The Wooden Horse - Hugh Walpole - ebook

The Wooden Horse ebook

Hugh Walpole



A magnificent classic tale of family life at a former age. The Wooden Horse is the story of the Trojans, a family that calmly accepted the belief that they were people for whom the world was created. But when Harry Troyan returned home twenty years later in New Zealand, with the democracy that he learned by working with his hands, he was a „wooden horse” who boldly carried an army of alien ideals into the walls of Troyan, which made a group of people out of this selfish family, satisfied with themselves.

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Liczba stron: 438

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Robin Trojan was waiting for his father.

Through the open window of the drawing-room came, faintly, the cries of the town–the sound of some distant bell, the shout of fishermen on the quay, the muffled beat of the mining-stamps from Porth-Vennic, a village that lay two miles inland. There yet lingered in the air the faint afterglow of the sunset, and a few stars, twinkling faintly in the deep blue of the night sky, seemed reflections of the orange lights of the herring-boats, flashing far out to sea.

The great drawing-room, lighted by a cluster of electric lamps hanging from the ceiling, seemed to flaunt the dim twinkle of the stars contemptuously; the dark blue of the walls and thick Persian carpets sounded a quieter note, but the general effect was of something distantly, coldly superior, something indeed that was scarcely comfortable, but that was, nevertheless, fulfilling the exact purpose for which it had been intended.

And that purpose was, most certainly, not comfort. Robin himself would have smiled contemptuously if you had pleaded for something homely, something suggestive of roaring fires and cosy armchairs, instead of the stiff-backed, beautifully carved Louis XIV. furniture that stood, each chair and table rigidly in its appointed place, as though bidding defiance to any one bold enough to attempt alterations.

The golden light in the sky shone faintly in at the open window, as though longing to enter, but the dazzling brilliance of the room seemed to fling it back into the blue dome of sea and sky outside.

Robin was standing by a large looking-glass in the corner of the room trying to improve the shape of his tie; and it was characteristic of him that, although he had not seen his father for eighteen years, he was thinking a great deal more about his tie than about the approaching meeting.

He was, at this time, twenty years of age. Tall and dark, he had all the Trojan characteristics; small, delicately shaped ears; a mouth that gave signs of all the Trojan obstinacy, called by the Trojans themselves family pride; a high, well-shaped forehead with hair closely cut and of a dark brown. He was considered by most people handsome–but to some his eyes, of the real Trojan blue, were too cold and impassive. He gave you the impression of some one who watched, rather disdainfully, the ill-considered and impulsive actions of his fellow-men.

He was, however, exactly suited to his surroundings. He maintained the same position as the room with regard to the world in general–”We are Trojans; we are very old and very expensive and very, very good, and it behoves you to recognise this fact and give way with fitting deference.”

He had not seen his father for eighteen years, and, as he had been separated from him at the unimpressionable age of two, he may be said never to have seen him at all. He had no recollection of him, and the picture that he had painted was constructed out of monthly rather uninteresting letters concerned, for the most part, with the care and maintenance of New Zealand sheep, and such meagre details as his Aunt Clare and Uncle Garrett had bestowed on him from time to time. From the latter he gathered that his father had been, in his youth, in some vague way, unsatisfactory, and had departed to Australia to seek his fortune, with a clear understanding from his father that he was not to return thence until he had found it.

Robin himself had been born in New Zealand, but his mother dying when he was two years old, he had been sent home to be brought up, in the proper Trojan manner, by his aunt and uncle.

On these things Robin reflected as he tried to twist his tie into a fitting Trojan shape; but it refused to behave as a well-educated tie should, and the obvious thing was to get another. Robin looked at his watch. It was really extremely provoking; the carriage had been timed to arrive at half-past six exactly; it was now a quarter to seven and no one had appeared. There was probably not time to search for another tie. His father would be certain to arrive at the very moment when one tie was on and the other not yet on, which meant that Robin would be late; and if there was one thing that a Trojan hated more than another it was being late. With many people unpunctuality was a fault, with a Trojan it was a crime; it was what was known as an “odds and ends”–one of those things, like untidiness, eating your fish with a steel knife and wearing a white tie with a short dinner-jacket, that marked a man, once and for all, as some one outside the pale, an impossible person.

Therefore Robin allowed his tie to remain and walked to the open window.

“At any rate,” he said to himself, still thinking of his tie, “father won’t probably notice it.” He wondered how much his father would notice. “As he’s a Trojan,” he thought, “he’ll know the sort of things that a fellow ought to do, even though he has been out in New Zealand all his life.”

It would, Robin reflected, be a very pretty little scene. He liked scenes, and, if this one were properly manoeuvred, he ought to be its very interesting and satisfactory centre. That was why it was really a pity about the tie.

The door from the library swung slowly open, and Sir Jeremy Trojan, Robin’s grandfather, was wheeled into the room.

He was very old indeed, and the only part of his face that seemed alive were his eyes; they were continually darting from one end of the room to the other, they were never still; but, for the rest, he scarcely moved. His skin was dried and brown like a mummy’s, and even when he spoke, his lips hardly stirred. He was in evening dress, his legs wrapped tightly in rugs; his chair was wheeled by a servant who was evidently perfectly trained in all the Trojan ways of propriety and decorum.

“Well, grandfather,” said Robin, turning back from the window with the look of annoyance still on his face, “how are you to-night?” Robin always shouted at his grandfather although he knew perfectly well that he was not deaf, but could, on the other hand, hear wonderfully well for his age. Nothing annoyed his grandfather so much as being shouted at, and of this Robin was continually reminded.

“Tut, tut, boy,” said Sir Jeremy testily, “one would think that I was deaf. Better? Yes, of course. Close the windows!”

“I’ll ring for Marchant,” said Robin, moving to the bell, “he ought to have done it before.” Sir Jeremy said nothing–it was impossible to guess at his thoughts from his face; only his eyes moved uneasily round the room.

He was wheeled to his accustomed corner by the big open stone fireplace, and he lay there, motionless in his chair, without further remark.

Marchant came in a moment later.

“The windows, Marchant,” said Robin, still twisting uneasily at his tie, “I think you had forgotten.”

“I am sorry, sir,” Marchant answered, “but Mr. Garrett had spoken this morning of the room being rather close. I had thought that perhaps–”

He moved silently across the room and shut the window, barring out the fluttering yellow light, the sparkling silver of the stars, the orange of the fishing-boats, the murmured distance of the town.

A few moments later Clare Trojan came in. Although she had never been beautiful she had always been interesting, and indeed she was (even when in the company of women far more beautiful than herself) always one of the first to whom men looked. This may have been partly accounted for by her very obvious pride, the quality that struck the most casual observer at once, but there was also an air of indifference, a look in the eyes that seemed to pique men’s curiosity and stir their interest. It was not for lack of opportunity that she was still unmarried, but she had never discovered the man who had virtue and merit sufficient to cover the obvious disadvantages of his not having been born a Trojan. Middle age suited the air of almost regal dignity with which she moved, and people who had known her for many years said that she had never looked so well as now. To-night, in a closely-fitting dress of black silk relieved by a string of pearls round her neck, and a superb white rose at her breast, she was almost handsome. Robin watched her with satisfaction as she moved towards him.

“Ah, it’s cold,” she said. “I know Marchant left those windows open till the last moment. Robin, your tie is shocking. It looks as if it were made-up.”

“I know,” said Robin, still struggling with it; “but there isn’t time to get another. Father will be here at any moment. It’s late as it is. Yes, I told Marchant to shut the windows, he said something about Uncle Garrett’s saying it was stuffy or something.”

“Harry’s late.” Clare moved across to her father and bent down and kissed him.

“How are you to-night, father?” but she was arranging the rose at her breast and was obviously thinking more of its position than of the answer to her question.

“Hungry–damned hungry,” said Sir Jeremy.

“Oh, we’ll have to wait,” said Clare. “Harry’s got to dress. Anyhow you’ve got no right to be hungry at a quarter to seven. Nobody’s ever hungry till half-past seven at the earliest.”

It was evident that she was ill at ease. Perhaps it was the prospect of meeting her brother after a separation of eighteen years; perhaps it was anxiety as to how this reclaimed son of the house of Trojan would behave in the face of the world. It was so very important that the house should not be in any way let down, that the dignity with which it had invariably conducted its affairs for the last twenty years should be, in no way, impaired. Harry had been anything but dignified in his early days, and sheep-farming in New Zealand–well, of course, one knew what kind of life that was.

But, as she looked across at Robin, it was easy to see that her anxiety was, in some way, connected with him. How was this invasion to affect her nephew? For eighteen years she had been the only father and mother that he had known, for eighteen years she had educated him in all the Trojan laws and traditions, the things that a Trojan must speak and do and think, and he had faithfully responded to her instruction. He was in every way everything that a Trojan should be; but there had been moments, rare indeed and swiftly passing, when Clare had fancied that there were other impulses, other ideas at work. She was afraid of those impulses, and she was afraid of what Henry Trojan might do with regard to them.

It was, indeed, hard, after reigning absolutely for eighteen years, to yield her place to another, but perhaps, after all, Robin would be true to his early training and she would not be altogether supplanted.

“Randal comes to-morrow,” said Robin suddenly, after a few minutes’ silence. “Unfortunately he can only stop for a few days. His paper on ‘Pater’ has been taken by the National. He’s very much pleased, of course.”

Robin spoke coldly and without any enthusiasm. It was not considered quite good form to be enthusiastic; it was apt to lead you into rather uncertain company with such people as Socialists and the Salvation Army.

“I’m glad he’s coming–quite a nice fellow,” said Clare, looking at the gold clock on the mantelpiece. “The train is shockingly late. On ‘Pater’ you said! I must try and get the National–Miss Ponsonby takes it, I think. It’s unusual for Garrett to be unpunctual.”

He entered at the same moment–a tall, thin man of forty years of age, clean shaven and rather bald, with a very slight squint in the right eye. He walked slowly, and always gave the impression that he saw nothing of his surroundings. For the rest, he was said to be extremely cynical and had more than a fair share of the Trojan pride.

“The train is late,” he said, addressing no one in particular. “Father, how are you this evening?”

This third attack on Sir Jeremy was repelled by a snort, which Garrett accepted as an answer. “Robin, your tie is atrocious,” he continued, picking up the Times and opening it slowly; “you had better change it.”

Robin was prevented from answering by the sound of carriage-wheels on the drive. Clare rose and stood by the fireplace near Sir Jeremy; Garrett read to the end of the paragraph and folded the paper on his knee; Robin fingered his watch-chain nervously and moved to his aunt’s side–only Sir Jeremy remained motionless and gave no sign that he had heard.

Perhaps he was thinking of that day twenty years before when, after a very heated interview, he had forbidden his son to see his face again until he had done something that definitely justified his existence. Harry had certainly done several things since then that justified his existence; he had, for one thing, made a fortune, and that was not so easily done nowadays. Harry was five-and-forty now; he must be very much changed; he had steadied down, of course... he would be well able to take his place as head of the family when Sir Jeremy himself...

But he gave no sign. You could not tell that he had heard the carriage-wheels at all; he lay motionless in his chair with his eyes half closed.

There were voices in the hall. Beldam’s superlatively courteous tones as of one who is ready to die to serve you, and then another voice–rather loud and sharp, but pleasant, with the sound of a laugh in it.

“They are in the blue drawing-room, sir–Mr. Henry,” Beldam’s voice was heard on the stairs, and, in a moment, Beldam himself appeared–”Mr. Henry, Sir Jeremy.” Then he stood aside, and Henry Trojan entered the room.

Clare made a step forward.

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