A novel of Spring and Fall, of old love and young, of London and an ancient house about to die. When Fred Delaney wished his lodger, Patrick Munden, revolutionary poet, a Happy New Year, it was with a fervor that echoed the wish for himself because the year held little promise. True, he had his own cheerful family with him under one roof, but what would they do if the house had to go finally, after one hundred and fifty years? What of Meg, his buoyant wife; and of Kitty, their beautiful daughter; or Bullock, their novel-writing son who picked up cigarette money by writing for Punch? The story of what did happen to the Delaneys that year and to the roomers who lived on the second, third, and fourth floors, is a picture of the past, present, and future. One of Walpole’s warmest and most human stories.
484 pages, with a reading time of ~7.5 hours (121,116 words), and first published in 1938. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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‘Happy New Year!’ Fred Delaney said, standing in the doorway and smiling at the in-no-way beautiful person of Mr. Munden.
He had switched on the electric light, and the illumination revealed Patrick Munden lying half in, half out of the bedclothes. No, he was not beautiful, his thin pointed face unshaven, his black hair spread about the pillow, his lean body protected from the cold by pyjamas, grey with blood-red stripes, by no means so fresh as they should be. The light pressed on Munden’s eyes and he opened them, stared wildly about him, then, cursing, buried his face in the pillow.
‘Happy New Year!’ Delaney said again.
‘What the hell–’
‘Eight-thirty. You asked me as a special favour to call you.’
Munden raised his head and stared at Delaney. It was not a bad- looking face. The blue eyes were good, the forehead broad and clear, the chin finely pointed. He looked clever and peevish and hungry. He stretched himself, his open pyjama jacket showing a chest skeletonic and hairy. He rubbed his eyes with a hairy wrist.
‘Oh, it’s you, is it? Let me sleep, can’t you?’
Delaney watched him with genial good temper.
‘I’m doing you a favour. You said last night it would be the greatest of your life. You have to see the editor of something or other at ten sharp.’
‘He can go to hell. Turn the light off and let me sleep.’
‘You said I was to drag you out of bed if necessary–that your whole life depended on your getting there at ten.’
‘Well, it doesn’t. Let me sleep, can’t you?’
‘All right. But I’ll leave the light on … ‘
‘No, don’t go.’ Munden sat up, blinking. ‘How damnably fresh you look! It’s revolting. You were up till three, I don’t doubt–’
‘I was,’ Delaney said cheerfully. ‘I don’t need a lot of sleep.’
‘Well, I do…. Oh, blast! Why did I ever tell you anything about it?’
‘You were very serious. Most earnest. You said you must begin the New Year properly.’
‘Speaking of which, can you lend me a fiver?’ Munden asked. ‘Only for a week.’
‘Afraid I haven’t got such a thing,’ Delaney said, laughing.
‘Hang it all, I paid you the rent only a week ago–’
‘Thanks very much. But those are the terms, you know. If you don’t pay you go. Although we’d hate to lose you.’
‘Look in the trousers, old man, will you? They’re hanging over the chair. See if there’s anything there.’
Delaney looked in the trousers and found half a crown, some coppers, a lipstick and a half-filled packet of cigarettes. He laid these things on the dressing-table.
‘You don’t use lipstick, I hope, Patrick?’
‘No, of course not. What do you think I am? How much is there?’
‘Two and ninepence halfpenny.’
‘I’ll make them advance something on the two articles. You wouldn’t like to buy a Chrysler, would you?’
‘A Chrysler? Whatever for?’
‘It’s a marvellous bargain. Ponsonby’s only had it a year and simply not used it at all. He’d let you have it for one-fifty and I’d get a commission.’
Delaney laughed. ‘We go round in our Morris–just as we always have–same old family, same old Morris.’
Munden looked at him with curiosity. ‘I don’t understand you, Fred. You own this house; every bit of it is let to people who pay their rent. You’re none of you what I’d call extravagant and yet you never have any cash.’ He stared resentfully. He went on: ‘You’re a horrid sight–so cheerful and clean and bright. You’re all like that. I ought to hate the lot of you. So unintellectual too. You never read a book, have horrible bourgeois politics, believe in things, in England, beautiful virginal girls, Dickens, cricket, football…. Oh, God! You’re vile! I don’t know why I go on living here.’
‘You live here, Patrick,’ Delaney said, ‘because you get this room damn cheap, it’s a first-class address, and you like us–you can have breakfast with us if you want to.’
‘I don’t need your charity,’ Munden said. ‘What I really want to know is why you look so disgustingly happy, all of you? What is there to be happy about?’
‘Oh, the usual things. Little things mostly. For instance, I’m hungry and I’m going down to a good breakfast.’
‘No. Wait a minute. I really want to know … ‘
‘Want to know what?’
‘Why you Delaneys are so cheerful and why I don’t hate you for it.’
‘Why should you hate us for being cheerful?’
‘How CAN you be cheerful with the state the world’s in?’
Delaney turned to the door. ‘Here, I’ve really got to go. You’re properly awake now. I’ve done my job. Anyway,’ he went on, ‘the world’s been in a mess plenty of times before and will be again. As a family we’re just like anybody else. I’ve got the hell of a temper, and you should see Meg when I come back at three in the morning, and Kitty can raise the deuce–’
‘Kitty’s a darling,’ Munden said morosely. ‘Whenever I make love to her she laughs.’