Be good to the mice.
She replied with a gay and friendly letter. Far from being
good to the mice, she had massacred eighteen of them! Her experiments had
been held up.
My heart is broken, and, for the time being, I have abandoned
my enterococcus ... Are you coming to London at all before the end of your
Kind regards, Yours, a.
My name is spelt Amalia.
She felt that she ought not to accept his invitation to
return. It had seemed to her vague, and she thought that it was probably
just a piece of good manners. But by return of post came another letter:
My dear Amalia,
I have just got your letter — thanks. The lab. is empty and
needs a lab.-boy to clean it. I have got a boat — it came last night, and I
was on the river this morning ... There is a sale at Bury St Edmunds on
Tuesday — I enclose catalogue and you will see that there are plenty of
antiques. Does it appeal to you? If so, come down and we can spend another
day hunting for bargains. If you are coming, ring me up this evening, and we
can make arrangements. If you cannot come, send the catalogue back.
On Monday evening we are having some people in for cocktails,
so if you come you can join the party. We still miss you.
This time there could be no doubt: he wanted her to go back.
She arrived at The Dhoon on the evening of the cocktail party.
While Fleming was giving drinks to his friends and neighbours,
the housekeeper, Mrs Marshall, told Amalia how much Sir Alexander had missed
her. 'All the time you were here he was a totally different person/ Then,
abruptly, she added: 'That's what he needs, a young woman in his home.' It
suddenly dawned on Amalia, through her confusion, what it was that her own
shyness, combined with Fleming's, had for the last year kept locked away
among the things that are not said.
Next day, he took her to an auction sale at the charming
Tudor village of Lavenham, presented her with a pretty antique vase, and
gave her lunch at an old inn. During the meal he asked her about her
domestic affairs. She told him about her constantly recurring
disappointments. The separation between the Voureka husband and wife which,
in spite of their very real affection for each other, had been going on for
fifteen years, was now to be legalized. When tea-time came, he sat reading
the paper without addressing a word to her. From this she concluded that she
had bored him with her personal concerns, that Alice Marshall had a romantic
imagination ... and that so had she! On their way back to Barton Mills he
drove her a long way round so as to show her some enchanting thatched
houses. In the course of the drive he spoke about a book in which the gods
came alive and behaved like young men. 'Even the gods/ he said, 'have human
feelings.' She deliberately refused to understand these enigmatic words and,
a week later, returned to London.
He followed her on September 3rd. On the 17th, Dr Voureka was
to read a paper to the Microbiological Society at Manchester. Fleming was to
make the journey by road and offered to take her in the car with him. On the
evening before they were to start, he invited her to dine in Chelsea with
his son Robert and a nephew. He had just received his horoscope which
Marlene Dietrich (whom he had met several times, and who now regarded him as
one of her heroes) had had cast for him in Hollywood. Of course, Fleming
would not have taken it seriously, but opening the document at a certain
page, he asked her to read it. She had read only a few words when dinner was
announced. Amalia abandoned the horoscope and Fleming never mentioned it
Much later, after his death, when she was turning over many
memories in her mind, she recollected this episode and wondered what the
contents of the page had been which he had wanted her to read. Here is what
the horoscope had said:
Your emotional responses are rooted in your need for security
and a home, and this makes your love a very loyal, dependable and devoted
thing. You are emotionally very sensitive, since so much is at stake, and
are likely to hide this side of yourself until you have found somebody whom
you feel to be worthy of your love ...
That, obviously, was what he had hoped to make her
understand, but a tiny incident may change everything. Dinner had been
announced, and Amalia had read only the first few words.
On the drive to Manchester, he asked her whether she intended
to marry again. She replied ('stupidly', she says) that she was married.
He became more silent than ever. At Manchester, while he was attending a
committee-meeting, another doctor did a little gentle pulling of her leg,
saying: 'Where is your god this evening?' At this moment Fleming came into
the room, and she replied: 'Here is God in person.' After
their return to London he took her to lunch in an hotel near Windsor, and
then to the Zoo, where he photographed her in front of one of the lion
cages. He kept this photograph in his study and called it cShe
and the Lion5.
At the Private View of the Academy she much admired a
portrait of Fleming by the painter, John Wheatley. He said nothing, but
wrote to Wheatley:
Nov. 27. 51
In the last Academy show you had a small picture of me. Have
you still got it? If so, are you prepared to sell it to me, and at what
price? I admired it but I am not enamoured of myself but someone who is
important to me also admired it and if it is not too expensive I would like
to acquire it for him.
He later sent this picture to Athens as a farewell present.
Amalia was due to leave for Greece on December 15th. He asked her to dine
with him on the 14th. He gave her a photograph of the little laboratory at
Barton Mills under the snow. 'I want you to take this with you,' he said.
'You mustn't forget the little laboratory.' On the print he had written:
'The little lab. which you liked so much, and which liked you as the only
person who had ever kept it clean.'
For this last dinner, he took her to his Scottish club, the
Caledonian. He gave her champagne, spoke of the five years just past and of
the work she was going to do in Greece. Then he took her to the Morning Room
where they had coffee by the fire. At first he sat in an armchair beside
her, but after a short while he got up and sat down again facing her. 'I
want to have a good look at you, to remember you by.5 For
some seconds he stared at her in silence, and then said: 'What a pity these
years are over! Later, he drove her home.
When she reached Athens, she found a telegram from Fleming
waiting for her. Good wishes and remembrances. Two or three days later she
got a letter which said: 'There is a gap in lab. No. 2. We know why. We miss
you.' Then a second
letter: 'We still miss you. No. 2 is no longer the same.' A third letter: CI
cross the park alone now: no one to talk to me. We miss you all the time.' But
the end of the month brought a more resigned letter: 'We still miss you, but
we shall get used to it.'