Authors: Shirley Conran
Also by Shirley Conran
The Amazing Umbrella Shop
The Magic Garden
Down with Superwoman
This paperback edition published in 2012 by Canongate Books Ltd,
14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE
Copyright © Shirley Conran, 1982, 2012
The moral right of the author has been asserted
First published in 1982 in the USA by Simon & Schuster
and in Great Britain by Sidgwick & Jackson
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available on
request from the British Library
ISBN 978 0 85786 390 4
Export ISBN 978 0 85786 800 8
eISBN 978 0 85786 536 6
Book design by Mary Austin Speaker
This digital edition first published in 2012 by Canongate Books
This book is for
LACE: THE TRUE STORY
. . .
. . .
. . .
The cold, hard metal dug deep into
the child’s body. She forced her knuckles into her mouth and bit against the bone as hard as she could to fight pain with pain. She didn’t dare scream. She just mumbled, “Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus,” as she bit her hand.
Tears ran down her cheeks and onto the paper pillow. Her body was trembling and clammy with cold sweat. Outside she could hear the cheerful noise of a busy Paris street, but in this small brown
room there was no sound except the scraping and her mumbling and the occasional clink of steel against steel. She would count to ten and
she’d scream! Surely it couldn’t go
any higher, whatever he was pushing up inside her? It felt like a dagger, persistent, cold, merciless. She wanted to vomit, to faint, she wanted to die. She couldn’t bear it to go on and on
and on. . . .
The man was intent on what he was doing as she lay on the hard table, her knees forced high and apart by the steel surgical stirrups. It had been horrifying from the moment she entered this
place, the dark brown room with the hard, high table in the middle. A line of silvery instruments and a few odd-shaped bowls lay on another table; there was a camp bed and a cloth screen in one
corner of the room. A white-aproned woman had pointed to the screen and said, “You can take off your clothes behind that.” Naked, she had shivered behind the screen, not wanting to
leave its protection, but the woman had taken her briskly by the wrist and tugged her to the table in the centre of the room. She had been positioned on her back so that her narrow hips rested on
the edge of the table, while her legs were pulled apart by the woman and lifted into the cold surgical stirrups. The shivering child felt unbearably humiliated as she gazed into the powerful
There had been no anesthetic. The man wore a crumpled green surgeon’s gown. He had muttered some instruction to the woman and then he had inserted two fingers into the child’s
vaginal canal; he held the cervix with his fingers as he placed his other hand on her abdomen to feel the size and position of her uterus. Then she was swabbed with antiseptic, and he pushed in a
chill speculum shaped like a duck’s bill, which kept the walls of the vagina apart and enabled him to see the opening of her uterus. The speculum didn’t hurt, but it felt cold and
menacing inside her small body. Other instruments were also inserted and then the pain started as the cervix was opened slowly with the stainless steel dilators until it was wide enough for the
operation to start. The man picked up the curette—a metal loop on the end of a long thin handle—and the excavation began. The curette moved in and around the uterus, scraping the life
out of her; it took only two minutes, but the time seemed endless to the suffering child.
The man worked quickly; occasionally he muttered to the woman who was helping him. Hardened though he was, he carefully avoided looking at the child’s face; her little feet in the stirrups
were reproach enough as he swiftly finished the job and removed each bloodied steel instrument.
As the uterus was emptied it gradually contracted back to its original size, but the child’s body was jerked with agonizing cramps until the contractions stopped.
Now she was wailing like an animal, gasping as each new pain clawed her. The man abruptly left the room; the woman swabbed her; the cloying smell of antiseptic filled the air. “Stop making
such a noise,” hissed the woman. “You’ll feel fine in half an hour. Other girls don’t make such a fuss. You should be grateful that he was trained as a real doctor. You
haven’t been messed up inside; he knows what he’s doing, and he’s fast. You don’t know how lucky you are.” She helped the thin, thirteen-year-old girl off the table
and onto the camp bed in the corner. The child’s face was gray, and she shook uncontrollably as she lay under a blanket.
The woman gave her pills to swallow, then she sat and read a paperback romance. For half an hour there was no sound in the room except for the child’s occasional stifled sob. Then the
woman said, “You can go now.” She helped the girl to dress, gave her two large sanitary towels to put in her pants, handed her a bottle of antibiotic tablets and said, “Whatever
happens, don’t come back here. You’re not likely to hemorrhage, but if you start bleeding, call a doctor
Now get home and stay in bed for twenty-four hours.”
For one moment the woman’s carefully controlled, impersonal toughness weakened. “
Don’t let him touch you for at least a couple of months.” Awkwardly
she patted the child’s shoulder and led her through the passage to the heavy front door.
The child paused outside on the stone steps, wincing in the sharp sunlight. Slowly, painfully, Lili walked along the boulevard until she came to a small café where she ordered a hot
drink. She sat and sipped it, feeling the sun and the warm steam on her face as a jukebox pumped out the new Beatles hit, “She Loves You”.
T WAS A
warm October evening in 1978 with the distant skyscrapers sparkling in the dusk as Maxine glanced through the
limousine window at the familiar New York skyline. She had chosen this route for that view. Now, in the discreet, hushed comfort of the Lincoln Continental, they stood stuck in traffic on the
Triboro Bridge. Never mind, she told herself, there was plenty of time before the meeting. And the view was worth it—like diamonds sprinkled across the sky.
Her neatly folded sable coat lay beside the maroon crocodile jewel case. The nine maroon-leather suitcases—all stamped in gold with a tiny coronet and the initials M de C—were
stacked beside the chauffeur or stowed in the trunk. Maxine travelled with very little fuss and at enormous expense, usually someone else’s. She took absolutely no notice of luggage
allowances; she would say, with a shrug of the shoulders, that she liked comfort; so one suitcase contained her pink silk sheets, her special down-filled pillow, and the baby’s shawl,
delicate as a cream lace cobweb, that she used instead of a bed jacket.
Although most of the suitcases held clothes (beautifully packed between crisp sheets of tissue paper), one case was fitted as a small maroon-leather office; another carried a large medicine box
packed with pills, creams, douches, ampoules, disposable syringes for her vitamin injections and the various suppositories that are considered normal treatment in France but frowned on by
Anglo-Saxons. Maxine had once tried to buy syringes in Detroit—
could they not tell the difference between a drug addict and a French countess? One had to look after
one’s body, it was the only one you were going to get and you had to be careful what you put on it and in it. Maxine saw no reason to force terrible food on the stomach merely because it was
suspended thirty-five thousand feet above sea level; all the other first-class passengers from Paris had munched their way through six overcooked courses, but Maxine had merely accepted a little
caviar (no toast) and only one glass of champagne (nonvintage, but Moët, she observed with approval before accepting it). From a burgundy suede tote bag she had then produced a small white
plastic box that contained a small silver spoon, a pot of homemade yogurt and a large, juicy peach from her own hothouse.
Afterward, while other passengers had read or dozed, Maxine had taken out her miniature tape recorder, her tiny gold pencil, and a large, cheap office duplicate book. The tape recorder was for
instructions to her secretary, the office duplicate book was for notes, drafts and memos of telephone conversations; Maxine tore them off and sent them on their way, always retaining a copy of what
she had written; then when she returned to France, her secretary filed the duplicates. Maxine was well organised in an unobtrusive way; she didn’t believe in being
and she couldn’t stand bustle or hustle, but she could only operate when things were orderly; she liked order even more than she liked comfort.
When Madame la Comtesse booked a reservation for a business trip, the Plaza automatically booked a bilingual secretary for her. She sometimes travelled with her own secretary, but it was not
always convenient to have the girl hanging round one’s neck like a pair of skates. Also, as the girl had now been with Maxine for almost twenty-five years, she was able to keep an eye on
things at home in Maxine’s absence; from the condition of her sons and her grapes to the times when Monsieur le Comte returned home and with whom.
Mademoiselle Janine reported everything with devoted zeal. Since 1956, Mademoiselle Janine had worked hard for the Château de Chazalle and she shone in the reflected glory of
Maxine’s success. She had first worked for the de Chazalles twenty-two years ago, when Maxine was twenty-five and had opened the château as a historical hotel, museum and amusement
park, before anybody (except the locals) had heard of de Chazalle champagne. Mademoiselle Janine had fussed around Maxine from the time her three sons were babies, and she would have found life
intolerably dull without the family. Indeed, she had been with the de Chazalles for so long that she almost
like one of the family. But not quite. They were—and always would
be—separated by the invisible, unbreakable barriers of class.
Like New York, Maxine was glamorous and efficient, which was why she liked the quick pace of the city, liked the way that New Yorkers worked with neat, brisk speed whether they were serving
hamburgers, heaving garbage off the sidewalk or squeezing fifty cents’ worth of fresh orange juice for you on a sunny street corner. She appreciated these fast-thinking people, their tough
humour, their crisp jokes, and privately thought that New Yorkers had all the
joie de vivre
of the French, without being nearly so rude. She also felt at home with New York women. She
enjoyed observing, as if they were another species, those cool, polite, impeccable women executives as they operated under the merciless pressure of the grab for power, the lunge for money, the
lusting after someone else’s job. Like theirs, Maxine’s self-discipline was colossal, but—at the age of forty-seven—her grasp of people-politics was even better. Had it not
been so, she would not have been travelling to meet Lili.
That gold-digging slut!
But Maxine was undoubtedly intrigued by Lili’s offer and it was partly her curiosity that had brought her all the way across the Atlantic. Again she wondered whether she would accept the
job. She would have thought that Lili—who must be about twenty-eight years old by now—would never have wanted to see Maxine again. Maxine remembered that long-ago expression of startled
pain in the flashing chestnut eyes of the troublemaker whom the press had nicknamed “Tiger-Lili.”
She had been amazed to receive the telephone call, to hear that low, sensual voice sound so astonishingly humble, as Lili had asked Maxine to meet her in New York to decorate Lili’s new
duplex on Central Park South. Lili wanted her new home to be a showpiece, a conversation-stopper, and she knew that Maxine could supply the correct blend of erudite elegance and spirited style. The
budget would be as large as was necessary, and of course all expenses for Maxine’s trip to New York would be paid whether or not she decided to accept the commission.
There had been a pause, then Lili had added in a penitent voice, “I would also like to feel that something no longer has such painful memories for you. For so many years I have lived
unhappily with my conscience, and now I dearly wish to do whatever is necessary to be at peace with you.”
After this apology there had been a thoughtful pause, then the conversation had turned to Maxine’s work. “I understand you’ve just finished Shawborough Castle,” Lili had
said, “and I also heard about the stunning job you did for Dominique Fresanges—it must be wonderful to have a talent such as yours, to rescue historic houses from decay, to make so many
homes beautiful and comfortable while they still remain a heritage for the world. . . .”
It had been a long time since Maxine had enjoyed a holiday in New York by herself, so eventually she had agreed to make the journey. Lili had asked Maxine to tell nobody of the meeting until
after it had taken place. “You know the press won’t leave me alone,” she had explained. And it was true. Not since Greta Garbo had there been an international movie star who so
intrigued the public.
As the limousine started to crawl forward, Maxine glanced at her diamond wristwatch—there was plenty of time before the six-thirty meeting at the Pierre. Maxine was rarely impatient; she
disliked being late, but assumed that everyone else would be. That was life today—undependable. If a situation could be improved, Maxine would generally do it with a slight, one-sided smile,
a look that combined conspiratorial charm with a hint of menace. If a situation could
be improved, then she folded her hands in her lap and imperturbably accepted
la loi de
She happened to catch sight of herself in the back mirror of the limousine and leaned toward it, lifting her jaw above the cream lace jabot and poking it sideways at her reflection. It was only
five weeks since the operation, but the tiny scars in front of her ears had already disappeared. Mr. Wilson had done an excellent job and it had only cost a thousand pounds, including the
anesthetist and the London clinic bill. There was no tautness, no pulling at the mouth or eyes; she simply looked healthy, glowing and fifteen years younger—certainly not forty-seven. It was
sensible to have it done when you were still young, so that nobody noticed, or, if they did, they couldn’t pin you down; today you never saw an eyebag on an actress over thirty, or on an
actor, come to think of it. Nobody had noticed her absence; she had been out of the clinic in four days and had then spent ten days in Tunisia where she had lost seven pounds, a satisfying bonus.
She simply could not understand why some people went all the way to Brazil and paid heaven knows what for their lifts.
Maxine was a firm believer in self-improvement, especially surgical. One
it to oneself, was her justification; her teeth, eyes, nose, chin, breasts, all had been lifted or braced
until Maxine was a mass of almost invisible stitches. Even so, she was no great beauty, but when she thought back to her girlhood and remembered the prominent nose, the horselike teeth and her
painful self-consciousness, she was grateful that years ago she had been persistently urged to do something about it.
It had not been necessary to do anything about her legs. They were exquisite; she stuck out one long pale limb, rotated an elegant ankle, smoothed the blue silk skirt of her suit, then opened
the window and sniffed the air of Manhattan, oblivious to the strong carbon monoxide content at street level. She reacted to New York as she did to the champagne of her estate—with happy
delight. Her eyes sparkled, she felt high and ebullient. It was good to be back, despite the traffic jam, in the city that made you feel as if every day was your birthday.
Judy Jordan looked like a tiny, blond, exhausted Orphan Annie, although she was forty-five years old. In her Chloë brown velvet suit, and a fragile, cream silk blouse, she
sat in the crowded bus as it crawled up Madison Avenue. Impatient by nature, Judy always took what came first, a bus or a cab. She had in fact recently been photographed by
amazing act of getting on a bus. This had given Judy a great deal of satisfaction, because there had been a long period in her life when she couldn’t afford anything
Suddenly she felt sad. As if she were touching a talisman, she fiddled with one of the matching rings she wore on her middle fingers, each one an exquisitely carved coral rosebud on a thick gold
band. Apart from these she didn’t much care for jewelry—her passion was for shoes. Her walk-in shoe closet contained row upon row of exquisitely handmade boots and shoes. Judy decided
she might just celebrate tomorrow by going mad in Maud Frizon. Why not? Her partner had told her only this morning that they were worth nearly two million dollars
It was increasingly hard to remember life in her old studio on East 11th Street, from which she’d been evicted because she couldn’t pay the rent. But Judy forced herself to remember
those days. They made the present all the more pleasant by contrast.
There was another reason why Judy never wanted to forget what it felt like to be short of money in a big city. That was how a lot of her readers felt. They bought
for its optimism,
its encouragement, its sensuality, and they looked on the magazine as a
The truth was that Judy travelled to work by bus because she wanted to stay in touch with her readers.
Reconciling the opposite sides of her public image was sometimes difficult. On the one hand, she liked to be seen as a warmhearted, straightforward, hard-working woman who’d been known to
lunch off a street corner hot dog, a working girl much like her readers. On the other hand, those same readers expected her to lead a glamorous social life, dress the way they dreamed of dressing,
and be a celebrity herself. So, when Judy was not eating hot dogs she lunched at Lutèce, dieted at the Golden Door when necessary, and travelled constantly. Like New York, she set a brisk,
optimistic pace. On those occasions when—suddenly—she plummeted into black loneliness, she gritted her teeth and bore it. Loneliness from time to time was the price of freedom, and
freedom wasn’t a stars and stripes, Boy Scout idea, it was doing what you damn well wanted to do—all the time.
The doors of the bus hissed open, sucked in more passengers and hissed shut again. A sallow, middle-aged woman collapsed into the seat opposite Judy, settled her shopping bag on her knees, then
suddenly groaned. “I wish the buildings would go up in flames, then there’d be no more problems.” She said it again, then yelled it. No one in the bus took the slightest notice
until the woman got off; then there was a general rustle of relief, a few smiles and shrugs—just another New York crazy who didn’t care what anyone thought of her.
But that was also a sign of maturity, mused Judy. You became an adult when you stopped caring what other people thought about you and started to care what
. . Was it a feature? she wondered professionally. She thought about a possible author, celebrities to interview, a quiz, and made a quick mental note to get one of the editors working on it.
“Are You Grown-Up Yet?” Not a bad title. Not a bad
either, she thought to herself, unable to answer it. She still felt as childlike inside as she looked on the outside,
although she would never allow anyone to know it. Vulnerability was bad for business. Judy preferred her reputation as an
a baby tycoon, the lethal little lady publisher who
had already come a long way and intended to go much further. The image that Judy projected was that of a woman to be reckoned with—a woman who made you think ten percent faster when you were
with her, but also a woman with a weakness for pretty shoes.
She was making up for lost time. Until she was fifteen, Judy had worn only sensible black shoes.
Behind the lace curtains her family had been painfully poor. Her parents were devout Southern Baptists, greatly interested in sin and its avoidance. In order to avoid sin, Judy and her young
brother Peter were never allowed to do anything on Sundays. They could sing in church but they weren’t allowed to do so at home, they were not allowed to listen to the radio, because radio on
Sunday was sinful: the big, elaborate, walnut radio, with the wooden sunray pattern over the speaker, was the focal point of the living room, but on Sundays, apart from cooking noises, the only
sound in the house was the clatter of the old icebox that stood by the door to the back porch.
Naturally, smoking and drinking were sinful. Nevertheless, her Grandad, who lived with them, would disappear from time to time into the cellar for a drink from the bottle that he kept hidden
behind the boiler; perhaps he justified it to himself as medicine. After his Sunday drink, Grandad always went to the back porch to his rocking chair, which creaked under his weight as he beamed at
the apple tree at the end of the yard and waited for the hereafter. Judy’s parents must have known about the whiskey because you could smell the stuff on his breath; her mother’s mouth
would tighten, and she would give a tiny, delicate, disapproving sniff, but she never said anything. Grandad was supposedly a teetotaler.
The man in the plaid shirt seated across from Judy looked uneasy and lowered his eyes furtively to check his zipper. She looked away quickly—she must have been staring again. When she was
lost in thought, her dark blue eyes glared through the big tortoiseshell frames with a ferocity that was as alarming as it was unintentional.
She wondered again what the purpose of this meeting with Lili was, and why the mystery?
First there had been the contrite telephone call—and God knows, Lili had every reason to sound contrite. Ultimately, of course, the bust-up with Lili had been good for Judy’s public
relations business, but that hadn’t been Lili’s intention that night in Chicago. . . . “If you could find it in your heart to forgive me for the very bad way in which I behaved. .
. .” Lili had pleaded, in that deep voice with the slight continental accent. . . . “I was so ungrateful. . . . So very unprofessional. . . . I am ashamed when I think about it. . .
.” In spite of herself, Judy had started to mellow; it wasn’t just because of Lili’s stardom or her magnetism, it was simply because Judy had enjoyed working with her. They really
had been a terrific team until that night in Chicago.
Lili had said there was a special matter that she wished to discuss with Judy, “something of a very confidential nature I should like to speak to you about personally.”
Judy didn’t waste her time on anybody. Dozens of strange proposals were put to her each week, and most of them didn’t get past her secretaries. But this was Lili, whose name had been
linked to more celebrities than that of any other woman, Lili, whose waiflike beauty was a twentieth-century legend, Lili, who
The last fact counted most with Judy. Lili was worth at least a thousand words for
whatever happened at the meeting, so Judy agreed to it. Eager and charming as a child, Lili
thanked her and asked her to keep their rendezvous a secret. Judy hadn’t intended to tell anyone anyway. But she was intrigued; like herself, Lili had also succeeded in life fast,
mysteriously and against the odds. She must be about twenty-eight or twenty-nine now, although she didn’t look it.
Last month’s telephone call had been followed by a confirming letter on thick, cream paper with the single word LILI centrally engraved in navy Bodoni typeface; for some reason Lili had no
What could she have in mind? Judy wondered. Backing? Surely not. Publishing? Not likely. Publicity? No longer necessary.
It was six-twenty and the traffic was still motionless, so Judy jumped off the bus and walked the last few blocks. She always liked to arrive on time.
The cab smelled of stale cigarette smoke, the backseat had been slashed and the guts were spilling out; it was also stuck in traffic on Madison Avenue, but the driver, a surly
Puerto Rican, was mercifully silent until suddenly he barked, “Where you from?”
“Cornwall,” said Pagan, who never thought of herself as English. She added, “The warmest part of Britain,” and thought that wasn’t saying much. Pagan’s pallor
was due to poor circulation; she had always suffered from cold weather, which was eleven months of the year at home. As a child she had hated to put her naked feet out of bed on winter mornings and
hurriedly plunged her chilblains into sheepskin slippers. Her first frenzied love-hate relationship was with her warm but uncomfortable winter underclothes; the scratchy, cream wool combination
suit that covered her from neck to ankle, with sagging sanitary trapdoor that unbuttoned at the back; the prickly, flannel Liberty bodice, a vestlike garment that ended at the stomach with long,
dangling suspenders to hold up her thick woolen stockings.
When Pagan was a child, at seven every morning a little housemaid had scurried around Trelawney to light the stoves and the fires, which were banked down or turned off every freezing winter
night at eleven p.m. no matter what time everyone went to bed. Smelly cylindrical oil stoves stood before the lace curtains of the bathrooms and minor bedrooms, open coal fires smoldered in the
principal bedrooms and great, glowing logs were piled in the hall and drawing room, but the long hallway and bathrooms were always freezing, and the food from the home farm was lukewarm when it
finally arrived on the manor table. The uneven flagstones in the dining room always felt cold, even in summer, even through Pagan’s shoes; when she thought no one was looking, Pagan used to
tuck up her feet under her bottom and away from the icy floor—but it was always noticed and she would be told sharply to “sit up like a lady.”
However, the worst part of winter had been getting into bed under the cold heaviness of the linen sheets. Once beyond the heat range of the oil stove, Pagan’s bones would ache and her body
become gradually numb until sleep mercifully anesthetized the dull pain.
At this memory, although it was hot for October, the forty-six-year-old Pagan shivered in her pink wool Jean Muir coat.
As usual, Pagan was staying at the Algonquin, where she felt oddly at home. The lobby had the slightly seedy, unwarrantedly superior air of a London club with its high-backed, shabby leather
wing chairs and dim, parchment-shaded lights. Her room was small but surprisingly pretty after the calculated gloom of the lobby. A comfortable, pink velvet armchair stood on the grass-green
carpet; artful lace scatter pillows, cunningly placed brass lamps, a few bird pictures in golden frames spoke of the skillful decorator’s touch. The old-fashioned, newly smart brass bedstead
reminded Pagan of the nursery at Trelawney and the dark-green-on-white trellis wallpaper swept her mind back to the conservatory where her grandfather used to read the
surrounded by slumbering dogs, palms, ferns and tropical plants. The conservatory was heated by long, hot, brown tubes that writhed around the walls at floor level and burned your fingers if you
touched them. It was easily the warmest, if not the
warm spot in that drafty mansion, especially when the wind was blowing straight off the sea, sweeping harshly over granite-grim
cliffs to the rhododendron-encircled lawns. The conservatory was also a terrific place to hide from her mother; with a book and an apple, Pagan would slither like a lizard under jade fronds and
jagged malachite spikes, concealed by yellow froth and spumescent greens.
Pagan could hardly remember her father, who had been killed in a car crash when only twenty-six. Pagan, then three years old, had been left with a vague memory of a scratchy cheek and a
scratchy, tweed-kneed lap. The only traces of her father were the row of silver trophy cups, which stood on the oak shelves in the study, for school swimming matches and county golf, faded sepia
photographs of cricket teams, and a group of laughing people at a beach picnic.
After his death, until she was ten and had to go to school in London, Pagan and her mother made their home with Grandfather at Trelawney, where Pagan had been both spoiled and toughened. When
she was three years old, she had been taken out into the bay and lowered over the side of the dinghy in Grandfather’s arms to learn to swim. When she was thirteen months old she had been put
on her first pony; the reins were placed in her baby hands and her grandfather walked her around the paddock every morning so that she would learn to ride before she was old enough to be
frightened; she first hunted with Grandfather Trelawney when she was eight.
It was her grandfather who had taught Pagan courtesy. He listened politely and with genuine interest to everybody, whether it was one of his tenants, the village postman or his neighbour, Lord
Tregerick; the people Grandfather couldn’t stand were what he called “the money chaps”—lawyers, bankers, accountants. Grandfather never looked at bills, he simply passed
them on to his agent to be paid.
Pagan had always been surrounded by servants, many of whom were there because her grandfather hated to dismiss anyone. Somebody put Pagan’s gloves on, somebody pulled her boots off,
somebody brushed her hair at night, and somebody put her clothes away, so the little girl grew up to be compulsively untidy. Pagan always remembered the soft rustle of the housemaid’s skirt
as she carried brass cans of hot water to the bedroom in the early morning and stood them by the rose-patterned washbasin; the blissful warmth of the butler’s pantry, where Briggs cleaned the
silver and kept the flower-decorated Minton dinner service on shelves behind glass doors; the cozy warmth and fragrance of the big kitchen; the resigned, sour face of her grandfather’s valet
as he scratched the mud from Pagan’s riding clothes in the brushing room.
Pagan seldom saw her mother, and when she did put in an appearance she was obviously bored. She hated the country; there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Cornwall in the 1930s was hardly
sophisticated and Pagan’s mother certainly was. Short hair sleeked beetle-neat against heavy, dead-white makeup; the daily masterpiece, a scarlet glistening mouth, was painted over her real
mouth, which was much thinner; red traces of Pagan’s mother could be found on glasses, cups, towels and innumerable cigarette butts. Mrs. Trelawney often went up to London, and when she came
back, she brought her London friends down for the weekend. Pagan disliked them, but nevertheless, she picked up much of their Mayfair slang, and for the rest of her life her conversation was dotted
with their dated, breathless exaggerations.
Now in 1978 Pagan still missed her grandfather and regretted that her husband had never met him—or stayed at Trelawney before it had been transformed. Not that her grandfather would have
had anything in common with her husband, who was interested only in books and his work. He took no interest in Pagan’s fundraising—although without the money she raised, he would have
been unable to continue his research. Exasperated, she sometimes scolded him. When she did, he would hug her and say, “Darling, I’m sorry white mice are so expensive.”
Pagan knew that he was proud of her work, though at first her forthright business methods had alarmed him. Sometimes she suspected they still did.
She always hated to leave her husband, but after his heart attack it was unwise for him to travel; he was better off at home with help close at hand, a semi-invalid, but still one of the
wittiest, cleverest and most distinguished men in the world. Although neither of them spoke about it, the past sixteen years had been a very special bonus—but sixteen years of constant care
to keep him alive and working would be triumphantly worth that effort if now, as seemed likely, he might at last succeed within the next ten years. The question that they never asked each other was
whether he could
until then. That was why Pagan hated to leave her husband, even to discuss the possibility of a major donation to the Institute.
And from such an unexpected source.
In the scarf-scattered, gumboot-glutted, coat-choked, stone-paved passage of her cottage on the Trelawney estate, Pagan had answered the telephone and heard the low, husky voice of Lili herself.
As casually as if she were suggesting meeting in the next village, Lili had asked Pagan to travel to America to meet her on a matter that was both urgent and confidential. Pagan had been astonished
by the telephone call. International film stars weren’t in the habit of phoning her out of the blue and she had never met Lili, though of course she’d heard about her. One could hardly
avoid hearing about that romantic, talented, sad creature.
On the telephone, the film star had spoken in a quiet, serious voice. “I’ve heard so much about your projects,” she said. “I’m fascinated by the wonderful work your
husband is doing and I’d like to discuss a way in which I might be of help.”
When Pagan had politely pressed Lili for further details, Lili had explained that her American accountant had suggested several possible ways in which Lili might contribute, some extending over
several years, and he had suggested a preliminary meeting in New York with Lili’s tax advisers. It sounded as if a really big contribution was going to be made and a very generous check had
then been sent to Pagan to cover her first-class travel expenses.
Sitting in the stationary cab and listening to the driver swear in Spanish, Pagan wished that she didn’t feel so utterly awful. The waving mahogany hair that fell to her shoulders always
looked fine, but today her face was puffy, her blue eyes dull, her eyelids swollen, and she looked all of her forty-six years.
New York time is five hours earlier than London. Pagan had arrived the previous evening, and after only a few hours’ sleep, she woke at two in the morning, which was breakfast time in
Britain. She wasn’t able to concentrate on her book and she hadn’t been able to get to sleep again. She never took sleeping pills or any other medicine, not even aspirin.
She was terrified of getting hooked again.
Sleek black skyscrapers loomed slightly darker than the sky. You don’t know how many shades of black there are until you’ve been in fashion or the printing
business, Kate thought, as she hurried along West 58th Street, slightly late as usual. When she left the office at six-ten the sky had been pale blue and cream, but now, at six-thirty, it was dark.
For a moment Kate thought nostalgically of the long English autumn twilights, then she paused at Van Cleef & Arpels. The Empress Josephine’s diamond coronation tiara sat in state in one
window; Kate preferred it to the tiara in the other window, the more magnificent Russian Imperial diadem that had candy-sized emeralds set in a three-inch-thick blaze of diamonds. Again Kate
wondered why she hadn’t let Tom pull her through the revolving doors last Monday. Most men hadn’t even
of Van Cleef, let alone know where it was, let alone offer to do a
little shopping there. “Let’s go get Josephine’s tiara,” Tom had said, tugging at her hand, and when she shook her head he had still tried to pull her in, pointing out that
emeralds went with anything. Why hadn’t she wanted to accept an expensive present from him? After all, her birthday was next week: she would be forty-six years old and she didn’t care a
bit. She didn’t need expensive reassurance; she had got what she had always wanted—a wonderful man and a wonderful job.
Now that she was a successful magazine editor, nobody would ever guess that for years Kate hadn’t known what she wanted or where she was going, that she had felt as little in control of
her life as a rag doll being tossed around in a washing machine. She felt she was being pushed around, all right, but she didn’t know in which direction. “Now, girl,” her father
always said, “remember you’re as good as anyone, Kathreen, remember that your dad’s got the wherewithal and that’s what
Nothing to stop you being
of the pile, and that’s where your dad expects you to be, make no mistake about it.”
The “wherewithal” had been the vast profits from the rows of identical small, squat red-brick houses that her father had built across central England. The “wherewithal”
had paid for better clothes, better cars, better holidays and a better home than her schoolmates’, but it had
been what counted; if anything, the “wherewithal” had been
responsible for unspoken resentment from some of the other girls at her London day school. Kate had
felt that she was as good as any of them, and neither was she
dreaded the arrival of the end-of-term reports, anticipating her father’s rages, the punishments and—most alarming of all—her father’s attempts to coach her: the more he
shouted the less she could remember.
She had been a cowed girl. The anger that she had never dared to show had built up in layers of silent resentment. She knew she was a moral coward, but she was terrified that argument would
rouse her father’s anger. So, like her mother, Kate always said as little as possible or fled.
Once they knew her well, men were always surprised to discover how easily they could make Kate do exactly what they wanted without a word of complaint from her. But then, when they pushed her
too far, she simply disappeared without a word of explanation.
As Kate couldn’t stand her father when he was alive, she couldn’t understand why, whenever one of her books hit the best-seller list, the wistful thought came unbidden into her head,
“Wish the old bugger could have seen
.” She couldn’t understand why she wanted the ogre of her youth, dead these twenty years, to be proud of her; she couldn’t
understand her disappointment because her father had died before she discovered what she was top
before she could shout, “Daddy, Daddy, you bastard, I’ve made it!” Kate
didn’t take much notice of her success, and neither did her friends, most of whom dated from the days when she was unknown, but her dad would have relished it, he would have cut her pictures
out of the newspapers, kept all her cuttings and alerted his buddies when she was about to be on television.
Certainly this new book sounded an easy winner, another potential best-seller. Lili’s story—true or false—should hit the list a week before publication. She was beautiful,
romantic, irresistibly fascinating, and the public lapped up every detail of her life; for instance,
many times had she read that Lili always wore white, whether it was satin or silk,
tweed or cotton? And of course Lili was a woman with a past—and what a past!
Before Lili had reached international status, when she had still been just another continental B-film actress who stripped in every movie, Kate had once spent some time hanging around the set in
a wet wood outside London and had subsequently written the first big story to treat the teenage Lili as a potential star. Kate had not heard from Lili since the interview, but the piece had been
syndicated around the world, which is why, Kate supposed, she had been summoned to the Pierre. Today, all the stars wanted an “as told to” autobiography. Nevertheless, she had been
surprised when Lili had telephoned in person and asked to meet her secretly.
Kate hurried toward the Plaza, smelled hot bagels and damp autumn mist, passed a group of blank-faced, bald-headed women, swathed in silver fox and lace, spotlit in Bergdorf’s window;
stopped at the traffic light beyond which was a blue police car, with two cops inside, both as bald and blank as the plaster models in Bergdorf’s. Kate crossed the street. Dark green, elegant
awnings stretched from apartment building doors across the sidewalk to where bored chauffeurs sat in spotless dark cars. Kate nodded to the blue-uniformed doorman, who saluted her as she swung
between the marble pillars of the Pierre Hotel, through the revolving doors and along the wide, cream corridor.