About the Author

Barbara Vine

Books by this Author
A Dark Adapted Eye

A Dark Adapted Eye

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A Fatal Inversion

A Fatal Inversion

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Asta's Book

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Astas Book

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Birthday Present

Birthday Present

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Blood Doctor

Blood Doctor

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Excerpt

Blood is going to be its theme. I've made that decision long before I shall even begin writing the book. Blood in its metaphysical sense as the conductor of an inherited title, and blood as the transmitter of hereditary disease. Genes we'd say now, but not in the nineteenth century when Henry Nanther was born and grew up and achieved a kind of greatness, not then. It was blood then. Good blood, bad blood, blue blood, it's in the blood, in cold blood, blood and thunder, blood thicker than water, blood money, blood relations, flesh and blood, written in blood — the list of phrases is endless. How many of them am I going to find apply to my great-grandfather?

I'm not sure if I'd have liked him, and up till now it's been essential for me to like, or at least admire and respect, the subject of the biographies I write. Perhaps, this time, it's only going to be necessary for me to be interested in him. And that won't be difficult. It's only because I found out that he'd kept a mistress for nine years and, when his fiancée died, married her sister (giving her, incidentally, the same engagement ring) that I decided to write his life at all.

Of course I knew, we all knew, he'd been an eminent medical man, the acknowledged expert of his day on diseases of the blood and Physician-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria. I knew that for his services Victoria had given him the peerage I've inherited, and that he took his seat in the House of Lords in 1896. But although he was distinguished in his day, an acquaintance of Darwin and mentioned as a friend in letters from, among others, T. H. Huxley and Sir Joseph Bazalgette, although he was the first doctor of medicine ever to receive a peerage — the great surgeon Joseph Lister got one a year later - as a biography candidate I was only keeping him in the back of my mind. In the front of my mind I had Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart's librettist. Now there was an interesting history: unfrocked priest, political dissident, philanderer, storekeeper, distiller and professor of music at Columbia University. I could have got trips to Italy out of it and maybe Vienna, but reluctantly I had to give him up. I don't have enough musical knowledge. Then the letter came from my sister.

Our mother died last year. Sarah has had the job — it's always the women who get it, says my wife — of sorting out and disposing of or keeping her personal possessions. Among them was a letter from our great-aunt Clara to our grandfather. Sarah thought it would interest me. She even wrote, 'If you've given up the Marriage of Figaro man, why not Great-grandfather?' I've never seen any of Clara's letters before - why would I? - but I've a feeling she wrote a lot. My mother probably once had Sarah's task of sorting through her father-in-law's possessions when he came home from Venice to die, found the letter and simply neglected to throw it away.

It makes me feel a bit uneasy, disquieted and at the same time slightly excited, to notice the way Clara, his fourth and youngest daughter, refers to her father not as 'Father' or 'Dad' or 'Papa' but as 'Henry Nanther'. Odd, isn't it? Here is this maiden lady, to use my own father's expression for her, half-educated, who lived a quiet life in London, who never worked for her living and died at the age of ninety-nine, writing to her brother of their father as if he were some acquaintance she didn't much like. Her letter is dated early in 1966 and must have been sent to Venice. This is what she said:

You always speak of Henry Nanther as if he were some sort of pillar of society and high morality and all that sort of thing. In contrast to you, as you put it. I know you disliked him as much as the rest of us did with the exception of poor George. You will say that if he was a more or less absent father and a remote rather awful figure in the household, that was normal when we were children. But did you know he kept a mistress in a house in Primrose Hill for years and years? I am sure you did not know he was engaged to Mother's sister Eleanor, who was killed in the train. We had all heard the story of the train, but neither Mother nor Henry Nanther ever said he was engaged to her first, and then took up with Mother when she was dead. They kept that dark for reasons of their own, or reasons of his own. Henry Nanther did other monstrous, quite appalling things, but I don't feel like telling you about them in a letter. If you are interested you can ask me when you come home in August and we will have a good long talk. But, dear old Alex, you may not like what you hear. . .

Did they ever have that talk and did my grandfather learn what the monstrous things were? If he did he either didn't pass them on to my father or my father didn't pass them on to me. Before he could come home, he was dead. He died in June. But that letter was what fixed me. Sarah was right. I've been amassing Henry Nanther memorabilia ever since. Fortunately, he obviously wanted his 'life' to be written, and left behind him all the diaries, letters and works of his own he calculated would furnish suitable material. It's apparent, though, that he took care it included nothing that might show him in any light but that which shines on paragons. And of course there's not a sheet of paper, a photograph or a diary note among the lot to give a clue as to what Clara meant.

No one is at home but me. The house is empty, as it always is on weekdays at this time. Jude is at the publishing house in Fulham where she works and Lorraine, who cleans for us, left an hour ago. I am sitting in my study in Alma Square, working at what used to be our dining table: a large heavy mahogany affair, six feet long by three feet six wide, its surface marred by greyish blotches and black rings where Jude and I have put down hot plates, under the mistaken impression that the other one had put down the felt underlay before laying the table. Like most people we know, we have given up dinner parties, so I have 'commandeered' (Lorraine's word) the dining table and brought it in here.

Desks are never big enough. Desks are for chief executives in offices who have secretaries. On the dining table, as well as the computer and printer, are: the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus, a stack of (fairly useless) printouts from medical Web sites on the Internet, several mountain ranges of photocopied extracts from medical books, medical books themselves, Bulloch and Fildes' A Treasury of Human Inheritance, Henry's notebook, three box files of his correspondence, three books from the London Library, which, incidentally, I see are due back today, and a rather sketchy family tree, created by me and full of gaps. My own line, which begins with my grandfather Alexander and ends, for the time being, with my son Paul, is there in accurate detail. My grandfather's small brother George, who died aged eleven, is there, and so are his four sisters, Elizabeth, Mary, Helena and Clara, but I don't yet know the names of husbands, children and no doubt grandchildren, and I must hunt for them in the records.

As well as all this are the fifty-two leather-bound diaries, in various colours, designs and sizes, Henry kept from his twenty-first year until a year before his death, his own books, photograph albums and some loose photographs. Letters about him and letters which mention him are on the table too.

He was obsessed with blood. Why? He wrote books about it but he wrote private memoranda too; curious essays that, presumably, no one else ever read in his lifetime. These are contained in a notebook with a cover of black watered silk. One of them - I have it here, it's the top one in the red box file but like all of them, undated - starts:

I have often asked myself why it should be red and I have asked others. Among the answers given to me has been. 'Because God made it so.' If I had never seen it but knew of its existence, its presence and function in the human body, I would have expected it to be brown, a light yellowish-brown. But it is red, the pure scarlet of the poppies that grow in the cornfields and which I remember from my boyhood. One of my children asked me, as children will, what might be my favourite colour. I had no hesitation in replying to her: red. I cannot recollect that I paused to cogitate, to give any consideration to the matter, though I had never previously thought about it. The word 'red' sprang naturally to my lips and, as I uttered it, I knew I was speaking perfect truth. Red in my favourite colour. No one knows why blood is red, although its composition is of course known and pigment of this colour is present in it. To me a splash of blood is beautiful and I profoundly lack understanding of those who flinch or even faint at the sight of it.

Not in any way incriminating, though, is it?
A royal doctor who happened to be given a barony would hardly be a suitable subject for a biography unless he was otherwise interesting. He made one important discovery in his own field and thus contributed to the sum of medical knowledge, but he seems to have cured no one; I doubt if he even alleviated pain or would have wished to do so. Is that where the interest lies? Perhaps, rather, what fascinates is not only this obsession with blood but the mysteries of anomalies the biographer comes upon in every decade of Henry Nanther's life.

I make myself a cheese sandwich and eat a tomato with it. If I intend to have a look at the house in Hamilton Terrace and call in at the London Library on my way, I haven't much time. The House sits at 2.30 and I remember as I'm finishing my sandwich that I have the third starred question to ask.

This house that Jude and I live in, though far from an ancestral home, was my father's and my grandfather's but never Henry's. His was a huge stucco mansion on the other side of Abbey Road, next door but two or three to the much prettier house of Joseph Bazalgette who built London's drains and river embankments and not far from Lawrence Alma Tadema's studio. It's a mild pleasant sort of day, though so early in the year. I come down into Hamilton Terrace by way of Circus Road and pause on the other side of the street to take a look at Ainsworth House, the name he gave it. Having at one time been divided into flats, it has returned to its single owner-occupier status, the owner-occupier being a multi-millionaire property developer called Barry Dreadnought. Since buying it for three million, he has had the front garden paved with two square boxes inserted as flowerbeds and two enormous white urns each containing one of those spiky red palms. A covered way with plain glass sides and a stained-glass peaked roof runs from the gates to the front door.

I have never been inside. I wrote to Dreadnought last year asking if I could have a look at the room I calculate was Henry's study but he didn't answer, even though my letter was written on House of Lords paper. Will we still be able to use the headed paper after they've abolished us? I suppose not. I've never thought of that before and it slightly depresses me. If they won't let us keep club rights and computers they're certainly not going to let us have our paper.

The two sash windows on the second floor on the left indicate Henry's study. Or so I've guessed. There's something about the house - there was long before Dreadnought came - that troubles me, something unpleasant, I don't know what it is. Of course it's ugly, the worst kind of Victorian, but it's not that which makes me uneasy. I suppose it's that I sense there was suffering and misery within those walls while Henry and his family inhabited it, though I've no real reason to think there was, only a suspicion. As far as I know, Henry was happily married and, in spite of what Clara says, a good father by Victorian standards. I suppose I'm seeking inspiration when I come here to look at Ainsworth House, as I do every so often. Seeking perhaps answers to questions I, as Henry's biographer, ought to be able to answer but can't yet. Just the same, I wouldn't live in that house for all its owner's cash.

A woman stares at me out of Henry's study window. It's the dark unhappy face of one of those domestic slaves who look after other people's children and send money home for the care of their own. But no, I'm imagining that. Why should she be any different from Lorraine? The millionaire shouldn't be condemned out of hand just because he didn't answer my letter.

I take the Jubilee Line from St John's Wood and get off at Green Park, which isn't far from St James's Square where the London Library is. The rest of the way is on foot, through the park and over the bridge, and though I've walked this way a thousand times, I always stop for a second on the bridge to look at the view of Whitehall and Horse Guards and the Foreign Office: water and trees and majestic buildings, and the pelicans on their island. At this time of the year the great influx of tourists hasn't yet begun. It's an ordinary walk to the Palace of Westminster, not a battle through dawdling crowds with cameras as it sometimes is. Outside the Peers' Entrance, Richard Coeur de Lion sits on his horse, his sword arm and sword upraised. I always give him a glance and wonder what it was like to go on a crusade, when the rabble of peasant soldiers of Christ thought it quite permissible, indeed praiseworthy, to kill infidel women and their babies and roast them for dinner. The doorkeeper says, 'Good morning, my Lord,' though it is twenty-five past two, but, as peers should know when they've been here five minutes, it's morning in the House of Lords until prayers have been said.

I hang my raincoat on the peg that says 'Lord Nanther', which is next door but two to the Duke of Norfolk's, go up the staircase to the Principal Floor and in the Printed Paper Office I pick up an order paper and the list of amendments to the House of Lords Bill, and there is my starred question: 'What, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, is the likelihood of the Jubilee Line extension being completed in time to offer public access to the Millennium Dome by I January 2000?'

Not being fond of bishops, I stay out of the Chamber until after prayers. It's always a bishop that says them — there are twenty-four in here and two archbishops, and each does a week-long stint — but these days few of them use the fluting tone associated with the High Church of my father's youth. I go into the Chamber as part of the great influx from the Peers' Lobby and take my usual seat in the third row from the front of the cross-benches on the spiritual site. Not strictly the cross-benches at all, they are in the middle, parallel to the clerks' table and the throne, but an extension of the government area behind their bit of the front bench where the privy counsellors sit. Lord Callaghan and Lord Healey are often seated there but not today. My grandfather sat on the cross-benches on the rare occasions he attended, describing himself as independent and Bohemian. My father and Henry were staunchly right-wing, both of them die-hard Conservatives.

When I first entered this chamber at the age of eleven and sat on the steps of the throne as my father's heir (the Hon. Martin Nanther) I thought the place very ugly, its Gothic ridiculous, its colours crude, especially the kingfisher-blue carpet and blood-red leather benches. The gilding of the throne, almost too dazzling to look at, reminded me of a stage set in the Aladdin pantomime I'd seen at Christmas. Thirty-five years ago Gothic was still unfashionable, taken for granted as being in bad taste. I was particularly scornful of the stained-glass windows, uncompromisingly red, green, blue and yellow. But I was still young enough to like the carved figures of lion and unicorn which serve as finials on the posts at the bar. Now I feel differently, if I don't quite go along with whoever it was the other day that described the Palace of Westminster as the most beautiful building in London. It is beautiful and I shall miss it when I'm gone. I shall miss giving the unicorn a pat on his polished head when I pass through the gate in the brass barrier we call 'the bar', bow in the general direction of the throne and the Cloth of Estate (non-existent, spiritual, a space only, marking the position which the Queen, if present, would occupy) and make my way up the steps to my place. The Chamber is full, for today is the first day of the second reading of the House of Lords Bill. First reading is, of course, a mere formality, so the second reading is very important and feelings will run high. Quite a lot of hereditary peers acknowledge that their day is done, that a man or woman - there are a few women hereditaries - should not have a right to make the country's laws just because an ancestor helped the king in war or an ancestress slept with him. It's not this which most of them will dispute, but the uncertainty surrounding what kind of a House will come after them, the brutal talk about 'getting rid of them' and the loss of their privileges to eat and drink and smoke in the House and use its library - in other words, their club rights.

But questions first. There's one about Railtrack and one about nuclear weapons and then comes mine. The Clerk of the Parliaments gets up and says, 'The Lord Nanther,' and I say, 'My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question standing in my name on the order paper,' but I don't ask it because it's printed for all to read on the Orders of the Day.

The minister says there's no question but that the Jubilee Line will be completed. I'm obliged to ask a supplementary question and this is something that makes a lot of peers sweat, lest the minister pre-empts them and they're left with an enquiry that's already been answered. Also you may write down your possible supplementaries as a mnemonic but not read them aloud. When I first came in, I got into a muddle over this and Conservatives began chanting, 'Reading, reading!' I resolved never to ask another starred question but of course I did, and then another, and now it doesn't worry me much. Very soon it won't worry me at all but by then I shall have been banished.

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Dark Adapted Eye

Dark Adapted Eye

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Fatal Inversion

Fatal Inversion

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Gallowglass

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Grasshopper

Grasshopper

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Excerpt

They have sent me here because of what happened on the pylon. Or perhaps so that I don't have to see the pylon every time I go out or even look out of a window.

"We've thought of selling this house and moving," my father said. "Don't think it hasn't been in our minds. Still you won't . . ."

He left the sentence unfinished, but I knew how he would have ended it. You won't always be here, he'd meant to say. A girl of your age, you won't live at home much longer, you'll be off to college or a job, a home of your own. And out of sight, out of mind, he meant too. Gradually people will stop thinking of us as the parents of that girl, they'll stop asking what kind of parents we were to bring up a girl who would do that, and they'll stop staring and pointing us out. Especially if you don't come home very often. Maybe they'll think you're dead. Maybe we'll tell them you are.

That last bit was in my imagination. I'm not saying they wish me dead. They have my welfare at heart, as my mother puts it. Which must be why they were so happy--happier than I've seen them since before the pylon day--when Max made his offer. The best they'd hoped for was a room in whatever accommodation the college had available or for me to be the fourth girl in a shared flat somewhere.

"A whole flat to yourself," my mother said, "and in a lovely part of town."

I had a picture in my mind then of rows and rows of mock-Tudor houses, striped black and white like zebras, with pampas grass in their front gardens and Audis outside their garages. Daniel and I had seen plenty of them, riding around the ring roads on his old Motoguzzi. Our London was the outer suburbs, Waltham Cross and Barnet, Colindale and Edgware, Uxbridge and Richmond and Purley. We counted the pylons and took photographs of the barbed-wire guards on their legs. We never penetrated as far as Maida Vale and we'd never heard of Little Venice. But still I thought "a nice part of town" must mean houses like our house. How Max could have a flat in it, I couldn't imagine. Flats were in blocks, there had been plenty of those up along the North Circular Road too, great sprawling flat-roofed buildings painted custard color with their names in letters of black or silver: Ferndean Court and Summerhill and Brook House. So when I got here this afternoon I wasn't prepared for what I found.

My father had been going to drive me. It's what parents do when their child goes off to college and a new place to live in. I've seen enough of it to know. They pack up the trunk of the car and all the back of the car too, with clothes and sports gear and books and radio and CD player and maybe a computer and, of course, a hamper of food. It's a joyful occasion, a turning point in someone's life, and if it's the dad driving and the mother left behind, she's tearful but she's smiling too, calling out "Good luck" and making the departing one promise to phone as soon as she's settled in and not to forget the cold chicken in the hamper and the homemade cake. My leaving home wasn't like that. I wouldn't have expected it to be and I never had much faith in my father's promise. As it happened, the car went in for service the day before and the garage phoned and said they'd like to keep it for another day to have a look at the electrics. Maybe Dad didn't fix it that way. I expect it was just a piece of luck for him. Anyway, they said it couldn't be helped, I'd just have to manage on the train.

So I left in much the same way as I've lived these past two years, under a cloud. After the pylon my parents had counseling, just as I did, and the counselor told them they had to be understanding and supportive. It was their responsibility to help me put all that behind me and make a fresh start, not blame myself and feel guilty all the time. But they couldn't. I suppose they couldn't help themselves. I think they really saw me as evil. One of the ways they dealt with it was to tell me they didn't "know where I got it from," as if every action you performed and every mistake you made had been made by a string of ancestors before you and passed on in a gene of thoughtlessness or daring--or evil. This morning and all through lunch they were giving me those looks that are a mix of wonderment and--well, resignation, I suppose. And I could see something else there too: relief, hope maybe, a fresh start for them as well.

They have sent me here because of what happened on the pylon. Or perhaps so that I don't have to see the pylon every time I go out or even look out of a window.

"We've thought of selling this house and moving," my father said. "Don't think it hasn't been in our minds. Still you won't . . ."

He left the sentence unfinished, but I knew how he would have ended it. You won't always be here, he'd meant to say. A girl of your age, you won't live at home much longer, you'll be off to college or a job, a home of your own. And out of sight, out of mind, he meant too. Gradually people will stop thinking of us as the parents of that girl, they'll stop asking what kind of parents we were to bring up a girl who would do that, and they'll stop staring and pointing us out. Especially if you don't come home very often. Maybe they'll think you're dead. Maybe we'll tell them you are.

That last bit was in my imagination. I'm not saying they wish me dead. They have my welfare at heart, as my mother puts it. Which must be why they were so happy--happier than I've seen them since before the pylon day--when Max made his offer. The best they'd hoped for was a room in whatever accommodation the college had available or for me to be the fourth girl in a shared flat somewhere.

"A whole flat to yourself," my mother said, "and in a lovely part of town."

I had a picture in my mind then of rows and rows of mock-Tudor houses, striped black and white like zebras, with pampas grass in their front gardens and Audis outside their garages. Daniel and I had seen plenty of them, riding around the ring roads on his old Motoguzzi. Our London was the outer suburbs, Waltham Cross and Barnet, Colindale and Edgware, Uxbridge and Richmond and Purley. We counted the pylons and took photographs of the barbed-wire guards on their legs. We never penetrated as far as Maida Vale and we'd never heard of Little Venice. But still I thought "a nice part of town" must mean houses like our house. How Max could have a flat in it, I couldn't imagine. Flats were in blocks, there had been plenty of those up along the North Circular Road too, great sprawling flat-roofed buildings painted custard color with their names in letters of black or silver: Ferndean Court and Summerhill and Brook House. So when I got here this afternoon I wasn't prepared for what I found.

My father had been going to drive me. It's what parents do when their child goes off to college and a new place to live in. I've seen enough of it to know. They pack up the trunk of the car and all the back of the car too, with clothes and sports gear and books and radio and CD player and maybe a computer and, of course, a hamper of food. It's a joyful occasion, a turning point in someone's life, and if it's the dad driving and the mother left behind, she's tearful but she's smiling too, calling out "Good luck" and making the departing one promise to phone as soon as she's settled in and not to forget the cold chicken in the hamper and the homemade cake. My leaving home wasn't like that. I wouldn't have expected it to be and I never had much faith in my father's promise. As it happened, the car went in for service the day before and the garage phoned and said they'd like to keep it for another day to have a look at the electrics. Maybe Dad didn't fix it that way. I expect it was just a piece of luck for him. Anyway, they said it couldn't be helped, I'd just have to manage on the train.

So I left in much the same way as I've lived these past two years, under a cloud. After the pylon my parents had counseling, just as I did, and the counselor told them they had to be understanding and supportive. It was their responsibility to help me put all that behind me and make a fresh start, not blame myself and feel guilty all the time. But they couldn't. I suppose they couldn't help themselves. I think they really saw me as evil. One of the ways they dealt with it was to tell me they didn't "know where I got it from," as if every action you performed and every mistake you made had been made by a string of ancestors before you and passed on in a gene of thoughtlessness or daring--or evil. This morning and all through lunch they were giving me those looks that are a mix of wonderment and--well, resignation, I suppose. And I could see something else there too: relief, hope maybe, a fresh start for them as well.

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House Of Stairs

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Minotaur

Minotaur

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The Chimney Sweeper's Boy
Excerpt

Not a word to my girls, he had said on the way home from the hospital.
My girls, as if they also weren't hers. She was used to it; he always said that, and in a way they were more his. I'm not hearing this, she said.
You're going to have major surgery and your grown-up children aren't to be told.
Major surgery, he said. You sound like Staff Nurse Samantha in a hospital sitcom. I wont have Sarah and Hope worried. I wont give them a day of hell while they await the result.
You flatter yourself, she thought, but that was just spite. He didn't. They would have a day of hell; they would have anguish, while she had a little mild trepidation.
He made her promise. It wasn't difficult. She wouldn't have cared for the task of telling them.

The girls came down as usual. In the summer they came down every weekend, and in the winter, too, unless the roads were impassable. They had forgotten the Romney's were coming to lunch, and Hope made a face, what her father called a square mouth, a snarl, pushing her head forward and curling back her lips.
Be thankful its only lunch, said Gerald. When I first met the guy, I asked him for the weekend.
He refused? Sarah said it as if she were talking of someone turning down a free round-the-world cruise.
No, he didn't refuse. I wrote to him, asked him for lunch, and said he could stay at the hotel.
Everyone laughed except Ursula.
He's got a wife he's bringing.
Oh, God, Daddy, is there more? He hasn't got kids, has he?
If he has, they're not invited. Gerald smiled sweetly at his daughters. He said thoughtfully, We might play the Game.
With them? Oh, do lets, said Hope, We haven't played the Game for ages.

Titus and Julia Romney were much honored by an invitation from Gerald Candless, and if they had expected to be put up in the house and not have to pay for a room at the Dunes, they hadn't said so, not even to each other. Julia had anticipated eccentricity from someone so distinguished, even rudeness, and she was pleasantly surprised to encounter a genial host, a gracious, if rather silent, hostess, and two good-looking young women who turned out to be the daughters.

Titus, who had his naive side, as she well knew, was hoping for a look at the room where the work was done. And perhaps a present. Not a first edition, that would be expecting too much, but any book signed by the author. Conversation on literary matters, how he wrote, when he wrote, and even, now the daughters had appeared, what it was like to be his child.

It was a hot, sunny day in July, a few days before the start of the high season at the hotel, or they wouldn't have gotten a room. Lunch was in a darkish, cool dining room with no view of the sea. Far from discussing books, the Candless's talked about the weather, summer visitors, the beach, and Miss Batty, who was coming to clear the table and wash up. Gerald said Miss Batty wasn't much of a cleaner but that they kept her because her name made him laugh. There was another Miss Batty and a Mrs. Batty, and they all lived together in a cottage in Croyde. Sounds like a new card game, Unhappy Families, he said, and then he laughed and the daughters laughed.

In the drawing room -- so he called it -- the French windows were open onto the garden, the pink and blue hydrangea, the cliff edge, the long bow-shaped beach and the sea. Julia asked what the island was and Sarah said Lundy, but she said it in such a way as to imply only a total ignoramus would ask. Coffee was brought by someone who must have been Miss Batty and drinks were poured by Hope. Gerald and Titus drank port, Julia had a refill of the Meursault, and Sarah and Hope both had brandy. Sarah's brandy was neat, but Hope's had ice in it.

Then Gerald made the sort of announcement Julia hated, really hated. She didn't think people actually did this anymore, not in this day and age, not grown-ups. Not intellectuals.
And now we'll play the Game, Gerald had said. Let's see how clever you are.
Would it be wonderful to find someone who caught on at once, Daddy? said Hope. Or would we hate it?
We'd hate it, said Sarah, and she planted on Gerald's cheek on of those kisses that the Romney's found mildly embarrassing to witness.
He caught at her hand briefly. It never happens though, does it?
Julia met Ursula's eye and must have put inquiry into her glance. Or simply fear.
Oh, I shan't play, Ursula said. I shall go out for my walk.
In this heat?
I like it. I always walk along the beach in the afternoons.
Titus, who also disliked parlor games, asked what this one was called. Not this Unhappy Families you were talking about?
Its called I Pass the Scissors, said Sarah.
What do we have to do?
You have to do it right. That's all.
You mean we all have to do something and there's a right way and a wrong way of doing it?
She nodded.
How will we know?

The scissors were produced by Hope from a drawer in the tallboy. Once kitchen scissors had been used for the Game, or Ursula's sewing scissors or nail scissors, whatever came to hand. But the Game and the ascendancy it gave then afforded so much pleasure that, while his daughters still lived at home, Gerald had bought a pair of Victorian scissors with handles like a silver bird in flight and sharp pointed blades. It was these that Hope now handed to her father for him to begin.

Leaning forward in his armchair, his feet planted far apart, his back to the light, Gerald opened the scissors so that they formed a cross. He smiled. He was a big man, with a head journalists called leonine, though the lion was old now, with a grizzled, curly mane the color of iron filings. His hands were big and his fingers very long. He handed the scissors to Julia Romney and said, I pass the scissors uncrossed.

No, you don't. Hope closed the scissors, turned them over, and put them into the outstretched fingers of Titus Romney. I pass the scissors uncrossed.
Titus did the same and handed them to Sarah, saying with a glance at Gerald that he passed the scissors crossed.
Wrong. Sarah opened the scissors, held them by one blade, and passed them to her father. I pass the scissors crossed, Dad.
He closed them, turned them over twice clockwise, and passed them to Julia. I pass the scissors uncrossed.
Dawning comprehension, or what she thought was dawning comprehension, broke on Julia's face. She sat upright and turned the scissors over twice counterclockwise, handed them to Hope, and said she passed the scissors crossed.
Well, well, said Hope. But do you know why?
Julia didn't. She had guessed. But they're crossed when they're closed, aren't they?
Are they? You have to pass them crossed and know why, and everyone has to see. Look, when you know, its as clear as glass. I promise you. Hope opened the scissors. I pass the scissors crossed.
So they continued for half an hour. Titus Romney asked if anyone ever got it, and Gerald said yes, of course, it was just that no one ever got it at once. Jonathan Arthur had gotten it the second time. Impressed by the name of the winner of both the John Llewelyn Rhys and the Somerset Maugham prizes, Titus said he was really going to concentrate from now on. Sarah said she wanted another brandy and what about everyone else.
Another port, Dad?
I don't think so, darling. It gives me a headache. But you can give Titus one.
Sarah replenished the drinks, then sat down again this time on the arm of her fathers chair. I pass the scissors uncrossed.
But why? Julia Romney was beginning to sound irritated. She had gone rather red. Signs of participants beginning to lose their tempers always amused the Candless's who now looked gleeful and expectant. I mean, how can it be? The scissors are just the same as when you passed them crossed just now.
I told you it was unlikely you'd get it the first time, said Hope, and she yawned. I pass the scissors crossed.
You always pass them crossed!
Do I? Right, I'll pass them uncrossed next time.

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Three Novels

A Trilogy
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