Part 3 out of 9
But--if it was true of everybody it would be true of Mamma and Papa. That
was what you hated knowing. If only you had gone on looking at the water
instead of listening to Bertha--
Mamma's face, solemn and tender, when you said your prayers, playing with
the gold tassel of her watch-chain. Papa's face, on your birthday, when
he gave you the toy lamb. She wouldn't like you to know about her. Mark
wouldn't like it.
Mark: her mind stood still. Mark's image stood still in clean empty
space. When she thought of her mother and Mark she hated Bertha.
And there was Jimmy. That was why they wouldn't talk about him.
Jimmy. The big water-jump into the plantation. Jimmy's arms, the throb of
the hard muscles as he held you. Jimmy's hand, your own hand lying in it,
light and small. Jimmy's eyes, looking at you and smiling, as if they
said, "It's all right, Minky, it's all right."
Perhaps when Papa was young Mamma thought about him as you thought about
Jimmy; so that it couldn't be so very dreadful, after all.
Mary was glad when Bertha went away to school. When the new year came and
she was fourteen she had almost forgotten Bertha. She even forgot for
long stretches of time what Bertha had told her. But not altogether.
Because, if it was true, then the story of the Virgin Mary was not true.
Jesus couldn't have been born in the way the New Testament said he was
born. There was no such thing as the Immaculate Conception. You could
hardly be expected to believe in it once you knew why it couldn't have
And if the Bible could deceive you about an important thing like that, it
could deceive you about the Incarnation and the Atonement. You were no
longer obliged to believe in that ugly business of a cruel, bungling God
appeased with bloodshed. You were not obliged to believe anything just
because it was in the Bible.
But--if you didn't, you were an Infidel.
She could hear Aunt Bella talking to Uncle Edward, and Mrs. Farmer and
Mrs. Propart whispering: "Mary is an Infidel."
She thought: "If I _am_ I can't help it." She was even slightly elated,
as if she had set out on some happy, dangerous adventure.
Nobody seemed to know what Pantheism was. Mr. Propart smiled when you
asked him and said it was something you had better not meddle with. Mr.
Farmer said it was only another word for atheism; you might as well have
no God at all as be a pantheist. But if "pan" meant "all things," and
"theos" was God--
Perhaps it would be in the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_. The Encyclopaedia
told you all about Australia. There was even a good long bit about Byron,
Panceput--Panegyric--Pantheism! There you were. Pantheism is "that
speculative system which by absolutely identifying the Subject and Object
of thought, reduces all existence, mental and material, to phenomenal
modifications of one eternal, self-existent Substance which is called by
the name of God.... All things are God."
When you had read the first sentence five or six times over and looked up
"Subject" and "Object" and "Phenomenal," you could see fairly well what
it meant. Whatever else God might be, he was not what they said,
something separate and outside things, something that made your mind
uncomfortable when you tried to think about it.
"This universe, material and mental, is nothing but the spectacle of the
thoughts of God."
You might have known it would be like that. The universe, going on inside
God, as your thoughts go on inside you; the universe, so close to God
that nothing could be closer. The meaning got plainer and plainer.
There was Spinoza. ("Spinning--Spinoza.") The Encyclopaedia man said that
the Jewish priests offered him a bribe of two thousand florins to take
back what he had said about God; and when he refused to take back a word
of it, they cursed him and drove him out of their synagogue.
Spinoza said, "There is no substance but God, nor can any other be
conceived." And the Encyclopaedia man explained it. "God, as the infinite
substance, with its infinity of attributes is the _natura naturans_. As
the infinity of modes under which his attributes are manifested, he is
the _natura naturata_."
Nature naturing would be the cause, and Nature natured would be the
effect. God was both.
"God is the immanent"--indwelling--"but not the transient cause of all
things" ... "Thought and Extension are attributes of the one absolute
substance which is God, evolving themselves in two parallel streams, so
to speak, of which each separate body and spirit are but the waves. Body
and Soul are apparently two, but really one and they have no independent
existence: They are parts of God.... Were our knowledge of God capable of
present completeness we might attain to perfect happiness but such is not
possible. Out of the infinity of his attributes only two, Thought and
Extension, are accessible to us while the modes of these attributes,
being essentially infinite, escape our grasp."
So this was the truth about God. In spite of the queer words it was very
simple. Much simpler than the Trinity. God was not three incomprehensible
Persons rolled into one, not Jesus, not Jehovah, not the Father creating
the world in six days out of nothing, and muddling it, and coming down
from heaven into it as his own son to make the best of a bad job. He was
what you had felt and thought him to be as soon as you could think about
him at all. The God of Baruch Spinoza was the God you had wanted, the
only sort of God you cared to think about. Thinking about him--after the
Christian God--was like coming out of a small dark room into an immense
open space filled with happy light.
And yet, as far back as you could remember, there had been a regular
conspiracy to keep you from knowing the truth about God. Even the
Encyclopaedia man was in it. He tried to put you off Pantheism. He got
into a temper about it and said it was monstrous and pernicious and
profoundly false and that the heart of man rose up in revolt against it.
He had begun by talking about "attempts to transgress the fixed
boundaries which One wiser than we has assigned to our intellectual
operations." Perhaps he was a clergyman. Clergymen always put you off
like that; so that you couldn't help suspecting that they didn't really
know and were afraid you would find them out. They were like poor little
frightened Mamma when she wouldn't let you look at the interesting bits
beyond the place she had marked in your French Reader. And they were
always apologising for their God, as if they felt that there was
something wrong with him and that he was not quite real.
But to the pantheists the real God was so intensely real that, compared
with him, being alive was not quite real, it was more like dreaming.
Another thing: the pantheists--the Hindu ones and the Greeks, and Baruch
Spinoza--were heathen, and the Christians had tried to make you believe
that the heathen went to hell because they didn't know the truth about
God. You had been told one lie on the top of another. And all the time
the truth was there, in the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_.
Who would have thought that the Encyclopaedia could have been so
The big puce-coloured books stood in a long row in the bottom shelf
behind her father's chair. Her heart thumped when she gripped the volumes
that contained the forbidden knowledge of the universe. The rough morocco
covers went Rr-rr-rimp, as they scraped together; and there was the sharp
thud as they fell back into their place when she had done with them.
These sounds thrilled her with a secret joy. When she was away from the
books she liked to think of them standing there on the hidden shelf,
waiting for her. The pages of "Pantheism" and "Spinoza" were white and
clean, and she had noticed how they had stuck together. Nobody had opened
them. She was the first, the only one who knew and cared.
She wondered what Mark and her mother would say when they knew. Perhaps
Mark would say she ought not to tell her mother if it meant letting out
that the Bible said things that were not really true. His idea might be
that if Mamma wanted to believe in Jehovah and the Atonement through
Christ's blood, it would be unkind to try and stop her. But who on earth
_would_ want to believe that dreadful sort of thing if they could help
it? Papa might not mind, because as long as he knew that he and Mamma
would get into heaven all right he wouldn't worry so much about other
people. But Mamma was always worrying about them and making you give up
things to them; and she must be miserable when she thought of them
burning in hell for ever and ever, and when she tried to reconcile God's
justice with his mercy. To say nothing of the intellectual discomfort she
was living in. When you had found out the real, happy truth about God, it
didn't seem right to keep it to yourself.
She decided that she would tell her mother.
Mark was in the Royal Field Artillery now. He was away at Shoeburyness.
If she put it off till he came home again she might never do it. When
Mamma had Mark with her she would never listen to anything you had to
Next Sunday was Epiphany. Sunday afternoon would be a good time.
But Aunt Lavvy came to stay from Saturday to Monday. And it rained. All
morning Mamma and Aunt Lavvy sat in the dining-room, one on each side of
the fireplace. Aunt Lavvy read James Martineau's _Endeavours After the
Christian Life_, and Mamma read "The Pulpit in the Family" out of the
_Sunday At Home_. Somehow you couldn't do it with Aunt Lavvy in the room.
In the afternoon when she went upstairs to lie down--perhaps.
But in the afternoon Mamma dozed over the _Sunday At Home_. She was so
innocent and pretty, nodding her head, and starting up suddenly, and
looking round with a smile that betrayed her real opinion of Sunday. You
couldn't do it while she dozed.
Towards evening it rained again and Aunt Lavvy went off to Ilford for the
Evening Service, by herself. Everybody else stayed at home, and there was
hymn-singing instead of church. Mary and her mother were alone together.
When her mother had sung the last hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light," then she
would do it.
Her mother was singing:
"'Jesu, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer wa-a-ters roll,
While the tempest still is high'"--
She could see the stiff, slender muscles straining in her mother's neck.
The weak, plaintive voice tore at her heart. She knew that her mother's
voice was weak and plaintive. Its thin, sweet notes unnerved her.
"'Other refuge ha-ave I none:
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee'"--
Helpless--Helpless. Mamma was helpless. It was only her love of Mark and
Jesus that was strong. Something would happen if she told her--something
awful. She could feel already the chill of an intolerable separation. She
could give up Jesus, the lover of her soul, but she could not give up her
mother. She couldn't live separated from Mamma, from the weak, plaintive
voice that tore at her.
She couldn't do it.
Catty's eyes twinkled through the banisters. She caught Mary coming
downstairs and whispered that there was cold boiled chicken and trifle
for supper, because of Aunt Lavvy.
Through the door Mary could see her father standing at the table, and the
calm breasts of the cold chicken smoothed with white sauce and decorated
with beetroot stars.
There was a book beside Papa's plate, the book Aunt Lavvy had been
reading. She had left it open on the drawing-room table when she went to
church. She was late for supper and they sat there waiting for her. She
came in, slowly as usual, and looking at the supper things as though they
were not there. When she caught sight of the book something went up and
flickered in her eyes--a sort of triumph.
You couldn't help thinking that she had left it lying about on purpose,
so that Papa should see it.
He stood waiting till she had sat down. He handed the book to her. His
"When you come here," he said, "you will be good enough to leave James
Martineau behind you."
Mamma looked up, startled. "You don't mean to say you've brought that
man's books into the house?"
"You can see for yourself, Caroline," said Aunt Lavvy.
"I don't want to see. No, Mary, it has nothing to do with you."
Mamma was smiling nervously. You would have supposed that she thought
James Martineau funny, but the least bit improper.
"But look, Mamma, it's his _Endeavours After the Christian Life_."
Her mother took up the book and put it down as if it had bitten her.
"Christian Life, indeed! What right has James Martineau to call himself a
Christian? When he denies Christ--the Lord who bought him! And makes no
secret of it. How can you respect an infidel who uses Christ's name to
cover up his blasphemy?"
Aunt Lavvy was smiling now.
"I thought you said he made no secret of it?"
Mamma said, "You know very well what I mean."
"If you knew Dr. Martineau--"
"You've no business to know him," Emilius said, "when your brother Victor
and I disapprove of him."
Emilius was carving chicken. He had an air of kindly, luscious
hospitality, hesitating between the two flawless breasts.
"Dr. Martineau is the wisest and holiest man I ever knew," said Aunt
"I daresay your sister Charlotte thinks Mr. Marriott the wisest and the
holiest man _she_ ever knew."
He settled the larger breast on Aunt Lavvy's plate and laid on it one
perfect star of beetroot. He could do that while he insulted her.
"Oh--Papa--you _are_ a br--"
Aunt Lavvy shook her gentle head.
"Lavinia dear" (Mamma's voice was gentle), "did you have a nice service?"
"Very nice, thank you."
"Did you go to Saint Mary's, or the Parish church?"
Aunt Lavvy's straight, flat chin trembled slightly. Her pale eyes
lightened. "I went to neither."
"Then---where did you go?"
"If you insist on knowing, Caroline, I went to Mr. Robson's church."
"You went to Mr.--to the Unitarian Chapel?"
"To the Unitarian Chapel."
"Emilius--" You would have thought that Aunt Lavvy had hit Mamma and hurt
Emilius took up his table napkin and wiped his moustache carefully. He
was quite horribly calm.
"You will oblige me by not going there again," he said.
"You forget that I went every Sunday when we were in Liverpool."
"You forget that is the reason why you left Liverpool."
"Only one of the reasons, I think."
"Can you tell me what reason you have for going now? Beyond your desire
to make yourself different from other people."
"Aren't Unitarians other people?"
She poured out a glass of water and drank. She was giving herself time.
"My reason," she said, "is that I have joined the Unitarian Church."
Mamma put down her knife and fork. Her lips opened and her face turned
suddenly sharp and sallow as if she were going to faint.
"You don't mean to say you've gone over? Then God help poor Charlotte!"
Emilius steadied himself to speak. "Does Victor know?" he said.
"Yes. He knows."
"You have consulted him, and you have not consulted me?"
"You made me promise not to talk about it. I have kept my promise."
Mary was sure then that Aunt Lavvy had left the book open on purpose. She
had laid a trap for Emilius, and he had fallen into it.
"If you will hold infamous opinions you must be made to keep them to
"I have a perfect right to my opinions."
"You have no right to make an open profession of them."
"The law is more tolerant than you, Emilius."
"There is a moral law and a law of honour. You are not living by
yourself. As long as you are in Victor's house the least you can do is to
avoid giving offence. Have you no consideration for your family? You say
you came here to be near us. Have you thought of us? Have you thought of
the children? Do you expect Caroline to go to Victor's house if she's to
meet the Unitarian minister and his wife?"
"You will be cutting yourself off completely, Lavinia," Mamma said.
"From everybody. People don't call on Nonconformists. If there were no
"Oh--Caroline--" Aunt Lavvy breathed it on a long sigh.
"It's all very well for you. But you might think of your sister
Charlotte," Mamma said.
Papa's beard jerked. He drew in his breath with a savage guttural noise.
"A-ach! What's the good of talking?"
He had gone on eating all the time. There was a great pile of chicken
bones on his plate.
Aunt Lavvy turned. "Emilius--for thirty-three years"--her voice broke as
she quivered under her loaded anguish--"for thirty-three years you've
shouted me down. You haven't let me call my soul my own. Yet it _is_ my
"There, please--_please_," Mamma said, "don't let us have any more of
it," just as Aunt Lavvy was beginning to get a word in edgeways.
"Mamma, that isn't fair, you must let her speak."
"Yes. You must let me speak." Aunt Lavvy's voice thickened in her throat.
"I won't have any discussion of Unitarianism here," said Papa.
"It's you who have been discussing it, not I."
"It is, really, Papa. First you began. Then Mamma."
Mamma said, "If you've finished your supper, Mary, you can go."
"But I haven't. I've not had any trifle yet."
She thought: "They don't want me to hear them; but I've a right to sit
here and eat trifle. They know they can't turn me out. I haven't done
Aunt Lavvy went on. "I've only one thing to say, Emilius. You've asked me
to think of Victor and Charlotte, and you and Caroline and the boys and
Mary. Have you once--in thirty-three years--for a single minute--thought
"Certainly I have. It's partly for your own sake I object to your
disgracing yourself. As if your sister Charlotte wasn't disgrace enough."
Aunt Lavvy drew herself up stiff and straight in her white shawl like a
martyr in her flame. "You might keep Charlotte out of it, I think."
"I might. Charlotte can't help herself. You can."
At this point Mamma burst into tears and left the room.
"Now," he said, "I hope you're satisfied."
Mary answered him.
"I think _you_ ought to be, Papa, if you've been bullying Aunt Lavvy for
thirty-three years. Don't you think it's about time you stopped?"
Emilius stared at his daughter. His face flushed slowly. "I think," he
said, "it's time you went to bed."
"It isn't my bed-time for another hour yet."
(A low murmur from Aunt Lavvy: "Don't, Mary, don't.")
She went on. "It was you who made Mamma cry, not Aunt Lavvy. It always
frightens her when you shout at people. You know Aunt Lavvy's a perfect
saint, besides being lots cleverer than anybody in this house, except
Mark. You get her by herself when she's tired out with Aunt Charlotte.
You insult her religion. You say the beastliest things you can think
Her father pushed back his chair; they rose and looked at each other.
"You wouldn't dare to do it if Mark was here!"
He strode to the door and opened it. His arm made a crescent gesture that
cleared space of her.
"Go! Go upstairs. Go to bed!"
"I don't care where I go now I've said it."
Upstairs in her bed she still heard Aunt Lavvy's breaking voice:
"For thirty-three years--for thirty-three years--"
The scene rose again and swam before her and fell to pieces.
Ideas--echoes--images. Religion--the truth of God. Her father's voice
booming over the table. Aunt Lavvy's voice, breaking--breaking. A pile of
stripped chicken bones on her father's plate.
Aunt Lavvy was getting ready to go away. She held up her night gown to
her chin, smoothing and folding back the sleeves. You thought of her
going to bed in the ugly, yellow, flannel night gown, not caring, lying
in bed and thinking about God.
Mary was sorry that Aunt Lavvy was going. As long as she was there
you felt that if only she would talk everything would at once become
more interesting. She thrilled you with that look of having something--
something that she wouldn't talk about--up her sleeve. The Encyclopaedia
man said that Unitarianism was a kind of Pantheism. Perhaps that was it.
Perhaps she knew the truth about God. Aunt Lavvy would know whether she
ought to tell her mother.
"Aunt Lavvy, if you loved somebody and you found out that their religion
wasn't true, would you tell them or wouldn't you?"
"It would depend on whether they were happy in their religion or not."
"Supposing you'd found out one that was more true and much more
beautiful, and you thought it would make them happier?"
Aunt Lavvy raised her long, stubborn chin. In her face there was a cold
exaltation and a sudden hardness.
"No religion was ever more true or more beautiful than Christianity," she
"There's Pantheism. Aren't Unitarians a kind of Pantheists?"
Aunt Lavvy's white face flushed. "Unitarians Pantheists? Who's been
talking to you about Pantheism?"
"Nobody. Nobody knows about it. I had to find out."
"The less you find out about it the better."
"Aunt Lavvy, you're talking like Mr. Propart. Supposing I honestly think
"You've no right to think anything about it," Aunt Lavvy said.
"Now you're talking like Papa. And I did so hope you wouldn't."
"I only meant that it takes more time than you've lived to find out what
honest thinking _is_. When you're twenty years older you'll know what
this opinion of yours is worth."
"I know what it's worth to me, now, this minute."
"Is it worth making your mother miserable?"
"That's what Mark would say. How did you know I was thinking of Mamma?"
"Because that's what my brother Victor said to me."
The queer thing was that none of them seemed to think the truth could
possibly matter on its own account, or that anything mattered besides
being happy or miserable. Yet everybody, except Aunt Lavvy, was
determined that everybody else should be happy in their way by believing
what they believed; and when it came to Pantheism even Aunt Lavvy
couldn't live and let live. You could see that deep down inside her it
made her more furious than Unitarianism made Papa.
Mary saw that she was likely to be alone in her adventure. It appeared to
her more than ever as a journey into a beautiful, quiet yet exciting
country where you could go on and on. The mere pleasure of being able to
move enchanted her. But nobody would go with her. Nobody knew. Nobody
There was Spinoza; but Spinoza had been dead for ages. Now she came to
think of it she had never heard anybody, not even Mr. Propart, speak of
Spinoza. It would be worse for her than it had ever been for Aunt Lavvy
who had actually known Dr. Martineau. Dr. Martineau was not dead; and if
he had been there were still lots of Unitarian ministers alive all over
England. And in the end Aunt Lavvy had broken loose and gone into her
She thought: "Not till after Grandmamma was dead. Till years after
Grandmamma was dead."
She thought: "Of course I'd die rather than tell Mamma."
Aunt Lavvy had gone. Mr. Parish had taken her away in his wagonette.
At lessons Mamma complained that you were not attending. But she was not
attending herself, and when sewing time came she showed what she had been
"What were you doing in Aunt Lavvy's room this morning?"
She looked up sharply over the socks piled before her for darning.
"Was Aunt Lavvy talking to you about her opinions?"
"Has she ever talked to you?"
"Of course not. She wouldn't if she promised not to. I don't know even
now what Unitarianism is.... What _do_ Unitarians believe in?"
"Goodness knows," her mother said. "Nothing that's any good to them, you
may be sure."
Mary went on darning. The coarse wool of the socks irritated her fingers.
It caught in a split nail, setting her teeth on edge.
If you went on darning for ever--if you went on darning--Mamma would be
pleased. She had not suspected anything.
"'Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.'"
Between the lovely lines she could hear Mamma say, "They all scamp their
work. You would require a resident carpenter and a resident glazier--"
And Mrs. Farmer's soft drawl spinning out the theme: "And a resident
plumber. Yes, Mrs. Olivier, you really wou-ould."
Mr. and Mrs. Farmer had called and stayed to tea. Across the room you
could see his close, hatchet nose and straggly beard. Every now and then
his small, greenish eyes lifted and looked at you.
Impossible that you had ever enjoyed going to Mrs. Farmer's to see the
baby. It was like something that had happened to somebody else, a long
time ago. Mrs. Farmer was always having babies, and always asking you to
go and see them. She couldn't understand that as you grew older you left
off caring about babies.
"'--We are such stuff
As dreams are made of--'"
Even Mamma owned that Mr. Farmer never knew when it was time to go.
"'As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep--'"
The universe is nothing but the spectacle of the dreams of God. Or was it
the thoughts of God?
Confirmation. She had seen a Confirmation once, years ago. Girls in white
dresses and long white veils, like brides, shining behind the square
black windows of the broughams. Dora and Effie Draper. Effie leaned
forward. Her pretty, piercing face looked out through the black pane, not
seeing anything, trying greedily to be seen. Big boys and girls knelt
down in rows before the Bishop, and his sleeves went flapping up and down
over them like bolsters in the wind.
Mr. Farmer was looking at her again, as if he had an idea in his head.
The Church Service was open at the Thirty-Nine Articles. Mamma had pushed
Dr. Smith's "History of England" away.
"Do you think," she said, "you could say the Catechism and the Athanasian
Creed straight through without stopping?"
"I daresay I could if I tried. Why?"
"Because Mr. Farmer will want to examine you."
"Because," her mother said, "there's going to be a Confirmation. It's
time you were thinking about being confirmed."
"And why not you?"
"Well--I haven't got to be, have I?"
"You will have, sooner or later. So you may as well begin to think about
Confirmation. She had never thought about it as a real thing that might
happen to her, that would happen, sooner or later, if she didn't do
something to stop Mr. Farmer and Mamma.
"I _am_ thinking. I'm thinking tight."
Tight. Tight. Her mind, in agony, pinned itself to one point: how she
could stop her mother without telling her.
Beyond that point she couldn't see clearly.
"You see--you see--I don't _want_ to be confirmed."
"You don't want? You might as well say you didn't want to be a
"Don't worry, Mamma darling. I only want to stay as I am."
"I must worry. I'm responsible for you as long as you're not confirmed.
You forget that I'm your godmother as well as your mother."
She had forgotten it. And Papa and Uncle Victor were her godfathers.
"What did your godfathers and godmothers then for you?--They did promise
and vow three things in my name--" they had actually done it. "First:
that I should renounce"--renounce--renounce--"Secondly: that I should
believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith--"
The Christian Faith--the Catholic Faith. "Which Faith except everyone do
keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly"--
--"And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity and
Trinity in Unity."
They had promised and vowed all that. In her name. What right had they?
What right had they?
"You're not a baby any more," her mother said.
"That's what I mean. I was a baby when you went and did it. I knew
nothing about it. You _can't_ make me responsible."
"It's we who are responsible," her mother said.
"I mean for your vows and promises, Mamma darling. If you'll let me off
my responsibility I'll let you off yours."
"Now," her mother said, "you're prevaricating."
"That means you'll never let me off. If I don't do it now I'll have to do
it next year, or the next?"
"You may feel more seriously about it next year. Or next week," her
mother said. "Meanwhile you'll learn the Thirty-Nine Articles. Read them
"--'Nine. Of Original or Birth-sin. Original Sin ... is the fault and
corruption of the Nature of every man ... whereby man is far gone from
original righteousness and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that
the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every
person born into this world it deserveth God's wrath and damnation.'"
"Don't look like that," her mother said, "as if your wits were
"Wool?" She could see herself smiling at her mother, disagreeably.
Wool-gathering. Gathering wool. The room was full of wool; wool flying
about; hanging in the air and choking you. Clogging your mind. Old grey
wool out of pew cushions that people had sat on for centuries, full of
Wool, spun out, wound round you, woven in a net. You were tangled and
strangled in a net of unclean wool. They caught you in it when you were a
baby a month old. Mamma, Papa and Uncle Victor. You would have to cut and
tug and kick and fight your way out. They were caught in it themselves,
they couldn't get out. They didn't want to get out. The wool stopped
their minds working. They hated it when their minds worked, when
anybody's mind worked. Aunt Lavvy's--yours.
"'Thirteen. Of Works before Justification. Works done before the grace of
Christ, and the Inspiration of His Spirit, are not pleasant to God,
forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ...: yea, rather,
for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be
done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.'"
"Do you really believe that, Mamma?"
"Of course I believe it. All our righteousness is filthy rags."
--People's goodness. People's kindness. The sweet, beautiful things they
did for each other. The brave, noble things, the things Mark did: filthy
_This_--this religion of theirs--was filthy; ugly, like the shiny black
covers of their Bibles where their fingers left a grey, greasy smear.
Filthy and frightful; like funerals. You might as well be buried alive,
five coffins deep in a pit of yellow clay.
Mamma couldn't really believe it. You would have to tell her it wasn't
true. Not telling her meant that you didn't think she cared about the
truth. You insulted her if you supposed she didn't care. Mark would say
you insulted her. Even if it hurt her a bit at first, you insulted her if
you thought she couldn't bear it. And afterwards she would be happy,
because she would be free.
"It's no use, Mamma. I shan't ever want to be confirmed."
"Want--want--want! You ought to want, then. You say you believe the
Now--now. A clean quick cut. No jagged ends hanging.
"That's it. I don't believe a single word of it."
She couldn't look at her mother. She didn't want to see her cry.
"You've found that out, have you? You've been mighty quick about it."
"I found it out ages ago. But I didn't mean to tell you."
Her mother was not crying.
"You needn't tell me now," she said. "You don't suppose I'm going to
Not crying. Smiling. A sort of cunning and triumphant smile.
"You just want an excuse for not learning those Thirty-Nine Articles."
Mamma was crying.
Papa had left the dining-room. Mary sat at the foot of the table, and her
mother at the head. The space between was covered and piled with Mark's
kit: the socks, the pocket-handkerchiefs, the vests, the fine white
pyjamas. The hanging white globes of the gaselier shone on them. All day
Mary had been writing "M.E. Olivier, M.E. Olivier," in clear, hard
letters, like print. The iridescent ink was grey on the white linen and
lawn, black when you stamped with the hot iron: M.E. Olivier. Mamma was
embroidering M.E.O. in crimson silk on a black sock.
Mark was in the Army now; in the Royal Field Artillery. He was going to
India. In two weeks, before the middle of April, he would be gone. They
had known this so long that now and then they could forget it; they could
be glad that Mark should have all those things, so many more, and more
beautiful, than he had ever had. They were appeased with their labour of
forming, over and over again, the letters, clear and perfect, of his
Then Papa had come in and said that Dan was not going to live at home any
more. He had taken rooms in Bloomsbury with young Vickers.
Dan had not gone to Cambridge when he left Chelmsted, as Mamma had
intended. There hadn't been enough money.
Uncle Victor had paid for Mark's last year at Woolwich and for his outfit
now. Some day Mamma would pay him back again.
Dan had gone first into Papa's office; then into Uncle Edward's office.
He was in Uncle Victor's office now. Sometimes he didn't get home till
after midnight. Sometimes when you went into his room to call him in the
morning he wasn't there; but there were the bed-clothes turned down as
Catty had left them, with his nightshirt folded on the top.
Her mother said: "I hope you're content now you've finished your work."
"_My_ work?" her father said.
"Yes, yours. You couldn't rest till you'd got the poor boy out of your
office, and now you've turned him out of the house. I suppose you thought
that with Mark going you'd better make a clean sweep. It'll be Roddy
"I didn't turn him out of the house. But it was about time he went. The
young cub's temper is getting unbearable."
"I daresay. You ruined Dan's temper with your silly
tease--tease--tease--from morning till night. You can't see a dog without
wanting to make it snap and snarl. It was the same with all the children.
And when they turned you bullied them. Just because you couldn't break
Mark's spirit you tried to crush Dan's. It's a wonder he has any temper
Emilius stroked his beard.
"That's right. Stroke your beard as if nothing mattered but your
pleasure. You'll be happy enough when Mark's gone."
Emilius left off stroking his beard.
"You say I turned him out of the office," he said. "Did he stay with
"Nobody could stay with Edward. You couldn't yourself."
"Ask Victor how long he thinks he'll keep him."
"What do you mean, Emilius?"
He didn't answer. He stood there, his lips pouting between his moustache
and beard, his eyes smiling wickedly, as if he had just found out he
could torment her more by not saying what he meant.
"If Dan went to the bad," she said, "I wouldn't blame him. It would serve
"Unless," she added, "that's what you want."
And she began to cry.
She cried as a child cries, with spasms of sobbing, her pretty mouth
spoiled, stretched wide, working, like india-rubber; dull red blotches
creeping up to the brown stains about her eyes. Her tears splashed on to
the fine, black silk web of the sock and sparkled there.
Emilius had gone from the room, leaving the door open. Mary got up and
shut it. She stood, hesitating. The helpless sobbing drew her, frightened
her, stirred her to exasperation that was helpless too. Her mother had
never been more intolerably dear.
She went to her. She put her arm round her.
"Don't, Mamma darling. Why do you let him torture you? He didn't turn Dan
out of the office. He let him go because he can't afford to pay him
"I know that as well as you," her mother said surprisingly.
She drew herself from the protecting arm.
"Well, then--But, oh, what a brute he is. _What_ a brute!"
"For shame to talk that way of your father. _You've_ no right. You're the
one that always goes scot-free."
And, beginning to cry again, she rose and went out, grasping Mark's sock
in her convulsive hand.
"Mary, did you hear your mother say I bullied you?"
Her father had come back into the room.
"Yes," she said.
"Have I ever bullied you?"
She looked at him steadily.
"No. You would have done if Mamma had loved me as much as she loves Mark.
I wish you had. I wish you'd bullied the life out of me. I shouldn't have
cared. I wish you'd hated me. Then I should have known she loved me."
He looked at her in silence, with round, startled eyes. He understood.
The gunner's motto. Mark's motto, stamped on all the letters he would
write. A blue gun on a blue gun-carriage, the muzzle pointing to the
left. The motto waving underneath:
At soldiers' funerals the coffin was carried on a gun-carriage and
covered with a flag.
"_Ubique quo fas et gloria ducunt_." All through the excitement of the
evening it went on sounding in her head.
It was Mark's coming of age party in the week before he went. The first
time she could remember being important at a party. Her consciousness of
being important was intense, exquisite. She was Sub-Lieutenant Mark
Olivier's sister. His only one.
And, besides, she looked nice.
Last year's white muslin, ironed out, looked as good as new. The blue
sash really was new; and Mamma had lent her one of her necklets, a
turquoise heart on a thin gold chain. In the looking-glass she could see
her eyes shining under her square brown fringe: spots of gold darting
through brown crystal. Her brown hair shone red on the top and gold
underneath. The side pieces, rolled above her ears and plaited behind,
made a fillet for her back hair. Her back hair was too short. She tried
to make it reach to her waist by pulling the curled tips straight; but
they only sprang back to her shoulder-blades again. It was unfortunate.
Catty, securing the wonderful fillet with a blue ribbon told her not to
be unhappy. She would "do."
Mamma was beautiful in her lavender-grey silk and her black jet cross
with the diamond star. They all had to stand together, a little behind
her, near the door, and shake hands with the people as they came in. Mary
was surprised that they should shake hands with her before they shook
hands with Mark; it didn't seem right, somehow, when it was his birthday.
Everybody had come except Aunt Charlotte; even Mr. Marriott, though he
was supposed to be afraid of parties. (You couldn't ask Aunt Charlotte
because of Mr. Marriott.) There were the two Manistys, looking taller and
leaner than ever. And there was Mrs. Draper with Dora and Effie. Mrs.
Draper, black hawk's eyes in purple rings; white powder over crushed
carmines; a black wing of hair folded over grey down. Effie's pretty,
piercing face; small head poised to strike. Dora, a young likeness of
Mrs. Draper, an old likeness of Effie, pretty when Effie wasn't there.
When they looked at you you saw that your muslin was not as good as new.
When they looked at Mamma you saw that her lavender silk was
old-fashioned and that nobody wore black jet crosses now. You were frilly
and floppy when everybody else was tight and straight in Princess
Mamma was more beautiful than Mrs. Draper; and her hair, anyhow, was in
the fashion, parted at the side, a soft brown wing folded over her left
But that made her look small and pathetic--a wounded bird. She ought not
to have been made to look like that.
You could hear Dora and Effie being kind to Mamma. "Dear Mrs.
Olivier"--Indulgence--Condescension. As if to an unfortunate and rather
foolish person. Mark could see that. He was smiling: a hard, angry smile.
Mrs. Draper was Mamma's dearest friend. They could sit and talk to each
other about nothing for hours together. In the holidays Mrs. Draper used
to be always coming over to talk to Mamma, always bringing Dora and Effie
with her, always asking Mark and Dan and Roddy to her house, always
wondering why Mark never went.
Dan went. Dan seemed as if he couldn't keep away.
This year Mrs. Draper had left off asking Mark and Dan and Roddy. She had
left off bringing Dora and Effie with her.
Mary wondered why she had brought them now, and why her mother had asked
The Manistys. She had brought them for the Manistys. She wanted Mamma to
see what she had brought them for. And Mamma had asked them because she
didn't care, and wanted them to see that she didn't care, and that Mark
didn't care either.
If they only knew how Mark detested them with their "_Dear_ Mrs.
Something was going on. She heard Uncle Victor saying to Aunt Lavvy,
"Mark's party is a bit rough on Dan."
Dan was trying to get to Effie through a gap in the group formed by the
Manistys and two young subalterns, Mark's friends. Each time he did it
Mrs. Draper stopped him by moving somehow so as to fill the gap. He gave
it up at last, to sit by himself at the bottom of the room, jammed into a
corner between the chimney-piece and the rosewood cabinet, where he
stared at Effie with hot, unhappy eyes.
Supper. Mamma was worried about the supper. She would have liked to have
given them a nicer one, but there wasn't enough money; besides, she was
afraid of what Uncle Victor would think if they were extravagant. That
was the worst of borrowing, Mark said; you couldn't spend so much
afterwards. Still, there was enough wine yet in the cellar for fifty
parties. You could see, now, some advantage in Papa's habit of never
drinking any but the best wine and laying in a large stock of it while he
Mary noticed that Papa and Dan drank the most. Perhaps Dan drank more
than Papa. The smell of wine was over all the supper, spoiling it,
sending through her nerves a reminiscent shiver of disgust.
Mark brought her back into the dining-room for the ice she hadn't had.
Dan was there, by himself, sitting in the place Effie had just left.
Effie's glass had still some wine in it. You could see him look for the
wet side of the rim and suck the drops that had touched her mouth.
Something small and white was on the floor beside him. Effie's
pocket-handkerchief. He stooped for it. You could hear him breathing up
the scent on it with big, sighing sobs.
They slunk back into the drawing-room.
Mark asked her to play something.
"Make a noise, Minky. Perhaps they'll go."
"The Hungarian March." She could play it better than Mamma. Mamma never
could see that the bass might be even more important than the treble. She
was glad that she could play it better than Mamma, and she hated herself
for being glad.
Mark stood by the piano and looked at her as she played. They talked
under cover of the "Droom--Droom--Droom-era-room."
"Mark, am I looking too awful?"
"No. Pretty Minx. Very pretty Minx."
"We mustn't, Mark. They'll hear us. They'll think us idiots."
"I don't care if they do. Don't you wish they'd go? Clever Minx. Clever
Mamma passed and looked at them. Her face shrank and sharpened under the
dropped wing of her hair. She must have heard what Mark said. She hated
it when Mark talked and looked like that. She hated it when you played
Beethoven, then. The "Sonata Eroica" was bound up with "Violetta," the
"Guards" and "Mabel" Waltzes and the "Pluie des Perles."
"_Ubique quo fas et gloria ducunt_." That was the meaning of the noble,
serious, passionate music.
Roddy called out, "Oh, _not that_ dull old thing."
No. Not that. There was the Funeral March in it: _sulle morte d'un eroe_.
Mark was going away.
"Waldteufel," then. _One_--two--three. _One_--two--three. Sustained thrum
in the bass. One--two--three. Thursday--Friday--_One_--two--three.
Saturday--Sunday. Beat of her thoughts, beat of the music in a sort of
syncopated time. _One_--two--three, Monday.
On Tuesday Mark would be gone.
His eyes made her break off to look round. Dan had come back into the
room, to his place between the cabinet and the chimney-piece. He stooped
forward, his head hanging as if some weight dragged it. His eyes, turned
up, staring at Effie, showed half circles of blood-shot white. His face
was flushed. A queer, leaden grey flush.
Aunt Lavvy sat beside him. She had her hand on his arm, to keep him quiet
there in his corner.
"Mark--what's the matter with Dan?"
_One_--two--three. _One_--two--three. Something bumped against the glass
door of the cabinet. A light tinkling crash of a broken pane. She could
see slantwise as she went on playing. Dan was standing up. He swayed,
feeling for the ledge of the cabinet. Then he started to come down the
room, his head lowered, thrust forward, his eyes heavy with some earnest,
He seemed to be hours coming down the room by himself. Hours standing in
the middle of the room, holding on to the parrot chair.
"Go on playing."
He went to him. Roddy sprang up from somewhere. Hours while they were
getting Dan away from the parrot chair to the door beside the piano.
Hours between the opening and sudden slamming of the door.
But she had not played a dozen bars. She went on playing.
"Wait a minute, Effie."
Effie was standing beside her with her hand on the door.
"I've lost my pocket-handkerchief. I must have left it in the dining-room.
I _know_ I left it in the dining-room," she said, fussing.
Mary got up. "All right. I'll fetch it."
She opened the door and shut it again quickly.
"I can't go--yet."
Friday, Saturday and Sunday passed, each with a separate, hurrying pace
that quickened towards bed-time.
Mark's last night. She had left her door open so that she could hear him
come upstairs. He came and sat on her bed as he used to do years ago when
she was afraid of the ghost in the passage.
"I shan't be away for ever, Minky. Only five years."
"Yes, but you'll be twenty-six then, and I shall be nineteen. We shan't
"I shall be my self. Five years isn't really long."
"You--you'll like it, Mark. There'll be jungles with bisons and tigers."
"Shan't be able to go in for polo."
"Ponies. Too expensive."
They sat silent.
"What I _don't_ like," Mark said in a sleepy voice, "is leaving Papa."
He really meant it. "Wish I'd been decenter to him," he said.
And then: "Minky--you'll be kind to little Mamma."
"Oh, Mark--aren't I?"
"Not always. Not when you say funny things about the Bible."
"You say funny things yourself."
"Yes; but she thinks I don't mean them, so it doesn't matter."
"She thinks I don't mean them, either."
"Well--let her go on thinking it. Do what she wants--even when it's
"It's all very well for you. She doesn't want _you_ to learn the
Thirty-Nine Articles. What would you do if she did?"
"Learn them, of course. Lie about them, if that would please her."
She thought: "Mamma didn't want him to be a soldier."
As if he knew what she was thinking, he said, "She doesn't really mind my
going into the Army. I knew she wouldn't. Besides, I had to."
"I'll make it up to her," he said. "I won't do any other thing she
wouldn't like. I won't marry. I won't play polo. I'll live on my pay and
give poor Victor back his money. And there's one good thing about it.
Papa'll be happier when I'm not here."
"He had said good-night and gone to his room and come back again to hold
her still tighter in his arms.
"Nothing," he said. "Only--good-night."
To-morrow no lingering and no words. Mark's feet quick in the passage. A
door shut to, a short, crushing embrace before he turned from her to her
Her mother and she alone together in the emptied room, turning from each
other, without a word.
The wallflowers had grown up under the south side of the garden wall; a
hedge of butterfly-brown and saffron. They gave out a hot, velvet smell,
like roses and violets laced with mignonette.
Mamma stood looking at the wallflowers, smiling at them, happy, as if
Mark had never gone.
As if Mark had never gone.
Mamma whispered to Mrs. Draper, and Aunt Bella whispered to Mamma:
"Fourteen." They always made a mystery about being fourteen. They ought
to have told her.
Her thoughts about her mother went up and down. Mamma was not helpless.
She was not gentle. She was not really like a wounded bird. She was
powerful and rather cruel. You could only appease her with piles of
hemmed sheets and darned stockings. If you didn't take care she would get
hold of you and never rest till she had broken you, or turned and twisted
you to her own will. She would say it was God's will. She would think it
was God's will.
They might at least have told you about the pain. The knives of pain. You
had to clench your fists till the fingernails bit into the palms. Over
the ear of the sofa cushions she could feel her hot eyes looking at her
mother with resentment.
She thought: "You had no business to have me. You had no business to have
Somebody else's eyes. Somebody else's thoughts. Not yours. Not yours.
Mamma got up and leaned over you and covered you with the rug. Her white
face quivered above you in the dusk. Her mouth pushed out to yours,
making a small sound like a moan. You heard yourself cry: "Mamma, Mamma,
you are adorable!"
That was you.
And as if Mark had never gone, as if that awful thing had never happened
to Dan, as if she had never had those thoughts about her mother, her
hidden happiness came back to her. Unhappiness only pushed it to a longer
rhythm. Nothing could take it away. Anything might bring it: the smell of
the white dust on the road; the wind when it came up out of nowhere and
brushed the young wheat blades, beat the green flats into slopes where
the white light rippled and ran like water, set the green field shaking
and tossing like a green sea; the five elm trees, stiff, ecstatic
dancers, holding out the broken-ladder pattern of their skirts; haunting
rhymes, sudden cadences; the grave "_Ubique_" sounding through the
Its thrill of reminiscence passed into the thrill of premonition, of
something about to happen to her.
Poems made of the white dust, of the wind in the green corn, of the five
trees--they would be the most beautiful poems in the world.
Sometimes the images of these things would begin to move before her with
persistence, as if they were going to make a pattern; she could hear a
thin cling-clang, a moving white pattern of sound that, when she tried to
catch it, broke up and flowed away. The image pattern and the sound
pattern belonged to each other, but when she tried to bring them together
they fell apart.
That came of reading too much Byron.
How was it that patterns of sound had power to haunt and excite you? Like
the "potnia, potnia nux" that she found in the discarded Longfellow,
stuck before his "Voices of the Night."
Potnia, potnia nux, hypnodoteira ton polyponon broton, erebothen ithi,
mole, mole katapteros ton Agamemnonion epi domon.
She wished she knew Greek; the patterns the sounds made were so hard and
And there were bits of patterns, snapt off, throbbing wounds of sound
that couldn't heal. Lines out of Mark's Homer.
Mark's Greek books had been taken from her five years ago, when Rodney
went to Chelmsted. And they had come back with Rodney this Easter. They
stood on the shelf in Mark's bedroom, above his writing-table.
One day she found her mother there, dusting and arranging the books.
Besides the little shabby Oxford Homers there were an Aeschylus, a
Sophocles, two volumes of Aristophanes, clean and new, three volumes of
Euripides and a Greek Testament. On the table a well-preserved Greek
Anthology, bound in green, with the owner's name, J.C. Ponsonby, stamped
on it in gilt letters. She remembered Jimmy giving it to Mark.
She took the _Iliad_ from its place and turned over the torn, discoloured
Her mother looked up, annoyed and uneasy, like a child disturbed in the
possession of its toys.
"Mark's books are to be kept where Mark put them," she said.
"But, Mamma, I want them."
Never in her life had she wanted anything so much as those books.
"When will you learn not to want what isn't yours?"
"Mark doesn't want them, or he'd have taken them. He'd give them me if he
"He isn't here. I won't have them touched till he comes back."
"But, Mamma darling, I may be dead. I've had to wait five years as it
"Wait? What for, I should like to know?"
"To learn Greek, of course."
Her mother's face shivered with repugnance. It was incredible that
anybody should hate a poor dead language so.
"Just because Mark learnt Greek, you think _you_ must try. I thought
you'd grown out of all that tiresome affectation. It was funny when you
were a little thing, but it isn't funny now."
Her mother sat down to show how tired she was of it.
"It's just silly vanity."
Mary's heart made a queer and startling movement, as if it turned over
and dashed itself against her ribs. There was a sudden swelling and
aching in her throat. Her head swam slightly. The room, Mark's room, with
Mark's white bed in one corner and Dan's white bed in the other, had
changed; it looked like a room she had never been in before. She had
never seen that mahogany washstand and the greyish blue flowers on the
jug and basin. The person sitting on the yellow-painted bedroom chair was
a stranger who wore, unaccountably, a brown dress and a gold watch-chain
with a gold tassel that she remembered. She had an odd feeling that this
person had no right to wear her mother's dress and her chain.
The flash of queerness was accompanied by a sense of irreparable
disaster. Everything had changed; she heard herself speaking, speaking
steadily, with the voice of a changed and unfamiliar person.
"Mark doesn't think it's vanity. You only think it is because you want
The mind of this unfamiliar self had a remorseless lucidity that seemed
to her more shocking than anything she could imagine. It went on as if
urged by some supreme necessity. "You're afraid. Afraid."
It seemed to her that her mother really was afraid.
"Afraid? And what of?" her mother said.
The flash went out, leaving her mind dark suddenly and defeated.
"I don't know what _of_. I only know you're afraid."
"That's an awful thing for any child to say to any mother. Just because I
won't let you have your own way in everything. Until your will is
resigned to God's will I may well be afraid."
"How do you know God doesn't want me to know Greek? He may want it as
much as I do."
"And if you did know it, what good would it do you?"
She stood staring at her mother, not answering. She knew the sound
patterns were beautiful, and that was all she knew. Beauty. Beauty could
be hurt and frightened away from you. If she talked about it now she
would expose it to outrage. Though she knew that she must appear to her
mother to be stubborn and stupid, even sinful, she put her stubbornness,
her stupidity, her sinfulness, between it and her mother to defend it.
"I can't tell you," she said.
"No. I don't suppose you can."
Her mother followed up the advantage given her. "You just go about
dreaming and mooning as if there was nothing else in the wide world for
you to do. I can't think what's come over you. You used to be content to
sit still and sew by the hour together. You were more help to me when you
were ten than you are now. The other day when I asked you to darn a hole
in your own stocking you looked as if I'd told you to go to your funeral.
"It's time you began to take an interest in looking after the house.
There's enough to keep you busy most of your time if you only did the
half of it."
"Is that what you want me to be, Mamma? A servant, like Catty?"
"Poor Catty. If you were more like Catty," her mother said, "you'd be
happier than you are now, I can tell you. Catty is never disagreeable or
disobedient or discontented."
"No. But perhaps Catty's mother thinks she is."
She thought: She _is_ afraid.
"Do you suppose," her mother said, "it's any pleasure to me to find fault
with my only daughter? If you weren't my only daughter, perhaps I
shouldn't find fault."
Her new self answered again, implacable in its lucidity. "You mean, if
you'd had a girl you could do what you liked with you'd have let me
alone? You'd have let me alone if you could have done what you liked with
She noticed, as if it had a separate and significant existence, her
mother's hand lying on the green cover of the Greek Anthology.
"If you were like Mark--if you were only like him!"
"If I only were!"
"Mark never hurt me. Mark never gave me a minute's trouble in his life."
"He went into the Army."
"He had a perfect right to go into the Army."
Silence. "Minky--you'll be kind to little Mamma." A hard, light sound;
the vexed fingers tap-tapping on the book. Her mother rose suddenly,
pushing the book from her.
"There--take Mark's books. Take everything. Go your own way. You always
have done; you always will. Some day you'll be sorry for it."
She was sorry for it now, miserable, utterly beaten. Her new self seemed
to her a devil that possessed her. She hated it. She hated the books. She
hated everything that separated her and made her different from her
mother and from Mark.
Her mother went past her to the door.
"Mamma--I didn't mean it--Mamma--"
Before she could reach the door it shut between them.
The library at Five Elms was very small. Emilius used it as a
smoking-room; but it was lined with books. Where the rows of shelves met
the shutter cases a fold of window-curtain overlapped their ends.
On the fifth shelf, covered by the curtain, she found the four volumes of
Shelley's _Poetical Works_, half-bound in marble-paper and black leather.
She had passed them scores of times in her hunt for something to read.
Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy Bysshe--what a silly name. She had thought
of him as she thought of Allison's _History of Europe_ in seventeen
volumes, and the poems of Cornwall and Leigh Hunt. Books you wouldn't
read if you were on a desert island.
There was something about Shelley in Byron's _Life and Letters_.
Something she had read and forgotten, that persisted, struggled to make
The pages of Shelley were very clean; they stuck together lightly at the
edges, like the pages of the Encyclopaedia at "Pantheism" and "Spinoza."
Whatever their secret was, you would have to find it for yourself.
Table of Contents--Poems written in 1816--"Hymn to Intellectual Beauty."
She read that first.
"Sudden thy shadow fell on me:--
I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!"
It had happened to Shelley, too. He knew how you felt when it happened.
(Only you didn't shriek.) It was a real thing, then, that did happen to
She read the "Ode to a Skylark," the "Ode to the West Wind" and
All her secret happiness was there. Shelley knew about the queerness of
the sharp white light, and the sudden stillness, when the grey of the
fields turns to violet: the clear, hard stillness that covers the excited
throb-throbbing of the light.
"Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity"--
Colours were more beautiful than white radiance. But that was because of
the light. The more light there was in them the more beautiful they were;
it was their real life.
One afternoon Mr. Propart called. He came into the library to borrow a
"And what are _you_ so deep in?" he said.
"Shelley? Shelley?" He looked at her. A kind, considering look. She liked
his grey face with its tired keenness. She thought he was going to say
something interesting about Shelley; but he only smiled his thin,
drooping smile; and presently he went away with his book.
Next morning the Shelleys were not in their place behind the curtain.
Somebody had moved them to the top shelf. Catty brought the step-ladder.
In the evening they were gone. Mr. Propart must have borrowed them.
"To this, then, comes our whole argument respecting the fourth kind of
madness, on account of which anyone, who, on seeing the beauty in this
lower world, being reminded of the true, begins to recover his wings,
and, having recovered them, longs to soar aloft, but, being unable to do
it, looks upwards like a bird, and despising things below, is deemed to
be affected with madness."
Beauty in itself. In itself--Beauty in beautiful things. She had never
thought about it that way before. It would be like the white light in the
Plato, discovered in looking for the lost Shelleys, thus consoled her.
The Plato of Bohn's Library. Cary's English for Plato's Greek. Slab upon
slab. No hard, still sound-patterns. Grey slabs of print, shining with an
inner light--Plato's thought.
Her happiness was there, too.
The French nephew was listening. He had been listening for quite a long
time, ten minutes perhaps; ever since they had turned off the railway
bridge into Ley Street.
They had known each other for exactly four hours and seventeen minutes.
She had gone to the Drapers for tea. Rodney had left her on their
doorstep and he had found her there and had brought her into the
dining-room. That, he declared, was at five o'clock, and it was now
seventeen minutes past nine by his watch which he showed her.
It had begun at tea-time. When he listened he turned round, excitedly, in
his chair; he stooped, bringing his eyes level with yours. When he talked
he tossed back his head and stuck out his sharp-bearded chin. She was not
sure that she liked his eyes. Hot black. Smoky blurs like breath on
glass. Old, tired eyelids. Or his funny, sallowish face, narrowing to the
black chin-beard. Ugly one minute, nice the next.
It moved too much. He could say all sorts of things with it and with his
shoulders and his hands. Mrs. Draper said that was because he was half
He was showing her how French verse should be read when Rodney came for
her, and Dr. Draper sent Rodney away and kept her for dinner.
The French nephew was taking her home now. They had passed the crook of
"And all this time," she said, "I don't know your name."
"Maurice. Maurice Jourdain. I know yours--Mary Olivier. I like it."
"You wouldn't if you were me and your father kept on saying, 'Mary, Mary,
quite contrary,' and 'Mary had a little lamb.'"
"Fathers will do these cruel things. It's a way they have."
"Papa isn't cruel. Only he's so awfully fond of Mamma that he can't think
about _us_. He doesn't mind me so much."
"Oh--he doesn't mind you so much?"
"No. It's Mark he can't stand."
"Who is Mark?"
"My brother. Mark is a soldier--Royal Artillery."
"Lucky Mark. I was to have been a soldier."
"Why weren't you?"
"My mother wouldn't have liked it. So I had to give it up."
"How you must have loved her. Mark loves my mother more than anything;
but he couldn't have done that."
"Perhaps Mark hasn't got to provide for his mother and his sisters. I
had. And I had to go into a disgusting business to do it."
He was beautiful inside. He did beautiful things. She was charmed,
suddenly, by his inner, his immaterial beauty. She thought: "He must be
ever so old."
"But it's made them love you awfully, hasn't it?" she said.
His shoulders and eyebrows lifted; he made a queer movement with his
hands, palms outwards. He stood still in the path, turned to her,
straight and tall. He looked down at her; his lips jerked; the hard,
sharp smile bared narrow teeth.
"The more you do for people the less they love you," he said.
"Your people must be very funny."
"No. No. They're simply pious, orthodox Christians, and I don't believe
in Christianity. I'm an atheist. I don't believe their God exists. I hope
he doesn't. They wouldn't mind so much if I were a villain, too, but
it's awkward for them when they find an infidel practising any of the
Christian virtues. My eldest sister, Ruth, would tell you that I _am_ a
"She doesn't really think it."
"Doesn't she! My dear child, she's got to think it, or give up her
She could see the gable end of Five Elms now. It would soon be over. When
they got to the garden gate.
It _was_ over.
"I suppose," he said, "I must shut the prison door."
They looked at each other through the bars and laughed.
"When shall I see you again?" he said.
She had seen him again. She could count the times on the fingers of one
hand. Once, when he came to dinner with Dr. and Mrs. Draper; once at
Sunday supper with the Drapers after Church; once on a Saturday when Mrs.
Draper asked her to tea again; and once when he called to take her for a
walk in the fields.
Mamma had lifted her eyebrows and Mrs. Draper said, "Nonsense. He's old
enough to be her father."
The green corn stood above her ankles then. This was the fifth time. The
corn rose to her waist. The ears were whitening.
"You're the only person besides Mark who listens. There was Jimmy. But
that was different. He didn't know things. He's a darling, but he doesn't
"Who is Jimmy?"
"Mark's friend and mine."
"_Where_ is he?"
"In Australia. He can't ever come back, so I shall never see him again."
"I'm glad to hear it."
A sudden, dreadful doubt. She turned to him in the narrow path.
"You aren't laughing at me, are you? You don't think I'm shamming and
"I? I? Laughing at you? My poor child--No--"
"They don't understand that you can really love words--beautiful sounds.
And thoughts. Love them awfully, as if they were alive. As if they were
"They are alive. They're better than people. You know the best of your
Shelley and Plato and Spinoza. Instead of the worst."
"I should have liked to have known them, too. Sometimes I pretend that I
do know them. That they're alive. That they're here. Saying things and
listening. They're kind. They never misunderstand. They never lose their
"You mustn't do that," he said sharply.
"It isn't good for you. Talk to me. I'm alive. I'm here, I'll listen.
I'll never misunderstand. I'll never lose my temper."
"You aren't always here."
He smiled, secretly, with straight lips, under the funny, frizzy, French
moustache. And when he spoke again he looked old and wise, like an uncle.
"Wait," he said. "Wait a bit. Wait three years."
"Three years?" she said. "Three years before we can go for another walk?"
He shouted laughter and drew it back with a groan.
She couldn't tell him that she pretended he was there when he was not
there; that she created situations.
He was ill, and she nursed him. She could feel the weight of his head
against her arm, and his forehead--hot--hot under her hand. She had felt
her hands to see whether they would be nice enough to put on Mr.
Jourdain's forehead. They were rather nice; cool and smooth; the palms
brushed together with a soft, swishing sound like fine silk.
He was poor and she worked for him.
He was in danger and she saved him. From a runaway horse; from a furious
dog; from a burning house; from a lunatic with a revolver.
It made her sad to think how unlikely it was that any of these things
would ever happen.
"Mr. Jourdain, I am going to school."
The corn was reaped and carried. The five elms stood high above the
"My poor Mary, is it possible?"
"Yes. Mamma says she's been thinking of it for a long time."
"Don't be too hard on your mother till you're quite sure it wasn't my
"It may have been both of them. Anyhow, it's awful. Just--just when I was
"Just when I was so happy," he said. "But that's the sort of thing they
"I knew you'd be sorry for me."
She was shut up with Papa, tight, in the narrow cab that smelt of the
mews. Papa, sitting slantways, nearly filled the cab. He was quiet and
sad, almost as if he were sorry she was going.
His sadness and quietness fascinated her. He had a mysterious, wonderful,
secret life going on in him. Funny you should think of it for the first
time in the cab. Supposing you stroked his hand. Better not. He mightn't
Not forty minutes from Liverpool Street to Victoria. If only cabs didn't
The small, ugly houses streamed past, backs turned to the train, stuck
together, rushing, rushing in from the country.
Grey streets, trying to cut across the stream, getting nowhere, carried
past sideways on.
Don't look at the houses. Shut your eyes and remember.
Her father's hand on her shoulder. His face, at the carriage window,
looking for her. A girl moving back, pushing her to it. "Papa!"
Why hadn't she loved him all the time? Why hadn't she liked his beard?
His nice, brown, silky beard. His poor beard.
Mamma's face, in the hall, breaking up suddenly. Her tears in your mouth.
Her arms, crushing you. Mamma's face at the dining-room window. Tears,
pricking, cutting your eyelids. Blink them back before the girls see
them. Don't think of Mamma.
The Thames. Barking Creek goes into the Thames and the Roding goes into
Barking Creek. Yesterday, the last walk with Roddy, across Barking Flats
to the river, over the dry, sallow grass, the wind blowing in their
faces. Roddy's face, beautiful, like Mamma's, his mouth, white at the
edges. Roddy gasping in the wind, trying to laugh, his heart thumping.
Roddy was excited when he saw the tall masts of the ships. He had wanted
to be a sailor.
Dan's face, when he said good-bye; his hurt, unhappy eyes; the little
dark, furry moustache trying to come. Tibby's eyes. Dank wanted to marry
Effie. Mark was the only one who got what he wanted.
Better not think of Dank.
She looked shyly at her companions. The stout lady in brown, sitting
beside her; kind, thin mouth, pursed to look important; dull kind eyes
trying to be wise and sharp behind spectacles, between curtains of dead
hair. A grand manner, excessively polite, on the platform, to Papa--Miss
The three girls, all facing them. Pam Quin; flaxen pigtail; grown up
nose; polite mouth, buttoned, little flaxen and pink old lady, Pam Quin,
talking about her thirteenth birthday.
Lucy Elliott, red pig-tail, suddenly sad in her corner, innocent
white-face, grey eyes blinking to swallow her tears. Frances Elliott, hay
coloured pig-tail, very upright, sitting forward and talking fast to hide
her sister's shame.
Mamma's face--Don't think of it.
Green fields and trees rushing past now. Stop a tree and you'll change
and feel the train moving. Plato. You can't trust your senses. The
cave-dwellers didn't see the things that really moved, only the shadows
of the images of the things. Is the world in your mind or your mind in
the world? Which really moves? Perhaps the world stands still and you
move on and on like the train. If both moved together that would feel
like standing still.
Grass banks. Telegraph wires dipping and rising like sea-waves. At Dover
there would be the sea.
Mamma's face--Think. Think harder. The world was going on before your
mind started. Supposing you lived before, would that settle it? No. A
white chalk cutting flashed by. God's mind is what both go on in. That
The train dashed into a tunnel. A long tunnel. She couldn't remember what
she was thinking of the second before they went in. Something that
settled it. Settled what? She couldn't think any more.
Dover. The girls standing up, and laughing. They said she had gone to
sleep in the train.
There was no sea; only the Maison Dieu Road and the big square house in
the walled garden. Brown wire blinds half way up the schoolroom windows.
An old lady with grey hair and a kind, blunt face, like Jenny; she
unpacked your box in the large, light bedroom, folding and unfolding your
things with little gentle, tender hands. Miss Haynes. She hoped you would
be happy with them, hoped you wouldn't mind sleeping alone the first
night, thought you must be hungry and took you down to tea in the long
More girls, pretending not to look at you; talking politely to Miss
After tea they paired off, glad to see each other. She sat in the corner
of the schoolroom reading the new green Shakespeare that Roddy had given
her. Two girls glanced at her, looked at each other. "Is she doing it for
fun?" "Cheek, more likely."
Night. A strange white bed. Two empty beds, strange and white, in the
large, light room. She wondered what sort of girls would be sleeping
there to-morrow night. A big white curtain: you could draw it across the
room and shut them out.
She lay awake, thinking of her mother, crying now and then; thinking of
Roddy and Dan. Mysterious, measured sounds came through the open window.
That was the sea. She got up and looked out. The deep-walled garden lay
under the window, black and clear like a well. Calais was over there. And
Paris. Mr. Jourdain had written to say he was going to Paris. She had his
In bed she felt for the sharp edge of the envelope sticking out under the
pillow. She threw back the hot blankets. The wind flowed to her, running
cold like water over the thin sheet.
A light moved across the ceiling. Somebody had waked her. Somebody was
putting the blankets back again, pressing a large, kind hand to her
forehead. Miss Lambert.
"Mais--mais--de grace! ca ne finira jamais--jamais, s'il faut repondre a
tes sottises, Marie. Recommencons."
Mademoiselle, golden top-knot shining and shaking, blue eyes rolling
between black lashes.
"De ta tige detachee,
Pauvre feuille dessechee"--
Detachee--dessechee. They didn't rhyme. Their not rhyming irritated her
She hated the schoolroom: the ochreish wall-paper, the light soiled by
the brown wire gauze; the cramped classes, the faint odour of girl's
skin; girl's talk in the bedroom when you undressed.
The queer she-things had a wonderful, mysterious life you couldn't touch.
Clara, when she walked with you, smiling with her black-treacle eyes and
bad teeth, glad to be talked to. Clara in bed. You bathed her forehead
with eau-de-cologne, and she lay there, happy, glad of her headache that
made them sorry for her. Clara, waiting for you at the foot of the
stairs, looking with dog's eyes, imploring. "Will you walk with me?" "I
can't. I'm going with Lucy." She turned her wounded dog's eyes and slunk
away, beaten, humble, to walk with the little ones.
Lucy Elliott in the bathing machine, slipping from the cloak of the
towel, slender and straight; sea water gluing red weeds of hair to her
white skin. Sweet eyes looking towards you in the evening at sewing-time.
"Will you sit with me at sewing?"
"I'm sitting with Rose Godwin."
Sudden sweetness; sudden trouble; grey eyes dark and angry behind sudden
tears. She wouldn't look at you; wouldn't tell you what you had done.
Rose Godwin, strong and clever; fourteen; head of the school. Honey-white
Roman face; brown-black hair that smelt like Brazilian nuts. Rose Godwin
walking with you in the garden.
"You must behave like other people if you expect them to like you."
"I don't expect them. How do I behave?"
"It isn't exactly behaving. It's more the way you talk and look at
people. As if you saw slap through them. Or else as if you didn't see
them at all. That's worse. People don't like it."
"Yes. It was cheeky of you to tell Mademoiselle that those French verses
"But they didn't."
"I care. I care frightfully."
"There you go. That's exactly what I mean," Rose said. "Who cares if you
care? And there's another thing. You're worrying Miss Lambert. This
school of hers has got a name for sound religious teaching. You may not
like sound religious teaching, but she's got fifteen of us to look after
besides you. If you want to be an atheist, go and be it by yourself."