The night at the Tissawewa Resthouse I spent alone. Jeremy had asked me whether I minded, and of course I could not refuse. The previous night we had all three been together at Polonnaruwa, in the large room with four beds which the Queen had occupied. Why she had required four beds I could not understand, but it proved useful for groups like ours. Before that, we had been with friends or relations where the conventions held sway. It clearly made sense for Jeremy to grasp at the opportunity our one night at Anuradhapura offered.
I stayed up for some time after he and Jane had retired. Alcohol is not served at Tissawewa so you have to take your own, which does not at all make for moderation. We were upstairs, and I sat on the lounge that juts out over the porch so that you can see over the garden on three sides. The seats are old fashioned and comfortable, and the garden reverberates with the sounds of the night. Shadows pass through it that might be those of monkeys, and through the branches of the massive trees you can imagine that you see the lakes gleaming in the moonlight.
I had all the time in the world. I thought of Oxford then, and of everything that had led up to whatever it was that was going on in this quiet retreat within the sacred city. At that very moment Charles was still probably in Oxford, that other sacred city, of aquatint and illusions. It was less than two years since it had all begun; though Jane had already moved on, both Jeremy and I would be returning to Oxford in a couple of months. Yet we were all so very much older now. At the same time I supposed we would all continue wanting what we had always wanted, if in any way it was possible to preserve our youth from slipping through our anxious hands.
It was in Jeremy’s very first week at Oxford that Charles picked him up. Charles had a practice of picking out early and effectively anyone he thought might be helpful in his political career. In this instance he made a mistake: Jeremy was a spaniel rather than a golden retriever, and quite useless at political intrigue. In any case, he soon abandoned that early interest in the field which had first cast him in our path. The friendship however persisted.
It is only fair to all of us to admit that it was probably cemented by the fact that, in the summer term, he produced a car. He continued to be devoted to us, naturally enough as we thought, for we knew ourselves to be old and wise in the ways of the world to which he came freshly. We were also extremely amusing. But we might have tired of him ourselves, for naiveté, though charming enough in its way, can be predictable enough to prove tedious. Not that we were ever unkind to anyone we had once engaged, but we might have proved less thoughtful about always keeping him informed as to our plans. However, the question did not arise for he produced the car; and cars, when available, figure prominently in summer plans.
He took us to Stratford, when we had managed to get tickets, and I think himself enjoyed the plays to which he otherwise would never have gone. He took us for long drives in the country, culminating at various pubs where we plotted endlessly over tankards of beer; he was still fascinated, I hope, as we dissected the private lives and plans of other aspiring Union politicians. He drove us on the glorious day when we went to Calais for lunch, and I don’t suppose minded very much that he had been admitted to membership of our exclusive set only the previous day, quite clearly because we wanted the car; with the arrogance characteristic of those who have nurtured a society from insignificance into notoriety, we felt no qualms about this at all, since he had obviously been very anxious for a long time to be included and would not otherwise have stood a chance. His only attempt to read Evelyn Waugh, who inspired us, had proved quite unsuccessful.
I’m afraid we adopted a similar attitude about his party. Early in the term he had driven us to his home for a magnificent Sunday lunch with his parents. Walking afterwards through the palatial grounds, we had been overwhelmed. Naturally we insisted on a party there. The distance was a good fifty miles, but it turned out that his father’s firm could provide a bus. We designed the invitations ourselves and accepted with benignity his gratitude for our help. Some of the credit for it ultimately went to him. It was such a good party that there was lots of credit to spare.
It was at that party, in the midst of its other magnificently chaotic incidents, that Jane began to impinge on our consciousness in relation to Jeremy. She was an old friend but, being an exact contemporary of mine and, unlike me, not on a four year course, she belonged to what Charles and I classified as those dying generations. She was lively and attractive, but it was apparent that there was more to her than that for she had only very narrowly failed to be elected President of the Union. Now I began to wonder, seeing her with Jeremy, whether there was yet another facet to her character.
Charles characteristically belittled this suggestion. He had never been as fond of Jane as I was, and I think he took it as a reflection upon his own character that she too might be an aspirant towards prolonging her own youth thus. Besides I was unkind enough to tell him that Jeremy’s present position made it clear that his devotion to us had been a tribute more to our generation than to ourselves: through us he had merely been preparing himself for Jane. My philosophical approach may not have been entirely disingenuous, but Charles’ ego was always much larger than my own, and much more susceptible to pricks.