Authors: Alan Judd
After training as a PE teacher, A
joined the Army, and three years later went to Oxford as a mature student.
A Breed of
his first novel, won the Royal Society of Literature’s Winifred Holtby Award and was made into an acclaimed BBC television drama. His biography
Ford Madox Ford
Heinemann Award and his novella
The Devil’s Own Work
He is also the author of four other novels – most recently
– and the biography of the founder of MI6, Sir Mansfield Cumming,
The Quest for
. Alan Judd has recently retired from the Foreign Office.
More from the reviews:
‘Alan Judd’s characters are serious. So is Alan Judd. You will laugh like mad . . . his second novel stands comparison with the best this year.’
‘A very distinguished and often very funny novel.’
‘An extremely shrewd assessment of modern diplomatic life made in suitably dry ironic tones.’
‘An absorbing and devastating novel of character.’
‘The author has a fine comic gift, an awareness of the moral issues, and a good line in characters . . . a delight.’
Also by Alan Judd
A Breed of Heroes
The Noonday Devil
The Devil’s Own Work
Ford Madox Ford
The Quest for C
First published in Great Britain by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1984
This eBook edition first published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2014
Copyright © Alan Judd, 1984
This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
The right of Alan Judd to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
eBook ISBN: 978-1-47113-435-7
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
With thanks to J.G.
For all have sinned, and come
short of the glory of God
Although the setting of this book is obvious, the towns and regions mentioned are amalgams of various places. There is, for instance, no city that is both the administrative
and commercial capital. In order to avoid charges of inaccuracy, therefore, I have invented names; and, to be consistent, I have altered the name of the country itself.
atrick did not read the letter again until after take-off. It was from Clifford Steggles, head of chancery in the British Embassy in Battenburg,
Lower Africa. Clifford and his family were staying in the house that Patrick was to move into; a house normally occupied by the consul, Arthur Whelk, who had disappeared. It was a letter of
welcome, probably well meant.
Greetings from a cold but sunny Battenburg. It will still be quite cold comparatively speaking by the time you arrive but not long after summer will begin and it should be warmer. Summer
lasts for nearly eight months with the other seasons taking up the other four. I am sure you will enjoy being in this idyllic climate.
This house is large with many rooms. We are sorry to be moving out just as we are getting used to it but it will nevertheless be good to get back to our own now that the roof is back. Yours
is an ideal family house but I am sure that as a bachelor you will enjoy it. Of course, you are over-housed for your grade and will soon have to move into something smaller and more
appropriate. The admin officer hasn’t yet been able to find anything small enough, all the houses here being so big, so make the most of the space while you can!
It has a delightful lounge, a dining room, kitchen, study, scullery, three bathrooms, four loos, six bedrooms, a double garage, extensive outbuildings and not least a veranda and bar. It
stands in an acre of walled garden with trees and a swimming-pool. No tennis-court, I’m afraid. We’re trying to get funds for that as in this country it is essential for
entertaining to have all facilities.
The main problem that we – Sandy, my wife, and I – think you will have is in finding enough paintings, sculptures, bric-a-brac etc. to fill it up with. At present it still
contains Whelk’s effects but they will go eventually presumably, even if he reappears in which case he will doubtless be rapidly posted elsewhere. Therefore bring all your objets
d’art. It is of course furnished and decorated by the Property Services Agency (PSA) via the embassy but you are nevertheless responsible for seeing that it is kept in good order and
maintenance. I trust you will find nothing to complain of in our “housekeeping”.
Sarah is the maid who lives in the outbuildings and goes with the house. She is in her late 40s/early 50s, a regular church-goer, teetotal and as honest and loyal as can be. She is in all
ways an excellent housekeeper and a good cook. In fact, she is better than our own maid and we would take her with us if we could. She is also a passable waitress. We cannot recommend her too
highly. A maid is essential for your entertainment.
There is also Deuteronomy, the gardener, who is also hardworking, reliable and honest though he is not teetotal. He does not live in the outbuildings but comes to us for two days a week.
Again, you are advised to permit him to continue in your employment. Your allowances should cover this sort of thing.
How do you feel about dogs? Snap is a ridgeback. He is loyal and affectionate and an excellent deterrent to would-be burglars. He is like Sarah and goes with the house. Arthur was
particularly fond of him, I believe. I should, however, warn you that, like many Africans, Deuteronomy does not get on well with Snap, being a ridgeback, and though it was hoped that relations
would improve after he had been doctored, they did not. Sarah, however, continues to get on well with both and this is not a serious problem.
I am unsure as to what else I can tell you. Battenburg is a large and impressive city offering all the luxuries of a highly developed consumer society (cinemas, theatres etc.) as well as a
complete availability of everything needed to make life comfortable. Prices are lower than in the UK except for electrical goods.
Please don’t forget to write the usual courtesy letter to the ambassador if you haven’t already done so. He is greatly looking forward to hearing from you. Also, if there is
anything I can do from this end to ease your passage I should be very happy.
Clifford E. Steggles
PS I don’t know what car you plan to bring. Nearly everyone here has a Ford.’
It was the second time Patrick had read the letter. The first had been some weeks before. He had tried to convince himself that it was merely the threat of unaccustomed domestic
responsibility that he found so depressing. He could not imagine conducting diplomatic entertainments. He was to be the third secretary in the embassy and Steggles, as head of chancery and first
secretary, would be his boss. He was to take on some of Steggles’s work as well as some of the missing Whelk’s, though in neither case had the work been defined.
A stewardess announced that they could unfasten their seat-belts, then apologised for the late take-off. Other stewardesses sold drinks and headphones. The film was a comedy.
atrick had applied to the Foreign Office because it sounded interesting, even glamorous, because it was said to be difficult to get into and
because people admired it. He often sought what he thought was most desired by the rest of the world so that he could then feel more a part of it; but it did not always work.
He had passed the written papers and then attended the two-day Civil Service Selection Board. This was not the weekend in a Cotswold house of popular imagination, where the skill was to know how
to cope with the peas, but a two-day battery of tests and interviews in London. It was a bureaucratic adaptation of the wartime selection courses for military officers. Assault courses and
initiative tests were replaced by committee meetings and drafting exercises. Patrick soon learned that no one in the Civil Service ever wrote; instead, they drafted then sent their papers to
someone else for redrafting.
There were several other candidates, one a woman from the University of Sussex with a CND sticker on her handbag. Patrick had most contact with a tall, thin, fair-haired man a few years older
than himself. This man hunched his shoulders and clasped his hands behind his back, like a crow folding its wings. When he walked his head nodded from side to side and he grinned nearly all the
time as at some private joke. He shot out keen, inquisitive, sideways glances at whoever he was with. He said he had been in the Army and looked a little mad.
‘Fancy a drink?’ he said at lunchtime on the second day. ‘I can’t bear staying in offices all day. Have to get out.’
‘Why are you trying to be a civil servant, then?’
‘Tell you outside.’
They stood in the corner of a crowded pub, drank beer and ate tasteless steak and kidney pies. ‘Point is, I’m not really trying to be a civil servant,’ said the Army man.
‘They won’t have me, I know that. I just thought it might be good interviewing practice.’
‘Why won’t they have you?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ The man was unable to continue because his mouth was full. He chewed energetically and swallowed some beer. ‘Well, Army for a start, you see.
They’re suspicious of the military, especially when I said I was leaving because there weren’t any more wars. Then Cambridge – got the Army to send me there for a while’
– he hesitated – ‘before leaving. Well, you know what it’s like these days. Oxbridge backgrounds count against you now. They’re all leaning over backwards to prove
they’re not biased in favour of their own kind. I went to a public school, too. You’ll be all right with a state school – am I right? Thought so. University?’
‘You’ll be home and dry as long as you can spell your name. Same with that woman. Sussex and sociology – she’ll get through. My only hope is if I could convince them
I’m black.’ He grinned. ‘Perhaps I should’ve worn camouflage cream.’
‘I suppose you weren’t in the ranks?’
The Army man shook his head. ‘I thought of saying I was. It would help but they’d check up and when they found I was an officer they’d probably chuck me out, always supposing
they’d let me in, of course. No, it would’ve been better if I’d been wounded.’ He looked thoughtfully at his right knee. ‘I’ve got a pretty good limp on
Patrick looked at the knee. ‘What happened?’
‘What? Oh, nothing. Pretty convincing limp, I should’ve said. More so with the right than with the left for some reason. I say it’s shrapnel moving round the body in damp
weather, you know. That way I’m covered in case I forget.’ He lifted his leg a little and cautiously wriggled his foot as though it was unused to movement. ‘Got me out of some
pretty nasty situations, the old instant limp. Husbands, traffic-wardens, that sort of thing. What do you use?’