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Authors: Tom Holt

Tags: #tilling, #ef benson, #lucia, #downton abby, #postwar england

Lucia Triumphant

BOOK: Lucia Triumphant
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Lucia Triumphant

by

Tom Holt

 

Based on the characters created by E.F. Benson

 

 

Published by Coffeetown Press

PO Box 70515

Seattle, WA 98127

 

For more information go to: www.coffeetownpress.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

Cover illustration by Marie Michal

Cover design by Sabrina Sun

 

Lucia Triumphant

Copyright © 1986, 2013 by Tom Holt

Originally published in England by Macmillan London Ltd., 1986.

First PERENNIAL LIBRARY edition published in 1988.

 

ISBN: 978-1-60381-126-2 (Trade Paper)

ISBN: 978-1-60381-127-9 (eBook)

 

LOC Control Number:
2012949865

Produced in the United States of America

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Coffeetownpress.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.

 

 

* * * * * *

 

 

Dedicated to
Edward Frederick Benson
1867-1940
‘Servant of God—Brave Sufferer—Author—Three Times Mayor of Rye'

 

 

The author acknowledges with gratitude the permission kindly granted by the Estate of K.S.P. McDowell to base this novel on the characters created by E.F. Benson.

The map of Tilling is adapted from E.F. Benson:
Mr. Benson Remembered in Rye
,
and the World of Tilling
, by Cynthia and Tony Reavell (published by Martello Bookshop, Rye), and is reproduced by kind permission of the authors.

 

 

 

* * * * * *

 

 

To My Father

 

 

* * * * * *

 

 

Chapter
1

Mrs. Emmeline Pillson, ‘Lucia' to friends—and all the inhabitants of Tilling were her dear and devoted friends—sat in the window of the picturesque garden-room that was such an outstanding feature of Mallards, her elegant Queen Anne house. From this vantage point she had a unique view over her little Protectorate (for Lucia was in every respect the Lady Protector of Tilling, being Queen of its social life and Mayor, for the second year in succession, of the town itself). At her feet, so to speak, was West Street, cascading down to join the High Street along which passed all the traffic of the town, while to her right she guarded the way to the Church Square and the church itself. Thus her high seat kept watch over Tilling temporal and spiritual, and very little evaded her sharp eye.

It was not so many years since another watcher had held this place; a less benign guardian, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, had long been the owner of Mallards. She too had delighted to sit on the conveniently situated hot-water pipes in the garden-room window, taking full advantage of the fact that nearly all her subjects (for before Lucia's arrival in Tilling several years ago, she herself had been the Queen of Tilling Society) were under her eye: Diva Plaistow in the High Street, quaint Irene Coles in West Street, Mr. and Mrs. Wyse just round the corner in Porpoise Street, and the Vicar and his wife in Church Square. Like the Lord our God (whom she did not in the least claim to resemble in other respects) she observed their going out and their coming in, and used to the full her exceptional analytical powers to work out exactly what they had been doing and why.

Lucia was not nearly so intrusive. If she happened to observe the comings and goings of her friends out of the corner of her eye (which she could hardly fail to do, given the nature of her favourite sitting-place) and chanced to be able to remember when she had seen them and where they had been going, it was simply a tribute to her keen powers of observation and recall. Conscious spying was beneath her altogether.

It was to this eyrie that she generally repaired when black melancholy assailed her, as it occasionally assails even the most vital and dynamic of men and women. The wide views and the realization that she was the first citizen of this almost unbearably beautiful and historic town very seldom failed to raise her spirits. But on this cold, bright January morning the prospect had itself caused her sadness, for it was not the deteriorating international situation, nor yet the depressed national economy that occupied her thoughts; a purely local stagnation oppressed her like the heaviness of an approaching thunderstorm.

To be precise, now that she had secured a second term of office, what was she to do with it? All her considerable ingenuity had gone into providing herself with innocent employment during her first year of civic supremacy. Everything that a mayor could reasonably do, she had done. No proposal for the betterment of her fellow-citizens, however imaginative, had been lightly dismissed. No worthy cause had been allowed to evade her benign persecution. Nor had she been content to sit and wait for opportunities to present themselves; rather she had exhausted her own creativity in the search for something to do. Yet the year had slipped by and the council elections had come round again, and before she had been able to substitute achievement for activity, she had been compelled to fight off a very real threat to the well-being of Tilling. Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, whom she had appointed her Mayoress in an access of generosity (and to keep her from making mischief) had, like the Emperor Tiberius, reverted to her own essential character, and had gone about to subvert the loyalties of the other Councillors with the aim of becoming Mayor herself. Since the other Councillors were leading tradesmen, she had sought to buy their adherence with lavish orders for coal and chickens and preserved ginger. But they were made of truer stuff, and Lucia did far more entertaining and was thus a far more valuable account than Elizabeth, so the plot had foundered. Indeed, Elizabeth had lost her place on the Council; worse yet, she had lost it to quaint Irene, her sworn enemy.

Miss Coles had been, ever since Lucia's arrival in Tilling, her most fervent admirer—quite embarrassingly fervent at times—and had resolved to remove this threat to her idol once and for all. Being a fine
extempore
orator and young and attractive (despite the extraordinary garb she felt it necessary to wear as a daringly
avant-garde
painter), she had successfully espoused the Socialist cause and beaten Elizabeth by a full five votes. Nevertheless, Lucia had reappointed Elizabeth as her Mayoress, to the latter's indescribable fury.

Apart from that, however, what had she achieved? As Lucia listlessly turned the pages of her Shakespeare (her resort in times of tribulation) her eye caught the second scene of the third act of
Macbeth.
‘Nought's had,' she read, ‘all's spent, Where our desire is got without content.' She could hardly have encapsulated her feelings better herself.

‘
Here I am,' she mused, ‘Mayor of the most charming town on earth, and apparently baffled for want of any worthy thing to do. There must be something .... My immortal predecessors in this high office would be ashamed of me. Why, they dealt with floods and fires and plagues of rats, fought with the smugglers and were smugglers themselves. Yet they had such thrilling things to deal with, and I have no such excitements to bring out the best in me. Why can't the man produce the hour, rather than the hour producing the man? History is like all the other traditional products of our nation; it is no longer made in small cottages but in the great factories of the cities, and all that is left to us here, like so many abandoned mines or disused mills, is the tradition and ceremonial of which unhappily I am the unworthy guardian. Yet I do my best. There was the Tilling Festival that I planned. Fancy Mr. Bernard Shaw not wanting to
première
his new play here! And Mr. William Walton did not even reply to my letter. How little interest my fellow-citizens took in the project! How complacent, how self-satisfied, how truly provincial they are at times!'

Her husband, Georgie Pillson, intruded upon this meditation. He was feeling rather bright this morning, for he had just renewed the brilliant auburn of his apparently abundant hair, and was feeling young again. As Tilling's
jeune premier,
he had a duty to ‘keep young and beautiful', as Mr. Eddie Cantor puts it in his song, and there was no more zealous slave of duty than Georgie, in this respect at least. It galled him slightly that his brilliant artifice must be kept secret, but here was surely a supreme example of the art that conceals art. He was therefore at peace with the world, for it is not in the praise of others that the true artist revels, but in the knowledge that he has satisfied himself.

‘
Have you seen my embroidery needles?' he asked cheerfully. ‘I believe I left them lying about here somewhere. They're in their red felt case with my initials on. I had them yesterday evening and now I can't find them anywhere.'

He's dyed his hair again, thought Lucia. If only there was a kind way of telling him not to. It does so strain one's credibility.

‘
Alas,
caro,
I have not seen them. Have you looked in your pockets?'

‘
That was the first place I looked and they weren't there. It's too tar'some, because I wanted to get on with those hassock-covers I'm presenting to the Church to celebrate your second term. And I'd thought of a brilliant idea. Instead of just doing flowers and things, I thought of showing a view of the town from the Harbour, with the Landgate and the Norman Tower and all the red roofs.' He put his hand in his pockets and felt something suspiciously familiar. It was the needle-case, but he could not bring himself to declare it, having just vowed that he had looked there already.

Lucia was silent for a moment, resting her chin on the tips of her long, beautiful fingers. It was one of her more exquisite poses and denoted Thought. Generally it was reserved for civic matters (it was very hard to keep up for a prolonged period) and Georgie was surprised that she should assume it over so apparently trivial a suggestion. Then he recalled that Elizabeth had vowed a hetacomb of hassocks to the Church during her election campaign, which vow, despite her defeat, she presumably meant to make good.

BOOK: Lucia Triumphant
8.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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