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Authors: Margery Sharp

The Flowering Thorn

BOOK: The Flowering Thorn





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

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 Flowering Thorn

A Novel

Margery Sharp

Part I


There is good evidence for believing that an American gentleman staying at Beverley Court once so far forgot himself as to clean his shoes: what is probably not true is that the head boot-boy subsequently borrowed the chef's carvers and committed
. A chef's carvers are very difficult to come at, and it is also most unlikely that any member of the pantry-staff could have penetrated unchecked as far as the kitchens; but the story is useful as illustrating the almost fanatically high standard of Beverley service.

The management, indeed, worked, and worked successfully, on the basic assumption that their tenants as a class were not intended by nature to boil eggs, wash socks, sew on buttons, walk up or down stairs, have children, keep dogs, or put up friends on the sofa. They were stunted creatures; but like animals in captivity, astonishingly contented. The waiting list for the smaller apartments was as long as Deuteronomy.

In this heaven of the civilised, Lesley Frewen's mansion was inevitably small, for at the Beverley Court letting office the parable of the needle's eye had long been reversed. Entertaining, however, only on the most intimate scale, and rarely at home except to change and sleep, the lack of floor-space hardly struck her. Almost it was an advantage, for with the nomad instinct of the hyper-civilised she dreaded nothing so much as the accumulation of possessions; and as this creed was as widely subscribed, if not as widely practised, among her friends, all their gifts for many years had either gone up in smoke, or shrivelled on the stem, or melted in the mouth. Miss Frewen's personal belongings, indeed, would have gone into a hat-box; and for clothes there was the big fitted cupboard whose doors, when open, practically bisected the bedroom. They were lined with two long mirrors, between which, at about a few minutes past six on the 20th of March, 1929, Lesley Frewen stood adjusting the angle of a small black hat. Beneath the tilted brim a face immaculately plucked, rouged and powdered met her final glance with a well-grounded confidence: she was looking just as every other woman wanted to look, and could continue to do so for at least four hours.

From the telephone by the bed came a low repeated burr: the taxi was waiting. A rapid glance into her handbag assured her of lipstick, powder, cigarettes: complete in every material detail, and with mind serenely attuned to social intercourse, Lesley Frewen went to the party.


Arriving at Pont Street, however, the sum of her perfection was slightly diminished. Facially, all was still well. But in her feelings she was ruffled, though only a little: partly because a shoe-string needed tightening, and partly because she had just observed on the doorstep a young man who was threatening to commit suicide unless she accompanied him to Warsaw. He was completely uninteresting, and had never, even in the wildest flights of passion, suggested their travelling anything but third, so that the triumph of Lesley's virtue had been little more than a walkover; but her refusals, though frequent and frank, had as yet made no impression, and with equal persistence the youthful Bryan continued to press his suit.

‘Damn the child!' thought Lesley, ‘why the hell does Elissa let him in?' And with a frown under her eye-veil she paid off the taxi, knocked at a high blue door, and a moment later was absorbed into the party.


“Darling!” countered Lesley swiftly, and looking round to see who had addressed her. But it was impossible to tell, for the mob in Elissa's drawing-room shifted so quickly that the only jointed conversations were carried on toe-to-toe like an old-fashioned boxing-match. At the other end of the room a piano was being played, though not professionally: the glasses rattled on its lid and people far over by the windows talked at the tops of their voices. The heat, noise, and congestion were alike considerable, and with every farther step Lesley's spirits rose. An agreeable press, a stimulating babel: the complicated atmosphere—of electric heating, scent, and good furs—at once so familiar and so exhilarating in the nostrils: and gathering her wits, she abandoned the futile search for Elissa to lay instead a course for the buffet. It was slow going. Those who had achieved their drinks continued to linger at the fount, those still unslaked pressed thirstily on; and her progress was further impeded by the early departure of Mrs. Carnegie.

“Darling!” cried Lesley, this time getting in first.

Mrs. Carnegie purred absently back: a round little woman, French by birth, American by marriage, plumply-breasted as a robin, and with not the slightest objection to making herself conspicuous by an almost Edwardian display of pearls. She wore them even in bed, she told people, in order to preserve their colour: and from all Lesley had heard about her, the statement would never lack corroboration.

“You are looking for Elissa, hein?” said Mrs. Carnegie. “She 'as gone to see why there is no more gin. When she comes, will you say I am very sorry, I 'ave to go?” She glanced expertly round, and from the mob at the piano singled out a tall and beautiful young man. “Paul! Paul, we are going!”

But the beautiful young man did not want to leave. He was enjoying himself. He said so loudly, first in Polish and then in translation.

“But I do not want to go! I am enjoying myself!”

“You will enjoy yourself where we are going!” promised Mrs. Carnegie. “You will enjoy yourself more!”

With the trustfulness of a child Paul stopped playing the piano and made his adieux. They included, at the sight of Miss Frewen, a heel-clicking pause and a long pressure of her hand—not exactly kissed, but bowed over to the extreme limit. He knew she had no money; she was aware of his knowledge; and the disinterestedness of the tribute afforded both a certain pleasure.

“Paul!” cried Mrs. Carnegie.

“I wish you were coming too,” said Paul simply; and with a last melting glance moved elegantly away.

Slightly but agreeably flattered, mocking at herself for being so, Lesley resumed her course. She was by this time thirstier than ever, and in definite search of a man to do her pushing for her: but for all that it was with a faint sinking of the heart that she perceived young Bryan Collingwood standing squarely in her path.


The crowd was thick, but there was no time to hide. Miss Frewen sighed.

“Come out on the balcony, Lesley. I've got to speak to you.”

“My dear, don't be so absurd! I haven't seen Elissa!”

“Please come. I implore you to come.”

She observed, with no emotion beyond a faint impatience, the extreme pallor of his lips: he had probably been one of those horrid little boys who can hypnotise themselves into nausea at the sight of a milk-pudding. But since he was quite capable of making a scene in the middle of Elissa's drawing-room, she gave in and followed him through the French window.


“If you don't come to Poland with me I shall kill myself.”

He stood with his back to the railings, pressed hard against the iron and devouring her with his eyes; and as Lesley watched him there rose deep in her sophisticated soul a sudden fierce pride, a sudden anger at the insolence of such misery. How dared he follow her with that starving look, run at her heels and scratch at her door! And now this blackmail, this suicide—he was impossible! And she heard her own voice, very cold and distinct, saying:

“This is intolerable. I refuse to be blackmailed by a peevish child.”

The white lips moved in answer, but without a sound. She shrugged her shoulders and stepped back into the room.

you are!” exclaimed the gentleman behind her.

It took Lesley no more than a mere second of concentration to remember everything about him except his name. Retired stockbroker, lots of money, hands-off-capital-and-shoot-the-unemployed.… And he was carrying things.

“Dry Martini and caviare. Have I remembered?” asked the stockbroker coquettishly.

With real gratitude she held out a hand.

“Perfectly. Is that your secret of success?”

He beamed at her; and Lesley, sipping, smiled admiringly back. The delicious coldness—for Elissa always had plenty of ice—made her lips tingle, and with a cavalier thus ready to hand she had no hesitation in emptying the glass.

“Now let me get you another,” said the stockbroker; and Lesley let him. The crowd, however, was by now even thicker than before, and his progress being correspondingly slow she took up a good central position under the lights and had there been five times addressed as darling before he ever reached the buffet. There was also an invitation to dine, an invitation to lunch, and the offer of a desirable town residence for the next fortnight. The first two Lesley accepted, the last put regretfully aside: for though the Yellow House was charming indeed—a delightful modernised cottage in a mews behind Green Street—she could not quite make out whether the owner himself would or would not be also in residence. From his insistence on the second bathroom, decided Lesley, it seemed at least probable; and she had never liked the owner quite so well as that. Besides, two weeks … if her suspicions were correct, surely a month would have been more flattering? So sweetly but firmly Lesley shook her head.

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