The Blind Man’s House - Hugh Walpole - ebook

The Blind Man’s House ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Opis

The House of the Blind is Walpole’s last book before his death. This is a psychological study of the village and people who come in contact with a blind person and his young bride. The letter is impeccable. If you enjoy in-depth character study and enjoy reading old novels, then you will really enjoy it.

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Liczba stron: 549

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Contents

PART I

THE HAWTHORN WINDOW

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

PART II

THE WHISPER

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

PART III

LIGHT IN THE HOUSE

PART III

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

PART I

THE HAWTHORN WINDOW

CHAPTER I

PELYNT CROSS–PASSING SIZYN CHURCH–AT THE RECTORY–INSIDE GARTH HOUSE–AT THE RECTORY

She was frightened. The fear was as sudden and, in one sense, as unexpected as an unheralded sharp stab in the breast. And yet not unexpected, because it had been hovering near her, almost out of her consciousness but not quite, for many weeks.

They were at the Cross-roads. Pelynt Cross. She knew where they were, for Julius had told her and in her hands was a map. The Cross-roads. Pelynt Cross. You can smell the sea here, Julius said. She sniffed through the open window. Yes, she could smell it. On a clear day you could catch a glimpse of the sea from the Cross, which stood naked and bare on the edge of the Moor. But today you could not see far because of the summer honey haze which veiled the world in trembling heat.

The car had stopped for a moment while Curtis hesitated. Then he saw the finger–‘Garth in Roselands 1-½ M.–Rafiel 10 M.’ To the left of them ran Pelynt Moor for miles and miles. The light enwrapped it and struck at fragments of quartz, at rough white stones. It seemed to shake with voluptuous pleasure at being thus enwrapped. The air through the window smelt of honey and gorse.

The car went on. She had taken off her hat, and the short curls of her dark hair moved in the breeze. She had thrown back her coat, and her body drank in the heat. She loved, she loved the sun! She looked quickly across to Julius and then quickly back again. Was he asleep? Who could tell? His eyes were closed, but that meant nothing at all. She had been married to him for six months, and yet about a matter like that she could not be certain. His big body sprawled against the corner of the car. He too had taken off his hat, and his hair, so fair a yellow that in certain lights it seemed white, moved a little against his forehead.

His face, which she loved so dearly, was composed and calm. Why had she been frightened? Was it because she was coming to a new place? No. She was never frightened of a new place. She loved new places and new people because she always conquered them with her charm. She did not pride herself on her charm. She had no conceit. But she was pleased, as anyone would be, with its effects.

Was it because her new home was his old home that she was frightened? No. Anything that was his was hers. He gave her everything freely, abundantly, completely. She would never feel a stranger where he was.

Was it because of herself that she was frightened? She sat up very straight and looked out of the window, shaking her little head as though she would have the sun penetrate and enrich the curls.

Well, what about herself? For six months she had made Julius so happy that he told her he was ‘mad’ with happiness. She had behaved well. She had lost her temper only twice, once with that silly old Mrs. Gayner, the housekeeper whom Julius adored so. Only once had she broken something and then it was only a glass–old it was, but you could always find another like it. She had forgotten engagements scarcely at all and had shown impatience with tiresome visitors very seldom. She could not help it if she showed her feelings clearly. That was her character. After all, she loved people twice as often as she hated them. She had tried in every way to make herself a good wife and she had succeeded.

Was she frightened because he was fifteen years older than she? The husband ought to be older than the wife. When Julius was sixty she would be forty-five, an old, old woman.

Was she frightened because he had been married before? Oh, these were ancient questions! She had asked them before and found happy answers to all of them. Wasn’t Julius the kindest, noblest, most loving, most tender, most unselfish of men? Didn’t she look up to him and admire him dreadfully, and didn’t she, in spite of that admiration, find him a friend and a companion? Was he ever a bore? No. Never, never! Never a bore. But...

Yes, now they were coming down the hill, and that lovely wood, sparkling like a dark fire, must be the Well. Julius had told her about the Well. It was the most famous wood in all Glebeshire for primroses. They left the wood and climbed the hill, and now the salt wind from the sea really met them, fresh and taut and vigorous in spite of the blazing heat of the summer afternoon. Into endless distance now stretched the Moor. You could hear the telegraph wires singing.

No. Julius was never a bore, but...

She heard him move, push out his great chest as though he would drink in the sea air, put his hand to his hair. His blue eyes were wide open. He smiled.

She knew why she was frightened.

On the left of them now was the square, sturdy, solitary little church, Sizyn Church, that contained the wonderful window, the ‘Hawthorn Window’ that people came from miles to see. Julius had told her that when he was a child at Garth in Roselands it was almost the first thing that his mother had taken him to see. He described the window to her: the masses of hawthorn blossom, the two priests, the patient donkey with the silver bells, the inscription to the dead Prior of the Franciscans. (She had said ‘Abbot’ and Julius had corrected her. The Franciscans had Priors.)

This window had been placed in the church in the early years of Elizabeth. There had been a Trenchard in Garth House even then. That Tudor house had been burned down in the eighteenth century. She was thinking of all these things, trying to arrange them in her disorderly mind, when, with a consciousness of that guilt for something neglected that was always with her, she remembered how she had promised Julius to tell him when they were passing Sizyn Church.

It was already out of sight, but he wouldn’t know that, so she tugged at his sleeve.

‘The Church, Julius! The Hawthorn Church! We’re just passing it! You told me to tell you.’

He turned upon her his sightless blue eyes.

‘We have passed it, darling! We are going downhill again. Did you see it, take a good look at it?’

She was beginning to be aware, ever more and more, of her uncertainty as to the sharpness of his senses. His sense of touch, his sense of smell, his sense of hearing. These were all so far stronger than her own that always when she was with him she felt as though her hands were muffled, her nose blocked, her ears dimmed. Should he ever use those senses against her...

As it was now he put out his big strong hand and caught her little one. She thought that she had fallen in love with him partly because of his hands. Large though they were, they were most beautifully shaped. They were a man’s hands. You could feel the bones, strong and supple beneath the smooth fine skin. His nails were especially beautiful. From the very beginning she had thought it remarkable that a blind man should have such beautiful nails, so perfect in colour and shape and yet a man’s nails, beautiful by nature and not by artifice.

And now as his hand held hers and his wide, staring blue eyes gazed at her, through her, beyond her, as he drew her towards him, closer and closer until her cheek and ear rested against his side and she heard his heart claiming her with its steady possessive beat, she murmured, ‘Oliphant!’

Oliphant was Julius’ valet, that small, active, devoted, aloof man who, as yet, knew so much more about Julius than she did. He was seated, very straight, beside Curtis the chauffeur.

Julius laughed.

‘Oliphant is part of myself–like my waistcoat buttons.’ He bent down and kissed her warm sun-drenched cheek.

‘Did you see the Church? Do you remember what I told you–about the window and everything?’

‘Of course I remember.’

His strong hand moved about her body. Because his blindness strengthened incredibly his sense of touch she felt an especial significance when he touched her. His hand now pressed her breast through her coat, and that pressure was so strong, so certain, that she was divided, as all women of character are when a man possesses them, between joyous resignation and irritated rebellion.

They were going down the hill and very soon they would be in Garth. She would not ride into their own village for all the villagers to see her for the first time, lying publicly in his embrace.

‘Garth in Roselands! Garth in Roselands!’ he was murmuring into her ear. ‘Isn’t it the loveliest of names? Haven’t I repeated it to myself over and over again all these years I’ve been away.’

She gave an impatient push and separated herself from him.

‘I can’t be driven into Garth for the first time in my life lying in your arms. I’m sure people are watching from every window!’

He laughed. He was so happy, and she adored him to be happy. So, at this moment, as they rode down the hill and then passed the alms-houses into Garth, she adored him because he was happy. She was to remember this at a later time. Nevertheless he held her hand tightly.

‘It is too fine an afternoon for them to be bothering. All the same the Rectory drawing-room windows look on to the village green, so there may be...’ He stared through the window as though he could see. ‘When I was a boy at Catsholt there used to be Trenchards at the House. There were Trenchards there for centuries. It seems a shame that now it should be us. But we never knew the Trenchards. He was a fine man–quite famous in his day–wrote books about the English Poets. But she was a bit of a Tartar, I believe, and had some sort of row with my father... Ah, now, now! Soon we will be turning up the drive! In a minute we will be there! Hold my hand tight. I am so excited that I can scarcely breathe!’

Before the car turned from the green towards the drive beyond the little street it was held for a moment by a big dray. While it was so held the ladies in the Rectory drawing-room had a fine free look and made the very most of it.

There were four of them: Miss Vergil, Mrs. Lamplough, Miss Phyllis Lock, and Mrs. Ironing. They were gathered there for the Ladies’ Sewing Meeting. Now so very often, in English novels and plays, have the Sewing Meetings of English country towns and villages been made a mock, a sport, a derision, that there shall be no derision here. To tell the truth, on this especial afternoon very little sewing had been done, and that was partly because Mrs. Brennan, the Rector’s wife, was absent in London. It was also because, for the last hour, these ladies had been expecting the arrival of Mr. Julius Cromwell and his wife, and had been eagerly on the look-out for it. It was an event of great, even supreme importance in the village of Garth in Roselands, and lest that should seem an old-fashioned sentence that might have come straight from the pages of one of Mrs. Gaskell’s delightful fragrant novels, let it be said at once that not telegraphs, telephones, wireless telegraphy, motor-cars, or aeroplanes have made the very slightest difference to the excited interest that ladies of an English village feel concerning their neighbours.

Although Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell arrived in a motor-car it was exactly, in so far as excitement obtained, as though they had arrived a hundred and fifty years earlier in a barouche, except that they were, physically, less visible.

Of the four ladies Miss Vergil was the eldest and most cynical, Miss Phyllis Lock the youngest and gayest. Miss Vergil had short cropped hair, wore a hat like a gamekeeper’s, a short brown jacket, a waistcoat with brass buttons, and a short rough skirt. Her legs were strong and shapeless, and in her hat there was fastened a bright green and crimson fly such as fisherman use.

Miss Phyllis Lock was auburn-haired, inclining to the plump, and dressed in so flimsy a dress that even in these days it was not quite respectable. But then Miss Lock did not care at all about being respectable. She lived with her old mother at the end of the village, drove her own car, went frequently into Polchester for parties, and was supposed to ‘send men mad.’ She appeared to be of a type only too frequent both in novels and real life. She was not, however, quite what she appeared.

Mrs. Lamplough looked an old dear. She was short and plump, very like Queen Victoria in appearance, and wore bonnets and shawls. She had a soft, purring voice and was always leading people into corners for confidences.

Mrs. Ironing was the stupid member of the party. She might be said to be passing through life without understanding anything about it at all. She was a widow with a comfortable income which was managed for her by her brother, Fred Ironing, who lived on her most cheerfully and was considered by everyone to be a good, jolly fellow, and remarkably patient. He said that he had known his sister so long that he had never expected her to be anything but what she was, and that she was a lot deeper than people gave her credit for. Gladys Ironing was a tall, thin woman with a face like an enquiring sheep’s.

These ladies were good ladies and only one of the four had any malice in her. They were in the position of many English ladies during this period of history between 1920 and 1940. Because investments were continually going down and because they were unfit (owing to their excellent English education) for any useful job in the world, they collected in little groups in London or provincial towns or villages and made life as interesting as possible by taking in one another’s social washing.

It is true that, in this present instance, both Mrs. Lamplough and Mrs. Ironing had ample means, but Mrs. Lamplough was not imaginatively generous and Mrs. Ironing was not imaginatively clever, so they stayed where they were and found it good. Miss Vergil had barely enough to pay her bills but paid them all the same–she had an English gentleman’s sense of honour. Miss Lock and her mother were moderately comfortable. These ladies, then, formed a kind of guard of honour to Mrs. Brennan, a superb woman whom they were lucky to find in a simple little village like Garth. Having found her they treated her like a queen, as indeed she deserved to be treated.

And now the four ladies looked out of the broad windows of the Rectory, saw the Cromwell car held for a moment by the dray, saw within the car the dark curly hair of Mrs. Cromwell, the light-golden head of Mr. Cromwell, the fine chauffeur and the neat little man beside him.

‘You’d never think he was blind!’ Phyllis Lock said as they turned away from the window.

Celia Cromwell saw the house in front of her like a ship sailing through golden mist. Everything was light–even the thick, dark rhododendrons were penetrated with light, the lawn shone like glass and the giant oak at the end of it was illuminated, every leaf a thin gold plate and the great trunk dark with splendour. Excitement always rose in her very swiftly. She passed from mood to mood like a child. Now, as she stepped from the car, she thought like a child: ‘Oh, I will be good! I will make them all love me! I’ll never lose my temper, I’ll be wise and quiet and so very happy!’

She moved forward to help Julius, but Oliphant, as always, was in front of her. Julius stood for a moment breathing in the air, which was scented with hay, carnations, roses, and a salt tang of the sea. His hand groped for hers. She caught it. He bent down and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

‘Welcome home, my darling,’ he said, and they went into the house together.

The hall was long and, even on this summer’s day, dark. There was a large oak chest opposite the door and beside it a staircase with a lovely black twisted balustrade. Mrs. Gayner, the housekeeper, stood there. She was a little, plump woman some sixty years of age, incredibly neat, her grey hair sleek and charming, a gold brooch fastened on to her black dress. She had been with Julius for ten years.

‘How are you, Mrs. Gayner?’ Celia said. Mrs. Gayner had come ahead of them to see that everything was right, to engage the maids.

‘Very well, thank you, ma’am.’

‘That’s good. Isn’t it a lovely day?’

‘It is indeed, ma’am. I hope you had a pleasant journey.’

‘Lovely! What good luck that I should see everything for the first time in such lovely weather!’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

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