The irresistible Brandons, their friends, and their servants are full of youthful nonsense and middle-aged folly. People will fall in love with the wrong person, and all are determined to misunderstand each other.
Like Barbara Pym, E. F. Benson, and Jane Austen herself, Angela Thirkell has created a small world of her own in the English countryside. Calf love, village affairs, and literary effort are her nominal subjects; but her real interest is people, at their imperfect best.
Release date: May 1, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Print pages: 384
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In proof of this assertion she laughed very pleasantly. Her son and daughter, who were already eating their breakfast, exchanged pitying glances but said nothing.
‘It doesn’t look like a handwriting that I know,’ said Mrs Brandon, putting her large horn-rimmed spectacles on and turning the letter the right way up. ‘More like a handwriting that I don’t know. The postmark is all smudgy so I can’t see where it comes from.’
‘You might steam it open and see who it’s from,’ said her son Francis, ‘and then shut it up again and guess.’
‘But if I saw who it was from I’d know,’ said Mrs Brandon plaintively. ‘In France and places people write their name and address across the back of the envelope so that you know who it is.’
‘And then you needn’t open it at all if you don’t like them,’ said Francis, ‘though I believe they really only do it to put spies from other places off the scent. I mean if Aunt Sissie wanted to write to you she would put someone else’s name and address on the flap, and then you would open it instead of very rightly putting it straight into the waste-paper basket.’
‘You don’t think it’s from Aunt Sissie, do you?’ said Mrs Brandon. ‘Whenever I get a letter I hope it isn’t from her; but mostly,’ she added, reverting to her original grievance, ‘one knows at once by the handwriting who it’s from.’
‘If it’s Aunt Sissie,’ said her daughter Delia, ‘it will be all about being offended because we haven’t been to see her since Easter.’
‘Well, we couldn’t,’ said Mrs Brandon. ‘Francis hasn’t had a holiday since Easter, and you were abroad and if I go alone she is only annoyed. Besides she is more your aunt than mine. She is no relation of mine at all. That she is a relation of yours you have to thank your father.
Francis and Delia again exchanged glances. It was a habit of their mother’s to make them entirely responsible for any difficulties brought into the family by the late Mr Brandon, saying the words ‘your father’ in a voice that implied a sinister collaboration between that gentleman and the powers of darkness for which her children were somehow to blame. As for Mr Brandon’s merits, which consisted chiefly in having been an uninterested husband and father for some six or seven years and then dying and leaving his widow quite well off, no one thought of them.
‘Well, after all, Mother, Father was as much your father as ours,’ said Francis, who while holding no brief for a parent whom he could barely remember, felt that men must stick together, ‘at least you brought him into the family, and that makes you really responsible for Aunt Sissie. And,’ he hurriedly added, seeing in his mother’s eye what she was about to say, ‘it’s no good your saying Father wouldn’t have liked to hear me speak to you like that, darling, because that’s just what we can’t tell. Can I have some more coffee?’
Mrs Brandon, who had been collecting her forces to take rather belated offence at her son’s remarks, was so delighted to fuss over his coffee that she entirely forgot her husband’s possible views on how young men should address their mothers and saw herself very happily as a still not unattractive woman spoiling a handsome and devoted son. That Francis’s looks were inherited from his father was a fact she chose to ignore, except if his hair was more than usually untidy, when she was apt to say reproachfully, ‘Of course that is your father’s hair, Francis,’ or even more loftily and annoyingly to no one in particular, ‘His father’s hair all over again.’
Peace being restored over the coffee, Mrs Brandon ate her own breakfast and read her letters. Francis and Delia were discussing a plan for a picnic with some friends in the neighbourhood, when their mother interrupted them by remarking defiantly that she had said so.
A small confusion took place.
‘No, no,’ said Mrs Brandon, ‘nothing to do with hard-boiled eggs or cucumber sandwiches. It is your Aunt Sissie.’
By the tone of the word ‘your’ her children realised that they were about to be in disgrace for thinking of picnics at such an hour.
‘Then it was Aunt Sissie,’ said Delia. ‘What is the worst, Mother? Does she want us to go over?’
‘Wait,’ said Mrs Brandon. ‘It isn’t Aunt Sissie. At least not exactly. It is dictated. I will read it to you. And that,’ said Mrs Brandon laying the letter aside, ‘is why I couldn’t tell who it was from. It is written by someone called Ella Morris with Miss in brackets, so as none of the maids are called Morris it must be a new companion.’
‘Heaven help her,’ said Francis, ‘and that isn’t swearing, darling, and I am sure Father would have said it too. Give me the letter or we shall never know what is in it. Delia, the blow has fallen. Ella Morris, Miss, writes at the wish of Miss Brandon to say that she, Miss Brandon, hereinafter to be known as Aunt Sissie, is at a loss to understand why all her relations have forsaken her and she is an ailing old woman and expects us all to come over on Wednesday to lunch or be cut out of her will. Mother, who gets Aunt Sissie’s money if she disinherits us?’
Mrs Brandon said that was not the way to talk.
After half an hour’s detailed consideration of the question the Brandon family left the breakfast table, not that the subject was in any way exhausted, but Rose the parlour-maid had begun to hover in an unnerving and tyrannical way. Francis said he must write some letters, Delia went to do the telephoning which she and her friends found a necessary part of daily life, while Mrs Brandon went into the garden to get fresh flowers, choosing with great cunning the moment when the gardener was having a mysterious second breakfast. Certainly anyone who had met her coming furtively and hurriedly but triumphantly in by the drawing-room window, her arms full of the gardener’s flowers, would entirely have agreed with her own opinion of herself and found her still not unattractive, or possibly felt that a woman with so enchanting an expression could not have been more charming even in her youth. Mrs Brandon herself, in one of her moods of devastating truthfulness, had explained her own appearance as the result of a long and happy widowhood, and as, after a little sincere grief at the loss of a husband to whom she had become quite accustomed, she had had nothing of consequence to trouble her, it is probable that she was right. Her house and garden were pretty, comfortable, and of a manageable size, her servants stayed with her, Francis had been one of those lucky, even-tempered boys that go through school with the goodwill of all, if with no special distinction, and then fallen straight into a good job. As for Delia, she combined unconcealed scorn for her mother with a genuine affection and an honest wish to improve her and bring her up to date. Mrs Brandon thought her daughter a darling, and had gladly given up any attempt at control years ago. The only fault she could find with her children was that they didn’t laugh at the same jokes as she did, but finding that all their friends were equally humourless, she accepted it placidly, seeing herself as a spirit of laughter born out of its time.
But human nature cannot be content on a diet of honey and if there is nothing in one’s life that requires pity, one must invent it; for to go through life unpitied would be an unthinkable loss. Mrs Brandon, quite unconsciously, had made of her uninteresting husband a mild bogey, allowing her friends, especially those who had not known him, to imagine a slightly sinister figure that had cast a becoming shadow over his charming widow’s life. Many of her acquaintances said sympathetically they really could not imagine why she had married such a man. To them Mrs Brandon would reply wistfully that she had not been very happy as a girl and no one else had asked her, thus giving the impression that she had in her innocence seized an opportunity to escape from loveless home to what proved a loveless marriage. The truth, ever so little twisted in the right direction by her ingenious mind, was that Mr Brandon had proposed to her when she was not quite twenty. Being a kind-hearted girl who hated to say no, she had at once fallen in love, because if one’s heart is not otherwise engaged there seems to be nothing else to do. Her parents had made no difficulties, Mr Brandon had made a very handsome will and taken his wife to Stories, his charming early Georgian house at Pomfret Madrigal in the Barchester country. Francis was born before she was twenty-one, a deed which filled her with secret pride, though no one else would have guessed it from her usual plaintive and ambiguous statement, ‘of course my first baby was born almost at once,’ a statement which had made more than one of her hearers silently add the word Brute to Mr Brandon’s epitaph.
Delia was born four years later, and Mrs Brandon, wrapped up in her nursery, was only beginning to feel ruffled by her husband’s dullness when death with kindly care removed him through the agency of pneumonia. As it was a cold spring Mrs Brandon was able to go into black, and the ensuing summer being a particularly hot one gave her an excuse for mourning in white, though she always wore a heavy necklace of old jet to show goodwill.
It was during that summer that Mr Brandon’s Aunt Sissie, hitherto an almost mythical figure, had made her first terrifying appearance at Stories. Mrs Brandon was sitting in the ex-library, now called her sitting-room, writing to her parents, when the largest Rolls Royce she had ever seen came circling round the gravel sweep. As it drew up she saw that there were two chauffeurs on the front seat. The man who was driving remained at his post to restrain the ardour of his machine, while the second got out and rang the front door bell. The bonnet was facing Mrs Brandon and she could not see who was inside the car without making herself too visible at the window, so she had to wait till Rose, then only a young parlour-maid, but older than her mistress and already a budding tyrant, came in.
‘Miss Brandon, madam,’ she announced, ‘and I’ve put her in the drawing-room.’
‘Miss Brandon?’ said her mistress. ‘Oh, that must be Mr Brandon’s aunt. What shall I do?’
‘I’ve put her in the drawing-room, madam,’ Rose repeated, speaking patiently as to a mental defective, ‘and she said the chauffeurs was to have some tea, madam, so Cook is looking after them.’
‘Then I suppose I must,’ said Mrs Brandon, and went into the drawing-room.
It was here that for the first and only time she felt a faint doubt as to the propriety of mourning in white, for her aunt by marriage was wearing such a panoply of black silk dress, black cashmere mantle, black ostrich feather boa and unbelievably a black bonnet trimmed with black velvet and black cherries, that Mrs Brandon wondered giddily whether spinsters could be honorary widows.
‘When once I have sat down I don’t get up again easily,’ said Miss Brandon, holding out a black-gloved, podgy hand.
‘Oh, please don’t,’ said Mrs Brandon vaguely, taking her aunt’s lifeless hand. ‘How do you do, Miss Brandon. Henry will be so sorry to miss you – I mean he was always talking about you and saying we must take the children to see you.’
‘I had practically forbidden him the house for some years,’ said Miss Brandon.
To this there appeared to be no answer except Why? A question Mrs Brandon had not the courage to ask.
‘But I would certainly have come to the funeral,’ Miss Brandon continued, ‘had it not been my Day in Bed. I take one day a week in bed, an excellent plan at my age. Later I shall take two days, and probably spend the last years of my life entirely in bed. My grandfather, my mother and my elder half-sister were all bed-ridden for the last ten years of their lives and all lived to be over ninety.’
Again it was difficult to find an answer. Mrs Brandon murmured something about how splendid and felt it was hardly adequate.
‘But I went into mourning for my nephew Henry at once,’ said Miss Brandon, ignoring her niece’s remark, ‘as you see. I have practically not been out of mourning for fifteen years, what with one death and another. A posthumous child?’ she added with sudden interest, looking piercingly at her niece’s white dress.
‘Oh no,’ said Mrs Brandon. ‘Mamma and Papa are still alive.’
‘Tut, tut, not you,’ said Miss Brandon. ‘What is your name?’
Mrs Brandon said apologetically that it was Lavinia.
‘A pretty name,’ said Miss Brandon. ‘When last I saw your husband Henry Brandon, he mentioned you to me as Pet. It was before his marriage and he was spending a weekend with me. I had to say to him, “Henry Brandon, a man who can call his future wife Pet and speak of the Government as you have spoken can hardly make a good husband and is certainly not a good nephew.” I suppose he made you suffer a good deal.’
Here if ever was an opportunity for Mrs Brandon to indulge in an orgy of sentiment, but her underlying sense of fairness suddenly choked any complaint she could truthfully have made.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ she said, looking straight at her husband’s aunt. ‘He was very nice to the children when he noticed them, and he liked me to be nicely dressed, and we were always very comfortable. Would you like to see the children, Miss Brandon?’
She rang the bell and asked Rose to ask Nurse to bring the children down.
‘I see you are determined not to give Henry away,’ said Miss Brandon, not disapprovingly. ‘But when is it? I see no other reason for wearing white so soon.’
Her gaze was again so meaningly fixed upon her niece’s white dress that Mrs Brandon began to blush violently.
‘I don’t think I understand,’ she faltered, ‘but if that is what you mean of course it isn’t. I just thought white was less depressing for the children.’
‘I am glad to hear it. That I could not have forgiven Henry,’ said the disconcerting Miss Brandon, and then the children were brought down, approved, and taken away again.
‘Now you can ring for my second chauffeur, Lavinia,’ said Miss Brandon. ‘He always comes with me to help me in and out of the car. I prefer to have the first chauffeur remain at the wheel, for one never knows.’
She then expounded to Mrs Brandon in the hall, unmoved by the presence of her chauffeur and the parlour-maid, her plans for the disposal of her affairs. As far as Mrs Brandon, shaken by Rose’s presence, could understand, Francis and Delia were to be the heirs of their aunt’s large fortune, unless she saw fit to leave it to a cousin whom she had never seen. She was then hoisted into her car, the second chauffeur got into his place, the first chauffeur put in the clutch and the equipage moved away. Mrs Brandon, much the worse for her aunt’s visit, declined Rose’s suggestion of an early cup of tea and went up to the nursery for comfort. Here she found Francis and Delia already having tea. Francis was sitting on a nursery chair with a fat cushion on it. He was wearing a green linen suit with a green linen feeder tied round his neck, and was covered with apricot jam from his large smiling mouth to the roots of his yellow hair. Delia, in a yellow muslin frock with a feeder of yellow towelling, and a yellow ribbon in her brown curls, was being fed with strips of bread and butter by Nurse.
‘Don’t move, Nurse,’ said Mrs Brandon, as Nurse sketched the gesture of one who has no intention of getting up. ‘Can I have tea with you?’
‘If we had known Mummie was coming, we’d have had our clean pinny on,’ said Nurse severely to Delia.
‘Pinny,’ said Delia.
‘You’d hardly believe the words she picks up, madam,’ said Nurse with quite unjustifiable pride considering how many times a day the words clean pinny were said by her. ‘We’ll get another cup and saucer out of the cupboard, won’t we, baby, a nice cup and saucer with a duck on it for Mummie. Would you like the duck, madam, or the moo-cow?’
Mrs Brandon expressed a preference for the moo-cow, on hearing which Delia, who was holding a mug of milk to her mouth with both hands, said ‘Moo-cow’ into it. The milk spluttered all over her face, Francis began to laugh and choked on a piece of bread and butter and jam, Nurse dashed with first aid from one to another, and Mrs Brandon found herself laughing till suddenly she was crying and couldn’t stop. Her children, deeply interested, stopped choking to stare.
‘I don’t know what’s the matter, Nurse,’ said Mrs Brandon through her sobs. ‘An aunt of Mr Brandon’s came to call and it was very upsetting.’
‘I don’t wonder, madam,’ said Nurse, deeply approving her mistress’s show of feeling as suitable to a young widow. ‘Suppose you go and lie down and I’ll bring you the tea in your room. We’ll give Mummie the nice moo-cow cup of tea, won’t we baby? Francis, wipe your mouth on your feeder and say your grace and get down and Nurse will come and wash your hands as soon as she has taken Mummie some tea.’
Thanks to the tea and a rest Mrs Brandon quite soon recovered from her mild hysterics, but the affair was not at an end. On Thursdays, which this day happened to be, the nursery-maid had her half-day out; by a great oversight the kitchen-maid who took Nurse’s supper tray up when the nursery-maid was out, had been given special leave to go and see her married sister who had had triplets. On any ordinary occasion Nurse would have gone supperless sooner than condescend to go downstairs, just as the second housemaid would sooner have lost her place than deputised for the kitchen-maid, but the urgent need of communicating gossip drove both sides into some semblance of humanity. As soon as Francis and Delia were asleep Nurse went down to the kitchen and there found the second housemaid talking to Rose.
‘Well, Nurse,’ said the second housemaid, ‘I was just going to take your tray up as Gladys is out.’
‘Thanks, Grace,’ said Nurse with the courtesy that a superior should always show to an inferior, ‘that is very obliging of you, but I hardly feel like touching a thing. Just the bread and butter and that bloater paste and a bit of cheese and a cup of tea.’
She assumed an interesting pallor and smiled faintly.
‘Rose feels just like you do, Nurse,’ said Grace. ‘It’s all that upset this afternoon.’
‘Madam did mention that she was upset,’ said Nurse, exploring the ground, but careful to give nothing away.
‘I couldn’t hardly touch my own tea,’ said Rose. ‘That Miss Brandon talking of making her will with Mr Brandon only four months buried and all. No wonder madam didn’t fancy her tea after that.’
Cook, who had come in as Rose was speaking, said those chauffeurs were nice young fellers and the young one with the little moustache had worked in the works where her brother was, and there were twenty indoors and out at Miss Brandon’s place, and didn’t Nurse want a bit of that cold pork.
‘Thanks, Cook, ever so,’ said Nurse, ‘but it would go against my feelings. It gave me quite a turn seeing madam so upset. Seeing Master Francis and baby having their tea seemed to bring it all home as you might say. So I said to madam, If you was to have a nice lay down, madam, you’d feel much better.’
‘No wonder she was upset,’ said Rose. ‘I knew she was reel upset because I said If you was to have a cup of tea, madam, now, it would do you good, because it was only half-past four and drawing-room tea isn’t till five.’
‘My nursery kettle was just on the boil,’ said Nurse airily, ‘so I took madam a cup of tea and she seemed ever so much better when she’d drunk it.’
This was an appalling piece of provocation on Nurse’s part, carefully led up to and deliberately uttered. Between her and Rose there was an unspoken rivalry for the possession of their mistress. Rose had been with Mrs Brandon since her marriage and was therefore the senior, besides holding the important position of unofficial lady’s maid, but Nurse had through the children an unassailable hold over the household. Rose might be able to bully her mistress about the hour for tea, or the evening dress she should wear, but it was with Nurse that Mrs Brandon spent an hour or two in the nursery or the garden every day, Nurse that she allowed to help her to get flowers for the church, or to finish the half-dozen hideous and badly cut flannelette nightgowns that were her forced contribution to a thing called Personal Service that levied blackmail on the gentry. Rose knew in her heart that if it came to a showdown Nurse would win, for Mrs Brandon as a mother was as incapable as she was adoring, and this did not improve her feelings. Nurse, equally conscious of this vital fact, was more polite to Rose than anyone could be expected to bear. Today she had made an incursion into the enemy’s territory that would not easily be forgiven. If Mrs Brandon chose to demean herself to have tea in the nursery, Rose could but pity her, while admitting that she had a perfect right to have tea with her own children. But that her mistress should refuse the cup of tea she had so kindly offered and then accept the offering from Nurse, not even in the nursery but in her own room, sacred to Rose’s ministrations, that was an insult Rose would not readily forget, and for which she chose to put the entire blame on her rival. So she said, in a general way, that Indian tea wasn’t no good for the headache.
Nurse said in an equally general and equally offensive way that so long as tea was made with boiling water, it didn’t matter if it was Indian or China.
Cook said she found a good dose was the best thing for the headache, but it must be a good dose, to which both housemaids added a graphic description of the effect a good dose had on (a) a bed-ridden aunt, and (b) a cousin who had fits.
Rose said to Cook it was no wonder madam didn’t have no appetite for her dinner, poor thing, to which Nurse was just preparing a barbed reply when to everyone’s mingled disappointment and relief the kitchen-maid suddenly appeared, and by sitting down and bursting into tears at once became the centre of interest. Cook at once provided a cup of very strong tea and while drinking it the kitchen-maid explained with sobs and gulps that two of the triplets were dead and looked that beautiful that you wouldn’t credit it. Everyone applauded her display of feeling and a delightful conversation took place about similar events in everyone’s own family circle. Nurse, who only recognised the children of the gentry, circles in which triplets are for some obscure social or economic reason practically unknown, came off poorly in this contest and retired quietly with her tray.
But from that day the silent struggle for the soul of the unconscious Mrs Brandon became the ruling passion in Nurse and Rose. If Nurse brushed and twisted Delia’s curls with absent-minded ferocity, or Rose cleaned the silver ornaments in the drawing-room till they were severely dented and had to go to Barchester to be repaired, they were not thinking of their respective charges, but of an enemy above and below stairs. When Francis went to school and Delia had a French governess, Rose’s hopes soared high. Mrs Brandon had intended to give Nurse notice, with a huge tip and glowing recommendations, but from day to day she found that she dared not do it, from month to month Nurse’s position became stronger, and from year to year Nurse stayed on, partly as maid to Delia, partly as general utility, always in a state of armed neutrality towards Rose.
After this terrifying visit, nearly seventeen years ago, Miss Brandon had never visited Stories again, but from time to time had summoned her niece and her children to Brandon Abbey. These visits seemed to Mrs Brandon to have been the inevitable occasion for some outburst from her offspring. It was here that Francis had fallen through a hot-house roof, where he had no business to be, cutting his leg to the bone and bringing down the best grape vine in his fall; here that he had laboriously baled all the water out of the small lily-pond with one of the best copper preserving pans, abstracted no one ever discovered how from the kitchen regions, leaving all the high-bred goldfish to die in the mud. Here it was that Delia, usually so good, had been found in Miss Brandon’s dressing-room, that Holy of Holies, peacocking before the glass in her great-aunt’s mantle and bonnet. Here it was that Francis, at a later age, had learnt to drive a car with the connivance of the second chauffeur and run over one of Miss Brandon’s peacocks, while on the same ill-omened visit Delia had broken the jug and basin in the best spare bedroom where she had been sent to wash her hands, and flooded the Turkey carpet.
Miss Brandon had made very little comment on these misfortunes, but her niece noticed that after each of them she had talked a good deal about the cousin she had never seen, the possible inheritor of her money. Mrs Brandon, who did not care in the least what her aunt’s plans might be, but was genuinely sorry for the indomitable old lady, yearly becoming more bed-ridden as she had predicted, was at last goaded into a mild remonstrance, pointing out to Miss Brandon that if it had not been for her nephew Henry, the children would never have existed, to which Miss Brandon had replied cryptically that it took two to make a quarrel.
Thinking of all this and of her aunt’s letter, Mrs Brandon carried her flowers into the little room known as the flower room, along one wall of which ran a long marble slab with four basins in it, relics of a former Brandon with four gardening daughters. She then fetched yesterday’s flowers from the hall and living-rooms, refilled the vases, and began to arrange her flowers. This she always called ‘my housekeeping’, adding that it took more time than all her other duties put together, but she couldn’t bear anyone else to do it, thus giving the impression of one who was a martyr to her feeling for beauty. As a matter of fact she spoke no more than the truth, for Cook arranged the menus, and Nurse looked after the linen and did all the sewing and darning, so that Mrs Brandon would have been hard put to it to find anything useful to do.
Presently Delia’s voice at the telephone in the hall penetrated her consciousness, and she called her daughter’s name.
‘Oh, bother,’ said Delia’s voice to her unknown correspondent, ‘Mummie’s yelling for me. Hang on a moment. What is it, Mummie?’ she inquired, looking into the flower room.
‘It’s about Aunt Sissie, darling. She said Wednesday, so don’t arrange the picnic that day.’
‘Oh, Mother, any day would do for Aunt Sissie. We must have Wednesday for the picnic or the Morlands can’t come.’
‘I can’t help it,’ said Mrs Brandon, massing sweet peas in a bowl. ‘We haven’t been for ages and she’s all alone, poor old thing.’
‘Don’t be so mercenary, Mother,’ said Delia. ‘Here, Francis, come here a moment.’
Francis, who was passing through the hall, came to the flower room door and asked what the matter was.
‘It’s Mummie, going all horse-leechy,’ said Delia. ‘Wednesday’s the only possible day for the picnic and now Mummie says we must go and be dutiful to Aunt Sissie. I wish Aunt Sissie would give all her money to that cousin of hers straight away and leave us in peace. Oh, Mummie, do be sensible.’
‘I am,’ said Mrs Brandon, ‘and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be kind to poor Aunt Sissie even if she is rich. If I were very old and alone and spent most of my time in bed, I would be very glad when people visited me.’
At this both her children laughed loudly.
Nurse, on her way upstairs with an armful of sewing, stopped to interfere.
‘Oh, Nurse —’ said all three at once.
‘I want you, Miss Delia, so I can try on your tennis frock,’ said she. ‘Come up with me now.’
‘Oh, Nurse, any time will do. I’m telephoning now. Be an angel and I’ll come up presently. Mummie wants us to go over to Aunt Sissie on Wednesday, and that’s the only good day for the picnic.’
‘Nonsense, Miss Delia,’ said Nurse. ‘There’s plenty of other days in the week. Now come straight up with me and try that dress on.’
Delia followed her old Nurse mutinously upstairs, making faces, till Nurse, who appeared to have, as she had often told the children when they were small thus frightening them horribly, eyes in the back of her head, said sharply that that was enough, and so they vanished.
‘Francis, darling,’ said Mrs Brandon, who had collected another great bunch of sweet peas and was holding them thoughtfully to her face, ‘we must go to Aunt Sissie on Wednesday.’
‘Yes, I think we must,’ said Francis. ‘Anyone who didn’t know you would think you were mercenary, darling, but I know you haven’t the wits to concentrate. You’ve got a kind heart, though, and anyone who looked at you sympathising with people would think you really cared. Give me a smell of those sweet peas.’
Mrs Brandon held up the flowers and Francis sniffed them violently.
‘There are few pleasures like really burrowing one’s nose into sweet peas,’ . . .
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