Gerry too was up and about fairly early this morning. This was the day on which she had planned to set fire to her money. She normally came down much later than Tom but today, while he was still fussing about on the telephone upstairs, she went into the little room under the stairs and undid all the bundles of notes and strewed them around freely so that they would burn more quickly. Then she removed all the bottles of brandy, except one, a very large one of the best quality, which she needed to start the conflagration. Tom was down by this time, strutting about on the verandah, so she went to the telephone and rang up all the newspapers and the television networks, and told them that if they sent their reporters round in precisely forty five minutes they would get a story well worth having. Then she rang through to the gate with orders that the Press was to be let in immediately upon arrival.
As she was returning to the little room under the stairs she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Tom had sat down to breakfast with a rather seductive looking female who was leaning close up to him. Although never jealous, usually she took good care that the proprieties were observed, but today such things did not seem to matter. She knew that Dick would be arriving soon enough, and in any case her last glimpse of her money was more important. She took in a pot of coffee with her, carrying the tray in herself. Having locked the door behind her, she poured out a massive measure of brandy, to have a few last moments of peace and plenitude before everything went up in flames, in the room where she had spent so many happy hours. It was not only that she was saying goodbye to a large segment of her past. Though she was not quite sure what would happen, she felt on the threshold of a momentous new era in her life and, though she would never admit it even to herself, she regretted the past security her little room represented.
Tom was quite delighted by the arrival of the Leninist. He had had a very bad morning. First Dulcie had rung up, while he was still in bed, to tell him that a telegram had arrived for Dick from Harry, asking him to send several Muslims. This in itself did not worry Tom too much, for he assumed, quite rightly as it happened, that it was a summons to Singapore, and he told himself and Dulcie that there was nothing to worry about, except on Harry’s behalf since he would find himself involved in a smuggling ring if he started dealing with Dick and his business associates. Nevertheless, Tom could not help feeling that an association between Dick and Harry, especially if several Muslims were involved, might represent a political threat.
A few moments later Matthew rang up to say that there was a telegram from Harry to Phyllis telling her that he would lead her march. This was much more worrying. Tom had heard vaguely of the march before, but it had seemed to him an insignificant affair, full merely of muddleheaded goodwill. Harry’s participation however, indeed his leadership, put a very different complexion on the whole business particularly in view of the inflammatory conference he seemed to be conducting in Singapore. Tom immediately assumed too that the Muslims referred to were required for the march, and he had a sudden terrified vision of both his brothers, and his wife too perhaps, as well as her cousin who was the mother of one of his leading ministers, all banded together to lead a procession that represented the entire nation of which he had thought himself hitherto the absolutely unchallenged leader.
The morning papers exacerbated his fears. Veronica’s telephone call and Indra’s editor’s enthusiasm for the cause had resulted in a skilful juxtaposition of the two items, along with an elaborate description of the conference in Singapore as well as of the projected purpose of the march. It seemed to Tom that altogether this represented nothing other than a fundamental assault on his own authority. It wad not, he told himself as he came down the stairs, that he felt particularly threatened; though he was hurt by the suggestion that others could look after his people better than he could, he did not doubt that he and his forces could deal quite easily with any threat presented by such muddleheaded idealists. What was more upsetting was the treachery of his brother Dick, for whom he had done so much—and behind that too the possible shadowy figure of Gerry.
It was for this reason that Tom was quite delighted by the call from the front gate. The announcement that Daisy Belle had returned from the past, doubtless to throw himself once more upon his, Tom’s, mercy, now a Presidential mercy and an Executive one too, went a long way towards restoring his equilibrium. It helped him to return to his pristine vision of himself, that of the father of his country, always at the service of those who needed him. No matter that his own family did not appreciate, him but instead plotted against him. Shakespeare himself had said that the head that wore a crown lay uneasy, and that it was sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have an ungrateful child. Yet though Capitalists and Bishops, and even Brothers and Wives, took up arms against him, a simple Communist had in his hour of need come like a child to his shelter. The news came as music to Tom’s ears, and he almost rushed to the verandah in his haste to live up to the trust that had been placed in him.
The first few moments of their meeting together were joyous. They chaffed each other about old times, and Tom went so far as to say that the Leninist looked even more ravishing now than he had done during the war. He was told that that must be the effect of the specially prepared and spongy breasts, though the Leninist added very firmly with what might almost have been a wink that they were not to be touched. After that however it seemed to Tom that the conversation was not going quite as it should. For one thing, the Leninist refused to tell him where he had been sheltering. It was an axiom with Tom that anyone who wanted his help should commit himself wholly to him. This unanticipated coyness on the part of the Leninist, accompanied by delicate musings on the obligation not to be disloyal to those who had protected him in his hour of need, Tom found most irritating. A child ought to trust a father not only to know what was best for it but also to give their just deserts to those who had been assisting it in its course of iniquity. Tom felt very strongly that the Leninist’s attitude was in breach of the moral obligations his visit entailed.