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I suspect that my mother’s cheerfulness in telling me the old story was because it functioned as a sort of revenge, that permitted her to place in a satisfactory perspective the acquaintance amongst the younger generation that called it to mind. Certainly more than once she drew my attention to the fact that Michael always took the initiative in the relationship, with Nimal obligingly following his lead.

Such patronising indulgence was not to be traced in the tone and the words she used with reference to the relationship after Iris’s letter of confirmation. As I mentioned, though previously it was a detached sort of interest I had felt rather than any form of pride, now I found myself sharing her attitude. The trouble was that it was not simply an isolated issue of different generations having different views about differences in status. If that had been the case I would have had no excuse to intrude my own feelings, if indeed I had had any adverse ones then, upon what was solely the concern of Tara and Nimal and possibly her parents. But as it was, the Old Place was involved. Tara had further responsibilities than simply to herself, and these she appeared to have ignored completely in her present course of action.

The house had from time immemorial, as far as we were concerned anyway, been handed down in the female line. Very possibly this had been because of the need for dowries in previous times. By my time, as far as Iris was concerned at any rate, a dowry had not been required. The house had remained the property of my father who had taken possession of it, if that is the right word for their relationship, along with my mother. In his will he too had left the house, having discussed the matter with my mother and me, to Tara, of course with a life interest to us.

Even at that time I had thought Michael would be a more deserving recipient, but not only my mother but also he had insisted on the importance of family traditions. It was suggested, not entirely with sensitivity I felt, that I could leave my own little modest competence to Michael.

Of course it was not very likely that Nimal would ever want to leave Colombo and live at the Old Place. Yet one could never be sure. It would after all be such a triumph for his whole family. In any case, the prospect of Nimal having even the disposal of the Old Place in his hands was galling enough. I too was upset. Yet the intensity of my mother’s bitterness, and the expression she made of it even if only to myself, I thought both unwise and unnecessary. She could not cut her grandchildren off from her, and to declare that the marriage would take place only over her dead body, and that she would do her utmost to prevent it, seemed to me foolish. My own view was that, since we would in time have to accept the inevitable, we might as well prepare for it from the start.

At the time all I succeeded in doing was persuading her to make her letters to Iris merely bitter and disappointed in tone rather than violent. Going down to Colombo to meet the couple she steadfastly refused to do. ‘I could not bear to see that climber,’ she would mutter. I must confess that my not going down myself was not only because I did not want to seem to let her down and make her feel isolated. I too felt some distaste. Yet I kept telling her that we would have to adjust, and I think I was sincere in believing that we should and would. Indeed even now I think that in time we would have accepted the situation with something almost approaching contentment.

That we should have found an ally where we did is not to be comprehended in the ordinary course of events. Not even I could have predicted it.