Trumper Northrop-Hemingway (Terence to his parents, when they were still alive) is my cousin, and he has rather a way about him when making entrances.
Crashing through the door of the tea-shop (in which I was stationed), he clattered its bell as forcefully as if me and my fellow patrons were guests at a wedding breakfast and he was ready to receive their attention and deliver his speech. The room quietened accordingly, but in vain. He started his speech, sure enough, but while the grey permed pairs of heads turned like fluffy flowers towards the Sun, the words thereof were directed only to me.
"She looked at me!" he gasped, grasping his hat to his heart as if to protect those nearby from the violence of its thumping. "In the name of highest heaven, Duffy" (that’s me) "she actually looked at me!"
I’ve always had a nose – or a head, or an ear, whichever it is – for setting. Maybe it’s the artist in me: I once drew rather a good sketch of my evil cousin Herbert with a pencil and posted it to his mother, the even less beloved Lady Scratchingham (my Aunt Helen), with directions as to where explosives should be inserted. But whatever it is, and whyever I have it, I know a thing or two about setting. Environment; ambience. It was as clear as a desert day to me that this coming conversation could not be mumbled through a teacake, any more than a lion can comfortably roar its heart out in a first floor sitting room without feeling that it’s imposing itself upon others present. It wouldn’t be fair for the fair Romeo to have to restrain his decibels. We would have to leave. We needed a pub.
All this passed through my mind in an instant of instinct, and, rising from the blocks like a surprised sprinter, I threw down some payment for my unused tea-for-one, took my poor thrilled heart-on-legs of a cousin by the arm and shoulder, and directed him to the great outdoors. He barely seemed to notice.
"Our eyes met," he continued, obliviously. "We gazed at each other – mutually. Eye contact! Eye contact! I can’t express what it was like for her to raise her gaze and bestow it upon mine as if life existed in no other place. Duffy! Those deep, lashy wells of shimmering wonder – gosh! I drank it in: the eye contact; the flutter of her lids when the breeze rose; the beauty of the gentle quiet that engulfed us and overflowed like a silent sea. Gosh!"
Trumper had got this far in his oration when I pushed him through the door of a solid-looking, whitewashed public inn, which stood just a few yards down from the tea-shop, on the other side of the road. It was there when I needed it – I felt like we were friends already.