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A Prayer for my Son by Hugh Walpole

A Prayer for my Son


subjects: Fiction

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This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70 or less.


My homeward course led up a long ascent, Where the road’s watery surface, to the top Of that sharp rising, glittered to the moon And bore the semblance of another stream Stealing with silent lapse to join the brook That murmured in the vale. All else was still: No living thing appeared in earth or air, And, save the flowing water’s peaceful voice, Sound there was none–but lo! an uncouth shape…

370 pages with a reading time of ~5.75 hours (92637 words), and first published in 1936. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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This moment of anticipation was the worst of her life–never before had she been so utterly alone.

Her loneliness now was emphasized by the strange dead-white glow that seemed to bathe her room. She had just switched off the electric light, and the curtains were not drawn upon the long gaunt windows. Although it was after five on that winter afternoon, the light of the snow still illuminated the scene. Beyond the windows a broad field ran slowly up to a thin bare hedge; above the hedge, the fell, thick in snow, mounted to a grey sky which lay like one shadow upon another against the lower flanks of Blencathra.

Rose had learnt the name of this mountain from the first instant of her arrival at the Keswick station. She had not known whether she would be met or not, and she had asked a porter whether he knew of Scarfe Hall. He knew of it well enough. It lay near the Sanatorium right under Saddleback. And then, because she was obviously a stranger, and he unlike many of his countrymen was loquacious, he explained to her that Saddleback was the common name for Blencathra. ‘What a pity,’ she murmured. ‘Blencathra is much finer.’ But he was not interested in that. He found the motor-car from the Hall and soon she was moving downhill from the station, turning sharply to the left by the river, and so to her destination.

She had had tea alone with Janet Fawcus in the drawing-room downstairs; such a strange, old-fashioned, overcrowded room, with photographs in silver frames and a large oil painting over the marble fireplace of Humphrey’s father. So odd, Rose thought, to have so large a painting of yourself so prominently displayed. She had seen before, of course, photographs of Humphrey’s father and had always liked the kindliness, the good-humour in his round chubby face, the beautiful purity of his white hair, his broad manly shoulders, but this oil painting, made obviously a number of years ago, gave him a kind of dignified splendour. She had always thought him like Mr. Pickwick, but now he was a Mr. Pickwick raised to a degree of authority that yet had not robbed him of his geniality.

So she and Janet Fawcus had shared an embarrassed tea. It was no surprise to her to discover in Janet the perfect spinster–that is, a woman of middle age whose certainty that virginity is a triumph is mingled with an everlasting disappointment. Janet was dressed in the hard and serviceable tweeds of the English dweller in the country. She talked to Rose with all the kindliness of a hostess and the patronage of a successful headmistress. Rose saw at once that Janet had always hated her and that meeting her had not weakened that emotion.

However, she had expected this, counted on it, in fact, and she sat now in this old curiosity shop of a drawing-room, the heavy, dark, ancient curtains drawn against the snow, brightly and falsely amiable about Geneva and the League of Nations and the selfishness of France, and what a pity it was that despotism was beginning to rule the world. It was explained to her that young John was out with his tutor skating on some pond towards St. John’s in the Vale and that Colonel Fawcus himself was at a meeting in Keswick about pylons, and that was why Janet must do the honours alone. ‘But, of course,’ Janet said, ‘you will see John when he comes in. He is so excited about your coming.’ In that last sentence Rose knew there was something sinister; that immaculate tweed-clad virgin would not give an inch. ‘But then,’ Rose thought, ‘I have no intention of asking her. I have not come here to fight. There is no battle in the air. John’s grandfather has invited me out of kindness and generosity. There was nothing in the signed agreement which compelled him to do this. It has been simply warm-hearted kindness on his part. I am not here to fight. I am not here to get my son back. I am not here to win his affection away from anyone else. He is not mine. I surrendered him deliberately, fully knowing what I was about. I am not here for any contest of any kind with this unagreeable, tiresome, self-satisfied prig of an Englishwoman.’ But as she smiled and said that, yes, she would have another cup of tea, and how good it was after a long cold journey–she was forced to repeat to herself: ‘I am not a mother. I surrendered John not only because it would be for his good, and because he would be given so many many things I could never give him, but also because I was not meant to be a mother. There were other things that I could do better. I am not maternal. I am a modern woman of my time. I do not wish to be hampered with a child. I have things I want to do for my generation and civilization and, although it is true that I am now thirty years of age and have done as yet very little for anybody, there is still plenty of time.