Hans Frost - Hugh Walpole - ebook

Hans Frost ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Hans Frost is a great figure for his fans. The protagonist is the greatest writer. Hans Frost received his guests and graciously accepted the wonderful gift that his fans combined to buy for him. His books do not bring such a large income, and the wealth of his wife provides the luxury that he possessed from the time of their marriage. Natalie’s entry into his world is the catalyst that Hans needs to wake him from recession.

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Contents

PART I

SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY

CHAPTER I. NATHALIE SWAN

CHAPTER II. THE HOUSE

CHAPTER III. PRESENTATION

CHAPTER IV. À LA RECHERCHE DU TEMPS PERDU

CHAPTER V. MA MARRIOTT

CHAPTER VI. UNKNOWN GUEST

CHAPTER VII. DINNER

CHAPTER VIII. INTIMATE TRUTHS

CHAPTER IX. FRIENDS MET

PART II

JOURNEYS OF COLUMBUS

CHAPTER I. NATHALIE'S VISIT TO GRANDMAMMA

CHAPTER II. WESTCOTT EVENING

CHAPTER III. SOUL OF RUTH

CHAPTER IV. THE ZOO

CHAPTER V. NATHALIE IN RUSSIA

CHAPTER VI. BLACKMOOR

CHAPTER VII. RETURN

CHAPTER VIII. NATHALIE-AT-ARMS

CHAPTER IX. HANS STEPS OUT

CHAPTER X. RUTH IS HONEST

CHAPTER XI. FAREWELL TO TAPESTRIES!

PART III

To St. Servian!

CHAPTER I. A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT

CHAPTER II. THE TRAIN

CHAPTER III. PROGRESS THROUGH POLCHESTER

CHAPTER IV. THE TAWNY SAND

CHAPTER V. THE SILVER FEATHER

CHAPTER VI. THE WAVE--SILENCE

PART I

SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY

CHAPTER I

NATHALIE SWAN

No one perhaps in the United Kingdom was quite so frightened as was Nathalie Swan on the third day of November 1924, sitting in a third-class carriage about quarter to five of a cold, windy, darkening afternoon. Her train was drawing her into Paddington Station, and how she wished that she were dead!

She sat in a corner on the hard, dusty seat, her hands clenched, her heart beating with hot, thick, hammering throbs. She wished that she were dead. She was an orphan. No one in the world needed her. The Proudies whom she was abandoning had been very, very good to her, but certainly did not need her. The famous Mrs. Frost to whom she was going would almost surely not be good to her–and as to needing her...

Open upon her lap was a number of that shiny geographically illustrated paper the London News, and among other portraits was one of Hans Frost, and under it was written:

Mr. Hans Frost, whose Seventieth Birthday occurs on November 3. His friends and admirers are marking the occasion with a suitable presentation.

Kind Samuel Proudie had not known that the photograph was there, when at Polchester Station he had bought illustrated papers and flung them on to her lap. She herself had, of course, not known it, and it had been with a kind of shock that she had recognised the well-known features, the square rugged face with the deep, penetrating eyes, the round head with its short, thick, black hair, the face austere like a priest’s, the shoulders broad, the body rather squat, the short sturdy legs, standing there in the beautiful book-lined library–no man of seventy here surely. Not even a man of letters. Rather priest plus prize-fighter plus (in some implied kindly geniality) Father Christmas without the beard.

And then at the last something enigmatic.... Or did one imagine that because one knew how great he was?

Nathalie was nineteen years and no fool. She had had this face in front of her, framed in a neat black frame for the last six years, had carried it with her everywhere, had had it always in her bedroom wherever she might be. For was he not her uncle, her famous, marvellous uncle whom she had never seen, but had made her hero, her conception of God, indeed, ever since she could remember?

How tiny, but how defiant, she had been on that first morning at the Polchester High School, when, hemmed in by tormentors, she had boasted: ‘You can do what you like, but I’ve got a grander uncle than you have!’

The name, Hans Frost, had meant nothing to them until they had inquired of fathers and mothers at home, but then, after those inquiries, she had received her coveted glory.

‘Mother says he’s the most wonderful writer. What’s he like? Does he take you to theatres when you’re in London?’

And then must come the sad confession that she had never seen him, that he had perhaps never heard of her, that he was her uncle only because he had married her aunt.

And yet some glory lingered. The time had come at last when she read his books. Always surreptitiously. They were forbidden. Mrs. Proudie thought them shocking. All except the fairy stories, and they might also be shocking, did one understand what they meant....

Nathalie read some of the fairy stories first: The Crystal Bell, The Duchess of Paradis, The Palace of Ice. She did not at the time bother about inner meanings. She took the pictures for what they were. The Prince in The Crystal Bell crossing the Lake of Fire, the Duchess of Paradis opening the casket of jade, the Dwarfs in Green Parrots tying the tails of the monkeys together while they slept. Then (she was seventeen now) she came to the novels. She saved up her money and bought The Praddons, The Silver Tree, Joy has Three Faces and The Chinese Miracle.

Of these she liked The Praddons best. She could follow that easily with its crowds of people, its London scene and its definite story of Isabel Praddon and her unhappy marriage. She noticed that the later in his life the books appeared the more difficult they became.

She always cut pieces from the paper when they concerned him. The greatest time was when, in his fifty-ninth year, he was dangerously ill. The whole of London, the whole of England, even the whole of Europe and America, waited breathlessly.

She read how groups of people lingered outside his door, how the King and Queen sent inquiries, she remembered the newspaper headlines on the morning after the crisis of his illness was successfully passed.

He had never, perhaps, been quite so famous again. The war had immediately followed. Uncle Hans’ mother–dead many years–had been a German. He had lived in retirement during the war, had said very little. After The Chinese Miracle, which came out in the autumn of 1914, he had published nothing in the war years save his volume of essays, The War and the Artist.

At school during those years she had been torn between her loyalties. She was patriotic, of course, but Uncle Hans was as much her God as ever. It wasn’t her fault or his that his mother had been a German. But she had not mentioned him when she need not. She had not been a coward, but perhaps–a little of a diplomatist....

She worshipped Uncle Hans, but she did not worship Aunt Ruth. For one thing she had never seen Uncle Hans and had seen Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth had, in 1919, spent two whole nights under the Proudie roof. She had been visiting friends in Cornwall, and, passing through Glebeshire, stopped for two nights in Polchester to ‘see her little niece.’ She had been all kindness and condescension, lovely to look at and lovely to smell. Very sweet to the Proudies, who were no relation and had looked after little Nathalie all these years simply because Mrs. Proudie and Nathalie’s mother ‘had been girl friends together.’

Nathalie had been only fourteen at the time. She had been given holiday from the High School, and Aunt Ruth had taken her for a drive–and that drive had been for Nathalie the most terrifying of all her life’s experiences.

Aunt Ruth had been determined to be kind, and was probably satisfied that she had been. As they sat on the broad back seat of the handsome motor-car Aunt Ruth had asked many questions in her melodious, but very deciding, voice. Was Nathalie happy at school? What was her favourite subject in lessons? Did she like games? and, at the last, was she a good little girl, because she would have to earn her living when she grew up?

There were certain things in Aunt Ruth that reminded Nathalie very oddly of her mother, who had been Aunt Ruth’s sister. Oddly, because the same things that were adorable in Nathalie’s mother were in some strange way terrifying in Aunt Ruth–a note in her voice, a smile, a gesture with her hand. These things brought back her mother to Nathalie so desperately, because in a way they seemed to attempt to betray her, as though now that she was gone and had no one to defend her they were attacking her, that Nathalie to her own surprise and chagrin burst into tears.

Here would have been an occasion for aunt and niece to come together, and had they done so the lives of many people might have been changed, but it happened that the motor-car was just re-entering Polchester, and Mrs. Frost had a keen sense of public absurdity and a wise consciousness of the necessity for self-control. And Nathalie hated herself for crying and hated her aunt for seeing her cry. So Mrs. Frost left Polchester thinking her niece ‘a silly little girl,’ and Nathalie thought her aunt ‘simply terrifying.’

How astonishing then, all these years afterwards, to discover that Aunt Ruth wanted her to live with her ‘for a time’ in London. There could be no question about Nathalie’s acceptance. The Proudies were keeping her only out of kindness; she was nearly grown up and must soon be ‘looking after herself’–and her aunt’s house in London would be a splendid place to jump off from!

And then there would be the famous, wonderful Uncle Hans, who must surely sometimes be visible when you were living under the same roof with him! If only she were not so terribly frightened of Aunt Ruth! But perhaps now she wouldn’t be! It was, however, as Mrs. Proudie had so often told her, her worst fault to be frightened. She had never, possibly, recovered from that awful morning when, only eight years of age, she had been with her father and mother in a pony-cart in the lanes above Rafiel and the pony had run away, turning over the pony-cart, throwing them all out, killing her father at once. Her mother had died six months later.

She had never, possibly, recovered from that, but nevertheless she had a brave spirit. When she was frightened of something she strung herself up, summoning all her forces like the Princess about to meet the dragon. She had her aids on these occasions, superstitions for the most part, like counting fifty and allowing nothing to stop her, saying the Lord’s Prayer, praying to her father and thinking of Uncle Hans.

And now, how odd, it was as though she were praying to Uncle Hans to defend her against Aunt Ruth! Odd and shocking too. How she wished that she was not trembling, how she detested and despised her own cowardice. Nineteen years of age and near to tears, because she was going to stay with her aunt.

She could not think of London, through whose grimy and sordid side streets she was now entering. She did not see the rows of windows with flower-pots and undergarments and occasional human heads painted on to the swaying background of chequered brick. She did not look down on to the strips of long snaky street let into the sombre walls. She saw nothing. Only she longed for Mrs. Proudie with her large heaving bosom, her capacity for gasping amazement at quite ordinary things, her conviction that food and drink would solve every problem; for Canon Proudie, Precentor of the Cathedral in public and the husband of Mrs. Proudie in private, that meek mild man with the beautiful voice and passion for cricket; and for Edgar Proudie, eldest Proudie child, soon to take Holy Orders, vowed to celibacy and the Higher Anglicanism; the very thought of them made the tears hot behind her eyes. The train drew into a Paddington Station blurred and wobbly with smoke and noise and clatter, trying vainly to cover an inexhaustible loneliness.

CHAPTER II

THE HOUSE

She had been told that there would be someone to meet her, and at once after leaving her carriage she saw a plump, rosy-cheeked, young chauffeur coming toward her.

‘Miss Swan?’ he asked, touching his cap.

‘Yes,’ she said shyly. She was comforted a little, because he looked as though he were from the country. Smart, though, but strong and sturdy. She knew that he would not smile at her box for being shabby or turn up his nose at her timid air.

The box was found. The car, very large, dark blue, waited scornfully quite close to the platform, sniffing at the taxis that were quivering with anxiety lest they should miss their fares. The station glittered with glass, screamed with naughty impatience, choked in its own smoke and was gone. Nathalie slipped into London.

She found that her terror did not diminish. Argue with it, talk to it like a mother, scold it–nothing did it any good. It just sat there in its dark corner, refusing to be exorcised. It did not make things better to observe that London was indifferent, that the lights flashing now about the streets displayed the world with its head up, and that what the world was wise enough to disregard Nathalie might disregard also. The world had not seen Aunt Ruth as Nathalie had seen her; there was only one Aunt Ruth for one Nathalie, and to change her into a common denominator helped not at all.

Antagonisms are made up of personal furniture, and there is no pincushion in one’s wardrobe that has not its share in one’s hatred of Caesar.

They rolled into silence. The roar of London was checked as though a hand had been laid on its bawling mouth. Water gleamed beneath lamp-light. As the door opened, trees rustled into the car: autumn leaves lay underfoot.

Nathalie stood, alone and defenceless, on the steps of what seemed in the shadowed starlight a huge house. Yes, water was over the way and dark spaces. A shrill scream broke the shadows.

‘Oh, what’s that?’ she cried.

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