All the characters in this story are real people and some of their dialogue is from recorded sources.

 

         The fourth of September 1845 dawns misty.

         Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson glares at the lack-lustre view from the first floor chambers of Charlton House. He curses mildly under his breath but a songbird reminds him of the untimeliness of the hour and he is forced to acknowledge that many a glorious late summer day has had such an unpromising start.

         He is about to turn his attentions to his wardrobe when a knock on the door is followed by the unwelcome entrance of his manservant.

- Mrs Drummond wishes to speak with you, sir.

- Confound it man! The damn woman will have to wait.

- Yes, Sir Thomas.

The manservant retreats.

Sir Thomas cares enormously for his appearance.   His attentions have been on nothing else but this day's activities for weeks and its significance is confirmed by his sister's unnaturally early rising, So he is paying particular thoughtfulness to his toilette. Such meticulousness, he believes, will have its reward in both conciliating his allies and alienating his enemies.

 To welcome his charming sister at breakfast, and, he hopes, to verify the determination of his ambitions to demonstrate himself a worthy businessman thus breaking free from the constraints of his father's will, he hangs on his bulky frame dark grey breeches, a new style shorter length coat which reveals a blood red waistcoat flecked with gold thread with matching cravat.

- Celia. He greets her as warmly as his disposition will allow.

- Thomas. She accepts the touch of cheeks and the brief mingling of hands.

- I trust you slept well.

Celia Drummond did not sleep well. Of her brother's four inherited homes this is her least favourite. Yet she has her own reasons for enduring the discomfort of the hard, dark Jacobean furniture that Sir Thomas has painstakingly restored in order to compliment the style of the house.

At her place at the breakfast table she finds a highly polished wooden box with a brass key gleaming in its lock. She looks with small mistrusting eyes at her brother.

  - It's for you. I had it made especially.

          She turns the key, opens the box and finds lying in claret coloured velvet, a solid silver trowel.

- You are to lay the first stone.

She looks at it then at him. - You know I cannot do that when I don't approve of your actions.

He bangs his hand down on the table and raises his voice. - You will do it. We must display unanimity.

- Our father's failure to award you building powers on the Heath was not an oversight but a deliberate intention.

           - There is nothing to prevent me building at my own expense, merely from granting building leases to others.

            - And this way both landlord and builder's profits go in to your pocket.

            - Since parliament has so frequently failed me, I have no other choice.

 - I am surprised you have the resources to accomplish your design. The way you live… She waved an arm carelessly about her dark but luxuriant surroundings, taking in candelabras, tapestries, sideboards. - Why could you never see that the terms of the will were there to protect you from yourself?

            He waits before he answers her, curbing the twenty five year anger that has consumed his life since their father's death. He must have her on his side. There are dissenters enough - the so called Defenders of the Heath. How it would strengthen their cause if one of them were his own sister.

            He reaches for his coffee cup and calmly sips. Helping a dollop of coddled egg on to a corner of toast he says, - I understand that there have been some difficulties?

Her exasperation turns to suspicion.

- I believe that my brother-in-law has made some foolish speculations.

She opens her mouth to speak then changes her mind.

-  Now you are not to worry. You know you may always turn to me for help. I have allocated you a villa on the East Park Estate.

           - I will have nothing to do with it, she replies.

So, she wants more than that. He starts to enjoy the duel knowing that he will win as she will never gain more than he is prepared to give her. But their impasse is interrupted by the entrance of a servant.

- Mr Gwilt, sir.

- At this hour?

Mrs Drummond blushes. So Sir Thomas asks he be sent in.

Mr Gwilt, a tall rakish gentleman, enters. He heads directly for the lady's chair and says - My dear Mrs Drummond, what a delightful surprise!

-  You two know each other? How right Sir Thomas is to be forever distrustful.

- I had the honour and delight of showing Mrs Drummond the plans for the Estate at our offices only last week.

While Gwilt continues inadvertently to secure the trap she is caught in, Sir Thomas dares a smile at his sister. She shows him no expression.

- If I remember correctly, Gwilt is saying, - you indicated a particular interest in villa VI.

- The one with the lake? Sir Thomas is thrilled to find his sister so easily disarmed.

She has no choice but to concede her deceit. - And why should I not take an interest in my brother's affairs?

Sir Thomas leans back in his chair and laughs heartily. -Gwilt. Sit yourself down and have some breakfast. His good humour returned Sir Thomas rises and pulls the bell for attention. - Let me show you this. He goes to his sister's side of the table and lifts up the wooden box, carries it to his guest who looks inside and exclaims,

-  What a gift!

Sir Thomas can barely conceal his triumph. So thrilled is he to, yet again defeat her in her lifetime's hopeful but futile scheming, he forgets to question Gwilt on his unexpected presence at their table.

 

The knowledge that he has found his sister out puts Sir Thomas in excellent spirits throughout the morning as his house fills slowly with his guests. He has ordered his best carriages and ordered several more to drive in procession to the Heath.

Half an hour before they are due to leave Sir Thomas beckons his cousin, the Earl of Wicklow, towards a corner where they may speak privately. Sir Thomas has little patience with the flabby fop but he has certain uses being incongruously intimate with the complications of property law.

-  Splendid day, splendid. The Earl places a sweating palm against Sir Thomas's broad hand and attempts to shake it. - Marvelous turn out. What an occasion!

Sir Thomas tolerates the limp handshake for as long as suits his purpose.

- Yes, he replies  finally releasing himself. - But we are not all quite gathered yet.

            The fat ringed hand reaches expertly for a glass of champagne from a passing tray. - Really? Certainly everyone I know is present.

             - Not quite everyone.

            The Earl of Wicklow smiles nervously at his relation who gives no hint of his meaning.

            At this moment the doors are opened and a butler announces - Mr Justice Waverly and Mrs Altringham.

            Sir Thomas doesn't move to welcome the late arrivals but watches the crowd retreat slightly and hears the murmurs ripple and come to voice in the Earl - What here? Together? In public? and delights in the alteration of his cousin's countenance from a pleasured pink to a jealous wounded green.

- I think this is uncalled for, sir. It's perverse even by your standards.

Sir Thomas moves closer, placing his lips not far from one of the Earl's curiously small ears and hisses into it - There are no secrets to be kept from me. Consort with my enemies, if you will, but be aware how little it takes to turn them into my associates. And vice versa.

Sir Thomas moves away. But with unprecedented censure the Earl recalls him - You and your damned Heath! You should be warned, sir.

Sir Thomas turns - Perhaps you'd care to explain yourself?

- Mrs Altringham is concerned about nothing more than the best possible house in the best possible position. Be assured, once she has secured that, with my, I now see, only too eager help, do you think she will tolerate a hundred houses just like hers, all around her?

- You always were a fool, Wicklow. A fool for a shapely ankle. If either you, or she believes that I am concerned whose party she champions you are both bigger buffoons than I ever took you for. Now excuse me, I have guests to see to.

Standing tall and proud, inside Sir Thomas is shaking. Even the delightful prospect of a cat-fight between the Misses Drummond and Altringham for the finest house on the Heath cannot distract from his feelings of betrayal. First his sister, then his cousin. Who next?

Mrs Altringham greets from across the room and begins the slow walk towards him. A sharp pain shoots across his head bringing the thought that among these grotesques motivated by greed and united by their lack of humanity, he, Sir Thomas must be more cunning, more unscrupulous to stay even one step ahead, meaning he must be akin to the devil himself.

A gentle touch on his arm and the terrible thought is gone. A voice that he must not trust for an instant expresses concern. He assures her he is merely overcome with emotion, not ill health. She is sympathetic as there are still papers to sign. He confirms his anticipation in attending her opening night. Lady Macbeth is it? He applauds her suitability. Unsure of the compliment and not willing to reveal her confusion she is forced to accept his invitation to accompany him in his own carriage on the journey to the ceremony, not before expressing her unworthiness.

 

The carriages have been called. Gwilt pulls Sir Thomas aside.

- I must speak to you.

- Your timing, sir, is extraordinary.

Gwilt is most humble in his apologies. -There have been distractions. May I travel with you?

Sir Thomas cannot believe his ears. - I think not! he booms. - You have your place among the other… he spits out the word with disdain -professionals, and waves his hand towards the back of the line of carriages at what is little grander than a pony trap.

- There are problems that need addressing, Gwilt implores.

- Then they must wait. He signals to his footman.  

- I was at the site yesterday…

- What? Still here?

- If you don't speak to me on this matter you are in danger of being publicly humiliated.

Sir Thomas is taken aback, not so much by the news itself but by the manner in which it is presented. - Do you dare to threaten me, sir? I need hardly remind you of the considerable sums from which you, among others, have benefited. He lets a disapproving eye rest on an ostentatious signet ring weighing down the little finger of Gwilt's right hand. - Answer me one question and one question only. Do any of these problems have an immediate bearing on today's ceremony?

- I only wish to keep you informed. It is not easy to gain audience with you.

-  Answer the damn question!

- It's only that-

- Do they?

- No.

As far as Sir Thomas is concerned the interview is over. A warm welcoming hand is extended to Mrs Altringham who has gauged her entrance with immaculate timing. She accepts his hand and climbs into the carriage.

The journey takes roughly one hour. As they pass through green fields, open heathland, clusters of villages before crossing the city itself, Mrs Altringham inquires of Sir Thomas in her light carefree manner that implies a scatter brain and therefore invites confidences, - Surely any of these spaces are at your disposal. Many of them have fine views and much to recommend them. I would happily make my home almost anywhere that had good aspect of the city. So why? Why trouble yourself? I am sure you could acquire these lands very reasonably, a man of your wealth and position.

There is only one answer. - The Heath is in my blood. And he turns his face away from her.

She has misjudged him badly but gallops on apace. - But with all your difficulties, the restrictions on you and now I hear there are problems with the soil.

Slowly he turns back. Gwilt! That half-wit has been most reckless. But the allure of those dark brown eyes would readily extract information from even the most ardent loyalist. So this is what Gwilt was trying to tell him. Momentarily he regrets the hours he has worked in creating today's perfect ceremony and not following the progress of the works. - Nothing insurmountable, I assure you.

Mrs Altringham raises a disbelieving eyebrow.

Sir Thomas now finds himself in the unenviable position of having to feign knowledge in an area where his opponent is better informed. - The land is unexcavated. Anyone not willing to take on the challenges of property development should consider an immediate change of course.

Mrs Altringham challenges him with nothing more than a smile to convince her he is in full possession of the facts.

He flails about among potential soil problems. -…underground springs, drainage…

She looks down.

Bull's eye! A drainage problem! - To create an artificial lake by draining a swamp was never going to be easy. But it shall be done! He is in full flight now internally damning all who dream and scheme of breaking him. - No one will ever convince me there are reasonable alternatives. That land is mine. It was my father's, and his, and his before him. I know and understand every inch of it. I will do this and I will do it well, as your, my dear, will bear testament.

- And the swamp will do as you tell it?

He doesn't look at her as he answers. - I am absolute owner of the Heath. Nor does he remember the tale that is on her mind of a man, a king, who also mistakenly believed he could dictate to nature and was forever derided a fool.

Afeard of the change in him, Mrs Altringham attempts to lighten their mood. - Mr Gwilt was most amusing on the matter of the swamp.

Sir Thomas doubts Mr Gwilt's ability to be amusing on any matter. But Mrs Altringham will not be deterred. - He has talked of presenting the objects to a museum. Imagine! The things they have found! She counts off on her fingers.

 -Stone and bronze axes, a number of large agates, part of a deer antler, a wild boar's tusk. What else was there? Oh yes. Some old keys and coins, a fleam for bleeding cattle, whatever that may be. A shark's tooth and… She leans towards him and almost whispers with the horror of it, - a human skull with two holes knocked in it. How wonderfully Greek!

            Sir Thomas laughs in collusion but within this jollity he has serious concerns. This information is not to be taken lightly. A swamp, and clearly a swamp deeper than was first thought, that is capable of swallowing up such things demands respect.

 

            The brass band is already formed and is amusing the company with a variety of lively airs. A Marquee about half a mile from the site, at the foot of the highest point of the Heath, bursts with refreshment satisfying employees of the nation's newspapers who are mingling with a smattering of members of parliament. Sir Thomas has not been slow in exploiting the notion that a good vintage contributes to many a good report.

            Just before three o'clock a party of amateur military mount their pieces ready to announce this auspicious event with a discharge of cannon.

            The party moves towards the edge of what will become the lake, once the swamp has been drained. Expanses of carpet have been laid to indicate where it is safe for the crowd to stand in order to witness the ceremony.

            Sir Thomas takes the platform then holds out his hand for his sister to join him. No one in the crowd could suspect that there had ever been any antagonism between them, not this morning or indeed their entire lives, so controlled and confident they both appear. Sir Thomas makes a grand gesture of once again presenting her with the box, which she opens with delight much to the growing approval of the crowd.

            Mrs Drummond plays her part perfectly. Her stylish demeanor, her exquisite red and gold plaid outfit and enchanting hat belie both her feelings towards her brother and the state of her finances. She spreads the mortar with her silver trowel, stands back while two burly but beautifully dressed workmen level the stone in place, then she strikes it dramatically, three times. The crowd roars, the cannons fire and the band plays the National Anthem.

            A rare feeling of pure happiness explodes inside Sir Thomas but a flash of sunlight bounces off the silver trowel and sends another sharp pain through his head. What he believes he is seeing is his sister raising her arm above her head and flinging the trowel into the swamp. All his happiness and realized ambition plunges into the devouring mud which rises up to receive it then carries it possessively to the depths of its distant beds to lie among the forgotten debris of past times.

            Sir Thomas blinks. Mrs Drummond is being congratulated by a selection of local dignitaries. The trowel is where she left it, lying on top of the stone. The band plays a polka. And the gathered crowd basks in the warmth of the sun on this glorious September day.