Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Barbara Pym's Quartet in Autumn

`So you are Miss Crowe' It was not the most friendly greeting, Letty felt, but there was nothing for it but to repeat that she was indeed Miss Crowe and to assume that the woman peering through the barely opened door must be Mrs Pope. And why should she have expected friendliness when the relationship between them was to be that of landlady and tenant ? Friendliness was by no means to be taken for granted. Obviously she should have expected little in the way of warmth, with the taxi taking her what seemed so very far north, though the postal address was only Nw6. It was not long before Christmas — St Lucy's Day, Edwin had reminded her, though the saint seemed to have no particular significance for the move. Norman, of course, made much of it being the shortest day. 'Get there in good time,' he advised. 'You don't want to be wandering about in a strange district after dark.' `One has to be careful,' Mrs Pope went on, opening the door a little wider. 'There are so many impostors these days.' Letty had to agree, though she felt that Mrs Pope was not the sort of person to be taken in by an impostor. While Edwin's impression and description of her had been merely that of a woman in her eightieth year who was 'wonderful for her age', Lefty now saw that she was an imposing figure with noble almost Roman features and a mass of thick white hair, of the kind that is sometimes described as 'abundant', arranged in an elaborate old-fashioned style. After the vitality and warmth of Mr Olatunde's house Mrs Pope's seemed bleak and silent, with its heavy dark furniture and ticking grandfather clock, the kind of tick that would keep one awake until one got used to it. Lefty was shown the kitchen where she could prepare her meals and a cupboard where she could keep her food. The bathroom and lavatory were indicated with gestures, being not the kind of rooms into which one would show people.


 It appeared that Marjorie had come to London to buy clothes for her trousseau, which seemed to Lefty not only an old-fashioned idea but an inappropriate one for a woman in her sixties. Yet Marjorie had always been of a romantic nature, getting the most out of unpromising circumstances. Even Marcia, Lefty recalled, had an 'interest' in the surgeon who had performed her operation, so that a visit to hospital was something to be looked forward to. Only Letty, it seemed, was without romance in her life, and the prospect of Marjorie's marriage was something beyond her imagining. If she had now got over any disappointment she may have felt at the cancellation of her retirement plans, she was still not able to enter fully into Marjorie's rapture. But she could offer suggestions about clothes and perhaps that was something. shall be wearing a blue crepe dress,' Marjorie was saying, 'and I thought of getting a small, matching hat.' `You could wear a wide-brimmed hat,' Lefty said. A woman of their age could do with a few becoming shadows cast on the face, she thought. 'Oh, do you think so? Yes, I suppose it's not like Royalty — people don't necessarily expect to see one's face — or want to,' Marjorie laughed. 'And of course there won't be crowds of people it's going to be very quiet.' `Yes, I suppose so.' The weddings of older people usually were. `You don't mind, do you, Lefty?' `Mind?' Letty was surprised at the question. `At not being asked to be a bridesmaid, I mean.' `Of course not! I never thought of it.' Older women attending each other in this way seemed highly unsuitable and she was surprised that Marjorie had suggested it. In any case, Lefty had been a bridesmaid at Marjorie's first wedding. She wondered if Marjorie had forgotten this but was too tactful to remind her of it. `And we shan't even be having any guests just my brother to give me away and a friend of David's, a fellow priest, as best man.' `Has he any relations?' `Just his mother — he's an only child.' `But his mother won't be at the wedding?' Marjorie smiled. 'Well, she's in her ninetieth year, so I would hardly expect it. She is living in a religious community — the nuns have taken her in.' `To end her days? It seems a good arrangement.' Lefty saw that churchgoing might have some unexpected advantages and wondered if Mrs Pope had arranged to be taken in by nuns one day.

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