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Haggard’s penultimate novel! His cousin Algernon was different indeed. To begin with, his attire was faultless, made by the best tailor in London and apparently put on new that moment. Within this perfect outer casing was a short, pale-eyed, lack-lustre young man with straight, sandy hair and no eyebrows, one whose hectic flush and moist hands betrayed the mortal ailment with which he was stricken, a poor, commonplace lad who, loving the world and thirsting for its pleasures, was yet doomed to bid it and them an early farewell.
418 pages, with a reading time of ~6.5 hours (104,549 words), and first published in 1929. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2016.
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“I think, Clara, that your cousin Andrew is a damned young fool. You must excuse the language, but on the whole I consider him the damnedest young fool with whom I ever had to do.”
Thus in cold and deliberate tones did Lord Atterton express himself concerning Andrew West, the only son of his deceased brother. Clara Maunsell, his sister’s child who was also an orphan, studied her uncle for a while before she answered, which there was no need for her to do at once as he was busy lighting a cigar. An observant onlooker might have thought that she was thinking things out and making up her mind what line to take about the said Andrew West.
These two, uncle and niece, presented a somewhat curious contrast there on that September day in the richly furnished but yet uncomfortable library of Lord Atterton’s great house in Cavendish Square. He was a medium-sized, stout man of about sixty-eight years of age. His big, well-shaped head resembled that of a tonsured monk, inasmuch as it was completely bald save for an encircling fringe of white hair. His face was clean-cut and able, with rather a long nose and a fierce, determined mouth remarkable for the thinness of the lips and absence of any curves. There was much character in that mouth; indeed, his whole aspect gave an impression of cold force. “Successful man” was written all over him.
The niece was a young lady of about four-and-twenty, of whom at first sight one would instinctively say, “How pretty she is, and how neat!”
In fact, she was both. Small in build but perfectly proportioned, fair in complexion with just the right amount of colour, with crisp auburn hair carefully dressed, and steady, innocent-looking blue eyes, a well-formed mouth and a straight little nose, she was the very embodiment of prettiness as distinguished from beauty, while in neatness none could surpass her. Her quiet-coloured dress suited her to perfection, no one had ever seen that auburn coiffure disordered even in a gale of wind, her boots and gloves were marvels of their sort, and even the pearl drops on the necklace she wore seemed to arrange themselves with a mathematical exactitude. “Little Tidy” they had called her in the nursery, and “Clever Clara” at school, and now that she was grown up these attributes continued to distinguish her.
In a way there was about her more than a hint of her uncle, Lord Atterton. Between a young lady and this old man, especially as the one might be said to represent decorated ice-cream and the other something very much on the boil, there could be no real resemblance. And yet the set of their mouths and the air of general ability common to both of them, did give them a certain similitude, due no doubt to affinity of blood.
Lord Atterton finished lighting his cigar, very much on one side, and Clara finished her reflections, which apparently urged her to a course of non-committal.
“Andrew,” she said in her light, pleasant and evenly balanced voice, “is just Andrew and there is no one else quite like him.”
“Why not say that an ass is just an ass and that there is no other ass quite so much an ass?” snapped her uncle, biting heavily at the end of the cigar.
“Because, Uncle, I do not consider that Andrew is an ass. I think, on the contrary, that he has in him the makings of a very clever man.”
“Clever! Do you call it clever for an inexperienced young fellow to take up all these Radical, not to say Socialistic ideas which, if ever they are put into practice,–thank God, that will not be in my time!–would utterly destroy the class to which he belongs? Has it ever occurred to you, Clara, that your cousin Algernon is my only child and that his lungs are very delicate? If anything happened to him,” he added with a twitch of the face, “Andrew must succeed to the title?”
She nodded her head.
“Naturally that has occurred to me, Uncle, but I see no reason to suppose that anything of the sort will happen. The doctors say they are sure this new treatment will succeed. Also, Algernon might marry and leave children.”
“The doctors! I have no faith in doctors and I know our family weakness. Look at me, the last of five, all of them taken off with something to do with the lungs. As for marrying, Algernon will never marry. Also, if he did, he would have no children. I believe that one day that mad hatter of a fellow, Andrew, will be Lord Atterton,” he said with emphasis, and, turning, threw the ruined cigar into the fire which burned upon the hearth although the day was mild.
“It’s a hard thing,” he went on with a kind of choke in the throat, “to be successful in everything else–make a large fortune, come into a title and the rest–and yet not to have a healthy son to inherit it all. And if Algernon goes–oh! if he goes—-!”