Read Time and Time Again Online

Authors: James Hilton

Time and Time Again (5 page)

BOOK: Time and Time Again
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

* * * * *

This was the same matter that came to an adult and rather frightening issue during that first post-war Christmas at Beeching. When he reached there from Cambridge Charles found the house full of 'family'--aunts and uncles, with children of various ages--all assembled for what might well seem the occasion of a lifetime, the coming of peace on earth, though certainly not of good will toward all men. Aunt Hetty, who had kept house at Beeching since Charles was a baby, made everyone welcome, and Havelock, seeming to enjoy the noise and bustle of it all, strode in and out of the crowded rooms with something of the air of a field-marshal at ease among his staff. The general election took place about this time, giving Lloyd George's Coalition government a tremendous majority, and this momentarily cast a shadow, for Havelock had never forgiven Lloyd George his pre-war demagoguery. But a much worse blow fell on Christmas Eve. Charles happened to be crossing the hall when he noticed his father reading a telegram that had just arrived; though he could not see his face, there was a sudden slumping of the massive shoulders that made him hasten up in dismay. His father then turned, gave him a dazed stare, and handed him the telegram. It was from the War Office, regretting that Captain Lindsay Anderson had died of influenza in a German prison camp on December 10th. Only a few days later he would have begun the journey home. Something in the sheer wantonness of this--that a son should survive the battlefield and then succumb to a civilian illness in the defeated country weeks after the war had ended--drove Havelock to a frenzy in which he flung at Charles an entirely unfounded assertion that the Cambridge O.T.C. had been a funk-hole for shirkers and that if Charles hadn't been smart enough to get himself enrolled in it he too might have died.

This was so unfair that Charles was stung to the retort: 'Do you wish I had?' But his father by that time was beyond argument and Charles, fighting hurt as well as grief, left him mouthing and muttering unintelligibly. Charles then took a long walk in the rain and did not return till after dusk, when he slipped into the house by the back stairs and went up to his room to change. Somehow or other he must face the ordeal of the family dinner, but he wondered how he would be able to meet his father after what had been said between them. During his walk over muddy farmlands he had even searched for a cross-grain of truth in the accusation--Was it possible that by joining the O.T.C. he HAD secured a few weeks' delay in the then inevitable destiny of being sent into battle, and that those few weeks, by the timing of history, had meant life for him instead of death? But even if this were so, it could not justify even remotely his father's attitude.

While he was putting on dinner clothes the bedroom door opened and Havelock entered. He was still in the rough tweeds of everyday wear, but he looked already years older.

'We aren't dressing tonight,' he said quite calmly. 'Didn't Cobb tell you?'

'No, I've only just got back. I took a long walk.'

'Well . . . I tried to read a little . . . everyone has to get over these things their own way. I don't really remember what it was I said to you--probably something foolish.'

Charles answered: 'Oh, that's all right, father--it was nothing.' He was too deeply moved to say more. Havelock then left and Charles changed his clothes again. It struck him as odd that, because of his brother's death, he was actually taking OFF a black tie, though of course he put on another one of a different kind.

* * * * *

Charles looked forward to the end of the vacation. Not only was the news about Lindsay a devastating grief, but its coming at a time of family gathering and sentimental association made it trebly hard to endure. And there was a new kind of unease between himself and his father, as if the sounding and exploration of a rift were all the time in progress even though both had agreed to bridge it. After the New Year the house rapidly emptied, leaving Charles alone with his father and aunt during the last week before term began.

Sir Havelock Anderson was a remarkable man by any standards, and it was unfortunate (as somebody once said when this remark was made) that any standards had not been good enough in his chosen profession. In his thirties, a barrister beginning to be talked about, he would have been forecast for a brilliant career, with a likely outcome in Parliament or as one of the law officers of the Crown; in his middle forties he seemed at the point of achievement, having already taken silk and received a knighthood. He had many attributes of the successful advocate--good looks, a fine presence, quick wits, commanding eloquence, and an enormously persuasive manner. He could demolish or inveigle a witness with a technique that amounted to genius. The one thing he lacked was a certain responsibility of judgment at moments of intense pressure; as his career advanced and he gained in opinion of himself, he would sometimes overstep the limits of propriety, attacking the other side in ways that drew rebukes from judges, then turning on the latter with less than traditional respect. Since he seemed increasingly unable to handle a difficult case without this sort of thing, solicitors came to regard him as a doubtful asset; after one sensational court 'scene' he narrowly escaped disbarment. Though he apologized and all seemed forgiven, he had done himself harm which he knew had put him back to the bottom of the ladder, and it was perhaps again unfortunate that a private income enabled him to settle into embittered retirement rather than begin the climb afresh or seek a new career in some other field. Everything was unhappy and inglorious when, about this time, he inherited Beeching. For years thereafter he lacked interest in the property, his chief consolation being Lindsay, in whom he could well take pride. For the boy, who was very like him in looks, developed fast and promisingly--excellent at games as well as studies--destined, Havelock might have hoped, to become as remarkable as himself but without the flaw.

When Lindsay went to school Havelock had to find things to do, even at Beeching, and gradually established himself as the kind of chartered eccentric that English society permits and tolerates-- which really means that none of his neighbours, whether they liked him or not (and most of them didn't), thought it VERY odd that he should be a LITTLE odd. Though he was never now in the headlines, he often appeared in print--writing letters to The Times about his hobbies, which included bird-watching, collecting snuff-boxes, and visits to country churchyards, where he liked to rummage amongst old tombstones and discover neglected graves of minor celebrities of the past; he was something of an expert on lapidary inscriptions. Strong in physique and passionate by nature, he was also a magnet to women, but here again the flaw presently showed itself--a scandal involving the suicide of the daughter of one of his neighbours, a girl in her early twenties. This was when Havelock was in his fifties and a widower.

One quality he had to which both friends and enemies gave the same name, but with differing inflections--CHARM. His friends had in mind the urbane host and the delightful talker, but his enemies said that this charm was something he could turn on and off at will, and always on when he wanted anything--an old courtroom trick put to non-professional use.

* * * * *

Before Charles left for the station to catch the London train en route for Cambridge he had a talk with his father in which the charm, turned on or not, was as antique as the snuff-boxes. Havelock began by discussing the Anderson name and his own pride in it--one of those great families of commoners, he said, that in a sort of way constituted an English aristocracy of their own. In such company a mere knighthood was not so much a painting of the lily as a defacement. 'Who can wish to rub the eager shoulders of provincial mayors and successful shopkeepers? Of course if I'd stayed at the Bar I should have climbed much higher--but today, as things are, I'm probably stuck where I am, and you must reconcile yourself to having Sir Havelock Anderson for a father instead of plain Mister or Esquire.'

All of which seemed to Charles either obtuse or a snobbery of extra- special vintage. He said: 'Oh, it doesn't make much difference at Cambridge. I don't think many of my friends even know about the title.'

'You have my full authority to conceal it from them. Anyhow, your own affairs and what you intend to do in life are more important. Have you thought of a profession?'

Charles hadn't, especially. So they ran through the possibilities, some of which were impossibilities, such as the armed services and medicine, for which Charles had neither desire nor aptitude. Havelock himself ruled out the law; he did not think Charles was suited, which was a politer way of saying he did not think he had the brains. Charles knew, though his father didn't mention it, that Lindsay was then on his mind; Lindsay was to have entered the law, for which a brilliant Cambridge career had already prepared him before he went into the army. It was as if Havelock did not want Charles's career to trespass, even had it been possible, on the hallowed might-have-been territory that Lindsay would always occupy in his mind.

What about the Church? Charles shook his own head at that, and Havelock smiled in part concurrence. The City? Selling stocks wasn't much of a job, but undeniably there were youths of decent family who nowadays went into brokers' offices and made money there. Charles said innocently that he didn't think he would ever know what stocks to buy, which made Havelock smile again and remark that his own broker didn't seem to, either.

Thus, having arrived at a fairly cordial impasse, father and son could only concede that the matter was in no way urgent and that the first step was for Charles to do well at Cambridge, taking an Honours degree. Charles said this would be expected of him, since he was an Exhibitioner. To which Havelock replied: 'Oh yes, of course. I really didn't congratulate you enough about that. But at the time, you see . . .'

Charles knew what he meant; Lindsay had been alive at the time, and Charles's achievements and future hadn't then mattered. Now they did matter, but only in a pale shadow of the way Lindsay's had mattered.

Havelock continued: 'Well, you've made a beginning. You must have studied quite hard. Somehow I never thought you did much in your spare time except paint little pictures. Or have you given that up?'

'No, I still like to do it. A pleasant hobby that gets one into the open air.'

'So long as you don't take it too seriously. No man should take his hobbies seriously till he has succeeded--or failed, for that matter--in his profession.' (He might well have been speaking of himself.) 'And by the way, there's one profession we forgot. Diplomacy. Not bad if you have manners and like travel. Dressy fellows--useful, too, so they'd have us believe. They didn't prevent the last war and they won't prevent the next, but at least it's work that doesn't soil the hands.'

Charles then responded to his father's irony with a remark that he recalled, long afterwards, with a certain irony of his own. 'Oh, I really don't think we need worry about another war in your lifetime or mine, Father.'

'No? I wonder. There's France. There's Japan. There's Russia. There's America. Even Germany again if we're fools enough--and we shall be.'

Evidently nothing less than the total destruction of the entire rest of the world would give Havelock any confidence in a lasting peace; and there were times in later life when Charles was almost driven to think his father might have had a point, though surely not an acceptable one.

* * * * *

Charles worked steadily at Cambridge. Except for a little beer- drinking that sometimes ended up as a private spree among friends, he lived and studied quietly in rooms that overlooked the College Backs and the river; to his gyp he was 'a reading gentleman', and among the dons he earned the kind of modest reputation that tempted nobody to prophesy anything remarkable. In his father's letters the suggestion of a diplomatic career was renewed, and with this in mind Charles mentioned the matter to his tutors. It seemed to be looking rather high and far for a first-year undergraduate, but they steered his studies slightly in the required direction, emphasizing modern languages and political science. He found he had a knack for languages, and during that first year something happened that was specially fortunate--André Brunon, who had been the arts master at Brookfield, took a post at a school in Cambridge, so that Charles and he were able to continue their earlier friendship. Not only did Brunon reawaken and stimulate Charles's interest in painting, but by their agreement to talk always in French Charles was given an opportunity which he used to the full. He and Brunon would spend many an afternoon together in and around the town, finding old buildings or street scenes that offered material for sketches; sometimes they went further afield to Grantchester and Madingley and Ely, cycling with painting gear strapped to their machines. Charles had always thought he would stick to water-colours, but Brunon introduced him to the art of oil painting, and thus a new world was opened. The extra satisfaction of it all was that he need never regard time with Brunon as a self- indulgence, since they chattered all the while; and Charles knew he was acquiring not only conversational ease but the beginnings of an ability to THINK in French. 'And you have also an ear for accent,' Brunon told him. 'This is important in French as it is in English. Either you must speak French like an Englishman, which is bad but permissible, or you must speak it like the right kind of Frenchman. I myself am not the right kind of Frenchman, so it will be advisable for us soon, Charles, to stop talking French and revert to English.'

Charles asked what Brunon had meant by saying he was not the right kind of Frenchman.

'I am from the Midi. Any Parisian hearing me speak would know that.'

'Does it matter?'

'A little. Nothing to hinder you from passing examinations here, but still, the accent is not socially correct, and you will soon be copying it so well that you would cause raised eyebrows at the Quai d'Orsay. It would be like a French Ambassador arriving in London and paying his respects to your Foreign Minister in perfect grammatical English but with a set of Cockney vowel-sounds.'

BOOK: Time and Time Again
6.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

2 Crushed by Barbara Ellen Brink
The Necromancer's Grimoire by Annmarie Banks
Jolly Dead St. Nicholas by Carol A. Guy
Enchant Me by Anne Violet
Counterspy by Matthew Dunn
MARKED (Hunter Awakened) by Rascal Hearts
Caressa's Knees by Annabel Joseph