Afterwards Jeremy told me triumphantly that he thought they had made the doctor aware of their virtue as far as Sri Lanka was concerned, by pointing out to him that Jane took the pill out of habit but could easily stop now since it was not really necessary. This did not strike me as especially helpful, since one could hardly expect the doctor to be impressed by such fine discriminations, and he had in any case prescribed a remedy that took no account of this kindly suggestion. But it showed a certain willingness to please on Jeremy’s part that I appreciated.
He was rather a dear, I thought, as I poured myself a final drink that night at Tissawewa; he could not really be found fault with for being so anxious tonight to make use of the only opportunity they might have in this country. He had been quite diffident in asking me, as we stood before the Jetavanaramaya that evening, watching the sun sink behind its ruined grandeur. Jane had been determined to make the circuit of the mound, and she could just be seen in the distance, a white blur against the vegetation. The light was fading fast, and the twilight noises of the forest had begun to resound around us. I felt very mellow, and very content.
I had clapped Jeremy on the shoulder and told him that I thought a sense of obligation towards a Resthouse would be excessive. Even so, gazing out alone on the moonlit garden in that tranquil night, when all around apart from me seemed at rest, I wondered what my grandmother would have been thinking had she been with me. Not wholly surprisingly, I remembered ironically too how Charles and I had thought, so long ago it seemed, of those dying generations.
* * *
It is possible that my reflections that evening influenced my behaviour the next day. I put this forward not as an excuse but simply as an explanation, for my culpable weakness in reacting to the various pressures brought to bear was quite unforgivable. My trials began almost immediately after we got to The Lodge, where my aunt now reigned in solitary splendour. It was past lunchtime, and we were very hungry, but she insisted that we have a drink first. I understood why when, having sat the other two down, she called me outside and asked me what was to be done about sleeping arrangements.
I told her, not very confidently, that I thought all that had been decided. I would sleep in the family quarters, as I had always done, in the former master bedroom next to hers, while Jeremy and Jane occupied the two bedrooms in the visitors’ wing.
‘That’s what you think,’ she replied in a cavalier tone. Being single, she had long been accustomed to treating the younger generation with a refreshing degree of informality. ‘But your uncle has been fussing madly here for the last few days. He claims that your grandmother is seriously upset.’ My mother’s youngest brother was a priest, whose parish was in the same town. Since he was both a priest and unmarried, the relationship between him and his mother was an intimate one, not always to his satisfaction I am sure, for he had frequently to act as her special agent in a number of somewhat embarrassing affairs. ‘She had made it clear that she will not have them in those two rooms on their own.’
‘But why on earth…………? They wouldn’t do anything.’
‘That’s as may be. But apparently she went into a lengthy account of how she had borne six children on that bed….’ The bed in the larger room was a magnificent four-poster, on which family legend had it that my grandmother had all her confinements. My mother was adamant that she had been born in Colombo but, whether the legend had originated with her or not, my grandmother now clung to it tenaciously. ‘And she does not want it used for An Immoral Purpose.’
Nevertheless my aunt sounded more worried than this bizarre terminology suggested. I am afraid I caught the infection. I should have stuck to my original plan, but instead I said, ‘Well, what do you suggest?’
‘I think the only solution is for you to share the bed with him.’ At this point I should certainly have refused, but I did not. I simply nodded, and my aunt continued in a lighter tone, ‘It seems a shame though, to put the girl in the poky little room. It’s very dark.’
It was only later that it occurred to me that possibly my aunt had not originally imagined that Jeremy would have to occupy the little room if the pair were on their own in the visitors’ section. She was certainly the sort to whom I could say, as I did, ‘Well, the four-poster is large enough for three.’
‘I don’t think your grandmother would mind that. She has a very limited imagination, you know.’
Fortunately, though I was too embarrassed then to explain the reasoning behind it, Jeremy and Jane did not seem to think there was anything odd about the sleeping arrangements. I suppose this was understandable, for they could not comprehend the strength of my attachment to the old house, and how I had been longing to revive memories of my past visits there. After lunch, leaving them to rest, I went out by myself to walk in the spreading garden, across the now overgrown tennis court, down to the little pond at the bottom where I used to catch tadpoles. It was an absolutely still afternoon, and the red flamboyante trees were in riotous blossom.