Part 2 out of 4
up to tell mother."
"Do, dear," cooed Jose.
"Mother, can I come into your room?" Laura turned the big glass door-knob.
"Of course, child. Why, what's the matter? What's given you such a
colour?" And Mrs. Sheridan turned round from her dressing-table. She was
trying on a new hat.
"Mother, a man's been killed," began Laura.
"Not in the garden?" interrupted her mother.
"Oh, what a fright you gave me!" Mrs. Sheridan sighed with relief, and
took off the big hat and held it on her knees.
"But listen, mother," said Laura. Breathless, half-choking, she told the
dreadful story. "Of course, we can't have our party, can we?" she pleaded.
"The band and everybody arriving. They'd hear us, mother; they're nearly
To Laura's astonishment her mother behaved just like Jose; it was harder to
bear because she seemed amused. She refused to take Laura seriously.
"But, my dear child, use your common sense. It's only by accident we've
heard of it. If some one had died there normally--and I can't understand
how they keep alive in those poky little holes--we should still be having
our party, shouldn't we?"
Laura had to say "yes" to that, but she felt it was all wrong. She sat
down on her mother's sofa and pinched the cushion frill.
"Mother, isn't it terribly heartless of us?" she asked.
"Darling!" Mrs. Sheridan got up and came over to her, carrying the hat.
Before Laura could stop her she had popped it on. "My child!" said her
mother, "the hat is yours. It's made for you. It's much too young for me.
I have never seen you look such a picture. Look at yourself!" And she
held up her hand-mirror.
"But, mother," Laura began again. She couldn't look at herself; she turned
This time Mrs. Sheridan lost patience just as Jose had done.
"You are being very absurd, Laura," she said coldly. "People like that
don't expect sacrifices from us. And it's not very sympathetic to spoil
everybody's enjoyment as you're doing now."
"I don't understand," said Laura, and she walked quickly out of the room
into her own bedroom. There, quite by chance, the first thing she saw was
this charming girl in the mirror, in her black hat trimmed with gold
daisies, and a long black velvet ribbon. Never had she imagined she could
look like that. Is mother right? she thought. And now she hoped her
mother was right. Am I being extravagant? Perhaps it was extravagant.
Just for a moment she had another glimpse of that poor woman and those
little children, and the body being carried into the house. But it all
seemed blurred, unreal, like a picture in the newspaper. I'll remember it
again after the party's over, she decided. And somehow that seemed quite
the best plan...
Lunch was over by half-past one. By half-past two they were all ready for
the fray. The green-coated band had arrived and was established in a
corner of the tennis-court.
"My dear!" trilled Kitty Maitland, "aren't they too like frogs for words?
You ought to have arranged them round the pond with the conductor in the
middle on a leaf."
Laurie arrived and hailed them on his way to dress. At the sight of him
Laura remembered the accident again. She wanted to tell him. If Laurie
agreed with the others, then it was bound to be all right. And she
followed him into the hall.
"Hallo!" He was half-way upstairs, but when he turned round and saw Laura
he suddenly puffed out his cheeks and goggled his eyes at her. "My word,
Laura! You do look stunning," said Laurie. "What an absolutely topping
Laura said faintly "Is it?" and smiled up at Laurie, and didn't tell him
Soon after that people began coming in streams. The band struck up; the
hired waiters ran from the house to the marquee. Wherever you looked there
were couples strolling, bending to the flowers, greeting, moving on over
the lawn. They were like bright birds that had alighted in the Sheridans'
garden for this one afternoon, on their way to--where? Ah, what happiness
it is to be with people who all are happy, to press hands, press cheeks,
smile into eyes.
"Darling Laura, how well you look!"
"What a becoming hat, child!"
"Laura, you look quite Spanish. I've never seen you look so striking."
And Laura, glowing, answered softly, "Have you had tea? Won't you have an
ice? The passion-fruit ices really are rather special." She ran to her
father and begged him. "Daddy darling, can't the band have something to
And the perfect afternoon slowly ripened, slowly faded, slowly its petals
"Never a more delightful garden-party ..." "The greatest success ..."
"Quite the most ..."
Laura helped her mother with the good-byes. They stood side by side in the
porch till it was all over.
"All over, all over, thank heaven," said Mrs. Sheridan. "Round up the
others, Laura. Let's go and have some fresh coffee. I'm exhausted. Yes,
it's been very successful. But oh, these parties, these parties! Why will
you children insist on giving parties!" And they all of them sat down in
the deserted marquee.
"Have a sandwich, daddy dear. I wrote the flag."
"Thanks." Mr. Sheridan took a bite and the sandwich was gone. He took
another. "I suppose you didn't hear of a beastly accident that happened
to-day?" he said.
"My dear," said Mrs. Sheridan, holding up her hand, "we did. It nearly
ruined the party. Laura insisted we should put it off."
"Oh, mother!" Laura didn't want to be teased about it.
"It was a horrible affair all the same," said Mr. Sheridan. "The chap was
married too. Lived just below in the lane, and leaves a wife and half a
dozen kiddies, so they say."
An awkward little silence fell. Mrs. Sheridan fidgeted with her cup.
Really, it was very tactless of father...
Suddenly she looked up. There on the table were all those sandwiches,
cakes, puffs, all uneaten, all going to be wasted. She had one of her
"I know," she said. "Let's make up a basket. Let's send that poor
creature some of this perfectly good food. At any rate, it will be the
greatest treat for the children. Don't you agree? And she's sure to have
neighbours calling in and so on. What a point to have it all ready
prepared. Laura!" She jumped up. "Get me the big basket out of the
"But, mother, do you really think it's a good idea?" said Laura.
Again, how curious, she seemed to be different from them all. To take
scraps from their party. Would the poor woman really like that?
"Of course! What's the matter with you to-day? An hour or two ago you
were insisting on us being sympathetic, and now--"
Oh well! Laura ran for the basket. It was filled, it was heaped by her
"Take it yourself, darling," said she. "Run down just as you are. No,
wait, take the arum lilies too. People of that class are so impressed by
"The stems will ruin her lace frock," said practical Jose.
So they would. Just in time. "Only the basket, then. And, Laura!"--her
mother followed her out of the marquee--"don't on any account--"
No, better not put such ideas into the child's head! "Nothing! Run
It was just growing dusky as Laura shut their garden gates. A big dog ran
by like a shadow. The road gleamed white, and down below in the hollow the
little cottages were in deep shade. How quiet it seemed after the
afternoon. Here she was going down the hill to somewhere where a man lay
dead, and she couldn't realize it. Why couldn't she? She stopped a
minute. And it seemed to her that kisses, voices, tinkling spoons,
laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her. She had no
room for anything else. How strange! She looked up at the pale sky, and
all she thought was, "Yes, it was the most successful party."
Now the broad road was crossed. The lane began, smoky and dark. Women in
shawls and men's tweed caps hurried by. Men hung over the palings; the
children played in the doorways. A low hum came from the mean little
cottages. In some of them there was a flicker of light, and a shadow,
crab-like, moved across the window. Laura bent her head and hurried on.
She wished now she had put on a coat. How her frock shone! And the big
hat with the velvet streamer--if only it was another hat! Were the people
looking at her? They must be. It was a mistake to have come; she knew all
along it was a mistake. Should she go back even now?
No, too late. This was the house. It must be. A dark knot of people
stood outside. Beside the gate an old, old woman with a crutch sat in a
chair, watching. She had her feet on a newspaper. The voices stopped as
Laura drew near. The group parted. It was as though she was expected, as
though they had known she was coming here.
Laura was terribly nervous. Tossing the velvet ribbon over her shoulder,
she said to a woman standing by, "Is this Mrs. Scott's house?" and the
woman, smiling queerly, said, "It is, my lass."
Oh, to be away from this! She actually said, "Help me, God," as she walked
up the tiny path and knocked. To be away from those staring eyes, or to be
covered up in anything, one of those women's shawls even. I'll just leave
the basket and go, she decided. I shan't even wait for it to be emptied.
Then the door opened. A little woman in black showed in the gloom.
Laura said, "Are you Mrs. Scott?" But to her horror the woman answered,
"Walk in please, miss," and she was shut in the passage.
"No," said Laura, "I don't want to come in. I only want to leave this
basket. Mother sent--"
The little woman in the gloomy passage seemed not to have heard her. "Step
this way, please, miss," she said in an oily voice, and Laura followed her.
She found herself in a wretched little low kitchen, lighted by a smoky
lamp. There was a woman sitting before the fire.
"Em," said the little creature who had let her in. "Em! It's a young
lady." She turned to Laura. She said meaningly, "I'm 'er sister, miss.
You'll excuse 'er, won't you?"
"Oh, but of course!" said Laura. "Please, please don't disturb her. I--I
only want to leave--"
But at that moment the woman at the fire turned round. Her face, puffed
up, red, with swollen eyes and swollen lips, looked terrible. She seemed
as though she couldn't understand why Laura was there. What did it mean?
Why was this stranger standing in the kitchen with a basket? What was it
all about? And the poor face puckered up again.
"All right, my dear," said the other. "I'll thenk the young lady."
And again she began, "You'll excuse her, miss, I'm sure," and her face,
swollen too, tried an oily smile.
Laura only wanted to get out, to get away. She was back in the passage.
The door opened. She walked straight through into the bedroom, where the
dead man was lying.
"You'd like a look at 'im, wouldn't you?" said Em's sister, and she brushed
past Laura over to the bed. "Don't be afraid, my lass,"--and now her voice
sounded fond and sly, and fondly she drew down the sheet--"'e looks a
picture. There's nothing to show. Come along, my dear."
There lay a young man, fast asleep--sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he
was far, far away from them both. Oh, so remote, so peaceful. He was
dreaming. Never wake him up again. His head was sunk in the pillow, his
eyes were closed; they were blind under the closed eyelids. He was given
up to his dream. What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks
matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful,
beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this
marvel had come to the lane. Happy...happy...All is well, said that
sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content.
But all the same you had to cry, and she couldn't go out of the room
without saying something to him. Laura gave a loud childish sob.
"Forgive my hat," she said.
And this time she didn't wait for Em's sister. She found her way out of
the door, down the path, past all those dark people. At the corner of the
lane she met Laurie.
He stepped out of the shadow. "Is that you, Laura?"
"Mother was getting anxious. Was it all right?"
"Yes, quite. Oh, Laurie!" She took his arm, she pressed up against him.
"I say, you're not crying, are you?" asked her brother.
Laura shook her head. She was.
Laurie put his arm round her shoulder. "Don't cry," he said in his warm,
loving voice. "Was it awful?"
"No," sobbed Laura. "It was simply marvellous. But Laurie--" She
stopped, she looked at her brother. "Isn't life," she stammered, "isn't
life--" But what life was she couldn't explain. No matter. He quite
"Isn't it, darling?" said Laurie.
3. THE DAUGHTERS OF THE LATE COLONEL.
The week after was one of the busiest weeks of their lives. Even when they
went to bed it was only their bodies that lay down and rested; their minds
went on, thinking things out, talking things over, wondering, deciding,
trying to remember where...
Constantia lay like a statue, her hands by her sides, her feet just
overlapping each other, the sheet up to her chin. She stared at the
"Do you think father would mind if we gave his top-hat to the porter?"
"The porter?" snapped Josephine. "Why ever the porter? What a very
"Because," said Constantia slowly, "he must often have to go to funerals.
And I noticed at--at the cemetery that he only had a bowler." She paused.
"I thought then how very much he'd appreciate a top-hat. We ought to give
him a present, too. He was always very nice to father."
"But," cried Josephine, flouncing on her pillow and staring across the dark
at Constantia, "father's head!" And suddenly, for one awful moment, she
nearly giggled. Not, of course, that she felt in the least like giggling.
It must have been habit. Years ago, when they had stayed awake at night
talking, their beds had simply heaved. And now the porter's head,
disappearing, popped out, like a candle, under father's hat...The giggle
mounted, mounted; she clenched her hands; she fought it down; she frowned
fiercely at the dark and said "Remember" terribly sternly.
"We can decide to-morrow," she said.
Constantia had noticed nothing; she sighed.
"Do you think we ought to have our dressing-gowns dyed as well?"
"Black?" almost shrieked Josephine.
"Well, what else?" said Constantia. "I was thinking--it doesn't seem quite
sincere, in a way, to wear black out of doors and when we're fully dressed,
and then when we're at home--"
"But nobody sees us," said Josephine. She gave the bedclothes such a
twitch that both her feet became uncovered, and she had to creep up the
pillows to get them well under again.
"Kate does," said Constantia. "And the postman very well might."
Josephine thought of her dark-red slippers, which matched her dressing-
gown, and of Constantia's favourite indefinite green ones which went with
hers. Black! Two black dressing-gowns and two pairs of black woolly
slippers, creeping off to the bathroom like black cats.
"I don't think it's absolutely necessary," said she.
Silence. Then Constantia said, "We shall have to post the papers with the
notice in them to-morrow to catch the Ceylon mail...How many letters have
we had up till now?"
Josephine had replied to them all, and twenty-three times when she came to
"We miss our dear father so much" she had broken down and had to use her
handkerchief, and on some of them even to soak up a very light-blue tear
with an edge of blotting-paper. Strange! She couldn't have put it on--but
twenty-three times. Even now, though, when she said over to herself sadly
"We miss our dear father so much," she could have cried if she'd wanted to.
"Have you got enough stamps?" came from Constantia.
"Oh, how can I tell?" said Josephine crossly. "What's the good of asking
me that now?"
"I was just wondering," said Constantia mildly.
Silence again. There came a little rustle, a scurry, a hop.
"A mouse," said Constantia.
"It can't be a mouse because there aren't any crumbs," said Josephine.
"But it doesn't know there aren't," said Constantia.
A spasm of pity squeezed her heart. Poor little thing! She wished she'd
left a tiny piece of biscuit on the dressing-table. It was awful to think
of it not finding anything. What would it do?
"I can't think how they manage to live at all," she said slowly.
"Who?" demanded Josephine.
And Constantia said more loudly than she meant to, "Mice."
Josephine was furious. "Oh, what nonsense, Con!" she said. "What have
mice got to do with it? You're asleep."
"I don't think I am," said Constantia. She shut her eyes to make sure.
Josephine arched her spine, pulled up her knees, folded her arms so that
her fists came under her ears, and pressed her cheek hard against the
Another thing which complicated matters was they had Nurse Andrews staying
on with them that week. It was their own fault; they had asked her. It
was Josephine's idea. On the morning--well, on the last morning, when the
doctor had gone, Josephine had said to Constantia, "Don't you think it
would be rather nice if we asked Nurse Andrews to stay on for a week as our
"Very nice," said Constantia.
"I thought," went on Josephine quickly, "I should just say this afternoon,
after I've paid her, 'My sister and I would be very pleased, after all
you've done for us, Nurse Andrews, if you would stay on for a week as our
guest.' I'd have to put that in about being our guest in case--"
"Oh, but she could hardly expect to be paid!" cried Constantia.
"One never knows," said Josephine sagely.
Nurse Andrews had, of course, jumped at the idea. But it was a bother. It
meant they had to have regular sit-down meals at the proper times, whereas
if they'd been alone they could just have asked Kate if she wouldn't have
minded bringing them a tray wherever they were. And meal-times now that
the strain was over were rather a trial.
Nurse Andrews was simply fearful about butter. Really they couldn't help
feeling that about butter, at least, she took advantage of their kindness.
And she had that maddening habit of asking for just an inch more of bread
to finish what she had on her plate, and then, at the last mouthful,
absent-mindedly--of course it wasn't absent-mindedly--taking another
helping. Josephine got very red when this happened, and she fastened her
small, bead-like eyes on the tablecloth as if she saw a minute strange
insect creeping through the web of it. But Constantia's long, pale face
lengthened and set, and she gazed away--away--far over the desert, to where
that line of camels unwound like a thread of wool...
"When I was with Lady Tukes," said Nurse Andrews, "she had such a dainty
little contrayvance for the buttah. It was a silvah Cupid balanced on
the--on the bordah of a glass dish, holding a tayny fork. And when you
wanted some buttah you simply pressed his foot and he bent down and speared
you a piece. It was quite a gayme."
Josephine could hardly bear that. But "I think those things are very
extravagant" was all she said.
"But whey?" asked Nurse Andrews, beaming through her eyeglasses. "No one,
surely, would take more buttah than one wanted--would one?"
"Ring, Con," cried Josephine. She couldn't trust herself to reply.
And proud young Kate, the enchanted princess, came in to see what the old
tabbies wanted now. She snatched away their plates of mock something or
other and slapped down a white, terrified blancmange.
"Jam, please, Kate," said Josephine kindly.
Kate knelt and burst open the sideboard, lifted the lid of the jam-pot, saw
it was empty, put it on the table, and stalked off.
"I'm afraid," said Nurse Andrews a moment later, "there isn't any."
"Oh, what a bother!" said Josephine. She bit her lip. "What had we better
Constantia looked dubious. "We can't disturb Kate again," she said softly.
Nurse Andrews waited, smiling at them both. Her eyes wandered, spying at
everything behind her eyeglasses. Constantia in despair went back to her
camels. Josephine frowned heavily--concentrated. If it hadn't been for
this idiotic woman she and Con would, of course, have eaten their
blancmange without. Suddenly the idea came.
"I know," she said. "Marmalade. There's some marmalade in the sideboard.
Get it, Con."
"I hope," laughed Nurse Andrews--and her laugh was like a spoon tinkling
against a medicine-glass--"I hope it's not very bittah marmalayde."
But, after all, it was not long now, and then she'd be gone for good. And
there was no getting over the fact that she had been very kind to father.
She had nursed him day and night at the end. Indeed, both Constantia and
Josephine felt privately she had rather overdone the not leaving him at the
very last. For when they had gone in to say good-bye Nurse Andrews had sat
beside his bed the whole time, holding his wrist and pretending to look at
her watch. It couldn't have been necessary. It was so tactless, too.
Supposing father had wanted to say something--something private to them.
Not that he had. Oh, far from it! He lay there, purple, a dark, angry
purple in the face, and never even looked at them when they came in. Then,
as they were standing there, wondering what to do, he had suddenly opened
one eye. Oh, what a difference it would have made, what a difference to
their memory of him, how much easier to tell people about it, if he had
only opened both! But no--one eye only. It glared at them a moment and
It had made it very awkward for them when Mr. Farolles, of St. John's,
called the same afternoon.
"The end was quite peaceful, I trust?" were the first words he said as he
glided towards them through the dark drawing-room.
"Quite," said Josephine faintly. They both hung their heads. Both of them
felt certain that eye wasn't at all a peaceful eye.
"Won't you sit down?" said Josephine.
"Thank you, Miss Pinner," said Mr. Farolles gratefully. He folded his
coat-tails and began to lower himself into father's arm-chair, but just as
he touched it he almost sprang up and slid into the next chair instead.
He coughed. Josephine clasped her hands; Constantia looked vague.
"I want you to feel, Miss Pinner," said Mr. Farolles, "and you, Miss
Constantia, that I'm trying to be helpful. I want to be helpful to you
both, if you will let me. These are the times," said Mr Farolles, very
simply and earnestly, "when God means us to be helpful to one another."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Farolles," said Josephine and Constantia.
"Not at all," said Mr. Farolles gently. He drew his kid gloves through his
fingers and leaned forward. "And if either of you would like a little
Communion, either or both of you, here and now, you have only to tell me.
A little Communion is often very help--a great comfort," he added tenderly.
But the idea of a little Communion terrified them. What! In the drawing-
room by themselves--with no--no altar or anything! The piano would be much
too high, thought Constantia, and Mr. Farolles could not possibly lean over
it with the chalice. And Kate would be sure to come bursting in and
interrupt them, thought Josephine. And supposing the bell rang in the
middle? It might be somebody important--about their mourning. Would they
get up reverently and go out, or would they have to wait...in torture?
"Perhaps you will send round a note by your good Kate if you would care for
it later," said Mr. Farolles.
"Oh yes, thank you very much!" they both said.
Mr. Farolles got up and took his black straw hat from the round table.
"And about the funeral," he said softly. "I may arrange that--as your dear
father's old friend and yours, Miss Pinner--and Miss Constantia?"
Josephine and Constantia got up too.
"I should like it to be quite simple," said Josephine firmly, "and not too
expensive. At the same time, I should like--"
"A good one that will last," thought dreamy Constantia, as if Josephine
were buying a nightgown. But, of course, Josephine didn't say that. "One
suitable to our father's position." She was very nervous.
"I'll run round to our good friend Mr. Knight," said Mr. Farolles
soothingly. "I will ask him to come and see you. I am sure you will find
him very helpful indeed."
Well, at any rate, all that part of it was over, though neither of them
could possibly believe that father was never coming back. Josephine had
had a moment of absolute terror at the cemetery, while the coffin was
lowered, to think that she and Constantia had done this thing without
asking his permission. What would father say when he found out? For he
was bound to find out sooner or later. He always did. "Buried. You two
girls had me buried!" She heard his stick thumping. Oh, what would they
say? What possible excuse could they make? It sounded such an appallingly
heartless thing to do. Such a wicked advantage to take of a person because
he happened to be helpless at the moment. The other people seemed to treat
it all as a matter of course. They were strangers; they couldn't be
expected to understand that father was the very last person for such a
thing to happen to. No, the entire blame for it all would fall on her and
Constantia. And the expense, she thought, stepping into the tight-buttoned
cab. When she had to show him the bills. What would he say then?
She heard him absolutely roaring. "And do you expect me to pay for this
gimcrack excursion of yours?"
"Oh," groaned poor Josephine aloud, "we shouldn't have done it, Con!"
And Constantia, pale as a lemon in all that blackness, said in a frightened
whisper, "Done what, Jug?"
"Let them bu-bury father like that," said Josephine, breaking down and
crying into her new, queer-smelling mourning handkerchief.
"But what else could we have done?" asked Constantia wonderingly. "We
couldn't have kept him, Jug--we couldn't have kept him unburied. At any
rate, not in a flat that size."
Josephine blew her nose; the cab was dreadfully stuffy.
"I don't know," she said forlornly. "It is all so dreadful. I feel we
ought to have tried to, just for a time at least. To make perfectly sure.
One thing's certain"--and her tears sprang out again--"father will never
forgive us for this--never!"
Father would never forgive them. That was what they felt more than ever
when, two mornings later, they went into his room to go through his things.
They had discussed it quite calmly. It was even down on Josephine's list
of things to be done. "Go through father's things and settle about them."
But that was a very different matter from saying after breakfast:
"Well, are you ready, Con?"
"Yes, Jug--when you are."
"Then I think we'd better get it over."
It was dark in the hall. It had been a rule for years never to disturb
father in the morning, whatever happened. And now they were going to open
the door without knocking even...Constantia's eyes were enormous at the
idea; Josephine felt weak in the knees.
"You--you go first," she gasped, pushing Constantia.
But Constantia said, as she always had said on those occasions, "No, Jug,
that's not fair. You're the eldest."
Josephine was just going to say--what at other times she wouldn't have
owned to for the world--what she kept for her very last weapon, "But you're
the tallest," when they noticed that the kitchen door was open, and there
"Very stiff," said Josephine, grasping the doorhandle and doing her best to
turn it. As if anything ever deceived Kate!
It couldn't be helped. That girl was...Then the door was shut behind them,
but--but they weren't in father's room at all. They might have suddenly
walked through the wall by mistake into a different flat altogether. Was
the door just behind them? They were too frightened to look. Josephine
knew that if it was it was holding itself tight shut; Constantia felt that,
like the doors in dreams, it hadn't any handle at all. It was the coldness
which made it so awful. Or the whiteness--which? Everything was covered.
The blinds were down, a cloth hung over the mirror, a sheet hid the bed; a
huge fan of white paper filled the fireplace. Constantia timidly put out
her hand; she almost expected a snowflake to fall. Josephine felt a queer
tingling in her nose, as if her nose was freezing. Then a cab klop-klopped
over the cobbles below, and the quiet seemed to shake into little pieces.
"I had better pull up a blind," said Josephine bravely.
"Yes, it might be a good idea," whispered Constantia.
They only gave the blind a touch, but it flew up and the cord flew after,
rolling round the blind-stick, and the little tassel tapped as if trying to
get free. That was too much for Constantia.
"Don't you think--don't you think we might put it off for another day?" she
"Why?" snapped Josephine, feeling, as usual, much better now that she knew
for certain that Constantia was terrified. "It's got to be done. But I do
wish you wouldn't whisper, Con."
"I didn't know I was whispering," whispered Constantia.
"And why do you keep staring at the bed?" said Josephine, raising her voice
almost defiantly. "There's nothing on the bed."
"Oh, Jug, don't say so!" said poor Connie. "At any rate, not so loudly."
Josephine felt herself that she had gone too far. She took a wide swerve
over to the chest of drawers, put out her hand, but quickly drew it back
"Connie!" she gasped, and she wheeled round and leaned with her back
against the chest of drawers.
Josephine could only glare. She had the most extraordinary feeling that
she had just escaped something simply awful. But how could she explain to
Constantia that father was in the chest of drawers? He was in the top
drawer with his handkerchiefs and neckties, or in the next with his shirts
and pyjamas, or in the lowest of all with his suits. He was watching
there, hidden away--just behind the door-handle--ready to spring.
She pulled a funny old-fashioned face at Constantia, just as she used to in
the old days when she was going to cry.
"I can't open," she nearly wailed.
"No, don't, Jug," whispered Constantia earnestly. "It's much better not
to. Don't let's open anything. At any rate, not for a long time."
"But--but it seems so weak," said Josephine, breaking down.
"But why not be weak for once, Jug?" argued Constantia, whispering quite
fiercely. "If it is weak." And her pale stare flew from the locked
writing-table--so safe--to the huge glittering wardrobe, and she began to
breathe in a queer, panting away. "Why shouldn't we be weak for once in
our lives, Jug? It's quite excusable. Let's be weak--be weak, Jug. It's
much nicer to be weak than to be strong."
And then she did one of those amazingly bold things that she'd done about
twice before in their lives: she marched over to the wardrobe, turned the
key, and took it out of the lock. Took it out of the lock and held it up
to Josephine, showing Josephine by her extraordinary smile that she knew
what she'd done--she'd risked deliberately father being in there among his
If the huge wardrobe had lurched forward, had crashed down on Constantia,
Josephine wouldn't have been surprised. On the contrary, she would have
thought it the only suitable thing to happen. But nothing happened. Only
the room seemed quieter than ever, and the bigger flakes of cold air fell
on Josephine's shoulders and knees. She began to shiver.
"Come, Jug," said Constantia, still with that awful callous smile, and
Josephine followed just as she had that last time, when Constantia had
pushed Benny into the round pond.
But the strain told on them when they were back in the dining-room. They
sat down, very shaky, and looked at each other.
"I don't feel I can settle to anything," said Josephine, "until I've had
something. Do you think we could ask Kate for two cups of hot water?"
"I really don't see why we shouldn't," said Constantia carefully. She was
quite normal again. "I won't ring. I'll go to the kitchen door and ask
"Yes, do," said Josephine, sinking down into a chair. "Tell her, just two
cups, Con, nothing else--on a tray."
"She needn't even put the jug on, need she?" said Constantia, as though
Kate might very well complain if the jug had been there.
"Oh no, certainly not! The jug's not at all necessary. She can pour it
direct out of the kettle," cried Josephine, feeling that would be a labour-
Their cold lips quivered at the greenish brims. Josephine curved her small
red hands round the cup; Constantia sat up and blew on the wavy steam,
making it flutter from one side to the other.
"Speaking of Benny," said Josephine.
And though Benny hadn't been mentioned Constantia immediately looked as
though he had.
"He'll expect us to send him something of father's, of course. But it's so
difficult to know what to send to Ceylon."
"You mean things get unstuck so on the voyage," murmured Constantia.
"No, lost," said Josephine sharply. "You know there's no post. Only
Both paused to watch a black man in white linen drawers running through the
pale fields for dear life, with a large brown-paper parcel in his hands.
Josephine's black man was tiny; he scurried along glistening like an ant.
But there was something blind and tireless about Constantia's tall, thin
fellow, which made him, she decided, a very unpleasant person indeed...On
the veranda, dressed all in white and wearing a cork helmet, stood Benny.
His right hand shook up and down, as father's did when he was impatient.
And behind him, not in the least interested, sat Hilda, the unknown sister-
in-law. She swung in a cane rocker and flicked over the leaves of the
"I think his watch would be the most suitable present," said Josephine.
Constantia looked up; she seemed surprised.
"Oh, would you trust a gold watch to a native?"
"But of course, I'd disguise it," said Josephine. "No one would know it
was a watch." She liked the idea of having to make a parcel such a curious
shape that no one could possibly guess what it was. She even thought for a
moment of hiding the watch in a narrow cardboard corset-box that she'd kept
by her for a long time, waiting for it to come in for something. It was
such beautiful, firm cardboard. But, no, it wouldn't be appropriate for
this occasion. It had lettering on it: "Medium Women's 28. Extra Firm
Busks." It would be almost too much of a surprise for Benny to open that
and find father's watch inside.
"And of course it isn't as though it would be going--ticking, I mean," said
Constantia, who was still thinking of the native love of jewellery. "At
least," she added, "it would be very strange if after all that time it
Josephine made no reply. She had flown off on one of her tangents. She
had suddenly thought of Cyril. Wasn't it more usual for the only grandson
to have the watch? And then dear Cyril was so appreciative, and a gold
watch meant so much to a young man. Benny, in all probability, had quite
got out of the habit of watches; men so seldom wore waistcoats in those hot
climates. Whereas Cyril in London wore them from year's end to year's end.
And it would be so nice for her and Constantia, when he came to tea, to
know it was there. "I see you've got on grandfather's watch, Cyril." It
would be somehow so satisfactory.
Dear boy! What a blow his sweet, sympathetic little note had been! Of
course they quite understood; but it was most unfortunate.
"It would have been such a point, having him," said Josephine.
"And he would have enjoyed it so," said Constantia, not thinking what she
However, as soon as he got back he was coming to tea with his aunties.
Cyril to tea was one of their rare treats.
"Now, Cyril, you mustn't be frightened of our cakes. Your Auntie Con and I
bought them at Buszard's this morning. We know what a man's appetite is.
So don't be ashamed of making a good tea."
Josephine cut recklessly into the rich dark cake that stood for her winter
gloves or the soling and heeling of Constantia's only respectable shoes.
But Cyril was most unmanlike in appetite.
"I say, Aunt Josephine, I simply can't. I've only just had lunch, you
"Oh, Cyril, that can't be true! It's after four," cried Josephine.
Constantia sat with her knife poised over the chocolate-roll.
"It is, all the same," said Cyril. "I had to meet a man at Victoria, and
he kept me hanging about till...there was only time to get lunch and to
come on here. And he gave me--phew"--Cyril put his hand to his forehead--
"a terrific blow-out," he said.
It was disappointing--to-day of all days. But still he couldn't be
expected to know.
"But you'll have a meringue, won't you, Cyril?" said Aunt Josephine.
"These meringues were bought specially for you. Your dear father was so
fond of them. We were sure you are, too."
"I am, Aunt Josephine," cried Cyril ardently. "Do you mind if I take half
to begin with?"
"Not at all, dear boy; but we mustn't let you off with that."
"Is your dear father still so fond of meringues?" asked Auntie Con gently.
She winced faintly as she broke through the shell of hers.
"Well, I don't quite know, Auntie Con," said Cyril breezily.
At that they both looked up.
"Don't know?" almost snapped Josephine. "Don't know a thing like that
about your own father, Cyril?"
"Surely," said Auntie Con softly.
Cyril tried to laugh it off. "Oh, well," he said, "it's such a long time
since--" He faltered. He stopped. Their faces were too much for him.
"Even so," said Josephine.
And Auntie Con looked.
Cyril put down his teacup. "Wait a bit," he cried. "Wait a bit, Aunt
Josephine. What am I thinking of?"
He looked up. They were beginning to brighten. Cyril slapped his knee.
"Of course," he said, "it was meringues. How could I have forgotten? Yes,
Aunt Josephine, you're perfectly right. Father's most frightfully keen on
They didn't only beam. Aunt Josephine went scarlet with pleasure; Auntie
Con gave a deep, deep sigh.
"And now, Cyril, you must come and see father," said Josephine. "He knows
you were coming to-day."
"Right," said Cyril, very firmly and heartily. He got up from his chair;
suddenly he glanced at the clock.
"I say, Auntie Con, isn't your clock a bit slow? I've got to meet a man
at--at Paddington just after five. I'm afraid I shan't be able to stay
very long with grandfather."
"Oh, he won't expect you to stay very long!" said Aunt Josephine.
Constantia was still gazing at the clock. She couldn't make up her mind if
it was fast or slow. It was one or the other, she felt almost certain of
that. At any rate, it had been.
Cyril still lingered. "Aren't you coming along, Auntie Con?"
"Of course," said Josephine, "we shall all go. Come on, Con."
They knocked at the door, and Cyril followed his aunts into grandfather's
hot, sweetish room.
"Come on," said Grandfather Pinner. "Don't hang about. What is it?
What've you been up to?"
He was sitting in front of a roaring fire, clasping his stick. He had a
thick rug over his knees. On his lap there lay a beautiful pale yellow
"It's Cyril, father," said Josephine shyly. And she took Cyril's hand and
led him forward.
"Good afternoon, grandfather," said Cyril, trying to take his hand out of
Aunt Josephine's. Grandfather Pinner shot his eyes at Cyril in the way he
was famous for. Where was Auntie Con? She stood on the other side of Aunt
Josephine; her long arms hung down in front of her; her hands were clasped.
She never took her eyes off grandfather.
"Well," said Grandfather Pinner, beginning to thump, "what have you got to
What had he, what had he got to tell him? Cyril felt himself smiling like
a perfect imbecile. The room was stifling, too.
But Aunt Josephine came to his rescue. She cried brightly, "Cyril says his
father is still very fond of meringues, father dear."
"Eh?" said Grandfather Pinner, curving his hand like a purple meringue-
shell over one ear.
Josephine repeated, "Cyril says his father is still very fond of
"Can't hear," said old Colonel Pinner. And he waved Josephine away with
his stick, then pointed with his stick to Cyril. "Tell me what she's
trying to say," he said.
(My God!) "Must I?" said Cyril, blushing and staring at Aunt Josephine.
"Do, dear," she smiled. "It will please him so much."
"Come on, out with it!" cried Colonel Pinner testily, beginning to thump
And Cyril leaned forward and yelled, "Father's still very fond of
At that Grandfather Pinner jumped as though he had been shot.
"Don't shout!" he cried. "What's the matter with the boy? Meringues!
What about 'em?"
"Oh, Aunt Josephine, must we go on?" groaned Cyril desperately.
"It's quite all right, dear boy," said Aunt Josephine, as though he and she
were at the dentist's together. "He'll understand in a minute." And she
whispered to Cyril, "He's getting a bit deaf, you know." Then she leaned
forward and really bawled at Grandfather Pinner, "Cyril only wanted to tell
you, father dear, that his father is still very fond of meringues."
Colonel Pinner heard that time, heard and brooded, looking Cyril up and
"What an esstrordinary thing!" said old Grandfather Pinner. "What an
esstrordinary thing to come all this way here to tell me!"
And Cyril felt it was.
"Yes, I shall send Cyril the watch," said Josephine.
"That would be very nice," said Constantia. "I seem to remember last time
he came there was some little trouble about the time."
They were interrupted by Kate bursting through the door in her usual
fashion, as though she had discovered some secret panel in the wall.
"Fried or boiled?" asked the bold voice.
Fried or boiled? Josephine and Constantia were quite bewildered for the
moment. They could hardly take it in.
"Fried or boiled what, Kate?" asked Josephine, trying to begin to
Kate gave a loud sniff. "Fish."
"Well, why didn't you say so immediately?" Josephine reproached her
gently. "How could you expect us to understand, Kate? There are a great
many things in this world you know, which are fried or boiled." And after
such a display of courage she said quite brightly to Constantia, "Which do
you prefer, Con?"
"I think it might be nice to have it fried," said Constantia. "On the
other hand, of course, boiled fish is very nice. I think I prefer both
equally well...Unless you...In that case--"
"I shall fry it," said Kate, and she bounced back, leaving their door open
and slamming the door of her kitchen.
Josephine gazed at Constantia; she raised her pale eyebrows until they
rippled away into her pale hair. She got up. She said in a very lofty,
imposing way, "Do you mind following me into the drawing-room, Constantia?
I've got something of great importance to discuss with you."
For it was always to the drawing-room they retired when they wanted to talk
Josephine closed the door meaningly. "Sit down, Constantia," she said,
still very grand. She might have been receiving Constantia for the first
time. And Con looked round vaguely for a chair, as though she felt indeed
quite a stranger.
"Now the question is," said Josephine, bending forward, "whether we shall
keep her or not."
"That is the question," agreed Constantia.
"And this time," said Josephine firmly, "we must come to a definite
Constantia looked for a moment as though she might begin going over all the
other times, but she pulled herself together and said, "Yes, Jug."
"You see, Con," explained Josephine, "everything is so changed now."
Constantia looked up quickly. "I mean," went on Josephine, "we're not
dependent on Kate as we were." And she blushed faintly. "There's not
father to cook for."
"That is perfectly true," agreed Constantia. "Father certainly doesn't
want any cooking now, whatever else--"
Josephine broke in sharply, "You're not sleepy, are you, Con?"
"Sleepy, Jug?" Constantia was wide-eyed.
"Well, concentrate more," said Josephine sharply, and she returned to the
subject. "What it comes to is, if we did"--and this she barely breathed,
glancing at the door--"give Kate notice"--she raised her voice again--"we
could manage our own food."
"Why not?" cried Constantia. She couldn't help smiling. The idea was so
exciting. She clasped her hands. "What should we live on, Jug?"
"Oh, eggs in various forms!" said Jug, lofty again. "And, besides, there
are all the cooked foods."
"But I've always heard," said Constantia, "they are considered so very
"Not if one buys them in moderation," said Josephine. But she tore herself
away from this fascinating bypath and dragged Constantia after her.
"What we've got to decide now, however, is whether we really do trust Kate
Constantia leaned back. Her flat little laugh flew from her lips.
"Isn't it curious, Jug," said she, "that just on this one subject I've
never been able to quite make up my mind?"
She never had. The whole difficulty was to prove anything. How did one
prove things, how could one? Suppose Kate had stood in front of her and
deliberately made a face. Mightn't she very well have been in pain?
Wasn't it impossible, at any rate, to ask Kate if she was making a face at
her? If Kate answered "No"--and, of course, she would say "No"--what a
position! How undignified! Then again Constantia suspected, she was
almost certain that Kate went to her chest of drawers when she and
Josephine were out, not to take things but to spy. Many times she had come
back to find her amethyst cross in the most unlikely places, under her lace
ties or on top of her evening Bertha. More than once she had laid a trap
for Kate. She had arranged things in a special order and then called
Josephine to witness.
"You see, Jug?"
"Now we shall be able to tell."
But, oh dear, when she did go to look, she was as far off from a proof as
ever! If anything was displaced, it might so very well have happened as
she closed the drawer; a jolt might have done it so easily.
"You come, Jug, and decide. I really can't. It's too difficult."
But after a pause and a long glare Josephine would sigh, "Now you've put
the doubt into my mind, Con, I'm sure I can't tell myself."
"Well, we can't postpone it again," said Josephine. "If we postpone it
But at that moment in the street below a barrel-organ struck up. Josephine
and Constantia sprang to their feet together.
"Run, Con," said Josephine. "Run quickly. There's sixpence on the--"
Then they remembered. It didn't matter. They would never have to stop the
organ-grinder again. Never again would she and Constantia be told to make
that monkey take his noise somewhere else. Never would sound that loud,
strange bellow when father thought they were not hurrying enough. The
organ-grinder might play there all day and the stick would not thump.
"It never will thump again,
It never will thump again,
played the barrel-organ.
What was Constantia thinking? She had such a strange smile; she looked
different. She couldn't be going to cry.
"Jug, Jug," said Constantia softly, pressing her hands together. "Do you
know what day it is? It's Saturday. It's a week to-day, a whole week."
"A week since father died,
A week since father died,"
cried the barrel-organ. And Josephine, too, forgot to be practical and
sensible; she smiled faintly, strangely. On the Indian carpet there fell a
square of sunlight, pale red; it came and went and came--and stayed,
deepened--until it shone almost golden.
"The sun's out," said Josephine, as though it really mattered.
A perfect fountain of bubbling notes shook from the barrel-organ, round,
bright notes, carelessly scattered.
Constantia lifted her big, cold hands as if to catch them, and then her
hands fell again. She walked over to the mantelpiece to her favourite
Buddha. And the stone and gilt image, whose smile always gave her such a
queer feeling, almost a pain and yet a pleasant pain, seemed to-day to be
more than smiling. He knew something; he had a secret. "I know something
that you don't know," said her Buddha. Oh, what was it, what could it be?
And yet she had always felt there was...something.
The sunlight pressed through the windows, thieved its way in, flashed its
light over the furniture and the photographs. Josephine watched it. When
it came to mother's photograph, the enlargement over the piano, it lingered
as though puzzled to find so little remained of mother, except the earrings
shaped like tiny pagodas and a black feather boa. Why did the photographs
of dead people always fade so? wondered Josephine. As soon as a person was
dead their photograph died too. But, of course, this one of mother was
very old. It was thirty-five years old. Josephine remembered standing on
a chair and pointing out that feather boa to Constantia and telling her
that it was a snake that had killed their mother in Ceylon...Would
everything have been different if mother hadn't died? She didn't see why.
Aunt Florence had lived with them until they had left school, and they had
moved three times and had their yearly holiday and...and there'd been
changes of servants, of course.
Some little sparrows, young sparrows they sounded, chirped on the window-
ledge. "Yeep--eyeep--yeep." But Josephine felt they were not sparrows,
not on the window-ledge. It was inside her, that queer little crying
noise. "Yeep--eyeep--yeep." Ah, what was it crying, so weak and forlorn?
If mother had lived, might they have married? But there had been nobody
for them to marry. There had been father's Anglo-Indian friends before he
quarrelled with them. But after that she and Constantia never met a single
man except clergymen. How did one meet men? Or even if they'd met them,
how could they have got to know men well enough to be more than strangers?
One read of people having adventures, being followed, and so on. But
nobody had ever followed Constantia and her. Oh yes, there had been one
year at Eastbourne a mysterious man at their boarding-house who had put a
note on the jug of hot water outside their bedroom door! But by the time
Connie had found it the steam had made the writing too faint to read; they
couldn't even make out to which of them it was addressed. And he had left
next day. And that was all. The rest had been looking after father, and
at the same time keeping out of father's way. But now? But now? The
thieving sun touched Josephine gently. She lifted her face. She was drawn
over to the window by gentle beams...
Until the barrel-organ stopped playing Constantia stayed before the Buddha,
wondering, but not as usual, not vaguely. This time her wonder was like
longing. She remembered the times she had come in here, crept out of bed
in her nightgown when the moon was full, and lain on the floor with her
arms outstretched, as though she was crucified. Why? The big, pale moon
had made her do it. The horrible dancing figures on the carved screen had
leered at her and she hadn't minded. She remembered too how, whenever they
were at the seaside, she had gone off by herself and got as close to the
sea as she could, and sung something, something she had made up, while she
gazed all over that restless water. There had been this other life,
running out, bringing things home in bags, getting things on approval,
discussing them with Jug, and taking them back to get more things on
approval, and arranging father's trays and trying not to annoy father. But
it all seemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel. It wasn't real. It
was only when she came out of the tunnel into the moonlight or by the sea
or into a thunderstorm that she really felt herself. What did it mean?
What was it she was always wanting? What did it all lead to? Now? Now?
She turned away from the Buddha with one of her vague gestures. She went
over to where Josephine was standing. She wanted to say something to
Josephine, something frightfully important, about--about the future and
"Don't you think perhaps--" she began.
But Josephine interrupted her. "I was wondering if now--" she murmured.
They stopped; they waited for each other.
"Go on, Con," said Josephine.
"No, no, Jug; after you," said Constantia.
"No, say what you were going to say. You began," said Josephine.
"I...I'd rather hear what you were going to say first," said Constantia.
"Don't be absurd, Con."
A pause. Then Constantia said faintly, "I can't say what I was going to
say, Jug, because I've forgotten what it was...that I was going to say."
Josephine was silent for a moment. She stared at a big cloud where the sun
had been. Then she replied shortly, "I've forgotten too."
4. MR. AND MRS. DOVE.
Of course he knew--no man better--that he hadn't a ghost of a chance, he
hadn't an earthly. The very idea of such a thing was preposterous. So
preposterous that he'd perfectly understand it if her father--well,
whatever her father chose to do he'd perfectly understand. In fact,
nothing short of desperation, nothing short of the fact that this was
positively his last day in England for God knows how long, would have
screwed him up to it. And even now...He chose a tie out of the chest of
drawers, a blue and cream check tie, and sat on the side of his bed.
Supposing she replied, "What impertinence!" would he be surprised? Not in
the least, he decided, turning up his soft collar and turning it down over
the tie. He expected her to say something like that. He didn't see, if he
looked at the affair dead soberly, what else she could say.
Here he was! And nervously he tied a bow in front of the mirror, jammed
his hair down with both hands, pulled out the flaps of his jacket pockets.
Making between 500 and 600 pounds a year on a fruit farm in--of all places-
-Rhodesia. No capital. Not a penny coming to him. No chance of his
income increasing for at least four years. As for looks and all that sort
of thing, he was completely out of the running. He couldn't even boast of
top-hole health, for the East Africa business had knocked him out so
thoroughly that he'd had to take six months' leave. He was still fearfully
pale--worse even than usual this afternoon, he thought, bending forward and
peering into the mirror. Good heavens! What had happened? His hair
looked almost bright green. Dash it all, he hadn't green hair at all
events. That was a bit too steep. And then the green light trembled in
the glass; it was the shadow from the tree outside. Reggie turned away,
took out his cigarette case, but remembering how the mater hated him to
smoke in his bedroom, put it back again and drifted over to the chest of
drawers. No, he was dashed if he could think of one blessed thing in his
favour, while she...Ah!...He stopped dead, folded his arms, and leaned hard
against the chest of drawers.
And in spite of her position, her father's wealth, the fact that she was an
only child and far and away the most popular girl in the neighbourhood; in
spite of her beauty and her cleverness--cleverness!--it was a great deal
more than that, there was really nothing she couldn't do; he fully
believed, had it been necessary, she would have been a genius at anything--
in spite of the fact that her parents adored her, and she them, and they'd
as soon let her go all that way as...In spite of every single thing you
could think of, so terrific was his love that he couldn't help hoping.
Well, was it hope? Or was this queer, timid longing to have the chance of
looking after her, of making it his job to see that she had everything she
wanted, and that nothing came near her that wasn't perfect--just love? How
he loved her! He squeezed hard against the chest of drawers and murmured
to it, "I love her, I love her!" And just for the moment he was with her
on the way to Umtali. It was night. She sat in a corner asleep. Her soft
chin was tucked into her soft collar, her gold-brown lashes lay on her
cheeks. He doted on her delicate little nose, her perfect lips, her ear
like a baby's, and the gold-brown curl that half covered it. They were
passing through the jungle. It was warm and dark and far away. Then she
woke up and said, "Have I been asleep?" and he answered, "Yes. Are you all
right? Here, let me--" And he leaned forward to...He bent over her. This
was such bliss that he could dream no further. But it gave him the courage
to bound downstairs, to snatch his straw hat from the hall, and to say as
he closed the front door, "Well, I can only try my luck, that's all."
But his luck gave him a nasty jar, to say the least, almost immediately.
Promenading up and down the garden path with Chinny and Biddy, the ancient
Pekes, was the mater. Of course Reginald was fond of the mater and all
that. She--she meant well, she had no end of grit, and so on. But there
was no denying it, she was rather a grim parent. And there had been
moments, many of them, in Reggie's life, before Uncle Alick died and left
him the fruit farm, when he was convinced that to be a widow's only son was
about the worst punishment a chap could have. And what made it rougher
than ever was that she was positively all that he had. She wasn't only a
combined parent, as it were, but she had quarrelled with all her own and
the governor's relations before Reggie had won his first trouser pockets.
So that whenever Reggie was homesick out there, sitting on his dark veranda
by starlight, while the gramophone cried, "Dear, what is Life but Love?"
his only vision was of the mater, tall and stout, rustling down the garden
path, with Chinny and Biddy at her heels...
The mater, with her scissors outspread to snap the head of a dead something
or other, stopped at the sight of Reggie.
"You are not going out, Reginald?" she asked, seeing that he was.
"I'll be back for tea, mater," said Reggie weakly, plunging his hands into
his jacket pockets.
Snip. Off came a head. Reggie almost jumped.
"I should have thought you could have spared your mother your last
afternoon," said she.
Silence. The Pekes stared. They understood every word of the mater's.
Biddy lay down with her tongue poked out; she was so fat and glossy she
looked like a lump of half-melted toffee. But Chinny's porcelain eyes
gloomed at Reginald, and he sniffed faintly, as though the whole world were
one unpleasant smell. Snip, went the scissors again. Poor little beggars;
they were getting it!
"And where are you going, if your mother may ask?" asked the mater.
It was over at last, but Reggie did not slow down until he was out of sight
of the house and half-way to Colonel Proctor's. Then only he noticed what
a top-hole afternoon it was. It had been raining all the morning, late
summer rain, warm, heavy, quick, and now the sky was clear, except for a
long tail of little clouds, like duckings, sailing over the forest. There
was just enough wind to shake the last drops off the trees; one warm star
splashed on his hand. Ping!--another drummed on his hat. The empty road
gleamed, the hedges smelled of briar, and how big and bright the hollyhocks
glowed in the cottage gardens. And here was Colonel Proctor's--here it was
already. His hand was on the gate, his elbow jogged the syringa bushes,
and petals and pollen scattered over his coat sleeve. But wait a bit.
This was too quick altogether. He'd meant to think the whole thing out
again. Here, steady. But he was walking up the path, with the huge rose
bushes on either side. It can't be done like this. But his hand had
grasped the bell, given it a pull, and started it pealing wildly, as if
he'd come to say the house was on fire. The housemaid must have been in
the hall, too, for the front door flashed open, and Reggie was shut in the
empty drawing-room before that confounded bell had stopped ringing.
Strangely enough, when it did, the big room, shadowy, with some one's
parasol lying on top of the grand piano, bucked him up--or rather, excited
him. It was so quiet, and yet in one moment the door would open, and his
fate be decided. The feeling was not unlike that of being at the
dentist's; he was almost reckless. But at the same time, to his immense
surprise, Reggie heard himself saying, "Lord, Thou knowest, Thou hast not
done much for me..." That pulled him up; that made him realize again how
dead serious it was. Too late. The door handle turned. Anne came in,
crossed the shadowy space between them, gave him her hand, and said, in her
small, soft voice, "I'm so sorry, father is out. And mother is having a
day in town, hat-hunting. There's only me to entertain you, Reggie."
Reggie gasped, pressed his own hat to his jacket buttons, and stammered
out, "As a matter of fact, I've only come...to say good-bye."
"Oh!" cried Anne softly--she stepped back from him and her grey eyes
danced--"what a very short visit!"
Then, watching him, her chin tilted, she laughed outright, a long, soft
peal, and walked away from him over to the piano, and leaned against it,
playing with the tassel of the parasol.
"I'm so sorry," she said, "to be laughing like this. I don't know why I
do. It's just a bad ha--habit." And suddenly she stamped her grey shoe,
and took a pocket-handkerchief out of her white woolly jacket. "I really
must conquer it, it's too absurd," said she.
"Good heavens, Anne," cried Reggie, "I love to hear you laughing! I can't
imagine anything more--"
But the truth was, and they both knew it, she wasn't always laughing; it
wasn't really a habit. Only ever since the day they'd met, ever since that
very first moment, for some strange reason that Reggie wished to God he
understood, Anne had laughed at him. Why? It didn't matter where they
were or what they were talking about. They might begin by being as serious
as possible, dead serious--at any rate, as far as he was concerned--but
then suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, Anne would glance at him, and a
little quick quiver passed over her face. Her lips parted, her eyes
danced, and she began laughing.
Another queer thing about it was, Reggie had an idea she didn't herself
know why she laughed. He had seen her turn away, frown, suck in her
cheeks, press her hands together. But it was no use. The long, soft peal
sounded, even while she cried, "I don't know why I'm laughing." It was a
Now she tucked the handkerchief away.
"Do sit down," said she. "And smoke, won't you? There are cigarettes in
that little box beside you. I'll have one too." He lighted a match for
her, and as she bent forward he saw the tiny flame glow in the pearl ring
she wore. "It is to-morrow that you're going, isn't it?" said Anne.
"Yes, to-morrow as ever was," said Reggie, and he blew a little fan of
smoke. Why on earth was he so nervous? Nervous wasn't the word for it.
"It's--it's frightfully hard to believe," he added.
"Yes--isn't it?" said Anne softly, and she leaned forward and rolled the
point of her cigarette round the green ash-tray. How beautiful she looked
like that!--simply beautiful--and she was so small in that immense chair.
Reginald's heart swelled with tenderness, but it was her voice, her soft
voice, that made him tremble. "I feel you've been here for years," she
Reginald took a deep breath of his cigarette. "It's ghastly, this idea of
going back," be said.
"Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo," sounded from the quiet.
"But you're fond of being out there, aren't you?" said Anne. She hooked
her finger through her pearl necklace. "Father was saying only the other
night how lucky he thought you were to have a life of your own." And she
looked up at him. Reginald's smile was rather wan. "I don't feel
fearfully lucky," he said lightly.
"Roo-coo-coo-coo," came again. And Anne murmured, "You mean it's lonely."
"Oh, it isn't the loneliness I care about," said Reginald, and he stumped
his cigarette savagely on the green ash-tray. "I could stand any amount of
it, used to like it even. It's the idea of--" Suddenly, to his horror, he
felt himself blushing.
Anne jumped up. "Come and say good-bye to my doves," she said. "They've
been moved to the side veranda. You do like doves, don't you, Reggie?"
"Awfully," said Reggie, so fervently that as he opened the French window
for her and stood to one side, Anne ran forward and laughed at the doves
To and fro, to and fro over the fine red sand on the floor of the dove
house, walked the two doves. One was always in front of the other. One
ran forward, uttering a little cry, and the other followed, solemnly bowing
and bowing. "You see," explained Anne, "the one in front, she's Mrs. Dove.
She looks at Mr. Dove and gives that little laugh and runs forward, and he
follows her, bowing and bowing. And that makes her laugh again. Away she
runs, and after her," cried Anne, and she sat back on her heels, "comes
poor Mr. Dove, bowing and bowing...and that's their whole life. They never
do anything else, you know." She got up and took some yellow grains out of
a bag on the roof of the dove house. "When you think of them, out in
Rhodesia, Reggie, you can be sure that is what they will be doing..."
Reggie gave no sign of having seen the doves or of having heard a word.
For the moment he was conscious only of the immense effort it took to tear
his secret out of himself and offer it to Anne. "Anne, do you think you
could ever care for me?" It was done. It was over. And in the little
pause that followed Reginald saw the garden open to the light, the blue
quivering sky, the flutter of leaves on the veranda poles, and Anne turning
over the grains of maize on her palm with one finger. Then slowly she shut
her hand, and the new world faded as she murmured slowly, "No, never in
that way." But he had scarcely time to feel anything before she walked
quickly away, and he followed her down the steps, along the garden path,
under the pink rose arches, across the lawn. There, with the gay
herbaceous border behind her, Anne faced Reginald. "It isn't that I'm not
awfully fond of you," she said. "I am. But"--her eyes widened--"not in
the way"--a quiver passed over her face--"one ought to be fond of--" Her
lips parted, and she couldn't stop herself. She began laughing. "There,
you see, you see," she cried, "it's your check t-tie. Even at this moment,
when one would think one really would be solemn, your tie reminds me
fearfully of the bow-tie that cats wear in pictures! Oh, please forgive me
for being so horrid, please!"
Reggie caught hold of her little warm hand. "There's no question of
forgiving you," he said quickly. "How could there be? And I do believe I
know why I make you laugh. It's because you're so far above me in every
way that I am somehow ridiculous. I see that, Anne. But if I were to--"
"No, no." Anne squeezed his hand hard. "It's not that. That's all wrong.
I'm not far above you at all. You're much better than I am. You're
marvellously unselfish and...and kind and simple. I'm none of those
things. You don't know me. I'm the most awful character," said Anne.
"Please don't interrupt. And besides, that's not the point. The point
is"--she shook her head--"I couldn't possibly marry a man I laughed at.
Surely you see that. The man I marry--" breathed Anne softly. She broke
off. She drew her hand away, and looking at Reggie she smiled strangely,
dreamily. "The man I marry--"
And it seemed to Reggie that a tall, handsome, brilliant stranger stepped
in front of him and took his place--the kind of man that Anne and he had
seen often at the theatre, walking on to the stage from nowhere, without a
word catching the heroine in his arms, and after one long, tremendous look,
carrying her off to anywhere...
Reggie bowed to his vision. "Yes, I see," he said huskily.
"Do you?" said Anne. "Oh, I do hope you do. Because I feel so horrid
about it. It's so hard to explain. You know I've never--" She stopped.
Reggie looked at her. She was smiling. "Isn't it funny?" she said. "I
can say anything to you. I always have been able to from the very
He tried to smile, to say "I'm glad." She went on. "I've never known any
one I like as much as I like you. I've never felt so happy with any one.
But I'm sure it's not what people and what books mean when they talk about
love. Do you understand? Oh, if you only knew how horrid I feel. But
we'd be like...like Mr. and Mrs. Dove."
That did it. That seemed to Reginald final, and so terribly true that he
could hardly bear it. "Don't drive it home," he said, and he turned away
from Anne and looked across the lawn. There was the gardener's cottage,
with the dark ilex-tree beside it. A wet, blue thumb of transparent smoke
hung above the chimney. It didn't look real. How his throat ached! Could
he speak? He had a shot. "I must be getting along home," he croaked, and
he began walking across the lawn. But Anne ran after him. "No, don't.
You can't go yet," she said imploringly. "You can't possibly go away
feeling like that." And she stared up at him frowning, biting her lip.
"Oh, that's all right," said Reggie, giving himself a shake. "I'll...
I'll--" And he waved his hand as much to say "get over it."
"But this is awful," said Anne. She clasped her hands and stood in front
of him. "Surely you do see how fatal it would be for us to marry, don't
"Oh, quite, quite," said Reggie, looking at her with haggard eyes.
"How wrong, how wicked, feeling as I do. I mean, it's all very well for
Mr. and Mrs. Dove. But imagine that in real life--imagine it!"
"Oh, absolutely," said Reggie, and he started to walk on. But again Anne
stopped him. She tugged at his sleeve, and to his astonishment, this time,
instead of laughing, she looked like a little girl who was going to cry.
"Then why, if you understand, are you so un-unhappy?" she wailed. "Why do
you mind so fearfully? Why do you look so aw-awful?"
Reggie gulped, and again he waved something away. "I can't help it," he
said, "I've had a blow. If I cut off now, I'll be able to--"
"How can you talk of cutting off now?" said Anne scornfully. She stamped
her foot at Reggie; she was crimson. "How can you be so cruel? I can't
let you go until I know for certain that you are just as happy as you were
before you asked me to marry you. Surely you must see that, it's so
But it did not seem at all simple to Reginald. It seemed impossibly
"Even if I can't marry you, how can I know that you're all that way away,
with only that awful mother to write to, and that you're miserable, and
that it's all my fault?"
"It's not your fault. Don't think that. It's just fate." Reggie took her
hand off his sleeve and kissed it. "Don't pity me, dear little Anne," he
said gently. And this time he nearly ran, under the pink arches, along the
"Roo-coo-coo-coo! Roo-coo-coo-coo!" sounded from the veranda. "Reggie,
Reggie," from the garden.
He stopped, he turned. But when she saw his timid, puzzled look, she gave
a little laugh.
"Come back, Mr. Dove," said Anne. And Reginald came slowly across the
5. THE YOUNG GIRL.
In her blue dress, with her cheeks lightly flushed, her blue, blue eyes,
and her gold curls pinned up as though for the first time--pinned up to be
out of the way for her flight--Mrs. Raddick's daughter might have just
dropped from this radiant heaven. Mrs. Raddick's timid, faintly
astonished, but deeply admiring glance looked as if she believed it, too;
but the daughter didn't appear any too pleased--why should she?--to have
alighted on the steps of the Casino. Indeed, she was bored--bored as
though Heaven had been full of casinos with snuffy old saints for croupiers
and crowns to play with.
"You don't mind taking Hennie?" said Mrs. Raddick. "Sure you don't?
There's the car, and you'll have tea and we'll be back here on this step--
right here--in an hour. You see, I want her to go in. She's not been
before, and it's worth seeing. I feel it wouldn't be fair to her."
"Oh, shut up, mother," said she wearily. "Come along. Don't talk so much.
And your bag's open; you'll be losing all your money again."
"I'm sorry, darling," said Mrs. Raddick.
"Oh, do come in! I want to make money," said the impatient voice. "It's
all jolly well for you--but I'm broke!"
"Here--take fifty francs, darling, take a hundred!" I saw Mrs. Raddick
pressing notes into her hand as they passed through the swing doors.
Hennie and I stood on the steps a minute, watching the people. He had a
very broad, delighted smile.
"I say," he cried, "there's an English bulldog. Are they allowed to take
dogs in there?"
"No, they're not."
"He's a ripping chap, isn't he? I wish I had one. They're such fun. They
frighten people so, and they're never fierce with their--the people they
belong to." Suddenly he squeezed my arm. "I say, do look at that old
woman. Who is she? Why does she look like that? Is she a gambler?"
The ancient, withered creature, wearing a green satin dress, a black velvet
cloak and a white hat with purple feathers, jerked slowly, slowly up the
steps as though she were being drawn up on wires. She stared in front of
her, she was laughing and nodding and cackling to herself; her claws
clutched round what looked like a dirty boot-bag.
But just at that moment there was Mrs. Raddick again with--her--and another
lady hovering in the background. Mrs. Raddick rushed at me. She was
brightly flushed, gay, a different creature. She was like a woman who is
saying "good-bye" to her friends on the station platform, with not a minute
to spare before the train starts.
"Oh, you're here, still. Isn't that lucky! You've not gone. Isn't that
fine! I've had the most dreadful time with--her," and she waved to her
daughter, who stood absolutely still, disdainful, looking down, twiddling
her foot on the step, miles away. "They won't let her in. I swore she was
twenty-one. But they won't believe me. I showed the man my purse; I
didn't dare to do more. But it was no use. He simply scoffed...And now
I've just met Mrs. MacEwen from New York, and she just won thirteen
thousand in the Salle Privee--and she wants me to go back with her while
the luck lasts. Of course I can't leave--her. But if you'd--"
At that "she" looked up; she simply withered her mother. "Why can't you
leave me?" she said furiously. "What utter rot! How dare you make a scene
like this? This is the last time I'll come out with you. You really are
too awful for words." She looked her mother up and down. "Calm yourself,"
she said superbly.
Mrs. Raddick was desperate, just desperate. She was "wild" to go back with
Mrs. MacEwen, but at the same time ...
I seized my courage. "Would you--do you care to come to tea with--us?"
"Yes, yes, she'll be delighted. That's just what I wanted, isn't it,
darling? Mrs. MacEwen...I'll be back here in an hour...or less...I'll--"
Mrs. R. dashed up the steps. I saw her bag was open again.
So we three were left. But really it wasn't my fault. Hennie looked
crushed to the earth, too. When the car was there she wrapped her dark
coat round her--to escape contamination. Even her little feet looked as
though they scorned to carry her down the steps to us.
"I am so awfully sorry," I murmured as the car started.
"Oh, I don't mind," said she. "I don't want to look twenty-one. Who
would--if they were seventeen! It's"--and she gave a faint shudder--"the
stupidity I loathe, and being stared at by old fat men. Beasts!"
Hennie gave her a quick look and then peered out of the window.
We drew up before an immense palace of pink-and-white marble with orange-
trees outside the doors in gold-and-black tubs.
"Would you care to go in?" I suggested.
She hesitated, glanced, bit her lip, and resigned herself. "Oh well, there
seems nowhere else," said she. "Get out, Hennie."
I went first--to find the table, of course--she followed. But the worst of
it was having her little brother, who was only twelve, with us. That was
the last, final straw--having that child, trailing at her heels.
There was one table. It had pink carnations and pink plates with little
blue tea-napkins for sails.
"Shall we sit here?"
She put her hand wearily on the back of a white wicker chair.
"We may as well. Why not?" said she.
Hennie squeezed past her and wriggled on to a stool at the end. He felt
awfully out of it. She didn't even take her gloves off. She lowered her
eyes and drummed on the table. When a faint violin sounded she winced and
bit her lip again. Silence.
The waitress appeared. I hardly dared to ask her. "Tea--coffee? China
tea--or iced tea with lemon?"
Really she didn't mind. It was all the same to her. She didn't really
want anything. Hennie whispered, "Chocolate!"
But just as the waitress turned away she cried out carelessly, "Oh, you may
as well bring me a chocolate, too."
While we waited she took out a little, gold powder-box with a mirror in the
lid, shook the poor little puff as though she loathed it, and dabbed her
"Hennie," she said, "take those flowers away." She pointed with her puff
to the carnations, and I heard her murmur, "I can't bear flowers on a
table." They had evidently been giving her intense pain, for she
positively closed her eyes as I moved them away.
The waitress came back with the chocolate and the tea. She put the big,
frothing cups before them and pushed across my clear glass. Hennie buried
his nose, emerged, with, for one dreadful moment, a little trembling blob
of cream on the tip. But he hastily wiped it off like a little gentleman.
I wondered if I should dare draw her attention to her cup. She didn't
notice it--didn't see it--until suddenly, quite by chance, she took a sip.
I watched anxiously; she faintly shuddered.
"Dreadfully sweet!" said she.
A tiny boy with a head like a raisin and a chocolate body came round with a
tray of pastries--row upon row of little freaks, little inspirations,
little melting dreams. He offered them to her. "Oh, I'm not at all
hungry. Take them away."
He offered them to Hennie. Hennie gave me a swift look--it must have been
satisfactory--for he took a chocolate cream, a coffee eclair, a meringue
stuffed with chestnut and a tiny horn filled with fresh strawberries. She
could hardly bear to watch him. But just as the boy swerved away she held
up her plate.
"Oh well, give me one," said she.
The silver tongs dropped one, two, three--and a cherry tartlet. "I don't
know why you're giving me all these," she said, and nearly smiled. "I
shan't eat them; I couldn't!"
I felt much more comfortable. I sipped my tea, leaned back, and even asked
if I might smoke. At that she paused, the fork in her hand, opened her
eyes, and really did smile. "Of course," said she. "I always expect
But at that moment a tragedy happened to Hennie. He speared his pastry
horn too hard, and it flew in two, and one half spilled on the table.
Ghastly affair! He turned crimson. Even his ears flared, and one ashamed
hand crept across the table to take what was left of the body away.
"You utter little beast!" said she.
Good heavens! I had to fly to the rescue. I cried hastily, "Will you be
But she had already forgotten Hennie. I was forgotten, too. She was
trying to remember something...She was miles away.
"I--don't--know," she said slowly, from that far place.
"I suppose you prefer it to London. It's more--more--"
When I didn't go on she came back and looked at me, very puzzled.
"Enfin--gayer," I cried, waving my cigarette.
But that took a whole cake to consider. Even then, "Oh well, that
depends!" was all she could safely say.
Hennie had finished. He was still very warm.
I seized the butterfly list off the table. "I say--what about an ice,
Hennie? What about tangerine and ginger? No, something cooler. What
about a fresh pineapple cream?"
Hennie strongly approved. The waitress had her eye on us. The order was
taken when she looked up from her crumbs.
"Did you say tangerine and ginger? I like ginger. You can bring me one."
And then quickly, "I wish that orchestra wouldn't play things from the year
One. We were dancing to that all last Christmas. It's too sickening!"
But it was a charming air. Now that I noticed it, it warmed me.
"I think this is rather a nice place, don't you, Hennie?" I said.
Hennie said: "Ripping!" He meant to say it very low, but it came out very
high in a kind of squeak.
Nice? This place? Nice? For the first time she stared about her, trying
to see what there was...She blinked; her lovely eyes wondered. A very
good-looking elderly man stared back at her through a monocle on a black
ribbon. But him she simply couldn't see. There was a hole in the air
where he was. She looked through and through him.
Finally the little flat spoons lay still on the glass plates. Hennie
looked rather exhausted, but she pulled on her white gloves again. She had
some trouble with her diamond wrist-watch; it got in her way. She tugged
at it--tried to break the stupid little thing--it wouldn't break. Finally,
she had to drag her glove over. I saw, after that, she couldn't stand this
place a moment longer, and, indeed, she jumped up and turned away while I
went through the vulgar act of paying for the tea.
And then we were outside again. It had grown dusky. The sky was sprinkled
with small stars; the big lamps glowed. While we waited for the car to
come up she stood on the step, just as before, twiddling her foot, looking
Hennie bounded forward to open the door and she got in and sank back with--
oh--such a sigh!
"Tell him," she gasped, "to drive as fast as he can."
Hennie grinned at his friend the chauffeur. "Allie veet!" said he. Then
he composed himself and sat on the small seat facing us.
The gold powder-box came out again. Again the poor little puff was shaken;
again there was that swift, deadly-secret glance between her and the
We tore through the black-and-gold town like a pair of scissors tearing
through brocade. Hennie had great difficulty not to look as though he were
hanging on to something.
And when we reached the Casino, of course Mrs. Raddick wasn't there. There
wasn't a sign of her on the steps--not a sign.
"Will you stay in the car while I go and look?"
But no--she wouldn't do that. Good heavens, no! Hennie could stay. She
couldn't bear sitting in a car. She'd wait on the steps.
"But I scarcely like to leave you," I murmured. "I'd very much rather not
leave you here."
At that she threw back her coat; she turned and faced me; her lips parted.
"Good heavens--why! I--I don't mind it a bit. I--I like waiting." And
suddenly her cheeks crimsoned, her eyes grew dark--for a moment I thought
she was going to cry. "L--let me, please," she stammered, in a warm, eager
voice. "I like it. I love waiting! Really--really I do! I'm always
waiting--in all kinds of places..."
Her dark coat fell open, and her white throat--all her soft young body in
the blue dress--was like a flower that is just emerging from its dark bud.
6. LIFE OF MA PARKER.
When the literary gentleman, whose flat old Ma Parker cleaned every
Tuesday, opened the door to her that morning, he asked after her grandson.
Ma Parker stood on the doormat inside the dark little hall, and she
stretched out her hand to help her gentleman shut the door before she
replied. "We buried 'im yesterday, sir," she said quietly.
"Oh, dear me! I'm sorry to hear that," said the literary gentleman in a
shocked tone. He was in the middle of his breakfast. He wore a very
shabby dressing-gown and carried a crumpled newspaper in one hand. But he
felt awkward. He could hardly go back to the warm sitting-room without
saying something--something more. Then because these people set such store
by funerals he said kindly, "I hope the funeral went off all right."
"Beg parding, sir?" said old Ma Parker huskily.
Poor old bird! She did look dashed. "I hope the funeral was a--a--
success," said he. Ma Parker gave no answer. She bent her head and
hobbled off to the kitchen, clasping the old fish bag that held her
cleaning things and an apron and a pair of felt shoes. The literary
gentleman raised his eyebrows and went back to his breakfast.
"Overcome, I suppose," he said aloud, helping himself to the marmalade.
Ma Parker drew the two jetty spears out of her toque and hung it behind the
door. She unhooked her worn jacket and hung that up too. Then she tied
her apron and sat down to take off her boots. To take off her boots or to
put them on was an agony to her, but it had been an agony for years. In
fact, she was so accustomed to the pain that her face was drawn and screwed
up ready for the twinge before she'd so much as untied the laces. That
over, she sat back with a sigh and softly rubbed her knees...
"Gran! Gran!" Her little grandson stood on her lap in his button boots.
He'd just come in from playing in the street.
"Look what a state you've made your gran's skirt into--you wicked boy!"
But he put his arms round her neck and rubbed his cheek against hers.
"Gran, gi' us a penny!" he coaxed.
"Be off with you; Gran ain't got no pennies."
"Yes, you 'ave."
"No, I ain't."
"Yes, you 'ave. Gi' us one!"
Already she was feeling for the old, squashed, black leather purse.
"Well, what'll you give your gran?"
He gave a shy little laugh and pressed closer. She felt his eyelid
quivering against her cheek. "I ain't got nothing," he murmured...
The old woman sprang up, seized the iron kettle off the gas stove and took
it over to the sink. The noise of the water drumming in the kettle
deadened her pain, it seemed. She filled the pail, too, and the washing-up
It would take a whole book to describe the state of that kitchen. During
the week the literary gentleman "did" for himself. That is to say, he
emptied the tea leaves now and again into a jam jar set aside for that
purpose, and if he ran out of clean forks he wiped over one or two on the
roller towel. Otherwise, as he explained to his friends, his "system" was
quite simple, and he couldn't understand why people made all this fuss
"You simply dirty everything you've got, get a hag in once a week to clean
up, and the thing's done."
The result looked like a gigantic dustbin. Even the floor was littered
with toast crusts, envelopes, cigarette ends. But Ma Parker bore him no
grudge. She pitied the poor young gentleman for having no one to look
after him. Out of the smudgy little window you could see an immense
expanse of sad-looking sky, and whenever there were clouds they looked very
worn, old clouds, frayed at the edges, with holes in them, or dark stains
While the water was heating, Ma Parker began sweeping the floor. "Yes,"
she thought, as the broom knocked, "what with one thing and another I've
had my share. I've had a hard life."
Even the neighbours said that of her. Many a time, hobbling home with her
fish bag she heard them, waiting at the corner, or leaning over the area
railings, say among themselves, "She's had a hard life, has Ma Parker."
And it was so true she wasn't in the least proud of it. It was just as if
you were to say she lived in the basement-back at Number 27. A hard
At sixteen she'd left Stratford and come up to London as kitching-maid.
Yes, she was born in Stratford-on-Avon. Shakespeare, sir? No, people were
always arsking her about him. But she'd never heard his name until she saw
it on the theatres.
Nothing remained of Stratford except that "sitting in the fire-place of a
evening you could see the stars through the chimley," and "Mother always
'ad 'er side of bacon, 'anging from the ceiling." And there was something-
-a bush, there was--at the front door, that smelt ever so nice. But the
bush was very vague. She'd only remembered it once or twice in the
hospital, when she'd been taken bad.
That was a dreadful place--her first place. She was never allowed out.
She never went upstairs except for prayers morning and evening. It was a
fair cellar. And the cook was a cruel woman. She used to snatch away her
letters from home before she'd read them, and throw them in the range
because they made her dreamy...And the beedles! Would you believe it?--
until she came to London she'd never seen a black beedle. Here Ma always
gave a little laugh, as though--not to have seen a black beedle! Well! It
was as if to say you'd never seen your own feet.
When that family was sold up she went as "help" to a doctor's house, and
after two years there, on the run from morning till night, she married her
husband. He was a baker.
"A baker, Mrs. Parker!" the literary gentleman would say. For occasionally
he laid aside his tomes and lent an ear, at least, to this product called
Life. "It must be rather nice to be married to a baker!"
Mrs. Parker didn't look so sure.
"Such a clean trade," said the gentleman.
Mrs. Parker didn't look convinced.
"And didn't you like handing the new loaves to the customers?"
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Parker, "I wasn't in the shop above a great deal.
We had thirteen little ones and buried seven of them. If it wasn't the
'ospital it was the infirmary, you might say!"
"You might, indeed, Mrs. Parker!" said the gentleman, shuddering, and
taking up his pen again.
Yes, seven had gone, and while the six were still small her husband was
taken ill with consumption. It was flour on the lungs, the doctor told her
at the time...Her husband sat up in bed with his shirt pulled over his
head, and the doctor's finger drew a circle on his back.
"Now, if we were to cut him open here, Mrs. Parker," said the doctor,
"you'd find his lungs chock-a-block with white powder. Breathe, my good
fellow!" And Mrs. Parker never knew for certain whether she saw or whether
she fancied she saw a great fan of white dust come out of her poor dead
But the struggle she'd had to bring up those six little children and keep
herself to herself. Terrible it had been! Then, just when they were old
enough to go to school her husband's sister came to stop with them to help
things along, and she hadn't been there more than two months when she fell
down a flight of steps and hurt her spine. And for five years Ma Parker
had another baby--and such a one for crying!--to look after. Then young
Maudie went wrong and took her sister Alice with her; the two boys
emigrimated, and young Jim went to India with the army, and Ethel, the
youngest, married a good-for-nothing little waiter who died of ulcers the
year little Lennie was born. And now little Lennie--my grandson...
The piles of dirty cups, dirty dishes, were washed and dried. The ink-
black knives were cleaned with a piece of potato and finished off with a