In Competition 2820 you were invited to supply a postscript to any well-known novel.
This challenge was suggested by a reader who drew my attention to Barbara Hardy’s neo-Victorian gem Dorothea’s Daughter and Other Nineteenth Century Postscripts, which includes afterwords to Little Dorrit and Mansfield Park. I hoped it might appeal to anyone who has ever wondered whether Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy lived happily ever after.
Peter Ridley, Josephine Boyle, Rob Stuart and Adrian Fry were strong runners-up. The winners pocket £25 each and this week’s top dog is D.A. Prince, who takes £30.
Ralph winced as the man, porphory-faced and fleshy, seized his hand. ‘Jack,’ he said. ‘Long time … So, this reunion: was it your inspiration?’ The big man grinned. ‘Yup. I hunted you all down — well, got my chaps on to it — and here we all are, together again. And the barbecue was my idea.’
‘I thought so.’
‘Yes, and these new models are so easy to light. You get them going in no time. Have you had some of the pork? This little piggy’s organic: I insisted.’
‘No, I’m vegetarian. Meat somehow upsets me these days.’
‘You don’t know what you’re missing. I make my children eat up every scrap — there’s the devil to pay if they don’t. They love it, you know, living here — our own little island, cut off from the world.’
Ralph gazed round. ‘I never knew No. 10 had so much garden. So, Jack, d’you like being Prime Minister?’
‘Is this a dream or a nightmare? I am old and in an asylum where everyone, other than me, is mad. I want to get back to the real world. Will you show me the way?’
‘I would, but when I asked you before where you wanted to get to, you told me you didn’t much care.’
‘I was being childish then but I do care now. I hate being lost in this fantasyland. I want to be my proper age and back with you in a world nobody here will believe exists.’
‘And how would you prove it does?’
‘I would show them you.’
‘No chance,’ said the Cat, and vanished.
The doctor was at the bedside when Alice’s sister arrived. ‘No change,’ he said, ‘but I doubt if there will be, not after all these years. She still believes we are all mad and must be delusions.’
When the blow fell, and American capitalism seemed to have plunged into the abyss, taking the American dream with it, I thought of Gatsby again. He’d been spared the ruin of his assets, and would Daisy still have loved him then?
His attitudes were unreal, of course. Childish. I was reminded of that when I ran into Tom Buchanan in a bar on Broadway in 1930. His assets were disaster-proof, old money that never spoiled.
‘Why, Nick,’ he said. ‘Long time no see. How’s it hanging?’
I was on my uppers, out of work, drinking more than I could afford. It was time to swallow my pride. Tom was in big finance, could pull strings. I asked him for a job.
‘A job for the man who pimped my wife? Sure.’
It doesn’t pay much, but I’m still young enough to look good in a chauffeur’s uniform.
‘I’ve advanced at any rate from rich heiress to wealthy widow.’
She touched a slender finger to his lips. ‘My dear, I must speak of it; and you must listen. You see, whilst the world thought Gilbert a fortune-hunter, no one recognised me as a huntress with money as my bow. I aimed to acquire fine things and with them a finer sensibility. I knew I had intelligence but I wanted Gilbert’s discrimination. In my heart I understood he made love to me for Mr Touchett’s pounds; but I hid the truth from myself. And for that sin I duly endured the dark punishment of my marriage. But now Actaeon — ah, the marble has entered my soul! — has been brought down by his own hound. He died, let us say, of etiolation; and I am liberated into your world of light. Now you may speak, Caspar dear. I’ve made you wait long enough.’ W.J. Webster
‘You know, Sebastian, I often wondered why your bear was called Aloysius. Were you really that over-the-top in the nursery?’
‘Actually, Charles, it’s quite a significant name. It was Mummy’s idea, of course. I wanted to call him Teddy, but she thought that was common, even when I explained that he was the Honourable Teddy. Mummy had a special devotion to St Aloysius Gonzaga, the 16th-century Jesuit — you remember what she’s like. Anyway, as I got older I always associated hardline religion with the comfort of the nursery. As the saying goes, give a boy a Jesuit before he’s seven and they’re his for life. Or something like that, anyway.’
‘Well, it does explain a lot. Did anyone ever spot that he wasn’t just a pretentious prop?’
‘Only Anthony Blanche. He once said that if I’d called him Siddharta, things might have turned out very differently.’
‘Good morning, Rebecca. Look out over the bay: that’s your birthday present.’
‘How sweet of you! A yacht of my very own to sail. I know it can’t have been easy for you to buy another after what happened at Manderley…’
‘Quite. She’s built for speed, very thin wood hull and a very heavy keel. No silly extra fittings like a life raft or radio…’
‘Well, I must be off. I’m going to the range for some target practice. Oh, I need your signature on this document. Just some sort of insurance policy, I think. Thank you.’
‘Have fun, Max. You’re so kind, even engaging Mrs Danver’s cousin as the new housekeeper. She’s really good-looking, isn’t she, not like her horrid aunt. I must remember to ask her what she was doing with the sprinkler system yesterday. I thought it was in perfect order…’
No. 2823: pet project
You are invited to submit a school essay or poem written at the age of eight by a well-known person, living or dead, entitled ‘My Pet’ (150 words/16 lines maximum). Please email entries, wherever possible, to email@example.com by midday on 6 November.
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