Recently an aunt of mine sent me a letter about my grandfather. Here it is:
Blue Coat Hospital
27th March, 1852
I have much pleasure in stating that John Allan while in this institution has been a very good, honest, truthful, active, and intelligent boy, and in his conduct I have very great satisfaction.
Had he been able to have remained here to complete the full period, I do not doubt that he would have made a very good scholar. As it is he has made good use of his time and for his age is very well advanced in his instruction.
There were two Blue Coat schools, I believe, one in London where Charles Lamb had gone earlier, and the one in Liverpool. Like the Deserving Poor and the African Slave, my grandfather was one of the great butts of nineteenth-century pity, an Orphan Boy. He knew nothing of his parents and later, when I looked him up in the birth registry at Somerset House in London, all I could find was that he had been born in Cumberland somewhere.
He died very old when I was very young but what little I knew of him I liked. He was a stern, bent little man with white hair and a white mustache that covered his mouth like Nietzsche’s. He wore a zinc insole in one shoe and a copper one in the other to seize terrene electricity and conduct it to his rheumatics. I asked him once about the Blue Coat School and he said, “Lob scouse every day and plum duff on Christmas.”
After his death my aunt sent me his Civil War diaries and his Book of Common Prayer. The diaries were faithfully kept but dull. “Rode twelve miles. Went into camp” was the usual sort of entry. The most interesting was one from Georgia, “Saw the Old Man today. They say all he has up behind him is a slicker, a bottle of whisky, and a box of cigars.” The Old Man was Sherman, of course. There was nothing remarkable about the prayer book except the end papers. On them he had written in a very fine hand a scheme for a system of natural philosophy he had devised. Stuck in the middle of the book was a thin sheet of gold leaf. Why, I have no idea. It fascinated me. It seemed the proper bequest from an old man to a boy. I couldn’t spend it. I wouldn’t swap it. I could only admire.
I was thinking about my grandfather when I came to England to take up my Rhodes Scholarship. Since he had been English, as had my father’s people once, three hundred years before, I felt I might be coming home. I had never been in England but as I leaned over the rail waiting for the gangplank to go down, watching the chimney pots of South-ampton in the rain, I was listening for some sort of echo.
The Rhodes Scholars moved in a clump, ungraceful, shy as mountain goats but sturdily determined to smother it under loud talk. On the way to Oxford we stopped at Winchester to see the school and the cathedral. I had heard of Eton and Harrow but nothing of Winchester. I had, in fact, worn an Eton collar to church when I was a choirboy. My mother never quite learned how to tie the tie. I can remember standing in front of her, my chin lifted, while she struggled, unspoken curses hovering around us like flies. I have always wondered what my mother would have said if she had let ’er rip, but she never did, and I showed up for the Processional sad, harassed, my neck sawed red from the edge of the collar. Aside from some dim cloister where we were stared at by whey-faced little boys, the only thing I really recall from Winchester is a high vaulted room where a guide pointed to a huge thick circle of oak and assured me that it was the veritable Table Round of King Arthur, a claim my later studies taught me must have been a misstatement.
I had been warned at home to be self-contained in dealing with the English, not to speak first, never to say “Hi, pal” to any of them. (I didn’t say “Hi, pal” to anyone in America.) Nevertheless I was not prepared for Bough, the porter of my college. A taxi trundled me down a narrow, winding street and stopped in front of a Gothic archway like a church door. I passed under it. To my left, set into the wall, it seemed, was a dingy office. I went in. A bald little man, built like a seal, with the same mustache and the same eager lift of the chin, lunged courteously at me. “Yezzir?” he said. (I couldn’t spot the accent then. It was Somersetshire, in which all ss are zs.)
I didn’t know he was the porter and I didn’t know what a college porter was. Beneath his deference, however, I caught an inkling of his encyclopedic knowledgeability. (He kept all the members of the college in his head, dons and undergraduates, and he could tell you where any of them was any hour of the day.)
“This is Oriel College?” I asked.
“I am Allan Seager.”
I had been startled to find that the college buildings were not gray as in the photographs but black, probably from soot. The fine English rain was falling outside. Bough had a fireplace bellying out into the office but no fire in it. I would not have been surprised if he had said “Never heard of you,” but he found my name at once on a list on a slate. “Yezzir. Number Zix is your zuite, zecond doorway, zecond quad. Hainez will be your zervant, zir.”
“Thank you,” I said humbly. I was expected. I hadn’t come all that way for nothing. I bent to pick up my bag.
“Hainez will bring that along, zir.”
I went out into the rain. The front quad was covered with hard gravel like a county road. The second quad had the lawn I had been taught to expect, green as if it had just been painted, lush and shining in the rain. Around the border under the windows red and white flowers grew. They bloomed all winter, they or their successors, for as soon as the frost killed any, the college servants planted new ones. The second doorway led into a dank corridor that grew darker as I went. I walked in ankle-deep ruts in enormous flagstones where people had walked the past three centuries. Two of these ruts led up to my door. A cat could have slipped into the room through either and in the winter they provided ventilation that only an anemometer could have measured properly.
I had heard of dark oak paneling gleaming in the fire-light. My room was papered and when I drew a finger down the wall, it left a moist track like a snail’s. The bank of win-dows gave out not over gardens but over the college coal pile, great bituminous lumps shining in the rain like the grass. A fire was laid in the fireplace. I lit it and after a quarter of an hour I learned one of the chief characteristics of the small English fireplace. It gives light, not heat. Later I burned the soles out of two pairs of shoes with my feet on the fender but back where my head was resting, reading, I could always see my breath going up in plumes.
The door opened and a man surprised me by coming straight in.
“You’ve lit your fire, sir,” he said reproachfully. It was only the middle of October. I didn’t know who he was. He was a rosy, plump-faced man of about forty-five, the kind of face you expected smiles to furrow, but they never did. He was Haines, not the Dean or my tutor, but my servant. (I had not yet picked up the salient fact of English social life—your inferiors “sir” you.) It made me uneasy to have a man old enough to be my father tell me he was going -to serve me. Actually he didn’t seem to do much. At six in the morning the skivvy, an old crone in a blue dress, crept in, softly cleaned out the ashes and laid the fire. About eight Haines would bring my breakfast on a tray with the morning mail, lay it on a table before the fire, and wake me: “Good morning, sir. Raining today.” He brought my lunch, the customary half a round loaf of bread, a slice of gorgonzola cheese that tasted like soap, and a half-pint of beer. Later he brought my tea; that is, he brought the anchovy toast and cake, if any. I made the tea myself, tossing a blackened kettle on the fire until it boiled. Dinners we ate in the college hall; the servants were the waiters.
Dinners were bad but they were served with great éclat. At each place lay a menu printed in French, but no matter what it said the dinner was always the same—soup, a cut off the joint, and two veg (cabbage and brussels sprouts), and either a sweet (raspberry fool or a trifle) or a savoury, a lorn little dead fish on a slice of toast. The kitchens were in underground caverns and it was my fixed belief and still is that since the time of the Protectorate, two gigantic cauldrons of soup bubbled there eternally, one thick, the bill—poster type, the other thin, like the drainings from an umbrella stand. These two soups alternated night after night, jazzed up with croutons or barley and, by the time they reached the table, stone-cold and horrible. The silver, however, was something to see. I have drunk beer out of a silver pint pot dated 1662, and the forks and spoons were worn thin by the butlers’ thumbs. None of the Oriel silver bore a date earlier than 1640; we had been a Royalist college and had melted down all the silver and given it to King Charles when he held his court at Oxford. If we complained about the food to the servants, they only laughed.
It took a while to find out what Haines’s real work was or what, in fact, was the real work of most English servants, schoolmasters, tailors, and haberdashers. It is to instill and preserve the traditions of the English Establishment. It did not seem to be the job of parents, for in my day, before the advent of so many government scholarships, your English undergraduate was a young gentleman and had seen little of his family. He was shipped off to prep school at the age of seven or eight, to his public school at twelve or thirteen, and then to the varsity. The molding of his character was done by underlings and they were conscientious as the very devil.
Haines soon let me know that he had been butler to Lord ‘ill and regarded his present situation as something of a comedown. His incessant question, “Will you be wanting …” a hot luncheon for guests or an almond cake with my tea not only instructed me in the things I was supposed to want but subtly conveyed by his tone that he was doing the Lord’s work in polishing a shaggy barbarian like myself, an American in fact. After the bootleg booze at home, I was delighted by the Oxford wine shops where you could buy anything openly and I spent a good deal more than I should have the first week or so. Every day Haines had to lug bottles from the porter’s lodge to my rooms. One afternoon I was sitting reading. Haines came in, banged a bottle of Cointreau down on the table, and said, “You won’t be as lissom as I am when you’re forty-five and you go on drinking that rotgut stuff, sir.”
You know how you can always remember the right crack five minutes too late? For once in my life I caught the proper timing and said straight out of some novel, “That will do, Haines.”
“Yessir,” he said, shocked as if I had bitten him. From then on the molding process took less of his time and slowly I learned that Oxford scouts liked to feel they were serving proper gents.
It was lissom Haines who told me I should call on my tutor and gave me the hours he would be in. He was the famous Ben Jonson scholar Mr. Percy Simpson. Aldous Huxley and Robert Graves had been his pupils. I towered over him. His hair and mustache were white but he had a good red-beef-and-old-tawny-port complexion. Not perceptibly appalled, he received me standing before a bright fire in his college sitting room. (He lived miles away on Boar’s Hill and walked back and forth each day. He still does, I understand, at ninety-five.) I was ready to shake hands but he fended that off by waving me to a chair. He sat down and began to talk in a tone of fatigued stateliness. He had, I thought, the true Oxford manner.
There is undoubtedly a manner. Some say it consists in the ability to talk intelligently for five minutes on any subject whatever, but those who say this are Englishmen who do not know they have the manner. Personally I think it is the peculiar confidence instilled at Eton, Harrow, Winchester, or wherever but kept impounded there and released afterward, the confidence that “we are the people who will run the nation and the Empire,” a confidence that, considering the state of the Empire, must be diminished, fairly free-floating, even aimless by now. (When Churchill said, “I did not become the King’s first minister to preside at the dissolution of the empire,” his was the diapason of tradition. Not so, although more intelligent and realistic, Sir Hugh Foot’s, who said not long ago, “We regard each colony released into independence as a victory.” But, to be sure, the British have never demanded intelligence in their principal functionaries, only the right emotions.) I am aware that my definition of the Oxford manner is not clear, that it would leave you utterly unprepared to deal with an Oxford man, so I had better tell a couple of stories that illustrate the manner perfectly.
The first is an old one from the days when Jowett was Master of Balliol. Every undergraduate had to appear in chapel so many times a term, so many mornings, so many evenings. They would let you in mornings in a dressing gown but come you had to. One day a youth appeared in Jowett’s rooms and said, “I’m sorry but I shan’t be able to keep my chapels. I’m a sun-worshiper.”
“You are a sun-worshiper?” Jowett said out of a marmoreal imperturbability, as if sun-worshipers were as common in England as Druids.
“Very well. I excuse you from chapel.”
The youth went away chuckling. Put one over.
At six the next morning, full dark, his servant tapped him gently and said, “The Master’s compliments, sir. The sun has just risen.”
That is the manner. In America, of course, we would have sent the boy to a student counselor and made him fill out a questionnaire. We are a solemn people except in spots.
The second is the tale of a youth who vainly defied the seats of power but kept his aplomb to the end. He fell foul of the University proctors. The progs are young dons who stalk through the town several hours a day in mortarboards, gowns, and white tabs at their clavicles looking for student misdemeanants. They are each accompanied by two “bullers,” servants in bowlers, wing collars, double-breasted black jackets, gray-striped trousers, and patent-leather shoes. In my time, although it has changed now, students were forbidden to drink in public houses. Drink itself was not forbidden—you could have all you wanted in your rooms—but public houses offered the contamination of low company: clerks from banks and stores, college servants, factory workers from the Morris plant and such. You might be enjoying a quiet can of beer, look up and find the Marshal Buller courteously tipping his hat and asking the old question, “Beg pardon, sir, are you a member of this university?” He knew you were, of course. There was no danger of anyone mistaking a young gentleman for a townee. At this point, theoretically, you had three choices: hit him, run, or answer and go with him. Hit him and he would hit you back, probably harder. Run and he would chase you and he knew the lanes and back alleys of the town better than you did. If you said, “Yes, I am,” he would say, “Will you speak to the Senior (or Junior) Proctor, please?”
The prog would be waiting outside. He did not deign to enter a pub himself. He would tip his cap and say, “Ah, good evening. Will you give me your name and college, please?”
When you had, he would say, “Will you return to your college at once, please?” That was the formula. It never varied.
The next morning your scout woud bring you an en-graved card which read,
The Senior Proctor will be pleased if
will wait upon him today at two o’clock
at the Old Clarendon Buildings
Whenever you had dealings with officers of the university, as distinguished from those of the college, you had to dress for it. You put on a dark suit, called sub fusc, wing collar, and white dress tie, your mortarboard (which is not at Oxford a kind of award for getting a degree but part of the costume) and your gown. When you saw the prog, he would blandly fine you a pound if it was your first offense, thirty shillings for your second, two pounds for the third and so on. After three or four appearances, he might notify your college and your dean would fine you some more. No moral lectures, no promises of amendment extracted, just a steady belting of your pocketbook, wholly comprehen-sible, thoroughly English.
The young man of the story was caught by a proctor one night as he was seeing a beautiful barmaid home. It is, I believe, a university rule that an undergraduate must not be seen in public with a female who is not a lady. Barmaids, however lovely, are not ladies. The traditional question the prog asks is, “Will you introduce your companion?” Your true-born English gent cannot introduce a nonlady to another gent and properly he says “I’m sorry. I cannot,” and the girl stands there and takes it.
On this occasion, when the prog asked the question, the young man did not crumble. He said,
“Why, yes. This is my sister. The Senior Proctor.”
The prog said, “Will you give me your name and college, please?”
The young man did.
“Will you see your, uh—sister home and return to the college at once, please?”
The next day in the Old Clarendon Buildings, the prog said, “You were apprehended last evening in the company of a woman who you surely must know is one of the most notorious in Oxford and yet you introduce her as your sister.”
“Yes, yes, I know. The family are frightfully cut up about it.”
The prog laughed loud and long and said, “Very good. That will be ten pounds, please.”
Is it worth fifty bucks to start an immortal story? Probably. It is this confidence, this aplomb, this perfect self-possession that irks Americans who don’t have it, but it also informed the officers of the Coldstream Guards—the last regiment off at Dunkirk.
In my first fifteen minutes contending with Mr. Simpson’s manner, he gently and blandly dealt me a stunning blow. He showed me what it was like to be treated as an intel-lectual adult, something that had never happened to me at Ann Arbor, where they were officially anxious and still are. As if it were as simple as shaving, he told me he would expect me to visit him once a week with a three-thousand-word paper on the author he had assigned. His primary assumption was that I had long since read all of English literature and the work of each week would be merely to read the principal critics, sift their opinions, and come up with my own.
“Perhaps you will care to go to some of the lectures,” he murmured. He didn’t tell me where they were, who was lecturing, or their subjects. He did, however, warn me away from a lady lecturer from one of the women’s colleges. “Don’t go near her. She’s mad,” he said fretfully.
It was Haines who showed me the lecture list in the porter’s lodge. He told me how to get books out of the Bodleian Library and explained how, if I had sound feet, I could go to Blackwell’s, lean against a wall, and read any book I was likely to need without being plagued to buy it by a clerk. I was so scared that I holed up and read about fourteen hours a day before I learned to pace myself. I had suffered a revelation: I was supposed to know all of English literature, the whole damned shooting match.
During my tutorials, Mr. Simpson would doze comfortably in a big armchair before the fire while I read my paper aloud, but he woke up sharply to correct any mistakes and when I finished, he would criticize my critique with great good nature. For a long time I thought he thought I was an idiot and an anecdote he told me about Huxley didn’t help me much, either. He said, “As you know, I begin somewhat pompously, and I said to Huxley, ŒNow, Mr. Huxley, we will begin our study of English literature….’ He cut me off. He said, ŒOh, I don’t intend to study English literature. I know it all already.” Mr. Simpson laughed a silent laugh that made him quiver. “And you know,” he said, “he was right.”
During the first two weeks I was settling in, I didn’t say “Boo” to any undergraduate Englishman. I knew a couple of Americans who had been on the Aquitania with me and when I wanted to talk to someone, I went to their colleges and talked to them. One, a figure in campus politics at his university in the States, said the English were hard to “get to know.” He had been trying to make friends with them by passing loud remarks on the weather or the food in hall whenever he found two or three gathered together, but they had only stared at him and he was hurt. I did not share this eagerness or his disappointment. I was damned if I was going to speak first, that was all.
One day early in the term the college freshmen were invited to tea with the Dean in the Senior Common Room. The Dean of Oriel was a clergyman, the Rev. J. W. C. Wand, later Archbishop of Brisbane in a purple dickey, then Bath and Wells, and when I watched the Queen’s coronation, there was the Dean in cope and mitre, Bishop of London. He was very light on his feet—not just for a parson, for anyone. He lived on my staircase and on Saturday nights when the drunks were baying in the quad and breaking things in people’s rooms, the Dean would skip down the stairs, seize the first student he saw and fine him ten pounds. “But I didn’t do anything,” he would always wail. “Of course not,” the Dean would say, “but you know who did. Get the money from them.”
On the day we were his guests he wore a black dickey with a white dog collar, and he was smoking a pipe. I got there early along with a couple of other freshmen before the S.C.R. was open. We just stood there. At last one of the Englishmen said to me, “Would you have a match?” I gave him one and we started to talk in much the same way we would have at home. That night coming out of hall after dinner he said, “Come along and have some beer.” His name was Dick Gorton and while I now realize it was rather daring of him to entertain an American, he dared it and we became friends, no sweat.
We became friends in the American sense, that is. Sit next to an American in a plane, train, or bus and he is apt to tell you the story of his life pretty candidly and with enough detail to last the journey. Is this a hangover from the frontier, where every man appeared as a freestanding individual unencumbered by a personal history and so had to identify himself, sometimes by bragging? Hear an Englishman speak and you will know his class. Look at his necktie, and if you know how to read it it will tell you his school, college, or regiment. In England these two things are enough to establish normal personal relations. Friendship, I discovered, takes time.
Nobody believes this because they erect a facade to hide it, but the English are a boilingly emotional people—much more so than the Italians, who throw joy and anger around casually; more so than the French, who use emotion judiciously; equally with the Spaniards but with greater variety since they are not a Catholic people. If proof is wanted, look at their poetry. Reach the point of genuine friendship with an Englishman and you become emotionally engaged. He will expect you to hate the things he hates, love the things he loves, and the whole spectrum in between. Once an Englishman told me his sister had married a Chinaman. As he said it, he burst into tears. Mentally I shrugged and thought, “So she married a Chinaman,” At once I could see that although he was my friend, I was not really his. I couldn’t feel as he did. He had admitted me to this intimacy but I had not reciprocated. We are drier than they.
My relations with Dick Gorton were genial and offhand. He didn’t tell me where he lived or what his father did, but we talked nearly every day and went to pubs together. He introduced me to such friends of his as he thought would like me. (They do not introduce casually. I have gone to tea in a man’s rooms with two or three others, not been introduced, talked volubly to everyone the whole afternoon, and the next day had one of the guests pass me without speaking. This takes some getting used to.)
One of Dick’s friends was a tall youth he had been at school with, a rather hearty type named Michael Horner. He was never hearty with me and we didn’t really hit it off, but he was kind enough to ask me up to his rooms for a Saturday night near the first of November; said his brother was coming up from London.
I couldn’t give either Michael or his brother much thought. I was too busy frantically trying to learn to handle Number Six oar in an eight-oared shell, and I had a problem that was simultaneously moral and financial. Early in the term the College had informed me that I owed them fifty pounds Caution Money, payable forthwith. Caution Money was a deposit against anything I might break. I had been told that my term battel (room and board) would come to about fifty pounds, payable at the end of the Christmas holi-days. I had received a stipend from the scholarship of a hundred pounds. These two bites would leave me exactly nothing on which to get to Paris during Christmas—we had six weeks’ vacation. I was in despair and I wrote a despairing letter to a lovely girl back home. Her answer had just come, containing a hundred-dollar bill, a yellow-back. This bill burning in my wallet seemed to pose a moral problem. It is hard to remember what the terms of the problem were that troubled me so. The girl’s family was rich and sending me the money was no hardship. However, the phrase kept man drifts back. I wrestled with it for days and at last reluctantly sent the money back to her. I took the letter to the lodge for Bough to give to the postman. I felt smug immediately.
Coming out of the lodge, I met Gorton.
“You’re coming to Michael’s tonight,” he said.
“Yes. He said his brother was coming up from town.”
“Hell of a man, Peter Horner. He’s in the Blues,” Gorton said.
I didn’t know what that meant. I was continually picking up bits of information about English life and if their meaning was not obvious, I kept quiet. If I thought anything, it was not that Peter Horner was melancholic in some odd British way, rather that he was a professional football player. Actually, he was a lieutenant in His Majesty’s Royal Horse Guards (the Blues).
After dinner Gorton and I climbed two flights of stairs to Michael’s rooms. They were paneled and he had a big fire going. He was just opening some beer for four other men when we came in. It was easy to spot Peter Horner. Shorter than his brother, he had a mustache, red; hair, red; face, red. He was in what Guardsmen call plain clothes, a tweed jacket and flannel bags, and he wore his handkerchief up his sleeve as Guardsmen have done since the Regency, when trousers were too tight for pockets, but of course I didn’t know he was a soldier then. Michael introduced me. “Peter? Allan Seager. My brother.”
We both nodded and muttered. I had learned that much—never try to shake hands.
We all sat down and attacked the beer in almost unflawed silence. The Oxonians were clearly scared to death of Peter Horner because of his great age—which was about the same as my own, twenty-three. They put back the beer steadily, perhaps in the hope it would do their talking for them.
Desperately Gorton said, “See many girls in town, Peter?” Peter gave a lieutenant’s snort, a noise that would acquire greater resonance and contempt when he became a colonel. It conveyed that Gorton’s question was unacceptable and preposterous. Later when I knew some London debutantes I learned that they seldom had escorts other than Guards officers. The snort crushed Dick, however.
Michael Horner kept saying gamely, “Beer anyone? Beer?” And eventually little conversations broke out, conversations that did not include Peter Horner. He took a stance with an elbow on the chimneypiece and smiled a choleric condescending smile at the children playing.
About the time they began to sing “The Ram of Derbyshire” (this didn’t take long because they were all learning to drink) I found myself standing at the other end of the mantel facing Peter Horner. The wrong terrain, as it turned out.
Vaguely I remember one of the guests leaving and returning a few minutes later with a bottle of Scotch. Michael opened it and placed it, two glasses, and a siphon of soda between us. “Perhaps you’d like some whisky,” he said. To this day I believe he got it mainly for his brother, who seemed bored. Anyhow Peter and I each took a drink. We began to talk.
After about the third drink I realized that the others had ranged themselves in chairs and sofas to watch. I was in a drinking contest with Peter Horner. I don’t think it was prearranged, but there was no doubt it was a contest. I could tell by the way Peter evened up the drinks.
I forget what we talked about but it came out smooth and polite, with no overt acknowledgment that we were competing at all. Over the edge of my glass I gauged my man. He was about five-nine and a hundred and fifty pounds. Other things being equal, I could hold more than he could. Also he had been reared on the soft true tender whiskies of the Highlands, the mild metropolitan gins. He had never drunk sheep-dip or beer that made your lips numb. I figured I had the edge.
I made every other round of drinks and I made the rounds deeper than his to show my confidence and depress his. Our talk flowed very easily and the others listened, perhaps for signs. The first bottle of Scotch went down quickly but when I saw Michael approaching with a fresh bottle and a new siphon, I began to see that this was serious. True, there were beads of sweat glistening above Peter Horner’s eyebrows, but there were probably beads of sweat above my own and anyhow we were standing by an open fire, a grave mistake. Had I been handicapping the event I wouldn’t have bet either one of us would finish.
It didn’t occur to us to move. Although we had agreed on none, rules seemed to be growing up. We could not sit down. We could not stop talking. We could not even change our positions, weight on one leg, one elbow on the mantel, and the pace of our drinking had to appear to be regulated by our conversation as if we had met to talk, not to drink. The way to learn the Oxford manner is to act it out.
The paneled walls were the first to go. I seemed to be standing in the middle of a blasted heath but a hot heath. The room got a lot darker and when a hand took the empty Scotch bottle off the mantel and set a bottle of Drambuie in its place, I got tunnel vision. I could see only what I was look-ing dead at, chiefly Peter Horner. His flush had waned. His face was as white as paper enlivened by two little angry red eyes.
I like Drambuie in its place, but its place is not to sweeten the rear of a flood of Scotch. It was hell and I foresaw that the one who survived it would probably win. One foot, according to the rules, was still nonchalantly on the fender (the fire was dying now), but I had the other knee locked to keep from falling down. The spectators when I looked square at them seemed to be a row of balloons with faces painted on them, gently floating up and down, their voices the giggly gibber of a record played too fast. Mentally I had dwindled. Peter and I didn’t talk much now, it was too hard. I had one sedimentary thought, “Stick with it.” Long since I had seemed to feel a flagstaff in my skull with the Stars and Stripes floating from it and I could almost see the Union Jack hanging limp on its pole above Peter. I was fighting for my country.
After a long time, peering and cocking my head sideways, I made out a single bottle of beer standing where the Drambuie had been. As if from down in a valley a voice hallooed, “That’s all there is.”
I swung my head in the direction of the voice. “There isn’t any more?” I said, echoing Ethel Barrymore.
“It’s all we can find.”
At once I began to think jerkily and briskly. I knew what I had to do. I had to shake hands with Peter, thank Michael and tell him what a hell of a lot of fun it had been, get to the doorway, go down two perilous flights of stairs upright and unsupported across two quads, penetrate the blackness of my corridor, hang up my clothes, and get to bed. I did this with the feeling that I was on a high wire where one slip—the abyss. I also felt idiotically that there should be applause somewhere.
The next morning, after Haines woke me, I stumbled into my sitting room and stared at my breakfast. I didn’t feel too bad. The hangover hadn’t started yet. I was sitting there blankly when Dick Gorton scampered in.
“You won! You won! You know where Peter Horner spent the night?” he asked.
“In a stall in the lats, his head right down on his bloody knees. Michael and I just now forked him out of there and put him to bed. Bloody good show!”
I didn’t feel any triumph but, then, I didn’t feel anything else either. I went on sitting there. The liquor gradually wore off. The hangover began. By teatime I was intellectu-ally convinced I couldn’t live out the day, but after a night’s sleep I felt all right.
When I went back into society, the word had gotten around. I was accepted in the college. Even the Dean nodded as we passed in the quad. While my grandfather might have overcome his Victorian scruples so far as to applaud my victory over an officer of the Brigade of Guards, it was not his ghostly pleasure that pleased me. It was rather that my eyes were opened. England was not the old home after all. It was a foreign country where you lived among strangers. You couldn’t count on the family affection of cousins once removed. Respect had to be worked for even if you had to drink them bowlegged to get it.