I have both a biography of Sylvia Townsend Warner and a book of letters she and William Maxwell (editor of The New Yorker at the time she was publishing stories in the magazine) exchanged from 1938-1978. I tried to find reference to "Tebic" or any of the stories that I read for this weekend but no luck on either count. Alas the function of poor tebic must remain a mystery. I do look forward to reading (or dipping into-in the case of the latter) both books. So, two more stories from The Music at Long Verney. In both we have returned once again to Mr. Edom's Abbey Antique Galleries, which is indeed an eccentric London establishment--rather the proprietor, Mr. Edom, is very "singular". He's quirky and I like him. Apparently there are five of these stories in this collection. Definitely one from last weekend was a Abbey Antique story.
In "English Mosaic" written in 1964 Mr. Edom will resort to drastic measures to get rid of both a most appalling item that has been left for possible purchase as well as a 'know-all' shop assistant whose motives Edom seriously questions. This is a brutal and clever story. Trademark Townsend Warner I'd say.
"When a stranger walks into an antique shop, an experienced dealer doesn't need to ask himself whether the entrant has come to buy or hopes to sell. Mr. Edom, who kept the Abbey Antique Galleries, in St. John Street, could tell at a glance, or even without glancing--by a footfall, by the timbre of a cough--what was in the air."
When his normal assistant is taken ill, the employment agency sends round a young lady who grates something awful on Mr. Edom. It gives him great pleasure to ask her that when he is out of the shop she is to refrain from making any decisions at all and simply write out a receipt to anyone wishing to sell their antiques. "No comments please."
Miss "Know-All Hartley" as Mr. Edom dubbs her receives an item she proclaims a "marvelous speciman"--an English mosaic. Looking at the item, literally spellbound, circling the object, filled with anguish he moans--"how perfectly appalling!" and "the ignoramous!". You see, it is in fact . . .
". . . cylindrical as a length of earthenware drainpipe--which, in fact, it was--and gay as a Joseph's coat of many colors. The drainpipe having been plastered with some sort of bitumen, a medley of broken china and pottery had been pavemented all over it. The labor and ingenuity expended must have been prodigious; the aim, he supposed, to enrich a home of ornamental umbrella stand. In short, a labor of love."
Hah. Pavemented. What makes it so shockingly awful to Mr. Edom is the fact that the china used happens to be of a variety of the most exquisite of pieces, so many amazing examples of the very, very best and all "immolated on the altar of Home Art". Not only does Mr. Edom believe that surely this atrocity Must Surely have been at the hands of a woman (he can see the hammer raised in her hands even now), but he verbally expresses his views with a high degree of consternation to Miss Know-All, um, Miss Hartley.
Oh, dear. Yes, it is going to be as you may expect. He's annoyed and now she's annoyed, too. But how, she will demand could he possibly know this? Butting of heads. Displeasure, annoyance, anger. This assistant must go. He can already see her with a hammer in hand. He looks about his gallery and vivid images come to mind. Well, I won't spoil it by telling you how the matter is resolved. Technically speaking it is a happy ending on both counts.
This is a most delightful story and scathing in the descriptions, satirical- and amusing-scathing, that is. In "Candles" the next Abbey story that I also read, the tone takes on a very different hue. Written in 1966, Mr. Edom has a new shop assistant, it's a nasty cold snowy January day and the lights go out. Candles are lit and the shop becomes a different place for just a little while.
"For in the diffused candlelight, everything had become mysteriously beautiful and enriched."
It's the sort of ambiance that invites childhood reminiscences. Elegiac in tone, something very different after the wittiness of "English Mosaic". Lovely and quiet, and a little different from STW.
Next weekend: "Furnivall's Hoopoe" and "The Listening Woman".
I've also continued on in the Alice Hoffman collection, The Red Garden, which I am very much enjoying. Once again the Tree of Life makes another appearance as do the descendants of some of the original settlers in the 1816 story "The Year There Was No Summer". It is a freak summer month of June when sunshine has been superseded by clouds and cold. It is not blossoms from the trees that are floating about the air but snowflakes. On such a strange, surreal day when the townspeople's attention lies elsewhere a young girl goes missing. And of course, it is the gypsy camp that draws attention. Always people look towards strangers when something awful happens. This is a melancholy sort of story where there will be no real winners yet the story ends on a hopeful note. I love how Hoffman pulls that thread through the stories--from the first onward with recurring characters and themes and of course the town and that tree. I look forward to seeing where things are headed, what will happen and how the town will grow and change. Next week: 1848 in "Owl and Mouse". I am very fond of collections with interlinked stories and I know Alice Munro has at least one. I may look for more as I near the end of my STW reading.