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sometime in 1947

From Neville Cardus' Autobiography (1947), pp 187-191:




Early in 1926 I wrote to J. M. Barrie about a young actress I had seen in some provincial theatre playing Mary Rose; her name was Kathleen Kilfoyle and I thought she had come closer to the idea of the part than ever was within the more sophisticated scope of Fay Compton. When Barrie replied, he told me he had for years been reading me on cricket and would I come soon and spend a week-end with him at his flat in Robert Street, Adelphi Terrace. Another miracle. I had years ago pretended I was Sentimental Tommy; I had wondered whether Barrie would be my Pym. I had worshipped Peter Pan, or rather Captain Hook. All my earliest aspirations towards journalism had been kindled by reading Barrie's When a Man's Single and My Lady Nicotine; during the early nineteen-hundreds he symbolised a young man's most romantic notions about freelance work in Fleet Street, pipe-smoking, and lodgings in London, and letters from editors commanding more and more articles.


In June, 1926, I accepted Barrie's invitation. It was at the end of a cricket tour and I arrived in London at nine o'clock on a chilly Friday evening, direct from Birmingham, where an England XI had been playing the Australians - a trial for the Test match due at Lord's in a few weeks. The Worcestershire bowler Root had completely baffled the Australians with his leg-swerve on this Friday at Birmingham; and I had no sooner entered Barrie's flat and he had met me at the door than he asked, "What's this Root like? I've just seen the scores in the evening papers." I told him that I had written a most comprehensive account of Root's attack for tomorrow's Manchester Guardian and that I hoped he was too good a journalist to expect me to give away in advance my paper's "exclusiveness." He appreciated the point and next day he said, "I have read your description of Root; and now I not only know exactly how he bowls but I feel I could play him myself with confidence."


This week-end at Barrie's flat will make so strange a story that I must assure the reader that in telling it I have made no exaggeration and have carefully overhauled my memory. Maybe I suffered from delusions; I do not deny the possibility; the point is that if delusions did seize me they were so potent as to become inextricable from fact.


After Barrie had greeted me he showed me my bedroom and a shiver went down my spine when he told me, unnecessarily as I still think, that it had been "Michael's" room. (Michael Llewelyn-Davies had been drowned in 1922, almost four years to the day. ) And now his manservant asked me for my keys. I had come South with only one suitcase, which contained the cast-off underclothes of the tour. There were other and even more intimate things in it. I had never stayed before at a house where a manservant in a brown brass-buttoned uniform asked you (in a tone of voice brooking no denial) for your keys. This Thurston I have subsequently found out was a grand and sterling character, he spoke various languages, and would correct any loose statements about Ovid that he chanced to overhear while he was serving dinner. He had a ghostly face; he was from a Barrie play - so was Barrie, and the flat, and everything in it; the enormous cavern of a fireplace, the wooden settle and old tongs and bellows, and the sense the place gave you that the walls might be walked through if you had been given the secret. Barrie trudged the room smoking a pipe; on the desk lay another pipe already charged, ready for immediate service; he coughed as he trudged and smoked, a cruel cough that provoked a feeling of physical pain in my chest; and his splutterings and gaspings and talk struggled on one from the other. At last he came to sit facing me in front of the smouldering logs, and for a while the silence was broken by groans only to be heard in our two imaginations - the groans of men separated for ever by a chasm of shyness and uneasiness. Until midnight we lingered on. He offered me no refreshment. Thurston apparently went home to sleep each night. Or perhaps he merely dematerialised. Barrie knew I had dined on the train, but a nightcap would have been fortifying to me, I am sure; for already the spell of the flat high amongst the roofs of Adelphi was gripping me.


Next morning Thurston came into my bedroom with tea. He abruptly picked up my trousers and coat and disappeared with them. I had brought no other suit with me. For a frightful half-hour I imagined he was about to send them to the cleaners; and I could do nothing to prevent him. He brought them back neatly brushed, with my polished shoes. He showed me the bathroom, the most unkept I have ever known. The towels were damp and soiled; and round about the shelves were one or two shaving brushes congealed in ancient soap. A rusty razor blade on a window ledge was historical. Barrie had his private bathroom; the unclean towels puzzled me. Was it the custom to bring your own towels when staying with distinguished people for a week-end? I dried myself as best I could, and now Thurston directed me to the breakfast-room, where he attended to me in complete silence, only once speaking to inform me that Sir James was staying in bed for a while but would be glad if I dined with him that evening. The formality of it all was perplexing. This was not my idea of the Barrie way of life. In after years it occurred to me that probably no other guest of my humble station in life had entered the flat for years and years and years.


I spent the day at Lord's and returned to Adelphi Terrace House at seven o'clock, where to my dismay a company of people was assembling. I forget all their names and titles, but the sight of E. V. Lucas consoled me, because of his large humanity. Nobody was dressed for dinner, which was thoughtful of Thurston; clearly he had revealed to Barrie that a dinner-jacket was not part of my miscellaneous luggage. I can remember nothing of the dinner-party save the occasional low chuckle of Lucas. Next morning - Sunday - Thurston again served tea in my bedroom and took away my coat and trousers and waited on me, and watched me carefully at breakfast. He told me that Sir James had gone away until Monday; would I be in for dinner? I replied in as easy and affable a negative as I could muster and render audible.


I spent the day in the parks and dined in Soho, and just before midnight I ascended the lift to the flat and let myself in with my latch-key and turned on the light. Not a sound. A cold collation had been laid for me on the table, with a bottle of hock and a silver box of cigarettes. I explored the bookcases, almost on tiptoe; there was a row of volumes of the Scottish philosophers - Hume, Mackintosh, Hamilton. I sat at Barrie's desk but got up immediately for fear I might be caught in the act. The great chimney corner, with no fire in it, glowered at me. Thurston went through the usual ritual when I awoke after a middling night. The bathroom remained dishevelled. Having dressed I went into the breakfast-room, where at the table sat Margaret Ogilvy, to the life. She turned out not to be a figment of my now tottering brain, but Barrie's sister Maggie. How she came to be present, wearing a dressing-gown, was not explained. She was as gracious as could be, after the manner of all Barrie's women. She had "charm". She asked if I would call on her in her boudoir after dinner tomorrow evening and take part in a little musical "conversazione" - for she loved music and would enjoy singing and playing to me. I did not dare inquire where the boudoir might chance to be situated or secreted.


After another day at Lord's I came back to the flat at dusk. Once more a cold collation and a bottle of hock waited for me. Once more the place was silent and, as far as I could tell without poking and peering and looking under tables and behind curtains, it was unpeopled. I poured me out a glass of wine then, as I drank, I heard the rumble of the lift and presently the door opened and a young man entered, in a dinner jacket. Without a sign of curiosity at my presence or at the absence of others, he remarked to me that it had been a lovely day. He sat on a couch, smoked a cigarette, and talked for a few minutes about the cricket at Lord's; he hadn't yet been able to look in at the match himself, but he had enjoyed my account of Saturday's play in the "M. C." I was liking him very much when he arose, and with an apology left the room and the flat. To this day I do not know who he was - probably young Simon out of Mary Rose.


Barrie was waiting for me next evening alone; we dined together and under the glow of a perfect Burgundy we thawed somewhat. He told me of his early days as a journalist and vowed he could never have made a footing in the London journalism of the present time - which was terribly true. He said that he had never been much interested in the theatre except as one who wrote for it. But it was difficult to keep him off cricket and he pooh-poohed my fears that perhaps I was wasting myself writing about it. He excused himself from attendance at his sister's musical "conversatione" on the grounds that he was unable to distinguish one note from another. But he led me from the dining-room through another room to the boudoir. I can only suppose it had been there all the time; it was remotely Victorian in fragrance and appearance; and there was an upright piano with a fluted silk front. Barrie handed me over to Maggie and escaped. She played a composition of her own called "1914-1918" with a battle section in the middle and a finale of bells and thanksgiving. She next sang a number of Scotch songs in an expressive if wan voice. When the music was over she asked me about my early life and of my struggles. I looked young for my years in those days and probably rather "lost."


Next morning she was at breakfast waiting for me. She told me that during the night she had been in communication with my mother "on the other side" and that my mother and she had loved one another at once, and that my mother was proud of me and that they, the two of them, would watch over and take care of me. I was naturally ready to perspire with apprehension. Was I to be mothered or Wendy'd in this flat in the tree - I mean chimney tops? The interruption here of Thurston was a relief and a blessing, much as I felt drawn to the softness and kindliness of her nature. Thurston led me to Barrie who wanted to say good-bye before I left; he was in bed in a bandbox of a room, bare and uncomfortable - what little I could see of it through thick tobacco smoke, for his pipe was in full furnace as he lay there, frail in pyjamas, like a pygmy with one of those big pantomime heads. He hoped I had enjoyed my stay and would come again; the flat was open to me at any time: I had only to give him short notice. Thurston carried my suitcase down the lift cage. He got me a taxi. In my highly emotional condition - feeling I had emerged from another dimension, and only just emerged - I forgot to tip him. I called on Barrie at the flat once or twice after this experience; but never stayed the night. I prefer my Barrie plays on the stage in front of me, where I can see what they are doing; I don't like them taking place behind my back in the night.