As a young man, sometime before the war, I lived in a world “Of certain certainties” as some poet may have said: I’ve never been of the bookish persuasion but you get my drift. We dressed for dinner, played cricket, gentlemen versus players, every August on the green, and obeyed conventions in public as if conformity were as natural as breathing. My private thoughts were of a different colour, but when has that not been true. After all, as another poet possibly remarked, “Manners the wild savage doth contain” and ain’t that the truth by God.
Anyway, in those times I, unmarried and a recent graduate from Cambridge visited my aunt in Bosham and found myself co-opted onto the cricket team, some young notable having fallen ill, and played, the truth bids me to admit, with some distinction. A charming girl, with that unassuming charisma it is hard to ignore, approached me after the match and remarked on my bowling in a manner which invited further conversation.
Her name was Araminta I discovered, and she was the younger daughter of a noted family. Her manner was bright, engaging and possibly beguiling and I wondered how I could extend our acquaintanceship to later in the evening when I knew a small number of the local “worthies,” among others, would be gathering at my aunt’s house for “Drinks” which in those days was a way of inviting people to your home without the bother of preparing a meal.
My aunt who had little of note about her, apart from having attended the funeral of Queen Victoria, an incident which frequently drifted into her conversation, did what many in declining circumstances do; stick rigidly to convention, albeit on a reduced scale, so that offering “Drinks” instead of a meal was her way of clinging to gentrified circles without, in her case, incurring the expense of providing full-blown hospitality.
Emboldened by Araminta’s friendliness and forward manner, I asked her if she was “Coming up later” for drinks at my aunt’s, whose name I told her, was Mrs Derringer. Her face stiffened very subtly, in the way only those who have been repeatedly slighted on social grounds would notice, and she said “Sadly I have other plans” before drifting off to talk to another young man I did not know but who had played in the same team as I.
She was a dazzling beauty who added a brief glamour on my life but marked with social caution who, I later discovered, went on to marry a senior civil servant some years older than herself who “worked tirelessly,” at the Home Office during the war. Later, I was employed by an engineering business in an undistinguished capacity thus emphasising, much to my aunt’s dismay, how far we had drifted from the county set.
I married a woman who grew fond of me but viewed me without magic in her eyes. As for Araminta, I never met with her again, but my conversation with her was the closest I got to being part of a romance. The snub she gave still stings me to this day: the harshest truths, it seems, are often implied rather than stated.