Short Stories from A. G. Macdonell
The Spanish Pistol. By A. G. Macdonell. (Macmillan, 7s. 6d.) St. Michael Puts His Foot Down. By Roger Vercel. (Harrap, 78. 6d.) Not Peace but the Sword. By Jane Oliver. (Collins, 8s. fid.) A Mighty Man of Valour. By E. L. Grant Watson. (Duckworth, 7s. 6d.) Time to Kill. By David Winser. (Longmans, 78. 6d.) Challenge to the Night. By Cecil Lewis. (Peter Davies, 7s. 6d.) Reviewed by FRANCIS BURDETT R. MACDONELL'S style has lvi an astringent quality about it that. is extraordinarily pleasant. There is in it a simple clarity that cleans and clears the mind, as certain wines clean and clear the palate. He is at his best, certainly in the present volume, when dealing with those remoter parts of Europe that are so strange to most readers and so familiar to him.
The Spanish Pistol, the first of many stories ill this book, is, I think, the best. The unbroken spirits of a group of Russian refug,ees in
Warsaw, their irresponsibility as it seems to an Englishman, arid the fearful tragedy that befell one of them are made vivid, pleasant, amusing in spite of their underlying pain.
The Thirty-one Men of Buzulak horrifies by its probability and the light it sheds on the lesser tragedies which the Russian Revolution involved. Satire of a penetrating sort pervades many of these stories, and at times an almost distressing cynicism. But there is farce and a rollicking farce at that.
THE real hero of St. Michael Puts His Foot Down is the Abbey which crowns Mont St. Michel. Andre had married a wife richer than himself. His father was a shipbuilder in a modest way, hers a millionaire manufacturer. The millionaire went bankrupt and A.ndre's father suffered from the depression. In despair and not without some shame he accepts a post as one of the guardians at Mont St. Michel. One of his duties was to show round groups of tourists; another to receive their tips.
Laura, his wife, an unpleasant and shallow woman, never reconciled herself to this change of fortune. Gradually the Mount awoke something in Andre that had been dormant in his prosperous years. He saw, and we see with him the Mount in all its moods and at all seasons of the year. The terrific tides that swirl round it., the treacherous sands and more treacherous mists, the wild storms. Above all the beauty and the significance
of the Abbey that a commercial and faithless age may mar but cannot destroy.
It was a band of Breton pilgrims, so unlike the noisy groups of ignorant and unperceptive tourists, that helped to awaken Andre. At a crisis St. Michael seems indeed to intervene and save Andre for his service. A book which all who visit the Mount should read.
k AISS OLIVER, a serious historian, IVI takes a depressing period of Scottish history between the murder of Charles I and the Restoration. The Covenanters are predominant in Scotland whilst the Protector is supreme in England.
Not Peace but the Sword is written with ease and fluency. The history, even a detailed history, of the times, is woven round the story of Lady Poiwarth and her children. She, a widow, becomes infatuated with the lamentable Lord Jedburgh. Her son, Sir Patrick Hume, on growing up attaches himself to the Presbyterians and suffers exile for a time. Charles II is treated sympathetically, but the figure that makes the most appeal to Miss Oliver is Leighton, Bishop of Glasgow, who ranked toleration even higher than truth.
A MIGHTY Man of Valour retells the
story of Jephthah that is found in the book of Judges. Jephthah's vow, as all the world knows or used to know, involved the sacrifice of his daughter Vashti. The terror and simplicity of the story is spoilt by that modern humanity that is so easily certain that " inhumanity and bigotry" underlie all that contradicts its shallow and facile judgments. The book is further weakened by the acknowledged anachronism of gnostic hermits whose teaching undermines Jephthah's faith, so that he fulfils his Vow as the Bible tells us but curses God as it does not.
AN inability to watch his wife in pain led Dr. Mallison to disregard the convictions and practice of a life-time and administer a fatal dose of morphia. The morality of this In Time to Kill is discussed at length and, rather hesitatingly, the doctor ultimately decides that he acted wrongly. I think the case against such murders could be better stated, but the book is written with care and some Insight.
CHALLENGR in the Night deals with incredible happenings in the South Seas. A man and a girl fall desperately in love at sight and, as she is the wife of a criminal and hardly sane German, trouble follows. The book may be overromantic, but the story is well told and some of its atmosphere is likely to remain with the reader after the story is forgotten.