Country House Party
IN THE WORLD, BUT NOT OF IT
On Christmas day of 1982 I went to a party at the country home of an old acquaintance. I remember it well: It was an enjoyable time, but it has troubled my spirit. Family and friends gathered at the stone house surrounded by its own secluded acreage. No other house could be seen. Four horses were stabled nearby, and five or six peacocks strutted about on the lawn. Around a table in the living room of the old house perhaps 25 of us were drinking champagne and gossiping. The day was warm and overcast, making the room a little shadowy. Red candles were burning on the table.
These were country people; some were well-off, with land and horses. My original connection with the family had been writing an account of their travels, and we had remained friendly. I could reminisce with six of them — the rest were strangers.
But everyone was courteous and friendly, and with the bubbly flowing, relaxation and a spirit of bonhomie were general. In some ways, it qualified as one of the “best” parties I ever attended. But you know how it is: you joyously participate in some of a party, while some of it happens around you, but not to you, as Ray Bradbury has noted. Then after being detached for a while, suddenly you are drawn in again.
A woman abruptly sat down across from me, a glass of champagne in one hand, and asked, brightly, “Do you have horses?” I had to say no, smiling at the unusual question.
Later, the elder daughter of the house, wearing a long black dress, and with flowing hair, told me that her brother, who lived too far away to come home that day, had recently become a Roman Catholic. I mistakenly asked her: “What do you think of that?” She gave me a concerned look. “Well, I think it’s unfortunate.” This reply put me off somewhat, with my Roman Catholic sympathies (the night before I had gone to Midnight Mass at my Anglican parish), so forgetting my manners in that well-bred company, I asked her if she attended church. No, she said.
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