Part 2 out of 6
would never have loved him in this miraculous, sudden way, with this
passion of tenderness, this desire to make him happy, this terrible
conviction that she could not do it, this promise of suffering for
herself. And the wonder of it was that he had no likeness to that
absurd Francis of whom she had dreamed and whom she had not loved; no
likeness, either, to the colossal tyrant. The man she loved was in
some ways weak, he was petulant, he was a baby, but he needed her and,
for a romantic and sentimental moment, she saw herself as his refuge,
his strength. She could not, must not communicate those thoughts. She
began to talk happily and serenely about ordinary things until she
remembered that she had lingered past her usual hour and that upstairs
Christabel must be listening for the sound of her horse's hoofs. She
'Will you fetch Peter for me?'
'If you will tell me when you are coming again.'
'One day next week.'
He kissed her hand, and held it.
'Francis, don't. You mustn't spoil things.'
'I haven't said a word.'
'Silence is good,' she said.
And she knew she could be silent for ever. Restraint and a love of
danger lived together in her nature and these two qualities were fed
by the position in which she found herself, nor would she have had the
position changed. It supplied her with the emotion she had wanted. She
had the privilege of feeling deeply and dangerously and yet of
preserving her pride.
There was irony in the fact that Christabel, hinting at suspicions for
which, in Rose's mind, there was at first no cause, had at last
actually brought about what she feared, and if Rose had looked for
justification, she might have found it there. But she did not look for
it any more than Reginald would have done; she was like him there, but
where she differed was in loyalty to an idea. She saw love as
something noble and inspiring, worthy of sacrifice and, more
concretely, she was determined not to increase the disaster which had
befallen Christabel. Sooner or later, in normal conditions, her
marriage must have been recognized as a failure, but in these abnormal
ones it had to be sustained as a success, and it seemed to Rose that
civilized beings could love, and live in the knowledge of their love,
without injuring some one already cruelly unfortunate.
But, as the months went by, she found she had to reckon with two
difficult people, or rather with two people, ordinary in themselves,
cast by fate into a difficult situation. There was Christabel, with
her countless idle hours in which to formulate theories, to lay traps,
to realize that the devotion of Francis became less obvious; and there
was Francis, breaking the spirit of their contract with his looks, and
sometimes the letter, with his complaints and pleadings.
He could not go on like this for ever, he said. He saw her once a week
for a few minutes, if he was lucky: how could she expect him to be
satisfied with that? It was little enough, she owned, but more than it
might have been. She could never make him admit, perhaps because he
did not feel, how greatly they were blessed; but she saw herself as
the guardian of a temple: she stood in the doorway forbidding him to
enter less the place should be defiled, yet forbidding him in such a
way that he should not love her less. Yet constantly saying 'No,'
constantly shaking the head and smiling propitiatingly the while is
not to appease; and those short hours of companionship in which they
had once managed to be happy became times of strain, of
disappointment, of barely kept control.
'I wish I could stop loving you,' he broke out one day, 'but I can't.
You're the kind one doesn't forget. I thought I'd done it once, for a
few months, but you came back--you, came back.'
She smiled, seeming aloof and full of some wisdom unknown to him. She
knew he could not do without her, still more she knew he must not do
without her, and these certainties became the main fabric of her love.
She had to keep him, less for her own sake than for that of her idea,
but gradually the severe rules she had made became relaxed.
They were not to meet except on that one day a week demanded by
Christabel, who also had to keep Francis happy and who would have
welcomed the powers of darkness to relieve the monotony of her own
life; but Rose could hardly take a ride without meeting Francis, also
riding; or he would appear, on foot, out of a wood, out of a side
road, and waylay her. He seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of her
presence, and they would have a few minutes of conversation, or of a
silence which was no longer beautiful, but terrible with effort, with
possibilities and with dread.
She ought, she knew, to have kept to her own side of the bridge, to
have ridden on the high Downs inviting to a rider, but she loved the
farther country where the air was blue and soft, where little orchards
broke oddly into great fields, where brooks ran across the lanes and
pink-washed cottages were fronted by little gardens full of homely
flowers and clothes drying on the bushes. There was a smell of fruit
and wood fires and damp earth; there was a veil of magic over the
whole landscape and, far off, the shining line of the channel seemed
to be washing the feet of the blue hills. The country had the charm of
home with the allurement of the unknown and, within sound of the
steamers hooting in the river, almost within sight of the city lying,
red-roofed and smoky with factories, round the docks and mounting in
terraces to the heights of Upper Radstowe, there was an expectation of
mystery, of secrets kept for countless centuries by the earth which
was rich and fecund and alive. She could not deny herself the sight of
this country. It had become dearer to her since her awakened feelings
had brought with them the complexities of new thoughts. It soothed her
though it solved nothing. It did not wish to solve anything. It lay
before her with its fields, its woods, its patches of heathy land, its
bones of grey limestone showing where the flesh of the red earth had
fallen away, its dips and hollows, its steep lanes, like the wide eye
of a being too full of understanding to attempt elucidations; it would
not explain; it knew but it would not impart the knowledge which must
be gained through the experience of years, of storms, of sunshine, of
calamity and joy.
And sometimes the presence of Francis with his personal claims and his
complaints was an intrusion, almost an anachronism. He was of his own
time, and the end of that was almost within sight, while the earth,
immensely old, had a youth of its own, something which Francis would
never have again. But perhaps, because he was essentially simple, he
would have fitted in well enough if he had been less ready to voice
his grievances and ruffle the calm which she so carefully preserved,
which he called coldness and for which he reproached her often.
'I have no peace,' he grumbled.
'You would get it if you would accept things as they are. You have to,
in the end, so why not now?'
She longed to give peace to him, but her tenderness was sane and she
found a strange pleasure in the pain of knowing him to be irritable
and childish. It made of her love a better thing, without the hope of
any reward but the continuance of service.
'It's easier for you,' he said, and she answered, 'Is it?' in the way
that angered him and yet held him, and she thought, without
bitterness, that he had never suffered anything without physical or
mental tears. 'Yes, you have peace at home, but I go back to misery.'
'It's her misery.'
'That doesn't make it any better,' he retorted justly.
'I know.' She touched his sleeve and, feeling his arm stiffen, removed
'And I feel a brute because I can't care enough. If it were you now--'
Almost imperceptibly Rose shook her head. She had no illusions, but
she said, 'Then why not pretend it's me. Tell her all you do. Ask her
advice--you needn't take it.'
'And it's all a lie,' he growled.
She said serenely, 'It has to be, but there are good lies.'
She wished, with an intensity she rarely allowed herself, that he
would be quiet and controlled. Though half her occupation would be
gone, she would feel for him a respect which would rebound on her and
make her admirable to herself, but she knew that life cannot be too
lavish of its gifts or death would always have the victory. This was
not what she had looked for, but it was good enough; she was necessary
to him and always would be; she was sure of that, yet she constantly
repeated it; moreover, she loved his bigness and his physical strength
and the way the lines round his eyes wrinkled when he smiled; she knew
how to make him smile and now and then they had happy interludes when
they talked about crops and horses, profit and loss, the buying and
selling of stock, and felt their friendship for each other like a
At the worst, she consoled herself, after a time of strain, it was
like riding a restive horse. There was danger which she loved: there
was need of skill and a light hand, of sympathy and tact, and she
never regretted the superman who was to have ruled her with a
fatiguing rod of iron. Here there was give and take; she had to let
him have his head and pull him up at the right moment and reward
docility with kindness; she even found a kind of pleasure, streaked
with disgust, in dealing with Christabel's suspicions, half expressed,
but present like shadowy people in her room.
Of these she never spoke to Francis, but she had a malicious affection
for them; they had, as it were, done her a good turn, and though they
hid like secret enemies in the corners, she recognized them as allies.
And they looked so much worse than they were. She imagined them
showing very ugly faces to Christabel, who could only judge them by
their looks, and though it was cruel that she should be frightened by
them, it was impossible to drive them away. Rose could only sit calmly
in their presence and try to create an atmosphere of safety. She knew
she ought to feel hypocritical in this attendance on her lover's wife,
but it was not of her choosing. She did not like Christabel, she would
have been glad never to see her again and, terrible as her situation
was, it appealed to Rose less then it would have done if she had not
herself come of people whose tradition was one of stoicism in trouble,
of pride which refused to reveal its distress. Physically, Christabel
had those qualities, but mentally she lacked them; it was chiefly to
Rose that she betrayed herself, and at each farewell she exacted the
promise of another visit soon. Was she fascinated by the sight of the
woman Francis loved? And when had that love been discovered? And was
she sure of it even now? She certainly had her sole excitement in her
search for evidence.
In that bedroom, gaily decorated for a bride, she lay heroically
bearing pain, lacking the devotion she should have had, finding her
reward in the memory of her husband's appreciation of her courage, and
her occupation, perhaps her pleasure, in a refinement of self-torture.
As soon as Rose entered the room she was aware of the scrutiny of
those wary eyes, very wide open, as blue as flowers, and she knew that
her own face was like a mask. The little dog wagged his tail, the cat
made no sign, the nurse, after a cheerful greeting, went out of the
room and Rose took her accustomed place beside the window. It had a
view of the garden, the avenue of elms in which the rooks cawed
continuously, the hedge separating the fields from the high-road where
two-wheeled carts, laden with farm produce, jogged into Radstowe,
driven by an old man or a stout woman, and returned some hours later
with the day's shopping--kitchen utensils inadequately wrapped up and
glistening in the sunshine, a flimsy parcel of drapery, a box of
groceries. The old man smoked his pipe, the stout woman shook the
reins on the pony's back; the pony, regardless, went at his own pace.
Heavy farm carts creaked past, motor-cars whizzed by, the Sales Hall
dairy cows were driven in for milking, and then for a whole half hour
there might be nothing on the road. The country slept in the sunshine
or patiently endured the rain.
For a member of a large and lively family this prospect, seen from a
permanent couch, was not exhilarating, but Christabel did not
complain: she took advantage of every incident and made the most of
it, but she never expressed a desire for more. She had, for so frail
and shattered a body, an amazing capacity for endurance, as though she
were upheld by some spiritual force. It might have been religion or
love, or the desire to perpetuate Francis's admiration, but Rose
believed, and hated herself for believing, that it was partly
antagonism and a feverish curiosity. She had been cheated of her youth
and strength, and here, with a beautiful, impassive face, was the
woman who might have saved her, a woman with a body strongly slim in
her dark habit, and firm white hands skilled in managing a horse. She
had read the grey mare's mind, and now Christabel, delicately blue and
pink and white, in a wrapper of silk and lace, her hands fidgeting
each other as they had fidgeted the mare's mouth, thought she was
reading the mind of Rose. She stared at her, fascinated but not
afraid. There were things she must find out.
She asked one day, and it was nearly two years since the accident,
'Did they kill the mare?' And Rose, aware that Christabel had known
all the time, answered, 'Yes, at once. Her leg was broken.'
'What a pity!'
Waiting for what would come next, Rose smiled and looked out of the
window at the swaying elm tops.
'Such a useful animal!' Christabel said.
'Very dangerous,' Rose remarked, slipping deliberately into the trap.
'That's what I mean. But not quite dangerous enough. Poor Francis! He
didn't know. He doesn't know now, does he? But of course not.'
Rose had a great horror of a debt and she owed something to
Christabel, but now she felt she had paid it off, with interest. She
breathed deeply, without a sound. Her tone was light.
'He knows all that is good for him.'
'You mean that is good for you.'
Rose stood up, pulled on her washleather gloves, sat down again. The
hands on the silk coverlet were shaking.
'You are making yourself ill,' Rose said. She was tempted to take
those poor fluttering hands into her own and steady them, but her
flesh shrank from the contact. She was tempted, too, to tell
Christabel the truth, but pride forbade her, and in a moment the
impulse was gone, and with its departure came the belief that the
truth would be annihilating. It would rob her of her glorious
uncertainty, she would be destroyed by the knowledge that Rose had
seen her fear, seen and tried to strengthen the slender hold she had
on her husband's love. It was better to play the part of the wicked
woman, the murderess, the stealer of hearts: and perhaps she was
wicked; she had not thought of that before; the Malletts did not
criticize their actions or analyse their minds and she had no
intention of breaking their habits. She stood up again and said:
'Shall I call the nurse?'
'You're not going yet? You've only been here a few minutes.'
'Long enough,' Rose said cheerfully.
Tears came into Christabel's eyes. 'And Francis is out. If he doesn't
see you he'll be angry, he'll ask me why.'
'You can tell him.'
'But,' the tone changed, 'perhaps you'll see him on your way home.'
'Yes, and then I can tell him instead.'
The tears overflowed, she was helplessly angry, she sobbed.
'Be quiet,' Rose said sternly. 'I shall tell him nothing. You know
that. You are quite safe, whatever you choose to say to me. Perfectly
'I know. I can't help it. I lie here and think. What would you do in
'The same thing, I suppose,' Rose said.
'And you won't go?'
'Yes, I'm going. You can tell Francis I was obliged to get home
'But you'll come again?'
'Oh, yes, I'll come again.'
'You don't want to.'
'No, I don't want to.'
'But you're always riding over here, aren't you?'
'Nearly every day.'
'Oh, then--' The words lingered meaningly until Rose reached the door
and then Christabel said, 'I wish you'd ask your sisters to come and
see me. They would tell me all the news.'
Rose went downstairs laughing at Christabel's capacity for mingling
tragedy with the commonplace and sordid accusations with social
desires, but though she laughed she was strangely tired and,
stretching before her, she saw more weariness, more struggling, more
effort without result.
She stood in the masculine, matted hall, with the usual worn pair of
slippers in the corner, a stick lying across a chair, a collection of
coats and hats on the pegs, and she felt she would be glad if she were
never to see all this again, and for the first time she thought
seriously of desertion. She wished she could go to some unfamiliar
country where the people would all have new faces, where the language
would be strange, the sights different, the smells unlike those which
were wafted through the open door. She wanted a fresh body and a new
world, but she knew that she would not get them, for leaving Francis
would be like leaving a child. So she told herself, but at the back of
her mind was the certainty that if she went he would soon attach
himself to another's strength--or weakness: yes, to another's
weakness, and she found she could not contemplate that event, less
because she clung to him than because her pride could not tolerate a
substitution which would be an admission of her likeness to other
women. Yet in that very lack of toleration her pride was lowered, and
if she was not clinging to him for her own sake, she was holding on to
her place, her uniqueness, refusing the possibility that another woman
could serve him, as she had served him with pain, with suffering. She
was like a queen who does not love her throne supremely but will not
abdicate, who would rather fail in her appointed place than see
another succeed in it.
For a minute Rose Mallett sat down on the edge of the chair already
occupied by the stick and she pressed both hands against her forehead,
driving back her thoughts. Thinking was dangerous and a folly: it was
a concession to circumstances, and she would concede nothing. She
stood up, looked round for a mirror, remembered there was not one in
the hall, and with little, meticulous touches to her hat, her hair and
the white stock round her neck, she left the house.
She returned to a drawing-room occupied by Caroline and Sophia, yet
strangely silent. There was not a sound but what came from the birds
in the garden. Caroline's spectacles were on her nose and, though she
was not reading the letter on her knee, she had forgotten to take them
off, an ominous sign. Sophia's face was flushed with agitation, her
head drooped more than usual, but she lifted it with a sigh of relief
at Rose's entrance.
'We're in such trouble, dear,' she said.
'Trouble! Nonsense! No trouble at all! Look here, Rose, that woman has
died now.' She shook the letter threateningly. 'Read this! Reginald's
wife! I suppose she was his wife. I dare say he had dozens.'
'Caroline!' Sophia remonstrated.
Rose took the letter and read what Mrs. Reginald Mallett, believing
herself about to die, had written in her big, sprawling hand. The
letter was only to be posted after her death and she made no apology
for asking the Malletts to see that her daughter had the chance of
earning her living suitably. 'She is a good girl,' she wrote, 'but
when I am gone her only friend will be the landlady of this house and
there are young men about the place who are not the right kind. I am
telling my dear girl that I wish her to accept any offer of help she
gets from you, and she will do what I ask.'
'So, you see,' Caroline said as Rose looked up, 'we're not done with
Reginald yet, and what I propose is that we send Susan for the girl
'Yes, to-morrow,' Sophia echoed.
'Shall I go?' Rose asked. Sophia murmured gratitude, Caroline snorted
doubt, and Rose added, 'No, I think not. She wouldn't like it. Susan
would be better--but not to-morrow. You must write to the child--
what's her name? Henrietta--'
'Yes, Henrietta, after our grandmother--the idea! I don't know how
'Is she a sacred character?' Rose asked dryly. 'Write to her,
Caroline, and say Susan will come on the day that suits her best. You
can't drag her away without warning. Let's treat her courteously,
'Oh, Rose, dear, I think we are always courteous,' Sophia protested.
Caroline merely said, 'Bah!' and added, 'And what are we going to do
with her when we get her? She'll giggle, she'll have a dreadful
accent, Sophia will blush for her. I shan't. I never blush for
anybody, even myself, but I shall be bored. That's worse, and if you
think I'm going to edit my stories for her benefit, Sophia, you're
mistaken. I never managed to do that, even for the General, and I'm
too old to begin.' She removed her spectacles hastily. 'Too old for
Rose smiled. She thought that probably the child of Reginald Mallett,
living from hand to mouth in boarding houses, the sharer of his
sinking fortunes, the witness of his passions and despairs and
infidelities, would find Caroline's stories innocent enough. Her hope
was that Henrietta would not try to cap them, but the chances were
that she would be a terrible young person, that she would find herself
adrift in the respectability of Radstowe where she was unlikely to
meet those young men, not of the right kind, to whom she was
'She must have her father's room,' Sophia said. She was trying to
conceal her excitement. 'We must put some flowers there. I think I'll
just go upstairs and see if there's any little improvement we could
They all went upstairs and stood in that room devoted to the memory of
the scapegrace, but they made no alterations, Sophia expressing the
belief that Henrietta would prefer it as it was; and Caroline, as she
wiped away two slow tears, saying that Reginald was a wretch and she
could not see why they should put themselves to any trouble for his
Book II: _Henrietta_
After luncheon Henrietta went to her room to unpack the brown tin
trunk which contained all her possessions, and as she ascended the
stairs with her hand on the polished mahogany rail, she heard Sophia
saying, 'She's a true Mallett. She has the Mallett ankle. Did you
notice it, Caroline?' And Caroline answered harshly, 'Yes, the Mallett
ankle, but not the foot. Her foot is square, like a block of wood.
What could you expect?' Then the drawing-room door was closed softly
on this indiscretion.
Henrietta continued steadily up the stairs and across the landing to
her father's room, and before the long mirror on the wall she halted
to survey her reflected feet. Aunt Caroline had but exaggerated the
truth; they were square, but they were small, and she controlled her
She pushed back from her forehead the black, curling hair. She was
tired; the luncheon had been a strain, and the carelessly loud words
of Caroline reminded her that she was undergoing an examination which,
veiled by courtesy, would be severe. Already they were blaming her
mother for her feet; and all three of them, the blunt Caroline, the
tender Sophia, the mysteriously silent Rose, were on the watch for the
Well, she was not ashamed of them. Her mother had been good, brave,
honest, loving, patient, and her father had been none of these things;
but no doubt these aunts of hers put manners before morals, as he had
done; and she remembered how, when she was quite a little girl, and
the witness of one of the unpleasant domestic scenes which happened
often in those days, before Reginald Mallett's wife had learnt
forbearance, she had noticed her father's face twitch as though in
pain. Glad of a diversion, she had asked him with eager sympathy, 'Is
it toothache?' and he had answered acidly, 'No, child, only the
mutilation of our language.' She remembered the words, and later she
understood their meaning and the flushing of her mother's face, the
compression of her lips, and she was indignant for her sake.
Yet she could feel for her father, in spite of the fact that whatever
her accent or grammatical mistakes, her mother's conduct was always
right and her father, with his charming air, a little blurred by what
he called misfortune, his clear speech to which Henrietta loved to
listen, was fundamentally unsound. He could not be trusted. That was
understood between the mother and daughter: it was one of the facts on
which their existence rested, it entered into all their calculations,
it was the text of all her mother's little homilies. Henrietta must
always pay her debts, she must tell the truth, she must do nothing of
which she was ashamed, and so far Henrietta had succeeded in obeying
When Reginald Mallett died in the shabby boarding-house kept by Mrs.
Banks, he left his family without a penny but with a feeling of
extraordinary peace. They were destitute, but they were no longer
overshadowed by the fear of disgrace, the misery of subterfuge, the
bewildering oscillations between pity for the man who could not have
what he wanted and shame for his ceaseless striving after pleasure,
his shifts to get it, his reproaches and complaints.
In the gloomy back bedroom on the third story of the boarding-house he
lay on a bed hung with dingy curtains, but in the dignity which was
one of his inheritances. Under the dark, close-cut moustache, his lips
seemed to smile faintly, perhaps in amusement at the folly of his
life, perhaps in surprise at finding himself so still; the narrow
beard of a foreign cut was slightly tilted towards the dirty ceiling,
his beautiful hands were folded as though in a mockery of prayer. He
was, as Mrs. Banks remarked when she was allowed to see him, a lovely
corpse. But to Henrietta and her mother, standing on either side of
the bed, guarding him now, as they had always tried to do, he had
subtly become the husband and father he should have been.
'We must remember him like this,' Mrs. Mallett said, raising her soft
blue eyes, and Henrietta saw that the small sharp lines which Reginald
Mallett had helped to carve in her face seemed to have disappeared. It
was extraordinary how placid her face became after his death, but as
the days passed it was also noticeable that much of her vitality had
gone too. She left herself in Henrietta's young hands and she, casting
about for a way of earning her living, found good fortune in the
terrible basement kitchen where Mrs. Banks moved mournfully and had
her disconsolate being. The gas was always lighted in that cavernous
kitchen, but it remained dark, mercifully leaving the dirt half
unseen. A joint of mutton, cold and mangled, was discernible, however,
when Henrietta descended to put her impecunious case before the
landlady and, gazing at it, the girl saw also her opportunity. Mrs.
Banks had no culinary imagination, but Henrietta found it rising in
herself to an inspired degree and there and then she offered herself
as cook in return for board and lodging for her mother and herself.
'I'm sure I'll be glad to keep you,' Mrs. Banks said: 'you give the
place a tone, you do really, you and your dear Ma sitting in the
drawing-room sewing of an evening; but it isn't only the cooking,
though I do get to hate the sight of food. I get a regular grudge
against it. But it's that butcher! Ready money or no meat's his motto,
and how to make this mutton last--' She picked it up by the bone and
cast it down again.
'Oh, I can manage butchers,' Henrietta said. 'Besides, we'll pay our
way. You'll see. Leave the cooking to me.'
'I will, gladly,' Mrs. Banks said, wiping away a tear. 'Ever since
Banks took it into his head to jump into the river, it seems like as
if I hadn't any spirit, and that Jenkins turns up his ugly nose every
time I put the mutton on the table--when he doesn't begin talking to
it like an old friend. I can't bear Jenkins, but he does pay regular,
and that's something. Well, I'll get on with the upstairs and leave
you to it.'
And so Henrietta began the work which kept her amazingly happy, fed
and sheltered her mother, who sat all day slowly making beautiful baby
linen for one of the big shops, and cemented Henrietta's friendship
with the lachrymose Mrs. Banks. To be faced with a mutton bone and a
few vegetables, to have to wrest from these poor materials an
appetizing meal, was like an exciting game, and she played it with
zest and with success. She had the dubious pleasure of hearing Mr.
Jenkins smack his lips and seeing him distend his nostrils with
anticipation; the unalloyed one of watching the pale face of little
Miss Stubb, the typist, grow delicately pink and less dangerously
thin, under the stimulus of good food; the amusement of congratulating
Mrs. Banks, in public, on her new cook, and seeing Mrs. Banks, at the
head of the supper table, nod her head with important secrecy.
'I've made out,' she told Henrietta, 'that I've a daily girl, without
a character, that's how I can afford her, in the basement, but I must
say it's made that Jenkins mighty keen on fetching his own boots of a
morning, but no lodgers below-stairs is my rule. You look out for
Jenkins, my dear. He's no good. I know his sort.'
'Oh, I can manage Mr. Jenkins, too,' Henrietta said, and indeed she
made a point of bringing him to the hardly manageable state for the
amusement of proving her capacity. She despised him, but not for
nothing was she Reginald Mallett's daughter; and Mr. Jenkins and the
butcher and a gloomy old gentleman who emerged from his bedroom to
eat, and locked himself up between meals, were the only men she knew.
No doubt Mrs. Mallett, placidly sewing, was alive to the attentions
and frustrations of Mr. Jenkins and had planned her letter to her
sisters-in-law some time before she wrote it, but the idea of parting
from her mother never occurred to Henrietta until Miss Stubb alarmed
'Your mother,' she said poetically, 'makes me think of snow melting
before the sun. In fact, I can't look at her without thinking of snow
and snowdrops and--and graves. Last spring I said to Mrs. Banks, "She
won't see the leaves fall," I said, and Mrs. Banks agreed. She has
been spared, but take care of her in these cold winds, Miss Henrietta,
'She has a cold, only a cold,' Henrietta said in a dead voice, and she
went upstairs. Her mother was in bed, and Henrietta looked down at the
thin, pretty face. 'How ill are you?' she asked in a threatening
manner. 'Tell me how ill you are.'
'I've only got a cold, Henry dear. I shall be up to-morrow.'
'Promise you won't be really ill.'
'Why should I be?'
'It's Miss Stubb--saying things.'
'Women chatter,' Mrs. Mallett said. 'If it's not scandal, it's an
illness. You ought to know that.'
'They might leave you alone, anyway.'
'Yes, I wish they would,' Mrs. Mallett said faintly, and dropped back
on her pillow.
Now, sitting in her father's room, with her mother only a few weeks
dead, she reproached herself for her readiness to be deceived, for her
preoccupation with her own affairs and the odious Mr. Jenkins, for the
exuberance of life which hid from her the dwindling of her mother's,
and the fact, now so plain, that when Reginald Mallett died his wife's
capacity for struggling was at an end. She had suffered bitterly from
the sight of his deterioration and from her failure to prevent it. In
his sulky, torturing presence she had desired his absence, but this
permanent absence was more than she could bear. And all Henrietta
could do was to obey her mother's injunction to accept help from her
aunts, but she had refused the offer of an escort to Radstowe and
Nelson Lodge; she would have no highly respectable servant sniffing at
the boarding-house--and she would have been bound to sniff in that
permanently scented atmosphere--which was, after all, her home. She
left with genuine regret, with tears.
'You mustn't cry, dearie,' Mrs. Banks said, holding Henrietta to the
bosom of her greasy dress. 'It's a lucky thing for you.'
'Perhaps,' Henrietta said, 'but I'd rather be with you, and I can't
bear to think of the cooking going to pieces. I'll send you some
recipes for nice dishes.'
'Too many eggs,' Mrs. Banks said prophetically.
'I dare say, but you can manage if you think about it. And remember,
if Miss Stubb has too much cold mutton, she'll lose her job, and then
you'll lose her money. It will pay you to feed her. You haven't had a
debt since I began to help you.'
'I know, I know; but I'll have them now, for certain. I've told you
before that Banks took all my ideas with him when he dropped into the
river,' Mrs. Banks said hopelessly, and on Henrietta's journey to
Radstowe it was of Mrs. Banks that she chiefly thought. It seemed as
though she were deserting a friend.
She was surprised by the smallness of Nelson Lodge as she walked up
the garden path; she had pictured something more imposing than this
low white building, walled off from the wide street; but within she
discovered an inconsistent spaciousness. The hall was panelled in
white wood, the drawing-room, sparsely but beautifully furnished, was
white too, and she immediately felt, as indeed she looked, thoroughly
out of harmony with her surroundings. She waited there, in her cheap
black clothes, like some little servant seeking a situation; but her
welcome, when it came, after a rustling of silken skirts on the
stairs, assured her that she was acknowledged as a member of the
family. Sophia took her tenderly to her heart and murmured, 'Oh, my
dear, how like your father!' Caroline patted her cheek and said, 'Yes,
yes, Reginald's daughter, so she is!' And a moment later, Rose
entered, faintly smiling, extending a cool hand.
Henrietta's acutely feminine eye saw immediately that her Aunt Rose
was supremely well-dressed, and all her past ideas of grandeur, of
plumed hats and feather boas and ornamental walking shoes, left her
for ever. She knew, too, that clothes like these were very costly,
beyond her dreams, but she decided, in a moment, to rearrange and
subdue the black trimming of her hat.
On the other hand, the appearance of the elder aunts almost shocked
her. At the first glance they seemed bedizened and indecent in their
mixture of rouge and more than middle age; but at the second and the
third they became attractive, oddly distinguished. She felt sure of
them, of their sympathy, of her ability to please them. It was Aunt
Rose who made her feel ill at ease, and it was Aunt Rose of whom she
thought as she sat by her bedroom window and looked down at the back
garden, bright with the flowers of spring.
Yet it was Aunt Caroline who had been unkind about her feet. They were
like that, these grand people; they had beautiful manners but nothing
superficial escaped them; they made no allowances, they went in for no
deceptions, and though it was Caroline who had actually condemned the
small, strong feet which now rested, slipperless, on the soft carpet,
Henrietta was sure that Rose had seen them too. She had seen
everything, though apparently she saw nothing, and Henrietta had to
acknowledge her fear of Rose's criticism. It was formidable, for it
would be unflinching in its standards.
'Well,' Henrietta thought, 'I can only be myself, and if I'm common--
but I'm not really common--it's better than pretending; and of course
I am rather upset by the house and the servants and all the forks and
spoons. I hope there won't be anything funny to eat for dinner. I
wish--' To her own amazement, she burst into a brief storm of tears.
'I wish I had stayed with Mrs. Banks.'
She had her place in the boarding-house, she was a power there, and
she missed already her subtle, unrecognized belief in her superiority
over Mrs. Banks and Miss Stubb and Mr. Jenkins and the rest. She was
also honestly troubled about the welfare of the landlady, who was her
only friend. It was strange to sit in her father's room and look at a
portrait of him as a youth hanging on the wall, and remember that Mrs.
Banks, who made him shudder, was her only friend.
She left her seat by the window to look more closely at that portrait,
and after a brief examination she turned to the dressing-table to see
in the mirror a feminine replica of the face on the wall. She had
never noticed the likeness before. She had only to push back her hair
and she saw her father. Where his nose was straight, hers was slightly
tilted, but there was the same darkness of hair and eyes, the same
modelling of the forehead, the same incipient petulance of the lips.
She was astonished, she was unreasonably pleased, and with the energy
of her inspiration she swept back the curls of which her mother had
been so proud, and pinned them into obscurity. The resemblance was
extraordinary: even the low white collar of her blouse, fastened with
a black bow, repeated the somewhat Byronic appearance of the young
man; and as there came a knock at the door, she turned, a little
shame-faced, but excited in the certainty of her success.
But it was only Susan, who gave no sign of astonishment at the change.
She had come to see if she could help Miss Henrietta to unpack, but
Henrietta had already laid away her meagre outfit in the walnut
tallboy with the curved legs. Susan, however, would remove the trunk,
and if Miss Henrietta would tell her what dress she wished to wear
this evening, Susan would be able to lay out her things. The tin trunk
clanked noisily though Susan lifted it with tactful care, and
Henrietta blushed for it, but the aged portmanteau, bearing the
initials _R. M._, became in the discreet presence of Susan a priceless
'It's full of books,' Henrietta said; 'I won't unpack them. I thought
my aunts would let me keep them somewhere. They are my father's
'There's an old bookcase belonging to Mr. Reginald in the box-room,'
Susan said; 'I'll speak to Miss Caroline about it.'
'Did you know my father?' Henrietta asked at once.
'Yes, Miss Henrietta,' Susan said.
'Do you think I'm like him?'
'It's a striking likeness, Miss Henrietta,' and warming a little,
Susan added, 'I was just saying so to Cook.'
'Did Cook know him, too?'
'Oh, yes, Miss Henrietta. Cook and I have been with the family for
years. If you'll tell me which dress you wish to wear--'
'There's only one in the wardrobe,' Henrietta said serenely, for
suddenly her shabbiness and poverty mattered no longer. She was
stamped with the impress of Reginald Mallett, whom she had despised
yet of whom she was proud, and that impress was like a guarantee, a
sort of passport. She had a great lightness of heart; she was glad she
had left Mrs. Banks, glad she was in her father's home, and learning
from Susan that the ladies rested in their own rooms after luncheon,
she decided to go out and look on the scenes of her father's youth.
This was not, she told herself, disloyalty to her mother, for had not
that mother, whom she loved and painfully missed, sent her to this
place? Her mother was generous and sweet; she would grudge no
late-found allegiance to Reginald Mallett. Had she not said they must
remember him at his best, and would she not be glad if Henrietta could
find bits of that best in this old house, in the streets where he had
walked, in the sights which had fed his eyes?
Henrietta started out, gently closing the front door behind her. The
wide street was almost empty; a milkcart bearing the legend, 'Sales
Hall Dairy,' was being drawn at an easy pace by a demure pony, his
harness adorned with jingling bells. The milkman whistled and, as the
cart stopped here and there, she missed the London milkman's harsh
cry, and missed it pleasurably. This man was in no hurry, there was no
impatience in his knock; the whole place seemed to be half asleep,
except where children played on The Green under the old trees. This
comparatively small space, mounting in the distance to a little hill
backed by the sky, was more wonderful to Henrietta than Hyde Park when
the flowers were at their best. There were no flowers here; she saw
grass, two old stone monuments, tall trees, a miniature cliff of grey
rock, and sky. On three sides of The Green there were old houses and
there were seats on the grass, but houses and seats had the air of
being mere accidents to which the rest had grown accustomed, and it
seemed to Henrietta that here, in spite of bricks, she was in the
country. The trees, the grass, the rocks and sky were in possession.
She followed one of the small paths round the hill and found herself
in a place so wonderful, so unexpected, that she caught back her
breath and let it out again in low exclamations of delight. She was
now on the other side of the hill and, though she did not know it, she
was on the site of an ancient camp. The hill was flat-topped; there
were still signs of the ramparts, but it was not on these she gazed.
Far below her was the river, flowing sluggishly in a deep ravine,
formed on her right hand and as far as she could see by high grey
cliffs. These for the most part were bare and sheer, but they gave way
now and then to a gentler slope with a rich burden of trees, while, on
the other side of the river, it was the rocks that seemed to encroach
on the trees, for the wall of the gorge, almost to the water's edge,
was thick with woods. Here and there, on either cliff, a sudden red
splash of rock showed like an unhealed wound, amid the healthier grey.
And all around her there seemed to be limitless sky, huge fluffy
clouds and gulls as white.
At the edge of the cliff where she stood, gorse bushes bloomed and,
looking to the left, she saw the slender line of a bridge swung high
across the abyss. Beyond it the cliffs lessened into banks, then into
meadows studded with big elms and, on the city side, there were houses
red and grey, as though the rocks had simply changed their shapes. The
houses were clustered close to the water, they rose in terraces and
trees mingled with their chimneys. Below there were intricate
waterways, little bridges, warehouses and ships and, high up, the
fairy bridge, delicate and poised, was like a barrier between that
place of business and activity and this, where Henrietta stood with
the trees, the cliffs, the swooping gulls. It was low tide and the
river was bordered by banks of mud, grey too, yet opalescent. It
almost reflected the startling white of the gulls' wings and, as she
looked at it, she saw that its colour was made up of many; there was
pink in it and blue and, as a big cloud passed over the sun, it became
subtly purple; it was a palette of subdued and tender shades.
Henrietta heaved a sigh. This was too much. She could look at it but
she could not see it all. Yet this marvellous place belonged to her,
and she knew now whence had come the glamour in the stories her father
had told her when she was a child. It had come from here, where an
aged city had tried to conquer the country and had failed, for the
spirit of woods and open spaces, of water and trees and wind, survived
among the very roofs. The conventions of the centuries, the convention
of puritanism, of worldliness, of impiety, of materialism and of
charity had all assailed and all fallen back before the strength of
the apparently peaceful country in which the city stood. The air was
soft with a peculiar, undermining softness; it carried with it a smell
of flowers and fruit and earth, and if all the many miles on the
farther side of the bridge should be ravished by men's hands, covered
with buildings and strewn with the ugly luxuries they thought they
needed, the spirit would remain in the tainted air and the imprisoned
earth. It would whisper at night at the windows, it would smile
invisibly under the sun, it would steal into men's minds and work its
will upon them. And already Henrietta felt its power. She was in a new
world, dull but magical, torpid yet alert.
She turned away and, walking down another little path threaded through
the rocks, she stood at the entrance to the bridge and watched people
on foot, people on bicycles, people in carts coming and going over it.
She could not cross herself for she had not a penny in her pocket, but
she stood there gazing and sometimes looking down at the road two
hundred feet below. This made her slightly giddy and the people down
there had too much the appearance of pigmies with legs growing from
their necks, going about perfectly unimportant business with a great
deal of fuss. It was pleasanter to see these country people in their
carts, school-girls with plaits down their backs, rosy children in
perambulators and an exceedingly handsome man on a fine black horse, a
fair man, bronzed like a soldier, riding as though he had done it all
She looked at him with admiration for his looks and envy for his
possessions, for that horse, that somewhat sulky ease. And it was
quite possible that he was an acquaintance of her aunts! She laughed
away her awed astonishment. Why, her own father had been such as he,
though she had never seen him on a horse. She had, after all, to
adjust her views a little, to remember that she was a Mallett, a
member of an honoured Radstowe family, the granddaughter of a General,
the daughter of a gentleman, though a scamp. She was ashamed of the
something approaching reverence with which she had looked at the man
on the horse, but she was also ashamed of her shame; in fact, to be
ashamed at all was, she felt, a degradation, and she cast the feeling
Here was not only a new world but a new life, a new starting point;
she must be equal to the place, the opportunity and the occasion; she
was, she told herself, equal to them all.
In this self-confident mood she returned to Nelson Lodge and found
Caroline, in a different frock, seated behind the tea-table and in the
act of putting the tea into the pot.
'Just in time,' she remarked, and added with intense interest, 'You
have brushed back your hair. Excellent! Look, Sophia, what an
improvement! And more like Reginald than ever. Take off your hat,
child, and let us see. My dear, I was going to tell you, when I knew
you better, that those curls made you look like an organ-grinder.
Don't hush me, Sophia; I always say what I think.'
Henrietta was hurt; this, though Caroline did not know it, was a
rebuff to the mother who loved the curls; but the daughter would not
betray her sensibility, and as Rose was not present she dared to say,
'An organ-grinder with square feet.'
'Oh, you heard that, did you? Sophia said you would. Well, you must be
careful about your shoes. Men always look at a woman's feet.' She
displayed her own, elegantly arched, in lustrous stockings and very
high-heeled slippers. 'Sophia and I--Sophia's are nearly, but not
quite as good as mine--are they Sophia?--Sophia and I have always
been particular about our feet. I remember a ball, when I was a girl,
where one of my partners--he ended by marrying a ridiculously fat
woman with feet like cannon balls--insisted on calling me Cinderella
because he said nobody else could have worn my shoes. Delightful
creature! Do you remember, Sophia?'
Sophia remembered very well. He had called her Cinderella, too, for
the same reason, but as Caroline had been the first to report the
remark, Sophia had never cared to spoil her pleasure in it. And now
Caroline did not wait for a reply, Rose entering at that moment, and
her attention having to be called to the change in Henrietta's method
of doing her hair. Henrietta stiffened at once, but Rose threw, as it
were, a smile in her direction, and said, 'Yes, charming,' and helped
herself to cake.
'And now,' said Caroline, settling herself for the most interesting
subject in the world, 'your clothes, Henrietta.'
'I haven't any,' Henrietta said at once; 'but I think they'll do until
I go away. I thought I should like to be a nurse, Aunt Caroline.'
'Nurse! Nonsense! What kind? Babies? Rubbish! You're going to stay
here if you like us well enough, and we've made a little plan'--she
nodded vigorously--'a little plan for you.'
'We ought to say at once,' Sophia interrupted with painful honesty,
'that it was Rose's idea.'
'Rose? Was it? I don't know. Anyhow, we're all agreed. You are to have
a sum of money, child; yes, for your father's sake, and perhaps for
your own too, a sum of money to bring you in a little income for your
clothes and pleasures, so that you shall be independent like the rest
of us. Yes, it's settled. I've written to our lawyer, James Batty. Did
your father ever mention James Batty? But, of course, he wouldn't. He
married a fat woman, too, but a good soul, with a high colour, poor
thing. Don't say a word, child. You must be independent. Nursing! Bah!
And if we don't take care we shall have you marrying for a home.'
'This is your home,' Sophia said gently.
'No sentiment, Sophia, please. You're making the child cry. The
Malletts don't marry, Henrietta. Look at us, as happy as the day is
long, with all the fun and none of the trouble. We've been terrible
flirts, Sophia and I. Rose is different, but at least she hasn't
married. The three Miss Malletts of Nelson Lodge! Now there are four
of us, and you must keep up our reputation.'
Overwhelmed by this generosity, by this kindness, Henrietta did not
know what to say. She murmured something about her mother's wish that
she should earn her living, but Caroline scouted the idea, and Sophia,
putting her white hand on one of Henrietta's, assured her that her
dear mother would be glad for her child to have the comforts of a
'I'm not used to them,' Henrietta said. 'I've always taken care of
people. I shan't know what to do.'
They would find plenty for her to do; there were many gaieties in
Radstowe and she would be welcomed everywhere. 'And now about your
clothes,' Caroline repeated. 'You are wearing black, of course. Well,
black can be very pretty, very French. Look at Rose. She rarely wears
anything else, but when Sophia and I were about your age, she used to
wear blue and I wore pink, or the other way round.'
'You do so still,' Rose remarked.
'A pink muslin,' Caroline went on in a sort of ecstasy, 'a Leghorn hat
wreathed with pink roses--when was I wearing that, Sophia?'
'Last summer,' Rose said dryly.
'So I was,' Caroline agreed in a matter-of-fact voice. 'Now,
Henrietta. Get a piece of paper and a pencil, Sophia, and we'll make a
The discussion went on endlessly, long after Henrietta herself had
tired of it. It was lengthened by the insertion of anecdotes of
Caroline's and Sophia's youth, and hardly a colour or a material was
mentioned which did not recall an incident which Henrietta found more
interesting than her own sartorial affairs.
Rose had disappeared, and the dressing-bell was rung before the
subject languished. It would never be exhausted, for Caroline, and
even Sophia, less vivid than her sister in all but her affections,
grew pink and bright-eyed in considering Henrietta's points. And all
the time Henrietta had her own opinions, her own plans. She intended
as far as possible to preserve her likeness to her father, which was,
as it were, her stock-in-trade. She pictured herself, youthfully slim,
gravely petulant, her round neck rising from a Byronic collar fastened
with a broad, loose bow, and she fancied the society of Radstowe
exclaiming with one voice, 'That must be Reginald Mallett's daughter!'
She was to learn, however, that in Radstowe the memories of Reginald
Mallett were somewhat dim, and where they were clear they were
neglected. It was generally assumed that his daughter would not care
to have him mentioned, while praises of her aunts were constant and
enthusiastic and people were kind to Henrietta, she discovered, for
The stout and highly-coloured Mrs. Batty was an early caller. She
arrived, rather wheezy, compressed by her tailor into an expensive
gown, a basket of spring flowers on her head. She and Henrietta took
to each other, as Mrs. Batty said, at once. Here was a motherly
person, and Henrietta knew that if she could have Mrs. Batty to
herself she would be able to talk more freely than she had done since
her arrival in Radstowe. There would be no criticism from her, but
unlimited good nature, a readiness to listen and to confide and a love
for the details of operations and illnesses in which she had a kinship
with Mrs. Banks. Indeed, though Mrs. Batty was fat where Mrs. Banks
was thin, cheerful where she was gloomy, and in possession of a
flourishing husband where Mrs. Banks irritably mourned the loss of a
suicide, they had characteristics in common and the chief of these was
the way in which they took to Henrietta.
'You must come to tea on Sunday,' Mrs. Batty said. 'We are always at
home on Sunday afternoons after four o'clock. I have two big boys,'
she sighed, 'and all their friends are welcome then.' She lowered her
voice. 'We don't allow tennis--the neighbours, you know, and James has
clients looking out of every window--but there's no harm, as the boys
say, in knocking the billiard balls about. I must say the click
carries a good way, so I tell the parlourmaid to shut the windows. And
music--my boy Charles,' she sighed again, 'is mad on music. I like a
tune myself, but he never plays any. You'll hear for yourself if you
come on Sunday. Now you will come, won't you, Miss Henrietta?'
'Yes, she'll come,' Caroline said. 'Do her good to meet young people.
We're getting old in this house, Mrs. Batty,' and she guffawed in
anticipation of the usual denial, but for once Mrs. Batty failed. Her
thoughts were at home, at Prospect House, that commodious family
mansion situate in its own grounds, and in one of the most favourable
positions in Upper Radstowe. So the advertisement had read before Mr.
Batty bought the property, and it was all true.
'John,' Mrs. Batty went on, 'is more for sport, though he's in the
sugar business, with an uncle. Not my brother--Mr. Batty's.' She was
anxious to give her husband all the credit. 'They are both good boys,'
she added, 'but Charles--well, you'll see on Sunday. You promise to
Henrietta promised, and with Mrs. Batty's departure Caroline spoke her
mind. She was convinced that the lawyer and his wife were determined
to secure Henrietta as a daughter-in-law.
'He knows all our affairs, my dear, and James Batty never misses a
chance of improving his position. Good as it is, it would be all the
better for an alliance with our family, but I shall disown you at once
if you marry one of those hobbledehoys. The Batty's, indeed! Why, Mrs.
'Caroline, don't!' Sophia pleaded. 'And I'm sure the young men are
very nice young men, and if Henrietta should fall in love--'
'She won't get any of my money!' Caroline said.
'But Henrietta won't be in a hurry,' Sophia announced; and so, over
her head, the two discussed her possible marriage as they had
discussed her clothes, but with less interest and at less length and,
as before, Henrietta had her own ideas. A rich man, a handsome one, a
gay life; no more basement kitchens, no more mutton bones! Already the
influence of Nelson Lodge was making itself felt.
It was at dinner that the charm of the house was most apparent To
Henrietta. Even on these spring evenings the curtains were Drawn and
the candles lighted, for Caroline said she could not Dine comfortably
in daylight. The pale flames were repeated in The mahogany of the
table; the tall candlesticks, the silver appointments, were reflected
also in a blur, like a grey mist; the furniture against the walls
became merged into the shadows and Susan, hovering there, was no more
than an attentive spirit.
There was little talking at this meal, for Caroline and Sophia loved
good food and it was very good. Occasionally Caroline murmured, 'Too
much pepper,' or 'One more pinch of salt and this would have been
perfect,' and bending over her plate, the diamonds in her ears
sparkled to her movements, the rings on her fingers glittered; and
opposite to her Sophia drooped, her pale hair looking almost white,
the big sapphire cross on her breast gleaming richly, her resigned
attitude oddly at variance with the busy handling of her knife and
The gold frame round General Mallett's portrait dimly shone, the
flowers on the table seemed to give out their beauty and their scent
with conscious desire to please, to add their offerings, and for
Henrietta the grotesqueness of the elder aunts, their gay attire,
their rouge and wrinkles, gave a touch of fantasy to what would
otherwise have been too orderly and too respectable a scene.
In this room of beautiful inherited things, where tradition had built
strong walls about the Malletts, the sight of Caroline was like a gate
leading into the wide, uncertain world and the sight of Rose, all
cream and black, was like a secret portal leading to a winding stair.
At this hour, romance was in the house, beckoning Henrietta to follow
through that gate or down that stair, but chiefly hovering about the
figure of Rose who sat so straight and kept so silent, her white hands
moving slowly, the pearls glistening on her neck, her face a pale oval
against the darkness. She was never more mysterious or more remote;
with her even the common acts of eating and drinking seemed, to
Henrietta, to be made poetical; she was different from everybody else,
but the girl felt vaguely that the wildness of which Caroline made a
boast and which never developed into more than that, the wildness
which had ruined her father's life, lay numbed and checked somewhere
behind the amazing stillness and control of Rose. And she was like a
woman who had suffered a great sorrow or who kept a profound secret.
It was at this hour, when Henrietta was half awed, half soothed, yet
very much alive, feeling that tremendous excitements lay in wait for
her just outside, when she was wrapped in beauty, fed by delicate
food, sensitive to the slim old silver under her hands, that she
sometimes felt herself actually carried back to the boarding-house,
and she saw the grimy tablecloth, the flaring gas jets, the tired worn
faces, the dusty hair of Mrs. Banks and the rubber collar of Mr.
Jenkins, and she heard little Miss Stubb uttering platitudes in her
attempt to raise the mental atmosphere. There was a great clatter of
knives and forks, a confusion of voices and, in a pause, the sound of
the exclusive old gentleman masticating his food.
Then Henrietta would close her eyes and, after an instant, she would
open them on this candle-lighted room, the lovely figure of Aunt Rose,
the silks and laces and ornaments of Aunt Caroline and Aunt Sophia;
and between the courses one of these two would repeat the gossip of a
caller or criticize the cut of her dress.
No, the conversation was not much better than that of the boarding-
house, but the accents were different. Caroline would throw out a
French phrase, and Henrietta, loving the present, wondering how she
had borne the past, could yet feel fiercely that life was not fair.
She herself was not fair: she was giving her allegiance to the outside
of things and finding in them more pleasure than in heroism, endurance
and compassion, and she said to herself, 'Yes, I'm just like my
father. I see too much with my eyes.' A little fear, which had its own
delight, took hold of her. How far would that likeness carry her? What
dangerous qualities had he passed on to her with his looks?
She sat there, vividly conscious of herself, and sometimes she saw the
whole room as a picture and she was part of it; sometimes she saw only
those three whose lives, she felt, were practically over, for even
Aunt Rose was comparatively old. She pitied them because their romance
was past, while hers waited for her outside; she wondered at their
happiness, their interest in their appearance, their pleasure in
parties; but she felt most sorry for Aunt Rose, midway between what
should have been the resignation of her stepsisters and the glowing
anticipation of her niece. Yet Aunt Rose hardly invited sympathy of
any kind and the smile always lurking near her lips gave Henrietta a
feeling of discomfort, a suspicion that Aunt Rose was not only
ironically aware of what Henrietta wished to conceal, but endowed with
a fund of wisdom and a supply of worldly knowledge.
She continued to feel uncertain about Aunt Rose. She was always
charming to Henrietta, but it was impossible to be quite at ease with
a being who seemed to make an art of being delicately reserved; and
because Henrietta liked to establish relationships in which she was
sure of herself and her power to please, she was conscious of a faint
feeling of antagonism towards this person who made her doubt herself.
Aunt Caroline and Aunt Sophia were evidently delighted with their
niece's presence in the house. They liked the sound of her laughter
and her gay voice and though Sophia once gently reproached her for her
habit of whistling, which was not that of a young lady, Caroline
scoffed at her old-fashioned sister.
'Let the girl whistle, if she wants to,' she said. 'It's better than
having a canary in a cage.'
'But don't do it too much, Henrietta, dear,' Sophia compromised. 'You
mustn't get wrinkles round your mouth.'
'No.' This was a consideration which appealed to Caroline. 'No, child,
you mustn't do that.'
They admitted her to a familiarity which they would not have allowed
her, and which she never attempted, to exceed, but she was Reginald's
daughter, she was a member of the family, and her offence in being
also the daughter of her mother was forgotten. Caroline and Sophia
were deeply interested in Henrietta. Henrietta was grateful and
affectionate. The three were naturally congenial, and the happiness
and sympathy of the trio accentuated the pleasant aloofness of Rose.
Aunt Rose did not care for her, Henrietta told herself; there was
something odd about Aunt Rose, yet she remembered that it was Aunt
Rose who had thought of giving her the money.
Three thousand pounds! It was a fortune, and on that Sunday when
Henrietta was to pay her first visit to Mrs. Batty, Aunt Caroline,
turning the girl about to see that nothing was amiss, said warningly,
'You are walking into the lion's den, Henrietta. Don't let one of
those young cubs gobble you up. I know James Batty, an attractive man,
but he loves money, and he knows our affairs. He married his own wife
because she was a butcher's daughter.'
'A wholesale butcher,' Sophia murmured in extenuation, 'and I am sure
he loved her.'
'And butchers,' Caroline went on, 'always amass money. It positively
inclines one to vegetarianism, though I'm sure nuts are bad for the
'I don't intend to be eaten yet,' Henrietta said gaily. She was very
much excited and she hardly heeded Sophia's whisper at the door:
'It's not true, dear--the kindest people in the world, but Caroline
has such a sense of humour.'
Henrietta found that the Batty lions were luxuriously housed. The
bright yellow gravel crunched under her feet as she walked up the
drive; the porch was bright with flowering plants arranged in tiers; a
parlourmaid opened the door as though she conferred a privilege and,
as Henrietta passed through the hall, she had glimpses of a statue
holding a large fern and another bearing a lamp aloft.
She was impressed by this magnificence; she wished she could pause
to examine this decently draped and useful statuary but she was
ushered into a large drawing-room, somewhat over-heated, scented
with hot-house flowers, softly carpeted, much-becushioned, and she
immediately found herself in the embrace of Mrs. Batty, who smelt of
eau-de-cologne. Mrs. Batty felt soft, too, and if she were a lioness
there were no signs of claws or fangs; and her husband, a tall, spare
man with grey hair and a clean-shaven face, bowed over Henrietta's
hand in a courtly manner, hardly to be expected of the best-trained
of wild beasts.
But for these two the room seemed to be empty, until Mrs. Batty said
'Charles!' in a tone of timid authority and Henrietta discovered that
a fair young man, already showing a tendency to baldness, was sitting
at the piano, apparently studying a sheet of music. This, then, was
one of the cubs, and Henrietta, feeling herself marvellously at ease
in this house, awaited his approach with some amusement and a little
irritation at his obvious lack of interest. Aunt Caroline need have no
fear. He was a plain young man with pale, vague eyes, and he did not
know whether to offer one of his nervous hands at the end of over-long
arms, or to make shift with an awkward bow. She settled the matter for
him, feeling very much a woman of the world.
'Now, where's John?' Mrs. Batty asked, and Charles answered, 'Ratting,
in the stable.'
Mrs. Batty clucked with vexation. 'It's the first Sunday for weeks
that I haven't had the room full of people. Now you won't want to come
again. Very dull for a young girl, I'm sure.'
'Well, well, you can have a chat with Miss Henrietta,' Mr. Batty said,
'and afterwards perhaps she would like to see my flowers.' He
disappeared with extraordinary skill, with the strange effect of not
having left the room, yet Mrs. Batty sighed. Charles had wandered back
to the piano, and his mother, after compressing her lips and
whispering, 'It's a mania,' drew Henrietta into the depths of a
'Will he play to us?' she asked.
'No, no,' Mrs. Batty answered hastily. 'He's so particular. Why, if I
asked you to have another cup of tea, he'd shut the piano, and that
makes things very uncomfortable indeed. You can imagine. And John has
this new dog--really I don't think it's right on a Sunday. It's all
dogs and cricket with him. Well, cricket's better than football, for
really, on a Saturday in the winter I never know whether I shall see
him dead or alive. I do wish I'd had a girl.' She took Henrietta's
hand. 'And you, poor dear child, without a mother--what was it she
died of, my dear? Ah you'll miss her, you'll miss her! My own dear
mother died the day after I was married, and I said to Mr. Batty,
"This can bode no good." We had to come straight back from
Bournemouth, where we'd gone For our honeymoon, and by the time I was
out of black my trousseau was out of fashion. I must say Mr. Batty was
very good about it. It was her heart, what with excitement and all
that. She was a stout woman. All my side runs to stoutness, but Mr.
Batty's family are like hop-poles. Well, I believe it's healthier, and
I must say the boys take after him. Now I fancy you're rather like
'They say I am just like my father.'
Mrs. Batty said 'Ah!' with meaning, and Henrietta tried to sit
straighter on the seductive settee. She could not allow Mrs. Batty to
utter insinuating ejaculations and, raising her voice, she said:
'Mr. Batty, do play something.'
Charles Batty gazed at her over the shining surface of the grand piano
and looked remarkably like an owl, an owl that had lost its feathers.
'Charles!' exclaimed Mrs. Batty.
'Oh, I don't know,' Henrietta murmured. She could think of nothing but
a pictorial piece of music her mother had sometimes played on the
lodging-house piano, with the growling of thunder-storms, the
twittering of birds after rain and a suggestion of church bells, but
she was determined not to betray herself.
'Whatever you like.'
He broke into a popular waltz, playing it derisively, yet with
passion, so that Mrs. Batty's ponderous head began to sway and
Henrietta's feet to tap. He played as though his heart were in the
dance, and to Henrietta there came delightful visions, thrilling
sensations, unaccountable yearnings. It was like the music she had
heard at the theatre, but more beautiful. Her eyes widened, but she
kept them lowered, her mouth softened and she caught her lip.
'Now I call that lovely,' Mrs. Batty said, with the last chord. His
look questioned Henrietta and she, cautious, simply smiled at him,
with a tilt of the lips, a little raising of the eyebrows, meant to
assure him that she felt as he did.
'If you'd play a pretty tune like that now and then, people would be
glad to listen,' Mrs. Batty went on. 'I'm sure I quite enjoyed it.'
Henrietta's suspicions were confirmed by these eulogies: she knew
already that what Mrs. Batty appreciated, her son would despise, and
she kept her little smile, saying tactfully, 'It certainly made one
want to dance.'
'Can you sing?' he asked.
'Oh, a little.' She became timid. 'I'm going to learn.' With those
vague eyes staring at her, she felt the need of justification. 'Aunt
Caroline says every girl ought to sing. She and Aunt Sophia used to
'Good heavens!' The exclamation came from the depths of Charles
Batty's being. 'They don't do it now, do they?'
Henrietta's pretty laughter rang out. 'No, not now.' But though she
laughed there came to her a rather charming picture of her aunts in
full skirts and bustles, their white shoulders bare, with sashes round
their waists and a sheet of music shared, their mouths open, their
eyes cast upwards.
'Every girl ought to sing,' Charles quoted, and suddenly darted at
Henrietta the word, 'Why?'
'Oh, well--' It was ridiculous to be discomposed by this young man, to
whom, she was sure, she was naturally superior; but sitting behind
that piano as though it were a pulpit, he had an air of authority and
she was anxious to propitiate him. 'Well--' Henrietta repeated,
hanging on the word.
'For your own glorification, that's all,' Charles told her. 'That's
all.' He caught his head in his hands. 'It drives me mad.'
'Charles!' Mrs. Batty said again. That word seemed to be the whole
extent of her intercourse with him.
'Mad! Music--divine! And people get up and squeak. How they dare! A
violation of the temple!'
'Oh, dear me!' Mrs. Batty groaned.
'You play the piano yourself,' Henrietta said.
'Because I can. I'd show you if you cared about it.'
'I think I would rather go and see Mr. Batty's flowers.'
'Yes, dear, do. Charles, take her to your father.' Mrs. Batty was very
hot; it would be a relief to her to heave and sigh alone.
Charles rose and advanced, stooping a little, carrying his arms as
though they did not belong to him and, in the hall, beside one of the
gleaming statues, he paused.
'I've offended you,' he said miserably. 'I make mistakes--somehow.
Nobody explains. I shall do it again.'
'You were rather rude,' Henrietta said. 'Why should you assume that I
'Sure to,' Charles said hopelessly, 'or gurgle. Look here, I'll teach
you myself, if you like.'
'I won't be bullied.'
'Then you'll never learn anything. Women are funny,' he said; 'but
then everybody is. Do you know, I haven't a single friend in the
He shook his head. 'I don't know. I don't get on.'
'If it comes to that, I haven't a friend of my own age, either. And
you have a brother.'
'Ratting!' Charles said eloquently. 'You'll hear the noise.' He handed
her over to his father's care.
She was more than satisfied with her afternoon. She did not see John
Batty but she heard the noise; she was aware that Mr. Batty considered
her a delightful young person; she had sufficiently admired his
flowers and he presented her with a bunch of orchids. For Mrs. Batty
she felt an amused affection; she was interested in the unfortunate
Charles. She felt her life widening pleasantly and, as she crunched
again down the gravel drive, the orchids in her hand, she felt a
disinclination to go home. She wanted to walk under the great trees
which, spread with brilliant green, made a long avenue on the other
side of the road; to wander beyond them, where a belt of grass led to
a wild shrubbery overlooking the gorge at its lowest point.
Here there were unexpected little paths running out to promontories of
the cliff and, at a sudden turn, she would find herself in what looked
almost like danger. Below her the rock was at an angle to harbour
hawthorn trees all in bud, blazing gorse bushes, bracken stiffly
uncurling itself and many kinds of grasses, but there were nearly two
hundred feet between her and the river, now at flood, and she felt
that this was something of an adventure. She followed each little path
in turn, half fearfully, for she was used to a policeman at every
corner; but she met no tramp, saw no suspicious-looking character and,
finding a seat under a hawthorn tree at a little distance from the
cliff's edge, she sat down and put the orchids beside her.
It was part of the strange change in her fortune that she should
actually be handling such rare flowers. She had seen them in florists'
windows insolently putting out their tongues at people like herself
who rudely stared, and now she was touching them and they looked quite
polite, and she thought, with the bitterness which, bred of her
experiences, constantly rose up in the midst of pleasures, 'It's
because they know I have three thousand pounds and six pairs of silk
Then she noticed that one of the flowers was missing, a little one of
a fairy pink and shape, and almost immediately she heard footsteps on
the grass and saw a man approaching with the orchid in his hand. She
recognized the man she had seen riding the black horse on the day she
arrived in Radstowe and her heart fluttered. This was romance, this,
she had time to think excitedly, must be preordained. But when he
handed her the flower with a polite, 'I think you dropped this,' she
wished he had chosen to keep the trophy. If she had had the happiness
of seeing him conceal it!
She said nervously, 'Oh, yes, thank you very much. I'd just missed
it,' and as he turned away she had at least the minor joy of seeing a
look of arrested interest in his eyes.
She sat there holding the frail and almost sacred branch. She supposed
she was in love; there was no other explanation of her feelings; and
what a marvellous sequence of events! If Mr. Batty had not given her
the orchids this romantic episode could not have happened. And she was
glad that the eyes of the stranger had not rested on her that first
day when she was wearing her shabby, her atrociously cut clothes. Fate
had been kind in allowing him to see her thus, in a black dress with a
broad white collar, a carefully careless bow, silk stockings covering
her matchless ankles and--she glanced down--shoes that did their best
to conceal the squareness of her feet.
She recognized her own absurdity, but she liked it: she Had leisure in
which to be absurd, she had nothing else to do, And romance, which had
seemed to be waiting for her outside Nelson Lodge, had now met her in
the open! She was not going to pass it by. This was, she knew, no more
than a precious secret, a little game she could play all by herself,
but it had suddenly coloured vividly a life which was already opening
wider; and she would have been astonished and perhaps disgusted, to
learn that Aunt Rose had once occupied herself with similar dreamings.
But She was spared that knowledge and she was tempted to wait in her
place on the chance that the stranger would return, but, deciding that
it was hardly what a Mallett would do, she rose reluctantly, carrying
the pink orchid in one hand, the less favoured ones in the other.
The evening was exquisite: she saw a pale-blue sky fretted with green
leaves, striped with tree trunks astonishingly black; she heard
steamers threshing through the water and giving out warning whistles,
sounds to stir the heart with the thoughts of voyage, of danger, and
of unknown lands; and as she walked up the long avenue of elms she
found that all the people strolling out after tea for an evening walk
had happy, pleasant faces.
She met fathers and mothers in loitering advance of children, shy
lovers with no words for each other, an old lady in a bath chair
propelled by a man as old, young men in check caps, with flowers in
their coats, earnest people carrying prayer-books and umbrellas, girls
with linked arms and shrill laughter; and she envied none of them: not
the children, finding interest in everything they saw; not the
parents, proud in possession; not the old lady whose work was done,
not the young men and women eyeing each other and letting out their
enticing laughter; she envied no one in the world. She had found an
occupation, and that night, sitting at the dinner-table, she was
conscious of the difference in herself and of a new kinship with these
women, the two who could look back on adventures, rosy and poetic, the
one who seemed shrouded in some delicate mystery. It was as though
she, too, had been initiated; she was surer of herself, even in the
presence of Aunt Rose, with her beauty like that of a white flower,
the faint irony of her smile.
A few days later Rose said, 'I want to take you to see a friend of
mine, a Mrs. Sales.'
'Do the milkcarts belong to them?' Henrietta asked at once.
'Yes.' Rose was amused. 'Mrs. Sales is an invalid and she would like
to see you. Shall we go on Saturday?' She added as she left the room,
'Mrs. Sales was hurt in a hunting accident, but you need not avoid the
subject. She likes to talk about it.'
'What a good thing,' Henrietta said, practically.
Aunt Rose was dressed for walking and Henrietta was afraid of being
asked to go with her, but Aunt Rose made no such suggestion. Since
Sunday Henrietta had been exploring Radstowe and its suburbs with an
enthusiasm surprising to the elder aunts, who did not care for
exercise; but Henrietta was as much inspired by the hope of seeing
that man again as by interest in the old streets, the unexpected
alleys, the flights of worn steps leading from Upper to Lower
Radstowe, the slums, cheek by jowl with the garden of some old house,
the big houses deteriorated into tenements. All these had their own
charm and the added one of having been familiar to her father, but she
never forgot to watch for the hero on the horse, the restorer of her
orchid. If she met him, should she bow to him, or pretend not to see
him? She had practised various expressions before the glass, and had
almost decided to look up as he passed and flash a glance of puzzled
recognition from her eyes. She thought she could do it satisfactorily
and to-day she meant to cross the bridge for the first time. He had
been riding over the bridge that afternoon and what had happened once
might happen again. Moreover, she had a feeling that across the water
there was something waiting for her. Certainly behind the trees
clothing the gorge there was the real country, with cows and sheep and
horses in the meadows, with the possibility of rabbits in the lanes,
and she had never yet seen a rabbit running wild. There were
innumerable possibilities on that farther side.
She crossed the bridge, stood to look up and down the river, to watch
the gulls, white against the green, to consider the ant-like hurrying
of the people on the road below and the clustered houses on the city
side, a medley of shapes and colours, rising in terraces, the whole
like some immense castle guarding the entrance to the town. And as
before, carriages and carts went and came over, schoolgirls on
bicycles, babies in perambulators, but this time there was no man on a
horse. She knew that this mattered very little; her stimulated
excitement was hardly more than salt and pepper to a dish already
appetizing enough, and now and then as she went along the road on a
level with the tree-tops in the gorge and had glimpses of water and of
rock, she had to remind herself of her preoccupation.
She passed big houses with their flowery gardens and then, suddenly
timorous, she decided not to go too far afield. She might get lost,
she might meet nasty people or horned beasts. A little path on her
right hand had an inviting look; it might lead her down through the
trees to the water's edge. It was all strewn and richly brown with
last autumn's leaves and on a tree a few yards ahead she saw a
brilliant object--tiny, long-tailed, extraordinarily swift. It was out
of sight before she had time to tell herself that this was a squirrel;
and again she had a consciousness of development. She had seen a
squirrel in its native haunts! This was wonderful, and she approached
the tree. The squirrel had vanished, but these woods, within sound of
a city, yet harbouring squirrels, seemed to have become one of her
possessions. She was enriched, she was a different person, and she,
whose familiar fauna had been stray cats and the black beetles in Mrs.
Banks' kitchen, was actually in touch with nature. She now felt equal
to meeting unattended cows, but the woods offered enough excitement
She found that her path did not immediately descend. It led her
levelly to an almost circular green space; then it became enclosed
again and soft to the feet with grass; and just ahead of her, blocking
her way, she saw two figures, those of a woman and a man. Their backs
were towards her, but there was no mistaking Aunt Rose's back. It was
straight without being stiff, her dress fell with a unique perfection
and the little hat and grey floating veil were hers alone.
For an instant Henrietta stood still, and the man, turning to look at
his companion, showed the profile of her stranger. At the same moment
he touched Aunt Rose's hand and before Henrietta swerved and sped back
whence she had come, she saw that hand removed gently, as though
reluctantly, and the head, mistily veiled, shaken slowly.
Her first desire was for flight and, safely on the road again, she
found her heart beating to suffocation; she was filled with an
indignation that almost brought her to tears; it was as though Aunt
Rose had deliberately robbed her of treasure--Aunt Rose, who was
almost middle-aged! For a moment she despised that fair, handsome man
whose image had filled her mind for what seemed a long, long time;
then she felt pity for him who had no eyes for youth, yet she
remembered his look of arrested interest.
But steadying her thoughts and enjoying her dramatic bitterness, she
laughed. He had merely surprised her likeness to Aunt Rose and that
was all. Her dream was over. She had known it was a dream, but the
awakening was cruel; it was also intensely exciting. She did not
regret it; she had at least discovered something about Aunt Rose. She
had a lover. That look of his, that pleading movement of his hand,
were unmistakable; he was a lover, and perhaps she, Henrietta Mallett,
alone knew the truth. She had suspected a secret, now she knew it; and
she had a sense of power, she had a weapon. She imagined herself
standing over Aunt Rose, armed with knowledge, no longer afraid; she
was involved in a romantic, perhaps a shameful, situation. Aunt Rose
was meeting a lover clandestinely in the woods while Aunt Caroline and
Aunt Sophia sat innocently at home, marvelling at Rose's indifference
to men, yet rejoicing in her spinsterhood; and Henrietta felt that
Rose had wronged her stepsisters almost as much as she had wronged her
niece. She was deceitful; that, in plain terms, accounted for what had
seemed a mysterious and conquered sorrow. It was Henrietta who was to
suffer, through the shattering of a dream.
She went home, walking quickly, but feeling that she groped in a fog,
broken here and there by lurid lights, the lights of knowledge and
determination. She was younger than Aunt Rose, she was as pretty, and
she was the daughter of Reginald Mallett who, though she did not know
it, had always wanted the things desired by other people. She could
continue to love her stranger and at the back of her mind was the
unacknowledged conviction that Aunt Rose's choice must be well worth
loving. And again how strangely events seemed to serve her: first the
dropping of an orchid and now the leaping of a squirrel! She felt
herself in the hands of higher powers.
She had a feverish longing to see Rose again, to see her plainly for
the first time and dressing for dinner was like preparing for a great
event. Yet when dinner-time came everything was surprisingly the same.
The deceived Caroline and Sophia ate with the usual appetite, Susan
hovered with the same quiet attention, and Rose showed no sign of a
recent interview with a lover. Across the candlelight she looked at
Henrietta kindly and Henrietta remembered the three thousand pounds.
She did not want to remember them. They constituted an obligation
towards this woman who did not sufficiently appreciate her, who met
that man secretly, in a wood, who was beautiful with a far-off kind of
beauty, like that of the stars. And while these angry thoughts passed
through Henrietta's mind, Rose's tender expression had developed into
a smile, and she asked, 'Did you have a nice walk?'
Henrietta gulped. She looked steadily at Rose, and on her lips certain
words began to form themselves, but she did not utter them, and
instead of saying as she intended, 'Yes, I went across the bridge and
into those woods on the other side,' she merely said, 'Yes, yes, thank
you,' and smiled back. It had been impossible not to smile and she was
angry with Aunt Rose for making her a hypocrite. Perhaps she had
smiled like that in the wood and she did not look so very old. Even
the flames of the candles, throwing her face into strong relief as she
leaned forward, did not reveal any lines.
'Don't walk too much, child,' Caroline said. 'It enlarges the feet.
Girls nowadays can wear their brothers' shoes and men don't like that.
Have I ever told you'--Caroline was given to repetition of her
stories--'how one of my partners, ridiculous creature, insisted on
calling me Cinderella for a whole evening? Do you remember, Sophia?'
'Yes, dear,' Sophia said, and she determined that some day, when she
was alone with Henrietta, she would tell her that she, too, had been
called Cinderella that night. It was hard, but, since she loved her
sister, not so very hard, to ignore her own little triumphs, yet she
would like Henrietta to know of them. 'Dear child,' she murmured
'We have our shoes made for us,' Caroline went on. 'It's necessary.'
She snorted scorn for a large-footed generation.
Rose laughed. She said, 'Walk as much as you like, Henrietta. Health
is better than tiny feet.'
Henrietta had no response for this remark. For the first time she felt
out of sympathy with her surroundings, and her resentment against Rose
spread to her other aunts. They were foolish in their talk of men and
little feet; they knew, for all their worldliness, nothing about life.
They had never known what it was to be insufficiently fed or clothed;
they had never battled with black beetles and mutton bones, their
white hands had never been soiled by greasy water and potato skins and
she felt a bitterness against them all. 'Nonsense, Rose, what do you
know about it?' Caroline asked. 'You're a nun, that's what you are.'
'Ah, lovely!' Sophia sighed, but Henrietta, thinking of that man in
the wood, raised her dark eyebrows sceptically.
'Lovely! Rubbish! A nun, and the first in the family. All our women,'
Caroline turned to Henrietta, 'have broken hearts. They can't help it.
It's in the blood. You'll do it yourself. All except Rose. And our
men--' she guffawed; 'yes, even the General--but if I tell you about
our men Sophia will be shocked.'
'The men!' Henrietta straightened herself and looked round the table.
Her dark eyes shone, and the anger she was powerless to display
against Aunt Rose, the remembrance of her own and her mother's
struggles, found an outlet. 'You can't tell me anything I don't know.
I don't think it is funny. Haven't I suffered through one of them? My
father, he wasn't anything to boast about.'
'Henrietta,' Sophia said gently, and Caroline uttered a stern, 'What
are you saying?'
'I don't care,' Henrietta said. 'Perhaps you're proud of all the harm
he did, but my mother and I had to bear it. He was weak and selfish;
we nearly starved, but he didn't. Oh, no, he didn't!' With her hands
clasped tightly on her knee she bent over the table and her head was
lowered with the effect of some small animal prepared for a spring.
'Do you know,' she said, 'he wore silk shirts? Silk shirts! and I had
only one set of underclothing in the world! I had to wash them
overnight. That was my father--a Mallett! Were they all like that?'
There was silence until Caroline, peeling an apple with trembling
fingers, said severely, 'I don't think we need continue this
conversation.' Her indignation was beyond mere words; she was
outraged; her brother had been insulted by this child who owed his
sisters gratitude; the family had been held up to scorn, and
Henrietta, aware of what she had done and of her obligations, was
overwhelmed with regret, with confusion, with the sense that, after
all, it was she who really loved and understood her father.
'We will excuse you, Henrietta, if you have finished your dessert,'
Caroline said. She had a great dignity.
This was a dismissal and Henrietta stood up. She could not take back
her words, for they were true: she did not know how to apologize for
their manner; she felt she would have to leave the house to-morrow and
she had a sudden pride in Aunt Caroline and in her own name. But there
was nothing she could do.
Most unexpectedly, Rose intervened. 'You must forgive Henrietta's
bitterness,' she said quietly. 'It is natural.'
'But her own father!' Sophia remonstrated tearfully, and added
tenderly, 'Ah, poor child!'
Henrietta dropped into her chair. She wept without concealment. 'It
isn't that I didn't love him,' she sobbed.
'Ah, yes, you loved him,' Sophia said. 'So did we.' She dabbed her
face with her lace handkerchief. 'It is Rose who knows nothing about
him,' she said, with something approaching anger. 'Nothing!'
'Perhaps that is why I understand,' Rose said.
'No, no, you don't!' Henrietta cried. She could not admit that. She
would not allow Aunt Rose to make such a claim. She looked from
Caroline to Sophia. 'It's we who know,' she said. Yes, it was they
three who were banded together in love for Reginald Mallett, in their
sympathy for each other, in the greater nearness of their relationship
to the person in dispute. She looked up, and she saw through her tears
a slight quiver pass over the face of Rose and she knew she had hurt
her and she was glad of it. 'You must forgive me,' she said to
'Well, well; he was a wretch--a great wretch--a great dear. Let us say
no more about it.'
It was Rose, now, who was in disgrace, and it was Henrietta, Caroline
and Sophia who passed an evening of excessive amiability in the
Henrietta felt heroically that she had thrown down her glove and it
was annoying, the next morning, to find Rose would not pick it up. She
remained charming; she was inimitably calm: she seemed to have
forgotten her offence of the night before and Henrietta delighted in
the thought that, though Rose did not know it, she and Henrietta were
rivals in love, and she told herself that her own time would come.
She had only to wait. She was a great believer in her own luck, and
had not Aunt Caroline assured her that all the Mallett women were born
to break hearts--all but Aunt Rose? Some day she was bound to meet
that man again and, looking in the glass after the Mallett manner, she
was pleased with what she saw there. She was her father's daughter.
Her father had never denied himself anything he wanted, and since her
outbreak against him she felt closer to him; she was prepared to
condone his sins, even to emulate them and find in him her excuse. She
looked at the portrait on the wall, she kissed her hand to it. Somehow
he seemed to be helping her.
But with all her carefully nurtured enmity, she could not deny her
admiration for Aunt Rose. She was proud to sit beside her in the
carriage which took them to Sales Hall, and on that occasion Rose
talked more than usual, telling Henrietta little stories of the people
living in the houses they passed and little anecdotes of her own
childhood connected with the fields and lanes.
Henrietta sighed suddenly. 'It must be nice,' she said, 'to be part of
a place. You can't be part of London, in lodging-houses, with no
friends. I should love to have had a tree for a friend, all my life.
It sounds silly, but it would make me feel different.' She was angry
with herself for saying this to Aunt Rose, but again she could not
help it. She saw too much with her eyes and Aunt Rose pleased them and
she assured herself that though these softened her heart and loosened
her tongue, she could resume her reserve at her leisure. 'There was a
tree, a cherry, in one of the gardens once, but we didn't stay there
long. We had to go.' She added quickly, 'It was too expensive for us.
I suppose they charged for the tree, but I did long to see it blossom;
and this spring,' she waved a hand, 'I've seen hundreds--I've seen a
squirrel--' She stopped.
'Dear little things,' Rose said. They were jogging alongside the high,
bare wall she hated, and the big trees, casting their high, wide
branches far above and beyond it, seemed to be stretching out to the
sea and the hills.
'Have you seen one lately?' Henrietta asked.
'What? A squirrel? No, not lately. They're shy. One doesn't see them
'Oh, then I was lucky,' Henrietta said. 'I saw one in those woods
we've just passed, the other day.' She looked at her Aunt Rose's
creamy cheek. There was no flush on it, her profile was serene, the
dark lashes did not stir.
'Soon,' Rose said, 'you will see hills and the channel.'
'And when shall we come to Mrs. Sales' house? Is she an old lady?'
'I don't think you would call her very old. She is younger than I am.'
'Oh, that's not old,' Henrietta said kindly. 'Has she any children?'
'No, there's a cat and a dog--especially a cat.'
'And a husband, I suppose?'
'Yes, a husband. Do you like cats, Henrietta?'
'They catch mice,' Henrietta said informatively.
'I don't think this one has ever caught a mouse, but it lies in wait--
for something. Cats are horrible; they listen.' And she added, as
though to herself, 'They frighten me.'
'I'm more afraid of dogs,' Henrietta said.
'Oh, but you mustn't be.'
'Well,' Henrietta dared, 'you're afraid of cats.'
'I know, but dogs, they seem to be part of one's inheritance--dogs and
'All the horses I've known,' Henrietta said with her odd bitterness,
'have been in cabs, and even then I never knew them well.'
'Francis Sales must show you his,' Rose said. 'There are the hills.
Now we turn to the left, but down that track and across the fields is
the short cut to Sales Hall. One can ride that way.'
'I should like to see the dairy,' Henrietta remarked, 'or do they
pretend they haven't one?'
Rose smiled. 'No, they're very proud of it. It's a model dairy. I've
no doubt Francis will be glad to show you that, too. And here we are.'
The masculine hall, with its smell of tobacco, leather and tweed, the
low winding staircase covered with matting, its walls adorned with
sporting prints, was a strange introduction to the room in which
Henrietta found herself. She had an impression of richness and colour;
the carpet was very soft, the hangings were of silk, a fire burned in
the grate though the day was warm and before the fire lay the cat. The
dog was on the window-sill looking out at the glorious world, full of
smells and rabbits which he loved and which he denied himself for the
greater part of each day because he loved his mistress more, but he
jumped down to greet Rose with a great wagging of his tail.
She stooped to him, saying, 'Here is Henrietta, Christabel. Henrietta,
this is Mrs. Sales.'
The woman on the couch looked to Henrietta like a doll animated by
some diabolically clever mechanism, she was so pink and blue and fair.
She was, in fact, a child's idea of feminine beauty and Henrietta felt
a rush of sorrow that she should have to lie there, day after day,
watching the seasons come and go. It was marvellous that she had
courage enough to smile, and she said at once, 'Rose Mallett is always
trying to give me pleasure,' and her tone, her glance at Rose,
startled Henrietta as much as if the little thin hand outside the
coverlet had suddenly produced a glittering toy which had its uses as
a dagger. She, too, looked at Rose, but Rose was talking to the dog
and it was then that Henrietta became really aware of the cat. It was
certainly listening; it had stretched out its fore-paws and revealed
shining, nail-like claws, and those polished instruments seemed to
match the words which still floated on the warm air of the room.
'And now she has brought you,' Christabel went on. 'It was kind of you
to come. Do sit here beside me. Tell me what you think of Rose. Tell
me what you think,' she laughed, 'of your aunt. She's beautiful, isn't
'Yes, very,' Henrietta said, and she spoke coldly, because she, too,
was a Mallett, and she suspected this praise uttered in Rose's hearing
and still with that sharpness as of knives. She had never been in a
room in which she felt less at ease: perhaps she had been prejudiced
by Aunt Rose's words about the cat, but that seemed absurd and she was
confused by her vague feelings of anger and pity and suspicion.
However, she did her best to be a pleasant guest. She had somehow to
break the tenseness in the room and she called on her reserve of
anecdote. She told the story of Mr. Jenkins trying to fetch his boots
and catch a glimpse of Mrs. Banks's daily help who could cook but had
no character; she described the stickiness of his collar; and because
she was always readily responsive to her surroundings, she found it
natural to be humorous in a somewhat spiteful way; and at a casual
mention of the Battys, she became amusing at the expense of Charles
and felt a slight regret when she had roused Christabel's laughter. It
seemed unkind; he had confided in her; she had betrayed him; and Rose
completed her discomfiture by saying, 'Ah, don't laugh at poor
Charles. He feels too much.'
Christabel nodded her head. 'Your aunt is very sympathetic. She
understands men.' She added quickly, 'Have you met my husband?'
'No,' Henrietta said, 'I've only seen your carts.'
The two women laughed and it was strange to hear them united in that
mirth. Henrietta looked puzzled. 'Well,' she explained, 'it was one of
the first things I noticed. It stuck in my head.' Naturally the
impressions of that day had been unusually vivid and she saw with
painful clearness the figure of the man on the horse, as enduring as
though it had been executed in bronze yet animated by ardent life.
'Well,' Christabel said, 'you are to have tea with the owner of the
carts. Rose has tea with him every time she comes. It's part of the
ceremony.' She sighed wearily; the cat moved an ear; the nurse entered
as a signal that the visitors must depart. 'You'll come again, won't
you?' Christabel asked, holding Henrietta's hand and, as Rose said a
few words to the nurse, she whispered, 'Come alone'; and surprisingly,
from the hearthrug, there was a loud purring from the cat.
It was like release to be in the matted corridor again and it was in
silence that Rose led the way downstairs. Henrietta followed slowly,
looking at the pictures of hounds in full cry, top-hatted ladies
taking fences airily, red-coated gentlemen immersed in brooks, but at
the turn of the stairs she stood stock-still. She had the physical
sensation of her heart leaving its place and lodging in her throat.
Her stranger was standing in the hall; he was looking at Aunt Rose,
and she knew now what expression he was wearing in the wood; he was
looking at her half-angrily and as though he were suffering from
hunger. She could not see her aunt's face, but when Henrietta stood
beside her, Rose turned, saying, 'Henrietta, let me introduce Mr.
He said, 'How do you do?' and then she saw again that look of interest
with which she seemed to have been familiar for so long. 'I think I
have seen you before,' he said.
'It was you who picked up my orchid.'
'Of course.' He looked from her to Rose. 'I couldn't think who you
reminded me of, but now I know.'
'I don't think we are very much alike,' Henrietta said.
Rose laughed. 'Oh, don't say that. I have been glad to think we are.'
'You might be sisters,' said Francis Sales.
This little scene, being played so easily and lightly by this man and
woman, had a nightmare quality for Henrietta. It had the confusion,
the exaggerated horror of an evil dream, without the far-away
consciousness of its unreality. Here she was, in the presence of the
man she loved and it was wicked to love him. She had longed to meet
him and now she wished she might have kept his memory only, the figure
on the horse, the man with the pink orchid in his hand. She had
suspected her Aunt Rose of a secret love affair, she had now
discovered her guilty of sin. The evidence was slight, but Henrietta's
conviction was tremendous. She was horrified, but she was also elated.
This was drama, this was life. She was herself a romantic figure; she
was robbed of her happiness, her youth was blighted; the woman
upstairs was wronged and Henrietta understood why there were knives on
her tongue: she understood the watchfulness of the cat.
Yet, as they sat in the cool drawing-room with its pale flowery
chintz, its primrose curtains, the faded water-colours on the walls
and Aunt Rose pouring tea into the flowered cups, she might, if she
had wished, have been persuaded that she was wrong. Perhaps she had
mistaken that angry, starving look in the man's eyes; it had gone;
nothing could have been more ordinary than his expression and his
conversation. But she knew she was not wrong and she sat there, on the
alert, losing not a glance, not a tone. Her limbs were trembling, she
could not eat and she was astonished that Aunt Rose could nibble
biscuits with such nonchalance, that Francis Sales could eat plum
He was, without doubt, the most attractive man she had ever seen; his
long brown fingers fascinated her. And again she wondered at the odd
sequence of events. She had seen his name on the carts, she had seen
him on the horse, he had picked up her pink orchid, she had been led
by Fate and a squirrel into the wood and now she found him here. It
was like a play and it would be still more like a play if she snatched
him from Aunt Rose. In that idea there was the prompting of her
father, but her mother's part in her was a reminder that she must not
snatch him for herself. No, only out of danger; men were helpless,
they were like babies in the hands of women, and hands could differ;
they could hurt or soothe, and she imagined her own performing the
latter task. She saw it as her mission, and on the way home she told
herself that her silence was not that of anger but of dedication.
She thought Aunt Rose looked at her rather curiously, though there was
no expression so definite in that glance. Her aunts did not ask
questions, they never interfered, and if Henrietta chose to be silent
it was her own affair. She was, as a matter of fact, swimming in a
warm bath of emotion and she experienced the usual chill when she
descended from the carriage and felt the pavement under her feet. She
had dedicated herself to a high purpose, but for the moment it was
impossible to get on with the noble work. The mere business of life
had to be proceeded with, and though the situation was absorbing it
receded now and then until, looking at her Aunt Rose, she was reminded
of it with a shock.