We still had almost two hours before the boat would leave. Esmond suddenly became preoccupied and silent. He suggested walking down by the quai. We passed rows of waterfront cafés with their bright, painted fronts and inviting handwritten menus tacked on the doors. We leaned over the railing and watched craft of all sizes and shapes manoeuvering about in the rough, windy Channel.
“There’s something I’ve got to talk over with you,” he said, very seriously. (Had he decided after all that the search for Senor Lopez was too difficult and time-consuming, and that he must continue to Spain alone?)
Another long silence.
“I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with you.”
We selected a suitable café in which to celebrate our engagement over fines à l’eau.
Some sailors joined the festivities, offering toast after toast to les fiancés, and we almost missed the sailing of the channel steamer."
[Philip Toynbee] did, however, come to our farewell party held unsuitably in 4 Rutland Gate Mews, downstairs from my parents’ house in 26 Rutland Gate, then let to Ann Farrer, a year older than I, who was starting her career as an actress.
‘And as that party grew noisier and noisier through the night, Esmond was always hoping that the “Nazi baron” would come knocking at the door to make a protest,’ Philip writes. He describes the assembled guests –’all the odd strata of the Romillys’ social life.’ (Who were they? Of my family, only my brother Tom came, bringing with him a rare beauty, Janetta Woolley, aged perhaps fifteen – cradle-snatched, I could see – I think I did ask her how she ever got away; climbed out of the nursery window? Quite so, she said.)
Eventually Esmond and I ‘became bored,’ Philip writes, ‘and left their guests to shout and drink without them.’ All true, no doubt."
[Philip Toynbee’s] amazingly versatile love life, and the high drama which he invested his accounts of its fluctuations, were an unfailing source of wonder and amusement; as good as going to the theatre, Esmond said, whenever he came round to chat. Esmond was constantly demanding the next act: ‘We’ve paid our money and we expect a full evening’s entertainment.’ Philip seldom disappointed, and we must have been a good audience: ‘Both of them listened with that greedy smacking of lips which I found so rewarding,’ he wrote. ‘It was one of Esmond’s most charming characteristics that he could listen with almost inexhaustible pleasure to other people’s stories.’
I remember those stories— and us, Oliver Twists, asking for more, or sometimes a repeat of one that we had heard many times."