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in  2012  with  funding  from 

LYRASIS  Members  and  Sloan  Foundation 

THE    BEST    OF    H.    E.    BATES 

By  H.  E.  Bates 



















HARK,    HARK,    THE    LARK! 



THE   BEST    OF    H.    E.    BATES 

The  Best  of  H.  E.  Bates 


H.    E. 


With  a 

Preface  by 



An  Atlantic  Monthly  Press  Book 


copyright  1928,  1932,  1934,  1935,  1937,  1939,  1945,  1947, 

1948,    1950,    1951,    1952,    1953,    1954,    1955    BY   H.    E.    BATES 
COPYRIGHT    ©     I956,     1957    BY    H.    E.     BATES 
COPYRIGHT    ©     I958,     1959,     I961,     I963     BY    EVENSFORD    PRODUC- 
PREFACE    COPYRIGHT    ©     I963     BY    HENRY    MILLER 
ALL     RIGHTS     RESERVED.      NO     PART    OF     THIS     BOOK     MAY     BE     REPRO- 

LIBRARY    OF    CONGRESS    CATALOG    CARD    NO.    62-IO532 


Published  in  England  under  the  title  of 






PRINTED      IN     THE     UNITED      STATES     OF      AMERICA 


The  earliest  of  these  stories,  The  Flame,  was 
first  published  in  1926,  having  been  written  a 
year  earlier,  when  I  was  twenty;  the  latest 
appeared  in  1961.  The  intervening  thirty-five 
years,  together  with  the  thirty-five  stories  I 
have  chosen  from  that  period,  therefore  give 
this  collection  its  title,  Seven  by  Five.  My  aim 
has  been  to  make  the  book  as  widely  repre- 
sentative of  my  work  as  a  short  story  writer  as 
possible,  but  I  have  nevertheless  refrained  from 
including  any  of  the  war-time  stories  I  wrote 
under  the  pseudonym  of  'Flying  Officer  X',  any 
of  the  stories  of  Uncle  Silas  and  any  novellas, 
since  these  all  belong,  in  my  view,  to  quite 
separate  categories. 

*The  title  of  the  British  edition. 


It  was  only  a  little  over  a  year  ago  that  I  came  across  H.  E. 
Bates'  work;  up  until  then.  I  had  never  even  heard  his  name, 
strange  as  this  may  sound.  I  blush  now  when  I  read  that  he  is 
the  author  of  forty  or  more  books,  has  been  translated  into  a 
dozen  or  more  languages,  and  that  'his  reputation  in  America, 
Australia  and  New  Zealand  equals,  and  in  some  cases  surpasses, 
that  in  his  own  country.' 

Perhaps  I  would  never  have  heard  of  him  had  I  not  been  laid 
up  with  chills  and  fever  in  the  Hotel  Formentor,  Mallorca, 
where  I  was  quartered  during  the  Formentor  Conference.  Hav- 
ing nothing  to  read  I  asked  a  friend  to  go  to  the  bookstore  in 
the  lobby  and  select  something  light,  gay,  amusing  for  me.  My 
friend  returned  with  a  copy  of  A  Breath  of  French  Air.  He  said 
nothing  about  knowing  the  author  until  some  days  later  when 
I  told  him  how  much  I  had  enjoyed  the  book.  A  little  later,  at 
some  airport,  I  picked  up  The  Darling  Buds  of  May  and  Fair 
Stood  the  Wind  for  France.  The  last  named  impressed  me 
deeply  and  made  me  wonder  why  I  had  never  heard  of  the 
author.  It  struck  me  as  being  the  only  good  novel  I  had  read 
about  World  War  II. 

In  a  way  Mr  Bates  is  the  very  opposite  of  what  I  look  for  in 
an  author.  There  is  certainly  little  relation  between  his  manner 
of  writing  and  that  of  Celine  or  Blaise  Cendrars,  my  favourites 
among  contemporary  writers.  (Both  dead  now,  alas.)  On  the 
other  hand,  I  do  find  a  kinship  between  Bates  and  Jean  Giono, 
whose  work  I  adore.  I  ought  to  add  -  like  whom  I  wish  I  could 

One  of  the  great  joys  for  a  writer  is  to  find  a  fellow  writer 
who,  because  he  is  so  different,  captivates  and  enchants  him. 
To  find  a  writer  whose  work  he  will  read  even  if  he  is  warned 
that  it  is  not  one  of  the  author's  best. 

In  general  I  must  confess  that  I  seldom  fall  for  the  work  of 
a  popular  writer.  Had  I  lived  in  Dickens'  time,  for  example,  I 
doubt  that  I  would  have  been  one  of  his  devoted  readers.  As 
for  the  successful  writers  of  our  own  time  there  is  hardly  one 

Preface  by  Henry  Miller 

I  can  think  of  off  hand  whom  I  have  any  desire  to  read.  It  de- 
mands an  effort  for  me  to  read  a  modern  novel,  and  an  even 
greater  one  to  read  a  short  story.  I  make  exception  for  the  short 
stories  of  I.  B.  Singer,  the  Yiddish  writer.  And  Mr  Bates  is 
supremely  a  novelist  and  short-story  writer.  He  is,  moreover, 
a  rather  conventional  one. 

After  all  that  has  been  written  about  this  author  it  seems 
rather  unimportant  that  I  add  my  tribute  to  him.  Certainly  he 
needs  no  further  words  of  praise,  and  praise,  I  am  afraid,  is  all 
I  can  summon.  I  assume  that  the  reason  I  have  been  requested 
to  write  this  preface  to  his  collected  short  stories  is  because  the 
coupling  of  our  two  names  will  seem  highly  incongruous  both 
to  Mr  Bates'  readers  and  my  own.  I  know  that  I  have  a  reputa- 
tion for  being  highly  critical  of,  perhaps  even  unfair  to  British 
authors.  On  the  other  hand,  it  should  not  be  overlooked  that 
the  one  author  (still  alive)  for  whom  I  have  an  undying 
admiration  is  John  Cowper  Powys,  and  that  I  regard  his  novel, 
A  Glastonbury  Romance,  as  the  greatest  novel  in  the  English 

If  Mr  Bates  were  a  painter  I  think  I  could  express  my  views 
about  his  work  much  better.  Last  night  I  lay  awake  trying  to 
pick  out  the  painter  with  whom  I  sought  to  identify  his  writing. 
No  single  painter  whose  work  I  know  seemed  suitable.  I  thought 
of  Renoir  and  Bonnard,  of  Breughel  the  elder  and  others.  I  think 
that  if  I  were  to  find  one  it  would  be  a  Flemish  painter.  The 
reason  is  obvious. 

Whether  it  be  the  short  story  or  the  novel,  Mr  Bates  always 
finds  time  for  lengthy  descriptions  of  nature,  descriptions  which 
in  the  hands  of  a  lesser  writer  would  seem  boring  or  out  of  place. 
He  dwells  long  and  lovingly  on  things  which  years  ago  would 
have  driven  me  mad.  I  mean  such  things  as  flowers,  plants,  trees, 
birds,  sea,  sky,  everything  in  short  which  meets  the  eye  and 
which  the  unskilled  writer  uses  as  so  much  window  dressing. 
Indeed,  it  is  not  only  the  unskilled  writer  who  is  guilty  of  mis- 
handling description.  Some  of  the  greatest  novelists  of  the  past 
were  flagrantly  guilty  of  doing  just  this,  and  more  particularly 
British  writers.  With  Mr  Bates  this  fault  has  been  made  into 
a  virtue.  The  reader  falls  upon  these  lengthy  passages  like  a 
man  athirst. 

There  is  another  virtue  which  goes  hand  in  hand  with  the 

Preface  by  Henry  Miller 

above-mentioned  one,  and  that  is  the  author's  feeling  for  women. 
His  women  are  always  females  first  and  foremost.  That  is  to 
say,  they  are  fully  sexed :  they  have  all  the  charm,  the  loveliness, 
the  attraction  of  the  flowers  he  knows  so  well.  With  a  few  deft 
strokes  -  like  a  painter  again  -  we  are  given  their  peculiar  grace, 
character  and  utter  femininity.  Not  all  of  them,  naturally,  for 
he  can  also  render  the  other  kind  of  woman  just  as  tellingly. 

And  then  there  is  this  element  which  crops  up  again  and 
again,  I  find  -  an  obsession  with  pain.  Pain  stretched  to  the 
breaking  point,  pain  prolonged  beyond  all  seeming  endurance. 
This  element  is  usually  called  forth  in  connection  with  heroic 
behaviour.  Perhaps  it  is  the  supreme  mark  of  the  hero,  this  ability 
to  endure  pain.  With  Mr  Bates  I  feel  that  it  goes  beyond  the 
point  of  the  heroic;  it  carries  us  into  some  other  dimension.  Pain 
takes  on  the  aspects  of  space  and  time,  a  continuum  or 
perpetuum  which  one  finally  questions  no  longer. 

But  no  matter  how  much  one  is  made  to  suffer,  one  closes  his 
books  with  a  lasting  sensation  of  beauty.  And  this  sense  of 
beauty,  it  seems  to  me,  is  evoked  by  the  author's  unswerving 
acceptance  of  life.  It  is  this  which  makes  his  flowers,  trees,  birds, 
skies,  whatever  it  be,  different  from  those  of  other  writers.  They 
are  not  merely  decorative,  they  are  not  showily  dramatic:  they 
exist,  along  with  his  characters,  his  thoughts,  his  observations, 
in  a  plenum  which  is  spiritual  as  well  as  physical. 

There  is  one  other  quality  which  must  endear  him  to  every 
reader  and  that  is  his  sense  of  humour.  It  is  a  full,  robust 
humour,  often  bawdy,  which  I  must  confess  the  British  writer 
seems  to  have  lost  in  the  last  few  centuries.  It  is  never  a  nasty 
humour,  so  common  to  American  writers.  It  is  clean  and  healthy, 
and  absolutely  infectious. 

What  surprises  me  most  about  this  man's  work  is  the  fact 
that  only  one  or  two  of  his  books  have  been  made  into  films. 
Despite  the  abundance  of  descriptive  passages  which  I  spoke 
of,  there  is  drama  in  all  his  work.  Drama  and  dialogue.  Good, 
natural  dialogue  which,  if  transferred  to  the  screen,  would  need 
no  adaptation. 

I  realise  at  this  point  that  I  have  said  little  or  nothing  about 
the  short  stories  themselves.  Aside  from  a  few  very  short  ones 
I  find  them  all  absorbing.  Meanwhile  I  look  forward  with  great 
relish  to  eating  my  way  through  the  thirty  odd  books  of  his 

Preface  by  Henry  Miller 

which  I  have  yet  to  read,  especially  those  containing  his  novellas, 
a  form  which  clearly  suits  him  best,  as  it  did  one  of  my  first 
idols,  Knut  Hamsun.  But  I  am  sure  that  whatever  Mr  Bates 
gives  us  will  always  please  me. 

Henry  Miller 





THE   MOWER  16 

TIME  27 

THE   MILL  32 




THE  OX  120 



THE   FLAG  167 




ELAINE  217 


THE   GOOD   CORN  239 



CHAFF   IN   THE   WIND  286 




LOVE   IN  A  WYCH  ELM  324 

let's  play  soldiers  334 

the  watercress  girl  345 

the  cowslip  field  358 

great  uncle  crow  365 

the  enchantress  372 

now  sleeps  the  crimson  petal  396 

where  the  cloud  breaks  414 

lost  ball  425 

THELMA  433 


THE    BEST    OF    H.    E.    BATES 


'Two  ham  and  tongue,  two  teas,  please,  Miss!' 


The  waitress  retreated,  noticing  as  she  did  so  that  the  clock 
stood  at  six.  'Two  ham  and  tongue,  two  teas/  she  called  down 
the  speaking-tube.  The  order  was  repeated.  She  put  down  the 
tube,  seemed  satisfied,  even  bored,  and  patted  the  white  frilled 
cap  that  kept  her  black  hair  in  place.  Then  she  stood  still,  hand 
on  hip,  pensively  watching  the  door.  The  door  opened  and  shut. 

She  thought :  'Them  two  again ! ' 

Wriggling  herself  upright  she  went  across  and  stood  by  the 
middle-aged  men.  One  smiled  and  the  other  said :  'Usual/ 

Down  the  tube  went  her  monotonous  message :  'One  ham,  one 
tongue,  two  teas/ 

Her  hand  went  to  her  hip  again,  and  she  gazed  at  the  clock. 
Five  past!  -time  was  hanging,  she  thought.  Her  face  grew 
pensive  again.  The  first  order  came  on  the  lift,  and  the  voice  up 
the  tube:   'Two  'am  an'  tongue,  two  teas!' 

'Right/  She  took  the  tray  and  deposited  it  with  a  man  and 
woman  at  a  corner-table.  On  returning  she  was  idle  again,  her 
eye  still  on  the  door.  Her  ear  detected  the  sound  of  a  bronchial 
wheeze  on  the  floor  above,  the  angry  voice  of  a  customer  in  the 
next  section,  and  the  rumble  of  the  lift  coming  up.  But  she 
watched  the  door  until  the  last  possible  second.  The  tray  slid 
into  her  hand  almost  without  her  knowing  it  and  the  nasal  voice 
into  her  ears:  'One  'am,  one  tongue,  two  teas!' 


The  middle-aged  customers  smiled;  one  nudged  the  other 
when  she  failed  to  acknowledge  that  salute,  and  chirped :  'Bright 
today,  ain't  you ! ' 

She  turned  her  back  on  him. 

'Been  brighter,'  she  said,  without  smiling. 

She  was  tired.  When  she  leant  against  the  head  of  the  lift  she 
shut  her  eyes,  then  remembered  and  opened  them  again  to 
resume  her  watch  on  the  door  and  clock.  The  man  in  the  corner 

8  The  Flame 

smacked  his  lips,  drank  with  his  mouth  full  and  nearly  choked. 
A  girl  in  another  corner  laughed,  not  at  the  choking  man  but  at 
her  companion  looking  cross-eyed.  The  cash-register  linked' 
sharply.  Someone  went  out:  nothing  but  fog  came  in,  making 
every  one  shiver  at  once.  The  man  in  the  corner  whistled  three 
or  four  notes  to  show  his  discomfort,  remembered  himself,  and 
began  to  eat  ham. 

The  girl  noticed  these  things  mechanically,  not  troubling  to 
show  her  disgust.  Her  eye  remained  on  the  door.  A  customer 
came  in,  an  uninteresting  working  girl  who  stared,  hesitated, 
then  went  and  sat  out  of  the  dark  girl's  section.  The  dark  girl 
noticed  it  mechanically. 

The  manageress  came:  tall,  darkly  dressed,  with  long  sleeves, 
like  a  manageress. 

'Have  you  had  your  tea,  Miss  Palmer/  she  asked. 


'Would  you  like  it?' 

'No,  thank  you/ 

'No?  Why  not?' 

'It's  my  night  off.  I'm  due  out  at  half-past.' 

She  walked  away,  took  an  order,  answered  a  call  for  'Bill!' 
and  found  that  the  order  got  mixed  with  the  bill,  and  that  the 
figures  wouldn't  add.  It  seemed  years  before  the  'tink'  of  the 
register  put  an  end  to  confusion.  The  customer  went  out:  fog 
blew  in :  people  shivered.  The  couple  in  the  corner  sipped  their 
tea,  making  little  storms  in  their  tea-cups. 

She  put  her  head  against  the  lift.  The  clock  showed  a  quarter 
past:  another  quarter  of  an  hour!  She  was  hungry.  As  if  in 
consequence  her  brain  seemed  doubly  sharp  and  she  kept 
thinking:  'My  night  out.  Wednesday.  Wednesday.  He  said 
Wednesday !  He  said  -  ' 

'Bill!  Bill!' 

She  went  about  mechanically,  listened  mechanically,  executed 
mechanically.  A  difficult  bill  nearly  sent  her  mad,  but  she  wrote 
mechanically,  cleaned  away  dirty  platter,  brushed  off  crumbs - 
all  mechanically.  Now  and  then  she  watched  the  clock.  Five 
minutes  more!  Would  he  come?  Would  he?  Had  he  said 

The  waitress  from  the  next  section,  a  fair  girl,  came  and  said : 

'Swap  me  your  night,  Lil?  Got  a  flame  comin'  in.  I  couldn't 

The  Flame  9 

get  across  to  tell  you  before.  A  real  flame  -  strite  he  is  -  nice, 
quiet,  'andsome.  Be  a  dear?  You  don't  care?' 

The  dark  girl  stared.  What  was  this !  She  couldn't !  Not  she ! 
The  clock  showed  three  minutes  to  go.  She  couldn't! 

'Nothing  doing,'  she  said  and  walked  away. 

Every  one  was  eating  contentedly.  In  the  shadow  near  the  lift 
she  pulled  out  his  note  and  read:  'I  will  come  for  you, 
Wednesday  evening,  6.' 

Six!  Then,  he  was  late!  Six!  Why  should  she  think  half- 
past?  She  shut  her  eyes.  Then  he  wasn't  coming! 

A  clock  outside  struck  the  half-hour.  She  waited  five  minutes 
before  passing  down  the  room,  more  mechanically  than  ever. 
Why  hadn't  he  come?  Why  hadn't  he  come? 

The  fair  girl  met  her.  'Be  a  dear?'  she  pleaded.  'Swap  me 
your  night.  He's  a  real  flame  -  'struth  he  is,  nice,  quiet ! ' 

Thirty-five  minutes  late !  The  dark  girl  watched  the  door.  No 
sign !  It  was  all  over. 

'Right-o,'  she  said. 

She .  sent  another  order  down.  The  door  opened  often  now, 
the  fog  was  thicker,  she  moved  busily.  She  thought  of  him  when 
a  man  ordered  a  brandy  and  spilt  it  over  her  hand  because  his 
own  shivered  with  cold.  He  wasn't  like  that,  she  thought,  as  she 
sucked  her  fingers  dry. 

For  the  first  time  in  five  minutes  she  looked  at  the  door.  She 
felt  her  heart  leap. 

He  had  come  at  last.  Yes,  there  he  was.  He  was  talking  to  the 
fair  girl.  The  little  doll  was  close  to  him.  Yes,  there  he  was,  nice, 
quiet  handsome.  Their  voices  crept  across  to  her. 

'Two  seats?  two  seats?'  she  heard. 


'Oh !  I  say !  And  supper  ? ' 

'Of  course.  And  supper.' 

The  dark  girl  could  not  move  as  they  went  out. 

The  door  shut  hard.  'Two  seats?'  'And  supper?'  'Nice  quiet, 
'andsome.'  The  dark  girl  dreamed  on. 

'Miss!  Miss!' 

She  obeyed.  She  was  sad,  hungry,  tired. 

'Yessir?'  They  were  middle-aged  men  again! 

'Two  teas,  two  tongues,'  said  one. 

'Two  seats  and  supper?'  she  whispered. 

10  The  Flame 

'Whaaat?  Two  teas!  two  tongues!  Can't  you  hear?' 
'Yessir.  Two  teas,  two  tongues.  Thank  you,  sir.' 
She  moved  slowly  away. 

'You  can  never  make  these  blooming  gals  understand/  said 
one  man  to  the  other. 


The  blackthorn  tree  stooped  over  the  high  bank  above  the  road. 
Its  branches  were  clouded  with  white  blossom  and  the  spring 
sunlight  threw  lace-like  patterns  on  the  earth  that  had  been 
trodden  bare  underneath  the  tree.  The  grass  of  the  bank  was 
scattered  with  big,  pale-blue  violets  and  stars  of  coltsfoot  and 
daisies  very  like  chance  blackthorn  blossoms  that  the  wind  had 
shaken  down.  In  the  hedge  behind  the  blackthorn  were  com- 
panies of  pale-green  lords-and-ladies  that  had  thrust  up  their 
unfurled  hoods  through  a  thicket  of  dog's-mercury.  They 
looked  cold  and  stately.  The  sunlight  was  sharp  and  brilliant 
and  against  the  blue  of  the  sky  the  blackthorn  tree  was  whiter 
than  a  summer  cloud. 

On  the  road  below  stood  a  row  of  cottages  and  in  the  back 
gardens  wives  were  beating  carpets  and  gossiping.  A  clergyman 
rode  by  on  a  bicycle,  carrying  The  Times  and  a  bunch  of 
daffodils.  A  blackbird  squawked  and  dipped  across  the  road  and 
vanished  into  a  spinney  of  hazels  as  he  passed. 

A  girl  of  seven  or  eight  was  sitting  under  the  blackthorn.  The 
tree  was  so  twisted  and  stooping  that  she  sat  there  in  a  kind  of 
room,  shut  in  by  a  roof  and  walls  of  blossoming  branches.  It 
was  very  sweet  and  snug  there  on  the  dry  floor  in  the  freckling 
sunlight.  She  had  taken  off  her  pinafore  and  had  spread  it 
across  the  earth  and  had  set  in  the  centre  of  it  a  tin  that  had 
once  held  peaches.  In  the  tin  she  was  arranging  flowers  among 
ivy  leaves  and  grasses.  She  had  put  in  celandines  and  dog- 
violets  and  coltsfoot  and  a  single  dandelion,  with  a  spray  or  two 
of  blackthorn.  She  arched  her  fingers  very  elegantly  and  sat 
back  to  admire  the  effects.  She  had  fair,  smooth  hair,  and 
she  had  made  a  daisy  chain  to  bind  round  her  forehead.  It  gave 
her  a  very  superior  and  ladylike  air  which  was  not  lost  on 

Presently  she  ceased  arranging  the  flowers  and  began  to 
smooth  her  dress  and  polish  her  finger-nails  on  her  palms, 
lingering  over  them  for  a  long  time.  At  last  there  was  a  move- 


12  A  Flower  Piece 

ment  in  a  hawthorn  bush  a  little  distance  away  and  a  voice 
called  quietly: 

'Do  I  have  to  come  in  now?' 

The  girl  looked  up  in  the  direction  of  the  voice. 

'You  have  to  wait  till  I  tell  you/  she  whispered  sharply. 

And  then  in  a  totally  strange  voice,  very  high-pitched  and 
affected,  like  the  voice  of  a  stage  duchess,  she  sang  out: 

Tm  at  my  toilet,  my  dear.  An  awful  nuisance.  Do  excuse  me.' 

'I  see.' 

'Only  a  moment!  I'm  still  in  my  deshabille.' 

She  began  to  make  hurried  imaginary  movements  of  slipping 
in  and  out  of  garments.  Finally  she  undid  two  buttons  at  the 
bodice  of  her  dress  and  turned  back  the  bodice  of  her  dress, 
revealing  her  naked  chest.  She  looked  down  at  herself  in 
admiration,  breathing  heavily  once  or  twice,  so  that  her  bosom 
rose  and  fell  very  languidly  and  softly.  She  gave  one  last  touch 
to  the  flowers  in  the  peach-tin  and  then  whispered: 

'You  can  come  in  now.  Act  properly.' 

Another  child  came  out  of  hiding  and  stood  outside  the  haw- 
thorn tree.  She  was  a  brown,  shy,  unassuming  creature,  about 
six  or  seven,  with  beautiful  dark  eyes  that  reflected  the  dazzling 
whiteness  of  the  sloe  blossom  so  perfectly  that  they  took  fresh 
light  from  it.  Her  voice  was  curiously  soft  and  timid  and 

'Do  I  have  to  come  straight  in  ? '  she  said. 

'You  have  to  be  in  the  garden  first.  You  look  at  the  flowers  and 
then  you  ring  and  the  servant  comes.' 

'Oh!  what  lovely  may,'  said  the  other  child,  talking  softly  to 

'It's  not  may!  It's  lilac' 

'Oh!   What  lovely  lilac.  Oh!   dear,  what  lovely  lilac' 

She  pulled  down  a  branch  of  blossom  and  caressed  it  with 
her  cheek.  It  was  very  sweet  and  she  sighed.  She  acted  very 
charmingly,  and  finally  she  rang  the  bell  and  the  servant  came. 

'May  I  see  Mrs  Lane?' 

'Not  Mrs  Lane,'  came  an  awful  whisper.  'Lady  Constance. 
You're  Mrs  Lane.' 

'Is  Lady  Constance  in  ? ' 

'Will  you  go  into  the  drawing-room?' 

She   stooped   and  went  through   a  space  in  the  blackthorn 

A  Flower  Piece  13 

branches.  The  fair  child  for  a  moment  did  not  notice  her.  She 
had  broken  off  a  thorn  and  she  was  absorbed  in  stitching 
imaginary  embroideries  very  delicately.  Suddenly  she  glanced  up 
with  a  most  perfect  exclamation  of  well-mannered  surprise. 

'My  dear  Mrs  Lane!  It  is  Mrs  Lane,  isn't  it?' 


'How  sweet  of  you  to  come.  Won't  you  sit  down?  I'll  ring  for 
tea.  You  must  be  tired.'  Ting-a-ling-a-ling !  'Oh !  Jane,  will  you 
bring  tea  at  once,  please?  Thank  you.  Oh!  do  sit  down,  won't 
you  ? ' 

'Where  do  I  sit?'  said  the  brown  child. 

'On  the  floor,  silly ! '  whispered  the  fair  girl.  'Oh !  do  take  the 
settee,  won't  you  ? ' 

'I  was  admiring  your  lovely  may,'  said  the  brown  child. 

'The  lilac?  Oh!  yes,  wouldn't  you  like  to  take  some?' 

'Oh!  Yes.  May  I?' 

She  began  to  crawl  through  the  break  in  the  branches  again. 
Instantly  the  fair  child  was  furious. 

'You  don't  have  to  do  that  until  I  tell  you,'  she  whispered. 
'Come  back  and  sit  down  now.  Oh!  yes,  of  course,'  she  said 
aloud.  'I'll  tell  the  gardener  to  cut  you  some.' 

The  brown-eyed  child  crept  back  under  the  tree  and  sat  down. 
She  looked  very  meek  and  solemn  and  embarrassed,  as  though 
she  were  really  in  a  drawing-room  and  did  not  know  what  to  do 
with  her  hands.  The  fair  child  was  acting  superbly,  not  one 
accent  or  gesture  out  of  place.  The  maid  arrived  with  the  tea 
and  the  fair  one  said  with  perfect  sweetness: 

'Milk  and  sugar?' 

The  dark  child  had  become  busy  with  hidden  knots,  her  frock 
uplifted,  and  she  did  not  hear.  The  fair-haired  child  took  one 
look  at  her  and  became  furious  again. 

'Put  your  clothes  down,'  she  whispered  terribly.  'You're 
showing  all  you've  got.' 

'I  can't  help  it.  It's  my  knickers.  I  want  some  new  elastic' 

'But  you  mustn't  do  it.  Not  in  the  drawing-room.  We're 
ladies ! ' 

'Ladies  do  it.' 

'Ladies  don't  do  it!  Ladies  have  to  sit  nice  and  talk  nice  and 
behave  themselves.' 

The  brown-eyed  child  surrendered.  She  looked  as  though  she 

14  A  Flower  Piece 

were  bored  and  bewildered  by  the  affectations  of  the  fair  child 
and  by  the  prospect  of  being  a  lady.  She  was  constantly  glanc- 
ing with  an  expression  of  quiet  longing  at  the  blackthorn 
blossom,  the  blue  sky  and  the  flowers  arranged  in  the  peach-tin. 

'Milk  and  sugar?'  repeated  the  fair  child. 

'Oh !  yes  please/ 

There  were  no  teacups,  but  the  fair  child  had  gathered  a  heap 
of  stones  for  cakes.  The  brown  child  sat  with  a  stone  in  her 
hand.  The  other  took  a  cake  between  her  finger-tips  and  made 
elegant  bites  and  munched  with  a  sweetish  smile.  She  made 
small  talk  to  perfection,  and  when  she  drank  her  tea  she  extended 
her  little  finger.  Finally  she  observed  that  the  dark  child  was 
neither  eating  nor  drinking.  She  looked  at  her  as  if  she  had 
committed  unpardonable  sins  in  etiquette. 

'Aren't  you  having  any  tea?'  she  said  icily. 

The  brown-eyed  child  looked  startled  and  then  declared 
timidly : 

'I  don't  want  to  play  this  game.' 

'Why  don't  you  want  to  play?' 

The  brown  child  did  not  answer.  All  the  dignity  of  the  fair 
child  at  once  vanished.  She  made  a  gesture  as  though  it  were 
difficult  to  bear  all  the  shortcomings  of  the  younger  child. 

'All  because  you  can't  act,'  she  said  tartly. 

'Let's  go  out  and  get  violets  and  be  real  people.' 

'We  are  real  people.  You  play  so  silly.  You  aren't  old  enough 
to  understand.' 

The  brown-eyed  child  looked  acutely  depressed.  Suddenly  she 
dropped  the  stone  and  began  to  creep  out  disconsolately  from 
under  the  blackthorn  tree.  The  fair  child  adopted  a  new, 
cajoling  tone. 

'It's  easy,'  she  said.  'You  only  have  to  put  it  on  a  bit  and 
you're  a  lady.  We  can  start  again  and  you  can  be  a  duchess. 
Come  on.' 

The  dark  child  looked  back  for  a  moment  very  dubiously,  as 
though  it  were  too  much  to  believe,  and  then  walked  away  up  the 
bank.  The  other  child  sniffed  and  tossed  her  head  with  fierce 
pride  and  called  out : 

'You  needn't  think  you  can  come  back  here  now  you've  gone.' 

Without  answering,  the  brown-eyed  child  walked  away  behind 
the  hawthorn  trees  and  by  the  hedge  at  the  top  of  the  bank.  She 

A  Flower  Piece  15 

became  lost  in  a  world  of  dog's-mercury  and  budding  hawthorn 
and  pale  violets.  She  came  upon  primrose  buds  and  finally  a 
cluster  of  opened  primroses  and  a  bed  of  white  anemones. 
Talking  to  herself,  she  gathered  flowers  and  leaves  and  put  them 
in  her  hair,  as  the  fair  girl  had  done. 

The  fair  child  crept  out  from  under  the  blackthorn  tree.  She 
had  tucked  her  frock  in  her  pale  blue  knickers  and  she  stood 
upright  on  her  toes,  like  a  ballet-dancer.  She  broke  off  a  spray 
of  blackthorn  and  held  it  with  both  hands  above  her  head  and 
then  twirled  on  her  toes  and  did  high  kicks  and  waltzed 
majestically  round  and  round  the  blackthorn  tree.  Now  and  then 
she  broke  out  and  sang  to  herself.  She  introduced  a  stage  vibrato 
into  her  voice  and  she  danced  about  the  blackthorn  tree  to  the 
tune  she  made,  acting  perfectly. 

Finally  the  brown-haired  child  came  down  the  bank  again. 
She  saw  the  fair  child  dancing  and  she  suddenly  conceived  a 
desire  to  dance  too.  She  stood  by  the  tree  and  waited.  The  fair 
girl  saw  her. 

'You  needn't  come  here ! '  she  sneered. 

A  spasm  of  sadness  crossed  the  face  of  the  dark  child.  She 
turned  and  descended  the  bank  very  slowly,  sometimes  pausing 
and  looking  backward  and  then  edging  unwillingly  away. 
Finally,  with  the  primroses  and  the  single  anemone  still  shining 
in  her  hair,  she  reached  the  road  and  walked  slowly  away  and 

When  she  had  gone  there  was  nothing  left  to  interrupt  the 
gaiety  of  the  dancing  child,  the  flowers  about  the  earth  and  the 
blackthorn  tree  scattering  its  shower  of  lovely  stars. 


In  the  midday  heat  of  a  June  day  a  farm-boy  was  riding  down 
a  deserted  meadow-lane,  straddling  a  fat  white  pony.  The 
blossoms  of  hawthorn  had  shrivelled  to  brown  on  the  tall  hedges 
flanking  the  lane  and  wild  pink  and  white  roses  were  beginning 
to  open  like  stars  among  the  thick  green  leaves.  The  air  was 
heavy  with  the  scent  of  early  summer,  the  odour  of  the  dying 
hawthorn  bloom,  the  perfume  of  the  dog-roses,  the  breath  of 
ripening  grass. 

The  boy  had  taken  off  his  jacket  and  had  hooked  it  over  the 
straw  victual-bag  hanging  from  the  saddle.  There  were  bottles 
of  beer  in  the  bag  and  the  jacket  shaded  them  from  the  heat  of 
the  sun.  The  pony  moved  at  walking-pace  and  the  boy  rode 
cautiously,  never  letting  it  break  into  a  trot.  As  though  it  was 
necessary  to  be  careful  with  the  beer,  he  sometimes  halted  the 
pony  and  touched  the  necks  of  the  bottles  with  his  fingers.  The 
bottlenecks  were  cool,  but  the  cloth  of  his  jacket  was  burning 
against  his  hand. 

He  presently  steered  the  pony  through  a  white  gate  leading 
from  the  lane  to  a  meadow  beyond.  The  gate  was  standing  open 
and  he  rode  the  pony  straight  across  the  curving  swathes  of  hay 
which  lay  drying  in  the  sun.  It  was  a  field  of  seven  or  eight  acres 
and  a  third  of  the  grass  had  already  been  mown.  The  hay  was 
crisp  and  dry  under  the  pony's  feet  and  the  flowers  that  had 
been  growing  in  the  grass  lay  white  and  shrivelled  in  the 

Over  on  the  far  side  of  the  field  a  man  was  mowing  and  a 
woman  was  turning  the  rows  of  grass  with  a  hay  rake.  The 
figure  of  the  man  was  nondescript  and  dark,  and  the  woman  was 
dressed  in  a  white  blouse  and  an  old  green  skirt  that  had  faded 
to  the  yellowish  colour  of  the  grass  the  man  was  mowing.  The 
boy  rode  the  pony  towards  them.  The  sunshine  blazed  down 
fierce  and  perpendicular,  and  there  was  no  shade  in  the  field 
except  for  the  shadow  of  an  ash  tree  in  one  corner  and  a  group 
of  willows  by  a  cattle-pond  in  another. 


The  Mower  17 

Everywhere  was  silence  and  the  soft  sound  of  the  pony's  feet 
in  the  hay  and  the  droning  of  bees  in  the  flowers  among  the 
uncut  grass  seemed  to  deepen  the  silence. 

The  woman  straightened  her  back  and,  leaning  on  her  rake, 
shaded  her  face  with  her  hand  and  looked  across  at  the  boy  as 
she  heard  him  coming.  The  man  went  on  mowing,  swinging  the 
scythe  slowly  and  methodically,  his  back  towards  her. 

The  woman  was  dark  and  good-looking,  with  a  sleek  swarthy 
face  and  very  high,  soft  red  cheek-bones,  like  a  gipsy,  and  a 
long  pigtail  of  thick  black  hair  which  she  wore  twisted  over  her 
head  like  a  snake  coiled  up  asleep.  She  herself  was  rather  like 
a  snake  also,  her  long  body  slim  and  supple,  her  black  eyes 
liquid  and  bright.  The  boy  rode  up  to  her  and  dismounted.  She 
dropped  her  rake  and  held  the  pony's  head  and  ran  her  fingers 
up  and  down  its  nose  while  he  slipped  from  the  saddle. 

'Can  he  come?'  she  said. 

The  boy  had  not  time  to  answer  before  the  man  approached, 
wiping  the  sweat  from  his  face  and  neck  with  a  dirty  red 
handkerchief.  His  face  was  broad  and  thick-lipped  and  pon- 
derous, his  eyes  were  grey  and  simple,  and  the  skin  of  his  face 
and  neck  and  hands  was  dried  and  tawny  as  an  Indian's  with 
sun  and  weather.  He  was  about  forty,  and  he  walked  with  a 
slight  stoop  of  his  shoulders  and  a  limp  of  his  left  leg,  very 
slowly  and  deliberately. 

'See  him?'  he  said  to  the  boy. 

'He  was  up  there  when  I  got  the  beer,'  the  boy  said. 

'In  the  Dragon?  What  did  he  say?' 

'He  said  he'd  come.' 

The  woman  ceased  stroking  the  pony's  nose  and  looked  up. 

'He  said  that  yesterday,'  she  said. 

'Ah !  but  you  can't  talk  to  him.  He's  got  to  have  his  own  way,' 
said  the  man.  'Was  he  drunk  ? '  he  asked. 

'I  don't  think  so,'  said  the  boy.  'He  was  drunk  yesterday.' 

The  man  wiped  his  neck  impatiently  and  made  a  sound  of 
disgust  and  then  took  out  his  watch.  'Half  the  day  gone  -  and  a 
damn  wonder  if  he  comes,'  he  muttered. 

'Oh!  if  Ponto  says  he'll  come,'  said  the  woman  slowly,  'he'll 
come.  He'll  come  all  right.' 

'How  do  you  know?  He  does  things  just  when  he  thinks  he 
will  -  and  not  until.' 

18  The  Mower 

'Oh!  He'll  come  if  he  says  he'll  come,'  she  said. 

The  boy  began  to  lead  the  pony  across  the  field  towards  the 
ash  tree.  The  woman  stood  aside  for  him  and  then  kicked  her 
rake  on  a  heap  of  hay  and  followed  him. 

The  sun  had  crossed  the  zenith.  The  man  went  back  to  his 
scythe  and  slipped  his  whetstone  from  his  pocket  and  laid  it 
carefully  on  the  mown  grass.  As  he  put  on  his  jacket  he  turned 
and  gazed  at  the  white  gate  of  the  field.  He  could  see  no  one 
there,  and  he  followed  the  woman  and  the  boy  across  the  field 
to  the  ash  tree. 

Under  the  ash  tree  the  boy  was  tethering  the  horse  in  the 
shade  and  the  woman  was  unpacking  bread  and  cold  potatoes 
and  a  meat  pie.  The  boy  had  finished  tethering  the  horse  as  the 
man  came  up  and  he  was  covering  over  the  bottles  of  beer  with 
a  heap  of  hay.  The  sight  of  the  beer  reminded  the  man  of  some- 

'You  told  him  the  beer  was  for  him?  he  asked. 

'He  asked  me  whose  it  was  and  I  told  him  what  you  said,'  the 
boy  replied. 

'That's  all  right.' 

He  began  to  unfold  the  sack  in  which  the  blade  of  his  scythe 
had  been  wrapped.  He  spread  out  the  sack  slowly  and  carefully 
on  the  grass  at  the  foot  of  the  ash  trunk  and  let  his  squat  body 
sink  down  upon  it  heavily.  The  boy  and  the  woman  seated  them- 
selves on  the  grass  at  his  side.  He  unhooked  the  heavy  soldier's 
knife  hanging  from  his  belt,  and  unclasped  it  and  wiped  it  on 
his  trousers  knee.  The  women  sliced  the  pie.  The  man  took  his 
plateful  of  pie  and  bread  and  potatoes  on  his  knee,  and  spitting 
his  sucking-pebble  from  his  mouth  began  spearing  the  food  with 
the  point  of  his  knife,  eating  ravenously.  When  he  did  not  eat 
with  his  knife  he  ate  with  his  fingers,  grunting  and  belching 
happily.  The  woman  finished  serving  the  pie,  and  sucking  a 
smear  of  gravy  from  her  long  fingers,  began  to  eat  too. 

During  the  eating  no  one  spoke.  The  three  people  stared  at 
the  half-mown  field.  The  curves  of  the  scythed  grass  were 
beginning  to  whiten  in  the  blazing  sunshine.  The  heat 
shimmered  and  danced  above  the  earth  in  the  distance  in  little 

Before  long  the  man  wiped  his  plate  with  a  piece  of  bread  and 
swilled  down  his  food  with  long  drinks  of  cold  tea  from  a  blue 

The  Mower  19 

can.  When  he  had  finished  drinking,  his  head  lolled  back  against 
the  ash  tree  and  he  closed  his  eyes.  The  boy  lay  flat  on  his  belly, 
reading  a  sporting  paper  while  he  ate.  The  air  was  stifling  and 
warm  even  under  the  ash  tree,  and  there  was  no  sound  in  the 
noon  stillness  except  the  clink  of  the  horse's  bit  as  it  pulled  off 
the  young  green  leaves  of  the  hawthorn  hedge. 

But  suddenly  the  woman  sat  up  a  little  and  the  drowsy  look  on 
her  face  began  to  clear  away.  A  figure  of  a  man  had  appeared  at 
the  white  gate  and  was  walking  across  the  field.  He  walked  with 
a  kind  of  swaggering  uncertainty  and  now  and  then  he  stopped 
and  took  up  a  handful  of  mown  grass  and  dropped  it  again.  He 
was  carrying  a  scythe  on  his  shoulder. 

She  watched  him  intently  as  he  skirted  the  standing  grass  and 
came  towards  the  ash  tree.  He  halted  at  last  within  the  shade  of 
the  tree  and  took  a  long  look  at  the  expanse  of  grass,  thick  with 
buttercups  and  tall  bull- daises,  scattered  everywhere  like  a  white 
and  yellow  mass  of  stars. 

'By  Christ/  he  muttered  softly. 

His  voice  was  jocular  and  tipsy.  The  woman  stood  up. 

What's  the  matter,  Ponto  ? '  she  said. 

'This  all  he's  cut?' 

'That's  all.' 

'By  Christ.' 

He  laid  his  scythe  on  the  grass  in  disgust.  He  was  a  tall,  thin, 
black-haired  fellow,  about  thirty,  lean  and  supple  as  a  stoat;  his 
sharp,  dark-brown  eyes  were  filled  with  a  roving  expression,  half 
dissolute  and  half  cunning;  the  light  in  them  was  sombre  with 
drinking.  His  soft  red  lips  were  full  and  pouting,  and  there  was 
something  about  his  face  altogether  conceited,  easy-going  and 
devilish.  He  had  a  curious  habit  of  looking  at  things  with  one 
eye  half  closed  in  a  kind  of  sleepy  wink  that  was  marvellously 
knowing  and  attractive.  He  was  wearing  a  dark  slouch  hat  which 
he  had  tilted  back  from  his  forehead  and  which  gave  him  an 
air  of  being  a  little  wild  but  sublimely  happy. 

Suddenly  he  grinned  at  the  woman  and  walked  over  to  where 
the  man  lay  sleeping.  He  bent  down  and  put  his  mouth  close  to 
his  face. 

'Hey,  your  old  hoss's  bolted!'  he  shouted. 

The  man  woke  with  a  start. 

'Your  old  hoss's  bolted ! ' 

20  The  Mower 

'What's  that?  Where  did  you  spring  from?, 

'Get  up,  y'  old  sleepy  guts.  I  wanna  get  this  grass  knocked 
down  afore  dark.' 

The  man  got  to  his  feet. 

'Knock  this  lot  down  afore  dark  ? ' 

'Yes,  my  old  beauty.  When  I  mow  I  do  mow,  I  do.'  He  smiled 
and  wagged  his  head.  'Me  and  my  old  dad  used  to  mow  twenty- 
acre  fields  afore  dark  -  and  start  with  the  dew  on.  Twenty- acre 
fields.  You  don't  know  what  mowin'  is.' 

He  began  to  take  off  his  jacket.  He  was  slightly  unsteady  on 
his  feet  and  the  jacket  bothered  him  as  he  pulled  it  off  and  he 
swore  softly.  He  was  wearing  a  blue- and- white  shirt  and  a  pair 
of  dark  moleskin  trousers  held  up  by  a  wide  belt  of  plaited 
leather  thongs.  His  whetstone  rested  in  a  leather  socket  hanging 
from  the  belt.  He  spat  on  his  hands  and  slipped  the  whetstone 
from  the  socket  and  picked  up  his  scythe  and  with  easy,  careless 
rhythmical  swings  began  to  whet  the  long  blade.  The  woman 
gazed  at  the  stroke  of  his  arm  and  listened  to  the  sharp  ring  of 
the  stone  against  the  blade  with  a  look  of  unconscious  admiration 
and  pleasure  on  her  face.  The  blade  of  the  scythe  was  very  long, 
tapering  and  slender,  and  it  shone  like  silver  in  the  freckles  of 
sunlight  coming  through  the  ash  leaves.  He  ceased  sharpening 
the  blade  and  took  a  swing  at  a  tuft  of  bull-daisies.  The  blade 
cut  the  stalks  crisply  and  the  white  flowers  fell  evenly  together, 
like  a  fallen  nosegay.  His  swing  was  beautiful  and  with  the 
scythe  in  his  hand  the  balance  of  his  body  seemed  to  become 
perfect  and  he  himself  suddenly  sober,  dignified,  and  composed. 

'Know  what  my  old  dad  used  to  say?'  he  said. 


'Drink  afore  you  start.' 

'Fetch  a  bottle  of  beer  for  Ponto,'  said  the  man  to  the  boy  at 
once.  'I  got  plenty  of  beer.  The  boy  went  up  on  the  nag  and 
fetched  it.' 

'That's  a  good  job.  You  can't  mow  without  beer.' 

'That's  right.' 

'My  old  man  used  to  drink  twenty  pints  a  day.  God's  truth. 
Twenty  pints  a  day.  He  was  a  bloody  champion.  You  can't  mow 
without  beer.' 

The  woman  came  up  with  a  bottle  of  beer  in  her  hand.  Ponto 
took  it  from  her  mechanically,  hardly  looking  at  her.  He  un- 

The  Mower  21 

corked  the  bottle,  covered  the  white  froth  with  his  mouth  and 
drank  eagerly,  the  muscles  of  his  neck  rippling  like  those  of  a 
horse.  He  drank  all  the  beer  at  one  draught  and  threw  the  empty 
bottle  into  the  hedge,  scaring  the  pony. 

'Whoa !  damn  you ! '  he  shouted. 

The  pony  tossed  his  head  and  quietened  again.  Ponto  wiped 
his  lips,  and  taking  a  step  or  two  towards  the  boy,  aimed  the 
point  of  the  scythe  jocularly  at  his  backside.  The  boy  ran  off  and 
Ponto  grinned  tipsily  at  the  woman. 

'You  goin'  to  turn  the  rows?'  he  said. 

'Yes/  she  said. 

He  looked  her  up  and  down,  from  the  arch  of  her  hips  to  the 
clear  shape  of  the  breasts  in  her  blouse  and  the  coil  of  her  black 
pigtail.  Her  husband  was  walking  across  the  field  to  fetch  his 
scythe.  She  smiled  drowsily  at  Ponto  and  he  smiled  in  return. 

'I  thought  you'd  come/  she  said  softly. 

His  smile  broadened  and  he  stretched  out  his  hand  and  let  his 
fingers  run  down  her  bare  brown  throat.  She  quivered  and 
breathed  quickly  and  laughed  softly  in  return.  His  eyes  rested  on 
her  face  with  mysterious  admiration  and  delight  and  he  seemed 
suddenly  very  pleased  about  something. 

'Good  old  Anna/  he  said  softly. 

He  walked  past  her  and  crossed  the  field  to  the  expanse  of 
unmown  grass.  He  winked  solemnly  and  his  fingers  ran  lightly 
against  her  thigh  as  he  passed  her. 

The  woman  followed  him  out  into  the  sunshine  and  took  up 
her  rake  and  began  to  turn  the  rows  that  had  been  cut  since 
early  morning.  When  she  glanced  up  again  the  men  were  mow- 
ing. They  seemed  to  be  mowing  at  the  same  even,  methodical 
pace,  but  Ponto  was  already  ahead.  He  swung  his  scythe  with  a 
long  light  caressing  sweep,  smoothly  and  masterfully,  as  though 
his  limbs  had  been  born  to  mow.  The  grass  was  shaved  off  very 
close  to  the  earth  and  was  laid  in  a  tidy  swathe  that  curved 
gently  behind  him  like  a  thick  rope.  On  the  backward  stroke  the 
grass  and  the  butter-cups  and  the  bull-daisies  were  pressed 
gently  backwards,  bent  in  readiness  to  meet  the  forward  swing 
that  came  through  the  grass  with  a  soft  swishing  sound  like  the 
sound  of  indrawn  breath. 

The  boy  came  and  raked  in  the  row  next  to  the  woman.  To- 
gether they  turned  the  rows  and  the  men  mowed  in  silence  for  a 

22  The  Mower 

long  time.  Every  time  the  woman  looked  up  she  looked  at  Ponto. 
He  was  always  ahead  of  her  husband  and  he  moved  with  a  kind 
of  lusty  insistence,  as  though  he  were  intent  on  moving  the  whole 
field  before  darkness  fell.  Her  husband  mowed  in  a  stiff, 
awkward  fashion,  always  limping  and  often  whetting  his  scythe. 
The  boy  had  taken  some  beer  to  Ponto,  who  often  stopped  to 
drink.  She  would  catch  the  flash  of  the  bottle  tilted  up  in  the 
brilliant  sunshine  and  she  would  look  at  him  meditatively  as 
though  remembering  something. 

As  the  afternoon  went  on,  Ponto  mowed  far  ahead  of  her 
husband,  working  across  the  field  towards  the  pond  and  the 
willows.  He  began  at  last  to  mow  a  narrow  space  of  grass  behind 
the  pond.  She  saw  the  swing  of  his  bare  arms  through  the 
branches  and  then  lost  them  again. 

Suddenly  he  appeared  and  waved  a  bottle  and  shouted  some- 

Til  go,'  she  said  to  the  boy. 

She  dropped  her  rake  and  walked  over  to  the  ash  tree  and 
found  a  bottle  of  beer.  The  flies  were  tormenting  the  horse  and 
she  broke  off  an  ash  bough  and  slipped  it  in  the  bridle.  The  sun 
seemed  hotter  than  ever  as  she  crossed  the  field  with  the  beer, 
and  the  earth  was  cracked  and  dry  under  her  feet.  She  picked  up 
a  stalk  of  buttercups  and  swung  it  against  her  skirt.  The  scent 
of  the  freshly-mown  grass  was  strong  and  sweet  in  the  sunshine. 
She  carried  the  beer  close  by  her  side,  in  the  shadow. 

Ponto  was  mowing  a  stretch  of  grass  thirty  or  forty  yards  wide 
behind  the  pond.  The  grass  was  richer  and  taller  than  in  the  rest 
of  the  field  and  the  single  swathes  he  had  cut  lay  as  thick  as 

She  sat  down  on  the  bank  of  the  pond  under  a  willow  until 
he  had  finished  his  bout  of  mowing.  She  had  come  up  silently, 
and  he  was  mowing  with  his  back  towards  her,  and  it  was  not 
until  he  turned  that  he  knew  she  was  there. 

He  laid  his  scythe  in  the  grass  and  came  sidling  up  to  her.  His 
face  was  drenched  in  sweat  and  in  his  mouth  was  a  stalk  of 
totter-grass  and  the  dark  red  seeds  trembled  as  he  walked.  He 
looked  at  Anna  with  a  kind  of  sleepy  surprise. 

'Good  old  Anna/  he  said. 

'You  did  want  beer?'  she  said. 

He  smiled  and  sat  down  at  her  side. 

The  Mower  23 

She  too  smiled  with  a  flash  of  her  black  eyes.  He  took  the 
bottle  from  her  hand  and  put  one  hand  on  her  knee  and  caressed 
it  gently.  She  watched  the  hand  with  a  smile  of  strange,  wicked, 
ironical  amusement.  He  put  the  bottle  between  his  knees  and 
unscrewed  the  stopper. 

'Drink/  he  said  softly. 

She  drank  and  gave  him  the  bottle. 

'Haven't  seen  you  for  ages/  she  murmured. 

He  shrugged  his  shoulders  and  took  a  long  drink.  His  hand 
was  still  on  her  knee  and  as  she  played  idly  with  the  stalk  of 
buttercups,  her  dark  face  concealed  its  rising  passion  in  a  look  of 
wonderful  preoccupation,  as  though  she  had  forgotten  him  com- 
pletely. He  wetted  his  lips  with  his  tongue  and  ran  his  hand 
swiftly  and  caressingly  from  her  knees  to  her  waist.  Her  body 
was  stiff  for  one  moment  and  then  it  relaxed  and  sank  backwards 
into  the  long  grass.  She  shut  her  eyes  and  slipped  into  his 
embrace  like  a  snake,  her  face  blissfully  happy,  her  hand  still 
clasping  the  stalk  of  buttercups,  her  whole  body  trembling. 

Presently  across  the  field  came  the  sound  of  a  scythe  being 
sharpened.  She  whispered  something  quickly  and  struggled  and 
Ponto  got  to  his  feet.  She  sat  up  and  buttoned  the  neck  of  her 
blouse.  She  was  flushed  and  panting,  and  her  eyes  rested  on 
Ponto  with  a  soft,  almost  beseeching  look  of  adoration. 

Ponto  walked  away  to  his  scythe  and  picked  it  up  and  began 
mowing  again.  He  mowed  smoothly  and  with  a  sort  of  aloof  in- 
difference as  though  nothing  had  happened,  and  she  let  him 
mow  for  five  or  six  paces  before  she  too  stood  up. 

'Ponto/  she  whispered. 


'I'll  come  back/  she  said. 

She  remained  for  a  moment  in  an  attitude  of  expectancy,  but 
he  did  not  speak  or  cease  the  swing  of  his  arms,  and  very  slowly 
she  turned  away  and  went  back  across  the  field. 

She  walked  back  to  where  she  had  left  her  rake.  She  picked 
up  the  rake  and  began  to  turn  the  swathes  of  hay  again,  follow- 
ing the  boy.  She  worked  for  a  long  time  without  looking  up. 
When  at  last  she  lifted  her  head  and  looked  over  towards  the 
pond,  she  saw  that  Ponto  had  ceased  mowing  behind  the  pond 
and  was  cutting  the  grass  in  the  open  field  again.  He  was  mow- 
ing with  the  same  easy,  powerful  insistence  and  with  the  same 

24  The  Mower 

beautiful  swaggering  rhythm  of  his  body,  as  though  he  could 
never  grow  tired. 

They  worked  steadily  on  and  the  sun  began  to  swing  round 
behind  the  ash  tree  and  the  heat  began  to  lessen  and  twilight 
began  to  fall.  While  the  two  men  were  mowing  side  by  side  on 
the  last  strip  of  grass,  the  woman  began  to  pack  the  victual-bags 
and  put  the  saddle  on  the  horse  under  the  ash  tree. 

She  was  strapping  the  girth  of  the  saddle  when  she  heard  feet 
in  the  grass  and  a  voice  said  softly : 

'Anymore  beer?' 

She  turned  and  saw  Ponto.  A  bottle  of  beer  was  left  in  the 
bag  and  she  brought  it  out  for  him.  He  began  drinking,  and 
while  he  was  drinking  she  gazed  at  him  with  rapt  admiration,  as 
though  she  had  been  mysteriously  attracted  out  of  herself  by  the 
sight  of  his  subtle,  conceited,  devilish  face,  the  memory  of  his 
embrace  by  the  pond  and  the  beautiful  untiring  motion  of  his 
arms  swinging  the  scythe  throughout  the  afternoon.  There  was 
something  altogether  trustful,  foolish  and  abandoned  about  her, 
as  though  she  was  sublimely  eager  to  do  whatever  he  asked. 

'Think  you'll  finish  ?'  she  said  in  a  whisper. 


He  corked  the  beer  and  they  stood  looking  at  each  other.  He 
looked  at  her  with  a  kind  of  careless,  condescending  stare,  half 
smiling.  She  stood  perfectly  still,  her  eyes  filled  with  half-happy, 
half-frightened  submissiveness. 

He  suddenly  wiped  the  beer  from  his  lips  with  the  back  of  his 
hand  and  put  out  his  arm  and  caught  her  waist  and  tried  to  kiss 

'Not  now/  she  said  desperately.  'Not  now.  He'll  see.  After- 
wards. He'll  see.' 

He  gave  her  a  sort  of  half -pitying  smile  and  shrugged  his 
shoulders  and  walked  away  across  the  field  without  a  word. 

'Afterwards,'  she  called  in  a  whisper. 

She  went  on  packing  the  victual-bags,  the  expression  on  her 
face  lost  and  expectant.  The  outlines  of  the  field  and  the  figures 
of  the  mowers  became  softer  and  darker  in  the  twilight.  The 
evening  air  was  warm  and  heavy  with  the  scent  of  the  hay. 

The  men  ceased  mowing  at  last.  The  boy  had  gone  home  and 
the  woman  led  the  horse  across  the  field  to  where  the  men  were 
waiting.  Her  husband  was  tying  the  sack  about  the  blade  of  his 

The  Mower  25 

scythe.  She  looked  at  Ponto  with  a  dark,  significant  flash  of  her 
eyes,  but  he  took  no  notice. 

'You'd  better  finish  the  beer/  she  said. 

He  took  the  bottle  and  drank  to  the  dregs  and  then  hurled  the 
bottle  across  the  field.  She  tried  to  catch  his  eye,  but  he  was 
already  walking  away  over  the  field,  as  though  he  had  never 
seen  her. 

She  followed  him  with  her  husband  and  the  horse.  They  came 
to  the  gate  of  the  field  and  Ponto  was  waiting.  A  look  of  antici- 
pation and  joy  shot  up  in  her  eyes. 

'Why  should  I  damn  well  walk  ? '  said  Ponto.  'Eh  ?  Why  should 
I  damn  well  walk  up  this  lane  when  I  can  sit  on  your  old  hoss? 
Lemme  get  up.' 

He  laid  his  scythe  in  the  grass  and  while  the  woman  held  the 
horse  he  climbed  into  the  saddle. 

'Give  us  me  scythe/  he  asked.  'I  can  carry  that.  Whoa!  mare, 
damn  you ! ' 

She  picked  up  the  scythe  and  gave  it  to  him  and  he  put  it  over 
his  shoulder.  She  let  her  hand  touch  his  knee  and  fixed  her  eyes 
on  him  with  a  look  of  inquiring  eagerness,  but  he  suddenly  urged 
the  horse  forward  and  began  to  ride  away  up  the  lane. 

She  followed  her  husband  out  of  the  field.  He  shut  the  gate 
and  looked  back  over  the  darkening  field  at  the  long  black 
swathes  of  hay  lying  pale  yellow  in  the  dusk.  He  seemed  pleased 
and  he  called  to  Ponto : 

'I  don't  know  what  the  Hanover  we  should  ha'  done  without 
you,  Ponto.' 

Ponto  waved  his  rein-hand  with  sublime  conceit. 

'That's  nothing/  he  called  back.  'Me  and  my  old  dad  used  to 
mow  forty- acre  fields  afore  dark.  God  damn  it,  that's  nothing. 
All  in  the  day's  work.' 

He  seized  the  rein  again  and  tugged  it  and  the  horse  broke  into 
a  trot,  Ponto  bumping  the  saddle  and  swearing  and  shouting  as 
he  went  up  the  lane. 

The  woman  followed  him  with  her  husband.  He  walked 
slowly,  limping,  and  now  and  then  she  walked  on  a  few  paces 
ahead,  as  though  trying  to  catch  up  with  the  retreating  horse. 
Sometimes  the  horse  would  slow  down  into  a  walk  and  she 
would  come  almost  to  within  speaking  distance  of  Ponto,  but 
each  time  the  horse  would  break  into  a  fresh  trot  and  leave  her 

26  The  Mower 

as  far  behind  again.  The  lane  was  dusky  with  twilight  and  Ponto 
burst  into  a  song  about  a  girl  and  a  sailor. 

'Hark  at  him/  said  the  husband.  'He's  a  Tartar.  He's  a  Tartar.' 
The  rollicking  voice  seemed  to  echo  over  the  fields  with  soft, 
deliberate  mocking.  The  woman  did  not  speak:  but  as  she 
listened  her  dark  face  was  filled  with  the  conflicting  expression 
of  many  emotions,  exasperation,  perplexity,  jealousy,  longing, 
hope,  anger. 


Sitting  on  an  iron  seat  fixed  about  the  body  of  a  great  chestnut 
tree  breaking  into  pink-flushed  blossom,  two  old  men  gazed 
dumbly  at  the  sunlit  emptiness  of  a  town  square. 

The  morning  sun  burned  in  a  sky  of  marvellous  blue  serenity, 
making  the  drooping  leaves  of  the  tree  most  brilliant  and  the  pale 
blossoms  expand  to  fullest  beauty.  The  eyes  of  the  old  men  were 
also  blue,  but  the  brilliance  of  the  summer  sky  made  a  mockery 
of  the  dim  and  somnolent  light  in  them.  Their  thin  white  hair 
and  drooping  skin,  their  faltering  lips  and  rusted  clothes,  the 
huddled  bones  of  their  bodies  had  come  to  winter.  Their  hands 
tottered,  their  lips  were  wet  and  dribbling,  and  they  stared  with 
a  kind  of  earnest  vacancy,  seeing  the  world  as  a  stillness  of 
amber  mist.  They  were  perpetually  silent.  The  deafness  of  one 
made  speech  a  ghastly  effort  of  shouting  and  mis-interpretation. 
With  their  worn  sticks  between  their  knees  and  their  worn  hands 
knotted  over  their  sticks  they  sat  as  though  time  had  ceased  to 
exist  for  them. 

Nevertheless  every  movement  across  the  square  was  an  event. 
Their  eyes  missed  nothing  that  came  within  sight.  It  was  as  if  the 
passing  of  every  vehicle  held  for  them  the  possibility  of  catas- 
trophe; the  appearance  of  a  strange  face  was  a  revolution;  the 
apparitions  of  young  ladies  in  light  summer  dresses  gliding  on 
legs  of  shell- pink  silk  had  on  them  something  of  the  effect  of 
goddesses  on  the  minds  of  young  heroes.  There  were,  sometimes, 
subtle  changes  of  light  in  their  eyes. 

Across  the  square  they  observed  an  approaching  figure.  They 
watched  it  with  a  new  intensity,  exchanging  also,  for  the  first 
time,  a  glance  with  one  another.  For  the  first  time  also  they 

Who  is  it?'  said  one. 

'Duke,  ain't  it? ' 

'Looks  like  Duke/  the  other  said.  'But  I  can't  see  that  far.' 

Leaning  forward  on  their  sticks,  they  watched  the  approach 
of  this  figure  with  intent  expectancy.  He,  too,  was  old.  Beside 


28  Time 

him,  indeed,  it  was  as  if  they  were  adolescent.  He  was  patriar- 
chal. He  resembled  a  biblical  prophet,  bearded  and  white  and 
immemorial.  He  was  timeless. 

But  though  he  looked  like  a  patriarch  he  came  across  the 
square  with  the  haste  of  a  man  in  a  walking  race.  He  moved  with 
a  nimbleness  and  airiness  that  were  miraculous.  Seeing  the  old 
men  on  the  seat  he  waved  his  stick  with  an  amazing  gaiety  at 
them.  It  was  like  the  brandishing  of  a  youthful  sword.  Ten 
yards  away  he  bellowed  their  names  lustily  in  greeting. 

Well  Rueben  boy !  Well  Shepherd ! ' 

They  mumbled  sombrely  in  reply.  He  shouted  stentoriously 
about  the  weather,  wagging  his  white  beard  strongly.  They 
shifted  along  the  seat  and  he  sat  down.  A  look  of  secret  relief 
came  over  their  dim  faces,  for  he  had  towered  above  them  like  a 
statue  in  silver  and  bronze. 

'Thought  maybe  you  warn't  coming/  mumbled  Rueben. 

'Ah !  been  for  a  sharp  walk ! '  he  half-shouted.  'A  sharp  walk ! ' 

They  had  not  the  courage  to  ask  where  he  had  walked  but  in 
his  clear  brisk  voice  he  told  them,  and  deducing  that  he  could 
not  have  travelled  less  than  six  or  seven  miles  they  sat  in  gloomy 
silence,  as  though  shamed.  With  relief  they  saw  him  fumble  in 
his  pockets  and  bring  out  a  bag  of  peppermints,  black-and- 
white  balls  sticky  and  strong  from  the  heat  of  his  strenuous 
body,  and  having  one  by  one  popped  peppermints  into  their 
mouths  they  sucked  for  a  long  time  with  toothless  and  dumb 
solemnity,  contemplating  the  sunshine. 

As  they  sucked,  the  two  old  men  waited  for  Duke  to  speak, 
and  they  waited  like  men  awaiting  an  oracle,  since  he  was,  in 
their  eyes,  a  masterpiece  of  a  man.  Long  ago,  when  they  had 
been  napkinned  and  at  the  breast,  he  had  been  a  man  with  a 
beard,  and  before  they  had  reached  their  youth  he  had  passed 
into  a  lusty  maturity.  All  their  lives  they  had  felt  infantile  beside 

Now,  in  old  age,  he  persisted  in  shaming  them  by  the  lustiness 
of  his  achievements  and  his  vitality.  He  had  the  secret  of  a 
devilish  perpetual  youth.  To  them  the  world  across  the  square 
was  veiled  in  sunny  mistiness,  but  Duke  could  detect  the  swift- 
ness of  a  rabbit  on  a  hillside  a  mile  away.  They  heard  the 
sounds  of  the  world  as  though  through  a  stone  wall,  but  he 
could  hear  the  crisp  bark  of  a  fox  in  another  parish.  They  were 

Time  29 

condemned  to  an  existence  of  memory  because  they  could  not 
read,  but  Duke  devoured  the  papers.  He  had  an  infinite  know- 
ledge of  the  world  and  the  freshest  affairs  of  men.  He  brought 
them,  every  morning,  news  of  earthquakes  in  Peru,  of  wars  in 
China,  of  assassinations  in  Spain,  of  scandals  among  the  clergy. 
He  understood  the  obscurest  movements  of  politicians  and  ex- 
plained to  them  the  newest  laws  of  the  land.  They  listened  to 
him  with  the  devoutness  of  worshippers  listening  to  a  preacher, 
regarding  him  with  awe  and  believing  in  him  with  humble 
astonishment.  There  were  times  when  he  lied  to  them  blatantly. 
They  never  suspected. 

As  they  sat  there,  blissfully  sucking,  the  shadow  of  the  chest- 
nut-tree began  to  shorten,  its  westward  edge  creeping  up,  like  a 
tide,  towards  their  feet.  Beyond,  the  sun  continued  to  blaze  with 
unbroken  brilliance  on  the  white  square.  Swallowing  the  last 
smooth  grain  of  peppermint  Reuben  wondered  aloud  what  time 
it  could  be. 

'Time?'  said  Duke.  He  spoke  ominously.  'Time?'  he  repeated. 

They  watched  his  hand  solemnly  uplift  itself  and  vanish  into 
his  breast.  They  had  no  watches.  Duke  alone  could  tell  them  the 
passage  of  time  while  appearing  to  mock  at  it  himself.  Very 
slowly  he  drew  out  an  immense  watch,  held  it  out  at  length  on 
its  silver  chain,  and  regarded  it  steadfastly. 

They  regarded  it  also,  at  first  with  humble  solemnity  and  then 
with  quiet  astonishment.  They  leaned  forward  to  stare  at  it. 
Their  eyes  were  filled  with  a  great  light  of  unbelief.  The  watch 
had  stopped. 

The  three  old  men  continued  to  stare  at  the  watch  in  silence. 
The  stopping  of  this  watch  was  like  the  stopping  of  some  perfect 
automaton.  It  resembled  almost  the  stopping  of  time  itself.  Duke 
shook  the  watch  urgently.  The  hand  moved  onward  for  a  second 
or  two  from  half-past  three  and  then  was  dead  again.  He  lifted 
the  watch  to  his  ear  and  listened.  It  was  silent. 

For  a  moment  or  two  longer  the  old  man  sat  in  lugubrious 
contemplation.  The  watch,  like  Duke,  was  a  masterpiece,  in- 
credibly ancient,  older  even  than  Duke  himself.  They  did  not 
know  how  often  he  had  boasted  to  them  of  its  age  and  efficiency, 
its  beauty  and  pricelessness.  They  remembered  that  it  had  once 
belonged  to  his  father,  that  he  had  been  offered  incredible  sums 
for  it,  that  it  had  never  stopped  since  the  battle  of  Waterloo. 

30  Time 

Finally  Duke  spoke.  He  spoke  with  the  mysterious  air  of  a 
man  about  to  unravel  a  mystery.  'Know  what  'tis  ? ' 

They  could  only  shake  their  heads  and  stare  with  the  blank- 
ness  of  ignorance  and  curiosity.  They  could  not  know. 

Duke  made  an  ominous  gesture,  almost  a  flourish,  with  the 
hand  that  held  the  watch.  'It's  the  lectric., 

They  stared  at  him  with  dim- eyed  amazement. 

'It's  the  lectric,'  he  repeated.  'The  lectric  in  me  body.' 

Shepherd  was  deaf.  'Eh  ? '  he  said. 

'The  lectric/  said  Duke  significantly,  in  a  louder  voice. 

'Lectric?'  They  did  not  understand  and  they  waited. 

The  oracle  spoke  at  last,  repeating  with  one  hand  the  ominous 
gesture  that  was  like  a  flourish. 

'It  stopped  yesterday.  Stopped  in  the  middle  of  me  dinner,'  he 
said.  He  was  briefly  silent.  'Never  stopped  as  long  as  I  can  re- 
member. Never.  And  then  stopped  like  that,  all  of  a  sudden,  just 
at  pudden-time.  Couldn't  understand  it.  Couldn't  understand  it 
for  the  life  of  me.' 

'Take  it  to  the  watch  maker's?'  Reuben  said. 

'I  did,'  he  said  'I  did.  This  watch  is  older'n  me,  I  said,  and  it's 
never  stopped  as  long  as  I  can  remember.  So  he  squinted  at  it 
and  poked  it  and  that's  what  he  said.' 


'It's  the  lectric,  he  says,  that's  what  it  is.  It's  the  lectric  -  the 
lectric  in  your  body.  That's  what  he  said.  The  lectric' 

'Lectric  light?' 

'That's  what  he  said.  Lectric.  You're  full  o'  lectric,  he  says. 
You  go  home  and  leave  your  watch  on  the  shelf  and  it'll  go 
again.  So  I  did.' 

The  eyes  of  the  old  men  seemed  to  signal  intense  questions. 
There  was  an  ominous  silence.  Finally,  with  the  watch  still  in 
his  hand,  Duke  made  an  immense  flourish,  a  gesture  of  serene 

'And  it  went,'  he  said,  'It  went ! ' 

The  old  men  murmured  in  wonder. 

'It  went  all  right.  Right  as  a  cricket !  Beautiful ! ' 

The  eyes  of  the  old  men  flickered  with  fresh  amazement.  The 
fickleness  of  the  watch  was  beyond  the  weakness  of  their  ancient 
comprehension.  They  groped  for  understanding  as  they  might 
have  searched  with  their  dim  eyes  for  a  balloon  far  up  in  the  sky. 

Time  3 1 

Staring  and  murmuring  they  could  only  pretend  to  understand. 

'Solid  truth/  said  Duke.  'Goes  on  the  shelf  but  it  won't  go  on 
me.  It's  the  lectric.' 

'That's  what  licks  me/  said  Reuben,  'the  lectric.' 

'It's  me  body/  urged  Duke.  'It's  full  of  it.' 

'Lectric  light?' 

'Full  of  it.  Alive  with  it.' 

He  spoke  like  a  man  who  had  won  a  prize.  Bursting  with  glory, 
he  feigned  humility.  His  white  beard  wagged  lustily  with  pride, 
but  the  hand  still  bearing  the  watch  seemed  to  droop  with 

'It's  the  lectric/  he  boasted  softly. 

They  accepted  the  words  in  silence.  It  was  as  though  they 
began  to  understand  at  last  the  lustiness  of  Duke's  life,  the 
nimbleness  of  his  mind,  the  amazing  youthfulness  of  his 
patriarchal  limbs. 

The  shadow  of  the  chestnut-tree  had  dwindled  to  a  small  dark 
circle  about  their  seat.  The  rays  of  the  sun  were  brilliantly  per- 
pendicular. On  the  chestnut-tree  itself  the  countless  candelabra 
of  blossoms  were  a  pure  blaze  of  white  and  rose.  A  clock  began 
to  chime  for  noon. 

Duke,  at  that  moment,  looked  at  his  watch,  still  lying  in  his 

He  started  with  instant  guilt.  The  hands  had  moved  miracu- 
lously to  four  o'clock  and  in  the  stillness  of  the  summer  air  he 
could  hear  the  tick  of  wheels. 

With  hasty  gesture  of  resignation  he  dropped  the  watch  into 
his  pocket  again.  He  looked  quickly  at  the  old  men,  but  they 
were  sunk  in  sombre  meditation.  They  had  not  seen  or  heard. 

Abruptly  he  rose.  'That's  what  it  is/  he  said.  'The  lectric'  He 
made  a  last  gesture  as  though  to  indicate  that  he  was  the  victim 
of  some  divine  manifestation.  'The  lectric/  he  said. 

He  retreated  nimbly  across  the  square  in  the  hot  sunshine  and 
the  old  men  sat  staring  after  him  with  the  innocence  of  solemn 
wonder.  His  limbs  moved  with  the  haste  of  a  clockwork  doll  and 
he  vanished  with  incredible  swiftness  from  sight. 

The  sun  had  crept  beyond  the  zenith  and  the  feet  of  the  old 
men  were  bathed  in  sunshine. 


A  Ford  motor-van,  old  and  repainted  green  with  Jos.  Hartop, 
greengrocer,  rabbits,  scratched  in  streaky  white  lettering  on  a 
flattened-out  biscuit  tin  nailed  to  the  side,  was  slowly  travelling 
across  a  high  treeless  stretch  of  country  in  squally  November 
half-darkness.  Rain  hailed  on  the  windscreen  and  periodically 
swished  like  a  sea-wave  on  the  sheaves  of  pink  chrysanthemums 
strung  on  the  van  roof.  Jos.  Hartop  was  driving :  a  thin  angular 
man,  starved-faced.  He  seemed  to  occupy  almost  all  the  seat, 
sprawling  awkwardly;  so  that  his  wife  and  their  daughter  Alice 
sat  squeezed  up,  the  girl  with  her  arms  flat  as  though  ironed 
against  her  side,  her  thin  legs  pressed  tight  together  into  the  size 
of  one.  The  Hartops'  faces  seemed  moulded  in  clay  and  in  the 
light  from  the  van-lamps  were  a  flat  swede-colour.  Like  the  man, 
the  two  women  were  thin,  with  a  screwed-up  thinness  that  made 
them  look  both  hard  and  frightened.  Hartop  drove  with  great 
caution,  grasping  the  wheel  tightly,  braking  hard  at  the  bends, 
his  big  yellowish  eyes  fixed  ahead,  protuberantly,  with  vigilance 
and  fear.  His  hands,  visible  in  the  faint  dashboard  light,  were 
marked  on  the  backs  with  dark  smears  of  dried  rabbits'  blood. 
The  van  fussed  and  rattled,  the  chrysanthemums  always  swish- 
ing, rain-soaked,  in  the  sudden  high  wind-squalls.  And  the  two 
women  sat  in  a  state  of  silent  apprehension,  their  bodies  not 
moving  except  to  lurch  with  the  van  their  clayish  faces  con- 
tinuously intent,  almost  scared,  in  the  lamp-gloom.  And  after 
some  time  Hartop  gave  a  slight  start,  and  then  drew  the  van  to 
the  roadside  and  stopped  it. 

'Hear  anything  drop?'  he  said.  'I  thought  I  heard  something/ 

'It's  the  wind/  the  woman  said.  T  can  hear  it  all  the  time/ 

'No,  something  dropped.' 

They  sat  listening.  But  the  engine  still  ticked,  and  they  could 
hear  nothing  beyond  it  but  the  wind  and  rain  squalling  in  the 
dead  grass  along  the  roadside. 

'Alice,  you  git  out/  Hartop  said. 


The  Mill  33 

The  girl  began  to  move  herself  almost  before  he  had  spoken. 

'Git  out  and  see  if  you  can  see  anything.' 

Alice  stepped  across  her  mother's  legs,  groped  with  blind  in- 
stinct for  the  step,  and  then  got  out.  It  was  raining  furiously. 
The  darkness  seemed  solid  with  rain. 

'See  anything?'  Hartop  said. 


'Eh?  What?  Can't  hear.' 


Hartop  leaned  across  his  wife  and  shouted:  'Go  back  a  bit 
and  see  what  it  was.'  The  woman  moved  to  protest,  but  Hartop 
was  already  speaking  again :  'Go  back  a  bit  and  see  what  it  was. 
Something  dropped.  We'll  stop  at  Drake's  Turn.  You'll  catch  up. 
I  know  something  dropped.' 

'It's  the  back-board,'  the  woman  said.  'I  can  hear  it  all  the 
time.  Jolting.' 

'No,  it  ain't.  Something  dropped.' 

He  let  in  the  clutch  as  he  was  speaking  and  the  van  began  to 
move  away. 

Soon,  to  Alice,  it  seemed  to  be  moving  very  rapidly.  In  the  rain 
and  the  darkness  all  she  could  see  was  the  tail-light,  smoothly 
receding.  She  watched  it  for  a  moment  and  then  began  to  walk 
back  along  the  road.  The  wind  was  behind  her;  but  repeatedly  it 
seemed  to  veer  and  smash  her,  with  the  rain,  full  in  the  face.  She 
walked  without  hurrying.  She  seemed  to  accept  the  journey  as 
she  accepted  the  rain  and  her  father's  words,  quite  stoically.  She 
walked  in  the  middle  of  the  road,  looking  directly  ahead,  as 
though  she  had  a  long  journey  before  her.  She  could  see  nothing. 

And  then,  after  a  time,  she  stumbled  against  something  in  the 
road.  She  stooped  and  picked  up  a  bunch  of  pink  chrysanthe- 
mums. She  gave  them  a  single  shake.  The  flower-odour  and  the 
rain  seemed  to  be  released  together,  and  then  she  began  to  walk 
back  with  them  along  the  road.  It  was  as  though  the  chrysanthe- 
mums were  what  she  had  expected  to  find  above  all  things.  She 
showed  no  surprise. 

Before  very  long  she  could  see  the  red  tail-light  of  the  van 
again.  It  was  stationary.  She  could  see  also  the  lights  of  houses, 
little  squares  of  yellow  which  the  recurrent  rain  on  her  lashes 
transformed  into  sudden  stars. 

When   she   reached   the   van   the   back-board   had   been   un- 

34  The  Mill 

hooked.  Her  mother  was  weighing  out  potatoes.  An  oil  lamp 
hung  from  the  van  roof,  and  again  the  faces  of  the  girl  and  her 
mother  had  the  appearance  of  swede-coloured  clay,  only  the 
girl's  bleaker  than  before. 

'What  was  it?'  Mrs  Hartop  said. 

The  girl  laid  the  flowers  on  the  back-board.  'Only  a  bunch 
of  chrysanthemums.' 

Hartop  himself  appeared  at  the  very  moment  she  was  speaking. 

'Only?'  he  said,  'Only?  What  d'ye  mean  by  only?  Eh?  Might 
have  been  a  sack  of  potatoes.  Just  as  well.  Only!  What  next?' 

Alice  stood  mute.  Her  pose  and  her  face  meant  nothing,  had 
no  quality  except  a  complete  lack  of  all  surprise:  as  though  she 
had  expected  her  father  to  speak  like  that.  Then  Hartop  raised 
his  voice : 

'Well,  don't  stand  there!  Do  something.  Go  on.  Go  on! 
Go  and  see  who  wants  a  bunch  o'  chrysanthemums.  Move 
yourself ! ' 

Alice  obeyed  at  once.  She  picked  up  the  flowers,  walked  away 
and  vanished,  all  without  a  word  or  a  change  of  that  expression 
of  unsurprised  serenity. 

But  she  was  back  in  a  moment.  She  began  to  say  that  there 
were  chrysanthemums  in  the  gardens  of  all  the  houses.  Her  voice 
was  flat.  It  was  like  a  pressed  flower,  a  flat  faint  impression  of  a 
voice.  And  it  seemed  suddenly  to  madden  her  father: 

'All  right,  all  right.  Christ,  all  right.  Leave  it.' 

He  seized  the  scale-pan  of  potatoes  and  then  walked  away 
himself.  Without  a  word  the  girl  and  her  mother  chained  and 
hooked  up  the  back-board,  climbed  up  into  the  driving  seat,  and 
sat  there  with  the  old  intent  apprehension,  staring  through  the 
rain-beaded  windscreen,  until  the  woman  spoke  in  a  voice  of 
religious  negation,  with  a  kind  of  empty  gentleness : 

'You  must  do  what  your  father  tells  you.' 

'Yes,'  Alice  said. 

Before  they  could  speak  again  Hartop  returned,  and  in  a 
moment  the  van  was  travelling  on. 

When  it  stopped  again  the  same  solitary  row  of  house-lights  as 
before  seemed  to  appear  on  the  roadside  and  the  Hartops  seemed 
to  go  through  the  same  ritual  of  action :  the  woman  unhooking 
the  back-board,  the  man  relighting  the  oil  lamp,  and  then  the  girl 
and  the  woman  going  off  in  the  rain  to  the  backways  of  the 

The  Mill  35 

houses.  And  always,  as  they  returned  to  the  van,  Hartop  grous- 
ing, nagging: 

Why  the  'ell  don't  you  speak  up?  Nothing?  Well,  say  it  then, 
say  it!' 

Finally  the  girl  took  a  vegetable  marrow  from  the  skips  of 
potatoes  and  oranges  and  onions,  carried  it  to  the  houses  and 
then  returned  with  it,  and  Hartop  flew  into  a  fresh  rage : 

Td  let  'em  eat  it  if  I  was  you,  let  'em  eat  it.  Take  the  whole 
bloody  show  and  let  'em  sample.  Go  on.  I'm  finished.  I  jack  up. 
I've  had  a  packet.  I  jack  up.' 

He  slammed  down  the  scale-pan,  extinguished  the  oil  lamp, 
began  to  chain  up  the  back-board.  On  the  two  women  his  rage 
had  not  even  the  slightest  effect.  Moving  about  in  the  rain, 
slowly,  they  were  like  two  shabby  ducks,  his  rage  rolling  off  the 
silent  backs  of  their  minds  like  water. 

And  then  the  engine,  chilled  by  the  driving  rain,  refused  to 
start.  Furious,  Hartop  gave  mad  jerks  at  the  starting  handle. 
Nothing  happened.  The  two  women,  silently  staring  through  the 
windscreen,  never  moved.  They  might  even  have  been  in  another 
world,  asleep  or  dead. 

Swinging  viciously  at  the  starting  handle  Hartop  shouted: 
When  I  swing,  shove  that  little  switch  forward.  Forward! 
Christ.  Forward!  I  never  seen  anything  to  touch  it.  Never. 
Forward!  Now  try.  Can't  you  bloody  well  hear?' 


'Then  act  like  it.  God,  they  say  there's  no  peace  for  the 
wicked.  Forward!* 

Then  when  the  engine  spluttered,  fired,  and  at  last  was  revolv- 
ing and  the  van  travelling  on  and  the  women  were  able  to  hear 
again,  Hartop  kept  repeating  the  words  in  a  kind  of  comforting 
refrain.  No  peace  for  the  wicked.  No  bloody  peace  at  all.  He'd 
had  enough.  Just  about  bellyful.  What  with  one  thing  -  Christ, 
what  was  the  use  of  talking  to  folks  who  were  deaf  and  dumb? 
Jack  up.  Better  by  half  to  jack  up.  Bung  in.  No  darn  peace  for 
the  wicked. 

And  suddenly,  listening  gloomily  to  him,  the  woman  realized 
that  the  road  was  strange  to  her.  She  saw  trees,  then  turns  and 
gates  and  hedges  that  she  did  not  know. 

'Jos,  where  are  we  going?'  she  said. 

Hartop  was  silent.  The  mystery  comforted  him.  And  when  at 

36  The  Mill 

last  he  stopped  the  van  and  switched  off  the  engine  it  gave  him 
great  satisfaction  to  prolong  the  mystery,  to  get  down  from  the 
van  and  disappear  without  a  word. 

Free  of  his  presence,  the  two  women  came  to  life.  Alice  half 
rose  from  the  seat  and  shook  her  mackintosh  and  skirt  and  said, 
'Where  have  we  stopped?'  Mrs  Hartop  was  looking  out  of  the 
side  window,  peering  with  eyes  screwed-up.  She  could  see  noth- 
ing. The  world  outside,  cut  off  by  blackness  and  rain,  was 
strange  and  unknown.  Then  when  Mrs  Hartop  sat  down  again 
the  old  state  of  negation  and  silence  returned  for  a  moment  until 
Alice  spoke.  It  seemed  to  Alice  that  she  could  hear  something,  a 
new  sound,  quite  apart  from  the  squalling  of  wind  and  rain;  a 
deeper  sound,  quieter,  and  more  distant. 

The  two  women  listened.  Then  they  could  hear  the  sound 
distinctly,  continuously,  a  roar  of  water. 

Suddenly  Mrs  Hartop  remembered.  'It's  the  mill/  she  said. 
She  got  up  to  look  through  the  window  again.  'We've  stopped  at 
Holland's  Mill.'  She  sat  down  slowly.  'What's  he  stopped  here 
for?  What've  we—  ?' 

Then  she  seemed  to  remember  something  else.  Whatever  it 
was  seemed  to  subdue  her  again,  sealing  over  her  little  break  of 
loquacity,  making  her  silent  once  more.  But  now  her  silence  had 
a  new  quality.  It  was  very  near  anxiety.  She  would  look  quickly 
at  Alice  and  then  quickly  away  again. 

'Is  there  any  tea  left?'  Alice  said. 

Mrs  Hartop  bent  down  at  once  and  looked  under  the  seat.  She 
took  out  a  thermos  flask  two  tea-cups  and  an  orange.  Then  Alice 
held  the  cups  while  her  mother  filled  them  with  milky  tea.  Then 
Mrs  Hartop  peeled  and  quartered  the  orange  and  they  ate  and 
drank,  warming  their  fingers  on  the  tea-cups. 

They  were  wiping  their  juice-covered  fingers  and  putting  away 
the  tea-cups  when  Hartop  returned.  He  climbed  into  the  cab, 
slammed  the  door,  and  sat  down. 

'What  you  been  to  Hollands'  for?'  the  woman  said. 

Hartop  pressed  the  self-starter.  It  buzzed,  but  the  engine  was 
silent.  The  two  women  waited.  Then  Hartop  spoke. 

'Alice/  he  said,  'you  start  in  service  at  Hollands'  Monday 
morning.  His  wife's  bad.  He  told  me  last  Wednesday  he 
wanted  a  gal  about  to  help.  Five  shillin'  a  week  and  all  found.' 


The  Mill  37 

But  the  noise  of  the  self-starter  and  then  the  engine  firing 
drowned  what  the  women  had  to  say.  And  as  the  van  moved  on 
she  and  Alice  sat  in  silence,  without  a  sound  of  protest  or 
aquiescence,  staring  at  the  rain. 


At  night,  though  so  near,  Alice  had  seen  nothing  of  the  mill, 
not  even  a  light.  On  Monday  morning,  from  across  the  flat  and 
almost  treeless  meadows,  she  could  see  it  clearly.  It  was  a  very 
white  three- storey ed  building,  the  whitewash  dazzling,  almost  in- 
candescent, against  the  wintry  fields  in  the  morning  sunshine. 

Going  along  the  little  by-roads  across  the  valley  she  felt  extra- 
ordinarily alone,  yet  not  lonely.  She  felt  saved  from  loneliness  by 
her  little  leather  bag;  there  was  comfort  in  the  mere  changing  of 
it  from  hand  to  hand.  The  bag  contained  her  work-apron  and 
her  nightgown,  and  she  carried  it  close  to  her  side  as  she  walked 
slowly  along,  not  thinking.  'You  start  in  good  time/  Hartop  had 
said  to  her,  'and  go  steady  on.  The  walk'll  do  you  good.'  It  was 
about  five  miles  to  the  mill,  and  she  walked  as  though  in 
obedience  to  the  echo  of  her  father's  command.  She  had  a  con- 
stant feeling  of  sharp  expectancy,  not  quite  apprehension,  every 
time  she  looked  up  and  saw  the  mill.  But  the  feeling  never  re- 
solved itself  into  thought.  She  felt  also  a  slight  relief.  She  had 
never  been,  by  herself,  so  far  from  home.  And  every  now  and 
then  she  found  herself  looking  back,  seeing  the  house  she  had 
left  behind,  the  blank  side-wall  gas-tarred,  the  wooden  shack  in 
the  back-yard  where  Hartop  kept  the  motor-van,  the  kitchen 
where  she  and  her  mother  bunched  the  chrysanthemums  or 
sorted  the  oranges.  It  seemed  strange  not  to  be  doing  those 
things:  she  had  sorted  oranges  and  had  bunched  whatever 
flowers  were  in  season  for  as  long  as  she  could  remember.  She 
had  done  it  all  without  question,  with  instinctive  obedience. 
Now,  suddenly,  she  was  to  do  something  else.  And  whatever  it 
was  she  knew  without  thinking  that  she  must  do  it  with  the  same 
unprotesting  obedience.  That  was  right.  She  had  been  brought 
up  to  it.  It  was  going  to  be  a  relief  to  her  father,  a  help.  Things 
were  bad  and  her  going  might  better  them.  And  then  -  five 
shillings  a  week.  She  thought  of  that  with  recurrent  spasms  of 
wonder  and  incredulity.  Could  it  be  true?  The  question  crossed 

38  The  Mill 

her  mind  more  often  than  her  bag  crossed  from  hand  to  hand, 
until  it  was  mechanical  and  unconscious  also. 

She  was  still  thinking  of  it  when  she  rapped  at  the  back  door 
of  the  mill.  The  yard  was  deserted.  She  could  hear  no  sound  of 
life  at  all  except  the  mill-race.  She  knocked  again.  And  then,  this 
time,  as  she  stood  waiting,  she  looked  at  the  yard  more  closely. 
It  was  a  chaos  of  derelict  things.  Everything  was  derelict :  dere- 
lict machinery,  old  iron,  derelict  motor  cars,  bedsteads,  wire, 
harrows,  binders,  perambulators,  tractors,  bicycles,  corrugated 
iron.  The  junk  was  piled  up  in  a  wild  heap  in  the  space  between 
the  mill-race  and  the  backwater.  Iron  had  fallen  into  the  water. 
Rusty,  indefinable  skeletons  of  it  had  washed  up  against  the 
bank- reeds.  She  saw  rust  and  iron  everywhere,  and  when  some- 
thing made  her  look  up  to  the  mill-windows  she  saw  there  the 
rusted  fly-wheels  and  crane-arms  of  the  mill  machinery,  the 
whitewashed  wall  stained  as  though  with  rusty  reflections  of  it. 

When  she  rapped  on  the  door  again,  harder,  flakes  of  rust, 
little  reddish  wafers,  were  shaken  off  the  knocker.  She  stared  at 
the  door  as  she  waited.  Her  eyes  were  large,  colourless,  fixed  in 
vague  penetration.  She  seemed  to  be  listening  with  them.  They 
were  responsive  to  sound.  And  they  remained  still,  as  though  of 
glass,  when  she  heard  nothing. 

And  hearing  nothing  she  walked  across  the  yard.  Beyond  the 
piles  of  rusted  iron  a  sluice  tore  down  past  the  mill-wall  on  a 
glacier  of  green  slime.  She  stooped  and  peered  down  over  the 
stone  parapet  at  the  water.  Beyond  the  sluice  a  line  of  willows 
were  shedding  their  last  leaves,  and  the  leaves  came  floating 
down  the  current  like  little  yellow  fish.  She  watched  them  come 
and  surge  through  the  grating,  and  then  vanish  under  the  water- 
arch.  Then,  watching  the  fish-like  leaves,  she  saw  a  real  fish, 
dead,  caught  in  the  rusted  grating,  thrown  there  by  the  force  of 
descending  water.  Then  she  saw  another,  and  another.  Her  eyes 
registered  no  surprise.  She  walked  round  the  parapet,  and  then, 
leaning  over  and  stretching,  she  picked  up  one  of  the  fish.  It  was 
cold,  and  very  stiff,  like  a  fish  of  celluloid,  and  its  eyes  were  like 
her  own,  round  and  glassy.  Then  she  walked  along  the  path,  still 
holding  the  fish  and  occasionally  looking  at  it.  The  path  circled 
the  mill  pond  and  vanished,  farther  on,  into  a  bed  of  osiers.  The 
mill-pond  was  covered  in  duck-weed,  the  green  crust  split  into 
blackness  here  and  there  by  chance  currents  of  wind  or  water. 

The  Mill  39 

The  osiers  were  leafless,  but  quite  still  in  the  windless  air.  And 
standing  still,  she  looked  at  the  tall  osiers  for  a  moment,  her  eyes 
reflecting  their  stillness  and  the  strange  persistent  absence  of  all 

And  then  suddenly  she  heard  a  sound.  It  came  from  the  osiers. 
A  shout: 

'You  lookin'  for  Mus'  Holland  ?' 

She  saw  a  man's  face  in  the  osiers.  She  called  back  to  it:  'Yes/ 

'He  ain't  there.' 

She  could  think  of  nothing  to  say. 

'If  you  want  anythink,  go  in.  She's  there.  A-bed.'  A  shirt- 
sleeve waved  and  vanished.  'Not  that  door.  It's  locked.  Round 
the  other  side.' 

She  walked  back  along  the  path,  by  the  sluice  and  the 
machinery  and  so  past  the  door  and  the  mill-race  to  the  far  side 
of  the  house.  A  stretch  of  grass,  once  a  lawn  and  now  no  more 
than  a  waste  of  dead  grass  and  sedge,  went  down  to  the  back- 
water from  what  she  saw  now  was  the  front  door. 

At  the  door  she  paused  for  a  moment.  Why  was  the  front  door 
open  and  not  the  back?  Then  she  saw  why.  Pushing  upen  the 
door  she  saw  that  it  had  no  lock;  only  the  rusty  skeleton  pattern 
of  it  remained  imprinted  on  the  brown  sun-scorched  paint. 

Inside,  she  stood  still  in  the  brick-flagged  passage.  It  seemed 
extraordinarily  cold;  the  damp  coldness  of  the  river  air  seemed  to 
have  saturated  the  place. 

Finally  she  walked  along  the  passage.  Her  lace-up  boots  were 
heavy  on  the  bricks,  setting  up  a  clatter  of  echoes.  When  she 
stopped  her  eyes  were  a  little  wider  and  almost  white  in  the 
lightless  passage.  And  again,  as  outside,  they  registered  the  quiet- 
ness of  the  place,  until  it  was  broken  by  a  voice : 

'Somebody  there?  Who  is  it?'  The  voice  came  from  upstairs. 
'Who  is  it?' 


A  silence.  Alice  stood  still,  listening  with  wide  eyes.  Then  the 
voice  again: 

'Who  is  it?' 

'Me.  Alice.' 

Another  silence,  and  then : 

'Come  up.'  It  was  a  light  voice,  unaggressive,  almost  friendly. 
'Come  upstairs.' 

40  The  Mill 

The  girl  obeyed  at  once.  The  wooden  stairs  were  steep  and 
carpetless.  She  tramped  up  them.  The  banister,  against  which  she 
rubbed  her  sleeve,  was  misted  over  with  winter  wetness.  She 
could  smell  the  dampness  everywhere.  It  seemed  to  rise  and 
follow  her. 

On  the  top  stairs  she  halted.  'In  the  end  bedroom/  the  voice 
called.  She  went  at  once  along  the  wide  half-light  landing  in  the 
direction  of  the  voice.  The  panelled  doors  had  at  one  time  been 
painted  white  and  blue,  but  now  the  white  was  blue  and  the 
blue  the  colour  of  greenish  water.  The  doors  had  old-fashioned 
latches  of  iron  and  when  she  lifted  the  end  latch  she  could 
feel  the  first  thin  leaf  of  rust  on  it  ready  to  crumble  and  fall. 
She  hesitated  a  moment  before  touching  the  latch,  but  as  she 
stood  there  the  voice  called  again  and  she  opened  the 

Then,  when  she  walked  into  the  bedroom,  she  was  almost  sur- 
prised. She  had  expected  to  see  Mrs  Holland  in  bed.  But  the 
woman  was  kneeling  on  the  floor,  by  the  fireplace.  She  was  in 
her  nightgown.  The  gown  had  come  unbuttoned  and  Alice  could 
see  Mrs  Holland's  drooping  breasts.  They  were  curiously 
swollen,  as  though  by  pregnancy  or  some  dropsical  complaint. 
The  girl  saw  that  Mrs  Holland  was  trying  to  light  a  fire.  Faint 
acrid  paper-smoke  hung  about  the  room  and  stung  her  eyes.  She 
could  hear  the  tin-crackle  of  burnt  paper.  There  was  no  flame. 
The  smoke  rose  up  the  chimney  and  then,  in  a  moment,  puthered 
down  again,  the  paper  burning  with  little  running  sparks  that 
extinguished  themselves  and  then  ran  on  again. 

'I'm  Alice/  the  girl  said.  'Alice  Hartop.' 

She  stared  fixedly  at  the  big  woman  sitting  there  with  her 
nightgown  unbuttoned  and  a  burnt  match  in  her  hands  and  her 
long  pigtail  of  brown  hair  falling  forward  over  her  shoulders 
almost  to  the  depths  of  her  breasts.  Her  very  largeness,  her  soft 
dropsical  largeness,  and  the  colour  of  that  thick  pigtail  were 
somehow  comforting.  They  were  in  keeping  with  the  voice  she 
had  heard,  the  voice  which  spoke  to  her  quite  tenderly  again 

'I'm  so  glad  youVe  come,  Alice,  I  am  so  glad/ 

'Am  I  late?'  Alice  said.  'I  walked.' 

Then  she  stopped.  Mrs  Holland  had  burst  out  laughing.  The 
girl  stood  vacant,  at  a  loss,  her  mouth  fallen  open.  The  woman 

The  Mill  41 

gathered  her  nightgown  in  her  hands  and  held  it  tight  against 
her  breasts,  as  though  she  feared  that  the  laughter  might 
suddenly  flow  out  of  them  like  milk.  And  the  girl  stared  until 
the  woman  could  speak : 

'In  your  hand !  Look,  look.  In  your  hand.  Look ! ' 

Then  Alice  saw.  She  still  had  the  fish  in  her  hand.  She  was 
clutching  it  like  a  little  silver-scaled  purse. 

'Ohdear!  ohdear!'  she  said.  She  spoke  the  words  as  one 
word :  a  single  word  of  unsurprised  comment  on  the  unconscious 
folly  of  her  own  act.  Even  as  she  said  it  Mrs  Holland  burst  out 
laughing  again.  And  as  before  the  laughter  seemed  as  if  it  must 
burst  liquidly  or  fall  and  run  over  her  breasts  and  hands  and 
her  nightgown.  The  girl  had  never  heard  such  laughter.  It  was 
far  stranger  than  the  fish  in  her  own  hand.  It  was  almost  too 
strange.  It  had  a  strangeness  that  was  only  a  shade  removed  from 
hysteria,  and  only  a  little  further  from  inanity.  'She's  a  bit 
funny/  the  girl  thought.  And  almost  simultaneously  Mrs  Holland 
echoed  her  thought: 

'Oh!  Alice,  you're  funny.'  The  flow  of  laughter  lessened  and 
then  dried  up.  'Oh,  you  are  funny.' 

To  Alice  that  seemed  incomprehensible.  If  anybody  was  funny 
it  was  Mrs  Holland,  laughing  in  that  rich,  almost  mad  voice.  So 
she  continued  to  stare.  She  still  had  the  fish  in  her  hand.  It 
added  to  her  manner  of  uncomprehending  vacancy. 

Then  suddenly  a  change  came  over  her.  She  saw  Mrs  Holland 
shiver  and  this  brought  back  at  once  her  sense  of  almost 
subservient  duty. 

'Hadn't  you  better  get  dressed  and  let  me  light  the  fire?'  she 

'I  can't  get  dressed.  I've  got  to  get  back  into  bed.' 

'Well,  you  get  back.  You're  shivering.' 

'Help  me.' 

Alice  put  down  her  bag  on  the  bedroom  floor  and  laid  the  fish 
on  top  of  it.  Mrs  Holland  tried  at  the  same  moment  to  get  up. 
She  straightened  herself  until  she  was  kneeling  upright.  Then 
she  tried  to  raise  herself.  She  clutched  the  bedrail.  Her  fat, 
almost  transparent-fleshed  fingers  would  not  close.  They  were 
like  thick  sausages,  fat  jointless  lengths  of  flesh  which  could  not 
bend.  And  there  she  remained  in  her  helplessness,  until  Alice  put 
her  arms  about  her  and  took  the  weight  of  her  body. 

M  The  Mill 

'Yes,  Alice,  you'll  have  to  help  me.  I  can't  do  it  myself  any 
longer.  You'll  have  to  help  me.' 

Gradually  Alice  got  her  back  to  bed.  And  Alice,  as  she 
helped  her,  could  feel  the  curious  swollen  texture  of  Mrs  Hol- 
land's flesh.  The  distended  breasts  fell  out  of  her  unbuttoned 
nightgown,  her  heavy  thighs  lumbered  their  weight  against 
her  own,  by  contrast  so  weak  and  thin  and  straight.  And 
then  when  Mrs  Holland  was  in  bed,  at  last,  propped  up  by 
pillows,  Alice  had  time  to  look  at  her  face.  It  had  that  same 
heavy  water-blown  brightness  of  flesh  under  the  eyes  and  in  the 
cheeks  and  in  the  soft  parts  of  the  neck.  The  gentle  dark 
brown  eyes  were  sick.  They  looked  out  with  a  kind  of  gentle  sick 
envy  on  Alice's  young  movements  as  she  straightened  the  bed- 
clothes and  then  cleaned  the  fireplace  and  finally  as  she  laid  and 
lighted  the  fire  itself. 

And  then  when  her  eyes  had  satisfied  themselves  Mrs  Holland 
began  to  talk  again,  to  ask  questions. 

'How  old  are  you,  Alice  ? ' 


'Would  you  rather  be  here  with  me  than  at  home?' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

'Don't  you  like  it  at  home  ? ' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

'Is  the  fire  all  right?' 


'When  you've  done  the  grate  will  you  go  down  and  git  the 
taters  ready?' 


'It's  cold  mutton.  Like  cold  mutton,  Alice?' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

Then,  in  turn,  the  girl  had  a  question  herself. 

'Why  ain't  the  mill  going?'  she  asked. 

'The  mill?  The  mill  ain't  been  going  for  ten  years/ 

'What's  all  that  iron?' 

'That's  the  scrap.  What  Fred  buys  and  sells.  That's  his  trade. 
The  mill  ain't  been  worked  since  his  father  died.  That's  been  ten 
year.  Fred's  out  all  day  buying  up  iron  like  that,  and  selling  it. 
Most  of  it  he  never  touches,  but  what  he  don't  sell  straight  off 
comes  back  here.  He's  gone  off  this  morning.  He  won't  be  back 
till  night-time.  You'll  have  to  get  his  tea  when  he  comes  back.' 

The  Mill  43 

'I  see.' 

'You  must  do  all  you  can  for  him.  I  ain't  much  good  to  him 

'I  see.' 

'You  can  come  up  again  when  you've  done  the  taters.' 

Downstairs  Alice  found  the  potatoes  in  a  wet  mould-green 
sack  and  stood  at  the  sink  and  pared  them.  The  kitchen  window 
looked  out  on  the  mill-stream.  The  water  foamed  and  eddied  and 
kept  up  a  gentle  bubbling  roar  against  the  wet  stone  walls  out- 
side. The  water- smell  was  everywhere.  From  the  window  she 
could  see  across  the  flat  valley:  bare  willow  branches  against 
bare  sky,  and  between  them  the  bare  water. 

Then  as  she  finished  the  potatoes  she  saw  the  time  by  the  blue 
tin  alarum  clock  standing  on  the  high  smoke-stained  mantel- 
piece. It  was  past  eleven.  Time  seemed  to  have  flown  by  her 
faster  than  the  water  was  flowing  under  the  window. 


It  seemed  to  flow  faster  than  ever  as  the  day  went  on.  Dark- 
ness began  to  settle  over  the  river  and  the  valley  in  the  middle 
afternoon :  damp,  still  November  darkness  preceded  by  an  hour 
of  watery  half-light.  From  Mrs  Holland's  bedroom  Alice  watched 
the  willow  trees,  dark  and  skeleton-like,  the  only  objects  raised 
up  above  the  flat  fields,  hanging  half-dissolved  by  the  winter 
mist,  then  utterly  dissolved  by  the  winter  darkness.  The  after- 
noon was  very  still;  the  mist  moved  and  thickened  without  wind. 
She  could  hear  nothing  but  the  mill-race,  the  everlasting  almost 
mournful  machine-like  roar  of  perpetual  water,  and  then,  high 
above  it,  shrieking,  the  solitary  cries  of  sea-gulls,  more  mournful 
even  than  the  monotone  of  water.  They  were  sounds  she  had 
heard  all  day,  but  had  heard  unconsciously.  She  had  had  no  time 
for  listening,  except  to  Mrs  Holland's  voice  calling  downstairs 
its  friendly  advice  and  desires  through  the  open  bedroom  door: 
'Alice,  have  you  put  the  salt  in  the  taters?  You'll  find  the 
onions  in  the  shed,  Alice.  The  oil-man  calls  to-day,  ask  him  to 
leave  the  usual.  When  you've  washed  up  you  can  bring  the  paper 
up,  Alice,  and  read  bits  out  to  me  for  five  minutes.  Has  the  oil- 
man been?  Alice,  I  want  you  a  minute,  I  want  you.'  So  it  had 
gone  on  all  day.  And  the  girl,  gradually,  began  to  like  Mrs  Hoi- 

44  The  Mill 

land;  and  the  woman,  in  turn,  seemed  to  be  transported  into  a 
state  of  new  and  stranger  volatility  by  Alice's  presence.  She  was 
garrulous  with  joy.  'I've  been  lonely.  Since  I've  been  bad  I  ain't 
seen  nobody,  only  Fred,  one  week's  end  to  another.  And  the 
doctor.  It's  been  about  as  much  as  I  could  stan'.'  And  the  static, 
large-eyed,  quiet  presence  of  the  girl  seemed  to  comfort  her 
extraordinarily.  She  had  someone  to  confide  in  at  last.  'I  ain't 
had  nobody  I  could  say  a  word  to.  Nobody.  And  nobody  to  do 
nothing  for  me.  I  had  to  wet  the  bed  one  day.  I  was  so  weak  I 
couldn't  get  out.  That's  what  made  Fred  speak  to  your  dad.  I 
couldn't  go  on  no  longer.' 

So  the  girl  had  no  time  to  listen  except  to  the  voice  or  to  think 
or  talk  except  in  answer  to  it.  And  the  afternoon  was  gone  and 
the  damp  moving  darkness  was  shutting  out  the  river  and  the 
bare  fields  and  barer  trees  before  she  could  realise  it. 

'Fred'll  be  home  at  six,'  Mrs  Holland  said.  'He  shaves  at  night. 
So  you  git  some  hot  water  ready  about  a  quarter  to.' 

'All  right.' 

'Oh !  and  I  forgot.  He  alius  has  fish  for  his  tea.  Cod  or  some- 
thing. Whatever  he  fancies.  He'll  bring  it.  You  can  fry  it  while 
he's  shaving.' 

'All  right.' 

'Don't  you  go  and  fry  that  roach  by  mistake ! ' 

Mrs  Holland,  thinking  again  of  the  fish  in  Alice's  hand, 
lay  back  on  the  pillows  and  laughed,  the  heavy  ripe  laughter  that 
sounded  as  before  a  trifle  strange,  as  though  she  were  a  little 
mad  or  hysterical  in  the  joy  of  fresh  companionship. 

Mrs  Holland  and  Alice  had  already  had  a  cup  of  tea  in  the 
bedroom.  That  seemed  unbelievably  luxurious  to  Alice,  who  for 
nearly  five  years  had  drunk  her  tea  from  a  thermos  flask  in  her 
father's  van.  It  brought  home  to  her  that  she  was  very  well  off : 
five  shillings  a  week,  tea  by  the  fire  in  the  bedroom,  Mrs  Holland 
so  cheerful  and  nice,  and  an  end  at  last  to  her  father's  ironic 
grousing  and  the  feeling  the  she  was  a  dead  weight  on  his  hands. 
It  gave  her  great  satisfaction.  Yet  she  never  registered  the 
emotion  by  looks  or  words  or  a  change  in  her  demeanour.  She 
went  about  quietly  and  a  trifle  vaguely,  almost  in  a  trance  of 
detachment.  The  light  in  her  large  flat  pellucid  eyes  never  varied. 
Her  mouth  would  break  into  a  smile,  but  the  smile  never  tele- 
graphed itself  to  her  eyes.  And  so  with  words.  She  spoke,  but  the 

The  Mill  45 

words  never  changed  that  expression  of  dumb  content,  that  wide 
and  in  some  way  touching  and  attractive  stare  straight  before  her 
into  space. 

And  when  she  heard  the  rattling  of  a  motor-van  in  the  mill- 
yard  just  before  six  o'clock  she  looked  suddenly  up,  but  her  ex- 
pression did  not  change.  She  showed  no  flicker  of  apprehension 
or  surprise. 

About  five  minutes  later  Holland  walked  into  the  kitchen. 

"Ullo/  he  said. 

Alice  was  standing  at  the  sink,  wiping  the  frying  pan  with  a 
dishcloth.  When  Holland  spoke  and  she  looked  round  at  him  her 
eyes  blinked  with  a  momentary  flash  of  something  like  surprise. 
Holland's  voice  was  very  deep  and  it  seemed  to  indicate  that 
Holland  himself  would  be  physically  very  large  and  powerful. 

Then  she  saw  that  he  was  a  little  man,  no  taller  than  herself, 
and  rather  stocky,  without  being  stiff  or  muscular.  His  trousers 
hung  loose  and  wide,  like  sacks.  His  overcoat,  undone,  was 
also  like  a  sack.  The  only  unloose  thing  about  him  was  his 
collar.  It  was  a  narrow  stiff  celluloid  collar  fixed  with  a  patent 
ready-made  tie.  The  collar  was  oilstained  and  the  tie,  once  blue, 
was  soaked  by  oil  and  dirt  to  the  appearance  of  old  crepe.  The 
rest  of  Holland  was  loose  and  careless  and  drooping.  A  bit  of  an 
old  shack,  Alice  thought.  Even  his  little  tobacco-yellowed  mou- 
stache drooped  raggedly.  Like  his  felt  hat,  stuck  carelessly  on  the 
back  of  his  head,  it  looked  as  though  it  did  not  belong  to  him. 

"Ullo,'  he  said.  'You  are  e're  then.  I  see  your  dad.  D'ye  think 
you're  going  to  like  it  ? ' 


'That's  right.  You  make  yourself  at  'ome.'  He  had  the  parcel 
of  fish  under  his  arm  and  as  he  spoke  he  took  it  out  and  laid  it 
on  the  kitchen  table.  The  brown  paper  flapped  open  and  Alice 
saw  the  tail-cut  of  a  cod.  She  went  at  once  to  the  plate-rack,  took 
a  plate  and  laid  the  fish  on  it. 

'Missus  say  anythink  about  the  fish  ? '  Holland  said. 


'All  right.  You  fry  it  while  I  git  shaved.' 

'I  put  the  water  on,'  she  said. 

Holland  took  off  his  overcoat,  then  his  jacket,  and  finally  his 
collar  and  tie.  Then  he  turned  back  the  greasy  neck-band  of  his 
shirt  and  began  to  make  his  shaving  lather  in  a  wooden  bowl  at 

46  The  Mill 

the  sink,  working  the  brush  and  bowl  like  a  pestle  and  mortar. 
Alice  put  the  cod  into  the  frying-pan  and  then  the  pan  on  the 
oil-stove.  Then  as  Holland  began  to  lather  his  face,  Mrs  Holland 
called  downstairs:  'Fred.  You  there,  Fred?  Fred!'  and  Holland 
walked  across  the  kitchen,  still  lathering  himself  and  dropping 
spatters  of  white  lather  on  the  stone  flags  as  he  went,  to  listen  at 
the  stairs  door. 

'Yes,  I'm  'ere,  Em'ly.  I'm -Eh?  Oh!  all  right.' 

Holland  turned  to  Alice.  'The  missus  wants  you  a  minute 

Alice  ran  upstairs,  thinking  of  the  fish.  After  the  warm  kitchen 
she  could  feel  the  air  damper  than  ever.  Mrs  Holland  was  lying 
down  in  bed  and  a  candle  in  a  tin  holder  was  burning  on  the 
chest  of  drawers. 

'Oh!  Alice,'  Mrs  Holland  said,  'you  do  all  you  can  for  Mr 
Holland,  won't  you?  He's  had  a  long  day.' 


'And  sponge  his  collar.  I  want  him  to  go  about  decent.  It 
won't  get  done  if  you  don't  do  it,' 

'All  right.' 

Alice  went  downstairs  again.  Sounds  of  Holland's  razor  scrap- 
ing his  day-old  beard  and  of  the  cod  hissing  in  the  pan  filled  the 
kitchen.  She  turned  the  cod  with  a  fork  and  then  took  up  Hol- 
land's collar  and  sponged  it  with  the  wetted  fringe  of  her  pina- 
fore. The  collar  came  up  bright  and  fresh  as  ivory,  and  when 
finally  Holland  had  finished  shaving  at  the  sink  and  had  put  on 
the  collar  again  it  was  as  though  a  small  miracle  had  been  per- 
formed. Holland  was  middle-aged,  about  fifty,  and  looked  older 
in  the  shabby  overcoat  and  oily  collar.  Now,  shaved  and  with 
the  collar  cleaned  again,  he  looked  younger  than  he  was.  He 
looked  no  longer  shabby,  a  shack,  and  a  bit  nondescript,  but 
rather  homely  and  essentially  decent.  He  had  a  tired,  rather 
stunted  and  subservient  look.  His  flesh  was  coarse,  with  deep 
pores,  and  his  greyish  hair  came  down  stiff  over  his  forehead. 
His  eyes  were  dull  and  a  little  bulging.  When  Alice  put  the  fried 
fish  before  him  he  sat  low  over  the  plate,  scooped  up  the  white 
flakes  of  fish  with  his  knife  and  then  sucked  them  into  his  mouth. 
He  spat  out  the  bones.  Every  time  he  spat  out  a  bone  he  drank 
his  tea,  and  when  his  cup  was  empty,  Alice,  standing  by,  filled  it 
up  again. 

The  Mill  47 

None  of  these  things  surprised  the  girl.  She  had  never  seen 
anyone  eat  except  like  that,  with  the  knife,  low  over  the  plate, 
greedily.  Her  father  and  mother  ate  like  it  and  she  ate  like  it  her- 
self. So  as  she  stood  by  the  sink,  waiting  to  fill  up  Holland's 
cup,  her  eyes  stared  with  the  same  abstract  preoccupation  as 
ever.  They  did  not  even  change  when  Holland  spoke,  praising 

'You  done  this  fish  all  right,  Alice. ' 

'Shall  I  git  something  else  for  you?' 

'Git  me  a  bit  o'  cheese.  Yes,  you  done  that  fish  very  nice, 
Alice.  Very  nice  indeed.' 

Yet,  though  her  eyes  expressed  nothing,  she  felt  a  sense  of  re- 
assurance, very  near  to  comfort,  at  Holland's  words.  It  was  not 
deep:  but  it  was  enough  to  counteract  the  strangeness  of  her 
surroundings,  to  help  deaden  the  perpetual  sense  of  the  mill-race, 
to  drive  away  some  of  the  eternal  dampness  about  the  place. 

But  it  was  not  enough  to  drive  away  her  tiredness.  She  went  to 
bed  very  early,  as  soon  as  she  had  washed  Holland's  supper 
things  and  had  eaten  her  own  supper  of  bread  and  cheese.  Her 
room  was  at  the  back  of  the  mill.  It  had  not  been  used  for  a  long 
time;  its  dampness  rose  up  in  a  musty  cloud.  Then  when  she  lit 
her  candle  and  set  it  on  the  washstand  she  saw  that  the  wall- 
paper, rotten  with  dampness,  was  peeling  off  and  hanging  in 
ragged  petals,  showing  the  damp-green  plaster  beneath.  Then 
she  took  her  nightgown  out  of  her  case,  undressed  and  stood  for 
a  moment  naked,  her  body  as  thin  as  a  boy's  and  her  little  lemon- 
shaped  breasts  barely  formed,  before  dropping  the  nightgown 
over  her  shoulders.  A  moment  later  she  had  put  out  the  candle 
and  was  lying  in  the  little  iron  bed. 

Then,  as  she  lay  there,  curling  up  her  legs  for  warmth  in  the 
damp  sheets,  she  remembered  something.  She  had  said  no 
prayers.  She  got  out  of  bed  at  once  and  knelt  down  by  the  bed 
and  words  of  mechanical  supplication  and  thankfulness  began  to 
run  at  once  through  her  mind :  'Dear  Lord,  bless  us  and  keep  us. 
Dear  Lord,  help  me  to  keep  my  heart  pure,'  little  impromptu 
gentle  prayers  of  which  she  only  half-understood  the  meaning. 
And  all  the  time  she  was  kneeling  she  could  hear  a  background 
of  other  sounds:  the  mill-race  roaring  in  the  night,  the  wild 
occasional  cries  of  birds  from  up  the  river,  and  the  rumblings  of 
Holland  and  his  wife  talking  in  their  bedroom. 

48  The  Mill 

And  in  their  room  Holland  was  saying  to  his  wife :  'She  seems 
like  a  good  gal.' 

'She  is.  I  like  her/  Mrs  Holland  said.  'I  think  she's  all  right.' 

'She  done  that  fish  lovely.' 

'Fish.'  Mrs  Holland  remembered.  And  she  told  Holland  of 
how  Alice  had  brought  up  the  roach  in  her  hand,  and  as  she  told 
him  her  rather  strange  rich  laughter  broke  out  again  and  Holland 
laughed  with  her. 

'Oh  dear,'  Mrs  Holland  laughed.  'She's  a  funny  little  thing 
when  you  come  to  think  of  it.' 

'As  long  as  she's  all  right,'  Holland  said,  'that's  all  that 
matters.  As  long  as  she's  all  right.' 


Alice  was  all  right.  It  took  less  than  a  week  for  Holland  to  see 
that,  although  he  distrusted  a  little  Alice's  first  showing  with  his 
fish.  It  seemed  too  good.  He  knew  what  servant  girls  could  be 
like :  all  docile,  punctual  and  anxious  to  please  until  they  got  the 
feeling  of  things,  and  then  haughty  and  slovenly  and  sulky 
before  you  could  turn  round.  He  wasn't  having  that  sort  of 
thing.  The  minute  Alice  was  surly  or  had  too  much  lip  she  could 
go.  Easy  get  somebody  else.  Plenty  more  kids  be  glad  of  the  job. 
So  for  the  first  few  nights  after  Alice's  arrival  he  would  watch 
her  reflection  in  the  soap-flecked  shaving-mirror  hanging  over 
the  sink  while  he  scraped  his  beard.  He  watched  her  critically, 
tried  to  detect  some  flaw,  some  change,  in  her  meek  servitude. 
The  mirror  was  a  big  round  iron-framed  concave  mirror,  so  that 
Alice,  as  she  moved  slowly  about  with  the  fish-pan  over  the  oil- 
stove,  looked  physically  a  little  larger,  and  also  vaguer  and  softer, 
than  she  really  was.  The  mirror  put  flesh  on  her  bony  arms  and 
filled  out  her  pinafore.  And  looking  for  faults,  Holland  saw  only 
this  softening  and  magnifying  of  her  instead.  Then  when  he  had 
dried  the  soap  out  of  his  ears  and  had  put  on  the  collar  Alice  had 
sponged  for  him  he  would  sit  down  to  the  fish,  ready  to  pounce 
on  some  fault  in  it.  But  the  fish,  like  Alice,  never  seemed  to  vary. 
Nothing  wrong  with  the  fish.  He  tried  bringing  home  different 
sorts  of  fish,  untried  sorts,  tricky  for  Alice  to  cook;  witch,  whit- 
ing, sole  and  halibut,  instead  of  his  usual  cod  and  hake.  But  it 
made  no  difference.  The  fish  was  always  good.  And  he  judged 

The  Mill  49 

Alice  by  the  fish:  if  the  fish  was  all  right  Alice  was  all  right. 
Upstairs,  after  supper,  he  would  ask  Mrs  Holland:  'Alice  all 
right  to-day?'  and  Mrs  Holland  would  say  how  quiet  Alice  was, 
or  how  good  she  was,  and  how  kind  she  was,  and  that  she 
couldn't  be  without  her  for  the  world.  'Well,  that  fish  was  lovely 
again/  Holland  would  say. 

And  gradually  he  saw  that  he  had  no  need  for  suspicion.  No 
need  to  be  hard  on  the  kid.  She  was  all  right.  Leave  the  kid 
alone.  Let  her  go  on  her  own  sweet  way.  Not  interfere  with  her. 
And  so  he  swung  round  from  the  suspicious  attitude  to  one 
almost  of  solicitude.  Didn't  cost  no  more  to  be  nice  to  the  kid 
than  it  did  to  be  miserable.  'Well,  Alice,  how's  Alice?'  The  tone 
of  his  evening  greeting  became  warmer,  a  little  facetious,  more 
friendly.  'That's  right,  Alice.  Nice  to  be  back  home  in  the  dry, 
Alice.'  In  the  mornings,  coming  downstairs,  he  had  to  pass  her 
bedroom  door.  He  would  knock  on  it  to  wake  her.  He  got  up  in 
darkness,  running  downstairs  in  his  stockinged  feet,  with  his 
jacket  and  collar  and  tie  slung  over  his  arm.  And  pausing  at 
Alice's  door  he  would  say  'Quart'  t'  seven,  Alice.  You  gittin'  up, 
Alice?'  Chinks  of  candlelight  round  and  under  the  door-frame, 
or  her  sleepy  voice,  would  tell  him  if  she  were  getting  up.  If  the 
room  were  in  darkness  and  she  did  not  answer  he  would  knock 
and  call  again.  'Time  to  git  up,  Alice.  Alice!'  One  morning  the 
room  was  dark  and  she  did  not  answer  at  all.  He  knocked  harder 
again,  hard  enough  to  drown  any  sleepy  answer  she  might  have 
given.  Then,  hearing  nothing  and  seeing  nothing,  he  opened  the 

At  the  very  moment  he  opened  the  door  Alice  was  bending 
over  the  washstand,  with  a  match  in  her  hands,  lighting  her 
candle.  'Oh!  Sorry,  Alice,  I  din't  hear  you.'  In  the  moment 
taken  to  speak  the  words  Holland  saw  the  girl's  open  nightgown, 
and  then  her  breasts,  more  than  ever  like  two  lemons  in  the 
yellow  candelight.  The  light  shone  straight  down  on  them,  the 
deep  shadow  of  her  lower  body  heightening  their  shape  and 
colour,  and  they  looked  for  a  moment  like  the  breasts  of  a  larger 
and  more  mature  girl  than  Holland  fancied  Alice  to  be. 

As  he  went  downstairs  in  the  winter  darkness  he  kept  seeing 
the  mirage  of  Alice's  breasts  in  the  candlelight.  He  was  excited. 
A  memory  of  Mrs  Holland's  large  dropsical  body  threw  the 
young   girl's   breasts   into   tender   relief.   And   time   seemed   to 

50  The  Mill 

sharpen  the  comparison.  He  saw  Alice  bending  over  the  candle, 
her  nightgown  undone,  at  recurrent  intervals  throughout  the 
day.  Then  in  the  evening,  looking  at  her  reflection  in  the  shav- 
ing-mirror, the  magnifying  effect  of  the  mirror  magnified  his 
excitement.  And  upstairs  he  forgot  to  ask  if  Alice  was  all  right. 

In  the  morning  he  was  awake  a  little  earlier  than  usual.  The 
morning  was  still  like  night.  Black  mist  shut  out  the  river.  He 
went  along  the  dark  landing  and  tapped  at  Alice's  door.  When 
there  was  no  answer  he  tapped  again  and  called,  but  nothing 
happened.  Then  he  put  his  hand  on  the  latch  and  pressed  it. 
The  door  opened.  He  was  so  surprised  that  he  did  not  know  for 
a  moment  what  to  do.  He  was  in  his  shirt  and  trousers,  with  the 
celluloid  collar  and  patent  tie  and  jacket  in  his  hand,  and  no 
shoes  on  his  feet. 

He  stood  for  a  moment  by  the  bed  and  then  he  stretched  out 
his  hand  and  shook  Alice.  She  did  not  wake.  Then  he  put  his 
hand  on  her  chest  and  let  it  rest  there.  He  could  feel  the  breasts 
unexpectedly  soft  and  alive,  through  the  nightgown.  He  touched 
one  and  then  the  other. 

Suddenly  Alice  woke. 

'All  right,  Alice.  Time  to  git  up,  that's  all/  Holland  said.  'I 
was  trying  to  wake  you.' 


'I  'spect  you  want  to  git  home  week-ends,  don't  you,  Alice?' 
Mrs  Holland  said. 

Alice  had  been  at  the  mill  almost  a  week.  'I  don't  mind,'  she 

'Well,  we  reckoned  you'd  like  to  go  home  a'  Sundays,  anyway. 
Don't  you?' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

'Well,  you  go  home  this  week,  and  then  see.  Only  it  means 
cold  dinner  for  Fred  a'  Sundays  if  you  go.' 

So  after  breakfast  on  Sunday  morning  Alice  walked  across  the 
flat  valley  and  went  home.  The  gas-tarred  house,  the  end  one  of 
a  row  on  the  edge  of  the  town,  seemed  cramped  and  a  little 
strange  after  the  big  rooms  at  the  mill  and  the  bare  empty  fields 
and  the  river. 

'Well,  how  d'ye  like  it?'  Hartop  said. 

The  Mill  51 

'It's  all  right.' 

'Don't  feel  homesick  ?' 

'No,  I  don't  mind.' 

Alice  laid  her  five  shillings  on  the  table.  'That's  my  five  shil- 
lings,' she  said.  'Next  Sunday  I  ain't  coming.  What  shall  I  do 
about  the  money?' 

'You  better  send  it,'  Hartop  said.  'It  ain't  no  good  to  you  there 
if  you  keep  it,  is  it?  No  shops,  is  they?' 

'I  don't  know.  I  ain't  been  out.' 

'Well,  you  send  it.'  Then  suddenly  Hartop  changed  his  mind. 
'No,  I'll  tell  you  what.  You  keep  it  and  we'll  call  for  it  a'  Friday. 
We  can  come  round  that  way.' 

'All  right,'  Alice  said. 

'If  you  ain't  coming  home,'  Mrs  Hartop  said,  'you'd  better 
take  a  clean  nightgown.  And  I'll  bring  another  Friday.' 

And  so  she  walked  back  across  the  valley  in  the  November 
dusk  with  the  nightgown  wrapped  in  brown  paper  under  her 
arm,  and  on  Friday  Hartop  stopped  the  motor-van  outside  the 
mill  and  she  went  out  to  him  with  the  five  shillings  Holland  had 
left  on  the  table  that  morning.  'I  see  your  dad  about  the  money, 
Alice.  That's  all  right.'  And  as  she  stood  by  the  van  answering 
in  her  flat  voice  the  questions  her  father  and  mother  put  to  her, 
Hartop  put  his  hand  in  his  pocket  and  said : 

'Like  orange,  Alice?' 

'Yes,'  she  said.  'Yes,  please.' 

Hartop  put  the  orange  into  her  hand.  'Only  mind,'  he  said. 
'It's  tacked.  It's  just  a  bit  rotten  on  the  side  there.'  He  leaned  out 
of  the  driver's  seat  and  pointed  out  the  soft  bluish  rotten  patch 
on  the  orange  skin.  'It's  all  right.  It  ain't  gone  much.' 

'You  gittin'  on  all  right,  Alice?'  Mrs  Hartop  said.  She  spoke 
from  the  gloom  of  the  van  seat.  Alice  could  just  see  her  vague 
clay- coloured  face. 

'Yes.  I'm  all  right.' 

'See  you  a'  Friday  again  then.' 

Hartop  let  off  the  brake  and  the  van  moved  away  simultane- 
ously as  Alice  moved  away  across  the  millyard  between  the  piles 
of  derelict  iron.  Raw  half -mist  from  the  river  was  coming  across 
the  yard  in  sodden  swirls  and  Alice,  frozen,  half-ran  into  the 
house.  Then,  in  the  kitchen,  she  sat  by  the  fire  with  her  skirt 
drawn  up  above  her  knees,  to  warm  herself. 

52  The  Mill 

She  was  still  sitting  like  that,  with  her  skirt  drawn  up  to  her 
thighs  and  her  hands  outstretched  to  the  fire  and  the  orange  in 
her  lap,  when  Holland  came  in. 

'Hullo,  Alice/  he  said  genially.  'I  should  git  on  top  o'  the  fire 
if  I  was  you.' 

Alice,  wretched  with  the  cold,  which  seemed  to  have  settled 
inside  her,  scarcely  answered.  She  sat  there  for  almost  a  full 
minute  longer,  trying  to  warm  her  legs,  before  getting  up  to  cook 
Holland's  fish.  All  the  time  she  sat  there  Holland  was  looking  at 
her  legs,  with  the  skirt  pulled  up  away  from  them.  The  knees 
and  the  slim  thighs  were  rounded  and  soft,  and  the  knees  and 
the  legs  themselves  a  rosy  flame-colour  in  the  firelight.  Holland 
felt  a  sudden  agitation  as  he  gazed  at  them. 

Then  abruptly  Alice  got  up  to  cook  the  fish,  and  the  vision  of 
her  rose-coloured  legs  vanished.  But  Holland,  shaving  before  the 
mirror,  could  still  see  in  his  mind  the  soft  firelight  on  Alice's 
knees.  And  the  mirror,  as  before,  seemed  to  magnify  Alice's 
vague  form  as  it  moved  about  the  kitchen,  putting  some  flesh  on 
her  body.  Then  when  Holland  sat  down  to  his  fish  Alice  again 
sat  down  before  the  fire  and  he  saw  her  pull  her  skirt  above  her 
knees  again  as  though  he  did  not  exist.  And  all  through  the  meal 
he  sat  looking  at  her.  Then  suddenly  he  got  tired  of  merely  look- 
ing at  her.  He  wanted  to  be  closer  to  her.  'Alice,  come  and  'ave 
a  drop  o'  tea,'  he  said.  Tour  yourself  a  cup  out.  Come  on.  You 
look  starved.'  The  orange  Hartop  had  given  Alice  lay  on  the 
table,  and  the  girl  pointed  to  it.  'I'm  going  to  have  that  orange,' 
she  said.  Holland  picked  up  the  orange.  'All  right,  only  you  want 
summat.  Here,  I'm  going  to  throw  it.'  He  threw  the  orange.  It 
fell  into  Alice's  lap.  And  it  seemed  to  Holland  that  its  fall  drew 
her  dress  a  little  higher  above  her  knees.  He  got  up.  'Never  hurt 
you,  did  I,  Alice?'  he  said.  He  ran  his  hands  over  her  shoulders 
and  arms,  and  then  over  her  thighs  and  knees.  Her  knees  were 
beautifully  warm,  like  hard  warm  apples.  'You're  starved 
though.  Your  knees  are  like  ice.'  He  began  to  rub  her  hands  a 
little  with  his  own,  and  the  girl,  her  flat  expression  never  chang- 
ing, let  him  do  it.  She  felt  his  fingers  harsh  on  her  bloodless 
hands  and  then  on  her  shoulders.  'Your  chest  ain't  cold,  is  it?' 
Holland  said.  'You  don't  want  to  git  cold  in  your  chest.'  He  was 
feeling  her  chest,  above  the  breasts.  The  girl  shook  her  head. 
'Sure?'  Holland  said.  He  kept  his  hands  on  her  chest.  'You  put 

The  Mill  53 

something  on  when  you  go  out  to  that  van  again.  If  you  git 
cold  on  your  chest .  .  .'  And  as  he  was  speaking  his  hands  moved 
down  until  they  covered  her  breasts.  They  were  so  small  that  he 
could  hold  them  easily  in  his  hands.  'Don't  want  to  git  cold  in 
them,  do  you?'  he  said.  'In  your  nellies ?'  She  stared  at  him  ab- 
stractedly, not  knowing  the  word,  wondering  what  he  meant. 
Then  suddenly  he  was  squeezing  her  breasts,  in  a  bungling  effort 
of  tenderness.  The  motion  hurt  her.  'Come  on,  Alice,  come  on.  I 
shan't  do  nothing.  Let's  have  a  look  at  you,  Alice.  I  don't  want 
to  do  nothing,  Alice.  All  right.  I  don't  want  to  hurt  you.  Undo 
your  dress,  Alice.'  And  the  girl,  mechanically,  to  his  astonish- 
ment, put  her  hands  to  the  buttons.  As  they  came  undone  he  put 
his  hands  on  her  chest  and  then  on  her  bare  breasts  in  clumsy 
and  agitated  efforts  to  caress  her.  She  sat  rigid,  staring,  not  fully 
understanding.  Every  time  Holland  squeezed  her  he  hurt  her. 
But  the  mute  and  fixed  look  on  her  face  and  the  grey  flat  as 
though  motionless  stare  in  her  eyes  never  changed.  She  listened 
only  vaguely  to  what  Holland  said. 

'Come  on,  Alice.  You  lay  down.  You  lay  down  on  the  couch. 
I  ain't  going  to  hurt  you,  Alice.  I  don't  want  to  hurt  you.' 

For  a  moment  she  did  not  move.  Then  she  remembered, 
flatly,  Mrs  Holland's  injunction:  'You  do  all  you  can  for  Mr 
Holland,'  and  she  got  up  and  went  over  to  the  American  leather 

'I'll  blow  the  lamp  out,'  Holland  said.  'It's  all  right.  It's  all 


'Don't  you  say  nothing,  Alice.  Don't  you  go  and  tell  nobody.' 
Corn  for  Mrs  Holland's  chickens,  a  wooden  potato-tub  of 
maize  and  another  of  wheat,  was  kept  in  a  loft  above  the  mill 
itself,  and  Alice  would  climb  the  outside  loft-ladder  to  fill  the 
chipped  enamel  corn-bowl  in  the  early  winter  afternoons.  And 
standing  there,  with  the  bowl  empty  in  her  hands,  or  with  a 
scattering  of  grain  in  it  or  the  full  mixture  of  wheat  and  maize, 
she  stared  and  thought  of  the  words  Holland  said  to  her  almost 
every  night.  The  loft  windows  were  hung  with  skeins  of  spider- 
webs,  and  the  webs  in  turn  were  powdered  with  pale  and  dark 
grey  dust,  pale  flour-dust  never  swept  away  since  the  mill  had 

54  The  Mill 

ceased  to  work,  and  a  dark  mouse-coloured  dust  that  showered 
constantly  down  from  the  rafters.  The  loft  was  always  cold.  The 
walls  were  clammy  with  river  damp   and  the  windows  misty 
with  wet.  But  Alice  always  stood  there  in  the  early  afternoons 
and  stared  through  the  dirty  windows  across  the  wet  flat  valley. 
Seagulls  flew  wildly  above  the  floods  that  filled  the  meadows 
after  rain.  Strings  of  wild  swans  flew  over  and  sometimes  came 
down  to  rest  with  the  gulls  on  the  waters  or  the  islands  of  grass. 
They  were  the  only  moving  things  in  the  valley.  But  Alice  stared 
at  them  blankly,  hardly  seeing  them.  She  saw  Holland  instead; 
Holland  turning  out  the  lamp,  fumbling  with  his  trousers,  getting 
up  and  relighting  the  lamp  with  a  tight  scared  look  on  his  face. 
And  she  returned  his  words  over  and  over  in  her  mind.  'Don't 
you  say  nothing.  Don't  you  say  nothing.  Don't  you  go  and  tell 
nobody.'  They  were  words  not  of  anger,  not  threatening,  but  of 
fear.  But  she  did  not  see  it.  She  turned  his  words  slowly  over 
and  over  in  her  mind  as  she  might  have  turned  a  ball  or  an 
orange  over  and  over  in  her  hands,  over  and  over,  round  and 
round,  the  surface  always  the  same,  the  shape  the  same,  for  ever 
recurring,  a  circle  with  no  end  to  it.  She  reviewed  them  with- 
out surprise  and  without  malice.   She  never  refused  Holland. 
Once  only  she  said,  suddenly  scared:   'I  don't  want  to,  not  to- 
night. I  don't  want  to.'  But  Holland  cajoled,  'Come  on,  Alice 
come  on.  I'll  give  you  something.  Come  on.  I'll  give  y'  extra  six- 
pence with  your  money,  Friday,  Alice.  Come  on.' 

And  after  standing  a  little  while  in  the  loft  she  would  go  down 
the  ladder  with  the  corn-bowl  to  feed  the  hens  that  were  cooped 
up  behind  a  rusty  broken-down  wire-netting  pen  across  the  yard, 
beyond  the  dumps  of  iron.  'Tchka!  Tchka!  Tchka!'  She  never 
varied  the  call.  'Tchka !  Tchka ! '  The  sound  was  thin  and  sharp 
in  the  winter  air.  The  weedy  fowls,  wet-feathered,  scrambled 
after  the  yellow  corn  as  she  scattered  it  down.  She  watched  them 
for  a  moment,  staying  just  so  long  and  never  any  longer,  and 
then  went  back  into  the  mill,  shaking  the  corn-dust  from  the 
bowl  as  she  went.  It  was  as  though  she  were  religiously  pledged 
to  a  ritual.  The  circumstances  and  the  day  never  varied.  She 
played  a  minor  part  in  a  play  which  never  changed  and  seemed 
as  if  it  never  could  change.  Holland  got  up,  she  got  up,  she 
cooked  breakfast.  Holland  left.  She  cleaned  the  rooms  and 
washed  Mrs  Holland.  She  cooked  the  dinner,  took  half  up  to  Mrs 

The  Mill  55 

Holland  and  ate  half  herself.  She  stood  in  the  loft,  thought  of 
Holland's  words,  fed  the  fowls,  then  ceased  to  think  of  Holland. 
In  the  afternoon  she  read  to  Mrs  Holland.  In  the  evening  Hol- 
land returned.  And  none  of  it  seemed  to  affect  her.  She  looked 
exactly  as  she  had  looked  when  she  had  first  walked  across  the 
valley  with  her  bag.  Her  eyes  were  utterly  unresponsive,  flat, 
never  lighting  up.  They  only  seemed  if  anything  greyer  and 
softer,  a  little  fuller  if  possible  of  docility. 

And  there  was  only  one  thing  which  in  any  way  broke  the 
ritual;  and  even  that  was  regular,  a  piece  of  ritual  itself.  Every 
Wednesday,  and  again  on  Sunday,  Mrs  Holland  wrote  to  her 

Or  rather  Alice  wrote.  'You  can  write  better  'n  me.  You  write 
it.  I'll  tell  you  what  to  put  and  you  put  it.'  So  Alice  sat  by  the 
bed  with  a  penny  bottle  of  ink,  a  steel  pen  and  a  tissue  writing 
tablet,  and  Mrs  Holland  dictated.  'Dear  Albert.'  There  she 
stopped,  lying  back  on  the  pillows  to  think.  Alice  waited.  The 
pen  dried.  And  then  Mrs  Holland  would  say:  'I  can't  think 
what  to  put.  You  git  th'  envelope  done  while  I'm  thinking.'  So 
Alice  wrote  the  envelope : 

Tte  Albert  Holland,  94167,  B  Company,  Fifth  Battalion  1st 
Rifles,  British  Army  of  Occupation,  Cologne,  Germany.' 

And  then  Mrs  Holland  would  begin,  talking  according  to  her 
mood:  'I  must  say,  Albert,  I  feel  a  good  lot  better.  I  have  not 
had  a  touch  for  a  long  while.'  Or :  'I  don't  seem  to  get  on  at  all 
somehow.  The  doctor  comes  every  week  and  says  I  got  to  stop 
here.  Glad  to  say  though  things  are  well  with  your  Dad  and 
trade  is  good  and  he  is  only  waiting  for  you  to  come  home  and 
go  in  with  him.  There  is  a  good  trade  now  in  old  motors.  Your 
Dad  is  very  good  to  me  I  must  say  and  so  is  Alice.  I  wonder 
when  you  will  be  home.  Alice  is  writing  this.' 

All  through  the  winter  Alice  wrote  the  letters.  They  seemed 
always  to  be  the  same  letters,  slightly  changed,  endlessly  re- 
peated. Writing  the  letters  seemed  to  bring  her  closer  to  Mrs 
Holland.  'I'm  sure  I  don't  know  what  I  should  do  without  you, 
Alice.'  Mrs  Holland  trusted  her  implicity,  could  see  no  wrong  in 
her.  And  it  seemed  to  Alice  as  if  she  came  to  know  the  soldier 
too,  since  she  not  only  wrote  the  letters  which  went  to  him  but 
read  those  which  came  in  return. 

56  The  Mill 

'Dear  Mum,  it  is  very  cold  here  and  I  can't  say  I  shall  be  very 
sorry  when  I  get  back  to  see  you.  Last  Sunday  we  .  .  .' 

It  seemed  almost  as  if  the  letters  were  written  to  her.  And 
though  she  read  them  without  imagination,  flatly,  they  gave  her 
a  kind  of  pleasure.  She  looked  forward  to  their  arrival.  She 
shared  Mrs  Holland's  anxiety  when  they  did  not  come.  'It  seems 
funny  about  Albert,  he  ain't  writ  this  week.'  And  they  would  sit 
together  in  the  bedroom,  in  the  short  winter  afternoons,  and  talk 
of  him  and  wonder. 

Or  rather  Mrs  Holland  talked.  Alice  simply  listened,  her  large 
grey  eyes  very  still  with  their  expression  of  lost  attentiveness. 


She  began  to  be  sick  in  the  early  mornings  without  knowing 
what  was  happening  to  her.  It  was  almost  spring.  The  floods 
were  lessening  and  vanishing  and  there  was  a  new  light  on  the 
river  and  the  grass.  The  half-cut  osier-bed  shone  in  the  sun  like 
red  corn,  the  bark  varnished  with  light  copper.  She  could  dimly 
feel  the  change  in  the  life  about  her:  the  new  light,  the  longer 
days,  thrushes  singing  in  the  willows  above  the  mill-water  in  the 
evenings,  the  sun  warm  on  her  face  in  the  afternoons. 

But  there  was  no  change  in  her  own  life.  Or  if  there  was  a 
change  she  did  not  feel  it.  There  was  no  change  in  Mrs  Hol- 
land's attitude  to  her  and  in  her  own  to  Mrs  Holland.  And  only 
once  was  there  a  change  in  her  attitude  to  Holland  himself.  After 
the  first  touch  of  sickness  she  could  not  face  him.  The  life  had 
gone  out  of  her.  'I  ain't  well,'  she  kept  saying  to  Holland.  'I  ain't 
well.'  For  the  first  time  he  went  into  a  rage  with  her.  'It  ain't 
been  a  week  since  you  said  that  afore!  Come  on.  Christ!  You 
ain't  goin'  to  start  that  game.'  He  tried  to  put  his  arms  round 
her.  She  struggled  a  little,  tried  to  push  him  away.  And  sud- 
denly he  hit  her.  The  blow  struck  her  on  the  shoulder,  just  above 
the  heart.  It  knocked  her  silly  for  a  moment  and  she  staggered 
about  the  room,  then  sat  on  the  sofa,  dazed.  Then  as  she  sat 
there  the  room  was  suddenly  plunged  into  darkness.  It  was  as 
though  she  had  fainted.  Then  she  saw  that  it  was  only  Holland. 
He  had  put  out  the  lamp. 

After  that  she  never  once  protested.  She  became  more  than 

The  Mill  57 

ever  static,  a  neutral  part  of  the  act  in  which  Holland  was  always 
the  aggressor.  There  was  nothing  in  it  for  her.  It  was  over  quick- 
ly, a  savage  interlude  in  the  tranquil  day-after-day  unaltered  life 
of  Mrs  Holland  and  herself.  It  was  as  regular  almost  as  the  spong- 
ing of  Holland's  collar  and  the  cooking  of  his  fish,  or  as  the  Fri- 
day visit  of  her  mother  and  father  with  the  van. 

'How  gittin'  on?  You  don't  look  amiss.  You  look  as  if  you're 
fillin'  out  a  bit.'  Or  'This  is  five  and  six!  Is  he  rised  you? 
Mother,  he  give  her  a  rise.  Well,  well,  that's  all  right,  that  is. 
That's  good,  a  rise  so  soon.  You  be  a  good  gal  and  you  won't 
hurt.'  And  finally :  'Well,  we  s'll  ha'  to  git  on.  Be  dark  else,'  and 
the  van  would  move  away. 

She  was  certainly  plumper:  a  slight  gentle  filling  of  her 
breasts  and  her  face  were  the  only  signs  of  physical  change  in 
her.  She  herself  scarcely  noticed  them;  until  standing  one  day  in 
the  loft,  gazing  across  the  valley,  holding  the  corn-bowl  pressed 
against  her,  she  could  feel  the  bowl's  roundness  hard  against  the 
hardening  roundness  of  her  belly.  Then  she  could  feel  something 
wrong  with  herself  for  the  first  time.  And  she  stood  arrested, 
scared.  She  felt  large  and  heavy.  What  was  the  matter  with  her? 
She  stood  in  a  perplexity  of  fear.  And  finally  she  put  the  corn- 
bowl  on  the  loft  floor  and  then  undid  her  clothes  and  looked  at 
herself.  She  was  round  and  hard  and  shiny.  Then  she  opened  the 
neck  of  her  dress.  Her  breasts  were  no  longer  like  little  hard 
pointed  lemons,  but  like  half-blown  roses.  She  put  her  hand 
under  them,  and  under  each  breast,  half  in  fear  and  half  in 
amazement,  and  lifted  them  gently.  They  seemed  suddenly  as  if 
they  would  fall  if  she  did  not  hold  them.  What  was  it?  Why 
hadn't  she  noticed  it?  Then  she  had  suddenly  something  like  an 
inspiration.  It  was  Mrs  Holland's  complaint.  She  had  caught  it. 
Her  body  had  the  same  swollen  shiny  look  about  it.  She  could 
see  it  clearly  enough.  She  had  caught  the  dropsy  from  Mrs 

For  a  time  she  was  a  little  frightened.  She  lay  in  bed  at  night 
and  touched  herself,  and  wondered.  Then  it  passed  off.  She  went 
back  into  the  old  state  of  unemotional  neutrality.  Then  the  sick- 
ness began  to  get  less  severe;  she  went  for  whole  days  without 
it;  and  finally  it  ceased  altogether.  Then  there  were  days  when 
the  heaviness  of  her  breasts  and  belly  seemed  a  mythical  thing, 
when  she  did  not  think  of  it.  And  she  would  think  that  the  sick- 

58  The  Mill 

ness  and  the  heaviness  were  passing  off  together,  things  depen- 
dent on  each  other. 

By  the  late  spring  she  felt  that  it  was  all  right,  that  she  had 
nothing  to  fear.  Summer  was  coming.  She  would  be  better  in 
summer.  Everybody  was  better  in  the  summer. 

Even  Mrs  Holland  seemed  better.  But  it  was  not  the  spring 
weather  or  the  coming  of  summer  that  made  her  so,  but  the 
letters  from  Germany.  'I  won't  say  too  much,  Mum,  in  case.  But 
very  like  we  shall  be  home  afore  the  end  of  this  year/ 

'I  believe  I  could  git  up,  Alice,  if  he  come  home.  I  believe  I 
could.  I  should  like  to  be  up/  Mrs  Holland  would  say.  'I  believe 
I  could.' 

And  often,  in  the  middle  of  peeling  potatoes  or  scrubbing  the 
kitchen  bricks,  Alice  would  hear  Mrs  Holland  calling  her.  And 
when  she  went  up  it  would  be,  'Alice,  you  git  the  middle  bed- 
room ready.  In  case  Albert  comes/  or  'See  if  you  can  find 
Albert's  fishing-tackle.  It'll  be  in  the  shed  or  else  the  loft.  He'll 
want  it/  or  'Tell  Fred  when  he  comes  home  I  want  him  to  git 
a  ham.  A  whole  'un.  In  case.'  And  always  the  last  flickering  de- 
sire: 'If  I  knowed  when  he  was  coming  I'd  git  up.  I  believe  I 
could  git  up.' 

But  weeks  passed  and  nothing  happened.  Mid-summer  came, 
and  all  along  the  river  the  willow-leaves  drooped  or  turned, 
green  and  silver,  in  the  summer  sun  and  the  summer  wind.  And 
the  hot  still  days  were  almost  as  uneventful  and  empty  as  the 
brief  damp  days  of  winter. 

Then  one  afternoon  in  July  Alice,  standing  in  the  loft  and 
gazing  through  the  dusted  windows,  saw  a  soldier  coming  up  the 
road.  He  was  carrying  a  white  kitbag  and  he  walked  on  rather 
splayed  flat  feet. 

She  ran  down  the  loft  steps  and  across  the  dump-yard  and  up 
into  Mrs  Holland's  bedroom. 

'Albert's  come!' 

Mrs  Holland  sat  straight  up  in  bed,  as  though  by  a  miracle, 

'Get  me  out,  quick,  let  me  get  something  on.  Get  me  out.  I 
want  to  be  out  for  when  he  comes.  Get  me  out.' 

The  girl  took  the  weight  of  the  big  woman  as  she  half  slid  out 
of  bed,  Mrs  Holland's  great  breasts  falling  out  of  her  nightgown, 
Alice  thinking  all  the  time,  'I  ain't  got  it  as  bad  as  her,  not  half 

The  Mill  59 

as  bad.  Mine  are  little  side  of  hers.  Mine  are  little.'  She  had 
never  realised  how  big  Mrs  Holland  was.  And  she  had  never 
seen  her  so  distressed  -  distressed  by  joy  and  anticipation  and 
her  own  sickness.  Tears  were  flowing  from  her  eyes.  Alice 
struggled  with  her  desperately.  But  she  had  scarcely  put  on  her 
old  red  woollen  dressing- jacket  and  helped  her  to  a  chair  before 
there  was  a  shout : 


Alice  was  at  the  head  of  the  stairs  before  the  second  shout 
came.  She  could  see  the  soldier  in  the  passage  below  looking  up. 
His  tunic  collar  was  unbuttoned  and  thrown  back  from  his  sun- 
red  neck. 

'Where's  mum?' 

'Up  here.' 

Albert  came  upstairs.  Alice  had  expected  a  young  man,  very 
young.  Albert  seemed  about  thirty-five,  perhaps  older.  His  flat 
feet,  splayed  out,  and  his  dark  loose  moustache  gave  him  a 
slightly  old-fashioned  countrified  look,  a  little  stupid.  He  was 
very  like  Holland  himself.  His  eyes  bulged,  the  whites  glassy. 

'Where  is  she?'  he  said. 

'In  the  bedroom/  Alice  said.  'In  there.' 

Albert  went  past  her  and  along  the  landing  without  another 
word,  scarcely  looking  at  her.  Alice  could  smell  his  sweat,  the 
pungent  sweat-soaked  smell  of  khaki,  as  he  went  by.  In  another 
moment  she  heard  Mrs  Holland's  cries  of  delight  and  his  voice  in 

From  that  moment  she  began  to  live  in  a  changed  world. 
Albert's  coming  cut  her  off  at  once  from  Mrs  Holland;  she  was 
pushed  aside  like  an  old  love  by  a  new.  But  she  was  prepared  for 
that.  Not  consciously,  but  by  intuition,  she  had  seen  that  it  must 
come,  that  Albert  would  usurp  her  place.  So  she  had  no  surprise 
when  Mrs  Holland  scarcely  called  for  her  all  day,  had  no  time  to 
talk  to  her  except  of  Albert,  and  never  asked  her  to  sit  and  read 
to  her  in  the  bedroom  as  she  had  always  done  in  the  past.  She 
was  prepared  for  all  that.  What  she  was  not  prepared  for  at  all 
was  to  be  cut  off  from  Holland  himself  too.  It  had  not  occurred 
to  her  that  in  the  evenings  Albert  might  sit  in  the  kitchen,  that 
there  might  be  no  lying  on  the  sofa,  no  putting  out  of  the  light, 
no  doing  as  Holland  wanted. 

She  was  so  unprepared  for  it  that  for  a  week  she  could  not 

60  The  Mill 

believe  it.  Her  incredulity  made  her  quieter  than  ever.  All  the 
time  she  was  waiting  for  Holland  to  do  something:  to  come  to 
her  secretly,  into  her  bedroom,  anywhere,  and  go  on  as  he  had 
always  done.  But  nothing  happened.  For  a  week  Holland  was 
quiet  too.  He  did  not  speak  to  her.  Every  evening  Alice  fried  a 
double  quantity  of  fish  for  Holland  and  Albert,  and  after  tea  the 
two  men  sat  in  the  kitchen  and  talked,  or  walked  through  the 
osier-bed  to  the  meadows  and  talked  there.  Holland  scarcely 
spoke  to  her.  They  were  scarcely  ever  alone  together.  Albert  was 
an  everlasting  presence,  walking  about  aimlessly,  putteeless,  his 
splayed  feet  shuffling  on  the  bricks,  stolid,  comfortable,  not 
speaking  much. 

And  finally  when  Holland  did  speak  to  her  it  was  with  the  old 
words:  'Don't  you  say  nothing!  See?'  But  now  there  was  not 
only  fear  in  the  words,  but  anger.  'You  say  half  a  damn  word 
and  I'll  break  your  neck.  See?  I'll  smash  you.  That's  over.  Done 
with.  Don't  you  say  a  damn  word !  See?' 

The  words,  contrary  to  their  effect  of  old,  no  longer  perturbed 
or  perplexed  her.  She  was  relieved,  glad.  It  was  all  over.  No 
more  putting  out  the  lamp,  lying  there  waiting  for  Holland.  No 
more  pain. 


Outwardly  she  seemed  incapable  of  pain,  even  of  emotion  at 
all.  She  moved  about  with  the  same  constant  large-eyed  quiet- 
ness as  ever,  as  though  she  were  not  thinking  or  were  incapable 
of  thought.  Her  eyes  were  remarkable  in  their  everlasting  expres- 
sion of  mute  steadfastness,  the  same  wintry  grey  light  in  them  as 
always,  an  un reflective,  almost  lifeless  kind  of  light. 

And  Albert  noticed  it.  It  struck  him  as  funny.  She  would  stare 
at  him  across  the  kitchen,  dishcloth  in  hand,  in  a  state  of  dumb 
absorption,  as  though  he  were  some  entrancing  boy  of  her  own 
age.  But  there  was  no  joy  in  her  eyes,  no  emotion  at  all,  nothing. 
It  was  the  same  when,  after  a  week's  rest,  Albert  began  to  repair 
the  chicken-coop  beyond  the  dumps  of  old  iron.  Alice  would 
come  out  twice  a  day,  once  with  a  cup  of  tea  in  the  morning, 
once  when  she  fed  the  hens  in  the  early  afternoon,  and  stand  and 
watch  him.  She  hardly  ever  spoke.  She  only  moved  to  set  down 
the  tea-cup  on  a  box  or  scatter  the  corn  on  the  ground.  And 
standing  there,  hatless,  in  the  hot  sunlight,  staring,  her  lips  gently 

The  Mill  61 

parted,  she  looked  as  though  she  were  entranced  by  Albert.  All 
the  time  Albert,  in  khaki  trousers,  grey  army  shirt,  a  cloth 
civilian  cap,  and  a  fag-end  always  half  burning  his  straggling 
moustache,  moved  about  with  stolid  countrified  deliberation.  He 
was  about  as  entrancing  as  an  old  shoe.  He  never  dressed  up, 
never  went  anywhere.  When  he  drank,  his  moustache  acted  as  a 
sponge,  soaking  up  a  little  tea,  and  Albert  took  second  little 
drinks  from  it,  sucking  it  in.  Sometimes  he  announced,  'I  don't 
know  as  I  shan't  go  down  Nenweald  for  half  hour  and  look 
round/  but  further  than  that  it  never  went.  He  would  fish  in  the 
mill-stream  instead,  dig  in  the  ruined  garden,  search  among  the 
rusty  iron  dumps  for  a  hinge  or  a  bolt,  something  he  needed  for 
the  hen-house.  In  the  low  valley  the  July  heat  was  damp  and 
stifling,  the  willows  still  above  the  still  water,  the  sunlight  like 
brass.  The  windless  heat  and  the  stillness  seemed  to  stretch  away 
infinitely.  And  finally  Albert  carried  the  wood  for  the  new  hen- 
house into  the  shade  of  a  big  cherry-tree  that  grew  between  the 
river  and  the  house,  and  sawed  and  hammered  in  the  cherry-tree 
shade  all  day.  And  from  the  kitchen  Alice  could  see  him.  She 
stood  at  the  sink,  scraping  potatoes  or  washing  dishes,  and 
watched  him.  She  did  it  unconsciously.  Albert  was  the  only  new 
thing  in  the  square  of  landscape  seen  from  the  window.  She  had 
nothing  else  to  watch.  The  view  was  even  smaller  than  in  winter 
time,  since  summer  had  filled  the  cherry-boughs,  and  the  tall 
river  reeds  had  shut  out  half  the  world. 

It  went  on  like  this  for  almost  a  month,  Albert  tidying  up  the 
garden  and  remaking  the  hen-house,  Alice  watching  him.  Until 
finally  Albert  said  to  her  one  day : 

'Don't  you  ever  git  out  nowhere  ? ' 


'Don't  you  want  to  git  out?' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

The  old  answer:  and  it  was  the  same  answer  she  gave  him, 
when,  two  days  later,  on  a  Saturday,  he  said  to  her :  'I'm  a-going 
down  Nenweald  for  hour.  You  git  ready  and  come  as  well.  Go 
on.  You  git  ready.' 

She  stood  still  for  a  moment,  staring,  not  quite  grasping  it  all. 

'Don't  you  wanna  come  ? ' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

'Well,  you  git  ready.' 

62  The  Mill 

She  went  upstairs  at  once,  taking  off  her  apron  as  she  went,  in 
mute  obedience. 

Earlier,  Albert  had  said  to  Mrs  Holland:  'Don't  seem  right 
that  kid  never  goes  nowhere.  How'd  it  be  if  I  took  her  down 
Nenweald  for  hour?' 

'It's  a  long  way.  How're  you  going  ? ' 

'Walk.  That  ain't  far.' 

'What  d'ye  want  to  go  down  Nenweald  for?'  A  little  sick 
petulant  jealousy  crept  into  Mrs  Holland's  voice.  'Why  don't  you 
stop  here?' 

'I  want  some  nails.  I  thought  I'd  take  the  kid  down  for  hour. 
She  can  drop  in  and  see  her  folks  while  I  git  the  nails.' 

'Her  folks  don't  live  at  Nenweald.  They  live  at  Drake's  End.' 

'Well,  don't  matter.  Hour  out'll  do  her  good.' 

And  in  the  early  evening  Albert  and  Alice  walked  across  the 
meadow  paths  into  Nenweald.  The  sun  was  still  hot  and  Albert, 
dressed  up  in  a  hard  hat  and  a  blue  serge  suit  and  a  stand-up 
collar,  walked  slowly,  with  grave  flat-footed  deliberation.  The 
pace  suited  Alice.  She  felt  strangely  heavy;  her  body  seemed 
burdened  down.  She  could  feel  her  breasts,  damp  with  heat, 
hanging  heavily  down  under  her  cotton  dress.  In  the  bedroom, 
changing  her  clothes,  she  could  not  help  looking  at  herself.  The 
dropsy  seemed  to  be  getting  worse.  It  was  beyond  her.  And  she 
could  feel  the  tightly  swollen  nipples  of  her  breasts  rubbing 
against  the  rather  coarse  cotton  of  her  dress. 

But  she  did  not  think  of  it  much.  Apart  from  the  heaviness  of 
her  body  she  felt  strong  and  well.  And  the  country  was  new  to 
her,  the  fields  strange  and  the  river  wider  than  she  had  ever 

It  was  the  river,  for  some  reason,  which  struck  her  most. 
'Don't  it  git  big?'  she  said.  'Ain't  it  wide?' 

'Wide,'  Albert  said.  'You  want  to  see  the  Rhine.  This  is  only  a 
brook.'  And  he  went  on  to  tell  her  of  the  Rhine.  'Take  you 
quarter  of  hour  to  walk  across.  And  all  up  the  banks  you  see 
Jerry's  grapes.  Growing  like  twitch.  And  big  boats  on  the  river, 
steamers.  I  tell  you.  That's  the  sort  o'  river.  You  ought  to  see  it. 
Like  to  see  a  river  like  that,  wouldn't  you?' 


'Ah,  it's  a  long  way  off.  A  thousand  miles  near  enough.' 

Alice  did  not  speak. 

The  Mill  63 

'You  ain't  been  a  sight  away  from  here,  I  bet,  'ave  you?' 
Albert  said. 


'How  far?' 

'I  don't  know.' 

'What  place?  What's  the  farthest  place  you  bin?' 

'I  don't  know.  I  went  Bedford  once.' 

'How  far's  that?  About  ten  miles,  ain't  it?' 

'I  don't  know.  It  seemed  a  long  way.' 

And  gradually  they  grew  much  nearer  to  each  other,  almost 
intimate.  The  barriers  of  restraint  between  them  were  broken 
down  by  Albert's  talk  about  the  Rhine,  the  Germans,  the  war, 
his  funny  or  terrible  experiences.  Listening,  Alice  forgot  herself. 
Her  eyes  listened  with  the  old  absorbed  unemotional  look,  but  in 
reality  with  new  feelings  of  wonder  behind  them.  In  Nenweald 
she  followed  Albert  through  the  streets,  waited  for  him  while 
he  bought  the  nails  or  dived  down  into  underground  places  or 
looked  at  comic  picture  post-cards  outside  cheap  stationers.  They 
walked  through  the  Saturday  market,  Albert  staring  at  the  sweet 
stalls  and  the  caged  birds,  Alice  at  the  drapery  and  the  fruit 
stalls,  remembering  her  old  life  at  home  again  as  she  caught  the 
rich  half- rotten  fruit  smells,  seeing  herself  in  the  kitchen  at 
home,  with  her  mother,  hearing  the  rustle  of  Spanish  paper 
softly  torn  from  endless  oranges  in  the  kitchen  candelight. 

Neither  of  them  talked  much.  They  talked  even  less  as  they 
walked  home.  Albert  had  bought  a  bag  of  peardrops  and  they 
sucked  them  in  silence  as  they  walked  along  by  the  darkening 
river.  And  in  silence  Alice  remembered  herself  again :  could  feel 
the  burden  of  her  body,  the  heavy  swing  of  her  breasts  against 
her  dress.  She  walked  in  a  state  of  wonder  at  herself,  at  Albert, 
at  the  unbelievable  Rhine,  at  the  evening  in  the  town. 

It  was  a  happiness  that  even  Mrs  Holland's  sudden  jealousy 
could  not  destroy  or  even  touch. 

Suddenly  Mrs  Holland  had  changed.  'Where's  that  Alice! 
Alice!  Alice!  Why  don't  you  come  when  I  call  you?  Now  just 
liven  yourself,  Alice,  and  git  that  bedroom  ready.  You're  gettin' 
fat  and  lazy,  Alice.  You  ain't  the  girl  you  used  to  be.  Git  on,  git 
on,  do.  Don't  stand  staring.'  Alice,  sackcloth  apron  bundled 
loosely  round  her,  her  hair  rat-tailed  about  her  face,  could  only 
stare  in  reply  and  then  quietly  leave  the  bedroom.  'And  here!' 

64  The  Mill 

Mrs  Holland  would  call  her  back.  'Come  here.  You  ain't  bin 
talking  to  Albert,  'ave  you?  He's  got  summat  else  to  do  'sides 
talk  to  you.  You  leave  Albert  to  'isself.  And  now  git  on.  Bustle 
about  and  git  some  o'  that  fat  off  ' 

The  jealousy,  beginning  with  mere  petulancy,  then  rising  to 
reprimand,  rose  to  abuse  at  last. 

'  Just  because  I'm  in  bed  you  think  you  can  do  so  you  like. 
Great  slommacking  thing.  Lazy  ain't  in  it.  Git  on,  do ! ' 

And  in  the  evenings : 

'Fred,  that  Alice'll  drive  me  crazy.' 

'What's  up  ? '  Holland's  fear  would  leap  up,  taking  the  form  of 
anger  too.  'What's  she  bin  doing?  Been  saying  anything?' 

'Fat,  slommacking  thing.  I  reckon  she  hangs  round  our  Albert. 
She  don't  seem  right,  staring  and  slommacking  about.  She  looks 
half  silly.' 

'I'll  say  summat  to  her.  That  fish  ain't  very  grand  o'  nights 

'You  can  say  what  you  like.  But  she  won't  hear  you.  If  she 
does  she'll  make  out  she  don't.  That's  her  all  over.  Makes  out  she 
don't  hear.  But  she  hears  all  right.' 

And  so  Holland  attacked  her : 

'You  better  liven  yourself  up.  See?  Act  as  if  you  was  sharp. 
And  Christ,  you  ain't  bin  saying  nothing,  'ave  you?  Not  to 


'Not  to  nobody?' 


'Don't  you  say  a  damn  word.  That's  over.  We  had  a  bit  o'  fun 
and  now  it's  finished  with.  See  that?' 

'Yes.'  Vaguely  she  wondered  what  he  meant  by  fun. 

'Well  then,  git  on.  Go  on,  gal,  git  on.  Git  on!  God  save  the 
King,  you  make  my  blood  boil.  Git  on ! ' 

The  change  in  their  attitude  was  beyond  her:  so  far  beyond 
her  that  it  created  no  change  in  her  attitude  to  them.  She  went 
about  as  she  had  always  done,  very  quietly,  with  large-eyed 
complacency,  doing  the  dirty  work,  watching  Albert,  staring  at 
the  meadows,  her  eyes  eternally  expressionless.  It  was  as  though 
nothing  could  change  her. 

Then  Albert  said,  'How  about  if  we  go  down  Nenweald  again 
Saturday?  I  got  to  go  down.' 

The  Mill  65 

She  remembered  Mrs  Holland,  stared  at  Albert  and  said 

'You  git  ready  about  five/  Albert  said.  'Do  you  good  to  git  out 
once  in  a  while.  You  don't  git  out  half  enough.'  He  paused,  look- 
ing at  her  mute  face.  'Don't  you  want  a  come  ? ' 

'I  don't  mind.' 

'All  right.  You  be  ready.' 

Then,  hearing  of  it,  Mrs  Holland  flew  into  a  temper  of 

'You'd  take  a  blessed  gal  out  but  you  wouldn't  stay  with  me, 
would  you?  Not  you.  Away  all  this  time,  and  now  when  you're 
home  again  you  don't  come  near  me.' 

'All  right,  all  right.  I  thought'd  do  the  kid  good,  that's  all.' 

'That's  all  you  think  about.  Folks'll  think  you're  kidnappin' ! ' 

'Ain't  nothing  to  do  with  it.  Only  taking  the  kid  out  for  an 

'Hour!  Last  Saturday  you'd  gone  about  four!' 

'All  right,'  Albert  said,  'we  won't  go.  It  don't  matter.' 

Mrs  Holland  broke  down  and  began  to  weep  on  the  pillow. 

'I  don't  want  a  stop  you,'  she  said.  'You  can  go.  It  don't  matter 
to  me.  I  can  stop  here  be  meself.  You  can  go.' 

And  in  the  end  they  went.  As  before  they  walked  through  the 
meadows,  Albert  dressed  up  and  hot,  Alice  feeling  her  body 
under  her  thin  clothes  as  moist  and  warm  as  a  sweating  apple 
with  the  heat.  In  Nenweald  they  did  the  same  things  as  before, 
took  the  same  time,  talked  scarcely  at  all,  and  then  walked  back 
again  in  the  summer  twilight,  sucking  the  peardrops  Albert  had 

The  warm  air  lingered  along  by  the  river.  The  water  and  the 
air  and  the  sky  were  all  breathless.  The  sky  was  a  soft  green- 
lemon  colour,  clear,  sunless  and  starless.  'It's  goin'  to  be  a 
scorcher  again  tomorrow,'  Albert  said. 

Alice  said  nothing.  They  walked  slowly,  a  little  apart  de- 
corously. Albert  opened  the  towpath  gates,  let  Alice  through,  and 
then  splay-footed  after  her.  They  were  like  some  countrified  old 
fashioned  couple  half-afraid  of  each  other. 

Then  Albert,  after  holding  open  a  towpath  gate  and  letting 
Alice  pass,  could  not  fasten  the  catch.  He  fumbled  with  the 
gate,  lifted  it,  and  did  not  shut  it  for  about  a  minute.  When  he 
walked  on  again  Alice  was  some  distance  ahead.  Albert  could  see 

66  The  Mill 

her  plainly.  Her  pale  washed-out  dress  was  clear  in  the  half  light. 
Albert  walked  on  after  her.  Then  he  was  struck  all  of  a  sudden 
by  the  way  she  walked.  She  was  walking  thickly,  clumsily,  not 
exactly  as  though  she  were  tired,  but  heavily,  as  though  she  had 
iron  weights  in  her  shoes. 

Albert  caught  up  with  her.  'You  all  right,  Alice?'  he  said. 

'I'm  all  right.' 

'Ain't  bin  too  much  for  you?  I  see  you  walking  a  bit  lame  like.' 

Alice  did  not  speak. 

'Ain't  nothing  up,  Alice,  is  there  ? ' 

Alice  tried  to  say  something,  but  Albert  asked  again:  'Ain't 
bin  too  hot,  is  it?' 

'No.  It's  all  right.  It's  only  the  dropsy.' 

'The  what?' 

'What  your  mother's  got.  I  reckon  I  catched  it  off  her.' 

'It  ain't  catchin',  is  it?' 

'I  don'  know.  I  reckon  that's  what  it  is.' 

'You're  a  bit  tired,  that's  all  'tis,'  Albert  said.  'Dropsy.  You're 
a  funny  kid,  no  mistake.' 

They  walked  almost  in  silence  to  the  mill.  It  was  dark  in  the 
kitchen,  Holland  was  upstairs  with  Mrs  Holland,  and  Albert 
struck  a  match  and  lit  the  oil-lamp. 

The  burnt  match  fell  from  Albert's  fingers.  And  stooping  to 
pick  it  up  he  saw  Alice,  standing  sideways  and  full  in  the  lamp- 
light. The  curve  of  her  pregnancy  stood  out  clearly.  Her  whole 
body  was  thick  and  heavy  with  it.  Albert  crumbled  the  match  in 
his  fingers,  staring  at  her.  Then  he  spoke. 

'Here  kid,'  he  said.  'Here.' 

She  looked  at  him. 

'What'd  you  say  it  was  you  got?  Dropsy?' 

'Yes.  I  reckon  that's  what  it  is  I  caught/ 

'How  long  you  bin  like  it  ? ' 

'I  don't  know.  It's  bin  coming  on  a  good  while.  All  summer.' 

He  stared  at  her,  not  knowing  what  to  say.  All  the  time  she 
stared  too  with  the  old  habitual  muteness. 

'Don't  you  know  what's  up  wi'  you?'  he  said. 

She  shook  her  head. 

When  he  began  to  tell  her  she  never  moved  a  fraction.  Her 
face  was  like  a  lump  of  unplastic  clay  in  the  lamplight. 

'Don't  you  know  who  it  is?  Who  you  bin  with?  Who  done  it?' 

The  Mill  67 

She  could  not  answer.  It  was  hard  for  her  to  grapple  not  only 
with  Albert's  words  but  with  the  memory  of  Holland's:  'You 
tell  anybody  and  I'll  smash  you.  See?' 

'You  better  git  back  home/  Albert  said.  'That's  your  best 


'Soon  as  you  can.  Git  off  to-morrow.  You  no  business  slaving 

And  then  again : 

'Who  done  it?  Eh?  Don't  y'  know  who  done  it?  If  you  know 
who  done  it  he  could  marry  you.' 

'He  couldn't  marry  me.' 

Albert  saw  that  the  situation  had  significance  for  him. 

'You  better  git  off  to  bed  quick,'  he  said.  'Go  on.  And  then  be 
off  in  the  morning.' 

In  the  morning  Alice  was  up  and  downstairs  soon  after  sun- 
light, and  the  sun  was  well  above  the  trees  as  she  began  to  walk 
across  the  valley.  She  walked  slowly,  carrying  her  black  case, 
changing  it  now  and  then  from  one  hand  to  another.  Binders 
stood  in  the  early  wheatfields  covered  with  their  tarpaulins,  that 
were  in  turn  covered  with  summer  dew.  It  was  Sunday.  The 
world  seemed  empty  except  for  herself,  rooks  making  their  way 
to  the  cornfields,  and  cattle  in  the  flat  valley.  She  walked  for  long 
periods  without  thinking.  Then  when  she  did  think,  it  was  not  of 
herself  or  the  mill  or  what  she  was  doing  or  what  was  going  to 
happen  to  her,  but  of  Albert.  An  odd  sense  of  tenderness  rose  up 
in  her  simultaneously  with  the  picture  of  Albert  rising  up  in  her 
mind.  She  could  not  explain  it.  There  was  something  singularly 
compassionate  in  Albert's  countrified  solidity,  his  slow  voice,  his 
fiat  feet,  his  concern  for  her.  Yet  for  some  reason  she  could  not 
explain,  she  could  not  think  of  him  with  anything  like  happiness. 
The  mere  remembrance  of  him  sawing  and  hammering  under  the 
cherry-tree  filled  her  with  pain.  It  shot  up  in  her  breast  like 
panic.  'You  better  git  back  home.'  She  could  hear  him  saying  it 
again  and  again. 

And  all  the  time  she  walked  as  though  nothing  had  happened. 
Her  eyes  had  the  same  dull  mute  complacency  as  ever.  It  was  as 
though  she  were  only  half-awake. 

When  she  saw  the  black  gas-tarred  side  of  the  Hartop's  house 
it  was  about  eight  o'clock.  She  could  hear  the  early  service  bell. 

68  The  Mill 

The  sight  of  the  house  did  not  affect  her.  She  went  in  by  the 
yard  gate,  shut  it  carefully,  and  then  walked  across  the  yard  to 
the  back  door. 

She  opened  the  door  and  stood  on  the  threshold.  Her  mother 
and  her  father,  in  his  shirt-sleeves,  sat  in  the  kitchen  having 
breakfast.  She  could  smell  tea  and  bacon.  Her  father  was  sopping 
up  his  plate  with  bread,  and  seeing  her  he  paused  with  the  bread 
half  to  his  lips.  She  saw  the  fat  dripping  down  to  the  plate  again. 
Watching  it,  she  stood  still. 

Tve  come  back/  she  said. 

Suddenly  the  pain  shot  up  in  her  again.  And  this  time  it 
seemed  to  shoot  up  through  her  heart  and  breast  and  throat  and 
through  her  brain. 

She  did  not  move.  Her  face  was  flat  and  blank  and  her  body 
static.  It  was  only  her  eyes  which  registered  the  suddenness  and 
depths  of  her  emotions.  They  began  to  fill  with  tears. 

It  was  as  though  they  had  come  to  life  at  last. 


For  thirty  seconds  after  the  lorry  had  halted  between  the  shack 
and  the  petrol  pumps  the  summer  night  was  absolutely  silent. 
There  was  no  wind;  the  leaves  and  the  grass  stalks  were  held  in 
motionless  suspense  in  the  sultry  air.  And  after  the  headlights 
had  gone  out  the  summer  darkness  was  complete  too.  The 
pumps  were  dead  white  globes,  like  idols  of  porcelain;  there  was 
no  light  at  all  in  the  station.  Then,  as  the  driver  and  his  mate 
alighted,  slamming  the  cabin  doors  and  grinding  their  feet  on  the 
gravel,  the  light  in  the  station  came  suddenly  on :  a  fierce  electric 
flicker  from  the  naked  globe  in  the  shack,  the  light  golden  in  one 
wedge-shaped  shaft  across  the  gravel  pull-in.  And  seeing  it  the 
men  stopped.  They  stood  for  a  moment  with  the  identical  sus- 
pense of  the  grass  and  the  trees. 

The  driver  spoke  first.  He  was  a  big  fellow,  quite  young,  with 
breezy  blue  eyes  and  stiff  untrained  hair  and  a  comic  mouth. 
His  lips  were  elastic :  thin  bands  of  pink  india-rubber  that  were 
for  ever  twisting  themselves  into  grimaces  of  irony  and  burles- 
que, his  eyes  having  that  expression  of  comic  and  pained 
astonishment  seen  on  the  painted  faces  of  Aunt  Sallies  in  shoot- 
ing galleries. 

His  lips  twisted  to  the  shape  of  a  buttonhole,  so  that  he  whis- 
pered out  of  the  one  corner.  'See  her?  She  heard  us  come. 

The  mate  nodded.  He  too  was  young,  but  beside  the  driver  he 
was  boyish,  his  checks  smooth  and  shiny  as  white  cherries,  his 
hair  yellow  and  light  and  constantly  ruffled  up  like  the  fur  of  a 
fox-cub.  And  unlike  the  driver's,  his  lips  and  eyes  were  quite 
still;  so  that  he  had  a  look  of  intense  immobility. 

He  could  see  the  woman  in  the  shack.  Short  white  casement 
curtains  of  transparent  lace  on  brass  rods  cut  across  the  window, 
but  above  and  through  them  he  could  see  the  woman  clearly.  She 
was  big-shouldered  and  dark,  with  short  black  hair,  and  her  face 
was  corn-coloured  under  the  light.  She  seemed  about  thirty;  and 
that  surprised  him. 


70  The  Station 

'I  thought  you  said  she  was  young/  he  said. 

'So  she  is.'  The  driver's  eyes  flashed  white.  'Wait'll  you  git 
close.  How  old  d'ye  think  she  is?' 

'Thirty.  More.' 

'Thirty?  She's  been  here  four  year.  And  was  a  kid  when  she 
was  married,  not  nineteen.  How's  that  up  you?' 

'She  looks  thirty.' 

'So  would  you  if  you'd  kept  this  bloody  shack  open  every 
night  for  four  year.  Come  on,  let's  git  in.' 

They  began  to  walk  across  the  gravel,  but  the  driver  stopped. 

'And  don't  forgit  what  I  said.  She's  bin  somebody.  She's  had 
education.  Mind  your  ups  and  downs.' 

When  they  opened  the  door  of  the  shack  and  shuffled  in, 
the  driver  first,  the  mate  closing  the  door  carefully  behind  him, 
the  woman  stood  behind  the  rough-carpentered  counter  with  her 
arms  folded  softly  across  her  chest,  in  an  attitude  of  unsurprised 
expectancy.  The  counter  was  covered  with  blue-squared  oilcloth, 
tacked  down.  By  the  blue  alarum  clock  on  the  lowest  of  the 
shelves  behind  it,  the  time  was  four  minutes  past  midnight.  At 
the  other  end  of  the  shelf  a  flat  shallow  kettle  was  boiling  on  an 
oil-stove.  The  room  was  like  an  oven.  The  woman's  eyes  seemed 
curiously  drowsy,  as  though  clouded  over  with  the  steam  and  the 
warm  oil-fumes.  And  for  half  a  minute  nothing  happened.  She 
did  not  move.  The  men  stood  awkward.  Then  the  driver  spoke. 
His  india-rubber  mouth  puckered  comically  to  one  side,  and  his 
eye  flicked  in  a  wink  that  was  merely  friendly  and  habitual. 

'Well,  here  we  are  again.' 

She  nodded;  the  drowsiness  of  her  eyes  cleared  a  little.  All  the 
same  there  was  something  reserved  about  her,  almost  sulky. 

'What  would  you  like?'  she  said. 

'Give  me  two  on  a  raft  and  coffee,'  the  driver  said. 

'Two  on  a  raft  and  coffee,'  the  woman  said.  She  spoke  beauti- 
fully, without  effort,  and  rather  softly.  'What's  your  friend  going 
to  have?' 

The  mate  hesitated.  His  eyes  were  fixed  on  the  woman,  half- 
consciously,  in  admiration.  And  the  driver  had  to  nudge  him, 
smiling  his  india-rubber  smile  of  comic  irony,  before  he  became 
aware  of  all  that  was  going  on. 

'Peck  up,'  the  driver  said. 

'That'll  do  me,'  the  mate  said. 

The  Station  71 

'Two  on  a  raft  twice  and  coffee/  the  woman  said.  'Is  that  it?' 

Though  the  mate  did  not  know  it  for  a  moment,  she  was 
addressing  him.  He  stood  in  slight  bewilderment,  as  though  he 
were  listening  to  a  language  he  did  not  understand.  Then  as  he 
became  aware  of  her  looking  at  him  and  waiting  for  an  answer 
the  bewilderment  became  embarrassment  and  his  fair  cherry- 
smooth  cheeks  flushed  very  red,  the  skin  under  the  short  golden 
hairs  and  his  neck  flaming.  He  stood  dumb.  He  did  not  know 
what  to  do  with  himself. 

'I'm  afraid  I  don't  know  your  friend's  name  or  his  tastes  yet,' 
the  woman  said.  'Shall  I  make  it  two  poached  twice  and  coffee?' 

'Just  like  me.  Forgot  to  introduce  you,'  the  driver  said.  His 
mouth  was  a  wrinkle  of  india-rubber  mocking.  'Albie,  this  is  Mrs 
Harvey.  This  is  Albert  Armstrong.  Now  mate  on  Number  4, 
otherwise  Albie.' 

The  woman  smiled  and  in  complete  subjection  and  fascination 
the  boy  smiled  too. 

'Are  you  sure  that's  all  right?'  she  said.  'Poached  and  coffee? 
It  sounds  hot  to  me.' 

'Does  me  all  right,'  the  driver  said. 

'I  could  make  you  a  fresh  salad,'  she  said.  And  again  she  was 
speaking  to  the  mate,  with  a  kind  of  soft  and  indirect  invitation. 
'There  would  be  eggs  in  that.' 

'I'll  have  that,'  the  mate  said. 

'What?'  the  driver  said.  His  eyes  were  wide  open,  his  mouth 
wide  also  in  half  serious  disgust,  as  though  the  mate  had  com- 
mitted a  sort  of  sacrilege.  'You  don'  know  what's  good.' 

'So  you'll  have  the  salad?'  the  woman  said. 

'Yes,  please.' 

'I  can  give  you  the  proper  oil  on  it,  and  vinegar.  You  can  have 
fruit  afterwards  if  you'd  like  it.' 

'Fruit?'  the  driver  said.  'What  fruit?' 

She  took  the  kettel  from  the  oil-stove  and  poured  a  little  hot 
water  into  the  coffee-pot  and  then  a  little  into  each  of  the  egg- 
poachers.  'Plums,'  she  said. 

'Now  you're  talking,'  the  driver  said.  'Plums.  Some  sense.  Now 
you  are  talking.' 

'Go  and  get  yourself  a  few  if  you  like  them  so  much.' 

'Show  me.  Show  me  a  plum  tree  within  half  a  mile  and  I'm 

72  The  Station 

'Go  straight  down  the  garden  and  it's  the  tree  on  the  left.  Pick 
as  many  as  you  like/ 

The  driver  opened  the  door,  grinning.  'Coming,  Albie?' 

'You're  not  afraid  of  the  dark,  are  you?'  the  woman  said. 

This  time  she  was  speaking  to  the  driver.  And  suddenly  as  he 
stood  there  at  the  door,  grimacing  with  comic  irony  at  her,  his 
whole  head  and  face  and  neck  and  shoulders  became  bathed  in 
crimson  light,  as  though  he  had  become  the  victim  of  a  colossal 
blush.  Startled,  he  lifted  up  his  face  and  looked  up  at  the  shack 
from  the  outside.  The  bright  electric  sign  with  the  naked  letters 
saying  simply  The  Station  was  like  a  fire  of  scarlet  and  white. 
At  intervals  it  winked  and  darkened,  on  and  out,  scarlet  to  dark- 
ness, The  Station  to  nothing.  The  driver  stood  with  uplifted 
face,  all  scarlet,  in  surprised  admiration. 

'Blimey,  that's  a  winner.  When'd  you  get  that?' 

'It's  new  this  week.' 

'It's  a  treat.  It  makes  no  end  of  a  difference.  How's  it  you 
didn't  have  it  on  when  we  came  in?' 

'I  keep  forgetting  it.  I'm  so  used  to  sitting  here  in  the  dark  I 
can't  get  used  to  it.  It's  a  bit  uncanny.' 

The  driver  went  down  the  shack  steps,  into  the  night.  The 
woman,  busy  with  the  eggs,  and  the  boy,  leaning  against  the 
counter,  could  see  him  standing  back,  still  faintly  crimson,  in 
admiration  of  the  eternal  winking  light.  And  for  a  minute,  as  he 
stood  there,  the  station  was  completely  silent,  the  August  dark- 
ness like  velvet,  the  sultry  night  air  oppressing  all  sound  except 
the  soft  melancholy  murmur  of  the  simmering  kettle.  Then  the 
woman  called : 

'You'd  better  get  your  plums.  The  eggs  won't  be  two  minutes.' 

The  driver  answered  something,  only  barely  audible,  and  after 
the  sound  of  his  feet  crunching  the  gravel  the  silence  closed  in 

It  was  like  a  stoke- room  in  the  shack.  The  smells  of  coffee  and 
eggs  and  oil  were  fused  into  a  single  breath  of  sickening  heat. 
Like  the  driver,  the  boy  stood  in  his  shirt-sleeves.  He  stood  still, 
very  self-conscious,  watching  the  woman  breaking  the  eggs  and 
stirring  the  coffee  and  finally  mixing  in  a  glass  bowl  the  salad 
for  himself.  He  did  not  know  what  to  do  or  say.  Her  thin  white 
dress  was  like  the  silky  husk  of  a  seed-pod,  just  bursting  open. 
Her  ripe  breasts  swelled  under  it  like  two  sun-swollen  seeds.  And 

The  Station  73 

he  could  not  take  his  eyes  away  from  them.  He  was  electrified. 
His  blood  quivered  with  the  current  of  excitement.  And  all  the 
time,  even  though  she  was  busy  with  the  eggs  on  the  stove,  and 
the  mixing  of  the  salad,  very  often  not  looking  at  him,  she 
was  aware  of  it.  Looking  up  sometimes  from  the  stove  or  the 
salad  she  would  look  past  him,  with  an  air  of  arrested  dreaminess, 
her  dark  eyes  lovely  and  sulky.  The  deliberation  of  it  maddened 
him.  He  remembered  things  the  driver  had  said  as  they  came 
along  the  road.  The  words  flashed  in  his  mind  as  though  lit  up 
by  the  electricity  of  his  veins.  'She's  a  peach,  Albie.  But  I'll  tell 
you  what.  One  bloody  wink  out  o'  place  and  you're  skedaddled. 
She  won't  have  it.  She's  nice  to  the  chaps  because  it's  business, 
that's  all.  See  what  I  mean,  Albie?  She'll  look  at  you  fit  to  melt 
your  bleedin'  heart  out,  but  it  don't  mean  damn  all.  She  wants  to 
make  that  station  a  success,  that's  all.  That's  why  she  runs  the 
night  shack.  Her  husband  runs  the  day  show  and  she's  second 
house,  kind  of.  It's  her  own  idea.  See?' 

And  suddenly  his  thoughts  broke  off.  The  lights  in  his  brain, 
as  it  were,  went  out.  His  mind  was  blank.  She  was  looking  at 
him.  He  stood  transfixed,  his  veins  no  longer  electric  but  re- 
lapsed, his  blood  weak. 

'Like  it  on  the  lorry  ? '  she  said. 

'Yes.'  He  hardly  spoke. 

She  had  finished  making  the  salad  and  she  pushed  the  bowl 
across  the  counter  towards  him  before  speaking  again. 

'You're  not  very  old  for  the  job,  are  you?' 

'I'm  eighteen.' 

'Get  on  with  old  Spike?' 


'Isn't  it  lonely  at  first?  They  all  say  it's  lonely  when  they  first 

'I  don't  mind  it.' 

'What's  your  girl  say  to  it?' 

It  was  as  though  the  electric  sign  had  been  suddenly  turned  on 
him  as  it  had  been  turned  on  the  driver.  He  stood  helpless,  his 
face  scarlet. 

'I  ain't  got  a  girl.' 

'What?  Not  a  nice  boy  like  you?'  She  was  smiling,  half  in 
mockery.  'I  know  you  must  have.' 


74  The  Station 

'Does  she  love  you  much?'  She  looked  at  him  in  mock  serious- 
ness, her  eyes  lowered. 

'I  ain't  got  one/ 

'Honest?'  She  pushed  the  bottles  of  oil  and  vinegar  across  the 
counter  towards  him.  'I'll  ask  Spike  when  he  comes  in.' 

'No,  don't  say  anything  to  Spike,'  he  begged.  'Don't  say  noth- 
ing. He's  always  kidding  me  about  her,  anyway.' 

'You  said  you  hadn't  got  a  girl.' 


She  took  two  plates  from  the  rack  behind  the  counter  and  then 
knives  and  forks  from  the  drawer  under  the  counter  and  then 
laid  them  out. 

'Does  she  hate  it  when  you're  on  nights?'  she  said. 


'What's  she  like  -  dark  or  fair?' 


'Like  me?' 

He  could  not  answer.  He  only  gazed  straight  at  her  in  mute 
embarrassment  and  nodded.  Every  word  she  uttered  fired  him 
with  passionate  unrest.  The  current  in  his  blood  was  renewed 
again.  He  felt  himself  tightened  up.  And  she  could  see  it  all. 

'You'd  better  call  Spike,'  she  said.  'The  eggs  are  ready.' 

He  moved  towards  the  door.  Then  he  turned  and  stopped. 
'Don't  say  nothing,'  he  said. 

'All  right.' 

He  stood  at  the  door,  his  face  scarlet  under  the  winking  sign, 
and  called  out  for  Spike,  singing  the  word,  'Spi-ike!'  And  he 
could  hear  the  sound  echoing  over  the  empty  land  in  the  dark- 
ness. There  was  a  smell  of  corn  in  the  air,  stronger  and  sweeter 
even  than  the  smell  of  the  heat  and  cooking  in  the  shack.  It  came 
in  sweet  waves  from  across  the  invisible  fields  in  the  warm  night 

'I  know  how  you  feel,'  she  said. 

He  turned  sharply.  'How?' 

'Come  and  eat  this  salad  and  cool  down  a  bit.' 

He  came  from  the  door  to  the  counter  in  obedience,  pulling 
out  a  stool  and  sitting  on  it. 

'Oil  and  vinegar?'  she  said.  'The  coffee  will  be  ready  by  the 
time  Spike  comes.' 

'How  do  I  feel?  What  do  you  mean?' 

The  Station  75 

'You  know/ 

'Yes,  but  how  do  you  know?' 

Tve  felt  like  it  myself.' 

She  stood  with  her  arms  folded  and  resting  on  the  counter 
edge,  and  leaning  slightly  forward,  so  that  he  could  see  her 
breasts  beneath  the  open  dress.  She  looked  at  him  with  a  kind  of 
pity,  with  tenderness,  but  half- amused.  He  saw  the  breasts  rise 
and  fall  with  the  same  slow  and  almost  sulky  passion  as  she 
looked  at  him.  He  stared  from  her  breasts  to  her  face,  and  she 
stared  back,  her  eyes  never  moving.  And  they  stood  like  that,  not 
moving  or  speaking,  but  only  as  it  were  burning  each  other  up, 
until  suddenly  Spike  came  in. 

The  woman  stood  up  at  once.  Spike's  cupped  hands  were  full 
of  plums. 

'They're  green/  the  woman  said. 

'By  God,  if  I  didn't  think  they  was  tart.' 

'Didn't  you  find  the  right  tree?  On  the  left?' 

'I  couldn't  see  a  blamed  thing.' 

'Eat  your  eggs.  I'll  get  a  torch  and  we'll  go  down  and  get  some 
ripe  ones  before  you  go.' 

'Eggs  look  good  an'  all,'  Spike  said. 

The  men  ate  in  silence,  the  woman  busy  with  bread  and 
coffee.  The  boy  put  vinegar  on  his  salad,  but  not  oil,  and  once, 
noticing  it,  she  unstoppered  the  oil  bottle  and  pushed  it  across  to 
him.  It  was  her  only  sign  towards  him.  The  old  manner  of  pity 
and  intimacy  had  vanished.  She  was  the  proprietress;  they  were 
the  drivers  come  in  to  eat.  She  stood  almost  aloof,  busy  with  odd 
things  at  the  far  end  of  the  counter.  And  the  boy  sat  in  fresh 
bewilderment,  at  a  loss,  and  in  wonder  about  her. 

They  each  drank  two  cups  of  coffee  and  when  the  cups  were 
finally  empty  she  said : 

'If  you're  ready  we  can  go  down  and  get  the  plums.  But  I 
don't  want  to  hurry  you.' 

'I'm  fit,'  Spike  said.  'And  my  God  the  eggs  were  a  treat.  You 
missed  a  treat  Albie,  not  having  eggs.' 

'The  salad  was  all  right.' 

'I'll  get  the  torch,'  the  woman  said.  'You  go  out  that  door  and 
I'll  meet  you  round  the  back.' 

She  went  out  of  the  shack  by  a  door  behind  the  counter,  and 
the  boy  followed  Spike  through  the  front  door,  under  the  electric 

76  The  Station 

sign.  Outside,  behind  the  shack,  the  sweet  smell  of  ripened  corn 
and  night  air  seemed  stronger  than  ever.  At  the  side  of  the  shack 
and  a  little  behind  it,  the  bungalow  stood  out  darker  than  the 
darkness.  And  after  a  minute  the  torch  appeared  from  the  bun- 
galow and  began  to  travel  towards  the  men.  The  boy  could  see  it 
shining  white  along  the  cinder  path  and  on  the  woman's  feet  as 
she  came  along. 

'You  walk  down  the  path/  she  said.  'I'll  show  the  light.' 

Spike  began  to  walk  down  the  path,  the  boy  following  him, 
and  then  the  woman.  The  shadows  strode  like  giants  over  the 
garden  and  were  lost  beyond  the  yellow  snake  fence  in  the  dark 
land.  The  garden  was  short,  and  in  a  moment  they  all  three  stood 
under  the  plum  tree,  the  woman  shining  the  torch  up  into 
the  branches,  the  tree  turned  to  an  immense  net  of  green  and 

'I'll  shine,  Spike,'  she  said.  'You  pick  them.  If  they're  soft  and 
they  lift  off  they're  ripe.' 

'This  is  better,'  Spike  said.  His  mouth  was  already  full  of 
plums.  'I  struck  one  match  to  every  blamed  plum  when  I  came 

The  woman  stood  a  little  away  from  the  tree,  shining  the 
torch  steadily,  making  a  great  ring  of  white  light  across  which 
little  moths  began  to  flutter  like  casual  leaves.  The  boy  stood 
still,  not  attempting  to  move,  as  though  he  were  uninvited. 

'What  about  you  ? '  she  said. 

And  again  he  could  feel  the  old  softness  of  sympathy  and  pity 
and  insinuation  in  her  voice,  and  again  his  blood  leapt  up. 

'I'm  about  full  up,'  he  said. 

'Take  some  for  the  journey.' 

He  stood  still,  electrified. 

'Take  some  to  eat  on  the  way.  Look  here,  come  round  the 
other  side.  They're  riper.' 

She  moved  round  the  tree,  shining  the  torch  always  away  from 
her.  He  followed  her  in  silence,  and  then  in  silence  they  stood 
against  the  plum  branches,  in  the  darkness  behind  the  light.  He 
saw  her  stretch  up  her  arm  into  the  silver  leaves,  and  then  lower 
it  again. 

'Where's  your  hand?'  she  was  whispering.  'Here.  It's  a  beauty.' 
The  soft  ripe  plum  was  between  their  hands.  Suddenly  she 
pressed  it  hard  against  his  hands,  and  the  ripe  skin  broke  and  the 

The  Station  11 

juice  trickled  over  his  fingers.  'Eat  it,  put  it  in  your  mouth,'  she 
said.  He  put  the  plum  into  his  mouth  obediently,  and  the  sweet 
juice  trickled  down  over  his  lips  and  chin  as  it  had  already 
trickled  over  his  hands. 

'Was  that  nice  ? '  she  said  softly. 


'Sweet  as  your  girl?' 

It  seemed  suddenly  as  if  his  blood  turned  to  water.  She  was 
touching  him.  She  took  his  hand  and  laid  it  softly  against  her 
hip.  It  was  firm  and  strong  and  soft.  It  had  about  it  a  kind  of 
comforting  maturity.  He  could  feel  all  the  sulky  strength  and 
passion  of  her  whole  body  in  it.  Then  all  at  once  she  covered  his 
hand  with  her  own,  stroking  it  up  and  down  with  her  fingers, 
until  he  stood  helpless,  intoxicated  by  the  smell  of  corn  and 
plums  and  the  night  warmth  and  her  very  light,  constant  strok- 
ing of  his  hand. 

'Shine  the  light,'  Spike  called.  'I  can't  see  for  looking.' 

'I'm  shining,'  she  said.  'Albie  wants  to  see  too.' 

'Getting  many,  Albie?' 

'He's  filling  his  pockets.' 

She  began  to  gather  plums  off  the  tree  with  her  free  hand  as 
she  spoke,  keeping  her  other  hand  still  on  his,  pressing  it  against 
her  by  an  almost  mechanical  process  of  caressing.  He  reached  up 
and  tore  off  the  plums  too,  not  troubling  if  they  were  ripe,  filling 
one  pocket  while  she  filled  the  other,  the  secrecy  and  passion  of 
her  movements  half  demoralizing  him,  and  going  on  without 
interruption  until  Spike  called : 

'Albie !  Plums  or  no  plums,  we  shall  have  to  get  on  th'  old  bus 

'All  right.' 

The  boy  could  hardly  speak.  And  suddenly  as  the  woman  took 
her  hand  away  at  last  he  felt  as  if  the  life  in  him  had  been  cut 
off,  the  tension  withdrawn,  leaving  his  veins  like  dead  wires. 

He  stumbled  up  the  path  behind  Spike  and  the  woman  and 
the  light.  Spike  was  gabbling : 

'Sweetest  plums  I  ever  tasted.  When  we  come  back  I'll  take 
a  couple  of  pounds  and  the  missus'll  pie  'em.' 

'When  will  you  be  back?' 

'The  night  after  to-morrow.' 

'There'll  be  plenty,'  she  said. 

78  The  Station 

She  said  nothing  to  the  boy,  and  he  said  nothing  either. 

'Let's  pay  you/  Spike  said. 

'A  shilling  for  you,  and  ninepence  for  the  salad/  she  said. 

'Salad's  cheaper/  Spike  said.  'I'll  remember  that.  What  about 
the  plums?' 

'The  plums  are  thrown  in.' 

They  paid  her.  Then  she  stood  on  the  shack  steps  while  they 
crunched  across  the  pull-in  and  climbed  up  into  the  cab,  the 
bright  red  sign  flashing  above  her. 

'That  sign's  a  treat/  Spike  called.  'You  could  see  it  miles  off.' 

'I'm  glad  you  like  it/  she  called.  'Good  night.' 

'Good  night!' 

Spike  started  up,  and  almost  before  the  boy  could  realise  it  the 
lorry  was  swinging  out  into  the  road,  and  the  station  was  be- 
ginning to  recede.  He  sat  for  some  moments  without  moving. 
Then  the  lorry  began  to  make  speed  and  the  smell  of  corn  and 
plums  and  the  summer  land  began  to  be  driven  out  by  the 
smells  of  the  cab,  the  petrol  and  oil  and  the  heat  of  the  engine 
running.  But  suddenly  he  turned  and  looked  back. 

'The  light's  out/  he  said. 

Spike  put  his  head  out  of  the  cab  and  glanced  back.  The  sign 
was  still  flashing  but  the  shack  itself  was  in  darkness. 

'She's  sitting  in  the  dark,'  he  said.  'She  always  does.  She  says 
it  saves  her  eyes  and  the  light  and  she  likes  it  better.' 


'Better  ask  her.'  Spike  put  a  plum  in  his  mouth.  'I  don't  know.' 

'What's  her  husband  doing,  letting  her  run  the  place  at  night, 
and  sit  there  in  the  dark  ? ' 

'It's  her  own  idea.  It's  a  paying  game  an'  all,  you  bet  your  life 
it  is.' 

The  boy  took  a  plum  from  his  pocket  and  bit  it  slowly,  lick- 
ing the  sweet  juice  from  his  lips  as  it  ran  down.  He  was  still 

And  glancing  back  again  he  could  see  nothing  of  the  station 
but  the  red  sign  flashing  everlastingly  out  and  on,  scarlet  to 
darkness,  The  Station  to  nothing  at  all. 


It  was  the  second  Saturday  of  August,  1911,  when  I  came  to 
London  for  the  interview  with  Kersch  and  Co.  I  was  just  twenty- 
five.  The  summer  had  been  almost  tropical. 

There  used  to  be  a  train  in  those  days  that  got  into  St 
Pancras,  from  the  North,  about  ten  in  the  morning.  I  came  by  it 
from  Nottingham,  left  my  bag  in  the  cloakroom  and  went 
straight  down  to  the  City  by  bus.  The  heat  of  London  was 
terrific,  a  white  dust  heat,  thick  with  the  smell  of  horse  dung.  I 
had  put  on  my  best  suit,  a  blue  serge,  and  it  was  like  a  suit  of 
gauze.  The  heat  seemed  to  stab  at  me  through  it. 

Kersch  and  Co.  were  very  nice.  They  were  electrical  engineers. 
I  had  applied  for  a  vacancy  advertised  by  them.  That  morning  I 
was  on  the  short  list  and  Mr  Alexander  Kersch,  the  son,  was 
very  nice  to  me.  We  talked  a  good  deal  about  Nottingham  and  I 
asked  him  if  he  knew  the  Brownsons,  who  were  prominent  Con- 
gregationalists  there,  but  he  said  no.  Everyone  in  Nottingham, 
almost,  knew  the  Brownsons,  but  I  suppose  it  did  not  occur  to 
me  in  my  excitement  that  Kersch  was  a  Jew.  After  a  time  he 
offered  me  a  whisky  and  soda,  but  I  refused.  I  had  been  brought 
up  rather  strictly,  and  in  any  case  the  Brownsons  would  not  have 
liked  it.  Finally,  Mr  Kersch  asked  me  if  I  could  be  in  London 
over  the  week-end.  I  said  yes,  and  he  asked  me  at  once  to  come 
in  on  Monday  morning.  I  knew  then  that  the  job  was  as  good  as 
settled  and  I  was  trembling  with  excitement  as  I  shook  hands 
and  said  good-bye. 

I  came  out  of  Kersch  and  Co.  just  before  twelve  o'clock.  Their 
offices  were  somewhere  off  Cheapside.  I  forget  the  name  of  the 
street.  I  only  remember,  now,  how  yery  hot  it  was.  There  was 
something  un-English  about  it.  It  was  a  terrific  heat,  fierce  and 
white.  And  I  made  up  my  mind  to  go  straight  back  to  St  Pan- 
cras and  get  my  bag  and  take  it  to  the  hotel  the  Brownsons  had 
recommended  to  me.  It  was  so  hot  that  I  didn't  want  to  eat.  I 
felt  that  if  I  could  get  my  room  and  wash  and  rest  it  would  be 


80  The  Kimono 

enough.  I  could  eat  later.  I  would  go  up  West  and  do  myself 
rather  well. 

Pa  Brownson  had  outlined  the  position  of  the  hotel  so  well, 
both  in  conversation  and  on  paper,  that  when  I  came  out  of  St 
Pancras  with  my  bag  I  felt  I  knew  the  way  to  the  street  as  well  as 
if  it  had  been  in  Nottingham.  I  turned  east  and  then  north  and 
went  on  turning  left  and  then  right,  until  finally  I  came  to  the 
place  where  the  street  with  the  hotel  ought  to  have  been.  It 
wasn't  there.  I  couldn't  believe  it.  I  walked  about  a  bit,  always 
coming  back  to  the  same  place  again  in  case  I  should  get  lost. 
Then  I  asked  a  baker's  boy  where  Midhope  Street  was  and  he 
didn't  know.  I  asked  one  or  two  more  people,  and  they  didn't 
know  either.  'Wade's  Hotel,'  I  would  say,  to  make  it  clearer,  but 
it  was  no  good.  Then  a  man  said  he  thought  I  should  go  back 
towards  St  Pancras  a  bit,  and  ask  again,  and  I  did. 

It  must  have  been  about  two  o'clock  when  I  knew  that  I  was 
pretty  well  lost.  The  heat  was  shattering.  I  saw  one  or  two  other 
hotels  but  they  looked  a  bit  low  class  and  I  was  tired  and 

Finally  I  set  my  bag  down  in  the  shade  and  wiped  my  face. 
The  sweat  on  me  was  filthy.  I  was  wretched.  The  Brownsons  had 
been  so  definite  about  the  hotel  and  I  knew  that  when  I  got  back 
they  would  ask  me  if  I  liked  it  and  all  about  it.  Hilda 
would  want  to  know  about  it  too.  Later  on,  if  I  got  the  Kersch 
job,  we  should  be  coming  up  to  it  for  our  honeymoon. 

At  last  I  picked  up  my  bag  again.  Across  the  street  was  a  little 
sweet  shop  and  cafe  showing  ices.  I  went  across  to  it.  I  felt  I  had 
to  have  something. 

In  the  shop  a  big  woman  with  black  hair  was  tinkering  with 
the  ice-cream  mixer.  Something  had  gone  wrong.  I  saw  that  at 
once.  It  was  just  my  luck. 

'I  suppose  it's  no  use  asking  for  an  ice?'  I  said. 

'Well,  if  you  wouldn't  mind  waiting.' 

'How  long?' 

'As  soon  as  ever  I  get  this  nut  fixed  on  and  the  freezer  going 
again.  We've  had  a  breakdown.' 

'All  right.  You  don't  mind  if  I  sit  down?'  I  said. 

She  said  no,  and  I  sat  down  and  leaned  one  elbow  on  the  tea- 
table,  the  only  one  there  was.  The  woman  went  on  tinkering  with 
the  freezer.  She  was  a  heavy  woman,  about  fifty,  a  little  swarthy, 

The  Kimono  81 

and  rather  masterful  to  look  at.  The  shop  was  stifling  and  filled 
with  a  sort  of  yellowish-pink  shade  cast  by  the  sun  pouring 
through  the  shop  blind. 

'I  supposed  it's  no  use  asking  you  where  Midhope  Street  is  ? '  I 

'Midhope  Street/  she  said.  She  put  her  tongue  in  her  cheek,  in 
thought.  'Midhope  Street,  I  ought  to  know  that/ 

'Or  Wade's  Hotel.' 

'Wade's  Hotel,'  she  said.  She  wriggled  her  tongue  between  her 
teeth.  They  were  handsome  teeth,  very  white.  'Wade's  Hotel. 
No.  That  beats  me.'  And  then :  'Perhaps  my  daughter  will  know. 
I'll  call  her.' 

She  straightened  up  to  call  into  the  back  of  the  shop.  But  a 
second  before  she  opened  her  mouth  the  girl  herself  came  in.  She 
looked  surprised  to  see  me  there. 

'Oh,  here  you  are,  Blanche !  This  gentleman  here  is  looking  for 
Wade's  Hotel.' 

'I'm  afraid  I'm  lost,'  I  said. 

'Wade's  Hotel,'  the  girl  said.  She  too  stood  in  thought,  run- 
ning her  tongue  over  her  teeth,  and  her  teeth  too  were  very 
white,  like  her  mother's.  'Wade's  Hotel.  I've  seen  that  some- 
where. Surely?' 

'Midhope  Street.'  I  said. 

'Midhope  Street.' 

No,  she  couldn't  remember.  She  had  on  a  sort  of  kimono, 
loose,  with  big  orange  flowers  all  over  it.  I  remember  thinking  it 
was  rather  fast.  For  those  days  it  was.  It  wouldn't  be  now.  And 
somehow,  because  it  was  so  loose  and  brilliant,  I  couldn't  take 
my  eyes  off  it.  It  made  me  uneasy,  but  it  was  an  uneasiness  in 
which  there  was  pleasure  as  well,  almost  excitement.  I  remember 
thinking  she  was  really  half  undressed.  The  kimono  had  no  neck 
and  no  sleeves.  It  was  simply  a  piece  of  material  that  wrapped 
over  her,  and  when  suddenly  she  bent  down  and  tried  to  fit  the 
last  screw  on  to  the  freezer  the  whole  kimono  fell  loose  and  I 
could  see  her  body. 

At  the  same  time  something  else  happened.  Her  hair  fell  over 
her  shoulder.  It  was  the  time  of  very  long  hair,  the  days  when 
girls  would  pride  themselves  that  they  could  sit  on  their  pig 
tails,  but  hers  was  the  longest  hair  I  had  ever  seen.  It  was  like 
thick  jet-black  cotton-rope.  And  when  she  bent  down  over  the 

82  The  Kimono 

freezer  the  pig-tail  of  it  was  so  long  that  the  tip  touched  the 

'I'm  so  sorry/  the  girl  said.  'My  hair's  always  getting  me  into 

'It's  all  right.  It  just  seems  to  be  my  unlucky  day,  that's  all.' 

'I'm  so  sorry.' 

'Will  you  have  a  cup  of  tea?'  the  woman  said.  'Instead  of  the 
ice  ?  Instead  of  waiting  ? ' 

'That's  it,  Mother.  Get  him  some  tea.  You  would  like  tea, 
wouldn't  you?' 

'Very  much.' 

So  the  woman  went  through  the  counter-flap  into  the  back  of 
the  shop  to  get  the  tea.  The  girl  and  I,  in  the  shop  alone,  stood 
and  looked  at  the  freezer.  I  felt  queer  in  some  way,  uneasy.  The 
girl  had  not  troubled  to  tighten  up  her  kimono.  She  let  it  hang 
loose,  anyhow,  so  that  all  the  time  I  could  see  part  of  her 
shoulder  and  now  and  then  her  breasts.  Her  skin  was  very  white, 
and  once  when  she  leaned  forward  rather  farther  than  usual  I 
could  have  sworn  that  she  had  nothing  on  at  all  underneath. 

'You  keep  looking  at  my  kimono,'  she  said.  'Do  you  like  it?' 

'It's  very  nice,'  I  said.  'It's  very  nice  stuff.' 

'Lovely  stuff.  Feel  of  it.  Go  on.  Just  feel  of  it.' 

I  felt  the  stuff.  For  some  reasons,  perhaps  it  was  because  I  had 
had  no  food,  I  felt  weak.  And  she  knew  it.  She  must  have  known 
it.  'It's  lovely  stuff.  Feel  it.  I  made  it  myself.'  She  spoke  sweetly 
and  softly,  in  invitation.  There  was  something  electric  about  her. 
I  listened  quite  mechanically.  From  the  minute  she  asked  me  to 
feel  the  stuff  of  her  kimono  I  was  quite  helpless.  She  had  me,  as 
it  were,  completely  done  up  in  the  tangled  maze  of  the  orange 
and  green  of  its  flowers  and  leaves. 

'Are  you  in  London  for  long?  Only  to-day?' 

'Until  Monday.' 

'I  suppose  you  booked  your  room  at  the  hotel?' 

'No.  I  didn't  book  it.  But  I  was  strongly  recommended  there.' 

'I  see.' 

That  was  all,  only  'I  see.'  But  in  it  there  was  something  quite 
maddening.  It  was  a  kind  of  passionate  veiled  hint,  a  secret 

'Things  were  going  well,'  I  said,  'until  I  lost  my  way.' 


The  Kimono  83 

'I  came  up  for  an  interview  and  I  got  the  job.  At  least  I  think 
I  got  the  job.' 

'A  bit  of  luck.  I  hope  it's  a  good  one  ? ' 

'Yes/  I  said.  'It  is.  Kersch  and  Co.  In  the  City/ 

'Kersch  and  Co  ? '  she  said.  'Not  really  ?  Kersch  and  Co.  ? ' 

'Yes/  I  said.  'Why,  do  you  know  them?' 

'Know  them?  Of  course  I  know  them.  Everybody  knows  them. 
That  is  a  bit  of  luck  for  you.' 

And  really  I  was  flattered.  She  knew  Kersch  and  Co. ! 
She  knew  that  it  was  a  good  thing.  I  think  I  was  more  pleased 
because  of  the  attitude  of  the  Brownsons.  Kersch  and  Co.  didn't 
mean  anything  to  the  Brownsons.  It  was  just  a  name.  They  had 
been  rather  cold  about  it.  I  think  they  would  have  liked  me  to 
get  the  job,  but  they  wouldn't  have  broken  their  hearts  if  I 
hadn't.  Certainly  they  hadn't  shown  any  excitement. 

'Kersch  and  Co./  the  girl  said  again.  'That  really  is  a  bit  of 

Then  the  woman  came  in  with  the  tea.  'Would  you  like  any- 
thing to  eat?' 

'Well,  I've  had  no  dinner.' 

'Oh!  No  wonder  you  look  tired.  I'll  get  you  a  sandwich.  Is 
that  all  right?' 

'Thank  you.' 

So  the  woman  went  out  to  get  the  sandwich,  and  the  girl  and  I 
stayed  in  the  shop  again,  alone. 

'It's  a  pity  you  booked  your  room  at  the  hotel,'  she  said. 

'I  haven't  booked  it/  I  said. 

'Oh !  I  thought  you  said  you'd  booked  it.  Oh !  My  fault.  You 
haven't  booked  it  ? ' 

'No.  Why?' 

'We  take  people  in  here/  she  said.  'Over  the  cafe.  It's  not 
central  of  course.  But  then  we  don't  charge  so  much.' 

I  thought  of  the  Brownsons.  'Perhaps  I  ought  to  go  to 
the  hotel/  I  said. 

'We  charge  three  and  six/  she  said.  'That  isn't  much,  is  it?' 

'Oh,  no!' 

'Why  don't  you  just  come  up  and  see  the  room?'  she 
said.  'Just  come  up.' 


'Come  up  and  see  it.  It  won't  eat  you.' 

84  The  Kimono 

She  opened  the  rear  door  of  the  shop  and  in  a  moment  I  was 
going  upstairs  behind  her.  She  was  not  wearing  any  stockings. 
Her  bare  legs  were  beautifully  strong  and  white.  The  room  was 
over  the  cafe.  It  was  a  very  good  room  for  three  and  six.  The 
new  wall-paper  was  silver-leaved  and  the  bed  was  white  and 
looked  cool. 

And  suddenly  it  seemed  silly  to  go  out  into  the  heat  again  and 
wander  about  looking  for  Wade's  Hotel  when  I  could  stay  where 
I  was. 

Well,  what  do  you  think  of  it?'  she  said. 

'I  like  it/  She  sat  down  on  the  bed.  The  kimono  was  drawn 
up  over  her  legs  and  where  it  parted  at  her  knees  I  could  see  her 
thighs,  strong  and  white  and  softly  disappearing  into  the  shadow 
of  the  kimono.  It  was  the  day  of  long  rather  prim  skirts  and  I 
had  never  seen  a  woman's  legs  like  that.  There  was  nothing 
between  Hilda  and  me  beyond  kissing.  All  we  had  done  was  to 
talk  of  things,  but  there  was  nothing  in  it.  Hilda  always  used  to 
say  that  she  would  keep  herself  for  me. 

The  girl  hugged  her  knees.  I  could  have  sworn  she  had  noth- 
ing on  under  the  kimono. 

'I  don't  want  to  press  you/  she  said,  'but  I  do  wish  you'd  stay. 
You'd  be  our  first  let.' 

Suddenly  a  great  wave  of  heat  came  up  from  the  street  outside, 
the  fierce,  horse-smelling,  dust-white  heat  of  the  earlier  day,  and 
I  said: 

'All  right.  I'll  stay.' 

'Oh,  you  angel!' 

The  way  she  said  that  was  so  warm  and  frank  that  I  did  not 
know  what  to  do.  I  simply  smiled.  I  felt  curiously  weak  with 
pleasure.  Standing  there,  I  could  smell  suddenly  not  only 
the  heat  but  the  warmth  of  her  own  body.  It  was  sweetish  and 
pungent,  the  soft  odour  of  sweat  and  perfume.  My  heart  was 

Then  suddenly  she  got  up  and  smoothed  the  kimono  over  her 
knees  and  thighs. 

'My  father  has  just  died,  you  see,'  she  said.  'We  are  trying  this 
for  a  living.  You'll  give  us  a  start.' 

Somehow  it  seemed  too  good  to  be  true. 

The  Kimono  85 


I  know  now  that  it  was.  But  I  will  say  more  of  that  later,  when 
the  time  comes. 

That  evening  I  came  down  into  the  shop  again  about  six 
o'clock.  I  had  had  my  tea  and  unpacked  my  things  and  rested.  It 
was  not  much  cooler,  but  I  felt  better.  I  was  glad  I  had  stayed. 

The  girl,  Blanche,  was  sitting  behind  the  counter,  fanning  her- 
self with  the  broken  lid  of  a  sweet-box.  She  had  taken  off  her 
kimono  and  was  wearing  a  white  gauzy  dress  with  a  black  sash. 
I  was  disappointed.  I  think  she  must  have  seen  that,  because  she 
pouted  a  bit  when  I  looked  at  her.  In  turn  I  was  glad  she  pouted. 
It  made  her  lips  look  full-blooded  and  rich  and  shining.  There 
was  something  lovely  about  her  when  she  was  sulky. 

'Going  out?'  she  said. 

'Yes/  I  said.  'I  thought  of  going  up  West  and  celebrating  over 
Kersch  and  Co.' 

'Celebrating  ?  By  yourself  ? ' 

'Well/  I  said.  Tm  alone.  There's  no  one  else.' 

'Lucky  you/ 

I  knew  what  she  meant  in  a  moment.  'Well/  I  said,  almost  in 
a  joke,  'why  don't  you  come?' 

'Me?'  she  said,  eyes  wide  open.  'You  don't  mean  it.  Me?' 

'I  do/  I  said.  'I  do  mean  it.' 

She  got  up.  'How  long  can  you  wait?  I'll  just  change  my  dress 
and  tell  mother.' 

'No  hurry  at  all/  I  said,  and  she  ran  upstairs. 

I  have  said  nothing  about  how  old  she  was.  In  the  kimono  she 
looked  about  twenty,  and  in  the  white  dress  about  the  same  age, 
perhaps  a  little  younger.  When  she  came  down  again  that  even- 
ing she  looked  nearer  twenty-six  or  twenty-seven.  She  looked 
big  and  mature.  She  had  changed  from  the  white  dress  into  a 
startling  yellow  affair  with  a  sort  of  black  coatee  cut  away  at  the 
hips.  It  was  so  flashy  that  I  felt  uneasy.  It  was  very  tight  too : 
the  skirt  so  tight  that  I  could  see  every  line  of  her  body,  the 
bodice  filled  tight  in  turn  with  her  big  breasts.  I  forget  what  her 
hat  was  like.  I  rather  fancy  I  thought  it  was  rather  silly. 
But  later  she  took  it  off. 

'Well,  where  shall  we  go  ? '  she  said. 

'I  thought  of  going  up  West  and  eating  and  perhaps  dropping 
in  to  hear  some  music.' 

86  The  Kimono 

'Music.  Isn't  that  rather  dull?' 
'Well,  a  play  then.' 

'I  say/  she  said,  'don't  let's  go  up  West.  Let's  go  down  to  the 
East  End  instead.  We  can  have  some  fun.  It'll  do  you  good  to 
see  how  the  Jews  live.  If  you're  going  to  work  for  a  firm  of  Jews 
you  ought  to  know  something  about  them.  We  might  have  some 
Jewish  food.  I  know  a  nice  place.' 

So  we  took  a  bus  and  went.  In  the  Mile  End  Road  we  had  a 
meal.  I  didn't  like  it.  The  food  didn't  smell  very  nice.  It  was 
spiced  and  strong  and  rather  strange  to  eat.  But  Blanche  liked  it. 
Finally  she  said  she  was  thirsty.  'Let's  go  out  of  here  and  have 
a  drink  somewhere  else,'  she  said.  'I  know  a  place  where  you  can 
get  beautiful  wine,  cheap.'  So  we  went  from  that  restaurant  to 
another.  We  had  some  cheese  and  a  bottle  of  wine  -  asti,  I  think 
it  was.  The  place  was  Italian.  The  evening  was  stifling  and 
everywhere  people  were  drinking  heavily  and  fanning  themselves 
limply  against  the  heat.  After  the  wine  I  began  to  feel  rather 
strange.  I  wasn't  used  to  it  and  I  hardly  knew  what  I  was  doing. 
The  cheese  was  rather  salt  and  made  me  thirsty.  I  kept  drinking 
almost  unconsciously  and  my  lips  began  to  form  syllables 
roundly  and  loosely.  I  kept  staring  at  Blanche  and  thinking  of 
her  in  the  kimono.  She  in  turn  would  stare  back  and  we  played  a 
kind  of  game,  carrying  on  a  kind  of  conversation  with  glances, 
burning  each  other  up,  until  at  last  she  said : 

'What's  you  name?  You  haven't  told  me  yet.' 

'Arthur,'  I  said.  'Arthur  Lawson.' 


The  way  she  said  it  set  my  heart  on  fire.  I  just  couldn't  say 
anything:  I  simply  sat  looking  at  her.  There  was  an  intimacy 
then,  at  that  moment,  in  the  mere  silences  and  glances  between 
us,  that  went  far  beyond  anything  I  had  known  with  Hilda. 

Then  she  saw  something  on  the  back  of  the  menu  that  made 
her  give  a  little  cry. 

'Oh,  there's  a  circus !  Oh,  let's  go !  Oh,  Arthur,  you  must  take 

So  we  went  there  too.  I  forget  the  name  of  the  theatre  and 
really,  except  for  some  little  men  and  women  with  wizened  bird 
faces  and  beards,  there  is  nothing  I  remember  except  one  thing. 
In  the  middle  of  the  show  was  a  trapeze  act.  A  girl  was  swinging 
backwards  and  forwards  across  the  stage  in  readiness  to  somer- 

The  Kimono  87 

sault  and  the  drum  was  rolling  to  rouse  the  audience  to  excite- 
ment. Suddenly  the  girl  shouted  'I  can't  do  it!'  and  let  loose. 
She  crashed  down  into  the  stalls  and  in  a  minute  half  the 
audience  were  standing  up  in  a  pandemonium  of  terror. 

'Oh !  Arthur,  take  me  out.' 

We  went  out  directly.  In  those  days  women  fainted  more  often 
and  more  easily  than  they  do  now,  and  I  thought  Blanche  would 
faint  too.  As  we  came  out  into  the  street  she  leaned  against  me 
heavily  and  clutched  my  arm. 

Til  get  a  cab  and  take  you  home/  I  said. 

'Something  to  drink  first.' 

I  was  a  bit  upset  myself.  We  had  a  glass  of  port  in  a  public 
house.  It  must  have  been  about  ten  o'clock.  Before  long,  after  the 
rest  and  the  port,  Blanche's  eyes  were  quite  bright  again. 

Soon  after  that  we  took  the  cab  and  drove  home.  'Let  me  lean 
against  you,'  she  said.  I  took  her  and  held  her.  'That's  it,'  she 
said.  'Hold  me.  Hold  me  tight.'  It  was  so  hot  in  the  cab  that  I 
could  hardly  breathe  and  I  could  feel  her  face  hot  and  moist  too. 
'You're  so  hot,'  I  said.  She  said  it  was  her  dress.  The 
velvet  coatee  was  too  warm.  'I'll  change  it  as  soon  as  I  get  home,' 
she  said.  'Then  we'll  have  a  drink.  Some  ice-cream  in  lemonade. 
That'll  be  nice.' 

In  the  cab  I  looked  down  at  her  hair.  It  was  amazingly  black. 
I  smiled  at  it  softly.  It  was  full  of  odours  that  were  warm  and 
voluptuous.  But  it  was  the  blackness  of  it  that  was  so  wonderful 
and  so  lovely. 

'Why  do  they  call  you  Blanche?  I  said.  'When  you're  so  black. 
Blanche  means  white.' 

'How  do  you  know  I'm  not  white  underneath?'  she  said. 

I  could  not  speak.  No  conversation  I  had  ever  had  with 
a  woman  had  ever  gone  within  miles  of  that  single  sentence.  I  sat 
dazed,  my  heart  racing.  I  did  not  know  what  to  do.  'Hold 
me  tight,'  she  said.  I  held  her  and  kissed  her. 

I  got  out  of  the  cab  mechanically.  In  the  shop  she  went 
straight  upstairs.  I  kept  thinking  of  what  she  had  said.  I  was  wild 
with  a  new  and  for  me  a  delicious  excitement.  Downstairs  the 
shop  was  in  darkness  and  finally  I  could  not  wait  for  her  to  come 
down  again.  I  went  quietly  upstairs  to  meet  her. 

She  was  coming  across  the  landing  as  I  reached  the  head  of 
the  stairs.  She  was  in  the  kimono,  in  her  bare  feet. 

88  The  Kimono 

'Where  are  you?'  she  said  softly.  'I  can't  see  you.'  She  came  a 
second  later  and  touched  me. 

'Just  let  me  see  if  mother  has  turned  your  bed  back/  she 

She  went  into  my  bedroom.  I  followed  her.  She  was  leaning 
over  the  bed.  My  heart  was  racing  with  a  sensation  of  great  long- 
ing for  her.  She  smoothed  the  bed  with  her  hands  and,  as  she  did 
so,  the  kimono,  held  no  longer,  fell  right  apart. 

And  as  she  turned  again  I  could  see,  even  in  the  darkness,  that 
she  had  nothing  on  underneath  it  at  all. 


On  the  following  Monday  morning  I  saw  Kersch  and  Co. 
again  and  in  the  afternoon  I  went  back  to  Nottingham.  I  had 
been  given  the  job. 

But  curiously,  for  a  reason  I  could  not  explain,  I  was  no  longer 
excited.  I  kept  thinking  of  Blanche.  I  suppose,  what  with  my  en- 
gagement to  Hilda  Brownson  and  so  on,  I  ought  to  have  been 
uneasy  and  a  little  conscience-stricken.  I  was  uneasy,  but  it  was  a 
mad  uneasiness  and  there  was  no  conscience  at  all  in  it.  I  felt 
reckless  and  feverish,  almost  desperate.  Blanche  was  the  first 
woman  I  had  known  at  all  on  terms  of  intimacy,  and  it  shattered 
me.  All  my  complacent  values  of  love  and  women  were  smashed. 
I  had  slept  with  Blanche  on  Saturday  night  and  again  on  Sunday 
and  the  effect  on  me  was  one  of  almost  catastrophic  ecstasy. 

That  was  something  I  had  never  known  at  all  with  Hilda:  I 
had  never  come  near  it.  I  am  not  telling  this,  emphasising  the 
physical  side  of  it  and  singling  out  the  more  passionate  implica- 
tions of  it,  merely  for  the  sake  of  telling  it.  I  want  to  make  clear 
that  I  had  undergone  a  revolution:  a  revolution  brought  about, 
too,  simply  by  a  kimono  and  a  girl's  bare  body  underneath  it. 
And  since  it  was  a  revolution  that  changed  my  whole  life  it  seems 
to  me  that  I  ought  to  make  the  colossal  effect  of  it  quite  clear, 
now  and  for  always. 

I  know,  now,  that  I  ought  to  have  broken  it  off  with  Hilda  at 
once.  But  I  didn't.  She  was  so  pleased  at  my  getting  the  Kersch 
job  that  to  have  told  her  would  have  been  as  cruel  as  tak- 
ing away  a  doll  from  a  child.  I  couldn't  tell  her. 

The  Kimono  89 

A  month  later  we  were  married.  My  heart  was  simply  not  in  it. 
I  wasn't  there.  All  the  time  I  was  thinking  of  and,  in  imagina- 
tion, making  love  to  Blanche.  We  spent  our  honeymoon  at 
Bournemouth  in  September.  Kersch  and  Co.  had  been  very  nice 
and  the  result  was  that  I  was  not  to  take  up  the  new  appointment 
until  the  twenty-fifth  of  the  month. 

I  say  appointment.  It  was  the  word  the  Brownsons  always 
used.  From  the  very  first  they  were  not  very  much  in  love  with 
my  going  to  work  in  London  at  all  and  taking  Hilda  with  me.  I 
myself  had  no  parents,  but  Hilda  was  their  only  child.  That  put 
what  seemed  to  me  a  snobbish  premium  on  her.  They  set  her  on 
a  pedestal.  My  job  was  nothing  beside  Hilda.  They  began  to  dic- 
tate what  we  should  do  and  how  and  where  we  ought  to  live,  and 
finally  Mrs  Brownson  suggested  that  we  all  go  to  London  and 
choose  the  flat  in  which  we  were  to  live.  I  objected.  Then  Hilda 
cried  and  there  was  an  unpleasant  scene  in  which  Pa  Brownson 
said  that  he  thought  I  was  unreasonable  and  that  all  Mrs 
Brownson  was  trying  to  do  was  to  ensure  that  I  could  give  Hilda 
as  good  a  home  as  she  had  always  had.  He  said  something  else 
about  God  guiding  us  as  He  had  always  guided  them.  We  must 
put  our  trust  in  God.  But  God  or  no  God,  I  was  determined 
that  if  we  were  going  to  live  in  a  flat  in  London  the  Brownsons 
shouldn't  choose  it.  I  would  choose  it  myself.  Because  even 
then  I  knew  where,  if  it  was  humanly  possible,  I  wanted  it  to 

In  the  end  I  went  to  London  by  myself.  I  talked  round  Hilda, 
and  Hilda  talked  round  her  mother,  and  her  mother,  I  suppose, 
talked  round  her  father.  At  any  rate  I  went.  We  decided  on  a  flat 
at  twenty-five  shillings  a  week  if  we  could  get  it.  It  was  then 
about  the  twentieth  of  September. 

I  went  straight  from  St  Pancras  to  Blanche.  It  was  a  lovely 
day,  blue  and  soft.  It  was  a  pain  for  me  merely  to  be  alive.  I  got 
to  the  shop  just  as  Blanche  was  going  out.  We  almost  bumped 
into  each  other. 


The  way  she  said  it  made  me  almost  sick  with  joy.  She  had  on 
a  tight  fawn  costume  and  a  little  fussy  brown  hat.  'Arthur!  I 
was  just  going  out.  You  just  caught  me.  But  mother  can  go  in- 
stead. Oh !  Arthur.'  Her  mother  came  out  of  the  back  room  and 
in  a  minute  Blanche  had  taken  off  her  hat  and  costume  and  her 

90  The  Kimono 

mother  had  gone  out  instead  of  her,  leaving  us  alone  in  the  shop. 

We  went  straight  upstairs.  There  was  no  decision,  no  asking, 
no  consent  in  it  at  all.  We  went  straight  up  out  of  a  tremendous 
equal  passion  for  each  other.  We  were  completely  in  unison,  in 
desire  and  act  and  consummation  and  everything.  Someone  came 
in  the  shop  and  rang  the  bell  loudly  while  we  were  upstairs,  but 
it  made  no  difference.  We  simply  existed  for  each  other.  There 
was  no  outside  world.  She  seemed  to  me  then  amazingly  rich  and 
mature  and  yet  sweet.  She  was  like  a  pear,  soft  and  full- juiced 
and  overflowing  with  passion.  Beside  her  Hilda  seemed  like  an 
empty  eggshell. 

I  stayed  with  the  Hartmans  that  night  and  the  next.  There 
were  still  three  days  to  go  before  the  Kersch  job  began.  Then  I 
stayed  another  night.  I  telegraphed  Hilda,  "Delayed.  Returning 
certain  to-morrow.' 

I  never  went.  I  was  bound,  heart  and  soul,  to  Blanche  Hart- 
man.  There  was  never  any  getting  away  from  it.  I  was  so  far  gone 
that  it  was  not  until  the  second  day  of  that  second  visit  that  I 
noticed  the  name  Hartman  at  all. 

'I'm  going  to  stay  here,'  I  said  to  Blanche.  'Lodge  here  and  live 
with  you.  Do  you  want  me?' 

'Arthur,  Arthur.' 

'My  God/  I  said.  'Don't.'  I  simply  couldn't  bear  the  repetition 
of  my  name.  It  awoke  every  sort  of  fierce  passion  in  me. 

Then  after  a  time  I  said:  'There's  something  I've  got  to  tell 

'I  know,'  she  said.  'About  another  girl.  It  doesn't  matter.  I 
don't  want  to  hear.  I  could  tell  you  about  other  men.' 

'No,  but  listen,'  I  said.  'I'm  married.'  I  told  her  all  about 

'It  doesn't  matter,'  she  said.  'It  makes  no  difference.  You 
could  be  a  Mormon  and  it  wouldn't  matter.' 

And  after  that,  because  it  mattered  nothing  to  her,  it  mattered 
nothing  to  me.  There  is  no  conscience  in  passion.  When  I  did 
think  of  Hilda  and  the  Brownsons  it  was  like  the  squirt  of  a 
syphon  on  to  a  blazing  furnace.  I  really  had  no  conscience  at  all. 
I  walked  out  of  one  life  into  another  as  easily  as  from  one  room 
into  another. 

The  only  difficulty  was  Kersch  and  Co.  It  was  there  that  Hilda 
would  inquire  for  me  as  soon  as  I  failed  to  turn  up. 

The  Kimono  91 

Actually  I  got  out  of  the  Kersch  difficulty  as  easily  as  I  got  out 
of  the  rest.  I  didn't  go  back  there  either. 


I  went  on  living  with  Blanche  until  the  war  broke  out.  I  got 
another  job.  Electrical  engineers  were  scarcer  in  those  days. 
Then,  as  soon  as  the  war  broke  out,  I  joined  up. 

In  a  way  it  was  almost  a  relief.  Passion  can  go  too  far  and  one 
can  have  too  much  of  it.  I  was  tired  out  by  a  life  that  was  too 
full  of  sublimity.  It  was  not  that  I  was  tired  of  Blanche.  She  re- 
mained as  irresistible  to  me  as  when  I  had  first  seen  her  in  the 
green  and  orange  kimono.  It  was  only  that  I  was  tired  of  the 
constant  act  of  passion  itself.  My  spirit,  as  it  were,  had  gone  stale 
and  I  needed  rest. 

The  war  gave  it  me.  As  soon  as  I  came  home  for  my  first  leave 
I  knew  it  was  the  best  thing  that  could  have  happened  to 
me.  Blanche  and  I  went  straight  back  to  the  almost  unearthly 
plane  of  former  intimacy.  It  was  the  old  almost  catastrophic 

I  say  almost  catastrophic.  Now,  when  I  think  of  it,  I  see  that 
it  was  really  catastrophic.  One  cannot  expect  a  woman  to  feed  off 
the  food  of  the  gods  and  then  suddenly,  because  one  man  among 
a  million  is  not  there,  to  go  back  on  a  diet  of  nothing  at  all.  I  am 
trying  to  be  reasonable  about  this.  I  am  not  blaming  Blanche.  It 
is  the  ecstasy  between  us  that  I  am  blaming.  It  could  not  have 
been  otherwise  than  catastrophic. 

I  always  think  it  odd  that  I  did  not  see  the  catastrophe  coming 
before  it  did.  But  perhaps  if  I  had  seen  it  coming  it  would  have 
ceased  to  be  a  catastrophe.  I  don't  know.  I  only  know  that  I 
came  home  in  1917,  unexpectedly,  and  found  that  Blanche  was 
carrying  on  with  another  man. 

I  always  remembered  that  Mrs  Hartman  looked  extraordi- 
narily scared  as  I  walked  into  the  shop  that  day.  She  was  an 
assured,  masterful  woman  and  it  was  not  at  all  like  her  to  be 
scared.  After  a  minute  or  so  I  went  upstairs  and  in  my  bedroom  a 
man  was  just  buttoning  up  his  waistcoat.  Blanche  was  not  there, 
but  I  understood. 

I  was  furious,  but  the  fury  did  not  last.  Blanche  shattered  it. 
She  was  a  woman  to  whom  passion  was  as  essential  as  bread.  She 

92  The  Kimono 

reminded  me  of  that.  But  she  reminded  me  also  of  something 
else.  She  reminded  me  that  that  I  was  not  married  to  her. 

'But  the  moral  obligation ! '  I  raged. 

'It's  no  good/  she  said.  'I  can't  help  it.  It's  no  more  than  kis- 
sing to  me.  Don't  be  angry,  honey.  If  you  can't  take  me  as  I  am 
you're  not  bound  to  take  me  at  all.' 

And  in  the  end  she  melted  my  fury.  'What's  between  us  is 
different  from  all  the  rest/  she  said.  I  believed  her  and  she 
demonstrated  it  to  me  too.  And  I  clung  to  that  until  the  end  of 
the  war. 

But  when  I  came  home  finally  it  had  gone  farther  than  that. 
There  was  more  than  one  man.  They  came  to  the  shop,  travellers 
in  the  sweet-trade,  demobilised  young  officers  with  cars.  They 
called  while  I  was  at  my  job. 

I  found  out  about  it.  This  time  I  didn't  say  anything.  I  did 
something  instead.  I  gave  up  what  the  Brownsons  would  have 
called  my  appointment. 

'But  what  have  you  done  that  for?'  Blanche  said. 

'I  can't  stand  being  tied  by  a  job  any  more/  I  said.  'I'll  work 
here.  We'll  develop  the  shop.  There's  money  in  it.' 

'Who's  going  to  pay  for  it?' 

'I  will.' 

Just  before  I  married  Hilda  I  had  nearly  a  hundred  and  fifty 
pounds  in  the  bank.  I  had  had  it  transferred  to  a  London  branch 
and  it  was  almost  all  of  it  still  there.  I  drew  it  out  and  in  the 
summer  of  1919  I  spent  nearly  £80  of  it  on  renovating  the  Hart- 
man's  shop.  Blanche  was  delighted.  She  supervised  the  decora- 
tions and  the  final  colour  scheme  of  the  combined  shop  and  cafe 
was  orange  and  green. 

'Like  your  kimono/  I  said.  'You  remember  it?  That  old  one?' 

'Oh !  Arthur.  I've  got  it.' 

'Put  it  on/  I  said. 

She  went  upstairs  and  put  it  on.  In  about  a  minute  I  followed 
her.  It  was  like  old  times.  It  brought  us  together  again. 

'Tell  me  something/  I  said.  'That  first  day,  when  I  came  in. 
You  hadn't  anything  on  underneath,  had  you?' 

'No/  she  said.  'I'd  just  had  a  bath  and  it  was  all  I  had  time  to 
slip  on.' 

'By  God,  kiss  me.' 

She  kissed  me  and  I  held  her  very  tight.  Her  body  was  thicker 

The  Kimono  93 

and  heavier  now,  but  she  was  still  lovely.  It  was  all  I  asked.  I  was 
quite  happy. 

Then  something  else  happened.  I  got  used  to  seeing  men  in  the 
shop.  Most  of  them  shot  off  now  when  they  saw  me,  but  one  day 
when  I  came  back  from  the  bank  there  was  a  man  in  the  living- 

He  was  an  oldish  chap,  with  pepper  and  salt  hair  cut  rather 

'Hello/  I  said,  'what's  eating  you?'  I  got  to  be  rather  short 
with  any  man  I  saw  hanging  about  the  place. 

'Nothing's  eating  me,'  he  said.  'It's  me  who  wants  something 
to  eat.' 

'Oh!  Who  are  you?' 

'My  name's  Hartman,'  he  said. 

I  looked  straight  at  his  hair.  It  was  Blanche's  father.  And  in  a 
minute  I  knew  that  he  was  out  of  prison. 

I  don't  know  why,  but  it  was  more  of  a  shock  to  me  than 
Blanche's  affairs  with  other  men.  Blanche  and  I  could  fight  out 
the  question  of  unfaithfulness  between  ourselves,  but  the  ques- 
tion of  a  criminal  in  the  house  was  different. 

'He  isn't  a  criminal,'  Blanche  said.  'He's  easily  led  and  he  was 
led  away  by  others.  Be  kind  to  him,  honey.' 

Perhaps  I  was  soft.  Perhaps  I  had  no  right  to  do  anything.  It 
was  not  my  house,  it  was  not  my  father.  Blanche  was  not  even 
my  wife.  What  could  I  possibly  do  but  let  him  stay? 

That  summer  we  did  quite  well  with  the  new  cafe.  We  made 
a  profit  of  nine  and  very  often  ten  or  eleven  pounds  a  week. 
Hartman  came  home  in  May.  In  July  things  began  to  get  worse. 
Actually,  with  the  summer  at  its  height,  they  ought  to  have  been 
better.  But  the  takings  dropped  to  six  and  even  five  pounds. 
Blanche  and  her  mother  kept  saying  that  they  couldn't  under- 
stand it. 

But  I  could.  Or  at  least  I  could  after  a  long  time.  It  was  Hart- 
man. He  was  not  only  sponging  on  me,  but  robbing  the  till  too. 
All  the  hard-earned  savings  of  the  shop  were  being  boozed  away 
by  Hartman. 

I  wanted  to  throw  him  out.  But  Blanche  and  her  mother 
wouldn't  hear  of  it.  'He's  nothing  but  a  damned  scoundrel/  I 

'He's  my  father/  Blanche  said. 

94  The  Kimono 

That  was  the  beginning  of  it.  I  date  the  antagonism  between 
us  and  also  the  estrangement  between  us  from  that  moment.  It 
was  never  the  same  afterwards.  I  could  stand  Blanche  being 
nothing  more  or  less  than  a  whore,  but  it  was  the  thought  of  the 
old  man  and  the  thought  of  my  own  stupidity  and  folly  that  en- 
raged me  and  finally  almost  broke  me  up. 

Perhaps  I  shouldn't  have  written  the  word  whore,  and  I 
wouldn't  have  done  if  it  wasn't  for  the  fact  that,  as  I  sit  here,  my 
heart  is  really  almost  broken. 

I  am  sitting  in  what  used  to  be  my  bedroom.  We  have  changed 
it  into  a  sitting-room  now.  We  ought  to  have  it  done  up.  We 
haven't  had  new  paper  on  it  for  seven  or  eight  years. 

I  am  just  fifty.  I  think  Blanche  is  just  about  fifty,  too.  She  is 
out  somewhere.  It's  no  use  thinking  where.  Passion  is  still  as 
essential  to  her  as  bread.  It  means  no  more  to  her  and  I  have 
long  since  given  up  asking  where  she  goes.  And  somehow  -  and 
this  is  the  damnable  part  of  it  all -I  am  still  fond  of  her,  but 
gently  and  rather  foolishly  now.  What  I  feel  for  her  most  is 
regret.  Not  anger  and  not  passion.  I  couldn't  keep  up  with  her 
pace.  She  long  since  outdistanced  me  in  the  matter  of  emotions. 

Mrs  Hartman  is  dead.  I  am  sorry.  She  was  likeable  and  though 
sometimes  I  didn't  trust  her  I  think  she  liked  me.  Hartman  still 
hangs  on.  I  keep  the  till-money  locked  up,  but  somehow  he  picks 
the  locks,  and  there  it  is.  He's  too  clever  for  me  and  I  can't  prove 
it.  I  feel  as  if,  now,  I  am  in  a  prison  far  more  complete  than  any 
Hartman  was  ever  in.  It  is  a  bondage  directly  inherited  from  that 
first  catastrophic  passion  for  Blanche.  It's  that,  really,  that  I 
can't  escape.  It  binds  me  irrevocably.  I  know  that  I  shall  never 

Last  night,  for  instance,  I  had  a  chance  to  escape.  I  know  of 
course  that  I'm  a  free  man  and  that  I  am  not  married  to  Blanche 
and  that  I  could  walk  out  now  and  never  come  back.  But  this 
was  different. 

Hilda  asked  for  me.  I  was  in  the  shop,  alone,  just  about  six 
o'clock.  I  was  looking  at  the  paper.  We  don't  get  many  people  in 
the  cafe  now,  but  I  always  have  the  evening  paper,  in  case.  This 
district  has  gone  down  a  lot  and  the  cafe  of  course  has  gone 

The  Kimono  95 

down  with  it.  We  don't  get  the  people  in  that  we  did.  And  as  I 
was  reading  the  paper  the  wireless  was  on.  At  six  o'clock,  the 
dance  band  ended  and  in  another  moment  or  two  someone  was 
saying  my  name. 

'Will  Arthur  Lawson,  last  heard  of  in  London  twenty-five 
years  ago,  go  at  once  to  the  Nottingham  Infirmary,  where  his 
wife,  Hilda  Lawson,  is  dangerously  ill.' 

That  was  all.  No  one  but  me,  in  this  house  I  mean,  heard  it. 
Afterwards  no  one  mentioned  it.  Round  here  they  think  my 
name  is  Hartman.  It  was  as  though  it  had  never  happened. 

But  it  was  for  me  all  right.  When  I  heard  it  I  stood  stunned, 
as  though  something  had  struck  me.  I  almost  died  where  I  stood, 
at  the  foot  of  the  stairs. 

Then  after  a  bit  I  got  over  it  enough  to  walk  upstairs  to  the 
sitting-room.  I  did  not  know  quite  what  I  was  doing.  I  felt  faint 
and  I  sat  down.  I  thought  it  over.  After  a  minute  I  could  see  that 
there  was  no  question  of  going.  If  it  had  been  Blanche  -  yes.  But 
not  Hilda.  I  couldn't  face  it.  And  I  just  sat  there  and  thought 
not  of  what  I  should  do  but  what  I  might  have  done. 

I  thought  of  that  hot  day  in  1911,  and  the  Kersch  job  and  how 
glad  I  was  to  get  it.  I  thought  about  Hilda.  I  wondered  what  she 
looked  like  now  and  what  she  had  done  with  herself  for  twenty- 
five  years  and  what  she  had  suffered.  Finally  I  thought  of  that 
catastrophic  ecstasy  with  Blanche,  and  then  of  the  kimono.  And 
I  wondered  how  things  might  have  gone  if  the  Hartmans'  ice- 
cream freezer  had  never  broken  and  if  Blanche  had  been  dressed 
as  any  other  girl  would  have  been  dressed  that  day. 

And  thinking  and  wondering,  I  sat  there  and  cried  like  a 


The  two  girls,  Miss  Anstey  and  Miss  Harvey,  had  been  well 
educated;  but  it  was  another  matter  getting  a  job.  They  first 
came  together  one  summer,  quite  casually,  and  in  the  August  of 
the  same  year,  having  no  prospects,  began  farming  together.  In 
this  they  felt  shrewd;  their  farm  was  to  be  so  different.  Not  a 
common  farm,  with  pigs  or  corn,  sheep  or  poultry,  but  a  farm 
for  herbs.  Where  you  will  find*,  they  said  a  'thousand  people 
farming  the  ordinary  things,  you  won't  find  one  farming  herbs.' 
There  was  something  in  this.  But  in  their  hearts  they  liked  it  be- 
cause they  felt  it  to  be  different,  a  little  poetical,  charged  with 
some  unspecified  but  respectable  romance.  They  had  ideals.  And 
that  autumn,  when  they  rented  a  small  cottage  in  Hampshire, 
with  an  acre  of  land,  on  the  edge  of  the  forest,  they  felt  existence 
for  the  first  time  very  keenly;  they  felt  independent;  they  had 
only  to  stretch  out  and  pick  up  handf  uls  of  sweetness  and  solitude. 

The  forest  opened  into  a  clearing  where  their  house  stood,  and 
oak  and  rhododendron  and  holly  pressed  in  and  down  on  them 
and  their  land,  securing  their  world.  The  plot  was  already  culti- 
vated, and  they  intended  to  grow  the  herbs,  at  first,  in  small  lots, 
taking  variety  to  be  salvation.  For  the  first  year  they  would  work 
hard,  cultivating;  after  that  they  would  advertise;  after  that  sell. 
They  divided  responsibility.  Miss  Harvey,  the  practical  one,  took 
charge  of  the  secretarial  work  and  kept  accounts  and  made  plans. 
Miss  Anstey  had  imagination  and  knew  a  little  botany;  she 
could  talk  of  carpel  and  follicle,  of  glandulosa  and  hirsutum.  In 
late  August,  in  a  world  still  warm  and  dark  and  secure  in  leaf, 
the  first  bundles  of  herbs  began  to  arrive;  and  pressing  out  the 
small  rare  sweetnesses  and  joyfully  smelling  each  other's  hands, 
they  felt  sure  of  everything.  Above  all,  they  felt  very  sure  of  each 

From  the  first  they  were  devoted.  Miss  Anstey  was  the 
younger,  twenty-three.  Miss  Harvey  was  twenty-eight.  They 
called  each  other  Breeze  and  Lorn.  No  one  seemed  clear  about 


Breeze  Anstey  97 

the  origins  and  reasons  of  Miss  Anstey's  name,  which  did  not 
express  her  small,  slimmish,  very  compact  and  not  at  all  volatile 
figure.  Her  hair  was  almost  white;  her  nostrils  were  rather 
arched;  she  looked  Scandinavian.  She  had  a  beautiful  way  of 
smiling  at  nothing,  absently.  She  had  another  way  of  smiling  at 
Miss  Harvey,  chiefly  when  she  was  not  looking.  It  was  a  kind  of 
mouse  smile,  furtive  and  timid,  not  fully  expressed.  It  had  in  it 
the  beginnings  of  adoration. 

Miss  Harvey  was  heavily  built  with  thick  eye-brows  and  black 
short  hair.  She  was  very  strong  and  wore  no  stockings  and  her 
legs  went  red,  really  ham-coloured,  in  the  sun.  She  was  attrac- 
tive in  a  full-blooded,  jolly  way.  She  was  like  some  heavy, 
friendly  mare,  with  her  black  mane  falling  over  her  face  and  her 
thick  strong  thighs  and  her  arched  way  of  walking  with  her 
shoulders  back.  Nothing  was  too  much  trouble  for  her;  nothing 
daunted  or  depressed  her. 

The  two  girls  at  first  worked  hard,  scorning  outside  help, 
happy  together.  They  began  with  three  hundred  pounds.  Breeze 
said :  We  should  be  very  strict  and  apportion  everything  out  and 
pay  weekly/  They  did  this.  Rent  would  cost  them  fifty  a  year,  so 
they  opened  a  new  account  at  the  bank,  paid  in  a  year's  rent  and 
signed  a  banker's  order.  That  settled,  they  hoped  to  live  on  a 
hundred  a  year,  the  two  of  them.  That  left  a  hundred  and  fifty 
for  seeds  and  plants,  expenses  and  saving.  We  should  save 
seventy-five/  Lorn  said.  All  this  was  theory.  In  practice  it  did 
not  turn  out  so  well. 

It  was  a  long  time,  almost  a  whole  winter  and  a  spring,  before 
they  noticed  it.  In  autumn  they  were  pre-occupied.  The 
autumn  went  on,  that  year,  a  long  time,  drawn  up  into  some  too- 
dreamy  twilight  of  mild  airs  and  leaves  that  hung  on  and  kept 
out  the  low  sunlight  like  blankets  of  dark  leaf -wool.  August  and 
September  were  hot.  Planted  too  soon,  their  first  plants  died.  In 
a  panic  they  ordered  more,  then  kept  the  water  bucket  going. 
Their  well  got  low.  That  was  a  real  problem.  They  could  not 
bathe.  Lorn  made  little  portable  tents  of  lath  and  newspaper  to 
shade  the  plants,  and  by  September  they  had  learnt  to  wash  hair, 
face  and  feet  in  one  kettle  of  water.  Up  to  that  time  they  had  not 
worn  stockings,  and  often  not  shoes.  They  had  to  give  that  up. 
They  wore  shoes  and  washed  their  feet  twice  a  week.  That  was 
real  hardship. 

98  Breeze  Anstey 

But  they  were  not  troubled  about  it.  They  liked  it.  It  was  part 
of  the  new  life,  more  still  of  the  new  independence.  It  was  fun. 
It  was  hardship  only  by  comparison.  Instinctively  they  felt  that 
cleanliness  and  godliness  were  one,  perhaps,  after  all.  They 
longed  for  water,  not  seeing  until  then  how  much  life  might 
depend  on  it. 

Then  Breeze  made  a  discovery.  They  felt  it  to  be  miraculous. 
Wandering  off  the  forest  path  to  look  for  sweet  chestnuts,  she 
came  upon  a  pond,  not  a  hundred  yards  from  the  house.  Shaded 
by  trees,  it  was  quite  deep.  Round  it  marsh  and  sedge  were  dry, 
the  earth  cracked  in  thick  crust  blisters,  and  she  could  see  where 
wild  ponies  had  broken  it  up,  coming  down  to  drink.  She  fetched 
Lorn,  who  said :  'We  could  fetch  twenty  buckets  in  an  hour  and 
then  bathe.'  Breeze  got  some  water  in  her  hands.  'Why  carry  it?' 
she  said.  The  water  was  brownish,  leaf-stained,  but  clear.  'Why 
take  the  mountain  to  Mahomed?  We  could  come  down  here  and 

'Not  in  daylight.' 

'Why  shouldn't  we?  We  would  have  costumes  on.  Who's  to  say 
anything  ? ' 

'Nobody.  But  this  is  the  forest.  You  know  people  are  always 
wandering  about.' 

'All  right.  Then  we  could  come  when  the  sun's  gone  down. 
It's  warm  enough.' 

It  was  too  good  to  miss.  After  sunset  they  took  soap  and 
towels  and  costumes  and  went  into  what  was  already  half  dark- 
ness under  the  trees.  The  pond  was  black,  unreflective,  and  there 
was  some  sense,  under  the  pitch  dark  roof  of  forest  branches,  of 
peculiar  secrecy.  As  she  took  off  her  clothes,  Breeze  said:  'I'm 
going  in  without  anything  on.'  She  stood  undressing,  feet  in  the 
water.  'It's  warm,'  she  said.  'It's  wonderfully  warm.  Don't  put 
anything  on.  It's  warm  and  like  silk.  It  would  be  wicked  to  put 
anything  on.' 

She  went  in  naked,  swam  round  and  looked  back  to  Miss 
Harvey.  She  was  putting  her  costume  on. 

'Oh!  Don't!' 

'What  do  you  think  I  am?'  Lorn  said.  'Venus?' 

'Yes,  but  it's  the  feeling.  It's  wonderful.  And  it's  quite  warm.' 

'Is  it  swimmable?' 

'It's  about  four  feet.  Look.' 

Breeze  Anstey  99 

She  swam  off,  turning,  breasting  back.  When  she  stood 
up  again  she  saw  Lorn  knee-deep  in  water.  She  had  nothing  on. 
Looking  at  her  the  girl  was  struck  by  an  odd  spasm  of  pleasure. 
It  ran  up  her  legs  like  a  hot  current  of  blood  and  pounded  up, 
finally,  in  her  chest.  She  felt,  for  about  a  second,  strange  and 
weak.  There  was  aroused  in  her  an  unconscious  exquisite 
capacity  for  pain  and  she  did  not  know  what  to  do  with  it.  It  was 
like  a  shock. 

'I  thought  you  said  it  was  warm  ? ' 

'Go  under.' 

It  was  all  she  could  say.  She  did  not  know  why,  but  the  sight 
of  Lorn  filled  her  with  a  queer  excitement.  Lorn  was  bigger  than 
she  had  imagined,  more  mature,  more  ripe.  She  felt  absurdly 
young  beside  her.  She  looked  at  her  large  brown-nippled  breasts 
and  saw  in  them  the  potential  beauty  of  motherhood.  The  thick 
smooth  flesh  of  the  whole  body  had  some  beautiful  power 
to  attract  and  comfort.  Lorn  went  under,  up  to  her  neck.  She 
came  up  heavily,  dripping,  to  stand  in  water  up  to  her  knees.  The 
girl  looked  at  her  again,  in  a  spell  of  adoration. 

'It's  muddy ! '  Lorn  said. 

'No.  Not  here.  Come  over  here.  It's  lovely.  Like  sand.  Why 
don't  you  swim?' 

'I'll  walk.  I'm  not  certain  of  it.' 

She  took  heavy  water-bound  strides  across  the  pond,  arms 
folded  under  breasts. 

'Shall  we  wash  each  other?'  Breeze  said. 

'Puzzle,  find  the  soap.' 

'I  brought  it.' 

'Good.  Wash  me.  Wash  my  sins  away.  Wash  my  back.' 

The  younger  girl  stood  with  her  habitual  absent  smile  of 
adoration,  rubbing  the  soap  in  her  hands.  'Swim  round  while  I 
get  some  lather.' 

Lorn  swam,  heavy  and  white,  in  a  ponderous  circle,  then  came 
back  to  Breeze.  The  water  was  up  to  their  middles.  The  young 
girl's  hands  were  white  with  the  lather.  Lorn  bent  her  back.  She 
put  her  hands  on  her  knees  and  the  girl  began  to  soap  her  back, 
absently  tender. 

'Oh!  that's  lovely.  Lovely.  Wash  up  as  far  as  possible  and 
down  as  far  possible.  Why  is  it  so  nice  to  have  your  back 

100  Breeze  Anstey 

'I  don't  know,  why  is  it?  Have  the  soap  and  rub  your  front.' 

Lorn  made  lather  and  rubbed  it  over  her  chest,  until  her 
breasts  were  snow  bubbles  with  the  brown  mouth  of  nipple  alone 
uncovered.  Then  she  turned,  and  Breeze  stared  at  her. 

'What  are  you  looking  at?' 

'You're  so  big.  I  didn't  think  you  were  so  big,  Lorn.' 

Well,  I  like  that!  Big.  You  mean  fat.' 

'No.  Lorn,  I  like  it.  You  look  like  a  woman.  Not  half  of  one. 
Look  at  me.  You  could  hold  what  there  is  of  me  in  one  hand.' 

She  looked  down  at  her  small,  almost  stiff  breasts,  her  slight 

'I  ought  to  wear  more  support,'  Lorn  said.  'I  shall  be  all  over 
the  place.  Look  at  you.  You're  the  ideal  of  every  female  in 
Christendom.  All  you  need  wear  is  half  a  yard  of  silk.  Turn 
round  and  let  me  scrub  you,  child.' 

Breeze  turned,  bent  her  back  and  Lorn  rubbed  her  with  large 
soap-soft  hands.  The  sensation  of  the  soft  drawn-down  palms 
was  something  exquisite,  physically  thrilling  to  the  girl. 

'Harder.  I  want  to  get  really  clean.  Harder.  Wash  me  all  over. 

'Anything  else,  Madam?' 

'Your  hands  are  bigger  than  mine.  Soap  me  all  over.' 

'Extra  charge.'  They  both  laughed.  'Front  portion  extra. 
Owing  to  my  sensibility,  Madam.' 

'Oh!  Lorn,  you're  a  dear.  It's  a  grand  feeling  to  be  washed 

She  stood  with  arms  over  her  head,  hands  clasped  on  her  hair, 
and  turned  round,  and  Lorn  soaped  her  chest  and  shoulders.  Her 
hands  took  wide  strong  sweeps  across  and  down  the  girl's  body. 
The  soap  covered  the  small  almost  absurd  bust  in  snow  froth. 

'Oh !  it's  grand,  Lorn.  Lovely ! ' 

'We  must  get  out.' 

'Oh !  must  we  ?  Need  we  ? ' 

'I  can  hardly  see  you.  It  must  be  awfully  late.' 

'It's  nice  in  the  twilight.  It's  warm.  That's  all  that  matters. 
One  swim.' 

She  swam  round  the  darkening  pond.  Above,  when  she  turned 
and  floated,  she  could  see  the  autumn  evening  sky  colourless 
beyond  the  forest  branches.  The  trees  seemed  very  near,  the  sky 
correspondingly  far  off.  She  felt  extraordinarily  happy,  her  mind 

Breeze  Anstey  101 

quiet,  the  exquisite  sensation  of  shock  gone.  She  floated  serenely 
on  the  memory  of  emotions.  She  could  smell  the  forest,  dampish, 
closed-in,  the  sweetish  odour  of  living  and  falling  leaves,  and  she 
felt  almost  like  crying. 

Then  she  stood  in  shallow  water  and,  looking  up,  saw  that 
Lorn  was  out.  She  saw  the  white  flap  of  the  towel.  Something 
made  her  hurry  out  too,  some  sudden  and  not  quite  conscious 
impulse  to  be  near  her. 

She  ran  out,  splashing.  She  stood  quivering  on  the  cracked 
mud  among  the  sedge,  and  got  her  towel.  She  looked  at  Lorn 
and  in  a  moment  the  sensation  of  physical  shock,  like  some 
electric  start  of  nerves,  struck  her  again.  She  rubbed  her  body 
hard,  trembling. 

'I  feel  wonderful/  Lorn  said. 

Lorn  put  her  skirt  over  her  head.  It  was  pale  pink,  almost  col- 
ourless in  the  tree  twilight.  Breeze  did  not  speak.  She  felt  nearer 
to  Lorn,  at  that  moment,  than  she  had  ever  done  to  anyone  in  her 
life.  It  was  an  attachment  not  only  of  emotion,  but  of  body.  She 
felt  drawn  to  Lorn  physically,  in  a  beautiful  way,  by  some 
idealised  force  of  attraction.  It  elated  her  and,  for  a  second  or 
two,  stupefied  her  with  its  strength  and  gentleness. 

It  was  only  when  Lorn  said  at  last,  'Come  on,  Breezy,  cover 
your  shame,  child,  do,  and  get  a  stitch  or  two  on/  that  she  came 
back  to  her  normal  self.  Even  then  she  did  not  speak.  She 
wanted  to  speak  and  she  stood  trying  to  speak,  to  frame  some 
words  to  express  at  least  a  hint  of  her  affection,  but  nothing 

In  five  minutes  she  was  dressed.  The  forest  was  then  almost 
dark,  and  looking  up  at  the  fragments  of  sky  above  the  heavy 
mass  of  trees  she  felt  some  kind  of  balm  in  them.  She  felt  com- 
pletely herself,  at  rest  again. 


'Lorn/  Breeze  said,  'you  must  have  been  in  love,  sometime?' 
It  was  early  January,  and  now  they  had  nothing  to  do,  on  the 
long  winter  nights,  except  read  and  talk  and  evolve  unrealised 
theories  about  the  future,  the  farm,  the  world,  themselves  and 
men.  They  argued  hard,  quarrelled  a  little;  but  the  central  core 
of  affection  between  them  was  never  soured  or  shaken.  It  was 

102  Breeze  Anstey 

dark  south-west  weather,  wild  warm  days  of  rain  followed  by 
black  nights,  when  they  could  do  very  little  outside.  They  settled 
down  after  tea  and  read  books,  had  supper  at  eight  and  generally 
talked  till  ten.  'The  less  we  go  out,  the  less  we  spend/  they  said. 

'Yes/  Lorn  said. 

'But  when  was  it?  You  never  told  me.  You  never  said  any- 

'I  should  have  told  you  if  Fd  ever  told  anybody/ 

'Did  it  go  on  long  ? ' 

'Two  years.  If  you  can  call  that  long.' 

'Did  you  -  did  it  ever  come  to  anything  ? ' 


Breeze  had  wanted  to  know  this.  She  felt  somehow  that  it 
concerned  her,  was  important.  She  had  felt,  sometimes,  that  it 
might  distress  her.  Now  she  felt  almost  indifferent,  only  curious. 
As  something  in  the  past,  it  hardly  touched  her. 

'Only  once?' 

'No.  A  lot.  Almost  every  time  we  saw  each  other.  Almost 
whenever  we  could/ 

'It  must  be  a  long  time  ago,  or  you  couldn't  talk  about  it/ 

'Three  or  four  years.  Four  years/ 

'Who  wanted  it  most  ?  Did  he,  or  you  ? ' 

'Both  of  us.  We  both  did.  We  couldn't  go  on  without  it.  It 
wouldn't  have  meant  anything/ 

Breeze  did  not  speak.  She  wanted  to  ask  something  else.  Lorn 

'Why  this  sudden  discussion  of  my  affairs,  young  lady?' 

'We  swore  we'd  have  no  secrets.' 

'Well,  I've  told  you  now.' 

'Lorn/  Breeze  said,  'what's  it  like?  The  loving  part.  The 
proper  loving.' 

'Sometimes  there's  nothing  there.' 

'And  others?' 

'You  must  know.  I  can't  explain.  It's  something  you  can't  tell.' 

'Like  some  electric  shock?' 


'What  then?' 

'Partly  electric.  But  more  a  fulfilment.  You  take  something 
from  each  other,  and  something  in  you  is  fulfilled.' 

'That  doesn't  make  sense.' 

Breeze  Anstey  103 

'I  know.  It's  a  thing  that  doesn't  make  sense.  Why  should  it?' 

Breeze  said  earnestly:  'Does  it  change  you?' 


'How?  Physically?' 

'Partly.  It  must  do.  But  I  don't  think  you'd  notice  it  anyway, 
whatever  it  does.' 

'Not  till  afterwards?' 

'No.'  Lorn  got  up.  'I  don't  think  you  do  till  afterwards.  Till 
you  must  do  without  it.' 

She  went  into  the  kitchen,  gathered  plates  and  knives  and 
forks  from  the  dresser,  and  came  back  to  lay  supper.  Breeze 
looked  at  her  with  an  absent  smile,  and  said : 

'Why  is  it  all  over  ? ' 

Lorn  flacked  the  cloth,  smoothed  it,  her  eyes  looking  down  flat 
on  its  dead  whiteness, 

'I  never  said  it  was  all  over.' 

Breeze  could  not  speak.  She  felt  it  instantly,  for  some  reason, 
to  be  something  between  them.  She  felt  the  minute  beginnings 
of  a  queer  jealousy.  It  was  not  active;  it  moved  in  her  conscious- 
ness like  a  remote  pain,  pricking  her. 

When  it  faded,  in  a  moment,  and  she  was  able  to  speak,  she 
said:  'I  don't  see  what  you  mean.  How  do  you  mean,  it's  not  all 

'Oh!  Just  that.  We  had  a  pact  and  parted,  but  very  shortly 
he'll  be  home  again,  and  then  -  ' 


'He's  in  India.' 

'India?  A  soldier?' 

'An  army  doctor.' 

'Let  me  make  the  cocoa,'  Breeze  said. 

She  bent  down  before  the  fire,  pushed  the  kettle  against  the 
logs.  The  kettle  sang  a  little.  She  straightened  up,  mixed  cocoa 
and  milk  in  the  two  cups,  on  the  table,  while  Lorn  cut  bread. 
Breeze  felt  strangely  anxious,  as  though  Lorn  had  told  her  she 
was  ill  or  was  going  away.  Remote,  not  fully  conscious,  her 
anxiety  pricked  her,  as  the  jealousy  had  done,  like  a  small  pain. 
The  kettle  boiled  and  she  made  cocoa,  half  looking  at  Lorn.  How 
very  strong  Lorn  was:  big  wind-cut  arms,  solid  neck,  such 
friendly  strength,  so  warm.  She  stood  absently  fascinated,  the 
small  pain  dying  away. 

104  Breeze  Anstey 

'It  was  a  question  of  finishing  his  period  of  service/  Lorn  said 
'He  wanted  to  go  back.' 

'He  wanted  to  go  back  more  than  he  wanted  you.' 

'No.  He  wanted  to  go  back.  I  understood  that  all  right.  I 
wanted  him  to  go  back.  I  was  only  twenty- three,  just  out  of 

'What  difference  did  that  make?  If  it  was  all  you  say  it  was?' 

'That  was  just  it.  We  wanted  to  see  if  it  made  a  difference.  If 
it  made  a  difference,  well,  there  it  was.  If  it  didn't,  then  he  could 
come  back,  and  we'd  get  married.' 

They  sat  by  the  fire,  with  cocoa  and  bread  and  cheese,  Lorn 
with  her  skirts  up,  warming  her  knees. 

'I  think  that's  awful,'  Breeze  said.  'For  all  it  mattered,  you 
were  married.  Nothing  could  alter  that.' 

'I  don't  see  it.  We'd  made  love.  But  that  was  something  we 
couldn't  help.  We  could  help  marriage,  if  we  ever  got  to  it. 
Hence  the  arrangement.' 

'It  was  like  making  a  business  of  it,'  Breeze  said.  She  was 
upset,  trembling.  'It's  a  hateful  thing.  It  was  like  making  a  busi- 
ness of  it,  it  was  like  making  a  business  of  it !  It  was  awful ! ' 

'Breeze,  Breeze.' 

'You  don't  deny  it,  do  you?' 


'Who  proposed  it,  he  or  you?' 

'He  did.  He  was  older.' 

'Then  he  wasn't  worthy  of  you !  How  could  he  be  ?  Proposing 
that.  Proposing  an  awful  thing  like  that.  He  wasn't  worthy  of 
you ! ' 

'Breeze.  I  can't  bear  to  hear  it.' 

The  words  were  too  much  for  the  girl.  She  began  to  cry, 
deeply,  with  shame  and  some  unhappiness  she  could  not  define. 
She  set  her  cocoa  on  the  hearth,  could  not  see  for  tears,  and  spilt 
it.  Lorn  put  her  cup  down  beside  it  and  put  her  arms  round 
Breeze's  neck.  'You're  not  to  cry.  Why  are  you  crying?  Breeze. 
It's  silly  to  cry.'  She  held  her,  strongly,  against  the  warm 
resilient  bulk  of  her  large  body.  They  sat  like  mother  and 
child,  bound  by  grief  and  comfort.  'You  hear  me?  You're  not  to 

'It  does  me  good,'  Breeze  said.  'I  shall  feel  better.  Hold  me.  I 
shall  feel  better.' 

Breeze  Anstey  105 

'I'm  holding  you/  Lorn  said.  Tve  got  you.' 
'Hold  me  tighter.' 


By  April  things  had  begun  to  move.  The  rows  of  herbs  began 
to  look  vigorous  and  full  of  promise.  Turned  over  and  hoed,  the 
earth  was  sweet  and  black.  The  two  girls  planted  fresh  supplies 
of  plants,  new  varieties,  and  sowed  seeds.  They  got  up  early  and 
worked  on  into  the  bright  spring  evenings,  and  in  the  evenings, 
after  a  warm  day,  they  could  smell  the  forest,  the  strong, 
vigorous  and  yet  almost  drowsy  odour  of  a  great  mass  of  trees 
breaking  into  leaf.  They  were  enchanted  by  the  new  life,  by  an 
existence  in  which,  as  never  before,  they  felt  they  had  a  purpose. 
They  lived  physically.  Tired  out,  earth-stained,  they  came  in- 
doors as  darkness  came  on  and  sat  down  in  the  little  kitchen- 
sitting-room  in  the  cottage  and  sat  on  without  speaking  and 
watched  the  fading  out  of  the  primrosy  twilights,  their  minds 
dumbly  content.  Too  tired  to  talk,  they  ate  supper,  went  to  bed 
early  and  were  up  again  at  six. 

They  spent  energy  needlessly.  Lorn  did  the  digging :  she  had  a 
large  four-pronged  fork  and  used  it  bravely,  like  a  weapon, 
knocking  the  soil  about,  throwing  out  every  stone.  She  had  some 
strenuous  ambition  to  see  the  land  as  smooth  as  sand,  without 
stones,  immaculate.  She  did  a  man's  work,  and  her  body  got  to 
have  some  kind  of  male  awkwardness  about  it:  a  longer  stride, 
cruder  grasp,  a  way  of  straddling  as  she  stood.  Close  to  her  every 
day,  Breeze  did  not  notice  it.  She  did  the  hoeing,  generally,  and 
the  labelling  and  sowing,  and  the  little  artistic  things :  she  would 
have  a  little  rock-garden  by  the  back  door,  on  the  south  side, 
with  patches  of  purple  horned  viola  and  winey  primulas  and 
then  lavender  hedges  down  the  paths,  giving  vistas.  'You  and 
your  vistas/  Lorn  said.  But  vistas  were  important;  they  had 
the  effect  of  making  things  seem,  to  Breeze,  not  quite  as  they 
were,  and  the  illusion  was  precious.  She  felt  the  beauty  of 
things  keenly;  she  could  not  bear  ugliness,  and  spring  drove  her 
into  small  inexpressible  ecstasies.  Beauty  was  everything.  It 
impinged  upon  her  sharply,  with  pain,  so  that  she  felt  something 
immensely  precious  and  personal  about  the  spring.  It  was  for  her 
and  she  could  not  share  it.  Unlike  Lorn,  she  worked  in  a  kind  of 

106  Breeze  Anstey 

semi- consciousness,  not  bravely,  but  with  a  kind  of  absent  per- 
sistence. She  spent  greater  energy  of  spirit,  dreaming  as  she 
worked,  and  it  seemed  as  if  the  spring  days  sucked  her  up,  body 
and  spirit  and  all,  leaving  her  at  times  almost  crying  with  weari- 
ness. She  did  not  understand  this  supreme  tiredness  at  all.  She 
worked  harder  to  overcome  it,  splashing  her  hoe  crudely  with 
clenched  hands,  forcing  herself  into  the  full  consciousness  of  the 
act,  breaking  down  her  dreamy  passivity.  All  the  time,  and  all 
through  spring  and  summer,  it  seemed  to  get  worse.  The  great 
massed  ring  of  forest  seemed  to  shut  out  life  sometimes,  so  that 
she  felt  imprisoned  by  a  wall  of  wood  and  leaf,  sucked  by  a 
beauty  that  was  almost  parasitic  into  an  awful  listlessness  of 
spirit  that  she  could  not  understand.  All  the  time,  in  contrast  to 
Lorn,  she  seemed  to  get  more  and  not  less  feminine:  much 
slighter,  very  brown  and  delicate,  with  a  light  detached  beauty 
and  an  almost  irritating  remoteness  of  spirit.  It  was  as  though  she 
needed  waking  up;  as  though  the  best  of  her  were  not  alive. 

Then  Lorn  noticed  it.  By  the  end  of  May  the  oaks  were  in  full 
flower  and  the  forest  stood  like  an  olive  cloud.  The  great  polished 
bushes  of  rhododendron  split  pinkly  into  blossom,  and  the  rare 
sweet-scented  wild  azaleas,  pale  yellow.  The  forest  breathed  out 
its  enormous  but  not  quite  tangible  sweetness  and  sucked  back, 
in  turn,  the  still  more  enormous  breath  of  the  life  about  it.  There 
were  days  when,  under  the  shelter  of  the  too-close  trees,  life  was 
utterly  stupefied. 

'I  get  so  tired/  Lorn  said.  'How  is  it?  Do  you  get  tired?' 

'Yes.  I  didn't  want  to  say  anything  about  it.  I  thought  it  was 
just  myself/ 

'But  how  is  it?  What's  the  reason  for  it?' 

'I  feel  there's  no  air.' 

'Possibly  we  need  a  change,'  Lorn  said.  'We  might  have  been 
working  too  hard.' 

'But  it's  not  the  work.  I'm  tired  if  I  sit  still' 

'Even  so,  a  change  would  do  us  no  harm.' 

So  they  went,  for  three  days,  to  London.  For  economy  they 
stayed  at  a  little  scrubby  hotel  off  Guildford  Street.  They  ate 
cheaply;  saw  films  cheaply.  London  tired  them,  but  in  a  new 
way;  it  stripped  off  the  old  lassitude  like  a  heavy  skin.  They  had 
a  double  room  with  one  bed,  and  they  stayed  in  bed,  every  morn- 
ing, as  late  as  they  dare.  And  at  night,  when  Lorn  took  the 

Breeze  Anstey  107 

younger  girl  in  her  arms  and  mothered  her  down  to  sleep,  Breeze 
felt  a  tender  and  inexplicable  restful  transfusion  of  strength  take 
place.  She  lay  close  to  Lorn  and  felt  again,  still  not  with  full  con- 
sciousness, that  queer  stirring  of  remote  affection  that  was  like 
a  small  pain.  It  was  beautiful,  but  it  was  also  reassuring,  a  very 
wonderful  comfort,  a  strength  against  trouble.  One  night  Breeze 
woke  up  with  a  start,  frightened,  not  knowing  where  she  was, 
feeling  alone  in  a  strange  place.  She  started  wildly  up  in  bed,  and 
said:  What  is  it?  I  don't  want  it!  I  don't  want  it  to  come, 
please !  I  don't  want  it/  but  in  a  moment  Lorn  stretched  out  her 
arms  and  took  her  back,  saying,  'Silly  kid,  silly  kid/  in  a  voice  of 
strong  but  amused  tenderness. 

What  made  you  wake  up  in  the  night?'  she  said  next  morning. 

'I  was  in  trouble/  Breeze  said.  'It  was  you  I  wanted.  I  was  all 
right  when  I'd  got  you.' 

That  afternoon  they  went  to  see  a  woman,  the  secretary  of  an 
organisation  specialising  in  the  distribution  of  rural  products. 
Lorn  had. heard  of  her  and  had  written,  asking  for  an  interview. 
This  woman  made  them  see  various  new  aspects  of  things.  She 
raised  hopes.  Where  they  had  seen,  vaguely,  that  some  day  they 
must  organise  distribution  in  order  to  keep  going,  they  now 
began  to  see,  rationally,  how  such  organisation  must  be  planned, 
how  far  ahead  it  must  be  planned,  how  little  they  had  done. 
They  would  need,  in  time,  packers,  a  mail-order  system,  expert 
knowledge  on  this,  that  and  the  other.  Miss  Wills,  the  secretary, 
wore  light  amber  rimmed  spectacles  and  spoke  in  a  voice  of 
vinegar  and  treacle  which  both  Breeze  and  Lorn  disliked.  But 
they  felt,  beyond  the  voice  and  the  spectacles,  a  shrewd,  clever, 
no-nonsense  personality.  'You're  on  a  good  thing,  you  girls,  if 
you'll  work  hard,  and  come  to  me  whenever  you're  stuck.  But 
don't  try  to  be  elegant.  You're  amateurs  and  you  can't  afford  to 
be  amateurs.  We're  in  touch  with  all  kinds  of  markets  here  and 
we  can  take  all  your  stuff,  if  it's  good,  on  a  commission  basis. 
You've  got  to  look  at  things  rationally,  Miss  Harvey,  without  a 
lot  of  sticky  romance.  When  shall  you  be  ready  for  production?' 

Lorn  told  her.  'We  hope  to  be  in  a  position  to  do  something 
next  year.  That's  what  we  thought.' 

'All  right.  Up  to  date,  what  have  you  done?  I  mean  regarding 

'Not  much.' 

108  Breeze  Anstey 

'Then  you  must  start.  I  think  it  might  be  as  well  if  I  came 
down  to  see  you.  Discuss  things.  I  could  come'  -  she  looked  up  a 
diary,  marked  it  off  in  blue  pencil  -  'in  a  fortnight.  That  is,  after 
Whitsun.  I'll  say  the  week-end  of  June  5.  Let  me  know  if  that 
suits  you.  Drop  me  a  card:  yes  or  no.  That'll  be  enough.' 

They  went  away  full  of  hope,  excited.  They  saw  the  thing  in 
rational  outline  at  last,  no  longer  some  cloudy  embryo  of 
romance.  They  saw  that  they  must  work  hard,  plan,  think,  that  it 
was  not  enough  to  waste  an  energy  of  body  and  spirit.  They  saw 
that  by  working  in  the  dark,  they  had  worked  for  nothing;  they 
had  given  themselves  up,  wholeheartedly,  to  emptiness. 

'I  think  that's  what  made  us  so  tired,'  Lorn  said.  'Working  and 
working  and  not  knowing  quite  where  we  were  going.' 

'Oh !  let's  get  home,  Lorn.  I  want  to  be  back,  doing  something. 
I  don't  want  to  be  away  any  longer.' 

They  went  back  on  the  following  day,  excitement  still  strong, 
their  whole  hopes  concentrated  on  the  pole  of  the  ideal  pointed 
out  by  the  secretary.  'I  didn't  like  her,'  Breeze  said.  'She  was  too 
sweet  and  too  sure,  but  she  knew  what  was  what.  Oh !  Lorn,  I'm 
glad  we  went.  We've  got  something  now.  We  can  look  forward 
to  something.' 

When  they  arrived  back  at  the  cottage,  in  the  late  afternoon, 
they  found  a  slip  on  the  front  door-mat :  a  cable  awaited  Lorn  at 
the  post  office.  She  at  once  got  on  her  bicycle  and  rode  with 
excitement  into  Lyndhurst.  She  was  back  in  half  an  hour.  By 
that  time  Breeze  had  tea  laid.  Lorn  laid  the  cable  on  the  table, 
for  Breeze  to  read.  The  cable  had  been  handed  in  at  Port  Said, 
two  days  previously,  and  it  said : 

Expect  arrive  London  Friday  telegraph  me  Grosvenor  Hotel 
when  and  where  possible  meet  you  have  plans  for  future: 

'He's  coming  home,'  Lorn  said.  She  stood  in  silence  for  a 
moment,  and  then  began  to  cry.  Her  strength  seemed  to  vanish 
at  once,  she  stood  weak  and  in  some  way  foolish, 
womanish,  miserable  with  joy.  All  the  time  Breeze  stood  apart 
from  her,  repelled  by  some  unaccountable  feeling  of  dislike,  not 
knowing  what  to  do. 

Breeze  Anstey  109 


She  was  caught  up,  from  that  moment,  by  the  force  of  a 
peculiar  jealousy.  She  got  fixed  in  her  mind,  as  though  by  some 
fierce  and  abrupt  photographic  flash,  a  fully  realised  picture  of 
the  man  who  was  coming.  He  was  about  thirty,  an  easy  sociable 
being,  with  large,  cold  medical  hands,  a  man  of  assurance,  with 
the  blond  aloof  sobriety  of  the  English  middle  class.  She  saw 
also,  for  some  reason,  his  mother  in  the  background.  Why,  she 
did  not  know,  but  she  saw  the  mother  as  some  skinny  and  also 
aloof  halo  behind  the  man.  She  was  holding  a  cablegram  too, 
and  smiling,  with  indulgent  proud  stretched  lips,  like  some 
absurd  filmic  emblem  of  maternity  and  sacrifice :  the  brave  wait- 
ing for  the  brave.  She  felt  that  she  hated  her  too. 

She  saw  the  change  in  Lorn  with  identical  clarity.  Emotion 
sharpened  her  before  she  knew  it.  With  quiet  derision  she  saw 
Lorn  get  on  her  bicycle,  the  next  morning,  to  bike  off  to  send 
her  wire.  She  was  not  prepared  for  the  sudden  switch  over  from 
adoration  to  contempt.  She  had  not  time  to  consider  it  or  defend 
herself  from  it  when  it  came.  It  hit  her,  striking  from  within,  be- 
fore she  had  time  to  think.  'Lorn  looks  so  silly,  rushing  off. 
Rushing  off  like  a  school-kid.'  Lorn,  getting  on  her  bicycle  in  a 
hurry,  had  got  her  skirt  bundled  beneath  her,  showing  the 
laddered  and  worn  tops  of  her  working  stockings.  She  looked,  for 
a  second,  ungainly,  heavily  ridiculous.  The  darned  stockings  and 
the  gap  of  bare  red  flesh  above  them  looked  ugly.  'Her  legs  are 
ugly.  Why  doesn't  she  pull  her  skirts  down?'  She  rode  off  with 
excited  haste,  her  thick  legs  pounding  on  the  bicycle  pedals. 
'She's  got  the  saddle  too  low.  She  hasn't  raised  it  since  I  used  it. 
Her  knees  stick  out.'  The  impressions  were  instinctive,  having  no 
incentive  from  the  conscious  self.  She  could  not  control  them. 

Lorn  was  gone  an  hour.  Breeze  worked,  meanwhile,  on  the 
plot,  hoeing  among  rows  of  thyme  and  parsley.  It  was  warm, 
heavy  weather;  weeds  were  coming  fast.  Breeze  kept  looking 
towards  the  house.  She  heard  at  last  Lorn's  bicycle  bell  and, 
looking  up,  saw  Lorn  herself  pushing  the  bicycle  up  the  path: 
pushing  heavily,  panting,  excited,  thick  legs  lumping  down  on 
the  path,  head  forward,  mouth  open.  Instinctively  the  impression 
leapt  to  mind:  'She  thumps  her  feet  down  like  a  horse.  Why 
doesn't  she  hold  herself  straight?'  Lorn  was  untidy,  hot  from  the 
ride.  'Her  face  looks  awful.  Like  raw  meat.  Has  she  been  to 

110  Breeze  Anstey 

Lyndhurst  and  back  like  that?'  Lorn  almost  flung  the  bicycle 
against  the  water-butt  at  the  house  corner  and  thumped  into  the 
house,  catching  her  foot  against  the  step,  stumbling.  'She  looks 
as  though  she  doesn't  know  what  she's  doing.  She  looks  stupid. 
Only  half  there.' 

She  went  on  hoeing.  Lorn  did  not  come  out  of  the  house.  For 
a  time  Breeze  did  not  take  much  notice;  then  half  an  hour 
passed,  an  hour,  and  it  was  almost  noon.  Breeze  began  to  get 
more  and  more  impatient,  hoeing  fiercely,  chopping  the  hoe 
hard  against  the  soft  dry  earth,  raising  dust.  What  was  Lorn 
doing?  Why  didn't  she  come  out,  just  to  say  Hullo?  Hungry, 
Breeze  remembered  then  that  it  was  Lorn's  turn  to  cook.  That 
explained  it.  Even  so,  she  felt  inexplicably  and  persistently  angry, 
against  her  will.  She  hoed  until  her  shoes  and  legs  were  soot- 
powdered  with  dust  and  her  body  muck-sweaty  and  her  insides 
weak  with  hunger. 

Then  at  twelve-thirty  she  dropped  the  hoe  and  went  into  the 
house.  She  registered,  at  once,  a  number  of  unpleasant  impres- 
sions: no  smell  of  dinner,  no  table  laid,  no  Lorn,  nothing. 
Wherever  was  Lorn?  She  wrenched  open  the  stairs  door  and 
shouted  her  name. 

'Lorn !  Lorn !  For  goodness  sake ! ' 

And  at  once  Lorn  replied,  easily,  almost  sweetly:  'Yes?  Want 
anything  ? ' 

In  vacant  fury,  Breeze  stood  at  the  foot  of  the  stairs.  'I  thought 
it  was  your  turn  to  cook?  What  have  you  been  doing?  You've 
been  back  from  Lyndhurst  hours.' 

'I  know.  Come  up  a  second.  I  want  to  tell  you  something.' 

Breeze  went  upstairs,  into  Lorn's  bedroom.  Lorn  was  sitting  at 
her  dressing-table  in  new  peach-coloured  slip  and  knickers, 
making  up.  She  had  a  clean  huckaback  towel  over  her  shoulders 
and  was  rubbing  a  white  skin-cream  over  her  face;  then,  as 
Breeze  came  in,  she  took  the  towel  off  her  shoulders  and  wiped 
her  hands  and,  very  carefully,  her  lips.  Bare  again,  her  shoulders 
looked  heavy  and  coarse,  without  grace.  Breeze  stood  still,  at  the 
door;  she  could  see  Lorn's  face  in  the  mirror.  She  did  not  know 
what  to  do  or  say  or  what  to  make  of  it.  Emotion  and  face- 
cream  had  made  Lorn's  face  somehow  shining  and  puffed.  It 
looked  faintly  gross :  not  Lorn's  face  at  all,  but  the  face  of  some 
absurd  obese  stranger. 

Breeze  Anstey  111 

'What's  come  over  you  ? '  Breeze  said. 

'He's  coming  down  this  afternoon/  Lorn  said,  'by  the  four 
o'clock. ' 

'How  do  you  know?  I  thought  you  telegraphed.' 

'I  telephoned.  I  telephoned  the  hotel  instead.  I  spoke  to  him.' 

'Is  that  why  you  were  gone  so  long?' 

'Not  altogether.  I  had  to  get  something.'  She  was  unscrewing  a 
cylinder  of  lipstick.  'She  doesn't  know  how  to  hold  it,'  Breeze 
thought.  'She  holds  it  like  a  stick  of  kid's  rock.  What's  come  over 

Lorn's  thick  strong  ringers  grasped  the  lipstick  crudely  and  she 
began  to  rub  it  clumsily,  to  and  fro,  on  her  lips.  'She  uses  it  like 
an  india  rubber.  She's  got  no  idea.  She's  never  done  it  before. 
The  lips  grew  orange,  greasy.  'She's  got  the  wrong  colour.  She's 
daubing  it  on.  She  can't  know.  She's  like  a  kid.'  All  of  this  con- 
tinual creation  of  impressions  was  unconscious,  in  some  way 
against  her  will.  It  ceased  when  Lorn  said : 

'Then  I  had  to  order  the  taxi.' 


'He  said  order  a  taxi.  It  could  call  for  me  here,  then  bring  us 
both  back  from  the  station.  He  said  he  didn't  fancy  a  tramp  with 

'He's  staying?' 

'Well,  I  should  think  so.'  She  was  pushing  out  her  lips  to- 
wards the  mirror,  in  an  orange  pout;  she  drew  them  back,  pursed 
them;  she  twitched  the  corners,  smiling  a  little.  The  lips  seemed 
enamelled,  brittle,  like  snakeskin.  Satisfied,  Lorn  set  them  in 
what  she  felt  was  a  line  of  tenderness,  naturally.  'She  looks  hope- 
less, awful,'  Breeze  thought.  'She  looks  pathetic.  She's  got 
pimples  on  her  face.  She  can't  know  how  awful  she  looks.'  Sud- 
denly she  could  not  bear  it.  'Lorn,  let  me  do  it,'  she  said.  'Let  me 
touch  it  up.  You're  too  heavy.' 

She  took  the  lipstick :  the  tinfoil  was  warm  and  sweaty  where 
Lorn  had  held  it  in  her  hot  hands,  the  stick  already  soft  beneath. 

'What  made  you  get  orange  ? ' 

'He  likes  it.' 

'It's  not  your  colour.' 

'I  know.  I  wanted  cerise.  But  he  likes  flame.  He  always  liked  it.' 

Breeze  looked  at  the  stick.  Flame-coloured,  kiss-proof,  it  was 
a  symbol  of  some  kind  of  fatuous  hope.  She  wiped  Lorn's  lips, 

112  Breeze  Anstey 

until  they  were  clean  again  except  for  fissures  of  orange  in  the 
cracks  of  the  skin;  then  she  began  all  over  again,  painting  them 
delicately,  bringing  the  mouth  into  softer,  longer  line.  All  the 
time  Lorn  was  trembling. 

That  afternoon,  while  Lorn  had  gone  to  the  station  in  her  taxi, 
there  was  a  storm.  It  broke  with  warm  stickiness  and  a  great  beat 
of  thick  rain  that  flashed  white  against  the  summery  dark  back- 
ground of  forest.  It  drove  Breeze  indoors.  She  sat  miserable, 
waiting  and  listening  for  the  taxi  beyond  the  sound  of  rain  and 
the  huge  sudden  blunderings  of  thunder.  The  air  was  hot  and 
oppressive  and  the  rain,  smashing  down  grass  and  plants  and 
flowers,  made  small  floods  among  the  flattened  rows  of  herbs.  By 
mid- afternoon  the  garden  looked  a  desolation,  its  grace  gone,  its 
colours  washed  out,  the  forest  beyond  it  a  gloomy  wall  of  solid 
leaf  and  rain.  Waiting,  miserable,  she  felt  it  to  be  almost  the 
worst  thing  that  could  have  happened.  The  place  looked  mean 
and  small  and  dead. 

The  taxi  came  at  half-past  three.  Going  to  the  window  to 
watch,  Breeze  had  in  her  mind  her  pre-conceived  picture  of  the 
man :  blond,  aloof,  coldly  medical,  about  thirty,  with  the  skinny 
and  aloof  halo  of  his  mother  shining,  inexplicably,  in  the  back- 
ground. She  had  waited  for  his  arrival  with  a  kind  of  remote 
arrogance,  in  a  determination  to  be  aloof  also,  her  preconceived 
image  part  of  a  preconceived  hatred. 

Looking  across  the  garden,  to  the  gate,  she  had  a  great  shock. 
There  appeared  with  Lorn,  under  her  grey  umbrella,  a  man  of 
more  than  fifty.  She  could  not  believe  it.  She  stood  and  stared  at 
him  in  a  conflict  of  pain:  the  pain  of  unbelief,  amazement  and 
the  shock  of  a  momentary  and  stupid  terror.  Her  image  of  him 
went  black,  like  a  fused  light,  the  halo  of  the  mother  fluttering 
out  behind  it  like  a  silly  candle. 

She  had  not  time  to  think.  In  a  moment  he  was  standing  be- 
fore her,  grey-haired,  lean,  flesh  yellow  with  sun,  with  the  air  of 
some  decaying  and  dictatorial  professor,  nose  slightly  askew,  eyes 
having  some  curious  affliction  of  twitching,  so  that  she  could  not 
look  at  him. 

'So  this',  he  said,  shaking  hands  with  her,  'is  Breeze  Anstey?' 

Breeze  Anstey  113 

His  voice  was  nasal,  meticulous,  a  little  superior.  It  was  a  voice 
accustomed  to  speaking  obliquely,  in  innuendoes.  She  did  not 
trust  it.  Hearing  it,  she  felt  the  conception  of  her  hatred  of  him 
harden  more  firmly  than  ever.  At  that  moment  it  was  the  only 
thing  of  which  she  felt  quite  sure. 

Foolishly  she  said :  Tm  sorry  it  rained  like  this  - 1  mean  in 
this  tropical  way.' 

'Tropical.  This?'  He  was  very  amused.  Greatly.  Tropical? 
Very,  very  funny.  Did  she  understand,  dear  young  lady,  quite 
what  tropical  meant?  He  looked  at  her  with  oblique  superiority, 
with  a  maddening  amusement  and  a  thin  nasal  sneer  which  she 
was  to  discover,  later,  was  habitual. 

Explaining  to  her  what  tropical  rain  was  really  like,  he 
addressed  her  again  as  'Dear  young  lady.'  She  felt  furious.  She 
stared  at  him  with  crude  dislike,  openly.  All  the  time  Lorn  was 
smiling,  open-mouthed,  teeth  gay  and  white  against  her  absurd 
lipstick.  It  was  a  smile  in  which  there  was  something  like  a  giddi- 
ness of  adoration:  the  smile  of  utterly  silly,  uncritical  feminine 
delight.  She  was  in  heaven. 

It  went  on  all  through  tea.  It  was  like  the  functioning  of  some 
cheap  machine  into  which  Lorn  kept  pressing  unseen  coins  in 
order  to  keep  it  working.  To  Breeze  it  was  incomprehensible.  It 
could  not  be  genuine.  She  could  not  conceive  of  it  as  anything 
else  but  forced,  the  desperate  mechanical  reaction  to  the 

The  doctor  talked.  To  Breeze  he  was  an  old  man.  He  framed 
his  sentences  with  the  slow  care  of  experience,  searching  for  his 
words,  as  though  engaged  on  some  careful  and  perpetual 

'When  I  first  had  -  er  -  intimation  of  -  of  this  -  this  project  of 
yours,  my  dear,  I  had  -  er  -  some  notion  that  you  had  taken  - 
taken  a  place  of  some  size/ 

'It  doesn't  look  big,  dear/  Lorn  said,  'but  you  try  to  work  it 
and  see.' 

'But  you  said  -  you  said  a  farm.' 


'But  this  is  -  just  a  garden.' 

'We  call  it  a  farm.  It  couldn't  very  well  be  bigger  because  of 
the  forest/ 

'The -the  forest?' 

114  Breeze  Anstey 

He  looked  out  of  the  window  with  a  kind  of  amazed  contempt, 
at  their  small  confined  and  now  rain-flattened  plot  of  earth,  with 
the  barricade  of  trees  beyond  and  the  heavy  English  sky  pressing 
down  on  it  all  and  giving  it  some  air  of  civilised  meanness.  He 
looked  in  silence.  Then  he  began  laughing.  It  was,  to  Breeze,  an 
extraordinary  laugh,  almost  silent,  impersonal  and  yet  selfish,  as 
though  the  joke  were  for  himself  alone  and  yet  on  them.  He 
laughed  for  fully  two  minutes  before  finally  saying  anything. 
Then  he  repeated  'Forest,  forest*,  in  the  tone  of  a  man  who, 
though  knowing  everything,  has  a  little  pity  for  the  rest  of  the 

Breeze  understood.  She  caught  the  accent,  almost  the  sneer,  of 
pity :  pity  for  them,  pity  for  their  so-called  farm,  for  their  ideals, 
for  two  silly  too- earnest  Englishwomen  with  their  pretence  of 
ambition.  Without  saying  it,  he  hinted  that  there  were  lives  of 
which  they  knew  nothing,  forests  beside  which  their  own  miser- 
able affair  was  a  shrubbery.  He  seemed  to  say :  'You  may  believe 
in  it,  but  is  it  worth  believing  in?  It  can't  be  serious.  It  can't 
mean  anything.  And  now  that  I've  come  it  can't  go  on.' 
Almost  as  though  she  heard  it,  Breeze  said,  frankly : 
'You  came  home  in  a  hurry,  Dr  Bentley.' 
He  looked  at  her,  then  at  Lorn,  obliquely.  'I  had  business,'  he 
said.  He  kept  looking  at  Lorn,  still  obliquely,  with  a  soft  and 
almost  crafty  smile  of  adoration,  until  Lorn  at  last  lifted  her  eyes 
and  smiled  back  in  a  confusion  of  happiness.  Their  eyes,  in 
silence,  telegraphed  secrets  which  were  not  secrets  at  all.  'Yes,' 
the  doctor  said,  'I  had  business.  It's  not  -  not  for  me  to  say  how 
-  important  -  it  is.  But  I  had  business.  That  is  so -eh,  Lorn?' 

The  system  of  telegraphy,  once  begun,  went  on.  After  tea,  and 
on  into  the  misty  heavy  evening,  the  doctor  and  Lorn  sat  about 
in  the  little  sitting-room  and,  whenever  Breeze  was  there,  sent 
each  other  messages  of  what  was  almost  adolescent  adoration. 
They  spoke  in  riddles:  restless,  obvious  riddles  of  which  they 
were  only  too  anxious  that  Breeze  should  know  the  meaning. 
They  held  out  their  love  to  her,  as  it  were,  on  a  plate,  like  some 
piece  of  juicy  steak,  inviting  her  to  admire  and,  while  indicating 
that  it  was  not  for  her,  to  envy.  She  responded  by  muteness.  She 
did  not  know  what  to  say.  Dumbly  she  sat  and  waited  for  the 
time  when  she  could  decently  go  to  bed. 
'Tempus  fugit,'  the  doctor  said,  once. 

Breeze  Anstey  115 

'Yes,  but  slowly/  Lorn  said,  'when  you're  waiting/ 
'Everything  comes/  the  doctor  said,  'to  him  who  waits.' 
At  eight  Breeze  pleaded  excuses  and  went  up  to  bed.  After 
lying  awake,  listening  to  the  slow  summer  drip  of  rain  from  the 
branches  outside,  she  heard,  at  nine,  the  shutting  and  locking  of 
doors,  footsteps  on  the  stairs,  whispers,  the  small  shufflings  and 
rustling  of  retirement.  She  waited  for  Lorn  to  come  into  her,  as 
always,  to  say  good-night.  They  would  sit  together,  talk,  confide, 
discuss  the  happenings  of  one  day  and  their  plans  for  another. 
She  cherished  the  moment  jealously. 

She  waited.  Nothing  happened.  Then,  towards  ten,  she  heard 
a  door,  footsteps.  They  approached  and  went  past.  She  heard  the 
opening  and  shutting  of  another  door,  then  silence. 

She  listened  for  a  long  time.  There  was  no  other  sound.  The 
rain  had  ceased  and  she  could  hear  the  silence,  could  feel  it  as 
something  hard  and  tangible  about  her,  as  a  crystallisation  of 
emptiness  into  solidity,  into  something  as  light  and  sharp  as  a 
knife,  cutting  her  off  from  Lorn  completely. 


By  innuendoes,  half-phrases,  gestures  of  superiority,  and 
above  all  by  the  sly  oblique  smile  of  pity,  the  doctor  poured  con- 
tempt on  the  little  farm.  For  almost  a  week  Lorn,  bewildered  by 
the  pull  of  opposing  emotions,  wavered  between  the  man  and  the 
ideal  she  and  Breeze  had  set  themselves.  As  though  aware  of  it, 
the  doctor  said,  at  last : 

'I  suppose  you  two -young  things  know  that  this -this  place 
-isn't  healthy?  It  isn't  doing  either  of  you  any  good.' 

This  was  a  shock;  and  Breeze  at  once  resented  it. 

'Who  said  it  wasn't  healthy?' 

The  doctor  was  patient :  which  aroused  her  still  more.  She  de- 
tested the  assured  enamel  superiority  of  the  man.  Honest,  decent 
anger,  resentment,  bitterness,  had  no  place  in  his  make-up.  He 
presented  only  an  assured  too-smooth  egg-like  coldness.  Her  own 
anger,  like  some  feeble  Lilliputian  pin,  could  not  even  scratch  the 
iron  shell  of  his  supreme  priggishness.  It  was  all  hopelessly 
beyond  her.  Lorn  and  this  man,  this  man  for  a  lover. 

Another  time  he  said  to  her:  'Do  you  feel  well?' 

'Yes,'  she  said.  'As  well  as  I  ever  did.' 

116  Breeze  Anstey 

'Which  means?'  He  paused,  waiting  for  a  reply  which  did  not 
come.  'You  feel  tired  ? ' 


'Sleepy?  No  -  no  energy ? ' 


'Oppressed  ? ' 


She  was  lying.  He  knew  it  and  she,  in  a  moment,  knew  that  he 
was  aware  of  it.  'Lorn  tells  me  -  quite  -  quite  otherwise/  he  said. 

'I'm  not  Lorn/  she  said. 

'Lorn  says  you  are  both  tired  -  er  -  continually  -  and  can't 
understand  it.' 

'We  work  hard.' 

'Perhaps  so.  But  that  would  not  account  for  this  -  this  extra- 
ordinary enervation.  The  trouble  is  that  there  are  too  many  trees 
in  this  place.  They  suck  up  the  air.' 

'That's  your  opinion.  I  like  the  trees.' 

'May  I  take  your  pulse  ? '  he  said. 

Before  she  could  resist  he  had  taken  her  hand,  had  his  thumb 
on  her  wrist.  It  was  as  though  she  were  held  in  a  clasp  of  pure 
dead  bone.  In  the  feel  of  his  hands  she  felt,  as  it  were,  the  whole 
essence  of  his  nature:  hard,  bony,  dead,  the  expression  of  man 
seeing  life  as  something  to  be  perpetually  diagnosed,  the  delicacy 
of  human  nature  as  something  needing  eternal  probing  and  some 
ultimate  interesting  operation. 

He  dropped  her  hand.  She  felt,  for  a  few  seconds,  the  small 
cool  point  of  the  thumb's  contact.  She  stood  waiting,  resentfully, 
in  silence.  What  had  he  to  do  with  her?  Why  did  he  trouble  with 
her?  It  was  beyond  her,  this  damnable  solicitude,  and  she  did 
not  want  it. 

'You'll  be  telling  me  next/  she  said,  'that  I've  got  galloping 

For  a  moment  he  did  not  reply.  They  were  in  the  little  sitting- 
room.  Lorn  had  gone  to  cut  lettuces  for  the  evening  salad.  It  was 
a  sultry,  still  evening,  breathless 

'No,  it's  not  that  you've  got/  he  said.  'Will  you  sit  down?' 


'Just  sit  down.  I  want  to  ask  you  the  same  -  er  -  questions  as  I 
asked  Lorn.' 

'What  questions?' 

Breeze  Anstey  117 

Well  -  -er-  just  -' 

'You're  going  to  ask  me  to  sleep  with  you  perhaps?'  she  said. 
She  raised  her  voice,  spoke  without  thinking,  the  words  out  of 
her  mouth  before  she  could  prevent  them.  'You're  going  to  ask 
me  to  wait  seven  years  for  you  perhaps  ?  No  thank  you !  Not  to- 
day, thank  you !  No  thank  you ! ' 

He  looked  at  her,  smiling,  the  small  chill  oblique  smile  of  pro- 
fessional reticence,  as  one  accustomed  to  such  ill-mannered  out- 
bursts. He  did  not  speak.  She  set  her  teeth,  waiting,  meaning  the 
words  she  had  spoken  with  all  her  heart,  yet  wishing,  now,  that 
she  had  not  spoken  them.  She  stood  poised  somewhere  between 
anger  and  embarrassment. 

At  that  moment  Lorn  came  in,  carrying  the  already  dew-wet 

'Hullo,  you  two,'  she  said.  'Quarrelling?' 

'Yes!'  Breeze  said. 


'He's  got  as  far  as  taking  my  pulse  -  but  that  isn't  far  enough.' 

Her  anger  quickened  again,  fired  up  in  her  face. 

'He's  not  satisfied  with  coming  here  and  taking  you  away. 
That  isn't  enough.  He  wants  to  prove  the  place  isn't  healthy.  He 
wants  to  get  me  out  of  it.' 

'Breeze,  Breeze,  I  won't  have  it !  I  won't  have  it.' 

'It's  true.  He's  smashed  our  life.' 

'You  can't  say  it.  I  won't  have  you  saying  it.' 

'Why  isn't  it  true?  Before  he  came  rushing  home  like  a  love- 
sick boy  we  were  quite  happy  here.  The  farm  was  our  whole  life. 
You  know  that.  We'd  planned  and  schemed  and  banked  on  it. 
We'd  arranged  for  the  organiser  to  come  down.  Now  he  comes 
rushing  home  and  it  all  means  nothing.' 

'You  mean  you  mean  nothing ! ' 

'Well,  what  difference?  What  difference  whether  it's  me  or  the 
farm?  He's  trying  to  make  you  believe  it's  unhealthy.  That 
means  he  either  wants  you  to  give  me  up  or  me  to  give  up  the 
farm.  Well,  I'll  give  up  the  farm.' 

'Oh!  Breeze,  please.  Please,  not  now.' 

'I'll  give  it  up,  I  tell  you !  You  don't  want  me !  What  point  in 
my  staying?  I'll  clear  out  now -before  I  can  change  my  mind.' 

Suddenly  she  looked  from  Lorn  to  the  man.  He  was  smiling 
and  the  smile  had  that  perpetual  as  though  engraved  mockery  in 

118  Breeze  Anstey 

it,  the  slightly  oblique  sneer  of  condescension,  and  she  knew  that 
he  was  not  only  laughing  at  her  physical  self,  her  behaviour,  but 
her  ideals,  her  anger  and  the  very  preciousness  of  her  affection. 

Suddenly  rage  burned  up  in  her  to  a  point  when  she  could  not 
control  it.  She  went  across  to  him  and  hit  him  full  across  the 
face.  For  a  moment  nothing  happened.  The  smile  did  not  change. 
It  remained,  like  some  rotten  and  yet  imperishable  engraving  of 
his  whole  nature.  Beside  herself,  almost  crying,  she  struggled 
with  a  terrific  desire  to  hit  it  again,  to  smash  it  out  of  existence. 
Then,  suddenly,  the  smile,  the  rage,  the  reason  for  it  all  had  no 
meaning.  She  went  very  weak.  She  had  just  strength  enough  to 
lift  her  voice  and  half  shout : 

'I'll  get  out  in  the  morning.  I'll  go!  There's  not  room  for  all 
of  us.' 

Lorn  would  have  spoken,  but  Breeze  ran  out  of  the  room.  She 
was  already  crying.  In  the  second  before  the  door  slammed  she 
heard  the  faint  condescending  breath  of  a  laugh  from  the  doctor. 

She  lay  in  bed  and  cried  with  anguish  and  comfort.  She 
waited  for  Lorn  to  come,  clinging  to  the  hope  of  reconciliation.  It 
must  have  been  about  eight  o'clock,  and  she  lay  for  two  hours, 
until  darkness,  before  she  heard  a  sound  from  below.  Sounds 
came,  then,  and  went,  but  nothing  happened.  She  lay  in  silence 
and  could  not  sleep.  She  thought  of  Lorn.  She  saw  Lorn, 
physically,  as  a  constant  presence,  comforting,  large,  so  soft  and 
maternal.  She  ached  for  her.  She  saw  her  as  she  had  seen  her  in 
the  forest,  bathing,  and  she  was  caught  up,  unexpectedly,  by  a 
return  of  the  same  singular  moment  of  acute  anguish,  almost 
pain,  that  had  shot  through  her  at  the  first  sight  of  Lorn's  body. 

Then,  for  the  first  time,  she  understood  herself.  She  knew, 
suddenly,  what  it  was  she  resented,  what  exactly  it  was  she  had 
wanted,  what  she  was  so  extraordinarily  afraid  of  losing. 

She  sat  up  in  bed.  She  had  ceased  crying  and  she  felt,  now, 
like  a  rag  that  has  been  wrung  out.  The  cold  realisation  of  her 
feeling  for  Lorn  struck  her  with  fear,  almost  terror,  as  though 
she  had  suddenly  become  aware  that  she  was  incurably  ill. 

Simultaneously  she  saw  also  the  reason  for  the  doctor's  smile : 
that  perpetual  smile  of  aloof  knowingness.  'No,  that's  not  what 
you've  got.'  He  knew.  Unconsciously  she  must  have  known  that 
he  knew.  But  curiously,  for  all  her  knowing,  her  rage  against  him 
did  not  lessen.  He  had  struck  so  hard  at  her  ideals,  the  little  and 

Breeze  Anstey  119 

now  absurd  farm,  the  business  partnership,  the  hope  of  success. 
He  had  taken,  and  in  a  way  destroyed  Lorn. 

She  lay  for  a  long  time.  She  hoped  that  Lorn  would  come.  She 
wanted,  and  for  the  first  time  consciously,  to  be  held  by  Lorn, 
tenderly,  with  the  same  love  and  strength  as  she  felt  in  return. 
Something  had  taught  her  that  a  love  of  that  kind  belonged  to 
the  limbo  of  things  that  were  never  mentioned.  To  her,  in  the 
full  realisation  of  it,  it  seemed  a  beautiful  thing.  She  cried  ten- 
derly because  of  it.  It  comforted  her.  There  was  some  kind  of 
sad  inverted  pleasure  in  the  gentle  pain  of  realisation  and  loss. 

At  one  o'clock  she  got  up,  lighted  her  candle  and  packed  her 
bag.  Going  to  shut  the  window  she  caught  the  great  breath  of  the 
forest,  damp,  profound,  summer-drenched,  the  smell  of  a  whole 
section  of  her  life.  She  stood  for  a  moment  breathing  it  in,  look- 
ing over  the  dark  quiet  earth  of  the  garden  towards  the  still 
darker  mass  of  trees.  The  night  was  deadly  still.  As  it  hung  about 
her,  huge  and  intangible,  with  an  intolerable  quality  of  suspense 
and  comfort,  her  life  seemed  very  little  and  not  to  matter. 

She  shut  the  window.  She  felt,  at  once,  back  in  the  cramped 
confinement  of  her  own  affairs,  where  things  had  seemed,  a 
moment  before,  to  be  all  over,  but  where  they  seemed,  now,  to 
be  just  beginning. 

And  she  knew  that  the  rest,  whatever  it  was,  lay  with  herself. 


The  Thurlows  lived  on  a  small  hill.  As  though  it  were  not  high 
enough,  the  house  was  raised  up,  as  on  invisible  stilts,  with  a 
wooden  flight  of  steps  to  the  front  door.  Exposed  and  isolated, 
the  wind  striking  at  it  from  all  quarters,  it  seemed  to  have 
no  part  with  the  surrounding  landscape.  Empty  ploughed  lands, 
in  winter-time,  stretched  away  on  all  sides  in  wet  steel 

At  half-past  seven  every  morning  Mrs  Thurlow  pushed  her 
great  rusty  bicycle  down  the  hill;  at  six  every  evening  she  pushed 
it  back.  Loaded,  always,  with  grey  bundles  of  washing,  oilcans, 
sacks,  cabbages,  bundles  of  old  newspaper,  boughs  of  wind- 
blown wood  and  bags  of  chicken  food,  the  bicycle  could  never 
be  ridden.  It  was  a  vehicle  of  necessity.  Her  relationship  to  it 
was  that  of  a  beast  to  a  cart.  Slopping  along  beside  it,  flat  heavy 
feet  pounding  painfully  along  under  mud-stained  skirts,  her  face 
and  body  ugly  with  lumpy  angles  of  bone,  she  was  like  a  beast  of 

Coming  out  of  the  house,  raised  up  even  above  the  level  of  the 
small  hill,  she  stepped  into  a  country  of  wide  horizons.  This  fact 
meant  nothing  to  her.  The  world  into  which  she  moved  was  very 
small:  from  six  to  nine  she  cleaned  for  the  two  retired  sisters, 
nine  to  twelve  for  the  retired  photographer,  twelve-thirty  to 
three  for  the  poultry  farm,  four  to  six  for  the  middle-aged 
bachelor.  She  did  not  think  of  going  beyond  the  four  lines  which 
made  up  the  square  of  her  life.  She  thought  of  other  people 
going  beyond  them,  but  this  was  different.  Staring  down  at  a 
succession  of  wet  floors,  working  always  for  other  people,  against 
time,  she  had  somehow  got  into  the  habit  of  not  thinking  about 

She  thought  much,  in  the  same  stolid  pounding  way  as  she 
pushed  the  bicycle,  of  other  people:  in  particular  of  Thurlow, 
more  particularly  of  her  two  sons.  She  had  married  late;  the  boys 


The  Ox  121 

were  nine  and  thirteen.  She  saw  them  realising  refined  ambi- 
tions, making  their  way  as  assistants  in  shops,  as  clerks  in 
offices,  even  as  butlers.  Heavily  built,  with  faces  having  her  own 
angular  boniness,  they  moved  with  eyes  on  the  ground.  She  had 
saved  money  for  them.  For  fifteen  years  she  had  hoarded  the 
scubbing-and-washing  money,  keeping  it  in  a  bran  bag  under  a 
mattress  in  the  back  bedroom.  They  did  not  know  of  it;  she  felt 
that  no  one,  not  even  Thurlow,  knew  of  it. 

Thurlow  had  a  silver  plate  in  his  head.  In  his  own  eyes  it  set 
him  apart  from  other  men.  'I  got  a  plate  in  me  head.  Solid  silver. 
Enough  silver  to  make  a  dozen  spoons  and  a  bit  over.  Solid.  Beat 
that ! '  Wounded  on  the  Marne,  and  now  walking  about  with  the 
silver  plate  in  his  head,  Thurlow  was  a  martyr.  'I  didn't  ought  to 
stoop.  I  didn't  ought  to  do  nothing.  By  rights.  By  rights  I  didn't 
ought  to  lift  a  finger.'  He  was  a  hedge  cutter.  'Lucky  I'm  tall, 
else  that  job  wouldn't  be  no  good  to  me.'  He  had  bad  days  and 
good  days,  even  days  of  genuine  pain.  'Me  plate's  hurting  me! 
It's  me  plate.  By  God,  it'll  drive  me  so's  I  don't  know  what  I'm 
doing!  It's  me  plate  again.'  And  he  would  stand  wild  and 
vacant,  rubbing  his  hands  through  his  thin  black  hair,  clawing 
his  scalp  as  though  to  wrench  out  the  plate  and  the  pain. 

Once  a  week,  on  Saturdays  or  Sundays,  he  came  home  a  little 
tipsy,  in  a  good  mood,  laughing  to  himself,  riding  his  bicycle  up 
the  hill  like  some  comic  rider  in  a  circus.  'Eh?  Too  much  be 
damned.  I  can  ride  me  bike,  can't  I?  S'  long  as  I  can  ride  me 
bike  I'm  all  right.'  In  the  pubs  he  had  only  one  theme,  'I  got  a 
plate  in  me  head.  Solid  silver,'  recited  in  a  voice  challenging  the 
world  to  prove  it  otherwise. 

All  the  time  Mrs  Thurlow  saved  money.  It  was  her  creed. 
Sometimes  people  went  away  and  there  was  no  cleaning.  She 
then  made  up  the  gap  in  her  life  by  other  work:  picking 
potatoes,  planting  potatoes,  dibbing  cabbages,  spudding  roots, 
pea  picking,  more  washing.  In  the  fields  she  pinned  up  her  skirt 
so  that  it  stuck  out  behind  her  like  a  thick  stiff  tail,  making  her 
look  like  some  bony  ox.  She  did  washing  from  five  to  six  in  the 
morning,  and  again  from  seven  to  nine  in  the  evening.  Taking  in 
more  washing,  she  tried  to  wash  more  quickly,  against  time. 
Somehow  she  succeeded,  so  that  from  nine  to  ten  she  had  time 
for  ironing.  She  worked  by  candlelight.  Her  movements  were 
largely  instinctive.  She  had  washed  and  ironed  for  so  long,  in  the 

122  The  Ox 

same  way,  at  the  same  time  and  place,  that  she  could  have 
worked  in  darkness. 

There  were  some  things,  even,  which  could  be  done  in  dark- 
ness; and  so  at  ten,  with  Thurlow  and  the  sons  in  bed,  she  blew 
out  the  candle,  broke  up  the  fire,  and  sat  folding  the  clothes  or 
cleaning  boots,  and  thinking.  Her  thoughts,  like  her  work,  went 
always  along  the  same  lines,  towards  the  future,  out  into  the  re- 
splendent avenues  of  ambitions,  always  for  the  two  sons.  There 
was  a  division  in  herself,  the  one  part  stolid  and  uncomplaining 
in  perpetual  labour,  the  other  fretful  and  almost  desperate  in  an 
anxiety  to  establish  a  world  beyond  her  own.  She  had  saved 
fifty-four  pounds.  She  would  make  it  a  hundred.  How  it  was  to 
be  done  she  could  not  think.  The  boys  were  growing;  the  cost  of 
keeping  them  was  growing.  She  trusted  in  some  obscure  provi- 
dential power  as  tireless  and  indomitable  as  herself. 

At  eleven  she  went  to  bed,  going  up  the  wooden  stairs  in  dark- 
ness, in  her  stockinged  feet.  She  undressed  in  darkness,  her 
clothes  falling  away  to  be  replaced  by  a  heavy  grey  nightgown 
that  made  her  body  seem  still  larger  and  more  ponderous.  She 
fell  asleep  almost  at  once,  but  throughout  the  night  her  mind, 
propelled  by  some  inherent  anxiety,  seemed  to  work  on.  She 
dreamed  she  was  pushing  the  bicycle  down  the  hill,  and  then  that 
she  was  pushing  it  up  again;  she  dreamed  she  was  scrubbing 
floors;  she  felt  the  hot  stab  of  the  iron  on  her  spittled  finger  and 
then  the  frozen  bite  of  icy  swedes  as  she  picked  them  off  un- 
thawed  earth  on  bitter  mornings.  She  counted  her  money,  her 
mind  going  back  over  the  years  throughout  which  she  had  saved 
it,  and  then  counted  it  again,  in  fear,  to  make  sure,  as  though 
in  terror  that  it  might  be  gone  in  the  morning. 


She  had  one  relaxation.  On  Sunday  afternoons  she  sat  in  the 
kitchen  alone,  and  read  the  newspapers.  They  were  not  the  news- 
papers of  the  day,  but  of  all  the  previous  week  and  perhaps  of 
the  week  before  that.  She  had  collected  them  from  the  houses 
where  she  scrubbed,  bearing  them  home  on  the  bicycle.  Through 
them  and  by  them  she  broke  the  boundaries  of  her  world.  She 
made  excursions  into  the  lives  of  other  people:  tragic  lovers, 
cabinet    ministers,    Atlantic    flyers,   suicides,   society   beauties, 

The  Ox  123 

murderers,  kings.  It  was  all  very  wonderful.  But  emotionally, 
as  she  read,  her  face  showed  no  impression.  It  remained  ox-like 
in  its  impassivity.  It  looked  in  some  way  indomitably  strong, 
as  though  little  things  like  beauties  and  suicides,  murderers  and 
kings,  could  have  no  possible  effect  on  her.  About  three  o'clock, 
as  she  sat  reading,  Thurlow  would  come  in,  lumber  upstairs, 
and  sleep  until  about  half-past  four. 

One  Sunday  he  did  not  come  in  at  three  o'clock.  It  was  after 
four  when  she  heard  the  bicycle  tinkle  against  the  woodshed  out- 
side. She  raised  her  head  from  the  newspaper  and  listened  for 
him  to  come  in.  Nothing  happened.  Then  after  about  five 
minutes  Thurlow  came  in,  went  upstairs,  remained  for  some 
minutes,  and  then  came  down  again.  She  heard  him  go  out  into 
the  yard.  There  was  a  stir  among  the  chickens  as  he  lumbered 
about  the  woodshed. 

Mrs  Thurlow  got  up  and  went  outside,  and  there,  at  the  door 
of  the  woodshed,  Thurlow  was  just  hiding  something  under  his 
coat.  She  thought  it  seemed  like  his  billhook.  She  was  not  sure. 
Something  made  her  say : 

'Your  saw  don't  need  sharpening  again  a'ready,  does  it?' 

'That  it  does,'  he  said.  'That's  just  what  it  does.  Joe  Woods  is 
going  to  sharp  it.'  Thurlow  looked  upset  and  slightly  wild,  as  he 
did  when  the  plate  in  his  head  was  hurting  him.  His  eyes  were  a 
little  drink-fired,  dangerous.  'I  gonna  take  it  down  now,  so's  I  can 
git  it  back  to-night' 

All  the  time  she  could  see  the  saw  itself  hanging  in  the  dark- 
ness of  the  woodshed  behind  him.  She  was  certain  then  that  he 
was  lying,  almost  certain  that  it  was  the  billhook  he  had  under 
his  coat. 

She  did  not  say  anything  else.  Thurlow  got  on  his  bicycle  and 
rode  off,  down  the  hill,  his  coat  bunched  up,  the  bicycle  slightly 
crazy  as  he  drove  with  one  tipsy  hand. 

Something,  as  soon  as  he  had  gone,  made  her  rush  upstairs. 
She  went  into  the  back  bedroom  and  flung  the  clothes  off  the 
mattress  of  the  small  iron  bed  that  was  never  slept  in.  The 
money:  it  was  all  right.  It  was  quite  all  right.  She  sat  down 
heavily  on  the  bed.  And  after  a  moment's  anxiety  her  colour 
returned  again  -  the  solid,  immeasurably  passive  calm  with 
which  she  scrubbed,  read  the  newspapers,  and  pushed  the 

124  The  Ox 

In  the  evening,  the  boys  at  church,  she  worked  again.  She 
darned  socks,  the  cuffs  of  jackets,  cleaned  boots,  sorted  the  wash- 
ing for  the  following  day.  The  boys  must  look  well,  respectable. 
Under  the  new  scheme  they  went,  now,  to  a  secondary  school  in 
the  town.  She  was  proud  of  this,  the  first  real  stepping-stone  to 
the  higher  things  of  the  future.  Outside,  the  night  was  windy, 
and  she  heard  the  now  brief,  now  very  prolonged  moan  of  wind 
over  the  dark  winter-ploughed  land.  She  worked  by  candlelight. 
When  the  boys  came  in  she  lighted  the  lamp.  In  their  hearts, 
having  now  some  standard  by  which  to  judge  her,  they  despised 
her  a  little.  They  hated  the  cheapness  of  the  candlelight.  When 
they  had  eaten  and  gone  lumbering  up  to  bed,  like  two  colts,  she 
blew  out  the  lamp  and  worked  by  candlelight  again.  Thurlow 
had  not  come  in. 

He  came  in  a  little  before  ten.  She  was  startled,  not  hearing 
the  bicycle. 

'You  want  something  t'  eat?' 

'No/  he  said.  He  went  straight  into  the  scullery.  She  heard 
him  washing  his  hands,  swilling  the  sink,  washing,  swilling  again. 

'You  want  the  light?'  she  called. 


He  came  into  the  kitchen.  She  saw  his  still-wet  hands  in  the 
candlelight.  He  gave  her  one  look  and  went  upstairs  without 
speaking.  For  some  time  she  pondered  on  the  memory  of  this 
look,  not  understanding  it.  She  saw  in  it  the  wildness  of  the 
afternoon,  as  though  the  plate  were  hurting  him,  but  now  it  had 
in  addition  fear,  and,  above  fear,  defiance. 

She  got  the  candle  and  went  to  the  door.  The  wind  tore  the 
candle  flame  down  to  a  minute  blue  bubble  which  broke,  and  she 
went  across  the  yard,  to  the  woodshed,  in  darkness.  In  the  wood- 
shed she  put  a  match  to  the  candle  again,  held  the  candle  up  at 
eye  level,  and  looked  at  the  walls.  The  saw  hung  on  its  nail,  but 
there  was  no  billhook.  She  made  a  circle  with  the  candle,  looking 
for  the  bicycle  with  dumb  eyes.  It  was  not  there.  She  went  into 
the  house  again.  Candleless,  faintly  perturbed,  she  went  up 
to  bed.  She  wanted  to  say  something  to  Thurlow,  but  he  was 
dead  still,  as  though  asleep,  and  she  lay  down  herself,  hearing 
nothing  but  the  sound  of  Thurlow's  breathing  and,  outside,  the 
sound  of  the  wind  blowing  across  the  bare  land. 

Asleep,  she  dreamed,  as  nearly  always,  about  the  bicycle,  but 

The  Ox  125 

this  time  it  was  Thurlow's  bicycle  and  there  was  something 
strange  about  it.  It  had  no  handles,  but  only  Thurlow's  billhook 
where  the  handles  should  have  been.  She  grasped  the  billhook, 
and  in  her  dream  she  felt  the  pain  of  the  blood  rushing  out  of 
her  hands,  and  she  was  terrified  and  woke  up. 

Immediately  she  put  out  her  hands,  to  touch  Thurlow.  The 
bed  was  empty.  That  scared  her.  She  got  out  of  bed.  'Thurlow ! 
Bill!  Thurlow!  Thurlow!' 

The  wind  had  dropped,  and  it  was  quiet  everywhere.  She 
went  downstairs.  There,  in  the  kitchen,  she  lighted  the  candle 
again  and  looked  round.  She  tried  the  back  door;  it  was  unlocked 
and  she  opened  it  and  looked  out,  feeling  the  small  ground  wind 
icy  on  her  bare  feet. 

'Thurlow ! '  she  said.  'Bill !  Thurlow ! ' 

She  could  hear  nothing,  and  after  about  a  minute  she  went 
back  upstairs.  She  looked  in  at  the  boys'  bedroom.  The  boys 
were  asleep,  and  the  vast  candle  shadow  of  herself  stood  behind 
her  and  listened,  as  it  were,  while  she  listened.  She  went  into 
her  own  bedroom.  Thurlow  was  not  there.  Then  she  went  into 
the  back  bedroom. 

The  mattress  lay  on  the  floor.  And  she  knew,  even  before  she 
began  to  look  for  it,  that  they  money  was  gone.  She  knew  that 
Thurlow  had  taken  it. 

Since  there  was  nothing  else  she  could  do,  she  went  back  to 
bed,  not  to  sleep,  but  to  lie  there,  oppressed  but  never  in  de- 
spondency, thinking.  The  money  had  gone,  Thurlow  had  gone, 
but  it  would  be  all  right.  Just  before  five  she  got  up,  fired  the 
copper,  and  began  the  washing.  At  seven  she  hung  it  out  in 
long  grey  lines  in  the  wintry  grey  light,  holding  the  pegs  like  a 
bit  in  her  teeth.  A  little  after  seven  the  boys  came  down  to  wash 
in  the  scullery. 

'Here,  here!  Mum!  There's  blood  all  over  the  sink!' 

'Your  dad  killed  a  rabbit,'  she  said.  'That's  all.' 

She  lumbered  out  into  the  garden,  to  cut  cabbages.  She  cut 
three  large  cabbages,  put  them  in  a  sack,  and,  as  though  nothing 
had  happened,  began  to  prepare  the  bicycle  for  the  day.  She  tied 
the  cabbages  on  the  carrier,  two  oilcans  on  the  handlebars,  and 
then  on  the  crossbar  a  small  bundle  of  washing,  clean,  which  she 
had  finished  on  Saturday.  That  was  all:  nothing  much  for  a 

126  The  Ox 

At  half-past  seven  the  boys  went  across  the  fields,  by  footpath, 
to  catch  the  bus  for  school.  She  locked  the  house,  and  then, 
huge,  imperturbable,  planting  down  great  feet  in  the  mud,  she 
pushed  the  bicycle  down  the  hill.  She  had  not  gone  a  hundred 
yards  before,  out  of  the  hedge,  two  policemen  stepped  into  the 
road  to  meet  her. 

We  was  wondering  if  Mr  Thurlow  was  in?' 

4No,'  she  said,  'he  ain't  in.' 

'You  ain't  seen  him  ? ' 

'No,  I  ain't  seen  him.' 

'Since  when?' 

'Since  last  night.' 

'You  mind,'  they  said,  'if  we  look  round  your  place?' 

'No,'  she  said,  'you  go  on  up.  I  got  to  git  down  to  Miss  Han- 
ley's.'  She  began  to  push  the  bicycle  forward,  to  go. 

'No,'  they  said.  'You  must  come  back  with  us.' 

So  she  turned  the  bicycle  round  and  pushed  it  back  up  the 
hill  again.  'You  could  leave  your  bike,'  one  of  the  policemen 
said.  'No,'  she  said,  'I'd  better  bring  it.  You  can  never  tell  nowa- 
days what  folk  are  going  to  be  up  to.' 

Up  at  the  house  she  stood  impassively  by  while  the  two 
policemen  searched  the  woodshed,  the  garden,  and  finally  the 
house  itself.  Her  expression  did  not  change  as  they  looked  at  the 
blood  in  the  sink.  'He  washed  his  hands  there  last  night,'  she 

'Don't  touch  it,'  the  policeman  said.  'Don't  touch  it.'  And  then 
suspiciously,  almost  in  implied  accusation:  'You  ain't  touched 
nothing  -  not  since  last  night?' 

'I  got  something  else  to  do,'  she  said. 

'We'd  like  you  to  come  along  with  us,  Mrs  Thurlow,'  they 
said,  'and  answer  a  few  questions.' 

'All  right.'  She  went  outside  and  took  hold  of  her  bicycle. 

'You  can  leave  your  bicycle.' 

'No,'  she  said.  'I'll  take  it.  It's  no  naughty  way,  up  here,  from 
that  village.' 

'We  got  a  car  down  the  road.  You  don't  want  a  bike.' 

'I  better  take  it,'  she  said. 

She  wheeled  the  bicycle  down  the  hill.  When  one  policeman 
had  gone  in  the  car  she  walked  on  with  the  other.  Ponderous, 
flat-footed,  unhurried,  she  looked  as  though  she  could  have  gone 

The  Ox  127 

on  pushing  the  bicycle  in  the  same  direction,  at  the  same  pace, 
for  ever. 

They  kept  her  four  hours  at  the  station.  She  told  them  about 
the  billhook,  the  blood,  the  way  Thurlow  had  come  home  and 
gone  again,  her  waking  in  the  night,  Thurlow  not  being  there, 
the  money  not  being  there. 

'The  money.  How  much  was  there  ? ' 

'Fifty-four  pounds,  sixteen  and  fourpence.  And  twenty-eight 
of  that  in  sovereigns. ' 

In  return  they  told  her  something  else. 

'You  know  that  Thurlow  was  in  the  Black  Horse  from  eleven 
to  two  yesterday?' 

'Yes,  I  dare  say  that's  where  he'd  be.  That's  where  he  always 
is,  Sundays.' 

'He  was  in  the  Black  Horse,  and  for  about  two  hours  he  was 
arguing  with  a  man  stopping  down  here  from  London.  Arguing 
about  that  plate  in  his  head.  The  man  said  he  knew  the  plate  was 
aluminium  and  Thurlow  said  he  knew  it  was  silver.  Thurlow  got 
very  threatening.  Did  you  know  that  ? 

'No.  But  that's  just  like  him.' 

'This  man  hasn't  been  seen  since,  and  Thurlow  hasn't  been 
seen  since.  Except  by  you  last  night.' 

'Do  you  want  me  any  more?'  she  said.  'I  ought  to  have  been  at 
Miss  Hanley's  hours  ago.' 

'You  realise  this  is  very  important,  very  serious?' 

'I  know.  But  how  am  I  going  to  get  Miss  Hanley  in,  and  Mrs 
Acott,  and  then  the  poultry  farm  and  then  Mr  George?' 

'We'll  telephone  Miss  Hanley  and  tell  her  you  can't  go.' 

'The  money,'  she  said.  'That's  what  I  can't  understand.  The 


It  was  the  money  which  brought  her,  without  showing  it,  to 
the  edge  of  distress.  She  thought  of  it  all  day.  She  thought  of  it 
as  hard  cash,  coin,  gold  and  silver,  hard-earned  and  hard-saved. 
But  it  was  also  something  much  more.  It  symbolised  the  future, 
another  life,  two  lives.  It  was  the  future  itself.  If,  as  seemed 
possible,  something  terrible  had  happened  and  a  life  had  been 
destroyed,  it  did  not  seem  to  her  more  terrible  than  the  fact  that 
the  money  had  gone  and  that  the  future  had  been  destroyed. 

128  The  Ox 

As  she  scrubbed  the  floors  at  the  poultry  farm  in  the  late  after- 
noon, the  police  telephoned  for  her  again.  We  can  send  the  car 
for  her/  they  said. 

'I  got  my  bike/  she  said.  'I'll  walk/ 

With  the  oilcans  filled,  and  cabbages  and  clean  washing  now 
replaced  by  newspapers  and  dirty  washing  she  went  back  to  the 
police  station.  She  wheeled  her  bicycle  into  the  lobby  and  they 
then  told  her  how,  that  afternoon,  the  body  of  the  man  from 
London  had  been  found,  in  a  spinney,  killed  by  blows  from  some 
sharp  instrument  like  an  axe.  'We  have  issued  a  warrant  for 
Thurlow's  arrest/  they  said. 

'You  never  found  the  money?'  she  said. 

'No/  they  said.  'No  doubt  that'll  come  all  right  when  we  find 

That  evening,  when  she  got  home,  she  fully  expected  Thurlow 
to  be  there,  as  usual,  splitting  kindling  wood  with  the  billhook, 
in  the  outhouse,  by  candlelight.  The  same  refusal  to  believe  that 
life  could  change  made  her  go  upstairs  to  look  for  the  money. 
The  absence  of  both  Thurlow  and  the  money  moved  her  to  no 
sign  of  emotion.  But  she  was  moved  to  a  decision. 

She  got  out  her  bicycle  and  walked  four  miles,  into  the  next 
village,  to  see  her  brother.  Though  she  did  not  ride  the  bicycle,  it 
seemed  to  her  as  essential  as  ever  that  she  should  take  it  with  her. 
Grasping  its  handles,  she  felt  a  sense  of  security  and  fortitude. 
The  notion  of  walking  without  it,  helplessly,  in  the  darkness,  was 

Her  brother  was  a  master  carpenter,  a  chapel-going  man  of 
straight-grained  thinking  and  purpose,  who  had  no  patience  with 
slovenliness.  He  lived  with  his  wife  and  his  mother  in  a  white- 
painted  electrically-lighted  house  whose  floors  were  covered  with 
scrubbed  coco-matting.  His  mother  was  a  small  woman  with 
shrill  eyes  and  ironed-out  mouth  who  could  not  hear  well. 

Mrs  Thurlow  knocked  on  the  door  of  the  house  as  though 
these  people,  her  mother  and  brother,  were  strangers  to  her.  Her 
brother  came  to  the  door  and  she  said : 

'It's  Lil.  I  come  to  see  if  you'd  seen  anything  o'  Thurlow?' 

'No,  we  ain't  seen  him.  Summat  up  ? ' 

'Who  is  it?'  the  old  woman  called. 

'It's  Lil/  the  brother  said,  in  a  louder  voice.  'She  says  have  we 
seen  anything  o'  Thurlow?' 

The  Ox  129 

'No,  an'  don't  want ! ' 

Mrs  Thurlow  went  in.  For  fifteen  years  her  family  had  openly 
disapproved  of  Thurlow.  She  sat  down  on  the  edge  of  the  chair 
nearest  the  door.  Her  large  lacc-up  boots  made  large  black  mud 
prints  on  the  virgin  coco-matting.  She  saw  her  sister-in-law  look 
first  at  her  boots  and  then  at  her  hat.  She  had  worn  the  same 
boots  and  the  same  hat  for  longer  than  she  herself  could 
remember.  But  her  sister-in-law  remembered. 

She  sat  untroubled,  her  eyes  sullen,  as  though  not  fully  con- 
scious in  the  bright  electric  light.  The  light  showed  up  the  mud 
on  her  skirt,  her  straggling  grey  hair  under  the  shapeless  hat,  the 
edges  of  her  black  coat  weather-faded  to  a  purplish  grey. 

'So  you  ain't  heard  nothing  about  Thurlow?'  she  said. 

'No,'  her  brother  said.  'Be  funny  if  we  had,  wouldn't  it?  He 
ain't  set  foot  in  this  house  since  dad  died.'  He  looked  at  her  hard. 
'Why?  What's  up?' 

She  raised  her  eyes  to  him.  Then  she  lowered  them  again.  It 
was  almost  a  minute  before  she  spoke. 

'Ain't  you  heard?'  she  said.  'They  reckon  he's  done  a  murder.' 

'What's  she  say?'  the  old  lady  said.  'I  never  heard  her.' 

Mrs  Thurlow  looked  dully  at  her  boots,  at  the  surrounding 
expanse  of  coco-matting.  For  some  reason  the  fissured  pattern  of 
the  coco-matting,  so  clean  and  regular,  fascinated  her.  She  said : 
'He  took  all  the  money.  He  took  it  all  and  they  can't  find 

'Eh?  What's  she  say?  What's  she  mumbling  about?' 

The  brother,  his  face  white,  went  over  to  the  old  woman.  He 
said  into  her  ear:  'One  of  the  boys  is  won  a  scholarship,  She 
come  over  to  tell  us.' 

'Want  summat  to  do,  I  should  think,  don't  she  ?  Traipsing  over 
here  to  tell  us  that.' 

The  man  sat  down  at  the  table.  He  was  very  white,  his  hands 
shaking.  His  wife  sat  with  the  same  dumb,  shaking  expression  of 
shock.  Mrs  Thurlow  raised  her  eyes  from  the  floor.  It  was  as 
though  she  had  placed  on  them  the  onus  of  some  terrible  re- 

'For  God's  sake,'  the  man  said,  'when  did  it  happen?' 

Ail  Mrs  Thurlow  could  think  of  was  the  money.  'Over  fifty 
pounds.  I  got  it  hid  under  the  mattress.  I  don't  know  how  he 
could  have  found  out  about  it.  I  don't  know.  I  can't  think.  It's 

130  The  Ox 

all  I  got.  I  got  it  for  the  boys.'  She  paused,  pursing  her  lips  to- 
gether, squeezing  back  emotion.  'It's  about  the  boys  I  come.' 

'The  boys?'  The  brother  looked  up,  scared  afresh.  'He  ain't  - 

'I  didn't  know  whether  you'd  have  them  here,'  she  said.  'Till 
it's  blowed  over.  Till  they  find  Thurlow.  Till  things  are 
straightened  out.' 

'Then  they  ain't  found  him  ? ' 

'No.  He's  done  a  bunk.  They  say  as  soon  as  they  find  him  I 
shall  git  the  money.' 

'Yes,'  the  brother  said.  'We'll  have  them  here.' 

She  stayed  a  little  longer,  telling  the  story  dully,  flatly,  to  the 
scared  pairs  of  eyes  across  the  table  and  to  the  old  shrill  eyes, 
enraged  because  they  could  not  understand,  regarding  her  from 
the  fireplace.  An  hour  after  she  had  arrived,  she  got  up  to  go. 
Her  brother  said :  'Let  me  run  you  back  in  the  car.  I  got  a  car 
now.  Had  it  three  or  four  months.  I'll  run  you  back.' 

'No,  I  got  my  bike,'  she  said. 

She  pushed  the  bicycle  home  in  the  darkness.  At  home,  in  the 
kitchen,  the  two  boys  were  making  a  rabbit  hutch.  She  saw  that 
they  had  something  of  her  brother's  zeal  for  handling  wood.  She 
saw  that  their  going  to  him  would  be  a  good  thing.  He  was  a  man 
who  had  got  on  in  the  world:  she  judged  him  by  the  car,  the 
white-painted  house,  the  electric  light,  the  spotless  coco-matting. 
She  saw  the  boys,  with  deep  but  inexpressible  pride,  going  to  the 
same  height,  beyond  it. 

'Dad  ain't  been  home,'  they  said. 

She  told  them  there  had  been  a  little  trouble.  'They  think  your 
dad  took  some  money.'  She  explained  how  it  would  be  better  for 
them,  and  for  her,  if  they  went  to  stay  with  her  brother.  'Git  to 
bed  now  and  I'll  get  your  things  packed.' 

'You  mean  we  gotta  go  and  live  there?' 

'For  a  bit,'  she  said. 

They  were  excited.  'We  could  plane  the  wood  for  the  rabbit 
hutch ! '  they  said.  'Make  a  proper  job  of  it.' 


That  night,  and  again  on  the  following  morning,  she  looked 
under  the  mattress  for  the  money.  In  the  morning  the  boys  de- 

The  Ox  131 

parted.  She  was  slightly  depressed,  slightly  relieved  by  their 
excitement.  When  they  had  gone  she  bundled  the  day's  washing 
together  and  tied  it  on  the  bicycle.  She  noticed,  then,  that  the 
back  tyre  had  a  slow  puncture,  that  it  was  already  almost  flat. 
This  worried  her.  She  pumped  up  the  tyre  and  felt  a  little  more 

Then,  as  she  prepared  to  push  the  bicycle  down  the  hill,  she 
saw  the  police  car  coming  along  the  road  at  the  bottom.  Two 
policemen  hurried  up  the  track  to  meet  her. 

'We  got  Thurlow,'  they  said.  'We'd  like  you  to  come  to  the 

'Is  he  got  the  money?'  she  said. 

'There  hasn't  been  time,'  they  said,  'to  go  into  that.' 

As  on  the  previous  morning  she  pushed  her  bicycle  to  the 
village,  walking  with  one  policeman  while  the  other  drove  on  in 
the  car.  Of  Thurlow  she  said  very  little.  Now  and  then  she 
stopped  and  stooped  to  pinch  the  back  tyre  of  the  bicycle.  'Like 
I  thought.  I  got  a  slow  puncture,'  she  would  say.  'Yes,  it's  gone 
down  since  I  blowed  it  up.  I  s'li  have  to  leave  it  at  the  bike  shop 
as  we  go  by.' 

Once  she  asked  the  policeman  if  he  thought  that  Thurlow  had 
the  money.  He  said,  'I'm  afraid  he's  done  something  more  serious 
than  taking  money.' 

She  pondered  over  this  statement  with  dull  astonishment. 
More  serious?  She  knew  that  nothing  could  be  more  serious.  To 
her  the  money  was  like  a  huge  and  irreplaceable  section  of  her 
life.  It  was  part  of  herself,  bone  and  flesh,  blood  and  sweat. 
Nothing  could  replace  it.  Nothing,  she  knew  with  absolute 
finality,  could  mean  so  much. 

In  the  village  she  left  the  bicycle  at  the  cycle  shop.  Walking  on 
without  it,  she  lumbered  dully  from  side  to  side,  huge  and  un- 
steady, as  though  lost.  From  the  cycle-shop  window  the  repairer 
squinted  after  her,  excited.  Other  people  looked  from  other 
windows  as  she  lumbered  past,  always  a  pace  or  two  behind  the 
policeman,  her  ill-shaped  feet  painfully  set  down.  At  the  entrance 
to  the  police  station  there  was  a  small  crowd.  She  went  heavily 
into  the  station.  Policemen  were  standing  about  in  a  room.  An 
inspector,  many  papers  in  his  hand,  spoke  to  her.  She  listened 
heavily.  She  looked  about  for  a  sign  of  Thurlow.  The  inspector 
said,  with  kindness,  'Your  husband  is  not  here.'  She  felt  a  sense 

132  The  Ox 

of  having  been  cheated.  'They  are  detaining  him  at  Metford.  We 
are  going  over  there  now/ 

'You  know  anything  about  the  money  V  she  said. 

Five  minutes  later  she  drove  away,  with  the  inspector  and  two 
other  policemen,  in  a  large  black  car.  Travelling  fast,  she  felt 
herself  hurled,  as  it  were,  beyond  herself.  Mind  and  body 
seemed  separated,  her  thoughts  numbed.  As  the  car  entered  the 
town,  slowing  down,  she  looked  out  of  the  side  windows,  saw 
posters:  'Metford  Murder  Arrest.'  People,  seeing  policemen  in 
the  car,  gaped.  'Murder  Sensation  Man  Detained.' 

Her  mind  registered  impressions  gravely  and  confusedly. 
People  and  posters  were  swept  away  from  her  and  she  was  con- 
scious of  their  being  replaced  by  other  people,  the  police  station, 
corridors  in  the  station,  walls  of  brown  glazed  brick,  fresh  faces, 
a  room,  desks  covered  with  many  papers,  eyes  looking  at  her,  box 
files  in  white  rows  appearing  also  to  look  at  her,  voices  talking  to 
her,  an  arm  touching  her,  a  voice  asking  her  to  sit  down. 

'I  have  to  tell  you,  Mrs  Thurlow,  that  we  have  detained  your 
husband  on  a  charge  of  murder.' 

'He  say  anything  about  the  money?' 

'He  has  made  a  statement.  In  a  few  minutes  he  will  be  charged 
and  then  remanded  for  further  inquiries.  You  are  at  liberty  to 
see  him  for  a  few  moments  if  you  would  like  to  do  so.' 

In  a  few  moments  she  was  standing  in  a  cell,  looking  at  Thur- 
low. He  looked  at  her  as  though  he  did  not  know  what  had  hap- 
pened. His  eyes  were  lumps  of  impressionless  glass.  He  stood 
with  long  arms  loose  at  his  sides.  For  some  reason  he  looked 
strange,  foreign,  not  himself.  It  was  more  than  a  minute  before 
she  realised  why  this  was.  Then  she  saw  that  he  was  wearing  a 
new  suit.  It  was  a  grey  suit,  thick,  ready-made,  and  the  sleeves 
were  too  short  for  him.  They  hung  several  inches  above  his  thick 
protuberant  wrist  bones,  giving  his  hands  a  look  of  inert  defeat. 

'You  got  the  money,  ain't  you?'  she  said.  'You  got  it?' 

He  looked  at  her.  'Money  ? ' 

'The  money  you  took.  The  money  under  the  mattress.' 

He  stared  at  her.  Money?  He  looked  at  her  with  a  faint  ex- 
pression of  appeal.  Money.  He  continued  to  stare  at  her  with 
complete  blankness.  Money? 

'You  remember,'  she  said.  'The  money  under  the  mattress/ 


The  Ox  133 

'The  money.  That  money.  Don't  you  remember  ?' 

He  shook  his  head. 

After  some  moments  she  went  out  of  the  cell.  She  carried  out 
with  her  the  sense  of  Thurlow's  defeat  as  she  saw  it  expressed  in 
the  inert  hands,  the  dead,  stupefied  face,  and  his  vacant  in- 
ability to  remember  anything.  She  heard  the  court  proceedings 
without  interest  or  emotion.  She  was  oppressed  by  a  sense  of  in- 
creasing bewilderment,  a  feeling  that  she  was  lost.  She  was 
stormed  by  impressions  she  did  not  understand.  'I  do  not  pro- 
pose to  put  in  a  statement  at  this  juncture.  I  ask  for  a  remand 
until  the  sixteenth/  'Remand  granted.  Clear  the  court.' 

This  effect  of  being  stormed  by  impressions  continued  outside 
the  court,  as  she  drove  away  again  in  the  car.  People.  Many 
faces.  Cameras.  More  faces.  Posters.  The  old  sensation  of  mind 
severed  from  body,  of  thoughts  numbed.  In  the  village,  when  the 
car  stopped,  there  were  more  impressions:  more  voices,  more 
people,  a  feeling  of  suppressed  excitement.  'We  will  run  you 
home/  the  policemen  said. 

'No/  she  said.  'I  got  my  cleaning  to  do.  I  got  to  pick  up  my 

She  fetched  the  bicycle  and  wheeled  it  slowly  through  the  vil- 
lage. People  looked  at  her,  seemed  surprised  to  see  her  in  broad 
daylight,  made  gestures  as  though  they  wished  to  speak,  and  then 
went  on.  Grasping  the  handles  of  the  bicycle,  she  felt  a  return 
of  security,  almost  of  comfort.  The  familiar  smooth  handlebars 
hard  against  her  hands  had  the  living  response  of  other  hands. 
They  brought  back  her  sense  of  reality :  Miss  Hanley,  the  clean- 
ing, the  poultry  farm,  the  time  she  had  lost,  the  boys,  the  money, 
the  fact  that  something  terrible  had  happened,  the  monumental 
fact  of  Thurlow's  face,  inert  and  dead,  with  its  lost  sense  of  re 

Oppressed  by  a  sense  of  duty,  she  did  her  cleaning  as  though 
nothing  had  happened.  People  were  very  kind  to  her.  Miss 
Hanley  made  tea,  the  retired  photographer  would  have  run  her 
home  in  his  car.  She  was  met  everywhere  by  tender,  remote 
words  of  comfort. 

She  pushed  home  her  bicycle  in  the  darkness.  At  Miss  Han- 
ley's  at  the  poultry  farm,  at  the  various  places  where  she 
worked,  the  thought  of  the  money  had  been  partially  set  aside 
Now,   alone  again,  she  felt  the  force  of  its  importance  more 

134  The  Ox 

strongly,  with  the  beginnings  of  bitterness.  In  the  empty  house 
she  worked  for  several  hours  by  candlelight,  washing,  folding, 
ironing.  About  the  house  the  vague  noises  of  wind  periodically 
resolved  themselves  into  what  she  believed  for  a  moment  were  the 
voices  of  the  two  boys.  She  thought  of  the  boys  with  calm  un- 
happiness,  and  the  thought  of  them  brought  back  with  renewed 
force  the  thought  of  the  money.  This  thought  hung  over  her 
with  the  huge  preponderance  of  her  own  shadow  projected  on 
the  ceiling  above  her. 

On  the  following  Sunday  afternoon  she  sat  in  the  empty 
kitchen,  as  usual,  and  read  the  stale  newspapers.  But  now  they 
recorded,  not  the  unreal  lives  of  other  people,  but  the  life  of 
Thurlow  and  herself.  She  saw  Thurlow's  photograph.  She  read 
the  same  story  told  in  different  words  in  different  papers.  In  all 
the  stories  there  was  an  absence  of  all  mention  of  the  only  thing 
that  mattered.  There  was  no  single  word  about  the  money. 

During  the  next  few  weeks  much  happened,  but  she  did  not 
lose  the  belief  that  the  money  was  coming  back  to  her.  Nothing 
could  touch  the  hard  central  core  of  her  optimism.  She  saw  the 
slow  evolution  of  circumstances  about  Thurlow  as  things  of  sub- 
sidiary importance,  the  loss  of  the  life  he  had  taken  and  the  loss 
of  his  own  life  as  things  which,  terrible  in  themselves,  seemed 
less  terrible  than  the  loss  of  ideals  built  up  by  her  sweat  and 

She  knew,  gradually,  that  Thurlow  was  doomed,  that  it  was 
all  over.  She  did  not  know  what  to  do.  Her  terror  seemed  remote, 
muffled,  in  some  way  incoherent.  She  pushed  the  bicycle  back 
and  forth  each  day  in  the  same  ponderous  manner  as  ever,  her 
heavy  feet  slopping  dully  beside  it. 

When  she  saw  Thurlow  for  the  last  time  his  face  had  not 
changed,  one  way  or  the  other,  from  its  fixed  expression  of  de- 
feat. Defeat  was  cemented  into  it  with  imperishable  finality.  She 
asked  him  about  the  money  for  the  last  time. 


'The  money.  You  took  it.  What  you  do  with  it?  That  money. 
Under  the  mattress/  For  the  first  time  she  showed  some  sign  of 
desperation.  'Please,  what  you  done  with  it?  That  money.  My 

'Eh?'  And  she  knew  that  he  could  not  remember. 

The  Ox  135 


A  day  later  it  was  all  over.  Two  days  later  she  pushed  the 
bicycle  the  four  miles  to  the  next  village,  to  see  her  brother.  It 
was  springtime,  time  for  the  boys  to  come  back  to  her.  Pushing 
the  bicycle  in  the  twilight,  she  felt  she  was  pushing  forward  into 
the  future.  She  had  some  dim  idea,  heavily  dulled  by  the  sense 
of  Thurlow's  death,  that  the  loss  of  the  money  was  not  now  so 
great.  Money  is  money;  death  is  death;  the  living  are  the  living 
The  living  were  the  future.  The  thought  of  the  boys'  return 
filled  her  with  hopes  for  the  future,  undated  hopes,  but  quite 
real,  strong  enough  to  surmount  the  loss  of  both  Thurlow  and 

At  her  brother's  they  had  nothing  to  say.  They  sat,  the 
brother,  the  mother,  and  the  sister-in-law,  and  looked  at  her  with 
eyes  over  which,  as  it  were,  the  blinds  had  been  drawn. 

'The  boys  here?'  she  said. 

'They're  making  a  bit  of  a  wheelbarrow.' 

'They  all  right?' 

'Yes.'  He  wetted  his  lips.  His  clean-planed  mind  had  been 
scarred  by  events  as  though  by  a  mishandled  tool.  'They  don't 
know  nothing.  We  kept  it  from  'em.  They  ain't  been  to  school 
and  they  ain't  seen  no  papers.  They  think  he's  in  jail  for  stealing 

She  looked  at  him,  dully.  'Stealing  money?  That's  what  he 
did  do.  That  money  I  told  you  about.  That  money  I  had  under 
the  mattress.' 

'Well,'  he  said  slowly,  'it's  done  now.' 

'What  did  he  do  with  it?'  she  said.  'What  d'ye  reckon  he  done 
with  it?' 

He  looked  at  her  quickly,  unable  suddenly  to  restrain  his 
anger.  'Done  with  it?  What  d'ye  suppose  he  done  with  it?  Spent 
it.  Threw  it  away.  Boozed  it.  What  else?  You  know  what 
he  was  like.  You  knew!  You  had  your  eyes  open.  You  knew 

'Will,  Will,'  his  wife  said. 

He  was  silent.  The  old  lady  said:  'Eh?  What's  that?  What's 
the  matter  now?' 

The  brother  said,  in  a  loud  voice,  'Nothing.'  Then  more 
softly:  'She  don't  know  everything.' 

136  The  Ox 

'I  came  to  take  the  boys  back/  Mrs  Thurlow  said. 

He  was  silent  again.  He  wetted  his  lips.  He  struck  a  match  on 
the  warm  fire-hob.  It  spurted  into  a  sudden  explosion,  igniting  of 
its  own  volition.  He  seemed  startled.  He  put  the  match  to  his 
pipe,  let  it  go  out. 

He  looked  at  Mrs  Thurlow,  the  dead  match  in  his  hands.  'The 
boys  ain't  coming  back  no  more/  he  said. 

'Eh?'  she  said.  She  was  stunned.  'They  ain't  what?' 

'They  don't  want  to  come  back/  he  said. 

She  did  not  understand.  She  could  not  speak.  Very  slowly  he 

it's  natural  they  don't  want  to  come  back.  I  know  it's  hard. 
But  it's  natural.  They're  getting  on  well  here.  They  want  to  stop 
here.  They're  good  boys.  I  could  take  'em  into  the  business.' 

She  heard  him  go  on  without  hearing  the  individual  words. 
He  broke  off,  his  face  relieved  -  like  a  man  who  has  liquidated 
some  awful  obligation. 

'They're  my  boys/  she  said.  'They  got  a  right  to  say  what  they 
shall  do  and  what  they  shan't  do.' 

She  spoke  heavily,  without  bitterness. 

'I  know  that/  he  said.  'That's  right.  They  got  a  right  to  speak. 
You  want  to  hear  what  they  got  to  say?' 

'Yes,  I  want  to/  she  said. 

Her  sister-in-law  went  out  into  the  yard  at  the  back  of  the 
house.  Soon  voices  drew  nearer  out  of  the  darkness  and  the  two 
boys  came  in. 

'Hullo/  she  said. 

'Hello,  Mum/  they  said. 

'Your  Mum's  come/  the  carpenter  said,  'to  see  if  you  want  to 
go  back  with  her.' 

The  two  boys  stood  silent,  awkward,  eyes  glancing  past  her. 

'You  want  to  go?'  the  carpenter  said.  'Or  do  you  want  to  stay 

'Here/  the  elder  boy  said.  'We  want  to  stop  here.' 

'You're  sure  o'  that?' 

'Yes/  the  other  said. 

Mrs  Thurlow  stood  silent.  She  could  think  of  nothing  to  say 
in  protest  or  argument  or  persuasion.  Nothing  she  could  say 
would,  she  felt,  give  expression  to  the  inner  part  of  herself,  the 
crushed  core  of  optimism  and  faith. 

The  Ox  137 

She  stood  at  the  door,  looking  back  at  the  boys.  'You  made  up 
your   minds,   then?'   she   said.   They   did   not  speak. 

'I'll  run  you  home,'  her  brother  said. 

'No,'  she  said.  'I  got  my  bike/ 

She  went  out  of  the  house  and  began  to  push  the  bicycle 
slowly  home  in  the  darkness.  She  walked  with  head  down, 
lumbering  painfully,  as  though  direction  did  not  matter.  Where- 
as, coming,  she  had  seemed  to  be  pushing  forward  into  the 
future,  she  now  felt  as  if  she  were  pushing  forward  into  no- 

After  a  mile  or  so  she  heard  a  faint  hissing  from  the  back 
tyre.  She  stopped,  pressing  the  tyre  with  her  hand.  'It's  slow,' 
she  thought;  'it'll  last  me.'  She  pushed  forward.  A  little  later  it 
seemed  to  her  that  the  hissing  got  worse.  She  stopped  again,  and 
again  felt  the  tyre  with  her  hand.  It  was  softer  now,  almost  flat. 

She  unscrewed  the  pump  and  put  a  little  air  in  the  tyre  and 
went  on.  'I  better  stop  at  the  shop,'  she  thought,  'and  have  it 

In  the  village  the  cycle-shop  was  already  in  darkness.  She 
pushed  past  it.  As  she  came  to  the  hill  leading  up  to  the  house 
she  lifted  her  head  a  little.  It  seemed  to  her  suddenly  that  the 
house,  outlined  darkly  above  the  dark  hill,  was  a  long  way  off 
She  had  for  one  moment  an  impression  that  she  would  never 
reach  it. 

She  struggled  up  the  hill.  The  mud  of  the  track  seemed  to 
suck  at  her  great  boots  and  hold  her  down.  The  wheels  of  the 
bicycle  seemed  as  if  they  would  not  turn,  and  she  could  hear  the 
noise  of  the  air  dying  once  again  in  the  tyre. 


Colonel  Julian  lay  in  the  sun.  By  pressing  down  his  hands  so 
that  the  bony  knuckles  touched  the  dusty  hot  lead  of  the  balcony 
floor  he  could  raise  himself  up  just  enough  to  look  through  the 
openings  of  the  stone  balustrade  to  where  the  deep  ring  of 
rhododendrons  broke  and  revealed,  across  fields  of  oak-brown 
corn,  the  line  of  the  sea. 

The  balcony  was  built  above  the  portico  of  the  house,  facing 
southward.  Beyond  the  rhododendrons,  quite  flowerless  now, 
dark  without  that  Indian  glory  the  Colonel  loved,  he  could  see 
also  his  only  gardener  cutting  with  a  horse-mower  the  wild  outer 
fringe  of  lawn,  and  he  could  smell  the  sweet,  light  fragrance  of 
it  drying  in  the  August  heat.  The  terrace,  the  gardener,  the  horse 
and  the  sun  were  almost  all  that  was  left  to  him  of  his  life  before 
the  war.  Not,  he  often  reflected,  that  they  were  very  much  good 
to  him.  He  could  no  longer  ride  the  horse,  and  the  gardener  was 
a  witless  sort  of  bounder  who  abused  him  to  his  face  and  raided 
his  tobacco  jar  behind  his  back.  That  left  him  only  the  terrace, 
and,  if  he  were  lucky,  the  sun.  All  the  rest  had  long  since  been 
given  up  to  what  he  always  called  the  young  Air  Force  gentle- 
men. They  had  long  ago  invaded  the  solitude,  broken  the  silence 
and  recoloured,  sometimes  excitingly,  the  grey  privacy  of  a  house 
that  was,  anyway,  too  large  for  one  old  man.  All  that  remained 
to  him  now  was  a  single  room  above  the  stables,  and,  by  a  purely 
compassionate  arrangement,  the  terrace  in  the  sun.  The  young 
men  filled  all  the  rest  of  the  place  with  their  eating  and  drinking, 
their  laughter  and  their  language  that  he  could  never  quite 
understand,  and  he  in  turn  had  lain  for  four  years  in  the  sun, 
whenever  there  was  any  sun,  and  watched  the  faces  of  them 
come  and  go. 

He  had  not  been  very  lucky  with  the  sun  since  invasion  day. 
The  papers  were  saying  that  it  was  the  worst  summer  for  forty 
years.  Cold  gales  had  swept  down  from  the  north  in  June,  break- 
ing the  oats  into  shabby  and  forlorn  wreckage  and  burning  the 
tender  leaves  of  the  limes.  The  Colonel,  who  felt  the  cold  easily 


Colonel  Julian  139 

and  bitterly,  lit  the  gas-fire  in  his  room  in  the  evenings,  or  sat  on 
the  balcony  with  his  overcoat  on  and  read  over  and  over  again 
the  invasion  news  in  the  papers.  After  the  first  few  days  there 
was  very  little  flying  and  he  began  to  feel  depressed  by  having  to 
look  so  often  at  a  sky  without  planes.  It  seemed  as  if  the  cloud 
was  solid,  unchanged  by  turns  of  wind,  and  dark  over  the  whole 
world.  Ten-tenths,  the  boys  called  it:  which  seemed  a  curious 
sort  of  arithmetical  and  more  difficult  way  of  saying  complete,  he 

But  then  he  had  no  knowledge  at  all  of  the  language  of 
modern  war;  he  had  lost  touch  with  its  progress;  at  eighty- three 
he  had  fallen  a  long  way  behind.  The  young  men  who  came  and 
talked  to  him  in  the  garden  and  even  on  the  balcony  talked  to 
him  constantly  in  a  language  which  it  seemed  to  him  made  no 
sense  at  all.  He  discovered  in  himself  a  depressing  and  uneasy 
ignorance  as  they  talked  of  kites  and  pieces  of  cake,  of  a  shaky 
do  and  a  very  curious  situation  in  which  they  informed  you  that 
you  had  had  it.  The  Colonel  did  not  know  where  all  this  had 
sprung  from.  Language  in  his  day  had  been  rather  a  pompous 
affair,  perhaps  rather  puerile,  but  he  felt  that  at  least  you  could 
understand  it.  He  did  not  understand  this  other  at  all.  He  felt 
sometimes  like  a  small  boy  left  out  in  the  cold,  not  yet  initiated 
into  the  secret  of  the  games  of  older  boys. 

And  yet  he  liked  talking  to  them.  He  liked  it  very  much;  per- 
haps more  than  he  cared  to  say.  On  the  few  days  when  flying 
began  again  he  found  himself  alone  on  the  balcony  all  day  in  the 
sun,  bored  with  the  remote  contents  of  newspapers,  missing  the 
immediate  touch  that  he  got  from  talking  with  men  who  perhaps 
only  an  hour  before  had  been  over  the  battlefield. 

That  also  was  a  thing  he  could  not  get  used  to.  In  his  day  you 
went  off  to  war  after  a  series  of  stern  farewells;  you  lived  a  life 
of  monastic  remoteness  somewhere  on  a  damnable  plain  in  India, 
or  you  went  to  the  northern  hills  and  were  cut  off  for  some 
months  at  a  time.  Or  if  there  were  no  war  you  went  pig-hunting 
or  you  had  furlough,  and  if  you  liked  that  sort  of  thing  you 
arranged  something  unofficially  pleasant  in  the  way  of  women. 
You  needed  the  hide  of  a  pig  yourself  not  to  be  affected  by  all 
this,  and  you  did  in  fact  come  back  with  that  sort  of  hide,  sun- 
brown  or  yellow  and  as  harsh  as  rind.  You  looked  like  a  soldier. 
But  nowadays  these  young  fellows  flew  out  and  put  the  fear  of 

140  Colonel  Julian 

God  into  what  they  called  a  gaggle  of  Wolfers  or  a  bunch  of 
tanks  at  four-thirty  in  the  afternoon,  and  at  seven  they  were 
lying  in  the  hay  with  a  young  woman  or  drinking  gin  in  the  local 
bar.  For  some  reason  or  other  they  hadn't  any  kind  of  soldierly 
look  about  them,  either.  He  had  looked  almost  in  vain  for  a 
martial  type.  He  sometimes  saw  instead  a  touch  of  almost 
feminine  dreaminess  about  some  of  them.  They  were  very  quiet 
sometimes  and  had  long-seeing  eyes  that  seemed  to  be  dreaming 
in  planetary  distances.  They  were  boyishly  hilarious  and  laughed 
fantastically  behind  quite  impossibly  undipped  moustaches. 
There  was  none  of  that  heroic  stuff  at  all. 

He  spread  out  his  fingers  loosely  in  the  sun.  The  weather  had 
changed  at  last.  Now  he  could  feel  the  heat  stinging  up  through 
his  fingers  from  the  lead.  It  was  the  sort  of  heat  he  loved;  it 
seemed  to  burn  him  to  the  bone.  It  was  now  about  twelve  o'clock 
and  if  he  were  lucky  one  of  the  young  night-fliers  who  slept  all 
morning  would  be  waking  up  now  and  would  come  up  to  talk  to 
him  before  lunch.  The  war  was  going  very  well  at  last,  and  there 
had  arisen  another  of  those  curious  situations  in  which  the  night- 
fliers  now  talked  of  beating  the  daylights  out  of  Jerry. 

He  sat  for  another  ten  minutes  or  so  alone,  listening  to  the 
clap-racket  of  the  horse-mower  and  the  soft  wind  that  lifted 
gently  up  and  down,  in  slow  dark  swells,  the  flat  branches  of 
two  cedars  on  the  lawn.  He  felt  the  sun  beating  not  only  into  his 
fingers  but  down  through  the  closed  lids  of  his  eyes,  which 
seemed  transparent  in  the  vertical  light.  Then  he  heard  sounds  in 
the  bedroom  that  opened  out  on  to  the  balcony  and  the  voice 
of  one  of  the  young  men  saying  'Good  morning,  sir,'  and  he 
opened  his  eyes  to  see  Pallister,  one  of  the  night-pilots,  standing 
there  quite  naked  except  for  a  pink- and- white  towel  round  his 

'Ah,  young  fellow,'  he  said. 

Pallister  danced  from  one  foot  to  another  on  the  hot  lead  of 
the  balcony,  and  then  dropped  the  towel  and  stood  on  it.  His 
body  was  brown  all  over,  a  sort  of  light  buttery  brown,  except 
for  paler  islands  of  skin  on  the  inner  flanks  of  his  thighs.  The 
Colonel  knew  all  about  those  islands.  The  skin  from  them  had 
been  used  to  re-cover  the  burnt  lids  of  the  boy's  eyes. 

The  Colonel  watched  Pallister  spread  out  the  towel  and  then 
sit  on  it,  cross-legged,  like  one  of  the  Indian  boys  the  Colonel  so 

Colonel  Julian  141 

clearly  remembered.  The  boy  sighed  and  screwed  up  his  eyes  and 
put  on  a  pair  of  dark  glasses. 

'Too  hot  for  you  ? '  the  Colonel  said. 

'I  just  can't  have  enough  of  that  sun  soak  into  me/  the  boy  said. 

'It's  certainly  very  beautiful,'  the  Colonel  said. 

He  wanted  to  talk  about  the  war;  to  get  that  intimate  touch  of 
fire  no  newspaper  ever  gave.  But  Pallister,  behind  dark  glasses, 
looked  remote  and  anonymous.  He  was  cut  off  from  him,  and  the 
Colonel  lost  for  some  moments  the  friendliness  of  the  young  face. 

But  after  a  time  he  got  used  to  the  dark  glasses;  he  concen- 
trated on  the  lips  of  the  boy  instead.  They,  too,  were  friendly, 
and  unlike  the  eyes  had  never  been  burnt  out  of  the  shape  of 
youth.  They  had  sometimes  a  way  of  looking  very  cynical  that 
only  made  them  more  youthful  still. 

'Well,'  the  Colonel  said,  'what  is  it  like  over  there?' 

He  supposed  he  always  asked  that.  He  could  think  of  no  other 
way  of  beginning. 

'Oh!  It's  a  bloody  ramping  mess,'  the  boy  said.  'Looks  like 

'Even  at  night?'  the  Colonel  said.  He  wondered  how  even  the 
August  moon  showed  this  rampant  detail. 

'Oh!  It  was  light  already  when  I  was  coming  back,'  the  boy 
said.  'There  was  a  bit  of  a  doings.' 

'Shoot  something  down?' 

'Up,'  the  boy  said.  'Road  stuff.  And  a  Ju.88  down.  Piece  of 

'Tell  me  about  it.' 

'Oh !  They  hadn't  a  clue.  It  was  just  a  hell  of  a  nice  bang  on 
the  ground  and  hell  of  a  nicer  bang  upstairs,'  the  boy  said.  'Very 
smooth  do.' 

The  boy  grinned  as  he  spoke,  and  the  Colonel  got  the  impres- 
sion of  an  idol,  darkly  eyeless,  laughing  up  into  the  sun.  The 
severance  of  the  lips  from  the  black-glassed  eyes  was  so  complete 
as  to  be  unreal  and  in  a  way  almost  hideous.  The  eyes  in  their 
unalive  darkness  were  for  the  Colonel  the  symbol  of  the  fact  that 
there  had  been  a  time,  only  a  summer  ago,  when  the  boy  had 
really  been  eyeless  and  for  many  months  nearly  dead.  It  had 
happened  that  flak  over  Denmark  had  hit  something  in  the  Mos- 
quito, the  Colonel  thought  perhaps  the  pyrotechnics,  and  had 
driven  white  whirlwinds  of  flame  down  through  the  aircraft  with 

142  Colonel  Julian 

terrible  fury  that  could  not  be  stopped.  It  burnt  the  face  of  the 
boy  for  a  few  moments  as  the  heat  of  a  blow-lamp  burns  off  the 
skin  of  old  paint.  The  boy  had  heard  himself  screaming  against 
the  death  that  was  coming  up  to  seize  him  with  a  terror  that 
made  a  lacerating  shriek  throughout  the  whole  of  his  body.  In- 
stantaneously he  was  dead  but  alive:  the  death  living  and  tor- 
turous in  a  second  of  screaming  flame  before  its  hellish  extinc- 
tion of  him.  He  knew  in  this  awful  interval  what  it  was  to  be 
burning  alive;  to  be  dying  and  to  be  aware;  to  be  aware  and  to 
be  quite  helpless.  The  flame  leapt  up  for  an  awful  and  final 
moment  of  savage  agony  and  slit  the  light  out  of  his  eyes  and  left 
the  light  of  his  body  and  the  terror  of  his  mind  completely  dead. 

He  did  not  know  quite  what  happened  after  that.  The  flame 
went  out  into  darkness.  It  seemed  never  to  have  happened;  there 
seemed  never  to  have  been  a  flame.  He  was  afterwards  told  that 
for  a  long  time  he  did  not  utter  a  sound;  but  he  had  a  fanciful 
and  private  impression  of  talking  the  whole  time.  It  was  also 
quite  real;  an  impression  of  repeating  to  himself  a  frenzied 
catechism;  '1  can  see,  I  can  see,  I  can  see/  And  then:  'I  will  see, 
I  will  see,  God !  I  will  see ! '  Then  it  appeared  that  at  last  he  did 
begin  talking  and  did  amazing  things  in  the  way  of  instructing 
Jackson,  his  observer,  to  fly  the  aircraft.  He  was  reported  as 
being  nervously  and  consciously  active  over  the  whole  seaward 
course,  and  that,  among  other  details,  he  kept  naming  the  stars. 
He  had  again  the  private  and  absolute  conviction  that  all  this  was 
nonsense.  He  had  never  talked  at  all.  He  knew  that  he  was  not 
even  very  good  at  naming  the  stars.  He  was  quite  certain  about 
these  things.  And  yet  it  was  quite  certain  also  that  Jackson  had 
flown  the  aircraft  home  and  could  only  have  done  so  under  his 
advice.  As  he  struggled  afterwards  to  get  at  the  truth  of  the  long 
darkness  that  had  succeeded  the  catastrophic  moment  of  white 
flame,  in  which  he  was  living  and  yet  also  dead,  he  fell  back  on 
the  simple  defence  against  terror  that  was  its  own  dissolution.  It 
was  just  one  of  those  things. 

There  followed  about  nine  months  in  hospitals.  The  Colonel, 
who  was  still  staring  at  the  boy  and  trying  to  get  himself  into  a 
state  when  he  could  talk  easily  beyond  what  were  always  the  first 
moments  of  embarrassment,  knew  all  about  that  time.  Sometimes 
the  boy  talked  very  well.  Even  then  the  Colonel  got  the  impres- 
sion that,  as  often  as  not,  he  did  not  talk  to  him.  He  lay  flat  on 

Colonel  Julian  143 

his  back,  perfectly  naked,  outstretched  and  very  brown  except 
for  white  patches  on  the  inner  flanks  of  his  thighs,  and  simply 
talked  upward  to  the  sun.  He  talked  quite  rapidly,  giving  no 
other  sign  of  his  high-pitched  nervousness  except  that  he 
drummed  his  fingers  restlessly  on  the  lead  of  the  balcony.  It 
might  have  been,  the  Colonel  thought,  that  he  was  sometimes 
very  much  afraid.  In  a  laconic  and  careless  sort  of  way  he  talked 
of  the  miracles  they  had  done  to  him  in  hospital.  The  Colonel, 
simply  by  sheer  repetition,  got  to  know  some  part  of  the  surgical 
language  of  them:  things  like  scarlet  mercurochrome,  Tierch 
grafts,  pre- anaesthetic  injections  and  God  knew  what.  He  heard 
how  those  grafts  had  left  the  boy  for  some  time  looking  like  a 
young  cuckoo,  his  face  a  mess  of  puffed  sewing  that  had  a  foul 
baldness  not  yet  touched  by  sun.  He  had  heard  of  physio- 
therapy and  occupational  therapy,  and  how,  at  last,  the  boy  had 
come  out  of  it,  less  shocking  to  look  at  than  he  had  feared,  with 
the  fierce  light  of  living  in  him,  and  able  to  see. 

Then  the  miracle  of  it  all  had  almost  been  lost.  It  appeared 
from  the  livid  language  of  the  boy,  who  could  out-swear  a 
regular  army  sergeant  without  effort,  that  there  had  been  a  fool 
of  a  psychiatrist  who  had  made  the  suggestion  that  he  was  men- 
tally unfit  to  fly.  It  had  had  a  violently  opposite  effect.  It  instantly 
brought  to  the  surface,  in  a  high  emotional  temperature,  all  the 
symptoms  of  the  disease  from  which  the  Colonel  now  knew  the 
boy  was  suffering.  For  as  the  Colonel  lay  on  the  terrace  day  after 
day  and  talked  to  the  boy,  it  seemed  to  him  that  the  very  great 
differences  between  war  as  he  had  fought  it  long  ago  in  Northern 
Indian  hills,  and  as  the  boy  fought  it  over  the  fields  of  France, 
was  not  a  difference  of  time,  of  latitude,  of  speed  or  of  weapons, 
but  something  more  simple  and  more  amazing.  The  Colonel  had 
gone  into  war  as  another  man  might  go  into  business;  respect- 
ably, steadfastly,  following  his  father  in  a  line  of  succession.  For 
the  boy  it  was  all  quite  different.  Flying  was  a  disease. 

He  did  not  know  if  the  boy  was  aware  of  that.  He  had  only 
recently  become  aware  of  it  himself.  You  could,  of  course,  suffer 
from  a  disease  without  being  aware  of  it.  It  was  quite  certain  that 
it  was  something  not  wholly  conscious  which  had  sent  the  boy 
into  a  frenzy  of  antagonism  and  scheming  against  all  authority 
until  at  last  authority  had  finally  given  way  and  let  him  fly  once 

144  Colonel  Julian 

Thinking  of  this,  and  then  letting  it  slip  away  from  his  mind, 
the  Colonel  once  again  spoke  to  the  boy.  What  was  now  happen- 
ing in  France  interested  him  greatly.  This  war  of  movement  was 
so  fast  that  he  did  not  know  if  you  could  any  longer  talk  of 
strategy  as  he  had  once  been  taught  it.  He  longed  to  get  a  picture 
of  it,  fixed  and  clear,  as  the  boy  might  have  photographed  it 
from  the  air. 

'Tell  me  about  this  Seine  thrust/  he  said.  'What  do  you  think 
of  it?  Do  you  think  it  aims  at  the  coast?' 

'I  never  really  trouble  about  what  the  Brown  Jobs  are  doing,' 
the  boy  said. 

The  Colonel  was  silenced.  It  was  not  a  very  good  morning. 
Once  again  he  was  up  against  some  new  term  he  did  not 

'Brown  Jobs?' 


'Oh ! '  the  Colonel  said.  'Oh ! '  He  understood  now.  Of  course, 
apart  from  the  slight  contempt  it  was  very  apt,  very  typical. 

'Yes,  but  it's  a  combined  operation,'  he  said.  'You  are  all  in  it. 
You  depend  very  much  on  each  other.' 

'Oh !  I  know,'  the  boy  said :  as  if  he  did  not  know  at  all. 

The  Colonel  did  not  know  what  to  say.  The  astonishing  rea- 
lisation that  the  boy  did  not  know  what  was  happening  on  a 
general  scale  stupefied  him.  It  seemed  an  incredible  thing.  It 
seemed  to  arise  from  a  different  sort  of  blindness,  not  physical, 
but  from  the  blindness  of  this  intense  and  narrow  passion  to  fly. 
To  the  boy  all  horizons  beyond  these  narrow  limits  of  vision 
were  closed.  His  life  soared  furiously  and  blindly  between. 

'Without  you,'  the  Colonel  said,  'the  Brown  Jobs  might  never 
force  the  issue.' 

The  boy  slightly  tilted  his  head,  turning  towards  the  Colonel  a 
pair  of  black  sun-glassy  lenses,  as  if  to  say  'Force  the  issue  ? 
What  the  bloody  hell  does  that  mean  ? ' 

For  a  moment  the  Colonel  felt  that  he  did  not  know  what  the 
hell  it  meant  himself.  He  lay  quietly  in  his  chair.  Across  the 
garden  now  the  horse-mower  was  silent.  There  was  no  sound 
except  the  sea-sound  of  cedar  branches  gently  lifting  and  falling 
on  the  summer  wind.  It  seemed  now  to  the  Colonel  that  the 
battle-front,  really  half  an  hour's  flight  to  the  south,  was  a 
million  miles  away. 

Colonel  Julian  145 

'There  is  no  bloody  issue  except  killing  Huns/  the  boy 
said.  That's  all  that  matters.'  He  looked  straight  up  into  the 

A  certain  essence  of  individual  cruelty  in  this  remark  quite 
shocked  the  Colonel.  It  startled  him  so  that  he  lifted  himself  up 
in  the  chair  and  looked  at  the  boy.  In  the  hot  sun  the  face  had  a 
pure  and  impersonal  immobility.  The  savagery  of  the  remark 
was  quite  natural.  To  the  Colonel  there  seemed  a  certain  absence 
of  ethics  in  the  whole  of  this  careless  and  calculated  attitude  of 
the  boy's  towards  fighting.  In  his  day,  the  Colonel's,  there  had 
been  in  fighting  some  sort  of  -  well,  he  supposed  it  to  be  sort  of 
ethical  water-line.  You  kept  above  it.  The  people  who  sank 
below  the  water-line,  who  made  public  a  private  desire  to  kill  the 
man  on  the  opposite  side,  were  not  thought  very  much  of.  It  was 
very  much  like  a  game,  and  all  the  wars  in  which  he  had  played 
it  were  really,  beside  this  one,  quite  small.  They  seemed  very  im- 
portant then  and  were  quite  forgotten  now.  He  supposed  per- 
haps that  that  was  finally  the  essence  of  it:  the  hugeness  of 
the  thing.  The  boy  had  in  his  hands,  like  the  rest  of  his  genera- 
tion, a  frightening  and  enormous  power.  It  was  perhaps  the 
greatest  power  ever  given  into  the  hands  of  the  individual  in  all 

'Wizard  day,'  the  boy  said.  As  suddenly  as  he  spoke  he  curved 
up  his  long  legs  and  outstretched  them  again,  in  a  slow  convul- 
sive movement  of  pleasure  in  the  sun.  'Bloody  wizard.'  He  took 
great  breaths  of  the  warm,  noontide  air  and  breathed  them  out 

The  Colonel,  startled  out  of  his  reminiscence,  did  not  speak, 
and  the  boy  went  on,  talking  as  if  to  himself : 

'Gosh,  the  trees,'  the  boy  said,  'and  the  smell  of  the  bloody 
hay  and  the  lime  trees  and  all  that.  After  all  those  months  of 
smelling  hospital  wards  and  ether  and  anaesthetics,  Christ,  it's 
good.  Did  I  ever  tell  you  what  it  was  like  in  Normandy?  I  mean 
in  the  D-minus  days.' 

'No,'  the  Colonel  said.  He  had  given  up. 

'Not  the  orchards  ?  You  could  see  them  all  in  blossom  at  night, 
in  the  full  moon.  Miles  of  them.  You  know  how  short  the  nights 
are  in  May.  Never  quite  dark.  You  could  see  everything.  Every 
puff  of  smoke  from  a  train,  and  the  rivers,  and  the  orchards  in 
blossom.  Bloody  wonderful,  Colonel,  I  tell  you.  You  never  saw 

146  Colonel  Julian 

anything  so  lovely  as  the  sun  coming  up  and  the  moon  not  set 
and  the  sky  half  pink  with  sunlight  and  half  yellowy  with  moon- 
light, and  all  the  colour  on  the  French  orchards.  I  tell  you, 
Colonel,  you  never  saw  anything  so  wonderful/ 

So  much  for  the  passionate,  impersonal  cruelty  of  the  boy,  the 
Colonel  thought.  So  much  for  the  notion  of  calculated  savagery. 
It  now  seemed  quite  monstrous  beside  the  tenderness  of  that 
description  of  orchards  in  May.  He  could  see  that  the  boy  felt  it 
very  deeply  and  he  tried  to  remember  if,  so  long  ago,  he  too  had 
been  touched  by  anything  like  that,  but  he  could  remember  only 
scarlet  rhododendrons,  in  fantastic  cascades,  on  a  wild  furlough 
trek  above  Darjeeling;  how  they  fell  bloodily  into  rocky  spring 
valleys  there  and  how  impressed  he  had  been  and  how  for  that 
reason  he  had  planted  them  liberally  in  the  garden  here.  But  the 
glory  of  them  was  never  quite  the  same.  The  scarlet  wildness 
was  never  renewed.  There  was  something  hot  and  foreign  and 
un-English  about  them,  anyway;  not  like  the  orchards,  that  were 
so  cool  and  cloudy,  like  the  northern  skies.  It  pleased  him  veiy 
much  that  the  boy  liked  them.  It  seemed  to  make  him  quite 
human  again. 

Then  to  his  dismay  the  boy  got  up.  He  stood. quite  naked,  and 
took  off  his  glasses  and  turned  away  from  the  sun.  His  eyes  had 
the  oddest  appearance  of  not  belonging  to  the  rest  of  his  body. 
The  pale  new  tissue,  not  yet  merged  into  the  older  skin  of  the 
face,  seemed  lividly  dead.  It  seemed  to  have  been  grafted  there 
from  another  person  altogether.  It  aroused  the  instant  and  un- 
easy impression  that  the  boy  was  two  different  people. 

'Must  you?*  the  Colonel  said.  'So  soon?' 

Tm  as  hungry  as  hell/  the  boy  said.  Tve  got  to  get  dressed 
and  lunch  is  off  at  two.' 

'Well,  nice  of  you  to  come  up/  the  Colonel  said.  'I  do  so 
appreciate  it/ 

'Can  I  send  you  up  a  can  of  beer,  sir?'  the  boy  said. 

'No.  No  thanks.  I  don't  think  so.' 

'A  half-can?  The  orderly  can  bring  it  up.' 

'No,  thank  you.  Thank  you  all  the  same.'  He  did  not  want  to 
offend  the  boy.  The  pilots  were  very  kind  to  him  sometimes  like 
that,  sending  him  up  tobacco  or  chocolate,  or  a  glass  of  beer. 
'Perhaps  to-morrow.  Perhaps  we  might  have  a  drink  together.  I 
should  like  that.' 

Colonel  Julian  147 

'Good  show/  the  boy  said. 

'About  this  time?'  the  Colonel  said. 

'Yeh.  I'll  get  the  orderly  to  bring  the  beer  up.' 

'I'll  wait  for  you,'  the  Colonel  said. 

The  boy  tucked  the  towel  round  his  loins  and  hopped  over  the 
hot  lead  of  the  terrace  into  the  bedroom,  calling  back  over  his 
shoulder  something  about  the  Colonel  having  a  sleep,  and  as  if  in 
obedience  the  Colonel  smiled  and  closed  his  eyes  against  the 
brassy  midday  light,  the  only  light  in  which,  after  many  years 
in  the  East,  he  ever  felt  really  warm. 

He  lay  there  next  day  at  about  the  same  time,  in  much  the 
same  attitude,  waiting  for  the  boy.  The  strength  of  the  grasses' 
sweetness  had  faded  a  little  overnight.  He  caught  it  only  at  odd 
moments,  in  brief  renewed  waves,  on  the  seaward  wind.  But  the 
branches  of  the  cedars  rose  and  fell  with  the  same  slow  placidity 
as  the  day  before,  and  beyond  them,  if  he  raised  himself  up  on 
his  fleshless  knuckles,  he  could  again  see  across  brown  cornfields 
to  the  blue-grey  edge  of  sea. 

He  waited  for  just  over  an  hour  before  deciding  to  go  down 
into  the  garden  to  see  if  he  could  find  the  boy.  He  was  permitted 
to  use  the  back-stairs,  once  the  servants'  stairs,  on  which  now 
there  was  always  a  loathsome  smell  of  stale  cooking.  He  did  not 
like  these  stairs  and  he  was  glad  to  be  out  of  them,  past  the  back 
entrance  and  the  heaps  of  boiler  coke,  into  the  garden  and  the 

At  eighty-three  he  walked  very  slowly,  with  a  sort  of  deliberate 
majesty,  keeping  his  head  up  more  by  habit  than  any  effort,  and 
it  was  some  time  before  he  could  walk  far  enough  across  the 
lawns  to  find  someone  to  ask  about  Pallister.  Groups  of  young 
officers  were  playing  croquet  on  the  farthest  lawn,  and  the  knock 
of  balls  and  the  yelling  of  voices  clapped  together  in  the  clear 

Under  one  of  the  cedars,  in  shadow  that  was  almost  black,  an 
officer  in  battledress  was  lying  on  the  grass  with  a  book.  He  had 
Canada  on  his  shoulder. 

'Excuse  me,'  the  Colonel  said. 

'Oh !  hullo,  sir,'  the  Canadian  said.  'How've  you  bin  ? ' 

'I  was  looking  for  Mr  Pallister,'  the  Colonel  said.  'We  were  to 
have  a  drink  together.  I  thought  you  might  have  seen  him  some- 

148  Colonel  Julian 

'I  guess  he  bought  it/  the  Canadian  said. 

The  language  that  he  did  not  understand  left  the  Colonel 
without  a  reply. 

'YehP  the  Canadian  said.  'I  guess  he  bought  it.  Over  France 
last  night.' 


The  thin  tongue  of  coast  was  so  flat  that  it  was  like  a  scar  on  the 
sea.  Nothing  rose  above  the  level  of  the  one-storeyed  shacks 
scattered  about  it  like  cubes  of  sea-worn  wreckage  except  a  light- 
house, standing  up  like  a  vast  white  candle  in  a  wide  lofty  sky,  so 
that  from  a  distance  it  seemed  to  float  in  air. 

By  the  end  of  September,  after  the  heat  of  summer,  the  sea- 
flowers  were  dead.  A  long  flat  tide  floated  in,  almost  limped  in, 
washing  over  and  over  again  the  same  wide  salt-grey  waste  of 
sand,  the  same  bright  fringe  of  shingle,  black  with  fresh-strewn 
seaweed  and  sprinkled  with  pretty  white  and  rose  and  turquoise 
shells.  Salt  dust  blew  on  small  winds  from  one  side  of  the  road  to 
the  other,  rattling  harshly  on  steely  patches  of  sea-thistle  and 
dune-grass,  and  then  blew  back  again.  It  drifted  finely  against 
the  shacks,  with  their  sun-spent  flowers,  that  would  soon  be 
closed  for  winter,  and  buried  the  steps  of  their  porches  a  little 
deeper  every  day. 

From  the  end  of  the  peninsula  it  was  a  two-mile  walk  for 
Brand  to  get  the  papers.  Every  morning  he  walked  along  the 
cracked  concrete  road  and  bought  the  papers  and  perhaps  a 
magazine  from  the  shop  where  squat  black  plaice-boats,  cur- 
tained about  with  kipper-coloured  netting,  were  beached  from 
the  bay.  The  air  was  always  thick  with  the  smell  of  sun-dried 
sea-fish  and  gangs  of  swooping  gulls  crying  about  the  boats,  and 
he  was  always  thirsty  by  the  time  he  began  to  walk  back  along 
the  shore. 

Half-way  back  was  a  shack,  facing  the  sea,  that  had  tin-plate 
advertisements  nailed  over  one  side  of  it  so  that  it  glittered 
harshly,  blue  and  green  and  white  and  red,  in  the  sun.  He 
noticed  it  first  not  because  of  the  advertisements  but  because  it 
had  outside  it  a  square  of  grass.  This  grass,  watered  all  summer, 
was  vivid  green  in  the  desert  of  beach  and  sand.  In  the  middle 
of  it  was  a  white  flag-pole  and  at  the  top  of  the  flag-pole  was  a 
triangular  scarlet  flag,  with  ICES  sewn  across  it  in  white  letters. 

He  had  been  there  nearlv  a  week  when  he  first  went  in.  Sun 


150  The  Lighthouse 

and  sea-air  had  warped  the  jerry-built  glass  door  so  that  he  had 
to  push  it  violently  before  it  would  open.  Before  he  knew  it  he 
was  half-thrown  into  the  small  cafe,  against  the  counter. 

Behind  the  counter  stood  a  woman  in  a  black  fur  coat  and  a 
green  scarf  on  her  head,  and  through  a  window  behind  her  he 
could  see  the  sea. 

'And  about  time  too/  she  said.  'I  thought  you  were  never 
coming. ' 

She  was  smoking  a  cigarette  and  she  did  not  take  the  cigarette 
from  her  mouth  when  she  spoke  to  him.  It  was  burning  short  and 
the  smoke  was  curling  up  into  her  big  face,  crinkling  the 
pouches  under  her  eyes. 

Suddenly,  looking  at  him  again,  she  burst  out  laughing. 

'Oh !  God  alive,  I  thought  it  was  the  taxi/ 

He  smiled  and  she  began  coughing  violently  from  smoke  and 
laughter,  so  that  grey  ash  spilt  in  a  fine  cloud  on  the  black  fur 
coat.  She  laughed  again  and  did  not  shake  it  free. 

'Hear  that?*  she  called.  'Gentleman  came  in  and  I  thought  it 
was  the  cab.' 

Behind  the  counter  was  a  door  and  he  could  see  a  kitchen 
beyond  it,  but  no  one  answered. 

'Terribly  sorry,  sir.'  The  cigarette  smoke  burned  straight  up 
into  her  baggy  colourless  eyes.  'Very  rude  of  me.'  She  let  the  ash 
drop  on  to  her  coat  again.  'Something  we  can  get  you?' 

'Glass  of  milk?'  he  said. 

'Sorry,  no  milk.  It's  the  drought.  They  cut  us  down/  She  took 
the  cigarette  out  of  her  mouth,  coughing  ash  on  the  counter. 
'Excuse  me.  Cuppa  tea  ? ' 

'Cup  of  tea.' 

'Haven't  seen  a  taxi  anywhere,  I  suppose,  have  you?  What  do 
you  make  the  time  ? ' 

'Just  after  eleven.' 

'Supposed  to  be  here  for  eleven.  Puts  years  on  you.'  She  looked 
beyond  him,  irritated,  through  the  glass  door.  'Same  with  every- 

He  did  not  answer.  She  took  a  packet  of  cigarettes  from  the 
pocket  of  her  fur  coat  and  lit  a  fresh  cigarette  from  the  old, 
coughing  again. 

'Gentleman'd  like  a  cuppa  tea,'  she  called.  'Got  one  on?' 

There  was  no  answer. 

The  Lighthouse  151 

'Whyn't  you  sit  down?'  she  said.  'On  holiday?  Got  a  beach- 
hut  here?' 

'Up  by  the  lighthouse. ' 

'Getting  a  bit  late  in  the  season.  What  d'you  do  with  yourself 
all  day?' 

He  did  not  know  what  to  say;  there  was  no  point  in  telling  her 
he  was  bored  all  day.  Then  suddenly  she  began  coughing  again, 
this  time  with  excitement,  spilling  ash  on  her  coat,  the  coarse 
skin  of  her  face  and  neck  creasing  and  flopping  up  and  down; 
and  in  the  same  moment  he  heard  the  taxi  on  the  road  outside. 

'God  alive,  I  must  fly ! ' 

She  came  from  behind  the  counter,  waddling  and  coughing, 
picking  up  her  handbag  from  the  corner  of  the  counter  as  she 
passed  him. 

'Cab's  here ! '  she  called.  'No  message  for  Fred  ? ' 

She  pulled  the  door  open  and  went  out  across  the  square  of 
grass  under  the  flag-pole  to  where,  on  the  concrete  beyond,  the 
taxi  was  turning  round.  The  thin  door  banged  loudly,  shaking 
the  walls  of  the  shack,  but  there  was  no  answer  from  the  room 

He  sat  on  one  of  the  stools  by  the  counter  and  opened  the 
paper.  Every  day  they  were  saying  it  was  the  driest,  hottest 
summer  for  fifty  years.  There  was  already  something  boring 
about  the  sequence  of  dead  dry  days  and  the  calm  glitter  of  sea. 


He  looked  up  to  see  a  girl  standing  at  the  door  behind  the 
counter.  The  high  sea-light  coming  in  at  the  window  fell  full  on 
her  face  and  made  her  eyes,  especially,  seem  very  large.  They 
were  dark  brown  eyes  with  extraordinary  whites  that  were  not 
really  white  at  all.  They  were  a  pure  pale  blue,  wet  and  shining, 
that  made  the  point  of  the  pupils  almost  black. 

'Please,'  he  said. 

'One  or  two?' 


He  heard  the  lump  of  sugar  clink  on  the  spoon.  She  came  up 
to  the  counter,  carrying  a  cup  in  one  hand  and  a  teapot  in  the 

'Anything  in  the  paper?' 

She  poured  out  the  tea. 

'Not  much.' 

152  The  Lighthouse 

'Never  is.'  She  tried  for  a  second  or  two  to  read  the  paper 
where  it  was  on  the  counter,  upside  down.  'Anything  to  eat?  I 
forgot  to  ask  you/ 

'No/  he  said.  'Just  the  tea.' 

She  gave  up  trying  to  read  the  paper  upside  down  and  for 
some  moments  stood  with  her  arms  folded  on  the  counter.  She 
had  slim  cream  hands,  the  skin  thin  and  transparent,  so  that  the 
veins  shone  through  like  soft  blue  tendrils;  and  the  fingers  were 
slightly  upturned  as  they  lay  on  the  smooth  golden  hairs  of  her 

'Busy  these  days?'  he  said. 

'I  can  be  busy.  Just  how  it  takes  me.  Where  are  you  ? ' 

'Up  by  the  lighthouse.' 

She  turned  the  paper  round  where  it  lay  on  the  counter,  turn- 
ing it  with  one  long  finger,  so  that  she  could  read  it  with  her 
head  only  slightly  averted.  Her  neck  was  long  and  deep  cream 
under  the  dark  brown  hair. 

'Ever  been  up  there  ? '  she  said. 

'No.  Not  me.  Makes  me  giddy/ 

'Does  it?*  she  said.  'Funny.  Never  affects  me.' 

'Ugh/  he  said. 

'Got  a  beach-hut  ?' 


'What  do  you  do  for  cooking?  I  hear  there's  no  gas  up  there/ 

'Never  bother/ 

'You're  the  sort  of  people  who  put  us  out  of  business/  she 

He  did  not  know  what  to  say;  he  stirred  his  tea  without  drink- 
ing and  remembered  the  woman  running  for  the  taxi. 

'That  your  mother?' 

'Don't  blame  me/  she  said.  'She  was  born  first.  Off  to  London 
for  the  week  while  I  look  after  the  sea.' 

With  that  curious  expression  she  turned  the  paper  round 
again,  so  that  she  could  read  it  right  way  up.  He  found  himself 
screwing  his  own  head  round,  trying  to  read  it  as  she  had  done, 
upside  down,  and  as  he  did  so  he  was  aware  of  her  body  pressed 
against  the  counter.  She  gave  him  a  quick  glance  and  then  went 
on  reading;  then  after  some  moments  she  spoke  without  looking 

'Not  drinking  your  tea/  she  said. 

The  Lighthouse  153 

He  sipped  it  gently,  looking  down  at  her  over  the  edge  of  the 

She  turned  the  paper  over,  lifting  her  body  slightly  in  the  act 
of  doing  so,  raising  her  eyes,  brown  and  casual,  in  the  slightest 

'I'll  bet  you  think  I'm  rude.  Reading  your  paper/ 

'No/  he  said.  'You  can  have  it.  I  don't  want  it.  Keep  it  and 
I'll  call  in  later.' 

'Come  in  and  I'll  get  you  a  meal,'  she  said.  'Why  don't  you? 
You  must  eat  sometimes.' 

'I  could.' 

'Well,  say  it  as  if  you  wanted  to,'  she  said. 

He  smiled. 

'Nothing  elaborate,  just  eggs  or  something.  But  say  it  as  if  you 
wanted  to.' 

She  stared  up  at  him  with  great  brown  eyes  that  were  casual 
and  bored  but  brilliant,  too,  with  bright  sea-light;  he  looked  back 
at  her  and  felt  the  blood  beating  up  in  his  throat.  He  thought, 
too,  that  she  knew  it  was  beating  there  because  she  held  him  a 
little  longer  with  that  same  slow  bored  stare. 

'All  right?' 

'All  right,'  he  said. 

She  smiled.  She  had  a  way  of  smiling  by  opening  her  mouth 
and  putting  her  tongue  slowly  outward  and  pressing  it  against 
her  teeth  and  then  upward,  casually  and  softly,  against  her  lip. 

'About  six?'  she  said. 

'About  six.' 

She  pressed  her  tongue  upward  against  her  lips,  and  then,  as  if 
deliberately  letting  him  go,  lowered  her  eyes  and  folded  her  long 
creamy  arms,  blue  with  tender  veins,  on  the  paper. 

'Now  drink  your  tea,'  she  said. 

Walking  back  along  the  sea- road,  he  thought  of  Ella.  Things 
had  not  been  going  well  with  Ella.  More  and  more  she  seemed  to 
him  like  a  peremptory  bright-nosed  hen  decked  up.  She  had 
begun  to  be  a  great  one  on  committees.  At  supper,  after  the 
office,  she  bored  him  with  histories  of  committees  rather  as  she 
must,  he  thought,  have  bored  the  committees.  Sometimes,  in 
hasty  moments,  he  did  silly  things  like  putting  his  socks  on  inside 
out,  and  that  in  turn  would  urge  her  to  endless  nagging  resolu- 
tions, all  of  which  he  felt  she  had  put  down  on  the  agenda  of 

154  The  Lighthouse 

their  married  differences.  Whenever  she  came  home  from  com- 
mittees she  wore  the  same  dark  brown  straw  hat.  It  was  too 
small  for  her;  it  sat  on  her  head,  mocking  her,  like  a  ridiculous 
piece  of  flat  stale  toast.  He  longed  to  jump  on  it.  One  day  he 
almost  did  jump  on  it  and  she  screamed :  'The  trouble  with  you 
is  that  you  can't  tolerate  anything  but  yourself !  You're  so  selfish, 
so  vain ! '  and  in  a  fit  of  rage  he  had  driven  the  car  down  to  the 

Back  at  the  point,  by  the  lighthouse,  he  read  the  papers  and 
watched  the  tide.  It  washed  over  a  series  of  shallow  corrugated 
valleys,  blue-grey  with  jelly-fish  and  sown  with  pretty  rose  and 
white  and  turquoise  shells.  The  sandy  peninsula  projected  so  far 
out  to  sea  that  ships  skirted  it  by  only  a  hundred  and  fifty  yards. 
Sometimes  liners  came  so  close  that  he  could  see  even  the  sparkle 
of  drinks  in  passengers'  glasses  in  the  dining-saloons  or  the 
lounge.  And  sometimes  passengers  waved  their  hands. 

He  wondered  about  these  passengers.  Who  were  they  all? 
Among  them  were  surely  men  who  hated  their  wives  because 
they  wore  hats  like  slices  of  toast  and  wives  who  hated  their  hus- 
bands for  the  monstrosity  of  trivial  things. 

He  began  to  think  of  the  girl  in  the  cafe.  Her  voice,  throaty 
and  casual,  seemed  to  come  along  the  seashore  with  the  lazy  soft- 
ness of  the  tide.  He  thought  of  her  hands.  There  was  something 
intensely  disturbing  in  their  creamy  transparence  and  the  blue 
tendril  veins.  And  then  the  extraordinary  dark  brown  eyes,  with 
the  whites  that  were  really  not  white,  but  blue,  like  some  of  the 
smoother  pearl-like  shells.  And  then  the  bored  casual  way  of 
pressing  her  tongue  against  her  teeth  and  the  bored  casual  way 
of  trying  to  read  the  paper  upside  down. 

He  swam  twice  during  the  afternoon.  The  sea,  heavily  salt  and 
warm,  made  him  hungry  and  drowsy.  The  sun  curved  round  and 
shone  flat  on  his  face.  He  slept  without  realising  it  and  woke 
suddenly  with  the  idea  that  one  of  the  ships  was  ramming  the 
point.  It  was  a  liner  painted  white  for  the  tropics  and  it  seemed 
for  a  second  or  two  to  tangle  itself  with  the  white  cone  of  the 
lighthouse  and  come  bearing  down  on  him  where  he  lay. 

It  was  past  six  when  he  woke  and  nearly  seven  o'clock  by  the 
time  he  had  dressed  and  walked  along  the  sea- road  to  where  the 
scarlet  flag  was  waving  above  the  square  of  watered  grass  in  the 
evening  sun. 

The  Lighthouse  155 

The  shack  was  closed.  He  started  to  rap  on  the  thin  glass  door. 
The  door  was  loose  and  rattled  loudly,  echoing  across  the  empty 
beach  in  the  warm  still  air. 

After  a  moment  or  two  he  gave  it  up  and  went  round  to  the 
back.  The  girl  was  lying  on  the  sand,  in  a  white  and  red-spotted 
cotton  beach-dress,  without  shoes  or  stockings,  her  long  blue- 
veined  creamy  legs  and  arms  stretched  out  in  the  sun.  She  did 
not  get  up. 

'You're  a  nice  one/  she  said. 

'I  went  to  sleep.  I  didn't  realise — ' 

'I  got  fed  up  and  closed.  Nobody  to  talk  to  all  afternoon,  so  I 
came  out  to  look  after  the  sea.' 

Again  he  noticed  that  curious  expression. 

Tm  sorry,'  he  said. 

She  rolled  over  and  lay  sideways,  looking  up  at  him. 

Well :  what  do  you  fancy?' 

'Anything;  if  it's  not  too  late  -  whatever  you've  got.' 

'It  isn't  what  I've  got,  it's  what  you  fancy.' 

'Whatever  you've  got  I'll  fancy,'  he  said. 

'Well,  if  that's  the  way  you  look  at  it.'  She  moved  once 
again  on  the  sand,  turning  her  body.  'Can't  see  you.  You're 
upside  down.'  He  remembered  how  she  had  read  the  news- 
paper upside  down  and  something  in  the  turn  of  her  body 
immediately  electrified  him,  making  the  blood  beat  up  in  his 

'Oh!  You're  the  same  man.  I  wondered.  Your  voice  sounded 

'Disappointed  ? ' 

'Oh!  no.  No.  I  just  got  the  impression  of  you  in  my  mind 
somehow,  and  I  like  to  get  the  right  impression'  She  suddenly 
knelt  up,  brushing  away  sand  from  her  dress.  'Well,  let's  go  in. 
The  sea  can  look  after  itself  for  a  bit.' 

It  struck  him  again  as  curious  how  she  spoke,  now  and  then, 
of  looking  after  the  sea.  She  stood  up,  brushing  sand  from  first 
one  leg  and  then  another  and  then  from  her  arms. 

'Am  I  all  sand  at  the  back?' 

'On  your  shoulders.' 

'Brush  me  down,  will  you  ?  It  gets  into  everything  -  food  and 
everything.  Beds  and  everywhere.' 

He  brushed  with  both  hands  at  the  half-circle  of  her  naked 

156  The  Lighthouse 

shoulder.  The  skin  was  smooth  and  oily  and  he  felt  the  blood 
beat  up  into  his  throat  again  as  he  touched  it  with  the  sweeping 
tips  of  his  fingers  under  the  thick  brown  hair. 

'I'll  fry  you  a  Dover  sole/  she  said.  'A  good  fat  one.  How's 

'It's  just  what  I  fancy.' 

She  had  the  sole  ready  in  about  half  an  hour.  She  pulled  the 
blinds  down  on  that  side  of  the  cafe  overlooking  the  sea-road, 
and  she  laid  him  a  table  overlooking  the  sea.  From  there,  as  he 
waited,  he  could  see  the  lighthouse.  The  lamps  had  not  begun 
to  burn  and  the  tall  white  cylinder  looked  more  than  ever  like 
an  unlit  candle  on  the  narrow  scar  of  sand. 

'Been  up  the  lighthouse  yet?' 

She  was  in  the  kitchen  and  he  called  back:  'No.  I  told  you. 
Makes  me  feel  -' 

'You'll  have  to  try  it  some  day.' 

'Not  me,'  he  said. 

The  sole,  dipped  in  golden  breadcrumbs,  was  nicely  fried. 

'All  right?'  she  said. 

'Lovely.  What  about  you  ? ' 

'You're  a  customer.  Can't  eat  with  the  customers.' 

'I  hoped  you  could.' 

'Well,  there's  no  law  against  it.  I'll  have  a  cup  of  tea.' 

She  had  changed  her  dress  and  now  she  was  wearing  a  thin 
frock  of  silky  sea-bright  green.  It  gave  a  smouldering  candle-like 
warmth  to  her  bare  arms  as  she  crooked  them  on  the  table  and 
watched  him  eat. 

'You  wanted  that.  You  were  hungry,'  she  said. 

'Didn't  bother  about  lunch.' 

She  looked  at  the  sea.  It  was  after  eight  o'clock  and  now 
suddenly,  in  a  wonderful  flash,  the  lamps  in  the  lighthouse 
began  turning,  swinging  startling  bars  of  light  on  darkening 
water  and  shore. 

'There  she  goes,'  the  girl  said.  'I  always  love  that.  It  sends  a 
thrill  right  through  me.  Right  down.  A  real  thrill.  I  watch  it 
every  night.' 

She  was  watching  the  light  eagerly,  her  mouth  parted,  her 
tongue  touching  her  lip  as  she  smiled. 

As  it  grew  slowly  darker  ships  with  star-like  navigation  lights 
appeared  across  a  copper-crested  sea  that  was  deep  indigo  under 

The  Lighthouse  157 

a  paler  sky.  After  watching  them  for  some  time  she  turned  her 
face  and  looked  at  him. 

'Married  ?'  she  said. 

'No/  he  said. 

'You  ought  to  get  yourself  a  nice  wife  that  can  cook/ 

'Are  you  married  ? '  he  said. 

'No/  she  said.  'Not  me.' 

Who  was  Ella?  The  sudden  accusing  unreality  of  Ella  forced 
itself  on  his  conscience  for  a  moment  and  then  assumed  the 
remoteness  of  one  of  the  lights  creeping  slowly  away  to  sea.  His 
wife  seemed  in  every  way  like  one  of  those  dim  lights  going  out, 
going  away  for  ever.  Committees  and  the  hat  like  toast,  agenda 
of  married  faults  and  the  face  like  a  peremptory  pecking  hen's; 
there  was  no  lie  about  them.  They  did  not  exist  any  more. 

'What  about  Fred?'  he  said.  He  remembered  the  parting 
words  of  her  mother. 

'Oh !  Fred.  Fred's  nobody.  He's  cook  up  there.  We  got  another 
cafe  at  King's  Cross.  He's  cook  up  there.'  The  lids  of  her  eyes, 
olive  and  dark  and  gleaming,  closed  down  smoothly  as  she  looked 
at  his  empty  cup  and  plate.  'More  tea?' 

'No,  thank  you.' 

'Like  to  go  outside  for  a  breath  of  air?' 

'If  you  like.' 

They  were  already  outside  when  she  spoke  once  again  of  look- 
ing after  the  sea.  The  shack  had  a  small  railed  verandah  over- 
looking the  beach.  Sand  had  piled  against  it  in  deep  smooth 
breasts,  submerging  the  lower  steps.  She  leaned  against  one  of 
the  posts  of  it.  The  shore  was  dark  except  for  the  repeated  flash 
of  the  lighthouse,  revolving  like  a  wheel,  and  as  she  stared  at  the 
sea  and  spoke  again  of  looking  after  it  he  said : 

'Think  it'll  run  away  or  something  ? ' 


'What  then?' 

'Oh!  nothing.' 

He  watched  the  lighthouse  flashing  on  her  face,  heightening 
sharply  every  few  seconds  or  so  the  candle-like  warmth  given  by 
the  green  dress;  and  then  he  said : 

'Odd.  What's  the  idea  of  looking  after  the  sea?  That's  one 
thing  that'll  look  after  itself  -  ' 

She  turned  on  him  in  the  moment  that  the  lighthouse  flashed. 

158  The  Lighthouse 

It  gave  the  impression  of  her  entire  body  leaping  into  flame.  All 
her  bored  casual  face  flared  up,  bright  and  bitter  and  angry. 

What  else  have  I  got  to  do?  God,  I  got  nothing  else  to  do  but 
look  after  it,  have  I  ?  Nobody  to  talk  to  from  Monday  to  Friday. 
Nothing  to  do,  nobody  to  talk  to.  What  else  have  I  got  to  do  but 
look  after  it?  God,  I  feel  it's  all  I  got  left  - ' 

The  act  of  kissing  her  for  the  first  time  had  in  it  the  shock  of 
something  bare  and  bruising  and  antagonistic.  He  had  not  ex- 
pected it  to  be  like  that.  He  had  wanted  it  to  be  drawn  out  of  her 
sleepy  languid  casualness:  to  be  one  with  the  soft  brown  eyes, 
the  way  she  read  the  paper  upside  down.  Now  she  held  him  with 
both  arms  and  the  stiffened  frame  of  her  body,  driving  her 
mouth  at  his  with  the  dry  hunger  of  long  boredom;  and  all  the 
time  the  lighthouse  flashed  with  its  dazzling  revolutions  on  her 

After  a  time  she  was  quieter  and  they  lay  down  on  the  sand. 
He  could  hear  the  sea:  gentle,  the  tide  out,  endless  small  waves 
licking  backwards  in  the  warm  September  darkness.  'If  you 
hadn't  turned  up  Fd  have  gone  off  my  head.  I  thought  you 
wouldn't  turn  up  -  Fd  have  gone  off  my  head  - 

He  liked  her  more  as  she  quietened.  She  seemed  to  grow 
drowsy  and  languid  again,  the  frame  of  her  body  in  its  relaxation 
melting  into  the  deep  softness  he  wanted:  the  entire  antithesis 
of  Ella,  the  pecking  hen-like  face,  the  toast-like  hat;  the  antidote 
to  all  his  own  dry  boredom  and  rage.  He  found  her  limbs  in  long 
deep  curves.  Her  skin  had  seemed  so  delicate,  with  its  fine  trans- 
parence and  the  many  blue  tendrils  of  veins,  that  the  full  dis- 
covered strength  of  her  body  surprised  him.  'I  wanted  you  like 
that/  she  said,  'by  the  sea.  I  wanted  you  terribly.'  The  light- 
house flashed  on  her  face,  giving  the  brown  eyes  a  look  of  trans- 
fixed dark  burning.  'Be  careful  how  you  touch  me.  You  make  me 
feel  how  the  lighthouse  does.' 

Walking  home  at  last,  after  midnight,  he  understood  her  feel- 
ing about  the  lighthouse.  It  had  been  the  flame  in  the  drabness  of 
her  boredom :  burning  and  flashing  suddenly  to  excite  her  once  a 
day.  He  was  pleased  to  think  he  was  like  that.  He  was  pleased  to 
stand  where  he  was  and  watch,  like  a  fading  down-channel  light, 
the  dying  discordant  figure  of  Ella  and  Ella's  hat,  the  former 
world  of  committees  and  catechisms  and  the  pecking  hen.  He  felt 
slightly  intoxicated  and  elated  as  if  he  stood  on  the  top  of  the 

The  Lighthouse  159 

lighthouse,  watching  the  minute  and  inconsequential  light  of 
something  that  had  bored  and  angered  him  and  would  do  so  no 

He  had  arranged  to  go  back  for  lunch  next  day.  'Not  too 
early,'  she  said,  'because  I  can  close  up  from  two  to  five.  You  can 
swim  and  have  a  lie  in  the  sun/  and  in  the  morning,  for  the  first 
time,  he  did  not  trouble  to  fetch  the  papers.  It  was  enough  to 
wait  for  afternoon. 

But  about  two  o'clock,  after  they  had  eaten  and  just  as  she  was 
about  to  lock  up,  something  happened.  He  looked  out  of  the 
window  and  saw  a  wild  troop  of  Boy  Scouts  invading  the  shore. 
Soon  they  began  to  invade  the  shack.  He  had  dreamed  so  long  of 
lying  with  her  in  warm  sun,  alone  on  the  shore,  that  the  sight  of 
scores  of  small  boys  besieging  her  for  ice-cream  and  drinks  and 
sandwiches  brought  him  furious  frustration.  She,  too,  looked  des- 
perate and  he  could  have  hit  a  ridiculous  grey-haired  scoutmaster 
who  said: 

'You  may  remember  us.  We  dropped  in  last  year.  We  remem- 
bered your  flag.' 

Bathing  and  yelling,  punting  footballs,  littering  the  shore  with 
cartons  and  trousers  and  shirts  and  papers,  the  boys  stayed  until 
six  o'clock.  So  many  of  them  came  into  the  shack  that  finally  he 
took  off  his  jacket  and  for  four  hours,  impotent  and  full  of 
hatred  of  them,  he  helped  the  girl  behind  the  counter.  All  after- 
noon there  was  a  dry  hunger  in  her  eyes  that  made  him  think  she 
could  not  wait  for  him. 

'Well,  it'll  please  Ma,'  she  said  when  it  was  all  over.  And  then 
a  cheerful  thought:  'Anyway,  we  took  enough  so  we  close  to- 
morrow and  the  next  day.  That's  if  there's  no  Boy  Scouts.' 

'There'll  be  no  Boy  Scouts,'  he  said.  'To-morrow  we'll  go  to 
the  lighthouse.' 

'That's  an  idea.' 

'Perhaps  we  could  have  a  trip  in  the  car.' 

'I'd  like  that.  That  would  be  lovely.' 

Again  and  again,  in  the  darkness  on  the  shore,  to  the  sound  of 
small  consuming  lapping  waves,  the  lighthouse  flashed  on  her 
face.  Her  long  arms  held  him  down  on  the  soft  sand  and  the  deep 
brown  eyes  burned  insatiably. 

Next  day,  when  they  climbed  the  lighthouse,  a  little  breeze  was 
blowing  in  fitful  gusts  against  the  sun.   It  had  the  effect  of 

160  The  Lighthouse 

ploughing  the  sea  into  furrows  of  brilliant  white  and  blue.  Along 
the  coast  small  sails  skimmed  about;  white  gulls  planed  down  on 
long  air-currents  about  black  plaice-boats  and  the  dazzling  candle 
of  lighthouse;  and  the  white  sea-light  was  heady  and  very 

It  seemed  to  him  that  the  top  of  the  lighthouse  swayed.  All  his 
fear  of  heights  rushed  up  through  his  body  and  he  felt  the 
irresistible  paralysing  terror  of  wanting  to  go  over.  It  froze  the 
back  of  his  legs  coldly  and  he  was  hardly  conscious  of  the  keeper, 
who  was  also  a  guide,  saying : 

'The  point  puts  on  another  six  feet  of  land  every  year.  Can  you 
see  where  it's  creeping  out?  Ten  or  fifteen  years  and  they'll  have 
to  be  thinking  of  building  another  lighthouse/ 

Brand  could  not  look  and  the  keeper  pointed  inland  over  flats 
of  sea-thistled  shingle : 

'That's  the  old  lighthouse.  That  shows  you  where  the  point 
used  to  be.' 

All  the  time  the  girl  moved  carelessly  from  side  to  side  of  the 
lighthouse  top,  following  the  keeper's  fingers,  leaning  non- 
chalantly over,  long  arms  folded,  staring  straight  down.  To 
Brand's  intense  horror  she  hung  over  the  side,  laughing,  waving 
to  groups  of  people  below. 

Tor  God's  sake,'  he  said,  and  felt  terribly  and  weakly  sick  at 
the  thought  that  a  beating  squall  of  wind  might,  in  an  awful 
moment,  move  the  wrong  way  and  take  her  over. 

'Now  if  you'll  follow  me  down,  sir,'  the  keeper  said. 

They  stood  for  a  moment  together,  alone  on  the  top.  She  held 
him  flat  against  her  body,  her  skirt  flapping  in  the  breeze  against 
her  legs,  and  he  could  have  sworn  that  once  again  the  lighthouse 

She  kissed  him,  holding  him  rigidly,  but  he  knew  the  light- 
house rocked.  For  some  idiotic  reason  he  thought  of  the  pre- 
carious toast-like  hat  perched  on  Ella's  head,  and  the  girl  said : 

'Don't  be  so  jittery.  There's  nothing  to  be  scared  of  - ' 

'I  hate  it.  I  always  have  hated  it.' 

'It's  because  you  let  it,'  she  said.  'If  you  looked  down -just 
made  yourself  look  down  -  you'd  be  all  right.'  She  began  laugh- 
ing at  him:  gay  with  the  quivering  exhilaration  of  breeze  and 
height  and  sun.  'Come  on -look  down.  Make  yourself.  It's 

The  Lighthouse  161 

Once  again  she  leaned  far  over.  This  time  she  held  his  hand, 
and  for  the  space  of  a  second  or  two  he  looked  down  too,  his 
entire  body  wrapped  in  a  stiffened  chrysalis  of  vertigo.  A  sinister 
narrowing  world  of  shore,  of  boats,  of  faces  and  of  kaleidoscope 
sea-waves  seemed  to  draw  him  down  and  then  the  girl  laughed 
at  him  again,  mocking  slightly : 

'Come  on.  You  can't  take  it.  The  keeper's  waiting.' 

Even  fifty  or  sixty  feet  below  he  could  still  feel  the  horror  in 
his  legs  and  he  said : 

'Don't  you  feel  anything?  Doesn't  it  affect  you  at  all?' 

'Only  like  you,'  she  said.  'That  nice  feeling.  Right  through  my 

She  was  pleased  about  the  car.  From  the  new  lighthouse  they 
drove  inland,  through  a  flat  sea-beaten  world  of  drab  shingle  and 
faded  sea-poppy  and  steely  sea-thistle,  towards  the  old.  He 
thought  its  black  tarred  stump  looked  hideous  even  among  the 
cracked  concrete  of  ruined  sea-defences  and  shabby  summer 
bungalows  whose  doorsteps  were  being  slowly  buried  by  autumn 

'Like  an  old  lady  going  to  a  funeral  or  something,'  the  girl  said. 

Like  every  horrifying  experience  the  cold  moments  at  the  light- 
house top  afterwards  exhilarated  him.  For  each  of  the  three  fol- 
lowing nights  as  he  lay  on  the  shore  with  the  girl  he  felt  a  certain 
vague  bravery  about  it  all. 

'I'm  your  lighthouse,'  he  would  say  to  her.  Already  it  was  Fri- 
day, and  for  two  nights  he  had  not  troubled  to  go  back  to  sleep  at 
the  hut.  'I  make  you  feel  the  same  way  - ' 

'Not  after  to-night,'  she  said. 

A  moment  of  freezing  sickness,  identical  with  all  he  had  felt 
on  the  lighthouse,  turned  his  stomach  over. 

'What  are  you  talking  about  ? ' 

'Ma  comes  to-morrow.  Did  you  forget?  She's  down  every 
week-end,  Saturday  to  Monday.' 

'Oh !  God,'  he  said,  'is  that  all?  I  thought  -  ' 

'You  better  keep  out  of  the  way,'  she  said.  'Just  for  a  night  or 

'I  could  come  in  for  a  cup  of  tea  or  something,'  he  said, 
'couldn't  I  ?  She'd  never  know.' 

'Not  Ma?'  she  said.  'The  old  gimlet.  Not  Ma?  You  never  get 
over  Ma.' 

162  The  Lighthouse 

'God/  he  said,  'the  whole  week-end  - ' 

'There's  all  next  week/  she  said.  'Plenty  of  time.'  He  felt  her 
reasoning  sweetness  express  itself  in  one  of  those  slow  casual 
expanding  smiles.  Her  tongue  touched  her  lip  and  a  wonderful 
beauty  of  dark  eyes  held  him  profoundly  as  the  lighthouse 
flashed.  He  was  agonised  once  again  by  the  thought  of  giving  her 
up,  and  she  said :  'A  rest  from  each  other  will  do  us  good.  Then 
we'll  have  all  next  week.  What  are  you  worrying  for?' 

'I  want  you  -  all  the  time.  Terribly  - ' 

'I'm  here/  she  said.  He  saw  all  the  languid  beauty  of  her  long 
curving  body  as  she  pressed  herself  down  into  dark  dry  sand. 
'Nobody's  stopping  you.' 

The  next  day,  Saturday,  he  did  not  see  her  at  all.  He  could 
not  bring  himself  to  walk  along  the  sea-road;  he  did  not  want  the 
papers.  Teasing  him,  she  had  said:  'You  can  always  go  up  the 
lighthouse.  You  can  wave  from  there.  If  I  see  you  I'll  know  it's 

And  that  afternoon,  in  a  moment  of  puerile  anguish,  he  went 
up.  A  great  dry  loneliness,  horrible  as  the  lifeless  sea-broken 
concrete  road  and  the  barren  shingle,  had  held  him  all  day.  From 
the  top  of  the  lighthouse  the  tranquil  bay,  circled  by  a  gigantic 
bracelet  of  sun-dried  sand,  was  like  pure  glass,  windless  and 
beautiful.  He  stared  across  lines  of  plaice-boats  and  a  few 
trippers  to  the  shack.  The  red  flag  had  not  enough  air  to  raise  it 
from  the  pole;  but  he  could  see,  underneath  it,  the  spray  of  a 
water-hose,  sprinkling  the  bright  square  of  grass. 

Presently  he  saw  figures  there.  It  seemed  like  a  man  and 
perhaps,  he  tried  to  persuade  himself,  the  girl;  but  it  was  much 
too  far  away.  He  even  waved  his  hand;  but  nothing  happened 
and  soon,  driven  by  sudden  misery  and  vertigo,  he  hurried 

For  the  rest  of  that  day  and  during  Sunday  his  only  remedy 
was  to  swim  and  walk  westward,  away  from  the  shack,  in  the 
queer  derelict  half-urban,  half-marsh  country  between  the  two 
lighthouses.  He  began  to  think  of  Ella.  When  he  was  with  the 
girl  all  his  thought  of  Ella  was  moulded  in  terms  of  an  amused 
and  tolerant  pity.  Poor  dear  old  Ella :  he  really  felt  sorry  for  her. 
All  the  discordance  about  her  vanished.  Did  she  wonder  about 
him?  Had  she  gone  round  in  panic  circles  of  distress?  Had  it 
spoiled  the  routine  of  committees,  the  hideous  respectable  pose 

The  Lighthouse  163 

of  the  toast-like  hat?  What  would  she  say,  he  thought,  if  she 
could  see  me  now?  Poor  dear  old  Ella.  The  ease  of  that  long 
generous  body  on  the  sand  would  have  shocked  her,  would  have 
made  her  realise  that  there  were  not  only  women  who  gave  more 
pleasure  than  they  asked,  but  gave  it  without  asking  questions,  as 
beautifully  as  flowers. 

But  that  day,  as  he  tried  to  wear  out  Sunday,  he  did  not  have 
many  amused  and  rather  fanciful  thoughts  of  women  like 
flowers.  Ella  appeared  to  stand  up  in  the  flat  endless  day  with  the 
gauntness  of  the  old  lighthouse  above  the  ugly  marsh.  She  was  a 
terrible  relic,  Ella;  and  somehow  Sunday  was  her  day.  She  had  a 
great  fondness  for  fussing  about  the  kitchen  on  Sunday  morn- 
ings, roasting  beef,  baking  a  particular  kind  of  tart  called  Maids 
of  Honour.  What  maids,  he  would  tease  her,  and  what  honour? 
Her  hands  were  floury  and  he  ate  the  tarts  from  the  stove,  while 
they  were  still  hot.  To-day,  inexplicably,  between  loneliness  and 
discordance,  he  felt  keenly  the  absence  of  these  trivialities.  It  was 
not  permanent;  he  knew  that.  It  was  just  Sunday.  It  was  less  that 
he  missed  Ella  than  that  Sunday  was  a  day  of  infinite  desolation 
when  deprived  of  the  comfort  of  floured  hands,  beef,  hot  tarts 
and  long-known  company.  Monday  would  show  it  all  to  have 
been  another  example  of  puerile  heartache;  but  to-day  he  could 
not  bear  it  at  all. 

And  finally,  because  he  could  not  bear  it,  he  walked  along, 
about  half-past  seven,  to  the  shack.  Lights  were  burning  and  a 
few  people  were  having  supper.  He  walked  past  and  got  him- 
self several  drinks,  a  mile  farther  on,  at  a  place  called  The 
Fisherman's  Arms,  before  walking  back  again. 

When  he  walked  back  lights  were  still  burning  in  the  shack  but 
the  place  seemed  empty.  After  a  few  moments  he  went  in.  The 
girl's  mother  was  leaning  on  the  counter,  coughing  cigarette  ash 
down  the  heavy  black  front  of  her  body,  but  there  was  no  sign 
of  the  girl. 

'Yessir?'  she  said. 

'Too  late  for  anything  ?' 

'Never  too  late  for  anything.  What'll  it  be?  Coffee,  tea, 

Til  take  coffee.' 

'You'll  take  coffee,'  she  said. 

While  he  drank  it  he  said : 

164  The  Lighthouse 

'Remember  me  ?  I'm  the  fellow  you  mistook  for  the  taxi-driver 
last  Monday/ 

'God  alive,  so  it  is.'  Coughing  and  laughing,  she  sprayed  a 
small  cloud  of  cigarette  ash.  'I  don't  know  whatever  you  thought 
of  me,  sir.' 

'Your  daughter  made  up  for  it/  he  said.  'Got  me  a  nice  meal 
that  day/ 

'Nice  cook/  she  said. 

He  looked  round  the  cafe.  'Not  here  to-night?' 

'Gone  to  the  flicks  with  Fred.' 

'Fred?'  he  said.  He  could  feel  a  horrible  tightness,  cold  and  not 
unlike  the  vertigo  he  so  hated  and  dreaded,  taking  hold  of  his 
body,  cramping  it  with  jealousy  and  fear.  'Boy  friend?' 

'Boy  friend  my  foot,'  she  said.  'Husband.' 

Monday  brought,  as  he  knew  it  would,  the  notion  that  to  be 
lonely  for  Ella  was  something  quite  puerile.  Between  the  thought 
of  Ella  and  the  thought  of  the  girl  he  felt  a  haunting  and  grow- 
ing sense  of  being  cheated.  Ella,  he  felt,  had  got  him  into  this. 
He  felt  dislocated,  slightly  crazy,  trapped.  That  infernally  silly 
hen-like  face,  the  committees  and  the  maddening  toast-like  hat 
had  manoeuvred  him  into  a  trap. 

It  was  late  afternoon  before  he  could  bring  himself  to  go  along 
to  the  cafe.  The  girl  had  closed  the  cafe  and  he  found  her  lying 
behind  it,  as  he  always  did,  on  the  sand.  The  breeze  of  the  last 
few  days  had  piled  up  still  higher  the  smooth  clean  breasts  of 
sand  below  the  verandah,  submerging  yet  another  of  the  steps. 
In  one  of  the  hollows  between  these  breasts  she  lay  in  her  red 
beach-dress,  staring  at  the  sky. 

'Oh  God,  I  thought  you  were  never  coming.  I  wanted  you 
terribly  -  I  hated  the  waiting  -  ' 

He  let  himself  be  drawn  down,  almost  sucked  down,  by  her 
long  arms  and  the  tightened  frame  of  her  body,  stiffly  anguished 
as  it  had  been  when  he  had  first  kissed  her. 

'Did  you  want  me?'  she  said. 

'All  the  time/  he  said.  'How  was  the  week-end?' 

'Oh!  terrible.  She  talked  and  talked.  Nothing  but  talk.  I  was 
bored  to  death.  What  did  you  do  ? ' 

'Went  to  the  lighthouse.' 

'There/  she  said.  'You  see.  How  was  it  ? ' 

'I'm  getting  better.  It's  like  you  said.  I  just  need  practice.' 

The  Lighthouse  165 

She  laughed,  pressing  her  tongue  against  her  lips,  her  brown 
eyes  brilliant  and  languid  and  burning  in  the  shell-like  whites. 

'One  more  trip  and  you'll  be  all  right,'  she  said. 

'Might  be.' 

'Probably  when  you're  all  right  you  won't  make  me  feel  how 
you  do,'  she  said.  'Had  you  thought  of  that?' 


'Make  me  feel  like  it  now,'  she  said. 

He  did  not  speak  of  Fred  until  they  lay  in  the  sand  in  dark- 
ness. A  twisted  and  crazy  sort  of  dislocation  made  him  keep 
back,  until  then,  all  he  felt  by  way  of  the  trap,  the  cheating  and 
the  jealousy.  Out  at  sea  small  navigation  lights  floated  about  like 
stars  and  one  of  them,  as  before,  was  Ella,  dying  and  fading 
away;  and  he  hated  her  because  of  his  pain. 

'How  was  the  husband  ? '  he  said. 

'You  don't  have  to  speak  like  that,'  she  said.  'No  need  to  speak 
like  that.'  Her  face,  in  the  flash  from  the  lighthouse,  was  undis- 
turbed, casual  and  languid  as  ever. 

'You  didn't  tell  me/  he  said. 

'It  didn't  make  any  difference.  It  didn't  and  it  doesn't  now.' 

'Me  during  the  week  and  a  change  for  Sundays/  he  said.  Rage 
beat  at  his  pride  with  callous  and  lacerating  strokes  of  pain.  He 
felt  himself  drop  away,  crazy  and  blinded  and  embittered  by 
acid  dregs  of  cheating  and  jealousy.  All  the  time  he  was  aware 
of  her  moving  her  body  with  quiet  suppleness  deeper  into  the 
sand  and  that  movement,  too,  made  him  ache  with  helpless 

'You  didn't  tell  me  either/  she  said.  'But  it  wouldn't  make  any 
difference  if  you  did.  No  difference  at  all.' 

Td  nothing  to  tell.'  His  voice  was  quiet;  he  could  hear  the  tide 
slowly  coming  in  across  the  sand. 

'Well,  then -who  should  care?'  She  moved  in  the  sand  again, 
supple  and  astonishingly  quiet,  and  in  distraction  he  found  her 
body  once  again  in  long  deep  curves;  the  flash  of  the  lighthouse 
fell  on  her  mouth,  making  it  glisten  and  then  leaving  it  wonder- 
fully dark  again  as  the  light  swung  out  to  sea. 

'We're  just  two  people/  she  said.  'People  get  so  messed  up 
about  the  right  and  wrong  of  things.  We're  just  two  people. 
What  do  we  want  with  rights  and  wrongs?  All  we  want  is  here/ 

No:  not  here,  he  thought.  Vainly  he  tried  to  listen  to  the  tide; 

166  The  Lighthouse 

but  he  was  distracted  by  the  feel  of  her  soft  body  into  agonies 
of  mind  that  flung  up  thoughts  of  Ella  and  the  lighthouse.  He 
determined  not  to  be  afraid  of  the  lighthouse  any  longer,  and 
now,  too,  he  remembered  the  girl,  high  up  there,  leaning  over. 

'Come  on,  kiss  me;  it's  nothing/  she  said.  'Come  on;  just  once 
more  like  the  lighthouse.  In  case  it  cures  you.  You  never  know.' 

She  folded  him  down  into  a  body  that  had  lost  the  last  of  its 
rigidity  and  seemed  now  to  have  the  quality  of  burying  him  into 
itself,  like  the  sand.  The  lighthouse  flashed  several  times,  across 
the  shore  and  across  the  long,  oblivious  kiss,  and  then  she  freed 
her  face  and  said,  smiling : 

'When  do  we  go  up  again  ? ' 

'To-morrow  ? '  he  said. 

'When  do  you  suppose  they'll  put  up  the  new  lighthouse  V  she 
said.  He  did  not  answer.  His  heart,  at  that  moment,  seemed  to 
stop  beating.  His  body  lay  imprisoned  in  its  harsh  chrysalis  of 
jealousy  and  weakness  and  fear.  He  could  not  look  at  her  face; 
and  down  on  the  shore  there  was  no  movement  but  a  small  wind 
eating  at  the  sea  and  innumerable  small  waves  casually  consum- 
ing what  remained  of  the  waste  of  sand. 


We  are  surrounded  by  the  most  ghastly  people/  the  Captain 
said.  All  across  miles  of  unbroken  pasture  there  was  not  another 

Up  through  the  south  avenue  of  elms,  where  dead  trees  lifted 
scraggy  bone  against  spring  sky,  bluebells  grew  like  thick  blue 
corn,  spreading  into  the  edges  of  surrounding  grass.  The  wind 
came  softly,  in  a  series  of  light  circles  from  the  west.  Here  and 
there  an  elm  had  died  and  on  either  side  of  it  young  green 
leaves  from  living  trees  were  laced  about  smoke-brown  brittle 
branches.  In  a  quadrangle  of  wall  and  grass  the  great  house  lay 

'You  never  really  see  the  beauty  of  the  house  until  you  get  up 
here/  the  Captain  said.  Though  still  young,  not  more  than  forty- 
five  or  so,  he  was  becoming  much  too  fat.  His  ears  were  like 
thickly-veined  purple  cabbage  leaves  unfurling  on  either  side  of 
flabby  swollen  cheeks.  His  mouth,  pink  and  flaccid,  trembled 
sometimes  like  the  underlip  of  a  cow. 

'They  have  killed  the  elms/  he  said.  'Finished  them.  They  used 
to  be  absolutely  magnificent. ' 

He  stopped  for  a  moment  and  I  saw  that  he  wanted  to  draw 
breath,  and  we  looked  back  down  the  hill.  Down  beyond 
soldierly  lines  of  trees,  the  tender  lucent  green  broken  here  and 
there  by  the  black  of  dead  branches,  I  could  see  a  flag  waving  in 
such  intermittent  and  strengthless  puffs  of  air  that  it,  too,  seemed 
dead.  It  was  quartered  in  green  and  scarlet  and  flew  from  a  small 
round  tower  that  was  like  a  grey  pepper-box  stuck  in  the  western 
arm  of  the  cross-shaped  house. 

Now  I  could  see,  too,  that  there  were  four  avenues  of  elms, 
repeating  in  immense  pattern  the  cross  of  the  house  below.  As  we 
stood  there,  the  Captain  making  gargling  noises  in  his  throat,  a 
cuckoo  began  calling  on  notes  that  were  so  full  and  hollow  that 
it  was  like  a  bell  tolling  from  the  elms  above  us.  Presently  it 
seemed  to  be  thrown  on  a  gust  of  air  from  the  tip  of  a  tree,  to 
float  down-wind  like  a  bird  of  grey  paper. 


168  The  Flag 

'There  she  goes/  I  said. 

'Tank  emplacements  mostly/  the  Captain  said.  His  face  shone 
lividly  in  the  sun,  his  lip  trembling.  'The  place  was  occupied 
right,  left  and  centre.  We  used  to  have  deer  too,  but  the  last 
battalion  wiped  them  out/ 

The  breath  of  bluebells  was  overpoweringly  sweet  on  the 
warm  wind. 

'When  we  get  a  little  higher  you  will  see  the  whole  pattern 
of  the  thing/  the  Captain  said. 

Turning  to  renew  the  ascent,  he  puffed  in  preparation,  his 
veins  standing  out  like  purple  worms  on  his  face  and  neck  and 

'Tired?'  he  said.  'Not  too  much  for  you?  You  don't  mind 
being  dragged  up  here  ? ' 

'Not  at  all/ 

'One  really  has  to  see  it  from  up  here.  One  doesn't  grasp  it 
otherwise.  That's  the  point.' 

'Of  course.' 

'We  shall  have  a  drink  when  we  get  back/  he  said.  He  laughed 
and  the  eyes,  very  blue  but  transparent  in  their  wateriness,  were 
sad  and  friendly.  'In  fact,  we  shall  have  several  drinks.' 

It  was  only  another  fifty  yards  to  the  crown  of  the  hill  and  we 
climbed  it  in  silence  except  for  the  hissing  of  the  Captain's 
breath  against  his  teeth.  All  the  loveliness  of  spring  came  down 
the  hill  and  past  us  in  a  stream  of  heavy  fragrance,  and  at  the 
top,  when  I  turned,  I  could  feel  it  blowing  past  me,  the  wind 
silky  on  the  palms  of  my  hands,  to  shine  all  down  the  hill  on  the 
bent  sweet  grasses. 

'Now,'  the  Captain  said.  It  was  some  moments  before  he  could 
get  breath  to  say  another  word.  Moisture  had  gathered  in  con- 
fusing drops  on  the  pink  lids  of  his  eyes.  He  wiped  it  away.  'Now 
you  can  see  it  all.' 

All  below  us,  across  the  wide  green  hollow  in  which  there  was 
not  another  house,  I  could  see,  as  he  said,  the  pattern  of  the 
thing.  Creamy  grey  in  the  sun,  the  house  made  its  central  cross 
of  stone,  the  four  avenues  of  elms  like  pennants  of  pale  green 
flying  from  the  arms  of  it  across  the  field. 

'Wonderful,'  I  said. 

'Wonderful,  but  not  unique/  he  said.  'Not  unique.' 

Not  angrily  at  first  but  wearily,  rather  sadly,  he  pointed  about 

The  Flag  169 

him  with  both  arms.  'It's  simply  one  of  six  or  seven  examples 
here  alone/ 

Then  anger  flitted  suddenly  through  the  obese  watery-eyed 
face  with  such  heat  that  the  whole  expression  seemed  to  rise  to 
a  bursting  fester,  and  I  thought  he  was  about  to  rush,  in  destruc- 
tive attack  at  something,  down  the  hill. 

'It  was  all  done  by  great  chaps/  he  said,  'creative  chaps.  It's 
only  we  of  this  generation  who  are  such  absolute  destructive 

'Oh!  I  don't  know.' 

'Won't  even  argue  about  it,'  he  said.  His  face,  turned  to  the 
sun,  disclosed  now  an  appearance  of  rosy  calm,  almost  boy-like, 
and  he  had  recovered  his  breath.  'Once  we  were  surrounded  by 
the  most  frightfully  nice  people.  I  don't  mean  to  say  intellectual 
people  and  that  kind  of  thing,  but  really  awfully  nice.  You  know, 
you  could  talk  to  them.  They  were  on  your  level.' 


'And  now  you  see  what  I  mean,  they've  gone.  God  knows 
where  but  they're  finished.  I  tell  you  everything  is  a  shambles.' 

Across  from  another  avenue  the  cuckoo  called  down-wind 
again  and  over  the  house  I  saw  the  flag  lifted  in  a  green  and 
scarlet  flash  on  the  same  burst  of  breeze.  I  wanted  to  ask  him 
about  the  flag,  but  he  said : 

'It's  perfectly  ghastly.  They've  been  hounded  out.  None  of 
them  left.  All  of  them  gone  - ' 

Abruptly  he  seemed  to  give  it  up.  He  made  gestures  of 
apology,  dropping  his  hands : 

'So  sorry.  Awfully  boring  for  you,  I  feel.  Are  you  thirsty? 
Shall  we  go  down?' 

'When  you're  ready.  I'd  like  to  see  the  house  - ' 

'Oh !  please,  of  course.  I'd  like  a  drink,  anyway.' 

He  took  a  last  wide  look  at  the  great  pattern  of  elm  and  stone, 
breathing  the  deep,  almost  too  sweet  scent  of  the  hill. 

'That's  another  thing.  These  perishers  don't  know  the  elements 
of  decent  drinking.  One  gets  invited  to  the  dreariest  cocktail 
parties.  The  drinks  are  mixed  in  a  jug  and  the  sherry  comes  from 
God  knows  where.'  Anger  was  again  reddening  his  face  to  the 
appearance  of  a  swollen  fester.  'One  gets  so  depressed  that  one 
goes  home  and  starts  beating  it  up.  You  know?' 

I  said  yes,  I  knew,  and  we  began  to  walk  slowly  down  the  hill, 

170  The  Flag 

breathing  sun-warm  air  deeply,  pausing  fairly  frequently  for 
another  glance  at  the  scene  below. 

'How  is  it  with  you?'  he  said.  'In  your  part  of  the  world?  Are 
you  surrounded  by  hordes  of  virgin  spinsters?' 

'They  are  always  with  us/  I  said. 

He  laughed,  and  in  that  more  cheerful  moment  I  asked  him 
about  the  flag. 

'Oh!  it's  nothing  much.'  He  seemed  inclined  to  belittle  it.  I 
thought.  'It  gives  a  touch  of  colour.' 

'I  must  look  at  it.' 

'Of  course.  We  can  go  up  to  the  tower.  There's  a  simply 
splendid  view  from  there.  You  can  see  everything.  But  we  shall 
have  a  drink  first.  Yes  ? ' 

'Thank  you.' 

'My  wife  will  be  there  now.  She  will  want  to  meet  you.' 

Slowly  we  went  down  to  the  house.  About  its  deep  surround- 
ing walls  there  were  no  flowers  and  the  grass  had  not  been  mown 
since  some  time  in  the  previous  summer,  but  old  crucified 
peaches,  and  here  and  there  an  apricot,  had  set  their  flowers  for 
fruiting  and  it  was  hot  in  the  hollow  between  the  walls.  At  the 
long  flight  of  stone  steps,  before  the  front  door,  the  Captain  said 
something  in  a  desultory  way  about  the  beauty  of  the  high 
windows  but  evidently  he  did  not  expect  a  reply.  He  leapt  up  the 
last  four  or  five  steps  with  the  rather  desperate  agility  of  a  man  who 
has  won  a  race  at  last,  and  a  moment  later  we  were  in  the  house. 

In  the  large  high-windowed  room  with  its  prospect  of  un- 
mown  grass  the  Captain  poured  drinks  and  then  walked  ner- 
vously about  with  a  glass  in  his  hand.  I  do  not  know  how  many 
drinks  he  had  before  his  wife  appeared,  but  they  were  large  and 
he  drank  them  quickly. 

'Forty-six  rooms  and  this  is  all  we  can  keep  warm,'  he  said. 

When  his  wife  came  in  at  last  she  was  carrying  bunches  of 
stiff  robin-orange  lilies.  She  was  very  dark  and  her  hands,  folded 
about  the  lily  stalks,  were  not  unlike  long  blanched  stalks  of  up- 
rooted flowers  themselves.  She  had  a  hard  pallor  about  her  face, 
very  beautiful  but  in  a  way  detached  and  not  real,  that  made  the 
Captain's  festering  rosiness  seem  more  florid  than  ever. 

I  liked  the  lilies,  and  when  I  asked  about  them  she  said : 

'We  must  ask  Williams  about  them.  I'm  frightful  at  names. 
He'll  know.' 

The  Flag  171 

Williams  knows  everything/  the  Captain  said. 

He  poured  a  drink  without  asking  her  what  she  wanted  and 
she  seemed  to  suck  at  the  edge  of  the  glass,  drawing  in  her  lips  so 
that  they  made  a  tight  scarlet  bud. 

'Are  you  keen  on  flowers?'  she  said. 

I  said  'Yes/  and  she  looked  at  me  in  a  direct  clear  way  that 
could  not  have  been  more  formal.  Her  eyes  had  slits  of  green, 
like  cracks,  slashed  across  the  black. 

'That's  nice/  she  said. 

'Has  Williams  done  the  cabbages?'  the  Captain  said. 

'What  cabbages?  Where?' 

'He  knew  damn  well  he  had  cabbages  to  do/  the  Captain  said. 
'I  told  him  so.' 

'How  should  I  know  what  he  has  to  do  and  what  he  hasn't  to 
do?'  she  said. 

'How  should  you  know/  he  said.  He  drank  with  trembling 
hands,  trying  to  steady  himself  a  little.  He  went  to  the  window 
and  stared  out.  The  room  was  so  large  that  his  wife  and  I  seemed 
to  be  contained,  after  his  walking  away,  in  a  separate  and  private 
world  bordered  by  the  big  fireless  hearth  and  the  vase  where  she 
was  arranging  flowers.  She  smiled  and  I  looked  at  her  hands. 

'Williams  will  tell  you  the  name  of  the  flowers  if  you  like  to 
come  along  to  the  conservatory  before  you  go.'  She  did  not  raise 
her  voice;  there  was  no  sound  except  the  plop  of  lily  stalks  fall- 
ing softly  into  the  water  in  the  vase.  'He  would  like  it.  He  likes 
people  who  are  interested.' 

She  dropped  in  the  last  of  the  lilies  and  then  took  off  her  coat 
and  laid  it  on  a  chair.  It  was  black  and  underneath  she  was  wear- 
ing a  yellow  jumper  of  perpendicular  ribbed  pattern  over  a  black 
skirt.  It  went  very  well  with  her  black  hair,  her  white  long  face 
and  her  green-shot  eyes. 

I  heard  the  Captain  pouring  himself  another  drink,  and  he 

'What  about  the  tower?  You  still  want  to  go  up?' 

'I  really  ought  to  go.' 

'Oh !  Good  God  man,  no.  We've  hardly  seen  a  thing.' 

'He's  coming  to  see  the  conservatory,  anyway/  his  wife  said. 

'Is  that  so?'  he  said.  'Well,  if  he's  to  see  everything  you'd 
better  get  cracking.' 

He  made  a  jabbing  kind  of  gesture  against  the  air  with  his 

172  The  Flag 

glass  and  he  was  so  close  to  the  window  that  I  thought  for  a 
moment  he  would  smash  one  glass  against  another.  I  could  not 
tell  if  he  was  nervous  or  impatient.  He  covered  it  up  by  pouring 
himself  another  drink,  and  his  wife  said,  with  acid  sweetness: 

'There  are  guests  too,  my  dear/ 

'No  thanks/  I  said. 

'You  haven't  had  anything,'  the  Captain  said.  'Good  God,  I 
feel  like  beating  it  up.' 

'If  you  still  want  to  see  the  conservatory  I  think  we'd  better 
go,'  she  said. 

I  went  out  of  the  room  with  her  and  we  had  gone  some  way 
to  the  conservatory,  which  really  turned  out  to  be  a  hot-house  of 
frilled  Victorian  pattern  beyond  the  walls  on  the  south  side  of 
the  house,  before  I  realised  that  the  Captain  was  not  with  us. 

'Williams,'  she  called  several  times.  'Williams.'  Big  scarlet 
amaryllis  trumpets  stared  out  through  the  long  house  of  glass. 

Presently  Williams  came  out  of  the  potting  shed  and  I  thought 
he  seemed  startled  at  the  sight  of  me.  He  was  a  man  of  thirty- 
five  or  so  with  thick  lips  and  carefully  combed  dark  brown  hair 
that  he  had  allowed  to  grow  into  a  curly  pad  on  his  neck.  There 
was  a  kind  of  stiff  correct  strength  about  him  as  he  stared 
straight  back  at  her. 

She  introduced  me  and  said:  'We'd  like  to  see  the  con- 

'Yes,  madam,'  he  said. 

It  was  very  beautiful  in  the  conservatory.  The  pipes  were  still 
on  and  the  air  was  moistly  sweet  and  strangling.  The  big  scarlet 
and  pink  and  crimson-black  amaryllis  had  a  kind  of  golden  frost 
in  their  throats.  They  were  very  fiery  and  splendid  among  banks 
of  maidenhair,  and  when  I  admired  them  Williams  said: 

'Thank  you,  sir.  They're  not  bad.' 

'Don't  be  so  modest,'  she  said.  'They're  absolutely  the  best  ever.' 

He  smiled. 

'What  we  haven't  done  to  get  them  up  to  this,'  she  said. 

I  walked  to  the  far  end  by  the  house  to  look  at  a  batch  of 
young  carnations,  and  when  I  turned  back  the  Captain's  wife 
was  holding  Williams  by  the  coat-sleeve.  It  exactly  as  if  she  were 
absent-mindedly  picking  a  piece  of  dust  from  it,  yet  it  was  also  as 
if  she  held  him  locked,  in  a  pair  of  pincers.  I  heard  her  saying 

The  Flag  173 

something,  too,  but  what  it  was  I  never  knew,  because  at  that 
moment  the  fiery  festering  figure  of  the  Captain  began  shouting 
down  the  path  from  the  direction  of  the  house.  I  could  not  hear 
what  he  said,  either. 

'He's  worrying  to  get  you  up  to  the  tower,'  she  said.  'I'm 
frightfully  sorry  you're  being  dragged  about  like  this.' 

'Not  at  all.' 

Williams  opened  the  door  for  me.  The  cuckoo  was  calling  up 
the  hillside,  and  the  Captain,  more  rosy  than  ever,  was  coming 
up  the  path. 

'Don't  want  to  hurry  you,  but  it  takes  longer  than  you  think  to 
get  up  there.' 

At  the  door  of  the  conservatory  his  wife  stretched  out  her 
hand.  'I'll  say  good-bye,'  she  said,  'in  case  I  don't  see  you  again.' 
We  shook  hands,  and  her  hand,  in  curious  contrast  to  the  moist 
sweet  heat  of  the  house  behind  her,  was  dry  and  cool.  Williams 
did  not  come  to  say  good-bye.  He  had  hidden  himself  beyond  the 
central  staging  of  palm  and  fern. 

The  Captain  and  I  walked  up  to  the  tower.  Once  again  we 
could  see,  as  from  the  top  of  the  hill,  the  whole  pattern  of  the 
thing :  the  four  avenues  of  elms  flying  like  long  green  pennants 
from  the  central  cross  of  the  house,  the  quadrangle  of  stone 
below,  the  corn-like  bluebells  wind-sheaved  on  the  hill.  The  Cap- 
tain staggered  about,  pointing  with  unsteady  fingers  at  the  land- 
scape, and  the  flag  flapped  in  the  wind. 

'Curious  thing  is  you  can  see  everything  and  yet  can't  see  a 
damned  thing,'  the  Captain  said.  On  all  sides,  across  wide  elm- 
patterned  fields,  there  was  still  no  sign  of  another  house.  Below 
us  the  conservatory  glittered  in  the  sun  and  it  was  even  possible 
to  see,  huge  and  splendidly  scarlet  under  the  glass,  the  amaryllis 
staring  back  at  us. 

The  Captain  began  to  cry. 

'You  get  up  here  and  you'd  never  know  any  difference/  he 
said.  His  tears  were  simply  moist  negative  oozings  on  the  lids  of 
his  pink-lidded  eyes.  They  might  have  been  caused  by  the  wind 
that  up  there,  on  the  tower,  was  a  little  fresher  than  in  the 
hollow  below. 

'Never  know  it  was  going  to  pot/  he  said.  'Everything.  The 
whole  damn  thing.' 

I  felt  I  had  to  say  something  and  I  remembered  the  flag. 

174  The  Flag 

'Oh!  it's  simply  a  thing  I  found  in  an  attic/  he  said.  'Just 
looks  well.  It  doesn't  mean  a  thing/ 

'Nothing  heraldic?' 

'Oh!  Good  God,  no.  Still,  got  to  keep  the  flag  flying.'  He 
made  an  effort  at  a  smile. 

I  said  I  had  seen  somewhere,  in  the  papers,  or  perhaps  it  was 
a  book,  I  could  not  remember  where,  that  heraldry  was  simply 
nothing  more  than  a  survival  of  the  fetish  and  the  totem  pole, 
and  he  said : 

'Evil  spirits  and  that  sort  of  thing?  Is  that  so?  Damn  funny.' 

Again,  not  angrily  but  sadly,  biting  his  nails,  with  the  tremb- 
ling of  his  lower  lip  that  was  so  like  the  lip  of  a  cow,  he  stared  at 
the  green  empty  beautiful  fields,  and  once  again  I  felt  all  the 
warm  sweetness  of  spring  stream  past  us,  stirring  the  green  and 
scarlet  flag,  on  tender  lazy  circles  of  wind. 

Below  us  the  Captain's  wife  and  Williams  came  out  of  the 
greenhouse,  and  I  saw  them  talking  inside  the  winking  scarlet 
roof  of  glass. 

'Well,  you've  seen  everything,'  the  Captain  said.  'We'll  have 
another  snifter  before  you  go.' 

'No  thanks.  I  really  ought  -' 

'No?'  he  said.  'Then  I'll  have  one  for  you.  Eh?  Good  enough?' 

'Good  enough,'  I  said. 

We  climbed  down  from  the  tower  and  he  came  to  the  gate  in 
the  fields  to  say  good-bye.  Across  the  fields  there  were  nearly 
two  miles  of  track,  with  five  gates  to  open,  before  you  reached 
the  road.  The  Captain's  eyes  were  full  of  water  and  he  had 
begun  to  bite  his  nails  again  and  his  face  was  more  than  ever  like 
a  florid  fester  in  the  sun. 

There  was  no  sign  of  his  wife,  and  as  I  put  in  the  gears  and  let 
the  car  move  away  he  looked  suddenly  very  alone  and  he  said 
something  that,  above  the  noise  of  the  car,  sounded  like : 

'Cheers.  Thanks  frightfully  for  coming.  Jolly  glad-' 

Half  a  mile  away,  as  I  got  out  to  open  the  first  of  the  five  field 
gates,  I  looked  back.  There  was  no  sign  of  life  at  all.  The  Cap- 
tain had  gone  into  the  house  to  beat  it  up.  The  greenhouse  was 
hidden  by  the  great  cross  of  stone.  All  that  moved  was  the 
cuckoo  blown  once  again  from  the  dying  elms  like  a  scrap  of  torn 
paper,  and  on  the  tower,  from  which  the  view  was  so  magni- 
ficent, the  flag  curling  in  the  wind. 


Twice  a  month,  going  back  to  the  tea-garden  in  the  north,  he 
took  the  Darjeeling  night  mail  out  of  the  heat  of  Calcutta; 
seldom  without  meeting  on  the  station  as  he  departed  some  re- 
turning English  nurse  with  a  basket  of  primroses  fresh  from  the 
hills,  but  never,  for  some  reason,  seeing  these  same  nurses  go. 
Calcutta,  with  its  vast  and  sticky  heat,  its  air  charged  with  post- 
war doom,  shrivelled  them  in  the  moment  of  departure  into 
nonentity.  The  hills  revived  and  re-shaped  them,  so  that  they 
returned,  carrying  their  little  native  baskets  of  yellow  and  pink 
and  purple  primula,  shaded  with  fern,  northern  and  cool  as 
English  spring,  like  strangers  coming  in  from  another  world. 

He  arrived  at  the  last  junction  of  the  broad-gauge  line  at  six  in 
the  morning,  in  a  cool  dawn  of  exquisite  dusty  mistiness  through 
which  in  the  dry  season  the  snows  were  rarely  visible.  He  longed 
always  to  see  these  snows,  cloud-like  or  icy-blue  or  at  their  most 
wonderful  like  vast  crests  of  frozen  sea-foam,  and  was  disap- 
pointed whenever  he  stepped  from  the  cinder- dusted  night  train 
on  to  a  platform  of  seething  dhotis  and  smoke-brown  faces,  to 
find  that  he  could  not  see  them  in  the  northern  sky.  He  envied 
always  those  travellers  who  were  going  further  north  and  would, 
from  their  bedroom  windows,  see  Kangchenjunga  as  they 
shaved.  He  thought  jealously  of  the  little  nurses  and  the  last  war- 
ime  service  girls  he  never  saw  on  their  way  to  Darjeeling,  but 
jnly,  refreshed  and  snow-cool,  as  they  came  down  to  the  Delta 
again,  carrying  their  mountain  flowers. 

Wherever  he  appeared  along  the  line,  especially  at  the  terminus 
where  he  drank  a  cup  of  milkless  tea  before  driving  out  in  the 
lorry  the  sixty  miles  to  the  tea-garden,  there  was  a  respect  for 
him  that  was  friendly.  He  had  been  travelling  up  and  down 
there,  in  the  same  way,  for  twenty  years.  He  had  a  long  lean 
figure  and  a  pale  face,  rather  dreamy  and  prematurely  grey  and 
in  very  hot  weather  blue-lipped,  that  had  become  almost  Indian- 
ised,  giving  him  a  look  of  Asiatic  delicacy.  He  had  learned,  very 
early,  that  in  the  East  time  is  an  immensity  that  does  not  matter; 


176  The  Frontier 

that  it  is  better  not  to  get  excited;  that  what  does  not  happen  to- 
day will  happen  to-morrow  and  that  death,  it  is  very  probable, 
will  come  between.  His  chief  concern  was  not  to  shout,  not  to 
worry,  not  to  get  excited,  but  to  grow  and  manufacture  a  toler- 
ably excellent  grade  of  tea. 

There  was  a  clubhouse  at  the  junction,  deliciously  shaded  with 
large  palms  and  peepul  trees,  an  old  white  house  with  exception- 
ally lofty  open  rooms  through  which  birds  flew  freely,  where  he 
sometimes  shaved  in  the  mornings  after  the  more  hideous  train 
journeys  and  then  had  a  quick  breakfast  before  driving  on  to  the 
plantation.  There  was  also  an  army  station  near,  and  during  the 
war  the  club  had  become  a  mere  transit  camp,  with  both 
English  and  Indian  officers  piling  bedrolls  in  the  doorway,  and 
rather  noisy  behaviour  in  the  compounds.  There  were  often  girls 
there  too,  and  once  he  had  seen  an  Indian  girl,  in  khaki  uniform, 
of  the  very  highest  type,  having  cocktails  with  a  bunch  of  war- 
time subalterns  who  belonged  to  some  dismal  section  of  army 
accountancy  and  were  in  consequence  behaving  like  abandoned 
invaders.  It  upset  him  a  little.  He  looked  at  her  with  envious 
deep  feeling  for  a  long  time.  She  had  a  pale,  aloof,  high-cheeked 
beauty,  with  smoky  brown  shadows  of  the  eyes  and  purple  depth 
of  hair,  that  he  had  never  grown  used  to;  and  he  longed  to  talk 
to  her.  But  she,  too,  was  going  southward  at  a  moment  when  he 
was  coming  north;  she  was  simply  one  of  those  entrancing,  mad- 
dening figures  that  war  threw  up  for  a  few  illuminating  seconds 
before  it  snuffed  them  out  again;  and  in  the  end  he  went  on  to 
the  plantation  alone. 

He  always  went  on  to  the  plantation  alone.  In  the  misty  dis- 
tances of  the  Dooar  country  there  was  a  curious  tranquillity  and 
it  entranced  and  bored  him  at  the  same  time.  It  entranced  him  by 
the  beauty  of  its  remoteness.  It  had  the  strange  tenseness,  ampli- 
fied in  daylight  by  heat  haze  and  at  night  by  the  glow  of  forest 
fires  in  the  Bhutan  hills,  of  a  country  at  the  foot  of  great  moun- 
tains that  were  themselves  a  frontier.  There  was  an  intense  and 
overshadowed  hush  about  it.  He  felt  always,  both  on  the  long 
truck  journey  across  recurrent  dried  or  flooded  river  beds  and 
then  on  the  green  orderly  tea  plantation  itself,  that  something 
wonderful  and  dramatic  was  about  to  happen  there. 

And  nothing  ever  did.  His  boredom  sprang  from  a  multitude 
of  cheated  moments.  The  place  was  a  great  let-down.  It  was  like 

The  Frontier  177 

coming  down  to  a  meal,  day  after  day,  year  in,  year  out,  and 
finding  the  same  tablecloth,  impeccably  ironed  and  spread,  white 
in  perfect  invitation.  There  was  about  to  be  a  wonderful  meal  on 
it,  and  there  never  was. 

His  visits  to  the  plantation  were  like  that.  He  expected  some- 
thing wonderful  to  dramatise  itself  out  of  the  hazy  fire-shot  hills, 
the  uneasy  nearness  of  a  closed  frontier,  the  deep  Mongol  dis- 
tances lost  so  often  in  sublime  sulphur  haze.  And  he  expected 
Kangchenjunga.  The  days  when  he  saw  the  snows  of  the  moun- 
tain always  compensated  him,  in  a  wonderful  way,  for  the  hum- 
drum parochial  business  of  going  the  rounds  of  the  plantation, 
visiting  the  MacFarlanes  on  the  adjoining  estate,  talking  of 
Dundee,  doling  out  the  Sunday  issue  of  rice  and  oils  to  his 
workers,  and  eating  about  a  dozen  chickens,  skinny  and  poorly 
cooked,  between  Friday  and  Monday  afternoon.  He  also  con- 
ceived that  he  had  a  sense  of  duty  to  the  place.  He  had  rather  a 
touching  pride  in  an  estate  he  had  taken  over  as  derelict  and  that 
was  now  a  place  with  thirty  or  forty  miles  of  metalled  road,  with 
hardly  a  weed,  and  with  every  tea-pruning  neatly  burned,  every 
bug  neatly  captured  by  yellow  pot-bellied  children,  every  worker 
devoted  and  contented.  And,  though  he  was  not  aware  of  it,  he 
was  bored  by  that  too. 

And  then  something  upset  him.  One  of  his  workers  got  drunk 
on  rice-beer,  ran  madly  about  the  plantation  for  a  day,  and  then 
raped  and  murdered  a  woman  over  by  the  MacFarlane  boundary. 

When  he  got  down  to  the  plantation  on  his  next  visit  the 
murderer,  armed  with  a  stolen  rifle,  was  still  roaming  about  the 
low  bamboo-forest  country  along  the  river.  Everybody  was 
stupidly  excited,  and  it  was  impossible  to  get  the  simplest 
accurate  report.  The  affair  had  developed  into  a  gorgeous  and 
monstrous  Indian  mess,  everybody  at  clamorous  cross-purposes, 
sizzling  with  rumour  and  cross- rumour  and  revived  malice, 
seething  with  that  maddening  Indian  fatalism  that  sucks  fun  out 
of  disaster  and  loves  nothing  better  than  prolonging  it  by  lying 
and  lamentation. 

After  he  had  organised  search  parties  and  sent  out  rumour- 
grubbing  scouts,  putting  on  a  curfew  for  the  women  and  child- 
ren, he  spent  most  of  the  week-end  driving  wildly  about  his 
thirty-five  miles  of  metalled  road  in  pursuit  of  false  reports.  In 
the  tiring  excitement  of  it  he  forgot  to  look  for  Kangchenjunga, 

178  The  Frontier 

only  remembering  it  when  he  was  far  back  in  the  heart  of 
Bengal,  in  the  hot  and  cinder-blackened  train. 

When  he  came  back  on  his  next  visit,  a  week  earlier  than 
normal,  the  murderer  had  not  been  found.  He  was  worried  about 
it  all  and  did  not  sleep  well  in  the  hot  train,  with  its  noisy  mid- 
night dislocations.  It  was  a  blow  to  his  pride  and  he  was  angry 
that  it  had  ever  happened. 

Then  he  fell  asleep,  to  be  woken  suddenly  by  the  sound  of 
frantic  arguments.  The  train  had  stopped  and  he  put  on  a 
light.  He  let  down  the  gauze  window  and  saw,  in  the  light  of 
the  station  outside,  a  mass  of  seething  dhotis  clamouring  at  each 
other  with  brown  antennae,  like  moths.  He  shouted  angrily  for 
everybody  to  shut  up.  A  bubble  of  surprise  among  the  dhotis, 
with  explanatory  sing-song  inflexions,  was  followed  by  someone 
shouting  back,  in  English : 

'Shut  up  yourself!  You're  lucky.  You've  got  a  compartment. 
They  won't  let  me  on.' 

Til  be  out  in  a  moment ! '  he  said. 

'Oh!  don't  worry.' 

He  slipped  his  dressing-gown  over  his  pyjamas  and  went  out 
on  to  the  platform,  really  no  more  than  a  length  of  cinder  track 
running  past  the  metals,  and  pushed  his  way  among  the  flutter- 
ing dhotis.  He  heard  the  English  voice  again  and  then  saw, 
among  the  crowd,  under  the  low  station  lights,  what  seemed  to 
him  an  incredibly  unreal  thing. 

Standing  there  was  one  of  the  nurses  he  had  so  often  seen 
coming  back  to  Calcutta  on  the  south-bound  train.  She  was  very 
young  and  she  was  waving  angry  hands. 

'Something  I  can  do?'  he  said. 

'Yes,  you  can  shut  these  people  up ! ' 

Her  eyes  had  the  dark  brightness  of  nervous  beetles.  Her  hair, 
parted  in  the  middle,  was  intensely  black  and  smoothed. 

'May  I  look  at  your  ticket?' 

'Oh !  I  suppose  so.' 

He  took  her  ticket,  looking  at  it  for  a  moment  under  the 
station  lights. 

'This  isn't  a  sleeper  ticket.  This  is  just  a  -' 

'Oh!  I  know,  I  know.  It's  the  wrong  ticket.  I  know.  That 
comes  of  not  getting  it  yourself!  My  bearer  got  it.  In  this 
country  if  you  want  a  thing  done,  do  it  yourself.  I  know.' 

The  Frontier  179 

Where  are  you  going  ? ' 

'Darjeeling.  On  leave/ 

'I've  a  compartment.  I'm  not  sleeping.  You  can  share  with 

'That  makes  me  feel  pretty  small.  Getting  so  excited.' 

'Oh,  everybody  in  India  gets  excited.  It's  nothing.  It's  the 

Tm  awfully  sorry/  she  said. 

He  called  a  porter  for  her  luggage;  the  moth-like  dhotis  floated 
away  under  the  station  lights;  and  together  they  got  on  the  train. 

He  always  had  plenty  of  food  and  ice-water  and  beer  and  fruit 
packed  up  in  neat  travelling  baskets,  and  the  rest  of  the  night  he 
and  the  girl  sat  opposite  each  other  on  the  bunks,  eating  ham 
and  bread  and  bananas  and  drinking  beer.  He  was  fascinated  by 
her  hunger  and  thirst.  They  were  the  hunger  and  thirst  of  the 
very  young,  and  it  seemed  to  him  that  she  talked  all  night  with 
her  mouth  full. 

'Ever  been  to  Darjeeling  before?'  he  said. 

'No.  They  say  it's  wonderful  and  it  stinks,'  she  said. 

'You're  lucky.  You'll  see  Kangchenjunga.' 

She  had  not  the  faintest  idea  what  Kangchenjunga  was,  and  he 
talked  of  it  for  some  time  as  a  man  talks  of  a  pet  grievance,  a  pet 
memory,  or  an  old  campaign.  He  told  her  several  times  how 
wonderful  it  was,  and  then  he  knew  that  she  was  bored. 

'Oh !  I'm  sorry,'  he  said.  'The  trouble  is  that  I  like  mountains. 
I'm  rather  in  love  with  mountains.' 

'Really?'  She  sat  cross-legged  on  the  bunk,  eating  a  fourth 
banana,  her  shoes  off,  her  knees  rounded  and  smoothly  silken, 
her  skirt  pulled  tightly  above. 

'Don't  you  care  for  mountains?' 

'Not  terribly.' 

'Then  why  Darjeeling?  That's  why  people  go  there.' 

'You've  got  to  go  somewhere,'  she  said. 

He  knew  suddenly  that  she  was  going  there  simply  because  it 
was  a  place,  a  thing,  a  convention;  because  she  had  a  piece  of 
time  to  be  killed;  because  she  was  bored.  She  was  going  to  a 
place  whose  identity  did  not  matter,  and  suddenly  he  was  aware 
of  wanting  to  say  something  to  her;  to  make,  as  casually  as  he 
could,  a  desperate  suggestion. 

He  began  to  make  it,  and  then  he  found  himself  trembling  un- 

180  The  Frontier 

expectedly  and  with  immense  diffidence,  so  that  all  he  could  say 


She  took  another  banana  and  began  to  peel  it  very  slowly,  as  if 

'What  were  you  going  to  say  ? ' 

'Oh!  it  was  an  idea.  But  then  I  remembered  it  wouldn't -it 
wasn't  possible.' 

What  was  it?'  she  said;  and  when  he  did  not  answer  she 
looked  at  him  with  delightful  black  eyes,  teasing  him  a  little, 
mock  serious.  Tlease.' 

'Well,'  he  said.  'Well -I  was  going  to  suggest  you  spent  the 
week-end  on  the  estate  with  me.  Oh!  you  could  go  on  to  Dar- 
jeeling  afterwards.' 

She  began  laughing,  her  mouth  full  of  banana,  so  that  she 
hung  her  head.  He  saw  then  that  her  very  black  hair  was  parted 
in  a  rigid  wonderful  white  line  straight  down  the  middle  and  he 
had  the  first  of  many  impulses  to  bend  down  and  touch  it  with 
his  hands. 

Just  as  he  felt  he  could  no  longer  keep  himself  from  doing  this 
she  lifted  her  head  sharply  and  said : 

'I  thought  you  were  going  to  ask  me  something  terribly  serious. 
You  know,  like  - ' 

He  was  shocked. 

'Oh!  but  it  is  serious.  The  reason  I  didn't  ask  you  the  first 
time  was  because  there's  a  murderer  running  about  the  place.' 

'What  possible  difference  could  that  make  ? ' 

'I'll  have  to  spend  most  of  the  week-end  trying  to  catch  him,' 
he  said.  'It  wouldn't  be  fair  to  you.  You'd  have  to  entertain 

'Entertain  my  foot,'  she  said.  'I  should  come  with  you.' 

He  discovered  very  soon  that  she  accepted  everything  in  that 
same  way :  without  fuss,  offhand  but  rather  bluntly,  as  if  things 
like  riding  on  night  trains  with  strange  men,  changing  her  plans 
and  hunting  native  murderers  in  remote  places  were  all  things 
of  the  most  casual  account  to  her. 

It  troubled  and  attracted  him  so  much  that  he  forgot,  in  the 
morning  confusion  at  the  junction,  to  take  his  customary  look  for 
the  snows  in  the  north.  He  did  not  remember  it  until  he  had 
been  driving  for  ten  or  fifteen  miles  along  the  road  to  the  estate. 

The  Frontier  181 

And  then  he  remembered  another  simple  and  curious  thing  at  the 
same  time.  He  had  stupidly  forgotten  to  ask  her  name;  and  he 
had  neglected,  still  more  stupidly,  to  tell  her  his  own. 

The  three  of  them,  his  Indian  driver,  himself  and  the  girl, 
were  pressed  together  in  the  driving  cab  of  a  Ford  truck.  In  the 
back  of  the  truck  were  a  dozen  huddled  Indians  who  wanted  to 
be  dropped  off  at  hamlets  along  the  road.  It  was  impossible  to 
speak  in  the  roaring,  jolting  open-sided  cabin,  in  the  trembling 
glare  of  dust,  and  it  was  only  when  the  truck  stopped  at  last  to 
let  four  or  five  villagers  alight  that  he  said : 

'You  can't  see  the  snows  this  morning.  Awful  pity.  It's  the 
haze.  By  the  way,  my  name's  Owen.' 

She  took  it  indifferently  and  it  struck  him  that  possibly  she 
had  known  it  all  the  time. 

'Mine's  Blake,'  she  said. 

What  else?' 

'Oh !  just  Blake.  I  get  used  to  it,'  she  said. 

All  along  the  road,  for  the  next  hour,  he  watched  for  the 
slightest  dispersal,  northward,  of  the  vaporous  glare  that  hid  all 
of  the  mountains  except  the  beginnings  of  forested  foothills. 
These  first  hills,  deceptively  distant  in  the  dusty  glare  of  sun, 
were  like  vast  lines  of  sleeping  elephants,  iron-grey  and  encrusted 
with  broken  forest,  above  tea-gardens  that  now  began  to  line  the 

And  then,  thirty  miles  from  the  station,  they  came  to  the  river. 
He  had  been  looking  forward  to  it  as  an  important  event  he 
wanted  to  show  her.  He  had  spoken  of  it  several  times  at  village 
stopping-places.  At  bridges  over  smaller  streams  he  had  shouted 
above  the  noise  of  the  motor :  'Not  this  one.  This  isn't  it.  A  bit 
further  yet.  You'll  see.' 

And  then  they  were  there.  The  sight  of  the  broad,  snow- 
yellow  stream  running  splendidly  down  with  furious  and  intricate 
currents  between  flat  banks  of  sun-whitened  sand,  of  lines  of  ox- 
wagons  standing  on  dusty  bamboo  traverses  waiting  to  be  ferried 
across,  of  the  ferry  being  madly  poled  by  sweating  and  singing 
men  against  the  powerful  snow-flood :  all  of  it  filled  him  with  a 
pride  and  excitement  that  he  wanted  somehow  to  convey  to  her. 
He  felt  in  a  way  that  it  was  his  own  river;  that  the  water  was 
from  his  own  snows;  and  that  the  snows  were  from  his  own 
mountains.  This  was  his  country  and  his  pride  in  it  all  was 

182  The  Frontier 

parochial  and  humble.  It  was  inadequate  and  he  could  not  put  it 
into  words. 

He  simply  stood  on  the  deck  of  the  slowly-crossing  ferry, 
crowded  now  with  ox-carts,  many  peasants,  a  single  car  and  his 
own  truck,  and  stared  at  the  wide  sweeping  waters. 

Wonderful,  isn't  it?  Don't  you  think  so?  Don't  you  think  it's  a 
wonderful  river?' 

'Reminds  me  of  one  I  saw  in  Burma,'  she  said. 

'Burma  ? '  he  said.  He  felt  himself  once  again  brought  up  sharp 
by  the  casual  bluntness  of  her  way  of  speaking.  'Burma?  Were 
you  there?' 

'The  whole  caboodle,'  she  said. 

He  suddenly  felt  small  and  crushed.  The  river  and  all  it  meant 
for  him,  and  had  so  long  meant,  shrivelled  into  insignificance.  He 
stared  round  for  some  moments  at  the  scraggy  oxen  on  the  ferry. 
The  carts,  he  noticed,  were  overloaded,  and  the  oxen,  as  they 
always  were,  underfed,  their  thighs  raw  and  bloody  from  strugg- 
ling against  each  other  and  against  the  ill-balanced  pole  of  the 
shafts.  He  felt  angry  at  the  stupidity  of  drivers  who  drove  them 
with  such  savage  lack  of  thought.  The  suffering  of  the  grey 
moon-eyed  creatures  standing  in  the  glare  of  sun,  staring  at  the 
water,  depressed  him,  and  the  miserable  little  songs  of  the  ferry- 
men, in  a  dialect  he  did  not  understood,  might  have  been,  in 
their  primitive  whining,  the  voices  of  cattle  themselves,  whimper- 
ing in  pain. 

And  then  the  girl  said : 

'Who  are  those  people  ? ' 

'Oh !  just  peasants.' 

'No,'  she  said.  'The  people  with  the  car.' 

He  looked  up  to  see,  on  the  other  side  of  the  ferry,  a  family  of 
educated  Indians,  a  man  in  a  European  suit  and  soft  white  hat, 
a  woman  in  a  blue  sari,  two  pig-tailed  girls  in  cotton  frocks. 
They  belonged,  he  saw,  to  the  Chevrolet  saloon. 

'They're  Indians,'  he  said.  'An  educated  family.' 

'I  want  to  get  myself  a  sari  like  that,'  she  said.  'I  want  to  take 
one  home.' 

'Home?'  he  said.  He  felt  suddenly  and  brutally  pained.  'When 
do  you  go  home?' 


He  looked  at  the  Indians  standing  by  the  car.  He  felt  the 

The  Frontier  183 

collective  pain  of  his  thoughts  about  the  oxen,  the  river,  and  of 
the  girl  leaving  India  abruptly  increased  by  the  thought  that  he 
himself  had  not  much  longer  to  remain.  'Quit  India/  the  curt  and 
shabby  slogan  that  one  had  seen  for  so  many  years  chalked  up 
on  walls  and  bridges  and  decaying  tenements  in  cities,  every- 
where, meant  him  too.  In  a  year,  perhaps  in  a  few  months,  he, 
too,  would  have  to  go. 

They  reached  the  estate,  with  its  pleasant  two-storey  bungalow 
of  white-railed  verandahs,  its  little  plantation  of  pineapples,  its 
papaia  trees  and  its  garden  of  orange  and  rose  and  crimson 
gerbera  daisies,  purple  petunias  and  now  fading  sweet  peas, 
about  forty  minutes  later.  He  showed  it  her  with  pride.  Its 
windows  faced  a  view  of  lawn  and  flowers,  of  thousands  of  tea- 
bushes  in  the  gardens,  neatly  shaped  under  high  and  slender 
trees  of  shade,  and  beyond  it  all  the  line  of  elephantine  moun- 
tains, smouldering  in  morning  haze. 

'Over  there/  he  said,  'is  Bhutan.  This  is  the  frontier.' 

'What  is  Bhutan?' 

'It's  a  state.  A  closed  state.  You  can't  get  in  there.' 

'Why  not?' 

'You  just  can't/  he  said.  'The  mountains  are  the  frontier  and 
they'd  keep  you  out  if  nothing  else  did.' 

'Just  like  Burma/  she  said.  'Only  they  didn't  keep  us  out.' 

He  did  not  know  what  to  say. 

'Awfully  good  place  for  your  murderer/  she  said.  'Once  he's  in 
there  you've  had  it.  It's  all  over.' 

'Yes/  he  said. 

He  had  hoped  she  would  not  mention  the  murder.  She  had 
changed  after  her  bath  into  a  white  dress  with  scarlet  candy 
stripes,  sleeveless  and  fresh,  with  a  simple  belt.  Diagonal  lines  of 
scarlet  met  down  the  centre  line  of  her  body,  continuing  the  line 
of  her  hair.  Each  time  she  lowered  her  head,  to  bend  over  her 
plate,  he  saw  this  line  with  increasingly  aggravated  impulses, 
aching  to  touch  it.  Then  when  she  stood  up  from  the  table,  after 
breakfast,  he  was  aware  of  the  line  running  down  through  the 
whole  length  of  her  body.  It  was  the  division  between  her 
breasts;  it  went  on,  in  a  series  of  scarlet  arrowheads,  to  the  tip 
of  her  skirt;  it  divided  her  brown  sun- warm  legs,  fascinating 

'What  would  you  like  to  do?'  he  said. 

184  The  Frontier 

'Hunt  the  murderer/  she  said,  'of  course.  Isn't  that  what  I 
came  for?' 

They  drove  most  of  that  day  about  the  estate.  It  was  quite  hot, 
but  she  did  not  rest  in  the  afternoon.  Some  of  the  excitement 
about  the  murder  had  died  down,  and  now  there  was  a  stillness 
of  heat  about  the  long  avenues  of  tea-bushes,  under  the  delicate 
high  shade  trees,  that  was  enchanting.  Bougainvilleas  flamed  on 
roofs  seen  through  far  sun-washed  openings  of  the  gardens. 
Delicious  small  winds  stirred  in  the  forest  of  bamboo.  He  showed 
her  all  of  it  with  pride :  the  good  new  roads,  the  tea  manufactory, 
the  cool  office  where  he  paid  his  workers,  the  yellow  slant-eyed 
children  solemnly  squatting  with  their  tea-bugs  spread  out  like 
patterns  of  dominoes,  waiting  for  them  to  be  counted.  He  let  her 
pluck  from  the  bushes  a  few  leaves  of  tea. 

'All  we  needed  to  make  a  perfect  day  of  it  was  a  pot  at  the 
murderer/  she  said. 

After  dinner  they  sat  on  the  north  verandah,  facing  the  hills. 
In  the  darkness  smouldering  hill  fires  seemed  at  intervals  to 
be  fanned  by  sudden  winds.  They  flared  with  golden  tips  and 
then  died  for  a  moment,  deep  red,  before  they  flamed  and  ran 

She  was  fascinated  by  these  fires,  and  he  explained  them  to 
her.  They  were  the  fires  of  itinerant  hill-people,  clearing  sections 
of  forest,  burning  them  and  then  moving  on.  They  were  like 
beacons  on  the  frontier,  far-off  and  unattainable,  mysterious  and 
lovely  in  the  tense  night  air. 

And  in  the  sudden  lighter  fannings  of  flame,  as  he  turned  to 
speak  to  her,  he  saw  the  light  of  them  on  her  face.  It  accentuated 
the  line  of  her  scalp  so  vividly  that  he  could  hardly  bear  to  sit 
there,  an  arm's  length  away,  and  not  touch  her.  He  longed  to  run 
his  fingers  down  this  line  and  tenderly  down  its  lovely  continua- 

Suddenly  he  knew  that  she  was  aware  of  this.  She  stirred  in 
her  chair,  her  legs  stretched  outward.  He  saw  her  black  eyes  turn 
and  fix  themselves  fully  on  him,  and  he  felt  the  beating  under- 
current of  their  dark  excitement.  He  put  out  his  hands.  In  the 
hills  a  furious  moment  of  fire  leapt  up  and  flooded  her  face  with 
crimson  light  and  he  saw  her  lips,  wet  and  soft,  parting  them- 
selves slowly,  ready  to  accept  him. 

A  moment  later  he  heard  the  voice  of  MacFarlane  calling 

The  Frontier  185 

across  the  verandah,  in  the  broad  Dundee  Scots  that  he  had 
always  faintly  loathed : 

'Hi  there,  Owen,  where  are  you  hidin'  ye'self,  man?' 

For  the  rest  of  the  evening  the  fierce  parochialism  of  MacFar- 
lane  filled  the  chair  between  them.  MacFarlane,  tall  and  angular 
and  stiff,  spoke  volubly  of  other  Scots,  of  Scotland,  of  Scottish 
compounds  in  Calcutta.  He  bloomed  with  Scottish  pride. 

'Miss  Blake,  that's  a  Scots  name,  surely?' 

'As  English  as  - ' 

Td  no  be  so  sure  o'  that.  Pd  no  be  so  sure,  Miss  Blake.  I'd  no 
be  so  sure.' 

'Well— ' 

'Better  be  true  Scot  than  half  English,'  MacFarlane  said. 
Something  about  his  discovery  of  the  two  of  them  on  the  veran- 
dah, together  with  the  astonishing  fact  of  Miss  Blake  being  there 
at  all,  seemed  to  fill  him  with  a  hostile  desire  to  taunt  their 
secrecy.  'Ye're  like  Owen  here.  He's  a  Welsh  name.  Ye've  a 
Scots  name.  The  pair  of  ye  claim  to  be  English  and  a'  the  damn 
time  neither  one  of  you  knows  where  y'are ! ' 

MacFarlane  took  ferocious  sips  of  whisky  and  Owen  felt  all  the 
delicacy,  the  tension  and  the  beauty  of  the  day  crumble  in  his 
hands.  The  girl  lay  in  her  chair,  full  length,  black  eyes  dreaming, 
her  body  quiet  and  bored,  and  stared  at  the  hills  and  their 
gigantic  bursting  flowers  of  fire. 

But  once,  before  MacFarlane  finally  got  up  and  staggered  off 
across  the  garden  down  the  path  hidden  from  the  house  by 
groves  of  banana,  she  was  moved  to  taunt  him  back  : 

'And  when  is  Scotland  going  to  capture  the  murderer?' 

'Ah,  he's  about.  He's  about  yet.  We'll  have  him  yet.' 

'That'll  be  a  brave  day  for  Scotland.' 

'Not  a  damn  bit  braver  than  any  other ! ' 

MacFarlane  waved  proud,  extravagant,  tipsy  hands  and  Owen 
hated  him.  He  looked  across  at  the  girl,  catching  the  light  of  her 
dark  eyes  for  a  second,  and  felt  that  she,  too,  waited  for  the  time 
when  the  moment  of  shattered  secrecy  between  them  could  be 
renewed.  He  felt  his  body  once  again  ache  for  the  line  of  her 
hair,  and  then  MacFarlane  said : 

'Ah  weel,  I'll  bid  ye  good  night,  ye  damn'  Sassenachs.  We'll 
be  glad  to  gie  ye  tea  to-morrow  if  ye  care  to  run  over.  'Phone 
us  up.' 

1 86  The  Frontier 

'Miss  Blake  hasn't  much  time/  Owen  said.  'She's  leaving 
India.  Going  home.  To  England/ 

'England!'  MacFarlane  said.  '  Wha'ever  said  England  was 
home ! ' 

'Good  night/  Owen  said. 

'Good  night/  MacFarlane  said.  'Sleep  well.'  He  began  to 
stagger  away,  across  the  garden,  towards  the  banana  grove,  from 
which  he  called  with  final  dour  triumph :  'Not  that  ye  will ! ' 

When  he  had  gone  there  was  no  sound  in  the  garden  except 
the  occasional  turning,  like  the  slow  page  of  a  book,  of  banana 
leaves  twisting  in  soft  air.  It  was  a  sound  that  gave  the  impres- 
sion, now  and  then,  of  being  part  of  the  echo  of  distant  fires 
splintering  fresh  paths  into  dark  forests  along  the  hills. 

On  the  still  verandah  Owen  felt  his  own  emotions  bursting  for- 
ward in  just  such  sudden  flaring  spurts  of  exploration  into  the 
darkness  where  the  girl  lay  stretched  in  her  chair.  He  waited  for 
a  few  moments  after  MacFarlane  had  gone  and  then  he  went 
over  to  her  and  did  what  he  had  wanted  to  do  ever  since  she  had 
ridden  with  him  in  the  train  that  morning.  He  smoothed  his 
hands  down  the  parted  flanks  of  her  hair.  She  did  not  stir.  After 
dinner  she  had  put  on  a  house-gown  of  dark  blue  silk  and  the 
metal  zip  down  the  front  of  it  ended  in  a  tassel  of  blue  cord.  He 
wanted  to  pull  gently  at  this  cord;  he  wanted  the  gown  to  fall 
away  like  the  dark  shell  of  a  nut,  leaving  her  naked  body  pale 
with  rounded  bowls  of  shadow  underneath  it.  He  wanted  to 
watch  the  colour  of  the  fire  from  the  hills  on  her  face  and  see  it 
grow  rosy  on  the  pale  skin  of  her  breasts,  on  her  shoulders  and 
on  the  intensely  black  divisions  of  her  hair.  But  he  did  not  do 
anything;  he  was  paralysed  suddenly  by  withering  shyness;  and 
suddenly  he  stood  away. 

'I  just  wanted  to  say  that  it  was  sweet  of  you  to  come/  he  said. 
'Awfully  sweet,  and  I'm  grateful.' 

In  the  morning  they  drove  across  the  estate  again.  He  took  his 
rifle  in  the  back  of  the  car.  On  the  hills,  above  the  fresh  green 
gardens,  so  like  orchards  of  privet,  there  was  nothing  to  be  seen, 
in  the  glistening  haze  of  dust,  of  the  fires  of  the  night  before: 
except  here  and  there  dead  scars  of  burning,  like  black  scabs, 
across  brown  serrations  of  shale.  The  great  fires  were  lost,  like 
the  smoulderings  of  matches,  in  the  vaster  substance  of  moun- 
tains, and  the  light  of  them  had  become  extinguished  by  sun. 

The  Frontier  187 

He  wanted  to  drive  her  out  beyond  the  gardens,  through  the 
first  fringes  of  bamboo  forest  and  on  to  the  deep  reaches  of 
grass-swamp  where,  by  the  river,  there  were  rhinoceros.  On  the 
narrow  sandy  track  of  the  forest,  like  a  white  gulley  between  tall 
olive  stalks  of  bamboo,  they  passed  a  running  Indian,  naked 
except  for  a  small  loincloth,  with  his  bow  and  arrows. 

'A  Sunday  morning  hunter/  he  said.  'It's  the  same  the  world 

'Except  here  they  hunt  the  murderer/  she  said.  'They're 
probably  all  murderers,  anyway/ 

'I  think  we  can  give  that  up/  he  said.  'They're  really  wonder- 
ful people/ 

'Give  up  nothing/  she  said.  'It's  what  I  came  for.' 

'He's  probably  up  there/  he  said.  He  could  not  tell  if  she  were 
teasing  him  or  not,  and  he  pointed  to  the  hills. 

'Then  let's  chase  him/  she  said.  'Let's  get  up  there.' 

'It's  impossible/  he  said.  'You  can't  get  in  there.  And  even  if 
you  could  get  in  there  it  would  mean  a  jungle  trek,  an  expe- 

'Then  let's  have  an  expedition.  I've  got  a  week  with  nothing  to 
do.  It  would  be  fun.' 

'You  simply  don't  understand,'  he  said.  'There  are  some 
things  you  just  can't  do.' 

'They  said  that  about  Burma/  she  said. 

Then  as  they  drove  on  through  the  deep  dry  grasses  of  river 
swamp,  dusty  and  withered  and  only  partly  green  now  after  the 
dry  season,  he  stopped  the  car  sometimes  to  point  out  the  things 
he  thought  would  interest  her:  a  clearing  where  he  had  shot  an 
elephant  before  the  war,  tunnels  bored  in  the  grasses  by  rhino- 
ceroses, the  dried  tributary  of  a  stream  with  its  carefully  built 
fin-like  breakwaters  of  stone,  his  own  enterprise  and  invention, 
to  prevent  the  sweeping  erosion  of  monsoons. 

Whenever  he  stopped  the  car  and  stood  up  and  pointed  about 
the  swamp  she  did  not  stir.  She  sat  in  the  seat  next  to  his  own  as 
she  had  sat  in  the  chair  on  the  verandah,  the  night  before, 
dreamy  and  quiet  but  with  bright  warm  black  eyes,  so  that  it  was 
hard  to  tell  if  she  was  bored  or  not  by  all  he  said. 

'We'll  see  the  other  river  in  five  minutes/  he  said. 

Then  she  said  an  unexpected  thing. 

'By  the  way,  did  you  come  to  my  room  last  night?' 

188  The  Frontier 

'You  were  fast  asleep,'  he  said. 

'I  was  awake  and  I  heard  you.' 

'I  came  to  see  if  you  had  a  mosquito  net,  that's  all/  he  said. 
'Some  people  come  here  and  because  it's  high  they  think  a  net 
isn't  necessary.  They  think  there  are  no  mosquitoes.  But  there 
are.  They  come  from  the  swamp  here.  You  need  a  net.' 

'I  never  have  a  net,'  she  said.  'In  Burma  for  four  years  and  I 
never  had  a  net.  I  hate  them.  I  feel  they  stifle  me.  I  can't  sleep 
with  them.' 

'That  was  silly.  It  was  dangerous,'  he  said. 

'In  wartime,'  she  said,  'you  get  used  to  that.' 

He  did  not  speak;  but  as  they  drove  on  again  he  felt  over- 
whelmed by  his  own  inadequacy.  He  had  been  doing  the  same 
two  trips  a  month  out  of  Calcutta,  by  the  night  mail,  for  twenty 
years;  pottering  round  the  estate;  fussing  over  improvements; 
finicking  and  praying  over  it  as  a  parish  priest  finicks  and  prays 
over  the  little  eddies  and  whirls  of  a  parochial  pond.  War  had 
come  and  swept  disastrously  over  the  East  like  an  awful  flood 
and  had  left  him  as  he  was. 

And  now  it  was  Quit  India.  Riots  were  beginning  in  Calcutta. 
The  English  -  Scots  like  MacFarlane  did  not  seem  to  him  of  the 
same  account -were  going  at  last.  There  would  be  great  rejoic- 
ing. People  who  did  not  know  India  and  did  not  understand  and 
did  not  care  would  say  it  was  a  wonderful  thing,  a  great  step  for- 
ward, a  revolutionary  thing.  Perhaps  for  some  people  it  was.  But 
to  him  it  was  a  pace  backward :  the  birth  of  another  nationalism 
in  a  world  diseased  by  nationalism,  the  creation  of  yet  another 

He  was  glad  when  they  reached  the  river.  He  got  out  and  ran 
round  the  front  of  the  car  and  helped  the  girl  jump  down  into 
the  sand.  She  was  wearing  a  pure  white  dress  of  smooth  linen 
that  buttoned  down  the  front,  and  once  again  he  was  shaken  by 
impulses  to  touch  the  line  of  her  hair  and  the  deep  fine  thread, 
down  through  her  body,  of  its  continuation. 

'This  river  comes  from  the  Himalayas,'  he  said.  'It's  Hima- 
layan snow.' 

'It's  like  the  other,'  she  said. 

The  river,  very  wide  at  that  point,  melted  on  the  far  side  into 
forests  of  yellow  haze.  Strong  green  currents  broke  across  it  from 
all  directions  like  quivering  muscles.  In  that  way  it  was  like  the 

The  Frontier  189 

river  of  the  previous  day,  except  that  now  there  was  no  ferry  to 
the  other  side. 

The  girl  bent  down  and  put  her  hand  in  the  water. 

'Icy/  she  said.  Wonderful  and  icy.' 

'This  is  the  best  view  of  Kangchenjunga  you  can  get/  he  said. 
'Straight  through  there.'  He  pointed  upstream,  squinting  against 
the  sun.  'That's  the  spot  exactly,  although  you  can't  see  it 

'The  water's  wonderful,'  she  said.  'Why  didn't  you  tell  me  it 
was  so  marvellous?  I'd  have  brought  a  costume.' 

'There  are  terrible  currents,'  he  said. 

She  stood  looking  at  the  shore  of  monsoon-washed  sand,  white 
and  fine  as  a  seashore  in  brilliant  sun  between  the  river  edge  and 
the  grasses  of  the  swamp.  In  its  icy  clearness  there  were  great 
egg-like  stones,  whiter  than  the  sand. 

He  saw  her  begin  to  take  off  her  shoes. 

'What  are  you  going  to  do  ? '  he  said. 

'Paddle.'  She  lifted  the  edges  of  her  dress  and  unrolled  her 
stockings,  peeling  them  down  her  brown  smooth  legs.  'Come  on.' 
The  dark  eyes  flashed.  'You  too.' 

'No,'  he  said.  'I'll  sit  here.  I'll  watch  you.' 

Standing  in  the  water,  holding  her  dress  above  her  knees,  she 
bent  her  head,  looking  down  at  her  feet,  and  he  felt  himself 
quiver,  once  again,  because  of  the  line  of  her  hair. 

As  she  turned  and  began  to  walk  slowly  upstream,  in  the 
shallow  edge  of  water,  swishing  her  feet,  he  saw  her  head,  vividly 
black  above  the  white  dress,  move  slowly  into  the  line  of  moun- 
tains, where  Kangchenjunga  should  have  been. 

'Don't  go  too  far,'  he  called. 

'No,'  she  said.  'If  I  don't  come  back  you'll  know  I'm  swim- 

'No,'  he  said.  He  was  agitated.  'Don't  do  that!  It's  dangerous. 
Don't  do  that.' 

'Have  a  nap,'  she  called.  'It'll  do  you  good ! ' 

He  stood  watching  her  for  a  moment  or  two  longer.  As  she 
stepped  away  on  big  white  stones  he  saw  water  and  sun  gleam  on 
the  bare  skin  of  her  legs  and  arms.  Then  as  she  poised  to  balance 
herself  he  saw  the  line  of  her  body  going  down,  white  and 
brown,  with  her  reflection,  to  the  bottom  of  the  pools  she  was 
crossing.  He  watched  her  go  like  this,  seventy  or  eighty  yards  up- 

190  The  Frontier 

stream,  past  the  first  elbow  of  sand  and  rock,  and  then  he  sat 
down  to  wait  for  her  by  the  car. 

When  the  rifle  shot  came  out  of  the  swamp  edge,  also  from 
upstream,  and  hit  him  full  in  the  chest,  he  did  not  fall.  The 
suddenness  of  it  seemed  simply  to  paralyse  him  from  the  waist 
upwards.  For  some  seconds  he  did  not  even  stagger.  He  stood 
acutely  watching  the  white  river  shore,  the  water,  the  swamp 
edge,  the  running  Indian  figure  with  the  rifle  disappearing  into 
low  bamboo. 

For  a  few  moments  longer  he  seemed  to  hold  these  objects 
briefly  focused  with  the  most  painless  calm  and  brilliance  and 
then  he  fell  backwards,  choking. 

As  he  lay  there  the  girl  came  running  to  him  over  soft  sand. 
He  kept  his  eyes  open  with  terrible  difficulty,  waiting  for  her  to 
arrive.  When  she  did  arrive  she  had  taken  off  her  dress,  and 
once  again  there  was  her  face,  white  but  calm;  her  black  hair 
with  its  tormenting  central  line;  her  naked  breast  and  shoulders 
as  she  bent  down. 

'That  was  your  murderer  all  right/  she  said.  'That  was  one  of 
your  wonderful  people.' 

He  lay  on  the  sand,  burned  by  sun,  his  mouth  open,  and  tried 
to  answer.  He  could  not  speak.  All  the  life  of  his  body,  borne  on 
a  great  torrent  of  blood,  was  flowing  back  to  his  head,  choking 
with  hideous  congestion  his  sight  and  breath.  He  made  weak  and 
frantic  signs  that  he  wanted  to  sit  up. 

She  put  her  arms  about  him,  holding  him  upright  for  a  few 
seconds  longer.  He  whimpered  in  a  great  struggle  to  hold  his 
weakness,  his  terror  and  the  flow  of  blood. 

'Don't  worry/  she  said.  'It's  all  right.  I'm  with  you.  Try  not  to 

He  made  another  tortured  effort  to  speak  but  he  could  make 
no  sound.  His  mouth  slowly  slobbered  blood.  Everything  he 
wanted  to  say  seemed  to  become  compressed,  in  a  final  glittering 
moment,  into  his  eyes.  She  saw  them  convulsedly  trying  to  fix 
themselves  on  herself,  the  sky  and  the  mountains.  This  convul- 
sion, calming  down  at  last,  gave  way  to  a  startling  flash  of 
reflected  light.  It  leapt  into  the  dying  retina  with  such  brilliance 
that  she  turned  and  instinctively  looked  behind  her,  towards  the 
swamp  and  the  mountains,  as  if  for  a  second  he  had  seen  the 
murderer  coming  back. 

The  Frontier  191 

But  when  she  turned  there  was  no  one  there;  and  when  she 
looked  back  at  his  eyes  she  saw  that  all  sight  of  sky,  the  moun- 
tains and  the  haze  that  hid  the  further  mountains  had  been 
extinguished  too. 

Now  only  herself  remained. 


She  gave  lessons  in  voice-training  in  the  long  room  above  the 
music  shop.  Her  pupils  won  many  examinations  and  were  after- 
wards very  successful  at  local  concerts  and  sometimes  in  giving 
lessons  in  voice-training  to  other  pupils.  She  herself  had  won 
many  examinations  and  everybody  said  how  brilliant  she 

Every  Christmas,  as  this  year,  she  longed  for  snow.  It  gave  a 
transfiguring  gay  distinction  to  a  town  that  otherwise  had  none. 
It  lifted  up  the  squat  little  shops,  built  of  red  brick  with  upper 
storeys  of  terra-cotta;  it  made  the  roofs  down  the  hill  like  glisten- 
ing cakes;  it  even  gave  importance  to  the  stuffy  gauze- windowed 
club  where  local  gentlemen  played  billiards  and  solo  whist  over 
meagre  portions  of  watered  whisky.  One  could  imagine,  with  the 
snow,  that  one  was  in  Bavaria  or  Vienna  or  the  Oberland,  and 
that  horse-drawn  sleighs,  of  which  she  read  in  travel  guides, 
would  glide  gracefully  down  the  ugly  hill  from  the  gasworks. 
One  could  imagine  Evensford,  with  its  many  hilly  little  streets 
above  the  river,  a  little  Alpine  town.  One  could  imagine  any- 
thing. Instead  there  was  almost  always  rain  and  long  columns  of 
working-class  mackintoshes  floating  down  a  street  that  was  like  a 
dreary  black  canal.  Instead  of  singing  Mozart  to  the  snow  she 
spent  long  hours  selling  jazz  sheet-music  to  factory  workers  and 
earned  her  reward,  at  last,  on  Christmas  Eve,  by  being  bored  at 
the  Williamsons'  party. 

Last  year  she  had  sung  several  songs  at  the  Williamson's  party. 
Some  of  the  men,  who  were  getting  hearty  on  mixtures  of  gin 
and  port  wine,  had  applauded  in  the  wrong  places,  and  Freddy 
Williamson  had  bawled  out  'Good  old  Clara ! ' 

She  knew  the  men  preferred  Erne.  Her  sister  was  a  very  gay 
person  although  she  did  not  sing;  she  had  never  passed  an 
examination  in  her  life,  but  there  was,  in  a  strange  way,  hardly 
anything  you  felt  she  could  not  do.  She  had  a  character  like  a 
chameleon;  she  had  all  the  love  affairs.  She  laughed  a  great  deal, 
in  rippling  infectious  scales,  so  that  she  made  other  people  begin 


A  Christmas  Song  193 

laughing,  and  she  had  large  violet-blue  eyes.  Sometimes  she 
laughed  so  much  that  Clara  herself  would  begin  weeping. 

This  year  Clara  was  not  going  to  the  Williamsons'  party;  she 
had  made  up  her  mind.  The  Williamsons  were  in  leather;  they 
were  very  successful  and  had  a  large  early  Edwardian  house  with 
bay-windows  and  corner  cupolas  and  bathroom  windows  of 
stained  glass  overlooking  the  river.  They  were  fond  of  giving 
parties  several  times  a  year.  Men  who  moved  only  in  Rotarian  or 
golf  circles  turned  up  with  wives  whose  corset  suspenders  could 
be  seen  like  bulging  pimples  under  sleek  dresses.  About  midnight 
Mrs  Williamson  grew  rowdy  and  began  rushing  from  room  to 
room  making  love  to  other  men.  The  two  Williamson  boys, 
George  and  Freddy,  became  rowdy  too,  and  took  off  their  jackets 
and  did  muscular  and  noisy  gymnastics  with  the  furniture. 

At  four  o'clock  she  went  upstairs  to  close  the  windows  of  the 
music- room  and  pull  the  curtains  and  make  up  the  fire.  It  was 
raining  in  misty  delicate  drops  and  the  air  was  not  like  Christ- 
mas. In  the  garden  there  were  lime  trees  and  their  dark  red 
branches,  washed  with  rain,  were  like  glowing  veins  in  the  deep 
blue  air. 

As  she  was  coming  out  of  the  room  her  sister  came  upstairs. 

'Oh!  there  you  are.  There's  a  young  man  downstairs  who 
wants  a  song  and  doesn't  know  the  name.' 

'It's  probably  a  Danny  Kaye.  It  always  is.' 

'No  it  isn't.  He  says  it's  a  Christmas  song.' 

'I'll  come,'  she  said.  Then  half-way  downstairs  she  stopped; 
she  remembered  what  it  was  she  was  going  to  say  to  Effie.  'By 
the  way,  I'm  not  coming  to  the  party,'  she  said. 

'Oh!  Clara,  you  promised.  You  always  come.' 

'I  know;  but  I'm  tired,  and  I  don't  feel  like  coming  and  there 
it  is.' 

'The  Williamsons  will  never  let  you  get  away  with  it/  her 
sister  said.  'They'll  drag  you  by  force.' 

'I'll  see  about  this  song,'  she  said.  'What  did  he  say  it  was?' 

'He  says  it's  a  Christmas  song.  You'll  never  get  away  with  it. 
They'll  never  let  you.' 

She  went  down  into  the  shop.  Every  day  people  came  into  the 
shop  for  songs  whose  names  they  did  not  know.  'It  goes  like  this,' 
they  would  say,  'or  it  goes  like  that.'  They  would  try  humming  a 
few  notes  and  she  would  take  it  up  from  them;  it  was  always 

194  A  Christmas  Song 

something  popular,  and  in  the  end,  with  practice,  it  was  never 
very  difficult. 

A  young  man  in  a  brown  overcoat  with  a  brown  felt  hat  and 
an  umbrella  stood  by  the  sheet-music  counter.  He  took  off  his  hat 
when  she  came  up  to  him. 

'There  was  a  song  I  wanted — ' 

'A  carol  ? '  she  said. 

'No,  a  song/  he  said.  'A  Christmas  song.' 

He  was  very  nervous  and  kept  rolling  the  ferrule  of  the 
umbrella  on  the  floor  linoleum.  He  wetted  his  lips  and  would  not 
look  at  her. 

'If  you  could  remember  the  words?' 

Tm  afraid  I  can't.' 

'How  does  it  go  ?  Would  you  know  that  ? ' 

He  opened  his  mouth  either  as  if  to  begin  singing  a  few  notes 
or  to  say  something.  But  nothing  happened  and  he  began  biting 
his  lip  instead. 

'If  you  could  remember  a  word  or  two/  she  said.  'Is  it  a  new 
song  ? ' 

'You  see,  I  think  it's  German/  he  said. 

'Oh/  she  said.  'Perhaps  it's  by  Schubert?' 

'It  sounds  awfully  silly,  but  I  simply  don't  know.  We  only 
heard  it  once/  he  said. 

He  seemed  about  to  put  on  his  hat.  He  ground  the  ferrule  of 
the  umbrella  into  the  linoleum.  Sometimes  it  happened  that 
people  were  too  shy  even  to  hum  the  notes  of  the  song  they 
wanted,  and  suddenly  she  said : 

'Would  you  care  to  come  upstairs?  We  might  find  it  there.' 

Upstairs  in  the  music  room  she  sang  the  first  bars  of  one  or 
two  songs  by  Schubert.  She  sat  at  the  piano  and  he  stood  re- 
spectfully at  a  distance,  leaning  on  the  umbrella,  too  shy  to 
interrupt  her.  She  sang  a  song  by  Brahms  and  he  listened  hope- 
fully. She  asked  him  if  these  were  the  songs,  but  he  shook  his 
head,  and  finally,  after  she  had  sung  another  song  by  Schubert, 
he  blurted  out : 

'You  see,  it  isn't  actually  a  Christmas  song.  It  is,  and  it  isn't. 
It's  more  that  it  makes  you  think  of  Christmas — ' 

'Is  it  a  love  song?' 


She  sang  another  song  by  Schubert;  but  it  was  not  the  one  he 

A  Christmas  Song  195 

wanted;  and  at  last  she  stood  up.  'You  see,  there  are  so  many 
love  songs — ' 

'Yes,  I  know,  but  this  one  is  rather  different  somehow. ' 

'Couldn't  you  bring  her  in?'  she  said.  'Perhaps  she  would 

'Oh!  no,'  he  said.  'I  wanted  to  find  it  without  that' 

They  went  downstairs  and  several  times  on  the  way  down  he 
thanked  her  for  singing.  'You  sing  beautifully,'  he  said.  'You 
would  have  liked  this  song.' 

'Come  in  again  if  you  think  of  it,'  she  said.  'If  you  can  only 
think  of  two  or  three  bars.' 

Nervously  he  fumbled  with  the  umbrella  and  then  quickly  put 
on  his  hat  and  then  as  quickly  took  it  off  again.  He  thanked  her 
for  being  so  kind,  raising  his  hat  a  second  time.  Outside  the  shop 
he  put  up  the  umbrella  too  sharply,  and  a  breeze,  catching  it, 
twisted  him  on  the  bright  pavement  and  bore  him  out  of  sight. 

Rain  fell  gently  all  evening  and  customers  came  in  and  shook 
wet  hats  on  bright  pianos.  She  walked  about  trying  to  think  of 
the  song  the  young  man  wanted.  Songs  by  Schubert  went 
through  her  head  and  became  mixed  with  the  sound  of  carols 
from  gramophone  cubicles  and  she  was  glad  when  the  shop  had 

Effie  began  racing  about  in  her  underclothes,  getting  ready  for 
the  party.  'Clara,  you  can't  mean  it  that  you're  not  coming.' 

'I  do  mean  it.  I'm  always  bored  and  they  really  don't  want  me.' 

'They  love  you.' 

'I  can't  help  it.  I  made  up  my  mind  last  year.  I  never  enjoy  it, 
and  they'll  be  better  without  me.' 

'They  won't  let  you  get  away  with  it,'  Effie  said.  'I  warn  you 
they'll  come  and  fetch  you.' 

At  eight  o'clock  her  father  and  mother  drove  off  with  Effie  in 
the  Ford.  She  went  down  through  the  shop  and  unbolted  the 
front  door  and  let  them  out  into  the  street.  'The  stars  are  shin- 
ing,' her  mother  said.  'It's  getting  colder.'  She  stood  for  a  second 
or  two  in  the  doorway,  looking  up  at  the  stars  and  thinking  that 
perhaps,  after  all,  there  was  a  touch  of  frost  in  the  air. 

'Get  ready!'  Effie  called  from  the  car.  'You  know  what  the 
Williamsons  are ! '  and  laughed  with  high  infectious  scales  so  that 
her  mother  and  father  began  laughing  too. 

After   the   car   had   driven    away   she   bolted   the   door   and 

196  A  Christmas  Song 

switched  off  the  front  shop  bell.  She  wnt  upstairs  and  put  on 
her  dressing-gown  and  tried  to  think  once  again  of  the  song  the 
young  man  had  wanted.  She  played  over  several  songs  on  the 
piano,  singing  them  softly. 

At  nine  o'clock  something  was  thrown  against  the  sidestreet 
window  and  she  heard  Freddy  Williamson  bawling : 

'Who  isn't  coming  to  the  party?  Open  the  window.' 

She  went  to  the  window  and  pulled  back  the  curtain  and  stood 
looking  down.  Freddy  Williamson  stood  in  the  street  below  and 
threw  his  driving  gloves  at  her. 

'Get  dressed !  Come  on ! ' 

She  opened  the  window. 

'Freddy,  be  quiet.  People  can  hear.' 

'I  want  them  to  hear.  Who  isn't  coming  to  whose  party?  I 
want  them  to  hear.' 

He  threw  the  driving  gloves  up  at  the  window  again. 

'Everybody  is  insulted!'  he  said.  'Come  on.' 

'Please,'  she  said. 

'Let  me  in  then!'  he  bawled.  'Let  me  come  up  and  talk  to 

'All  right,'  she  said. 

She  went  downstairs  and  let  him  in  through  the  shop  and  he 
came  up  to  the  music  room,  shivering,  stamping  enormous  feet. 
'Getting  colder,'  he  kept  saying.  'Getting  colder.' 

'You  should  put  on  an  overcoat,'  she  said. 

'Never  wear  one,'  he  said.  'Can't  bear  to  be  stuffed  up.' 

'Then  don't  grumble  because  you're  starved  to  death.' 

He  stamped  up  and  down  the  room,  a  square-boned  young 
man  with  enormous  lips  and  pink  flesh  and  small  poodle-like 
eyes,  pausing  now  and  then  to  rub  his  hands  before  the  fire. 

'The  Mater  sends  orders  you're  to  come  back  with  me,'  he 
said,  'and  she  absolutely  won't  take  no  for  an  answer.' 

'I'm  not  coming,'  she  said. 

'Of  course  you're  coming!  I'll  have  a  drink  while  you  get 

'I'll  pour  you  a  drink,'  she  said,  'but  I'm  not  coming.  What  will 
you  have?' 

'Gin,'  he  said.  'Clara,  sometimes  you're  the  most  awful  bind.' 

She  poured  the  drink,  not  answering.  Freddy  Williamson  lifted 
the  glass  and  said : 

A  Christmas  Song  197 

'Sorry,  didn't  mean  that.  Happy  Christmas.  Good  old  Clara.' 

'Happy  Christmas/ 

'Good  old  Clara.  Come  on,  let's  have  one  for  Christmas.' 

Freddy  Williamson  put  clumsy  hands  across  her  shoulders, 
kissing  her  with  lips  rather  like  those  of  a  heavy  wet  dog. 

'Good  old  Clara,'  he  said  again.  'Good  old  girl.' 

Songs  kept  crossing  and  recrossing  her  mind,  bewildering  her 
into  moments  of  dreamy  distraction.  She  had  the  feeling  of  try- 
ing to  grasp  something  that  was  floating  away. 

'Don't  stand  there  like  a  dream,'  Freddy  Williamson  said.  'Put 
some  clothes  on.  Come  on.' 

'I'm  going  to  tie  up  Christmas  presents  and  then  go  to  bed.' 

'Oh!  Come  on,  Clara,  come  on.  Millions  of  chaps  are  there, 

She  stood  dreamily  in  the  centre  of  the  room,  thinking  of  the 
ardent  shy  young  man  who  could  not  remember  the  song. 

'You're  such  a  dream,'  Freddy  Williamson  said.  'You  just 
stand  there.  You've  got  to  snap  out  of  yourself.' 

Suddenly  he  pressed  himself  against  her  in  attitudes  of 
muscular,  heavier  love,  grasping  her  about  the  waist,  partly  lift- 
ing her  from  the  floor,  his  lips  wet  on  her  face. 

'Come  on,  Clara,'  he  kept  saying,  'let  the  blinds  up.  Can't  keep 
the  blinds  down  for  ever.' 

'Is  it  a  big  party  ? ' 

'Come  on,  let  the  blinds  up.' 

'How  can  I  come  to  the  party  if  you  keep  holding  me  here?' 

'Let  the  blinds  up  and  come  to  the  party  too,'  he  said.  'Eh?' 


'Well,  one  more  kiss,'  he  said.  He  smacked  at  her  lips  with  his 
heavy  dog-like  mouth,  pressing  her  body  backwards.  'Good  old 
Clara.  All  you  got  to  do  is  let  yourself  go.  Come  on -let  the 
blinds  up.  Good  old  Clara.' 

'All  right.  Let  me  get  my  things  on,'  she  said.  'Get  yourself 
another  drink  while  you're  waiting.' 

'Fair  enough.  Good  old  Clara.' 

While  she  went  away  to  dress  he  drank  gin  and  stumped  about 
the  room.  She  came  back  in  her  black  coat  with  a  black  and 
crimson  scarf  on  her  head  and  Freddy  Williamson  said: 
'Whizzo.  That's  better.  Good  old  Clara,'  and  kissed  her  again, 
running  clumsy  ruffling  hands  over  her  face  and  neck  and  hair. 

198  A  Christmas  Song 

When  they  went  downstairs  someone  was  tapping  lightly  on 
the  glass  of  the  street  door.  'Police  for  the  car/  Freddy  William- 
son said.  'No  lights  or  some  damn  thing/  but  when  she  opened 
the  door  it  was  the  young  man  who  could  not  remember  the 
song.  He  stood  there  already  raising  his  hat : 

Tm  terribly  sorry.  Oh !  you're  going  out.  Excuse  me.' 

'Did  you  remember  it?'  she  said. 

'Some  of  it/  he  said.  'The  words.' 

'Come  in  a  moment/  she  said. 

He  came  in  from  the  street  and  she  shut  the  door.  It  was  dark 
in  the  shop,  and  he  did  not  seem  so  nervous.  He  began  to  say: 
'It  goes  rather  like  this  - 1  can't  remember  it  all.  But  something 
like  this  -  Leise  flehen  meine  Lieder  -  Liebchen,  komm  zu  mir— 

'It  is  by  Schubert/  she  said. 

She  went  across  the  shop  and  sat  down  at  one  of  the  pianos 
and  began  to  sing  it  for  him.  She  heard  him  say,  'That's  it. 
That's  the  one,'  and  Freddy  Williamson  fidgeted  with  the  latch 
of  the  shop  door  as  he  kept  one  hand  on  it,  impatient  to  go. 

'It's  very  beautiful,'  the  young  man  said.  'It's  not  a  Christmas 
song,  but  somehow  -' 

Freddy  Williamson  stamped  noisily  into  the  street,  and  a 
second  or  two  later  she  heard  him  start  up  the  car.  The  door- 
catch  rattled  where  he  had  left  it  open  and  a  current  of  cold  air 
blew  into  the  dark  shop. 

She  had  broken  off  her  singing  because,  after  the  first  verse, 
she  could  not  remember  the  words.  Softly  fly  my  songs  -  Loved 
one,  come  to  me  -  she  was  not  sure  how  it  went  after  that. 

'I'm  sorry  I  can't  remember  the  rest/  she  said. 

'It's  very  kind  of  you,'  he  said,'  The  door  irritated  her  by  bang- 
ing on  its  catch.  She  went  over  and  shut  it  and  out  in  the 
street  Freddy  Williamson  blew  impatiently  on  the  horn  of  the 

'Was  it  the  record  you  wanted?'  she  said.  'There  is  a  very 
good  one  - ' 

'If  it's  not  too  much  trouble.' 

'I  think  I  can  find  it/  she  said.  'I'll  put  on  the  light.' 

As  she  looked  for  the  record  and  found  it,  she  sang  the  first 
few  bars  of  it  again.  'There  is  great  tenderness  in  it/  she  began 
to  say.  'Such  a  wonderful  tenderness/  but  suddenly  it  seemed  as 
if  the  young  man  was  embarrassed.  He  began  fumbling  in  his 

A  Christmas  Song  199 

pocket-book  for  his  money,  but  she  said,  'Oh!  no.  Pay  after 
Christmas.  Pay  any  time/  and  at  the  same  moment  Freddy 
Williamson  opened  the  door  of  the  shop  and  said : 

'What  goes  on?  After  hours,  after  hours.  Come  on/ 

Tm  just  coming,'  she  said. 

Til  say  good  night/  the  young  man  said.  Tm  very  grateful.  I 
wish  you  a  Happy  Christmas/ 

'Happy  Christmas/  she  said. 

Outside  the  stars  were  green  and  sharp  in  a  sky  without  wind; 
the  street  had  dried  except  for  dark  prints  of  frost  on  pavements. 

'Damn  cool/  Freddy  Williamson  kept  saying.  'Damn  cool.' 

He  drove  rather  fast,  silent  and  a  little  sulky,  out  towards  the 
high  ground  overlooking  the  river.  Rain  had  been  falling  every- 
where through  all  the  first  weeks  of  December  and  now  as  the  car 
came  out  on  the  valley  edge  she  could  see  below  her  a  great 
pattern  of  winter  floodwater,  the  hedgerows  cutting  it  into  rec- 
tangular lakes  glittering  with  green  and  yellow  lights  from  towns 
on  the  far  side. 

Td  have  told  him  to  go  to  hell/  Freddy  Williamson  said.  'I 
call  it  damn  cool.  Damn  cool.' 

'See  the  floods/  she  said.  'There'll  be  skating.' 

'The  damn  cheek  people  have,'  Freddy  Williamson  said. 
'Damn  cheek.' 

He  drove  the  car  with  sulky  abandon  into  the  gravel  drive  of 
the  big  Edwardian  house.  Dead  chestnut  leaves  swished  away  on 
all  sides,  harsh  and  brittle,  and  she  could  see  frost  white  on  the 
edges  of  the  big  lawn. 

'One  before  we  go  in/  Freddy  Williamson  said.  She  turned 
away  her  mouth  but  he  caught  it  with  clumsy  haste,  like  a  dog 
seizing  a  bird.  'Good  old  Clara.  Let  the  blinds  up.  It's  Christmas 

'Put  the  car  away  and  I'll  wait  for  you/  she  said. 

'Fair  enough/  he  said.  'Anything  you  say.  Good  old  Clara. 
Damn  glad  you  come.' 

She  got  out  of  the  car  and  stood  for  a  few  moments  looking 
down  the  valley.  She  bent  down  and  put  her  hands  on  the  grass. 
Frost  was  crisp  and  hard  already,  and  she  could  see  it  sparkling 
brightly  on  tree  branches  and  on  rain-soaked  stems  of  dead 
flowers.  It  made  her  breath  glisten  in  the  house-lights  coming 
across  the  lawn.  It  seemed  to  be  glittering  even  on  the  long  wide 

200  A  Christmas  Song 

floodwaters,  so  that  she  almost  persuaded  herself  the  valley  was 
one  great  river  of  ice  already,  wonderfully  transformed. 

Standing  there,  she  thought  of  the  young  man,  with  his  shy 
ardent  manner,  his  umbrella  and  his  raised  hat.  The  song  he  had 
not  been  able  to  remember  began  to  go  through  her  head  again 
-  Softly  fly  my  songs  -  Loved  one,  come  to  me  -  ;  but  at  that 
moment  Freddy  Williamson  came  blundering  up  the  drive  and 
seized  her  once  again  like  a  hungry  dog. 

'One  before  we  go  in/  he  said.  'Come  on.  Good  old  Clara.  One 
before  we  go  in.  Good  show/ 

Shrieks  of  laughter  came  suddenly  from  the  house  as  if  some- 
one, perhaps  her  sister,  had  ignited  little  fires  of  merriment  that 
were  crackling  at  the  windows. 

'Getting  worked  up!'  Freddy  Williamson  said.  'Going  to  be 
good ! ' 

She  felt  the  frost  crackling  under  her  feet.  She  grasped  at 
something  that  was  floating  away.  Leise  flehen  meine  Lieder- 
Oh!  my  loved  one  -  how  did  it  go  ? 


That  summer  we  lived  in  the  hotel  on  the  lake  below  the  moun- 
tains, and  Major  Martineau,  the  Major  of  Hussars,  lived  on  the 
floor  below  us,  in  a  room  with  a  eucalyptus  tree  on  the  balcony. 

The  weather  was  very  hot  and  in  the  sunlight  the  lake 
sparkled  like  crusty  golden  glass  and  in  the  late  afternoon  the 
peaks  of  the  Blumlisalp  and  the  whole  range  about  the  Jungfrau 
glistened  in  the  fine  mountain  air  with  fiery  rosy  snow.  The 
major  was  very  interested  in  the  mountains,  and  we  in  turn  were 
very  interested  in  the  major,  a  spare  spruce  man  of  nearly  sixty 
who  wore  light  shantung  summer  suits  and  was  very  studious  of 
his  appearance  generally,  and  very  specially  of  his  smooth  grey 
hair.  He  also  had  three  sets  of  false  teeth,  of  which  he  was  very 
proud:  one  for  mornings,  one  for  evenings,  and  one  for  after- 

We  used  to  meet  the  major  everywhere:  on  the  terrace,  where 
lunch  was  served  under  a  long  pergola  of  crimson  and  yellow 
roses,  and  from  which  you  got  a  magnificent  view  of  the  snow 
caps;  and  then  under  the  dark  shade  of  chestnut  trees  on  the 
lake  edge,  where  coffee  was  served;  and  then  at  the  tram 
terminus,  where  the  small  yellow  trams  started  their  journeys 
along  the  hot  road  by  the  lake;  and  then  on  the  white  steamers 
that  came  up  and  down  the  lake,  calling  at  all  the  little  towns 
with  proud  peeps  of  the  funnel  whistle,  several  times  a  day.  At 
all  of  these  places  there  was  the  major,  very  spruce  in  cool 
shantung  and  always  wearing  the  correct  set  of  false  teeth  for  the 
time  of  day,  looking  very  correct,  very  English,  and,  we  thought, 
very  alone. 

It  must  have  been  at  the  second  or  third  of  these  meetings  that 
he  told  us  of  his  wife.  'She'll  be  out  from  England  any  day  now.' 
And  at  the  fifth  or  sixth  that  he  told  us  of  his  false  teeth.  'After 
all,  one  has  several  suits.  One  has  several  pairs  of  shoes.  All  ex- 
cellent for  rest  and  change.  Why  not  different  sets  of  teeth?'  It 
did  not  occur  to  me  then  that  the  teeth  and  his  wife  had  any- 
thing to  do  with  each  other. 


202  The  Major  of  Hussars 

Sometimes  as  we  walked  along  the  lake  we  could  see  a  figure 
marching  briskly  towards  us  in  the  distance. 

'The  major/  I  would  say. 

'It  can't  be/  my  wife  would  say.  'It  looks  much  too  young.' 

But  always,  as  he  came  nearer,  we  could  see  that  it  was  the 
major,  sparkling  and  smart  and  spruce  with  all  the  shine  and 
energy  of  a  younger  man.  'Sometimes  you'd  take  him  for  a  man 
of  forty/  my  wife  would  say. 

Whenever  we  met  on  these  occasions  we  would  talk  briefly  of 
the  major's  wife;  then  of  the  lake,  the  food,  the  delicious  summer 
weather,  the  alpine  flowers,  the  snow  on  the  mountains  and  how 
we  loved  Switzerland.  The  major  was  very  fond  of  them  all  and 
we  got  the  impression,  gradually,  that  his  wife  was  very  fond  of 
them  too. 

'Ah!'  he  would  say,  'she  will  adore  all  this.  She  will  simply 
adore  it.'  His  correct  blue  eyes  would  sparkle  delightfully. 

'And  when  do  you  expect  her?' 

'Well/  he  would  say,  'in  point  of  fact  she  was  to  have  been 
here  this  week.  But  there  seems  to  have  been  some  sort  of  hitch 
somewhere.  Bad  staff  work.' 

'I  hope  she'll  soon  be  able  to  come.' 

'Oh !  any  day  now.' 

'Good.  And  oh!  by  the  way/  I  said,  'have  you  been  up  to 
the  Jungfrau  yet?  The  flowers  are  very  lovely  now  on  the  way 

'The  Virgin?'  the  major  said.  'Oh!  not  yet.  I'm  leaving 
all  the  conquest  of  that  sort  of  thing  till  my  wife  gets  here/  and 
he  would  laugh  very  heartily  at  the  joke  he  made. 

'It's  just  as  well,'  I  said. 

But  the  next  day,  on  the  steamer,  we  saw  the  major  making  a 
conquest  of  the  girl  who  brought  the  coffee.  She  had  a  beautiful 
Swiss  head,  with  dark  coiled  hair,  and  she  was  wearing  a  very 
virginal  Bernese  bodice  in  black  and  white  and  a  skirt  striped  in 
pink  and  blue.  She  was  very  young  and  she  laughed  very  much 
at  whatever  it  was  the  major  was  saying  to  her.  On  the  voyage 
the  major  drank  eight  cups  of  coffee  and  ate  four  ham  rolls. 
There  was  so  much  ham  in  the  rolls  that  it  hung  over  the  side 
like  spaniel's  ears,  and  the  major  had  a  wonderful  time  with  his 
afternoon  false  teeth,  his  best  pair,  champing  it  in. 

'The  major  is  conquering  the  Jungfrau/  I  said. 

The  Major  of  Hussars  203 

'You  take  a  very  low  view  of  life/  my  wife  said.  'He's  alone 
and  he's  simply  being  friendly.' 

'Queer  how  he  doesn't  notice  us  to-day.' 

The  major,  in  fact,  did  not  notice  us;  he  did  not  notice  us  in 
fact  for  two  days,  and  I  wondered  if  I  had  said  something  to 
offend  him.  But  when  at  last  we  met  him  again  under  the  chest- 
nut trees  at  noon,  with  a  glass  of  lager  at  his  table  in  the  shade, 
he  seemed  more  friendly,  more  sparkling  and  more  cheerful  than 
ever.  The  yellow  beer,  the  light  shantung  suit  and  the  gleaming 
white  teeth  were  all  alight  with  the  trembling  silver  reflections 
that  sprang  from  the  sunlight  on  the  water. 

'Any  news  of  your  wife  ? '  we  said. 

'Coming  to-day!' 

We  said  we  were  very  pleased.  'What  time?' 

'Coming  by  the  afternoon  boat.  Gets  in  at  three.' 

He  looked  at  the  lake,  the  roses  on  the  terrace,  the  blue-grey 
eucalyptus  tree  shining  on  the  balcony  of  his  room  and  then 
at  the  vast  snows  towering  and  glistening  beyond  the  lake.  'I 
can't  tell  you  how  she  will  adore  all  this/  he  said.  'I  can't  tell 

'I'm  sure  she  will/  we  said.  'You  must  be  very  excited.' 

'Just  like  a  kid  with  a  toy ! '  he  said.  'You  see,  I  came  out  first 
to  arrange  it  all.  Choose  the  place.  Choose  the  hotel.  Choose 
everything.  She  doesn't  know  what  she's  coming  to.  You  see?  It's 
all  going  to  be  a  great  surprise  for  her.' 

'Don't  forget  you  have  to  conquer  the  Jungfrau,'  I  said.  'The 
soldanella  are  wonderful  above  the  Scheidegg  now.' 

'Of  course,  '  he  said.  'Well,  I  must  go.  Perhaps  you'd  join  us 
for  an  aperitif  about  six?  I  do  very  much  want  you  to  meet  her.' 

We  said  we  should  be  delighted  and  he  went  singing  away  up 
to  the  hotel. 

'Your  remark  about  the  Jungfrau  was  very  pointed,'  my  wife 

'I  saved  it  with  the  soldanella/  I  said. 

'Anyway,'  she  said,  'be  careful  what  you  say  to-night.' 

From  the  lower  terrace  we  could  watch  the  steamers  come  and 
go.  The  afternoon  was  very  hot  and  we  stayed  under  the  dark 
shade  of  the  chestnut  trees  to  watch  the  three  o'clock  boat  come 
in.  Among  the  hotel  porters  with  their  green  and  plum-coloured 
and  scarlet  and  brown  caps  and  uniforms  the  major  stood  out,  in 

204  The  Major  of  Hussars 

cool  spruce  shantung,  as  a  very  English,  very  conspicuous  visitor 
on  the  quay. 

When  the  white  steamer  came  up  the  lake  at  last,  tooting  in  the 
hot  afternoon  air,  the  major  had  taken  up  his  stand  in  front  of  all 
the  porters,  by  the  water's  edge.  I  got  up  and  leaned  on  the  rail- 
ings of  the  terrace  to  get  a  better  view. 

The  steamer  came  swinging  in  with  a  ring  of  engine-room 
bells,  with  six  or  seven  passengers  waiting  by  the  gangway. 

'There  she  is/  I  said. 

Where?'  My  wife  had  come  to  stand  beside  me. 

'The  lady  with  the  green  case/  I  said.  'Standing  by  the  cap- 
tain. She  looks  about  the  major's  age  and  about  as  English.' 

'She  looks  rather  nice  -  yes/  my  wife  said,  'it  could  be.' 

The  steamer  bounced  lightly  against  the  quay  and  the  gang- 
way came  down.  The  hotel  porters  adjusted  their  caps  and  the 
passengers  began  to  come  ashore.  In  his  eagerness  the  major 
almost  blocked  the  gangway. 

To  my  astonishment  the  lady  with  the  green  case  came  down 
the  gangway  and  went  straight  past  the  major,  and  the  porter 
from  the  Hotel  du  Lac  raised  his  green  and  gold  cap  and  took 
the  case  away  from  her.  The  major  was  looking  anxiously  up  the 
gangway  for  the  figure  of  his  wife,  but  in  less  than  two  minutes 
all  the  passengers  had  come  down.  When  the  steamer  moved 
away  again  the  major  was  standing  on  the  quay  alone,  still 
staring  anxiously  and  still  waiting  for  the  wife  who  had  not 

That  evening  we  went  down  to  the  terrace  for  the  aperitif  with 
the  major.  'For  goodness'  sake  don't  make  that  joke  about  the 
Jungfrau/  my  wife  said.  'He'll  be  in  no  mood  for  that.'  The  five 
o'clock  steamer  had  come  in,  but  the  major's  wife  had  not 

'It's  his  joke/  I  said.  'Not  mine.' 

'You  twist  it  round/  she  said. 

On  the  terrace  the  major,  dressed  in  a  dark  grey  suit  and  with 
his  evening  false  teeth  in,  had  a  surprising  appearance  of 
ebullient  gaiety.  He  had  a  peculiar  taste  in  drinks  and  drank 
four  or  five  glasses  of  Kirsch  because  there  was  no  whisky  and 
after  it  he  did  not  seem  so  tired. 

'Met  a  friend  in  Paris/  he  explained  to  us.  'Amazing  coinci- 
dence.' He  kept  waving  a  rather  long  telegram  about  in  front  of 

The  Major  of  Hussars  205 

us.  'Hadn't  seen  this  friend  for  years,  and  then  suddenly  ran  into 
her.  Of  course,  it's  only  a  night.  She'll  be  here  on  Thursday.' 

Three  weeks  went  past,  but  the  major's  wife  did  not  arrive. 
The  best  of  the  roses  by  that  time  were  over  on  the  terrace  and 
long  salmon-scarlet  lines  of  geraniums  were  blooming  there 
instead.  In  the  beds  behind  the  chestnut  trees  there  were  purple 
petunias  with  interplantings  of  cherry-pie  and  in  the  hot  still 
evenings  the  scent  of  them  was  delicious  against  the  cool  night 
odour  of  water.  'It's  a  pity  for  her  to  be  missing  all  this,'  we 

Now  when  we  met  the  major  we  avoided  the  subject  of  his 
wife.  We  went  on  several  excursions  to  the  mountains  and  some- 
times on  the  steamers  the  major  was  to  be  seen  on  the  first-class 
deck  champing  with  his  false  teeth  at  the  spaniel-eared  ham 
sandwiches  and  drinking  many  cups  of  coffee.  As  he  talked  to  the 
Swiss  girl  who  served  him  he  laughed  quite  often.  But  I  did  not 
think  he  laughed  so  much.  I  thought  in  a  way  he  seemed  not 
only  less  happy  and  less  laughing,  but  more  alone.  He  had 
stopped  making  explanations,  and  I  thought  he  seemed  like  a 
man  who  had  given  up  hoping. 

And  then  it  all  began  again.  This  time  she  was  really  coming. 
There  had  really  been  some  awful  business  of  a  hold-up  about 
her  visa.  It  had  taken  a  long  time.  It  was  all  over  now. 

'She'll  be  here  on  Sunday,'  the  major  said.  'Absolutely  certain 
to  be  on  the  boat  that  gets  in  at  three.' 

The  Sunday  steamers  were  always  crowded,  their  decks  gay 
with  Swiss  families  going  up  the  lake  for  the  day,  with  tourists 
going  to  Interlaken.  The  little  landing  stages  at  the  lakeside 
resorts  were  always  crowded  too.  There  were  many  straw  hats 
and  Bernese  bodices  and  much  raising  of  caps  by  hotel  porters. 

So  when  the  steamer  arrived  this  time  there  was  no  picking  out 
Mrs  Martineau.  Crowds  of  Sunday  holiday-makers  stood  on  the 
steamer  deck  and  pushed  down  the  gangway  and  more  crowds 
stood  on  the  quay  waiting  to  go  on  board.  Under  the  trimmed 
lime  trees  of  the  quayside  restaurant  the  Sunday  orchestra  was 
playing,  and  people  at  little  gay  white  tables  were  drinking 
wine  and  coffee.  It  was  a  very  simple,  very  laughing,  very 
bourgeois,  very  noisy  afternoon. 

On  the  quay  the  major  waited  in  his  bright  shantung  suit,  with 
his  best  teeth  in. 

206  The  Major  of  Hussars 

'There  she  is/  I  said. 

'You  said  that  last  time/  my  wife  said. 

'You  can  see  her  waving,  and  the  major  is  waving  back.' 

'Several  people  are  waving.' 

'The  lady  in  the  grey  costume/  I  said.  'Not  the  one  with  the 
sun-glasses.  The  one  waving  the  newspaper/ 

At  the  steamer  rails  an  amiable,  greyish  English-woman  of 
sixty  was  waving  in  a  nice  undemonstrative  sort  of  way  to  some- 
one on  shore.  Each  time  she  waved  I  thought  the  major  waved 

'Anyway/  my  wife  said,  'let's  go  round  and  meet  her.' 

We  walked  up  through  the  hotel  gardens  and  across  the  bridge 
over  the  stream  that  came  down  and  fed  the  lake  with  green 
snow-water  from  the  mountains.  It  was  very  hot.  The  sun-blinds 
in  the  hotel  were  like  squares  of  red  and  white  sugar  candy  in  the 
sun,  and  in  the  hot  scented  gardens  under  the  high  white  walls 
almost  the  only  thing  that  seemed  cool  was  the  grey  eucalyptus 
tree  growing  on  the  balcony  of  the  major's  room.  I  had  always 
rather  envied  the  major  the  eucalyptus  tree.  Even  the  steamer 
whistle  seemed  stifled  as  it  peeped  the  boat  away. 

'Now  mind  what  you  say/  my  wife  said.  'No  references  to  any 

'If  she's  that  very  English  lady  with  the  newspaper  I  shall  like 
her/  I  said. 

Just  at  that  moment  we  turned  the  corner  of  the  kiosk  that 
sold  magazines  and  postcards  of  alpine  flowers,  and  the  lady  with 
the  newspaper  went  past  us,  arm  in  arm  with  another  English 
lady  carrying  a  wine-red  parasol. 

My  wife  did  not  take  advantage  of  this  situation.  At  that 
moment  she  became,  like  me,  quite  speechless. 

Up  from  the  landing-stage  the  major  was  coming  towards  us 
with  his  wife.  She  staggered  us.  She  was  a  black-haired  girl  of 
twenty-five,  wearing  a  very  smart  summer  suit  of  white  linen 
with  scarlet  cuffs  and  revers,  with  lipstick  of  the  same  colour.  I 
do  not  know  what  it  was  about  her,  but  even  from  that  distance 
I  could  tell  by  the  way  she  walked,  slightly  apart  from  the  major 
and  with  her  head  up,  that  she  was  blazingly  angry. 

'A  Jungfrau  indeed/  I  said. 

'Be  quiet ! '  my  wife  said.  'They're  here.' 

A  moment  or  two  later  we  were  face  to  face  with  them.  The 

The  Major  of  Hussars  207 

major  had  lost  his  habitual  cool  spruceness,  I  thought,  and  looked 
harassed  and  upset  about  something  and  seemed  as  if  he  would 
have  gone  past  us,  if  possible,  without  speaking. 

Instead,  he  stopped  and  raised  his  hat.  His  manners  were 
always  very  correct  and  charming,  and  now  they  seemed  pain- 
fully so. 

'May  I  present  Mrs  Martineau  ? '  he  said. 

Across  the  narrow  roadway  the  orchestra  on  the  restaurant 
terrace  was  playing  at  full  blast,  with  sour-sharp  violins  and  a 
stinging  trumpet.  Mingled  with  the  noise  came  the  sound  of 
guitars  played  on  the  steamer  as  it  drew  away. 

We  both  shook  hands  with  Mrs  Martineau  and  said  we  were 
glad  to  meet  her.  She  smiled  at  us  in  a  politely  savage  sort  of  way 
and  the  major  said : 

'Had  an  exhausting  journey.  Going  to  get  her  some  tea  and  let 
her  lie  down.' 

'Not  exhausting,  darling/  she  said.  'Just  tiresome.' 

'I  thought  you  said  you  were  exhausted,  dear/ 

'I  did  not  say  I  was  exhausted.  I  am  not  exhausted.' 

'Sorry,  dear,  I  thought  you  did.' 

'You  shouldn't  think/  she  said.  'I  am  not  exhausted.  The  last 
thing  I  am  is  exhausted.' 

I  could  see  by  the  way  she  looked  over  her  shoulder  at  the 
restaurant  orchestra  that  she  already  hated  the  place. 

'Perhaps  you  will  join  us  this  evening  for  an  aperitif?'  the 
major  said. 

We  said  we  should  be  delighted,  but  Mrs  Martineau  did  not 
speak,  and  together,  walking  apart,  she  and  the  major  went  on  to 
the  hotel. 

'Oh!  dear/ I  said. 

'You  sum  people  up  so  quickly/  my  wife  said.  'Too  quickly.' 

'I  didn't  say  a  word.' 

'Then  what  was  behind  that  oh !  dear?' 

'She  makes  up  too  much/  I  said. 

I  really  didn't  know  what  lay  behind  that  oh!  dear.  It  may 
have  been  that  Mrs  Martineau  was  very  tired;  it  may  have  been 
that  she  was  one  of  those  women  who,  though  young,  get  fretful 
and  unsociable  and  angered  by  the  trials  of  a  journey  alone;  it 
may  have  been  that  she  was  a  person  of  sensitive  temperament 
and  ear  who  could  not  bear  without  pain  the  terrace  orchestras 

208  The  Major  of  Hussars 

of  Swiss  Sunday  afternoons.  I  did  not  know.  I  only  knew  that 
she  was  less  than  half  the  major's  age  and  that  the  major,  when 
he  walked  beside  her,  looked  like  a  sorrowful  old  dog  that  had 
just  been  beaten. 

'They  didn't  say  any  time  for  the  aperitif'  my  wife  said.  'Or 

It  was  about  six  o'clock  that  same  evening  and  it  was  still  very 
warm  as  we  went  downstairs. 

'The  major  always  has  his  on  the  terrace,'  I  said.  'We'll  wait 

We  waited  on  the  terrace.  The  red  and  white  sun-blinds  were 
still  down,  casting  a  rosy-yellow  sort  of  light,  and  I  asked  the 
waiter  to  pull  them  up  so  that  we  could  see  the  mountains.  When 
he  raised  the  blinds  the  whole  range  of  the  Jungfrau  and  the 
Bliimlisalp  shone,  icily  rose  and  mauve  above  the  mountain- 
green  waters  of  the  lake,  and  in  the  gardens  below  us  the  flowers 
were  rose  and  mauve  too,  tender  in  the  evening  sun. 

It  always  seemed  to  me  that  you  could  sit  there  on  the  terrace 
for  a  long  time  and  do  nothing  more  than  watch  the  changing 
colours  of  the  lake,  the  flowers  and  the  mountains. 

'The  major's  late,'  I  said. 

From  across  the  lake  the  smaller  of  the  white  steamers  was 
coming  in,  and  as  it  came  nearer  I  could  hear  once  again  the 
sound  of  the  guitars  that  were  played  by  two  Italian  Swiss  who 
travelled  on  the  lake  every  Sunday,  playing  gay  little  peasant 
melodies  from  the  south,  earning  a  glass  of  beer  or  a  coffee  as 
they  played  on  the  boat  or  at  the  cafes  of  the  landing-places. 

The  sound  of  the  guitars  over  the  water  was  very  gay  and 
charming  in  the  still  air. 

And  then  suddenly  as  we  sat  listening  to  it  the  major  came 
hurrying  down. 

'So  sorry.'  He  seemed  agitated  and  begged  several  times  that 
we  should  forgive  him.  'She'll  be  down  in  a  moment.  Waiter! 
Very  exhausted  after  that  journey.  Awful  long  way.  Waiter  -  ah ! 
there  you  are.' 

The  major  insisted  on  ordering  drinks.  He  drank  very  rapidly 
and  finished  four  or  five  glasses  of  Kirsch  before  Mrs  Martineau 
came  down. 

'I've  been  waiting  for  hours  in  the  lounge,'  she  said.  'How  was 
I  to  know?' 

The  Major  of  Hussars  209 

'Let  me  get  you  something  to  drink/  I  said.  'What  will  it  be?' 

Whisky/  she  said,  'if  I  may/ 

'There's  never  any  whisky/  the  major  said. 

'Good  grief ! '  she  said. 

I  got  up.  'I  think  it'll  be  all  right/  I  said. 

I  walked  to  the  end  of  the  terrace  and  found  the  waiter.  The 
hotel  had  a  bad  brandy  that  tasted  spirituous  and  harsh  like  poor 
whisky,  and  I  arranged  with  the  waiter  to  bring  a  double  one  of 

When  I  got  back  to  the  table  my  wife  and  Mrs  Martineau 
were  talking  of  the  mountains.  My  wife  was  trying  to  remember 
the  names  of  those  you  could  see  from  the  terrace,  but  she  was 
never  very  clear  as  to  which  they  were. 

'I  think  that's  Eiger/  she  said. 

'No/  the  major  said,  'that's  Finsteraarhorn.' 

'Then  which  is  the  one  with  pigeons  on  top?'  she  said,  and  T 
knew  she  was  trying  to  avoid  the  question  of  the  Jungfrau.  'It 
has  bits  of  snow  on  all  summer  that  look  like  white  pigeons/  she 

'You  can't  see  it  from  here.' 

'The  one  straight  across/  the  major  said,  'the  big  one  is  the 

My  wife  looked  at  me.  Mrs  Martineau  looked  very  bored. 

'There's  a  railway  goes  almost  to  the  top/  my  wife  said.  'You 
must  really  go  up  while  you're  here.' 

I  knew  the  major  did  not  think  very  much  of  climbing  moun- 
tains by  rail.  'I  don't  think  you'd  find  it  very  exciting  crawling 
up  in  that  cold  little  train.' 

'Oh!  don't  you?'  Mrs  Martineau  said.  'I  think  it  would  be 
awful  fun.' 

'No  sense  of  conquest  that  way/  the  major  said. 

'Who  wants  a  sense  of  conquest?  The  idea  is  to  get  to  the  top.' 

'Well,  in  a  way ' 

'Oh!  don't  be  so  vague.  Either  you  want  to  get  to  the  top  or 
you  don't  go.' 

I  said  something  very  pointed  about  the  mountain  being  called 
the  Jungfrau,  but  it  made  no  impression  on  her. 

'Have  you  been  up  there  yet  ? '  she  said. 

'No/  I  said,  'we're  always  meaning  to  go.  We've  been  as  far  as 
Wengen,  that's  all/ 

210  The  Major  of  Hussars 

'Why  don't  we  all  go  up  together?'  my  wife  said.  'I  think  it 
would  be  lovely.' 

'Marvellous  idea/  Mrs  Martineau  said. 

'It  means  being  up  very  early/  the  major  said.  'Have  to  be  up 
by  six.  Not  quite  your  time.' 

'Don't  be  so  rude,  darling/  she  said. 

'Anyway,  you'll  be  tired  to-morrow.' 

'I  shall  not  be  tired.  Why  do  you  keep  saying  I'm  tired?  I'm 
not  tired.  I  simply  don't  know  the  first  thing  about  being  tired, 
and  yet  you  keep  saying  so.  I  can  certainly  be  up  by  six  if  you 

I  could  see  that  she  was  very  determined  to  go.  The  major 
drank  three  more  glasses  of  Kirsch  and  looked  more  than  ever 
like  a  beaten  dog.  The  sound  of  the  guitars  came  faintly  over  the 
lake  and  Mrs  Martineau  said,  'What  is  that  ghastly  row?'  and 
we  ended  up  by  arranging  to  go  to  the  Jungfrau  the  following 
morning,  and  then  went  in  to  dinner. 

The  train  to  Jungfraujoch  goes  very  slowly  up  through  lovely 
alpine  valleys  rich  in  spring  and  summer  with  the  flowers  of  the 
lower  meadows,  violet  salvia  and  wild  white  daisy  and  pink 
lucerne  and  yellow  burnished  trollius,  and  peasants  everywhere 
mow  the  flowery  grass  in  thick  sweet  swathes.  There  is  a  smell  of 
something  like  clover  and  butter  in  the  bright  snow-lit  air.  As  the 
train  goes  higher  the  flowers  by  the  track  grow  shorter  and  finer 
until  on  the  slopes  about  Scheidegg  there  are  thousands  of  white 
and  pale  mauve  crocus,  with  many  fragile  purple  soldanellas,  and 
sharp  fierce  blue  gentians  among  yellow  silken  anemones  every- 
where about  the  short  snow-pressed  grass. 

As  we  rode  up  in  the  little  train  that  morning  under  the 
dazzling  snow-bright  peak,  the  major  was  very  interested  in  the 
flowers  and  kept  asking  me  what  they  were.  He  was  quite 
dazzled  by  the  blueness  of  the  gentians,  and  kept  saying,  'Look 
at  that  blue,  darling,  look  at  it/  but  I  had  never  seen  anyone 
quite  so  bored  as  Mrs  Martineau.  Gradually  we  climbed  higher 
and  nearer  the  snow  until  at  last  the  air  was  white  with  the 
downward  reflection  of  snow-light  from  the  great  peaks  above; 
so  that  the  powder  on  her  cheeks,  too  heavy  and  thick  for  a 
young  girl,  looked  scaly  and  blue  and  dead,  and  the  scarlet  of  her 
lips  had  the  flakiness  of  thin  enamel  wearing  away. 

'God,  I  simply  loathe  tunnels/  she  said. 

The  Major  of  Hussars  211 

Above  the  Scheidegg  the  train  goes  into  the  mountain  and 
climbs  darkly  and  coldly  inside,  with  funereal  creakings  and 
clankings  every  yard  or  so,  for  a  long  time.  Mrs  Martineau  was 
furious  every  yard  of  that  cold  gloomy  climb. 

In  the  half-darkness  she  said  she  could  not  think  why  the  hell 
the  major  had  not  told  her  it  was  this  kind  of  train. 

'I  did  tell  you/  he  said.  'I  said  it  would  be  no  fun.' 

'You  said  absolutely  nothing  of  the  kind.' 

'My  dear,  indeed  I  did.  Did  you  expect  the  train  would  climb 
outside  the  mountain  all  the  time  ? ' 

'How  the  hell  did  I  know  what  to  expect,  darling,  if  you  didn't 
say  a  word  ? ' 

'I  said—' 

'The  whole  trouble  is,  darling,  you  haven't  a  clue.' 

'It  isn't  far  to  the  top,  anyway,'  he  said. 

'It  seems  a  hell  of  a  way  to  me ! '  she  said.  She  looked  terribly 
restless  and  shouted  something  about  claustrophobia. 

So  we  climbed  up  in  the  cold  gloom  of  the  tunnel,  with  Mrs 
Martineau  growing  more  and  more  furious,  exclaiming  more  and 
more  of  claustrophobia,  and  all  the  time  calling  the  major  darling 
more  often,  as  her  anger  grew.  In  the  queer  unwordly  coldness  of 
the  clanking  little  train  it  was  hard  to  believe  in  the  pleasant  heat 
of  summer  shining  on  the  lake  below.  Mrs  Martineau  shivered 
and  stamped  her  feet  at  the  halts  where  we  changed  carriages 
and  in  her  white  and  scarlet  suit,  with  her  scarlet  lips  and  her 
white  lamb-skin  coat  thrown  over  her  shoulders  she  looked  like  a 
cold  angry  animal  pacing  up  and  down. 

But  if  she  hated  the  journey  up  in  the  wearying  little  train 
under  the  mountain,  she  hated  even  more  the  hotel  at  the 
terminus  on  top. 

The  hotel  was  bright  and  warm  and  flooded  with  the  brilliant 
sunlight  of  high  places,  snow-sharp  as  it  leapt  off  the  glacier 
below.  There  was  a  pleasant  smell  of  food,  and  the  menu  said 
potage  parmentier  and  escallops  of  veal  with  spaghetti.  But  Mrs 
Martineau  said  she  was  height-sick  and  did  not  want  to  eat. 

'In  any  case  I  loathe  spaghetti ! '  she  said. 

'All  right,  dear,'  the  major  said.  He  had  been  quite  gentle,  in 
an  almost  frightened  way,  under  the  most  trying  circumstances  in 
the  train.  'Have  the  veal  alone.' 

'I'm  not  so  frightfully  fond  of  veal,  either.  I'm  not  hungry.' 

212  The  Major  of  Hussars 

'Try  it,  dear.' 

Why  should  I  try  it  if  I  hate  it,  darling?  Why  should  I  eat  if 
I'm  not  hungry?' 

The  major  looked  terribly  embarrassed  for  us  and  did  not 
know  what  to  do. 

Well,  can't  you  get  the  waiter,  the  manager  or  something?  At 
least  we  could  order  a  drink ! '  she  said. 

The  major  sent  for  the  manager. 

The  manager  was  a  very  pleasant  fat  man  with  glasses  who 
was  amiably  running  about  the  large  pinewood  dining-room  with 
two  or  three  bottles  of  wine  in  each  hand.  There  was  a  great 
popping  of  corks  everywhere  and  in  the  high  alpine  sunlight, 
with  the  smell  of  food  and  pine-wood  and  sun-warmed  air,  noth- 
ing could  have  been  more  pleasant  than  to  eat  and  drink  and 
talk  and  watch  that  amiable  man. 

In  a  few  moments  he  spared  the  time  to  come  over  to  us.  The 
major  explained  how  Mrs  Martineau  did  not  like  the  menu. 
Wasn't  there  something  else  ?  he  said. 

'It  would  mean  waiting,'  the  manager  said.  'The  veal  is  very 
good.'  He  pronounced  it  weal  instead  of  veal. 

'She  doesn't  like  veal.  What  else  could  you  do?' 

'It  would  mean  waiting.' 

'Isn't  there  a  steak  or  something?'  Mrs  Martineau  said. 

'A  steak,  yes.' 

'All  right,  dear,  if  you'd  like  a  steak  ? ' 

'Or  I  could  do  you  a  fritto  misto/  the  manager  said. 

What  is  that?'  Mrs  Martineau  said.  What  is  fritto  mistoV 

The  manager  explained  what  fritto  misto  was.  I  am  exceed- 
ingly fond  of  fritto  misto  myself;  I  like  the  spaghetti,  and  the 
delicate  morsels  of  fried  meat  of  various  kinds,  including,  as  the 
manager  said,  the  small  tender  escallops  of  weal.  It  was,  after  all, 
a  refined  and  more  poetical  version,  with  Italian  variations,  of  the 
dish  already  on  the  menu. 

'It  sounds  wonderful,'  Mrs  Martineau  said.  'I'll  have  that.' 

The  manager  did  not  smile.  'And  something  to  drink?  Some 
wine  ? ' 

'Two  bottles  of  the  Dole,'  the  major  said. 

The  manager  smiled  very  nicely  and  went  away. 

'These  people  are  always  the  same,'  Mrs  Martineau  said.  'They 
don't  do  a  damn  thing  until  you  tear  the  place  down.' 

The  Major  of  Hussars  213 

The  one  thing  it  is  not  necessary  to  do  in  Switzerland  in  order 
to  eat  is  to  tear  the  place  down.  And  when  the  fritto  misto 
arrived,  fifteen  minutes  late  and  looking  not  very  different  from 
the  escallops  of  veal  we  had  eaten  with  so  much  pleasure,  I 
thought  Mrs  Martineau  ate  them  with  great  gusto  for  a  woman 
who  hated  spaghetti  and  veal  and  was  height-sick  and  not 

Before  the  train  took  us  back  down  the  mountain  the  major 
drank  four  more  glasses  of  Kirsch  after  the  wine.  He  drank  them 
too  fast;  he  also  had  a  cognac  with  his  coffee.  And  by  the  time 
we  went  upstairs  to  the  men's  room  he  was  a  little  stupid  and 
unsteady  from  the  Kirsch,  the  wine,  the  cognac  and  the  rarefied 
Jungfrau  air. 

In  the  men's  room  he  took  out  his  false  teeth.  I  had  forgotten 
all  about  them.  He  was  a  little  unsteady.  And  without  his  teeth 
he  did  not  look  like  the  spruce  proud  man  we  had  first  known  at 
the  hotel  on  the  lake  below.  The  toothless  mouth  had  quite  an 
aged,  unhappy,  empty  look  of  helplessness. 

Swaying  about,  he  wrapped  his  morning  teeth  in  a  small 
chamois  leather  bag  and  then  took  his  afternoon  teeth  from  an 
identical  bag.  Both  sets  were  scrupulously  clean  and  white.  I  had 
often  wondered  why  he  changed  his  teeth  three  times  a  day  and 
now  he  told  me. 

'Gives  me  a  feeling  of  keeping  young/  he  said.  'Renews  me. 
One  gets  stale,  you  see,  wearing  the  same  teeth.  One  loses  a  feel- 
ing of  freshness.' 

He  put  his  afternoon  teeth  into  his  mouth  very  neatly,  and  I 
could  understand,  seeing  him  now  with  the  fresh  bright  teeth, 
how  much  younger,  fresher  and  more  sprightly  he  might  feel. 

'You  have  your  own  teeth?'  he  said. 


'It's  the  one  thing  I'm  awfully  sensitive  about.  Really  awfully 
sensitive.  That's  why  I  change  them.  I  am  very  self-conscious 
about  feeling  a  little  old.  You  understand  ? 

I  said  it  was  a  good  idea. 

He  said  he  was  glad  I  thought  so.  For  a  moment  he  swayed 
about  in  a  confidential  lugubrious  sort  of  way,  so  that  I  thought 
he  might  cry.  'It  would  have  to  be  something  really  frightfully 
bad  to  make  me  forget  to  change  them,'  he  said. 

We  rumbled  down  the  mountain  in  the  train  all  afternoon. 

214  The  Major  of  Hussars 

Slowly  out  of  the  dark  tunnel  we  came  down  into  the  dazzling 
flowery  light  of  the  Scheidegg,  and  once  again  Mrs  Martineau, 
altogether  oblivious  of  the  scenery  and  the  flowers,  was  height- 
sick  as  we  waited  on  the  station  for  the  lower  train.  All  the  way 
down  through  the  lovely  meadows  of  high  summer  grass,  rosy 
with  lucerne,  the  major  had  a  much  needed  nap,  sleeping  in  the 
corner  of  the  carriage  with  his  mouth  open,  so  that  I  thought 
once  or  twice  that  his  teeth  would  fall  out.  Mrs  Martineau  did 
not  speak  and  the  major  woke  with  a  start  at  Interlaken.  He 
looked  about  him  open-mouthed,  like  a  man  who  had  woken  in 
another  world,  and  then  he  looked  at  Mrs  Martineau.  She  looked 
young  enough  to  be  a  reprimanding  daughter. 

'Really,  darling.  Honestly/  she  said. 

The  major  worked  his  teeth  up  and  down  as  if  they  were 
bothering  him,  or  like  a  dog  that  has  nothing  left  to  bite  on. 

We  parted  at  the  hotel. 

'Oh!  dear/  I  said  to  my  wife,  and  this  time  she  did  not  ask 
what  lay  behind  it.  She,  too,  had  rather  given  up.  It  was  one  of 
those  excursions  on  which  enemies  are  made  for  life,  and  for 
some  reason  or  other  I  thought  that  neither  the  major  nor  Mrs 
Martineau  would  ever  speak  to  us  again. 

It  was  Saturday,  in  fact,  five  days  later,  before  we  came  near 
enough  to  them  to  exchange  another  word.  Somehow  we  always 
saw  them  from  a  distance.  We  saw  the  major  running  back  to  the 
hotel  with  Mrs  Martineau's  bag;  we  saw  them  on  the  steamers, 
where  the  major  no  longer  enjoyed  the  pink-eared  ham  sand- 
wiches or  made  eye-love  to  the  waitress;  we  saw  them  shopping 
in  the  town.  Mrs  Martineau  wore  many  new  dresses;  she  seemed 
to  go  in  very  particularly  for  short- skirted,  frothy  things,  or  day- 
frocks  with  sailor  stripes  of  scarlet  and  blue,  so  that  she  looked 
more  than  ever  like  a  young  bright  girl  and  the  major  more  than 
ever  like  a  father  too  painfully  devoted. 

On  Saturday  came  the  affair  of  the  eucalyptus  tree.  It  was  one 
of  those  trees  that  the  Swiss  are  fond  of  for  courtyards  and  bal- 
conies in  summer;  it  was  three  or  four  feet  high  and  it  had  soft 
tender  blue-grey  leaves  that  I  always  thought  looked  charming 
against  the  red  pot  on  the  major's  sunny  balcony. 

At  half-past  five  that  afternoon  we  heard  the  most  awful 
crash  on  the  floor  below.  I  went  to  the  balcony  and  looked 
down.  The  eucalyptus  tree  lay  shattered  in  the  courtyard  below, 

The  Major  of  Hussars  215 

and  on  the  balcony  the  major,  looking  very  unspruce  and  dis- 
hevelled and  shattered  himself,  was  standing  in  his  undervest  and 
trousers,  staring  down.  For  a  moment  I  could  not  tell  whether 
the  major  had  thrown  the  eucalyptus  tree  down  there  in  a 
terrible  fit  of  despair,  or  whether  Mrs  Martineau  had  thrown  it 
at  him  in  an  equally  terrible  fit  of  anger. 

A  waiter  in  a  white  jacket  and  then  the  manager  came  running 
out  of  the  hotel  to  see  what  had  happened  and  at  the  same 
moment  Mrs  Martineau  shouted  from  the  bedroom:  'Come 
inside  you  decrepit  old  fool !  Stop  making  an  exhibition  of  your- 
self, for  God's  sake ! ' 

'Please!'  I  heard  the  major  say.  'People  are  coming., 

'Well,  let  them  come!'  she  shouted.  'If  you've  no  more  sense 
than  to  take  a  room  with  a  eucalyptus  tree  when  you  know  I 
loathe  eucalyptus,  when  you  know  I've  a  phobia  about 
eucalyptus — ' 

'It  isn't  that  sort  of  eucalyptus,'  the  major  whispered. 

'Any  kind  of  eucalyptus  is  eucalyptus  to  me ! '  she  shouted. 

'Please,'  the  major  said.  He  leaned  over  the  balcony  and  called 
down  to  the  waiter  and  the  manager  below. 

'An  accident !  I  will  pay ! ' 

'Oh!  for  God's  sake  come  inside!'  she  shouted.  'What's  it 
matter  ? ' 

'I  will  pay ! '  the  major  shouted  down  again. 

Back  in  the  room  Mrs  Martineau  began  throwing  things. 
'You're  always  fussing!'  I  heard  her  shout,  and  then  there  was 
the  enraged  dull  noise  of  things  like  books  and  shoes  being 

'Please,  darling,  don't  do  that,'  the  major  said.  'Don't  do  it 

'Oh !  shut  up ! '  she  said.  'And  these  damn  things  too ! ' 

I  heard  the  most  shattering  crash  as  if  a  glass  tumbler  had 
been  thrown. 

'Oh !  not  my  teeth ! '  the  major  said.  'Please,  darling.  Not  my 
teeth !  For  God's  sake,  not  both  sets,  please ! ' 

He  rushed  into  the  bedroom.  I  went  back  into  my  own. 

'Whatever  in  the  world?'  my  wife  said. 

'Just  the  eucalyptus  tree,'  I  said.  'The  major  will  pay.' 

The  following  afternoon  the  major  and  Mrs  Martineau  went 
away.  On  the  lake  the  steamers  were  very  crowded  and  under  the 

216  The  Major  of  Hussars 

lime  trees,  at  the  restaurant  by  the  landing-stage,  the  Sunday 
orchestra  played  very  loudly  to  crowds  of  visitors  in  the  hot 
afternoon.  It  was  glorious  weather,  and  on  the  four  o'clock 
steamer  as  it  came  in  there  were  crowds  of  happy  Sunday- 
laughing  people. 

On  the  landing-stage  neither  Mrs  Martineau  nor  the  major 
looked  very  happy.  The  hotel  porter  with  his  scarlet  cap  stood 
guarding  their  luggage,  three  trunks,  two  brown  hide  suitcases, 
a  military-looking  khaki  grip,  a  pigskin  hat-box  and  a  shooting- 
stick,  and  the  major,  who  was  no  longer  wearing  his  spruce 
shantung  but  a  suit  of  grey  tweed,  did  not  see  us  on  the  quay. 
Beside  us  the  two  Italian  Swiss  with  their  guitars  were  waiting  to 
catch  the  steamer  too. 

When  the  boat  came  in  there  was  some  difficulty  about  getting 
the  major's  luggage  aboard.  The  trunks  were  fairly  large  and  the 
porters  grew  hot  and  excited  and  everyone  stared.  But  at  last  it 
was  all  finished,  and  on  the  landing-stage  the  hotel  porter  raised 
his  scarlet  cap  in  polite  farewell. 

As  the.  steamer  moved  away  the  major  stood  by  the  rail, 
watching  the  shore.  I  could  not  see  Mrs  Martineau.  Somewhere 
behind  him  the  two  Italian  Swiss  struck  up  with  their  guitars 
and  began  to  play  their  little  hungry-sweet  gay  tune. 

At  that  moment  the  major  saw  us.  He  lifted  his  hand  in 
recognition,  and  almost  eagerly,  I  thought,  in  sudden  good-bye. 
He  opened  his  mouth  as  if  to  say  something,  but  the  steamer  was 
already  too  far  away  and  his  mouth  remained  open  and  empty, 
without  a  sound.  And  in  that  moment  I  remembered  something. 
I  remembered  the  eucalyptus  tree  falling  from  the  balcony  and 
the  crash  of  the  major's  teeth  on  the  bedroom  wall. 

'How  beautiful  the  Jungfrau  is  to-day,'  my  wife  said. 

From  the  steamer  the  major,  with  his  wrong  teeth  in,  gave  the 
most  painful  sort  of  smile,  and  sweetly  from  across  the  lake  came 
the  gay  sound  of  the  guitars. 


'I  suppose  the  fact  is  men  are  more  sentimental  about  them/  she 
said.  Wouldn't  you  think  that  was  it  ? ' 

'No/  he  said. 

Her  face,  underneath  a  little  hat  of  striped  brown  and  white 
fur,  was  like  that  of  a  pretty  tigress  that  did  not  smile. 

'But  don't  they  have  them  at  Oxford?'  she  said.  'Isn't  it  one  of 
those  things  there?' 

'How  can  having  them  at  Oxford  possibly  have  anything  to  do 
with  it?'  he  said. 

'I  don't  know.  I  just  thought,'  she  said. 

As  the  train  rushed  forward  into  spring  twilight  I  could  see, 
everywhere  on  the  rainy  green  cuttings,  pale  eyes  of  primroses 
winking  up  from  among  parallel  reflections  of  carriage  lights. 
Above  and  beyond  the  cuttings  many  apple  orchards  were  in 
thick  wide  pink  bloom. 

'Then  what  is  it  you  don't  like  about  them  ? '  she  said. 

'In  the  first  place  they're  messy.  They're  not  like  pansies,'  he 
said.  'They  don't  have  the  flower  on  a  stem.  That's  what  repulses 
me.  They're  messy.' 

'Repulses,'  she  said.  'What  a  word.' 

His  hair,  a  weak  brandy  brown,  was  shredded  like  tobacco  into 
short  separated  curls  that  hung  untidily  down  over  the  fiery  flesh 
of  his  neck.  His  lips  were  full  and  pettish.  When  motionless  they 
were  like  a  thick  slit  in  a  red  indiarubber  ball.  In  the  soft  fat 
face  the  eyes  were  like  blue  glass  marbles  that  did  not  quite  fit 
into  their  sandy  lidded  slots  and  I  sometimes  got  the  impression 
that  they  would  suddenly  drop  out  as  he  gazed  at  her. 

At  this  moment  she  hid  behind  her  newspaper  and  in  the 
darkening  glass  of  the  train  windows,  across  the  carriage,  we  ex- 
changed reflections.  I  half  expected  her  to  smile.  Instead  I  saw 
the  last  of  the  paling  primrose  reflections  sow  themselves  lightly 
across  a  pair  of  dark  still  eyes  that  were  almost  expressionless. 

'Another  thing  is  that  the  smell  absolutely  nauseates  me.' 

'Why?'  she  said.  'It's  so  delicious.' 


218  Elaine 

'Not  to  me.' 

'Oh!  that's  fantastic/  she  said.  'That  heavenly  scent.  Every- 
body thinks  so.' 

'I  don't  happen  to  be  everybody/  he  said. 

She  had  lowered  her  newspaper  as  she  spoke.  Now,  sharply, 
she  raised  it  up  again.  As  she  did  so  she  pulled  up,  very  slightly, 
the  skirt  of  her  dress,  so  that  I  could  see  for  a  moment  or  two 
her  small  pretty  knees. 

'Who  was  it  who  made  that  remark  about  pansies  being  one 
side  of  Leicester  Square  and  wallflowers  on  the  other  ?'  she  said. 

'That  was  Elaine.' 

'I  knew  it  was  somebody.' 

'Thank  you.' 

This  time  I  knew  she  would  smile  at  me  and  I  got  ready  to 
smile  back  at  her  dark  steady  reflection  in  the  glass.  But  to  my 
surprise  she  did  not  smile.  She  sat  transfixed,  staring  at  me  as  if 
I  were  transparent  and  she  could  see  through  and  beyond  me 
into  the  mass  of  fading  apple  orchards  sailing  past  in  the 
brilliant  blue  evening  above  the  cuttings. 

'What  sort  of  day  did  you  have?'  she  said.  'What  did  you  do?' 

'I  had  a  very  bad,  tiring  day.' 

'All  bad  days  are  tiring/  she  said.  'That's  why  they're  bad.' 

'Don't  be  trite.' 

He  began  to  fuss  with  a  brief-case,  taking  out  first  papers, 
then  books,  sorting  them  over  and  putting  them  back  again. 
Between  his  knees  he  held  a  walking-stick  of  thick  brown  cane, 
the  colour  something  more  than  a  shade  or  two  paler  than  the 
hairs  that  crawled  down  the  flanks  of  his  face.  In  the  confusion 
he  let  the  walking-stick  slip  and  it  fell  with  a  clatter  on 
the  carriage  floor  and  as  he  leaned  forward  to  pick  it  up  I  saw  his 
hands.  They  were  pink  and  puffy,  as  if  the  flesh  had  been  lightly 

'Why  don't  you  put  it  on  the  rack  ? '  she  said. 

'Because  I  prefer  it  here.' 

'You  didn't  ask  me  what  I  did  today/  she  said. 

'If  it  had  been  interesting  you'd  have  told  me  all  about  it/  he 

After  that  the  girl  and  I  stared  at  each  other  for  a  long  time 
from  behind  the  evening  papers,  first  directly  and  then,  when  I 
could  not  bear  the  steady  smileless  dark  eyes  looking  straight  at 

Elaine  219 

me  any  longer,  obliquely  through  the  darkening  glass.  Now  and 
then  she  moved  her  body  slightly  and  I  could  see  once  again  the 
rounded  pretty  knees.  Then  when  she  saw  me  looking  at  the 
knees  she  would  cover  them  up  again,  not  quickly,  but  dreamily, 
slowly,  almost  absent-mindedly,  fixing  me  always  with  the  steady 
eyes  from  under  the  tigress  hat. 

All  the  time  I  expected  her  to  smile  at  me  but  all  this  time 
there  was  no  sign  of  a  smile.  I  had  begun  to  wonder  how  long 
this  strange  exchange  could  go  on,  first  the  direct  stare,  then  the 
stare  that  was  like  something  between  two  apparitions  on  two 
smoky  photographic  plates,  and  then  the  knees  uncovering  them- 
selves and  her  hands  slowly  covering  them  up  again,  when  she 

'I  think  this  is  frightfully  funny.  Look  at  this.' 

She  leaned  forward  and  gave  him  the  evening  paper.  He  took  it 
with  puffy  casual  hands  and  for  the  first  time  I  saw  her  smile. 
The  parting  of  her  lips,  revealing  her  teeth,  produced  exactly  the 
same  effect  as  the  parting  of  her  skirt  when  it  revealed  her  knees. 
They  were  very  pretty  teeth  and  he  did  not  notice  them  either. 

'Why  funny?'  he  said. 

He  gave  her  back  the  paper. 

'Don't  you  think  it's  funny?  I  do.' 

'In  what  way?' 

'Well,  I  don't  know  - 1  just  think  it's  funny.' 

'You  mean  it's  funny  because  you  think  it  is  or  you  think  it's 
funny  because  it  really  is?' 

'I  just  think  it's  funny -that's  all.  Don't  you?' 


The  smile,  as  it  went  from  her  face,  reminded  me  of  a  flame 
turned  off  by  a  tap.  Abruptly  she  turned  it  on  again;  and  again 
the  teeth  were  white  and  pretty  and  he  did  not  notice  them. 

'You  can't  have  looked  at  the  right  piece,'  she  said. 

She  gave  him  back  the  paper. 

'It  made  me  laugh ' 

'It's  exactly  like  the  wallflowers,'  he  said.  'Just  because  you 
think  they're  sweet  it  doesn't  mean  to  say  they  are.  That  doesn't 
make  it  a  fact.  Don't  you  see?' 


Furiously  he  threw  the  evening  paper  back  in  her  face.  She 
caught  it  in  silence  and  held  it  rigidly  in  front  of  her.  In  this 

220  Elaine 

painful  moment  there  was  nothing  for  me  to  do  but  to  hide 
behind  my  own.  By  this  time  the  evening  was  fully  dark  outside 
and  in  place  of  primroses  and  orchards  of  apple  bloom,  cande- 
scent in  the  twilight,  I  could  see  only  the  rolling  phantom  lights 
of  little  country  stations. 

For  some  time  I  watched  these  lights.  Then  there  was  a  long 
stretch  of  line  with  no  lights  at  all  and  presently  from  behind  my 
paper  I  looked  at  her  face  again.  To  my  astonishment  the  smile 
was  still  there.  It  was  not  only  still  there  but  she  appeared,  it 
seemed  to  me,  to  be  nursing  it.  It  was  like  a  light  or  a  piece  of 
fire  she  did  not  want  to  go  out. 

When  she  caught  me  looking  at  her  again  she  seemed  to  do  the 
trick  of  turning  the  tap  again.  The  pretty  teeth  were  suddenly 
hidden  behind  the  tight  lips.  Only  the  pretty  knees  remained 
exposed,  delicate  and  pale  and  rounded,  until  with  the  dreamy 
absent  movement  she  covered  them  up  again. 

Then  she  began  to  talk  to  him  from  behind  her  paper. 

'Did  you  have  dinner?'  she  said. 

He  moved  savagely  among  his  books  and  papers  and  did  not 

With  Elaine?' 

He  did  not  answer. 

'How  was  Elaine  ? '  she  said. 

Her  voice  had  raised  itself  a  little.  She  looked  at  me  hard  from 
behind  the  paper. 

The  train  screamed  through  a  little  station  beyond  which  were 
woods  that  were  torn  with  long  shrill  echoes.  I  shaded  my  face 
with  my  hand  and  squinted  out  and  pretend  to  search  among  the 
flashing  little  old-fashioned  station  lamps  for  a  name,  but  dark- 
ness rushed  in  and  tall  spring  woods  crowded  the  sky. 

'Dear  Elaine/  she  said. 

He  suddenly  got  up  and  snatched  a  suitcase  from  the  rack.  He 
banged  on  its  locks  as  if  they  were  jammed  and  she  said: 

'She's  a  dear.  I  like  her.  Did  she  have  her  lily-of-the-valley  hat 

The  suitcase  yawned  open  and  he  began  to  try  to  press  into  it 
the  brief-case  with  its  books  and  papers.  There  was  not  room  for 
it  and  he  banged  at  it  for  some  time  with  his  podgy  fingers  like 
an  angry  baker  pummelling  dough. 

'Or  was  it  wallflowers  ?  or  doesn't  she  like  them  ? ' 

Elaine  221 

He  wrestled  with  the  two  cases.  In  a  moment  or  two  he  gave 
up  the  idea  of  putting  one  into  the  other  and  threw  the  brief- 
case on  to  the  seat.  Then  he  shut  down  the  locks  of  the  larger 
case  in  two  swift  metallic  snaps  and  said: 

'You  take  the  brief-case.  I'll  take  the  two  suitcases.  We're 
nearly  there.' 

From  behind  her  newspaper  she  had  nothing  to  say.  Her  knees 
with  their  delicate  rounded  prettiness  were  exposed  again,  with 
a  naked  effect  of  pure  smooth  skin  but  he  did  not  notice  them  as 
he  leaned  forward  and  said  in  a  voice  of  slow,  cold,  enamelled 
articulation : 

'I  said  would  you  take  the  brief-case?  Do  you  mind?  I'll 
take  the  suitcases.  I  have  only  one  pair  of  hands.' 

What  a  funny  thing  to  talk  to  a  woman  about,'  she  said.  'The 
scent  of  wallflowers.' 

'We  shall  be  there  in  two  minutes,'  he  said. 

He  reached  up  for  the  second  suitcase.  It  was  cumbersome,  of 
old  shiny  worn  leather  that  slipped  too  easily  down  through  his 
hands.  He  prevented  its  fall  with  clumsiness  and  as  he  did  so 
she  stared  at  me  again,  full  face  this  time,  unsmiling,  the  dark 
bright  eyes  giving  that  uneasy  effect  of  trying  to  transfix  and 
penetrate  me. 

And  when  she  spoke  again  it  was  again  in  a  slightly  louder 
voice,  gazing  straight  at  me : 

'I  told  you  it  was  because  men  were  more  sentimental  about 
them.  They  always  are  about  flowers.' 

From  the  rack  he  took  down  a  large  brown  dufflecoat,  strug- 
gling fatly  into  it,  submerging  everything  of  himself  except  the 
untidy  mass  of  brandy  brown  hair.  I  could  see  by  this  time  the 
lights  of  the  town  and  I  could  hear  the  train  brakes  grinding  on. 
Sharply  he  slid  back  the  corridor  door  but  she  made  no  sign  of 
getting  up.  He  did  not  look  at  her  either.  He  was  unaware  of  the 
pretty  knees,  the  uplifted  face,  the  little  tigress  hat.  He  was  con- 
sumed by  the  struggle  to  get  two  suitcases  through  the  door  at 
once.  Then  the  train  lurched  over  points  and  the  sudden  motion 
seemed  to  throw  himself,  the  suitcases  and  the  heavy  walking- 
stick  in  one  clattering  mass  into  the  corridor  outside. 

'Don't  forget  anything,'  he  said. 

A  moment  later  he  had  disappeared  along  the  corridor.  The 
train  stopped  and  I  heard  him  banging  on  an  outer  door  to  open 

222  Elaine 

it.  I  saw  him  lurch  forward  under  the  station  lights,  grossly  out 
of  balance,  head  forward,  puffing. 

She  got  up  and  began  to  gather  up  her  things.  I  waited  behind 
her  so  that  she  could  leave  the  carriage  first  and  it  was  only  then 
that  I  realised  how  much  he  had  left  for  her  to  carry.  She  was 
trying  to  gather  up  an  umbrella,  a  handbag,  three  parcels,  the 
brief-case  and  the  evening  paper. 

'May  I  help?'  I  said. 

She  stared  past  me  coldly. 

'No,  thank  you/ 

'It's  no  trouble.' 

She  stared  into  me  this  time,  rather  as  she  had  done  so  many 
times  on  the  journey.  For  a  second  or  two  her  eyes  were, 
I  thought,  less  chilly.  I  fancied  there  was  perhaps  a  little  relaxing 
in  the  lips.  For  another  second  or  two  I  thought  of  the  way  she 
had  exposed  her  knees  and  how  attractive  they  were  and  how 
pretty.  I  thought  too  of  the  wallflowers,  of  Elaine,  of  the  lily-of- 
the-valley  hat  and  of  how  there  were  pansies  on  one  side  of 
the  square  and  wallflowers  on  the  other.  Most  of  all  I  remem- 
bered how  men  were  sentimental  about  them. 

'Are  you  quite  sure  ? '  I  said. 

'Quite  sure.' 

'It's  absolutely  no  trouble.  I  have  nothing  to  carry  and  if — ' 

'Good  night,'  she  said. 

Outside,  in  the  station  yard,  a  light  rain  was  falling.  As  I  stood 
unlocking  the  door  of  my  car  a  sudden  wind  seemed  to  throw 
her  out  of  the  station.  She  came  out  without  dignity,  as  if  lost, 
clutching  parcels  and  brief-case  and  umbrella  and  newspaper, 
and  she  could  not  put  up  the  umbrella  against  the  rain. 

Thirty  yards  ahead  he  was  striding  out,  oblivious,  still  grossly 
out  of  balance,  brandy-coloured  head  down  against  the  rain. 

When  she  saw  him  she  gave  a  little  cry  and  began  running.  I 
could  see  her  pretty  legs  flickering  under  the  lights  of  the  station 
yard,  white  against  the  black  spring  rain. 

'Darling,'  she  called  after  him.  'Darling.  Couldn't  you  wait  for 


As  he  came  off  the  train,  under  a  sky  dusky  yellow  with  spent 
thunder,  he  turned  instinctively  to  take  the  short  cut,  over  the 
iron  footbridge.  You  could  cut  across  allotment  grounds  that  way 
and  save  half  a  mile  to  the  town.  He  saw  then  that  the  footbridge 
had  been  closed.  A  notice  painted  in  prussian  blue,  blocking  the 
end  of  it,  saying  Bridge  Unsafe.  Keep  off.  Trespassers  will  be 
prosecuted,  told  him  more  than  anything  else  how  much  the 
town  had  changed. 

It  was  some  time,  the  long  way,  down  the  slope  and  under  the 
other  bridge,  before  you  got  clear  of  the  coalyards.  The  street 
was  narrow  and  torrents  of  thunder-rain  had  flooded  the  granite 
setts  with  tides  that  left  in  the  gutters  patches  of  black  sand  that 
gave  off  oily  glinting  rainbows  in  the  hot  wet  air. 

Beyond  the  coal-yards,  where  sheds  spanned  strips  of  railway 
track  like  huge  black  bats  in  the  gaping  sky,  there  was  a  pub  that 
he  remembered  well  because,  many  years  before,  he  often 
stopped  at  it  as  he  came  down  from  the  country  to  market, 
bringing  his  plums  or  peas  or  broccoli  or  apples  or,  in  early 
spring,  his  daffodils.  In  those  days  he  had  started  first  of  all  with 
a  horse  and  trap,  then  a  motor  bike  with  a  large  flat  side-car  that 
he  had  made  himself.  He  had  good,  powerful  hands.  In  the  year 
he  had  met  Cora  Whitehead  he  had  saved  enough  for  his  first 
car.  He  was  twenty-two  then,  and  that  was  the  year  he  had  begun 
to  go  ahead. 

The  brick  walls  of  the  pub  were  red-black  with  old  smoke 
from  passing  trains.  Just  beyond  it  another  road  bridge, 
blackened  too,  spanned  the  tracks,  and  the  lights  of  buses  passing 
over  it  were  a  strange  sharp  green  under  the  unnatural  stormy 
glare  of  sky. 

The  lights  in  the  pub  were  burning  too.  They  touched  the  cut- 
glass  pattern  of  foaming  jug  and  bottle  in  the  glass  door  with 
outer  stencillings  of  silver  that  the  light  of  sky,  in  turn,  im- 
pressed with  a  stormy  copper  glow. 

Til  have  a  double  whisky  with  water/  he  said. 


224  The  Daffodil  Sky 

Two  railwaymen  were  playing  darts  in  one  corner  of  the 
saloon,  perching  pint  jugs  of  dark  beer  on  the  mahogany  curve 
of  the  counter.  Another  man  was  shooting  a  pin-table,  making 
the  little  lights  come  up  with  jumping,  yellow  fires. 

There  had  never  been  a  pin-table  in  the  old  days.  That 
too  showed  how  things  had  changed.  The  barman  too  was  a 

'How  much  is  that  ? ' 

'Three  and  six.' 

'Have  something  for  yourself  ? ' 

'Well,  thank  you/  the  barman  said.  Til  have  a  brown.' 

'I'm  looking  for  a  Miss  Whitehead,'  he  said. 

The  barman  drew  himself  an  overflowing  small  ale  in  a  glass. 
He  set  it  on  the  counter  and  then  picked  it  up  again  and  wiped 
away,  with  a  cloth,  the  circle  of  froth  it  had  made. 

'You  mean  in  here  ? ' 

'No.  She  used  to  come  in  here.  She  used  to  live  in  Wellington 

'Wellington  Street  ?  When  would  that  be  ? ' 

'Before  the  war.  She  used  to  work  in  the  stocking  factory.' 

'That's  been  a  minute,'  the  barman  said.  'They  built  a  new 
one  ten  year  ago.  Outside  the  town.' 

'She  was  a  big  girl.  Brown  hair  -  a  lot  of  it.  Turning  red.  She 
used  to  come  in  here  in  Jack  Shipley's  time.' 

'Jack  Shipley  -  that's  been  a  minute,'  the  barman  said.  'Jack's 
been  dead  eight  year  -  nine  year.  That's  been  a  minute.' 

The  shorter  of  the  two  railwaymen  stood  with  a  dart  in  his 
hand,  poised  forward  on  the  balls  of  his  feet,  in  readiness  to 

'You  mean  Cora  Whitehead  ? '  he  said. 

'That's  her.' 

'She's  still  in  Wellington  Street.  Her  old  dad  works  at  the  fur- 
naces. He  was  a  plate-layer  once -then  he  went  to  the  furnaces 
when  they  started  up  again.' 

'That's  been  a  minute,'  the  barman  said. 

'Thanks,'  he  said. 

He  drained  his  glass  and  set  it  down.  There  was  no  point  in 
waiting.  He  went  outside  and  heard,  almost  immediately,  from 
beyond  the  coal-yards,  a  new  peal  of  thunder.  It  seemed  to  roll 
back,  in  an  instant,  the  entire  discoloured  space  of  sky  above 

The  Daffodil  Sky  225 

him,  leaving  it  pure  and  clear  as  it  had  been  on  the  morning  he 
had  first  called  in,  many  years  ago,  with  the  idea  of  giving  his 
horse  a  bucket  of  water  and  having  a  pint  of  Black  Boy  for  him- 
self. He  remembered  that  day  as  if,  in  the  way  the  barman  said, 
it  had  been  a  minute  ago.  His  cart  was  piled  with  daffodils.  Like 
the  sky  where  the  storm  had  ripped  it  open  in  the  west  they  were 
fresh  and  brilliant,  shot  through  with  pale  green  fire.  The  morn- 
ing was  one  of  those  April  mornings  that  break  with  pure  blue 
splendour  and  then  are  filled,  by  ten  o'clock,  with  coursing 
western  cloud.  A  spatter  of  hail  caught  him  unawares  on  the 
bridge.  He  had  no  time  to  put  the  tarpaulin  up  and  he  gave  the 
horse  a  lick  instead  and  came  down  into  the  pub-yard  with  the 
hail  cutting  his  face  like  slugs  of  steel.  He  drove  the  cart  under  a 
shed  at  the  back  and  then  ran  through  the  yard  to  the  saloon 
door  and  by  that  time  the  hail  was  big  and  spaced  and  glistening 
as  snow  in  the  sun. 

'Don't  knock  me  flat/  she  said.  'Somebody  might  want  me  to- 
morrow. ' 

Running  with  head  down,  he  had  reached  the  door  at  the  same 
time  as  she  did.  He  blundered  clumsily  against  her  shoulders. 
She  had  a  morning  off  that  day  and  she  had  started  out  in  a  thin 
dress  with  no  sleeves,  thinking  that  summer  had  come.  The 
funny  thing  was  that  he  couldn't  remember  the  colour  of  the 
dress.  It  might  have  been  anything:  black  or  white  or  blue  or 
cream.  He  didn't  remember.  He  remembered  only  the  shoulders 
and  the  bare  arms,  the  big  fleshy  arms  cold  and  wet  with 
splashes  of  hail,  the  big  soft  lips,  the  masses  of  heavy  red-brown 
hair  and  the  brown  eyes  set  into  whites  that  were  really  a  kind 
of  greyish  china-blue. 

Then  the  door  stuck  and  he  could  not  open  it.  A  final  whip  of 
hail  lashed  along  the  pub-wall  as  he  tried  to  twist  the  loose  wet 
brass  knob.  She  began  laughing  and  the  laugh  was  strong  and 
friendly  and  yet  low  in  key.  A  moment  later  the  sun  flashed  out. 
The  glare  of  it  was  white  and  blinding  after  the  shadow  of  hail 
and  he  felt  it  hot  on  his  face  and  neck,  burning  the  skin  where 
hail  had  cut  him. 

'You're  as  good  as  an  umbrella  on  a  wet  day,'  she  said. 

Then  the  door  opened  and  they  were  inside  the  pub.  It  was 
simpler  in  those  days :  just  a  beer-house  where  railwaymen  called 

226  The  Daffodil  Sky 

as  they  came  up  from  the  yards  and  a  farmer  or  two  like  him- 
self from  across  the  valley.  There  was  a  big  triangle  of  cheese 
under  a  glowing  brown  cheese-dish  on  the  counter  and  a  white 
round  spittoon  on  the  sawdust  floor.  You  could  smell  steam- 
coal  smoke  and  stale  beer  and  cheap  strong  cheese,  but  she  said 
almost  at  once : 

'There's  a  smell  of  flowers  or  something.  Can't  you  smell  it?' 
and  he  saw  her  nostrils  widen  and  quiver  as  she  breathed  at  the 
scent  of  daffodils. 

'I  got  a  load  of  'em/  he  said.  'Been  gathering  them  since  six 
this  morning.  It's  the  scent  on  my  hands.' 

Almost  unconsciously  he  lifted  his  hands  and  she  took  them 
and  held  them  against  her  face. 

'That's  it/  she  said.  'That's  lovely.' 

She  smiled  and  drank  Black  Boy  with  him.  It  was  early  and 
there  was  no  one  else  in  the  pub.  Once  as  she  lifted  the  black 
foaming  glass  of  stout  she  laughed  again  and  pretended  to  wince 
and  said: 

'I  believe  you  bruised  my  arm.  My  drinking  arm  at  that.' 

'I  always  been  big  and  clumsy/  he  said.  'I  can't  help  it.' 

'Then  somebody  will  have  to  teach  you  better,  won't  they?  she 
said.  'Can  you  see  any  bruise?' 

He  looked  down  at  her  arm,  the  upper  part  soft  and  fleshy  and 
bruiseless,  and  he  felt  the  flame  of  her  go  through  him  for  the 
first  time. 

'Farmer?'  she  said,  and  he  told  her  yes,  sort  of,  hardly  know- 
ing what  he  said,  feeling  only  the  racing  flame  running  hot 
through  his  blood  and  choking  his  thinking.  She  asked  him  a  lot 
of  questions,  all  about  himself,  how  he  was  getting  on,  how  many 
acres  he  had,  what  his  plans  were,  and  she  seemed  somehow  to 
talk  with  the  enormous  glistening  brown  eyes  rather  than  with 
her  lips.  At  least  that  was  how  he  remembered  it :  the  big  brown 
eyes  always  widening  and  transfixing  him,  bold  and  warm  and 
apparently  still  and  yet  not  still,  drawing  him  down  in  fascination 
until  he  could  hardly  trust  himself  to  look  at  her. 

He  had  wanted  to  be  early  at  market  that  day.  The  trade  in 
Midland  market-squares  didn't  begin  till  afternoon  but  he  had 
reckoned  on  being  there  by  twelve  o'clock.  He  stayed  drinking 
with  her  until  nearly  two.  They  ate  most  of  the  cheese  from  the 
big  dish  on  the  bar  counter  and  he  began  to  feel  his  eyes  crossing 

The  Daffodil  Sky  227 

and  rolling  as  he  looked  at  her.  He  thought  several  times  of  the 
daffodils  in  the  cart  and  the  drink  of  water  he  ought  to  be  giving 
to  his  horse.  He  worried  about  it  for  a  time  and  then  it  didn't 
matter.  Hail  seemed  to  spring  and  lash  at  the  windows  every 
time  he  made  up  his  mind  that  he  ought  to  go,  and  then  the 
fierce,  flashing  daffodil  sun  was  out  again  and  the  railyards  were 
steaming  in  the  cutting  below. 

'You'll  be  all  right/  she  said.  'Nobody  gets  up  to  market-hill 
yet  awhile.  It's  Friday.  Take  it  easy.  You'll  catch  folks  as  they 
come  from  the  factories.  You'll  be  lucky.' 

'I  ought  to  go  - 1  got  a  lot  to  unpack — ' 

Tou'll  be  lucky,'  she  said.  'You're  the  sort.  You'll  get  on. 
Your  sort  always  does.' 

'How  do  you  know  ? ' 

'I'm  lucky  for  them/  she  said.  'I  always  am.' 

Presently  that  was  how  it  turned  out;  all  that  day  and  other 
days  the  luck  was  with  him.  Hail  closed  in  again  that  afternoon, 
rattling  white  bullets  across  the  black  setts  of  the  market  square, 
but  the  evening  was  clear  and  fine,  with  a  bright  yellow-green 
frosty  April  sky.  People  came  late  to  buy  under  the  orange  par- 
affin flares.  The  daffodils  shone  a  deeper  yellow  in  the  oily  glow. 
Everything  was  good  and  the  luck  was  with  him. 

The  motor-bike  followed  the  cart.  He  had  thought  about  it 
already  and  decided  he  couldn't  afford  it.  Then  it  turned  out  she 
knew  a  man  named  Frankie  Corbett  who  had  a  Beardmore  com- 
bination that  he  was  willing  to  sell  very  cheap  and  that  she  could 
even  get  for  less  than  that,  she  thought.  He  made  the  side- 
truck  himself  from  packing  cases,  with  a  detachable  tarpaulin 
hood  for  wet  days.  It  was  a  natural  step  from  that  to  the 

'You  see  I'm  lucky  for  you/  she  would  say.  'Like  I  told  you.  I'm 
lucky.  I  always  am.' 

That  summer  he  began  to  go  to  the  house  in  Wellington 
Street.  Her  mother  was  dead  and  her  father  worked  a  night-shift 
at  the  furnaces.  That  made  it  easy  to  spend  the  nights  with  her. 
Her  body  was  like  her  face:  big  and  frank  and  bold,  running 
against  him  like  a  brassy  flame.  In  exactly  the  way  that  she 
always  seemed  to  speak  to  him  through  her  large  brown  eyes 
rather  than  her  lips  so  all  her  thoughts  about  him  did  not  come 
from  her  mind  but  through  the  pores  of  her  skin. 

228  The  Daffodil  Sky 

'You  know  what?'  she  would  say.  'I  know  when  you  turn  the 
corner  by  the  bridge.  I  feel  it.  That's  how  I  feel.  I  can  tell  you're 

He  rented  his  land,  five  acres  of  it,  from  an  elderly  man  named 
Osborne  who  kept  chickens  and  geese  on  an  adjoining  ten  acres, 
most  of  it  an  orchard  of  apples  and  plums  where  the  daffodils 
grew  thick  and  almost  wild  in  spring.  'I'm  gittin'  old,'  Osborne 
would  say.  'I'm  gittin'  past  it,  boy.'  He  had  a  room  with  Osborne 
in  a  square  wooden  bungalow  surrounded  by  a  cart-hovel  and  a 
few  disused  pig-sties  and  a  stack  of  hay  that  was  taken  every  year 
from  the  orchard.  Osborne  pottered  about  the  place  with  a  scythe 
or  a  feed-bucket  or  a  basket  of  eggs.  At  certain  times  of  the  year 
the  house  seemed  full  of  geese-feathers.  In  wet  weather  the  yard 
was  sloppy  and  green  with  web-flattened  droppings. 

'I'm  gittin'  past  it/  Osborne  said.  'If  you  could  raise  the 
money  I'd  git  out  and  be  glad  on  it.  I'll  go  and  live  with  my  sister. 
Raise  part  on  it,  boy.  You'll  git  on.  Raise  part  on  it  and  pay  me 

He  remembered  the  day,  most  of  all  the  evening,  Osborne  had 
told  him  that.  Suddenly  all  his  life  seemed  to  pull  him  forward 
like  a  bounding  dog  on  a  leash.  It  seemed  to  tear  at  the  socket  of 
his  mind  with  a  terrible  excitement.  He  was  going  to  own  his 
own  land,  his  own  house,  his  own  poultry  or  heifers  or  bullocks 
or  whatever  it  was  he  wanted.  He  was  going  to  have  his  feet  on 
his  own  piece  of  earth. 

He  drove  her  out  that  evening  across  the  valley,  along  a  back- 
water of  the  river,  not  much  more  than  a  wide  ditch  after  the 
heat  of  summer,  where  meadowsweet  and  willow-herb  and  thick 
red  burnet  with  a  smell  of  cucumber  made  a  deep  barrier  that 
hid  the  two  of  them  from  the  road.  They  lay  down  by  the  back- 
water and  it  was  so  still  that  he  could  hear  young  pike  rising 
below  him,  making  soft  sounds  like  blobs  of  summer  rain  in 
the  warm  pools.  He  took  off  his  coat  and  lay  on  his  back  and 
stared  at  the  sky  and  spoke  of  his  plans.  He  was  for  rushing  in 
and  fixing  it  up  at  once,  before  there  could  be  any  hitch  in  things, 
but  it  was  she  who  held  him  back. 

'Very  like  this  Osborne  is  crafty.  They're  always  the  same. 
They  seem  simple  and  then  they've  got  something  up  their 

The  Daffodil  Sky  229 

'Osborne's  all  right.  He's  as  straight  as  the  day  is  long.' 

'Yes,  and  some  days  are  longer  than  others/  she  said.  'Don't 
forget  that.' 

She  lay  on  her  back  too,  staring  with  brown  eyes  at  the 
August  sky,  giving  the  impression  once  again  that  her  words 
flowed  sleepily  out  of  them. 

'You  get  it  right  from  the  beginning/  she  said.  'Then  you'll 
know  it's  right.  How  much  money  have  you  got?' 

He  had  saved  a  hundred  and  fifty  pounds.  He  thought 
the  farm  could  make  him  three  hundred  a  year.  'I  seen  the  bills 
for  eggs.  That's  more  than  a  hundred,'  he  said. 

'You'll  put  your  hundred  and  fifty  down  as  deposit  and  then 
what've  you  got  ? '  she  said. 

'I  got  all  the  stock.  The  geese  and  the  hens.  The  fruit  -  there's 
a  lot  of  fruit.  The  goodwill.' 

'What's  goodwill  ? '  she  said. 

'You  know  what  it  is.  Every  business  has  got  goodwill.' 

'So  has  your  grandmother/  she  said. 

She  lay  for  some  time  longer  staring  at  the  sky.  Then  she  shut 
her  eyes.  Dusky  olive,  the  lids  seemed  to  throb  softly  and  steadily 
under  the  evening  heat,  and  suddenly  she  turned  with  closed  eyes 
and  put  her  mouth  against  his  face,  finding  his  own  mouth  with 
instinct,  without  mistake  or  clumsiness,  the  first  time.  Her  way  of 
kissing  was  in  long,  soft  strokes  of  her  lips,  from  side  to  side, 
each  as  if  it  were  the  last,  as  if  she  could  not  bear  it  and  must 
break  away. 

After  a  long  time  she  broke  away.  She  seemed  to  have  been 
thinking  and  she  opened  her  eyes. 

'What  if  I  came  in  with  you  ? ' 

He  felt  he  needed  only  something  like  that  for  the  completion 
of  his  plan  and  his  happiness. 

'I've  got  fifty  saved  up/  she  said.  'What  does  he  want  for  the 
place  ? ' 

'A  thousand  for  the  bungalow  and  everything  in.' 

'That's  two  hundred  we've  got.  Could  you  raise  any  more?' 

'I  don't  know  where  from.' 

'I  might  raise  it/  she  said.  'Frankie  Corbett  might  raise  for  us. 
He's  got  it  -  I've  only  got  to  talk  round  him  somehow.' 

Suddenly  he  was  leaning  over  her,  holding  her  face  in  his 

230  The  Daffodil  Sky 

We'll  get  married/  he  said.  'You  know  what  you  said  -  you're 
lucky  for  me.' 

'Are  you  asking  me  ? '  she  said. 

'Yes/  he  said.  'Yes,  I'm  asking.' 

'All  right,'  she  said.  'I'm  glad  you  asked  me.' 

He  would  never  forget  that  day :  the  soft  summer  evening  with 
fish  plopping  in  the  pools  of  the  backwater,  the  smell  of  water 
and  meadowsweet  and  willow-herb,  the  cool  cucumber  smell  of 
burnet  which  they  crushed  with  their  bodies  as  they  lay  there; 
and  all  his  green,  bounding  satisfaction  at  his  luck,  his  success 
and  his  future,  a  young  man  with  a  car,  a  house,  a  farm-holding 
and  the  woman  he  wanted. 

'And  to  think  it  all  started,'  he  said,  'with  the  daffodils.' 

'It's  always  little  things  like  that,'  she  said. 

Six  weeks  later,  almost  to  the  minute,  on  a  rainy  October 
evening,  he  was  killing  Frankie  Corbett  in  a  street  below  the 

He  walked  slowly  and  deliberately  up  Wellington  Street.  The 
houses  were  all  the  same,  long  rows  of  flat  boxes  in  blackened 
yellow  brick,  with  gaping  oblong  holes  for  porches.  It  was 
getting  darker  with  the  swing  of  the  storm  coming  back  across 
the  railway  yards. 

A  man  came  up  the  street  with  two  whippet  dogs  quiet  as  long- 
legged  ferrets  covered  with  red  and  yellow  jackets  as  they  trotted 
before  him  on  a  double  leash.  That  was  how  Frankie  Corbett 
had  come  up  that  evening,  except  that  he  had  only  one  dog,  a 
wire-haired  white  mongrel  that  yapped  in  front  of  him  without  a 
lead.  It  had  been  getting  dark  then  too,  with  spits  of  rain  and  a 
cold  touch  of  autumn  in  the  wind,  and  he  knew  the  man  was 
Frankie  Corbett  because  of  the  dog.  He  had  to  admit  he  had 
been  waiting  for  Frankie.  He  was  too  honest  not  to  admit  it  and 
it  was  the  honesty  of  it,  subsequently,  that  had  him  damned. 
He  was  simply  waiting  to  have  a  word  with  Frankie,  that  was  all. 
He  knew  Frankie  exercised  the  dog  every  evening  about  the  same 
time.  That  was  the  only  thing  about  it  he  had  managed  with  any 
subtlety.  He  had  tricked  Cora  into  telling  him  that.  The  rest  was 
clumsy  and  stupid. 

What  he  ought  to  have  realised,  and  did  not  realise  till  after- 
wards, was  that  he  had  been  blinded  with  the  stupor  of  a  slow- 

The  Daffodil  Sky  231 

eating  jealousy.  First  there  was  the  way  she  began  to  call  him 
Frankie.  'Frankie'll  get  the  money.  I'll  see  Frankie.  I  got  to  see 
Frankie  tomorrow.  No,  I  can't  see  you  because  I  got  to  see 
Frankie.  Of  course  I'm  going  to  his  house -where  else  would  I 
go?  You  don't  suppose  he  carries  a  couple  o'  hundred  quid  round 
with  him  any  day  ? ' 

How  long  had  she  known  this  Frankie?  That  was  the  next 
step  in  his  rising  suspicion  of  her. 

'Oh!  years.  I  never  knew  the  time  when  I  didn't  know 

Had  she  been  with  him?  She  knew  how  he  meant -that  way? 
more  than  friends? 

'Oh !  I  don't  say  we  didn't  have  a  bit  of  fun  sometimes.  Girls 
do  -  it's  been  known.' 

He  wasn't  talking  about  fun.  He  was  talking  about  something 
else.  What  about  that? 

'Oh!  we  courted  a  bit  once.  But  we  were  always  squabbling. 
We  were  no  good  for  each  other.' 

Then  why  didn't  she  give  it  up?  Once  and  for  all?  Why  did 
she  go  on  seeing  him?  Why  did  she  think  she  had  the  pull  with 
him  to  get  the  money  ? 

'Oh !  I  can  get  round  him,'  she  said. 

Get  round  him?  That  was  a  damn  funny  expression.  What  did 
that  mean  ? 

'We  want  the  money,  don't  we?'  she  said.  'I  got  to  get  it  the 
best  way  I  can,  haven't  I?  You  can't  just  rush  in  and  ask  for  a 
couple  of  hundred  quid  like  that,  can  you  ? ' 

It  took  a  month  to  get  the  money.  Long  before  the  end  of  it  his 
mind  was  eaten  by  something  more  than  suspicion.  He  began  to 
lie  awake  at  night  with  his  head  feeling  black  and  soft  and  heavy 
as  a  rotting  apple,  and  in  it  a  vast  canker,  ugly  as  death,  slimily 
eating  its  way  outward. 

That  was  how  he  came  to  be  standing  in  the  raining  October 
street,  waiting  for  Frankie.  His  dream  of  the  house,  the  farm,  the 
little  orchard  with  its  daffodils  had  been  eaten  by  the  canker. 

Presently,  after  that  ugly  obliteration,  he  knew  that  she  was 
going  to  have  a  child.  And  somehow  he  felt  that  the  child  was 
ugly  and  cankerous  too:  that  was  not  because  he  knew  it  was 
Frankie's.  It  was  because  he  didn't  know.  And  that  was  why,  in 
the  end,  he  had  to  have  a  word  with  Frankie. 

232  The  Daffodil  Sky 

That  evening  he  waited  for  nearly  half  an  hour  in  the  street 
and  there  were  people  who  passed  and  saw  him  waiting.  Then 
the  dog  came,  yapping,  and  then  Frankie  came,  a  man  older  than 
he  was,  with  jockey  legs  in  brown  buckskin  breeches  and  a  yellow 
check  muffler  and  black  check  cap  and  a  cane  crop  in  his  hands. 

He  stopped  him,  and  they  stood  on  the  pavement  and  spoke  a 
word  or  two.  He  was  trembling  violently  and  the  air  was  a  con- 
fusion of  red  and  black.  A  few  heavier  spits  of  rain  came  hastily 
down  and  Frankie  said  he  was  getting  wet  and  hadn't  all  night 
to  stand  there  jawing  over  trifles.  'There's  no  trifle  about  this 
and  all  I  want  is  a  straight  answer.'  Then  the  dog  yapped, 
splashing  in  a  gutter  puddle,  and  Frankie  began  to  swing  the 

He  had  a  sudden  blind  idea  that  the  swing  of  the  crop  was 
meant  for  him.  A  moment  later  he  was  hitting  at  Frankie  with  a 
broccoli  knife.  It  was  a  thin  curved  knife  and  he  had  sharpened 
it  that  morning  on  the  grindstone,  with  Osborne  turning  the 
wheel.  Then  Frankie  lashed  at  him  with  the  crop  and  then  in 
return  he  hit  out  with  the  knife  again.  At  the  fourth  or  fifth 
stroke  Frankie  fell  and  hit  his  skull  against  the  iron  lip  of  the 
gutter,  and  suddenly  there  was  bright  blood  in  the  rain. 

It  was  exactly  as  she  had  said:  it  was  the  little  things  that 
started  it.  The  broccoli  knife,  the  grindstone,  the  yapping  dog, 
the  people  seeing  him  waiting  in  the  rain. 

And  then,  on  top  of  these,  his  jealousy  of  Frankie.  She  had 
made  a  great  deal,  in  the  witness  box,  of  his  jealousy  of  Frankie. 
What  sort  of  jealousy  would  you  call  it?'  they  had  asked  her. 
'Normal  jealousy?  Blind  jealousy?  A  passing  sort  of  jealousy? 
What  kind  of  jealousy  did  it  seem  to  you?' 

'I'd  call  it  black,'  she  said. 

And  he  knew,  again,  that  that  was  true.  She  knew,  as  always, 
exactly  how  he  felt  about  things.  She  was  full  of  the  uncanny 
instinct  of  the  blood. 

The  number  in  Wellington  Street  was  eighty-four.  He  stood 
for  a  moment  outside.  He  felt  his  blood  plunging  and  beating  in 
his  chest  like  a  clumsy  suction  pump  exactly  as  it  had  done  the 
night  he  had  waited  for  Frankie.  If  she  was  there  what  was  he 
going  to  say  to  her?  What  was  he  going  to  do? 

It  was  like  an  argument  that  for  all  those  years  had  not  been 
finished.  He  wanted  to  have  the  last  word:    perhaps  another 

The  Daffodil  Sky  233 

violent  one,  perhaps  only  to  tell  her  what  he  thought  of  her,  per- 
haps merely  to  ask  why  in  God's  name  she  had  had  to  do  a  thing 
like  that?  Perhaps  it  was  a  damn  fool  thing  to  do.  Perhaps  he 
ought  to  have  kept  away.  A  man  of  his  age  ought  to  know  better. 
He  was  a  man  of  forty  now;  the  young  man  with  the  dream  of  a 
piece  of  orchard  land  and  a  place  of  his  own  had  long  been  eaten 
by  the  canker. 

He  rapped  on  the  door  by  twice  lifting  the  knocker  above  the 
slit  of  letter  box.  A  streak  of  lightning  went  forking  across  the 
darkening  brown-purple  sky  and  seemed  to  be  answered,  a 
moment  or  so  later,  by  the  flash  of  a  naked  light  in  the  passage  of 
the  house. 

His  hands  were  trembling  and  he  locked  them  together.  The 
door  dragged  on  the  jerry-built  bottom  step.  He  felt  the  same 
dragging  sensation  across  his  chest  and  then  a  terrified  and  blind- 
ing idea  that  if  she  opened  the  door  he  might  not  be  able  to  re- 
strain himself  but  would  rush  straight  at  her  and  kill  her  exactly 
as  he  had  killed  Frankie.  Then  he  remembered  that  this  time 
there  would  be  no  manslaughter  about  it,  and  he  gripped  his 
hands  even  harder  behind  his  back,  waiting. 

When  she  opened  the  door  he  knew  at  once  that  she  had  not 
changed  much.  The  light  from  the  naked  electric  bulb  illumi- 
nated reddishly  the  mass  of  chestnut  hair.  The  curious  thing  was, 
he  thought,  that  he  had  no  agony  or  bitterness  about  her.  He  felt 
only  the  flame  of  her  stab  through  him  again  exactly  as  it  had 
done  on  the  day  he  had  run  against  her  in  hail  and  sun,  the  day 
of  the  daffodils. 

'Yes?*  she  said. 

Then  he  knew  that  the  voice  was  not  the  same.  It  was  quieter 
and  lighter  in  key.  And  then  in  a  quick  movement  she  turned  her 
face  and  peered  at  him  and  he  knew  that  the  face  was  not  the 

He  knew  that  it  was,  after  all,  not  her  at  all. 

'I  am  looking  for  a  Miss  Whitehead/  he  said,  'or  perhaps  it's 
Mrs  Whitehead., 

Tm  Miss  Whitehead/  she  said.  'Mrs  Whitehead  isn't  in.' 

'Are  you  Cora's  girl  ? '  he  said. 

'Yes,  that's  my  mother/  she  said. 

He  began  to  say  that  he  was  an  old  friend  of  her  mother's.  He 

234  The  Daffodil  Sky 

found  himself  clumsily  using  the  words  'stranger  in  the  district/ 
and  asking  when  would  she  be  back? 

'Not  tonight/  she  said.  'She's  just  gone  on  shift.  She's  out  at 
the  stocking  factory/ 

'I  see/  he  said.  'Perhaps  I  could  call  again.' 

'You  could  catch  her  tomorrow. ' 

'All  right/  he  said.  He  found  he  could  not  take  his  eyes  off  the 
mass  of  reddish,  familiar,  light-framed  hair.  Til  see  if  I  can  drop 
in  tomorrow.' 

'What  time?  What  name  shall  I  say?' 

A  burst  of  thunder  seemed  to  fill  the  street  with  a  solid  spout 
of  rain  before  he  could  answer. 

'It's  coming  back.  You'd  better  wait/  she  said.  'You  could 
come  in  and  wait.' 

'No.  I'll  get  a  bus  back  to  the  station/  he  said. 

The  street  was  drowned  in  storm-white  curtains. 

'You'll  get  soaked/  she  said.  'Wait  till  it  lets  up  a  bit.' 

Overhead  the  thunder  made  a  raw  lash,  with  long  overtones  of 
echoes,  and  heavy  rain  swept  in  as  far  as  his  feet  in  the 

'You'd  better  stand  in  the  doorway/  she  said. 

She  pushed  back  the  door  as  far  as  it  could  go  and  he  stood 
with  his  back  to  the  door-frame,  she  on  the  other  side. 

'Frightened  of  thunder  ? '  he  said. 


Suddenly  he  felt  the  rising  steam  of  rain  in  the  air,  making  it 
hotter  and  thicker  than  ever.  His  blood  began  to  beat  again  with 
heavy  suction  strokes  in  his  throat.  She  had  turned  her  face  now 
and  she  was  leaning  one  bare  shoulder  on  the  door-frame,  her 
arms  folded  across  her  breasts.  They  were  the  same  kind  of  arms, 
full  and  naked  and  fleshy,  that  had  inflamed  him  on  the  day  he 
had  first  met  her  mother.  He  wondered  suddenly  if  the  eyes  were 
the  same,  brown  and  large,  with  that  strange  and  compelling 
manner  of  eloquence,  and  then  a  moth  flew  across  her  neck, 
darting  for  the  light  in  the  passage,  and  as  she  turned  to  brush  it 
away  he  saw  the  same  perfect  brown  depth  in  the  pupils, 
the  same  blueness  in  the  large  whites,  the  same  eloquence  that 
could  say  things  without  speaking. 

'It  seems  as  if  it'll  never  let  up/  she  said.  'It's  been 
rolling  round  all  day.' 

The  Daffodil  Sky  235 

'Perhaps  Fd  better  make  a  dash  for  it.' 

'You'll  get  soaked.  Have  you  got  a  train  to  catch?  If  you 
haven't  I  could  lend  you  an  umbrella  and  you  could  bring  it  back 

He  peered  for  a  second  out  of  the  dripping  doorway.  'It  looks 
lighter  across  the  yards.' 

'Wait  one  more  minute,'  she  said.  'Then  if  it  doesn't  let  up  I'll 
lend  you  the  umbrella.' 

He  waited,  watching  her  face,  younger  and  lighter  and  finer  in 
tone  than  her  mother's  as  he  remembered  it,  the  hair  soft  and 
red,  perhaps  a  tone  or  two  darker,  the  throat  moving  with  deep 
slow  strokes  in  the  naked  cross-light  from  behind  her. 

'Still  at  school?'  he  said. 

'Good  Lord,  no.  Me?  I'm  in  the  hosiery  too.  Only  they  don't 
allow  night  shift  till  you're  twenty.  Lord  knows  why.' 

He  was  all  at  once  afraid  of  talking  too  much;  he  was  scared 
that  at  any  moment  she  might  remember  her  unanswered  ques- 
tion and  ask  his  name. 

'I'd  better  push  off,'  he  said.  'I  don't  want  to  keep  you  stand- 
ing here.' 

'I'll  get  the  umbrella,'  she  said. 

She  went  into  the  house  and  pulled  an  umbrella  from  a  round 
tin  stand  that  stood  in  the  passage.  Suddenly  he  remembered 
what  her  mother  had  said,  in  that  quick  and  flashing  way  of 
hers:  'You're  as  good  as  an  umbrella  on  a  rainy  day,'  and  then 
the  girl  said : 

'I'll  walk  as  far  as  the  bridge  with  you.  It's  letting  up  a  bit. 
You  can  get  a  bus  there  and  I  can  bring  the  umbrella  back.' 

'I  don't  like ' 

'Oh !  that's  all  right.  I  got  nothing  to  do.  I  get  bored  with  both 
of  them  on  night  shift  and  me  sitting  there  waiting  for  bed-time. 
Wouldn't  you  ?  It  gives  you  the  atmospherics  -  like  the  radio.' 

She  laughed  as  they  ran  out  together,  she  holding  the 
umbrella,  into  the  rain,  and  the  laugh  too  was  much  like  her 
mother's,  but  lighter  and  softer  in  tone.  The  rain  was  slacking  a 
little  and  they  walked  with  heads  down  against  it  and  once  he 
peered  out  from  under  the  rim  of  the  umbrella  to  see  if  the  sky 
was  growing  lighter  still  across  the  yard. 

'Keep  your  head  under.  You'll  get  soaked,'  she  said.  'It's  com- 

236  The  Daffodil  Sky 

ing  in  enough  as  it  is.  This  umbrella's  one  of  mine  I  had  as  a 
kid.  It's  only  half  size.' 

He  crouched  closer  under  the  umbrella  and  found  himself 
taking  her  arm.  She  said,  'That's  better.  That's  more  like  it,'  and 
again  he  felt  the  flame  of  touching  her  go  through  him  exactly  as 
it  had  done  when  he  had  touched  Cora's  arm,  cold  and  wet  with 
hail  under  a  fiery  burst  of  sunshine  on  a  spring  day. 

That's  better,'  she  said.  Isn't  it?' 

'Do  you  like  it?' 

'I  like  it  a  lot,'  she  said.  'Do  you  ? ' 


'Is  that  why  you're  running  so  hard  to  catch  the  bus?' 

He  had  not  realised  that  he  was  running.  He  had  not  grasped 
that  excitement  was  driving  him  through  the  rain.  He  laughed 
and  slackened  his  pace  and  she  said : 

'The  way  you  were  going  anybody  would  think  you  had  to  get 
the  Manchester  express.' 

'Perhaps  I  have.' 

'Oh !  go  on.  Where  are  you  going  ?  Nowhere,  are  you  ? ' 

'Nowhere  particular.' 

'I  knew  it  all  the  time.' 

That  was  like  her  mother  too :  that  queer  thinking  through  the 
pores,  the  knowingness,  the  second  sight  about  him.  'I  know 
when  you're  coming  round  the  corner.  I  know  when  you're 

By  the  time  they  had  reached  the  bridge  it  was  raining  no 
longer.  The  few  peals  of  thunder  might  have  been  far-distant 
wheels  of  freight  trains  thudding  heavily  up  slow  gradients  to  the 
north.  The  sky  beyond  the  black  low  yards  was  pure  and  empty, 
almost  stark,  a  strong  green-yellow,  after  the  swift  and  powerful 
wash  of  rain. 

She  did  not  put  the  umbrella  down.  Its  shadow  almost  com- 
pleted the  summer  darkness  so  that  when  they  halted  and  stood 
by  the  bridge  he  could  see  her  face  only  in  softened  outline, 
under  the  mass  of  brown-red  hair.  Then  a  bus  came  with  its 
glare  of  strange  green  thundery  light  over  the  crest  of  the  bridge 
and  she  said : 

'This  is  your  bus.  This  is  the  one  you  ought  to  get.' 

'There's  no  bus.  There's  no  train.  There's  no  nothing,'  he  said. 

She  did  not  speak.  They  let  the  bus  go  by.  It  flared  away, 

The  Daffodil  Sky  237 

leaving  behind  it  a  darkness  momentarily  shot  with  dancing  fires 
of  green  that  were  also  like  broken  after-reflections  of  the  clear- 
ing, yellowing  sky. 

'It's  nice  being  with  you/  she  said.  'Do  you  feel  that  about 
some  people?  It's  nice  the  first  time  you  meet  them.  You  feel  it 
and  you  know.' 

'That's  right,'  he  said. 

He  wanted  suddenly  to  tell  her  who  he  was :  who  and  why  and 
what  and  all  about  himself.  He  wanted  to  tell  her  about  her 
mother  and  the  dream  the  canker  had  eaten  and  he  wanted  to 
run.  He  knew  he  ought  to  get  out.  He  ought  to  find  a  little  farm 
like  Osborne's  and  get  work  on  it  and  save  money  and  start 
again.  It  was  getting  late  and  he  ought  to  find  himself  a  bed 
down  by  the  station.  Then  in  the  morning  he  could  get  out  and 
start  clear,  over  in  another  county,  somewhere  east,  Norfolk  per- 
haps, where  he  wasn't  known.  Harvest  was  beginning  and  there 
was  plenty  of  work  on  the  farms. 

Then  he  was  aware  of  an  awful  loneliness.  He  felt  sick  with  it. 
His  stomach  turned  and  was  slipping  out.  It  was  the  feeling  he 
had  known  when  they  sentenced  him.  His  stomach  was  black  and 
he  was  alone  and  terribly  afraid.  He  looked  at  the  haunting 
yellow  sky.  He  heard  at  the  same  time  a  train  rushing  down 
through  the  yards  from  the  north  and  he  began  to  say : 

'I  suppose  you ' 


The  express  came  roaring  down,  double-engined,  crashing  and 
flaring  under  the  bridge.  She  waited  for  it  to  pass  in  its  cloud  of 
floating  orange  steam  before  she  spoke  again. 

What  was  that  you  said  ? ' 


'You  know  what  I  thought  you  were  going  to  say?' 


'I  thought  you  were  going  to  ask  if  I'd  come  out  with  you 

'No,'  he  said.  'No.'  His  entire  body  was  beginning  to  shake 
again,  so  that  he  could  hardly  say : 

'No -I  was  going  to  say  I  wanted  a  drink.  That's  all.  I  was 
going  to  say  I  suppose  you  wouldn't  have  one  with  me.' 

'Well,  of  course  I  would,'  she  said.  'That's  easy.  What  could  be 
easier  than  that?' 


The  Daffodil  Sky 

He  knew  that  nothing  could  be  easier  than  that.  He  waited  for 
a  moment  or  two  longer  without  speaking.  He  looked  down  at 
her  face,  not  very  clear  in  the  partial  shadow  of  the  umbrella,  but 
familiar  as  if  he  had  known  it  a  long  time.  The  train  was  through 
the  yards.  It  was  roaring  now  through  the  station,  under  the  old 
closed  footbridge,  and  behind  it,  in  noisy  flashes,  the  signals  were 
lifting  to  red. 

Well,  what  are  we  waiting  for?'  she  said. 

'Nothing,'  he  said. 

Still  under  the  umbrella,  they  began  to  walk  up  the  gradient, 
by  smoke-blackened  walls,  towards  the  pub.  She  gave  the 
umbrella  a  sideways  lift  so  that,  above  the  yards,  in  the  fresh 
light  of  after-storm,  he  could  see  a  great  space  of  calm,  rain- 
washed  daffodil  sky. 

'It's  all  over/  she  said.  'It's  fine.  It'll  be  hot  again  tomorrow.' 

She  closed  down  the  umbrella.  She  was  smiling  and  he  could 
not  look  at  her  face. 

'We'd  better  get  on,'  he  said.  'It's  nearly  closing-time.' 


For  twenty-five  years  Joe  Mortimer  and  his  wife  had  lived  in  a 
valley,  getting  a  living  from  raising  hens  and  geese,  a  few  cows 
and  calves,  the  fruit  from  half  a  dozen  cherry  trees  and  an  acre 
or  two  of  corn. 

Their  small  red  brick  house,  surrounded  by  coops  of  wire  and 
low  wooden  sheds  for  chickens,  stood  close  to  a  railway  line,  and 
occasionally  passengers  could  look  out  and  see,  walking  about  the 
small  grass  paddock  or  across  the  bare  autumn  stubbles,  a  woman 
with  wispy  fair  hair  and  long  brown  arms.  Sometimes  she  was 
lovingly  leading  a  calf  by  a  halter;  sometimes  she  seemed  to  be 
earnestly  talking  to  flocks  of  geese  and  hens.  At  times  a  man  was 
with  her :  a  tall  gaunt-framed  man  with  close-cut  hair  and  spare 
knotty  muscle  and  water-blue  eyes  that  slowly  lifted  themselves 
and  gazed  absently  on  the  windows  of  passing  trains.  In  summer 
there  were  always  many  children  on  the  trains,  eagerly  pressing 
faces  to  the  glass  as  they  travelled  down  to  the  sea,  and  when- 
ever the  Mortimers  caught  sight  of  them  there  was  a  sudden 
brightness  on  their  faces,  a  great  eagerness,  almost  an  illumi- 
nation, as  they  smiled  and  waved  their  hands. 

Every  Tuesday  and  again  on  Saturday  the  Mortimers  drove  in 
a  small  black  truck  to  market.  They  took  with  them  cases  of  eggs, 
half  a  dozen  unplucked  brown  chickens,  a  few  chips  of  cherries 
in  their  season  and  odd  things  like  bunches  of  turnips  and 
onions,  a  brace  of  pigeons,  a  hare,  and  daffodils  carefully  tied  in 

In  the  evenings,  when  they  came  home  again,  they  counted  out 
their  money  on  the  kitchen  table.  They  laid  it  out  in  little  piles  of 
silver  and  copper  and  notes,  counting  it  several  times  to  make 
sure  how  much  they  had. 

Then  when  the  counting  was  finished  Joe  Mortimer  would 
divide  the  money  exactly  in  half.  Solemnly,  from  the  very 
beginning  of  their  marriage,  he  would  put  one  half  into  a  tin 
cash  box  and  then  push  the  other  across  to  his  wife,  who  took  it 
from  him  with  long,  uneager  hands. 


240  The  Good  Corn 

'You  know  what  that's  for/  he  would  say,  'put  that  away/ 

At  first  they  were  quite  sure  about  children.  It  seemed  as 
natural  to  think  of  children  coming  as  to  think  of  eggs  in  the 
hen-runs  and  calves  for  cows  and  flowers  on  cherry  trees.  It 
was  merely  a  question  of  time  before  children  came.  Mrs 
Mortimer  thought  of  children  laughing  and  running  among 
flocks  of  hens,  scattering  grain,  tossing  it  among  the  snapping, 
quarrelling  brown  feathers.  In  early  spring,  in  cold  wet  weather, 
she  sometimes  nursed  the  first  yellow  chicks  in  warm  flannel, 
in  baskets,  under  the  kitchen  stove.  That  was  the  sort  of  thing 
children  always  loved,  she  thought. 

It  was  in  summer,  when  the  corn  was  ready,  that  Mortimer 
thought  of  them  most.  In  imagination  he  saw  boys  riding  in 
harvest  carts  or  chasing  rabbits  among  shocks  of  wheat  and 
barley.  He  saw  himself  cutting  them  ash-plants  from  hedgerows 
or  teaching  them  to  thresh  wheat  in  the  palms  of  their  hands.  He 
saw  them  bouncing  on  piles  of  fresh  light  straw  on  threshing 

Then  gradually,  as  time  went  by  and  there  were  no  children, 
he  became  resigned  to  it  in  a  puzzled,  absent  sort  of  way.  It  did 
not  embitter  him.  If  there  were  no  children  there  were  no  child- 
ren, he  thought.  That  was  nature;  that  was  how  it  was.  You 
could  not  alter  that.  It  turned  out  like  that  with  some  people. 
There  was  nothing  you  could  do  about  it  but  hope  and  make 
the  best  of  it. 

But  his  wife  could  not  see  it  like  that.  It  was  not  simply  that 
she  wanted  children;  it  was  not  merely  a  question  of  pride.  It 
was  a  woman's  duty  to  have  children;  it  was  all  of  a  woman's 
life  to  give  birth.  Not  to  bear  children,  when  her  pride  was  deep, 
was  something  more  to  a  woman  than  misfortune.  It  was  a 
failure  in  her  living.  It  was  like  a  hen  that  did  not  lay  eggs  or 
a  cow  that  was  sterile  or  a  tree  that  never  came  into  blossom. 
There  was  no  point  in  the  existence  of  them. 

As  time  went  on  she  drew  more  and  more  into  herself.  With 
something  more  than  injured  pride  she  drew  deep  down  into  an 
isolation  where  she  thought  of  nothing  but  the  failure  that  came 
from  sterility.  The  reproach  of  failure  never  left  her;  she  could 
not  grow  used  to  the  pain  of  it.  It  was  like  a  gnawing  physical 
disability,  an  ugly  mark  she  wanted  to  hide. 

All  the  time,  waiting  for  children,  the  two  of  them  worked  very 

The  Good  Corn  241 

hard.  They  saved  money.  Chickens  and  eggs  went  to  market 
every  week;  cherries  brought  good  money  in  summer;  there  was 
always  enough  corn  for  the  hens  and  enough  hay  for  the  cows 
and  calves  and  plenty  over. 

Whenever  a  new  calf  came  she  cried  a  little.  The  mournful 
tender  glassiness  of  a  cow's  big  eyes  after  birth  was  something 
she  could  not  bear.  She  liked  to  lift  the  soft  wet  heads  of  the  new 
calves  and  hold  them  in  her  arms.  She  liked  the  smell  of  milk  on 
their  faces  and  the  gluey  suck  of  their  mouths  if  she  fed  them 
from  the  bucket. 

After  they  had  been  married  twenty-five  years  she  stood  one 
morning  in  the  small  cow-shed  at  the  back  of  the  house  and 
watched  a  calf  die  in  her  arms.  It  was  a  red  heifer  calf  and  she 
began  to  cry  bitterly.  The  calf  had  been  dropped  in  the  meadow 
the  previous  afternoon,  prematurely,  while  she  and  Mortimer 
were  at  market.  A  cold  wet  wind  with  hail  in  it  was  blowing 
from  the  west.  The  calf  could  not  stand  on  its  feet  by  the  time 
she  and  Mortimer  found  it  and  there  was  a  drift  of  wet  hail 
along  the  side  of  its  body. 

She  went  on  to  grieve  about  the  calf.  The  death  of  the  calf 
became  a  personal  thing.  She  found  she  could  not  sleep  at  night. 
She  bit  the  edges  of  the  pillow  so  that  she  could  lay  and  cry 
without  a  sound.  After  a  time  there  was  a  continuous  pain  in  her 
chest :  a  great  bony  bolt  that  shot  across  her  throat  and  made  it 
difficult  to  swallow. 

At  the  same  time  she  began  to  despise  herself. 

'Don't  come  near  me.  I'm  no  good  to  you.  You  should  have 
found  someone  else,  not  me.  What  have  I  done  for  you?  What 
good  have  I  ever  been  ? ' 

'Don't  say  that.  Don't  talk  like  that,'  Mortimer  said.  'You're 
not  well.  You're  not  yourself.  I'm  going  to  get  the  doctor  to  look 
at  you.' 

The  doctor  spent  a  long  time  with  her  in  the  bedroom,  alone, 
sitting  on  the  edge  of  the  bed,  asking  questions.  She  stared  at 
him  most  of  the  time  with  pallid,  boring  eyes.  After  a  time  he 
went  downstairs  and  gave  Mortimer  a  pipe  of  tobacco  and 
walked  about  the  yard,  among  the  crying  geese,  and  talked  to  him. 

'All  she  can  talk  about  is  how  she's  been  no  good  to  me,'  Joe 
said.  'How  I'm  not  to  go  near  her.  How  she  hates  herself.  How 
she's  been  a  failure  all  the  time.' 

242  The  Good  Corn 

The  doctor  did  not  answer;  the  geese  cried  and  squawked 
among  the  barns. 

'Neither  one  of  us  is  sleeping  well/  Joe  said.  'I  can't  put  up 
with  it.  I  can't  stand  it  much  longer/ 

'Was  there  something  that  began  it?' 

'The  calf.  We  lost  a  calf  about  three  weeks  ago.  She  blamed 
herself  for  that.' 

'Never  thought  of  going  away  from  here  ? '  the  doctor  said. 


'How  long  have  you  lived  here  ? ' 

'Five  and  twenty  years.  Nearly  six  and  twenty/ 

'I  believe  you  might  do  well  to  move/  the  doctor  said. 

'Move?  Whereto?  What  for  ?' 

'It  might  be  that  everything  here  has  the  same  association. 
This  is  where  she  wanted  her  children  and  this  is  where  she 
never  had  them.  She  might  be  happier  if  you  moved  away  from 

'She  misses  children.  She'd  have  been  all  right  with  children/ 
Joe  said. 

'Think  it  over/  the  doctor  said.  'She  needs  a  rest  too.  Get  her 
to  take  it  a  little  easier.  Get  a  girl  to  help  in  the  kitchen  and  with 
the  hens.  It'll  be  company  for  her.  Perhaps  she  won't  think  of 
herself  so  much.' 

'All  right.  It  upsets  me  to  see  her  break  her  heart  like  that.' 

'I  wish  I  were  a  farmer.  If  I  were  a  farmer  you  know  what  I'd 
like  to  do?'  the  doctor  said.  'Grow  nothing  but  corn.  That's  the 
life.  Give  up  practically  everything  but  corn.  With  the  cows  and 
stock  and  birds  it's  all  day  and  every  day.  But  with  corn  you  go 
away  and  you  come  back  and  your  corn's  still  there.  It's  a 
wonderful  thing,  corn.  That's  what  I'd  like  to  do.  There's  some- 
thing marvellous  about  corn.' 

The  following  spring  they  moved  to  a  farm  some  distance  up 
the  hill.  All  their  married  lives  they  had  lived  on  flat  land,  with 
no  view  except  the  hedges  of  their  own  fields  and  a  shining 
stretch  of  railway  line.  Now  they  found  themselves  with  land 
that  ran  away  on  a  gentle  slope,  with  a  view  below  it  of  an 
entire  broad  valley  across  which  trains  ran  like  smoking  toys. 

The  girl  who  answered  their  advertisement  for  help  was  short 
and  dark,  with  rather  sleepy  brown  eyes,  a  thick  bright  com- 

The  Good  Corn  243 

plexion  and  rosy-knuckled  hands.  She  called  at  the  house  with 
her  mother,  who  did  most  of  what  talking  there  was. 

'She's  been  a  bit  off  colour.  But  she's  better  now.  She  wants 
to  work  in  the  fresh  air  for  a  bit.  You  want  to  work  in  the  fresh 
air,  don't  you,  Elsie  ? ' 

'Yes/  Elsie  said. 

'She's  very  quiet,  but  she'll  get  used  to  you,'  her  mother  said. 
'She  don't  say  much,  but  she'll  get  used  to  you.  She's  not  par- 
ticular either.  You're  not  particular,  are  you,  Elsie?' 

'No,'  Elsie  said. 

'She's  a  good  girl.  She  won't  give  no  trouble,'  her  mother  said. 

'How  old  is  she  ? '  Mortimer  said. 

'Eighteen,'  her  mother  said.  'Eighteen  and  in  her  nineteen. 
She'll  be  nineteen  next  birthday,  won't  you,  Elsie  ? ' 

'Yes,'  Elsie  said. 

The  girl  settled  into  the  house  and  moved  about  it  with  un- 
obtrusive quietness.  As  she  stood  at  the  kitchen  sink,  staring 
down  across  the  farm-yard,  at  the  greening  hedgerows  of  haw- 
thorn and  the  rising  fields  of  corn,  she  let  her  big-knuckled 
fingers  wander  dreamily  over  the  wet  surface  of  the  dishes  as  if 
she  were  a  blind  person  trying  to  trace  a  pattern.  Her  brown  eyes 
travelled  over  the  fields  as  if  she  were  searching  for  something 
she  had  lost  there. 

Something  about  this  lost  and  dreamy  attitude  gradually 
began  to  puzzle  Mrs  Mortimer.  She  saw  in  the  staring  brown 
eyes  an  expression  that  reminded  her  of  the  glazed  eyes  of  a  calf. 

'You  won't  get  lonely  up  here,  will  you?'  she  said.  'I  don't 
want  you  to  get  lonely.' 

'No,'  the  girl  said. 

'You  tell  me  if  you  get  anyways  lonely,  won't  you?' 


'I  want  you  to  feel  happy  here,'  Mrs  Mortimer  said.  'I  want 
you  to  feel  as  if  you  was  one  of  our  own.' 

As  the  summer  went  on  the  presence  of  the  girl  seemed  occa- 
sionally to  comfort  Mrs  Mortimer.  Sometimes  she  was  a  little 
more  content;  she  did  not  despise  herself  so  much.  During  day- 
time at  least  she  could  look  out  on  new  fields,  over  new  distances, 
and  almost  persuade  herself  that  what  she  saw  was  a  different 
sky.  But  at  night,  in  darkness,  the  gnaw  of  self-reproaches 
remained.  She  could  not  prevent  the  old  cry  from  breaking  out : 

244  The  Good  Corn 

'Don't  come  near  me.  Not  yet.  Soon  perhaps  -  but  not  yet.  Not 
until  I  feel  better  about  things.  I  will  one  day,  but  not  yet/ 

Once  or  twice  she  even  cried :  'You  could  get  someone  else.  I 
wouldn't  mind.  I  honestly  wouldn't  mind.  It's  hard  for  you.  I 
know  it  is.  I  wouldn't  mind.' 

Sometimes  Mortimer,  distracted  too,  got  up  and  walked  about 
the  yard  in  summer  darkness,  smoking  hard,  staring  at  the 
summer  stars. 

All  summer,  in  the  afternoons,  after  she  had  worked  in  the 
house  all  morning,  the  girl  helped  about  the  yard  and  the  fields. 
By  July  the  corn  was  level  as  a  mat  of  thick  blue-green  pile  be- 
tween hedgerows  of  wild  rose  and  blackberry  flower.  In  the 
garden  in  front  of  the  house  bushes  of  currant  were  bright  with 
berries  that  glistened  like  scarlet  pearls  from  under  old  lace 

The  thick  fingers  of  the  girl  were  stained  red  with  the  juice  of 
currants  as  she  gathered  them.  Her  fingermarks  were  bright 
smears  across  the  heavy  front  of  her  cotton  pinafore. 

As  the  two  women  knelt  among  the  bushes,  in  alley-ways  of 
ripe  fruit,  lifting  the  bleached  creamy  curtains  in  the  July  sun, 
Mrs  Mortimer  said : 

'I'm  glad  of  another  pair  of  hands.  I  don't  know  what  I  should 
have  done  without  another  pair  of  hands.  Your  mother  will  miss 
you  back  home  I  reckon.' 

'She's  got  six  more  to  help,'  the  girl  said.  'She  don't  need  me 
all  that  much.' 

'Six?  Not  children?' 

'When  I  was  home  there  was  seven.  Eight  before  the  baby 

'Before  the  baby  went?  Whose  baby?  What  happened  to  the 

'It  was  mine.  I  gave  it  away,'  the  girl  said.  'I  didn't  know  what 
to  do  with  it  no  sense,  so  I  gave  it  away.  My  sister  adopted  it. 
They  all  said  it  was  best  like  that.  I  gave  it  to  my  married  sister.' 

'Gave  it  away?'  Mrs  Mortimer  sat  on  the  earth,  between  the 
bushes,  feeling  sick.  'Gave  it  away?  A  baby?  You  gave  it  away?' 

'Yes,'  Elsie  said.  'It's  no  bother  to  me  now.' 

Towards  the  end  of  the  month  the  first  corn  began  to  ripen. 
The  sheen  of  olive  on  the  wheat  began  to  turn  pale  yellow,  then 
to  the  colour  of  fresh-baked  crust  on  bread. 

The  Good  Corn  245 

As  he  looked  at  it  Mortimer  remembered  what  the  doctor  had 
said.  'You  go  away  and  you  come  back  and  your  corn's  still  there. 
It's  a  wonderful  thing,  corn.  There's  something  marvellous  about 

Now  as  he  looked  at  it  he  could  not  help  feeling  proud  of  the 
corn.  It  helped  him  too  as  he  thought  of  his  wife.  It  hurt  him  to 
hear  her  cry  that  he  must  keep  away  from  her,  that  the  pride  in 
her  was  still  tortured,  the  love  in  her  not  smoothed  out.  The  corn 
helped  to  soothe  him  a  little.  The  wind  that  ran  darkly  across  it 
on  cloudy  days  had  a  beautiful  twist  as  if  long  snakes  were  slip- 
ping among  the  ears. 

In  the  evenings,  after  supper,  while  the  two  women  washed 
the  dishes,  he  was  often  alone  with  the  corn.  And  one  evening  as 
he  stood  watching  it  he  did  something  he  had  always  liked  to  do. 
He  broke  off  an  ear  and  began  to  thresh  it  in  his  hands,  breaking 
the  husk  from  the  grain  with  the  pressure  of  the  balls  of  his 

While  he  was  still  doing  this  the  girl  came  down  the  hill- 
side from  the  house  with  a  message  that  a  man  had  called  to 
deliver  a  sailcloth.  Mortimer  blew  on  the  grain  that  lay  in  his 
cupped  hands,  scattering  a  dancing  cloud  of  chaff  like  summer 

'I'll  be  up  in  a  minute/  he  said.  'Here  -  tell  me  what  you  think 
of  that.' 

'The  wheat?'  she  said. 

She  picked  a  few  grains  of  wheat  from  the  palm  of  his  hand. 
She  did  not  toss  them  into  her  mouth  but  put  them  in  one  by 
one,  with  the  tips  of  her  fingers,  biting  them  with  the  front  of 
her  teeth.  Her  teeth  were  surprisingly  level  and  white  and  he 
could  see  the  whiteness  of  the  new  grains  on  her  tongue  as  she 
bit  them. 

'They're  milky,'  she  said. 

'Still  want  a  few  more  days,  I  think,'  he  said. 

As  they  walked  back  up  the  field  she  plucked  an  ear  of  wheat 
herself  and  began  to  thresh  it  with  her  hands.  The  corn,  almost 
as  high  as  the  girl  herself,  rustled  in  her  fingers.  When  she  bent 
down  to  blow  on  the  husks  a  small  gust  of  wind  suddenly  turned 
and  blew  the  chaff  up  into  her  face.  She  laughed  rather  loudly, 
showing  her  teeth  again,  and  he  said : 

'Here,  you  want  to  do  it  like  this.  You  want  to  bring  your 

246  The  Good  Corn 

thumbs  over  so  that  you  can  blow  down  there  and  make  a 

'How?'  she  said. 

A  moment  later  he  was  holding  her  hands.  He  stood  slightly 
behind  her  and  held  her  hands  and  showed  her  how  to  cup  them 
so  that  the  chaff  could  blow  out  through  the  chimney  made  by 
her  fingers. 

'Now  blow/  he  said. 

'I  can't  blow  for  laughing/ 

Her  mouth  spluttered  and  a  new  gust  of  laughter  blew  into  her 
hands  and  a  dancing  cloud  of  chaff  leapt  up  in  a  spurt  from  her 
fingers.  She  laughed  again  and  he  felt  her  body  shaking.  A  few 
husks  of  wheat  blew  into  her  mouth  and  a  few  more  stuck  to  the 
moist  edges  of  her  lips  as  she  laughed. 

She  pulled  out  her  handkerchief  to  wipe  her  lips,  still  laugh- 
ing, and  suddenly  he  found  himself  trying  to  help  her  and  then 
in  a  clumsy  way  trying  to  kiss  her  face  and  mouth  at  the  same 

'Elsie/  he  said.  'Here,  Elsie ' 

She  laughed  again  and  said,  'We  don't  want  to  fool  here. 
Somebody  will  see  us  if  we  start  fooling  here.  Mrs  Mortimer  will 
see  us.  Not  here.' 

'You  were  always  so  quiet/  he  said. 

'It  isn't  always  the  loud  ones  who  say  most,  is  it  ?  she  said.  She 
began  to  shake  herself.  'Now  I've  got  chaff  down  my  neck.  Look 
at  me.' 

She  laughed  again  and  shook  herself,  twisting  her  body  in  a 
way  that  suddenly  reminded  him  of  the  twist  of  dark  air  running 
among  the  ripening  corn.  He  tried  to  kiss  her  again  and  she 

'Not  here  I  keep  telling  you.  Some  time  if  you  like  but  not 
here.  Not  in  broad  daylight.  I  don't  like  people  watching  me.' 

'All  right ' 

'Some  other  time.  It's  so  public  here/  she  said.  'There'll  be 
another  time.' 

By  the  end  of  August  the  corn  was  cut  and  carted.  The 
stubbles  were  empty  except  for  the  girl  and  Mrs  Mortimer, 
gleaning  on  fine  afternoons,  and  a  few  brown  hens  scratching 
among  the  straw.  'I  could  never  quite  give  up  the  hens/  Mrs 

The  Good  Corn  247 

Mortimer  said.  'It  would  be  an  awful  wrench  to  give  them  up.  I 
didn't  mind  the  cherries  and  I  didn't  even  mind  the  calves  so 
much.  But  the  hens  are  company.  I  can  talk  to  the  hens.' 

About  the  house,  in  the  yard,  bright  yellow  stacks  stood  ready 
for  threshing,  and  there  was  a  fresh  clean  smell  of  straw  on  the 
air.  During  summer  the  face  of  the  girl  had  reddened  with  sun 
and  air  and  as  autumn  came  on  it  seemed  to  broaden  and  flatten, 
the  thick  skin  ripe  and  healthy  in  texture. 

'Soon  be  winter  coming  on,  Elsie/  Mrs  Mortimer  said.  'You 
think  you'll  stay  up  here  with  us  for  the  winter?' 

'Well,  I  expect  I  shall  if  nothing  happens,'  Elsie  said. 
'Happens  ?  If  what  happens  ? ' 

'Well,  you  never  know  what  may  happen/  Elsie  said,  'do  you  ? ' 

'I  want  you  to  stay  if  you  can/  Mrs  Mortimer  said.  'They  get 

a  lot  of  snow  up  here  some  winters,  but  perhaps  we'll  be  lucky. 

Stay  if  you  can.  I  got  now  so  as  I  think  of  you  as  one  of  our 


In  a  growing  fondness  for  the  girl  Mrs  Mortimer  occasionally 
remembered  and  reflected  on  the  incident  of  the  baby.  It  was 
very  strange  and  inexplicable  to  her,  the  incident  of  the  baby.  It 
filled  her  with  mystery  and  wonder.  It  was  a  mystery  beyond 
comprehension  that  a  girl  could  conceive  and  bear  a  child  and 
then,  having  delivered  it,  give  it  away.  She  felt  she  would  never 
be  able  to  grasp  the  reasons  for  that.  'You'd  think  it  would  be 
like  tearing  your  own  heart  out  to  do  a  thing  like  that/  she 

Towards  the  end  of  November  the  first  snow  fell,  covering  the 
hillsides  down  to  within  a  hundred  feet  of  the  valley.  The  house 
stood  almost  on  the  dividing  line  of  snow,  like  a  boat  at  the  edge 
of  a  tide,  between  fields  that  were  still  fresh  green  with  winter 
corn  and  others  smooth  with  the  first  thin  white  fall. 

'I  got  something  to  tell  you/  the  girl  said  to  Mrs  Mortimer.  'I 
don't  think  I'll  be  staying  here  much  longer.' 
'Not  staying?' 

'Why  not?' 

'I  don't  think  I  will,  that's  all.' 

'Is  it  the  snow?  You  don't  like  the  snow,  do  you?  That's  what 
it  is,  the  snow.' 

'It's  not  the  snow  so  much.' 

248  The  Good  Corn 

'Is  it  us  then  ? '  Mrs  Mortimer  said.  'Don't  you  like  us  no  more  ? ' 

'I  like  you.  It  isn't  that/  the  girl  said. 

'What  is  it  then,  Elsie?  Don't  say  you'll  go.  What  is  it?' 

'It's  the  baby,'  Elsie  said. 

'The  baby?'  Mrs  Mortimer  felt  a  pain  of  tears  in  her  eyes.  'I 
somehow  thought  one  day  you'd  want  it  back.  I'm  glad.' 

'Not  that  baby,'  the  girl  said.  'Not  that  one.  I'm  going  to  have 

Mrs  Mortimer  felt  a  strange  sense  of  disturbance.  She  was 
shaken  once  again  by  disbelief  and  pain.  She  could  not  speak  and 
the  girl  said : 

'In  the  Spring.  April  I  think  it'll  be.' 

'How  did  you  come  to  do  that?'  Mrs  Mortimer  said.  'Up  here? 
With  us ?' 

'I  know  somebody,'  the  girl  said.  'I  got  to  know  somebody. 
That's  all' 

'I  don't  understand,'  Mrs  Mortimer  said.  She  spoke  quietly, 
almost  to  herself.  She  thought,  with  the  old  pain,  of  her  years  of 
sterility.  She  remembered  how,  in  distraction,  she  had  so  much 
despised  herself,  how  she  had  turned,  out  of.  pride,  into  isolation, 
away  from  Joe.  'I  don't  understand,'  she  said. 

At  night  she  turned  restlessly  in  her  bed.  Splinters  of  moon- 
light between  the  edges  of  the  curtains  cut  across  her  eyes  and 
kept  them  stiffly  open. 

'Can't  you  sleep  again?'  Joe  said. 

'It's  the  girl,'  she  said.  'Elsie.  I  can't  get  her  out  of  my 

'What's  wrong  with  Elsie  ? ' 

'She's  having  another  baby,'  she  said.  'In  the  Spring.' 

'Oh!  no!'  he  said.  'Oh!  no.  No.  You  don't  mean  that?  No.' 

'It  seems  she  got  to  know  somebody.  Somehow,'  she  said.  She 
felt  across  her  eyes  the  hard  stab  of  moonlight.  She  turned  and 
put  her  hand  out  and  touched  Joe  on  the  shoulder.  'Joe,'  she 
said.  'That  doesn't  seem  right,  does  it?  It  doesn't  seem  fair.' 

Joe  did  not  answer. 

'It  doesn't  seem  fair.  It's  not  right.  It  seems  cruel,'  she  said. 

The  following  night  she  could  not  sleep  again.  She  heard  a 
westerly  wind  from  across  the  valley  beating  light  squalls  of  rain 
on  the  windows  of  the  bedroom.  The  air  was  mild  in  a  sudden 
change  and  she  lay  with  her  arms  outside  the  coverlet,  listening 

The  Good  Corn  249 

to  the  rain  washing  away  the  snow. 

Suddenly  Joe  took  hold  of  her  hands  and  began  crying  into 

'I  didn't  know  what  I  was  doing.  She  kept  asking  me.  It  was 
her  who  kept  asking  me.' 

She  could  not  speak  and  he  turned  his  face  to  the  pillow. 

'I  didn't  think  you  wanted  me.  You  used  to  say  so.  I  got  so  as 
I  thought  you  didn't  want  me  any  more.  You  used  to  say ' 

'I  want  you,'  she  said.  'Don't  be  afraid  of  that.' 

'Did  she  say  anything?'  he  said.  'Did  she  say  it  was  me?' 

'No.  She  didn't  say.' 

'Did  you  think  it  was  me  ? ' 

'I'd  begun  to  think,'  she  said.  'I  thought  I  could  tell  by  the 
way  you  couldn't  look  at  her.' 

She  heard  him  draw  his  breath  in  dry  snatches,  unable  to  find 
words.  Suddenly  she  was  sorry  for  him,  with  no  anger  or  re- 
proach or  bitterness,  and  she  stretched  out  her  long  bare  arms. 

'Come  here  to  me,'  she  said.  'Come  close  to  me.  I'm  sorry.  It 
was  me.  It  was  my  fault.' 

'Never,'  he  said.  'Never.  I  won't  have  that ' 

'Listen  to  me,'  she  said.  'Listen  to  what  I  say.' 

As  she  spoke  she  was  aware  of  a  feeling  of  being  uplifted,  of  a 
depressive  weight  being  taken  from  her. 

'Listen,  Joe,  if  I  ask  her  perhaps  she'll  give  it  to  us.  You  re- 
member? She  gave  the  other  away.' 

'No,'  he  said.  'You  couldn't  do  that—' 

'I  could,'  she  said.  She  began  smiling  to  herself  in  the  dark- 
ness. 'Tomorrow  I'll  ask  her.  We  could  do  it  properly  -  make  it 
legal  -  so  that  it  was  ours.' 

'If  you  forgive  me,'  Joe  said.  'Only  if  you  do  that ' 

'I  forgive  you,'  she  said. 

She  went  through  the  rest  of  the  winter  as  if  she  were  carry- 
ing the  baby  herself.  'You  mustn't  do  that,  Elsie.  Don't  lift  that,' 
she  would  say.  'Take  a  lie  down  for  an  hour.  Rest  yourself - 
it'll  do  you  the  world  of  good  to  rest'  She  looked  forward  to 
Spring  with  a  strange  acute  sensation  of  being  poised  on  a  wire, 
frightened  that  she  would  fall  before  she  got  there. 

When  the  baby  was  born  she  wrapped  it  in  a  warm  blanket 
and  succoured  it  like  the  early  chickens  she  had  once  wrapped  in 
flannel,  in  a  basket,  under  the  stove. 

250  The  Good  Corn 

'And  I  can  have  him?'  she  said.  'You  haven't  changed  your 
mind  ?  You  won't  change  your  mind,  will  you  ? ' 

'No/  the  girl  said.  'You  can  have  him.  I  don't  want  the  bother. 
You  can  look  after  him.' 

'We'll  love  him,'  she  said.  'We'll  look  after  him.' 

On  a  day  in  late  April  she  took  the  baby  and  carried  him 
down  through  the  yard,  in  the  sunshine,  to  where  the  fields 
began.  Hedgerows  were  breaking  everywhere  into  bright  new 
leaf.  Primroses  lay  in  thick  pale  drifts  under  the  shelter  of  them 
and  under  clumps  of  ash  and  hornbeam.  In  every  turn  of  wind 
there  was  a  whitening  of  anemones,  with  cowslips  trembling  gold 
about  the  pasture. 

She  lifted  the  baby  up,  in  the  sunshine,  against  the  blue  spring 
sky,  and  laughed  and  shook  him  gently,  showing  him  the  world 
of  leaf  and  flower  and  corn. 

'Look  at  all  the  flowers!'  she  said.  'Look  at  the  corn!  The 
corn  looks  good,  doesn't  it?  It's  going  to  be  good  this  year,  isn't 
it  ?  Look  at  it  all !  -  isn't  the  corn  beautiful  ? ' 

High  above  her,  on  the  hill,  there  was  a  sound  of  endless  lark 
song  and  in  the  fields  the  young  curved  lines  of  corn  were 
wonderfully  fresh  and  trembling  in  the  sun. 


All  the  vases  in  Mrs  Clavering's  house  were  rilled  with  sprays  of 
white  forced  lilac  and  glossy  pittosporum  leaves.  In  January  the 
lilac  was  almost  more  expensive  than  she  could  afford.  But  the 
tall  leafless  sprays  were  very  distinguished  and  she  hoped  they 
would  not  fade. 

She  was  going  to  give  everyone  white  wine  to  drink  at  the 
party.  This  was  partly  because  she  had  read  somewhere,  in  a 
magazine  or  a  newspaper,  that  that  was  distinguished  too;  partly 
because  at  the  Fanshawes'  party  she  had  heard  Captain  Perigo's 
wife  complaining  quite  loudly  of  the  stinking  drinks  you  now- 
adays got  out  of  jugs;  and  partly  because  at  another  party,  the 
Luffingtons',  at  the  Manor,  a  Colonel  Arber,  a  newcomer  to  the 
district,  had  started  to  proclaim  his  intention  of  beating  things 
up  and  had  done  so,  rowdily,  on  dreadful  mixtures  of  cider  and 
gin.  That  was  exactly  what  she  wanted  to  avoid.  She  did  not  want 
rowdiness  and  people  complaining,  even  if  they  did  not  mean 
it,  that  the  drinks  you  gave  them  were  not  strong  enough.  She 
thought  that  nowadays  everyone  drank  too  much  gin.  At  one 
time  gin  was  nothing  but  a  washer-woman's  drink  but  now  every- 
one drank  it,  everywhere.  They  tippled  it  down.  White  wine 
sounded  so  much  more  reserved  and  distinguished  even  if  people 
did  not  like  it  so  much.  She  thought  too  that  it  was  bound  to  give 
tone  to  her  attempt  to  get  to  know  the  Paul  Vaulkhards.  The 
Paul  Vaulkhards,  who  were  new  to  the  county,  had  taken  the 
house  down  the  hill,  and  she  understood  that  they  were  very  dis- 
tinguished too. 

All  day  frost  lingered  on  the  trees.  It  drew  a  curtain  of  rimy 
branches,  like  chain  armour,  over  the  sky,  shutting  in  the  large 
oak-staired  house,  making  it  darker  than  ever,  in  isolation.  It 
lingered  in  black  ice  pools  about  the  road.  At  three  o'clock  the 
caterers'  van  should  have  arrived;  and  nervously,  for  an  hour, 
Mrs  Clavering  paced  about  the  house,  wondering  where  it  had 
got  to;  and  it  was  not  until  after  four  o'clock  that  it  arrived,  with 


252  Country  Society 

dented  mudguards  and  one  tray  of  vol-au-vent  cakes  smashed 
into  crumbs,  because  of  a  skid  on  the  frozen  hill. 

The  three  caterers'  men  grumbled  and  said  the  roads  were 
worse  than  ever  and  that  everyone  ought  to  have  chains.  And 
then  suddenly  the  western  hill  of  beeches  took  away  the  last  strips 
of  frost  green  daylight  too  early,  as  it  always  did,  and  the  fields 
became  dark  and  unkindly,  closing  in.  Mrs  Clavering  felt  the 
awful  country  isolation  extinguish  immediately  all  hope  about 
the  party.  She  felt  that  no  one  would  come.  She  became  doubtful 
of  the  coldness  of  the  white  wine.  There  were  people  who  had  to 
come  from  considerable  distances,  such  as  the  Blairs  and  Captain 
Perigo  and  the  principal  of  the  research  college  and  his  wife, 
very  distinguished  and  important  people  too,  who  would  certainly 
not  risk  it.  She  doubted  even  if  the  Luffingtons  would  risk  it 
from  the  Manor.  With  fear  and  coldness  she  felt  that  the  Paul 
Vaulkhards  would  not  risk  it.  Nobody  of  distinction  or  impor- 
tance would  dare  to  risk  it  and  she  would  be  left  with  people  like 
the  dropsical  Miss  Hemshawe  and  her  mother,  with  Miss  Ireton 
and  Miss  Graves,  who  lived  together  and  spun  sheep-wool  and 
dyed  it  into  shades  of  porridge  and  pale  autumnal  lichen,  and 
with  the  Reverend  Perks  and  his  elder  brother:  with  those  people 
whom  Mr  Clavering  sometimes  rudely  called  the  hen-coop  tribe. 

'Because  they  cluck  and  fuss  and  scratch  and  make  dirt  and 
pull  each  other's  feathers  out/  Mr  Clavering  said. 

Mrs  Clavering  had  not  succeeded  in  curing  her  husband,  in 
thirty  years,  of  a  habit  of  accurate  flippancy,  to  which  he  some- 
times added  what  she  felt  was  deliberate  forgetfulness. 

Mr  Clavering  too,  like  the  caterers,  was  late  coming  out  from 
his  office  in  the  town. 

'You  said  you  would  be  here  at  four ! '  she  called  from  the  first- 
floor  landing.  'Wherever  have  you  been?  Did  you  remember  the 
pecan  nuts?  But  they  were  ready!  They  were  telephoned  for! 
All  you  had  to  do  was  to  pick  them  up  from  Watsons' — ' 

'Nobody  ate  the  damn  things  last  time.' 

'Of  course  they  ate  them.  They  were  much  appreciated.' 

In  the  hall,  where  Mr  Clavering  stood  taking  off  his  homberg 
hat  and  overcoat,  the  telephone  rang  and  she  called : 

'That's  the  first  one.  Answer  it!   I  can't  bear  to — ' 

Mr  Clavering,  answering  the  telephone,  called  that  it  was  Mrs 
Vaulkhard.  'She'd  like  to  speak  to  you,'  he  said. 

Country  Society  253 

'This  is  it,  this  is  it,  this  is  it/  she  said.  In  a  constraint  of  cold- 
ness and  fear  she  scurried  downstairs  and  picked  up  the  tele- 
phone, trembling,  but  Mrs  Vaulkhard  said : 

'I  did  not  want  to  trouble  you.  Oh!  it  was  not  that.  It  was 
simply  to  ask  you  -  we  have  my  niece  here.  We  thought  it  would 
be  so  nice -No:  she  is  young.  Quite  young.  Seventeen  -  could 
we?  Would  it  be  any  kind  of  inconvenience?  -I  did  not  want 
you  to  think — ' 

With  joy  Mrs  Clavering  forgot  the  absence  of  the  pecan  nuts 
and  a  haunting  fear  that  the  white  wine  was,  after  all,  not 
a  suitable  drink  for  so  dark  and  freezing  a  day. 

'Well,  they  will  come  at  any  rate.  If  no  one  else  does — ' 

'Everybody  will  come/  Mr  Clavering  said.  'And  a  few  you 
never  thought  of.' 

Tm  sure  no  one  would  ever  think  of  doing  that  sort  of  thing/ 
she  said. 

'Everybody  will  be  here/  Mr  Clavering  said.  'The  hen-coop 
tribe.  The  horse-box  tribe.  The  wool-spinning  tribe.  The  medical 
tribe.  The  point-to-pointers.  You  didn't  ask  Mrs  Bonnington 
and  Battersby  by  any  chance,  did  you?' 

'Of  course  I  did.' 

'And  Freda  O'Connor?' 

'Of  course.' 

'Charming,  very  charming/  he  said. 

'I  don't  know  what  you  mean.  I  chose  everybody  very  care- 

Mrs  Bonnington,  who  was  dark  and  shapely  and  in  her  thirties, 
kept  house  for  a  retired  naval  commander  who  amused  himself 
by  fishing  and  sketching  in  water  colour;  Mr  Bonnington  came 
down  from  somewhere  at  week-ends.  The  naval  commander 
had  a  silvery  piercing  beard,  commanding  as  a  stiletto,  and  ice- 
blue  handsome  passionate  eyes.  Freda  O'Connor,  a  long  brown- 
haired  hungry-looking  girl  with  a  flaunting  bust  that  was  like 
two  full-blown  poppy-heads,  had  left  her  husband  and  gone  to 
live,  while  really  preferring  horses,  with  a  Major  Battersby.  In  a 
pleasant  way  Major  Battersby,  brown  and  shaggy  and  side- 
whiskered  and  untidily  muscular,  was  rather  like  a  large  horse 
himself.  Miss  O'Connor  had  succeeded  Mrs  Battersby.  In 
the  furies  of  separation  Mrs  Battersby,  a  woman  of  broad- 
hipped  charm  who  wore  slacks  all  day,  had  taken  refuge  with 

254  Country  Society 

Mrs  Bonnington.  On  a  horse  she  looked  commanding  and 
taller  than  she  was.  It  seemed  sometimes  to  Mr  Clavering  that 
Mr  Bonnington  arrived  at  week-ends  simply  for  the  purpose  of 
seeing  Mrs  Battersby,  later  departing  only  to  leave  Mrs  Bonning- 
ton free  for  the  naval  commander.  He  did  not  know.  You  could 
never  be  quite  sure,  in  the  country,  about  these  complicated 
things  and  he  said : 

'You  didn't  invite  Major  Battersby  too,  did  you?' 
'I  invited  all  the  people  I  thought  ought  to  be  invited.  After  all 
one  has  to  keep  up]  she  said,  'one  has  to  keep  in — ' 

Mr  Clavering,  who  would  have  preferred  to  live  in  town, 
where  you  could  have  a  leisurely  game  of  snooker  or  bridge  in  the 
evenings  at  the  Invicta  Club  over  a  quiet  glass  of  whisky,  out  of 
reach  of  women,  gave  a  sigh  of  pain  and  said  something  about 
not  caring  whether  one  was  up  or  in  and  then  added  that  Mrs 
Clavering  was  wonderful. 

Mrs  Clavering  replied  that  she  thought  Mr  Clavering  ought  to 
go  and  change. 

'Change  what?'  he  said. 

'That  suit  of  course!  You're  never  coming  down  in  that 

Mr  Clavering,  who  could  see  nothing  wrong  with  his  suit, 
began  to  go  upstairs  whistling.  Mrs  Clavering  rushed  suddenly 
past  him,  remembering  she  had  turned  on  the  bath  water.  This 
gave  him  an  opportunity  of  saying  that  on  second  thoughts  he 
would  have  a  quick  snifter  before  the  herd  arrived,  but  Mrs 
Clavering  leaned  swiftly  over  the  banisters  and  called : 

'No!  Absolutely  and  utterly  not.  No  snifters.  If  you  want 
to  do  something  useful  see  that  the  lights  are  switched  on  in 
the  drive — '  She  was  bullying  him  with  affection,  and  he 

Some  minutes  later,  as  he  switched  the  lights  on  in  the  long 
paved  drive  that  led  under  canopies  of  frosted  beech  boughs  up 
to  the  front  door  of  the  house,  he  saw  that  darkness  had  fallen 
completely.  The  lamps  set  all  the  low  weeping  boughs  glistening 
delicately  under  cold  blue  air.  He  stood  for  a  moment  watching 
the  sparkling  wintry  lace  of  frosted  twigs.  He  thought  how  cold 
and  dark  and  isolated  the  garden  beyond  them  seemed,  and  he 
thought  of  the  billiard  room  of  the  Invicta  Club,  where  light  was 
coned  above  green  warm  tables  in  a  soft  silence  broken  only  by 

Country  Society  255 

men's  voices  and  the  click  of  snooker  balls.  He  did  not  really 
care  much  for  country  life.  The  house  was  really  too  big  and  too 
expensive  and  too  difficult  to  keep  up;  there  was  always  the  tire- 
some problem  of  servants  who  did  not  want  to  stay.  It  was  only 
for  his  wife's  sake  that  he  kept  it  up.  He  was  easy-going.  She  was 
fond  of  it  all;  she  liked  country  society. 

'Isn't  there  any  gin  ? '  he  said  to  the  caterers'  men  in  the  sitting- 

'Only  the  white  wine,  Sir,'  they  told  him,  and  he  said  'Good 
God !  Wine  ? '  and  then  recognised  that  it  was  another  idea  of  his 
wife's  designed  to  make  the  party  different,  to  elevate  and  keep 
up  its  tone.  He  was  amused  by  this  and  decided  to  try  a  glass 
of  the  wine.  It  was  a  delicate  light  green  in  colour  and  he  thought 
it  seemed  insipid,  all  taste  frozen  out  of  it,  and  after  drinking 
half  a  single  frosted  glass  he  went  off  to  grope  in  the  dining- 
room  cellarette  for  the  gin,  but  the  usual  bottle  was  not  there, 
and  with  tolerant  amusement  he  realised  his  wife  had  probably 
hidden  it  away. 

By  soon  after  six  o'clock  a  dozen  people  were  standing  about 
in  stiff  cold  groups  in  the  too  large  hall,  grasping  chilled  glasses 
of  wine  with  chilly  lingers.  The  owl-like  eyes  of  the  dropsical, 
spectacled  Miss  Hemshawe  and  her  mother  prowled  to  and  fro, 
searching  all  newcomers.  The  Reverend  Perks  and  his  elder 
brother  arrived,  looking  like  two  pieces  of  scraped  shin-bone 
with  a  little  beef  left  on,  red  and  fierce  at  the  edges  of  their  ears 
and  noses.  Mrs  Clavering  fluttered.  Some  conversation  went  on 
in  subdued  tones,  and  the  caterers'  men  advanced  with  trays  of 
wine-glasses  and  coloured  fish-bright  snippets  of  food,  eagerly 
seized  upon  by  the  Reverend  Perks  and  then  earnestly  recom- 
mended by  his  brother  to  Miss  Graves  and  Miss  Ireton,  who 
were  clad  in  sheep's  wool  in  the  form  of  large  net-like  faded 
blotting  paper. 

Soon  there  was  a  clucking  everywhere,  as  Mr  Clavering  said, 
of  busy  hens.  There  was  even,  in  the  clink  of  glasses,  a  sound  of 
pecking  in  the  air.  Presently  the  hall  began  to  be  very  full;  people 
overflowed  into  the  dining-room;  and  Mr  Clavering  found  he 
could  not  see  everybody,  or  keep  track  of  everybody,  at  once. 
The  wine  seemed  to  him  horribly  cold  and  insipid  and  he  hid 
his  glass  behind  a  vase  of  lilac  without  noticing  what  the  sprays 
of  naked  blossom  were. 

256  Country  Society 

Then  his  wife  came  to  whisper  with  despair  that  it  was  nearly 
seven  o'clock  and  that  neither  the  Paul  Vaulkhards  nor  the 
Perigos  nor  the  Blairs  had  arrived. 

'All  the  best  people  arrive  last/  he  said,  and  then  looked  across 
bubbling  mole-hills  of  hats  and  heads  to  see  Mrs  Battersby 
standing  on  the  threshold. 

Mrs  Battersby  looked  outraged  and  stunned.  Her  eye  sockets 
seemed  to  have  lost  their  pupils  and  looked  like  two  dark  empty 
key-holes.  Mr  Clavering  saw  that  this  sightless  stare  of  dark  out- 
rage was  directed  at  Freda  O'Connor.  Until  that  moment  he  had 
not  noticed  her.  Now  he  saw  that  her  slender  skimmed  figure, 
looking  taller  than  ever,  was  bound  tightly  in  a  long  skirt  of  black 
silk,  with  a  brief  bodice  of  white  from  which  her  bust  protruded 
with  enforced  and  enlarged  distinction.  She  was  talking  to 
Colonel  Arber,  who  was  not  very  tall  and  had  the  advantage  of 
not  needing  to  alter  the  level  of  his  protuberant  watery  eyes  in 
order  to  appraise  the  parts  of  her  that  interested  him  most. 
Freda  O'Connor  looked  casual  and  hungry  and  languidly,  glamor- 
ously  indifferent.  Her  body  lacked  the  cohesive  charm  of  Mrs 
Battersby's,  but  it  seemed  instead  to  flame.  Mrs  Battersby  melted 
away  somewhere  into  another  room.  Colonel  Arber  took  another 
glass  of  wine,  holding  it  at  the  trembling  level  of  Freda  O'Con- 
nor's bosom,  and  seemed  as  if  about  to  speak  with  husky  passion 
of  something.  He  guffawed  instead,  and  the  conversation  was 
of  horses. 

Gradually  Mr  Clavering  felt  that  he  had  seen  everybody.  The 
rooms  were  impossibly,  clamorously  full.  The  Perigos,  the  Blairs, 
the  Luffingtons  had  all  arrived.  A  sound  of  cracked  trumpets 
came  from  the  turn  of  the  baronial  staircase,  echoing  into  wall 
displays  of  copper  cooking-pans,  where  Dr  Pritchard  was  telling 
what  Mr  Clavering  thought  were  probably  obstetric  stories  to 
Miss  Ireton  and  Miss  Graves,  who  gazed  at  him  with  a  kind  of 
rough  fondness,  half-masculine.  Dr  Pritchard  had  an  inexhaus- 
tible fund  of  stories  drawn  from  the  fountains  of  illegitimacy  and 
the  shallows  of  infidelity  that  he  liked  to  tell  for  the  purpose,  most 
often,  of  cheering  women  patients  waiting  in  labour.  But  maiden 
ladies  liked  them  too,  and  sometimes  pressed  him  to  tell  one 
rather  more  risque  than  they  had  heard  before.  In  consequence 
something  infectious  seemed  to  float  from  the  foot  of  the  stair- 
case, filling  the  room  with  light  and  progressive  laughter. 

Country  Society  257 

'I  want  you,  I  want  you ! '  Mrs  Clavering  whispered.  'The  Paul 
Vaulkhards  are  here ! ' 

He  found  himself  joined  to  her  by  the  string  of  a  single  fore- 
finger that  led  him  through  the  crowd  of  guests  to  where,  in  a 
corner,  the  Paul  Vaulkhards  and  their  niece  were  waiting. 

Mr  Vaulkhard  was  tall  and  white,  and,  as  Mrs  Clavering  had 
hoped,  as  distinguished  as  a  statue.  Mrs  Clavering  fluttered  about 
him,  making  excited  note  of  his  subdued  dove-blue  waistcoat,  so 
much  more  elite  than  red  or  yellow,  and  thought  that  Mr  Claver- 
ing must  have  one  too.  Mrs  Vaulkhard  had  the  loose  baggy 
charm  of  a  polite  pelican  covered  in  an  Indian  shawl  of  white 
and  gold. 

'Let  me  introduce  my  niece/  she  said.  'Miss  Dufresne.  Olivia.' 

Charming,  distinguished  name,  Mrs  Clavering  thought;  and 
almost  before  Mr  Clavering  had  time  to  shake  hands  she  said : 

'Would  you  look  after  Miss  Dufresne?  I'm  going  to  positively 
drag  Mr  and  Mrs  Paul  Vaulkhard  away  -  that  is  if  they  don't 
mind  being  dragged.  Do  you  mind  being  dragged?'  She  gave  a 
spirited  giggle  of  excuse  and  excitement  and  then  dragged  the 
Vaulkhards  away. 

A  young  dark  face  looked  out  from,  as  it  seemed  to  Mr 
Clavering,  a  crowd  of  swollen,  solid  cabbages.  It  had  something 
of  the  detachment  of  a  petal  that  did  not  belong  there.  He  took 
from  a  passing  tray  a  glass  of  wine  and  held  it  out  to  her,  con- 
scious of  curious  feelings  of  elevated  lightness,  of  simplification. 
Out  of  the  constricted  clamour  of  voices  he  was  aware  of  a  core 
of  silence  about  her  that  was  absorbing  and  tranquil. 

'Are  you  here  for  long?'  he  said.  'Do  you  like  the  country?' 

'No  to  one,'  she  said.  'Yes  to  the  other.' 

He  said  something  about  being  glad  about  one  thing  and  not 
the  other,  but  a  small  cloudburst  of  conversational  laughter  split 
the  room,  drowning  what  he  had  to  say,  and  she  said : 

'I'm  terribly  sorry,  but  I  couldn't  hear  what  you  were  saying.' 

'Let's  move  a  little,'  he  said. 

He  steered  her  away  through  the  crowd,  watching  her  light 
figure.  She  leaned  by  the  wall  at  last,  sipping  her  wine  and  look- 
ing at  him. 

'I  don't  know  that  it's  any  quieter,'  he  said.  'Perhaps  we  should 

She  laughed,  and  he  said : 

258  Country  Society 

'Really  instead  of  standing  here  I  ought  to  take  you  round  and 
introduce  you.  Is  there  anyone  you  know  ? ' 


'Is  there  anyone  you'd  like  to  know  ? ' 

'What  do  you  think?' 

She  gave  him  an  engaging  delicate  smile,  brief,  almost  ner- 
vous, and  he  felt  that  it  was  possibly  because  she  was  young  and 
not  sure  of  herself.  He  looked  about  the  room,  at  the  groups  of 
cabbage  heads.  And  suddenly  he  decided  that  he  did  not  want  to 
introduce  her.  He  wanted  instead  to  keep  her,  to  isolate  her  for 
a  little  while,  letting  her  remain  a  stranger. 

'Haven't  you  ever  been  here  before?'  he  said. 


'And  you  really  like  the  country?' 

'I  love  it.  I  think  it's  beautiful.' 

Mr  Clavering  felt  himself  appraise  the  tender,  uplifted  quality 
of  her  voice. 

'I  think  everything's  beautiful,'  the  girl  said. 

'Everything  ? ' 

'The  lilac,'  she  said,  'for  instance.  That's  marvellously 


Absurd  of  him,  he  thought,  not  to  have  noticed  the  lilac. 

'I  noticed  it  as  soon  as  I  came  in,'  she  said.  'I  love  white  things. 
Don't  you?  White  flowers.  I  love  snow  and  frost  on  the  boughs 
and  everything  like  that.' 

At  this  moment  Mr  Clavering  noticed  for  the  first  time  that 
her  dress  was  white  too.  Frilled  about  the  neck,  simply  and  taste- 
fully, it  too  had  a  frosty  appearance.  It  seemed  almost  to  embalm 
her  young  body  in  a  cloud  of  rime. 

'What  masses  of  people,'  she  said.  'What  a  marvellous  party.' 

'Are  you  at  school?'  he  said. 

'Me?  School?'  She  gave,  he  thought,  a  little  petulant  toss  of 
the  wine  glass  as  she  lifted  it  to  her  mouth  and  sipped  at  it 
swiftly.  'Oh!  don't  say  that.  Don't  say  I  still  look  like  a  school- 
girl. Do  I?' 

'No,'  he  said. 

Across  the  room  Major  Battersby  laughed,  for  the  fourth  or 
fifth  consecutive  time,  like  a  buffalo. 

'Who  is  the  man  who  laughs  so  much  ? '  she  said. 

Country  Society  259 

He  told  her.  Battersby  was  with  Freda  O'Connor  and  Mrs 
Bonnington  and  Colonel  Arber.  The  factions  had  begun  to  split 
up.  He  felt  he  would  not  have  been  surprised  to  hear  from  the 
Battersby  group  a  succession  of  whinnies  instead  of  laughter. 
Occasionally  Colonel  Arber  bared  his  teeth  and  Freda  O'Connor 
tossed  her  hair  back  from  her  neck  and  throat  like  a  mane. 

'Have  you  a  nice  garden  ? '  she  said. 

Yes,  he  supposed  the  garden  was  nice.  He  supposed  it  was 
pleasant.  He  thought  if  anything  there  were  too  many  trees.  It 
was  a  bore  getting  people  to  work  in  it  nowadays  and  sometimes 
he  would  have  preferred  a  house  with  a  good  solid  courtyard 
of  concrete  all  round. 

'I  love  gardens/  she  said.  'Especially  gardens  like  yours  with 
big  old  trees.  I  love  it  at  night  when  you  see  the  car  lights  on  the 
boughs  and  then  on  the  very  dark  trees.  It  looks  so  mysterious 
and  wonderfully  like  old  legends  and  that  sort  of  thing.  Don't 
you  think  so  ? ' 

'Yes,'  he  said.  He  had  never  given  the  slightest  thought  to  the 
fact  that  his  garden  was  mysterious  with  old  legends.  'I  suppose 

'Oh!  It's  lovely  just  to  watch  people,'  she  said.  'Marvellous 
to  wonder  who  they  are — ' 

Her  remark  coincided  with  a  thought  of  his  own  that  his  house 
was  full  of  jibbering  monkeys.  The  rooms  were  strident  with 
people  clamouring  with  jibberish,  sucking  at  glasses,  trying  to 
shout  each  other  down.  There  was  nothing  but  jibberish  every- 

'I  just  love  to  stand  here,'  she  said.  'I  just  love  to  wonder  what's 
in  their  minds.' 

Great  God,  he  thought.  Minds?  As  if  hoping  for  an  answer  to 
it  all  he  stared  into  the  glittering,  mocking  confusion  of  faces  and 
smoke  and  glassiness.  Minds?  He  saw  that  Mrs  Battersby  had 
got  together  her  own  faction,  joining  herself  with  the  Perigos  and 
a  woman  named  Mrs  Peele,  who  smoked  cigarettes  from  a  long 
ivory  holder,  and  a  man  named  George  Carter,  who  managed 
kennels  for  her  at  which  you  could  buy  expensive  breeds  of  dachs- 
hunds. There  was  something  of  the  piquant  dachshund  broodi- 
ness  in  the  face  of  Mrs  Peele.  She  was  short  in  the  body,  with 
eyes  darkly  encased  in  coils  of  premature  wrinkles,  and  the  long 
cigarette  holder  gave  her  a  grotesque  touch  of  being  top-heavy. 

260  Country  Society 

There  was  no  doubt  that  Mrs  Peele  and  George  Carter  lived 
together,  just  as  there  was  no  doubt  that  the  dachshunds  were 
much  too  expensive  for  anybody  to  buy. 

'Oh !  it's  fascinating  to  watch/  the  girl  said.  'Don't  you  think 

A  waiter  tried  to  push  his  way  past  with  a  tray  of  snippets. 
With  guilt  Mr  Clavering  remembered  that  he  had  offered  her 
nothing  to  eat. 

'Please  take  something,'  he  said. 

'Oh !  yes,  may  I  ?  I'm  famished.  Do  you  think  wine  makes  you 
hungry?'  She  took  several  fish-filled  cases  while  the  waiter  stood 
by,  and  then  a  moon-like  round  of  egg.  'I  adore  egg/  she  said. 
'Don't  you?'  and  when  he  did  not  answer  simply  because  he  felt 
there  could  be  no  answer : 

'Am  I  talking  too  much?  I'm  not,  am  I?  But  the  wine  gives  me 
a  feeling  of  being  gay.' 

Through  smoke-haze  he  saw  his  wife,  pride-borne  and  fussy 
with  anxiety,  steering  the  Paul  Vaulkhards  from,  as  it  were, 
customer  to  customer,  as  if  they  were  sample  goods  for  which 
you  could  place  an  order. 

I  ought  to  circulate  too,  he  thought,  and  then  found  himself 
grasping  the  mild  limp  dropsical  hand  of  a  slightly  flushed  Miss 
Hemshawe,  who  with  her  mother  had  come  to  say  good-bye. 
They  must  be  toddling,  Miss  Hemshawe  said,  and  under  a  guise 
of  passiveness  gave  him  a  look  of  unresolved  curiosity,  because 
he  had  been  talking  for  so  long  a  time,  alone,  to  so  young  a 

'Good-bye,  Mr  Clavering,'  they  fussed.  'Good-bye.  Good- 

'Sweet,'  the  girl  said.  She  grinned  as  if  the  facial  distortions 
of  Miss  Hemshawe  and  her  mother,  toothsome  and  expansive 
in  farewell,  were  a  secret  only  she  and  himself  could  share. 

'Yes,'  he  said,  and  he  knew  that  now  he  had  only  to  be  seen 
touching  her  hand,  placing  himself  an  inch  or  so  nearer  the 
frothy  delicate  rime  of  her  dress,  for  someone  like  Miss  Hem- 
shawe to  begin  to  build  about  him  too  a  legend  to  which  he  had 
never  given  a  thought. 

Presently  he  was  surrounded  by  other  people  coming  to  say 
good-bye;  every  few  moments  he  heard  somebody  say  what  a 
wonderful  party  it  was.  His  wife,  they  told  him,  was  so  good  at 

Country  Society  261 

these  things.  He  was  assailed  by  shrill  voices  ejected  piercingly 
from  the  roar  of  a  dynamo. 

The  girl  pressed  herself  back  against  the  wall,  regarding  the 
scene  through  eyes  limpid  with  fascination,  over  the  rim  of  her 
glass.  He  was  aware  of  a  fear  that  she  would  move  away  and  that 
he  did  not  want  her  to  move  away. 

'Don't  go/  he  said,  and  touched  her  hand. 

Before  she  had  time  to  speak  he  was  involved  in  the  business 
of  saying  good-bye  to  a  Mrs  Borden  and  a  Mr  Joyce.  He  remem- 
bered in  time  that  Mrs  Borden  was  really  Mrs  Woodley  and  that 
she  had  changed  her  name  by  deed-poll  in  order  to  run  away 
with  Borden,  who  had  then  rejected  her  in  favour  of  Mrs  Joyce. 
The  complications  of  this  were  often  beyond  him,  but  now  he 
remembered  in  time  to  address  her  and  the  consolatory  Mr  Joyce 

'Nice  party,  old  boy/  Mr  Borden  said.  'Nice.' 

He  felt  that  Mrs  Borden  had  a  face  like  a  bruised  swede- 
turnip  and  that  Joyce,  red  and  crusted  and  staggering,  was  a 
little  drunk. 

'I  ought  to  go  too/  the  girl  said.  'I  think  I  see  them  signalling 

He  began  to  steer  her  gently  through  the  maze  of  groups  and 
factions  like  a  man  steering  a  boat  through  a  series  of  crowded 
reefs  and  islands.  As  he  did  so  he  was  aware  of  a  minute  exulta- 
tion because,  until  the  last,  he  had  kept  her  a  stranger,  apart 
from  them  all. 

'Oh !  Clavering,  must  say  good-bye.' 

He  found  himself  halted  by  a  clergyman  named  Chalfont- 
Beverley,  from  a  parish  over  the  hill.  Chalfont-Beverley  was  tall 
and  young,  with  a  taste  for  flamboyance  that  took  the  form  of 
dressing-up.  He  was  now  dressed  in  a  hacking  jacket  of  magni- 
fied black-and-white  check,  with  a  waistcoat  of  magenta  and  a 
purple  tie.  His  chest  had  something  of  the  appearance  of  a 
decorated  altar  above  which  the  face  was  a  glow  of  rose  and  blue. 

'Damn  good  party,  Clavering/  he  said.  His  hands  were  silky. 
Clavering  remembered  that  he  was  given  to  Anglo- Catholicism 
and  occasional  appearances  at  afternoon  services  dressed  in  pink- 
cord  riding  breeches  and  spurs  below  sweeping  robes  of  white 
and  scarlet.  'Damn  good.  Must  bear  away.'  There  was  an  odour 
of  talcum  powder  in  the  air. 

262  Country  Society 

By  the  time  Clavering  was  free  again  he  saw  the  girl  being 
taken  away,  in  the  hall,  by  the  Paul  Vaulkhards.  He  reached 
them  just  in  time  to  be  able  to  hold  her  coat. 

'It  isn't  far/  she  said.  Til  just  slip  it  over  my  shoulders.' 

She  held  the  collar  of  the  coat  close  about  her  neck,  so  that 
he  felt  the  young  delicacy  of  her  face  to  be  startlingly  heightened. 

'Good-bye/  everyone  said.  The  Paul  Vaulkhards  said  they 
thought  it  had  been  enchanting.  Mr  Paul  Vaulkhard  gave  a  bow 
of  courteous  dignity,  holding  Mrs  Clavering's  hand.  Mrs  Paul 
Vaulkhard  said  that  the  Claverings  must  come  to  see  them  too, 
and  not  to  leave  it  too  long;  and  he  saw  his  wife  exalted. 

'Good-bye,  Miss  Dufresne,'  he  said  and  again,  for  the  second 
time,  held  her  hand.  'I  will  see  you  all  out.  It's  a  little  tricky. 
There  are  steps — ' 

The  Paul  Vaulkhards  went  ahead  with  Mrs  Clavering,  and  as 
he  followed  through  the  outer  hall  he  said : 

'Did  you  enjoy  it?  Would  you  care  to  come  and  see  us  again 
before  you  go  away?' 

'Oh !  it  was  a  marvellous,  wonderful  exquisite  party,'  she  said. 
'It  was  beautiful.  It  was  vivid.' 

The  word  lit  up  for  him,  like  an  unexpected  flash  of  centralis- 
ed light,  all  her  eagerness,  touching  him  into  his  own  moment  of 
reserved  exultation.  He  walked  with  her  for  a  few  yards  into  the 
frosty  drive,  where  the  Paul  Vaulkhards  were  waiting.  A  chain 
of  light  frozen  boughs,  glistening  in  the  lamplight,  seemed  to 
obscure  all  the  upper  sky,  but  she  lifted  her  face  in  a  last  gesture 
of  excitement  to  say : 

'Oh!  All  the  stars  are  out!  Look  at  all  the  stars!' 

'Now  remember,'  he  said.  'Don't  forget  to  come  and  see  us 
before  you  go.' 

'Oh !  I  will,  I  will,'  she  said.  She  laughed  with  light  confusion. 
'I  mean  I  will  come  - 1  mean  I  won't  forget.  I  will  remember.' 

He  watched  her  run  into  the  frosty  night,  down  the  drive. 

Later,  in  a  house  deserted  except  for  the  caterers'  men  and 
shabby  everywhere  with  dirty  glasses  and  still  burning  cigarettes 
and  a  mess  of  half-gnawed  food,  his  wife  said : 

'Honestly,  did  you  think  it  went  well?  Did  you?  You  didn't 
think  everybody  was  awfully  stiff  and  bored  ? ' 

'I  don't  think  so,'  he  said. 

'Oh!   Somehow  I  thought  it  never  got  going.  It  never  jelled. 

Country  Society  263 

People  just  stood  about  in  groups  and  glared  and  somehow  I 
thought  it  never  worked  up.  You  know  how  I  mean.' 

'I  thought  it  was  nice/  he  said. 

What  about  the  wine?  I  knew  as  soon  as  we  started  it  was  a 
mistake.  People  didn't  know  what  to  make  of  it,  did  they?  It  was 
too  cold.  Didn't  you  feel  they  didn't  know  what  to  make  of 
it?  -  it's  funny  how  a  little  thing  like  that  can  go  through  a  party.' 

Disconsolately,  agitatedly  picking  up  glasses  and  putting  them 
down  again,  she  wandered  about  the  empty  rooms.  The  caterers' 
men,  in  their  shirt-sleeves,  were  packing  up.  In  the  hall  a  spray 
of  lilac  had  become  dislodged  from  its  green  guard  of  pittospor- 
um  leaves  and  as  Clavering  passed  through  the  hall  he  picked 
it  up  and  put  it  back  again. 

'What  do  you  suppose  the  Paul  Vaulkhards  made  of  it?'  his 
wife  called.  'Didn't  you  have  an  awful  feeling  they  felt  they  w  ere 
a  bit  above  it?  Not  quite  their  class?' 

Opening  the  front  door,  he  was  too  far  away  to  answer.  He 
walked  for  a  few  paces  down  the  still-lighted  drive,  looking  up 
at  the  stars.  The  night  in  its  rimy  frostiness  was  without  wind. 
With  a  tenderness  he  did  not  want  to  pursue  into  anything  deeper 
he  remembered  how  much  the  girl  had  liked  all  things  that  were 
white.  He  remembered  how  she  had  thought  everything  was 

From  the  frozen  meadows  behind  the  house  there  was  a  call  of 
owls  and  from  farther  away,  from  dark  coverts,  a  barking  of 


'How  many  langoustines  today,  Monsieur  Harris?'  the  boy  said. 

Almost  every  day  that  summer  there  were  big  blue  dishes  of 
cream  pink  langoustine,  a  sort  of  small  spidery  lobster,  for  lunch, 
and  all  through  the  sunny  dining-room  of  the  hotel  there  was  a 
hungry  cracking  of  claws.  A  fine  bristling  Atlantic  air  blew  in 
hot  from  the  bay. 

The  small  boy,  Jean-Pierre,  had  eyes  like  glistening  blobs  of 
bright  brown  sea-weed.  'English!  English!  -in  English,  please !' 


'One,  two,  three,  four,  five,  six,  seven,  eight  -  noine ! ' 




'Please  say  nine!'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'Nine,  Jean-Pierre  - 
now !  No  more  of  that  noine ! ' 


'Ten  now/  Harris  said  and  even  Madame  Dupont,  the  gover- 
ness, who  with  small  beady  dark  eyes  and  neat  pink  jaws  deli- 
cately champing  had  something  of  the  look  of  a  refined  langou- 
stine herself,  laughed  gaily. 

'I  have  to  laugh/  Madame  Dupont  said.  'It's  very  wrong,  but 
I  can't  help  it.  The  boy  is  very  happy.' 

Harris  had  begun  to  share  a  table  under  the  window  with 
Madame  Dupont  and  the  boy  because  now,  in  July,  towards  the 
height  of  the  season,  the  hotel  was  quickly  filling  up.  There  were 
no  longer  any  single  tables  for  single  men.  Every  day  new  French 
mammas  and  papas  arrived  with  shrieking  families  and  dour 
matriarchal  grandmothers  and  small  yapping  dogs,  and  every 
day  Madame  Dupont,  who  had  chosen  the  table  in  the  corner 
because  it  was  secluded  and  strategic,  squinted  finely  through 
her  small  gold  spectacles  so  that  she  could  see  them  better. 

'That's  a  family  named  Le  Brun  who  were  here  last  year. 
They  are  from  Lyons.  He  is  in  the  Surete.' 

'How  many  langoustines  now,  Monsieur  Harris?' 


Across  the  Bay  265 

'One  dozen. ' 

'Dozen,  dozen,  dozen?  How  many  is  that?' 

'Douzaine,'  Harris  said.  'Dozen,  douzaine.  Douze,  douze.' 

'It  is  the  same,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'Isn't  that  so  often  the 
case?  They  are  so  alike,  French  and  English.  Sometimes  there 
is  hardly  any  difference  at  all,  really.' 

'French  is  more  beautiful — ' 

'Oh!  no.  English  is  very  beautiful  too.'  Sea-light  from  the 
wide  hot  bay  sparkled  on  Madame  Dupont's  spectacles  as  she 
lifted  her  face.  'The  family  Bayard  has  gone,  I  see.  They  have 
rearranged  the  tables.' 

Harris,  with  his  back  to  the  room,  could  not  see  the  comings 
and  goings  of  French  families.  They  were  reflected  for  him  in 
the  flashing  glasses,  the  brief  arrested  pauses  of  neat  lean  jaws, 
the  way  the  silver  lobster  pincers  were  held,  delicately  or  with 
surprise  or  with  a  certain  stern  reproval  and  expectancy,  over  a 
pile  of  pink-brown  shell  and  whisker. 

'I  believe  they  are  going  to  put  that  family  -  no,  they  are  not. 
Thank  Heaven.' 

'Which  family?' 

'Blanche.  The  big  fat  man  in  the  blue-striped  shirt  and  the 
white  cap  that  he  always  forgets  to  take  off  in  the  dining-room.' 

After  the  langoustine  that  day  there  were  small  filets  de  Sole 
Dieppoise  and  after  that  navarin  d'agneau  with  tender  olive  peas. 
The  sun  was  a  blinding  silver  on  the  bay.  Big  blue  sardine  boats, 
with  blood-bronze  sails,  came  round  the  distant  point  of  pine  and 
rock  with  deceptive  grace,  running  quickly  out  of  sight  into  port. 
Across  the  bay  an  almost  complete  circle  of  sand,  dead  white, 
lay  below  blue-black  pine  woods  like  a  crust  of  salt  left  by  tide 
and  baked  to  a  dazzling  fierceness  by  wind  and  sun. 

By  the  time  he  reached  the  navarin  Harris  was  quite  sleepy. 
It  was  the  same,  he  discovered,  every  day.  Lunch  began  at  twelve 
o'clock  and  every  day  he  was  determined  to  walk,  afterwards, 
along  the  little  coast  road  under  the  pines  to  find  out  for  himself 
what  lay  on  and  about  that  dazzling  curve  of  sand  across  the  bay. 
Every  day  lunch  with  Jean-Pierre  and  Madame  Dupont  went  on, 
with  much  laughter  and  sucking  of  grapes  and  coffee,  until  two 
o'clock,  and  after  it  he  went  to  sleep  in  the  sun. 

At  one-thirty  Madame  Dupont  said,  'It  is  very  queer  the  table 
is  not  occupied.  I  find  it  very  queer.' 

266  Across  the  Bay 

'Monsieur  Harris  is  going  to  sleep/  the  boy  said.  'His  eyes  are 
shutting ! ' 

'Oh !  no,  no,  no.  Wide  awake.  Thinking.' 

'Too  much  langoustines ! ' 

'They  have  put  special  flowers  on  the  table,'  Madame  Dupont 
said.  'Roses  and  things.  Nice  ones.' 

'Monsieur  Harris  is  asleep !  He's  not  listening.' 

'I  find  it  very  queer,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'Special  flowers 
and  nobody  coming.' 

'The  flowers  are  always  for  Americans,'  Harris  said.  'They 
will  insist  on  ice-water  and  plain  salad  and  make  a  fuss.' 

'Fuss,  fuss?'  the  boy  said.  'What's  that?  What's  fuss?' 

'It's  what  you  are,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'Fuss  fuss ! ' 

'Fuss  fuss ! '  he  said. 

Madame  Dupont,  not  speaking,  began  to  wash  a  branch  of 
blue-black  grapes  in  her  finger  bowl,  holding  it  just  under  her 
chin,  letting  it  swing  there.  Slowly,  almost  dreamily,  she  took 
off  the  wet  grapes  with  her  slender  fingers,  one  by  one,  pressing 
them  into  her  mouth,  stones  and  skin  and  all,  with  neat  and  ele- 
gant squirts. 

'You  must  not  look,'  she  said,  'but  the  new  people  are  just  com- 
ing now.' 

Harris  idly  began  to  wash  a  bunch  of  grapes  too.  In  the  water 
the  dark  skins  gathered  crusts  of  little  pearls.  The  grapes  were 
always  sweet  and  delicious,  he  found,  but  sometimes  in  the  early 
pears  and  peaches  there  were  to  be  found,  to  the  boy's  amuse- 
ment, trundling  fat  maggots,  pear-cream  or  peach-rose  according 
to  the  flesh  from  which  they  unrolled,  and  Madame  Dupont,  in 
horror,  covered  her  twinkling  glasses  with  her  hands. 

Today,  in  the  boy's  slim  green  pear,  there  were  no  maggots, 
and  Madame  Dupont's  eyes  were  alert  and  free. 

'I  thought  it  looked  for  a  moment  like  Monsieur  Bazin  from 
St  Germain  and  his  wife,'  she  said.  'He  is  a  man  of  the  same 

'Not  Americans?' 

'Oh !  no,  no.  French.  An  elderly  man  and  a  girl.' 

'Nice?' he  said. 'The  girl.' 

A  grape  lay  for  a  second  in  the  centre  of  Madame  Dupont's 
lips,  delicately  poised. 

'A  beauty.' 

Across  the  Bay  267 

As  the  grape  slid  into  Madame  Dupont's  mouth,  to  be  sucked 
and  champed  and  swallowed  swiftly  away,  she  said: 

'Can  I  describe  her  for  you?'  and  went  on,  not  waiting  for  an 
answer:  'Very  dark.  No  colour.  Big  brown  eyes.  And  quite  a  big 
girl -big  and  round,  with  nice  arms  and  hands.'  She  broke  oil 
another  grape.  'About  twenty-two.' 

'And  him?' 

'She's  wearing  a  white  sun  dress  with  a  red  coat  that  slips  off. 
She's  putting  a  flower  into  his  buttonhole.' 

'What  is  he  like?' 

'A  real  French  papa.  He's  a  little  short-sighted  I  think.  He 
seems  to  find  it  hard  to  read  the  menu.' 

'Perhaps  he  is  long-sighted  instead,'  Harris  said  and  Madame 
Dupont,  looking  hastily  down  under  her  glasses,  washing  grape- 
stained  hands  in  the  finger  bowl,  seemed  for  the  first  time  a  little 

'I  have  a  feeling  I  have  seen  him  somewhere  before,'  she  said. 
'Jean-Pierre,  you  must  wash  your  hands.  Quickly.  Wash  them. 
We  must  go.' 

'Fuss  fuss ! '  he  said. 

'Thanks  to  you  he  is  learning  English  too  quickly,'  she  said. 
'Are  you  coming  too  ? ' 

'Yes,'  he  said.  'I  am  going  to  walk  across  the  bay.' 

'On  your  stomach?  or  swimming?'  she  said  and  once  again  the 
three  of  them,  the  boy  with  imp-bright  eyes,  Madame  Dupont 
no  longer  severe  or  confused,  laughed  gaily  together. 

'He's  asleep ! '  the  boy  said.  'His  eyes  are  shut !  He's  asleep  al- 

'Quiet!'  she  said.  'Walk  nicely  from  the  dining-room.' 

'Tell  me  about  the  war,'  the  boy  said. 

'No,'  he  said.  'Nothing  to  tell.  I  must  walk  across  the  bay.' 

All  afternoon  he  slept,  as  usual,  in  the  sun. 

When  he  woke,  about  five  o'clock,  the  wind  had  turned  a  little 
northward,  breaking  straight  through  the  small  gap  from  the 
open  sea.  It  stirred  even  the  sheltered  bay  into  a  surface  of  jagged 
glass,  a  dark  and  wonderful  indigo,  with  flouncing  edges  of  salt- 
white  foam.  The  air  was  so  much  cooler  that  he  woke  with  a 
sudden  start,  the  wind  quite  cold  across  his  shoulders,  where  his 
wound  scar,  almost  invisible  now  on  dark  sea-browned  flesh, 
felt  tight  and  dead. 

268  Across  the  Bay 

He  dressed  and  began  to  walk,  as  he  had  always  promised  him- 
self, up  the  road  that  went  along  the  bay.  For  about  half  a  mile 
there  were  little  hotels,  each  with  its  own  small  red-tented  plage, 
a  few  villas  with  shutters  pulled  down  on  geranium-filled  veran- 
dahs against  the  sun,  and  then  four  or  five  pensions,  shuttered 
too  and  noiseless  behind  walls  of  sea-bent  cypresses.  Between 
them  a  few  boats  lay  beached,  half-buried  in  thick  white  sand; 
and  then  the  shore,  at  last,  was  clear,  all  pine  and  slate-blue  rock 
and  dune-grass,  with  the  road  winding  thinner  and  thinner  up 
the  bay. 

Here  and  there  a  cove  of  rock,  a  miniature  bay,  pushed  the 
road  further  inland,  so  that  the  sea  was  suddenly  not  visible  over 
humps  of  bracken  and  pine.  He  began  to  see  that  the  fine  long 
curve  of  road  was  a  deception.  It  would  take  hours,  half  a  day, 
perhaps  more,  to  walk  the  long  circle  to  the  point.  Sand  blew  in 
sharp  tedious  whirls  under  the  pines  and  a  sound  of  shaken 
boughs,  somewhere  between  a  moan  and  a  whine,  not  summery 
at  all,  was  almost  ugly  in  the  cooling  afternoon. 

He  was  glad  to  be  on  the  clear  treeless  road  again,  where  he 
could  feel  sun.  And  then,  abruptly,  on  a  rise  of  rock,  the  road 
ended  altogether.  It  shot  upwards  over  the  little  rise,  ending  in 
barricades  of  wire  and  petrol  cans  and  old  sea-worn  notices  that 
had  once  spelled  'Danger:  Pont  coupe'  in  brighter  red. 

Beyond,  a  narrow  estuary,  tidal,  filling  now  with  the  scum  of 
incoming  sea,  cut  him  off  from  the  higher  coast,  and  he  stood 
looking  down  at  what  remained  of  the  bridge,  two  lines  of  old 
black  tooth-stumps,  crusted  by  weed  and  mussels  in  the  sand. 
The  estuary  gave  on  to  a  little  bay,  sheltered  from  the  west  by 
a  point  of  rock,  with  scattered  pools :  and  then  beyond  again  the 
repeated  dazzling  dunes  of  sand. 

He  sat  down,  lazy  in  the  strong  sea-air,  glad  to  be  cheated  of 
the  walk  along  the  coast.  He  had  not  come  to  France  for  walk- 
ing; he  was  happy  to  absorb  sea  and  sun  and  sand,  eat  a  thousand 
langoustes,  a  thousand  langoustines,  and  sleep,  with  no  one  to 
worry  him,  every  day.  He  had  been  shot  down  over  Lorient  a  day 
or  two  before  invasion  began.  He  had  been  wounded  in  the  left 
shoulder;  and  now  it  produced  a  curious  deflective  sort  of  action 
in  his  arm,  so  that  he  travelled  crab-wise  when  swimming.  Parti- 
sans had  taken  care  of  him  for  a  week  or  two,  grim,  high-spirited 
and  very  kind,  and  his  first  thought,  after  the  war,  had  been  to 

Across  the  Bay  269 

come  back  to  them.  He  had  wandered,  later,  all  through  the  coast 
country  about  here,  trying  to  find  his  unit  in  a  countryside  lit- 
tered with  abrupt,  tired,  severe  notices  saying  'No:  we  do  not 
know  where  your  unit  is.'  All  of  it  now  seemed  a  million  years 

He  would  not  have  known  the  girl  coming  up  the  road,  five 
minutes  later,  if  it  had  not  been  for  Madame  Dupont's  descrip- 
tion of  her :  a  white  sun-dress  with  a  red  coat  that  could  be  slip- 
ped off.  She  had  taken  off  the  coat  and  was  carrying  it  in  her 

She  too  stood  looking  down  at  the  little  estuary,  the  bay,  and 
the  remains  of  the  bridge;  the  wind  filling  and  beating  the  skirt 
of  her  dress,  so  that  she  held  it  down  with  her  free  hand. 

'The  bridge  is  cut/  he  said.  He  spoke  in  French  and  for  a 
moment  she  did  not  reply. 

Then  she  said,  with  a  curious  repetitive  flatness  that  he  could 
not  explain  as  either  ironical  or  bored : 

'Yes :  the  bridge  is  cut.' 

She  stared  across  the  bay,  lips  full,  thrust  outward,  almost 
pouting.  It  was  true,  as  Madame  Dupont  said,  that  she  was  a 
big  girl,  big  and  round,  with  sallow  skin  and  fine  full  arms;  but 
her  eyes,  like  her  voice,  were  flat  and  unresponsive.  Sea-light 
seemed  to  have  pulled  over  the  deep  brown  pupils  a  thin  opaque 

He  stood  for  a  second  or  two  not  knowing  what  to  say  and 
then  he  remarked  that,  below,  the  little  bay  was  very  beautiful. 

Yes,  it  was  very  beautiful,  she  said :  flatly  again,  as  if,  perhaps, 
it  were  a  stretch  of  corrugated  iron. 

There  was  probably  a  road  round  the  estuary,  he  said,  if  she 
thought  of  walking  on;  and  she  said : 

Yes,  there  was  probably  a  road  round  the  estuary :  as  if  neither 
she  nor  anyone  could  possibly  care. 

Quite  suddenly  she  turned  and  began  to  walk  back  down  the 
road  to  the  hotel.  He  watched  her  for  some  minutes  and  then 
began  to  walk  back  too.  Half-way  there  the  wind  blew  cool  again, 
whining  and  moaning  under  the  pines,  and  the  girl  put  on  the 
little  scarlet  coat  as  she  walked  along. 

That  evening  the  patron  came  to  the  table,  as  he  always  did, 
and  said,  'Tonight,  sir,  Mister  Harris  m'sieu,  we  have  on  the 
menu  to  eat  a  nice  potage,  a  broth,  and  then  some  local  fish 

270  Across  the  Bay 

cooked  en  fenouille,  and  afterwards  a  piece  of  meat,  bifteck, 
cooked  in  butter.  It  is  all  right?  You  find  it?' 

He  would  find  it  excellent,  Harris  answered,  and  at  the  bif- 
teck Madame  Dupont  said : 

'The  girl  is  all  alone.  She  is  wearing  quite  a  nice  dress,  dark 
blue  and  white.  It  goes  well  with  that  dark  hair  of  hers.' 

'You  have  butter  on  your  chin,  Monsieur  Harris,'  Jean-Pierre 
said,  and  Harris  licked  the  running  butter  away  with  his  tongue. 

'Their  name  is  Michel.  I  found  it  from  Madame.  He  is  some- 
thing in  automobiles  in  Paris.  Quite  well  off,  I  think,  too.' 

'Are  they  married  ? ' 

'They  are  father  and  daughter.' 

'Then  why  do  you  suppose  the  father  isn't  here  tonight?' 

'Because  he  has  gone  to  Paris,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'He  is 
like  so  many  other  gentlemen.  He  has  affaires  in  Paris  and  he 
will  come  here,  no  doubt,  for  the  wickend.' 

'Have  you  seen  him  before?' 

'I  don't  know,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'I  am  not  sure.  Some- 
how there  is  a  little  feeling  I  have  seen  him  somewhere.' 

In  the  evenings  there  was  nothing  to  do  but  sit  on  the  terrace 
and,  in  the  darkness,  almost  always  warm  but  hardly  ever  with- 
out a  stir  of  wind,  watch  the  awakening  of  lights  across  the  bay. 
The  long  sea-strong  days  made  Harris  very  sleepy  and  by  ten 
o'clock,  most  evenings,  he  was  too  tired  to  keep  awake  and  fell 
asleep  at  once,  on  the  top  floor,  in  his  small  attic  bed.  In  the  hotel 
salon  games  of  bridge  between  staid  French  pairs,  at  tables  of 
green  baize,  went  on  until  midnight;  and  in  the  bar  below  plain- 
tive French  songs,  on  records,  with  dancing,  beat  into  the  wave- 
lapped  night  air  for  an  hour  or  two  longer. 

That  night  he  did  not  fall  asleep.  With  sunset  the  bristling 
wind  across  the  bay  had  died.  In  the  still  air  the  gramophone 
from  below  thumped  like  the  heavy  throbbing  of  a  sardine  boat 
setting  out  to  open  sea. 

It  seemed  as  if,  for  an  hour,  the  same  tune  was  played  over  and 
over  again.  He  got  up  and  looked  at  his  watch.  He  shook  it 
several  times  to  make  sure  that  half  past  nine,  and  not,  as  he 
thought,  half  past  ten,  was  the  time  it  showed.  Across  the  bay, 
at  the  headland,  a  navigation  light  flashed  green  and  red,  and 
below,  on  the  terrace,  there  was  still  a  noise  of  spoons  in  coffee 

Across  the  Bay  271 

It  suddenly  came  to  him  that,  in  a  moment  of  sleepiness,  he 
had  made  a  mistake  of  an  hour  in  the  time.  He  dressed  and  went 
downstairs.  There  was  much  knitting  by  French  mesdames  in 
the  lounge,  and  outside,  under  arbours  of  plane-leaves,  a  few 
people  were  still  drinking,  served  by  a  waiter  who  in  moments  of 
idleness  stared  out  at  a  dreamy  milk-calm  sea.  In  the  bar  a  few 
others  were  dancing,  the  windows  open  for  air,  the  gramophone 
filling  the  room  with  the  beat  of  the  same  hot  sweet  tune  he  had 
heard  upstairs. 

In  the  bar  he  found  the  girl :  but  not  dancing. 

She  was  sitting  alone  on  a  high  stool  at  the  bar,  playing  with 
a  few  dark-golden  grains  of  sugar  in  a  coffee  spoon. 

Would  you  dance?'  he  said. 

She  held  up  her  arms,  not  speaking,  without  a  smile.  The 
sleeves  of  her  dress,  dark  blue,  were  long,  ending  in  cuffs  that 
clipped  together  with  small  white  shells.  The  stuff  of  the  dress 
was  some  light  crepe-like  material  through  which,  as  they 
danced,  he  could  feel  her  skin,  smooth  and  blood-warm  and  un- 
encumbered. She  danced  mechanically,  smoothly,  staring  over 
his  shoulder :  either  as  if  she  were  deep  in  thought  or  not  think- 
ing at  all.  He  asked  her  once  if  she  knew  the  name  of  the  French 
tune  that  now,  as  before,  the  gramophone  kept  playing  over  and 
over  again,  but  she  shrugged  her  shoulders,  whether  because  she 
did  not  understand  or  because  she  did  not  know  he  never  dis- 

After  the  third  or  fourth  dance  he  experienced  a  curious 
feeling.  A  latent  boredom,  a  kind  of  soft  fungus  of  drowsiness 
rising  from  the  same  dance,  the  same  tune,  the  same  mechanical 
rhythm  of  her  body  -  as  if  she  had  done  all  this  and  done  it  as 
silently,  as  beautifully  and  as  efficiently  with  a  hundred  men  like 
him  before -began  to  creep  up  through  his  mind.  He  felt  it 
over-hot  in  the  little  bar.  He  began  to  dislike  the  haunting  re- 
petitive little  tune.  A  smell  of  sea- air,  fresh  and  salt,  came  in 
lightly  through  the  open  window,  and  suddenly  he  felt  he  wanted 
to  be  outside,  watching  the  bay  and  its  lights,  walking  by  the  sea. 

'Shall  we  walk?'  he  said. 

Her  response  to  the  idea  of  walking  was  exactly  as  it  had  been 
to  the  idea  of  dancing.  Not  speaking,  again  without  a  smile,  she 
walked  in  her  anonymous  way  into  the  darkness  ahead  of  him. 
He  followed  her  and,  side  by  side,  they  began  to  walk  along  the 

272  Across  the  Bay 

little  curving  esplanade.  For  a  time  street  lights  at  regular  inter- 
vals lit  up  bright  purple  and  scarlet  beds  of  verbena  and  geran- 
iums, rows  of  striped  bathing  huts,  blue  and  brown  boats  up- 
turned on  white  sand. 

And  then,  soon,  the  last  of  the  light  had  gone.  The  dark  sea, 
a  white  fringe  of  miniature  summer  waves,  a  few  dark  rocks  in 
white  sand:  it  was  all  wonderfully  quiet  after  the  bright  noises 
of  the  bar. 

Half  a  mile  farther  on  they  stopped  by  the  sea-wall  and  looked 
out  to  where,  over  the  bay,  it  was  possible  now  to  see  the  lights 
of  the  lower  port,  the  green  and  scarlet  flashes  of  navigation 
points,  the  trail  of  a  sardine  fleet  making  for  open  water.  He 
watched  for  a  few  moments  and  then,  casually,  he  turned  to 
kiss  her.  He  thought  for  a  moment  he  had  made  a  hasty  and 
blundering  attempt  at  it  because,  as  he  came  close  to  her,  she 
turned  her  face  away.  And  then  suddenly  he  knew  that  she  was 
simply  offering  her  cheek,  lightly  and  formally,  in  the  conven- 
tional French  way. 

'Not  that  way/  he  said  and  began  to  turn  her  towards  him, 
kissing  her  full  on  the  mouth.  He  felt  a  great  start  of  quickened 
response  flare  up  through  her  body  that,  from  her  breast  down- 
ward, seemed  to  have  nothing  covering  it  but  the  flimsy  crepe- 
like stuff  of  the  dress. 

Like  one  of  the  navigation  lights  pricking  the  darkness,  the 
start  of  her  body  flared  up  and  went  out  again.  She  seemed  to  kill 
it  and  then  hold  herself  away. 

He  stood  for  some  moments  tracing  with  one  finger,  slightly 
puzzled,  the  line  of  her  long  arm  and  the  bare  curve  of  one  shoul- 
der. She  had  taken  up  a  half-crouching  attitude,  leaning  forward 
on  the  wall,  looking  at  the  sea. 

'How  long  do  you  stay  here?'  he  said. 

'Until  the  hot  weather  is  finished.  It  is  very  hot  in  Paris  now. 

'Do  you  live  in  Paris?' 

'I  live  in  Paris/ 

'Do  you  like  it  here?'  he  said.  'Do  you  swim?' 

'Yes :  I  swim/ 

There  was  something  increasingly  curious,  he  thought,  about 
that  repeated  formality,  the  flashing  start  of  feeling,  the  sudden 
ending  of  it,  the  holding  away.  He  felt  that  behind  it,  behind  all 
the  soft  correctness  of  tone,  a  disturbed  moment  of  high  feeling, 

Across  the  Bay  Z72> 

of  anguish  in  heat  or  even  anger,  might  suddenly  flare  out  if  he 
touched  her  again. 

'Perhaps  you  would  like  to  swim  tomorrow  ?'  he  said.  'With 

'I  would  like  it.  Thank  you.' 

'What  time?  At  half  past  ten?  Before  lunch?' 

'Before  lunch:  yes/ 

He  began  to  explain  to  her  about  the  sand  in  front  of  the  hotel. 
The  wash  of  tide  covered  it  with  unpleasant  contours  of  sea-weed 
and  a  species  of  ugly  splintered  grey  shell.  By  noon  crowds  of 
feet  had  turned  it  into  a  mess.  It  was  better  to  bathe  some  dis- 
tance up  the  shore  and  now  he  suddenly  remembered  the  smaller 
bay,  at  the  estuary,  where  the  bridge  was  broken,  that  he  had 
seen  that  afternoon. 

'Would  you  come  there?'  he  said.  'It's  better.' 

'Yes :  I  will  come  there,'  she  said. 

For  more  than  half  the  way  back  to  the  hotel  she  had  nothing 
else  to  say.  He  did  not  kiss  her  again.  At  a  turn  in  the  esplanade 
a  brief  curl  of  wind,  like  some  afterthought  from  the  breezy 
afternoon,  caught  her  long  hair  and  blew  it,  intensely  black  and 
beautiful,  across  her  face.  She  stopped  to  pin  it  back;  and  stand- 
ing there,  in  the  half-light  of  the  first  esplanade  lamp  forty  yards 
away,  she  addressed  him  for  the  first  time  with  a  question  of  her 

'How  long  do  you  stay  here  ? ' 

He  laughed. 

'As  long  as  the  money  lasts.' 

'You  don't  know?' 


He  had  not  given  it  serious  thought.  He  had  been  able  to  bring 
about  seventy  pounds  -  all  that  was  left  of  his  precious  mag- 
nificent gratuity,  all  he  had.  After  that  had  gone  he  hadn't  a 
penny,  not  a  prospect,  not  the  remotest  idea  of  a  plan  or  a  job. 

'When  there's  no  more  money  you  go  home  ? ' 

'That's  it.' 

'You  must  be  careful  with  your  money.' 

In  the  morning  they  lay  in  the  sun,  below  dunes  of  scorching 
sand,  beyond  the  estuary.  A  wind  had  risen  with  customary  fresh- 
ness after  sunrise  and  it  seemed  to  keep  off  the  heat  of  a  brilliant 
day.  But  it  was  the  wind,  he  knew,  that  burnt;  and  he  was  torn 

274  Across  the  Bay 

between  telling  her  to  cover  her  body  for  comfort's  sake  and 
letting  her  leave  it  there,  magnificent  and  full,  breast  and  loins 
held  in  nothing  but  simple  triangles  of  sea-green,  long  hair  blue- 
black  on  her  full  ripe  shoulders,  so  that  he  could  take  his  fill  of 
watching  it. 

Finally  he  reached  for  her  sun-wrap.  She  was  lying  full- 
stretched  on  sea-whitened  sand,  her  skin  almost  as  pale.  'You 
ought  to  put  this  on,'  he  said.  'The  sun  will  burn  you.' 

She  turned  over,  her  flanks  picking  up  star-like  grains  of  sand, 
one  breast  dipping  and  taking  up  with  its  heavy  tautness  a  coat 
of  the  same  shimmering  particles  of  whiteness;  and  in  a  moment 
he  felt  himself  fired  and  trembling  and  began  to  kiss  her.  Her 
mouth,  now,  came  full  to  him  at  once,  without  hesitation.  Her 
hair  fell  across  his  face  and  with  a  long  slow  arm  she  brushed  it 
away  and  then  let  the  arm  curl  across  his  back.  He  felt  the  five 
needles  of  her  fingers  nicking  down  the  bone  of  his  spine,  clench- 
ed, holding  him  in  still  frenzy. 

An  afternoon  of  indigo  and  snow-white  brilliance  blew  in 
exhilarating  bursts  of  wind  that  flowered  into  occasional  running 
whirlwinds  of  sand.  Above  the  dunes  there  was  a  tossing  and 
continuous  murmur  of  pines.  Waves  lashed  with  glittering  and 
exciting  brilliance  at  the  rocks  of  the  small  point  and  sometimes 
it  was  too  hot,  and  then  too  cool,  to  lie  on  naked  sand  in  the 

That  afternoon  he  discovered  her  name;  it  was  Yvonne,  but 
he  did  not  trouble  about  the  rest.  Michel  or  something,  Madame 
Dupont  had  said.  It  was  Friday;  and  he  said  something,  just 
before  they  went  back  to  the  hotel,  about  her  father  coming  back 
for  the  weekend.  Whether,  in  the  crash  of  waves  and  the  general 
dazzling  exhilaration  of  sea  and  sun  and  wind,  she  did  not  hear 
quite  what  he  said,  or  whether  she  was  really  not  listening  or  not 
wanting  to  listen,  he  did  not  know.  But  it  was  not  until  they  were 
walking  back  along  the  road  that  she  answered  him : 

'Yes :  he  is  coming  back  tomorrow.' 

'Until  when?' 

'He  will  go  back  to  Paris  on  Monday.' 

He  remembered  the  little  short-sighted  dapper  man  who  could 
not  read  the  menu;  the  flower  in  the  buttonhole;  a  certain  touch 
of  obedient  filial  care  about  her  attitude  towards  him  at  table. 
And  it  did  not  surprise  him  when  she  said : 

Across  the  Bay  215 

'I  will  have  to  be  with  him.  He  likes  me  to  be  with  him.  All  the 

'I  understand/ 

That  evening  they  danced  in  the  bar  and  walked,  afterwards, 
along  dark  calm  sands.  Under  stars  of  tense  brilliance,  to  a  barely 
audible  splash  of  tiny  waves,  she  kissed  him  several  times;  and 

'Please  don't  talk  to  me  when  he  is  here.  It  isn't  for  long.  Two 
days.  But  he  likes  to  walk  with  me.  And  play  cards  in  the  even- 
ings. You  know.  That  sort  of  thing.' 

'I  know,'  he  said.  That  night,  as  she  put  it,  it  did  not  seem  very 

Next  day,  for  lunch,  there  were  again  langoustines.  He  ate  six. 
Saturday,  for  some  reason,  was  always  a  disappointing  day 
for  food,  with  dishes  that  seemed  scratched  up  and  tired;  and 
Jean-Pierre  set  up  a  commotion  of  mocking : 

'Monsieur  Harris  doesn't  eat  his  food!  Monsieur  Harris 
doesn't  eat  his  food !  How  many  langoustines  ? ' 

'I  think  I'm  getting  tired  of  langoustines.' 

'When  you  take  things  on  your  plate  you  have  to  eat  them!' 

Madame  Dupont  flashed  her  spectacles : 

'I  see  the  girl's  father  has  come  back.  She  always  puts  a  flower 
in  his  buttonhole.' 

He  did  not  turn  to  look;  and  Jean-Pierre  said : 

'If  you  don't  eat  your  langoustines  you  can't  come  to  the  par- 
don tomorrow.' 

'It  is  the  greatest  pardon  of  all  tomorrow,'  Madame  Dupont 
said.  'It's  a  wonderful  thing.  You  should  see  it.  You  should  come 
with  us.' 

'Please ! '  the  boy  said.  'Please ! ' 

'We  are  hiring  a  car,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'There  will  be 
plenty  of  room  for  you  if  you  care  to  come.' 

There  was  nothing  else  to  do;  and  he  spent  most  of  Sunday 
roaming  about  with  the  boy  and  the  governess  on  a  high  crow- 
ded hill  full  of  the  shrieks  of  a  fair-ground  and  the  droning  of 
unending  priestly  incantations.  All  day  a  great  throng  of  sur- 
plices swarmed  about  a  big  grey  church  like  fat,  flapping  moths. 
Bishops  in  yellow  robes  led  a  whole  hillside  of  peasant  faces  in 
moaning  and  singing  and  ceaseless  prayer.  At  the  foot  of  the  hill- 
side drunken  orgies  started  between  alley-ways  of  fair-stalls,  in 

276  Across  the  Bay 

cider-booths,  and  peasants  reaped  rich  harvests  from  car-parks 
in  paddocks  and  stubble  fields.  From  the  top  of  the  hill  a  vast 
bay  of  sand,  clear  and  superbly  cleansed  by  weedless  tides, 
stretched  curving  away  against  miles  of  bright  blue  ocean. 

And  looking  at  it,  thinking  of  the  other,  smaller  bay,  of  the 
girl  and  her  body  taking  to  it  like  a  magnet  the  golden  grains  of 
sand,  he  felt  pained  by  an  ache  of  sudden  anguish  for  her.  He 
was  smitten  with  grey  loneliness,  made  worse  by  the  dry  wearying 
incantations,  the  shrill  callings  down  from  heaven.  He  felt 
sickened  by  people.  He  wanted  no  one  near  him  but  the  girl,  on 
the  burning  shore  or  in  the  calm  darkness  of  the  other  bay. 

That  afternoon  Madame  Dupont  bought  many  hideous  tinsel 
statuettes  of  saints  and  Jean-Pierre  ate  pommes  frites  from  a 
paper  bag  and  at  five  o'clock  they  drove  home. 

Always,  on  Sundays,  the  hotel  was  crowded.  French  boys 
played  accordions,  and  sometimes  guitars,  with  loud  sweet  tunes, 
on  the  esplanade.  The  gramophone  blared  all  day  from  the  bar. 

He  gave  up  the  idea  of  drinking  about  nine  o'clock  and  de- 
cided to  go  to  bed.  As  he  passed  the  salon  he  stopped  and  stood 
looking  in  through  the  partially  curtained  dividing  windows.  A 
few  games  of  cards  were  being  played.  Lights  fell  across  litters 
of  cards  and  small  piles  of  money  on  green  baize  tables  and  he 
saw  the  girl,  upright,  neutral-faced,  very  quiet,  playing  with  her 
father;  but  whether  she  was  bored,  or  tired,  or  simply  unusually 
circumspect  in  her  black  Sunday  evening  dress  he  did  not  know. 
It  struck  him  that,  in  these  few  moments,  she  hardly  looked  at 
her  partner,  dapper  with  his  long  amber  cigarette  holder,  the 
flower  in  his  buttonhole  and  his  general  French  air  of  being  the 
spruce  shrewd  successful  man. 

It  was  during  that  week,  towards  the  end,  that  she  saw,  as  they 
bathed,  the  scar  on  Harris'  shoulder.  It  began  a  conversation  not, 
as  it  turned  out,  so  much  about  him  as  about  herself. 

Some  time  before  this  he  had  discovered  that  Madame  Dupont 
had  been  wrong  about  her  age;  she  had,  perhaps,  allowed  for  the 
fact  that  big  supple  girls  are  sometimes  younger  than  they  seem. 

She  was,  after  all,  twenty-seven;  and  the  conversation,  for  that 
reason,  did  not  surprise  him  quite  so  much. 

'I  have  been  married,'  she  said. 

With  an  unpleasant  choking  sensation  in  his  throat  he  lay 
looking  at  the  sky.  A  sardine  boat,  chugging  seawards  about 

Across  the  Bay  277 

the  point,  seemed  to  travel  for  several  miles  before  she  spoke 

'During  the  war/  she  said.  'The  scar  reminded  me.  I  wanted 
to  tell  you  in  any  case.' 

'There  was  no  need  to  tell  me.' 

'You  would  have  to  find  out/ 

She  seemed  suddenly,  because  of  this  remark,  to  speak  more 
easily.  The  sardine  boat  cleared  the  point,  quickening  up  its 
engines  in  a  stabbing  series  of  coughing  barks  that  broke  sharply 
across  the  water. 

'It  was  just  for  a  day  or  two/  she  said.  'That's  all.' 

'The  war?' 

'Yes :  a  partisan/  She  spoke  quickly.  'Two  or  three  nights  of 
love  -  and  then,  out  -  pouff !  — ' 

She  did  not  go  on,  and  now  as  he  turned  to  her,  looking  at  her 
face,  he  found  it  unexpectedly  pained  and  hard,  embittered  al- 
most to  giving  the  illusion  of  being  old. 

'There  was  no  need  to  tell  this/  he  said. 

'You  would  find  out  in  time/  she  said,  and  all  of  a  sudden  he 
felt  all  the  fire  of  wanting  her  leap  back,  a  sick  central  needle  of 
pain.  Her  body,  golden-grained  with  sand,  rolled  itself  over  to 
him,  heavy  with  emotion,  quivering  to  touch.  'You  would  know/ 
she  said.  'You  would  have  to  know.' 

The  days  of  the  middle  week,  in  this  way,  mounted  like  a  castle 
in  sand.  By  the  estuary,  under  hot  white  dunes,  and  then  in  the 
evenings,  along  the  deserted  shore,  to  the  sound  of  tiny  waves 
that  were  not  more  than  spilled  echoes,  the  structure  of  it,  hot 
and  frenzied  and  delicate,  was  raised  up.  And  each  time  the 
week-end,  like  the  sea,  swept  in  and  bore  it  away. 

By  each  Monday  he  felt  that  a  dark  ugly  hole  had  been  torn 
in  his  existence.  Not  merely  had  the  bright  insubstantial  castle 
gone.  Her  other  existence,  like  the  sea,  had  torn  deep  under  it, 
leaving  only  a  ravaged,  lacerating  hole  of  loneliness.  He  began 
to  hate  the  dapper,  card-playing  flower-fop  of  a  father  who 
punctually  came  down  every  Saturday  to  perform,  in  his  neat 
and  neutrally  precise  way,  the  shattering  extinction  of  everything 
beautiful  the  week  had  built  up.  He  thought  she  hated  it  too. 

On  the  following  Friday,  for  the  first  time  for  several  weeks, 
a  squally  wind  brought  an  afternoon  and  then  an  evening  of 
lashed  cold  rain.  A  squally  touch  of  winter  seemed  suddenly  to 

278  Across  the  Bay 

rip  across  the  upturned  tables  of  the  terraces.  In  an  hour  or 
two  summer,  like  a  sea-wrecked  castle  too,  had  been  ripped 

In  the  bar  they  had  the  customary  dance  or  two,  her  body 
warm-pressed  and  supple  against  him  as  they  went  round  and 
round  to  the  familiar  steel-worn  tunes.  But  tonight,  because  of 
rain,  the  bar  was  full.  Rain  lashed  at  the  windows  and  there 
would  be  no  walking,  he  knew,  to  places  made  familiar  by  love 
along  the  deserted  sand. 

It  seemed  as  if  she  too  was  thinking  of  this : 

'You  could  come  to  my  room/  she  said. 

For  a  moment  in  the  bedroom,  before  undressing,  she  went 
to  the  window  to  make  sure  that  it  was  shut  and  to  pull  the  long 
chenille  curtains.  She  could  not  find  the  cord  that  pulled  the 
curtains  together,  and  for  the  space  of  half  a  minute  she  put  on 
the  light. 

There,  by  the  window,  a  coat  stand  held  her  father's  hat  and 
a  crisp  neat  suit  of  cream  alpaca  he  always  wore  when  walking 
the  esplanade,  arm  in  arm  with  the  girl,  silver-headed  walking 
stick  jauntily  swinging,  on  Sunday  afternoons. 

She  saw  him  look  at  it.  'He  left  them  here  to  be  cleaned/  she 

At  intervals  he  lay  listening  to  cold  rain  beating  with  light 
flashes  on  the  sea-exposed  window  beyond  the  heavy  curtains. 
To  his  surprise,  some  time  later,  he  turned  and  found  her  face, 
as  he  moved  to  touch  it  with  his  mouth,  wet  with  tears. 

Why  are  you  crying?  What  is  it?'  he  said.  'What  is  it?' 

'I  am  thinking  of  the  time  when  you  will  be  gone/  she  said. 
'I  can't  bear  that  time — ' 

He  held  her  face  with  his  hands,  and  as  she  cried  a  dark  ac- 
cumulation of  all  that  he  felt  at  each  week-end,  the  dry  dead 
misery  of  being  alone,  deprived  of  her,  gave  him  a  sudden  bitter 
foretaste  of  what  he  knew,  in  time,  would  have  to  come. 

But  it  was  only  briefly.  It  was  early  August  now;  there  would 
still  be  four,  even  five  or  six  weeks  of  summer.  Then  he  asked 
himself  what  would  happen  if  the  weather  broke?  and  once  more, 
afraid  and  hateful,  he  listened  to  the  rain  beating  with  its  almost 
wintry  harshness  across  the  bay. 

'Supposing  the  summer  breaks  up  ? ' 

'We  shall  stay  now.  I  have  told  him  I  want  to  stay — '  He 

Across  the  Bay  279 

could  hear  by  her  voice  that  she  had  stopped  crying.  She  was 
restrained  and  quiet  again  and  his  fear  of  losing  her,  always 
uppermost  in  his  mind  rather  than  any  thought  of  going  away 
himself,  stopped  now  too. 

In  the  morning  his  fear  was  renewed  and  twisted  round.  He 
discovered,  as  he  paid  his  weekly  bill  at  the  hotel  desk,  that  he 
had  somehow  made  a  miscalculation  in  his  money.  At  the  begin- 
ning of  his  holiday  he  had  seemed  to  be  so  rich  in  traveller's 
cheques  that  he  had  really  never  bothered  to  count  them  care- 
fully. The  weeks  had  stretched  deliciously  ahead.  Now,  it  seemed, 
he  had  ten  pounds  less  than  he  bargained  for. 

It  meant  going  home  a  week,  perhaps  two  weeks,  earlier  than 
he  had  calculated. 

She  was  curiously  indifferent  about  these  fears.  His  English- 
ness  revolted  against  and  was  troubled  by  a  calculation  that  had 
gone  wrong.  He  was  worried  by  the  new  post-war  fear  of  having 
no  money  in  a  foreign  country. 

'By  the  end  of  next  week  I'll  have  no  francs  left  -  nothing 
at  all.' 

'I  have  francs.  I  can  get  you  francs.' 

'But  I  could  never  pay  them  back.' 

'Who  wants  you  to  pay  them  back?'  she  said.  'Who  wants  it? 
Who  cares  ? ' 

In  his  English  way  he  was  bothered  by  a  possible  failure  to 
do  something  correctly.  It  wasn't  exactly  a  question  of  dis- 
honesty; it  was  not  quite  the  game.  For  her,  on  the  other  hand, 
war  had  killed  the  meaning,  if  she  had  ever  understood  it  in  the 
same  way,  of  all  such  phrases.  Nobody  bothered  about  that  sort 
of  thing  any  longer. 

'I  will  get  you  francs  at  the  week-end.  All  the  francs  you 

"I  couldn't  possibly  pay  you  back — ' 

'Please,'  she  said.  'All  the  money  in  France  is  black  market 
money.  Nobody  is  honest  any  longer.  Who  cares  ? ' 

He  did  not  know  what  to  answer. 

'Everybody  has  given  up  worrying  about  these  things.  Every- 
body has  to  live — ' 

And  after  all,  it  seemed,  when  she  spoke  like  that,  very  easy. 
She  could  get  a  little  each  week  for  him.  And  in  that  way  he 
could  stay  on. 

280  Across  the  Bay 

'And  I  want  you  to  stay  on/  she  said.  'I  want  it  so  much.  I  don't 
want  you  to  go — ' 

All  the  time  he  felt  himself  held  back  by  a  small  irritating 
matter  of  pride.  It  was  the  old  uneasy  business  of  taking  money 
from  a  woman.  Of  course  people  did  it;  there  were  times  when 
you  had  to  and  perhaps  there  was,  after  all,  really  nothing  in  it; 
but  it  always  left  a  bad  taste  somehow,  a  feeling  of  a  man  being 

'I  don't  know/  he  said.  'Somehow — ' 

'But  its  easy,  it's  so  easy/  she  said.  'And  if  you  don't  take  it 
you  have  to  go — ' 

'I  know,  I  know/  he  said. 

'Then  if  you  know  and  it's  so  easy  why  do  you  make  it 
so  difficult?' 

He  could  not  explain.  All  that  he  felt  about  being  kept 
by  a  woman  sounded  priggish  and  adolescent  and  horribly  and 
smugly  English.  And  yet  there  was  something  about  being 
kept — 

'I  love  you/  she  said.  'Please  do  it  for  that.  Please.  You  will  do 
it  for  that,  won't  you  ? ' 

Well,  all  right,  he  said,  he  would  do  it  for  that.  He  would  do  it 
for  love. 

And  then  she  had  a  sudden  thought.  It  seemed  to  her  that  for 
him  it  was  really,  after  all,  nothing  but  a  matter  of  pride,  and 
she  said : 

'I  will  put  it  in  a  letter.  Every  Saturday  I  will  write  you  a  little 
letter  and  tell  you  how  I  love  you  and  the  money  will  be  in  it.' 

He  laughed.  'You  think  of  clever  things/  he  said.  'Don't  you  ? ' 

'Only  because  I  love  you.' 

'The  more  you  love  the  cleverer  you  get?'  he  said,  'is  that  it?' 

'Of  course/  she  said.  'Every  woman  knows  that  is  what 
happens — ' 

And  so  every  Saturday  morning,  before  breakfast,  he  would 
find  her  letter  with  the  hotel-porter,  and  inside  it  enough  francs 
to  take  him  through  the  week,  and  with  the  francs  a  little  note, 
brief  and  tender,  about  how  she  loved  him  and  how  she  was 
happy  now  because,  with  the  money,  he  could  stay  a  little  longer. 
He  took  the  note  away  to  read  on  the  shore,  before  he  swam,  and 
in  the  fine  exquisite  air  he  lost  his  fear. 

'The  season  will  soon  be  ending/  Madame  Dupont  said.  'There 

Across  the  Bay  281 

is  always  a  horrible  rush  about  the  fifteenth  and  then  by  the  end 
of  the  month  it  begins  to  thin  out  a  little. ' 

'Do  you  have  langoustines  in  England?'  the  boy  said. 

'No :  no  langoustines  in  England.' 

'You  have  peaches  ? ' 

'Yes:  peaches.' 

'Yesterday  I  had  a  big  fat  animal  in  a  peach.  The  biggest  one 
I  ever  had.  Pink  like  a  langouste,  with  a  black  head — ' 

'I  shall  be  sick!'  Madame  Dupont  said,  and  buried  her  face, 
with  its  flashing  spectacles,  in  her  hands. 

After  all  the  weather  had  not  broken.  The  single  day  and  night 
of  gusting  rain  had  been  followed  by  skies  of  pure  washed  blue, 
exquisite  and  brilliant:  by  afternoons  of  burning  indigo  breezi- 
ness,  bringing  a  saltiness  that  Harris  could  taste  on  the  face  of 
the  girl  as  he  touched  it  with  his  mouth.  Her  body  had  become 
a  deep  butter-golden  brown  in  the  sun. 

By  the  second  week  in  September  he  began  to  experience 
once  again  the  excruciating  fear  that  soon  it  would  all  be  over. 
The  blue  dishes  of  langoustines,  the  shrill  voice  of  Jean-Pierre 
discovering  maggots  in  the  peaches,  Madame  Dupont's  unweary- 
ing spectacles;  the  hot  afternoons  by  the  estuary,  the  earlier 
darkening  evenings  along  the  shore.  Not  even  the  week-end  dole 
of  francs,  delivered  with  the  letter  after  being  squeezed  somehow 
from  the  changeless  dapper  parent  who  came  up  from  Paris  with 
unfailing  punctuality  every  Saturday,  could  save  it  much  longer. 

She  too  seemed  to  realise  it  and  along  the  shore,  on  a  dark 
humid  September  evening,  said  to  him : 

'I  wanted  to  tell  you  something  about  myself,'  and  went  on  at 
once :  'It  was  about  being  married — ' 

Listening,  not  interrupting  her,  he  watched  the  many  naviga- 
tion lights  flowing  emerald  and  white  and  crimson  across  the 
bay.  She,  too,  after  all,  it  seemed,  had  been  one  of  his  partisans. 
In  four  years  she  had  helped  nearly  two  hundred  men :  English 
mostly,  but  colonials  too,  and  in  the  final  year  a  few  Americans. 

During  all  the  time  she  spoke  of  this  there  was  a  flatness  in  her 
voice  that  reminded  him  of  the  evening  he  had  first  walked  with 
her  by  the  sea.  She  had  once  again  pulled  down  that  opaque 
blind  between  them;  as  if  she  were  keeping  something  back. 

And  then  she  began  to  talk,  presently,  of  another  man.  Not 
an  Englishman  this  time,  but  a  French  boy,  a  young  man  from 

282  Across  the  Bay 

Orleans,  an  eager  brilliant  boy  who  when  war  broke  out  had 
been  studying  for  a  degree  in  engineering  and  then,  late  in  the 
war,  had  become  a  partisan  too.  'He  had  a  wonderful  face/  she 
kept  saying.  'Such  wonderful  brilliant  eyes.  So  intelligent  and 
beautiful. ' 

After  she  had  known  him  a  few  weeks  they  had  been  given  an 
assignment,  quite  a  difficult  one,  seventy  or  eighty  miles  north  of 
Marseilles,  and  suddenly,  under  all  the  impulse  of  war  and  the 
emotion  of  war,  they  decided  to  get  married  before  attempting  it. 
They  were  married  in  his  own  village,  somewhere  south  of  Paris, 
and  afterwards  they  set  out  on  bicycles.  That  was  their  honey- 
moon: sleeping  in  barns,  under  haystacks,  sometimes  in  small 
hotels,  sometimes  in  the  houses  of  other  partisans.  It  had  been 
very  beautiful,  she  said,  and  as  she  spoke  of  it  he  could  hear  once 
again  the  restrictive  quietness  of  unspent  tears  in  her  voice, 
making  it  flat  and  calm. 

On  the  second  night  of  the  journey  as  she  bicycled  downhill 
in  darkness,  she  missed  the  road,  crashing  the  bicycle  into  a  bank, 
buckling  it  beyond  repair.  They  hid  it  in  a  barn  so  that  he 
could  come  back  for  it.  Then  they  rode  on  together  on  one 
bicycle,  she  on  the  crossbar.  And  all  that  night  the  feeling  of 
being  close  to  the  young  eager  boy  grew  deeper,  until  in  that 
excited,  keyed-up,  secret  and  almost  funny  situation  she  felt  they 
were  inseparable.  Here  she  spoke  again  of  his  face,  saying  how 
brilliant  and  beautiful  it  was. 

And  then  the  cross-bar  of  the  second  bicycle  broke;  and  they 
went  on  to  complete  the  rest  of  the  assignment  on  foot,  quite 
successfully  as  it  turned  out,  except  that  the  boy,  going 
back  two  days  later  in  the  hope  of  picking  up  at  least  one 
of  the  bicycles,  had  himself  been  picked  up  by  waiting 

After  three  months  they  sent  him  back.  'There  was  not  much 
left  of  his  face/  she  said.  Her  voice  had  a  stony,  barren  sound. 
'I  did  not  know  him  from  his  face.  It  was  not  there.'  He  died  a 
week  or  two  later. 

Pride  and  anger  and  tenderness  for  her  flooded  up  like  her 
own  unspent  tears  through  his  heart,  confusing  and  hurting  him, 
so  that  he  could  not  speak  again. 

'I  did  not  sleep  for  a  year/  she  said.  'I  felt  I  could  never  sleep 

Across  the  Bay  283 

He  did  not  answer. 

'Something  was  taken  away  and  has  not  come  back/  she 

He  wanted  in  that  moment  to  ask  her  if  there  was,  perhaps, 
something  of  himself  that  could  replace  the  things,  the  feelings, 
the  inexplicable  something  she  had  lost,  but  he  could  not  express 
himself  in  words.  A  light  run  of  breeze  brought  a  few  sharper, 
more  crested  waves  across  the  bay.  He  heard  her  say  how  beauti- 
ful the  evening  was,  how  you  could  still  imagine  it  was  full  sum- 
mer. For  some  moments  longer  he  listened  to  a  sardine  boat 
chuffing  and  coughing  away  to  sea  and  then  to  her  voice  re- 
minding him,  at  last,  still  with  its  dry  stony  pain,  that  in  a  week 
he  would  be  listening  to  it  all  no  longer. 

'Did  you  mind  that  I  told  you  all  that?'  she  said. 

'No :  I'm  glad  you  told  me.' 

'Sometimes  you  make  me  think  of  him.  The  same  feeling 
comes.  I'm  happy  again/ 

His  own  happiness  and  anguish  for  her  kept  him  quiet  again 
and  after  she  had  said,  in  a  sentence  he  did  not  understand  and 
did  not  ask  to  have  explained,  'There  are  things  that  can  kill  you 
like  that,  unless  you  find  someone  in  their  place/  they  walked 
back  arm  in  arm  to  the  hotel. 

'One  has  to  live/  she  said. 

The  following  day,  at  lunch,  there  were  more  langoustines  and 
Madame  Dupont,  cracking  away  with  neat  relish  above  a  pile  of 
pink-brown  shells,  stared  through  her  spectacles  to  where,  at  the 
table  by  the  window,  the  girl  was  threading  the  customary  flower 
into  the  dapper  bottonhole. 

'It  was  only  today  I  discovered  from  Madame  Prideaux  who 
he  is.' 

Before  Harris  could  answer  her  the  patron  came  to  the  table 
to  say:  'I  know  you  do  not  like  the  liver,  Monsieur  Harris -so 
if  you  prefer  it  we  have  today  for  you  a  piece  of  meat.  A  bifteck. 
If  you  find  it  all  right?' 

'Excellent/  Harris  said.  'Thank  you/  The  patron  smiled  and 
patted  Jean-Pierre  on  the  head  and  walked  away.  Madame 
Dupont  stared  critically,  with  a  kind  of  dry  prudery,  through 
her  spectacles.  Jean-Pierre  said  he  would  be  glad  when  the 
peaches  came  and  Madame  Dupont,  holding  the  lobster-pincers 
poised  under  her  chin,  said : 

284  Across  the  Bay 

'He  was  at  La  Baule  the  summer  before  the  war.  With  another 

'Another  daughter?' 

'I  remembered  him  very  well  the  moment  Madame  Prideaux 
reminded  me.' 

The  noon  wind  was  springing  up,  deepening  the  sea  to  flash- 
ing brilliant  indigo,  across  the  bay. 

'Daughter?'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'She  is  somebody's 
daughter,  yes.  They  are  all  somebody's  daughter.' 

In  the  dining-room  there  was  a  swift  breath  of  fish  hot  in  but- 
ter, and  richly,  thickly,  with  nausea,  it  clotted  Harris's  throat. 

'It's  a  fine  game,'  she  said.  'I  suppose  you  find  it  in  England 
too?  I  suppose  one  finds  it  everywhere.' 

He  suddenly  sent  his  fish  away. 

'Nor  me ! '  the  boy  said.  'Nor  me.  I  hate  it ! ' 

'You  must  eat  fish,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'It  gives  brains.' 


'It  gives  brains,  doesn't  it,  Monsieur  Harris?  He  must  eat  it.' 

'Monsieur  Harris  doesn't  eat  it.' 

'Monsieur  Harris  is  old  enough  to  please  himself  what  he  has 
and  what  he  doesn't  have.  Aren't  you,  Monsieur  Harris?' 

'Yes,'  he  said. 

'You  must  eat  and  grow  big  and  get  lots  of  brains,'  she  said, 
'so  that  you  can  please  yourself  what  you  do.' 

Across  the  bay  the  rising  breeze  from  open  sea  carried  deeper 
sparkling  furrows  broadside  along  the  shore.  A  blue  sardine  boat, 
like  an  ark,  shone  with  its  climbing  crimson  sail  tightening  against 
the  long  promontory  of  blue-black  pines. 

'After  all  she  has  to  live,'  Madame  Dupont  said.  She  smiled 
with  dry  tolerance,  her  mouth  twisted,  her  eyes  narrowed  like 
the  eyes  of  the  old  watchful  matriarchs  behind  her  spectacles. 
'They  all  have  to  live.' 

Harris,  eating  his  beefsteak,  stared  blindly  across  the  bay. 

'She  knows  how  to  make  a  fuss  of  an  old  man  like  that.  And 
after  all  the  old  man  wants  to  live — ' 

'Fuss,  fuss ! '  the  boy  said. 

'Quiet!'  Madame  Dupont  said.  'Take  what  fruit  you  want, 
Jean-Pierre,  and  eat  it.' 

Harris,  staring  across  the  sea,  thought  of  the  boy  who  had 
died,  the  something  that  had  been  taken  away  from  the  girl  and 

Across  the  Bay  285 

that  he  hoped,  in  a  sense,  he  might  have  given  back.  Suddenly 
it  seemed  that  the  other  shore  of  the  bay  was  very  far  away.  It 
quivered  and  receded  in  the  bristling  air  of  noon. 

And  staring  at  it  he  realised  that  he  had  never,  all  this  time, 
been  across  the  bay.  He  had  never  been  across  to  the  other  side. 
It  was  too  late  now  and  as  he  sat  thinking  of  the  girl's  dark  hair 
blowing  across  her  face,  the  rain  beating  on  the  windows  and 
the  suit  of  cream  alpaca,  pressed  and  neat,  hanging  in  the  bed- 
room, he  remembered  the  stony  barren  pain  of  her  face  and  the 
things  that  would  kill. 

'I  have  a  big  one ! '  the  boy  said.  'Look !  Look !  Look  at  that ! ' 

Harris  looked  away  from  the  sea  to  where  Jean-Pierre,  split- 
ting a  gold-pink  peach  in  halves,  was  prodding  with  the  point  of 
his  fruit  knife  a  trundling  fat  maggot  that  had  fattened  on  the 
blood-brown  shining  heart  of  flesh. 

'Kill  it!  Kill  it!'  Madame  Dupont  said.  Tut  it  away!  Take  it 
out  of  my  sight.  I  can't  bear  it !  For  God's  sake  put  it  out  of  my 
sight ! ' 

All  across  the  bay  the  sea  flashed  with  its  deep  noon  beauty 
and  in  the  dining-room  Madame  Dupont,  quite  pale  behind 
her  golden  spectacles,  buried  her  face  in  her  hands. 


She  was  burning  chaff  in  three  big  yellow  separate  heaps  as  he 
came  across  the  field.  A  flame  was  darting  up  and  along  the  blue- 
black  edge  of  each  heap  like  lamp-wick,  leaving  smoking  ash 

She  stood  leaning  on  the  long  white  handle  of  a  hay-fork,  arms 
firm  and  crooked,  hands  just  below  her  chin,  eyes  rather  low  on 
the  three  smoking  heaps,  as  if  she  was  not  really  watching  him 
at  all.  The  wind  was  cold  for  October.  It  blew  in  sudden  ugly 
gusts,  switching  smoke  over  grey-yellow  stubble  in  blue  flat 
clouds  that  turned  back  and  bit  each  other  like  dogs  at  play. 

'Could  you  tell  me  which  is  Benacre?'  he  said. 

Deliberately  she  drew  the  tines  of  the  hay-fork  down  the  curve 
of  the  nearest  heap,  dragging  chaff  into  fire.  From  the  fresh  strip 
of  hot  ashes  new  smoke  sprang  out  and  was  caught  by  wind  and 
driven  into  his  face  as  he  stood  there  waiting  for  an  answer. 

'You've  come  wrong  way/  she  said.  'This  is  the  back  end  of  it. 
It's  up  the  hill* 

'Which  way  would  that  be  ? ' 

'Up  the  hill/  she  said.  Her  voice  was  tart  and  confident.  She 
Jragged  at  hot  ash  and  chaff  again,  stirring  them  to  smoke.  This 
time  she  darted  a  quick  look  at  him  to  see  if  he  had  the  sense  to 
move  away,  but  he  still  stood  in  the  wind,  letting  the  blue  cloud 
drive  full  at  his  face. 

'You'd  better  stand  over  here/  she  said,  'if  you  don't  want  to 
get  smoke-dried.' 

In  that  way  she  could  see  him  better.  She  always  looked  first 
at  men's  hands  and  she  saw  that  his  own  were  large  and  long- 
fingered  but  rather  white.  His  hair  was  smooth  and  dark  and 
brushed  well  back.  That  was  the  second  thing  she  always  looked 
for.  She  could  not  bear  men  with  scruffy  ill-kept  hair  that  sowed 
seeds  all  over  the  shoulders  of  their  jackets. 

'Could  I  cut  across  the  field?'  he  said. 

'You  could/  she  said,  'if  you  want  to  land  in  the  river.  Which 
way  did  you  come  ? ' 


Chaff  in  the  Wind  287 

'I  walked  from  the  station/ 

'You  should  have  got  the  bus  and  asked,'  she  said.  'Then  they'd 
have  put  you  down  at  Benacre.' 

'I  thought  I'd  like  the  walk,'  he  said. 

She  plunged  the  hay-fork  into  hot  ash  again,  pulling  half-burnt 
cakes  of  chaff  out  of  the  centre  of  the  fire.  One  of  them  rolled 
like  a  slow  fire-ball  on  to  the  singed  ash-dusted  stubble  as  she 

'You'd  better  stand  back  if  you  don't  want  to  get  your  shoes 

That  was  the  next  thing  she  always  looked  for.  Hands  and  hair 
and  then  shoes.  Shoes  were  the  things  that  had  character.  You 
could  tell  by  the  way  a  man  laced  his  shoes  or  polished  them  or 
kept  them  repaired  or  even  by  what  shape  they  were  whether  he 
was  a  careful  man  or  a  mean  one  or  just  slovenly  or  vain. 

His  own  were  rather  like  his  hair:  town  shoes,  smooth  and 
black  and  well-kept.  They  were  already  dusted  by  a  fine  powder 
of  chaff-ash  and  she  looked  away  in  irritation.  They  were  good, 
clean,  well-tended  shoes  and  she  was  annoyed  by  the  dust  on 
them  as  she  might  have  been  annoyed  by  the  dust  of  his  hair 
flaking  down  on  his  shoulders. 

Looking  away  at  the  fire,  she  said : 

'You're  looking  for  Jean  Godden,  aren't  you  ? ' 

'That's  right.  How—' 

'I'm  her  sister,'  she  said.  'I'm  Doreen.' 

He  seemed  to  look  at  her  for  the  first  time.  Her  face  was 
flushed  under  the  pale  blue  eyes  with  blotches  of  redness  from 
the  bluster  of  wind  and  the  heat  of  fire.  She  had  a  plain  white 
scarf  tied  tightly  back  over  her  head,  giving  her  hair  the  impres- 
sion of  being  whipped  severely  and  sternly  back.  Her  legs  were 
shapeless  in  short  turn-down  gum-boots,  like  a  fisherwoman's, 
and  in  denim  trousers  the  colour  of  light  brown  cow-hide. 

'I  wouldn't  have  known  it,'  he  said. 

The  wind  seemed  to  blow  a  shadow  of  fury  across  her  face. 
No,  you  wouldn't  have  known  it,  she  thought.  I'm  that  much 
older.  Nearly  forty.  On  the  shelf,  past  it:  that's  what  you  were 
thinking.  She  stabbed  at  the  fire  again,  moving  from  one  heap 
to  another,  rolling  fire-balls  of  chaff  about  the  white-blue  see- 
thing ashes  and  the  running  tongues  of  flame. 

'I  thought  you  were  coming  last  Sunday?'  she  said. 

288  Chaff  in  the  Wind 

'I  was/  he  said.  'Then  I  couldn't  get  my  day  off.  I  had  to  work 
the  week-end.' 

'She  waited  all  day.  She  didn't  know  what  to  do  with  herself.' 

'I  had  to  work,'  he  said.  'There  was  no  way  of  letting 
her  know.' 

'You  couldn't  get  away  with  that  with  some  girls/  she  said. 

With  me  for  instance,  she  thought. 

He  was  standing  too  near  the  fire  again  and  as  she  pushed  past 
him,  almost  brushing  him  with  the  fork-handle,  a  turn  of  wind 
took  all  the  smoke  of  the  three  fires  upward  in  a  single  spiral 
column  that  turned  in  air  and  doubled  back  again,  plunging 
down  into  the  central  core  of  ashes  so  that  they  grinned,  red  and 
teeth-like,  in  the  fanning  wind. 

'She  knows  I'm  coming  today,  doesn't  she?'  he  said. 

'I  expect  so.  She  doesn't  tell  me  everything.' 

She  looked  up  at  the  sky.  Clouds  were  curling  up  against  each 
other,  low  and  dirty,  not  unlike  reflections  in  deeper  uglier  blue 
of  the  descending  smoke  of  the  fires. 

'The  wind's  gone  up  the  hill/  she  said.  'It'll  rain  before  you 
know  where  you  are.  You'd  better  get  down  to  Benacre  while  it's 

'Are  you  going  down  ? ' 

'I  shall  do.  In  a  bit—' 

'Then  I'll  wait  for  you/  he  said. 

She  swung  round  and  said : 

'You  needn't  wait  for  me.  Get  on  while  you've  got  the  chance. 
I'm  used  to  it.  You  can  cut  across  to  the  gate  there — ' 

'I'd  rather  wait,'  he  said.  'I'm  in  no  hurry.' 

'That's  a  compliment  to  somebody/  she  said. 

Her  eyes,  as  she  turned,  were  held  in  a  frown.  Then  it  lifted. 
Smoke  blew  across  her  face  in  a  long  wriggling  just  like  the  ghost 
of  an  escaping  snake  and  when  it  cleared  again  her  eyes  were 
fixed  with  a  sort  of  thoughtful  transparence  on  the  central  grin- 
ning portions  of  fire.  The  glow  seemed  to  consume  some  of  her 
hardness  and  she  said : 

'Weren't  you  going  to  stay  the  night?  Where  are  your  things?' 

'I  left  my  bag  over  by  the  gate/  he  said. 

'You  deserve  to  get  it  picked  up  by  somebody  then,  that's  all. 
There's  people  going  by  there  all  the  time.  You  never  know  who's 

Chaff  in  the  Wind  289 

'There's  nothing  in  it  to  matter  much/  he  said. 

'Oh !  well/  she  said,  'if  that's  how  you  look  at  it.' 

In  a  moment  she  was  moving  again  from  fire  to  fire,  raking 
and  stabbing,  letting  in  wind  that  woke  the  chaff  to  grinning 
eyes  and  bright  yellow  flags  of  flame. 

'Been  threshing  ? '  he  said. 

She  wanted  to  say  'It  looks  like  it,  doesn't  it?'  then  she  was 
unpredictably  restrained  by  something,  and  she  remembered 
her  sister,  at  home  in  the  kitchen,  ironing  a  brown  and  yellow 
dress.  She  said:  'Oh!  weeks  ago.  We  got  done  early.  This  was 
just  the  day  for  burning  chaff,  that's  all.' 

The  dress  was  tight  in  the  waist  and  had  one  of  those  wide 
black  cummerbunds  that  women  were  wearing  now.  It  was  full 
about  the  hips  and  the  ground-colour  was  a  warm  and  lively 
brown,  the  colour  of  some  autumn  leaves,  with  sprigs  of  yellow 
tendril-borne  flowers  all  over  it,  very  delicate  and  small.  It  was 
the  sort  of  dress  she  could  never  have  chosen  for  herself.  She 
always  went  wrong  somewhere.  The  brown  would  have  looked 
like  furniture  polish  and  the  yellow  crude  and  brassy,  like  dande- 

She  hadn't  the  taste  of  her  sister.  Things  never  came  off  for 
her.  She  hadn't  the  luck  either.  She  hadn't  the  way  of  not  seem- 
ing to  want  men,  the  cool,  aloof,  irresponsible  touch. 

'There's  a  spit  of  rain/  he  said,  and  she  laughed,  very  short 
and  taunting,  for  the  first  time. 

'You'll  look  well  if  she's  not  there  when  you  get  there/  she  said. 

'Oh !  she'll  be  there  -  she  said  she  would.' 

'Oh!  will  she?  Supposing  she  isn't?  You  take  yourself  for 
granted,  don't  you?  You  let  her  down  on  Sunday.' 

'I  didn't  let  her  down.' 

'Well,  something  like  it.  It  didn't  make  her  feel  any  sweeter.' 

'What  would  you  do,  then  ? '  he  said. 

'I'd  pitchfork  anybody  out,  quick,'  she  said,  'if  they  let  me 
down/  and  she  made  the  gesture  with  her  fork  above  the  fire, 
scattering  ash  and  smoke  and  chaff  and  a  few  flapping  flames 
that  seemed  to  turn  dark  orange,  above  the  ash,  in  the  darkening 

He  did  not  speak  and  she  turned  quickly  to  see  if  her  taunting 
had  touched  him  at  all.  His  face  was  flushed.  She  felt  amused  in 
a  confident  sort  of  way  about  that.  His  hands  were  in  his  trous- 

290  Chaff  in  the  Wind 

er's  pockets,  deep,  so  that  she  could  not  tell  if  they  were  clenched 
or  open.  Wind  had  disturbed  his  hair,  raking  up  a  few  thin 
separate  strands,  exactly  like  the  separations  in  a  feather.  His 
shoes  were  almost  white  from  dusty  ash  and  she  was  suddenly 
uneasy  about  the  changes  in  the  image  of  him  since  he  had  first 
walked  across  the  field.  For  a  moment  she  lost  all  her  hard,  high 
taunting  composure  and  she  stabbed  pointlessly  at  the  fire  again 
and  said: 

'You  mustn't  mind  me.  You  mustn't  take  any  notice  of  me. 
Do  you  want  to  go?  You  do,  don't  you?' 

Before  he  answered  she  heard  the  first  spits  of  rain  falling 
softly,  pifT !  pifT !  into  the  heart  of  the  fires. 

'What  about  the  fire?'  he  said.  'I  can  wait  for  you.' 

'Oh!  it'll  burn  itself  out.  It  always  does.  Or  the  rain'll  put  it 

Her  mackintosh  and  her  tea-bag  lay  behind  her.  As  she  turned 
to  pick  them  up  he  moved  to  help  her  but  she  was  there  first, 
grabbing  the  coat  before  he  could  touch  it.  Then  she  slung  the 
tea-bag  over  her  back  and  sloped  the  fork  over  her  shoulder. 

'Come  on,  we'd  better  go,'  she  said. 

Rain  in  faster  spits,  sharply  hissing  as  it  struck  down  through 
the  full  sepia-orange  of  surrounding  oaks,  came  out  of  the  west 
as  the  two  of  them  walked  across  the  field.  She  found  her- 
self striding  with  head  down,  her  big  feet  flat,  her  eyes  looking 
at  his  shoes,  ash-covered  and  now  rain-pocked,  their  neatness 

'You  think  she'll  be  there  all  right?'  he  said. 

'I  expect  so.  If  you're  fool  enough  to  come  I  suppose  she'll  be 
fool  enough  to  be  there,'  she  said. 

She  could  not  resist  that.  And  supposing  she  was  not  there? 
She  always  was;  she  liked  the  boys,  she  had  all  the  luck  with 
them.  She  was  pretty  enough,  with  all  the  taste,  for  anybody. 
But  supposing  she  were  not,  this  time?  Rain  came  swishing 
faster  through  the  dry  golden-brown  oaks  and  made  impression 
in  her  mind  of  thoughts  rushing  forward,  herded  and  lost  in  dis- 
jointed confusion.  What  would  she  do  if  she  were  not  there?  Put 
on  the  green  dress  with  the  leather  belt?  And  the  flat  shoes?  And 
do  her  hair  tightly  up,  in  a  coconut? 

'Where's  your  case?'  she  said. 

'Behind  the  hedge,'  he  said.  With  head  down  against  the  rain 

Chaff  in  the  Wind  291 

he  brought  back  a  small  brown  week-end  case  he  had  left  in  the 
shelter  of  the  hedge,  by  the  gate  to  the  field. 

'Here,  you  have  this  mac/  she  said. 

'No/  he  said.  'No.  I'm  all  right.' 

'You've  got  your  best  suit  on,'  she  said.  'You'll  get  it  wet 
through.  You'll  ruin  it.  Come  on,  you  have  the  mac  on.' 

'No,  you.  It's  yours.  You  have  it.' 

'I  don't  want  it,'  she  said.  'I'm  used  to  it.  Come  on.' 

'I'm  all  right,'  he  said. 

'Are  we  going  to  quarrel  over  a  mac?'  she  said.  'You've  ruined 
your  shoes  already.' 

Queer  how  the  thought  of  the  ruined  shoes  upset  her.  As  he 
looked  down  at  them  she  put  the  mac  over  his  shoulders.  They 
were  standing  in  the  road  now  and  suddenly  rain  came  beating 
down  in  white  sheets  on  the  black  metal  surface,  at  the  same  time 
tearing  pale  brown  clouds  of  leaves  that  fell  wetly  across  the 
slate-blue  sky  and  its  lighter  drifts  of  low  blue  smoke  from  the 

When  he  spoke  again  his  voice  was  sharp  and  annoyed. 

'Now  give  me  your  tea-bag  and  hold  the  mac  over  your  head,' 
he  said.  'Go  on.  Hold  one  side  while  I  hold  the  other.  I  don't 
know  what  we're  arguing  about.  Put  the  mac  over  your  head. 
Go  on.  There's  enough  for  both  of  us.' 

She  was  quiet.  She  put  the  mac  over  her  head  and  stared  down 
at  her  big  boots  slapping  in  the  wet,  leaf-printed  road,  side  by 
side  with  the  neat  half-spoilt  shoes  she  liked  so  much.  She  did  not 
know  what  to  say  and  she  wished  suddenly  that  it  was  night- 
time, with  nobody  on  the  road,  so  that  there  was  no  way  of  see- 
ing her  face. 

Presently  she  could  bear  it  no  longer  and  stopped  and  swung 
round  to  look  back  across  the  fields  at  the  fires.  The  wind  was 
blowing  chaff  and  smoke  and  dust  and  flame  into  darkening  rain 
from  the  three  yellow  heaps  that  were  like  solitary  ftyres. 

'Keep  the  mac  over  your  head,'  he  said.  'What  are  you  looking 
at  now?' 

'Just  the  fires,'  she  said. 

'Oh!   come  on,  they'll  burn  out.  You  said  they  would.' 

'All  right.  I  know.' 

'That's  the  trouble  with  some  people,'  he  said.  'They  always 
know.  They  always  think  they  know.' 

292  Chaff  in  the  Wind 

She  did  not  answer.  She  walked  with  head  still  further  down, 
watching  the  two  pairs  of  feet.  The  rain  beating  on  her  lowered 
face  made  her  feel  dry  and  tired  inside.  What  did  she  know? 
What  were  the  sort  of  things  she  was  supposed  to  know? 

She  was  a  fool  and  there  was  nothing,  she  thought,  that  she 
did  know-nothing  but  the  falling  rain,  the  queer  odour  of  the 
mac  on  her  head,  the  fading  smell  of  fire  and  smoke  and  falling 
leaf,  and  the  chaff  driving  in  the  wind. 


I  first  met  him  on  a  black  wet  night  towards  the  end  of  the  war, 
in  one  of  those  station  buffets  where  the  solitary  spoon  used  to 
be  tied  to  the  counter  by  a  piece  of  string. 

He  stood  patiently  waiting  for  his  turn  with  this  spoon,  spec- 
tacled and  undemonstrative  and  uneager,  in  a  shabby  queue, 
until  at  last  the  ration  of  sugar  ran  out  and  nobody  had  any  need 
for  the  spoon  any  longer.  As  he  turned  away  he  caught  sight  of 
me  stirring  my  coffee  with  a  key.  It  seemed  to  impress  him,  as 
if  it  were  a  highly  original  idea  he  had  never  thought  of,  and  the 
thickish  spectacles,  rather  than  his  own  brown  kidney-like  eyes, 
gave  me  an  opaque  glitter  of  a  smile. 

'That's  rather  natty/  he  said. 

As  we  talked  he  clutched  firmly  to  his  chest  a  black  leather 
brief-case  on  which  the  monogram  of  some  government  depart- 
ment had  been  embossed  in  gilt  letters  that  were  no  longer  clear 
enough  to  read.  He  wore  a  little  homberg  hat,  black,  neat,  the 
fraction  of  a  size  too  small  for  him,  so  that  it  perched  high  on 
his  head.  In  peace-time  I  should  have  looked  for  a  rose  in  his 
buttonhole,  and  in  peace-time,  as  it  afterwards  turned  out,  I 
often  did;  and  I  always  found  one  there. 

In  the  train  on  which  we  travelled  together  he  settled  himself 
down  in  the  corner,  under  the  glimmer  of  those  shaded  bluish 
lights  we  have  forgotten  now,  and  opened  his  brief-case  and  pre- 
pared, as  I  thought,  to  read  departmental  minutes  or  things  of 
that  sort. 

Instead  he  took  out  his  supper.  He  unfolded  with  care  what 
seemed  to  be  several  crackling  layers  of  disused  wallpaper.  He 
was  evidently  very  hungry,  because  he  took  out  the  supper  with 
a  slow  relish  that  was  also  wonderfully  eager,  revealing  the  meal 
as  consisting  only  of  sandwiches,  rather  thickly  cut. 

He  begged  me  to  take  one  of  these,  saying:  'I  hope  they're 
good.  I  rather  think  they  should  be.  Anyway  they'll  make  up  for 
what  we  didn't  get  at  the  buffet.'  His  voice,  like  all  his  actions, 
was  uneager,  mild  and  very  slow. 


294  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

I  remembered  the  spoon  tied  to  the  counter  at  the  buffet  and 
partly  because  of  it  and  partly  because  I  did  not  want  to  offend 
him  I  took  one  of  his  sandwiches.  He  took  one  too.  He  said  some- 
thing about  never  getting  time  to  eat  at  the  department  and  how 
glad  he  would  be  when  all  this  was  over,  and  then  he  crammed 
the  sandwich  eagerly  against  his  mouth. 

The  shock  on  his  face  was  a  more  powerful  reflection  of  my 
own.  His  lips  suddenly  suppurated  with  revulsion.  A  mess  of 
saffron  yellow,  repulsively  mixed  with  bread,  hung  for  a  few 
moments  on  the  lips  that  had  previously  been  so  undemonstra- 
tive and  uneager.  Then  he  ripped  out  his  handkerchief  and  spat. 

'Don't  eat  it/  he  said.  Tor  God's  sake  don't  eat  it'  He  tore 
the  sandwich  apart,  showing  the  inside  of  it  as  nothing  but  a  vile 
mess  of  meatless,  butterless  mustard  spread  on  dark  war-time 
bread.  'Give  it  to  me,  for  God's  sake,'  he  said.  'Give  it  to  me. 
Please  don't  have  that.' 

As  he  snatched  the  sandwich  away  from  me  and  crumpled  it 
into  the  paper  his  hands  were  quivering  masses  of  tautened  sinew. 
He  got  up  so.  sharply  that  I  thought  he  would  knock  his  glasses 
off.  The  stiff  wallpaper-like  package  cracked  in  his  hands.  His 
handkerchief  had  fallen  to  the  seat  and  he  could  not  find  it  again 
and  in  a  spasm  of  renewed  revulsion  he  spat  in  air. 

The  next  thing  I  knew  was  the  window-blind  going  up  like  a 
pistol  shot  and  the  window  clattering  down.  The  force  of  the 
night  wind  blew  his  hat  off.  The  keen  soapy  baldness  of  his  head 
sprang  out  with  an  extraordinary  effect  of  nakedness.  He  gave 
the  revolting  yellow-oozing  sandwiches  a  final  infuriated  beating 
with  his  hands  and  then  hurled  them  far  out  of  the  window  into 
blackness,  spitting  after  them.  Then  he  came  groping  back  for 
his  lost  handkerchief  and  having  found  it  sat  down  and  spat 
into  it  over  and  over  again,  half-retching,  trembling  with  rage. 

He  left  it  to  me  to  deal  with  the  window  and  the  black-out 
blind.  I  had  some  difficulty  with  the  blind,  which  snapped  out  of 
my  hands  before  I  could  fix  it  satisfactorily. 

When  I  turned  round  again  I  had  an  impression  that  the  sud- 
den snap  of  the  blind  had  knocked  his  spectacles  off.  He  was 
sitting  holding  them  in  his  hands.  He  was  breathing  very  heavily. 
His  distraction  was  intolerable  because  without  the  spectacles 
he  really  looked  like  a  person  who  could  not  see.  He  seemed  to  sit 
there  groping  blindly,  feeble  and  myopic  after  his  rush  of  rage. 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  29S 

His  sense  of  caution,  his  almost  fearsome  correctness,  returned 
in  an  expression  of  concern  about  the  black-out  blind.  He  got  up 
and  went,  as  it  were,  head-first  into  his  spectacles,  as  a  man  dives 
into  the  neck  of  his  shirt.  When  he  emerged  with  the  glasses  on 
he  realised,  more  or  less  sane  now,  his  vision  corrected,  that  I  had 
put  up  the  blind. 

'Oh !  You've  done  it/  he  said. 

A  respectable  remorse  afflicted  him. 

'Do  you  think  it  was  seen?'  he  said.  'I  hate  doing  that  sort  of 
thing.  Fve  always  felt  it  rather  a  point  to  be  decent  about  the 

I  said  it  was  probably  not  serious.  It  was  then  nearly  March, 
and  I  said  I  thought  the  war  was  almost  over. 

'You  really  think  so?'  he  said.  What  makes  you  think  that?  I've 
got  a  sort  of  ghastly  feeling  it  will  last  for  ever.  Sort  of  tunnel 
we  will  never  get  out  of.' 

I  said  that  was  a  feeling  everyone  got.  His  spectacles  had  grown 
misty  again  from  the  sweat  of  his  eyes.  He  took  them  off  again 
and  began  slowly  polishing  them  and,  as  if  the  entire  hideous 
episode  of  the  mustard  had  never  happened,  stared  down  into 
them  and  said : 

'Where  do  you  live?  Have  you  been  able  to  keep  your  house 

I  told  him  where  I  lived  and  he  said : 

'That  isn't  awfully  far  from  us.  We  live  at  Elham  Street,  by  the 
station.  We  have  a  house  that  practically  looks  on  the  station.' 

He  put  on  his  spectacles  and  with  them  all  his  correctness 
came  back. 

'Are  you  in  the  country?'  he  said.  'Really  in  the  country?'  and 
when  I  said  yes  he  said  that  was  really  what  he  himself  wanted 
to  do,  live  in  the  country.  He  wanted  a  small  place  with  a  garden 
-  a  garden  he  could  see  mature. 

'You  have  a  garden?'  he  said. 


'Nice  one?' 

'I  hope  it  will  be  again  when  this  is  over.' 

'I  envy  you  that,'  he  said. 

He  picked  up  his  hat  and  began  brushing  it  thoughtfully  with 
his  coat  sleeve.  I  asked  him  if  he  had  a  garden  too  and  he  said : 

'No.  Not  yet.  The  war  and  everything  -  you  know  how  it  is.' 

296  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

He  put  on  his  hat  with  great  care,  almost  reverently. 

'Not  only  that.  We  haven't  been  able  to  find  anywhere  that 
really  suits  my  wife.  That's  our  trouble.  She's  never  well.' 

'I'm  sorry — ' 

'They  can't  find  out  what  it  is,  either,'  he  said.  He  remembered 
his  handkerchief  and  as  he  folded  it  up  and  stuck  it  in  his  breast- 
pocket the  combination  of  handkerchief  and  homberg  and  his 
own  unassertive  quietness  gave  him  a  look  that  I  thought  was 
unexpressibly  lonely  and  grieved. 

'We  move  about  trying  to  find  something/  he  said,  'but — ' 

He  stopped,  and  I  said  I  hoped  she  would  soon  be  well  again. 

'I'm  afraid  she  never  will,'  he  said.  'It's  no  use  not  being  frank 
about  it.' 

His  hands,  free  now  of  handkerchief  and  homberg,  demon- 
strated her  fragility  by  making  a  light  cage  in  the  air.  His  spec- 
tacles gave  an  impervious  glint  of  resignation  that  I  thought  was 

'It's  one  of  those  damnable  mysterious  conditions  of  the  heart,' 
he  said.  'She  can  do  things  of  course.  She  can  get  about.  But 
one  of  these  days — ' 

His  hands  uplifted  themselves  and  made  a  light  pouf !  of  gentle 

'That's  how  it  will  be,'  he  said. 

I  was  glad  at  that  moment  to  hear  the  train  slowing  down.  He 
heard  it  too  and  got  up  and  began  to  grope  about  along  the  hat- 

'I  could  have  sworn  I  had  my  umbrella,'  he  said. 

'No,'  I  said. 

'That's  odd.'  His  face  tightened.  An  effort  of  memory  brought 
back  to  it  a  queer  dry  little  reflection  of  the  anger  he  had  ex- 
perienced about  the  sandwiches  of  mustard.  He  seemed  about 
to  be  infuriated  by  his  own  absent-mindedness  and  then  he  re- 
covered himself  and  said : 

'Oh !  no.  I  remember  now.' 

Two  minutes  later,  as  the  train  slowed  into  the  station,  he 
shook  me  by  the  hand,  saying  how  pleasant  it  had  been  and  how 
much  he  had  enjoyed  it  all  and  how  he  hoped  I  might  one  day, 
after  the  war,  run  over  and  see  him  if  it  were  not  too  far. 

'I  want  to  talk  to  you  about  gardens,'  he  said. 

He  stood  so  smiling  and  glassy-eyed  and  uneager  again  in 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  297 

final  good-bye  that  I  began  too  to  feel  that  his  lapse  of  frenzy 
about  the  mustard  sandwiches  was  like  one  of  those  episodic 
sudden  bomb-explosions  that  caught  you  unawares  and  five 
minutes  later  seemed  never  to  have  happened. 

'By  the  way  my  name  is  Saxby,'  he  said.  'I  shall  look  for  you 
on  the  train.' 

Trains  are  full  of  men  who  wear  homberg  hats  and  carry  brief- 
cases and  forget  their  umbrellas,  and  soon,  when  the  war  was 
over,  I  got  tired  of  looking  for  Saxby. 

Then  one  day,  more  than  a  year  later,  travelling  on  a  slow 
train  that  made  halts  at  every  small  station  on  the  long  high 
gradient  below  hills  of  beech-wood  and  chalk,  I  caught  sight  of 
a  dark  pink  rose  floating  serenely  across  a  village  platform  under 
a  homberg  hat. 

There  was  no  mistaking  Saxby.  But  for  a  few  seconds,  after  I 
had  hailed  him  from  the  carriage  window,  it  seemed  to  me  that 
Saxby  might  have  mistaken  me.  He  stared  into  me  with  glassy 
preoccupation.  There  was  a  cool  and  formidable  formality  about 
him.  For  one  moment  it  occurred  to  me  to  remind  him  of  the 
painful  episode  of  the  mustard  sandwiches,  and  then  a  second 
later  he  remembered  me. 

'Of  course.'  His  glasses  flashed  their  concealing  glitter  of  a 
smile  as  he  opened  the  carriage  door.  'I  always  remember  you 
because  you  listen  so  well.' 

This  was  a  virtue  of  which  he  took  full  advantage  in  the 

'Yes,  we've  been  here  all  summer,'  he  said.  'You  can  very  nearly 
see  the  house  from  the  train.'  This  time  he  had  his  umbrella  with 
him  and  with  its  crooked  malacca  handle  he  pointed  south-west- 
ward through  the  open  window,  along  the  chalk  hillside.  'No. 
The  trees  are  rather  too  dense.  In  the  early  spring  you  could  see 
it.  We  had  primroses  then.  You  know,  it's  simply  magnificent 

'How  is  your  wife?'  I  said. 

The  train,  charging  noisily  into  the  tunnel,  drowned  whatever 
he  had  to  say  in  answer.  He  rushed  to  shut  the  window  against 
clouds  of  yellow  tunnel  fumes  and  suddenly  I  was  reminded  of 
his  noisy  and  furious  charge  at  the  window  in  the  black-out,  his 
nauseated  frenzy  about  the  sandwiches.  And  again  it  seemed, 

298  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

like  an  episodic  explosion,  like  the  war  itself,  an  unreality  that 
had  never  happened. 

When  we  emerged  from  the  tunnel  black-out  into  bright  sum- 
mer he  said : 

'Did  you  ask  me  something  back  there  ? ' 
'Your  wife/  I  said.  'I  wondered  how  she  was/ 
The  railway  cutting  at  that  point  is  a  high  white  declivity 
softened  by  many  hanging  cushions  of  pink  valerian  and  he 
stared  at  it  with  a  sort  of  composed  sadness  before  he  answered 

'I'm  afraid  she's  rather  worse  if  anything/  he  said.  'You  see, 
it's  sort  of  progressive  -  an  accumulative  condition  if  you  under- 
stand what  I  mean.  It's  rather  hard  to  explain.' 

He  bent  his  face  to  the  rose  in  his  buttonhole  and  seemed  to 
draw  from  it,  sadly,  a  kind  of  contradictory  inspiration  about 
his  wife  and  her  painfully  irremediable  state  of  health. 

It  was  rather  on  the  lines  of  what  diabetics  had,  he  said.  The 
circle  was  vicious.  You  got  terribly  hungry  and  terribly  thirsty 
and  yet  the  more  you  took  in  the  worse  it  was.  With  the  heart  it 
was  rather  the  same.  A  certain  sort  of  heart  bred  excitement 
and  yet  was  too  weak  to  take  it.  It  was  rather  like  over- 
loading an  electric  circuit.  A  fuse  had  to  blow  somewhere  and 

Perhaps  my  failure  to  grasp  this  was  visible  in  my  stare  at  the 
railway  cutting. 

'You  see,  with  electricity  it's  all  right.  The  fuse  blows  and 
you  put  in  another  fuse.  But  with  people  the  heart's  the  fuse.  It 
blows  and — ' 

Once  again  he  made  the  light  pouf!  of  extermination  with 
his  hands. 

I  said  how  sorry  I  was  about  all  this  and  how  wretched  I 
thought  it  must  be  for  him. 

'I  get  used  to  it,'  he  said.  'Well,  not  exactly  used  to  it  if  you 
understand  what  I  mean.  But  I'm  prepared.  I  live  in  a  state  of 
suspended  preparation.' 

That  seemed  to  me  so  painful  a  way  of  life  that  I  did  not 

'I'm  ready  for  it/  he  said  quietly  and  without  any  sort  of 
detectable  desire  for  sympathy  at  all.  'I  know  it  will  just  happen 
at  any  moment.  Any  second  it  will  all  be  over.' 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  299 

There  was  something  very  brave  about  that,  I  thought. 

'Well  anyway  the  war's  over/  he  said  cheerfully.  'That  at  least 
weVe  got  to  be  thankful  for.  And  weVe  got  this  house,  which  is 
awfully  nice,  and  we've  got  the  garden,  which  is  nicer  still. 

'You  must  be  quite  high  there/  I  said,  'on  the  hill.' 

'Nearly  five  hundred  feet/  he  said.  'It's  a  stiffish  climb.' 

I  said  I  hoped  the  hills  were  not  too  much  for  his  wife  and  he 

'Oh!  she  hardly  ever  goes  out.  She's  got  to  that  stage.' 

But  the  garden,  it  seemed,  was  wonderful.  He  was  settling 
down  to  the  garden.  That  was  his  joy.  Carnations  and  phloxes 
did  awfully  well  there  and,  surprisingly  enough,  roses.  It  was  a 
Betty  Uprichard,  he  said,  in  his  buttonhole.  That  was  one  of  his 
favourites  and  so  were  Etoile  d'  Holland e  and  Madame  Butterfly. 
They  were  the  old  ones  and  on  the  whole  he  did  not  think  you 
could  beat  the  old  ones. 

'I  want  gradually  to  have  beds  of  them,'  he  said.  'Large  beds 
of  one  sort  in  each.  But  you  need  time  for  that  of  course.  People 
say  you  need  the  right  soil  for  roses  -  but  wasn't  there  someone 
who  said  that  to  grow  roses  you  first  had  to  have  roses  in  your 

'There  was  someone  who  said  that/  I  said. 

'It's  probably  right/  he  said,  'but  I  think  you  probably  need 
permanence  more.  Years  and  years  in  one  place.  Finding  out 
what  sorts  will  do  for  you.  Settling  down.  Getting  the  roots 
anchored  -  you  know?' 

The  sadness  in  his  face  was  so  peculiar  as  he  said  all  this  that 
I  did  not  answer. 

'Have  you  been  in  your  house  long  ? '  he  said. 

'Twenty  years/  I  said. 

'Really/  he  said.  His  eyes  groped  with  diffused  wonder  at  this. 
'That's  marvellous.  That's  a  lifetime.' 

For  the  rest  of  the  way  we  talked  -  or  rather  he  did,  while  I 
did  my  virtuous  act  of  listening  -  about  the  necessity  of  per- 
manence in  living,  the  wonder  of  getting  anchored  down. 

'Feeling  your  own  roots  are  going  deeper  all  the  time.  Feeding 
on  the  soil  underneath  you/  he  said.  'You  know?  Nothing  like 
it.  No  desk  stuff  can  ever  give  you  that.' 

And  then,  as  the  train  neared  the  terminus,  he  said : 

'Look.  You  must  come  over.  I'd  love  you  to  see  the  place.  I'd 

300  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

love  to  ask  you  things.  I  know  you're  a  great  gardener.  There 
must  be  lots  you  could  tell  me.  Would  you  come?  I'd  be  awfully 
grateful  if  you'd  care  to  come.' 

I  said  I  should  be  delighted  to  come. 

'Oh !  good,  oh !  good,'  he  said. 

He  produced  from  his  vest-pocket  the  inevitable  diary  with  a 
silver  pencil  and  began  flicking  over  its  leaves. 

'Let's  fix  it  now.  There's  nothing  like  fixing  it  now.  What 
about  Saturday?' 

'All  right,'  I  said. 

'Good.  Saturday's  a  good  day,'  he  said. 

He  began  to  pencil  in  the  date  and  seemed  surprised,  as  he 
suddenly  looked  up,  that  I  was  not  doing  the  same. 

'Won't  you  forget?  Don't  you  put  it  down?' 

'I  shall  remember,'  I  said. 

'I  have  to  put  everything  down,'  he  said.  'I'm  inclined  to  forget. 
I  get  distracted.' 

So  it  would  be  two-thirty  or  about  that  on  Saturday,  he  said, 
and  his  enthusiasm  at  the  prospect  of  this  was  so  great  that  it 
was,  in  fact,  almost  a  distraction.  He  seemed  nervously  uplifted. 
He  shook  hands  with  energetic  delight,  repeating  several  times 
a  number  of  precise  and  yet  confusing  instructions  as  to  how 
to  get  to  the  house,  and  I  was  only  just  in  time  to  save  him  from 
a  spasm  of  forgetfulness. 

'Don't  forget  your  umbrella,'  I  said. 

'Oh!  Good  God,  no/  he  said.  'You  can't  miss  it,'  he  said, 
meaning  the  house.  'It's  got  a  sort  of  tower  on  the  end  of  it.  Quite 
a  unique  affair.  You  can't  miss  it.  I  shall  look  out  for  you.' 

The  house  was  built  of  white  weatherboard  and  tile  and  it 
hung  on  the  steep  chalk-face  with  the  precise  and  arresting  effect 
of  having  been  carved  from  the  stone.  The  tower  of  which  Saxby 
had  spoken,  and  which  as  he  said  was  impossible  to  miss,  was 
nothing  more  than  a  railed  balcony  that  somebody  had  built  on 
the  roof  of  a  stable,  a  kind  of  look-out  for  a  better  view.  That 
day  it  was  crutched  with  scaffolding.  In  the  yard  below  it  there 
were  many  piles  of  builders'  rubble  and  sand  and  broken  timber 
and  beams  torn  from  their  sockets.  A  bloom  of  cement  dust  lay 
thick  on  old  shrubberies  of  lilac  and  flowing  currant,  and  in  the 
middle  of  a  small  orchard  a  large  pit  had  been  dug.  From  it  too, 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  301 

in  the  dry  heat  of  summer,  a  white  dust  had  blown  thickly,  settl- 
ing on  tall  yellow  grass  and  apple  leaves  and  vast  umbrellas  of 
seeding  rhubarb. 

There  was  nowhere  any  sign  of  the  garden  of  which  Saxby  had 
spoken  so  passionately. 

It  took  me  some  time,  as  he  walked  with  me  to  and  fro  between 
the  derelict  boundaries  of  the  place,  to  grasp  that  this  was  so. 
He  was  full  of  explanations:  not  apologetic,  not  in  the  form  of 
excuses  but,  surprisingly,  very  pictorial.  He  drew  for  me  a  series 
of  pictures  of  the  ultimate  shapes  he  planned.  As  we  walked  arm- 
pit deep  through  grass  and  thistle -the  thistle  smoking  with 
dreamy  seed  in  the  hot  air  as  we  brushed  it  -  he  kept  saying : 

'Ignore  this.  This  is  nothing.  This  will  be  lawn.  We'll  get  round 
to  this  later.'  Somebody  had  cut  a  few  desultory  swathes  through 
the  jungle  with  a  scythe,  and  a  rabbit  got  up  from  a  seat  in  a 
swathe  that  crackled  like  tinder  as  it  leapt  away.  'Ignore  this  - 
imagine  this  isn't  here.' 

Beyond  this  jungle  we  emerged  to  a  fence-line  on  the  crest  of 
the  hill.  The  field  beyond  it  lay  below  us  on  a  shelf  and  that  too, 
it  seemed,  belonged  to  him. 

Spreading  his  hands  about,  he  drew  the  first  of  his  pictures. 
There  were  several  others,  later,  but  that  was  the  important  one. 
The  farther  you  got  down  the  slope,  it  seemed,  the  better  the  soil 
was,  and  this  was  his  rose  garden.  These  were  his  beds  of  Up- 
richard  and  Madame  Butterfly  and  Sylvia  and  all  the  rest.  He 
planned  them  in  the  form  of  a  fan.  He  had  worked  it  out  on  an 
arc  of  intensifying  shades  of  pink  and  red.  Outer  tones  of  flesh 
would  dissolve  with  graded  delicacy  through  segments  of  ten- 
derer, deeper  pink  until  they  mounted  to  an  inverted  pinnacle 
of  rich  sparkling  duskiness. 

'Rather  fine/  he  said,  'don't  you  think?'  and  I  knew  that  as 
far  as  he  was  concerned  it  actually  lay  there  before  him,  superbly 
flourishing  and  unblemished  as  in  a  catalogue. 

'Very  good,'  I  said. 

'You  really  think  so?'  he  said.  'I  value  your  opinion  terrific- 

'I  think  it's  wonderful,'  I  said. 

We  had  waded  some  distance  back  through  the  jungle  of 
smouldering  thistle  before  I  remembered  I  had  not  seen  his  wife; 
and  I  asked  him  how  she  was. 

302  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

'I  fancy  she's  lying  down/  he  said.  'She  feels  the  hot  weather 
quite  a  bit.  I  think  we  shall  make  quite  a  place  of  it,  don't  you?' 

He  stopped  at  the  point  where  the  grass  had  been  partially 
mown  and  waved  his  hand  at  the  wilderness.  Below  us  lay  in- 
comparable country.  At  that  high  point  of  summer  it  slept  for 
miles  in  richness.  In  the  hotter,  moister  valley  masses  of  meadow- 
sweet spired  frothily  above  its  hedgerows,  and  in  its  cleared 
hayfields  new-dipped  sheep  grazed  in  flocks  that  were  a  shade 
mellower  and  deeper  in  colour  than  the  flower. 

'It's  a  marvellous  view/  I  said. 

'Now  you  get  what  I  mean/  he  said.  'The  permanence  of  the 
thing.  You  get  a  view  like  that  and  you  can  sit  and  look  at  it  for 

Through  a  further  jungle  of  grass  and  thistle,  complicated  at 
one  place  by  an  entire  armoury  of  horseradish,  we  went  into  the 

'Sit  down/  Saxby  said.  'Make  yourself  comfortable.  My  wife 
will  be  here  in  a  moment.  There  will  be  some  tea/ 

For  the  first  time  since  knowing  Saxby  I  became  uneasy.  It 
had  been  my  impression  for  some  time  that  Saxby  was  a  man 
who  enjoyed  -  rather  than  suffered  from -a  state  of  mild 
hallucination.  Now  I  felt  suddenly  that  I  suffered  from  it  too. 

What  I  first  noticed  about  the  room  was  its  windows,  shuttered 
with  narrow  Venetian  blinds  of  a  beautiful  shade  of  grey-rose. 
They  only  partially  concealed  long  silk  curtains  pencilled  with 
bands  of  fuchsia  purple.  Most  of  the  furniture  was  white,  but 
there  were  a  few  exquisite  Empire  chairs  in  black  and  the  walls 
were  of  the  same  grey-rose  tint  as  the  blinds.  An  amazing 
arrangement  of  glass  walking-sticks,  like  rainbows  of  sweetmeats, 
was  all  the  decoration  the  walls  had  been  allowed  to  receive 
with  the  exception  of  a  flower-spangled  mirror,  mostly  in  tones 
of  rose  and  magenta,  at  the  far  end.  This  mirror  spread  across 
the  entire  wall  like  a  lake,  reflecting  in  great  width  the  cool 
sparkle  of  the  room  in  which,  on  the  edge  of  an  Empire  chair, 
I  sat  nervously  wondering,  as  I  had  done  of  Saxby's  mustard 
sandwiches,  whether  what  I  saw  had  the  remotest  connection 
with  reality. 

Into  this  beautiful  show-piece  came,  presently,  Mrs  Saxby. 

Mrs  Saxby  was  an  immaculate  and  disarming  woman  of  fifty 
with  small,  magenta-clawed  hands.  She  was  dressed  coolly  in 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  303 

grey  silk,  almost  as  if  to  match  the  room,  and  her  hair  was  tinted 
to  the  curious  shade  of  blue-grey  that  you  see  in  fresh  carnation 
leaves.  I  did  not  think,  that  first  day,  that  I  had  ever  met  anyone 
quite  so  instantly  charming,  so  incessantly  alive  with  compact 
vibration  -  or  so  healthy. 

We  had  hardly  shaken  hands  before  she  turned  to  Saxby  and 

'They're  coming  at  six  o'clock. ' 

Saxby  had  nothing  to  say  in  answer  to  this.  But  I  thought  I 
saw,  behind  the  flattering  glasses,  a  resentful  hardening  bulge 
of  the  kidney-brown  eyes. 

Not  all  beautiful  women  are  charming,  and  not  all  charming 
women  are  intelligent,  but  Mrs  Saxby  was  both  intelligent  and 
charming  without  being  beautiful.  We  talked  a  great  deal  during 
tea -that  is,  Mrs  Saxby  and  I  talked  a  great  deal,  with  Saxby 
putting  in  the  afterthought  of  a  phrase  or  two  here  and  there. 

She  mostly  ignored  this.  And  of  the  house,  which  I  admired 
again  and  again,  she  said  simply : 

'Oh!  it's  a  sort  of  thing  with  me.  I  like  playing  about  with 
things.  Transforming  them.' 

When  she  said  this  she  smiled.  And  it  was  the  smile,  I  decided, 
that  gave  me  the  clue  to  the  fact  that  she  was  not  beautiful. 
Her  grey  eyes  were  like  two  hard  pearl  buttons  enclosed  by 
the  narrow  dark  buttonholes  of  her  short  lashes.  As  with  the 
house,  there  was  not  a  lash  out  of  place.  The  smile  too  came 
from  teeth  that  were  as  regular,  polished  and  impersonal  as 
piano  keys. 

It  seemed  that  tea  was  hardly  over  before  we  saw  a  car  draw 
up  among  the  rubble  outside.  In  the  extraordinary  transition  to 
the  house  I  had  forgotten  the  rubble.  And  now  as  I  became  aware 
of  it  again  it  was  like  being  reminded  of  something  unpleasantly 
chaotic.  For  some  uneasy  reason  I  got  to  thinking  that  the  inside 
of  the  house  was  Mrs  Saxby's  palace  and  that  the  outside,  among 
the  wilderness  of  plaster  and  thistle  and  horse-radish,  was  Sax- 
by's grave. 

The  visitors  turned  out  to  be  a  man  and  wife,  both  in  the  six- 
ties, named  Bulfield.  The  woman  was  composed  mainly  of  a  series 
of  droops.  Her  brown  dress  drooped  from  her  large  shoulders 
and  chest  and  arms  like  a  badly  looped  curtain.  A  treble  row  of 
pearls  drooped  from  her  neck,  from  which,  in  turn,  drooped  a 

304  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

treble  bagginess  of  skins.  From  under  her  eyes  drooped  pouches 
that  seemed  once  to  have  been  full  of  something  but  that  were 
now  merely  punctured  and  drained  and  flabby.  And  from  her 
mouth,  most  of  the  time,  drooped  a  cigarette  from  which  she 
could  not  bother  to  remove  the  drooping  ashes. 

Of  Bulfield  I  do  not  remember  much  except  that  he  too  was 
large  and  was  dressed  in  a  tropical  suit  of  white  alpaca,  with 
colossal  buckskin  brogues. 

'Would  you  like  a  drink  first?'  Mrs  Saxby  said,  'or  would  you 
like  to  see  the  house  first?' 

Td  like  a  drink/  Mrs  Bulfield  said,  obviously  speaking  for 
both  of  them.  'If  all  the  house  is  as  terrific  as  this  it  will  do  me. 
It's  terrific,  isn't  it,  Harry?' 

Harry  said  it  was  terrific. 

Perhaps  because  of  something  disturbing  about  Saxby's  silence 
-he  sat  defiantly,  mutinously  sipping  glasses  of  gin  for  almost 
an  hour  with  scarcely  a  word  -  it  came  to  me  only  very  slowly 
that  the  Bulfields  had  come  to  buy  the  place. 

It  came  to  me  still  more  slowly  -  again  because  I  was  troubled 
and  confused  about  Saxby's  part  in  it  all  -  that  the  reason  the 
Bulfields  wanted  to  buy  the  house  was  because  they  were  rising 
in  the  world.  They  sought -in  fact  desired -to  be  injected 
with  culture :  perhaps  not  exactly  culture,  but  the  certain  flavour 
that  they  thought  culture  might  bring.  After  the  first  World  War 
Bulfield  would  have  been  called  a  profiteer.  During  the  second 
World  War  it  was,  of  course,  not  possible  to  profiteer;  Bulfield 
had  merely  made  money.  Mrs  Bulfield  must  have  seen,  in  maga- 
zines and  books,  perhaps  scores  of  times,  pictures  of  the  kind  of 
house  Mrs  Saxby  had  created.  She  must  have  seen  it  as  a  house 
of  taste  and  culture  and  she  had  come  to  regard  these  virtues 
as  she  might  have  regarded  penicillin.  Injected  with  them,  she 
would  be  immunised  from  the  danger  of  contact  with  lower  cir- 
cumstances. Immunised  and  elevated,  she  could  at  last  live  in 
the  sort  of  house  she  wanted  without  being  able  to  create  for 
herself  but  which  Mrs  Saxby -the  sick,  slowly  expiring  Mrs 
Saxby  -  had  created  for  her. 

This  was  as  much  an  hallucination  as  Saxby's  own  belief  that 
his  rose-garden  was  already  there  in  the  wilderness.  But  all 
dreams,  like  fires,  need  stoking,  and  for  an  hour  the  Bulfields  sat 
stoking  theirs.  They  drank  stodgily,  without  joy,  at  a  sort  of  un- 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  305 

holy  communion  of  whisky.  And  by  seven  o'clock  Mrs  Bulfield 
was  loud  and  stupefied. 

Whether  it  was  the  moment  Mrs  Saxby  had  been  waiting  for 
I  don't  know,  but  she  suddenly  got  up  from  her  chair,  as  full 
of  immaculate  and  sober  charm  and  vibration  as  ever,  and  said : 

'Well,  would  you  like  to  see  the  rest  of  the  house  now?' 

'If  it's  all  like  this  it's  as  good  as  done,'  Mrs  Bulfield  said.  'It's 
absolutely  terrific.  I  think  it's  perfect  -  where  do  you  keep  the 

Bulfield  let  out  thunderclaps  of  laughter  at  this,  roaring: 

'That's  it!  -we  got  to  see  the  coal-hole.  We  must  see  that. 
And  the  whatsit!  -we  got  to  see  the  whatsit  too.' 

'I'm  sorry,  Mrs  Bulfield/  Mrs  Saxby  said.  'Forgive  me -per- 
haps you'd  like  to  see  it  in  any  case  ? ' 

'Not  me.  I'm  all  right/  Mrs  Bulfield  said.  'I'm  like  a  drain.' 

'Coal-hole ! '  Bulfield  said.  'Come  on,  Ada.  Coal-hole !  Got  to 
see  the  coal-hole ! ' 

'You'll  excuse  us,  won't  you?'  Mrs  Saxby  said  to  me,  and  once 
again  the  eyes  were  buttoned-up,  grey  and  charming  as  the  walls 
of  the  house,  so  pale  as  to  be  transparent,  so  that  I  could  look 
right  through  them  and  see  nothing  at  all  beyond. 

It  must  have  been  a  quarter  of  an  hour  before  Saxby  spoke 
again.  He  drank  with  a  kind  of  arithmetical  regularity :  the  glass 
raised,  three  sips,  the  glass  down.  Then  a  pause.  Then  the  glass 
up  again,  three  sips,  and  the  glass  down.  It  seemed  to  me  so  like  a 
man  determined  to  drink  himself  silly  that  I  was  intensely  re- 
lieved when  he  said : 

'Let's  get  a  spot  of  air.  Eh  ?  Outside  ? ' 

So  we  wandered  out  through  the  back  of  the  house,  and  his 
first  act  there  was  to  point  out  to  me  three  or  four  rose  trees 
actually  growing  on  a  wall.  A  bloom  of  cement  dust  covered  the 
scarlet  and  cream  and  salmon  of  the  flowers.  He  regarded  them 
for  a  few  moments  with  uncertainty,  appeared  about  to  say  some- 
thing else  about  them  and  then  walked  on. 

His  evident  determination  to  say  nothing  more  about  one  hal- 
lucination, that  of  the  rose-garden,  prepared  me  for  his  reluc- 
tance to  elaborate  or  surrender  another.  This  was  his  illusion  of 
the  sick,  the  expiring  Mrs  Saxby. 

'She'll  kill  herself,'  he  said.  'She  can't  stand  up  to  it.  She'll 
just  wear  herself  down  to  the  bone.' 

306  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

I  refrained  from  saying  anything  about  how  healthy  I  thought 
Mrs  Saxby  seemed  to  be. 

'You  know  how  many  houses  she's  done  this  to  ? '  he  said.  'You 
want  to  know?' 

I  encouraged  him  and  he  said : 

'Fifteen.  We've  lived  in  fifteen  houses  in  twenty  years.' 

He  began  to  speak  of  these  houses  wrathfully,  with  jealousy 
and  sadness.  He  spoke  with  particular  bitterness  of  a  house 
called  The  Croft.  I  gathered  it  was  a  big  crude  mansion  of  stone 
in  post-Edwardian  style  having  large  bay-windows  of  indelicate 
pregnant  massiveness  pushing  out  into  shrubberies  of  laurel  and 
a  vast  plant  called  a  gunnera,  a  kind  of  giant's  castle  rhubarb. 
'Like  fat  great  paunches  they  were,  the  windows,'  he  said,  'like 
great  fat  commissionaires,'  and  I  could  see  that  he  hated  them  as 
he  might  have  hated  another  man. 

On  one  occasion  the  Saxbys  had  lived  in  a  windmill.  Saxby 
had  spent  a  winter  carrying  buckets  of  water  up  and  down  the 
stairway,  eating  by  the  light  of  hurricane  lamps,  groping  across 
a  dark,  stark  hillside  every  morning  to  catch  his  train  to  the  office 
in  Whitehall.  Then  there  had  been  a  coastguard's  house  by  the 
sea.  The  shore  was  flat  and  wind-torn  and  unembellished  by  a 
single  feather  of  tamarisk  or  sea-holly  or  rock  or  weed.  Then, 
because  the  war  came,  there  were  smaller  houses :  accessible,  easy 
to  run,  chic  and  clever,  sops  to  the  new  avidity  of  war,  the  new, 
comfortless  servantless  heaven  for  which  men  were  fighting. 
She  roamed  restlessly  about,  looking  for,  and  at,  only  those  places 
that  to  other  people  seemed  quite  impossible :  old  Victorian  junk- 
eries,  old  stables,  old  warehouses,  old  cart-sheds,  a  riverside 
boat-house,  bringing  to  all  of  them  the  incessant  vibration,  the 
intense  metamorphosis  of  her  charm.  Her  passion  for  each  house 
was,  I  gathered,  a  state  of  nervous  and  tearing  exultancy.  She 
poured  herself  into  successive  transformations  with  an  absorp- 
tion that  was  violent.  She  was  like  a  woman  rushing  from  one 
amorous  orgy  to  another :  hungry  and  insatiable  and  drained  away. 

She  had  in  fact  been  unfaithful  to  him  for  a  series  of  houses; 
it  amounted  to  that.  She  had  taken  love  away  from  him  and  had 
given  it  with  discriminate  wantonness  to  bricks  and  mortar.  I  do 
not  say  she  could  help  this;  but  that  was  how  I  looked  at  it.  She 
and  Saxby  had  been  married  rather  late.  He  was  reaching  the 
outer  boundaries  of  middle-aged  comfort  when  he  first  met  her. 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  307 

He  had  wanted,  as  men  do,  a  place  of  his  own.  He  had  wanted 
to  come  home  at  night  to  a  decent  meal,  unassertive  kindliness 
and  some  sense  of  permanency.  Above  all  the  sense  of  perma- 
nency. He  had  a  touching  desire  to  get  his  roots  down :  to  plant 
things,  invest  in  earth,  reap  the  reward  of  sowing  and  nurturing 
things  in  one  place. 

He  came  home  instead  to  that  quivering  febrile  vibration  of 
hers  that  was  so  astonishing  and  charming  to  other  people  - 
people  like  me  -  until  he  could  stand  it  no  longer  and  could  only 
call  it  a  disease.  He  was  really  right  when  he  said  there  was  some- 
thing wrong  with  her  heart.  The  profundity  of  its  wrongness  was 
perhaps  visible  only  to  him.  Case-books  had  no  name  for  her 
condition  or  its  symptoms  or  anything  else  about  her -but  he 
had,  and  he  knew  it  had  turned  him  into  a  starved  wanderer 
without  a  home. 

That  was  the  second  of  his  pictures :  of  Mrs  Saxby  constantly 
sick  with  the  pressure  of  transforming  another  house,  too  sick  to 
eat,  distraught  by  builders  and  decorators  and  electricians  and 
above  all  by  the  ferocious  impact  of  herself.  'She's  really  ill.  You 
don't  see  it  today.  She's  really  ill.  She'll  kill  herself.  She  lives  at 
that  awful  pace — ' 

The  third  was  of  himself. 

Did  I  remember  the  sandwiches,  that  first  night  we  had  met 
in  the  train?  That  was  the  sort  of  thing  he  had  to  put  up  with. 
Could  I  imagine  anything  more  hideous  than  that  awful  bread 
and  mustard?  That  had  been  her  idea  of  his  supper. 

I  thought  he  might  well  be  sick  as  he  spoke  of  it.  And  I  even 
thought  for  a  moment  I  might  be  sick  too.  We  had  again  wan- 
dered beyond  the  house  into  the  wilderness  of  horse-radish  and 
smoking  thistle.  In  the  hot  late  afternoon  a  plague  of  big  sizzling 
flies,  a  fierce  blackish  emerald  turquoise,  had  settled  everywhere 
on  leaves  and  thistle-heads,  in  grass  mown  and  unmown.  Our 
steps  exploded  them.  He  swung  at  these  repulsive  insect-clouds 
with  his  hands,  trying  to  beat  them  off  in  futile  blasphemies  that 
I  felt  must  be  directed,  really,  in  their  savagery,  against  Mrs 
Saxby.  I  could  not  help  feeling  that,  in  his  helpless  fury,  he 
wanted  to  kill  her  and  was  taking  it  out  on  the  flies. 

But  he  was  not  taking  it  out  on  the  flies :  not  his  feelings  for 
Mrs  Saxby  anyway.  He  took  an  enormous  half-tipsy  swipe  at  a 
glittering  and  bloated  mass  of  flies  and  spat  at  them : 

308  The  Evolution  of  Saxby 

'Get  out,  you  sickening  creepers,  get  out !  You  see/  he  said  to 
me,  'I  wouldn't  care  so  much  if  it  wasn't  for  the  people.  She 
makes  all  the  houses  so  lovely  -  she  always  does  it  so  beautifully 
-  and  then  she  sells  them  to  the  most  ghastly  people.  Always 
the  most  bloody  awful  ghastly  people.  That's  what  gets  me.' 

From  the  house,  a  moment  later,  came  the  sound  of  Mr  Bul- 
field  triumphantly  playing  with  the  appurtenances  of  the  whatsit 
and  of  Mrs  Bulfield,  drooping  drunkenly  from  an  upstairs  win- 
dow, trumpeting  hoarsely  in  the  direction  of  the  rose-garden  that 
was  not  there : 

'Now  you've  started  something.  Now  you've  set  him  off !  He'll 
spend  his  life  in  there.' 

And  I  knew,  as  Saxby  did,  that  another  house  had  gone. 

We  met  only  once  more :  in  the  late  autumn  of  that  year. 

On  that  occasion  we  travelled  down  together,  into  the  country, 
by  the  evening  train.  He  seemed  preoccupied  and  did  not  speak 
much.  I  imagined,  perhaps,  that  another  house  had  been  begun, 
that  he  was  off  again  on  his  homeless,  bread-and-mustard  wan- 
derings. But  when  I  spoke  of  this  he  simply  said: 

'The  Bulfields  haven't  even  moved  in  yet.  We  had  some  diffi- 
culty about  another  licence  for  an  extension  over  the  stable.' 

'How  is  your  wife  ? '  I  said. 


The  word  dying  was  too  painful  for  him  to  frame.  Yet  I  knew 
that  it  was  the  word  he  was  trying  to  say  to  me;  because  once 
again,  as  when  I  had  first  met  him,  he  lifted  his  hands  in  that 
little  pouf !  of  sad  and  light  extermination. 

'She  started  another  house  on  the  other  side  of  the  hill,'  he 
said.  'It  was  too  much  for  her.  After  all  she  can't  go  on  like  it 
for  ever — ' 

After  he  had  got  out  at  the  little  station  I  could  not  help  feel- 
ing very  sorry  for  him.  He  had  left  behind  him  a  queer  air  of 
sadness  that  haunted  me -and  also,  as  if  in  expression  of  his 
great  distraction,  his  umbrella. 

And  because  I  did  not  know  when  I  should  see  him  again  I 
drove  over,  the  following  afternoon,  to  the  house  on  the  chalk 
hillside,  taking  the  umbrella  with  me. 

The  house  stood  enchanting  in  its  wilderness  of  perishing 
grass  and  weeds,  yellow  with  the  first  burning  of  frost  on  them, 

The  Evolution  of  Saxby  309 

and  a  maid  in  a  uniform  of  pale  grey-rose  -  to  match,  evidently, 
the  exquisite  walls  of  that  room  in  which  Bulfield  had  roared  his 
joy  over  the  coal-hole  and  the  whatsit  -  opened  the  door  to  me. 

'Is  Mr  Saxby  in?'  I  said.  'I  have  brought  the  umbrella  he  left 
in  the  train/ 

'No,  sir/  she  said.  'But  Mrs  Saxby  is  in.  Would  you  care  to 
see  Mrs  Saxby?' 

'Yes/  I  said. 

I  went  in  and  I  gave  the  umbrella  to  Mrs  Saxby.  The  day  was 
coolish,  with  clear  fresh  sunlight.  As  I  came  away  she  stood  for 
a  moment  or  two  at  the  door,  talking  to  me,  the  light  filling  her 
eyes  with  delicate  illumination,  giving  her  once  again  that  look 
of  being  full  of  charm,  of  being  very  alive  with  an  effect  of  com- 
pact vibration  -  and  as  healthy  as  ever. 

'I  am  glad  you  came  over  once  more/  she  said.  'We  are  moving 
out  on  Saturday.' 

The  dead  grasses,  scorched  by  summer  and  now  blanched  by 
frost,  waved  across  the  white  hillside  where  the  rose-garden 
should  have  been. 

'I'm  afraid  it's  an  awful  wilderness,'  she  said.  'But  we  never 
touch  gardens.  That's  the  one  thing  people  prefer  to  do  for  them- 

I  drove  slowly  down  the  hill  in  cool  sunshine.  The  country 
was  incomparable.  The  fires  of  autumn  were  burning  gold  and 
drowsy  in  the  beeches. 

If  they  seemed  sadder  than  usual  it  was  because  I  thought  of 
Saxby.  I  wondered  how  long  he  had  wanted  to  be  free  of  her 
and  how  long  he  had  wanted  her  to  die.  I  wondered  how  many 
times  he  had  wanted  to  kill  her  and  if  ever  he  would  kill  her- 
or  if  he  would  remain,  as  I  fancied  he  would  do,  just  bound  to 
her  for  ever. 


'He  is  the  young  man  she  met  on  the  aeroplane/  Mrs  Carteret 
said.  'Now  go  to  sleep/ 

Outside  the  bedroom  window,  in  full  moonlight,  the  leaves 
of  the  willow  tree  seemed  to  be  slowly  swimming  in  delicate 
but  ordered  separation,  like  shoals  of  grey-green  fish.  The  thin 
branches  were  like  bowed  rods  in  the  white  summer  sky. 

'This  is  the  first  I  heard  that  there  was  a  young  man  on  the 
aeroplane/  Mr  Carteret  said. 

'You  saw  him/  Mrs  Carteret  said.  'He  was  there  when  we 
met  her.  You  saw  him  come  with  her  through  the  customs/ 

'I  can't  remember  seeing  her  with  anybody/ 

'I  know  very  well  you  do  because  you  remarked  on  his  hat. 
You  said  what  a  nice  colour  it  was.  It  was  a  sort  of  sage-green 
one  with  a  turn-down  brim — ' 

'Good  God/  Mr  Carteret  said.  'That  fellow?  He  looked  forty 
or  more.  He  was  as  old  as  I  am/ 

'He's  twenty-eight.  That's  all.  Have  you  made  up  your  mind 
which  side  you're  going  to  sleep?' 

'I'm  going  to  stay  on  my  back  for  a  while/  Mr  Carteret  said. 
'I  can't  get  off.  I  heard  it  strike  three  a  long  time  ago/ 

'You'd  get  off  if  you'd  lie  still/  she  said. 

Sometimes  a  turn  of  humid  air,  like  the  gentlest  of  currents, 
would  move  the  entire  willow  tree  in  one  huge  soft  fold  of  shim- 
mering leaves.  Whenever  it  did  so  Mr  Carteret  felt  for  a  second 
or  two  that  it  was  the  sound  of  an  approaching  car.  Then  when 
the  breath  of  wind  suddenly  changed  direction  and  ran  across 
the  night  landscape  in  a  series  of  leafy  echoes,  stirring  odd  trees 
far  away,  he  knew  always  that  there  was  no  car  and  that  it  was 
only,  once  again,  the  quiet  long  gasp  of  midsummer  air  rising 
and  falling  and  dying  away. 

'Where  are  you  fussing  off  to  now?'  Mrs  Carteret  said. 

'I'm  going  down  for  a  drink  of  water.' 

'You'd  better  by  half  shut  your  eyes  and  lie  still  in  one  place/ 
Mrs  Carteret  said.  'Haven't  you  been  off  at  all?' 


Go  Lovely  Rose  311 

'I  can  never  sleep  in  moonlight/  he  said.  'I  don't  know  how  it 
is.  I  never  seem  to  settle  properly.  Besides  it's  too  hot.' 

Tut  something  on  your  feet/  Mrs  Carteret  said,  'for  goodness 

Across  the  landing,  on  the  stairs  and  down  in  the  kitchen  the 
moonlight  and  the  white  starkness  of  a  shadowless  glare.  The 
kitchen  floor  was  warm  to  his  bare  feet  and  the  water  warmish 
as  it  came  from  the  tap.  He  filled  a  glass  twice  and  then  emptied 
it  into  the  sink  and  then  filled  it  again  before  it  was  cold  enough 
to  drink.  He  had  not  put  on  his  slippers  because  he  could  not 
remember  where  he  had  left  them.  He  had  been  too  busy  think- 
ing of  Sue.  Now  he  suddenly  remembered  that  they  were  still 
where  he  had  dropped  them  in  the  coal-scuttle  by  the  side  of  the 

After  he  had  put  them  on  he  opened  the  kitchen  door  and 
stepped  outside  and  stood  in  the  garden.  Distinctly,  with  aston- 
ishingly pure  clearness,  he  could  see  the  colours  of  all  the  roses, 
even  those  of  the  darkest  red.  He  could  even  distinguish  the 
yellow  from  the  white  and  not  only  in  the  still  standing  blooms 
but  in  all  the  fallen  petals,  thick  everywhere  on  dry  earth  after 
the  heat  of  the  July  day. 

He  walked  until  he  stood  in  the  centre  of  the  lawn.  For  a  time 
he  could  not  discover  a  single  star  in  the  sky.  The  moon  was  like 
a  solid  opaque  electric  bulb,  the  glare  of  it  almost  cruel,  he 
thought,  as  it  poured  down  on  the  green  darkness  of  summer 

Presently  the  wind  made  its  quickening  watery  turn  of  sound 
among  the  leaves  of  the  willow  and  ran  away  over  the  nightscape, 
and  again  he  thought  it  was  the  sound  of  a  car.  He  felt 
the  breeze  move  coolly,  almost  coldly,  about  his  pyjama  legs 
and  he  ran  his  fingers  in  agitation  once  or  twice  through  the 
pillow  tangles  of  his  hair. 

Suddenly  he  felt  helpless  and  miserable. 

'Sue/  he  said.  'For  God's  sake  where  on  earth  have  you  got 
to?  Susie,  Susie  -  this  isn't  like  you.' 

His  pet  term  for  her,  Susie.  In  the  normal  way,  Sue.  Perhaps 
in  rare  moments  of  exasperation,  Susan.  He  had  called  her  Susie 
a  great  deal  on  her  nineteenth  birthday,  three  weeks  before,  be- 
fore she  had  flown  to  Switzerland  for  her  holiday.  Everyone 
thought,  that  day,  how  much  she  had  grown,  how  firm  and  full 

312  Go  Lovely  Rose 

she  was  getting,  and  how  wonderful  it  was  that  she  was  flying 
off  alone.  He  only  thought  she  looked  more  delicate  and  girlish 
than  ever,  quite  thin  and  childish  in  the  face  in  spite  of  her  lip- 
stick, and  he  was  surprised  to  see  her  drinking  what  he  thought 
were  too  many  glasses  of  sherry.  Nor,  in  contrast  to  himself,  did 
she  seem  a  bit  nervous  about  the  plane. 

Over  towards  the  town  a  clock  struck  chimes  for  a  half  hour 
and  almost  simultaneously  he  heard  the  sound  of  a  car.  There 
was  no  mistaking  it  this  time.  He  could  see  the  swing  of  its  head- 
lights too  as  it  made  the  big  bend  by  the  packing  station  down 
the  road,  a  quarter  of  a  mile  away. 

'And  quite  time  too,  young  lady,'  he  thought.  He  felt  sharply 
vexed,  not  miserable  any  more.  He  could  hear  the  car  coming 
fast.  It  was  so  fast  that  he  began  to  run  back  to  the  house  across 
the  lawn.  He  wanted  to  be  back  in  bed  before  she  arrived  and 
saw  him  there.  He  did  not  want  to  be  caught  like  that.  His  py- 
jama  legs  were  several  inches  too  long  and  were  wet  with  the 
dew  of  the  grass  and  he  held  them  up,  like  skirts,  as  he  ran. 

What  a  damn  ridiculous  situation,  he  thought.  What  fools 
children  could  make  you  look  sometimes.  Just  about  as  exasper- 
ating as  they  could  be. 

At  the  kitchen  door  one  of  his  slippers  dropped  off  and  as  he 
stopped  to  pick  it  up  and  listen  again  for  the  sound  of  the  car  he 
discovered  that  now  there  was  no  sound.  The  headlights  too  had 
disappeared.  Once  again  there  was  nothing  at  all  but  the  enor- 
mous noiseless  glare,  the  small  folding  echoes  of  wind  dying 

'Damn  it,  we  always  walked  home  from  dances/  he  thought. 
'That  was  part  of  the  fun.' 

Suddenly  he  felt  cold.  He  found  himself  remembering  with 
fear  the  long  bend  by  the  packing  station.  There  was  no  decent 
camber  on  it  and  if  you  took  it  the  slightest  bit  too  fast  you 
couldn't  make  it.  Every  week  there  were  accidents  there.  And 
God,  anyway  what  did  he  know  about  this  fellow?  He  might 
be  the  sort  who  went  round  making  pick-ups.  A  married  man  or 
something.  Anybody.  A  crook. 

All  of  a  sudden  he  had  a  terrible  premonition  about  it  all.  It 
was  exactly  the  sort  of  feeling  he  had  had  when  he  saw  her  enter 
the  plane,  and  again  when  the  plane  lifted  into  sky.  There  was  an 
awful  sense  of  doom  about  it:  he  felt  sure  she  was  not  coming 

Go  Lovely  Rose  313 

back.  Now  he  felt  in  come  curious  way  that  his  blood  was  separa- 
ting itself  into  single  drops.  The  drops  were  freezing  and  drop- 
ping with  infinite  systematic  deadliness  through  the  veins, 
breeding  cold  terror  inside  him.  Somehow  he  knew  that  there 
had  been  a  crash. 

He  was  not  really  aware  of  running  down  through  the  rose- 
garden  to  the  gate.  He  simply  found  himself  somehow  striding 
up  and  down  in  the  road  outside,  tying  his  pyjama  cord  tighter 
in  agitation. 

My  God,  he  thought,  how  easily  the  thing  could  happen.  A  girl 
travelled  by  plane  or  train  or  even  bus  or  something  and  before 
you  knew  where  you  were  it  was  the  beginning  of  something 

He  began  to  walk  up  the  road,  feeling  the  cold  precipitation 
of  blood  take  drops  of  terror  down  to  his  legs  and  feet.  A  pale 
yellow  suffusion  of  the  lower  sky  struck  into  him  the  astonishing 
fact  that  it  was  almost  day.  He  could  hardly  believe  it  and  he 
broke  miserably  into  a  run. 

Only  a  few  moments  later,  a  hundred  yards  away,  he  had  the 
curious  impression  that  from  the  roadside  a  pair  of  yellow  eyes 
were  staring  back  at  him.  He  saw  then  that  they  were  the  lights 
of  a  stationary  car.  He  did  not  know  what  to  do  about  it.  He 
could  not  very  well  go  up  to  it  and  tap  on  the  window  and  say, 
in  tones  of  stern  fatherhood,  'Is  my  daughter  in  there?  Susan, 
come  home.,  There  was  always  the  chance  that  it  would  turn  out 
to  be  someone  else's  daughter.  It  was  always  possible  that  it 
would  turn  out  to  be  a  daughter  who  liked  what  she  was  doing 
and  strongly  resented  being  interrupted  in  it  by  a  prying  middle- 
aged  stranger  in  pyjamas. 

He  stopped  and  saw  the  lip  of  daylight  widening  and  deepen- 
ing its  yellow  on  the  horizon.  It  suddenly  filled  him  with  the 
sobering  thought  that  he  ought  to  stop  being  a  damn  fool  and 
pull  himself  together. 

'Stop  acting  like  a  nursemaid/  he  said.  'Go  home  and  get  into 
bed.  Don't  you  trust  her?'  It  was  always  when  you  didn't  trust 
them,  he  told  himself,  that  trouble  really  began.  That  was  when 
you  asked  for  it.  It  was  a  poor  thing  if  you  didn't  trust  them. 

'Go  home  and  get  into  bed,  you  poor  sap,'  he  said.  'You  never 
fussed  this  much  even  when  she  was  little.' 

He  had  no  sooner  turned  to  go  back  than  he  heard  the  engine 

314  Go  Lovely  Rose 

of  the  car  starting.  He  looked  round  and  saw  the  lights  coming 
towards  him  down  the  road.  Suddenly  he  felt  more  foolish  than 
ever  and  there  was  no  time  for  him  to  do  anything  but  press  him- 
self quickly  through  a  gap  in  the  hedge  by  the  roadside.  The 
hedge  was  not  very  tall  at  that  point  and  he  found  himself 
crouching  down  in  a  damp  jungle  of  cow  parsley  and  grass  and 
nettle  that  wetted  his  pyjamas  as  high  as  the  chest  and  shoulders. 
By  this  time  the  light  in  the  sky  had  grown  quite  golden  and  all 
the  colours  of  day  were  becoming  distinct  again  and  he  caught 
the  smell  of  honeysuckle  rising  from  the  dewiness  of  the  hedge. 

He  lifted  his  head  a  second  or  so  too  late  as  the  car  went  past 
him.  He  could  not  see  whether  Susie  was  in  it  or  not  and  he  was 
in  a  state  of  fresh  exasperation  as  he  followed  it  down  the  road. 
He  was  uncomfortable  because  the  whole  of  his  pyjamas  were 
sopping  with  dew  and  he  knew  that  now  he  would  have  to  change 
and  get  himself  a  good  rub-down  before  he  got  back  into  bed. 

'God,  what  awful  fools  they  make  you  look/  he  thought,  and 
then,  a  second  later,  'hell,  it  might  not  be  her.  Oh!  hell,  suppos- 
ing it  isn't  her?' 

Wretchedly  he  felt  his  legs  go  weak  and  cold  again.  He  forgot 
the  dew  on  his  chest  and  shoulders  as  the  slow  freezing  precipi- 
tation of  his  blood  began.  From  somewhere  the  wrenching 
thought  of  a  hospital  made  him  feel  quite  faint  with  a  nausea 
that  he  could  not  fight  away. 

'Oh !  Susie,  for  Jesus'  sake  don't  do  this  any  more  to  us.  Don't 
do  it  any  more — ' 

Then  he  was  aware  that  the  car  had  stopped  by  the  gates  of 
the  house.  He  was  made  aware  of  it  because  suddenly,  in  the 
fuller  dawn,  the  red  rear  light  went  out. 

A  second  or  two  later  he  saw  Susie.  She  was  in  her  long  helio- 
trope evening  dress  and  she  was  holding  it  up  at  the  skirt,  in  her 
delicate  fashion,  with  both  hands.  Even  from  that  distance  he 
could  see  how  pretty  she  was.  The  air  too  was  so  still  in  the  bird- 
less  summer  morning  silence  that  he  heard  her  distinctly,  in  her 
nice  fluty  voice,  so  girlish  and  friendly,  call  out: 

'Good-bye.  Yes:  lovely.  Thank  you.' 

The  only  thing  now,  he  thought,  was  not  to  be  seen.  He  had 
to  keep  out  of  sight.  He  found  himself  scheming  to  get  in  by  the 
side  gate.  Then  he  could  slip  up  to  the  bathroom  and  get  clean 
pyjamas  and  perhaps  even  a  shower. 

Go  Lovely  Rose  315 

Only  a  moment  later  he  saw  that  the  car  had  already  turned 
and  was  coming  back  towards  him  up  the  road.  This  time  there 
was  no  chance  to  hide  and  all  he  could  do  was  to  step  into  the 
verge  to  let  it  go  past  him.  For  a  few  wretched  seconds  he  stood 
there  as  if  naked  in  full  daylight,  trying  with  nonchalance  to 
look  the  other  way. 

In  consternation  he  heard  the  car  pull  up  a  dozen  yards  be- 
yond him  and  then  a  voice  called : 

'Oh!  sir.  Pardon  me.  Are  you  Mr  Carteret,  sir?' 

'Yes/  he  said. 

There  was  nothing  for  it  now,  he  thought,  but  to  go  back  and 
find  out  exactly  who  the  damn  fellow  was. 

'Yes,  I'm  Carteret/  he  said  and  he  tried  to  put  into  his  voice 
what  he  thought  was  a  detached,  unstuffy,  coolish  sort  of  dignity. 

'Oh!  I'm  Bill  Jordan,  sir/  The  young  man  had  fair,  smooth- 
brushed  hair  that  looked  extremely  youthful  against  the  black 
of  his  dinner  jacket.  'I'm  sorry  we're  so  late.  I  hope  you  haven't 
been  worried  about  Susie  ? ' 

'Oh!  no.  Good  God,  no.' 

'It  was  my  mother's  fault.  She  kept  us.' 

'I  thought  you'd  been  dancing  ? ' 

'Oh!  no,  sir.  Dinner  with  my  mother.  We  did  dance  a  few 
minutes  on  the  lawn  but  then  we  played  canasta  till  three.  My 
mother's  one  of  those  canasta  fanatics.  It's  mostly  her  fault,  I'm 

'Oh !  that's  all  right.  So  long  as  you  had  a  good  time.' 

'Oh !  we  had  a  marvellous  time,  sir.  It  was  just  that  I  thought 
you  might  be  worried  about  Susie — ' 

'Oh !  great  heavens,  no.' 

'That's  fine,  then,  sir.'  The  young  man  had  given  several  swift 
looks  at  the  damp  pyjamas  and  now  he  gave  another  and  said : 
'It's  been  a  wonderfully  warm  night,  hasn't  it?' 

'Awfully  close.  I  couldn't  sleep.' 

'Sleep  -  that  reminds  me.'  He  laughed  with  friendly,  expan- 
sive well-kept  teeth  that  made  him  look  more  youthful  than  ever 
and  more  handsome.  'I'd  better  get  home  or  it'll  be  breakfast- 
time.  Good  night,  sir.' 

'Good  night.' 

The  car  began  to  move  away.  The  young  man  lifted  one  hand 
in  farewell  and  Carteret  called  after  him : 

316  Go  Lovely  Rose 

'You  must  come  over  and  have  dinner  with  us  one  evening — ' 
'Love  to.  Thank  you  very  much,  sir.  Good  night/ 
Cartaret  walked  down  the  road.  Very  touching,  the  sir  busi- 
ness. Very  illuminating  and  nice.  Very  typical.  It  was  touches 
like  that  which  counted.  In  relief  he  felt  a  sensation  of  extra- 
ordinary self-satisfaction. 

When  he  reached  the  garden  gate  the  daylight  was  so  strong 
that  it  showed  with  wonderful  freshness  all  the  roses  that  had 
unfolded  in  the  night.  There  was  one  particularly  beautiful  crim- 
son one,  very  dark,  almost  black,  that  he  thought  for  a  moment 
of  picking  and  taking  upstairs  to  his  wife.  But  finally  he  decided 
against  it  and  left  it  where  it  grew. 

By  that  time  the  moon  was  fading  and  everywhere  the  birds 
were  taking  over  the  sky. 


Every  Sunday  evening  in  summertime  she  sat  at  the  front  win- 
dow and  watched  until  he  came  up  the  hill.  Her  hands  on  the 
horsehair  rests  of  the  chair  were  like  pieces  of  stone-grey  paper 
painted  with  thin  lines  of  water-colour,  palest  blue,  the  skin 
transparent  and  the  fingers  crabbed  over  the  little  palms.  She 
always  wore  a  straw  hat  that  had  once  evidently  been  purple, 
the  shadows  of  the  trimmings,  dark  grey,  on  the  mildew  grey  of 
the  faded,  remaining  straw. 

She  sat  surrounded  by  a  mass  of  greenery  in  brass  and  china 
pots,  set  about  on  bamboo  stands.  The  curtains  in  the  big  bay 
window  were  like  blankets  of  red  chenille  bearing  fruitings  of 
soft  bobbles  down  the  sides.  The  old-fashioned  gas-brackets 
over  the  mantelshelf  bore  opaque  globes  of  pink  and  under  them 
were  ornaments  of  twisted  yellow  glass  from  which  sprouted  dead 
stalks  of  feathery  brown  reed  and  bunches  of  paper  spills.  She 
made  the  spills  for  Luther,  with  her  own  hands,  every  Satur- 

Whenever  he  came  round  the  corner  of  the  long  steep  hill  she 
always  thought  that  he  looked,  in  his  black  suit  and  carrying 
the  black  fiddle  case,  so  much  like  a  doctor.  Even  from  that  dis- 
tance the  big  rough- angled  body  dwarfed  the  fiddle  case  so  that 
it  did  not  look  much  larger  than  a  doctor's  bag.  She  had  in  mind 
particularly  Dr  Farquharson's  bag  because  it  was  the  bag  she 
had  known  best.  It  had  brought  her  the  twelve  children,  begin- 
ning with  Luther. 

The  illusion  of  bag  and  doctor  remained  with  her  through  his 
journey  up  the  hill.  He  walked  with  a  slight  groping  roll,  big 
feet  splayed  out  as  if  he  wanted  to  grip  the  hill  with  his  toes.  She 
knew  he  did  not  roll  like  that  because  he  was  drunk  but  only 
because  his  feet  were  bad.  His  feet  had  always  been  bad.  They 
had  been  bad  ever  since  the  time  he  was  a  child  and  had  grown 
so  fast  that  she  could  never  afford  to  buy  shoes  to  catch  up  with 
him.  In  those  days  he  had  had  to  suffer  a  lot  of  things  in  that 
way  because  he  was  the  first  and  times  were  desperate.  She  felt 


318  The  Maker  of  Coffins 

keenly  that  she  had  never  been  able  to  do  her  best  for  him.  The 
others  had  been  luckier. 

When  he  came  into  the  room  at  last  it  was  always  with  a  series 
of  bungling  noisy  clashes  as  he  tried  to  find  a  resting-place  for 
the  fiddle  case  somewhere  among  the  many  little  tables,  the  piano, 
the  bookcase  and  the  chairs.  He  could  never  find  room  for  the 
damn  fiddle,  he  thought.  The  bookcase  and  the  piano  were 
both  locked  up,  polished  as  glass,  and  she  kept  the  keys  on  a 
chain.  He  groped  among  the  chairs  with  bull-like  stupor  but 
she  never  at  any  time  took  a  great  deal  of  notice  of  it.  He  had 
always  been  clumsy  on  his  feet.  He  had  been  a  day  or  two  short 
of  nineteen  months  before  he  had  started  walking  at  all.  She 
always  remembered  that,  of  being  so  afraid  that  he  would  never 
walk:  an  awful  thing,  to  have  a  child  so  fragile  that  it  never 

If  she  was  aware  of  feeling  that  the  enormous  body  still  en- 
shrined the  fragile  child  she  did  not  reveal  it.  She  turned  on  him 
with  little  grunts  of  peevish  affection  that  had  no  effect  on  him 
at  all. 

'It'll  be  dark  before  you  get  up  here  one  of  these  days/ 

'Had  a  rush  job  on.  Wonder  I  got  finished  at  all/ 

When  he  had  at  last  disposed  of  the  fiddle  he  liked  to  sit  by 
the  piano,  in  the  dark  patch  caused  by  one  end,  so  that  she  could 
not  see  his  face. 

'Who  was  it?'  she  said.  'Thought  you  said  trade  was  so  bad/ 

'So  it  is.  Man  in  Canal  Street.  Burying  tomorrow/ 


'A  man  named  Johnson/ 

'Who's  he?  What  name?' 

'Johnson.  Call  him  Polly  Johnson.  Kin  to  Liz  Johnson — ' 

'Nobody  I  know.' 

The  lines  of  her  face  would  crease  themselves  in  deeper  ruts 
of  disapprovation.  Her  mouth  would  go  on  muttering  without 
sound  for  some  moments  longer  while  he  settled  himself  by  the 
piano  with  hot  discomfort  and  perhaps  a  belch  or  two. 

'You  can  take  your  coat  off.' 

She  liked  him  better  with  his  coat  off.  It  reminded  her  of  the 
Sundays  when  all  of  them  were  at  home,  a  dinner,  all  the  boys 
with  clean  white  aprons  on,  so  that  the  gravy  from  the  Yorkshire 
pudding  did  not  drop  on  their  chapel  suits. 

The  Maker  of  Coffins  319 

The  absence  of  the  coat  revealed  a  man  of  gross,  crusty  width, 
with  watery  blue  eyes  starting  beerily  from  a  face  fired  by  sum- 
mer to  lines  of  smouldering  bruisy  red.  His  collar-stud  pressed 
brassily  on  his  thick  throat  and  his  shirt-sleeves  were  rolled  up 
above  arms  massive  and  blackly  haired. 

His  voice  had  a  yeasty  thickness : 

'All  of  'em  gone  chapel  ? ' 

'Rose  and  Clarice  and  Will  have  gone.  Lawrence  and  Nell 
went  this  morning/ 

Lawrence  and  Will  were  good  boys :  steady  boys,  fellows  with 
enough  ambition  to  get  good  jobs  and  enough  sense  to  hang  on  to 
them  when  they  got  them.  They  were  solid,  pin-stripe  men.  She 
had  never  had  any  bother  with  Will  and  Lawrence;  they  never 
troubled  her.  They  did  not  approve  of  Luther,  but  then,  they 
did  not  understand  him. 

'Ain't  bin  out  nowhere  this  week,  I  reckon?  Too  hot  for 

'Went  up  to  Rose's  Thursday,'  she  said. 

'Git  the  bus?' 

'Bus !  What  d'ya  think  my  legs  are  for  ? ' 

'You  wanta  git  the  bus,'  he  said.  'One  o'  these  days  you'll  be 
doing  that  traipse  up  there  once  too  much  and  you'll  be  dropping 

'If  I  do  you'll  be  there  measuring  me  out  'fore  I'm  cold,'  she 
said  swiftly,  'I'll  warrant  that.' 

'Ah,  don't  sit  there  horse-facing  so  much.  You  horse-face  too 
much  by  half.' 

'Don't  you  tell  me  I  horse-face,'  she  said. 

He  did  not  answer.  It  pained  him  when  she  horse-faced  at  him. 
He  dreaded  the  day  when  he  would  be  measuring  her  out,  he 
thought.  His  only  compensating  thought  about  that  was  that  he 
would  make  her  something  very  nice;  something  really  high- 
class  and  lovely;  something  fitting  and  worthy  of  the  old  lady. 

She  sat  there  for  some  time  looking  like  a  bone  carving,  and 
at  last  he  broke  the  silence  by  saying : 

'Anything  to  eat?  I  could  do  with  a  mite  o'  something.' 

'I'll  be  bound  you  never  got  your  dinner  again,  did  you?' 

'Never  had  time.  Bin  at  it  since  daylight.' 

'Funny  how  you  get  so  many  jobs  a-Sundays,'  she  said  and 
her  nose  rose,  pointed  as  a  bird's. 

320  The  Maker  of  Coffins 

Then  because  he  sat  there  without  moving  for  a  second  or 
two  longer  she  said : 

'Well:  you  know  where  the  pantry  is.  You  don't  expect  me 
to  put  it  in  your  mouth  for  you,  do  you  ? ' 

Daylight  was  fading  a  little  when  he  came  lumbering  back 
into  the  room  with  hunks  of  jam  tart  and  cheese  and  bread  and 
cold  new  potatoes  and  a  slice  of  cold  Yorkshire  pudding  on  a 
plate.  He  sat  with  the  plate  on  his  knees.  He  knew  that  he  had  to 
be  careful  of  the  crumbs;  he  knew  she  would  horse-face  if  he 
dropped  the  crumbs.  But  the  taste  of  the  new  potatoes  and  the 
cold  Yorkshire  pudding  were  the  taste  of  all  the  summer  Sunday 
evenings  of  his  boyhood  and  he  crammed  them  in  with  blind- 
eyed  pleasure,  bolting  them  down,  licking  thick  red  lips  and 
wishing  to  God  she  had  a  pint  in  the  house  to  wash  them  down. 

She  muttered  at  last  : 

'Anybody'd  think  you'd  never  had  a  mite  in  your  life.  Don't 
she  ever  get  you  nothing  a-Sundays?' 

'Never  care  whether  I  get  much  a- Sundays,'  he  said. 

'It  don't  look  like  it,'  she  said. 

That  was  the  worst  of  his  mother,  he  thought.  She  couldn't 
hit  it  off  with  Edna.  He  had  given  up  trying  to  make  her  now.  It 
was  like  trying  to  turn  a  mule. 

'You  can  get  yourself  a  spill  when  you  want  one,'  she  said. 

Edna  was  a  bit  easy-going,  he  knew,  but  on  the  whole  he 
didn't  complain.  She  had  let  herself  go  a  bit,  perhaps,  after  the 
last  baby.  She  was  a  bit  sloppy  round  the  middle.  Her  face  was 
nothing  much  to  write  home  about  but  then  he  wasn't  a  picture 
either.  The  chief  thing  was  she  didn't  nag  him;  he  really  didn't 
get  drunk  very  much  and  if  he  was  late  at  The  Unicorn  on  a 
Sunday  she  and  the  children  ate  the  dinner  without  him  and  he 
pacified  her  with  a  pint  of  Guinness  afterwards. 

By  the  time  he  had  finished  eating  it  was  almost  dark  and  he 
got  up  and  did  the  thing  he  always  did,  without  fail,  every  Sun- 
day. He  lit  one  of  the  gas-lamps  above  the  mantelshelf  and  then, 
holding  his  big  red  face  under  the  light,  adjusted  the  burner 
until  it  gave  a  pure  white  glow.  Then  he  filled  his  pipe  and  lit 
one  of  her  paper  spills  from  the  gas-mantle  and  put  it  to  his  pipe. 
The  flame  was  sucked  down  by  his  red  powerful  mouth  into  the 
pipe  bowl  until  at  last  he  blew  out  strong  blue  clouds  of  smoke 
that  almost  smothered  him. 

The  Maker  of  Coffins  321 

As  she  sat  in  the  window  she  let  the  smoke  come  over  to  her 
with  her  head  slightly  uplifted,  as  if  it  were  a  cool  breeze  blowing 
through  the  warm  airless  room  in  which  no  window  had  been 
open  all  day.  There  were  three  moments  she  really  waited  for 
all  evening,  and  this  was  the  second  of  them.  The  first  was  when 
she  saw  him  turn,  so  like  a  doctor  with  the  fiddle  case,  at  the 
bottom  of  the  hill.  The  second  was  the  moment  of  the  gas-lamp, 
the  pure  white  glow  on  his  face,  the  great  sucked-down  flame 
and  the  smoke  puttering  across  the  room  in  blue  string  clouds. 
It  was  the  smoke  above  all  that  she  associated  with  that  clumsy 
massiveness  of  his  and  after  she  smelled  it  she  was  aware  of  the 
slow  dying  of  cantankerousness  inside  herself,  a  softening  of  all 
the  edges  of  the  day. 

When  the  pipe  was  really  going  she  knew  what  he  was  going 
to  do  next.  She  began  unconsciously  to  finger  the  keys  of  the 
piano  and  the  bookcase  that  hung  on  the  chain  round  her  neck. 
That  was  the  third  moment:  the  moment  when  he  reached  for 
the  fiddle  case  and  undid  it  and  opened  it  and  took  out  the 

He  had  begun  to  play  the  fiddle  when  he  was  seven  years  old. 
That  had  been  her  ambition  for  him:  a  fiddler,  a  violinist,  a 
great  player  of  the  violin  in  the  household.  Mr  Godbold,  who 
had  been  a  fiddler  himself  in  a  great  orchestra  in  Leicester  or 
Birmingham  or  some  other  big  city  up  in  that  part  of  the  world, 
gave  him  lessons  in  his  front  room,  twice  a  week,  after  school, 
at  two  shillings  a  time. 

'He  has  fine  hands/  Mr  Godbold  said.  'He  will  make  a  fine 
player.  He  is  slow  but  in  the  end  he  will  make  a  fine  player.' 

The  walls  of  Mr  Godbold's  front  room  were  hung  with  many 
pictures  of  Mr  Godbold  playing  the  violin  as  a  soloist  or  in  or- 
chestras or  at  social  evenings  and  smoking  concerts.  She  thought 
Mr  Goldbold,  in  pieces  like  The  Spring  Song  and  excerpts  from 
Mariana  and  II  Trovatore,  played  like  an  angel,  and  she  thought 
it  would  be  wonderful  if  Luther  could  rise  as  far  as  that.  The 
first  winter  he  persevered  through  many  exercises  and  the  second 
winter  he  came  to  his  first  piece,  Robin  Adair.  Most  children  who 
learned  the  piano  or  the  violin  went  to  a  Miss  Scholes,  in  the 
High  Street,  where  they  learned  The  Bluebells  of  Scotland  as 
their  first  piece  and  Miss  Scholes  gave  them  sixpence  for  doing 
so.   Mr   Godbold  did  not  believe  in  bribing  his  pupils;   they 

322  The  Maker  of  Coffins 

worked  hard  on  exercises  that  were  the  real  foundation  of  music 
and  then  went  straight  on  to  pieces  like  Robin  Adair. 

Luther  stuck  at  Robin  Adair.  He  played  it  through  for  a  whole 
winter  and  then  his  hands  began  to  grow.  By  the  time  he  was 
twelve  he  was  a  big  awkward  gargoyle  of  a  boy  in  whose  hands 
the  violin  looked  effete  and  fragile.  She  thought  by  that  time  he 
could  play  beautifully:  perhaps  not  quite  as  beautifully  as  Mr 
Godbold.  Perhaps  it  only  seemed  to  her  almost  as  beautiful 
because  he  was  so  very  young. 

'You  want  the  key?'  she  said.  She  took  it  off  the  chain  and 
held  it  out  to  him. 

The  sound  of  the  fifths  as  he  spaced  them  out  on  the  piano 
was,  she  thought,  a  most  wonderful  thing.  It  was  different  from 
anything  else  that  was  ever  heard  on  the  piano:  those  queer, 
sharp  steps  of  notes  climbing  up  and  starting  a  trembling  on  the 
air.  That  was  the  true  violin  sound:  that  wonderful  prelude  of 
quivering  that  drew  out  finally  into  the  glassy,  soaring  singing 
of  strings. 

She  had  never  been  very  happy  about  his  being  a  carpenter 
and  at  first  she  opposed  it.  It  was  probably  that,  she  thought, 
that  had  made  his  hands  so  large  and  clumsy,  She  was  certain 
the  hands  of  a  carpenter  could  not  also  be  the  hands  of  a  violin- 
ist; the  one  could  only  ruin  the  other.  But  his  father  had  said  a 
man  had  his  living  to  earn  and  what  was  wrong  with  a  man  being 
a  carpenter?  'There  was  One  who  was  a  carpenter  and  there  was 
no  shame  in  that,'  he  said. 

Tlay  the'  old  un?'  Luther  said,  but  she  said  nothing  because 
she  knew  he  never  began  with  any  other. 

The  time  he  took  to  play  through  Robin  Adair  always  seemed 
to  go  by,  perhaps  because  she  shut  her  eyes,  very  quickly.  It 
flew  away  on  the  song's  own  delicacy.  He  liked  to  play  too  with 
the  pipe  in  his  mouth,  so  that  it  seemed  as  if  every  scrape  of  the 
bow  gave  out  its  own  rank  cloud  of  smoke  that  finally  choked 
the  room  with  gas-green  fog. 

After  Robin  Adair  he  played  several  other  pieces  he  knew: 
The  Jolly  Miller  and  Oh!  Dear  What  Can  the  Matter  Be?  She 
thought  he  played  better  as  he  got  older;  but  that,  after  all,  was 
only  natural,  That  was  only  as  it  should  be.  He  was  a  man  of 
over  fifty  now.  He  had  been  playing  the  same  pieces,  on  the  same 
violin,  for  forty  years. 

The  Maker  of  Coffins  323 

'Gittin'  dark/  Luther  would  say,  after  the  third  piece.  'Better 
be  gittin'  steady  on  home., 

He  sat  with  the  fiddle  case  on  his  knee  and  the  pipe  and  the 
violin  in  his  right  hand,  waiting  to  pack  up.  There  would  be  just 
time,  he  thought,  to  nip  into  The  Unicorn  and  have  a  couple  of 
beers,  perhaps  even  three  or  four  beers,  before  they  closed  at 
half-past  ten.  Old  Shady  Parker  would  be  there  and  Bill  Flawn 
and  Tom  Jaques  and  Flannel  Clarke  and  they  would  stand  each 
other  a  round  or  two.  That  would  rouse  him  up  nicely  and  he 
would  go  home  to  Edna  happy,  belching  through  the  dark  sum- 
mer streets,  up  and  down  the  hills.  Tomorrow  he  would  begin 
to  cut  out  another  coffin.  Trade  was  never  what  you  called  good 
in  the  summer  but  someone  was  always  going,  unexpected  or 
not,  and  he  mucked  along  somehow.  Damn  what  the  family  said. 
That  was  good  enough  for  him. 

'Better  put  the  key  back  afore  you  forgit,'  he  would  say  and 
she  would  take  the  key  from  him  and  clip  it  back  on  the  chain 

The  poise  of  her  hands,  held  for  a  second  or  two  about  her 
throat,  was  a  signal  that  she  gave  him  every  Sunday. 

Want  me  to  gie  y'  another?' 

'Have  you  got  time?  Don't  you  hang  about  if  you  haven't  got 

'Plenty  o'  time.'  The  big  voice  was  crude  and  massive  as  the 
hands.  'You  jes'  say  and  I'll  play  it.  Want  another?  What's  it 
goin'  a-be?' 

'Play  me  the  old  one,'  she  would  say. 

The  old  one  was  Robin  Adair.  As  he  played  it  she  stared  be- 
yond the  smoky  gaslight  into  spaces  empty  of  shape.  She  sat  age- 
less and  tranquil  as  if  already  embalmed  among  the  greenery  of 
fern-pots,  before  a  shroud  of  blanketing  curtains,  under  a  gas- 
blue  summer  sky.  The  harsh  sound  of  the  fiddle  strings  drew 
out  thinner  and  thinner  across  the  spaces  into  which  she  was 
staring  until  her  eyes  went  cloudily  after  them  and  she  was  sight- 
less as  she  listened. 

'Ah !  y'  can't  beat  th'  old  uns,'  Luther  said.  'They  take  a  bit  o' 

She  did  not  answer.  She  felt  always  that  she  could  hear  the 
sound  of  the  strings  long  after  they  were  silent.  They  were  like 
the  sound  of  pigeons'  voices  echoing  each  other  far  away  in 
summer  trees,  and  in  the  sound  of  them  was  all  her  love. 


When  I  was  a  boy  the  Candleton  sisters,  seven  of  them,  lived  in 
a  large  gabled  house  built  of  red  brick  that  gave  the  impression 
of  having  been  muted  by  continual  sunlight  to  a  pleasant  shade 
of  orange- rose.  The  front  face  of  it  had  a  high,  benign  open 
appearance  and  I  always  felt  that  the  big  sash  windows  actually 
smiled  down  on  the  long  gravel  terrace,  the  iron  pergola  of  roses 
and  the  sunken  tennis  lawn.  At  the  back  were  rows  of  stables,  all 
in  the  same  faded  and  agreeable  shade  of  brick,  with  lofts  above 
them  that  were  full  of  insecure  and  ancient  bedsteads,  fire- 
guards, hip-baths,  tennis  rackets,  croquet  hammers,  rocking 
horses,  muscle-developers,  Indian  clubs,  travelling  trunks  and 
things  of  that  sort  thrown  out  by  Mr  and  Mrs  Candleton  over 
the  course  of  their  fruitful  years. 

I  was  never  very  sure  of  what  Mr  Candleton  did  in  life;  I  was 
not  even  sure  in  fact  if  he  did  anything  at  all  except  to  induce 
Mrs  Candleton,  at  very  regular  intervals,  to  bear  another  daugh- 
ter. In  a  town  like  Evensford  there  were  at  that  time  very  few 
people  of  independent  means  who  lived  in  houses  that  had  stables 
at  the  back.  The  Candletons  were,  or  so  it  seemed  to  me,  above 
our  station.  There  was  at  one  time  a  story  that  Mr  Candleton 
was  connected  with  wine.  I  could  well  believe  this.  Like  his 
house,  Mr  Candleton's  face  had  toned  to  a  remarkably  pleasant 
shade  of  inflammable  rose.  This  always  seemed  perhaps  brighter 
than  it  really  was  because  his  eyes  were  so  blue.  They  were  of 
that  rare  shade  of  pale  violet  blue  that  always  seems  about  to 
dissolve,  especially  in  intoxication.  This  effect  was  still  further 
heightened  by  hair  of  a  most  pure  distinguished  shade  of  yellow : 
a  thick  oat-straw  yellow  that  was  quite  startling  and  remarkable 
in  a  male. 

All  the  Candleton  sisters  too  had  their  father's  pale  violet  dis- 
solving eyes  and  that  exceptional  shade  of  oat-straw  hair. 

At  first,  when  they  were  very  small  children,  it  was  white  and 
silky.  Then  as  they  grew  up  its  characteristic  shining  straw- 
colour  grew  stronger.  A  stranger  seeing  them  for  the  first  time 



Love  in  a  Wych  Elm  325 

would  have  said  that  they  were  seven  dolls  who  had  been  dipped 
in  a  solution  of  something  several  shades  paler  than  saffron.  The 
hair  was  very  beautiful  when  brushed  and  as  children  they  all 
wore  it  long. 

On  hot  days  in  summer  Mr  Candleton  wore  cream  flannel 
trousers  with  a  blue  pin  stripe  in  them,  a  blazer  with  red  and 
orange  stripes,  and  a  straw  hat  with  a  band  of  the  same  design. 
Round  his  waist  he  wore  a  red  silk  cummerbund.  All  his  shirts 
were  of  silk  and  he  always  wore  them  buttoned  at  the  neck.  In 
winter  he  wore  things  like  Donegal  tweeds:  roughish,  sporting, 
oatmeal  affairs  that  were  just  right  for  his  grained  waterproof 
shooting  brogues.  He  wore  smart  yellow  gloves  and  a  soft  tweed 
hat  with  a  little  feather  in  the  band.  He  always  seemed  to  be  set- 
ting off  somewhere,  brisk  and  dandyish  and  correct,  a  man  of 
leisure  with  plenty  of  time  to  spare. 

It  was  quite  different  with  Mrs  Candleton.  The  house  was  big 
and  rambling  and  it  might  well  have  been  built  specially  to  ac- 
commodate Mrs  Candleton,  who  was  like  a  big,  absent-minded, 
untidy,  roving  bear.  My  mother  used  to  say  that  she  got  up  and 
went  to  bed  in  a  pinafore.  It  wasn't  a  very  clean  pinafore  either. 
Nor  were  her  paper  hair-curlers,  which  were  sometimes  still 
in  her  rough  unruly  black  hair  at  tea-time.  She  always  seemed 
to  be  wearing  carpet-slippers  and  sometimes  her  stockings  would 
be  slipping  down.  She  was  a  woman  who  always  seemed  to  be 
catching  up  with  life  and  was  always  a  day  and  a  half  behind 

The  fact  was,  I  suppose,  that  with  seven  children  in  something 
like  a  dozen  years  Mrs  Candleton  was  still  naturally  hazy  in  some 
of  her  diurnal  calculations.  Instead  of  her  catching  up  with  life, 
life  was  always  catching  up  with  her. 

Meals,  for  example,  made  the  oddest  appearances  in  the 
Candleton  household.  If  I  went  on  a  school-less  day  to  call  on 
Stella  -  she  was  the  one  exactly  of  my  own  age,  the  one  I  knew 
best  -  it  was  either  to  find  breakfast  being  taken  at  eleven-thirty, 
with  Mr  Candleton  always  immaculate  behind  the  silver  toast- 
rack  and  Mrs  Candleton  looking  like  the  jaded  mistress  of  a  rag- 
and-bone  man,  or  dinner  at  half-past  three  or  tea  at  seven.  In  a 
town  like  Evensford  everybody  was  rigidly  governed  by  factory 
hours  and  the  sound  of  factory  hooters.  At  various  times  of  the 
day  silences  fell  on  the  town  that  were  a  hushed  indication  that 
all  honest  people  were  decently  at  work.  All  this  meant  that 

326  Love  in  a  Wych  Elm 

breakfast  was  at  seven,  dinner  at  twelve- thirty  and  tea  at  half- 
past  five.  That  was  how  everybody  ate  and  lived  and  ran  their 
lives  in  Evensford :  everybody,  that  is,  except  the  Candletons. 

These  characteristics  of  excessive  and  immediate  smartness 
on  the  one  hand  and  the  hair-curler  and  pinafore  style  on  the 
other  had  been  bequeathed  by  him  and  Mrs  Candletown  in  al- 
most exactly  equal  measure  to  their  children.  The  girls  were  all 
beautiful,  all  excessively  dressy  as  they  grew  up  and,  as  my 
mother  was  fond  of  saying,  not  over  clean. 

'If  they  get  a  cat-lick  once  a  week  it's  about  as  much  as  they 
do  get/  was  one  of  her  favourite  sayings. 

But  children  do  not  notice  such  things  very  acutely  and  I  can- 
not say  that  I  myself  was  very  interested  in  the  virtues  of  soap 
and  water.  What  I  liked  about  the  Candletons  was  not  only  a  cer- 
tain mysterious  quality  of  what  I  thought  was  aristocracy  but  a 
feeling  of  untamed  irresponsibility.  They  were  effervescent. 
When  the  eldest  girl,  Lorna,  was  seventeen  she  ran  off  with  a 
captain  in  the  Royal  Artillery  who  turned  out  to  be  a  married 
man.  I  thought  it  might  well  have  been  the  sort  of  thing  that 
would  have  ruined  a  girl,  temporarily  at  least,  in  Evensford,  but 
Stella  simply  thought  it  a  wild  joke  and  said : 

'She  had  a  wonderful  time.  It  was  gorgeous.  They  stayed  at  a 
marvellous  hotel  in  London.  She  told  us  all  about  it.  I  thought 
Mother  would  die  laughing.' 

Of  laughing,  not  shame:  that  was  typical  of  the  Candleton 
standard,  the  Candleton  approach  and  the  Candleton  judgement 
on  such  things. 

The  four  eldest  girls,  two  of  them  twins,  were  called  Lorna, 
Hilda,  Rosa  and  Freda.  This  habit  of  giving  names  ending  in 
the  same  letter  went  on  to  Stella,  with  whom  I  played 
street-games  in  winter  in  front  of  the  gas-lit  windows  of  a  pork- 
pie  and  sausage  shop  and  games  in  summer  in  the  Candleton 
garden  and  among  the  muscle-developers  and  bedsteads  of  the 
Candleton  loft,  and  then  on  to  the  two  youngest,  who  were  mere 
babies  as  I  knew  them,  Wanda  and  Eva.  Mrs  Candleton's  Chris- 
tian name  was  Blanche,  which  suited  her  perfectly. 

It  was  a  common  tendency  in  all  the  Candleton  girls  to  develop 
swiftly.  At  thirteen  they  were  filling  out;  at  fifteen  they  were 
splendidly  and  handsomely  buxom  and  were  doing  up  their  hair. 
Hilda  appeared  to  me  to  be  a  goddess  of  marbled  form  long  be- 

Love  in  a  Wych  Elm  327 

fore  she  was  eighteen  and  got  engaged  to  a  beefy  young  farmer 
who  bred  prize  cattle  and  called  for  her  in  a  long  open  sports  car. 

Hilda  had  another  characteristic  not  shared  by  any  of  the  rest 
of  the  family  except  her  mother.  She  sang  rather  well.  At 
eighteen  she  began  to  have  her  pleasant,  throaty,  contralto  voice 
trained.  Mr  Candleton  was  a  strict  Sunday  morning  churchgoer 
in  pin-stripe  trousers,  bowler  hat  and  spats,  and  Hilda  went  with 
him  to  sing  in  the  choir.  Her  voice  was  trained  by  a  Mr  Lancas- 
ter, a  rather  bumptious  pint-size  tenor  who  gave  her  lessons  three 
evenings  a  week.  It  was  generally  known  that  Mr  Lancaster  was, 
as  a  singer  at  any  rate,  past  his  best,  but  it  was  not  long  before 
the  engagement  between  Hilda  and  the  farmer  was  broken. 

At  that  time  Stella  and  I  were  nine.  I,  at  least,  was  nine  and 
Stella,  physically,  was  twelve  or  thirteen.  What  I  liked  about  her 
so  much  in  those  days  was  her  utter  freedom  to  come  and  go  as 
she  pleased.  Other  children  had  errands  to  run,  confirmation 
classes  to  attend,  catechisms  to  learn,  aunts  to  visit,  restrictive 
penances  like  shoes  to  clean  or  knives  to  rub  up  with  bath-brick. 

In  the  Candleton  way  she  had  never  anything  to  do  but  play, 
enjoy  herself,  indulge  in  inconsequential  make-believe  and  teach 
me  remarkable  things  about  life  and  living. 

What  shall  we  do?  Let's  be  married.  Let's  go  up  to  the  loft 
and  be  married., 

We  were  married  the  day  before  yesterday/ 

'That  doesn't  matter.  You  can  be  married  over  and  over  again. 
Hilda's  going  to  be.  Come  on,  let's  be  married.' 

'All  right.  But  not  in  the  loft.  Let's  have  a  new  house  this 

'All  right.  Let's  be  married  in  the  wych-elm.' 

The  Candleton  garden  extended  beyond  the  stables  into  a 
rough  orchard  of  old  damson  trees,  with  a  few  crooked  espalier 
pears.  A  pepper-pot  summer  house  in  rustic  work  with  a  thatched 
roof  stood  in  one  corner,  almost  obliterated  by  lilac  trees.  In 
summer  damsons  and  pears  fell  into  the  deep  grass  and  no  one 
picked  them  up.  A  sense  of  honeyed  rotting  quietness  spread 
under  the  lurching  trees  and  was  compressed  and  shut  in  by  a 
high  boundary  line  of  old,  tapering  wych-elms. 

Rooks  nested  in  the  highest  of  the  elms  and  when  summer 
thickened  the  branches  the  trees  were  like  a  wall.  The  house  was 
hidden  and  shut  away.  On  a  heavy  summer  day  you  would  hear 

328  Love  in  a  Wych  Elm 

nothing  there  but  the  sound  of  rooks  musing  and  croaking  and 
fruit  falling  with  a  squashy  mellow  plop  on  the  grass  and  paths. 

Up  in  the  wych-elms  the  peculiar  structure  of  boughs  made 
a  house  for  us.  We  could  walk  about  it.  We  crawled,  like  mon- 
keys, from  tree  to  tree.  In  this  paradise  we  stayed  for  entire  after- 
noons, cocooned  with  scents,  hidden  away  in  leaves.  We  made 
tea  in  ancient  saucepans  on  flameless  fires  of  elm  twigs  and  pre- 
pared dinners  of  potatoes  and  gravy  from  fallen  pears.  And  up 
here,  on  a  soft  August  afternoon,  we  were  married  without  wit- 
nesses and  Stella,  with  her  yellow  hair  done  up  for  the  first  time, 
wore  a  veil  of  lace  curtains  and  carried  a  bunch  of  cow-parsley. 

But  before  that  happened  I  had  caught,  only  the  day  before, 
another  glimpse  of  the  Candleton  way  of  living. 

I  had  called  about  six  o'clock  in  the  evening  for  Stella  but 
although  the  door  of  the  house  was  open  nobody,  for  some  time 
at  any  rate,  answered  my  ring  at  the  bell.  That  was  not  at  all 
unusual  at  the  Candleton  household.  Although  it  never  seemed 
possible  for  nine  such  unmistakable  people  to  disappear  without 
trace  it  was  frequently  happening  and  often  I  went  to  the  door 
and  rang  until  I  was  tired  of  ringing  and  then  went  away  without 
an  answer. 

I  remember  once  ringing  the  bell  and  then,  tired  of  it,  peeping 
into  the  kitchen.  It  was  one  of  those  big  old-fashioned  kitchens 
with  an  enormous  iron  cooking  range  with  plate  racks  above  it  and 
gigantic  dressers  and  vast  fish-kettles  and  knife-cleaners  every- 
where. In  the  middle  of  it  all  Mrs  Candleton  sat  asleep.  Not 
normally  asleep,  I  could  see.  A  quarter-full  bottle  of  something 
for  which  I  had  no  definition  stood  on  the  table  in  front  of  her, 
together  with  a  glass  and,  beside  the  glass,  most  astonishing  thing 
of  all,  her  false  teeth. 

Blowsily,  frowsily,  comfortably,  toothlessly,  Mrs  Candleton 
was  sleeping  away  the  afternoon  in  her  hair-curlers  and  her  pina- 

But  on  the  evening  I  called  for  Stella  the  kitchen  was  empty. 
I  rang  the  bell  four  or  five  times  and  then,  getting  no  answer, 
stepped  into  the  hall. 

'Hullo/  someone  said. 

That  very  soft,  whispered  throaty  voice  was  Hilda's.  She  was 
standing  at  the  top  of  the  stairs.  She  was  wearing  nothing  but 
her    petticoat    and    her    feet    were    bare.    In    her    hands    she 

Love  in  a  Wych  Elm  329 

was  holding  a  pair  of  stockings,  which  she  had  evidently  been 
turning  inside  out  in  readiness  to  put  on. 

'Oh!  it's  you/  she  said.  'I  thought  I  heard  someone.' 

'Is  Stella  here?' 

'They're  all  out.  They've  all  gone  to  the  Robinsons'  for  tea. 
It's  Katie's  birthday.' 

'Oh!   I  see,'  I  said.  'Well,  I'll  come  again  tomorrow — ' 

'I'm  just  going  to  a  dance/  she  said.  'Would  you  like  to  see 
my  dress?  Would  you?  -  come  on,  come  up.' 

Standing  in  the  bedroom,  with  the  August  sunlight  shining  on 
her  bare  shoulders,  through  the  lace  of  her  slip  and  on  her  sen- 
sational yellow  Candleton  hair,  she  was  a  magnificent  figure  of 
a  girl. 

'Just  let  me  put  my  stockings  on  and  then  you  can  see  my 

She  sat  down  on  the  bed  to  put  on  her  stockings.  Her  legs  were 
smooth  and  heavy.  I  experienced  an  odd  sensation  as  the  stock- 
ings unrolled  up  her  legs  and  then  were  fastened  somewhere 
underneath  the  petticoat.  Then  she  stood  up  and  looked  at  the 
back  of  her  legs  to  see  if  her  stockings  were  straight.  After  that 
she  smoothed  the  straps  of  her  petticoat  over  her  shoulders  and 

'Just  wait  till  I  give  my  hair  one  more  brush.' 

I  shall  never  forget  how  she  sat  before  the  dressing  mirror  and 
brushed  her  hair.  I  was  agreeably  and  mystically  stunned.  The 
strokes  of  the  brush  made  her  hair  shine  exactly,  as  I  have  said 
before,  like  oat-straw.  Nothing  could  have  been  purer  and  more 
shining.  It  was  marvellously  burnished  and  she  laughed  at  me 
in  the  mirror  because  I  stood  there  so  staring  and  speechless  and 

'Well,  do  I  look  nice?  You  think  I  shall  pass  in  a  crowd?' 


'That's  good.  It's  nice  to  have  a  man's  opinion.' 

She  laughed  again  and  put  on  her  dress.  It  was  pure  white, 
long  and  flouncy.  I  remember  distinctly  the  square  low  collar. 
Then  she  put  on  her  necklace.  It  was  a  single  row  of  pearls  and 
she  couldn't  fasten  it. 

'Here,  you  can  do  this,'  she  said. 

She  sat  on  the  bed  and  I  fastened  the  necklace.  The  young 
hair  at  the  nape  of  her  neck  was  like  yellow  chicken  down.  I  was 

330  Love  in  a  Wych  Elm 

too  confused  to  notice  whether  she  had  washed  her  neck  or  not 
and  then  she  said : 

'That's  it.  Now  just  a  little  of  this  and  I'm  ready.' 

She  sprayed  her  hair,  her  arms  and  the  central  shadow  of  her 
bosom  with  scent  from  a  spray. 

'How  about  a  little  for  you  ? ' 

She  sprayed  my  hair  and  in  a  final  moment  of  insupportable 
intoxication  I  was  lost  in  a  wave  of  wallflowers. 

'That's  the  most  expensive  scent  there  is,'  she  said.  'The  most 
difficult  to  make.  Wallflowers/ 

Perhaps  it  was  only  natural,  next  day,  as  I  came  to  be  married 
to  Stella  high  at  the  altar  of  the  wych-elms,  that  I  found  myself 
oppressed  by  a  sensation  of  anticlimax.  Something  about  Stella, 
I  felt,  had  not  quite  ripened.  I  had  not  the  remotest  idea  as  to 
what  it  could  be  except  that  she  seemed,  in  some  unelevating  and 
puzzling  way,  awkward  and  flat. 

'What  do  you  keep  staring  at  me  for  ? ' 

'I'm  just  going  to  spray  you  with  scent/  I  said.  'There  -  pifT ! 
pish!  pifT — ' 

'Whatever  made  you  think  of  that?' 

I  was  afraid  to  speak  of  Hilda  and  I  said : 

'All  girls  have  to  have  scent  on  when  they're  married.' 

'Do  I  look  nice  ? ' 

She  didn't  really  look  nice.  The  lace  curtain  was  mouldy  in 
one  corner  and  had  holes  down  one  side.  I  didn't  like  the  odour 
of  cow-parsley.  But  the  soft  golden  oat-straw  hair  was  as  remark- 
able as  ever  and  I  said : 

'You  look  all  right.' 

Then  we  were  married.  After  we  were  married  she  said: 

'Now  you  have  to  make  love  to  me.' 


'Everybody  has  to  make  love  when  they're  married.' 

I  looked  at  her  in  utter  mystification.  Then  suddenly  she  drop- 
ped the  cow-parsley  and  pushed  back  her  veil  and  kissed  me.  She 
held  me  in  an  obliterating  and  momentary  bondage  by  the  trunk 
of  the  wych-elm,  kissing  me  with  such  blistering  force  that  I  lost 
my  cap.  I  was  rather  upset  about  my  cap  as  it  fell  in  the  nettles 
below  but  she  said : 

'Sit  down.  We're  in  bed  now.  We  have  to  be  in  bed  now  we're 
married.  It's  the  first  thing  people  do.' 

Love  in  a  Wych  Elm  331 


'Don't  you  know  ? ' 

I  did  not  know;  nor,  as  it  happens,  did  she.  But  one  of  the 
advantages  of  being  born  one  of  a  family  of  seven  sisters  is  that 
you  arrive  much  earlier  at  the  approximation  of  the  more  delicate 
truths  than  you  do  if  you  are  a  boy.  Perhaps  in  this  respect  I  was 
a  backward  boy,  but  I  could  only  think  it  was  rather  comfortless 
trying  to  make  love  in  a  wych-elm  and  after  a  time  I  said : 

'Let's  go  and  play  in  the  loft  now.' 

What  with?' 

'I  don't  know,'  I  said.  'Let's  have  a  change.  We've  been  mar- 
ried an  awful  lot  of  times — ' 

'I  know,'  she  said.  'We'll  play  with  the  chest-developers.' 

While  we  played  in  the  loft  with  the  chest-developers  she  had 
an  original  thought. 

'I  think  if  I  practise  a  lot  with  these  I  shall  get  fat  up  top  more 

'You  will?' 

'I  think  I  shall  soon  anyway.' 

Like  Hilda,  I  thought.  A  renewed  sensation  of  agreeable  and 
stupefying  delight,  together  with  a  scent  of  wallflowers,  shot 
deliciously  through  me  and  I  was  half-way  to  the  realisation  of 
the  truth  that  girls  are  pleasant  things  when  she  said: 

'One  day,  when  we're  big,  let's  be  really  married,  shall 

'All  right.' 

'Promise  ? ' 

'Yes,'  I  said. 

'You  know  what  you'll  be  when  you're  married  to  me,  don't 
you  ? '  she  said. 

I  couldn't  think. 

'You'll  be  a  viscount,'  she  said. 

'What's  a  viscount?' 

'It's  the  husband  of  a  viscountess.' 

'How  shall  I  come  to  be  that  ? ' 

'Because  a  viscountess  is  the  daughter  of  a  lord.' 

'But,'  I  said,  'your  father  isn't  a  lord.' 

'No,'  she  said,  'but  his  brother  is.  He  lives  in  a  castle  in  Bed- 
fordshire. It  has  a  hundred  and  forty  rooms  in  it.  We  go  there 
every  summer.  And  when  he  dies  my  father  will  be  a  lord.' 

332  Love  in  a  Wych  Elm 

'Is  he  going  to  die  ? ' 


'Supposing  your  father  dies  before  he  does?' 

'Oh!  he  won't/  she  said.  'He's  the  youngest  son.  The  oldest 
always  die  first/ 

She  went  on  to  tell  me  many  interesting  things  about 
our  life  together.  Everything  in  that  life  would  be  of  silk,  she 
said,  like  her  father's  shirts.  Silk  sheets  on  the  bed,  silk  pillows, 
silk  tablecloths,  silk  cushions.  'And  I  shall  always  wear  silk 
drawers/  she  said.  'Even  on  week-days.' 

Altogether,  it  seemed,  we  should  have  a  marvellous  life  to- 

'And  we  shall  drink  port  wine  for  supper/  she  said.  'Like  my 
father  does.  He  always  drinks  port  wine  for  supper.' 

'Is  it  nice?' 

'Yes/  she  said.  'I'm  allowed  to  have  it  sometimes.  You'll  like 
it.  You  can  get  drunk  as  often  as  you  like  then.  Like  my  father 

'Does  he  get  drunk?' 

'Not  as  often  as  my  mother  does/  she  said,  'but  quite  a  lot.' 

I  suppose  I  was  shocked. 

'Oh !  that's  all  right/  she  said.  'Lords  always  get  drunk.  That's 
why  people  always  say  "drunk  as  a  lord."  That's  the  proper  thing 
to  do.' 

Armed  with  the  chest-developers,  we  spent  an  ecstatic  after- 
noon. I  was  so  filled  with  the  golden  snobbery  of  being  a  viscount 
that  it  was  a  cold  and  dusty  sort  of  shock  when  she  told  me  that 
anyway  we  couldn't  be  married  for  years  and  years,  not  until  she 
was  fatter,  like  Hilda  was. 

The  recollection  of  Hilda,  all  burnished  and  magnificent  and 
intoxicating  and  perfumed,  inflamed  and  inspired  me  to  greater 
efforts  with  the  chest-developers. 

'We  must  work  harder/  I  said. 

I  wanted  so  much  to  be  a  lord,  to  live  in  a  castle,  to  drink  port 
wine  and  to  be  married  to  someone  with  silk  drawers  that  I  was 
totally  unprepared  for  the  shock  my  mother  gave  me. 

'The  little  fibber,  the  little  story-teller,  the  little  liar/  she  said. 

'But  she  said  so/  I  said.  'She  told  me.' 

'I  went  to  board  school  with  Reggie  Candleton/  she  said.  'He 
was  in  my  class.  They  came  from  Gas  Street.' 

Love  in  a  Wych  Elm  333 

Nothing  in  the  world  was  worse  than  coming  from  Gas  Street. 
You  could  not  go  lower  than  Gas  Street.  The  end  of  the  respec- 
table world  was  Gas  Street. 

'It's  she  who  had  the  money,'  my  mother  said.  'Mrs  Candleton. 
Her  father  was  a  brewer  and  Reggie  Candleton  worked  there. 
He  was  always  such  a  little  dandy.  Such  a  little  masher.  Always 
the  one  for  cutting  such  a  dash.' 

I  decided  it  was  wiser  to  say  nothing  about  the  prospect  of 
marrying,  or  about  Stella's  urgent  efforts  with  the  chest-develop- 
ers, or  the  silk  drawers. 

'All  top  show,'  my  mother  said.  'That's  what  it  is.  All  fancy 
fol-di-dols  on  top  and  everything  dropping  into  rags  underneath. 
Every  one  of  them  with  hair  like  a  ten-guinea  doll  and  a  neck 
you  could  sow  carrots  in.' 

I  don't  suppose  for  a  moment  that  Stella  remembers  me;  or 
that,  on  an  uncomfortable,  intimate  occasion,  we  were  married 
in  a  wych-elm.  It  is  equally  unlikely  that  Hilda  remembers  me; 
or  that,  with  her  incomparable  yellow  hair,  her  white  dance 
dress,  her  soft  blonde  flesh  and  her  rare  scent  of  wallflowers,  she 
once  asked  me  to  give  her  my  opinion  as  a  man.  I  believe  Stella 
is  married  to  a  bus-conductor.  The  rest  of  the  Candletons  have 
faded  from  my  life.  With  the  summer  frocks,  the  summer  straw- 
hats  and  the  summer  flannels,  the  cummerbunds,  the  silk  shirts, 
the  elegant  brogues,  the  chest-developers  and  the  incomparable 
yellow  hair  they  have  joined  Mr  Candleton  in  misty,  muted, 
permanent  bankruptcy. 

Love  in  a  wych-elm  is  not  an  easy  thing;  but  like  the  Candle- 
tons  it  is  unforgettable. 


The  yellow  strings  of  laburnum  flower  had  already  faded  that 
afternoon  when  I  stood  on  sentry  for  the  1st  Battalion  Albion 
Street  Light  Infantry  and  Mrs  Strickland  came  out  of  her  kit- 
chen door  wearing  a  sack  apron  and  a  man's  check  cap  pinned 
on  her  spindly  curling  rags  by  a  long  black  hat  pin  and  started 
shaking  mats  against  the  garden  fence,  not  three  yards  from  the 
tent  made  of  split  sacks  and  old  lace  curtains  where  we  of  the 
battalion  held  councils  of  war  before  going  into  battle. 

Upstairs  across  the  yard  Mrs  Rankin  was  sitting  at  a  window 
with  a  bottom  like  a  pumpkin  hanging  over  the  sill,  huffing  ener- 
getically on  glass  already  as  pure  as  crystal  and  then  scrupulously 
polishing  the  vapour  off  again  with  a  spotless  yellow  rag. 

The  face  of  Mrs  Rankin,  smooth  and  clean  as  porcelain,  looked 
as  if  it  had  been  polished  too  but  the  face  of  Mrs  Strickland, 
like  her  curl- ragged  hair,  had  nothing  but  greyness  in  it,  a  dopey 
salty  greyness  at  the  same  time  hard  so  that  the  skin  looked  like 
scoured  pumice  stone. 

I  was  only  six  at  the  time  and  still  a  private;  but  I  thought  I 
detected  a  smell  of  parsnip  wine  in  the  air.  Mangled  dust  and 
shreds  of  coco-matting  rose  in  dense  brown  clouds  as  Mrs  Strick- 
land beat  the  decaying  mats  against  the  fence  but  I  stood  unshak- 
ably  at  attention  under  the  laburnum  tree,  head  up,  eyes  straight 
ahead,  right  hand  firmly  on  the  umbrella  we  were  using  as  a 
riflle  because  Jeddah  Clarke,  our  Captain,  had  the  air  gun,  the 
only  other  weapon  we  possessed. 

I  knew  that  if  I  stood  firm  on  guard  and  didn't  flinch  and 
saluted  properly  and  challenged  people  and  didn't  let  them  pass 
until  they  gave  the  password,  I  might  become,  in  time,  a  lance- 
corporal.  There  was  nothing  on  earth  I  wanted  more  than  to  be 
a  lance-corporal :  except  perhaps  to  kill  a  soldier. 

'I  wisht  Albie  was  here,'  Mrs  Strickland  said.  'I  wisht  Albie 
was  here.' 

It  wasn't  only  that  morning  that  her  voice  had  that  pumice- 
dry  melancholy  in  it.  It  was  always  there,  like  the  curling  rags. 


Let's  Play  Soldiers  335 

Sometimes  Mrs  Strickland  didn't  take  out  the  curling  rags  until 
after  Bill  Strickland  came  home  for  his  bloater  tea  at  six  o'clock 
and  sometimes  she  didn't  take  them  out  at  all. 

'Ain't  got  a  spare  Daisy  Powder,  gal,  I  reckon?' 

Mrs  Strickland,  staring  with  diffused  and  pleading  eyes 
through  the  dust  she  had  raised,  groping  up  towards  the  sump- 
tuous pumpkin  of  Mrs  Rankin  on  the  window  sill,  ran  a  dreary 
hand  several  times  across  her  aching  brow. 

'Ain't  got  nivry  one  left,'  Mrs  Rankin  said.  'You  had  the  last 
one  yisty.' 

Daisies  were  a  brand  of  headache  powder  guaranteed  to  re- 
fresh and  free  you  from  pain  in  five  minutes.  Mrs  Strickland  was 
taking  them  all  day. 

'Ain't  Bill  a-workin'  then?' 

'Bad  a-bed.  Can't  lift  'isself  orf  the  piller.  I  wisht  Albie  was 

I  knew  Albie  couldn't  be  there.  Albie,  who  was  eighteen,  a 
private  too  like  me,  was  in  France,  fighting  the  Germans.  I  liked 
Albie;  he  had  a  ginger  moustache  and  was  my  friend.  Every 
other  day  or  so  I  asked  Mrs  Strickland  if  and  when  Albie  was 
going  to  become  a  lance-corporal,  but  somehow  she  never  seem- 
ed to  think  he  was. 

'Ain't  you  got  nivry  one  tucked  away,  gal,  somewheer?' 

'Nivry  one,'  Mrs  Rankin  said.  'Nivry  one.' 

Despair  wrapped  Mrs  Strickland's  face  in  a  greyer,  dustier 
web  of  gloom. 

'Me  'ead's  splittin'.  It'll  split  open.  I  wisht  Albie  was  here.' 

'Won't  the  boy  nip  and  get  y'  couple?  Ask  the  boy.' 

Mrs  Strickland,  seeming  to  become  aware  of  me  for  the  first 
time,  turned  to  my  impassive  sentinel  figure  with  eyes  of  greyest 

'Nip  down  the  shop  and  fetch  us  a  coupla  Daisies,  there's  a 
good  boy.  Nip  and  ask  your  mother  to  lend  us  a  thrippenny  bit, 
there's  a  good  boy.  I  left  me  puss  upstairs.' 

It  was  funny,  my  mother  always  said,  how  Mrs  Strickland 
was  always  leaving,  losing  or  mislaying  her  purse  somewhere. 

'And  a  penn'orth  o'  barm  too,  boy,  while  you're  down  there. 
I  gotta  make  a  mite  o'  bread,  somehow,'  she  called  up  to  Mrs 
Rankin.  'Aain't  got  a  mite  in  the  place,  gal.  Not  so  much  as  a 

336  Let's  Play  Soldiers 

Mrs  Rankin,  who  would  presently  be  hurrying  down  to  the 
yard  to  scour  and  white-wash  the  kitchen  steps  to  blinding  glac- 
ier whiteness  and  who,  as  my  mother  said,  almost  polished  the 
coal  before  putting  it  on  the  fire,  merely  turned  on  Mrs  Strick- 
land a  rounder,  blanker,  completely  unhelpful  pumpkin. 

I  didn't  move  either;  I  was  on  guard  and  Jeddah  Clarke  said 
you  could  be  shot  if  you  moved  on  guard. 

'Nip  and  ask  your  mother  to  lend  us  a  thrippenny  bit,  boy. 
Tanner  if  she's  got  it,  boy — ' 

'I  can't  go,  Mrs  Strickland.  I'm  on  sentry,'  I  said.  'I'll  get 

'Kids  everywhere,'  Mrs  Strickland  said,  'and  nivry  one  on  'em 
to  run  of  arrant  for  you  when  you  want.  I  wisht  Albie  was  here.' 

Mrs  Strickland  dragged  the  decaying  mats  to  the  middle  of 
the  yard.  The  smell  of  parsnip  wine  went  with  her  and  she 
called  up  to  Mrs  Rankin : 

'Ain't  got  'arf  a  loaf  I  can  have  for  a  goin'  on  with  gal,  I  reckon? 
Jist  till  the  baker  gits  here  ?  Jist  'arf?  Jist  the  top?' 

'You  want  one  as'll  fit  on  the  bottom  I  lent  you  the  day  afore 
yisty?  or  will  a  fresh  'un  do?' 

Fiery,  tempestuous  white  curls  seemed  to  fly  suddenly  out  of 
Mrs  Strickland's  mournful,  aching  head. 

'What's  a  matter  wi'  y'  ?  Askt  y'  a  civil  question,  dint  I  ?  Askt 
y'  civil  question.  What's  a  matter  wi'  y'  all  of  a  pop?' 

'Sick  on  it,'  Mrs  Rankin  said.  'About  sick  to  death  on  it.' 

'Go  on,  start  maungin' !  Start  yelpin' ! ' 

'Yelpin','  yelpin'?'  Ain't  got  nothing  to  yelp  about,  I  reckon, 
have  I  ?  When  it  ain't  bread  it's  salt.  When  it  ain't  salt  it's  bakin' 
powder.  Enough  to  gie  y'  the  pip.  When  it  ain't — ' 

'Keep  on,  keep  on!'  Mrs  Strickland  said.  'It'll  do  your  fat 
gullet  good.  And  me  with  'im  in  bed.  And  the  damn  war  on.  And 
Albie  not  here.' 

Suddenly  she  dropped  the  mats,  picked  up  a  bucket  from 
the  kitchen  drain  and  started  beating  and  rattling  it  like  a  war- 
gong.  In  a  flash  Mrs  Rankin's  pumpkin  darted  through  the  win- 
dow, dragging  the  sash  down  behind  it.  Behind  the  crystal 
glass  Mrs  Rankin's  face  remained  palely  distorted,  mouthing 

Down  below  in  the  yard,  Mrs  Strickland  rattled  the  bucket 
again,  shaking  her  curling  rags,  and  yelled : 

Let's  Play  Soldiers  337 

'Mag,  mag.  Jaw,  jaw.  That's  all  folks  like  you  are  fit  for.  Mag, 
jaw,  mag,  jaw — ' 

Mrs  Rankin's  face,  ordinarily  so  polished  and  composed,  splin- 
tered into  uncontrollable  furies  behind  the  glass  as  Mrs  Strick- 
land started  to  fill  the  bucket  with  water  from  the  stand-pipe  in 
the  yard. 

In  a  second  Mrs  Rankin  had  the  window  up  with  a  shrilling 
squeak  of  the  sash  and  was  half  leaping  out : 

'And  don't  you  start  your  hanky-pankies.  Don't  you  start  that ! 
- 1  oiled  and  polished  my  door !  — ' 

An  arc  of  white  water  struck  Mrs  Rankin's  back  door  like  a 
breaker.  Mrs  Rankin  slammed  down  the  window  and  started 
beating  the  panes  with  her  fists.  Mrs  Strickland  screamed  that 
she  wisht  Albie  was  here,  Albie  would  let  some  daylight  into 
somebody,  and  threw  the  bucket  with  a  crashing  roll  across  the 

A  moment  later  a  bedroom  window  shot  open  in  the  Strickland 
house  and  an  unsober  chin  of  black  stubble  leaned  out  and 
bawled : 

'What  the  bloody  'ell's  going  on  down  there?  If  you  two  don't 
shut  your  yawpin'  chops  I'll  come  down  and  lay  a  belt  acrosst 
the  pair  on  y' — ' 

'I  wisht  Albie  was  here!'  Mrs  Strickland  said.  'I  wisht  Albie 
was  here ! ' 

Drearily  she  slammed  away  into  the  house  and  after  that  it 
was  silent  for  some  minutes  until  suddenly  from  the  street  beyond 
the  yard  I  could  hear  the  inspiring  note  of  war  cries.  A  minute 
later  the  first  battalion  Albion  Street  Light  Infantry  came  trium- 
phantly pounding  down  the  path  between  the  cabbage  patches, 
led  by  Jeddah  Clarke,  carrying  the  air-gun,  Wag  Chettle,  bearing 
the  standard,  a  red  handkerchief  tied  to  a  bean-pole,  and  Fred 
Baker,  beating  a  drum  he  had  had  for  Christmas. 

Fred  and  Jeddah  were  actually  in  khaki  uniforms.  Jeddah, 
besides  the  air-gun,  wore  a  bandolier  across  his  chest  with  real 
pouches  and  two  clips  of  spent  cartridges;  Fred  had  a  peaked 
khaki  cap  on,  with  the  badge  of  the  Beds  &  Bucks  Light  Infantry 
on  one  side  and  that  of  the  Royal  Welch  Fusiliers  on  the  other. 
At  that  time  the  Fusiliers  were  billeted  in  the  town  and  we  had 
an  inspired  admiration  for  them  because  they  kept  a  white  goat 
as  mascot.  The  goat  ate  anything  you  gave  it,  even  cigarettes. 

338  Let's  Play  Soldiers 

What  now  surprised  me  about  the  battalion  was  not  its  air  of 
triumph  but  its  size.  Usually  it  was  no  more  than  eight  strong. 
Now  it  was  twenty.  Those  bringing  up  the  rear  were  even  flying 
a  second  flag.  It  was  a  square  of  blue-and-white  football  shirt. 
I  caught  the  gleam  of  a  second  and  even  a  third  air-gun  and  then 
suddenly  Jeddah  Clarke,  our  Captain,  raised  his  air-gun  and 
yelled : 

'Gas  Street  are  on  our  side!  They're  in  the  battalion!  Gas 
Street  have  come  in  with  us !  Charge ! ' 

We  all  cheered  madly  and  charged.  The  little  hairs  of  my  neck 
stuck  up  in  pride,  excitement  and  admiration  as  we  thundered 
dustily  into  the  summer  street  outside. 

'Charge!'  we  all  shouted.  'Charge!    Capture  'em!   Charge!' 

Heady  with  thought  of  battle,  we  wheeled  like  thunder  into 
Winchester  Street:  completely  unnoticed  by  a  milk  float,  two 
bakers'  carts,  a  chimney  sweep  on  a  bicycle  and  two  women 
pushing  prams. 

'Charge!'  I  yelled,  and  was  stunned  to  hear  the  blast  of  a 
bugle,  suddenly  blown  at  my  side  by  a  boy  named  Charley  Flet- 
cher, who  was  in  the  Lads'  Brigade. 

This  new  note,  defiant  above  the  roll  of  Fred  Baker's  drum, 
had  us  all  in  a  frenzy  of  battle  just  as  we  surged  past  a  railway 
dray  loading  piles  of  bulky  leather  outside  a  factory,  where  the 
crane  swung  out  from  its  fourth  storey  door  like  a  gallows  and 
dropped  its  thirty-feet  of  rippling  chain  down  to  the  shining 
hot  pavement  below. 

'Charge!'  I  yelled,  bringing  up  the  rear  with  the  umbrella 
under  my  arm  and  pointing  it  forward  as  if  it  had  a  bayonet  in 
the  end,  exactly  as  I  had  seen  in  pictures  of  soldiers  charging 
from  the  trenches.  There  was  nothing  we  didn't  know  about 
soldiers  and  the  trenches.  We  knew  all  about  Vimy  Ridge,  Ypres, 
Hill  60  and  Verdun  too.  We  had  seen  them  all  in  pictures. 

The  voice  of  our  Captain,  Jeddah  Clarke,  tore  the  air  with 
fresh  challenge  as  we  whipped  out  of  Winchester  Street  into 
Green's  Alley.  Continually  Charley  Fletcher's  bugle  ripped  the 
quiet  of  the  afternoon  to  shreds  with  raucous  notes  that  were 
almost  hysterical,  rallying  both  us  and  the  reinforcements  of  Gas 
Street,  and  I  wondered  suddenly  where  we  were  going  and  where 
the  attack  would  be  made. 

Jeddah,  yelling,  told  us  all  a  moment  later : 

Let's  Play  Soldiers  339 

'Down  to  The  Pit !  We'll  git  'em  in  The  Pit ! ' 

My  heart  went  absolutely  icy,  turned  sour  and  dropped  to  my 

The  Pit  was  a  terrible  place.  You  never  went  to  The  Pit.  No 
one  ever  did.  If  you  did  you  never  came  out  alive.  The  people 
there,  who  lived  in  sordid  back-to-back  hovels  with  sacks  at  the 
windows,  captured  you,  tied  you  up,  locked  you  in  satanic  priv- 
ies and  let  you  suffocate  to  death.  If  they  didn't  do  that  they 
starved  you,  took  away  all  your  clothes  and  sold  you  naked  in 
slavery.  They  were  the  most  awful  people  in  the  world.  People 
like  Mrs  Strickland  were  respectable  by  comparison.  They  were 
always  dirty,  drunk  and  fighting.  They  were  always  stinking  and 
they  were  full  of  bugs  and  fleas. 

I  suddenly  wanted  to  turn  back,  stand  guard  in  the  cabbage 
patch  and  dream  quietly  about  being  a  lance-corporal  one  day. 

'Charge!'  everyone  yelled.  'Charge!  Git  the  stones  ready!' 

Out  of  Green's  Alley  we  swung  on  the  tide  of  battle  into  The 
Jetty,  a  narrow  track  of  dried  mud  and  stone.  There  the  trium- 
phant column  broke  up  for  a  moment  or  two  and  we  began  to 
hack  stones  from  the  dust  with  the  heels  of  our  boots.  By  this 
time  my  legs  and  knees  were  shaking :  so  much  so  that  all  I  could 
hack  out  were  two  pebbles  and  the  stopper  of  a  broken  beer 
bottle.  But  Fred  Baker,  seeing  this,  took  pity  on  me  and  armed 
me  with  half  a  brick. 

The  bugle  sounded  again,  shrill  as  a  cornet. 

'Air-guns  in  front!'  Jeddah  yelled.  'Git  ready  when  I  say 
charge ! ' 

We  thundered  on.  We  had  been  joined  now  by  a  butcher's  boy 
on  a  bicycle  and  for  some  reason  I  found  myself  clinging  to  his 
saddle.  Suddenly  in  the  excitement  the  butcher's  boy  started 
pedalling  madly  and  I  could  hardly  keep  up  with  the  column  as  it 
pounded  along. 

Less  than  a  minute  later  we  were  facing  the  jaws  of  The  Pit. 
They  were  nothing  more  than  a  gap  between  two  rows  of  derelict 
gas-tarred  fences  but  beyond  them  I  could  see  the  little  one- 
storey  hovels  with  sacks  at  their  windows,  the  horrible  squat 
brick  prisons  of  outdoor  privies  and  a  few  dirty  flags  of  shirt  on 
a  washing  line. 

It  was  impossible  for  my  heart  to  turn  cold  a  second  time;  it 
was  frozen  stiff  already.  But  the  paralysis  that  kept  it  stuck  at 

340  Let's  Play  Soldiers 

the  pit  of  my  stomach  now  affected  my  legs  and  I  stopped  run- 

This,  as  it  turned  out,  was  a  purely  instinctive  reaction.  Every- 
one else  had  stopped  running  too. 

'Charge!'  someone  yelled  and  this  time  it  was  not  our  Cap- 
tain, Jeddah. 

The  order  came  from  behind  us  and  as  we  turned  in  its  direc- 
tion we  found  ourselves  the  victims  of  the  oldest  of  all  battle 
manoeuvres.  We  were  being  attacked  in  the  rear. 

This  time  my  eyes  froze.  The  Pit  Brigade  stood  waiting  for 
us :  eight  or  ten  of  them,  headed  by  a  black-mouthed  deaf-mute 
armed  with  five-foot  two-pronged  hoe.  Another  had  an  ugly 
strip  of  barrel  hoop  sharpend  up  like  a  sword  and  another  a 
catapult  with  a  black  leather  sling  big  enough  to  hold  an  egg. 
He  was  smoking  a  cigarette.  Two  others  were  manning  a  two- 
seater  pram  armoured  with  rusty  plates  of  corrugated  iron  and 
this,  we  all  realised,  was  an  armament  we  did  not  possess.  It  was 
the  first  tank  we  had  encountered. 

The  deaf-mute  started  showing  his  black  teeth,  gurgling 
strange  cries.  He  made  vigorous  deaf-and-dumb  signs  with  his 
hands  and  the  snarling  faces  about  him  jabbered.  The  entire  Pit 
Brigade,  older,  bigger,  dirtier  and  better  armed  than  we  were, 
stood  ready  to  attack. 

It  was  too  late  to  think  about  being  a  lance-corporal  now  and 
a  moment  later  they  were  on  us. 

'Charge ! '  everyone  shouted  from  both  sides.  'Charge ! '  and  we 
were  locked  in  an  instant  clash  of  bricks,  stones,  catapults,  flags, 
sticks  and  air-guns  that  would  not  fire.  Above  it  all  the  unearthly 
voice  of  the  deaf  mute  gurgled  like  a  throttled  man,  mouthing 
black  nothings. 

I  threw  my  brick.  It  fell  like  the  legendary  sparrow  through 
the  air.  Someone  started  to  tear  the  coat  off  my  back  and  I 
thrashed  madly  about  me  with  the  umbrella.  I  could  see  our  two 
flags  rocking  ship-mast  fashion  in  the  centre  of  battle  and  Char- 
ley Fletcher  using  the  bugle  as  a  hammer.  The  two-pronged  hoe 
fell  like  a  claw  among  us  and  the  armour  plates  fell  off  the  pram- 
tank  as  it  ran  into  Fred  Baker  and  cut  his  legs,  drawing  first 

Soon  we  actually  had  them  retreating. 

'We're   the   English!'   I   heard   Jeddah  shouting.   'We're  the 

Let's  Play  Soldiers  341 

English !  The  Pit  are  the  bloody  Germans/  and  this  stirring  cry 
of  patriotism  roused  us  to  fresh  thrills  of  battle  frenzy. 

We're  the  English !'  we  all  yelled.  We're  the  English!' 

Suddenly  as  if  a  trap  door  had  opened  the  Pit  Brigade,  under 
sheer  weight  of  pressure,  fell  backward  into  the  jaws  of  The  Pit, 
hastily  slamming  the  door  behind  them  as  a  barricade  and 
leaving  outside  a  single  stray  soldier  armed  with  a  rusty  flat  iron 
suspended  on  a  piece  of  cord  and  dressed  as  a  sergeant  of  the 
Royal  Artillery,  complete  with  spurs  and  puttees. 

Cut  off  from  the  tide  of  battle,  this  soldier  gave  several  rapid 
and  despairing  looks  about  him,  dropped  the  flat  iron  and  bolted 
like  a  hare. 

'Prisoner !'  Jeddah  yelled.  'Prisoner!  Git  him!  Take  him 
prisoner ! ' 

In  a  moment  Fred  Baker,  Charley  Fletcher  and  myself  were 
after  him.  We  caught  him  at  the  top  to  The  Jetty.  At  first  he 
lay  on  his  back  and  kicked  out  at  us  with  the  spurs,  spitting  at 
the  same  time,  but  soon  I  was  sitting  on  his  face,  Fred  Baker  on 
his  chest  and  Charley  Fletcher,  who  was  the  eldest,  on  his  legs. 
For  a  long  time  he  kept  trying  to  spit  at  us  and  all  the  time  there 
was  a  strong,  putrid,  stinking,  funny  smell  about  him. 

We  kept  him  prisoner  all  afternoon.  Then  we  decided  to  strip 
him.  While  Fred  and  I  sat  on  his  face  and  chest  Charley  unrolled 
the  puttees  and  took  off  the  spurs. 

'You  always  have  spoils  of  war  when  you  take  prisoners,' 
Charley  explained.  'Soldiers  call  it  a  bit  of  buckshee.' 

We  spent  some  time  arguing  about  how  the  buckshee  should 
be  divided  and  finally  Charley  was  awarded  the  puttees,  because 
he  was  the  eldest,  and  Fred  Baker  and  I  each  had  a  spur.  Hav- 
ing the  spur  was  even  better  than  being  a  lance  corporal  and  I 
couldn't  remember  ever  having  had  anything  that  made  me  feel 
more  proud. 

It  was  almost  evening  before  Jeddah  and  the  rest  of  the  Bat- 
talion got  back,  fifty  strong,  from  telling  of  our  victory  in  far 
places,  in  Lancaster  Street,  Rectory  Street,  Bedford  Row,  King's 
Lane  and  those  parts  of  the  town  who  could  not  be  expected  to 
hear  of  our  triumph  other  than  by  word  of  mouth  and  from  us. 

'We  still  got  the  prisoner,  Captain,'  we  said.  'What  shall  we 
do  with  him  ? ' 

'Shoot  him,'  Jeddah  said. 

342  Let's  Play  Soldiers 

Orders  were  orders  with  Jeddah  and  we  asked  if  we  could  have 
the  air-gun. 

He  handed  it  over. 

'I  leave  it  to  you/  Jeddah  said.  He  was  now  wearing  a  forage 
cap,  three  long  service  stripes,  a  leather  belt  and  a  Welch  black 
flash  he  had  captured.  'Charge ! ' 

The  sound  of  returning  triumph  from  the  fifty-strong  bat- 
talion had  hardly  died  away  before  we  set  to  work  to  shoot  the 
flat-iron  boy. 

First  of  all  we  made  him  stand  up  by  the  fence,  among  a  pile 
of  junk  and  nettles.  By  this  time  we  had  tied  his  hands  and  legs 
with  the  cord  off  the  flat-iron  and  had  taken  off  his  shoes  so  that 
he  found  it  hard  to  run.  But  he  still  spat  at  us  as  he  stood  waiting 
to  be  shot  and  he  still  had  that  funny,  sickening  smell. 

Fred  Baker  shot  him  first.  The  unloaded  air-gun  made  a  noise 
rather  like  a  damp  squib.  Then  Charley  Fletcher  shot  him  and 
the  gun  made  a  noise  like  a  damp  squib  a  second  time.  Then  I 
shot  him  and  as  I  did  so  I  made  a  loud,  realistic  noise  that  was 
more  like  the  crack  of  a  bursting  paper  bag.  I  aimed  between  the 
eyes  of  the  flat-iron  boy  as  I  shot  and  I  was  very  thrilled. 

'Now  you're  dead,'  we  said  to  him.  'Don't  you  forget.  Don't 
you  move  -  you're  dead.  You  can't  fight  no  more.' 

He  didn't  look  very  dead  when  we  left  him  but  we  knew  he 
he  was.  We  told  the  Captain  so  when  we  rejoined  the  battalion 
in  Gas  Street,  Fred  Baker  blowing  the  bugle  and  wearing  the 
artillery  puttees,  Charley  Fletcher  and  I  taking  turns  to  carry 
the  air-gun  and  both  of  us  waving  a  spur. 

Jeddah  was  drunk  with  victory.  'Tomorrow  we're  goin'  to 
charge  The  Rock ! '  he  said.  The  Rock  was  even  worse  than  The 
Pit  but  now  none  of  us  was  appalled  and  all  of  us  cheered.  There 
was  no  holding  us  now. 

'We'll  kill  'em  all!'  Jeddah  said.  'We'll  burn  ole  Wag  Saunders 
at  the  stake.'  Wag  was  their  Captain.  'Just  like  Indians.  We'll 
win  'em.  We  ain't  frit.  Who  are  we?' 

'We're  the  English ! '  we  yelled. 

It  was  already  growing  dark  when  I  trotted  home  through 
the  streets  with  my  spur.  In  the  back  yard  there  were  no  lights 
in  Mrs  Rankin's  neat,  white-silled  windows  and  in  Mrs  Strick- 
land's house  all  the  blinds  were  drawn  although  all  the  lights 
were  on. 

Let's  Play  Soldiers  343 

Where  have  you  been  all  this  long  time?'  my  father  said. 

He  sat  alone  in  the  kitchen,  facing  a  cold  rice  pudding.  My 
father  was  very  fond  of  cold  rice  pudding  but  tonight  he  did 
not  seem  to  want  it.  Under  the  green  gaslight  the  brown  nutmeg 
skin  of  it  shone  unbroken. 

'Fighting  with  our  battalion/  I  said. 

I  told  him  how  the  battle  had  been  won  and  how  I  had  cap- 
tured the  spur. 

'That  spur  doesn't  belong  to  you/  he  said.  'Tomorrow  morn- 
ing you  must  take  it  back.' 

I  felt  sick  with  disappointment  and  at  the  way  grown-up 
people  didn't  understand  you. 

'Can  I  keep  it  just  for  tonight?' 

'Just  for  tonight/  he  said.  'But  you  must  take  it  back  tomor- 

Then  I  remembered  something  and  I  told  him  how  the  boy 
I'd  got  it  from  was  dead. 

'How  is  that?'  he  said.  'Dead?' 

'We  shot  him.' 

'Oh !  I  see/  he  said.  'Well :  tomorrow  you  go  and  find  the  dead 
boy  and  give  him  back  his  spur.' 

Looking  round  the  kitchen  I  now  remembered  my  mother 
and  asked  where  she  was. 

'She's  with  Mrs  Strickland/  my  father  said.  'Mrs  Rankin's 
with  her  too.  I  expect  you  noticed  that  all  the  blinds  were 
drawn  ? ' 

I  said  I  had  noticed  and  did  it  mean  that  someone  was  dead? 

'It's  your  friend  -  your  friend  Albie's  not  going  to  come  back,' 
my  father  said. 

After  that  my  father  didn't  seem  to  want  to  speak  very  much 
and  I  said: 

'Could  I  go  and  play  in  the  tent  until  mother  comes  home?' 

'You  can  go  and  play  in  the  tent/  he  said. 

'With  a  candle?'  I  said.  'It's  dark  now  outside.' 

'Take  a  candle  if  you  like,'  he  said. 

I  took  a  candle  and  sat  in  the  tent  all  by  myself,  looking  at  my 
spur.  It  was  shaped  something  like  a  handcuff  to  which  was 
attached  a  silver  star.  The  candlelight  shone  down  on  the  spur 
with  wonderful  brilliance  and  as  I  looked  at  it  I  remembered  the 
voices  of  Mrs  Strickland  and  Mrs  Rankin  squabbling  with  bit- 

344  Let's  Play  Soldiers 

terness  over  a  loaf  of  bread  in  the  afternoon  and  how  Mrs  Strick- 
land wisht  that  Albie  would  come  back,  and  now  I  listened  again 
for  their  voices  coming  from  the  outer  darkness  but  all  I  could 
hear  was  the  voice  from  the  afternoon : 

'I  wisht  Albie  was  here.  I  wisht  Albie  was  here.' 

There  is  nothing  much  you  can  do  with  a  solitary  candle  and 
a  single  spur.  The  spur  can  only  shine  like  silver  and  the  candle- 
light with  a  black  vein  in  the  heart  of  it. 

Early  next  morning  I  took  the  spur  back  to  The  Pit.  I  ran  all 
the  way  there  and  I  was  glad  that  no  one  saw  me.  The  sun  was 
coming  up  over  the  gas-tarred  fences,  the  little  hovels,  the  privies 
and  the  washing  lines  and  all  I  did  was  to  lay  the  spur  on  a  stone 
in  the  sunlight,  hoping  that  someone  would  come  and  find  it 

I  ran  all  the  way  home,  too,  as  hard  as  I  could :  afraid  of  the 
enemy  we  had  conquered  and  the  soldier  I  had  killed. 


The  first  time  he  ever  went  to  that  house  was  in  the  summer, 
when  he  was  seven,  and  his  grandfather  drove  him  down  the 
valley  in  a  yellow  trap  and  all  the  beans  were  in  flower,  with  sky- 
larks singing  so  high  above  them  in  the  brilliant  light  that  they 
hung  trembling  there  like  far-off  butterflies. 

Who  is  it  we're  going  to  see?'  he  said. 

'Sar'  Ann.' 

Which  one  is  Sar'  Ann?' 

'Now  mek  out  you  don*  know  which  one  Sar'  Ann  is/  his 
grandfather  said,  and  then  tickled  the  flank  of  the  pony  with  the 
end  of  the  plaited  whip  -  he  always  wanted  to  plait  reeds  like 
that  himself  but  he  could  never  make  them  tight  enough -so 
that  the  brown  rumps,  shorn  and  groomed  for  summer,  quivered 
like  firm  round  jellies. 

'I  don't  think  Fve  ever  seen  her/  he  said. 

'You  seen  her  at  Uncle  Arth's/  his  grandfather  said.  'Mek  out 
you  don't  remember  that,  and  you  see  her  a  time  or  two  at  Jen- 
ny's.' He  pronounced  it  Jinny,  but  even  then  the  boy  couldn't 
remember  who  Jinny  was  and  he  knew  his  grandfather  wouldn't 
tell  him  until  he  remembered  who  Sar'  Ann  was  and  perhaps 
not  even  after  that. 

He  tried  for  some  moments  longer  to  recall  what  Sar'  Ann 
was  like  and  remembered  presently  a  square  old  lady  in  a  pork- 
pie  lace  cap  and  a  sort  of  bib  of  black  jet  beads  on  a  large  frontal 
expanse  of  shining  satin.  Her  eyes  were  watering.  She  sat  on  the 
threshold  of  a  house  that  smelled  of  apples  and  wax  polish.  She 
was  in  the  sun,  with  a  lace-pillow  and  bone  bobbins  in  a  blue 
and  ivory  fan  on  her  knees.  She  was  making  lace  and  her  hands 
were  covered  with  big  raised  veins  like  the  leaves  of  cabbages 
when  you  turned  them  upside  down.  He  was  sure  that  this  was 
Sar'  Ann.  He  remembered  how  she  had  touched  his  hands  with 
her  big  cold  cabbagy  ones  and  said  she  would  fetch  him  a  cheese- 
cake, or  if  he  would  rather  have  it  a  piece  of  toffee,  from  the 
cupboard  in  her  kitchen.  She  said  the  toffee  was  rather  sugary 


346  The  Watercress  Girl 

and  that  made  him  say  he  preferred  the  cheese-cake,  but  his 
grandfather  said : 

'Now  don't  you  git  up.  He's  ettin'  from  morn  to  night  now. 
His  eyes  are  bigger'n  his  belly.  You  jis  sit  still/  and  he  felt  he 
would  cry  because  he  was  so  fond  of  cheese-cake  and  because  he 
could  hardly  bear  his  disappointment. 

'She's  the  one  who  wanted  to  give  me  cheese-cake,'  he  said, 
'isn't  she?' 

'No,  she  ain't/  his  grandfather  said.  'That's  your  Aunt 

'Then  is  she  the  one  who's  married  to  Uncle  Arth?  Up  the 
high  steps  ? '  he  said. 

'Uncle  Arth  ain't  married/  his  grandfather  said.  'That's  jis 
the  widder-woman  who  looks  after  him.' 

His  Uncle  Arth  was  always  in  a  night-shirt,  with  a  black  scarf 
round  his  head.  He  lived  in  bed  all  the  time.  His  eyes  were  very 
red.  Inside  him,  so  his  grandfather  said,  was  a  stone  and  the 
stone  couldn't  go  up  or  down  but  was  fixed,  his  grandfather  said, 
in  his  kitney,  and  it  was  growing  all  the  time. 

The  stone  was  an  awful  nightmare  to  him,  the  boy.  How  big 
was  it?  What  sort  of  stone  was  it?  he  would  say,  a  stone  in  the 
kitney  ? 

'Like  a  pibble,'  his  grandfather  said.  'Hard  as  a  pibble.  And 
very  like  as  big  as  a  thresh's  egg.  Very  like  bigger'n  that  by  now. 
Very  like  as  big  as  a  magpie's.' 

'How  did  it  get  there  ? ' 

'You're  arstin'  on  me  now/  his  grandfather  said.  'It'd  be  a 
puzzle  to  know.  But  it  got  there.  And  there  it  is.  Stuck  in  his 

'Has  anybody  ever  seen  it?' 


'Then  if  nobody's  ever  seen  it  how  do  they  know  it's  there?' 

'Lean  forward,'  his  grandfather  said.  'We're  gittin'  to  Long 
Leys  hill.  Lean  forward,  else  the  shafts'll  poke  through  the  sky.' 

It  was  when  they  climbed  slowly  up  the  long  wide  hill,  already 
white  with  the  dust  of  early  summer,  that  he  became  aware  of 
the  beans  in  flower  and  the  skylarks  singing  so  loftily  above  them. 
The  scent  of  beans  came  in  soft  waves  of  wonderful  sweetness. 
He  saw  the  flowers  on  the  grey  sunlit  stalks  like  swarms  of  white, 
dark-throated  bees.  The  hawthorn  flower  was  nearly  over  and 

The  Watercress  Girl  347 

was  turning  pink  wherever  it  remained.  The  singing  of  the  sky- 
larks lifted  the  sky  upward,  farther  and  farther,  loftier  and  lof- 
tier, and  the  sun  made  the  blue  of  it  clear  and  blinding.  He  felt 
that  all  summer  was  pouring  down  the  hill,  between  ditches  of 
rising  meadowsweet,  to  meet  him.  The  cold  quivering  days  of 
coltsfoot  flower,  the  icy-sunny  days  of  racing  cloud-shadow 
over  drying  ploughland,  the  dark-white  days  of  April  hail,  were 
all  behind  him,  and  he  was  thirsty  with  summer  dust  and  his 
face  was  hot  in  the  sun. 

'You  ain't  recollected  her  yit,  have  you?'  his  grandfather  said. 

They  were  at  the  top  of  the  hill  now  and  below  them,  in  its 
yellow  meadows,  he  could  see  a  river  winding  away  in  broad 
and  shining  curves.  He  knew  that  that  river  was  at  the  end  of 
the  earth;  that  the  meadows,  and  with  them  the  big  woods  of  oak 
and  hornbeam  and  their  fading  dusty  spangles  of  flower,  were 
another  world. 

'Take  holt  o'  the  reins  a  minute/  his  grandfather  said.  He  put 
on  the  brake  a  notch  and  the  brake  shoes  scraped  on  the  metal 
tyres.  The  boy  held  the  thin  smooth  reins  lightly  between  his 
fingers,  the  way  he  had  been  taught  to  do.  He  sat  forward  on  the 
high  horse-hair  cushions  and  looked  down  the  long  black  tram- 
lines of  the  dead  level  reins  to  the  brown  pony's  ears  and  felt 
himself,  for  one  moment,  high  on  the  hill,  to  be  floating  in  air, 
level  with  all  the  skylarks  above  the  fields  below. 

Til  jis  git  me  bacca  going/  his  grandfather  said.  'We'll  be 
there  in  about  a  quartern  of  hour.  You  keep  holt  on  her  steady.' 

He  wanted  to  say  to  his  grandfather  that  that  was  a  funny 
word,  quartern;  his  schoolteacher  never  used  that  word;  and 
then  as  he  turned  he  saw  the  brown,  red-veined  face  softened 
by  the  first  pulls  of  tobacco.  All  the  mystery  of  it  was  dissolved 
in  a  blue  sweet  cloud.  Then  his  grandfather  began  coughing  be- 
cause the  bacca,  he  said,  had  gone  down  wrong  way  and  was 
tiddling  his  gills.  His  eyes  were  wet  from  coughing  and  he  was 
laughing  and  saying : 

'You  know  who  she  is.  She's  the  one  with  the  specs  like 

Then  he  knew.  She  was  a  little  woman,  he  remembered  clearly 
now,  with  enormous  spy-glass  spectacles.  They  were  thick  and 
round  like  the  marbles  he  played  with.  She  was  always  whisking 
about  like  a  clean  starched  napkin.  He  had  seen  her  at  Uncle 

348  The  Watercress  Girl 

Arth's  and  she  had  jolted  Uncle  Arth  about  the  bed  with  a  ter- 
rible lack  of  mercy  as  she  re-made  his  pillows,  smacking  them 
with  her  lightning  hands  as  if  they  were  disobedient  bottoms. 
The  colossal  spectacles  gave  the  eyes  a  terrible  look  of  magnifi- 
cation. They  wobbled  sometimes  like  masses  of  pale  floating 
frog-spawn.  He  didn't  like  her;  he  was  held  in  the  spawn-like 
hypnotism  of  the  eyes  and  dared  not  speak.  She  had  a  voice  like 
a  jackdaw's  which  pecked  and  mocked  at  everybody  with  nasty 
jabs.  He  knew  that  he  had  got  her  mixed  up  somehow  and  he 

'I  thought  the  one  with  the  glass  eye  was  Aunt  Prunes.' 

'Prudence!'  his  grandfather  said.  'They're  sisters.  She's  the 
young  'un,  Prudence.'  He  spat  in  a  long  liquid  line,  with  off-hand 
care,  over  the  side  of  the  trap.  'Prunes  ?  -  that  was  funny. 
How'd  you  come  to  git  holt  o'  that?' 

'I  thought  everybody  else  called  her  Prunes.' 

'Oh!  You  did,  simly?  Well,  it's  Prudence.  Prudence  -  that's 
her  proper  name.' 

Simly  was  another  funny  word.  He  would  never  understand 
that  word.  That  was  another  word  his  schoolteacher  never 

'Is  she  the  one  with  the  moustache  ? ' 

'God  alive,'  the  man  said.  'Don't  you  say  moustache.  You'll 
git  me  hung  if  you  say  moustache.  That's  your  Aunt  Prudence 
you're  talking  about.  Females  don't  have  moustaches  -  you  know 

He  knew  better  than  that  because  Aunt  Prunes  had  a  mous- 
tache. She  was  a  female  and  it  was  quite  a  long  moustache  and 
she  had,  what  was  more,  a  few  whiskers  on  the  central  part  of 
her  chin. 

'Why  doesn't  she  shave  it  off?'  he  said. 

'You  watch  what  you're  doing,'  his  grandfather  said.  'You'll 
have  us  in  the  duck-pond.' 

'How  do  you  spell  it?'  he  said.  'Her  name -Prunes?' 

'Here,  you  gimme  holt  o'  the  reins  now,'  his  grandfather  said. 
'We'll  be  there  in  five  ticks  of  a  donkey's  tail/ 

His  grandfather  took  the  reins  and  let  the  brake  off,  and  in  a 
minute  the  pony  was  trotting  and  they  were  in  a  world  of  high 
green  reeds  and  grey  drooping  willows  by  the  river. 

'Is  it  the  house  near  the  spinney?'  he  said. 

The  Watercress  Girl  349 

That's  it,'  his  grandfather  said.  The  little  'un  with  the  big 

He  was  glad  he  remembered  the  house  correctly :  not  because 
he  had  ever  seen  it  but  because  his  grandfather  always  described 
it  with  natural  familiarity,  as  if  taking  it  for  granted  that  he  had 
seen  it.  He  was  glad  too  about  Aunt  Prunes.  It  was  very  hard  to 
get  everyone  right.  There  were  so  many  of  them,  Aunt  Prunes 
and  Sar'  Ann  and  Aunt  Turvey  and  Uncle  Arth  and  Jenny  and 
Uncle  Ben  Newton,  who  kept  a  pub,  and  Uncle  Oily,  who  was 
a  fat  man  with  short  black  leggings  exactly  like  polished  bottles. 
His  grandfather  would  speak  of  these  people  as  if  they  were 
playmates  who  had  always  been  in  his  life  and  were  to  be  taken 
for  granted  naturally  and  substantially  like  himself.  They  were 
all  very  old,  terribly  old,  and  he  never  knew,  even  afterwards, 
if  they  were  ordinary  aunts  or  uncles  or  great  ones  or  only  cous- 
ins some  stage  removed. 

The  little  house  had  two  rooms  downstairs  with  polished  red 
bricks  for  floors  and  white  glass  vases  or  dried  reeds  from  the 
river  on  the  mantelpiece.  His  grandfather  and  Aunt  Prunes  and 
Sar'  Ann  and  himself  had  dinner  in  the  room  where  the  stove 
was,  and  there  were  big  dishes  of  potatoes,  mashed  with  thick 
white  butter  sauce.  Before  dinner  he  sat  in  the  other  room  with 
his  grandfather  and  Aunt  Prunes  and  looked  at  a  large  leather 
book  called  Sunday  at  Home,  a  prize  Aunt  Prunes  had  won  at 
Bible  Class,  a  book  in  which  there  were  sandwiched,  between 
steel-cuts  of  men  in  frock  coats  and  sailors  in  sailing  ships  and 
ladies  in  black  bonnets,  pressings  of  dried  flowers  thin  as  tissue 
from  the  meadows  and  the  riverside.  His  contemplation  of  the 
flat  golden  transparencies  of  buttercup  and  the  starry  eyes  of 
bull-daisy  and  the  woolly  feathers  of  grass  and  reed  was  ravaged 
continually  by  the  voice  of  Sar*  Ann,  the  jackdaw,  pecking  and 
jabbing  from  the  kitchen : 

There's  something  there  to  keep  you  quiet.  That's  a  nice  book, 
that  is.  You  can  look  at  that  all  afternoon.' 

'You  tell  me,'  Aunt  Prunes  said  softly,  'when  you  want 

He  liked  Aunt  Prunes.  She  was  quiet  and  tender.  The  mous- 
tache, far  from  being  forbidding,  brushed  him  with  friendly 
softness,  and  the  little  room  was  so  hot  with  sun  and  cooking  that 
there  were  beads  of  sweat  on  the  whiskers  which  he  made  the 

350  The  Watercress  Girl 

mistake  of  thinking,  for  some  time,  were  drops  of  the  cowslip 
wine  she  was  drinking.  His  grandfather  had  several  glasses  of 
cowslip  wine  and  after  the  third  or  fourth  of  them  he  took  off 
his  coat  and  collar. 

At  the  same  time  Aunt  Prunes  bent  down  and  took  the  book 
away  from  him  and  said : 

'You  can  take  off  your  coat  too.  That's  it.  That's  better.  Do 
you  want  to  go  anywhere  ? ' 

'Not  yet/ 

'When  you  do  it's  down  the  garden  and  behind  the  elderberry 
tree.'  Her  eyes  were  a  modest  brown  colour,  the  same  colour 
as  her  moustache,  and  there  were  many  wrinkles  about  them  as 
she  smiled.  He  could  smell  the  sweetish  breath,  like  the  yeast  his 
grandmother  used  for  baking,  of  the  fresh  wine  on  her  lips,  and 
she  said : 

'What  would  you  like  to  do  this  afternoon  ?  Tell  me  what  you'd 
like  to  do.' 

'Read  this  book.' 

'I  mean  really.' 

'I  don't  know.' 

'You  do  what  you  like,'  she  said.  'You  go  down  to  the  back- 
brook  or  in  the  garden  or  into  the  spinney  and  find  snails 
or  sticklebacks  or  whatever  you  like.' 

She  smiled  delicately,  creating  thousands  of  wrinkles,  and 
then  from  the  kitchen  Sar'  Ann  screeched : 

'I'm  dishing  up  in  two  minutes,  you  boozers.  You'd  guzzle 
there  till  bulls'-noon  if  I'd  let  you.' 

Bulls'-noon  was  another  word,  another  strange  queer  thing  he 
didn't  understand. 

For  dinner  they  had  Yorkshire  pudding  straight  out  of  the 
pan  and  on  to  the  plate,  all  by  itself,  as  the  opening  course.  Some- 
times his  grandfather  slid  slices  of  the  creamy  yellow  pudding 
into  his  mouth  on  the  end  of  his  knife  and  said  he  remembered 
the  days  when  all  pudden  was  eaten  first  and  you  had  your  plate 
turned  upside  down,  so  that  you  could  turn  it  over  when  the 
meat  came.  Sar'  Ann  said  she  remembered  that  too  and  she  said 
they  were  the  days  and  she  didn't  care  what  anybody  said.  People 
were  happier.  They  didn't  have  so  much  of  everything  but  they 
were  happier.  He  saw  Aunt  Prunes  give  a  little  dry  grin  when- 
ever Sar'  Ann  went  jabbing  on  and  once  he  thought  he  saw  her 

The  Watercress  Girl  351 

wink  at  his  grandfather.  All  the  time  the  door  of  the  little  room 
was  open  so  that  he  could  see  into  the  garden  with  its  white  pinks 
and  stocks  and  purple  iris  flags  and  now  and  then  he  could  hear 
the  cuckoo,  sometimes  near,  sometimes  far  off  across  the 
meadows,  and  many  blackbirds  singing  in  endless  call  and 
answer  in  the  oak-trees  at  the  end  of  the  garden,  where  rhubarb 
and  elderberry  were  in  foaming  flower  together. 

'You  can  hear  nightingales  too/  Aunt  Prunes  said.  'Would  you 
like  more  pudding?  You  can  have  more  pudding  if  you  want  it.' 

But  his  grandfather  said  again  that  his  eyes  were  always  bigger 
than  his  belly  and  the  pudding  was  put  away.  'Ets  like  a  thacker/ 
his  grandfather  said  and  Aunt  Prunes  said,  'Let  him  eat  then.  I 
like  to  see  boys  eat.  It  does  your  heart  good,'  and  she  smiled  and 
gave  him  cloudy  piles  of  white  potatoes  and  white  sauce  from 
a  blue  china  boat  and  thin  slices  of  rich  beef  with  blood  running 
out  and  washing  against  the  shores  of  his  potatoes  like  the  little 
waves  of  a  delicate  pink  sea. 

'How's  Nance  and  Granny  Houghton  ?'  Sar*  Ann  said,  and 
his  grandfather  said  they  were  fair-to-mid  and  suddenly  there 
was  great  talk  of  relatives,  of  grown-ups,  of  people  he  didn't 
know,  of  Charley  and  a  man  he  thought  was  named  Uncle 
Fuggles  and  Cathy  and  Aunt  Em  and  Maude  Rose  and  two 
people  called  Liz  and  Herbert  from  Bank  Top.  His  grandfather, 
who  had  begun  the  meal  with  three  or  four  glasses  of  cowslip 
wine  and  a  glass  of  beer,  now  helped  himself  to  another  glass  of 
beer  and  then  dropped  gravy  down  his  waistcoat.  Aunt  Prunes 
had  beer  too  and  her  eyes  began  to  look  warm  and  sleepy  and 
beautifully  content. 

Afternoon,  cuckoo-drowsy,  very  still  and  full  of  sun,  seemed 
to  thicken  like  a  web  about  him  long  before  the  meal  was  over. 
He  thought  with  dread  of  the  quietness  when  all  of  them  would 
be  asleep  and  he  himself  in  the  little  room  with  a  big  boring  book 
and  its  rustling  transparencies  of  faded  flowers.  He  knew  what 
it  was  like  to  try  to  move  in  the  world  of  grown-up  sleep.  The 
whisper  of  the  thinnest  page  would  wake  them.  Night  was  the 
time  for  sleeping  and  it  was  one  of  the  mysteries  of  life  that 
people  could  also  sleep  by  day,  in  chairs,  in  summertime,  in 
mouth-open  attitudes,  and  with  snorting  noises  and  legs  suddenly 
jumping  like  the  legs  of  horses  when  the  flies  were  bad. 

Then  to  his  joy  Aunt  Prunes  remembered  and  said : 

352  The  Watercress  Girl 

'You  know  what  I  said.  You  run  into  the  garden  and  have  a 
look  in  the  spinney  for  nests.  Go  down  as  far  as  the  back-brook 
if  you  like.' 

'That's  it/  his  grandfather  said.  'You'll  very  like  see  a  moor- 
hen's or  a  coot's  or  summat  down  there.  Else  a  pike  or  summat. 
Used  to  be  a  rare  place  for  pike,  a-layin'  there  a-top  o'  the 
water — ' 

'Don't  you  git  falling  in/  Sar'  Ann  said.  'Don't  you  git  them 
feet  wet.  Don't  you  git  them  gooseberries  -  they'll  give  you  belly- 
ache summat  chronic — ' 

'You  bring  me  some  flowers,'  Aunt  Prunes  said.  'Eh?  -how's 
that?  You  stay  a  long  time,  as  long  as  you  like,  and  bring  me 
some  flowers.' 

There  were  no  nests  in  the  spinney  except  a  pigeon's  high  up 
in  a  hazel-tree  that  was  too  thin  to  climb.  He  was  not  quite  sure 
about  the  song  of  a  nightingale.  He  knew  the  blackbird's,  full 
and  rich  and  dark  like  the  bird  itself  and  deep  like  the  summer 
shadow  of  the  closing  wood,  and  with  the  voices  of  thrushes  the 
blackbirds'  song  filled  all  the  wood  with  bell-sounds  and  belling 

Beyond  the  wood  the  day  was  clear  and  hot.  The  grass  was 
high  to  his  knees  and  the  ground,  falling  away,  was  marshy  in 
places,  with  mounds  of  sedge,  as  it  ran  down  towards  the  back- 
brook  and  the  river.  He  walked  with  his  eyes  on  the  ground, 
partly  because  of  oozy  holes  among  the  sedge,  partly  because  he 
hoped  to  see  the  brown  ring  of  a  moorhen's  nest  in  the  marshier 

It  was  because  of  his  way  of  walking  that  he  did  not  see,  for 
some  time,  a  girl  standing  up  to  her  knees  in  red-ochre  mud, 
among  half-floating  beds  of  dark-green  cresses.  But  suddenly  he 
lifted  his  head  and  saw  her  standing  there,  bare-legged  and  bare- 
armed,  staring  at  him  as  if  she  had  been  watching  him  for  a  long 
time.  Her  brown  osier  cress-basket  was  like  a  two-bushel  measure 
and  was  slung  over  her  shoulder  with  a  strap. 

'You  don't  live  here/  she  said. 

'No/  he  said.  'Do  you?' 

'Over  there/  she  said.  'In  that  house.' 

'Which  house?'  He  could  not  see  a  house. 

'You  come  here  and  you  can  see  it/  she  said. 

When  he  had  picked  his  way  through  tufts  of  sedge  to  where 

The  Watercress  Girl  353 

she  was  standing  in  the  bed  of  cresses  he  still  could  not  see  a 
house,  either  about  the  wood  or  across  the  meadows  on  the  rising 
ground  beyond. 

'You  can  see  the  chimney  smoking/  she  said. 

'It's  not  a  house.  It's  a  hut/  he  said. 

'That's  where  we  live.' 

'All  the  time?' 

'Yes/  she  said.  'You're  sinking  in.' 

The  toes  of  his  boots  were  slowly  drowning  in  red-ochre 

'If  you're  coming  out  here  you'd  better  take  your  shoes  and 
stockings  off,'  she  said. 

A  moment  or  two  later  his  bare  feet  were  cool  in  the  water. 
She  was  gathering  cresses  quickly,  cutting  them  off  with  an  old 
shoe-knife,  leaving  young  sprigs  and  trailing  skeins  of  white  root 
behind.  She  was  older  than  himself,  nine  or  ten,  he  thought,  and 
her  hair  hung  ribbonless  and  uncombed,  a  brown  colour,  rather 
like  the  colour  of  the  basket,  down  her  back. 

'Can  I  gather?'  he  said,  and  she  said,  yes,  if  he  knew  what 
brook-lime  was. 

'I  know  brook-lime,'  he  said.  'Everybody  knows  brook-lime.' 

'Then  which  is  it?  Show  me  which  it  is.  Which  is  brook-lime?' 

That  was  almost  as  bad,  he  thought,  as  being  nagged  by  Sar' 
Ann.  The  idea  that  he  did  not  know  brook-lime  from  cress 
seemed  to  him  a  terrible  insult  and  a  pain.  He  snatched  up  a 
piece  in  irritation  but  it  did  not  break  and  came  up  instead  from 
the  mud-depths  in  a  long  rope  of  dripping  red-black  slime,  spat- 
tering his  shirt  and  trousers. 

She  laughed  at  this  and  he  laughed  too.  Her  voice,  he  thought, 
sounded  cracked,  as  if  she  were  hoarse  from  shouting  or  a  cold. 
The  sound  of  it  carried  a  long  way.  He  heard  it  crack  over  the 
meadows  and  the  river  with  a  coarse  broken  sort  of  screech  that 
was  like  the  slitting  of  rag  in  the  deep  oppressive  afternoon. 

He  never  knew  till  long  afterwards  how  much  he  liked  that 
sound.  She  repeated  it  several  times  during  the  afternoon.  In  the 
same  cracked  voice  she  laughed  at  questions  he  asked  or  things 
he  did  not  know.  In  places  the  water,  shallower,  was  warm  on 
his  feet,  and  the  cresses  were  a  dark  polished  green  in  the  sun. 
She  laughed  because  he  did  not  know  that  anyone  could  live  by 
gathering  cresses.  He  must  be  a  real  town  boy,  she  said.  There 

354  The  Watercress  Girl 

was  only  she  and  her  father,  she  told  him,  and  she  began  to  tell 
what  he  afterwards  knew  were  beautiful  lies  about  the  way  they 
got  up  every  other  day  at  two  in  the  morning  and  tramped  out  to 
sell  cresses  in  Evensford  and  Bedford  and  towns  about  the  valley. 

'But  the  shops  aren't  open  then/  he  said  and  that  made  her 
laugh  again,  cracked  and  thin,  with  that  long  slitting  echo  across 
the  drowsy  meadows. 

'It's  not  in  the  shops  we  sell  them/  she  said.  'It's  in  the  streets 
-  don't  you  know  that  ?  -  in  the  streets — ' 

And  suddenly  she  lifted  her  head  and  drew  back  her  throat 
and  yelled  the  cry  she  used  in  the  streets.  He  had  heard  that  cry 
before,  high  and  long  and  melancholy,  like  a  call  across  lonely 
winter  marshes  in  its  slow  fall  and  dying  away,  and  there  was 
to  be  a  time  in  his  life  when  it  died  for  ever  and  he  never  heard 
it  again : 

' Watercree-ee-ee-ee-ee-s !  Fresh  cre-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-s !  Lovely 
fresh  watercre-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-s ! ' 

Standing  up  to  his  knees  in  water,  his  hands  full  of  wet  cresses 
and  slimy  skeins  of  roots  dripping  red  mud  down  his  shirt  and 
trousers,  he  listened  to  that  fascinating  sound  travelling  like  a 
bird-cry,  watery  and  not  quite  earthly,  down  through  the  spinney 
and  the  meadows  of  buttercup  and  the  places  where  the  pike 
were  supposed  to  lie. 

His  eyes  must  have  been  enormous  and  transfixed  in  his  head 
as  he  listened,  because  suddenly  she  broke  the  note  of  the  cry  and 
laughed  at  him  again  and  then  said : 

'You  do  it.  You  see  if  you  can  do  it — ' 

What  came  out  of  his  mouth  was  like  a  little  soprano  trill  com- 
pared with  her  own  full-throated,  long-carrying  cry.  It  made  her 
laugh  again  and  she  said : 

'You  ought  to  come  with  us.  Come  with  us  tomorrow  -  how 
long  are  you  staying  here  ? ' 

'Only  today.' 

'I  don't  know  where  we'll  go  tomorrow/  she  said.  'Evensford, 
I  think.  Sometimes  we  go  forty  or  fifty  miles  -  miles  and  miles. 
We  go  to  Buckingham  market  sometimes  -  that's  forty  miles — ' 

'Evensford/  he  said.  'That's  where  I  come  from.  I  could  see 
you  there  if  you  go.' 

'All  right/  she  said.  'Where  will  you  be?  We  come  in  by  The 
Waggon  and  Horses  -  down  the  hill,  that  way.' 

The  Watercress  Girl  355 

Til  be  at  The  Waggon  and  Horses  waiting  for  you/  he  said. 
'What  time?' 

'You  be  there  at  five  o'clock/  she  said.  'Then  I'll  learn  you 
how  to  do  it,  like  this  -  watercree-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-s !  Fresh  cree- 
ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-s !  Lovely  fresh  watercree-ee-ee-ee-ee-s ! ' 

As  the  sound  died  away  it  suddenly  seemed  to  him  that  he  had 
been  there,  up  to  his  knees  in  water,  a  very  long  time,  perhaps 
throughout  the  entire  length  of  the  sultry,  sun-flushed  afternoon. 
He  did  not  know  what  time  it  was.  He  was  cut  off  from  the  world 
of  Aunt  Prunes  and  Sar'  Ann  and  his  grandfather,  the  little 
house  and  the  white  pinks  and  the  gooseberry  trees,  the  big  bor- 
ing book  whose  pages  and  dead  flowers  turned  over  in  whispers. 

He  knew  that  he  ought  to  go  back  and  said : 

'I  got  to  go  now.  I'll  see  you  tomorrow  though  -  I'll  be  there. 
Five  o'clock.' 

'Yes,  you  be  there/  she  said.  She  wiped  a  may-fly  from  her 
face  with  her  forearm,  drawing  water  and  mud  across  it,  and 
then  remembered  something.  'You  want  some  cresses  for  tea? 
You  can  take  some.' 

She  plunged  her  hands  into  the  basket  and  brought  them  out 
filled  with  cresses.  They  were  cool  and  wet;  and  he  thought,  not 
only  then  but  long  afterwards,  that  they  were  the  nicest  things 
perhaps  anyone  had  ever  given  him. 

'So  long/  she  said. 

'So  long.'  That  was  another  funny  expression,  he  thought. 
He  could  never  understand  people  who  said  so  long  when  they 
seemed  to  mean,  as  he  did,  soon. 

She  waved  her  hands,  spilling  arcs  of  water-drops  in  the  sun, 
as  he  climbed  the  stile  into  the  spinney  and  went  back.  He  did 
his  best  to  wave  in  answer,  but  his  shoes  and  stockings  were  too 
wet  to  wear  and  his  hands  were  full  with  them  and  the  cresses. 
Instead  he  simply  stood  balanced  for  a  moment  on  the  top  bar  of 
the  stile,  so  that  she  could  see  him  well  and  then  call  to  him  for 
the  last  time : 

'Cree-ee-ee-ee-ee-es !  Lovely  fresh  cree-ee-ee-ee-es ! ' 

It  was  only  Aunt  Prunes  who  was  not  angry  with  him.  His 
grandfather  called  him  'A  young  gallus/  and  kept  saying,  'Where 
the  Hanover' ve  you  bin  all  the  time  ?  God  A'mighty,  you'll  git  me 
hung.  I'll  be  burned  if  I  don't  git  hung/  and  Sar'  Ann  flew  about 
the  kitchen  with  the  squawks  of  a  trapped  hen,  telling  him: 

356  The  Watercress  Girl 

'You  know  what  happens  to  little  boys  what  git  wet- foot?  And 
look  at  your  shirt!  They  git  their  death,  they  catch  their  death. 
And  don't  you  know  who  them  folks  are?  Gyppos  -  that's  all 
they  are.  Gyppos-they  nick  things,  they  live  on  other  folks. 
That's  the  sort  of  folks  they  are.  Don't  you  go  near  such  folks 
again  -  they'll  very  like  keep  you  and  take  you  away  and  you'll 
never  see  nobody  who  knows  you  again.  Then  we'll  find  you  in 
the  bury-hole.' 

But  he  was  not  afraid  of  that  and  Aunt  Prunes  only  said : 

'You  didn't  bring  me  my  flowers,  did  you?  I  like  watercress 
though.  I'm  glad  you  brought  the  watercress.  I  can  have  it  with 
my  tea.' 

It  was  late  before  they  could  start  for  home  again.  That  was 
because  his  socks  and  shirt  took  a  long  time  to  dry  and  his  shirt 
had  to  have  an  iron  run  over  it  several  times  in  case,  Sar'  Ann 
kept  saying,  his  mother  had  a  fit.  Before  getting  up  into  the  trap 
he  had  to  kiss  both  Sar'  Ann  and  Aunt  Prunes,  and  for  some 
moments  he  was  lost  in  the  horror  of  the  big  globular  spectacles 
reflecting  and  magnifying  the  evening  sun,  and  then  in  the 
friendliness  of  the  dark  moustaches  below  which  the  warm  mouth 
smiled  and  said : 

'How  would  you  like  to  stay  with  me  one  day?  Just  you  and  me 
in  the  summer.  Would  you  ? ' 

'Yes,'  he  said. 

'Then  you  come  and  see  me  again,  won't  you,  soon?' 

He  said  Yes,  he  would  see  her  soon.  But  in  fact  he  did  not  see 
her  soon  or  later  or  at  any  time  again.  He  did  not  go  to  that  house 
again  until  he  was  grown  up.  That  was  the  day  they  were  burying 
her  and  when  the  cork  of  silence  that  passed  over  the  grave  had 
blown  out  again  he  felt  he  could  hear  nothing  but  the  gassy  voice 
of  Sar'  Ann,  who  was  old  by  then  but  still  with  the  same  fierce 
roving  globular  eyes,  shrilly  reminding  him  of  the  day  he  had 
gathered  cresses. 

'I'll  bet  you  would  never  know  her  now,'  she  said,  'that  girl, 
would  you?  Would  you  ever  know  that  this  was  her?' 

Then  she  was  by  his  side  and  he  was  talking  to  her:  the  girl 
who  had  gathered  the  cresses,  the  same  girl  who  had  called  with 
that  screeching,  melancholy,  marshy  cry  across  the  summer  after- 
noon. She  was  all  in  black  and  her  hat  had  a  purple  feather  in 
the  crown.  He  remembered  the  little  hut  and  the  brown  osier 

The  Watercress  Girl  357 

basket  on  her  lithe  thin  shoulders  and  he  asked  her  where  she 
lived  and  what  she  was  doing  now.  'In  the  new  houses/  she  said. 
Tm  Mrs  Corbett  now/  She  took  him  to  the  garden  hedge  and 
pointed  out  to  him  blocks  of  bricks,  like  the  toys  of  gigantic  chil- 
dren, red  and  raw  and  concrete  fenced,  lining  the  road  above  the 
valley.  That  was  the  road  where  he  and  his  grandfather  had 
driven  down  on  that  distant  summer  morning,  when  the  beans 
were  in  flower  and  he  had  got  so  mixed  with  his  relatives  and 
had  wondered  how  Aunt  Prunes  had  spelled  her  name. 

'That's  us/  she  said.  She  pointed  with  stout  and  podgy  finger, 
a  trifle  nervously  but  with  pride,  across  the  fields.  'The  second 
one.  The  one  with  the  television.  Have  you  got  television?' 


'You  ought  to  have  it/  she  said.  'It's  wonderful  to  see  things 
so  far  away.  Don't  you  think  it's  wonderful  ? ' 

'Wonderful/  he  said. 

But  on  the  night  he  drove  home  as  a  boy,  watching  the  sky  of 
high  summer  turn  from  blue  to  palest  violet  and  then  more  richly 
to  purple  bronze  and  the  final  green-gold  smokiness  of  twilight, 
he  did  not  know  these  things.  He  sat  still  on  the  cushions  of  the 
trap,  staring  ahead.  The  evening  was  full  of  the  scent  of  bean 
flowers  and  he  was  searching  for  early  stars. 

'Shall  we  light  the  lamps  ? '  he  said. 

And  presently  they  lit  the  lamps.  They  too  were  golden.  They 
seemed  to  burn  with  wonderful  brightness,  lighting  the  grasses 
of  the  roadside  and  the  flowers  of  the  ditches  and  the  crowns  of 
fading  may.  And  though  he  did  not  know  it  then  they  too  were 
fading,  for  all  their  brightness.  They  too  were  dying,  along  with 
the  things  he  had  done  and  seen  and  loved :  the  little  house,  the 
cuckoo  day,  the  tender  female  moustaches  and  the  voice  of  the 
watercress  girl. 


Pacey  sat  on  the  stile,  swinging  her  legs  and  her  cowslip-basket. 

Pacey,  he  thought,  was  by  far  the  littlest  lady  he  had  ever  seen. 
She  had  very  thick  dumpy  legs  and  black  squashy  button  boots 
and  a  brown  felt  hat  under  which  bright  blue  eyes  roamed  about 
like  jellyfish  behind  large  sun-shot  spectacles.  On  her  cheek,  just 
under  her  right  eye,  was  a  big  furry  brown  mole  that  looked  like 
the  top  of  a  bullrush  that  had  been  cut  off  and  stuck  there. 

Pacey  was  nice,  though.  He  liked  Pacey. 

'How  far  is  it  now  to  the  cowslip  field,  Pacey?'  he  said. 

'A  step  or  two  furder  yit/  Pacey  said, 

'It's  not  furder,1  he  said.  'It's  further1 

'Oh!  is't?'  Pacey  said.  'All  right,  it's  further.  I  never  knew 
such  a  boy  for  pickin'  me  up  afore  I'm  down.' 

'And  it's  not  afore,1  he  said.  'It's  before.1 

'Oh!  is't?'  Pacey  said.  'All  right,  before  then.  I  never  knowed 
sich  a  boy  for  whittlin'  on  me — ' 

'And  it's  not  on,1  he  said.  'It's  of — ' 

'Here,'  Pacey  said,  'for  goodness'  sake  catch  holt  o'  the  cowslip- 
basket  and  let  me  git  down  and  let's  git  on.  Else  we'll  never  be 
there  afore  bull's-noon.' 

When  Pacey  jumped  down  from  the  stile  her  legs  sank  almost 
to  the  top  of  her  button  boots  in  meadow  grasses.  She  was  so 
thick  and  squatty  that  she  looked  like  a  duck  waddling  to  find 
the  path  across  the  field. 

In  that  field  the  sun  lay  hot  on  sheets  of  buttercups.  Soon 
when  he  looked  at  Pacey's  boots  they  were  dusty  yellow  faces, 
with  rows  of  funny  grinning  eyes.  At  the  end  of  the  field  rolled 
long  white  hedges  of  hawthorn,  thick  and  foamy  as  the  breakers 
he  had  once  seen  at  the  seaside,  and  from  a  row  of  sharp  green 
larches,  farther  on,  he  heard  a  cuckoo  call. 

It  was  past  the  time  when  the  larches  had  little  scarlet  eye- 
lashes springing  from  their  branches  but  he  still  remembered 

'Pacey,'  he  said,  'why  do  the  trees  have — ' 


The  Cowslip  Field  359 

'Jist  hark  at  that  cuckoo/  Pacey  said.  'Afore  long  it'll  charm 
us  all  to  death/ 

'Pacey/  he  said,  'why  don't  cowslips  grow  in  this  field?' 

'Because  it  ain't  a  cowslip  field/  Pacey  said,  'don't  you  know 
that?  Don't  you  know  the  difference  between  a  cowslip  field  and 
a  buttercup  field?  If  you  don't  it's  time  you  did.  Now  you  jis  run 
on  and  git  to  the  next  stile  and  sit  there  quiet  and  wait  fer  me.' 

From  the  next  stile  he  sat  and  watched  Pacey  waddling  down 
the  slope  of  the  field,  between  dazzling  sheets  of  buttercups, 
under  a  dazzling  high  blue  sky.  In  the  wide  May  morning  she 
looked  more  than  ever  like  a  floundering  little  duck,  funnier, 
tinier  than  ever. 

'Pacey/  he  said,  'will  you  ever  grow  any  bigger?' 

'Not  unless  me  luck  changes  a  lot  more'n  it's  done  up  to  yit.' 

'Will  I  grow  any  bigger?' 

'  'Course  you  will.' 

'Well  then,  why  won't  you  ? ' 

'Hark  at  that  cuckoo/  Pacey  said.  'If  it's  called  once  this  morn- 
ing, it's  called  a  thousand  times.' 

In  the  next  field  brown  and  white  cows  were  grazing  and 
Pacey  took  his  hand.  Some  of  the  cows  stood  at  a  pond,  over 
their  hocks  in  water,  flicking  flies  from  their  white-patched 
brown  rumps  in  the  sun.  All  across  the  field  there  were  many  ant- 
hills and  Pacey  let  him  run  up  and  down  them,  as  if  they  were 
switchbacks,  always  holding  his  hand. 

Her  own  hands  were  rough  and  clammy  and  warm  and  he  liked 

'What  do  the  ants  do  in  their  ant-hills  all  the  time,  Pacey?'  he 

'They  git  on  with  their  work/  Pacey  said,  '  'ithout  chattering 
so  much.' 

As  they  passed  the  pond  he  could  smell  the  thick  warm  odours 
of  may-bloom  and  fresh  dung  that  the  cows  had  dropped  and 
mud  warming  in  the  sun.  All  the  smell  of  rising  summer  was  in 
the  air.  The  tips  of  a  few  bulrushes,  so  brown  and  so  like  Pacey 's 
mole,  were  like  the  last  tips  of  winter,  half-strangled  by  rising 

Then  somehow  he  knew  that  the  next  field  was  the  cowslip 
field  and  he  suddenly  broke  free  of  Pacey's  hand  and  ran  jump- 
ing over  the  last  of  the  ant-hills  until  he  stood  on  a  small  plank 

360  The  Cowslip  Field 

bridge  that  went  over  a  narrow  stream  where  brook-lime  grew 
among  bright  eyes  of  wild  forget-me-not. 

Tacey,  Pacey,  Pacey!'  he  started  shouting.  'Pacey!' 

He  knew  he  had  never  seen,  in  all  his  life,  so  many  cowslips. 
They  covered  with  their  trembling  orange  heads  all  the  earth 
between  himself  and  the  horizon.  When  a  sudden  breeze  caught 
them  they  ducked  and  darted  very  gently  away  from  it  and  then 
blew  gently  back  again. 

'We'll  never  gather  them  all  before  it's  dark,  Pacey/  he  said, 
'will  we  ? ' 

'Run  and  git  as  many  as  you  can/  Pacey  said.  'It  won't  be  dark 
yit  awhile.' 

Running,  he  tripped  and  fell  among  cowslips.  He  did  not 
bother  to  get  to  his  feet  but  simply  knelt  there,  in  a  cowslip  forest, 
picking  at  the  juicy  stems.  All  the  fragrance  of  the  field  blew 
down  on  him  along  a  warm  wind  that  floated  past  him  to  shake 
from  larches  and  oaks  and  hedges  of  may-bloom  a  continuous 
belling  fountain  of  cuckoo  calls. 

When  he  turned  to  look  for  Pacey  she  too  was  on  her  knees, 
dumpier,  squattier  than  ever,  filling  her  hands  with  golden 
sheaves  of  flower. 

Tacey,  what  will  we  do  with  them  all?'  he  said.  'What  will 
we  do  with  them  all  ? ' 

'Mek  wine/  Pacey  said.  'And  I  wouldn't  be  surprised  if  it  were 
a  drop  o'  good.' 

Soon  he  was  running  to  Pacey  with  his  own  sheaves  of  flower, 
putting  them  into  the  big  brown  basket.  Whenever  he  ran  he 
buried  his  face  in  the  heads  of  flower  that  were  so  rich  and  fra- 
grant and  tender.  Then  as  he  dropped  them  into  the  basket  he 
could  not  resist  dipping  his  hands  into  the  growing  mound  of 
cowslips.  They  felt  like  little  limp  kid  gloves.  They  were  so  many 
soft  green  and  yellow  fingers. 

'The  basket'll  soon  be  full,  Pacey/  he  said.  'What  will  we  do 
when  the  basket's  full  ? ' 

'Put  'em  in  we  hats,'  Pacey  said.  'Hang  'em  round  we  necks 
or  summat.' 

'Like  chains  ? ' 

'Chains  if  you  like/  Pacey  said. 

Soon  the  basket  was  almost  full  and  Pacey  kept  saying  it  was 
bloomin'  hot  work  and  that  she  could  do  with  a  wet  and  a  wind. 

The  Cowslip  Field  361 

From  a  pocket  in  her  skirt  she  took  out  a  medicine  bottle  of  milk 
and  two  cheese  cakes  and  presently  he  and  Pacey  were  sitting 
down  in  the  sea  of  cowslips,  resting  in  the  sun. 

'The  basket's  nearly  full/  he  said.  'Shall  we  start  making 
chains  ?' 

'There'll  be  no  peace  until  you  do,  I  warrant.' 

'Shall  we  make  one  chain  or  two  chains?' 

'Two,'  Pacey  said.  'I'll  mek  a  big  'un  and  you  mek  a  little 

As  he  sat  there  threading  the  cowslip  stalks  one  into  another, 
making  his  chain,  he  continually  looked  up  at  Pacey,  peering  in 
her  funny  way,  through  her  thick  jelly  spectacles,  at  her  own 
cowslip  chain.  He  noticed  that  she  held  the  flowers  very  close  to 
her  eyes,  only  an  inch  or  two  away. 

'Pacey,'  he  said,  'what  makes  the  sky  blue?' 

'You  git  on  with  your  chain,'  Pacey  said. 

'Who  put  the  sky  there?' 

'God  did.' 

'How  does  it  stay  up  there?' 

Pacey  made  a  noise  like  a  cat  spitting  and  put  a  cowslip  stalk 
into  her  mouth  and  sucked  it  as  if  it  were  cotton  and  she  were 
threading  a  needle. 

'How  the  'nation  can  I  thread  this  'ere  chain,'  she  said,  'if  you 
keep  a-iffin'  and  a-whyin'  all  the  time?' 

Squinting,  she  peered  even  more  closely  at  her  cowslips,  so 
that  they  were  now  almost  at  the  end  of  her  nose.  Then  he  re- 
membered that  that  was  how  she  sang  from  her  hymn-book  on 
Sundays,  in  the  front  row  of  the  choir.  He  remembered  too  how 
his  mother  always  said  that  the  ladies  in  the  front  row  of  the 
choir  sat  there  only  to  show  off  their  hats  and  so  that  men  could 
look  at  them. 

'Have  you  got  a  young  man,  Pacey?'  he  said. 

'Oh !  dozens,'  Pacey  said.  'Scores.' 

'Which  one  do  you  like  best  ? ' 

'Oh !  they're  like  plums  on  a  tree,'  Pacey  said.  'So  many  I  don't 
know  which  one  on  'em  to  pick.' 

'Will  you  get  married,  Pacey?' 

Pacey  sucked  a  cowslip  stalk  and  threaded  it  through  another. 

'Oh!  they  all  want  to  marry  me,'  Pacey  said.  'All  on  'em.' 

'When  will  you  ? ' 

362  The  Cowslip  Field 

'This  year,  next  year,'  Pacey  said.  'When  I  git  enough  plum- 

'Why  do  you  have  to  have  plum-stones  ? ' 

'Oh!  jist  hark  at  that  cuckoo  all  the  time,'  Pacey  said. 
'Charming  us  to  death  a'ready.  How's  your  chain?' 

His  chain  was  not  so  long  as  Pacey's.  She  worked  neatly  and 
fast,  in  spite  of  her  thick  stumpy  fingers.  Her  chain  was  as  long 
as  a  necklace  already,  with  the  cowslips  ruffled  close  together, 
but  his  own  was  not  much  more  than  a  loose  golden  bracelet. 

'Thread  twothri  more  on  it/  Pacey  said,  'and  then  we  can  git 
we  hats  filled  and  go  home  to  dinner.' 

When  he  looked  up  again  from  threading  his  last  two  cowslip 
stalks  he  saw  that  Pacey  had  taken  off  her  brown  felt  hat.  Her 
uncovered  hair  was  very  dark  and  shining  in  the  sun.  At  the  back 
it  was  coiled  up  into  a  rich,  thick  roll,  like  a  heavy  sausage.  There 
seemed  almost  too  much  hair  for  her  stumpy  body  and  he  stared 
at  it  amazed. 

'Is  that  all  your  hair,  Pacey?'  he  said. 

'Well,  it's  what  they  dished  out  to  me.  I  ain't  had  another  issue 

'How  long  is  it?'  he  said.  'It  must  be  very  long.' 

'Prit  near  down  to  me  waist.' 

'Oh !  Pacey,'  he  said. 

As  he  finished  threading  his  cowslip  chain  and  then  joined  the 
ends  together  he  sat  staring  at  Pacey,  with  her  dark  hair  shining 
against  the  blue  May  sky  and  her  own  cowslip  chain  lying  like  a 
gold-green  necklace  in  her  lap. 

'Does  your  hair  ever  come  down?'  he  said,  'or  does  it  always 
stay  up  like  that  ? ' 

'Oh !  it  comes  down  a  time  or  two  now  and  agin.' 

'Let  it  come  down  now.' 

'It's  time  to  go  home  to  dinner,'  Pacey  said.  'We  got  to  git 

'Please,  Pacey,'  he  said.  'Please.' 

'You  take  your  hat  and  git  it  filled  with  cowslips  and  then  we 
can  go — ' 

'Please,'  he  said.  'Then  I  can  put  my  chain  on  top  of  your  head 
and  it'll  look  like  a  crown.' 

'Oh !  you'd  wheedle  a  whelk  out  of  its  shell,  you  would,'  Pacey 
said.  'You'd  wheedle  round  'Im  up  there ! ' 

The  Cowslip  Field  363 

As  she  spoke  she  lifted  her  face  to  the  blue  noon  sky  so  that  her 
spectacles  flashed  strangely,  full  of  revolving  light.  A  moment 
later  she  started  to  unpin  the  sausage  at  the  back  of  her  head, 
putting  the  black  hairpins  one  by  one  into  her  mouth.  Then 
slowly,  like  an  unrolling  blind,  the  massive  coil  of  her  hair  fell 
down  across  her  neck  and  shoulders  and  back,  until  it  reached 
her  waist. 

He  had  never  seen  hair  so  long,  or  so  much  of  it,  and  he  stared 
at  it  with  wide  eyes  as  it  uncoiled  itself,  black  and  shining  against 
the  golden  cowslip  field. 

'That's  it/  Pacey  said,  'have  a  good  stare.' 

'Now  I've  got  to  put  the  crown  on  you/  he  said. 

He  knelt  by  Pacey's  lap  and  reached  up,  putting  his  cowslip 
chain  on  the  top  of  her  head.  All  the  time  he  did  this  Pacey  sat 
very  still,  staring  towards  the  sun. 

'Now  yours/  he  said. 

He  reached  up,  draping  Pacey's  own  longer  necklace  across 
her  hair  and  shoulders.  The  black  hair  made  the  cowslips  shine 
more  deeply  golden  than  before  and  the  flowers  in  turn  brought 
out  the  lights  in  the  hair. 

Pacey  sat  so  still  and  staring  as  he  did  all  this  that  he  could 
not  tell  what  she  was  thinking  and  suddenly,  without  asking,  he 
reached  up  and  took  off  her  spectacles. 

A  strange  transformed  woman  he  did  not  know,  with  groping 
blue  eyes,  a  crown  on  her  head  and  a  necklace  locking  the  dark 
mass  of  her  hair,  stared  back  at  him. 

'Well,  now  I  suppose  you're  satisfied  ? ' 

'You  look  very  nice,  Pacey/  he  said.  'You  look  lovely.  I  like 

'Well,  if  you're  satisfied  let's  git  ready  and  start  back/  Pacey 
said,  'or  else  I  be  blamed  if  we  shan't  miss  we  dinners.' 

Hastily,  half-blindly,  she  started  to  grope  with  her  hands  to- 
wards her  hair. 

'And  put  my  specs  back  on ! '  she  said.  'You  took  'em  off.  Now 
put  'em  back.  How  the  'nation  do  you  think  I  can  see  'ithout 

'It's  not  'ithout/  he  said.  'It's  without/ 

'Oh !  without  then !  But  put  'em  back ! ' 

By  the  time  they  began  to  walk  back  home  his  hat  was  full  of 
cowslips.  Pacey's  brown  felt  hat  was  full  too  and  the  basket  was 

364  The  Cowslip  Field 

brimming  over  with  the  flowers  that  were  so  like  tender,  kid- 
gloved  fingers. 

At  the  plank  across  the  stream,  as  Pacey  set  down  the  basket 
and  rested  for  a  moment,  he  turned  and  looked  back.  Once  again, 
as  before,  the  cowslips  seemed  to  stretch  without  break  between 
himself  and  the  bright  noon  sky. 

'There's  just  as  many  as  when  we  came/  he  said.  'We  didn't 
make  any  difference  at  all,  Pacey.  You'd  think  we'd  never  been, 
wouldn't  you  ? ' 

Suddenly,  with  a  cry,  Pacey  seized  him  and  picked  him  up, 
swinging  him  joyfully  round  her  body  and  finally  holding  him 
upside  down. 

'Up,  round  and  down!'  Pacey  said.  'Now  what  can  you  see5' 

'London ! ' 

Pacey  laughed  loudly,  swinging  him  a  second  time  and  then 
setting  him  on  his  feet  again. 

When  he  tried  to  stand  still  again  he  found  that  the  world  too 
was  swinging.  The  cowslip  field  was  rolling  like  a  golden  sea  in 
the  sun  and  there  was  a  great  trembling  about  Pacey's  hair,  her 
necklace  and  her  little  crown  of  gold. 


Once  in  the  summer  time,  when  the  water-lilies  were  in  bloom 
and  the  wheat  was  new  in  ear,  his  grandfather  took  him  on  a  long 
walk  up  the  river,  to  see  his  Uncle  Crow.  He  had  heard  so  much 
of  Uncle  Crow,  so  much  that  was  wonderful  and  to  be  marvelled 
at,  and  for  such  a  long  time,  that  he  knew  him  to  be,  even  before 
that,  the  most  remarkable  fisherman  in  the  world. 

'Masterpiece  of  a  man,  your  Uncle  Crow/  his  grandfather 
said.  'He  could  git  a  clothes-line  any  day  and  tie  a  brick  on  it  and 
a  mossel  of  cake  and  go  out  and  catch  a  pike  as  long  as  your  arm., 

When  he  asked  what  kind  of  cake  his  grandfather  seemed  irri- 
tated and  said  it  was  just  like  a  boy  to  ask  questions  of  that  sort. 

'Any  kind  o'  cake/  he  said.  'Plum  cake.  Does  it  matter?  Car- 
raway  cake.  Christmas  cake  if  you  like.  Anything.  I  shouldn't 
wonder  if  he  could  catch  a  pretty  fair  pike  with  a  cold  baked 

'Only  a  pike  ?' 

'Times/  his  grandfather  said,  Tve  seen  him  sittin'  on  the  bank 
on  a  sweltering  hot  day  like  a  furnace,  when  nobody  was  gittin' 
a  bite  not  even  off  a  bloodsucker.  And  there  your  Uncle  Crow'd 
be  a-pullin'  'em  but  by  the  dozen,  like  a  man  shellin,  harvest 

'And  how  does  he  come  to  be  my  Uncle  Crow  ? '  he  said,  'if  my 
mother  hasn't  got  a  brother?  Nor  my  father.' 

'Well/  his  grandfather  said,  'he's  really  your  mother's  own 
cousin,  if  everybody  had  their  rights.  But  all  on  us  call  him  Uncle 

'And  where  does  he  live  ? ' 

'You'll  see/  his  grandfather  said.  'All  by  hisself.  In  a  little  titty 
bit  of  a  house,  by  the  river.' 

The  little  titty  bit  of  a  house,  when  he  first  saw  it,  surprised  him 
very  much.  It  was  not  at  all  unlike  a  black  tarred  boat  that  had 
either  slipped  down  a  slope  and  stuck  there  on  its  way  to  launch- 
ing or  one  that  had  been  washed  up  and  left  there  in  a  flood.  The 


366  Great  Uncle  Crow 

roof  of  brown  tiles  had  a  warp  in  it  and  the  sides  were  mostly 
built,  he  thought,  of  tarred  beer-barrels. 

The  two  windows  with  their  tiny  panes  were  about  as  large 
as  chessboards  and  Uncle  Crow  had  nailed  underneath  each  of 
them  a  sill  of  sheet  tin  that  was  still  a  brilliant  blue,  each  with 
the  words  'Backache  Pills'  in  white  lettering  on  it,  upside  down. 

On  all  sides  of  the  house  grew  tall  feathered  reeds.  They  en- 
veloped it  like  gigantic  whispering  corn.  Some  distance  beyond 
the  great  reeds  the  river  went  past  in  a  broad  slow  arc,  on  mag- 
nificent kingly  currents,  full  of  long  white  islands  of  water-lilies, 
as  big  as  china  breakfast  cups,  shining  and  yellow-hearted  in  the 

He  thought,  on  the  whole,  that  that  place,  the  river  with  the 
water-lilies,  the  little  titty  bit  of  a  house,  and  the  great  forest  of 
reeds  talking  between  soft  brown  beards,  was  the  nicest  place  he 
had  ever  seen. 

'Anybody  about?'  his  grandfather  called.  'Crow !- anybody 
at  home  ? ' 

The  door  of  the  house  was  partly  open,  but  at  first  there  was 
no  answer.  His  grandfather  pushed  open  the  door  still  farther 
with  his  foot.  The  reeds  whispered  down  by  the  river  and  were 
answered,  in  the  house,  by  a  sound  like  the  creek  of  bed  springs. 


'It's  me,  Crow,'  his  grandfather  called.  'Lukey.  Brought  the 
boy  over  to  have  a  look  at  you.' 

A  big  gangling  red-faced  man  with  rusty  hair  came  to  the  door 
His  trousers  were  black  and  very  tight.  His  eyes  were  a  smeary 
vivid  blue,  the  same  colour  as  the  stripes  of  his  shirt,  and  his 
trousers  were  kept  up  by  a  leather  belt  with  brass  escutcheons 
on  it,  like  those  on  horses'  harness. 

'Thought  very  like  you'd  be  out  a-pikin','  his  grandfather  said. 

'Too  hot.  How's  Lukey  boy?  Ain't  seed  y'  lately,  Lukey  boy.' 

His  lips  were  thick  and  very  pink  and  wet,  like  cow's  lips.  He 
made  a  wonderful  erupting  jolly  sound  somewhat  between  a 
belch  and  a  laugh. 

'Comin'  in  it  a  minute?' 

In  the  one  room  of  the  house  was  an  iron  bed  with  an  old  red 
check  horse-rug  spread  over  it  and  a  stone  copper  in  one  corner 
and  a  bare  wooden  table  with  dirty  plates  and  cups  and  a  tin 

Great  Uncle  Crow  367 

kettle  on  it.  Two  osier  baskets  and  a  scythe  stood  in  another 

Uncle  Crow  stretched  himself  full  length  on  the  bed  as  if  he 
was  very  tired.  He  put  his  knees  in  the  air.  His  belly  was  tight  as 
a  bladder  of  lard  in  his  black  trousers,  which  were  mossy  green 
on  the  knees  and  seat. 

'How's  the  fishin,?,  his  grandfather  said.  'I  bin  tellin'  the 

Uncle  Crow  belched  deeply.  From  where  the  sun  struck  full  on 
the  tarred  wall  of  the  house  there  was  a  hot  whiff  of  baking  tar. 
But  when  Uncle  Crow  belched  there  was  a  smell  like  the  smell 
of  yeast  in  the  air. 

'It  ain't  bin  all  that  much  of  a  summer  yit,'  Uncle  Crow  said. 
'Ain't  had  the  rain.' 

'Not  like  that  summer  you  catched  the  big  'un  down  at 
Archer's  Mill.  I  recollect  you  a-tellin'  on  me — ' 

'Too  hot  and  dry  by  half,'  Uncle  Crow  said.  'Gits  in  your 
gullet  like  chaff.' 

'You  recollect  that  summer?'  his  grandfather  said.  'Nobody 
else  a-fetching  on  'em  out  only  you — ' 

'Have  a  drop  o'  neck-oil,'  Uncle  Crow  said. 

The  boy  wondered  what  neck-oil  was  and  presently,  to  his 
surprise,  Uncle  Crow  and  his  grandfather  were  drinking  it.  It 
came  out  of  a  dark-green  bottle  and  it  was  a  clear  bright  amber, 
like  cold  tea,  in  the  two  glasses. 

'The  medder  were  yeller  with  'em,'  Uncle  Crow  said.  'Yeller 
as  a  guinea.' 

He  smacked  his  lips  with  a  marvellously  juicy,  fruity  sound. 
The  boy's  grandfather  gazed  at  the  neck-oil  and  said  he  thought 
it  would  be  a  corker  if  it  was  kept  a  year  or  two,  but  Uncle  Crow 

'Trouble  is,  Lukey  boy,  it's  a  terrible  job  to  keep  it.  You  start 
tastin'  on  it  to  see  if  it'll  keep  and  then  you  taste  on  it  again  and 
you  go  on  tastin'  on  it  until  they  ain't  a  drop  left  as  '11  keep.' 

Uncle  Crow  laughed  so  much  that  the  bed  springs  cackled 
underneath  his  bouncing  trousers. 

'Why  is  it  called  neck-oil?'  the  boy  said. 

'Boy,'  Uncle  Crow  said,  'when  you  git  older,  when  you  git 
growed-up,  you  know  what'll  happen  to  your  gullet?' 


368  Great  Uncle  Crow 

It'll  git  sort  o'  rusted  up  inside.  Like  a  old  gutter  pipe.  So's 
you  can't  swaller  very  easy.  Rusty  as  old  Harry  it'll  git.  You  know 
that,  boy?' 


'Well,  it  will.  I'm  tellin',  on  y\  And  you  know  what  y'  got  to 
do  then?' 


'Every  now  and  then  you  gotta  git  a  drop  o'  neck-oil  down  it. 
So's  to  ease  it.  A  drop  o'  neck-oil  every  once  in  a  while  -  that's 
what  you  gotta  do  to  keep  the  rust  out.' 

The  boy  was  still  contemplating  the  curious  prospect  of  his 
neck  rusting  up  inside  in  later  years  when  Uncle  Crow  said: 
'Boy,  you  go  outside  and  jis'  round  the  corner  you'll  see  a  bucket. 
You  bring  handful  o'  cresses  out  on  it.  I'll  bet  you're  hungry, 
ain't  you  ? ' 

'A  little  bit.' 

He  found  the  watercresses  in  the  bucket,  cool  in  the  shadow 
of  the  little  house,  and  when  he  got  back  inside  with  them  Uncle 
Crow  said : 

'Now  you  put  the  cresses  on  that  there  plate  there  and  then 
put  your  nose  inside  that  there  basin  and  see  what's  inside.  What 


'Ought  to  be  fourteen  on  'em.  Four-apiece  and  two  over. 
What  sort  are  they,  boy?' 


'You  got  a  knowin'  boy  here,  Lukey,'  Uncle  Crow  said.  He 
dropped  the  scaly  red  lid  of  one  eye  like  an  old  cockerel  going 
to  sleep.  He  took  another  drop  of  neck-oil  and  gave  another  fruity, 
juicy  laugh  as  he  heaved  his  body  from  the  bed.  'A  very  knowin' 

Presently  he  was  carving  slices  of  thick  brown  bread  with  a 
great  horn-handled  shut-knife  and  pasting  each  slice  with  sum- 
mery golden  butter.  Now  and  then  he  took  another  drink  of 
neck-oil  and  once  he  said : 

'You  get  the  salt  pot,  boy,  and  empty  a  bit  out  on  that  there 
saucer,  so's  we  can  all  dip  in.' 

Uncle  Crow  slapped  the  last  slice  of  bread  on  to  the  buttered 
pile  and  then  said : 

'Boy,  you  take  that  there  jug  there  and  go  a  step  or  two  up  the 

Great  Uncle  Crow  369 

path  and  dip  yourself  a  drop  o'  spring  water.  You'll  see  it.  It 
comes  out  of  a  little  bit  of  a  wall,  jist  by  a  doddle- wilier.' 

When  the  boy  got  back  with  the  jug  of  spring  water  Uncle 
Crow  was  opening  another  bottle  of  neck-oil  and  his  grandfather 
was  saying:  'God  a-mussy  man,  goo  steady.  You'll  have  me 
agooin'  one  way  and  another — ' 

'Man  alive/  Uncle  Crow  said,  'and  what's  wrong  with  that?' 

Then  the  watercress,  the  salt,  the  moor-hens'  eggs,  the  spring 
water,  and  the  neck-oil  were  all  ready.  The  moor-hens'  eggs  were 
hard-boiled.  Uncle  Crow  lay  on  the  bed  and  cracked  them  with 
his  teeth,  just  like  big  brown  nuts,  and  said  he  thought  the  water- 
cress was  just  about  as  nice  and  tender  as  a  young  lady. 

'I'm  sorry  we  ain't  got  the  gold  plate  out  though.  I  had  it  out 
a-Sunday.'  He  closed  his  old  cockerel-lidded  eye  again  and  licked 
his  tongue  backwards  and  forwards  across  his  lips  and  dipped 
another  peeled  egg  in  salt.  'You  know  what  I  had  for  my  dinner 
a- Sunday,  boy?' 


'A  pussy-cat  on  a  gold  plate.  Roasted  with  broad-beans  and 
new  taters.  Did  you  ever  heerd  talk  of  anybody  eatin'  a  roasted 
pussy-cat,  boy?' 


'You  did?' 

'Yes/  he  said,  'that's  a  hare.' 

'You  got  a  very  knowin'  boy  here,  Lukey/  Uncle  Crow  said. 
'A  very  knowin'  boy.' 

Then  he  screwed  up  a  big  dark-green  bouquet  of  watercress 
and  dipped  it  in  salt  until  it  was  entirely  frosted  and  then  cram- 
med it  in  one  neat  wholesale  bite  into  his  soft  pink  mouth. 

'But  not  on  a  gold  plate?'  he  said. 

He  had  to  admit  that. 

'No,  not  on  a  gold  plate/  he  said. 

All  that  time  he  thought  the  fresh  watercress,  the  moor-hens' 
eggs,  the  brown  bread-and-butter,  and  the  spring  water  were 
the  most  delicious,  wonderful  things  he  had  ever  eaten  in  the 
world.  He  felt  that  only  one  thing  was  missing.  It  was  that  when- 
ever his  grandfather  spoke  of  fishing  Uncle  Crow  simply  took 
another  draught  of  neck-oil. 

'When  are  you  goin'  to  take  us  fishing?'  he  said. 

370  Great  Uncle  Crow 

'You  et  up  that  there  egg/  Uncle  Crow  said.  'That's  the  last 
one.  You  et  that  there  egg  up  and  I'll  tell  you  what/ 

'What  about  gooin'  as  far  as  that  big  deep  hole  where  the  chub 
lay?'  grandfather  said.  'Up  by  the  back-brook — ' 

Til  tell  you  what,  boy/  Uncle  Crow  said,  'you  git  your  grand- 
father to  bring  you  over  September  time,  of  a  morning,  afore  the 
steam's  off  the  winders.  Mushroomin'  time.  You  come  over  and 
we'll  have  a  bit  o'  bacon  and  mushroom  for  breakfast  and  then 
set  into  the  pike.  You  see,  boy,  it  ain't  the  pikin'  season  now.  It's 
too  hot.  Too  bright.  It's  too  bright  of  afternoon,  and  they  ain't 

He  took  a  long  rich  swig  of  neck-oil. 

'Ain't  that  it,  Lukey?  That's  the  time,  ain't  it,  mushroom 

'Thass  it,'  his  grandfather  said. 

'Tot  out,'  Uncle  Crow  said.  'Drink  up.  My  throat's  jist  easin' 
orf  a  bit.' 

He  gave  another  wonderful  belching  laugh  and  told  the  boy 
to  be  sure  to  finish  up  the  last  of  the  watercress  and  the  bread- 
and-butter.  The  little  room  was  rich  with  the  smell  of  neck-oil, 
and  the  tarry  sun-baked  odour  of  the  beer-barrels  that  formed 
its  walls.  And  through  the  door  came,  always,  the  sound  of  reeds 
talking  in  their  beards,  and  the  scent  of  summer  meadows  drift- 
ing in  from  beyond  the  great  curl  of  the  river  with  its  kingly 
currents  and  its  islands  of  full  blown  lilies,  white  and  yellow  in 
the  sun. 

'I  see  the  wheat's  in  ear,'  his  grandfather  said.  'Ain't  that  the 
time  for  tench,  when  the  wheat's  in  ear  ? ' 

'Mushroom  time,'  Uncle  Crow  said.  'That's  the  time.  You  git 
mushroom  time  here,  and  I'll  fetch  you  a  tench  out  as  big  as  a 
cricket  bat.' 

He  fixed  the  boy  with  an  eye  of  wonderful,  watery,  glassy  blue 
and  licked  his  lips  with  a  lazy  tongue,  and  said : 

'You  know  what  colour  a  tench  is,  boy  ? ' 

'Yes,'  he  said. 

'What  colour?' 

'The  colour  of  the  neck-oil.' 

'Lukey,'  Uncle  Crow  said,  'you  got  a  very  knowin'  boy  here.  A 
very  knowin'  boy.' 

Great  Uncle  Crow  371 

After  that,  when  there  were  no  more  cresses  or  moor-hens' 
eggs  or  bread-and-butter  to  eat,  and  his  grandfather  said  he'd 
get  hung  if  he  touched  another  drop  of  neck-oil,  he  and  his 
grandfather  walked  home  across  the  meadows. 

'What  work  does  Uncle  Crow  do  ? '  he  said. 

'Uncle  Crow?  Work? -well,  he  ain't -Uncle  Crow?  Well, 
he  works,  but  he  ain't  what  you'd  call  a  reg'lar  worker — ' 

All  the  way  home  he  could  hear  the  reeds  talking  in  their 
beards.  He  could  see  the  water-lilies  that  reminded  him  so  much 
of  the  gold  and  white  inside  the  moor-hens'  eggs.  He  could  hear 
the  happy  sound  of  Uncle  Crow  laughing  and  sucking  at  the 
neck-oil,  and  crunching  the  fresh  salty  cresses  into  his  mouth  in 
the  tarry  little  room. 

He  felt  happy,  too,  and  the  sun  was  a  gold  plate  in  the  sky. 


Nearly  fifty  years  ago  I  knew  her  as  a  rather  plump,  fair-skinned 
child  with  eyes  of  brilliant  hyacinth  blue  and  long  ribbon- 
less  blonde  hair  that  hung  half  way  down  her  back  in 

Her  mother  was  a  gaunt,  hungry  faced,  prematurely  aged 
woman  who,  with  sickly  yellow  eyes  sunk  far  into  her  head  be- 
hind steel- rimmed  spectacles,  treadled  feverishly  all  day  and  half 
the  night  at  a  sewing  machine,  in  a  black  dress  and  apron,  closing 
boot  uppers,  in  the  dirty  window  of  a  little  house  in  one  of  the 
narrow  yards  we  used  as  short  cuts  at  the  railway  end  of  the 
town.  Her  father  was  an  ex-pug  grown  coarse  and  fat  who 
worked  little,  boozed  a  lot  and  spent  most  of  his  time  in  a  pub 
called  The  Waterloo,  re-telling  for  friends  and  strangers  alike 
the  story  of  how  -  incredibly  as  a  light-weight  -  he  had  won 
impermanent  fame  and  a  silver  belt  as  a  champion  twenty  years 

On  Sundays  her  mother  skulked  furtively  to  Methodist 
Chapel,  wearing  a  black  dress  that  might  well  have  been  the  one 
she  worked  in,  an  old  black  straw  hat  without  trimmings  and 
black  button  boots  worn  badly  down  at  the  heel,  looking  like 
the  poorest  of  the  poor.  In  a  town  like  Evensford,  where  boots 
and  shoes  are  made,  even  the  poor  have  no  way  of  acquiring  pub- 
lic derision  more  swiftly  than  to  be  seen  in  boots  or  shoes  that 
need  heeling  badly.  It  is  not  merely  a  point  of  honour  not  to  do 
such  things;  it  incurs  a  sharp  communal  scorn.  But  no  one  felt 
either  scorn  or  derision  for  Mrs  Jackson.  Nor  did  anyone  ever 
seem  to  know  the  cause  of  her  state  of  perpetual  mourning,  but 
as  the  years  went  past  I  guessed  -  correctly  -  that  it  was  not 
mourning  at  all.  She  was  merely  saving  for  Bertha. 

The  yard  in  which  they  lived  was  no  more  than  a  slum  alley 
eight  or  nine  feet  wide  and  only  those  who  lived  there  knew  what 
went  on  behind  the  narrow  backways  that,  bounded  by  fearsome 
little  privies  on  either  side,  were  no  more  than  naked  asphalt 
squares  from  which  the  fences  had  been  ripped  down.  That 


The  Enchantress  373 

stretch  of  the  town,  low  down  by  the  station,  was  called  The 
Pit.  To  come  from  The  Pit  was  the  social  equivalent  of  having 
leprosy.  Sometimes  a  deaf  mute,  a  scrawny  wild-eyed  man  of 
thirty  or  so,  stood  guarding  the  upper  end  of  it,  making  the 
noises  of  a  caged  animal  and  spitting  at  passers-by.  It  was  a 
place  of  loafers  playing  crown-and-anchor  under  smoky 
walls,  of  yelling  women  in  perpetual  curling  rags  and  men's  caps 
who  leered  down  to  The  Waterloo  with  beer  jugs  in  their  hands 
and  made  twice-weekly  visits,  with  rattling  prams,  to  pop- 

On  Mondays  Bertha's  mother  went  to  the  pop-shop  too;  on 
Saturdays  she  redeemed  whatever  she  had  pawned.  It  is  my  guess 
that  she  went  about  in  apparently  perpetual  mourning  only  be- 
cause whatever  clothes  she  otherwise  possessed  were  in  almost 
eternal  pawn.  And  they  were  there  because  of  Bertha. 

Even  as  early  as  these  days  they  started  calling  Bertha  the 
princess.  At  ten  she  was  already  big  for  her  age.  She  had  already 
a  clean,  splendid  sumptous  bloom  about  her.  Her  eyes  were  most 
wonderfully  clear  and  brilliant,  with  a  great  touch  of  calm  and 
candid  pride  about  them.  Her  hair  was  magnificent.  It  is  quite 
common  to  see  young  girls  with  hair  of  palest  bleached  yellow 
and  of  extraordinary  lightness  in  texture,  but  Bertha  was  the  only 
child  I  ever  saw  whose  hair  was  the  colour  of  thistledown  and  of 
exactly  the  same  lovely  insubstantial  airy  quality. 

She  was  always  beautifully  dressed.  It  used  to  be  said  that  her 
mother,  sitting  up  into  the  small  hours  or  surreptitiously  working 
on  Sunday  afternoons,  made  all  her  dresses  for  her,  but  years 
later  I  met  a  woman,  one  of  two  sisters,  the  proprietress  of  a  very 
good  class  dress  shop  at  the  other  end  of  the  town,  who  said: 

'Oh!  no.  Bertha's  clothes  all  came  from  here.  We  made  them 
for  her,  my  sister  and  I.  And  her  underclothes.  I  suppose  it 
would  surprise  you  to  know  that  that  child  never  had  anything 
but  pillow  lace  on  her  petticoats?  And  always  paid  for.' 

At  thirteen  she  already  looked  like  a  girl  of  sixteen  or  seven- 
teen. She  was  tall,  with  full  sloping  shoulders  and  a  firm  high 
bust.  Her  legs  were  the  sort  of  legs  that  make  men  turn  round  in 
the  street,  at  least  once  if  not  twice,  and  she  had  a  certain  languid 
way  of  swinging  her  arms,  with  a  backward  graceful  pull,  as 
she  walked.  All  this  time  her  mother  sat  at  the  little  window  in 
the  yard,  treadling  with  sick  desperation,  almost  insanely,  at  the 

374  The  Enchantress 

sewing  machine,  and  her  father  sat  in  The  Waterloo,  working 
his  way  through  the  chronicles  of  his  history  as  a  light-weight. 
You  never  saw  them  together. 

At  fourteen  she  put  her  hair  up.  There  was  a  good  deal  of  it 
-  it  had  been  her  mother's  eternal  pride  never  to  cut  it  at  all  -  and 
now,  not  so  light  in  colour,  though  still  very  blonde  and  airy  in 
texture,  it  made  her  seem  an  inch  or  two  taller,  giving  her  better 

By  this  time  she  was  working  in  a  boot  factory.  In  those  days 
women  went  to  work  in  the  oldest  clothes  they  could  find,  pretty 
shabbily  sometimes  and  often  in  the  sort  of  thin  black  apron  that 
Bertha's  mother  wore,  but  Bertha  went  to  the  factory  exactly 
as  she  had  previously  gone  to  school:  with  her  own  impeccable 
quality,  beautifully,  fastidiously  dressed. 

Already,  by  now,  she  looked  like  a  young  woman  of  twenty 
and  already,  people  began  to  say,  you  could  see  all  the  old,  eternal 
danger  signs.  It  was  only  a  question  of  time  before  girls  of  sen- 
sational early  maturity  found  themselves  in  trouble,  disgraced 
and  tasting  the  fruits  of  bitter  unlearned  lessons.  Girls  of  four- 
teen who  went  out  of  their  way  to  look  like  women  of  twenty, 
dealing  in  the  deliberate  coinage  of  voluptuous  attractions,  had 
only  themselves  to  blame  if  they  bought  what  they  asked  for. 
The  time  had  come  for  Bertha's  fall. 

Just  under  three  years  later  she  astounded  everybody  by  sud- 
denly getting  married  -  quite  undisgraced  -  to  a  retired  leather 
dresser  with  a  modest  income,  a  most  respectable  Edwardian 
house  enclosed  by  an  orchard  of  apple  and  pear  trees  and  a  taste 
for  driving  out  in  a  landau,  in  straw  hat  and  cream  alpaca  suit, 
on  summer  afternoons. 

William  James  Sherwood  was  a  neat,  courteous,  decorous 
man  of  the  old  school,  very  gentlemanly  and  of  quiet  nabits;  and 
the  whole  thing  was  a  sensation.  No  one  could  say  how  it 

'But  she  comes  from  The  Pit!'  they  said.  'She's  from  The 
Pit!  From  there.  And  seventeen.  How  do  you  suppose  it  hap- 
pened? What  possessed  him?' 

When  a  man  of  seventy  marries  a  girl  of  seventeen  who  is  re- 
markably mature,  fastidious  and  beautiful  for  her  age  it  never 
seems  to  occur  to  anyone  that  all  that  has  possessed  him  is  a 
firm  dose  of  taste,  enterprise  and  common  sense.  Consequently 

The  Enchantress  375 

it  did  not  occur  to  anyone  that  William  Sherwood  might  have 
made,  in  Bertha,  a  good  bargain  for  himself. 

'But  she's  from  The  Pit!'  they  kept  saying.  'She  works  in  a 
factory.  And  the  way  she  walks.  The  way  she  fancies  herself. 
She  isn't  his  kind.  She  can't  be.  Look  who  she  comes  from  -  the 
poorest  of  the  poor.  Her  mother  scraping  and  saving  at  shoe- 
work,  her  old  man  cooked  every  day  in  The  Waterloo.1 

Presently  Bertha  was  to  be  seen  driving  out  with  William 
James  Sherwood  in  a  landau  on  fine  summer  afternoons.  By  the 
way  she  sat  there,  upright,  composed,  holding  a  parasol  over  her 
head,  one  hand  resting  lightly  and  decorously  on  the  side  of  the 
carriage,  you  could  have  supposed  that  she  had  rarely  done  any- 
thing else  but  drive  in  landaus  for  the  better  part  of  her  seven- 
teen years.  But  there  was  something  else  still  more  surprising  and 
more  interesting  about  her.  She  looked  supremely  content  and 

For  the  next  three  years  she  went  on  matching  herself,  her 
ways  and  her  appearance  to  William  James  Sherwood.  She  be- 
haved more  like  a  woman  contentedly  settled  in  her  middle  thir- 
ties who  had  been  born  and  brought  up  in  a  quiet  country  house, 
of  good  family,  than  a  girl  still  in  her  teens  who  had  been  brought 
up  in  The  Pit,  on  pawn-shop  bread.  Sometimes  in  summer  you 
would  see  her  not  only  driving  out  in  the  landau  but  walking, 
quietly,  slowly  and  in  thoughtful  conversation,  with  William 
James  Sherwood,  in  the  orchard  of  apples  and  pears.  They  looked 
like  a  couple  locked  in  the  most  harmonious  tranquillity.  It  was 
easy  to  see  that  he  was  fond  of  her.  His  ways  had  obviously  be- 
come her  ways.  In  the  swiftest  and  most  unobtrusive  fashion 
the  daughter  of  The  Pit,  the  child  of  the  coarse  ex-pug,  had 
become  a  good  wife,  leaving  all  trace  of  any  other  self  behind. 

Then  suddenly,  when  she  was  twenty,  James  William  Sher- 
wood slipped  from  a  ladder  while  pruning  a  pear-tree,  fell  to  a 
concrete  path  below  and  died  of  a  haemorrhage  two  days  later. 

'Now  watch  her,'  everybody  said.  'She's  got  what  she  wanted. 
Now  watch  her  let  it  rip.  Now  watch  her  slide.' 

Sherwood  died  in  January.  One  very  hot  oppressive  evening 
in  the  following  July  I  was  walking  slowly  through  the  town,  up 
to  the  tennis  club,  when  a  low  green  open  sports  car  cut  a  corner 
as  I  was  crossing,  almost  killed  me  and  then  roared  away  through 

376  The  Enchantress 

rapid  changes  of  gears  and  the  guttural  grind  of  twin  exhausts.  I 
had  just  time  to  catch  sight  of  a  man  named  Tom  Pemberton  at 
the  wheel,  and  a  very  fair,  bare-headed  girl  with  one  arm  round 
his  neck,  before  the  car  cut  another  corner  and  disappeared. 

It  was  some  minutes  before  it  came  to  me  that  the  girl  was 
Bertha,  and  the  fact  that  I  hadn't  recognised  her  instantly  was 
due  to  an  interesting  thing.  Bertha  had  bobbed  her  hair.  Twenty 
minutes  later  I  walked  into  the  tennis  club  and  found  her  playing 
tennis  with  Pemberton  and  a  man  named  Saunders  and  another 
girl  whose  name  I  can't  remember.  Saunders  was  a  rather  surly, 
dark-eyed  man  of  great  virility  who  played  tennis  well  above  the 
local  average  and  Pemberton,  though  a  fool  in  all  other  respects, 
was  as  polished  and  fluent  a  player  as  you  ever  get  in  an  ordinary 

I  was  still  trying  to  recover  from  my  astonishment  that  Bertha 
was  playing  as  well  as  any  of  them  -  in  fact  from  my  astonish- 
ment that  she  could  play  tennis  at  all  -  when  I  saw  that  Tom 
Pemberton  had  been  drinking.  Though  not  actually  drunk,  he 
threw  the  ball  in  the  air  several  times  and  missed  it  and  once, 
missing  a  smash,  he  fell  headlong  into  the  net  and  lay  under- 
neath it  cursing  and  giggling.  Every  time  he  did  something  of 
this  kind  Bertha  started  giggling  too. 

It  was  plain,  presently,  to  see  that  Saunders  was  tiring  of  this 
and  soon  they  were  exchanging,  hotly,  some  words  about  a  ball 
being  on  the  wrong  side  of  the  line.  Pemberton,  I  thought,  was 
less  drunk  than  stupid.  But  Saunders  was  not  the  kind  of  man 
who  took  any  kind  of  argument  very  lightly  and  presently,  surly 
as  a  mongrel,  he  hit  a  ball  deliberately  high  over  the  shrubberies 
and  into  the  street  beyond. 

The  next  thing  I  realised  was  that  Pemberton  was  walking  off 
the  court,  followed  by  a  cool,  racy,  slightly  haughty  Bertha  who 
looked,  I  thought,  more  striking  than  ever.  But  this  was  not  what 
impressed  me,  at  that  moment,  most  powerfully. 

What  impressed  me  so  much  was  that  she  had  trained  herself 
to  Pemberton's  pattern.  She  no  longer  looked  like  a  woman 
nestling  down  into  the  contentment  of  her  middle  thirties. 
Though  she  was  now  a  widow  she  looked,  with  her  close-bobbed 
hair,  severe  twentyish  tennis  frock,  her  low  waist  and  short  skirt 
that  showed  her  magnificent  legs  to  superb  advantage,  like  a 
careless  wild-headed  girl  of  seventeen. 

The  Enchantress  Zll 

Five  minutes  later  they  were  roaring  away  in  Pemberton's 
sports  car  and  older  members  of  the  club  began  to  say,  prophe- 
tically as  it  turned  out,  that  Pemberton  would  kill  himself  before 
he  was  much  older.  And  I  actually  heard  her  scream -with 
delight,  not  fear  -  as  the  car  skidded  round  a  bend. 

I  never  cared  much  for  Pemberton  or  indeed  for  men  of 
Pemberton's  upbringing,  outlook  and  class.  Tom  was  the  only 
son  of  a  wealthy  boot-manufacturer  who  lived  in  a  house  of 
hideous  chateau-like  design  surrounded  by  large  conservatories 
with  occasional  diamonds  of  coloured  glass  in  them.  He  had  no 
need  to  be  anything  but  empty  headed  and  the  father  encourag- 
ed the  condition  by  ceaseless  indulgence  with  sports  cars,  open 
cheques,  expensive  suits  and  the  ready  payment  of  court  fines 
whenever,  as  so  often  happened,  Tom  ran  the  sports  car  into 
lamp-posts,  trees  or  even  other  sports  cars.  Drunk  or  sober,  he 
always  looked  pitifully  handsome,  vacant,  vain  and  without 

It  occurred  to  me -I  don't  know  why -that  Bertha,  who 
had  married  so  unexpectedly  and  quietly  into  the  gentility  of 
James  William  Sherwood's  septuagenarian  household  behind  the 
pear-trees,  was  the  very  person  to  dispossess  him  of  these  un- 
likeable  characteristics.  I  was  wrong. 

It  was  many  years  indeed  before  I  grasped  that  Bertha  never 
dispossessed  anybody  of  anything.  The  truth  about  Bertha  was 
in  fact  very  slow  in  coming  to  me.  All  I  thought  I  saw  in  the 
incident  of  the  tennis  club  was  a  girl  who,  consorting  with  an 
idiot,  had  caught  a  rash  of  idiocy.  It  was  too  early  for  me  to 
know  that  the  same  characteristics  that  had  turned  her  tem- 
porarily into  a  decorous  wife  for  an  elderly  gentleman  were  the 
very  same  as  those  that  were  now  turning  her  into  a  flapper  of 
loud  clipped  speech,  skirts  above  her  knees  and  a  taste  for  wild 
parties  at  dubious  clubs  on  riversides.  Grieflessly,  swiftly  and 
with  not  the  slightest  pressure  on  the  nerves  of  conscience  she 
had  slipped  out  of  the  part  of  widow  as  easily  as  she  might  have 
slipped  out  of  one  of  her  petticoats,  taking  on  the  new  tone,  new 
pattern  and  new  outlook  of  another  man. 

About  a  year  later  Tom  Pemberton,  driving  his  car  home  very 
late  and  very  fast  one  night  in  a  thunderstorm,  with  Bertha  at 
his  side,  crashed  into  a  roadside  tree  for  the  last  time. 

By  one  of  those  strange  tricks  that  surround  violent  and  acci- 

378  The  Enchantress 

dental  death  Pemberton  was  terribly  mutilated  while  Bertha, 
thrown  clear,  landed  with  miraculous  gentleness  on  grass,  dazed 
but  unbruised,  as  if  she  had  slid  gently  down  a  helter-skelter  at 
a  fair. 

Only  a  few  weeks  later  a  great  scandal  broke  out  in  the  town. 

Bertha,  by  this  time,  had  gone  back  to  live  with  her  mother  in 
The  Pit.  It  might  have  been  supposed  that  the  few  hundred 
pounds  James  William  Sherwood  had  left  her  would  have  revolu- 
tionised life  behind  the  dark  little  front  window  and  the  treadle 
sewing  machine.  Nothing  of  the  kind  had  happened.  The  sick, 
yellow-eyed  figure  went  on  treadling  as  desperately  as  ever;  in 
The  Waterloo  the  ex-pug  unfolded  to  all  who  would  listen  his 
tale  of  light-weight  triumphs;  and  Bertha,  splendid  and  well 
dressed  as  ever,  went  back  to  the  factory. 

Two  or  three  days  after  the  death  of  Tom  Pemberton  a  young 
curate  named  Ormsby-Hill  called  to  see  Bertha  in  The  Pit, 
bearing  the  conventional  condolences  of  the  clergy  and  hoping, 
after  the  crash  and  its  mutilations,  that  all  was  well  as  could  be 
expected.  Clergymen  have  a  strange  habit  of  calling  on  their 
sheep  at  awkward  times  and  Ormsby-Hill,  getting  no  answer  at 
the  front  door  of  the  house,  which  no  one  ever  used  anyway, 
went  round  to  the  back,  among  the  miserable  naked  yards,  just 
after  six  o'clock.  The  ex-pug,  by  that  time,  was  already  in  The 
Waterloo,  and  Bertha's  mother,  free  for  a  few  minutes  after  the 
long  day  of  treadling,  was  out  doing  shopping. 

Bertha,  big  arms  and  chest  bare  in  a  sleeveless  chemise,  was 
at  the  kitchen  sink,  washing  away  her  factory  grime. 

'Oh!  come  in  if  you  can  get  in,'  she  said.  She  clearly  remem- 
bered the  young  curate  at  Tom  Pemberton's  funeral.  'I'm  afraid 
the  kitchen's  in  a  mess.  Can  you  find  a  chair  in  the  living 
room  ? ' 

Ormsby-Hill  sat  down  in  the  little  living  room  while  Bertha, 
entirely  unaffected,  finished  washing  and  drying  herself  in  the 
kitchen.  It  was  never  very  clear  to  me,  nor  I  think  to  anyone  else, 
why  Ormsby-Hill  had  entered  the  church.  He  was  in  all  ways 
the  complete  opposite  of  the  young  curate  of  convention.  Big, 
bovine,  sensuous-lipped,  fond  of  beer  and  rugby  football,  he 
belonged  to  that  class  of  clergymen,  not  I  think  so  common  now, 
who   thought   godliness   should   be   muscular   and   the  way  to 

The  Enchantress  379 

heaven  a  hearty  free  for  all.  He  thought  the  gospel  went  down 
much  better  from  clergymen  who  offered  it  while  dressed  in 
tweeds  rather  than  dog  collars,  with  pints  of  foaming  ale  in  their 
hands  rather  than  crucifixes  and  by  means  of  sportsmen's  ser- 
vices, sometimes  actually  held  in  pubs,  where  the  congregation 
was  roughly  addressed  as  'chaps/ 

That  evening  he  had  gone  to  The  Pit  in  trepidation,  with  some 
idea  that  Bertha  was  a  wild  bad  girl.  Nobody  liked  going  down  to 
The  Pit  if  they  didn't  have  to  and  Ormsby-Hill  had  been  deliber- 
ately sent  there  on  a  distasteful  errand  by  a  vicar  too  squeamish 
to  stomach  the  sordid  alleyway  of  privies,  louts  playing  crown- 
and-anchor  on  the  asphalt  and  the  deaf-mute  keeping  guard  for 
a  stray  policeman  at  the  top  of  the  yard. 

His  surprise  at  seeing  Bertha  was  very  great.  His  surprise  at 
hearing  her  voice  for  the  first  time  was  even  greater. 

With  Tom  Pemberton  it  had  become  a  shrill,  empty,  fun-at- 
any-price  sort  of  voice;  during  her  marriage  to  James  William 
Sherwood  it  had  been  a  decorous,  sympathetic  toned-down  voice 
of  charm  and  understanding. 

When  Ormsby-Hill  heard  it  for  the  first  time  it  was  a  smooth, 
throaty  voice,  easy  and  rather  casual:  as  if  she  had  already  de- 
cided what  voice  he  would  like  her  to  have. 

Til  slip  upstairs  and  put  on  a  dress  if  you  don't  mind  waiting/ 
she  said.  'I  won't  be  five  minutes.  I  have  to  be  at  the  dressmakers 
by  seven  anyway.' 

When  she  came  down,  about  five  minutes  later,  she  was  wear- 
ing a  sleeveless  yellow  dress  with  a  low  neck  and  a  very  short  skirt 
and  with  it  white  cotton  gloves  and  white  high-heeled  shoes. 
She  was  very  fond  of  white  and  yellow  clothes  and  once  or  twice 
later  I  used  to  see  her  in  this  dress.  It  was  tight  and  smooth 
across  her  thighs  and  so  short  that  it  showed  her  pretty  rounded 
knees  to  great  advantage.  She  hardly  ever  wore  a  hat  in  those 
days -she  really  didn't  need  to  because  the  fine  close-trimmed 
blonde  hair  was  shaped  exactly  like  a  hat  itself  -  and  the  low- 
cut  neck  of  the  dress,  in  the  fashion  of  the  time,  showed  a  deep 
curve  of  soft  low  breast,  the  skin  clear,  unblemished  and  won- 
derfully smooth. 

When  Ormsby-Hill  saw  her  come  downstairs  into  the  dingy 
little  living  room  he  forgot  almost  at  once  what  he  had  come  to 
say  to  her.  She  was  already  drawing