Maradick at Forty. A Transition - Hugh Walpole - ebook

Maradick at Forty. A Transition ebook

Hugh Walpole



This is a novel with catchy locations and characters. A man in a midlife crisis travels to a remote Kornish village with his wife. The strange happy village, where drunkenness is widespread and people are very open, begins to influence the actions of visitors – up to a change in their character. The very strangeness of history guarantees that it will remain in memory for a long time.

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The grey twilight gives to the long, pale stretches of sand the sense of something strangely unreal. As far as the eye can reach, it curves out into the mist, the last vanishing garments, as it were, of some fleeing ghost. The sea comes, smoothly, quite silently, over the breast of it; there is a trembling whisper as it catches the highest stretch of sand and drags it for a moment down the slope, then, with a little sigh, creeps back again a defeated lover.

The sky is grey, with an orange light hovering on its outer edges, the last signal of the setting sun. A very faint mist is creeping gradually over the sea, so faint that the silver circle of the rising moon shines quite clearly through the shadows; but it changes the pale yellow of the ghostly sand into a dark grey land without form and void, seeming for a moment to be one with sea and sky, and then rising again, out of obscurity, into definite substance.

There is silence here in the creek, save for the rustling and whisper of the sea, but round the bend of the rocks the noises of the town come full upon the ear.

The town is built up from the sand on the side of the hill, and rises, tier upon tier, until it finds its pinnacle in the church tower and the roofs of the “Man at Arms.”

Now, in the dusk, the lights shine, row upon row, out over the sand. From the market comes the sound of a fair–harsh, discordant tunes softened by the distance.

The church clock strikes eight, and a bell rings stridently somewhere in the depths of the town.

There is a distant rumble, a roar, a flash of light, and a train glides into the station.

But the sea pays no heed, and, round the bend of the creek, the sand gleams white beneath the moon, and the mist rises from the heart of the waves.



The Maradicks had reserved four seats by the 10.45, and so really there was no reason for arriving at Paddington a few minutes after ten. But, as it happened, it was quite fortunate, because there were so many people travelling that the porters seemed to have little scruple as to whether you’d reserved something or not, and just went about pulling pink labels off and sticking pink labels on in a way that was really grossly immoral. But Mrs. Maradick, having discovered that her own pink ticket was all right–“James Maradick, Esq.: Four seats by the 10.45. Travelling to Treliss”–could afford to be complacent about other people, and even a little triumphant over the quite amusing misfortunes of a party of six who seemed to have no chance whatever of securing a seat.

Mrs. Maradick always shut her mouth very tight indeed when going off for a holiday. She entered the station with the air of one who had a very sharp battle to fight and wasn’t going to be beaten under any circumstances. She selected a porter with the confidence of a very old general who could tell a man at a glance, and she marshalled him up and down the platform with a completeness and a magnificent strategy that left him at last breathless and confused, with scarcely energy enough to show indignation at the threepence with which she rewarded his services. But to-day things were finished sooner than usual, and by half-past ten, with a quarter of an hour to spare, she was able to pay attention to her friends.

Quite a number of them had come to see her off–Mrs. Martin Fraser, Louie Denis, Mrs. Mackintosh, Maggie Crowder, and those silly girls, the Dorringtons; and actually Tom Craddock–very short, very fat, very breathless–a little bit of a bounder, perhaps, but a man who served her husband with a quite pathetic devotion. Yes, of course, he’d come to say good-bye to James, so he didn’t count in quite the same way, but still it was nice of him.

“Oh! the papers! James, I must have papers! Oh! thank you, Mr. Craddock. What? Oh, I think, perhaps, the Lady’s Pictorial and the Queen–and oh! if you wouldn’t mind, the Daily Mail and the Mirror, and–oh! James has the Mail, so perhaps the Express would be better–and yes, just something for the girls–what do you say, Annie dear? The Girl’s Realm? Yes, please, the Girl’s Realm, Mr. Craddock, and the Girl’s Own Paper for Isabel. Rather a lot, isn’t it, Louie, but it’s such a long journey–hours and hours–and the girls get so restless.”

The ladies gathered in a little phalanx round the carriage window. They always felt this departure of Emmy Maradick’s; every year it was the same. Epsom wasn’t a bit the same place whilst she was away, and they really couldn’t see why she should go away at all. Epsom was at its very nicest in August, and that was the month of the year when she could be most useful. Everyone gave their tennis-parties then; and there were those charming little summer dances, and there was no garden in Epsom like the Maradicks’! Besides, they liked her for herself. Things always seemed to go so well when she was there, she had such a–what was the word?–a French phrase–savoire-vivre or savoir-faire–yes, it really was a pity.

“We shall miss you, dear.” This from Mrs. Mackintosh.

“That’s sweet of you, Katie darling. And I shall miss all of you, ever so much. And a hotel’s never the same thing, is it? And the garden’s just beginning to look lovely. You’ll go in, once or twice, won’t you, Louie, and see that things are all right? Of course they ought to be; but you never can tell, with quite a new gardener, too. I think he’s steady enough–at least, he had excellent testimonials, and James heard from Mr. Templeton, where he was before, you know, that he was quite a reliable man; but you know what it is when one’s away, how everything seems to go–Oh! no, it’s all right, Mr. Craddock, I don’t think it’s going just yet. Sit down, Annie dear, and don’t lean against the door.”

The ladies then passed before the door, one after another, delivered their little messages, and lined up on the other side. Thus Mrs. Mackintosh–

“Well, dear, I do hope you have the rippingest time. I’m sure you deserve it after that old bazaar–all the worry–”

And Mrs. Martin Fraser–

“Mind, a postcard, dear–when you get there–just a line. We shall all so want to know.”

And Louie Denis–

“Darling, don’t forget the sketch you promised. I shall have a frame all ready–waiting.”

And Maggie Crowder–

“I hope it will be fine, dear–such a nuisance if it’s wet; and then there’s our tennis dance next week, it won’t be a bit the same thing if–”

Lastly the Dorrington girls together–

“Dear Mrs. Maradick–good-bye–ripping–awfully sorry–” the rest lost in nervous laughter.

And then began that last dreadful minute when you do so wish in spite of yourself that the train would go. You have said your last words, you have given your last embrace, and you stare passionately down the platform hoping for that final whistle and the splendid waving of a green flag.

At last it came. The ladies surged forward in a body and waved their handkerchiefs. Mrs. Maradick leaned for a moment out of the window and waved hers. Tom Craddock shouted something hoarsely about James that no one could hear, and Epsom was finally bereft of its glory.

Mrs. Maradick collected her bags with her rugs, and then considered her girls. They were seated quietly, each in a corner, their faces bent studiously over their magazines. They were very much alike, with straight flaxen hair and pink and white complexions, light blue cotton frocks, and dark green waistbands.

Yes, they were nice girls–they were dear girls. Then she thought of her husband. James Maradick had stood in the background during the farewells. He had, indeed, been busy up to the very last moment, but he was a reserved and silent man, and he really hadn’t anything very much to say. He was well over six feet, and broad in proportion. He was clean shaven, with features very strongly marked, and a high forehead from which the hair, closely cut and a little grey at the temples, was brushed back and parted on the right side. His eyes were grey and, at times, wonderfully expressive. Epsom said that he was a dreadful man for looking you through. He wore a suit of dark brown excellently cut. He was sitting now opposite his wife and looking out of the window. He was thinking of Tom Craddock.

“James dear, where is my book? You know–that novel you gave me–”Sir Somebody or other’s heir’ or something. I just like to know where everything is before I settle down. It was really awfully nice of Louie Denis coming all that way to say good-bye–and of the others too. I wonder Jack Hearne wasn’t there. He could have seen Louie back, and it would have been a good chance; but perhaps he didn’t know she was coming. It was nice of Mr. Craddock coming up, though of course he came to see you.”

She paused for a denial, but he didn’t say anything, so she went on–“But, poor fellow, he’s getting dreadfully fat. I wonder whether he couldn’t take something for it–baths or something–though of course exercise is the thing–”

Maradick looked up. “Yes, poor old Tom. He’s a good chap. But he’s getting on–we’re all getting on. I shall be stout soon–not as young as we were–”

“Nonsense, James. I’m sure you haven’t altered a bit since you were twenty. Mr. Craddock was always stout.”

She leaned back and put her hand to her forehead. “This train does shake most dreadfully. I’m going to have one of those horrible headaches again. I can feel it coming. Just look for my smelling-salts, will you? I think they are in that little black handbag.”

He, wise through much experience, soon found what she wanted, settled cushions at her back, drew the blind down the window to keep the sun from her eyes, and then sank back into his seat again and watched the country flash past.

How many holidays had there been before exactly like this one? He could not count them. There had always been people to see them off–people who had said the same things, made the same jokes, smiled and laughed in the same way. There had always been the same hurried breakfast, the agitated drive, the crowded station, the counting of boxes. There had not, of course, been always the girls; there had been a nurse, and they had travelled in another carriage because the noise troubled his wife. His wife! He looked at her now as she lay back against her cushions with her eyes closed. She had changed very little during all those married years; she was still the same dainty, pretty little woman–something delicate and fragile–whom he had loved so passionately fifteen years before. He thought of those years before he had met her. They had been exciting, adventurous years. Whenever he went out, were it only to pay a call, there had been always the thought that now, perhaps, at last, he was to meet that wonderful Fate that was waiting somewhere for him. He had often thought that he had met it. He remembered Miss Suckling, a pretty girl, a parson’s daughter, and then Lucy Armes with her wonderful dark hair and glorious eyes, and then little Rose Craven–yes, he had loved her pretty badly, only some one else had stepped in and carried her off.

And then at last his Fate had come; there had been a delirious courting, a glorious proposal, a rapturous engagement, and a wonderful wedding. It was all so swift and so exciting that he had not had time to think about it at all. The world had seemed a very wonderful, glowing place then, and he had wondered why people thought that rapture faded and gave place to other feelings–mistrust and criticism and then estrangement. He remembered the wonderful letters that he had written, and the sealing of them with great blots of red sealing-wax–every night he had written. On looking back, it seemed that he had done most of the wooing; she had been very charming and dainty and delightful, but she had taken things very quietly and soberly.

And now? He looked at her again, and then out of the window. Nothing had happened, of course. He could look to no definite act or event and point to it as the dividing line. He had discovered very quickly that she had nothing to give him, that there was no question, nor indeed could ever be, of partnership or companionship. That, of course, had been at first. He had put it down to his own stupidity, his ignorance, his blindness; but he had tried her on every side, he had yielded her every allowance, and there was nothing there, simply nothing at all.

Then he had discovered another thing. She had not married him for himself, nor indeed, to do her justice, for his position or anything material that he could give her, but simply that she might have children. He did not know how he had discovered this, but he had known it by the end of the first year of their life together, and then, as their girls had grown, he had seen it increasingly plainly. Any other man would have done equally well–some men might have done better–and so he had done his duty.

Then, when he saw what had happened and that there was an end to his dreams, he had set his teeth and given his soul for the making of money. Whether it had been a fair exchange he did not know, but he had succeeded. They had plenty–plenty for the present, plenty for the future. He need not do another day’s work all his life unless he wished, and he was only forty.

He smiled grimly as he looked out of the window. He did not whine or complain. There were doubtless thousands and thousands of other people in the same case–only, what a muddle! what a silly, hideous muddle.

He was forty, and in perfect health. He looked at his wife again. She was happy enough; she had her house and her friends and her girls! She did not want anything at all. And they would go on, of course, to the end of things like that. For years now it had been the same thing. He had played the game, and she had never guessed that he wanted anything; she had probably never thought about him at all.

He was forty, and life was over–its adventures, its emotions, its surprises, its vices, its great romance; he was a bird in a cage, and he had put himself inside and locked the door. He looked at his girls; they aroused no emotion whatever, he did not care for them at all. That was wrong, of course, but it was quite true; and then it was equally true that they didn’t care for him. His head began to nod, and at last he was asleep. He was dreaming of the station and poor Tom Craddock–he grew fatter and fatter–he filled the carriage–everyone had to squeeze against the wall to get out of his way–Tom, Tom–this won’t do, really–have some consideration....

There was perfect silence in the carriage. The girls had not spoken a word since the journey began. The shining landscape flew past them; things darted up at the window; cows and trees and hedges and telegraph wires leapt wildly up and down for no apparent reason whatever. At last an official arrived and commanded them to take their places for lunch, and there was instant confusion. Mrs. Maradick sailed into the dining-car followed closely by her girls; Maradick brought up the rear.

Her sleep had refreshed her, and she was bright and amusing. “Now, James, look your brightest. Well, Annie darling, and was the Girl’s Realm amusing? Yes? I’m so glad, and what was the thing that you liked best?”

Annie spoke softly and deliberately. “There was a story, mother, about a girl’s adventures in America that I liked rather, also an article on “How to learn the Violin’ was very good.” She folded her hands on her lap and looked straight in front of her.

But Mrs. Maradick was deep in the menu. “It’s always roast mutton or boiled lamb,” she exclaimed; “I never knew anything so monotonous–and cheese or sweet”–she dived into her soup with relish.

“It’s really not so bad,” she cried a little later. “And they do have the things hot, which is so important. Think, girls, we’re half-way already. We’ll be in splendid time for dinner. I wonder who’ll be there this year. There were those nice Jacksons last year–you remember–that Miss Jackson with the fuzzy hair and the short skirt–quite nice people, they were. I don’t think you took to them much, James.”

“No, I didn’t care very much about them,” he replied grimly.

“No–such a pity. We so often like different people. And then there were the Dalrymples–quite nice–and Lucy Dalrymple was such a good friend for the girls; you remember Lucy, don’t you, dears?”

And so it was to be the same thing again–the same monotonous round that it had been before. He had liked Treliss at first. It had been quaint, romantic, interesting, and he had loved the sea. And then the hotel with its quaint name, “The Man at Arms,” and its picturesque Elizabethan architecture. If he could be there alone, just for a day!

They went back to their carriage, and found that the two extra seats, tenanted hitherto by a man and his wife who were negligible from every point of view, were now occupied by two very young people. A further glance classified them as “honeymooners,” and Mrs. Maradick found them no longer interesting. She sank into her novel, and there was absolute stillness save for the soft whirr of the wheels beneath them and the rush of the air outside the windows.

The couple opposite him were very quiet–sometimes there was a whisper or a laugh as their eyes met. He knew that look in the eyes and that clasp of the hand. He knew that they were, both of them, outside the train, flying through space, without thought of time or any confining boundaries. What fools they were; he would like to tell them so. He would like to show them that he had been like that once, fifteen years before. He had thought that there would never be an end to it, and it had lasted barely a year.

And so they passed into Cornwall. Every year at that moment there came the same strange thrill, the same emotion as of something ancient and immutable crossing the very modern and changing texture of his own life.

Mrs. Maradick put down her novel and looked about her.

“It will soon be Truro,” she said; “and then there’ll be all that troublesome changing at Trewth. It’s really too absurd that one should have that all the time. Dear Louie! I wonder what she’s doing now–gone to look at the garden, I expect, like the dear girl she is. I hope they will give us the same rooms again this year. You wrote for them, didn’t you?”

“Yes, dear.”

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