Fixing The Fable

 

continued...

 

The Berkeleys strive to press home their advantage whilst they may...but with some opposition from above

Mrs Price stormed off to her kin in an uppity frame of mind. The dust settled upon the cornices and the spiders scuttled out from their bullet-hole webs outside the sash windows.

Lord Berkeley’s reception for the Prince of Wales went off without a hitch. It was a refulgent day. The band of the South Gloucesters struck up their martial tunes arousing morale in every patriot breast. A quartet played chamber music while His Highness partook of the multifarious delicacies laid out to tempt the gourmand. Mary was formally presented to the Prince for the first time and found him impossible to dislike.

“Your ladyship’s hospitality is something to behold,” he enthused. “And I have ever maintained that your husband’s cellar is better than mine! A heart-warming occasion.”

“Your Highness is too gracious,” Mary replied, bestowing upon him a breathtaking smile. The earnest blue eyes caught hers in a glint of intimate appreciation. I may observe that his lordship’s discernment of the vine is capped only by that of wives! Ah, but I see I am making you blush most becomingly. Tell me, ma’am, is that Lord Dursley entering the tent over there?”

“It is, sir. Perhaps Your Highness would be good enough to allow us to introduce him.” Caleb Carrington was leading the boy towards the Prince accompanied by Lord Berkeley who made the introductions.

 

 

“So you are the Younker,” said the Prince (meaning the youngster who is to inherit the family honours). “Fine boy! You will do the line proud. Any tips for Epsom next week?”

“No, sir, but I have a mare called Phoebe who’s a fine goer!”

The Prince exploded raucously and punched the boy’s shoulder. “Son of your pater, eh? To say the truth, young fellow, I don’t have the blunt to go to the Races any more. Can’t even afford to punt upon tick!” He turned to the Earl. “He’ll do, Berkeley! A spell at Eton will finish him off!”

“Fitz has musical abilities and a fine singing voice,” said his mother.

“Then I would esteem it a privilege if he would give us an air or two. What say you, Lord Dursley?”

“That would make me very happy, Your Highness. Your wish is my command,” said Fitz, a tad precociously. “I have just the song, sir.”

Freddy was summoned to the oyster-walnut clavichord and wriggled about on the seat in front of the keyboard. His fingers plunged into a chord and his brother began to unleash a confident treble voice with all the innocence of a heavenly chorister.

 

 

On Richmond Hill there lives a lass

More bright than Mayday morn,

Whose charms all other maids’ surpass

A rose without a thorn,

This lass so neat

With smiles so sweet

Has won my right goodwill

I’d crowns resign to call thee mine,

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill.

 

Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill,

Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill,

I’d crowns resign to call thee mine,

Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill!

 

Applause broke out on all sides when he had run the gamut of three full verses. The Prince wiped a tear from his cheek. “Bravo! A most sprightly rendering! Berkeley, your children are accomplished out of the common way. I hope they may pay regular visits to the Opera.”

The day was a resounding success. Doubts were being diluted. The fable was nailed to the wallchart of history. The Prince had endorsed the Berkeley version of their genealogy.

The King was less persuaded when his Heir apprised him of the story. “Your Majesty should know that Berkeley did confide in me years ago and enjoined upon me the necessity of silence. He stated that Miss Tudor was his wife and the worst used woman in the world.”

“Smells fishy,” said the King. “What! If the woman was ill-used years ago, she must be a thousand times more so by now! Don’t believe a word of it! We have noticed his temerity in trailing his dubious establishment under our nose. Most improper!”

“Even the King may not fly in the face of a gentleman’s solemn word. The house of Berkeley is an ancient and noble one. It stands for our English heritage and all the values we endeavour to safeguard so zealously.”

His Majesty would not be moved. When Mary drove out in a curricle upon the sands, he did not salute her. The Berkeley crest was screened from his vision and members of his Court were encouraged to follow his lead. The Berkeleys knew this reaction was only to be expected. Time would acquit them.

Mary refused to be insulted or deterred. There were marriage lines to support her now. Nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of Fitz’s inheritance.

 

 

The Wolf and The Lamb, First Book in the Berkeley Series

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