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The Rose and the Yew Tree Agatha Christie A captivating novel of love and intrigue.Everyone expected Isabella Charteris, beautiful, sheltered and aristocratic, to marry her cousin Rupert when he came back from the War. It would have been such a suitable marriage. How strange then that John Gabriel, an ambitious and ruthless war hero, should appear in her life. For Isabella, the price of love would mean abandoning her dreams of home and happiness forever. For Gabriel, it would destroy his chance of a career and all his ambitions…Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work. Copyright (#ulink_4483042e-166c-529d-bbe9-e65e9410f528) HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Heinemann 1947 Copyright © 1947 Rosalind Hicks Charitable Trust. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by ninataradesign.com (http://www.ninataradesign.com) © HarperCollins 2017 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008131463 Ebook Edition © June 2017 ISBN: 9780007534951 Version: 2018-04-11 Epigraph (#ulink_0de9f37b-4bbe-5216-9518-61f44efe526d) The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration T. S. ELIOT Contents Cover (#u1c6c7c81-766c-5608-bba9-4579b6960f4a) Title Page (#ufacb4153-83f3-5d5d-aeb6-065fb3c1081a) Copyright (#u214515fc-3427-57b3-a37d-f7c151acde67) Epigraph (#u4481cd4d-50f4-5d9b-b628-b66e143a9396) Prelude (#u593708dc-e7d1-5172-9916-33830ef93d4a) Chapter 1 (#u73fbf1f4-eb27-51a7-aa9d-47c72729b077) Chapter 2 (#u72e28df4-2c89-5053-8266-f1e4bf137f7d) Chapter 3 (#u6e02ad59-78b4-50b5-8361-46497abdfaaa) Chapter 4 (#uff18d7a5-19d6-596f-bd03-3bc973ed2db4) Chapter 5 (#ud02e14e8-47f1-5cca-ab16-1f0d6e9bcfd7) Chapter 6 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 7 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 8 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 9 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 10 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 11 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 12 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 13 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 14 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 15 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 16 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 17 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 18 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 19 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 20 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 21 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 22 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 23 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 24 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 25 (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter 26 (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) PRELUDE (#ulink_8e0c50ef-bf6f-5178-b07f-582f65e9bcb2) I was in Paris when Parfitt, my man, came to me and said that a lady had called to see me. She said, he added, that it was very important. I had formed by then the habit of never seeing people without an appointment. People who call to see you about urgent business are nearly invariably people who wish for financial assistance. The people who are in real need of financial assistance, on the other hand, hardly ever come and ask for it. I asked Parfitt what my visitor’s name was, and he proffered a card. The card said: Catherine Yougoubian—a name I had never heard of and which, frankly, I did not much fancy. I revised my idea that she needed financial assistance and deduced instead that she had something to sell—probably one of those spurious antiques which command a better price when they are brought by hand and forced on the unwilling buyer with the aid of voluble patter. I said I was sorry that I could not see Madame Yougoubian, but she could write and state her business. Parfitt inclined his head and withdrew. He is very reliable—an invalid such as I am needs a reliable attendant—and I had not the slightest doubt that the matter was now disposed of. Much to my astonishment, however, Parfitt reappeared. The lady, he said, was very insistent. It was a matter of life and death and concerned an old friend of mine. Whereupon my curiosity was suddenly aroused. Not by the message—that was a fairly obvious gambit; life and death and the old friend are the usual counters in the game. No, what stimulated my curiosity was the behaviour of Parfitt. It was not like Parfitt to come back with a message of that kind. I jumped, quite wrongly, to the conclusion that Catherine Yougoubian was incredibly beautiful, or at any rate unusually attractive. Nothing else, I thought, would explain Parfitt’s behaviour. And since a man is always a man, even if he be fifty and a cripple, I fell into the snare. I wanted to see this radiant creature who could overcome the defences of the impeccable Parfitt. So I told him to bring the lady up—and when Catherine Yougoubian entered the room, revulsion of feeling nearly took my breath away! True, I understand Parfitt’s behaviour well enough now. His judgment of human nature is quite unerring. He recognized in Catherine that persistence of temperament against which, in the end, all defences fall. Wisely, he capitulated straight away and saved himself a long and wearying battle. For Catherine Yougoubian has the persistence of a sledgehammer and the monotony of an oxyacetylene blowpipe: combined with the wearing effect of water dropping on a stone! Time is infinite for her if she wishes to achieve her object. She would have sat determinedly in my entrance hall all day. She is one of those women who have room in their heads for one idea only—which gives them an enormous advantage over less single-minded individuals. As I say, the shock I got when she entered the room was tremendous. I was all keyed up to behold beauty. Instead, the woman who entered was monumentally, almost awe-inspiringly, plain. Not ugly, mark you; ugliness has its own rhythm, its own mode of attack, but Catherine had a large flat face like a pancake—a kind of desert of a face. Her mouth was wide and had a slight—a very slight—moustache on its upper lip. Her eyes were small and dark and made one think of inferior currants in an inferior bun. Her hair was abundant, ill-confined, and pre-eminently greasy. Her figure was so nondescript that it was practically not a figure at all. Her clothes covered her adequately and fitted her nowhere. She appeared neither destitute nor opulent. She had a determined jaw and, as I heard when she opened her mouth, a harsh and unlovely voice. I threw a glance of deep reproach at Parfitt who met it imperturbably. He was clearly of the opinion that, as usual, he knew best. ‘Madame Yougoubian, sir,’ he said, and retired, shutting the door and leaving me at the mercy of this determined-looking female. Catherine advanced upon me purposefully. I had never felt so helpless, so conscious of my crippled state. This was a woman from whom it would be advisable to run away, and I could not run. She spoke in a loud firm voice. ‘Please—if you will be so good—you must come with me, please?’ It was less of a request than a command. ‘I beg your pardon?’ I said, startled. ‘I do not speak the English too good, I am afraid. But there is not time to lose—no, no time at all. It is to Mr Gabriel I ask you to come. He is very ill. Soon, very soon, he dies, and he has asked for you. So to see him you must come at once.’ I stared at her. Frankly, I thought she was crazy. The name Gabriel made no impression upon me at all, partly, I daresay, because of her pronunciation. It did not sound in the least like Gabriel. But even if it had sounded like it, I do not think that it would have stirred a chord. It was all so long ago. It must have been ten years since I had even thought of John Gabriel. ‘You say someone is dying? Someone—er—that I know?’ She cast at me a look of infinite reproach. ‘But yes, you know him—you know him well—and he asks for you.’ She was so positive that I began to rack my brains. What name had she said? Gable? Galbraith? I had known a Galbraith, a mining engineer. Only casually, it is true; it seemed in the highest degree unlikely that he should ask to see me on his deathbed. Yet it is a tribute to Catherine’s force of character that I did not doubt for a moment the truth of her statement. ‘What name did you say?’ I asked. ‘Galbraith?’ ‘No—no. Gabriel. Gabriel!’ I stared. This time I got the word right, but it only conjured up a mental vision of the Angel Gabriel with a large pair of wings. The vision fitted in well enough with Catherine Yougoubian. She had a resemblance to the type of earnest woman usually to be found kneeling in the extreme left-hand corner of an early Italian Primitive. She had that peculiar simplicity of feature combined with the look of ardent devotion. She added, persistently, doggedly, ‘John Gabriel—’ and I got it! It all came back to me. I felt giddy and slightly sick. St Loo, and the old ladies, and Milly Burt, and John Gabriel with his ugly dynamic little face, rocking gently back on his heels. And Rupert, tall and handsome like a young god. And, of course, Isabella … I remembered the last time I had seen John Gabriel in Zagrade and what had happened there, and I felt rising in me a surging red tide of anger and loathing … ‘So he’s dying, is he?’ I asked savagely. ‘I’m delighted to hear it!’ ‘Pardon?’ There are things that you cannot very well repeat when someone says ‘Pardon?’ politely to you. Catherine Yougoubian looked utterly uncomprehending. I merely said: ‘You say he is dying?’ ‘Yes. He is in pain—in terrible pain.’ Well, I was delighted to hear that, too. No pain that John Gabriel could suffer would atone for what he had done. But I felt unable to say so to one who was evidently John Gabriel’s devoted worshipper. What was there about the fellow, I wondered irritably, that always made women fall for him? He was ugly as sin. He was pretentious, vulgar, boastful. He had brains of a kind, and he was, in certain circumstances (low circumstances!) good company. He had humour. But none of these are really characteristics that appeal to women very much. Catherine broke in upon my thoughts. ‘You will come, please? You will come quickly? There is no time to lose.’ I pulled myself together. ‘I’m sorry, my dear lady,’ I said, ‘but I’m afraid I cannot accompany you.’ ‘But he asks for you,’ she persisted. ‘I’m not coming,’ I said. ‘You do not understand,’ said Catherine. ‘He is ill. He is dying; and he asks for you.’ I braced myself for the fight. I had already begun to realize (what Parfitt had realized at the first glance) that Catherine Yougoubian did not give up easily. ‘You are making a mistake,’ I said. ‘John Gabriel is not a friend of mine.’ She nodded her head vigorously. ‘But yes—but yes. He read your name in the paper—it say you are here as member of the Commission—and he say I am to find out where you live and to get you to come. And please you must come quick—very quick—for the doctor say very soon now. So will you come at once, please?’ It seemed to me that I had got to be frank. I said: ‘He may rot in Hell for all I care!’ ‘Pardon?’ She looked at me anxiously, wrinkling her long nose, amiable, trying to understand … ‘John Gabriel,’ I said slowly and clearly, ‘is not a friend of mine. He is a man I hate—hate! Now do you understand?’ She blinked. It seemed to me that at last she was beginning to get there. ‘You say—’ she said it slowly, like a child repeating a difficult lesson—‘you say that—you—hate—John Gabriel? Is that what you say, please?’ ‘That’s right,’ I said. She smiled—a maddening smile. ‘No, no,’ she said indulgently, ‘that is not possible … No one could hate John Gabriel. He is very great—very good man. All of us who know him, we die for him gladly.’ ‘Good God,’ I cried, exasperated. ‘What’s the man ever done that people should feel like that about him?’ Well, I had asked for it! She forgot the urgency of her mission. She sat down, she pushed back a loop of greasy hair from her forehead, her eyes shone with enthusiasm, she opened her mouth, and words poured from her … She spoke, I think, for about a quarter of an hour. Sometimes she was incomprehensible, stumbling with the difficulties of the spoken word. Sometimes her words flowed in a clear stream. But the whole performance had the effect of a great epic. She spoke with reverence, with awe, with humility, with worship. She spoke of John Gabriel as one speaks of a Messiah—and that clearly was what he was to her. She said things of him that to me seemed wildly fantastic and wholly impossible. She spoke of a man tender, brave, and strong. A leader and a succourer. She spoke of one who risked death that others might live; of one who hated cruelty and injustice with a white and burning flame. He was to her a Prophet, a King, a Saviour—one who could give to people courage that they did not know they had, and strength that they did not know they possessed. He had been tortured more than once; crippled, half-killed; but somehow his maimed body had overcome its disabilities by sheer willpower, and he had continued to perform the impossible. ‘You do not know, you say, what he has done?’ she ended. ‘But everyone knows Father Clement—everyone!’ I stared—for what she said was true. Everyone has heard of Father Clement. His is a name to conjure with, even if some people hold that it is only a name—a myth—and that the real man has never existed. How shall I describe the legend of Father Clement? Imagine a mixture of Richard Coeur de Lion and Father Damien and Lawrence of Arabia. A man at once a fighter and a Saint and with the adventurous recklessness of a boy. In the years that had succeeded the war of 1939–45, Europe and the East had undergone a black period. Fear had been in the ascendant, and Fear had bred its new crop of cruelties and savageries. Civilization had begun to crack. In India and Persia abominable things had happened; wholesale massacres, famines, tortures, anarchy … And through the black mist a figure, an almost legendary figure had appeared—the man calling himself ‘Father Clement’—saving children, rescuing people from torture, leading his flock by impassable ways over mountains, bringing them to safe zones, settling them in communities. Worshipped, loved, adored—a legend, not a man. And according to Catherine Yougoubian, Father Clement was John Gabriel, former MP for St Loo, womanizer, drunkard; the man who first, last and all the time, played for his own hand. An adventurer, an opportunist, a man with no virtues save the virtue of physical courage. Suddenly, uneasily, my incredulity wavered. Impossible as I believed Catherine’s tale to be, there was one point of plausibility. Both Father Clement and John Gabriel were men of unusual physical courage. Some of those exploits of the legendary figure, the audacity of the rescues, the sheer bluff, the—yes, the impudence of his methods, were John Gabriel’s methods all right. But John Gabriel had always been a self-advertiser. Everything he did, he did with an eye on the gallery. If John Gabriel was Father Clement, the whole world would surely have been advised of the fact. No, I didn’t—I couldn’t—believe … But when Catherine stopped breathless, when the fire in her eyes died down, when she said in her old persistent monotonous manner, ‘You will come now, yes, please?’ I shouted for Parfitt. He helped me up and gave me my crutches and assisted me down the stairs and into a taxi, and Catherine got in beside me. I had to know, you see. Curiosity, perhaps? Or the persistence of Catherine Yougoubian? (I should certainly have had to give way to her in the end!) Anyway, I wanted to see John Gabriel. I wanted to see if I could reconcile the Father Clement story with what I knew of the John Gabriel of St Loo. I wanted, perhaps, to see if I could see what Isabella had seen—what she must have seen to have done as she had done … I don’t know what I expected as I followed Catherine Yougoubian up the narrow stairs and into the little back bedroom. There was a French doctor there, with a beard and a pontifical manner. He was bending over his patient, but he drew back and motioned me forward courteously. I noticed his eyes appraising me curiously. I was the person that a great man, dying, had expressed a wish to see … I had a shock when I saw Gabriel. It was so long since that day in Zagrade. I would not have recognized the figure that lay so quietly on the bed. He was dying, I saw that. The end was very near now. And it seemed to me that I recognized nothing I knew in the face of the man lying there. For I had to acknowledge that, as far as appearances went, Catherine had been right. That emaciated face was the face of a Saint. It had the marks of suffering, of agony … It had the asceticism. And it had, finally, the spiritual peace … And none of these qualities had anything to do with the man whom I had known as John Gabriel. Then he opened his eyes and saw me—and he grinned. It was the same grin, the same eyes—beautiful eyes in a small ugly clown’s face. His voice was very weak. He said, ‘So she got you! Armenians are wonderful!’ Yes, it was John Gabriel. He motioned to the doctor. He demanded in his weak suffering imperious voice, a promised stimulant. The doctor demurred—Gabriel overbore him. It would hasten the end, or so I guessed, but Gabriel made it clear that a last spurt of energy was important and indeed necessary to him. The doctor shrugged his shoulders and gave in. He administered the injection and then he and Catherine left me alone with the patient. Gabriel began at once. ‘I want you to know about Isabella’s death.’ I told him that I knew all about that. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t think you do …’ It was then that he described to me that final scene in the café in Zagrade. I shall tell it in its proper place. After that, he only said one thing more. It is because of that one thing more that I am writing this story. Father Clement belongs to history. His incredible life of heroism, endurance, compassion, and courage belongs to those people who like writing the lives of heroes. The communities he started are the foundation of our new tentative experiments in living, and there will be many biographies of the man who imagined and created them. This is not the story of Father Clement. It is the story of John Merryweather Gabriel, a VC in the war, an opportunist, a man of sensual passions and of great personal charm. He and I, in our different way, loved the same woman. We all start out as the central figure of our own story. Later we wonder, doubt, get confused. So it has been with me. First it was my story. Then I thought it was Jennifer and I together—Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Iseult. And then, in my darkness and disillusionment, Isabella sailed across my vision like the moon on a dark night. She became the central theme of the embroidery, and I—I was the cross-stitch background—no more. No more, but also no less, for without the drab background, the pattern will not stand out. Now, again, the pattern has shifted. This is not my story, not Isabella’s story. It is the story of John Gabriel. The story ends here, where I am beginning it. It ends with John Gabriel. But it also begins here. CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_5e15a73a-63f2-57f3-b3bc-59a755d6223c) Where to begin? At St Loo? At the meeting in the Memorial Hall when the prospective Conservative candidate, Major John Gabriel, VC, was introduced by an old (a very old) general, and stood there and made his speech, disappointing us all a little by his flat, common voice and his ugly face, so that we had to fortify ourselves by the recollection of his gallantry and by reminding ourselves that it was necessary to get into touch with the People—the privileged classes were now so pitifully small! Or shall I begin at Polnorth House, in the long low room that faced the sea, with the terrace outside where my invalid couch could be drawn out on fine days and I could look out to the Atlantic with its thundering breakers, and the dark grey rocky point which broke the line of the horizon and on which rose the battlements and the turrets of St Loo Castle—looking, as I always felt, like a water colour sketch done by a romantic young lady in the year 1860 or thereabouts. For St Loo Castle has that bogus, that phony air of theatricality, of spurious romance which can only be given by something that is in fact genuine. It was built, you see, when human nature was unselfconscious enough to enjoy romanticism without feeling ashamed of it. It suggests sieges, and dragons, and captive princesses and knights in armour, and all the pageantry of a rather bad historical film. And, of course, when you come to think of it, a bad film is exactly what history really is. When you looked at St Loo Castle, you expected something like Lady St Loo, and Lady Tressilian, and Mrs Bigham Charteris, and Isabella. The shock was that you got them! Shall I begin there, with the visit paid by those three old ladies with their erect bearing, their dowdy clothing, their diamonds in old-fashioned settings? With my saying to Teresa in a fascinated voice, ‘But they can’t—they simply can’t—be real?’ Or shall I start a little earlier; at the moment, for instance, when I got into the car and started for Northolt Aerodrome to meet Jennifer …? But behind that again is my life—which had started thirty-eight years before and which came to an end that day … This is not my story. I have said that before. But it began as my story. It began with me, Hugh Norreys. Looking back over my life, I see that it has been a life much like any other man’s life. Neither more interesting, nor less so. It has had the inevitable disillusionments and disappointments, the secret childish agonies; it has had also the excitements, the harmonies, the intense satisfactions arising from oddly inadequate causes. I can choose from which angle I will view my life—from the angle of frustration, or as a triumphant chronicle. Both are true. It is, in the end, always a question of selection. There is Hugh Norreys as he sees himself, and Hugh Norreys as he appears to others. There must actually be, too, Hugh Norreys as he appears to God. There must be the essential Hugh. But his story is the story that only the recording angel can write. It comes back to this: How much do I know, now, of the young man who got into the train at Penzance in the early days of 1945 on his way to London? Life had, I should have said if asked, on the whole treated me well. I liked my peacetime job of schoolmastering. I had enjoyed my war experiences—I had my job waiting to return to—and the prospect of a partnership and a headmastership in the future. I had had love affairs that hurt me, and I had had love affairs that had satisfied me, but none that went deep. I had family ties that were adequate, but not too close. I was thirty-seven and on that particular day I was conscious of something of which I had been half-conscious for some time. I was waiting for something … for an experience, for a supreme event … Everything up to then in my life, I suddenly felt, had been superficial—I was waiting now for something real. Probably everyone experiences such a feeling once at least in their lives. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes late. It is a moment that corresponds to the moment in a cricket match when you go in to bat … I got on the train at Penzance and I took a ticket for third lunch (because I had just finished a rather large breakfast) and when the attendant came along the train shouting out nasally, ‘Third lunch, please, tickets ooonlee …’ I got up and went along to the dining car and the attendant took my ticket and gestured me into a single seat, back to the engine, opposite the place where Jennifer was sitting. That, you see, is how things happen. You cannot take thought for them, you cannot plan. I sat down opposite Jennifer—and Jennifer was crying. I didn’t see it at first. She was struggling hard for control. There was no sound, no outward indication. We did not look at each other, we behaved with due regard to the conventions governing the meeting of strangers on a restaurant car. I advanced the menu towards her—a polite but meaningless action since it only bore the legend: Soup, Fish or Meat, Sweet or Cheese. 4/6. She accepted my gesture with the answering gesture, a polite ritualistic smile and an inclination of the head. The attendant asked us what we would have to drink. We both had light ale. Then there was a pause. I looked at the magazine I had brought in with me. The attendant dashed along the car with plates of soup and set them in front of us. Still the little gentleman, I advanced the salt and pepper an inch in Jennifer’s direction. Up to now I had not looked at her—not really looked, that is to say—though, of course, I knew certain basic facts. That she was young, but not very young, a few years younger than myself, that she was of medium height and dark, that she was of my own social standing and that while attractive enough to be pleasant, she was not so overwhelmingly attractive as to be in any sense disturbing. Presently I intended to look rather more closely, and if it seemed indicated I should probably advance a few tentative remarks. It would depend. But the thing that suddenly upset all my calculations was the fact that my eyes, straying over the soup plate opposite me, noticed that something unexpected was splashing into the soup. Without noise, or sound, or any indication of distress, tears were forcing themselves from her eyes and dropping into the soup. I was startled. I cast swift surreptitious glances at her. The tears soon stopped, she succeeded in forcing them back, she drank her soup. I said, quite unpardonably, but irresistibly: ‘You’re dreadfully unhappy, aren’t you?’ And she replied fiercely, ‘I’m a perfect fool!’ Neither of us spoke. The waiter took the soup plates away. He laid minute portions of meat pie in front of us and helped us from a monstrous dish of cabbage. To this he added two roast potatoes with the air of one doing us a special favour. I looked out of the window and made a remark about the scenery. I proceeded to a few remarks about Cornwall. I said I didn’t know it well. Did she? She said, Yes, she did, she lived there. We compared Cornwall with Devonshire, and with Wales, and with the east coast. None of our conversation meant anything. It served the purpose of glossing over the fact that she had been guilty of shedding tears in a public place and that I had been guilty of noticing the fact. It was not until we had coffee in front of us and I had offered her a cigarette and she had accepted it, that we got back to where we had started. I said I was sorry I had been so stupid, but that I couldn’t help it. She said I must have thought her a perfect idiot. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I thought that you’d come to the end of your tether. That was it, wasn’t it?’ She said, Yes, that was it. ‘It’s humiliating,’ she said fiercely, ‘to get to such a pitch of self-pity that you don’t care what you do or who sees you!’ ‘But you did care. You were struggling hard.’ ‘I didn’t actually howl,’ she said, ‘if that’s what you mean.’ I asked her how bad it was. She said it was pretty bad. She had got to the end of everything, and she didn’t know what to do. I think I had already sensed that. There was an air of taut desperation about her. I wasn’t going to let her get away from me while she was in that mood. I said, ‘Come on, tell me about it. I’m a stranger—you can say things to a stranger. It won’t matter.’ She said, ‘There’s nothing to tell except that I’ve made the most bloody mess of everything—everything.’ I told her it wasn’t probably as bad as all that. She needed, I could see, reassurance. She needed new life, new courage—she needed lifting up from a pitiful slough of endurance and suffering and setting on her feet again. I had not the slightest doubt that I was the person best qualified to do that … Yes, it happened as soon as that. She looked at me doubtfully, like an uncertain child. Then she poured it all out. In the midst of it, of course, the attendant came with the bill. I was glad then that we were having the third lunch. They wouldn’t hustle us out of the dining car. I added ten shillings to my bill, and the attendant bowed discreetly and melted away. I went on listening to Jennifer. She’d had a raw deal. She’d stood up to things with an incredible amount of pluck, but there had been too many things, one after the other, and she wasn’t, physically, strong. Things had gone wrong for her all along—as a child, as a girl, in her marriage. Her sweetness, her impulsiveness, had landed her every time in a hole. There had been loopholes for escape and she hadn’t taken them—she’d preferred to try and make the best of a bad job. And when that had failed, and a loophole had presented itself, it had been a bad loophole, and she’d landed herself in a worse mess than ever. For everything that had happened, she blamed herself. My heart warmed to that lovable trait in her—there was no judgment, no resentment. ‘It must,’ she ended up wistfully every time, ‘have been my fault somehow …’ I wanted to roar out, ‘Of course it wasn’t your fault! Don’t you see that you’re a victim—that you’ll always be a victim so long as you adopt that fatal attitude of being willing to take all the blame for everything?’ She was adorable sitting there, worried and miserable and defeated. I think I knew then, looking at her across the narrow table, what it was I had been waiting for. It was Jennifer … not Jennifer as a possession, but to give Jennifer back her mastery of life, to see Jennifer happy, to see her whole once more. Yes, I knew then … though it wasn’t until many weeks afterwards that I admitted to myself that I was in love with her. You see, there was so much more to it than that. We made no plans for meeting again. I think she believed truly that we would not meet again. I knew otherwise. She had told me her name. She said, very sweetly, when we at last left the dining car, ‘This is goodbye. But please believe I shall never forget you and what you’ve done for me. I was desperate—quite desperate.’ I took her hand and I said goodbye—but I knew it wasn’t goodbye. I was so sure of it that I would have been willing to agree not even to try and find her again. But as it chanced there were friends of hers who were friends of mine. I did not tell her, but to find her again would be easy. What was odd was that we had not happened to meet before this. I met her again a week later, at Caro Strangeways’s cocktail party. And after that, there was no more doubt about it. We both knew what had happened to us … We met and parted and met again. We met at parties, in other people’s houses, we met at small quiet restaurants, we took trains into the country and walked together in a world that was all a shining haze of unreal bliss. We went to a concert and heard Elizabeth Schumann sing ‘And in that pathway where our feet shall wander, we’ll meet, forget the earth and lost in dreaming, bid heaven unite a love that earth no more shall sunder …’ And as we went out into the noise and bustle of Wigmore Street I repeated the last words of Strauss’s song ‘—in love and bliss ne’er ending …’ and met her eyes. She said, ‘Oh no, not for us, Hugh …’ And I said, ‘Yes, for us …’ Because, as I pointed out to her, we had got to go through the rest of our lives together … She couldn’t, she said, throw everything over like that. Her husband, she knew, wouldn’t consent to let her divorce him. ‘But he’d divorce you?’ ‘Yes, I suppose so … Oh Hugh, can’t we go on as we are?’ No, I said, we couldn’t. I’d been waiting, watching her fight her way back to health and sanity. I hadn’t wanted to let her vex herself with decisions until she was once more the happy joyful creature Nature had created her to be. Well, I’d done it. She was strong again—strong mentally and physically. And we’d got to come to a decision. It wasn’t plain sailing. She had all sorts of queer, quite unpredictable objections. Chiefly, it was because of me and my career that she demurred. It would mean a complete breakup for me. Yes, I said, I knew that. I’d thought it out, and it didn’t matter. I was young—there were other things that I could do besides schoolmastering. She cried then and said that she’d never forgive herself if, because of her, I were to ruin my life. I told her that nothing could ruin it, unless she herself were to leave me. Without her, I said, life would be finished for me. We had a lot of ups and downs. She would seem to accept my view, then suddenly, when I was no longer with her, she would retract. She had, you see, no confidence in herself. Yet, little by little, she came to share my outlook. It was not only passion between us—there was more than that. That harmony of mind and thought—that delight in mind answering mind. The things that she would say—which had just been on my own lips—the sharing of a thousand small minor pleasures. She admitted at last that I was right, that we belonged together. Her last defences went down. ‘It is true! Oh Hugh, how it can be, I don’t know. How can I really mean to you what you say I do? And yet I don’t really doubt.’ The thing was tested—proved. We made plans, the necessary mundane plans. It was a cold sunny morning when I woke up and realized that on that day our new life was starting. From now on Jennifer and I would be together. Not until this moment had I allowed myself to believe fully. I had always feared that her strange morbid distrust of her own capabilities would make her draw back. Even on this, the last morning of the old life, I had to make quite sure. I rang her up. ‘Jennifer …’ ‘Hugh …’ Her voice, soft with a tiny tremor in it … It was true. I said: ‘Forgive me, darling. I had to hear your voice. Is it all true?’ ‘It’s all true …’ We were to meet at Northolt Aerodrome. I hummed as I dressed, I shaved carefully. In the mirror I saw a face almost unrecognizable with sheer idiotic happiness. This was my day! The day I had waited for for thirty-eight years. I breakfasted, checked over tickets, passport. I went down to the car. Harriman was driving. I told him I would drive—he could sit behind. I turned out of the Mews into the main road. The car wound in and out of the traffic. I had plenty of time. It was a glorious morning—a lovely morning created specially for Hugh and Jennifer. I could have sung and shouted. The lorry came at forty miles an hour out of the side road—there was no seeing or avoiding it—no failure in driving—no faulty reaction. The driver of the lorry was drunk, they told me afterwards—how little it matters why a thing happens! It struck the Buick broadside on, wrecking it—pinning me under the wreckage. Harriman was killed. Jennifer waited at the aerodrome. The plane left … I did not come … CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_de683b10-a62b-5bb9-8dc5-5bed061338fb) There isn’t much point in describing what came next. There wasn’t, to begin with, any continuity. There was confusion, darkness, pain … I wandered endlessly, it seemed to me, in long underground corridors. At intervals I realized dimly that I was in a hospital ward. I was aware of doctors, white-capped nurses, the smell of antiseptics—the flashing of steel instruments, glittering little glass trolleys being wheeled briskly about … Realization came to me slowly—there was less confusion, less pain … but no thoughts as yet of people or of places. The animal in pain knows only pain or the surcease of pain, it can concentrate on nothing else. Drugs, mercifully dulling physical suffering, confuse the mind; heightening the impression of chaos. But lucid intervals began to come—there was the moment when they told me definitely that I had had an accident. Knowledge came at last—knowledge of my helplessness—of my wrecked broken body … There was no more life for me as a man amongst men. People came to see me—my brother, awkward, tongue-tied, with no idea of what to say. We had never been very close. I could not speak to him of Jennifer. But it was of Jennifer I was thinking. As I improved, they brought me my letters. Letters from Jennifer … Only my immediate family had been admitted to see me. Jennifer had had no claim, no right. She had been technically only a friend. They won’t let me come, Hugh darling, she wrote. I shall come as soon as they do. All my love. Concentrate on getting better, Jennifer. And another: Don’t worry, Hugh. Nothing matters so long as you are not dead. That’s all that matters. We shall be together soon—for always. Yours Jennifer. I wrote to her, a feeble pencil scrawl, that she mustn’t come. What had I to offer Jennifer now? It was not until I was out of the hospital and in my brother’s house that I saw Jennifer again. Her letters had all sounded the same note. We loved each other! Even if I never recovered we must be together. She would look after me. There would still be happiness—not the happiness of which we had once dreamed, but still happiness. And though my first reaction had been to cut the knot ruthlessly, to say to Jennifer, ‘Go away, and never come near me,’ I wavered. Because I believed, as she did, that the tie between us was not of the flesh only. All the delights of mental companionship would still be ours. Certainly it would be best for her to go and forget me—but if she would not go? It was a long time before I gave in and let her come. We wrote to each other frequently and those letters of ours were true love letters. They were inspiring—heroic in tone— And so, at last, I let her come … Well, she came. She wasn’t allowed to stay very long. We knew then, I suppose—but we wouldn’t admit it. She came again. She came a third time. After that, I simply couldn’t stand it any longer. Her third visit lasted ten minutes, and it seemed like an hour and a half! I could hardly believe it when I looked at my watch afterwards. It had seemed, I have no doubt, just as long to her … For you see we had nothing to say to each other … Yes, just that … There wasn’t, after all, anything there. Is there any bitterness like the bitterness of a fool’s paradise? All that communion of mind with mind, our thoughts that leapt to complete each other’s, our friendship, our companionship: illusion—nothing but illusion. The illusion that mutual attraction between man and woman breeds. Nature’s lure, Nature’s last and most cunning piece of deceit. Between me and Jennifer there had been the attraction of the flesh only—from that had sprung the whole monstrous fabric of self-deception. It had been passion and passion only, and the discovery shamed me, turned me sour, brought me almost to the point of hating her as well as myself. We stared at each other desolately—wondering each in our own way what had happened to the miracle in which we had been so confident. She was a good-looking young woman, I saw that. But when she talked she bored me. And I bored her. We couldn’t talk about anything or discuss anything with any pleasure. She kept reproaching herself for the whole thing, and I wished she wouldn’t. It seemed unnecessary and just a trifle hysterical. I thought to myself, Why on earth has she got to fuss so? As she left the third time she said, in her persevering bright way, ‘I’ll come again very soon, Hugh darling.’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘Don’t come.’ ‘But of course I shall.’ Her voice was hollow, insincere. I said savagely, ‘For God’s sake don’t pretend, Jennifer. It’s finished—it’s all finished.’ She said it wasn’t finished, that she didn’t know what I meant. She was going to spend her life looking after me, she said, and we would be very happy. She was determined on self-immolation, and it made me see red. I felt apprehensive, too, that she would do as she said. Perhaps she would always be there, chattering, trying to be kind, uttering foolish bright remarks … I got in a panic—a panic born of weakness and illness. I yelled at her to go away—go away. She went, looking frightened. But I saw relief in her eyes. When my sister-in-law came in later to draw the curtains, I spoke. I said, ‘It’s over, Teresa. She’s gone … she’s gone … She won’t come back, will she?’ Teresa said in her quiet voice, No, she wouldn’t come back. ‘Do you think, Teresa,’ I asked, ‘that it’s my illness that makes me see things—wrong?’ Teresa knew what I meant. She said that, in her opinion, an illness like mine tended to make you see things as they really were. ‘You mean that I’m seeing Jennifer now as she really is?’ Teresa said she didn’t mean quite that. I wasn’t probably any better able to know what Jennifer was really like now than before. But I knew now exactly what effect Jennifer produced on me, apart from my being in love with her. I asked her what she herself thought of Jennifer. She said that she had always thought Jennifer was attractive, nice, and not at all interesting. ‘Do you think she’s very unhappy, Teresa?’ I asked morbidly. ‘Yes, Hugh, I do.’ ‘Because of me?’ ‘No, because of herself.’ I said, ‘She goes on blaming herself for my accident. She keeps saying that if I hadn’t been coming to meet her, it would never have happened—it’s all so stupid!’ ‘It is, rather.’ ‘I don’t want her to work herself up about it. I don’t want her to be unhappy, Teresa.’ ‘Really, Hugh,’ said Teresa. ‘Do leave the girl something!’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘She likes being unhappy. Haven’t you realized that?’ There is a cold clarity about my sister-in-law’s thought processes that I find very disconcerting. I told her that that was a beastly thing to say. Teresa said thoughtfully that perhaps it was, but that she hadn’t really thought it mattered saying so now. ‘You haven’t got to tell yourself fairy stories any longer. Jennifer has always loved sitting down and thinking how everything has gone wrong. She broods over it and works herself up—but if she likes living that way, why shouldn’t she?’ Teresa added, ‘You know, Hugh, you can’t feel pity for a person unless there’s self-pity there. A person has to be sorry for themselves before you can be sorry for them. Pity has always been your weakness. Because of it you don’t see things clearly.’ I found momentary satisfaction in telling Teresa that she was an odious woman. She said she thought she probably was. ‘You are never sorry for anyone.’ ‘Yes, I am. I’m sorry for Jennifer in a way.’ ‘And me?’ ‘I don’t know, Hugh.’ I said sarcastically: ‘The fact that I’m a maimed broken wreck with nothing to live for doesn’t affect you at all?’ ‘I don’t know if I’m sorry for you or not. This means that you’re going to start your life all over again, living it from an entirely different angle. That might be very interesting.’ I told Teresa that she was inhuman, and she went away smiling. She had done me a lot of good. CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_972a89fa-d314-5003-8c31-9db0ee4d0da7) It was soon afterwards that we moved to St Loo in Cornwall. Teresa had just inherited a house there from a great-aunt. The doctor wanted me to be out of London. My brother Robert is a painter with what most people think is a perverted vision of landscapes. His war service, like most artists’, had been agricultural. So it all fitted in very well. Teresa went down and got the house ready and, having filled up a lot of forms successfully, I was borne down by special ambulance. ‘What goes on here?’ I asked Teresa on the morning after my arrival. Teresa was well-informed. There were, she said, three separate worlds. There was the old fishing village, grouped round its harbour, with the tall slate-roofed houses rising up all round it, and the notices written in Flemish and French as well as English. Beyond that, sprawling out along the coast, was the modern tourist and residential excrescence. The large luxury hotels, thousands of small bungalows, masses of little boarding houses—all very busy and active in summer, quiet in winter. Thirdly, there was St Loo Castle, ruled over by the old dowager, Lady St Loo, a nucleus of yet another way of life with ramifications stretching up through winding lanes to houses tucked inconspicuously away in valleys beside old world churches. County, in fact, said Teresa. ‘And what are we?’ I asked. Teresa said we were ‘county’ too, because Polnorth House had belonged to her great-aunt Miss Amy Tregellis, and it was hers, Teresa’s, by inheritance and not by purchase, so that we belonged. ‘Even Robert?’ I asked. ‘In spite of his being a painter?’ That, Teresa admitted, would take a little swallowing. There were too many painters at St Loo in the summer months. ‘But he’s my husband,’ said Teresa superbly, ‘and besides, his mother was a Bolduro from Bodmin way.’ It was then that I invited Teresa to tell us what we were going to do in the new home—or rather what she was going to do. My role was clear. I was the looker-on. Teresa said she was going to participate in all the local goings-on. ‘Which are?’ Teresa said she thought mainly politics and gardening, with a dash of Women’s Institutes and good causes such as Welcoming the Soldiers Home. ‘But principally politics,’ she said. ‘After all, a General Election will be on us any minute.’ ‘Have you ever taken any interest in politics, Teresa?’ ‘No, Hugh, I haven’t. It has always seemed to me unnecessary. I have confined myself to voting for the candidate who seems to me likely to do least harm.’ ‘An admirable policy,’ I murmured. But now, Teresa said, she would do her best to take politics seriously. She would have, of course, to be a Conservative. Nobody who owned Polnorth House could be anything else, and the late Miss Amy Tregellis would turn in her grave if the niece to whom she had bequeathed her treasures was to vote Labour. ‘But if you believe Labour to be the better party?’ ‘I don’t,’ said Teresa. ‘I don’t think there’s anything to choose between them.’ ‘Nothing could be fairer than that,’ I said. When we had been settled in at Polnorth House a fortnight, Lady St Loo came to call upon us. She brought with her her sister, Lady Tressilian, her sister-in-law, Mrs Bigham Charteris, and her grand-daughter, Isabella. After they had left, I said in a fascinated voice to Teresa that they couldn’t be real. They were, you see, so exactly right to have come out of St Loo Castle. They were pure fairy story. The Three Witches and the Enchanted Maiden. Adelaide St Loo was the widow of the seventh Baron. Her husband had been killed in the Boer War. Her two sons had been killed in the war of 1914–18. They left behind them no sons, but the younger left a daughter, Isabella, whose mother had died at her birth. The title passed to a cousin, then resident in New Zealand. The ninth Lord St Loo was only too pleased to rent the castle to the old dowager. Isabella was brought up there, watched over by her guardians, her grandmother and her two great-aunts. Lady St Loo’s widowed sister, Lady Tressilian, and her widowed sister-in-law, Mrs Bigham Charteris, came to join her. They shared expenses and so made it possible for Isabella to be brought up in what the old ladies considered her rightful home. They were all over seventy, and had somewhat the appearance of three black crows. Lady St Loo had a vast bony face, with an eagle nose and a high forehead. Lady Tressilian was plump and had a large round face with little twinkling eyes. Mrs Bigham Charteris was lean and leathery. They achieved in their appearance a kind of Edwardian effect—as though time had stood still for them. They wore jewellery, rather dirty, indubitably real, pinned on them in unlikely places—not too much of it. It was usually in the form of crescents or horseshoes or stars. Such were the three old ladies of St Loo Castle. With them came Isabella—a very fair representative of an enchanted maiden. She was tall and thin, and her face was long and thin with a high forehead, and straight-falling ash-blonde hair. She was almost incredibly like a figure out of an early stained-glass window. She could not have been called actually pretty, nor attractive, but there was about her something that you might almost call beauty—only it was the beauty of a time long past—it was most definitely not at all the modern idea of beauty. There was no animation in her, no charm of colouring, no irregularity of feature. Her beauty was the severe beauty of good structure—good bone formation. She looked medieval, severe and austere. But her face was not characterless; it had what I can only describe as nobility. After I had said to Teresa that the old ladies weren’t real, I added that the girl wasn’t real either. ‘The princess imprisoned in the ruined castle?’ Teresa suggested. ‘Exactly. She ought to have come here on a milk-white steed and not in a very old Daimler.’ I added with curiosity, ‘I wonder what she thinks about.’ For Isabella had said very little during the official visit. She had sat very upright, with a sweet rather faraway smile. She had responded politely to any conversational overtures made to her, but there had not been much need for her to sustain the conversation since her grandmother and aunts had monopolized most of the talk. I wondered if she had been bored to come, or interested in something new turning up in St Loo. Her life, I thought, must be rather dull. I asked curiously, ‘Didn’t she get called up at all during the war? Did she stay at home through it all?’ ‘She’s only nineteen. She’s been driving for the Red Cross here since she left school.’ ‘School?’ I was astonished. ‘Do you mean she’s been to school? Boarding school?’ ‘Yes. St Ninian’s.’ I was even more surprised. For St Ninian’s is an expensive and up-to-date school—not co-educational, or in any sense a crank school—but an establishment priding itself on its modern outlook. Not in any sense a fashionable finishing school. ‘Do you find that astonishing?’ Teresa asked. ‘Yes, do you know, I do,’ I said slowly. ‘That girl gives you the impression that she’s never been away from home, that she’s been brought up in some bygone medieval environment that is completely out of touch with the twentieth century.’ Teresa nodded her head thoughtfully. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I know what you mean.’ My brother Robert chimed in here. It just showed, he said, how the only environment that counted was home environment—that and hereditary disposition. ‘I still wonder,’ I said curiously, ‘what she thinks about …’ ‘Perhaps,’ said Teresa, ‘she doesn’t think.’ I laughed at Teresa’s suggestion. But I wondered still in my own mind about this curious stick of a girl. At that particular time I was suffering from an almost morbid self-consciousness about my own condition. I had always been a healthy and athletic person—I had disliked such things as illness or deformity, or ever having my attention called to them. I had been capable of pity, yes, but with pity had always gone a faint repulsion. And now I was an object to inspire pity and repulsion. An invalid, a cripple, a man lying on a couch with twisted limbs—a rug pulled up over him. And sensitively I waited, shrinking, for everyone’s reaction to my state. Whatever it was, it invariably made me flinch. The kindly commiserating glance was horrible to me. No less horrible was the obvious tact that managed to pretend that I was an entirely natural object, that the visitor hadn’t noticed anything unusual. But for Teresa’s iron will, I would have shut myself up and seen nobody at all. But Teresa, when she is determined on anything, is not easy to withstand. She was determined that I should not become a recluse. She managed, without the aid of the spoken word, to suggest that to shut myself up and make a mystery of myself would be a form of self-advertisement. I knew what she was doing and why she was doing it, but nevertheless I responded. Grimly I set out to show her I could take it—no matter what it was! Sympathy, tact, the extra kindliness in a voice, the conscientious avoidance of any reference to accidents or illness, the pretence that I was as other men—I endured them all with a poker face. I had not found the old ladies’ reaction to my state too embarrassing. Lady St Loo had adopted the line of tactful avoidance. Lady Tressilian, a maternal type, had not been able to help exuding maternal compassion. She had stressed, rather obviously, the latest books. She wondered if, perhaps, I did any reviewing? Mrs Bigham Charteris, a blunter type, had shown her awareness only by rather obviously checking herself when speaking of the more active blood sports. (Poor devil, mustn’t mention hunting or the beagles.) Only the girl, Isabella, had surprised me by being natural. She had looked at me without any suggestion of having to look away quickly. She had looked at me as though her mind registered me along with the other occupants of the room and with the furniture. One man, age over thirty, broken … An item in a catalogue—a catalogue of things that had nothing to do with her. When she had finished with me, her eyes went on to the grand piano, and then to Robert and Teresa’s Tang Horse which stood on a table by itself. The Tang Horse seemed to awaken a certain amount of interest in her. She asked me what it was. I told her. ‘Do you like it?’ I asked her. She considered quite carefully before replying. Then she said—and gave the monosyllable a lot of weight, as though it was important—‘Yes.’ I wondered if she was a moron. I asked her if she was fond of horses. She said this was the first one she’d seen. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I meant real horses.’ ‘Oh, I see. Yes, I am. But I can’t afford to hunt.’ ‘Would you like to hunt?’ ‘Not particularly. There’s not very much good country round here.’ I asked her if she sailed and she said she did. Then Lady Tressilian began talking to me about books, and Isabella relapsed into silence. She had, I noticed then, one art highly developed; the art of repose. She could sit still. She didn’t smoke, she didn’t cross her legs, or swing them, or fiddle with her hands, or pat her hair. She sat quite still and upright in the tall grandfather chair, with her hands on her lap—long narrow hands. She was as immobile as the Tang Horse—it on its table, she in her chair. They had something, I thought, of the same quality—highly decorative—static—belonging to a bygone age … I laughed when Teresa suggested that she didn’t think, but later it occurred to me that it might be true. Animals don’t think—their minds are relaxed, passive, until an emergency arises with which they have to deal. Thinking (in the speculative sense of the word) is really a highly artificial process which we have taught ourselves with some trouble. We worry over what we did yesterday, and debate what we are going to do today and what will happen tomorrow. But yesterday, today and tomorrow exist quite independently of our speculation. They have happened and will happen to us no matter what we do about it. Teresa’s prognostications of our life at St Loo were singularly accurate. Almost at once we became plunged up to the neck in politics. Polnorth House was large and rambling, and Miss Amy Tregellis, her income diminished by taxation, had shut off a wing of it, providing this with a separate kitchen. It had been done originally for evacuees from the bombed areas. But the evacuees, arriving from London in mid-winter, had been unable to stomach the horrors of Polnorth House. In St Loo itself, with its shops and its bungalows, they might have been able to support life, but a mile from the town, along ‘that narsty winding lane—the mud, yer wouldn’t believe it and no lights—and anybody might jump out on yer from be’ind the hedge. And vegetables all mud out of the garden, too much green stuff, and milk—coming right from a cow quite hot sometimes—disgusting—and never a tin of condensed handy!’ It was too much for Mrs Price and Mrs Hardy and their offspring. They departed secretly at early dawn taking their broods back to the dangers of London. They were nice women. They left the place clean and scrubbed and a note on the table. ‘Thanking you, Miss, for your kindness, and we know you’ve done all you can, but it’s just too awful in the country, and the children having to walk in the mud to school. But thanking you all the same. I hope as everything has been left all right.’ The billeting officer did not try any more. He was learning wisdom. In due course Miss Tregellis let the detached wing to Captain Carslake, the Conservative agent, who also led a busy life as an Air Raid Warden and an officer in the Home Guard. Robert and Teresa were perfectly willing for the Carslakes to continue as tenants. Indeed, it was doubtful if they could have turned them out. But it meant that a great deal of pre-election activity centred in and around Polnorth House as well as the Conservative offices in St Loo High Street. Teresa, as she had foreseen, was swept into the vortex. She drove cars, and distributed leaflets, and did a little tentative canvassing. St Loo’s recent political history was unsettled. As a fashionable seaside watering place, superimposed on a fishing port, and with agricultural surroundings, it had naturally always returned a Conservative. The outlying agricultural districts were Conservative to a man. But the character of St Loo had changed in the last fifteen years. It had become a tourist resort in summer with small boarding houses. It had a large colony of artists’ bungalows, like a rash, spread along the cliffs. The people who made up the present population were serious, artistic; cultured and, in politics, definitely pink if not red. There had been a by-election in 1943 on the retirement of Sir George Borrodaile at the age of sixty-nine after his second stroke. And to the horror of the old inhabitants, for the first time in history, a Labour MP was returned. ‘Mind you,’ said Captain Carslake, swaying to and fro on his heels as he imparted past history to Teresa and myself, ‘I’m not saying we didn’t ask for it.’ Carslake was a lean, little dark man, horsy-looking, with sharp, almost furtive eyes. He had become a captain in 1918 when he had entered the Army Service Corps. He was competent politically and knew his job. You must understand that I myself am a tyro in politics—I never really understand the jargon. My account of the St Loo election is probably wildly inaccurate. It bears the same relation to reality as Robert’s pictures of trees do to the particular trees he happens to be painting at the moment. The actual trees are trees, entities with barks and branches and leaves and acorns or chestnuts. Robert’s trees are blodges and splodges of thick oil paint applied in a certain pattern and wildly surprising colours to a certain area of canvas. The two things are not at all alike. In my own opinion, Robert’s trees are not even recognizable as trees—they might just as easily be plates of spinach or a gas works. But they are Robert’s idea of trees. And my account of politics in St Loo is my impression of a political election. It is probably not recognizable as such to a politician. I daresay I shall get the terms and the procedure wrong. But to me the election was only the unimportant and confusing background for a life-size figure—John Gabriel. CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_d1ed34db-35e2-5f0a-bb8a-cee1139e56e1) The first mention of John Gabriel came on the evening when Carslake was explaining to Teresa that as regards the result of the by-election they had asked for it. Sir James Bradwell of Torington Park had been the Conservative candidate. He was a resident of the district, he had some money, and was a good dyed-in-the-wool Tory with sound principles. He was a man of upright character. He was also sixty-two, devoid of intellectual fire, or of quick reactions—had no gift of public speaking and was quite helpless if heckled. ‘Pitiful on a platform,’ said Carslake. ‘Quite pitiful. Er and ah and erhem—just couldn’t get on with it. We wrote his speeches, of course, and we had a good speaker down always for the important meetings. It would have been all right ten years ago. Good honest chap, local, straight as a die, and a gentleman. But nowadays—they want more than that!’ ‘They want brains?’ I suggested. Carslake didn’t seem to think much of brains. ‘They want a downy sort of chap—slick—knows the answers, can get a quick laugh. And, of course, they want someone who’ll promise the earth. An old-fashioned chap like Bradwell is too conscientious to do that sort of thing. He won’t say that everyone will have houses, and the war will end tomorrow, and every woman’s going to have central heating and a washing machine. ‘And, of course,’ he went on, ‘the swing of the pendulum had begun. We’ve been in too long. Anything for a change. The other chap, Wilbraham, was a competent fellow, earnest, been a schoolmaster, invalided out of the Army, big talk about what was going to be done for the returning ex-serviceman—and the usual hot air about Nationalization and the Health Schemes. What I mean is, he put over his stuff well. Got in with a majority of over two thousand. First time such a thing’s ever happened in St Loo. Shook us all up, I can tell you. We’ve got to do better this time. We’ve got to get Wilbraham out.’ ‘Is he popular?’ ‘So so. Doesn’t spend much money in the place, but he’s conscientious and got a nice manner with him. It won’t be too easy getting him out. We’ve got to pull our socks up all over the country.’ ‘You don’t think Labour will get in?’ We were incredulous about such a possibility before the election of 1945. Carslake said of course Labour wouldn’t get in—the county was solidly behind Churchill. ‘But we shan’t have the same majority in the country. Depends, of course, how the Liberal vote goes. Between you and me, Mrs Norreys, I shan’t be surprised if we see a big increase in the Liberal vote.’ I glanced sideways at Teresa. She was trying to assume the face of one politically intent. ‘I’m sure you’ll be a great help to us,’ said Carslake heartily to her. Teresa murmured, ‘I’m afraid I’m not a very keen politician.’ Carslake said breezily, ‘We must all work hard.’ He looked at me in a calculating manner. I at once offered to address envelopes. ‘I still have the use of my arms,’ I said. He looked embarrassed at once and began to rock on his heels again. ‘Splendid,’ he said. ‘Splendid. Where did you get yours? North Africa?’ I said I had got it in the Harrow Road. That finished him. His embarrassment was so acute as to be catching. Clutching at a straw, he turned to Teresa. ‘Your husband,’ he said, ‘he’ll help us too?’ Teresa shook her head. ‘I’m afraid,’ she said, ‘he’s a Communist.’ If she had said Robert had been a black mamba she couldn’t have upset Carslake more. He positively shuddered. ‘You see,’ explained Teresa, ‘he’s an artist.’ Carslake brightened a little at that. Artists, writers, that sort of thing … ‘I see,’ he said broad-mindedly. ‘Yes, I see.’ ‘And that gets Robert out of it,’ Teresa said to me afterwards. I told her that she was an unscrupulous woman. When Robert came in, Teresa informed him of his political faith. ‘But I’ve never been a member of the Communist Party,’ he protested. ‘I mean, I do like their ideas. I think the whole ideology is right.’ ‘Exactly,’ said Teresa. ‘That’s what I told Carslake. And from time to time we’ll leave Karl Marx open across the arm of your chair—and then you’ll be quite safe from being asked to do anything.’ ‘That’s all very well, Teresa,’ said Robert doubtfully. ‘Suppose the other side get at me?’ Teresa reassured him. ‘They won’t. As far as I can see, the Labour Party is far more frightened of the Communists than the Tories are.’ ‘I wonder,’ I said, ‘what our candidate’s like?’ For Carslake had been just a little evasive on the subject. Teresa had asked him if Sir James was going to contest the seat again and Carslake had shaken his head. ‘No, not this time. We’ve got to make a big fight. I don’t know how it will go, I’m sure.’ He looked very harassed. ‘He’s not a local man.’ ‘Who is he?’ ‘A Major Gabriel. He’s a VC.’ ‘This war? Or the last?’ ‘Oh, this war. He’s quite a youngish chap. Thirty-four. Splendid war record. Got his VC for “Unusual coolness, heroism and devotion to duty”. He was in command of a machine-gun position under constant enemy fire in the attack at Salerno. All but one of his crew were killed and although wounded himself he held the position alone until all the ammunition was exhausted. He then retired to the main position, killed several of the enemy with hand-grenades and dragged the remaining seriously wounded member of his crew to safety. Good show, what? Unfortunately, he’s not much to look at—small, insignificant chap.’ ‘How will he stand the test of the public platform?’ I asked. Carslake’s face brightened. ‘Oh, he’s all right there. Positively slick, if you know what I mean. Quick as lightning. Good at getting a laugh, too. Some of it, mind you, is rather cheap stuff—’ For a moment Carslake’s face showed a sensitive distaste. He was a real Conservative, I perceived, he preferred acute boredom to the meretriciously amusing. ‘But it goes down—oh yes, it goes down. ‘Of course,’ he added, ‘he has no background …’ ‘You mean he isn’t a Cornishman?’ I said. ‘Where does he come from?’ ‘To tell you the truth, I’ve no idea … He doesn’t come from anywhere exactly—if you know what I mean. We shall keep dark on all that. Play up the war angle—gallant service—all that. He can stand, you know, for the plain man—the ordinary Englishman. He’s not our usual type, of course …’ He looked unhappy about it. ‘I’m afraid Lady St Loo doesn’t really approve.’ Teresa asked delicately if it mattered whether Lady St Loo approved. It transpired that it did. Lady St Loo was the head of the Conservative Women’s Association, and the Conservative Women were a power in St Loo. They ran things, and managed things, and got up things, and they had, so Carslake said, a great influence on the women’s vote. The women’s vote, he said, was always tricky. Then he brightened up a little. ‘That’s one reason why I’m optimistic about Gabriel,’ he said. ‘He gets on with women.’ ‘But not with Lady St Loo?’ Lady St Loo, Carslake said, was being very good about it … She acknowledged quite frankly that she was old-fashioned. But she was whole-heartedly behind whatever the Party thought necessary. ‘After all,’ said Carslake sadly, ‘times have changed. We used to have gentlemen in politics. Precious few of them now. I wish this chap was a gentleman, but he isn’t, and there it is. If you can’t have a gentleman, I suppose a hero is the next best thing.’ Which, I remarked to Teresa after he had left, was practically an epigram. Teresa smiled. Then she said she was rather sorry for Major Gabriel. ‘What do you think he’s like?’ she said. ‘Pretty dreadful?’ ‘No, I should think he was rather a nice chap.’ ‘Because of his VC?’ ‘Lord, no. You can get a VC for being merely reckless—or even for being just stupid. You know, it’s always said that old Freddy Elton got his VC for being too stupid to know when to retire from an advanced position. They called it holding on in face of almost insurmountable odds. Really he had no idea that everyone else had gone.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Hugh. Why do you think this Gabriel person must be nice?’ ‘Simply, I think, because Carslake doesn’t like him. The only man Carslake would like would be some awful stuffed shirt.’ ‘What you mean is, that you don’t like poor Captain Carslake!’ ‘No poor about it. Carslake fits into his job like a bug in a rug. And what a job!’ ‘Is it worse than any other job? It’s hard work.’ ‘Yes, that’s true. But if your whole life is spent on the calculation of what effect this has on that—you’ll end up by not knowing what this and that really are.’ ‘Divorced from reality?’ ‘Yes, isn’t that what politics really boil down to in the end? What people will believe, what they will stand, what they can be induced to think? Never plain fact.’ ‘Ah!’ said Teresa. ‘How right I am not to take politics seriously.’ ‘You are always right, Teresa,’ I said and kissed my hand to her. I myself didn’t actually see the Conservative Candidate until the big meeting in the Drill Hall. Teresa had procured for me an up-to-date type of wheeled invalid couch. I could be wheeled out on the terrace on it and lie there in a sheltered sunny place. Then, as the movement of the chair caused me less pain, I went further afield. I was occasionally pushed into St Loo. The Drill Hall meeting was an afternoon one, and Teresa arranged that I should be present at it. It would, she assured me, amuse me. I replied that Teresa had curious ideas of amusement. ‘You’ll see,’ said Teresa, adding, ‘it will entertain you enormously to see everyone taking themselves so seriously.’ ‘Besides,’ she went on, ‘I shall be wearing my Hat.’ Teresa, who never wears a hat unless she goes to a wedding, had made an expedition to London and had returned with the kind of hat which was, according to her, suitable for a Conservative Woman. ‘And what,’ I inquired, ‘is a hat suitable to a Conservative Woman?’ Teresa replied in detail. It must, she said, be a hat of good material, not dowdy, but not too fashionable. It must set well on the head and it must not be frivolous. She then produced the hat, and it was indeed all that Teresa had set forth that it should be. She put it on and Robert and I applauded. ‘It’s damned good, Teresa,’ said Robert. ‘It makes you look earnest and as though you had a purpose in life.’ You will understand, therefore, that to see Teresa sitting on the platform wearing the Hat lured me irresistibly to the Drill Hall on a remarkably fine summer’s afternoon. The Drill Hall was well filled by prosperous-looking elderly people. Anybody under forty was (wisely, in my opinion) enjoying the pleasures of the seaside. As my invalid couch was carefully wheeled by a boy scout to a position of vantage near the wall by the front seats, I speculated as to the usefulness of such meetings. Everyone in this hall was sure to vote our way. Our opponents were holding an opposition meeting in the Girls’ School. Presumably they, too, would have a full meeting of staunch supporters. How, then, was public opinion influenced? The loud-speaker truck? Open-air meetings? My speculations were interrupted by the shuffling of a small party of people coming on to the platform which hitherto had held nothing but chairs, a table, and a glass of water. They whispered, gesticulated, and finally got settled in the required positions. Teresa, in the Hat, was relegated to the second row amongst the minor personalities. The Chairman, several tottery old gentlemen, the Speaker from Headquarters, Lady St Loo, two other women and the Candidate arranged themselves in the front row. The Chairman began to speak in a quavery, rather sweet voice. His mumbled platitudes were practically inaudible. He was a very old general who had served with distinction in the Boer War. (Or was it, I queried to myself, the Crimean?) Whatever it was, it must have been a long time ago. The world he was mumbling about did not, I thought, now exist … The thin apple-sweet old voice stopped, there was spontaneous and enthusiastic applause—the applause given always, in England, to a friend who has stood the test of time … Everyone in St Loo knew old General S——. He was a fine old boy, they said, one of the old school. With his concluding words, General S——had introduced to the meeting a member of the new school, the Conservative Candidate, Major Gabriel, VC. It was then, with a deep and gusty sigh, that Lady Tressilian, whom I suddenly discovered to be in the end seat of a row close to me (I suspected that her maternal instinct had placed her there), breathed poignantly: ‘It’s such a pity that he’s got such common legs.’ I knew immediately what she meant. Yet asked to define what is or is not common in a leg, I could not for the life of me tell you. Gabriel was not a tall man. He had, I should say, the normal legs for his height—they were neither unduly long nor unduly short. His suit was quite a well-cut one. Nevertheless, indubitably, those trousered legs were not the legs of a gentleman. Is it, perhaps, in the structure and poise of the nether limbs that the essence of gentility resides? A question for the Brains Trust. Gabriel’s face did not give him away, it was an ugly, but quite interesting face, with remarkably fine eyes. His legs gave him away every time. He rose to his feet, smiled (an engaging smile), opened his mouth and spoke in a flat, slightly cockney voice. He spoke for twenty minutes—and he spoke well. Don’t ask me what he said. Offhand I should say that he said the usual things—and said them more or less in the usual manner. But he got across. There was something dynamic about the man. You forgot what he looked like, you forgot that he had an ugly voice and accent. You had instead a great impression of earnestness—of single-minded purpose. You felt: this chap jolly well means to do his best. Sincerity—that was it, sincerity. You felt—yes—that he cared. He cared about housing, about young couples who couldn’t set up housekeeping—he cared about soldiers who had been overseas for many years and were due home, he cared about building up industrial security—about staving off unemployment. He cared, desperately, about seeing his country prosperous, because that prosperity would mean the happiness and well-doing of every small component part of that country. Every now and then, quite suddenly, he let off a squib, a flash of cheap, easily understood humour. They were quite obvious jokes—jokes that had been made many times before. They came out comfortingly because they were so familiar. But it wasn’t the humour, it was his earnestness that really counted. When the war was finally over, when Japan was out of it, then would come the peace, and it would be vital then to get down to things. He, if they returned him, meant to get down to things … That was all. It was, I realized, entirely a personal performance. I don’t mean that he ignored the party slogans, he didn’t. He said all the correct things, spoke of the leader with due admiration and enthusiasm, mentioned the Empire. He was entirely correct. But you were being asked to support, not so much the Conservative Party Candidate as Major John Gabriel who was going to get things done, and who cared, passionately, that they should get done. The audience liked him. They had, of course, come prepared to like him. They were Tories to a man (or woman), but I got the impression that they liked him rather more than they had thought they would. They seemed, I thought, even to wake up a little. And I said to myself, rather pleased with my idea, ‘Of course, the man’s a dynamo!’ After the applause, which was really enthusiastic, the Speaker from Headquarters was introduced. He was excellent. He said all the right things, made all the right pauses, got all the right laughs in the right places. I will confess that my attention wandered. The meeting ended with the usual formalities. As everyone got up and started streaming out, Lady Tressilian came and stood by me. I had been right—she was being a guardian angel. She said in her breathless, rather asthmatic voice: ‘What do you think? Do tell me what you think?’ ‘He’s good,’ I said. ‘Definitely he’s good.’ ‘I’m so glad you think so.’ She sighed gustily. I wondered why my opinion should matter to her. She partially enlightened me when she said: ‘I’m not as clever as Addie, you know, or Maud. I’ve never really studied politics—and I’m old-fashioned. I don’t like the idea of MPs being paid. I’ve never got used to it. It should be a matter of serving your country—not recompensed.’ ‘You can’t always afford to serve your country, Lady Tressilian,’ I pointed out. ‘No, I know that. Not nowadays. But it seems to me a pity. Our legislators should be drawn from the class that doesn’t need to work for its living, the class that can really be indifferent to gain.’ I wondered whether to say, ‘My dear lady, you come out of the Ark!’ But it was interesting to find a pocket of England where the old ideas still survived. The ruling class. The governing class. The upper class. All such hateful phrases. And yet—be honest—something in them? Lady Tressilian went on: ‘My father stood for Parliament, you know. He was MP for Garavissey for thirty years. He found it a great tax upon his time and very wearisome—but he thought it his duty.’ My eyes strayed to the platform. Major Gabriel was talking to Lady St Loo. His legs were definitely ill-at-ease. Did Major Gabriel think it his duty to stand for Parliament? I very much doubted it. ‘I thought,’ said Lady Tressilian, following the direction of my eyes, ‘that he seemed very sincere. Didn’t you?’ ‘That was how it struck me.’ ‘And he spoke so beautifully about dear Mr Churchill … I think there is no doubt at all that the country is solidly behind Mr Churchill. Don’t you agree?’ I did agree. Or rather, I thought that the Conservatives would certainly be returned to power with a small majority. Teresa joined me and my boy scout appeared, prepared to push. ‘Enjoy yourself?’ I asked Teresa. ‘Yes, I did.’ ‘What do you think of our candidate?’ She did not answer until we were outside the Hall. Then she said, ‘I don’t know.’ CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_ea9ba44d-7820-5a91-9c9d-d318c8dbf2b3) I met the candidate a couple of days later when he came over to confer with Carslake. Carslake brought him in to us for a drink. Some question arose about clerical work done by Teresa, and she went out of the room with Carslake to clear the matter up. I apologized to Gabriel for not being able to get up, and directed him where the drinks were, and told him to get himself one. He poured himself a pretty stiff one, I noticed. He brought me mine, saying as he did so: ‘War casualty?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘Harrow Road.’ It was, by now, my stock answer, and I had come to derive a certain amount of amusement from the various reactions to it. Gabriel was much amused. ‘Pity to say so,’ he remarked. ‘You’re passing up an asset there.’ ‘Do you expect me to invent a heroic tale?’ He said there was no need to invent anything. ‘Just say, “I was in North Africa”—or in Burma—or wherever you actually were—you have been overseas?’ I nodded. ‘Alamein and on.’ ‘There you are then. Mention Alamein. That’s enough—no one will ask details—they’ll think they know.’ ‘Is it worth it?’ ‘Well,’ he considered, ‘it’s worth it with women. They love a wounded hero.’ ‘I know that,’ I said with some bitterness. He nodded with immediate comprehension. ‘Yes. It must get you down sometimes. Lot of women round here. Motherly, some of them.’ He picked up his empty glass. ‘Do you mind if I have another?’ I urged him to do so. ‘I’m going to dinner at the Castle,’ he explained. ‘That old bitch fairly puts the wind up me!’ We might have been Lady St Loo’s dearest friends, but I suppose he knew quite well that we weren’t. John Gabriel seldom made mistakes. ‘Lady St Loo?’ I asked. ‘Or all of them?’ ‘I don’t mind the fat one. She’s the kind you can soon get where you want them, and Mrs Bigham Charteris is practically a horse. You’ve only got to neigh at her. But that St Loo woman is the kind that can see through you and out the other side. You can’t put on any fancy frills with her! ‘Not that I’d try,’ he added. ‘You know,’ he went on thoughtfully, ‘when you come up against a real aristocrat you’re licked—there isn’t anything you can do about it.’ ‘I’m not sure,’ I said, ‘that I understand you.’ He smiled. ‘Well, in a way, you see, I’m in the wrong camp.’ ‘You mean that you’re not really a Tory in politics?’ ‘No, no. I mean I’m not their kind. They like, they can’t help liking, the old school tie. Of course, they can’t be too choosy nowadays, they’ve got to have blokes like me.’ He added meditatively, ‘My old man was a plumber—not a very good plumber either.’ He looked at me and twinkled. I grinned back at him. In that moment I fell under his charm. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Labour’s really my ticket.’ ‘But you don’t believe in their programme?’ I suggested. He said easily, ‘Oh, I’ve no beliefs. With me it’s purely a matter of expediency. I’ve got to have a job. The war’s as good as over, and the plums will soon be snapped up. I’ve always thought I could make a name for myself in politics. You see if I don’t.’ ‘So that’s why you’re a Tory? You prefer to be in the party that will be in power?’ ‘Good Lord,’ he said. ‘You don’t think the Tories are going to get in, do you?’ I said I certainly did think so. With a reduced majority. ‘Nonsense,’ he said. ‘Labour’s going to sweep the country. Their majority’s going to be terrific.’ ‘But then—if you think so—’ I stopped. ‘Why don’t I want to be on the winning side?’ He grinned. ‘My dear chap. That’s why I’m not Labour. I don’t want to be swamped in a crowd. The Opposition’s the place for me. What is the Tory Party anyway? Taken by and large it’s the most muddle-headed crowd of gentlemanly inefficients combined with unbusinesslike business men. They’re hopeless. They haven’t got a policy, and they’re all at sixes and sevens. Anyone with any ability at all will stick out a mile. You watch. I shall shoot up like a rocket!’ ‘If you get in,’ I said. ‘Oh, I shall get in all right.’ I looked at him curiously. ‘You really think so?’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/the-rose-and-the-yew-tree/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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