Friday, 9 September 2016

A Very British Romance, part 4: Faint heart never won fair lady

Here is the fourth part of Margaret Eason's series, A Very British Romance, in which the story, and the relationship, progresses.

Postmark from a postcard from Angus to Connie
Postmark from a postcard from Angus to Connie

Throughout the summer months Connie has not been able to accept Angus's invitation to visit him at Chateau d'Oex; and consequently on 4 September 1916 we find him chewing his pen in an effort to compose a letter to Connie that is 'by no means the first attempt,' he has made.

He is hoping that this one will get as far as the letter box.  'You will be thinking I am an awful rotter for not writing sooner, but like you I have thought a lot lately and also heard from mother about you.'  He feels that perhaps the telegram 'was rather stupid', because, 'of course under the circumstances it would be a little awkward for you to have come out, but I don't know, these conventionalities to a prisoner of war seem a little frivolous'.  He tells Connie that she was rather funny in her last letter 'about breaking it gently'.

'Well! I don't know how to do it I'm sure. The fact is I am labouring under rather difficult circumstances in writing this letter.'  His object had been to get Connie to come out as a friend of the family, 'as some have done here but unfortunately that did not happen'.  Before the war, 'not having my ticket it was necessary for me to (what should I say, one can only express it in slang)... keep off the grass.'  He doesn't know if Connie agrees but he feels that this war alters things somewhat.  'But what I am really getting at (and you can understand my reluctance in writing as I am not sure exactly of your feelings on the subject) is this, will you come out to Suisse as my fiancee?'

Angus is at last hooked.

Angus would have much preferred asking Connie that question in person after...'having gauged your feelings on the matter, but "faint heart never won fair lady" so I am making the plunge and I can only trust that you do not think me too presumptuous as regards your affections.'

'We have known each other a fair time now and personally I am quite sure about myself, more especially after you being such a brick to me during the whole of my imprisonment.'

At the end of page two he stops swimming in circles and lays it on the slab; 'The fact is you have jolly well to come out here.  The question remains, will you?'

As he has said before, 'the pity is that you could not have come out here, then we could have judged each other as we now are. Personally I do not think I have changed in any way and I am quite certain in my own mind that you are the girl I wish to become my wife.'  His difficulty comes in knowing whether Connie likes him sufficiently well to accept his proposal.  'It's rather a strange letter but it's all dead earnest.'  'I am sure you will understand the difficulty I am in in putting those sentiments down on paper.  Still here they are and I am now anxiously awaiting your reply.  So do say you will come.'  Angus is writing to Connie's father 'on this subject' and he hopes that 'he will look at it in the same light as I do.'  

I think Connie's dad may need to take the letter to the parlour window to shed a little more light on this subject than Angus has provided.

Troth duly plighted Angus signs off to Connie:

'Heaps of love
from your affectionate friend,
E. Angus Leybourne.'

A very British proposal and of its time, I think; not perhaps how Cyrano de Bergerac would have worded it but all the better for that.

17 September 1916. Connie has received the letter (and a wire from Angus); her eagerly awaited reply is 'a letter that she finds very hard to write.'  Angus's letter has come as a 'bolt from the blue' and 'was a little bit of a shock'. But she admits that, 'somehow in the back of my mind I had kept wondering if you had meant anything by that telegram, but being "only a girl", I could not do anything about it.'

Not having heard from Angus for so long after his mother and Muriel had arrived she was beginning to think that he didn't care, that he was happy now that 'his own' were out and not to imply a criticism, she adds 'quite right too'. She also began to think that the other people out there must be nice and fascinating too.  '"What a cat Con is" you will think, still you had better know the worst about me (that is by no means the worst) you'll find it out by degrees, and will need a rare stock of patience.'

What Angus is making of this answer to his, by now undoubted proposal of marriage to her, is not difficult to imagine. A whole page before she hints that there will be a future together for them. But as she says 'Well old man if I knew more about such like letters I suppose I ought to formally thank you etc. but no one has proposed to me by letter before...still I do thank you and now let me try to put things down on paper'.

On page two, and she tries to explain her feelings and why she felt unable to go out to visit him when he first suggested it. This was because of her concern for her parents, who were so anxious about her brother Phil, and how could she go to his mother and say ‘I'm going out with you’, she would have thought, 'forward hussy'.  Angus has told her he doesn't think he is changed.  However, from Lieutenant Colonel Picot's observations, many of the interned prisoners of war were so shattered in mind and body that it was as if they had 'seen the face of God'.  

Connie doesn't think she has changed a tiny bit, but is so afraid he will think she has, she tells him;

'if you are willing to risk it I am and you are absolutely the only boy I have ever felt the slightest affection for, oh bother I can't put things down on paper.'  Having read this far Angus must be feeling more confident, but there is another hurdle, Connie's Dad hasn't made up his mind what to say about her coming out to see him, but he is favourably inclined towards Angus, apparently you never could hurry him, 'dear old Dad'.  In the meantime, Connie is going to amuse herself making travel enquiries at Thomas Cook's in Newcastle and finishes on an encouraging note, 'if we are engaged I shall feel I can write any “Tommy rot” I like to you and you to me and we will grow to understand and love one another more and more, so let us be...Yours as before, Con.'

By 24 September 1916 barely a week after Connie's last letter to him, Angus has his answer and writes back to her, 'Dear Connie, Well well! You are "a brick"’.  He tells her he understands her having difficulty replying to his letter, but he writes, 'I hope you realize how difficult it was for me not only to write the letter to you and your Par but also to summon up courage to actually send it off. I tried to write a letter to you at night and then put it in a drawer till the morning. Knowing that when you are in difficulties a good nights sleep is the very best thing in the world! However, courage has been rewarded. Oh it's simply great.'

Angus describes how when her letter arrived he was standing on the steps of the Chalet, having just returned from Church, he slipped away from the crowd to go the veranda on the tennis court to read it in peace. 'That is certainly the most exciting letter it has been my lot to receive.'  He admits to not knowing 'which way the wind was blowing until he got well into the letter,' but he supposes they are 'what is called "engaged" now', i.e. if her Dad agrees.  ‘These are stirring times'. 

Obviously excited and impatient for Connie to visit, Angus urges her to get the Thomas Cook's business fixed up right away; he assures her that she will have 'absolutely no difficulty in getting out’, and expects she will arrive in October. Angus also tells her that she is rather humorous about the telegram and being only a girl. 'That's always the way girls sit tight and say they do nothing when all the time they are running the whole show.'

Obviously Angus has sussed Connie and is more than willing to be her pet fish.

Despite having such a lot to say that somehow will not come, Angus declares, 'for the present, the main thing is that you have not said No and that there is every possibilty of your Father saying Yes.'  He says this is a step he thought he should take all the time he was in Germany and the latter months in Switzerland, but he will tell her all about that when she comes out.  He has a request, 'In your next letter let me hear some of your real "tommy rot"', and signs off 'with heaps of love from your old friend, Angus.’

You can see photographs and postcards of some of the internees at Chateau d'oex and other locations on the Swiss commemoration site:

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