Diana, A Spencer in Love
A Novel

By Deb Stratas

Chapter One
Carefree Days

Lady Diana Spencer could hardly believe how blissfully happy she had become in just over a year. When she thought back to how miserable she had been at the Institut Alpin Videmanette in Switzerland last spring and yet how happy she was now in her own flat in London, she could jump for joy! It was 1980 and Diana considered herself a mature and cosmopolitan eighteen-year-old.

Diana had never wanted to go to finishing school anyway. Mummy and Daddy had forced her to go. “To make a lady of Lady Diana Spencer” was how Daddy had put it. Mummy especially had made it sound so glamorous. “Just think of the food, the fashion, the connections you will make in Switzerland,”Frances had enthused. At the time, her mother was pushing her to come out in a formal season; but Diana had dug in her heels and refused on the grounds that it was an old-fashioned, outdated practice. So the finishing school was a compromise of sorts between two stubborn women. What Diana really wanted was to be in London like her sister Sarah. But at age sixteen, she really hadn’t had a choice, despite her tears and tantrums. So off she went with her trunks and bags, packed off again just like Riddlesworth and West Heath boarding school send-offs.

She’d hated the Institute, as she called it, right from the beginning. She was one of the oldest girls there—not to mention the tallest, of course—and her French was very poor. Her three dormmates were instructed to speak only French to her so she found it rather lonely in that dim, dark room. She truly felt like an outsider. The Cordon Bleu cooking classes had been alright, but how many ways can a wife cook potatoes? The only escape from the dreariness was skiing in nearby Klosters, which was heaven. Diana had always liked being out-of-doors much more than in any classroom, and the Swiss air and challenging slopes were wonderful. Oh, and the other bright spot was meeting Nora Carlisle-Smythe, another British girl being held there against her will. The two of them had become fast chums, and the Institute would have been simply beastly without her.

Shortly after Diana came to the Institute, she knew it wasn’t for her. A girl just knows these things. She began her siege upon her family in earnest, writing letters to Mummy and Daddy, sisters Sarah and Jane and even to Grandmother Fermoy—sometimes four or five letters a day— begging to be allowed to come home. It worked at last as she knew it would. She was as finished as she was ever going to be. That had been the longest four months of her short life! The day she boarded that train back to London felt like the start of her true life as a woman.

And now she was the proud owner of her own London flat. She’d come home from Switzerland and convinced Mummy to let her live in her London flat with Sarah close by to look after her. After all, Mummy was spending a lot of time in Scotland with her husband Peter Shand-Kydd. Diana didn’t mind being on her own in the flat while she tried to settle into her new glamorous life and find herself a job. Her first one just hadn’t suited her. Mummy had pushed her into a three-year training course as an apprentice ballet teacher in Kensington. Madame Vacani ran the studio and had been impressed with Diana’s dancing at West Heath. So it seemed a natural choice, combining two of her favourite loves: dancing and children. Even though she had known years before that at 5’10” she was too tall to ever realize her dream of being a professional ballerina, she had thought Madame would have helped her find a way to dance more. Of course, Madame hadn’t really promised anything when Diana took the job, but still she had felt that she could have danced a solo or two at the children’s recitals or been more involved with the choreography.

In the end, it just was truly boring: teaching first position, second position, third position over and over again to a group of two-year-olds who just couldn’t pay attention. Diana much preferred just playing with them, if she were honest. After a few months of this, Diana and Madame parted amicably after a foot injury kept Diana from properly teaching lessons. She still missed the little girls though and dropped in occasionally for hugs and playtime.

To earn some money while she stayed at Cadogan Place—Mummy’s London flat—for a while, Diana cleaned for Sarah and her roommates. Luckily she really loved washing and tidying up and got a certain satisfaction from making order out of chaos because Sarah paid her a pittance.But she would have done anything to stay in London, away from her stepmother at Althorp! And Sarah was always so good to her.
Now here she was at 60 Coleherne Court, her own flat. Finally. Once she was eighteen, Mummy and Daddy had given in and let her live on her own in London. She had paid for the flat with her inheritance from her American great-grandmother Fanny Work. But she couldn’t maintain it herself so she had her “Sloanes” as her roommates: Carolyn Pride, Virginia Pitman and Anne Bolton. Diana had known Carolyn since West Heath boarding school days, and she was always a laugh. Diana liked being the boss and setting up the rotas for cleaning and cooking although she ended up doing most of the washing-up and hoovering herself.

Diana looked round the flat, smiled again and jumped up to wash her teacup and saucer. She had trouble sitting still at times and preferred to be busy—that or watching telly.

The door burst open, and three laughing girls spilled into the flat.

"Have you got a cuppa’ going, Diana? We’re parched from visiting the shops." Carolyn, who had long dark hair and an infectious smile, led the way although all three girls had arms full of shopping as they crowded through the doorway.

"Of course," replied Diana with a smile as she put the kettle on to boil. She sat back down on the sofa, tucked her long legs and bare feet underneath her and waited to be shown the shopping.

Carolyn held up a flowered dress with a lacy collar as she twirled. "How do I look, Madame?" she crowed.
Diana clapped her hands and smiled. "Crackin" she replied in her best cockney accent before slipping into her trademark giggle.
"Oh, Duch - we stopped at Boots and bought you a gift." Anne interrupted. She threw a small bag to Diana, which her friend neatly caught. Anne, who had straight, dark-brown hair and matching eyes, was the shortest of the trio.

“Oooh,”Diana said, digging eagerly into the bag from the chemist’s. Triumphantly she pulled out three eyeliner pencils in shades of blue, black and brown. “Just what I need for my collection. I have to keep up my sultry image with my smoky eyes. Ta, girls!” Diana tried to strike a sexy look but just looked goofy. The other girls all laughed.

“So how was your weekend at home?” asked Anne.“ Was it horrible?”All the girls knew how much Diana dreaded spending time with her father’s wife, Countess Raine Spencer.

“Just ghastly,” replied Diana, making a face.“She was bossing Daddy around as always and continuing to totally destroy Althorp and what my family has taken centuries to build and preserve.” Diana busied herself with the tea things as Carolyn and Anne exchanged a meaningful glance. There was no love lost between the Lady and the Countess.
“When she convinced Daddy to sell off our favourite Van Dyck painting—the Lady Andover and Lady Thimbleby—I thought he would burst into tears. It was soo sad. But since then, she has steadily torn our famous paintings off the walls and sold them to the highest bidder. All to pay off the death duties from Grandfather Spencer.” Diana sounded cross, but tears were not far off.

“Any new treasures to take their place?” asked Carolyn with a hint of irony, sipping her tea. Raine was famous for her garish and loud decorating style.
“You should see the South Drawing Room now,” Diana sniffed. “All reds and golds and gilded beyond recognition. My stomach churned, sitting there trying to make nice and have tea. And how proud she is of what she’s done!”

“‘Isn’t it just glorious, darling?’” Diana mimicked Raine’s high-pitched deliberate voice perfectly. “Ghastly, perfectly ghastly,” she repeated.
“And how was your dear daddy?”asked Carolyn. She’d met Earl Spencer on a number of occasions and had found him charming in a bumbling sort of way. He obviously adored Diana.

Diana sighed. “He’s just not the same since the stroke. He’s ever so much slower now: his speech, his walking, just everything. He’s not the same daddy he was two years ago.” Diana had been frantic when she’d gotten the call that her father had fallen and suffered a massive stroke.

“Didn’t your stepmother save his life?” asked Anne.

Diana paused and then shrugged.“ Yes, in a way, I suppose,” she replied.“ When he was rushed to hospital, they didn’t even think he’d survive the night. He was in a coma and had to have brain surgery to keep him alive.” Diana’s voice broke softly, but she continued, “Then she forbade us to see him—for weeks.”She stopped abruptly.

“But why?” probed Virginia gently. Diana was not one for sharing a lot about her past, and the girls were interested in hearing more. Virginia was almost as tall as Diana with dark-brown curly hair, extroverted and cheery. “Weren’t you, your brother and sisters close to your father?”

“Very close,” replied Diana. “Especially after the divorce when we all lived with Daddy. That was why it was so hard to be kept from him. She thought we were making him ‘tense’ and barred anyone but doctors and nurses from going into his room. We didn’t know what to do. But she was his legal wife so we could do nothing but wait. He was moved to Brompton Hospital and remained on life support for months. Every time we tried to see him, she would give orders that we weren’t allowed near him.Sarah shouted at her, but it didn’t do any good. I used to come and sit outside his room every night after cooking classes, willing him to wake up, speak up and ban her from his room.” Diana’s voice still held a note of bitterness.

Anne had met Diana’s father once when he had come to the flat soon after they had all moved in. “How did he manage to come out of the coma then, Diana? He seems a bit frail but fine now.”

Diana snorted. “Well, Acid Raine came up with this scheme to try an experimental drug on him. We never really got the whole story, but he did recover—albeit it quite slowly—and she always took the credit. I’ll never forgive her from keeping us from Daddy. What must he have thought when none of us came to see him?”  The panic in Diana’s voice was evidence of the past trauma.

“Acid Raine? Diana, you really are too much,” laughed Anne in spite of herself.“ Have you ever called her that to her face?”
“Sarah has dared me to, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve . . . yet. By the way, did I ever tell you that during that horrible time, I was invited to Prince Charles’ birthday party?” Diana had a deft way of changing the subject from emotionally-charged ones to something lighter.

“Come on, do tell,” urged Anne with excitement. The evening was getting better and better.

“You all know that Sarah dated the Prince for a while.” Diana’s tone was breezy and casual.“ Sarah really ruined her chance with him when she spoke to the press about their romance.”

“Didn’t she tell them that she would only marry for love—whether it be to a dustman or the Prince of England?” asked Virginia.  She had clearly followed the story in the papers at the time.

“Yes, and that was the end of her in the Prince’s eyes and those of the Palace. I love her to bits, but what an idea! If I got the main chance with him, I wouldn’t spoil it for anything.” Diana smiled and passed around the teapot once more.

“So how did you get an invite to his birthday party?” Anne was eager to get the whole story.

“Well, Sarah was invited; they were still friends even though the romance was finished. I was shocked to receive an invitation too. I still don’t know why, but I certainly wasn’t going to pass that up even though Daddy was in hospital. Sarah and I had a bit of a row about it. She didn’t want me to go; but really, what could she say when I asked her? I dieted for a fortnight before that party. I didn’t want to look like the pudgy little sister, but it didn’t really help.I went anyway – pudge and all.” Diana finished with a shrug.

“So what was Buckingham Palace like? What was he like?” Virginia was hanging on Diana’s every word.

“Well, of course, we knew most of the royal family from when we were children,” Diana replied casually. “As you know, we grew up in Park House on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk so we were used to seeing the royals from time to time. But this was my first time at the palace, and it was magnificent! There were over 300 guests all dressed so beautifully, massive floral arrangements everywhere, music playing—it was magical.” Diana had a faraway look in her eyes.

“And the Prince?”Anne prompted. Is he as handsome as he looks in the papers?”

“Devastatingly handsome,” replied Diana promptly. “He has the most piercing blue eyes, and he really concentrates on you when he speaks to you. The photographs don’t capture his charm at all. You can really feel it when you meet him in person.”

“Did he speak to you?” asked Carolyn. As Diana’s oldest friend, she had heard the story before but loved to hear it retold.

“He seemed pleased to see me. He told me he thought I’d grown. I replied, ‘I hope not, sir.’” Diana giggled.They had met once or twice earlier, but that was the first time that Prince Charles had really taken notice of her. He had come to Althorp once whilst dating Sarah and had asked Diana to show him the Picture Gallery. Sarah was having none of that and took charge of the Prince and the tour with haste. Diana had been an unassuming sixteen-year-old at the time and was gobsmacked that the Prince had paid her any notice at all. She had thought him most handsome at the time and nothing had changed her opinion of him since then.
“Did you dance with him?” asked Virginia, spellbound.

“No, but I didn’t expect to, did I? It was his thirtieth birthday party so he had to play host to all of his other guests. But I watched him all night as I danced with some other young men.I thought he was fascinating.” Diana was clearly smitten with the eligible and dashing Prince.

 “Did you see the Queen?” asked Anne.

“No, she wasn’t in attendance,” replied Diana, who seemed to tire of the conversation. “I expect there was a private family party later, perhaps at Windsor Castle.”

“And have you seen him since then?” continued Anne.

“No,” replied Diana shortly. “But I won’t say no to another invitation will I?” She smiled. “Now who wants a slice of Victoria Sponge with their tea?”

“Oooh, yes,” the girls cried in unison. “Is that from Althorp?” asked Anne.

“Yes, I nicked it from the kitchen before I left.” Diana giggled again. “Come on, girls, let’s tuck in.”

“Oh Diana. I’ve never seen anyone who can go from tears to laughter as quickly as you!” Carolyn patted Diana’s hand in a friendly gesture.

“Well, life is short, isn’t it? And who knows? Maybe my Prince will come by for tea sometime, and he wouldn’t want to see a drab face, now would he?”

The girls laughed in the companionable way of old friends and made short work of Countess Raine’s Victoria Sponge.

  *  *  *

Two days later Diana was up early as usual. She liked greeting the day before everyone else to get herself organized. After a quick breakfast of coffee and toast, she donned her working clothes of patterned skirt, Laura Ashley blouse and flats. She sped the short twenty-minute drive to Pimlico in her brand-new, bright-red Austin Mini-Metro listening to The Police singing “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da” on her cassette player. It was a warm, sunny day in June 1980, and Diana was proud of her very first car and her proper grown-up job.

Diana had been working at Young England Kindergarten near on to a year now and adored it. At first she had only worked afternoons two days a week, but she had fit in so well they had asked her to come in mornings as well. She worked Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays here and had another private-nanny position Mondays and Thursdays. Diana was eager to see her young charges after her weekend away. She mainly worked in the infant room where the youngest of the school’s students were just three years of age. She parked her car and rushed into the hall where twenty or so children were playing in small groups or looking quietly at books. As soon as they saw Diana, many of them rushed over to her, clamoring to be picked up amid cries of “Miss Spencer, Miss Spencer!”

Diana had learned early on that her 5’10” frame could be intimidating to small ones so she had unconsciously developed the habit of stooping down to their level. As she did so, she scooped up two toddlers into her arms as she smiled and called out to each of them by name.“

"Good morning, Amanda, don’t you look pretty today! Kenneth, your haircut makes you look so handsome.” Diana had a special word for each child as they clung to her legs, begging to be picked up. She spotted a small boy on the outskirts of the circle, holding a small piece of paper in his hand. Immediately Diana dislodged herself from the crowd and bent over him with an encouraging smile.

“What have you got there, Thomas?” she asked softly. Thomas was smaller than the other boys; he had muscular dystrophy and struggled to walk normally. He offered the paper to Diana, saying, “It’s a drawing I made for you, Miss Spencer. My cat Smokey.”

“Oh how lovely, Thomas.Thank you so much. I’ll put this on my wall in my flat. Smokey looks right chummy, doesn’t he?” Diana had a natural way with small children and was especially drawn to those who were smaller or suffering in any way.“ Do you want to hold my hand and come with me to the dress-up corner?” The first hour of the day at Young England Kindergarten was free-play where the children could jump on the trampoline, ride bikes, climb other equipment, etc. It was a super way to release their pent-up energy and tire them out before calmer activities. Diana knew that Thomas struggled with some of these large-motor activities so diplomatically steered him to the dress-up corner where he could play act as Superman—a Superman with strong legs.

Diana had checked in with Miss Kay Seth-Smith, an older graduate from Diana’s first boarding school, West Heath but her focus was clearly on the children. The next hour flew by as she admired junior-bicyclists, clapped at trampoline-bouncers and settled minor arguments. Plenty of hugs and kisses accompanied any stern words about sharing toys and the usual shoving and pushing when twenty three-year-olds played together.

All too soon it was snack time; as the children settled to their juice, cut up oranges and biscuits, Diana took a breather to chat with Alice, one of her fellow teachers.

“Diana, I don’t know how you do it,” exclaimed Alice. “Where do you get your energy and patience? It’s only been an hour, and I’m ready for a pint and some adult conversation.” Alice tended to the dramatic so Diana merely smiled.

“I don’t know; I just love them,” she replied. “The more kisses and cuddles I give them, the more I have to give. I believe children can never have too many hugs.” Diana wistfully thought of her own childhood and how a few more hugs and kisses would have made her feel more loved and cherished. “Children thrive and gain self-confidence with lots of affection.” Diana had no formal teaching training, but of this fact she was certain.

“Well, the children love you, no doubt about it. You are definitely their favourite.” Alice’s voice held no trace of envy. Diana’s natural way with the children inspired only admiration and the desire to improve her own patience level with the little ones.
They were interrupted by Miss Kay ringing the bell, signaling the end of snack time. Today was a special day as the children were having an outing to the local Pimlico library. Diana and Alice were busy for the next hour with the parent helpers, rounding up the children into small groups and leading them to the small library around the corner.

After a short browse and a few trips to the loo, the children settled down to story time with the librarian. Today’s book was The Tiger Who Came to Tea; and although she had children spilling all over her lap, Diana allowed her mind to wander to the conversation with her friends from two nights ago.

I wonder when I’ll be lucky enough to see Prince Charles again. There was just something about him that drew me to him. There was a spark between us . . . I know there was. Our fates are intertwined. I just feel it. Her thoughts roamed along these lines, wondering where and how she would encounter the handsome Prince again. She had an intuitive feeling that it was just a matter of time.

Soon enough it was time to walk the tired children back to the hall next to the gardens of St. George’s Square. There would be no time today for the small-group work that included exercises to help the children with their numbers and letters; or painting and drawing. Diana preferred more unstructured playtime. As she helped the children with their cardigans and backpacks, they gathered around for farewell hugs.

“See you tomorrow, Stephen. Button up your jumper, Tamara.” Diana bustled around the little ones. “Thomas, you’re not going to leave without a hug, are you?” Diana chuckled, bent over the small boy and took him enthusiastically into her arms as his mother entered the hall.

“Diana, you are a treasure,” gushed Mrs. Langham. “You’ve really brought Thomas out of his shell. You’re going to be a great mum someday.”

As usual, Diana waved away a compliment with a shrug and a smile. “I really love him. He’s such a bright little boy, aren’t you, Thomas?” She ruffled his hair. “Now listen to your Mummy, and we’ll see you on Wednesday.” The remark about her future abilities as a mum she chose to ignore.

The other children drifted away with their mothers or nannies as Diana and Alice sunk gratefully into the miniature infant chairs, waiting for the kettle to boil.

“And now we have to do it all over again with the afternoon class,” sighed Diana. “The days go by so quickly.”

“Speak for yourself, Diana,” groaned Alice. “I love the little blighters for sure, but I’ll take my kisses and cuddles from Robert, thanks ever so much.” Alice had recently become engaged and was full of wedding talk. She was a lovely girl but had mousy brown hair with a fringe hanging in her eyes and a spotted complexion. If she can find her true love, there’s hope for me yet, Diana thought to herself uncharitably.
“Thomas is my main man for now,” replied Diana cheekily. “Now let’s tidy up before the afternoon crowd is due in.” Diana enjoyed picking up toys and sorting them almost as much as the washing-up at home.

The afternoon passed by just as swiftly as the morning; and, before she knew it, Diana was kissing and hugging goodbye another group of clinging children.

Although Diana was not generally given to introspection, she thought to herself that this was the perfect job for her. She adored taking care of others, and the children were so grateful and responsive to her. They didn’t expect much: some gentle guidance, someone to admire their “works of art,” to kiss their cuts and bruises away and really just to show them some love and attention. It really wasn’t difficult, and the toddlers were so trusting and loving.

For some reason she gravitated to the smallest and neediest; and they were drawn to her. Like young Thomas from the morning class and little Emma who was so painfully shy. Diana was the only teacher who seemed to be able to jolly her out of her shell and inspire confidences about her pet hamster. Diana had told her about her own childhood pet Peanuts, a guinea pig that she had cherished. Diana and Emma had many serious conversations about pet-care and cage-cleaning. Diana had won a prize for her diligent care of her pet so, of course, she was a pet expert, wasn’t she? The young woman giggled to herself and mentally shook the day from her mind. School was out!

 *  *  *

Her flatmates greeted Diana in a flurry of activity.

“Duch, there you are. Fancy going to the cinema with us tonight? We’re going to see The Empire Strikes Back after an early dinner out.”
Diana shook her head no as she leafed through the mail.

“No, thanks all the same. Mummy is ringing tonight, and I need to speak with Nora about this upcoming weekend at her parents’ home in Cheltenham.And besides -  ewww! Science fiction is not for me. Now if it were Grease on offer, that I couldn’t refuse.”

“Oh, Diana!” exclaimed Carolyn as she put the last touches on her lipstick, fighting over the bathroom mirror with Anne.“ How many times have you seen that film?”

“Only three,” replied Diana with a shrug.“ But that John Travolta is dishy.I would be Sandy to his Danny anytime,” she sighed happily as she hummed Summer Nights under her breath.

“You are such a romantic, Diana. Real life is just not like that.” Virginia was the practical one and was on a one-woman mission to bring Diana back to earth. “Danny and Sandy came from different social planes. They had a short-lived summer romance. Impossible that they would have made it long-term.”

“Bah!” replied Diana.“ You just have to believe in true love, and it will find you.”

“You sound like one of your romance novels now, Duch. Onto a new batch from your weekend at home, are you?” snorted Virginia. It was a running joke with the girls that the hated Raine was the daughter of Diana’s favourite romance author, Barbara Cartland. Diana usually came home from Althorp with a care package of new Cartland titles. She read them voraciously.

“Yes,” Diana replied, pointing to a new pile. “I just started her latest, The Power and the Prince.It’s simply divine.At least some small solace for having to deal with that woman.”

“Have you ever met Barbara in person?” asked Anne curiously as the girls crowded to the front door.

“Yes and she’s ghastly! Makeup and hair to look like a clown. Dressed from head to toe in pink with impossible barking dogs around her all the time Quite silly, in fact. But her books are tremendous.” Diana easily dismissed the famous author. Anne and the others, in fact,

wondered if it were just a matter of being the parent of her hated stepmother that condemned Barbara in Diana’s eyes.

“Well, we’re off then.” Carolyn rushed the girls out the door. “We’re almost late now. Enjoy your Prince, Duch—even if he is a storybook one.” Laughter followed them out the door.

The flat was suddenly quite silent as Diana was left alone. Blissfully alone if she were honest. As much as Diana adored her job and her young charges, she did appreciate her alone time. She scrounged through the cupboards and refrigerator to fix a solitary supper. She sat down in front of the telly with a ham sandwich, a bag of crisps and the last piece of the stolen Victoria Sponge. She tucked in with her usual gusto, getting instantly enthralled with one of her favourite programmes, Crossroads.

The telephone interrupted Diana a short while later. She got up to turn off the telly and answered the phone as she curled up on the sofa.It was Mummy.

“Hello, darling,” Mummy greeted her fondly.

“Good evening, Mummy.Are you okay?” Diana settled into the sofa, pulling a cushion onto her lap.

“I’m alright.And you, Diana? Not working too hard, are you?” Mummy wasn’t too fond about her daughter’s choice of job although she admired Diana’s independent spirit.

“Yes, lovely. Thomas drew me a picture today.” Diana smiled to herself and glanced to the child’s picture on the refrigerator. “Tomorrow I go to Mrs. Robertson’s to look after Patrick.”

“Are you sure it’s not too much for you, dear? They don’t treat you like a servant, do they?” Frances Shand-Kydd was quite aware of the difference in social classes and strove to ensure everyone stayed in their proper places.

“No, Mummy. Mrs. Robertson is very kind and really only wants me to mind Patrick.But I don’t mind doing a bit of ironing and tidying while I’m there. It does help her when she gets home from a busy day at work to have a tidy flat, and I’m there anyway. And Patrick is such a dear, smiling and laughing all the time. It’s so easy just taking care of one little baby compared to the twenty at the kindergarten.” Diana had started to work for the Robertsons in February; they were an American family on assignment to London for a year. She looked after their baby boy Patrick—who was just over a year old now—for two days a week in their Belgravia flat. “I just love that little boy!” she gushed.

“Well, at least you’re still not cleaning Sarah’s flat for her and her friends,” snorted Frances.“ She really took advantage of your good nature by having you pick up after her for nothing.” Frances had never liked that arrangement and wasn’t afraid to say so.

“Mummy, you know very well that she paid me a pound a day to clean for her. And I really didn’t mind .I needed to do something to get settled here in London. It kept me busy.” Diana adored her older sister Sarah and always defended her.

“Well, you’re settled now, dear; and I am proud of you to be working and managing on your own in London—and you only turning nineteen in a few weeks.” Frances heard the edge in Diana’s voice as she stood up for her sister and wanted to move on tactfully.

 “Speaking of Sarah, I just spoke to her. How was your weekend? Was it horrid?” Mummy always wanted to hear the worst about spending time with Daddy. Diana was forever torn between confiding in her mother and betraying her father. It had been like this almost as soon as her parents had divorced twelve years ago. She still shuddered thinking about the time when both parents had bought Diana a dress for a friend’s wedding, and each expected her to wear the one they had chosen. Diana had been frozen immobile, remembering how awful it was trying to make both her parents happy.In the end her mother had won out; Diana hated being in the middle of two people she loved.

“Oh, what did Sarah say?” Diana sidestepped the question.

“Rather the usual, it seems. Your father trailing his wife around the estate like a sad puppy dog, hanging on her every word. Pretentious teas and suppers. Charles was there . . . how is your dear brother?” Frances was eager for news of her only son, the sixteen-year old Honourable Charles Spencer.

“Oh, Mummy, he was fine. Making goofy eyes at me at supper every time Raine said something outrageous, trying to make me laugh. He is glad to be away from boarding school but hating it at home. Did Sarah tell you about how she dared him?” Diana was enjoying the chat with her mother and giggled in anticipation of her mother’s reaction to this latest tale.

“No, she didn’t. She had to ring off quickly to go on a date. Do tell me!”

“You know how that woman overdresses everything from her hair to makeup to jewelry to her outfits—any time of the day or night? Well, we were out by the pool, and I was diving like I always do. Sarah had put some music on the radio, and some of the company was dancing. Two of Raine’s children—Rupert and Charlotte—were there so it was all good fun. Of course, Raine was decked out as if she were about to attend a royal garden party whilst we were all in our bathing suits. She was wearing an emerald-green caftan with gold embroidery and matching turban. I mean really!

“Sarah dared Charles to throw Raine in the pool. We all three Spencers wanted to see her flailing with her hair soaked and makeup all over the place. I don’t even think she knows how to swim! So Charles took the bet and asked Raine to dance. He edged her closer and closer to the pool. But somehow she caught on to what he was trying to do and laughingly danced away from him. Too bad! That would have made something interesting in a dreary day. Can you just picture her!” Diana laughed out loud, a loud guffaw that was contagious.

“Oh, Diana!” exclaimed Frances, trying desperately hard not to laugh. “You are quite incorrigible!”

“It wasn’t me, Mummy; it was Sarah and Charles.I was an innocent bystander.”

“And your father . . . how is he?” Frances always wanted to know but hated to sound as if she were prying.

Diana’s voice took on a tender note. She loved her father dearly and worried about him endlessly since his stroke two years ago. “He’s just not the same, Mummy. He has no energy and wanders listlessly around the house. Of course, he can’t ride any longer or even walk the estate without tiring too quickly. He can’t really speak properly; you really have to pay attention to him to understand what he’s saying. But he’s fine, really,” Diana finished in a rush, feeling somehow that she’d betrayed her father.

“Well, that’s alright then,” replied Frances briskly. “Now onto a more cheerful and urgent topic—your upcoming birthday! Do you want to come up here for a family supper with Peter and me? Or shall I come down to London for a day of shopping and perhaps a luncheon with Sarah? Jane can’t make it, of course, with the baby due any time now.” Frances lived in Scotland with her second husband, Peter Shand-Kydd. Diana quite liked her stepfather; it was he who had nicknamed her “Duchess” for her bossy ways. Frances preferred a quiet country life to the hurly-burly of London, and the two seemed quite happy in their remote cottage.

“Oh, a day of shopping, please, Mummy!” replied Diana.“ And luncheon.That would be lovely. Do you think Charles would come too?” Nothing would please Diana more than a reunion luncheon with her mother, sister and brother. It was a rare chance when they all managed to be together; it was just too bad that Jane wouldn’t be able to make it. Diana couldn’t wait to meet her new niece or nephew.
“I’ll ring him and see,” replied Frances.“ I do think he has filled up his summer diary with weekends away with friends, but I shall insist upon him coming to your birthday lunch. Leave it to me.” Frances was a marvel at organizing, and Diana had no doubt she’d manage to bring the family together.

“Alright then, darling.I’ll ring you next week with the arrangements. Goodbye.”

”Goodnight, Mummy, and my love to Peter. And give Ginger a pat on the head for me. Bye.” Diana had a soft spot for her mother’s orange cat.

Diana had just put the phone down when it rang again.

“Hello?” she inquired brightly.

“Diana, hello, it’s me, Nora.”

Diana loved to hear from her friend from the Institute. “I just this minute finished talking to Mummy. Are you alright?”

“Oh yes, drudging away at work, but no one wants to hear me whinge, do they?” Nora worked as a secretary in the solicitor’s office of one of her father’s friends. She hated it and made no bones about marking time until finding a suitable husband.

“No one whinges like you do, Nora!” giggled Diana.“ How was your weekend? Did you enjoy the theatre with James?”Nora had a new beau James that she was “trying on” for the role of husband . . . with somewhat lukewarm results so far.

“The theatre was grand. We saw The Music Man.The singing and dancing was tremendous. Unfortunately, James was a total bore. A bore with roving hands, that is!”

Diana pictured Nora sitting in her Chelsea flat. Nora was as short as Diana was tall and as dark as Diana was fair. She was a tiny dynamo with curly brown hair and flashing green eyes. She lit up any room with her liveliness and tendency to be cheeky. Nora was in great demand and had refused two marriage offers in the last year.

Diana felt that her friend had truly saved her life during the short-lived Swiss Institut term. How could she have ever survived without her jokey ways and their late-night kitchen raids? They’d become fast chums then, and time had only deepened their friendship.
“A real European then,” offered Diana.“Russian hands and Roman fingers?” Diana howled in laughter at her own joke.

“Yes, well, you wouldn’t be laughing if it were you constantly removing his hands from your lap throughout the performance. And he turned into an octopus at the door. I had to fight him off with a vengeance. I truly think he expected me to invite him in. What nerve! I haven’t picked up the phone since. I don’t dare in case it’s him ringing. That was altogether too much of a wrestling match for me!”Nora had a way with words that usually drew vivid pictures in people’s minds, and this was no exception.

“Too bad you didn’t have an umbrella or you could have whacked him over the head with it, and who knows where that would have gotten you?” Diana was still chuckling.

“Not a bad idea, although I wouldn’t have wasted it hitting him over the head. I would have aimed far lower.” Nora always seemed to say the things everyone was thinking and didn’t dare to say. Sometimes it was off-putting, but Diana loved it. Nora’s mother was American, and Diana thought perhaps this forthrightness came from her. Regardless, Diana adored her friend’s breezy ways and wished she could say the things Nora said without offending anyone.

“Poor James. So I suppose he’s not invited to your house party this weekend then?” Diana joked.

“Definitely not!” exclaimed Nora.“ You are still coming, though?” Nora’s family owned a family estate in Cheltenham, and Nora had been planning this country weekend for quite some time.

“Of course,” replied Diana.“ Who else is in the party?”

“Besides the two of us, Arabella, Mary, the Turner-Atkinson brothers and Rory Scott. Now that James is on the blacklist, we need one more man to round out the number to eight. Who else can you suggest?” Nora ticked off the names quickly.

“Hmm, how about Clive or Lionel? They’re both respectable.” Although Diana had a wide circle of London friends, she was not close to many young men. She dated regularly but somehow kept them all at arm’s length. According to Nora, it was because Diana hadn’t yet found someone who made her heart beat fast.

“Let’s start with Lionel; he’s more amusing. I’ll ring him up. When will you come? Will you be there for tea?”

“No, probably not,” replied Diana.“ I can’t leave work until 4 p.m.; and then with London traffic, I doubt I’ll be there until later. I’ll certainly be there for supper though.” Diana liked driving herself to these weekends; it gave her the freedom to leave if she suddenly remembered a “previous engagement.” Her favourite getaway story was a mythical toothache due to her fear of getting her wisdom teeth seen to. This also conveniently excused her from meals or teatimes when necessary.

“Good. We’ll be eight for supper then on Friday night. My parents will be there too, of course. They’re dying to see you.”
“And I them,” responded Diana, thinking fondly of the Carlisle-Smythes. Nora’s father was a Member of Parliament for Cheltenham North with a bluff hearty manner that belied his tender side. He adored his wife Corinne—nicknamed Coco—whom he’d met in New York twenty-five years earlier. He’d swept Coco off her feet, whisked her to England and promptly married her. Theirs was a happy marriage, and Diana loved being around them.

“I’m so looking forward to it after my horrid weekend at home,” continued Diana with an intensity that surprised even herself. She proceeded to give the highlights—and lowlights—of her Althorp weekend to her sympathetic friend.As usual, time passed quickly as the two friends confided in each other.

“I have a new joke for you.” Diana was giggling before she even started.

“Go on then, Diana, let’s hear it,” replied Nora. Diana was renowned for her bevy of jokes— mostly off-colour—and was known to lighten up many a tense situation with a well-timed one.

“A bloke goes to the doctor and says, ‘Doc, I’ve got a lettuce stuck up my arse.’ The doctor has a feel about and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, but this is the just the tip of the iceberg.’”Diana hooted at her own joke.

Nora groaned. “Diana, that’s bad. But in a good way.” Nora laughed along with her friend.

Just then, the door to the flat opened and Diana’s flatmates came in. Over the sound of Nora’s laughter, she could hear Anne and Carolyn arguing over who was more dishy—Harrison Ford as Hans Solo or Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker—in The Empire Strikes Back.

“The girls are back, Nora, so I’ll ring off now. I’ll see you Friday then in the country. Let’s have fun!”

Diana and Nora said their goodbyes and rang off.

Diana threw down her pillow, jumped up and said, “Who’s for some cocoa and biscuits?”

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