Letter from Sylvia to Arthur's sister Margaret, 9 July 1906
[No original available]
Egerton House, Berkhamsted.
Monday [9 July 1906]
He seems really better and stronger and a little less thin – he eats so well and actually went to the common with some of the boys!
We went up again to the dentist for him to make more measurements and then I took dear George to Paddington. He seemed quite happy but took it all as rather a joke. I hope so much he will do pretty well for Arthur’s sake, but of course he has no special work for this kind of thing.
Then I joined Arthur and he does not seem too tired. We have to go again Wednesday and Friday, and I hope it won't be too much for him. The good Jack Hills (Stella Duckworth's husband) came on Friday and Mr Beesley (Marlborough) and on Saturday Frederick Oliver – yesterday Lady Blanche (I only gave her a few moments by his chair) and today kind and helpful Roland Vaughan Williams.
He enjoyed the dear letters you sent, my M. – how you think of him. I loved them too, dearest, and saw and heard my sweet beautiful Mil. Oh, my sister how full your heart is.
I will write again – soon. George was delighted with your letter.
I am not sure that the ghastly plate, or artificial jaw, isn’t the most dreadful element in the whole sad story. It must have been a nightmare: so much seemed to depend on it
and it so soon became impossible to wear, as J.M.B. had foreseen.
George had been dispatched from Paddington to Eton, to sit for the scholarship examination. Berkhamsted was a good school, and I both enjoyed and I think profited by my short stay there – to celebrate which I bought myself an O.B. tie the other day – but its standard of learning was not particularly high and was in no sense designed to turn out Eton scholars.
Stella Duckworth: I suppose she was a sister of the Gerald Duckworth, the publisher, i.e. a daughter of Julia Stephen by her first husband.
Fred Oliver: attractive, rich, one of the heads of Debenham and Freebody, and no mean man of letters besides. I think she was a pretty close friend, though I don’t know what had brought him and Arthur together. Cambridge, or J.M.B? Before we left London for Berkhamsted, Arthur used to play fives a lot with him on Sundays at the Debenhams’ house in Addison Road, another “regular“ at those games being Gerard Lee Bevan, one of the more celebrated of old Etonian financial crooks.
The Olivers went on being friends of the family after Arthur’s death and after Sylvia’s too, and Michael and Nico, and possibly Jack also, used to go to stay at their house across the Scottish border, Edgerston, where for a good many years J.M.B. was a regular visitor. His widow, Katie Oliver, whom we used to know well, still survives. I think she, too, faded out of J.M.B.’s background, like the rest of the old friends, in his last two or three years. I keep up to some extent with Mark, their eldest son and my exact contemporary at Eton. I should say the Olivers, Fred and his wife, were among the very few people who understood perfectly what “the five” had lost, as well as what they gained, when they were “adopted” by J.M.B.
Lady Blanche was Lady Blanche (ex Ogilvy) Hozier, who when we were at Berkhamsted lived in what must have been reduced circumstances, in a small house in the High Street, a few doors from Egerton House, with her two pretty daughters, just growing up, Clementine and Nelly. She and they used to come in to lunch with us occasionally on Sundays, and Lady B. had a way of indicating, with a determined finger, her partiality for titbits off the joint which used to tickle Arthur and Sylvia and cause much suppressed giggling on our parts. She also never stop talking, hence the very few moments Sylvia was willing to grant her. The handsome Clementine married (1909) Winston Churchill, and Nelly, the prettier of the two, a Colonel Romilly of the Scots Guards who, I think, had plenty of money, so Lady B. must be given credit where credit is due. Nellie’s son Guy Romilly created something of a stir in the 1930s by running away from Harrow (at least I think so) and joining the anti-Francoites in the Spanish Civil War. Sylvia had a soft spot for both girls, and in her last “will” expressed a wish that some of her clothes should be offered to Nellie.
Roland Vaughan Williams (K.C., 1913), son of Lord Justice Vaughan Williams, was in the same chambers as Arthur, and a close friend, though I don’t remember him. Not long ago I walked through the shattered precincts of the temple; Garden Court survived all the blitzes, and at No. 2, where Arthur’s name used to be, Roland V.W.’s may still be seen.
Later. In the summer of 1946 I approached old Roland V.W. with the idea of collecting some information about Arthur’s professional status etc at the time he was struck down. But the meeting was not a success. The old boy’s memory was largely gone and his mind wanders. There was nothing to be got out of him. He is a very rich man, and seemed chiefly interested in trying to get me to rent one of the two lovely houses he owns in the woodlands round Leith Hill, where his wife breeds Arab bloodstock. There was nothing to be got out of me either, for obvious reasons. A flop, in fact, from all points of view.
I take the “dear letters” to have been a batch of old letters from Mary Llewelyn Davies – “my sweet beautiful Mil” – which Margaret had sent from the carefully preserved hoard at Kirkby, and the reading of which had brought a poignant pleasure to A. and S. They are probably among the many which Dr Mary and Theodora gave me not long ago; too late for inclusion in this record. I intend, however, to have a selection of them typed in due course. I believe a number of Arthur’s old own letters home, from Marlborough, Cambridge etc, which have been reproduced earlier in the these pages, were also sent to him about this time by Margaret and that he enjoyed the memories they revived for him.
[AB: Re. the Olivers and Edgerston, Nico has added in handwriting, “On one of those visits, N met for the first time his Mary.” And re. Katie Oliver, “She was N’s self-chosen (he was christened at the age of 14) godmother.”]
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