Abigail’s Party – Part 1
Thursday 23rd June
6 am BST
BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG!
The little flat rocked as the door was pounded on, and Agnes looked out from her bedroom, tying her dressing gown round herself as the thumping continued.
“Hold on, hold on,” Agnes shouted, “I hope you’ve got a bloody search warrant this time.”
Walking quickly over, Agnes unbolted the door expecting to see policeman on the other side of the door.
“Do I need one?” the slender woman on her doorstep spoke as she looked at Agnes. She was wearing a camel coat over a floral print dress, a large shoulder bag on her left side.
Agnes stared at her for a few minutes, before she said quietly “I should say yes you do shouldn’t I? Didn’t I hear you were flying to France today?”
“I changed my plans, I’ll fly on later from London.”
The woman peered inside and said, “Are you going to invite me in?”
“Sorry, yes you’d better come in,” Agnes said as she stood to the side, “pardon the mess, I had a very bad night last night.”
“I can see,” the woman looked round as she dusted the armchair and sat down.
“Tamsin, what are you doing here?”
“I was staying at Paula’s place last night, and when they got back she told me about yesterday,” Tamsin said quietly as she saw the grey cat jump onto the armchair and sit on her lap. “Do you often have the police knocking on your door at this time of the morning?”
“It happens,” Agnes said as she shrugged her shoulders. “Occupational hazard, I guess.”
“How can you live like this Agnes?” Tamsin said as she looked round, “Why do you live like this?”
“Well I’ll admit it’s not Lardarn House or Ballysatten,” Agnes said, “but it does for me. Get down Tippy Toes,” she then said as she shushed her cat off her visitor’s lap.
“Yes she’s named after you.”
“Well,” Tamsin said as she saw the cat walk off, “I’m honoured.”
“I’d offer you a coffee, but my visitor last night informed me it tastes like shit, so you’ll have to make do with tea.”
“Tea will be fine.”
“Alright I’ll put the kettle on.” Agnes looked over her shoulder, and said “will mugs do, I have the bone china in storage you know.”
“Mugs will be fine, and stop taking the piss Aggie.”
“Sorry I couldn’t resist.”
“And anyway,” Tamsin said as she looked at the pictures of both of them on the wall, “I was reliably informed last night that you had sold it all…years ago.”
“Yeah I should have waited a couple of years, prices for stuff like that shot up.”
“You maybe should have,” Tamsin said, “still - if you’d cut costs at the time you might never have had to sell it.”
“Well real life is expensive,” Agnes said as she put two mugs on the table, “but enough of us trying to make chit chat like regular people…Why are you here Tam?”
“Because even with Paula telling me, I want to hear it from your lips Aggie…Why did you do all this?”
For two minutes there was absolute silence. Then Agnes sighed as she said “I did it so you could have all the advantages I had had Tippy Toes - it wouldn’t have been fair otherwise.”
“So you ruined your own life to do so?” Tam waved her arms at the little flat. “And you are still doing it?”
“You loved Father,” Agnes said as she picked her mug up, “I’ve always wanted you to remember the good things about him, and it’s not a burden…really.”
“Aggie,” Tamsin said quietly, “this place is the pits.”
“Well it’s not Buck House,” Agnes said as she looked round, “but it’s about what I deserve.”
“Deserve?” Tamsin shouted as she stood up. “Why?”
“Why didn’t you tell me we were broke when Daddy died,” Tamsin shouted back, “I could have gone to a regular comprehensive, we could have cut right back while you finished your studies?”
“I didn’t tell you because I was too proud to admit it to you,” Agnes let her voice rise as she stood up, “You were never supposed to find out what I had done.”
“You thought it would stay a secret?” Tamsin shook her head.
“I hoped so.” Aggie looked down and quieted her voice, “Neither you, nor Donald, was ever supposed to find out.”
“He wasn’t going to notice on your wedding night that you weren’t a virgin like you claimed to be?”
“Actually,” Agnes reduced her voice to a whisper, “I was…and I still am Tam.”
“I don’t believe it,” Tamsin shook her head, “with your reputation, with those fines, and then prison for prostitution? Come off it Agnes I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“Oh I did do some very sexual things for money,” Agnes said quietly, “It’s why I always pleaded guilty, but it’s true Tam, you can get any doctor to examine me.”
“God, a virgin whore,” Tamsin started to laugh almost hysterically. Agnes looked at her, and then started laughing as well as they both sat down.
“Changing the subject,” Agnes eventually said, “Christopher always looked a very nice man, and Christine is a complement to both of you.”
“How do you know that?” the younger sister said as she struggled to control herself.
“Oh don’t worry I never contaminated either of them by talking to them,” Agnes said as she picked up her mug, “but I saw him from a distance, and I’ve seen her as well, she seems as thick as thieves with one of Paula’s girls.”
“She is,” Tamsin said as she shook her head, “Why have you paid her school fees Aggie? It’s not like I can’t afford them, Christopher left me rather well off, and of course Kit has her own fortune. We could have coped.”
“Just call it a present from an old maiden aunt Tam. I can never get to know her, but I wanted to contribute none the less.”
“I… I may see if that can be changed,” Tamsin whispered to herself. “I hear you also look after runaway kids?”
“As many as I can…I run a little school in Soho, and I am there to help, various people give me some financial aid, but most of it is my money.”
“Agnes,” Tamsin said quietly, “you look like shit, you live in shit, isn’t it time…”
“To do what Tam? To do what?” Standing up, Agnes looked round and said “I have my books, I have my cat, I have my real work with the children…” She then started to cry gently, as she said, “They need me, I need them Tam, I need to feel that in spite of all I have done, it’s not been for nothing…can you see that?
“Yes, yes I can…”
BANG!" there was suddenly a noise as both women looked at the door.
“Company,” Tamsin whispered.
“Yeah – the worst kind.”
Agnes, let us in we've got a warrant," a strongly accented voice called
me a minute, I'm coming, don't break the bloody thing down, it costs a fortune
the door to see a man in plain clothes waving a paper, and three constables in
uniform pushed past Agnes.
is this Agnes?" the man in plain clothes asked, "a new tart for your
Bennett, always a pleasure. This
"Tamsin Mahan-Gaunt...Mrs Tamsin Mahan-Gaunt Sergeant.”
"Married and so posh, I'll bet she'll soon have her dance card filled Agnes," the copper laughed.
Tamsin said quietly, “am I right in thinking you are disparaging me?"
knows as many fancy words as you Agnes."
ARE YOU BASTARDS LOOKING FOR?" Agnes shouted as the police started cutting
into her furniture.
you are hiding drugs for some of those no good kids Agnes," the Sergeant
“Oh come on, this is a new low, even for…”
I should tell you your Assistant Commissioner is my late husband's cousin...so
kindly desist please?" Tamsin smiled.
did you find this bitch Agnes...she knows the AC yet," he laughed some
"Bennett,” Agnes said quietly as the cat hissed at the policemen, “you can treat me like a piece of crap if you want, but this is a real lady if you know what that means… and she happens to be my sister… and YES she does know the Assistant Commissioner."
“All right then – sorry for the inconvenience, LADIES,” the officer sneered as they walked out.
sorry for that," Agnes whispered as the police left.
should you be sorry,” Tamsin said, “They are the ones who busted in like you
are a common criminal."
them, I am, and I always will be, they never forget an ex-con like me,
especially with my type of business."
you just quit Agnes, is it worth all this," she gestured at the damage
my children? Then yes Tippy Toes, it is worth it."
what can I do?” Tamsin said as a tear came to her eye, “I'm not going to leave
you like this."
worry about me Tam, I'm a survivor, haven't you worked that out yet?"
so. But your furniture…"
“I have an old
boy from the school who can see me right – I’ll call him later. Before you go
though, one question I've never before dared ask..."
she's cuckolded him ever since the honeymoon, they have no children, he drowns
himself in work.... and no he's VERY unhappy...Does that answer your
"Yes, I guess he's another to add to my list of lives I've ruined, I'd always hoped that he married someone he loved and had happily forgotten me."
Looking at her sister, Tamsin said “well… For my part, I’m sorry, and I want to try and make amends. I’ll be in touch Aggie.”
As she left the flat, Tamsin stood for a moment, wondering what she should do next. Eventually, she took out her phone, and looked up a number, before she left the building…
9 am BST
“Excuse me, Madame?”
Shirley looked up from her desk and said “yes, Amanda?”
“Reception just called up – there is a woman there wishing to speak to you, on the subject of the Soho school?”
Shirley thought for a moment, and then brought up the security camera from the reception on the screen, a small smile crossing her lips.
“Go and bring her up Amanda – I do not believe she poses a security threat. Then see if Charlotte can join us.”
“Of course Madame,” her secretary said as she stepped out, Shirley standing and walking to the window. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said to herself before Amanda opened the door, and said, “If you will come this way?”
“Thank you,” Tamsin said as she came in and looked round. “Please, forgive the intrusion Miss Xavier - I’m Tamsin Ma…”
“I know who you are Mrs Mahan-Gaunt, I’ve seen your picture on Agnes’s wall.” Shirley smiled slightly, “and what can I do for you, I’m due to leave for France this afternoon.”
“As am I Miss Xavier,” Tamsin said as she admired the deep, rich voice, “I’m thinking we are heading to the same destination, my daughter and I have been invited to Miss de Ros’s birthday party as well.”
“We are indeed heading to the same place then. Will you take a seat?” She indicated the leather couches, Tamsin nodding and sitting down as she walked over.
“I won’t keep you long, but you are a friend of my sister’s?”
“I have that distinct honour…yes.”
“I’m hoping… I’m hoping you can perhaps explain a few things to me?”
“Oh?” Shirley sat back, crossed her legs and said “Like what?”
“Why she lives the way she does?”
“Ah - you went to Paddington?”
“I did,” Tamsin shook her head. “It wasn’t a pretty sight, nor was she, and when the police burst in…”
“She got raided again?”
“By chance a Sergeant Bennett?”
“That was his name…you know him?”
“No, but I’ve heard Agnes say he plagues her life.”
“They ripped open her furniture, tipped out her drawers, no mention of compensation for the damage…are they allowed to do that?”
“To someone like Agnes? Really Mrs Mahan-Gaunt are you that naïve? Of course they can, after all who will stand up and defend Agnes’s good name…it’s hardly like she has one.”
“Oh God,” Tamsin said quietly, “is it really that bad for her?”
“Mrs Mahan-Gaunt, the first thing is…”
“Please call me Tamsin or Tam.”
“Alright and I am Shirley,” Madame smiled, “but returning to what I was going to say, Agnes is officially a common prostitute…do you know what that means?”
“Well under the old definition it meant that she had been found guilty of committing the offense of committing lewd acts with men in return for payment on more than one occasion. The term is gone from law since 2007, but the cops still use it.”
“Alright I think I get that,” Tamsin shook her head.
“And because she still has her ‘business’ and she tries to help homeless children, the law takes a very dim view of Agnes.”
“Good God.” Tamsin shook her head, “why does she keep on…well you know?”
“Because the money is what she uses for what she calls her real work. I support her with donations, but as Agnes says there are always more children then there is money. So she keeps working at her old trade”
Shaking her head, Tamsin said quietly “why did she never tell me about this?”
“Pride Tamsin, it’s the one thing from her old life she still has left.”
“I get that…I think…by the way that picture on your desk,” Tamsin said as she looked over, “is it you and cousin John?”
“Well it’s my partner John Hammond yes…is he your cousin?”
“Technically he’s a second cousin, but yes he is.”
“And why did Agnes never tell me that she was related to John?” it was Shirley’s turn to look stunned.
“When… When things happened, a lot of nasty things were said by a lot of us. John was just one of those nasty things.”
“My John? I find that hard to believe…”
“You have to
remember both the shock, and the fact he was still very much the officer
then. He was a very different man… Has she ever told you about the only man she
ever loved Shirley?"
know Will?" Tamsin chuckled, "no Will and Mandy were always a thing.
Aggie was in love with Will's brother Donald?"
who works at the Foreign Office?"
Tamsin sighed, "they had been in love as long as my daughter has been in
love with John Gaunt."
before their wedding. The News of the
World did their expose and – well, you know the rest."
an agreement that they would both stay virgins till they were married,"
Tamsin paused, "and did you know she still is?"
friend told me that yesterday," Shirley nodded, "she'd kept it a
secret till then."
good at keeping secrets. Anyway he called it off and fell into the clutches of
that bitch Catherine..."
from what I hear nor does he anymore," Tamsin paused again, “Well anyway
three weeks later after she was arrested again, that time instead of a
her in prison."
"Yes," Tamsin cried, "and none of us were there for her. I can’t help thinking if only, if only…"
As Shirley handed her a handkerchief, there was a knock on the door and Charlotte came in. “My apologies Shirley,” she said, “I was told to come straight in…”
“Not a problem Charlotte – may I introduce Tamsin Mahan-Gaunt. Tamsin, this is Charlotte Gordon, our IT director. Her mother is the Marchesa di Cambrello.”
“Of course – I read your story in the magazines. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Charlotte, Tamsin is Agnes McAdam’s sister. Apparently, the police called on her today. Would you arrange for someone to go and make sure any damages are taken care of?”
“Of course Shirley,” Charlotte said, “anything else?”
“Yes – I want you to go to Lancaster Gate, now, and invite Agnes to meet you there. I will explain why later.”
Charlotte nodded as she left the room.
“I want to help support her, as she has supported me. Would you be in a position to help with that?”
“I can help with that – for now, you can ask any other questions you have…”
“Can I help you,” Betty said as she answered the door.
“Err – yes. Agnes McAdam to see the Marchesa di Cambrello?”
“Ah yes – she is expecting you, this way please. Miss Charlotte is already here.”
“Thank you,” Agnes said as she was walked into the office.
“Agnes,” Peri said as she stood up, “I’m glad to see you.”
“You too Peri – any idea what this is about?”
“The boss will explain,” Peri said as she knocked on the door, and held it open.
“Hello Agnes,” Francesca said as she stood up, Charlotte standing as well, “I hope you have recovered from yesterday?”
“Not really – I had some unexpected visitors this morning,” Agnes said with a smile, “so what can I do for you Francesca?”
“Actually, it’s more what we can do for you, but more importantly, I need your advice Agnes.”
“My advice? In what context?”
“As an economist,” Francesca said, “what do you think the result of the referendum will be today?”
“Honestly?” Agnes looked at them and said, “you’re serious, aren’t you?”
“I am – and?”
“This country will vote to leave – and then we’ll spend a year arguing over how.”
Francesca nodded, and said, “I could use some expert advice on how the markets may behave. Interested?”
“Possibly – what is the second thing?”
“That’s where I come in,” Charlotte said, “I – shall we say represent – a group that is dedicated to helping young women who find themselves exploited by others. Mother and Shirley, as well as Penny and Peri, have told me of your work Agnes – and we would like to support that work, financially, if you will allow us.”
“You do? And the name of this group?”
“They are known,” Charlotte said quietly, “as the Sisters of Maisha.”
“The… I’ve heard of them,” Agnes said, “but you represent them?”
“Indeed – and we wish to fight to save those who are exploited at home as well as abroad. Shirley and Mother have told me of your work – and we wish to offer our support financially.”
“I… I don’t know what to say…”
“Yes would be good,” Francesca said as Peri opened the door, and Betty carried the coffee in. “Let’s talk about our ideas.”
11 am BST
“So how was the flight,” Shirley said as Heather appeared on the screen, the walls of Chateau de Ros behind her.
“Not too bad, and everyone had a good time – when do you set off?”
“In a few hours
– I’m going to pack now,” Shirley said.
"Heather did you look at what I sent you?"
did Shirley - and not even I can do that."
erase her criminal record Shirley, that's easy, but far too many people know
who Lady D'eath is, I can erase computer memories, but never human ones."
what I was afraid of...btw did you say anything to Diana and Abby?"
to have a quick word… They will accept
anyone you bring Shirley, and the two girls would just pass as acquaintances of
Agnes is far too well known?"
says she may come, but don't expect people to talk to her."
"I want to
get her out of London badly Heather, things are very bad for her here currently."
give her a long weekend staying in a hotel out here...just don't expect society
to forgive and forget."
"Understood...I'll send Penny to get her and the girls packed and on a plane, at least she'll be out of Sergeant Bennett's reach in the Medoc."
“I’ll find Natasha, give her a heart attack, and see where we can get her in. Any other big surprises today Shirley?”
“The day is young Heather…”
Agnes opened the door to her block of flats, still processing the offer she had been made. It would certainly support the school, but still…
“So it was you.”
"Oh Joy, my cup runneth over," Agnes said as she saw Catherine Fitzstuart outside her door, "it seems like this is my day for visitors."
“You look – tired, Agnes darling,” the blonde said as she stood there in her camel coat.
“And you look just the same as yesterday,” Agnes said as she fished out her keys.
"So, do we talk with me standing outside here?" Catherine asked as some heads poked out of neighbouring doors, "or do we talk in private?"
"You better come in Catherine,” Agnes said as she unlocked her door, “no way a lady like you should be left on the doorstep."
hovel!" Catherine delivered her judgment as she looked at the tiny living
room, cum kitchen, "and I always thought you were this big-time whore
rolling in it."
hovel or mansion,” Agnes said with a hint of anger, “wherever I lay my head
down, that's my home."
her visitor said as she glared at the cat, “do I get offered anything to
"Well since I'm informed how bad my coffee is, and I ran out of teabags earlier...what do you think Catherine?" Agnes smiled, "which would you prefer, undrinkable sludge, or hot water with a bit of sugar in it?"
“Perhaps I’ll pass on the drink then – what I have to say won’t take long.”
“Good – I’d hate to keep you from important duties Catherine. Say your piece.”
stood and looked at her, before she whispered, "Keep away from him Agnes,
I'm warning you."
thought that was what I'd done for 20 years Catherine."
did you meet yesterday?"
friend of mine knows Olivia and Paula, and Paula pointed me out to him I
in the Royal Enclosure?"
"Me?" Agnes laughed in a rather brittle way, "with my criminal record Catherine, I'd never be given a badge in a million years. No I was in the Queen Anne enclosure with the other plebs of this world."
“But you talked to him.”
“Well, he talked to me, and I told him to go away. There’s after all a reason I never replied to anything he wrote, or said, Catherine DARLING.”
“And you never will. He’s my husband – MINE!”
bird told me that you and Donald don't even share a bedroom any more...” Agnes looked at her, and said, “why do you
even care Catherine?"
because an even better informed little bird has told me that he will probably
be the next British Ambassador to Paris, and you think I'm going to miss out on
you...then no," Agnes shook her head.
"And do you
think that even if he divorced me, that he'd ever look at you again Agnes? You
look older than most great-grandmothers I know."
clean up reasonably well..."
"And besides what can you hear him saying in answer to the question ‘what did your wife use to do Ambassador?’ Answer that his wife used to be a whore?"
“I think you’ve said your piece now,” Agnes replied angrily as she opened the door. “Goodbye Catherine.”
The blonde glared at her, and then walked out, Agnes closing the door and smiling as Tippy Toes climbed onto her lap.
“I swear, Tippy, if I get one more surprise today…”
So when there was a knock on her door, Agnes looked up to the heavens and said “Why today, of all days?” Walking to the door, she opened it, and then paled as she saw who was standing there.
“Agnes – can I come in please?”
“Why not – everyone else has,” Agnes said as she stood to one side, and he walked in. “Long lunch?”
“Never mind that now,” the diplomat said as he watched her, “Agnes, we cannot leave it where we did yesterday – I took everything… They took everything from you, and that was wrong.”
"Donald I cherish the one thing they can't take away from me...my memories. Everything else I had I lost, but I can still dream of you punting me on the Cam after the May Ball. I can remember you giving me my first kiss...I'm even allowed to remember you proposing to me...All beautiful things...all which I'll always have where it counts. Up here," she pointed to her head, “and in here,” she put her hand over her heart. “But we cannot undo what has happened and I do not think you want to.”
"You’re wrong – I realised yesterday the mistake I made Aggie, I'll ask Catherine for a divorce?"
purpose Donald,” Aggie said as she shook her head, “is there some other woman
you wish to marry? Who is she? Anyone I might know?"
only ever you Aggie...you know that.”
want to marry me Donald? I look old enough to be your mother."
look beautiful to me."
know just how I look," Aggie tried to take two deep breaths. "Donald
you are a high flying civil servant, you'll be an ambassador one day, can you
imagine that happening though with Lady D'eath at your side? Because I'll
always be that to most people Donald, Lady D’eath London's most notorious
that Donald,…NEVER!” Agnes shouted back, “the last of MY hopes and dreams are
resting on YOU making it to where WE said we'd go."
Donald, you are starting to sound pathetic...You know Catherine was just here
before you arrived?"
not be a perfect person Donald,” Agnes said quietly, “but she at least looks
like a lady, she looks like an ambassador’s wife. If you get Paris..."
Agnes nodded, "she will be a partner people will envy you for."
Donald, go home to your wife please."
Agnes walked over and opened the door.
"I will be
back Agnes,” he turned and looked back as he exited.
"No you won't Donald, No you won't," Agnes whispered as her legs buckled and she fell to the floor.
“Agnes? Agnes are you…? Kay, give me a hand here. Sue – find some water?”
As her eyes flickered open, she saw Penny kneeling next to her, and said “Penny? What are you doing here?”
“Madame sent me – she heard about this morning.”
“Here,” Sue said as Kay and Penny sat Agnes up, and she handed her a glass of water, “what happened?”
“I’ve had one heck of a morning,” Agnes said as she sipped the water. “How did you hear…?”
“Madame had a visitor – did you meet with Charlotte and Francesca?”
“I did – quite an offer as well, but…”
“So, we go to phase 2 – and there is no arguing over this,” Penny said. “When you feel up to it, go and pack a weekend bag. You’re coming with the three of us.”
“Where? What about…”
“No arguing,” Kay said as two women appeared in the doorway and looked round.
“Girls – assess the damage, arrange repairs and replacements, as well as a spring clean. As for you, Agnes – no arguments. Go and pack.”
1 pm CET
Chateau de Ros
“Welcome,” Diana said as she stood up, and kissed Juliette on both cheeks, “how was the flight?”
“Mercifully short – the arrivals?”
“The American guests are settling in,” Diana said as coffee was brought in. “The girls are on the train to Paris, and the rest are flying in over the afternoon and evening. The Irish group have just taken off – apart from Tamsin Mahan-Gaunt. Her flight is in an hour.”
“And the rest of the family?”
“Guy cornered the menfolk, and Carina and Annie are getting the twins settled,” Juliette said as she accepted the coffee. “So, our newest guest.”
“I have to confess,” Diana said as they sat down, Abigail and Jo looking at a pile of envelopes, “this is not something I ever expected to do.”
none of us is really in much of a position to condemn Agnes McAdam,"
Juliette sipped her coffee, "her crimes pale into insignificance when set
against ours. And from what little
Shirley could tell me, she has a lot in common with us all."
feel very uncomfortable her coming, even only to the hotel, Juliette Cherie -
many, many, people will always despise her."
Fitzstuart's probably have as good a reason as any Mama, and I asked both Will
and Mandy, and they smiled and said to please let her come." Abigail
looked up from her pile of messages,
"I got the
same reaction from the senior members of the Gaunt/Stone clan Diana." Sandy
sipped her coffee.
the girls my age have never even heard of her." Jo ventured.
Valeria has, and she is the one that counts...Papa? Well for all I know he has
been one of her customers." Diana made a Gallic gesture.
have a quiet word with Guy to talk to Valeria?"
would Juliette," Diana nodded before she had a sudden thought, "but
what about Terri and Rudi?"
you once tell me Agnes roomed for a term with Terri?"
"Well just maybe she will be cool with an old friend."
“I’ll talk privately to her when they arrive,” Diana said, “and we shall see what happens.”
1 pm BST
“Maisha, if you have finished, would you make some coffee before we go please?”
“Of course Aunt Shirley,” she heard Maisha call through as she and Nyala walked past, and she watched John fold and pack his shirts.
"John," Shirley looked up as she packed her makeup box, "I had a visitor today at work."
"Oh? And who might that have been?"
is Mrs Tamsin Mahan-Gaunt."
Lord," John chuckled as he looked over, "it's been ages since I saw
you'll see her at Abby's party, she and her daughter have invites and they are
coming with the Stones and the Gaunt’s."
Oh that is good news, always nice to see relatives you haven't seen in a
Shirley said as she closed her case, “she said she was your second
did Tam come to talk to you?"
wanted to talk about a friend of mine?"
might that be Shirley my love?"
John stood, his dress shoes in his hands, as though in shock as he looked over.
to tell me something John?"
I best had...” Putting the shoes in his case, he said quietly “How do you come
to know 'her'?"
"I donate to the scheme she runs to help homeless children."
"And yes I know who exactly she is John...Why did you never tell me you were related to someone so famous?"
is more like it," John snorted.
Shirley said quietly, “this is a whole new side to you John that I've never
John looked at
her for a moment, before he said "If you'd been there Shirley you would
understand, she disgraced the whole family, she broke Donald Fitzstuart's
heart, Tamsin had to flee to Ireland to escape her so-called fame."
like her, an awful lot, she is one of the nicest people I've ever met in my
"Well we can agree to disagree Shirley, her name will never pass my lips." John said as he locked his case, "Anyway let’s think about nicer things like celebrating Abigail's 18th eh?"
Shirley nodded and said “of course – I’m sorry if I upset you.”
“It’s all right – old wounds,” John said with a smile. “Let’s go and have that coffee.”
4 pm CET
“If you will sign here, Miss Harker?”
“Thank you,” Penny said as she signed the card, Kay and Sue doing the same as Agnes looked round the lobby.
“Oh – oh sorry,” she said as she signed the card, and then accepted the key. As they walked to the lift, she whispered “Angela Adamson? How did your friends manage this?”
“Story for another day,” Penny said, “we go to our rooms, unpack, and meet in the bar in thirty minutes, agreed.”
“No buts,” Sue said, “go and unpack. We’ll have a drink together, and take things from there.”
Chateau de Ros
“What a place,” Aileen Gaunt said as she looked round the entrance hall.
“Cassandra – I see you have all arrived safely.”
“We have,” Eve Stone said as Diana and Abigail greeted their guests. “So what is the plan?”
“First, allow the servants to show you to your rooms. Paula, can I have a word?”
“I think I know what about,” Paula said as Eve and Aileen heard a voice say, “You made it!”
“We did,” Orion said as she embraced Katy. “The others?”
“Some here already – why don’t you come with me? I’m having a cold drink with Sands and the Clarke girls.”
“So,” Paula said quietly, “what is the story?”
“Agnes is in a hotel in town with Shirley’s assistant and a couple of friends. Helen is going down to see Penny in an hour – would you care to go with her, bring her here to meet some of the others?”
“If that is all right?”
“Valeria is aware of who she is, and wishes to meet her. I can say no more than that.”
“I don’t ask for any more than that,” Paula said, “the last thing I or anyone wants is to do something to ruin Abby’s big day.”
“Thank you,” Diana said quietly, “I cannot pretend I was unsure if this was going to be the right thing to do, but from what I have heard…”
“Miss Linda Evangelista,” the maid said as she showed Mother into the drawing room.
“Nice place, roomy,” she said as she walked over to Juliette. “So – plans for tonight?”
“There is an open buffet for everyone tonight, nothing formal planned,” Juliette said before she whispered “Valeria is allowing us to use one of her cellars for tonight. When are you going to tell me what this is about?”
“Later, Palomino, later – have you had a chance to talk to Debs and the Countess yet?”
“Not yet – Diana’s been busy, and Sandy only arrived just before we did. I’ll broach it tomorrow.”
you crying Agnes?" Penny asked as she entered the older woman's hotel
I was...I was just unpacking."
don't lie,” Penny, said quietly, “I could hear you from the next room."
scared...why am I here really?"
thought it best to get you away from that bastard Bennett and give my crew a
chance to fix things up – and look after Tippy Toes as well."
when can't I deal with the fuzz on my own?"
got knocked for six with a visit from your sister."
she looks just so great, I am so proud of her," Agnes started to cry again
as she sat on her bed. "She's become such a wonderful person, the one
shame is that her Christopher is no longer with us."
reminds you too much of what you gave up doesn't she?"
never gave it up, I lost it because I was just some stupid bitch who thought
she could almost walk on water."
really did think that no one would ever know didn't you?"
the time you know...when I was..."
have been a dominatrix as well remember?"
course, but back then, I did it dispassionately, I really just thought of it as
a job. I acted the part, but I always thought I'd step away one day and just
marry Donald and we'd do all we had planned.
you ever discuss yourself with the other girls...?"
Countess Sylvie's? No I tried to just go in, do my job, then go home."
Agnes smiled, "I think they thought I was really a mystery lady behind a
mask. It certainly was part of what became the legend of Lady D'eath."
coming back to now, why are you so scared?"
"Because I'm far too close Penny...far too close to people I still love, and I just don't want to hear the bad things about myself again, I really would rather die, then hear Uncle John tell me just what he said all those years ago."
“Look – unpack, come down, it’ll be all right…”
5.30 pm CET
“Well hello gorgeous.”
“Hello right back to you,” Penny said as she stood up and kissed Helen, “how was your flight?”
“Not bad – but what are you doing here? I thought you were staying home?”
“Plans change,” Penny said as Kay and Sue walked out. “Lady Lardarn – I trust you enjoyed yesterday?”
“I did – but I’m a lady on a mission,” she said as she saw Agnes walk out of the lift, wearing a grey cardigan over a cornflower blue dress, “and it starts right now. Aggie?”
Agnes looked over, and said “Paula – whatever it is you’re planning…”
“Will start to happen right now,” Paula said as she took her by the arm, “come on – Olivia and a few others want to see you right now.”
Agnes looked at Penny, her eyes pleading, but Penny shook her head and said “Shirley and Francesca will be there soon…”
Chateau de Ros
“Paula, this is a big mistake,” Agnes said as she got out of the car with her old school friend.
“Aggie – you are about to discover a huge secret,” Paula said as they walked up the stairs, “nobody is going to care amongst your friends, and the rest will follow soon after. Valeria.”
Agnes looked at the tall auburn haired woman in the blue trouser suit and blouse, who walked over and said “Paula – you were successful?”
“I was. Valeria, Countess de Ros, may I present Agnes McAdam. Agnes, our host here.”
“Guy told me you were here,” Valeria said quietly, “to build bridges. I wish you success in that.”
“Thank you,” Agnes said quietly as Valeria smiled, and said, “I’ll tell them you are in the drawing room.”
“Come with me,” Paula said as she saw Tamsin come out of the large dining room, and nodded as she went up the stairs. Agnes followed Paula to the drawing room. As they went in, she said, “want a drink?”
“Have you heard what sort of a day I’ve had, Paula?”
“I know Tam came to see you this morning – what else happened after she left?”
“A few unexpected visitors and a major offer.”
“Then a drink is definitely in order – let me get you a large whisky,” Paula said as she went off, Agnes looking round the room and admiring some of the artwork.
“Can we come in?”
Agnes turned as she saw Tamsin standing in the doorway, with a tall thin blonde haired girl looking in through her glasses. Swallowing, she said, “of course – no-one else knows I’m here yet.”
“Good, good… Christine there is someone I’d like you to meet…This… This… This is Agnes, Dr. Agnes McAdam.”
“Hello,” Kit said as she extended her hand with a friendly smile. “McAdam, that was Mummy’s maiden name. Are you a relative?”
“You might say so,” Agnes wriggled uncomfortably as she shook her hand.
“You should call her Aunt Aggie Kit.” Tam smiled.
“Or as you are such a grown-up young lady, I can live with just Agnes, or Aggie, Christine.”
“I think I prefer Aunt Aggie,” Christine cocked her head, “so are you a long lost aunt of Mummy’s? I do see a resemblance.”
“Let’s just say I’m a relative and leave it at that perhaps.”
“Okay,” Kit said as she looked at her mother, “but why?”
“Christine I’m sort of…the black sheep of the family.” Agnes mumbled.
“An old lady like you? How can that be?”
“Kit how old do you actually think she is?” Tamsin asked with an odd look on her face.
“I’m not sure…70…maybe only 65?”
“Aggie is actually only 6 years older than I am.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” Kit looked embarrassed, “It’s just with that grey hair it’s hard to tell.”
“It’s not a problem Christine – believe me, I know how I look.”
“So are you one of Mummy’s cousins ‘Mysterious Lady’? She’s never mentioned you before.”
“Actually Kit,” Tamsin said as she wrung her hands, “Agnes is my…she’s my…”
“I’m your Mother’s sister, Christine,” Agnes broke in tearfully, “and the reason that you never heard of me is that I’ve been a bad, bad, woman for a lot of my life.”
“Bad? Mummy what is she talking about?” Christine looked from one to the other.
“The family disowned me twenty years ago Christine, there was a bad story in the newspapers, and then I went to prison. It was agreed back then that I’d be shunned by not only the family, but most of the rest of your world as well.” Agnes breathed in deeply. “Do you understand?”
“No, not really…What did you do that was so bad?”
Sitting down, Agnes sighed and said “I worked in a bondage dungeon if you know what that is?”
“Yes,” Kit nodded.
“And I’ve now owned one for many years as well. I was sent to prison for repeated prostitution crimes.” Agnes let tears flow as Tamsin sat next to her and held her.
Kit sat opposite both of them, looking at them as she whispered, “Why was I never told Mummy?”
“Because Kit,” Tamsin said, “we thought she had disgraced herself and the family. It was only yesterday I finally learned that Aggie in fact was the source of my so-called trust fund. She worked like that to send me to Benenden while she studied for her advanced degrees in London.”
“Christine I had worked my final shift the night before my story broke. I was due to be married the next Saturday to the man I loved, I thought I was getting out clean…Little did I know my secret job would cost me my sister, my family, my career, and my husband to be.” Agnes cast her eyes down.
“You were a…”
“Despite how I look Christine I still am,” Agnes shook her head.
“It’s your Aunt Aggie who has always paid your school fees Kit.”
“Since I never ever expected to meet you Christine, and knowing if I sent presents that they’d never get to you, I had my lawyers make it look that there was provision in your Grandfather’s will to pay for you. I tricked your mother, but it was important to me to give something to you.”
“Now if your mother will permit,” Agnes said as she started to stand up, “I’ll leave and you can just forget me Christine.”
“And why would I want to do that?” Christine smiled, “I think you must be an amazing person to have done all that, and I’m proud to say you are my aunt.”
“Really Mummy…but something must change before I acknowledge I know her.”
“Here it comes,” Aggie steeled herself for the bad part.
“That grey hair has to go…you really MUST dye it Aunt Aggie.” Kit giggled.
“Well, I hope I’m not interrupting the family reunion?”
“Not really Paula,” Agnes said as she was handed a whisky.
“Listen, I hope you don’t mind, but a couple of friends wanted to come and say hello. This is Grace Brand, Carina von Furstenheim, and the birthday girl herself, Abigail de Ros.”
“Welcome to Rosville,” Abigail said as she came over and hugged Agnes, “I’m glad you were able to come over tonight.”
“Thanks, I think,” Agnes, said as she took a sip. “Has Shirley arrived yet?”
“Not yet no,” Grace said as she looked at Tamsin, “so what did we interrupt?”
“I was saying Aunt Agnes needs to lose the grey,” Kit said with a smile.
who we need ladies, that amazing colourist who restored my hair last
year." Grace spoke.
Felix?" Carina asked.
him,” Grace said, “but I bet he's nowhere near here?"
Palomino he is," Abigail smiled, "he's doing my grandmother's hair in
the morning - in fact he's here in the building."
"Well go fetch him Stick."
“Gone,” Abby said as she left the room.
"So,” Carina asked, “what was your natural colour Agnes?"
"It was a classic light sandy red… she was a true Celt." Tamsin spoke up.
"You wouldn't happen to have a picture would you?" asked Grace.
purse...yes." Tamsin looked inside
and then passed it to Carina.
"Oh my! It
was gorgeous," Carina passed the old photo to Grace.
“Ladies – you summoned me?”
Felix - can you restore this lady’s hair to anything like that?" Grace
thrust the picture in the man’s face.
grey?" he ran his fingers through Agnes's hair, "for most it would be
impossible to do, but yes I think I can."
actually get a say?"
did Agnes," Grace chuckled, "so why should you?"
"Ladies give me room to work...MAGIC!"
“We’ll let you go to work,” the girls said as Valeria came in. “Felix, will you allow me a few minutes before you begin,” she said, the stylist nodding as he left.
“I owe you an apology,” Valeria said to Agnes, “I did not give you the greeting that should be afforded The McAdam of McAdam.”
“I gave up the right to be called that a long time ago, Comtesse,” Agnes said.
“May I ask – as one who some time ago also underwent something of a revelation – why a Chieftain of a Highland Clan dresses as if she was in C&A?”
"Why do I
dress as I do Comtesse?" Agnes looked straight in Valeria's eyes.
for what I might spend on a new coat for myself,” Agnes said as she stood
straight, “I can go to a charity shop and buy 20 coats for children who are
shivering to death sleeping rough on the streets of London. Why should I have
something when they need what that money will pay for far more than I do?"
you have no pride woman?"
any pride I had in myself in prison Comtesse." Agnes answered quietly. "I
dress for my work because the customers expect certain standards. Away from my
dungeon I am free to be just who I am really."
"In a way,
I understand that… Do you remember
meeting me once before Agnes?"
Agnes briefly smiled, "Queen Charlotte's Ball, you were on the committee
the year I was presented, you shook my hand and admired my dress."
memory is still excellent I see."
impressed to be meeting a real Romanov Comtesse."
can I thank you for permitting me to enter your wonderful home, but I truly
think I should leave before I'm seen by anyone else."
"You mean by John Hammond?”
"Yes Comtesse," Agnes looked down at her feet. "Him above all."
“Agnes,” Valeria said quietly, “what do you know of me? Really know?”
“You had two children – one who died in a car crash, who was married to Diana, the other now married to Diana’s brother. And you are in an – understanding, shall we say, with Diana’s father, the Duc du Grechy?”
“And – if you will forgive the indelicacy – did Guy ever…”
“No, Comtesse – he never did.”
“Agnes, for far too long I let the rules of society control me, and I am not the only one here who did that – so no, with all due respect, I ask you to stay, to allow Felix to take care of you – and after, I wish you to join your friends.”
“Will come round if you tell him the truth,” Valeria said, “as your sister did. Now,” she continued as Felix returned, an assistant carrying a bowl of hot water, “I will leave you in his capable hands.”
“Sit, sit,” Felix said as Valeria smiled, “let us begin…”
7.30 pm CET
Chateau de Ros
“Valeria darling,” Shirley said as she came in, “I am sorry we were delayed.”
“But you at least made it,” Valeria said with a smile, “John, it is good to see you as well.”
“And you Valeria,” John said as Ama came out from the dining room.
“Welcome sisters,” she said as she hugged Maisha and Nyala, “why don’t you come with me and have some supper with the girls.”
“On you go – the servants will take care of your bags,” Valeria said as she watched Nyala look round. “Was she one as well,” she asked quietly.
“She was – she comes from the same village as Ama.”
“And did I hear correctly – Ama met her sister?”
“Indeed,” Shirley said with a smile.
“Well, we have much to catch up on,” Valeria said as John whispered, “excuse me a moment” and went to the restroom. When he came out, he saw Felix leaving the drawing room, and went in, saying “are you in here Shir…”
He stopped short as he saw the woman sitting in the chair, a grey waterproof poncho covering her dress, the fear clear in her eyes as well as the door swung closed.
Uncle John." Agnes sat in the chair awaiting Felix's return, "you are
the very last person I expected to see."
"Nor did I
expect to see you," John said quietly.
a long time since our last meeting, we've grown a lot older, I'm infamous still
and you are now famous," Agnes paused. "I saw your exhibition at the
National Portrait Gallery...it was wonderful."
you," John whispered as he fidgeted uncomfortably.
happy when I read of your knighthood as well, and to hear you and Shirley had
found each other...well..."
Thank You." He looked round, unsure
of what to do
John,” Agnes said quietly, “I know you did not expect to see me here – believe
me, I feared you would – but you look as if you wish to say something… please
say what is on your mind, and we can both end this very awkward exchange."
years ago,” John said quietly, “I'd never let your name pass my lips
don't break a promise to yourself on my behalf," Agnes let out a forced
laugh, “you can call me whatever you like, and I'm sure I will have heard worse
at some time in the last 20 years."
was such a huge problem why did you never come to me, or some other family
dumb and I was proud Uncle John, it was my problem, I thought it was up to me
to solve it.
"So you took 'that' job?" He almost spat the words out.
"I did, I really thought I would get away with it, but of course no stupid deed goes unpunished."
you settle Angus's debts? you weren't obliged to you know."
honourable would that have been Uncle? You remember the motto on the wall at
John nodded as he said, "Death can be avenged, dishonour never will."
why I paid, he'd built up debts of honour, and it was up to me to pay
shaking his head. "Shirley says you
are having trouble with the police?"
nothing I can't handle."
they wrecked your place this morning?"
Agnes said quietly, “but some friends helped me out...I do still have a few
John said as he shook his head, “Penny was giving me hell about you
"And I got
a message from someone called Peri?"
Francesca's PA,” Agnes said, “another one of my old girls."
children have you helped like them Ag...?"
careful Uncle John you nearly said it," Agnes smiled broadly. "I've
helped several to become good members of society, but I've had, far, far too
many failures," her voice became serious. "Each one I lose, it’s like
losing my own baby."
skyward like he was looking for inspiration.
not have led the life I dreamed of back then Uncle John, you probably think
I've been wicked beyond reproach..."
done my best with the cards fate dealt me. Coming here wasn't my idea, it was
Shirley's. This” she pointed to her head, “is Grace Gresham's, I'd truly like
to slip into a hole and disappear you know? I do know how unwelcome I am to so
Agnes, the magic continues," Felix came in waving his arms.
go Uncle John...Goodbye,” she offered her hand... it hung there... "Alright I was expecting too much that
you'd shake my hand."
here," Felix ushered Agnes away.
For five minutes John just stood on the spot till suddenly he whispered...
“Ah – there you are,” Valeria said as she saw Diana and Abigail come out, “may I have a moment?”
“Of course Valeria,” Diana said as they joined her at a large portrait.
Diana, did you ever look closely at this picture?"
really too closely grandmother...why?"
that is your ancestor, the first Comte de Ros?"
Grandmother," Abigail nodded.
know who the other man is with him?"
man Valeria?" Diana put on her glasses to look closely.
"I have no
was Angus, and he was the then McAdam of McAdam, and your ancestor’s great
friend Abigail. You would not even be here but for him, twice he saved the
first Comte’s life."
McAdam descends from him?"
does,” Valeria said quietly. “It is why
I disapprove of you just spiriting her into the house the way you did. The
current McAdam of McAdam should have been shown the honour her connection to
your family deserves Abigail."
"I'm sorry Grandmother I didn't know."
“Well, when she comes to your party tomorrow, she will come openly and be shown all due respect. And if anyone objects, they may raise their displeasure with me.”
“Abby – the small matter of the new Agnes.”
“Well, Felix is working his magic…”
"True – but who is the best makeup artist here for this Abby? Grace asked.
"I'm not bad...but really Holly is better."
"Okay go find her and her makeup box and bring her down here, tell her we have a job for her to do once Felix finishes her hair."
“On it,” Abby said with a grin as she walked off.
“Well, it looks as if he is doing a good job,” Christine said as she looked in on where Agnes was sitting.
“Yeah – it’s… Different. Actually, I’m glad I caught you alone.”
“You are – why Aunt Aggie?”
while I wait for them to work out a makeup job, and then get all of this out of
my hair, can we have a short private word."
the Irish girl sat down, "what do you want to say Aunt Aggie?"
will you are named as my principal heir Christine."
said as she shivered, “I hate thinking about wills and all that."
please bear with me darling. There will not be a lot of money, most of what I
have goes on my charity work, and anyway your Mahan-Gaunt inheritance has
already made you a very wealthy woman."
so," Kit shrugged, "but what in your will is so important we talk
about it like this?"
as the family calculates it, I am the 34th Laird of Ardray, if all goes well
you will be the 35th Laird." Agnes paused, "You will the
McAdam of McAdam."
smiled at that thought.
not be as romantic as you being The Knight of the Bloody Knife, but to me it is
very, very important."
just one thing of you, when your time comes you add McAdam to your name?"
triple barreled?" Kit smiled, then suddenly she went serious. "Aunt
Aggie I can see how serious this is to you, and yes I do promise."
what?" her mother came in with Abby, Holly and a string of other women.
"Oh nothing really Mummy,” Kit squeezed her aunts hand and mouthed, "I promise on my honour."
“Holly, I’d like you to meet Agnes McAdam – once Felix is done, she’s all yours.”
“Understood,” Holly said with a smile.
“All hers for what?”
“You let us worry about that,” Tamsin said with a grin.
so many people freaking out that Kit’s Aunt is here Mummy?" Angel asked as
she lay on her mother's bed.
Darling, she did the one thing society never forgives."
caught Angel," her father called out from the bathroom.
the wiser," Angel shrugged her shoulders.
"Look," Mandy sat down next to her daughter, "it's time you learned a family secret."
"Darling at one time your Uncle Donald was head over heels in love with Agnes McAdam."
"No one ever
told me that,” Angel said as she sat up, “I always thought he and Aunt
Catherine had been together for ever."
his first, and probably the only, girl he ever loved darling." Mandy
paused, "what he never knew though was that Aggie's father had died
leaving huge debts. To pay them she basically sold her inheritance."
did she do?"
21, just finishing at Oxford and looking forward to doing post-graduate work at
University College London. Tamsin her sister was at Benenden..."
put it mildly, Agnes needed a part-time job." Will interrupted.
Angel, she found work as a dominatrix in a BDSM parlour in the West End.”
WHAT?" Angel sat up straight.
was great, she could fit it round her own studies, she could keep Tamsin at
Benenden, and she thought no one would ever know."
good at it?"
say darling,” Mandy said with a smile, “Lady D'eath became a celebrity in that
sort of milieu, she took care to always wear a sexy mask or hood so no one
three or four scrapes with the law when undercover officers went into the
dungeon she worked at," Will added as he came out of the bathroom,
"but she pleaded guilty each time, paid her fine, and what publicity there
was went unnoticed."
she and Uncle Donald still dating while all this went on?"
Angel my love," Mandy smiled, "the funny thing is that they had
pledged to keep pure for each other till their wedding."
what I have heard today, she managed to not have vaginal sex with
anyone...Aggie remained a virgin."
makes no sense."
it made all the sense in the world Angel."
she kept it up for 4 years till she won her PhD darling," Mandy drawled.
"I think she had quit her job on the Saturday, but the next day there was
a front page expose in the old News of the World telling the whole world that
Lady D'eath was really a 25 year old Economics PhD holder, a former
debutante of the year, a Scottish clan chieftainess in her own right, educated
at Princess Anne's old school, and that she was due to marry Lord Donald
Fitzstuart, brother of the Marquess of Ordford, the following
Will shook his head, "everyone who knew her had a fit after seeing the
photographic evidence of who Lady D'eath actually was. Her family disowned
to a cousin in Ireland."
mother says, Tam ran away, Donald did the cowardly thing and sent her a letter
saying the wedding was off. Society made it clear she was to be shunned."
Goddess what did she do?"
she cried for 36 hours, then went and begged for her old job back, of course
the mistress was glad to take her back given all the publicity." Will
shook his head.
later she was arrested for offering a policeman a blow job for 25 pounds extra
darling. When she went to court a couple of weeks later, she was expecting
another fine, but instead they threw the book at her," Mandy shed tears.
"No one was there to speak for her as a character witness and they gave
her two years in Holloway."
Angel gasped as she shook her head.
released after three months, but inside she had gone grey, she appeared to have
aged visibly, and she was a shadow of the Agnes we'd all known," Mandy
sniffed again, "I think she tried to get a job for months, but in the end
she just went back to her old job...And she's been there ever since."
"Mummy that is so sad."
“It is – but hopefully, we can start to bring her back now…”
“Did you know
Aggie was London deb of the year for our year Charles my love? Not me, nor
Paula, nor Amanda, or any other famous beauty, but Agnes McAdam."
"I WAS there
at the time," Charles smiled, "so yes I do remember... I also remember her hating the title and
bursting to get back to Somerville and her studies."
earlier generation she would have been called the 'beautiful bluestocking' you
know?" Olivia shook her head, "She had far more offers of modelling
contracts then any of us did."
born to be an academic."
was... I always wonder why though when she needed a job so badly she didn't do
the round of the agencies?"
that answer,” Charles said as he sat down, “Donald thought it might hurt his
prospects if his wife was in the public eye as a model."
true?" Olivia rolled over and stared through her thick glasses at her
found work as a dominatrix instead?" Olivia shook her head again.
guess it paid well, it was flexible hours, and she thought no one would ever
know because she wore a mask and used an alias."
think it was just that simple Charles?"
"I do my love. Often the cause of the most horrible of things is the smallest little thing."
Aunt really that bad Kits?" Orion asked as they hung out on the south
terrace in the moonlight.
to the people I've talked to since I met her. My Uncle John is… Well, I’m not sure what he is thinking."
sounds sad rather than bad to me," Katy said as she sipped her milk.
says that everyone let her down way back then." Aileen Gaunt looked up at
no one to speak at her trial," Eve Gaunt nodded, "basically she was
alone, her against the world."
you discussing?'" the three Clarke girls asked as they wandered out
aunt." Christine smiled.
"I was saying she was rather sad." Katy picked up a chicken wing.
"How did it become public knowledge who she really was Paula?" Shirley asked as they sat next to each other.
"I think someone probably somehow recognised her and maybe took a lot of money from that rotten rag to out her like that?"
someone shopped her?"
think about it hard, I'm convinced of it."
didn't know her way back then," Shirley shook her head.
"She was a
very special young lady Shirley," Tom shook his head, "I was at Balliol
whilst she was at Somerville, and everyone in Oxford knew her for her
beauty...and her brains. There was never a doubt she wouldn't get a first in
Shirley, Philosophy, Politics, and Economics...it's what Agnes read at Oxford.
I was trying to master the art of catwalk in Paris," Paula laughed,
"and being compared to the perfection of Olivia."
Cambridge Shirley, reading History."
their life plotted out Shirley," Paula sighed, "they'd both get
firsts, he'd go into the Foreign Office, she would go on and do a PhD, then
they would get married, and one day Donald would be a British Ambassador
somewhere with his very clever wife besides him."
how it turned out," Tom shook his head.
know," Shirley shook her head, "you know the more I hear and think,
the more I think someone deliberately betrayed Agnes."
"It's a nice thought Shirley," Paula smiled a little, "but be real, who would deliberately have wanted to hurt Agnes like that?"
“Oh my god,” Agnes said as she looked in the mirror, “I look as if I’ve never been in prison…”
“Well, it’s a start,” Felix said, “and I will advise on how to maintain if you so wish.”
“Thanks Felix,” Grace said, “Holly?”
“Right,” Holly said as she looked at Agnes, “let’s see…”
"Why did you never write a book Aggie?" Tamsin asked quietly.
"Oh I think quite enough has been written about Lady D'eath over the years," Agnes sighed.
"No a serious book on economics, don't I remember you were so excited...?"
"That they were going to publish my theses?"
"Oh Tam darling, that was just another one of those things that I lost."
“Not really – I asked a friend to check something for me. Did you know your thesis is one of the most cited in Academic papers?”
“It is Aggie – I’ll show you the list later…”
“Please sit still, Miss McAdam,” Holly said quietly, “and let me see what I can do…”
“Sorry – can I come in?”
Holly nodded as Agnes saw Will sit down out of the corner of her eye. “Long time no speak, Aggie,” he said with a smile.
“Well, something kept coming up – or at least, that’s what I keep saying to myself…”
Will chuckled before he said “do you mind if I ask a question?”
“Why not? Seems to be the day for asking questions…”
"Why of everything did you keep Ardray Agnes?”
"Who would want to buy a ruined tower and a couple of decrepit walls Will? I sold all the land except the small tract it stands on."
"But still - why keep it?"
"Truth is I couldn't even give it away Will. Neither Historic Environment Scotland, nor the National Trust, would even take it off my hands."
"You know you always were an awful liar Agnes,” Will said with a smile, “I've known you since we were all tiny, and when you lie, that finger on your left hand starts to twitch...just like it is now. So what is the real reason you kept it?"
"McAdam's have been at Ardray since before there were even written records Will...It will stay in my family beyond my death...I couldn't sell out all those past generations...nor the future ones," Agnes spoke in a strained whisper. "I pay to maintain it for all them, it's not for me. One day Tam will take Christine there and she will tell her the family story, just as we were told it by my Father, as he was by his father before that."
Nodding Will said “thank you – I should tell you something else by the way.”
“And that is?”
“Archie Gordon and the family have just arrived?”
“Oh deep, deep joy – I should count my blessings Victoria’s sister isn’t here as well.”
“So do I,” Will said with a smile as he stood up, “so do I…”
“There you are,” Jan said as she and Katherine walked up to Eleanor and Veronica, “we were wondering where you had got to.”
“We were looking at the artwork,” Eleanor said with a smile, “this is truly an amazing collection.”
“See if you can get Heather to give you a guided tour in a little while,” Katherine said as they walked out to the entrance hall, in time to hear Valeria say “Welcome, Lord Gordon – I am honoured you and your family could attend.”
“The honour is ours, Countess,” Archie said with a low bow, “my wife, Victoria, and my daughter Samantha.”
Sam Gordon smiled as she saw Trina and Mary Clarke come out. “If you will excuse me, Comtesse,” she said, Valeria smiling and nodding as she walked over.
“The servants will take your bags to your rooms,” Valeria said, “we have a buffet running in the dining area, so please relax and make yourselves at home.”
“Thank you,” Victoria said as she saw Diana and Juliette come down the stairs. “You must be looking forward to tomorrow?”
“We are – it should be a memorable day.”
“Victoria,” Diana said as she kissed her on both cheeks. “Welcome – allow me to walk you in – there is something I need to tell you.”
“Archie,” Will said as he shook his hand, “come with me – Charlie and I want to discuss something with you…”
“There – I think that looks all right,” Holly said as she stood up and stepped back, “what do you think?”
Paula and Tamsin looked critically at Agnes, as she stared back and said “what’s wrong?”
“Hmm – you thinking what I’m thinking Tam?”
“I think so Paula.”
“Not another word,” Paula said as she removed the towel, and helped Agnes to stand up, “let’s go before you get a chance to say no.”
“No to what,” Agnes said as she was marched by Paula and Tamsin into the main dining area. Shirley turned and looked at Agnes – but a very different Agnes, with her hair restored to the natural red-brown colour, and the subtle make-up making her look twenty years younger as she nervously played with her sleeve.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Tamsin said loudly and clearly, “please welcome to the party my sister, Agnes, The McAdam of McAdam.”
Valeria and Guy came forward, Guy bowing and kissing her hand as he said to Agnes “on behalf of Valeria and Abigail, we thank you for joining us. It is a great honour to welcome you here.”
“And the honour is one I share,” Valeria said as she put her hands on the smaller woman’s shoulders. “Come, eat, drink and talk to us.”
“Oh my word,” Victoria said as she stood with Olivia and Mandy, “Agnes McAdam? She looks…”
“The word you are looking for is Amazing darling,” Mandy drawled, “and we welcome her as we welcome everyone.”
Nodding, Victoria said “it’s a good thing big sis is not here then.”
“I understand they spoke earlier today,” Olivia said, “and it is part of the reason Shirley invited her – to get away from those past hurts.”
Agnes looked nervously round the room as she walked with her sister and school friend, but then froze as she heard a voice say “Agnes?”
“I… I need to ask your forgiveness, Agnes. Shirley and others have told me of the work you have been doing… Can we… Can I…”
No words needed to be said, as Agnes nodded and the two of them embraced.
“I heard you
talking to her Will," Klaus said as she sat down next to his friend,
"she couldn't sell it any more then you could sell Ordford, or me
Klaus,” Will said with a smile, “but I wanted to hear her say it."
it was the one piece of the Ardray estate my brother couldn't purchase."
owns the estate?" Mandy joined them, "Will you never said."
Will shook his head, "he planned to give it back to her as his wedding
God Will,” Klaus said, “surely she knows who bought it?"
"He used a
dummy company called Agdon Properties to buy it. Agnes has never known."
Klaus looked quizzical.
"Agnes and Donald together and you get Agdon Klaus." Will smiled a little smile.
“All right – so we know how we’re going to do this?”
Jo looked round as Abby, Mary Clarke and Angel stood with her.
“I think so – and she is serious?”
“Oh yes – make sure you do it without warning them.”
“And how are you going to manage?”
Abby smiled and said, “I have a cunning plan…”
“I need this,” Agnes said as she drained her glass, and looked at Shirley. “Was it you who persuaded John in the end?”
“Me, Penny, Peri – and a few others,” Shirley said quietly, “but may I say it is a real pleasure to finally meet the true Agnes McAdam?”
“How many years have we been friends,” Agnes said with a raised eyebrow.
“Too many – but you know what I mean. When I allowed Shirley to finally reappear, Agnes, I realised just how much I had been missing – and in that, I know we are both alike.”
“We’re not the only ones,” Agnes said as she looked at Caroline talking to Ama, Maisha and Nyala. “You could have knocked me down with a feather when I realised who Caroline was.”
Nodding, Shirley said “indeed – that was quite a revelation.” She smiled as Poppy, Erica and Jess walked past. “And to see so many young faces as well.”
“We need to protect the children,” Agnes said with a smile, and then she looked at Shirley. “The Sisters of Maisha,” she whispered, “you know who they are don’t you?”
“It would be a problem if I did not,” Shirley whispered back, “I take it you are considering their offer?”
As she nodded, she saw Diana walk over. “Diana, may I introduce Agnes McAdam? Agnes, this is Diana de Ros, Abigail’s mother.”
“You must be very proud of her,” Agnes said quietly.
"I am – I saw you looking at the younger generation.”
As she nodded, she accepted the small whisky from Diana, as she said “Agnes did you never think of having children yourself?"
"I couldn't Diana," came the quiet reply, "my doctor examined me years ago and he was pretty certain I was infertile, that I produced no eggs."
actually it was one of my few comforts Diana, I wouldn't have been able to give
Donald children anyway, and I thought Christine would."
have no children?"
"I know, I do know, he must be so disappointed...In our plan there were always three children. A boy for him, and two girls for me..." Quietly Agnes started to cry again. "Of course they never were to be."
“And yet, you have so many sons and daughters to be proud of, from what I hear.”
Nodding, Agnes said “I guess I do…”
“So be proud of them,” Shirley said, “because they are proud of you.”
“What time is it,” Pippa said as she stood with Anna Mitchell and Mary Thomas.
“Just after eleven lass, why?”
“I need to check something,” Pippa said as she looked at her phone, and then slipped out.
“Pippa me love,” she heard Margaret Harker say, “how’s the party going?”
“Not too badly - but I’ve seen the exit polls.”
“Yeah – so have I.”
Maggie it looks like your side are going to lose" Pippa spoke
into her phone.
lass, your Mother is celebrating already."
it mean if they’re right? Chaos
the atmosphere there is pretty tense at the moment? Almost as tense as it is
thought you'd gone to a birthday party?"
there have been one or two little surprises."
has? Tell me more?"
tell you most of it when I talk to you tomorrow, but I really wanted to ask you
a question first."
what our Phillipa?"
know anything about a woman called Agnes McAdam?"
There was a
moment’s silence, before Maggie said "Aye I do...Why?"
has brought her down for the party… but they say she is Lady D'eath the
is, but in certain circles I move and work in then we often call her by another
"People in the field of caring for abandoned women and children call her 'The Guardian Angel of Soho'." Maggie paused, "on a pound to pound basis invested she runs what is a totally unofficial, but wonderful operation. She provides effective help just where it is most needed."
Aunt Maggie,” Pippa said as she looked round, “but I remember the whole huge
scandal 20 years ago."
whatever she did, or didn't do in her life, to me she is a saint in human form.
I just wish that one day officialdom would actually recognise her work. They
gave me a knighthood, personally I'd give her a peerage."
have to go… I'll talk to you tomorrow when I get there.”
“Alright...Bye Aunt Maggie."
In the main room, a number of discrete nods were made, as various nefarious plans were set in motion, Linda leaving the room quietly with one or two others.
"Doc, I need a favour.”
“Sure Jeannie – what’s up?”
“In about 30
minutes will you help me get down to the basement PLEASE" Jeannie asked.
to Abby there is something down there that I ought to see."
"Alright," Doc shrugged her shoulders, "just tell me when.”
“Thanks – I really mean that,” Jeannie said with a smile as Doc walked off.
“Can I say what an honour it is to meet you?” Ingrid said as she shook Agnes’s hand.
“To meet me Your Highness?” Agnes tried to judge if this young woman was being sarcastic.
“Allow me to explain. I’m studying economics at Princeton, and next year I’m taking Professor Krugman’s seminar, and your theses on the role of capital investment in peasant economies is part of my required reading, I actually finished it coming here.”
Agnes stared at her for a moment, before she said “I’m confused Your Highness, it was never published…How?”
“Professor Krugman gives all his students a photocopy of your manuscript.”
“He does? Your Highness, forgive me but I’m very confused… are you saying a Nobel Prize winner thinks enough of my work to have gone to all of that trouble?”
“Yes, he does - and can we please cut out the Highness, my name is Ingrid, and most people call me Ingy.” Ingrid smiled.
“Well, please forgive my surprise. I didn’t know my work was studied, and to hear that…”
“Can I possibly beg 30 minutes of your time before you leave to go home so I can discuss your theory with you?”
“Ummm…certainly…if you truly want to?”
“Oh I very much do.”
“Has my sister been behaving like a fan girl Agnes?” Carina joined them.
“Moi? Hold on my boyfriend just arrived,” Ingy said as she spotted Adam Cabot, “I will see you again Agnes, and THANK YOU.”
“Was that for real Your Highness?”
“How many times must I say that my name is Carina?” the petite blonde smiled, “and yes, Ingrid has been raving about your book for days.”
“Oh my…Oh my.” Agnes looked stunned.
“Are you all right Agnes,” Olivia asked.
“Yes – yes I think I might be…”
“Have you ever seen such a gathering of models Anna?”
“Not since Little Judith’s christening, if truth be told,” Anna Mitchell said as she sipped her wine. “But to see the ages covered…”
“Anna – I was wondering if you could come with me for a few minutes,” Juliette said with a smile, “something I need to discuss with you in private.”
“If this has anything to do with Marina, Ju, it’s too late – she’s already started.”
“No, nothing like that – I’ve had an idea for an article for the Chinese launch, and I wanted to run it past you in private. As a sweetener, Valeria has a rather nice bottle of ’92 she wants you to try.”
“Well, if you insist,” Anna said as she went off with Juliette.
“Always on the clock – just like you Missy,” Mary said with a smile.
“Now you know that’s not quite true…”
“THERE you are Mary – I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Me? What can I do for you Eve,” Mary said as she kissed Eve Stone on the cheek by way of a greeting.
“Your advice – I was having a look around the chateau when I found a picture which says it is Coco Chanel with one of Abby’s ancestors. I disagree – and Jeannie is nowhere to be seen – can you come and have a look?”
“Ai - go on then,” Mary said as they walked off, Missy shaking her head as she said “and they say I never stop working…”
“Caroline my dear – if you have come to tell me Ama wants to model…”
“I haven’t no – but I do want your help with something,” the tall blonde said as she put her arm round Missy, and walked off with her.
“Let me get you another drink,” Shirley said as Agnes sat down, still trying to process what she was hearing.
“Hello My Lady, you don’t remember me do you?” Eleanor said as she sat next to Agnes.
“Please don’t call me that,” Agnes whispered. “I think that is the last name anyone here wants to hear tonight…”
“Alright then Agnes,” Eleanor said as she sipped her drink, “but you don’t remember me do you?”
“No,” Agnes said quietly, “but from what you are saying…”
“My name is Eleanor Ball, I was a Captain in the US Navy till I retired earlier this year. You knew me as Andrea Parker, or Miss Lash.”
Agnes suddenly turned and looked at Eleanor. “You were that American girl who suddenly just disappeared? What 14 years ago?”
“It was 15, but who is counting.”
“I’m puzzled… you were an American naval officer?”
“Well strictly speaking,” Eleanor said with a smile, “I was Naval Intelligence.”
“Why…why…why did you work at my dungeon Andrea…I mean Eleanor?”
“I did it to get blackmail material on a certain North Korean diplomat who patronized your salon Agnes, so we could turn him.”
“Ah… You remember him?”
“I remember he had a taste for being abused by beautiful Caucasian women…Yes.”
“Well,” Eleanor said with a smile, “I just wanted to say how much I’ve always admired you as a person Agnes, and how much I came to respect your integrity in those few short weeks I worked for you.”
“Thank you…I think.”
“Please, please enjoy this weekend, and if anyone gives you a hard time…just send them to me and I’ll soon ‘whip’ them into shape.”
Eleanor kissed Agnes on both cheeks before walking over towards Veronica.
“There you go,” Shirley said as she handed Eleanor a glass, “what was Eleanor talking to you about?”
“Do you know her?”
“I do – she is one of our most special Sisters.”
Agnes stared at her before she whispered “the Sisters – how widespread are they?”
“We are wherever we are needed, Agnes – anywhere…”
“I could happily walk down these corridors for hours and hours,” Poppy Ashley said as she and Erica looked at the paintings.
“I know – look at this one of the men talking,” Erica said as she stood and admired the artwork.
“Hey Poppy – what are you up to?”
“Looking at the artwork,” Poppy said as she looked at Katy and Orion. “So, looking forward to tomorrow?”
“Actually, yes – but we’ve got something to show you first. Do you mind if we drag Poppy off for a few minutes Erica?”
“Not at all,” Erica said as Katy and Orion took an arm each and walked off with Pippa.
“Where are we going?”
“Oh you’ll see – it’s going to be great…”
“Okay,” Agnes said as she walked round, “what else have you…”
Agnes turned round and looked up at the tall blonde.
Miss McAdam, my name is Kelsey Widdowes," the tall rower said as they
shook hands, "I'm a friend of Carina and Abs."
Kelsey it's nice to meet you."
know my mother has a picture of you and she on our sitting room wall back in
Mom was a Rhodes Scholar, you knew her as Karin Norris."
God, it's not the one on the bicycles is it?" Agnes despite her nervous
state laughed aloud.
is," Kelsey laughed as well.
my," Agnes shook her head, "it's a small world."
of you pedalling for your lives, with those two tiny men in the bikes baskets
looking so panicked..."
hair flying out behind us,' Agnes laughed again.
those two men anyway?"
"Two coxes from the OUBC...You know your mother was the glamour girl of rowing?"
"Do you also know one of those guys is now a British cabinet minister?"
mother never said."
“I imagine he’s
having some sort of fit at the moment, fi the vote in the UK has gone the way
it might go… So do you row as well
"I do, I'm training in Munich this summer, and Specs, I mean Carina, is putting us up in her families 'little' town house."
The Canadian deb smiled as she saw Mary Clarke and Trina Culver walk over. “Hey you two – still awake?”
“Not bad – I hear you had a great time doing that shoot in Vancouver?”
“Well, what’s not to like about being in the wild?”
“True, true – listen, we wanted to ask you something about shooting in Canada – got a few minutes for a private chat?”
“Sure,” Johanna said as the three of them set off, passing Fi Treherran and Angel Fitzstuart as they stood with Sam Gordon.
“Abby said there was a bottle of Champagne for all three of us? Why?”
“Because we are the three full debs here – so why don’t we go and crack it open…”
Valeria, I am sorry to say that my work is going to intrude on this
weekend," the French Foreign Minister said.
sorry, a couple of my officials are flying down...Can you accommodate them
treat them as though they were expected guests." Valeria smiled.
British are sending someone from their office down...he and his wife."
fit them in as well."
"Bon, and can you tell Natasha she has a temporary promotion and can she act as my aide."
"I'll go find her right now." Guy walked off.
“So the British guests – their names are?”
“Fitzstuart – Lord Donald and Lady Catherine.”
“Hey Birgitte – glad you could make it.”
“Glad to be here as well Charley – how was Ascot?”
“Magical – listen, Mom and I want to talk to you about a placement offer. Got time to talk now?”
“Good – let’s go over here…”
"She looks almost as she did 20 years ago," Paula smiled contentedly.
"Indeed,” Olivia smiled, "that golden red hair looks just as it always did."
a miracle worker darlings..."
see him Mandy?"
if I told you the answer to that I'd have to kill you." Mandy drawled with
her eyes twinkling.
if my brother could only see her now?" Will looked across the room and
Archie Gordon smiled as well, "we have had 'Mac an dubh-iolaire' restored
a poor American...but what?"
Gaelic title for the chiefs of Clan McAdam Duncan."
"It means 'Son of the Black Eagle'," Archie interrupted Will, "It's not corrected for gender even though she's a woman.”
“Oh dear,” Mandy said as she looked at her watch, “you gentlemen will have to excuse us for a minute. Ladies?”
“What’s going on,” Archie said as she watched the three of them walk off.
“If they’re going together,” Will said, “it’s a professional matter. Best not to ask.”
“Well, whatever it is Aby wanted to show you down here, I hope it’s worth it,” Doc said as she pushed Jeannie through the archway, “at least there was a ramp into this cellar, even if it went round the wrong way.”
“I’m glad of that as well,” Jeannie said, “Abby said she would meet us through the double doors there.”
Doc nodded as she pushed Jeannie towards the door, but as they approached Jeannie said “oh yeah – there was one other thing I should have told you.”
“Oh – and what was that Jeannie Brewster,” Doc said as she opened the door.
“Anna… Jeannie… What are you two doing down here?”
“Ending up exactly where we wanted them to be,” Juliette said with a smile. “Thanks Doc – I’ll take Jeannie from here.”
“Take her? Take her where?”
“I could ask the same thing,” Anna Mitchell said as a door opened at the far side of the room, and a robed figure stepped out.
“Just stay here – see you later,” Jeannie said with a wave as she and Juliette went through.”
“Oookaaay,” Doc said as she looked at the figure, “what’s going on?”
“I’m not quite sure,” Anna said as the door opened again, and Eve Stone walked in with Mary Thomas – a hood covering her head.
“Eve, if this is a prank…”
“No prank,” Eve said as she pulled the hood off Mary, “see you in a few minutes.” She walked through the inner doors, before the outer door opened and Missy was walked in by Caroline.
“We will make sure they remain,” the hooded figure said as Caroline removed the hood from Missy’s head, the legendary agent blinking as she walked through the inner door.
“Does someone want to tell me what’s going on?”
“Have a glass of wine,” Anna said as she passed Missy one, “because none of us can figure it… Mary?”
“Give it a few minutes, it might become clear depending on who else turns up,” she said as the door opened – but it wasn’t who she was expecting.
“Sandy? What are you doing here?”
“I was about to ask Jo the same thing,” Sandy said, “she told me Valeria had a fine example of Napoleonic manufacture to see down here. You?”
“A work discussion and a bottle of wine.”
“We were tricked into coming here,” Missy said as she looked at Mary. “Anna?”
“Jeannie wanted a hand… Oh Goddess, it can’t be…”
“Okay girls, I’m as fond of a joke as the next person, but…”
All five turned as the door opened, and Katy and Orion led a blindfolded Poppy Ashley in. They nodded to the hooded figure, who nodded in return before they went through.
“Who else is… Miss Thomas? Doc?”
“Welcome to the surprise of the night,” Doc said with a smile, “can you guess who is coming in next…”
The group turned and looked as the door opened.
“Good – some of the others are here already,” Fi said as she and Angel led Sam Gordon in, “wait here.”
“Wait here for what?”
“Don’t ask me,” Sam said as she saw Brigitte walk in with Charley and Ingrid, followed by Johanna with Mary and Tracey. The other four bowed to the hooded figure before going through.
“What is going on,” Johanna asked, “and who are these other people?”
“I think I know, but…”
The door opened again, as Alice and Mandy walked in, leading between them…
“Poppy,” Pippa Ashley said as the blindfold was removed, “who else… Anna, Merlin? Do any of you know what’s going on?”
“Well, I thought of something at first,” Doc said, “but…”
“Abigail, darling, it is getting later,” they all heard a familiar voice say, “so why would your grandmother and grandfather want a conversation now about…”
Diana stopped dead as she saw the others in the room, and then the hooded figure. “I was not aware you had a meeting tonight darling,” she said as Abby closed the door.
“Yeah – there’s a reason for that Mom,” she said as she bowed to the hooded figure, and went through the doors. The figure looked at the group and said “please answer when your name is called…
“Anna Carlton… Poppy Ashley… Johanna von Kiiebersdorf-Obersacken… Lady Samantha Gordon… Countess Brigitte Karonsky…”
All five answered as they looked at each other.
“Phillipa Ashley… Anna Mitchell… Mary Thomas… Missy Auerbach… Alexandra Richmond… Diana, Countess de Ros…”
The six other women looked at each other, and nodded as the doors opened, and two more figures approached.
“Prepare the novitiates.”
“Oh god,” Mary said quietly, “you have got to be kidding me.”
“Do not speak until you are spoken to,” the hooded figure said as the others looked at each other.
“Penny – you made it.”
“Well, I got your message, Shirley,” Penny said as she, Kay and Sue came into the hallway, “what’s so important?”
“I need you to escort someone home,” Shirley said as they walked into the main room, the trio stopping and looking at the redhead.
“Hello girls,” Agnes said as she walked over.
Agnes," Penny shook her head as she came in, "I'd never have
Aggie cleaned up pretty well didn't she?" Kit beamed as she stood next to
she just." Eve joined the conversation, "Good thing you have my
brother ensnared Kits, you might lose him to your glamourous aunt."
certainly never letting a boyfriend near her," Aileen laughed.
"Look girls," Penny pulled over Kay and Sue, "what do you think of Agnes now?"
“Agnes? My goodness, you look…”
“Twenty years younger,” Agnes said as she smiled.
“Has there been…”
“No – everyone has made me most welcome,” Agnes said, “even Uncle John. It has been a long time, but I feel – happy.”
“Are the novitiates ready?”
“How the heck can we be novitiates,” Anna Mitchell whispered to Mary and Missy, “we’re not models.”
“I have no idea,” Mary said, “but they haven’t blindfolded or bound us, unlike the others. I guess we just have to go along with this…”
“Mom, what is going on,” Poppy said as she stood in line, her wrists tied loosely behind her back and a cloth tied over her eyes.
“If I’m right,” Pippa said, “something magical…”
On the other side of the double doors, the large group of hooded figures looked at the lone figure at the front, standing between two large candles on stands.
“Sisters,” she said, “thank you all for coming. Some of you have not attended a meeting for some considerable time, and to you especially I say welcome. As you know, our gathering gives us the opportunity not only to welcome new Sisters, but also to honour five very special people who have been a support to our Sisterhood over the years. My thanks to you all for allowing the change to our constitution that allows us to honour them.”
There was a murmur of approval through the large room as she turned to a second hooded figure.
- will you please bring the novices in?"
"I will Mother."
The room watched as she bowed, walked to the double doors, and passed through.
“Sister Titi, the presence of the novitiates is requested. Are they prepared?”
“They are,” the hooded figure said as she looked at the line of six, their wrists were lightly secured behind their backs, their eyes covered with black cloths. Anna, Mary, Missy, Diana and Sandy watched as they were walked into the main room.
“You may watch,” Jeanne Beckmann said from under her hood, “but say nothing until you are invited in.”
As they were walked in, and lined up, Anna whispered “what the heck is going on?”
“Sister Tufty,” Mother said, “what business do you bring before the sisterhood tonight?”
“For the first group,” Mandy drawled from under a hood, “I bring before you these six novices, Mother, who have shown themselves worthy for inclusion in the sisterhood.”
“Oh god,” Johanna whispered, “an initiation?”
“What is going on,” Brigitte whispered as Mother said “Name the candidates and reveal their eyes.”
As the scarf was removed, Anna blinked, her eyes adjusting to the light as she saw the hooded figures – one in particular in a wheelchair, who merely nodded.
As their blindfolds were removed, Pippa and Poppy looked at each other, and then round the room.
“Johanna von Kiiebersdorf-Obersacken
The six looked at each other, and then at the hooded figure at the front.
“There are two others, not novices in the same way as these six, to whom we wish to offer full membership in recognition of their support and work over the years. Sergeant-at-arms, let them be brought forth please.”
“Bring the other two forth,” the second figure called out, Jeanne indicating to Diana and Sandy they should go in as well. They walked in and joined the line of six, looking round as they did so.
“Anna, Philippa, Poppy, Brigitte, Johanna, Samantha, Diana and Alexandra - you are brought before the sisterhood of Pi Tau Alpha to be considered for membership of the sorority. You have been considered by the senior sisters, and have found to be worthy of the offer of membership. To accept is to agree to do certain things, and I invite Sister Topaz, the Sergeant-at-Arms, to ask you to take the oath of fellowship.”
“Terri?” Diana looked at the figure as she opened a book, and said “Novitiates, do you agree to be as one with your sisters, support them in their times of need, celebrate with them in their triumphs, and console them in their tragedies?”
“Respond, if you desire to join, with we do,” Mother said, looking at the group as they looked at each other, and then said “We Do.”
“Do you swear to uphold the rules and regulations of the Sorority, and in doing so stand firm one with another?”
“And do you swear always to support one another, sister by sister, in all you face?”
“As do I,” Terri said as she bowed to Mother, “as do all the sisters gathered here today.”
“Diana, are they seriously inducting us into PTA,” Sandy whispered to her old friend.
“It… would appear so,” Diana whispered back as Mother said “Thank you Sister Topaz. Who brings forward these novitiates for membership? For Anna Carlton – Sister Baby Supermodel, do you in good faith sponsor Anna Carlton?”
“I do,” Ana heard as the figure in the wheelchair came and stood beside her.
“Sister Pelican, do you in good faith sponsor Philippa Ashley?”
“I do,” Pippa heard Juliette say as she walked over.
“Sister Lolita, do you in good faith sponsor Poppy Ashley?”
“I do,” another figure said as she walked over and Poppy whispered “Katy?”.
The figure nodded before Mother continued “Sister Flavia, do you in good faith sponsor Birgitte Karonsky?”
“I do,” Charley said as she walked forward.
“Sister Gold Rush, do you in good faith sponsor Johanna von Kiiebersdorf-Obersacken?”
“I do,” Joey heard Trina say as she walked forward.
“Sister Marie, do you in good faith sponsor Samantha Gordon?”
“I do,” a voice with a light Scottish accent that Sam recognised instantly said as she came forward.
“And for our special novitiates – Sister Stick, do you in good faith sponsor Diana de Ros?”
“I do with great pride,” Abby said as she walked forward and stood behind her mother.
“Sister Greyhound, do you in good faith sponsor Alexandra Richmond?”
“I do,” Sandy heard Jo say as she stepped forward.
“Novitiates, these sisters in good standing have agreed to sponsor you for membership. If you are willing and desire to join them, kneel and bow your heads.”
The group looked at each other, kneeling and feeling the hands of their sponsors on their right shoulders. Mother walked over and stood in front of them.
“Novitiates, will you accept the invitation to join the Pi Tau Alpha sorority, and enter into all the rights and privileges of such membership?”
“We do,” they said as one.
“Very well then – as Principal of the Sorority, I welcome you into our sisterhood, and will grant you your new names as members of the Sorority.”
Linda walked forward and placed her head on Anna’s head. “Anna Carter, I name you Sister Aceso – welcome.”
“Thank you Mother,” Anna said as she smiled.
“Philippa Ashley, I name you Sister Boadicea – welcome.”
“Thank you Mother.”
“Poppy Ashley, I name you Sister Ariel – welcome.”
“Thank you Mother,” Poppy said before she and Pippa looked at each other and grinned.
“Brigitte Karonsky, I name you Sister Anastasia – welcome.
“Johanna von Kiiebersdorf-Obersacken, I name you Sister Half Pint – welcome.
“Samantha Gordon, I name you Sister Morag, welcome.”
All three replied “Thank you Mother” before Linda stood in front of Diana.
“Diana, Countess de Ros, I finally and formally name you Sister Countess – welcome.”
“Thank you Mother,” Diana said as a tear started to roll down her cheek.
“And finally, Alexandra Richmond, I name you Sister Debs – welcome.”
“Thank you Mother,” Sandy whispered as Linda stood back.
“Sponsors, these novitiates have been accepted into full membership of Pi Tau Alpha, and in the presence of those sisters present, I announce them to be such members. Let the word be spread, and let them be free to accept the honor.”
As they stood up, Diana turned and hugged her daughter, whispering “thank you for the honour.”
“It is well deserved,” Abby whispered back as the others had their wrists freed, and looked round.
“Welcome to the Sorority of Phi Tau Alpha,” Mother said, “but before we formally celebrate your admittance, we have one other piece of business to conduct. Please, go and join the other sisters.”
As they walked over, Linda continued “Sisters, as you know, the recent change to our Sorority rules allows us to nominate those we consider worthy for Honorary membership, and we have three tonight we wish to extend this honor to. Will their sponsors please speak for them – Sister Pelican?”
The group watched as Juliette stepped forward, and said “I have worked in this business as a model, as a writer and as an editor, but this woman has been an inspiration to me and to others with her leadership and vision. She has kept Complete Style magazine in the position it has held as the editor of the US edition, and as she moves on the role of Worldwide Editor, I believe it is only right and proper that we invite her as one of our first Honorary sisters. Mother, fellow sisters, I take great pride in nominating Anna Mitchell for Honorary Sisterhood.”
“Anna Mitchell,” Mother called out, “if you wish to accept this honor, come forth and stand in front of the Sorority.”
Mary and Missy both hugged Anna before she walked into the candle lit room, and stood beside Juliette.
“Sister Bats, who do you speak for?”
Alice McKinnon stepped forward, and said “this woman has been one of the leading style editors in the industry for many years, and at the same time a source of – shall we say, motivation for all of us when we walk a show she is the director of. All of us, however, are delighted to call her our friend, and I take great pleasure in doing this. Mother, fellow sisters, I nominate Mary Thomas for Honorary Sisterhood.”
“Mary Thomas, if you wish to accept this honor, come forth and stand in front of the Sorority.”
Mary walked slowly in, looking nervously round before she stood with Alice.
“Sister Happy Face, who do you speak for?”
Caroline stepped forward, as she said “although I have only recently myself been accepted into this august body, in the time I have worked as a model only two names are spoken of in awe and honour. One is with us already – the other is probably the cause of more anguish and shouting, both among the Sisters and our supporters, than any other. But she is also the friend you can always turn to – despite my own initial misgivings – and she is there when we need her the most, watching for us and looking after us. Mother, fellow sisters, I ask you to join me in nominating Missy Auerbach for Honorary Sisterhood.”
“Missy Auerbach, if you wish to accept this honor, come forth and stand in front of the Sorority.”
As Missy came in and joined Caroline, Mother looked at the assembled group. “Sisters, you have heard the reasons for nomination of these ladies to this honor. How say you?”
The room resounded as all said out loud “AYE!”
“And to you three – will you accept this honor we wish to bestow on you all?”
The three older women looked at each other, before saying in unison “Aye.”
“Then I and all those sisters present welcome you - as Principal of the Sorority, I welcome you into our sisterhood, and will grant you your new names as members of the Sorority.”
Walking forward, she put her hand on Anna’s shoulder and said “Anna Mitchell, I name you Sister Babushka – welcome.”
Anna nodded as Linda moved along. “Mary Thomas, I name you Sister Merlin – welcome.
“And Missy Auerbach, I name you Sister Melete – welcome.”
“Thank you Mother,” all three said as they looked round.
“Sisters – greet your new Sisters, and let us celebrate!”
“I… I don’t know what to say,” Diana said as Abby and Juliette hugged her, “I never thought this would happen for real…”
“You’re shocked – why me,” Sandy said as she looked at them.
“Because you’ve supported so many of us,” Jo said as she pulled her hood down, “and it is well deserved.”
“We think you have a real talent,” Jeannie said as she came over to Doc.
“And if I can do it, so can you,” Karen said with a smile.
you truthfully telling me that a runt like me is considered a top model?"
Joey," Carina grinned, "and at least now by half an inch I'm not the
shortest model in PTA."
industry is trying to get diverse Joey, women of all shapes and sizes,
including ones like me," Jeannie grinned.
but how the hell should I try to always remember all these names?"
what I said when I was inducted Half Pint," Mary Clarke smiled, "but
you hang round the industry long enough you soon pick them up."
right Worker," Carmen sat down for a second.
"Thank you Minerva," Mary nodded to the older woman.
as well head upstairs," Abby smiled, "The Grand Council has a lot to
discuss, so we better leave them to it."
darling," Mandy drawled as she took her robe off, “I'll retrieve this
makes me cry," Kate Moss smiled, "inducting new girls is so
bawled at my ceremony Kate," Lily Cole laughed.
just cries?" Anja Rubik pulled her hood off and shook out her hair.
back then Kate was the Novice Mistress and she was on the Grand Council."
"As Lily says it was just a little undignified," Pru shook her head.
“Come on girls – I don’t think the party will be over yet…”
“This has been one hell of a day,” Agnes said as she opened the door to her room.
“I can imagine – did you think when you went to bed last night, you would be here?”
Shaking her head, Agnes put her keys on the bedside table, and then stood still for a moment.
"I think I must have had one whiskey too many Penny."
"Why do you think that Agnes?" She turned to see Agnes staring at the wall mounted mirror.
"Because the woman I'm seeing in the mirror died 20 years ago."
I don't believe in ghosts, I have to be drunk."
nothing of the sort Agnes,” Penny said as she smiled, “and you bloody well know
that really me?" Agnes whispered as she touched fingers with her
"Agnes just let me say I always knew you were a beautiful woman on the inside...Now you are on the outside as well."
“One heck of a day… Did you know about the offer I was made?”
“I know Francesca has asked you to advise her, and that Charlotte has offered steady funding for the school – and yes, I know how she will have pitched it.”
“Are you one? A sister?”
“I help if needed, but I am not a full sister – although a fair number of them are here or will be here tomorrow. If you want to see a true gathering of them, you need to be in Naples in four weeks’ time, at Charlotte’s wedding.”
“Hmm – Naples in July. How did she manage that?”
“She is the heir to the di Cambrello fortune – she has her own palace for her and her family.”
“Really really – for now, Agnes, get some sleep. Big day tomorrow…”
you what,” Agnes said quietly, “if that bastard Bennett could see me right now
Penny...what do you think he would say?"
know,” Penny said as she looked serious for a moment, “but he is one of your
problems all your friends want to help with Agnes."
Penelope darling, the police are one group even Shirley cannot get off my
back." Agnes sighed. "This weekend will be a walk down memory lane I
hope, but come Monday morning it's back to my real world."
to get you out of Paddington..."
Agnes interrupted, "I will not waste good money that can be used for the
children on renting a space that I don't truly need."
see Agnes...But in the meantime I was talking to Pippa Ashley, she had phoned
her aunt earlier and talked about you."
"Yeah - Dame
Agnes smiled again, "Dame Margaret is one of the good ones, she does her
very best considering the red tape and bureaucracy she has to work with to give
says they call you 'The Guardian Angel of Soho'."
"Oh that is too kind," Agnes looked down at herself, "I'm no Angel Penny."
“Even Angels can have dirty faces Aggie,” Penny said with a smile, “I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow…”
As she closed the door, Penny took out the phone and answered the call…
Chateau de Ros
“Penny? Did you get her back safely?”
“I did Madame – hopefully she’ll sleep more easily tonight.”
broach Phase 3 with Agnes Penelope?" Shirley spoke into her phone.
Madame, and I suspect you already know her answer."
"In four words, ‘I'm not wasting money.’"
"You got it in one Madame."
know that she once lived in a gem of an apartment on the Bayswater Road,
overlooking Kensington Gardens?"
never told me that." Penny paused, "you know it's impossible for me
to even imagine Agnes living other than in somewhere truly cheap."
"It is for
me as well Penelope, but I was chatting with Tamsin earlier and she told
"She says I
have a habit of compartmentalising my life Madame, but she's even worse."
"I know...I knew a little of her back story, I heard some through the underworld grapevine, others from what I read in the papers, but I'm learning an awful lot more about her here amongst her old friends."
“So what do we do?”
“We progress tomorrow – with the hope of others helping as well…”
courier arrived with a package for you earlier," one of the maids bobbed
in a curtsey as she handed the parcel over.
you," Tamsin smiled.
delivered at this time of night Tam?" Paula looked at her watch.
paid for super fast service," Tamsin grinned. "Look had any of you
thought about getting Aggie out of the clothes she brought with her into
something nice for tomorrow?"
never accept anyone buying her something new, or buying it herself,"
Shirley said as she joined the group, "I've known her too long to not know
she'd say it was wasting money."
thought dear," Tamsin smiled, "that's why I had Mrs Hennessy our
housekeeper send out this parcel."
with you Tam." Olivia looked at her glass, "how many of these have I
aren't inebriated darling, I thought this out - my dear sister can hardly
refuse to put on something she already owns."
truly lost darling."
"Okay… When I ran away from Bayswater i packed my
clothes in a hurry... get that Olivia?"
my hurry I grabbed a skirt of mine, and the identical one that belonged to
you have a skirt of hers,” Paula said, “she can't just wear a skirt for the
what Mummy has in mind," Kit smiled broadly.
darling the skirt is a very elegant floor length one in the McAdam
Archie," Tam smiled, "can't you see Kit, me, and Agnes in matching
long skirts, white blouses, and our hair tied back with black bows?"
certainly wouldn't look out of place in that," Victoria Gordon smiled.
think she will go for it though Tam?" Paula asked.
"oh she will if Eve and Aileen help me hold her down," Christine laughed.
“Good – that’s settled then…”
I bear a Scottish title as well as my other one?" Christine asked as her
Mother climbed into the other bed in the room.
me think," Tamsin thought for a second. "I'd never really thought of
it, but yes strictly speaking you bear the title of ‘Master of Ardray’."
Master?" Kit laughed.
denotes you are the heiress to the title of McAdam of McAdam."
ever get a woman's title?"
you finally get John to marry you for that darling." Tamsin laughed.
"In your lifetime you'll be both a Marchioness, and then a Duchess."
"I know that Mummy...You know that...I just now need to drum it into John's thick head that I was always the girl for him."
Friday 24th June
7 am CET
Chateau de Ros
As Abby opened her eyes, she could hear the birdsong outside, and then something else – the sound of singing outside her room…
She got up, pulled a gown round herself and opened the window – to find the vineyard workers and some of the servants outside, singing to her and wishing her a happy birthday.
“Merci,” she said with a smile before she closed the windows and left her bedroom, walking down the stairs and finding Diana in the breakfast room.
“Good morning,” she said with a smile, “and how are you today?”
“Still a bit tired – but given the way I was just woken up…”
“I understand – but it is a tradition here,” Natasha said as she came in.
“You are up early,” Diana said as she noticed Natasha was wearing her business clothes.
“Well, given the news from London, I have a full day ahead of me before tonight.”
“The news from… Mon Dieu, do not tell me they…”
Francesca merely nodded as she poured herself a coffee, and sat down. “A small delegation is due to arrive this morning, at about the same time as Dame Margaret and some of the other guests, so forgive me if I am not available for the full day.”
“They voted to leave?”
“As someone once said, never underestimate the stupidity of the voting public,” Diana said with a smile. “do not let it worry you, Abigail darling – nothing should interfere with your evening. Although…”
“Abigail, I need you to join me in the drawing room at 10 today – there is a family matter we have to discuss today. Nothing serious, but will you be there?”
“Of course Mamma,” Abby said as she sipped her coffee, and then looked at her phone.
“Excuse me a moment,” she said as she stepped out, the other two looking at each other.
7 am CET
sleepyhead we've been invited to a champagne breakfast at the chateau,"
Penny said gently as she tried waking Agnes.
along in a bit Tippy Toes, tell Donald I’m dressing..." the words came
from Agnes's mouth.
Penny smiled, "darling you are having a dream," she said as she gently
rocked the older woman's arm till her eyes opened.
what time is it?"
seven o'clock sleepy head and we are going to the chateau for breakfast, and
Valeria told me to tell you that you are specifically invited."
have nothing really to wear?" Agnes blinked.
"That's why you are going to rummage through what Kay, Sue and I brought so we find something suitable."
Shaking herself awake, Agnes said “I was having a wonderful dream…”
“Back to reality now – come in, into the shower, and we’ll get your clothes together…”
“This should suit you,” Penny said as she held up a light yellow dress with a thin white belt.
“It might,” Agnes said as she dried herself off, “this is worse than when I was a teenager…”
Penny darling," she said as she tried the dress on.
that term they use in the romance novels...I know," Penny grinned,
"who brought you out into society."
was an ancient term even when I was a debutante," Aggie smiled. "My
Mother had died when Tam was seven, and in so far as anyone ‘brought me out’ it
was my godmother, Lady Shillford, that's Paula's mother. It was she who made
sure that both Paula and I went to all the 'right' events. and were seen by the
you bring out Tamsin?"
would have done that in 1997," Agnes shook her head. "By then though my
name was anathema, no one would even have thought of letting me into an event.
I was barred...and I still am. Present
Tam have a debut?"
Helen, one of our Irish relatives, brought her out in Dublin, and it was there
Tam went to university and met Christopher.”
suspecting no wedding invitation for you Agnes?"
Agnes shook her head, "but I stood outside under a big tree while it
rained, and I saw her arrive and leave...that was good enough for me."
"I did the
same thing at Donald and Catherine's wedding."
Tamsin know you'd been there for her marriage?"
I'll not tell her, just as I'll never tell her I stood under the same tree and
watched her and young Christine bury Christopher either."
one recognise you?"
think people who saw me thought I was some shabbily dressed old woman, just
you punish yourself like that Agnes? Why?"
"It was part of my penance Penny for thinking I was so clever I could bend the rules so I could have all I ever wanted out of life."
“Agnes,” Penny said quietly, “I think you’ve paid enough by way of penance. Maybe it’s time to accept you have paid your dues, and live again.”
“I don’t know Penny…”
“Francesca should be arriving with Charlotte when we get there – talk to her today…”
8 am CET
Chateau de Ros
“Marchesa,” Valeria said as she held Francesca’s hands, “you and your daughter pay us a great honour by coming today.”
“The honour is all mine,” Francesca said with a smile as Charlotte and Piet stood just behind her. “You have a wonderful home here?”
“I suspect you would find your Palazzo more beautiful, but we can agree to disagree. Come through – we have breakfast ready.”
“Hey Charlotte,” Susan said as she sat with April, “how are you?”
“Glad we got the early flight,” Charlotte said as Lily came in, “you caught up with events at home?”
“We know they voted to leave – let’s see what happens next…”
“Ah – I can now welcome you in the correct manner,” Valeria said as Agnes came in with Penny, Sue and Kim. “the de Ros family welcomes our old friend, the McAdam of McAdam.”
“Thank you,” Agnes said as she looked nervously round.
“Aggie – there you are, darling,” Mandy said as she and Will came down, “come, eat with us…”
“All right then,” Agnes said as Lily came out. “There you are – Shirley wants a word,” she said as the others followed her in.
you and your Mother keep looking so urgently at your phones Charlotte?" Jo
asked as they inspected the buffet.
last night’s shock has been moving the markets profoundly,” Charlotte shook her
head, "you know my life was so much simpler when I didn't have to make
this many business decisions."
"Well you're the billionairess," Jo laughed.
you little one," she smiled as she looked down at Judith, "are you
"Annie darling," Jo kissed her mother, "Is it me or is her lisp getting worse?"
“Only when she is excited,” Annie said with a smile. “How is your purgatory Charlotte?”
“Worth it,” Charlotte said as she patted her bump, “Ameila and Margaret called before we got here – apparently some bigwigs are coming to talk to the French Minister. I see you got Agnes McAdam over.”
“I heard her story last night,” Annie said, “Carina has long admired her, but to hear what happened to her, and how she has been treated…”
“Well, she is here as Valeria’s guest,” Jo said, “and woe betide anyone who goes against that…”
“You wished to see me Sir,” Natasha said as she stood by the Finance Minister.
"I did - Is
the secure line to Paris installed Natasha?"
Sir," Natasha nodded, "and you should be able to speak to the
president in ten minutes.”
the minister glanced at some notes, "now what did you find out about the
man the British sent?"
well-respected senior man," Natasha looked at her notes, "I'm
surprised I’ve not met him, I know several of his relations, in fact many are
already here as guests."
"She I hear can be a little difficult, but Lady Gordon is her sister so hopefully Victoria will keep her out of our hair. He is also bringing a senior aide. One other thing – she is not here as an official representative, but Dame Margaret Harker should arrive a little time after them.”
"Bon," the Minister nodded, "Call me when I can speak to the president please."
“Sir,” Natasha said as she bowed her head and walked off.
“What is it,” Caroline said as she looked at Mandy, Victoria and Olivia. “Still not got over last night?”
“Not that darling,” Mandy drawled as she looked at her phone, “it appears the result has claimed the first scalp.”
“It has? Who?”
“David Cameron has resigned,” Olivia said as Caroline saw Natasha whisper into the ear of the Minister, and then both walk quickly off.
it serves the country right for electing an Old Etonian to lead the
government," Charles shook his head, "the country would have been far
better off in Harrovian hands."
Winston Churchill," Paula laughed, "and you better not let my husband
hear that crack about Etonians."
knew David was a gentleman," Will spoke, "but the country isn't run
by gentlemen anymore, and I'm afraid as a class we have far too good manners to
get down and fight like he should of."
played the game like politics has a rule book, and a code of deportment."
let’s ask the lady with the first in PPE, what do you make of it Aggie?"
asking Aggie or Lady D'eath Will?"
speaking as Agnes I can say I've been predicting this for weeks, speaking as
the owner of a small business," she lowered her voice," it could be a
disaster if all my clients who work in the city relocate to say Frankfurt...and
as I now overwhelmingly employ stunning girls from Eastern Europe, I oppose
limits on immigration as well."
“Market Economics Will,” Paula said quietly.
my brother doing marrying an airhead like Catherine when he could have had the
most beautiful brainy woman I ever met."
Aggie shook her head, "you don't need flatter me, I'm starting to
"Who says that's flattery darling?" Paula smiled. “You are…”
“Hey there, Poppy,” Margaret Harker said as she and Amelia came in, “Where’s your mom?”
“Talking to the others over there – Hi Gran.”
“I see we’re just in time for breakfast,” Amelia said as she looked over – and then looked again. Maggie looked in the same direction, as Pippa looked over and joined them.
“Mum – come and meet our host,” she said as she steered Amelia one way, and Maggie walked to where Charles and Will were sitting.
“Maggie – how are you feeling,” Will said as he greeted her.
“I’ve been better,” Maggie said with a smile, “but we press on. Listen - you know there’s a Foreign Office official coming to hold some discussions here?”
“We had heard,” Will said, “why?”
“You need a heads up – it’s your brother.”
“Donald – oh lord, is Catherine coming as well?”
“I imagine so – why?”
Charles and Will look at each other, before Charles said “oh, nothing, nothing…”
“I need to go and thank our hostess,” Maggie said as she walked off.
“Do we tell her?”
“No Charlie – if we do she’ll run off, and we cannot allow that to happen. We just need to be there when she finds out – and she will.
“That, and trust to Valeria…”
“It’s Penny isn’t it? You work for Shirley?”
“That’s right Your Ladyship,” Penny said, “it’s a real pleasure to finally meet you – do you mind if I ask a question?”
your sister call you Tippy Toes," Penny asked as she sipped her orange
Tamsin laughed, “when I was a youngster I wanted to be a ballerina, and I was
always trying to walk 'en pointe'."
means, in the language I speak, you were trying to walk on your tippy
toes," Penny grinned and wiped her mouth, "hence the
aloud, "I never seem to have lost it".
me your idea for tonight – I like it, but I have to tell you Agnes hasn't got a
white blouse here."
that Penny, but Paula who is a very similar size has, and I will borrow that.”
thought it out Mrs Mahan-Gaunt."
a very close friend of my sister I think you can safely call me Tam."
Tam." Penny finished her juice.
"So do you
know a lot of the Americans Penny?"
fair few, I'm over there quite a lot for the company, and my girlfriend works
for Juliette Huntingdown... and yes I did say girlfriend."
know a lot of lesbians, you aren't shocking me by saying that."
returning to your American friends who is worth getting to know?"
round some up and introduce them, but as she is lurking, may I present Francesca
Marchesa di Cambrello." Penny smiled again as she saw Francesca nearby,
holding a drink.
Mahan-Gaunt,” Francesca said as she extended a hand, “I've had the pleasure
over the past week or so to get to know your sister."
or Tamsin Marchesa.”
"And I'm Francesca.”
"So,” Tam said as she looked across the room, “what do you make of my sister Francesca."
"She and I
are very much alike..."
Tam looked closely at the Italian woman.
both spent half a lifetime regretting making a mistake that cost us both our
family, and the men we loved."
you've only just found your daughter."
I have both punished ourselves very, very, very, hard to try and atone for our
sins." Francesca smiled, "tell me Tam, is your sister Catholic?"
McAdam's never converted."
"Then I know just the man your sister should talk to…”
quietly to one side of the room, trying to remember all she could of the event
for her mental book of memories when she heard a voice behind her.
Agnes,” the voice said with a slight German accent, “it's been a very long time
as she turned Agnes recognised the woman and in one movement went down into the
deep court curtsey she'd learned all those years ago.
Majesty," she held the position and looked downwards.
please stand up," the Queen of Ruritania spoke softly and gently, "we
were once friends remember."
of Your Majesty to remember." Agnes started to shake with nerves.
you alright? the Queen looked concerned.
Majesty," Agnes tried to control her body.
have you been hiding yourself for 20 years?" the Queen said as she put her
arms round the English woman and helped her to stand.
been around Your Majesty," Agnes tried a smile.
we had a twentieth Anniversary reunion, you were the only one of my bridesmaids
not to make it, didn't you receive my invitation?"
it better that I not attend Your Majesty...given what has happened since your
wedding." Aggie looked downwards, "I'm sure I wasn't missed."
always called me Terri, please do so again.”
sure if I should Your Majesty."
McAdam you are going to make me angry..."
you sure you should be talking to me?" Agnes whispered
not?" the Queen laughed.
why Terri - I'm not fit according to most people to be seen in polite
company." Agnes smiled weakly.
Aggie, I thought it was rubbish at the time… and I still do. You had a sister
to bring up, and studies to finish, you found an unorthodox job, but I know you
well enough to know it was just a job to you."
Majesty, back then it just was," Agatha looked at her old friend. "I
saw you and the King in the procession at Ascot on Wednesday, you both looked
wonderful, and Princess Charlotte is a great beauty.”
you still Aggie, just look at you, I had heard you looked like an old lady with
yesterday I was Terri...this colour is courtesy of a top hairdresser, and a lot
of prodding from Tam and Paula...but mainly because my niece
Christine insisted I had it done."
who I found," The Queen called her husband.
"Oh dear God it's you Aggie,” the King embraced her and kissed her on both cheeks.
“Rudi – you’re as handsome as ever.”
“Flattery - look, come and sit with us, and we’ll talk about the old days…”
“Alex – welcome.”
“Thank you Valeria,” Alex Richmond said as he kissed her on both cheeks, Nessa standing behind him, “our apologies for our delayed arrival.”
“Well, you are here now,” Valeria said with a smile. “Come, join us for breakfast. I am afraid some of my guests will be having a working day, but at least you are in time for tonight.”
“Indeed – I have something outside for Abby, but I will give it to her later. Juliette – you look like the holiday has done you the world of good.”
“I think it has,” Juliette said, “have some breakfast, and then we can talk.”
“So what do you want to do after breakfast,” Alison Clarke said as she looked at the group.
“We could see if we can all go into town,” Aileen said, “get away for an hour, have some fun?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Orion said as she sipped her juice, “ask parents, be ready for ten…”
“We should be arriving in twenty minutes,” the liveried driver said over his shoulder as he arrived in Rosville to his three passengers.
“Thank you,” Donald Fitzstuart said as Catherine looked out of the window, and Colin Gresham-Fox checked his phone again. “What’s the latest?”
“Still discussing timelines for a new PM sir,” he said as he looked up. “Is it true we’re interrupting a birthday party for this?”
“Yes, Colin, we are – so best behaviour please. I don’t care how many princes, kings and dukes are here – we focus on business.”
how did my sister, and your brother, rate an invitation to this event, and we
"Because Catherine dear, both your sister and Will's wife are part of the whole fashion industry milieu...We aren't." Donald sighed.
“But still… Such an august gathering…”
Donald looked at Colin and shook his head. Both men were wearing suits, shirts and ties, while Catherine was wearing a white linen jacket over a cream slip dress, and matching shoes.
“What do I need to know of our hostess, Colin?”
Looking at a briefing paper, he said “Valeria, Countess de Ros – pronounced Rous as in the sauce sir. Owns the De Ros vineyards, of Russian lineage. A very proud and correct woman, but gives generously. One daughter, Natasha, Duchess de Grenchy, married to Guilliame – she will act as our French counterpart’s aide today. The party is for the eighteenth birthday of her granddaughter, the model Abigail de Ros.”
“Well, we’ll try and stay out of her way then…”
“Agnes,” Will said quietly, “can you spare a moment?”
“Of course, Will,” Agnes said as she was led over to where Paula, Victoria and Olivia were standing, “what’s the matter?”
“You need to know in advance,” Paula said quietly, “Donald and Catherine are going to arrive any minute.” They saw Agnes’ face go white, before Olivia said “you are going nowhere – we have accepted you, and if she causes a problem, we step in.”
“Are you… Are you sure?”
“We are,” Penny said as she came over with Sue and Kim, “we have your back Aggie – always.”
“Excuse me Madame,” the maid whispered into Valeria’s ear, “the British contingent are here.”
“Forgive me Alex – matters of state,” Valeria said as she slipped into the hallway. “My Lord Donald – welcome to Chateau de Ros. I am Valeria, Countess de Ros.”
“Thank you for allowing us to impose on you,” Donald said as he kissed her hand. “May I introduce my wife, Catherine, and my assistant Colin Gresham-Fox.”
“Welcome – are you perchance related to Grace Gresham, Mister Gresham-Fox?”
“My cousin, My lady – why?”
“She is here for the party – I will let her know you are here as well. If you will follow my servants, they will show you to the room we have prepared – I apologise that it is a small one.”
“No apologies are necessary – I understand,” Donald said as they were led off.
“Kindly inform the Duchess and the Minister their guests have arrived,” she said to another maid, who bobbed and went in the other direction.
A short while later, Catherine walked slowly down the main staircase, smiling as she saw Mandy come out of the breakfast room.
“Mandy darling – how nice to see you here,” she said as she walked over.
“Catherine darling,” Mandy drawled as they kissed each other on the cheek, “I heard Donald had been dispatched to start the clean-up campaign. Where is he?”
“Checking in with the office – I hear there is quite a gathering here?”
“There is indeed – although you may not feel comfortable with some of the guests,” Mandy said, “for example, Dame Margaret Harker is here.”
“I may disagree with her, but this is a party – where is everyone?”
“Well – come and see for yourself,” Mandy said as she walked Catherine in, Valeria turning from where she was standing with Guy and then walking over.
“I trust the accommodation is to your liking, Lady Donald?”
“Very much so,” Catherine said as she looked round. The von Furstenheim family she recognised – King Rudolf and Queen Teresa – the Duke and Duchess of Lardarn, with their family – and…
She stared for a few minutes at the redhead talking to Lady Treharran and Lady Lardarn, and then said “no…”
“Ah – I see you have recognised some of our guests – some were most unexpected,” Valeria said, “such as Agnes McAdam – she is a personal friend of Shirley Xavier, and as she is a friend of mine, I took the chance to renew the acquaintance.”
here?" Catherine Fitzstuart mouthed the words, "since when was she
ever received in any respectable house?"
“I am sorry – of who do you speak?” Valeria was still smiling, but there was a hint of steel in her voice.
“Her – that woman,” she said as she pointed at Agnes, “she is a trollope, a…”
"Lady Donald, I will ask you to keep a respectable tongue in your head, our family here has ancient ties with the McAdam of McAdam, and the guests I chose to extend a welcome to at my granddaughter’s birthday are none of your business." Valeria looked majestically straight into the blonde woman's eyes.
Catherine stared at Valeria, and then said “my apologies – excuse me,” before she turned and walked off.
“My apologies, Valeria…”
“No apologies are necessary Amanda,” Valeria said with a smile as she nodded to Agnes.
need to go home...RIGHT NOW!" Catherine said as she stormed into the small
bedroom they had been allocated.
"And why should we do that?" asked Donald as he looked up from his phone, "I'm not here to have fun Catherine, please remember I'm here to work."
“But… but… SHE’S here!”
“Agnes bloody McAdam, that’s who. She was invited as well…”
Donald looked up at her, but before he could do or say anything there was a knock on the door.
“My apologies, Your Lordship,” the maid said as she came in, “but the Minister awaits you. If you will come this way?”
“I am sure you can avoid her if you try hard enough – you’ve managed for twenty years,” Donald said as he collected his slipcase and left his wife fuming…
were Terri and Rudi darling?" Mandy joined Agnes as the King and Queen
went to talk with other guests.
almost like things were..." Aggie sighed.
it might be," Mandy smiled, "In the mean time though can I introduce
Agnes McAdam meet Mrs Tracey van Roon from Chicago, Tracey meet Agnes."
pleasure Miss McAdam," the statuesque woman smiled. "and my name is
the Englishwoman mumbled, "so how do you know Mandy?"
think you might say we have a common hobby," Tracey looked at Mandy and
do," Mandy giggled.
Mandy do that I suppose I have to ask what?"
WHAT?" Aggie all but spilt her Bucks Fizz.
"I think you heard Darling, Tracey and I both dance burlesque."
"We do,' Tracey smiled, "and we both do it professionally as well."
Mandy," Aggie shook her head, "Does Catherine know?... Does Will
answers are no, and yes.” Mandy laughed.
encouraged me to take it up...it really is great exercise."
Darling we aren't the only ones, Dita will be here later, and all three ladies
in the Rochermann household do it."
do," Tracey sipped her drink.
God," Agnes started to laugh, "I'm not the only lady of disrepute
is an art form Agnes, we hint at a lot, but we show nothing. anyone wants to
say its dirty and condemn me...Well screw 'em."
"Well said Tracey darling."
Agnes laughed softly as she said “You know, I don’t think I’ve felt at home so much as I have over the last 24 hours…”