To his vast surprise, Julie and he are invited to a dinner at Carlton House in honour of the Grand Duchess Katherine of Oldenburg, sister to Czar Alexander. She’s visiting England for reasons best known to herself and has for three months commandeered the whole of Pulteney’s Hotel in Piccadilly. The Regent greets his towering little brother genially, as if there’s never been a harsh word between them — although Edward is now too wary of him to accord this genialty much significance. All he wants to say is: Look at this man! But everyone looks anyway. You can’t avoid it, the way you can’t avoid looking at the sun rising or a shooting star etching its line of light down the walls of a black heaven.
Wales has an artful new uniform, one which contrives to make him appear great of stature rather than just extremely corpulent. The shoulders are extended a foot on either side of his neck by large epaulette boards; various luminous honours of an inordinate size distract your gaze from his visible bulk; a thick belt has been drawn in so tightly, probably by pulleys and a dozen straining footmen, that he actually seems to have a waist, or an equatorial zone; there are trousers that conceal legs the size of barrels better than breeches did; a voluminous black cravat hides most of his cascading chins; and a rippling auburn wig of equine glossiness makes him look ten years younger. Well, perhaps five. But you have to credit the ingenuity entailed, the organization, and the strength of fabrics able to withstand the massive pressures and tectonic shifts of a body always busy, always in a state of complex rearrangements to accommodate the shipments of supplies, fuels, medicaments and sundry comestibles to be hauled into its various chambers, tubes, valves and filtering systems hourly, as they’re processed, used up and and then ejected, all of it to keep the mighty soft machine running and sufficiently energized to move about too – within reason, of couurse. Wales would be better suited as a minor planet or moon, a dazzling body of brilliant colours floating across the night sky several million leagues away from earth. At this range his gravitational field threatens to crush you.
“I’m inviting all the Coalition leaders to London for a grand celebration of the victory,” the Regent confides, his boots creaking as he stands swaying gently in a corner of the drawing room. There’s a gilded rosette on the wall behind his head that resembles a nimbus. “But,’ he goes on, ‘Alexander’s sister has shown up early. God knows why; but her hotel’s costing me over two hundred guineas a week. I think she’s looking me over as a prospective husband,’ he says, almost bashfully. ‘Her own died a while ago. If I could only get rid of that Brunswick bitch …” He pauses, calling for brandy, more fuel; and then he continues, “What a match, eh? England and Russia! Oh! There she is now, Eddie. Come…”
He tows Edward by the arm over to a small woman in her late twenties, dressed entirely in black silk, with even blacker lace up to her neck, and a half-veil which fails to hide a rather beautiful, somewhat asiatic face, severe yet beguiling, and ringed by dense black curls. She’s gracious in a distant way as they’re introduced, but she then pays the Regent almost no attention at all, asking Edward about the West Indies.
‘One hears so much about your heroism,’ she says, as he cringes, and you can feel the Regent heating up like a bread oven.
At dinner – the usual outrageously excessive affair – the Grand Duchess is seated to the Regent’s right, with the Duke of York to his left. He, the Duke of Kent, is wedged between Lady Conyngham, Wales’ latest mistress this week, and the stone-deaf Duchess of Leith; but he’s still close enough to hear, above the din of a hundred glittering guests, much of the conversation between Grand Duchess and Regent. It’s not going at all well either, despite Wales laying on all his considerable charm with a trowel and ignoring every other guest in the process. York is obliged to listen to what sounds like a sermon from the Bishop of Westminster, nodding and yawning a great deal. Did Wales seat him there deliberately? Are they at odds? Where’s Cumberland? The answer to all these questions is Wales’ great addiction to making people ill-at-ease. The closer you are to him, the more uneasy he wants you feel, like the moons of Jupiter.
As soup is served, at a snap of the Regent’s thick fingers a group of musicians starts to play somewhere behind the head table.
“Yech!” croaks Grand Duchess Katherine. “I hate music! It gives me nausea. Make it stop!”
Wales hollers at the musicians to cease and get out of his sight. This they do, traipsing away with their instruments, looking very puzzled and dejected.
“Your husband has been dead for a long time now,” Wales tells her most indelicately, “so why should a woman as young and beautiful as yourself still cover her charms with such deep mourning?”
Katherine throws him a look of unconcealed disgust, but she doesn’t reply at all.
“For the life of me,” says Lady Conyngham, a presentable yet unattractive woman in her forties, wearing too many jewels and too revealing a dress, “what he sees in that ugly witch confounds me…”
Edward tells her, “I imagine he sees a sister of the Russian czar, ma’am…”
‘Pah! She could be Macbeth’s weird sister…’
He wants to correct her on this relationship, and almost does. But he’s more interested in eavesdropping than in her opinions. From what he can make out, the czar’s sister is trying very hard to antagonize the Regent – and with no small degree of success, since Wales is hitting the brandy rather harder and earlier than usual, throwing it down, guzzling and gulping. Look at him! His face is on fire! This won’t end well, like Macbeth, he thinks.
“Where is your daughter, the Princess Royal?” Katherine now asks Wales bluntly, shunting food around her plate as if trying to make it go away. “She should be here. Why is she not?”
“She stays at her own residence,” Wales tells her, his huge red cheeks glistening. “She’s too young to go out into the great world yet…”
Katherine looks as if she doesn’t consider this world, his world, to be at all great, greatly bloated maybe, saying, “But she’s not too young for you to have fixed her a husband, is it not so? I believe she has just turned eighteen, has she not? That’s old enough to enjoy a little freedom and amusement, I’d say…”
Anyone else would have been kicked out the window down Pall Mall and into the Thames for prying into his personal affairs, but to Katherine the Regent simply says, “When she is married she’ll do what her husband wishes; until then she does what I wish…”
“I should like to meet her.”
“I’m sure that can be arranged, Madame…”
And then the Grand Duchess Katherine wanders her way into truly forbidden territory, saying, “I should also like to visit your queen, Caroline – or is she still Princess of Wales? Your English titles are most annoying. I find it also most strange that she too is not present. Is there a reason for it, or a custom behind it? Anyway, I must meet her…”
Christ! he thinks. We’ll be at war with Russia by the morning. Who the hell coached her in dinner conversation guaranteed to enrage your host? Wales is steaming, melting into his jacket, his great belt about to burst apart and bat his guests out into the park. “That will be quite impossible,” Wales tells Katherine in a voice upon which gobbets of reason float like grease in soup. “We’ve been estranged for many years now – indeed, I’m currently seeking a divorce…” Currently for twenty years.
“I shall visit her anyway,” Katherine says, she the Grand Duchess, deploying the kind of finality that comes from years, a life of having your wishes granted unquestioningly. “Please arrange my visit,” she adds, as if talking to her maid.
The Regent has travelled into the uncharted territory speculated to exist somewhere beyond apoplectic fury, but never confirmed. He looks imploringly over at Count Leven, the Russian Ambassador, who sits opposite Edward. Almost imperceptibly, Leven returns the look with a tilt of his chin. A faint tutting of disapproval comes from his wife, Princess Leven, who’s seated a few chairs down, and known to loathe the Grand Duchess Katherine of Oldenburg, and loathe her with that especially caustic kind of loathing only women seem able to manage for one another. Men of course are dead long before reaching such a stage in their relationships, and dead not from natural causes.
“Eh?” says the Duchess of Leith, looking at Edward with eyes so pale and grey they resemble gobs of fat set into the desert of rouge that is her mask.
“I said nothing, ma’am,” he tells her.
“Iced pudding?” says the old duchess, in a rattling phlegmy voice “That will come after the main courses. Are you not familiar with our customs over there in Rustshire?”
“She’s deaf as a stone,” Lady Conyngham informs him, as if this isn’t woefully apparent. “Georgie’s looking very upset, wouldn’t you say?” she goes on, sounding deeply satisfied now.
“Too much brandy,” Edward suggests, hoping she’ll shut up so he can overhear more of the Regent’s predicament.
But Lady Conyngham is drinking heavily too, and she won’t shut up; she will talk. Now he must also keep shouting at the Duchess of Leith, who mishears every word said to her by anyone — not that many are ever said to her.
“Can you stop shouting, Eddie,” shouts the Regent at one point, clearly trying to find a whipping-boy before his barely-repressed fury is expelled from its theoretical containment.
By signs, Edward indicates that Leith’s duchess is deaf. Wales is about to suggest something characteristically dreadful – like having the old lady dragged from table and kicked down the stairs — when Katherine interrupts him: “Poor old voman,” she says. “Are you not a ruler here? Can you not be courteous and find her an ear trumpet?”
Wales fires off a canine volley at a footman, whose maker will be met if he doesn’t find immediately such a device. The man obviously has no idea what an ear-trumpet is; but, like every other servitor here, he knows better than to ask his master for clarification at such a time – at any time. Eventually, one is in fact found, and the Duchess of Leith presses it to her ear with the cone so close to Edward’s head he is forced to lean sideways for the rest of dinner. He wishes for an ear-trumpet of his own so he could listen in on the Regent more easily. Instead, he must listen to Lady Conyngham’s prattle about the vicissitudes of her life, the travails she endures, the simply ghastly people she encounters. At one point, Princess Leven rolls her eyes at him – whether at the dinner in general, the Grand Duchess Katherine, or at Lady Conyngham’s crapulous babble, he can’t tell. But an ally is always welcome, if only for an hour. Time passes drearily; and then the Regent’s conversation gets noticeably louder.
“If you ask me,” says Katherine, waving a hand at the world, “everyone in this ridiculous country of yours is mad!”
“This is intolerable!” Wales hisses at Count Leven, who now sits as pale and still as a plaster statue. For him this is business not pleasure, of course, and the business is faring terribly.
The ball following this excruciating banquet promises to be even more disastrous, since Katherine refuses to dance with the Regent, or indeed with anyone else prsent, citing her widow’s weeds as a reason so indisputatious that no one will raise so much as an eyebrow at it . Edward stands with Augie watching Wales and his mistress rotate around the room like a planetary system: the thick rotundity of Earth and the Moon’s pale sliver.
‘Someone’s going to pay for Georgie’s ruined evening,’ says Augie. ‘You know how he is – someone will pay…’
‘Yes,’ says the Duke of Kent, ‘and I have the awful presentiment it’ll be me…’
‘Ah. Balance? He was nice to me earlier, so he’ll have to correct the balance, won’t he? I’m going to have one dance with Madame Julie, and then leave…’
‘Hmm. Why don’t you have a woman, Augie?’
‘They don’t like me…’
‘I see a difficulty there,’ he says, hoping it’s not one of the more difficult difficulties.
‘You don’t even want to know what I see, Ed,’ says Augie, scrunching up his mouth as if ringing out waterlogged lips.
‘You’re right: I don’t want to hear it.’ Perhaps, he thinks, no one should hear these difficult things that so lower the spirit you become a difficulty yourself? Maybe we should all hear nothing? There are monasteries for silent orders, where 200-odd monks don’t say a word to one another, except at Christmas – which itself probably becomes that year’s greatest difficulty every year. Whenever I’m near those unnatural brothers, he tells himself, I always feel crushed, ground down to a nub. Away from them it’s gone, the spirit elevates again. You cannot ignore these observations. A physical sickness can be transmitted to others by mere proximity – why not the metaphysical maladies that cause a soul to sicken, even to die? What you eat makes you what you are, which makes you who you are too; could who you’re with have similar effects on the mind? He thinks of the crabbed and misaligned circles that congregate around Wales and York, cautiously convinced that his theory is correct.
This conviction grows firmer and takes root as he hears Wales call out something truly vile clear as a cracked bell a hundred yards away across the mirrored sheen of parquet, followed by, ‘Hicket! Hick-ult!’ A juddering, pulverising bout of solidly industrial hiccups intervenes in what was about to be a horrid exchange between brethren.
Two more voices vie for his attention now, as Augie says, ‘What’s that bloated clown want now, eh? Pillory you, is he? Tell Umpty-Grumpy t’go fuck hisself – if he can reach, yah?’ There ensues a first-formers’ giggling jag that itself may well be one reason why women find the Duke of Sussex’s magnetism pulling them in the other direction, as if his poles have been reversed.
Almost simultaneously, from a few feet behind him, Julie whispers a slurred complaint about Walers’ mauling of her, saying she wants to go home: ‘Now, Wedward!’
Oh dear. By now he’s turned to her, agog with shame and fury, badly wanting to rush at his eldest brother and end the warped regency with a pair of coal tongs smashing through his skull and squeezing that diseased brain to death. But the contact-transmission theory gives him pause. So, he uses his arm as a yoke on Julie’s shoulders to make her trot briskly out from this glittering hell-hall and straight over to their carriage in the mews.
‘Whass ‘er name?’ says Julie, demanding incoherent knowledge of Wales’ new mistress, as they rattle and grind south along the King’s Road.
‘You’re drunk,’ he says, not reprimandingly, just a simple declaration. Julie may have been tipsy once or twice during their years together, but never drunk. ‘You mean Lady Conyngham?’
She bridles. ‘Dwunk?’ she says incredulously, throwing back her head in an exaggerated manner and uttering one of those exaggerated hound-like laughs that are a one-syllable bark. ‘Hargh!’ Why is it that the inebriated never believe they’re drunk?
But he is no longer listening, no longer caring about the enormities that are quotidian in Carlton House. You walk into a lion’s day and taste his food, then you deserve to become his food, don’t you? It isn’t his fault – it’s yours, for knowing better and then acting worse. Approaching Putney Bridge on the towpath road, he looks out at hundreds of flickering yellow lights, some big as a bouquet, most smaller than candle flames. They mark the spots where those whose lives are supported by the slow brown river live and work. Here in his makeshift little bivuac the snail-gatherer, who sells his molluscs as food to those who can afford no other kind of meat; there a family of pure-finders,who collect dogshit for the tanneries – although no one seems to know why they want it – a dozen or so mudlarks live over there in a box-like shack barely roomy enough for Edward’s Napoleon collection, spending their days scouring the boggy river shores at low tide for whatever’s hidden under slime, sand and silt – not much you’d think, but their “much: is not yours. Under a blackened rag stetched from one bridge strut to another, he sees, their filthy faces ghastly in firelight, a band of toshers, whose trade is searching London’s labyrinthine sewers for scrap metal and anything else of value that has ended up in those tidal brooks of human waste that never ebb, constantly fed by a city growing larger by the day, as migrants from the length and breadth of our island, and the four distant corners of our empire are drawn to this city by the legends they’ve heard of its fantastic horde of riches, its solid gold streets, jewelled pavements, and the staggering sums paid out in wages to even the bootblack or sweeper, who are all dressed like sultans in silks and satin, their work like play. You wonder what they make of the reality when they’re in it. You could ask them, for some are here, roasting roots and acorns over charcoal in the dripping damp of Thameside, their fear of a future all that makes the present bearable.
This, he thinks, is the greatest city on earth. There ought to be a question mark after his thought, but it cannot bear any more weight.
There’s a Congress now at Vienna to deal with the multitudinous problems created by France since 1793, by the revolutionary wars, the Napoleonic wars, and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. It’s quite an endeavour to sort all of this out. Entire nations have been dislocated; states have changed hands several times; frontiers need to be renegotiated. It’s a reorganization of the world – our world, the world England all but owns, now that Europe is a charity-case. Few are bothered by the squabble in North America, that new world so far away. The Yankees are still coming over the border like feral pigs, stealing whatever they can, destroying whatever they don’t want – until we catch them and shoot. We win some, we lose some. But it’s poor stuff, the war – if you can call it that in all honesty. Our only real concern is with England, which should be starting to prosper like never before, starting to body out and swagger around the great globe, just like the Prince Regent at his ball. Wales is the empire materialized, anthropomorphised. If there’s too much of him, you now know why. We sometimes ask ourselves how much is enough, and the answer is usually too much.
However, the Regent’s hopes of marrying the czar’s sister are not the only ones crushed under his boots over coming weeks. Though eagerly awaited, prosperity is rather slow in coming – not that we broadcast this to our millions and millions of subjects, huddled in their huts and lean-tos, slouching through their jungles and paddies, dreaming of that celestial city on the Thames we make sure they hear all about, even though it doesn’t exist, or not as we describe it.
But let’s not be too harsh, for the place is not without its charms. Even Edward enjoys the vibrancy of a city where much of life is lived out in the open by a bewilderingly diverse society, people from everywhere and anywhere, who may be grindingly poor but survive through grit and ingenuity, plying their innumerable trades with a pride the rich may find misplaced, but the workers of this world understand completely. As he rides alone through World’s End, heading for Chelsea and then north to Mayfair, Edward understands it too. Not many years hence, another member of that blue apex, Mr. Mayhew, will understand and revel in it completely as well. If we we wish to see our great city as they see it, there is no better guide than Mr. Mayhew, and we ought to let him paint us the picture.
“The pavement and the road are crowded with purchasers and street-sellers. The housewife in her thick shawl, with the market-basket on her arm, walks slowly on, stopping now to look at the stall of caps, and now to cheapen a bunch of greens. Little boys, holding three or four onions in their hand, creep between the people, wriggling their way through every interstice, and asking for custom in whining tones, as if seeking charity. Then the tumult of the thousand different cries of the eager dealers, all shouting at the top of their voices, at one and the same time, is almost bewildering. “So-old again,” roars one. “Chestnuts all ‘ot, a penny a score,” bawls another. “An ‘aypenny a skin, blacking,” squeaks a boy. “Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy— bu-u-uy!” cries the butcher. “Half-quire of paper for a penny,” bellows the street stationer. “An ‘aypenny a lot ing-uns.” “Twopence a pound grapes.” “Three a penny, Yarmouth bloaters.” “Who‘ll buy a bonnet for fourpence?” “Pick ‘em out cheap here! three pair for a halfpenny, bootlaces.” “Now‘s your time! beautiful whelks, a penny a lot.” “Here‘s ha‘p‘orths,” shouts the perambulating confectioner. “Come and look at ‘em! Here‘s toasters!” bellows one with a Yarmouth bloater stuck on a toasting-fork. “Penny a lot, fine russets,” calls the apple woman: and so the Babel goes on.”
And so it does, so it does. Edward goes on too, but Mr. Mayhew stays behind, lost in the crowds, lost in time. Since Edward is lost in thought, and needs to be alone to do it, let us look elsewhere to see what is going on this bright and not really very damp morning in the capital of our empire, with those cries of vendors still bouncing of the bricks and tiles to be hurled away across green acres by an energetic little breeze that knows its business.
Queen Charlotte plans to hold two drawing rooms for the European dignitaries during the coming month of their visit to celebrate the Ogre’s great fall and, if we’re honest, to gloat a little too. The Queen consults with her eldest son, who she will never refer to as a regent, on the issue of a guest list. It is a tricky issue, as are most issues if she’s involved with them. Her daughter Sophia, who was present at the time of this meeting, tells the Duke of Kent about it later, which is the only way we could have known anything about it. For Edward records what he was doing for every minute of every day, but he rarely records what anyone else was doing with their own millions of minutes.
Their mother and Wales had realized, almost simultaneously it seems, that many of those dignitaries arriving in England for the great jamboree would be relatives of Princess Caroline – mostly nephews or cousins – and they will naturally expect the Princess of Wales to be present at the proposed drawing rooms, as well as at many other functions.
“There’s no way I’m going to have that woman anywhere near me,” Wales had shrieked, stamping his feet, wanting to smash something – which he can’t decently be doing at Windsor; not that decency is ever very high on his list of concerns. But what to do about this unimagined enormity?
After calming him with solemn reassurances, as she’s done since he weighed one stone not 41 and knew only one word to go with his weight, the Queen and he began to concoct between them a rather cowardly letter to Caroline, which reads: The Queen considers it to be her duty to lose no time in acquainting the Princess of Wales that she has received a communication from her son, the Prince Regent, in which he states that Her Majesty’s intention of holding two Drawing-Rooms, having been notified to the public, he must declare that his own presence at her court cannot be dispensed with, and he desires it to be his fixed and unalterable determination not to meet the Princess of Wales upon any occasion, either in public or in private. The Queen is thus placed under the painful necessity of intimating to the Princess of Wales the impossibility of Her Majesty receiving Her Royal Highness at her Drawing-Rooms…
Well, there you go. It’s signed Charlotte R., but pullulates with Wales’ signature pompous circumlocutions, and his love affair with mawkish euphemism. It’s also a grave mistake; for it provides the spark that ignites some sort of gunpowder that’s been accreting in Caroline’s whirling brain, probably for decades now. Back in favour as the public’s ‘poor Caroline’, she’s also not without support from some of the Whigs in Parliament. These include – much to his folly — Augie, Duke of Sussex, and the mercurial lawyer, Henry Brougham. And these men have now realized that a divorce between the Regent and Caroline is in fact highly undesirable. If he remarries amd manages to produce a male heir, as unlikely an eventuality as this certainly is, young Princess Charlotte’s chances of becoming the monarch will be threatened — and everyone, everyone, likes the Princess Royal, likes the idea of her as their queen. No one’s happy with the Regency, not that many thought they would be. You can’t rely on Wales; he’s too unpredictable, even for someone long known to be unpredictable, which you might ascribe to this unpredictability. But no one likes an absolute unpredictability. You never know what to expect, and you need always to know a little, or else everything’s unexpected and you might as well be living in Bedlam or on the moon. Also, Wales could die at any moment, leaving a right mess to clean up. But being so unpredictable even this prediction is specious. All that can ever happen is what you least expect to happen. You can’t live like this, yet we do, after a fashion we do.
Even the attempt to force a marriage between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange is now seen as the Regent’s intolerance of another sun rising over his world and rising not so very far behind his own. His desperation to obtain a sufficient blot of evidence on his wife to justify divorcing her, or so it’s thought, reveals a distinct intention in him to remarry. It’s also believed that the Duke of York wants Charlotte out of England so his own regency, if it happens, will be unfettered. The fact that York has thought of this, however, means it probably won’t happen. In spite all this gnashing unpredictability, though, we still expect Wales to die soon – and so does he. On his bad days. All his days look depressingly bad to us, but they clearly aren’t, for much of the time he seems convinced he’ll live at least until we’re all dead, if not longer. Of course, everyone thinks this at times, if not at most times, but not the way Wales thinks it. He makes you think he really believes it, which inclines you to believe it, even if he really doesn’t. It is Crackerbox Palace, and we know it; but you can get used to anything in this life and, no matter how frayed or antic, soon think it’s normal, can’t you?
It’s widely believed, and doubtless true, that lawyers are Satan’s spawn; so it is no surprise that Henry Brougham is the man who, unravelling this portion of Fate’s short-term planning, thus urges Caroline to bombard her husband with letters reminding him of his obligations to her. These obligations are mainly the necessity of he and she appearing together in public. It may not seem much, but you have to be a lawyer to realize that everything and anything can be much if you want it to be so, and if you’re adept at torturing the noble Roman language into weeping submission on thousands of pages fraught with tautologies, caveats and circumlocutions that make suicide preferable to reading another barbarism or travesty of pig Latin, verbs everywhere in a sentence but where they should be, at the end. Holding a sheaf of such insults to the average reader of la language he once thought he’d mastered, Caroline, cites, as an example of this proposed and necessary togetherness, their daughter’s similarly proposed and necessary wedding. And then she mentions, of all things, her and Wales’ inevitable coronation as king and queen. If she could think of any more likely upcoming royal events, she would certainly have mentioned those too. Women are not to be tampered with, because they are rarely what they seem to be. Terror prefers a gentle façade in order to make its true nature, when revealed, seem even more terrible – and her fury is a bubbling lake of sulphur, burning, toxic, and smelling indescribably awful too. But she does, presumably with satanic assistance from Brougham,, soon dream up something equally vexatious. As she’s done before, and with spectacularly pyrotechnic results, once again she shares much of the ensuing correspondence from Carlton House, in all its humiliating and toe-curling personal detail, with the press. Alas-alackaday. Napoleon himself could never have struck at England’s heart so devastating a blow. Even if he’d tried, we had an army and a navy to deal with the Corsican usurper. To deal with Caroline’s maddening demands, there was only a pen and paper – and that worked out well, didn’t it?
So it is that, when least he needs it, with the starry elites of all Europe arriving in droves daily, Wales finds the London papers, every one of them, wallowing in the swill their readers crave, now the war’s over, more than air, more than anything: royal scandal. The morning editions have been reprinted three times before noon.
This especial scandal, a consensus of booze-addled hacks agrees, had its inception when Wales failed to attend the Vauxhall Gardens victory celebrations, the binge he’d personally organized – and all because Caroline had announced her intention to attend the event. O, the pettiness of our Regent! With the publication of that specific vile letter, the one conceived and hatched by Wales and Queen Charlotte, the letter banning Caroline from the Queen’s drawing rooms, general support for her reaches a new zenith. And, as you might expect, scornful derision, cartloads of it, are dumped hourly on Carlton House, as the Regent plumbs new depths, seeking a nadir that may well not be there. Wales feels he might sink forever down through an infinite, black and sticky void. These voids are of course necessarily bottomless and, by definition, also empty. But his of course is full of echoing jeers, spittle, hurtling clods of mud, or worse, and the howling laughter of dolts and riff-raff who, in the lost light of bright day, used to be so insignificantly tiny that he couldn’t really see them at all. Now they’re even in his bedchamber, gobbing down over the curtains, big bare bums farting in his face, one even defecating on the lace pillow near his wincing face. He’s the one now becoming too small for them to see; but he’ll never be so small they’ll let him escape the stinking slimey hell they’ve brought along as tribute. Wales is no longer sure if his nightmares are staged during sleep or waking, or if there’s any difference between these states anymore. There’s certainly no rest anywhere. He can’t even summon up much wrath at the thought of Caroline dancing jigs of triumph down the road there in Bayswater. When York ventures to ask him how he’s doing on the adternoon of the longest day that ever dawned, he simply stares at his younger brother with eyes like crushed crab apples and says… well, he says nothing at all. With Wales, there is no worse sign than silence. York is not inclined to return to this sinister silence, not ever.
As if this situation were not sufficiently maddening and soul-destroying, the Grand Duchess Katherine of Oldenburg is still shrilly insisting on her visit to Caroline, who she insists on calling the Princess of Wales, no matter how many people advise her not to do it. Have arrangements been made? She asks this infuriating question two or three times a day, asks it of anyone who reads her screeds at Carlton House. Whoever does read them always conveys on the scroll sent back to her at Poltney’s Hotel the same answer: No, such arrangements haven’t been made; and Wales will not be badgered by her into making them. Her bill at Pultney’s Hotel is now thousands of guineas, and Wales has no intention of paying it, just as the Grand Duchess Katherine has no intention of paying it herself either, less still economizing a little until the debt is miraculously settled, or at least reduced. And how will this happen if neither party involved will settle it? Perchance her brother, Czar Alexander? He’s the only possibility; but some species of religious scruple prevents him from assuming the debts of others. It may be what the Hindoos call “karma”: you barge into someone else’s trouble, you find yourself barging out with whatever appalling burden they’d been carrying into this world now on your own bent shoulders and impossible to shake off. So, the czar, manly though he likes to think he is, is not your man in this debt case. Or perhaps in Russia brothers never pay sisters’ debts? All this pecuniary balderdash also streams through the Regent’s bursting head, as hiccuping minor-demon journalists crown it Oaf of England. Caroline, Katherine, Charlotte, Katherine’s hotel bill, Caroline’s letter, Katherine’s astonishing capacity for insult, Caroline’s boundless malice, marriages, cornonations, round and round it all goes, round and round. Can it get any worse? Yes, for we forget that every crowned head in Europe is now on the Prince Regent’s doorstep expecting a tirelessly obliging and generous host. Fuck, he thinks. Fuck. They mean me, little me – and I feel so very, very, very sick. Please make it all go away. And for Christ’s sake, will someone bring me a drink! He sits bolt upright, the sweat streaming down his face as if he’d been sleeping underwater. His pillow is like a sodden sponge. Panic. That’s what he feels – panic!