We are, it is generally acknowledged, a very old family. What this should mean, I have been told from my youngest days, is that we are calm and dignified and face any untoward happening with graceful but determined equanimity. I am not myself too good at this sort of thing. As I grow older I am better able to restrain any unsuitable excitement. However I shall never be as accomplished as my mother, whose capacity for control continues to astonish me.
This does not mean that she does not lose her temper. She certainly does that, and with a bitter intensity that can be quite frightening. This however takes place only in the privacy of our own house, and only I am privileged enough to be a witness. I suppose my father fulfilled the same role in the past. All the rest of the world gets is a cold and unruffled dismissal.
This is all that happened when we first heard the news of Tara’s unfortunate liaison. We were out visiting when someone mentioned it, on the round of calls we make regularly every Tuesday and Thursday through our little town. The news must have been hotly canvassed in town for the boy too still had some relations here and they must have been grossly uplifted at the idea of a connection being established with us. The firmness however with which my mother said that she had not been to Colombo for some time and therefore knew very little of her grand daughter’s affairs made it impossible for anyone to revert to the topic.
Nevertheless, we cut short our visits after that, and went directly home. My mother waited until we were alone in the little sitting room where we listened to the radio of an evening when we were by ourselves. If it was cold she had a brandy, and she had asked for one today. She sat cradling it in her hands after the boy had gone. It was some time before she spoke, and then it was only to say briefly and bitterly that it was a disgrace.
Of course I knew at once what she was talking about. ‘There’s no point getting excited now, mother.’ I replied. ‘You don’t even know yet whether it’s true.’
‘It’s bad enough that people are talking. I knew something like this would happen when Michael made friends with that boy.’ The boy referred to was, or rather had been since Michael was now at University in England, my nephew’s best friend in Colombo. ‘I told Iris not to allow him to bring him home.’
‘Times have changed. You can’t expect children nowadays to think like we did. Besides it would have been awkward in Iris’s position.’ My sister was married to a leading socialist.
‘Michael was old enough by then to realize the implications if Iris had told him the whole story. He always had enough pride in his family to have done the decent thing.’
‘They were in school together. It would have put Nimal in an impossible position to have brought all that old business up, and he’s nice enough in himself. You can’t say it’s affected him at all. It would have been very embarrassing for Michael too.’
‘Better that than disgracing the whole family. Think of what your grandfather would have said.’
It was then that I advanced the consideration that Tara had to be excused on the grounds that she probably didn’t know the entire story herself. This did not comfort my mother at all, except insofar as she tried to convince herself that Tara would be bound to break off the engagement, if indeed there was an engagement, when she heard the story.