To say that my friend Lord Alexander Cressingham ran with a rum crew at Cambridge would have been to have known those friends and places he frequented. I had not the privilege of birth to be associated with him at that point in his life. So my recalling of these events is as a third party, the details here are those that were related to me through himself, his family and friends, I hope that it allows you to see the man and his character.
Alexander or Lord Cressingham as he was known at Cambridge came from a family that had held its hereditary titles for several generations. His schooling had followed the usual string of preparatory and public schools which appeared to be a right for people of his class. Attending Cambridge then was just an extension of this passage of rights that people such as himself achieved.
In his first year he had not been outrageous, in fact quite introvert, creating no ripples in his new environment. He was punctilious finding solace in several old Etonians, whom had been either in his year or a senior year. He had followed their advice and guidance to the letter, without exception.
None of them believed that the benefit of a degree performed any other purpose than to prevent them from spending the winter in the south of France at either their families or a friend’s estate. Alexander, was not a scholar by any stretch of the imagination, he was easily bored, and flitted like a may fly from one new experience to the next. He would rather spend days idling on the river being punted by a friend with his fingers trailing in the water enjoying the cool summer breeze, than being in a dark study with his tutor.
He was now in his third year and would probably stay for five, such was his father’s ambition for him to gain his degree. As for Alexander, he had a more than reasonable standard of education, fostered by the establishments he had been to. He had acquired his Latin grammar at a very early stage in his education, it had, as was the custom in those days been served brutally. Beaten into him in his house masters study. At the end of each lesson he would be sent by the Latin master to the house master with a note, each note similar in content, Can't master past, present and present conditional verb tenses, and they would begin.
'Repeat for me in the first declension “Girl”....' whatever torture he had not understood that lesson, and so he would start, in that dead language:
‘Puella, puellae,, puellae, puellam puella.’ The nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative in singular and then plural ‘Puellae, puellarum, puellis, puellas, puellis,’ he would continue until he stumbled and faltered, and at length would receive the suitable punishment for his inadequacy.
As the years went by he grew accustomed to receiving these habitual beatings. He was not alone and as he went on to Eaton and ultimately to Cambridge, he had built up a healthy respect for learning as a result, and applied himself conscientiously and studiously to anything that might stand the prospect of giving him pain. He had been up at university for three years now, he would achieve a degree, that was not in question, and the grade would be commensurate with his rank.
These were the first days of freedom he had known, away from the stifling oppression of his upbringing. The masters here were not malicious. For years, he had known that he felt a difference to those that he mixed with. He had rebelled but to no avail. In desperation, to find his own identity, he now strove to search for experiences which would help him achieve that.
In his second year, he had been expected to flourish and open his wings, but to those observers he seemed not to wish to take the same solid path as his elder brother had. Who had joined the debating clubs very early on, he found constant references to his older brother dogged him. He had, as long as he could remember, lived in his shadow. When you live in someone’s shadow as long as he had, you sometimes behave like the shadow, always remaining in the background. In fact, in many circumstances, the role of shadow is much more preferable to that of principal. No one is aware of the shadow; a shadow has the freedom the principal does not have. No one is ever horrified or shocked when the shadow fails, it is expected, the best one can expect would be “what a disappointment for his family”, however, if the principal fails. Then shock will be shown “it was so unexpected”, “it was out of character”, “the humiliation for his family”. Yes, far better to be the shadow.
As the second year approached, Alexander began to look out from his shadow and see the bright people, the people who did not live in a shadow. These people did not enjoy or conform to the conventions of society, they did not belong to those boring bourgeois clubs, that institutions such as this created.
“Debating you sweet thing, is for people who are dead from the neck up.” these were the words that he heard.
“And such a beautiful neck to let die so young,” he was told.
There were several clubs which he might have chosen to join at Cambridge, these ranged from those in sheer farce to those whose notoriety made them....... notorious! Under invitation he joined the Tens club, as they name implied, it was a club that only accepted a maximum of ten members. A club whose purpose it seemed was to lunch and dine at the expense of all else. The only condition of joining, was that no act was considered by itself immoral and that it was up to the members to experiment and recant at lunch when asked for a suitably decadent tale, to wet the appetites, an aperitif you might say.
Over these lunches, which might take several hours, plans were often put forward. Alexander, was by now more than up for the challenge. It was as if a bolt of energy had been given to him, the staid world of academia was just a minor encumbrance. He had also taken an apartment sufficiently far from the college for any unconventional conduct not to be observed. However, he still retained his old rooms inside college. They often served a higher academic purpose, especially when lunch had run too long.
It was after one such lunch, which ran the course of a weekend that he was summoned to the Masters and then the Deans study in turn. His indiscretion, was to take into the college grounds more than one alien party to his room. The drunken and loud nature of the party had led to reports swiftly arising that the college itself might now be the subject of some unsavoury journalistic intent, due to one of the parties selling “a scoop of impropriety” as his Master had termed it. As such, the matter was referred to a disciplinary board.
The result of which he received in a handwritten note from the master’s lodge. He sat down on one of the easy chairs, crossed his legs casually as if he was opening an invitation for a dinner party and breaking the seal read the note.
I have written to you privately, in order that you might be saved any embarrassment by seeking to further your degree at another university, which would be more suited to you. I have consulted with your father this morning, he has agreed and wishes for you to return home immediately, so that arrangements might be made.”
The bowler hatted porter stood at the door while Alexander read the message. As with all porters he knew all the college business that was happening. His thoughts gathered, he crumpled the note in his right hand, throwing it casually into the fire grate of the room.
'I'll pack for you then Mr Cressingham, Sir.' The porter’s voice stirred him from his thoughts.
'Oh yes, I suppose you must.' The porter trying some modicum of conversation, he found it was always best not to let the young gentleman dwell on matters.
'It wasn't the young man who kicked up the fuss you know sir, he was a nice young man, we could have said he was your valet, and there would have been no problem whatsoever. We've been through that many times with young gentlemen such as yourself in the past.' the porter tutted slightly.
'It was that girl, girls from up there have no respect,’ he stopped for a moment looking for his words.
’They are no better than they ought to be!' Alexander looked around him at the room, he didn't want to stay there any longer, he had, had such fun in that last semester. He rose from the armchair next to the fire. It had felt in the last few weeks, as if it was the start of summer, he was dressed in an off white cotton pleated fronted slacks and a matching blazer with a patterned piping round the lapels. He had several suits with a similar cut which had been made in London at a tailor near Soho, who catered for the younger and more modern look.
'I must go and have lunch at Whites; I need all my friends to come.'
'Green, won't you be an angel and ask them for me, after all its not every day a chap gets sent down?' Green nodded.
'I must say sir; you're taking the news remarkably well.'
'I suppose, it’s the uncertainty of my situation, I doubt if I shall ever know sacrifice, therefore the uncertainty is just something to look forward to. He glanced around him, at his possessions which had cluttered his small room.
'Oh I find it such a bother to pack, but I love to give presents.' with that he walked to the writing desk, situated in the bay window. Within one of the draws he rummaged until he found a number of brown luggage tags, he set to work filling several of them in to various members of the Tens club.
With the last tag he toyed with it between his fingers, finally he snapped it down on the desk and wrote
“Dear Green............,” The message was of no consequence, the present itself was an antique silver ornate stand, of which its value would be understood by the porter. He mused that a small jewellers shop accustomed to this type of item would have possession of it by nightfall.