Chapter 2

The prospect of a trip into the unknown concentrates the mind wonderfully. It was Tuesday afternoon when I encountered that strange little shop, so I only had a few days to put my affairs in order. In truth, there was not much to do. I had long quit my job at the university, so there was nothing to do in respect of my employment. Mr Scoggins, my solicitor had already been handling the majority of my business and financial affairs during the past year, when I had not felt able to face the world, so it was a simple matter to make arrangements for him to handle everything else in my absence. I settled an appropriate sum on Mrs Harris, my housekeeper, and told her that she could remain in the house for as long as she liked, but that I would not blame her if she chose to seek a position elsewhere. She thanked me and assured me that she had no such plans and that I should enjoy my extended holiday without worrying about her.

There remained, then, only a farewell drink with Jeremy and Bart, long-time friends and the only ones who had stood by me during my troubles, and a short walk around the neighbourhood to say farewell to my barber, the tobacconist and sundry other tradesmen with whom I had more than passing acquaintance. This exercise served to point out how small the compass of my life had become; a few friends and acquaintances, a servant and my solicitor. All, at least, though sad to see me go, were generally supportive of my decision and wished me well of my vacation.

Packing did not take long; some changes of clothing, a few books that I could not bear to be without, those few personal items that were without negative associations. It did not amount to much. It scarcely warranted the space taken up by my steamer trunk. On a whim, I retrieved my long-neglected violin from its dusty place on top of the wardrobe, and a stack of sheet music, and used that to fill the space in the trunk. The journals and diaries, I consigned to the attic, along with pictures and hangings and other reminders of the past. I instructed Mrs Harris to sort through the clothing that was left, to keep what she felt appropriate and to donate the rest to some worthy charitable cause.

Friday afternoon saw me on the train to Southampton. The journey passed pleasantly enough in the company of Samuel Coleridge and the Surrey and Hampshire countryside. A late lunch in the buffet car was made all the more enjoyable by the presence of an affable young gentleman who was also headed to Southampton, where he had the laudable aim of writing a natural history of the New Forest. The rattle of the train was somehow soothing and each mile that fell between me and London seemed to put me in a more agreeable mood, though I am sure the carafe of wine helped.

Southampton was a city I had not previously visited, so after checking in at the modestly appointed hotel, I took advantage of the mild early evening weather to take a walk along the remains of the medieval walls. I dined graciously at the hotel, sharing my table with a young couple who were emigrating to American, there to join the man’s older brother’s import/export business. I found their company pleasant and their enthusiasm for their coming new life was stimulating. It was a further indication of the improvement in my mood that I felt no pangs in regarding a couple so obviously much in love, with each other and with life. A convivial brandy or two and a fine cigar sent me to my bed most relaxed and I slept well that night, better than I had for a long time, waking with a keen anticipation for the journey ahead.

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