What Prices Paid_Part 1
by Jim Rapkins
3 miles outside Bakewell
Derbyshire, Great Britain
10 April 1908
“Damn them, Spencer. Damn them.” The younger man threw his cane onto the Chesterfield suite in disgust, the ivory handle bouncing lightly on the taut leather of the lounge before coming to rest on top of the printed pages that had elicited the action. Sir Devon Cavendish, MP of Riding, blew a snort of disgust as he sat down.
The other man in the walnut-paneled room took a deep draught from his snifter, savouring the brandy’s smooth aroma, before responding to the other’s outburst. The fire in the corner crackled as the log recently placed upon it shifted slightly. After several moments’ silence, he turned to address the figure on the chaise.
“And who, pray tell, are “them”, Dev?” Sir Spencer Cavendish, heir to the Duchy of Devonshire, was nearly two decades the senior of his younger brother, but even now he felt the familiar pull of his brother’s fiery rhetoric. If only he could channel that energy…
Spencer was under no misunderstanding as to the source of his brother’s almost perpetual rage. His stint in the King’s Own Borderers had seen the younger Cavendish almost lose his left leg, and the atrophy that had set in during his convalescence had made the limb a weak and distorted caricature of its former self. The disfigurement was accompanied by constant pain, and Devon had only recently weaned himself off his daily opium indulgence. Once, the younger Cavendish’s cad-like ways had been a source of great amusement in Chatsworth House, the servants knowing to bite their tongues, but since his return, Devon had been the butt of many of the household’s more bawdy jokes.
For a man of Devon’s vanity, the ridicule was especially jarring.
“The Admiralty—again. Fisher is out of his league, Spencer. It’s time you put that upstart in his place.”
Spencer managed to stifle a sharp bark of laughter at his sibling’s words. Me? Tell Jackie Fisher anything? Hardly. The man is untouchable as long as he has the King’s ear. It was true that Spencer was rapidly building up a support base in the House of Lords, but nothing anywhere near the level he’d require to remove the First Sea Lord. Besides, the old man knew what he was doing. Despite his brother’s almost obscene liking of the Sky Fleet’s flying toys, Spencer was unsure about their worth, and was content to let those controlling the Royal Navy run their own shop without parliamentary interference. Also, it didn’t hurt to keep a man of Fisher’s standing on one’s side.
The younger Cavendish tried another tack. “My source on the Council tells me that Fisher is being groomed as a future Prime Minister. Your job, Spencer.” That snapped the elder brother’s head up sharply. Devon Cavendish smiled into his Bruichcladdich, hoping his elder sibling was unaware of just how obvious his own ambitions were.
For his part, Spencer let a grimace of irritation steal across his face, before the stiff Etonian deportment learnt so many years ago rapidly covered it. While the news about Fisher was less than surprising—his cabinet appointment had been as contrived as his electoral victory—it was the ease with which his brother—his cripple brother at that!—had managed to insinuate himself in the upper echelons of the Empire’s power structure that frustrated him. The Council, Devon had casually tossed out. The Privy Council, the King’s closest advisors, and Devon—dear, damaged Devon—had influence with them. Spencer was not so magnanimous that he could put aside the feelings of jealousy Devon’s words had elicited. He was nearly twenty years his brother’s senior, and yet he was considered the lesser Cavendish. A wracking cough built in his chest, evidence that the bout of pneumonia he’d just had was not as gone as the physician had assured him. He unconsciously shifted closer to the fire.
The Council had never sought his advice, even though he was widely being touted—Northcliffe had made sure of that!—as the next Prime Minister of Britain. Campbell-Bannerman had stood himself down not the week before—it was almost a shame, the old man was well liked by most of Parliament and the public at large. He had served his time, stepping in after Balfour’s resignation, and no man should be struck down the way poor Sir Henry was going under still at Number Ten, too ill to move. But he was also responsible for bringing in the likes of Grey, the fool that had agreed to the Russian entente, and Lloyd George, who had argued for—and won!—a reduction of military expenditure at the 1906 party conference. Even Fisher had kicked up a stink at that. No, if Britain was to be protected, it needed a steady hand at the helm. Grey was too focused on normalizing Europe—he didn’t realize that an unstable Europe did nothing but serve Britain’s best interests. And Lloyd George, well…there was no chance a Welshman would be Prime Minister. That left only Asquith as a potential rival for leadership of the party. And Herbert could be neutralized if he put up a fight. Northcliffe had assured him of that. But it was not yet time to take his place.
Spencer had already turned down the Prime Ministership in the past, simply because he would have lost it soon after taking office. No, to make his mark—to strengthen England—Spencer had to lead the party to victory in a general election. Balfour and the Conservatives were a spent force…but if Fisher threw his hat in the ring…Spencer had no issue with the Sea Lord, but the man was a martinet, dancing to the tune of the Admiralty. More, he was completely unable to see the political realities of the world. And, though it bordered on treason, Spencer was unwilling to give the King any opportunity to interfere in the day to day running of the country.
For the King—for the country—choices had to be made. Spencer Cavendish knew he was playing into his brother’s hands, and those of the Privy Council, but what choice did he have? Lesser men could not guide the nation. That had been proven—Australia remained separate, and Grey had recently advocated granting them formal independence. (Because that had worked so well with the Americans!) No, as distasteful as it might seem, the course was set. Spencer breathed in deeply, releasing the pent-up air in an audible gasp that drew a shark-like grin across his brother’s face.
“All right, Dev. What would you have me do?”
To Be Continued…