We had met perhaps a dozen times,
Always alone, and at his suggestion;
(Command would be too strong a word —
He knew I’d come at his call, no question).
He was old by then and used a stick,
In his hooded eyes, you could see the hawk,
A predator. Or a politician.
We’d sit for a couple of hours and talk
In private rooms in restaurants
Where the food arrives of its own volition,
Where wine is poured in a hush, unasked,
And I first put a face to the word ‘patrician’.
A courteous voice and manicured nails,
The pre-war watch with a crocodile strap;
The ease of manners acquired as a child,
An acre of linen across his lap —
There was nothing frail about his mind
As he spoke of writers and editors,
This old grandee with an upstart crow.
I’d cling to the thought: ‘We’re competitors!’
I only glimpsed the steel the once;
I was trying to get my coat to fasten.
He leaned on his ebony stick and said:
‘I don’t think you know how lucky you are, son.
I’m almost sure I’d have whupped your arse
In a level fight, but when you inherit
Your family’s money you never can know
What might have been done on hazard or merit.’
He turned for his chauffeur to open the door
And the limousine swept down the avenue.
He died before I could see him again.
I wonder if deep in heart he knew...
... He’d have ‘whupped my arse’,
...and if it were true?
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