From the bucolic Hampshire villages of Jane Austen to the steamy rainforests of Borneo, Katy and Clara Yehonala join a new heroine to confront the devastating price the world pays for beauty.
The Body Shop dances across the glamorous fashion capitals of the world and treads the horrific, secret world of corporations in the prehistoric rainforests of Kalimantan revealing the grim world of human rights abuses and rainforest bastardry.
The climax will leave two mothers uplifted by their magnificent daughters and facing loss that must be endured like the rivers tell time, not the clocks.
Locals say this picturesque corner of England’s green and pleasant land has only witnessed two insurrections since Magna Carta.
The first arose in 1911 when the Broughton Temperance Society marched down the village’s main street under their banner in the wake of the formidably buxom Mabel Blake, their self-appointed president. The Dowager Lady Blake, whose bosomy grandeur loomed no less impressive than her transom, both flared to bursting by a tightly-laced whalebone girdle, was not to be trifled with. A step behind strode the rector, the sepulchral Reverend Twyford, his apexing eyebrows hornlike over pince-nez spectacles beneath a felt bowler hat.
The Band of Hope’s deep-toned brass instruments oompahed their anthem, “Sound the loud timbrel”, and Mabel’s fleet of acolytes, resplendent in their ostentatious bonnets and corseted finery, sang in full voice while children skittered between their ranks in their plus-fours and flat caps. A half-dozen men marched too, those either firmly under the thumb of their God-fearing wives or teetotallers lathered with self-righteous indignation.
The locals, and a dozen cows taking a shortcut along the high street to a new pasture on the other side of the village, watched the procession. The cows got their rumps smacked with sticks to move them aside so Mabel Blake’s armada could sail past unhindered. A few flicked their tails while their brown eyes contemplated the scene, bemused, offering the odd moo and a cowpat to the refrain. Locals’ rumps needed no encouragement to yield right of way.
The parade assembled on the gravelled village square to be harangued by the vicar from a makeshift pulpit – the bench usually attended by passengers as they waited for the twice-daily Andover bus service. The response of the drily pious gathering was an energetic appeal to a higher authority that the new tavern, The Tally Ho, be cast to rubble by a divinely-inspired bolt from heaven. For, in an affront to decency, the new pub was directly across the village square from St Mary’s church, their Norman bastion of rectitude, which had presided over village sobriety for a thousand years.
The looming sacrilege that The Tally Ho would shortly provide sanctuary and beer for dissolute men recovering from the Reverend Twyford’s fire and brimstone Sunday sermons was a bridge too far for the Temperance Society. Their pleas to the Almighty went unanswered. As it happened, another pub, The Greyhound, opened five years later with no protest. The hymn of the Temperance Society then was “Onward Christian Soldiers” as the Great War swept up the patriotic men of the village, dissolute and devout alike, into its horrors. Even the Reverend Twyford, who his maker betrayed in the muddy carnage of Passchendaele.
Broughton’s second insurrection happened a hundred or so years later, led by another woman. This one less Rubenesque, but her fiery passion more than made up for what she lacked in Mabel Blake’s voluptuous majesty. Her name was Cassandra Spencer, the 22-year-old daughter of Emily and granddaughter of General John and Elizabeth Spencer. Jack and Liz to their many friends among Hampshire’s established order.
Cassandra, or Cassie as she preferred, was a rabid environmentalist and an equally enthusiastic feminist with a degree in community law from the Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris and a left-wing, take-no-prisoners attitude to match. Cassie loved the vibrancy of the rive-gauche, its jazz bars, the Latin quarter, and the bohemian writers, artists, and student philosophers who still inhabited the area long after Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Nancy Cunard and a host of others had left their indelible marks. She said it was where Paris, and Cassie Spencer, learned to think.
Her first foray into the protest movement also began at the Panthéon-Sorbonne. There she joined other strong-willed women to send a message of solidarity to their Muslim sisters after the “burkini bans”, calling out Islamophobia and demanding the French authorities respect the rights of every woman to wear whatever she chose. Theirs wasn’t a popular stand at the time following a spate of jihadi terrorist attacks which had left everyone xenophobic and panicky. But not even the threat of being labelled a terrorist sympathiser would deter Cassandra Spencer.
Cassie had inherited her mother’s English-rose looks and grace and did her best to hide her privileged background behind an anorak, flashing blue eyes and a mop of long sandy-blonde hair.
If you were her friend you’d meet a different Cassie, one with a sunny disposition and a brand of satirical humour unique to the well-educated English that made her popular with those who got past the rapier tongue. Being at least halfway intelligent was the best, indeed the only, way to cross that bridge unless you happened to find yourself among the downtrodden.
What aroused Cassie’s insurrectionist ire, sparking Broughton’s second mutiny, was the Hampshire Council’s decision to lease her cherished downs to three wealthy landowners who had won grazing rights for their cattle and sheep. Cassie favoured skulduggery to better describe their victory. The South Downs, or Broughton’s end of them, were the last natural woodlands and rolling hills not yet leased to farmers and a place she had roamed and played in her childhood, as had generations of villagers.
For the outraged Cassie Spencer, enough was enough. She rounded up five of her Sorbonne anarchist-inspired friends who descended on the village and set up camp at the Spencer’s country estate, Broughton Manor, where they plotted their militancy.
On the morning of battle, the group dispatched their lawyer to the Winchester courthouse to obtain an injunction against the “rape of the downs” while Cassie and her partisans prepared to blockade the only access road to the woods.
‘I’m coming too,’ said her grandmother in a show of solidarity.
‘My God, Gran, you can’t come. You’re much too…um…’
‘Let’s just say a senior citizen, shall we Cassandra. And please try not to be blasphemous, dear. Besides, I didn’t realise there’s an age limit for chaining oneself to a tree and having a cup of tea. I love these downs as much as anyone. Not to mention I’ve called a few of my friends; they’re going to meet us there and they’re bringing sandwiches.’
‘Me too,’ said Emily. ‘Someone sensible ought to be there.’
‘Well, the more the merrier,’ laughed Cassie. ‘Good grief, I can’t believe I’m going to war with a politically correct version of Dad’s Army.’
The planned protest turned out to be the most excitement Broughton had experienced since VE-Day. For the usually unassertive villagers, gossip about the general’s granddaughter was on everyone’s lips, and surprisingly, twenty or so men, women and children turned up with placards to join Cassie and her friends. The protest also lured newspaper reporters who converged on the downs eager to cover something more enthralling than church fêtes or the parish cricket team receiving their customary hiding on the village green.
Cassie and her militant friends chained themselves to large beech trees and sat on the track, linking arms and blocking the way for the expected vehicles, their spirits and courage bolstered by John Lennon and Alessia Cara’s Earth Day songs. Having dipped their beaks in civil disobedience, they waited for the consequences.
Three hours later, two police vehicles bounced their way up the rutted track, followed by two pick-ups with workers aboard, ready to commence fencing and clearing works in the woods. Bringing up the rear drove a council vehicle, disgorging an officious-looking sheriff.
Four burly policemen from the neighbouring town of Andover emerged from the police vehicles, dressed in overalls and army boots, accompanied by the village policeman. All six lined up facing the protesters, unsmiling, showing a version of persuasion that looked a lot like intimidation and brute force. Meanwhile, the workers in the pick-ups lit cigarettes and sat back, waiting for the entertainment to begin.
The local village policeman stepped forward, painfully aware he would have to live with the consequences of today. He knew all too well he was still several generations away from being a local despite having lived here for five years. He hoped he could appeal to the protesters’ better judgement before reinforcements became necessary, and he surveyed the now slightly nervous group, singling out the obvious ringleader.
‘Good morning, Miss Spencer. Cassandra. I know you and your family very well and you all know me. I’m here this morning in an official capacity and I must ask you and your group to move along peacefully so these workers can access the woods.’
‘Good morning, Constable Lesley. Am I to assume your pleasant greeting is intended as an official move-on order?’
‘If you insist. Yes, Miss Spencer, I’m instructing you and your friends to remove yourselves from the area. I have a council order and a reasonable belief you are likely to exercise a breach of the peace.’
He glanced at Emily and the ageing Elizabeth Spencer in what he hoped they would interpret as a plea for help. Their cool stare was as uncomfortable as his collar was beginning to feel. He turned back to face Cassie.
‘Please, Cassie, none of us wants or needs any unpleasantness in the village. However, I have a job to do and I am obliged to do it according to the law if you refuse to move.’
‘Constable, my friends and I do not have the remotest intention of obeying a move-on order. We are lawfully protesting the council’s decision to permit the destruction of protected wildlife in this public space. The Wildlife and Countryside Act protects critically endangered flora growing in these woods from damage by heavy vehicles, domesticated animals and especially from those semi-domesticated workmen over there. We are demanding you do your duty as a police officer, and as a local, and inform that bumptious toad hiding behind you about the law.’
Constable Lesley exhaled, his body language giving away he stood in the last place he wanted to be. He turned to the shire official who removed some papers from his jacket and stepped forward. Puffing out his chest and challenging the shirt buttons around his ample stomach, he read the edict aloud, now drowned out by the repetitive chanting of the protesters’ slogans. Their voices swelled as their confidence soared under Cassie’s confrontational leadership.
‘Miss Spencer,’ bellowed he, glowering at Cassie after completing the formalities, ‘there have been no representations made to Council about endangered flora and the time for any such submissions passed two weeks ago. Therefore, you are legally obliged to let these vehicles pass, or you and your posh bolshie chums will be arrested and charged.’
Bolstered by the mounting raucous taunts and protests, the now incensed Cassie stared down the police officers and the council official. Her eyes flashed in defiance.
‘I’m telling you again we are here in a peaceful protest defending critically endangered flora, which English law allows. We bolshies will resist any unlawful effort to remove us from the woods.’
‘Officer, you are instructed to do your duty,’ shouted the sheriff, passing his final judgement.
With a resigned nod from Constable Lesley, one of the policemen came forward with bolt cutters and severed Cassie’s chain, freeing her from the tree.
‘Cassandra Spencer, I’m arresting you for failing to obey a lawful order to move on from this public place. You are not obliged to say anything, and I warn you to be careful what you do say. You will be charged with an offence against public order.’
Cassie immediately sat down again. Her friends surged forward, jeering and mocking the police as they moved in to arrest and handcuff her. Emily, fuming, confronted the police as two brawny officers picked up her daughter and carried her kicking and struggling to the police wagon.
‘What heroes you are! I hope you’re proud of yourself, Constable. If any of your bullies hurt my daughter or harm even as much as a hair on her head, I promise you I’ll chase you through every court in England.’
‘Emily, dear, don’t say anything that will get you in trouble,’ her mother advised, squeezing Emily’s arm gently. ‘Cassie will be fine. Honestly, I’d be more worried about the officers. Go home and let Jack know what’s happened. He’ll know what to do.’
Elizabeth Spencer turned to Constable Lesley.
‘It’s David, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, Mrs Spencer.’
‘David, as you’ve arrested my granddaughter, I’m afraid you will now have to arrest me. Do you intend to set two of your dreadful officers on me as well? I’m sure all these nice newspaper reporters will be more than happy to record your strong-arm tactics against an eighty-year-old woman.’
‘Mrs Spencer, please don’t put me in an impossible position. At worst, Cassie is only likely to receive a small fine and a warning. I’ll even do my best to ensure it’s just a warning. Leave the woods peacefully and we’ll say no more.’
‘David, you are entirely missing the point. You are our local policeman, and frankly, you should be ashamed of yourself. You know this village and the people who live here. You should also understand these downs have been part of Broughton’s heritage for centuries, back to when the Celts lived here even before the Romans came. My granddaughter doesn’t care a hoot about the fine. Neither do I. However, we do care passionately about our English countryside and our history. There comes a time when resisting the law becomes morally the right thing to do, David. And this is one of those times. We’re all disappointed you have not chosen to use your authority to support the village in this fight, and I’m sorry you have put yourself in an awkward position. Now, you will find out I am a determined old woman in full support of my granddaughter.’
With the protesters’ enthusiastic cheers ringing in her ears, and with some help from Emily, the old woman lowered herself onto the track and folded her arms. Her implacable expression left no doubt this situation was unlikely to turn out well for David Lesley.
Faced with his duty of arresting the elderly wife of the village’s most distinguished citizen, retired General John Spencer DSO MC, after just taking his beloved granddaughter into custody, he swallowed hard before taking centre-stage in his personal Dunkirk.
‘Elizabeth Spencer, I am arresting you for disobeying a lawful order to move on and hindering the passage of traffic.’
He turned to his colleagues and shouted over the jeers of the rowdy mob of protesters and the flashing cameras, ‘Help Mrs Spencer to her feet and escort her to the wagon; there’s no need to handcuff her. Please come along quietly, Mrs Spencer.’
The scene echoed with the sarcastic applause of protesters and the workers, who were thoroughly enjoying their ringside seats. The officers locked up Elizabeth Spencer with Cassie and before long Cassie’s five boisterous friends joined them and the newly ordained “Broughton Seven” were driven away to the police station.
Thinking the worst to be over, Constable Lesley turned, only to see twenty locals seated mutinously on the track inviting their own arrests. He absorbed his newly-won pariah status and pondered the great injustices of the world.
Within minutes, the village grapevine spread the news that “outsider” policemen had arrested General Spencer’s wife and granddaughter on the downs. Within a quarter of an hour, dozens of parochial villagers began arriving in support, offended enough by the foreign assault on their rural bulwark to ensure no one would pass into the woods that day. David Lesley’s fate became sealed as the new chant seemed to imply his manhood may be questionable, even in jeopardy.
Mercifully, Cassie’s lawyer friend turned up with an injunction before verbal exchanges descended into internecine warfare. The order stated that the chalky woodlands contained several colonies of rare Red Helleborine orchids and were thus protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. In addition, the restraining order banned any vehicle access, development or alteration to the downs habitats pending further investigations and finished with an appendix warning of the offence to knowingly cause, permit, or engage in actions to damage protected flora.
To the cheers and applause of the protestors, Cassie’s war was over. For now.
Emily found her father sitting under the canopy of a shady alder next to the stream. He’d dozed off in the afternoon sunshine, an open book on his lap, its pages flipping over in the light breeze. He opened his eyes as she adjusted the rug over his legs.
‘How did the protest go, Emily?’
‘Daddy, I need to have a word.’
‘And where’s Cassie and your mother?’
‘That’s why I need to have a word. Mum and Cassie got arrested and taken to gaol.’
Jack Spencer burst out laughing as Emily retold the story of Cassie’s war in the woods.
‘Not a bit surprised. Those dimwits should have known better than to threaten either of them. That Lesley’s a blithering idiot; man’s got the tactical brain of a cabbage.’
‘I’ll admit he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory this morning, Daddy, but I expect Cassie’s war may have been his first. Unfortunately, the lawyer didn’t turn up in time to stop them from being arrested and taken away, which might also have saved his reputation. I didn’t envy the position he found himself in though, he reminded me of Guy Fawkes pleading for a bucket of water. Anyway, the good news is Cassie got a court order stopping John Halford and his cronies from letting their livestock loose on the downs. Seems they’re home to a rare orchid species. You learn something new every day, don’t you?’
‘I believe they’re called Red Helleborine and they’re critically endangered. Only found in three places in the whole of England, so they say. Four now.’
‘What! How did you… Or is it better not to ask?’
‘Consider it a military secret. You’ve done well with Cassie. We can all be proud of her.’
‘Hmm,’ muttered Emily, under her breath. ‘She adores you, you know. I can see why.’
The old man’s eyes sparkled with pleasure.
‘Can’t wait to read the newspapers tomorrow. But first, we’d better find out where they’re locked up. Then you can help me to the car and drive us there; we’ll get them bailed out before the silly buggers get themselves charged with sedition or high treason as well. When we get home, I think we’ll have everyone here for a celebration in the garden.’
‘Marvellous idea. I’ll get Mrs T to organise drinks and order barbeque meat from Hinwoods.’
‘Better invite that damn fool Lesley and his wife over too; let him know there are no hard feelings. Otherwise, the poor sod’s going to be as popular as Prohibition down at The Greyhound and Tally Ho tonight.’
‘Well, I see you still have remnants of the benevolent conquering hero in you. As long as you live and breathe, I daresay chivalry’s not lost in England.’
‘Not a bit of it! Just want him in range of my 12-gauge if I find out the bugger’s hurt Cassie or your mother.’
No one remembered ever seeing Red Helleborine orchids in the woodlands. Still, a week later, the council’s plant and wildlife officers confirmed the delicate purple-pink flowers were in full bloom, nestling among green wands of native grasses in the leaf mould beneath several stands of gnarled old beech trees.
The village elders claimed they were the same beeches that had once hidden highwaymen lying in wait for travellers on moonlit nights two hundred years earlier; brigands who also robbed the rich landowners of their ill-gotten gains. Over post-dinner cognac, descendants of the same landed gentry suspected the dirt-stained hands of a more gender-inclusive Dick Turpin the culprit this time, as did the gossip over a pint in The Tally Ho and Greyhound public bars.
Keen to ingratiate himself back into favour, local bobby David Lesley decided there were more pressing village matters to investigate. Thus a new tale came to be added to the oral history of Broughton, destined to become dressed in the mists of village folklore.
As for The Broughton Seven, the ensuing TV and newspaper coverage created such a furore the Hampshire Council abruptly decided rare orchids were more important than minor profiteering, as well as voteworthy during the upcoming civic elections. At a hastily-convened meeting, the councillors reversed the grazing decision and dropped the charges.
Cassie became something of a local heroine for saving the downs. She went on to complete her master’s degree in human rights law at the Panthéon-Sorbonne, and surprising no one, joined the activist group Polaris International.
Not long afterwards, she disappeared for weeks at a time into the Amazon jungles of Brazil and later found herself in the forests of West Africa, describing her life to her soon-to-be friends Katy and Clara Yehonala as “confronting the grim world of human rights abuses and rainforest bastardry”.
Unknown to anyone at the time, Cassandra Spencer’s decision to devote her life to human rights abuses and rainforest atrocities would later rock this picturesque corner of England’s green and pleasant land for the third time.
THE HOUSE OF VALENTIN
Many of the world’s richest people regularly appear in the media associated with wild schemes to conquer space, or for shelling out obscene divorce settlements that could pay off the debts of a small country.
Nathalie Valentin, president of the luxury brand conglomerate bearing her family name and owning more than half the shareholdings, had quietly surpassed them all. Her family’s net worth recently ticked over a staggering $170 billion. The 44-year-old Ms Valentin was used to getting what she wanted.
Shortly after seven a.m. on Monday, a sleek Dassault Falcon banked and lined up its final approach to Le Bourget. Armand, the flight attendant, cleared the breakfast away and reminded his two passengers to fasten their seat belts.
The two women were returning from a short visit to New York where they had signed contracts for Valentin’s takeover of the high-end jewellery and exclusive retailer Brittany & Co. in a $16.5 billion global deal. Nathalie had left a small team in the Fifth Avenue offices of Brittanys to manage the structural and personnel changes necessary to satisfy her stipulations.
She gazed out the window at the sunflower rising on the horizon, sending petals of gold to warm the hazy Paris skyline and turned to her friend, Camille Durand.
‘Well, Millie, it’s nice to be home.’
‘Paris is always a love affair for me, Lee, although I still feel my New York roots every time I visit the US. And congratulations, you jumped a place or two up the Forbes overnight.’
Nathalie smiled. Camille’s shrewd and secretive negotiations over the previous six months had impressed the market with a complex cash, debt and equity mix both parties saw as adding value for their respective shareholders.
The two women had been friends for a long time and Nathalie knew from experience Camille was ever the tactful diplomat when offered the opportunity to claim any credit. Not obsequious, Camille wasn’t shy about expressing a healthy difference of opinion from time to time. Even fomenting volatile clashes in private. They made a powerful team.
‘Where would I be without you, Millie?’
‘Exactly where you are now, I expect. I’m just here to count the beans and make sure you keep them.’
‘Quite a lot of beans yesterday, you’re going to need your toes as well as your fingers. Make sure you pass on my thanks to Philippe. His work on the agreements was his usual watertight, comma-correct brilliance. How is your husband?’
‘Busy most of the time and wonderful for enough of the rest. Philippe’s angling for Senior Partner when Marc Laurent retires next year; having the Valentin account doesn’t do his chances any harm. You’ve been good to us, Lee.’
‘You know that’s rubbish. Philippe Durand’s a genius on international trade law, and the firm of Laurent, Petain & Renaud has been with Valentin since my grandmother founded the company seventy-five years ago. You know better than anyone I don’t play favourites, Millie. Only winners. Oh, and speaking of winners, how did young Timmy do at the school sports last week?’
‘His team won, three to nothing. From what Philippe and I could tell, the victory was despite his best efforts to give the other team every assistance. Football’s not his forte, nor is any sport. I nearly forgot, he now insists his name is Timothée. Evidently, being fifteen makes him a grown-up.’
‘I’ll remember next time I see him. Before long, he’ll be bringing a pretty young girl home for approval. I envy your life, you know.’
‘Lord above, Lee, don’t be envious of the part about living with teenage hormones. Taking on a package deal with Philippe and Timmy when we married was always going to be a challenge. These days I’m never quite sure if I’m poking a bear or playing with a puppy when Timmy and I have a conversation.’
Nathalie Valentin’s rise began five years earlier when Paul du Valentin, Nathalie’s father, stepped down as CEO to take over the less demanding Chairman’s role. Nathalie, just thirty-nine, was elevated as the new face to lead the world’s most valuable luxury empire that included not just the preeminent Valentin brand, but also such revered global fashion houses as Gaby, Bishop & Crowe, Zalya and Intimate Secrets, among a host of fifty other well-known brands, hotel chains and property.
Institutional investors and business analysts looked on warily after the announcement. Nathalie Valentin had served her apprenticeship in the company and none doubted her talent, however, the job of leading The House of Valentin in one of the most cutthroat of all industries left many sceptical.
Under Nathalie’s rule, Valentin’s acquisitions and controlling stakes began to diversify. Jusan Cosmetics and the mastheads of a fashion and women’s magazine global media group, Cathay Media, fell under Valentin’s control. Then the holding company for the centuries-old classic vineyards of the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia, each producing the world’s renowned wine and spirit brands, joined soon afterwards. She had clinically researched their weakened balance sheets which were hurt during recessions or had resulted from poorly executed strategies.
None looked upon Nathalie Valentin’s ascendancy as simple nepotism anymore, and the Brittany & Co takeover would be the diamond declaring her place in the family dynasty. The last five years had seen the value of her family’s business empire multiply three times over and profits increased fourfold. Most women, and a fair share of men, who shopped for haute couture or chic ready-to-wear clothes, accessories, jewellery, cosmetics, stayed in hotels, read glossy magazines or drank fine wines and spirits, paid Nathalie Valentin and her family for the hedonism in their lives.
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