Rumpole and the Primrose Path

BOOK: Rumpole and the Primrose Path
Table of Contents
John Mortimer is the author of eleven other Rumpole books, many of which formed the basis for the PBS-TV series
Rumpole of the Bailey.
His work also includes many novels and plays and three volumes of autobiography. A former barrister at the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, Mortimer, who was knighted in 1998, lives in Oxfordshire, England.
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the Great Britain by Penguin Books Ltd 2002
First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2003
Published in Penguin Books 2004
Copyright © Advanpress Ltd, 2002
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Mortimer, John Clifford
Rumpole and the primrose path / John Mortimer. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-00692-4
1. Rumpole, Horace (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Detective and mystery stories, English. 3. London (England)—Fiction. 4. Legal stories, English. I. Title. PR6025.O7552R’.914—dc21 2003053527
Set in Plantin
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For Kathy Lette
‘Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven,
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads’
Act I, Scene 3
‘I had thought to have let in some of all professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.’
Act 2, Scene 3
Rumpole and the Primrose Path
The regular meeting of the barristers who inhabit my old Chambers in Equity Court took place, one afternoon, in an atmosphere of particular solemnity. Among those present was a character entirely new to them, a certain Luci Gribble, whom our leader, in a momentary ambition to reach the status of an ‘entrepreneur’, had taken on as Director of Marketing and Administration.
Mizz Liz Probert, observing the scene, later described Luci (why she had taken to this preposterous spelling of the name of Wordsworth’s great love was clear to nobody) as in her thirties, with a ‘short bob’, referring to hair which was not necessarily as blonde as it seemed, a thin nose, slightly hooded eyes and a determined chin. She wore a black trouser suit and bracelets clinked at her wrists. The meeting was apparently interrupted from time to time, as she gave swift instructions to the mobile phone she kept in her jacket pocket. She also wore high-heeled black boots which Liz Probert priced at not far short of three hundred pounds.
‘I’m vitally concerned with the profile of Equity Court.’ Luci had a slight northern accent and a way, Liz noticed, of raising her voice at the end of her sentence, so every statement sounded like a question. ‘I take it that it’s in the parameters of my job description to include the field of public relations and the all-important question of the company’s - that is to say’ (here Liz swears that Luci corrected herself reluctantly) ‘the
’ image. Correct, Chair?’
This was an undoubted question, but it seemed to be addressed to an article offurniture, one of that old dining-room set, now much mended and occasionally wobbly, which had been bequeathed to Equity Court in the will of C. H. Wystan, my wife Hilda’s father and once Head of our Chambers. However, Soapy Sam Ballard, as ourpresent Head and so chairman of the meeting, appeared to follow the new arrival’s drift.
‘Of course that’s your job, Luci.’ Soapy Sam was on Christian-name terms with the woman who called him Chair. ‘To improve our image. That’s why we hired you. After all, we don’t want to be described as a group of old fuddy-duddies, do we?’ Chair, who might be thought by some to fit the description perfectly, smiled round at the meeting.
‘It’s not so much the fuddy-duddy label that concerns me at the moment, although I shall be including that in a future presentation. It’s the heartless thing that worries me.’
‘Heartless?’ Ballard was puzzled.
‘The public image of barristers,’ Luci told the meeting, ‘equals money-grabbing fat cats, insincere defenders of clients who are obviously guilty, chauvinists and outdated wig-wearing shysters.’
‘Did you say “shysters”?’ Claude Erskine-Brown, usually mild mannered, ever timid in Court, easily doused by a robust opponent or an impatient Judge, rose in his seat (once again this is the evidence of Liz Probert) and uttered a furious protest. ‘Linsist you withdraw that word “shyster”.’
‘No need for that, Erskine-Brown.’ Ballard was being gently judicial. ‘Luci is merely talking us through the public perception.’
‘You put it, Chair, succinctly and to the point.’ Once again, Luci was grateful to the furniture.
‘Oh, well. If it’s only the public perception.’ Erskine-Brown sank back in his seat, apparently mollified.
‘What we have to demonstrate is that barristers have outsize hearts. There is no section of the community, and we can prove this by statistics, which cares more deeply, gives more liberally to charity, signs more letters to
The Times,
and shows its concern for the public good by pointing out more frequent defects in the railway system, than the old-fashioned, tried-and-trusted British barrister.’
‘You can prove anything by statistics.’ Erskine-Brown was still out, in a small way, to cause trouble.
‘Exactly so.’ Luci seemed unexpectedly delighted. ‘So we have chosen our statistics with great care, and we shall use them to the best possible advantage. But I’m not talking statistics here. I’m talking of the situation, sad as I’m sure we all agree it may be, which gives us the opportunity to show that we do care.’ Luci paused and seemed, for a moment, moved with deep emotion. ‘So much so that we should all join in a very public display of heartfelt thanks.’
‘Heartfelt thanks for what?’ Erskine-Brown was mystified. ‘Surely not our legal-aid fees?’
At this point, Luci produced copies of a statement she invited Erskine-Brown to circulate. When Liz Probert got it, she found that it read:
We wish to give heartfelt thanks for the life of one of our number. An ordinary, workaday barrister. An old warhorse. One who didn’t profess to legal brilliance, but one who cared deeply and whom we loved as a fellow member of number 4 Equity Court.
‘By this act we shall show that barristers have hearts,’ Luci summed up the situation.
‘By what act is that, exactly?’ Erskine-Brown was still far from clear.
‘The Memorial Service. In the Temple Church for the late Horace Rumpole, barrister at law. Chair, I’m sure we can rely on you for a few remarks, giving thanks for a life of quiet and devoted service.’
It later emerged that at this stage of the Chambers meeting Liz Probert, undoubtedly the most sensible member of the gathering, suggested that a discussion of a Memorial Service was a little premature in view of the fact that there had as yet been no announcement of Rumpole’s death. Erskine-Brown told her that he had spoken to She Who Must Be Obeyed, who was, he said, ‘putting a brave face on it’, but admitted that I had been removed from the hospital to which I had been rushed after a dramatic failure in the ticker department, brought about by an unusually brutal encounter with Judge Ballingham, to the Primrose Path Home in Sussex, and would not be back in Chambers for a very long time indeed. In that case, Liz suggested, all talk of a Memorial Service might be postponed indefinitely.
‘Put our programme on hold?’ Luci was clearly disappointed. ‘It’d be a pity not to continue with the planning stage. Naturally, Mrs Rumpole’s hoping for the best, but let’s face it, at his age Rumpole’s actuarial chances of survival are approximate to a negative-risk situation -’
‘And one knows, doesn’t one,’ Erskine-Brown asked, ‘what places like the Primrose Path are like? They call themselves “Homes”, but the reality is they are -’
‘What do you think they are?’ Liz Probert was cynical enough to ask. ‘Houses of ill fame? Gambling dens? Five-star hotels?’
‘They are places,’ Erskine-Brown was looking at her, she said, more in sorrow than in anger, ‘where people are sent to end their days in peace. They call themselves “convalescent homes” to reassure the relatives. But the truth of it is that not many people come out of them alive.’
‘We’ll need to put together a programme.’ Ballard was seriously worried. ‘And we can hardly ask Mrs Rumpole for her help. As yet.’
‘I have an aunt in Godalming.’ Erskine-Brown seemed unnaturally proud of the fact. ‘I can call in on Rumpole when I go down to see her next.’
‘And I’m sure your visit, Erskine-Brown,’ Ballard said, ‘will be a welcome treat for Rumpole.’
As usual, our Head of Chambers had got it completely wrong.
So now Claude and I were together in my room in the Primrose Path Home, somewhere on the sleepy side of Sussex. It was a place of unremitting cleanliness, and so tidy that I was homesick for the unwashed ashtray, resting place for the butt ends of small cigars, the pile of unreturned briefs, the dusty, yellowing accounts of ancient crimes (for which those found guilty must have now completed their sentences), outdated copies of Archbold on Criminal Law and Procedure, and the Old English Law Reports, bound in crumbling leather and gathering dust, as did the collapsing umbrella left by some long-forgotten client. On the mantelpiece I kept a few souvenirs of my notable cases: the bullet found embedded in the radiogram in the Penge Bungalow affair, the china mug inscribed to a ‘Perfect Dad’ from which Leonard Peterson had drunk his last, arsenic-flavoured cup of tea, and the sheet music of ‘In a Monastery Garden’, which Mrs Florence Davenport had been playing as she awaited the news of her husband’s death after his brakes had been partially severed by her lover.
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