An Act in a Backwater - E.F. Benson - ebook

An Act in a Backwater ebook

E.F. Benson

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Opis

The brother and sister of the poor nobleman settle in a simple town and bring a new element to the quiet life of this place, which gives many opportunities for comedy. Ginny Avesham is an attractive heroine, but the author tries so hard to show her kindness to the reader that she overdoes her and makes her a little theatrical. A simple story, with many good characters, but also with life features. Benson gave us a small but pleasant exploration of life in a small town.

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Liczba stron: 301

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER I

It was approaching half-past five on a June afternoon, and in consequence Colonel Raymond was approaching the Wroxton County Club. He was a man of method, and a retired Colonel of Volunteers, and thus he left his house (christened Lammermoor by his wife) with great regularity at a quarter past five in summer, and a quarter past four in winter, and marched rather than walked with an inflated chest and a gallant bearing. The Colonel, even at the age of fifty-six, remained one of those harmless idiots who draw themselves up and try to look interesting whenever a pretty woman passes them; indeed, he went further, for, being a little short-sighted, he drew himself up and tried to look interesting when he saw any female figure approaching, on the chance that at nearer range she might prove to be pretty. He had a somewhat flaming face, and a long mustache “silver sabled.” In very hot weather he was liable to touches of liver, and when thus afflicted, sometimes alluded, when only comparative strangers were present, to the trying climate of India, a country in which, as his intimate acquaintances knew, he had never set foot. But to the uninitiate the combination of the title of Colonel and the climate of India led to the deduction that he had seen service, and the Colonel did not put himself to the pains of correcting this. He would even encourage it further by sometimes talking of lunch as “tiffin.”

Now Colonel Raymond’s manner was so radically bluff and straightforward that it would be absurd to argue any want of sincerity from such trifles. Every man he met was either “the best fellow on this earth,” or “a blackguard, sir, a low Radical blackguard!” Shades and fine distinctions did not exist for him; there was no nonsense about him, he would say. But there was very little sense.

The Colonel had his idols. Dizzy, “old Dizzy,” was one of them, and this full measure of his approbation was conferred on the Queen when old Dizzy was created an Earl, for the aristocracy was another. His wife’s sister had married a man whose sister had married Lord Avesham, and had this fortunate peer known it, he must have often been gratified to have heard himself alluded to by the Colonel as “my noble relative.” His noble relative was President of the Wroxton County Club, toward which the Colonel was now marching; but on the few occasions on which his lordship had set foot in that establishment, the Colonel, if there, had speedily effaced himself, only to come in half an hour afterward with the avowed object of looking for him, and much regret at having missed him. He had once even gone so far as to address a note to Lord Avesham, with a few formal lines inside and his own name very large on the left-hand corner of the envelope. This he left conspicuously in the rack which held members’ letters, with “To await arrival” in the corner. But from some reason or other (Lord Avesham had been seen in Wroxton several times that week) the Colonel surreptitiously removed it the day after. Perhaps he thought that he would certainly meet his noble relative in the street, and could ask him to tiffin then.

On this particular afternoon the Colonel had drawn himself up and looked interesting quite a number of times–indeed, it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that he had not looked dull for thirty seconds together during the second and more populous part of his walk. The day had been hot, and the inhabitants of Wroxton were streaming out for a walk in the cool of the evening. Once, a fine instance of the innate kindliness of the Colonel, he had gone so far as to help a nursery-maid over a crossing with her perambulator, for the strong should always assist the weak, and there was a butcher’s cart standing only a few doors off, which might have driven rapidly in her direction without warning. Then he had passed the younger Miss Clifford on her bicycle, and, though the younger Miss Clifford was forty-three and as plain as a biscuit, the gallant Colonel had fired some piece of robust wit at her on the subject of country lanes and chance meetings.

The smoking-room of the club was rapidly filling when the Colonel entered. Captain Johnson and Major Daltry were on the point of going to the billiard-room, and as they both played a game more slow than sure, the table would be occupied for the next hour. Colonel Raymond, with all his gallantry and romantic bearing where the other sex was concerned, did not trouble to stand on his manners when among what he called “old cronies,” and when he found that Mr. Hewson, who completed his regular four at whist, had not arrived, he was not pleased. Among his old cronies, in fact, he gave the impression of being always in a rage. At whist he certainly was, particularly with his partner. However, as he had to wait, he took up the evening paper until Mr. Hewson should appear, and, standing in front of the fireplace, read out scraps of news with loud, explosive comments.

“Perfectly childish and suicidal,” he said, hitting the paper angrily with his hand. “I have always said so, and I shall always say so. Our foreign policy is perfectly childish and suicidal. I don’t know what we are about. Why don’t we turn those blackguards out of Constantinople, and hang the Sultan, and make an end of the whole business in the good old English fashion. Old Dizzy would have done it long ago. I’m ashamed, positively ashamed to be English. Eh, what?”

And he turned fiercely on Mr. Newbolt, a gentle solicitor with mutton-chop whiskers, who had not spoken.

“I didn’t say anything, Colonel,” he remarked.

“No, sir,” retorted the Colonel, “there is nothing to be said. There is no justification possible for our policy. Childish and suicidal I call it, because I am a man who doesn’t mince matters, and isn’t afraid of speaking his mind. Bring me a whisky and soda, waiter. Ah, here is Hewson. Now perhaps we shall get a game of whist at last.”

“I am not late, Colonel,” he said. “It is only just the half hour.”

“Let us lose no more time in getting to our whist,” repeated Colonel Raymond.

Mr. Newbolt had furtively picked up the paper which the Colonel had dropped on Mr. Hewson’s entry.

“Hullo, here is news for you,” said he; “Lord Avesham is dead.”

“God bless my soul!” cried the Colonel, wheeling suddenly round. “Dead? My noble relative dead? Pooh, I don’t believe a word of it. It’s some lie of that infernal Radical paper of yours. Why, it was only the other day that–Let’s look.”

He took the paper out of Mr. Newbolt’s unresisting hand.

“Expired at nine o’clock this morning at his residence in Prince’s Gate,” he read. “Yes, Number Seventeen, that’s quite right. Seems to be true. Very shocking, indeed. Poor Avesham, poor fellow. Family all there–I must send a wire. No, I’ll send it after our whist, or to-morrow morning first thing. Dear me, dear, dear me! Waiter, am I going to wait all night for that whisky and soda? Bring it to the card-room, and look sharp.”

“He seems to have been ill some time,” said Mr. Newbolt, in quiet, precise tones. “I suppose you expected it, Colonel?”

“No, sir, I did not,” he replied. “The report of his illness was greatly exaggerated. It’s a blow to me, a blow.”

And the Colonel strutted out of the room, followed by the three others, as if Lord Avesham’s death had brought him within a life or two of the title.

Colonel Raymond’s whist was as explosive as his manner among his old cronies, and was conducted on principles founded crookedly on Cavendish. The rule there inculcated to retain command of a suit, he interpreted by readings of his own, and thus it not infrequently happened that a perfect spate of kings and aces would burst from his hand after his adversaries had begun to rough the suit. His unhappy partner had to cower beneath the rain of winning cards and censure when this happened.

“You should have drawn the trumps, sir,” the Colonel would say; “a baby in arms would have drawn the trumps. You could see I was keeping command of the ordinary suits, and if you had only had the sense to draw the trumps they would all have made. My deal, I think; cut again, please, I hate a slovenly cut. Let’s see, that’s a treble. We pay dear for your mistake. Honours? Two against us by honours. One of the instances, as Cavendish says, where a weak hand could have been turned into a winning hand by a little judgment and forethought.”

His partner, if discreet, would not reply, but sometimes, goaded to frenzy, if the same sort of thing had happened before that evening, he would point out with perfect justice that he had positively had no opportunity of taking a trick, as the Colonel held all the winning cards, and that being the case he might have played one of them, and opened trumps for himself.

That was what Colonel Raymond was waiting for.

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