House of Cards [CHAPTER 46]



Lust broadens the horizon. Love narrows it to the point of blindness.

Sunday, November 28

The dawn chorus of the quality Sundays made sweet music for the Chief Whip and his supporters.

“URQUHART AHEAD,” the Sunday Times declared on its front page, supplementing that with the endorsement of its editorial columns. Both the Telegraph and the Express openly backed Urquhart while the Mail on Sunday tried uncomfortably to straddle the fence. Only the Observer gave editorial backing to Samuel yet even this was qualified by its report that Urquhart had a clear lead.

  It took one of the more lurid newspapers, the Sunday Inquirer, to give the campaign a real shake. In an interview conducted with Samuel about “the early years,” it quoted him as acknowledging a passing involvement in many different university clubs. When pressed he had admitted that until the age of twenty he had been a sympathizer with a number of fashionable causes that, thirty years later, seemed naive and misplaced. Only when the reporter had insisted the paper had documentary evidence to suggest that these causes included the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and republicanism had Samuel suspected he was being set up.

“Not that old nonsense again,” Samuel had responded testily. He thought he’d finished with those wild charges twenty years ago when he had first stood for Parliament. An opponent had sent a letter of accusation to Party Headquarters; the allegations had been fully investigated by the Party’s Standing Committee on Candidates and he had been given a clean bill of health. But here they were again, risen from the dead after all these years, just a few days before the final ballot.

“I did all the things that an eighteen-year-old college student in those days did. I went on two CND marches and was even persuaded to take out a regular subscription to a student newspaper which I later found was run by republicans.” He had tried to raise a chuckle at the memory, determined not to give any impression that he had something to hide. “I was also quite a strong supporter of the anti-apartheid movement and to this day I actively oppose apartheid,” he had told the journalist. “Regrets? No, I have no real regrets about those early involvements; they weren’t so much youthful mistakes as an excellent testing ground for the opinions I now hold. I know how foolish CND is—I’ve been there. And I love my Queen!”

  That was not the line the Inquirer chose to emphasize. “SAMUEL WAS A COMMIE!” it screamed over half its front page, declaring in “shocking revelations” it claimed were “exclusive” that Samuel had been an active left-winger while at university. Samuel could scarcely believe the manner in which his remarks had been interpreted; he wondered for a moment whether it was actually libelous. Yet underneath the headline, the article got even worse.

Last night Samuel admitted he had marched through the streets of London for the Russians in his days as a CND member in the 1960s when ban-the-bomb marches frequently ended in violence and disruption.

  He was also a financial supporter of a militant anti-monarchy group, making regular monthly payments to the Cambridge Republican Movement some of whose leaders actively voiced support for the IRA.

  Samuel’s early left-wing involvement has long been a source of concern to party leaders. In 1970 at the age of twenty-seven years old, he applied to fight as an official party candidate in the general election. The Party Chairman was sufficiently concerned to write to him demanding an explanation of “the frequency with which your name was associated at university with causes that have no sympathy for our Party.” He managed to pass the test and got himself elected. But last night Samuel was still defiant.

“I have no regrets,” he said, adding that he still sympathized strongly with some of those left-wing movements he used to support…

  The rest of the day was filled with fluster and commotion. Nobody truly believed he was a closet Communist; it was another of those silly, sensationalist pieces intended to raise circulation rather than the public’s consciousness, but it had to be checked out. The inevitable result was confusion at a time when Samuel was trying desperately to reassure his supporters and refocus attention on the serious issues of the campaign.

  By midday Lord Williams had issued a stinging denunciation of the newspaper for using confidential documents that he claimed had been stolen. The Inquirer immediately responded that, while the Party itself seemed to be unforgivably incompetent with safeguarding its confidential material, the newspaper was happy to fulfill its public obligations and return the folder in its possession to its rightful owners at Party Headquarters—which they did later that day in time to catch the television news and give the story yet another lease of life.

  Nobody took the story as having deep meaning. Most dismissed it as being as much about the typical incompetence of Party Headquarters as Samuel himself. But his campaign had run into misfortune since it began. Napoleon had asked for lucky generals and Britain could demand no less. None of it was reassuring for someone who claimed to be on top of events. It wasn’t the way to spend the final hours before battle.

* * *

He had called Mattie. “I need you. Can you come round?”

  She had all but run to him, at his home in Cambridge Street, and the moment he had closed the door against the outside world he was on her, over her, soon inside her. He seemed to have extraordinary energy, a man in desperate need of release. He had cried out as he had finished, a lonely sound that for a moment she mistook for anguish, or was it guilt? The pursuit of power raised many passions that didn’t always sit comfortably with each other. She knew that herself.

  When they had finished and she had eased her body off his, they lay silently beside each other for a while, lost in their thoughts.

“Why did you call me, Francis?” she asked eventually.

“I needed you, Mattie. I was feeling suddenly very lonely.”

“You’ll soon be surrounded by the entire world. You won’t have a moment to yourself.”

“I think that was partly it. I’m a little frightened. I need someone I can trust. I can trust you, can’t I, Mattie?”

“You know you can.” She kissed him. “This won’t last forever, I know that, but when you’ve finished with me I’ll understand more about myself and everything I’m interested in.”

“Which is?”

“Power. Its limits. The compromises it requires. The deceits.”

“Have I made you so cynical?”

“I want to be the best political correspondent in the country, perhaps in the entire world.”

“You’re using me!” he chuckled.

“I hope so.”

“We are different in so many ways, you and I, Mattie, but somehow I feel that if I can be certain of your”—he searched for a suitable word—“loyalty, then for a while the entire world might follow in your footsteps.”

  She ran a soft finger across his lips. “I think it’s more than loyalty, Francis.”

“We can’t get too deep, Mattie. The world won’t let us.”

“But there’s only you and me here, Francis.” She slipped on top of him once more and this time he didn’t cry out in anguish.





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