Authors: Phillip Rock
For Bettye Cooper Rock
with all my love.
Let there be rung the passing bells
Â Â to call the living, to mourn the dead.
Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
And we have come into our heritage.
The dawn came early, tinting a cloudless sky the palest shade of green. Cocks had been crowing before first light, heralding the June day the length and breadth of the shire. On Burgate Hill, woodcutters paused to rest after the steep climb to the top, lit their pipes, and watched the sun rise. It was another clear, dry day and the men could see Sussex and the South Downs far off across the Weald. The Vale of Abingdon lay below them, still dark with shadows, but by the time they had finished their smokesâtapping the ashes carefully onto bare groundâthe sun had reached the spire of Abingdon church and the brick chimneys of the great house, Abingdon Pryory, three miles to the west, the house itself shrouded from view by the dense foliage of oak and birch woods. Beyond the vale, the men could see a thin plume of smoke rise from the gentle hollows of the heathâthe 5:10 from Tipley's Green bearing the rich harvests of Surrey to the London markets.
Anthony Greville, 9th earl of Stanmore, heard the distant hoot of the train as it approached the crossing at Leith Common. He lay drowsily in bed, following in his mind's eye the passage of the goods train as it meandered across the county before joining the main line at Godalming. It was the same trainâlarger and more sophisticated, of courseâthat he had known as a boy, although in those days it had not crossed the heath but had come from Tipley's Green by way of Bigham through five miles of his father's land. When would that have been exactly? he wondered. Eighteen seventy? Seventy-two? About then, he imagined. The early seventies because the land had been sold off later in the decade and parceled into farms. A new railroad line had been built to skirt Abingdon proper, a much more efficient line, he remembered the farmers saying, but he had missed the ancient train with its tall, bulbous smokestack and gleaming brass.
He turned his head on the pillow and glanced at the bedside clock, a ship's chronometer set in a rosewood case. Five twenty-three. The great house was coming alive, and he stretched his long, leanly muscled body under the comforter and listened to the muted soundsâthe murmur of pipes as the scullery maids drew water for the cooks, the faraway ring of shovels as coal buckets were filled, the faint whistling of a stableboy washing up at the courtyard pump. Soon there would be scurrying footsteps in the halls as the upstairs maids brought hot water for shaving and pots of tea for the early risers. There were forty servants in the house, counting stableboys and grooms, and they could make a fair amount of noise as they began the day. They were sounds that Lord Stanmore found as comforting as memory.
He shaved himself, standing before the mirror in his stocking feet while his valet stood near him holding towels and a bottle of bay rum. His valet's name was Fisher, and he had been the earl's man for over ten years.
“And what does your lordship have in mind for today?”
He studied his face in the glass. “What do you think, Fisher? Is the mustache getting a bit too military?”
“It is rather fierce, if you'll permit me to say so.”
“I'd hardly go that far, m'lord. Martial, yes.”
“We shall trim it later, Fisher. Blunt the ends.”
“Very good, sir. And as for your needs?”
The earl made one final stroke along the chin line and then dropped his razor in the shaving bowl.
“Morning clothes after my ride .Â .Â . and there will be guests for dinner. Black tie.”
“Very good, m'lord.”
The morning ride was the earl's unfailing ritual, in the heat of summer or the dark frosty mornings of winter. He dressed for it in old whipcord breeches and a Norfolk jacket, with a sweater beneath it if the air was chill. There were thirty pair of riding boots in the dressing room closet, but his choice was habit-set for the morning ride, a pair of Irish hunting boots, the tan leather cracked into fine lines like the face of an ancient weatherbeaten man. The boots were as supple as gloves and fitted his long legs like a second skin. He was getting into them with Fisher's help when there came a discreet tap at the door and Coatsworth entered the room, followed by one of the maids, bearing a large, silver tray, on which stood a teapot, a jug of hot water, milk, sugar, a basket of scones, a pot of marmalade, and a dish of butter. The elderly butler walked slowly, his dark trousers almost obscuring his slippered feet.
“Good morning, m'lord.”
“Morning to you, Coatsworth. How's the gout this morning?”
“Better, sir, I do believe. Soaked my feet in hot vinegar last night at Mr. Banks' suggestion.”
“Hot vinegar indeed.”
“Works wonders, Mr. Banks says.”
“Been damn effective on the hunters, I'll say that.”
Mr. Coatsworth cleared a table next to the chair in which his master was seated and motioned for the maid to set the tray down. She was a young girl, slender and dark haired, with high cheekbones and a thin uptilted nose. A very pretty girl, the earl thought as he smiled at her.
“Thank you, Mary.”
“Ivy, sir,” the girl whispered.
“Of course, Ivy.” One of the new ones. Mary was the plump ginger-haired girl with buck teeth.
“Shall I pour, sir?” the butler asked.
“You may go, lass,” Coatsworth murmured. She was lingering, looking about the room. It took a while to train them properly. This one seemed more intelligent than most. She gave a proper curtsy before leaving. He poured tea into a cup and added a teaspoonful of sugar and a dash of milk. He then split a hot scone and buttered it. “I think you will find the scones to be quite delicious this morning, sir. Cook changed the recipe. A higher proportion of rye flour than usual.”
“You don't say so.”
“Ross says they remind him of the scones his mother used to bake when he was a lad in Aberdeen.”
“Gets about a bit, doesn't he? Told me he came from Perth.”
The butler chuckled as he spread marmalade on the scone. “I'd say Glasgow or the East End was nearer the truth.”
“Perhaps. Still, a good man with a motorcar.”
“As you say, m'lord,” Coatsworth said through pursed lips before turning to leave.
A bit of resentment there and the earl knew it. Jaimie Ross was a brash young man of indeterminate geographic origin, but a first-rate chauffeur and mechanic. He was badly needed now that the number of motorcars in the family had increased from one to four. The previous chauffeur had been a man of Coatsworth's age, an ex-coachman who had known little about cars other than how to put one in gear and steer it in a reasonably straight line. He and the butler had been close friends and had spent their off hours together at the Crown and Anchor in Abingdon, where dart playing was an almost holy rite. Young Ross, on the other hand, preferred female company to darts and spent his half days off dashing about the countryside on his motorbike, impressing maids and shopgirls from Guildford to Crawley.
Lord Stanmore did not linger over his first breakfast of the day, but drank his tea and munched his scones, a man in a hurry to be someplace else. He could feel the tug of field and wood, hedgerow and thicket. There wasn't a part of the vale that wasn't a challenge to a horseman, not a yard of the land that didn't provide a sense of exhilaration and triumph. There was no better way on earth to start the day than by riding full tilt across that blessed landscape. His only regret at the moment was that he would be riding alone on this bright and glorious morning. William wouldn't be down from Eton for another day or two and Charles had lost his zest for riding. The thought of his eldest son cast a momentary pall over his mood. He couldn't fathom the lad. All Charles had done since coming down from Cambridge had been to moon about, listless and apathetic. His scholastic record at King's had been most gratifying, but when the earl had tried to discuss his son's future with him, he had drawn a total blank. The lad's direction seemed clear enough to Greville. He was, after all, the eldest, which would mean the eventual inheritance of the title. He should apply himself diligently to understanding the complex structure of the family holdingsânot merely Abingdon Pryory with its score of tenant farms, but the land in Wiltshire, Kent, Northumberland, and the West Riding, as well as the various parcels of London commercial properties. A job enough for any man. Of course, if Charles had expressed a desire to remain a scholar and wished to return to Cambridge, he wouldn't stand in his way, but
discussion of the future had been met with what was fast becoming unendurable, aggravating, exasperating, bloody
! He drained his cup as though it contained a dram of whiskey.
“I'm off,” he said, getting abruptly to his feet. The valet hurried from the dressing room carrying a jacket, tweed cap, and a riding crop with a polished bamboo handle. Properly attired, the earl strode across the room to the door which connected his suite with his wife's. It was a source of inner satisfaction to him that never in the course of twenty-five years of married life had that door ever been locked, a symbol of love that effectively quelled the dark predictions of his friends, who had said that the marriage could not possibly last, “American women being what they are.” He had not understood the meaning of that remark then, nor did he now.