So how’s the balance sheet shaping up for the new shops?”“They’re both in the books to show a loss during their first year.”“But they could still make a profit, certainly break even.” Charlie’s voice rose in protest.

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“And the grocer’s shop is set to... ““Not so loud. I want Mr. Hadlow and his colleagues at the bank to discover that we’ve done

far better than we originally predicted.”“You’re an evil woman, Rebecca Salmon, that’s no mistake.”“You won’t be saying that, Charlie Trumper, when you need me to go begging for your next

loan.”“If you’re so clever, then explain to me why I can’t get hold of the bookshop,” said Charlie,

pointing across the road at Number 141, where a single light was the only proof the building was stillinhabited. “The place hasn’t seen a customer in weeks from what I can tell, and even when they doit’s only because someone had gone in to find directions back to Brompton Road.”

“I’ve no idea,” said Becky, laughing. “I’ve already had a long chat with Mr. Sneddles aboutbuying the premises, but he just wasn’t interested. You see, since his wife died, running the shop hasbecome the only reason for him to carry on.”

“But carry on doing what?” asked Charlie. “Dusting old books and stacking up ancientmanuscripts?”

“He’s happy just to sit around and read William Blake and his beloved war poets. As long ashe sells a couple of books every month he’s quite content to keep the shop open. Not everyone wantsto be a millionaire, you know as Daphne never stops reminding me.

“Possibly. So why not offer Mr. Sneddles one hundred and fifty guineas for the freehold, thencharge him a rent of say ten guineas a year? That way it’ll automatically fall into our hands themoment he dies.”

“You’re a hard man to please, Charlie Trumper, but if that’s what you want, I’ll give it a try.”“That is what I want, Rebecca Salmon, so get on with it.”“I’ll do my best, although it may have slipped your notice that I’m about to have a baby while

also trying to sit a bachelor’s degree.”“That combination doesn’t sound quite right to me. However, I still may need you to pull off

another coup.”“Another coup?”“Fothergill’s.”“The corner shop.”“No less,” said Charlie. “And you know how I feel about corner shops, Miss Salmon.”“I certainly do, Mr. Trumper. I am also aware that you know nothing about the fine art

business, let alone being an auctioneer.”“Not a lot, I admit,” said Charlie. “But after a couple of visits to Bond Street where I watched

how they earn a living at Sotheby’s, followed by a short walk down the road to St. James’s to studytheir only real rivals, Christie’s, I came to the conclusion that we might eventually be able to put thatart degree of yours to some use.”

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Becky raised her eyebrows. “I can’t wait to learn what you have planned for the rest of mylife.”

“Once you’ve finished that degree of yours,” continued Charlie, ignoring the comment, “I wantyou to apply for a job at Sotheby’s or Christie’s, I don’t mind which, where you can spend three tofive years reaming everything they’re up to. The moment you consider that you’re good and ready toleave, you could then poach anyone you felt was worth employing and return to run Number 1 ChelseaTerrace and open up a genuine rival to those two establishments.”

“I’m still listening, Charlie Trumper.”“You see, Rebecca Salmon, you’ve got your father’s business acumen. I hope you like that

word. Combine that with the one thing you’ve always loved and also have a natural talent for, howcan you fail?”

“Thank you for the compliment, but may I, while we’re on the subject, ask where Mr.Fothergill fits into your master plan?”

“He doesn’t.”“What do you mean?”“He’s been losing money hand over fist for the past three years,” said Charlie. “At the moment

the value of the property and sale of his best stock would just about cover his losses, but that state ofaffairs can’t last too much longer. So now you know what’s expected of you,”

“I certainly do, Mr. Trumper.”When September had come and gone, even Becky began to accept that Guy had no intention of

responding to her letter.As late as August Daphne reported to them that she had bumped into Mrs. Trentham at

Goodwood. Guy’s mother had claimed that her son was not only reveling in his duties in India but hadevery reason to expect an imminent announcement concerning his promotion to major. Daphne foundherself only just able to keep her promise and remain silent about Becky’s condition.

As the day of the birth drew nearer, Charlie made sure that Becky didn’t waste any timeshopping for food and even detailed one of the girls at Number 147 to help her keep the flat clean, somuch so that Becky began to accuse them both of pampering her.

By the ninth month Becky didn’t even bother to check the morning post, as Daphne’s long-heldview of Captain Trentham began to gain more credibility. Becky was surprised to find how quicklyhe faded from her memory, despite the fact that it was his child she was about to give birth to.

Becky also felt embarrassed that most people assumed Charlie was the father, and it wasn’thelped by the fact that whenever he was asked, he refused to deny it.

Meanwhile, Charlie had his eye on a couple of shops whose owners he felt might soon bewilling to sell, but Daphne wouldn’t hear of any further business transactions until after the child hadbeen born.

“I don’t want Becky involved in any of your dubious business enterprises before she’s had thechild and completed her degree. Do I make myself clear?”

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“Yes, ma’am,” said Charlie, clicking his heels. He didn’t mention that only the week beforeBecky had herself closed the deal with Mr. Sneddles so that the bookshop would be theirs once theold man died. There was only one clause in the agreement that Charlie remained concerned about,because he wasn’t quite sure how he would get rid of that number of books.

“Miss Becky has just phoned,” whispered Bob into the boss’s ear one afternoon when Charliewas serving in the shop. “Says could you go round immediately. Thinks the baby’s about to arrive.”

“But it’s not due for another two weeks,” said Charlie as he pulled off his apron.“I’m sure I don’t know about that, Mr. Trumper, but all she said was to hurry.”“Has she sent for the midwife?” Charlie asked deserting a half-laden customer before

grabbing his coat.“I’ve no idea, sir.”“Right, take charge of the shop, because I may not be back again today.” Charlie left the

smiling queue of customers and ran down the road to 97, flew up the stairs, pushed open the door andmarched straight on into Becky’s bedroom.

He sat down beside her on the bed and held her hand for some time before either of themspoke.

“Have you sent for the midwife?” he eventually asked.“She certainly has,” said a voice from behind them, as a vast woman entered the room. She

wore an old brown raincoat that was too small for her and carried a black leather bag. From theheaving of her breasts she had obviously had a struggle climbing the stairs. “I’m Mrs. Westlake,attached to St. Stephen’s Hospital,” she declared. “I do hope I’ve got here in time.” Becky nodded asthe midwife turned her attention to Charlie. “Now you go away and boil me some water, andquickly.” Her voice sounded as if she wasn’t in the habit of being questioned. Without another wordCharlie jumped off the end of the bed and left the room.

Mrs. Westlake placed her large Gladstone bag on the floor and started by taking Becky’spulse.

“How long between the spasms?” she asked matter-of-factly.“Down to twenty minutes,” Becky replied.“Excellent. Then we don’t have much longer to wait.”Charlie appeared at the door canying a bowl of hot water. “Anything else I can do?”“Yes, there certainly is. I need every clean towel you can lay your hands on, and I wouldn’t

mind a cup of tea.”Charlie ran back out of the room.“Husbands are always a nuisance on these occasions,” Mrs. Westlake declared. “One must

simply keep them on the move.”Becky was about to explain to her about Charlie when another contraction gripped her.“Breathe deeply and slowly, my dear,” encouraged Mrs. Westlake in a gentler voice, as

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Charlie came back with three towels and a kettle of hot water.Without turning to see who it was, Mrs. Westlake continued. “Leave the towels on the

sideboard, pour the water in the largest bowl you’ve got, then put the kettle back on so that I’vealways got more hot water whenever I call for it.”

Charlie disappeared again without a word.“I wish I could get him to do that,” gasped Becky admiringly.“Oh, don’t worry, my dear. I can’t do a thing with my own husband and we’ve got seven

children.”A couple of minutes later Charlie pushed open the door with a foot and carried another bowl

of steaming water over to the bedside.“On the side table,” said Mrs. Westlake, pointing. “And try not to forget my tea. After that I

shall still need more towels,” she added.Becky let out a loud groan.“Hold my hand and keep breathing deeply,” said the midwife.Charlie soon reappeared with another kettle of water, and was immediately instructed to

empty the bowl before refilling it with the new supply. After he had completed the task, Mrs.Westlake said, “You can wait outside until I call for you.”

Charlie left the room, gently pulling the door closed behind him.He seemed to be making countless cups of tea, and carrying endless kettles of water,

backwards and forwards, always arriving with the wrong one at the wrong time until finally he wasshut out of the bedroom and left to pace up and down the kitchen fearing the worst. Then he heard theplaintive little cry.

Becky watched from her bed as the midwife held up her child by one leg and nave it a gentlesmack on the bottom. “I always enjoy that,” said Mrs. Westlake. “Feels good to know you’ve broughtsomething new into the world.” She wrapped up the child in a tea towel and handed the bundle backto its mother.

“It’s ?”“A boy, I’m afraid,” said the midwife. “So the world is unlikely to be advanced by one jot or

little. You’ll have to produce a daughter next time,” she said, smiling broadly. “If he’s still up to it, ofcourse.” She pointed a thumb towards the closed door.

“But he’s “ Becky tried again.“Useless, I know. Like all men.” Mrs. Westlake opened the bedroom door in search of

Charlie. “It’s all over, Mr. Salmon. You can stop skulking around and come and have a look at yourson.”

Charlie came in so quickly that he nearly knocked the midwife over. He stood at the end of thebed and stared down at the tiny figure in Becky’s arms.

“He’s an ugly little fellow, isn’t he?” said Charlie.

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“Well, we know who to blame for that,” said the midwife. “Let’s just hope this one doesn’tend up with a broken nose. In any case, as I’ve already explained to your wife, what you need next isa daughter. By the way, what are you going to call this one?”

“Daniel George,” said Becky without hesitation. “After my father,” she explained, looking upat Charlie.

“And mine,” said Charlie, as he walked to the head of the bed and placed an arm round Becky.“Well, I have to go now, Mrs. Salmon. But I shall be back first thing in the morning.”“No, it’s Mrs. Trumper actually,” said Becky quietly. “Salmon was my maiden name.”“Oh,” said the midwife, looking flustered for the first time. “They seem to have got the names

muddled up on my call sheet. Oh, well, see you tomorrow, Mrs. Trumper,” she said as she closed thedoor.

“Mrs. Trumper?” said Charlie.“It’s taken me an awful long time to come to my senses, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Trumper?”

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CHAPTER13When I opened the letter, I confess I didn’t immediately recall who Becky Salmon was. But then Iremembered that there had been an extremely bright, rather plump pupil by that name at St. Paul’s,who always seemed to have an endless supply of cream cakes. If I remember, the only thing I gave herin return was an art book that had been a Christmas present from an aunt in Cumberland.

In fact, by the time I had reached the upper sixth, the precocious little brighter was already inthe lower sixth, despite there being a good two years’ difference in our ages.

Having read her letter a second time, I couldn’t imagine why the girl should want to see me,and concluded that the only way I was likely to find out was to invite her round to tea at my littleplace in Chelsea.

When I first saw Becky again I hardly recognized her. Not only had she lost a couple of stone,but she would have made an ideal model for one of those Pepsodent advertisem*nts that one sawdisplayed on the front of every tram you know, a fresh-faced girl showing off a gleaming set ofperfect teeth. I had to admit I was quite envious.

Becky explained to me that all she needed was a room in London while she was up at theuniversity. I was only too happy to oblige. After all, the mater had made it clear on several occasionshow much she disapproved of my being in the flat on my own, and that she couldn’t for the life of herfathom what was wrong with 26 Lowndes Square, our family’s London residence. I couldn’t wait totell Ma, and Pa for that maker, the news that I had, as they so often requested, found myself anappropriate companion.

“But who is this girl?” inquired my mother, when I went down to Harcourt Hall for theweekend. “Anyone we know?”

“Don’t think so, Ma,” I replied. “An old school chum from St. Paul’s. Rather the academictype.”

“Bluestockin’, you mean?” my father chipped in.“Yes, you’ve got the idea, Pa. She’s attending someplace called Bedford College to read the

history of the Renaissance, or something like that.”“Didn’t know girls could get degrees,” my father said. “Must all be part of that damned little

Welshman’s ideas for a new Britain.”“You must stop describing Lloyd George in that way,” my mother reprimanded him. “He is,

after all, our prime minister.”“He may be yours, my dear, but he’s certainly not mine. I blame it all on those suffragettes,”

my father added, producing one of his habitual non sequiturs.“My dear, you blame most things on the suffragettes,” my mother reminded him, “even last

year’s harvest. However,” she continued, “coming back to this girl, she sounds to me as if she couldhave a very beneficial influence on you, Daphne. Where did you say her parents come from?”

“I didn’t,” I replied. “But I think her father was a businessman out East somewhere, and I’mgoing to take tea with her mother sometime next week.”

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“Singapore possibly?” said Pa. “There’s a lot of business gain’ on out there, rubber and allthat sort of thing.”

“No, I don’t think he was in rubber, pa.”“Well, whatever, do bring the girl round for tea one afternoon,” Ma insisted. “Or even down

here for the weekend. Does she hunt?”“No, I don’t think so, Ma, but I’ll certainly invite her to tea in the near future, so that you can

both inspect her.”I must confess that I was equally amused by the idea of being asked along to tea with Becky’s

mother, so that she could be sure that I was the right sort of girl for her daughter. After all, I wasfairly confident that I wasn’t. I had never been east of the Aldwych before, as far as I could recollect,so I found the idea of going to Essex even more exciting than traveling abroad.

Luckily the journey to Romford was without incident, mainly because Hoskins, my father’schauffeur, knew the road well. It turned out he had originated from somewhere called Dagenham,which he informed me was even deeper inside the Essex jungle.

I had no notion until that day that such people existed. They were neither servants nor from theprofessional classes nor members of the gentry, and I can’t pretend that I exactly fell in love withRomford. However, Mrs. Salmon and her sister Miss Roach couldn’t have been more hospitable.Becky’s mother turned out to be a practical, sensible, God-fearing woman who could also produce anexcellent spread for tea, so it was not an altogether wasted journey.

Becky moved into my flat the following week, and I was horrified when I discovered howhard the girl worked. She seemed to spend all day at that Bedford place, returning home only tonibble a sandwich, sip a glass of milk and then continue her studies until she fell asleep, long after Ihad gone to bed. I could never quite work out what it was all in aid of.

It was after her foolish visit to John D. Wood that I first learned about Charlie Trumper andhis ambitions. All that fuss, simply because she had sold off his barrow without consulting him. I feltit nothing less than my duty to point out that two of my ancestors had been beheaded for trying to stealcounties, and one sent to the Tower of London for high treason; well at least, I reflected, I had akinsman who had spent his final days in the vicinity of the East End.

As always, Becky knew she was right. “But it’s only a hundred pounds,” she kept repeating.“Which you don’t possess.”“I’ve got forty and I feel confident it’s such a good investment that I ought to be able to raise

the other sixty without much trouble. After all, Charlie could sell blocks of ice to the Eskimos.”“And how are you planning to run the shop in his absence?” I asked. “Between lectures

perhaps?”“Oh, don’t be so frivolous, Daphne. Charlie will manage the shop just as soon as he gets back

from the war. After all, it can’t be long now.”“The war has been over for some weeks,” I reminded her. “And there doesn’t seem to be much

sign of your Charlie.”

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“He’s not my Charlie” was all she said.Anyway, I kept a close eye on Becky during the next thirty days and it quickly became plain

for anyone to see that she wasn’t going to raise the money. However, she was far too proud to admitas much to me. I therefore decided the time had come to pay another visit to Romford.

“This is an unexpected pleasure, Miss Harcourt-Browne,” Becky’s mother assured me, when Iarrived unannounced at their little house in Belle Vue Road. I should point out, in my own defense,that I would have informed Mrs. Salmon of my imminent arrival if she had possessed a telephone. AsI sought certain information that only she could supply before the thirty days were information thatwould save not only her daughter’s face but also her finances I was unwilling to put my trust in thepostal service.

“Becky isn’t in any trouble, I hope?” was Mrs. Salmon’s first reaction when she saw mestanding on the doorstep.

“Certainly not,” I assured her. “Never seen the girl in perkier form.”“It’s just that since her father’s death I do worry about her,” Mrs. Salmon explained. She

limped just slightly as she guided me into a drawing room that was as spotless as the day I had firstaccepted their kind invitation to tea. A bowl of fruit rested on the table in the center of the room. Ionly prayed that Mrs. Salmon would never drop into Number 97 without giving me at least a year’snotice.

“How can I be of assistance?” Mrs. Salmon asked, moments after Miss Roach had beendispatched to the kitchen to prepare tea.

“I am considering making a small investment in a greengrocer’s shop in Chelsea,” I told her. “Iam assured by John D. Wood that it is a sound proposition, despite the current food shortage and thegrowing problems with trade unions that is, as long as I can install a first-class manager.”

Mrs. Salmon’s smile was replaced by a puzzled expression.“Becky has sung the praises of someone called Charlie Trumper, and the purpose of my visit

is to seek your opinion of the gentleman in question.”“Gentleman he certainly is not,” said Mrs. Salmon without hesitation. “An uneducated ruffian

might be nearer the mark.”“Oh, what a disappointment,” I said. “Especially as Becky led me to believe that your late

husband thought rather highly of him.”“As a fruit and vegetable man he certainly did. In fact I’d go as far as to say that Mr. Salmon

used to consider that young Charlie might end up being as good as his grandfather.”“And how good was that?”“Although I didn’t mix with those sort of people, you understand,” explained Mrs. Salmon, “I

was told, second-hand of course, that he was the finest Whitechapel had ever seen.”“Good,” I said. “But is he also honest?”“I have never heard otherwise,” Mrs. Salmon admitted. “And Heaven knows, he’s willing to

work all the hours God gave, but he’s hardly your type, I would have thought, Miss Harcourt-

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Browne.”“I was considering employing the man as a shopkeeper, Mrs. Salmon, not inviting him to join

me in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.” At that moment Miss Roach reappeared with a tray of tea jamtarts and eclairs smothered in cream. They turned out to be so delicious that I stayed far longer than Ihad planned.

The following morning I paid a visit to John D. Wood and handed over a check for theremaining ninety pounds. I then visited my solicitor and had a contract drawn up, which when it wascompleted I didn’t begin to understand.

Once Becky had found out what I had been up to I drove a hard bargain, because I knew thegirl would resent my interference if I wasn’t able to prove that I was getting something worthwhileout of the deal.

As soon as she had been convinced of that, Becky immediately handed over a further thirtypounds to help reduce the debt. She certainly took her new enterprise most seriously, because withinweeks she had stolen a young man from a shop in Kensington to take over Trumper’s until Charliereturned. She also continued to work hours I didn’t even know existed. I could never get her toexplain to me the point of rising before the sun did.

After Becky had settled into her new routine I even invited her to make up a foursome for theopera one night to see La Boheme. In the past she had shown no inclination to attend any of myoutings, especially with her new responsibilities with the shop. But on this occasion I pleaded withher to join the group because a chum of mine had canceled at the last minute and I desperately neededa spare girl.

“But I’ve nothing to wear,” she said helplessly.“Take your pick of anything of mine you fancy,” I told her, and ushered her through to my

bedroom.I could see that she found such an offer almost irresistible. An hour later she reemerged in a

long turquoise dress that brought back memories of what it had originally looked like on the model.“Who are your other guests?” Becky inquired.“Algernon Fitzpatrick. He’s Percy Wiltshire’s best friend. You remember, the man who hasn’t

yet been told I’m going to marry him.”“And who makes up the party?”“Guy Trentham. He’s a captain in the Royal Fusiliers, an acceptable regiment, just,” I added.

“He’s recently returned from the Western Front where it’s said he had a rather good war. MC and allthat. We come from the same village in Berkshire, and grew up together, although I confess we don’treally have a lot in common. Very good-looking, but has the reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man, sobeware.”

La Boheme, I felt, had been a great success, even if Guy couldn’t stop leering at Beckythroughout the second act not that she seemed to show the slightest interest in him.

However, to my surprise, as soon as we got back to the flat Becky couldn’t stop talking about

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the man his looks, his sophistication, his charm although I couldn’t help noting that she didn’t oncerefer to his character. Eventually I managed to get to bed, but not before I had assured Becky to hersatisfaction that her feelings were undoubtedly reciprocated.

In fact, I became, unwittingly, Cupid’s messenger for the budding romance. The following dayI was asked by Guy to invite Miss Salmon to accompany him to a West End play. Becky accepted, ofcourse, but then I had already assured Guy she would.

After their outing to the Haymarket, I seemed to bump into the two of them all the time, andbegan to fear that if the relationship became any more serious it could only, as my nanny used to say,end in tears. I began to regret having ever introduced them in the first place, although there was nodoubt, to quote the modern expression: she was head over heels in love.

Despite this, a few weeks’ equilibrium returned to the residents of 97 and then Charlie wasdemobbed.

I wasn’t formally introduced to the man for some time after his return, and when I was I had toadmit they didn’t make them like that in Berkshire. The occasion was a dinner we all shared at thatawful little Italian restaurant just up the road from my flat.

To be fair, the evening was not what one might describe as a wow, partly because Guy madeno effort to be sociable, but mainly because Becky didn’t bother to bring Charlie into the conversationat all. I found myself asking and then answering most of the questions, and, as for Charlie, heappeared on first sighting to be somewhat gauche.

When we were all walking back to the flat after dinner, I suggested to him that we shouldleave Becky and Guy to be themselves. When Charlie escorted me into his shop he couldn’t resiststopping to explain how he had changed everything around since he had taken over. His enthusiasmwould have convinced the most cynical investor, but what impressed me most was his knowledge of abusiness which until that moment I hadn’t given a second thought to. It was then that I made thedecision to assist Charlie with both his causes.

I wasn’t in the least surprised to discover how he felt about Becky, but she was so infatuatedwith Guy that she wasn’t even aware of Charlie’s existence. It was during one of his interminablemonologues on the virtues of the girl that I began to form a plan for Charlie’s future. I was determinedthat he must have a different type of education, perhaps not as formal as Becky’s, but no less valuablefor the future he had decided on.

I assured Charlie that Guy would soon become bored with Becky as that had proved to be theinvariable pattern with girls who had crossed his path in the past. I added that he must be patient andthe apple would eventually fall into his lap. I also explained who Newton was.

I assumed that those tears to which Nanny had so often referred might indeed begin to flowsoon after Becky was invited to spend the weekend with Guy’s parents at Ashurst. I made sure that Iwas asked to join the Trenthams for afternoon tea on the Sunday, to give whatever moral supportBecky might feel in need of.

I arrived a little after three-forty, which I have always considered a proper hour for taking tea,only to find Mrs. Trentham surrounded by silverware and crockery but sitting quite alone.

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“Where are the starstruck lovers?” I inquired, as I entered the drawing room.“If you’re referring, in that coarse way of yours, Daphne, to my son and Miss Salmon, they

have already departed for London.”“Together, I presume?” I asked.“Yes, although for the life of me I can’t imagine what the dear boy sees in her.” Mrs. Trentham

poured me a cup of tea. “As for myself, I found her exceedingly common.”“Perhaps it could be her brains and looks,” I volunteered as the major entered the room. I

smiled at a man I had known since I was a child and had come to treat as an uncle. The one mysteryabout him as far as I was concerned was how he could possibly have fallen for someone like EthelHardcastle.

“Guy left too?” he asked.“Yes, he’s returned to London with Miss Salmon,” said Mrs. Trentham for a second time.“Oh, pity really. She seemed such a grand girl.”“In a parochial type of way,” said Mrs. Trentham.“I get the impression Guy rather dotes on her,” I said, hoping for a reaction.“Heaven forbid,” said Mrs. Trentham.“I doubt if heaven will have a lot to do with it,” I told her, as I warmed to the challenge.“Then I shall,” said Mrs. Trentham. “I have no intention of letting my son marry the daughter of

an East End street trader.”“I can’t see why not,” interjected the major. “After all, isn’t that what your grandfather was?”“Gerald, really. My grandfather founded and built up a highly successful business in

Yorkshire, not the East End.”“Then I think that it’s only the location we are discussing,” said the major. “I well recall your

father tellin’ me, with some pride I might add, that his old dad had started Hardcastle’s in the back ofa shed somewhere near Huddersfield.”

“Gerald I feel sure he was exaggerating.”“Never struck me as the type of man who was prone to exaggerate,” retorted the major. “On

the contrary, rather blunt sort of fellow. Shrewd with it, I always considered.”“Then that must have been a considerable time ago,” said Mrs. Trentham.“What’s more, I suspect that we shall live to see the children of Rebecca Salmon doing a

bloody sight better than the likes of us,” added the major.“Gerald, I do wish you wouldn’t use the word ‘bloody’ so frequently. We’re all being

influenced by that socialist playwright Mr. Shaw and his frightful Pygmalion, which seems to benothing more than a play about Miss Salmon.”

“Hardly,” I told her. “After all, Becky will leave London University with a bachelor of artsdegree, which is more than my whole family has managed between them in eleven centuries.”

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“What may well be the case,” Mrs. Trentham concurred, “but they are hardly the qualificationsthat I feel appropriate for advancing Guy’s military career, especially now his regiment will becompleting a tour of duty in India.”

This piece of information came as a bolt out of the blue. I also felt pretty certain Becky knewnothing of it.

“And when he returns to these shores,” continued Mrs. Trentham, “I shall be looking forsomeone of good breeding, sufficient money and perhaps even a little intelligence to be hismatrimonial partner. Gerald may have failed, by petty prejudice, to become Colonel of the Regiment,but I will not allow the same thing to happen to Guy, of that I can assure you.”

“I simply wasn’t good enough,” said the major gruffly. “Sir Danvers was far better qualifiedfor the job, and in any case it was only you who ever wanted me to be colonel in the first place.”

“Nevertheless, I feel after Guy’s results at Sandhurst.”“He managed to pass out in the top half,” the major reminded her. “That can hardly be

described as carrying off the sword of honor, my dear.”“But he was awarded the Military Cross on the field of battle and his citation... “The major grunted in a manner that suggested that he had been trotted round this particular

course several times before.“And so you see,” Mrs. Trentham continued, “I have every confidence that Guy will in time

become Colonel of the Regiment and I don’t mind telling you that I already have someone in mindwho will assist him in that quest. After all, wives can make or break a career, don’t you know,Daphne.”

“At least on that I am able to concur fully, my dear,” murmured her husband.I traveled back to London somewhat relieved that, after such an encounter, Becky’s

relationship with Guy must surely come to an end. Certainly the more I had seen of the damned manthe more I distrusted him.

When I returned to the flat later that evening, I found Becky sitting on the sofa, red-eyed andtrembling.

“She hates me,” were her first words.“She doesn’t yet appreciate you,” was how I remembered phrasing my reply. “But I can tell

you that the major thinks you’re a grand girl.”“How kind of him,” said Becky. “He showed me round the estate, you know.”“My dear, one does not describe seven hundred acres as an estate. A freeholding, perhaps, but

certainly not an estate.”“Do you think Guy will stop seeing me after what took place at Ashurst?”I wanted to say I hope so but managed to curb my tongue. “Not if the man has any character,” I

replied diplomatically.And indeed Guy did see her the following week, and as far as I could determine never raised

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the subject of his mother or that unfortunate weekend again.However, I still considered my long-term plan for Charlie and Becky was proceeding rather

well, until I returned home after a long weekend to find one of my favorite dresses strewn across thedrawing room floor. I followed a trail of clothes until I reached Becky’s door, which I openedtentatively to find, to my horror, even more of my garments lying by the side of her bed, along withGuy’s. I had rather hoped Becky would have seen him for the bounder he was long before she hadallowed it to reach the terminal stage.

Guy started out on his journey to India the following day, and as soon as he had taken his leaveBecky began telling everyone who cared to listen that she was engaged to the creature, although therewas no ring on her finger and no announcement in any paper to confirm her version of the story.“Guy’s word is good enough for me,” she asserted, which left one simply speechless.

I arrived home that night to find her asleep in my bed. Becky explained over breakfast thatCharlie had put her there, without further explanation.

The following Sunday afternoon I invited myself back to tea with the Trenthams, only to learnfrom Guy’s mother that she had been assured by her son that he had not been in contact with MissSalmon since her premature departure from Ashurst more than six months before.

“But that isn’t... “ I began, but stopped in midsentence when I recalled my promise to Beckynot to inform Guy’s mother that they were still seeing each other.

A few weeks later Becky told me that she had missed her period. I swore that I would keep

her secret but did not hesitate to inform Charlie the same day. When he heard the news he nearly wentberserk. What made matters worse was that he had to go on pretending whenever he saw the girl thathe wasn’t aware of anything untoward.

“I swear if that bastard Trentham were back in England I’d kill him,” Charlie kept repeating,as he went on one of his route marches round the drawing room.

“If he were in England I can think of at least three girls whose fathers would happily carry outthe job for you,” I retorted.

“So what am I meant to do about it?” Charlie asked me at last.“Not a lot,” I advised. “I suspect time and eight thousand miles may well turn out to be your

greatest allies.”The colonel also fell into the category of those who would have happily shot Guy Trentham,

given half a chance, in his case because of the honor of the regiment and all that. He even murmuredsomething sinister about going to see Major Trentham and giving it to him straight. I could have toldhim that the major wasn’t the problem. However, I wasn’t sure if the colonel, even with his vastexperience of different types of enemy, had ever come up against anyone as formidable as Mrs.Trentham.

It must have been around this time that Percy Wiltshire was finally discharged from the ScotsGuards. Lately I had stopped worrying about his mother telephoning me. During those dreadful yearsbetween 1916 and 1919 I always assumed it would be a message to say that Percy had been killed on

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the Western Front, as his father and elder brother had been before him. It was to be years before Iadmitted to the dowager marchioness whenever she called how much I dreaded hearing her voice onthe other end of the line.

Then quite suddenly Percy asked me to marry him. I fear from that moment on I became sopreoccupied with our future together and being expected to visit so many of his family that I quiteneglected my duty to Becky, even though I had allowed her to take over the flat.

Then, almost before I could look round, she had given birth to little Daniel. I only prayed thatshe could face the inevitable stigma.

It was some months after the christening that I decided to pay a surprise visit to the flat on myway back from a weekend in the country with Percy’s mother.

When the front door opened I was greeted by Charlie, a newspaper tucked under his arm,while Becky, who was sitting on the sofa, appeared to be darning a sock. I looked down to watchDaniel crawling towards me at a rate of knots. I took the child in my arms before he had the chance tohead off down the stairs and out into the world.

“How lovely to see you,” Becky said, jumping up. “It’s been ages. Let me make you sometea.”

“Thank you,” I said, “I only came round to make sure you are free on... “ My eyes settled on alittle oil that hung above the mantelpiece.

“What a truly beautiful picture,” I remarked.“But you must have seen the painting many times before,” Becky said. “After all, it was in

Charlie’s... ““No, I’ve never seen it before,” I replied, not sure what she was getting at.

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CHAPTER14The day the gold-edged card arrived at Lowndes Square Daphne placed the invitation between theone requesting her presence in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot and the command to attend a garden partyat Buckingham Palace. However she considered that this particular invitation could well remain onthe mantelpiece for all to gaze upon long after Ascot and the palace had been relegated to thewastepaper basket.

Although Daphne had spent a week in Paris selecting three outfits for the three differentoccasions, the most striking of them was to be saved for Becky’s degree ceremony, which she nowdescribed to Percy as “the great event.”

Her fiance though she hadn’t yet become quite used to thinking of Percy in that way alsoadmitted that he had never been asked to such a ceremony before.

Brigadier Harcourt-Browne suggested that his daughter should have Hoskins drive them to theSenate House in the Rolls, and admitted to being a little envious at not having been invited himself.

When the morning finally dawned, Percy accompanied Daphne to lunch at the Ritz, and oncethey had been over the guest list and the hymns that would be sung at the service for the umpteenthtime, they turned their attention to the details of the afternoon outing.

“I do hope we won’t be asked any awkward questions,” said Daphne. “Because one thing’sfor certain, I will not know the answers.”

“Oh I’m sure we won’t be put to any trouble like that, old gel,” said Percy. “Not that I’ve everattended one of these shindigs before. We Wiltshires aren’t exactly known for troubling theauthorities on these matters,” he added, laughing, which so often came out sounding like a cough.

“You must get out of that habit, Percy. If you are going to laugh, laugh. If you’re going tocough, cough.”

“Anything you say, old gel.”“And do stop calling me ‘old gel.’ I’m only twentythree, and my parents endowed me with a

perfectly acceptable Christian name.”“Anything you say, old gel,” repeated Percy.“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said.” Daphne checked her watch. “And now I do

believe it’s time we were on our way. Better not be late for this one.“Quite right,” he replied, and called a waiter to bring them their bill.“Do you have any idea where we are going, Hoskins?” asked Daphne, as he opened the back

door of the Rolls for her.“Yes, m’lady, I took the liberty of going over the route when you and his lordship were up in

Scotland last month.”“Good thinking, Hoskins,” said Percy. “Otherwise we might have been going round in circles

for the rest of the afternoon, don’t you know.”As Hoskins turnd on the engine Daphne looked at the man she loved and couldn’t help thinking

how lucky she had been in her choice. In truth she had chosen him at the age of sixteen, and never

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faltered in her belief that he was the right partner even if he wasn’t aware of the fact. She had alwaysthought Percy quite wonderful, kind, considerate and gentle and, if not exactly handsome, certainlydistinguished. She thanked God each night that he had escaped that fearful war with every limb intact.Once Percy had told her he was going off to France to serve with the Scots Guards, Daphne had spentthree of the unhappiest years of her life. From that moment on she assumed every letter, everymessage, every call could only be to inform her of his death. Other men tried to court her in hisabsence, but they all failed as Daphne waited, not unlike Penelope, for her chosen partner to return.She would only accept that he was still alive when she saw him striding down the gangplank atDover. Daphne would always treasure his first words the moment he saw her.

“Fancy seeing you here, old gel. Dashed coincidence, don’t you know.”Percy never talked of the example his father had set, though The Times had devoted half a

page to the late marquess’ obituary. In it they described his action on the Marne in the course ofwhich he had single-handedly overrun a German battery as “one of the great VCs of the war.” When amonth later Percy’s elder brother was killed at Ypres it came home to her just how many familieswere sharing the same dreadful experience. Now Percy had inherited the title: the twelfth Marquessof Wiltshire. From tenth to twelfth in a matter of weeks.

“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction?” asked Daphne as the Rolls enteredShaftesbury Avenue.

“Yes, m’lady,” replied Hoskins, who had obviously decided to address her by the title eventhough she and Percy were not yet married.

“He’s only helping you to get accustomed to the idea, old gel,” Percy suggested beforecoughing again.

Daphne had been delighted when Percy told her that he had decided to resign his commissionwith the Scots Guards in order to take over the running of the family estates. Much as she admired himin that dark blue uniform with its four brass buttons evenly spaced stirrupped boots and funny red,white and blue checked cap, it was a farmer she wanted to marry, not a soldier. A life spent in India,Africa and the colonies had never really appealed to her.

As they turnd into Malet Street, they saw a throng of people making their way up some stonesteps to enter a monumental building. “That must be the Senate House,” she exclaimed, as if she hadcome across an undiscovered pyramid.

“Yes, m’lady,” replied Hoskins.“And do remember, Percy... “ began Daphne.“Yes, old gel?”“... not to speak unless you’re spoken to. On this occasion we are not exactly on home ground,

and I object to either of us being made to look foolish. Now, did you remember the invitation and thespecial tickets that show our seat allocation?”

“I know I put them somewhere.” He began to search around in his pockets.“They’re in the left-hand inside top pocket of your jacket, your lordship,” said Hoskins as he

brought the car to a halt.

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“Yes, of course they are,” said Percy. “Thank you, Hoskins.”“A pleasure, my lord,” Hoskins intoned.“Just follow the crowd,” instructed Daphne. “And look as if you do this sort of thing every

week.”They passed several uniformed doorkeepers and ushers before a clerk checked their tickets,

then guided them to Row M.“I’ve never been seated this far back in a theater before,” said Daphne.“I’ve only tried to be this far away in a theater once myself,” admitted Percy. “And that was

when the Germans were on center stage.” He coughed again.The two remained sitting in silence as they stared in front of them, waiting for something to

happen. The stage was bare but for fourteen chairs, two of which, placed at its center, might almosthave been described as thrones.

At two fifty-five ten men and two women, all of whom were dressed in what looked toDaphne like long black dressing gowns with purple scarves hanging from their necks, proceededacross the stage in a gentle crocodile before taking their allocated places. Only the two thronesremained unoccupied. On the stroke of three Daphne’s attention was drawn to the minstrels’ gallery,where a fanfare of trumpets struck up to announce the arrival of the visitors, and all those present roseas the King and Queen entered to take their places in the center of the Senate. Everyone except theroyal couple remained standing until after the National Anthem had been played.

“Bertie looks very well, considering,” said Percy, resuming his seat.“Do be quiet,” said Daphne. “No one else knows him.”An elderly man in a long black gown, the only person who remained standing, waited for

everyone to settle before he took a pace forward, bowed to the royal couple and then proceeded toaddress the audience.

After the vice-chancellor, Sir Russell Russell-Wells, had been speaking for someconsiderable time Percy inquired of his fiancee, “How is a fellow expected to follow all this Rifflewhen he gave up Latin as an option in his fourth half?”

“I only survived a year of the subject myself.”“Then you won’t be much help either, old gel,” admitted Percy in a whisper.Someone seated in the row in front turned round to glare at them ferociously.Throughout the remainder of the ceremony Daphne and Percy tried to remain silent, although

Daphne did find it necessary from time to time to place a firm hand on Percy’s knee as he continued toshift uncomfortably from side to side on the flat wooden chair.

“It’s all right for the King,” whispered Percy. “He’s got a damned great cushion to sit on.”At last the moment came for which they had both been bidden.The vice-chancellor, who continued to call out a list of names from the roll of honor had at

last come to the Ts. He then declared, “Bachelor of arts, Mrs. Charles Trumper of Bedford College.”

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The applause almost doubled, as it had done so every time a woman had walked up the steps toreceive her degree from the visitor. Becky curtsied before the King as he placed what the programdescribed as a “hood of purple” over her gown and handed her a parchment scroll. She curtsied againand took two paces backwards before resuming to her seat.

“Couldn’t have done it better myself,” said Percy as he joined in the applause. “And no prizesfor guessing who tutored her through that little performance,” he added. Daphne blushed as theyremained in their places for some time to allow all the Us Vs. Ws and Ys to receive their degrees,before being allowed to escape into the garden for tea.

“Can’t see them anywhere,” said Percy, as he turned a slow circle in the middle of the lawn.“Nor I,” said Daphne. “But keep looking. They’re bound to be here somewhere.”“Good afternoon, Miss Harcourt-Browne.”Daphne spun round. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Salmon, how super to see you. And what a simply

charming hat; and dear Miss Roach. Percy, this is Becky’s mother, Mrs. Salmon, and her aunt, MissRoach. My fiance... “

“Delighted to meet you, your lordship,” said Mrs. Salmon, wondering if anyone from theLadies’ Circle at Romford would believe her when she told them.

“You must be so proud of your daughter,” said Percy“Yes, I am, your lordship,” said Mrs. Salmon.Miss Roach stood like a statue and didn’t offer an opinion.“And where is our little scholar,” demanded Daphne.“I’m here,” said Becky. “But where have you been?” she asked, emerging from a group of new

graduates.“Looking for you.”The two girls threw their arms around each other.“Have you seen my mother?”“She was with us a moment ago,” said Daphne, looking around.“She’s gone to find some sandwiches, I think,” said Miss Roach.“Typical of Mum,” said Becky, laughing.“Hello, Percy,” said Charlie. “How are things?”“Things are spiffing,” said Percy, coughing. “And well done, Becky, I say,” he added as Mrs.

Salmon resumed carrying a large plate of sandwiches.“If Becky has inherited her mother’s common sense, Mrs. Salmon,” said Daphne as she

selected a cucumber sandwich for Percy, “she ought to do well in the real world, because I suspectthere won’t be many of these left in fifteen minutes’ time.” She picked out one of the smoked salmonvariety for herself. “Were you very nervous when you marched up onto that stage?”

Daphne asked, turning her attention back to Becky.

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“I certainly was,” replied Becky. “And when the King placed the hood over my head, my legsalmost gave way. Then, to make matters worse, the moment I resumed to my place I discoveredCharlie was crying.”

“I was not,” protested her husband.Becky said nothing more as she linked her arm through his.“I’ve rather taken to that purple hood thing,” said Percy. “I think I’d look quite a swell were I

to sport one of those at next year’s hunt ball. What do you think, old gel?”“You’re expected to do rather a lot of hard work before you’re allowed to adorn yourself with

one of those, Percy.”They all turnd to see who it was who had offered this opinion.Percy lowered his head. “Your Majesty is, as always, quite correct. I might add, sir, that I

fear, given my present record, I am unlikely ever to be considered for such a distinction.”The King smiled, then added, “In fact I’m bound to say, Percy, that you seem to have strayed

somewhat from your usual habitat.”“A friend of Daphne’s,” explained Percy.“Daphne, my dear, how lovely to see you,” said the King. “And I haven’t yet had the

opportunity to congratulate you on your engagement.”“I received a kind note from the Queen only yesterday, Your Majesty. We are honored that you

are both able to attend the wedding.”“Yes, simply delighted,” said Percy. “And may I present Mrs. Trumper, who was the recipient

of the degree?” Becky shook hands with the King for a second time. “Her husband, Mr. CharlesTrumper, and Mrs. Trumper’s mother, Mrs. Salmon; her aunt, Miss Roach.”

The King shook hands with all four before saying, “Well done, Mrs. Trumper. I do hopeyou’re going to put your degree to some useful purpose.”

“I shall be joining the staff of Sotheby’s, Your Majesty. As an apprentice in their fine artdepartment.”

“Capital. Then I can only wish you continued success, Mrs. Trumper. I look forward to seeingyou at the wedding if not before, Percy.” With a nod the King moved on to another group.

“Decent fellow,” said Percy. “Good of him to come over like that.”“I had no idea you knew... “ began Becky.“Well,” explained Percy, “to be honest, my great-great-great-great-grandfather tried to murder

his great-great-great-great-grandfather, and had he succeeded our roles might well have beenreversed. Despite that he’s always been jolly understanding about the whole affair.”

“So what happened to your great-great-great-great-grandfather?” asked Charlie.“Exiled,” said Percy. “And I’m bound to add, quite rightly. Otherwise the brighter would only

have tried again. “

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“Good heavens,” said Becky, laughing.“What is it?” said Charlie.“I’ve just worked out who Percy’s great-great-great-great-grandfather Was.”Daphne didn’t get a chance to see Becky again before the marriage ceremony, as the last few

weeks of preparation for her wedding seemed to be totally occupied. However, she did manage tokeep abreast of the goings-on in Chelsea Terrace, after bumping into the colonel and his wife at LadyDenham’s reception in Onslow Square. The colonel was able to inform her, sotto voce, that Charliewas beginning to run up a rather large overdraft with the bank “even if he had cleared every otheroutstanding creditor.” Daphne smiled when she recalled that her last payment had been resumed intypical Charlie fashion several months before it was due. “And I’ve just learned that the man has hiseye on yet another shop,” added the colonel.

“Which one this time?”“The bakery Number 145.”“Becky’s father’s old trade,” said Daphne. “Are they confident of getting their hands on it?”“Yes, I think so although I fear Charlie’s going to have to pay a little over the odds this time.”“Why’s that?”“The baker is right next door to the fruit and vegetable shop, and Mr. Reynolds is only too

aware just how much Charlie wants to buy him out. However Charlie has tempted Mr. Reynolds withan offer to remain as manager, plus a share of the profits.”

“Hmmm. How long do you think that little arrangement will last?”“Just as long as it takes for Charlie to master the bakery trade once again.”“And how about Becky?”“She’s landed a job at Sotheby’s. As a counter clerk.”“A counter clerk?” said Daphne on a rising note. “What was the point of taking all that trouble

to get a degree if she ends up as a counter clerk?”“Apparently everybody starts off that way at Sotheby’s, whatever qualifications they bring to

the job. Becky explained it all to me,” replied the colonel. “It seems that you can be the son of thechairman, have worked in a major West End art gallery for several years, possess a degree or evenhave no qualifications at all, but you still start on the front desk. Once they discover you’re any goodyou get promoted into a specialist department. Not unlike the army, actually.”

“So which department does Becky have her eye on?”“Seems she wants to join some old fellow called Pemberton who’s the acknowledged expert

on Renaissance paintings.”“My bet,” said Daphne, “is that she’ll last on the front desk for about a couple of weeks.”“Charlie doesn’t share your low opinion of her,” said the colonel.“Oh, so how long does he give her?”

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The colonel smiled. “Ten days at the most.”

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CHAPTER15When the morning mail arrived at Lowndes Square, Wentworth, the louder, would place the letters ona silver tray and take them to the brigadier in his study, where his master would remove thoseaddressed to himself before handing the tray back to the butler. He, in rum, would deliver theremaining letters to the ladies of the house.

However, since the announcement of his daughter’s engagement in The Times and thesubsequent sending out of over five hundred invitations for the forthcoming wedding, the brigadierhad become bored with the sorting-out process and instructed Wentworth to reverse his route, so thathe would be handed only those letters addressed to him.

Thus it was on a Monday morning in June 1921 that Wentworth knocked on Miss Daphne’sbedroom door, entered when bidden and handed her a large bundle of mail. Once Daphne hadextracted the letters addressed to her mother and herself, she returned the few that remained toWentworth, who bowed slightly and proceeded on his anti-clockwise route.

As soon as Wentworth had closed the door behind him Daphne climbed out of bed, placed thestack of letters on her dressing-table and wandered into the bathroom. A little after ten-thirty, feelingready for the rigors of the day, she returned to her dressing-table and began slitting open the letters.Acceptances and regrets had to be placed in separate piles before they could be ticked or crossed offon a master list; her mother would then be able to calculate the exact numbers to cater for andproceed to work on a seating plan. The breakdown of the thirtyone letters that particular morningproduced twentytwo yeses, including a princess, a viscount, two other lords, an ambassador and dearColonel and Lady Hamilton. There were also four nos. comprising two couples who would beabroad, an elderly uncle who was suffering from advanced diabetes and another whose daughter hadbeen foolish enough to select the same day as Daphne on which to be married. Having ticked andcrossed their names off the master list, Daphne turned her attention to the five remaining letters.

One turned out to be from her eighty-seven-year old Aunt Agatha, who resided in Cumberlandand had some time previously stated that she would not be attending the wedding as she felt thejourney to London might prove too much of a strain. However, Aunt Agatha went on to suggest thatperhaps Daphne should bring Percy up north to visit her just as soon as they returned from theirhoneymoon, as she wished to make his acquaintance.

“Certainly not,” said Daphne out loud. “Once I am back in England I shall have far moreimportant things to worry myself with than aging aunts.” She then read the P.S.:

And while you are in Cumberland, my darling, it will be a good opportunity for you to adviseme on my will, because I’m not sure which of the pictures to give to whom, especially the Laueletts,which I do feel deserves a good home.

Wicked old lady, thought Daphne, well aware that Aunt Agatha wrote an identical P.S. toevery one of her relations, however distant, thus guaranteeing that she rarely spent a weekend alone.

The second letter was from Michael Fishlock and Company, the catering specialists, whoenclosed an estimam for supplying tea to five hundred guests in Vincent Square immediatelypreceding the wedding. Three hundred guineas seemed an outrageous sum to Daphne, but without asecond thought she placed the estimate on one side, to be dealt with by her father at some later date.

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Two other letters addressed to her mother that were from friends and no concern of Daphne’s werealso placed on one side.

The fifth letter she saved until last, because the envelope was enriched by the most colorfulstamps, the King’s crown set in an oval on the right-hand corner above the words “Ten Annas.”

She slit the envelope open slowly and extracted several sheets of heavy notepaper, the first ofwhich was embossed with the crest and legend of the Royal Fusiliers.

“Dear Daphne,” the letter began. She hurriedly turned to the last page in order to check thesignature, which lead, “Your friend, as always, Guy.”

Returning to the first page, she glanced at the address before beginning to read Guy’s wordswith apprehension.

Officers’ Mess2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers Wellington Barracks15 May 1921Dear Daphne, I hope you will forgive me for presuming on our long family friendship, but a

problem has arisen of which I am sure you are only too aware, and unfortunately I now find that I mustturn to you for help and guidance.

Some time ago, I received a letter from your friend Rebecca Salmon Daphne placed the unreadpages back on her dressing-table, wishing that the letter had arrived a few days after she had set outon her honeymoon rather than before. She fiddled around with the guest list for some time, butrealized she would eventually have to find our what Guy expected of her. She returned to his letter.informing me that she was pregnant and that I was the father of her child.

Let me assure you from the outset that nothing could be further from the truth, as on the onlyoccasion I remained overnight in your flat, Rebecca and I had no physical contact.

As a matter of record, it was she who insisted we had diner together at 97 Chelsea Terracethat evening, despite the fact that I had already booked a table for us at the Ritz.

As the evening progressed, it became obvious that she was trying to get me drunk, and indeedwhen I thought to leave, I confess I did feel a little queasy, and wasn’t certain that I would be able tomake the journey safely back to my barracks.

Rebecca immediately suggested that I remain overnight in order to “sleep it off”. I use herexact words. Naturally I refused, until she pointed out that I could stay in your room as you were notexpected to return from the country until the following afternoon – a fact which you late confirmed.

Indeed, I took up Rebecca’s kind offer, and on retiring to bed, quickly fell into a deep sleeponly to be awoken later by the banging of a door.

To my horror I awoke to find you standing there in front of me. I was even more shocked todiscover that Rebecca, quite unbeknown to me, had crept into bed beside me.

You were naturally embarrassed and left immediately, without uttering another word. I rose,dressed and returned to my barracks, arriving back in my own room by one-fifteen, at the latest.

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On arriving at Waterloo Station later in the morning to begin my journey to India I was, as youcan imagine, somewhat surprised to find Rebecca waiting for me on the platform. I spend only a fewmoments with her but left her in no doubt as to how I felt about the trick she had played on me theprevious evening. I then shook her by the hand and boarded the boat train for Southampton, never forone moment expecting to hear from her again. The next contact I had with Miss Salmon came a fewmonths later when I received this unwarranted scurrilous letter, which brings me to the reason why Inow need your assistance.

Daphne turned the page and stopped to look at herself in the mirror. She had no desire to findout what Guy expected of her. He had even forgotten in whose room he had been discovered. Yet itwas only seconds before her eyes returned to the top of the next page and she began reading again.

No further action would have proved necessary had it not been for the fact that Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Danvers Hamilton took it upon himself to drop a note to my new Commanding Officer,Colonel Forbes, informing him of Miss Salmon’s version of the story, which resulted in my beingcalled upon to defend myself in front of a special enquiry made up of my brother officers.

Naturally, I told them exactly what had taken place that night, but because of ColonelHamilton’s continuing influence with the regiment, some of them remained unwilling to accept myversion of events. Fortunately my mother was able to write to Colonel Forbes a few weeks later to lethim know that Miss Salmon had married her long-time lover, Charlie Trumper, and that he was notdenying that the child that had been born out of wedlock was his. If the Colonel had not accepted mymother’s work, I might have been forced to resign my commission immediately, but fortunately thatunjustice has been avoided.

However, since then my mother has informed me of your intention to visit India while you areon your honeymoon (my sincere congratulations). You are therefore almost certain to come acrossColonel Forbes who, I fear, may well refer to this matter, as your name has already been mentioned inconnection with the affair.

I therefore beg you to say nothing that might harm my career. In fact, if you felt able to confirmmy story, the whole sorry business might finally be laid to rest.

Your friend, as always, Guy Daphne placed the letter back on the dressing table, and began tobrush her hair as she considered what should be done next. She did not want to discuss the problemwith her mother or father and certainly had no desire to drag Percy into it. She also felt certain thatBecky should not be made aware of Trentham’s missive until she had thought out exactly what courseof action needed to be taken. She was amazed at how short a memory Guy assumed she must have ashe distanced himself from reality.

She put down the hairbrush and looked at herself in the mirror before resuming to the letter fora second and then a third reading. Eventually she placed the letter back in the envelope and tried todismiss its contents from her thoughts; but whatever distraction she turnd her attention to, Guy’swords continued to prey on her mind. It particularly aggravated her that he should imagine she was sogullible.

Suddenly Daphne realized from whom she should seek advice. She picked up the telephone,and after asking the operator for a Chelsea number, was delighted to find the colonel was still at

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home.“I was just off to my club, Daphne,” he told her. “But do let me know how I can be of help.”“I need to talk to you urgency but it’s not something I feel I can discuss over the telephone,”

she explained.“I understand,” said the colonel, who paused for a moment before adding, “If you’re free why

don’t you join me for lunch at the In and Out? I’ll just change my booking to the Ladies’ Room.”Daphne accepted the offer gratefully, and once she had checked her makeup Hoskins drove her

to Piccadilly, arriving at the Naval and Military a few minutes after one.The colonel was standing in the entrance hall waiting to greet her. “This is a pleasant

surprise,” said Sir Danvers. “It’s not every day I’m seen lunching with a beautiful young woman. Itwill do my reputation at the club no end of good. I shall wave at every brigadier and general I comeacross.”

The fact that Daphne didn’t laugh at the colonel’s little aside brought about an immediatechange in his demeanor. He took his guest gently by the arm and guided her through to the ladies’luncheon room. Once he had written out their order and handed it to a waitress, Daphne removedGuy’s letter from her bag and without another word passed it over to her host.

The colonel fixed the monocle to his good eye and began to read, occasionally looking up atDaphne, only to observe that she hadn’t touched the Brown Windsor soup that had been placed infront of her.

“Rum business this,” he said, as he placed the letter in its envelope and handed it back toDaphne.

“I agree, but what do you suggest I do?”“Well, one thing’s for certain, my dear, you can’t discuss the contents with Charlie or Becky. I

also don’t see how you can avoid letting Trentham know that should the question of who fathered thechild be put to you directly you would feel beholden to tell the truth.” He paused and took a sip of hissoup. “I swear I’ll never speak to Mrs. Trentham again as long as I live,” he added withoutexplanation.

Daphne was taken aback by this remark; until that moment she had not been aware that he hadever come across the woman.

“Perhaps we should use our combined efforts to come up with a suitable reply, my dear?” thecolonel suggested after some further thought. He broke off to allow a waitress to serve up twohelpings of the club’s dish of the day. elf you felt able to help, I would be eternally grateful,” saidDaphne nervously. “But first I think I ought to tell you everything I know.”

The colonel nodded.“As I’m sure you’re only too aware it is I who am to blame for the two of them meeting in the

first place...”By the time Daphne had come to the end of her story the colonel’s plate was empty.“I knew most of that already,” he admitted as he touched his lips with a napkin. “But you still

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managed to fill in one or two important gaps for me. I confess I had no idea Trentham was that muchof a bounder. Looking back on it, I should have insisted on further collaboration before I agreed toallow his name being put forward for an MC.” He rose. “Now, if you’ll be good enough to amuseyourself for a few minutes by reading a magazine in the coffee room, I’ll see what I can come up withas a first draft.”

“I’m sorry to be such a nuisance,” said Daphne.“Don’t be silly. I’m flattered that you consider me worthy of your confidence.” The colonel

stood up and strode off into the writing room.He didn’t reappear for nearly an hour, by which time Daphne was rereading advertisem*nts

for nannies in the She hastily dropped the magazine back on the table and sat bolt upright in her chair.The colonel handed over the results of his labors, which Daphne studied for several minutes beforespeaking.

“God knows what Guy would do if I were to write such a letter,” she said at last.“He’ll resign his commission, my dear, it’s as simple as that. And none too soon, in my

opinion.” The colonel frowned. “It’s high time Trentham was made aware of the consequences of hismisdeeds, not least because of the responsibilities he still has to Becky and the child.”

“But now that she’s happily married that’s hardly fair to Charlie,” Daphne pleaded.“Have you seen Daniel lately?” asked the colonel, lowering his voice.“A few months ago, why?”“Then you’d better take another look, because there aren’t many Trumpers, or Salmons for that

matter, who have blond hair, a Roman nose and deep blue eyes. I fear the more obvious replicas areto be found in Ashurst Berkshire. In any case, Becky and Charlie will eventually have to tell the childthe truth or they’ll only store up more trouble for themselves at some later date. Send the letter,” hesaid, tapping his fingers on the side table, “that’s my advice.”

Once Daphne had returned home to Lowndes Square she went straight up to her room. She satdown at her writing desk and, pausing only for a moment, began to copy out the colonel’s words.

When she had completed her task Daphne reread the one paragraph of the colonel’sdeliberations that she had left out and prayed that his gloomy prognosis would not prove to beaccurate.

Once she had completed her own version she tore up the colonel’s transcript and rang forWentworth.

“Just one letter to be posted” was all she said.* * *

The preparations for the wedding became so frantic that once Daphne had passed over theletter to Wentworth she quite forgot about the problems of Guy Trentham. What with selecting thebridesmaids without offending half her family, enduring endless dress fittings that never ran to time,studying seating arrangements so as to be certain that those members of the family who hadn’t spokento each other in years were not placed at the same table or for that matter in the same pew as each

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other and finally having to cope with a future mother-in-law, the dowager marchioness, who, havingmarried off three of her own daughters, always had three opinions to offer on every subject, she feltquite exhausted.

With only a week to go Daphne suggested to Percy that they should pop along to the nearestregister office and get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible and preferably withoutbothering to tell anyone else.

“Anything you say, old gel,” said Percy, who had long ago stopped listening to anyone on thesubject of marriage.

On 16 July 1921 Daphne woke at five forty-three feeling drained, but by the time she steppedout into the sunshine in Lowndes Square at one forty-five she was exhilarated and actually lookingforward to the occasion.

Her father helped her up the steps into an open carriage that her grandmother and mother hadtraveled in on the day they were married. A little crowd of servants and well-wishers cheered thebride as she began her journey lo Westminster, while others waved from the pavement. Officerssaluted, toffs blew her a kiss and would-be brides sighed as she passed by.

Daphne, on her father’s arm, entered the church by the north door a few minutes after Big Benhad struck two, then proceeded slowly down the aisle to the accompaniment of Mendelssohn’sWedding March.

She paused only for a moment before joining Percy, curtsying to the King and Queen, who satalone in their private pews beside the altar. After all those months of waiting the service seemed overin moments. As the organ struck up “Rejoice, rejoice” and the married couple were bidden to ananteroom to sign the register, Daphne’s only reaction was to want to go through the entire ceremonyagain.

Although she had secretly practiced the signature several times on her writing paper back atLowndes Square, she still hesitated before she wrote the words, “Daphne Wiltshire.”

Husband and wife left the church to a thunderous peal of bells and strolled on through thestreets of Westminster in the bright afternoon sun. Once they had arrived at the large marquee that hadbeen set up on the lawn in Vincent Square, they began to welcome their guests.

Trying to have a word with every one of them resulted in Daphne’s almost failing to sample apiece of her own wedding cake, and no sooner had she taken a bite than the dowager marchionessswept up to announce that if they didn’t get on with the speeches they might as well dispense with anyhope of sailing on the last tide.

Algernon Fitzpatrick praised the bridesmaids and toasted the bride and groom. Percy made asurprisingly witty and well-received reply. Daphne was then ushered off to 45 Vincent Square, thehome of a distant uncle, so that she could change into her going-away outfit.

Once again the crowds flocked out onto the pavement to throw rice and rose petals, whileHoskins waited to dispatch the newlyweds off to Southampton.

Thirty minutes later Hoskins was motoring peacefully down the A30 past Kew Gardens,leaving the wedding guests behind them to continue their celebrations without the bride and groom.

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“Well, now you’re stuck with me for life, Percy Wiltshire,” Daphne told her husband.“That, I suspect, was ordained by our mothers before we even met,” said Percy. “Silly,

really.”“Silly?”“Yes. I could have stopped all their plotting years ago, by simply telling them that I never

wanted to marry anyone else in the first place.”Daphne was giving the honeymoon serious thought for the first time when Hoskins brought the

Rolls to a halt on the dockside a good two hours before the Mauretania was due even to turn herpistons. With the help of several porters Hoskins unloaded two trunks from the boot of the carfourteen having been sent down the previous day while Daphne and Percy headed towards thegangplank where the ship’s purser was awaiting them.

Just as the purser stepped forward to greet the marquess and his bride someone from thecrowd shouted: “Good luck, your lordship! And I’d like to say on behalf of the misses and myself thatthe marchioness looks a bit of all right.”

They both turnd and burst out laughing when they saw Charlie and Becky, still in theirwedding outfits, standing among the crowd.

The purser guided the four of them up the gangplank and into the Nelson stateroom, where theyfound yet another bottle of champagne waiting to be opened.

“How did you manage to get here ahead of us?” asked Daphne.“Well,” said Charlie in a broad co*ckney accent, “we may not ‘ave a Rolls-Royce, my lady,

but we still managed to overtake ‘Oskins in our tilde two-seater just the ocher side of Winchester,didn’t we?”

They all laughed except Becky, who couldn’t take her eyes off the little diamond brooch thatlooked exquisite on the lapel of Daphne’s suit.

Three toots on the foghorn, and the purser suggested that the Trumpers might care to leave theship, assuming it was not their intention to accompany the Wiltshires to New York.

“See you in a year or so’s time,” shouted Charlie, as he turnd to wave at them from thegangplank.

“By then we will have traveled right round the world, old gel,” Percy confided to his wife.Daphne waved. “Yes, and by the time we get back heaven knows what those two will have

been up to.”

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CHAPTER16I’m usually good on faces, and the moment I saw the man weighing those potatoes I knew at once thatI recognized him. Then I recalled the sign above the shop door. Of course, Trumper, Corporal C. No,he ended up a sergeant, if I remember correctly. And what was his friend called, the one who got theMM? Ah, yes, Prescott, Private T. Explanation of death not altogether satisfactory. Funny the detailsone’s mind considers worthy of retention.

When I arrived back home for lunch I told the memsahib I’d seen Sergeant Trumper again, butshe didn’t show a great deal of interest until I handed over the fruit and vegetables. It was then thatshe asked me where I’d bought them. “Trumper’s,” I told her. She nodded, making a note of the namewithout further explanation.

The following day I duly instructed the regimental secretary to send Trumper two tickets forthe annual dinner and dance, then didn’t give the man thought until I spotted the two of them sitting atthe sergeants’ table on the night of the ball. I say “the two of them” because Trumper wasaccompanied by an extremely attractive girl. Yet for most of the evening he seemed to ignore the ladyin favor of someone whose name I didn’t catch, a young woman I might add who had previously beenseated a few places away from me on the top table. When the adjutant asked Elizabeth for a dance Itook my chance, I can tell you. I marched right across the dance floor, aware that half the battalion hadtheir eyes on me, bowed to the lady in question and asked her for the honor. Her name, I discovered,was Miss Salmon, and she danced like an officer’s wife. Bright as a button she was too, and gay withit. I just can’t imagine what Trumper thought he was up to, and if it had been any of my business Iwould have told him so.

After the dance was over I took Miss Salmon up to meet Elizabeth, who seemed equallyenchanted. Later the memsahib told me that she had learned the girl was engaged to a CaptainTrentham of the regiment, who was now serving in India. Trentham, Trentham... I remembered thatthere was a young officer in the battalion by that name won an MC on the Marne but there wassomething else about him that I couldn’t immediately recall. Poor girl, I thought, because I had putElizabeth through the same sort of ordeal when they posted me to Afghanistan in 1882. Lost an eye tothose bloody Afghans and nearly lost the only woman I’ve ever loved at the same time. Still, it’s badform to marry before you’re a captain or after you’re a major, for that matter.

On the way home, Elizabeth warned me that she had invited Miss Salmon and Trumper roundto Gilston Road the following morning.

“Why?” I asked.“It seems they have a proposition to put to you.”The next day they arrived at our little house in Tregunter Road even before the grandfather

clock had finished chiming eleven and I settled them down in the drawing room before saying toTrumper, “So what’s all this about, Sergeant?” He made no attempt to reply it was Miss Salmon whoturned out to be the spokesman for the two of them. Without a wasted word she set about presenting amost convincing case for my joining their little enterprise, in a nonexecutive capacity you understand,on a salary of one hundred pounds per annum. Although I didn’t consider the proposition was quite upmy street, I was touched by their confidence in me and promised I would give their proposal a greatdeal of thought. Indeed I said I would write to them and let them know my decision in the near future.

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Elizabeth fully concurred with my judgment but felt the least I could do was conduct a littlefield reconnaissance of my own before I decided to finally turn down the offer.

For the next week I made sure I was somewhere in the vicinity of 147 Chelsea Terrace everyworking day. I quite often sat on a bench opposite the shop, from where without being seen I couldwatch how they went about their business. I chose different times of the day to carry out myobservation, for obvious reasons. Sometimes I would appear first thing in the morning, at othersduring the busiest hour, then again perhaps later in the afternoon. On one occasion I even watchedthem close up for the day, when I quickly discovered that Sergeant Trumper was no clock-watcher:Number 147 turned out to be the last shop in the row to close its doors to the public. I don’t mindtelling you that both Trumper and Miss Salmon made a most favorable impression on me. A rarecouple, I told Elizabeth after my final visit.

I had been sounded out some weeks before by the curator of the Imperial War Museumregarding an invitation to become a member of their council, but frankly Trumper’s offer was the onlyother approach I’d received since hanging up my spurs the previous year. As the curator had made noreference to remuneration I assumed there wasn’t any, and from the recent council papers they hadsent me to browse through it looked as if their demands wouldn’t exercise my time for more thanabout an hour a week.

After considerable soul-searching, a chat with Miss Daphne Harcourt-Browne andencouraging noises from Elizabeth who didn’t take to having me hanging about the house all hours ofthe day I dropped Miss Salmon a note to let them know I was their man.

The following morning I discovered exactly what I had let myself in for when theaforementioned lady reappeared in Tregunter Road to brief me on my first assignment. Jolly good shewas too, as thorough as any staff officer I ever had under my command, I can tell you.

Becky she had told me that I should stop calling her “Miss Salmon” now that we were“partners” said that I should treat our first visit to Child’s of Fleet Street as a “dry run,” because thefish she really wanted to land wasn’t being lined up until the following week. That was when wewould “move in for the kill.” She kept using expressions I simply couldn’t make head or tail of.

I can tell you that I came out in a muck sweat on the morning of our meeting with that firstbank, and if the truth be known I nearly pulled out of the front line even before the order had beengiven to charge. Had it not been for the sight of those two expectant young faces waiting for meoutside the bank I swear I might have withdrawn from the whole campaign.

Well, despite my misgivings, we walked out of the bank less than an hour later havingsuccessfully carried out our first sortie, and I think I can safely say, in all honesty, that I didn’t let theside down. Not that I thought a lot of Hadlow, who struck me as an odd sort of cove, but then theBuffs were never what one might describe as a first-class outfit. More to the point, the damned manhad never seen the whites of their eyes, which in my opinion always sorts a fellow out.

From that moment I kept a close eye on Trumper’s activities, insisting on a weekly meeting atthe shop so I could keep myself up to date on what was happening. I even felt able to offer the oddword of advice or encouragement from time to time. A fellow doesn’t like to accept remunerationunless he feels he’s pulling his weight.

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To begin with everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Then late in June of 1920 Trumperrequested a private meeting. I knew he had got his eyes fixed on another establishment in ChelseaTerrace and the account was a bit stretched so I assumed that was what he wanted to discuss with me.

I agreed to visit Trumper at his flat, as he never appeared completely at ease whenever Iinvited him round to my club or to Tregunter Road. When I arrived that evening I found him in quite astate, and assumed something must have been troubling him at one of our three establishments, but heassured me that was not the case.

“Well, out with it then, Trumper,” I said.“It’s not that easy, to be honest, sir,” he replied, so I remained silent in the hope that it might

help him relax and get whatever it was off his chest.“It’s Becky, sir,” he blurted out eventually.“First-class girl,” I assured him.“Yes, sir, I agree. But I’m afraid she’s pregnant.”I confess that I had already learned this news some days before from Becky herself, but as I

had given the lady my word not to tell anyone, including Charlie, I feigned surprise. Although Irealize times have changed, I knew Becky had been strictly brought up and in any case she had neverstruck me as that sort of girl, if you know what I mean.

“Of course, you’ll want to know who the father is,” Charlie added.“I had assumed... “ I began, but Charlie immediately shook his head.“Not me,” he said. “I only wish it was. Then at least I could marry her and wouldn’t have to

bother you with the problem.”“Then who is the culprit?” I asked.He hesitated before saying, “Guy Trentham, sir.”“Captain Trentham? But he’s in India, if I remember correctly.”“That’s right, sir. And I’ve had the devil’s own job persuading Becky to write and let him

know what’s happened; she says it would only ruin his career.”“But not telling him could well ruin her whole life,” I suggested testily. Just imagine the stigma

of being an unmarried mother, not to mention having to bring up an illegitimate child. “In any case,Trentham’s bound to find out eventually, don’t you know.”

“He may never learn the truth from Becky, and I certainly don’t have the sort of influence thatwould make him do the decent thing.”

“Are you holding anything else back about Trentham that I ought to know about, Trumper?”“No, sir.”Trumper replied a little too quickly for me to be totally convinced.“Then you’ll have to leave the problem of Trentham to me,” I told him. “Meanwhile you get on

with running the shops. But be sure to let me know the moment it’s all out in the open so I don’t go

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around looking as if I haven’t a clue what’s going on.” I rose to leave.“The whole world will know before much longer,” Charlie said.I had said “leave the problem to me” without the slightest idea of what I was going to do about

it, but when I had returned home that night I discussed the whole affair with Elizabeth. She advisedme to have a chat with Daphne, who she felt confident would know considerably more about whatwas going on than Charlie did. I suspected she was right.

Elizabeth and I duly invited Daphne to tea at Tregunter Road a couple of days later. Sheconfirmed everything Charlie had said and was also able to fill in one or two missing pieces of thejigsaw.

In Daphne’s opinion Trentham had been Becky’s first serious romance, and certainly to herknowledge Becky had never slept with any other man before they had met, and only once withTrentham. Captain Trentham, she assured us, was unable to boast the same blameless reputation.

The rest of her news did not augur well for a simple solution, as it turned out that Guy’smother could not be relied on to insist that her son do the decent thing by Becky. On the contrary,Daphne knew the woman was already preparing the ground to ensure that no one could possiblybelieve that Trentham could be in any way responsible.

“But what about Trentham’s father?” I asked. “Do you think I should have a word with him?Although we were in the same regiment we were never in the same battalion, don’t you know.”

“She’s the only member of that family I really care for,” Daphne admitted. “He’s the MP forBerkshire West, a Liberal.”

“Then that has to be my approach route,” I replied. “I can’t abide the man’s politics, but thatwon’t stop him from knowing the difference between right and wrong.”

Yet another letter sent on club notepaper elicited an immediate reply from the major, invitingme to drinks at Chester Square the following Monday.

I arrived punctually at six, and was taken into the drawing room where I was greeted by aquite charming lady who introduced herself as Mrs. Trentham. She was not at all what I expectedafter Daphne’s description; in fact she was a rather handsome woman. She was profuse in herapologies: it seemed that her husband had been held up at the House of Commons by a running three-line whip, which even I knew meant he was unable to leave the Palace of Westminster on pain ofdeath. I made an instant decision wrongly I realize in retrospect that this matter couldn’t wait amoment longer and I must relay my message to the major through his wife.

“I find this is all rather embarrassing actually,” I began.“Do feel free to speak quite openly, Colonel. I can assure you that I am fully in my husband’s

confidence. We have no secrets from each other.”“Well, to be frank with you, Mrs. Trentham, the matter I wish to touch on concerns your son

Guy.”“I see” was all she said.“And his fiancee, Miss Salmon.”

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“She is not, and never has been, his fiancee,” said Mrs. Trentham, her voice revealing asudden edge.

“But I was given to understand... ““That promises were made to Miss Salmon by my son? I can assure you, Colonel, that nothing

could be further from the truth.”Slightly taken aback, I was unable to think of a diplomatic way of letting the lady know the

real purpose behind my wanting to see her husband. So I simply said, “Whatever promises were orwere not made, madam, I do feel that you and your husband should be aware that Miss Salmon isexpecting a child.”

“And what has that to do with me?” Mrs. Trentham stared directly at me with no fear showingin her eyes.

“Simply that your son is undoubtedly the father.”“We only have her word for that, Colonel.”“That, madam, was unworthy of you,” I told her. “I know Miss Salmon to be a thoroughly

decent and honest girl. And in any case, if it were not your son, who else could it have possiblybeen?”

“Heaven knows,” said Mrs. Trentham. “Any number of men, I would have thought, judging byher reputation. After all, her father was an immigrant.”

“So was the King’s father, madam,” I reminded her. “But he still would have known how toconduct himself had he been faced with the same predicament.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Colonel.”“I mean, madam, that your son must either marry Miss Salmon or at least resign from the

regiment and make suitable arrangements to see the child is properly provided for.”“It seems I must make it clear to you once again, Colonel, that this sad state of affairs has

nothing whatsoever to do with my son. I can assure you that Guy stopped seeing the girl some monthsbefore he sailed for India.”

“I know that is not the case, madam, because... ““Do you, Colonel? Then I must ask what exactly this whole business has to do with you in the

first place?”“Simply that Miss Salmon and Mr. Trumper are both colleagues of mine,” I explained.“I see,” she said. “Then I suspect you will not have to look much further to discover who is the

real father.”“Madam, that was also uncalled for. Charlie Trumper is not... ““I cannot see any purpose in continuing this conversation, Colonel,” Mrs. Trentham said,

rising from her chair. She began to walk towards the door, not even bothering to glance in mydirection. “I must warn you, Colonel, that should I hear this slander repeated in any quarter I shall nothesitate to instruct solicitors to take the necessary action to defend my son’s good reputation.”

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Although shaken, I followed her into the hall, determined to see that the matter was notallowed to rest there. I now felt Major Trentham was my only hope. As Mrs. Trentham opened thefront door to show me out I said firmly, “May I presume, madam, that you will recount thisconversation faithfully to your husband?”

“You may presume nothing, Colonel,” were her final words as the front door was slammed inmy face. The last occasion I received such treatment from a lady had been in Rangoon, and I’m boundto say that the girl in question had considerably more reason to be aggrieved.

When I repeated the conversation to Elizabeth as accurately as I could recall my wife pointedout to me in that clear, concise way of hers that I had been left with only three choices. The first wasto write to Captain Trentham directly and demand he do the decent thing, the second would be toinform his commanding officer of everything I knew.

“And the third?” I asked.“Never to refer to the subject again.”I considered her words carefully, and chose the middle course, dropping a note to Ralph

Forbes, a firstclass fellow who had succeeded me as colonel, acquainting him with the facts as Iknew them. I chose my words most judiciously, aware that if Mrs. Trentham were to carry out herthreat any legal action she took could only bring the regiment’s good name into disrepute, perhapseven ridicule. However, I did at the same time decide to keep a fatherly eye on Becky, as she nowseemed to be burning the candle at both ends, not to mention in the middle. After all, the girl wastrying to prepare for her exams, as well as act as an unpaid secretary and accountant to a thrivinglittle business, while everyone who passed her in the street must have known that it could only be amatter of weeks before she was due to give birth.

As those weeks passed, it worried me that nothing seemed to be happening on the Trenthamfront despite the fact that I had received a reply from Forbes assuring me that he had set up a panel ofinquiry. Certainly when I inquired further of Daphne or Charlie neither of them seemed to be anybetter informed than I was.

It was in mid-October that year that Daniel George was born, and I was touched that Beckyinvited me to be a godparent, along with Bob Makins and Daphne. I was even more delighted when Ilearned from Becky that she and Charlie were to be married the following week. It wouldn’t stopwagging tongues, of course, but at least the child would be considered legitimate in the eyes of thelaw.

Elizabeth and I, along with Daphne, Percy, Mrs. Salmon, Miss Roach and Bob Makins,attended the simple civil service at Chelsea Register Office, followed by a boisterous reception inCharlie’s flat above the shop.

I began to think that perhaps everything had worked out for the best until some months laterDaphne telephoned, asking urgently to see me. I took her to lunch at the club, where she produced aletter that she had received from Captain Trentham that morning. As I read his words I becamepainfully aware that Mrs. Trentham must have learned of my own letter to Forbes warning him of theconsequences of a breach-of-promise suit, and immediately taken matters into her own hands. I feltthe time had come to let her son know that he had not got away with it.

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I left my guest to have coffee while I retired to the writing room and with the help of a stiffbrandy began to compose an even stiffer letter, I can tell you. I felt my final effort covered all thenecessary points in as diplomatic and realistic a way as was possible given the circ*mstances.Daphne thanked me, and promised she would send the letter on to Trentham verbatim.

I didn’t have another conversation with her again until we met at her wedding a month later,and that was hardly an appropriate time to broach the subject of Captain Trentham.

After the service was over I strolled round to Vincent Square where the reception was beingheld. I kept a wary eye out for Mrs. Trentham who I assumed had also been invited. I had no desire tohold a second conversation with that particular lady.

I was, however, delighted to catch up with Charlie and Becky in the large marquee that hadbeen erected especially for the occasion. I have never seen the girl looking more radiant, and Charliecould almost have been described as suave standing there in his morning coat, gray cravat and topper.The fine half hunter that hung from his waistcoat turned out to be a wedding gift from Becky, left toher by her father, she explained, although the rest of the outfit, Charlie reported, had to be returned toMoss Bros. first thing the following morning.

“Has the time not come, Charlie,” I suggested, “for you to purchase a morning coat of yourown? After all, there are likely to be considerably more of these occasions in the future.”

“Certainly not,” he replied. “That would only be a waste of good money.”“May I inquire why?” I asked. “Surely the cost of a... ““Because it is my intention to purchase a tailor’s shop of my own,” he interjected. “I’ve had

my eye on Number 143 for some considerable time, and I hear from Mr. Crowther that it might comeon the market at any moment.”

I couldn’t argue with this piece of logic, although his next question baffled me completely.“Have you ever heard of Marshall Field, Colonel?”“Was he in the regiment?” I asked, racking my brain.“No, he was not,” replied Charlie with a grin. “Marshall Field is a department store in

Chicago, where you can purchase anything you could ever want for the rest of your life. What’s morethey have two million square feet of selling space all under one roof.”

I couldn’t think of a more ghastly concept, but I didn’t attempt to stop the boy’s enthusiasticflow. “The building takes up an entire block,” he informed me. “Can you imagine a store that hastwenty-eight entrances? According to the advertisem*nts there’s nothing you can’t buy, from anautomobile to an apple, and they have twenty-four varieties of both. They’ve revolutionized retailingin the States by being the first store to give full credit facilities. They also claim that if they don’thave it they’ll get it for you within a week. Field’s motto is: ‘Give the lady what she wants.’”

“Are you suggesting that we should purchase Marshall Field in exchange for 147 ChelseaTerrace?” I asked ingenuously.

“Not immediately, Colonel. But if in time I was able to get my hands on every shop in ChelseaTerrace we could then carry out the same operation in London, and perhaps even remove the first line

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from their current cheeky advertisem*nt.”I knew I was being set up so I duly asked what the line proclaimed.“The biggest store in the world,” Charlie replied.“And how do you feel about all this?” I asked, turning my attention to Becky.“In Charlie’s case,” she replied, “it would have to be the biggest barrow in the world.”

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CHAPTER17The first annual general meeting of Trumper’s was held above the fruit and vegetable shop in the frontroom of 147 Chelsea Terrace. The colonel, Charlie and Becky sat round a small tresde table, notquite sure how to get things started until the colonel opened the proceedings.

“I know there are only three of us, but I still consider all our future meetings should beconducted in a professional manner.” Charlie raised his eyebrows but made no attempt to stop thecolonel’s flow. “I have therefore taken the libery,” he began, “of setting out an agenda. Otherwise Ifind one can so easily forget to raise quite important issues.” The colonel proceeded to pass both hiscolleagues a sheet of paper width five items neatly written in his own hand. “To that end the first itemto come under discussion is headed ‘financial report’ and I’ll begin by asking Becky to let us knowhow she sees the current fiscal position.”

Becky had carefully written out her report word for word, having the previous monthpurchased two large leather-bound books, one red, one blue, from the stationer’s at 137 and for thepast fortnight having risen only minutes after Charlie had left for Covent Garden in order to be sureshe could answer any questions that might arise at their first meeting. She opened up the cover of thered book and began to read slowly, occasionally referring to the blue book, which was just as largeand authoritative-looking. This had the single word “Accounts” stamped in gold on the outside.

“In the year ending 31 December 1921 we showed a turnover on the seven shops of onethousand three hundred and twelve pounds and four shillings, on which we declared a profit of twohundred and nineteen pounds eleven shillings, showing seventeen percent profit on turnover. Our debtat the bank currently stands at seven hundred and seventy-one pounds, which includes our tax liabilityfor the year, but the value of the seven shops remains in the books at one thousand two hundred andninety pounds, which is the exact price we paid for them. This therefore does not reflect their currentmarket value.

“I have made a breakdown of the figures on each of the shops for your consideration,” saidBecky, handing copies of her efforts to Charlie and the colonel, both of whom studied them carefullyfor several minutes before either spoke.

“Grocery is still our number one earner, I see,” said the colonel, as he ran his monocle downthe profit and loss column. “Hardware is only just breaking even, and the tailor’s is actually eatinginto our profits.”

“Yes,” said Charlie. “I met up with a right holy friar when I bought that one.”“Holy friar?” said the colonel, perplexed.“Liar,” said Becky, not looking up from her book.“Afraid so,” said Charlie. “You see, I paid through the nose for the freehold, too much for the

stock, then got myself landed with poor staff who weren’t properly trained. But things have taken aturn for the better since Major Arnold took over.”

The colonel smiled at the knowledge that the appointment of one of his former staff of ricershad been such an immediate success. Tom Arnold had resumed to Savile Row soon after the war onlyto find that his old job as under-manager at Hawkes had been taken up by someone who had beendemobbed a few months earlier than himself, and he was therefore expected to be satisfied with the

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status of senior assistant. He wasn’t. When the colonel told him there just might be an opening for himat Trumper’s, Arnold had jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m bound to say,” said Becky, studying the figures, “that people seem to have a totallydifferent moral attitude to paying their tailor than they would ever consider applying to any othertradesman. Just look at the debtors’ column.”

“Agreed,” said Charlie. “And I fear we won’t be able to show a great deal of improvement onthat until Major Arnold has managed to find replacements for at least three members of his presentstaff: I don’t expect him to declare a profit during the next six months, although I would hope theymight be able to break even by the end of the third quarter.”

“Good,” said the colonel. “Now what about hardware? I see Number 129 declared a decentenough profit last year, so why should the figures have fallen back so badly this? They’re down oversixty pounds on 1920, declaring a loss for the first time.”

“I’m afraid there’s a simple enough explanation,” said Becky. “The money was stolen.”“Stolen?”“I fear so,” replied Charlie. “Becky began to notice as long ago as October of last year that the

weekly receipts were falling, at first only by a little but then the amount grew as a pattern began toevolve.”

“Have we discovered who the culprit is?”“Yes, that was simple enough. We switched Bob Makins from grocery when one of the staff at

hardware was on holiday, and he spotted the tea leaf in no time.”“Stop it, Charlie,” said Becky. “Sorry, Colonel. Thief.”“It turnd out the manager, Reg Larkins, has a gambling problem,” Charlie continued, “and was

using our money to cover his debts. The bigger those debts became the more he needed to steal.”“You sacked Larkins, of course,” said the colonel.“The same day,” said Charlie. “He turnd rather nasty at the time and tried to deny that he’d

ever taken a penny. But we haven’t heard a word from him since and in the last three weeks we’veeven begun to show a small profit again. However, I’m still looking for a new manager to take overas soon as possible. I’ve got my eye on a young man who works at Cudson’s just off the CharingCross Road.”

“Good,” said the colonel. “That covers last year’s problems, Charlie, so now you can frightenus with your plans for the future.”

Charlie opened the smart new leather case that Becky had given him on 20 January and tookout the latest report from John D. Wood. He cleared his throat theatrically and Becky had to put ahand to her mouth to stifle a laugh.

“Mr. Crowther,” began Charlie, “has prepared a comprehensive survey of all the properties inChelsea Terrace.”

“For which, incidentally, he has charged us ten guineas,” said Becky, checking the accountsbook.

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“I have no quarrel with that, if it turns out to be a good investment,” said the colonel.“It already has,” said Charlie. He handed over copies of Crowther’s report. “As you both

already know, there are thirty-six shops in Chelsea Terrace, of which we currently own seven. InCrowther’s opinion a further five could well become available during the next twelve months.However, as he points out, all the shopkeepers in Chelsea Terrace are now only too aware of my roleas a buyer, which doesn’t exactly help keep the price down.”

“I suppose that was bound to happen sooner or later.”“I agree, Colonel,” said Charlie, “but it’s still far sooner than I’d hoped for. In fact, Syd

Wrexall, the chairman of the Shops Committee, is becoming quite wary of us.”“Why Mr. Wrexall in particular?” asked the colonel.“He’s the publican who owns the Musketeer on the other corner of Chelsea Terrace. He’s

started telling his customers that it’s my long-term aim to buy up all the property in the block anddrive out the small shopkeepers.”

“He has a point,” said Becky.“Maybe, but I never expected him to form a cooperative with the sole purpose of stopping me

purchasing certain properties. I was rather hoping to get my hands on the Musketeer itself in time butwhenever the subject comes up he just says, ‘Over my dead body.’”

“That comes as rather a blow,” said the colonel.“Not at all,” said Charlie. “No one can expect to go through life without facing a moment of

crisis. The secret will be spotting Wrexall’s when it comes and then moving in quickly. But it doesmean for the time being that I’m occasionally going to have to pay over the odds if a shop ownerdecides the time has come to sell.”

“Not a lot we can do about that I suspect,” said the colonel.“Except call their bluff from time to time,” said Charlie.“Call their bluff? I’m not sure I catch your drift. ““Well, we’ve had an approach from two shops recently with an interest in disposing of their

freehold and I turnd them both down out of hand.”“Why?”“Simply because they were demanding such outrageous prices, not to mention Becky nagging

me about our present overdraft.”“And have they reconsidered their position?”“Yes and no,” said Charlie. “One has already come back with a far more realistic demand,

while the other is still holding out for his original price.”“Who is holding out?”“Cuthbert’s, Number 101, the wine and spirits merchant. But there’s no need to make any sort

of move in that direction for the time being, because Crowther says that Mr. Cuthbert has recentlybeen looking at several properties in Pimlico, and he’ll be able to keep us informed of any progress

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on that front. We can then make a sensible offer the moment Cuthbert commits himself.”“Well done, Crowther, I say. By the way, where do you pick up all your information?” the

colonel asked.“Mr. Bales the newsagent, and Syd Wrexall himself.”“But I thought you said Wrexall wasn’t proving that helpful.”“He isn’t,” said Charlie, “but he’ll still offer his opinion on any subject for the price of a pint,

so Bob Makins has become a regular and reamed never to complain about being short-measured. Ieven get a copy of the Shops Committee minutes before they do.”

The colonel laughed. “And what about the auctioneers at Number 1? Have we still got our eyeon them?”

“We most certainly have, Colonel. Mr. Fothergill, the proprietor, continues to go deeper anddeeper into debt, having had another bad year. But somehow he manages to keep his head abovewater, if only just, but I anticipate he will finally go under some time next year, at the latest the yearafter, when I will be standing on the quayside waiting to throw him a lifeline. Especially if Beckyfeels she is ready to leave Sotheby’s by then.”

“I’m still learning so much,” confessed Becky. “I’d rather like to stay put for as long as I can.I’ve completed a year in Old Masters,” she added, “and now I’m trying to get myself moved toModern, or Impressionist as they’ve started calling that department. You see, I still feel I need to gainas much experience as possible before they work out what I’m up to. I attend every auction I can,from silverware to old books, but I’d be far happier if we could leave Number 1 until the lastpossible moment.”

“But if Fothergill does go under for a third time, Becky, you’re our lifeboat. So what if theshop were suddenly to come on the market?”

“I could just about handle it, I suppose. I’ve already got my eye on the man who ought to beour general manager. Simon Matthews. He’s been with Sotheby’s for the past twelve years and isdisenchanted at being passed over once too often. There’s also a bright young trainee who’s beenaround for about three years who I think will be the pick of the next generation of auctioneers. He’sonly two years younger than the chairman’s son so he might be only too happy to join us if we wereable to make him an attractive offer.”

“On the other hand, it may well suit us for Becky to remain at Sotheby’s for as long aspossible,” said Charlie. “Because Mr. Crowther has identified a further problem we’re going to haveto face in the near future.”

“Namely?” queried the colonel.“On page nine of his report, Crowther points out that Numbers 25 to 99, a block of thirty-eight

flats bang in the middle of Chelsea Terrace one of which Daphne and Becky shared until a couple ofyears ago may well come on the market in the not too distant future. They’re currently owned by acharitable trust who are no longer satisfied with the return they receive on their investment, andCrowther says they’re considering disposing of them. Now, remembering our longterm plan, it mightbe wise to purchase the block as soon as possible rather than risk waiting for years when we would

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have to pay a far higher price or, worse, never be able to get hold of them at all.”“Thirty-eight flats,” said the colonel. “Hm, how much is Crowther expecting them to fetch?”“His guess would be around the two-thousand pound mark; they’re currently only showing an

income of two hundred and ten pounds a year and what with repairs and maintenance they’reprobably not even declaring a profit. If the property does come on the market, and we’re able toafford them, Crowther also recommends that we only issue ten-year leases in future, and try to placeany empty flats with staff from embassies or foreign visitors, who never make any fuss about havingto move at a moment’s notice.”

“So the profit on the shops would end up having to pay for the flats,” said Becky.“I’m afraid so,” said Charlie. “But with any luck it would only take me a couple of years,

three at the outside, before I could have them showing a profit. Mind you, if the charitycommissioners are involved, the paperwork could take that long.”

“Nevertheless, remembering our current overdraft limit, a demand on our resources like thatmay well require another lunch with Hadlow,” said the colonel. “Still, I can see if we need to gethold of those flats I’m left with little choice. Might even take the opportunity to bump into ChubbyDuckworth at the club and drop a word in his ear.” The colonel paused. “To be fair to Hadlow, he’salso come up with a couple of good ideas himself, both of which I feel are worthy of ourconsideration, and accordingly I have placed them next on the agenda.”

Becky stopped writing and looked up.“Let me begin by saying that Hadlow is most satisfied with the way our first two years’ figures

have worked out, but nevertheless he feels strongly that because of the state of our overdraft and fortaxation reasons we should stop being a partnership and form ourselves into a company.”

“Why?” asked Charlie. “What advantage could there possibly be in that?”“It’s the new finance bill that has just gone through the Commons,” explained Becky. “The

change in the tax laws could well be used to our advantage, because at the moment we’re trading asseven different businesses and taxed accordingly, whereas if we were to put all our shops into onecompany we could run the losses of, say, the tailor’s shop and hardware against any gains made bythe grocery store and the butcher’s, and thus reduce our tax burden. It could be especially beneficialin a bad year.”

“That all makes good sense to me,” said Charlie. “So let’s go ahead and do it.”“Well, it’s not quite that easy,” said the colonel, placing his monocle to his good eye. “To start

with, if we were to become a company Mr. Hadlow is advising us to appoint some new directors tocover those areas in which we currently have little or no professional experience.”

“Why would Hadlow expect us to do that?” asked Charlie sharply. “We’ve never neededanyone else to interfere with our business before.”

“Because we’re growing so rapidly, Charlie. We may need other people to advise us in thefuture who can offer expertise we simply don’t at present possess. The purchasing of the flats is agood example.”

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“But we have Mr. Crowther for that.”“And perhaps he would feel a greater commitment to our cause if he were on the board.”

Charlie frowned. “I can well understand how you feel,” continued the colonel. “It’s your show, andyou believe you don’t need any outsiders to tell you how to run Trumper’s. Well, even if we did forma company it would still be your show, because all the shares would be lodged in the names of youand Becky, and any assets would therefore remain totally under your control. But you would have theadded advantage of non-executive directors to call on for advice.”

“And to spend our money and overrule our decisions,” said Charlie. “I just don’t like the ideaof outsiders telling me what to do.”

“It wouldn’t necessarily work like that,” said Becky.“I’m not convinced it will work at all.”“Charlie, you should listen to yourself sometimes. You’re beginning to sound like a Luddite.”“Perhaps we should take a vote,” said the colonel, trying to calm things down. “Just to see

where we all stand.”“Vote? What on? Why? The shops belong to me.”Becky looked up. “To both of us, Charlie, and the colonel has more than earned his right to

give an opinion.”“I’m sorry, Colonel, I didn’t mean... ““I know you didn’t, Charlie, but Becky’s right. If you want to realize your long-term aims

you’ll undoubtedly need some outside help. It just won’t be possible to achieve such a dream all onyour own.”

“And it will with outside interferers?”“Think of them as inside helpers,” said the colonel.“So what are we voting on?” asked Charlie touchily.“Well,” began Becky, “someone should propose a resolution that we turn ourselves into a

company. If that is passed we could then invite the colonel to be chairman, who can in turn appointyou as managing director and myself as secretary. I think Mr. Crowther should also be invited to jointhe board, along with a representative from the bank... “

“I can see you’ve given this a lot of thought,” said Charlie.“That was my side of the bargain, if you remember our original deal correctly, Mr.Trumper,”

Becky replied.“We’re not Marshall Field’s, you know.”“Not yet,” said the colonel, with a smile. “Remember it’s you, Charlie, who has taught us to

think like this.”“I knew somehow it would all end up being my fault.”“So I propose the resolution that we form a company,” said Beckv. “Those in favor?”

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Becky and the colonel each placed a hand in the air, and a few seconds later Charliereluctantly raised his and added, “Now what?”

“My second proposal,” said Becky, “is that Colonel Sir Danvers Hamilton should be our firstchairman.”

This time Charlie’s hand shot straight up.“Thank you,” said the colonel. “And my first action as chairman is to appoint Mr. Trumper as

managing director and Mrs. Trumper as company secretary. And with your permission I shallapproach Mr. Crowther, and I think also Mr. Hadlow, with a view to asking them to join the board.”

“Agreed,” said Becky, who was scribbling furiously in the minutes book as she tried to keepup.

“Any other business?” asked the colonel.“May I suggest, Mr. Chairman,” said Becky the colonel couldn’t resist a smile “that we fix a

date for our first monthly meeting of the full board.”“Any time suits me,” said Charlie. “Because one thing’s for certain, we won’t be able to get

them all round this table at any one time, unless of course you propose to hold the meetings at four-thirty in the morning. At least that way we might find out who the real workers are.”

The colonel laughed. “Well, that’s another way you could guarantee that all your ownresolutions are passed without us ever finding out, Charlie. But I must warn you, one will no longerconstitute a quorum.”

“A quorum?”“The minimum number of people needed to pass a resolution,” explained Becky.“That used to be just me,” said Charlie wistfully.“That was probably true of Mr. Marks before he met Mr. Spencer,” said the colonel, “so let’s

settle on our next meeting being a month today.”Becky and Charlie nodded.“Now if there is no other business I will declare the meeting closed.”“There is,” said Becky, “but I don’t think such information should be minuted.”“The floor’s all yours,” said the chairman, looking puzzled.Becky stretched across the table and took Charlie’s hand. “It comes under miscellaneous

expenses,” she said. “You see, I’m going to have another baby.”For once Charlie was speechless. It was the colonel who eventually asked if there were a

bottle of champagne anywhere near at hand.“I’m afraid not,” said Becky. “Charlie won’t let me buy anything from wine and spirits until

we own the shop... ““Quite understandably,” said the colonel. “Then we shall just have to walk round to my

place,” he added, rising from his seat and picking up his umbrella. “That way Elizabeth can join the

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celebration. I declare the meeting closed.”A few moments later the three of them stepped out onto Chelsea Terrace just as the postman

was entering the shop. Seeing Becky he handed her a letter.“It can only have come from Daphne with all those stamps,” she told them as she ripped the

envelope open and began reading its contents.“Come on, then, what’s she been up to?” asked Charlie, as they walked towards Tregunter

Road.“She’s covered America and China, and as far as I can tell India’s next,” Becky announced.

“She’s also put on half a stone and met a Mr. Calvin Coolidge, whoever he is.”“The vice-president of the United States,” said Charlie.“Is that so? And they still hope to be home sometime in August, so it won’t be that long before

we are able to team everything firsthand. Becky looked up to discover that only the colonel was stillby her side. “Where’s Charlie?” They both turned round to see him staring up at a small town housethat had a “For Sale” sign attached to the wall.

They walked back towards him. “What do you think?” he asked, continuing to stare at theproperty.

“What do you mean, ‘What do I think?’”“I suspect, my dear, what Charlie is inquiring of you is your opinion of the house.”Becky stared up at the little house that was on three floors, its front covered in Virginia

creeper.“It’s wonderful, quite wonderful.”“It’s better than that,” said Charlie placing his thumbs in his waistcoat pocket. “It’s ours, and

also ideal for someone with a wife and three children who is the managing director of an expandingbusiness in Chelsea.”

“But I don’t have a second child yet, let alone a third.”“Just planning ahead,” said Charlie. “Something you taught me.”“But can we afford it?”“No, of course we can’t,” he said. “But I’m confident that the value of property will soon be

going up in this area, once people realize they will have their own department store within walkingdistance. In any case, it’s too late now, because I put down the deposit this morning.” He placed ahand in his jacket pocket and removed a key.

“But why didn’t you consult me first?” asked Becky.“Because I knew you’d only say we couldn’t afford it, as you did with the second, third,

fourth, fifth and every subsequent shop.”He walked towards the front door with Becky still a yard behind him.“But... “

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“I’ll leave you two to sort things out,” said the colonel. “Come over to my place and have thatglass of champagne just as soon as you’ve finished looking over your new home.”

The colonel continued on down Tregunter Road, swinging his umbrella in the morning sun,pleased with himself and the world, arriving back just in time for his first whisky of the day.

He imparted all his news to Elizabeth, who had many more questions about the baby and thehouse than about the present state of the company accounts or her husband’s appointment as chairman.Having acquitted himself as best he could, the colonel asked his manservant to place a bottle ofchampagne in a bucket of ice. He then retired to his study to check through the morning mail while heawaited the Trampers’ arrival.

There were three letters unopened on his desk: a bill from his tailor which reminded him ofBecky’s strictures on such matters an invitation to the Ashburton Shield to be held at Bisley, an annualevent he always enjoyed, and a letter from Daphne, which he rather expected might simply repeat thenews that Becky had already relayed to him.

The envelope was postmarked Delhi. The colonel slit it open in anticipation. Daphne dutifullyrepeated how much she was enjoying the trip, but failed to mention her weight problem. She did,however, go on to say that she had some distressing news to impart concerning Guy Trentham. Shewrote that while they were staying in Poona, Percy had come across him one evening at the officers’club dressed in civilian clothes. He had lost so much weight that her husband hardly recognized him.He informed Percy that he had been forced to resign his commission and there was only one person toblame for his downfall: a sergeant who had lied about him in the past, and was happy to associatewith known criminals. Guy was claiming that he had even caught the man stealing himself. Once hewas back in England Trentham intended to The front doorbell rang.

“Can you answer it, Danvers?” Elizabeth said, leaning over the banister. “I’m upstairsarranging the flowers. “

The colonel was still seething with anger when he opened the front door to find Charlie andBecky waiting on the top step in anticipation. He must have looked surprised to see them becauseBecky had to say, “Champagne, Chairman. Or have you already forgotten my physical state?”

“Ah, yes, sorry. My thoughts were some distance away.” The colonel stuffed Daphne’s letterinto his jacket pocket. “The champagne should be at the perfect temperature by now,” he added, as heushered his guests through to the drawing room.

“Two and a quarter Trumpers have arrived,” he barked back up the stairs to his wife.

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CHAPTER18It always amused the colonel to watch Charlie spending so much of his time running from shop toshop, trying to keep a dose eye on all his staff, while also attempting to concentrate his energy on anyestablishment that wasn’t showing a worthwhile return. But whatever the various problems he faced,the colonel was only too aware that Charlie couldn’t resist a spell of serving at the fruit and vegetableshop, which remained his pride and joy. Coat off, sleeves rolled up and co*ckney accent at itsbroadest, Charlie was allowed an hour a day by Bob Makins to pretend he was back on the corner ofWhitechapel Road peddling his wares from his granpa’s barrow.

“‘Alf a pound of tomatoes, some runner beans, and your usual pound of carrots, Mrs.Symonds, if I remember correctly.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Trumper. And how’s Mrs. Trumper?”“Never better.”“And when’s the baby expected?”“In about three months, the doctor think... ““Don’t see you serving in the shop so much nowadays.”“Only when I know the important customers are around, my luv,” said Charlie. “After all, you

were one of my first.”“I was indeed. So have you signed the deal on the flats yet, Mr. Trumper?”Charlie stared at Mrs. Symonds as he handed back her change, unable to hide his surprise.

“The flats?”“Yes, you know, Mr. Trumper. Numbers 25 to 99.”“Why do you ask, Mrs. Symonds?”“Because you’re not the only person who’s showing an interest in them.”“How do you know that?”“I know because I saw a young man holding a bunch of keys, waiting outside the building for a

client last Sunday morning.”Charlie recalled that the Symondses lived in a house on the far side of the Terrace

immediately opposite the main entrance to the flats.“And did you recognize them?”“No. I watched a car draw up but then my husband seemed to think his breakfast was more

important than me being nosy, so I didn’t see who it was who got out.Charlie continued to stare at Mrs. Symonds as she picked up her bag, waved a cheery goodbye

and walked out of the shop.Despite Mrs. Symonds’ bombshell and Syd Wrexall’s efforts to contain him, Charlie went

about plotting his next acquisition. Through the combination of Major Arnold’s diligence, Mr.Crowther’s inside knowledge and Mr. Hadlow’s loans, by late July Charlie had secured the freeholdon two more shops in the Terrace Number 133, women’s clothes, and Number 101, wine and spirits.

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At the August board meeting Becky recommended that Major Arnold be promoted to deputy managingdirector of the company, with the task of keeping a watching brief on everything that was taking placein Chelsea Terrace.

Charlie had desperately needed an extra pair of eyes and ears for some time, and with Beckystill working at Sotheby’s during the day Arnold had begun to fill that role to perfection. The colonelwas delighted to ask Becky to minute the confirmation of the major’s appointment. The monthlymeeting continued very smoothly until the colonel asked, “Any other business?”

“Yes,” said Charlie. “What’s happening about the flats?”“I put in a bid of two thousand pounds as instructed,” said Crowther. “The agent said he

would recommend his clients should accept the offer, but to date I’ve been unable to close the deal.”“Why?” asked Charlie.“Because Savill’s rang back this morning to let me know that they have received another offer

far in excess of what they had anticipated for this particular piece of property. They thought I mightwant to alert the board of the present situation.”

“They were right about that,” said Charlie. “But how much is this other offer? That’s what Iwant to know.”

“Two thousand five hundred pounds,” said Crowther.It was several moments before anyone round the boardroom table offered an opinion.“How on earth can they hope to show a return on that kind of investment?” Hadlow eventually

asked.“They can’t,” said Crowther.“Offer them three thousand pounds.”“What did you say?” said the chairman, as they all turned to face Charlie.“Offer them three thousand,” Charlie repeated.“But Charlie, we agreed that two thousand was a high enough price only a few weeks ago,”

Becky pointed out. “How can the flats suddenly be worth so much more?”“They’re worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them,” Charlie replied. “So we’ve

been left with no choice.”“But Mr. Trumper... “ began Hadlow.“If we end up with the rest of the block but then fail to get our hands on those flats, everything I

have worked for will go up the spout. I’m not willing to risk that for three thousand pounds or, as Isee it, five hundred.”

“Yes, but can we afford such a large outlay just at this moment?” asked the colonel.“Five of the shops are now showing a profit,” said Becky, checking her inventory. “Two are

breaking even and only one is actually losing money consistency.”“We must have the courage to go ahead,” said Charlie. “Buy the flees knock ‘em down and

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then we can build half a dozen shops in their place. We’ll be making a return on them before anyonecan say ‘Bob’s your uncle.’”

Crowther gave them all a moment to allow Charlie’s strategy to sink in, then asked, “So what

are the board’s instructions?”“I propose that we offer Three thousand pounds,” said the colonel. “As the managing director

has pointed out, we must take the long view, but only if the bank feels able to back us on this one. Mr.Hadlow?”

“You can just about afford three thousand pounds at the moment,” said the bank manager,checking over the figures. “But that would stretch your overdraft facility to the limit. It would alsomean that you couldn’t consider buying any more shops for the foreseeable future.”

“We don’t have a choice,” said Charlie, looking straight at Crowther. “Someone else is afterthose flats and we can’t at this stage allow a rival to get their hands on them.”

“Well, if those are the board’s instructions I shall attempt to close the deal later today, at threethousand pounds.”

“I think that’s precisely what the board would wish you to do,” confirmed the chairman, as hechecked around the table. “Well, if there’s no other business, I declare the meeting closed.”

Once the meeting had broken up, the colonel took Crowther and Hadlow on one side. “I don’tlike the sound of this flats business at all. An offer coming out of the blue like that requires a littlemore explanation.”

“I agree,” said Crowther. “My instinct tells me that it’s Syd Wrexall and his Shops Committeetrying to stop Charlie taking over the whole block before it’s too late.”

“No,” said Charlie as he joined them. “It can’t be Syd because he doesn’t have a car,” headded mystery ously. “In any case, Wrexall and his cronies would have reached their limit longbefore two thousand five hundred pounds.”

“So do you think it’s an outside contractor?” asked Hadlow, “who has his own plans fordeveloping Chelsea Terrace?”

“More likely to be an investor who’s worked out your long-term plan and is willing to hang onuntil we have no choice but to pay the earth for them,” said Crowther.

“I don’t know who or what it is,” said Charlie. “All I’m certain of is that we’ve made the rightdecision to outbid them.”

“Agreed,” said the colonel. “And Crowther, let me know the moment you’ve closed the deal.Afraid I can’t hang about now. I’m taking a rather special lady to lunch at my club.”

“Anyone we know?” asked Charlie.“Daphne Wiltshire.”“Do give her my love,” said Becky. “Tell her we’re both looking forward to having dinner

with them next Wednesday.”

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The colonel raised his hat to Becky, and left his four colleagues to continue discussing theirdifferent theories as to who else could possibly be interested in the flats.

Because the board meeting had run on later than he anticipated the colonel only managed onewhisky before Daphne was ushered through to join him in the Ladies’ Room. She had, indeed, put ona few pounds, but he didn’t consider she looked any the worse for that.

He ordered a gin and tonic for his guest from the club steward, while she chatted about thegaiety of America and the heat of Africa, but he suspected that it was another continent entirely thatDaphne really wanted to talk about.

“And how was India?” he eventually asked.“Not so good, I’m afraid,” said Daphne before pausing to sip her gin and tonic. “In fact,

awful.”“Funny, I always found the natives rather friendly,” said the colonel.“It wasn’t the natives who turnd out to be the problem,” replied Daphne.“Trentham?”“I fear so.”“Hadn’t he received your letter?”“Oh, yes, but events had long superseded that, Colonel. Now I only wish I had taken your

advice and copied out your letter word for word warning him that if the question were ever put to medirectly I would have to tell anyone who asked that Trentham was Daniel’s father.”

“Why? What has caused this change of heart?”Daphne drained her glass in one gulp. “Sorry Colonel, but I needed that. Well, when Percy and

I arrived in Poona the first thing we were told by Ralph Forbes, the Colonel of the Regiment, was thatTrentham had resigned his commission.”

“Yes, you mentioned as much in your letter.” The colonel put his knife and fork down. “What I

want to know is why?”“Some problem with the adjutant’s wife, Percy later discovered, but no one was willing to go

into any detail. Evidently the subject’s taboo not the sort of thing they care to discuss in the officers’mess.”

“The unmitigated bastard. If only I... ““I couldn’t agree with you more, Colonel, but I must warn you that there’s worse to come.”The colonel ordered another gin and tonic for his guest and a whisky for himself before

Daphne continued.“When I visited Ashurst last weekend, Major Trentham showed me the letter that Guy had sent

to his mother explaining why he had been forced to resign his commission with the Fusiliers. Heclaimed this had come about because you had written to Colonel Forbes informing him that Guy hadbeen responsible for putting ‘a tart from Whitechapel’ in the family way. I saw the exact wording of

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the sentence.”The colonel’s cheeks suffused with rage. “‘Whereas time has proved conclusively that Trumper was the father of the child all along.’

Anyway, that’s the story Trentham is putting about.”“Has the man no morals?”“None, it would seem,” said Daphne. “You see, the letter went on to suggest that Charlie

Trumper is now employing you in order to make sure that you keep your mouth shut. ‘Thirty pieces ofsilver’ was the precise expression he used.”

“He deserves to be horsewhipped.”“Even Major Trentham might add ‘Hear, hear’ to that. But my greatest fear isn’t for you or

even Becky for that matter, but for Charlie himself.”“What are you getting at?”“Before we left India, Trentham warned Percy when they were on their own at the Overseas

Club that Trumper would regret this for the rest of his life.”“But why blame Charlie?”“Percy asked the same question, and Guy informed him that it was obvious that Trumper had

put you up to it in the first place simply to settle an old score.”“But that’s not true.“Percy explained as much, but he just wouldn’t listen. ““And in any case what did he mean by ‘to settle an old score’?”“No idea, except that later that evening Guy kept asking me about a painting of the Virgin

Mother and...“Not the one that hangs in Charlie’s front room?”“The same, and when I finally admitted I had seen it he dropped the subject altogether.”“The man must have gone completely out of his senses.”“He seemed sane enough to me,” said Daphne.“Well, let’s at least be thankful that he’s stuck in India, so there’s a little time to consider what

course of action we should take.”“Not that much time, I fear,” said Daphne.“How come?”“Major Trentham tells me that Guy is expected to return to these shores sometime next month.”After lunch with Daphne the colonel resumed to Tregunter Road. He was turning with anger

when his butler opened the front door to let him in, but he remained uncertain as to what he couldactually do about it. The butler informed his master that a Mr. Crowther awaited him in the study.

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“Crowther? What can he possibly want?” mumbled the colonel to himself before straighteninga print of the Isle of Skye that hung in the hall and joining him in the study.

“Good afternoon Chairman,” Crowther said as he rose from the colonel’s chair. “You askedme to report back as soon as I had any news on the flats.”

“Ah, yes so I did,” said the colonel. “You’ve closed the deal?”“No, sir. I placed a bid of three thousand pounds with Savill’s, as instructed, but then received

a call from them about an hour later to inform me that the other side had raised their offer to fourthousand.”

“Four thousand,” said the colonel in disbelief. “But who ?”“I said we were quite unable to match the sum, and even inquired discreetly who their client

might be. They informed me that it was no secret whom they were representing. I felt I ought to let youknow immediately, Chairman, as the name of Mrs. Gerald Trentham meant nothing to me.”

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CHAPTER19As I sat alone on that bench in Chelsea Terrace staring across at a shop with the name “Trumper’s”painted over the awning, a thousand questions went through my mind. Then I saw Posh Porky or, to beaccurate, I thought it must be her, because if it was, during my absence she’d changed into a woman.What had happened to that flat chest, those spindly legs, not to mention the spotty face? If it hadn’tbeen for those flashing brown eyes I might have remained in doubt.

She went straight into the shop and spoke to the man who had been acting as if he was themanager. I saw him shake his head; she then turned to the two girls behind the counter who reacted inthe same way. She shrugged, before going over to the till, pulling out the tray and beginning to checkthe day’s takings.

I had been watching the manager carry out his duties for over an hour before Becky arrived,and to be fair he was pretty good, although I had already spotted several little things that could havebeen done to help improve sales, not least among them moving the counter to the far end of the shopand setting up some of the produce in boxes out on the pavement, so that the customers could betempted to buy. “You must advertise your wares, not just hope people will come across them,” mygranpa used to say. However, I remained patiently on that bench until the staff began to empty theshelves prior to closing up the premises.

A few minutes later Becky came back out onto the pavement and looked up and down thestreet as if she were waiting for someone. Then the young man, who was now holding a padlock andkey, joined her and nodded in my direction. Becky looked over towards the bench for the first time.

Once she had seen me I jumped up and crossed the road to join her. For some time neither ofus spoke. I wanted to hug her, but we ended up just shaking hands rather formally, before I asked, “Sowhat’s the dealt”

“Couldn’t find anyone else who would supply me with free cream buns,” she told me, beforegoing on to explain why she had sold the baker’s shop and how we had come to own 147 ChelseaTerrace. When the staff had left for the night, she showed me round the flat. I couldn’t believe myeyes a bathroom with a toilet, a kitchen with crockery and cutlery, a front room with chairs and atable, and a bedroom not to mention a bed that didn’t look as if it would collapse when you sat downon it.

Once again I wanted to hug her, but I simply asked if she could stay and share dinner, as I hada hundred other questions that still needed answering.

“Sorry, not tonight,” she said as I opened my case and began to unpack. “I’m off to a concertwith a gentleman friend.” No sooner had she added some remark about Tommy’s picture than shesmiled and left. Suddenly I was on my own again.

I took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves, went downstairs to the shop and for several hoursmoved things around until everything was exactly where I wanted it. By the time I had packed awaythe last box I was so exhausted that I only just stopped myself collapsing on the bed and grabbingsome kip fully dressed. I didn’t draw the curtains so as to be sure I would wake by four.

I dressed quickly the following morning, excited by the thought of returning to a market Ihadn’t seen for nearly two years. I arrived at the garden a few minutes before Bob Makins, who I

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quickly discovered knew his way around without actually knowing his way about. I accepted that itwould take me a few days before I could work out which dealers were being supplied by the mostreliable farmers, who had the real contacts at the docks and ports, who struck the most sensible priceday in, day out, and, most important of all, who would take care of you whenever there was any sortof real shortage. None of these problems seemed to worry Bob, as he strolled around the market in anuninterrupted, undemanding circle, collecting his wares.

I loved the shop from the moment we opened that first morning, my first morning. It took me alittle time to get used to Bob and the girls calling me “sir” but it also took them almost as long tobecome used to where I’d put the counter and to having to place the boxes out on the pavement beforethe customers were awake. However, even Becky agreed that it was an inspiration to place our waresright under the noses of potential buyers, although she wasn’t sure how the local authorities wouldreact when they found out.

“Hasn’t Chelsea ever heard of passing traded I asked her.”Within a month I knew the name of every regular customer who patronized the shop, and

within two I was aware of their likes, dislikes, passions and even the occasional fad that eachimagined must be unique to them. After the staff had packed up at the end of each day I would oftenwalk across the road and sit on the bench opposite and just watch the comings and goings in ChelseaTerrace SW10. It didn’t take long to realize that an apple was an apple whoever wanted to take a biteout of it, and Chelsea Terrace was no different from Whitechapel when it came to understanding acustomer’s needs: I suppose that must have been the moment I thought about owning a second shop.Why not? Trumper’s was the only establishment in Chelsea Terrace that regularly had a queue outonto the street.

Becky, meanwhile, continued her studies at the university and kept attempting to arrange forme to meet her gentleman friend. If the truth be known, I was trying to avoid Trentham altogether, as Ihad no desire to come in contact with the man I was convinced had killed Tommy.

Eventually I ran out of excuses and agreed to have dinner with them.When Becky entered the restaurant with Daphne and Trentham, I wished that I had never

agreed to spend the evening with them in the first place. The feeling must have been mutual, forTrentham’s face registered the same loathing I felt for him, although Becky’s friend, Daphne, tried tobe friendly. She was a pretty girl and it wouldn’t have surprised me to find that a lot of men enjoyedthat hearty laugh. But blue-eyed, curlyheaded blondes never were my type. I pretended for form’ssake that Trentham and I hadn’t met before.

I spent one of the most miserable evenings of my life wanting to tell Becky everything I knewabout the bastard, but aware as I watched them together that nothing I had to reveal could possiblyhave any influence on her. It didn’t help when Becky scowled at me for no reason. I just lowered myhead and scooped up some more peas.

Becky’s roommate, Daphne Harcourt-Browne, continued to do her best, but even CharlieChaplin would have failed to raise a smile with the three of us as an audience.

Shortly after eleven I called for the bill, and a few minutes later we all left the restaurant. I letBecky and Trentham walk ahead in the hope that it would give me a chance to slip away, but to my

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surprise doublebarreled Daphne hung back, claiming she wanted to find out what changes I’d made tothe shop.

From her opening question as I unlocked the front door I realized she didn’t miss much.“You’re in love with Becky, aren’t you?” she asked quite matter-of-factly.“Yes,” I replied without guile, and went on to reveal my feelings in a way I would never have

done to someone I knew well.Her second question took me even more by surprise.“And just how long have you known Guy Trentham?”As we climbed the steps to my little flat I told her that we had served together on the Western

Front, but because of the difference in our rank our paths had rarely crossed.“Then why do you dislike him so much?” Daphne asked, after she had taken the seat opposite

me.I hesitated again but then in a sudden rush of uncontrollable anger I described what had

happened to Tommy and me when we were trying to reach the safety of our own lines, and how I wasconvinced that Guy Trentham had shot my closest friend.

When I’d finished we both sat in silence for some time before I added, “You must never letBecky know what I’ve just told you as I’ve no real proof.”

She nodded her agreement and went on to tell me about the only man in her life, as if swappingone secret for another to bond our friendship. Her love for the man was so transparent that I couldn’tfail to be touched. And when Daphne left around midnight she promised that she’d do everything inher power to speed up the demise of Guy Trentham. I remembered her using the word “demise,”because I had to ask her what it meant. She told me, and thus I received my first tutorial with thewarning that Becky had a good start on me as she had not wasted the last ten years.

My second lesson was to discover why Becky had scowled at me so often during dinner. Iwould have protested at her cheek, but realized she was right.

I saw a lot of Daphne during the next few months, without Becky ever becoming aware of ourtrue relationship. She taught me so much about the world of my new customers and even took me ontrips to clothes shops, picture houses and to West End theaters to see plays that didn’t have anydancing girls on the stage but I still enjoyed them. I only drew the line when she tried to get me to stopspending my Saturday afternoons watching West Ham in favor of some rugby team called the Quins.However, it was her introduction to the National Gallery and its five thousand canvases that was tostart a love affair that was to prove as costly as any woman. It was to be only a few months before Iwas dragging her off to the latest exhibitions: Renoir, Manet and even a young Spaniard calledPicasso who was beginning to attract attention among London’s fashionable society. I began to hopethat Becky would appreciate the change in me, but her eyes never once wavered from CaptainTrentham.

On Daphne’s further insistence I started reading two daily newspapers. She selected the DailyExpress and the News Chronicle, and occasionally when she invited me round to Lowndes Square Ieven delved into one of her magazines, Punch or Strand. I began to discover who was who and who

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did what, and to whom. I even went to Sotheby’s for the first time and watched an early Constablecome under the hammer for a record price of nine hundred guineas. It was more money thanTrumper’s and all its fixtures and finings were worth put together. I confess that neither thatmagnificent country scene nor any other painting I came across in a gallery or auction house comparedwith my pride in Tommy’s picture of the Virgin Mary and Child, which still hung above my bed.

When in January 1920 Becky presented the first year’s accounts, I began to realize myambition to own a second shop no longer had to be a daydream. Then without warning two sitesbecame available in the same month. I immediately instructed Becky that somehow she had to comeup with the money to purchase them.

Daphne later warned me on the QT that Becky was having considerable trouble raising thenecessary cash, and although I said nothing I was quite expecting her to tell me that it simply wasn’tpossible, especially as her mind seemed to be almost totally preoccupied with Trentham and the factthat he was about to be posted to India. When Becky announced the day he left that they had becomeofficially engaged, I could have willingly cut his throat and then mine but Daphne assured me thatthere were several young ladies in London who had at one time or another entertained the illusion thatthey were about to marry Guy Trentham. However, Becky herself remained so confident ofTrentham’s intentions that I didn’t know which of the two women to believe.

The following week my old commanding officer appeared on the premises with a shopping listto complete for his wife. I’ll never forget the moment he took a purse from his jacket pocket andfumbled around for some loose change. Until then it had never occurred to me that a colonel mightactually live in the real world. However, he left with a promise to put me down for two ten-bobtickets at the regimental ball; he turned out to be as good as his word.

My euphoria another Harcourt-Browne word at meeting up with the colonel again lasted forabout twenty-four hours. Then Daphne told me Becky was expecting. My first reaction was to wishI’d killed Trentham on the Western Front instead of helping to save the bloody man’s life. I assumedthat he would return immediately from India in order to marry her before the child was born. I hatedthe idea of his coming back into our lives, but I had to agree with the colonel that it was the onlycourse of action a gentleman could possibly consider, otherwise the rest of Becky’s life would bespent as a social outcast.

It was around this time that Daphne explained that if we hoped to raise some real money fromthe banks then we were definitely in need of a front man. Becky’s sex was now militating another ofDaphne’s words against her, although she was kind enough not to mention my accent “militating”against me.

On the way home from the regimental ball Becky breezily informed Daphne that she haddecided that the colonel was the obvious man to represent us whenever we had to go cap in handseeking loans from one of the banks. I wasn’t optimistic, but Becky insisted after her conversationwith the colonel’s wife that we at least go round to see him and present our case.

I fell in line and to my surprise we received a letter ten days later saying that he was our man.A few days after that Becky admitted she was going to have a baby. From that moment on my

consuming interest became finding out what news Becky had of Trentham’s intentions. I was horrified

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to discover that she hadn’t even written to tell him her news, although she was almost four monthspregnant. I made her swear that she would send a letter that night, even if she did refuse to considerthreatening him with a breach of promise suit. The following day Daphne assured me that she hadwatched from the kitchen window as Becky posted the letter.

I made an appointment to see the colonel and briefed him on Becky’s state before the wholeworld knew. He said somewhat mysteriously, “Leave Trentham to me.”

Six weeks later Becky told me that she had still heard nothing from the man, and I sensed forthe first time that her feelings for him were beginning to wane.

I had even asked her to marry me, but she didn’t take my proposal at all seriously although Ihad never been more sincere about anything in my life. I lay awake at night wondering what else Icould possibly do to make her feel I was worthy of her.

As the weeks passed Daphne and I began to take more and more care of Becky, as daily sheincreasingly resembled a beached whale. There was still no word from India but long before thechild was due she had stopped referring to Trentham by name.

When I first saw Daniel I wanted to be his father and was overjoyed when Becky said shehoped I still loved her.

Hoped I still loved her!We were married a week later with the colonel, Bob Makins and Daphne agreeing to be

godparents.The following summer Daphne and Percy were themselves married, not at Chelsea Register

Office but at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. I watched out for Mrs. Trentham just to see what shelooked like, but then I remembered that Percy had said she hadn’t been invited.

Daniel grew like a weed, and I was touched that one of the first words he repeated again andagain was “Dad.” Despite this I could only wonder how long it would be before we had to sit downand tell the boy the truth. “Bastard” is such a vicious slur for an innocent child to have to live with.

“We don’t have to worry about that for some time yet,” Becky kept insisting, but it didn’t stopme being fearful of the eventual outcome if we remained silent on the subject for much longer, afterall some people in the Terrace already knew the truth.

Sal wrote from Toronto to congratulate me, as well as to inform me that she herself hadstopped having babies. Twin girls Maureen and Babs and two boys David and Rex seemed to herquite enough, even for a good Catholic. Her husband, she wrote, had been promoted to area sales repfor E.P. Taylor so altogether they seemed to be doing rather well. She never made mention of Englandin her letters or of any desire to return to the country of her birth. As her only real memories of homemust have been sleeping three to a bed, a drunken father and never having enough food for a secondhelping I couldn’t really blame her.

She went on to chastise me for allowing Grace to be a far better letter-writer than I was. Icouldn’t claim the excuse of work, she added, as being a ward sister in a London teaching hospitalleft my sister with even less time than I had. After Becky had read the letter and nodded her agreementI made more of an effort over the next few months.

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Kitty made periodic visits to Chelsea Terrace, but only with the purpose of talking me out ofmore money, her demands rising on each occasion. However, she always made certain that Beckywas not around whenever she turned up. The sums she extracted, although exorbitant, were alwaysjust possible.

I begged Kitty to find a job, even offered her one myself, but she simply explained that she andwork didn’t seem to get along together. Our conversations rarely lasted for more than a few minutesbecause as soon as I’d handed over the cash she immediately sloped off. I realized that with everyshop I opened it would become harder and harder to convince Kitty that she should settle down, andonce Becky and I had moved into our new home on Gilston Road her visits only became morefrequent.

Despite Syd Wrexall’s efforts to thwart my ambition of trying to buy up every shop thatbecame available in the terrace I was able to get hold of seven before I came across any realopposition I now had my eyes on Numbers 25 to 99, a block of flats which I intended to purchasewithout Wrexall ever finding out what I was up to; not to mention my desire to get my hands onNumber 1 Chelsea Terrace, which, given its position on the street, remained crucial as part of mylong-term plan to own the entire block.

During 1922 everything seemed to be falling neatly into place and I began to look forward toDaphne’s return from her honeymoon so I could tell her exactly what I had been up to in her absence.

The week after Daphne arrived back in England she invited us both to dinner at her new homein Eaton Square. I couldn’t wait to hear all her news, knowing that she would be impressed to learnthat we now owned nine shops, a new home in Gilston Road and at any moment would be adding ablock of flats to the Trumper portfolio. However, I knew the question she would ask me as soon as Iwalked in their front door, so I had my reply ready... “It will take me about another ten years before Iown the entire block as long as you can guarantee no floods, pestilence or the outbreak of war.”

Just before Becky and I set out for our reunion dinner an envelope was dropped through theletter box of 11 Gilston Road.

Even as it lay on the mat I could recognize the bold hand. I ripped it open and began to readthe colonel’s words. When I had finished the letter I suddenly felt sick and could only wonder why heshould want to resign.

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CHAPTER20Charlie stood alone in the hall and decided not to mention the colonel’s letter to Becky until after theyhad returned from their dinner with Daphne. Becky had been looking forward to the occasion for sucha long time that he feared the colonel’s unexplained resignation could only put a blight on the rest ofthe evening.

“You all right, darling?” asked Becky when she reached the bottom of the stairs. “You look a

bit pale.”“I’m just fine,” said Charlie, nervously tucking the letter into an inside pocket. “Come on or

we’ll be late, and that would never do.” Charlie looked at his wife and noticed that she was wearingthe pink dress with a massive bow on the front. He remembered helping her choose it. “You lookravishing,” he told her. “That gown will make Daphne green with envy.”

“You don’t look so bad yourself.”“When I put on one of these penguin suits I always feel like the head waiter of the Ritz,”

admitted Charlie as Becky straightened his white tie.“How could you possibly know when you’ve never been to the Ritz?” she said, laughing.“At least the outfit came from my own shop this time,” Charlie replied as he opened the front

door for his wife.“Ah, but have you paid the bill yet?”As they drove over to Eaton Square Charlie found it difficult to concentrate on his wife’s

chatty conversation while he tried to fathom why the colonel could possibly want to resign just at thepoint when everything was going so well.

“So how do you feel I should go about it?” asked Becky.“Whichever way you think best,” began Charlie.“You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said since we left the house, Charlie Trumper. And

to think we’ve been married for less than two years.”“Sorry,” said Charlie, as he parked his little Austin Seven behind the Silver Ghost that stood

directly in front of 14 Eaton Square. “Wouldn’t mind living here,” Charlie added, as he opened thecar door for his wife.

“Not quite yet,” suggested Becky.“Why not?”“I’ve a feeling that Mr. Hadlow might not feel able to sanction the necessary loan.”A butler opened the door for them even before they had reached the top step. “Wouldn’t mind

one of those either,” said Charlie.“Behave yourself,” said Becky.“Of course,” he said. “I must remember my place.”

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The louder ushered them through to the drawing room where they found Daphne sipping a drymartini.

“Darlings,” she said. Becky ran forward and threw her arms around her and they bumped intoeach other.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” said Becky.“My little secret.” Daphne patted her stomach. “Still, you seem to be well ahead of me, as

usual.”“Not by that much,” said Becky. “So when’s yours“Dr. Gould is predicting some time in January. Clarence if it’s a boy, Clarissa if it’s a girl.”Her guests both laughed.“Don’t you two dare snigg*r. Those are the names of Percy’s most distinguished ancestors,”

she told them, just as her husband entered the room.“True, byJove,” said Percy, “though I’m damned if I can remember what they actually did.”“Welcome home,” said Charlie, shaking him by the hand.“Thank you, Charlie,” said Percy, who then kissed Becky on both cheeks. “I don’t mind telling

you I’m damned pleased to see you again.” A servant handed him a whisky and soda. “Now, Becky,tell me everything you’ve been up to and don’t spare me any details.”

They sat down together on the sofa as Daphne joined Charlie, who was slowly circling theroom studying the large portraits that hung on every wall.

“Percy’s ancestors,” said Daphne. “All painted by second-rate artists. I’d swap the lot of themfor that picture of the Virgin Mary you have in your drawing room.”

“Not this one, you wouldn’t,” said Charlie, as he stopped in front of the second Marquess ofWiltshire.

“Ah, yes, the Holbein,” said Daphne. “You’re right. But since then I’m afraid it’s beendownhill all the way.”

“I wouldn’t begin to know, m’lady,” said Charlie with a grin. “You see, my ancestors didn’tgo a bundle on portraits. Come to think of it, I don’t suppose Holbein was commissioned by that manycostermongers from the East End.”

Daphne laughed. “That reminds me, Charlie, what’s happened to your co*ckney accent?”“What was you ‘aping for, Marchioness, a pound of tomatoes and ‘elf a grapefruit, or just a

night on the rawle?”“That’s more like it. Mustn’t let a few night classes go to our head.”“Shhh,” said Charlie, looking over to his wife, who was seated on the sofa. “Becky still

doesn’t know and I’m not saying anything until... ““I understand,” said Daphne. “And I promise you that she won’t hear a thing from me. I

haven’t even told Percy.” She glanced towards Becky, who was still deep in conversation with her

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husband. “By the way, how long before thwart?”“Ten years would be my guess,” said Charlie, delivering his prepared answer.“Oh, I thought that these things usually took about nine months,” said Daphne. “Unless of

course you’re an elephant.”Charlie smiled, realizing his mistake. “Another two months would be my guess. Tommy if it’s

a boy and Debbie if it’s a girl. So with a bit of luck whatever Becky delivers let’s hope turns out tobe the ideal partner for Clarence or Clarissa.”

“A nice idea but the way the world is going at the moment,” said Daphne, “I wouldn’t besurprised if mine ended up as your sales assistant.”

Despite Daphne bombarding him with questions Charlie still couldn’t take his eyes off theHolbein. Eventually Daphne bribed him away by saying, “Come on, Charlie, let’s go and havesomething to eat. I always seem to be famished nowadays.”

Percy and Becky stood up and followed Daphne and Charlie towards the dining room.Daphne led her guests down a long corridor and through into another room that was exactly the

same size and proportion as the one they had just left. The six full-length canvases that hung from thewalls were all by Reynolds. “And this time only the ugly one is a relation,” Percy assured them as hetook his place at one end of the table and gestured to a long gray figure of a lady that hung on the wallbehind him. “And she would have found it exceedingly difficult to land a Wiltshire had she not beenaccompanied by an extremely handsome dowry.”

They took their places at a table that had been laid for four but would have comfortably seatedeight, and proceeded to eat a four-course dinner that could have happily fed sixteen. Liveried footmenstood behind each chair to ensure the slightest need was administered to. “Every good home shouldhave one,” whispered Charlie across the table to his wife.

The conversation over dinner gave the four of them a chance to catch up with everything thathad taken place during the past year. By the time a second coffee had been poured Daphne and Beckyleft the two men to enjoy a cigar and Charlie couldn’t help thinking that it was as if the Wiltshires hadnever been away in the first place.

“Glad the girls have left us alone,” said Percy, “as I feel there is something less pleasant weought perhaps to touch on.”

Charlie puffed away at his first cigar, wondering what it must be like to suffer in this wayevery day.

“When Daphne and I were in India,” Percy continued, “we came across that bounderTrentham.” Charlie coughed as some smoke went down the wrong way and began to pay closerattention as his host revealed the conversation that had taken place between Trentham and himself.“His threat that he would ‘get you,’ come what may, could have been no more than an idle boast, ofcourse,” said Percy, “but Daphne felt it best that you were put fully in the picture.”

“But what can I possibly do about it?” Charlie knocked an extended column of ash into asilver saucer that had been placed in front of him just in time.

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“Not a lot, I suspect,” said Percy. “Except to remember that forewarned is forearmed. He’sexpected back in England at any moment, and his mother is now telling anyone who still cares toinquire that Guy was offered such an irresistible appointment in the City that he was willing tosacrifice his commission. I can’t imagine that anyone really believes her, and anyway most decent-minded people think the City’s about the right place for the likes of Trentham.”

“Do you think I ought to tell Becky?”“No, I don’t,” said Percy. “In fact I never told Daphne about my second encounter with

Trentham at the Overseas Club. So why bother Becky with the details? From what I’ve heard fromher this evening she’s got quite enough on her plate to be going on with.”

“Not to mention the fact that she’s about to give birth,” added Charlie.“Exactly,” said Percy. “So let’s leave it at that for the time being. Now, shall we go and join

the ladies?”Over a large brandy in yet another room filled with ancestors including a small oil of Bonny

Prince Charlie, Becky listened to Daphne describe the Americans, whom she adored, but felt theBritish should never have given the darlings away; the Africans, whom she considered delightful butwho ought to be given away as soon as, was convenient; and the Indians, whom she understoodcouldn’t wait to be given away, according to the little man who kept arriving at Government House ina dishcloth.

“Are you by any chance referring to Gandhi?” asked Charlie, as he puffed away moreconfidently at his cigar. “I find him rather impressive.”

On the way back to Gilston Road Becky chatted happily as she revealed all the gossip she hadpicked up from Daphne. It became obvious to Charlie that the two women had not touched on thesubject of Trentham, or the threat he currently posed.

Charlie had a restless night, partly caused by having indulged in too much rich food andalcohol, but mainly because his mind kept switching from why the colonel should want to resign to theproblem that had to be faced with Trentham’s imminent return to England.

At four o’clock in the morning he rose and donned his oldest clothes before setting off to themarket, something he still tried to do at least once a week, convinced there was no one at Trumper’swho could work the Garden the way he did, until, quite recently, when a trader at the market calledNed Denning had managed to palm him off with a couple of boxes of overripe avocados and followedit up the next day by pressing Charlie into buying a box of oranges he’d never wanted in the firstplace. Charlie decided to get up very early on the third day and see if he could have the man removedfrom his job once and for all.

The following Monday Ned Denning joined Trumper’s as the grocery shop’s first generalmanager.

Charlie had a successful morning stocking up with provisions for both 131 and 147, and BobMakins arrived an hour later to drive him and Ned back to Chelsea Terrace in their newly acquiredvan.

Once they arrived at the fruit and vegetable shop, Charlie helped unload and lay out the goods

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before resuming home for breakfast a few minutes after seven. He still considered it was a little earlyto place a phone call through to the colonel.

Cook served him up eggs and bacon for breakfast, which he shared with Daniel and his nanny.Becky didn’t join them, as she had not yet recovered from the aftereffects of Daphne’s dinner party.

Charlie happily spent most of breakfast trying to answer Daniel’s string of unrelated, neverending questions until nanny picked up the protesting child and carried him back upstairs to theplayroom. Charlie flicked open the cover of his half hunter to check the time. Although it was stillonly a few minutes before eight, he felt he couldn’t wait any longer so he walked through to the hall,picked up the stem phone, unhooked the earpiece and asked the operator to connect him with Flaxman172. A few moments later he was put through.

“Can I have a word with the colonel?”“I’ll tell him you’re on the line, Mr. Trumper,” came back the reply. Charlie was amused by

the thought that he was never going to be able to disguise his accent over the telephone.“Good morning, Charlie,” came back another accent that was also immediately recognizable.“I wonder if I might come round and see you, sir?” Charlie asked.“Of course,” said the colonel. “But could you leave it until ten, old fellow? By then Elizabeth

will have gone off to visit her sister in Camden Hill.”“I’ll be there at ten on the dot,” promised Charlie. After he had put the phone back on the hook,

he decided to occupy the two hours by completing a full round of the shops. For a second time thatmorning and still before Becky had stirred, he left for Chelsea Terrace.

Charlie dug Major Arnold out of hardware before beginning a spot check on all nineestablishments. As he passed the block of flats he began to explain in detail to his deputy the plans hehad to replace the building with six new shops.

After they had left Number 129, Charlie confided in Arnold that he was worried about winesand spirits, which he considered was still not pulling its weight. This was despite their now beingable to take advantage of the new delivery service that had originally been introduced only for fruitand vegetables. Charlie was proud that his was one of the first shops in London to take orders bytelephone, then drop off the goods on the same day for account customers. It was another idea he hadstolen from the Americans, and the more he read about what his opposite numbers were up to in theStates the more he wanted to visit that country and see how they went about it firsthand.

He could still recall his first delivery service when he used his granpa’s barrow for transportand Kitty as the delivery girl. Now he ran a smart blue three-horsepower van with the words,“Trumper, the honest trader, founded in 1823,” emblazoned in gold letters down both sides.

He stopped on the corner of Chelsea Terrace and stared at the one shop that would alwaysdominate Chelsea with its massive bow window and great double door. He knew the time mustalmost be ripe for him to walk in and offer Mr. Fothergill a large check to cover the auctioneer’sdebts; a former employee of Number 1 had recently assured Charlie that his bank balance wasoverdrawn by more than two thousand pounds.

Charlie marched into Number 1 to pay a far smaller bill and asked the girl behind the counter

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if they had finished reframing the Virgin Mary and Child, which was already three weeks overdue.He didn’t complain about the delay as it gave him another excuse to nose around. The paper

was still peeling off the wall behind the reception area, and there was only one girl assistant left atthe desk, which suggested to Charlie that the weekly wages were not always being met.

Mr. Fothergill eventually appeared with the picture in its new gilt frame and handed the littleoil over to Charlie.

“Thank you,” said Charlie as he once again studied the bold brushwork of reds and blues thatmade up the portrait and realized just how much he had missed it.

“Wonder what it’s worth?” he asked Fothergill casually as he passed over a ten-shilling note.“A few pounds at the most,” the expert declared as he touched his bow tie. “After all, you can

find countless examples of the subject by unknown artists right across the continent of Europe.”“I wonder,” said Charlie as he checked his watch and stuffed the receipt into his pocket. He

had allowed himself sufficient time for a relaxed walk across Princess Gardens and on to thecolonel’s residence, expecting to arrive a couple of minutes before ten. He bade Mr. Fothergill“Good morning,” and left.

Although it was still quite early, the pavements in Chelsea were already bustling with peopleand Charlie raised his hat to several customers he recognized.

“Good morning, Mr. Trumper.”“Good morning, Mrs. Symonds,” said Charlie as he crossed the road to take a shortcut through

the garden.He began to try and compose in his mind what he would say to the colonel once he’d

discovered why the chairman felt it had been necessary to offer his resignation. Whatever the reason,Charlie was determined not to lose the old soldier. He closed the park gate behind him and started towalk along the man-made path.

He stood aside to allow a lady pushing a pram to pass him and Rave a mock salute to an oldsoldier sitting on a park bench rolling a Woodbine. Once he had crossed the tiny patch of grass, hestepped into the Gilston Road, closing the gate behind him.

Charlie continued his walk towards Tregunter Road and began to quicken his pace. He smiledas he passed his little home, quite forgetting he still had the picture under his arm, his mind stillpreoccupied with the reason for the colonel’s resignation.

Charlie turned immediately when he heard the scream and a door slam somewhere behind him,more as a reflex than from any genuine desire to see what was going on. He stopped in his tracks ashe watched a disheveled figure dash out onto the road and then start running towards him.

Charlie stood mesmerized as the tramplike figure drew closer and closer until the man came toa sudden halt only a few feet in front of him. For a matter of seconds the two men stood and stared ateach other without uttering a word. Neither ruffian nor gentleman showed on a face half obscured byrough stubble. And then recognition was quickly followed by disbelief.

Charlie couldn’t accept that the unshaven, slovenly figure who stood before him wearing an

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old army greatcoat and a battered felt hat was the same man he had first seen on a station in Edinburghalmost five years before.

Charlie’s abiding memory of that moment was to be the three clean circles on both epaulettesof Trentham’s greatcoat, from which the three pips of a captain must recently have been removed.

Trentham’s eyes dropped as he stared at the painting for a second and then suddenly, withoutwarning, he lunged at Charlie, taking him by surprise, and wrested the picture from his grasp. Heturned and started running back down the road in the direction he had come. Charlie immediately setoff in pursuit and quickly began to make up ground on his assailant, who was impeded by his heavygreatcoat, while having also to cling to the picture.

Charlie was within a yard of his quarry and about to make a dive for Trentham’s waist whenhe heard the second scream. He hesitated for a moment as he realized the desperate cry must becoming from his own home. He knew he had been left with no choice but to allow Trentham to escapewith the picture as he changed direction and dashed up the steps of Number 17. He charged on intothe drawing room to find the cook and nanny standing over Becky. She was lying flat out on the sofascreaming with pain.

Becky’s eyes lit up when she saw Charlie. “The baby’s coming,” was all she said.“Pick her up gently, cook,” said Charlie, “and help me get her to the car.”Together they carried Becky out of the house and down the path as nanny ran ahead of them to

open the car door so they could place her on the backseat. Charlie stared down at his wife. Her facewas drained of color and her eyes were glazed. She appeared to lose consciousness as he closed thecar door.

Charlie jumped into the front of the car and shouted at cook, who was already turning thehandle to get the engine started.

“Ring my sister at Guy’s Hospital and explain we’re on our way. And tell her to be preparedfor an emergency. “

The motor spluttered into action and cook jumped to one side as Charlie drove the car out intothe middle of the road, trying to keep a steady pace as he avoided pedestrians, bicycles, trams, horsesand other cars as he crashed through the gears on his journey south towards the Thames.

He turnd his head every few seconds to stare at his wife, not even sure if she was still alive.“Let them both live,” he shouted at the top of his voice. He continued on down the Embankment as fastas he could manage, honking his horn and several times screaming at people who were casuallycrossing the road unaware of his plight. As he drove across Southwark Bridge he heard Becky groanfor the first time.

“We’ll soon be there, my darling,” he promised. “Just hold on a little longer.”Once over the bridge he took the first left and maintained his speed until the great iron gates of

Guy’s came into view. As he swung into the courtyard and round the circular flower bed he spottedGrace and two men in long white coats standing waiting, a stretcher by their side. Charlie brought thecar to a halt almost on their toes.

The two men lifted Becky gently out and placed her on the stretcher before rushing her up the

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ramp and into the hospital. Charlie jumped out of the car and marched by the stretcher holdingBecky’s hand as they climbed a flight of stairs, Grace running by his side explaining that Mr.Armitage, the hospital’s senior obstetrician, was waiting for them in an operating theater on the firstfloor.

By the time Charlie reached the doors of the theater, Becky was already inside. They left himoutside in the corridor on his own. He began to pace up and down, unaware of others bustling pasthim as they went about their work.

Grace came out a few minutes later to reassure him that Mr. Armitage had everything undercontrol and that Becky could not be in better hands. The baby was expected at any moment. Shesqueezed her brother’s hand, then disappeared back into the theater. Charlie continued his pacing,thinking only of his wife and their first child, the sight of Trentham already becoming a blur. Heprayed for a boy Tommy who would be a brother for Daniel and perhaps one day even take overTrumper’s. Pray God that Becky was not going through too much pain as she delivered their son. Hepaced up and down that long green-walled corridor mumbling to himself, aware once again howmuch he loved her.

It was to be another hour before a tall, thickset man emerged from behind the closed doors,followed by Grace. Charlie turned to face them but as the surgeon had a mask over his face, Charliehad no way of knowing how the operation had gone. Mr. Armitage removed the mask: the expressionon his face answered Charlie’s silent prayer.

“I managed to save your wife’s life,” he said, “but I am so very sorry, Mr. Trumper, I could donothing about your stillborn daughter.”

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CHAPTER21For several days after the operation Becky never left her room in the hospital.

Charlie later reamed from Grace that although Mr. Armitage had saved his wife’s life it mightstill be weeks before she was fully recovered, especially since it had been explained to Becky thatshe could never have another child without risking her own life.

Charlie visited her every morning and evening, but it was over a fortnight before she was ableto tell her husband how Guy Trentham had forced his way into the house and then threatened to killher unless she told him where the picture was.

“Why? I simply can’t understand why,” said Charlie.“Has the picture turned up anywhere?”“No sign of it so far,” he said, just as Daphne came in bearing a huge basket of provisions. She

kissed Becky on the cheek before confining that the fruit had been purchased at Trumper’s thatmorning. Becky managed a smile as she munched her way through a peach. Daphne sat on the end ofthe bed and immediately launched into all her latest news.

She was able to let them know, following one of her periodic visits to the Trenthams, that Guyhad disappeared off to Australia and that his mother was claiming he had never set foot in England inthe first place, but traveled to Sydney direct from India.

“Via the Gilston Road,” said Charlie.“That’s not what the police think,” said Daphne. “They remain convinced that he left England

in 1920 and they can find no proof he ever returned.”“Well, we’re certainly not going to enlighten them,” said Charlie, taking his wife’s hand.“Why not?” asked Daphne.“Because even I consider Australia far enough away for Trentham to be left to his own

devices: in any case nothing can be gained from pursuing him now. If she Australians give him enoughrope I’m sure he’ll hang himself.”

“But why Australia?” asked Becky.“Mrs. Trentham’s telling everyone who cares to listen that Guy has been offered a partnership

in a cattle broker’s far too good a position to turn down, even if it did mean having to resign hiscommission. The vicar is the only person I can find who believes the story.” But even Daphne had nosimple answer as to why Trentham should have been so keen to get his hands on the little oil painting.

The colonel and Elizabeth also visited Becky on several occasions and as he continuallytalked of the company’s future and never once referred to his resignation letter Charlie didn’t presshim on the subject.

It was to be Crowther who eventually enlightened Charlie as to who had purchased the flats.Six weeks later Charlie drove his wife home to Gilston Road at a more stately pace Mr.

Armitage having suggested a quiet month resting before she considered returning to work. Charliepromised the surgeon that he would not allow Becky to do anything until he felt sure she had fullyrecovered.

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The morning Becky returned home Charlie left her propped up in bed with a book and headedback to Chelsea Terrace where he went straight to the jewelry shop he had acquired in his wife’sabsence.

Charlie took a considerable time selecting a string of cultured pearls, a gold bracelet and alady’s Victorian watch, which he then instructed to be sent to Grace, to the staff nurse and to the nursewho had taken care of Becky during her unscheduled stay at Guy’s. His next stop was thegreengrocer’s shop where he asked Bob to make up a basket of the finest fruit, while he personallyselected a bottle of vintage wine from Number 101 to accompany it. “Send them both round to Mr.Armitage at 7 Cadogan Square, London SW1, with my compliments,” he added.

“Right away,” said Bob. “Anything else while I’m at it?”“Yes, I want you to repeat that order every Monday for the rest of his life.”It was about a month later, in November 1922, that Charlie reamed of the problems Arnold

was facing with the simple task of replacing a shop assistant. In fact, selecting staff had become oneof Arnold’s biggest headaches of late, because for every job that became vacant fifty to a hundredpeople were applying to fill it. Arnold would then put together a shortlist as Charlie still insisted thathe interview the final candidates before any position was confirmed.

On that particular Monday, Arnold had already considered a number of girls for the positionas sales assistant at the flower shop, following the retirement of one of the company’s longest-servingemployees.

“Although I’ve already shortlisted three for the job,” said Arnold, “I thought you would beinterested in one of the applicants I rejected. She didn’t seem to have the appropriate qualificationsfor this particular position. However... “

Charlie glanced at the sheet of paper Arnold passed to him. “Joan Moore. Why would I ?”began Charlie, as his eyes ran swiftly down her application. “Ah, I see,” he said. “How veryobservant of you, Tom.” He read a few more lines. “But I don’t need a well, on the other handperhaps I do.” He looked up. “Arrange for me to see Miss Moore within the next week.”

The following Thursday Charlie interviewed Joan Moore for over an hour at his home inGilston Road and his first impression was of a cheery, well-mannered if somewhat immature girl.However, before he offered her the position as lady’s maid to Mrs. Trumper he still had a couple ofquestions he felt needed answering.

“Did you apply for this job because you knew of the relationship between my wife and yourformer employer?” Charlie asked.

The girl looked him straight in the eyes. “Yes, sir, I did.”“And were you sacked by your previous employer?”“Not exactly, sir, but when I left she refused to supply me with a reference.”“What reason did she give for that?”“I was walkin’ out with the second footman, ‘aving failed to inform the butler, who is in

charge of the ‘ousehold.”

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“And are you still walking out with the second footman?”The girl hesitated. “Yes, sir,” she said. “You see, we’re ‘aping to be married as soon as

we’ve saved up enough.”“Good,” said Charlie. “Then you can report for duly next Monday morning. Mr. Arnold will

deal with all the necessary arrangements.”When Charlie told Becky he had employed a lady’s maid for her she laughed at first, then

asked, “and what would I want with one of those?” Charlie told her exactly why she wanted “one ofthose.” When he had finished all Becky said was, “You’re an evil man, Charlie Trumper, that’s forsure.”

It was at the February board meeting in 1924 that Crowther warned his colleagues thatNumber 1 Chelsea Terrace might well come on the market earlier than anticipated.

“Why’s that?” asked Charlie, a little anxiously.“Your estimate of another two years before Fothergill would have to cave in is beginning to

look prophetic.”“So how much does he want?”“It’s not quite as simple as that.”“Why not?”“Because he’s decided to auction the property himself.”“Auction it?” inquired Becky.“Yes,” said Crowther. “That way he avoids paying any fees to an outside agent.”“I see. So what are you expecting the property to fetch?” asked the colonel.“Not an easy one to answer, that,” replied Crowther. “It’s four times the size of any other shop

in the Terrace, it’s on five floors and it’s even bigger than Syd Wrexall’s pub on the other corner. Italso has the largest shop frontage in Chelsea and a double entrance on the corner facing the FulhamRoad. For all those reasons it’s not that simple to estimate its value.”

“Even so, could you try and put a figure on it?” asked the chairman.“If you were to press me I’d say somewhere in the region of two thousand, but it could be as

much as three, if anyone else were to show an interest.”“What about the stock?” asked Becky. “Do we know what’s happening to that?”“Yes, it’s being sold along with the building.”“And what’s it worth?” asked Charlie. “Roughly?”“More Mrs. Trumper’s department than mine, I feel,” said Crowther.“It’s no longer that impressive,” said Becky. “A lot of Fothergill’s best works have already

gone through Sotheby’s, and I suspect Christie’s have seen just as many during the past year.However, I would still expect what’s left over to fetch around a thousand pounds under the hammer.”

“So the face value of the property and the stock together appears to be around the three-

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thousand pound mark,” suggested Hadlow.“But Number 1 will go for a lot more than that,” said Charlie.“Why?” queried Hadlow.“Because Mrs. Trentham will be among the bidders.”“How can you be so sure?” asked the chairman.“Because our ladies’ maid is still walking tout with her second footman.”The rest of the board laughed, but all the chairman volunteered was, “Not again. First the flats,

now this. When will it end?”“Not until she’s dead and buried, I suspect,” said Charlie.“Perhaps not even then,” added Becky.“If you’re referring to the son,” said the colonel, “I doubt if he can cause too much trouble

from twelve thousand miles away. But as for the mother, hell bath no fury “ he said testily.“Commonly misquoted,” said Charlie.“What’s that?” asked the chairman.“Congreve, Colonel. The lines run, ‘Heaven has no rage like hove to hatred turned, Nor hell a

fury like a woman scomed.’” The colonel’s mouth remained open but he was speechless. “However,”Charlie continued “more to the point, I need to know what is the limit the board will allow me to bidfor Number 1.”

“I consider five thousand may well prove necessary given the circ*mstances,” said Becky.“But no more,” said Hadlow, studying the balance sheet in front of him.“Perhaps one bid over?” suggested Becky.“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” said Hadlow. “What does ‘one bid over’ mean?”“Bids never go to the exact figure you anticipate Mr. Hadlow. Most people who attend an

auction usually have a set figure in their minds which inevitably ends in round numbers, so if you goone above that figure you often end up securing the lot.”

Even Charlie nodded, as Hadlow said in admiration, “Then I agree to one bid over.”“May I also suggest,” said the colonel, “that Mrs. Trumper should carry out the bidding,

because with her experience... ““That’s kind of you, colonel, but I shall nevertheless need the help of my husband,” said Becky

with a smile. “And, in fact, the whole board’s, come to that. You see I have already formulated aplan.” She proceeded to brief her colleagues on what she had in mind.

“What fun,” said the colonel when she had finished. “But will I also be allowed to attend theproceedings?”

“Oh, yes,” said Becky. “All of you must be present, and, with the exception of Charlie andmyself, you ought to be seated silently in the row directly behind Mrs. Trentham a few minutes beforethe auction is due to commence.”

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“Bloody woman,” said the colonel, before adding hastily, “I do apologize.”“True. But, more important, we must never forget that she is also an amateur,” Becky added.“What’s the significance of that statement?” asked Hadlow.“Sometimes amateurs get carried away by the occasion, and when that happens the

professionals have no chance because the amateur often ends up going one bid too far. We mustremember that it may well be the first auction Mrs. Trentham has ever placed a bid at, even attended,and as she wants the premises every bit as much as we do, and has the advantage of superiorresources, we will have to secure the lot by sheer cunning.” No one seemed to disagree with thisassessment.

Once the board meeting was over Becky took Charlie through her plan for the forthcomingauction in greater detail, and even made him attend Sotheby’s one morning with orders to bid forthree pieces of Dutch silver. He carried out his wife’s instructions but ended up with a Georgianmustard pot he had never intended to buy in the first place.

“No better way of reaming,” Becky assured him. “Just be thankful that it wasn’t a Rembrandtyou were bidding for.”

She continued to explain to Charlie the subtleties of auctions over dinner that night in fargreater detail than she had with the board. Charlie reamed that there were different signs you couldgive the auctioneer, so that rivals remained unaware that you were still bidding, while at the sametime you could discover who was bidding against you.

“But isn’t Mrs. Trentham bound to spot you?” said Charlie after he had cut his wife a slice ofbread. “After all, you’ll be the only two left bidding by that stage.”

“Not if you’ve already put her off balance before I enter the fray,” said Becky.“But the board agreed that you... ““That I should be allowed to go one bid over five thousand.”“But... ““No buts, Charlie,” said Becky as she served her husband up another portion of Irish stew.

“On the morning of the auction I want you on parade, dressed in your best suit and sitting in theseventh row on the gangway looking very pleased with yourself. You will then proceed to bidostentatiously up to one over three thousand pounds. When Mrs. Trentham goes to the next bid, asundoubtedly she will, you must stand up and flounce out of the room, looking defeated, while Icontinue the bidding in your absence.”

“Not bad,” said Charlie as he put his fork into a couple of peas. “But surely Mrs. Trenthamwill work out exactly what you’re up to?”

“Not a chance,” said Becky. “Because I will have an agreed code with the auctioneer that shecould never hope to spot, let alone to decipher.”

“But will I understand what you are up to?”“Oh, yes,” said Becky, “because you’ll know exactly what I’m doing when I use the glasses


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“The glasses ploy? But you don’t even wear glasses.”“I will be on the day of the auction, and when I’m wearing them you’ll know I’m still bidding.

If I take them off, I’ve finished bidding. So when you leave the room all the auctioneer will see whenhe looks in my direction is that I still have my glasses on. Mrs. Trentham will think you’ve gone, andwill, I suspect, be quite happy to let someone else continue with the bidding so long as she’sconfident they don’t represent you.”

“You’re a gem, Mrs. Trumper,” said Charlie as he rose to clear away the plates. “But what ifshe sees you chatting to the auctioneer or, worse, finds out your code even before Mr. Fothergill callsfor the first bid?”

“She can’t,” said Becky. “I’ll agree on the code with Fothergill only minutes before theauction begins. In any case, it will be at that moment that you will make a grand entrance, and thenonly seconds after the other members of the board have taken their seats directly behind Mrs.Trentham, so with a bit of luck she’ll be so distracted by everything that’s going on around her thatshe won’t even notice me.”

“I married a very clever girl,” said Charlie.“You never admitted as much when we were at Jubilee Street Elementary.”On the morning of the auction, Charlie confessed over breakfast that he was very nervous,

despite Becky’s appearing to be remarkably calm, especially after Joan had informed her mistressthat the second footman had heard from the cook that Mrs. Trentham had placed a limit of fourthousand pounds on her bidding.

“I just wonder...” said Charlie.“Whether she planted the sum in the cook’s mind?” said Becky. “It’s possible. After all, she’s

every bit as cunning as you are. But as long as we stick to our agreed plan and remember everyone,even Mrs. Trentham, has a limit we can still beat her.”

The auction was advertised to begin at ten A.M. A full twenty minutes before the bidding wasdue to commence Mrs. Trentham entered the room and swept regally down the aisle. She took herplace in the center of the third row, and placed her handbag on one seat and a catalogue on the otherto be certain that no one sat next to her. The colonel and his two colleagues entered the half-filledroom at nine-fifty A.M. and, as instructed, filed into the seats immediately behind their adversary.Mrs. Trentham appeared to show no interest in their presence. Five minutes later Charlie made hisentrance. He strolled down the center aisle, raised his hat to a lady he recognized, shook hands withone of his regular customers and finally took his place on the gangway at the end of the seventh row.He continued to chat noisily with his next-door neighbor about England’s cricket tour of Australiaexplaining once again that he was not related to the great Australian batsman whose name he bore.The minute hand on the grandfather clock behind the auctioneer’s box moved slowly towards theappointed hour.

Although the room was not much larger than Daphne’s hall in Eaton Square, they had stillsomehow managed to pack in over a hundred chairs of different shapes and sizes. The walls werecovered in a faded green baize that displayed several hook marks where pictures must have hung inthe past and the carpet had become so threadbare that Charlie could see the floorboards in places. He

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began to feel that the cost of bringing Number 1 up to the standard he expected for all Trumper’sshops was going to be greater than he had originally anticipated.

Glancing around, he estimated that over seventy people were now seated in the auction house,and wondered just how many had no interest in bidding themselves but had simply come to see theshowdown between the Trumpers and Mrs. Trentham.

Syd Wrexall, as the representative of the Shops Committee, was already in the front row, armsfolded, trying to look composed, his vast bulk almost taking up two seats. Charlie suspected that hewouldn’t go much beyond the second or third bid. He soon spotted Mrs. Trentham seated in the thirdrow, her gaze fixed directly on the grandfather clock.

Then, with two minutes to spare, Becky slipped into the auction house. Charlie was sitting onthe edge of his seat waiting to carry out his instructions to the letter. He rose from his place andwalked purposefully towards the exit. This time Mrs. Trentham did glance round to see what Charliewas up to. Innocently he collected another bill of sale from the back of the room, then returned to hisseat at a leisurely pace, stopping to talk to another shop owner who had obviously taken an hour offco watch the proceedings.

When Charlie resumed to his place he didn’t look in the direction of his wife, who he knewmust now be hidden somewhere towards the back of the room. Nor did he once look at Mrs.Trentham, although he could feel her eyes fixed on him.

As the clock chimed ten, Mr. Fothergill a tall thin man with a flower in his buttonhole and nota hair of his silver locks out of place climbed the four steps of the circular wooden box. Charliethought he looked an impressive figure as he towered over them. As soon as he had composed himselfhe rested a hand on the rim of the box and beamed at the packed audience, picked up his gavel andsaid, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.” A silence fell over the room.

“This is a sale of the property known as Number 1 Chelsea Terrace, its fixtures, fittings andcontents, which have been on view to the general public for the past two weeks. The highest bidderwill be required to make a deposit of ten percent immediately following the auction, then completethe final transaction within ninety days. Those are the terms as stated on your bill of sale, and I repeatthem only so that there can be no misunderstanding. “

Mr. Fothergill cleared his throat and Charlie could feel his heart beat faster and faster. Hewatched the colonel clench a fist as Becky removed a pair of glasses out of her bag and placed themin her lap.

“I have an opening bid of one thousand pounds,” Fothergill told the silent audience, many ofwhom were standing at the side of the room or leaning against the wall as there were now few seatsvacant. Charlie kept his eyes fixed on the auctioneer. Mr. Fothergill smiled in the direction of Mr.Wrexall, whose arms remained folded in an attitude of determined resolution. “Do I see any advanceon one thousand?”

“One thousand, five hundred,” said Charlie, just a little too loudly. Those not involved in theintrigue looked around to see who it was who had made the bid. Several turnd to their neighbors andbegan talking in noisy whispers.

“One thousand, five hundred,” said the auctioneer. “Do I see two thousand?” Mr. Wrexall

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unfolded his arms and raised a hand like a child in school determined to prove he knows the answerto one of teacher’s questions.

“Two thousand, five hundred,” said Charlie, even before Wrexall had lowered his hand.“Two thousand, five hundred in the center of the room. Do I see three thousand?”Mr. Wrexall’s hand rose an inch from his knee then fell back. A deep frown fommed on his

face. “Do I see three thousand?” Mr. Fothergill asked for a second time. Charlie couldn’t believe hisluck. He was going to get Number 1 for two thousand, five hundred. Each second felt like a minute ashe waited for the hammer to come down.

“Do I hear three thousand bid anywhere in the room?” said Mr. Fothergill, sounding a littledisappointed. “Then I am offering Number 1 Chelsea Terrace at two thousand, five hundred poundsfor the first time...” Charlie held his breath. “For the second time.” The auctioneer started to raise hisgavel “. . . Three thousand pounds,” Mr. Fothergill announced with an audible sigh of relief, as Mrs.Trentham’s gloved hand settled back in her lap.

“Three thousand, five hundred,” said Charlie as Mr. Fothergill smiled in his direction, but assoon as he looked back towards Mrs. Trentham she nodded to the auctioneer’s inquiry of fourthousand pounds.

Charlie allowed a second or two to pass before he stood up, straightened his tie and, lookinggrim, walked slowly down the center of the aisle and out onto the street. He didn’t see Becky put herglasses on, or the look of triumph that came over Mrs. Trentham’s face.

“Do I see four thousand, five hundred pounds?” asked the auctioneer, and with only a glancetowards where Becky was seated he said, “I do.”

Fothergill resumed to Mrs. Trentham and asked “Five thousand pounds, madam?” Her eyesquickly searched round the room, but it became obvious for all to see that she couldn’t work outwhere the last bid had come from. Murmurs started to turn into chatter as everyone in the auctionhouse began the game of searching for the bidder. Only Becky, safely in her back row seat, didn’tmove a muscle.

“Quiet, please,” said the auctioneer. “I have a bid of four thousand, five hundred pounds. Do Isee five thousand anywhere in the room?” His gaze resumed to Mrs. Trentham. She raised her handslowly, but as she did so swung quickly round to see if she could spot who was bidding against her.But no one had moved when the auctioneer said, “Five thousand, five hundred. I now have a bid offive thousand, five hundred.” Mr. Fothergill surveyed his audience. “Are there any more bids?” Helooked in Mrs. Trentham’s direction but she in turn looked baffled, her hands motionless in her lap.

“Then it’s five thousand, five hundred for the first time,” said Mr. Fothergill. “Five thousand,five hundred for a second time” Becky pursed her lips to stop herself from breaking into a large grin“and for a third and final time,” he said, raising his gavel.

“Six thousand,” said Mrs. Trentham clearly, while at the same time waving her hand. A gaspwent up around the room: Becky removed her glasses with a sigh, realizing that her carefully worked-out ploy had failed even though Mrs. Trentham had been made to pay triple the price any shop in theTerrace had fetched in the past.

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The auctioneer’s eyes resumed to the back of the room but the glasses were now claspedfirmly in Becky’s hand, so he transferred his gaze back to Mrs. Trentham, who sat bolt upright, asmile of satisfaction on her face.

“At six thousand for the first time,” said the auctioneer, his eyes searching the room. “Sixthousand for the second time then, if there are no more bids, it’s six thousand for the last time...” Onceagain the gavel was raised.

“Seven thousand pounds,” said a voice from the back of the room. Everyone turnd to see thatCharlie had resumed and was now standing in the aisle, his right hand high in the air.

The colonel looked round, and when he saw who the new bidder was he began to perspire,something he didn’t like to do in public. He removed a handkerchief from his top pocket and moppedhis brow.

“I have a bid of seven thousand pounds,” said a surprised Mr. Fothergill.“Eight thousand,” said Mrs. Trentham, staring straight at Charlie bellinerendy.“Nine thousand,” barked back Charlie.The chatter in the room quickly turnd into a babble. Becky wanted to jump up and push her

husband back out into the street.“Quiet, please,” said Mr. Fothergill. “Quiet!” he pleaded, almost shouting. The colonel was

still mopping his brow, Mr. Crowther’s mouth was open wide enough to have caught any passing flyand Mr. Hadlow’s head was fimmly buried in his hands.

“Ten thousand,” said Mrs. Trentham who, Becky could see, was, like Charlie, now totally outof control.

The auctioneer asked, “Do I see eleven Thousand?”Charlie had a worried look on his face but he simply wrinkled his brow, shook his head and

placed his hands back in his pocket.Becky sighed with relief and, unclasping her hands, nervously put her glasses back on.“Eleven thousand,” said Mr. Fothergill, looking towards Becky, while pandemonium broke

out once again as she rose to protest, having quickly removed her glasses. Charlie looked totallybemused.

Mrs. Trentham’s eyes had now come to rest on Becky, whom she had finally located. With asmile of satisfaction Mrs. Trentham declared, “Twelve thousand pounds.”

The auctioneer looked back towards Becky, who had placed her glasses in her bag and closedthe catch with a snap. He glanced towards Charlie, whose hands remained fimmly in his pockets.

“The bid is at the front of the room at twelve thousand pounds. Is anyone else bidding?” askedthe auctioneer. Once again his eyes darted from Becky to Charlie before resuming to Mrs. Trentham.“Then at twelve thousand for the first time” he looked around once more “for the second time, for thethird and final time...” His gavel came down with a thud. “I declare the property sold for twelvethousand pounds to Mrs. Gerald Trentham.”

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Becky ran towards the door, but Charlie was already out on the pavement.“What were you playing at, Charlie?” she demanded even before she caught up with him.“I knew she would bid up to ten thousand pounds,” said Charlie, “because that’s the amount

she still has on deposit at her bank.”“But how could you possibly know that?”“Mrs. Trentham’s second footman passed on the information to me this morning. He will, by

the way, be joining us as our butler.”At that moment the chairman walked out onto the pavement. “I must say, Rebecca, your plan

was brilliant. Had me completely fooled.”“Me too,” said Charlie.“You took an awful risk, Charlie Trumper,” said Becky, not letting her husband off the hook.“Perhaps, but at least I knew what her limit was. I had no idea what you were playing at.”“I made a genuine mistake,” said Becky. “When I put my glasses back on... What are you

laughing at, Charlie Trumper?”“Thank God for genuine amateurs.”“What do you mean?”“Mrs. Trentham thought you really were bidding, and she had been tricked, so she went one

bid too far. In fact, she wasn’t the only one who was carried away by the occasion. I even begin tofeel sorry for... “

“For Mrs. Trentham?”“Certainly not,” said Charlie. “For Mr. Fothergill. He’s about to spend ninety days in heaven

before he comes down to earth with an almighty thump.”

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CHAPTER22I don’t believe anyone could describe me as a snob. However, I do believe that the maxim “There’s aplace for everything, and everything in its place” applies equally well to human beings.

I was born in Yorkshire at the height of the Victorian empire and I think I can safely say thatduring that period in our island’s history my family played a considerable role.

My father, Sir Raymond Hardcastle, was not only an inventor and industrialist of greatimagination and skill, but he also built up one of the nation’s most successful companies. At the sametime he always treated his workers as if they were all part of the family, and indeed it was thisexample that he set, whenever he dealt with those less fortunate than himself, that has been thebenchmark by which I have attempted to conduct my own life.

I have no brothers and just one elder sister, Amy.Although there were only a couple of years between us I cannot pretend that we were ever

particularly close, perhaps because I was an outgoing, even vivacious child, while she was shy andreserved, to the point of being retiring, particularly whenever it came to contact with members of theopposite sex. Father and I tried to help her find an appropriate spouse, but it was to prove animpossible task, and even he gave up once Amy had passed her fortieth birthday. Instead she hasusefully occupied her time since my mother’s untimely death taking care of my beloved father in hisold age an arrangement, I might add, that has suited them both admirably.

I, on the other hand, had no problem in finding myself a husband. If I remember correctly,Gerald was the fourth or perhaps even the fifth suitor who went down on bended knee to ask for myhand in marriage. Gerald and I first met when I had been a houseguest at Lord and Lady Fanshaw’scountry home in Norfolk. The Fanshaws were old friends of my father, and I had been seeing theiryounger son Anthony for some considerable time. As it turned out, I was warned that he was not goingto inherit his father’s land or title, so it seemed to me there was little purpose in letting the young manentertain any hopes of a lasting relationship. If I remember correctly, Father was not overwhelmedwith my conduct and may even have chastised me at the time, but as I tried to explain to him, at length,although Gerald may not have been the most dashing of my paramours, he did have the distinctadvantage of coming from a family that farmed land in three counties, not to mention an estate inAberdeen.

We were married at St. Mary’s, Great Ashton, in July 1895 and our first son, Guy, wasconceived a year later; one does like a proper period of time to elapse before one’s firstborn takeshis place in the world, thus giving no one cause for idle chatter.

My father always treated both my sister and me as equals, although I was often given tobelieve that I was his favorite. Had it not been for his sense of fair play he would surely have lefteverything to me, because he simply doted on Guy, whereas in fact Amy will, on my father’s demise,inherit half his vast fortune. Heaven knows what possible use she could make of such wealth, her onlyinterests in life being gardening, crochet work and the occasional visit to the Scarborough festival.

But to return to Guy, everyone who came into contact with the boy during those formativeyears invariably commented on what a handsome child he was, and although I never allowed him tobecome spoiled, I did consider it nothing less than my duty to ensure that he was given the sort of start

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in life that would prepare him for the role I felt confident he was bound eventually to play. With thatin mind, even before he’d been christened, he was registered with Asgarth Preparatory School, andthen Harrow, from where I assumed he would enter the Royal Military Academy. His grandfatherspared no expense when it came to his education, and indeed, in the case of his eldest grandson, wasgenerous to a fault.

Five years later I gave birth to a second son, Nigel, who arrived somewhat prematurely,which may account for why he took rather longer to progress than his elder brother. Guy, meanwhile,was going through several private tutors, one or two of whom found him perhaps a little tooboisterous. After all, what child doesn’t at some time put toads in your bathwater or cut shoelaces inhalf?

At the age of nine Guy duly proceeded to Asgarth, and from there on to Harrow. The ReverendPrebendary Anthony Wood was his headmaster at the time and I reminded him that Guy was theseventh generation of Trenthams to have attended that school.

While at Harrow Guy excelled both in the combined cadet force becoming a company sergeantmajor in his final year and in the boxing ring, where he beat every one of his opponents with thenotable exception of the match against Radley, where he came up against a Nigerian, who I laterlearned was in his mid-twenties.

It saddened me that during his last term at school Guy was not made a prefect. I understoodthat he had become involved in so many other activities that it was not considered to be in his ownbest interests. Although I might have hoped that his exam results would have been a little moresatisfactory, I have always considered that he was one of those children who can be described asinnately intelligent rather than academically clever. Despite a rather biased housemaster’s report thatsuggested some of the marks Guy had been awarded in his final exams came as a surprise to him, myson still managed to secure his place at Sandhurst.

At the academy Guy proved to be a first-class cadet and also found time to continue with hisboxing, becoming the cadet middleweight champion. Two years later, in July 1916, he passed out inthe top half of the roll of honor before going on to join his father’s old regiment.

Gerald, I should point out, had left the Fusiliers on the death of his father in order that he mightreturn to Berkshire and take over the running of the family estates. He had been a brevet colonel at thetime of his forced retirement, and many considered that he was the natural successor to be theCommanding Officer of the Regiment. As it turned out, he was passed over for someone who wasn’teven in the first battalion, a certain Danvers Hamilton. Although I had never met the gentleman inquestion, several brother officers expressed the view that his appointment had been a travesty ofjustice. However, I had every confidence that Guy would redeem the family honor and in time go onto command the regiment himself.

Although Gerald was not directly involved in the Great War he did nevertheless serve hiscountry during those arduous years by allowing his name to be put forward as a parliamentarycandidate for Berkshire West, a constituency that in the middle of the last century his grandfather hadrepresented for the Liberals under Palmerston. He was returned unopposed in three elections andworked for his party diligently from the back benches, having made it clear to all concerned that hehad no desire to hold office.

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After Guy had received the King’s commission, he was despatched to Aldershot as a secondlieutenant, where he continued with his training in preparation for joining the regiment on the WesternFront. On being awarded his second pip in less than a year he was transferred to Edinburgh andseconded to the fifth battalion a few weeks before they were ordered to sail for France.

Nigel, meanwhile, had just entered Harrow and was attempting to follow in his brother’sfootsteps I fear, however, not with quite the same obvious flair. In fact during one of thoseinterminable holidays they will give children nowadays he complained to me of being bullied. I toldthe boy to buckle down and remember that we were at war. I also pointed out that I could never recallGuy making a fuss on that particular score.

I watched my two sons closely during that long summer of 1917 and cannot pretend that Guyfound Nigel an amiable companion while he was at home on leave; in fact he barely tolerated hiscompany. I kept telling Nigel that he had to strive to gain his elder brother’s respect, but this onlyresulted in Nigel running off to hide in the garden for hours on end.

During his leave that summer I advised Guy to visit his grandfather in Yorkshire and evenfound a first edition of Songs of Innocence to present him with which I knew my father had longwanted to add to his collection. Guy returned a week later and confirmed that securing a WilliamBlake the old man did not have had indeed put Grandpa “in good salts.”

Naturally, like any mother, during that particular inspiring period in our history I becameanxious that Guy should be seen to acquit himself well in the face of the enemy, and eventually, Godwilling, return home in one piece. As it turned out, I think I can safely say that no mother, howeverproud, could have asked for more of a son.

Guy was promoted to the rank of captain at a very young age, and following the second battleof the Marne, was awarded the Military Cross. Others who read the citation felt he had been a touchunlucky not to have been put forward for the VC. I have resisted pointing out to them that any suchrecommendation would have had to be countersigned by his commanding officer in the field, and ashe was a certain Danvers Hamilton the injustice was readily explicable.

Soon after the Armistice was signed Guy returned home to serve a tour of duty at theregimental barracks in Hounslow. While he was on leave I asked Spinks to engrave both of his MCs,dress and miniature, with the initials G.F.T. Meanwhile, his brother Nigel was, after some influencebeing exercised by Gerald, finally accepted as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy.

During the time Guy was back in London, I feel certain he sowed a few wild oats what youngman of that age doesn’t. But he well understood that marriage before the age of thirty could only harmhis chances of promotion.

Although he brought several young ladies down to Ashurst on the weekends, I knew none ofthem was serious and anyway, I already had my eye on a particular girl from the next village who hadbeen known to the family for some considerable time. Despite being without a title she could traceher family back to the Norman Conquest. More important, they could walk on their own land fromAshurst to Hastings.

It thus came as a particularly unpleasant shock for me when Guy turned up one weekendaccompanied by a girl called Rebecca Salmon, who, I found it hard to believe, was at that time

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sharing rooms with the Harcourt-Brownes’ daughter.As I have already made abundantly clear, I am not a snob. But Miss Salmon is, I fear, the type

of girl who always manages to bring out the worst in me. Don’t misunderstand me. I have nothingagainst anyone simply because they wish to be educated. In fact I’m basically in favor of such goings-on in sensible proportions but at the same time that doesn’t allow one to assume one automatically hasa right to a place in society. You see, I just can’t abide anyone who pretends to be something that theyobviously are not, and I sensed even before meeting Miss Salmon that she was coming down toAshurst with one purpose in mind.

We all understood that Guy was having a fling while he was based in London after all, MissSalmon was that type of girl. Indeed, when the following weekend I had Guy to myself for a fewmoments I was able to warn him never to allow the likes of Miss Salmon to get her hooks into him; hemust realize he would be a marvelous catch for someone from her background.

Guy laughed at such a suggestion and assured me that he had no long-term plans for the baker’sdaughter. In any case, he reminded me, he would be departing to serve with the colors in Poonabefore too long, so marriage was out of the question. He must have sensed, however, that my fearswere still not fully assuaged, because after a further thought he added, “it may interest you to know,Mother, that Miss Salmon is presently walking out with a sergeant from the regiment with whom shehas an understanding.”

In fact two weeks later Guy appeared at Ashurst with a Miss Victoria Berkeley, a far moresuitable choice whose mother I had known for years; indeed, if the girl hadn’t had four other sistersand an impoverished archdeacon for a father, she might in time have suited admirably.

To be fair, after that single unfortunate occasion Guy never mentioned the name of RebeccaSalmon in my presence again, and as he sailed for India a few months later, I assumed I had heard thelast of the wretched girl.

When Nigel eventually left Sandhurst he didn’t follow Guy into the regiment, as it had becomeabundantly clear during his two-year period at the academy that he was not cut out to be a soldier.However, Gerald was able to secure him a position with a firm of stock-brokers in the City whereone of his cousins was the senior partner. I have to admit that the reports that filtered back to me fromtime to time were not encouraging, but once I had mentioned to Gerald’s cousin that I wouldeventually be needing someone to manage his grandfather’s portfolio, Nigel started to progressslowly up the firm’s ladder.

It must have been about six months later that Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Danvers Hamiltondropped Gerald that note through the letter box at 19 Chester Square. The moment Gerald told me thatHamilton wanted a private word with him, I sensed trouble. Over the years I had come in contact withmany of Gerald’s brother officers so I knew exactly how to handle them. Gerald, on the other hand, isquite naive when it comes to matters of a personal nature, invariably giving the other fellow thebenefit of the doubt. I immediately checked my husband’s whip commitments in the Commons for thefollowing week and arranged for Sir Danvers to visit us on the Monday evening at six, knowing onlytoo well that, because of his commit meets in the House, Gerald would almost certainly have tocancel the meeting at the last moment.

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Gerald phoned soon after five on the day in question to say that he couldn’t possibly get awayand suggested the colonel might come on over to the House of Commons. I said I would see what Icould do. An hour later Sir Danvers arrived at Chester Square. After I had apologized and explainedmy husband’s absence I was able to convince him that he should convey his message to me. When thecolonel informed me that Miss Salmon was going to have a child I naturally asked of what interestthat could possibly be to Gerald or myself. He hesitated only for a moment before suggesting that Guywas the father. I realized immediately that if such a slander was allowed to spread abroad it mighteven reach the ears of his brother officers in Poona and that could only do immense harm to my son’schances of further promotion. Any such suggestion I therefore dismissed as ridiculous, along with thecolonel in the same breath.

It was during a rubber of bridge at Celia Littlechild’s house a few weeks later that she let slipthat she had employed a private detective called Harris to spy on her first husband, once she wasconvinced he was being unfaithful. After learning this piece of information I found myself quiteunable to concentrate on the game, much to my partner’s annoyance.

On returning home I looked up the name in the London directory. There he was: “Max Harris,Private Detective ax-Scotland Yard, all problems considered.” After some minutes staring at thephone, I finally picked up the headpiece and asked the operator to get me Paddington 3720. I waitedfor several moments before anyone spoke.

“Harris,” said a gruff voice without further explanation.“Is that the detective agency?” I asked, nearly replacing the phone back on the hook before I

had given the man a chance to reply.“Yes, madam, it is,” said the voice, sounding a little more enthusiastic.“I may be in need of your help for a friend, you understand,” I said, feeling rather

embarrassed.“A friend,” said the voice. “Yes, of course. Then perhaps we should meet.”“But not at your office,” I insisted.“I quite understand, madam. Would the St. Agnes Hotel, Bury Street, South Kensington, four

o’clock tomorrow afternoon suit?”“Yes,” I said and put the phone down, suddenly aware that he didn’t know my name and I

didn’t know what he looked like.When the following day I arrived at the St. Agnes, a dreadful little place just off the Brompton

Road, I walked round the block several times before I finally felt able to enter the lobby. A man ofabout thirty, perhaps thirty-five was leaning on the reception desk. He straightened up the moment hesaw me.

“Are you looking for a Mr. Harris, by any chance?” he inquired.I nodded and he quickly led us through to the tea room and ushered me into a seat in the

farthest corner. Once he had sat down in the chair opposite me I began to study him more carefully.He must have been about five foot ten, stocky, with dark brown hair and an even browner moustache.He wore a brown check Harris tweed jacket, cream shirt and thin yellow tie. As I began to explain

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why I might be in need of his services I became distracted as he started to click the knuckles of hisfingers, one by one, first the left hand and then the right. I wanted to get up and leave, and would havedone so had I believed for a moment that finding anyone less obnoxious to carry out the task wouldhave proved easy.

It also took me some considerable time to convince Harris that I was not looking for adivorce. At that first meeting I explained to him as much of my dilemma as I felt able. I was shockedwhen he demanded the extortionate fee of five shillings an hour just to open his investigation.However, I did not feel I had been left with a great deal of choice in the matter. I agreed that heshould start the following day and that we would meet again a week later.

Mr. Harris’s first report informed me that, in the view of those who spent most of theirworking hours at a pub in Chelsea called the Musketeer, Charlie Trumper was the father of RebeccaSalmon’s child, and indeed when the suggestion was put to him directly he made no attempt to deny it.As if to prove the point, within days of the child’s birth he and Miss Salmon were married quietly ina register office.

Mr. Harris had no trouble in obtaining a copy of the child’s birth certificate. It confirmed thatthe child, Daniel George Trumper, was the son of Rebecca Salmon and Charlie George Trumper of147 Chelsea Terrace. I also noted that the child had been named after both his grandparents. In mynext letter to Guy I enclosed a copy of the birth certificate along with one or two other little snippetsthat Harris had supplied, such as details of the wedding and Colonel Hamilton’s appointment aschairman of the Trumper board. I must confess that I assumed that was an end of the matter.

However, two weeks later I received a letter from Guy: I presume it must have crossed withmine in the post. He explained that Sir Danvers had been in communication with his commandingofficer, Colonel Forbes, and because of Forbes’ insistence that there might be a breach-of-promisesuit pending Guy had been made to appear in front of a group of his fellow officers to explain therelationship between himself and Miss Salmon.

I immediately sat down and wrote a long letter to Colonel Forbes Guy was obviously not in aposition to present the full evidence I had managed to secure. I included a further copy of the birthcertificate so that he would be left in no doubt that my son could not have possibly been involvedwith the Salmon girl in any way. I added without prejudice that Colonel Hamilton was now employedas chairman of the board of Trumper’s, a position from which he certainly derived someremuneration. The long information sheets now sent to me on a weekly basis by Mr. Harris were, Ihad to admit, proving of considerable value.

For some little time matters returned to normal. Gerald busied himself with his parliamentaryduties while I concentrated on nothing more demanding than the appointment of the new vicar’swarden and my bridge circle.

The problem, however, went deeper than I had imagined, for quite by chance I discovered thatwe were no longer to be included on the guest list for Daphne Harcourt-Browne’s marriage to theMarquess of Wiltshire. Of course, Percy would never have become the twelfth marquess had it notbeen for his father and brother sacrificing their lives on the Western Front. However, I learned fromothers who were present at the ceremony that Colonel Hamilton as well as the Trumpers were to beseen at St. Margaret’s, and at the reception afterwards.

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During this period, Mr. Harris continued to supply me with memoranda about the comings andgoings of the Trumpers and their growing business empire. I must confess that I had no interestwhatsoever in any of their commercial transactions: it was a world that remained totally alien to mebut I didn’t stop him going beyond his brief as it gave me a useful insight into Guy’s adversaries.

A few months later I received a note from Colonel Forbes acknowledging my letter, butotherwise I heard nothing further concerning Guy’s unfortunate misrepresentation. I therefore assumedeverything must be back on an even keel and that Colonel Hamilton’s fabrication had been treatedwith the disdain it merited.

Then one morning in June the following year, Gerald was called away to the War Office onwhat he thought at the time must be another routine parliamentary briefing.

When my husband returned to Chester Square unexpectedly that afternoon he made me sitdown and drink a large whisky before he explained that he had some unpleasant news to impart. I hadrarely seen him looking so grim as I sat there silently wondering what could possibly be importantenough to cause him to return home during the day.

“Guy has resigned his commission,” announced Gerald tersely. “He will be returning toEngland just as soon as the necessary paperwork has been completed.”

“Why?” I asked, quite stunned.“No reason was given,” Gerald replied. “I was called to the War Office this morning, and

tipped off by Billy Cuthbert, a brother Fusilier. He informed me privately that if Guy hadn’t resignedhe would undoubtedly have been cashiered.”

During the time I waited for Guy’s return to England I went over every snippet of informationon the rapidly growing Trumper empire that Mr. Harris was able to supply me with, however minuteor seemingly insignificant it seemed at the time. Among the many pages of material that the detectivesent, no doubt in order to justify his outrageous fees, I came across one item which I suspected mighthave been almost as important to the Trumpers as my son’s reputation was to me.

I carried out all the necessary inquiries myself, and having checked over the property oneSunday morning I phoned Savill’s on the Monday and made a bid of two thousand, five hundredpounds for the property in question. The agent rang back later in the week to say someone else who Irealized had to be Trumper’s had offered three thousand. “Then bid four thousand,” I told him, beforereplacing the phone.

The estate agents were able to confirm later that afternoon that I was in possession of thefreehold on 25 to 99 Chelsea Terrace, a block of thirty-eight flats. Trumper’s representative, I wasassured, would be informed immediately who their next-door neighbor was to be.

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CHAPTER23Guy Trentham arrived back on the doorstep of 19 Chester Square on a chilly afternoon in September1922, just after Gibson had cleared away afternoon tea. His mother would never forget the occasion,because when Guy was shown into the drawing room she hardly recognized him. Mrs. Trentham hadbeen writing a letter at her desk when Gibson announced, “Captain Guy.”

She turned to see her son enter the room and walk straight over to the fireplace where hestood, legs astride, with his back to the coals. His glazed eyes stared in front of him but he didn’tspeak.

Mrs. Trentham was only thankful that her husband was taking part in a debate at the Commonsthat afternoon and was not expected back until after the ten o’clock vote that night.

Guy obviously hadn’t shaved for several days. He could also have made excellent use of ascrubbing brush, while the suit he wore was barely recognizable as the one that only three yearsbefore had been tailored by Gieves. The disheveled figure stood with his back to the blazing coalfire, his body visibly shivering, as he turnd to face his mother. For the first time Mrs. Trenthamnoticed that her son was holding a brown paper parcel under one arm.

Although she was not cold, Mrs. Trentham also shuddered. She remained at her desk, feelingno desire to embrace her first born, or be the one who broke the silence between them.

“What have you been told, Mother?” Guy uttered at last, his voice shaky and uncertain.“Nothing of any real substance.” She looked up at him quizzically. “Other than that you have

resigned your commission, and that had you not done so you would have been cashiered.”“That much is true,” he admitted, at last releasing the parcel he had been clutching and placing

it on the table beside him. “But only because they conspired against me.”“They?”“Yes, Colonel Hamilton, Trumper and the girl.”“Colonel Forbes preferred the word of Miss Salmon even after I had written to him?” asked

Mrs. Trentham icily.“Yes yes, he did. After all, Colonel Hamilton still has a lot of friends in the regiment and some

of them were only too happy to carry out his bidding if it meant a rival might be eliminated.”She watched him for a moment as he swayed nervously from foot to foot. “But I thought the

matter had been finally settled. After all, the birth certificate... ““That might have been the case had it been signed by Charlie Trumper as well as the girl, but

the certificate only bore the single signature hers. What made matters worse, Colonel Hamiltonadvised Miss Salmon to threaten a breach-of-promise suit naming me as the father. Had she done so,of course, despite my being innocent of any charge they could lay at my door, the good name of theregiment would have suffered irredeemably. I therefore felt I’d been left with no choice but to take thehonorable course and resign my commission.” His voice became even more bitter. “And all becauseTrumper feared that the truth might come out.”

“What are you talking about, Guy?”

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He avoided his mother’s direct gaze as he moved from the fireplace to the drinks cabinetwhere he poured himself a large whisky. He left the soda syphon untouched and took a long swallow.His mother waited in silence for him to continue.

“After the second battle of the Marne I was ordered by Colonel Hamilton to set up an inquiryinto Trumper’s cowardice in the field,” said Guy as he moved back to the fireplace. “Many thought heshould have been court-martialed, but the only other witness, a Private Prescott, was himself killedby a stray bullet when only yards from the safety of our own trenches. I had foolishly allowed myselfto lead Prescott and Trumper back towards our lines, and when Prescott fell I looked round to see asmile on Trumper’s face. All he said was, ‘Bad luck, Captain, now you haven’t got your witness,have you?”

“Did you tell anyone about this at the time?”Guy returned to the drinks cabinet to refill his glass. “Who could I tell without Prescott to back

me up. The least I could do was to make sure that he was awarded a posthumous Military Medal.Even if it meant letting Trumper off the hook. Later, I discovered Trumper wouldn’t even confirm myversion of what had happened on the battlefield, which nearly prevented my being awarded the MC.”

“And now that he’s succeeded in forcing you to resign your commission, it can only be yourword against his.”

“That would have been the case if Trumper had not made one foolish mistake which could stillcause his downfall.”

“What are you talking about?”“Well,” continued Guy, his manner slightly more composed, “while the bathe was at its height

I came to the rescue of the two men in question. I found them hiding in a bombed-out church. I madethe decision to remain there until nightfall, when it was my intention to lead them back to the safely ofour own trenches. While we were waiting on the roof for the sun to go down and Trumper was underthe impression that I was asleep, I saw him slope off back to the chancery and remove a magnificentpicture of the Virgin Mary from behind the altar. I continued to watch him as he placed the little oil inhis haversack. I said nothing at the time because I realized that this was the proof I needed of hisduplicity; after all, the picture could always be resumed to the church at some later date. Once wewere back behind our own lines I immediately had Trumper’s equipment searched so I could havehim arrested for the Theft. But to my surprise it was nowhere to be found.”

“So how can that be of any use to you now?”“Because the picture has subsequently reappeared.”“Reappeared?”“Yes,” said Guy, his voice rising. “Daphne Harcourt-Browne told me dial she had spotted the

painting on the drawing room wall in Trumper’s house, and was even able to give me a detaileddescription of it. There was no doubt in my mind that it was the same portrait of the Virgin Mary andChild that he had earlier stolen from the church.”

“But there’s tilde anyone can do about that while the painting is still hanging in his home.”“It isn’t any longer. Which is the reason I’m disguised like this.”

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“You must stop talking in riddles,” said his mother. “Explain yourself properly, Guy.”“This morning I visited Trumper’s home, and told the housekeeper that I had served alongside

her master on the Western Front.”“Was that wise, Guy?”“I told her my name was Fowler, Corporal Denis Fowler, and I had been trying to get in touch

with Charlie for some time. I knew he wasn’t around because I’d seen him go into one of his shops onChelsea Terrace only a few minutes before. The maid who stared at me suspiciously asked if I wouldwait in the hall while she went upstairs to tell Mrs. Trumper I was there. That gave me easily enoughtime to slip into the front room and remove the picture from where Daphne had told me it washanging. I was out of the house even before they could possibly have worked out what I was up to.”

“But surely they will report the theft to the police and you will be arrested.”“Not a chance,” said Guy as he picked up the brown paper parcel from the table and started to

unwrap it. “The last thing Trumper will want the police to get their hands on is this.” He passed thepicture over to his mother.

Mrs. Trentham stared at the little oil. “From now on you can leave Mr. Trumper to me,” shesaid without explanation. Guy smiled for the first time since he had set foot in the house. “However,”she continued, “we must concentrate on the more immediate problem of what we are going to doabout your future. I’m still confident I can get you a position in the City. I have already spoken to... “

“That won’t work, Mother, and you know it. There’s no future for me in England for the timebeing. Or, at least, not until my name has been cleared. In any case, I don’t want to hang aroundLondon explaining to your bridge circle why I’m no longer with the regiment in India. No, I’ll have togo abroad until things have quieted down a little.”

“Then I’ll need some more time to think,” Guy’s mother replied. “Meanwhile, go up and havea bath and shave, and while you’re at it find yourself some clean clothes and I’ll work out what has tobe done.”

As soon as Guy had left the room Mrs. Trentham returned to her writing desk and locked thelittle picture in the bottom left-hand drawer. She placed the key in her bag, then began to concentrateon the more immediate problem of what should be done to protect the Trentham name.

As she stared out of the window a plan began to form in her mind which, although it wouldrequire using even more of her dwindling resources, might at least give her the breathing space sherequired to expose Trumper for the thief and liar he was, and at the same time to exonerate her son.

Mrs. Trentham reckoned she only had about fifty pounds in cash in the safe deposit box in herbedroom, but she still possessed sixteen thousand of the twenty thousand that her father had settled onher the day she was married. “Always there in case of some unforeseen emergency,” he had told herprophetically.

Mrs. Trentham took out a piece of writing paper from her drawer and began to make somenotes. She was only too aware that once her son left Chester Square that night she might not see himagain for some considerable time. Forty minutes later she studied her efforts:

Woo (~)

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I.~ Rem{S,~ I) Ids P;~te.Her thoughts were interrupted by the return of Guy, looking a little more like the son she

remembered. A blazer and cavalry twills had replaced the crumpled suit and the skin although palewas at least clean shaven. Mrs. Trentham folded up the piece of paper, having finally decided onexactly what course of action needed to be taken.

“Now, sit down and listen carefully,” she said.Guy Trentham left Chester Square a few minutes after nine o’clock, an hour before his father

was due to return from the Commons. He had fifty-three pounds in cash along with a check for fivethousand pounds lodged in an inside pocket. He had agreed that he would write to his father themoment he landed in Sydney, explaining why he had traveled direct to Australia. His mother hadvowed that while he was away she would do everything in her power to clear her son’s name, so thathe might eventually return to England vindicated, and take up his rightful place as head of the family.

The only two servants who had seen Captain Trentham that evening were instructed by theirmistress not to mention his visit to anyone, especially her husband, on pain of losing their positions inthe household.

Mrs. Trentham’s final task before her husband returned home that night was to phone the localpolice. A Constable Wrigley dealt with the reported theft.

During those weeks of waiting for her son’s letter to arrive, Mrs. Trentham did not sit aroundidly. The day after Guy sailed to Australia she made one of her periodic visits to the St. Agnes Hotel,a rewrapped parcel under one arm. She handed over her prize to Mr. Harris before giving him aseries of detailed instructions.

Two days later the detective informed her that the portrait of the Virgin Mary and Child hadbeen left with Bentley’s the pawnbroker, and could not be sold for at least five years, when the dateon the pawn ticket would have expired. He handed over a photo of the picture and the receipt toprove it. Mrs. Trentham placed the photo in her handbag but didn’t bother to ask Harris what hadbecome of the five pounds he had been paid for the picture.

“Good,” she said, placing her handbag by the side of her chair. “In fact highly satisfactory.”“So would you like me to point the right man at Scotland Yard in the direction of Bentley’s?”

asked Harris.“Certainly not,” said Mrs. Trentham. “I need you to carry out a little research on the picture

before anyone else will set eyes on it, and then if my information proves correct the next occasion thatpainting will be seen by the public will be when it comes under the hammer at Sotheby’s.”

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CHAPTER24“Good morning, madam. I do apologize for having to bother you in this way.”

“It’s no bother,” said Mrs. Trentham to the police officer whom Gibson had announced asInspector Richards.

“It’s not you I was hoping to see actually, Mrs. Trentham,” explained the inspector. “It’s yourson, Captain Guy Trentham.”

“Then you’ll have a very long journey ahead of you, Inspector.”“I’m not sure I understand you, madam.”“My son,” said Mrs. Trentham, “is taking care of our family interests in Australia, where he is

a partner in a large firm of cattle brokers.”Richards was unable to hide his surprise. “And how long has he been out there, madam?”“For some considerable time, Inspector.”“Could you be more precise?”“Captain Trentham left England for India in February 1920, to complete his tour of duty with

the regiment. He won the MC at the second battle of the Marne, you know.” She nodded towards themantelpiece. The inspector looked suitably impressed. “Of course,” Mrs. Trentham continued, “itwas never his intention to remain in the army, as we had always planned that he would have a spell inthe colonies before resuming to run our estates in Berkshire.”

“But did he come back to England before taking up this position in Australia?”“Sadly not, Inspector,” said Mrs. Trentham. “Once he had resigned his commission he

traveled directly to Australia to take up his new responsibilities. My husband, who as I am sure youknow is the Member of Parliament for Berkshire West, would be able to confirm the exact dates foryou.”

“I don’t feel it will be necessary to bother him on this occasion, madam.”“And why, may I ask, did you wish to see my son in the first place?”“We are following up inquiries concerning the theft of a painting in Chelsea.”Mrs. Trentham offered no comment, so the detective continued. “Someone who fits your son’s

description was seen in the vicinity wearing an old army greatcoat. We hoped he might therefore beable to help us with our inquiries.”

“And when was this crime committed?”“Last September, madam, and as the painting has not yet been recovered we are still pursuing

the matter... “ Mrs. Trentham kept her head slightly bowed as she reamed this piece of informationand continued to listen carefully. “But we are now given to understand that the owner will not bepreferring charges, so I expect the file should be closed on this one fairly shortly. This your son?”The inspector pointed to a photograph of Guy in full dress uniform that rested on a side table.

“It is indeed, Inspector.”“Doesn’t exactly fit the description we were given,” said the policeman, looking slightly

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puzzled. “In any case, as you say, he must have been in Australia at the time. A cast-iron alibi.” Theinspector smiled ingratiatingly but Mrs. Trentham’s expression didn’t alter.

“You’re not suggesting that my son was in any way involved in this theft, are you?” she askedcoldly.

“Certainly not, madam. It’s just that we’ve come across a greatcoat which Gieves, the SavileRow tailors, have confirmed they made for a Captain Trentham. We found an old soldier wearing itwho... “

“Then you must have also found your thief,” said Mrs. Trentham with disdain.“Hardly, madam. You see, the gentleman in question has only one leg.”Mrs. Trentham still showed no concern. “Then I suggest you ring Chelsea Police Station,” she

said, “as I feel sure they will be able to enlighten you further on the matter.”“But I’m from Chelsea Police Station myself,” replied the inspector, looking even more

puzzled.Mrs. Trentham rose from the sofa and walked slowly over to her desk, pulled open a drawer

and removed a single sheet of paper. She handed it to the inspector. His face reddened as he began totake in the contents. When he had finished reading the document he passed the piece of parer back.

“I do apologize, madam. I had no idea that you had reported the loss of the greatcoat the sameday. I shall have a word with young Constable Wrigley just as soon as I get back to the station.” Mrs.Trentham showed no reaction to the policeman’s embarrassment. “Well, I won’t take up any more ofyour time,” he said. “I’ll just show myself out.”

Mrs. Trentham waited until she heard the door close behind him before picking up the phoneand asking for a Paddington number.

She made only one request of the detective before replacing the receiver.Mrs. Trentham knew that Guy must have arrived safely in Australia when her check was

cleared by Coutts and Company through a bank in Sydney. The promised letter to his father arrived onthe doormat a further six weeks after that. When Gerald imparted to her the contents of the letter,explaining that Guy had joined a firm of cattle brokers, she feigned surprise at her son’suncharacteristic action, but her husband didn’t seem to show a great deal of interest either way.

During the following months Harris’ reports continued to show that Trumper’s newly formedcompany was going from strength to strength, but it still brought a smile to Mrs. Trentham’s lips whenshe recalled how for a mere four thousand pounds she had stopped Charles Trumper right in histracks.

The same smile was not to return to Mrs. Trentham’s face again until she received a letterfrom Savill’s some time later, presenting her with an opportunity to repeat for Rebecca Trumper thesame acute frustration as she had managed in the past for Charlie Trumper, even if this time the cost toherself might be a little higher. She checked her bank balance, satisfied that it would prove more thanadequate for the purpose she had in mind.

Over the years Savill’s had kept Mrs. Trentham well informed of any shops that came up for

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sale in Chelsea Terrace but she made no attempt to stop Trumper from purchasing them, reasoningthat her possession of the flats would be quite adequate to ruin any long-term plans he might have forthe whole Terrace. However when the details of Number 1 Chelsea Terrace were sent to her sherealized that here the circ*mstances were entirely different. Not only was Number 1 the corner shop,facing as it did towards the Fulham Road, and the largest property on the block, it was also anestablished if somewhat run-down fine art dealer and auctioneer. It was the obvious outlet for allthose years of preparation Mrs. Trumper had put in at Bedford College and more recently atSotheby’s.

A letter accompanying the bill of sale asked if Mrs. Trentham wished to be represented at theauction that Mr. Fothergill, the present owner, was proposing to conduct himself She wrote back thesame day, thanking Savill’s but explaining that she would prefer to carry out her own bidding andwould be further obliged if they could furnish her with an estimate of how much the property might beexpected to fetch.

Savill’s reply contained several ifs and buts, as in their view the property was unique. Theyalso pointed out that they were not qualified to offer an opinion as to the value of the stock. However,they settled on an upper estimate, in the region of four thousand pounds.

During the following weeks Mrs. Trentham was to be found regularly seated in the back rowof Christie’s, silently watching the various auctions as they were conducted. She never nodded orraised a hand herself. She wanted to be certain that when the time came for her to bid she would bethoroughly familiar with the protocol of such occasions.

On the morning of the sale of Number 1 Chelsea Terrace Mrs. Trentham entered theauctioneer’s wearing a long dark red dress that swept along the ground. She selected a place in thethird row and was seated some twenty minutes before the bidding was due to commence. Her eyesnever remained still as she watched the different players enter the room and take their places. Mr.Wrexall arrived a few minutes after she had, taking a seat in the middle of the front row. He lookedgrim but determined. He was exactly as Mr. Harris had described him, mid-forties, heavily built andbalding. Being so badly overweight he looked considerably older than his years, she considered. Hisflesh was swarthy and whenever he lowered his head several more chins appeared. It was then thatMrs. Trentham decided that should she fail to secure Number 1 Chelsea Terrace a meeting with Mr.Wrexall might prove advantageous.

At nine-fifty precisely Colonel Hamilton led his two colleagues down the aisle and filed intothe vacant seats immediately behind Mrs. Trentham. Although she glanced at the colonel he made noeffort to acknowledge her presence. At nine-fifty there was still no sign of either Mr. or Mrs.Trumper.

Savill’s had warned Mrs. Trentham that Trumper might be represented by an outside agent, butfrom all she had gathered about the man over the years she couldn’t believe he would allow anyoneelse to carry out the bidding for him. She was not to be disappointed for when the clock behind theauctioneer’s box showed five minutes before the hour, in he strode. Although he was a few yearsolder than he’d been at the time of the photograph she held in her hand, she was in no doubt that it wasCharlie Trumper. He wore a smart, well-tailored suit that helped disguise the fact that he wasbeginning to have a weight problem. A smile rarely left his lips though she had plans to remove it. He

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seemed to want everyone to know he had arrived, as he shook hands and chatted with several peoplebefore taking a reserved seat on the aisle about four rows behind her. Mrs. Trentham half turned herchair so she could observe both Trumper and the auctioneer without having continually to look round.

Suddenly Mr. Trumper rose and made his way towards the back of the room, only to pick up abill of sale from the table at the entrance before returning to his reserved place on the aisle. Mrs.Trentham suspected that this performance had been carried out for some specific reason. Her eyesraked each row and although she could see nothing untoward she nevertheless felt uneasy.

By the time Mr. Fothergill had climbed the steps of the auctioneer’s box, the room was alreadyfull. Yet despite almost every place having been taken Mrs. Trentham was still unable to see if Mrs.Trumper was seated among the large gathering.

From the moment Mr. Fothergill called for the first bid the auction did not proceed as Mrs.Trentham had imagined, or indeed planned. Nothing she had experienced at Christie’s during theprevious month could have prepared her for the final outcome Mr. Fothergill announcing a mere sixminutes later, “Sold for twelve thousand pounds to Mrs. Gerald Trentham.”

She was angry at having made such a public spectacle of herself, even if she had secured thefine art shop and dealt a satisfying blow to Rebecca Trumper. It had certainly been done at aconsiderable cost, and now she wasn’t even certain she had enough money in her special account tocover the full amount she had committed herself to.

After eighty days of soul-searching, in which she considered approaching her husband andeven her father to make up the shortfall, Mrs. Trentham finally decided to sacrifice the one thousandand two hundred pounds deposit, retreat and lick her wounds. The alternative was to admit to herhusband exactly what had taken place at Number 1 Chelsea Terrace that day.

There was one compensation, however. She would no longer need to use Sotheby’s when thetime came to dispose of the stolen painting.

As the months passed, Mrs. Trentham received regular letters from her son, first from Sydney,then later from Melbourne, informing her of his progress. They often requested her to send moremoney. The larger the partnership grew, Guy explained, the more he needed extra capital to secure hisshare of the equity. Overall some six thousand pounds found its way across the Pacific Ocean to abank in Sydney during a period of over four years, none of which Mrs. Trentham resented givingsince Guy appeared to be making such a success of his new profession. She also felt confident thatonce she could expose Charles Trumper for the thief and liar he was, her son could return to Englandwith his reputation vindicated, even in the eyes of his father.

Then suddenly, just at the point when Mrs. Trentham had begun to believe that the time mightbe right to put the next stage of her plan into action, a cable arrived from Melbourne. The addressfrom which the missive had been sent left Mrs. Trentham with no choice but to leave for that distantcity without delay.

When, over dinner that night, she informed Gerald that she intended to depart for theAntipodes on the first possible tide her news was greeted with polite indifference. This came as nosurprise, as Guy’s name had rarely passed her husband’s lips since that day he had visited the WarOffice over four years before. In fact, the only sign that still remained of their firstborn’s existence at

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either Ashurst Hall or Chester Square was the one picture of him in full dress uniform that stood onher bedroom table and the MC that Gerald had allowed to remain on the mantelpiece.

As far as Gerald was concerned, Nigel was their only child.Gerald Trentham was well aware that his wife told all his and her friends that Guy was a

successful partner in a large cattle firm of brokers that had offices right across Australia. However,he had long ago stopped believing such stories, and had lately even stopped listening to them.Whenever the occasional envelope, in that all too familiar hand, dropped through the letter box atChester Square, Gerald Trentham made no inquiry as to his elder son’s progress.

The next ship scheduled to sail for Australia was the SS Orontes, which was due out ofSouthampton on the following Monday. Mrs. Trentham cabled back to an address in Melbourne to letthem know her estimated time of arrival.

The five-week trip across two oceans seemed interminable to Mrs. Trentham, especially asfor most of the time she chose to remain in her cabin, having no desire to strike up a casualacquaintanceship with anyone on board or, worse, bump into someone who actually knew her. Sheturned down several invitations to join the captains table for dinner.

Once the ship had docked at Sydney, Mrs. Trentham only rested overnight in that city beforetraveling on to Melbourne. On arrival at Spencer Street Station she took a taxi directly to the RoyalVictoria hospital, where the sister in charge told her matter-of-factly that her son had only anotherweek to live.

They allowed her to see him immediately, and a police officer escorted her to the specialisolation wing. She stood by his bedside, staring down in disbelief at a face she could barelyrecognize. Guy’s hair was so thin and gray and the lines on his face so deep that Mrs. Trentham feltshe might have been at her husband’s deathbed.

A doctor told her that such a condition was not uncommon once the verdict had been deliveredand the person concerned realized there was no hope of a reprieve. After standing at the end of thebed for nearly an hour she left without having been able to elicit a word from her son. At no time didshe allow any of the hospital staff to become aware of her true feelings.

That evening Mrs. Trentham booked herself into a quiet country club on the outskirts ofMelbourne. She made only one inquiry of the young expatriate owner, a Mr. Sinclair-Smith, beforeretiring to her room.

The next morning she presented herself at the offices of the oldest firm of solicitors inMelbourne, Asgarth, Jenkins and Company. A young man she considered far too familiar asked,“What was her problem?”

“I wish to have a word with your senior partner,” Mrs. Trentham replied.“Then you’ll have to take a seat in the waiting room,” he told her.Mrs. Trentham sat alone for some time before Mr. Asgarth was free to see her.The senior partner, an elderly man who from his dress might have been conducting his practice

in Lincoln’s Inn Fields rather than Victoria Street Melbourne, listened in silence to her sad story andagreed to deal with any problems that might arise from handling Guy Trentham’s estate. To that end

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he promised to lodge an immediate application for permission to have the body transported back toEngland.

Mrs. Trentham visited her son in hospital every day of that week before he died. Althoughlittle conversation passed between them, she did learn of one problem that would have to be dealtwith before she could hope to travel back to England.

On Wednesday afternoon Mrs. Trentham resumed to the offices of Asgarth, Jenkins andCompany to seek the advice of the senior partner on what could be done following her latestdiscovery. The elderly lawyer ushered his client to a chair before he listened carefully to herrevelation. He made the occasional note on a pad in front of him. When Mrs. Trentham had finishedhe did not offer an opinion for some considerable time.

“There will have to be a change of name,” he suggested, “if no one else is to find out what youhave in mind.”

“And we must also be sure that there is no way of tracing who her father was at some time inthe future,” said Mrs. Trentham.

The old solicitor frowned. “That will require you to place considerable trust in” he checkedthe scribbled name in front of him “Miss Benson.”

“Pay Miss Benson whatever it takes to assure her silence,” said Mrs. Trentham. “Courts inLondon will handle all the financial details.”

The senior partner nodded and by dint of remaining at his desk until nearly midnight for thenext four days he managed to complete all the paperwork necessary to fulfill his client’s requirementsonly hours before Mrs. Trentham was due to leave for London.

Guy Trentham was certified as dead by the doctor in attendance at three minutes past six on themorning of 23 April 1927, and the following day Mrs. Trentham began her somber journey back toEngland, accompanied by his coffin. She was relieved that only two people on that continent knew asmuch as she did, one an elderly gentleman only months away from retirement, the other a woman whocould now spend the rest of her life in a style she would never have believed possible only a fewdays before.

Mrs. Trentham cabled her husband with the minimum information she considered necessarybefore sailing back to Southampton as silently and as anonymously as she had come. Once she had setfoot on English soil Mrs. Trentham was driven directly to her home in Chester Square. She briefedher husband on the details of the tragedy, and he reluctantly accepted that an announcement should beplaced in The Times the following day. It read:

“The death is announced of Captain Guy Trentham, MC, tragically from tuberculosis aftersuffering a long illness. The funeral will take place at St. Mary’s, Ashurst, Berkshire, on Tuesday, 8June, 1927.”

The local vicar conducted the ceremony for the dear departed. His death, he assured thecongregation was a tragedy for all who knew him.

Guy Trentham was laid to rest in the plot originally reserved for his father. Major and Mrs.Trentham, relations, friends of the family, parishioners and servants left the burial ground with their

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heads bowed low.During the days that followed, Mrs. Trentham received over a hundred letters of condolence,

one or two of which pointed out that she could at least be consoled with the knowledge that there wasa second son to take Guy’s place.

The next day Nigel’s photograph replaced his elder brother’s on the bedside table.

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CHAPTER25I was walking down Chelsea Terrace with Tom Arnold on our Monday morning round when he firstoffered an opinion.

“It will never happen,” I said.“You could be right, sir, but at the moment a lot of the shopkeepers are beginning to panic.”“Bunch of cowards,” I told him. “With nearly a million already unemployed there’ll be only a

handful who would be foolish enough to consider an all-out strike.”“Perhaps, but the Shops Committee is still advising its members to board up their windows.”“Syd Wrexall would advise his members to board up their windows if a Pekingese put a leg

up against the front door of the Musketeer. What’s more, the bloody animal wouldn’t even have topiss.”

A smile flickered across Tom’s lips. “So you’re prepared for a fight, Mr. Trumper?”“You bet I am. I’ll back Mr. Churchill all the way on this one.” I stopped to check the window

of hats and scarves. “How many people do we currently employ?”“Seventy-one.”“And how many of those do you reckon are considering strike action?”“Half a dozen, ten at the most would be my bet and then only those who are members of the

Shopworkers’ Union. But there could still be the problem for some of our employees who wouldn’tfind it easy to get to work because of a public transport stoppage.”

“Then give me all the names of those you’re not sure of by this evening and I’ll have a wordwith every one of them during the week. At least that way I might be able to convince one or two ofthem about their long-term future with the company.”

“What about the company’s long-term future if the strike were to go ahead?”“When will you get it into your head, Tom, that nothing is going to happen that will affect

Trumper’s?”“Syd Wrexall thinks... ““I can assure you that’s the one thing he doesn’t do.”“... thinks that at least three shops will come on the market during the next month, and if there

were to be a general strike there might be a whole lot more suddenly available. The miners arepersuading... “

“They’re not persuading Charlie Trumper,” I told him. “So let me know the moment you hearof anyone who wants to sell, because I’m still a buyer.”

“While everyone else is a seller?”“That’s exactly when you should buy,” I replied. “The time to get on a tram is when everyone

else is getting off. So let me have those names, Tom. Meanwhile, I’m going to the bank.” I strode offin the direction of Knightsbridge.

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In the privacy of his new Brompton Road office Hadlow informed me that Trumper’s was nowholding a little over twelve thousand pounds on deposit: an adequate buttress, he considered, werethere to be a general strike.

“Not you as well,” I said in exasperation. “The strike will never take place. Even if it does, Ipredict it’ll be over in a matter of days.”

“Like the last war?” said Hadlow as he peered back at me over his half-moon spectacles. “Iam by nature a cautious man, Mr. Trumper... “

“Well, I’m not,” I said, interrupting him. “So be prepared to see that cash being put to gooduse.”

“I have already earmarked around half the sum, should Mrs. Trentham fail to take up heroption on Number 1,” he reminded me. “She still has” he turned to check the calendar on the wall“fifty-two days left to do so.”

“Then I would suggest this is going to be a time for keeping our nerve.”“If the market were to collapse, it might be wise not to risk everything. Don’t you think, Mr.

Trumper?”“No, I don’t, but that’s why I’m... “ I began, only just managing to stop myself venting my true

feelings.“It is indeed,” replied Hadlow, making me feel even more embarrassed. “And that is also the

reason I have backed you so wholeheartedly in the past,” he added magnanimously.As the days passed I had to admit that a general strike did look more and more likely. The air

of uncertainty and lack of confidence in the future meant that first one shop and then another found itsway onto the market.

I purchased the first two at knockdown prices, on the condition that the settlement wasimmediate, and thanks to the speed with which Crowther completed the paperwork and Hadlowreleased the cash, I was even able to add boots and shoes, followed by the chemist’s, to my side ofthe ledger.

When the general strike finally began on Tuesday, 4 May 192~ the colonel and I were out onthe streets at first light. We checked over every one of our properties from the north end to the south.All Syd Wrexall’s committee members had already boarded up their shops, which I consideredtantamount to giving in to the strikers. I did agree, however, to the colonel’s plan for “operation lock-up,” which on a given signal from me allowed Tom Arnold to have all thirteen shops locked andbolted within three minutes. On the previous Saturday I had watched Tom carry out several “practiceruns,” as he called them, to the amusem*nt of the passersby.

Although on the first morning of the strike the weather was fine and the streets were crowdedthe only concession I made to the milling throng was to keep all foodstuff from numbers 147 and 131off the pavements.

At eight Tom Arnold reported to me that only five employees had failed to turn up for work,despite spectacular traffic jams causing public transport to be held up for hours on end and even oneof those was genuinely ill.

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As the colonel and I strolled up and down Chelsea Terrace we were met by the occasionalinsult but I didn’t sense any real mood of violence and, everything considered, most people weresurprisingly good-humored. Some of the lads even started playing football in the street.

The first sign of any real unrest came on the second morning, when a brick was hurled throughthe front window of Number 5, jewelry and watches. I saw two or three young thugs grab whateverthey could from the main window display before running off down the Terrace. The crowd becamerestless and began shouting slogans so I gave the signal to Tom Arnold, who was about fifty yards upthe road, and he immediately blew six blasts on his whistle. Within the three minutes the colonel hadstipulated every one of our shops was locked and bolted. I stood my ground while the police movedin and several people were arrested. Although there was a lot of hot air blowing about, within anhour I was able to instruct Tom that the shops could be reopened and that we should continue servingcustomers as if nothing had happened. Within three hours hardware had replaced the window ofNumber 5 not that it was a morning for buying jewelry.

By Thursday, only three people failed to turn up for work, but I counted four more shops in theTerrace that had been boarded up. The streets seemed a lot calmer. Over a snatched breakfast Ilearned from Becky that there would be no copy of The Times that morning because the printers wereon strike, but in defiance the government had brought out their own paper, the British Gazette, abrainchild of Mr. Churchill, which informed its readers that the railway and transport workers werenow returning to work in droves. Despite this, Norman Cosgrave, the fishmonger at Number 11, toldme that he’d had enough, and asked how much I was prepared to offer him for his business. Havingagreed on a price in the morning we walked over to the bank that same afternoon to close the deal.One phone call made sure that Crowther had the necessary documents typed up, and Hadlow hadfilled in a check by the time we arrived, so all that was required of me was a signature. When Ireturned to Chelsea Terrace I immediately put Tom Arnold in charge of the fishmonger’s until hecould find the right manager to take Cosgrave’s place. I never said anything to him at the time, but itwas to be several weeks after Tom had handed over to a lad from Billingsgate before he finally ridhimself of the lingering smell.

The general strike officially ended on the ninth morning, and by the last day of the month I hadacquired another seven shops in all. I seemed to be running constantly backwards and forwards to thebank, but at least every one of my acquisitions was at a price that allowed Hadlow an accompanyingsmile, even if he warned me that funds were running low.

At our next board meeting, I was able to report that Trumper’s now owned twenty shops inChelsea Terrace, which was more than the Shops Committee membership combined. HoweverHadlow did express a view to the board that we should now embark on a long period ofconsolidation if we wanted our recently acquired properties to attain the same quality and standard asthe original thirteen. I made only one other proposal of any significance at that meeting, whichreceived the unanimous backing of my colleagues that Tom Arnold be invited to join the board.

I still couldn’t resist spending the odd hour sitting on the bench opposite Number 147 andwatching the transformation of Chelsea Terrace as it took place before my eyes. For the first time Icould differentiate between those shops I owned and those that I still needed to acquire, whichincluded the fourteen owned by Wrexall’s committee members not forgetting either the prestigious

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Number 1 or the Musketeer.Seventy-two days had passed since the auction, and although Mr. Fothergill still purchased his

fruit and vegetables regularly from Number 147 he never uttered a word to me as to whether or notMrs. Trentham had fulfilled her contract. Joan Moore informed my wife that her former mistress hadrecently received a visit from Mr. Fothergill, and although the cook had not been able to hear all theconversation there had definitely been raised voices.

When Daphne came to visit me at the shop the following week I inquired if she had any insideinformation on what Mrs. Trentham was up to.

“Stop worrying about the damned woman,” was all Daphne had to say on the subject. “In anycase,” she added, “the ninety days will be up soon enough, and frankly, you should be more worriedabout your Part 11 than Mrs. Trentham’s financial problems.”

“I agree. But if I go on at this rate, I won’t have completed the necessary work before nextyear,” I said, having selected twelve perfect plums for her before placing them on the weighingmachine.

“You’re always in such a hurry, Charlie. Why do things always have to be finished by acertain date?”

“Because that’s what keeps me going.”“But Becky will be just as impressed by your achievement if you manage to finish a year

later.”“It wouldn’t be the same,” I told her. “I’ll just have to work harder.”“There are only a given number of hours in each day,” Daphne reminded me. “Even for you.”“Well, that’s one thing I can’t be blamed for.”Daphne laughed. “How’s Becky’s thesis on Luini coming along?”“She’s completed the bloody thing. Just about to check over the final draft of thirty thousand

words, so she’s still well ahead of me. But what with the general strike and acquiring all the newproperties, not to mention Mrs. Trentham, I haven’t even had time to take Daniel to see West Ham thisseason.” Charlie started placing her order in a large brown paper bag.

“Was Becky discovered what you’re up to yet?” Daphne asked.“No, and I make sure I only disappear completely whenever she’s working late at Sotheby’s

or off cataloguing some grand collection. She still hasn’t noticed that I get up every morning at four-thirty, which is when I put in the real work.” I passed over the bag of plums and seven and tenpencechange.

“Proper little Trollope, aren’t we?” remarked Daphne. “By the way, I still haven’t let Percy inon our secret, but I can’t wait to see the expression on their faces when... “

“Shhh, not a word...”When you have been chasing something for a long time it’s strange how the final prize so often

lands in your lap just when you least expect it.

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I was serving at Number 147 that morning. It always annoyed Bob Makins to see me roll upmy sleeves, but I do enjoy a little chat with my old customers, and lately it was about the only chanceI had to catch up on the gossip, as well as an occasional insight into what the customers really thoughtof my other shops. However, I confess that by the time I served Mr. Fothergill the queue stretchednearly all the way to the grocery shop which I knew Bob still regarded as a rival.

“Good morning,” I said, when Mr. Fothergill reached the front of the queue. “And what can Ioffer you today, sir? I’ve got some lovely... “

“I wondered if we could have a word in private, Mr. Trumper?”I was so taken by surprise that I didn’t reply immediately. I knew Mrs. Trentham still had

another nine days to go before she had to complete her contract and I had assumed I would hearnothing before then. After all, she must have had her own Hadlows and Crowthers to do all thepaperwork.

“I’m afraid the storeroom is the only place available at the moment,” I warned. I removed mygreen overall, rolled down my sleeves and replaced my jacket. “You see, my manager now occupiesthe flat above,” I explained as I led the auctioneer through to the back of the shop.

I offered him a seat on an upturned orange box while pulling up another box opposite him. Wefaced each other, just a few feet apart, like rival chess players. Strange surroundings, I considered, todiscuss the biggest deal of my life. I tried to remain calm.

“I’ll come to the point straight away,” said Fothergill. “Mrs. Trentham has not been in touchfor several weeks and lately she has been refusing to answer my calls. What’s more, Savill’s hasmade it abundantly clear that they have had no instruction to complete the transaction on her behalf.They have gone as far as to say that they are now given to understand that she is no longer interestedin the property.”

“Still, you got your one thousand, two hundred pounds deposit,” I reminded him, trying tostifle a grin.

“I don’t deny it,” replied Fothergill. “But I have since made other commitments, and what withthe general strike... “

“Hard times, I agree,” I told him. I felt the palms of my hands begin to sweat.“But you’ve never hidden your desire to be the owner of Number 1.”“True enough, but since the auction I’ve been buying up several other properties with the cash

I had originally put on one side for your shop.”“I know, Mr. Trumper. But I would now be willing to settle for a far more reasonable price...

““And three thousand, five hundred pounds is what I was willing to bid, as no doubt you

recall.”“Twelve thousand was your final bid, if I remember correctly.”“Tactics, Mr. Fothergill, nothing more than tactics. I never had any intention of paying twelve

thousand, as I feel sure you are only too aware.”

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“But your wife bid five thousand, five hundred pounds, even forgetting her later bid offourteen thousand.”

“I can’t disagree with that,” I told him, dropping back into my co*ckney accent. “But if you ‘adever married, Mr. Fothergill, you would know only too well why we in the East End always refer tothem as the trouble and strife.”

“I’d let the property go for seven thousand pounds,” he said. “But only to you.”“You’d let the property go for five thousand,” I replied, “to anyone who’d cough up.”“Never,” said Fothergill.“In nine days’ time would be my bet, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” I added, leaning forward

and nearly falling off my box. “I’ll honor my wife’s commitment of five thousand, five ‘undredpounds, which I confess was the limit the board ‘ad allowed us to go to, but only if you ‘ave all thepaperwork ready for me to sign before midnight.” Mr. Fothergill opened his mouth indignantly. “Ofcourse,” I added before he could protest, “it shouldn’t be too much work for you. After all, thecontract’s been sitting on your desk for the last eighty-one days. All you have to do is change the nameand knock off the odd nought. Well, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Fothergill, I must be getting back to mycustomers.”

“I have never been treated in such a cavalier way before, sir,” declared Mr. Fothergill,jumping up angrily. He turned and marched out, leaving me sitting in the storeroom on my own.

“I have never thought of myself as a cavalier,” I told the upturned orange box. “More of aroundhead, I would have said.”

Once I had read another chapter of Through the Looking-Glass to Daniel and waited for him tofall asleep, I went downstairs to join Becky for dinner. While she served me a bowl of soup I told herthe details of my conversation with Fothergill.

“Pity,” was her immediate reaction. “I only wish he’d approached me in the first place. Nowwe may never get our hands on Number 1...” a sentiment she repeated just before climbing into bed. Iturned down the gaslight beside me, thinking that perhaps Becky could be right. I was just beginningto feel drowsy when I heard the front doorbell sound.

“It’s past eleven-thirty,” Becky said sleepily. “Who could that possibly be?”“A man who understands deadlines?” I suggested as I turned the gaslight back up. I climbed

out of bed, donned my dressing gown and went downstairs to answer the door.“Do come through to my study, Peregrine,” I said, after I had welcomed Mr. Fothergill.“Thank you, Charles,” he replied. I only just stopped myself laughing as I moved a copy of

Mathematics, Part Two from my desk, so that I could get to the drawer that housed the companychecks.

“Five thousand, five hundred, if I remember correctly,” I said, as I unscrewed the top of mypen and checked the clock on the mantelpiece. At eleven thirtyseven I handed over the full and finalsettlement to Mr. Fothergill in exchange for the freehold of Number 1 Chelsea Terrace.

We shook hands on the deal and I showed the former auctioneer out. Once I had climbed back

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up the stairs and returned to the bedroom I found to my surprise that Becky was sitting at her writingdesk.

“What are you up to?” I demanded.“Writing my letter of resignation to Sotheby’s.”Tom Arnold began going through Number 1 with far more than a fine-tooth comb in

preparation for Becky joining us a month later as managing director of Trumper’s Auctioneers andFine Art Specialists. He realized that I considered our new acquisition should quickly become theflagship of the entire Trumper empire, even if to the dismay of Hadlow the costs were beginning toresemble those of a battleship.

Becky completed her notice at Sotheby’s on Friday, 16 July 1926. She walked into Trumper’s,ne’e Fothergill’s, the following morning at seven o’clock to take over the responsibility ofrefurbishing the building, at the same time releasing Tom so that he could get back to his normalduties. She immediately set about turning the basem*nt of Number 1 into a storeroom, with the mainreception remaining on the ground floor and the auction room on the first floor.

Becky and her team of specialists were to be housed on the second and third floors while thetop floor, which had previously been Mr. Fothergill’s flat, became the company’s administrativeoffices, with a room left over that turned out to be ideal for board meetings.

The full board met for the first time at Number 1 Chelsea Terrace on 17 October 1926.Within three months of leaving Sotheby’s Becky had “stolen” seven of the eleven staff she had

wanted to join her and picked up another four from Bonham’s and Phillips. At her first board meetingshe warned us all that it could take anything up to three years to clear the debts incurred by thepurchase and refurbishment of Number 1, and it might even be another three before she could be surethey would be making a serious contribution to the group’s profits.

“Not like my first shop,” I informed the board. “Made a profit within three weeks, you know,Chairman.”

“Stop looking so pleased with yourself, Charlie Trumper, and try to remember I’m not sellingpotatoes,” my wife told me.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied and on 21 October 1926, to celebrate our sixth weddinganniversary, I presented my wife with an oil painting by van Gogh called The Potato Eaters.

Mr. Reed of the Lefevre Gallery, who had been a personal friend of the artist, claimed it wasalmost as good an example as the one that hung in the Rijksmuseum.

I had to agree even if I felt the asking price a little extravagant, but after some bargaining wesettled on a price of six hundred guineas.

For some considerable time everything seemed to go quiet on the Mrs. Trentham front. Thisstate of affairs always worried me, because I assumed she must be up to no good. Whenever a shopcame up for sale I expected her to be bidding against me, and if there was ever any trouble in theTerrace I wondered if somehow she might be behind it. Becky agreed with Daphne that I wasbecoming paranoid, until Arnold told me he had been having a drink at the pub when Wrexall hadreceived a call from Mrs. Trentham. Arnold was unable to report anything of significance because

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Syd went into a back room to take the call. After that my wife was willing to admit that the passing oftime had obviously not lessened Mrs. Trentham’s desire for revenge.

It was some time in March 1927 that Joan informed us that her former mistress had spent twodays packing before being driven to Southampton, where she boarded a liner for Australia. Daphnewas able to confirm this piece of information when she came round to dinner at Gilston Road thefollowing week.

“So one can only assume, darlings, that she’s paying a visit to that dreadful son of hers.”“In the past she’s been only too willing to give lengthy reports on the bloody man’s progress to

anyone and everyone who cared to listen, so why’s she not letting us know what she’s up to thistime?”

“Can’t imagine,” said Daphne.“Do you think it’s possible Guy might be planning to return to England now that things have

settled down a little?”“I doubt it.” Daphne’s brow furrowed. “Otherwise the ship would have been sailing in the

opposition direction, wouldn’t it? In any case, if his father’s feelings are anything to go by, shouldGuy ever dare to show his face at Ashurst Hall he won’t exactly be treated like the prodigal son.”

“Something’s still not quite right,” I told her. “This veil of secrecy Mrs. Trentham’s beengoing in for lately requires some explanation.”

It was three months later, in June 1927, that the colonel drew my attention to the announcementin The Times of Guy Trentham’s death. “What a terrible way to die,” was his only comment.

Daphne attended the funeral at Ashurst parish church because, as she explained later, shewanted to see the coffin lowered into the grave before she was finally convinced that Guy Trenthamwas no longer among us.

Percy informed me later that he had only just been able to restrain her from joining thegravediggers as they filled up the hole with good English sods. However, Daphne told us that sheremained skeptical about the cause of death, despite the absence of any proof to the contrary.

“At least you’ll have no more trouble from that quarter,” were Percy’s final words on thesubject.

I scowled. “They’ll have to bury Mrs. Trentham alongside him before I’ll believe that.”

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CHAPTER26In 1929 the Trumpers moved to a larger house in the Little Boltons. Daphne assured them thatalthough it was “the Little,” at least it was a step in the right direction. With a glance at Becky sheadded, “However, it’s still a considerable way from being Eaton Square, darlings.”

The housewarming party the Trumpers gave held a double significance for Becky, because thefollowing day she was to be presented with her master of arts degree. When Percy teased her aboutthe length of time she had taken to complete the thesis on her unrequited lover, Bernardino Luini, shecited her husband as the corespondent.

Charlie made no attempt to defend himself, just poured Percy another brandy before clippingoff the end of a cigar.

“Hoskins will be driving us to the ceremony,” Daphne announced, “so we’ll see you there.That is, assuming on this occasion they’ve been considerate enough to allow us to be seated in thefirst thirty rows.”

Charlie was pleased to find that Daphne and Percy had been placed only a row behind them sothis time were close enough to the stage to follow the entire proceedings.

“Who are they?” demanded Daniel, when fourteen dignified old gentlemen walked onto theplatform wearing long black gowns and purple hoods, and took their places in the empty chairs.

“The Senate,” explained Becky to her eight-year-old son. “They recommend who shall beawarded degrees. But you mustn’t ask too many questions, Daniel, or you’ll only annoy all the peoplesitting around us.”

At that point, the vice-chancellor rose to present the scrolls.“I’m afraid we’ll have to sit through all the BAs before they reach me,” said Becky.“Do stop being so pompous, darling,” said Daphne. “Some of us can remember when you

considered being awarded a degree was the most important day in your life.”“Why hasn’t Daddy got a degree?” asked Daniel as he picked up Becky’s program off the

floor. “He’s just as clever as you are, Mummy.”“True,” said Becky. “But his daddy didn’t make him stay at school as long as mine did.”Charlie leaned across. “But his granpa taught him instead how to sell fruit and vegetables, so

he could do something useful for the rest of his life.”Daniel was silenced for a moment, as he weighed the value of these two contrary opinions.“The ceremony’s going to take an awfully long time if it keeps going at this rate,” whispered

Becky when after half an hour they had only reached the P’s.“We can wait,” whispered Daphne cheerfully. “Percy and I haven’t a lot planned before

Goodwood.”“Oh, look, Mummy,” said Daniel. “I’ve found another Arnold, another Moore and another

Trumper on my list.”“They’re all fairly common names,” said Becky, not bothering to check the program as she

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placed Daniel on the edge of her seat.“Wonder what he looks like?” asked Daniel. “Do all Trumpers look the same, Mummy?”“No, silly, they come in all shapes and sizes.”“But he’s got the same first initial as Dad,” Daniel said, loudly enough for everyone in the

three rows in front of them to feel they were now part of the conversation.“Shhh,” said Becky, as one or two people turned round and stared in their direction.“Bachelor of Arts,” declared the vice-chancellor. “Mathematics second class, Charles George

Trumper.”“And he even looks like your dad,” said Charlie as he rose from his place and walked up to

receive his degree from the vice-chancellor. The applause increased once the assembled gatheringbecame aware of the age of this particular graduate. Becky’s mouth opened wide in disbelief, Percyrubbed his glasses, while Daphne showed no surprise at all.

“How long have you known?” demanded Becky through clenched teeth.“He registered at Birkbeck College the day after you were awarded your degree.”“But when has he found the time?”“It’s taken him nearly eight years and an awful lot of early mornings while you were sound

asleep.”By the end of her second year Becky’s financial forecasts for Number 1 had begun to look a

little too optimistic. As each month passed by the overdraft seemed to remain constant, and it was notuntil the twenty-seventh month that she first began to make small inroads on the capital debt.

She complained to the board that although the managing director was continually helping withthe turnover he was not actually contributing to the profits because he always assumed he couldpurchase their most sought-after items at the buy-in cost.

“But we are at the same time building a major art collection, Mrs. Trumper,” he reminded her.“And saving a great deal on tax while also making a sound investment,” Hadlow pointed out.

“Might even prove useful as collateral at some later date.”“Perhaps, but in the meantime it doesn’t help my balance sheet, Chairman, if the managing

director is always making off with my most saleable stock and it certainly doesn’t help that he’sworked out the auctioneer’s code so that he always knows what our reserve price is.”

“You must look upon yourself as part of the company and not as an individual, Mrs. Trumper,”said Charlie with a grin, adding, “though I confess it might have been a lot cheaper if we had left youat Sotheby’s in the first place.”

“Not to be minuted,” said the chairman sternly. “By the way, what is this auctioneer’s code?”“A series of letters from a chosen word or words that indicate numbers; for example, Charlie

would be C-1, H-2, A-3 but if any letter is repeated then it has to be ignored. So once you’ve workedout the two words we are substituting for one to zero and can get your hands on our master catalogueyou will always know the reserve price we have set for each painting.”

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“So why don’t you change the words from time to time?”“Because once you’ve mastered the code, you can always work out the new words. In any

case, it takes hours of practice to glance down at Q. N HH, and know immediately it’s... ““One thousand, three hundred pounds,” said Charlie with a smile of satisfaction.

* * *While Becky tried to build up Number 1, Charlie had captured four more shops, including the

barber and the newsagent, without any further interference from Mrs. Trentham. As he told his fellow-directors, “I no longer believe she possesses the finances to challenge us.”

“Until her father dies,” Becky pointed out. “Once she inherits that fortune she could challengeMr. Selfridgeand then there will be nothing Charlie can do about it.”

Charlie agreed, but went on to assure the board that he had plans to get his hands on the rest ofthe block long before that eventuality. “No reason to believe the man hasn’t got a good few years leftin him yet.”

“Which reminds me,” said the colonel, “I’ll be sixty-five next May, and feel that would be anappropriate time for me to step down as chairman.”

Charlie and Becky were stunned by this sudden announcement, as neither of them had evergiven a moment’s thought as to when the colonel might retire.

“Couldn’t you at least stay on until you’re seventy?” asked Charlie quietly.“No, Charlie, though it’s kind of you to suggest it. You see, I’ve promised Elizabeth that we

will spend our last few years on her beloved Isle of Skye. In any case, I think it’s time you becamechairman.”

The colonel officially retired the following May. Charlie threw a party for him at the Savoy towhich he invited every member of staff along with their husbands or wives. He laid on a five-coursedinner with three wines for an evening that he hoped the colonel would never forget.

When the meal came to an end, Charlie rose from his place to toast the first chairman ofTrumper’s before presenting him with a silver barrow which held a bottle of Glenlivet, the colonel’sfavorite brand of whisky. The staff all banged on their tables and demanded the outgoing chairmanshould reply.

The colonel rose, still straight as a ramrod, and began by thanking everyone for their goodwishes for his retirement. He went on to remind those present that when he had first joined Mr.Trumper and Miss Salmon in 1920 they only possessed one shop in Chelsea Terrace, Number 147. Itsold fruit and vegetables, and they had acquired it for the princely sum of one hundred pounds.Charlie could see as he glanced around the tables that many of the younger staff and Daniel, who waswearing long trousers for the first time just didn’t believe the old soldier.

“Now,” the colonel continued, “we have twentyfour shops and a staff of one hundred andseveny-two. I told my wife all those years ago that I hoped I would live to see Charlie” there was aripple of laughter “Mr. Trumper, own the whole block, and build the biggest barrow in the world.Now I’m convinced I will.” Turning to Charlie he raised his glass and said, “And I wish you luck,

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sir.”They cheered when he resumed his seat as chairman for the last time.Charlie rose to reply. “Chairman,” he began, “let no one in this room be in any doubt that

Becky and I could not have built up Trumper’s to the position it enjoys today without your support. Infact, if the truth be known, we wouldn’t even have been able to purchase shops numbers 2 and 3. I amproud to follow you and be the company’s second chairman, and whenever I make a decision of anyreal importance I shall always imagine you are looking over my shoulder. The last proposal you madeas chairman of the company will take effect tomorrow. Tom Arnold will become managing directorand Ned Denning and Bob Makins will join the board. Because it will always be Trumper’s policy topromote from within.

“You are the new generation,” said Charlie as he looked out into the ballroom at his staff,“and this is the first occasion at which we have all been together under the same roof. So let us set adate tonight for when we will all work under one roof, Trumper’s of Chelsea Terrace. I give you1940.”

The entire staff rose as one and all cried “1940” and cheered their new chairman. As Charliesat down the conductor raised his baton to indicate that the dancing would begin.

The colonel rose from his place and invited Becky to join him for the opening waltz. Heaccompanied her onto an empty dance floor.

“Do you remember when you first asked me to dance?” said Becky.“I certainly do,” said the colonel. “And to quote Mr. Hardy, ‘That’s another fine mess you’ve

got us into.’”“Blame him,” said Becky as Charlie glided by leading Elizabeth Hamilton around the dance

floor.The colonel smiled. “What a speech they’ll make when Charlie retires,” he said wistfully to

Becky. “And I can’t imagine who will dare follow him.”“A woman, perhaps?”

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CHAPTER27The Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary in 1935 was celebrated by everyone atTrumper’s. There were colored posters and pictures of the royal couple in every shop window, andTom Arnold ran a competition to see which shop could come up with the most imaginative display tocommemorate the occasion.

Charlie took charge of Number 147, which he still looked upon as his personal fiefdom, andwith the help of Bob Makins’ daughter, who was in her first year at the Chelsea School of Art, theyproduced a model of the King and Queen made up of every fruit and vegetable that hailed from theBritish Empire.

Charlie was livid when the judges the colonel and the Marquess and Marchioness ofWiltshire, awarded Number 147 second place behind the flower shop which was doing a roaringtrade selling bunches of red, white and blue chrysanthemums; what had put them in first place was avast map of the world made up entirely of flowers, with the British Empire set in red roses.

Charlie gave all the staff the day off and he escorted Becky and Daniel up to the mall at four-thirty in the morning so that they could find a good vantage point to watch the King and Queenproceed from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a service of thanksgiving was to beconducted.

They arrived at the mall only to discover that thousands of people were already coveringevery inch of the pavements with sleeping bags, blankets and even tents, some having already beguntheir breakfast or simply fixed themselves to the spot.

The hours of waiting passed quickly as Charlie made friends with visitors who had traveledfrom all over the Empire. When the procession finally began, Daniel was speechless with delight ashe watched the different soldiers from India, Africa, Australia, Canada and thirty-six other nationsmarch past him. When the King and Queen drove by in the royal carriage Charlie stood to attentionand removed his hat, an action he repeated when the Royal Fusiliers marched past playing theirregimental anthem. Once they had all disappeared out of sight, he thought enviously of Daphne andPercy, who had been invited to attend the service at St. Paul’s.

After the King and Queen had returned to Buckingham Palace well in time for their lunch, asDaniel explained to those around him the Trumpers began their journey home. On the way back theypassed Chelsea Terrace, where Daniel spotted the big “2nd Place” in the window of Number 147.

“Why’s that there, Dad?” he immediately demanded. His mother took great delight inexplaining to her son how the competition had worked.

“Where did you come, Mum?”“Sixteenth out of twenty-six,” said Charlie. “And then only because all three judges were

longstanding friends.”Eight months later the King was dead.Charlie hoped that with the accession of Edward VIII a new era would begin, and decided that

the time was well overdue for him to make a pilgrimage to America.He warned the board of his proposed trip at their next meeting.

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“Any real problems for me to worry about while I’m away?” the chairman asked his managingdirector.

“I’m still looking for a new manager at jewelry and a couple of assistants for women’sclothes,” replied Arnold.”Otherwise it’s fairly peaceful at the moment.”

Confident that Tom Arnold and the board could hold the fort for the month they planned to beaway, Charlie was finally convinced he should go when he read of the preparation for the launchingof the queen Mary. He booked a cabin for two on her maiden voyage.

Becky spent five glorious days on the Queen during the journey over, and was delighted to findthat even her husband began to relax once he realized he had no way of getting in touch with TomArnold, or even Daniel, who was serding into his first boarding school. In fact, once Charlieaccepted that he couldn’t bother anyone he seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself as he discovered thevarious facilities that the liner had to offer a slightly overweight, unfit, middle-aged man.

The great Queen sailed into the Port of New York on a Monday morning to be greeted by acrowd of thousands; Charlie could only wonder how different it must have been for the PilgrimFathers bobbing along in the Mayflower with no welcoming party and unsure of what to expect fromthe natives. In truth, Charlie wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the natives either.

Charlie had booked into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, on the recommendation of Daphne, butonce he and Becky had unpacked their suitcases, there was no longer any necessity to sit around andrelax. He rose the following morning- at four-thirty and, browsing through the New York Times,learned of the name of Mrs. Wallis Simpson for the first time. Once he had devoured the newspapers,Charlie left the Waldorf Astoria and strolled up and down Fifth Avenue studying the differentdisplays in the shop windows. He quickly became absorbed by how inventive and original theManhattanites were compared with his opposite numbers in Oxford Street.

As soon as the shops opened at nine, he was able to explore everything in greater detail. Thistime he walked up and down the aisles of the fashionable stores that made up most street corners. Hechecked their stock watched the assistants and even followed certain customers around the store tosee what they purchased. After each of those first two days in New York he arrived back at the hotelin the evening exhausted.

It was not until the third morning that Charlie, having completed Fifth Avenue and Madison,moved on to Lexington, where he discovered Bloomingdale’s, and from that moment Becky realizedthat she had lost her husband for the rest of their stay in New York.

Throughout the first two hours Charlie did nothing more than travel up and down the escalatorsuntil he had completely mastered the layout of the building. He then began to study each floor,department by department, making copious notes. On the ground floor they sold perfume, leathergoods, jewelry; on the first floor, scarves, hats, gloves, stationery; on the second floor were men’sclothes and on the third floor women’s clothes on the fourth floor, household goods and on up and upuntil he discovered that the company offices were on the twelfth floor, discreetly hidden behind a “NoEntry” sign. Charlie longed to discover how that floor was laid out, but had no means of finding out.

On the fourth day he made a close study of how each of the counters was positioned, andbegan to draw their individual layouts. As he proceeded up the escalator to the third floor that

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morning, he found two athletic young men blocking his way. Charlie had no choice but to stop or tryto go back down the escalator the wrong way.

“Something wrong?”“We’re not sure, sir,” said one of the thickset men. “We are store detectives and wondered if

you would be kind enough to come along with us.”“Delighted,” said Charlie, unable to work out what their problem might be.He was whisked up in a lift to the one floor he’d never had a chance to look round and led

down a long corridor through an unmarked door and on into a bare room. There were no pictures onthe wall, no carpet on the floor, and the only furniture consisted of three wooden chairs and a table.They left him alone. Moments later two older men came in to join him.

“I wonder if you would mind answering a few questions for us, sir?” began the taller of thetwo.

“Certainly,” said Charlie, puzzled by the strange treatment he was receiving.“Where do you come from?” asked the first.“England.”“And how did you get here?” asked the second.“On the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary.” He could see that they both showed signs of

nervousness when they learned this piece of information.“Then why, sir, have you been walking all over the store for two days, making notes, but not

attempted to purchase a single item?”Charlie burst out laughing. “Because I own twenty-six shops of my own in London,” he

explained. “I was simply comparing the way you do things in America to the way I conduct mybusiness in England.”

The two men began to whisper to each other nervously.“May I ask your name, sir?”“Trumper, Charlie Trumper.”One of the men rose to his feet and left. Charlie had the distinct feeling that they found his story

hard to believe. It brought beck memories of when he had told Tommy about his first shop. The manwho remained seated opposite him still did not offer an opinion, so the two of them sat silentlyopposite each other for several minutes before the door burst open and in walked a tall, elegantlydressed gentleman in a dark brown suit, brown shoes and a golden cravat. He almost ran forward,arms outstretched to engulf Charlie.

“I must apologize, Mr. Trumper,” were his opening words. “We had no idea you were in NewYork, let alone on the premises. My name is John Bloomingdale, and this is my little store which Ihear you’ve been checking out.”

“I certainly have,” said Charlie.Before he could say another word, Mr. Bloomingdale added, “That’s only fair, because I also

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checked over your famous barrows in Chelsea Terrace, and took one or two great ideas away withme.”

“From Trumper’s?” said Charlie in disbelief.“Oh, certainly. Didn’t you see the flag of America in our front window with all forty-eight

states represented by different colored flowers?”“Well, yes,” began Charlie, “but... ““Stolen from you when my wife and I made a trip to see the SilverJubilee. So consider me at

your service, sir.”The two detectives were now smiling.That night Becky and Charlie joined the Bloomingdales at their brownstone house on Sixty-

first and Madison for dinner, and John Bloomingdale answered all Charlie’s many questions until theearly hours.

The following day Charlie was given an official tour of “my little store” by its owner whilePaty Bloomingdale introduced Becky to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Frick, pumping herwith endless questions about Mrs. Simpson, to which Becky was unable to offer any answers as shehad never heard of the lady before they’d set foot in America.

The Trumpers were sorry to say goodbye to the Bloomingdales before they continued theirjourney on to Chicago by train, where they had been booked into the Stevens. On their arrival in thewindy city they found their room had been upgraded to a suite and Mr. Joseph Field, of MarshallField, had left a handwritten note expressing the hope that they would be able to join him and his wifefor a meal the following evening.

Over dinner in The Fields’ home on Lake Shore Drive, Charlie reminded Mr. Field of hisadvertisem*nt describing his store as one of the biggest in the world, and warned him that ChelseaTerrace was seven feet longer.

“Ah, but will they let you build on twenty-one floors, Mr. Tramper?”“Twenty-two,” countered Charlie, without the slightest idea of what the London County

Council was likely to permit.The next day Charlie added to his growing knowledge of a major store by seeing Marshall

Field’s from the inside. He particularly admired the way the staff appeared to work as a team, all thegirls dressed in smart green outfits with a gold “MF” on their lapels and all the floor walkers in graysuits, while the managers wore dark blue double-breasted blazers.

“Makes it easy for customers to spot a member of my staff when they’re in need of someone tohelp them, especially when the store becomes overcrowded,” explained Mr. Field.

While Charlie became engrossed in the workings of Marshall Field, Becky spent countlesshours at the Chicago Art Institute, and came away particularly admiring the works of Wyeth andRemington, whom she felt should be given exhibitions in London. She was to return to England withone example of each artist tucked into newly acquired suitcases, but the British public never saweither the oil or the sculpture until years later, because once they had been unpacked Charlie wouldn’t

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let them out of the house.By the end of the month they were both exhausted, and sure of only one thing: they wanted to

return to America again and again, though they feared they could never match the hospitality they hadreceived, should either the Fields or the Bloomingdales ever decide to turn up in Chelsea Terrace.However, Joseph Field requested a small favor of Charlie, which he promised he would deal withpersonally the moment he got back to London.

The rumors of the King’s affair with Mrs. Simpson that Charlie had seen chronicled in suchdetail by the American press were now beginning to reach the ears of the English, and Charlie wassaddened when the King finally felt it necessary to announce his abdication. The unexpectedresponsibility was suddenly placed on the unprepared shoulders of the Duke of York, who becameKing George Vl.

The ocher piece of news that Charlie followed on the front pages was the rise to power ofAdolf Hider in Nazi Germany. He could never understand why the Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain,didn’t use a little street sense and give the man a good thump on the nose.

“Neville Chamberlain’s not a barrow boy from the East End,” Becky explained to her husbandover breakfast. “He’s the Prime Minister.”

“More’s the pity,” said Charlie. “Because that’s exactly what would happen to Herr Hitler ifhe ever dared show his face in Whitechapel.”

Tom Arnold didn’t have a great deal to report to Charlie on his return, but he quickly becameaware of the effect that the visit to America had had on his chairman, by the ceaseless rat-tat-tat oforders and ideas that came flying at him from all directions during the days that followed.

“The Shops Committee,” Arnold warned the chairman at their Monday morning meeting, afterCharlie had finished extolling the virtues of America yet again, “is now talking seriously of the effecta war with Germany might have on business.”

“That lot would,” said Charlie, taking a seat behind his desk. “Appeasers to a man. In anycase, Germany won’t declare war on any of Britain’s allies they wouldn’t dare. After all, they can’thave forgotten the hiding we gave them last time. So what other problems are we facing?”

“At a more mundane level,” replied Tom from the other side of the desk, “I still haven’t foundthe right person to manage the jewelry shop since Jack Slade’s retirement.”

“Then start advertising in the trade magazines and let me see anyone who appears suitable.Anything else?”

“Yes, a Mr. Ben Schubert has been asking to see you.”“And what does he want?”“He’s a Jewish refugee from Germany, but he refused to say why he needed to see you.”“Then make an appointment for him when he gets back in touch with you.”“But he’s sitting in the waiting room outside your office right now.”“In the waiting room?” said Charlie in disbelief.

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“Yes. He turns up every morning and just sits there in silence.”“But didn’t you explain to him I was in America?”“Yes, I did,” said Tom. “But it didn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference.”“Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe,” murmured Charlie. “Show the man in.”A small, bent, tired-looking figure whom Charlie suspected was not much older than himself

entered the office and waited to be offered a seat. Charlie rose from behind his desk and ushered hisvisitor into an ammchair near the fireplace before asking him how he could help.

Mr. Schubert spent some time explaining to Charlie how he had escaped from Hamburg withhis wife and two daughters, after so many of his friends had been sent off to concentration camps,never to be heard of again.

Charlie listened to Mr. Schubert’s account of his experiences at the hands of the Nazis withoututtering a word. The man’s escape and his description of what was taking place in Germany couldhave come straight off the pages of a John Buchan novel and was far more vivid than any newspaperreport of recent months.

“How can I help?” asked Charlie when Mr. Schubert appeared to have finished his sad tale.The refugee smiled for the first time, revealing two gold teeth. He picked up the little

briefcase by his side, placed it on Charlie’s desk and then slowly opened it. Charlie stared down atthe finest array of stones he had ever seen, diamonds and amethysts, some of them in the mostmagnificent settings. His visitor then removed what turnd out to be nothing more than a thin tray toreveal loose stones, more rubies, topaz, diamonds, pearls and jade filling every inch of the deep box.

“They are but a tiny sample of what I had to leave behind, in a business that was built up bymy father and his father before him. Now I must sell everything that is left to be sure that my familydoesn’t starve.”

“You were in the jewelry business?”“Twenty-six years,” replied Mr. Schubert. “Man and boy.”“And how much are you hoping to get for this lot?” Charlie pointed to the open case.“Three thousand pounds,” Mr. Schubert said without hesitation. “That is far less than they are

worth, but I am no longer left with the time or the will to bargain.”Charlie pulled open the drawer by his right hand, removed a checkbook and wrote out the

words “Pay Mr. Schubert three thousand pounds.” He pushed it across the desk.“But you have not checked their value,” said Mr. Schubert.“Not necessary,” said Charlie, as he rose from his chair. “Because you’re going to sell them

as the new manager of my jewelry shop. Which also means that you’ll have to explain to mepersonally if they don’t fetch the price you claim they are worth. Once you’ve repaid the advance,then we’ll discuss your commission.”

A smile came over Mr. Schubert’s face. “They teach you well in the East End, Mr. Trumper.”“There are a lot of you down there to keep us on our toes,” replied Charlie with a gun. “And

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don’t forget, my father-in-law was one.”Ben Schubert stood up and hugged his new boss.What Charlie hadn’t anticipated was just how many Jewish refugees would find their way to

Trumper’s the Jeweler, closing deals with Mr. Schubert that ensured Charlie never had to worryabout the jewelry side of his business again.

It must have been about a week later that Tom Arnold entered the chairman’s office withoutknocking. Charlie could see what an agitated state his managing director was in so he simply asked,“What’s the problem, Tom?”

“Shoplifting.”“Where?”“Number 133 women’s clothes.”“What’s been stolen?”“Two pairs of shoes and a skirt.”“Then follow the standard procedure as laid down in company regulations. First thing you do

is call in the police.”“It’s not that easy.”“Of course it’s that easy. A thief is a thief.”“But she’s claiming... ““That her mother is ninety and dying of cancer, not to mention the fact that her children are all

crippled?”“No, that she’s your sister.”Charlie rocked back in his chair, paused for a moment and then sighed heavily. “What have

you done?”“Nothing yet. I told the manager to hold on to her while I had a word with you.”“Then let’s get on with it,” said Charlie. He rose from behind his desk and began to march

towards the door.Neither man spoke again until they had reached Number 133, where an agitated manager was

waiting for them by the front door.“Sorry, Chairman,” were Jim Grey’s opening words.“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, Jim,” said Charlie as he was led through to the

back room where they found Kitty sitting at a table, compact in hand, checking her lipstick in a handmirror.

The moment she saw Charlie she clicked the compact lid closed and dropped it into her bag.On the table in front of her lay two pairs of fashionable leather shoes and a purple pleated skirt. Kittyclearly still liked the best, as her selection was all from the top price range. She smiled up at herbrother. The lipstick didn’t help.

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“Now that the big boss himself has arrived you’ll find out exactly who I am,” said Kitty,glaring at Jim Grey.

“You’re a thief,” said Charlie. “That’s what you are.”“Come on, Charlie, you can afford it.” Her voice showed no sign of remorse.“That’s not the point, Kitty. If I... ““If you put me up in front of the beak claimin’ I’m a tea leaf the press’ll ‘ave a field day. You

wouldn’t dare ‘ave me arrested, Charlie, and you know it.”“Not this time, perhaps,” said Charlie, “but it’s the last occasion, that I promise you.” He turnd

to the manager and added, “If this lady ever tries to leave again without paying for something, call inthe police and see that she is charged without any reference to me. Do I make myself clear, Mr.Grey?”

“Yes, sir.”“Yes, sir, no, sir, three bags full, sir. Don’t worry yourself, Charlie, I won’t be botherin’ you

again.”Charlie looked unconvinced.“You see, I’m off to Canada next week where it seems there’s at least one member of our

family who actually cares about what happens to me.”Charlie was about to protest when Kitty picked up the skirt and both pairs of shoes and

dropped them in the bag. She walked straight past the three men.“Just a moment,” said Tom Arnold.“Bugger off,” said Kitty over her shoulder as she marched through the shop.Tom turnd towards the chaimman, who stood and watched his sister as she stepped out onto

the pavement without even looking back.“Don’t bother yourself, Tom. It’s cheap at the price.”On 30 September 1938 the Prime Minister resumed from Munich where he had been in talks

with the German Chancellor. Charlie remained unconvinced by the “peace in our time, peace withhonor” document that Chamberlain kept waving in front of the cameras, because after listening to BenSchubert’s firsthand description of what was taking place in the Third Reich, he had becomeconvinced that war with Germany was inevitable. Introducing conscription for those over twenty hadalready been debated in Parliament, and with Daniel in his last year at St. Paul’s waiting to sit hisuniversity entrance papers, Charlie couldn’t bear the thought of losing a son to another war with theGermans. When a few weeks later Daniel was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge,it only added to his fears.

Hitler marched into Poland on 1 September 1939, and Charlie realized that Ben Schubert’sstories had not been exaggerated. Two days later Britain was at war.

For the first few weeks after the declaration of hostilities there was a lull, almost ananticlimax, and if it hadn’t been for the increased number of men in uniforms marching up and down

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Chelsea Terrace and a drop in sales Charlie might have been forgiven for not realizing Britain wasengaged in a war at all.

During this time only the restaurant came up for sale. Charlie offered Mr. Scallini a fair price,which he accepted without question before fleeing back to his native Florence. He was luckier thansome, who were interned for no more reason than that they possessed a German or an Italian name.Charlie immediately locked up the restaurant because he wasn’t sure what he could do with thepremises eating out was hardly a top priority for Londoners in 1940. Once the Scallini lease had beentransferred only the antiquarian bookshop and the syndicate chaired by Mr. Wrexall still remained inother traders’ hands; but the significance of Mrs. Trentham’s large block of unoccupied flats becamemore obvious for all to see as each day went by.

On 7 September 1940 the false lull ended when the Luftwaffe carried out its mass raid on thecapital. After that Londoners started to emigrate to the country in droves. Charlie still refused tobudge, and even ordered that “Business as Usual” signs be placed in every one of his shop windows.In fact, the only concessions he made to Herr Hitler were to move his bedroom to the basem*nt andhave all the curtains changed to black drape.

Two months later, in the middle of the night Charlie was woken by a duly constable to be toldthat the first bomb had fallen on Chelsea Terrace. He ran all the way from the Little Boltons downTregunter Road in his dressing gown and slippers to inspect the damage.

“Anyone killed?” he asked while on the move.“Not that we know of,” replied the constable, trying to keep up with him.“Which shop did the bomb land on?”“Can’t tell you the answer to that, Mr. Trumper. All I know is that it looks as if the whole of

Chelsea Terrace is on fire.”As Charlie turnd the corner of Fulham Road he was confronted by bright flames and dark

smoke soaring up into the sky. The bomb had landed right in the middle of Mrs. Trentham’s flats,completely demolishing them, while at the same time shattering three of Charlie’s shop windows andbadly damaging the roof of hats and scarves.

By the time the fire brigade finally departed from the Terrace all that was left of the flats wasa gray, smoldering bombed-out shell, right in the middle of the block. As the weeks passed, Charliebecame only too aware of the obvious Mrs. Trentham had no intention of doing anything about theheap of rubble that now dominated the center of Chelsea Terrace.

* * *In May 1940 Mr. Churchill took over from Mr. Chamberlain as Prime Minister, which gave

Charlie a little more confidence about the future. He even talked to Becky of joining up again.“Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?” asked his wife, laughing.“I could get fit again, I know I could,” said Charlie, pulling in his stomach. “In any case they

don’t only need troops for the front line.”“You can do a far more worthwhile job by keeping those shops open and stocked up for the

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general public.”“Arnold could do that just as well as me,” said Charlie. “What’s more, he’s fifteen years older

than I am.”However, Charlie reluctantly came to the conclusion that Becky was right when Daphne came

round to tell them that Percy had rejoined his old regiment. “Thank God they’ve told him he’s too oldto serve abroad this time,” she confided in them. “So he’s landed a desk job at the War Office.”

The following afternoon, while Charlie was carrying out an inspection of repairs after anothernight of bombing, Tom Arnold warned him that Syd Wrexall’s committee had begun to make noisesabout selling the remaining eleven of their shops, as well as the Musketeer itself.

“There’s no hurry to do anything about them,” said Charlie. “He’ll be giving those shops awaywithin a year.”

“But by then Mrs. Trentham could have bought them all at a knockdown price.”“Not while there’s a war on, she won’t. In any case, the damned woman knows only too well

that I can’t do a lot while that bloody great crater remains in the middle of Chelsea Terrace.”“Oh, hell,” said Tom as the Klaxon whine of the siren started up. “They must be on their way

again.”“They certainly are,” said Charlie, as he looked towards the sky. “You’d better get all the staff

into the basem*nt sharpish.” Charlie ran out onto the street, to find an Air Raid Patrol man cyclingdown the middle of the road, shouting instructions that everyone should head for the nearestUnderground as quickly as possible. Tom Arnold had trained his managers to lock up the shops andhave all the staff and customers safely in the basem*nt with their torches and a small supply of foodwithin five minutes. It always put Charlie in mind of the general strike. As they sat in the largestoreroom under Number 1 waiting for the all-clear, Charlie looked around the gathering of his fellowLondoners and became aware of just how many of his best young men had already left Trumper’s tojoin up; he was now down to fewer than two-thirds of his permanent staff the majority of whom werewomen.

Some cradled young children in their arms, while others tried to sleep. Two regulars in acorner continued a game of chess as if the war were no more than an inconvenience. A couple ofyoung girls practiced the latest dance step on the small space left unoccupied in the center of thebasem*nt while others just slept.

They could all hear the bombs falling above them, and Becky told Charlie she felt sure onehad landed nearby. “On Syd Wrexall’s pub, perhaps?” said Charlie, trying to hide a grin. “That’llteach him to serve short measures.” The all-clear Saxon eventually sounded, and they emerged backinto an evening air filled with dust and ashes.

“You were right about Syd Wrexall’s pub,” said Becky, looking at the far corner of the block,but Charlie’s eyes were not fixed on the Musketeer.

Becky’s gaze eventually turned to where Charlie was staring. A bomb had landed right in themiddle of his fruit and vegetable shop.

“The bastards,” he said. “They’ve gone too far this time. Now I will join up.”

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“But what good will that do?”“I don’t know,” said Charlie, “but at least I’ll feel I’m involved in this war and not just sitting

around watching.”“And what about the shops? Who’s going to take charge of them?”“Arnold can take care of them while I’m away.”“But what about Daniel and me? Can Tom take care of us while you’re away?” she asked, her

voice rising.Charlie was silent for a moment while he considered Becky’s plea. “Daniel’s old enough to

take care of himself, and you’ll have your time fully occupied seeing that Trumper’s keeps its headabove water. So don’t say another word, Becky, because I’ve made up my mind.”

After that nothing his wife could say or do would dissuade Charlie from signing up. To hersurprise the Fusiliers were only too happy to accept their old sergeant back in the ranks, andimmediately sent him off to a training camp near Cardiff.

With Tom Arnold looking anxiously on, Charlie kissed his wife and hugged his son, thenshook hands with his managing director before waving goodbye to all three of them.

As he traveled down to Cardiff in a train full of fresh-faced, eager youths not much older thanDaniel most of whom insisted on calling him “sir” Charlie felt like an old man. A battered truck metthe new recruits at the station and delivered them safely into barracks.

“Nice to have you back, Trumper,” said a voice, as he stepped onto the parade ground for thefirst time in more than twenty years.

“Stan Russell. Good heavens, are you the company sergeant major now? You were only alance corporal when... “

“I am, sir,” Stan said. His voice dropped to a whisper. “And I’ll see to it that you don’t get thesame treatment as the others, me old mate.”

“No, you’d better not do that, Stan. I need worse than the same treatment,” said Charlie,placing both hands on his stomach.

Although the senior NCOs were gentler on Charlie than they were on the raw recruits, he stillfound the first week of basic training a painful reminder of how little exercise he had done over theprevious twenty years. When he became hungry he quickly discovered that what the NAAFI had tooffer could hardly be described as appetizing, and trying to get to sleep each night on a bed ofunrelenting springs held together by a two-inch horsehair mattress made him less than delighted withHerr Hitler.

By the end of the second week Charlie was made up to corporal and told that if he wanted tostay on in Cardiff as an instructor they would immediately commission him as a training officer, withthe rank of captain.

“The Germans are expected in Cardiff, are they, boyo?” asked Charlie. “I had no idea theyplayed rugby football.”

His exact words on the subject were relayed back to the commanding officer, so Charlie

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continued as a corporal, completing his basic training. By the eighth week he had been promoted tosergeant and given his own platoon to knock into shape, ready for wherever it was they were going tobe sent. From that moment on there wasn’t a competition, from the rifle range to the boxing ring, thathis men were allowed to lose, and “Trumper’s Terriers” set the standard for the rest of the battalionfor the remaining four weeks.

With only ten days left before they completed their training, Stan Russell informed Charlie thatthe battalion was destined for Africa, where they would join Wavell in the desert. Charlie wasdelighted by the news, as he had long admired the reputation of the “poet general.”

Sergeant Trumper spent most of that final week helping his lads write letters to their familiesand girlfriends. He didn’t intend to put pen to paper himself until the last moment. With a week to gohe admitted to Stan that he wasn’t ready to take on the Germans in anything much more than a verbalbathe.

He was in the middle of a Bren demonstration with his platoon, explaining co*cking andreloading, when a red-faced lieutenant came running up.

“Trumper.”“Sir,” said Charlie, leaping to attention.“The commanding officer wants to see you immediately.”“Yes, sir,” said Charlie. He instructed his corporal to carry on with the lesson and then chased

after the lieutenant.“Why are we running so fast?” asked Charlie.“Because the commanding officer was running when he came looking for me.”“Then it has to be at least high treason,” said Charlie.“Heaven knows what it is, Sergeant, but you’ll find out soon enough,” said the lieutenant, as

they arrived outside the CO’s door. The lieutenant, closely followed by Charlie, entered the colonel’soffice without knocking.

“Sergeant Trumper, 7312087, reporting... ““You can cut all that bullsh*t out, Trumper,” said the colonel, as Charlie watched the

commanding officer pacing up and down, slapping his side with a swagger stick. “My car is waitingfor you at the gate. You are to go straight to London.”

“London, sir?”“Yes, Trumper, London. Mr. Churchill’s just been on the blower. Wants to see you soonest.”

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CHAPTER28The colonel’s driver did everything in his power to get Sergeant Trumper to London as quickly aspossible. He pressed his foot to the floor again and again as he tried to keep the speedometer aboveeighty. However, as they were continually held up en route by convoys of troops, transportationlorries, and even at one point Warrior tanks, the task was daunting. When Charlie finally reachedChiswick on the outskirts of London they were then faced with the blackout, followed by an air raid,followed by the all-clear, followed by countless more roadblocks all the way to Downing Street.

Despite having six hours to ponder as to why Mr. Churchill could possibly want to see him,when the car came to a halt outside Number 10 Charlie was no nearer a conclusion than he had beenwhen he left the barracks at Cardiff earlier that afternoon.

When he explained to the policeman on the door who he was, the constable checked hisclipboard, then gave a sharp rap on the brass knocker before inviting Sergeant Trumper to step intothe hall. Charlie’s first reaction on being inside Number 10 was surprise at discovering how smallthe house was compared with Daphne’s home in Eaton Square.

A young Wren officer came forward to greet the middle-aged sergeant before ushering himthrough to an anteroom.

“The Prime Minister has the American ambassador with him at the moment,” she explained.“But he doesn’t expect his meeting with Mr. Kennedy to last much longer.”

“Thank you,” said Charlie. “Would you like a cup of tea?”“No, thank you.” Charlie was too nervous to think about drinking tea. As she closed the door,

he picked up a copy of Lilliput from a side table and leafed through the pages, but didn’t attempt totake in the words.

After he had thumbed through every magazine on the table and they were even more out of dateat Number 10 than at his dentist he began to take an interest in the pictures on the wall. Wellington,Palmerston and Disraeli: all inferior portraits that Becky would not have bothered to offer for sale atNumber 1. Becky. Good heavens, he thought, she doesn’t even know I’m in London. He stared at thetelephone that rested on the sideboard aware that he couldn’t possibly call her from Number 10. Infrustration he began to pace round the room feeling like a patient waiting for the doctor to tell him ifthe diagnosis was terminal. Suddenly the door swung open and the Wren reappeared.

“The Prime Minister will see you now, Mr. Trumper,” she said, then proceeded to lead him upa narrow staircase, past the framed photographs of former prime ministers. By the time he reachedChurchill he found himself on the landing facing a man of five feet nine inches in height who stood,arms on hips, legs apart, staring defiantly at him.

“Trumper,” said Churchill, thrusting out his hand. “Good of you to come at such short notice.Hope I didn’t tear you away from anything important.”

Just a Bren lesson, thought Charlie, but decided not to mention the fact as he followed theshambling figure through to his study. Churchill waved his guest into a comfortable winged chair near

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a roaring fire; Charlie looked at the burning logs and remembered the Prime Minister’s strictures tothe nation on wasting coal.

“You must be wondering what this is all about,” the Prime Minister said, as he lit up a cigarand opened a file that was resting on his knee. He started to read.

“Yes, sir,” said Charlie, but his reply failed to elicit any explanation. Churchill continued toread from the copious notes in front of him.

“I see we have something in common.”“We do, Prime Minister?”“We both served in the Great War.”“The war to end all wars.”“Yes, wrong again, wasn’t he?” said Churchill. “But then he was a politician.” The Prime

Minister chuckled before continuing to read from the files. Suddenly he looked up. “However, weboth have a far more important role to play in this war, Trumper, and I can’t waste your time onteaching recruits Bren lessons in Cardiff.”

The damned man knew all along, thought Charlie.“When a nation is at war, Trumper,” said the Prime Minister, closing the file, “people imagine

victory will be guaranteed so long as we have more troops and better equipment than the enemy. Butbattles can be lost or won by something that the generals in the field have no control over. A little cogthat stops the wheels going round smoothly. Only today I’ve had to set up a new department in theWar Office to deal with code-breaking. I’ve stolen the two best professors they have at Cambridge,along with their assistants, to help solve the problem. Invaluable cogs, Trumper.”

“Yes, sir,” said Charlie, without a clue as to what the old man was talking about.“And I have a problem with another of those cogs Trumper, and my advisers tell me you’re the

best man to come up with a solution.”“Thank you, sir.”“Food, Trumper, and more important its distribution. I understand from Lord Woolton the

minister in charge that supplies are fast running out. We can’t even get enough potatoes shipped overfrom Ireland. So one of the biggest problems I’m facing at this moment is how to keep the nation’sstomach full while waging a war on the enemy’s shores and at the same time keeping our supplyroutes open. The minister tells me that when the food arrives in the ports it can often be weeks beforethe damned stuff is moved, and sometimes even then it ends up in the wrong place.

“Added to this,” continued the Prime Minister, “our farmers are complaining that they can’t dothe job properly because we’re recruiting their best men for the armed forces, and they’re notreceiving any backup from the government in exchange.” He paused for a moment to relight his cigar.“So what I’m looking for is a man who has spent his life buying, selling and distributing food,someone who has lived in the marketplace and who the farmers and the suppliers both will respect. Inshort, Trumper, I need you. I want you to join Woolton as his right-hand man, and see that we get thesupplies, and then that those supplies are distributed to the right quarters. Can’t think of a more

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important job. I hope you’ll be willing to take on the challenge.”The desire to get started must have shown in Charlie’s eyes, because the Prime Minister didn’t

even bother to wait for his reply. “Good, I can see you’ve got the basic idea. I’d like you to report tothe Ministry of Food at eight tomorrow morning. A car will come to pick you up from your home atseven forty-five.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Charlie, not bothering to explain to the Prime Minister that if a car didturn up at seven forty-five the driver would have missed him by over three hours.

“And, Trumper, I’m going to make you up to a brigadier so you’ve got some clout.”“I’d prefer to remain plain Charlie Trumper.”“Why?”“I might at some time find it necessary to be rude to a general... “The Prime Minister removed his cigar and roared with laughter before he accompanied his

guest to the door. “And, Trumper,” he said, placing a hand on Charlie’s shoulder, “should the needever arise, don’t hesitate to contact me direct, if you think it could make the difference. Night or day. Idon’t bother with sleep, you know.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Charlie, as he proceeded down the staircase.“Good luck, Trumper, and see you feed the people.”The Wren escorted Charlie back to his car and saluted him as he took his place in the front

seat which surprised Charlie because he was still dressed as a sergeant.He asked the driver to take him to the Little Boltons via Chelsea Terrace. As they traveled

slowly through the streets of the West End, it saddened him to find old familiar landmarks so badlydamaged by the Luftwaffe, although he realized no one in London had escaped the Germans’relentless air bombardment.

When he arrived home, Becky opened the front door and threw her arms around her husband.“What did Mr. Churchill want?” was her first question.

“How did you know I was seeing the Prime Minister?”“Number 10 rang here first to ask where they could get hold of you. So what did he want?”“Someone who can deliver his fruit and veg on a regular basis.”Charlie liked his new boss from the moment they met. Although James Woolton had come to

the Ministry of Food with the reputation of being a brilliant businessman, he admitted that he was notan expert in Charlie’s particular field but said his department was there to see that Charlie was givenevery assistance he required.

Charlie was allocated a large office on the same corridor as the minister and supplied with astaff of fourteen headed by a young personal assistant called Arthur Selwyn who hadn’t been longdown from Oxford.

Charlie soon learned that Selwyn had a brain as sharp as a razor, and although he had noexperience of Charlie’s world he only ever needed to be told something once.

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The navy supplied Charlie with a personal secretary called Jessica Allen, who appeared to bewilling to work the same hours as he did. Charlie wondered why such an attractive, intelligent girlappeared to have no social life until he studied her file more carefully and discovered that her youngfiance had been killed on the beach at Dunkirk Charlie quickly returned to his old routine of cominginto the office at four-thirty, even before the cleaners had arrived, which allowed him to read throughhis papers until eight without fear of being disturbed.

Because of the special nature of his assignment and the obvious support of his minister, doorsopened whenever he appeared. Within a month most of his staff were coming in by five, althoughSelwyn turned out to be the only one of them who also had the stamina to stick with him through thenight.

For that first month Charlie did nothing but read reports and listen to Selwyn’s detailedassessment of the problems they had been facing for the best part of a year, while occasionallypopping in to see the minister to clarify a point that he didn’t fully understand.

During the second month Charlie decided to visit every major port in the kingdom to find outwhat was holding up the distribution of food, food that was sometimes simply being left to rot fordays on end in the storehouses on the docksides throughout the country. When he reached Liverpoolhe quickly discovered that supplies were rightly not getting priority over tanks or men when it cameto movement, so he requested that his ministry should operate a fleet of its own vehicles, with nopurpose other than to distribute food supplies across the nation.

Woolton somehow managed to come up with sixty-two trucks, most of them, he admitted,rejects from war surplus. “Not unlike me,” Charlie admitted. However, the minister still couldn’tspare the men to drive them.

“If men aren’t available, Minister, I need two hundred women,” Charlie suggested, anddespite the cartoonists’ genre jibes about women drivers it only took another month before the foodstarted to move out of the docks within hours of its arrival.

The dockers themselves responded well to the women drivers, while trade union leadersnever found out that Charlie spoke to them with one accent while using quite another when he wasback at the ministry.

Once Charlie had begun to solve the distribution problem, he came up against two moredilemmas. On the one hand, the farmers were complaining that they couldn’t produce enough food athome because the armed forces were taking away all their best men; on the other, Charlie found hejust wasn’t getting enough supplies coming in from abroad because of the success of the German U-boat campaign.

He came up with two solutions for Woolton’s consideration. “You supplied me with lorrygirls, now you must give me land girls,” Charlie told him. “I need five thousand this time, becausethat’s what the farmers are saying they’re short of.”

The next day Woolton was interviewed on the BBC and made a special appeal to the nationfor land girls. Five hundred applied in the first twenty-four hours and the minister had the fivethousand Charlie requested within ten weeks. Charlie allowed the applications to continue pouring inuntil he had seven thousand and could clearly identify a smile on the face of the president of the

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National Farmers’ Union.Over the second problem of lack of supplies Charlie advised Woolton to buy rice as a

substitute diet staple because of the hardship the nation was facing with a potato shortage. “But wheredo we find such a commodity?” asked Woolton. “China and the Far East is much too hazardous ajourney for us even to consider right now.”

“I’m aware of that,” said Charlie, “but I know a supplier in Egypt who could let us have amillion tons a month.”

“Can he be trusted?”“Certainly not,” said Charlie. “But his brother still works in the East End, and if we were to

intern him for a few months I reckon I could pull off some sort of deal with the family.”“If the press ever found out what we were up to Charlie, they’d have my guts for garters.”“I’m not going to tell them, Minister.”The following day Eli Calil found himself interned in Brixton Prison while Charlie flew off to

Cairo to close a deal with his brother for a million tons of rice per month, rice that had beenoriginally earmarked for the Italians.

Charlie agreed with Nasim Calil that the payments could be made half in pounds sterling andhalf in piastres, and as long as the shipments always arrived on time no paperwork concerning themoney needed be evident on the Cairo end. Failing this, Calil’s government would be informed of thefull details of their transaction.

“Very fair, Charlie, but then you always were. But what about my brother Eli?” asked NasimCalil.

“We’ll release him at the end of the war but then only if every shipment is delivered on time.”“Also most considerate,” Nasim replied. “A couple of years in jail will do Eli no harm. He is,

after all, one of the few members of my family who hasn’t yet been detained at His Majesty’spleasure.”

Charlie tried to spend at least a couple of hours a week with Tom Arnold so that he could bekept up to date on what was happening in Chelsea Terrace. Tom had to report that Trumper’s wasnow losing money steadily and he had found it necessary to close five of the premises and board upanother four; this saddened Charlie because Syd Wrexall had recently written to him offering hisentire group of shops and the bombedout corner pub for only six thousand pounds, a sum Wrexall wasclaiming Charlie had once made him a firm offer on. All Charlie had to do now, Wrexall remindedArnold in an accompanying letter, was to sign the check.

Charlie studied the contract that Wrexall had enclosed and said, “I made that offer long beforethe outbreak of war. Send all the documents back. I’m confident he’ll let those shops go for aroundfour thousand by this time next year. But try and keep him happy, Tom.”

“That might prove a little difficult,” replied Tom. “Since that bomb landed on the MusketeerSyd’s gone off to live in Cheshire. He’s now the landlord of a country pub in some place calledHatherton.”

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“Even better,” said Charlie. “We’ll never see him again. Now I’m even more convinced thatwithin a year he’ll be ready to make a deal, so for the time being just ignore his letter; after all, thepost is very unreliable at the moment.”

Charlie had to leave Tom and travel on down to Southampton, where Calil’s first shipment ofrice had arrived. His lorry girls had gone to pick up the bags, but the manager of the port was refusingto release them without proper signed documentation. It was a trip Charlie could have well donewithout, and one he certainly didn’t intend to make every month.

When he arrived on the dockside he quickly discovered that there was no problem with thetrade unions, who were quite willing to unload the entire cargo, or with his girls, who were justsitting on the mudguards of their lorries waiting to take delivery.

Over a pint at the local pub, Alf Redwood, the dockers’ leader, warned Charlie that Mr.Simkins, the general manager of the Docks and Harbour Board, was a stickler when it came topaperwork and liked everything done by the book.

“Does he?” said Charlie. “Then I’ll have to stick by the book, won’t I?” After paying for hisround, he walked over to the administration block where he asked to see Mr. Simkins.

“He’s rather busy at the moment,” said a receptionist, not bothering to look up from paintingher nails. Charlie walked straight past her and into Simkins’ office, to find a thin, balding man sittingalone behind a very large desk dipping a biscuit into a cup of tea.

“And who are you?” asked the port’s official, taken so completely by surprise that he droppedhis biscuit into the tea.

“Charlie Trumper. And I’m here to find out why you won’t release my rice.”“I don’t have the proper authority,” said Simkins, as he tried to rescue his biscuit, which was

now floating on the top of his morning beverage. “No official papers have come from Cairo, and yourforms from London are inadequate, quite inadequate.” He gave Charlie a smile of satisfaction.

“But it could take days for me to get the necessary paperwork sorted out.”“That’s not my problem.”“But we’re at war, man.”“Which is why we must all try to keep to the regulations. I’m sure the Germans do.”“I don’t give a damn what the Germans do,” said Charlie. “I’ve got a million tons of rice

coming through this port every month and I want to distribute every last grain of it as quickly aspossible. Do I make myself

“You certainly do, Mr. Trumper, but I shall still require the official papers correctlycompleted before you get your rice.”

“I order you to release that rice immediately,” said Charlie, barking at him for the first time.“No need to raise your voice, Mr. Trumper, because as I’ve already explained you don’t have

the authority to order me to do anything. This is the Docks and Harbour Board and it doesn’t, as I’msure you know, come under the Ministry of Food. I should go back to London, and this time do try alittle harder to see that we get the correct forms properly filled in.”

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Charlie felt he was too old to hit the man, so he simply picked up the telephone on Simkins’desk and asked for a number.

“What are you doing?” demanded Simkins. “That’s my telephone you don’t have the properauthority to use my telephone.”

Charlie clung to the phone and turnd his back on Simkins. When he heard the voice on theother end of the line, he said, “It’s Charlie Trumper. Can you put me through to the Prime Minister?”

Simkins’ cheeks turned first red, then white, as the blood drained quickly from his face.“There’s really no need... “ he began.

“Good morning, sir,” said Charlie. “I’m down in Southampton. The rice problem I mentionedto you last night. There turns out to be a bit of a holdup at this end. I don’t seem to be able... “

Simkins was now frantically waving his hands like a semaphore sailor in an attempt to gainCharlie’s attention, while at the same time nodding his head energetically up and down.

“I’ve got a million tons coming in every month, Prime Minister, and the girls are just sitting ontheir... “

“It will be all right,” whispered Simkins as he began to circle Charlie. “It will be all right, Ican assure you.”

“Do you want to speak to the man in charge yourself, sir?”“No, no,” said Simkins. “That won’t be necessary. I have all the forms, all the forms you need,

all the forms.”“I’ll let him know, sir,” said Charlie, pausing for a moment. “I’m due back in London this

evening. Yes, sir, yes, I’ll brief you the moment I return. Goodbye, Prime Minister.”“Goodbye,” said Becky as she put down the telephone. “And no doubt you’ll tell me what all

that was about when you do get home tonight.”The minister roared with laughter when Charlie repeated the whole story to him and Jessica

Allen later that evening.“You know, the Prime Minister would have been quite happy to speak to the man if you had

wanted him to,” said Woolton.“If he’d done that Simkins would have had a heart attack,” said Charlie. “And then my rice,

not to mention my drivers, would have been stuck in that port forever. In any case, with the foodshortage the way it is I wouldn’t have wanted the wretched man to waste another of his biscuits.”

Charlie was in Carlisle attending a farmers’ conference when an urgent call came through forhim from London.

“Who is it?” he asked as he tried to concentrate on a delegate who was explaining theproblems of increasing turnip yields.

“The Marchioness of Wiltshire,” whispered Arthur Selwyn.“Then I’ll take it,” said Charlie, and left the conference room to return to his bedroom, where

the hotel operator put the call through.

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“Daphne what can I do for you, my luv?”“No, darling, it’s what I can do for you, as usual. Have you read your Times this morning?”“Glanced at the headlines. Why?” asked Charlie.“Then you’d better check the obituaries page more carefully. In particular, the last line of one

of them. I won’t waste any more of your time, darling, as the Prime Minister keeps reminding us justwhat a vital role you’re playing in winning the war.”

Charlie laughed as the line went dead.“Anything I can do to help?” asked Selwyn.“Yes, Arthur, I need a copy of today’s Times.”When Selwyn returned with a copy of the morning paper, Charlie flicked quickly through the

pages until he came to the obituaries: Admiral Sir Alexander Dexter, a First World War commanderof outstanding tactical ability; J. T. Macpherson, the balloonist and author; and Sir RaymondHardcastle, the industrialist...

Charlie skimmed through the bare details of Sir Raymond’s career: born and educated inYorkshire; built up his father’s engineering firm at the turn of the century. During the twentiesHardcastle’s had expanded from a fledgling company into one of the great industrial forces in thenorth of England. In 1937 Hardcastle sold his shareholding to John Brown and Company for sevenhundred and eighty thousand pounds. But Daphne was right the last line was the only one that reallyconcerned Charlie.

“Sir Raymond, whose wife died in 1914, is survived by two daughters, Miss Amy Hardcastleand Mrs. Gerald Trentham.”

Charlie picked up the telephone on the desk beside him and asked to be put through to aChelsea number. A few moments later Tom Arnold came on the line.

“Where the hell did you say Wrexall was to be found?” was the only question Charlie asked.“As I explained when you last inquired, Chairman, he now runs a pub in Cheshire, the Happy

Poacher, in a village called Hatherton.”Charlie thanked his managing director and replaced the receiver without another word.“Can I be of any assistance?” asked Selwyn dryly.“What’s my program for the rest of the day looking like, Arthur?”“Well, they haven’t quite finished with the turnips yet, then you’re meant to be attending more

sessions all afternoon. This evening you’re proposing the health of the government at the conferencedinner before finally presenting the farmers’ annual dairy awards tomorrow morning.”

“Then pray I’m back in time for the dinner,” said Charlie. He stood up and grabbed hisovercoat.

“Do you want me to come with you?” asked Selwyn, trying to keep up with his master.“No, thank you, Arthur. It’s a personal matter. Just cover for me if I’m not back in time.”

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Charlie ran down the stairs and out into the yard. His driver was dozing peacefully behind thewheel.

Charlie jumped into his car and the slammed door woke him up. “Take me to Hatherton.”“Hatherton, sir?”“Yes, Hatherton. Head south out of Carlisle, and by then I should be able to point you in the

right direction.” Charlie flicked open the road map, turned to the back and began running his fingerdown the H’s. There were five Hathertons listed but luckily just the one in Cheshire. The only otherword Charlie uttered on the entire journey was “Faster,” which he repeated several times. Theypassed through Lancaster, Preston and Warrington before coming to a halt outside the Happy Poacherhalf an hour before the pub was due to close for the afternoon.

Syd Wrexall’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when Charlie strolled in the front door.“A Scotch egg and a pint of your best bitter, landlord, and no short measures,” Charlie said

with a grin, placing a briefcase by his side.“Fancy seeing you in these parts, Mr. Trumper,” declared Syd after he had shouted over his

shoulder “Hilda, one Scotch egg, and come and see who’s ‘ere.”“I was just on my way to a farmers’ conference in Carlisle,” explained Charlie. “Thought I’d

drop by and have a pint and a snack with an old friend.”“That’s right neighborly of you,” said Syd as he placed the pint of bitter on the counter in front

of him. “Of course, we read about you in the papers a lot nowadays, and all the work you’re doingwith Lord Woolton for the war effort. You’re becoming quite a celebrity.”

“It’s a fascinating job the Prime Minister has given me,” said Charlie. “I can only hope thatI’m doing some good,” he added, hoping he sounded pompous enough.

“But what about your shops, Charlie? Who’s taking care of them with you away so much of thetime?”

“Arnold’s back at base doing the best he can in the circ*mstances, but I’m afraid I’ve got fouror five closed, not to mention those that were already boarded up. I can tell you, Syd, in confidence”Charlie lowered his voice “if things don’t start brightening up before too long I shall soon be lookingfor a buyer myself.” Wrexall’s wife came bushing in carrying a plate of food.

“Hello, Mrs. Wrexall,” said Charlie, as she put down a Scotch egg and a plate of salad infront of him. “Good to see you again, and why don’t you and your husband have a drink on me?”

“Don’t mind if I do, Charlie. Can you see to it, Hilda?” he said, as he leaned over the barconspiratorially. “Don’t suppose you know anyone who’d be interested in purchasing the syndicate’sshops, and the pub, for that matter?”

“Can’t say I do,” said Charlie. “If I remember rightly, Syd, you were asking an awful lot ofmoney for the Musketeer which is now nothing more than a bomb site. Not to mention the state of thefew shops the syndicate still have boarded up.”

“I came down to your figure of six thousand, which I thought we had already shaken hands on,but Arnold told me you were no longer interested,” said Syd, as his wife placed two pints on the

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counter before going off to serve another customer.“He told you that?” said Charlie, trying to sound surprised.“Oh, yes,” said Wrexall. “I accepted your offer of six thousand, even sent the signed contract

for your approval, but he just returned the documents without so much as a by-your-leave.”“I don’t believe it,” said Charlie. “After I’d given my word, Syd. Why didn’t you get in touch

with me direct?”“Not that easy nowadays,” said Wrexall, “what with your new exalted position I didn’t think

you’d be available for the likes of me.”“Arnold had no right to do that,” said Charlie. “He obviously didn’t appreciate how long our

relationship goes back. I do apologize, Syd, and remember, for you I’m always available. You don’tstill have the contract, by any chance?”

“Certainly do,” said Wrexall. “And it’ll prove I’m as good as my word.” He disappeared,leaving Charlie to take a bite of Scotch egg and a slow swig of the local brew.

The publican returned a few minutes later and slammed down some documents on the bar top.“There you are, Charlie, true as I stand here.”

Charlie studied the contract that he had been shown by Arnold some eighteen months before. Italready bore the signature “Sydney Wrexall,” with the figures “six thousand” written in after thewords “for the consideration of... “

“All that it needed was the date and your signature,” said Syd. “I never thought you’d do thatto me Charlie, after all these years.”

“As you well know, Syd, I’m a man of my word. I’m only sorry my managing director wasn’tproperly acquainted with our personal arrangement.” Charlie removed a wallet from his pocket, tookout a checkbook, and wrote out the words “Syd Wrexall” on the top line and “six thousand pounds”on the line below before signing it with a flourish.

“You’re a gentleman, Charlie, I always said you were. Didn’t I always say he was, Hilda?”Mrs. Wrexall nodded enthusiastically as Charlie smiled, picked up the contract and placed all

the papers inside his briefcase and then shook hands with the publican and his wife.“How much is the damage?” he asked after he had drained the last drop of his beer.“It’s on the house,” said Wrexall.“But, Syd... ““No, I insist, wouldn’t dream of treating an old friend like a customer, Charlie. On the house,”

he repeated as the telephone rang and Hilda Wrexall went off to answer it.“Well, I must be on my way,” said Charlie. “Otherwise I’ll be late for this conference, and I’m

meant to be delivering another speech tonight. Nice to have done business with you, Syd.” He had justreached the door of the pub as Mrs. Wrexall came rushing back to the counter.

“There’s a lady on the line for you, Syd. Calling long distance. Says her name is Mrs.Trentham.”

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As the months passed Charlie became the master of his brief. No port directors could be surewhen he might burst into their offices, no suppliers were surprised when he demanded to check theirinvoices and the president of the National Farmers’ Union positively purred whenever Charlie’sname came up in conversation.

He never found it necessary to phone the Prime Minister, although Mr. Churchill did phonehim on one occasion. It was four forty-five in the morning when Charlie picked up the receiver on hisdesk.

“Good morning,” he said.“Trumper?”“Yes, who’s that?”“Churchill.”“Good morning, Prime Minister. What can I do for you, ser?”“Nothing. I was just checking that it was true what they say about you. By the way, thank you.”

The phone went dead.Charlie even managed from time to time to have lunch with Daniel. The boy was now attached

to the War Office, but would never talk about the work he was involved in. After he was promoted tocaptain, Charlie’s only worry became what Becky’s reaction would be if she ever saw him inuniform.

When Charlie visited Tom Arnold at the end of the month he reamed that Mr. Hadlow hadretired as manager of the bank and his replacement, a Mr. Paul Merrick, was not proving to be quiteas amenable. “Says our overdraft is reaching unacceptable levels and perhaps it’s time we didsomething about it,” explained Tom.

“Does he?” said Charlie. “Then I shall obviously have to see this Mr. Merrick and tell him afew home truths.”

Although Trumper’s now owned all the shops in Chelsea Terrace, with the exception of thebookshop, Charlie was still faced with the problem of Mrs. Trentham and her bombed-out flats, not tomention the additional worry of Herr Hitler and his unfinished war: these he tended to place inroughly the same category, and nearly always in that order.

The war with Herr Hitler began to take a step in the right direction towards the end of 1942with the victory of the Eighth Army at El Alamein. Charlie felt confident that Churchill was rightwhen he declared that the tide had turnd, as first Africa, followed by Italy, France and finallyGermany were invaded.

But by then it was Mr. Merrick who was insisting on seeing Charlie.When Charlie entered Mr. Merrick’s office for the first time he was surprised to find how

young Mr. Hadlow’s replacement was. It also took him a few moments to get used to a bank managerwho didn’t wear a waistcoat or a black tie. Paul Merrick was a shade taller than Charlie and everybit as broad in everything except his smile. Charlie quickly discovered that Mr. Merrick had no smalltalk.

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“Are you aware, Mr. Trumper, that your company account is overdrawn by some forty-seventhousand pounds and your present income doesn’t even cover... “

“But the property must be worth four or five times that amount.”“Only if you’re able to find someone who’s willing to buy it.”“But I’m not a seller.”“You may be left with no choice, Mr. Trumper, if the bank decides to foreclose on you.”“Then I’ll just have to change banks, won’t I,” said Charlie.“You have obviously not had the time recently to read the minutes of your own board meetings

because when they last met, your managing director Mr. Arnold reported that he had visited six banksin the past month and none of them had showed the slightest interest in taking over Trumper’saccount.”

Merrick waited for his customer’s response but as Charlie remained silent he continued. “Mr.Crowther also explained to the board on that occasion that the problem you are now facing has beencaused by property prices being lower now than they have been at any time since the 1930s.”

“But that will change overnight once the war is over.”“Possibly, but that might not be for several years and you could be insolvent long before then...

““More like twelve months would be my guess.”“... especially if you continue to sign checks to the value of six thousand pounds for property

worth about half that amount.”“But if I hadn’t... ““You might not be in such a precarious position.”Charlie remained silent for some time. “So what do you expect me to do about it?” he asked

finally.“I require you to sign over all the properties and stock held by your company as collateral

against the overdraft. I have already drawn up the necessary papers.”Merrick swiveled round a document that lay on the middle of his desk. “If you feel able to

sign,” he added, pointing to a dotted line near the bottom of the page marked by two pencil crosses, “Iwould be willing to extend your credit for a further twelve months.”

“And if I refuse?”“I’ll be left with no choice but to issue an insolvency notice within twenty-eight days.”Charlie stared down at the document and saw that Becky had already signed on the line above

his. Both men remained silent for some time as Charlie weighed up the alternatives. Then withoutoffering any further comment Charlie took out his pen, scrawled a signature between the two penciledcrosses, swiveled the document back round, turnd and marched out of the room without another word.

The surrender of Germany was signed by General Jodl and accepted on behalf of the Allies by

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General Bedell Smith at Reims on 7 May 1945.Charlie would have joined the VE Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square had Becky not

reminded him that their overdraft had reached nearly sixty thousand pounds and Merrick was onceagain threatening them with bankruptcy.

“He’s got his hands on the property and all our stock what else does he expect me to do?”demanded Charlie.

“He’s now suggesting that we sell the one thing that could clear the debt, and would evenleave some capital over to see us through the next couple of years.”

“And what’s that?”“Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters. ““Never!”“But Charlie, the painting belongs to...”Charlie made an appointment to see Lord Woolton the following morning and explained to the

minister he was now faced with his own problems that required his immediate attention. He thereforeasked, now that the war in Europe was over, if he could be released from his present duties.

Lord Wooleon fully understood Charlie’s dilemma and made it clear how sad he and all at thedepartment would be to see him So.

When Charlie left his office a month later the only thing he took with him was Jessica Allen.Charlie’s problems didn’t ease up during 1945 as property prices continued to fall and

inflation continued to rise. He was nevertheless touched when, after peace had been declared withJapan, the Prime Minister held a dinner in his honor at Number 10. Daphne admitted that she hadnever entered the building, and told Becky that she wasn’t even sure she wanted to. Percy admitted hewanted to, and was envious.

There were several leading cabinet ministers present for the occasion. Becky was placedbetween Churchill and the rising young star Rab Butler, while Charlie was seated next to Mrs.Churchill and Lady Woolton. Becky watched her husband as he chatted in a relaxed way with thePrime Minister and Lord Woolton, and had to smile when Charlie had the nerve to offer the old man acigar he had specially selected that afternoon from Number 139. No one in that room could possiblyhave guessed that they were on the verge of bankruptcy.

When the evening finally came to an end, Becky thanked the Prime Minister, who in turnthanked her.

“What for?” asked Becky.“Taking telephone calls in my name, and making excellent decisions on my behalf,” he said, as

he accompanied them both down the long corridor to the front hall.“I had no idea you knew,” said Charlie, turning scarlet.“Knew? Woolton told the entire cabinet the next day. Never seen them laugh so much.”When the Prime Minister reached the front door of Number 10, he gave Becky a slight bow

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and said, “Good night, Lady Trumper.”“You know what that means, don’t you?” said Charlie as he drove out of Downing Street and

turned right into Whitehall.“That you’re about to get a knighthood?”“Yes, but more important, we’re going to have to sell the van Gogh.”

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CHAPTER29“You’re a little bastard,” remains my first memory. I was five and three-quarters at the time and thewords were being shouted by a small girl on the far side of the playground as she pointed at me anddanced up and down. The rest of the class stopped and stared, until I ran across and pinned heragainst the wall.

“What does it mean?” I demanded, squeezing her arms.She burst into tears and said, “I don’t know. I just heard my mum tell my dad that you were a

little bastard.”“I know what the word means,” said a voice from behind me. I turned round to find myself

surrounded by the rest of the pupils from my class, but I was quite unable to work out who hadspoken.

“What does it meanly I said again, even louder.”“Give me sixpence and I’ll tell you.”I stared up at Neil Watson, the form bully who always sat in the row behind me.“I’ve only got threepence.”He considered the offer for some time before saying, “All right then, I’ll tell you for

threepence.”He walked up to me, thrust out the palm of his hand, and waited until I’d slowly unwrapped

my handkerchief and passed over my entire pocket money for the week. He then cupped his hands andwhispered into my ear, “You don’t have a father.”

“It’s not true!” I shouted, and started punching him on the chest. But he was far bigger than meand only laughed at my feeble efforts. The bell sounded for the end of break and everyone ran back toclass, several of them laughing and shouting in unison, “Daniel’s a little bastard.”

Nanny came to pick me up from school that afternoon and when I was sure none of myclassmates could overhear me I asked her what the word meant. She only said, “What a disgracefulquestion, Daniel, and I can only hope that it’s not the sort of thing they’re teaching you at St. David’s.Please don’t let me ever hear you mention the word again.”

Over tea in the kitchen, when nanny had left to go and run my bath, I asked cook to tell mewhat “bastard” meant. All she said was, “I’m sure I don’t know, Master Daniel, and I would adviseyou not to ask anyone else.”

I didn’t dare ask my mother or father in case what Neil Watson had said turned out to be true,and I lay awake all night wondering how I could find out.

Then I remembered that a long time ago my mother had gone into hospital and was meant tocome back with a brother or sister for me, and didn’t. I wondered if that’s what made you a bastard.

About a week later nanny had taken me to visit Mummy at Guy’s Hospital but I can’t recallthat much about the outing, except that she looked very white and sad. I remember feeling very happywhen she eventually came home.

The next episode in my life that I recall vividly was going to St. Paul’s School at the age of

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eleven. There I was made to work really hard for the first time in my life. At my prep school I cametop in almost every subject without having to do much more than any other child, and although I wascalled “swat” or “swotty,” it never worried me. At St. Paul’s there turned out to be lots of boys whowere clever, but none of them could touch me when it came to maths. I not only enjoyed a subject somany of my classmates seemed to dread but the marks I was awarded in the end of term examsappeared always to delight my mum and dad. I couldn’t wait for the next algebraic equation, a furthergeometric puzzle or the challenge of solving an arithmetic test in my head while others in the formsucked their pencils as they considered pages of longhand figures.

I did quite well in other subjects and although I was not much good at games I took up thecello and was invited to join the school orchestra, but my form master said none of this was importantbecause I was obviously going to be a mathematician for the rest of my life. I didn’t understand whathe meant at the time, as I knew Dad had left school at fourteen to run my great-grandfather’s fruit andvegetable barrow in Whitechapel, and even though Mum had gone to London University she still hadto work at Number 1 Chelsea Terrace to keep Dad “in the style to which he’d become accustomed.”Or that’s what I used to hear Mum telling him at breakfast from time to time.

It must have been around that time that I discovered what the word “bastard” really meant. Wewere reading King John out loud in class, so I was able to ask Mr. Saxon-East, my English master,without drawing too much attention to the question. One or two of the boys looked round andsnigg*red, but this time there were no pointed fingers or whispers, and when I was told the meaning Iremember thinking Neil Watson hadn’t been that far off the mark in the first place. But of course suchan accusation could not be leveled at me, because my very first memories had involved my mum anddad being together. They had always been Mr. and Mrs. Trumper.

I suppose I would have dismissed the whole memory of that early incident if I hadn’t comedown to the kitchen one night for a glass of milk and overheard Joan Moore talking to Harold thebutler.

“Young Daniel’s doing well at school,” said Harold. “Must have his mother’s brains.”“True, but let’s pray that he never finds out the truth about his father.” The words made me

freeze to the stair rail. I continued to listen intently.“Well, one thing’s for certain,” continued Harold. “Mrs. Trentham’s never going to admit the

boy’s her grandson, so heaven knows who’ll end up with all that money.”“Not.Captain Guy any longer, that’s for sure,” said Joan. “So perhaps that brat Nigel will be

left the lot.”After that the conversation turned to who should lay up for breakfast so I crept back upstairs to

my bedroom; but I didn’t sleep. Although I sat on those steps for many hours during the next fewmonths, patiently waiting for another vital piece of information that might fall from the servants’ lips,the subject never arose between them again.

The only other occasion I could recall having heard the name “Trentham” had been some timebefore, when the Marchioness of Wiltshire, a close friend of my mother’s, came to tea. I remained inthe hall when my mother asked, “Did you go to Guy’s funeral?”

“Yes, but it wasn’t well attended by the good parishioners of Ashurst,” the marchioness

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assured her. “Those who remembered him well seemed to be treating the occasion more as if it werea blessed release.”

“Was Sir Raymond present?”“No, he was conspicuous by his absence,” came back the reply. “Mrs. Trentham claimed he

was too old to travel, which only acted as a sad reminder that she still stands to inherit a fortune inthe not too distant future.”

New facts learned, but they still made little sense.The name of “Trentham” arose in my presence once more when I heard Daddy talking to

Colonel Hamilton as he was leaving the house after a private meeting that had been held in his study.All Daddy said was, “However much we offer Mrs. Trentham, she’s never going to sell those flats tous.”

The colonel vigorously nodded his agreement, but all he had to say on the subject was,“Bloody woman.”

When both my parents were out of the house, I looked up “Trentham” in the telephonedirectory. There was only one listing: Major G. H. Trentham, MP, 19 Chester Square. I wasn’t anythe wiser.

When in 1939 Trinity College offered me the Newton Mathematics Prize Scholarship I thoughtDad was going to burst, he was so proud. We all drove up to the university city for the weekend tocheck my future digs, before strolling round the college’s cloisters and through Great Court.

The only cloud on this otherwise unblemished horizon was the thunderous one of NaziGermany. Conscription for all those over twenty was being debated in Parliament, and I couldn’t waitto play my part if Hitler dared to plant as much as a toe on Polish soil.

My first year at Cambridge went well, mainly because I was being tutored by HoraceBradford who, along with his wife, Victoria, was considered to be the pick of the bunch among ahighly talented group of mathematicians who were teaching at the university at that time. AlthoughMrs. Bradford was rumored to have won the Wrangler’s Prize for coming out top of her year, herhusband explained that she was not given the prestigious award, simply because she was a woman.The man who came second was deemed to have come first, a piece of information that made mymother puce with anger.

Mrs. Bradford rejoiced in the fact that my mother had been awarded her degree from LondonUniversity in 1921, while Cambridge still refused to acknowledge hers even existed in 1939.

At the end of my first year I, like many Trinity undergraduates, applied to join the army, but mytutor asked me if I would like to work with him and his wife at the War Office in a new departmentthat would be specializing in code-breaking.

I accepted the offer without a second thought, relishing the prospect of spending my timesitting in a dingy little back room somewhere in Bletchley Park attempting to break German codes. Ifelt a little guilty that I was going to be one of the few people in uniform who was actually enjoyingthe war. Dad gave me enough money to buy an old MG, which meant I could get up to London fromtime to time to see him and Mum.

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Occasionally I managed to grab an hour for lunch with him over at the Ministry of Food, butDad would only eat bread and cheese accompanied by a glass of milk as an example to the rest of histeam. This may have been considered edifying but it certainly wasn’t nourishing, Mr. Selwyn warnedme, adding that my father even had the minister at it.

“But not Mr. Churchill?” I suggested.“He’s next on his list, I’m told.”In 1943 I was made up to captain, which was simply the War Office acknowledging the work

we were all doing in our fledgling department. Of course, my father was delighted but I was sorry thatI couldn’t share with my parents our excitement when we broke the code used by the German U-boatcommanders. It still baffles me to this day why they continued to go on using the four-wheel enigmakey long after we’d made our discovery. The code was a mathematician’s dream that we finally brokeon the back of a menu at Lyons Corner House just off Piccadilly. The waitress serving at our tabledescribed me as a vandal. I laughed, and remember thinking that I would take the rest of the day offand go and surprise my mother by letting her see what I looked like in my captain’s uniform. I thoughtI looked rather swish, but when she opened the front door to greet me I was shocked by her response.She stared at me as if she’d seen a ghost. Although she recovered quickly enough, that first reactionon seeing me in uniform became just another clue in an ever more complex puzzle, a puzzle that wasnever far from the back of my thoughts.

The next clue came in the bottom line of an obituary, to which I wasn’t paying much attentionuntil I discovered that a Mrs. Trentham would be coming into a fortune; not an important clue in itself,until I reread the entry and learned that she was the daughter of someone called Sir RaymondHardcastle, a name that allowed me to fill in several little boxes that went in both directions. Butwhat puzzled me was there being no mention of a Guy Trentham among the surviving relatives.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been born with the kind of mind that enjoyed breaking codes andmeddling with mathematical formulas. But somehow “bastard,” “Trentham,” “hospital,” “CaptainGuy,” “flats,” “Sir Raymond,” “that brat Nigel,” “funeral,” and Mother turning white when she sawme dressed in a captain’s uniform seemed to have some linear connection. Although I realized Iwould need even more clues before logic would lead me to the correct solution.

Then suddenly I worked out to whom they must have been referring when the marchioness hadcome to tea all those years before, and told Mother that she had just attended Guy’s funeral. It musthave been Captain Guy’s burial that had taken place. But why was that so significant?

The following Saturday morning I rose at an ungodly hour and traveled down to Ashurst, the

village in which the Marchioness of Wiltshire had once lived not a coincidence, I concluded. Iarrived at the parish church a little after six, and as I had anticipated, at that hour there was no one tobe seen in the churchyard. I strolled around the graveyard checking the names: Yardleys, Baxters,Floods, and HarcourtBrownes aplenty. Some of the graves were overgrown with weeds, others werewell cared for and even had fresh flowers at the head. I paused for a moment at the grave of mygodmother’s grandfather. There must have been over a hundred parishioners buried around the clocktower, but it didn’t take that long to find the neatly kept Trentham family plot, only a few yards from

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the church vestry.When I came across the most recent family gravestone I broke out in a cold sweat:Clay Trentham, 1~C1897-1927 after a long illness Sadly missed by all his family And so the mystery had come

literally to a dead end, at the grave of the one man who surely could have answered all my questionshad he still been alive.

When the war ended I returned to Trinity and was granted an extra year to complete mydegree. Although my father and mother considered the highlight of the year to be my passing out assenior Wrangler with the offer of a Prize fellowship at Trinity, I thought Dad’s investiture atBuckingham Palace wasn’t to be sneezed at.

The ceremony turned out to be a double delight, because I was also able to witness my oldtutor, Professor Bradford, being knighted for the role he had played in the field of code-breakingalthough there was nothing for his wife, my mother noted. I remember feeling equally outraged on Dr.Bradford’s behalf. Dad may have played his part in filling the stomachs of the British people, but asChurchill had stated in the House of Commons, our little team had probably cut down the length of thewar by as much as a year.

We all met up afterwards for tea at the Ritz, and not unnaturally at some point during theafternoon the conversation switched to what career I proposed to follow now the war was over. Tomy father’s abiding credit he had never once suggested that I should join him at Trumper’s, especiallyas I knew how much he had longed for another son who might eventually take his place. In fact duringthe summer vacation I became even more conscious of my good fortune, as Father seemed to bepreoccupied with the business and Mother was unable to hide her own anxiety about the future ofTrumper’s. But whenever I asked if I could help all she would say was: “Not to worry, it will allwork out in the end.”

Once I had returned to Cambridge, I persuaded myself that should I ever come across the name“Trentham” again I would no longer allow it to worry me. However, because the name was nevermentioned freely in my presence it continued to nag away in the back of my mind. My father hadalways been such an open man that there was no simple explanation as to why on this one particularsubject he remained so secretive to such an extent, in fact, that I felt I just couldn’t raise the subjectwith him myself.

I might have gone years without bothering to do anything more about the conundrum if I hadn’tone morning picked up an extension to the phone in the Little Boltons and heard Tom Arnold, myfather’s right-hand man, say, “Well, at least we can be thankful that you got to Syd Wrexall beforeMrs. Trentham.” I replaced the headset immediately, feeling that I now had to get to the bottom of themystery once and for all and what’s more, without my parents finding out. Why does one always thinkthe worst in these situations? Surely the final solution would turn out to be something quite innocuous.

Although I had never met Syd Wrexall I could still remember him as the landlord of theMusketeer, a pub that had stood proudly on the other end of Chelsea Terrace until a bomb had landedin the snugbar. During the war my father bought the freehold and later converted the building into anup-market furnishing department.

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It didn’t take a Dick Barton to discover that Mr. Wrexall had left London during the war tobecome the landlord of a pub in a sleepy village called Hatherton, hidden away in the county ofCheshire.

I spent three days working out my strategy for Mr. Wrexall, and only when I was convincedthat I knew all the questions that needed to be asked did I feel confident enough to make the journey toHatherton. I had to word every query I needed answered in such a way that they didn’t appear to bequestions; but I still waited for a further month before I drove up north, by which time I had grown abeard that was long enough for me to feel confident that Wrexall would not recognize me. Although Iwas unaware of having seen him in the past, I realized that it was possible Wrexall might have comeacross me as recently as three or four years ago, and would therefore have known who I was themoment I walked into his pub. I even purchased a modern pair of glasses to replace my old specs.

I chose a Monday to make the trip as I suspected it would be the quietest day of the week onwhich to have a pub lunch. Before I set out on the journey I telephoned the Happy Poacher to be sureMr. Wrexall would be on duty that day. His wife assured me that he would be around and I put thephone down before she could ask why I wanted to know.

During my journey up to Cheshire I rehearsed a series of non-questions again and again.Having arrived in the village of Hatherton I parked my car down a side road some way from the pubbefore strolling into the Happy Poacher. I discovered three or four people standing at the bar chattingand another half dozen enjoying a drink around a mean-looking fire. I took a seat at the end of the barand ordered some shepherd’s pie and a half pint of best bitter from a buxom, middle-aged lady whomI later discovered was the landlord’s wife. It took only moments to work out who the landlord was,because the other customers all called him Syd, but I realized that I would still have to be patient as Ilistened to him chat about anybody and everybody, from Lady Docker to Richard Murdoch, as if theywere all close friends.

“Same again, sir?” he asked eventually, as he returned to my end of the bar and picked up myempty glass.

“Yes, please,” I said, relieved to find that he didn’t appear to recognize me.By the time he had come back with my beer there were only two or three of us left at the bar.“From around these parts, are you, sir?” he asked, leaning on the counter.“No,” I said. “Only up for a couple of days on an inspection. I’m with the Ministry of

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.”“So what brings you to Hatherton?”“I’m checking out all the farms in the area for foot and mouth disease.”“Oh, yes, I’ve read all about that in the papers,” he said, toying with an empty glass.“Care to join me, landlord?” I asked.“Oh, thank you, sir. I’ll have a whisky, if I may.” He put his empty half-pint glass in the

washing-up water below the counter and poured himself a double. He charged me half a crown, thenasked how my findings were coming along.

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“All clear so far,” I told him. “But I’ve still got a few more farms in the north of the county tocheck out.”

“I used to know someone in your department,” he said.“Oh, yes?”“Sir Charles Trumper.”“Before my time,” I said taking a swig from my beer, “but they still talk about him back at the

ministry. Must have been a tough customer if half the stories about him are true.”“Bloody right,” said Wrexall. “And but for him I’d be a rich man.”“Really.”“Oh, yes. You see, I used to own a little property in London before I moved up here. A pub,

along with an interest in several shops in Chelsea Terrace, to be exact. He picked the lot up from meduring the war for a mere six thousand. If I’d waited another twenty-four hours I could have sold themfor twenty thousand, perhaps even thirty.”

“But the war didn’t end in twenty-four hours.”“Oh, no, I’m not suggesting for one moment that he did anything dishonest, but it always struck

me as a little more than a coincidence that having not set eyes on him for years he should suddenlyshow up in this pub on that very morning.”

Wrexall’s glass was now empty.“Same again for both of us?” I suggested, hoping that the investment of another half crown

might further loosen his tongue.“That’s very generous of you, sir,” he responded, and when he returned he asked, “Where was

I?”“On that very morning...’”“Oh, yes, Sir Charles Charlie, as I always called him. Well, he closed the deal right here at

this bar, in under ten minutes, when blow me if another interested party didn’t ring up and ask if theproperties were still for sale. I had to tell the lady in question that I had just signed them away.”

I avoided asking who “the lady” was, although I suspected I knew. “But that doesn’t prove thatshe would have offered you twenty thousand pounds for them,” I said.

“Oh, yes, she would,” responded Wrexall. “That Mrs. Trentham would have offered meanything to stop Sir Charles getting his hands on those shops.”

“Great Scott,” I said, once again avoiding the word why?“Oh, yes, the Trumpers and the Trenthams have been at each other’s throats for years, you

know. She still owns a block of flats right in the middle of Chelsea Terrace. It’s the only thing that’sstopped him from building his grand mausoleum, isn’t it? What’s more, when she tried to buy Number1 Chelsea Terrace, Charlie completely outfoxed her, didn’t he? Never seen anything like it in mylife.”

“But that must have been years ago,” I said. “Amazing how people go on bearing grudges for

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so long.”“You’re right, because to my knowledge this one’s been going on since the early twenties,

ever since her posh son was seen walking out with Miss Salmon.”I held my breath.“She didn’t approve of that, no, not Mrs. Trentham. We all had that worked out at the

Musketeer, and then when the son disappears off to India the Salmon girl suddenly ups and marriesCharlie. And that wasn’t the end of the mystery.”

“No.”“Certainly not,” said Wrexall. “Because none of us are sure to this day who the father was.”“The father?”Wrexall hesitated. “I’ve gone too far. I’ll say no more.”“Such a long time ago, I’m surprised anyone still cares,” I offered as my final effort before

draining my glass.“True enough,” said Wrexall. “That’s always been a bit of a mystery to me as well. But

there’s no telling with folks. Well, I must close up now, sir, or I’ll have the law after me.”“Of course. And I must get back to those cattle.”Before I returned to Cambridge I sat in the car and wrote down every word I could remember

the landlord saying. On the long journey back I tried to piece together the new clues and get them intosome sort of order. Although Wrexall had supplied a lot of information I hadn’t known before he hadalso begged a few more unanswered questions. The only thing I came away from that pub certain ofwas that I couldn’t possibly stop now.

The next morning I decided to return to the War Office and ask Sir Horace’s old secretary ifshe knew of any way that one could trace the background of a former serving officer.

“Name?” said the prim middle-aged woman who still kept her hair tied in a bun, a style leftover from the war.

“Guy Trentham,” I told her.“Rank and regiment?”“Captain and the Royal Fusiliers would be my guess.”She disappeared behind a closed door, but was back within fifteen minutes clutching a small

brown file. She extracted a single sheet of paper and read aloud from it. “Captain Guy Trentham, MC.Served in the First War, further service in India, resigned his commission in 1922. No explanationgiven. No forwarding address.”

“You’re a genius,” I said, and to her consternation kissed her on the forehead before leaving toreturn to Cambridge.

The more I discovered, the more I found I needed to know, even though for the time being Iseemed to have come to another dead end.

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For the next few weeks I concentrated on my job as a supervisor until my pupils had all safelydeparted for their Christmas vacation.

I returned to London for the three-week break and spent a happy family Christmas with myparents at the Little Boltons. Father seemed a lot more relaxed than he had been during the summer,and even Mother appeared to have shed her unexplained anxieties.

However, another mystery arose during that holiday and as I was convinced it was no wayconnected with the Trenthams, I didn’t hesitate to ask my mother to solve it.

“What’s happened to Dad’s favorite picture?”Her reply saddened me greatly and she begged me never to raise the subject of The Potato

Eaters with my father.The week before I was due to return to Cambridge I was strolling back down Beaufort Street

towards the Little Boltons, when I spotted a Chelsea pensioner in his blue serge uniform trying tocross the road.

“Allow me to help you,” I offered.“Thank you, sir,” he said, looking up at me with a rheumy smile.“And who did you serve with?” I asked casually.“The Prince of Wales Own,” he replied. “And you ?”“The Royal Fusiliers.” We crossed the road together. “Got any of those, have you?”“The Fussies,” he said. “Oh, yes, Banger Smith who saw service in the Great War, and

Sammy Tomkins who joined up later, twenty-two, twenty-three, if I remember, and was theninvalided out after Tobruk.”

“Banger Smith?” I said.“Yes,” replied the pensioner as we reached the other side of the road. “A right shiver, that

one.” He chuckled chestily. “But he still puts in a day a week at your regimental museum, if hisstories are to be bel ieved.”

I was first to enter the small regimental museum in the Tower of London the following day,only to be told by the curator that Banger Smith only came in on Thursdays, and even then couldn’talways be relied on. I glanced around a room filled with regimental mementoes, threadbare flagsparading battle honors, a display case with uniforms, out-of-date implements of war from a bygoneage and large maps covered in different colored pins depicting how, where and when those honorshad been won.

As the curator was only a few years older than me I didn’t bother him with any questions aboutthe First World War.

I returned the following Thursday when I found an old soldier seated in a corner of themuseum pretending to be fully occupied.

“Banger Smith?”The old contemptible couldn’t have been an inch over five feet and made no attempt to get up

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off his chair. He looked at me warily.“What of it?”I produced a ten-bob note from my inside pocket.He looked first at the note and then at me with an inquiring eye. “What are you after?”“Can you remember a Captain Guy Trentham, by any chance?” I asked.“You from the police?”“No, I’m a solicitor dealing with his estate.”“I’ll wager Captain Trentham didn’t leave anything to anybody.”“I’m not at liberty to reveal that,” I said. “But I don’t suppose you know what happened to him

after he left the Fusiliers? You see, there’s no trace of him in regimental records since 1922.”“There wouldn’t be, would there? He didn’t exactly leave the Fussies with the regimental

band playing him off the parade ground. Bloody man should have been horsewhipped, in my opinion.”“Why... ?”“You won’t get a word out of me,” he said, “Regimental secret,” he added, touching the side

of his nose.“But have you any idea where he went after he left India?”“Cost you more than ten bob, that will,” said the old soldier, chuckling.“What do you mean?”“Buggered off to Australia, didn’t he? Died out there, then got shipped back by his mother.

Good riddance, is all I can say. I’d take his bloody picture off the wall if I had my way.”“His picture?”“Yes. MCs next to the DSOs, top left-hand corner,” he said, managing to raise an arm to point

in that direction.I walked slowly over to the corner Banger Smith had indicated, past the seven Fusilier VCs,

several DSOs and on to the MCs. They were in chronological order: 1914 three, 1915 thirteen, 1916ten, 1917 eleven, 1918 seventeen. Captain Guy Trentham, the inscription read, had been awarded theMC after the second battle of the Marne on 18 July 1918.

I stared up at the picture of a young officer in captain’s uniform and knew I would have tomake a journey to Australia.

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CHAPTER30“When were you thinking of going?”

“During the long vacation.”“Have you enough money to cover such a journey?”“I’ve still got most of that five hundred pounds you gave me when I graduated in fact the only

real outlay from that was on the MG; a hundred and eighty pounds, if I remember correctly. In anycase, a bachelor with his own rooms in college is hardly in need of a vast private income.” Daniellooked up as his mother entered the drawing room.

“Daniel’s thinking of going to America this summer.”“How exciting,” said Becky, placing some flowers on a side table next to the Remington.

“Then you must try and see the Fields in Chicago and the Bloomingdales in New York, and if youhave enough time you could also... “

“Actually,” said Daniel, leaning against the mantelpiece, “I think I’ll be trying to seeWaterstone in Princeton and Stinstead at Berkeley.”

“Do I know them?” Becky frowned as she looked up from her flower arranging.“I wouldn’t have thought so, Mother. They’re both college professors who teach maths, or

math, as they call it.”Charlie laughed.“Well, be sure you write to us regularly,” said his mother. “I always like to know where you

are and what you’re up to.”“Of course I will, Mother,” said Daniel, trying not to sound exasperated. “If you promise to

remember that I’m now twenty-six years old.”Becky looked across at him with a smile. “Are you really, my dear?”Daniel resumed to Cambridge that night trying to work out how he could possibly keep in

touch from America while he was in fact traveling to Australia. He disliked the thought of deceivinghis mother, but knew it would have pained her even more to tell him the truth about Captain Trentham.

Matters weren’t helped when Charlie sent him a first-class ticket for New York on the QueenMary for the exact date he had mentioned. It cost one hundred and three pounds and included an open-ended return.

Daniel eventually came up with a solution. He worked out that if he took the Queen Marybound for New York the week after term had ended, then continued his journey on the TwentiethCentury Limited and the Super Chief across the States to San Francisco, he could pick up the SSAorangz to Sydney with a day to spare. That would still give him four weeks in Australia before hewould have to repeat the journey south to north, allowing him just enough time to arrive back inSouthampton a few days before the Michaelmas term began.

As with everything on which Daniel embarked, he spent hours of research and preparationlong before he even set off for Southampton. He allocated three days to the Australian HighCommission Information Department in the Strand, and made sure he regularly sat next to a certain

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Dr. Marcus Winters, a visiting professor from Adelaide, whenever he came to dine at Trinity HighTable. Although the first secretary and deputy librarian at Australia House remained puzzled by someof Daniel’s questions and Dr. Winters curious as to the motives of the young mathematician, by theend of the Trinity term Daniel felt confident that he had reamed enough to ensure that his timewouldn’t be wasted once he had set foot on the subcontinent. However, he realized the wholeenterprise was still a huge gamble: if the first question he needed to be answered yielded the reply,“There’s no way of finding that out.”

Four days after the students had gon