Read The Rich Are with You Always Online

Authors: Malcolm Macdonald

The Rich Are with You Always

Copyright © 2010 by Malcolm Macdonald
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Cover photography by Jeff Cottenden
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious and used fictitiously. Apart from well-known historical figures, any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Originally published in London in 1976 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Macdonald, Malcolm The rich are with you always / by Malcolm Macdonald.
p. cm.
1. England—Social life and customs—Fiction. 2. Rich people—Fiction. 3. Domestic fiction. I. Title. PR6068.O827R5 2010 823'.914—dc22
2009049938

Part One

Chapter 1

Beador was desperate for money. That ought to have made negotiations simple. Sir George Beador wanted money, and John Stevenson wanted land. Specifically, he wanted twenty acres near Stockton on the river Tees, the best place in the whole country, he decided, for a small iron foundry and smelting works. Sir George Beador had land in Stockton, and John had money in the bank. Yet the negotiations were not proving at all simple.
  
You're a liar,
John thought.
And not even a good liar.
  The young baronet's frank, blue, uncaring eyes wavered as if he read John's thoughts.
  "See here, Stevenson," he blustered. "I'm putting land into this partnership." He was shivering, as if his sincerity had already been challenged. "Land!" He repeated the word, making it sound like "blood." John could see him trying to say "good land" but the words stuck in his throat.
  "And therefore…?" John prompted.
  "Well… I mean to say, just as land conveys certain privileges in life—privileges that mere money can never purchase—don't ye think it should convey the same sort of privilege in business too?"
  John pretended to consider this nonsense while he wondered what lay behind it. Sir George was trying to distract his attention from something. But from what? Nasty, uncharitable suspicions were already forming in his mind. He hoped he was wrong. In a curious way, he almost liked Sir George—an amateur swindler who had not even practised how to lie convincingly. It touched some reserve of sympathy within him.
  One end of a burning log fell onto the hearth. Sir George rose and pulled the bell chain; then he stood, looking directly down at the burning wood. The smoke rising from it made him cough. Even his coughing lacked conviction. It sounded like a smothered laugh.
  Wheezing, Sir George crossed to the tall French window. His water-filled eyes trembled. The sky beyond was a uniform leaden gray, and from it fell a steady rain, warm for early February. While his breath returned, he looked morosely out. "They'll find nothing today. We had the best of it this morning."
  Fleetingly John thought of Nora, still out there somewhere amid the weather; if they had found, she'd be up among the leaders, no matter how strange the country or how cunning the fox. Yet how she'd love to be here too. She'd soon run Sir George Beador to a standstill. And she'd stay to see him broken.
  A footman came in and, without a word, rebuilt the fire. He did not look at Sir George, and Sir George did not even notice him.
  "But you've said you're willing to pay me ten thousand pounds for the land," Sir George wheedled. "Surely you'd not go back on your word!"
  John, counting silently to retain his patience, looked around the room at the books of polished leather and soft suede, warm by the firelight in their tall glass cases. The man was not the fool he seemed. It would pay to remember that. "I will offer ten thousand to secure the land and your partnership. You know the value of your name around Stockton. And elsewhere. Subtract that from ten thousand and you have the price of your land."
  Sir George turned toward him at last. John could not read his face against the brightness of the window, but the voice was cold and morose. "Money! Even one's name is negotiable nowadays."
  "Be thankful for that," John said.
  Sir George laughed. "Aye," he agreed. "I'll not deny it." He came and sat by the fire, cheerful again. The mud that had earlier fallen from his boots crunched on the polished floor. "Should get out of these wet things. I'll regret it."
  John smiled. Sir George looked at him and chuckled, an echo of his earlier laugh. "That's a smug sort of a smile, Stevenson," he said. "You've no cause for it, I may say. You may be dry, but you stink of that wretched mackintosh stuff."
  Sir George would not risk such warmth unless he felt he had somehow mastered this discussion. It was the moment of overconfidence for which John had been waiting.
  "Not railway shares, is it, Beador?" he asked, his voice suddenly crisp and brutal. "Not been speculating there?"
  Sir George's immature cunning could not withstand such an assault. His eyes registered shock, fear, guilt, confusion, and finally anger at having registered anything at all.
  "Dammit, Stevenson!" he said.
  "What have you applied for?" John did not relent.
  "I've been allotted nothing." Sir George Beador regained some of his
composure. But it was too late. The mask had slipped, and all the truculence and all the cold blue blood he could muster would never divert John Stevenson from pursuing this particular inquiry to its end, however many weeks or months it might take.
  "But you have applied?"
  Sir George looked sharply at him, offended.
  "As a partner, I'd have to know," John said. "I'd be liable for any debt of yours."
  Sir George lowered his eyes; his shoulders slumped. "Damn complicated," he said to the palms of his hands.
  "I must know. Before we engage in any deed."
  "I'll draw up a list," Sir George said. His interest in his hands was now intense, making it difficult for John to persist.
  The distant clatter of hooves on sodden gravel announced the return of the rest of the party. It annoyed John; his whole purpose in leaving the field early had been to settle this partnership once and for all. If only Sir George would behave rationally, like a man needing money, instead of with this boyish mixture of dumb cunning and lordly indifference.
  Sir George looked up the avenue and rubbed his hands gladly; for him the returning riders were a rescue party. John kicked a dead ember back into the grate and left the room. A more open show of his annoyance would achieve nothing.
  His way out lay through the gun room, then down the passage to the north wing, which flanked the stable yard. This wing was, in fact, the remains of an H-shaped Tudor manor—or I-shaped, to keep the convention that puts north at the top. The passage was the crossbar, but where the southern wing had once stood, there was now a large square block built in Georgian stone. Its full three stories laid a permanent shadow over the two humbler floors of the old red-brick manor, now called the north wing.
  A large weeping ash dominated the stable yard. Through its tired branches, gleaming in the rain, he saw the riders, some still mounted. The grooms stood waiting to take their charges. He knew at once that they had broken up a fox; why else would people soaked to the skin, weary from a day's hard riding over drenched fields through Hertfordshire gravel and clay, slip so jauntily down, pat their horses' flanks and necks so heartily, and laugh and chatter with such gusto? Vapour from the horses hung above the group, rising with their laughter.
  The last to dismount was Nora, savouring the chase to its uttermost moment. In that brief supremacy her eyes raked around the yard until they fell on John, still sheltering from the rain under the canopy of the Tudor door. The radiance of her smile banished all trace of his annoyance; for a moment their eyes dwelled each in the other's. He smiled reassuringly, conveying no more than a welcome. Already he could imagine the questions lining up in that part of her mind closest to speech—Had Sir George agreed? What were the terms? What was the extent of his debt? She would put them into words soon enough. And what would he tell her? That Sir George Beador had gone to earth—to a very foul-smelling earth?
  She hitched up her habit and ran to him through the pendant branches of the ash, reaching the nearer cobbles in a star-burst of rain droplets shaken from its glistening twigs. "We saw blood. There were only six on terms at the end," she said. Rivers of rain gleamed on her skin. An intoxicating steam curled from her sodden clothing.
  He grasped her outstretched arms and turned her gently in a half-circle, as in a stately dance. "And you among them, I know," he said.
  She grinned, breathed happily in, and nodded. The rest of the party now began walking more slowly toward them.
  "Missed a slashing good trot, Stevenson," Dalgliesh called; he was a captain in the Greys, a friend of Sir George's younger brother. The others, knowing how shallow was John's love of the chase, laughed.
  "I was well represented, I think," he answered.

Sir George, despite the protests of Mrs. Lambourne, his housekeeper, had put the Stevensons in the main guest suite, over the ballroom on the south of the house. All the other guests were of higher rank—indeed, as John had been no more than a railway navvy only six or seven years earlier, it would be hard not to be. It was Sir George's none-too-subtle way of stressing how important Stevenson was to him at this moment; it was also, John was sure, Sir George's highly subtle way of blackmailing him—saying, in effect: See how many friends I will slight for the sake of John Stevenson!
  Nora had not needed to have all this explained to her. As soon as Mrs. Lambourne had left them alone, having pointedly announced that this was the principal suite, Nora had laughed, with more pity than humour, at the transparency of it. "We'll plug that gun for him," she said. "Behave as if it was no less than our due."
  Only Mrs. Lambourne had seemed disappointed at their cool acceptance of the honour.
  Now John left Nora to change from her soaking habit and take a bath, while he did his daily correspondence with his deputies, partners, and subcontractors. In railways alone he was laying about 600 miles of road that year, including Berwick– Edinburgh, York–Scarborough, Faversham–Margate, and, for Brunel, a stretch of the new atmospheric railway from Exeter to beyond Teignmouth. He had many other contracts too: a foundry and some back-to-back housing at Holbeck, just south of Leeds; some harbour works at Newcastle and more at Stockton; some wharfs at Teignmouth; and about fifteen acres of mills and housing in Warrington.
  Often he thought back with something close to nostalgia to the days when he had had just one or two contracts to oversee—when sometimes an entire week would pass without a single important problem or setback. Now not a day went by without news through the mails of at least one headache: a quaking bog in the Vale of York; an uncharted subterranean river in Warrington; nondelivery of the atmospheric tube at Exeter; a scarcity of brick at Stockton, where frost and floods were making the local clay beds unworkable. One needed good partners and smart deputies to work so many contracts at once. Yet he would rather cope with a hundred such troubles, even by mail, than with a single George Beador or his grubby kind.

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