The Challoners - E.F. Benson - ebook

The Challoners ebook

E.F. Benson

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Opis

The author tells the story of the twins Martin and Helen Challoner and their relationship against their father priest. Benson has a more serious purpose here and less superficial savvy than in some of his stories. His main theme is the absolute necessity of individual character and independent action. He depicts the sufferings of a holy and spiritual priest in relation to art, literature, and imagination when his son becomes a professional musician and Catholic.

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Liczba stron: 473

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER I

The hot stress of a real midsummer day towards the end of June had given place to the exquisite tempered warmth of evening, and a little breeze born of the hour before sunset, and made fragrant among the glowing flower-beds of the vicarage garden just ruffled the hair of Helen Challoner as she half sat, half lay in a long deck-chair at the edge of the croquet-lawn, reading a red-covered book with the absorbed intentness which she devoted to any occupation that interested her. To the west a line of tall box-hedge, of that smooth and compacted growth which many years alone can give, screened her from the level rays of the sun, which was but an hour above the horizon, and performed the almost more desirable function of screening her from the windows of the house, for a cigarette was between her fingers, and the juxtaposition of women and tobacco was a combination that had probably never occurred to her father as possible. The cigarette, however, was as a matter of fact wasting its sweetness uninhaled and burning down with a long peninsula of charred paper on the leeward side of it, for her book absorbed her quite completely. Indeed, this seat here under cover of the box-hedge was a manœuvre of double strategy, for the book was no less anathema in this house than the cigarette, being, in fact, “The Mill on the Floss,” by an author who, however celebrated, yet remained in the opinion both of Helen’s father and aunt a person of unchristian belief and heathenish conduct.

Helen wore no hat, and the dusky, smouldering gold of her hair burned low over her forehead. Her eyelids, smooth with the unwrinkled firmness of flesh of twenty-two years, drooped low over her book, but between the lids there showed a thin line of matchless violet. There were but a few pages more to read, and her underlip, full and sensitive in outline, quivered from time to time with the emotion that so filled her, and her breath came quickly through her thin nostrils. As she read on, her half-smoked cigarette dropped from between the fingers of her left hand and sent up little whorls of blue smoke as it lay unheeded on the grass, and her eyes grew suddenly dim. Then the last page was turned, and with a sudden sobbing intake of her breath she closed the book.

She sat quite still for a moment, the book lying in her lap, looking with misty, unseeing eyes over the great stretch of open land and sky in front of her. In the immediate foreground lay the croquet-lawn, with disjected mallets and aimless balls scattered about, while slowly across it, like some silent tide, the shadows grew and lengthened. Beyond, at the top of a grassy bank still in sunlight, ran a terraced walk bordered deeply with tall herbacious plants; farther out of sight behind the border were a few fields, water meadows of the chalk-stream, and beyond again and above rose the splendid and austere line of Hampshire downs, tanned with this month of English summer to a russet mellowness. A sky of untarnished blue held a slip of pale and crescent moon, and the splendour and the unutterable sadness of evening, of a day gone, brooded a sweet, regretful presence over everything.

Suddenly the girl sat up.

“Martin!” she cried, “Martin!”

“Well?” asked a very lazy voice from a hammock between two trees at the end of the lawn.

“Come here. Oh, do come. I can’t shout.”

The hammock-ropes wheezed and creaked, and a tall, loose-limbed boy, looking not much more than twenty, strolled over to where she sat.

“I’ve won my bet,” he said; “so pay up, Helen. I said the end would make you cry. You are crying, you know. I count that crying.”

“I know. I’ll pay all right,” she said. “I almost wish it had been more.”

“So do I,” said Martin. “That’s easily arranged then.”

Helen paid no attention to this.

“Oh, Martin, those two coming together like that at the end. And that beast, that beast–“

“Stephen?”

“Yes, among others. But Tom particularly. They none of them knew, they none of them guessed what she, what Maggie was. Oh, oh! How horribly sad, and how horribly beautiful–like, like this evening.”

Martin took out his cigarette-case.

“For you?” he asked.

“No; you gave me one which I haven’t–I don’t know where it is. Oh, it’s smoking itself on the grass. Oh, my goodness! Anyhow, Maggie lived; that is the point. Dreadful people, dreadful circumstances, all that one would think would make living impossible, surrounded her. But she managed it. And what am I to do, please?”

Martin laughed.

“I wonder if you know how like you that is,” he said.

“What is?”

“Your instant application of Maggie to yourself. Really it is very odd that you and I are twins. If only I had half your eye for the practical way of getting through things, I should pass my examinations. And if you had only half my eye for the theoretical beauty of leaving distasteful things alone–“

Helen sat up with a quick, decisive movement, letting the book drop on the grass.

“Martin, if we didn’t happen to have been brother and sister we should have fallen desperately in love with each other and been accepted at once. At least I should have proposed to you, and you would certainly have said “Yes.’ And I should have made home happy for you on twopence farthing a year, and always had your slippers warm when you came home in the evening, and the kettle boiling on the hob. And you could have spent the rest of our joint incomes on grand pianos and music paper.”

“You are too overwhelmingly generous, Helen,” said he. “I don’t think I can accept it from you.”

Helen got up.

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