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Chapter 23. Friday Evening. A Party, and Then a Chat in the Nelson Arms

Anne and Bob saw each other for three months, and then they stopped.  The course of antibiotics was over, the medicine had taken effect, and that was it.  Yet they parted happily, and each was grateful to the other for those hours in another world, out of all the many worlds that rub along in a single city.

About three weeks after seeing Bob for the last time, on a Friday evening in the middle of December, when the mornings are dark, and the afternoons are dark, and even midday is dark, but when Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat, Anne was unenthusiastically looking through her wardrobe for something to wear to Janet’s party. She now regretted that she had let Janet persuade her to go.  Janet had rung up only yesterday and said she couldn’t do without her, it was vital that Anne went, she was longing to see her (etc, etc,), and after wondering why Janet hadn´t phoned her earlier, Anne had given in.

She took out the black dress which was her usual (and always successful) solution for parties.  She changed her jewellery.  First, she put on long earrings of filigree gold.  They came from Niger in West Africa.  Henry had bought them for her in Portobello Road along with the filigree cross from Agadez.  Anne slipped the cross on to the gold chain which had been a present from Harvey.  He had given it to her on her 21st birthday.  She clasped it around her neck. She made up carefully (ars est celare artem) (ie. the real trick with make-up is seeming to wear no make-up) and then looked at the total effect in the long mirror of her bedroom.  Not bad. Not bad at all.

“But what is it all for?”

In spite of looking in party mood, she actually felt no enthusiasm about the evening, and she left the security of home reluctantly.  She shivered in the cold darkness as she went to her car and drove out of Bristol to Janet’s house in Long Weston, as late as she dared.

She parked.  There was very little space left in front of the house.  Most of the others must already be there.  She walked up through the cold garden (it would freeze tonight, perhaps it was already freezing now) and rang the doorbell. Anne always hated the few seconds’ wait after ringing a bell. She felt the uncertainty of what was to happen. Still, she did her best to make good use of those moments in order to brace herself for the effort of meeting people she did not know.  She wondered what conversations she would be involved in. Janet was genuinely very pleased to see her and led her into the hall. As Anne took off her coat, she heard the social buzz in the living room and steeled herself to join it.

She breathed in deeply and followed Janet through the living room door, and her evening began.  The first job was to make conversation to the greying architect that Janet had left her with.  She dutifully asked him questions about his latest project, a hotel in Ilfracombe.

“How many bedrooms?  All overlooking the sea? Blending with the existing buildings?”

She did her best to appear interested.

And then she saw Harvey on the other side of the room. 

Harvey?  Harvey? Here? But he is supposed to be in Australia.  He is supposed to be in Perth. How can he be in Somerset and in Long Weston of all places?  He hasn’t seen me yet.  He’s very brown, he looks fit and well.  He really hasn’t changed much, just filled out a little perhaps. 

Anne left the architect in mid-sentence, (his not hers), took two glasses of red wine from a tray on the table, and then, as casually as she could (“Walk slowly, breathe slowly, speak slowly.”), she went over to Harvey, interrupting his conversation with a fair-haired girl who turned out to be the Alice Penhow to whom he had lent that money years before.

(Good, at least he looks surprised.) “Harvey, would you like a drink?”

Harvey felt calm relief. It was the same sensation of rightness as when he had first met her, years before, in Headington just outside Oxford, after the play competition, when he had stopped his car and she had said, “Thank you.” All was well with the world. Why on earth had he gone to Australia?   This was the same feeling as before. Wasn’t this another first meeting?

Harvey took the glass of wine that she held out to him, and they drank and talked.  Alice saw that she was becoming less and less involved in their conversation and resignedly went off to look for something to eat.  She was approached by the architect of the hotel in Ilfracombe, intent on completing the sentence that he was unable to finish earlier.

Anne had gone to Long Weston expecting nothing, and here she was with Harvey, feeling good, looking very good, in a warm room with such marvellous people.  Parties were great!  Harvey was smiling too.  He hadn’t expected much either, but he always enjoyed going out, and usually something pleasant turned up.  He had never imagined that Anne would be there.

He now regretted that he had not contacted her the moment he arrived in England.  A phone call from Heathrow!  That would have been the thing. That’s what he should have done.

Anne said, “I didn’t know you were back in England.”

“Well, yes.  I’ve been back about a month.  I was going to phone you.”

“Were you?”

“Yes, I’m trying to get sorted out and organised and then contact everyone again”

Anne smiled at the thought of Harvey getting himself “sorted out and organised”, but she said, “But you must have contacted Janet, as she knew you were around and invited you here” Touché!  Sometimes being a barrister stood her in good stead!

Harvey didn’t know what to say, so he told the truth.  “She didn’t know I was back. She had invited an old school friend of mine, Roger Knight, I don’t think you know him, and Roger couldn’t go, and then she was one short, and I happened to phone Roger when I got back, and Roger suggested I should come here instead of him.  That was when I phoned her.”

Anne smiled again.  Both Harvey and she had been reserves for the first team in this party. They were both replacements.

They decided to leave.  They both knew that they had no intention of talking to anyone else.  They found Janet slicing lemons in the kitchen and said goodbye with the excuse of one having to give a lift to the other, or the other way round or something, and they both received a look of great surprise from Janet who saw them to the door and watched them leave together.  She was happy to see them together especially since she had been involved in the disastrous meeting in Rusholme. She smiled as they left and hoped for better things for them this evening.  And for herself? For herself nothing seemed to be materialising at all.  Never mind, on we go.  On we go.

Anne and Harvey walked down the village street to the Nelson Arms, and went in. How different for Anne the happiness of entering the room with Harvey compared with the dread of going through the door and joining the party at Janet’s alone just an hour before. Now she could relax.  Harvey would find a table and order the drinks. He did find two unoccupied stools at a small table in the corner of the lounge bar, not far from the log fire, and they sat down together, on their own, for the first time in three years.

They talked about things that mattered and about things that didn’t matter so much.  They talked about his journey, and they talked about her work.  She envied him the places he had seen, and he envied her for having a job she could go to at 9 o’clock next Monday morning and for being part of the working life of Bristol.  As for their own relationship, Harvey was confident that nothing had changed. But how could nothing change in several years?  Anyway, spontaneously and confidently he began, “So when can I see you again?  Perhaps tomorrow?  I know a great pub in Bristol, and there’s an Irish fiddler who plays there every Saturday.”

Anne was about to agree (she always used to agree with Harvey), but she said, “No, not tomorrow, Harvey.”

“Well, Sunday, then, or Monday, although the fiddler only plays on Saturdays. It would be a pity to miss him.”

“No, not Sunday or Monday either.  You see, I’m very busy.  I’m afraid I can’t see you.”

She had never seen Harvey so crestfallen.  She wanted to touch his cheek. In fact, she just said, “So, there we are.”

Hadn’t he been the one who’d gone off round the world for three years?  Hadn’t he left her to go to Manchester?  And what about that girl in his room the evening she visited him in Rusholme? Seeing Janet again this evening had reminded her of that. All Harvey’s sins were summoned for judgement.  Anne would have preferred to be acting for the defence.   How many arguments would she have found!  But she stuck at it and battled on.  She was learning.  Already expert in law, which was easy, she was now a little less naïve in love, which wasn’t.

“Oh,” said Harvey.  This sort of thing had never happened to him before, even with Lorna, and that was the nearest he had come to being out of his depth. “Oh,” he repeated, and then they talked a little more, and then they parted.

Nothing helped Harvey to know his own mind better, or rather his own heart, than Anne’s refusal to go out with him on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  He hadn’t dared mention the rest of the week for fear of a string of refusals there too.  At least he had asked for her phone number and at least she had given it to him.  That was something.  It was not much but it was something.

As he walked back to his car he realised, more clearly with every step, what he really felt. Nothing new in all this, of course. “Men are April when they woo.”   Women should keep them at the April stage a little longer, but the men who carry on being April are thin on the ground, and this is one of the sadnesses of life. 

Anne’ mother had told her all this.  Only now was Anne grateful for the knowledge. And only now did she make any use of it.  When she said goodbye and left Harvey that night, she was 99% happy.

The other 1% depended on Harvey giving her a phone call in the next few days.

Wait!  Go back a bit.  Rosalind was so right, and it’s best if she tells us the rest of her thoughts on April.  Let’s hear her out!   

“Men are April when they woo, December when they wed.  Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.” 

Yes, Rosalind was so right.  Keep men in April mode as long as you can, like an expert angler with a fish on the hook.  Play the fish a little because the sky changes when the fish is brought to land.

On we go.  As Anne drove home the streets looked different. Her front door looked different.  She looked up and she saw Orion. Orion was there.  Things were good. The stairs up to her flat were different, and so was her bedroom.  She remembered how she had felt only a few hours before, when she had dressed for the party, had chosen her earrings, and had put on her make-up, as she thought, for no one.

But would Harvey phone her?