TWO-THIRDS OF THE people on the list would have to be eliminated and the decision rested with Adam McIver, aged twenty-nine, a minor civil servant in Her Majesty’s government.
McIver, late of Fettes College and the University of Edinburgh, stared wearily at the list of names on the otherwise empty expanse of mahogany in front of him. On the other side of the table, Sir Spencer Duff-Binning (Cambridge, late Pleistocene) was sprawled in his black leather captain’s chair, his nose buried in the current issue of
Twice now Adam had cleared his throat meaningfully and remarked, “Well, better get on with it!” The only response from the portly figure behind the newspaper was a grunt and a rustle of pages. Adam glanced at his watch, and again at the paperwork in front of him. He had just cleared his throat for the third time, intending to make a more direct suggestion for getting to work, but his introductory utterance was drowned out by the clatter of a metal cart and the call of “Tea time!” shouted in brassy Glaswegian from the doorway. Adam sighed and summoned a pale smile for Mrs. Drury, the tea lady, who was maneuvering her cart into the room as if she were docking a destroyer.
Sir Spencer looked up from his newspaper with a happy smile and waved her over. “Got any chocolate Bath Oliver biscuits today, Mrs. D.?”
Adam inspected the cake selection without favor. “Just tea, thanks.”
While Sir Spencer and Mrs. Drury nattered on about their respective gardens, name-dropping flowers at a dizzying rate, Adam accepted his cup of tea and returned his attention to the list. When he had chosen a career in the civil service, he had been fully prepared to accept the gravest responsibilities in carrying out his country’s affairs of state. Just now, though, he was finding it a bit difficult. In some ways officialdom in Edinburgh’s Old St. Andrews House was much as he had imagined it from childhood. He looked around the oak-paneled room, with its shelves of gilt-titled books, black marble fireplace, and the blue government-issue Wilton carpet. It looked like a room in which major policy decisions ought to be made. Except in wartime. Where did the major historic events take place then?
“In tents, I suppose,” said Adam, thinking aloud.
Sir Spencer stopped stirring his tea and looked up. “What’s that?”
“Nothing, sir. Just wondering where the country’s great decisions are made.”
“In tents, you said? Absolutely. Quite a lot of policy decisions are made in tents. Except in wartime, of course. It’s castles, then. Or fortified basements. But nowadays, tents are the usual thing. Diplomats crowd under them at state funerals, when they get together to do a little bargaining between the psalms, so to speak. Rally round the punch bowl at garden parties. Ascot. That sort of thing.”
“Railway carriages, too,” said Adam, still thinking of history.
“Ending World War I not a policy decision?” said Adam. “I was thinking of the Armistice. It was signed in a railway carriage in France, wasn’t it?”
Blushing, Adam returned to the subject of his immediate concern. “I’m in a bit of a funk over this list,” he admitted. “It’s quite a solemn responsibility.”
Sir Spencer’s attention strayed back to page three of his newspaper. “Well, just make a little cross beside the names that you select,” he said. “I’ll back you up. There’ll be no whining from the rest, you know. They’re British, aren’t they?”
“Well… actually, I believe we have to include fifty Americans.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to
“Director-general of the Forestry Commission, the Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Gardens, the chairmen of the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the lord provost of Edinburgh…”
Sir Spencer was not impressed. “Those are the easy ones,” he said with a smirk.
Adam nodded in agreement. “I know. It’s the others that I feel for. Those who have only one chance.”
Mrs. Drury had been making a great show of attending to the tea service so as not to be thought eavesdropping, but this last declaration had rendered all pretense of disinterest useless. “Excuse me, I’m sure,” she said, straining for a peek at the document. “But about your list there-oughtn’t you to put in a lot of doctors and nurses?”
Adam frowned. “Well, we have a couple of surgeons, of course, and two veterinary surgeons, but… nurses?”
The tea lady nodded. “It seems to me that medical folk-and firemen, now that I think of it-are the sort of people that ought to have first place in the fallout shelters. Not bankers!” She sniffed at the impracticality of bureaucrats.
Adam was at sea. “I’m sorry,” he stammered.
Mrs. Drury pointed to his list. “Aye. You’ve been talking about your grave responsibility of deciding who should be included. What else could it be?”
“Something even more momentous,” said Sir Spencer solemnly. “We are determining who shall be asked to the Queen’s garden party in Edinburgh.”
Mrs. Drury shook her head. “Fallout shelters is easier. Them that gets left out won’t be around to argue with you.” With that pronouncement, she pushed the tea cart toward the door, leaving them to their task.
Several minutes later Adam McIver stopped in mid-check mark as he noticed the next name on the list. “Hel-lo!” he cried. “Cameron Dawson! I was in school with him.”
Sir Spencer grunted. “What’s he down for?”
Adam consulted the biographical sheet. “It says here that he’s a marine biologist. Doctorate from Edinburgh. Areas of specialization something-something; papers in-oh, here we go. Remember when we had that epidemic among seals in the North Sea? We were afraid that they were all dying of pollution.”
“Vaguely,” said Sir Spencer, who preferred horses to seals.
“It turned out that they had distemper. One of them had been bitten by a dog on a beach somewhere. Apparently, Cameron Dawson was one of the people who discovered what disease the seals had, and he worked to control the epidemic. Imagine that! Old Cameron-a medical hero.”
“Excellent, McIver. Send him an invitation. You’ll get no end of gratitude from your school chum, and it will go down well with the Duke of Edinburgh, because he’s chairman of the World Wild Life Fund.” He waved the last Bath Oliver biscuit at McIver. “Send Dr. Dawson to Her Majesty’s Scottish garden party. Kill two birds with one
Cameron Dawson frowned at the official-looking ivory envelope, fearing the worst.
His younger brother Ian, who had joined him for tea in the garden, was helping himself to a scone and clotted cream. One of the nice things about being home from college for the summer was that you got to eat decent food again. Ian planned to consume quite a lot of it before the fall term began at Strathclyde.
“Do you want that last ginger biscuit, Cameron?” he asked as he reached for it. When no reply was forthcoming, Ian glanced at his brother, who was still staring at a small ivory envelope. Noting Cameron’s stricken expression with interest, he asked, “Anything the matter?”
“Not until now,” murmured Cameron, still staring at the letter.
The afternoon had thus far been remarkably pleasant for early June in Edinburgh: it was sunny after only an hour of misting rain, and so warm that one needed only a cotton sweater instead of a wool one. Cameron’s yearlong stay as a visiting professor of marine biology at a university in Virginia had considerably reduced his tolerance to the climate of his native Scotland. Today, though, had been quite satisfactory, and having spent his first few days home visiting with family and friends, he had decided to spend the afternoon in the garden so that he could bask in the sunshine while he caught up on accumulated mail and bank statements and other bits of paperwork that had arrived too recently to be forwarded to him in America. He had been enjoying colors of the well-tended garden, with its well-pruned privet hedge, its herbaceous border, and the unfortunate, but nevertheless familiar red-hatted garden gnome, who stood smirking by the forsythia bush. As he leafed through newsletters and back issues of magazines, Cameron savored the aroma of his mother’s prize roses. There was nothing to occupy his mind except the prospect of afternoon tea. This peaceful interlude under the rowan tree had been spoiled by the discovery of an official-looking envelope tucked into a pile of advertising circulars from Halford’s. Trust Ian to miss an important letter-probably with dire consequences! And the prospect of having to cope with this disaster spoiled his serenity just as the tea arrived.
“What is it, then? Inland Revenue?” asked Ian, dumping sugar into his teacup. “Getting you for all that money you made in the States?”
“Shut up, Insect,” murmured Cameron. “You should have forwarded this to me, or else opened it and phoned me about it. It’s rather important looking. Addressed to
“Ye-ess,” said Ian gravely. “That
Cameron opened the envelope and took out a card-sized invitation, printed in graceful script. He read it twice. “I was afraid of this.” He sighed, handing the letter to his brother.
Ian’s eyes widened at the sight of the royal coat of arms. “It’s from-” He scanned the card, muttering an occasional word aloud. “Well, imagine that! An invitation to the Royal Garden Party! Did someone from Fettes put you up for this? I sense an Old School Tie dangling over all this.”
“Adam McIver, I expect. He was always a proper little prat, quite intent on government service. The bugger!”
“Steady on, Cameron. It’s only a tea party. You act as if you’d been commissioned in the Light Brigade.”
“Yes, Ian, but you don’t comprehend the possibilities for trouble here. You see, they’ve just invited
“Not a hope,” said Ian. “No guests except spouses and unmarried daughters. You haven’t any of
“Elizabeth and I are engaged…”
“I don’t believe fianc?es are permitted to attend.” Ian chuckled. “There’s many a slip twixt-”
“No, I realize that,” snapped Cameron. “But if I go to the Royal Garden Party without telling her, and somehow Elizabeth finds out that she missed a chance to meet the Queen-”
“Second American Revolution.” Ian nodded. “Absolutely. It’s curious, isn’t it, how starstruck the Yanks are about our royal family? Makes you wonder why they seceded from the empire in the first place.”
Cameron looked again at the invitation with Her Majesty’s seal for a letterhead. “They do seem to dote on the royals, don’t they? People were always asking me if I knew any of them. Elizabeth even has a complete set of royal-family coffee mugs. Only Prince Edward is cracked.”
“Yes, I’d heard that,” said Ian, grinning wickedly. “Well, brother dear, what’s it going to be? The Queen’s tea party or the Boston tea party?”
“I’ll just explain to Elizabeth that with the garden party only three weeks away and the wedding planned for
“Surely Old Adam could put in a word for you,” said Ian with a smirk.
“Or perhaps I won’t mention it to her at all. After all, how could she find out about this invitation?”
Ian strove to look unconcerned.
Cameron scowled at his younger brother. “You
“You’re going to ring her up now-while the rates are high?”
“Yes,” said Cameron. “I want to get it over so I don’t brood about it. What time is it in America?” he asked.
Ian called after him, “1776!”