Part 1 out of 4
This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher
The Garden Party
1. At the Bay
2. The Garden Party
3. The Daughters of the Late Colonel
4. Mr. and Mrs. Dove
5. The Young Girl
6. Life of Ma Parker
7. Marriage a la Mode
8. The Voyage
9. Miss Brill
10. Her First Ball
11. The Singing Lesson
12. The Stranger
13. Bank Holiday
14. An Ideal Family
15. The Lady's-Maid
1. AT THE BAY.
Very early morning. The sun was not yet risen, and the whole of Crescent
Bay was hidden under a white sea-mist. The big bush-covered hills at the
back were smothered. You could not see where they ended and the paddocks
and bungalows began. The sandy road was gone and the paddocks and
bungalows the other side of it; there were no white dunes covered with
reddish grass beyond them; there was nothing to mark which was beach and
where was the sea. A heavy dew had fallen. The grass was blue. Big drops
hung on the bushes and just did not fall; the silvery, fluffy toi-toi was
limp on its long stalks, and all the marigolds and the pinks in the
bungalow gardens were bowed to the earth with wetness. Drenched were the
cold fuchsias, round pearls of dew lay on the flat nasturtium leaves. It
looked as though the sea had beaten up softly in the darkness, as though
one immense wave had come rippling, rippling--how far? Perhaps if you had
waked up in the middle of the night you might have seen a big fish flicking
in at the window and gone again...
Ah-Aah! sounded the sleepy sea. And from the bush there came the sound of
little streams flowing, quickly, lightly, slipping between the smooth
stones, gushing into ferny basins and out again; and there was the
splashing of big drops on large leaves, and something else--what was it?--a
faint stirring and shaking, the snapping of a twig and then such silence
that it seemed some one was listening.
Round the corner of Crescent Bay, between the piled-up masses of broken
rock, a flock of sheep came pattering. They were huddled together, a
small, tossing, woolly mass, and their thin, stick-like legs trotted along
quickly as if the cold and the quiet had frightened them. Behind them an
old sheep-dog, his soaking paws covered with sand, ran along with his nose
to the ground, but carelessly, as if thinking of something else. And then
in the rocky gateway the shepherd himself appeared. He was a lean, upright
old man, in a frieze coat that was covered with a web of tiny drops, velvet
trousers tied under the knee, and a wide-awake with a folded blue
handkerchief round the brim. One hand was crammed into his belt, the other
grasped a beautifully smooth yellow stick. And as he walked, taking his
time, he kept up a very soft light whistling, an airy, far-away fluting
that sounded mournful and tender. The old dog cut an ancient caper or two
and then drew up sharp, ashamed of his levity, and walked a few dignified
paces by his master's side. The sheep ran forward in little pattering
rushes; they began to bleat, and ghostly flocks and herds answered them
from under the sea. "Baa! Baaa!" For a time they seemed to be always on
the same piece of ground. There ahead was stretched the sandy road with
shallow puddles; the same soaking bushes showed on either side and the same
shadowy palings. Then something immense came into view; an enormous shock-
haired giant with his arms stretched out. It was the big gum-tree outside
Mrs. Stubbs' shop, and as they passed by there was a strong whiff of
eucalyptus. And now big spots of light gleamed in the mist. The shepherd
stopped whistling; he rubbed his red nose and wet beard on his wet sleeve
and, screwing up his eyes, glanced in the direction of the sea. The sun
was rising. It was marvellous how quickly the mist thinned, sped away,
dissolved from the shallow plain, rolled up from the bush and was gone as
if in a hurry to escape; big twists and curls jostled and shouldered each
other as the silvery beams broadened. The far-away sky--a bright, pure
blue--was reflected in the puddles, and the drops, swimming along the
telegraph poles, flashed into points of light. Now the leaping, glittering
sea was so bright it made one's eyes ache to look at it. The shepherd drew
a pipe, the bowl as small as an acorn, out of his breast pocket, fumbled
for a chunk of speckled tobacco, pared off a few shavings and stuffed the
bowl. He was a grave, fine-looking old man. As he lit up and the blue
smoke wreathed his head, the dog, watching, looked proud of him.
"Baa! Baaa!" The sheep spread out into a fan. They were just clear of
the summer colony before the first sleeper turned over and lifted a drowsy
head; their cry sounded in the dreams of little children...who lifted their
arms to drag down, to cuddle the darling little woolly lambs of sleep.
Then the first inhabitant appeared; it was the Burnells' cat Florrie,
sitting on the gatepost, far too early as usual, looking for their milk-
girl. When she saw the old sheep-dog she sprang up quickly, arched her
back, drew in her tabby head, and seemed to give a little fastidious
shiver. "Ugh! What a coarse, revolting creature!" said Florrie. But the
old sheep-dog, not looking up, waggled past, flinging out his legs from
side to side. Only one of his ears twitched to prove that he saw, and
thought her a silly young female.
The breeze of morning lifted in the bush and the smell of leaves and wet
black earth mingled with the sharp smell of the sea. Myriads of birds were
singing. A goldfinch flew over the shepherd's head and, perching on the
tiptop of a spray, it turned to the sun, ruffling its small breast
feathers. And now they had passed the fisherman's hut, passed the charred-
looking little whare where Leila the milk-girl lived with her old Gran.
The sheep strayed over a yellow swamp and Wag, the sheep-dog, padded after,
rounded them up and headed them for the steeper, narrower rocky pass that
led out of Crescent Bay and towards Daylight Cove. "Baa! Baa!" Faint the
cry came as they rocked along the fast-drying road. The shepherd put away
his pipe, dropping it into his breast-pocket so that the little bowl hung
over. And straightway the soft airy whistling began again. Wag ran out
along a ledge of rock after something that smelled, and ran back again
disgusted. Then pushing, nudging, hurrying, the sheep rounded the bend and
the shepherd followed after out of sight.
A few moments later the back door of one of the bungalows opened, and a
figure in a broad-striped bathing suit flung down the paddock, cleared the
stile, rushed through the tussock grass into the hollow, staggered up the
sandy hillock, and raced for dear life over the big porous stones, over the
cold, wet pebbles, on to the hard sand that gleamed like oil. Splish-
Splosh! Splish-Splosh! The water bubbled round his legs as Stanley
Burnell waded out exulting. First man in as usual! He'd beaten them all
again. And he swooped down to souse his head and neck.
"Hail, brother! All hail, Thou Mighty One!" A velvety bass voice came
booming over the water.
Great Scott! Damnation take it! Stanley lifted up to see a dark head
bobbing far out and an arm lifted. It was Jonathan Trout--there before
him! "Glorious morning!" sang the voice.
"Yes, very fine!" said Stanley briefly. Why the dickens didn't the fellow
stick to his part of the sea? Why should he come barging over to this
exact spot? Stanley gave a kick, a lunge and struck out, swimming overarm.
But Jonathan was a match for him. Up he came, his black hair sleek on his
forehead, his short beard sleek.
"I had an extraordinary dream last night!" he shouted.
What was the matter with the man? This mania for conversation irritated
Stanley beyond words. And it was always the same--always some piffle about
a dream he'd had, or some cranky idea he'd got hold of, or some rot he'd
been reading. Stanley turned over on his back and kicked with his legs
till he was a living waterspout. But even then..."I dreamed I was hanging
over a terrifically high cliff, shouting to some one below." You would be!
thought Stanley. He could stick no more of it. He stopped splashing.
"Look here, Trout," he said, "I'm in rather a hurry this morning."
"You're WHAT?" Jonathan was so surprised--or pretended to be--that he sank
under the water, then reappeared again blowing.
"All I mean is," said Stanley, "I've no time to--to--to fool about. I want
to get this over. I'm in a hurry. I've work to do this morning--see?"
Jonathan was gone before Stanley had finished. "Pass, friend!" said the
bass voice gently, and he slid away through the water with scarcely a
ripple...But curse the fellow! He'd ruined Stanley's bathe. What an
unpractical idiot the man was! Stanley struck out to sea again, and then
as quickly swam in again, and away he rushed up the beach. He felt
Jonathan stayed a little longer in the water. He floated, gently moving
his hands like fins, and letting the sea rock his long, skinny body. It
was curious, but in spite of everything he was fond of Stanley Burnell.
True, he had a fiendish desire to tease him sometimes, to poke fun at him,
but at bottom he was sorry for the fellow. There was something pathetic in
his determination to make a job of everything. You couldn't help feeling
he'd be caught out one day, and then what an almighty cropper he'd come!
At that moment an immense wave lifted Jonathan, rode past him, and broke
along the beach with a joyful sound. What a beauty! And now there came
another. That was the way to live--carelessly, recklessly, spending
oneself. He got on to his feet and began to wade towards the shore,
pressing his toes into the firm, wrinkled sand. To take things easy, not
to fight against the ebb and flow of life, but to give way to it--that was
what was needed. It was this tension that was all wrong. To live--to
live! And the perfect morning, so fresh and fair, basking in the light, as
though laughing at its own beauty, seemed to whisper, "Why not?"
But now he was out of the water Jonathan turned blue with cold. He ached
all over; it was as though some one was wringing the blood out of him. And
stalking up the beach, shivering, all his muscles tight, he too felt his
bathe was spoilt. He'd stayed in too long.
Beryl was alone in the living-room when Stanley appeared, wearing a blue
serge suit, a stiff collar and a spotted tie. He looked almost uncannily
clean and brushed; he was going to town for the day. Dropping into his
chair, he pulled out his watch and put it beside his plate.
"I've just got twenty-five minutes," he said. "You might go and see if the
porridge is ready, Beryl?"
"Mother's just gone for it," said Beryl. She sat down at the table and
poured out his tea.
"Thanks!" Stanley took a sip. "Hallo!" he said in an astonished voice,
"you've forgotten the sugar."
"Oh, sorry!" But even then Beryl didn't help him; she pushed the basin
across. What did this mean? As Stanley helped himself his blue eyes
widened; they seemed to quiver. He shot a quick glance at his sister-in-
law and leaned back.
"Nothing wrong, is there?" he asked carelessly, fingering his collar.
Beryl's head was bent; she turned her plate in her fingers.
"Nothing," said her light voice. Then she too looked up, and smiled at
Stanley. "Why should there be?"
"O-oh! No reason at all as far as I know. I thought you seemed rather--"
At that moment the door opened and the three little girls appeared, each
carrying a porridge plate. They were dressed alike in blue jerseys and
knickers; their brown legs were bare, and each had her hair plaited and
pinned up in what was called a horse's tail. Behind them came Mrs.
Fairfield with the tray.
"Carefully, children," she warned. But they were taking the very greatest
care. They loved being allowed to carry things. "Have you said good
morning to your father?"
"Yes, grandma." They settled themselves on the bench opposite Stanley and
"Good morning, Stanley!" Old Mrs. Fairfield gave him his plate.
"Morning, mother! How's the boy?"
"Splendid! He only woke up once last night. What a perfect morning!" The
old woman paused, her hand on the loaf of bread, to gaze out of the open
door into the garden. The sea sounded. Through the wide-open window
streamed the sun on to the yellow varnished walls and bare floor.
Everything on the table flashed and glittered. In the middle there was an
old salad bowl filled with yellow and red nasturtiums. She smiled, and a
look of deep content shone in her eyes.
"You might cut me a slice of that bread, mother," said Stanley. "I've only
twelve and a half minutes before the coach passes. Has anyone given my
shoes to the servant girl?"
"Yes, they're ready for you." Mrs. Fairfield was quite unruffled.
"Oh, Kezia! Why are you such a messy child!" cried Beryl despairingly.
"Me, Aunt Beryl?" Kezia stared at her. What had she done now? She had
only dug a river down the middle of her porridge, filled it, and was eating
the banks away. But she did that every single morning, and no one had said
a word up till now.
"Why can't you eat your food properly like Isabel and Lottie?" How unfair
"But Lottie always makes a floating island, don't you, Lottie?"
"I don't," said Isabel smartly. "I just sprinkle mine with sugar and put
on the milk and finish it. Only babies play with their food."
Stanley pushed back his chair and got up.
"Would you get me those shoes, mother? And, Beryl, if you've finished, I
wish you'd cut down to the gate and stop the coach. Run in to your mother,
Isabel, and ask her where my bowler hat's been put. Wait a minute--have
you children been playing with my stick?"
"But I put it here." Stanley began to bluster. "I remember distinctly
putting it in this corner. Now, who's had it? There's no time to lose.
Look sharp! The stick's got to be found."
Even Alice, the servant-girl, was drawn into the chase. "You haven't been
using it to poke the kitchen fire with by any chance?"
Stanley dashed into the bedroom where Linda was lying. "Most extraordinary
thing. I can't keep a single possession to myself. They've made away with
my stick, now!"
"Stick, dear? What stick?" Linda's vagueness on these occasions could not
be real, Stanley decided. Would nobody sympathize with him?
"Coach! Coach, Stanley!" Beryl's voice cried from the gate.
Stanley waved his arm to Linda. "No time to say good-bye!" he cried. And
he meant that as a punishment to her.
He snatched his bowler hat, dashed out of the house, and swung down the
garden path. Yes, the coach was there waiting, and Beryl, leaning over the
open gate, was laughing up at somebody or other just as if nothing had
happened. The heartlessness of women! The way they took it for granted it
was your job to slave away for them while they didn't even take the trouble
to see that your walking-stick wasn't lost. Kelly trailed his whip across
"Good-bye, Stanley," called Beryl, sweetly and gaily. It was easy enough
to say good-bye! And there she stood, idle, shading her eyes with her
hand. The worst of it was Stanley had to shout good-bye too, for the sake
of appearances. Then he saw her turn, give a little skip and run back to
the house. She was glad to be rid of him!
Yes, she was thankful. Into the living-room she ran and called "He's
gone!" Linda cried from her room: "Beryl! Has Stanley gone?" Old Mrs.
Fairfield appeared, carrying the boy in his little flannel coatee.
Oh, the relief, the difference it made to have the man out of the house.
Their very voices were changed as they called to one another; they sounded
warm and loving and as if they shared a secret. Beryl went over to the
table. "Have another cup of tea, mother. It's still hot." She wanted,
somehow, to celebrate the fact that they could do what they liked now.
There was no man to disturb them; the whole perfect day was theirs.
"No, thank you, child," said old Mrs. Fairfield, but the way at that moment
she tossed the boy up and said "a-goos-a-goos-a-ga!" to him meant that she
felt the same. The little girls ran into the paddock like chickens let out
of a coop.
Even Alice, the servant-girl, washing up the dishes in the kitchen, caught
the infection and used the precious tank water in a perfectly reckless
"Oh, these men!" said she, and she plunged the teapot into the bowl and
held it under the water even after it had stopped bubbling, as if it too
was a man and drowning was too good for them.
"Wait for me, Isa-bel! Kezia, wait for me!"
There was poor little Lottie, left behind again, because she found it so
fearfully hard to get over the stile by herself. When she stood on the
first step her knees began to wobble; she grasped the post. Then you had
to put one leg over. But which leg? She never could decide. And when she
did finally put one leg over with a sort of stamp of despair--then the
feeling was awful. She was half in the paddock still and half in the
tussock grass. She clutched the post desperately and lifted up her voice.
"Wait for me!"
"No, don't you wait for her, Kezia!" said Isabel. "She's such a little
silly. She's always making a fuss. Come on!" And she tugged Kezia's
jersey. "You can use my bucket if you come with me," she said kindly.
"It's bigger than yours." But Kezia couldn't leave Lottie all by herself.
She ran back to her. By this time Lottie was very red in the face and
"Here, put your other foot over," said Kezia.
Lottie looked down at Kezia as if from a mountain height.
"Here where my hand is." Kezia patted the place.
"Oh, there do you mean!" Lottie gave a deep sigh and put the second foot
"Now--sort of turn round and sit down and slide," said Kezia.
"But there's nothing to sit down on, Kezia," said Lottie.
She managed it at last, and once it was over she shook herself and began to
"I'm getting better at climbing over stiles, aren't I, Kezia?"
Lottie's was a very hopeful nature.
The pink and the blue sunbonnet followed Isabel's bright red sunbonnet up
that sliding, slipping hill. At the top they paused to decide where to go
and to have a good stare at who was there already. Seen from behind,
standing against the skyline, gesticulating largely with their spades, they
looked like minute puzzled explorers.
The whole family of Samuel Josephs was there already with their lady-help,
who sat on a camp-stool and kept order with a whistle that she wore tied
round her neck, and a small cane with which she directed operations. The
Samuel Josephs never played by themselves or managed their own game. If
they did, it ended in the boys pouring water down the girls' necks or the
girls trying to put little black crabs into the boys' pockets. So Mrs. S.
J. and the poor lady-help drew up what she called a "brogramme" every
morning to keep them "abused and out of bischief." It was all competitions
or races or round games. Everything began with a piercing blast of the
lady-help's whistle and ended with another. There were even prizes--large,
rather dirty paper parcels which the lady-help with a sour little smile
drew out of a bulging string kit. The Samuel Josephs fought fearfully for
the prizes and cheated and pinched one another's arms--they were all expert
pinchers. The only time the Burnell children ever played with them Kezia
had got a prize, and when she undid three bits of paper she found a very
small rusty button-hook. She couldn't understand why they made such a
But they never played with the Samuel Josephs now or even went to their
parties. The Samuel Josephs were always giving children's parties at the
Bay and there was always the same food. A big washhand basin of very brown
fruit-salad, buns cut into four and a washhand jug full of something the
lady-help called "Limonadear." And you went away in the evening with half
the frill torn off your frock or something spilled all down the front of
your open-work pinafore, leaving the Samuel Josephs leaping like savages on
their lawn. No! They were too awful.
On the other side of the beach, close down to the water, two little boys,
their knickers rolled up, twinkled like spiders. One was digging, the
other pattered in and out of the water, filling a small bucket. They were
the Trout boys, Pip and Rags. But Pip was so busy digging and Rags was so
busy helping that they didn't see their little cousins until they were
"Look!" said Pip. "Look what I've discovered." And he showed them an old
wet, squashed-looking boot. The three little girls stared.
"Whatever are you going to do with it?" asked Kezia.
"Keep it, of course!" Pip was very scornful. "It's a find--see?"
Yes, Kezia saw that. All the same...
"There's lots of things buried in the sand," explained Pip. "They get
chucked up from wrecks. Treasure. Why--you might find--"
"But why does Rags have to keep on pouring water in?" asked Lottie.
"Oh, that's to moisten it," said Pip, "to make the work a bit easier. Keep
it up, Rags."
And good little Rags ran up and down, pouring in the water that turned
brown like cocoa.
"Here, shall I show you what I found yesterday?" said Pip mysteriously, and
he stuck his spade into the sand. "Promise not to tell."
"Say, cross my heart straight dinkum."
The little girls said it.
Pip took something out of his pocket, rubbed it a long time on the front of
his jersey, then breathed on it and rubbed it again.
"Now turn round!" he ordered.
They turned round.
"All look the same way! Keep still! Now!"
And his hand opened; he held up to the light something that flashed, that
winked, that was a most lovely green.
"It's a nemeral," said Pip solemnly.
"Is it really, Pip?" Even Isabel was impressed.
The lovely green thing seemed to dance in Pip's fingers. Aunt Beryl had a
nemeral in a ring, but it was a very small one. This one was as big as a
star and far more beautiful.
As the morning lengthened whole parties appeared over the sand-hills and
came down on the beach to bathe. It was understood that at eleven o'clock
the women and children of the summer colony had the sea to themselves.
First the women undressed, pulled on their bathing dresses and covered
their heads in hideous caps like sponge bags; then the children were
unbuttoned. The beach was strewn with little heaps of clothes and shoes;
the big summer hats, with stones on them to keep them from blowing away,
looked like immense shells. It was strange that even the sea seemed to
sound differently when all those leaping, laughing figures ran into the
waves. Old Mrs. Fairfield, in a lilac cotton dress and a black hat tied
under the chin, gathered her little brood and got them ready. The little
Trout boys whipped their shirts over their heads, and away the five sped,
while their grandma sat with one hand in her knitting-bag ready to draw out
the ball of wool when she was satisfied they were safely in.
The firm compact little girls were not half so brave as the tender,
delicate-looking little boys. Pip and Rags, shivering, crouching down,
slapping the water, never hesitated. But Isabel, who could swim twelve
strokes, and Kezia, who could nearly swim eight, only followed on the
strict understanding they were not to be splashed. As for Lottie, she
didn't follow at all. She liked to be left to go in her own way, please.
And that way was to sit down at the edge of the water, her legs straight,
her knees pressed together, and to make vague motions with her arms as if
she expected to be wafted out to sea. But when a bigger wave than usual,
an old whiskery one, came lolloping along in her direction, she scrambled
to her feet with a face of horror and flew up the beach again.
"Here, mother, keep those for me, will you?"
Two rings and a thin gold chain were dropped into Mrs Fairfield's lap.
"Yes, dear. But aren't you going to bathe here?"
"No-o," Beryl drawled. She sounded vague. "I'm undressing farther along.
I'm going to bathe with Mrs. Harry Kember."
"Very well." But Mrs. Fairfield's lips set. She disapproved of Mrs Harry
Kember. Beryl knew it.
Poor old mother, she smiled, as she skimmed over the stones. Poor old
mother! Old! Oh, what joy, what bliss it was to be young...
"You look very pleased," said Mrs. Harry Kember. She sat hunched up on the
stones, her arms round her knees, smoking.
"It's such a lovely day," said Beryl, smiling down at her.
"Oh my dear!" Mrs. Harry Kember's voice sounded as though she knew better
than that. But then her voice always sounded as though she knew something
better about you than you did yourself. She was a long, strange-looking
woman with narrow hands and feet. Her face, too, was long and narrow and
exhausted-looking; even her fair curled fringe looked burnt out and
withered. She was the only woman at the Bay who smoked, and she smoked
incessantly, keeping the cigarette between her lips while she talked, and
only taking it out when the ash was so long you could not understand why it
did not fall. When she was not playing bridge--she played bridge every day
of her life--she spent her time lying in the full glare of the sun. She
could stand any amount of it; she never had enough. All the same, it did
not seem to warm her. Parched, withered, cold, she lay stretched on the
stones like a piece of tossed-up driftwood. The women at the Bay thought
she was very, very fast. Her lack of vanity, her slang, the way she
treated men as though she was one of them, and the fact that she didn't
care twopence about her house and called the servant Gladys "Glad-eyes,"
was disgraceful. Standing on the veranda steps Mrs. Kember would call in
her indifferent, tired voice, "I say, Glad-eyes, you might heave me a
handkerchief if I've got one, will you?" And Glad-eyes, a red bow in her
hair instead of a cap, and white shoes, came running with an impudent
smile. It was an absolute scandal! True, she had no children, and her
husband...Here the voices were always raised; they became fervent. How can
he have married her? How can he, how can he? It must have been money, of
course, but even then!
Mrs. Kember's husband was at least ten years younger than she was, and so
incredibly handsome that he looked like a mask or a most perfect
illustration in an American novel rather than a man. Black hair, dark blue
eyes, red lips, a slow sleepy smile, a fine tennis player, a perfect
dancer, and with it all a mystery. Harry Kember was like a man walking in
his sleep. Men couldn't stand him, they couldn't get a word out of the
chap; he ignored his wife just as she ignored him. How did he live? Of
course there were stories, but such stories! They simply couldn't be told.
The women he'd been seen with, the places he'd been seen in...but nothing
was ever certain, nothing definite. Some of the women at the Bay privately
thought he'd commit a murder one day. Yes, even while they talked to Mrs.
Kember and took in the awful concoction she was wearing, they saw her,
stretched as she lay on the beach; but cold, bloody, and still with a
cigarette stuck in the corner of her mouth.
Mrs. Kember rose, yawned, unsnapped her belt buckle, and tugged at the tape
of her blouse. And Beryl stepped out of her skirt and shed her jersey, and
stood up in her short white petticoat, and her camisole with ribbon bows on
"Mercy on us," said Mrs. Harry Kember, "what a little beauty you are!"
"Don't!" said Beryl softly; but, drawing off one stocking and then the
other, she felt a little beauty.
"My dear--why not?" said Mrs. Harry Kember, stamping on her own petticoat.
Really--her underclothes! A pair of blue cotton knickers and a linen
bodice that reminded one somehow of a pillow-case..."And you don't wear
stays, do you?" She touched Beryl's waist, and Beryl sprang away with a
small affected cry. Then "Never!" she said firmly.
"Lucky little creature," sighed Mrs. Kember, unfastening her own.
Beryl turned her back and began the complicated movements of some one who
is trying to take off her clothes and to pull on her bathing-dress all at
one and the same time.
"Oh, my dear--don't mind me," said Mrs. Harry Kember. "Why be shy? I
shan't eat you. I shan't be shocked like those other ninnies." And she
gave her strange neighing laugh and grimaced at the other women.
But Beryl was shy. She never undressed in front of anybody. Was that
silly? Mrs. Harry Kember made her feel it was silly, even something to be
ashamed of. Why be shy indeed! She glanced quickly at her friend standing
so boldly in her torn chemise and lighting a fresh cigarette; and a quick,
bold, evil feeling started up in her breast. Laughing recklessly, she drew
on the limp, sandy-feeling bathing-dress that was not quite dry and
fastened the twisted buttons.
"That's better," said Mrs. Harry Kember. They began to go down the beach
together. "Really, it's a sin for you to wear clothes, my dear.
Somebody's got to tell you some day."
The water was quite warm. It was that marvellous transparent blue, flecked
with silver, but the sand at the bottom looked gold; when you kicked with
your toes there rose a little puff of gold-dust. Now the waves just
reached her breast. Beryl stood, her arms outstretched, gazing out, and as
each wave came she gave the slightest little jump, so that it seemed it was
the wave which lifted her so gently.
"I believe in pretty girls having a good time," said Mrs. Harry Kember.
"Why not? Don't you make a mistake, my dear. Enjoy yourself." And
suddenly she turned turtle, disappeared, and swam away quickly, quickly,
like a rat. Then she flicked round and began swimming back. She was going
to say something else. Beryl felt that she was being poisoned by this cold
woman, but she longed to hear. But oh, how strange, how horrible! As Mrs.
Harry Kember came up close she looked, in her black waterproof bathing-cap,
with her sleepy face lifted above the water, just her chin touching, like a
horrible caricature of her husband.
In a steamer chair, under a manuka tree that grew in the middle of the
front grass patch, Linda Burnell dreamed the morning away. She did
nothing. She looked up at the dark, close, dry leaves of the manuka, at
the chinks of blue between, and now and again a tiny yellowish flower
dropped on her. Pretty--yes, if you held one of those flowers on the palm
of your hand and looked at it closely, it was an exquisite small thing.
Each pale yellow petal shone as if each was the careful work of a loving
hand. The tiny tongue in the centre gave it the shape of a bell. And when
you turned it over the outside was a deep bronze colour. But as soon as
they flowered, they fell and were scattered. You brushed them off your
frock as you talked; the horrid little things got caught in one's hair.
Why, then, flower at all? Who takes the trouble--or the joy--to make all
these things that are wasted, wasted...It was uncanny.
On the grass beside her, lying between two pillows, was the boy. Sound
asleep he lay, his head turned away from his mother. His fine dark hair
looked more like a shadow than like real hair, but his ear was a bright,
deep coral. Linda clasped her hands above her head and crossed her feet.
It was very pleasant to know that all these bungalows were empty, that
everybody was down on the beach, out of sight, out of hearing. She had the
garden to herself; she was alone.
Dazzling white the picotees shone; the golden-eyed marigold glittered; the
nasturtiums wreathed the veranda poles in green and gold flame. If only
one had time to look at these flowers long enough, time to get over the
sense of novelty and strangeness, time to know them! But as soon as one
paused to part the petals, to discover the under-side of the leaf, along
came Life and one was swept away. And, lying in her cane chair, Linda felt
so light; she felt like a leaf. Along came Life like a wind and she was
seized and shaken; she had to go. Oh dear, would it always be so? Was
there no escape?
...Now she sat on the veranda of their Tasmanian home, leaning against her
father's knee. And he promised, "As soon as you and I are old enough,
Linny, we'll cut off somewhere, we'll escape. Two boys together. I have a
fancy I'd like to sail up a river in China." Linda saw that river, very
wide, covered with little rafts and boats. She saw the yellow hats of the
boatmen and she heard their high, thin voices as they called...
But just then a very broad young man with bright ginger hair walked slowly
past their house, and slowly, solemnly even, uncovered. Linda's father
pulled her ear teasingly, in the way he had.
"Linny's beau," he whispered.
"Oh, papa, fancy being married to Stanley Burnell!"
Well, she was married to him. And what was more she loved him. Not the
Stanley whom every one saw, not the everyday one; but a timid, sensitive,
innocent Stanley who knelt down every night to say his prayers, and who
longed to be good. Stanley was simple. If he believed in people--as he
believed in her, for instance--it was with his whole heart. He could not
be disloyal; he could not tell a lie. And how terribly he suffered if he
thought any one--she--was not being dead straight, dead sincere with him!
"This is too subtle for me!" He flung out the words, but his open,
quivering, distraught look was like the look of a trapped beast.
But the trouble was--here Linda felt almost inclined to laugh, though
Heaven knows it was no laughing matter--she saw her Stanley so seldom.
There were glimpses, moments, breathing spaces of calm, but all the rest of
the time it was like living in a house that couldn't be cured of the habit
of catching on fire, on a ship that got wrecked every day. And it was
always Stanley who was in the thick of the danger. Her whole time was
spent in rescuing him, and restoring him, and calming him down, and
listening to his story. And what was left of her time was spent in the
dread of having children.
Linda frowned; she sat up quickly in her steamer chair and clasped her
ankles. Yes, that was her real grudge against life; that was what she
could not understand. That was the question she asked and asked, and
listened in vain for the answer. It was all very well to say it was the
common lot of women to bear children. It wasn't true. She, for one, could
prove that wrong. She was broken, made weak, her courage was gone, through
child-bearing. And what made it doubly hard to bear was, she did not love
her children. It was useless pretending. Even if she had had the strength
she never would have nursed and played with the little girls. No, it was
as though a cold breath had chilled her through and through on each of
those awful journeys; she had no warmth left to give them. As to the boy--
well, thank Heaven, mother had taken him; he was mother's, or Beryl's, or
anybody's who wanted him. She had hardly held him in her arms. She was so
indifferent about him that as he lay there...Linda glanced down.
The boy had turned over. He lay facing her, and he was no longer asleep.
His dark-blue, baby eyes were open; he looked as though he was peeping at
his mother. And suddenly his face dimpled; it broke into a wide, toothless
smile, a perfect beam, no less.
"I'm here!" that happy smile seemed to say. "Why don't you like me?"
There was something so quaint, so unexpected about that smile that Linda
smiled herself. But she checked herself and said to the boy coldly, "I
don't like babies."
"Don't like babies?" The boy couldn't believe her. "Don't like me? " He
waved his arms foolishly at his mother.
Linda dropped off her chair on to the grass.
"Why do you keep on smiling?" she said severely. "If you knew what I was
thinking about, you wouldn't."
But he only squeezed up his eyes, slyly, and rolled his head on the pillow.
He didn't believe a word she said.
"We know all about that!" smiled the boy.
Linda was so astonished at the confidence of this little creature...Ah no,
be sincere. That was not what she felt; it was something far different, it
was something so new, so...The tears danced in her eyes; she breathed in a
small whisper to the boy, "Hallo, my funny!"
But by now the boy had forgotten his mother. He was serious again.
Something pink, something soft waved in front of him. He made a grab at it
and it immediately disappeared. But when he lay back, another, like the
first, appeared. This time he determined to catch it. He made a
tremendous effort and rolled right over.
The tide was out; the beach was deserted; lazily flopped the warm sea. The
sun beat down, beat down hot and fiery on the fine sand, baking the grey
and blue and black and white-veined pebbles. It sucked up the little drop
of water that lay in the hollow of the curved shells; it bleached the pink
convolvulus that threaded through and through the sand-hills. Nothing
seemed to move but the small sand-hoppers. Pit-pit-pit! They were never
Over there on the weed-hung rocks that looked at low tide like shaggy
beasts come down to the water to drink, the sunlight seemed to spin like a
silver coin dropped into each of the small rock pools. They danced, they
quivered, and minute ripples laved the porous shores. Looking down,
bending over, each pool was like a lake with pink and blue houses
clustered on the shores; and oh! the vast mountainous country behind those
houses--the ravines, the passes, the dangerous creeks and fearful tracks
that led to the water's edge. Underneath waved the sea-forest--pink
thread-like trees, velvet anemones, and orange berry-spotted weeds. Now a
stone on the bottom moved, rocked, and there was a glimpse of a black
feeler; now a thread-like creature wavered by and was lost. Something was
happening to the pink, waving trees; they were changing to a cold moonlight
blue. And now there sounded the faintest "plop." Who made that sound?
What was going on down there? And how strong, how damp the seaweed smelt
in the hot sun...
The green blinds were drawn in the bungalows of the summer colony. Over
the verandas, prone on the paddock, flung over the fences, there were
exhausted-looking bathing-dresses and rough striped towels. Each back
window seemed to have a pair of sand-shoes on the sill and some lumps of
rock or a bucket or a collection of pawa shells. The bush quivered in a
haze of heat; the sandy road was empty except for the Trouts' dog Snooker,
who lay stretched in the very middle of it. His blue eye was turned up,
his legs stuck out stiffly, and he gave an occasional desperate-sounding
puff, as much as to say he had decided to make an end of it and was only
waiting for some kind cart to come along.
"What are you looking at, my grandma? Why do you keep stopping and sort of
staring at the wall?"
Kezia and her grandmother were taking their siesta together. The little
girl, wearing only her short drawers and her under-bodice, her arms and
legs bare, lay on one of the puffed-up pillows of her grandma's bed, and
the old woman, in a white ruffled dressing-gown, sat in a rocker at the
window, with a long piece of pink knitting in her lap. This room that they
shared, like the other rooms of the bungalow, was of light varnished wood
and the floor was bare. The furniture was of the shabbiest, the simplest.
The dressing-table, for instance, was a packing-case in a sprigged muslin
petticoat, and the mirror above was very strange; it was as though a little
piece of forked lightning was imprisoned in it. On the table there stood a
jar of sea-pinks, pressed so tightly together they looked more like a
velvet pincushion, and a special shell which Kezia had given her grandma
for a pin-tray, and another even more special which she had thought would
make a very nice place for a watch to curl up in.
"Tell me, grandma," said Kezia.
The old woman sighed, whipped the wool twice round her thumb, and drew the
bone needle through. She was casting on.
"I was thinking of your Uncle William, darling," she said quietly.
"My Australian Uncle William?" said Kezia. She had another.
"Yes, of course."
"The one I never saw?"
"That was the one."
"Well, what happened to him?" Kezia knew perfectly well, but she wanted to
be told again.
"He went to the mines, and he got a sunstroke there and died," said old
Kezia blinked and considered the picture again...a little man fallen over
like a tin soldier by the side of a big black hole.
"Does it make you sad to think about him, grandma?" She hated her grandma
to be sad.
It was the old woman's turn to consider. Did it make her sad? To look
back, back. To stare down the years, as Kezia had seen her doing. To look
after them as a woman does, long after they were out of sight. Did it make
her sad? No, life was like that.
"But why?" asked Kezia. She lifted one bare arm and began to draw things
in the air. "Why did Uncle William have to die? He wasn't old."
Mrs. Fairfield began counting the stitches in threes. "It just happened,"
she said in an absorbed voice.
"Does everybody have to die?" asked Kezia.
"Me?" Kezia sounded fearfully incredulous.
"Some day, my darling."
"But, grandma." Kezia waved her left leg and waggled the toes. They felt
sandy. "What if I just won't?"
The old woman sighed again and drew a long thread from the ball.
"We're not asked, Kezia," she said sadly. "It happens to all of us sooner
Kezia lay still thinking this over. She didn't want to die. It meant she
would have to leave here, leave everywhere, for ever, leave--leave her
grandma. She rolled over quickly.
"Grandma," she said in a startled voice.
"What, my pet!"
"You're not to die." Kezia was very decided.
"Ah, Kezia"--her grandma looked up and smiled and shook her head--"don't
let's talk about it."
"But you're not to. You couldn't leave me. You couldn't not be there."
This was awful. "Promise me you won't ever do it, grandma," pleaded Kezia.
The old woman went on knitting.
"Promise me! Say never!"
But still her grandma was silent.
Kezia rolled off her bed; she couldn't bear it any longer, and lightly she
leapt on to her grandma's knees, clasped her hands round the old woman's
throat and began kissing her, under the chin, behind the ear, and blowing
down her neck.
"Say never...say never...say never--" She gasped between the kisses. And
then she began, very softly and lightly, to tickle her grandma.
"Kezia!" The old woman dropped her knitting. She swung back in the
rocker. She began to tickle Kezia. "Say never, say never, say never,"
gurgled Kezia, while they lay there laughing in each other's arms. "Come,
that's enough, my squirrel! That's enough, my wild pony!" said old Mrs.
Fairfield, setting her cap straight. "Pick up my knitting."
Both of them had forgotten what the "never" was about.
The sun was still full on the garden when the back door of the Burnells'
shut with a bang, and a very gay figure walked down the path to the gate.
It was Alice, the servant-girl, dressed for her afternoon out. She wore a
white cotton dress with such large red spots on it and so many that they
made you shudder, white shoes and a leghorn turned up under the brim with
poppies. Of course she wore gloves, white ones, stained at the fastenings
with iron-mould, and in one hand she carried a very dashed-looking sunshade
which she referred to as her "perishall."
Beryl, sitting in the window, fanning her freshly-washed hair, thought she
had never seen such a guy. If Alice had only blacked her face with a piece
of cork before she started out, the picture would have been complete. And
where did a girl like that go to in a place like this? The heart-shaped
Fijian fan beat scornfully at that lovely bright mane. She supposed Alice
had picked up some horrible common larrikin and they'd go off into the bush
together. Pity to have made herself so conspicuous; they'd have hard work
to hide with Alice in that rig-out.
But no, Beryl was unfair. Alice was going to tea with Mrs Stubbs, who'd
sent her an "invite" by the little boy who called for orders. She had
taken ever such a liking to Mrs. Stubbs ever since the first time she went
to the shop to get something for her mosquitoes.
"Dear heart!" Mrs. Stubbs had clapped her hand to her side. "I never seen
anyone so eaten. You might have been attacked by canningbals."
Alice did wish there'd been a bit of life on the road though. Made her
feel so queer, having nobody behind her. Made her feel all weak in the
spine. She couldn't believe that some one wasn't watching her. And yet it
was silly to turn round; it gave you away. She pulled up her gloves,
hummed to herself and said to the distant gum-tree, "Shan't be long now."
But that was hardly company.
Mrs. Stubbs's shop was perched on a little hillock just off the road. It
had two big windows for eyes, a broad veranda for a hat, and the sign on
the roof, scrawled MRS. STUBBS'S, was like a little card stuck rakishly in
the hat crown.
On the veranda there hung a long string of bathing-dresses, clinging
together as though they'd just been rescued from the sea rather than
waiting to go in, and beside them there hung a cluster of sandshoes so
extraordinarily mixed that to get at one pair you had to tear apart and
forcibly separate at least fifty. Even then it was the rarest thing to
find the left that belonged to the right. So many people had lost patience
and gone off with one shoe that fitted and one that was a little too
big...Mrs. Stubbs prided herself on keeping something of everything. The
two windows, arranged in the form of precarious pyramids, were crammed so
tight, piled so high, that it seemed only a conjurer could prevent them
from toppling over. In the left-hand corner of one window, glued to the
pane by four gelatine lozenges, there was--and there had been from time
LOST! HANSOME GOLE BROOCH
ON OR NEAR BEACH
Alice pressed open the door. The bell jangled, the red serge curtains
parted, and Mrs. Stubbs appeared. With her broad smile and the long bacon
knife in her hand, she looked like a friendly brigand. Alice was welcomed
so warmly that she found it quite difficult to keep up her "manners." They
consisted of persistent little coughs and hems, pulls at her gloves, tweaks
at her skirt, and a curious difficulty in seeing what was set before her or
understanding what was said.
Tea was laid on the parlour table--ham, sardines, a whole pound of butter,
and such a large johnny cake that it looked like an advertisement for
somebody's baking-powder. But the Primus stove roared so loudly that it
was useless to try to talk above it. Alice sat down on the edge of a
basket-chair while Mrs. Stubbs pumped the stove still higher. Suddenly
Mrs. Stubbs whipped the cushion off a chair and disclosed a large brown-
"I've just had some new photers taken, my dear," she shouted cheerfully to
Alice. "Tell me what you think of them."
In a very dainty, refined way Alice wet her finger and put the tissue back
from the first one. Life! How many there were! There were three dozzing
at least. And she held it up to the light.
Mrs. Stubbs sat in an arm-chair, leaning very much to one side. There was
a look of mild astonishment on her large face, and well there might be.
For though the arm-chair stood on a carpet, to the left of it, miraculously
skirting the carpet-border, there was a dashing water-fall. On her right
stood a Grecian pillar with a giant fern-tree on either side of it, and in
the background towered a gaunt mountain, pale with snow.
"It is a nice style, isn't it?" shouted Mrs. Stubbs; and Alice had just
screamed "Sweetly" when the roaring of the Primus stove died down, fizzled
out, ceased, and she said "Pretty" in a silence that was frightening.
"Draw up your chair, my dear," said Mrs. Stubbs, beginning to pour out.
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, as she handed the tea, "but I don't care
about the size. I'm having an enlargemint. All very well for Christmas
cards, but I never was the one for small photers myself. You get no
comfort out of them. To say the truth, I find them dis'eartening."
Alice quite saw what she meant.
"Size," said Mrs. Stubbs. "Give me size. That was what my poor dear
husband was always saying. He couldn't stand anything small. Gave him the
creeps. And, strange as it may seem, my dear"--here Mrs. Stubbs creaked
and seemed to expand herself at the memory--"it was dropsy that carried him
off at the larst. Many's the time they drawn one and a half pints from 'im
at the 'ospital...It seemed like a judgmint."
Alice burned to know exactly what it was that was drawn from him. She
ventured, "I suppose it was water."
But Mrs. Stubbs fixed Alice with her eyes and replied meaningly, "It was
liquid, my dear."
Liquid! Alice jumped away from the word like a cat and came back to it,
nosing and wary.
"That's 'im!" said Mrs. Stubbs, and she pointed dramatically to the life-
size head and shoulders of a burly man with a dead white rose in the
buttonhole of his coat that made you think of a curl of cold mutting fat.
Just below, in silver letters on a red cardboard ground, were the words,
"Be not afraid, it is I."
"It's ever such a fine face," said Alice faintly.
The pale-blue bow on the top of Mrs. Stubbs's fair frizzy hair quivered.
She arched her plump neck. What a neck she had! It was bright pink where
it began and then it changed to warm apricot, and that faded to the colour
of a brown egg and then to a deep creamy.
"All the same, my dear," she said surprisingly, "freedom's best!" Her
soft, fat chuckle sounded like a purr. "Freedom's best," said Mrs. Stubbs
Freedom! Alice gave a loud, silly little titter. She felt awkward. Her
mind flew back to her own kitching. Ever so queer! She wanted to be back
in it again.
A strange company assembled in the Burnells' washhouse after tea. Round
the table there sat a bull, a rooster, a donkey that kept forgetting it was
a donkey, a sheep and a bee. The washhouse was the perfect place for such
a meeting because they could make as much noise as they liked, and nobody
ever interrupted. It was a small tin shed standing apart from the
bungalow. Against the wall there was a deep trough and in the corner a
copper with a basket of clothes-pegs on top of it. The little window, spun
over with cobwebs, had a piece of candle and a mouse-trap on the dusty
sill. There were clotheslines criss-crossed overhead and, hanging from a
peg on the wall, a very big, a huge, rusty horseshoe. The table was in the
middle with a form at either side.
"You can't be a bee, Kezia. A bee's not an animal. It's a ninseck."
"Oh, but I do want to be a bee frightfully," wailed Kezia...A tiny bee, all
yellow-furry, with striped legs. She drew her legs up under her and leaned
over the table. She felt she was a bee.
"A ninseck must be an animal," she said stoutly. "It makes a noise. It's
not like a fish."
"I'm a bull, I'm a bull!" cried Pip. And he gave such a tremendous bellow-
-how did he make that noise?--that Lottie looked quite alarmed.
"I'll be a sheep," said little Rags. "A whole lot of sheep went past this
"How do you know?"
"Dad heard them. Baa!" He sounded like the little lamb that trots behind
and seems to wait to be carried.
"Cock-a-doodle-do!" shrilled Isabel. With her red cheeks and bright eyes
she looked like a rooster.
"What'll I be?" Lottie asked everybody, and she sat there smiling, waiting
for them to decide for her. It had to be an easy one.
"Be a donkey, Lottie." It was Kezia's suggestion. "Hee-haw! You can't
"Hee-haw!" said Lottie solemnly. "When do I have to say it?"
"I'll explain, I'll explain," said the bull. It was he who had the cards.
He waved them round his head. "All be quiet! All listen!" And he waited
for them. "Look here, Lottie." He turned up a card. "It's got two spots
on it--see? Now, if you put that card in the middle and somebody else has
one with two spots as well, you say 'Hee-haw,' and the card's yours."
"Mine?" Lottie was round-eyed. "To keep?"
"No, silly. Just for the game, see? Just while we're playing." The bull
was very cross with her.
"Oh, Lottie, you are a little silly," said the proud rooster.
Lottie looked at both of them. Then she hung her head; her lip quivered.
"I don't want to play," she whispered. The others glanced at one another
like conspirators. All of them knew what that meant. She would go away
and be discovered somewhere standing with her pinny thrown over her head,
in a corner, or against a wall, or even behind a chair.
"Yes, you do, Lottie. It's quite easy," said Kezia.
And Isabel, repentant, said exactly like a grown-up, "Watch me, Lottie, and
you'll soon learn."
"Cheer up, Lot," said Pip. "There, I know what I'll do. I'll give you the
first one. It's mine, really, but I'll give it to you. Here you are."
And he slammed the card down in front of Lottie.
Lottie revived at that. But now she was in another difficulty. "I haven't
got a hanky," she said; "I want one badly, too."
"Here, Lottie, you can use mine." Rags dipped into his sailor blouse and
brought up a very wet-looking one, knotted together. "Be very careful," he
warned her. "Only use that corner. Don't undo it. I've got a little
starfish inside I'm going to try and tame."
"Oh, come on, you girls," said the bull. "And mind--you're not to look at
your cards. You've got to keep your hands under the table till I say
Smack went the cards round the table. They tried with all their might to
see, but Pip was too quick for them. It was very exciting, sitting there
in the washhouse; it was all they could do not to burst into a little
chorus of animals before Pip had finished dealing.
"Now, Lottie, you begin."
Timidly Lottie stretched out a hand, took the top card off her pack, had a
good look at it--it was plain she was counting the spots--and put it down.
"No, Lottie, you can't do that. You mustn't look first. You must turn it
the other way over."
"But then everybody will see it the same time as me," said Lottie.
The game proceeded. Mooe-ooo-er! The bull was terrible. He charged over
the table and seemed to eat the cards up.
Bss-ss! said the bee.
Cock-a-doodle-do! Isabel stood up in her excitement and moved her elbows
Baa! Little Rags put down the King of Diamonds and Lottie put down the one
they called the King of Spain. She had hardly any cards left.
"Why don't you call out, Lottie?"
"I've forgotten what I am," said the donkey woefully.
"Well, change! Be a dog instead! Bow-wow!"
"Oh yes. That's much easier." Lottie smiled again. But when she and
Kezia both had a one Kezia waited on purpose. The others made signs to
Lottie and pointed. Lottie turned very red; she looked bewildered, and at
last she said, "Hee-haw! Ke-zia."
"Ss! Wait a minute!" They were in the very thick of it when the bull
stopped them, holding up his hand. "What's that? What's that noise?"
"What noise? What do you mean?" asked the rooster.
"Ss! Shut up! Listen!" They were mouse-still. "I thought I heard a--a
sort of knocking," said the bull.
"What was it like?" asked the sheep faintly.
The bee gave a shudder. "Whatever did we shut the door for?" she said
softly. Oh, why, why had they shut the door?
While they were playing, the day had faded; the gorgeous sunset had blazed
and died. And now the quick dark came racing over the sea, over the sand-
hills, up the paddock. You were frightened to look in the corners of the
washhouse, and yet you had to look with all your might. And somewhere, far
away, grandma was lighting a lamp. The blinds were being pulled down; the
kitchen fire leapt in the tins on the mantelpiece.
"It would be awful now," said the bull, "if a spider was to fall from the
ceiling on to the table, wouldn't it?"
"Spiders don't fall from ceilings."
"Yes, they do. Our Min told us she'd seen a spider as big as a saucer,
with long hairs on it like a gooseberry."
Quickly all the little heads were jerked up; all the little bodies drew
together, pressed together.
"Why doesn't somebody come and call us?" cried the rooster.
Oh, those grown-ups, laughing and snug, sitting in the lamp-light, drinking
out of cups! They'd forgotten about them. No, not really forgotten. That
was what their smile meant. They had decided to leave them there all by
Suddenly Lottie gave such a piercing scream that all of them jumped off the
forms, all of them screamed too. "A face--a face looking!" shrieked
It was true, it was real. Pressed against the window was a pale face,
black eyes, a black beard.
"Grandma! Mother! Somebody!"
But they had not got to the door, tumbling over one another, before it
opened for Uncle Jonathan. He had come to take the little boys home.
He had meant to be there before, but in the front garden he had come upon
Linda walking up and down the grass, stopping to pick off a dead pink or
give a top-heavy carnation something to lean against, or to take a deep
breath of something, and then walking on again, with her little air of
remoteness. Over her white frock she wore a yellow, pink-fringed shawl
from the Chinaman's shop.
"Hallo, Jonathan!" called Linda. And Jonathan whipped off his shabby
panama, pressed it against his breast, dropped on one knee, and kissed
"Greeting, my Fair One! Greeting, my Celestial Peach Blossom!" boomed the
bass voice gently. "Where are the other noble dames?"
"Beryl's out playing bridge and mother's giving the boy his bath...Have you
come to borrow something?"
The Trouts were for ever running out of things and sending across to the
Burnells' at the last moment.
But Jonathan only answered, "A little love, a little kindness;" and he
walked by his sister-in-law's side.
Linda dropped into Beryl's hammock under the manuka-tree, and Jonathan
stretched himself on the grass beside her, pulled a long stalk and began
chewing it. They knew each other well. The voices of children cried from
the other gardens. A fisherman's light cart shook along the sandy road,
and from far away they heard a dog barking; it was muffled as though the
dog had its head in a sack. If you listened you could just hear the soft
swish of the sea at full tide sweeping the pebbles. The sun was sinking.
"And so you go back to the office on Monday, do you, Jonathan?" asked
"On Monday the cage door opens and clangs to upon the victim for another
eleven months and a week," answered Jonathan.
Linda swung a little. "It must be awful," she said slowly.
"Would ye have me laugh, my fair sister? Would ye have me weep?"
Linda was so accustomed to Jonathan's way of talking that she paid no
attention to it.
"I suppose," she said vaguely, "one gets used to it. One gets used to
"Does one? Hum!" The "Hum" was so deep it seemed to boom from underneath
the ground. "I wonder how it's done," brooded Jonathan; "I've never
Looking at him as he lay there, Linda thought again how attractive he was.
It was strange to think that he was only an ordinary clerk, that Stanley
earned twice as much money as he. What was the matter with Jonathan? He
had no ambition; she supposed that was it. And yet one felt he was gifted,
exceptional. He was passionately fond of music; every spare penny he had
went on books. He was always full of new ideas, schemes, plans. But
nothing came of it all. The new fire blazed in Jonathan; you almost heard
it roaring softly as he explained, described and dilated on the new thing;
but a moment later it had fallen in and there was nothing but ashes, and
Jonathan went about with a look like hunger in his black eyes. At these
times he exaggerated his absurd manner of speaking, and he sang in church--
he was the leader of the choir--with such fearful dramatic intensity that
the meanest hymn put on an unholy splendour.
"It seems to me just as imbecile, just as infernal, to have to go to the
office on Monday," said Jonathan, "as it always has done and always will
do. To spend all the best years of one's life sitting on a stool from nine
to five, scratching in somebody's ledger! It's a queer use to make of
one's...one and only life, isn't it? Or do I fondly dream?" He rolled
over on the grass and looked up at Linda. "Tell me, what is the difference
between my life and that of an ordinary prisoner. The only difference I
can see is that I put myself in jail and nobody's ever going to let me out.
That's a more intolerable situation than the other. For if I'd been--
pushed in, against my will--kicking, even--once the door was locked, or at
any rate in five years or so, I might have accepted the fact and begun to
take an interest in the flight of flies or counting the warder's steps
along the passage with particular attention to variations of tread and so
on. But as it is, I'm like an insect that's flown into a room of its own
accord. I dash against the walls, dash against the windows, flop against
the ceiling, do everything on God's earth, in fact, except fly out again.
And all the while I'm thinking, like that moth, or that butterfly, or
whatever it is, 'The shortness of life! The shortness of life!' I've only
one night or one day, and there's this vast dangerous garden, waiting out
there, undiscovered, unexplored."
"But, if you feel like that, why--" began Linda quickly.
"Ah!" cried Jonathan. And that "ah!" was somehow almost exultant. "There
you have me. Why? Why indeed? There's the maddening, mysterious
question. Why don't I fly out again? There's the window or the door or
whatever it was I came in by. It's not hopelessly shut--is it? Why don't
I find it and be off? Answer me that, little sister." But he gave her no
time to answer.
"I'm exactly like that insect again. For some reason"--Jonathan paused
between the words--"it's not allowed, it's forbidden, it's against the
insect law, to stop banging and flopping and crawling up the pane even for
an instant. Why don't I leave the office? Why don't I seriously consider,
this moment, for instance, what it is that prevents me leaving? It's not
as though I'm tremendously tied. I've two boys to provide for, but, after
all, they're boys. I could cut off to sea, or get a job up-country, or--"
Suddenly he smiled at Linda and said in a changed voice, as if he were
confiding a secret, "Weak...weak. No stamina. No anchor. No guiding
principle, let us call it." But then the dark velvety voice rolled out:"
"Would ye hear the story
How it unfolds itself..."
and they were silent.
The sun had set. In the western sky there were great masses of crushed-up
rose-coloured clouds. Broad beams of light shone through the clouds and
beyond them as if they would cover the whole sky. Overhead the blue faded;
it turned a pale gold, and the bush outlined against it gleamed dark and
brilliant like metal. Sometimes when those beams of light show in the sky
they are very awful. They remind you that up there sits Jehovah, the
jealous God, the Almighty, Whose eye is upon you, ever watchful, never
weary. You remember that at His coming the whole earth will shake into one
ruined graveyard; the cold, bright angels will drive you this way and that,
and there will be no time to explain what could be explained so
simply...But to-night it seemed to Linda there was something infinitely
joyful and loving in those silver beams. And now no sound came from the
sea. It breathed softly as if it would draw that tender, joyful beauty
into its own bosom.
"It's all wrong, it's all wrong," came the shadowy voice of Jonathan.
"It's not the scene, it's not the setting for...three stools, three desks,
three inkpots and a wire blind."
Linda knew that he would never change, but she said, "Is it too late, even
"I'm old--I'm old," intoned Jonathan. He bent towards her, he passed his
hand over his head. "Look!" His black hair was speckled all over with
silver, like the breast plumage of a black fowl.
Linda was surprised. She had no idea that he was grey. And yet, as he
stood up beside her and sighed and stretched, she saw him, for the first
time, not resolute, not gallant, not careless, but touched already with
age. He looked very tall on the darkening grass, and the thought crossed
her mind, "He is like a weed."
Jonathan stooped again and kissed her fingers.
"Heaven reward thy sweet patience, lady mine," he murmured. "I must go
seek those heirs to my fame and fortune..." He was gone.
Light shone in the windows of the bungalow. Two square patches of gold
fell upon the pinks and the peaked marigolds. Florrie, the cat, came out
on to the veranda, and sat on the top step, her white paws close together,
her tail curled round. She looked content, as though she had been waiting
for this moment all day.
"Thank goodness, it's getting late," said Florrie. "Thank goodness, the
long day is over." Her greengage eyes opened.
Presently there sounded the rumble of the coach, the crack of Kelly's whip.
It came near enough for one to hear the voices of the men from town,
talking loudly together. It stopped at the Burnells' gate.
Stanley was half-way up the path before he saw Linda. "Is that you,
He leapt across the flower-bed and seized her in his arms. She was
enfolded in that familiar, eager, strong embrace.
"Forgive me, darling, forgive me," stammered Stanley, and he put his hand
under her chin and lifted her face to him.
"Forgive you?" smiled Linda. "But whatever for?"
"Good God! You can't have forgotten," cried Stanley Burnell. "I've
thought of nothing else all day. I've had the hell of a day. I made up my
mind to dash out and telegraph, and then I thought the wire mightn't reach
you before I did. I've been in tortures, Linda."
"But, Stanley," said Linda, "what must I forgive you for?"
"Linda!"--Stanley was very hurt--"didn't you realize--you must have
realized--I went away without saying good-bye to you this morning? I can't
imagine how I can have done such a thing. My confounded temper, of course.
But--well"--and he sighed and took her in his arms again--"I've suffered
for it enough to-day."
"What's that you've got in your hand?" asked Linda. "New gloves? Let me
"Oh, just a cheap pair of wash-leather ones," said Stanley humbly. "I
noticed Bell was wearing some in the coach this morning, so, as I was
passing the shop, I dashed in and got myself a pair. What are you smiling
at? You don't think it was wrong of me, do you?"
"On the con-trary, darling," said Linda, "I think it was most sensible."
She pulled one of the large, pale gloves on her own fingers and looked at
her hand, turning it this way and that. She was still smiling.
Stanley wanted to say, "I was thinking of you the whole time I bought
them." It was true, but for some reason he couldn't say it. "Let's go
in," said he.
Why does one feel so different at night? Why is it so exciting to be awake
when everybody else is asleep? Late--it is very late! And yet every
moment you feel more and more wakeful, as though you were slowly, almost
with every breath, waking up into a new, wonderful, far more thrilling and
exciting world than the daylight one. And what is this queer sensation
that you're a conspirator? Lightly, stealthily you move about your room.
You take something off the dressing-table and put it down again without a
sound. And everything, even the bed-post, knows you, responds, shares your
You're not very fond of your room by day. You never think about it.
You're in and out, the door opens and slams, the cupboard creaks. You sit
down on the side of your bed, change your shoes and dash out again. A dive
down to the glass, two pins in your hair, powder your nose and off again.
But now--it's suddenly dear to you. It's a darling little funny room.
It's yours. Oh, what a joy it is to own things! Mine--my own!
"My very own for ever?"
"Yes." Their lips met.
No, of course, that had nothing to do with it. That was all nonsense and
rubbish. But, in spite of herself, Beryl saw so plainly two people
standing in the middle of her room. Her arms were round his neck; he held
her. And now he whispered, "My beauty, my little beauty!" She jumped off
her bed, ran over to the window and kneeled on the window-seat, with her
elbows on the sill. But the beautiful night, the garden, every bush, every
leaf, even the white palings, even the stars, were conspirators too. So
bright was the moon that the flowers were bright as by day; the shadow of
the nasturtiums, exquisite lily-like leaves and wide-open flowers, lay
across the silvery veranda. The manuka-tree, bent by the southerly winds,
was like a bird on one leg stretching out a wing.
But when Beryl looked at the bush, it seemed to her the bush was sad.
"We are dumb trees, reaching up in the night, imploring we know not what,"
said the sorrowful bush.
It is true when you are by yourself and you think about life, it is always
sad. All that excitement and so on has a way of suddenly leaving you, and
it's as though, in the silence, somebody called your name, and you heard
your name for the first time. "Beryl!"
"Yes, I'm here. I'm Beryl. Who wants me?"
"Let me come."
It is lonely living by oneself. Of course, there are relations, friends,
heaps of them; but that's not what she means. She wants some one who will
find the Beryl they none of them know, who will expect her to be that Beryl
always. She wants a lover.
"Take me away from all these other people, my love. Let us go far away.
Let us live our life, all new, all ours, from the very beginning. Let us
make our fire. Let us sit down to eat together. Let us have long talks at
And the thought was almost, "Save me, my love. Save me!"
..."Oh, go on! Don't be a prude, my dear. You enjoy yourself while you're
young. That's my advice." And a high rush of silly laughter joined Mrs.
Harry Kember's loud, indifferent neigh.
You see, it's so frightfully difficult when you've nobody. You're so at
the mercy of things. You can't just be rude. And you've always this
horror of seeming inexperienced and stuffy like the other ninnies at the
Bay. And--and it's fascinating to know you've power over people. Yes,
that is fascinating...
Oh why, oh why doesn't "he" come soon?
If I go on living here, thought Beryl, anything may happen to me.
"But how do you know he is coming at all?" mocked a small voice within her.
But Beryl dismissed it. She couldn't be left. Other people, perhaps, but
not she. It wasn't possible to think that Beryl Fairfield never married,
that lovely fascinating girl.
"Do you remember Beryl Fairfield?"
"Remember her! As if I could forget her! It was one summer at the Bay
that I saw her. She was standing on the beach in a blue"--no, pink--
"muslin frock, holding on a big cream"--no, black--"straw hat. But it's
years ago now."
"She's as lovely as ever, more so if anything."
Beryl smiled, bit her lip, and gazed over the garden. As she gazed, she
saw somebody, a man, leave the road, step along the paddock beside their
palings as if he was coming straight towards her. Her heart beat. Who was
it? Who could it be? It couldn't be a burglar, certainly not a burglar,
for he was smoking and he strolled lightly. Beryl's heart leapt; it seemed
to turn right over, and then to stop. She recognized him.
"Good evening, Miss Beryl," said the voice softly.
"Won't you come for a little walk?" it drawled.
Come for a walk--at that time of night! "I couldn't. Everybody's in bed.
"Oh," said the voice lightly, and a whiff of sweet smoke reached her.
"What does everybody matter? Do come! It's such a fine night. There's
not a soul about."
Beryl shook her head. But already something stirred in her, something
reared its head.
The voice said, "Frightened?" It mocked, "Poor little girl!"
"Not in the least," said she. As she spoke that weak thing within her
seemed to uncoil, to grow suddenly tremendously strong; she longed to go!
And just as if this was quite understood by the other, the voice said,
gently and softly, but finally, "Come along!"
Beryl stepped over her low window, crossed the veranda, ran down the grass
to the gate. He was there before her.
"That's right," breathed the voice, and it teased, "You're not frightened,
are you? You're not frightened?"
She was; now she was here she was terrified, and it seemed to her
everything was different. The moonlight stared and glittered; the shadows
were like bars of iron. Her hand was taken.
"Not in the least," she said lightly. "Why should I be?"
Her hand was pulled gently, tugged. She held back.
"No, I'm not coming any farther," said Beryl.
"Oh, rot!" Harry Kember didn't believe her. "Come along! We'll just go
as far as that fuchsia bush. Come along!"
The fuchsia bush was tall. It fell over the fence in a shower. There was
a little pit of darkness beneath.
"No, really, I don't want to," said Beryl.
For a moment Harry Kember didn't answer. Then he came close to her, turned
to her, smiled and said quickly, "Don't be silly! Don't be silly!"
His smile was something she'd never seen before. Was he drunk? That
bright, blind, terrifying smile froze her with horror. What was she doing?
How had she got here? the stern garden asked her as the gate pushed open,
and quick as a cat Harry Kember came through and snatched her to him.
"Cold little devil! Cold little devil!" said the hateful voice.
But Beryl was strong. She slipped, ducked, wrenched free.
"You are vile, vile," said she.
"Then why in God's name did you come?" stammered Harry Kember.
Nobody answered him.
A cloud, small, serene, floated across the moon. In that moment of
darkness the sea sounded deep, troubled. Then the cloud sailed away, and
the sound of the sea was a vague murmur, as though it waked out of a dark
dream. All was still.
2. THE GARDEN PARTY.
And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more
perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the
sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold,
as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since dawn,
mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat
rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine. As for the
roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only
flowers that impress people at garden-parties; the only flowers that
everybody is certain of knowing. Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds, had
come out in a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they had
been visited by archangels.
Breakfast was not yet over before the men came to put up the marquee.
"Where do you want the marquee put, mother?"
"My dear child, it's no use asking me. I'm determined to leave everything
to you children this year. Forget I am your mother. Treat me as an
But Meg could not possibly go and supervise the men. She had washed her
hair before breakfast, and she sat drinking her coffee in a green turban,
with a dark wet curl stamped on each cheek. Jose, the butterfly, always
came down in a silk petticoat and a kimono jacket.
"You'll have to go, Laura; you're the artistic one."
Away Laura flew, still holding her piece of bread-and-butter. It's so
delicious to have an excuse for eating out of doors, and besides, she loved
having to arrange things; she always felt she could do it so much better
than anybody else.
Four men in their shirt-sleeves stood grouped together on the garden path.
They carried staves covered with rolls of canvas, and they had big tool-
bags slung on their backs. They looked impressive. Laura wished now that
she had not got the bread-and-butter, but there was nowhere to put it, and
she couldn't possibly throw it away. She blushed and tried to look severe
and even a little bit short-sighted as she came up to them.
"Good morning," she said, copying her mother's voice. But that sounded so
fearfully affected that she was ashamed, and stammered like a little girl,
"Oh--er--have you come--is it about the marquee?"
"That's right, miss," said the tallest of the men, a lanky, freckled
fellow, and he shifted his tool-bag, knocked back his straw hat and smiled
down at her. "That's about it."
His smile was so easy, so friendly that Laura recovered. What nice eyes he
had, small, but such a dark blue! And now she looked at the others, they
were smiling too. "Cheer up, we won't bite," their smile seemed to say.
How very nice workmen were! And what a beautiful morning! She mustn't
mention the morning; she must be business-like. The marquee.
"Well, what about the lily-lawn? Would that do?"
And she pointed to the lily-lawn with the hand that didn't hold the bread-
and-butter. They turned, they stared in the direction. A little fat chap
thrust out his under-lip, and the tall fellow frowned.
"I don't fancy it," said he. "Not conspicuous enough. You see, with a
thing like a marquee," and he turned to Laura in his easy way, "you want to
put it somewhere where it'll give you a bang slap in the eye, if you follow
Laura's upbringing made her wonder for a moment whether it was quite
respectful of a workman to talk to her of bangs slap in the eye. But she
did quite follow him.
"A corner of the tennis-court," she suggested. "But the band's going to be
in one corner."
"H'm, going to have a band, are you?" said another of the workmen. He was
pale. He had a haggard look as his dark eyes scanned the tennis-court.
What was he thinking?
"Only a very small band," said Laura gently. Perhaps he wouldn't mind so
much if the band was quite small. But the tall fellow interrupted.
"Look here, miss, that's the place. Against those trees. Over there.
That'll do fine."
Against the karakas. Then the karaka-trees would be hidden. And they were
so lovely, with their broad, gleaming leaves, and their clusters of yellow
fruit. They were like trees you imagined growing on a desert island,
proud, solitary, lifting their leaves and fruits to the sun in a kind of
silent splendour. Must they be hidden by a marquee?
They must. Already the men had shouldered their staves and were making for
the place. Only the tall fellow was left. He bent down, pinched a sprig
of lavender, put his thumb and forefinger to his nose and snuffed up the
smell. When Laura saw that gesture she forgot all about the karakas in her
wonder at him caring for things like that--caring for the smell of
lavender. How many men that she knew would have done such a thing? Oh,
how extraordinarily nice workmen were, she thought. Why couldn't she have
workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who
came to Sunday night supper? She would get on much better with men like
It's all the fault, she decided, as the tall fellow drew something on the
back of an envelope, something that was to be looped up or left to hang, of
these absurd class distinctions. Well, for her part, she didn't feel them.
Not a bit, not an atom...And now there came the chock-chock of wooden
hammers. Some one whistled, some one sang out, "Are you right there,
matey?" "Matey!" The friendliness of it, the--the--Just to prove how
happy she was, just to show the tall fellow how at home she felt, and how
she despised stupid conventions, Laura took a big bite of her bread-and-
butter as she stared at the little drawing. She felt just like a work-
"Laura, Laura, where are you? Telephone, Laura!" a voice cried from the
"Coming!" Away she skimmed, over the lawn, up the path, up the steps,
across the veranda, and into the porch. In the hall her father and Laurie
were brushing their hats ready to go to the office.
"I say, Laura," said Laurie very fast, "you might just give a squiz at my
coat before this afternoon. See if it wants pressing."
"I will," said she. Suddenly she couldn't stop herself. She ran at Laurie
and gave him a small, quick squeeze. "Oh, I do love parties, don't you?"
"Ra-ther," said Laurie's warm, boyish voice, and he squeezed his sister
too, and gave her a gentle push. "Dash off to the telephone, old girl."
The telephone. "Yes, yes; oh yes. Kitty? Good morning, dear. Come to
lunch? Do, dear. Delighted of course. It will only be a very scratch
meal--just the sandwich crusts and broken meringue-shells and what's left
over. Yes, isn't it a perfect morning? Your white? Oh, I certainly
should. One moment--hold the line. Mother's calling." And Laura sat
back. "What, mother? Can't hear."
Mrs. Sheridan's voice floated down the stairs. "Tell her to wear that
sweet hat she had on last Sunday."
"Mother says you're to wear that sweet hat you had on last Sunday. Good.
One o'clock. Bye-bye."
Laura put back the receiver, flung her arms over her head, took a deep
breath, stretched and let them fall. "Huh," she sighed, and the moment
after the sigh she sat up quickly. She was still, listening. All the
doors in the house seemed to be open. The house was alive with soft, quick
steps and running voices. The green baize door that led to the kitchen
regions swung open and shut with a muffled thud. And now there came a
long, chuckling absurd sound. It was the heavy piano being moved on its
stiff castors. But the air! If you stopped to notice, was the air always
like this? Little faint winds were playing chase, in at the tops of the
windows, out at the doors. And there were two tiny spots of sun, one on
the inkpot, one on a silver photograph frame, playing too. Darling little
spots. Especially the one on the inkpot lid. It was quite warm. A warm
little silver star. She could have kissed it.
The front door bell pealed, and there sounded the rustle of Sadie's print
skirt on the stairs. A man's voice murmured; Sadie answered, careless,
"I'm sure I don't know. Wait. I'll ask Mrs Sheridan."
"What is it, Sadie?" Laura came into the hall.
"It's the florist, Miss Laura."
It was, indeed. There, just inside the door, stood a wide, shallow tray
full of pots of pink lilies. No other kind. Nothing but lilies--canna
lilies, big pink flowers, wide open, radiant, almost frighteningly alive on
bright crimson stems.
"O-oh, Sadie!" said Laura, and the sound was like a little moan. She
crouched down as if to warm herself at that blaze of lilies; she felt they
were in her fingers, on her lips, growing in her breast.
"It's some mistake," she said faintly. "Nobody ever ordered so many.
Sadie, go and find mother."
But at that moment Mrs. Sheridan joined them.
"It's quite right," she said calmly. "Yes, I ordered them. Aren't they
lovely?" She pressed Laura's arm. "I was passing the shop yesterday, and
I saw them in the window. And I suddenly thought for once in my life I
shall have enough canna lilies. The garden-party will be a good excuse."
"But I thought you said you didn't mean to interfere," said Laura. Sadie
had gone. The florist's man was still outside at his van. She put her arm
round her mother's neck and gently, very gently, she bit her mother's ear.
"My darling child, you wouldn't like a logical mother, would you? Don't do
that. Here's the man."
He carried more lilies still, another whole tray.
"Bank them up, just inside the door, on both sides of the porch, please,"
said Mrs. Sheridan. "Don't you agree, Laura?"
"Oh, I do, mother."
In the drawing-room Meg, Jose and good little Hans had at last succeeded in
moving the piano.
"Now, if we put this chesterfield against the wall and move everything out
of the room except the chairs, don't you think?"
"Hans, move these tables into the smoking-room, and bring a sweeper to take
these marks off the carpet and--one moment, Hans--" Jose loved giving
orders to the servants, and they loved obeying her. She always made them
feel they were taking part in some drama. "Tell mother and Miss Laura to
come here at once.
"Very good, Miss Jose."
She turned to Meg. "I want to hear what the piano sounds like, just in
case I'm asked to sing this afternoon. Let's try over 'This life is
Pom! Ta-ta-ta Tee-ta! The piano burst out so passionately that Jose's
face changed. She clasped her hands. She looked mournfully and
enigmatically at her mother and Laura as they came in.
"This Life is Wee-ary,
A Tear--a Sigh.
A Love that Chan-ges,
This Life is Wee-ary,
A Tear--a Sigh.
A Love that Chan-ges,
And then ...Good-bye!"
But at the word "Good-bye," and although the piano sounded more desperate
than ever, her face broke into a brilliant, dreadfully unsympathetic smile.
"Aren't I in good voice, mummy?" she beamed.
"This Life is Wee-ary,
Hope comes to Die.
A Dream--a Wa-kening."
But now Sadie interrupted them. "What is it, Sadie?"
"If you please, m'm, cook says have you got the flags for the sandwiches?"
"The flags for the sandwiches, Sadie?" echoed Mrs. Sheridan dreamily. And
the children knew by her face that she hadn't got them. "Let me see." And
she said to Sadie firmly, "Tell cook I'll let her have them in ten minutes.
"Now, Laura," said her mother quickly, "come with me into the smoking-room.
I've got the names somewhere on the back of an envelope. You'll have to
write them out for me. Meg, go upstairs this minute and take that wet
thing off your head. Jose, run and finish dressing this instant. Do you
hear me, children, or shall I have to tell your father when he comes home
to-night? And--and, Jose, pacify cook if you do go into the kitchen, will
you? I'm terrified of her this morning."
The envelope was found at last behind the dining-room clock, though how it
had got there Mrs. Sheridan could not imagine.
"One of you children must have stolen it out of my bag, because I remember
vividly--cream cheese and lemon-curd. Have you done that?"
"Egg and--" Mrs. Sheridan held the envelope away from her. "It looks like
mice. It can't be mice, can it?"
"Olive, pet," said Laura, looking over her shoulder.
"Yes, of course, olive. What a horrible combination it sounds. Egg and
They were finished at last, and Laura took them off to the kitchen. She
found Jose there pacifying the cook, who did not look at all terrifying.
"I have never seen such exquisite sandwiches," said Jose's rapturous voice.
"How many kinds did you say there were, cook? Fifteen?"
"Fifteen, Miss Jose."
"Well, cook, I congratulate you."
Cook swept up crusts with the long sandwich knife, and smiled broadly.
"Godber's has come," announced Sadie, issuing out of the pantry. She had
seen the man pass the window.
That meant the cream puffs had come. Godber's were famous for their cream
puffs. Nobody ever thought of making them at home.
"Bring them in and put them on the table, my girl," ordered cook.
Sadie brought them in and went back to the door. Of course Laura and Jose
were far too grown-up to really care about such things. All the same, they
couldn't help agreeing that the puffs looked very attractive. Very. Cook
began arranging them, shaking off the extra icing sugar.
"Don't they carry one back to all one's parties?" said Laura.
"I suppose they do," said practical Jose, who never liked to be carried
back. "They look beautifully light and feathery, I must say."
"Have one each, my dears," said cook in her comfortable voice. "Yer ma
Oh, impossible. Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast. The very idea
made one shudder. All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were
licking their fingers with that absorbed inward look that only comes from
"Let's go into the garden, out by the back way," suggested Laura. "I want
to see how the men are getting on with the marquee. They're such awfully
But the back door was blocked by cook, Sadie, Godber's man and Hans.
Something had happened.
"Tuk-tuk-tuk," clucked cook like an agitated hen. Sadie had her hand
clapped to her cheek as though she had toothache. Hans's face was screwed
up in the effort to understand. Only Godber's man seemed to be enjoying
himself; it was his story.
"What's the matter? What's happened?"
"There's been a horrible accident," said Cook. "A man killed."
"A man killed! Where? How? When?"
But Godber's man wasn't going to have his story snatched from under his
"Know those little cottages just below here, miss?" Know them? Of course,
she knew them. "Well, there's a young chap living there, name of Scott, a
carter. His horse shied at a traction-engine, corner of Hawke Street this
morning, and he was thrown out on the back of his head. Killed."
"Dead!" Laura stared at Godber's man.
"Dead when they picked him up," said Godber's man with relish. "They were
taking the body home as I come up here." And he said to the cook, "He's
left a wife and five little ones."
"Jose, come here." Laura caught hold of her sister's sleeve and dragged
her through the kitchen to the other side of the green baize door. There
she paused and leaned against it. "Jose!" she said, horrified, "however
are we going to stop everything?"
"Stop everything, Laura!" cried Jose in astonishment. "What do you mean?"
"Stop the garden-party, of course." Why did Jose pretend?
But Jose was still more amazed. "Stop the garden-party? My dear Laura,
don't be so absurd. Of course we can't do anything of the kind. Nobody
expects us to. Don't be so extravagant."
"But we can't possibly have a garden-party with a man dead just outside the
That really was extravagant, for the little cottages were in a lane to
themselves at the very bottom of a steep rise that led up to the house. A
broad road ran between. True, they were far too near. They were the
greatest possible eyesore, and they had no right to be in that
neighbourhood at all. They were little mean dwellings painted a chocolate
brown. In the garden patches there was nothing but cabbage stalks, sick
hens and tomato cans. The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was
poverty-stricken. Little rags and shreds of smoke, so unlike the great
silvery plumes that uncurled from the Sheridans' chimneys. Washerwomen
lived in the lane and sweeps and a cobbler, and a man whose house-front was
studded all over with minute bird-cages. Children swarmed. When the
Sheridans were little they were forbidden to set foot there because of the
revolting language and of what they might catch. But since they were grown
up, Laura and Laurie on their prowls sometimes walked through. It was
disgusting and sordid. They came out with a shudder. But still one must
go everywhere; one must see everything. So through they went.
"And just think of what the band would sound like to that poor woman," said
"Oh, Laura!" Jose began to be seriously annoyed. "If you're going to stop
a band playing every time some one has an accident, you'll lead a very
strenuous life. I'm every bit as sorry about it as you. I feel just as
sympathetic." Her eyes hardened. She looked at her sister just as she
used to when they were little and fighting together. "You won't bring a
drunken workman back to life by being sentimental," she said softly.
"Drunk! Who said he was drunk?" Laura turned furiously on Jose. She
said, just as they had used to say on those occasions, "I'm going straight