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Authors: Margery Sharp

The Nutmeg Tree

BOOK: The Nutmeg Tree
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Praise for the Writing of Margery Sharp

“A highly gifted woman … a wonderful entertainer.” —
The New Yorker

“One of the most gifted writers of comedy in the civilized world today.” —
Chicago Daily News

“[Sharp's] dialogue is brilliant, uncannily true. Her taste is excellent; she is an excellent storyteller.” —Elizabeth Bowen

Britannia Mews

“As an artistic achievement … first-class, as entertainment … tops.” —
The Boston Globe

The Eye of Love

“A double-plotted … masterpiece.” —John Bayley,
Guardian Books of the Year

Martha, Eric, and George

“Amusing, enjoyable, Miss Sharp is a born storyteller.” —
The Times
(London)

The Gypsy in the Parlour

“Unforgettable … There is humor, mystery, good narrative.” —
Library Journal

The Nutmeg Tree

“A sheer delight.” —New York Herald Tribune

Something Light

“Margery Sharp has done it again! Witty, clever, delightful, entertaining.” —
The Denver Post

The Nutmeg Tree

A Novel

Margery Sharp

Chapter 1

1

Julia, by marriage Mrs. Packett, by courtesy Mrs. Macdermot, lay in her bath singing the Marseillaise. Her fine robust contralto, however, was less resonant than usual; for on this particular summer morning the bathroom, in addition to the ordinary fittings, contained a lacquer coffee table, seven hatboxes, half a dinner service, a small grandfather clock, all Julia's clothes, a single-bed mattress, thirty-five novelettes, three suitcases, and a copy of a Landseer stag. The customary echo was therefore lacking; and if the ceiling now and then trembled, it was not because of Julia's song, but because the men from the Bayswater Hire Furniture Company had not yet finished removing the hired furniture.

On the other side of the door an occasional shuffling of feet showed that the two broker's men had not even one chair to sit on.

Thus beleaguered, Julia sang. With every breath she drew in a generous diaphragmful of verbena-scented steam, and let it out again in the form of equally generous chest-notes. She did this not out of defiance, nor to keep her spirits up, but because at that time of the morning song was natural to her. The belligerence of her tones was due simply to the belligerence of the melody: her choice of the melody was due simply to the fact that she had received, the night before, a letter from France.

So Julia sang, until in the pause before the reprise a weary voice sounded huskily through the door.

“Ain't you done
yet
, mum?” demanded the voice.

“No,” said Julia.

“But you bin in an hour 'n' 'arf already!” protested the voice.

Julia turned on the hot tap. She could stay in a bath almost indefinitely, and had often, during her periodic attempts at slimming, lain parboiled for two or three hours. But nothing—as was now plainly to be seen—had ever slimmed Julia. At thirty-seven,—only five feet, three inches in height,—she had a thirty-eight-inch bust, a thirty-one waist, and forty-one hips; and though these three vital points were linked by extremely agreeable curves, Julia nevertheless hankered after a fashionable toothpick silhouette. She hankered, but not consistently. Her comfortable flesh refused to be martyred. It regarded orange juice as an appetizer, not as a staff of life; and as a result there lay Julia,—recumbent in her cloud of steam, rosy-pink with heat,—looking like the presiding goddess of some baroque ceiling.

The door rattled.

“If you break in,” called Julia, turning off the tap, “I'll have you up for assault!”

A dead silence showed that the threat had taken effect. There was a muffled consultation; then a second voice, even wearier than the first, resumed the argument.

“It's only five pound, mum,” pleaded the voice. “We don't want to give no trouble—”

“Then go away,” retorted Julia.

“We can't, mum. It's our duty. If you'll just let us take the stuff—or better still, pay us the five pound—”

“I haven't got five pounds,” said Julia truthfully; and for the first time her brow clouded. She hadn't got one pound: she possessed exactly seven-and-eightpence, and she had to leave for France in the morning. For perhaps five minutes she lay and pondered, considering, one after the other, all those persons from whom she had borrowed money in the past. She thought also of those to whom she had lent; but one set was as hopeless as the other. With real regret, she thought of the late Mr. Macdermot. And at last she thought of Mr. Lewis.

“Hey!” called Julia. “You know that antique-shop at the end of the road?”

The bailiffs consulted.

“We know a pawnbroker's, mum. Name of Lewis.”

“That's it,” admitted Julia, “but it's an antique-shop as well. One of you nip along and fetch Mr. Lewis here. He'll pay you.”

They consulted again; but after waiting (upright) for two hours, they were ready to clutch at a straw. Julia heard the tread of departing feet, and the shuffle of the feet that remained. Then she dried her hands, lit a cigarette, and reached out to the coffee table for a letter with a French stamp.

2

Though it had arrived only the previous night, she already knew it by heart.

My dear Mother,—

It seems strange that you won't know my writing. I am sending this through the Bank, and unless you are abroad you ought to get it almost at once. Could you come out here and see me? It is a long way, but a beautiful place, high up on the edge of Haute Savoie, and we shall be here till October. But I would like you to come (if you can) at once. Grandmother also invites you, to stay as long as you like. As you may know, she and Sir William Waring are now my trustees. The point is [here the small, neat writing grew suddenly larger] that I want to get married, and Grandmother objects. I know there are all sorts of legal complications, but after all you are my mother, and you ought to be consulted. If you can come, the best way is by the 11:40
P.M.
from Paris to Ambérieu, where a car will meet you. I do hope it will be possible.

Your affectionate daughter,—

S
USAN
P
ACKETT
.

From a girl of twenty, in love, to her mother, the letter was hardly expansive; but Julia understood. Because of a variety of circumstances, she had not seen her daughter for sixteen years; and the bare fact that that daughter now remembered and appealed to her was so exquisitely touching that even now, on rereading the letter for the twentieth time, Julia dropped a tear or two into the bath. But they were tears of sentiment, not of sorrow; at the thought of a trip to France, of a love affair to be handled, her spirits soared. “
CATCHING TRAIN THURSDAY ALL LOVE MOTHER
,” she had wired back; and only then had she remembered her unusually disastrous economic situation. She had no money, no proper wardrobe, and a creditor about to foreclose. But none of these things mattered, when Susan wanted her. Susan wanted her, Susan was unhappy, and to Susan she would go.…

“But she was christened Suzanne!” thought Julia suddenly; and was still staring at the signature when she was brought back to the present by the welcome sound of Mr. Lewis' voice.

“My dear Julia!” he shouted. “What is all this that you fetch me for? You are not really drowning yourself? This man—”

“He's a bailiff,” called Julia. “They're both bailiffs. Send them away.”

After a few moments the heavy footsteps retreated, the lighter ones returned.

“Now, Julia, what is it? These men—”

“Have they gone?”

“Gone and glad to,” replied Mr. Lewis. “They are very modest men, my dear, and so am I. But they haven't gone farther than the stairs.”

“Can they hear us?”

“They can hear me if I shout for help. They seem to think that there is stuff in there besides the usual fittings.”

“There is,” said Julia. “That's what I want you for. There's stuff in here I've got to sell—
good
stuff—and you've always been a sport to me, Joe, so I'm giving you first chance. There's a real lacquer table, and a new mattress, and a genuine antique grandfather clock, and a lovely dinner service, and a picture of a stag that's a real painting. I'll take thirty quid for the lot.”

“Not from me you won't,” said Mr. Lewis.

Julia sat up with a splash.

“Of all the old Jews! Why, the stag's worth that alone, and I didn't mean to include it. I'm offering you the table and the clock and a new mattress and a dinner service, and dirt cheap at that.”

“Well, let me look at 'em,” said Mr. Lewis patiently.

“Of course you can't look at them. I'm in the bath.”

“You mean you want me to buy blind?”

“That's it,” agreed Julia. “Have a flutter.”

Mr. Lewis reflected. He was a man who liked to get everything cut and dried.

“You mean you will sell me, for thirty pounds, stuff I haven't even seen, which is probably worth twenty-five bob, and which already belongs to whatever fool has been giving you credit?”

“That's right,” said Julia cheerfully, “except that it's worth more like sixty, and I only owe five. What's your favourite tune?”

“The Blue Danube,” said Mr. Lewis.

Julia sang it.

3

Half an hour passed. The men from the Bayswater Hire Furniture Company had taken themselves and the hired furniture away. A man from the Gas Company had come and cut off the gas. But the bailiffs remained, and so did Mr. Lewis; for even through a bolted door Julia's personality triumphed. When she was tired of singing she entertained them with anecdotes of her early life on the stage; when she ran out of anecdotes she imitated film stars, and so successfully that the grandfather clock, chiming for noon, took them all by surprise.

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