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Authors: Jeffrey Archer

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First Among Equals

BOOK: First Among Equals
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First
Among
Equals

By

Jeffrey Archer

Also by Jeffrey
Archer Novels

Not a Penny
More,

Not a Penny Less

Shall We Tell
the President?

Kane & Abel

The Prodigal
Daughter

First
Among
Equals

A Matter of
Honour

As the Crow
Flies

Honour
Among
Thieves

The Fourth
Estate

The Eleventh
Commandment

Sons of Fortune

 

SHORT STORIES

A Quiver Full of
Arrows

A Twist in the
Tale

Twelve Red
Herrings

The Collected
Short Stories

To Cut a Long
Story Short

 

PLAYS

Beyond
Reasonable Doubt

Exclusive

The Accused

 

PRISON DIARIES

Volume One –
Belmarsh: Hell

Volume Two –
Wayland: Purgatory

Volume Three –
North Sea Camp: Heaven

 

SCREENPLAY

Mallory: Walking
off the Map

 

 

Prologue

Saturday, April 27, 1991

K
ING CHARLES III made the final decision.

The election had duly taken
place as decreed by royal proclamation. The polling booths had been closed, the
votes counted, the computers turned off-, and the experts and amateurs alike
had collapsed into their beds in disbelief when they had heard the final
result.

The new King
had been unable to sleep that Friday night while he considered yet again all
the advice that had been offered to him by his courtiers during the past
twenty-four hours. The choice he had been left with was by no means simple,
considering how recently he had ascended the throne.

A few minutes
after Big Ben had struck 6 A.M., the morning papers were placed in the corridor
outside his bedroom. The King slipped quietly out of bed, put on his dressing
gown and smiled at the startled footman when be opened the door. The King
gathered up the papers in his arms and took them through to the morning room in
order that the Queen would not be disturbed. Once he had settled comfortably
into his favorite chair, he turned to the editorial pages. Only one subject was
wortfiy of their attention that day. The Fleet Street editors had all come to
the same conclusion. The result of the election could not have been closer, and
the new King had been placed in a most delicate position as to whom he should
call to be his first Prime Minister.

Most of the
papers went on to give the King their personal advice on whom he should
consider according to their own political affiliations. The London Times alone
offered no such opinion, but suggested merely that His Majesty would have to
show a great deal of courage and fortitude in facing his first constitutional
crisis if the monarchy was to remain credible in a modern world.

The fort
y-three-year-old King dropped the papers on the floor by the side of his chair
and considered once again the problems of which man to select.

What a strange
game politics was, he considered. Only a short time ago there had been clearly
three men to consider, and then suddenly one of them was no longer a contender.
The two men remaining-who he suspected had also not slept that night – could
not have been more different – and yet in some ways they were so alike. They
had both entered the House of Commons in 1964 and had then conducted glittering
careers in their twentyfive years as members of Parliament. Between them they
had held the portfolios of Trade, Defense, the Foreign Office and the Exchequer
before being elected to lead their respective parties.

As Prince of
Wales, the King had watched them both from the sidelines and grown to admire
their different contributions to public life. On a personal level, he had to
admit, he had always liked one while respecting the other.

The King
checked his watch and then pressed a bell on the table by his side. A valet
dressed in a royal blue uniform entered the room as if he had been waiting
outside the door all night. He began to lay out the King’s morning suit as the
monarch went into the adjoining room where his bath had already been drawn.
When the King returned he dressed in silence before taking a seat
at a small table by the window to be served breakfast.
He ate alone. He
had left firm instructions that none of the children were to disturb him.

At eight
o’clock he retired to his study to listen to the morning news.

There was
nothing fresh to report. The commentators were now only waiting to discover
which man would be invited to the palace to kiss hands.

At nine-fifteen
he picked up the phone.

“Would you come
up now, please,” was all he said. A moment later the
Kini ‘s
private sccretary entered the room. He bowed, but
,,aid
nothing, as he could see the monarch was preoccupied. It was several moments
before the King spoke.

“I have made my
decision,” he said quietly.

PART ONE

The Backbenchers 1964-1966

1

IF CHARLES GURNEY HAMPTON had
been born nine minutes earlier he would have become an earl and inherited a
castle in Scotland, twenty-two thousand acres in Somerset and a thriving
merchant bank in the city of London.

It was to be
several years before young Charles worked out the full significance of coming
second in life’s first race.

His twin
brother, Rupert, barely came through the ordeal, and in the years that followed
contracted not only the usual childhood illnesses but managed to add scarlet
fever, diphtheria and meningitis, causing his mother, Lady Hampton, to fear for
his survival.

Charles, on the
other hand, was a survivor, and had inherited enough Hampton ambition for both
his brother and himself. Only a few years passed before those who came into
contact with the brothers for the first time mistakenly assumed Charles was the
heir to the earldom.

As the years
went by, Charles’s father tried desperately to discover something at which
Rupert might triumph over his brother-and failed. When they were eight, the two
boys were sent away to prep school at Summerfields, where generations of
Hamptons had been prepared for the rigors of Eton. During his first month at
the school Charles was voted class president, and no one hindered his advance
en route to becoming head of the student body at the age of twelve, by which
time Rupert was looked upon as “Hampton Minor.” Both boys proceeded to Eton,
where in their first term Charles beat Rupert at every subject in the
classroom, out rowed him on the river and nearly killed him in the boxing ring.

When in 1947
their grandfather, the thirteenth Earl of Bridgewater, finally expired, the
sixteen-year-old Rupert became Viscount Hampton while Charles inherited a
meaningless prefix.

The Honorable
Charles Hampton felt angry every time fie heard his brother deferentially
addressed by strangers as “My Lord.”

At Eton, Charles
continued to excel, and ended his school days as President of Pop – the
exclusive Eton club – before being offered a place at Christ Church, Oxford, to
read history. Rupert covered the same years without making one honor roll. At
the age of eighteen the young viscount returned to the family estate in
Somerset to pass the rest of his days as a landowner. No one destined to
inherit twenty-two thousand acres could be described as a farmer.

At Oxford,
Charles, free of Rupert’s shadow, progressed with the air of a man who found
the university something of an anticlimax. He would spend his weekdays reading
the history of his relations and the weekends at house parties or riding to
hounds. As no one had suggested f’or one moment that Rupert should enter the world
of high finance, it was assumed that once Charles had graduated Oxford, he
would succeed his father at Hampton’s Bank, first as a director and then in
time as its chairman-although it would be Rupert who would eventually inherit
the family shareholding.

This assumption
changed, however, when one evening the Honorable Charles Hampton was dragged to
og the Oxford Union by a nubile undergraduate from Somerville, who demanded
that he listen to Sir Winston Churchill, who was making a rare appearance to
debate the motion “I’d rather be a commoner than a lord,”

Charles sat at
the back of a hall packed with eager students mesmerized by the elder
statesman’s performance.

Never once did
he take his eyes off the
great war
leader during his
witty and powerful speech, although what kept flashing across his mind was the
realization that, but for an accident of birth, Churchill would have been the
ninth Duke of Marlborough. Here was a man who had dominated the world stage for
three decades and then turned down every hereditary honor a grateful nation
could offer, including the title of Duke of London.

Charles never
allowed himself to be referred to by his title again. From that moment, his
ultimate ambition was above aiere titles.

Another
under-graduate who listened to Churchill that night was also considering his
own future. But tie did not view the proceedings crammed between his fellow
students at the back of the crowded hall. The tall young man dressed in white
tie and tails sat alone in a larye chair on a raised platform, for such was his
right as President of the Oxford Union. His natural good looks had played no
part in his election because women still were unable to become members.

Although Simon
Kerslake was the firstborn, he had otherwise few of Charles Hampton’s advantages.
The only son of a family solicitor, he had come to appreciate how much his
father had denied himself to ensure that his son should remain at the local
public school. Simon’s father had died during his son’s last year at school,
leaving his widow a small annuity and a magnificent Maekinley grandfather
clock. Simon’s mother sold the clock a week after the funeral in order that her
son could complete his final year with all the “extras” the other boys took for
granted. She also hoped that it would give Simon a better chance of going on to
university.

From the first
day he could walk, Simon had always wanted to outdistance his peers. The
Americans would have described him as an “achiever,” while many of his
contemporaries thought of him as pushy, or even arrogant, according to their
aptitude for jealousy.

During his last
term at Lancing, Simon was passed over for Head of School, and forever found
himself
unable to forgive the headmaster his lack of
foresight. Later that year, he narrowly missed a place at Oxford’s Magdalen
College. It was a decision Simon was unwilling to accept.

In the same
mail, Durham University offered him a scholarship, which he rejected by return
post. “Future Prime Ministers aren’t educated at Durham,” he informed his
mother.

“How about
Cambridge?” inquired his mother
lightly’.

“No political
tradition,” replied Simon.

“But if there
is no chance of being offered a place at Oxford, surely...”

“That’s not
what I said, Mother,” replied the young man. “I shall be an undergraduate at Oxford
by the first day of term.”

After eighteen
years of improbable victories, Mrs. Kerslake had learned to stop asking her
son, “How will you manage that?”

Some fourteen
days before the start of the Christmas term at Oxford, Simon booked himself
into a small guest house just off the Ifiley Road.

On a trestle
table in the corner of lodgings he intended to make permanent, he 10 wrote out
a list of all the Oxford colleges, then divided them into five columns,
planning to visit three each morning and three each afternoon until his
que3tion had been answered positively by a resident tutor for admissions: “Have
you accepted any freshmen for this year who are now unable to take up their
places?”

It was on the
fourth afternoon, just as doubt was beginning to set in and Simon was wondering
if after all he would have to travel to Cambridge the following week, that he
received the first affirmative reply.

The tutor for
admissions at Worcester College removed the glasses from the end of his nose
and stared up at the tall young man with the mop of dark hEdr falling over his
forehead. The young man’s intense brown eyes remained fixed on the tutor for
admissions. Alan Brown was the twenty-second don Simon Kerslake had visited in
four days.

BOOK: First Among Equals
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