Augustus Snodbury was annoyed. Why hadn’t he had confirmation of
his booking to stay a few days in Bath at half term? The school firewall
was a menace. We would be far better to return to paper
communication, he thought. But then that upstart, Milford-Haven,
had unctuously informed him that one million letters a week go
missing and so his confirmation was probably languishing in a
warehouse in Belfast, along with his request to Father Christmas,
which hadn’t been answered either, even though he had posted it in
that reliable looking box in Suttonford High Street, next to the grotto,
in ample time. He was certain that the Mail Police could not have
possibly detected that he had steamed off a stamp and re-used it.
He supposed that sending anything to the West Country was fraught
with negative possibilities, as he had read that a postman there had
been found with 3,215 undelivered cards and letters in his attic.
Perhaps he had renewed his activity?
Milford-Haven stupidly attempted to re-assure him by relating how a
postcard which had been sent to Aberdeen in 1889 from
Queensland, Australia, had recently turned up a century later, having
been lost in the Aussie postal system- probably in some swagman’s
February was upon him. He glanced at his planner where he crossed
off the days to half-term rather in the manner of Robinson Crusoe,
though the latter hadn’t been as desperate to escape.
Snod avoided looking at the 14th. It indicated the humiliation of an
incident several decades previously. He had plucked up the courage
to deliver a Valentine with Marry Me written in his beautiful
penmanship in the interior. And who was his beloved? Ah, none
other than the fresh-faced Diana Fotheringay, lax mistress at St
Vitus School for the Academically Gifted Girl, lax being an
abbreviation for that dangerous sport played with fishing net
weaponry and having nothing to do with looseness of behaviour.
(Mind you, when you saw the players mid-game, you
could have had some doubts as to the decorum in their modus
The youthful and ardent Augustus Snodbury, then a Junior master at
St Birinus’ had retained the heart-shaped diamond ring in his bureau.
It still nestled in its plush box. He hadn’t taken it out for a number of
years, but he knew exactly where it was.
So why was it not gracing the finger of his chosen one?
To continue the piscatorial reference: she hadn’t taken his bait. No,
not even though they had been sweethearts for almost a year.
It couldn’t have been that silly quarrel, could it?
This was a question that had niggled him in the early hours over the
following years. Worse still, he had had to witness her marriage to
that blockhead, Syylk, the picture restorer from Quarto Street. Well,
that hadn’t lasted. Of course, in those days, once married, a female
teacher retired from scholastic involvement. She had her daughter
to bring up as-ghastly term- a single parent. And now that daughter
taught at St Vitus’ too and he had to meet her on some joint
occasions, even had to address her invitation card to the schools’
joint drama evening. This proved painful, but, at least she
looked nothing like her mother. Oddly, she didn’t resemble that
swine Syylk either, so much the better for her.
Drusilla was grumbling about the disruption to her House flat. Why
on earth did she have to have the new carpet laid mid-term? Of
course, the Bursary was being beastly about letting premises in
the holidays and so all work had to be done when it suited the
school. Actually, she thought carpeting was an allergy provoking
floor covering, so she was going to investigate the state of the
floor boards and maybe she could negotiate some floor paint and
The edges of the carpet were frayed, so she pulled up a rusty tack
with her nail scissors and scraped at the perished underlay. There
was some yellowed newspaper which she resisted reading.
And then she spotted an envelope with Diana written on its front in
faded fountain pen ink.
How strange! Mother had this flat before I did, but this must have
lain there for decades. It must have slid under the carpet when
someone fed it under the door.
The gum had dried up and so the flap was open and the card inside
was visible. She slid it out and was moved by the old-fashioned
romanticism of the bunches of be-ribboned violets and the
invitation: Be My Valentine.
She thought this kind of mishap only occurred in Thomas Hardy
novels! Was Life imitating Art, or the reverse?
Inside it said: Marry Me! Sxxx
Judging by the newspaper dates, this must have been just prior to
Mother’s marriage to- she avoided the term Father, as she had never
liked the man.
The handwriting was exquisite- almost feminine. It reminded her of..
Aaagh! She caught sight of herself in the hall mirror. Teaching was
taking its toll. She was developing jowls like that old buffer: No! S for
Snodbury! Mother! Matron! San sister! Help! This wasn’t an allergy
attack and was too late in the year for an epiphany. She felt as if she
had been stabbed in the heart like Teresa of Avila which that vicar
had been banging on about in assembly earlier in the week, to the
unaccustomed interest of the girls. And she was clearly experiencing
an apopleptic fit, not an ecstasy, even of a questionable variety.
Never look at what has been swept under the carpet, she cautioned herself.
But it was too late!