Authors: Penny Vincenzi
Table of Contents
ALSO BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Almost A Crime
An Outrageous Affair
An Absolute Scandal
This edition first published in the United States in 2003 by
The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.
141 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10012
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Copyright © 2000 Penny Vincenzi
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
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Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available from the Library of Congress.
Manufactured in the United States of America
ISBN : 978-1-590-20798-7
For Paul: with love. Not to mention huge appreciation for some particularly crucial structural advice.
As always, a long list of people without whom this book would not have happened. Probably top of the bill should go to my agent Desmond Elliott (no relation to the villain of the piece) for his encyclopaedian knowledge of publishing, after a wonderful lifetime in the business. Stories, anecdotes, facts and figures tumbled down the wires from his office to mine; the book would have been much the poorer without him.
I owe a big debt too to Rosemary Stark who gave me an extraordinarily insightful view of twin-ness, as did Jo Puccioni.
I would like to thank Martin Harvey for taking me round the Garrick Club and acquainting me so patiently with its history and its connection with publishing, and Ursula Lloyd who once more guided me through the complexities of medicine in the early part of the century, and Hugh Dickens for an immensely authoritative over-view of military matters.
For legal and other advice, I owe, as always, huge gratitude to Sue Stapely who either knows whatever I need to, or someone else who does; and to Mark Stephens who adds zest and originality to his fearsome knowledge of libel law and publishing.
I have delved into some particularly wonderful books for information: most notably
Despatches from the Heart
by Annette Tapert,
In Society: The Brideshead Years
by Nicholas Courtney,
The Country House Remembered
edited by Merlin Watterson,
Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter
by Diana Souhami and the marvelous
Round About a Pound a Week
by Maud Pember Reeves. Huge thanks to my four daughters Polly, Sophie, Emily and Claudia who continue to endure my self centered and panicky ramblings as publication draws nearer with kindness and sympathy, never indicating for a moment that they find (as they must do) the annual repetition of the drama rather tedious. I am and always will be immensely grateful to them. And to my husband Paul who has to endure even more of it, and (almost) never indicates it either…
I owe everybody a great deal. It has, as always, in retrospect anyway, been tremendous fun.
1904 – 1914
Celia stood at the altar, smiling into the face of her bridegroom and wondered if she was about to test his vow to cherish her in sickness and in health rather sooner than he might have imagined. She really did feel as if she was going to vomit: there and then, in front of the congregation, the vicar, the choir. This was truly the stuff of which nightmares were made. She closed her eyes briefly, took a very deep breath, swallowed; heard dimly through her swimmy clammy nausea the vicar saying, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’, and somehow the fact that she had done it, managed this marriage, managed this day, that she was married to Oliver Lytton, whom she loved so much, and that no one could change anything now, made her feel better. She saw Oliver’s eyes on her, tender, but slightly anxious, having observed her faintness, and she managed to smile again before sinking gratefully on to her knees for the blessing.
Not an ideal condition for a bride to be in, almost three months’ pregnant; but then if she hadn’t been pregnant, her father would never have allowed her to marry Oliver anyway. It had been a fairly drastic measure; but it had worked. As she had known it would. And it had certainly been fun: she had enjoyed becoming pregnant a lot.
The blessing was over now; they were being ushered into the vestry to sign the register. She felt Oliver’s hand taking hers, and glanced over her shoulder at the group following them. There were her parents, her father fiercely stern, the old hypocrite: she’d grown up seeing pretty housemaid after pretty housemaid banished from the house, her mother, staunchly smiling, Oliver’s frail old father, leaning on his cane supported by his sister Margaret, and just behind them, Oliver’s two brothers, Robert rather stiff and formal and slightly portly, Jack, the youngest, absurdly handsome, with his brilliant blue eyes restlessly exploring the congregation for any pretty faces. Beyond them were the guests, admittedly rather few, just very close friends and family, and the people from the village and the estate, who of course wouldn’t have missed her being married for anything. She knew that in some ways her mother minded about that more than about anything else really, that it wasn’t a huge wedding like her sister Caroline’s, with three hundred guests at St Margaret’s Westminster, but a quiet affair in the village church. Well, she didn’t mind. She didn’t mind in the very least. She had married Oliver: she had got her way.
‘Of course you can’t marry him,’ her mother had said, ‘he has no money, no position, no house even, your father won’t hear of it.’
Her father did hear about it, about her wish to marry Oliver, because she made him listen; but he reiterated everything her mother had said.
‘Ridiculous. Throwing your life away. You want to marry properly, Celia, into your own class, someone who can keep you and support you in a reasonable way.’
She said she did not want to marry properly, she wanted to marry Oliver, because she loved him; that he had a brilliant future, that his father owned a successful publishing house in London which would be his one day.
‘Successful, nonsense,’ her father said, ‘if it was successful he wouldn’t be living in Hampstead would he? With nowhere in the country. No, darling,’ for he adored her, his youngest, a late flower in his life, ‘you find someone suitable and you can get married straight away. That’s what you really want, I know, a home and husband and babies; it’s natural, I wouldn’t dream of stopping you. But it’s got to be someone who’s right for you. This fellow can’t even ride a horse.’
Things had got much worse after that; she had shouted, raged, sworn she would never marry anyone else, and they had shouted and raged back at her, telling her she was being ridiculous, that she had no idea what she was talking about, that she clearly had no idea what marriage was about, that it was a serious matter, a considerable undertaking, not some absurd notion about love.
‘Very over-rated, love,’ her mother said briskly, ‘doesn’t last, Celia, not what you’re talking about. And when it’s gone, you need other things, believe me. Like a decent home to bring up your children in. Marriage is a business and it works best when both parties see it that way.’
Celia was just eighteen years old when she met Oliver Lytton: she had looked at him across the room at a luncheon party in London given by a rather bohemian friend of her sister’s and fallen helplessly in love with him, even before they had spoken a single word. Afterwards, trying to analyse that sensation, to explain it to herself, she could only feel she had been invaded by an intense emotion, taken hold of, shaken by it; she felt immediately changed, the focus of her life suddenly found. It was primarily an emotional reaction to him, a desire to be with him, close to him in every way, not mere physical attraction which she had experienced to some degree before; he was quite extraordinarily handsome, of course, tall and rather serious, indeed almost solemn-looking, with fair hair, blue eyes, and a glorious smile that entirely changed his face, bringing to it not just a softness, but a merriment, a sense of great joie de vivre.
But he was more than handsome, he was charming, beautifully mannered, clearly very intelligent, with a great deal more to talk about than most of the young men she had met. Indeed he talked about things she had never heard a young man speak of before, of books and literature, of plays and art exhibitions. He asked her if she had been to Florence and Paris and when she said she had, asked her then which galleries she had most enjoyed and admired. He also – which she found more engaging than any of the rest – had a way of treating her as if she were as clever and as well-read as he. Celia, who was of a generation and class of girls educated at home by governesses, was entirely charmed by this. She had been brought up in the only way her parents knew and recognised: to marry someone from her own social class, and to lead a life exactly the same as her mother’s, raising a family and running a household; from the moment she set eyes on Oliver Lytton, she knew this was not what she wanted.
She was the youngest daughter of a very old and socially impeccable family. The Beckenhams dated back to the sixteenth century, as her mother, the Countess of Beckenham, was fond of telling everyone; the family had a glorious and quite grand seventeenth century house and estate called Ashingham in Buckinghamshire, not far from Beaconsfield, and a very beautiful town house in Clarges Street, Mayfair. They were extremely rich and concerned only with running their estate, conserving their assets, and enjoying what was mostly a country life. Lord Beckenham ran the home farm, hunted and shot a great deal in the winter, and fished in the summer, Lady Beckenham socialised both in London and the country, rode, played cards, organised her staff, and – rather more reluctantly – saw to the upkeep of her extensive wardrobe. Books, like pictures, were things which covered the Beckenham walls and were appreciated for their value rather more than for their content; talk at their dinner table centred around their own lives, rather than around abstract matters such as art, literature and philosophy.
Confronted by a daughter who professed herself – after only three months’ short acquaintance – to be in love with someone who, by their standards, was not only a pauper, but almost as unfamiliar to them as a Zulu warrior, they were genuinely appalled and anxious for her.
Celia could see that they were entirely serious in their opposition; she supposed she could marry Oliver when she was twenty-one, but that was unimaginably far off, three years away. And so, staring into the darkness through her bedroom window late one night, her eyes sore with weeping, wondering what on earth she could do, she had suddenly found it: the solution. The breathtakingly, dazzlingly simple solution. She would become pregnant and then they would
to let her marry him. The more she thought about it, the more sensible it seemed. The only alternative was running away; but Oliver had rejected that sweetly but firmly.
‘It would cause too much anxiety, hurt too many people, my family as well as yours. I don’t want us to build our life together on other people’s unhappiness.’
His gentleness was only one of the many things she loved about him.
Just the same, she thought that night, he would not accede to this plan too easily. He would argue that pregnancy would also cause great distress; he would not see that they deserved it, her blind, insensitive, hypocritical parents: hardly models of marital virtue themselves, her father with the housemaids, her mother with her lover of many years. Her sister, Caroline had told her about him, the year before, at her own coming out ball at Ashingham. Caroline had had too much champagne and was standing with Celia between dances, looking across at their parents talking animatedly to one another. Celia had said impulsively how sweet it was that they were still so happy together, in spite of the housemaids, and Caroline had said that if they were, much of the credit should go to George Paget. George Paget and his rather plain wife, Vera, were old family friends; pressed to explain precisely what she meant, Caroline said that George had been her mother’s lover for over ten years. Half shocked, half fascinated, Celia begged to be told more, but Caroline laughed at her for being so innocent and launched herelf on to the dance floor with her husband’s best friend. But next day she had relented, remorseful at disillusioning her little sister, said she mustn’t worry about it, that it wasn’t important.
‘Mama will always keep the rules.’
‘What rules?’ Celia said.
‘Society’s rules,’ said Caroline, patiently reassuring. ‘Discretion, manners, those sorts of things. She would never leave Papa. To them marriage is unshakable. What they do, what all society does, is make marriage more pleasant, more interesting. Stronger, actually, I would say.’
‘And – would – would you make your marriage more pleasant in that way?’ Celia asked and Caroline laughed and said that at the moment, hers was fairly pleasant anyway.
‘But yes, I suppose I would. If Arthur became dull, or found pleasure of his own elsewhere. Don’t look so shocked, Celia, you really are an innocent aren’t you? I heard it said the other day that Mrs Keppel, you know, the king’s mistress, has turned adultery into an art form. That seems quite a nice achievement to me.’
Celia had still felt shocked, despite the reassurance. When she got married, she knew it would be for love and for life.
So – Oliver must not realise the full extent of her plan. She knew exactly how one became pregnant; her mother had instructed her with great and unusual forthrightness on the subject when Celia had her first menstrual period, and besides, she had grown up in the country, she had seen sheep and even horses copulating, had been present at the birth of lambs, and had spent all of one night in the sweet steamy stench of the stables with her father and his groom, as her father’s favourite mare dropped her foal. She had no doubt that she would be able to persuade Oliver into making love to her; as well as being absurdly romantic, constantly sending her poems, flowers, love letters pages long, he was passionately affectionate with her, his kisses far from chaste, intensely arousing – to them both.
Celia had rather more freedom than many girls of her age. Having raised six children, her mother had become weary of the task, and was in any case extremely busy and inclined to leave Celia to her own affairs. When Oliver came for the weekend at Ashingham, invited to join one of the Beckenham house parties as Celia’s guest, they were able during the day (Oliver being quite unable to join in any sporting activities) to roam the grounds on their own and after dinner to sit in the library on their own talking. The roaming and talking had led to a great deal of kissing; Celia had found she quite literally could not have enough of it, and was yearning for more – as, quite plainly, was Oliver.
She had not experienced passion before, either in herself or any of the young men she had met; but she found she could recognise it very easily now. As easily as she had been able to recognise love. He had been very respectful of her virtue, naturally, but she was absolutely confident that she could persuade him to take their physical relationship forwards without any difficulty whatsoever. Of course he would be anxious, not only that they would be found out, but that she would become pregnant. But she could reassure him about that, tell him some lie – she wasn’t sure what; she believed there were times in the month when you were supposed not to be able to become pregnant, she had read it in some book in her mother’s room – and then when it happened – well there would be nothing more to worry about.
She was very precise in her plans: she pretended to have acquiesced to her parents’ views, to have come to see that Oliver was not the right man for her – although not too swiftly, lest she arouse their suspicion – and stayed at home dutifully for several weeks, while writing to Oliver every day. Then she went to London to stay with Caroline for a few days, ostensibly to do some shopping, and it had all been absurdly easy. Caroline had discovered that she was pregnant herself, and was wretchedly sick, totally uninterested in what her younger sister was doing, and unwilling as well as unable to chaperone her. Absences of two or three hours while Celia was officially shopping, seeing dressmakers, having fittings for the London Season, but actually discovering the raptures of being in bed with her lover, went almost unnoticed.
Celia had been right, Oliver was initially resistant to the risks of making love to her; but a mixture of emotional blackmail and a determined onslaught on his senses worked quite quickly. She would meet him at the big house in Hampstead, where he lived with his father, in the early afternoon; his father still spent every day at the publishing house, and it was easy for Oliver to pretend to be lunching with authors, or visiting artists’ studios. They would go upstairs to Oliver’s room, a big, light book-lined affair with huge windows on the first floor, overlooking the Heath, and spend the next hour or so in the rather narrow almost lumpy bed that swiftly became paradise for Celia. They found a physical delight in each other almost at once; Oliver was not exactly experienced, indeed his own knowledge had been gained at the hands of a couple of chorus girls introduced by his best friend at Oxford, but it was sufficient to guide him through Celia’s initiation. She lay there, that first time, braced for discomfort, for pain even, looking at Oliver as he took her in his arms, promising to be very careful, and found herself discovering almost at once an acute capacity for sexual pleasure.