Harmer John - Hugh Walpole - ebook

Harmer John ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Opis

Harmer John went to Italy to study art there. He was enraged by the desire to develop a plan to save the world. Life is a pure flame, and we live under the invisible Sun inside us... „We all live in the cemetery of the innocent saints, as in the sands of Ayegipt; Ready to be anyone, in the ecstasy of eternity and be content with six feet, like Adrian’s moles. Will the main character be able to ask for his task?

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Liczba stron: 674

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Contents

BOOK I

HIS ARRIVAL

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

BOOK II

OF HOW HE STAYED WITH US

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

BOOK III

HOW HE LEFT US

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

BOOK I

HIS ARRIVAL

CHAPTER I

HOW HE CAME TO OUR TOWN ON A STORMY NIGHT AND FOUND UNEXPECTEDLY A HOME

On a December night in the year 1906 a ferocious storm swept across our town.

There was nothing unusual in this: in Southern Glebeshire the winter is so often mild that the sea (impatient at the lassitude of the air) seems suddenly to rise, and to wish to beat its way across the narrow peninsula, to sweep the fields and hedges with its salt water: it calls the heavens to its assistance, the skies open, water pours out in torrents, the wind screams, shrieks, bellows–suddenly it knows that all is vanity, shrugs its hoary shoulders, creeps back muttering, lifts its hand to the sky in a gesture of cynical farewell, and lies, heaving, hoping for a more victorious day.

In the weeks around Christmas there is often such a storm, and, when other parts of England are showing gratitude sentimentally for the traditional snow, we recover from our torrents of rain to find the air warm, our skies mildly blue, the tower of our Cathedral stretching pearl-grey to heaven, and the Pol rumpled, with sunshine sliding to the sea.

But the storm while it lasts seems to shake our town to its very roots; you can almost feel wild hands tearing at the stones beneath your feet, rocking, rocking, rocking, hoping that at least one house may tumble....

On this especial evening, December 22, 1906, Mrs. Penethen, a well-known and respected widow, was sitting in front of her kitchen fire, her skirt drawn up to her knees, her toes resting on a wool-worked cushion, in her old old house in Canon’s Yard. The houses in Canon’s Yard are, as every one knows, the oldest in Polchester, and Mrs. Penethen’s was possibly the oldest in Canon’s Yard, so you can guess from that how old it was.

Mrs. Penethen had lived in that house for forty years: she had come into that same kitchen with the brown splashes on the ceiling and the two big warming-pans on the right of the oven when she was a blushing bride of twenty; she had borne two children in the four-poster upstairs, she had nursed her husband in the weeks of his fever, had seen him laid in his coffin, had seen the coffin carried down the crooked black oak staircase–and now there she sat with her feet upon the fender reading Thelma, by Miss Marie Corelli, and wondering whether she would hear the Cathedral clock strike ten through the storm.

She was not alone in the kitchen. There were also with her a cat, a dog and a sharp-eyed girl. The cat and the dog were asleep, one on either side of the fire; the girl was sitting staring straight before her. Her hands were clasped, not tightly, on her lap.

Mrs. Penethen was accustomed that her daughter Judy, who was now twenty-one and should know better, should sit for hours, saying nothing, doing nothing, only her eyes and her rising, falling breasts moving.

Through the icy cold and black waters of Thelma’s theatrical lumber her mind moved searching for her children. She was always carried away by anything that she read–that was why she liked novels, especially did they lead her into loves and countries that were strange to her. So she had, during the last two hours, been wandering with Thelma; her daughter’s eyes now dragged her back. Fifteen years of married life and no child! All thought of one abandoned–and then Maude. Four more years and then Judy. One more year and the sudden fever, and poor old John with his brown eyes, his side-whiskers and the slight hunch on his left shoulder, shoved down into the ground!

The book slipped on to her lap. She stared into the crimson crystal coals. John!... His hand was on her arm, his soft voice like a lazy cat’s begging her pardon for one of his so many infidelities. He always confessed to her. At first she had been unhappy; once she had run away for two nights, but he always told her that he loved her far the best, that she would outlast all the others. And she did. He was her lover to the very end, and kind and tender.... His brown eyes and the slight hunch on his shoulder.

He had been so sorry always for his infidelities, but he had never promised that there would not be another. He knew that he could not resist.... Here, in Polchester, there had never been a scandal because of him. Women loved him and kept their mouths shut. Not as she had loved him. Not as she had kept her mouth shut. Shut for forty years. That was why they called her a bitter old woman. She put up her hand to her hair. Perhaps she was bitter. Indifferent. She did not believe in people. Cats and monkeys, she had read somewhere.... Only in novels were they fine and noble.

She picked up Thelma again, saying as she did so:

“Do you think the Cathedral’s struck ten, Judy?”

“Maybe,” said the girl.

“It’s time Maude was home!”

The girl said nothing.

“Mr. Fletch is bringing her back.”

The girl said nothing.

She read half a page, and the storm forced her to put the book down again. She looked up, listening, rather like a dog sniffing, with her grey hair parted, her fine sharp nose, her cool chin, her long shapely neck wrinkled a little now above the white collar of her grey dress, her hands long and thin, one like a spread fan before the fire. The storm! One of the worst for years. Every window-pane and door in the old house was whining and shivering. The gusts of wind came down the chimney, bringing with them flurries of rain that spluttered upon the coals. She heard a door banging somewhere above in the house. She got up, the book falling on the floor. She listened. Dimly through all the noise she heard the Cathedral chimes strike ten. Strange how dim when the Cathedral was almost next to their own house-wall! She stood listening. Was there not another sound? Some one knocking? She turned back to the room:

“Did you hear anything, Judy?”

The girl shook her head impatiently. Mrs. Penethen took the lamp from the table, went to the kitchen door and opened it. She stood in the little dark space between the two doors, listening, the lamp raised. The storm had suddenly died down, running now like an animal whimpering about the room.

Now unmistakably there was a knock on the outer door–a pause, and then two more. “With her free hand she pulled back a bolt, turned a key and opened the door a little way. A man was standing there. She always afterwards remembered that he had seemed there in the darkness, lit only by gleams from the blowing street lamp, gigantic.

“Who is it?” she asked.

There was no answer. The figure stepped forward.

“What do you want?” she asked more sharply, drawing back. The scurrying rain was keen against her face, and the wind, rising once more, blew her clothes against her legs.

“I want some supper and a bed.” He drew nearer to her, and she saw that he was carrying a bag. She realised instantly that his voice was a foreigner’s.

“I have nothing here,” she answered sharply.

“There is a card,” he said, raising one arm, “in your window. It says “Spare room for gentleman.’ ”

The storm was now shouting at them, trying to drive them in. “There is no room,” she screamed against the storm. “Engaged.”

Then she saw his face as he stepped back beneath the street lamp. It was the face of a boy. She had expected some foreigner, some hulking tramp threatening her. She was not afraid; she had only once or twice in all her life known fear. She knew how to protect herself. But now suddenly she realised that there was no need for protection–no need at all. Then she remembered that the voice had been soft, foreign, but an educated voice.

She moved back carefully into the house. “You had better come in for a moment out of this,” she said, raising the lamp.

“Thank you,” he said, and followed her in.

In the kitchen there was the light of the fire and the steady flame of the lamp set now on the table. She looked at him sharply, keenly, as she always looked at every one.

She saw now that he was not gigantic but tall indeed, well over six foot. Broad with it. Very broad in the oilskins that he was wearing, the collar turned up high and a seaman’s oilskin cap on his head low down over his brow. The first thing that she noticed seriously was the child-like face shining with the rain through the oilskin. It was as though a boy had dressed in his father’s clothes. But he was not a boy. Thirty, perhaps, or more. The mouth which turned up at the corners now, smiling, was a boy’s mouth. The eyes were bright blue and clear. A lock of damp black hair straggled down beneath the cap, touching his eyebrow.

He made a movement with his hand to push it back.

“You’d better take that oilskin off,” she said severely. “You’re dripping.”

“I don’t hope,” he said in a voice rather husky, with a foreign accent that puzzled her because it was strangely familiar, “that you’ll think me rude for coming at this hour. My heartliest thanks for your courtesy.”

He suddenly clicked his heels and bowed stiffly from the waist up in what she supposed was German fashion, in what at any rate was not English. Then he took off his oilskins, piling them on a chair. He was dressed in a decent dark-blue suit. He was certainly a very large man, as broad as he was tall. He was not fat, but his face was chubby, rosy and plump, his blue eyes staring with a little blinking bewilderment as though he were in truth a small boy suddenly wakened from sleep. He was a man though. He stood like a man, a little on the defensive, balanced stoutly on his legs, ready for any one. Perhaps he was a German, with his bow and his chubby cheeks, his blue eyes and his thick body. She didn’t like Germans.

“You can rest here a minute or two if you care to,” she said, “but you’d better be getting on soon if you’re wanting a bed to-night.” She looked at him, then added: “There’s a hotel down in the town. In the market-place. Down the hill.”

“Yes,” he said, smiling at her, “I were there and all was engaged.” He smiled so that she was compelled to smile too. She did not wish to. She was compelled. Then suddenly he saw Judy.

“My daughter,” Mrs. Penethen said. “My name is Penethen.”

He bowed, then said: “Hjalmar Johanson.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Hjalmar Johanson. Svedish. Wait–I have a card.”

He delved into his clothes and produced a very large pocket-book, then, after searching, a card. She read:

Hjalmar Johanson,

Gymnastic Instructor,

Certified Professor of Gymnastics, Stockholm.

Address: Amager Faelledvej II/5,

Kobenhavn.

“Kobenhavn?” she repeated.

“Yes. Copenhagen. That’s what you call it in England. But I’m a Swede. Half–and half English.”

“Half English?”

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