La Vie En Rose

A trip abroad in the late nineteen-forties.

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  1. A Saturday evening in May, 1949, and I am taking a moonlight leak in the garden at Ditchley. Hedges and statuary cast elegant shadows nearby, but I’ve had a bit of wine and it probably doesn’t occur to me that this is one of the better alfresco loos I have visited—the Italianate garden installed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe in 1935, as a culminating grace note to the celebrated Georgian pile of Ditchley Park, in Oxfordshire, designed by James Gibbs and built in 1722. Ditchley, with a deer park and a village within its borders, is headed inexorably for the English Heritage Register but for the moment remains the country home of my old friend Marietta FitzGerald and her delightful, fairly recent second husband, Ronald Tree, who is standing a few feet to my left here, in identical posture, his chin in the air as he breathes in traces of boxwood and early primrose. Beyond him, also aiming, is Major Metcalfe, a neighbor of Ronnie’s and another dinner guest of his on this evening. He is the same Major Metcalfe who proved such a staunch friend to the Prince of Wales at Fort Belvedere during the difficult abdication days, in 1936, and who stood up as best man the following year, when the Prince, reborn as the Duke of Windsor, married Wallis Warfield Simpson in Monts, France. Major Edward Dudley Metcalfe, M.V.O., M.C., I mean, who at any moment, surely, will invite me to call him Fruity, the way everybody else does. He and I are in black tie, and the moonlight lies magically on his satin ...