Part 6 out of 6
Henrietta laughed and flushed and became serious. 'She mustn't die.'
For, after all, Aunt Sophia was not a true Mallett, according to Aunt
Caroline's test; she believed in marriage, she would like to see
Henrietta in the little house; one of them would be able to call on
the other every day. It was wonderful of Charles to have known she
would like that house: she knew it well, with its red cap and its
squinting eyes; but, then, he was altogether wonderful.
She supposed he would call for her that afternoon and they would
present the order to view together, but he did not come. With her hat
and gloves lying ready on the bed, she waited for his knock in vain.
He must have been kept by business; he would come later to explain.
And then, when still he did not come, she decided that he must be ill.
If so, her place was by his side, and she saw herself moving like an
angel about his bed; and yet the thought of Charles in bed was comic.
At dinner she ate nothing and when Rose remarked on this, Henrietta
murmured that she had a headache; she thought she would go for a walk.
'Then, if you are really going out, will you take a note to Mrs.
Batty? She sent some fruit and flowers to Sophia. I suppose Charles
told her she was ill.'
Henrietta looked sharply at her aunt: she was suspicious of what
seemed like tact, but Rose wore an ordinary expression.
'Is the note ready?' Henrietta asked.
'Yes, I meant to post it, but I'd rather she had it to-night, and
there is the basket to return.'
'Very well, I'll take them both, and if I'm a little late, you'll know
I have just gone for a walk or something.'
'I shan't worry about you,' Rose said.
Henrietta walked up the yellow drive, trembling a little. She had
decided to ask for Mrs. Batty who was always pleased to see her, but
when the door was opened her ears were assailed by a blast of
triumphant sound. It was Charles, playing the piano; he was not ill,
he was not busy, he was merely playing the piano as though there were
no Henrietta in the world, and her trembling changed to the stiffness
of great anger.
She handed in the basket and the note without a word or a smile for
the friendly parlourmaid. She walked home in the awful realization
that she had worn Charles out. He had called her wanton; he must have
meant it. It was that word which had really made her love him, yet it
was also the sign of his exhaustion. Life was tragic: no, it was
comic, it was playful. She had had happiness in her hands, and it had
slipped through them. She felt sick with disappointment under her
rage; but she was not without hope. It stirred in her gently. Charles
would come back. But would he? And she suddenly felt a terrible
distrust of that love of which he had boasted. It was too complete; he
could do without her. He would go on loving, but, she repeated it, she
had worn him out, and she could not love like that. She wanted
tangible things. But he had said that he, too, was flesh and blood,
and that comforted her. He would come back, but she could do nothing
to invite him.
This, she said firmly, was the real thing. It had been different with
Francis Sales: with him there had been no necessity for pride, but her
love for Charles must be wrapped round with reserve and kept holy; and
at once, with her unfailing dramatic sense, she saw herself moving
quietly through life, tending the sacred flame. And then, irritably,
she told herself she could not spend her days doing that: she did not
know what to do! She hated him; she would go away; yes, she would go
away with Aunt Rose.
In the meantime she wept with a passion of disappointment, humiliation
and pain, but on each successive morning, for some weeks, she woke to
hope, for here was a new day with many possibilities in its hours; and
each evening she dropped on to her bed, disheartened. Nothing
happened. Aunt Sophia was better, Rose rode out every day, the little
house on The Green stood empty, squinting disconsolately, resignedly
surprised at its own loneliness. It was strange that nobody wanted a
house like that; it was neglected and so was she: nobody noticed the
one or the other.
Every morning Henrietta took Aunt Sophia for a stately walk; every
afternoon she went to a tea- or tennis-party, for the summer
festivities were beginning once more; and often, as she returned, she
would meet Aunt Rose coming back from her ride, always cool in her
linen coat, however hot the day. Where did she go? How often did she
meet Francis Sales? Why should she be enjoying adventures while
Henrietta, at the only age worth having, was desperately fulfilling
the tedious round of her engagements? It was absurd, and Aunt Rose
would ask serenely, 'Did you have a good game, Henrietta?' as though
there was nothing wrong.
Henrietta did not care for games. It was the big sport of life itself
she craved for, and she could not get it. All these young men,
handsome and healthy in their flannels and ready to be pleasant, she
found dull, while the figure of the loose-jointed Charles, his vague
gestures, his unseeing eyes screening the activity of his brain,
became heroic in their difference. She never saw him; she did not
visit Mrs. Batty; she was afraid of falling tearfully on that homely,
sympathetic breast, but Mrs. Batty, as usual, issued invitations for a
'We shall have to go,' Sophia sighed. 'Such an old and so kind a
friend! But without Caroline--for the first tune!'
'There is no need for you to go,' Rose said at once. 'Mrs. Batty will
understand, and Henrietta and I will represent the family.'
'No, I must not give way. Caroline never gave way.'
There was no excitement in dressing for this party. Without Caroline
things lost their zest, and they set out demurely, walking very slowly
for Sophia's sake.
It was a hot day and Mrs. Batty, standing at the garden door to greet
her guests, was obliged to wipe her face surreptitiously now and then,
while the statues in the hall, with their burdens of ferns and lamps,
showed their cool limbs beneath their scanty but still decent drapery.
Mrs. Batty took Sophia to a seat under a tree and Henrietta stood for
a moment in the blazing sunlight alone. Where was Aunt Rose? Henrietta
looked round and had a glimpse of that slim black form moving among
the rose-trees with Francis Sales. He had simply carried her off! It
was disgraceful, and things seemed to repeat themselves for ever. Aunt
Rose, with her look of having lost everything, still succeeded in
possessing, while Henrietta was alone. She had no place in the world.
John's affianced bride was busy among the guests, like a daughter of
the house, a slobbering bulldog at her heels; and Henrietta, isolated
on the lawn, was overcome by her own forlornness. It had been very
different at the ball. And how queer life was! It was just a
succession of days, that was all: little things happened and the days
went on; big things happened and seemed to change the world, but
nothing was really changed, and a whole life could be spent with a
moment's happiness or despair for its only marks.
Henrietta, rather impressed by the depths of her own thoughts, moved
through the garden. Where was Charles? She wanted to see him and get
their meeting over, but there was not a sign of him and, avoiding the
croquet players and that shady corner where elderly ladies were
clustered near the band, the same band which had played at the ball,
Henrietta found herself in the kitchen garden. She examined the
gooseberry bushes and strawberry beds with apparent interest,
unwilling to join the guests and still more unwilling to be found
alone in this deserted state. It was very hot. The open door of a
little shed showed her a dim and cool interior; she peeped in and
stepped back with an exclamation. Something had moved in there. It
might be a rat or one of John's ferocious terriers, but a voice said
quietly, 'It's only me.'
She stepped forward. 'What are you doing in there?'
'Getting cool,' Charles said. 'I thought nobody would find me. Won't
you come in? It's rather dirty in here, but it's cool, and you can't
hear the band. I've been sitting on the handle of the wheelbarrow, so
that's clean, anyhow. I'll wipe it with my handkerchief to make sure.'
'But where are you going to sit?'
'Oh, I don't know.'
'There's room on the other handle.'
Henrietta sat with her knees between the shafts, and he sat on the
other handle with his back to her.
'We can't stay here long,' she said.
'No,' Charles agreed.
The place smelt musty, but of heaven. It was draped with cobwebs like
celestial clouds; it was dark, but gradually the forms of rakes, hoes,
spades and a watering-pot cleared themselves from the gloom and
Charles's head bloomed above his coat like a great pale flower.
She put out her hand and drew it back again. She found nothing to say.
Outside the sun poured down its rays like fire. Henrietta's head
drooped under her big hat. She was content to stay here for ever if
Charles would stay, too. Her body felt as though it were imponderable,
she had no feet, she could not feel the hard handle of the
wheelbarrow; she seemed to be floating blissfully, aware of nothing
but that floating, yet a threat of laughter began to tickle her. It
was absurd to sit like this, like strangers in an omnibus. The
laughter rose to her throat and escaped: she floated no longer, but
she was no less happy.
'What's the matter?' asked the voice of Charles.
'So funny, sitting like this.'
'What else can we do?'
'You could turn round.'
'There's not room for all our knees.'
She stood up with a little rustle and walked to the door. 'No, it's
too hot out there,' she said, and returned to face him. 'Charles,' she
said in rather a high voice, 'did you find your hat and stick that
'What? Oh, yes,' and then irrelevantly he added, 'I've just been made
'Really?' She was always interested in practical things. 'In Mr.
Batty's firm? How splendid! I didn't know you were any good at
'I've been improving, and you don't know anything about me.'
'I do, Charles,' she said earnestly.
'No, nothing. You haven't time to think of anybody but yourself. And
now I must go and look after all these people. You'd better come and
have an ice.'
There was ice at her heart and she realized now that her past
unhappiness had been half false; she had been waiting for him all the
time and trusting to his next sight of her to put things right, but
she had failed with him, too.
In that dim tool-house she had stood before him in her pretty dress,
smiling down at him, surely irresistible, and he had resisted. Well,
she could resist, too, and she walked calmly by his side, holding her
head very high, and when he parted from her with a grave bow, she felt
a great, an awed respect for him.
She went to find her Aunt Sophia, who was still sitting under the
tree, surrounded by a chattering group. She looked tired, and,
signalling for Henrietta to approach, she said, 'I'm afraid this is
too much for me, dear child. Can you find Rose and ask her to take me
home? But I don't want to spoil your pleasure, Henrietta. There is no
need for you to come.'
Henrietta's lip twisted with dramatic bitterness. There was no
pleasure left for her. 'I would rather go back with you, Aunt Sophia.
Let us go now.'
'No, no. Find Rose.'
There was another buffet in the face. It was Rose who was wanted and
Henrietta, walking swiftly, crossed the lawn again, casting quick
glances right and left. Rose was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, for
their ways had an odd habit of following the same path, she was in the
tool-house with Francis Sales, but as she turned to go there, the
voice of Mrs. Batty, husky with exhaustion and heat, said in her ear,
'Is it your Aunt Rose you are looking for, love? I think I saw her go
into the house, and I wish I could go myself. It's so hot that I
really feel I may have a fit.'
Henrietta went into the cool, shaded drawing-room on light feet, and
there, against the window, she saw her Aunt Rose in an attitude
startlingly unfamiliar. She was standing with her hands clasped before
her, and she gazed down at them lost in thought--or prayer. Her body,
so upright and strong, seemed limp and broken, and her face, which was
calm, yet had the look of having composed itself after pain.
There was no one else in the room, but Henrietta had the strong
impression that someone had lately passed through the door. She was
afraid to disturb that moment in which an escaped soul seemed to be
fluttering back into its place, but Rose looked up and saw her and
Henrietta, advancing softly as though towards a person who was dead,
stopped within a foot of her. Then, without thought and obeying an
uncontrollable impulse, she stepped forward and laid her cheek against
her aunt's. Rose's hands dropped apart and, one arm encircling
Henrietta's waist, she held her close, but only for a minute. It was
Henrietta who broke away, saying, 'Aunt Sophia sent me to look for
you. She doesn't feel well.'
Mrs. Batty was cured of giving parties. It was after her ball that
Miss Caroline died, and it was after her garden-party that Miss Sophia
finally collapsed. The heat, the emotion of her memories and the
effort of disguising it had been too much for her. She died the
following day and Mrs. Batty felt that the largest and most expensive
wreath procurable could not approach the expression of her grief. It
was no good talking to Mr. Batty about it; he would only say he had
been against the ball and garden-party from the first, but Mrs. Batty
found Charles unexpectedly soothing. He was certainly much improved of
late, and when she heard that he was to go to Nelson Lodge on business
connected with the estate, she burdened him with a number of
incoherent messages for Rose.
Perhaps he delivered them; he certainly stayed in the drawing-room for
some time, and Henrietta, sitting sorrowfully in her bedroom, could
hear his voice 'rolling on monotonously. Then there was a laugh and
Henrietta was indignant. Nobody ought to laugh with Aunt Sophia lying
dead, and she did not know how to stay in her room while those two,
Aunt Rose and her Charles, talked and laughed together. She thought of
pretending not to know he was there and of entering the drawing-room
in a careless manner, but she could not allow Aunt Rose to witness
Charles's indifference. All she could do was to steal on to the
landing and lean over the banisters to watch him depart. She had the
painful consolation of seeing the top of his head and of hearing him
say, 'The day after to-morrow?'
Rose answered, 'Yes, it's most important.'
Henrietta waited until the front door had closed behind him and then,
seeing Rose at the foot of the stairs, she said, 'What's important,
'Oh, are you there, Henrietta? What a pity you didn't come down. That
was Charles Batty.'
'I know. What's important?'
'There is a lot of complicated business to get through.'
'You might let me help.'
'I wish you would. When Charles comes again--his father isn't very
well--you had better be present.'
'No, not with Charles,' Henrietta said firmly. 'Does he understand
wills and things?'
'Perfectly, I think. He's very clever and quite interesting.'
'Oh!' Henrietta said.
'I'm glad he's coming again. And now, Henrietta,' she sighed, 'we must
get ready for the cousins.'
The female relatives returned in dingy cabs. They had not yet laid
aside their black and beads for Caroline, and, as though they thought
Sophia had been unfairly cheated of new mourning, they had adorned
themselves with a fresh black ribbon here and there, or a larger
brooch of jet, and these additions gave to the older garments a rusty
look, a sort of blush.
Across these half-animated heaps of woe and dye, the glances of Rose
and Henrietta met in an understanding pleasing to both. This mourning
had a professional, almost a rapacious quality, and if these women had
no hope of material pickings, they were getting all possible
nourishment from emotional ones. Their eyes, very sharp, but veiled by
seemly gloom, criticized the slim, upright figures of these young
women who could wear black gracefully, sorrow with dignity, and who
had, as they insisted, so much the look of sisters.
The air seemed freer for their departure, but the house was very
empty, and though Sophia had never made much noise the place was heavy
with a final silence.
'I don't know why we're here!' Henrietta cried passionately across the
dinner-table when Susan had left the ladies to their dessert.
'Why were we ever here?' Rose asked. 'If one could answer that
They faced each other in their old places. The curved ends of the
shining table were vacant, the Chippendale armchairs were pushed back
against the wall, yet the ghosts of Caroline and Sophia, gaily
dressed, with dangling earrings, the sparkle of jewels, the movements
of their beringed fingers, seemed to be in the room.
'But we shall never forget them,' Henrietta said. 'They were persons.
Aunt Rose, do you think you and I will go on as they did, until just
one of us is left?'
'We could never be like them.'
'No, they were happy.'
'You will be happy again, Henrietta. We shall get used to this
'But I don't think either of us is meant to be happy. No, we're not
like them. We're tragic. But all the same, we might get really fond of
one another, mightn't we?'
'I am fond of you.'
'I don't see how you can be'--Henrietta looked down at the fruit on
her plate--'considering what has happened,' she almost whispered.
Rose made no answer. The steady, pale flames of the candles stood up
like golden fingers, the shadows behind the table seemed to listen.
'But how fond are you?' Henrietta asked in a loud voice, and Rose,
peeling her apple delicately, said vaguely, 'I don't know how you
'By what you would do for a person.'
'Ah, well, I think I have stood that test.'
Henrietta leaned over the table, and a candle flame, as though
startled by her gesture, gave a leap, and the shadows behind were
'Yes,' Henrietta said, 'I hated you for a long time, but now I don't.
You've been unhappy, too. And you were right about--that man. I didn't
love him. How could I? How could I? How could anybody? If you hadn't
come that day--'
Rose closed her eyes for a moment and then said wearily, 'It wouldn't
have made any difference. I never made any difference. You didn't love
him; but he never loved you either, child. You were quite safe.'
Henrietta's face flushed hotly. This might be true, but it was not for
Aunt Rose to say it. Once more she leaned across the table and said
clearly, 'Then you're still jealous.'
Rose smiled. It seemed impossible to move her. 'No, Henrietta. I left
jealousy behind years ago. We won't discuss this any further. It
doesn't bear discussion. It's beyond it.'
'I know it's very unpleasant,' Henrietta said politely, 'but if we are
to go on living together, we ought to clear things up.'
'We are not going on living together,' Rose said. She left the table
and stood before the fire, one hand on the mantelshelf and one foot on
the fender. The long, soft lines of her dark dress were merged into
the shadows, and the white arm, the white face and neck seemed to be
disembodied. Henrietta, struck dumb by that announcement, and feeling
the situation wrested from the control of her young hands, stared at
the slight figure which had typified beauty for her since she first
'Then you don't like me,' she faltered.
Rose did not move, but she began to speak. 'Henrietta, I have loved
you very dearly, almost as if you were my daughter, but you didn't
seem to want my love. I couldn't force it on you, but it has been
here: it is still here. I think you have the power of making people
love you, yet you do nothing for it except, perhaps, exist. One ought
not to ask any more; I don't ask it, but you ought to learn to give.
You'll find it's the only thing worth doing. Taking--taking--one
becomes atrophied. No, it isn't that I don't care for you, it isn't
that. I am going to be married.'
Very carefully, Henrietta put her plate aside, and, supporting her
face in her hands, she pressed her elbows into the table; she pressed
hard until they hurt. So Aunt Rose was going to be married while
Henrietta was deserved. 'Not to Francis Sales?' she whispered.
'Yes, to Francis Sales.'
She had a wild moment of anger, succeeded by horror for Aunt Rose. Was
she stupid? Was she insensible? And Henrietta said, 'But you can't,
Aunt Rose, you can't.' Her distress and a kind of envy gave her
courage. 'He isn't good enough. He played with you and then with me
and you said there was some one else.' The figure by the mantelpiece
was so still that Henrietta became convinced of the potency of her own
words, and she went on: 'You know everything about him and you can't
marry him. How can you marry him?'
A sound, like the faint and distant wailing of the wind, came out of
the shadows into which Rose had retreated: 'Ah, how?'
'And you're going to leave me--for him!'
'Aunt Rose, you would be happier with me.'
Again there came that faint sound. 'Perhaps.'
'I'd try to be kinder to you. I don't understand you.'
'No, you don't understand me. Do you understand yourself?' She
left her place and put her hands on Henrietta's shoulders. 'Say no
more,' she said with unmistakable authority. 'Say no more, neither to
me nor to anybody else. This is beyond you. And now come into
the drawing-room. Don't cry, Henrietta. I'm not going to be married
for some time.'
'I wish I'd known you loved me,' Henrietta sobbed.
'I tried to show you.'
'If I'd known, everything might have been different.'
Rose laughed. 'But we don't want it to be different.'
'You won't be happy,' Henrietta wailed.
'You, at least,' Rose said sternly, 'have done nothing to make me so.'
Henrietta stilled her sobbing. It was quite true. She had taken
everything--Aunt Rose's money, Aunt Rose's love, her wonderful
forbearance and the love of Charles.
'I don't know what to do,' she cried.
'Come into the drawing-room and we'll talk about it.'
But they did not talk. Rose played the piano in the candlelight for a
little while before she slipped out of the room. Henrietta sat on the
little stool without even the fire to keep her company. She was too
dazed to think. She did not understand why Aunt Rose should choose to
marry Francis Sales and she gave it up, but loneliness stretched
before her like a long, hard road.
If only Charles would come! He always came when he was wanted. A
memory reached her weary mind. This was 'the day after to-morrow,' and
Aunt Rose expected him. She leapt up and examined herself in the
mirror. She was one of those lucky people who can cry and leave no
trace; colour had sprung into her cheeks, but it faded quickly. She
had waited for him before and he had not come, and she was tired of
waiting. She sank into Aunt Caroline's chair and shut her eyes; she
almost slept. She was on the verge of dreams when the bell jangled
harshly. She did not move. She sat in an agony of fear that this would
not be Charles; but the door opened and he entered. Susan pronounced
his name, and he stood on the threshold, thinking the room was empty.
A very small voice pierced the stillness. 'Charles, I'm here.'
'I won't come a step farther,' Charles said severely, 'until you tell
me if you love me.'
'I thought you'd come to see Aunt Rose.'
'Yes, I love you, I love you,' she said hurriedly. 'I'm nodding my
head hard. No, stay where you are, stay where you are. I've been
loving you for weeks and you've treated me shamefully. No, no, I've
got to be different, I've got to give. You didn't treat me
'No,' he said stolidly, 'I didn't. Here's the ring, and I took that
house. I've been renting it ever since I knew we were going to live in
it. Here's the ring.' He dropped it into her lap.
She looked down at the stones, hard and bright like herself. 'Aunt
Rose will be very much surprised,' she said, and she was too happy to
wonder why he laughed.
Standing on the stair, Rose heard that laughter and went on very
slowly to her room. She had, at least, done something for Henrietta.
She had given Charles his chance, and now she was to go on doing
things for Francis Sales. She owed him something: she owed him the
romance of her youth, she owed him the care which was all she had left
to give him. Things had come to her too late, her eyes were too wide
open, yet perhaps it was better so. She had no illusions and she
wanted to justify her early faith and Christabel's sufferings and her
own. There was nothing else to do. Besides, he needed her, and with
him she would not be more unhappy; he would be happier, he said. She
had to protect him against himself, yet even there she was frustrated,
for he had, in a measure, found himself, and now that she was ready
and able to serve him there would be less for her to do. But she had
no choice: there was the old debt, there were the old chains, and as
she faced the future she was stirred by hope. She could tell herself
that something of her dead love had waked to life, yet when she tried
to get back the old rapture, she knew it had gone for ever.
She entered her room and did not turn on the light. There seemed to be
a strange weight in her body, pressing her down, but, as she looked
through her open window at the summer sky deepening to night and
letting out the stars, which seemed to be much amused, there was a
lightness in her mind and, smiling back at them, she was able to share
their appreciation of the joke.