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Arthur Llewelyn Davies to John Llewelyn Davies - 1


Letter from Arthur to his father, 6 April 1907


Egerton House, Berkhamsted
April 6 1907.

Dearest Father,
Margaret is so very good at sending news across the space that I am ashamed at not doing a little more for you in return, especially as I have plenty of spare time, and writing a short note rather helps me to fill up a vacant afternoon. I was intending to write to you yesterday evening with the report of Shaw Mackenzie’s visit, but during supper there was a small disturbance, with small loss of blood, of a kind which causes my advisors some anxiety. It did no harm at all however, yesterday, and can be explained on the view that there is nothing wrong, but I think it shows that on any similar occasion there may be precariousness. They cd. do little by way of prevention or cure.
On the other hand, the fact that the little attack went off by mere stillness, and without much active effort at cure, shows that things may be getting better than on former occasions. Anyhow it is a blessing that my doctors and nurse are willing to speak frankly to me about things and prospects.
We had the school athletics sports this afternoon, and Peter won a prize, the second in the Hundred Yards under eleven, to our great satisfaction. Barrie said that he seemed very popular, and that his name kept sounding all over the field, much more than any other during that race. His long legs must have helped him. He is a modest boy.
Our holiday arrangements are quite uncertain still, and we do not know whether Miss May will be able to help us. Sylvia suggests now that we may keep either G. or J. at home for the first half, and exchange the other for him for the second. I think that somehow we shall manage it, but I am afraid there is no chance of Sylvia leaving me and going across.
Yours affectly,
No further news of Jack

[Peter's comments:]

The news of Jack would be of his passing his entrance examination into Osborne, and must have come through shortly after this.

This letter, with its unequivocal warning note, is much more strongly written, besides being more clearly expressed than either of the two preceding ones. The sentence about doctors and nurse being willing to speak frankly raises the whole question of whether it is better to know or not to know the worst, in cases of incurable disease. But it is a more or less unanswerable question as a generalisation, circumstances being so variable. Arthur undoubtedly preferred to know, and insisted on knowing, all the arguments pro and con from the very beginning, and no doubt all serious hope had been abandoned by himself, Sylvia and all closely connected with his case, long before now. I take it that when he wrote this letter, he knew that the end was very near, and wished to prepare his father for the inevitable news.
If I may be forgiven for intruding a personal note (since this may some day be read by my children) I will remark that my popularity was not in fact excessive, and that what seemed to J.M.B. to drown the shouts of the supporters of other runners was doubtless the sound of his own voice cheering me on; though curiously enough I have no recollection of his having been present. But then, neither do I remember his constant presence at Egerton House during all these dark months, or Crompton’s for that matter; one more example of the blank spots which exist in one’s memory.
I remember the race very well indeed, in the beautiful sports ground surrounded by the ruined walls of the mediaeval castle. I had done well in the preliminary heats, and thought I was an absolute cert. for the final (so much for my modesty). Great was my indignation, and bitter the pill, when at about 75 yards. a short, stocky little wretch named Van Toller fairy shot past and broke the tape ahead of me.
What an odd creature is a small boy, engrossed in the excitement of a race, utterly ignorant of the tragedy being enacted in his own home. A blissful ignorance, indeed; but the tragedy had its delayed action.

The Easter holiday arrangements were as forecast in this last of Arthur’s letters to Kirkby Lonsdale. All of us were sent off with Mary [Hodgson] to Ramsgate except George, who stayed on at Egerton House with Sylvia. I wish that I could remember saying goodbye to Father before we left. Some very faint, dim, shadowy recollection of doing so lingers far down in my brain, but nothing to hold onto.

The few pencilled notes which follow are all undated, nor can I be certain of their proper order in sequence of time. But they all clearly belong to the last few weeks of Arthur’s life. Some, but not all, represent his part in conversations with J.M.B. I got them all from the inner recess of J.M.B.’s desk after his death; they had undoubtedly lain untouched for many years, but there were indications either that Michael had seen them, or that they had been looked through by J.M.B. after Michael’s death. They are written on small bits of paper, probably the pages of a writing pad, each little page being torn off when filled up or done with.


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