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Rockingdown Revisitedby Sally Neary
PART 3: Black Sheep and Treachery – December 1986
"Barney, have you remembered that Roger is coming over this morning for coffee?" Diana looked up at her husband from the sofa in the sitting-room where she was reading the Sunday newspapers.
"Yes, I've remembered – but do we know what it's about? It's not like Roger to want to call over just for coffee on a Sunday morning, is it?" Barney stood in the doorway, having just come back from his morning ride.
"No – I don't know what it's about. All I know is that Isabelle is away, and he wanted to have a chat with us. He'll probably be here by eleven o'clock."
"OK, well I'll just pop upstairs and shower, and I'll be down before then." He disappeared upstairs.
Just as Barney came down the stairs, Roger's car drew up on the drive and he got out. He waved to Diana through the window, and she went to the door to greet him.
"Morning," he said. "Gosh, it's slippery on the roads this morning!" He gave his sister a peck on the cheek. He looks pale, she thought. There's something wrong – I know it.
"Come on in and get warm," she said cheerfully. "I have just made some coffee."
Roger disappeared into the sitting-room to talk to Barney, and they sat round the fire, which was burning brightly. Diana brought in the tray of coffee and biscuits, and served it. They sat and chatted generally for a while about Christmas arrangements, Barney's forthcoming opening in King Lear in ten days' time and the mysterious offer for Rockingdown Hall.
Roger suddenly went quiet. "I may as well come to the point. I've come over this morning because I wanted to talk to you both. Isabelle and I are separating."
"What!" cried Diana in horror. "But why? What's happened?"
"I think it's been coming for a long time, actually," he said quietly, leaning back on the sofa. "Things have not been right. As you know, Isabelle has always found my working hours hard to cope with, and increasingly she has been spending more time in France with her parents than here. She wants to go back to Paris, permanently."
"But you've been together now almost twenty-five years – it's such a huge step – are you both really sure it's the right thing to do?" asked Diana, anxiously.
"It's what she wants, Di, and I know she has made up her mind. The girls are now both at college. Suzie will be leaving next summer and hopefully then pursuing a career as a chef. She set her heart on that years ago, as you know, and will be well qualified by the time she leaves. Chantal has another year to go on her textiles and design course. Isabelle feels they are old enough to cope, and of course we will both still be there for them – I in London and Isabelle in Paris."
"We have told them," he continued. "We told them last weekend before Isabelle went back to Paris," he said sadly. "They are both upset, obviously, but they said they both want us to be happy, and if we are happier apart, so be it. As far as they are concerned, I am not sure if they will settle in England or France. I know that Isabelle is hoping that Suzie will follow her career in France, and if she does, Chantal will surely follow. I am hoping they will stay here, of course. "
Diana's eyes filled with tears. She looked up at Barney anxiously. He was very quiet.
"What has actually brought this to a head?" asked Diana. "Do you... do you think Isabelle has met someone else?"
"I don't know," he smiled, looking up. "I have asked her – she hasn't admitted it but she hasn't denied it either."
You bet she has, thought Barney. He said, "Have you taken legal advice yet, Roger?"
"No, but I have arranged to see a lawyer next week. I want to be fair, obviously, but we will have to sell the cottage in Normandy because Isabelle wants a flat in Paris. I would prefer not to sell the house in London – I want to keep the family home in tact for the girls as much as myself," he paused. "Obviously, it's hard because despite our differences, I still love her."
Diana walked across the room to sit next to her brother and linked her arm through his. She hated to see him so unhappy. "Have you considered having a trial separation?" she asked. "Sometimes when things are difficult, a period apart can help to clarify things."
"I think we are past that point, old thing," he said, patting her arm. "I think Isabelle really wants a man who can be there far more than I can, and she can't compromise. I can't give up my work any more than Barney could give up acting. It's part of what we are. You and Lucy-Ann have always been more understanding about the demands of a career than Isabelle has."
"But you're one of the top consultant gynaecologists in London. Isn't she proud of that?" asked Diana.
"I don't think she cares," said Roger. "It's provided security, which in some ways she takes for granted, because she has never known anything else since she was a child. She sees my work as just getting in the way." He paused. "Sometimes when I get home having spent twelve hours on and off in surgery, I don't feel very talkative. She just resents that."
"Will Isabelle be here for Christmas?" asked Barney, suddenly.
"I'm afraid not," replied Roger. I had hoped that we could finalise this in the New Year, but she wants to spend Christmas in Paris with her family. The girls have said they will stay in London with me," he said in relief.
"Well, you must all come here, obviously," said Diana firmly. "Mummy and Barno will be here over Christmas, and of course we will be joining up with Snubby and Lucy-Ann and the rest of the family on Boxing Day. I won't have you on your own this year."
"Thanks, I would like that, and I know the girls will," smiled Roger.
"From what you say, for what it's worth, I think you are probably better to draw a line under this now, Roger, and focus on sorting things as amicably as possible," said Barney. "You know that we will be here for you and the girls, and so will Snubby and Lucy-Ann. Both Suzie and Chantal are close to Tess and the twins, and we can all offer support. Six months from now, I'm sure everything will be easier, once the worst is behind you."
"I'm sure you're right," agreed Roger. He looked at them both. "You two don't know how lucky you are, believe me."
"Yes, we do," said Barney quietly. "Despite everything, I never take anything for granted. My father's life taught me that long ago."
* * *
Once Roger had left, Diana walked back into the sitting-room. She swung round as Barney followed her back into the room. "Aren't you upset?" she cried. "I am suggesting to Roger that they have a trial separation and think further about this, and you are urging him to draw a line under their twenty-five years together and consult lawyers! We seem to be on a different page this morning."
"Of course I'm upset," he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Di, please be realistic. I am thinking of Roger's interests here. There is clearly a lot wrong and there has been for some time. He has already accepted that it's over and it's much better that he resolves it as amicably as he can and as quickly as possible."
"It seems so final."
"I think it is," he said softly. "I am almost certain that Isabelle has met someone else. Do you really think she has been spending all this time in Paris with her parents? Do we need a few months apart to find out how we feel about each other?"
"Of course not," she said, her eyes full of tears.
"Well then," he said, kissing her forehead. "Let him resolve this, and we can support him and the girls in the months ahead. It will probably be a relief for him."
"Well, it will be the first divorce in the immediate family, anyway," she said, putting her arms round him.
"The second, actually," he replied. "You are forgetting Dick."
"I would always rather forget Dick," she said. "That was quite different. He deserved it. Hilary put up with far too much for too long."
"Yes, and that reminds me. I didn't have chance to tell you last night because we were so late home, but I met Dick in London yesterday for a drink, at his request."
"Oh, what was that about?"
Barney sat down. "He has big financial problems," he sighed. "He has asked me if I can persuade Dad to agree to sell Rat-a-Tat House."
"But, your grandmother left the house in trust so that would not happen!" Diana looked at him in surprise.
"Yes, but it is a discretionary trust, and it could be sold and the proceeds shared between the five grandchildren, and he knows that."
"You are not going to agree, surely?"
"No, and I know Dad won't," Barney replied. "Granny was quite clear – she wanted to avoid inheritance tax and also for the house to remain in the family. We have already agreed that when we are not all using it for holidays we will let it and use the income to maintain the house."
"He was upset and angry, and I think we haven't heard the last of it. He obviously has to raise some money from somewhere." Barney sighed. "He's obviously furious that Granny virtually bi-passed him in her will and left the majority of his share to Toby."
"Yes, she did it because she knew he would squander it on his gambling and womanising," said Diana. "Your grandmother was very wise and knew what she was doing."
"Yes, but that only makes him even more resentful, particularly towards me. You know how he has always held a grudge against me."
"The other thing I need to tell you," Barney continued, " is that Dad wants to tell Uncle George and Aunt Katherine about mother's first marriage and why she left, because they were so involved at the time, particularly Aunt Katherine. He particularly wants to tell them before the family come over from Spain in February for Tess' wedding. He knows that he can tell them in confidence."
"Well, that is his decision, obviously," said Diana, quietly. "Other than them, I think we should say simply nothing to anyone else, not even the children. The less speculation the better."
* * *
Dick Martin sat back on the sofa in the conservatory of his parent's house in Suffolk and coughed into his handkerchief. This wretched 'flu! In addition to everything else, he had now caught a nasty 'flu bug, and had not reluctantly accepted his mother's offer to stay a few days with them so that she could look after him. His mother had always fussed over him – he had always been her favourite, he knew, and there were times when he valued that.
He picked up the Sunday newspapers and settled down to try and read, although he could barely concentrate. He knew that his uncle Barnabas was due to arrive shortly to see his father, and he would have liked the opportunity to talk to him about Rat-a-Tat House, but he knew that would be impossible.
The doorbell rang, and he heard his mother welcome his uncle into the entrance hall. Dick didn't feel very sociable that morning, and he decided to just stay where he was. It wouldn't be fair to pass on his germs anyway.
The conservatory led from double doors from both the dining-room and his father's study, and he heard his uncle go into the study. The window was open, and he could hear them talking. He began to try and study the crossword, until he suddenly heard the words, "we learned the truth about Tessie and why she left."
He looked up from his crossword and listened intently. He could hear every word. Well, well, well, he thought. So Tessie Lorimer liked having two husbands at the same time did she – one in Spain and one in England. Somehow, he wasn't a bit surprised. I bet Barney wouldn't like that to be public, he thought, certainly not, particularly as he was just about to open in King Lear. He put down his newspaper and closed his eyes to think.
* * *
At just before six o'clock, Snubby walked through the revolving doors of Brown's Hotel in Mayfair out of the cold winter wind and said hello to the concierge, whom he now knew well. The hotel was located about five hundred yards from his office, and he often met clients here for a drink or lunch. There was always plenty of space for a quiet discussion, and he liked the hotel's professionalism and style.
He made his way to the bar, ordered a gin and tonic and sat and chatted cheerfully to the barman. He suddenly looked up and saw Barney walking towards him.
Snubby slapped him on the shoulder. "Thanks for coming over. I wanted to have a chat, and this seemed as good a place as any."
"No problem," said Barney. Snubby ordered him a drink, and they moved over to a quiet table.
"Having had a full day rehearsing, I'm ready for a drink and a chance to unwind before heading home," Barney sat down with his scotch and soda.
"I was just thinking," Snubby smiled. "It seems a long time since we used to have a beer together in the Dog and Whistle when you were just another tuppenny bit actor." He laughed and gave Barney a friendly punch. "And here you are," he continued, "on the brink of yet another stage triumph, as the theatre world and the nation's media await Barnabas Martin's rendering of King Lear in three days' time."
"Don't," groaned Barney. "You know I always get horribly nervous a few days before first night. Even though I know I'm ready, I always think this will be the time when I fall flat on my face and the critics go for me."
"Rubbish," said Snubby. "That's never happened yet, and I'm sure this will be yet another success. We will all be there willing you on, anyway."
"Yes, I know," smiled Barney.
"I wanted to have a chat about this," said Snubby, taking a letter out of his inside pocket. "It's another letter from Robin Lownes about Rockingdown Hall." He passed the letter to Barney.
Barney read it quickly and looked up. "A further increased offer of seventy five thousand pounds?" he said in disbelief.
"Yes, plus all my costs incurred so far and the costs for selling," said Snubby. "That means the offer now stands at six hundred and twenty five grand, plus costs – that is almost half as much again as I paid for it. Someone wants it badly don't they?"
"It's unbelievable!" said Barney. "Well, you could make a very quick and sizeable profit, Snubbs. Are you going to take it?"
"No, I am not," said Snubby firmly. "I am sending a letter of refusal tomorrow morning, and asking again to meet Lownes' client. I am just wondering how high they are prepared to go, if necessary, and why."
"Could it be a celebrity or pop star who has more money than they know what to do with, and who genuinely wants it because it has some sentimental connection?" suggested Barney.
"I wondered about that, but I've made it clear I would only consider selling if I meet the person concerned, and we could do that quite privately. Celebrities buy and sell property all the time and are quite open about it. Why won't the buyer meet me? Whoever it is is not concerned about over-paying, after all."
"Could the property have some value that we are not aware of?" asked Barney. "I know it's listed, but could there be development potential of some sort?"
"No, because I've checked," replied Snubby. "The planning office will be very particular about what we do to it at all, because of its listing. Even converting the coach-house will be something of a hurdle, Alastair has warned me. We are still yet to get planning permission, which I am hoping will be through by the end of January."
"What about its history?" said Barney, pensively. "We know that during the war the Government requisitioned the property for some kind of secret work. We know it was then empty until we discovered the smuggling racket going on underground. Could it be anything to do with either of those activities, do you think?"
"Unlikely," said Snubby, "but we can ask Bill to check and then have a chat with him about it over Christmas."
"Well , there has to be a good reason why someone wants Rockingdown so much," said Barney, "and there must be a way of finding out what it is."
* * *
"I'm so glad the family drove up from Devon and Cornwall yesterday," said Lucy-Ann, looking out at the garden. "It's snowing quite hard again now."
"Yes, they would have had a hell of a journey today. In fact, they probably wouldn't have got here," agreed Snubby. "Anything I can do to help?"
"No, the girls have laid breakfast. We are all ready and everyone should be down soon."
"I hope everyone will be able to get over here on Boxing Day," said Snubby. "Jeff won't be very happy at the Fox & Goose if we have to cancel. We have a booking for 30 people."
The telephone rang, and Lucy-Ann answered it. "Snubby – it's Don Lapsley for you, calling from his car-phone."
"Morning Don," said Snubby, as he took the call. "This is early for you."
"Snubby, I'm sorry to bother you so early," came Don's voice. The line wasn't a good one, and Don was clearly trying to talk as loudly as possible. "I' m here at Rockingdown Hall. I came down this morning to finally tidy up before the Christmas break, and found that there has been a break-in."
"Where exactly?" asked Snubby.
"Through the French doors at the rear. Someone has simply smashed the glass and unbolted the door to get in. We obviously don't have an alarm on the place yet."
"Well, there's nothing there to take," said Snubby. "Was it a tramp or something?"
"I don't think so, Snubby," came Don's voice. "We had several inches of snow yesterday and only a four wheel drive could get up this drive right now. Tramps don't drive four-wheelers! When I arrived, there were tracks of a car, presumably a four wheeler, leading right up the drive, and so that must have happened late last night after the snow-fall."
"What were they after, I wonder?" said Snubby. "There were footprints, presumably, outside?"
"Yes, just one set from what I can see," came Don's voice, loudly. "I have checked all through inside, and found whoever it was obviously went upstairs. There are pools of water at the bottom of the stairs, presumably from snowy-boots, and the water has semi-frozen."
"You're quite a detective, Don," said Snubby, feeling perplexed.
"There's something else," Don added. "I also found on the top floor a brown leather glove – a man's glove – and it doesn't belong to any of my guys. They don't work in gloves."
"That's interesting!" said Snubby. He was wondering if this incident was a chance one or not.
"Where exactly was the glove?" he asked.
"In one of the bedrooms on the second floor, just below the loft entrance. I think whoever it was tried to get up into the loft, although goodness knows why."
"Hold onto the glove, Don," said Snubby, thinking quickly. "The police may want it as evidence, should this be more significant than it seems. Have you notified the police?"
"Not yet, Snubby, but honestly, I don't think they will be interested today. It's the day before Christmas Eve, the weather conditions are terrible, and nothing has been taken, after all. I think I should just board up the door to make it secure until after Christmas for now. Don't try and get down here, will you, because the weather is getting worse. More snow is forecast."
"No Don, I shan't try and get down today," said Snubby. "I agree, perhaps you would just make it secure and then please head for home yourself. I will come down to have a look just after Christmas. I want to know what this is all about."
"Ok Snubby – well have a good Christmas and please give my best wishes to your dear wife," said Don. "We'll catch up next week."
Snubby rang off and turned round to Lucy-Ann. "What exactly has happened?" she asked.
"There has been a break-in at Rockingdown Hall by someone who drives a four-wheel drive, who visited the house late last night, despite the weather conditions, and who wears brown leather gloves. They also apparently climbed up into the loft-area while they were there. What do you think about that?" Snubby looked at his wife.
"Someone is looking for something," she said, looking at him. "And somehow, I think it has something to do with these offers for Rockingdown Hall."
* * *
"Thank goodness the snow has melted and everyone has been able to travel," said Lucy-Ann, as they arrived at the Fox & Goose for lunch on Boxing Day. "It's ok for us, as it's only five minutes away, but the Martins would have had difficulty getting here from Ricklesham."
"And here they come now," said Jack, as Barney's car drove into the car-park. Barno followed behind with Susan Lynton next to him and his sister, Katherine, in the seat behind.
Within ten minutes, the whole family had gathered together, and Snubby was handing out glasses of mulled wine to everyone. He loved playing host, and he welcomed the opportunity to gather the whole family together at Christmas. He made a special fuss of Barney's Aunt Katherine, who had been unwell recently. Diana looked at him and smiled. Since he had been a small boy, Snubby had been charming old ladies, and he was still doing it!
"And here are the two love-birds," said Snubby, teasingly, as Leo and Tess came in together, holding hands. "Hello Snubby," said Tess, kissing him warmly on the cheek. "Only two months to go, you know," he quipped. "But there's still time to change your mind!"
"Don't you dare suggest such a thing!" said Tess. "Leo can't change his mind now – my dress has been made!"
Lucy-Ann looked round happily. She was never happier than when the whole family were together. Philip and Caro were home, and hopefully permanently now. Dinah and Alastair were there, and she knew Dinah was happy. Bill and Allie seemed to be in sparkling form. Barney and Diana were in good spirits, chatting to Dinah and Alastair, together with Leo and Tess. They will soon be in-laws, she thought. I do hope it works out. Roger was talking to Jack and Sue, Barno and his mother, and putting on a brave face, thought Lucy-Ann sympathetically. The young cousins were all talking and laughing together. We are so lucky, she thought, to have so much. Once there was just Jack and me, and now we have all this. Life has been so good to us.
After lunch, coffee was served, and Snubby moved over to sit between Bill and Roger. Barney and Diana were sitting opposite. "What do you think, then Bill, about this Rockingdown saga?" he asked.
"I agree it's a mystery," said Bill, stirring his coffee. "Had it not been for the break-in, I would have guessed that it was a case of someone who had planned to buy the property at auction simply making a huge effort to buy it now, assuming they had pots of money and they just wanted it badly – maybe a well-paid celebrity, for example. I think the break-in and its circumstances suggest differently."
"Do you think it has something to do with its history?" asked Roger.
"Well, as Snubby knows, I have made some checks," continued Bill. "The MoD had a military headquarters there between '42 and '45 until the end of the war. There were a number of army headquarters in Dorset during the war, and this was an empty property of course, and an easy one to take over."
"When you first visited Rockingdown in '49, it had been vacant for four years," he added, "and not really properly habited since Lady Rockingdown died in '41."
"What happened to the smugglers we came across there, Bill?" asked Barney.
"They were a pretty bad lot, and had done time before – they all received sentences of between five and ten years. Several of them had further spells in prison after that," he added.
"Do you think this has anything to do with them?" asked Roger.
"No," said Bill. "For a start, none of them would have the kind of money needed to buy Rockingdown. They didn't really gain financially from their smuggling in the long term, because most of it was discovered and confiscated. Two of them are now dead, the others living comparatively modestly in the north of England. I have had every one of them checked."
"Well, I am still on holiday until Monday," said Snubby, "and I plan to go down to Rockingdown on Sunday to have a good look over the place. I want to take a good look at the cellars and the loft area, and see if there is anything there of some value. It's the only thing I can think of."
"I am on duty on Sunday," said Roger, regretfully, "or I would come with you."
"Sunday is my day off, of course," said Barney. He looked at Diana. "I think we would both like to come down with you, and have another look over the place." Diana nodded.
"I think we will also go and have a chat with Miriam Downes," said Snubby, thoughtfully. "I'll give her a call to check it's convenient, but she may be able to provide some clues."
* * *
Snubby's car turned into the drive at Rockingdown Hall. Snow still lay over the grounds, and the building looked grey and desolate, although elegant in stature as they approached the house on this cold December day.
Snubby unlocked the front door, and Barney, Diana and Lucy-Ann followed him in, followed by Laddie at Snubby's heels. "Let's look at where the break-in was, first," said Snubby. The French door to the rear had been boarded up by Don Lapsley and was still quite secure.
"Let's bring in the ladder so that we can get up into the loft areas," said Snubby. He and Barney went back out to Snubby's Range Rover and lifted the ladder from the roof-rack, which they had brought with them. They carried it inside and upstairs.
"From what I can see," said Barney, "there are three entrances to the loft areas from two separate bedrooms and the main landing. "We will take a look at each area. I'll go up and check. I'm used to doing this sort of thing, and I am probably fitter than you, Snubbs" he laughed.
Barney and Snubby propped up the ladder against one of the loft entrances, and Barney climbed up, as Snubby held the ladder firmly. He pushed open the loft entrance, and climbed in. He took a torch from his pocket.
"There's nothing here," he called. "It's very dusty and dirty, but the loft is completely empty." He spent a few minutes looking round, his torch shining into every corner. He pushed open the small double-doors which led to one of the balconies over the reception hall. He eventually appeared at the loft entrance. He climbed onto the ladder, replaced the loft cover, and climbed down.
"Let's try the other loft entrances, then," said Snubby. He and Barney carried the ladder to another of the bedrooms that had a loft entrance. Once again, Barney propped up the ladder, and entered the loft through the loft opening. He looked round thoroughly and opened the small double doors that led onto the balcony in the hallway and looked down. After some minutes, he appeared again at the entrance, and climbed back down the ladder.
"Nothing," he said. There is no furniture or anything of note up there, other than lots of cobwebs and dirt."
"There is one more loft entrance to go," said Snubby. They carried the ladder to the third loft entrance on the landing, and once again Barney climbed up. As he came down the ladder again, he said, "there were some old chairs up there – about twenty of them, which must have been there years, but that is all. There was no exit to the balcony over the hall from that one."
"Well, that's it," said Snubby. "We have looked at every loft area and there is nothing there. Whoever broke in must have found the same thing, unless there was something of value there, of course, and he removed it! Having said that," he added, "Don Lapsley would have already noticed if there was something of value in the loft."
"The only other place anything could be hidden is in the cellars," said Diana. "All the main rooms of the house are empty, and we have checked the cupboards."
"I have already looked at the cellars," said Snubby. "There was nothing there, but we should probably check again."
Barney and Snubby carried the ladder carefully down the stairs. They left it lying in the hallway, and opened up the rear door from the kitchen to the outbuildings. Once inside, they opened up the trap door to the cellars, and both began to climb down the old stone steps.
"I don't want to go down, particularly, do you Di?" asked Lucy-Ann.
"No – there's no need. I don't really want to get filthy," said Diana.
"Well, can you see anything?" she called impatiently down the cellar entrance.
Within five minutes, both Barney and Snubby climbed back up the cellar steps. "There's nothing there." said Barney.
"Well, we've checked everything. I can't see there is anything of value here," said Snubby. "I think we should now head off to see Miriam Downes to wish her a happy new year and have a good chat."
* * *
Miriam Downes opened the door of Rockingdown Cottage and smiled warmly. She had become fond of this family, and felt pleased that her much loved home would become part of their business venture to restore Rockingdown Hall.
"Come in," she said, "and do get warm."
Snubby, Lucy-Ann, Barney and Diana walked in, greeting her politely.
"I thought you might like this," said Lucy-Ann, offering Miriam a beautiful red poinsetta plant. "Happy New Year to you."
"How lovely," said Miriam. "Please come and sit down." They took their seats round the fire in her pretty sitting-room. She had a tea tray and a plate of mince pies and Christmas cake sitting ready, and began to pour cups of tea.
"Well, how is Rockingdown Hall progressing?" she asked.
"Slowly for now," said Snubby. "We are currently still in the process of getting planning permission, but my builders are concentrating on doing some remedial work for the moment. And there is plenty to do," he added.
"Miriam," Snubby put down his tea cup and looked up at her. "There is some sort of mystery around Rockingdown. Since my firm bought the property, I have received some very substantial offers from someone who wants to buy the property badly. It didn't go to auction, of course, and someone was very disappointed. And then, we had a break-in just before Christmas."
"Do you think the break-in is connected?" she asked.
"I don't know yet, but it's likely," Snubby replied. "Would you tell us more about the history of Rockingdown, as you know it? It just might help."
"Well, you know about the Rockingdowns and their history," said Miriam, looking across at him. "When Lady Rockingdown died, the property passed to Lord Rockingdown's cousin, Sir Edwin Naseby." She paused. "He never lived there, but he was a treacherous man – undoubtedly the black sheep of the family."
"Oh yes? Why was that?" asked Snubby, suddenly interested.
"When Britain went to war in 1939, not everyone was in favour," she said solemnly. "There were people from all walks of life in the top echelons of society who were against it – members of the House of Lords, MPs, senior business people – men who effectively sympathised with what Hitler was doing," she said sadly. She paused for a moment and then looked up. "My husband suspected for some time that Sir Edwin was one of those people, and it was ultimately proved that he was."
"Lord Rockingdown's cousin was a Nazi sympathiser?" asked Snubby.
"Yes," she said quietly. "There was Lord Rockingdown, protecting his country's interests in Egypt, where he ultimately lost his life, and at the same time his cousin had tried to prevent the war and was working with the Germans," she said. "I believe he used Rockingdown Hall for secret meetings to that effect for a while." she added.
"Did he now?" asked Snubby.
"He was ultimately interned in 1942," she added. "After that, the Government requisitioned Rockingdown Hall, and it was used by the military until the end of the war."
"Yes, we actually know that," said Snubby, looking across at Barney. "What happened to Sir Edwin?"
"He died just after the war," she said.
"Did he have a family?" asked Snubby.
"I think so," said Miriam. "But we heard nothing more about his family after he died."
"Miriam – I would just like to go back to Rockingdown Hall again with Barney to have a final look before it gets dark. Would you mind if Lucy-Ann and Diana stay here with you for a little while so that we can have some more time up there?"
"Of course not," she smiled. "I would be delighted to have their company."
Snubby and Barney both left Diana and Lucy-Ann talking to Miriam, and drove back up to Rockingdown Hall. "That was a revelation, wasn't it?" said Snubby as they pulled into the drive. "Rockingdown's cousin as a Nazi sympathiser? I just wanted the chance of talking it through with you while we are still here, and to see if we could get any more inspiration."
They opened up the house again, and walked round the rooms together. Snubby looked up at Barney and suddenly noticed he looked rather pale.
"Barney, is there something wrong?" he asked. "You look worried."
"Yes, I am," he said. "I was glad for the opportunity to come back to the house with you because I need to talk."
"What is it?" Snubby asked.
"It's about Dick," said Barney. "I have a real problem with him."
"What is it now?"
"Firstly, I need to tell you something else – about my mother," said Barney. He sat down on the window-sill and looked at Snubby. "When Diana, Dad and I went to Seville in the spring to meet Neta, we found out rather a lot. Before my mother left Spain in 1930 to come to England, she married a man at 18 at her mother's insistence. Her mother was seriously ill, and wanted my mother to have the security she needed when she was no longer around. Life was difficult in those days for single women in Spain."
"Yes, go on," said Snubby, sitting down on the window-sill next to him.
"My mother married a guy in the military, ten years older than she was. She hardly knew him, and had only met him with her own mother present. Six months after they were married, he was apparently killed in an explosion, and she was given compensation by the Spanish Government. She was nineteen at the time."
"Knowing how difficult life was in Spain for single women, she left for England, where she had grown up with her parents until her father died, and joined up with a circus and trained as a trapeze artist and animal trainer, as you know," said Barney. "She met my father three years later in Scarborough when Dad was working at the theatre there."
"They fell in love, married, and she went to live with Dad and my grandparents in Little Wendleman. She didn't tell Dad about her first marriage but apparently intended to during a planned visit to Spain the following year. As we know, that never happened as she left after three months."
"Yes," said Snubby. "I think I know what you are going to tell me."
"Neta wrote to her three months after they were married to say that her first husband, Rodrigo, had not been killed and had returned to Seville looking for my mother. He had been a prisoner of war in South America."
"Oh God," Snubby looked at Barney aghast. "What a terrible predicament."
"I have seen the letters which my mother wrote to Neta during the months which followed," said Barney with difficulty. "She was obviously distraught, and concerned most of all that she would bring shame to my father's family and ruin their reputation. She knew if she told my father about it, he would want to stand by her and yet there was not really a way out. Her husband had been a strong Catholic, and divorce or even an annulment was not an option. She left Dad because she felt it was the only thing she could do. She was of course just pregnant at the time, although she didn't know it."
"Barney, how ghastly." Snubby felt deeply moved. "How does your father feel about this?"
"Strangely, he feels something has been resolved," said Barney. "It's tormented him for years, and he always wondered if he or his family had made mother unhappy. They clearly didn't. She left because she loved them and couldn't see a way out."
"What has this to do with Dick?" asked Snubby.
"Well, somehow he has found out," said Barney. "We agreed we would keep the story to ourselves between Dad, Diana and me, but Dad wanted to tell Uncle George and Aunt Katherine because they had both been so involved at the time. He told them in complete confidence just before Christmas. I can't believe Uncle George broke that confidence, but Dick was apparently staying with his parents when Dad went over to discuss it. He must have overheard something."
"And so what has happened?"
"Dick has huge financial problems, and wants me to sell Rat-a-Tat House so that he can receive his share. Dad and I are trustees, as you know." Barney paused. "He says that if I don't agree to sell, he will make my mother's story public, and suggests the media will have a field day with it, particularly as I have just opened in Lear."
"What?" said Snubby. "That's blackmail! The unspeakable..."
"I know what he is, Snubby," said Barney darkly. "And believe me, he is not bluffing."
The treacherous slime! thought Snubby. He felt shocked to the bottom of his heart. He suddenly remembered that Miriam Downes had used the same word to describe Lord Rockingdown's cousin, Sir Edwin Naseby. He put the thought to one side for later.
"You know how he has always resented me," said Barney. "He was the eldest grandchild before I came on the scene, and he resented Granny's affection for me. He felt I displaced him. Then there was Diana. I think he seriously wanted her, and I pipped him to the post there, didn't I?"
"He was never even in the running," said Snubby. "Di only ever had eyes for you, but you just needed to wake up, that's all."
"Jealousy can be a powerful and corrosive thing, particularly when there is a woman involved" said Barney. "Shakespeare understood it and often articulated it beautifully."
"For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
"Othello – Act II, scene 1" said Barney. "That just about sums up Dick's attitude to me."
"And what are you planning to do?" asked Snubby.
"I won't capitulate, that's for sure," said Barney testily. "He is obviously desperate and says he needs to raise a hundred and fifty thousand pounds to settle his debts and avoid the business going into receivership and becoming bankrupt personally."
"That means he needs about a hundred grand," said Snubby, grimly. "After tax, his share of Rat-a-Tat wouldn't cover that."
"No, but I suspect he'll get the rest from his mother," said Barney. "She's always been a soft touch as far as he is concerned. He knows of course that I would want do anything to stop my mother's reputation being annihilated in the press, but I won't submit to blackmail."
"And just think of the effect on Dad!" he continued. "He is now seventy-seven and is still well remembered for his own theatre career as an actor and director. The press have been writing about me for years – the circus boy made good and all that... .goodness knows what they would make of it all. I don't really care for myself," he added. "It's Dad and my mother's reputation I am most concerned about."
"He can't be allowed to get away with this," said Snubby firmly. "He must have taken leave of his senses! Leave it with me a few days, Barney. We need to deal with Dick once and for all."
* * *
Snubby sat in his office and looked up at the clock. It was two minutes to eleven and he expected his eleven o'clock appointment would arrive on time. He wasn't looking forward to this meeting very much but it was necessary.
His telephone buzzed at exactly eleven o'clock. "Mr Lynton, Mr Martin has arrived," said Julia.
"Show him in Julia please."
The door opened and Dick Martin walked in. Snubby didn't shake his hand but just waved towards the seat opposite and Dick sat down. He decided no preamble was necessary.
"I have asked you to come and see me this morning to make you a proposal," said Snubby, finding it hard to look Dick Martin in the eye.
"Oh, yes, what kind of proposal?" asked Dick, his brown eyes fixed on Snubby.
"I understand from Barney that you have financial problems, quite serious ones and need financial backing fast. How much do you exactly owe – the truth!"
"A hundred and five grand, to be precise," said Dick quietly. "That's the sum I need to keep the Bank off my back and the business afloat."
"What about your flat in London? That must be worth quite a sum."
"I borrowed against that two years ago," said Dick, sullenly. "The Bank will take my flat if I don't come up with the figure I have just mentioned in the next month or so."
"A sorry mess," said Snubby. "I am aware of the details of your discussions with Barney," he said, looking at Dick directly, not attempting to conceal his contempt. "I propose to lend you the money you need as a long term loan."
"I also propose to offer you a job, as Commercial Director in my Australian joint venture company in Perth – Lynton McCauley. It's a property company run by an old Australian school friend of mine, Bruce McCauley, whom I trust implicitly. Despite your weaknesses, you have good commercial sense, and this job is an opportunity. Naturally, there are a number of conditions to both the loan and the job."
"And what are they?" asked Dick, looking rather taken aback.
"One – the loan is to be paid back at 1% over base rate over a fifteen year period. If you die during that period, the loan is to be paid off from your estate and insurance."
"Two – you have to accept immediate professional help for your drinking and gambling problems, which seem to me to be the source of your financial trouble."
"Three," continued Snubby, looking at Dick unflinchingly. "I want a list of all your creditors and evidence of all the debts involved to be provided in the next three days. The loan will not be forthcoming until I am satisfied about the details."
"Four – you will be on six months trial on a temporary secondment, under Bruce McCauley's supervision, while you are applying for your work permit. Subject to that being satisfactory, you will be offered a three-year contract, and will stay in Australia for the whole of that time. The terms of the contract will allow a return to the UK only in circumstances which are a life or death situation concerning your parents, brother and sisters or your son, and only with my agreement."
"Five – there will be no mention to anyone within or outside the family about Barney's family's business, and particularly his parents' marriage and the circumstances of their break-up. In fact, nothing should be said or done towards Barney or his family which may in any way hurt them."
Snubby paused and looked at Dick. "If any of the above conditions are not complied with, particularly the fifth one, your contract will be immediately terminated and the loan called in. Is that perfectly clear?"
"That's blackmail!" said Dick, rudely.
"No it isn't," said Snubby. "It is a very good job offer and a generous loan, naturally with conditions. If you keep to your side of the bargain, you will actually turn your life around. It's an opportunity for a completely new start."
"What about the family business? I can't just go off to Australia and leave everything behind?"
"Why not?" asked Snubby. "James has been virtually running the business for the last five years while you have been drinking and gambling away the profits. They will all cope fine."
"Are you doing all this for Barney?" asked Dick mockingly.
"Yes, for Barney!" said Snubby, trying to keep his temper. "It's called family loyalty! Also for Diana, their children, Barney's father and the memory of his mother, who having found herself in the predicament she did, gave up the man she loved rather than risk ruining the reputation of his family – your family!"
"Sez who?" said Dick. "Who knows what her motives were when she left – she was pregnant after all! She was just a circus girl, for God's sake, a common slut!"
Snubby's green eyes blazed. He wanted to throw Dick Martin out of his office there and then, but he knew he had to finish this interview properly.
"Well, what is it to be?" he asked quietly.
"You've got a deal. When do I get the money?"
"Once you have arrived in Australia and started the job. The job will start on 1st February, which means you need to be out in Perth by 28th January. The money will be available on 1st February, and you can advise your creditors they will be paid directly by my firm on 8th February – the funds will take a week to clear."
"But that's only four weeks away!" said Dick. "I will have a lot to sort out."
"Well you had better get cracking then, hadn't you?" said Snubby briskly. "It means of course that there won't be time for a leaving party, and you will of course miss Tess' wedding."
"You know, when I first met you when you were a teenager, I thought you were a complete idiot," said Dick. His tone was again mocking, but Snubby thought he saw a glimmer of respect in his eyes.
"You were not alone," Snubby smiled. "Many people did. Naturally we are all entitled to make the occasional error of judgement."
He sat back in his chair. "Unfortunately, in your case it was one of a whole catalogue of errors too numerous to mention."
* * *
After Dick Martin had left, Snubby leaned back and gave a sigh of relief. It had been easier than he had anticipated. He still wouldn't be happy until the contract was signed and Dick Martin had arrived in Australia, but that would hopefully be in the next few weeks. Dick didn't really have a lot of choice, thought Snubby, unless he obtained the funds he needed from somewhere else.
Despite his comparative wealth, Snubby knew he would struggle to find the six figure sum in cash he would need to satisfy Dick's creditors in the coming weeks; his planned investment in Rockingdown Hall would take a substantial amount of funding once work began in earnest. For a moment he considered accepting the offer made by Robin Lownes for Rockingdown Hall. The immediate profit he would make, even after tax, would cover the amount he needed to pay off Dick's debts.
No, he thought. I am not going to sell. I am not giving up now. I am just going to sit back and see what happens next.
To be continued...
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