“Once upon a time,” said Edwin Lutyens, “the devil and his friend were walking along the street when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground. The man looked at what he had found and then put it away in his pocket. The devil’s friend said to the devil: ‘What did that man pick up?’
“‘He picked up a piece of the Truth,’ said the devil.
“‘Oh,’ said his friend, ‘isn’t that very bad for you?’
“‘Not at all,’ the devil replied, ‘a piece of the Truth is like a piece of cotton. It can by spun into anything.’”
Edwin Lutyens’ two youngest children were unsure what to make of the story. The kind of story that Mary and Elisabeth preferred were ones like ‘The Ugly Duckling’ or ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’. However, occasionally Lutyens would tell them a fable that they did not understand. There was no point in asking him to explain, as Lutyens had by now kissed them goodnight and was leaving the nursery. They knew they would have another story on another night.
“I am not sure they liked your fable,” said Celia Lutyens, who had been listening at the door.
“I heard it recently, when I was in India,” replied Lutyens to his eldest daughter, “at a talk, given by a young boy.”
He turned towards the stairs.
“Why were you at a talk given by a young boy?” asked Celia.
“Your mother asked if I would go. She was told by a friend of ours that the boy was special.”
“Is he?” asked Celia.
“We’ll see,” said Lutyens, “we’ll see.” He left Celia outside the nursery and walked down to the kitchen, hoping to find some bread and cheese in the larder. After being on a boat and then a train for the whole day, he felt famished.
“What did you think that story meant?” Mary asked her sister Elisabeth after their father had left. They both looked up as Celia wandered in.
“Well,” Celia paused. She took a breath in and said with all the conviction that a fourteen-year-old could muster, “what it means is that sometimes a little bit of the truth is as bad as a lie.”
“But mother says we must always tell the truth,” replied Elisabeth.
“Of course, you must,” said Celia.
“Even if it’s like telling a lie?” asked Mary.
“If it’s like telling a lie then it’s best to say nothing at all.” She decided now was the perfect time to go and find her brother Robert and she left her two younger sisters in the nursery after wishing them a good night.
* * *
Breakfast in the Lutyens household was a particularly noisy affair on the morning of the 5th of September 1910. Edwin Lutyens, having returned from India the evening before, was surrounded by all his children. Over breakfast the children asked him a score of questions about his travels, as he ate his cereal and then his eggs. Edwin Lutyens had attempted to answer each question and now wanted to read a copy of The Times in peace.
He sipped at a cup of Darjeeling tea as he read his paper. He would soon turn his attention to the morning post and then make his way to the converted office in the damp basement of the house. It had been a routine that he had followed for over a decade. He noticed that Celia was chewing a lock of hair, impatiently waiting for her parents to leave the breakfast table. He also noticed that she had changed in the four months he had been away. It was not a major change, but she appeared more confident and he thought, with a little trepidation, more headstrong.
Edwin Lutyens recognised that his eldest daughter had many of the traits that her mother possessed. She held opinions about almost everything and would express those opinions with only the slightest encouragement. He disapproved of this in a girl so young. She also had a possessive instinct that she had inherited from her mother; when she wanted something she would persevere until she got it. There were, however, other talents she possessed and Lutyens had no idea where she had acquired these from. She loved dancing – something he and his wife detested. She was a romantic, whereas he and his wife were practical people. However, most of all she loved horse riding. Her new horse had been a present on her last birthday and she had managed to persuade him to buy it, despite his own view that he just couldn’t afford it.
Lutyens put down his paper, reached into his Gladstone bag that was by his feet, and pulled out a small, red book. He passed it to his wife.
“Annie Besant asked me to give you this. It’s Krishnamurti’s book. The one they’re all talking about.”
“Did you read it?” Emily asked.
“Yes, on the way back home.”
“And what did you think?”
Lutyens took his pipe out of his pocket, chewed at the stem and thought for a second before replying: “I haven’t made up my mind whether there is any truth in it. It’s certainly not the whole truth.”
“Celia,” Emily said as she watched her daughter across the breakfast table chewing at the ends of her hair. “You will ruin your hair if you carry on doing that.”
Emily Lutyens continued to eat slowly from a bowl of sago. Once she had finished, she settled herself comfortably onto a green satin upholstered chair where she opened the small, red book and began reading.
Celia had already become accustomed to her mother’s quiet breakfasts. It always surprised her how little her parents spoke to each other, despite the fact that they would write to each other every day when he was away. Perhaps, she thought, they had said everything they had to say in letters. Celia watched as both her parents became absorbed in their own worlds that seemed to revolve on different orbits.
Celia decided that now was the time to be excused, as both her parents had finished eating. She looked at her mother who was already engrossed in her new book, At the Feet of the Master. Celia assumed it was just another book on theosophy. She kept on meaning to ask her mother about it, as her understanding of theosophy was, at best, vague. Her mother had said it had something to do with spirituality, being a vegetarian and treating everyone as equal. However, precisely what it all meant and why it was still acceptable to have a house full of servants if everyone was equal, Celia did not quite understand.
“May I be excused?” she asked. Emily looked up from her book and nodded her head. Celia assumed that her father would also nod his head, which would be the customary thing. In her mind she was already riding through Hyde Park on her horse, Dido, a beautiful chestnut with dark brown eyes which had whinnied when Celia had given it an apple the last time they went out. It had made her best friend, Margaret Ellis, seethe with envy. She looked over to her father to see if she might leave the table.
Edwin Lutyens was, however, lost in thought. He had a letter in his hand, and he was reading it slowly. On the table was an envelope with a wax seal with a lion rampant on it.
“May I be excused, Father?” said Celia again.
Lutyens continued to read, unaware that anyone was speaking to him. Once he had finished the letter, he placed it on the table and looked over at his wife.
“I’ve got a letter from Sir Julius Drewe,” he said. The name was enough for Emily to close her book.
“Sir Julius Drewe, did you say?”
Celia wanted to interrupt and ask why Sir Julius Drewe had written but decided she wanted to be excused as quickly as possible and so just listened.
“What does he want?” Emily asked.
“A possible new commission. Drewe wants me to design a castle for him.”
“A castle?” said Celia, who could not help interrupting. “But you design country houses.”
“Your father does a lot more than just design country houses,” said Emily. “But I have to say no one has built a castle in possibly a hundred years; though with Sir Julius Drewe, nothing surprises me anymore.”
“Aren’t we related?” asked Celia.
“Distantly,” said Emily. “His wife, Frances, is my second cousin. No one in the family approved when she married him.”
“He’s written,” said Lutyens, rearranging his steel-rimmed spectacles in order to read from the letter, “that a relative of his has been researching his family genealogy and that the Drewe family can be traced all the way back to Norman times and the knight, Drogo de Teigne.”
“Nonsense,” said Emily, “he’s new money. Everyone knows that his family has no pedigree.”
“Well,” repeated Lutyens, “he claims he has managed to trace his family lineage back to a knight of the twelfth century who had manorial title to Drewsteignton. Sir Julius has already bought a plot of land on Dartmoor and now wants to build this castle.”
“A castle on Dartmoor in these times. What vanity!” said Emily.
“I think it’s romantic,” said Celia, to which both her parents gave her withering looks. “I do,” repeated Celia.
“And he wants me to design it,” said Lutyens. “Do you think I should try to change his mind?”
“You could try,” said Emily, “but you know Julius; once he sets his mind to something he doesn’t budge.”