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Authors: Alexander McCall Smith

The World According to Bertie

BOOK: The World According to Bertie
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Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Preface

1. In Hanover Street. Watch Out, Pat, Bruce Is Back…Or Is He?

2. A Conversation with Matthew: Matthew Is Troubled by His Trousers

3. Famous Sons and Gothic Seasoning

4. Some Words of Warning from Pat's Father

5. An Unexpected Conflict and News of Cyril

6. Angus Tells the Story of Cyril's Misfortune

7. Irene's Doubts Over Bertie's Friendships

8. A Whole New Vista of Dread for Bertie

9. So Who Exactly Are Big Lou's Big Friends?

10. Matthew Is a Sexist (but a Polite One)

11. Bruce Goes Off Flat-Hunting in the New Town

12. An Old Flame Flickers: as Well It May

13. Matthew Gets Ideas from a Blank Canvas

14. Artaud's Way Proves to Be an Inspiration

15. A Small Sherry and a Hint of Synaesthesia

16. Domenica Is Left to Puzzle a Petty Theft

17. A Restoration in Prospect–and a New Suspicion

18. Bruce Finds a Place to Stay–Just Perfect

19. Bruce Enjoys Telling His London Story

20. Miss Harmony Has News for the Children

21. Pat Experiences a Moment of Brutal Honesty

22. A Little Argument Develops Over…Guess What?

23. An Embarrassing Trip on the Bus for Bertie

24. Angus Meets the Expert on Mistake-Making

25. The Advocate Takes a Look at the Case of Cyril

26. Bertie Plucks Up Courage and Asks the Big Question

27. It's Never Rude to Say Things to a Doctor

28. So Who Exactly Is the New Man in Big Lou's Life?

29. That Chap Over There–Know Who That Is?

30. Things Behind Things in the Circular City

31. Edinburgh Is Full of All Sorts of Clubs

32. Some Relative Warmth for the Ice Man

33. Old Injustices Have Their Resonances

34. Miss Harmony Has a Word in Bertie's Ear

35. Bedrooms Are the Place for Playing House

36. What Exactly Is the Problem with Caroline?

37. A Little Bit of Bottle Bother at the Tower

38. Anyway, What Are You Going to Do, Brucie?

39. The Builders Who Began with a Bow

40. A Significant Revelation on the Stair

41. A Powerful Ally in the Campaign to Free Cyril

42. A Dinner Date with Pat…and a Surprise

43. Like a Couple of Boxers, Waiting to Land a Blow

44. Dukes Don't All Live in Grand Houses

45. Minimalism Is Not Confined to the Canvas

46. He Wanted Her Only to Answer His Question

47. The Statistical Lady Is Not for Smiling at

48. He Wanted So Much to Be the Average Boy

49. This Is a Very Nice Place–Is It a Nightclub?

50. Bertie's Words Stop Stuart in His Tracks

51. So Many Books Unread and Bikes Uncycled

52. It Was a Pity That Things Had Come to This

53. She Could See the Attraction–It Was the Eyes

54. It Did Not Do to Think About Sex on Heriot Row

55. What Can Be the Secret of the Tiny Stars?

56. So Many Moves–Time to Make the Next One

57. He Felt a Wave of Contentment Come Over Him

58. Patriotism and the Jacobite Connection

59. A Visitor from Belgium Is Expected

60. Does Scotland Need All This Nonsense?

61. “Middle-Class” Used as a Term of Abuse

62. It Seemed the World Was Full of Killing

63. Panforte for Bertie and a Shock for Stuart

64. You Mean You Lost a Tiny Baby?

65. It Was Almost Too Terrible to Describe

66. Speculation on What Might Have Been

67. We All Need to Believe in Something

68. How Do You Tell Someone “It's Over”?

69. A Replacement–and an Extra Little Present

70. She Could Not Help but Hear the Conversation

71. For a Moment, Domenica Felt Real Alarm

72. “I've let myself down,” she said. “Badly.”

73. Julia Makes a Joyful Discovery

74. Julia Decides to Test the Temperature

75. A Prayer from a Painter in Utter Despair

76. All Hail Cyril as He Returns in Triumph

77. Olive Has News of Bertie's Blood Test

78. Question Time for the Boys–and for Olive

79. A Confusion of Daddies at the Dinner Table

80. Julia's Father Comes Straight to the Point

81. A Clean Break–Not Without an Argument

82. A Shopping Trip for a Special Dinner Date

83. The Matthew He Wanted Her to Know

84. A Tattooed Man Stirs Up a Painful Past

85. A Dangerous Turn in the Conversation

86. Bertie and the Baby: an Expert Explanation

87. A Fantasy Sail on That Slow Boat to China

88. Some Tea and Decency with the Fantouses

89. A Peculiar and Yet Harmless Enthusiasm

90. A Theme for the Definitive Masterpiece

91. Angus Opens His Front Door to…Trouble

92. A New Version of the Fateful Olive Incident

93. The World of Bertie–in His Own Words

94. Some Battles Are Destined to Be Lost

95. Faster and Yet Faster–with a Surge of Panic

96. Bruce Samples the Porsche Experience

97. Do We Have to Love Our Neighbour?

98. The Domenica Connection Becomes Clear

99. Mr Demarco Sees Danger for the Fringe

100. Not an Ending–More an Adjournment

About the Author

Praise for the 44 Scotland Street Series

Also by Alexander McCall Smith

Copyright

This book is for
Derek and Dilly Emslie

Preface

The 44 Scotland Street books, of which
The World According to Bertie
is the fourth, started as a single serial novel in
The Scotsman
newspaper. When I began to write this story, I had no idea that the story would continue for as long as it has; nor had I any idea that Bertie, that engaging boy of six, burdened, as he is with his extremely demanding mother, would become so important a character. I certainly did not imagine that he would acquire so many supporters–or sympathisers, perhaps.

Bertie's problem is his mother, one of those ambitious parents who sees her son as a project rather than a little boy. Such mothers are legion, and many sons spend the rest of their lives trying to cut invisible but powerful apron strings. Bertie wants only to be a typical boy; he wants to have fun, to play with other boys, to do all the things that Irene's programme for him prevents him from doing. Instead he is forced to learn Italian, play the saxophone, and attend yoga classes for children.

Bertie seems to strike a chord with many readers. Recently I was in New York and attended a lunch where the first thing I was asked was how Bertie was doing. This happens to me throughout the world: people are more anxious about Bertie than they are about any of my other fictional characters. They want him to find freedom. They want him to escape.

This book continues the story of Bertie–who has, quite astonishingly, remained six for the past four volumes, even while other characters have aged and progressed. But it does not deal only with Bertie–I have carried on my conversation with Big Lou, Domenica, Angus Lordie, and all the others who have walked into Scotland Street and found their place in the saga. All of these people are, in their own way, looking for some sort of resolution in their lives, some happiness, which is what, I suppose, all of us are doing. Some of them find it in this volume–or appear to find it–others will have to wait. The whole point of a serial novel is that the future is open. If freedom eludes Bertie in this book, and if Big Lou does not just yet find romantic fulfilment, then all is not lost–there is always another chapter.

         

Alexander McCall Smith

1. In Hanover Street. Watch Out, Pat, Bruce Is Back…Or Is He?

Pat saw Bruce at ten o'clock on a Saturday morning, or at least that is when she thought she saw him. An element of doubt there certainly was. This centred not on the time of the sighting, but on the identity of the person sighted; for this was one of those occasions when one wonders whether the eye, or even the memory, has played a trick. And such tricks can be extraordinary, as when one is convinced that one has seen the late General de Gaulle coming out of a cinema, or when, against all reasonable probability, one thinks one has spotted Luciano Pavarotti on a train between Glasgow and Paisley; risible events, of course, but ones which underline the proposition that one's eyes are not always to be believed.

She saw Bruce while she was travelling on a bus from one side of Edinburgh–the South Side, where she now lived–to the New Town, on the north side of the city, where she worked three days a week in the gallery owned by her boyfriend, Matthew. The bus had descended with lumbering stateliness down the Mound, past the National Gallery of Scotland, and had turned into Hanover Street, narrowly missing an insouciant pedestrian at the corner. Pat had seen the near-miss–it was by the merest whisker, she thought–and had winced, but it was just at that moment, as the bus laboured up Hanover Street towards the statue of George IV, that she saw a young man walking in the opposite direction, a tall figure with Bruce's characteristic
en brosse
hairstyle and wearing precisely the sort of clothes that Bruce liked to wear on a Saturday: a rugby jersey celebrating Scotland's increasingly ancient Triple Crown victory and a pair of stone-coloured trousers.

Her eye being caught by the rugby jersey and the stone-coloured trousers, she turned her head sharply. Bruce! But now she could see only the back of his head, and after a moment she could not see even that; Bruce, or his double, had merged into a knot of people standing on the corner of Princes Street and Pat lost sight of him. She looked ahead. The bus would stop in a few yards; she could disembark and make her way down to Princes Street to see if it really was him. But then she reminded herself that if she did that she would arrive late at the gallery, and Matthew needed her to be there on time; he had stressed that. He had an appointment, he said, with a client who was proposing to place several important Colourist pictures on the market. She did not want to hold him up, and quite apart from that there was the question of whether she would want to see Bruce, even if it proved to be him. She thought on balance that she did not.

Bruce had been her flatmate when she had first moved into 44 Scotland Street. At first, she had been rather in awe of him–after all, he was so confident in his manner, so self-assured–and she at the time had been so much more diffident. Then things had changed. Bruce was undoubtedly good-looking–a fact of which he was fully aware and of which he was very willing to take advantage; he knew very well that women found him attractive, and he assumed that Pat would prove no exception. Unfortunately, it transpired that he was right, and Pat found herself drawn to Bruce in a way which she did not altogether like. All this could have become very messy, but at the last moment, before her longing had been translated into anything beyond mere looking, she had come to her senses and decided that Bruce was an impossible narcissist. She fought to free herself of his spell, and she did. And then, having lost his job at the firm of surveyors (after being seen enjoying an intimate lunch in the Café St Honoré with the wife of the firm's senior partner), Bruce decided that Edinburgh was too small for him and had moved to London. People who do that often then discover that London is too big for them, much to the amusement of those who stayed behind in Edinburgh in the belief that it was just the right size. This sometimes leads to the comment that the only sensible reason for leaving Scotland for London was to take up the job of prime minister, a remark that might have been made by Samuel Johnson, had he not been so prejudiced on this particular matter and thought quite the opposite.

Pat had been relieved that Bruce had gone to London, and it had not occurred to her that he might return. It did not matter much to her, of course, as she moved in different circles from those frequented by Bruce, and she would not have to mix with him even if he did return. But at the same time she felt slightly unsettled by the possible sighting, especially as the experience made her feel an indefinable excitement, an increase in heart rate, that was not altogether welcome. Was it just the feeling one gets on meeting with an old lover, years afterwards? Try as one might to treat such occasions as ordinary events, there is a thrill which marks them out from the quotidian. And that is what Pat felt now.

She completed the rest of the bus journey down to Dundas Street in a thoughtful state. She imagined what she might say if she were to meet him and what he in turn might say to her. Would he have been improved by living in London, or would he have become even worse? It was difficult to tell. There must be those for whom living in London is an enriching experience, and there must be those who are quite unchanged by it. Pat had a feeling that Bruce would not have learned anything, as he had never shown any signs of learning anything when he was in Edinburgh. He would just be Bruce.

She got off her bus a few steps from Matthew's gallery. Through the window, she saw Matthew at his desk, immersed in paperwork. She looked at him fondly from a distance: dear Matthew, she thought; dear Matthew, in your distressed-oatmeal sweater, so ordinary, so safe; fond thoughts, certainly, but unaccompanied by any quickening of the pulse.

BOOK: The World According to Bertie
9.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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