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Complete Short Stories

Robert Graves



  Robert Graves was born in 1895 in Wimbledon, son of Alfred Perceval Graves, the Irish writer, and Amalia Von Ranke. He went from school to the First World War, where he became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. His principal calling was poetry, and both his Selected Poems and his Complete Poems have been published in Penguin. Apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Cairo University in 1926 he earned his living by writing, mostly historical novels which include: I, Claudius; Claudius the God; Count Belisarius; Wife to Mr Milton; Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth; Proceed, Sergeant Lamb; The Golden Fleece; They Hanged My Saintly Billy and The Isles of Unwisdom. Throughout his writing life he also published over fifty short stories, many of which originally appeared in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. They have all been brought together in his Complete Short Stories. He wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929 and it rapidly established itself as a modern classic. His two most discussed non-fiction books are The White Goddess, which presents a new view of the poetic impulse, and The Nazarene Gospel Restored (with Joshua Podro), a re-examination of primitive Christianity. He translated Apuleius, Lucan, and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics series, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam (with Omar Ali-Shah) was also published in Penguin. He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1961, and made an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, in 1971. Robert Graves died on 7 December 1985 in Majorca, his home since 1929. On his death The Times wrote of him, ‘He will be remembered for his achievements as a prose stylist, historical novelist and memoirist, but above all as the great paradigm of the dedicated poet, “the greatest love poet in English since Donne”.’

  Lucia Graves is a literary translator and author. Her translations (from and into Spanish) include works by her father, Robert Graves – among them his Collected Short Stories – and more recently Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. She is the author of A Woman Unknown: Voices from a Spanish Life, which is a personal account of her years in Spain, and The Memory House, a historical novel.


  Complete Short Stories

  Edited by Lucia Graves



  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

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  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published by Carcanet Press 1995

  Published in Penguin Classics 2008


  Copyright © the Trustees of the Robert Graves Copyright Trust, 1995

  Introduction, selection and notes © copyright 1995 by Lucia Graves

  The moral right of the Editor has been asserted

  All rights reserved

  Without limiting the rights under copyright

  reserved above, no part of this publication may be

  reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,

  or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,

  photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior

  written permission of both the copyright owner and

  the above publisher of this book



  Preface by Lucia Graves

  Honey and Flowers

  My New-Bug’s Exam

  Thames-side Reverie

  The Shout

  Avocado Pears

  Old Papa Johnson

  Interview with a Dead Man

  Está En Su Casa

  Bins K to T

  School Life in Majorca 1955

  Bulletin of the College of St Modesto of Bobbio

  Treacle Tart

  Week-End at Cwm Tatws

  The Full Length

  God Grant Your Honour Many Years

  6 Valiant Bulls 6

  Flesh-coloured Net Tights

  Thy Servant and God’s

  A Man May Not Marry His…

  An Appointment for Candlemas

  The Five Godfathers

  The White Horse or ‘The Great Southern Ghost Story’

  Epics Are Out of Fashion

  Earth to Earth

  They Say… They Say

  The Abominable Mr Gunn

  The Whitaker Negroes


  Cambridge Upstairs

  ‘Ha, Ha!’ Chort-led Nig-ger

  Ditching in a Fishless Sea

  Period Piece

  He Went Out to Buy a Rhine

  Kill Them! Kill Them!

  Harold Vesey at the Gates of Hell

  Life of the Poet Gnaeus Robertulus Gravesa

  Ever Had a Guinea Worm?

  A Bicycle in Majorca

  Evidence of Affluence

  The French Thing

  A Toast to Ava Gardner

  The Viscountess and the Short-haired Girl

  She Landed Yesterday

  The Lost Chinese

  You Win, Houdini!

  The Tenement: A Vision of Imperial Rome

  The Myconian

  Christmas Truce

  My Best Christmas

  No, Mac, It Just Wouldn’t Work

  Miss Briton’s Lady-Companion

  My First Amorous Adventure




  Robert Graves first published his Collected Short Stories in 1964. Until then they had appeared in miscellanies which came out from time to time, bringing together his latest essays, poems, talks, reviews, stories and other loose material on his desk; or else they had only seen the light in magazines. Among the stories he left out of his 1964 collection are gems like ‘Está En Su Casa’, ‘Flesh-coloured Net Tights’ and ‘Bins K to T’, presumably due to limitations of space. This volume aims to bring together all the short stories written by Graves.

  In the brief introduction to his Collected Short Stories, Graves claims that ‘Pure fiction is beyond my imaginative range’, and adds that most of the stories in the collection are true stories, ‘though occasional names and references have been altered’. I can vouch for that, having myself lived through some of the experiences described in the pieces about our family life in Majorca during the 1950s – stories such as ‘A Bicycle in Majorca’, ‘A Toast to Ava Gardner’ and ‘School Life in Majorca 1955’. Indeed, most of his short stories are either strictly autobiographical, or else are based on events which he heard first-hand from friends or family. There are some exceptions, such as the three tales set in Roman times and ‘The Shout’ – although even in this imaginary setting Graves admits his presence: ‘Richard in the story is a surrogate for myself: I was still living on the neurastheni
c verge of nightmare.’1

  Among Graves’s writings there are pieces of an autobiographical nature which cannot readily be classified as short stories. In compiling this book, the main problem has been to decide where the dividing line can be drawn between an autobiographical story and a piece of non-fiction containing elements of personal history. At all times I have been guided by Graves’s own choice of material for his Collected Short Stories.

  Historically speaking, the themes range from accounts of his Edwardian childhood and his schooldays – as in the early piece ‘My New-Bug’s Exam’, ‘The Abominable Mr Gunn’ (1955), or ‘My Best Christmas’ (1962) – to a story set in New York in the late 1960s – ‘No, Mac, It Just Wouldn’t Work’ – in which Graves writes about the contradictions of Western society and the development of inner-city violence.

  It is interesting to relate that Graves did not always find it easy to publish his stories, as his correspondence with The New Yorker in the 1950s shows. ‘You Win, Houdini!’ was turned down for being ‘so tough and unpleasant as to be cruel’. ‘A Toast to Ava Gardner’ met with all sorts of problems with the legal department, who were afraid of infringing the American libel laws and suggested endless changes of tone and wording – such as calling her Miss Gardner throughout, instead of Ava. ‘The Viscountess and the Short-haired Girl’ was found to have excessive ‘under-cover sexual adventures’.

  The stories are arranged in chronological order, and have all been previously published. The texts I have used belong to the last published version of each story in book-form, or in periodicals when they were not otherwise published. For my main source, the Collected Short Stories, I have used the original English edition, 1965. I have picked up some minor inconsistencies and typographical errors, some of which were corrected in the 1968 Penguin edition. I would have been inclined to leave Graves’s Spanish misspellings untouched, but as the Penguin edition incorporated a number of corrections, I decided to make these consistent wherever appropriate. At the end of the volume there are publication details of each story.

  Lucia Graves

  Honey and Flowers

  A leaf from the diary of a Carthusian in the Golden Age.

  6.45 a.m. Awaked from my couch of rose-leaves by the trill of a lark and the bite of a mosquito. Shook off the flies and laved myself in a crystal fount. Water exceedingly cold. Think I prefer my weekly bath in the sulphur-spring. Donned my tunic of fair linen, and my sheepskin cloak. Placed on my crown a garland of crimson roses, flowers that cannot be worn save by those who have sojourned here two years and more, – so that I am the envy of the fags. Seized my crook and descended.

  7.15 a.m. Assisted the School-band in delivering a series of hymns to our local Gods. I am a performer, a poor one, ’tis true, upon the Pan-pipes.

  7.30 a.m. He lectures on bee-keeping.

  8.15 a.m. Breakfast off strawberries culled from the Wilderness, with honey, draughts of goat-milk and incidentally a brace of earwigs.

  9.15 a.m. Slept.

  12.15 p.m. Aroused from slumber by a cow who mistook me for a buttercup and began to chew my hair. Told her I was a daisy and she departed.

  1.30 p.m. Lunched off Honey and Flowers. Honey ran out, so caught some in a jam-pot as it dripped from the oaks on Green. More fell on my head than in the jam-pot. One consolation is that I shall not have to anoint my locks for many a long day.

  2.45 p.m. When to ‘Crown’. Devoured an apple of the Hesperides and quaffed a crimson drink.

  3.0 p.m. Wended my way to Lessington. Game of ‘Hunt the Sandal’ terminated by theft of sandal by peripatetic Centaur. Played Hide and Seek with wasp. Wasp won.

  4.15 p.m. Goat races. My goat made for May-pole. I got entangled in the chains of roses.

  5.30 p.m. Went hunting the multi-coloured beasts on Under Green. Succeeded by strategy in capturing a little Green Bice lamb with vieux rose legs, one gambooge and puce ear, and an ultramarine tail. It was so shy that I could not approach it save by planting my rose-garland firmly on my head, plucking a couple of branches from a melodiferous flowery arbute, and simulating a rose-bush. Received a shower of soapy water and a generous dose of weed-killer from a preceptor who professed gardening as a hobby, but I captured the lamb. Was carrying it back to the house when I met the School-bard muttering darkly to himself. He was clad in a long purple garb with a garland of rhubarb and tea-leaves. He addressed an ode to my lamb, who died in convulsions.

  6.30 p.m. More honey and flowers.

  7.30 p.m. Assumed a wreath of vine-leaves, grasped by thyrsus and joined the Bacchic revels in Founder’s Court, where the fountain e’er runs with wine.

  9.0 p.m. Retired for the night to my couch of rose-leaves.

  My New-Bug’s Exam

  WHEN LIGHTS WENT out at half-past nine in the evening of the second Friday in the Quarter, and the faint footfalls of the departing House-master were heard no more, the fun began.

  The Head of Under Cubicles constituted himself examiner and executioner, and was ably assisted by a timekeeper, a question-recorder, and a staff of his disreputable friends. I was a timorous ‘new-bug’ then, and my pyjamas were damp with the perspiration of fear. Three of my fellows had been examined and sentenced before the inquisition was directed against me.

  ‘It’s Jones’s turn now,’ said a voice. ‘He’s the little hash-pro who hacked me in run-about today. We must set him some tight questions!’

  ‘I say, Jones, what’s the colour of the House-master – I mean what’s the name of the House-master of the House whose colours are black and white? One, two, three…’

  ‘Mr Girdlestone,’ my voice quavered in the darkness.

  ‘He evidently knows the simpler colours. We’ll muddle him. What are the colours of the Clubs to which Block Houses belong? One, two, three, four…’

  I had been slaving at getting up these questions for days, and just managed to blurt the answer before being counted out.

  ‘Two questions. No misses. We must buck up,’ said someone.

  ‘I say, Jones, how do you get to Farncombe from Weekites? One, two, three…’

  I had issued directions only as far as Bridge before being counted out.

  ‘Three questions. One miss. You’re allowed three misses out of ten.’

  ‘Where is Charterhouse Magazine? One, two, three, four…’

  ‘Do you mean The Carthusian office?’ I asked.

  Everyone laughed.

  ‘Four questions. Two misses. I say, Robinson, he’s answered far too many. We’ll set him a couple of stingers.’

  Much whispering.

  ‘What is the age of the horse that rolls Under Green? One, two, three..’

  ‘Six!’ I said, at a venture.

  ‘Wrong; thirty-eight. Five questions. Three misses! Think yourself lucky you weren’t asked its pedigree.’

  ‘What are canoeing colours? One, two, thr…’

  ‘There aren’t any!’

  ‘You’ll get cocked-up for festivity; but you can count it. Six questions. Three misses. Jones?


  ‘What was the name of the girl to whom rumour stated that last year’s football secretary was violently attached? One, two, three, four…’

  ‘Daisy!’ (It sounded a likely name.)

  ‘Oh, really! Well, I happen to know last year’s football secretary; and he’ll simply kill you for spreading scandal. You’re wrong anyhow. Seven questions. Four misses! You’ll come to my “cube” at seven tomorrow morning. See? Good night!’

  Here he waved his hair-brush over the candle, and a colossal shadow appeared on the ceiling.

  Thames-side Reverie

  (Written while I was living in a converted Thames barge moored at Hammersmith.)

  A SUDDEN HOARSE shouting woke me. I looked out of the window beside my bed. Nearly full tide on the river and no wind; a tug was neatly casting off one of its train of barges at the wharf next door. A consignment of glassware in crates. The early morning greetings of tugmaster and wharfman we
re of their usual mock-abusive friendliness. After all this hubbub there followed half an hour of calm, in which I half slept and half watched a pair of dabchicks bobbing about only a few yards from the window. The water was pink and grey in the dawn, the towpath on the opposite bank was deserted and there was no river traffic. The stage was well set for the five swans that floated up with the tide and swam about under my window for some time. They expected bread; they should have known that it was too early. I could distinguish the plebeian swans, with their nicked beaks, the property of the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies, from the royal swans with unnicked beaks which owe immediate allegiance to the Crown. But I could distinguish them only by their nicks, not by their carriage. They went off sulkily after a while.

  The next event was the drifting past of a brown-paper parcel, accompanied by a flock of about twenty gulls. They screamed and wheeled and dived and tore at it; and fluttered and squabbled and grew very excited. Though it passed slowly, I could not make out what it contained. I was glad when it had gone, because I was still sleepy. The amount of things that drift by! Especially at high tide, when there has been heavy rain two days previously up the Thames Valley. Baskets, cabbages, chairs, fruit, hats, vegetables, bottles, tins, heaps of rushes or straw, dead things. Not so many dead things now as in the summer. Far fewer dogs. That is because in the winter they don’t go in so much after sticks and get carried away by the current or murderously held under water by the swans, who are jealous of their river.

  Twelve lemons have just gone past. Now there are several more. They look sound enough. An accident to a barrow? One learns to distinguish accidental flotsam from intentional flotsam. That hat over there, for instance, was accidental, blown off at Westminster or Kew, by the look of it; the one that went by a few minutes ago was surely intentional – a discard from Brentford or Rotherhithe?

  The amount of drift-wood is extraordinary. I wonder that someone does not farm it for profit. But perhaps someone does. I do not count the old woman who walks along the narrow foreshore at low tide and puts a few pieces into a muddy sack; I mean somebody who collects it by the ton, dries it in front of huge furnaces, and sells it in bundles for firewood. Perhaps the supply would give out sooner than I suppose. A lot of the variety is repetitious. After all, certain pieces that I recognize when I see them again (for instance, that bit of ‘Diving Girl’ apple box) go up and down with the tide for a week or more before I lose sight of them.