I’ve had this daft idea. To travel back in time to 1932 and give She-Evelyn a token of my admiration. I have the king’s ring (actually a memory stick containing the film The Scarlet Woman) and intend to present it to her.
A caption in The Scarlet Woman states that the ring is from an admirer who wants to remain anonymous. I wish to become known as the author of EVELYN! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love. As She-Evelyn pins the ring to her shawl, I notice she’s got a brooch-cum-memory stick already attached. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already travelled through the decades in order to give her a copy of the Decline and Fall manuscript, which I have a digital copy of myself.
When Evelyn Waugh died in 1966, his library and manuscripts were sold to the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas. At the time it seemed like a heavy loss to Britain’s literary heritage. But now it seems that the American organisation was just protecting the data for fifty-odd years, waiting for the day - which is now upon us - when the precious material can be distributed fairly and freely over space and time. Anyway, She-Evelyn seems pleased with my gift.
While she’s admiring herself in the mirror I look around the room. Actually, I don’t need to bother. Anthony Powell’s 1936 novel Agents and Patients includes a description of the Canonbury Square flat when the Heygates were in residence. It also includes a portrait of their feisty, open relationship. She-Evelyn tells me that John and herself are going out together tonight, but who knows who either of them will be coming home with.
OK, so the Heygates really are going out for the evening, and I’ve decided to go along for the ride but in such a way as not to interfere with their lives. Not sure where we’re off to but it gives me a chance to catch up with myself. The Evelyns’ divorce came through in the summer of 1930. That’s when She-Evelyn and John got married. And just after that is when He-Evelyn both joined the Catholic Church and went off to Africa. The travel book Remote People and the novel Black Mischief came about as a result of the African experience. But really all He-Evelyn was trying to do was find a way of inhabiting his own skin again. His self-esteem had taken such a kicking from the slim foot of She-Evelyn.
The cab stops at Ye Olde Bull and Bush, a pub near Underhill that is still in existence. Indeed, when I made my research trip to Hampstead in 2006, I had a lunchtime pint here, so I know my way around.
She-Evelyn and John have had a meal inside and are now drinking coffee and cranberry juice in the garden. As I’m crawling into position to overhear their conversation, I’m remembering the scene between the ‘Heygates’ in Powell’s Agents and Patients . She’s drinking tea and he’s trying to work on his novel. She asks what kind of a day he’s had and he answers through gritted teeth while trying to carry on typing. Then she tells him she’s going out with someone that night and he asks her who she’s going out with. I break off from my vague memory of the Powell novel to listen to the Heygates actual exchange:
“I don’t expect it would interest you,” says She-Evelyn.
“It doesn’t interest me. I’m ordering you to tell me.”
“I don’t see why I should.”
“I’m your husband.”
“You seldom treat me like a wife.”
“Who is it?”
“I shan’t tell you.”
I stand up beside the tree, listening hard, trying to work out whether they’re teasing each other or are in earnest.
“Who is it? Come on now.”
“It’s Nipper if you really want to know.”
“Heavens above. It’s not that I mind. I don’t care who you make friends with. Zulus, condemned criminals, Scotch nationalists, they’d all be the same to me. It’s only that I can’t conceal my surprise that you should be able, far less choose, to spend a single moment more than necessary with a creature like Nipper.”
I can believe it. Richard Heygate has told me that She-Evelyn liked a bit of rough and that she was particularly drawn to motor mechanics.
Hang on a minute, John’s spotted She-Evelyn’s new piece of jewellery and things are hotting up.
“My God. Is this from Nipper?”
“It might be. All sorts of people give me jewellery.”
“It can’t be from Nipper, there’s no trace of engine oil on it. Who is it from?”
“An anonymous well-wisher, a time-travelling Zulu and a Scotch whisky representative, all rolled into one, if you must know.”
“Take it off.”
“TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF ME.”
And off she runs from the garden of Ye Olde Bull and Bush like a bat out of Hell. I don’t know about John Heygate, but I’m taken aback by this turn of events. What a topsy turvy relationship they seem to have!
John looks crestfallen by the turn of events. I feel like telling him not to worry on four counts. One, he will marry again and go on to have children with his second wife. Two, he will go on to write books which contain coded references to those of his one-time rival, Evelyn Waugh, as I discuss in EVELYN! Three, he will go on to apologise to He-Evelyn for going off with She-Evelyn. And, four, he will come to receive an acceptance of that apology.
What happens in The Scarlet Woman again? The Prince of Wales thinks Beatrice has stolen his father’s ring and confronts her. He dismisses her from his life and is soon back on good terms with the scheming Catholics. The Dean of Balliol is smiling smugly; the Pope is as happy as Larry too. But poor, beautiful Beatrice is left distraught. Aye, there’s the rub.
I love this still though. Terence Greenidge seems lost in thought. He is acting the part of the Dean's henchman and has only good news to report back. But as well as that, with his director's hat on, Terence must be marvelling at how well his film is playing out. What won't be going through his mind is that 90 years later I would be making use of both his acting and directing roles in putting together this little story of mine. As a free spirit and a creative force, I'd like to think he would have approved.