From one of the United Kingdom’s most famed female novelists come nineteen different takes on the often cruel, usually comic, and utterly strange realities of human life and imagination. From the collection Mum and Mr Armitage is the eponymous tale in which two pranksters at a holiday resort play “harmless” jokes on the people and livestock that surround them—until they must pay the price for taking the fun too far.
In “The Longstop,” unspoken familial information collides with a game of cricket, and in “People for Lunch,” two lovers are ironically compelled to ruminate on the dilemmas of adultery. And among the previously uncollected work compiled here are “The Man from Wavertree” and “Poles Apart.” The former is a quick look into the eccentric world of Rose and her tenant, Purdy, who is trying to sell his motorbike. The latter tells the story of a popular woman in her late seventies who tells a lie in an attempt to get out of a Christmas party invitation, only to find out her fib has come true.
Collected Stories concludes with “Filthy Lucre,” a Victorian melodrama that author Beryl Bainbridge wrote when she was only thirteen. In this precocious tale, a dying man asks a friend to take revenge on the family he thinks has cheated him out of his inheritance. What follows is a surprisingly mature and thoroughly sensational tale of murder, deception, love, and treasure islands.
Called a “consummate storyteller” by the Sunday Times, Bainbridge was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize five times in her career, and is perhaps best known for her psychological novels The Bottle Factory Outing and Injury Time. However, her short fiction, hailed by the Times as “impressive,” is equally masterful.
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About the Author
Born in Liverpool and raised in nearby Formby, Bainbridge spent her early years working as an actress, leaving the theater to have her first child. Her first novel, Harriet Said . . ., was written around this time, although it was rejected by several publishers who found it “indecent.” Her first published works were Another Part of the Wood and An Awfully Big Adventure, and many of her early novels retell her Liverpudlian childhood. A number of her books have been adapted for the screen, most notably An Awfully Big Adventure, which is set in provincial theater and was made into a film by Mike Newell, starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. She later turned to more historical themes, such as the Scott Expedition in The Birthday Boys, a retelling of the Titanic story in Every Man for Himself, and Master Georgie, which follows Liverpudlians during the Crimean War. Her no-word-wasted style and tight plotting have won her critical acclaim and a committed following. Bainbridge regularly contributed articles and reviews to the Guardian, Observer, and Spectator, among others, and she was the Oldie’s longstanding theater critic. In 2008, she appeared at number twenty-six in a list of the fifty most important novelists since 1945 compiled by the Times (London). At the time of her death, Bainbridge was working on a new novel, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, which was published posthumously.
Read an Excerpt
By Beryl Bainbridge
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Beryl Bainbridge
All rights reserved.
MUM AND MR ARMITAGE
Being elderly, Miss Emmet, the thin lady from the Midlands, expected to be left out of things. And she was. Some of the younger guests – Walter Hood for instance, whose mother had recently died, and the girl who had served in the Land Army during the war and was wearing a halter-top in spite of the weather – took it badly.
'I think it's downright rude,' the girl said, when for the third evening on the trot the regular crowd went off into the library to play cards, jamming their chairs so tightly against the door that it was impossible for anyone else to join them.
'I've never even set foot in the library,' complained Walter Hood. 'They're in there every blessed minute.'
Thinking that six shelves stacked with detective novels hardly constituted a library, Miss Emmet said Goodnight and went up to her room. But for the smoke that billowed out from the hearth as she closed the door the young people would scarcely have noticed she was gone.
'Perhaps things will get better when Mum and Mr Armitage arrive,' the land-girl said. She felt brighter just mentioning their names.
The regular crowd who frequented the Herbert Arms Hotel Christmas, Easter and summer never stopped talking among themselves about Mum and Mr Armitage. What good sports they were! What fun they were to be with! Life hummed when Mum was in the vicinity. Her real name was Rosemary Mumford, but nobody ever called her that. At least, not after she became a widow. In the middle of the war she had received one of those telegrams regretting that her husband was missing, believed killed. He had last been seen above Düsseldorf, baling out of a blazing Wellington bomber. It was thought that he and Mum had spent their honeymoon at the hotel, in No. 4, the big room at the front with the brass bed by the window and the stuffed stoat on the mantelpiece. They had returned again the following year, in summer. Mum had known the area as a child; her uncle, it was said, had been in charge of the mine over at Marton. When she was little Mum had gone down the mine with a candle attached to her helmet.
The stoat had been ensconced in the front bedroom for the last ten years, out of consideration for Mum's feelings. It had previously stood, impaled on a stick on a bed of withered bracken and encased in glass, on the window-sill in the library, until, the Christmas after she had received the telegram, Mum had knocked the case to the ground, shattering the glass. It was assumed it was not an accident. Bits of stuffing had come out of the stoat and Mr White had hidden it out of sight in the front bedroom so as not to cause Mum further aggravation. It obviously reminded her of her husband.
There was even talk that Mum had undergone one of those breakdowns peculiar to arty types, that she had actually been put into hospital; although some argued that it was more physical than mental, or rather that something had happened, while her mind was temporarily distracted with grief, which had resulted in an injury. What sort of injury, no one could say. It was all very much a matter of conjecture, and so long ago.
That she had loved Mr Mumford, to the extent that life without him had no longer seemed worth living, went without saying. Of course, this was simply the opinion voiced by women members of the regular crowd. Their menfolk, if trapped in the discussion, either looked sheepish or instantly remembered something pressing that had to be done.
Certain people, Annie Lambert for one, swore she remembered that week in June when Mum had stayed at the hotel with her husband, though for the life of her she couldn't describe what he had looked like, or how tall he was. Nor was she sure of his name. 'Bert', she thought – or perhaps it was 'Stanley'. It was an ordinary sort of name. And she had an inkling that he may have been an insurance agent before he was drafted into the RAF. Not a door-to-door salesman; something a bit grander than that, as one might expect.
'What sort of fellow?' people asked.
'Ordinary,' she said. 'Definitely ordinary.'
'Was he very demonstrative?' Molly Berwick had wanted to know.
'It's a blank,' Annie confessed. 'But I think he called her Rosemary.'
Most people didn't even know her proper name. She had always been Mum to the crowd at the hotel. Not that she was motherly – far from it. True, she was well built, but they all agreed that the twinkle in her coquettish eyes was neither matronly nor maternal. Her friend Mr Armitage, who had cropped up a year or so after her husband went missing, was the perfect partner for her. Not that they were partners except in the companionable sense. Mum certainly wasn't his fancy woman; she wasn't that sort of person, though it was obvious that he thought the world of her. He never addressed her as anything else than Mum, and the others followed suit because Mr Armitage was such a card. They both were. You could bowl people down with a feather, people who weren't in the know, when they heard him calling her Mum, because he looked old enough to be her father. Really, it was comical.
Guests often told the proprietor, Austin White, that he ought to give Mum and Mr Armitage a discount, on account of their entertainment value. In theory, he felt they had a point. They were indeed splendid company, and although a fortnight at the hotel, with full board, was very reasonable, the atmosphere was never quite the same without Mum and Mr Armitage. The things they got up to! The tricks they played! The landgirl had been staying at the hotel for a week now and knew most of the stories by heart. There was the Easter when Mr Armitage painted the horns of all the cows with some sort of luminous paint and then let them loose from their stalls after dark just as Captain Lewis from the Pennines, who'd had a harrowing experience at Arnhem, had come cycling back from the pictures in Welshpool. He was so surprised that he rode his bike into the ditch and cricked his neck. And another time, in the summer probably, Mum had organised a midnight bathing party down at the river and no one had worn costumes, not even the retired bank manager from Norfolk who had some sort of disfigurement and wouldn't have gone naked if Mum hadn't hidden his bathing trunks. That was the marvellous thing about Mum and Mr Armitage – everyone became part of the fun, no one was allowed to stand on the sidelines. To crown it all, there had been a full moon. The stories were endless.
Last night, at supper, someone had complimented Mr White on the floral arrangements, and Albert Ward, one of the regular crowd, had picked up a rose and held it between his teeth. He had caused a riot at the table. Apparently it reminded everybody of the year they had gone with Mum to the flower show at Powys Castle, when Mum had dressed up as a Spanish dancer and persuaded that woman from Manchester, the one with the goitre, to climb ... but the rest of the story had been lost in uproar, and shortly afterwards the regular crowd had left the table and shut themselves up as usual in the library.
'Did you catch what happened the day of the flower show?' the landgirl asked Walter Hood.
'Someone fell,' he said.
'Who?' she asked. But he was looking down at the mourning band on his arm and his eyes were watering.
The next day, shortly before teatime, Miss Emmet was sitting in her mackintosh in the little garden at the side of the hotel, pressing wild flowers between the pages of her nature book, when she was startled to see a procession of guests trooping through the French windows on to the lawn; some of them had obviously just risen from an afternoon nap, because they were still in dressing-gowns and slippers. The man they called Albert Ward was wearing a tea-cosy on his head. From within the hotel came the boom of the dinner gong, struck with frenzy and accompanied by laughter.
'Is it a fire?' asked Miss Emmet, alarmed.
Outside the hotel a dozen people had assembled on the road. Mr and Mrs Hardwick were attempting to keep their children under control, lining them up according to height beneath the library window. One of their daughters, the tomboy child with the plaits, was stabbing a fork into the wistaria which, only yesterday, the proprietor had so carefully and protectively tethered behind a complicated cat's cradle of string. Molly Berwick, the schoolteacher from Huddersfield, and her friend Annie Lambert were standing to attention against the church wall; they had been over at the bowling green and Mrs Lambert still held the jack. As usual, her friend had a cigarette stuck to her lip.
'Eyes front, girls,' shouted Albert Ward, and he ran into the yard at the back of the hotel and returned with the mucking-out brush, carrying it over his shoulder as though it was a rifle. He began to parade backwards and forwards in front of the porch, barking out military commands like a madman. The diversion this caused gave Mr Hardwick, smiling broadly, the opportunity to snatch the fork from his daughter's hand and smack her quite brutally over the head.
'Whatever is going on?' demanded Miss Emmet, perplexed. She couldn't understand why the child with the plaits wasn't howling.
Then suddenly the two middle-aged men from Wigan – they were always referred to as 'the lads' – who habitually wore shorts, even at supper, and who had been hogging the most comfortable seats in the lounge ever since lunch, snoring, and dangling their speckled legs over the arms of the chintz sofa, rode out of the yard on their tandem bicycle. Wobbling somewhat before gathering speed, they pedalled off down the road towards the hump-backed bridge. The Hardwick children ran in pursuit, whooping like Indians. From the churchyard came a tremendous clatter as rooks lifted from the tops of the elm trees and swooped across the sky.
'Is it a race?' persisted Miss Emmet, not expecting an answer. A few moments later a faint cheer rose from beyond the bridge, and then Mr White's black car, horn tooting like the devil, appeared round the bend of the lane, flanked by the tandem and the screaming children.
'They're here,' shouted Mollie Berwick, stamping her muddy plimsolls up and down on the puddled road. It was hard to believe that she was a teacher.
'They're here,' echoed Annie Lambert, and she sent the jack hurtling like a cannonball into the hedge.
The regular crowd surged forwards. Without a second's hesitation the land-girl ran behind, clapping her hands.
Miss Emmet went back into the garden. Collecting her nature book from the bench, she let herself out by the wicket gate and set off in the direction of the village. She could hear the telegraph wires humming, high and quivering above her head. Unaccountably, after days of rain the sun came out.
When Miss Emmet returned some hours later, the gong had already sounded for supper. The din from the dining-room could be heard outside on the road. As a general rule she would have gone without food rather than sit down at the table in her walking clothes, but there was a delicious smell of casseroled rabbit above the scent of roses in the garden and her long tramp in the sunshine had increased her appetite. She didn't think she would look out of place in her tweed skirt; the majority of the guests seemed to favour casual attire of one sort or another. On the night of her arrival, when she had come downstairs in one of her two silk frocks, Albert Ward had remarked that they didn't stand on ceremony at the Herbert Arms Hotel. 'So I gather,' Miss Emmet had replied, for she had found herself seated next to the stouter of the two 'lads', and when she bent to pick up her napkin which had fallen to the floor, she inadvertently brushed his hairy leg with her arm. He had made some innuendo, and one or two people had sniggered. She had pretended to be amused.
Miss Emmet went round the front of the hotel into the yard and through the scullery door. Fortunately she had left her court shoes in the cellar when changing into her brogues that morning. The spaniel dog was nosing its tin bowl across the flagstones, ferociously lapping water. Miss Emmet kept her distance. It was not that she was afraid of dogs, simply that she disliked not being able to tell at a glance whether they be friend or foe. It was difficult, she felt, to trust anyone, man or beast, whose eyes gave nothing away. Washing the blackberry stains from her hands at the scullery sink, she went down the passage to change her shoes.
She was just stooping to undo her laces when she realised that she was not alone. There was a man in the cellar, standing on a three-legged stool among the barrels of beer, doing something to the trap door in the ceiling. She was flustered, and stared at him quite rudely.
'Sssh,' the man warned, and he tapped the side of his nose meaningfully with his little finger. Miss Emmet was taken aback. All the same, she found herself going on tiptoe out of the cellar. She was leaning awkwardly against the larder door, one shoe off and one on, when he came after her. 'Joke time,' he whispered. 'It will be our little secret.' And he bounded off down the passage in his striped blazer.
It was difficult for Miss Emmet to get to sleep that night. The noise from the rooms below, the shouting, the gusts of laughter, continued well into the small hours, long after the public bar had closed and the last customer had relieved himself against the cowshed wall beneath her window and gone squelching away up the muddy yard.
As soon as supper had finished, Mr Armitage, assisted by Albert Ward and supervised by Mum, had shoved the long table to the far end of the dining-room before carrying the oval table through from the library.
'What game are we playing?' the regular crowd had wanted to know, bumping into each other and ferrying chairs from one corner to another. Miss Emmet hadn't waited to find out.
Whatever sort of game it was, it was obviously complicated and of long duration. At one point it necessitated the singing of a negro spiritual, at which the spaniel set up a melancholy howling. It woke the collie dog in its kennel. Though Miss Emmet stuffed her fingers into her ears she still heard the brute's strangled yelps as it hurled itself the length of its chain beyond the pig-sty. Shortly before dawn she thought there was a sound of glass breaking.
Miss Emmet breakfasted alone. Even the children had not yet come down. Mr White hardly spoke when he brought in the fried bacon. None of the windows appeared to be broken.
At midday Miss Emmet bought some buns at the village shop and ate them in a field down by the river. It was annoying to miss a meal already paid for, but she felt she couldn't face luncheon at the hotel.
Last night at supper both Mum and Mr Armitage had addressed her directly. Mr Armitage had asked her what part of the world she came from, and having been told, declared it a lovely spot, which it wasn't by any stretch of the imagination, being not far from the centre of Wolverhampton and dreadfully built up, and Mum, prompted by some absurd remark of Albert Ward's to the effect that Miss Emmet was a child of nature – always messing about with flowers – had promised to send her a box of geranium cuttings. 'And she means it, you know,' cried the schoolteacher. 'It's not one of those comments thrown out at random. Mum always keeps her word.' Miss Emmet had not doubted her. She had already observed how cleverly Mum apportioned each guest his share of the limelight, how unfailingly she hit upon the one topic that suited – and oh, how unstintingly, without ever taking her attention off the speaker or averting the gaze of those light brown eyes ringed with spiky lashes, she passed the salt, the bread, the greens. Really, she had quite ordinary eyes, but for the moment, hunched beside the river, Miss Emmet thought of them as frightening, not for what they had seen, but for what they hadn't.
Later that afternoon, when she was sitting in the garden waiting for the gong to sound for tea, Miss Emmet overheard the land-girl and Mrs Hardwick discussing the events of the night before. 'It was so unexpected,' Mrs Hardwick was saying. 'I know, I know,' the land-girl said. 'If you ask me, it was uncanny. Uncanny.' And she gave a little scream.
'But such fun,' admitted Mrs Hardwick.
'Not for him,' said the girl and, laughing, they both sat up in their deck chairs and looked guiltily across the garden to where Walter Hood lay on his back in the shade of the hedge.
When they had recovered, Mrs Hardwick called out, 'I expect it wasn't much fun for you either. I don't suppose you got much sleep.'
'I always sleep very soundly,' Miss Emmet said. 'Last night was no exception.'
Excerpted from Collected Stories by Beryl Bainbridge. Copyright © 1994 Beryl Bainbridge. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
- How I Began
- From Mum and Mr Armitage
- Mum and Mr Armitage
- Beggars Would Ride
- The Longstop
- People for Lunch
- Perhaps You Should Talk to Someone
- Through a Glass Brightly
- Bread and Butter Smith
- Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie
- Somewhere More Central
- The Worst Policy
- The Man Who Blew Away
- Helpful O’Malley
- Uncollected Stories
- Eric on the Agenda
- The Man from Wavertree
- Poles Apart
- The Beast in the Tower
- Kiss Me, Hardy
- Filthy Lucre – a novella
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Chapter 34
- Chapter 35
- Chapter 36
- Chapter 37
- Chapter 38
- Chapter 39
- Chapter 40
- Chapter 41
- Chapter 42
- Chapter 43
- A Biography of Dame Beryl Bainbridge