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The third volume of Ford Madox Ford’s highly-regarded tetralogy Parade’s End, chronicles the life of Christopher Tietjens, “the last Tory”, a brilliant government statistician from a wealthy landowning family who is serving in the British Army during World War I. The novel opens on Armistice Day and follows the fortunes of Tietjens and Valentine, until their paths finally cross again in post-war London.
272 pages, with a reading time of ~4.25 hours (68,071 words), and first published in 1926. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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Slowly, amidst intolerable noises from, on the one hand, the street and, on the other, from the large and voluminously echoing playground, the depths of the telephone began, for Valentine, to assume an aspect that, years ago, it had used to have–of being a part of the supernatural paraphernalia of inscrutable Destiny.
The telephone, for some ingeniously torturing reason, was in a corner of the great schoolroom without any protection, and, called imperatively, at a moment of considerable suspense, out of the asphalte playground where under her command ranks of girls had stood electrically only just within the margin of control, Valentine with the receiver at her ear was plunged immediately into incomprehensible news uttered by a voice that she seemed half to remember. Right in the middle of a sentence it hit her:
‘…that he ought presumably to be under control, which you mightn’t like!’; after that the noise burst out again and rendered the voice inaudible.
It occurred to her that probably at that minute the whole population of the world needed to be under control; she knew she herself did. But she had no male relative that the verdict could apply to in especial. Her brother? But he was on a minesweeper. In dock at the moment. And now…safe for good! There was also an aged great-uncle that she had never seen. Dean of somewhere…Hereford? Exeter?…Somewhere…Had she just said safe? She was shaken with joy!
She said into the mouthpiece:
‘Valentine Wannop speaking…Physical Instructress at this school, you know.’
She had to present an appearance of sanity…a sane voice at the very least!
The tantalizingly half-remembered voice on the telephone now got in some more incomprehensibilities. It came as if from caverns and as if with exasperated rapidity it exaggerated its s’s with an effect of spitting vehemence.
‘His brothers.s.s got pneumonia, so his mistress.ss.ss even is unavailable to look after…’
The voice disappeared; then it emerged again with:
‘They’re said to be friends now!’
It was drowned then, for a long period in a sea of shrill girls’ voices from the playground, in an ocean of factory-hooters’ ululations, amongst innumerable explosions that trod upon one another’s heels. From where on earth did they get explosives, the population of squalid suburban streets amidst which the school lay? For the matter of that where did they get the spirits to make such an appalling row? Pretty drab people! Inhabiting liver-coloured boxes. Not on the face of it an imperial race.
The sibilating voice on the telephone went on spitting out spitefully that the porter said he had no furniture at all; that he did not appear to recognize the porter…Improbable-sounding pieces of information half-extinguished by the external sounds but uttered in a voice that seemed to mean to give pain by what it said.
Nevertheless it was impossible not to take it gaily. The thing, out there, miles and miles away must have been signed–a few minutes ago. She imagined along an immense line sullen and disgruntled cannon sounding for a last time.
‘I haven’t,’ Valentine Wannop shouted into the mouthpiece, ‘the least idea of what you want or who you are.’
She got back a title…Lady someone or other…It might have been Blastus. She imagined that one of the lady governoresses of the school must be wanting to order something in the way of school sports organized to celebrate the auspicious day. A lady governoress or other was always wanting something done by the School to celebrate something. No doubt the Head who was not wanting in a sense of humour–not absolutely wanting!–had turned this lady of title on to Valentine Wannop after having listened with patience to her for half an hour. The Head had certainly sent out to where in the playground they had all stood breathless, to tell Valentine Wannop that there was someone on the telephone that she–Miss Wanostrocht, the said Head–thought that she, Miss Wannop, ought to listen to…Then Miss Wanostrocht must have been able to distinguish what had been said by the now indistinguishable lady of title. But of course that had been ten minutes ago…Before the maroons or the sirens, whichever it had been, had sounded…’The porter said he had no furniture at all…He did not appear to recognize the porter…Ought presumably to be under control!…Valentine’s mind thus recapitulated the information that she had from Lady (provisionally) Blastus. She imagined now that the Lady must be concerned for the superannuated drill-sergeant the school had had before it had acquired her, Valentine, as physical instructor. She figured to herself the venerable, mumbling gentleman, with several ribbons on a black commissionaire’s tunic. In an almshouse, probably. Placed there by the Governors of the school. Had pawned his furniture, no doubt…
Intense heat possessed Valentine Wannop. She imagined indeed her eyes flashing. Was this the moment?