"Ring him up," Elizabeth ordered Bertie. At first his wife had been sympathetic, but her well-practiced patience was wearing thin after three days of listening to Bertie enumerate the reasons that he couldn't possibly see Lionel Logue again, which ranged from outrage at Logue's lack of respect for the monarchy to despair at Logue's failure to understand Bertie's position to shame at the names Bertie had called Lionel as he'd strode away from him.
Bertie knew as well as Elizabeth that all of these were just excuses. Still, Bertie's jaw clenched up at the thought of trying to speak to Lionel, even though the thought of never speaking to Lionel again made it clench up even more painfully. "We've been through this," he told Elizabeth. "It won't improve matters if I see him."
"Ah. I hadn't realized you'd become so comfortable with your preparations for the coronation." Elizabeth's smile was as sweet as a metal splint. "Bertie, you know that I wouldn't push you to seek out someone I thought would make your position more difficult than it already is. You and I both know that he helped you. And what's more, you liked him. Ring him up."
"I can't. I told him it was finished. I can't ring him up now."
"He didn't come to Piccadilly to see you because he wanted to keep quarreling. I'm sure he's as miserable as you are -"
"I am not miserable!"
"- so stop arguing with me, and let him do the job we both agree that he does very well. If you don't want to ring him up yourself, have Lascelles do it. Or I'll do it. I'm not afraid to speak to the man."
It would be just like Elizabeth to contact Logue without consulting Bertie first, just as she'd done the first time. More distressing than the possibility of Lionel refusing to speak to him directly was the possibility that Lionel might dismiss a call on Bertie's behalf placed by someone else. Bertie couldn't bear to imagine being humiliated thus before his secretary or his wife, by someone so ordinary, by someone who knew all his flaws, by someone whose company he had once appreciated so much. "Fine. I'll do it. But it won't help - you'll see."
Placing the call was like a speech exercise. Residual anger - at Lionel, at Elizabeth, at Bertie's own father and brother and entire ancestral family - propelled him through the connection. I am not a thistle sifter, he thought defiantly. I am the bloody King of England.
It was only when he heard the voice uttering the greeting that his courage failed him.
That was all Bertie managed to get out before he had to stop. He didn't stammer. Rather, tears choked off his throat. He was certain that if he said another word, he would weep into the mouthpiece, completing his degradation where Lionel was concerned.
"Hello? Are you still there?" Lionel's voice came again through the earpiece, warm and concerned, as Bertie had tried for weeks alternately to conjure it in memory and to banish it forever. The relief of hearing it, and the terror that it would turn cold and angry once Lionel realized who was on the line, made Bertie's hand tremble so much that the switch hook rattled.
If he couldn't speak now, then Lionel would assume the connection had been broken and put down his telephone. After that, Bertie would be too ashamed to try again, or even to let Elizabeth or Lascelles summon Lionel for him.
Gritting his teeth, he forced sound between them. "It...it's me..."
He thought he heard a sharply indrawn breath of surprise, but that might only have been an increase in the perpetual hiss on the line. "Take your time." Lionel's voice floated through the earpiece, full of the encouragement Bertie had longed to hear on so many agonizing days when he couldn't find his own voice. "I'm not going anywhere."
That promise made Bertie's knees wobble with relief, though he didn't dare sit down to reply, just as he couldn't sit while giving a speech. "It's me," he said again, hoping Lionel would believe it was the stammer rather than emotion making Bertie's voice shake. "I need to see you, Lionel..."
Once again, speaking the name aloud brought a flood of tears to Bertie's eyes. He knew that if he clenched his jaw to hold them back, he'd lock himself into silence.
As Lionel had done so many times in the past, Lionel came to his rescue. "I'd be delighted to see you any time, Bertie. Is tomorrow too soon? I happen to have your usual hour free. You could come round to the house if that would be easier than coming to the office. I could give the route to your driver, though my son Laurie tells me that I have the worst sense of direction of anyone he's ever met..."
While Lionel went on, patching over the days of suffering with the kindness in his voice, Bertie pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his eyes and pinch his nose. He felt like an idiot, not only for the tears, but for all the times he'd convinced himself not to call Lionel when it had been the one thing he'd most wanted to do.
"I'd like to bring my wife with me," he said when Lionel finally paused. It was an inane thing to mention, but Bertie knew that he'd need Elizabeth's calm during the ride over.
"I would be happy to see Her Royal Highness...pardon me, it's Her Majesty now, isn't it? I trust that she is well, and your girls. I've seen the official portraits in the newspapers, they must be very proud of you..."
The pride in Lionel's voice did more to make Bertie feel like a king than any fawning he'd heard from members of his family or privy councilors. He took what felt like his first unencumbered breath since David had announced the plan to leave the throne to Bertie.
Then he wiped his eyes again and allowed himself a small smile as he repeated, "Tomorrow."
Lionel set the mouthpiece down slowly, licking his lips, which had gone dry as he'd talked and talked to try to keep Bertie on the line. He knew that Bertie hadn't been fighting a locked jaw, despite the difficulty most stammerers experienced when speaking on the telephone. That sound was very different than the gulping hesitation of someone struggling to speak through tears.
For the first time since Bertie's equerry had dismissed him from Bertie's home, Lionel let himself think back to that afternoon in the park. He hadn't understood, then, what had made Bertie so upset, at least not until Bertie walked away. He had known at the time that he should have called Bertie back, ignored the insults as he would have done with a child having a tantrum, and apologized himself.
It had all happened so fast; Bertie hadn't exploded like that since shortly after they had met, and no matter how angry Bertie had become during lessons, he had always come back. Lionel had let himself believe that Bertie always would. By the time Lionel had realized that he'd pushed much too hard, it was much too late to call the words back.
Yet this evening, Bertie hadn't had to ring Lionel up himself. He could have asked one of his staff members to make the call, set up an appointment, insisted upon proceeding as king to commoner. Nothing Bertie could have said would have signified remorse more strongly than the fact that Bertie had been on the line himself, and had called Lionel by name rather than title.
Surely Bertie must have known that Lionel would have had him back at any time. Lionel had been so sure that it must have been Bertie's pride keeping him away - certainly not fear of Lionel. But then why the tears? Merely relief at having the conversation out of the way? Or had Bertie, too, woken more than once in the night feeling inconsolable at the loss of the connection?
No, Lionel was surely flattering himself. Undoubtedly Bertie was simply frustrated with his inability to control his voice, now that he had much less time for exercises. Glancing at the calendar, Lionel began to make a list of tasks he needed to complete before seeing the King and Queen. He'd have to order Laurie to take Antony to his tennis lesson and send Valentine to the library. He'd also need to buy some fine quality tea.
Things could never be as they had been before Bertie had become king, but that didn't stop Lionel from feeling exultant. He had a wide smile for Myrtle as they sat down at the table to eat.
"Are you playing bridge tomorrow?" he asked casually, since he already knew the answer.
"You know I am, with the Boyles. What are you grinning about? Don't tell me you had a call."
"A call?" repeated Lionel, his face warming at the memory of the telephone conversation. How had Myrtle known?
Myrtle peered at him. She had known that something was bothering Lionel for the past several weeks, but other than the one brief conversation before Lionel tried to see Bertie to apologize, they hadn't discussed Lionel's preoccupation. "You're looking very pleased with yourself," she said, passing a bowl of peas. "There must be a play."
"No, no Shakespeare, I'm afraid. I just had a good day in the office." Lionel hadn't gone for an audition since he'd started working with Bertie. He hadn't missed playing kings when he'd had a prince coming daily to his office. In the past month, he'd tried to find a theater group, but nobody was posting notices for actors.
If she knew about the telephone call, Myrtle would be rejoicing that the King of England wanted to work with Lionel. He had never tried to think about Bertie as the King of England, yet he knew that he must, now. He'd learned on that miserable day in the park that some topics must never be broached, no matter how much Lionel might demand total equality in the consultation room. There were too many things he didn't understand about the way Bertie had had his duties explained to him since he was very young. It would be even more complicated now that Bertie had inherited the title he had resisted for so long.
Did it matter? That Bertie was now the king had little bearing on Lionel's feelings. Lionel had longed to talk to Bertie before he'd heard that Bertie's brother planned to abdicate, when the gossip had suggested that Edward VIII would give up his lover to marry someone deemed more appropriate. If that had happened, if the previous king had produced an heir, then Bertie would have remained a duke all his life, as he'd claimed all along he wanted.
No, it didn't matter. Lionel was overjoyed at the thought of seeing Bertie again, and would have been even if Bertie had never become king, nor ever would. "I did receive a call - a telephone call," he told Myrtle. "From a patient I haven't seen in several weeks. He'd suspended treatment, but he's coming back. He has some important people to impress."
"Perhaps he's been invited to the coronation," said Myrtle. "Wouldn't it be exciting to meet the king?"
"I suppose it would," agreed Lionel. Still smiling, he glanced in the direction of the chilly front hall where he'd set down the telephone. "Perhaps one day someone will introduce us."