Letter from Arthur to his sister Margaret, 23 August 1906.
[No original available]
Cudlow House, Rustington
August 23, 1906.
We are surprised to have no further outbreaks of mumps. The time for infection from Jack at his most infectious stage is now well past, and George’s microbes are about due to operate on the younger ones. George was kept long in bed by a very careful doctor, but is now up and about, perfectly well, and doing everything except bathe and bicycle.
Jack is perfectly recovered. We have been having most wonderful weather ever since we came here, one or two rather cold and blowy days, but scarcely a drop of rain. Yesterday it was cloudless and windless from dawn to night and today it is almost as good. We all, except poor George, bathe with great enjoyment in the warm sea, Sylvia from a tent, and the rest of us from the adjacent beach. Peter is now quite fearless in the water, but Michael stands up to his knees clinging to the breakwater, but still enjoying himself. Sylvia seems very well and strong, bathing and walking and playing lawn tennis. It is funny to hear the games when she and George and Jack and Peter are playing: Peter absolutely silent whether he does well or ill, and the others talking without intermission.
Jimmy is still with us, very good in all the amusements. Mary Barrie is motoring in France with Molly Muir, and has been struck stuck by illness of their chauffeur at the hotel at Dives where they all stayed last year.
I am quite well and flourishing, except for some discomfort with my plate which is now passing away. It is unpleasant to be temporarily without it.
I am in communication with Mr. Justice Bigham about the possibility of an appointment, but do not intend to take any active steps at present.
If Harry and Agnes could come here we should be very glad to see them.
Although Arthur was able to bathe, I don’t think he could take much part in the lawn tennis and “cricket” games which went on in the garden.
Among the things I remember about this time are: a drive and walk to Burpham, scene of a previous (1900) carefree summer holiday, which must have had its poignancy for Arthur, who had thought of Burpham while he lay recovering from his operation – and having tea there at Mrs Hawes’ cottage by the Arun; and going by myself to Angmering station, a mile or so from Rustington, to fetch a crate of grapefruit, (at that time perhaps something of a novelty) and finding the return walk a Herculean labour. They were for Arthur, who could still eat nothing but soft substances, including, I remember, some unpleasant sloppy looking stuff called Plasmon. I recall, too, going with Arthur and George and Jack by train to Bramber, and thence for a walk up on to the open downs, the last of those walks with which more than anything else, I associate Arthur in my memories of him. Walking was, I think, at all times of his life, and certainly in his last years, his favourite pursuit.
Was it on this train journey, or perhaps on an earlier one from Ramsgate to Deal, for the walk across the Kentish downs to Dover, that Arthur taught us the game of tying a piece of paper on to the end of a long bit of string and letting it out of the window, so that it fluttered tantalisingly at the window of the next compartment, the occupant of which was bound eventually to seize it, whether in rage or for fun, when a tug-of-war ensued?
The presence of J.M.B. at Cudlow House throughout these holidays was a queerish business, when you come to think of it: as odd a variation of the ménage à trois as ever there was, one would say. I think by now Arthur had surrendered utterly and was reconciled, for all sorts of reasons. But how strange the mentality of JMB, whose devotion to Sylvia seems to have thriven on her utter devotion to Arthur, as well as on his own admiration for him. It would be misleading to call his devotion more dog-like than man-like: there was too much understanding and perception in it – not to mention the element of masterfulness. And how about Mary Barrie meanwhile? I suspect that on the whole the state of affairs suited her well enough, and I say so in no disparaging sense. For a final oddity, is it possible that the Molly Muir with whom she was motoring was the Molly Muir for whom, according to H. J. Ford, Arthur had had a tendresse before he met Sylvia, 16 years earlier?
The sick chauffeur was, I fancy, Frederick, who followed Alfred – much admired by me for being able to balance on a stationary bicycle at Telford fair – and not Alphonse who, I think, succeeded Frederick a year or two later, and who is now mine host of the Pilot Boat Inn at Bembridge.
Mr Justice Bigham (later Lord Mersey) was one of Arthur’s best friends and supporters in the legal world. Years later (1914) he wrote to JMB, expressing his appreciation of what JMB was doing for Arthur’s sons. Years later again, Crompton Ll.D. was going to take me round to see him and hear him talk of Arthur, but to my regret the visit never came off, owing either to Crompton’s death or Lord Mersey’s, I’m not sure which*. His grand-daughter married Dolly Ponsonby’s son, Matthew, and is now, I suppose, Lady Ponsonby. To the above little list of links with Lord Mersey should be added the fact that he was the presiding judge in JMB’s divorce case. [He also headed the inquiries into the sinking of both the Titanic and Lusitania.]
[AB: *Probably Mersey, who died in 1929, whereas Crompton didn't die till 1935.]
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