The Young Enchanted - Hugh Walpole - ebook

The Young Enchanted ebook

Hugh Walpole

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Opis

The Young Changed Book is a book that takes the year 1920 and makes it seem like a disguise. London in 1920 – and young people, standing in the center of the present, with extraordinary opportunities circling around her, ready and eager to take advantage of these opportunities, eager to draw conclusions in the world made.

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Liczba stron: 566

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Contents

BOOK I

TWO DAYS

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

BOOK II

HIGH SUMMER

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

BOOK III

FIRST BRUSH WITH THE ENEMY

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

BOOK IV

KNIGHT ERRANT

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

BOOK I

TWO DAYS

CHAPTER I

THE SCARLET FEATHER

I

Young Henry Trenchard, one fine afternoon in the Spring of 1920, had an amazing adventure.

He was standing at the edge of Piccadilly Circus, just in front of Swan and Edgar’s where the omnibuses stopped. They now stop there no longer but take a last frenzied leap around the corner into Regent Street, greatly to the disappointment of many people who still linger at the old spot and have a vague sense all the rest of the day of having been cheated by the omnibus companies.

Henry generally paused there before crossing the Circus partly because he was short-sighted and partly because he never became tired of the spectacle of life and excitement that Piccadilly Circus offered to him. His pince-nez that never properly fitted his nose, always covered one eye more than the other and gave the interested spectator a dramatic sense of suspense because they seemed to be eternally at the crisis of falling to the ground, there to be smashed into a hundred pieces–these pince-nez coloured his whole life. Had he worn spectacles–large, round, moon-shaped ones as he should have done–he would have seen life steadily and seen it whole, but a kind of rather pathetic vanity–although he was not really vain–prevented him from buying spectacles. The ill-balancing of these pince-nez is at the back of all these adventures of his that this book is going to record.

He waited, between the rushing of the omnibuses, for the right moment in which to cross, and while he waited a curious fancy occurred to him. This fancy had often occurred to him before, but he had never confessed it to any one–not even to Millicent–not because he was especially ashamed of it but because he was afraid that his audience would laugh at him, and if there was one thing at this time that Henry disliked it was to be laughed at.

He fancied, as he stood there, that his body swelled, and swelled; he grew, like ‘Alice in her Wonderland,’ into a gigantic creature, his neck shot up, his arms and his legs extended, his head was as high as the barber’s window opposite, then slowly he raised his arm–like Gulliver, the crowds, the traffic, the buildings dwindled beneath him. Everything stopped; even the sun stayed in its course and halted. The flower-women around the central statue sat with their hands folded, the policemen at the crossings waited, looking up to him as though for orders–the world stood still. With a great gesture, with all the sense of a mighty dramatic moment he bade the centre of the Circus open. The Statue vanished and in the place where it had been the stones rolled back, colour flamed into the sky, strange beautiful music was heard and into the midst of that breathless pause there came forth–what?

Alas, Henry did not know. It was here that the vision always stayed. At the instant when the ground opened his size, his command, his force collapsed. He fell, with a bang to the ground, generally to find that some one was hitting him in the ribs, or stepping on his toes or cursing him for being in the way.

Experience had, by this time, taught him that this always would be so, but he never surrendered hope. One day the vision would fulfil itself and then–well he did not exactly know what would happen then.

To-day everything occurred as usual, and just as he came to ground some one struck him violently in the back with an umbrella. The jerk flung his glasses from his nose and he was only just in time to put out his hands and catch them. As he did this some books that he was carrying under his arm fell to the ground. He bent to pick them up and then was at once involved in the strangest medley of books and ankles and trouser-legs and the fringes of skirts. People pushed him and abused him. It was the busiest hour of the day and he was groping at the busiest part of the pavement. He had not had time to replace his pince-nez on his nose–they were reposing in his waistcoat pocket–and he was groping therefore in a darkened and confusing world. A large boot stamped on his fingers and he cried out; some one knocked off his hat, some one else prodded him in the tenderest part of his back.

He was jerked on to his knees.

When he finally recovered himself and was once more standing, a man again amongst men, his pince-nez on his nose, he had his books under his arm, but his hat was gone, gone hopelessly, nowhere to be seen. It was not a very new hat–a dirty grey and shapeless–but Henry, being in the first weeks of his new independence, was poor and a hat was a hat. He was supremely conscious of how foolish a man may look without a hat, and he hated to look foolish. He was also aware, out of the corner of his eye, that there was a smudge on one side of his nose. He could not tell whether it were a big or a little smudge, but from the corner of his eye it seemed gigantic.

Two of the books that he was carrying were books given him for review by the only paper in London–a small and insignificant paper–that showed interest in his literary judgment, and but a moment ago they had been splendid in their glittering and handsome freshness.

Now they were battered and dirty and the corner of one of them was shapeless. One of the sources of his income was the sum that he received from a bookseller for his review copies; he would never now receive a penny for either of these books.

There were tears in his eyes–how he hated the way that tears would come when he did not want them! and he was muddy and hatless and lonely! The loneliness was the worst, he was in a hostile and jeering and violent world and there was no one who loved him.

They did not only not love him, they were also jeering at him and this drove him at once to the determination to escape their company at all costs. No rushing omnibuses could stop him now, and he was about to plunge into the Piccadilly sea, hatless, muddy, bruised as he was, when the wonderful adventure occurred.

All his life after he would remember that moment, the soft blue sky shredded with pale flakes of rosy colour above him, the tall buildings grey and pearl white, the massed colour of the flowers round the statue, violets and daffodils and primroses, the whir of the traffic like an undertone of some symphony played by an unearthly orchestra far below the ground, the moving of the people about him as though they were all hurrying to find their places in some pageant that was just about to begin, the bells of St. James’ Church striking five o’clock and the soft echo of Big Ben from the far distance, the warmth of the Spring sun and the fresh chill of the approaching evening, all these common, everyday things were, in retrospect, part of that wonderful moment as though they had been arranged for him by some kindly benignant power who wanted to give the best possible setting to the beginning of the great romance of his life.

He stood on the edge of the pavement, he made a step forward and at that moment there arose, as it were from the very heart of the ground itself, a stout and, to Henry’s delicate sense, a repulsive figure.

She was a woman wearing a round black hat and a black sealskin jacket; her dress was of a light vivid green, her hair a peroxide yellow and from her ears hung large glittering diamond earrings.

To a lead of the same bright green as her dress there was attached a small sniffing and supercilious Pomeranian. She was stout and red-faced: there was a general impression that she was very tightly bound about beneath the sealskin jacket. Her green skirt was shorter than her figure requested. Her thick legs showed fairly pink beneath very thin silk black stockings; light brown boots very tightly laced compressed her ankles until they bulged protestingly. All this, however, Henry did not notice until later in the day when, as will soon be shown, he had ample opportunity for undisturbed observation.

His gaze was not upon the stout woman but upon the child who attended her. Child you could not perhaps truthfully call her; she was at any rate not dressed as a child.

In contrast with the woman her clothes were quiet and well made, a dark dress with a little black hat whose only colour was a feather of flaming red. It was this feather that first caught Henry’s eye. It was one of his misfortunes at this time that life was always suggesting to him literary illusions.

When he saw the feather he at once thought of Razkolnikov’s Sonia. Perhaps not only the feather suggested the comparison. There was something simple and innocent and a little apprehensive that came at once from the girl’s attitude, her hesitation as she stood just in front of Henry, the glance that she flung upon the Piccadilly cauldron before she stepped into it.

He saw very little of her face, although in retrospect, it was impossible for him to believe that he had not seen her exactly as she was, soul and body, from the first instant glimpse of her; her face was pale, thin, her eyes large and dark, and even in that first moment very beautiful.

He had not, of course, any time to see these things. He filled in the picture afterwards. What exactly occurred was that the diamond earrings flashed before him, the thick legs stepped into the space between two omnibuses, there was a shout from a driver and for a horrible moment it seemed that both the girl and the supercilious Pomeranian had been run over. Henry dashed forward, himself only narrowly avoided instant death, then, reaching, breathless and confused, an island, saw the trio, all safe and well, moving towards the stoutest of the flower-women. He also saw the stout woman take the girl by the arm, shake her violently, say something to her in obvious anger. He also saw the girl turn for an instant her head, look back as though beseeching some one to help her and then follow her green diamond-flashing dragon.

Was it this mute appeal that moved Henry? Was it Fate and Destiny? Was it a longing that justice should be done? Was it the Romantic Spirit? Was it Youth? Was it the Spirit of the Age? Every reader of this book must make an individual decision.

The recorded fact is simply that Henry, hatless, muddy, battered and dishevelled, his books still clutched beneath his arm, followed. Following was no easy matter. It was, as I have already said, the most crowded moment of the day. Beyond the statue and the flower-woman a stout policeman kept back the Shaftesbury Avenue traffic. Men and women rushed across while there was yet time and the woman, the dog and the girl rushed also. As Henry had often before noticed, it was the little things in life that so continually checked his progress. Did he search for a house that he was visiting for the first time, the numbers in that street invariably ceased just before the number that he required. Was anything floating through the air in the guise of a black smut or a flake of tangible dust, certainly it would settle upon Henry’s unconscious nose: was there anything with which a human body might at any moment be entangled, Henry’s was the body inevitably caught.

So it was now. At the moment that he was in the middle of the crossing, the stout policeman, most scornfully disregarding him, waved on the expectant traffic. Down it came upon him, cars and taxi-cabs, omnibuses and boys upon bicycles, all shouting and blowing horns and screaming out of whistles. He had the barest moment to skip back into the safe company of the flower-woman. Skip back he did. It seemed to his over-sensitive nature that the policeman sardonically smiled.

When he recovered from his indignant agitation there was of course no sign of the flaming feather. At the next opportunity he crossed and standing by the paper-stall and the Pavilion advertisements gazed all around him. Up the street and down the street. Down the street and up the street. No sign at all. He walked quickly towards the Trocadero restaurant, crossed there to the Lyric Theatre, moved on to the churchyard by the entrance to Wardour Street and then gazed again.

What happened next was so remarkable and so obviously designed by a kindly paternal providence that for the rest of his life he could not quite escape from a conviction that fate was busied with him! a happy conviction that cheered him greatly in lonely hours. Out from the upper Circle entrance to the Apollo Theatre, so close to him that only a narrow unoccupied street separated him, came the desired three, the woman and the dog first, the girl following. They stood for a moment, then the woman once more said something angrily to the girl and they turned into Wardour Street. Now was all the world hushed and still, the graves in the churchyard slept, a woman leaning against a doorway sucked an orange, the sun slipped down behind the crooked chimneys, saffron and gold stole into the pale shadows of the sky and the morning and the evening were the First Day.

Henry followed.

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