Captain Nicholas - Hugh Walpole - ebook

Captain Nicholas ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Captain Nicolas is the author’s most recognizable character. One for which it’s immediately clear whose story it is. Hugh Walpole tells the story of a family conflict. This is an ideal family, an example for everyone, but an evil and dissatisfied brother breaks into this idyll. The story is about an evil brother who is returning to visit his family, and about the destruction that he is reaping with his activity.

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Liczba stron: 613

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Contents

PART I

THE SPRING EVENING

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

PART II

FANNY’S HOUSE

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

PART III

THE LETTER

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

PART IV

BATTLE FOR THE SPRING EVENING

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

PART I

THE SPRING EVENING

1

“What a beautiful evening!” Fanny Carlisle said to the little lady who was standing beside her.

It was one of her impetuous moments and, as was always the case, she instantly regretted her impetuosity. How odd the lady must think her, speaking to her thus in the middle of Bordon’s, without any reason at all!

And yet she did not appear to mind.

“Yes, is it not?” she said, looking up and smiling. “So early in April, and so warm.”

The room where the glass was had a beautifully remote air, and from the large window the late afternoon sun streamed in upon the glass, transmuting it, transforming the ruby and orange and blue into glittering, trembling flames of colour. The tall glasses, the round bowls, the tumblers twinkled, shone, and sparkled. They almost, if you were very romantic, appeared themselves to glory in the sun, which, perhaps, did not too often caress them. It was clever of Mr. Bordon to place the glass near the window and leave the rest of the room to the china. He had known that there would be these sunny days; he had even, Fanny Carlisle considered, arranged the large thin vases and the faint blue bowls on the highest points of vantage, for their hunger for light must be passionate....

“It must be lovely for them–a sunny day,” she said.

But the little lady could not follow her so far.

“It’s too tiresome. My maid broke a blue bowl yesterday that my husband gave me five Christmases ago. I was greatly attached to it. My husband’s away, you know, in Scotland, and I want to replace it before he returns. In fact I must replace it. He notices things. I felt sure that Bordon would have one like it. The man’s gone to enquire, but I could see from his face–” She broke off to look again at the blue bowls. Poor things! They had been so happy in the sun and now they were worthless, valueless, might all be smashed into atoms and the little lady would not care.

“I was so certain that Bordon...” she murmured.

“What about this one?” Fanny asked, pointing to a pale blue bowl so thin and delicate that a breath would blow it like a bubble into the sky.

“Oh, no!” said the little lady, quite crossly. “That isn’t in the least like it,” and she looked at Fanny Carlisle as though it were most stupid of her not to have known.

“She’s irritated by my height,” Fanny thought. This often occurred to her when she was with strangers. She was tall and broad, felt herself to be clumsier than she really was, and this was because so often in her childhood she had heard the words: “Now, Fanny, do be careful! You’ll knock that chair over!” or “Fanny–mind the table. Look where you are going!”

But the little lady was pleased with what she saw. She liked this tall straight woman with the dark hair and the kindly humorous face. She was not smart, but most certainly a lady–not one of these modern know-all women who gave themselves airs and thought they knew everything, although Heaven alone could tell whence they came–for the little lady was something of a snob and as sensitive on occasion about her small stature as Fanny was of her height.

“He’s a long time,” she complained. “And I know it’s all no use. It’s so very irritating when they go off saying, “I’ll see what we can do, madam,’ when you know that they know that there’s nothing to be done at all.”

“Well, I don’t think that I can wait,” Fanny said cheerfully. “I promised to be back by five, and it’s half-past four now. My boy’s at Westminster and he likes me to be there at tea time.”

“Oh, you have a boy at Westminster, have you? My husband’s brother went to Westminster. How small the world is!”

“Yes, we’re a large family,” Fanny said, smiling, impetuous again. “There are eight of us altogether!”

“Eight!” said the little lady. “Dear me! In these days! That does seem a lot!”

“Yes–there’s my mother-in-law, my husband, my sister, my brother, and I have two boys and a girl.”

“And you all live together, always?”

“Yes; we’re a very attached family. At least I suppose we are. We all get along very well together.”

“That’s not at all the modern idea.”

“No. I suppose it isn’t. But I think we’d all be very sorry if the family was broken up. I always think it so odd in the newspapers and novels when they say that family life doesn’t exist any more. But of course they have to write about something.”

But the little lady shook her head. “Your case is very exceptional,” she said. “All living together, I mean. Of course relations visit one another and so on, but staying in the same house...! Don’t you quarrel frightfully?”

Fanny laughed, shaking her head.

“No. Why should we? Of course we don’t always agree, but that makes things more interesting.”

“Well, I should be afraid if I were you. It’s too good to last.”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Fanny. “Nothing is.”

This again she at once regretted, for it was platitudinous and, as her family often told her, the platitude was her danger. Only why, when a thing was true, was it silly to mention it? This would lead her too far, so she said:

“Those orange bowls are charming. With spring flowers they would be delightful.”

“But it isn’t an orange bowl that I want,” said the little lady. “And I’ve been here half an hour. And I’m keeping you, too. What a shame! Really, in these big stores you’d think they–”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” said Fanny. “It wasn’t important. Only some quite ordinary tumblers. I can get them anywhere.”

At this moment the assistant, holding a blue bowl in each hand, appeared. He was a very thin man with a small pale yellow moustache, but his manner was so confident and superior that Fanny could not feel sorry for him.

“I think I’ve found the very thing, madam,” he said triumphantly.

“Indeed, you have not!” said the little lady. “Neither of those is the least like it.”

“I’m very sorry, madam,” he remarked with polite indifference, as though he said: “I have excellent manners, but if you dropped dead at my feet this very moment I shouldn’t much care.” “Perhaps we can get you–if Madam isn’t in a hurry–”

“Of course I’m in a hurry,” the little lady, almost in tears, replied. “And now I don’t know what I shall do. It’s too provoking. I thought Bordon’s had everything....”

“I’m extremely sorry, madam,” said the assistant, pulling his primrose moustache. “Of course this blue bowl is very charming. We–”

But the little lady had gone, exactly as though the floor had swallowed her or the sun absorbed her into its splendour.

He turned to Fanny. “And what–?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s only some tumblers,” Fanny answered. “Quite ordinary ones. Half a dozen.”

Very quickly she was supplied.

“Isn’t it a lovely evening?” she said.

“Very fine indeed, madam. Has Madam an account or–”

“Oh, no, thank you. I’ll pay now.”

He went to wrap them up, still with his air of pleasant disdain which only his shoes, a little worn and wrinkled, belied. While he was gone Fanny looked again at the glass.

The sun now struck the room with its full power. The air sparkled and was shot with the trembling colour of the glass–pale as green sea water, rosy as evening cloud, frosty with the shimmer of ice on the windowpane, clear with the silver whiteness of crystal, these lovely things quietly surrendered to the evening. One tall vase of a blue as faint as a young hyacinth seemed to be part of the sun, to be withdrawn into outer air and lose itself in the evening sky.

“There’s a smell of lilac,” Fanny thought. “White lilac would look lovely in that vase.”

2

Safely outside she climbed onto the upper part of an omnibus. Gazing through the window at her side, she marvelled that the world could be so beautiful. It was one of those hours when by a trick of light and sun London appears to be surely the queen of the world. She is not, of course, and we all know how, at the bidding of a tiny cloud, she can sink into primeval slime, but this afternoon she thought that she would let herself go. Through the window Fanny saw the spring evening at liberty. Carried through a rosy air, everything below her was unsubstantial, veiled in a mist that was primrose-coloured, and then deep in violet shadow–mists and shadows that seized messenger boys and ladies shopping and butchers at their reeking doors and antique shops with here a Persian rug and there a bowl of crimson, and newspaper placards, murderous and sporting–all these things were as whimsical as a play by a Scotsman or a children’s poem by a member of the Athenæum. Somewhere around the chimneys the shadows failed, and above them the sky was as pale as the feathers of young canaries. Was it blue or white like a sea shell?

“If you wouldn’t mind,” said the lady in the seat with her. “You are sitting on my coat.”

Fanny was never comfortable on the outside of one of those seats that are ironically designed for the sensitive egotism of ordinary-sized persons. Fanny was too large, and she could not see from the window as she would, so that it was delightful when the lady (who held herself stiffly as though Fanny had the plague or the chicken pox at least) departed and allowed her to command the scene. And command it she did! For now she could see all the humours of the street as though they were directed by her. She had only to move a finger and that lady with the parcels stayed where she was, imprisoned in the sunny haze, or the stout man trying to hail a taxi (he had a flower in his buttonhole) remained for ever hailing, an eternal figure in a master’s landscape. And now they were in Piccadilly Circus where Eros, temporarily restored, caught the sunlight in his wings, and below the ground people dropped pennies into machines and slid down mechanical stairways. Here there was a hush. Everything moved softly, and the sky was exposed, a whole square piece of it, lit into infinity with one star quietly inquisitive. Then they went down the hill, saw people already on chairs outside His Majesty’s Theatre, looked at the Trafalgar Square lions, considered the pictures separated from the spray of the fountains by that grimy wall of stone, down the hill again into a world of bells and legislators, of policemen and trees and hidden streets and small boys wearing top hats....

Into Fanny’s world, for she lived with her family in Smith Square.

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