The Lonely Unicorn: A Novel

The Lonely Unicorn: A Novel

Author:
Alec Waugh
Author:
Alec Waugh
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Waugh, Alec, 1898-1981
Bildungsromans
Young men — Fiction
Man-woman relationships — Fiction
Businessmen — Fiction
England — Social life and customs — 20th century — Fiction
Boarding schools — England — Fiction
The Lonely Unicorn: A Novel

THE LONELY UNICORN

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

  • FICTION
  • THE LOOM OF YOUTH
  • PLEASURE
  • STUDIES
  • THE PRISONERS OF MAINZ
  • PUBLIC SCHOOL LIFE
  • [In September
  • VERSE
  • RESENTMENT: POEMS
  • [Out of Print

THE
LONELY UNICORN

A NOVEL
BY
ALEC WAUGH
AUTHOR OF “THE LOOM OF YOUTH”

LONDON
GRANT RICHARDS LTD.
ST MARTIN’S STREET
MDCCCCXXII

Printed in Great Britain by the Riverside Press Limited
Edinburgh

TO MY FRIEND
CLIFFORD BAX

CONTENTS

PART I.—THE OPENING ROUND
CHAPTER PAGE
I. TWO HAPHAZARDS 11
II. THE OUTCOME 20
III. RALPH AND APRIL 27
IV. A KISS 37
V. A POTENTIAL DIPLOMAT 45
VI. APRIL’S LOOKING-GLASS 58
VII. A SORRY BUSINESS 65
PART II.—THE RIVAL FORCES
VIII. A FORTUNATE MEETING 93
IX. HOGSTEAD 105
X. YOUNG LOVE 117
XI. THE ROMANCE OF VARNISH 137
XII. MARSTON & MARSTON 150
XIII. LILITH OF OLD 157
XIV. THE TWO CURRENTS 175
PART III.—THE FIRST ENCOUNTERS
XV. SUCCESS 187
XVI. LILITH AND MURIEL 217
PART IV.—ONE WAY OR ANOTHER
XVII. THREE YEARS 225
XVIII. THREE DAYS 232
XIX. THE LONELY UNICORN 253
XX. THERE’S ROSEMARY 269
XXI. THE SHREDDING OF THE CHRYSALIS 276
XXII. AN END AND A BEGINNING 292

PART I

THE OPENING ROUND


 
 

CHAPTER I

TWO HAPHAZARDS
It began, I suppose, on a certain September afternoon, when Roland Whately travelled back to school by the three-thirty train from Waterloo. There were two afternoon trains to Fernhurst: one left London at three-thirty and arrived at a quarter to six; the other left at four-eighteen, stopped at every station between Basingstoke and Salisbury, waited twenty-five minutes at Templecombe for a connection, and finally reached Fernhurst at eight-twenty-three. It is needless to state that by far the greater part of the school travelled down by the four-eighteen—who for the sake of a fast train and a comfortable journey would surrender forty-eight minutes of his holidays?—and usually, of course, Roland accompanied the many.
This term, however, the advantages of the fast train were considerable. He was particularly anxious to have the corner bed in his dormitory. There was a bracket above it where he could place a candle, by the light of which he would be able to learn his rep. after “lights out.” If he were not there first someone else would be sure to collar it. And then there was the new study at the end of the passage; he wanted to get fresh curtains and probably a gas mantle: when once the school was back it was impossible, for at least a week, to persuade Charlie, the school custos, to attend to an odd job like that. And so he travelled back by a train that contained, of the three hundred boys who were on the Fernhurst roll, only a dozen fags and three timid Sixth-Formers who had distrusted the animal spirits of certain powerful and irreverent Fifth-Formers. On the first day, as on the last, privilege counts for little, and it is unpleasant to pass four hours under the seat of a dusty railway carriage.
It was the first time that Roland had been able to spend the first evening of a term in complete leisure. He walked quietly up to the house, went down to the matron’s room and consulted the study and dormitory lists. He found that he was on the Sixth-Form table, had been given the study for which he had applied, and was in the right dormitory. He bagged the bed he wanted, and took his health certificate round to the Chief’s study.
“Ah, Whately, this is very early. Had a good holiday?”
“Yes, thank you, sir.”
“Feeling ready for football? They tell me you’ve an excellent chance of getting into the XV.?”
“I hope so, sir.”
He went over to the studies and inspected the gas fittings. Yes, he would certainly need a new mantle, and he must try to see if Charlie couldn’t fit him up with a new curtain. After a brief deliberation Charles decided that he could; a half-crown changed hands, and as Roland strolled back from the lodge the Abbey clock struck half-past six. Over two hours to prayers. He had done all his jobs, and there didn’t seem to be a soul in the place. He began to wonder whether, after all, it had been worth his while to catch that early train: it had been a dull journey, two hours in the company of three frightened fags, outhouse fellows whom he didn’t know, and who had huddled away in a corner of the carriage and talked in whispers. If, on the other hand, he had waited for the four-eighteen he would at that moment be sitting with five or six first-class fellows, talking of last year’s rags, of the new prefects, and the probable composition of the XV. He would be much happier there. And as for the dormitory and study, well, he’d have probably been able to manage if he had hurried from the station. He had done so a good many times before. Altogether he had made a bit of an ass of himself. An impetuous fool, that was what he was.

And for want of anything better to do, he mouched down to Ruffer’s, the unofficial tuck-shop. There was no one he knew in the front of the shop, so he walked into the inside room and found, sitting in a far corner, eating an ice, Howard, one of the senior men in Morgan’s.
“Hullo!” he said. “So you’ve been ass enough to come down by the early train as well?”
“Yes, I was coming up from Cornwall, and it’s the only way I could make the trains fit in. A bad business. There’s nothing to do but eat: come and join me in an ice.”
Howard was only a very casual acquaintance; he was no use at games; he had never been in the same form as Roland, and fellows in the School house usually kept pretty much to themselves. They had only met in groups outside the chapel, or at roll-call, or before a lecture. It was probably the first time they had ever been alone together.
“Right you are!” said Roland. “Mr Ruffer, bring me a large strawberry ice and a cup of coffee.”
But the ice did not last long, and they were soon strolling up the High Street, with time heavy on their hands. Conversation flagged; they had very little in common.
“I know,” said Howard. “Let’s go down to the castle grounds; they’ll probably have a band, and we can watch the dancing.”
Half-way between the station and the school, opposite the Eversham Hotel, where parents stopped for “commem” and confirmation, was a public garden with a band-stand and well-kept lawns, and here on warm summer evenings dances would promote and encourage the rustic courtships of the youthful townsfolk. During the term these grounds were strictly out of bounds to the school; but on the first night rules did not exist, and besides, no one was likely to recognise them in the bowler hats and coloured ties that would have to be put away that night in favour of black poplin and broad white straw.

It was a warm night, and they leaned against the railing watching the girls in their light print dresses waltz in the clumsy arms of their selected.
“Looks awfully jolly,” said Howard. “They don’t have a bad time, those fellows. There are one or two rippingly pretty girls.”
“And look at the fellows they’re dancing with. I can’t think how they can stand it. Now look there, at that couple by the stand. She’s a really pretty girl, while her man is pimply, with a scraggy moustache and sweating forehead, and yet look how she’s leaning over his shoulder; think of her being kissed by that.”
“I suppose there’s something about him.”
“I suppose so.”
There was a pause: Roland wished that difference of training and position did not hold them from the revel.
“By Jove!” said Roland, “it would be awful fun to join them.”
“Well, I dare you to.”
“Dare say you do. I’m not having any. I don’t run risks in a place where I’m known.”
As a matter of fact, Roland did not run risks anywhere, but he wanted Howard to think him something of a Don Juan. One is always ashamed of innocence, and Howard was one of those fellows who naturally bring out the worst side of their companions. His boisterous, assertive confidence was practically a challenge, and Roland did not enjoy the rôle of listener and disciple, especially as Howard was, by the school standards, socially his inferior.
At that moment two girls strolled past, turned, and giggled over their shoulders.
“Do you see that?” said Roland.
“What about it?”
“Well, I mean….”
The girls were coming back, and suddenly, to Roland’s surprise, embarrassment and annoyance, Howard walked forward and raised his hat.
“Lonely?” he said.
“Same as you.”

“Like a walk, then?”
“All right, if your friend’s not too shy.”
And before Roland could make any protest he was walking, tongue-tied and helpless, on the arm of a full-blown shop-girl.
“Well, you’re a cheerful sort of chap, aren’t you?” she said at last.
“Sorry, but you see I wasn’t expecting you!”
“Oh, she didn’t turn up, I suppose?”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Oh, get along, I know you; you’re all the same. Why, I was talking to a boy last week….”
To save her the indignity of a confession, Roland suggested that they should dance.
“All right, only don’t hold me too tight—sister’s looking.”
There was no need to talk while they were dancing, and he was glad to be able to collect his thoughts. It was an awkward business. She wasn’t on the whole a bad-looking girl; she was certainly too plump, but she had a nice smile and pretty hair; and he felt no end of a dog. But it was impossible to become romantic, for she giggled every time he tried to hold her a little closer, and once when his cheek brushed accidentally against hers she gave him a great push, and shouted, “Now then, naughty!” to the intense amusement of another couple. Still, he enjoyed dancing with her. It would be something to tell the fellows afterwards. They would be sitting in the big study. Gradually the talk would drift round to girls. He would sit in silence while the others would relate invented escapades, prefaced by, “My brother told me,” or, “I saw in a French novel.” He would wait for the lull, then himself would let fall—oh! so gently—into the conversation, “a girl that I danced with in the castle grounds….”
The final crash of the band recalled him to the requirements of the moment, and the need for conversation. They sat on a seat and discussed the weather, the suitability of grass as a dancing floor, the superiority of a band over a piano. He introduced subject after subject, bringing them up one after another, like the successive waves of infantry in an attack. It was not a success. The first bars of a waltz were a great relief.
He jumped up and offered her his arm.
“From the school, aren’t you?” she said.
“How did you guess?” he asked. She answered him with a giggle.
It was a blow, admittedly a blow. He had not imagined himself a shining success, but he had not thought that he was giving himself away quite as badly as that. They got on a great deal better though after it. They knew where they were, and he found her a very jolly girl, a simple creature, whose one idea was to be admired and to enjoy herself, an ambition not so very different from Roland’s. It was her sense of humour that beat him: she giggled most of the time; why he could not understand. It was annoying, because everyone stared at them, and Roland hated to be conspicuous. He was prepared to enjoy the illusion but not the reality in public. He was not therefore very sorry when the Abbey clock warned him that in a few minutes the four-eighteen would have arrived and that the best place for him was the School house dining-room.
On the way back he met Howard.
“I say, you rather let me in for it, you know,” he said.
“Oh, rot, my dear chap; but even if I did, I’ll bet you enjoyed yourself all right.”
“Perhaps I did. But that makes no difference. After all, you didn’t know I was going to. I’d never seen the girl before.”
“But one never has on these occasions, has one? One’s got to trust to luck: you know that as well as I do.”
“Of course, of course, but still….”
They argued it out till they reached the cloisters leading to the School house studies, exchanged there a cheery good-night and went their way. Five minutes later the four-eighteen was in; the study passages were filled with shouts; Roland was running up and down stairs, greeting his old friends. The incident was closed, and in the normal course of things it would never have been reopened.
That it was reopened was due entirely, if indirectly, to Roland’s laziness on a wet Sunday afternoon, half way through October. It was a really wet afternoon, the sort of afternoon when there is nothing to be done but to pack one’s study full of really good chaps and get up a decent fug. Any small boy can be persuaded, with the aid of a shilling, to brew some tea, and there are few things better than to sit in the window-seat and watch the gravel courts turn to an enormous lake. Roland was peculiarly aware of the charm of an afternoon so spent as he walked across to his study after lunch, disquieted by the knowledge that his football boots wanted restudding and that the night before he had vowed solemnly that he would take them down to the professional before tea. It would be fatal to leave them any longer, and he knew it. The ground on Saturday had been too wet for football, and the whole house had gone for a run, during which Roland had worn down one of his studs on the hard roads, and driven a nail that uncomfortable hundredth of an inch through the sole of his boot. If he wore those boots again before they had been mended that hundredth of an inch would become a tenth of an inch, and make no small part of a crater in his foot. It was obviously up to him to put on a mackintosh and go down to the field at once. There was no room for argument, and Roland knew it, but….
It was very pleasant and warm inside the study and damnably unpleasant anywhere else. If only he were a prefect, and had a fag, how simple his life would become. His shoes would be cleaned for him, his shaving water would be boiled in the morning, his books would be carried down to his classroom, and on this rain-drenched afternoon he would only have to put his head outside the study door and yell “Fag!” and it would be settled. But he was not a prefect, and he had no fag. It was no use growling about it. He would have to go, of course he would have to go, then added as a corollary—yes, certainly, at three o’clock. By that time the weather might have cleared up.
But it had not cleared up by three o’clock, and Roland had become hopelessly intrigued by a novel by Wilkie Collins, called The Moonstone. He had just reached the place where Sergeant Cuff looks up at Rachel’s window and whistles The Last Rose of Summer. He could not desert Sergeant Cuff at such a point for a pair of football boots, and at three o’clock, with the whole afternoon before him. At half-past there would be tons of time. But by half-past three it was raining in the true Fernhurst manner, fierce, driving rain that whipped across the courts, heavy gusts of wind that shrieked down the cloisters. Impossible weather, absolutely impossible weather. No one but a fool would go out in it. He would wait till four, it was certain to have stopped a bit by then.
And by four o’clock it certainly was raining a good deal less, but by four o’clock some eight persons had assembled in the study and a most exciting discussion was in progress. Someone from Morgan’s had started a rumour to the effect that Fitzgerald, the vice-captain of the XV., was going to be dropped out of the side for the Tonwich match and his place given to Feversham, a reserve centre from James’s. It was a startling piece of news, that had to be discussed from every point of view.
First of all, would the side be improved? A doubtful matter. Fitzgerald had certainly been out of form this season, and he had played miserably in the last two matches, but he had experience; he would not be likely to lose his head in a big game, and Feversham, well, it would be his first school match. Altogether a doubtful issue, and, granted even that Feversham was better than Fitzgerald, would it be worth while in the long run to leave out the vice-captain and head of Buxton’s? Would it be doing a good service to Fernhurst football? Buxton’s was the athletic house; it had six school colours. The prestige of Fernhurst depended a good deal on the prestige of Buxton’s. Surely the prestige of Buxton’s was more important than a problematic improvement in the three-quarter line.
They argued it out for a quarter of an hour and then, just when the last point had been brought forward, and Roland had begun to feel that he was left with no possible excuse for not going down to the field, the tea arrived; and after that what chance did he stand? By the time tea was over it was nearly five o’clock. Choir practice would have started in a quarter of an hour: if he wanted to, he could not have gone down then. A bad business. But it had been a pleasant afternoon; it was raining like blazes still; very likely the ground would be again too wet for play to-morrow, and he would cut the walk and get his boots mended. No doubt things would pan out all right.
Things, however, did not on this occasion adapt themselves to Roland’s wishes. The rain stopped shortly after eight o’clock; a violent wind shrieked all night along the cloisters; next morning the violent wind was accompanied by bright sunshine; by half-past two the ground was almost dry. Roland played in his unstudded boots, and, as he had expected, the projecting hundredth of an inch sank deeply into his toe. Three days later he was sent up to the sanatorium with a poisoned foot.
And in the sanatorium he found himself in the same ward and alone with Howard, who was recovering from an attack of “flu” that had been incorrectly diagnosed as measles.
It was the first time they had met since the first evening of the term.


CHAPTER II

THE OUTCOME
When two people are left alone together all day, with no amusement except their own conversation, they naturally become intimate, and as the episode of the dance was the only bond of interest between Howard and Roland they

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