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Letter from Arthur to his sister Margaret, 12 June 1905. Peter's comments include a long description of Egerton House.
June 12, 1905.
It is quite time for me to answer your long letter. I had some idea of proposing a visit to Kirkby this Whitsuntide for a day or two with Michael, but the scheme met with no approval. So I am spending the holidays at home. The boys at the school get no Whitsun holiday, and we are all very well contented to be here for our first country June.
We all labour incessantly in the garden which is now looking very pretty and quite orderly. Sylvia weeds from morning till night, and I roll, mow, shear and dig, and the boys give great assistance. They have beds of their own and help in all the work. Gardening is now George’s leading enthusiasm, coming before cricket, birds’ eggs and literary competitions in the “Captain” magazine.
We are all as well as possible and very flourishing. Sylvia is enjoying the summer here and recognises that there are advantages in the country. The boys are all doing well at school, except that Peter is regarded as a firebrand and a daredevil. His patience, reasonableness and virtue seem to me almost pathetic. George does well with his lessons, and both he and Jack distinguish themselves at cricket. Peter has no athletic capacity, and has only just earned the penny which I promised tor his first run. Nicholas is growing up quickly, walking everywhere, struggling to be articulate, and full of friendliness.
I am very glad to hear such good accounts of Father. Are he and you not coming here for a visit some time during the summer? We are trying to let our house for the summer holidays, perhaps to 2 generations of the Henry Lawrence family.
Work continues only moderate.
I still write with your Fountain Pen.
A charming old walled garden it was, or seems so to me through the rose-and-melancholy tinted glasses through which I see it now; several photographs remain which shew bits and pieces of it, including the very good one of the infant N. & M. seated at the foot of the big fir-tree which grew on the bank at the heck of the lawn. Certain smells (such as that of stocks) and certain tunes, like "I've seen diamonds ln Amsterdam” or “When there isn’t a girl about you do feel lonely", or Boccherini’s Minuet (fiddled by a young virtuoso named Gherson at a Berkhamsted School concert) transport me instantly into that garden, with its plum trees on the walls, and luscious mulberry tree, and lovely pale wisteria by the stable, and the little orchard at the far end, and a horrible old tin bath in which I was allowed to keep newts and frogspawn and stone roaches, etc. And the house was a mighty nice one, too, in its unassuming way; Elizabethan, standing a little back from the broad High Street, covered over, it's true, with rather unattractive roughcast, but not much altered or restored. Those were pleasant days, indeed, for the family, before the clouds gathered, with their wants ministered to by Mary Hodgson and Molly the nursemaid and Minnie the cook and Jane the pretty auburn-haired house parlourmaid, and good-natured toothless Mr. Keene the gardener, and curly-headed Henry, the handyman and "groom"; most of whom had also at intervals to share with us the care of innumerable rabbits, mice, rats and guinea-pigs, and the spaniel Togo and his successor Smee, the Airedale, and cats, both tabby and blue Persian.
A good deal had had to be done to the house in the way of interior decoration and furnishing, all no doubt a delight to S., who had a talent far in advance of her day for such things, hardly less conspicuous, indeed, than her talent which I think amounted to genius for clothes. And all done with very little money; simply by the exercise of flair. So that in one way and another, while the house, viewed from the outside, was a very pleasing example of English Tudor domestic architecture, it revealed itself, when you went in, not in the least as a museum or a “period” affair or a place to make you catch your breath at its exquisite beauty, but as a gracious, happy, pretty, comfortable home.
In the early 1930s (I think) Egerton House was bought by one of those progressive developers who are the glory of our time, and condemned to go the way of so many of the charming old buildings our forefathers took so much trouble to put up. At the last moment a vain effort was made to save it, prominent in the attempt being that great champion of lost causes, Jack Squire. One of the reasons publicly advanced for its preservation was that it had formerly been “the home of Sir James Barrie”. Jack Squire called on J.M.B. and tried to get him to sign a protest; but J.M.B. would have none of it, and I must say I agreed with him, and still do on the whole. What could have been the use? The house wasn't so staggeringly beautiful to the general eye as all that, and there was not the least hope of stemming the destructive or progressive tide; and all that was privately worth preserving had perished so many years before. At any rate, down came Egerton House, and a fine new cinema rose in its stead, doubtless to the satisfaction of the good burghers of Berkhamsted.
[AB: There's more about the history and fate of Egerton House at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egerton_House,_Berkhamsted]
I seem to have dwelled rather over this letter; perhaps because it is the last happy letter of A's which I have in my possession.
The firebrand theory concerning myself was connected, I fancy, with an occasion when, to relieve the boredom of arithmetic, I threw a pellet of blotting-paper soaked in ink at Perry III. Aimed with a skill which seems to belie my ill repute as an athlete, the missile made a considerable mess of Perry’s collar; and his indignant protests and accusations landed me in a quandary from which I was only able to extricate myself uncaned by judicious lying and entirely groundless counter-accusations.
I have no note of the date of Theodore Ll.D's death [25 July 1905] and no reference to it in any of the letters, but think it must have been during the summer of this year, probably soon after the date of the present letter. As I have said near the beginning of this compilation*, I have a more or less distinct recollection of hearing A. break the news to S. in the Egerton House garden, on his return from London one evening. Theodore was much loved by his family and by S., and was by common consent regarded as the most brilliant of the brothers. The blow must have been a heavy one, particularly to J.Ll.D., now nearly eighty years old. Theodore had been for a few years at the Treasury, and very great things were expected of him. I can only remember him as a young and active uncle who did not disdain to play Red Indians with us at Tilford.
Later: The date of Theodore’s death was July 5th [it was actually July 25th]. Since writing the above I have received, from Mary and Theodora, a considerable number of Ll.D. letters, from and to Mary (grandmother) Ll.D., including a good many of Theodore’s. I may have some of these typed come day.
[* From an earlier volume of the Morgue: “I can just remember Theodore; and the first impact of mortality on my young mind was when I overheard Arthur, in the garden of Egerton House, into which he had just come through the greenhouse, on his return from London one evening in 1905, speaking to Sylvia with his arm round her shoulders, in an unusual tone of voice, “Bad news, beloved… Theodore… drowned.” I had an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of the stomach and made myself scarce. It was a sensation one was often to experience again.”]
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