Lady Persephone's Lover
Author's note: Upstairs Downstairs is a classic British TV series. The 1970's original was set in London in the Edwardian era. It told the interwoven stories of a wealthy household and their servants. In 2010 the story was revived and updated with a new family moving into 165 Eaton Square. The year is 1936, fascism is on the rise in Europe. England is still gripped by depression, and Sir Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists are trying to take advantage of the discontent to build their own movement.
The upstairs family are Sir Hallam Holland, a rich Baronet who is a senior civil servant at the Foreign Office, and his wife Lady Agnes, daughter of an impoverished Welsh aristocrat. Sir Hallam's widowed mother lives with them, along with her Secretary Amanjit Singh. The downstairs household is headed by Housekeeper Rose Buck, who was Head Parlourmaid in the original series. Butler Mr Pritchard and cook Mrs Thackeray are the other senior staff. Ivy Morris is a young housemaid, and Johnny Proude a trainee footman. Mysterious German refugee Rachel Perlmutter also joins the household, which is completed by Chauffeur Harry Spargo. At the beginning of the new series, Lady Agnes' sister, Lady Persephone, known as Persie, has come to live in London.
Persie is launched into the upper class social season with the aim of finding a suitable husband but, unknown to her family, she has other ideas about where her future lies.
Disclaimer: the characters and setting were originally created by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. The BBC Wales 2010 adaptation was written by Heidi Thomas.
Whitechapel Town Hall, 10th June 1936
She seemed unreal at first; a vision in scarlet and fox. He had to look twice to check that it was really her. There was no mistaking the look on her face though: that provocative, challenging smile. No mistaking the swagger in her walk either, as her red satin gown swirled around the curves of her body. She was dressed for a night at the opera, but had abandoned high culture for low politics. If she was concerned at the incongruity of the setting, she didn't show it.
As she had predicted he had arrived too late to get into the meeting after dropping her at the Royal Opera House. The hall was packed - standing room only- and he was forced to stand right at the back, not even able to get through the doors. Luckily his height allowed him a glimpse of the figure on the distant stage. Sir Oswald Moseley's powerful oratory rang out around the room, thrilling his enthusiastic audience.
Some instinct had pulled Harry Spargo's attention away from the scene in front of him; perhaps he caught a flash of scarlet out of the corner of his eye. He saw Lady Persephone standing alone at the far end of the portico of the fine municipal building where the rally was being held. He was a man who was used to being in control, certainly as far as women were concerned, but he knew instinctively that she would be different to any woman he had ever known before. If he had any sense he would keep well away from her. Even as he had the thought, he was well aware that it would be an impossible resolution to keep. The attraction was just too strong. She wanted him; he would have her, and damn the consequences.
He launched himself after her as she passed him and tried to push her way into the hall. She didn't get very far; blocked by a crowd so dense that even her fierce determination couldn't force a way through. He came to a halt behind her, so close that he could smell the jasmine of her perfume. He lifted his hands to rest them lightly on her bare arms in a gesture of protection and possession. She stood out like a flame in the dark. The throng which surrounded them was overwhelming male, their blue shirts marking their working class origins. He hadn't asked her to follow him here, but now that she had, he felt responsible for her welfare.
Persephone leaned back into Harry's embrace. The gentle touch of his big hands and the warmth of his breath against her ear sent unfamiliar shivers of excitement coursing through her body. Her attention shifted to the figure on the stage. The leader of British Fascism was skilled in exploiting the resentments of his audience. It was easy to believe his words as he blamed all their problems on the communists and the Jews. Persephone knew little about politics but she was easily swept up in the enthusiasm of the crowd. Tilting her head, she smiled up at Harry as he yelled his approval.
Her feeling of disappointment as the meeting drew to its end was intense. The atmosphere; the emotions; the energy of the crowd were things she had never before experienced. As Sir Oswald left the stage a small man with a thin moustache and a reedy voice stepped up to announce that anyone wishing to join the Union should go to the recruiting stations at the back of the hall.
"I'm going to join," Persephone announced, "come on." She gave Harry a stern look, which he returned with an ironic smile. Someday some poor sod was going to find himself married to her. He shook his head at the thought, but followed her nevertheless. So it was that Harry Herbert Spargo and Lady Persephone Towyn found themselves fully paid up members of the British Union of Fascists.
"It's too early for you to take me home; the opera doesn't finish until ten thirty and people will wonder what we have been doing." Persephone observed as they walked the few streets to where the car was parked.
"I know a place we can wait." Harry replied. He would drive her down to a street off the Embankment, it was secluded and they were unlikely to be seen there. He opened the rear door for her but she ignored him and installed herself in the front seat.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" he asked as he parked up almost in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral, "there's a little stand round the corner for the Hackney Carriage drivers."
She nodded her assent. As soon as he had gone she took their fresh new membership cards out of her purse. It was a connexion between them, a contract which transcended the boundaries of class. She had been drawn to him ever since that first night she had arrived in Eaton Square. He had been in the kitchen with her sister's family and the staff when she first arrived. He stood out immediately with his shock of blond hair, chiselled jaw and fine figure. It didn't matter to her that he was one of the staff, he was quite simply the most handsome man she had ever seen.
Every dance she had attended she had wished for a partner who could match him, but her wishes had been in vain. It wasn't just the way he looked that attracted her, it was the way he held himself, the way he stood up to her. She had already tried flirting with him. He had resisted her advances until now, but somehow she knew that this night would be the one when she would finally overcome his resistance.
"He was amazing, didn't you think?" she asked, as Harry returned with their tea in chipped enamel mugs. "I've never heard anything quite like it." She used the opportunity to move a little closer, her arm almost brushing against his. She took a sip of the tea. It was strong and sweet, quite unlike the delicate Darjeeling blend that was served in Eaton Square. It made her smile. This was real life, sitting here in the car with Harry, drinking mugs of tea like the cab drivers and market porters who worked through the night. It was as far from her privileged, protected existence as she could imagine.
"If only everyone could see the sense in his message," she continued. "These foolish barriers of class should be broken down. They hurt me just as much as they hurt you."
Harry was touched by the passion and enthusiasm of her little speech. She was so young and her youth made her impressionable. Whatever happened between them he would need to keep a little distance, if only to protect himself.
Tentatively he let his hand rest against hers, judging her reaction. She didn't flinch, but instead moved her fingers slowly until they were intertwined with his. No words passed between them as he took her hand in his and raised it to his lips.
She watched him, trying to interpret the expression on his face. His eyes didn't meet hers but instead focussed on her tiny delicate hand. Every difference between them was summed up in the contrast between the softness of her skin and the roughness of his.
Lifting her free hand she brushed her fingertips lightly against his cheek. "Harry," she murmured; her voice so low that he wasn't sure she had really spoken. He raised his eyes to meet hers, which were blazing with passion. Her bright red lips were parted and he could see the rise and fall of her breast under the fur wrap she wore.
Dropping her hand, he raised both of his to frame her face. For a few seconds he searched her gaze for permission, then slowly lowering his face to hers he kissed her. She parted her lips readily, slipping her hands under his jacket and around his waist, pulling him closer. She moaned low in her throat as he deepened the kiss, exploring her mouth with his tongue.
He moved his hands to caress her body through the thin satin of her gown. He ran them up and down her sides, then more tentatively across her breasts, flicking her nipples with his thumbs. He was rewarded with a deeper, more passionate, moan.
After what seemed like an age she pulled away. The lust in her expression was unmistakeable as she ran her fingers through his short blond hair, and then traced the outline of his strong cheekbone down to his jaw. "Harry," she repeated, more loudly this time, as if the word had some magical properties.
Many women had cried out his name in the heat of passion, but it had never sounded so sensual as it did on her lips. Just the sound of it was enough to arouse him. He kissed her again, harder and more urgently. She shifted position so she was almost straddling his lap. He ran his hands down over her thighs, lifting the hem of her dress to stroke her legs. It was a warm night and she wasn't wearing stockings. He felt her shiver at his touch, which only served to arouse him further.
She had never been so intimate with a man before and the thrill was deep and intense. She lost all sense of her surroundings; all that mattered was the two of them. Silently she urged him on as his hands explored the soft skin of her inner thighs. She knew she was behaving like the worst kind of slut, but she didn't care. He could do whatever he wanted and she wouldn't stop him.
Harry was the one who was forced to break the spell. He pulled away with the utmost reluctance. "It's ten fifteen, we should be heading home. You need to get in the back of the car."
"Don't tell me what to do, Spargo," she hissed defiantly, then instantly regretted her rudeness. She saw a muscle in his jaw twitch. He said nothing but she knew she had hurt him. "I'm sorry, you're right of course," she said, planting a conciliatory kiss on his cheek. "Could we go home via the Opera House, just to make sure it hasn't burned down or anything."
They stopped outside the old building, next to the Covent Garden flower market. Harry leant nonchalantly against the car smoking a cigarette while Persephone mingled with the emerging crowds storing up their comments for future use. After a few minutes she had as much information as she needed. Striding up to Harry she snatched the cigarette from his mouth and proceeded to smoke it. He scowled but said nothing, just walked to the rear door of the car to open it for her. As he helped her in, he slid a surreptitious hand over her behind, giving her a playful pinch. It was her turn to scowl.
Neither of them spoke as they completed the journey back to Belgravia. Every now and then he would look into the rear-view mirror. Sometimes his eyes met hers and they exchanged the secret smiles of would-be lovers. Sometimes she was gazing out of the window, a far-away look on her face. As they pulled up outside the house, Persephone glanced up to check that all the windows were dark. Confident that they weren't being observed she leant to kiss him as he helped her out of the car.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
He didn't reply, but gave her hand a little squeeze as he helped her down. "Good night, your ladyship," he said with a knowing wink as she skipped up the steps to the front door.
Neither of them slept well that night. Persephone replayed the evening over and over in her mind. She couldn't decide which was the most exciting, her first experience of a political meeting, or her first real kiss. Of course her life up to now had been as dull as ditch water but even that couldn't account for the thrill she had felt at both experiences. It may take a little subterfuge but she was determined that they wouldn't be her last experiences. Getting to the meetings shouldn't be too difficult. Finding ways to spend time alone with Harry Spargo would be more of a challenge, but that made it even more thrilling for her.
When she finally fell asleep it was with the image of Lady Maud's face if she were to ever find out the truth fixed in her mind.
Harry's sleep was more troubled. He was a man who liked women, and he never had any trouble getting them. Until now, he had been very careful to keep his attentions to the servant's side of the green baize door. He'd made it a strict rule to avoid the attention of anyone he worked for, or their friends for that matter. He'd had wealthy ladies flirt with him. They were usually wealthy married ladies whose husbands no longer satisfied them. He, of course, would have no trouble satisfying them, but a brief physical release was not worth the risk of discovery and dismissal.
He had only known Lady Persephone a few weeks but it was quite clear that she was impulsive, wilful and spoilt. That knowledge should have been enough to keep him well away from her. But she was also beautiful, with an intoxicating combination of sensuousness and innocence. Above all she had a lust for life that was inspiring. He was determined that he wouldn't be in service for ever. Why should he be held back by the artificial barriers of class? She would be like no woman he had ever known and perhaps for that it would be worth taking the risk of discovery and the consequences.
"Would you object if I were to get out and see something of London?" Persephone asked of no-one in particular as she ate breakfast with the family the following morning.
Maud, the dowager Lady Holland regarded her suspiciously but said nothing. Lady Agnes turned to her husband as if seeking his approval, before asking how her sister proposed to travel.
"I thought I could use take the bus, or the underground railway," Persephone replied, her gaze deliberately provocative.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Sir Hallam butted in.
"Why not, I need to learn my way around?" she challenged.
"I can spare Spargo, he can take you wherever you want to go." Sir Hallam rose to ring the bell. Neither Lady Maud nor Lady Agnes saw the brief look of satisfaction which crossed her face. She had achieved exactly what she wanted.
Pritchard, the Butler, answered the summons.
"Could you ask Spargo to see me in the library in fifteen minutes please, Pritchard."
Harry avoided Persephone's gaze as he entered the library, afraid he wouldn't be able to control his reaction.
"Lady Persephone would like to see the sights of London, Spargo. I would be grateful if you could devise an itinerary for her."
He caught a glimpse of her satisfied expression as he composed himself to answer. "Certainly sir, I'll take her ladyship wherever she wants to go."
Sir Hallam had barely closed the door before Persephone crossed the room to Harry's side. "You know very well where I want you to take me," she said in a low voice, letting her fingers brush lightly against the back of his hand.
"Come down to the garage when you're ready, milady," he replied, his face as expressionless as his voice. He was too well aware of the domestic politics of a house like this to be certain that they wouldn't be observed. He gave an exaggerated bow as he left the room.
Please let me know what you think of the story - there will be more and things will get heated!