Today's Reading

Violet was still close to Winston; almost too close, Margot thought. Still in love with him, despite both their marriages. Still determined to defend him against all comers. A week after his wedding, desperately unhappy, Violet had tried to dash herself off a Scottish cliff.

"Don't you see," Margot demanded, "that Winston would never be Winston without Jennie? The way she snapped her fingers at convention, Violet! And her wit! We all queued at Hatchards when she published her memoirs, you know—and not just for the racy bits. Jennie was clever. They say she wrote Randy's best speeches for him."

"Cleverness is no substitute for love," Violet retorted. "Jennie barely spared Winston a thought when he was a boy. Only when he was old enough to be interesting—to worship her as she liked— did she bother to take him up. Poor chap might have been raised by wolves."

"That was as much Randolph's fault," Margot protested. "One almost suspected he disliked Winston."

"It was Jennie's job to bring them together. Instead, she packed Win off to school at the age of six! But I suppose it suited her to have him out of the way. More time for her men, Mummie."

"Nonsense! We all reared our young exactly the same way. You don't understand how it was, Violet, before the Vote and women's colleges and having one's own clubs. So much emphasis on birth and dress, all of us martyrs to our husbands' careers. Particularly in public life. Entertaining callers every day of the week—and hosting endless dinners. Sitting in the Ladies' Gallery at Commons until the middle of the night. In bustles, Violet! We sent you children off to the nursery because we had no choice. And much better you were for it, too."

"How would you possibly know?" Violet rose and gathered the cups. Her wide mouth had turned down bitterly at the corners. "Anyway—I didn't think you'd spout such stuff, Mummie. You never really admired Jennie. All these fine words of friendship are due to her being dead. You weren't always her champion. I remember you saying to Papa once, when I was small, 'If Lady Randolph had been like her face, she could have governed the world.'"

"Oh, my dear," Margot said faintly, and sank back against her pillow. "Did I say that? How brutal of me. I must have been jealous. I think I resented her supreme social ease. And your father admired her immensely, you know."

"Papa was a martyr to a pair of pretty eyes." Thus did Violet dismiss former Prime Minister Asquith. "You know Jennie had no more principle than a mercenary or Gypsy. Cross her palm with silver, and she'd promise you the earth."

"She kept her promises. If you had known her in her prime, Violet—she had the face of a Valkyrie. A commanding sort of beauty, with a frightening power."

"And nothing behind it, really, but selfishness."

"Perhaps," Margot agreed. "But what I liked most, if you must know, was Jennie's restraint."

Her stepdaughter laughed. "You can't be serious!"

"She could have ruled the world, as I said," Margot insisted, "if she had been half as ruthless as her beauty."

"Mummie—"

"With a face like hers, Jennie could have trampled all over the people who loved her. Including her son. But she didn't. Unlike many women with her power—unlike you, darling—Jennie was 'kind'. She understood pain and how to endure it. That's why other women adored her. Even when she stole their men."

"Am I unkind?" Violet shrilled. "Or merely honest?"

"A great deal of hurt has been done in the name of honesty," Margot said gently. "And now, if you please, I would like to turn out the light."
...

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