The Green Mirror - Hugh Walpole - ebook

The Green Mirror ebook

Hugh Walpole



Mrs. Trenchard’s figure contains all the jealous stubbornness of a strong parent who does not want to let go of his child. Her strength lies mainly in her ability, as she is understood to be unsympathetic, to impose creative possibilities on those whom she loves, and singles out a caring Catherine as a person whose fate she wants to control. When Katherine agrees to be engaged during the year, she realizes the need to pay any reasonable price to keep her mother and Trenchards.

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The fog had swallowed up the house, and the house had submitted. So thick was this fog that the towers of Westminster Abbey, the river, and the fat complacency of the church in the middle of the Square, even the three Plane Trees in front of the old gate and the heavy old-fashioned porch had all vanished together, leaving in their place, the rattle of a cab, the barking of a dog, isolated sounds that ascended, plaintively, from a lost, a submerged world.

The House had, indeed, in its time seen many fogs for it had known its first one in the days of Queen Anne and even then it had yielded, without surprise and without curiosity, to its tyranny. On the brightest of days this was a solemn, unenterprising, unimaginative building, standing four-square to all the winds, its windows planted stolidly, securely, its vigorous propriety well suited to its safe, unagitated surroundings. Its faded red brick had weathered many London storms and would weather many more: that old, quiet Square, with its uneven stones, its church, and its plane-trees, had the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the river for its guardians... the skies might fall, the Thames burst into a flaming fire, Rundle Square would not stir from its tranquillity.

The old house–No. 5, Rundle Square–had for its most charming feature its entrance. First came an old iron gate guarded, on either side, by weather-beaten stone pillars. Then a cobbled path, with little green lawns to right and left of it, ran to the door whose stolidity was crowned with an old porch of dim red brick. This was unusual enough for London, but there the gate, the little garden, the Porch had stood for some hundreds of years, and that Progress that had already its throttling fingers about London’s neck, had, as yet, left Rundle Square to its staid propriety.

Westminster abides, like a little Cathedral town, at the heart of London. One is led to it, through Whitehall, through Victoria Street, through Belgravia, over Westminster Bridge with preparatory caution. The thunder of London sinks, as the traveller approaches, dying gradually as though the spirit of the town warned you, with his finger at his lip. To the roar of the traffic there succeeds the solemn striking of Big Ben, the chiming of the Abbey Bells; so narrow and winding are many of the little streets that such traffic as penetrates them proceeds slowly, cautiously, almost sleepily; there are old buildings and grass squares, many clergymen, schoolboys in black gowns and battered top hats, and at the corners one may see policemen, motionless, somnolent, stationed one supposes, to threaten disturbance or agitation.

There is, it seems, no impulse here to pile many more events upon the lap of the day than the poor thing can decently hold. Behind the windows of Westminster life is passing, surely, with easy tranquillity; the very door-bells are, many of them, old and comfortable, unsuited to any frantic ringing; there does not sound, through every hour, the whirring clang of workmen flinging, with eager haste, into the reluctant air, hideous and contemptuous buildings; dust does not rise in blinding clouds from the tortured corpses of old and happy houses... Those who live here live long.

No. 5, Rundle Square then, had its destiny in pleasant places. Upon a fine summer evening the old red brick with its windows staring complacently upon a comfortable world showed a fine colour. Its very chimneys were square and solid, its eaves and water pipes regular and mathematical. Whatever horrid catastrophe might convulse the rest of London, No. 5 would suffer no hurt; the god of propriety–the strongest of all the gods–had it beneath His care.

Now behind the Fog it waited, as it had waited so often before, with certain assurance, for its release.


Inside the house at about half-past four, upon this afternoon November 8th, in the year 1902, young Henry Trenchard was sitting alone; he was straining his eyes over a book that interested him so deeply that he could not leave it in order to switch on the electric light; his long nose stuck into the book’s very heart and his eyelashes almost brushed the paper. The drawing-room where he was had caught some of the fog and kept it, and Henry Trenchard’s only light was the fading glow of a red cavernous fire. Henry Trenchard, now nineteen years of age, had known, in all those nineteen years, no change in that old drawing-room. As an ugly and tiresome baby he had wailed before the sombre indifference of that same old stiff green wall-paper–a little brighter then perhaps,–had sprawled upon the same old green carpet, had begged to be allowed to play with the same collection of little scent bottles and stones and rings and miniatures that lay now, in the same decent symmetry, in the same narrow glass-topped table over by the window. It was by shape and design a heavy room, slipping into its true spirit with the London dusk, the London fog, the London lamp-lit winter afternoon, seeming awkward, stiff, almost affronted before the sunshine and summer weather. One or two Trenchards–two soldiers and a Bishop–were there in heavy old gold frames, two ponderous glass-fronted book-cases guarded from any frivolous touch high stiff-backed volumes of Gibbons and Richardson and Hooker.

There were some old water-colours of faded green lawns, dim rocks and seas with neglected boats upon the sand–all these painted in the stiff precision of the ‘thirties and the ‘forties, smoked and fogged a little in their thin black frames.

Upon one round-table indeed there was a concession to the modern spirit in the latest numbers of the “Cornhill” and “Blackwood” magazines, the “Quarterly Review” and the “Hibbert Journal.”

The chairs in the room were for the most part stiff with gilt backs and wore a “Don’t you dare to sit down upon me” eye, but two arm-chairs, near the fire, of old green leather were comfortable enough and upon one of these Henry was now sitting. Above the wide stone fireplace was a large old gold mirror, a mirror that took into its expanse the whole of the room, so that, standing before it, with your back to the door, you could see everything that happened behind you. The Mirror was old and gave to the view that it embraced some old comfortable touch so that everything within it was soft and still and at rest. Now, in the gloom and shadow, the reflection was green and dark with the only point of colour the fading fire. Before it a massive gold clock with the figures of the Three Graces stiff and angular at its summit ticked away as though it were the voice of a very old gentleman telling an interminable story. It served indeed for the voice of the mirror itself...

Henry was reading a novel that showed upon its back Mudie’s bright yellow label. He was reading, as the clock struck half-past four, these words:–

“I sat on the stump of a tree at his feet, and below us stretched the land, the great expanse of the forests, sombre under the sunshine, rolling like a sea, with glints of winding rivers, the grey spots of villages, and here and there a clearing, like an islet of light amongst the dark waves of continuous tree-tops. A brooding gloom lay over this vast and monotonous landscape; the light fell on it as if into an abyss. The land devoured the sunshine; only far off, along the coast, the empty ocean, smooth and polished within the faint bays, seemed to rise up to the sky in a wall of steel.

“And there I was with him, high on the sunshine on the top of that historic hill...”

The striking of the clock brought him away from the book with a jerk, so deep had he been sunk in it that he looked now about the dusky room with a startled uncertain gaze. The familiar place settled once more about him and, with a little sigh, he sank back into the chair. His thin bony legs stuck out in front of him; one trouser-leg was hitched up and his sock, falling down over his boot, left bare part of his calf; his boots had not been laced tightly and the tongues had slipped aside, showing his sock. He was a long thin youth, his hair untidy, his black tie up at the back of his collar; one white and rather ragged cuff had slipped down over his wrist, the other was invisible. His eyes were grey and weak, he had a long pointed nose with two freckles on the very end of it, but his mouth was kindly although too large and indeterminate. His cheeks were thin and showed high cheek-bones; his chin was pronounced enough to be strong but nevertheless helped him very little.

He was untidy and ungainly but not entirely unattractive; his growth was at the stage when nature has not made up its mind as to the next, the final move. That may, after all, be something very pleasant...

His eyes now were dreamy and soft because he was thinking of the book. No book, perhaps, in all his life before had moved him so deeply and he was very often moved–but, as a rule, by cheap and sentimental emotions.

He knew that he was cheap; he knew that he was sentimental; he, very often, hated and despised himself.

He could see the Forests “rolling like a sea”. It was as though he, himself, had been perched upon that high, bright hill, and he was exalted, he felt, with that same exultation; the space, the freedom, the liberty, the picture of a world wherein anything might happen, where heroes, fugitives, scoundrels, cowards, conquerors all alike might win their salvation. “Room for everyone... no one to pull one up–No one to make one ashamed of what one says and does. No crowd watching one’s every movement. Adventures for the wishing and courage to meet them.”

He looked about the room and hated it,–the old, shabby, hemmed-in thing! He hated this life to which he was condemned; he hated himself, his world, his uninspiring future.

“My God, I must do something!... I will do something!... But suppose I can’t!” His head fell again–suppose he were out in that other world, there in the heart of those dark forests, suppose that he found that he did no better there than here!... That would be, indeed, the most terrible thing of all!

He gazed up into the Mirror, saw in it the reflection of the room, the green walls, the green carpet, the old faded green place like moss covering dead ground. Soft, damp, dark,–and beyond outside the Mirror, the world of the Forests–“the great expanse of Forests” and “beyond, the Ocean–smooth and polished... rising up to the sky in a wall of steel.”

His people, his family, his many, many relations, his world, he thought, were all inside the Mirror–all embedded in that green, soft, silent enclosure. He saw, stretching from one end of England to the other, in all Provincial towns, in neat little houses with neat little gardens, in Cathedral Cities with their sequestered Closes, in villages with the deep green lanes leading up to the rectory gardens, in old Country houses hemmed in by wide stretching fields, in little lost places by the sea, all these persons happily, peacefully sunk up to their very necks in the green moss. Within the Mirror this... Outside the Mirror the rolling forests guarded by the shining wall of sea. His own family passed before him. His grandfather, his great-aunt Sarah, his mother and his father, Aunt Aggie and Aunt Betty, Uncle Tim, Millicent, Katherine... He paused then. The book slipped away and fell on to the floor.

Katherine... dear Katherine! He did not care what she was! And then, swept by a fresh wave of feeling springing up, stretching his arms, facing the room, he did not care what any of them were! He was the Idiot, the discontented, ungrateful Idiot! He loved them all–he wouldn’t change one of them, he wouldn’t be in any other family in all the world!

The door opened; in came old Rocket, the staff and prop of the family, to turn up the lights, to poke up the fire. In a minute tea would come in...

“Why, Mr. Henry, no fire nor lights!” He shuffled to the windows, pulling the great heavy curtains across them, his knees cracking, very slowly he bent down, picked up the book, and laid it carefully on the table next to the “Hibbert Journal.”

“I hope you’ve not been reading, Mr. Henry, in this bad light,” he said.


Later, between nine and half-past, Henry was sitting with his father and his uncle, smoking and drinking after dinner. To-night was an evening of Ceremony–the Family Ceremony of the year–therefore, although the meal had been an extremely festive one with many flowers, a perfect mountain of fruit in the huge silver bowl in the centre of the table, and the Most Sacred Of All Ports (produced on this occasion and Christmas Day) nevertheless only the Family had been present. No distant relations even, certainly no friends... This was Grandfather Trenchard’s birthday.

The ladies vanished, there remained only Henry, his father and Uncle Tim. Henry was sitting there, very self-conscious over his glass of Port. He was always self-conscious when Uncle Tim was present.

Uncle Tim was a Faunder and was large-limbed and absent-minded like Henry’s father. Uncle Tim had a wild head of grey hair, a badly-kept grey beard and clothed his long, loose figure in long, loose garments. He was here to-day and gone to-morrow, preferred the country to the town and had a little house down in Glebeshire, where he led an untidy bachelor existence whose motive impulses were birds and flowers.

Henry was very fond of Uncle Tim; he liked his untidiness, his careless geniality, his freedom and his happiness.

Henry’s father–George Trenchard–was “splendid”–that, thought Henry, was the only possible word–and the boy, surveying other persons’ fathers, wondered why Katherine, Millicent, and himself should have been chosen out of all the world to be so favoured.

George Trenchard, at this time about sixty years of age, was over six feet in height and broad in proportion. He was growing too stout; his hair was grey and the top of his head bald; his eyes were brown and absent-minded, his mouth large with a lurking humour in its curves; his cheeks were fat and round and there was the beginning of a double chin. He walked, always, in a rambling, rolling kind of way, like a sea-captain on shore, still balancing himself to the swing of his vessel, his hands deep sunk in his trouser-pockets. Henry had been privileged, sometimes, to see him, when, absorbed in the evolution of an essay or the Chapter of some book (he is, of course, one of our foremost authorities on the early Nineteenth Century period of English Literature, especially Hazlitt and De Quincey) he rolled up and down his study, with his head back, his hand sunk in his pockets, whistling a little tune... very wonderful he seemed to Henry then.

He was the most completely careless of optimists, refused to be brought down to any stern fact whatever, hated any strong emotion or stringent relations with anyone, treated his wife and children as the most delightful accidents against whom he had, most happily tumbled; his kindness of heart was equalled only by the lightning speed with which he forgot the benefits that he had conferred and the persons upon whom he had conferred them... like a happy bird, he went carolling through life. Alone, of all living beings, his daughter Katherine had bound him to her with cords; for the rest, he loved and forgot them all.

Now, on this family occasion of his father’s birthday–his father was eighty-seven to-day–he was absolutely happy. He was proud of his family when any definite occasion, such as this, compelled him to think of it; he considered that it had all been a very jolly, pleasant dinner, that there would certainly follow a very jolly, pleasant evening. He liked, especially, to have his brother, Timothy, with him–he loved them all, bless their hearts–he felt, as he assured them, “Not a day more than twenty.”

“How do you really think Father is, George?” asked Timothy.

“Sound as a bell,” said Henry’s father, “getting deaf of course–must expect that–but it’s my belief that the harder his hearing the brighter his eyes–never knew anyone so sharp. Nothing escapes him, ‘pon my soul.”

“Well,” said George Trenchard, “I think it a most satisfactory thing that here we should all be again–healthy, happy, sound as so many bells–lively as crickets–not a happier family in England.”

“Don’t say that, George,” said Uncle Tim, “most unlucky.”

“Nonsense,” said George Trenchard, brushing Uncle Tim aside like a fly, “Nonsense. We’re a happy family, a healthy family and a united family.”

“I drink my gratitude to the God of Family Life, who-ever He is...” He finished his glass of Port. “Here, Timothy, have another glass. It’s a Port in a million, so it is.”

But Uncle Tim shook his head. “It’s all very well, George, but you’ll have to break up soon. The girls will be marrying–Katherine and Millicent–”

“Rot,” said George, “Millie’s still at school.”

“She’s coming home very soon–very shortly I believe. And besides you can’t keep a family together as you used to. You can’t. No one cares about the home at all now-a-days. These youngsters will find that out soon enough. You’ll be deserting the nest immediately, Henry, my friend, won’t you?”

This sudden appeal, of course, confused Henry terribly. He choked over his wine, coloured crimson, stammered out:

“No, Uncle Tim–Of course–Of course–not.”

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