Major Wilbraham by Hugh Walpole

Major Wilbraham

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subjects: Short Stories

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Description

Wilbraham was obviously a sentimentalist and an enthusiast; there was the extraordinary case shortly after I first met him of his championship of X., a man who had been caught card-sharping and received a year’s imprisonment for it. On X. leaving prison, Wilbraham championed and defended him, put him up for months in his rooms in Duke Street, walked as often as possible in his company down Piccadilly, and took him over to Paris. It says a great deal for Wilbraham’s accepted normality, and his general popularity, that this championship of X. did him no harm. Some men, it is true, did murmur something about ‘birds of a feather,’ and one or two kind friends warned Wilbraham in the way kind friends have.


22 pages, with a reading time of ~0.5 hours (5,563 words), and first published in 1928. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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Excerpt

I am quite aware that in giving you this story, just as I was told it, I shall incur the charge of downright and deliberate lying.

Especially I shall be told this by any one who knew Wilbraham personally. Wilbraham was not, of course, his real name, but I think that there are certain people who will recognize him from the description of him. I do not know that it matters very much if they do. Wilbraham himself would certainly not mind did he know. (Does he know?) It was the thing, above all, that he wanted those last hours before he died: that I should pass on my conviction of the truth of what he told me to others. What he did not know was that I was not convinced. How could I be? But when the whole comfort of his last hours hung on the simple fact that I was, of course I pretended to the best of my poor ability. I would have done more than that to make him happy.

Most men are conscious at some time in their lives of having felt for a member of their own sex an emotion that is something more than simple companionship. It is a queer feeling quite unlike any other in life, distinctly romantic, and the more so, perhaps, for having no sex feeling in it.

Wilbraham roused just that feeling in me I remember, with the utmost distinctness, at my first meeting with him. It was just after the Boer War, and old Johnny Beaminster gave a dinner-party to some men pals of his at the Phoenix.

There were about fifteen of us, and Wilbraham was the only man present I’d never seen before. He was only a captain then, and neither so red-faced nor so stout as he afterwards became. He was pretty bulky, though, even then, and, with his sandy hair cropped close, his staring blue eyes, his toothbrush moustache, and sharp, alert movements, looked the typical traditional British officer.

There was nothing at all to distinguish him from a thousand other officers of his kind, and yet, from the moment I saw him, I had some especial and personal feeling about him. He was not in type at all the man to whom at that time I should have felt drawn, but the fact remains that I wanted to know him more than any other man in the room, and, although I only exchanged a few words with him that night, I thought of him for quite a long time afterwards.

It did not follow from this, as it ought to have done, that we became great friends. That we never were, although it was myself whom he sent for, three days before his death, to tell me his queer little story. It was then, at the very last, that he confided to me that he, too, had felt something at our first meeting “different” from what one generally feels, that he had always wanted to turn our acquaintance into friendship and had been too shy. I also was shy–and so we missed one another, as I suppose, in this funny, constrained-traditional country of ours, thousands of people miss one another every day.

But although I did not see him very often, and was in no way intimate with him, I kept my ears open for any account of his doings. From one point of view–the club window outlook–he was a very usual figure, one of those stout, rubicund, jolly men, a good polo player, a good man in a house-party, genial-natured, and none-too-brilliantly brained, whom every one liked and no one thought about. All this he was on one side of the report, but, on the other, there were certain stories that were something more than ordinary.

Wilbraham was obviously a sentimentalist and an enthusiast; there was the extraordinary case shortly after I first met him of his championship of X., a man who had been caught card-sharping and received a year’s imprisonment for it. On X. leaving prison, Wilbraham championed and defended him, put him up for months in his rooms in Duke Street, walked as often as possible in his company down Piccadilly, and took him over to Paris. It says a great deal for Wilbraham’s accepted normality, and his general popularity, that this championship of X. did him no harm. Some men, it is true, did murmur something about “birds of a feather,” and one or two kind friends warned Wilbraham in the way kind friends have, and to them he simply said:

“If a feller’s a pal he’s a pal.”

There followed a year or two later the much more celebrated business of Lady C. I need not go into all that now, but here again Wilbraham constituted himself her defender, although she robbed, cheated, and maligned him as she robbed, cheated, and maligned every one who was good to her. It was quite obvious that he was not in love with her; the obviousness of it was one of the things in him that annoyed her. He simply felt, apparently, that she had been badly treated–the very last thing she had been–gave her any money he had, put his rooms at the disposal of herself and her friends, and, as I have said, championed her everywhere.