Part 8 out of 11
would take it all. She took it all very well.
"What pretty houses!" she said. "And here are the shops!"
Only a few--a sweet-shop, a grocer's, a stationer's with "Simpson's
Library" on the door, a post-office.
"The suburbs," said Paul.
What a wind! It rolled up the road like a leaping carpet, you could
almost see its folds and creases. No one about--not a living soul.
"The cab I ordered never came. Lucky thing there was one there,"
Not a soul about. Does any one live here? She could not see much
through the window, and she could hear nothing because the glass
"Here we are!" The cab stopped with a jerk. Here they were then. A
gate swung to behind them, there was a little drive with bushes on
either side of it and then the house.
Not a very handsome house, Maggie thought. A dull square grey with
chimneys like ears in exactly the right places. Some pieces of paper
were whirled up and down by the wind, they danced about the horse's
feet. She noticed that the door-handles needed polishing. A
cavernous hall, a young girl with untidy hair and a yelping dog
"That's Mitch!" said Paul. "Dear old Mitch. How are you, dear old
fellow? Down Mitch! Down! There's a good dog."
The young girl was terrified of Maggie. She gulped through her nose.
"I've put tea in the study, sir," she said.
"Tea at once, little woman, eh?" said Paul. "I'm dying for some.
Thank you, Emily. All well? That's right. Dear, dear, It IS nice to
be home again."
Yes, he was nervous, poor Paul. She felt a great tenderness for him,
but she could not say the right words. She should have said: "It is
nice," but it was not. The hall was so cold and dark, and all over
the house windows were rattling.
They went straight into the study. What a room! It reminded Maggie
at once, in its untidiness and discomfort, of her father's, study,
and that thought struck a chill into her very heart, so that she had
to pause for a moment and control herself. There were piles of
newspapers heaped up against the shelves; books run to the ceiling,
old, old books with the covers tumbling off them. On the stone
mantelpiece was a perfect litter--old pipes, bundles of letters, a
ball of string, some yellow photographs, a crucifix and a small
plant dead and shrivelled in its pot.
"Now then, darling. Hurrah for some tea!"
She poured it out and he watched her in an ecstasy. Strangely she
began to be frightened and a little breathless, as though the walls
of the room were slowly closing in. The tea had been standing a long
time, it was very strong and chill.
The house was a firing-ground of rattle and whirs, but there were no
human sounds anywhere. There was dust all over the room.
They had said nothing for some time.
He spoke suddenly, his voice husky and awkward, as though he were
trying a new voice for the first time.
"Maggie!" he said. "Don't sit so far away. Come over here."
She crossed over to him. He, with an arm that seemed to be suddenly
of iron, pulled her on to his knee. She was rebellious. Her whole
body stiffened. She did not want this, she did not want this! Some
voice within cried out: "Take care! Take care!" . . . He pressed her
close to him; he kissed her furiously, savagely, her eyes, her
mouth, her cheek. She could feel his heart pounding beneath his
clothes like a savage beast. His hands were all about her; he was
crushing her so that she was hurt, but she did not feel that at all;
there was something else . . .
With all her might she fought down her resistance. This was her
duty. She must obey. But something desolate and utterly, utterly
lonely crept away and cried bitterly, watching her surrender.
She was swinging higher, higher, higher--swinging with that
delightful rhythm that one knows best in dreams, lazily, idly, and
yet with purpose and resolve. She was swinging far above the pain,
the rebellion, the surrender. That was left for ever; the time of
her tears, of her loneliness was over. Above her, yet distant, was a
golden cloud, soft, iridescent, and in the heart of this lay, she
knew, the solution of the mystery; when she reached it the puzzle
would be resolved, and in a wonderful tranquillity she could rest
after her journey. Nearer and nearer she swung; the cloud was a
blaze of gold so that she must not look, but could feel its warmth
and heat already irradiating about her. Only to know! . . . to
connect the two worlds, to find the bridge, to destroy the gulf!
Then suddenly the rhythm changed. She was descending again; slowly
the cloud diminished, a globe of light, a ball of fire, a dazzling
star. The air was cold, her eyes could not penetrate the dark; with
a sigh she awoke.
It was early morning, and a filmy white shadow pervaded the room.
For a moment she did not know where she was; she saw the ghostly
shadows of chairs, of the chest of drawers, of a high cupboard. Then
the large picture of "The Crucifixion," very, very dim, reminded
her. She knew where she was; she turned and saw her husband sleeping
at her side, huddled, like a child, his face on his arm, gently
breathing, in the deepest sleep. She watched him. There had been a
moment that night when she had hated him, hated him so bitterly that
she could have fought him and even killed him. There had been
another moment after that, when she had been so miserable that her
own death seemed the only solution, when she had watched him tumble
into sleep and had herself lain, with burning eyes and her flesh dry
and hot, staring into the dark, ashamed, humiliated. Then the old
Maggie had come to her rescue, the old Maggie who bade her make the
best of her conditions whatever they might be, who told her there
was humour in everything, hope always, courage everywhere, and that
in her own inviolable soul lay her strength, that no one could
defeat her did she not defeat herself.
Now, most strangely, in that early light, she felt a great
tenderness for him, the tenderness of the mother for the child. She
put out her hand, touched his shoulder, stroked it with her hand,
laid her head against it. He, murmuring in his sleep, turned towards
her, put his arm around her and so, in the shadow of his heart, she
fell into deep, dreamless slumber.
At breakfast that morning she felt with him a strange shyness and
confusion. She had never been shy with him before. At the very first
she had been completely at her ease; that had been one of his
greatest attractions for her. But now she realised that she would be
for a whole fortnight alone with him, that she did not know him in
the least, and that he himself was strangely embarrassed by his own
discoveries that he was making.
So they, both of them, took the world that was on every side of
them, put it in between them and left their personal relationship to
wait for a better time.
Maggie was childishly excited. She had, for the first time in her
life, a house of her own to order and arrange; by the middle of that
first afternoon she had forgotten that Paul existed.
She admitted to herself at once, so that there should be no pretence
about the matter, that the house was hideous. "Yes, it's hideous,"
she said aloud, standing in the middle of the dining-room and
looking about her. It never could have been very much of a house,
but they (meaning Paul and Grace) had certainly not done their best
Maggie had had no education, she had not perhaps much natural taste,
but she knew when things and people were sympathetic, and this house
was as unsympathetic as a house could well be. To begin with, the
wall-papers were awful; in the dining-room there was a dark dead
green with some kind of pink flower; the drawing-room was dressed in
a kind of squashed strawberry colour; the wall-paper of the
staircases and passages was of imitation marble, and the three
bedrooms were pink, green, and yellow, perfect horticultural shows.
It was the distinctive quality of all the wall-papers that nothing
looked well against them, and the cheap reproductions in gilt
frames, the religious prints, the photographs (groups of the Rev.
Paul at Cambridge, at St. Ermand's Theological College, with the
Skeaton Band of Hope) were all equally forlorn and out of place.
It was evident that everything in the house was arranged and
intended to stay for ever where it was, the chairs against the
walls, the ornaments on the mantelpieces, the photograph-frames, the
plush mats, the bright red pots with ferns, the long blue vases, and
yet the impression was not one of discipline and order. Aunt Anne's
house had been untidy, but it had had an odd life and atmosphere of
its own. This house was dead, utterly and completely dead. The
windows of the dining-room looked out on to a lawn and round the
lawn was a stone wall with broken glass to protect it. "As though
there were anything to steal!" thought Maggie. But then you cannot
expect a garden to look its best at the beginning of April. "I'll
wait a little," thought Maggie. "And then I'll make this house
better. I'll destroy almost everything in it."
About mid-day with rather a quaking heart Maggie penetrated the
kitchen. Here were gathered together Alice the cook, Emily the
housemaid, and Clara the between maid.
Alice was large, florid, and genial. Nevertheless at once Maggie
distrusted her. No servant had any right to appear so wildly
delighted to see a new mistress. Alice had doubtless her own plans.
Emily was prim and conceited, and Clara did not exist. Alice was
ready to do everything that Maggie wanted, and it was very apparent
at once that she had not liked "Miss Grace."
"Ah, that'll be much better than the way Miss Grace 'ad it, Mum. In
their jackets, Mum, very well. Certainly. That would be better."
"I think you'd better just give us what seems easiest for dinner,
Cook," said Maggie, thereby handing herself over, delivered and
"Very well, Mum--I'm sure I'll do my best," said Alice.
Early on that first afternoon she was taken to see the Church. For a
desperate moment her spirits failed her as she stood at the end of
the Lane and looked. This was a Church of the newest red brick, and
every seat was of the most shining wood. The East End window was
flaming purple, with a crimson Christ ascending and yellow and blue
disciples amazed together on the ground. Paul stood flushed with
pride and pleasure, his hand through Maggie's arm.
"That's a Partright window," he said with that inflection that
Maggie was already beginning to think of as "his public voice."
"I'm afraid, Paul dear," said Maggie, "I'm very ignorant."
"Don't know Partright? Oh, he's the great man of the last thirty
years--did the great East window of St. Martin's, Pontefract. We had
a job to get him I can tell you. Just look at that purple."
"On the right you'll see the Memorial Tablet to our brave lads who
fell in the South African War--Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori-
-very appropriate. Brave fellows, brave fellows! Just behind you,
Maggie, is the Mickleham Font, one of the finest specimens of modern
stone-work in the county--given to us by Sir Joseph Mickleham--
Mickleham Hall, you know, only two miles from here. He used to
attend morning service here frequently. Died five years ago. Fine
piece of work!"
Maggie looked at it. It was enormous, a huge battlement of a font in
dead white stone with wreaths of carved ivy creeping about it.
"It makes one feel rather shivery," said Maggie.
"Now you must see our lectern," said Paul eagerly.
And so it continued. There was apparently a great deal to be said
about the Lectern, and then about the Choir-Screen, and then about
the Reredos, and then about the Pulpit, and then about the Vestry,
and then about the Collecting-Box for the Poor, and then about the
Hassocks, and finally about the Graveyard . . . To all this Maggie
listened and hoped that she made the proper answers, but the truth
of the matter was that she was cold and dismayed. The Chapel had
been ugly enough, but behind its ugliness there had been life; now
with the Church as with the house there was no life visible. Paul,
putting his hand on her shoulder, said:
"Here, darling, will be the centre of our lives. This is our temple.
Round this building all our happiness will revolve."
"Yes, dear," said Maggie. She was taken then for a little walk. They
went down Ivy Road and into Skeaton High Street. Here were the
shops. Mr. Bloods, the bookseller's, Tunstall the butcher, Toogood
the grocer, Father the draper, Minster the picture-dealer, Harcourt
the haberdasher, and so on. Maggie rather liked the High Street; it
reminded her of the High Street in Polchester, although there was no
hill. Out of the High Street and on to the Esplanade. You should
never see an Esplanade out of the season, Katherine had once said to
Maggie. That dictum seemed certainly true this time. There could be
no doubt that this Esplanade was not looking its best under the
blustering March wind. Here a deserted bandstand, there a railway
station, here a dead haunt for pierrots, there a closed and barred
cinema house, here a row of stranded bathing-machines, there a
shuttered tea-house--and not a living soul in sight. In front of
them was a long long stretch of sand, behind them to right and left
the huddled tenements of the town, in front of them, beyond the
sand, the grey sea--and again not a living soul in sight. The
railway line wound its way at their side, losing itself in the hills
and woods of the horizon.
"There are not many people about, are there?" said Maggie. Nor could
she wonder. The East wind cut along the desolate stretches of
silence, and yet how strange a wind! It seemed to have no effect at
all upon the sea, which rolled in sluggishly with snake-like motion,
throwing up on the dim colourless beach a thin fringe of foam,
baring its teeth at the world in impotent discontent.
"Oh! there's a boy!" cried Maggie, amazed at her own relief. "How
often do the trains come in?" she asked.
"Well, we don't have many trains in the off-season," said Paul.
"They put on several extra ones in the summer."
"Oh, what's the sand doing?" Maggie cried.
She had seen sand often enough in her own Glebeshire, but never sand
like this. Under the influence of the wind it was blowing and
curving into little spirals of dust; a sudden cloud, with a kind of
personal animosity rose and flung itself across the rails at Maggie
and Paul. They were choking and blinded--and in the distance clouds
of sand rose and fell, with gusts and impulses that seemed personal
"What funny sand!" said Maggie again. "When it blows in Glebeshire
it blows and there's a perfect storm. There's a storm or there
isn't. Here--" She broke off. She could see that Paul hadn't the
least idea of what she was speaking.
"The sand is always blowing about here," he said. "Now what about
They walked back through the High Street and not a soul was to be
"Does nobody live here?" asked Maggie.
"The population," said Paul quite gravely, "is eight thousand, four
hundred and fifty-four."
"Oh, I see," said Maggie.
They had tea in the dusty study again.
"I'm going to change this house," said Maggie.
"Change it?" asked Paul. "What's my little girl going to do?"
"She's going to destroy ever so many things," said Maggie.
"You'd better wait," said Paul, moving a little away, "until Grace
comes back, dear. You can consult with her."
Maggie said nothing.
Next day Mrs. Constantine, Miss Purves, and Mrs. Maxse came to tea.
They had tea in the drawing-room all amongst the squashed
strawberries. Three large ferns in crimson pots watched them as they
ate. Maggie thought: "Grace seems to have a passion for ferns." She
had been terribly nervous before the ladies' arrival--that old
nervousness that had made her tremble before Aunt Anne at St.
Dreot's, before the Warlocks, before old Martha. But with it came as
always her sense of independence and individuality.
"They can't eat me," she thought. It was obvious at once that they
did not want to do anything of the kind. They were full of kindness
and curiosity. Mrs. Constantine took the lead, and it was plain that
she had been doing this all her life. She was a large black and red
woman with clothes that fitted her like a uniform. Her hair was of a
raven gleaming blackness, her cheeks were red, her manner so assured
and commanding that she seemed to Maggie at once like a policeman
directing the traffic. The policeman of Christian Skeaton she was,
and it did not take Maggie two minutes to discover that Paul was
afraid of her. She had a deep bass voice and a hearty laugh.
"I can understand her," thought Maggie, "and I believe she'll
Very different Miss Purves. If Mrs. Constantine was the policeman of
Skeaton, Miss Purves was the town-crier. She rang her bell and
announced the news, and also insisted that you should tell her
without delay any item of news that you had collected.
In appearance she was like any old maid whose love of gossip has led
her to abandon her appearance. She had obviously surrendered the
idea of attracting the male, and flung on her clothes--an old black
hat, a grey coat and skirt--with a negligence that showed that she
cared for worthier things. She gave the impression that there was no
time to be lost were one to gather all the things in life worth
If Mrs. Constantine stood for the police and Miss Purves the town-
crier, Mrs. Maxse certainly represented Society. She was dressed
beautifully, and she must have been very pretty once. Her hair was
now grey, but her cheeks had still a charming bloom. She was
delicate and fragile, rustling and scented, with a beautiful string
of pearls round her neck (this, in the daytime, Maggie thought very
odd), and a large black hat with a sweeping feather. Her voice was a
little sad, a little regretful, as though she knew that her
beautiful youth was gone and was making the best of what she had.
She told Maggie that "she couldn't help" being an idealist.
"I know it's foolish of me," she said in her gentle voice, smiling
her charming smile. "They all tell me so. But if life isn't meant to
be beautiful, where are we? Everything must have a meaning, mustn't
it, Mrs. Trenchard, and however often we fail--and after all we are
only human--we must try, try again. I believe in seeing the best in
people, because then they live up to that. People are what we make
them, don't you think?"
"The woman's a fool," thought Maggie. Nevertheless, she liked her
kindness. She was so strangely driven. She wished to think of Martin
always, never to forget him, but at the same time not to think of
the life that was connected with him. She must never think of him as
some one who might return. Did that once begin all this present life
would be impossible--and she meant to make this new existence not
only possible but successful. Therefore she was building, so hard as
she could, this new house; the walls were rising, the rooms were
prepared, every window was barred, the doors were locked, no one
from outside should enter, and everything that belonged to it--Paul,
Grace, the Church, these women, Skeaton itself, her household
duties, the servants, everything and every one was pressed into
service. She must have so much to do that she could not think, she
must like every one else so much that she could not want any one
else--that other world must be kept out, no sound nor sight of it
must enter . . . If even she could forget Martin. What had he said
to her. "Promise me whatever I am, whatever I do, you will love me
always"--and she had promised. Here she was married to Paul and
loving Martin more than ever! As she looked at Mrs. Constantine she
wondered what she would say did she know that. Nevertheless, she had
not deceived Paul . . . She had told him. She would make this right.
She would force this life to give her what she needed, work and
friends and a place in the world. Her face a little white with her
struggle to keep her house standing, she turned to her guests. She
was afraid that she did not play the hostess very well. She felt as
though she were play-acting. She repeated phrases that she had heard
Katherine Mark use, and laughed at herself for doing so. She
suspected that they thought her very odd, and she fancied that Mrs.
Constantine looked at her short hair with grave suspicion.
Afterwards, when she told Paul this, he was rather uncomfortable.
"It'll soon be long again, dear, won't it?" he said.
"Don't you like it short then?" she asked.
"Of course I like it, but there's no reason to be unusual, is there?
We don't want to seem different from other people, do we, darling?"
"I don't know," said Maggie. "We want to be ourselves. I don't think
I shall ever grow my hair long again. It's so much more comfortable
"If I ask you, dear," said Paul.
"No, not even if you ask me," she answered, laughing.
She noticed then, for the first time, that he could look sulky like
a small school-boy.
"Why, Paul," she said. "If you wanted to grow a beard I shouldn't
like it, but I shouldn't dream of stopping you."
"That's quite different," he answered. "I should never dream of
growing a beard. Grace won't like it if you look odd."
"Grace isn't my teacher," said Maggie with a sudden hot hostility
that surprised herself.
She discovered, by the way, very quickly that the three ladies had
no very warm feelings for Grace. They showed undisguised pleasure at
the thought that Maggie would now be on various Committees instead
of her sister-in-law.
"It will be your place, of course, as wife of the vicar," said Mrs.
Constantine. "Hitherto Miss Trenchard--"
"Oh, but I couldn't be on a Committee," cried Maggie. "I've never
been on one in my life. I should never know what to do."
"Never been on a Committee!" cried Miss Purves, quivering with
interest. "Why, Mrs. Trenchard, where have you been all this time?"
"I'm only twenty," said Maggie. They certainly thought it strange of
her to confess to her age like that. "At home father never had any
Committees, he did it all himself, or rather didn't do it."
Mrs. Constantine shook her head. "We must all help you," she said.
"You're very young, my dear, for the responsibilities of this
"Yes, I am," said Maggie frankly. "And I'll be very glad of anything
you can tell me. But you mustn't let me be Treasurer or Secretary of
anything. I should never answer any of the letters, and I should
probably spend all the money myself."
"My dear, you shouldn't say such things even as a joke," said Mrs.
"But it isn't a joke," said Maggie. "I'm terribly muddleheaded, and
I've no idea of money at all. Paul's going to teach me."
Paul smiled nervously.
"Maggie will soon fit into our ways," he said.
"I'm sure she will." said Mrs. Constantine very kindly, but as
though she were speaking to a child of ten.
The bell rang and Mr. Flaunders the curate came in. He was very
young, very earnest, and very enthusiastic. He adored Paul. He told
Maggie that he thought that he was the very luckiest man. in the
world for having, so early in his career, so wonderful a man as Paul
to work under. He had also adored Grace, but very quickly showed
signs of transferring that adoration to Maggie.
"Miss Trenchard's splendid," he said. "I do admire her so, but
you'll be a great help to us all. I'm so glad you've come."
"Why, how do you know?" asked Maggie. "You've only seen me for about
"Ah, one can tell," said Mr. Flaunders, sighing.
Maggie liked his enthusiasm, but she couldn't help wishing that his
knees wouldn't crack at unexpected moments, that he wasn't quite so
long and thin, and that he wouldn't leave dried shaving-soap under
his ears and in his nostrils. She was puzzled, too, that Paul should
be so obviously pleased with the rather naif adoration. "Paul likes
you to praise him," she thought a little regretfully.
So, for the moment, these people, the house and the Church, fitted
in her World. For the rest of the fortnight she was so busy that she
never went on to the beach nor into the woods. She shopped every
morning, feeling very old and grown-up, she went to tea with Mrs.
Constantine and Mrs. Maxse, and she sat on Paul's knee whenever she
thought that he would like her to. She sat on Paul's knee, but that
did not mean that, in real intimacy, they approached any nearer to
one another. During those days they stared at one another like
children on different sides of a fence. They were definitely
postponing settlement, and with every day Maggie grew more restless
and uneasy. She wanted back that old friendly comradeship that there
had been before their marriage. He seemed now to have lost
altogether that attitude to her. Then on the very day of Grace's
return the storm broke. It was tea-time and they were having it, as
usual, in his dusty study. They were sitting someway apart--Paul in
the old leather armchair by the fire, his thick body stretched out,
his cheerful good-humoured face puckered and peevish.
Maggie stood up, looking at him.
"Paul, what's the matter?" she asked.
"Matter," he repeated. "Nothing."
"Oh yes, there is . . . You're cross with me."
"No, I'm not. What an absurd idea!" He moved restlessly, turning
half away, not looking at her. She came close up to him.
"Look here, Paul. There is something the matter. We haven't been
married a fortnight yet and you're unhappy. Whatever else we married
for we married because we were going to be friends. So you've just
got to tell me what the trouble is."
"I've got my sermon to prepare," he said, not looking at her, but
half rising in his chair. "You'd better go, darling."
"I'm not going to," she answered, "until you've told me why you're
He got up slowly and seemed then as though he were going to pass
her. Suddenly he turned, flung his arms round her, catching her,
crushing her in his arms, kissing her wildly.
"Love . . . love me . . . love me," he whispered. "That's what's the
matter. I didn't know myself before I married you, Maggie. All these
years I've lived like a fish and I didn't know it. But I know it
now. And you've got to love me. You're my wife and you've got to
She would have given everything that she had then to respond. She
felt an infinite tenderness and pity for him. But she could not. He
felt that she could not. He let her go and turned away from her. She
thought for a moment wondering what she ought to say, and then she
came up to him and gently put her hand on his shoulder.
"Be patient, Paul," she said. "You know we agreed before we married
that we'd be friends at any rate and let the rest come. Wait . . ."
"Wait!" he turned round eagerly, clutching her arm. "Then there is a
chance, Maggie? You can get to love me--you can forget that other
She drew back. "No, you know I told you that I should never do that.
But he'll never come back nor want me again and I'm very fond of
you, Paul--fonder than I thought. Don't spoil it all now by going
"Going too fast!" he laughed. "Why, I haven't gone any way at all. I
haven't got you anywhere. I can hardly touch you. You're away from
me all the time. You're strange--different from every one . . ."
"I don't know anything about women. I've learnt a lot about myself
this week. It isn't going to be as easy as I thought."
She went up to him, close to him, and said almost desperately: "We
MUST make this all right, Paul. We can if we try. I know we can."
He kissed her gently with his old kindness. "What a baby you are.
You didn't know what you were in for . . . Oh, we'll make it all
They sat close together then and drank their tea. After all, Grace
would be here in an hour! They both felt a kind of relief that they
would no longer be alone.
Grace would be here in an hour! Strange how throughout all these
last days Maggie had been looking forward to that event with dread.
There was no definite reason for fear; in London Grace had been
kindness itself and had shown real affection for Maggie. Within the
last week she had written two very affectionate letters. What was
this, then, that hung and hovered? It was in the very air of the
house and the garden and the place. Grace had left her mark upon
everything and every one, even upon the meagre person of Mitch the
dog. Especially upon Mitch, a miserable creeping fox-terrier with no
spirits and a tendency to tremble all over when you called him. He
had attached himself to Maggie, which was strange, because animals
were not, as a rule, interested in her. Mitch followed her about,
looking up at her with a yellow supplicating eye. She didn't like
him and she would be glad when Grace collected him again--but why
did he tremble?
She realised, in the way that she had of seeing further than her
nose, that Grace was going to affect the whole of her relations with
Paul, and, indeed, all her future life. She had not realised that in
London. Grace had seemed harmless there and unimportant. Already
here in Skeaton she seemed to stand for a whole scheme of life.
Maggie had moved and altered a good many of the things in the house.
She had discovered a small attic, and into this she had piled pell-
mell a number of photographs, cheap reproductions, cushions, worsted
mats, and china ornaments. She had done it gaily and with a sense of
clearing the air.
Now as Grace's hour approached she was not so sure.
"Well, I'm not afraid," she reassured herself with her favourite
defiance. "She can't eat me. And it's my house."
Paul had not noticed the alterations. He was always blind to his
surroundings unless they were what he called "queer."
There was the rattle of the cab-wheels on the drive and a moment
later Grace was in the hall.
"Dear Paul--Maggie, dear . . ."
She stood there, a very solid and assured figure. She was square and
thick and reminded Maggie to-day of Mrs. Noah; her clothes stood cut
out around her as though they had been cut in wood. She had her
large amiable smile, and the kiss that she gave Maggie was a wet,
soft, and very friendly one.
"Now I think I'll have tea at once without taking my hat off. In
Paul's study? That's nice . . . Maggie, dear, how are you? Such a
journey! But astonishing! Just fancy! I got into Charing Cross and
then--! Why! Here's the study! Fancy! . . . Maggie, dear, how are
you? Well? That's right. Why, there's tea! That's right. Everything
just as it was. Fancy! . . ." She took off her gloves, smiled,
seated herself more comfortably, then began to look about the room.
Suddenly there came: "Why, Paul, where's the Emmanuel football
There was a moment's silence. Maggie felt her heart give a little
bump, as it seemed to her, right against the roof of her mouth. Paul
(so like him) had not noticed that the football group had vanished.
He stared at the blank place on the wall where it had once been.
"Why, Grace . . . I don't know. I never noticed it wasn't there."
"I took it down," said Maggie. "I thought there were too many
photographs. It's in the attic."
"In the attic? . . . Fancy! You put it away, did you, Maggie? Well,
fancy! Shan't I make the tea, Maggie, dear? That tea-pot, it's an
old friend of mine. I know how to manage it."
They changed seats. Grace was as amiable as ever, but now her eyes
flashed about from place to place all around the room.
"Why, this is a new kind of jam. How nice! As I was saying, I got
into Charing Cross and there wasn't a porter. Just fancy! At least
there was a porter, an old man, but when I beckoned to him he
wouldn't move. Well, I was angry. I can tell you, Paul, I wasn't
going to stand that, so I-what nice jam, dear. I never knew
Mitchell's had jam like this!"
"I didn't get it at Mitchell's," said Maggie. "I've changed the
grocer. Mitchell hasn't got anything, and his prices are just about
double Brownjohn's . . ."
"Brownjohn!" Grace stared, her bread and jam suspended. "Brownjohn!
But, Maggie dear, he's a dissenter."
"Oh. Maggie!" said Paul. "You should have told me!"
"Why!" said Maggie, bewildered. "Father never minded about
dissenters. Our butcher in St. Dreot's was an atheist and--"
"Well, well," said Grace, her eyes still flashing about like
goldfish in a pool. "You didn't know, dear. Of course you didn't.
I'm sure we can put it right with Mitchell, although he's a
sensitive man. I'll go and see him in the morning. I am glad I'm
back. Well, I was telling you . . . Where was I? . . . about the
Something drove Maggie to say:
"I'd rather have a good grocer who's a dissenter than a bad one who
goes to church--"
"Maggie," said Paul, "you don't know what you're saying. You don't
realise what the effect in the parish would be."
"Of course she doesn't," said Grace consolingly. "She'll understand
in time. As I was saying, I was so angry that I caught the old man
by the arm and I said to him, 'If you think you're paid to lean up
against a wall and not do your duty you're mightily mistaken, and if
you aren't careful I'll report you--that's what I'll do,' and he
said--what were his exact words? I'll remember in a minute. I know
he was very insulting, and the taxi-cabman--why, Paul, where's
Grace's eyes were directed to a large space high above the
mantelpiece. Maggie remembered that there had been a big faded oil-
painting of an old lady in a shawl and spectacles, a hideous affair
she had thought it. That was now reposing in the attic. Why had she
not known that it was a picture of Paul's mother? She would never
have touched it had she known. Why had Paul said nothing? He had not
even noticed that it was gone.
Paul stared, amazed and certainly--yes, beyond question--frightened.
"Grace--upon my word--I've been so busy since my return--"
"Is that also in the attic?" asked Grace.
"Yes, it is," said Maggie. "I'm so sorry. I never knew it was your
mother. It wasn't a very good painting I thought, so I took it down.
If I had known, of course, I never would have touched it. Oh Grace,
I AM so sorry."
"It's been there," said Grace, "for nearly twenty years. What I mean
to say is that it's always been there. Poor mother. Are there many
things in the attic, Maggie?"
At that moment there was a feeble scratching on the door. Paul,
evidently glad of anything that would relieve the situation, opened
"Why, it's Mitch!" cried Grace, forgetting for the moment her
mother. "Fancy! It's Mitch! Mitch, dear! Was she glad to see her old
friend back again? Was she? Darling! Fancy seeing her old friend
again? Was she wanting her back?"
Mitch stood shivering in the doorway, then, with her halting step,
the skin of her back wrinkled with anxiety, she crossed the room.
For a moment she hesitated, then with shamefaced terror, slunk to
Maggie, pressed up against her, and sat there huddled, staring at
Grace with yellow unfriendly eyes.
Not in a day and not in a night did Maggie find a key to that
strange confusion of fears, superstitions, and self-satisfactions
that was known to the world as Grace Trenchard. Perhaps she never
found it, and through all the struggle and conflict in which she was
now to be involved she was fighting, desperately, in the dark. Fight
she did, and it was this same conflict, bitter and tragic enough at
the time, that transformed her into the woman that she became . . .
and through all that conflict it may be truly said of her that she
never knew a moment's bitterness--anger, dismay, loneliness, even
It was not strange that Maggie did not understand Grace; Grace never
understood herself nor did she make the slightest attempt to do so.
It would be easy enough to cover the ground at once by saying that
she had no imagination, that she never went behind the thing that
she saw, and that she found the grasping of external things quite as
much as she could manage. But that is not enough. Very early indeed,
when she had been a stolid-faced little girl with a hot desire for
the doll possessed by her neighbour, she had had for nurse a woman
who rejoiced in supernatural events. With ghost stories of the most
terrifying kind she besieged Grace's young heart and mind. The child
had never imagination enough to visualise these stories in the true
essence, but she seized upon external detail-the blue lights, the
white shimmering garments, the moon and the church clock, the
clanking chain and the stain of blood upon the board.
These things were not for her, and indeed did she allow her fancy to
dwell, for a moment, upon them she was besieged at once by so horrid
a panic that she lost all control and self-possession. She therefore
very quickly put those things from her and thenceforth lived in the
world as in a castle surrounded by a dark moat filled with horrible
and slimy creatures who would raise a head at her did she so much as
glance their way.
She decided then never to look, and from a very early age those
quarters of life became to her "queer," indecent, and dangerous. All
the more she fastened her grip upon the things that she could see
and hold, and these things repaid her devotion by never deceiving
her or pretending to be what they were not. She believed intensely
in forms and repetitions; she liked everything to be where she
expected it to be, people to say the things that she expected them
to say, clocks to strike at the right time, and trains to be up to
the minute. With all this she could never be called an accurate or
careful woman. She was radically stupid, stupid in the real sense of
the word, so that her mind did not grasp a new thought or fact until
it had been repeated to her again and again, so that she had no
power of expressing herself, and a deep inaccuracy about everything
and every one which she endeavoured to cover by a stream of aimless
lies that deceived no one. She would of course have been very
indignant had any one told her that she was stupid. She hated what
she called "clever people" and never had them near her if she could
help it. She was instantly suspicious of any one who liked ideas or
wanted anything changed. With all this she was of an extreme
obstinacy and a deep, deep jealousy. She clung to what she had with
the tenacity of a mollusc. What she had was in the main Paul, and
her affection for him was a very real human quality in her.
He was exactly what she would have chosen had she been allowed at
the beginning a free choice. He was lazy and good-tempered so that
he yielded to her on every possible point, he was absolutely
orthodox and never shocked her by a thought or a word out of the
ordinary, he really loved her and believed in her and said, quite
truly, that he would not have known what to do without her.
It seems strange then that it should have been in the main her
urgency that led to the acquisition of Maggie. During the last year
she had begun to be seriously uneasy. Things were not what they had
been. Mrs. Constantine and others in the parish were challenging her
authority, even the Choir boys were scarcely so subservient as they
had been, and, worst of all, Paul himself was strangely restive and
unquiet. He talked at times of getting married, wondered whether
she, Grace, wouldn't like some one to help her in the house, and
even, on one terrifying occasion, suggested leaving Skeaton
altogether. A momentary vision of what it would be to live without
Paul, to give up her kingdom in Skeaton, to have to start all over
again to acquire dominion in some new place, was enough for Grace.
She must find Paul a wife, and she must find some one who would
depend upon her, look up to her, obey her, who would, incidentally,
take some of the tiresome and monotonous drudgery off her shoulders.
The moment she saw Maggie she was resolved; here was just the
creature, a mouse of a girl, no parents, no money, no appearance,
nothing to make her proud or above herself, some one to be moulded
and trained in the way she should go. To her great surprise she
discovered that Paul was at once attracted by Maggie: had she ever
wondered at anything she would have wondered at this, but she
decided that it was because she herself had made the suggestion.
Dear Paul, he was always so eager to fall in with any of her
Her mind misgave her a little when she saw that he was really in
love. What could he see in that plain, gauche, uncharming creature?
See something he undoubtedly did. However, that would wear off very
quickly. The Skeaton atmosphere was against romance and Paul was too
lazy to be in love very long. Once or twice in the weeks before the
wedding Grace's suspicions were aroused.
Maggie seemed to be an utter little heathen; also it appeared that
she had had some strange love affair that she had taken so seriously
as actually to be ill over it. That was odd and a little alarming,
but the child was very young, and once married-there she'd be, so to
It was not, in fact, until that evening of her arrival in Skeaton
that she was seriously alarmed. To say that that first ten minutes
in Paul's study alarmed her is to put it mildly indeed. As she
looked at the place where her mother's portrait had been, as she
stared at the trembling Mitch cowering against Maggie's dress, she
experienced the most terrifying, shattering upheaval since the day
when as a little girl of six she had been faced as she had fancied,
with the dripping ghost of her great-uncle William. Not at once,
however, was the battle to begin. Maggie gave way about everything.
She gave way at first because she was so confident of getting what
she wanted later on. She never conceived that she was not to have
final power in her own house; Paul had as yet denied her nothing.
She moved the pictures and the pots and the crochet work down from
the attic and replaced them where they had been-or, nearly replaced
them. She found it already rather amusing to puzzle Grace by
changing their positions from day to day so that Grace was
bewildered and perplexed.
Grace said nothing--only solidly and with panting noises (she
suffered from shortness of breath) plodded up and down the house,
reassuring herself that all her treasures were safe.
Maggie, in fact, enjoyed herself during the weeks immediately
following Grace's return. Paul seemed tranquil and happy; there were
no signs of fresh outbreaks of the strange passion that had so
lately frightened her. Maggie herself found her duties in connection
with the Church and the house easier than she had expected. Every
one seemed very friendly. Grace chattered on with her aimless
histories of unimportant events and patted Maggie's hand and smiled
a great deal. Surely all was very well. Perhaps this was the life
for which Maggie was intended.
And that other life began to be dim and faint-even Martin was a
little hidden and mysterious. Strangely she was glad of that; the
only way that this could be carried through was by keeping the other
out of it. Would the two worlds mingle? Would the faces and voices
of those spirits be seen and heard again? Would they leave Maggie
now or plan to steal her back? The whole future of her life depended
on the answer to that . . .
During those weeks she investigated Skeaton very thoroughly. She
found that her Skeaton, the Skeaton of Fashion and the Church, was a
very small affair consisting of two rows of villas, some detached
houses that trickled into the country, and a little clump of villas
on a hill over the sea beyond the town. There were not more than
fifty souls all told in this regiment of Fashion, and the leaders of
the fifty were Mrs. Constantine, Mrs. Maxse, Miss Purves, a Mrs.
Tempest (a large black tragic creature), and Miss Grace Trenchard-
and they had for their male supporters Colonel Maxse, Mr. William
Tempest, a Mr. Purdie (rich and idle), and the Reverend Paul. Maggie
discovered that the manners, habits, and even voices and gestures of
this sacred Fifty were all the same. The only question upon which
they divided was one of residence. The richer and finer division
spent several weeks of the winter abroad in places like Nice and
Cannes, and the poorer contingent took their holiday from Skeaton in
the summer in Glebeshire or the Lake District. The Constantines and
the Maxses were very fine indeed because they went both to Cannes in
the winter and Scotland in the summer. It was wonderful, considering
how often Mrs. Constantine was away from Skeaton, how solemn and
awe-inspiring an impression she made and retained in the Skeaton
world. Maggie discovered that unless you had a large house with
independent grounds outside the town it was impossible to remain in
Skeaton during the summer months. Oh! the trippers! . . .Oh! the
trippers! Yes, they were terrible-swallowed up the sands, eggshells,
niggers, pierrots, bathing-machines, vulgarity, moonlight embracing,
noise, sand, and dust. If you were any one at all you did not stay
in Skeaton during the summer months-unless, as I have said, you were
so grand that you could disregard it altogether.
It happened that these weeks were wet and windy and Maggie was blown
about from one end of the town to the other. There could be no
denying that it was grim and ugly under these conditions. It might
be that when the spring came there would be flowers in the gardens
and the trees would break out into fresh green and the sands would
gleam with mother-of-pearl and the sea would glitter with sunshine.
All that perhaps would come. Meanwhile there was not a house that
was not hideous, the wind tore screaming down the long beaches
carrying with it a flurry of tempestuous rain, whilst the sea itself
moved in sluggish oily coils, dirt-grey to the grey horizon. Worst
of all perhaps were the deserted buildings at other times dedicated
to gaiety, ghosts of places they were with torn paper flapping
against their sides and the wind tearing at their tin-plated roofs.
Then there was the desolate little station, having, it seemed, no
connection with any kind of traffic-and behind all this the woods
howled and creaked and whistled, derisive, provocative, the only
creatures alive in all that world.
Between the Fashion and the Place the Church stood as a bridge.
Centuries ago, when Skeaton had been the merest hamlet clustered
behind the beach, the Church had been there-not the present
building, looking, poor thing, as though it were in a perpetual
state of scarlet fever, but a shabby humble little chapel close to
the sea sheltered by the sandy hill.
The present temple had been built about 1870 and was considered very
satisfactory. It was solid and free from draughts and took the
central heating very well. The graveyard also was new and shiny,
with no bones in it remoter than the memories of the present
generation could compass. The church clock was a very late addition
-put up by subscription five years ago-and its clamour was so up to
date and smart that it was a cross between the whistle of a steam-
engine and a rich and prosperous dinner-bell.
All this was rightly felt to be very satisfactory. As Miss Purves
said: "So far as the dear Church goes, no one had any right to
complain about anything."
When Maggie had first arrived in Skeaton her duties with regard to
the Church were made quite plain to her. She was expected to take
one of the classes in Sunday school, to attend Choir practice on
Friday evening, to be on the Committees for Old Women's Comforts,
Our Brave Lads' Guild, and the Girls' Friendly Society, to look
after the flowers for the Altar, and to attend Paul's Bible Class on
She had no objection to any of these things-they were, after all,
part of her "job." She found that they amused her, and her life must
be full, full, full." No time to think--No time to think," some
little voice far, far within her cried. But on Grace's return
difficulties at once arose. Grace had, hitherto, done all these
things. She had, as she called it, "Played a large part in the life
of our Church." She was bored with them all, the Choir practices,
the Committees, the Altar flowers, and the rest; she was only too
pleased that Maggie should do the hard work--it was quite fair that
she, Grace, should have a rest. At the same time she did not at all
want to surrender the power that doing these things had given her.
She did not wish Maggie to take her place, but she wanted her to
support the burden-very difficult this especially if you are not
good at "thinking things out."
Grace never could "think things out." It seemed as though her
thoughts loved wilfully to tease and confuse her. Then when she was
completely tangled, and bewildered, her temper rose, slowly,
stealthily, but with a mighty force behind it; suddenly as a flood
bursts the walls that have been trying to resist it, it would sweep
the chambers of her mind, submerging, drowning the flock of panic-
stricken little ideas.
She then would "lose her temper" so much to her own surprise that
she at once decided that some one else must be responsible. A few
days after her return she decided that she "must not let these
things go," so she told Maggie that she would attend the Committee
of Old Women's Comforts and be responsible for the Choir practice.
But on her return to these functions she found that she was bored
and tired and cross; they were really intolerable, she had been
doing them for years and years and years. It was too bad that Maggie
should suffer her to take them on her shoulders. What did Maggie
think she was a clergyman's wife for? Did Maggie imagine that there
were no responsibilities attached to her position?
Grace did not say these things, but she thought them. She did not of
course admit to herself that she wanted Maggie both to go and not to
go. She simply knew that there was a "grievance" and Maggie was
responsible for it. But at present she was silent . . .
The next factor in the rapidly developing situation was Mr. Toms.
One day early in April Maggie went for a little walk by herself
along the lane that led to Marsden Wood. Marsden Wood was the most
sinister of all the woods; there had once been a murder there, but
even had there not, the grim bleakness of the trees and bushes, the
absence of all clear paths through its tangles and thickets made it
a sinister place. She turned at the very edge of the wood and set
her face back towards Skeaton.
The day had been wild and windy with recurrent showers of rain, but
now there was a break, the chilly April sun broke through the clouds
and scattered the hedges and fields with primrose light.
Faintly and with a gentle rhythm the murmur of the sea came across
the land and the air was sweet with the sea-salt and the fresh scent
of the grass after rain. Maggie stood for a moment, breathing in the
spring air and watching the watery blue thread its timid way through
banks of grey cloud. A rich gleam of sunlight struck the path at her
She saw then, coming towards her, a man and a woman. The woman was
ordinary enough, a middle-aged, prim, stiffly dressed person with a
pale shy face, timid in her walk and depressed in mouth and eyes.
The man was a stout, short, thick-set fellow with a rosy smiling
face. At once Maggie noticed his smile. He was dressed very smartly
in a black coat and waist-coat and pepper-and-salt trousers. His
bowler was cocked a little to one side. She passed them and the
little round man, looking her full in the face, smiled so happily
and with so radiant an amiability that she was compelled to respond.
The woman did not look at her.
Long after she had left them she thought of the little man's smile.
There was something that, in spite of herself, reminded her both of
Uncle Mathew and Martin. She felt a sudden and warm kinship,
something that she had not known since her arrival in Skeaton. Had
she not struggled with herself every kind of reminiscence of her
London life would have come crowding about her. This meeting was
like the first little warning tap upon the wall . . .
On her return she spoke of it.
"Oh," said Paul, "that must have been poor little Mr. Toms with his
"Poor?" asked Maggie.
"Yes. He's queer in his head, you know," said Paul. "Quite harmless,
but he has the strangest ideas."
Maggie noticed then that Grace shivered and the whole of her face
worked with an odd emotion of horror and disgust.
"He should have been shut up somewhere," she said. "It's disgraceful
letting him walk about everywhere just like any one else."
"Shut up!" cried Maggie. "Oh, no! I don't think any one ought to be
shut up for anything."
"My dear Maggie!" said Paul in his fatherly protecting voice. "No
prisons? Think what would become of us all."
"Oh!" said Maggie impatiently, "I'm not practical of course, I don't
know what one should do, but I do know that no one should be shut
"Chut-chut--" said Grace.
Now this "Chut, chut," may seem a very little thing, but very little
things are sometimes of great importance. Marriages have been
wrecked on an irritating cough and happy homes ruined by a shuffle.
Grace had said "Chut, chut," for a great many years and to many
people. It expressed scorn and contempt and implied a vast store of
superior knowledge. Grace herself had no idea of the irritating
nature of this exclamation, she would have been entirely amazed did
you explain to her that it had more to do with her unpopularity in
Skeaton than any other thing. She had even said "Chut, chut," to
But she said it to Maggie more than to any other person. When she
had been in the house a few days she said to her brother:
"Paul, Maggie's much younger than I had supposed."
"Oh, do you think so?" said Paul.
"Yes, I do. She knows nothing about anything. She's been nowhere.
She's seen nobody . . . Poor child."
It was the "poor child" position that she now, during these first
weeks, adopted. She was very, very kind to Maggie. As she explained
to Mrs. Maxse, she really was very fond of her--she was a GOOD girl.
At the same time . . . Well! . . . Mrs. Maxse would understand that
Paul can hardly have known what he was marrying. Ignorance!
Carelessness! Strange ideas! Some one from the centre of Africa
would have known more . . . and so on. Nevertheless, she was a GOOD
girl . . . Only she needed guidance. Fancy, she had taken quite a
fancy to poor Mr. Toms! Proposed to call on his sister. Well, one
couldn't help that. Miss Toms was a regular communicant . . .
Nevertheless . . . she didn't realise, that was it. Of course, she
had known all kinds of queer people in London. Paul and Grace had
rescued her. The strangest people. No, Maggie was an orphan. She had
an uncle, Grace believed, and two aunts who belonged to a strange
sect. Sex? No, sect. Very queer altogether.
Mrs. Maxse went home greatly impressed.
"The girl's undoubtedly queer," she told her husband.
"The parson's got a queer sort of wife," Colonel Maxse told his
friends in the Skeaton Conservative Club. "He rescued her from some
odd sort of life in London. No. Don't know what it was exactly.
Always was a bit soft, Trenchard."
Maggie had no idea that Skeaton was discussing her. She judged other
people by herself. Meanwhile something occurred that gave her quite
enough to think about.
She had understood from Grace that it was expected of her that she
should be at home on one afternoon in the week to receive callers.
She thought it a silly thing that she should sit in the ugly
drawing-room waiting for people whom she did not wish to see and who
did not wish to see her, but she was told that it was one of her
duties, and so she would do it. No one, however, had any idea of the
terror with which she anticipated these Friday afternoons. She had
never been a very great talker, she had nothing much to say unless
to some one in whom she was interested. She was frightened lest
something should happen to the tea, and she felt that they were all
staring at her and asking themselves why her hair was cut short and
why her clothes didn't fit better. However, there it was. It was her
One Friday afternoon she was sitting alone, waiting. The door opened
and the maid announced Mrs. Purdie. Maggie remembered that she had
been told that Mr. Alfred Purdie was the richest man in Skeaton,
that he had recently married, and was but now returned from his
Mrs. Purdie entered and revealed herself as Caroline Smith. For a
moment, as Maggie looked upon that magnificent figure, the room
turned about her and her eyes were dim. She remembered, as though
some one were reminding her from a long way off, that Caroline had
once told her that she was considering the acceptance of a rich
young man in Skeaton.
She remembered that at the time she had thought the coincidence of
Caroline and Paul Trenchard strange. But far stronger than any such
memory was the renewed conviction that she had that fate did not
intend to leave her alone. She was not to keep the two worlds apart,
she was not to be allowed to forget.
The sight of Caroline brought Martin before her so vividly that she
could have cried out. Instead she stood there, quietly waiting, and
showed no sign of any embarrassment.
Caroline was dressed in peach-coloured silk and a little black hat.
She was not confused in the least. She seized Maggie's hand and
shook it, talking all the time.
"Well now, I'm sure you're surprised to see me," she said, "and
perhaps you're not too glad either. Alfred wanted to come too, but I
said to him, 'No, Alfred, this will be just a little awkward at
first, for Maggie Trenchard's got a grievance, and with some reason,
too, so you'd better let me manage it alone the first meeting.'
Wasn't I right? Of course I was. And you can just say right out now,
Maggie, exactly what's in your mind. It's not my fault that we're
both in the same town. I'm sure you'd much rather never set eyes on
me again, and I'm sure I can quite understand if you feel like that.
But there it is. I told you long ago in London that Alfred was after
me, and I was in two minds about it-but of course I didn't dream you
were going to marry a parson. You could have knocked me down with
less than a feather when I saw it in the Skeaton News, 'That can't
be my Margaret Cardinal,' I said, and yet it seemed so strange the
two names and all. Well, and then I found it really WAS the same. I
WAS astonished. You of all people the wife of a parson! However, you
know your own mind best, and I'm sure Mr. Trenchard's a very lucky
man. So you can just start off and curse me, Maggie, as much as you
The strange thing was that as Maggie listened to this she felt a
desire to embrace rather than curse. Of course Caroline had done her
harm, she had, perhaps ruined Martin's life as well as her own, but
the mistake had been originally Maggie's in trusting Caroline with
more confidence than her volatile nature would allow her to hold.
And now, as she looked at Caroline and saw that pretty pink and
white face, the slim beautiful body, the grace and gaiety, and
childish amiability, her whole soul responded. Here was a friend,
even though an indiscreet one, here was some one from home, the one
human being in the whole of Skeaton who knew the old places and the
old people, the Chapel, and the aunts--and Martin. She knew at once
that it would have been far safer had Caroline not been there, that
the temptation to discuss Martin would be irresistible, that she
would yield to it, and that Caroline was in no way whatever to be
trusted-she realised all these things, and yet she was glad.
"I don't want to curse you, Caroline," said Maggie. "Sit down. Tea
will be here in a minute. I was very unhappy about what you did, but
that's all a long time ago now, and I was to blame too."
"Oh, that's just sweet of you," said Caroline, running over and
giving Maggie an impulsive kiss. "I said to Alfred, 'Maggie may be
angry. I don't know how she'll receive me, I'm sure. She had the
sweetest nature always, and it isn't like her to bear a grudge. But
whatever way it is, I'll have to take it, because the fact is I
deserve it.' But there you are, simply angelic and I'm ever so glad.
The fact is I was ridicilous in those days. I don't wonder you lost
your patience with me, and it was just like your honest self to be
so frank with me. But marriage has just taught me everything. What I
say is, every one ought to be married; no one knows anything until
they're married. It's amazing what a difference it makes, don't you
think so? Why, before I was married I used to chatter on in the most
ridicilous way (Caroline always said ridicilous) and now-but there I
go, talking of myself, and it's you I want to hear about. Now,
Maggie, tell me--" But the sudden entrance of Grace and Paul
checked, for the moment, these confidences. Caroline did not stay
long this first time. She talked a little, drank some tea, ate a
biscuit, smiled at Paul and departed. She felt, perhaps, that Grace
did not approve of her. Grace had not seen her before, certainly she
would not approve of the peach-coloured dress and the smile at Paul.
And then the girl talked too much. She had interrupted Grace in the
middle of one of her stories.
When Caroline had departed (after kissing Maggie affectionately)
"And so you knew her before, Maggie?"
"I knew her in London," said Maggie.
"I like her," said Paul. "A bright young creature."
"Hum!" said Grace.
That was a wonderful spring evening, the first spring evening of the
year. The ugly garden swam in a mist faintly cherry-colour; through
the mist a pale evening sky, of so rich a blue that it was almost
white, was shadowing against a baby moon sharply gold. The bottles
on the wall were veiled by the evening mist; a thrush sang in the
little bush at the end of the lawn.
Paul whispered to Maggie: "Come out into the garden."
She went with him, frightened; she could feel his arm tremble
against her waist; his cold hard fingers caught hers. No current ran
from her body to his. They were apart, try as she may. When they had
walked the length of the lawn he caught her close to him, put his
hand roughly up to her neck and, bending her head towards his,
kissed her. She heard his words, strangled and fierce.
"Love me, Maggie-love me-you must--"
When he released her, looking back towards the dark house, she saw
Grace standing there with a lamp in her hand.
Against her will she shared his feeling of guilt, as, like children
caught in a fault, they turned back towards the house.
THE BATTLE OF SKEATON
Afterwards, when Maggie looked back she was baffled. She tried to
disentangle the events between that moment when Grace, holding the
lamp in her hand, blinked at them as they came across the lawn, and
that other most awful moment when, in Paul's study, Grace declared
final and irrevocable war.
Between those two events ran the history of more than two years, and
there was nothing stranger than the way that the scene in the garden
and the scene in the study seemed to Maggie to be close together.
What were the steps, she used to ask herself afterwards, that led to
those last months of fury and tragedy and disaster? Was it my fault?
Was it hers? Was it Paul's? What happened? If I had not done this or
that, if Grace had not said--no, it was hopeless. She would break
off in despair. Isolated scenes appeared before her, always bound,
on either side, by that prologue and that finale, but the scenes
would not form a chain. She could not connect; she would remain
until the end bewildered as to Grace's motives. She never, until the
day of her death, was to understand Grace.
"She was angry for such little things," she said afterwards.
"She hated me to be myself." The two years in retrospect seemed to
have passed with incredible swiftness, the months that followed them
were heavy and slow with trouble. But from the very first, that is,
from the moment when Grace saw Paul kiss Maggie in the evening
garden, battle was declared. Maggie might not know it, but it was
so-and Grace knew it very well.
It may be said, however, in Grace's defence that she gave Maggie
every chance. She marvelled at her own patience. For two years after
that moment, when she decided that Maggie was "queer," and that her
beloved Paul was in real danger of his losing his soul because of
that "queerness," she held her hand. She was not naturally a patient
woman-she was not introspective enough to be that--and she held no
brief for Maggie. Nevertheless for two whole years she held her hand
. . .
They were, all three, in that ugly house, figures moving in the
dark. Grace simply knew, as the months passed, that she disliked and
feared Maggie more and more; Paul knew that as the months passed-
well, what he knew will appear in the following pages. And Maggie?
She only knew that it needed all her endurance and stubborn will to
force herself to accept this life as her life. She must-she must. To
give way meant to run away, and to run away meant to long for what
she could not have, and loneliness and defeat. She would make this
into a success; she would care for Paul although she could not give
him all that he needed. She would and she could . . . Every morning
as she lay awake in the big double-bed with the brass knobs at the
bed-foot winking at her in the early light she vowed that she would
justify her acceptance of the man who lay sleeping so peacefully
beside her. Poor child, her battle with Grace was to teach her how
far her will and endurance could carry her . . .
Grace, on her side, was not a bad woman, she was simply a stupid
one. She disliked Maggie for what seemed to her most admirable
reasons and, as that dislike slowly, slowly turned into hatred, her
self-justification only hardened.
Until that moment, when she saw a faded patch of wall-paper on the
wall instead of her mother's portrait, she had no doubts whatever
about the success of what she considered her choice. Maggie was a
"dear," young, ignorant, helpless, but the very wife for Paul. Then
slowly, slowly, the picture changed. Maggie was obstinate, Maggie
was careless, Maggie was selfish, idle, lazy, irreligious-at last,
Maggie was "queer."
Then, when in the dusk of that summer evening, she saw Paul kiss
Maggie, as the moths blundered about her lamp, her stolid
unimaginative heart was terrified. This girl, who was she? What had
she been before they found her? What was this strange passion in
Paul isolating him from her, his sister? This girl was dangerous to
them all-a heathen. They had made a terrible mistake. Paul had been
from the first bewitched by some strange spell, and the, his sister,
had aided the witch.
And yet, to her credit be it remembered, for two years, she fought
her fears, superstitions, jealousies, angers. That can have been no
easy thing for a woman who had always had her own way. But Maggie
helped her. There were many days during that first year at any rate
when Grace thought that the girl was, after all, only the simple
harmless child that she had first found her.
It was so transparently clear that Maggie bore no malice against any
one in the world, that when she angered Grace she did so always by
accident, never by plan-it was only unfortunate that the accidents
should occur so often.
Maggie's days were from the very first of the utmost regularity.
Breakfast at 8.30, then an interview with the cook (Grace generally
in attendance here), then shopping (with Grace), luncheon at 1.30,
afternoon, paying calls or receiving them, dinner 7.45, and after
dinner, reading a book while Paul and Grace played bezique, or, if
Paul was busy upon a sermon or a letter (he wrote letters very
slowly), patience with Grace. This regular day was varied with
meetings, choir practices, dinner-parties, and an occasional Penny
In this framework of the year it would have appeared that there was
very little that could breed disturbance. There were, however,
little irritations. Maggie would have given a great deal could she
have been allowed to interview the cook in the morning alone.
It would seem impossible to an older person that Grace's presence
could so embarrass Maggie; it embarrassed her to the terrible extent
of driving every idea out of her head.
When Maggie had stammered and hesitated and at last allowed, the
cook to make a suggestion, Grace would say. "You mustn't leave it
all to cook, dear. Now what about a nice shepherd's pie?"
The cook, who hated Grace, would toss her head.
"Impossible to-day, Mum . . . Quite impossible."
"Oh, do you think so?" Maggie would say.
This was the cook's opportunity.
"Well, for you, Mum, I'll see if it can't be managed. Difficult as
Grace's anger boiled over.
"That woman must go," she insisted.
"Very well," said Maggie.
Cook after cook appeared and vanished. They all hated Grace.
"You're not very good at keeping servants, are you, Maggie, dear?"
Then there was the shopping. Grace's conversation was the real
trouble here. Grace's stories had seemed rather a joke in London,
soon, in Skeaton, they became a torture. From the vicarage to the
High Street was not far, but it was far enough for Grace's narrative
powers to stretch their legs and get a healthy appetite for the
day's work. Grace walked very slowly, because of her painful
breathing. Her stout stolid figure in its stiff clothes (the skirt
rather short, thick legs in black stockings and large flat boots),
marched along. She had a peculiar walk, planting each foot on the
ground with deliberate determination as though she were squashing a
malignant beetle, she was rather short-sighted, but did not wear
glasses, because, as she said to Maggie, "one need not look peculiar
until one must." Her favourite head-gear was a black straw hat with
a rather faded black ribbon and a huge pin stuck skewer-wise into
it. This pin was like a dagger.
She peered around her as she walked, and for ever enquired of
Maggie, "who that was on the other Bide of the road." Maggie, of
course, did not know, and there began then a long cross-questioning
as to colour, clothes, height, smile or frown. Nothing was too small
to catch Grace's interest but nothing caught it for long. Maggie, at
the end of her walk felt as though she were beset by a whirl of
little buzzing flies. She noticed that Paul had, from, long habit,
learnt to continue his own thoughts during Grace's stories, and she
also tried to do this, but she was not clever at it because Grace
would suddenly stop and say, "Where was I, Maggie?" and then when
Maggie was confused regard her suspiciously, narrowing her eyes into
little thin points. The shopping was difficult because Grace would
stand at Maggie's elbow and say: "Now, Maggie, this is your affair,
isn't it? You decide what you want," and then when Maggie had
decided, Grace simply, to show her power, would say: "Oh, I don't
think we'd better have that . . . No, I don't think we'll have that.
Will you show us something else, please?"-and so they had to begin
all over again.
Nevertheless, throughout their first summer Maggie was almost happy;
not QUITE happy, some silent but persistent rebellion at the very
centre of her heart prevented her complete happiness. What she
really felt was that half of her-the rebellious, questioning,
passionate half of her-was asleep, and that at all costs, whatever
occurred, she must keep it asleep. That was her real definite memory
of her first year-that, through it all, she was wilfully,
Every one thought Paul very strange that summer. Mr. Flaunders, the
curate, told Miss Purves that he was very "odd." "He was always the
most tranquil man-a sunny nature, as you know, Miss Purves. Well
now, I assure you, he's never the same from one minute to another.
His temper is most uncertain, and one never can tell of what he's
thinking. You know he took the Collects in the wrong order last
Sunday, and last night he read the wrong lesson. Two days ago he was
quite angry with me because I suggested another tune for 'Lead
Kindly Light'-unlike himself, unlike himself."
"To what do you attribute this, Mr. Flaunders?" said Miss Purves.
"You know our vicar so well."
"I'm sure I can't tell what it is," said Mr. Flaunders, sighing.
"Can it be his marriage?" said Miss Purves.
"I'm sure," said Mr. Flaunders, flushing, "that it can be nothing to
do with Mrs. Trenchard. That's a fine woman, Miss Purves, a fine
"She seems a little strange," said Miss Purves. "Why doesn't she let
her hair grow? It's hardly Christian as it is."
"It's her health, I expect," said Mr. Flaunders.
Paul was very gentle and good to Maggie all that summer, better to
her than any human being had ever been before. She became very fond
of him, and yet it was not, apparently, her affection that he
wanted. He seemed to be for ever on the verge of asking her some
question and then checking himself. He was suddenly silent; she
caught him looking at her in odd, furtive ways.
He made love to her and then suddenly checked himself, going off,
leaving her alone. During these months she did everything she could
for him. She knew that she was not satisfying him, because she could
give him only affection and not love. But everything that he wanted
her to do she did. And they never, through all those summer months,
had one direct honest conversation. They were afraid.
She began to see, very clearly, his faults. His whole nature was
easy, genial, and, above all, lazy. He liked to be liked, and she
Was often astonished at the pleasure with which he received
compliments. He had a conceit of himself, not as a man but as a
clergyman, and she knew that nothing pleased him so much as when
people praised his "good-natured humanity."
She saw him "play-acting," as she called it, that is, bringing
forward a succession of little tricks, a jolly laugh, an
enthusiastic opinion, a pretence of humility, a man-of-the-world
air, all things not very bad in themselves, but put on many years
ago, subconsciously as an actor puts on powder and paint. She saw
that he was especially sensitive to lay opinion, liked to be thought
a good fellow by the laymen in the place. To be popular she was
afraid that he sometimes sacrificed his dignity, his sincerity and
his pride. But he was really saved in this by his laziness. He was
in fact too lazy to act energetically in his pursuit of popularity,
and the temptation to sink into the dirty old chair in his study,
smoke a pipe and go to sleep, hindered again and again his ambition.
He had, as so many clergymen have, a great deal of the child in him,
a remoteness from actual life, and a tremendous ignorance of the
rough-and-tumble brutality and indecency of things. It had not been
difficult for Grace, because of his laziness, his childishness, and
his harmless conceited good-nature to obtain a very real dominion
over him, and until now that dominion had never seriously been
Now, however, new impulses were stirring in his soul. Maggie saw it,
Grace saw it, before the end of the summer the whole parish saw it.
He was uneasy, dissatisfied, suffering under strange moods whose
motives he concealed from all the world. In his sleep he cried
Maggie's name with a passion that was a new voice in him. When she
awoke and heard it she trembled, and then lay very still . . .
And what a summer that was! To Maggie who had never, even in London,
mingled with crowds it was an incredible invasion. The invasion was
incredible, in the first place, because of the suddenness with which
it fell upon Skeaton. One day Maggie noticed that announcements
were pasted on to the Skeaton walls of the coming of a pierrot
troupe . . . "The Mig-Mags." There was a gay picture of fine
beautiful pierrettes and fine stout pierrots all smiling together in
a semi-circle. Then on another hoarding it was announced that the
Theatre Royal, Skeaton, would shortly start its summer season, and
would begin with that famous musical comedy, "The Girl from Bobo's."
Then the Pier Theatre put forward its claim with a West End comedy.
The Royal Marine Band announced that it would play (weather
permitting) in the Pergola on the Leas every afternoon, 4.20-6.
Other signs of new life were the Skeaton Roller-Skating Rink, The
Piccadilly Cinema, Concerts in the Town Hall, and Popular Lectures
in the Skeaton Institute. There was also a word here and there about
Wanton's Bathing Machines, Button's Donkeys, and Milton and Rowe's
Then, on a sunny day in June the invasion began. The little railway
by the sea was only a loop-line that connected Skeaton with Lane-on-
Sea, Frambell, and Hooton. The main London line had its Skeaton
station a little way out of the town, and the station road to the
beach passed the vicarage. Maggie soon learnt to know the times when
the excursion trains would pour their victims on to the hot, dry
road. Early in the afternoon was one time, and she would see them
eagerly, excitedly hurrying to the sea, fathers and mothers and
babies, lovers and noisy young men and shrieking girls. Then in the
evening she would see them return, some cross, some too tired to
speak, some happy and singing, some arguing and disputing, babies
crying-all hurrying, hurrying lest the train should be missed. At
first she would not penetrate to the beach. She understood from Paul
and Grace that one did not go to the beach during the summer months;
at any rate, not the popular beach. There was Merton Sand two miles
away. One might go there . . . it was always deserted. This
mysterious "one" fascinated Maggie's imagination. So many times a
day Grace said "Oh, I don't think one ought to." Maggie heard again
and again about the trippers, "Oh, one must keep away from there,
In fact the Skeaton aristocracy retired with shuddering gestures
into its own castle. Life became horribly dull. The Maxses, the
Constantines, and the remainder of the Upper Ten either went away or
hid themselves in their grounds.
Once or twice there would be a tennis party, then silence . . .
This summer was a very hot one; the little garden was stifling and
the glass bottles cracked in the sun.
"I want to get out. I want to get out," cried Maggie-so she went
down to the sea. She went surreptitiously; this was the first
surreptitious thing she had done. She gazed from the Promenade that
began just beyond the little station and ran the length of the town
down upon the sands. The beach was a small one compared with the
great stretches of Merton and Buquay, and the space was covered now
so thickly with human beings that the sand was scarcely visible. It
was a bright afternoon, hot but tempered with a little breeze. The
crowd bathed, paddled, screamed, made sand-castles, lay sleeping,
flirting, eating out of paper bags, reading, quarrelling. Here were
two niggers with banjoes, then a stout lady with a harmonium, then a
gentleman drawing pictures on the sand; here again a man with sweets
on a tray, here, just below Maggie, a funny old woman with a little
hut where ginger-beer and such things were sold. The noise was
deafening; the wind stirred the sand curiously so that it blew up
and about in little wreaths and spirals. Everything and everybody
seemed to be covered with the grit of this fine small sand; it was
in Maggie's eyes, nose, and mouth as she watched.
She hated the place--the station, the beach, the town, and the
woods--even more than she had done before. She hated the place--but
she loved the people.
The place was sneering, self-satisfied, contemptuous, inhuman, like
some cynical, debased speculator making a sure profit out of the
innocent weaknesses of human nature. As she turned and looked she
could see the whole ugly town with the spire of St. John's-Paul's
church, raised self-righteously above it.
The town was like a prison hemmed in by the dark woods and the oily
sea. She felt a sudden terrified consciousness of her own
imprisonment. It was perhaps from that moment that she began to be
definitely unhappy in her own life, that she realised with that
sudden inspiration that is given to us on occasion, how hostile
Grace was becoming, how strange and unreal was Paul, and how far
away was every one else!
Just below her on the sand a happy family played-some babies, two
little boys digging, the father smoking, his hat tilted over his
eyes against the sun, the mother finding biscuits in a bag for the
youngest infant. It was a very merry family and full of laughter.
The youngest baby looked up and saw Maggie standing all alone there,
and crowed. Then all the family looked up, the boys suspended their
digging, father tilted back his hat, the mother shyly smiled.
Maggie smiled back, and then, overcome by so poignant a feeling of
loneliness, tempted, too, almost irresistibly to run down the steps,
join them on the sand, build castles, play with the babies, she
hurried away lest she should give way.
"I must be pretending at being married," she thought to herself. "I
don't feel married at all. I'm not natural. If I were sitting on the
sand digging I'd be quite natural. No wonder Grace thinks me
tiresome. But how does one get older and grown up? What is one to
She did not trust herself to go down to the sands again that summer.
The autumn came, the woods turned to gold, the sea was flurried with
rain, and the Church began to fill the horizon. The autumn and the
winter were the times of the Church's High Festival. Paul, as though
he were aware that he had, during these last months, been hovering
about strange places and peering into dark windows, busied himself
about the affairs of his parish with an energy that surprised every
Maggie was aware of a number of young women of whom before she had
been unconscious. Miss Carmichael, Misses Mary and Jane Bethel, Miss
Clarice Hendon, Miss Polly Jones . . . some of these pretty girls,
all of them terribly modern, strident, self-assured, scornful, it
seemed to Maggie. At first she was frightened of them as she had
never been frightened of any one before. They did look at her, of
course, as though they thought her strange, and then they soon
discovered that she knew nothing at all about life.
Their two chief employments, woven in, as it were, to the web of
their church assistance, were Love and Mockery-flirtations, broken
engagements, refusals, acceptances, and, on the other hand, jokes
about everybody and everything. Maggie soon discovered that Grace
was one of their favourite Aunt Sallies; this made her very angry,
and she showed so plainly her indignation on the first occasion of
their wit that they never laughed at Grace in Maggie's presence
Maggie felt, after this, very tender and sympathetic towards Grace,
until she discovered that her good sister-in-law was quite unaware
that any one laughed at her and would have refused to believe it had
she been told. At the same time there went strangely with this
confidence an odd perpetual suspicion. Grace was for ever on guard
against laughter, and nothing made her more indignant than to come
into a room and see that people suddenly ceased their conversation.
Maggie, however, did try this autumn to establish friendly relations
with Grace. It seemed to her that it was the little things that were
against the friendliness rather than the big ones. How she seriously
blamed herself for an irritation that was really childish. Who, for
instance, a grown woman and married, could do other than blame
herself for being irritated by Grace's habit of not finishing her
sentences. Grace would say:
"Maggie, did you remember to-oh well, it doesn't matter--"
"Remember what, Grace?"
"No, really it doesn't matter. It was only that--"
"But Grace, do tell me, because otherwise you'll be blaming me for
something I ought to have done."
"Blaming you! Why, Maggie, to hear you talk any one would think that
I was always scolding you. Of course if that's what you feel--"
"No, no, I don't. But I'm so careless. I forget things so. I don't
want to forget something that I ought to do."
"Yes, you are careless, Maggie. That's quite true. It's one of your
(Strange how willing we are ourselves to admit a fault and irritated
when a friend agrees about it with us.)
"Oh, I'm not always careless," said Maggie.
"Often you are, dear, aren't you? You must learn. I'm sure you'll
improve in time. I wonder whether-but no, I decided I wouldn't
bother, didn't I? Still perhaps, after all--No, I daresay it's wiser
to leave it alone."
Another little thing that the autumn emphasised was Grace's
inability to discover when a complaint or a remonstrance was
decently deceased. One evening Paul, going out in a hurry, asked
Maggie to give Grace the message that Evensong would be at 6.30
instead of 7 that day. Maggie forgot to give the message and Grace
arrived at the Church during the reading of the second lesson.
"Oh Grace, I'm so sorry!" said Maggie.
"It doesn't matter," said Grace; "but how you could forget, Maggie,
is so strange! Do try not to forget things. I know it worries Paul.
For myself I don't care, although I do value punctuality and memory-
I do indeed. What I mean is that it isn't for my own happiness that
"I don't want to forget," said Maggie. "One would think to hear you,
Grace, that you imagine I like forgetting."
"Really, Maggie," said Grace, "I don't think that's quite the way to
speak to me."
And again and again throughout the long winter this little episode
"You'll remember to be punctual, won't you, Maggie? Not like the
time when you forgot to tell me."
"You'll forgive me reminding you, Maggie, but I didn't want it to be
like the time you forgot to give me--"
"Oh, you'd better not trust to Maggie, Paul. Only the other day when
you gave her the message about Evensong--"
Grace meant no harm by this. Her mind moved slowly and was entangled
by a vast quantity of useless lumber. She was really shocked by
carelessness and inaccuracy because she was radically careless and
inaccurate herself but didn't know it.
"If there's one thing I value it's order." she would say, but in
struggling to remember superficial things she forgot all essentials.
Her brain moved just half as slowly as everything else.
That winter was warm and muggy, with continuous showers of warm rain
that seamed to change into mud in the air as it fell.
The Church was filled with the clammy mist of its central heating.
Maggie, as she sat through service after service, watched one
headache race after another. The air was full of headache; she asked
once that a window might be kept open. "That would mean Death in
Skeaton. You don't understand the Skeaton air," said Grace.
"That's because I don't get enough of it," said Maggie. She found
herself looking back to the Chapel services with wistful regret.
What had there been there that was not here? Here everything was
ordered, arranged, in decent sequence, in regular symmetry and
progression. And yet no one seemed to Maggie to listen to what they
were saying, and no one thought of the meaning of the words that
And if they did, of what use would it be? The affair was all
settled; heaven was arrayed, parcelled out, its very streets and
courts mapped and described. It was the destination of every one in
the building as surely as though they were travelling to London by
the morning express. They were sated with knowledge of their
destiny--no curiosity, no wonder, no agitation, no fear. Even the
words of the most beautiful prayers had ceased to have any meaning
because the matter had been settled so long ago and there was
nothing more to be said. How that Chapel had throbbed with
expectation, with amaze, with curiosity, with struggle! Foolish much
of it perhaps, stifling it had seemed then in its superstition.
Maggie had been afraid then, so afraid that she could not sleep at
nights. How she longed now for that fear to return to her!
At this point she would discover that she was beckoning back to her
the figures of that other world. They must not come . . . the two
worlds must not join or she was lost . . . she turned her back from
her memories and her desires.
During this winter there were the two affairs of Mr. Toms and
Maggie carried out her resolve of calling on Mr. Toms. She did it
one dark afternoon a few days before Christmas, moved, it must be
confessed, partly by a sense of exasperation with Grace. Grace had
been that day quite especially tiresome. She had a cold, and a new
evening dress had cost twice as much as it ought to have done. Mitch
had broken into eczema, and Mrs. Constantine had overruled her at a
committee meeting. With a flood of disconnected talk she had
overwhelmed Maggie until the girl felt as though her head had been
thrust into a bag of flour. Through it all there had been an
undercurrent of complaint as though Maggie were responsible.
Early in the afternoon Grace declared that her head was splitting
and retired to her bedroom. Maggie, in a state of blinded and
deafened exasperation, remembered Mr. Toms and decided to call on
him. She found a neat little house standing in a neat little garden
near the sea just beyond the end of the Promenade, or The Leas, as
the real Skeatonian always called it. Miss Toms and Mr. Toms were
sitting in a very small room with a large fire, a pale grey
wallpaper, and a number of brightly-painted wooden toys arranged on
a shelf running round the room. The toys were of all kinds--a farm,
cows and sheep, tigers and lions, soldiers and cannon, a church and
a butcher's shop, little green tufted trees, and a Noah's ark. Mr.
Toms was sitting, neat as a pin, smiling in an armchair beside the
fire, and Miss Toms near him was reading aloud.
Maggie saw at once that her visit embarrassed Miss Toms terribly. It
was an embarrassment that she understood perfectly, so like her own
feelings on so many occasions. This put her at once at her ease, and
she was the old, simple, direct Maggie, her face eager with kindness
and understanding. Mr. Toms smiled perpetually but shook hands like
the little gentleman he was.
Maggie, studying Miss Toms' face, saw that it was lined with
trouble--an ugly face, grave, severe, but brave and proud. Maggie
apologised for not coming before.
"I would have come--" she began.
"Oh, you needn't apologise," said Miss Toms brusquely. "They don't
call on us here, and we don't want them to."
"They don't call," said Mr. Toms brightly, "because they know I'm
queer in the head, and they're afraid I shall do something odd. They
told you I was queer in the head, didn't they?"
Strangely enough this statement of his "queerness," although it
brought a lump into Maggie's throat, did not disturb or confuse her.
"Yes," she said, "they did. I asked who you were after I had seen
you in the road that day."
"I'm not in the least dangerous," said Mr. Toms. "You needn't be
afraid. Certain things seem odd to me that don't seem odd to other
"The fact is, Mrs. Trenchard," said Miss Toms, speaking very fast
and flushing as she spoke, "that we are very happy by ourselves, my
brother and I. He is the greatest friend I have in the world, and I
am his. We are quite sufficient for one another. I don't want to
seem rude, and it's kind of you to have come, but it's better to
leave us alone--it is indeed."
"Well, I don't know," bald Maggie, smiling. "You see, I'm a little
queer myself--at least I think that most of the people here are
coming to that conclusion. I'm sure I'm more queer than your
brother. At any rate I can't do you any harm, and we may as well
give it a trial, mayn't we?"
Mr. Toms clapped his hands with so sudden a noise that Maggie
"That's right," he said. "That's the way I like to hear people talk.
You shall judge for yourself, and WE'LL judge for ourselves." His
voice was very soft and pleasant. The only thing at all strange
about him was his smile, that came and went like the ripple of
firelight on the wall. "You'd like to know all about us, wouldn't
you? Well, until ten years ago I was selling corn in the City. Such
a waste of time! But I took it very seriously then and worked,
worked, worked. I worked too hard, you know, much too hard, and then
I was ill--ill for a long time. When I was better corn didn't seem
to be of any importance, and people thought that very odd of me. I
was confused sometimes and called people by their wrong names, and
sometimes I said what was in my head instead of saying what was in
my stomach. Every one thought it very odd, and if my dear sister
hadn't come to the rescue they would have locked me up--they would
"Shut me up and never let me walk about--all because I didn't care
for corn any more."
He laughed his little chuckling laugh. "But we beat them, didn't we,
Dorothy? Yes, we did--and here we are! Now, you tell us your
Miss Toms had been watching Maggie's face intently while her brother
spoke, and the clear steady candour of Maggie's eyes and her calm
acceptance of all that the little man said must have been
"Now. Jim," she said, "don't bother Mrs. Trenchard. You can't expect
her to tell us her history when she's calling for the first time."
"Why not expect me to?" said Maggie. "I've got no history. I lived
in Glebeshire most of my life with my father, who was a clergyman.
Then he died and I lived with two aunts in London. Then I met Paul
and he married me, and here I am!"
"That's not history," said Mr. Toms a little impatiently. "However,
I won't bother you now. You're only a child, I see. And I'm very
glad to see it. I don't like grown up people."
"How do you like Skeaton?" asked Miss Toms, speaking more graciously
than she had done.
"Oh I shall like it, I expect," said Maggie. "At least I shall like
the people. I don't think I shall ever like the place--the sand
blows about, and I don't like the woods."
"Yes, they're greasy, aren't they?" said Mr. Toms, "and full of
little flies. And the trees are dark and never cool--"
They talked a little while longer, and then Maggie got up to say
good-bye. When she took Mr. Tom's hand and felt his warm confident
pressure, and saw his large trusting eyes looking into hers, she
felt a warmth of friendliness, also it seemed to her that she had
known him all her life.
Miss Toms came with her to the door. They looked out into the dark.
The sea rustled close at hand, far on the horizon a red light was
burning as though it were a great fire. They could hear the wave
break on the beach and sigh in the darkness as it withdrew.
"I shall come again," said Maggie.
"Don't you be too sure," said Miss Toms. "We shall quite understand
if you don't come, and we shan't think the worse of you. Public
opinion here is very strong. They don't want to be unkind to Jim,
but they think he ought to be shut up . . .Shut up!" Maggie could
feel that she was quivering. "Shut up!"
Maggie tossed her head.
"Anyway, they haven't shut me up yet," she said.
"Well--good-night," said Miss Toms, after a little pause in which
she appeared to be struggling to say more.
She told Grace and Paul at supper that night that she had been to
see the Toms. She saw Grace struggling not to show her disapproval
and thought it was nice of her.
"Do you really think--?" said Grace. "Oh, perhaps, after all--"
"Paul," said Maggie, "do you not want me to see the Toms?"
Paul was distressed.
"No, it isn't that . . .Miss Toms is a very nice woman. Only--"
"You think it's not natural of me to take an interest in some one
who's a little off his head like Mr. Toms."
"Well, dear, perhaps there is something--"
Maggie laughed. "I'm a little off my head too. Oh! you needn't look
so shocked, Grace. You know you think it, and every one else here
thinks it too. Now, Grace, confess. You're beginning to be horrified
that Paul married me."
"Please, Maggie--" said Paul, who hated scenes. Grace was always
flushed by a direct attack. Her eyes gazed in despair about her
while she plunged about in her mind.
"Maggie, you mustn't say such things--no, you mustn't. Of course
it's true that you've got more to learn than I thought. You ARE
careless, dear, aren't you? You remember yesterday that you promised
to look in at Pettits and get a reel of cotton, and then of course
Mr. Toms is a good little man--every one says so--but at the same
time he's QUEER, you must admit that, Maggie; indeed it wasn't
really very long ago that he asked Mrs. Maxse in the High Street to
take all her clothes off so that he could see what she was really
made of. Now, that ISN'T nice, Maggie, it's odd--you can't deny it.
And if you'd only told me that you hadn't been to Pettits I could
have gone later myself."
"If it isn't one thing," said Maggie, "it's another. I may be a
child and careless, and not be educated, and have strange ideas, but
if you thought, Grace, that it was going to be just the same after
Paul was married as before you were mistaken. Three's a difficult
number to manage, you know."
"Oh, if you mean," said Grace, crimsoning, "that I'm better away,
that I should live somewhere else, please say so openly. I hate this
hinting. What I mean to say is I can leave to-morrow."
"My dear Grace," said Paul hurriedly, "whoever thought such a thing?
We couldn't get on without you. All that Maggie meant was that it
takes time to settle down. So it does."
"That isn't all I meant," said Maggie slowly. "I meant that I'm not
just a child as you both think. I've got a life of my own and ideas
of my own. I'll give way to you both in lots of things so long as it
makes you happy, but you're not--you're not going to shut me up as
you'd like to do to Mr. Toms."
Perhaps both Grace and Paul had a sharp troubling impression of
having caught some strange creature against their will. Maggie had
risen from the table and stood for the moment by the door facing
them, her short hair, standing thick about her head, contrasting