To Punkie, who likes an orthodox detective story, murder, inquest, and suspicion falling on everyone in turn!
I first came to know Sophia Leonides in Egypt towards the end of the war. She held a fairly high administrative post in one of the Foreign Office departments out there.
I knew her first in an official capacity, and I soon appreciated the efficiency that had brought her to the position she held, in spite of her youth (she was at that time just twenty two). 4 Besides being extremely easy to look at, she had a clear mind and a dry sense of humour that I found very delightful. We became friends. She was a person whom it was extraordinarily easy to talk to and we enjoyed our dinners and occasional dances very much.
All this I knew; it was not until I was ordered East at the close of the European war that I knew something else – that I loved Sophia and that I wanted to marry her.
We were dining
at Shepheard’s when I made this discovery. It did not come to me with any shock of surprise, but more as the recognition of a fact with which I had been long familiar. I looked at her with new eyes – but I saw what I had already known for a long time. I liked everything I saw. The dark crisp hair that sprang up proudly from her forehead, the vivid blue eyes, the small square fighting chin, and the straight nose.
I liked the well cut light grey tailormade, and the crisp white shirt. She looked refreshingly English and that appealed to me strongly after three years without seeing my native land. Nobody, I thought, could be more English – and even as I was thinking exactly that, I suddenly wondered if, in fact, she was, or indeed could be, as English as she looked. Does the real thing ever have the perfection of a stage performance?
I realised that much and freely as we had talked together, discussing ideas, our likes and dislikes, the future, our immediate friends and acquaintances – Sophia had never mentioned her home or her family.
She knew all about me (she was, as I have indicated, a good listener) but about her I knew nothing. She had, I supposed, the usual background, but she had never talked about it. And until this moment I had never realised the fact.
Sophia asked me what I was thinking about.
I replied truthfully: “You.”
“I see,” she said. And she sounded as though she did see.
“We may not meet again for a couple of years,” I said. “I don’t know when I shall get back to England. But as soon as I do get back, the first thing I shall do will be to come and see you and ask you to marry me.”
She took it without batting an eyelash.
She sat there, smoking, not looking at me.
For a moment or two I was nervous that she might not understand.
“Listen,” I said. “The one thing I’m determined not to do, is to ask you to marry me now. That wouldn’t work out anyway.
First you might turn me down, and then I’d go off miserable and probably tie up with some ghastly woman just to restore my vanity. And if you didn’t turn me down what could we do about it? Get married and part at once? Get engaged and settle down to a long waiting period. I couldn’t stand your doing that. You might meet someone else and feel bound to be ‘loyal5 to me. We’ve been living in a queer hectic get-on-with-it-quickly atmosphere. Marriages and love affairs making and breaking all round us. I’d like to feel you’d gone home, free and independent, to look round f you and size up the new post-war world and decide what you want out of it.