A Jazz Age socialite impulsively adopts an orphaned boy in this funny, heartwarming tale from the New York Times –bestselling author of Cluny Brown. In 1929 London, twenty-eight-year-old Lesley Frewen lives a privileged, cultured life. But one thing is missing: love. When her aunt’s female companion dies suddenly, leaving behind a young son, Lesley decides on a whim to adopt four-year-old Patrick—which is odd, because she doesn’t have any particular affection for children. As soon as Patrick moves in with her, Lesley gets to work using her connections to enroll him in the finest boys’ school. But she soon discovers that London is no place to raise a child. Relocating to the country, however, comes with its own set of daunting challenges. The tiny village of High Westover boasts a post office, a church, and a vicarage. There’s an apple orchard and children for Patrick to play with, but Lesley can’t imagine how she’ll entertain her friends there. But life with Patrick will change her, bringing out her capacity to love and showing her the difference between pleasure and happiness.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Margery Sharp (1905–1991) is renowned for her sparkling wit and insight into human nature, which are liberally displayed in her critically acclaimed social comedies of class and manners. Born in Yorkshire, England, she wrote pieces for Punch magazine after attending college and art school. In 1930, she published her first novel, Rhododendron Pie , and in 1938, she married Maj. Geoffrey Castle. Sharp wrote twenty-six novels, three of which, Britannia Mews , Cluny Brown , and The Nutmeg Tree , were made into feature films, and fourteen children’s books, including The Rescuers , which was adapted into two Disney animated films.
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The Flowering Thorn
By Margery Sharp
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1934 Margery Sharp
All rights reserved.
There is good evidence for believing that an American gentleman staying at Beverley Court once so far forgot himself as to clean his shoes: what is probably not true is that the head boot-boy subsequently borrowed the chef's carvers and committed hara-kiri. A chef's carvers are very difficult to come at, and it is also most unlikely that any member of the pantry-staff could have penetrated unchecked as far as the kitchens; but the story is useful as illustrating the almost fanatically high standard of Beverley service.
The management, indeed, worked, and worked successfully, on the basic assumption that their tenants as a class were not intended by nature to boil eggs, wash socks, sew on buttons, walk up or down stairs, have children, keep dogs, or put up friends on the sofa. They were stunted creatures; but like animals in captivity, astonishingly contented. The waiting list for the smaller apartments was as long as Deuteronomy.
In this heaven of the civilised, Lesley Frewen's mansion was inevitably small, for at the Beverley Court letting office the parable of the needle's eye had long been reversed. Entertaining, however, only on the most intimate scale, and rarely at home except to change and sleep, the lack of floor-space hardly struck her. Almost it was an advantage, for with the nomad instinct of the hyper-civilised she dreaded nothing so much as the accumulation of possessions; and as this creed was as widely subscribed, if not as widely practised, among her friends, all their gifts for many years had either gone up in smoke, or shrivelled on the stem, or melted in the mouth. Miss Frewen's personal belongings, indeed, would have gone into a hat-box; and for clothes there was the big fitted cupboard whose doors, when open, practically bisected the bedroom. They were lined with two long mirrors, between which, at about a few minutes past six on the 20th of March, 1929, Lesley Frewen stood adjusting the angle of a small black hat. Beneath the tilted brim a face immaculately plucked, rouged and powdered met her final glance with a well-grounded confidence: she was looking just as every other woman wanted to look, and could continue to do so for at least four hours.
From the telephone by the bed came a low repeated burr: the taxi was waiting. A rapid glance into her handbag assured her of lipstick, powder, cigarettes: complete in every material detail, and with mind serenely attuned to social intercourse, Lesley Frewen went to the party.
Arriving at Pont Street, however, the sum of her perfection was slightly diminished. Facially, all was still well. But in her feelings she was ruffled, though only a little: partly because a shoe-string needed tightening, and partly because she had just observed on the doorstep a young man who was threatening to commit suicide unless she accompanied him to Warsaw. He was completely uninteresting, and had never, even in the wildest flights of passion, suggested their travelling anything but third, so that the triumph of Lesley's virtue had been little more than a walkover; but her refusals, though frequent and frank, had as yet made no impression, and with equal persistence the youthful Bryan continued to press his suit.
'Damn the child!' thought Lesley, 'why the hell does Elissa let him in?' And with a frown under her eye-veil she paid off the taxi, knocked at a high blue door, and a moment later was absorbed into the party.
"Darling!" countered Lesley swiftly, and looking round to see who had addressed her. But it was impossible to tell, for the mob in Elissa's drawing-room shifted so quickly that the only jointed conversations were carried on toe-to-toe like an old-fashioned boxing-match. At the other end of the room a piano was being played, though not professionally: the glasses rattled on its lid and people far over by the windows talked at the tops of their voices. The heat, noise, and congestion were alike considerable, and with every farther step Lesley's spirits rose. An agreeable press, a stimulating babel: the complicated atmosphere — of electric heating, scent, and good furs — at once so familiar and so exhilarating in the nostrils: and gathering her wits, she abandoned the futile search for Elissa to lay instead a course for the buffet. It was slow going. Those who had achieved their drinks continued to linger at the fount, those still unslaked pressed thirstily on; and her progress was further impeded by the early departure of Mrs. Carnegie.
"Darling!" cried Lesley, this time getting in first.
Mrs. Carnegie purred absently back: a round little woman, French by birth, American by marriage, plumply-breasted as a robin, and with not the slightest objection to making herself conspicuous by an almost Edwardian display of pearls. She wore them even in bed, she told people, in order to preserve their colour: and from all Lesley had heard about her, the statement would never lack corroboration.
"You are looking for Elissa, hein?" said Mrs. Carnegie. "She 'as gone to see why there is no more gin. When she comes, will you say I am very sorry, I 'ave to go?" She glanced expertly round, and from the mob at the piano singled out a tall and beautiful young man. "Paul! Paul, we are going!"
But the beautiful young man did not want to leave. He was enjoying himself. He said so loudly, first in Polish and then in translation.
"But I do not want to go! I am enjoying myself!"
"You will enjoy yourself where we are going!" promised Mrs. Carnegie. "You will enjoy yourself more!"
With the trustfulness of a child Paul stopped playing the piano and made his adieux. They included, at the sight of Miss Frewen, a heel-clicking pause and a long pressure of her hand — not exactly kissed, but bowed over to the extreme limit. He knew she had no money; she was aware of his knowledge; and the disinterestedness of the tribute afforded both a certain pleasure.
"Paul!" cried Mrs. Carnegie.
"I wish you were coming too," said Paul simply; and with a last melting glance moved elegantly away.
Slightly but agreeably flattered, mocking at herself for being so, Lesley resumed her course. She was by this time thirstier than ever, and in definite search of a man to do her pushing for her: but for all that it was with a faint sinking of the heart that she perceived young Bryan Collingwood standing squarely in her path.
The crowd was thick, but there was no time to hide. Miss Frewen sighed.
"Come out on the balcony, Lesley. I've got to speak to you."
"My dear, don't be so absurd! I haven't seen Elissa!"
"Please come. I implore you to come."
She observed, with no emotion beyond a faint impatience, the extreme pallor of his lips: he had probably been one of those horrid little boys who can hypnotise themselves into nausea at the sight of a milk-pudding. But since he was quite capable of making a scene in the middle of Elissa's drawing-room, she gave in and followed him through the French window.
"If you don't come to Poland with me I shall kill myself."
He stood with his back to the railings, pressed hard against the iron and devouring her with his eyes; and as Lesley watched him there rose deep in her sophisticated soul a sudden fierce pride, a sudden anger at the insolence of such misery. How dared he follow her with that starving look, run at her heels and scratch at her door! And now this blackmail, this suicide — he was impossible! And she heard her own voice, very cold and distinct, saying:
"This is intolerable. I refuse to be blackmailed by a peevish child."
The white lips moved in answer, but without a sound. She shrugged her shoulders and stepped back into the room.
"There you are!" exclaimed the gentleman behind her.
It took Lesley no more than a mere second of concentration to remember everything about him except his name. Retired stockbroker, lots of money, hands-off-capital-and-shoot-the-unemployed. ... And he was carrying things.
"Dry Martini and caviare. Have I remembered?" asked the stockbroker coquettishly.
With real gratitude she held out a hand.
"Perfectly. Is that your secret of success?"
He beamed at her; and Lesley, sipping, smiled admiringly back. The delicious coldness — for Elissa always had plenty of ice — made her lips tingle, and with a cavalier thus ready to hand she had no hesitation in emptying the glass.
"Now let me get you another," said the stockbroker; and Lesley let him. The crowd, however, was by now even thicker than before, and his progress being correspondingly slow she took up a good central position under the lights and had there been five times addressed as darling before he ever reached the buffet. There was also an invitation to dine, an invitation to lunch, and the offer of a desirable town residence for the next fortnight. The first two Lesley accepted, the last put regretfully aside: for though the Yellow House was charming indeed — a delightful modernised cottage in a mews behind Green Street — she could not quite make out whether the owner himself would or would not be also in residence. From his insistence on the second bathroom, decided Lesley, it seemed at least probable; and she had never liked the owner quite so well as that. Besides, two weeks ... if her suspicions were correct, surely a month would have been more flattering? So sweetly but firmly Lesley shook her head.
"It's a very beautiful idea," she said, "only I happen to have a home already. You've seen it."
"Well, lend it to someone else," suggested Mr. Ashton, with the easy resource of a man who never has to think about money. He wrote songs, both words and music, at the rate of two dozen a year, employing in the process a vocabulary of about thirty-five words — the figures were Elissa's — and six musical phrases. One heard them on every gramophone, the latest, called 'Love-hut for Two,' having sold no less than a quarter of a million records; and it was only by a severe mental effort (Lesley felt) that the composer affected to despise them.
"Well, if you change your mind in the next two days, give me a ring," said Toby Ashton. "I hope you will. ..." He looked earnestly into her eyes and moved on with the stream, thus making room for an invitation to tea, which Lesley refused, and another to dance, which she accepted. By the heat and bustle, now at their extreme, she was no more oppressed than is a swimming fish by the weight of water; a Magyar count lit her cigarette, and her complexion continued perfect.
In a little room off the hall Elissa was doing her Yogi. Tall, pale and slender, dressed in grey, white and black-and-white check, intricately coiled upon a sofa of black, red and silver tapestry, she looked as much like the cover of a fashion paper as was humanly compatible with the usual organs. Between her long hands lay a rosary of amber, loosely strung on a silk cord: with every bead she drew a deep breath and thought of infinity. And if that wasn't everyone's idea of Yogi, at least it was Elissa's.
'Infinity-click,' thought Elissa, 'Infinity-click ...' for it was almost impossible, as she had early discovered, to think the infinity without thinking the click. There were all those people upstairs, soon she would have to go and give them more drinks; but it was always on occasions like this, with the house crammed and the gin flowing, that she felt the strongest impulse to meditation. On a table at her side stood a bowl of lilies and a telephone with the receiver off: they reminded her respectively of the negation of being and a message from the hairdresser — Madame's regular assistant having gone down with 'flu, would Madame trust somebody else, or change the appointment? That would have to be seen to, and a fresh supply of Martinis.
Meanwhile ... the Way, the Life, the Threefold Gate. Nothingness eternal. The end of doing, the end of wanting, the end of being! Well, either Monsieur Lecoq himself should do her hair, or no one. It wasn't worth the risk. Had Toby Ashton come yet, and if so, would he be able to stay on? Toby and Lesley, and possibly Hugo Dove — they could all make a scratch supper off the remains and then go somewhere amusing. Or if that stockbroker person had the Rolls with him? In any case, something or someone was sure to turn up. The end of planning....
'Infinity-click,' thought Elissa.
"But why not to-morrow?" pleaded the Count, who had come rapidly to the boil.
"Because I'm going out already," said Lesley.
"To-night, and to-morrow, and the night after that! Can it really be so?"
"Easily," said Lesley.
"I do not wonder," explained the Count. "I grieve." It was quite true: he really did grieve, for Lesley with her dark slim elegance conformed almost exactly to his favourite type. He grieved for ten seconds. Then he remembered a girl he had seen on arriving, equally dark and with very beautiful ankles. She was still somewhere about, but there was no time to lose. As swiftly as was compatible with a broken heart, the Count bowed, sighed, and turned sadly away into the arms of the stockbroker.
"Dry Martini and gentleman's relish. The caviare's all gone," said the stockbroker.
Lesley received him gratefully, professing an extreme solicitude for the welfare of his person. The crowd round the drinks, was it really as bad as people were saying?
"Worse. Far, far worse," replied the stockbroker heroically. "But no matter. Every time someone hacked me on the shins I saw your lovely lips and struggled on." He paused. "This time to-morrow I expect I'll be asking someone to hack me again."
Lesley smiled like a woman who is flattered; and then all at once, in the drawing of a breath, her mood changed, and a sudden cold detachment ran chilling through her veins. She thought, 'Why am I exerting myself to attract this rather stupid, middle-aged stockbroker? He is wealthy, and pretends to admire me; but if ever he asked me to become his mistress, I should certainly refuse, and there is notoriously no other means of getting at his money. Physically he is far below the average policeman, and for intellectual companionship I should prefer the lift-boy. Then why?'
Her gaze, which had been mechanically fixed on his small pale eyes — bright, clear and colourless as the windows of an empty house — shifted to a group by the balcony door; and again, without warning, her thought twisted aside. For no possible reason, but sudden as an arrow from the sky, anxiety pierced her. She glanced quickly round the room, hoping to see young Collingwood, but he was not there. Gone home, then? — or perhaps still out on the balcony? — and if so, what was he doing there? The questions raced through her head, too swift for any rational and reassuring answer. It became imperative that she should go and see what Bryan was doing on the balcony.
With an incoherent murmur she turned on her heel and walked straight across the room. The long windows were pulled-to, but the latch being on the inside had prevented his fastening them, and Lesley stepped out with five seconds to spare.
"Put that thing down at once," she said crossly.
For a moment young Collingwood tried to out-stare her, the revolver still wavering at his temple. Then eyes and hand dropped together and the gun dangled ridiculously by his side.
"Now give it to me," said Lesley.
This time he obeyed at once. She opened her bag — fortunately a very large one, in the latest mode — and stuffed the thing inside.
"But — but ... Lesley!"
"I l-love you!"
"Nonsense," said Lesley coldly. "You don't love me in the least. You simply like to have an emotion."
And without even waiting to see whether he threw himself over the railings she stepped back through the window and almost on to Elissa's toes.
"Darling! I didn't think you'd got here! Have you had anything to drink?" From under the preposterously long but still genuine eyelashes Elissa's bright intelligent glance flickered over the hat, gown, complexion and accessories of her dearest friend. "Come and have one of my new sandwiches and tell me if they're all right."
"But darling, I'm just going home!"
Again that bright intelligence flickered out, this time over the assembled guests.
"They are rather a mess, aren't they? But just hold on another ten minutes and we'll throw out the riff-raff and go on somewhere amusing. You and me and Toby and Hugo...."
Excerpted from The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp. Copyright © 1934 Margery Sharp. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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