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An Autobiography Agatha Christie Agatha Christie’s ‘most absorbing mystery’ – her own autobiography.Over the three decades since her death on 12 January 1976, many of Agatha Christie’s readers and reviewers have maintained that her most compelling book is probably still her least well-known. Her candid Autobiography, written mainly in the 1960s, modestly ignores the fact that Agatha had become the best-selling novelist in history and concentrates on her fascinating private life. From early childhood at the end of the 19th century, through two marriages and two World Wars, and her experiences both as a writer and on archaeological expeditions with her second husband, Max Mallowan, Agatha shares the details of her varied and sometimes complex life with real passion and openness. Agatha Christie An Autobiography Copyright HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk/) First published in Great Britain by Collins 1977 Copyright © 1977 Agatha Christie Ltd Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com/) All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins ebooks HarperCollinsPublishers has made every reasonable effort to ensure that any picture content and written content in this ebook has been included or removed in accordance with the contractual and technological constraints in operation at the time of publication Source ISBN: 9780006353287 Ebook Edition OCTOBER 2010 ISBN: 9780007353224 Version: 2017-08-10 Contents Cover (#u8ccffce3-2fab-53e7-846a-a75c510f29f3) Title Page (#u899b4575-f78b-5671-953f-89ec312e912b) Copyright Preface Foreword Part I Ashfield Part II ‘Girls and Boys Come out to Play’ Part III Growing up Part IV Flirting, Courting, Banns Up, Marriage Part V War Part VI Round the World Part VII The Land of Lost Content Part VIII Second Spring Part IX Life with Max Part X The Second War Part XI Autumn Epilogue Keep Reading (#litres_trial_promo) Searchable Terms About the Author Also by the Author About the Publisher PREFACE Agatha Christie began to write this book in April 1950; she finished it some fifteen years later when she was 75 years old. Any book written over so long a period must contain certain repetitions and inconsistencies and these have been tidied up. Nothing of importance has been omitted, however: substantially, this is the autobiography as she would have wished it to appear. She ended it when she was 75 because, as she put it, ‘it seems the right moment to stop. Because, as far as life is concerned, that is all there is to say.’ The last ten years of her life saw some notable triumphs–the film of Murder on the Orient Express; the continued phenomenal run of The Mousetrap; sales of her books throughout the world growing massively year by year and in the United States taking the position at the top of the best-seller charts which had for long been hers as of right in Britain and the Commonwealth; her appointment in 1971 as a Dame of the British Empire. Yet these are no more than extra laurels for achievements that in her own mind were already behind her. In 1965 she could truthfully write…‘I am satisfied. I have done what I want to do.’ Though this is an autobiography, beginning, as autobiographies should, at the beginning and going on to the time she finished writing, Agatha Christie has not allowed herself to be too rigidly circumscribed by the strait-jacket of chronology. Part of the delight of this book lies in the way in which she moves as her fancy takes her; breaking off here to muse on the incomprehensible habits of housemaids or the compensations of old age; jumping forward there because some trait in her childlike character reminds her vividly of her grandson. Nor does she feel any obligation to put everything in. A few episodes which to some might seem important–the celebrated disappearance, for example–are not mentioned, though in that particular case the references elsewhere to an earlier attack of amnesia give the clue to the true course of events. As to the rest, ‘I have remembered, I suppose, what I wanted to remember’, and though she describes her parting from her first husband with moving dignity, what she usually wants to remember are the joyful or the amusing parts of her existence. Few people can have extracted more intense or more varied fun from life, and this book, above all, is a hymn to the joy of living. If she had seen this book into print she would undoubtedly have wished to acknowledge many of those who had helped bring that joy into her life; above all, of course, her husband Max and her family. Perhaps it would not be out of place for us, her publishers, to acknowledge her. For fifty years she bullied, berated and delighted us; her insistence on the highest standards in every field of publishing was a constant challenge; her good-humour and zest for life brought warmth into our lives. That she drew great pleasure from her writing is obvious from these pages; what does not appear is the way in which she could communicate that pleasure to all those involved with her work, so that to publish her made business ceaselessly enjoyable. It is certain that both as an author and as a person Agatha Christie will remain unique. FOREWORD NIMRUD, IRAQ. 2 April 1950. Nimrud is the modern name of the ancient city of Calah, the military capital of the Assyrians. Our Expedition House is built of mud-brick. It sprawls out on the east side of the mound, and has a kitchen, a living–and dining-room, a small office, a workroom, a drawing office, a large store and pottery room, and a minute darkroom (we all sleep in tents). But this year one more room has been added to the Expedition House, a room that measures about three metres square. It has a plastered floor with rush mats and a couple of gay coarse rugs. There is a picture on the wall by a young Iraqi artist, of two donkeys going through the Souk, all done in a maze of brightly coloured cubes. There is a window looking out east towards the snow-topped mountains of Kurdistan. On the outside of the door is affixed a square card on which is printed in cuneiform BEIT AGATHA (Agatha’s House). So this is my ‘house’ and the idea is that in it I have complete privacy and can apply myself seriously to the business of writing. As the dig proceeds there will probably be no time for this. Objects will need to be cleaned and repaired. There will be photography, labelling, cataloguing and packing. But for the first week or ten days there should be comparative leisure. It is true that there are certain hindrances to concentration. On the roof overhead, Arab workmen are jumping about, yelling happily to each other and altering the position of insecure ladders. Dogs are barking, turkeys are gobbling. The policeman’s horse is clanking his chain, and the window and door refuse to stay shut, and burst open alternately. I sit at a fairly firm wooden table, and beside me is a gaily painted tin box with which Arabs travel. In it I propose to keep my typescript as it progresses. I ought to be writing a detective story, but with the writer’s natural urge to write anything but what he should be writing, I long, quite unexpectedly, to write my autobiography. The urge to write one’s autobiography, so I have been told, overtakes everyone sooner or later. It has suddenly overtaken me. On second thoughts, autobiography is much too grand a word. It suggests a purposeful study of one’s whole life. It implies names, dates and places in tidy chronological order. What I want is to plunge my hand into a lucky dip and come up with a handful of assorted memories. Life seems to me to consist of three parts: the absorbing and usually enjoyable present which rushes on from minute to minute with fatal speed; the future, dim and uncertain, for which one can make any number of interesting plans, the wilder and more improbable the better, since–as nothing will turn out as you expect it to do–you might as well have the fun of planning anyway; and thirdly, the past, the memories and realities that are the bedrock of one’s present life, brought back suddenly by a scent, the shape of a hill, an old song–some triviality that makes one suddenly say ‘I remember…’ with a peculiar and quite unexplainable pleasure. This is one of the compensations that age brings, and certainly a very enjoyable one–to remember. Unfortunately you often wish not only to remember, but also to talk about what you remember. And this, you have to tell yourself repeatedly, is boring for other people. Why should they be interested in what, after all, is your life, not theirs? They do, occasionally, when young, accord to you a certain historical curiosity. ‘I suppose,’ a well-educated girl says with interest, ‘that you remember all about the Crimea?’ Rather hurt, I reply that I’m not quite as old as that. I also repudiate participation in the Indian Mutiny. But I admit to recollections of the Boer War–I should do, my brother fought in it. The first memory that springs up in my mind is a clear picture of myself walking along the streets of Dinard on market day with my mother. A boy with a great basket of stuff cannons roughly into me, grazing my arm and nearly knocking me flat. It hurts. I begin to cry. I am, I think, about seven years old. My mother, who likes stoic behaviour in public places, remonstrates with me. ‘Think,’ she says, ‘of our brave soldiers in South Africa.’ My answer is to bawl out: ‘I don’t want to be a brave soldier. I want to be a cowyard!’ What governs one’s choice of memories? Life is like sitting in a cinema. Flick! Here am I, a child eating éclairs on my birthday. Flick! Two years have passed and I am sitting on my grandmother’s lap, being solemnly trussed up as a chicken just arrived from Mr Whiteley’s, and almost hysterical with the wit of the joke. Just moments–and in between long empty spaces of months or even years. Where was one then? It brings home to one Peer Gynt’s question: ‘Where was I, myself, the whole man, the true man?’ We never know the whole man, though sometimes, in quick flashes, we know the true man. I think, myself, that one’s memories represent those moments which, insignificant as they may seem, nevertheless represent the inner self and oneself as most really oneself. I am today the same person as that solemn little girl with pale flaxen sausage-curls. The house in which the spirit dwells, grows, develops instincts and tastes and emotions and intellectual capacities, but I myself, the true Agatha, am the same. I do not know the whole Agatha. The whole Agatha, so I believe, is known only to God. So there we are, all of us, little Agatha Miller, and big Agatha Miller, and Agatha Christie and Agatha Mallowan proceeding on our way-where? That one doesn’t know–which, of course, makes life exciting. I have always thought life exciting and I still do. Because one knows so little of it–only one’s own tiny part–one is like an actor who has a few lines to say in Act I. He has a type-written script with his cues, and that is all he can know. He hasn’t read the play. Why should he? His but to say ‘The telephone is out of order, Madam’ and then retire into obscurity. But when the curtain goes up on the day of performance, he will hear the play through, and he will be there to line up with the rest, and take his call. To be part of something one doesn’t in the least understand is, I think, one of the most intriguing things about life. I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. So what I plan to do is to enjoy the pleasures of memory–not hurrying myself-writing a few pages from time to time. It is a task that will probably go on for years. But why do I call it a task? It is an indulgence. I once saw an old Chinese scroll that I loved. It featured an old man sitting under a tree playing cat’s cradle. It was called ‘Old Man enjoying the pleasures of Idleness.’ I’ve never forgotten it. So having settled that I’m going to enjoy myself, I had better, perhaps, begin. And though I don’t expect to be able to keep up chronological continuity, I can at least try to begin at the beginning. PART I ASHFIELD O! ma chère maison; mon nid, mon gîte Le passé Vhabite…O ma chère maison I One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is to have a happy childhood. I had a very happy childhood. I had a home and a garden that I loved; a wise and patient Nanny; as father and mother two people who loved each other dearly and made a success of their marriage and of parenthood. Looking back I feel that our house was truly a happy house. That was largely due to my father, for my father was a very agreeable man. The quality of agreeableness Is not much stressed nowadays. People tend to ask if a man is clever, industrious, if he contributes to the well-being of the community, if he ‘counts’ in the scheme of things. But Charles Dickens puts the matter delightfully in David Copperfield: ‘Is your brother an agreeable man, Peggotty?’ I enquired cautiously. ‘Oh what an agreeable man he is!’ exclaimed Peggotty. Ask yourself that question about most of your friends and acquaintances, and you will perhaps be surprised at how seldom your answer will be the same as Peggotty’s. By modern standards my father would probably not be approved of. He was a lazy man. It was the days of independent incomes, and if you had an independent income you didn’t work. You weren’t expected to. I strongly suspect that my father would not have been particularly good at working anyway. He left our house in Torquay every morning and went to his club. He returned, in a cab, for lunch, and in the afternoon went back to the club, played whist all afternoon, and returned to the house in time to dress for dinner. During the season, he spent his days at the Cricket Club, of which he was President. He also occasionally got up amateur theatricals. He had an enormous number of friends and loved entertaining them. There was one big dinner party at our home every week, and he and my mother went out to dinner usually another two or three times a week. It was only later that I realized what a much loved man he was. After his death, letters came from all over the world. And locally tradesmen, cabmen, old employees–again and again some old man would come up to me and say: ‘Ah! I remember Mr Miller well. I’ll never forget him. Not many like him nowadays.’ Yet he had no outstanding characteristics. He was not particularly intelligent. I think that he had a simple and loving heart, and he really cared for his fellow men. He had a great sense of humour and he easily made people laugh. There was no meanness in him, no jealousy, and he was almost fantastically generous. And he had a natural happiness and serenity. My mother was entirely different. She was an enigmatic and arresting personality–more forceful than my father–startlingly original in her ideas, shy and miserably diffident about herself, and at bottom, I think, with a natural melancholy. Servants and children were devoted to her, and her lightest word was always promptly obeyed. She would have made a first class educator. Anything she told you immediately became exciting and significant. Sameness bored her and she would jump from one subject to another in a way that sometimes made her conversation bewildering. As my father used to tell her, she had no sense of humour. To that accusation she would protest in an injured voice: ‘Just because I don’t think certain stories of yours are funny, Fred…’ and my father would roar with laughter. She was about ten years younger than my father and she had loved him devotedly ever since she was a child of ten. All the time that he was a gay young man, flitting about between New York and the South of France, my mother, a shy quiet girl, sat at home, thinking about him, writing an occasional poem in her ‘album,’ embroidering a pocket-book for him. That pocket-book, incidentally, my father kept all his life. A typically Victorian romance, but with a wealth of deep feeling behind it. I am interested in my parents, not only because they were my parents, but because they achieved that very rare production, a happy marriage. Up to date I have only seen four completely successful marriages. Is there a formula for success? I can hardly think so. Of my four examples, one was of a girl of seventeen to a man over fifteen years her senior. He had protested she could not know her mind. She replied that she knew it perfectly and had determined to marry him some three years back! Their married life was further complicated by having first one and then the other mother-in-law living with them-enough to wreck most alliances. The wife is calm with a quality of deep intensity. She reminds me a little of my mother without having her brilliance and intellectual interests. They have three children, all now long out in the world. Their partnership has lasted well over thirty years and they are still devoted. Another was that of a young man to a woman fifteen years older than himself–a widow. She refused him for many years, at last accepted him, and they lived happily until her death 35 years later. My mother Clara Boehmer went through unhappiness as a child. Her father, an officer in the Argyll Highlanders, was thrown from his horse and fatally injured, and my grandmother was left, a young and lovely widow with four children, at the age of 27 with nothing but her widow’s pension. It was then that her elder sister, who had recently married a rich American as his second wife, wrote to her offering to adopt one of the children and bring it up as her own. To the anxious young widow, working desperately with her needle to support and educate four children, the offer was not to be refused. Of the three boys and one girl, she selected the girl; either because it seemed to her that boys could make their way in the world while a girl needed the advantages of easy living, or because, as my mother always believed, she cared for the boys more. My mother left Jersey and came to the North of England to a strange home. I think the resentment she felt, the deep hurt at being unwanted, coloured her attitude to life. It made her distrustful of herself and suspicious of people’s affection. Her aunt was a kindly woman, good-humoured and generous, but she was imperceptive of a child’s feelings. My mother had all the so-called advantages of a comfortable home and a good education–what she lost and what nothing could replace was the carefree life with her brothers in her own home. Quite often I have seen in correspondence columns enquiries from anxious parents asking if they ought to let a child go to others because of ‘the advantages she will have which I cannot provide–such as a first-class education’. I always long to cry out: Don’t let the child go. Her own home, her own people, love, and the security of belonging–what does the best education in the world mean against that? My mother was deeply miserable in her new life. She cried herself to sleep every night, grew thin and pale, and at last became so ill that her aunt called in a doctor. He was an elderly, experienced man, and after talking to the little girl he went to her aunt and said: ‘The child’s homesick.’ Her aunt was astonished and unbelieving. ‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘That couldn’t possibly be so. Clara’s a good quiet child, she never gives any trouble, and she’s quite happy.’ But the old doctor went back to the child and talked to her again. She had brothers, hadn’t she? How many? What were their names? And presently the child broke down in a storm of weeping, and the whole story came out. Bringing out the trouble eased the strain, but the feeling always remained of ‘not being wanted’. I think she held it against my grandmother until her dying day. She became very attached to her American ‘uncle’. He was a sick man by then, but he was fond of quiet little Clara and she used to come and read to him from her favourite book, The King of the Golden River. But the real solace in her life were the periodical visits of her aunt’s stepson–Fred Miller–her so-called ‘Cousin Fred’. He was then about twenty and he was always extra kind to his little ‘cousin’. One day, when she was about eleven, he said to his stepmother: ‘What lovely eyes Clara has got!’ Clara, who had always thought of herself as terribly plain, went upstairs and peered at herself in her aunt’s large dressing-table mirror. Perhaps her eyes were rather nice…She felt immeasurably cheered. From then on, her heart was given irrevocably to Fred. Over in America an old family friend said to the gay young man, ‘Freddie, one day you will marry that little English cousin of yours.’ Astonished, he replied, ‘Clara? She’s only a child.’ But he always had a special feeling for the adoring child. He kept her childish letters and the poems she wrote him, and after a long series of flirtations with social beauties and witty girls in New York (among them Jenny Jerome, afterwards Lady Randolph Churchill) he went home to England to ask the quiet little cousin to be his wife. It is typical of my mother that she refused him firmly. ‘Why?’ I once asked her. ‘Because I was dumpy,’ she replied. An extraordinary but, to her, quite valid reason. My father was not to be gainsaid. He came a second time, and on this occasion my mother overcame her misgivings and rather dubiously agreed to marry him, though full of misgivings that he would be ‘disappointed in her’. So they were married, and the portrait that I have of her in her wedding dress shows a lovely serious face with dark hair and big hazel eyes. Before my sister was born they went to Torquay, then a fashionable winter resort enjoying the prestige later accorded to the Riviera, and took furnished rooms there. My father was enchanted with Torquay. He loved the sea. He had several friends living there, and others, Americans, who came for the winter. My sister Madge was born in Torquay, and shortly after that my father and mother left for America, which at that time they expected to be their permanent home. My father’s grandparents were still living, and after his own mother’s death in Florida he had been brought up by them in the quiet of the New England countryside. He was very attached to them and they were keen to see his wife and baby daughter. My brother was born whilst they were in America. Some time after that my father decided to return to England. No sooner had he arrived than business troubles recalled him to New York. He suggested to my mother that she should take a furnished house in Torquay and settle there until he could return. My mother accordingly went to look at furnished houses in Torquay. She returned with the triumphant announcement: ‘Fred; I’ve bought a house!’ My father almost fell over backwards. He still expected to live in America. ‘But why did you do that?’ he asked. ‘Because I liked it,’ explained my mother. She has seen, it appeared, about 35 houses, but only one did she fancy, and that house was for sale only–its owners did not want to let. So my mother, who had been left £2000 by my aunt’s husband, had appealed to my aunt, who was her trustee, and they had forthwith bought the house. ‘But we’ll only be there for a year,’ groaned my father, ‘at most.’ My mother, whom we always claimed was clairvoyant, replied that they could always sell it again. Perhaps she saw dimly her family living in that house for many years ahead. ‘I loved the house as soon as I got into it,’ she insisted. ‘It’s got a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere.’ The house was owned by some people called Brown who were Quakers, and when my mother, hesitatingly, condoled with Mrs Brown on having to leave the house they had lived in so many years, the old lady said gently: ‘I am happy to think of thee and thy children living here, my dear.’ It was, my mother said, like a blessing. Truly I believe there was a blessing upon the house. It was an ordinary enough villa, not in the fashionable part of Torquay–the Warberrys or the Lincombes–but at the other end of the town the older part of Tor Mohun. At that time the road in which it was situated led almost at once into rich Devon country, with lanes and fields. The name of the house was Ashfield and it has been my home, off and on, nearly all my life. For my father did not, after all, make his home in America. He liked Torquay so much that he decided not to leave it. He settled down to his club and his whist and his friends. My mother hated living near the sea, disliked all social gatherings and was unable to play any game of cards. But she lived happily in Ashfield, and gave large dinner parties, attended social functions, and on quiet evenings at home would ask my father with hungry impatience for local drama and what had happened at the club today. ‘Nothing,’ my father would reply happily. ‘But surely, Fred, someone must have said something interesting?’ My father obligingly racks his brains, but nothing comes. He says that M—is still too mean to buy a morning paper and comes down to the club, reads the news there, and then insists on retailing it to the other members. ‘I say, you fellows, have you seen that on the North West Frontier…’ etc. Everyone is deeply annoyed, since M—is one of the richest members. My mother, who has heard all this before, is not satisfied. My father relapses into quiet contentment. He leans back in his chair, stretches out his legs to the fire and gently scratches his head (a forbidden pastime). ‘What are you thinking about, Fred?’ demands my mother. ‘Nothing,’ my father replies with perfect truth. ‘You can’t be thinking about nothing? Again and again that statement baffles my mother. To her it is unthinkable. Through her own brain thoughts dart with the swiftness of swallows in flight. Far from thinking of nothing, she is usually thinking of three things at once. As I was to realise many years later, my mother’s ideas were always slightly at variance with reality. She saw the universe as more brightly coloured than it was, people as better or worse than they were. Perhaps because in the years of her childhood she had been quiet, restrained, with her emotions kept well below the surface, she tended to see the world in terms of drama that came near, sometimes, to melodrama. Her creative imagination was so strong that it could never see things as drab or ordinary. She had, too, curious flashes of intuition–of knowing suddenly what other people were thinking. When my brother was a young man in the Army and had got into monetary difficulties which he did not mean to divulge to his parents, she startled him one evening by looking across at him as he sat frowning and worrying. ‘Why, Monty,’ she said, ‘you’ve been to moneylenders. Have you been raising money on your grandfather’s will? You shouldn’t do that. It’s better to go to your father and tell him about it.’ Her faculty for doing that sort of thing was always surprising her family. My sister said once: ‘Anything I don’t want mother to know, I don’t even think of, if she’s in the room.’ II Difficult to know what one’s first memory is. I remember distinctly my third birthday. The sense of my own importance surges up in me. We are having tea in the garden–in the part of the garden where, later, a hammock swings between two trees. There is a tea-table and it is covered with cakes, with my birthday cake, all sugar icing and with candles in the middle of it. Three candles. And then the exciting occurrence–a tiny red spider, so small that I can hardly see it, runs across the white cloth. And my mother says: ‘It’s a lucky spider, Agatha, a lucky spider for your birthday…’ And then the memory fades, except for a fragmentary reminiscence of an interminable argument sustained by my brother as to how many eclairs he shall be allowed to eat. The lovely, safe, yet exciting world of childhood. Perhaps the most absorbing thing in mine is the garden. The garden was to mean more and more to me, year after year. I was to know every tree in it, and attach a special meaning to each tree. From a very early time, it was divided in my mind into three distinct parts. There was the kitchen garden, bounded by a high wall which abutted on the road. This was uninteresting to me except as a provider of raspberries and green apples, both of which I ate in large quantities. It was the kitchen garden but nothing else. It offered no possibilities of enchantment. Then came the garden proper–a stretch of lawn running downhill, and studded with certain interesting entities. The ilex, the cedar, the Wellingtonia (excitingly tall). Two fir-trees, associated for some reason not now clear with my brother and sister. Monty’s tree you could climb (that is to say hoist yourself gingerly up three branches). Madge’s tree, when you had burrowed cautiously into it, had a seat, an invitingly curved bough, where you could sit and look out unseen on the outside world. Then there was what I called the turpentine tree which exuded a sticky strong-smelling gum which I collected carefully in leaves and which was ‘very precious balm’. Finally, the crowning glory, the beech tree–the biggest tree in the garden, with a pleasant shedding of beechnuts which I ate with relish. There was a copper beech, too, but this, for some reason, never counted in my tree world. Thirdly, there was the wood. In my imagination it looked and indeed still looms as large as the New Forest. Mainly composed of ash trees, it had a path winding through it. The wood had everything that is connected with woods. Mystery, terror, secret delight, inaccessibility and distance… The path through the wood led out on to the tennis or croquet lawn at the top of a high bank in front of the dining-room window. When you emerged there, enchantment ended. You were in the everyday world once more, and ladies, their skirts looped up and held in one hand, were playing croquet, or, with straw boater-hats on their heads, were playing tennis. When I had exhausted the delights of ‘playing in the garden’ I returned to the Nursery wherein was Nursie, a fixed point, never changing. Perhaps because she was an old woman and rheumatic, my games were played around and beside, but not wholly with, Nursie. They were all make-believe. From as early as I can remember, I had various companions of my own choosing. The first lot, whom I cannot remember except as a name, were ‘The Kittens’. I don’t know now who ‘The Kittens’ were, and whether I was myself a Kitten, but I do remember their names: Clover, Blackie and three others. Their mother’s name was Mrs Benson. Nursie was too wise ever to talk to me about them, or to try to join in the murmurings of conversation going on round her feet. Probably she was thankful that I could amuse myself so easily. Yet it was a horrible shock to me one day when I came up the stairs from the garden for tea to hear Susan the housemaid saying: ‘Don’t seem to care for toys much, does she? What does she play with?’ And Nursie’s voice replying: ‘Oh she plays that she’s a kitten with some other kittens.’ Why is there such an innate demand for secrecy in a child’s mind? The knowledge that anyone–even Nursie–knew about The Kittens upset me to the core. From that day on I set myself never to murmur aloud in my games. The Kittens were My Kittens and only mine. No one must know. I must, of course, have had toys. Indeed, since I was an indulged and much loved child, I must have had a good variety of them, but I do not remember any, except, vaguely, a box of variegated beads, and stringing them into necklaces. I also remember a tiresome cousin, an adult, insisting teasingly that my blue beads were green and my green ones were blue. My feelings were as those of Euclid: ‘which is absurd’, but politely I did not contradict her. The joke fell flat. I remember some dolls: Phoebe, whom I did not much care for, and a doll called Rosalind or Rosy. She had long golden hair and I admired her enormously, but I did not play much with her. I preferred The Kittens. Mrs Benson was terribly poor, and it was all very sad. Captain Benson, their father, had been a Sea Captain and had gone down at sea, which was why they had been left in such penury. That more or less ended the Saga of the Kittens except that there existed vaguely in my mind a glorious finale to come of Captain Benson not being dead and returning one day with vast wealth just when things had become quite desperate in the Kittens’ home. From the Kittens I passed on to Mrs Green. Mrs Green had a hundred children, of whom the important ones were Poodle, Squirrel and Tree. Those three accompanied me on all my exploits in the garden. They were not quite children and not quite dogs, but indeterminate creatures between the two. Once a day, like all well brought-up children, I ‘went for a walk’. This I much disliked, especially buttoning up my boots-a necessary preliminary. I lagged behind and shuffled my feet, and the only thing that got me through was Nursie’s stories. She had a repertoire of six, all centred on the various children of the families with which she had lived. I remember none of them now, but I do know that one concerned a tiger in India, one was about monkeys, and one about a snake. They were very exciting, and I was allowed to choose which I would hear. Nursie repeated them endlessly without the least sign of weariness. Sometimes, as a great treat, I was allowed to remove Nursie’s snowy ruffled cap. Without it, she somehow retreated into private life and lost her official status. Then, with elaborate care, I would tie a large blue satin ribbon round her head–with enormous difficulty and holding my breath, because tying a bow is no easy matter for a four-year-old. After which I would step back and exclaim in ecstasy: ‘Oh Nursie, you are beautiful!’ At which she would smile and say in her gentle voice: ‘Am I, love?’ After tea, I would be put into starched muslin and go down to the drawing-room to my mother to be played with. If the charm of Nursie’s stories were that they were always the same, so that Nursie represented the rock of stability in my life, the charm of my mother was that her stories were always different and that we practically never played the same game twice. One story, I remember, was about a mouse called Bright Eyes. Bright Eyes had several different adventures, but suddenly, one day, to my dismay, my mother declared that there were no more stories about Bright Eyes to tell. I was on the point of weeping when my mother said: ‘But I’ll tell you a story about a Curious Candle.’ We had two instalments of the Curious Candle, which was, I think, a kind of detective story, when unluckily some visitors came to stay and our private games and stories were in abeyance. When the visitors left and I demanded the end of the Curious Candle, which had paused at a most thrilling moment when the villain was slowly rubbing poison into the candle, my mother looked blank and apparently could remember nothing about the matter. That unfinished serial still haunts my mind. Another delightful game was ‘Houses’, in which we collected bath towels from all over the house and draped them over chairs and tables so as to make ourselves residences, out of which we emerged on all fours. I remember little of my brother and sister, and I presume this is because they were away at school. My brother was at Harrow and my sister at Brighton at the Miss Lawrences’ School which was afterwards to become Roedean. My mother was considered go-ahead to send her daughter to a boarding school, and my father broad-minded to allow it. But my mother delighted in new experiments. Her own experiments were mostly in religion. She was, I think, of a naturally mystic turn of mind. She had the gift of prayer and contemplation, but her ardent faith and devotion found it difficult to select a suitable form of worship. My long-suffering father allowed himself to be taken to first one, now another place of worship. Most of these religious flirtations took place before I was born. My mother had nearly been received into the Roman Catholic church, had then bounced off into being a Unitarian (which accounted for my brother never having been christened), and had from there become a budding Theosophist, but took a dislike to Mrs Besant when hearing her lecture. After a brief but vivid interest in Zoroastrianism, she returned, much to my father’s relief, to the safe haven of the Church of England, but with a preference for ‘high’ churches. There was a picture of St. Francis by her bed, and she read The Imitation of Christ night and morning. That same book lies always by my bed. My father was a simple-hearted, orthodox Christian. He said his prayers every night and went to Church every Sunday. His religion was matter-of-fact and without heart-searchings–but if my mother liked hers with trimmings, it was quite all right with him. He was, as I have said, an agreeable man. I think he was relieved when my mother returned to the Church of England in time for me to be christened in the Parish Church. I was called Mary after my grandmother, Clarissa after my mother, and Agatha as an afterthought, suggested on the way to the church by a friend of my mother’s who said it was a nice name. My own religious views were derived mainly from Nursie, who was a Bible Christian. She did not go to Church but read her Bible at home. Keeping the Sabbath was very important, and being worldly was a sore offence in the eyes of the Almighty. I was myself insufferably smug in my conviction of being one of the ‘saved’. I refused to play games on Sunday or sing or strum the piano, and I had terrible fears for the ultimate salvation of my father, who played croquet blithely on Sunday afternoons and made gay jokes about curates and even, once, about a bishop. My mother, who had been passionately enthusiastic for education for girls, had now, characteristically, swung round to the opposite view. No child ought to be allowed to read until it was eight years old: better for the eyes and also for the brain. Here, however, things did not go according to plan. When a story had been read to me and I liked it, I would ask for the book and study the pages which, at first meaningless, gradually began to make sense. When out with Nursie, I would ask her what the words written up over shops or on hoardings were. As a result, one day I found I was reading a book called The Angel of Love quite successfully to myself. I proceeded to do so out loud to Nursie. ‘I’m afraid, Ma’am,’ said Nursie apologetically to mother the next day, ‘Miss Agatha can read.’ My mother was much distressed–but there it was. Not yet five, but the world of story books was open to me. From then on, for Christmas and birthdays I demanded books. My father said that, as I could read, I had better learn to write. This was not nearly so pleasant. Shaky copybooks full of pothooks and hangers still turn up in old drawers, or lines of shaky B’s and R’s, which I seem to have had great difficulty in distinguishing since I had learned to read by the look of words and not by their letters. Then my father said I might as well start arithmetic, and every morning after breakfast I would set to at the dining-room window seat, enjoying myself far more with figures than with the recalcitrant letters of the alphabet. Father was proud and pleased with my progress. I was promoted to a little brown book of ‘Problems’. I loved ‘Problems’. Though merely sums in disguise, they had an intriguing flavour. ‘John has five apples, George has six; if John takes away two of George’s apples, how many will George have at the end of the day?’ and so on. Nowadays, thinking of that problem, I feel an urge to reply: ‘Depends how fond of apples George is.’ But then I wrote down 4, with the feeling of one who has solved a knotty point, and added of my own accord, ‘and John will have 7.’ That I liked arithmetic seemed strange to my mother, who had never, as she admitted freely, had any use for figures, and had so much trouble with household accounts that my father took them over. The next excitement in my life was the gift of a canary. He was named Goldie and became very tame, hopping about the nursery, sometimes sitting on Nursie’s cap, and perching on my finger when I called him. He was not only my bird, he was the start of a new secret Saga. The chief personages were Dickie and Dicksmistress. They rode on chargers all over the country (the garden) and had great adventures and narrow escapes from bands of robbers. One day the supreme catastrophe occurred. Goldie disappeared. The window was open, the gate of his cage unlatched. It seemed likely he had flown away. I can still remember the horrible, dragging length of that day. It went on and on and on. I cried and cried and cried. The cage was put outside the window with a piece of sugar in the bars. My mother and I went round the garden calling, ‘Dickie, Dickie, Dickie’. The housemaid was threatened with instant dismissal by my mother for cheerfully remarking, ‘Some cat’s got him, likely as not,’ which started my tears flowing again. It was when I had been put to bed and lay there, still sniffing spasmodically and holding my mother’s hand, that a cheerful little cheep was heard. Down from the top of the curtain pole came Master Dickie. He flew round the nursery once and then entered his cage. Oh that incredulous wonder of delight! All that day-that unending miserable day–Dickie had been up the curtain pole. My mother improved the occasion after the fashion of the time. ‘You see,’ she said, ‘how silly you have been? What a waste all that crying was? Never cry about things until you are sure.’ I assured her that I never would. Something else came to me then, besides the joy of Dickie’s return, the strength of my mother’s love and understanding when there was trouble. In the black abyss of misery, holding tight to her hand had been the one comfort. There was something magnetic and healing in her touch. In illness there was no one like her. She could give you her own strength and vitality. III The outstanding figure in my early life was Nursie. And round myself and Nursie was our own special world, The Nursery. I can see the wallpaper now–mauve irises climbing up the walls in an endless pattern. I used to lie in bed at night looking at it in the firelight or the subdued light of Nursie’s oil lamp on the table. I thought it was beautiful. Indeed, I have had a passion for mauve all my life. Nursie sat by the table sewing or mending. There was a screen round my bed and I was supposed to be asleep, but I was usually awake, admiring the irises, trying to see just how they intertwined, and thinking up new adventures for the Kittens. At nine-thirty, Nursie’s supper tray was brought up by Susan the housemaid. Susan was a great big girl, jerky and awkward in her movements and apt to knock things over. She and Nursie would hold a whispered conversation, then, when she had gone, Nursie would come over and look behind the screen. ‘I thought you wouldn’t be asleep. I suppose you want a taste?’ ‘Oh, yes please, Nursie.’ A delicious morsel of juicy steak was placed in my mouth. I cannot really believe that Nursie had steak every night for supper, but in my memories steak it always is. One other person of importance in the house was Jane our cook, who ruled the kitchen with the calm superiority of a queen. She came to my mother when she was a slim girl of nineteen, promoted from being a kitchenmaid. She remained with us for forty years and left weighing at least fifteen stone. Never once during that time had she displayed any emotion, but when she finally yielded to her brother’s urgings and went to keep house for him in Cornwall, the tears rolled silently down her cheeks as she left. She took with her one trunk–probably the trunk with which she had arrived. In all those years she had accumulated no possessions. She was, by today’s standards, a wonderful cook, but my mother occasionally complained that she had no imagination. ‘Oh dear, what pudding shall we have tonight? You suggest something, Jane.’ ‘What about a nice stone pudding, Ma’am?’ A stone pudding was the only suggestion Jane ever vouchsafed, but for some reason my mother was allergic to the idea and said no, we wouldn’t have that, we’d have something else. To this day I have never known what a stone pudding was–my mother did not know either–she just said that it sounded dull. When I first knew Jane she was enormous–one of the fattest women I have ever seen. She had a calm face, hair parted in the middle–beautiful, naturally wavy dark hair scraped back into a bun in the nape of her neck. Her jaws moved rhythmically all the time because she was invariably eating something–a fragment of pastry, a freshly-made scone, or a rock cake–it was like a large gentle cow everlastingly chewing the cud. Splendid eating went on in the kitchen. After a large breakfast, eleven o’clock brought the delights of cocoa, and a plate of freshly-made rock cakes and buns, or perhaps hot jam pastry. The midday meal took place when ours was finished, and by etiquette the kitchen was taboo until 3 o’clock had struck. I was instructed by my mother that I was never to intrude during the kitchen lunchtime: ‘That is their own time, and it must not be interrupted by us.’ If by some unforeseen chance–a cancellation of dinner guests for instance-a message had to be conveyed, my mother would apologise for disturbing them, and, by unwritten law, none of the servants would rise at her entrance if they were seated at table. Servants did an incredible amount of work. Jane cooked five-course dinners for seven or eight people as a matter of daily routine. For grand dinner parties of twelve or more, each course contained alternatives–two soups, two fish courses, etc. The housemaid cleaned about forty silver photograph frames and toilet silver ad lib, took in and emptied a ‘hip bath’ (we had a bathroom but my mother considered it a revolting idea to use a bath others had used), brought hot water to bedrooms four times a day, lit bedroom fires in winter, and mended linen etc. every afternoon. The parlourmaid cleaned incredible amounts of silver and washed glasses with loving care in a papier mache bowl, besides providing perfect waiting at table. In spite of these arduous duties, servants were, I think, actively happy, mainly because they knew they were appreciated–as experts, doing expert work. As such, they had that mysterious thing, prestige; they looked down with scorn on shop assistants and their like. One of the things I think I should miss most, if I were a child nowadays, would be the absence of servants. To a child they were the most colourful part of daily life. Nurses supplied platitudes; servants supplied drama, entertainment, and all kinds of unspecified but interesting knowledge. Far from being slaves they were frequently tyrants. They ‘knew their place’, as was said, but knowing their place meant not subservience but pride, the pride of the professional. Servants in the early 1900s were highly skilled. Parlourmaids had to be tall, to look smart, to have been perfectly trained, to have the right voice in which to murmur: ‘Hock or sherry?’ They performed intricate miracles of valeting for the gentlemen. I doubt if there is any such thing as a real servant nowadays. Possibly a few are hobbling about between the ages of seventy and eighty, but otherwise there are merely the dailies, the waitresses, those who ‘oblige’, domestic helpers, working housekeepers, and charming young women who want to combine earning a little extra money with hours that will suit them and their children’s needs. They are amiable amateurs; they often become friends but they seldom command the awe with which we regarded our domestic staff. Servants, of course, were not a particular luxury–it was not a case of only the rich having them; the only difference was that the rich had more. They had butlers and footmen and housemaids and parlourmaids and between-maids and kitchen-maids and so on. As you descended the stages of affluence you would arrive eventually at what is so well described in those delightful books of Barry Pain, Eliza and Eliza’s Husband, as The girl’. Our various servants are far more real to me than my mother’s friends and my distant relations. I have only to close my eyes to see Jane moving majestically in her kitchen, with vast bust, colossal hips, and a starched band that confined her waist. Her fat never seemed to trouble her, she never suffered from her feet, her knees or her ankles, and if she had blood pressure she was quite unaware of it. As far as I remember she was never ill. She was Olympian. If she had emotions, she never showed them; she was prodigal neither of endearments nor of anger; only on the days when she was engaged in the preparation of a large dinner-party a slight flush would show. The intense calm of her personality would be what I should describe as ‘faintly ruffled’-her face slightly redder, her lips pressed tight together, a faint frown on her forehead. Those were the days when I used to be banished from the kitchen with decision. ‘Now, Miss Agatha, I have no time today–I’ve got a lot on hand. I’ll give you a handful of raisins and then you must go out in the garden and not come and worry me any more.’ I left immediately, impressed, as always, by Jane’s utterances. Jane’s principal characteristics were reticence and aloofness. We knew she had a brother, otherwise we knew little of her family. She never talked about them. She came from Cornwall. She was called ‘Mrs Rowe’, but that was a courtesy title. Like all good servants, she knew her place. It was a place of command, and she made it clear to those working in the house that she was in charge. Jane must have taken pride in the splendid dishes she cooked, but never showed it or spoke of it. She accepted compliments on her dinner on the following morning with no sign of gratification, though I think she was definitely pleased when my father came out into the kitchen and congratulated her. Then there was Barker, one of our housemaids, who opened up to me yet another vista of life. Barkers’ father was a particularly strict Plymouth Brother, and Barker was very conscious of sin and the way she had broken away in certain matters. ‘Damned to all Eternity I shall be, no doubt of it,’ she would say, with a kind of cheerful relish. ‘What my father would say, I don’t know, if he knew I went to Church of England services. What’s more, I enjoyed them. I enjoyed the Vicar’s sermon last Sunday, and I enjoyed the singing too.’ A child who came to stay was heard by my mother saying scornfully one day to the parlourmaid: ‘Oh! you’re only a servant!’ and was promptly taken to task. ‘Never let me hear you speak like that to a servant. Servants must be treated with the utmost courtesy. They are doing skilled work which you could not possibly do yourself without long training. And remember they cannot answer back. You must always be polite to people whose position forbids them to be rude to you. If you are impolite, they will despise you, and rightly, because you have not acted like a lady.’ ‘To be a little lady’ was well rammed home in those times. It included some curious items. Starting with courtesy to dependents, it went on to such things as: ‘Always leave something on your plate for Lady Manners.’ ‘Never drink with your mouth full.’ ‘Remember never to put two halfpenny stamps on a letter unless it is a bill to a tradesman.’ And, of course ‘Put on clean underclothes when you are going on a railway journey in case there should be an accident.’ Tea-time in the kitchen was often a social reunion. Jane had innumerable friends, and one or two of them dropped in nearly every day. Trays of hot rock cakes came out of the oven. Never since have I tasted rock cakes like Jane’s. They were crisp and flat and full of currants, and eaten hot they were Heaven. Jane in her mild bovine way was quite a martinet; if one of the others rose from the table, a voice would say: ‘I haven’t finished yet, Florence,’ and Florence, abashed, would sit down again murmuring, ‘I beg your pardon, Mrs Rowe.’ Cooks of any seniority were always ‘Mrs’. Housemaids and parlourmaids were supposed to have ‘suitable’ names–e.g. Jane, Mary, Edith, etc. Such names as Violet, Muriel, Rosamund and so on were not considered suitable, and the girl was told firmly, ‘Whilst you are in my service you will be called “Mary’.’ Parlourmaids, if of sufficient seniority, were often called by their surnames. Friction between ‘the nursery’ and ‘the kitchen’ was not uncommon, but Nursie, though no doubt standing on her rights, was a peaceable person and respected and consulted by the young maids. Dear Nursie–I have a portrait of her hanging in my house in Devon. It was painted by the same artist who painted the rest of my family, a painter well known at that time–N. H. J. Baird. My mother was somewhat critical of Mr Baird’s pictures: ‘He makes everybody look so dirty,’ she complained. ‘All of you look as if you hadn’t washed for weeks!’ There is something in what she said. The heavy blue and green shadows in the flesh tints of my brother’s face do suggest a reluctance to use soap and water, and the portrait of myself at sixteen has a suggestion of an incipient moustache, a blemish from which I have never suffered. My father’s portrait, however, is so pink and white and shining that it might be an advertisement for soap. I suspect that it gave the artist no particular pleasure to paint, but that my mother had vanquished poor Mr Baird by sheer force of personality. My brother’s and sister’s portraits were not particularly like, my father’s was the living image of him, but was far less distinctive as a portrait. Nursie’s portrait was, I am sure, a labour of love on Mr Baird’s part. The transparent cambric of her frilled cap and apron is lovely, and a perfect frame for the wise wrinkled face with its deep set eyes-the whole reminiscent of some Flemish Old Master. I don’t know how old Nursie was when she came to us, or why my mother should have chosen such an old woman, but she always said: ‘From the moment Nursie came, I never had to worry about you–I knew you were in good hands.’ A great many babies had passed through those hands–I was the last of them. When the census came round, my father had to register the names and ages of everyone in the house. ‘Very awkward job,’ he said ruefully. ‘The servants don’t like you asking them their ages. And what about Nursie?’ So Nursie was summoned and stood before him, her hands folded in front of her snowy apron and her mild old eyes fixed on him inquiringly. ‘So you see,’ explained my father, after a brief resume of what a census was, ‘I have to put down everyone’s age. Er–what shall I put down for you?’ ‘Whatever you like, Sir,’ replied Nursie politely. ‘Yes, but–er–I have to know.’ ‘Whatever you think best, Sir.’ Nursie was not to be stampeded. His own estimate being that she was at least seventy-five, he hazarded nervously: “Er–er–fifty-nine? Something like that?’ An expression of pain passed across the wrinkled face. ‘Do I really look as old as that, Sir?’ asked Nursie wistfully. ‘No, no–Well, what shall I say?’ Nursie returned to her gambit. ‘Whatever you think right, Sir,’ she said with dignity. My father thereupon wrote down sixty-four. Nursie’s attitude has its echoes in present times. When my husband, Max, was dealing with Polish and Yugoslav pilots during the last war, he encountered the same reaction. ‘Age?’ The pilot waves his hands amiably: ‘Anything you please–twenty, thirty, forty–it does not matter.’ ‘And where were you born?’ ‘Anywhere you like. Cracow, Warsaw, Belgrade, Zagreb-as you please.’ The ridiculous unimportance of these factual details could not be more clearly stressed. Arabs are much the same. ‘Your father is well?’ ‘Oh yes, but he is very old.’ ‘How old?’ ‘Oh a very old man–ninety, ninety—five.’ The father turns out to be just short of fifty. But that is how life is viewed. When you are young, you are young; when you are in vigour you are a ‘very strong man’ when your vigour begins to fail, you are old. If old, you might as well be as old as possible. On my fifth birthday, I was given a dog. It was the most shattering thing that ever happened to me; such unbelievable joy, that I was unable to say a word. When I read that well-known cliche ‘so and so was struck dumb’ I realize that it can be a simple statement of fact. I was struck dumb–I couldn’t even say thank-you. I could hardly look at my beautiful dog. Instead I turned away from him. I needed, urgently, to be alone and come to terms with this incredible happiness. (I have done the same thing frequently during my later life. Why is one so idiotic?) I think it was the lavatory to which I retired–a perfect place for quiet meditation, where no one could possibly pursue you. Lavatories were comfortable, almost residential apartments in those days. I closed the heavy mahogany shelf-like seat, sat on it, gazed unseeingly at the map of Torquay that hung on the wall, and gave myself up to realization. ‘I have a dog…a dog…. It’s a dog of my own…my very own dog…. It’s a Yorkshire terrier…my dog…my very own dog….’ My mother told me later that my father had been much disappointed by the reception of his gift. ‘I thought the child would love it.’ he said. ‘She doesn’t seem to care about it at all.’ But my mother, always understanding, said that I needed a little time. ‘She can’t quite take it in yet.’ The four-month-old Yorkshire terrier puppy, meantime, had wandered out disconsolately into the garden, where he attached himself to our gardener, a grumpy man called Davey. The dog had been bred by a jobbing gardener, and at the sight of a spade being pressed into the earth he felt that here was a place where he could feel at home. He sat down on the garden path and watched the digging with an attentive air. Here in due course I found him and we made acquaintance. We were both shy, and made only tentative advances to each other. But by the end of the week Tony and I were inseparable. His official name, given him by my father, was George Washington–Tony, for short, was my contribution. Tony was an admirable dog for a child–he was good-natured, affectionate, and lent himself to all my fancies. Nursie was spared certain ordeals. Bows of ribbon and general adornments were now applied to Tony, who welcomed them as a mark of appreciation and occasionally ate bits of them in addition to his quota of slippers. He had the privilege of being introduced into my new secret saga. Dickie (Goldie the canary) and Dicksmistress (me) were now joined by Lord Tony. I remember less of my sister in those early years than of my brother. My sister was nice to me, while my brother called me Kid and was lofty–so naturally I attached myself to him whenever he permitted it. The chief fact I remember about him was that he kept white mice. I was introduced to Mr and Mrs Whiskers and their family. Nursie disapproved. She said they smelt. They did, of course. We already had one dog in the house, an old Dandy Dinmont called Scotty, which belonged to my brother. My brother, named Louis Montant after my father’s greatest friend in America, was always known as Monty, and he and Scotty were inseparable. Almost automatically, my mother would murmur: ‘Don’t put your face down on the dog and let him lick you, Monty.’ Monty, flat on the floor by Scotty’s basket, with his arm wreathed lovingly round the dog’s neck, would pay no attention. My father would say: ‘That dog smells terrible!’ Scotty was then fifteen, and only a fervent dog-lover could deny the accusation. ‘Roses!’ Monty would murmur lovingly. ‘Roses! That’s what he smells of–roses.’ Alas, tragedy came to Scotty. Slow and blind, he was out walking with Nursie and myself when, crossing the road, a tradesman’s cart dashed round a corner, and he was run over. We brought him home in a cab and the vet was summoned, but Scotty died a few hours later. Monty was out sailing with some friends. My mother was disturbed at the thought of breaking the news to him. She had the body put in the wash-house and waited anxiously for my brother’s return. Unfortunately, instead of coming straight into the house as usual, he went round to the yard and into the wash-house, looking for some tools he needed. There he found Scotty’s body. He went straight off again and must have walked round for many hours. He got home at last just before midnight. My parents were understanding enough not to mention Scotty’s death to him. He dug Scotty’s grave himself in the Dogs’ Cemetery in a corner of the garden where each family dog had his name in due course on a small headstone. My brother, given, as I have said, to remorseless teasing, used to call me the ‘scrawny chicken’. I obliged him by bursting into tears every time. Why the epithet infuriated me so I do not know. Being somewhat of a cry baby I used to trail off to Mother, sobbing out, ‘I aren’t a scrawny chicken, arm I, Marmee?’ My mother, unperturbed, would merely say: ‘If you don’t want to be teased, why do you go trailing after Monty all the time?’ The question was unanswerable, but such was my brother’s fascination for me that I could not keep away. He was at an age when he was highly scornful of kid sisters, and found me a thorough nuisance. Sometimes he would be gracious and admit me to his ‘workshop’, where he had a lathe, and would allow me to hold pieces of wood and tools and hand them to him. But sooner or later the scrawny chicken was told to take herself off. Once he so highly favoured me as to volunteer to take me out with him in his boat. He had a small dinghy which he sailed on Torbay. Rather to everyone’s surprise I was allowed to go. Nursie, who was still with us then, was dead against the expedition, being of the opinion that I would get wet, dirty, tear my frock, pinch my fingers and almost certainly be drowned. ‘Young gentlemen don’t know how to look after a little girl.’ My mother said that she thought I had sense enough not to fall over-board, and that it would be an experience. I think also she wished to express appreciation of Monty’s unusual act of unselfishness. So we walked down the town and on to the pier. Monty brought the boat to the steps and Nursie passed me down to him. At the last moment, mother had qualms. ‘You are to be careful, Monty. Very careful. And don’t be out long. You will look after her, won’t you?’ My brother, who was, I imagine, already repenting of his kindly offer, said briefly, ‘She’ll be all right’. To me he said, ‘Sit where you are and keep still, and for goodness sake don’t touch anything.’ He then did various things with ropes. The boat assumed an angle that made it practically impossible for me to sit where I was and keep still as ordered, and also frightened me a good deal, but as we scudded through the water my spirits revived and I was transported with happiness. Mother and Nursie stood on the end of the pier, gazing after us like figures in a Greek play, Nursie almost weeping as she prophesied doom, my mother seeking to allay her fears, adding finally, probably remembering what a bad sailor she herself was, ‘I don’t expect she’ll ever want to go again. The sea is quite choppy.’ Her pronouncement was true enough. I was returned shortly afterwards, green in the face, having ‘fed the fishes’ as my brother put it, three times. He landed me in high disgust, remarking that women were all the same. IV It was just before I was five years old that I first met fear. Nursie and I were primrosing one spring day. We had crossed the railway line and gone up Shiphay lane, picking primroses from the hedges, where they grew thickly. We turned in through an open gate and went on picking. Our basket was growing full when a voice shouted at us, angry and rough: ‘Wot d’you think you’re doing ‘ere?’ He seemed to me a giant of a man, angry and red-faced. Nursie said we were doing no harm, only primrosing. ‘Trespassing, that’s what you’re at. Get out of it. If you’re not out of that gate in one minute, I’ll boil you alive, see?’ I tugged desperately at Nursie’s hand as we went. Nursie could not go fast, and indeed did not try to do so. My fear mounted. When we were at last safely in the lane I almost collapsed with relief. I was white and sick, as Nursie suddenly noticed. ‘Dearie,’ she said gently, ‘you didn’t think he meant it, did you? Not to boil you or whatever it was?’ I nodded dumbly. I had visualised it. A great steaming cauldron on a fire, myself being thrust into it. My agonised screams. It was all deadly real to me. Nursie talked soothingly. It was a way people had of speaking. A kind of joke, as it were. Not a nice man, a very rude, unpleasant man, but he hadn’t meant what he said. It was a joke. It had been no joke to me, and even now when I go into a field a slight tremor goes down my spine. From that day to this I have never known so real a terror. Yet in nightmares I never relived this particular experience. All children have nightmares, and I doubt if they are a result of nursemaids or others ‘frightening’ them, or of any happening in real life. My own particular nightmare centred round someone I called ‘The Gunman’. I never read a story about anyone of the kind. I called him The Gunman because he carried a gun, not because I was frightened of his shooting me, or for any reason connected with the gun. The gun was part of his appearance, which seems to me now to have been that of a Frenchman in grey-blue uniform, powdered hair in a queue and a kind of three-cornered hat, and the gun was some old-fashioned kind of musket. It was his mere presence that was frightening. The dream would be quite ordinary–a tea-party, or a walk with various people, usually a mild festivity of some kind. Then suddenly a feeling of uneasiness would come. There was someone–someone who ought not to be there–a horrid feeling of fear: and then I would see him–sitting at the tea-table, walking along the beach, joining in the game. His pale blue eyes would meet mine, and I would wake up shrieking: ‘The Gunman, the Gunman!’ ‘Miss Agatha had one of her gunman dreams last night,’ Nursie would report in her placid voice. ‘Why is he so frightening, darling?’ my mother would ask. ‘What do you think he will do to you?’ I didn’t know why he was frightening. Later the dream varied. The Gunman was not always in costume. Sometimes, as we sat round a tea-table, I would look across at a friend, or a member of the family, and I would suddenly realise that it was not Dorothy or Phyllis or Monty, or my mother or whoever it might be. The pale blue eyes in the familiar face met mine–under the familiar appearance. It was really the Gunman. At the age of four I fell in love. It was a shattering and wonderful experience. The object of my passion was one of the Dartmouth cadets, a friend of my brother’s. Golden-haired and blue-eyed, he appealed to all my romantic instincts. He himself could have had no idea of the emotions he aroused. Gloriously uninterested in the ‘kid sister’ of his friend Monty, he would probably have said, if asked, that I disliked him. An excess of emotion caused me to go in the opposite direction if I saw him coming, and when seated at the dining-table, to keep my head resolutely turned away. My mother took me gently to task. ‘I know you’re shy, dear, but you must be polite. It’s so rude to turn your head away from Philip all the time, and if he speaks to you, you only mutter. Even if you dislike him, you must be polite.’ Dislike him! How little anyone knew. When I think of it now, how supremely satisfying early love can be. It demands nothing–not a look nor a word. It is pure adoration. Sustained by it, one walks on air, creating in one’s own mind heroic occasions on which one will be of service to the beloved one. Going into a plague camp to nurse him. Saving him from fire. Shielding him from a fatal bullet. Anything, indeed, that has caught the imagination in a story. In these imaginings there is never a happy ending. You yourself are burnt to death, shot, or succumb to the plague. The hero does not even know of the supreme sacrifice you have made. I sat on the nursery floor, and played with Tony, looking solemn and priggish, whilst inside my head a glorious exultation swirled in extravagant fancies. The months passed. Philip became a midshipman and left the Britannia. For a short while his image persisted and then dwindled. Love vanished, to return three years later, when I adored hopelessly a tall dark young Army captain who was courting my sister. Ashfield was home and accepted as such; Ealing, however, was an excitement. It had all the romance of a foreign country. One of its principal joys was its lavatory. It had a splendidly large mahogany lavatory seat. Sitting on it one felt exactly like a Queen on her throne, and I rapidly translated Dicksmistress into Queen Marguerite, and Dickie became her son, Prince Goldie, the heir to the throne. He sat at her right hand on the small circle which enclosed the handsome Wedgwood plug handle. Here in the morning I would retreat, sit bowing, giving audience, and extending my hand to be kissed until summoned angrily to come out by others wishing to enter. On the wall there hung a coloured map of New York City, also an object of interest to me. There were several American prints in the house. In the spare bedroom was a set of coloured prints for which I had a deep affection. One, entitled ‘Winter Sports’, depicted a very cold-looking man on a sheet of ice, dragging up a fish through a small hole. It seemed rather a melancholy sport to me. On the other hand, Grey Eddy, the trotter, was fascinatingly dashing. Since my father had married the niece of his stepmother (his American father’s English second wife), and since he called her Mother whilst his wife continued to call her Auntie, she was usually known officially as Auntie-Grannie. My grandfather had spent the last years of his life going to and fro between his business in New York and its English branch in Manchester. His had been one of the ‘success stories’ of America. A poor boy from a family in Massachusetts, he had come to New York, been engaged more or less as an office boy, and had risen to be a partner in the firm. ‘Shirtsleeves to Swivel-chair in Three Generations’ had certainly come true in our family. My grandfather made a big fortune. My father, mainly owing to trust in his fellow men, let it dwindle away, and my brother ran through what was left of it like a flash of lightning. Not long before he died my grandfather had bought a large house in Cheshire. He was a sick man by then, and his second wife was left a widow comparatively young. She lived on in Cheshire for a while, but finally bought a house in Ealing, which was then still practically in the country. As she often said, there were fields all around. However, by the time I came to visit her this seemed hard to believe. Rows of neat houses spread in every direction. Grannie’s house and garden had a tremendous fascination for me. I divided the nursery into several ‘territories’. The front part had been built out with a bay window and had a gay striped drugget on the floor. This part I christened the Muriel Room (possibly because I had been fascinated by the term Oriel window). The back part of the nursery, covered with a Brussels carpet, was the Dining Hall. Various mats and pieces of linoleum were allocated by me to different rooms. I moved, busy and important, from one room of my house to another, murmuring under my breath. Nursie, peaceful as ever, sat stitching. Another fascination was Auntie-Grannie’s bed, an immense mahogany four-poster closely hemmed in with red damask curtains. It was a feather bed, and early in the morning I would arrive before being dressed and climb in. Grannie was awake from six o’clock onwards, and always welcomed me. Downstairs there was the drawing-room, crowded to repletion with marquetry furniture and Dresden china, and perpetually shrouded in gloom because of the conservatory erected outside. The drawing-room was only used for parties. Next to the drawing-room was the morning-room, where almost invariably a ‘sewing-woman’ was ensconced. Now that I come to think of it, sewing-women were an inevitable accompaniment of a household. They all had a certain resemblance to each other in that they were usually very refined, in unfortunate circumstances, treated with careful courtesy by the mistress of the house, and the family, and with no courtesy at all by the servants, were sent in meals on trays, and–as far as I can remember–were unable to produce any article of clothing that fitted. Everything was either too tight everywhere or else hung on one in loose folds. The answer to any complaint was usually: ‘Ah yes, but Miss James has had such an unfortunate life.’ So, in the morning-room, Miss James sat and sewed with patterns all around her, and a sewing-machine in front of her. In the dining-room, Grannie passed her life in Victorian contentment. The furniture was of heavy mahogany with a central table and chairs all round it. The windows were thickly draped with Nottingham lace. Grannie sat either at the table, in a huge leather-backed carver’s chair, writing letters, or else in a big velvet armchair by the fireplace. The tables, sofa, and some of the chairs were taken up with books, books that were meant to be there and books escaping out of loosely tied-up parcels. Grannie was always buying books, for herself and for presents, and in the end the books became too much for her and she forgot to whom she had meant to send them–or else discovered that ‘Mr Bennett’s dear little boy had, unnoticed by her, now reached the age of eighteen and was no longer eligible for The Boys of St. Guldred’s or The Adventures of Timothy Tiger. An indulgent playmate, Grannie would lay aside the long scratchy-looking letter she was writing (heavily crossed ‘to save notepaper’) and enter into the delightful pastime of ‘a chicken from Mr Whiteley’s’. Needless to say, I was the chicken. Selected by Grannie with appeals to the shopman as to whether I was really young and tender, brought home, trussed up, skewered (yells of delight from my skewered self), put in the oven, done to a turn, brought on the table dished up, great show of sharpening the carving-knife, when suddenly the chicken comes alive and ‘It’s Me!’–grand climax–to be repeated ad lib. One of the morning events was Grannie’s visit to the store-cupboard which was situated by the side door into the garden. I would immediately appear and Grannie would exclaim, ‘Now what can a little girl want here?’ The little girl would wait hopefully, peering into the interesting recesses. Rows of jars of jam and preserves. Boxes of dates, preserved fruits, figs, French plums, cherries, angelica, packets of raisins and currants, pounds of butter and sacks of sugar, tea and flour. All the household eatables lived there, and were solemnly handed out every day in anticipation of the day’s needs. Also a searching inquiry was held as to exactly what had been done with the previous day’s allocation. Grannie kept a liberal table for all, but was highly suspicious of waste. Household needs satisfied, and yesterday’s provender satisfactorily accounted for, Grannie would unscrew a jar of French plums and I would go gladly out into the garden with my hands full. How odd it is, when remembering early days, that the weather seems constant in certain places. In my nursery at Torquay it is always an autumn or winter afternoon. There is a fire in the grate, and clothes drying on the high fireguard, and outside there are leaves swirling down, or sometimes, excitingly, snow. In the Ealing garden it is always summer–and particularly hot summer. I can relive easily the gasp of dry hot air and the smell of roses as I go out through the side door. That small square of green grass, surrounded with standard rose-trees, does not seem small to me. Again it was a world. First the roses, very important; any dead heads snipped off every day, the other roses cut and brought in and arranged in a number of small vases. Grannie was inordinately proud of her roses, attributing all their size and beauty to ‘the bedroom slops, my dear. Liquid manure–nothing like it! No one has roses like mine.’ On Sundays my other grandmother and usually two of my uncles used to come to midday dinner. It was a splendid Victorian day. Granny Boehmer, known as Granny B., who was my mother’s mother, would arrive about eleven o’clock, panting a little because she was very stout, even stouter than Auntie-Grannie. After taking a succession of trains and omnibuses from London, her first action would be to rid herself of her buttoned boots. Her servant Harriet used to come with her on these occasions. Harriet would kneel before her to remove the boots and substitute a comfortable pair of woolly slippers. Then with a deep sigh Granny B. would settle herself down at the dining-room table, and the two sisters would start their Sunday morning business. This consisted of lengthy and complicated accounts. Granny B. did a great deal of Auntie-Grannie’s shopping for her at the Army and Navy Stores in Victoria Street. The Army and Navy Stores was the hub of the universe to the two sisters. Lists, figures, accounts were gone into and thoroughly enjoyed by both. Discussions on quality of the goods purchased took place: ‘You wouldn’t have cared for it, Margaret. Not good quality material, very rawny–not at all like that last plum colour velvet.’ Then Auntie-Grannie would bring out her large fat purse, which I always looked upon with awe and considered as an outward and visible sign of immense wealth. It had a lot of gold sovereigns in the middle compartment, and the rest of it was bulging with half-crowns and sixpences and an occasional five shilling piece. The accounts for repairs and small purchases were settled. The Army and Navy Stores, of course, was on a deposit account–and I think that Auntie-Grannie always added a cash present for Granny B’s time and trouble. The sisters were fond of each other, but there was also a good deal of petty jealousy and bickering between them. Each enjoyed teasing the other, and getting the better of her in some way. Granny B. had, by her own account, been the beauty of the family. Auntie-Grannie used to deny this. ‘Mary (or Polly, as she called her) had a pretty face, yes,’ she would say. ‘But of course she hadn’t got the figure I had. Gentlemen like a figure.’ In spite of Polly’s lack of figure (for which, I may say, she amply made up later–I have never seen such a bust) at the age of sixteen a captain in the Black Watch had fallen in love with her. Though the family had said that she was too young to marry, he pointed out that he was going abroad with his regiment and might not be back in England for some time, and that he would like the marriage to take place straight away. So married Polly was at sixteen. That, I think, was possibly the first point of jealousy. It was a love match. Polly was young and beautiful and her Captain was said to be the handsomest man in the regiment. Polly soon had five children, one of whom died. Her husband left her a young widow of twenty-seven–after a fall from his horse. Auntie-Grannie was not married until much later in life. She had had a romance with a young naval officer, but they were too poor to marry and he turned to a rich widow. She in turn married a rich American with one son. She was in some ways frustrated, though her good sense and love of life never deserted her. She had no children. However, she was left a very rich widow. With Polly, on the other hand, it was all she could do to feed and clothe her family after her husband’s death. His tiny pension was all she had. I remember her sitting all day in the window of her house, sewing, making fancy pin-cushions, embroidered pictures and screens. She was wonderful with her needle, and she worked without ceasing, far more, I think, than an eight-hour day. So each of them envied the other for something they did not have. I think they quite enjoyed their spirited squabbles. Erupting sounds would fill the ear. ‘Nonsense, Margaret, I never heard such nonsense in my life!’ Indeed, Mary, let me tell you–’ and so on. Polly had been courted by some of her dead husband’s fellow officers and had had several offers of marriage, but she had steadfastly refused to marry again. She would put no one in her husband’s place, she said, and she would be buried with him in his grave in Jersey when her time came. The Sunday accounts finished, and commissions written down for the coming week, the uncles would arrive. Uncle Ernest was in the Home Office and Uncle Harry secretary of the Army and Navy Stores. The eldest uncle, Uncle Fred, was in India with his regiment. The table was laid and Sunday midday dinner was served. An enormous joint, usually cherry tart and cream, a vast piece of cheese, and finally dessert on the best Sunday dessert plates–very beautiful they were and are: I have them still; I think eighteen out of the original twenty-four, which is not bad for about sixty odd years. I don’t know if they were Coalport or French china–the edges were bright green, scalloped with gold, and in the centre of each plate was a different fruit–my favourite was then and always has been the Fig, a juicy-looking purple fig. My daughter Rosalind’s has always been the Gooseberry, an unusually large and luscious gooseberry. There was also a beautiful Peach, White Currants, Red Currants, Raspberries, Strawberries, and many others. The climax of the meal was when these were placed on the table, with their little lace mats on them, and finger bowls, and then everyone in turn guessed what fruit their plate was. Why this afforded so much satisfaction I cannot say, but it was always a thrilling moment, and when you had guessed right you felt you had done something worthy of esteem. After a gargantuan meal there was sleep. Aunti-Grannie retired to her secondary chair by the fireplace–large and rather low-seated. Granny B. would settle on the sofa, a claret-coloured leather couch, buttoned all over its surface, and over her mountainous form was spread an Afghan rug. I don’t know what happened to the uncles. They may have gone for a walk, or retired to the drawing-room, but the drawing-room was seldom used. It was impossible to use the morning-room because that room was sacred to Miss Grant, the present holder of the post of sewing-woman. ‘My dear, such a sad case,’ Grannie would murmur to her friends. ‘Such a poor little creature, deformed, only one passage, like a fowl.’ That phrase always fascinated me, because I didn’t know what it meant. Where did what I took to be a corridor come in? After everyone except me had slept soundly for at least an hour–I used to rock myself cautiously in the rocking-chair–we would have a game of Schoolmaster. Both Uncle Harry and Uncle Ernest were splendid exponents of Schoolmaster. We sat in a row, and whoever was schoolmaster, armed with a newspaper truncheon, would pace up and down the line shouting out questions in a hectoring voice: ‘What is the date of the invention of needles?’ Who was Henry VIII’s third wife?’ How did William Rufus meet his death?’ What are the diseases of wheat?’ Anyone who could give a correct answer moved up; those correspondingly disgraced moved down. I suppose it was the Victorian forerunner of the quizzes we enjoy so much nowadays. The uncles, I think, disappeared after that, having done their duty by their mother and their aunt. Granny B. remained, and partook of tea with Madeira cake; then came the terrible moment when the buttoned boots were brought forth, and Harriet started on the task of encasing her in them once more. It was agonising to watch, and must have been anguish to endure. Poor Granny B.’s ankles had swollen up like puddings by the end of the day. To force the buttons into their holes with the aid of a button-hook involved an enormous amount of painful pinching, which forced sharp cries from her. Oh! those buttoned boots. Why did anyone wear them? Were they recommended by doctors? Were they the price of a slavish devotion to fashion? I know boots were said to be good for children’s ankles, to strengthen them, but that could hardly apply in the case of an old lady of seventy. Anyway, finally encased and pale still from the pain, Granny B. started her return by train and bus to her own residence in Bayswater. Ealing at that time had the same characteristics as Cheltenham or Leamington Spa. The retired military and navy came there in large quantities for the ‘healthy air’ and the advantage of being so near London. Grannie led a thoroughly social life–she was a sociable woman at all times. Her house was always full of old Colonels and Generals for whom she would embroider waistcoats and knit bedsocks: ‘I hope your wife won’t object,’ she would say as she presented them. ‘I shouldn’t like to cause trouble!’ The old gentlemen would make gallant rejoinders, and go away feeling thoroughly doggish and pleased with their manly attractions. Their gallantry always made me rather shy. The jokes they cracked for my amusement did not seem funny, and their arch, rallying manner made me nervous. ‘And what’s the little lady going to have for her dessert? Sweets to the sweet, little lady. A peach now? Or one of these golden plums to match those golden curls?’ Pink with embarrassment, I murmured that I would like a peach please. ‘And which peach? Now then, choose.’ ‘Please,’ I murmured, ‘I would like the biggest and the bestest.’ Roars of laughter. All unaware, I seemed to have made a joke. ‘You shouldn’t ask for the biggest, ever,’ said Nursie later. ‘It’s greedy.’ I could admit that it was greedy, but why was it funny? As a guide to social life, Nursie was in her element. ‘You must eat up your dinner quicker than that. Suppose now, that you were to be dining at a ducal house when you grow up?’ Nothing seemed more unlikely, but I accepted the possibility. ‘There will be a grand butler and several footmen, and when the moment comes, they’ll clear away your plate, whether you’ve finished or not.’ I paled at the prospect and applied myself to boiled mutton with a will. Incidents of the aristocracy were frequently on Nursie’s lips. They fired me with ambition. I wanted, above everything in the world, to be the Lady Agatha one day. But Nursie’s social knowledge was inexorable. ‘That you can never be,’ she said. ‘Never?’ I was aghast. ‘Never,’ said Nursie, a firm realist. ‘To be the Lady Agatha, you have to be born it. You have to be the daughter of a Duke, a Marquis, or an Earl. If you marry a Duke, you’ll be a Duchess, but that’s because of your husband’s title. It’s not something you’re born with.’ It was my first brush with the inevitable. There are things that cannot be achieved. It is important to realise this early in life, and very good for you. There are some things that you just cannot have–a natural curl in your hair, black eyes (if yours happen to be blue) or the title of Lady Agatha. On the whole I think the snobbery of my childhood, the snobbery of birth that is, is more palatable than the other snobberies: the snobbery of wealth and intellectual snobbery. Intellectual snobbery seems today to breed a particular form of envy and venom. Parents are determined that their offspring shall shine. ‘We’ve made great sacrifices for you to have a good education,’ they say. The child is burdened with guilt if he does not fulfil their hopes. Everyone is so sure that it is all a matter of opportunity–not of natural aptitude. I think late Victorian parents were more realistic and had more consideration for their children and for what would make a happy and successful life for them. There was much less keeping up with the Joneses. Nowadays I often feel that it is for one’s own prestige that one wants one’s children to succeed. The Victorians looked dispassionately at their offspring and made up their minds about their capacities. A. was obviously going to be ‘the pretty one’. B. was ‘the clever one’. C. was going to be plain and was definitely not intellectual. Good works would be C.’s best chance. And so on. Sometimes, of course, they were wrong, but on the whole it worked. There is an enormous relief in not being expected to produce something that you haven’t got. In contrast to most of our friends, we were not really well off My father, as an American, was considered automatically to be ‘rich’. All Americans were supposed to be rich. Actually he was merely comfortably off We did not have a butler or a footman. We did not have a carriage and horses and a coachman. We had three servants, which was a minimum then. On a wet day, if you were going out to tea with a friend, you walked a mile and a half in the rain in your machintosh and your goloshes. A ‘cab’ was never ordered for a child unless it was going to a real party in a perishable dress. On the other hand, the food that was served to guests in our house was quite incredibly luxurious compared to present-day standards–indeed you would have to employ a chef and his assistant to provide it! I came across the menu of one of our early dinner parties (for ten) the other day. It began with a choice of thick or clear soup, then boiled turbot, or fillets of sole. After that came a sorbet. Saddle of mutton followed. Then, rather unexpectedly, Lobster Mayonnaise. Pouding Diplomatique and Charlotte Russe were the sweets and then dessert. All this was produced by Jane, single-handed. Nowadays, of course, on an equivalent income, a family would have a car, perhaps a couple of dailies, and any heavy entertaining would probably be in a restaurant or done at home by the wife. In our family it was my sister who was early recognised as ‘the clever one’. Her headmistress at Brighton urged that she should go to Girton. My father was upset and said ‘We can’t have Madge turned into a blue-stocking. We’d better send her to Paris to be “finished’.’ So my sister went to Paris, to her own complete satisfaction since she had no wish whatever to go to Girton. She certainly had the brains of the family. She was witty, very entertaining, quick of repartee and successful in everything she attempted. My brother, a year younger than her, had enormous personal charm, a liking for literature, but was otherwise intellectually backward. I think both my father and my mother realised that he was going to be the ‘difficult’ one. He had a great love of practical engineering. My father had hoped that he would go into banking but realised that he did not have the capacity to succeed. So he took up engineering–but there again he could not succeed, as mathematics let him down. I myself was always recognised, though quite kindly, as ‘the slow one’ of the family. The reactions of my mother and my sister were unusually quick–I could never keep up. I was, too, very inarticulate. It was always difficult for me to assemble into words what I wanted to say. ‘Agatha’s so terribly slow’ was always the cry. It was quite true, and I knew it and accepted it. It did not worry or distress me. I was resigned to being always ‘the slow one’. It was not until I was over twenty that I realised that my home standard had been unusually high and that actually I was quite as quick or quicker than the average. Inarticulate I shall always be. It is probably one of the causes that have made me a writer. The first real sorrow of my life was parting with Nursie. For some time one of her former nurselings who had an estate in Somerset had been urging her to retire. He offered her a comfortable little cottage on his property where she and her sister could live out their days. Finally she made her decision. The time had come for her to quit work. I missed her terribly. Every day I wrote to her–a short badly-written ill-spelt note: writing and spelling were always terribly difficult for me. My letters were without originality. They were practically always the same: ‘Darling Nursie. I miss you very much. I hope you are quite well. Tony has a flea. Lots and lots of love and kisses. From Agatha.’ My mother provided a stamp for these letters, but after a while she was moved to gentle protest. ‘I don’t think you need write every day. Twice a week, perhaps?’ I was appalled. ‘But I think of her every day. I must write.’ She signed, but did not object. Nevertheless she continued gentle suggestion. It was some months before I cut down correspondence to the two letters a week suggested. Nursie herself was a poor hand with a pen, and in any case was too wise, I imagine, to encourage me in my obstinate fidelity. She wrote to me twice a month, gentle nondescript epistles. I think my mother was disturbed that I found her so hard to forget. She told me afterwards that she had discussed the matter with my father, who had replied with an unexpected twinkle: ‘Well, you remembered me very faithfully as a child when I went to America.’ My mother said that that was quite different. ‘Did you think that I would come back and marry you one day when you were grown up?’ he asked. My mother said, ‘No, indeed,’ then hesitated and admitted that she had had her day-dream. It was a typically sentimental Victorian one. My father was to make a brilliant but unhappy marriage. Disillusioned, after his wife’s death he returned to seek out his quiet cousin Clara. Alas, Clara, a helpless invalid, lay permanently on a sofa, and finally blessed him with her dying breath. She laughed as she told him–‘You see,’ she said, ‘I thought I shouldn’t look so dumpy lying on a sofa–with a pretty soft wool cover thrown over me.’ Early death and invalidism were as much the tradition of romance then as toughness seems to be nowadays. No young woman then, as far as I can judge, would ever own up to having rude health. Grannie always told me with great complacence how delicate she had been as a child, ‘never expected to live to maturity’ a slight knock on the hand when playing and she fainted away. Granny B., on the other hand, said of her sister: ‘Margaret was always perfectly strong. I was the delicate one.’ Auntie-Grannie lived to ninety-two and Granny B. to eight-six, and personally I doubt if they were ever delicate at all. But extreme sensibility, constant fainting fits, and early consumption (a decline) were fashionable. Indeed, so imbued with this point of view was Grannie that she frequently went out of her way to impart mysteriously to my various young men how terribly delicate and frail I was and how unlikely to reach old age. Often, when I was eighteen, one of my swains would say anxiously to me, ‘Are you sure you won’t catch a chill? Your grandmother told me how delicate you are!’ Indignantly I would protest the rude health I had always enjoyed, and the anxious face would clear. ‘But why does your grandmother say you’re delicate?’ I had to explain that Grannie was doing her loyal best to make me sound interesting. When she herself was young, Grannie told me, young ladies were never able to manage more than a morsel of food at the dinner-table if gentlemen were present. Substantial trays were taken up to bedrooms later. Illness and early death pervaded even children’s books. A book called Our White Violet was a great favourite of mine. Little Violet, a saintly invalid on page one, died an edifying death surrounded by her weeping family on the last page. Tragedy was relieved by her two naughty brothers, Punny and Firkin, who never ceased getting themselves into mischief. Little Women, a cheerful tale on the whole, had to sacrifice rosy-faced Beth. The death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop leaves me cold and slightly nauseated, but in Dickens’s time, of course, whole families wept over its pathos. That article of household furniture, the sofa or couch, is associated nowadays mainly with the psychiatrist–but in Victorian times it was the symbol of early death, decline, and romance with a capital R. I am inclined to the belief that the Victorian wife and mother cashed in on it pretty well. It excused her from much household drudgery. She often took to it in the early forties and spent a pleasant life, waited on hand and foot, given affectionate consideration by her devoted husband and ungrudging service by her daughters. Friends flocked to visit her, and her patience and sweetness under affliction were admired by all. Was there really anything the matter with her? Probably not. No doubt her back ached and she suffered from her feet as most of us do as life goes on. The sofa was the answer. Another of my favourite books was about a little German girl (naturally an invalid, crippled) who lay all day looking out of the window. Her attendant, a selfish and pleasure-loving young woman, rushed out one day to view a procession. The invalid leaned out too far, fell and was killed. Haunting remorse of the pleasure-loving attendant, white-faced and grief-stricken for life. All these gloomy books I read with great satisfaction. And there were, of course, the Old Testament stories, in which I had revelled from an early age. Going to church was one of the highlights of the week. The parish church of Tor Mohun was the oldest church in Torquay. Torquay itself was a modern watering place, but Tor Mohun was the original hamlet. The old church was a small one, and it was decided that a second, bigger church was needed for the parish. This was built just about the time that I was born, and my father advanced a sum of money in my infant name so that I should be a founder. He explained this to me in due course and I felt very important. ‘When can I go to church?’ had been my constant demand–and at last the great day came. I sat next to my father in a pew near the front and followed the service in his big prayer-book. He had told me beforehand that I could go out before the sermon if I liked, and when the time came he whispered to me, ‘Would you like to go?’ I shook my head vigorously and so remained. He took my hand in his and I sat contentedly, trying hard not to fidget. I enjoyed church services on Sunday very much. At home previously there had been special story-books only allowed to be read on Sundays (which made a treat of them) and books of Bible stories with which I was familiar. There is no doubt that the stories of the Old Testament are, from a child’s point of view, rattling good yarns. They have that dramatic cause and effect which a child’s mind demands: Joseph and his brethren, his coat of many colours, his rise to power in Egypt, and the dramatic finale of his forgiveness of the wicked brothers. Moses and the burning bush was another favourite. David and Goliath, too, has a sure-fire appeal. Only a year or two ago, standing on the mound at Nimrud, I watched the local bird-scarer, an old Arab with his handful of stones and his sling, defending the crops from the hordes of predatory birds. Seeing his accuracy of aim and the deadliness of his weapon, I suddenly realised for the first time that it was Goliath against whom the dice were loaded. David was in a superior position from the start–the man with a long-distance weapon against the man who had none. Not so much the little fellow against the big one, as brains versus brawn. A good many interesting people came to our house during my young days, and it seems a pity that I do not remember any of them. All I recall about Henry James is my mother complaining that he always wanted a lump of sugar broken in two for his tea–and that it really was affectation, as a small knob would do quite as well Rudyard Kipling came, and again my only memory is a discussion between my mother and a friend as to why he had ever married Mrs Kipling. My mother’s friend ended by saying, ‘I know the reason. They are the perfect complement to each other.’ Taking the word to be ‘compliment’ I thought it a very obscure remark, but as Nursie explained one day that to ask you to marry him was the highest compliment a gentleman could pay a lady, I began to see the point. Though I came down to tea-parties, I remember, in white muslin and a yellow satin sash, hardly anyone at the parties remains in my mind. The people I imagined were always more real to me than the flesh and blood ones I met. I do remember a close friend of my mother’s, a Miss Tower, mainly because I took endless pains to avoid her. She had black eyebrows and enormous white teeth, and I thought privately that she looked exactly like a wolf. She had a habit of pouncing on me, kissing me vehemently and exclaiming, ‘I could eat you!’ I was always afraid she would. All through my life I have carefully abstained from rushing at children and kissing them unasked. Poor little things, what defence have they? Dear Miss Tower, so good and kind and so fond of children–but with so little idea of their feelings. Lady MacGregor was a social leader in Torquay, and she and I were on happy, joking terms. When I was still in the perambulator she had accosted me one day and asked if I knew who she was? I said truthfully that I didn’t. ‘Tell your Mama,’ she said, ‘that you met Mrs Snooks out today.’ As soon as she had gone, Nursie took me to task. ‘That’s Lady MacGregor, and you know her quite well.’ But thereafter I always greeted her as Mrs Snooks and it was our own private joke. A cheerful soul was my godfather, Lord Lifford, then Captain Hewitt. He came to the house one day, and hearing Mr and Mrs Miller were out said cheerfully, ‘Oh, that’s all right. I’ll come in and wait for them,’ and attempted to push past the parlourmaid. The conscientious parlourmaid slammed the door in his face and rushed upstairs to call to him from the conveniently situated lavatory window. He finally convinced her that he was a friend of the family–principally because he said, ‘And I know the window you’re speaking from, it’s the W.C.’ This proof of topography convinced her, and she let him in, but retired convulsed with shame at his knowledge that it was the lavatory from which she had been speaking. We were very delicate about lavatories in those days. It was unthinkable to be seen entering or leaving one except by an intimate member of the family; difficult in our house, since the lavatory was halfway up the stairs and in full view from the hall. The worst, of course, was to be inside and then hear voices below. Impossible to come out. One had to stay immured there until the coast was clear. Of my own childish friends I do not remember much. There were Dorothy and Dulcie, younger than I was; stolid children with adenoids, whom I found dull. We had tea in the garden and ran races round a big ilex tree, eating Devonshire cream on ‘tough cakes’ (the local bun). I cannot imagine why this pleased us. Their father, Mr B., was my father’s great crony. Soon after we came to live in Torquay, Mr B. told my father that he was going to be married. A wonderful woman, so he described her, ‘And it frightens me, Joe’–my father was always called Joe by his friends–‘it positively frightens me how that woman loves me!’ Shortly afterwards a friend of my mother’s arrived to stay, seriously perturbed. Acting as companion to someone at a hotel in North Devon, she had come across a large, rather handsome young woman, who in a loud voice was conversing with a friend in the hotel lounge. ‘I’ve landed my bird, Dora,’ she boomed triumphantly. ‘Got him to the point at last, and he’s eating out of my hand.’ Dora congratulated her, and marriage settlements were freely discussed. Then the name of Mr B. was mentioned as the duly landed bridegroom. A great consultation was held between my mother and father. What, if anything, was to be done about this? Could they let poor B. be married for his money in this shameful way? Was it too late? Would he believe them if they told him what had been overheard. My father, at last, made his decision. B. was not to be told anything. Tale-telling was a mean business. And B. was not an ignorant boy. He had chosen with his eyes open. Whether Mrs B. had married her husband for money or not, she made him an excellent wife, and they appeared to be as happy together as turtle-doves. They had three children, were practically inseparable, and a better home life could not be found. Poor B. eventually died of cancer of the tongue, and all through his long painful ordeal his wife nursed him devotedly. It was a lesson, my mother once said, in not thinking you know what’s best for other people. When one went to lunch or tea with the B.’s the talk was entirely of food. ‘Percival, my love,’ Mrs B. would boom, ‘some more of this excellent mutton. Deliciously tender.’ ‘As you say, Edith, my dear. Just one more slice. Let me pass you the caper sauce. Excellently made. Dorothy, my love, some more mutton?’ ‘No, thank you, papa.’ ‘Dulcie? Just a small slice from the knuckle–so tender.’ ‘No, thank you, mamma.’ I had one other friend called Margaret. She was what might be termed a semi-official friend. We did not visit each other’s homes (Margaret’s mother had bright orange hair and very pink cheeks; I suspect now that she was considered ‘fast’ and that my father would not allow my mother to call), but we took walks together. Our nurses, I gathered, were friends. Margaret was a great talker and she used to cause me horrible embarrassment. She had just lost her front teeth and it made her conversation so indistinct that I could not take in what she said. I felt it would be unkind to say so, so I answered at random, growing more and more desperate. Finally Margaret offered to ‘tell me a story’. It was all about ‘thome poithoned thweets’, but what happened to them I shall never know. It went on incomprehensibly for a long time and Margaret ended up triumphantly with, ‘Don’t you think thatth a loverly thtory?’ I agreed fervently. ‘Do you think thee really ought to–’ I felt questioning on the story would be too much for me to bear. I broke in with decision. ‘I’ll tell you a story now, Margaret.’ Margaret looked undecided. Evidently there was some knotty point in the poisoned sweets story that she wanted to discuss, but I was desperate. ‘It’s about a–a–peach-stone,’ I improvised wildly. ‘About a fairy who lived in a peach-stone.’ ‘Go on,’ said Margaret. I went on. I spun things out till Margaret’s gate was in sight. ‘That’s a very nice story,’ said Margaret appreciatively. ‘What fairy book does it come out of?’ It did not come out of any fairy book. It came out of my head. It was not, I think, a particularly good story. But it had saved me from the awful unkindness of reproaching Margaret for her missing teeth. I said that I could not quite remember which fairy book it was in. When I was five years old, my sister came back ‘finished’ from Paris. I remember the excitement of seeing her alight at Ealing from a four-wheeler cab. She wore a gay little straw hat and a white veil with black spots on it, and appeared to me an entirely new person. She was very nice to her little sister and used to tell me stories. She also endeavoured to cope with my education by teaching me French from a manual called Le Petit Precepteur. She was not, I think, a good teacher and I took a fervant dislike to the book. Twice I adroitly concealed it behind other books in the bookshelf; it was a very short time, however, before it came to light again. I saw that I had to do better. In a corner of the room was an enormous glass case containing a stuffed bald-headed eagle which was my father’s pride and glory. I insinuated Le Petit Précepteur behind the eagle into the unseen corner of the room. This was highly successful. Several days passed and a thorough hunt failed to find the missing book. My mother, however, defeated my efforts with ease. She proclaimed a prize of a particularly delectable chocolate for whoever should find the book. My greed was my undoing. I fell into the trap, conducted an elaborate search round the room, finally climbed up on a chair, peered behind the eagle, and exclaimed in a surprised voice: ‘Why, there it is!’ Retribution followed. I was reproved and sent to bed for the rest of the day. I accepted this as fair, since I had been found out, but I considered it unjust that I was not given the chocolate. That had been promised to whoever found the book, and I had found it. My sister had a game which both fascinated and terrified me. This was ‘The Elder Sister’. The thesis was that in our family was an elder sister, senior to my sister and myself. She was mad and lived in a cave at Corbin’s Head, but sometimes she came to the house. She was indistinguishable in appearance from my sister, except for her voice, which was quite different. It was a frightening voice, a soft oily voice. ‘You know who I am, don’t you, dear? I’m your sister Madge. You don’t think I’m anyone else, do you? You wouldn’t think that?’ I used to feel indescribable terror. Of course I knew really it was only Madge pretending–but was it? Wasn’t it perhaps true? That voice–those crafty sideways glancing eyes. It was the elder sister! My mother used to get angry. ‘I won’t have you frightening the child with this silly game, Madge.’ Madge would reply reasonably enough: ‘But she asks me to do it.’ I did. I would say to her: ‘Will the elder sister be coming soon?’ ‘I don’t know. Do you want her to come?’ ‘Yes–yes, I do. Did I really? I suppose so. My demand was never satisfied at once. Perhaps two days later there would be a knock at the nursery door, and the voice: ‘Can I come in, dear? It’s your elder sister. Many years later, Madge had still only to use the Elder Sister voice and I would feel chills down my spine. Why did I like being frightened? What instinctive need is satisfied by terror? Why, indeed, do children like stories about bears, wolves and witches? Is it because something rebels in one against the life that is too safe? Is a certain amount of danger in life a need of human beings? Is much of the juvenile delinquency nowadays attributable to the fact of too much security? Do you instinctively need something to combat, to overcome–to, as it were, prove yourself to yourself? Take away the wolf from Red Riding Hood and would any child enjoy it? However, like most things in life, you want to be frightened a little–but not too much. My sister must have had a great gift for story-telling. At an early age her brother would urge her on. ‘Tell it me again.’ ‘I don’t want to.’ ‘Do, do!’ ‘No, I don’t want to.’ ‘Please. I’ll do anything.’ ‘Will you let me bite your finger?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I shall bite it hard. Perhaps I shall bite it right off!’ ‘I don’t mind.’ Madge obligingly launches into the story once more. Then she picks up his finger and bites it. Now Monty yells. Mother arrives. Madge is punished. ‘But it was a bargain,’ she says, unrepentant. I remember well my first written story. It was in the nature of a melodrama, very short, since both writing and spelling were a pain to me. It concerned the noble Lady Madge (good) and the bloody Lady Agatha (bad) and a plot that involved the inheritance of a castle. I showed it to my sister and suggested we could act it. My sister said immediately that she would rather be the bloody Lady Madge and I could be the noble Lady Agatha. ‘But don’t you want to be the good one?’ I demanded, shocked. My sister said no, she thought it would be much more fun to be wicked. I was pleased, as it had been solely politeness which had led me to ascribe nobility to Lady Madge. My father, I remember, laughed a good deal at my effort, but in a kindly way, and my mother said that perhaps I had better not use the word bloody as it was not a very nice word. ‘But she was bloody,’ I explained. ‘She killed a lot of people. She was like bloody Mary, who burnt people at the stake.’ Fairy books played a great part in life. Grannie gave them to me for birthdays and Christmas. The Yellow Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, and so on. I loved them all and read them again and again. Then there was a collection of animal stories, also by Andrew Lang, including one about Androcles and the Lion. I loved that too. It must have been about then that I first embarked on a course of Mrs Molesworth, the leading writer of stories for children. They lasted me for many years, and I think, on re-reading them now, that they are very good. Of course children would find them old-fashioned nowadays, but they tell a good story and there is a lot of characterization in them. There was Carrots, just a little Boy, and Herr Baby for very young children, and various fairy story tales. I can still re-read The Cuckoo Clock and The Tapestry Room. My favourite of all, Four Winds Farm, I find uninteresting now and wonder why I loved it so much. Reading story-books was considered slightly too pleasurable to be really virtuous. No story-books until after lunch. In the mornings you were supposed to find something ‘useful’ to do. Even to this day, if I sit down and read a novel after breakfast I have a feeling of guilt. The same applies to cards on a Sunday. I outgrew Nursie’s condemnation of cards as ‘the Devil’s picture books’, but ‘no cards on Sundays’ was a rule of the house, and in after years when playing bridge on a Sunday I never quite threw off a feeling of wickedness. At some period before Nursie left, my mother and father went to America and were away some time. Nursie and I went to Ealing. I must have been several months there, fitting in very happily. The pillar of Grannie’s establishment was an old, wrinkled cook, Hannah. She was as thin as Jane was fat, a bag of bones with deeply lined face and stooped shoulders. She cooked magnificently. She also made homebaked bread three times a week, and I was allowed in the kitchen to assist and make my own little cottage loaves and twists. I only fell foul of her once, when I asked her what giblets were. Apparently giblets were things nicely brought up young ladies did not ask about. I tried to tease her by running to and fro in the kitchen saying, ‘Hannah, what are giblets? Hannah, for the third time, what are giblets?’ etc. I was removed by Nursie in the end and reproved, and Hannah would not speak to me for two days. After that I was much more careful how I transgressed her rules. Some time during my stay at Ealing I must have been taken to the Diamond Jubilee for I came across a letter not long ago written from America by my father. It is couched in the style of the day, which was singularly unlike my father’s spoken words–letter-writing fell into a definite and sanctimonious pattern, whereas my father’s speech was usually jolly and slightly ribald. You must be very very good to dear Auntie-Grannie, Agatha, because remember how very very good she has been to you, and the treats she gives you. I hear you are going to see this wonderful show which you will never forget, it is a thing to be seen only once in a lifetime. You must tell her how very grateful you are; how wonderful it is for you, I wish I could be there, and so does your mother. I know you will never forget it. My father lacked the gift of prophecy, because I have forgotten it. How maddening children are! When I look back to the past, what do I remember? Silly little things about local sewing-women, the bread twists I made in the kitchen, the smell of Colonel F.’s breath–and what do I forget? A spectacle that somebody paid a great deal of money for me to see and remember. I feel very angry with myself. What a horrible, ungrateful child! That reminds me of what I think was a coincidence so amazing that one is so inclined to say it could never have happened. The occasion must have been Queen Victoria’s funeral. Both Auntie-Grannie and Granny B. were going to see it. They had procured a window in a house somewhere near Paddington, and they were to meet each other there on the great day. At five in the morning, so as not to be late, Grannie rose in her house at Ealing, and in due course got to Paddington Station. That would give her, she calculated, a good three hours to get to her vantage point, and she had with her some fancy-work, some food and other necessities to pass the hours of waiting once she arrived there. Alas, the time she had allowed herself was not enough. The streets were crammed. Some time after leaving Paddington Station she was quite unable to make further headway. Two ambulance men rescued her from the crowd, and assured her that she couldn’t go on. ‘I must, but I must!’ cried Grannie, tears streaming down her face. ‘I’ve got my room, I’ve got my seat; the two first seats in the second window on the second floor, so that I can look down and see everything. I must!’ ‘It’s impossible, Ma’am, the streets are jammed, nobody has been able to get through for half an hour.’ Grannie wept more. The ambulance man kindly said, ‘You can’t see anything, I am afraid, Ma’am, but I’ll take you down this street to where our ambulance is and you can sit there, and they will make you a nice cup of tea.’ Grannie went with them, still weeping. By the ambulance was sitting a figure not unlike herself, also weeping, a monumental figure in black velvet and bugles. The other figure looked up–two wild cries rent the air: ‘Mary!’ ‘Margaret!’ Two gigantic bugle-shaking bosoms met. V Thinking over what gave me most pleasure in my childhood I should be inclined to place first and foremost, my hoop. A simple affair, in all conscience, costing–how much? Sixpence? A shilling? Certainly not more. And what an inestimable boon to parents, nurses, and servants. On fine days, Agatha goes out into the garden with her hoop and is no more trouble to anyone until the hour for a meal arrives–or, more accurately, until hunger makes itself felt. My hoop was to me in turn a horse, a sea monster, and a railway train. Beating my hoop round the garden paths, I was a knight in armour on a quest, a lady of the court exercising my white palfrey, Clover (of The Kittens) escaping from imprisonment–or, less romantically, I was engine driver, guard, or passenger, on three railways of my own devising. There were three distinct systems: the Tubular Railway, with eight stations and circling three quarters of the garden; the Tub Railway, a short line, serving the kitchen garden only and starting from a large tub of water with a tap under a pine tree; and the Terrace Railway, which encircled the house. Only a short while ago I came across in an old cupboard a sheet of cardboard on which sixty odd years before I had drawn a rough plan of all these railways. I cannot conceive now why I so enjoyed beating my hoop along, stopping, calling out ‘Lily of the Valley Bed. Change for the Tubular Railway here. Tub. Terminus. All change.’ I did it for hours. It must have been very good exercise. I also practised diligently the art of throwing my hoop so that it returned to me, a trick in which I had been instructed by one of our visiting naval officer friends. I could not do it at all at first, but by long and arduous practice I got the hang of it, and was thereafter immensely pleased with myself. On wet days there was Mathilde. Mathilde was a large American Rocking Horse which had been given to my sister and brother when they were children in America. It had been brought back to England and now, a battered wreck of its former self, sans mane, sans paint, sans tail, etc., was ensconced in a small greenhouse which adjoined the house on one side–quite distinct from The Conservatory, a grandiloquent erection, containing pots of begonias, geraniums, tiered stands of every kind of fern, and several large palm trees. This small greenhouse, called, I don’t know why, K.K. (or possibly Kai Kai?) was bereft of plants and housed instead croquet mallets, hoops, balls, broken garden chairs, old painted iron tables, a decayed tennis net and Mathilde. Mathilde had a splendid action–much better than that of any English rocking horse I have ever known. She sprang forwards and back, upwards and down, and ridden at full pressure was liable to unseat you. Her springs, which needed oiling, made a terrific groaning, and added to the pleasure and danger. Splendid exercise again. No wonder I was a skinny child. As companion to Mathilde in Kai Kai was Truelove–also of trans-atlantic origin. Truelove was a small painted horse and cart with pedals. Presumably from long years of disuse, the pedals were no longer workable. Large applications of oil might have done the trick–but there was an easier way of making Truelove serviceable. Like all gardens in Devon, our garden was on a slope. My method was to pull Truelove to the top of a long grassy slope, settle myself carefully, utter an encouraging sound, and off we went; slowly at first, gathering momentum whilst I braked with my feet, so that we came to rest under the monkey puzzle at the bottom of the garden. Then I would pull Truelove back up to the top and start down once more. I discovered in later years that it had been a great source of amusement to my future brother-in-law to see this process enacted, for sometimes an hour at a time, always in perfect solemnity. When Nursie left I was, naturally, at a loss for a playmate. I wandered disconsolately about until the hoop solved my problem. Like all children I went round trying to induce people to play with me–first my mother, then the servants. But in those days, if there was no one whose business it was to play with children then the child had to play by itself. The servants were good-natured, but they had their work to do–plenty of it–and so it would be: ‘Now run away, Miss Agatha. I’ve got to get on with what I’m doing.’ Jane was usually good for a handful of sultanas, or a slice of cheese, but suggested firmly that these should be consumed in the garden. So it was that I made my own world and my own playmates. I really do think that it was a good thing. I have never, all through my life, suffered from the tedium of ‘nothing to do’. An enormous number of women do. They suffer from loneliness and boredom. To have time on their hands is a nightmare and not a delight. If things are constantly being done to amuse you, naturally you expect it. And when nothing is done for you, you are at a loss. I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas in holiday time. I am always astonished when children come to me and say: ‘Please. I’ve nothing to do.’ With an air of desperation I point out: ‘But you’ve got a lot of toys, haven’t you?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘But you’ve got two trains. And lorries, and a painting set. And blocks. Can’t you play with some of them?’ ‘But I can’t play by myself with them.’ ‘Why not? I know. Paint a picture of a bird, then cut it out and make a cage with the blocks, and put the bird in the cage.’ The gloom brightens and there is peace for nearly ten minutes. Looking back over the past, I become increasingly sure of one thing. My tastes have remained fundamentally the same. What I liked playing with as a child, I have liked playing with later in life. Houses, for instance. I had, I suppose, a reasonable amount of toys: a dolls’ bed with real sheets and blankets and the family building bricks, handed down by my elder sister and brother. Many of my playthings were extemporised. I cut pictures out of old illustrated magazines and pasted them into scrap-books made of brown paper. Odd rolls of wallpaper were cut and pasted over boxes. It was all a long, leisurely process. But my principal source of indoor amusement was undoubtedly my dolls’ house. It was the usual type of painted affair, with a front that swung open, revealing kitchen, sitting-room and hall downstairs, two bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. That is, it began that way. The furniture was acquired, piece by piece. There was an enormous range of dolls’ furniture in the shops then, quite cheap in price. My pocket money was, for those days, rather large. It consisted of what copper coins father happened to have in his possession every morning. I would visit him in his dressing-room, say good morning, and then turn to the dressing-table to see what Fate had decreed for me on that particular day. Twopence? Fivepence? Once a whole elevenpence! Some days, no coppers at all. The uncertainty made it rather exciting. My purchases were always much the same. Some sweets–boiled sweets, the only kind my mother considered healthy–purchased from Mr Wylie who had a shop in Tor. The sweets were made on the premises, and as you came in through the shop door you knew at once what was being made that day. The rich smell of boiling toffee, the sharp odour of peppermint rock, the elusive smell of pineapple, barleysugar (dull), which practically didn’t smell at all, and the almost overpowering odour when pear drops were in process of manufacture. Everything cost eightpence a pound. I spent about fourpence a week–one pennyworth of four different kinds. Then there was a penny to be donated for the Waifs and Strays (money-box on the hall table); from September onwards a few pence were salted away to save up for such Christmas presents as would be bought, not made. The rest went towards the furnishing and equipping of my dolls’ house. I can still remember the enchantment of the things there were to buy. Food, for instance. Little cardboard platters of roast chicken, eggs and bacon, a wedding cake, a leg of lamb, apples and oranges, fish, trifle, plum pudding. There were plate baskets with knives, forks and spoons. There were tiny sets of glasses. Then there was the furniture proper. My drawing-room had a suite of blue satin chairs, to which I added by degrees a sofa and a rather grand gilded armchair. There were dressing-tables with mirrors, round polished dinner-tables, and a hideous orange brocade dining-room suite. There were lamps and epergnes and bowls of flowers. Then there were all the household implements, brushes and dustpans, brooms and pails and kitchen saucepans. Soon my dolls’ house looked more like a furniture storehouse. Could I–could I, possibly–have another dolls’ house? Mother did not think that any little girl ought to have two dolls’ houses. But why not, she suggested, inspired, use a cupboard. So I acquired a cupboard, and it was a wild success. A big room at the top of the house, originally built on by my father to provide two extra bedrooms, was so much enjoyed in its bare state by my sister and brother as a playroom that that is what it remained. The walls were more or less lined with books and cupboards, the centre conveniently free and empty. I was allotted a cupboard with four shelves, part of a built-in fitment against the wall. My mother found various nice pieces of wall-paper which could be pasted on the shelves as carpets. The original dolls’ house stood on top of the cupboard, so that I now had a six-storied house. My house, of course, needed a family to live in it. I acquired a father and mother, two children and a maid, the kind of doll that has a china head and bust and malleable sawdust limbs. Mother sewed some clothes on them, from odd bits of stuff she had. She even fixed with glue a small black beard and moustache to the face of the father. Father, mother, two children and a maid. It was perfect. I don’t remember their having any particular personalities–they never became people to me, they existed only to occupy the house. But it really looked right when you sat the family round the dinner table. Plates, glasses, roast chicken, and a rather peculiar pink pudding were served at the first meal. An additional enjoyment was housemoving. A stout cardboard box was the furniture van. The furniture was loaded into it, it was drawn round the room by a string several times, and then ‘arrived at the new house’. (This happened at least once a week.) I can see quite plainly now that I have continued to play houses ever since. I have gone over innumerable houses, bought houses, exchanged them for other houses, furnished houses, decorated houses, made structural alterations to houses. Houses! God bless houses! But to go back to memories. What odd things really, when one collects them all together, one does remember out of one’s life. One remembers happy occasions, one remembers–very vividly, I think–fear. Oddly enough pain and unhappiness are hard to recapture. I do not mean exactly that I do not remember them–I can, but without feeling them. Where they are concerned I am in the first stage. I say, ‘There was Agatha being terribly unhappy. There was Agatha having toothache.’ But I don’t feel the unhappiness or the toothache. On the other hand, one day the sudden smell of lime trees brings the past back, and suddenly I remember a day spent near the lime trees, the pleasure with which I threw myself down on the ground, the smell of hot grass, and the suddenly lovely feeling of summer; a cedar tree nearby and the river beyond…The feeling of being at one with life. It comes back in that moment. Not only a remembered thing of the mind but the feeling itself as well. I remember vividly a field of buttercups. I must have been under five, since I walked there with Nursie. It was when we were at Ealing, staying with Auntie-Grannie. We went up a hill, past St. Stephen’s Church. It was then nothing but fields, and we came to one special field, crammed with golden buttercups. We went to it–that I do know–quite often. I don’t know if my memory of it is of the first time we went there or a later occasion, but the loveliness of it I do remember and feel. It seems to me that for many years now I have never seen a field of buttercups. I have seen a few buttercups in a field, but that is all. A great field full of golden buttercups in early summer is something indeed. I had it then, I have it with me now. What has one enjoyed most in life? I daresay it varies with different people. For my own part, remembering and reflecting, it seems that it is almost always the quiet moments of everyday life. Those are the times, certainly, when I have been happiest. Adorning Nursie’s old grey head with blue bows, playing with Tony, making a parting with a comb down his broad back, galloping on what I feel to be real horses across the river my fancy has set in the garden. Following my hoop through the stations of the Tubular Railway. Happy games with my mother. My mother, later, reading Dickens to me, gradually getting sleepy, her spectacles half falling off her nose and her head dropping forward, and myself saying in an agonised voice. ‘Mother, you’re going to sleep’, to which my mother with great dignity replies, ‘Nothing of the kind, darling. I am not in the least sleepy!’ A few minutes later she would be asleep. I remember feeling how ridiculous she looked with her spectacles slipping off her nose and how much I loved her at that moment. It is a curious thought, but it is only when you see people looking ridiculous, that you realise just how much you love them! Anyone can admire somebody for being handsome or amusing or charming, but that bubble is soon pricked when a trace of ridicule comes in. I should give as my advice to any girl about to get married: ‘Well now, just imagine he had a terrible cold in his head, speaking through his nose all full of b’s and d’s, sneezing, eyes watering. What would you feel about him?’ It’s a good test, really. What one needs to feel for a husband, I think, is the love that is tenderness, that comprises affection, that will take colds in the head and little mannerisms all in its stride. Passion one can take for granted. But marriage means more than a lover–I take an old-fashioned view that respect is necessary. Respect–which is not to be confused with admiration. To feel admiration for a man all through one’s married life would, I think, be excessively tedious. You would get, as it were, a mental crick in the neck. But respect is a thing that you don’t have to think about, that you know thankfully is there. As the old Irish woman said of her husband, ‘Himself is a good head to me’. That, I think, is what a woman needs. She wants to feel that in her mate there is integrity, that she can depend on him and respect his judgment, and that when there is a difficult decision to be made it can safely lie in his hands. It is curious to look back over life, over all the varying incidents and scenes–such a multitude of odds and ends. Out of them all what has mattered? What lies behind the selection that memory has made? What makes us choose the things that we have remembered? It is as though one went to a great trunk full of junk in an attic and plunged one’s hands into it and said, ‘I will have this–and this–and this.’ Ask three or four different people what they remember, say of a journey abroad and you will be surprised at the different answers you get. I remember a boy of fifteen, a son of friends of ours, who was taken to Paris as part of his spring holidays. When he returned, some fatuous friend of the family said, with the usual jovial accent inflicted on the young, ‘Well, my boy, and what impressed you most in Paris? What do you remember about it?’ He replied immediately: ‘The chimneys. The chimneys there are quite different from chimneys on houses in England.’ From his point of view it was a perfectly sensible remark. Some years later he started studying as an artist. It was, therefore, a visual detail that really impressed him, that made Paris different from London. So, too, another memory. This was when my brother was invalided home from East Africa. He brought with him a native servant, Shebani. Anxious to show this simple African the glories of London, my brother hired a car and, sitting in it with Shebani, drove all round London. He displayed to him Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the Guildhall, Hyde Park and so on. Finally, when they had arrived home, he said to Shebani, ‘What did you think of London?’ Shebani rolled his eyes up. ‘It is wonderful, Bwana, a wonderful place. Never did I think I would see anything like it.’ My brother nodded a satisfied head. ‘And what impressed you most?’ he said. The answer came without a moment’s thought. ‘Oh, Bwana, shops full of meat. Such wonderful shops. Meat hanging in great joints all over and nobody steals them, nobody rushes and pushes their way there and snatches. No, they pass by them in an orderly fashion. How rich, how great a country must be to have all this meat hanging in shops open to the streets. Yes, indeed, England is a wonderful place. London a wonderful city.’ Point of view. The point of view of a child. We all knew it once but we’ve travelled so far away from it that it’s difficult to get back there again. I remember seeing my own grandson Mathew when he must have been, I suppose, about two and a half. He did not know I was there. I was watching him from the top of the stairs. He walked very carefully down the stairs. It was a new achievement and he was proud of it, but still somewhat scared. He was muttering to himself, saying: ‘This is Mathew going down stairs. This is Mathew. Mathew is going down stairs. This is Mathew going down stairs.’ I wonder if we all start life thinking of ourselves, as soon as we can think of ourselves at all, as a separate person, as it were, from the one observing. Did I say to myself once, ‘This is Agatha in her party sash going down to the dining-room?’ It is as though the body in which we have found our spirit lodged is at first strange to us. An entity, we know its name, we are on terms with it, but are not as yet identified fully with it. We are Agatha going for a walk, Mathew going down stairs. We see ourselves rather than feel ourselves. And then one day the next stage of life happens. Suddenly it is no longer ‘This is Mathew going down stairs.’ Suddenly it has become I am going down stairs. The achievement of ‘I’ is the first step in the progress of a personal life. PART II ‘GIRLS AND BOYS COME OUT TO PLAY’ I Until one looks back on one’s own past one fails to realise what an extraordinary view of the world a child has. The angle of vision is entirely different to that of the adult, everything is out of proportion. Children can make a shrewd appraisal of what is going on around them, and have a quite good judgment of character and people. But the how and the why of things never seems to occur to them. It must have been when I was about five years old that my father first became worried about financial affairs. He had been a rich man’s son and had taken it for granted that an assured income would always come in. My grandfather had set up a complicated series of trusts to come into effect when he died. There had been four trustees. One was very old and had, I think, retired from any active connection with the business, another shortly went into a mental asylum, and the other two, both men of his own age, died shortly afterwards. In one case the son took on. Whether it was sheer inefficiency or whether in the course of replacement somebody managed to convert things to his own use I do not know. At any rate the position seemed to get worse and worse. My father was bewildered and depressed, but not being a businesslike man he did not know what to do about it. He wrote to dear old So-and-So and dear old Somebody Else, and they wrote back, either reassuring him or laying the blame on the state of the market, depreciation and other things. A legacy from an elderly aunt came in about this time and, I should imagine, tided him over a year or two, whilst the income that was due and should have been paid to him never seemed to arrive. It was at about this time, too, that his health began to give way. On several occasions he suffered what were supposed to be heart attacks, a vague term that covered almost everything. The financial worry must, I think, have affected his health. The immediate remedy seemed to be that we must economise. The recognised way at that particular time was to go and live abroad for a short while. This was not, as nowadays, because of income tax–income tax was, I should imagine, about a shilling in the pound–but the cost of living was much less abroad. So the procedure was to let the house with the servants, etc., at a good rent, and go abroad to the South of France, staying at a fairly economical hotel. Such a migration happened, as far as I remember, when I was six years old. Ashfield was duly let–I think to Americans, who paid a good price for it–and the family prepared to set off. We were going to Pau in the South of France. I was, of course, very much excited by this prospect. We were going, so my mother told me, where we should see mountains. I asked many questions about these. Were they very, very high? Higher than the steeple of St. Marychurch? I asked with great interest. It was the highest thing I knew. Yes, mountains were much, much higher than that. They went up for hundreds of feet, thousands of feet. I retired to the garden with Tony, and munching an enormous crust of dry bread obtained from Jane in the kitchen set to work to think this out, to try to visualise mountains. My head went back, my eyes stared up at the skies. That was how mountains would look–going up, up, up, up, up until lost in the clouds. It was an awe-inspiring thought. Mother loved mountains. She had never cared for the sea, she told us. Mountains, I felt sure, were to be one of the greatest things in my life. One sad thing about going abroad was that it meant a parting between me and Tony. Tony was not, of course, being let with the house; he was being boarded out with a former parlourmaid called Froudie. Froudie, who was married to a carpenter and lived not far away, was quite prepared to have Tony. I kissed him all over and Tony responded by licking me frantically all over my face, neck, arms and hands. Looking back now, the conditions of travel abroad then seem extraordinary. There were, of course, no passports or any forms to fill in. You bought tickets, made sleeping-car reservations, and that was all that had to be done. Simplicity itself. But the Packing! (Only capital letters would explain what packing meant.) I don’t know what the luggage of the rest of the family consisted of; I do have a fair memory of what my mother took with her. There were, to begin with, three round-top trunks. The largest stood about four feet high and had two trays inside. There were also hat boxes, large square leather cases, three trunks of the type called cabin trunks and trunks of American manufacture which were often to be seen at that time in the corridors of hotels. They were large, and I should imagine excessively heavy. For a week at least before departure my mother was surrounded by her trunks in her bedroom. Since we were not well off by the standards of the day, we did not have a lady’s maid. My mother did the packing herself. The preliminary to it was what was called ‘sorting’. The large wardrobes and chests of drawers stood open while my mother sorted amongst such things as artificial flowers, and an array of odds and ends called ‘my ribbons’ and ‘my jewellery’. All these apparently required hours of sorting before they were packed in the trays in the various trunks. Jewellery did not, as nowadays, consist of a few pieces of ‘real jewellery’ and large quantities of costume jewellery. Imitation jewellery was frowned on as ‘bad taste’, except for an occasional brooch of old paste. My mother’s valuable jewellery consisted of ‘my diamond buckle, my diamond crescent and my diamond engagement ring’. The rest of her ornaments were ‘real’ but comparatively inexpensive. Nevertheless they were all of intense interest to all of us. There was ‘my Indian necklace’, ‘my Florentine set’, ‘my Venetian necklace’, ‘my cameos’ and so on. And there were six brooches in which both my sister and myself took a personal and vivid interest. These were ‘the fishes’, five small fish in diamonds, ‘the mistletoe’, a tiny diamond and pearl brooch, ‘my parma violet’, an enamel brooch representing a parma violet, ‘my dogrose’, also a flower brooch, a pink enamelled rose with clusters of diamond leaves round it, and ‘my donkey’, prime favourite, which was a baroque pearl mounted in diamonds as a donkey’s head. They were all earmarked for the future on my mother’s demise. Madge was to have the parma violet (her favourite flower), the diamond crescent and the donkey. I was to have the rose, the diamond buckle and the mistletoe. This earmarking of possessions for the future was freely indulged in by my family. It conjured up no sad feelings about death, but merely a warm appreciation of the benefits to come. At Ashfield the whole house was crowded with oil paintings bought by my father. To crowd oil paintings as closely as you could on your walls was the fashion of the day. One was marked down for me–a large painting of the sea, with a simpering young woman catching a boy in a net in it. It was my highest idea of beauty as a child, and it is sad to reflect how poorly I thought of it when the time came for me to sort out pictures to sell. Even for sentiment’s sake I have not kept any of them. I am forced to consider that my father’s taste in pictures was consistently bad. On the other hand every piece of furniture he ever bought is a gem. He had a passion for antique furniture, and the Sheraton desks and Chippendale chairs that he bought, often at a very low figure since at that time bamboo was all the rage, are a joy to live with and possess, and appreciated so much in value that my mother was able to keep the wolf from the door after my father died by selling a good many of the best pieces. He, my mother and my grandmother all had a passion for collecting china. When Grannie came to live with us later she brought her collection of Dresden and Capo di Monte with her, and innumerable cupboards were filled with it at Ashfield. In fact, fresh cupboards had to be built to accommodate it. There is no doubt that we were a family of collectors and that I have inherited these attributes. The only sad thing is that if you inherit a good collection of china and furniture it leaves you no excuse for starting a collection of your own. The collector’s passion, however, has to be satisfied, and in my case I have accumulated quite a nice stock of papier-mache furniture and small objects which had not figured in my parents’ collections. When the day came I was so excited that I felt quite sick and completely silent. When really thrilled by anything, it always seems to deprive me of the powers of speech. My first clear memory of going abroad was when we stepped on to the boat at Folkestone. My mother and Madge took the Channel crossing with the utmost seriousness. They were bad sailors and retired immediately to the ladies’ saloon to lay themselves down, close their eyes and hope to get across the intervening water to France without the worst happening. In spite of my experience in small dinghies I was convinced that I was a good sailor. My father encouraged me in this belief, so I remained on deck with him. It was, I imagine, a perfectly smooth crossing, but I gave the credit not to the sea but to my own power of withstanding its motion. We arrived at Boulogne and I was glad to hear father announce, ‘Agatha’s a perfectly good sailor’. The next excitement was going to bed in the train. I shared a compartment with my mother and was hoisted up on to the top bunk. My mother always had a passion for fresh air, and the steam heat of the wagon lits carriages was agony to her. All that night it seemed to me I woke up to see mother with the window pushed down and her head out, breathing great gasps of night air. Early the next morning we arrived at Pau. The Hotel Beausejour bus was waiting so we piled into it, our eighteen pieces of luggage coming separately, and in due course arrived at the hotel. It had a large terrace outside it facing the Pyrenees. ‘There!’ said father. ‘See? There are the Pyrenees. The snow mountains.’ I looked. It was one of the great disillusionments of my life, a disillusionment that I have never forgotten. Where was that soaring height going up, up, up into the sky, far above my head–something beyond contemplation or understanding? Instead, I saw, some distance away on the horizon, what looked like a row of teeth standing up, it seemed, about an inch or two from the plain below. Those? Were those mountains? I said nothing, but even now I can still feel that terrible disappointment. II We must have spent about six months at Pau. It was an entirely new life for me. My father and mother and Madge were soon caught up in a whirl of activity. Father had several American friends staying there, he made a lot of hotel acquaintances, and we also had brought letters of introduction to people in various hotels and pensions. To look after me, mother engaged a kind of daily nursery governess–actually an English girl, but one who had lived in Pau all her life and who spoke French as easily as English, if not, in fact, rather better. The idea was that I should learn French from her. This plan did not turn out as expected. Miss Markham called for me every morning and took me for a walk. In its course she drew my attention to various objects and repeated their names in French. ‘Un chien.’ Une maison.’ ‘Un gendarme.’ ‘Le boulanger.’ I repeated these dutifully, but naturally when I had a question to ask I asked it in English and Miss Markham replied in English. As far as I can remember I was rather bored during my day; interminable walks in the company of Miss Markham, who was nice, kind, conscientious and dull. My mother soon decided that I should never learn French with Miss Markham, and that I must have regular French lessons from a French-woman who would come every afternoon. The new acquisition was called Mademoiselle Mauhourat. She was large, buxom and dressed in a multiplicity of little capes, brown in colour. All rooms of that period were overcrowded, of course. There was too much furniture in them, too many ornaments and so on. Mlle Mauhourat was a flouncer. She flounced about the room, jerking her shoulders, gesticulating with her hands and elbows, and sooner or later she invariably knocked an ornament off the table and broke it. It became quite a family joke. Father said, ‘She reminds me of that bird you had, Agatha. Daphne. Always big and awkward and knocking her seed pans over.’ Mlle Mauhourat was particularly full of gush, and gush made me feel shy. I found it increasingly difficult to respond to her little cooing squeals of: ‘Oh, la chère mignonne! Quelle est gentille, cette petite! Oh, la chère mignonne! Nous allons prendre des lefons tres amusantes, n’est ce pas?’ I looked at her politely but with a cold eye. Then, receiving a firm look from my mother, I muttered unconvincingly, ‘Oui, merci’, which was about the limit of my French at that time. The French lessons went on amiably. I was docile as usual, but apparently bone-headed as well. Mother, who liked quick results, was dissatisfied with my progress. ‘She’s not getting on as she should, Fred,’ she complained to my father. My father, always amiable, said, ‘Oh, give her time, Clara, give her time. The woman’s only been here ten days.’ But my mother was not one to give anybody time. The climax came when I had a slight childish illness. It started, I suppose, with local flu and led to catarrhal trouble. I was feverish, out of sorts, and in this convalescent stage with still a slight temperature I could not stand the sight of Mlle Mauhourat. ‘Please,’ I would beg, ‘please don’t let me have a lesson this afternoon. I don’t want to.’ Mother was always kind enough when there was real cause. She agreed. In due course Mlle Mauhourat, capes and all, arrived. My mother explained that I had a temperature, was staying indoors, and perhaps it would be better not to have a lesson that day. Mlle Mauhourat was off at once, fluttering over me, jerking her elbows, waving her capes, breathing down my neck. ‘Oh, la pauvre mignonne, la pauvre petite mignonne.’ She would read to me, she said. She would tell me stories. She would amuse ‘la pauvre petite’. I cast the most agonising glances at mother. I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear another moment of it! Mlle Mauhourat’s voice went on, high-pitched, squeaky–everything I most disliked in a voice. My eyes implored: ‘Take her away. Please take her away.’ Firmly, my mother drew Mlle Mauhourat towards the door. ‘I think Agatha had better be kept quite quiet this afternoon,’ she said. She ushered Mlle Mauhourat out, then she returned and shook her head at me. ‘It’s all very well,’ she said, ‘but you must not make such terrible faces.’ ‘Faces?’ I said. ‘Yes. All that grimacing and looking at me. Mlle Mauhourat could see perfectly that you wanted her to go away.’ I was upset. I had not meant to be impolite. ‘But, Mummy,’ I said, ‘those weren’t French faces that I was making. They were English faces.’ My mother was much amused, and explained to me that making faces was a kind of international language which was understood by people of all countries. However, she told my father that Mlle Mauhourat was not being much of a success and she was going to look elsewhere. My father said it would be just as well if we did not lose too many more china ornaments. He added, ‘If I were in Agatha’s place, I should find that woman insupportable, just as she does.’ Freed from the ministrations of Miss Markham and Mlle Mauhourat, I began to enjoy myself. Staying in the hotel was Mrs Selwyn, the widow or perhaps the daughter-in-law of Bishop Selwyn, and her two daughters, Dorothy and Mary. Dorothy (Dar) was a year older than I was, Mary a year younger. Pretty soon we were inseparable. Left to myself I was a good, well-behaved and obedient child, but in company with other children I was only too ready to engage in any mischief that was going. In particular we three plagued the life out of the unfortunate waiters in the table d’hôte. One evening we changed the salt to sugar in all of the salt cellars. Another day we cut pigs out of orange peel and placed them on everyone’s plate just before the table d’hôte bell was rung. Those French waiters were the kindliest men I’m ever likely to know. In particular there was Victor, our own waiter. He was a short square man with a long jerking nose. He smelt to my mind, quite horribly (my first acquaintance with garlic). In spite of all the tricks that we played upon him, he seemed to bear no malice and, indeed, went out of his way to be kindly to us. In particular, he used to carve us the most glorious mice out of radishes. If we never got into serious trouble for what we did, it was because the loyal Victor never complained to the management or to our parents. My friendship with Dar and Mary meant far more to me than any of my former friendships. Possibly I was now of an age when co-operative enterprise was more exciting than doing things alone. We got up to plenty of mischief together and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly all through those winter months. Of course we often got into trouble through our pranks, but on only one occasion did we really feel righteous indignation at the censure that fell upon us. My mother and Mrs Selwyn were sitting together happily talking when a message was brought by the chambermaid. ‘With the compliments of the Belgian lady who lived in the other block of the hotel. Did Mrs Selwyn and Mrs Miller know that their children were walking round the fourth floor parapet?’ Imagine the sensation of the two mothers as they stepped out into the courtyard, looked up and caught sight of three cheerful figures balancing themselves on a parapet about a foot in width and walking along it in single file. The idea that there was any danger attached to it never entered our heads. We had gone a little far in teasing one of the chamber-maids and she had managed to inveigle us into a broom cupboard and then shut the door on us from outside, triumphantly turning the key in the lock. Our indignation was great. What could we do? There was a tiny window, and sticking her head out of it Dar said she thought possibly that we could wriggle through and then walk along the parapet, round the corner and get in at one of the windows along there. No sooner said than done. Dar squeezed through first, I followed, and then Mary. To our delight we found it was quite easy to walk along the parapet. Whether we looked down the four storeys below I don’t know, but I don’t suppose, even if we had, that we would have felt giddy or been likely to fall. I’ve always been appalled by the way children can stand on the edge of a cliff, looking down with their toes over the edge, with no sense of vertigo or other grown-up complaints. In this case we had not to go far. The first three windows, as I remember, were shut, but the next one, which led into one of the public bathrooms, was open, and we had gone in through this to be met to our surprise with the demand, ‘Come down at once to Mrs Selwyn’s sitting-room.’ Both mothers were excessively angry. We could not see why. We were all banished to bed for the rest of the day. Our defence was simply not accepted. And yet it was the truth. ‘But you never told us,’ we said, each in turn. ‘You never told us that we weren’t to walk round the parapet.’ We withdrew to bed with a strong feeling of injustice. Meanwhile, my mother was still considering the problem of my education. She and my sister were having dresses made for them by one of the dressmakers of the town, and there, one day, my mother was attracted by the assistant fitter, a young woman whose main business was to put the fitted garment on and off and hand pins to the first fitter. This latter was a sharp-tempered, middle-aged woman, and my mother, noticing the patient good-humour of the young girl’s manner, decided to find out a little more about her. She watched her during the second and third fitting and finally retained her in conversation. Her name was Marie Sije, she was twenty-two years of age. Her father was a small cafe proprietor and she had an elder sister, also in the dressmaking establishment, two brothers and a little sister. Then my mother took the girl’s breath away by asking her in a casual voice if she would care to come to England. Marie gasped her surprise and delight. ‘I must of course talk to your mother about it,’ said my mother. ‘She might not like her daughter to go so far away.’ An appointment was arranged, my mother visited Madame Sije, and they went into the subject thoroughly. Only then did she approach my father on the subject. ‘But, Clara,’ protested my father, ‘this girl isn’t a governess or anything of that kind.’ My mother replied that she thought Marie was just the person they needed. ‘She knows no English at all, not a word of it. Agatha will have to learn French. She’s a really sweet-natured and good-humoured girl. It’s a respectable family. The girl would like to come to England and she can do a lot of sewing and dressmaking for us’ ‘But are you sure about this, Clara?’ my father asked doubtfully. My mother was always sure. ‘It’s the perfect answer,’ she said. As was so often the case with my mother’s apparently unaccountable whims, this proved to be true. If I close my eyes I can see dear Marie today as I saw her then. Round, rosy face, snub nose, dark hair piled up in a chignon. Terrified, as she later told me, she entered my bedroom on the first morning having primed herself by laboriously learning the English phrase with which to greet me: ‘Good morning, mees. I hope you are well.’ Unfortunately, owing to Marie’s accent I did not understand a word. I stared at her suspiciously. We were, for the first day, like a couple of dogs just introduced to each other. We said little and eyed each other in apprehension. Marie brushed my hair–very fair hair always arranged in sausage-curls–and was so frightened of hurting me that she hardly put the brush through the hair at all. I wanted to explain to her that she must brush much harder, but of course it was impossible as I did not know the right words. How it came about that in less than a week Marie and I were able to converse I do not know. The language used was French. A word here and a word there, and I could make myself understood. Moreover, at the end of the week we were fast friends. Going out with Marie was fun. Doing anything with Marie was fun. It was the beginning of a happy partnership. In the early summer it grew hot in Pau, and we left, spending a week at Argeles and another at Lourdes, then moving up to Cauterets in the Pyrenees. This was a delightful spot, right at the foot of the mountains. (I had got over my disappointment about mountains now, but although the position at Cauterets was more satisfactory you could not really look a long way up.) Every morning we had a walk along a mountain path which led to the spa, where we all drank glasses of nasty water. Having thus improved our health we purchased a stick of sucre d’orge. Mother’s favourite was aniseed, which I could not bear. On the zigzag paths by the hotel I soon discovered a delightful sport. This was to toboggan down through the pine trees on the seat of my pants. Marie took a poor view of this, but I am sorry to say that from the first Marie was never able to exert any authority over me. We were friends and playmates, but the idea of doing what she told me never occurred to me. Authority is an extraordinary thing. My mother had it in full measure. She was seldom cross, hardly ever raised her voice, but she had only gently to pronounce an order and it was immediately fulfilled. It always was odd to her that other people had not got this gift. Later, when she was staying with me after I was first married and had a child of my own, I complained how tiresome some little boys were who lived in the next house and who were always coming in through the hedge. Though I ordered them away, they would not go. ‘But how extraordinary,’ said my mother. ‘Why don’t you just tell them to go away?’ I said to her, ‘Well, you try it.’ At that moment the two small boys arrived and were preparing as usual to say, ‘Yah. Boo. Shan’t go,’ and throw gravel on the grass. One started pelting a tree and shouting and puffing. My mother turned her head. ‘Ronald,’ she said. ‘Is that your name?’ Ronald admitted it was. ‘Please don’t play so near here. I don’t like being disturbed,’ said my mother. ‘Just go a little further away.’ Ronald looked at her, whistled to his brother, and departed immediately. ‘You see, dear,’ said my mother, ‘it’s quite simple.’ It certainly was for her. I really believe that my mother would have been able to manage a class of juvenile delinquents without the least difficulty. There was an older girl at the hotel in Cauterets, Sybil Patterson, whose mother was a friend of the Selwyns. Sybil was the object of my adoration. I thought her beautiful, and the thing I admired about her most was her budding figure. Bosoms were much in fashion at that time. Everyone more or less had one. My grandmother and great-aunt had enormous jutting shelves, and it was difficult for them to greet each other with a sisterly kiss without their chests colliding first. Though I took the bosoms of grown-up people for granted, Sybil’s possession of one aroused all my most envious instincts. Sybil was fourteen. How long should I have to wait until I, too, could have that splendid development? Eight years? Eight years of skinniness? I longed for these signs of female maturity. Ah well, patience was the only thing. I must be patient. And in eight years’ time, or seven perhaps, if I was lucky, two large rounds would miraculously spurt forth on my skinny frame. I only had to wait. The Selwyns were not at Cauterets as long as we were. They went away, and I then had the choice of two other friends: a little American girl, Marguerite Prestley, and another, Margaret Home, an English girl. My father and mother were great friends by now with Margaret’s parents, and naturally they hoped that Margaret and I would go about and do things together. As is usual in these cases, however, I had an enormous preference for the company of Marguerite Prestley, who used what were to me extraordinary phrases and odd words that I had never heard before. We told each other stories a good deal, and there was one story of Marguerite’s which entailed the dangers encountered on meeting a scarrapin which thrilled me. ‘But what is a scarrapin?’ I kept asking. Marguerite, who had a nurse called Fanny whose southern American drawl was such that I could seldom understand what she said, gave me a brief description of this horrifying creature. I applied to Marie but Marie had never heard of scarrapins. Finally I tackled my father. He had a little difficulty, too, at first, but at last realisation dawned on him and he said, ‘I expect what you mean is a scorpion.’ Somehow the magic then departed. A scorpion did not seem nearly so horrifying as the imagined scarrapin. Marguerite and I had quite a serious dispute on one subject, which was the way babies arrived. I assured Marguerite that babies were brought by the angels. This had been Nursie’s information. Marguerite, on the other hand, assured me that they were part of a doctor’s stock-in-trade, and were brought along by him in a black bag. When our dispute on this subject had got really heated, the tactful Fanny settled it once and for all. ‘Why, that’s just the way it is, honey,’ she said. ‘American babies come in a doctor’s black bag and English babies are brought by the angels. It’s as simple as that.’ Satisfied, we ceased hostilities. Father and Madge made a good many excursions on horseback, and in answer to my entreaties one day I was told that on the morrow I should be allowed to accompany them. I was thrilled. My mother had a few misgivings, but my father soon overruled them. ‘We have a Guide with us,’ he said, ‘and he’s quite used to children and will see to it that they don’t fall off.’ The next morning the three horses arrived, and off we went. We zigzagged along up the precipitous paths, and I enjoyed myself enormously perched on top of what seemed to me an immense horse. The Guide led it up, and occasionally picking little bunches of flowers, handed them to me to stick in my hatband. So far all was well, but when we arrived at the top and prepared to have lunch, the Guide excelled himself. He came running back to us bringing with him a magnificent butterfly he had trapped. ‘Pour la petite mademoiselle,’ he cried. Taking a pin from his lapel he transfixed the butterfly and stuck it in my hat! Oh the horror of that moment! The feeling of the poor butterfly fluttering, struggling against the pin. The agony I felt as the butterfly fluttered there. And of course I couldn’t say anything. There were too many conflicting loyalties in my mind. This was a kindness on the part of the Guide. He had brought it to me. It was a special kind of present. How could I hurt his feelings by saying I didn’t like it? How I wanted him to take it off! And all the time, there was the butterfly, fluttering, dying. That horrible flapping against my hat. There is only one thing a child can do in these circumstances. I cried. The more anyone asked me questions the more I was unable to reply. ‘What’s the matter?’ demanded my father. ‘Have you got a pain?’ My sister said, ‘Perhaps she’s frightened at riding on the horse.’ I said No and No. I wasn’t frightened and I hadn’t got a pain. ‘Tired,’ said my father. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Well, then, what is the matter?’ But I couldn’t say. Of course I couldn’t say. The Guide was standing there, watching me with an attentive and puzzled face. My father said rather crossly: ‘She’s too young a child. We shouldn’t have brought her on this expedition.’ I redoubled my weeping. I must have ruined the day for both him and my sister, and I knew I was doing so, but I couldn’t stop. All I hoped and prayed was that presently he, or even my sister, would guess what was the matter. Surely they would look at that butterfly, they would see it, they would say, ‘Perhaps she doesn’t like the butterfly on her hat.’ If they said it, it would be all right. But I couldn’t tell them. It was a terrible day. I refused to eat any lunch. I sat there and cried, and the butterfly flapped. It stopped flapping in the end. That ought to have made me feel better. But by that time I had got into such a state of misery that nothing could have made me feel better. We rode down again, my father definitely out of temper, my sister annoyed, the Guide still sweet, kindly and puzzled, Fortunately, he did not think of getting me a second butterfly to cheer me up. We arrived back, a most woeful party, and went into our sitting-room where mother was. ‘Oh dear,’ she said, ‘what’s the matter? Has Agatha hurt herself?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said my father crossly. ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with the child. I suppose she’s got a pain or something. She’s been crying ever since lunch-time, and she wouldn’t eat a thing.’ ‘What is the matter, Agatha?’ asked my mother. I couldn’t tell her. I only looked at her dumbly while tears still rolled down my cheeks. She looked at me thoughtfully for some minutes, then said, ‘Who put that butterfly in her hat?’ My sister explained that it had been the Guide. ‘I see,’ said mother. Then she said to me, ‘You didn’t like it, did you? It was alive and you thought it was being hurt?’ Oh, the glorious relief, the wonderful relief when somebody knows what’s in your mind and tells it to you so that you are at last released from that long bondage of silence. I flung myself at her in a kind of frenzy, thrust my arms round her neck and said, ‘Yes, yes, yes. It’s been flapping. It’s been flapping. But he was so kind and he meant to be kind. I couldn’t say.’ She understood it all and patted me gently. Suddenly the whole thing seemed to recede in the distance. ‘I quite see what you felt,’ she said. ‘I know. But it’s over now, and so we won’t talk about it any more.’ It was about this time that I became aware that my sister had an extraordinary fascination for the young men in her vicinity. She was a most attractive young woman, pretty without being strictly beautiful, and she had inherited from my father a quick wit and was extremely amusing to talk to. She had, moreover, a great deal of sexual magnetism. Young men went down before her like ninepins. It was not long before Marie and I had made what might in racing parlance be called a book on the various admirers. We discussed their chances. ‘I think Mr Palmer. What do you think, Marie?’ ‘C’est possible. Mais il est trop jeune.’ I replied that he was about the same age as Madge, but Marie assured me that that was ‘beaucoup trop jeune’. ‘Me,’ said Marie, ‘I think the Sir Ambrose.’ I protested, ‘He’s years and years older than she is, Marie.’ She said, perhaps, but it made for stability if a husband was older than his wife. She also added that Sir Ambrose would be a very good ‘parti’, one of which any family would approve. ‘Yesterday,’ I said, ‘she put a flower as a buttonhole in Bernard’s coat.’ But Marie did not think much of the young Bernard. She said he was not a ‘garçon sérieux’. I learnt a lot about Marie’s family. I knew the habits of their cat and how it was able to walk about among the glasses in the cafe and curl down asleep in the middle of them without ever breaking one. I knew that her sister, Berthe, was older than her and a very serious girl, that her little sister Angele was the darling of the whole family. I knew all the tricks the two boys played and how they got into trouble. Marie also confided to me the proud secret of the family, that once their name had been Shije instead of Sije. Though unable to see whence this pride came in–and indeed I do not even now–I fully concurred with Marie and congratulated her on having this satisfactory ancestry. Marie occasionally read me French books, as did my mother. But the happy day arrived when I picked up Mémoires d’un Âne myself and found, on turning the pages, that I was able to read it alone just as well as anyone could have read it to me. Great congratulations followed, not least from my mother. At last, after many tribulations, I knew French. I could read it. Occasionally I needed explanations of the more difficult passages, but on the whole I had arrived. At the end of August we left Cauterets for Paris. I remember it always as one of the happiest summers I have ever known. For a child of my age it had everything. The excitement of novelty. Trees–a recurring factor of enjoyment all through my life. (Is it possibly symbolic that one of my first imaginary companions was called Tree?) A new and delightful companion, my dear snub-nosed Marie. Expeditions on mules. Exploring steep paths. Fun with the family. My American friend Marguerite. The exotic excitement of a foreign place. ‘Something rare and strange…’ How well Shakespeare knows. But it is not the items, grouped together and added up, that linger in my memory. It is Cauterets–the place, the long valley, with its little railway and its wooded slopes, and the high hills. I have never been back there. I am glad of that. A year or two ago, we contemplated taking a summer holiday there. I said, unthinkingly: I should like to go back.’ It was true. But then it came to me that I could not go back. One cannot, ever, go back to the place which exists in memory. You would not see it with the same eyes–even supposing that it should improbably have remained much the same. What you have had you have had. ‘The happy highways where I went, And shall not come again…’ Never go back to a place where you have been happy. Until you do it remains alive for you. If you go back it will be destroyed. There are other places I have resisted going back to. One is the shrine of Sheikh Adi in Northern Iraq. We went there on my first visit to Mosul. There was a certain difficulty of access then; you had to get a permit, and to stop at the police post at Ain Sifni under the rocks of the Jebl Maclub. From there, accompanied by a policeman, we walked up a winding path. It was spring, fresh and green, with wild flowers all the way. There was a mountain stream. We passed occasional goats and children. Then we reached the Yezidi shrine. The peacefulness of it comes back–the flagged courtyard, the black snake carved on the wall of the shrine. Then the step carefully over, not on the threshold, into the small dark sanctuary. There we sat in the courtyard under a gently rustling tree. One of the Yezidees brought us coffee, first carefully spreading a dirty table-cloth. (This, proudly, as showing that European needs were understood.) We sat there a long time. Nobody forced information on us. I knew, vaguely, that the Yezidees were devil worshippers, and the Peacock Angel, Lucifer, is the object of their worship. It always seems strange that the worshippers of Satan should be the most peaceful of all the varying religious sects in that part of the world. When the sun began to get low, we left. It had been utter peace. Now I believe, they run tours to it. The ‘Spring Festival’ is quite a tourist attraction. But I knew it in its day of innocence. I shall not forget it. III From the Pyrenees we went to Paris and then to Dinard. It is irritating to find that all I remember of Paris is my bedroom in the hotel, which had richly painted chocolate-coloured walls on which it was quite impossible to see mosquitoes. There were myriads of mosquitoes. They pinged and whined all night, and our faces and arms were covered with bites. (Extremely humiliating to my sister Madge, who minded a good deal about her complexion at this period of her life.) We were only in Paris a week, and we seemed to spend all our time attempting to kill mosquitoes, anointing ourselves with various kinds of peculiar smelling oils, lighting incense cones by the bed, scratching bites, dropping hot candle grease on them. Finally, after vehement representations to the hotel management (who persisted in saying there were not really any mosquitoes), the novelty of sleeping under a mosquito net remains an event of the first importance. It was August and boiling hot weather, and under a net it must have been hotter still. I suppose I must have been shown some of the sights of Paris, but they have left no mark on my mind. I do remember that I was taken to the Tour Eiffel as a treat, but I imagine that, like my first view of mountains, it did not come up to expectation. In fact the only souvenir of our stay there seemed to be a new nickname for me. ‘Moustique.’ No doubt justified. No, I am wrong. It was on that visit to Paris that I first became acquainted with the forerunners of the great mechanical age. The streets of Paris were full of those new vehicles called ‘Automobiles.’ They rushed madly along (by present-day standards probably quite slowly, but then they only had to compete with the horse), smelling, hooting, driven by men with caps and goggles and full of motoring equipment. They were bewildering. My father said they would be everywhere soon. We did not believe him. I surveyed them without interest, my own allegiance firmly given to all kinds of trains. My mother exclaimed sadly, ‘What a pity Monty is not here. He would love them.’ It seems odd to me looking back now at this stage of my life. My brother seems to disappear from it completely. He was there, presumably, coming home for the holidays from Harrow, but he does not exist as a figure any longer. The answer is, probably, that he took very little notice of me at this point. I learnt only later that my father was worried about him. He was superannuated from Harrow, being quite unable to pass his exams. I think he went first to a ship-building yard on the Dart, and afterwards up north, to Lincolnshire. Reports of his progress were disappointing. My father received blunt advice. ‘He’ll never get anywhere. You see, he can’t do mathematics. You show him anything practical and it’s all right; he’s a good practical workman. But that’s all he’ll ever be in the engineering line.’ In every family there is usually one member who is a source of trouble and worry. My brother Monty was ours. Until the day of his death he was always causing someone a headache. I have often wondered, looking back, whether there is any niche in life where Monty would have fitted in. He would certainly have been all right if he had been born Ludwig II of Bavaria. I can see him sitting in his empty theatre, enjoying opera sung only for him. He was intensely musical, with a good bass voice, and played various instruments by ear, from penny whistles to piccolo and flute. He would never have had the application, though, to become a professional of any kind, nor, I think, did the idea ever enter his head. He had good manners, great charm, and throughout his life was surrounded by people anxious to save him worry or bother. There was always someone ready to lend him money and to do any chores for him. As a child of six, when he and my sister received their pocket money, the same thing invariably happened. Monty spent his on the first day. Later in the week he would suddenly push my sister into a shop, quickly order three pennyworth of a favourite sweet and then look at my sister, daring her not to pay. Madge, who had a great respect for public opinion, always did. Naturally she was furious about it and quarrelled with him violently afterwards. Monty would merely smile at her serenely and offer her one of the sweets. This attitude was one he adopted throughout his life. There seemed to be a natural conspiracy to slave for him. Again and again various women have said to me, ‘You know you don’t really understand your brother Monty. What he needs is sympathy.’ The truth was that we understood him only too well. It was impossible, mind you, not to feel affection for him. He recognised his own faults with the utmost frankness, and was always sure that everything was going to be different in future. He was, I believe, the only boy at Harrow who was allowed to keep white mice. His housemaster, in explaining this, said to my father, ‘You know he really seems to have such a deep love of natural history that I thought he should be allowed this privilege.’ The family opinion was that Monty had no love of natural history at all. He just wished to keep white mice! I think, on looking back, that Monty was a very interesting person. A slightly different arrangement of genes and he might have been a great man. He just lacked something. Proportion? Balance? Integration? I don’t know. The choice of a career for him settled itself. The Boer War broke out. Almost all the young men we knew volunteered–Monty, naturally, among them. (He had occasionally condescended to play with some toy soldiers I had, drawing them up in line of battle and christening their commanding officer Captain Dashwood. Later, to vary the routine, he cut off Captain Dashwood’s head for treason while I wept.) In some ways my father must have felt relief–the Army might provide a career for him–especially just at this moment when his engineering prospects were so doubtful. The Boer War, I suppose, was the last of what one might describe as the ‘old wars’, the wars that did not really affect one’s own country or life. They were heroic story-book affairs, fought by brave soldiers and gallant young men. They were killed, if killed, gloriously in battle. More often they came home suitably decorated with medals for gallant feats performed on the field. They were tied up with the outposts of Empire, the poems of Kipling, and with the bits of England that were pink on the map. It seems strange today to think that people–girls in particular–went around handing our white feathers to young men whom they considered were backward in doing their duty by dying for their country. I remember little of the outbreak of the South African War. It was not regarded as an important war–it consisted of ‘teaching Kruger a lesson’. With the usual English optimism it would be ‘all over in a few weeks’. In 1914 we heard the same phrase. ‘All over by Christmas.’ In 1940, ‘Not much point in storing the carpets with mothballs.’–this when the Admiralty took over my house–‘It won’t last over the winter.’ So what I remember is a gay atmosphere, a song with a good tune–‘The Absent-Minded Beggar’–and cheerful young men coming up from Plymouth for a few days’ leave. I can remember a scene at home a few days before the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Regiment was to sail for South Africa. Monty had brought a friend up from Plymouth, where they were stationed at the moment. This friend, Ernest Mackintosh, always called by us for some reason Billy, was to remain a friend and far more of a brother than my real brother to me all my life. He was a young man of great gaiety and charm. Like most of the young men around, he was more or less in love with my sister. The two boys had just got their uniforms, and were intensely intrigued by puttees which they had never seen before. They wound the puttees round their necks, bandaged their heads with them and played all sorts of tricks. I have a photograph of them sitting in our conservatory with puttees round their necks. I transferred my girlish hero-worship to Billy Mackintosh. A photograph of him stood by my bed in a frame with forget-me-nots on it. From Paris we went to Dinard in Brittany. The principal thing that I remember about Dinard is that I learnt to swim there. I can remember my incredulous pride and pleasure when I found myself striking out for six spluttering strokes on my own without submerging. The other thing I remember is the blackberries–never were there such blackberries, great big fat juicy ones. Marie and I used to go out and pick baskets of them, and eat masses of them at the same time. The reason for this profusion was that the natives of the countryside believed them to be deadly poison. ‘Ils ne mangent pas des mûres.’ said Marie wonderingly. ‘They say to me “vous allez vous empoisonner’.’ Marie and I had no such inhibitions, and we poisoned ourselves happily every afternoon. It was in Dinard that I first took to theatrical life. Father and mother had a large double bedroom with an enormous bow window, practically an alcove, across which curtains were drawn. It was a natural for stage performances. Fired by a pantomime I had seen the previous Christmas, I pressed Marie into service and we gave nightly representations of various fairy stories. I chose the character I wished to be and Marie had to be everybody else. Looking back, I am filled with gratitude at the extraordinary kindness of my father and mother. I can imagine nothing more boring than to come up every evening after dinner and sit for half an hour watching and applauding whilst Marie and I strutted and postured in our home-improvised costumes. We went through the Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and so forth. I was fondest of the part of principal boy, and borrowing my sister’s stockings in an attempt to produce tights I marched around and declaimed. The performance was, of course, always in French, as Marie could not speak English. What a good-natured girl she was. Only once did she strike, and that for a reason I simply could not fathom. She was to be Cinderella, and I insisted on her taking her hair down. One really cannot imagine Cinderella with a chignon on top of her head! But Marie, who had enacted the part of the Beast without murmuring, who had been Red Riding Hood’s grandmother–Marie, who had been good fairies, bad fairies, who had been wicked old women, who had enacted a street scene where she spat into the gutter in a most realistic fashion saying in argot ‘Et bien crache!’ which incidentally convulsed my father with mirth–Marie suddenly refused with tears to enact the part of Cinderella. ‘Mais, pourquoi, pas, Marie?’ I demanded. ‘It is a very good part. It is the heroine. It is Cinderella the whole play is about.’ Impossible, said Marie, impossible that she should enact such a role. To take her hair down, to appear with her hair loose on her shoulders before Monsieur! That was the crux. To appear with her hair down before Monsieur was to Marie unthinkable, shocking. I yielded, puzzled. We concocted a kind of hood that went over Cinderella’s chignon, and all was well. But how extraordinary taboos are. I remember one of my friends’ children–a pleasant, amiable little girl of about four. A French nursery governess arrived to look after her. There was the usual hesitation as to whether the child would ‘get on’ with her or not, but everything appeared to be perfect happiness. She went out with her for a walk, chatted, showed Madeleine her toys. Everything seemed to be going perfectly. Only at bedtime did tears arise when Joan refused firmly to let Madeleine give her her bath. Her mother, puzzled, gave in on the first day, since she could understand that the child was perhaps not quite at home with the strangers yet. But this refusal continued for two or three days. All was peace, all was happiness, all was friendship, until bed and bath time. It was not till the fourth day that Joan, weeping bitterly and burying her head in her mother’s neck, said, ‘You don’t understand, Mummy. You don’t seem to understand. How can I show my body to a foreigner?’ So it was with Marie. She could strut about in trousers, show quite a lot of leg in many roles, but she could not take her hair down in front of Monsieur. I imagine, to begin with, our theatrical performances must have been extremely funny, and my father at least got a great deal of enjoyment out of them. But how boring they must have become! Yet my parents were far too kind to tell me frankly that they couldn’t be bothered to come up every night. Occasionally they let themselves off by explaining that friends were dining and so they would not be able to come upstairs, but on the whole they stuck it nobly–and how I, at least, enjoyed performing before them. During the month of September that we stayed in Dinard my father was happy to find some old friends there–Martin Pirie and his wife and two sons, who were finishing off their holidays. Martin Pirie and my father had been at school together at Vevey, and close friends ever since. Martin’s wife, Lilian Pirie, I still think of as one of the most outstanding personalities I have ever known. The character that Sackville West drew so beautifully in All Passion Spent has always struck me as a little like Mrs Pirie. There was something faintly awe-inspiring in her, slightly aloof. She had a beautiful, clear voice, delicate features and very blue eyes. The movements of her hands were always beautiful. I think Dinard was the first time I ever saw her, but from then on I saw her at frequent intervals, and I knew her up to the age of eighty odd when she died. All that time my admiration and respect for her increased. She was one of the few people I have met whom I consider had a really interesting mind. Each of her houses was decorated in a startling and original manner. She did the most beautiful embroidered pictures, there was never a book or a play she had not read or seen, and she always had something telling to say about them. Nowadays I suppose she would have embarked upon some career, but I wonder, if she had done so, whether the impact of her personality would have been as great as it actually was. Young people always flocked to her house and were happy to talk to her. To spend an afternoon with her, even when she was well over seventy, was a wonderful refreshment. I think she had, more perfectly than anyone I have ever known, the art of leisure. You found her sitting in a high-backed chair in her beautiful room, usually engaged with some needle-work of her own design, some interesting book or other by her side. She had the air of having time to talk with you all day, all night, for months on end. Her criticisms were caustic and clear. Although she would talk about any abstract subject under the sun she seldom indulged in personalities. But it was her beautiful speaking voice that attracted me most. It is such a rare thing to find. I have always been sensitive to voices. An ugly voice repels me where an ugly face would not. My father was delighted to see his friend Martin again. My mother and Mrs Pirie had much in common, and immediately engaged, if I remember rightly, in a frenzied discussion about Japanese art. Their two boys were there–Harold, who was at Eton, and Wilfred, who I suppose must have been at Dartmouth, as he was going into the Navy. Wilfred was later to be one of my dearest friends, but all I remember about him from Dinard was that he was said to be the boy who always laughed out loud whenever he saw a banana. This made me look at him with close attention. Naturally, neither of the boys took the least notice of me. An Eton schoolboy and a naval cadet would hardly demean themselves by paying attention to a little girl of seven. From Dinard we moved on to Guernsey, where we spent most of the winter. As a birthday present I was given a surprise of three birds of exotic plumage and colouring. These were named Kiki, Tou-tou and Bebe. Shortly after arrival in Guernsey, Kiki, who was always a delicate bird, died. He had not been long enough in my possession for his decease to occasion violent grief–in any case, Bebe, who was an enchanting small bird, was my favourite–but I certainly enjoyed myself in a lavish way over the obsequies of Kiki. He was splendidly buried in a cardboard box with a lining of satin ribbon supplied by my mother. An expedition was then made out of the town of St. Peter Port to an upland region where a spot was chosen for the funeral ceremonies, and the box was duly buried with a large knot of flowers placed upon it. All that of course was highly satisfactory, but it did not end there. ‘Visiter la tombe de Kiki’ became one of my favourite walks. The great excitement in St. Peter Port was the flower market. There were lovely flowers of every kind and very cheap. According to Marie it was always the coldest and windiest day when, after inquiring, ‘And where shall we go for a walk today, Mees?’ Mees would reply with gusto, ‘Nous allons visiter la tombe de Kiki.’ Terrible sighs from Marie. A two-mile walk and a great deal of cold wind! Nevertheless, I was adamant. I dragged her to the market, where we purchased exciting camellias or other flowers, and then we took the two-mile walk lashed by wind and frequently rain as well, and placed the floral bouquet with due ceremony upon Kiki’s grave. It must run in one’s blood to enjoy funerals and funeral observances. Where indeed would archaeology be if it had not been for this trait in human nature? If I was ever taken for a walk in my youth by anyone other than nurses–one of the servants, for instance–we invariably went to the cemetery. How happy are those scenes in Paris at Pere Lachaise, with whole families attending family tombs and making them beautiful for All Souls Day. Honouring the dead is indeed a hallowed cult. Is there behind it some instinctive means of avoiding grief, of becoming so interested in the rites and ceremonies that one almost forgets the departed loved one? I do know this, that however poor a family may be the first thing they save for is their funeral. A sweet old dear who worked for me at one time said, ‘Ah, hard times, dearie. Hard times indeed they’ve been. But one thing, however short I’ve gone and all the rest of us, I’ve got my money saved to bury me decent and I’ll never touch that. No, not even if I go hungry for days!’ IV I sometimes think that in my last incarnation, if the theory of reincarnation is right, I must have been a dog. I have a great many of the dog’s habits. If anybody is undertaking anything or going anywhere I always want to be taken with them and do it too. In the same way, when returning home after this long absence I acted exactly like a dog. A dog always runs all round the house examining everything, sniffing here, sniffing there, finding out by its nose what has been going on, and visiting all its ‘best spots’. I did exactly the same. I went all round the house, then went out in the garden and visited my pet spots there: the tub, the see-saw tree, my little secret post overlooking the road outside in a hiding place up by the wall. I found my hoop and tested its condition, and took about an hour to satisfy myself that all was exactly as it had been before. The greatest change had taken place in my dog, Tony. Tony had been a small, neat Yorkshire terrier when we went away. He was now, owing to Froudie’s loving care and endless meals, as fat as a balloon. She was completely Tony’s slave, and when my mother and I went to fetch him home Froudie gave us a long dissertation on how he liked to sleep, what exactly he had to be covered with in his basket, his tastes in food, and what time he liked his walk. At intervals she broke off her conversation with us to speak to Tony. ‘Mother’s lovely,’ she said. ‘Mother’s handsome.’ Tony looked very appreciative at these remarks, but nevertheless seemed to take them as no more than his due. ‘And he won’t eat a morsel,’ said Froudie proudly, ‘unless you give it him by hand. Oh no, I have to feed him every single little piece myself.’ I noticed a look in my mother’s face, and I could see that Tony was not going to receive quite that treatment at home. We took him home with us in the hired cab which we had got for the occasion, plus his bedding and the rest of his possessions. Tony, of course, was delighted to see us, and licked me all over. When his dinner was prepared and brought, Froudie’s warning was proved true. Tony looked at it, looked up at my mother and at me, moved a few steps away and sat down, waiting like a grand seigneur to have each morsel fed to him. I gave him a piece and he accepted it graciously, but my mother stopped that. ‘It’s no good,’ she said. ‘He will have to learn to eat his dinner properly, as he used to do. Leave his dinner down there. He’ll go and eat it presently.’ But Tony did not go and eat it. He sat there. And never have I seen a dog more overcome with righteous indignation. His large, sorrowful, brown eyes went round the assembled family and back to his plate. He was clearly saying, ‘I want it. Don’t you see? I want my dinner. Give it to me.’ However, my mother was firm. ‘Even if he doesn’t eat it today,’ she said, ‘he will tomorrow.’ ‘You don’t think he’ll starve?’ I demanded. My mother looked thoughtfully at Tony’s immensely broad back. ‘A little starvation,’ she said, ‘would do him a world of good.’ It was not till the following evening that Tony capitulated, and then he saved his pride by eating his dinner when nobody was in the room. After that there was no further trouble. Days of being treated like a Grand Duke were over, and Tony obviously accepted the fact. Still, he did not forget that for a whole year he had been the beloved darling of another house. Any word of reproof, any trouble he got into, and immediately he would sneak off and trot down to Froudie’s house, where he obviously told her that he was not properly appreciated. The habit persisted for quite a long time. Marie was now Tony’s nurse-attendant, in addition to her other duties. It was amusing to see Marie arrive when we were playing downstairs in the evening, an apron tied round her waist, saying politely, ‘Monsieur Toni pour le bain.’ Monsieur Tony would immediately try to get down on all fours and slide under the sofa, since he had a poor opinion of the weekly bath. Extracted, he was carried off, his tail drooping and his ears down. Marie would report proudly later on the amount of fleas that were floating on top of the Jeyes fluid. I must say that now dogs do not seem to have nearly as many fleas as they did in my young days. In spite of baths, brushing and combing, and large amounts of Jeyes fluid, all our dogs always seemed to be full of fleas. Perhaps they frequented stables and played with other flea-ridden dogs more than they do now. On the other hand they were less pampered, and they did not seem to live at the vets as much as dogs do today. I don’t remember Tony ever being seriously ill, his coat seemed always in good condition, he ate his meals, which were the scraps from our own dinner, and little fuss was made about his health. But much more fuss is made about children now than was then the case. Temperatures, unless they were high, were not taken much notice of. A temperature of 102, sustained for twenty-four hours, would probably involve a visit from the doctor, but anything under that was given little attention. Occasionally, after a surfeit of green apples one might have what was termed a bilious attack. Twenty-four hours in bed with starvation usually cured that quite easily. Food was good and varied. I suppose there was a tendency to keep young children on milk and starch far too long, but certainly I, from a young age, had tastes of the steak that was sent up for Nursie’s supper, and under-done roast beef was one of my favourite meals. Devonshire cream, too, was eaten in quantities; so much nicer than cod liver oil, my mother used to say. Sometimes one ate it on bread and sometimes with a spoon. Alas! You never see real Devonshire cream in Devon nowadays–not as it used to be–scalded and taken off the milk in layers with its yellow top standing in a china bowl. There is no doubt about it, my favourite thing has been, is, and probably always will be, cream. Mother, who craved for variety in food as well as in everything else, used from time to time to have a new craze. One time it was ‘there’s more nourishment in an egg’. On this slogan we had eggs at practically every meal till father rebelled. There was also a fishy period, when we lived on sole and whiting and improved our brains. However, having made the round of the food diets, mother usually returned to the normal; just as, having dragged father through Theosophy, the Unitarian church, a near miss of becoming a Roman Catholic, and a flirtation with Buddhism, she returned at last to the Church of England. It was satisfactory to come home and find everything just as usual. There was only one change, and that was for the better. I now had my devoted Marie. I suppose that until I dipped a hand into my bag of remembrances I had never actually thought about Marie–she was just Marie, part of my life. To a child the world is simply what is happening to him or her: and that includes the people in it–whom they like, whom they hate, what makes them happy, what makes them unhappy. Marie, fresh, cheerful, smiling, always agreeable, was a much appreciated member of the household. What I wonder now is what it meant to her? She had been, I think, very happy during the autumn and winter that we spent travelling in France and the Channel Islands. She was seeing places, the life in the hotels was pleasant, and, strangely enough, she liked her young charge. I would, of course, like to think that she liked me because I was me–but Marie was genuinely fond of children, and would have liked any child that she was looking after, short of one or two of those infantile monsters that one does encounter. I was certainly not particularly obedient to her; I don’t think the French have the capacity for enforcing obedience. In many ways I behaved disgracefully. In particular I hated going to bed, and invented a splendid game of leaping round all the furniture, climbing up on wardrobes, down from the tops of chests of drawers, completing the circuit of the room without ever once touching the floor. Marie, standing in the doorway, would moan: ‘Oh, Mees; Mees! Madame votre mère ne serait pas contente!’ Madame ma mère certainly did not know what was going on. If she had made an unexpected appearance, she would have raised her eyebrows, said, ‘Agatha! Why are you not in bed?’ and within three minutes I would have been in bed, scurrying there, without any further word of admonition. However, Marie never denounced me to authority; she pleaded, she sighed, but she never reported me. On the other hand, if I did not give her obedience, I did give her love. I loved her very much. On only one occasion do I really remember having upset her, and that was entirely inadvertent. It happened after we had come back to England, in the course of an argument on some subject or other which was proceeding quite amicably. Finally, in exasperation, and wishing to prove my point of view, I was saying: ‘Mais, ma pauvre fille, vous ne savez done pas les chemins defer sont: At this point, to my utter amazement, Marie suddenly burst into tears. I stared at her. I had no idea what was the matter. Then words came amongst the sobs. Yes–she was indeed a ‘pauvre fille‘. Her parents were poor, not rich like those of Mees. They kept a cafe, where all the sons and daughters worked. But it was not gentille, it was not bien élevée of her dear Mees to reproach her with her poverty. ‘But, Marie,’ I expostulated, ‘Marie, I didn’t mean that at all’.’ It seemed impossible to explain that no idea of poverty had been in my mind, that ‘ma pauvre fille’ was a mere expression of impatience. Poor Marie had been hurt in her feelings, and it took at least half an hour of protestations, caresses, and reiterated assurances of affection before she was soothed. After that, all was healed between us. I was terribly careful in future never to use that particular expression. I think that Marie, established at our house in Torquay, felt lonely and homesick for the first time. No doubt in the hotels where we had stayed there had been other maids, nurses, governesses, and so on–cosmopolitan ones–and she had not felt the separation from her family. But here in England she came in contact with girls of her own age, or at any rate of not much more than her own age. We had at that time, I think, a youngish housemaid and a parlourmaid of perhaps thirty. But their point of view was so different from Marie’s that it must have made her feel a complete alien. They criticised the plainness of her clothes, the fact that she never spent any money on finery, ribbons, gloves, all the rest of it. Marie was receiving what were to her fantastically good wages. She asked Monsieur every month if he would be so kind as to remit practically the whole of her pay to her mother in Pau. She herself kept a tiny sum. This was to her natural and proper; she was saving up for her dot, that precious sum of money that all French girls at that time (and perhaps now, I do not know) industriously put by as a dowry–a necessity for the future, for lacking it they may easily not get married at all. It is the equivalent, I suppose, of what we call in England ‘my bottom drawer’, but far more serious. It was a good and sensible idea, and I think in vogue nowadays in England, because young people want to buy a house and therefore both the man and the girl save money towards it. But in the time I am speaking of, girls did not save up for marriage–that was the man’s business. He must provide a home and the wherewithal to feed, clothe and look after his wife. Therefore the ‘girls in good service’ and the lower class of shop-girls, considered the money they earned was their own to use for the frivolous things of life. They bought new hats, and coloured blouses, an occasional necklace or brooch. One might say, I suppose, that they used their wages as courting money–to attract a suitable male of the species. But here was Marie, in her neat little black coat and skirt, and her little toque and her plain blouses, never adding to her wardrobe, never buying anything unnecessary. I don’t think they meant to be unkind, but they laughed at her; they despised her. It made her very unhappy. It was really my mother’s insight and kindness that helped her through the first four or five months. She was homesick, she wanted to go home. My mother, however, talked to Marie, consoled her, told her that she was a wise girl and doing the right thing, that English girls were not as far-seeing and prudent as French girls. She also, I think, had a word with the servants themselves and with Jane, saying that they were making this French girl unhappy. She was far away from home, and they must think what it would be like if they were in a foreign country. So after a month or two Marie cheered up. I feel that, at this point, anyone who has had the patience to read so far will exclaim: ‘But didn’t you have any lessons to do?’ The answer is, ‘No, I did not.’ I was, I suppose, nine years old by now, and most children of my age had governesses–though these were engaged, I fancy, largely from the point of view of child care, to exercise and supervise. What they taught you in the way of ‘lessons’ depended entirely on the tastes of the individual governesses. I remember dimly a governess or two in friends’ houses. One held complete faith in Dr Brewer’s Child’s Guide to Knowledge–a counterpart of our modern ‘Quiz’. I retain scraps of knowledge thus acquired–‘What are the three diseases of wheat?’ Rust, mildew, and soot.’ Those have gone with me all through life–though unfortunately they have never been of practical use to me. ‘What is the principal manufacture in the town of Redditch?’ ‘Needles.’ ‘What is the date of the Battle of Hastings?’ ‘1066.’ Another governess, I remember, instructed her pupils in natural history, but little else. A great deal of picking of leaves and berries and wild flowers went on–and a suitable dissection of the same. It was incredibly boring. ‘I do hate all this pulling things to pieces,’ confided my small friend to me. I entirely agreed, and indeed the word Botany all through my life has made me shy like a nervous horse. My mother had gone to school in her own youth, to an establishment in Cheshire. She sent my sister Madge to boarding school but was now entirely converted to the view that the best way to bring up girls was to let them run wild as much as possible; to give them good food, fresh air, and not to force their minds in any way. (None of this, of course, applied to boys: boys had to have a strictly conventional education.) As I have already mentioned, she had a theory that no child should be allowed to read until it was eight. This having been frustrated, I was allowed to read as much as I pleased, and I took every opportunity to do so. The schoolroom, as it was called, was a big room at the top of the house, almost completely lined with books. There were shelves of children’s books–Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the earlier, sentimental Victorian tales which I have already mentioned, such as Our White Violet, Charlotte Yonge’s books, including The Daisy Chain, a complete set, I should think, of Henty, and, besides that, any amount of school-books, novels, and others. I read indiscriminately, picking up anything that interested me, reading quite a lot of things which I did not understand but which nevertheless held my attention. In the course of my reading I found a French play which father discovered me reading. ‘How did you get hold of that?’ he asked, picking it up, horrified. It was one of a series of French novels and plays which he usually kept carefully locked up in the smoking-room for the perusal of adults only. ‘It was in the school-room,’ I said. ‘It shouldn’t have been there,’ said father. ‘It should have been in my cupboard.’ I relinquished it cheerfully. Truth to tell, I had found it somewhat difficult to understand. I returned happily to reading Mémoires d’un Âne, Sans Famille, and other innocuous French literature. I suppose I must have had lessons of some kind, but I did not have a governess. I continued to do arithmetic with my father, passing proudly through fractions to decimals. I eventually arrived at the point where so many cows ate so much grass, and tanks filled with water in so many hours–I found it quite enthralling. My sister was now officially ‘out’, which entailed parties, dresses, visits to London, and so on. This kept my mother busy, and she had less time for me. Sometimes I became jealous, feeling that Madge had all the attention. My mother had had a dull girlhood herself. Though her aunt was a rich woman, and though Clara had travelled to and fro across the Atlantic with her, she had seen no reason to give her a social debut of any kind. I don’t think my mother was socially minded, but she did yearn, as any young girl might, to have a great many prettier clothes and dresses than she had. Auntie-Grannie ordered herself very expensive and fashionable clothes at the best dressmakers in Paris, but she always considered Clara as a child, and more or less dressed her as such. The awful sewing women again! My mother was determined that her daughters should have all the pretty-pretties and frivolities of life that she herself had missed. Hence her interest and delight in Madge’s clothes, and later in mine. Mind you, clothes were clothes in those days! There was a great deal of them, lavish both in material and in workmanship. Frills, ruffles, flounces, lace, complicated seams and gores: not only did they sweep the ground and have to be held up in one hand elegantly as you walked along, but they had little capes or coats or feather boas. There was also hairdressing: hairdressing, too, really was hairdressing in those times–no running a comb through it and that was that. It was curled, frizzed, waved, put in curlers overnight, waved with hot tongs; if a girl was going to a dance she started doing her hair at least two hours earlier and the hairdressing would take her about an hour and a half, leaving her about half an hour to put on her dress, stockings, slippers and so on. This was not, of course, my world. It was the grown-ups’ world, from which I remained aloof. Nevertheless, I was influenced by it. Marie and I discussed the toilettes of the Mademoiselles and our special favourites. It so happened that in our particular road there were no next-door neighbours with children of my age. So, as I had done at a younger age, I once more arranged a set of friends and intimates of my own–in succession to Poodle, Squirrel and Tree, and the famous Kittens. This time I invented a school. This was not because I had any desire myself to go to school. No, I think that The School constituted the only background into which I could conveniently fit seven girls of varying ages and appearances, giving them different backgrounds instead of making them a family, which I did not want to do. The School had no name–it was just The School. The first girls to arrive were Ethel Smith and Annie Gray. Ethel Smith was eleven and Annie was nine. Ethel was dark, with a great mane of hair. She was clever, good at games, had a deep voice, and must have been rather masculine in appearance. Annie Gray, her great friend, was a complete contrast. She had pale flaxen hair, blue eyes, and was shy and nervous and easily reduced to tears. She clung to Ethel, who protected her on every occasion. I liked them both, but my preference was for the bold and vigorous Ethel. After Ethel and Annie, I added two more: Isabella Sullivan, who was rich, golden-haired, brown-eyed, and beautiful. She was eleven years of age. Isabella I did not like–in fact I disliked her a good deal. She was ‘worldly’. (Worldly’ was a great word in the story-books of the time: pages of The Daisy Chain are devoted to the worries in the May family because of Flora’s worldliness.) Isabel was certainly the quintessence of worldliness. She gave herself airs, boasted about being rich, and had clothes that were far too expensive for her and too grand for a girl of her age. Elsie Green was her cousin. Elsie was rather Irish; she had dark hair, blue eyes, curls, and was gay and laughed a good deal. She got on quite well with Isabel, but sometimes ticked her off. Elsie was poor; she wore Isabel’s cast-off clothes, which sometimes rankled, but not much, because Elsie was easy-going. With these four I got on well for some time. They travelled on the tubular railway, they rode horses, they did gardening, they also played a great deal of croquet. I used to arrange tournaments and special matches. My great hope was that Isabel would not win. I did everything short of cheating to see that she did not win–that is, I held her mallet for her carelessly, played quickly, hardly aimed at all–yet somehow the more carelessly I played, the more fortunate Isabel seemed to be. She got through impossible hoops, hit balls from right across the lawn, and nearly always finished as winner or runner-up. It was most annoying. After a while I thought it would be nice to have some younger girls at the school. I added two six-year-olds, Ella White and Sue de Verte. Ella was conscientious, industrious and dull. She had bushy hair, and was good at lessons. She did well in Dr Brewer’s Guide to Knowledge, and played quite a fair game of croquet. Sue de Verte was curiously colourless, not only in appearance–she was fair, with pale blue eyes–but also in character. Somehow I couldn’t see or feel Sue. She and Ella were great friends, but though I knew Ella like the back of my hand Sue remained fluid. I think this is probably because Sue was really myself When I conversed with the others, I was always Sue conversing with them, not Agatha; and therefore Sue and Agatha became two facets of the same person, and Sue was an observer, not really one of the dramatis personae. The seventh girl to be added to the collection was Sue’s step-sister, Vera de Verte. Vera was an immense age–she was thirteen. She was not at the moment beautiful, but she was going to be a raving beauty in the future. There was also a mystery about her parentage. I had half-planned various futures for Vera of a highly romantic nature. She had straw-coloured hair and forget-me-not blue eyes. An additional help to ‘the girls’ were bound copies of Royal Academy pictures which my grandmother had in the house in Ealing. She promised that they should belong to me one day, and I used to spend hours looking at them in wet weather, not so much for artistic satisfaction as for finding suitable pictures of ‘the girls’. A book that had been given me as a Christmas present, illustrated by Walter Crane–The Feast of Flora–represented flower pictures in human form. There was a particularly lovely one in it of forget-me-nots wreathed round a figure who was definitely Vera de Verte. Chaucer’s Daisy was Ella, and the handsome Crown Imperial striding along was Ethel. ‘The girls’, I may say, stayed with me for many years, naturally changing their characters as I myself matured. They participated in music, acted in opera, were given parts in plays and musical comedies. Even when I was grown up I spared them a thought now and then, and allocated them the various dresses in my wardrobe. I also designed model gowns for them in my mind. Ethel, I remember, looked very handsome in a dress of dark blue tulle with white arum lilies on one shoulder. Poor Annie was never given much to wear. I was fair to Isabel, though, and gave her some extremely handsome gowns–embroidered brocades, and satins usually. Even now, sometimes, as I put away a dress in a cupboard, I say to myself: ‘Yes, that would do well for Elsie, green was always her colour.’ Ella would look very nice indeed in that three-piece jersey suit.’ It makes me laugh when I do it, but there ‘the girls’ are still, though, unlike me, they have not grown old. Twenty-three is the oldest I have ever imagined them. In the course of time I added four more characters: Adelaide, who was the oldest of all, tall, fair and rather superior; Beatrice, who was a merry, dancing, little fairy, the youngest of them all; and two sisters, Rose and Iris Reed. I became rather romantic about those two. Iris had a young man who wrote poetry to her and called her ‘Iris of the Marshes’, and Rose was very mischievous, played tricks on everybody, and flirted madly with all the young men. They were, of course, in due time married off, or remained unmarried. Ethel never married but lived in a small cottage with the gentle Annie–very appropriate, I think now: it’s exactly what they would have done in real life. Soon after our return from abroad the delights of the world of music were opened to me by Fraulein Uder. Fraulein Uder was a short, wiry, formidable, little German woman. I don’t know why she was teaching music in Torquay, I never heard anything of her private life. My mother appeared one day in the Schoolroom with Fraulein Uder in tow, explaining she wanted Agatha to start learning the piano. ‘Ach!’ said Fraulein Uder with a rich German sound, though she spoke English perfectly. ‘Then we will at once to the piano go.’ To the piano we went–the schoolroom piano, of course, not the grand piano in the drawing-room. ‘Stand there,’ commanded Fraulein Uder. I stood as placed to the left of the piano. ‘That,’ she said, thumping the note so hard that I really thought something might happen to it, ‘is C Major. You understand? That is the note C. This is the scale of C Major.’ She played it. ‘Now we go back and play the chord of C, like that Now again–the scale. The notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. You understand?’ I said yes. As a matter of fact I knew that much already. ‘Now,’ said Fraulein Uder, ‘you will stand there where you cannot see the notes and I play first C, then another note, and you shall tell me what the second is.’ She hit C, and then hit another note with equal force. ‘What is that? Answer me.’ ‘E,’ I said. ‘Quite right. Good. Now we will try again.’ Once more she thumped C, and then another note. ‘And that?’ ‘A,’ I hazarded. ‘Ach, that it first class. Good. This child is musical. You have the ear, yes. Ach, we shall get on famously.’ I certainly got off to a good start. I don’t think, to be honest, I had the least idea what the other notes were she was playing. I think it must have been an inspired guess. But anyway, having started on those lines we went ahead with plenty of good will on either side. Before long the houses resounded with scales, arpeggios, and in due course the strains of The Merry Peasant. I enjoyed my music lessons enormously. Both father and mother played the piano. Mother played Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and various other ‘pieces’ that she had learned in her youth. She played well, but was not, I think, a passionate music lover. My father was naturally musical. He could play anything by ear, and he played delightful American songs and negro spirituals and other things. To The Merry Peasant Fraulein Uder and I added Trdumerei, and other of Schumann’s delicate little tunes. I practised with zeal for an hour or two a day. From Schumann I proceeded to Greig, which I loved passionately–Erotique and the First Rustle of Spring were my favourites. When I finally progressed to being able to play the Peer Gynt Morgen I was transported with delight. Fraulein Uder, like most Germans, was an excellent teacher. It was not all playing of pleasant tunes; there were masses of Czerny’s Exercises, about which I was not quite so zealous, but Fraulein Uder was having no nonsense. ‘You must the good grounding have,’ she said. ‘These exercises, they are the reality, the necessity. The tunes, yes, they are pretty little embroideries, they are like flowers, they bloom and drop off, but you must have the roots, the strong roots and the leaves.’ So I had a good deal of the strong roots and the leaves and an occasional flower or two, and I was probably much more pleased with the result than the others in the house, who found so much practising somewhat oppressive. Then there was also dancing-class, which took place once a week, at something grandiosely called the Athenaeum Rooms, situated over a confectioner’s shop. I must have started going to dancing-class quite early–five or six, I think–because I remember that Nursie was still there and took me once a week. The young ones were started off with the polka. Their approach to it was to stamp three times: right, left, right–left, right, left–thump, thump, thump–thump, thump, thump. Very unpleasant it must have been for those having tea at the confectioner’s underneath. When I got home I was slightly upset by Madge, who said that that was not how the polka was danced. ‘You slide one foot, bring the next up to it, and then the first,’ she said, ‘like this.’ I was rather puzzled, but apparently it was Miss Hickey’s, the dancing-mistress’s idea of getting the rhythm of the polka before you did the steps. Miss Hickey, I remember, was a wonderful if alarming personality. She was tall, stately, had a pompadour of grey hair beautifully arranged, long flowing skirts, and to waltz with her–which happened, of course, much later–was a terrifying experience. She had one pupil teacher of about eighteen or nineteen, and one of about thirteen called Aileen. Aileen was a sweet girl, who worked hard, and whom we all liked very much. The older one, Helen, was slightly terrifying, and only took notice of the really good dancers. The procedure of dancing-class was as follows. It started with what were called ‘expanders’, which exercised your chest and arms. They were a sort of blue ribbon elastic with handles. You stretched these vigorously for about half an hour. There was then the polka, which was danced by all once they had graduated from thump, thump, thump–the older girls in the class dancing with the younger ones. ‘Have you seen me dance the polka? Have you seen my coat-tails fly?’ The polka was merry and unattractive. Then you had the grand march, in which, in pairs, you went up the middle of the room, round the sides, and into various figures of eight, the seniors leading, the juniors following up. You had partners for the march whom you engaged yourself, and a good deal of heart-burning took place over this. Naturally, everybody wished to have as partner either Helen or Aileen, but Miss Hickey saw to it that there were no particular monopolies. After the march the smaller ones were removed to the junior room, where they learned the steps of either the polka or, later, the waltz, or steps in their fancy dances at which they were particularly maladroit. The seniors did their fancy dance under the eye of Miss Hickey in the big room. This consisted of either a tambourine dance, a Spanish castanet dance, or a fan dance. Talking of the fan dance, I once mentioned to my daughter, Rosalind, and her friend Susan, when they were girls of eighteen or nineteen, that I used to do a fan dance in my youth. Their ribald laughter puzzled me. ‘You didn’t really, mother, did you? A fan dance! Susan, she did a fan dance!’ ‘Oh,’ said Susan, ‘I always thought that Victorians were so particular.’ It dawned on us soon, however, that by a fan dance we did not mean exactly the same thing. After that the seniors sat out and the juniors did their dance, which was the Sailor’s Hornpipe or some gay little folk dance, not too difficult. Finally we entered into the complications of The Lancers. We were also taught the Swedish Country Dance, and Sir Roger de Coverley. These last were especially useful because when you went to parties you were not shamed by ignorance of such social activities. At Torquay we were almost entirely girls. When I went to dancing-class in Ealing there was quite a number of boys. This I think was when I was about nine, very shy, and not as yet adept in dancing. A boy of considerable charm, probably a year or two older than I was, came up and asked me to be his partner in The Lancers. Upset and downcast, I said that I couldn’t dance The Lancers. It seemed to me hard; I had never seen so attractive a boy. He had dark hair, merry eyes., and I felt at once that we were going to be soul-mates. I sat down sadly when The Lancers began, and almost immediately Mrs Wordsworth’s representative came up to me. ‘Now, Agatha, we can’t have anyone sitting out.’ ‘I don’t know how to dance The Lancers, Mrs Wordsworth.’ ‘No, dear, but you can soon learn. We must find you a partner.’ She seized a freckled boy with a snub nose and sandy hair; he also had adenoids. ‘Here you are. Here is William.’ During The Lancers, when we were engaged in visiting, I came up against my first love and his partner. He whispered to me, in dudgeon: ‘You wouldn’t dance with me, and here you are. It is very unkind of you.’ I tried to tell him that I couldn’t help it, that I had thought I couldn’t dance The Lancers but I was told I had to–but there is not time when you are visiting in The Lancers to enter into explanations. He continued to look reproachfully at me until the end of the dancing-class. I hoped I might meet him the following week, but alas I never saw him again: one of life’s sad love stories. The waltz was the only dance I learned that was going to be useful to me through life, and I have never really liked waltzing. I do not like the rhythm, and I always used to get exceedingly giddy, especially when honoured by Miss Hickey. She had a wonderful sweep round in the waltz, which practically took you off your feet, and which left you at the end of the performance with your head reeling, hardly able to stand up. But I must admit that it was a beautiful sight to watch her. Fraulein Uder disappeared from my life; I don’t know where or when. Perhaps she went back to Germany. She was replaced a little later by a young man called, as far as I remember, Mr Trotter. He was the organist of one of the churches; was rather a depressing teacher, and I had to adopt an entirely different style. I had to sit practically on the floor, with my hands reaching upward to get to the keys of the piano, and everything had to be played from the wrist. Fraulein Uder’s method, I think, must have been to sit high and play from the elbows. One was more or less poised above the piano so as to be able to come down on the keys with maximum power. Very satisfactory! V It must have been shortly after our return from the Channel Isles that the shadow of my father’s illness began to be felt. He had not been well abroad, and had twice consulted a doctor. The second doctor had pro-pounded a somewhat alarmist view, namely that my father suffered from a kidney disease. After our return to England he consulted our own doctor, who did not agree with that diagnosis and who sent him to a specialist. After that, the shadow was there, faint, felt only by a child as one of those atmospheric disturbances which are to the psychic world as an approaching thunderstorm is to the physical one. Medical science seemed to be of little use. Father went to two or three specialists. The first one said it was definitely a heart condition. I don’t remember the details of it now; I only remember listening to my mother and sister talking, and the words ‘an inflammation of the nerves surrounding the heart,’ which sounded to me very frightening. Another doctor who was consulted put it down entirely to gastric trouble. At increasingly short intervals my father had attacks of pain and breathlessness during the night, and my mother sat up with him, altering his position and giving him such medicaments as had been ordered by the last doctor. As always there was a pathetic belief in the last doctor whom we had consulted, and the latest regime or treatment that we adopted. Faith does a lot–faith, novelty, a dynamic personality in a doctor–but it cannot in the end deal with the real organic complaint that is at the bottom of it. Most of the time my father was his usual cheerful self, but the atmosphere of our home altered. He still went to the club, spent his summer days at the cricket ground, came back with amusing stories–was the same kindly personality. He was never cross or irritable, but the shadow of apprehension was there–also felt, of course, by my mother, who made valiant attempts to reassure my father and to tell him that he looked better, felt better, was better. At the same time the shadow of financial worry darkened. The money from my grandfather’s will had been invested in house property in New York, but the buildings were leasehold, not freehold. By now, apparently, they were in a part of the city where the land would have been valuable, but the buildings were worth practically nothing. The owner of the land was, I gather, unco-operative–an elderly woman of seventy odd, who appeared to have a stranglehold, preventing any development or improvement. The income that should have come over seemed always to be swallowed up in repairs or taxation. Catching scraps of conversation which seemed to me of dramatic import, I hurried upstairs and announced to Marie in the best manner of Victorian stories that we were ruined. Marie did not seem to me as distressed as I thought she ought to have been, however, she must have attempted some condolence with my mother, who came to me with some annoyance. ‘Really, Agatha, you must not repeat things in an exaggerated way. We are not ruined. We are just badly off for the time being and will have to economise.’ ‘Not ruined?’ I said, deeply chagrined. ‘Not ruined,’ said my mother firmly. I must admit that I was disappointed. In the many books I had read ruin happened frequently, and was treated as it should be treated–seriously. There would be threats of blowing out one’s brains, a heroine leaving a rich mansion in rags, and so on. ‘I forgot you were even in the room,’ said my mother. ‘But you understand, no repeating of things that you overhear.’ I said I would not, but I felt injured because only a short time before I had been criticised for not telling what I had overheard of another incident. Tony and I had been seated under the dining-room table one night just before dinner. It was a favourite place of ours, suitable for the playing of adventures in crypts, dungeons, and the like. We were hardly daring to breathe, so that the robbers who had imprisoned us should not hear us–this was not true of Tony who was fat and panted–when Barter, the housemaid who assisted the parlourmaid at dinner, came in with the tureen of soup which she placed on the sideboard hot plate. She lifted the lid and inserted the big soup ladle. Ladling out a spoonful, she took some swigs from it. Lewis, the parlour-maid, came in and said: ‘I am just going to ring the gong–’ then broke off and exclaimed, ‘Why, Louie, whatever are you doing?’ ‘Just refreshing myself,’ said Barter, with a hearty laugh. ‘Mm, not bad soup,’ and she took another swig. ‘Now, you put that back and the lid on,’ said Lewis, shocked. ‘Really!’ Barter laughed her fat good-natured chuckle, put back the ladle, replaced the lid, and departed to the kitchen for the soup plates as Tony and I emerged. ‘Is it good soup?’ I inquired with interest, as I prepared to take myself off. ‘Oh, I never! Miss Agatha, you give me such a fright, you did.’ I was mildly surprised, but never mentioned it until one day a couple of years later. My mother, talking to Madge, mentioned our former housemaid, Barter. I suddenly broke into the conversation, saying, ‘I remember Barter. She used to drink soup out of the tureen in the dining-room before you all came into dinner.’ This caused lively interest on the part of both my mother and Madge. ‘But why didn’t you ever tell me?’ asked mother. I stared at her. I couldn’t see the point. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it seemed–’ I hesitated, mustering all my dignity, and proclaimed: ‘I don’t care for parting with information.’ After that it was always a joke brought up against me. ‘Agatha doesn’t like parting with information.’ It was true enough. I didn’t. Unless they struck me as apposite or interesting, I tucked away any scraps of information that came to me, locked them up, as it were, in a file inside my head. This was incomprehensible to the rest of my family, who were all extrovert talkers. If asked to keep a secret they never by any chance remembered to do so! It made them all much more entertaining than I was. If Madge went to a dance or to a garden party, when she came back she had quantities of amusing things to tell. Indeed my sister was an entertaining person in every way–wherever she went things happened to her. Even later in life, going down the village to do a little marketing, she would come back with something extraordinary that had occurred or something somebody had said. These things were not untruths, either–there was always a good foundation of fact, but worked up by Madge to make a better story. I, on the contrary, presumably taking after my father in this respect, when asked if anything amusing had happened, would immediately say, ‘Nothing’. ‘What was Mrs So-and-so wearing at the party?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘Mrs S. has done up her drawing-room again I hear; what colour is it now?’ ‘I didn’t look.’ ‘Oh, Agatha, you really are hopeless, you never notice anything.’ I continued on the whole to keep my own counsel. I don’t think I meant to be secretive. It just seemed to me that most things didn’t matter–so why keep talking about them? Or else I was so busy conducting the conversations and quarrels of ‘the girls’ and inventing adventures for Tony and myself that I could not pay attention to the small affairs going on round me. It took something like a rumour of ruin to get me really aroused. Undoubtedly I was a dull child, with every prospect of growing up to be the kind of person who is most difficult to integrate properly in a party. I have never been good at parties–and never much enjoyed them. I suppose there were children’s parties, but I don’t think there were nearly as many then as there are nowadays. I do remember going to tea with friends and friends coming to tea with me. That I did enjoy–and do nowadays. Set Parties, I think, in my youth only happened round Christmas time. I seem to remember one fancy-dress party and another at which there was a conjuror. I fancy my mother was anti-party, being of the opinion that children got too hot, over-excited and over-eaten, and frequently came home and were sick from all three causes. She was probably right. At any children’s parties of any size that I have gone to, I have come to the conclusion that at least a third of the children are not really enjoying themselves. A party is controllable up to twenty in number–beyond that, I should say, it is dominated by a lavatory complex! Children who want to go to the lavatory, who don’t like to say they want to go to the lavatory, leave going to the lavatory till the last minute, and so on. If the lavatories are inadequate to deal with large quantities of children who all want to use them at once, chaos and some regrettable incidents ensue. I remember one little girl of only two whose mother had been persuaded, against the advice of her experienced Nanny, to bring her child to one party. ‘Annette is so sweet, she must come. I’m sure she will enjoy it, and we’ll all take great care of her.’ As soon as they got to the party her mother, to be on the safe side, marched her to a potty. Annette, worked up to a fever of excitement, was quite unable to do her little performance. ‘Oh, well, perhaps she doesn’t really want to go,’ said the mother hopefully. They came downstairs and when a conjuror was producing things of every kind from his ears and his nose, and making the children laugh, and they were all standing round shouting and clapping their hands, the worst happened. ‘My dear,’ said an elderly aunt, recounting this to my mother. ‘You really have never seen anything like it–poor child. Right in the middle of the floor. Just like a horse, it was!’ Marie must have left some time before my father’s death–possibly a year or two. She had contracted to come for two years to England, but she stayed on at least a year after. She was homesick for her family and, also, I think, being sensible and practical, realised it was time for her to think in a serious French way about marriage. She had saved up a very nice little dot from her wages, and so, with tears, fond embraces to her ‘dear Mees’, Marie went, and left me very lonely. We had, however, before she departed, come to an agreement on the subject of my sister’s future husband. That, as I have said, had been one of our continual sources of speculation. Marie’s selection had been firmly ‘le Monsieur blond’. My mother, as a girl living with her aunt in Cheshire, had had a schoolfriend to whom she was much devoted. When Annie Browne married James Watts and my mother married her step-cousin Frederick Miller the two girls agreed that they would never forget each other and that they would always exchange letters and news. Although my grandmother left Cheshire for London, the two girls still kept in touch with each other. Annie Watts had five children–four boys and a girl–mother, of course, had three. They exchanged photographs of their children at various ages, and sent presents to them at Christmas. So when my sister was going on a visit to Ireland, to make up her mind whether she was going to get engaged to a certain young man who was anxious to marry her, my mother mentioned Madge’s journey to Annie Watts, and Annie begged Madge to come and stay at Abney Hall in Cheshire, on her way back from Holyhead. She would so much like to see one of mother’s children. Madge, therefore, having had a good time in Ireland and having decided that she did not want to marry Charlie P. after all, broke her journey back and stayed with the Watts family. The eldest son, James, who was then twenty-one or twenty-two, and was still at Oxford, was a quiet fair-haired young man. He had a soft low voice and did not speak much, and he paid much less attention to my sister than most young men did. She found this so extraordinary that it excited her interest. She took a good deal of trouble over James, but was not sure what effect she had made. Anyway, after she came home, desultory correspondence took place between them. Actually James had been bowled over by her from the first moment she appeared, but it was not in his nature to display such emotion. He was shy and reserved. He came to stay with us the following summer. I took a great fancy to him at once. He was kind to me, always treating me seriously, and not making silly jokes or talking to me as though I was a little girl. He treated me as an individual, and I became devoted to him. Marie also thought well of him. So ‘le Monsieur blond’ was constantly discussed between us in the sewing room. ‘I don’t think they really seem to care for each other very much, Marie.’ ‘Ah, mais oui, he thinks of her a great deal, and he watches her when she is not looking. Oh yes, il est bien épris. And it would be a good marriage, very sensible. He has the good prospects, I hear, and is tout à fait un garçon serieux. He will make a very good husband. And Mademoiselle, she is gay, witty, full of fun and laughter. It will suit her well to have a quiet and steady husband, and he will appreciate her because she is so different.’ The person who didn’t like him, I think, was my father, but I believe that is almost inevitable with the fathers of charming and gay daughters–they want somebody much better than could ever have been born at all. Mothers are supposed to feel the same about their sons’ wives. As my brother never married, my mother was not affected that way. I must say, she never considered that her daughters’ husbands were good enough for them, but she admitted herself that that was a failing on her part rather than a failing on theirs. ‘Of course,’ she said, ‘I can’t think any man would be good enough for either of my two daughters.’ One of the great joys in life was the local theatre. We were all lovers of the theatre in my family. Madge and Monty went practically every week and usually I was allowed to accompany them. As I grew older it became more and more frequent. We went to the pit stalls always–the pit itself was supposed to be ‘rough’. The pit cost a shilling and the pit stalls, which were two rows of seats in front, behind about ten rows of stalls, were where the Miller family sat, enjoying every kind of theatrical entertainment. I don’t know whether it was the first play I saw, but certainly among the first was Hearts are Trumps, a roaring melodrama of the worst type. There was a villain in it, the wicked woman was called Lady Winifred, and there was a beautiful girl who had been done out of a fortune. Revolvers were fired, and I clearly remember the last scene, when a young man hanging by a rope from the Alps cut the rope and died heroically to save either the girl he loved or the man whom the girl he loved loved. I remember going through this story point by point. ‘I suppose,’ I said, ‘that the really bad ones were Spades’–father being a great whist player, I was always hearing talk of cards–‘and the ones who weren’t quite so bad were Clubs. I think perhaps Lady Winifred was a Club–because she repented–and so did the man who cut the rope on the mountain. And the diamonds–’ I reflected. ‘Just worldly,’ I said, in my Victorian tone of disapproval. One of the great yearly events was the Torquay Regatta, which took place on the last Monday and Tuesday in August. I started saving up for it at the beginning of May. When I say I remember the Regatta I do not so much mean the yacht racing as the Fair which accompanied it. Madge, of course, used to go with father to Haldon Pier to watch the sailing, and we usually had a house party staying for the Regatta Ball in the evening. Father, mother and Madge used to go to the Regatta Yacht Club tea in the afternoon, and all the various functions connected with sailing. Madge never did more sailing than she could help, because she was, throughout her life, an incurably bad sailor. However, a passionate interest was taken in our friends’ yacht. There were picnics and parties, but this was the social side of the Regatta in which I was too young to participate. My looked-forward-to joy in life was the Fair. The merry-go-rounds, where you rode on horses with manes, round and round and round, and a kind of switchback where you tore up and down slopes. Two machines blared music, and as you came round on the horses and the switchback cars, the tunes combined to make a horrible cacophony. Then there were all the shows–the Fat Woman; Madame Arensky, who told the Future; the Human Spider, horrible to look at; the Shooting Gallery, where Madge and Monty spent always a great deal of time and money. And there were coconut shies, from which Monty used to obtain large quantities of coconuts and bring them home to me. I was passionately fond of coconut. I was given a few shies at the coconuts myself, gallantly allowed so far forward by the man in charge that I sometimes actually managed to knock a coconut off. Coconut shies were proper coconut shies then. Nowadays there are still shies, but the coconuts are so arranged in a kind of saucer that nothing but the most stupendous mixture of luck and strength would topple one. Then one had a sporting chance. Out of six shots you usually got one, and Monty once got five. The hoop-las, the Kewpie dolls, the pointers and all those things had not arrived yet. There were various stalls that sold things. My particular passion was what were known as penny monkeys. They cost a penny, and they were fluffy little representations of monkeys on a long pin which you stuck into your coat. Every year I purchased six to eight of these, and added them to my collection–pink, green, brown, red, yellow. As the years went by it became more difficult to find a different colour or a different pattern. There was also the famous nougat, which only appeared at the Fair. A man stood behind a table chopping nougat from an enormous pink and white block in front of him. He yelled, shouted, and offered bits for auction. ‘Now, friends, sixpence for a stupendous piece! All right, love, cut it in half. Now then, what about that for fourpence?’ and so on and so on. There were some ready-made packets which you could buy for twopence, but the fun was entering the auction. ‘There, to the little lady there. Yes, twopence halfpenny to you.’ Goldfish did not arrive as a novelty in the Regatta until I was about twelve. It was a great excitement when they did. The whole stall was covered with goldfish bowls, one fish in each, and you threw ping-pong balls for them. If a ball lodged in the mouth of one of the bowls, the goldfish was yours. That, like the coconuts, was fairly easy to begin with. The first Regatta they appeared we got eleven between us, and bore them home in triumph to live in the Tub. But the price had soon advanced from a penny a ball to sixpence a ball. In the evening there were fireworks. Since we could not see them from our house–or only the very high rockets–we usually spent the evening with some friends who lived just over the harbour. It was a nine o’clock party, with lemonade, ices and biscuits handed round. That was another delight of those days that I miss very much, not being of an alcoholic persuasion–the garden parties. The garden parties of pre-1914 were something to be remembered. Everyone was dressed up to the nines, high-heeled shoes, muslin frocks with blue sashes, large leghorn hats with drooping roses. There were lovely ices–strawberry, vanilla, pistachio, orange-water and raspberry-water was the usual selection–with every kind of cream cake, of sandwich, of eclair, and peaches, muscat grapes, and nectarines. From this I deduce that garden parties were practically always held in August. I don’t remember any strawberries and cream. There was a certain pain in getting there, of course. Those who hadn’t got carriages took a hired cab if they were aged or infirm, but all the young people walked a mile and a half to two miles from different parts of Torquay; some might be lucky and live near, but others were always bound to be a good way away, because Torquay is built on seven hills. There is no doubt that walking up hills in high-heeled shoes, holding up one’s long skirt in one’s left hand and one’s parasol in the right, was something of an ordeal. It was worth it, however, to get to the garden party. My father died when I was eleven. His health had got slowly worse, but his illness seems never to have been precisely diagnosed. There is no doubt that constant financial worry weakened his resistance to illness of any kind. He had been at Ealing, staying with his stepmother for about a week, and seeing various friends in London who might be able to help him find some kind of job. Finding jobs was not an easy thing to do at that particular date. Either you were a lawyer or a doctor or managed an estate, were in one of the services, or were a barrister, but the great world of business did not provide the livelihood that we expect of it nowadays. There were big financial banking houses, such as Pierpont Morgan’s, and others in which my father had some acquaintances, but everyone was of course a professional–either you belonged to one of the banking houses and had been in it ever since you were a boy, or you did not. My father, like most of his contemporaries, was not trained for anything. He did a great deal of charitable work, and other things that would nowadays provide a paid position, but it was very different then. His financial position was perplexing to him, and indeed perplexed his executors after his death. It was a question of where the money left by my grandfather had disappeared to. My father had lived well within his supposed income. It was there on paper, but it was never there in fact, and there always seemed to be plausible excuses to explain this and to show that this default would only be temporary–just a matter of special repairs. The estate was no doubt mismanaged by the Trustees and by their successors, but it was too late to remedy that. He worried, the weather was cold, he caught a bad chill, and double pneumonia developed. My mother was sent for to Ealing, and presently Madge and I followed her there. He was by then very ill. My mother never left him, night or day. We had two hospital nurses in the house. I wandered about, unhappy and frightened, praying earnestly that father might get well again. One picture remains etched in my mind. It was afternoon. I was standing on the half landing. Suddenly the door of father and mother’s bedroom opened. My mother came out in a kind of rush, her hands held to her head over her eyes. She rushed from there into the adjoining room and shut the door behind her. A hospital nurse came out and spoke to Grannie, who was coming up the stairs. ‘It’s all over,’ she said. I knew then that my father was dead. They did not take a child to the funeral of course. I wandered about the house in a queer state of turmoil. Something awful had happened, something that I had never envisaged could happen. The blinds of the house were pulled down, the lamps were lit. In the dining-room, in her big chair, Grannie sat writing endless letters, in her own peculiar style. From time to time she shook her head sadly. Except when she got up to go to the funeral, my mother lay in her room. She did not eat anything for two days, because I heard Hannah commenting on the fact. I remember Hannah with gratitude. Dear old Hannah, with her worn, lined face. She beckoned me to the kitchen and told me she needed someone to help her mix pastry. ‘They were very devoted,’ said Hannah, again and again. ‘It was a good marriage.’ Yes, it was indeed a good marriage. I found among various old things, a letter written by my father to my mother, possibly only three or four days before his death. He wrote of how he longed to return to her at Torquay; nothing satisfactory had been arranged in London, but he felt, he said, he would forget it all when he was back with his dearest Clara again. He went on to say that he had told her often before but he wanted to tell her again how much she meant to him. ‘You have made all the difference in my life,’ he said. ‘No man ever had a wife like you. Every year I have been married to you I love you more. I thank you for your affection and love and sympathy. God bless you, my dearest, we shall soon be together again.’ I found this letter in an embroidered pocket-book. It was the pocket-book my mother had worked for him as a young girl and sent to him in America. He had always kept it, and in it he kept two poems she had written him. My mother added this letter to it. The house at Ealing had a somewhat ghoulish character these days. It was full of whispering relatives–Granny B, uncles, the wives of uncles, courtesy aunts, Grannie’s old lady cronies–they all half-whispered, sighed, shook their heads. And everyone wore heavy black–I too had black clothes. I must say my mourning clothes were about the only consolation to me at that time. I felt important, worth-while and part of things when I put on my black clothes. Then there were more whispers of ‘Really, Clara must be made to rouse herself.’ At intervals Grannie would say, ‘Wouldn’t you like to read this letter I’ve had from Mr B. or Mrs C.? Such a beautiful letter of condolence, really I think you would feel most touched by it.’ My mother would say fiercely, ‘I don’t want to see it’. She opened her own letters but threw them aside almost immediately. Only one she treated differently. ‘Is that from Cassie?’ Grannie asked. ‘Yes, Auntie, it’s from Cassie.’ She folded it up and put it in her bag. ‘She understands,’ she said, and she went out of the room. Cassie was my American godmother, Mrs Sullivan. I had probably seen her as a small child, but I only remember her when she came to London about a year later. She was a wonderful person: a little woman with white hair and the gayest, sweetest face imaginable, bursting with vitality, with a strange joyousness about her–yet she had had one of the saddest lives possible. Her husband, to whom she was devoted, had died quite young. She had had two lovely boys, and they too had died, paralysed. ‘Some nursemaid,’ said my grandmother, ‘must have let them sit on the damp grass.’ Really, I suppose, it must have been a case of polio–not recognised at that time–which was always called rheumatic fever, the result of damp, and which resulted in crippling paralysis. Anyway, her two children had died. One of her grown-up nephews, who was staying in the same house, also had suffered from paralysis and remained crippled for life. Yet, in spite of her losses, in spite of everything, Aunt Cassie was gay, bright, and full of more human sympathy than anyone I have ever known. She was the one person mother longed to see at that time. ‘She understands, it is no good making consoling phrases at people.’ I remember that I was used as an emissary by the family, that somebody–perhaps Grannie, or perhaps one of my aunts–took me aside and murmured that I must be my mamma’s little comforter, that I must go into the room where my mother was lying and point out to her that father was happy now, that he was in Heaven, that he was at peace. I was willing–it was what I believed myself, what surely everyone believed. I went in, a little timid, with the vague feeling which children have when they are doing what they have been told is right, and what they know is right, but which they feel may, somehow or other, for a reason that they don’t know, be wrong. I went timidly up to mother and touched her. ‘Mummy, father is at peace now. He is happy. You wouldn’t want him back, would you?’ Suddenly my mother reared up in bed, with a violent gesture that startled me into jumping back. ‘Yes, I would,’ she cried in a low voice. ‘Yes, I would. I would do anything in the world to have him back–anything, anything at all. I’d force him to come back, if I could. I want him, I want him back here, now, in this world with me.’ I shrank away, rather frightened. My mother said quickly, ‘It’s all right, darling. It’s all right. It’s just that I am not–not very well at present. Thank you for coming.’ And she kissed me and I went away consoled. PART III GROWING UP I Life took on a completely different complexion after my father’s death. I stepped out of my child’s world, a world of security and thoughtlessness, to enter the fringes of the world of reality. I think there is no doubt that from the man of the family comes the stability of the home. We all laugh when the phrase comes, ‘Your father knows best,’ but that phrase does represent what was so marked a feature of later Victorian life. Father–the rock upon which the home is set. Father likes meals punctually; Father mustn’t be worried after dinner; Father would like you to play duets with him. You accept it all unquestioningly. Father provides meals; Father sees that the house works to rule; Father provides music lessons. Father took great pride and pleasure in Madge’s company as she grew up. He enjoyed her wit and her attractiveness; they were excellent companions to each other. He found in her, I think, some of the gaiety and humour my mother probably lacked–but he had a soft spot in his heart for his little girl, the afterthought, little Agatha. We had our favourite rhyme: Agatha-Pagatha my black hen, She lays eggs for gentlemen, She laid six and she laid seven, And one day she laid eleven! Father and I were very fond of that particular joke. But Monty, I think, was really his favourite. His love for his son was more than he would feel for any daughter. Monty was an affectionate boy, and he had great affection for his father. He was, alas, unsatisfactory from the point of view of making a success of life, and father was unceasingly worried about this. In a way, I think, his happiest time, where Monty was concerned, was after the South African War. Monty obtained a commission in a regular regiment, the East Surreys, and went straight from South Africa, with his regiment, to India. He appeared to be doing well and to have settled down in his army life. In spite of father’s financial worries, Monty at least was one problem removed for the time being. Madge married James Watts about nine months after my father’s death, though a little reluctant to leave mother. Mother herself was urgent that the marriage should take place, and that they should not have to wait longer. She said, and truly I think, that it would be even more difficult for her to part with Madge as time went on and their companionship drew them closer. James’s father was anxious for him to marry young. He was just leaving Oxford, and would go straight into the business, and he said it would be happier for him if he could marry Madge and settle down in their own home. Mr Watts was going to build a house for his son on part of his land, and the young couple could settle down there. So things were arranged. My father’s American executor, Auguste Montant, came from New York and stayed with us a week. He was a large stout man, genial, very charming, and nobody could have been kinder to my mother. He told her frankly that father’s affairs were in a bad mess, and that he had been extremely ill advised by lawyers and others who had pretended to act for him. A lot of good money had been thrown after bad by trying to improve the New York property by half-hearted measures. It was better, he said, that a good deal of the property should be abandoned altogether to save taxes. The income that was left would be very small. The big estate my grandfather had left had disappeared into thin air. H. B. Claflin & Co., the firm in which my grandfather had been partner, would still provide Grannie’s income, as the widow of a partner, and also a certain income for mother, though not a large one. We three children, under my grandfather’s will, would get, in English currency, £100 a year each. The rest of the vast amount of dollars had been also in property, which had gone down hill and fallen derelict, or had been sold off in the past for far too little. The question arose now whether my mother could afford to live on at Ashfield. Here, I think, mother’s own judgment was better than anyone else’s. She thought definitely that it would be a bad thing to stay on. The house would need repairs in the future, and it would be difficult to manage on a small income–possible but difficult. It would be better to sell the house and to buy another smaller house somewhere in Devonshire, perhaps near Exeter, which would cost less to run and would leave a certain amount of money from the exchange to add to income. Although my mother had no business training or knowledge, she had really quite a lot of common sense. Here, however, she came up against her children. Both Madge and I, and my brother, writing from India, protested violently against selling Ashfield, and begged her to keep it. We said it was our home and we couldn’t bear to part with it. My sister’s husband said he could always spare mother a small addition to her income. If Madge and he came down in the summers they could help with the running expenses. Finally, touched I think by my violent love for Ashfield, mother gave in. She said at any rate we would try how we got on. I now suspect that mother herself had never really cared for Torquay as a place to live. She had a great passion for cathedral towns, and she had always been fond of Exeter. She and my father sometimes went for a holiday touring various cathedral towns–to please her, I think, not my father–and I believe she rather enjoyed the idea of living in a much smaller house near Exeter. However, she was an unselfish person, and fond of the house itself, so Ashfield continued to be our home, and I continued to adore it. To have kept it on was not a wise thing, I know that now. We could have sold it and bought a much more manageable house. But though my mother recognised that at the time, and must indeed have recognised it very much better later, yet I think she was content to have had it so. Because Ashfield has meant something to me for so many years. It has been there, my background, my shelter, the place where I truly belong. I have never suffered from the absence of roots. Though to hold on to it may have been foolish, it gave me something that I value, a treasure of remembrance. It has also given me a lot of trouble, worry, expense, and difficulties–but surely for everything you love you have to pay some price? My father died in November, my sister’s marriage took place the following September. It was quiet, with no reception afterwards, owing to the mourning still observed for my father’s death. It was a pretty wedding and took place in old Tor church. With the importance of being first bridesmaid I enjoyed it all immensely. The bridesmaids all wore white, with white wreaths of flowers on their heads. The wedding took place at eleven in the morning, and we had the wedding breakfast at Ashfield. The happy couple were blest not only with lots of lovely wedding presents but with every variety of torture that could have been thought up by my boy cousin Gerald and myself. All through their honeymoon rice fell out of every garment they removed from suit-cases. Satin shoes were tied on to the carriage in which they drove away, and chalked on the back, after it had first been carefully examined to make sure that nothing of the kind had occurred, were the words ‘Mrs Jimmy Watts is a first-class name’. So off they drove to a honeymoon in Italy. My mother retired to her bed exhausted and weeping, and Mr and Mrs Watts to their hotel–Mrs Watts no doubt also to weep. Such appears to be the effect of weddings on mothers. The young Wattses, my cousin Gerald and I were left to view each other with the suspicion of strange dogs, and try to decide whether or not we were going to like each other. There was a great deal of natural antagonism at first between Nan Watts and me. Unfortunately, but in the fashion of the day, we had each been given harangues about the other by our respective families. Nan, who was a gay boisterous tomboy, had been told how nicely Agatha always behaved, ‘so quiet and polite’. And while Nan had my decorum and general solemnity praised to her I had been admonished on the subject of Nan, who was said to be ‘never shy, always answered when she was spoken to–never flushed, or muttered, or sat silent’. We both therefore looked at each other with a great deal of ill-will. A sticky half-hour ensued, and then things livened up. In the end we organised a kind of steeple-chase round the school-room, doing wild leaps from piled-up chairs and landing always on the large and somewhat elderly chesterfield. We were all laughing, shouting, screaming, and having a glorious time. Nan revised her opinion of me–here was somebody anything but quiet, shouting at the top of her voice. I revised my opinion of Nan as being stuck-up, talking too much, and in’ with the grown-ups. We had a splendid time, we all liked each other, and the springs of the sofa were permanently broken. Afterwards there was a snack meal and we went to the theatre, to The Pirates of Penzance. From that time the friendship never looked back and continued intermittently all through out lives. We dropped it, picked it up, and things seemed just the same when we came together again. Nan is one of the friends I miss most now. With her, as with few others, I could talk together of Abney and Ashfield and the old days, the dogs, and the pranks we played, and our young men, and the theatricals we got up and acted in. After Madge’s departure the second stage of my life began. I was a child still, but the first phase of childhood had ended. The brilliance of joy, despair of sorrow, the momentous importance of every day of one’s life: those things are the hallmark of childhood. With them go security and the complete lack of thought for the morrow. We were no longer the Millers–a family. We were now just two people living together: a middle-aged woman and an untried, naive girl. Things seemed the same, but the atmosphere was different. My mother had bad heart attacks since my father’s death. They came on her with no warning, and nothing that the doctors gave her helped. I knew for the first time what it was to feel anxiety for other people, whilst at the same time being a child still, so that my anxiety was naturally exaggerated. I used to wake up at night, my heart beating, sure that mother was dead. Twelve or thirteen may be a natural time of anxiety. I knew, I think, that I was being foolish and giving way to exaggerated feelings, but there it was. I would get up, creep along the corridor, kneel down by my mother’s door with my head to the hinge, trying to hear her breathing. Very often I was quickly reassured–a welcome snore rewarded me. Mother had a special style of snoring, beginning daintly and pianissimo and working up to a terrific explosion, after which she would usually turn over and there would be no repetition of the snoring for at least another three quarters of an hour. If I heard a snore then, delighted, I went back to bed and to sleep; but if there happened to be none, I remained there, crouching in miserable apprehension. It would have been far more sensible if I had opened the door and walked in to reassure myself, but somehow that does not seem to have occurred to me, or possibly mother always locked her door at night. I did not tell mother about these terrible fits of anxiety, and I don’t think she ever guessed at them. I used also to have fears, when she had gone out into the town, that she might have been run over. It all seems silly now, so unnecessary. It wore off gradually, I think, and probably lasted only for a year or two. Later I slept in father’s dressing-room, off her bedroom, with the door slightly ajar, so that if she did have an attack in the night I could go in, raise her head, and fetch her brandy and sal volatile. Once I felt that I was on the spot, I no longer suffered from the awful pangs of anxiety. I was, I suppose, always over-burdened with imagination. That has served me well in my profession–it must, indeed, be the basis of the novelist’s craft–but it can give you some bad sessions in other respects. The conditions of our life changed after my father’s death. Social occasions practically ceased. My mother saw a few old friends but nobody else. We were very badly off and had to economise in every way. It was, of course, all we could do to keep up Ashfield. My mother no longer gave luncheon or dinner parties. She had two servants instead of three. She tried to tell Jane that we were now badly off and that she would have to manage with two young, inexpensive maids, but she stressed that Jane, with her magnificent cooking, could command a large salary, and that she ought to have it. Mother would look about and find Jane a place where she would get good wages and also have a kitchenmaid under her. ‘You deserve it,’ said mother. Jane displayed no emotion; she was eating at the time, as usual. She nodded her head slowly, continued to chew, then said: ‘Very well, Ma’am. Just as you say. You know best.’ The next morning, however, she reappeared. ‘I’d just like a word with you, Ma’am. I’ve been thinking things over and I would prefer to stay here. I quite understand what you said, and I would be prepared to take less wages, but I have been here a very long time. In any case, my brother’s been urging me to come and keep house for him and I have promised I will do so when he retires; that will probably be in four or five year’s time. Until then I would like to stay here.’ ‘That is very, very good of you,’ said my mother, emotionally. Jane, who had a horror of emotion, said, ‘It will be convenient,’ and moved majestically from the room. There was only one drawback to this arrangement. Having cooked in one way for so many years, Jane could not stop cooking in the same strain. If we had a joint it was always an enormous roast. Colossal beefsteak pies, huge tarts, and gargantuan steam puddings would be put on the table. Mother would say, ‘Only enough for two, remember, Jane,’ or ‘Only enough for four,’ but Jane could never understand. Jane’s own scale of hospitality was terribly expensive for the household; every day of the week, seven or eight of her friends were wont to arrive for tea, and eat pastries, buns, scones, rock cakes and jam tarts. In the end, in desperation, seeing the household books mounting up, my mother said gently that perhaps, as things were different now, Jane would have one day a week when she could have her friends. This would save a certain amount of waste, in case a lot was cooked and then people did not turn up. Thenceforward Jane held court on Wednesdays only. Our own meals was now very different from the normal three-or four-course feasts. Dinners were cut out altogether, and mother and I had a macaroni cheese or a rice pudding or something like that in the evening. I’m afraid this saddened Jane a great deal. Also, little by little, mother managed to take over the ordering, which formerly had been done by Jane. It had been one of my father’s friend’s great delights, when staying in the house, to hear Jane ordering on the telephone in her deep bass Devonshire voice: ‘And I want six lobsters, hen lobsters, and prawns–not less than…’ It became a favourite phrase in our family. ‘Not less than’ was not only used by Jane but also by a later cook of ours, Mrs Potter. What splendid days for the tradesmen those were! ‘But I’ve always ordered twelve fillets of sole, Ma’am,’ Jane would say, looking distressed. The fact that there were not enough mouths to devour twelve fillets of sole, not even counting a couple in the kitchen, never appeared to enter her head. None of these changes were particularly noticeable to me. Luxury or economy mean little when you are young. If you buy boiled sweets instead of chocolates the difference is not noticeable. Mackerel I had always preferred to sole, and a whiting with its tail in its mouth I thought a most agreeable looking fish. My personal life was not much altered. I read enormous quantities of books–worked through all the rest of Henty, and was introduced to Stanley Weyman (what glorious historical novels they were. I read The Castle Inn only the other day and thought how good it was.) The Prisoner of Zenda was my opening to romance, as it was for many others. I read it again and again. I fell deeply in love–not with Rudolf Rassendyll, as might have been expected, but with the real king imprisoned in his dungeon and sighing. I yearned to succour him, to rescue him, to assure him that I–Flavia, of course–loved him and not Rudolf Rassendyll. I also read the whole of Jules Verne in French–Le Voyage au Centre de la Terre was my favourite for many months. I loved the contrast between the prudent nephew and the cocksure uncle. Any book I really liked I read over again at monthly intervals; then, after about a year, I would be fickle and choose another favourite. There were also L. T. Meade’s books for girls, which my mother disliked very much; she said the girls in them were vulgar and only thought of being rich and having smart clothes. Secretly, I rather liked them, but with a guilty feeling of being vulgar in my tastes! Some of the Hentys mother read aloud to me, though she was slightly exasperated by the length of the descriptions. She also read a book called The Last Days of Bruce, of which both she and I approved heartily. By way of lessons, I was put on to a book called Great Events of History, of which I had to read one chapter and answer the questions about it set in a note at the end. This was a very good book. It taught a lot of the main events that happened in Europe and elsewhere, which one could link on to the history of the Kings of England, from Little Arthur onwards. How satisfactory to be firmly told So-and-So was a bad king; it has a kind of Biblical finality. I knew the dates of the Kings of England and the names of all their wives–information that has never been much use to me. Every day I had to learn how to spell pages of words. I suppose the exercise did me some good, but I was still an extraordinarily bad speller and have remained so until the present day. My principal pleasures were the musical and other activities into which I entered with a family called Huxley. Dr Huxley had a vague but clever wife. There were five girls–Mildred, Sybil, Muriel, Phyllis and Enid. I came between Muriel and Phyllis, and Muriel became my special friend. She had a long face and dimples, which is unusual in a long face, pale golden hair, and she laughed a great deal. I joined them first in their weekly singing-class. About ten girls took part in singing part-songs and oratorios under the direction of a singing-master, Mr Crow. There was also ‘the orchestra’ Muriel and I both played mandolines, Sybil and a girl called Connie Stevens the violin, Mildred the ‘cello. Looking back on the day of the orchestra, I think the Huxleys were an enterprising family. The stuffier of the old inhabitants of Torquay looked slightly askance at ‘those Huxley girls’, mainly because they were in the habit of walking up and down The Strand, which was the shopping centre of the town, between twelve and one, first three girls, arm in arm, then two girls and the governess; they swung their arms, and walked up and down, and laughed and joked, and, cardinal sin against them, they did not wear gloves. These things were social offences at that time. However, since Dr Huxley was by far the most fashionable doctor in Torquay, and Mrs Huxley was what is known as ‘well connected’, the girls were passed as socially acceptable. It was a curious social pattern, looking back. It was snobbish, I suppose; on the other hand, a certain type of snobbishness was much looked down upon. People who introduced the aristocracy into their conversation too frequently were disapproved of and laughed at. Three phases have succeeded each other during the span of my life. In the first the questions would be: ‘But who is she, dear? Who are her people? Is she one of the Yorkshire Twiddledos? Of course, they are badly off, very badly off, but she was a Wilmot.’ This was to be succeeded in due course by: ‘Oh yes, of course they are pretty dreadful, but then they are terribly rich.’ ‘Have the people who have taken The Larches got money?’ ‘Oh well, then we’d better call.’ The third phase was different again: ‘Well, dear, but are they amusing?’ ‘Yes, well of course they are not well off, and nobody knows where they came from, but they are very very amusing.’ After which digression into social values I had better return to the orchestra. Did we make an awful noise, I wonder? Probably. Anyway, it gave us a lot of fun and increased our musical knowledge. It led on to something more exciting, which was the getting up of a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan. The Huxleys and their friends had already given Patience–that was before I joined their ranks. The next performance in view was The Yeomen of the Guard–a somewhat ambitious undertaking. In fact I am surprised that their parents did not discourage them. But Mrs Huxley was a wonderful pattern of aloofness, for which, I must say, I admire her, since parents were not particularly aloof then. She encouraged her children to get up anything they liked, helped them if they asked for help, and, if not, left them to it. The Yeomen of the Guard was duly cast. I had a fine strong soprano voice, about the only soprano they had, and I was naturally in the seventh heaven at being chosen to play Colonel Fairfax. We had a little difficulty with my mother, who was old-fashioned in her views about what girls could or could not wear on their legs if they were to appear in public. Legs were legs, definitely indelicate. For me to display myself in trunk hose, or anything of that kind, would, my mother thought, be most indecorous. I suppose I was thirteen or fourteen by then, and already five foot seven. There was, alas, no sign of the full rich bosom that I had hoped for when I was at Cauterets. A Yeoman of the Guard’s uniform was adjudged all right, though it had to be made with unusually baggy plus-four trousers, but the Elizabethan gentleman presented more difficulties. It seems to me silly nowadays, but it was a serious problem then. Anyway, it was surmounted by my mother saying that it would be all right, but I must wear a disguising cloak thrown over one shoulder. So a cloak was managed out of a piece of turquoise blue-velvet among Grannie’s ‘pieces’. (Grannie’s pieces were kept in various trunks and drawers, and comprised all types of rich and beautiful fabrics, remnants which she had bought in various sales over the last twenty-five years and had now more or less forgotten about.) It is not terribly easy to act with a cloak draped over one shoulder and flung over the other, in such a way that the indelicacies of one’s legs were more or less hidden from the audience. As far as I remember I felt no stage fright. Strangely enough for a terribly shy person, who very often can hardly bring herself to enter a shop and who has to grit her teeth before arriving at a large party, there was one activity in which I never felt nervous at all, and that was singing. Later, when I studied both piano and singing in Paris, I lost my nerve completely whenever I had to play the piano in the school concert but if I had to sing I felt no nervousness at all. Perhaps that was due to my early conditioning in ‘Is life a boon?’ and the rest of Colonel Fairfax’s repertoire. There is no doubt that The Yeomen of the Guard was one of the highlights of my existence. But I can’t help thinking that it’s as well that we didn’t do any more operas–an experience that you really enjoyed should never be repeated. One of the odd things in looking back is that, while you remember how things arrived or happened, you never know how or why they disappeared or came to a stop. I cannot remember many scenes in which I participated with the Huxleys after that time, yet I am sure there was no break in friendship. At one time we seemed to be meeting every day, and then I would find myself writing to Lully in Scotland. Perhaps Dr Huxley left to practise elsewhere, or retired? I don’t remember any definite leave-taking. I remember that Lully’s terms of friendship were clearly defined. ‘You can’t be my best friend,’ she explained, ‘because there are the Scottish girls, the McCrackens. They have always been our best friends. Brenda is my best friend, and Janet is Phyllis’s best friend; but you can be my second-best friend.’ So I was content with being Lully’s second-best friend, and the arrangement worked well, since the ‘best friends’, the McCrackens, were only seen by the Huxleys at intervals of, I should say, roughly two years. II It must, I think, have been some time in March that my mother remarked that Madge was going to have a baby. I stared at her. ‘Madge, have a baby?’ I was dumbfounded. I cannot imagine why I shouldn’t have thought of Madge having a baby–after all, it was happening all round one–but things are always surprising when they happen in one’s own family. I accepted my brother-in-law, James, or Jimmy, as I usually called him, enthusiastically, and was devoted to him. Now here was something entirely different. As usual with me, it was some time before I could take it in. I probably sat with my mouth open for quite two minutes or more. Then I said, ‘Oh–that will be exciting. When is it coming? Next week?’ ‘Not quite as soon as that,’ said my mother. She suggested a date in October. ‘October?’ I was deeply chagrined. Fancy having to wait all that time. I can’t remember very clearly what my attitude to sex was then–I must have been between twelve and thirteen–but I don’t think I any longer accepted the theories of doctors with black bags or heavenly visitants with wings. By then I had realised it was a physical process, but without feeling much curiosity or, indeed, interest. I had, however, done a little mild deduction. The baby was first inside you, and then in due course it was outside you; I reflected on the mechanism, and settled on the navel as a focal point. I couldn’t see what that round hole in the middle of my stomach was for–it didn’t seem to be for anything else, so clearly it must be something to do with the production of a baby. My sister told me years afterwards that she had had very definite ideas; that she had thought that her navel was a keyhole, that there was a key that fitted it, which was kept by your mother, who handed it over to your husband, who unlocked it on the wedding night. It all sounded so sensible that I don’t wonder she stuck firmly to her theory. I took the idea out into the garden and thought about it a good deal. Madge was going to have a baby. It was a wonderful concept, and the more I thought about it the more I was in favour of it. I was going to be an aunt–it sounded very grown up and important. I would buy it toys, I would let it play with my dolls’ house, I would have to be careful that Christopher, my kitten, didn’t scratch it by mistake. After about a week I stopped thinking about it; it was absorbed into various daily happenings. It was a long time to wait until October. Some time in August a telegram took my mother away from home. She said she had to go and stay with my sister in Cheshire. Auntie-Grannie was staying with us at the time. Mother’s sudden departure did not surprise me much, and I didn’t speculate about it, because whatever mother did she did suddenly, with no apparent forethought or preparation. I was, I remember, out in the garden on the tennis lawn, looking hopefully at the pear-trees to see if I could find a pear which was ripe. It was here that Alice came out to fetch me. ‘It’s nearly lunch-time and you are to come in, Miss Agatha. There is a piece of news waiting for you.’ ‘Is there? What news?’ ‘You’ve got a little nephew,’ said Alice. A nephew? ‘But I wasn’t going to have a nephew till October!’ I objected. ‘Ah, but things don’t always go as you think they will,’ said Alice. ‘Come on in now.’ I came in to the house and found Grannie in the kitchen with a telegram in her hand. I bombarded her with questions. What did the baby look like? Why had it come now instead of October? Grannie returned answers to these questions with the parrying art well known to Victorians. She had, I think, been in the middle of an obstetric conversation with Jane when I came in, because they lowered their voices and murmured something like: ‘The other doctor said, let the labour come on, but the specialist was quite firm.’ It all sounded mysterious and interesting. My mind was fixed entirely on my new nephew. When Grannie was carving the leg of mutton, I said: ‘But what does he look like? What colour is his hair?’ ‘He’s probably bald. They don’t get hair at once.’ ‘Bald,’ I said, disappointed. ‘Will his face be very red?’ ‘Probably.’ ‘How big is he?’ Grannie considered, stopped carving, and measured off a distance on the carving knife. ‘Like that,’ she said. She spoke with the absolute certainty of one who knew. It seemed to me rather small. All the same the announcement made such an impression on me that I am sure if I were being asked an associative question by a psychiatrist and he gave me the key-word ‘baby’ I would immediately respond with ‘carving-knife’. I wonder what kind of Freudian complex he would put that answer down to. I was delighted with my nephew. Madge brought him to stay at Ashfield about a month later, and when he was two months old he was christened in old Tor church. Since his godmother, Norah Hewitt, could not be there, I was allowed to hold him and be proxy for her. I stood near the font, full of importance, while my sister hovered nervously at my elbow in case I should drop him. Mr Jacob, our Vicar, with whom I was well acquainted, since he was preparing me for confirmation, had a splendid hand with infants at the font, tipping the water neatly back and off their forehead, and adopting a slightly swaying motion that usually stopped the baby from howling. He was christened James Watts, like his father and grandfather. He would be known as Jack in the family. I could not help being in rather a hurry for him to get to an age when I could play with him, since his principal occupation at this time seemed to be sleeping. It was lovely to have Madge home for a long visit. I relied on her for telling me stories and providing a lot of entertainment in my life. It was Madge who told me my first Sherlock Holmes story, The Blue Carbuncle, and after that I had always been pestering her for more. The Blue Carbuncle, The Red-Headed League and The Five Orange Pips were definitely my favourites, though I enjoyed all of them. Madge was a splendid story-teller. She had, before her marriage, begun writing stories herself. Many of her short stories were accepted for Vanity Fair. To have a Vain Tale in Vanity Fair was considered quite a literary achievement in those days, and father was extremely proud of her. She wrote a series of stories all connected with sport–The Sixth Ball of the Over, A Rub of the Green, Cassie Plays Croquet, and others. They were amusing and witty. I re-read them about twenty years ago, and I thought then how well she wrote. I wonder if she would have gone on writing if she had not married. I don’t think she ever saw herself seriously as a writer, she would probably have preferred to be a painter. She was one of those people who can do almost anything they put their mind to. She did not, as far as I remember, write any more short stories after she married, but about ten or fifteen years later she began to write for the stage. The Claimant was produced by Basil Dean of the Royal Theatre with Leon Quartermayne and Fay Compton in it. She wrote one or two other plays, but they did not have London productions. She was also quite a good amateur actress herself, and acted with the Manchester Amateur Dramatic. There is no doubt that Madge was the talented member of our family. I personally had no ambition. I knew that I was not very good at anything. Tennis and croquet I used to enjoy playing, but I never played them well. How much more interesting it would be if I could say that I always longed to be a writer, and was determined that someday I would succeed, but, honestly, such an idea never came into my head. As it happened, I did appear in print at the age of eleven. It came about in this way. The trams came to Ealing–and local opinion immediately erupted into fury. A terrible thing to happen to Ealing; such a fine residential neighbourhood, such wide streets, such beautiful houses–to have trams clanging up and down! The word Progress was uttered but howled down. Everyone wrote to the Press, to their M.P., to anyone they could think of to write to. Trams were common–they were noisy–everyone’s health would suffer. There was an excellent service of brilliant red buses, with Ealing on them in large letters, which ran from Ealing Broadway to Shepherds Bush, and another extremely useful bus, though more humble in appearance, which ran from Hanwell to Acton. And there was the good old-fashioned Great Western Railway; to say nothing of the District Railway. Trams were simply not needed. But they came. Inexorably, they came, and there was weeping and gnashing of teeth–and Agatha had her first literary effort published, which was a poem I wrote on the first day of the running of the trams. There were four verses of it, and one of Grannie’s old gentlemen, that gallant bodyguard of Generals, Lt.-Colonels, and Admirals, was persuaded by Grannie to visit the local newspaper office and suggest that it should be inserted. It was–and I can still remember the first verse: When first the electric trams did run In all their scarlet glory, ’Twas well, but ere the day was done, It was another story. After which I went on to deride a ‘shoe that pinched’. (There had been some electrical fault in a ‘shoe’, or whatever it was, which conveyed the electricity to the trams, so that after running for a few hours they broke down.) I was elated at seeing myself in print, but I cannot say that it led me to contemplate a literary career. In fact I only contemplated one thing–a happy marriage. About that I had complete self-assurance–as all my friends did. We were conscious of all the happiness that awaited us; we looked forward to love, to being looked after, cherished and admired, and we intended to get our own way in the things which mattered to us while at the same time putting our husbands’ life, career and success before all, as was our proud duty. We didn’t need pep pills or sedatives; we had belief and joy in life. We had our own personal disappointments–moments of unhappiness–but on the whole life was fun. Perhaps it is fun for girls nowadays–but they certainly don’t look as if it is. However–a timely thought–they may enjoy melancholy; some people do. They may enjoy the emotional crises that seem always to be overwhelming them. They may even enjoy anxiety. That is certainly what we have nowadays–anxiety. My contemporaries were frequently badly off and couldn’t have a quarter of the things they wanted. Why then did we have so much enjoyment? Was it some kind of sap rising in us that has ceased to rise now? Have we strangled or cut it off with education, and, worse, anxiety over education; anxiety as to what life holds for you.? We were like obstreperous flowers–often weeds maybe, but nevertheless all of us growing exuberantly–pressing violently up through cracks in pavements and flagstones, and in the most inauspicious places, determined to have our fill of life and enjoy ourselves, bursting out into the sunlight, until someone came and trod on us. Even bruised for a time, we would soon lift a head again. Nowadays, alas, life seems to apply weed killer (selective!)–we have no chance to raise a head again. There are said to be those who are ‘unfit for living’. No one would ever have told us we were unfit for living. If they had, we shouldn’t have believed it. Only a murderer was unfit for living. Nowadays a murderer is the one person you mustn’t say is unfit for living. The real excitement of being a girl–of being, that is, a woman in embryo–was that life was such a wonderful gamble. You didn’t know what was going to happen to you. That was what made being a woman so exciting. No worry about what you should be or do–Biology would decide. You were waiting for The Man, and when the man came, he would change your entire life. You can say what you like, that is an exciting point of view to hold at the threshold of life. What will happen? ‘Perhaps I shall marry someone in the Diplomatic Service…I think I should like that; to go abroad and see all sorts of places…’ Or: ‘I don’t think I would like to marry a sailor; you would have to spend such a lot of time living in seaside lodgings.’ Or: ‘Perhaps I’ll marry someone who builds bridges, or an explorer.’ The whole world was open to you–not open to your choice, but open to what Fate brought you. You might marry anyone; you might, of course, marry a drunkard or be very unhappy, but that only heightened the general feeling of excitement. And one wasn’t marrying the profession, either; it was the man. In the words of old nurses, nannies, cooks and housemaids: ‘One day Mr Right will come along.’ I remember when I was very small seeing one of mother’s prettier friends being helped to dress for a dance by old Hannah, Grannie’s cook. She was being laced into a tight corset. ‘Now then, Miss Phyllis,’ said Hannah, ‘brace your foot against the bed and lean back–I’m going to pull. Hold your breath.’ ‘Oh Hannah, I can’t bear it, I can’t really. I can’t breathe.’ ‘Now don’t you fret, my pet, you can breathe all right. You won’t be able to eat much supper, and that’s a good thing, because young ladies shouldn’t be seen eating a lot; it’s not delicate. You’ve got to behave like a proper young lady. You’re all right. I’ll just get the tape measure. There you are–nineteen and a half. I could have got you to nineteen…’ ‘Nineteen and a half will do quite well,’ gasped the sufferer. ‘You’ll be glad when you get there. Suppose this is the night that Mr Right’s coming along? You wouldn’t like to be there with a thick waist, would you, and let him see you like that?’ Mr Right. He was more elegantly referred to sometimes as ‘Your Fate’. ‘I don’t know that I really want to go to this dance.’ ‘Oh yes, you do, dear. Think! You might meet Your Fate.’ And of course that is what actually happens in life. Girls go to something they wanted to go to, or they didn’t want to go to, it doesn’t matter which–and there is their Fate. Of course, there were always girls who declared they were not going to marry, usually for some noble reason. Possibly they wished to become nuns or to nurse lepers, to do something grand and important, above all self-sacrificial. I think it was almost a necessary phase. An ardent wish to become a nun seems to be far more constant in Protestant than in Catholic girls. In Catholic girls it is, no doubt, more vocational–it is recognised as one of the ways of life–whereas for a Protestant it has some aroma of religious mystery that makes it very desirable. A hospital nurse was also considered a heroic way of life, with all the prestige of Miss Nightingale behind it. But marriage was the main theme; whom you were going to marry the big question in life. By the time I was thirteen or fourteen I felt myself enormously advanced in age and experience. I no longer thought of myself as protected by another person. I had my own protective feelings. I felt responsible for my mother. I also began to try to know myself, the sort of person I was, what I could attempt successfully, and the things I was no good at and that I must not waste time over. I knew that I was not quick-witted; I must give myself time to look at a problem carefully before deciding how I would deal with it. I began to appreciate time. There is nothing more wonderful to have in one’s life, than time. I don’t believe people get enough of it nowadays. I was excessively fortunate in my childhood and youth, just because I had so much time. You wake up in the morning, and even before you are properly awake you are saying to yourself: ‘Now, what shall I do with today?’ You have the choice, it is there, in front of you, and you can plan as you please. I don’t mean that there were not a lot of things (duties, we called them) I had to do–of course there were. There were jobs to be done in the house: days when you cleaned silver photograph frames, days when you darned your stockings, days when you learnt a chapter of Great Events in History, a day when you had to go down the town and pay all the tradesmen’s bills. Letters and notes to write, scales and exercises, embroidery–but they were all things that lay in my choice, to arrange as I pleased. I could plan my day, I could say, ‘I think I’ll leave my stockings until this afternoon; I will go down town in the morning and I will come back by the other road and see whether that tree had come into blossom yet.’ Always when I woke up, I had the feeling which I am sure must be natural to all of us, a joy in being alive. I don’t say you feel it consciously–you don’t–but there you are, you are alive, and you open your eyes, and here is another day; another step, as it were, on your journey to an unknown place. That very exciting journey which is your life. Not that it is necessarily going to be exciting as a life, but it will be exciting to you because it is your life. That is one of the great secrets of existence, enjoying the gift of life that has been given to you. Not every day is necessarily enjoyable. After the first delightful feeling of ‘Another day! How wonderful!’ you remember you have to go to the dentist at 10.30, and that is not nearly so good. But the first waking feeling has been there, and that acts as a useful booster. Naturally, a lot depends on temperament. You are a happy person, or you are of a melancholic disposition. I don’t know that you can do anything about that. I think it is the way one is made–you are either happy until something arises to make you unhappy or else you are melancholy until something distracts you from it. Naturally happy people can be unhappy and melancholic people enjoy themselves. But if I were taking a gift to a child at a christening that is what I would choose: a naturally happy frame of mind. There seems to me to be an odd assumption that there is something meritorious about working. Why? In early times man went out to hunt animals in order to feed himself and keep alive. Later, he toiled over crops, and sowed and ploughed for the same reason. Nowadays, he rises early, catches the 8.15, and sits in an office all day–still for the same reason. He does it to feed himself and have a roof over his head–and, if skilled and lucky, to go a bit further and have comfort and entertainment as well. It’s economic and necessary. But why is it meritorious? The old nursery adage used to be ‘Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do’. Presumably little Georgie Stephenson was enjoying idleness when he observed his mother’s tea-kettle lid rising and falling. Having nothing at the moment to do, he began to have ideas about it… I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention–invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble. That is the big secret that has brought us down the ages hundreds of thousands of years, from chipping flints to switching on the washing up machine. The position of women, over the years, has definitely changed for the worse. We women have behaved like mugs. We have clamoured to be allowed to work as men work. Men, not being fools, have taken kindly to the idea. Why support a wife? What’s wrong with a wife supporting herself? She wants to do it. By Golly, she can go on doing it! It seems sad that having established ourselves so cleverly as the ‘weaker sex’, we should now be broadly on a par with the women of primitive tribes who toil in the fields all day, walk miles to gather camel-thorn for fuel, and on trek carry all the pots, pans and household equipment on their heads, whilst the gorgeous, ornamental male sweeps on ahead, unburdened save for one lethal weapon with which to defend his women. You’ve got to hand it to Victorian women; they got their menfolk where they wanted them. They established their fraility, delicacy, sensibility–their constant need of being protected and cherished. Did they lead miserable, servile lives, downtrodden and oppressed? Such is not my recollection of them. All my grandmothers’ friends seem to me in retrospect singularly resilient and almost invariably successful in getting their own way. They were tough, self-willed, and remarkably well-read and well-informed. Mind you, they admired their men enormously. They genuinely thought men were splendid fellows–dashing, inclined to be wicked, easily led astray. In daily life a woman got her own way whilst paying due lip service to male superiority, so that her husband should not lose face. ‘Your father knows best, dear,’ was the public formula. The real approach came privately. ‘I’m sure you are quite right in what you said, John, but I wonder if you have considered…’ In one respect man was paramount. He was the Head of the House. A woman, when she married, accepted as her destiny his place in the world and his way of life. That seems to me sound sense and the foundation of happiness. If you can’t face your man’s way of life, don’t take that job–in other words, don’t marry that man. Here, say, is a wholesale draper; he is a Roman Catholic; he prefers to live in a suburb; he plays golf and he likes to go for holidays to the sea side. That is what you are marrying. Make up your mind to it and like it. It won’t be so difficult. It is astonishing how much you can enjoy almost everything. There are few things more desirable than to be an acceptor and an enjoyer. You can like and enjoy almost any kind of food or way of life. You can enjoy country life, dogs, muddy walks; towns, noise, people, clatter. In the one there is repose, ease for nerves, time for reading, knitting, embroidery, and the pleasure of growing things. In the other theatres, art galleries, good concerts, and seeing friends you would otherwise seldom see. I am happy to say that I can enjoy almost everything. Once when I was travelling by train to Syria, I was much entertained by a fellow traveller’s dissertation on the stomach. ‘My dear,’ she said, ‘never give in to your stomach. If a certain thing doesn’t agree with you, say to yourself “Who’s going to be master, me or my stomach?”’ ‘But what do you actually do about it?’ I asked with curiosity. ‘Any stomach can be trained. Very small doses at first. It doesn’t matter what it is. Eggs, now, used to make me sick, and toasted cheese gave me the most terrible pains. But just a spoonful or two of boiled egg two or three times a week, and then a little more scrambled egg and so on. And now I can eat any amount of eggs. It’s been just the same with toasted cheese. Remember this, your stomach’s a good servant, but a bad master.’ I was much impressed and promised to follow her advice, and I have done so–though it has not presented much difficulty, my stomach being definitely a servile one. III When my mother had gone abroad with Madge to the South of France after my father’s death, I remained at Ashfield under the tranquil eye of Jane for three weeks by myself. It was then that I discovered a new sport and new friends. Roller-skating on the pier was a pastime much in vogue. The surface of the pier was extremely rough, and you fell down a good deal, but it was great fun. There was a kind of concert-room at the end of the pier, not used in winter of course, and this was opened as a kind of indoor rink. It was also possible to skate at what was grandly called the Assembly Rooms, or the Bath Saloons, where the big dances took place. This was much more high-class, but most of us preferred the pier. You had your own skates and you paid twopence for admission, and once on the pier you skated! The Huxleys could not join me in this sport because they were engaged with their governess during the morning, and the same held for Audrey. The people I used to meet there were the Lucys. Although grown up, they had been very kind to me, knowing that I was alone at Ashfield because the doctor had ordered my mother abroad for change and rest. Although I felt rather grand on my own, one could get weary of that feeling. I enjoyed ordering the meals–or thinking I was ordering the meals. Actually we always had for lunch exactly what Jane had made up her mind we were going to have beforehand, but she certainly put up a good show of considering my wildest suggestions. ‘Could we have roast duck and meringues?’ I would ask and Jane would say yes, but she was not sure about the ordering of the duck, and that perhaps meringues–there were no whites of egg at the moment, perhaps we had better wait until some day when we had used the yolks for something else; so that in the end we had what was already sitting in the larder. But dear Jane was very tactful. She always called me Miss Agatha and allowed me to feel that I was in an important position. It was then that the Lucys suggested that I should come down and skate with them on the pier. They more or less taught me to stand up on my skates, and I loved it. They were, I think, one of the nicest families I have ever known. They came from Warwickshire, and the family’s beautiful house, Charlecote, had belonged to Berkeley Lucy’s uncle. He always thought that it ought to have come to him but instead of that it had gone to his uncle’s daughter, her husband taking the name of Fairfax-Lucy. I think the whole family felt very sad that Charlecote was not theirs, though they never said anything about it, except amongst themselves. The oldest daughter, Blanche, was an extraordinarily handsome girl–she was a little older than my sister and had been married before her. The eldest son, Reggie, was in the army but the second son was at home–about my brother’s age–and the next two daughters, Marguerite and Muriel, known to all as Margie and Noonie, were also grown-up. They had rather slurred lazy voices that I found very attractive. Time as such meant nothing to them. After skating for some time, Noonie would look at her watch and say, ‘Well, did you ever, look at the time now. It’s half-past one already.’ ‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘It will take me twenty minutes at least to walk home.’ ‘Oh you’d better not go home, Aggie. You come home with us and have lunch. We can ring up Ashfield.’ So I would go home with them, and we would arrive about half-past two to be greeted by Sam the dog–‘Body like a barrel, breath like a drainpipe,’ as Noonie used to describe him–and somewhere there would be some kind of meal being kept hot and we would have it. Then they would say it was a pity to go home yet, Aggie, and we would go into their school-room and play the piano and have a sing-song. Sometimes we went on expeditions to the Moor. We would agree to meet at Torre station and take a certain train. The Lucys were always late, and we always missed the train. They missed trains, they missed trams, they missed everything, but nothing rattled them. ‘Oh well,’ they would say, ‘what does it matter? There’ll be another one by and by. It’s never any good worrying, is it?’ It was a delightful atmosphere. The high spots in my life were Madge’s visits. She came down every August. Jimmy came with her for a few days, then he had to get back to business, but Madge stayed on to about the end of September, and Jack with her. Jack, of course, was a never-ending source of enjoyment to me. He was a rosy-cheeked golden-haired little boy, looking good enough to eat, and indeed we sometimes called him ‘le petit brioche’. He had a most uninhibited nature, and did not know what silence was. There was no question of bringing Jack out and making him talk–the difficulty was to hush him down. He had a fiery temper and used to do what we called ‘blow up’ he would first get very red in the face, then purple, then hold his breath, till you really thought he was going to burst, then the storm would happen! He had a succession of Nannies, all with their own peculiarities. There was one particularly cross one, I remember. She was old, with a great deal of untidy grey hair. She had much experience, and was about the only person who could really daunt Jack when he was on the warpath. One day he had been very obstreperous, shouting out ‘You idiot, you idiot, you idiot’ for no reason whatever, rushing to each person in turn. Nannie finally reproved him, telling him that if he said it any more he would be punished. ‘I can tell you what I’m going to do,’ said Jack. ‘When I die I shall go to Heaven and I shall go straight up to God and I shall say “You idiot, you idiot, you idiot’.’ He paused, breathless, to see what this blasphemy would bring forth. Nannie put down her work, looked over her spectacles at him, and said without much interest: ‘And do you suppose that the Almighty is going to take any notice of what a naughty little boy like you says?’ Jack was completely deflated. Nannie was succeeded by a young girl called Isabel. She for some reason was much addicted to throwing things out of the window. ‘Oh drat these scissors,’ she would suddenly murmur, and fling them out on to the grass. Jack, on occasions, attempted to help her. ‘Shall I throw it out of the window, Isabel?’ he would ask, with great interest. Like all children, he adored my mother. He would come into her bed early in the morning and I would hear them through the wall of my room. Sometimes they were discussing life, and sometimes my mother would be telling him a story–a kind of serial went on, all about mother’s thumbs. One of them was called Betsy Jane and the other Sary Anne. One of them was good, the other was naughty, and the things they did and said kept Jack in a gurgle of laughter the whole time. He always tried to join in conversation. One day when the Vicar came to lunch there was a momentary pause. Jack suddenly piped up. ‘I know a very funny story about a bishop,’ he said. He was hastily hushed by his relations, who never knew what Jack might come out with that he had overheard. Christmas we used to spend in Cheshire, going up to the Watts’. Jimmy usually got his yearly holiday about then, and he and Madge used to go to St. Moritz for three weeks. He was a very good skater, and so it was the kind of holiday he liked most. Mother and I used to go up to Cheadle, and since their newly-built house, called Manor Lodge, was not ready yet, we spent Christmas at Abney Hall, with the old Wattses and their four children and Jack. It was a wonderful house to have Christmas in if you were a child. Not only was it enormous Victorian Gothic, with quantities of rooms, passages, unexpected steps, back staircases, front staircases, alcoves, niches–everything in the world that a child could want–but it also had three different pianos that you could play, as well as an organ. All it lacked was the light of day; it was remarkably dark, except for the big drawing-room with its green satin walls and its big windows. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/an-autobiography/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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