An Auctioneer's Lot
by Damien MatthewsEntries Posted Weekly on Fridays
To Reach the Sandy Shore
Parts I & II
Needless to say, all names, locations, etc. have been changed to entirely protect the innocents in this true story – one of whom has sadly since passed away.
The door opens and he’s there. Hands clasped high, held tight to the chest, as fingers twiddle. Deep in muttered conversation with himself his head slants downwards and to the right. Having spent some time in a ward with brain injury I can see he’s either suffered a knock from the outside in or the inside out. Either-way, they’re chatting away, getting on famously. One thing about schizophrenics, they’ll never want for company. So why telephone me, three is a crowd after all. That is, if he is one.
I’m just looking, sizing it up, being passive, present, saying nothing other than the usual hello how are you Damien Matthews the auctioneer you called. My voice breaks the pattern of his thought. There’s change, an argument. Can’t quite make out the words but think it’s about who called me. And it’s in earnest. Once in New York saw a guy getting out of a cab having a fight with himself. Actually beating himself up while at the same time bravely fending off the attack. Wanted to step in and help, but… you know… crazy world.
Muttering stops. Straightening up he looks me in the eye, “Thank you for coming”
“Great to be here, lovely drive”
“Perhaps you’d like a drink?”
It’s 10:30am but give the man what he wants, “My very thought exactly”.
He doesn’t know it but we met years before, when I was a teenager working summers as a porter for Hamilton Osborne King – in the days when they had a fine art department. We conducted an on the premises auction of the contents of his house. In fact, he gave me a disastrous tip on a horse, dreadful, wounds even now to think about it. He was so confident about the win; a friend owned the nag, couldn’t lose, pulled it back for the race, a sure thing. If wishing were kissing, but I was a kid and he was a man. I had to believe. And, after all, he did let me drink from his cellar while putting lot numbers on what remained.
The moment of realisation, that I had allowed the external gilding of another to cloud my own judgement, was an exquisite life lesson never forgotten. It’s true what they say, everyone’s beautiful at the ballet. The words that came into my mind as the distance opened up between winner and loser I still remember, ‘My God what have I done to myself’. The price of truth was high, but it was pure. Divine. It caused a light to shine into my very soul that afternoon. Then, of course, came the exhilaration of despair. He had a drink, he was used to losing big. For me, it was my first time. I drank.
The twenty five years since, for him, had been rough. He’d slid a long way down the totem pole. The windfall of that auction spent rashly on the wooing of an actress towards whom he’d shoved his unloved heart. She in turn scored it like glass. The two bad marriages later didn’t do him any good either. Neither was the sixty fags a day and the cheaper wine. He was broken, a wreak of a man. The plane had crashed into the mountain. And it seemed the old brain was going too. But, you never know, he was still a minor member of the useless aristocracy, that’s a life-membership card no matter where you end up. And, since that long ago afternoon’s beating had held me in such good stead, I actually felt that I owed the man. I was here to help – if there was anything left.
At worst there was going to be nothing. At best? Well, in my mind there’s always an upside. An actuary once told me over a drink that statistically most men make their greatest financial mistakes between the ages of 48 and 52. As my clock is tick tocking right in this general vicinity I’m all ears. And eyes. Here was my perfect reverse role model.
And where were we? Sandymount, Dublin 4 by the coast. Up two flights of stairs in a dated but solid 1970s square redbrick apartment block. While not exactly the projects, it wasn’t quite the elegantly money-worn Georgian mansion that I had youthfully helped lot up as it nestled by a river’s bend. That was long gone, much water had flowed down that river since, he was on the goodwill of friends now. So I followed him down the hall as a rather light door with pitted chrome fittings clapped shut behind me.
Even in these lessened circumstances his plumed voice carried him. That, and a certain gait. His was a command you’d follow, if you didn’t know him too well. He had that draw, even still. The air of entitlement, I suppose. There’s a certain sphere that lineage and private education gives a man, especially to those not tutored in their ways. For most of the past three hundred years it’d carry you, not now. We were on even ground, there’d be no plámásing me this time round.
“Sit, sit, over there by the window”, a raised hand waves without a wand. It gestures me towards an over-stuffed Edwardian armchair. The room, well lit with morning sunshine streaming through a plain metal framed rectangular window, overlooked a church. It, in turn, was stoically stranded, lonesome within a triangle of road. Dark brown wool carpet, worn but not cheap when bought, floored a room of plain proportions, much like the building itself. The interior, well scattered with minor antiques, was manly in appearance although it had the look of an older woman’s touch. Perhaps a maiden aunt now in a nursing home? Something like that, had to be knowing the man.
Standing by the drinks cabinet he poured with delicate attention, and shaky hand, two over-generous whiskeys into deeply cut crystal tumblers. Mine chipped.
“No, just a splash”.
He hands it over and rests into his own armchair, the pair to mine. Languidly crossing his legs we both take a morning sip. Rule number one, never drink before six. But it takes what it takes.
The sustained pressure of a financially stressed life, and who could blame him, somehow perhaps now gained relief by his holding a split character. By being two; one to vent and another to reason, he could try to hold things together. From being landed, titled and wealthy to this, it was rather a long fall. His nursery education and entitled upbringing which lead him to believe that all the world was apple pie was an invalidated ticket to a destination that did’t exist anymore. Quite literally, he was a dying remnant of the eighteenth century stranded at the beginning of the twenty first.
“She was the light of my life”
Oh Lord, here we go, not having it.
“Perhaps get a different light”
Is he thinking I’m just hired company. While I’m happy to bide time I’m unwilling to waste it, literally a thousand lots sit back in the auction room waiting to be catalogued. Just letting him know.
“You called me to look at a few things”
“No, no, she’s a keeper, you fool, that’s what you get”
That’s the two of them, at it again. This isn’t making sense. I interject.
‘Listen you need to…”
“I need to what, you, you”
“Just relax, you know, it’s easier that way”
“I’ll do as I damn well please”
“Of course. But you called me”
“Yes, yes, I did”
At least he’s not saying We.
An alcoholic stench comes up from my glass as I raise it to my lips. It really was way too early for spirits. Champagne I could understand, but whiskey? I take another sip as that sunlight glints against the crystal.
“Perhaps it’s a little late in the game for keeping”
“I suppose, ha ha”
He’s nearing seventy, sees the humour.
“Have we met before?”
“Yes, you once gave me a tip on a horse”
“Never was too good at that sort of thing”
“I know”. Third sip of the morning.
“Oh well, couldn’t be helped”
Casually so thrown away, but that’s what rank is.
“That’s exactly how I felt”. A lie of course, the pain remained long after the offence was forgotten.
“Yes, we must move on”
Easy to say when you’ve unearned assets to auction, my unkind thought. But I do like him for his uncaring attitude, something of the House of Bourbon about it. Actually, looked at from the side he does have the profile. Wouldn’t surprise me, a leak in the bloodline.
“And so, here we are. How can I help?”
“They want me out, my aunt’s trustees (got that right). They wish me gone. Two weeks and I’ve nowhere to go with nothing to bring me there”.
“I’m sorry to hear”
“Yes, a difficulty”
“Don’t know if you can help but you might know a way”
“I’ll do what I can”
He shuffled in his chair for a bit, had a few more sips to settle himself. Then said nothing. And then said nothing some more. Then.
“Mother came down through the Kelfords, the South African side, brought some things with her to the marriage”
“Some valuable, and some rather small. One in particular, small and valuable, as it happens”
“A pink diamond”
“A Diamond, a worthwhile diamond?”
“Yes. Never valued, and, more importantly, never appearing on our family’s inventory. It was always hers, kept it hidden. Said it was to be held for a rainy day. And sadly, there’s none more rainy than this dear boy, I’ve come to the end of my line”
While luck sometimes does run out, even for the minor-As, there can still be a spare life within the nine. And, I can tell there’s still another piece of luck in him yet, he’s that type. Maybe I could help after all.
“Where is it now?”
Well, that’s that then, I was wrong.
“Well, not quite dunno, but close”
“It’s hidden in my old ancestral seat”
“Ok, I know it”
“Long story, you really don’t want to know”
“Honestly, you don’t, lets move on”
“It’s hidden in mummy’s bedroom”
“Yes, hidden, she hid it. Don’t quite know where exactly, but I do know it’s in that room, and somewhere to the left of her bed”
“To the left?”
“She told me, wasn’t quite listening, she was slightly batty towards the end. But I know it exists, she wore it once you see, in Lavery’s portrait, commissioned when she married my father”
“That’s a rather big bedroom”
His eyes widen, “Now how exactly do you know…that…?”
“Hamilton Osborne King, the auctioneers, worked for them when they cleared the contents”
“Yes. Why to the left?”
“You’re that greedy fellow who drunk some of my best claret”
“With your permission”
“Wasn’t paying attention”
“Paid for in other ways believe me”
“Jolly good juice that, eh”
“Spoiled, never a better bottle since”
“The Seventh Earl brought it over himself, and the port”
“Those were special hangovers”
“They were, weren’t they”
“Saved for the best occasions”
“If you can possibly manage to find that stone you can have all the port and wine you wish”
“I’ll settle for 15%”
“I’m not an unreasonable man. Now why to the left”
“She gestured that way to me when she was on her deathbed”
“Old Aubershed has it now”
“What, the stone?”
“No, your family seat”
“Oh, I know, dreadful greedy man. Met him once or twice, never got on. Thankfully he doesn’t know he has the stone too. Saw one the other day like it, the pink something. In The Telegraph, Sotheby’s I think. Fetched quite a bit”
“Yes, the Pink Star, an incredible price, seventy million dollars”
“Never thought it could possibly be worth that much”
“Very doubtful that yours is, the Pink Star is an exceptional stone, a once-off masterpiece of nature. Internally flawless, just off sixty carats and very vividly pink. Even still, if it’s clear, yours might be worth a bit, certainly more than back then when your mother had it”
“Pinks have come into their own lately, all that new Russian and Chinese money, they just like the colour”
“Really, just the colour. That’s a lot of money for a colour”
“Kingdoms have been fought over for less. The cut played a big factor too. New money likes flash and none was more flash than that stone. Actually, it was laser-cut from the rough not too long ago just for that very market”
“Yes, to maximise scintillation. Every angle of possible advantage calculated by internal scanning and computer analysis. Then, and only then, was it laser cut. The only hand it saw was for minor polishing after the cutting. The end result, a very calculated stone, literally blazing with reflected light to attract the market it was created for”
“There were no computers in mother’s day”
“That may be so, but that’s no bad thing either. Well, it is. Financially it’s not going to scream Buy Me to the big modern money of today, but it would still have it’s charm, and it’s admirers. If it exists”
“It exists, trust me on that”
“Well if it does, and given when it was mined out from the earth, it’s probably what’s called ‘old European cut’. These older stones, cut by a steam-driven bruting machine, are less faceted and possess a more mellow presence. Back then diamond cutting was more of an art than a science.
“It’s the money I’d prefer Damien, not the art”
“I know, I know, but there’s a good market for these stones too don’t worry. Just less stratospheric, but it’s still strong”
“Strong enough to make it worthwhile to try and get it back for you. Those newly monied buyers, while they do give unheard of prices across the range for disco stones, are matched by a parallel, albeit slightly less monied, collector for the older stones. You see, if these older stones catch the light just right, they too are just as desirable. In fact they’re rarer, created in a time when the financial elite were closer knit. And when it was candle or gaslight that lit the ballroom, not the harsh glare of electricity that we have now. While they do scintillate less, mostly it’s just the one flash at a time, they are just as beautiful. Isn’t that one flash coming from a hand-cut diamond more meaningful than a disco ball?”
“I suppose so”
“And so do the real collectors”
As I’m talking, I’m thinking. Ireland really is a small country, it so happens not only do I know this Aubershed (from an old brewing family, and he is truly a dreadful man), but I also know, and really this is how small Ireland is, that he’s running low. Last year – again, I repeat, small country – he asked a friend of mine, a wealthy elderly friend, for a loan, just to tide him over between ventures. Brought it up in their club after trying to pad him out with a few drinks. Complete No No, but Aubershed’s the type who considers himself apart from convention; an international businessman, ahead of his time, ahead of the graph. Nothing’s ever worked though. The deals always terribly complicated, forward thinking, ground breaking, etc., lots of technical lingo. But none, None, have ever succeed. Oddly enough, he always gets the ‘funding’. Mostly from those less financially ‘sophisticated’ – easier to blind with science when the deal go wallop. His accent, the hand made shoes – what we now know to call ‘the gilding’ – tends to do the job. And always, always, he flies first or business class between these arduous rounds of constant fund raising. Right now, for the first time, he was down to his last, turning right as he entered the plane. And this turning right wasn’t sitting with him at all.
So here we were. A man who, if he knew he had the Kelford Diamond, wouldn’t be in the least mind for sharing it. That was a problem. That, and the fact that I had visited that same house again not long after our new client sold it and Aubershed bought it. On the occasion of a pre-hunt ball dinner party. Basically, and still to this day I can’t quite fathom why, drink possibly, I sat on a George II Irish silver table. Maybe I just thought it looked sturdier than it was, or perhaps I just thought it a rather flat topped chair. Those silver tables are flat, and the perfect height for sitting on. Who knows. But anyhow, one whoosh and four clean breaks later there it was, matchstick on the carpet. Not the end of the world. Clean breaks. But still, not the done thing. I was young, happy. Aubershed wasn’t. And who could blame him. Didn’t quite look at it the way I did. But that was years ago, perhaps he’d forgotten.
So, back to the news. We had information, we had the house, and we had the room. All we needed now was the access. Or to be precise, the permission to access. Then, hopefully, with a little knocking on walls or whatever, our Damien would be 15% the richer and a down-at-heel aristocrat saved from the poorhouse. But how to broach it without raising Aubershed’s rasping financial alarm bells. Kept with just the one wife though, got to give him that. Tremendous cost saving. When you looked at it, there really wasn’t a need for his financially dubious state. What got him there? Women, horses, drink, he’d avoided all three, and yet there he still was. On his uppers. Greed. Ego? Perhaps. Wouldn’t let him live like the rest of us. That, and the entitlement bug. That didn’t help. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to make my job any easier.
Now it goes without saying, I’m registered, licensed and bonded by the Irish Government, I can’t just go round storming into people’s houses playing underhand tricks. One has to, and I do, play by the rules of the Marquise of Queensbury. This was my problem. I couldn’t, even if I was acting on behalf of the morally rightful owner, take something from another man’s property that I had no legal right to take. So, stretching out my legs, I leaned back and gave it some thought over a second glass. Three minutes passed, the length of a boxing round as it happened. And bingo, there it was. Only one thing for it, dangle my rich elderly friend in front of him again.
My old friend, who considers himself a little bit of a Gielgud, has led an interesting life, but one it could be said in diametric opposite to my new client. Responsible, hard working – when the occasion merited it – his life was financially rewarded, greatly. He had his fun, but not before work and his investments were caressed. Although his love-life was complex too, the glistening lure of marriage was never bitten. Enthusiastically he chased, but none of his chasings ever amounted to the toil of marriage. Nothing too awful, just a boys way of looking at women, playthings rather than people sort of thing. His dalliances rarely straying beyond the first bloom of courtship. One actually did last a decade, in the 1970s I believe (interspersed with others), and well before I knew him. Did ask him once why they didn’t marry, he replied, “Oh, she already was, wonderful woman”.
As he aged the field lengthened, which led to my witnessing some interesting courtships. How much further he could stretch that field it was hard to know, but his long life of complex courtship, and marriage avoidance, was matched by a fiscal responsibility. He had become instead an accumulator of things; property, shares, cars, art, money. His was a mind at ease contained within a life without pain. I’ve observed his routine. No extra weight, up early to walk the dogs he rescues, no menial tasks – farm it out, light breakfasts, serious serious lunches with good wine, wide circle of friends joined by new ones old & young each year to replace any die offs, an inquisitive mind with an open character. Reads lots, never look to the past as better or dwells upon it, light supper if at all. Travel by the bucketful – none of that go to a sun hotel stuff, adventurous travel, travel to learn & explore. He worries not at all, and, of course, chasing women as pastime, but never letting it get heavy. That’s it. That’s what He did. Told me once that time resolves everything, if you live long enough it all goes away! I’ll miss him when he’s gone, but it seems he’s not leaving anytime soon. Thankfully.
Not to bore, but one amusing thing. After a landmark birthday he bought another home in Dublin. One very much like the one he already had; an early Victorian redbrick, single storey with low limestone front steps. He completely remodelled it, gutting it entirely while at the same time keeping and living in the original one. Even after this second home was finished he lived in the same house he already had. Asked him why. Why keep two homes in the same city? “New neighbours, new area, time will slow and I might get another good decade”. He was right. Given his open nature, soon there were new parties to attend and a new circle of friends. All to add to the old ones. Wiser still, that second home, where he now spends most of his time, runs in a direct straight line to the Blackrock Clinic. The merest cough and he’s in like a shot, top suite overlooking Dublin Bay, and for the week. Better than the Four Seasons. There’s more than luck at play with him.
Fortuitously, this house was reasonably near to where I now sat sipping early morning whiskey with my newly acquired stressed aristocrat. One phone call later, right there in the man’s apartment, and fifteen minutes later I’m outside a gaily yellow painted front door. Pull back the lion’s head brass knocker, one comfortable monied thud later, and a Filipino cleaner tentatively opens it. Dogs scrabble on the parquet behind. This story can’t go on forever so I’ll just give a quick summation. By 1pm we’ve nestled down for a long lunch in his club, a rare untouched gem overlooking St. Stephen’s Green. Certainly fast moving I know, but 15% of an awful lot is still an awful lot. And one does have to strike in the moment of opportunity, especially so in a case like this. A plan of action was discussed, finessed, over pheasant and claret.
His opinion? Either appeal to our adversary’s base greed – come at it like a sin is being committed – or don’t tell him at all. Our decision. Not to tell at all. Equally we felt that he wouldn’t allow us the windfall. Or if he did, it wouldn’t be done fairly – his nature wouldn’t allow it. Legally, and this is an interesting point which my older friend knew. If you sell a house and leave, even unacknowledged, personal property behind, it’s not gone – title still stands with the previous owner. In fact, the new buyer has a legal obligation to bring the existence of this left property to the attention of the previous house owner. However, as there was no record of ownership as regards the stone, only heresay, it might be a legal problem Aubershed could use to his advantage. If, on the other hand, the owner, or his legal representative (me!), was invited back onto said property, and an opportunity existed to legally retrieve it – with or without the owners knowledge of it being there – Bingo. Now just how we were going to get permission to enter the master bedroom of an egomaniac’s house, that was another matter. But I trusted my elderly consiglieri to come up with the solution. And he did.
That evening his telephone call to our adversary went something like this. I could only hear my friend’s side of the conversation.
“Aubershed old boy how are you”
“Yes, yes, it’s me”
“Been meaning to you know”
“Can’t, they took my driving licence away, too many scrapes, getting on and all that”
“That fellow Matthews might, if I asked”
“No, the auctioneer”
“He’s not he worst, obviously some sort of accident”
“Yes, yes, no intellectual, but he did pay for the restoration, or did he. I was never told”
“I know, but sort of have to, he’s the only one I could ask at this short notice”
“Yes, yes, I’ll try, but if not it’ll have to be him”
“Very good. Good. See you then old boy, Friday it is, goodbye”
One click later and I’m back in the game.
Between then and the day Bonnie & Clyde hit the road I did my research. James Gorry of The Gorry Gallery, a good friend and a walking brain, enlightened me about the portrait. What that man doesn’t know about Irish Art, of all the centuries, isn’t worth knowing. Had to keep it all low key but with his astonishing visual memory, and discretion, he described the portrait. He’d seen it at the auction of the contents all those many years ago. Unfortunately he had no image on file, and neither did the reference library in the National Gallery. Quick hop over the Irish Sea to the Witt Library. Had a long search through their incomparable, but sometimes date-muddled, files. But they too, surprisingly, didn’t have an image. Christies King Street to the rescue, they scored it. Hidden away in their basement, far from prying eyes, and solely for the use of their own experts, is a filing area with every catalogue they’ve published since their inception, over two hundred and fifty year’s worth. And in sequence. A quick word with an old drinking associate, actually it was the bribe of dinner that night at Boisdale, and there I was, under the road rummaging away.
That house contents auction was conducted in association with Christies so it really was just a matter of minutes before there it was, reproduced on the inside back cover of the catalogue. In full colour, a three-quarter length Lavery at his portraiture best, lot 264. Good looking woman too, and on her chest what I seek. Looked for all the world like a very plainly mounted ruby. Possibly 15 Carats, hard to tell, Lavery had given it just a single flick of pinkish impasto. But, if you knew what you were looking for, one could see that it was a diamond. He’d lifted it with that bravo paintwork, the master’s hand capturing it’s nature so beautifully – a sunlit seam of heaven. Why bother if it were just a ruby. A secret between artist and sitter? Possibly.
Those indeed were the days, t’was the rich what got the pleasure, and t’was the poor what got the pain. Which would I get? That weekend I was to find out.
Now, one thing. Never pack a flashlight when staying overnight in a grand country house as social road-kill. But I did. One of those long black ones, like the police, or burglars, have. Handy thing. Essential kit for an auctioneer searching out old masters through darkened varnish. My motive here, perhaps a little more ulterior that usual, made me take the precaution of wrapping it up in a shirt, then stacking all my other clothes on top.
Ensconced in Connelly leather we rode those few hours unnoticeably elegantly. Do like a jaunt in a good motor car. Arriving through stately gates – really no need for those added eagles, a touch too far – we hover over a gravelled and sweeping drive. Definitely mucho dinero splashed since I was about. Fresh plaster and paint, everywhere. And those chimney stacks look rebuilt, old trade keeping up the appearance. Big houses do drain the funds if you let them. True aristocrats (and we have very, very few of that order) prefer to watch them fall, decay being much more the interesting. Aubershed considers himself keeper of the flame, you’d think he built it.
Daddy, mummy, and three fine sons who’ve never seen an empty fridge, all out in force on the wide front steps to greet us. Must have a sensor thing near the gate, took a mental note. Swing the motor in wide arc so Gielgud’s side shields the blast of insincerity. Embraces, warmth, welcomes all round but brief dirty look in my direction from daddy. Play the game. Return the hugs, even playfully rub his back. Happy, so happy to be here, so happy. Those reds socks and tasselled loafers a worry, but we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.
So there we were, a chorus line of cashmere gracing up the granite steps in a chortle of goodwill. My aged friend centre, pride of place, money gets you that. Our happy line pours under the portico and into a wide pillared front hall. Some of the things I remember, must have been bought at the auction. Others carefully purchased later, to look as if they weren’t – that carefully added gilding.
Not enough can be done for their elder, and richer, visitor. For me? Well, obviously I’m the uncouth, but appearances must be kept up. No ill will is physically shown but all is made painfully clear by the bedroom arrangements. In I may be, but in only on a pass, that’s the message. Do I have a puncher’s chance of redemption? Can one come back from such previous social upset. Don’t think so, not really. My friend meanwhile gets the Chinese bedroom in the main wing.
Later in the drawing room he’s held dear, a prize at the funfair with his every utterance supped with flattery. He’s sailing clear. I’m just happy being there, getting busy with the sherry. Standing away from the herd, I look out those same full-length sash windows depicted in Lavery’s portrait. This is my pleasure, and enough. The perks of a busman’s job. The evening’s dark purple sky shadows the assured parkland as it folds away, out to the distance. The dark green of ancient oaks mark the even more ancient boundaries of the estate. Sips of delicate newly bottled manzanilla sherry, he’s bringing out the good stuff, help this private pleasure go down.
Laughter. I turn around. Across the Persian prairie a social Attenborough documentary plays out. My old lion is seated, cornered by that feeding pack of cashmere-clad hyenas. Each with upturned muzzle, teeth unshown, sniff at its prey. “Haw haw, yah”. Tails swish as their intended is pushed back against the worn leather of a deep chesterfield settee, “Oh do have some more, do, do”.
I’ve seen this old man drink full for a day, on many occasions, and still walk compos mentis from the room. They’re wasting their time. At eighty six, I know it sounds unbelievable, the very act of my typing it, but yes, eighty six. Eighty six, and he can still do it. I’m one of the very few people who know it. Usually he plays the ‘I’m really quite old now you know, in my dotage just doddering along, not really getting this’ game. But only better. He gets away with absolute murder because of his age. Actually, he generally creates all the traps being laid for him, just so he can have fun trapping his adversaries in their own snares. This old hand has played the game too often for the outcome to be any different. I’ve been around the world and met a lot of people from a lot of generations, and there are very in his mental condition at that age, anywhere. And he keeps relevant. Literally, he has the mind and outlook of a man fifty years younger. However, the body is the body. He’s certainly in good shape for his age, but eighty six is eighty six, no matter how good you keep yourself. The years take their toll, but still, he was getting around on his own steam. Let’s just say he had the body of a seventy year old, that sort of thing.
So, there he was, my anomaly, knocking back the drink perhaps a little more enthusiastically than usual. But it was good booze, and we both appreciate the good booze. I know, eighty six, not possible. But it was. And is. One hell of a man. I decide to slip over and join Gielgud, rein him in a touch lest sharp blades draw blood too soon. Or worse, become blunt with the quaffing. By subtle movement, the pack shows my plain company amongst such illustrious trade is undesired. Not even sniffed at, as I settle down onto the polished leather. Hyenas don’t like twos. The old man’s plan was rolling out nicely.
Shortly later, we drift into the high-ceilinged dining room. There, centre stage, a long three pillared dining table is dressed, heaped, with silver and crystal. Sitting lost in the vastness of the room, it has the appearance of being set for international negotiations than as a space for a congenial gathering. Lacking in the warmth of humanity it is instead a subliminal attempt at intimidation. That gilding again. It’s everywhere. The man can’t help it, even in his own home. Do men like these even have homes?
Dinner begins, consommé. Served, of course, from an over-elaborate eighteenth century tureen. A rather sweet dark-haired servant girl in a white blouse brings it around the table. Etiquette demands, in certain circles, that you must never thank those who serve you. After all, isn’t that what they’re there for, serving you. While I kind of get it, I don’t quite buy it. In my book a slight gesture of appreciation must always be shown. I look her in the eye and thank her quietly. She returns a wonderfully fresh country smile, what a sweetheart. Needless to say the family ignore her completely. An urge rises within me to say, it’s not the eighteenth century you dummies. But stay shtum. Enough black marks against me in this house. I am their guest after all, no matter how unsought or unwanted.
The meaningless, but not meaningless, chatter drivels on. Unmeasured platitudes abound, one after the other, and all interjected with an over-use of my wingman’s first name, Dermot. Dermot this, and Dermot that. If there’s one thing older people don’t like, especially rich older people, it’s the over-use of their first name. Perhaps our adversary was testing the waters, talking down to see if his intended prey would start taking up. Gielgud plays the game. But then, with sudden shrewdness, greases Hyena One into a corner.
“I’ll be gone soon you know”. He loves that line, been saying it for over twenty years.
“Don’t say such a thing Dermot. No, no, don’t”. He wishes.
“I will, you know. But these times, this, here. This is my real treasure. These times spent amongst true friends”.
Focus a stare in on him. Don’t cut the meat too close to the bone, don’t start mentioning treasure. Leave it, don’t ruin it, we’re on a good run. Remember, we’re dealing with a man who’s not to play with, one whose ego would literally murder for gold, and especially so in his financially weakened state. Let’s just cool the jets get the job done. Not too sure if a single stare can be imbued with so much, but that’s what was going on behind the eyeballs. It got through though. He slows, understands. Of course it doesn’t have the least effect, he likes his fun.
“Your being in my life is my treasure Aubershed”.
Oh man, he won’t leave it, he’s making me ill, all this going on about treasure.
“And you Dermot, you’re my treasure”.
This isn’t good.
Aubershed wouldn’t know real treasure if it jumped up and struck him. Treasure is lots of things, but mostly it’s not monetary. However, it’s what he’s got on his mind. That, and how to extract it. All he knows. All he Desires. A live devoted to it. Perhaps I’m being a little high-handed, given my own mission.
“I knew her, you know”, says Gielgud
“Who”, replies Aubershed
“The original owner’s wife, before you and your good wife moved here. She was a darling, Dilly, we were close, before she met Geoffrey”
“Really, I never knew”
“Yes, nobody did, she was that sort of woman”
“What sort do you mean?”
“The secretive sort”
Hyena number one backs off a touch. His first push-back of the evening.
“Well, of course I don’t mean ‘that’ ”
Gielgud instantly, and with indignation, replies, “That? What’s the ‘that’ you mean?”
The second push back.
His manufactured argument is swallowed whole. Smooth apologies rush forth. The ‘misunderstanding’ only that, a verbal mis-step. In it’s odd way its registered as having never happened. But it has. Aubershed’s instant rapprochement was very telling in that Gielgud’s rampart was as instantly strengthened. Marvel to watch. Bottle and a half in and he’s still the master. Even greater power was within him now. Any further offence to be caused him, even the slightest, would be ruinous to their extraction of money cause. Financial death loomed, and they knew it. Backpedal, and backpedal hard. The trowel really came out now. Silken words wrapped in silken threads, little balls of verbal nothingness puffed crossed the figured mahogany. I could relax, settle back, all was in hand.
At meal’s end, mother and children retire. We remaining three move back to the drawing room for brandies. A blot however began to appear in an otherwise cloudless sky. Gielgud, partial to good port and Hyena One knowing it, lights up like a child as a bottle of Taylor ’77 is pulled from the drinks cupboard. No stops tonight. Complex, more complex than I’ll ever be, it swims yum yum a ruby swirl around my glass as Aubershed’s proposed business ventures are poured forth. All of them as potentially profitless as they would be meaningless. And each as enthusiastically considered by Gielgud, raising them to the rafters hope. So many, and all so complex. Each put forward in the same simple guise of Aubershed’s complexity – get the money, get back to turning left in bonny loafers.
Amongst all these financial enthusiasms, Gielgud just throws it out there, like its just entered his (non) drink-befuddled mind, “I know this house well, from the old days”
“Yes, you mentioned”
“The Higglebottoms, and then their son. Isn’t that right, the one who ran off with the actress”
“That’s right, the fool”
“Affairs of the heart Aubershed, they lead us not we know where’
“To the Poorhouse more like. Marry for money, that’s what I say, Ho Ho Ho”
With no Ho Ho’s from Gielgud or myself he lowers the flame, “Well, that’s what they say, anyhow’
“I knew his dear mother”
“Yes, before she met Geoffrey”.
Aubershed pretends he hasn’t heard all this earlier.
Gielgud continues, “You know, it would mean so much, so, so much…” Then stops dead.
“What would?” Hyena One asks
“Oh, nothing, I’m just a sentimental old fool”
“Not at all, you’re a treasure Dermot” …Again…..yada yada yada….. the guy just laps it on.
“Might I…., I’m foolish I know, for even asking…, but might… might I…. see where she slept?”
Hyena One perks up, sort of winces. It’s his bedroom now.
“Well I… I…. I suppose. Yes. Why not”
Hurdle one crossed, but what he doesn’t understand is that my man means right now. Right now. Gielgud begins to rise. All a bit of a shock. Sudden. Are we to refuse a lovelorn octogenarian facing into the darkness of imbecility as he reaches out for his walking stick. The point is made clear. Now.
Out the drawing room door we traipse, and up the deep carpeted stairs. No other option exists, Gielgud leading the charge. With privilege of ownership Aubershed overtakes on the stairs. We arrive. Swift pointless knock as he swings open the door and clicks on the overhead light all in the same action.
“God, what the hell is it now Patrick … damn” the harsh bark from Hyena Two in the bed. Can’t blame her. Rising up, her eyes adjust to the harsh light to spy Bonnie & Clyde in attendance close behind Aubershed. A focusing squint crosses a vengeful face that turns instantly to a shop smile, “Oh Dermot, Darling”. Confused, buying time. What’s this about, has she been sold? Wouldn’t surprise me in this house.
Without the warpaint it’s all a little harsh on the eye. Let’s not be gender specific, we can all look a little rough after a long day, let’s just say there were a few thorns on the rose.
“I’m sorry darling”, Hyena One pipes back, “Dermot knew Dilly Higglebottom back in the day, just wishes to see where she slept, that’s all. Sorry darling, we’ll be just a moment”.
Not so Hyena One, not so. We’re going to be more than a moment.
The now widened and angry eyes of Hyena Two stare back with a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look but her thin-lipped mouth actually says, “Oh how wonderful darling”. As if the rude interruption is but yet another pleasure of the evening. Drink sometimes dulls the perception of how things are really going, but this might actually be going to plan.
But. Of course. Gielgud has to push it out too hard.
Letting out a whimpered cry, which wasn’t in the manifesto, he’s taken back the floor. But too much. Always best to lurk in the shadows of suggestion than stand solitary in the glare of stark refusal. Easy boy, easy, don’t over-egg it. Then, remarkably, a single crystalline tear pushes forward from a rheumy eye to glisten on his reddened cheek. Oh master, how Masterful. Hollywood. A tear from old man, can’t buy it. No well deep enough exists for the sympathy. Rolling forward my tuppence make quite the show of comfort. My arm stretches over, pulls his shoulder close to my chest, “There, there, old boy, you’ll always have the memory”. Take the added precaution of leading him over to the bed to rest his grief. Hyena Two shifts across a touch, quite unknowing of just what to do. She’s only a spectator now. Chip in a little more for added sympathy, “He’ll just be a moment”. That’ll do. All it’s going to take to hold the ground before Gielgud drives it on.
Still confused, she doesn’t do empathy, the Beast of Bodmin arises, comes over to our side. Not such a spectator after all. The thorns coming in hard, looming over us now while exchanging another dark hard look with Aubershed. He scowls back in return. Can see it all reflected in the large gilt mirror hung, just so, over the bedroom fireplace. Our aged Daniel Day-Lewis gives forth another grieving utterance of grief from the stage, “She was wonderful, a wonderful woman, never forgotten”. On cue, another tear.
“She was, she was, I’m sure she was”, my reply as I draw him in closer still.
It’s now or never, it’s time. Set the hammer down.
Rheumy eye looks up at Bodmin and says in bereaved tone, “Might I?”
“Might you what?’ she replies.
“Stay, stay here, instead”, another sniffle.
She’s bearing down now, hard, like one of those silverback gorillas deciding to either stroke gently or pull limbs from sockets. We’re about as red line as we can be, nothing more to be said or done until she decides.
It’s taking too long. A yes would have been uttered next to immediately. Gielgud, sensing a no too, puts out the clincher. The decisive action. One that with another man would have been an over-playing of the hand. He swings his arms outwards and down, in hopeless submission. This added slump with no eye contact, and therefore no challenge, was his simple genius. He appealed to the mercy of the court. The move of the master. Her dry lizard lips, creased now in feigned smile of sympathy moved, they said, “Dermot, you can stay, we’ll sleep in the Pink Bedroom. After all, you’re here just for one night”.
Bit harsh that bit on the end, there really wasn’t a need. But we’re in. Or rather, my point man was.
His bags quickly brought, a little more fussing, and then their little wrinkled treasure was settled down for the night. I, the social garbage, pushed away to a room in the servant’s quarters. For me, not only did the problem of distance and unfamiliar terrain exist, but my bedroom, separated from the target area by a floor and a wing, had yet another added difficulty – an unknown unknown somewhere in-between, that Pink Bedroom. Gielgud would, no doubt, with two bottles of claret and another of port resting inside him, would instantly be ensconced in sleep. In no meaningful way could he look for that stone, even if he had the will to try. And certainly not without his destroying the room in the process. I lay in my narrow iron-framed bed and waited.
Outside my room the house quietened. This waiting was slow time. 3am before the torch came out from my overnight bag. Click. Turn the lens, narrow down the beam. It’s icy tunnel illuminates a sparse cold room. Wait, turn it off. Stand in the darkness. Paranoia. Aubershed might at this very moment be standing outside my room, out-waiting me. Slow my breath. Hold it. If it were possible to twitch ears I did. Nothing. Definitely nothing. Just fear. Gently I raise a slippered foot, move it forwards and down, press gently on a floorboard. Squeak. Oh God. Lift it back up. Try the next one. Another Squeak. If he’s outside he has me. I sidestep two floorboards across. Repeat. Thankfully nothing. Walk it’s length to reach the door handle, on which I gently rest my hand. Stop. If my paranoia is warranted he might be pressed up against the other side of the door, enveloped in darkness, waiting. Move up close to the door, press an ear against it. Nothing. Perhaps he’s holding his breath, has his ear up against it too. We could be kissing ears! At this very moment separated by just the width of a pine panel. Blood shrinks from the walls of my veins at the thought. Wait. Out-wait him. Play him at his own game. You know, you do over-think sometimes Damien. Of course he’s not there – what d’you think, that he’s actually there? Got nothing better to do than wait around in the middle of the night for the likes of me. Silly. Honestly. Seriously. You can be melodramatic at times. Come-on, lets get going. Slowly turn the handle and inch the door in towards me. Once a head’s width has been reached I peer out into the darkness. Nothing. Click.
Just my torch. Slink along the servant’s corridor. At the end, a doorway leads to a scrubbed stone back staircase. We’re across the savannah, no squeaks from stone. One floor down, and onto the bedroom wing. It’s deep wool-carpeted corridor stretches out wide before my levelled beam. Slowly, slow. Lower the beam downwards. Keep it just in front of me as I work my way along the corridor. Nice and easy now, watch out for errant squeaks. Easy. Easy. Nice runner that, possibly eighteenth century. Wonder where he picked it up. Raise the torch a touch to admire the repeated geometric pattering. Move the beam to it’s centre. There, right there, in the middle, an odd thing. A pair of slippers. Why leave a pair of slippers in the middle of a rug in the middle of the night. Who does that? Beam creeps up another inch. Horror. Hairy feet fill the slippers. Another few inches up and, Oh my God, hairy shins. The beam continues it’s rise possessed by the volition of it’s own horror. Now the hem of a man’s nightgown. Horrifying is not the word. On up the paisley pattern it goes to a head. Aubershed’s head. Snarled, red, blustered, enraged. His pupils draw in at the white of my beam. We make eye contact, like some sort of first inter-terrestrial contact or underwater discovery by a submarine beam. Aubershed a new species of angry venomous blowfish, with wide red veins stretching across engorged bloodshot eyes. But this isn’t the most worrying part. The most worrying part is the mahogany stock of a shotgun pulled snug into his shoulder, cocked ready to go. I know because he has it pointed directly at my head.
And it’s legal. He has his chance. With the right barrister, and he would, it could reasonably be construed that at 3am in his own home he faced a potentially deadly weapon, my blank long-handled torch. I’m too young, things still to do, don’t know what exactly but something. Surely. Stare back agog, open-mouthed. One wrong word, and puff. In cartridge smoke I’ll be violently wrenched back by the hail of its contents. Best say nothing. Not a word. It’s not my time, can’t be – but then I suppose we all say that when the moment comes. He pulls that stock tighter into his shoulder. His eyes menace me as I close mine. He’s done the legal math, let the ritual of death begin.
So this is it, that feeling, in a wartime photograph we sold a while back, a soldier stilled black & white in the opening moment of his death. Where will I be now but with my parents in the grave. Nothingness envelopes me as I await the shock of impact.
But nothing. My parents remain unvisited. Squint open one eye. Still no bang thank you.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Oh, just, you know, a walk”
Not out of the woods, don’t get too smart, this can change. Violently.
Both my eyes open, rejoin his.
“What’s taken your fancy Matthews?”
“Oh, the whole place, you’ve done a wonderful job”. Have to say something.
‘Funny time for it”
“Not in the least, perfect sense, Georgian splendour by moonlight”
“Come prepared have we”, referring to my legally damning torch.
“Always carry one, all the better for admiring fusty old masters. And, you know, you do really have a remarkable eye, unsung. Most rare, an eye for both business and art. Exceptional, usually it’s just one or the other. I think you’re quite the exception Aubershed”. Keep talking, keep chattering away, as if not a care in the world with no loaded shotgun still pointed directly at my head.
“Do you now”
“Oh yes, I do, I most certainly do”.
What a maniac, who in God’s name prowls corridors with a loaded shotgun. Keep up the routine of talk or else there might be another angel going home. Slowly by inches, he lowers the weapon. Actually, I was still blathering away as he turned his back and walked away, up the corridor. Who does that? Of course, made it appear as if I too was turning to return to my own room, but not so. He hadn’t specifically ordered me to so in my mind the trek was still a go. Dangerous, but still a go nonetheless. I’d just have to dawdle along pointing my torch at everything, making shows of admiration to any lurking bloodshot eyes hidden behind pillars. My ruse must appear, while obviously odd, at least innocent. He’d hardly shoot into damnation a blamelessly provincial auctioneer. Took out my acting gloves and gave it a go.
It soon became a job, a hard job. Very little of what he had was the real top drawer, mostly it was show. And I could feel that I was being watched. Or was I? That paranoia again. But I was wasn’t wrong before. He was waiting for me, I wasn’t wrong about that. Was he waiting for me again? The thin cover was holding. Of course, if I were to make the dreadful mistake of turning the door handle of the Pink Bedroom there’d be no second chance, puff.
So there I was, the rustic amongst the moonlight overcome with aesthetic pleasure, inching along. Now which bedroom door was it? Couldn’t exactly think straight. Try to remember but the line of doors all look the same. The master bedroom, which? Think, think. Casually glide the beam across the first, then the second. The third. Can’t go back, this is literally a one shot deal. The fourth? Seems more worn, more used, the door saddle more scuffed. Has to be. HAS to be. Quickly in one fluid motion, I press in close, gently knock, turn the knob, push the door, and slip in through the opening. Awaiting no reply, and making it just loud enough to make a show of it to any lurking ears, I confidently say, “Ah, Dermot there you are, just wondering about that magnificent urn outside your room, would you happen to …..” as the door closes behind me I pry that the right choice has been made.
My torch beam rushes before me across the carpet. There, lain before me shrivelled in sleep, Gielgud. Thank God. His thin parchment face beneath an Ebenezer Scrooge-type nightcap points a closed gaze heavenward. His arms, military style, are tucked firmly by his side, resting neatly upon a feathered eiderdown.
Give him a good shoving.
“Time to get to work, let’s go”
“Umoom, umoom…. don’t leave me”
Shove some more.
“What what, what’s happening”
“Come-on, let’s go, it’s time”
“What, yes, yes yes, I’m here”
“I know, let’s go”
He’s awake now,
“I’m quite old you know”
“Didn’t see that downstairs”
His a beatific smile as it beams up at the memory of the evening’s vintage, Taylor ’77, not your everyday.
“Aubershed, do you think he might possibly have a genuineness fondness for me”
“Your money more like”
“There’s that too I suppose”
Walk to the window and pull over the wooden shutters. However illusionary, it gives the feeling that a place of greater safety has been reached. So long as I’m by Gielgud’s side and his heart’s still ticking, sanctuary. Turn on the overhead light, reconnaissance the room. Big area to hand-search inch by inch.
“Where do you think she might have hidden it”
“You say she looked to the left”
‘Yes, but that’s under the assumption that the bed is in the same position”
“It is, look at those marks”
The brain was right. The carpet, unchanged since Edwardian times, held a track from door to bed.
We begin the process.
As I looking I’m listening. Acutely aware that danger might still lurk outside in the valley of the gun. My ears twitch for any sound. Last thing we want is a runaway bullock storming into the room with a loaded shotgun. Not three minutes into it I’m convinced I hear a slow muffled thump. From the corridor. Then another…. listen….. thump…… thump…. Signal my cohort to hold steady. Both of us are now on our knees in a sort of yoga upward dog pose. We listen listen. Wait. Nothing. But then, just as we start the search again, the tiniest squeak. An infinitesimal squeak. A squeak no human ear could ordinarily hear. But my life counted on it, that was the difference. Much like the urban legend of the woman who lifted a bus with her bare hands because her baby was stuck under it, in that moment I was that woman. And Gielgud my baby. Instantly my finger pointed at him, blurred with movement it urgently directed him to the bed. We had only seconds, and at eighty six they don’t move so fast anymore. He creaked as he moved off the floor, fuel on the fire. Thump, thump, thump comes down the corridor, faster louder now with no interval between the thumps. Gielgud, too slow for the race, I ungracefully heaved by my hands into the air pole-vaulting him onto the bed. What for it but to jump in right after him. I dashed in and curled into a ball under the eiderdown, hoping plumpness of it might cloak my presence.
Hear the harsh swing of a door, then Click. The overhead light blasts the room to full glare. Can’t see it but faint illumination reaches through to me under the cover. As m eyes adjust to the darkness, Horror. Not five inches from my face two wide-eyed, unblinking little baby eyes look straight back into mine. Gielgud’s. If we’re both under the cover who’s upstairs? It’s over, we’re done, Jesus, we’re damned. Those heavy thump thump thumps in furious rage now storm across the bedroom carpet. The room shakes. Seconds, no time left, one second. In the width of that moment, like those ill-fated Pompeian’s embraced in death, we hug goodbye under the ash of our bedclothes. Goodbye vicious world.
Wrenched back violently the drawn bedclothes reveal to Aubershed a shocking sight. A sight so shocking it could be said that it saved our lives, reaching across to cool the fury of his rage, halting his trigger finger. Too horrifically, in the dreadful and alarming moment of having to pole-vault Gielgud into the bed, and what with all the racking and heaving under the covers, his nightgown had risen above his hips. And stayed there. My pressing in against him for our final embrace into the next world didn’t exactly lavish matters with understanding. Stunned, stupefied, Aubershed looked down at us like a laboratory dissection. Me, with torch still in hand, was obviously not only a wilful destroyer of fine Irish Georgian furniture, but a sexual deviant. Either buggering an elderly man against his will, or worse – worse? – buggering the old man for financial gain. Too much.
In times of extreme stress I tend to just close my eyes. I closed my eyes. And stayed extremely still. Just waiting for it all to go away. My eyes opened to see Aubershed lowering his shotgun for the second time that night. Stepping away from his imagined defiled marital bed he gestured with the gun for me to to depart. Christ, it doesn’t get worse. The accused, rapist of old people or seducer of the geriatric. Either one – obviously – a reputationally heavy load to carry. Where to now. The end, The end. Toast.
In the hours before breakfast as I lay on my bed in great mental disturbance, the darkness of night eventually parted for the dawn. Slowly another sun rose, another day to be faced, no matter how awful. This day certainly harder than the one before. Dressing, as if going to my hanging, I was strangely very much in the present. No thinking ahead, or of the past. Curiously I was in the right-now, the present moment; the fraying of my collar, the lock on my overnight bag, the scuffed heel of my shoe, all had my attention. You know that feeling, when things are so interminably bad they just couldn’t get any worse. That’s how I felt – a sort of letting go, a relief, acceptance. I’ll not say it was entirely without a care in the world that I made my way down to the dining room that morning. How bad was this going to be? It didn’t matter. It couldn’t be any worse than I’d already imagined.
Dreadfully, I’m first up. Would have been easier to walk into a peopled room, pretend in the social nicety of it all, than to sit in accusatory silence, than as now, waiting for the arrival of the executioner. Just me, four walls and an unset breakfast table. Perhaps I’m being boycotted. They’ve decamped to the other wing. Hear steps. An order. Christ, don’t let it be Aubershed. The mahogany panelled door swings inwards. Gielgud. Thank God.
“Well, that was interesting”
“Don’t upset yourself too much, I remember once in old Flogger’s place a woman who ….” Aubershed enters, darker than usual look in my direction, regrets not taking the shot. Directly behind him Mrs. Aubershed. Has she been briefed on my disgrace? Her first words allow me to hope not.
“Good Morning Dermot, sleep well, our bed not too soft for you I hope”.
Not a hint of irony. Suppose it is a high bar to cross, telling your wife of a rural auctioneer’s perversions in your marital bed.
“Wonderfully comfortable, on air, thank you so much. And to you Aubershed, thank you. Our little secret what”
His wife smiles, thinking he’s referring to his old paramour, the later Mrs. Higglebottom. Aubershed broods red-faced as Gielgud continues to play the innocent in his morning chatter with his wife. For me, I just carry along, the passenger. The three sons tumble in, jostling, playful, their presence breaks the mood. Then, thankfully, in comes the lovely house girl from the evening before. Laden with an oval silver tray of tea, toast & preserves she’s offered no assistance as she manages to set it down. Aubershed barks his breakfast preference before his wife and three sons. Eventually it’s my turn.
“And what would you like from the kitchen this fine morning Mr. Matthews?”
“I’ll have a brewer’s breakfast, if it’s not too much trouble”
“All the trimmings?”
“Certainly, the lot, pile it on, it’s been a long night”
Aubershed’s shade rises from red to positively purple.
Chatter and hum continues across the mahogany. After breakfast Mrs. A suggests a stroll in the gardens. Out into the sunlight goes our happy troupe. Not too much boasting from Aubershed, he seems to be fulminating, sulking like a spoilt child at the edge of the group. Taking no chances all the same, make sure to stick close to Gielgud. Mrs. Aubershed takes up the boasting slack.
“Daphne had this made for us in London, just right don’t you think”
“Super, really super”, replies Gielgud
“Yes, we think so too, don’t we darling. And this, Toby Hockenstein the designer made it, especially”
“A wonder to the eye”
Aubershed sort of huurmphs.
I interject. “Dermot, you haven’t forgotten have you, but we promised to call by the Hilliards on the way back”
“Really, did we, oh that’s a shame”
“To lose you so soon. How lovely it would have been to have your company for a little longer, what time are you leaving”. Not too much resistance there from Mrs. A
Aubershed again does a sort of low growling huurmph, I’m slipping from his murderous grasp and he’s not liking it.
So, after mid-morning coffee, we went down those front steps exactly as we went up. After our bags were loaded, out came the hugs. Less one for me. Promises all round of visits in the future. Facing the motor car outwards, I point it towards the long avenue and those painted eagles on the front gates taking flight. Golden gravel crackles under wide tyres as we roll past our hosts. A gentle wave from our side of the glass elicits tight smiles in return. As we turn the first sweep of the drive I slump in my seat, exhausted. God that was wearing. Rummaging next to me, Gielgud searches his pockets. Top right, bottom left, pads himself down. Scratches his head. Delves into his inside left pocket. He doesn’t have a handkerchief. Pass him mine. Shaking his head he smiles impishly, and raises in his left hand twelve point four carats of finest Burmese pink, later to be Lot 263 Sotheby’s Geneva.
A good stone, certainly. But not a diamond. Rather it was a ruby. A good ruby – not a great ruby, but still, a ruby. The 15%? A welcome respite from a term’s school fees, that was about the height of it. I’ve had worse nights.