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Authors: James Lovegrove

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Provender Gleed

BOOK: Provender Gleed
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First published 2005, first published as an ebook 2011

ebook from Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX1 0ES, UK

www.solarisbooks.com

 

ISBN (.epub): 978-1-84997-202-4

ISBN (.mobi): 978-1-84997-203-1

 

Copyright © James Lovegrove 2005

The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from thenBritish Library.

Designed and typeset by Rebellion Publishing

 

 

 

PROVENDER GLEED

 

 

A
Bildungsroman
by James Lovegrove

 

 

 

PART I

 

 

From
Kin!
magazine - 'Your Weekly Guide to All That's Hot and All That's Not in the World of the Families':

 

Provender Turns 25

 

Provender Gleed hits the quarter century next Tuesday, and ClanFans all across the country will be holding street parties to celebrate.

But Prov himself has no plans for a bombastic birthday beano.

A Gleed Family spokesman commented: 'The young master will treat the day just like any other. He attaches little importance to anniversaries and other such events.'

Of course, with the Gleed summer ball this weekend, Provender will probably be all partied out by the time his personal silver jubilee comes round.

Blue-eyed Prov is very much the dark horse of the Gleed Family, a man of mystery who shuns the media spotlight, unlike the majority of his relatives.

Even at almost 25, he is still unmarried, which is a source of consternation among the Gleeds, with Provender being the firstborn (and only) male child on the Family's primogeniture bloodline.

Insider Gleed sources say that his mother Cynthia is tearing her hair out trying to match him with a suitable bride. But apart from last year's brief dalliance with Adèle Fforde-Nevant and a trial date with Inez Lamas, a distant cousin on his mother's side, Provender has not been successfully linked with any potential marriage material, Family or otherwise.

His continuing single status, however, is a ray of hope for countless female ClanFans. Organisations such as One Bride For One Provender and Thicker Blood have dedicated themselves to sourcing the Gleed heir a mate from the ranks of ordinary folk.

Members of The Brides of Provender have gone a step further, taking a vow of chastity that will end only when one of them is wed and bedded by the man himself.

Then there's Beardless, the militant gay pressure group who insist that Provender should not be forced into marriage when it is obviously against his inclination.

And what does Provender make of all this?

As he hardly ever ventures outside the grounds of Dashlands and never gives interviews, it's a moot point. The official Gleed line is: 'No comment.'

Still: happy birthday for Tuesday, Provender!

Next week's
Kin!
will carry full pictures of the arrivals at the Gleed ball, plus analysis and commentary by Family experts.

 

From the Court and Social section of the
Daily Dynast
:

 

The Gleed Summer Ball will be held at Dashlands, Berkshire, on Saturday June 30th

The theme is Renaissance Venice and guests are expected to attire themselves appropriately.

Start time is 8.30 p.m. for 9.00 p.m. Carriages at dawn.

Entry will be refused without valid invitation.

Unauthorised guests will be shot.

1

 

Your invitation to the Gleed Summer Ball, had you one, would have arrived by courier six weeks in advance of the occasion. It would have come in a bonded-vellum envelope, eight inches by six, the flap sealed with a blob of crimson wax bearing the imprint of the Gleed Family seal, which depicts a nutmeg drupe, partially split open to reveal the kernel, and the legend 'In Condimentis Pecunia'. The invitation itself would be printed on card of extraordinary smoothness, with an icing-sugar-like finish which would seem to cry out to be stroked. Holding it close to your nose, you would detect a faint aroma which you would find delicious but hard to identify - sandalwood, cinnamon, ginger, something like that. The card would appear to have been impregnated with a scent redolent of the original source of the Gleed Family fortune, spices.

As for the text on it, this would have been printed in an elegant sans-serif font designed specially for the Gleeds some eighty years ago by none other than Eric Gill. Indeed, in printers' typeface catalogues the font is known by the name 'Gleed'. Its contrasting thick and thin verticals might suggest to you expansiveness coupled with caution, or perhaps, if you were of a more cynical bent, financial satiety gained through the impoverishment and starvation of others.

Be that as it may, you would not be paying much attention to the font, or even to the way the characters project from the card, thermographically raised, shinily black, like flecks of jet. Rather, you would be concentrating on the words themselves, and in particular that all-important opening line: 'You are cordially invited to...'

Now, with this invitation you would be entitled to approach the main gates of Dashlands, the Gleed Family seat, on the appropriate date at the appropriate time. You would doubtless be clutching the invitation tightly as your vehicle turned off the M4 and began to navigate the tortuous labyrinth of country lanes leading, eventually, to those gates. Holding the invitation in your hand would not in any way hamper your driving abilities because you would not, of course, yourself be driving. A chauffeur would be doing that for you. If you did not have a chauffeur, if you were in some sort of automobile that was not a limousine, then you would not be attending the party in the first place. You would have no right to.

At the gates you would encounter the first line of security. Your car would be flagged down by a group of intense-looking, large-torsoed men dressed in jumpsuits and body armour, with sidearms holstered at their waists. They would peer in at you, scrutinise your invitation, check its watermark with a UV light, compare your face against a register of guest names and photographs, frown at you in much the same way that a hungry fox might frown at a hen, and eventually, and with seeming reluctance, wave you through. Meanwhile a mob of paparazzi and TV cameramen would be jockeying behind barriers for a clear shot of your face through the open window of your limo. Flashbulbs would be flickering like lightning. If recognised by this jostling journalistic throng, you would hear your name being called, howled, ululated, in order to get you to turn a certain way. In the unlikely event that you were someone nobody recognised, you would still be photographed but you might be subjected to a few sneers and jeers as well from the press pack. You might even hear such remarks as 'Who are you?', said almost indignantly, and 'You're nobody. Even you don't know who you are.'

Kept further back from the gates than the newshounds, you would spy numerous ClanFans, popping away at your with their little cameras, their Instamatics, their Polaroids. You would not, if you had any sense or self-respect, pay these people any heed.

Past the gates - high gates, towering iron structures topped with gilded spikes, gates that would not disgrace the entrance to heaven - you would cruise along a drive lined with immense cedars. It being the height of summer, the trees would be at their lushest and most frondsome. They would resemble, you might say to yourself, great blue cumulonimbus clouds.

Then, a mile on, you would come to a second line of security, a manned barrier flanked by tank-traps - twists of steel girder wreathed in barbed wire. This second appraisal of your identity and your invitation would be to ensure that no one else had manifested inside your vehicle since you entered Dashlands - no one had emerged, perhaps, from a place of hiding under the seat or in the boot (this has happened in the past). It would also be to ensure that your limo had not, for some reason, left the drive and taken a detour across the grounds, an act which could only be construed as nefarious. In other words, you hadn't tried to smuggle in some gatecrasher and you didn't have some sinister ulterior motive for being on the Gleed estate.

Safely through the barrier, you would find yourself on the final approach to the ball. Dashlands House itself would just be coming into view. You would have a glimpse of its multiplicity of pitched and flat roofs, its jutting monolith-like towers, its sideways-protruding concrete balconies, its sliver-thin windows, its open-face stonework ... and then your car would be guided off the drive by an official with fluorescent orange batons, who would direct you towards another similarly equipped official who, in turn, would direct you towards yet another such official who would instruct you, or rather your chauffeur, to park the limo in a cordoned-off area at the end of one of several long ranks of already-parked limos. Your vehicle would then become just one of many top-of-the-range marques and models - Cowley Torpedoes, VW Haifisches, BdM Atalantas, Dagenham Grey Spectres, Savage Ariels - and the splendour of its tailfins and hood ornament and whitewall tyres and running boards and spoiler and metallic paintjob would be signally diminished by proximity to cars of the same calibre, in the same way that an individual diamond, whatever its carat count, will lose its lustre when placed among a host of other diamonds, the dazzle of the whole subsuming the beauty of the one.

Still and all, this would not matter to you, for you would have a party to attend. You would be about to partake of the famously lavish Gleed hospitality. You would have your costume on. Let us say that in keeping with the theme of this year's ball you had adopted the traditional Venetian
bauta
, consisting of a tricorn hat, a cape, a white mask, and a large black, full-cut mantle coming down from your head to cover the top half of your body - stifling to wear on such a warm night but striking apparel nonetheless. Or else you had come as a
dogaressa
, a chief magistrate's wife, with a pointed cap and a high-collared brocade cloak worn over a silk ballgown. You would, quite naturally, be feeling resplendent, socially accepted, top of the tree, as you left the limo and followed a path towards the site of the soirée. The ball would not be taking place at the house itself but at a specially constructed venue set apart from the building. Not only would signposts be directing you towards it, the glow of light against the dusk-steeped sky would be drawing you, moth-like.

But before you got there, a third and final line of security. This one perhaps the most daunting of all.

Greeting you at the perimeter of the party site would be Carver. Carver, the Gleeds' major domo. Carver, the head of the under-the-stairs household. Carver, right-hand man to the wheelchair-bound Gleed patriarch, Great.

Carver would be standing there dressed in a frock coat finished with gold epaulettes and braid, his hands all but covered by lacy shirtcuffs, buckled shoes on his feet, a periwig perched on his head. You would catch sight of him, and whoever you were, however important you were, whatever your net worth, your status in the world, there would inevitably be a catch in your step, a falter in your stride, a brief, trepidatious hesitation.

For Carver is a forbidding presence. He would gaze on you with a respect that was somehow just a shade away from cold contempt. He would bow to you, ever so slightly, and as his eyes looked up at you through their beetling white brows they would be narrowed, ever so slightly.

It would strike you, if you had never set eyes on Carver before, that this was a very old man, in his eighth decade at least, if not his ninth. It would also strike you that this was a very tall man whom age had not, as it does so many, stooped. You would mark the breadth of his shoulders and the power that they still seemed to contain. You would note the economy of effort in that bow he made, and the lack of stiffness. This was not, you would conclude, someone who suffered from any of old age's physical shortcomings, or if he did, did not let it show.

Most of all your eye would be ineluctably drawn to the deep scar in Carver's left cheek, the result of a wound inflicted long ago in his youth. You would, if you knew anything of the life history of this domestic servant, recall that Carver served as an infantryman in the last world war but one. You would be aware that he accompanied Great Gleed as batman during the protracted and bloody Eastern Front campaign. You would know that he saw action in Riga, Gdansk and Poznan; that he helped defend the vital rail link between Vilnius and Minsk; and that he took part in the Siege of Prague, the final and decisive battle of the conflict, after which victory was pretty much a mopping-up operation. It was in Prague, on the Charles Bridge, before the big push into Wenceslas Square, that Carver received a bayonet-thrust in the face, courtesy of a trembling teenage Czech conscript who seemed more alarmed than elated at what he had done and became further alarmed when Carver seized the bayonet with his hand, calmly detached it from the barrel of the conscript's rifle, slid the blade out from his cheek, and proceeded to bury it hilt-deep in the conscript's own head. Eschewing medical attention, for the rest of that day Carver continued to fight using his right arm only, his left hand occupied with holding the two sides of the gash together.

BOOK: Provender Gleed
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