10 JANUARY 1931, Page 25

Lucky Dip

This little book, beautifully produced, would be worth every penny that is asked for it if it were printed on the cheapest paper and in a sixpenny binding. Nothing I have read for a long time has given me such pleasure. Peter and Gascon were the two sons of Peter de Beam, but there was a difference between them. Gascon, born in wedlock, was a good boy : so good that, when he was discovered in an affair with a kitchenmaid, Peter, born out of wedlock, got the blame. Being called a natural son turned Peter's thoughts to the subject of nature in general, and the more he thought about it, and about such manifestations of it as war and hunting; the more puzzled he became. Years passed, and the brothers married. Peter's wife was conventional. She thought two children a sufficient concession to nature, and she did not like bears. Peter met a bear in the woods, looked into its eyes, and understood something. A few days later, summoned hastily by his wife, he found his household and hounds baying the bear.

It is impossible to convey in a brief outline the charm and significance of this short story. Mr. Erskine presents in his own way his legend of another St. Julien : some of his flippancies would shock Flaubert grievously : yet, within his own limits, he achieves a definite and authoritative beauty. Peter had not to kill his own father and mother : he had only to kill a bear. No thunder-roll is summoned to proclaim his romance :

" Mais l'impitoyable pens& obscurissait la splondeur des taber- nacles, le torturait a travers les macerations de Is penitence."

(I quote from memory, I hope accurately.) Instead,

" His men used to tell how, oven in his last years, when he was feeble, he would get out of bed at night, grasp an imaginary spear, and thrust at something unseen. When the spear had gone home he would fall in a faint, and they'd put him back in his bed."

The story loses nothing from being lightly handled. To issue it in this form was a happy idea. It takes ten minutes

to read, and (I should think) quite ten years to forget.