Part 1 out of 11
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WITH DEEP AFFECTION
"I confess that I do not see why the very existence
of an invisible world may not in part depend on the
personal response which any of us may make to the
religious appeal. God Himself, in short, may draw
vital strength and increase of very being from our
fidelity. For my own part I do not know what the
sweat and blood and tragedy of this life mean, if they
mean anything short of this. If this life be not a real
fight, in which something is eternally gained for the
universe by success, it is no better than a game of private
theatricals from which one may withdraw at will.
But it feels like a real fight--as if there were something
really wild in the universe which we, with all
our idealities and faithlessness, are needed to redeem;
and first of all to redeem our own hearts from
atheisms and fears . . ."
PART I: BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
I DEATH OF THE REV. CHARLES CARDINAL
II AUNT ANNE
III THE LONDON HOUSE
IV THE CHAPEL
PART II: THE CHARIOT OF FIRE
I THE WARLOCKS
III MAGGIE AND MARTIN
IV MR. CRASHAW
V THE CHOICE
VI THE PROPHET IN HIS OWN HOME
VII THE OUTSIDE WORLD
IX THE INSIDE SAINTS
X THE PROPHET
XI THE CHARIOT OF FIRE
PART III: THE WITCH
I THE THREE VISITS
II PLUNGE INTO THE OTHER HALF
V THE BATTLE OF SKEATON: FIRST YEAR
VI THE BATTLE OF SKEATON: SECOND YEAR
VII DEATH OF AUNT ANNE
VIII DEATH OF UNCLE MATHEW
IX SOUL OF PAUL
X THE REVIVAL
PAET IV: THE JOURNEY HOME AGAIN
I THE DARK ROOM
III THE TRIUMPH OF LIFE
BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
DEATH OF THE REV. CHARLES CARDINAL
Death leapt upon the Rev. Charles Cardinal, Rector of St. Dreots in
South Glebeshire, at the moment that he bent down towards the second
long drawer of his washhand-stand; he bent down to find a clean
collar. It is in its way a symbol of his whole life, that death
claimed him before he could find one.
At one moment his mind was intent upon his collar; at the next he
was stricken with a wild surmise, a terror that even at that instant
he would persuade himself was exaggerated. He saw before his
clouding eyes a black pit. A strong hand striking him in the middle
of his back flung him contemptuously forward into it; a gasping cry
of protest and all was over. Had time been permitted him he would
have stretched out a hand towards the shabby black box that, true to
all miserly convention, occupied the space beneath his bed. Time was
not allowed him. He might take with him into the darkness neither
money nor clean clothing.
He had been told on many occasions about his heart, that he must not
excite nor strain it. He allowed that to pass as he allowed many
other things because his imagination was fixed upon one ambition,
and one alone. He had made, upon this last and fatal occasion, haste
to find his collar because the bell had begun its Evensong clatter
and he did not wish to-night to be late. The bell continued to ring
and he lay his broad widespread length upon the floor. He was a
large and dirty man.
The shabby old house was occupied with its customary life. Down in
the kitchen Ellen the cook was snatching a moment from her labours
to drink a cup of tea. She sat at the deal table, her full bosom
pressed by the boards, her saucer balanced on her hand; she blew,
with little heaving pants, at her tea to cool it. Her thoughts were
with a new hat and some red roses with which she would trim it; she
looked out with little shivers of content at the falling winter's
dusk: Anne the kitchen-maid scoured the pans; her bony frame seemed
to rattle as she scrubbed with her red hands; she was happy because
she was hungry and there would be a beef-steak pudding for dinner.
She sang to herself as she worked.
Upstairs in the dining-room Maggie Cardinal, the only child of the
Rev. Charles, sat sewing. She hoard the jangling of the church hell;
she heard also, suddenly, with a surprise that made her heart beat
for a moment with furious leaps, a tapping on the window-pane. Then
directly after that she fancied that there came from her father's
room above the thud of some sudden fall or collapse. She listened.
The bell swallowed all other noise. She thought that she had been
mistaken, but the tapping at the window began again, now insistent;
the church bell suddenly stopped and in the silence that followed
one could hear the slight creak of some bough driven by the sea-wind
against the wall.
The curtains were not drawn and where the curve of the hill fell
away the sky was faintly yellow; some cold stars like points of ice
pierced the higher blue; carelessly, as though with studied
indifference, flakes of snow fell, turning grey against the lamp-lit
windows, then vanishing utterly. Maggie, going to the window, saw a
dark shapeless figure beyond the glass. For an instant she was
invaded by the terror of her surprised loneliness, then she
remembered her father and the warm kitchen, then realised that this
figure in the dark must be her Uncle Mathew.
She went out into the hall, pushed back the stiff, clumsy handle of
the door, and stepped on to the gravel path. She called out,
"Come in! You frightened me out of my life."
As he came towards her she felt the mingled kindness and irritation
that he always roused in her. He stood in the light of the hall
lamp, a fat man, a soft hat pushed to the back of his head, a bag in
one hand. His face was weak and good-tempered, his eyes had once
been fine but now they were dim and blurred; there were dimples in
his fat cheeks; he wore on his upper lip a ragged and untidy
moustache and he had two indeterminate chins. His expression was
mild, kindly, now a little ashamed, now greatly indignant. It was a
pity, as he often said, that he had not more control over his
feelings. Maggie saw at once that he was, as usual, a little drunk.
"Well," she said. "Come in, Uncle. Father is in church, I think,"
Uncle Mathew stepped with careful deliberation into the hall, put
his bag on a chair, and began a long, rambling explanation.
"You know, Maggie, that I would have sent you a post card if I had
had an idea, but, upon my soul, there I was suddenly in Drymouth on
important business. I thought to myself on waking this morning--I
took a room at the 'Three Tuns'--'Why, there are Charles and Maggie
whom I haven't seen for an age.' I'd have sent you a telegram but
the truth is, my dear, that I didn't want to spend a penny more than
I must. Things haven't been going so well with me of late. It's a
long story. I want your father's advice. I've had the worst of luck
and I could tell you one or two things that would simply surprise
you--but anyway, there it is. Just for a night I'm sure you won't
mind. To-morrow or the day after I must be back in town or this
thing will slip right through my fingers. These days one must be
awake or one's simply nowhere."
He paused and nodded his head very solemnly at her, looking, as he
did so, serious and important.
It was thus that he always appeared, "for one night only," but
staying for weeks and weeks in spite of the indignant protests of
his brother Charles who had never liked him and grudged the expense
of his visits. Maggie herself took his appearance as she did
everything else in her life with good-tempered philosophy. She had
an affection for her uncle; she wished that he did not drink so
much, but had he made a success of life she would not have cared for
him as she did. After all every one had their weaknesses . . .
She steered her uncle into the dining-room and placed him on a chair
beside the fire. In all his movements he attempted restraints and
dignity because he knew that he was drunk but hoped that his niece,
in spite of her long experience of him, would not perceive it. At
the same time he knew that she did perceive it and would perhaps
scold him about it. This made him a little indignant because, after
all, he had only taken the tiniest drop--one drop at Drymouth,
another at Liskane station, and another at "The Hearty Cow" at
Clinton St. Mary, just before his start on his cold lonely walk to
St. Dreot's. He hoped that he would prevent her criticism by his
easy pleasant talk, so on he chattered.
She sat down near him and continuing to sew smiled at him, wondered
what there was for dinner and the kind of mood that her father would
be in when he found his dear brother here.
Maggie Cardinal, at the time, was nineteen years of age. She was
neither handsome nor distinguished, plain indeed, although her mild,
good-natured eyes had in their light a quality of vitality and
interest that gave her personality; her figure was thick and square-
-she would be probably stout one day. She moved like a man. Behind
the mildness of her eyes there was much character and resolve in her
carriage, in the strong neck, the firm breasts, the mouth resolute
and determined. She had now the fine expectation of her youth, her
health, her optimism, her ignorance of the world. When these things
left her she would perhaps be a yet plainer woman. In her dress she
was not clever. Her clothes were ugly with the coarse drab grey of
their material and the unskilful workmanship that had created them.
And yet there would be some souls who would see in her health, her
youth, the kind sympathy of her eyes and mouth, the high nobility of
her forehead from which her hair was brushed back, an attraction
that might hold them more deeply than an obvious beauty.
Uncle Mathew although he was a silly man was one of these perceptive
souls, and had he not been compelled by his circumstances to think
continually about himself, would have loved his niece very dearly.
As it was, he thought her a fine girl when he thought of her at all,
and wished her more success in life than her "poor old uncle" had
had. He looked at her now across the fireplace with satisfaction.
She was something sure and pleasant in a world that swayed and was
uncertain. He was drunk enough to feel happy so long as he was not
scolded. He dreaded the moment when his brother Charles would
appear, and he strove to arrange in his mind the wise and
unanswerable word with which he would defend himself, but his
thoughts slipped just as the firelight slipped and the floors with
the old threadbare carpet.
Then suddenly the hall door opened with a jangle, there were steps
in the hall, and Old Timmie Carthewe the sexton appeared in the
dining-room. He had a goat's face and a body like a hairpin.
"Rector's not been to service," he said. "There's Miss Dunnett and
Mrs. Giles and the two Miss Backshaws. I'm feared he's forgotten."
Maggie started up. Instantly to her mind came the memory of that
fancied sound from her father's room. She listened now, her head
raised, and the two men, their eyes bleared but their noses sniffing
as though they were dogs, listened also. There were certain sounds,
clocks ticking, the bough scraping on the wall, a cart's echo on the
frozen road, the maid singing far in the depths of the house. Maggie
nodded her head.
"I'll go and see," she said.
She went into the hall and stood again listening. Then she called,
"Father! Father!" but there was no answer. She had never in all her
life been frightened by anything and she was not frightened now;
nevertheless, as she went up the stairs, she looked behind her to
see whether any one followed her.
She called again "Father!" then went to his door, pushed it open,
and looked in. The room was cold with a faint scent of tallow candle
In the twilight she saw her father's body lying like a shadow
stretched right across the floor, with the grey dirty fingers of one
After that events followed swiftly. Maggie herself had no time nor
opportunity for any personal emotion save a dumb kind of wonder that
she did not feel more. But she saw all "through a glass darkly."
There had been first that moment when the sexton and Uncle Mathew,
still like dogs sniffing, had peered with their eyes through her
father's door. Then there had been the summoning of Dr. Bubbage from
the village, his self-importance, his continual "I warned him. I
warned him. He can't say I didn't warn him," and then (very dim and
far away) "Thank you, Miss Cardinal. I think I will have a glass if
you don't mind." There had been cook crying in the kitchen (her red
roses intended for Sunday must now be postponed) and the maid
sniffing in the hall. There had been Uncle Mathew, muddled and
confused, but clinging to his one idea that "the best thing you can
do, my dear, is to send for your Aunt Anne." There had been the
telegram dispatched to Aunt Anne, and then after that the house had
seemed quite filled with people--ladies who had--wished to know
whether they could help her in any way and even the village butcher
who was there for no reason but stood in the hall rubbing his hands
on his thighs and sniffing. All these persons Maggie surveyed
through a mist. She was calm and collected and empty of all
personality; Maggie Cardinal, the real Maggie Cardinal, was away on
a visit somewhere and would not be back for a time or two.
Then suddenly as the house had filled so suddenly it emptied. Maggie
found that she was desperately tired. She went to bed and slept
instantly. On waking next morning she was aware that it was a most
beautiful winter's day and that there was something strange in the
air. There came to her then very slowly a sense of her father. She
saw him on the one side, persistently as she had found him in his
room, strange, shapeless, with a crumpled face and a dirty beard
that seemed to be more dead than the rest of him. On the other side
she saw him as she had found him in the first days of her
consciousness of the world.
He must have been "jolly" then, large and strong, laughing often,
tossing her, she remembered, to the ceiling, his beard jet-black and
his eyebrows bushy and overhanging. Once that vigour, afterwards
this horror. She shook away from her last vision of him but it
returned again and again, hanging about her over her shoulder like
an ill-omened messenger. And all the life between seemed to be
suddenly wiped away as a sponge wipes figures off a slate. After the
death of her mother she had made the best of her circumstances.
There had been many days when life had been unpleasant, and in the
last year, as his miserliness had grown upon him, his ill-temper at
any fancied extravagance had been almost that of an insane man, but
Maggie knew very little of the affairs of other men and it seemed to
her that every one had some disadvantage with which to grapple. She
did not pretend to care for her father, she was very lonely because
the villagers hated him, but she had always made the best of
everything because she had never had an intimate friend to tell her
that that was a foolish thing to do.
It was indeed marvellous how isolated her life had been; she knew
simply nothing about the world at all.
She could not pretend that she was sorry that her father had died;
and yet she missed him because she knew very well that she was now
no one's business, that she was utterly and absolutely alone in the
universe. It might be said that she could not be utterly alone when
she had her Uncle Mathew, but, although she was ignorant of life,
she knew her Uncle Mathew . . . Nevertheless, he did something to
remove the sharp alarm of her sudden isolation. Upon the day after
her father's death he was at his very best, his kindest, and most
gentle. He was rather pathetic, having drunk nothing out of respect
to the occasion; he felt, somewhere deep down in him, a persistent
exaltation that his brother Charles was dead, but he knew that it
was not decent to allow this feeling to conquer him and he was truly
anxious to protect and comfort his niece so well as he was able.
Early in the afternoon he suggested that they should go for a walk.
Everything necessary had been done. An answer to their telegram had
been received from his sister Anne that she could not leave London
until that night but would arrive at Clinton St. Mary station at
half-past nine to-morrow morning. That would be in good time for the
funeral, a ceremony that was to be conducted by the Rev. Tom
Trefusis, the sporting vicar of Cator Hill, the neighbouring parish.
The house now was empty and silent. They must escape from that
figure, now decent, clean, and solemn, lying upon the bed upstairs.
Mathew took his niece by the hand and said:
"My dear, a little fresh air is the thing for both of us. It will
cheer you up."
So they went out for a walk together. Maggie knew, with a deep and
intimate experience, every lane and road within twenty miles' radius
of St. Dreot's, There was the high-road that went through Gator Hill
to Clinton and then to Polwint; here were the paths across the
fields to Lucent, the lanes that led to the valley of the Lisp, all
the paths like spiders' webs through Rothin Wood, from whose curve
you could see Polchester, grey and white, with its red-brown roofs
and the spires of the Cathedral thrusting like pointing fingers into
the heaven. It was the Polchester View that she chose to-day, but as
they started through the deep lanes down the St. Dreot's hill she
was startled and disturbed by the strange aspect which everything
wore to her. She had not as yet realised the great shock her
father's death had been; she was exhausted, spiritually and
physically, in spite of the deep sleep of the night before. The form
and shape of the world was a little strained and fantastic, the
colours uncertain, now vivid, now vanishing, the familiar trees,
hedges, clouds, screens, as it were, concealing some scene that was
being played behind them. But beyond and above all other sensations
she was conscious of her liberty. She struggled against this; she
should be conscious, before everything, of her father's loss. But
she was not. It meant to her at present not so much the loss of a
familiar figure as the sudden juggling, by an outside future, of all
the regular incidents and scenes of her daily life, as at a
pantomime one sees by a transformation of the scenery, the tables,
the chairs, and pictures the walls dance to an unexpected jig. She
was free, free, free--alone but free. What form her life would take
she did not know, what troubles and sorrows in the future there
might be she did not care--to-morrow her life would begin.
Although unsentimental she was tender-hearted and affectionate, but
now, for many years, her life with her father had been a daily
battle of ever-increasing anger and bitterness. It may be that once
he had loved her; that had been in those days when she was not old
enough to love him . . . since she had known him he had loved only
money. She would have loved him had he allowed her, and because he
did not she bore him no grudge. She had always regarded her life,
sterile and unprofitable as it was, with humour until now when, like
a discarded dress, it had slipped behind her. She did not see it,
even now, with bitterness; there was no bitterness for anything in
As they walked Uncle Mathew was considering her for the first time.
On the other occasions when he had stayed in his brother's house he
had been greatly occupied with his own plans--requests for money
(invariably refused) schemes for making money, plots to frighten his
brother out of one or other of his possessions. He had been frankly
predatory, and that plain, quiet girl his niece had been pleasant
company but no more. Now she was suddenly of the first importance.
She would in all probability inherit a considerable sum. How much
there might be in that black box under the bed one could not say,
but surely you could not be so relentless a miser for so long a
period without accumulating a very agreeable amount. Did the girl
realise that she would, perhaps, be rich? Uncle Mathew licked his
lips with his tongue. So quiet and self-possessed was she that you
could not tell what she was thinking. Were she only pretty she might
marry anybody. As it was, with that figure . . . But she was a good
girl. Uncle Mathew felt kind and tender-hearted towards her. He
would advise her about life of which he had had a very considerable
experience, and of which, of course, she knew nothing. His heart was
warm, although it would have been warmer still had he been able to
drink a glass of something before starting out.
"And what will you do now, my dear, do you think?" he asked.
They had left the deep lanes and struck across the hard-rutted
fields. A thin powder of snow lay upon the land, and under the
yellow light of the winter sky the surface was blue, shadowed with
white patches where the snow had fallen more thickly. The trees and
hedges were black and hard against the white horizon that was
tightly stretched like the paper of a Japanese screen. The smell of
burning wood was in the air, and once and again a rook slowly swung
its wheel, cutting the air as it flew. The cold was so pleasantly
sharp that it was the best possible thing for Uncle Mathew, who was
accustomed to an atmosphere of hissing gas, unwashen glasses, and
rinds of cheese.
Maggie did not answer his question but herself asked one.
"Uncle Mathew, do you believe in religion?"
"Religion, my dear?" answered her uncle, greatly startled at so
unusual a question. "What sort of religion?"
"The kind of religion that father preached about every Sunday--the
"To tell you the truth, my dear," he answered confidentially, "I've
never had much time to think about it. With some men, you see, it's
part of their lives, and with others--well, it isn't. My lines never
ran that way."
"Was father very religious when he was young?"
"No, I can't say that he was. But then we never got on, your father
and I. Our lines didn't run together at all. But I shouldn't have
called him a religious man."
"Then all this time father has been lying?"
Her uncle gazed at her apprehensively. He did not wish to undermine
her faith in her father on the very day after his death, but he was
so ignorant about her, her thoughts and beliefs and desires, that he
did not know what her idea of her father had been. His idea of him
had always been that he was a dirty, miserly scoundrel, but that was
not quite the thing for a daughter to feel, and there was an
innocence and simplicity about Maggie that perplexed him.
"I can't truly say that I ever knew what your father's private
feelings were. He never cared for me enough to tell me. He may have
been very religious in his real thoughts. We never discussed such
Maggie turned round upon him.
"I know. You're pretending. You've said to yourself, 'I mustn't tell
her what I think about her father the very day after his death, that
isn't a pleasant thing to do.' We've all got to pretend that he was
splendid. But he wasn't--never. Who can know it better than I?
Didn't he worry mother until she died? Didn't he lead me an awful
life always, and aren't I delighted now that he's dead? It's
everything to me. I've longed for this day for years, and now we've
got to pretend that we're sorry and that it would be a good thing if
he were alive. It wouldn't be a good thing--it would be a bad thing
for every one. He was a bad man and I hated him."
Then, quite suddenly, she cried. Turning away from her uncle she
folded her face in her arms like a small child and sobbed. Standing,
looking at her bent shoulders, her square, ugly figure, her shabby
old hat with its dingy black ribbon, pushed a little to the side of
her head, Uncle Mathew thought that she was a most uncomprehensible
girl. If she felt like that about her father why should she cry; and
if she cried she must surely have some affection for his memory. All
he could say was:
"There, there, my dear--Well, well. It's all right." He felt foolish
She turned round at last, drying her eyes. "It's such a shame," she
said, still sobbing, "that that's what I shall feel about him. He's
all I had and that's what I feel. But if you knew--if you knew--all
the things he did."
They walked on again, entering Rothin Wood. "He never tried to make
me religious," she went on. "He didn't care what I felt. I sat in
the choir, and I took a Sunday-school class, and I visited the
villagers, but I, myself--what happened to me--he didn't care. He
never took any trouble about the church, he just gabbled the prayers
and preached the same old sermons. People in the village said it was
a scandal and that he ought to be turned out but no one ever did
anything. They'll clean everything up now. There'll be a new
clergyman. They'll mend the holes in the kitchen floor and the
ceiling of my bedroom. It will be all new and fresh."
"And what will you do, Maggie?" said her uncle, trying to make his
voice indifferent as though he had no personal interest in her
"I haven't thought yet," she said.
"I've an idea," he went on. "What do you say to your living with me?
A nice little place somewhere in London. I've felt for a long time
that I should settle down. Your father will have left you a little
money--not much, perhaps, but just enough for us to manage
comfortably. And there we'd be, as easy as anything. I can see us
very happy together."
But he did not as yet know his niece. She shook her head.
"No," she said. "I'm going to live with Aunt Anne and Aunt
Elizabeth. We wouldn't be happy, Uncle, you and I. Our house would
always be in a mess and there are so many things that I must learn
that only another woman could teach me. I never had a chance with
He had entered upon this little walk with every intention of
settling the whole affair before their return. He had had no idea of
any opposition--her ignorance of the world would make her easy to
adapt. But now when he saw that she had already considered the
matter and was firmly resolved, his arguments deserted him.
"Just consider a moment," he said.
"I think it will be best for me to live with the aunts," she
answered firmly. "They have wished it before. Of course then it was
impossible but now it will do very well."
He had one more attempt.
"You won't be happy there, my dear, with all their religion and the
rest of it--and two old maids. You'll see no life at all."
"That depends upon myself," she answered, "and as to their religion
at least they believe in it."
"Yes, your Aunt Anne is a very sincere woman," Uncle Mathew answered
He was angry and helpless. She seemed suddenly some one with whom it
was impossible to argue. He had intended to be pathetic, to paint
delightful pictures of uncle and niece sheltering snugly together
defended by their affection against a cold and hostile London. His
own eyes had filled with tears as he thought of it. What a hard,
cold-hearted girl she was! Nevertheless for the moment he abandoned
That she should go and live with her aunts was not for Maggie in any
way a new idea. A number of years ago when she had been a little
girl of thirteen or fourteen years of age her father had had a most
violent quarrel with his sister Anne. Maggie had never known the
exact cause of this although even at that period she suspected that
it was in some way connected with money. She found afterwards that
her father had considered that certain pieces of furniture
bequeathed to the family by a defunct relation were his and not his
sister's. Miss Anne Cardinal, a lady of strong character, clung to
her sofa, cabinet, and porcelain, bowls, and successfully maintained
her right. The Reverend Charles forbade the further mention of her
name by any member of his household. This quarrel was a grievous
disappointment to Maggie who had often been promised that when she
should be a good girl she should go and stay with her aunts in
London. She had invented for herself a strange fascinating picture
of the dark, mysterious London house, with London like a magic
cauldron bubbling beyond it. There was moreover the further
strangeness of her aunt's religion. Her father in his anger had
spoken about "their wicked blasphemy," "their insolence in the eyes
of God," "their blindness and ignorant conceit." Maggie had
discovered, on a later day, from her uncle that her aunts belonged
to a sect known as the Kingscote Brethren and that the main feature
of their creed was that they expected the second coming of the Lord
God upon earth at no very distant date.
"Will it really happen, Uncle Mathew?" she asked in an awe-struck
voice when she first heard this.
"It's all bunkum if you ask me," said her uncle. "And it's had a
hardening effect on your aunts who were kind women once, but they're
completely in the hands of the blackguard who runs their chapel,
poor innocents. I'd wring his neck if I caught him."
All this was very fascinating to Maggie who was of a practical mind
with regard to the facts immediately before her but had beyond them
a lively imagination. Her life had been so lonely, spent for the
most part so far from children of her own age, that she had no test
of reality. She did not see any reason why the Lord God should not
come again and she saw every reason why her aunts should condemn her
uncle. That London house swam now in a light struck partly from the
wisdom and omniscience of her aunts, partly from God's threatened
descent upon them.
Aunt Anne's name was no longer mentioned in St.Dreot's but Maggie
did not forget, and at every new tyranny from her father she thought
to herself--"Well, there is London. I shall be there one day."
As they walked Maggie looked at her uncle. What was he really? He
should be a gentleman and yet he didn't look like one. She
remembered things that he had at different times said to her.
"Why, look at myself!" he had on earlier days, half-maudlin from
"his drop at the 'Bull and Bush,'" exclaimed to Maggie, "I can't
call myself a success! I'm a rotten failure if you want to know, and
I had most things in my favour to start with, went to Cambridge, had
a good opening as a barrister. But it wasn't quick enough for me. I
was restless and wanted to jump the moon--now look at me! Same with
your father, only he's put all his imagination into money--same as
your aunts have put theirs into religion. We're not like ordinary
people, us Cardinals."
"And have I got a lot of imagination too?" Maggie had asked on one
"I'm sure I don't know," her uncle had answered her. "You don't look
to me like a Cardinal at all--much too quiet. But you may have it
somewhere. Look out for a bad time if you have."
Today Maggie's abrupt checking of his projects had made him sulky
and he talked but little. "Damn it all!" he had started out with the
most charming intentions towards the girl and now look at her! Was
it natural conduct in the day after she had lost her only protector?
No, it was not. Had she been pretty he might have, even now,
forgiven her, but today she looked especially plain with her pale
face and shabby black dress and her obstinate mouth and chin. He was
uneasy, too, about the imminent arrival of his sister Anne, who
always frightened him and made him think poorly of the world in
general. No hope of getting any money out of her, nor would Charles
have left him a penny. It was a rotten, unsympathetic world, and
Uncle Mathew cursed God as he strutted sulkily along. Maggie also
had fallen into silence.
They came at last out of the wood and stood at the edge of it, with
the pine trees behind them, looking down over Polchester. On this
winter's afternoon Polchester with the thin covering of snow upon
its roofs sparkled like a city under glass. The Cathedral was dim in
the mist of the early dusk and the sun, setting behind the hill,
with its last rays caught the windows so that they blazed through
the haze like smoking fires. Whilst Maggie and her uncle stood there
the bells began to ring for Evensong, and the sound like a faint
echo seemed to come from behind them out of the wood. In the spring
all the Polchester orchards would be white and pink with blossom, in
the summer the river that encircled the city wall would run like a
blue scarf between its green sloping hills--now there was frost and
snow and mist with the fires smouldering at its heart. She gazed at
it now as she had never gazed at it before. She was going into it
now. Her life was beginning at last. When the sun had left the
windows and the walls were grey she turned back into the wood and
led the way silently towards home.
The house that night was very strange with her father dead in it.
She sat, because she thought it her duty, in his bedroom. He lay on
his bed, with his beard carefully combed and brushed now, spread out
upon the sheet. His closed eyes and mouth gave him a grave and
reverend appearance which he had never worn in his life. He lay
there, under the flickering candle-light, like some saint who at
length, after a life of severe discipline, had entered into the joy
of his Lord. Beneath the bed was the big black box.
Maggie did not look at her father. She sat there, near the dark
window, her hands folded on her lap. She thought of nothing at all
except the rats. She was not afraid of them but they worried her.
They had been a trouble in the house for a long time past, poison
had been laid for them and they had refused to take it. They had
had, perhaps, some fear of the Reverend Charles, at any rate they
scampered and scurried now behind the wainscoting as though
conscious of their release. "Even the rats are glad," Maggie thought
to herself. In the uncertain candle-light the fancy seized her that
one rat, a very large one, had crept out from his hole, crawled on
to the bed, and now sat on the sheet looking at her father. It would
be a horrible thing did the rat walk across her father's beard, and
yet for her life she could not move. She waited, fascinated. She
fancied that the beard stirred a little as though the rat had moved
it. She fancied that the rat grew and grew in size, now there were
many of them, all with their little sharp beady eyes watching the
corpse. Now there were none; only the large limbs outlined beneath
the spread, the waxen face, the ticking clock, the strange empty
shape of his grey dressing-gown hanging upon a nail on the wall.
Where was her father gone? She did not know, she did not care--only
she trusted that she would never meet him again--never again. Her
head nodded; her hands and feet were cold; the candle-light jumped,
the rats scampered . . . she slept.
When it was quite dark beyond the windows and the candles were low
Maggie came downstairs, stiff, cold, and very hungry. She felt that
it was wrong to have slept and very wrong to be hungry, but there it
was; she did not pretend to herself that things were other than they
were. In the dining-room she found supper laid out upon the table,
cold beef, potatoes in their jackets, cold beetroot, jelly, and
cheese, and her uncle playing cards on the unoccupied end of the
table in a melancholy manner by himself. She felt that it was wrong
of him to play cards on such an occasion, but the cards were such
dirty grey ones and he obtained obviously so little pleasure from
his amusement that he could not be considered to be wildly
abandoning himself to riot and extravagance.
She felt pleasure in his company; for the first time since her
father's death she was a little frightened and uneasy. She might
even have gone to him and cried on his shoulder had he given her any
encouragement, but he did not speak to her except to say that he had
already eaten. He was still a little sulky with her.
When she had finished her meal she sat in her accustomed chair by
the fire, her head propped on her hands, looking into the flame, and
there, half-asleep, half-awake, memories, conversations, long-
vanished scenes trooped before her eyes as though they were bidding
her a long farewell. She did not, as she sat there, sentimentalise
about any of them, she saw them as they were, some happy, some
unhappy, some terrifying, some amusing, all of them dead and passed,
grey and thin, the life gone out of them. Her mind was fixed on the
future. What was it going to be? Would she have money as her uncle
had said? Would she see London and the world? Would she find
friends, people who would be glad to be with her and have her with
them? What would her aunts be like? and so from them, what about all
the other members of the family of whom she had heard? She painted
for herself a gay scene in which, at the door of some great house, a
fine gathering of Cardinals waited with smiles and outstretched
hands to welcome her. Then, laughing at herself as she always did
when she had allowed her fancy free rein, she shook her head. No, it
certainly would not be like that. Relations were not like that. That
was not the way to face the world to encourage romantic dreams. Her
uncle, watching her surreptitiously, wondered of what she was
thinking. Her determined treatment of him that afternoon continued
to surprise him. She certainly ought to make her way in the world,
but what a pity that she was so plain. Perhaps if she got some
colour into her cheeks, dressed better, brushed her hair
differently--no, her mouth would always be too large and her nose
too small--and her figure was absurd. Uncle Mathew considered that
he was a judge of women.
He rose at last and, rather shamefacedly, said that he should go to
bed. Maggie wondered at the confusion that she detected in him. She
looked at him and he dropped his eyes.
"Good night, Uncle Mathew."
He looked at her then and noticed by her white face and dark-lined
eyes what a strain the day had been to her. He saw again the figure
in the shabby black hat sobbing in the lane. He suddenly put his
arms about her and held her close to him. She noticed that he
smelled of whisky, but she felt his kindness, and putting her hand
on his fat shoulder kissed once more his cheek.
When he had left her, her weariness came suddenly down upon her,
overwhelming her as though the roof had fallen in. The lamp swelled
before her tired eyes as though it had been an evil, unhealthy
flower. The table slid into the chairs and the cold beef leered at
the jelly; the pictures jumped and the clock ran in a mad scurry
backwards and forwards.
She dragged her dazed body up through the silent house to her
bedroom, undressed, was instantly in bed and asleep.
She slept without dreams but woke suddenly as though she had been
flung into the midst of one. She sat up in bed, knowing from the
thumping of her heart that she was seized with panic but finding, in
the first flash, no reason for her alarm. The room was pitch black
with shadows of light here and there, but she had with her, in the
confusion of her sleep, uncertainty as to the different parts of the
room. What had awakened her? Of what was she frightened? Then
suddenly, as one slits a black screen with a knife, a thin line of
light cracked the darkness. As though some one had whispered it in
her ear she knew that the door was there and the dark well of
uncertainty into which she had been plunged was suddenly changed
into her own room where she could recognise the window, the chest of
drawers, the looking-glass, the chairs. Some one was opening her
door and her first thought that it was of course her father was
checked instantly by the knowledge, conveyed again as though some
one had whispered to her, that her father was dead.
The thin line of light was now a wedge, it wavered, drew back to a
spider's thread again, then broadened with a flush of colour into a
streaming path. Some one stood in the doorway holding a candle.
Maggie saw that it was Uncle Mathew in his shirt and trousers.
"What is it?" she said.
He swayed as he stood there, his candle making fantastic leaps and
shallows of light. He was smiling at her in a silly way and she saw
that he was drunk. She had had a horror of drunkenness ever since,
as a little girl, she had watched an inebriated carter kicking his
wife. She always, after that, saw the woman's bent head and stooping
shoulders. Now she knew, sitting up in bed, that she was frightened
not only of Uncle Mathew, but of the house, of the whole world.
She was alone. She realised her loneliness in a great flash of
bewilderment and cold terror as though the ground had suddenly
broken away from her and she was on the edge of a vast pit. There
was no one in the house to help her. Her father was dead. The cook
and the maid were sunk in heavy slumber at the other end of the
house. There was no one to help her. She was alone, and it seemed to
her that in the shock of that discovery she realised that she would
always be alone now, for the rest of her life.
"What is it, Uncle Mathew?" she said again. Her voice was steady,
although her heart hammered. Some other part of her brain was
wondering where it was that he had got the drink. He must have had a
bottle of whisky in his room; she remembered his shyness when he
said good-night to her.
He stood in the middle of the floor, swaying on his feet and smiling
at her. The flame of the light rose and fell in jerks and spasms.
"I thought," he said, "I'd come--to see m'little Maggie, m'little
niece, jus' to talk a lill bit and cheer her up--up." He drew nearer
the bed. "She'll be lonely, I said--lonely--very--aren't you--lonely
"It's very late," she said, "and you're dropping grease ail over the
floor with that candle. You go back to bed, uncle. I'm all right.
You go back to bed."
"Go back? No, no, no. Oh no, not back to bed. It'll soon be mornin'.
That'll be jolly-jolly. We'll talk--together till mornin'."
He put the candle on a chair, nearly falling as he did so, then came
towards her. He stood over her, his shirt, open at the neck,
protuberating over his stomach, his short thick legs swaying. His
red, unshaven face with the trembling lips was hateful to her.
Suddenly he sat on the edge of her bed and put his hands out towards
her. He caught her hair.
"My little Maggie--my little Maggie," he said.
The fright, the terror, the panic that seized her was like the
sudden rising of some black figure who grew before her, bent towards
her and with cold hard fingers squeezed her throat. For an instant
she was helpless, quivering, weak in every bone of her body.
Then some one said to her:
"But you can manage this."
"I can manage this," she answered almost aloud.
"You're alone now. You mustn't let things be too much for you."
She jumped out of bed, on the farther side away from her uncle. She
put on her dressing-gown. She stood and pointed at the door.
"Now, uncle, you go back to your room at once. It's disgraceful
coming in the middle of the night and disturbing every one. Go back
The new tone in her voice startled him. He looked at her in a
bewildered fashion. He got up from the bed.
"Why, Maggie--I only--only--"
He stared from her to the candle and from the candle back to her
"Now go," she repeated. "Quick now."
He hung his head. "Now you're angry--angry with your poor ole uncle-
-poor ole uncle." He looked at her, his eyes puzzled as though he
had never seen her before.
"You're very hard," he said, shaking his head. He stumbled towards
the door--"Very hard," he repeated, and went out, his head still
She heard him knock his foot against the stairs. Soon there was
She blew out the candle and went back to bed. She lay there, her
heart, at first, throbbing, her eyes straining the darkness. Then
she grew more tranquil. She felt in her heart a strange triumph as
though already she had begun life and had begun it with success. She
thought, before she sank deep into sleep, that anything would yield
to one did one only deal sensibly with it . . . After all, it was a
fine thing to be alone.
In the morning, however, she discovered no fine things anywhere. The
hours that had elapsed since her father's death had wrought in him a
"sea-change." He had gained nobility, almost beauty. She wondered
with a desolate self-criticism whether during all those years she
had been to blame and not he. Perhaps he had wished for sympathy and
intimacy and she had repulsed him. His little possessions here and
there about the house reproached her.
Uncle Mathew had a bad headache and would not come down to
breakfast. She felt indignant with him but also indulgent. He had
shown himself hopelessly lacking in good taste, and good feeling,
but then she had never supposed that he had these things. At the
same time the last support seemed to have been removed from her; it
might well be that her Aunt Anne would not care for her and would
not wish to have her in her house. What should she do then? Whither
should she go? She flung up her head and looked bravely into the
face of Ellen, the cook, who came to remove the breakfast, but she
had to bite her lip to keep back the tears that WOULD come and fill
her eyes so that the world was misty and obscure.
There was, she fancied, something strange about Ellen. In HER eyes
some obscure triumph or excitement, some scorn and derision, Maggie
fancied, of herself. Had the woman been drinking? . . .
Then there arrived Mr. Brassy, her father's solicitor, from Cator
Hill. He had been often in the house, a short fat man with a purple
face, clothes of a horsy cut, and large, red, swollen fingers. He
took now possession of the house with much self-importance. "Well,
Miss Maggie" (he blew his words at her as a child blows soap-
bubbles). "Here we are, then. Very sad indeed--very. I've been
through the house--got the will all right. Your aunt, you say, will
be with us?"
"My aunt from London. Miss Anne Cardinal. I expect her in half an
hour. She should have arrived at Clinton by the half-past nine
train." "Well, well. Yes--yes--indeed, your uncle is also here?"
"Yes. He will be down shortly."
"Very good, Miss Maggie. Very good."
She hated that he should call her Miss Maggie. He had always treated
her with considerable respect, but to-day she fancied that he
patronised her. He placed his hand for a moment on her shoulder and
she shrank back. He felt her action and, abashed a little, coughed
and blew his nose. He strutted about the room. Then the door opened
and Ellen the cook looked in upon them.
"I only wished to see, Miss, whether I could do anything for you?"
"Nothing, thank you," said Maggie.
"Been with you some time that woman?" said Mr. Brassy.
"Yes," said Maggie, "about five years, I think."
"Hum! Hum--name of Harmer."
"No," answered Maggie, wondering at this interest.
"Not so far as you know."
"No. She's always Miss Harmer."
"Quite so--quite so. Dear me, yes."
Other people appeared, asked questions and vanished. It seemed to
have been all taken out of her hands and it was strange how desolate
this made her. For so many years she had had the management of that
house, since her fourteenth birthday, indeed. Ugly and dilapidated
though the place had been, it had grown, after a time, to belong to
her, and she had felt as though it were in some way grateful to her
for keeping it, poor thing, together. Now it had suddenly withdrawn
itself and was preparing for the next comer. Maggie felt this quite
definitely and thought that probably it was glad that now its roof
would be mended and its floors made whole. It had thrown her
off . . . Well, she would not burden it long.
There were sounds then of wheels on the gravel. The old dilapidated
cab from Clinton with its ricketty windows and moth-eaten seats that
smelt of straw and beer was standing at the door, the horse puffing
great breaths of steam into the frozen air. Her aunt had arrived.
Maggie, standing behind the window, looked out. The carriage door
opened, and a figure, that seemed unusually tall, appeared to
straighten itself out and rose to its full height on the gravel path
as though it had been sitting in the cab pressed together, its head
upon its knees.
Then in the hall that was dark even on the brightest day, Aunt Anne
revealed herself as a lady, tall indeed, but not too tall, of a fine
carriage, in a black rather shabby dress and a black bonnet. Her
face was grave and sharply pointed, with dark eyes--sad rather, and
of the pale remote colour that the Virgin in the St. Dreot's east
end window wears. Standing there in the dusky hall, quietly, quite
apart from the little bustle that surrounded her, she seemed to
Maggie even in that first moment like some one wrapt, caught away
into her own visions.
"I paid the cabman five shillings," she said very softly. "I hope
that was right. And you are Maggie, are you?"
She bent down and kissed her. Her lips were warm and comforting.
Maggie, who had, when she was shy, something of the off-hand manner
of a boy, said:
"Yes. That's all right. We generally give him four and six."
They went into the dining-room where was Mr. Brassy. He came forward
to them, blowing his words at them, rubbing his hands:
"Miss Cardinal--I am honoured--my name is Brassy, your brother's
lawyer. Very, very sad--so sudden, so sudden. The funeral is at
twelve. If there is anything I can do--"
Miss Cardinal did not regard him at all and Maggie saw that this
annoyed him. The girl watched her aunt, conscious of some strange
new excitement at her heart. She had never seen any one who in the
least resembled this remote silent woman. Maggie did not know what
it was that she had expected, but certainly it had not been this.
There was something in her Aunt's face that recalled her father and
her uncle, something in the eyes, something in the width and height
of the forehead, but this resemblance only accentuated the
astounding difference. Maggie's first impression was her ultimate
one--that her aunt had strayed out of some stained-glass window into
a wild world that did not bewilder her only because she did not
seriously regard it. Maggie found herself wondering who had fastened
her aunt's buttons and strings when she rose in the morning, how had
she ever travelled in the right train and descended at the right
station? How could she remember such trifles when her thoughts were
fixed on such distant compelling dreams? The pale oval face, the
black hair brushed back from the forehead, the thin hands with long
tapering fingers, the black dress, the slender upright body--this
figure against the cold bright winter sunlight was a picture that
remained always from that day in Maggie's soul.
Her aunt looked about her as though she had just awaked from sleep.
"Would you care to come up to your room?" asked Maggie, feeling the
embarrassment of Mr. Brassy's presence.
"Yes, dear, thank you--I will," said Miss Cardinal. They moved from
the room, Aunt Anne walking with a strange, almost clumsy
uncertainty, halting from one foot to the other as though she had
never learnt to trust her legs, a movement with which Maggie was to
become intensely familiar. It was as though her aunt had flown in
some earlier existence, and had never become accustomed to this
clumsier earthly fashion.
The spare bedroom was a bright room with a broad high window. The
view was magnificent, looking over the hill that dropped below the
vicarage out across fields and streams to Cator Hill, to the right
into the heart of the St. Dreot Woods, to the left to the green
valley through whose reeds and sloping shadows the Lisp gleamed like
a burnished wire threading its way to the sea. There was a high-
backed old-fashioned chair by the window. Against this Miss Cardinal
stood, her thin body reflected, motionless, as though it had been
painted in a long glass behind her. She gazed before her.
Maggie saw that she was agitated, passionately moved. The sun
catching the hoar-frost on the frozen soil turned the world to
crystal, and in every field were little shallows of blue light; the
St. Dreot Woods were deep black with flickering golden stars.
She tried to speak. She could not. Tears were in her eyes. "It is so
long . . . since I . . . London," she smiled at Maggie. Then Maggie
heard her say:
The Lord is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing.
He shall feed me in a green pasture; and lead me forth beside the
waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul, and bring me forth in the paths of
righteousness, for His Name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil; for thou art with me, they rod and thy staff comfort
Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me:
thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.
But thy loving--kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of
my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
There was a pause--then Maggie said timidly, "Won't you take off
your bonnet? It will be more comfortable." "Thank you, my dear." She
took off her bonnet and laid it on the bed. Then she resumed her
stand at the window, her eyes lost in the sunny distance. "I did
wrong," she said, as though she were speaking to herself. "I should
not have allowed that quarrel with your father. I regret it now very
deeply. But we always see too late the consequences of our proud
self-will." She turned then.
"Come here, dear," she said.
Maggie came to her. Her aunt looked at her and Maggie was deeply
conscious of her shabby dress, her rough hands, her ugly boots.
Then, as always when she was self-critical, her eyes grew haughty
and her mouth defiant.
Her aunt kissed her, her cool, firm fingers against the girl's warm
"You will come to us now, dear. You should have come long ago."
Maggie wanted to speak, but she could not.
"We will try to make you happy, but ours is not an exciting life."
Maggie's eyes lit up. "It has not," she said, "been very exciting
here always." Then she went on, colour in her cheeks, "I think
father did all he could. I feel now that there were a lot of things
that I should have done, only I didn't see them at the time. He
never asked me to help him, but I wish now that I had offered--or--
Her lips quivered, again she was near tears, and again, as it had
been on her walk with Uncle Mathew, her regret was not for her
father but for the waste that her life with him had been. But there
was something in her aunt that prevented complete confidence. She
seemed in something to be outside small daily troubles. Before they
could speak any more there was a knock on the door and Uncle Mathew
came in. He stood there looking both ashamed of himself and
He most certainly did not appear at his best, a large piece of
plaster on his right cheek showing where he had cut himself with his
razor, and a shabby and tight black suit (it was his London suit,
and had lain crumpled disastrously in his hand-bag) accentuating the
undue roundness of his limbs; his eyes blinked and his mouth
trembled a little at the corners. He was obviously afraid of his
sister and flung his niece a watery wink as though to implore her
silence as to his various misdemeanours.
Brother and sister shook hands, and Maggie, as she watched them, was
surprised to feel within herself a certain sympathy with her uncle.
Aunt Anne's greeting was gentle and kind but infinitely distant, and
had something of the tenderness with which the Pope washes the feet
of the beggars in Rome.
"I'm so glad that you were here," she said in her soft voice. "It
must have been such a comfort to Maggie."
"He has been, indeed, Aunt Anne," Maggie broke in eagerly.
Her uncle looked at her with great surprise; after his behaviour of
last night he had not expected this. Reassured, he began a voluble
explanation of his movements and plans, rubbing his hands together
and turning one boot against the other.
He had a great deal to say, because he had seen neither of his
sisters for a very long time. Then he wished to make a good
impression because Maggie, the heiress, would be of importance now.
What an idiot he had been last night. What had he done? He could
remember nothing. It was evident that it had been nothing very bad--
Maggie bore him no grudge--good girl, Maggie. He felt affectionate
towards her and would have told her so had her aunt not been
present. These thoughts underlay his rambling history. He was aware
suddenly that his audience was inattentive. He saw, indeed, that his
sister was standing with her back half-turned, gazing on to the
shining country beyond the window. He ceased abruptly, gave his
niece a wink, and when this was unsuccessful, muttering a few words,
stumbled out of the room.
The whole village attended the funeral, not because it liked the
Rev. Charles, but because it liked funerals. Maggie was, in all
probability, the only person present who thought very deeply about
the late Vicar of St. Dreot's. The Rev. Tom Trefusis who conducted
the ceremony was a large red-faced man who had played Rugby football
for his University and spent most of his energy over the development
of cricket and football clubs up and down the county. He could not
be expected to have cared very greatly for the Rev. Charles, who had
been at no period of his life and in no possible sense of the word a
sportsman. As he conducted the service his mind speculated as to the
next vicar (the Rev. Tom knew an excellent fellow, stroke of the
Cambridge boat in '12, who would be just the man) the possibility of
the frost breaking in time for the inter-county Rugby match at
Truxe, the immediate return of his wife from London (he was very
fond of his wife), and, lastly, a certain cramp in the stomach that
sometimes "bowled him over" and of which the taking of a funeral--
"here to-day and gone to-morrow"--always reminded him.
"Wonder how long I'll last," he thought as he stood over the grave
of the Rev. Charles and let his eyes wander over the little white
gravestones that ran almost into the dark wall of St. Dreot Woods as
though they were trying to hide themselves. "Wish the frost 'ud
break--ground'll be as hard as nails." The soil fell, thump, thump
upon the coffin. Rooks cawed in the trees; the bell tolled its
cracked note. The Rev. Charles was crammed down with the soil by the
eager spades of the sexton and his friend, who were cold and wanted
Maggie, meanwhile, watched the final disappearance of her father
with an ever-growing remorse. Ever since her declaration to her
uncle during their walk yesterday this new picture of her father had
grown before her eyes. She had already forgotten many, many things
that might now have made her resentful or at least critical. She saw
him as a figure most disastrously misunderstood. Without any
sentimentality in her vision she saw him lonely, proud, reserved,
longing for her sympathy which she denied him. His greed for money
she saw suddenly as a determination that his daughter should not be
left in want. All those years he had striven and his apparent
harshness, sharpness, unkindness had been that he might pursue his
She did not cry (some of the villagers curiously watching her
thought her a hard-hearted little thing), but her heart was full of
tenderness as she stood there, seeing the humped grey church that
was part of her life, the green mounds with no name, the dark wood,
the grey roofs of the village clustered below the hill, hearing the
bell, the rooks, the healthy voice of Mr. Trefusis, the bark of some
distant dog, the creak of some distant wheel.
"I missed my chance," she thought. "If only now I could have told
Her aunt stood at her side and once again Maggie felt irritation at
her composure. "After all, he was her brother," she thought. She
remembered the feeling and passion with which her aunt had repeated
the Twenty-third Psalm. She was puzzled.
A moment of shrinking came upon her as she thought of the coming
Then the service was over. The villagers, with that inevitable
disappointment that always lingers after a funeral, went to their
homes. The children remained until night, under the illusion that it
Maggie spent the rest of the day, for the most part, alone in her
room and thinking of her father. Her bedroom, an attic with a
sloping roof, contained all her worldly possessions. In part because
she had always been so reserved a child, in part because there had
been no one in whom she might confide even had she wished it, she
had always placed an intensity of feeling around and about the few
things that were hers. Her library was very small, but this did not
distress her because she had never cared for reading. Upon the
little hanging shelf above her bed (deal wood painted white, with
blue cornflowers) were The Heir of Redclyffe, a shabby blue-covered
copy, Ministering Children, Madame How and Lady Why, The Imitation
of Christ, Robinson Crusoe, Mrs. Beeton's Cookery Book, The Holy
Bible, and The Poems of Longfellow. These had been given her upon
various Christmasses and birthdays. She did not care for any of them
except The Imitation of Christ and Robinson Crusoe. The Bible was
spoilt for her by incessant services and Sunday School classes; The
Heir of Redclyffe and Ministering Children she found absurdly
sentimental and unlike any life that she had ever known; Mrs. Beeton
she had never opened, and Longfellow and Kingsley's Natural History
she found dull. For Robinson Crusoe she had the intense human
sympathy that all lonely people feel for that masterpiece. The
Imitation pleased her by what she would have called its common
sense. Such a passage, for example: "Oftentimes something lurketh
within, or else occurreth from without, which draweth us after it.
Many secretly seek themselves in what they do, and know it not."
"They seem also to live in good peace of mind, when things are done
according to their will and opinion; but if things happen otherwise
than they desire, they are straightway moved and much vexed."
And behind this common sense she did seem to be directly in touch
with some one whom she might find had she more time and friends to
advise her. She was conscious in her lonely hours, that nothing gave
her such a feeling of company as did this little battered red book,
and she felt that that friendliness might one day advance to some
greater intimacy. About these things she was intensely reserved and
she spoke of them to no human being.
Even for the books for whose contents she did not care she had a
kindly feeling. So often had they looked down upon her when she sat
there exasperated, angry at her own tears, rebellious, after some
scene with her father. No other place but this room had seen these
old agonies of hers. She would be sorry after all to leave it.
There were not many things beside the books. Two bowls of blue
Glebeshire pottery, cheap things but precious, a box plastered with
coloured shells, an amber bead necklace, a blue leather writing-
case, a photograph of her father as a young clergyman with a beard
and whiskers, a faded daguerreotype of her mother, last, but by no
means least, a small black lacquer musical-box that played two
tunes, "Weel may the Keel row" and "John Peel,"--these were her
She sat there; as the day closed down, the trees were swept into the
night, the wind rose in the dark wood, the winter's moon crept pale
and cold into the sky, snow began to fall, at first thinly, then in
a storm, hiding the moon, flinging the fields and roads into a white
shining splendour; the wind died and the stars peeped between the
flakes of whirling snow.
She sat without moving, accusing her heart of hardness, of
unkindness. She seemed to herself then deserving of every
punishment. "If I had only gone to him," she thought again and
again. She remembered how she had kept apart from him, enclosed
herself in a reserve that he should never break. She remembered the
times when he had scolded her, coldly, bitterly, and she had stood,
her face as a rock, her heart beating but her body without movement,
then had turned and gone silently from the room. All her wicked,
cold heart that in some strange way cared for love but could not
make those movements towards others that would show that it cared.
What was it in her? Would she always, through life, miss the things
for which she longed through her coldness and obstinacy?
She took her father's photograph, stared at it, gazed into it, held
it in an agony of remorse. She shivered in the cold of her room but
did not know it. Her candle, caught in some draught, blew out, and
instantly the white world without leapt in upon her and her room was
lit with a strange unearthly glow. She saw nothing but her father.
At last she fell asleep in the chair, clutching in her hand the
Thus her aunt found her, later in the evening. She was touched by
the figure, the shabby black frock, the white tired face. She had
been honestly disappointed in her niece, disappointed in her
plainness, in her apparent want of heart, in her silence and
moroseness. Mathew had told her of the girl's outburst to him
against her father, and this had seemed to her shocking upon the
very day after that father's death. Now when she saw the photograph
clenched in Maggie's hand tears came into her eyes. She said,
"Maggie! dear Maggie!" and woke her. Maggie, stirring saw her aunt's
slender figure and delicate face standing in the snowlight as though
she had been truly a saint from heaven.
Maggie's first impulse was to rise up, fling her arms around her
aunt's neck and hug her. Had she done that the history of her life
might have been changed. Her natural shyness checked her impulse.
She got up, the photograph dropped from her hand, she smiled a
little and then said awkwardly, "I've been asleep. Do you want me?
I'll come down."
Her aunt drew her towards her.
"Maggie, dear," she said, "don't feel lonely any more. Think of me
and your Aunt Elizabeth as your friends who will always care for
you. You must never be lonely again."
Maggie's whole heart responded. She felt its wild beating but she
could do nothing, could say nothing. Her body stiffened. In spite of
herself she withdrew herself. Her face reddened, then, was pale.
"Thank you, aunt," was all she could say.
Her aunt moved away. Silently they went downstairs together.
At about ten the next morning they were seated in the dining-room--
Aunt Anne, Uncle Mathew, Maggie, and Mr. Brassy. Mr. Brassy was
"I'm afraid, Miss Cardinal, that there can be no question about the
legality of this. It has been duly witnessed and signed. I regret
extremely . . . but as you can well understand, I was quite unable
to prevent. With the exception of a legacy of 300 Pounds Sterling to
Miss Maggie Cardinal everything goes to Miss Ellen Harmer, 'To whom
I owe more than I can ever possibly--'"
"Thank you," interrupted Aunt Anne. "This is, I think, the woman who
has been cook here during the last four years?"
"About five, I think," said Mr. Brassy softly.
Uncle Mathew was upon his feet, trembling.
"This is monstrous," he stuttered, "absolutely monstrous. Of course
an appeal will be made--undue influence--the most abominable thing."
Maggie watched them all as though the whole business were far from
herself. She sat there, her hands folded on her lap, looking at the
mantelpiece with the ugly marble clock, the letter clip with old
soiled letters in it, the fat green vase with dusty everlastings.
Just as on the night when her uncle had come into her room she had
fancied that some one spoke to her, so now she seemed to hear:
"Ah, that's a nasty knock for you--a very nasty knock."
Her father had left all his money, with the exception of 300, Pounds
Sterling to Ellen the cook; Maggie did not, for a moment, speculate
as to the probable total amount. Three hundred pounds seemed to her
a very large sum--it would at any rate give her something to begin
life upon--but the thing that seized and held her was the secret
friendship that must have existed between her father and Ellen--
secret friendship was the first form that the relationship assumed
for her. She saw Ellen, red of face with little eyes and a flat nose
upon which flies used to settle, a fat, short neck, the wheezings
and the pantings, the stumping walk, the great broad back. And she
saw her father--first as the tall, dirty man whom she used to know,
with the shiny black trousers, the untidy beard, the frowning eyes,
the nails bitten to the quick, the ragged shirt-cuffs--then as that
veiled shape below the clothes, the lift of the sheet above the
toes, the loins, the stomach, the beard neatly brushed, the closed
yellow eyelids, the yellow forehead, the rats with their gleaming
eyes. In a kind of terror as though she were being led against her
will into some disgusting chamber where the skulls were stale and
the sights indecent, she saw the friendship of those two--Ellen the
cook and her father.
Young, inexperienced though she was, she was old already in a
certain crude knowledge of facts. It could not be said that she
traced to their ultimate hiding-place the relations of her father
and the woman, but in some relation, ugly, sordid, degraded, she saw
those two figures united. Many, many little things came to her mind
as she sat there, moments when the cook had breathlessly and in a
sudden heat betrayed some unexpected agitation, moments when her
father had shown confusion, moments when she had fancied whispers,
laughter behind walls, scurrying feet. She entwined desperately her
hands together as pictures developed behind her eyes.
Ah! but she was ashamed, most bitterly ashamed!
The rest of the interview came to her only dimly. She knew that
Uncle Mathew was still upon his feet protesting, that her aunt's
face was cold and wore a look of distressed surprise as though some
one had suddenly been rude to her.
From very, very far away came Mr. Brassy's voice: "I was aware that
this could not be agreeable, Miss Cardinal. But I am afraid that,
under the circumstances, there is nothing to be done. As to undue
influence I think that I should warn you, Mr. Cardinal, that there
could be very little hope . . . and of course the expense . . . if I
may advise you . . ."
The voice sank away again, the room faded, the air was still and
painted; like figures on a stage acting before an audience of one
Maggie saw those grotesque persons . . .
She did not speak one word during the whole affair.
After a time she saw that Mr. Brassy was not in the room. Her aunt
was speaking to her:
"Maggie, dear--I'm so very sorry--so very sorry. But you know that
you will come to us and find a home there. You mustn't think about
With a sudden impulse she arose, almost brushing her aunt aside.
"Ah! that's not it--that's not it!" she cried. Then, recovering
herself a little, she went on--"It's all right, Aunt Anne. I'm all
right. I'm going out for a little. If I'm not back for lunch, don't
wait. Something cold, anything, tell Ellen--"
At the sudden mention of that name she stopped, coloured a little,
turned away and left the room. In the hall she nearly ran against
the cook. The woman was standing there, motionless, breathing
deeply, her eyes fixed upon the dining-room. When she saw Maggie,
she moved as though she would speak, then something in the girl's
face checked her. She drew back into the shadow.
Maggie left the house.
The brother and sister, remaining in the room, walked towards one
another as though driven by some common need of sympathy and
protection against an outside power. Mathew Cardinal felt a genuine
indignation that had but seldom figured in his life before. He had
hated his brother, always, and never so greatly as at the moments of
the man's reluctant charity towards him. But now, in the first clean
uplift of his indignation, there was no self-congratulation at the
justification of his prophecies.
"I knew him for what he was. But that he could do this! He meant it
to hurt, too--that was like him all over. He had us in his mind. I
wish I'd never taken a penny from him. I'd rather have starved. Yes,
I would--far rather. I've been bad enough, but never a thing like
His sister said quietly:
"He's dead, Mathew. We can do nothing. Maggie, poor child . . ."
He approached for an instant more nearly than he had ever done. He
took her hand. There were tears in his eyes.
"It's good of you, Anne--to take her."
She withdrew her hand--very gently.
"I wish we'd taken her before. She must have had a terrible time
here. I'd never realised . . ."
He stood away from her near the window, feeling suddenly ashamed of
"She's a strange girl," Anne Cardinal went on. "She didn't seem to
feel this,--or anything. She hasn't, I think, much heart. I'm afraid
she may find it a little difficult with us--"
Mathew was uncomfortable now. His mood had changed; he was sullen.
His sister always made him feel like a disgraced dog. He shuffled on
"She's a good girl," he muttered at last, and then with a confused
look about him, as though he were searching for something, he
stumbled out of the room.
Meanwhile Maggie went on her way. She chose instinctively her path,
through the kitchen garden at the back of the village, down the hill
by the village street, over the little bridge that crossed the rocky
stream of the Dreot, and up the steep hill that led on to the
outskirts of Rothin Moor. The day, although she had no eyes for it,
was one of those sudden impulses of misty warmth that surprise the
Glebeshire frosts. The long stretch of the moor was enwrapped by a
thin silver network of haze; the warmth of the sun, seen so dimly
that it was like a shadow reflected in a mirror, struck to the very
heart of the soil. Where but yesterday there had been iron frost
there was now soft yielding earth; it was as though the heat of the
central fires of the world pressed dimly upward through many miles
of heavy weighted resistance, straining to the light and air. Larks,
lost in golden mist, circled in space; Maggie could feel upon her
face and neck and hands the warm moisture; the soil under her feet,
now hard, now soft, seemed to tremble with some happy anticipation;
the moor, wrapped in its misty colour, had no bounds; the world was
limitless space with hidden streams, hidden suns.
The moor had a pathetic attraction for her, because not very long
ago a man and a woman had been lost, only a few steps from Borhedden
Farm, in the mist--lost their way and been frozen during the night.
Poor things! lovers, perhaps, they had been.
Maggie felt that here she could walk for miles and miles and that
there was nothing to stop her; the clang of a gate, a house, a wall,
a human voice was intolerable to her.
Her first thought as she went forward was disgust at her own
weakness; once again she had been betrayed by her feelings. She
could remember no single time when they had not betrayed her. She
recalled now with an intolerable self-contempt her thoughts of her
father at the time of the funeral and the hours that followed. It
seemed to her now that she had only softened towards his memory
because she had believed that he had left her money--and now, when
she saw that he had treated her contemptuously, she found him once
again the cruel, mean figure that she had before thought him.
For that she most bitterly, with an intensity that only her
loneliness could have given her, despised herself. And yet something
else in her knew that that reproach was not a true one. She had
really softened towards him only because she had felt that she had
behaved badly towards him, and the discovery now that he had behaved
badly towards her did not alter her own original behaviour. She did
not analyse all this; she only knew that there were in her longings
for affection, a desire to be loved, an aching for companionship,
and that these things must always be kept down, fast hidden within
her. She realised her loneliness now with a fierce, proud, almost
exultant independence. No more tears, no more leaning upon others,
no more expecting anything from anybody. She was not dramatic in her
new independence; she did not cry defiance to the golden mist or the
larks or the hidden sun; she only walked on and on, stumping forward
in her clumsy boots, her eyes hard and unseeing, her hands clasped
behind her back.
Her expectation of happiness in her opening life that had been so
strong with her that other day when she had looked down upon
Polchester was gone. She expected nothing, she wanted nothing. Her
only thought was that she would never yield to any one, never care
for any one, never give to any one the opportunity of touching her.
At moments through the mist came the figure of the cook, stout,
florid, triumphant. Maggie regarded her contemptuously. "You cannot
touch me," she thought. Of her father she would never think again.
With both hands she flung all her memories of him into the mist to
be lost for ever . . .
She came suddenly upon a lonely farm-house. She knew the place,
Borhedden; it had often been a favourite walk of hers from the
Vicarage to Borhedden. The farmer let rooms there and, because the
house was very old, some of the rooms were fine, with high ceilings,
thick stone walls, and even some good panelling. The view too was
superb, across to the Broads and the Molecatcher, or back to the
Dreot Woods, or to the dim towers of Polchester Cathedral. The air
here was fine--one of the healthiest spots in Glebeshire.
The farm to-day was transfigured by the misty glow; cows and horses
could be faintly seen, ricks burnt with a dim fire. Somewhere
dripping water falling on to stone gave a vocal spirit to the
obscurity. The warm air seemed to radiate about the house like a
flame that is obscured by sunlight.
The stealthy movements of the animals, the dripping of the water,
were the only sounds. To Maggie the house seemed to say something,
something comforting and reassuring.
Standing there, she registered her vow that through all her life she
would care for no one. No one should touch her.
Had there been an observer he might have found some food for his
irony in the contemplation of that small, insignificant figure so
ignorant of life and so defiant of it. He would have found perhaps
something pathetic also. Maggie thought neither of irony nor of
pathos, but turned homewards with her mouth set, her eyes grave, her
As she walked back the sun broke through the mist, and, turning, she
could see Borhedden like a house on fire, its windows blazing
against the sky.
It was natural that her aunt should wish to return to London as soon
as possible. For one thing, Ellen the cook had packed her clothes
and retired to some place in the village, there to await the
departure of the defeated family. Then the house was not only
unpleasant by reason of its atmosphere and associations, but there
were also the definite discomforts of roofs through which the rain
dripped and floors that swayed beneath one's tread. Moreover, Aunt
Elizabeth did not care to be left alone in the London house.
Uncle Mathew left on the day after the funeral. He had one little
last conversation with Maggie.
"I hope you'll be happy in London," he said.
"I hope so," said Maggie.
"I know you'll do what you can to help your aunts." Then he went on
more nervously. "Think of me sometimes. I shan't be able to come and
see you very often, you know--too busy. But I shall like to know
that you're thinking about me."
Maggie's new-found resolution taken so defiantly upon the moor was
suddenly severely tested. She felt as though her uncle were leaving
her to a world of enemies. She drove down her sense of desolation,
and he saw nothing but her quiet composure.
"Of course I'll think of you," she answered. "And you must come
"They don't like me," he said, nodding his head towards where Aunt
Anne might be supposed to be waiting. "It's not my fault altogether-
-but they have severe ideas. It's religion, of course."
She suddenly seemed to see in his eyes some terror or despair, as
though he knew that he was going to drop "this time"--farther than
She caught his arm. "Uncle Mathew, what are you going to do? Where
will you live? Take my three hundred pounds if it will help you. I
don't want it just now. Keep it for me."
He had a moment of resolute, clear-sighted honesty. "No, my dear, if
I had it it would go in a week. I can't keep money; I never could.
I'm really better without any. I'm all right. You'll never get rid
of me--don't you fear. We've got more in common than you think,
although you're a good girl and I've gone to pieces a bit. All the
same there's plenty worse than me. Your aunt, for all her religion,
is damned difficult for a plain man to get along with. Most people
would find me better company, after all. One last word, Maggie."
He bent down and whispered to her. "Don't you go getting caught by
that sweep who runs their chapel up in London. He's a humbug if ever
there was one--you mark my words. I know a thing or two. He's done
your aunts a lot of harm, and he'll have his dirty fingers on you if
you let him."
So he departed, his last kiss mingled with the usual aroma of whisky
and tobacco, his last attitude, as he turned away, that strange
confusion of assumed dignity and natural genial stupidity that was
so especially his.
Maggie turned, with all her new defiant resolution, to face the
world alone with her Aunt Anne. Throughout the next day she was
busied with collecting her few possessions, with her farewells to
the one or two people in the village who had been kind to her, and
with little sudden, almost surreptitious visits to corners of the
house, the garden, the wood where she had at one time or another
As the evening fell and a sudden storm of rain leapt up from beneath
the hill and danced about the house, she had a wild longing to stay-
-to stay at any cost and in any discomfort. London had no longer
interest, but only terror and dismay. She ran out into the dark and
rain-drenched garden, felt her way to an old and battered seat that
had seen in older days dolls' tea-parties and the ravages of bad-
temper, stared from it across the kitchen-garden to the lights of
the village, that seemed to rock and shiver in the wind and rain.
She stared passionately at the lights, her heart beating as though
it would suffocate her. At last, her clothes soaked with the storm,
her hair dripping, she returned to the house. Her aunt was in the
"My dear Maggie, where have you been?" in a voice that was kind but
"In the garden," said Maggie, hating her aunt.
"But it's pouring with rain! You're soaking! You must change at
once! Did you go out to find something?"
Maggie made no answer. She stood there, her face sulky and closed,
the water dripping from her. Afterwards, as she changed her clothes,
she reflected that there had been many occasions during these three
days when her aunt would have felt irritation with her had she known
her longer. She had always realised that she was careless, that when
she should be thinking of one thing she thought of another, that her
housekeeping and management of shops and servants had been irregular
and undisciplined, but until now she had not sharply surveyed her
weaknesses. Since the coming of her aunt she had been involved in a
perfect network of little blunders; she had gone out of the room
without shutting the door, had started into the village on an
errand, and then, when she was there, had forgotten what it was;
there had been holes in her stockings and rents in her blouses.
After Ellen's departure she had endeavoured to help in the kitchen,
but had made so many mistakes that Aunt Anne and the kitchen-maid
had been compelled to banish her. She now wondered how during so
many years she had run the house at all, but then her father had
cared about nothing so that money was not wasted. She knew that Aunt
Anne excused her mistakes just now because of the shock of her
father's death and the events that followed it, but Maggie knew also
that these faults were deep in her character. She could explain it
quite simply to herself by saying that behind the things that she
saw there was always something that she did not see, something of
the greatest importance and just beyond her vision; in her efforts
to catch this farther thing she forgot what was immediately in front
of her. It had always been so. Since a tiny child she had always
supposed that the shapes and forms with which she was presented were
only masks to hide the real thing. Such a view might lend interest
to life, but it certainly made one careless; and although Uncle
Mathew might understand it and put it down to the Cardinal
imagination, she instinctively knew that Aunt Anne, unless Maggie
definitely attributed it to religion, would be dismayed and even, if
it persisted, angered. Maggie had not, after all, the excuse and
defence of being a dreamy child. With her square body and plain
face, her clear, unspeculative eyes, her stolid movements, she could
have no claim to dreams. With a sudden desolate pang Maggie
suspected that Uncle Mathew was the only person who would ever
understand her. Well, then, she must train herself.
She would close doors, turn out lights, put things back where she
found them, mend her clothes, keep accounts. Indeed a new life was
beginning for her. She felt, with a sudden return to the days before
her walk on the moor, that if only her aunts would love her she
would improve much more rapidly. And then with her new independence
she assured herself that if they did not love her she most certainly
would not love them . . .
That night she sat opposite her aunt beside the fire. The house lay
dead and empty behind them. Aunt Anne was so neat in her thin black
silk, her black shining hair, her pale pointed face, a little round
white locket rising and falling ever so slowly with the lift of her
breast. There were white frills to her sleeves, and she read a slim
book bound in purple leather. Her body never moved; only once and
again her thin, delicate hand ever so gently lifted, turned a page,
then settled down on to her lap once more. She never raised her
The fire was heavy and sullen; the wind howled; that old familiar
beating of the twigs upon the pane seemed to reiterate to Maggie
that this was her last evening. She pretended to read. She had found
a heavy gilt volume of Paradise Lost with Dore's pictures. She read
Beyond this flood a frozen Continent Lies dark and wilde, beat with
perpetual storms Of whirlwind and dire hail; which on firm land
Thaws not, but gathers heap, and ruin seems Of ancient pile; all
else deep snow and ice, A gulf profound as that Serbonian bay
Betwixt Damiata and Mount Casius old, Where armies whole have sunk;
the parching Air Burns froze, and cold performs the effect of Fire.
Further again, words caught her eye.
Thus roving on In confused march forlorn, th' adventurous Bands With
shuddering horror pale, and eyes aghast Viewed first their
lamentable lot, and found No rest; through many a dark and drearie
Vaile They passed, and many a Region dolorous. O'er many a frozen,
many a fiery Alpe, Rocks, Caves, Lakes, Fens, Bogs, Dens and shades
of death, A Universe of death, which God by curse Created evil, for
evil only good Where all life dies, death lives, and nature breaks
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things, Abominable,
inutterable, and worse Than Fables yet have feigned, or fear
conceived, Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimaeras dire.
She did not care for reading, most especially she did not care for
poetry, but to-night she saw the picture. Up to the very bounds of
the house this waste country, filled with beasts of prey, animals
with fiery eyes and incredible names, the long stretch of snow and
ice, the black water with no stars reflected in it, the wind.
A coal crashed in the fire; she gave a little cry.
"My dear, what is it?" said Aunt Anne. Then, with a little shake of
her shoulders, she added: "There's a horrid draught. Perhaps you
forgot to close the kitchen-door when you came away, Maggie dear."
Maggie flushed. Of course she had forgotten. She left the room,
crossed the hall. Yes, there was the door, wide open. She locked it,
the place was utterly cold and desolate. She closed the door, stood
for a moment in the little hall.
"I don't care what's going to happen!" she cried aloud. So ended her
life in that house.
THE LONDON HOUSE
It was strange after this that the start on the London journey
should be so curiously unexciting; it was perhaps the presence of
Aunt Anne that reduced everything to an unemotional level. Maggie
wondered as she sat in the old moth-eaten, whisky-smelling cab
whether her Aunt Anne was ever moved about anything. Then something
occurred that showed her that, as yet, she knew very little about
her aunt. As, clamping down the stony hill, they had a last glimpse
at the corner of the two Vicarage chimneys, looking above the high
hedge like a pair of inquisitive lunatics, Maggie choked. She
pressed her hands together, pushed her hair from her face and, in so
doing, touched her black hat.
"Your hat's crooked, Maggie dear," said her aunt gently. The girl's
hot hands clutched the soft packet of sandwiches and a little black
handbag that yesterday Aunt Anne had bought for her in the village.
It was a shabby little bag, and had strange habits of opening when
it was not expected to do so and remaining shut when something was
needed from it. It gaped now and, just as the cab climbed Cator
Hill, it fell forward and flung the contents on to the floor.
Maggie, blushing, looked up expecting a reproof. She saw that her
aunt's eyes were fixed upon the view; as upon the day of her
arrival, so now. Her face wore a look of rapture. She drank it in.
Maggie also took the last joy of the familiar scene. The Vicarage,
like a grey crouching cat, lay basking on the green hill. The
sunlight flooded the dark wood; galleons of clouds rolled like
lumbering vessels across the blue sky.
"It's lovely, isn't it?" whispered Maggie.
"Beautiful--beautiful," sighed her aunt.
"I've always loved just this view. I've often walked here just to
see it," Maggie said.
Aunt Anne sat back in her seat.
"It's been hard for me always to live in London. I love the country
"So do I," said Maggie, passionately.
For a moment they were together, caught up by the same happiness.
Then Aunt Anne said:
"Why, your bag, dear! The things are all about the place."
Maggie bent down. When she looked up again they had dipped down on
the other side of the hill.
Maggie had only once in all her life been in a train, but on this
present occasion she did not find it very thrilling. It was rather
like being in anything else, and her imagination exercised itself
upon the people in the carriage rather than the scenery outside. She
was at first extremely self-conscious and fancied that every one
whispered about her. Then, lulled by the motion of the train and the
warmth, she slept; she was more deeply exhausted by the events of
the last week than she knew, and throughout the day she slumbered,
woke, and slumbered again.
Quite suddenly she awoke with a definite shock to a new world.
Evening had come; there were lights that rushed up to the train,
stared in at the window, and rushed away again. On every side things
seemed to change places in a general post, trees and houses, hedges
and roads, all lit by an evening moon and wrapt in a white and
wavering mist. Then the town was upon them, quite instantly; streets
ran like ribbons into grey folds of buildings; rows of lamps,
scattered at first, drew into a single point of dancing flame;
towers and chimneys seemed to jump from place to place as though
they were trying to keep in time with the train; a bell rang
monotonously; wreaths of smoke rose lazily against the stars and
When at last she found herself, a tiny figure, standing upon the
vast platform under the high black dome, the noise and confusion
excited and delighted her. She rose to the waves of sound as a
swimmer rises in the sea, her heart beat fast, and she was so
eagerly engaged in looking about her, in staring at the hurrying
people, in locating the shrill screams of the engines, in
determining not to jump when the carriages jolted together, that her
little black bag opened unexpectedly once more and spilled a
handkerchief, a hand-mirror, a paper packet of sweets, a small pair
of scissors, and a shabby brown purse upon the station-floor. She
was greatly confused when an old gentleman helped her to pick them
up. The little mirror was broken.
"Oh! it's bad luck!" she cried, staring distressfully at the old
man. He smiled, and would have certainly been very agreeable to her
had not Aunt Anne, who had been finding their boxes and securing a
cab, arrived and taken Maggie away. "You shouldn't speak to strange
gentlemen, dear," said Aunt Anne.
But Maggie did not listen. It was characteristic of Anne Cardinal
that she should secure the only four-wheeler in the station,
rejecting the taxi-cabs that waited in rows for her pleasure. Had
Maggie only known, her aunt's choice was eloquent of their future
life together. But Maggie did not know and did not care. Her
excitement was intense. That old St. Dreot life had already swung so
far behind her that it was like a fantastic dream; as they rumbled
through the streets, the cries, the smells, the lights seemed
arranged especially for her. She could not believe that they had all
been, just like this, before her arrival. As with everything, she
was busy imagining the World behind this display, the invisible
Circle inside the circle that she saw.
They came into the Strand, and the masses of moving people seemed to
her like somnambulists walking without reason or purpose. She felt
as though there would suddenly come a great hole in the middle of
the street into which the cab would tumble. The noise seemed to her
country ears deafening, and when, suddenly, the lighted letters of
some advertisement flashed out gigantic against the sky, she gave a
little scream. She puzzled her aunt by saying:
"But it isn't really like this, is it?"
To which Aunt Anne could only say:
"You're hungry and tired, dear, I expect."
With one last outrending scream the whole world seemed to fling
itself at the window, open because Aunt Anne thought the cab "had a
smell." "Oosh--O O S H." "OOSH." . . . Maggie drew back as though
she expected some one to leap in upon them. Then, with that
marvellous and ironical gift of contrast that is London's secret,
they were suddenly driven into the sleepiest quiet; they stumbled up
a street that was like a cave for misty darkness and muffled echoes.
The cab's wheels made a riotous clatter.
A man posting a letter in a pillar-box was the only figure in the
street. The stars shone overhead with wonderful brilliance, and a
little bell jangled softly close at hand. All the houses were tall
and secret, with high white steps and flat faces. A cat slipped
across the street; another swiftly followed it.
St. Dreot's seemed near at hand again and Ellen the cook not so far
away. Maggie felt a sudden forlornness and desolation.
"What a very quiet street!" she whispered, as though she were afraid
lest the street should hear.
They stopped before one of the flat-faced houses; Aunt Anne rang the
bell, and an old woman with a face like a lemon helped the cabman
with the boxes. Maggie was standing in a hall that smelt of damp and
geraniums. It was intensely dark, and a shrill scream from somewhere
did not make things more pleasant.
"That's Edward the parrot," said Aunt Anne. "Take care not to
approach him too closely, dear, because he bites."
Then they went upstairs, Maggie groping her way and stumbling at the
sharp corners. The darkness grew; she knocked her knee on the corner
of something, cried out, and a suddenly opened door threw a pale
green light upon a big picture of men in armour attacking a
fortified town beneath a thundery sky. This picture wavered and
faltered, hung as it was upon a thin cord strained to breaking-
point. Maggie reached the security of the room beyond the passage,
her shoulders bent a little as though she expected to near at every
instant the crashing collapse of the armoured men. Her eyes unused
to the light, she stumbled into the room, fell into some one's arms,
felt that her poor hat was crooked and her cheeks burning, and then
was rebuked, as it seemed, by the piercing cry of Edward the parrot
from the very bowels of the house.
She stammered something to the man who had held her and then let her
go. She was confused, hot and angry. "They'll think me an idiot who
can't enter a room properly." She glared about her and felt as
though she had been taken prisoner by some strange people who lived
under the sea. She was aware, when her eyes were accustomed to the
dim light, that the entrance of herself and her aunt had interrupted
the conversation of three people. Near the fireplace sat a little
woman wearing black mittens and a white lace cap; standing above her
with his arm on the mantelpiece was a thin, battered-looking
gentleman with large spectacles, high, gaunt features and a very
thin head of hair; near the door was the man against whom Maggie had
collided. She saw that he was young, thick-set and restless. She
noticed even then his eyes, bright and laughing as though he were
immensely amused. His mouth opened and closed again, his eyes were
never still, and he made fierce dumb protests with his body, jerking
it forward pulling it back, as a rider strives to restrain an unruly
horse. Maggie was able to notice these things, because during the
first moments her Aunt Anne entirely held the stage. She advanced to