"The sun on the meadow is summery warm,
The stag in the forest runs free.
But gather together to greet the storm -
Tomorrow belongs to me."
The shrill voices sang out the old Fascist anthem in perfect harmony and in perfect English. The beautiful acoustics of the building made the children's voices echo for a fraction of a second after they had sung the final note.
"Bravo! Bello! Bravo!" applauded Edmondo Gustavus, his long white hair shaking with the vibration of his violently clapping hands. Part of him was genuinely applauding the children of 2008 whose voices he had just heard. Another part of him, though, was applauding a voice from his memory. This voice belonged to somebody who genuinely was partially English and who would grow up to be the best Fascist spy in the United Kingdom. In fact Edmondo was about to meet the old fellow. He certainly didn't have a high-pitchged voice now but he could make others sing like a canary.
An hour later and two places had been set at the table by palm trees overlooking the Strait of Messina. Although not far from the Fascist Training School of Calabria, where the children had just been showing off their English and musical skills, you couldn't see the massive corrugated-iron structure from here. All you could see were trees, sand and the sea. And, at the moment, a magnificent clear blue sky.
Edmondo appeared presently, now slightly breathless with the journey through the forest (something which he would have taken in his stride years ago).
To his delight two generous glasses of Greco di Bianco had already been poured out and left discretely on the table. Ah, you can't beat Calabrian wine! He remained standing. He knew his guest would not keep him long.
Sure enough the greatest Italian spy in England soon appeared, complete with pinstriped suit, umbrella and monocle and looking every bit the English gent. There was none of that effeminate English hand-shaking, however: as soon as he appeared he raised his hand in front of him smartly at a 45% angle with the palm downwards in the traditional Roman salute which the first Duce Mussolini had made mandatory all those years ago.
"Il Duce!" he intoned.
"Il Duce!" replied Edmondo, happily returning the salute. He gestured for his English friend to be seated. From now on the conversation would be in English as it always was with this particular gentleman.
As the sun set gloriously over the glistening waters of the Strait of Messina, a long and lively discourse came to an end.
And the world would never be the same again.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jeremy Ponsonby-Shannon-Law (the whole surname was pronounced "ponshlaw", but only really posh people knew that) had just joined what his father had called "the Plebs' School". He knew that there would be a good reason for this and had not questioned his father about it. He had loved being at Totteridge Independent School for Boys and this was very different, even though he was still a boarder here. They had a lot of frightfully lower-middle-class names for things, for instance the years: here the Upper Third were known as "Year 9". Worse still a lot of chaps (and chapesses) left school at the end of Year 9, i.e. when they were only 14 years old, and went to work in a garage or something called a supermarket. Everyone seemed to have plebby names like Cherise and if they did have a decent name they insisted on shortening it. There was another chap called Jeremy and he had a sister called Jemima. They were always known as "Jem and Jem". Now he had arrived he was known as Jem, too, so it was Jem and Jem and Jem, which was the best joke these yokels had probably thought up for many a long year. Everybody always pronounced each and every syllable of his surname. All the scholars split their infinitives and said "hopefully", "laters" and, sickeningly "OMG". Most distressingly of all they called the lavatory the "toilet".
This Classics-free, "toilet"-using, GCSE-taking establishment did, however, have one major thing in its favour: it had GIRLS! Some of them were very attractive (in a lower-mid or even WC sort of fashion). There was one called Stella Drummond whom he found particularly alluring. She had long red hair, which she combed and stroked constantly. She had narrow bright blue eyes with a bit of eyeshadow around them and a lower-mid golden necklace to match. Being in "Year 12" she could wear her own clothes and, unlike the other louts here, she took advantage of this to wear some elegant long flowing red dresses. Her voice was a classic Sloaney lower-mid voice: the overdone poshness combined with amusing slip-ups like "we'll be entertaining people at the weekend" instead of "we'll be having some people round" and "hopefully I'll see you tomorrow". Jeremy suppressed a smile whenever she spoke disparagingly of all the plebs who used an ordinary knife and fork for fish instead of the fish knife and fish fork which her family used. He was too much of a gentleman to point out that truly posh people used two forks for fish. He also made a silent note of her lower-mid mock posh prudery when it came to farting.
Jeremy had been taught not to make personal remarks and so said not one word about any of the terrible things he'd seen or heard at the school. Sometimes he'd even go native to amuse the chaps here: he once spent an evening with Jemima, the other Jeremy and Jeremy's pouffy friend Marty (all of whom were day pupils) during which the topic of Jeremy's first name filled his simple friends' brains with delight all night. On another occasion he sat with some other chaps and watched a football match on the television, drank beer instead of wine and burped instead of farting.
One night in the chaps' dorm Stella came in to check that all the lights were off. Of course they weren't. Overzealous prefect that she was she'd given each boy a quick whack with the cane. Jeremy had found the experience surprisingly pleasing and had decided to play the fool on purpose.
Stella had clearly realised what he was about and had ignored him, much to his disappointment. However a few months into his stay Stella had come again to visit the boys' dormitory and had been downright flirtatious with Jeremy while punishing him. He was delighted with this sudden change of affairs and was very pleased - in a gentlemanly way - to respond. She took him into the prefects' room to the jeers and innuendo of all the boys.
Jeremy's introduction to the little room nearly made his blood run cold. He'd always known about Catholics, of course, but actually to see an idol of Jesus on the Cross... he felt slightly queasy but was far too well-bred to comment.
Three hours, twenty cigarettes, two bottles of cheap French wine, three card games and two rounds of another sort of game later Stella and Jeremy decided to call it a night.
"So, your father's a Whig MP?" she asked.
"Folkestone and New Hythe," he said, extinguishing his cigarette and having a last enjoyable look at her two best attributes before her bra re-appeared and covered them.
"I wonder if he knows Lucius Drummond? He's my father. He's a Tory MP."
"Finchley & Golders Green?" enquired Jeremy. "Yes, of course. I should have known you were his daughter. Solid sort of a chap."
"Maybe we should all get together some time?"
So that's why she had suddenly been so friendly. Ah well, c'est la vie.
"There's the Boxhill Meet on Saturday. You chaps and chapesses could join us there. I'll get the All Clear from the old man."
* * * * * * * * * *
"N.P.W.H.," said Mr. Ponsonby-Shannon-Law for the umpteenth time. His lower-mis Tory guest, Mr. Drummond, had forgotten the old rule "No Politics While Hunting".
Jeremy and Jemima, two pupils from the pleb school, had been invited along to help the caterers as a goodwill thing. Ponsonby Ponsonby-Shannon-Law (whose first name really was pronounced "ponsonby") felt that he would rather be speaking to those two than to his irritating guest, who had explained how dreadful it was to be run by a PM whose party didn't allow Catholics and how many wine merchants would lose their jobs if relations with Italy cooled and what a bounder Ashdown was and how a revolution of Tories and conservative Whigs, such as Ponsonby-Shannon-Law, was the only solution. Mr. Ponsonby-Shannon-Law farted loudly while his guest was talking and was quietly amused when Mr. Drummond tried to force one out himself later and merely managed a slight "oomp". He was tempted to force his guest off topic by asking innocently about the Drummond boy but thought better of it. It was common knowledge that he was banged up in the Grey Tower on the say-so of some silly little queer.
To Ponsonby-Shannon-Law's delight when the hunting horn sounded it was his pride and joy, Jeremy, who sounded it. He saw his son rush to the fox's side before anyone else got there. He then saw his son take some of the warm blood of the recently-expired creature and gently stroke Stella's forehead with it.
Ponsonby-Shannon-Law was pleased that the hunt had gone so well, particularly as he had scheduled it for half past three, which was a most unusual time. He felt they had all earned the cold meat, caviar and cucumber sandwiches which awaited them back at the Manor.
* * * * * * * * * *
Lord Ashdown swept into the House of Lords, spoke briefly to them, then to the Commons, then to speak to Her Majesty. Next came the real appointment: the mixed chamber where Commoners, Lords and high-up party members gathered for any news (and also to socialise and get drunk).
This time, though, the atmosphere was different. Everyone rose as he entered; everyone sat when he sat. There was no farting, checking of e-mails, throwing of dice or any other distractions. Everybody looked silently towards their prime minister, waiting for him to address them.
"As I'm sure most of you are aware, Britain was today subjected to a cowardly terrorist attack. In this very chamber at 4:46 this afternoon a suspicious device was discovered. The owner of that device will be put on trial and, if found guilty, will face the only penalty that can be awarded for such a heinous crime. In the man's pockets were found the following two items."
The prime minister held up a purple Star of David on a jazzy orange background and a copy of a book written in English with a picture of Kaiser Fred on it and entitled "I Love the Kaiser". A gasp went through the hall.
"For those of you who can't see I'm holding up a symbol of Jewish Zionism and a book which any German spy would be happy to hold. By the end of the day these items will be in the hands of the British Police. At the beginning of the day they were in the hands of a ruthless terrorist, one who, in the name of religious extremism and treachery to his own country, would happily have see you all dead.
This afternoon the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by seven o' clock this evening that they were prepared, at once, to send us an acknowledgement of their actions and a serious token of their continuing goodwill towards us, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that, consequently, this country is at war with Germany. Rule Britannia."
Everyone muttered, half in shock, "Rule Britannia" as the PM glided swiftly out of the chamber.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Jeremy Ponsonby-Shannon-Law looked appreciatively down at his glass. His father had filled it with Greco di Bianco, a reassuringly expensive Italian wine, to celebrate the fact that he wouldn't have to stay at the plebs' school anymore. His father had been dashed clever in how he'd fixed everything up. Mr. Drummond hadn't questioned why the Meet had been at such a funny time in his eagerness to appear to be part of the Right Class and so had missed watching Lord Ashdown on the television agreeing to accept Catholics in the Whig Party for the first time ever (under a hail of paper aeroplanes from his fellow Whigs, of course). During that speech the PM had also taken the trouble to say that there were certain loudmouths in his own Party who had a bit too much to say for themselves on the issue of Fascism and that they needn't expecxt preferment until they learned to respect Britain's great trading partner. Lord Ashdown had been no threat at all to the values of the likes of Mr. Drummond.
The police hadn't questioned the fact that Mr. Ponsonby-Shannon-Law had just happened to be around when the terrorist was apprehended and knocked out, nor that he'd wanted to check the suspect's pockets in person while he was unconscious. Nobody realised that the man's "Istruzione", published in Rome, had been removed and replaced with two other items by the helpful Mr. Ponsonby-Shannon-Law. It had never struck anybody that the unsubtly-titled "I Love the Kaiser" (which had only ever been published in English) might have been produced by MI5 three weeks before or that Jewish fanatics didn't normally go for purple or jazzy orange. Lord Ashdown was convinced. Or maybe he'd just heard what he'd needed to hear. That was all that mattered. And Jeremy's father had put his son's mind at rest by promising him that he had persuaded his Party leader to go for a silken rope for Mr. Drummond so that he could die fulfilling, at last, his dream of being taken seriously as a gentleman. Jeremy admired his father's compassion. And they'd be getting loads of money from the Italians now: this war would give the Italians a chance to regain South Tyrol from Germany.
Son and father clinked glasses and sang the song both had known since their respective childhoods:
"Oh Fatherland, Fatherland,
Give us the sign
Your children have waited to see.
The morning will rise when the day is mine
Tomorrow belongs... tomorrow belongs... tomorrow belongs to me."