From the Publisher
"It may be cheating to add this, but Tom Holt deserves the very greatest praise for writing two quite brilliant Benson books with the blessing of the Benson Estate. A remarkable achievement."
--Alexander McCall Smith's top 10 favourite humorous books, theguardian.com, Tuesday 2 December 2003 19.00 EST
Read an Excerpt
'Georgino--I mean Georgie,' said she, as soon as she had reached home. 'I have an idea.'
Georgie raised his eyes from a snuff-box he had been engaged in polishing. His poor bibelots had gathered dust in the last few days, for his soul was full of horrors. Foljambe had declared that, since her husband Cadman was away at the wars (he was slightly too old for military service, and had gone to work at the Transport Headquarters at Hove, where he spent most of his time polishing the motors of Generals and Cabinet Ministers, and in sundry other ways devising the downfall of Hitler), she ought to be doing her bit by making bombs at the Ordnance Factory. As a result, he had neglected his bibelots, left a chair-cover, on which he had been embroidering Britannia ruling the Rother Estuary, abandoned half-finished in a cupboard, and lain awake two nights in a row tormented by nameless fears.
'Well,' he said, 'what is it?'
'Officers, Georgie, from the Harbour. Think of them, pacing up and down their dusty barrack-rooms in the evenings, dwelling on the perils of war, the dangers that lie before them. Allowing their morale to sink into the depths.'
Georgie shook his head. 'I thought they had a nice little Officers' Club in the old Customs House where they can play billiards and …'
'Billiards, Georgie! What sort of occupation is that for a man who is about to confront the horror of the battlefield? What they need is somewhere where they can refresh their souls with music and poetry and intelligent conversation, to inspire them to go out and fight for the values of civilisation and democracy, where they can get a final taste of what England really means.'
'You mean the Institute?' asked Georgie, puzzled.
'No, no, Georgie. Why, don't you see? A salon. Here. At Mallards.'
'Lucia! You can't!'
'Why not, pray?'
'But really! They'll drink whisky, and laugh at my embroidery.'
'No, dearest, you are mistaken. Not all soldiers are like poor Major Benjy, boozing and making up vulgar stories about the Pride of Poonah. Imagine, Georgie, if you were an officer stranded in an unknown town, how your heart would yearn for the company of kindred souls, the refreshment of the mind. Oo not be unkind to poor officers, Georgie, make them play billiards all evening.'
'I believe you only want them about the place to score off Elizabeth and Major Benjy. And I'm sure they won't want to listen to us playing duets or watch us doing tableaux when they could be drinking beer in the Sebastopol Arms.'