Fortunately Snod had a double free period before Lower Five and so
he slumped into his favourite lumpy chintz armchair and waited till
he could be sure that the rest of the staff were in Lesson One.
Virginia came in sheepishly, carrying a tray with some builders’ tea
and a plate with two Bourbon biscuits. He was allowed two since it
was not every day that one became affianced.
He didn’t look up at first. He felt that she had committed a sin of
presumption, or at least commission, but he wasn’t going to split
theological hairs at this point. Taking a sledgehammer to break
a walnut came into his mind too, but he felt that was a violent
metaphor. Still, he probably would never have succumbed to a
more gentle persuasive technique.
Yes, he had heard of St Brigid and her relationship with St Patrick.
He simply didn’t want Virginia to activate any of the ideas that the
female saint of yore had favoured, such as giving away all her
counterpart’s worldly goods and so on. Virginia would probably never
understand the vital importance of his oiled cricket bat, or piles
of Wisdens. He wasn’t swayed by aspirations to a ranking in the
hagiography through denial in any shape or form, and, if he was
to wed, then it might be more appropriate to consider an entry
in a martyrology.
He looked at the cup of tea. There was no such thing as a free drink.
He felt like Alice, in Wonderland– a novel concept. The eponymous
heroine had been confronted with a phial which was labelled: Drink Me.
If he accepted the bone china mug and its contents, did it imply an
acceptance of the proposal? Was he about to drain hemlock?
He risked a sip. Aaah! Just the way he liked it: slightly stewed.
He swirled it round his mouth in a Proustian reverie. It wasn’t too
disagreeable, after all- the whole idea and not just the cuppa. It
took him back to reminiscenses of past times of security, as when
Matron had brought him just such a beverage when he was in San with
measles. She had warmed his jammies on the radiator and had
given him Lucozade. He remembered looking at the confines of
his life through the orange cellophane, which he picked off the bottle,
and feeling that life was still an adventure, if only for Boys’ Own
Virginia tiptoed out, knowing that he needed a little space.
He gazed at the poster of Thomas Hardy alongside the English
Department noticeboard. That wretched man had caused him a
lot of trouble over the years. (see the original misdirected Valentine
which had ended up between the underlay and the carpet of a boarding
house-mistress’ apartment, many moons previously.)
And now he had to ask himself a typically Hardyean question:
Was he, like Boldwood, being set up by a teasing woman? Virginia
did have some Bathsheban tendencies. He tried to resist thinking of
her in a state of deshabillement for the moment, as it distracted him
from the thrust of his current thought processes.
Then Hardy came to the rescue.
How so? you ask, Dear Reader.
Boldwood gave him the idea.
Gus took his hymnbook from the side table and threw it into the air.
Virginia came into the room again, having given him what she
considered was sufficient time- to hang himself, some would have
added. She carried some correspondence as justification.
What are you doing with that book? she reprimanded. You’ll break its
Snod inwardly whispered, Open-to wed; Shut-to…
Sods’ Law: it fell open. Or was it Snod’s Law?
Virginia picked it up and placed it in his pigeonhole.
Then she came over and took his plate and mug, spat on her
hanky and wiped an indeterminate stain from his tie.
So, that’s settled then, she pronounced.
And he knew that it jolly well was. But a quote from Neutral
Tones, one of Hardy’s finest, suddenly sprang to mind:
The smile on [his]mouth was the deadest thing
alive enough to have strength to die…
No, although he felt chidden of God, it couldn’t be as bad as all
Could it? Happy misogyny, here we come, he mused.
He had measured out his life, unlike Prufrock, in oxymorons,
rather than coffee spoons.