Part 3 out of 4
piece of cork. The table was scrubbed, and the dresser and the sink that
had sardine tails swimming in it...
He'd never been a strong child--never from the first. He'd been one of
those fair babies that everybody took for a girl. Silvery fair curls he
had, blue eyes, and a little freckle like a diamond on one side of his
nose. The trouble she and Ethel had had to rear that child! The things
out of the newspapers they tried him with! Every Sunday morning Ethel
would read aloud while Ma Parker did her washing.
"Dear Sir,--Just a line to let you know my little Myrtil was laid out for
dead...After four bottils...gained 8 lbs. in 9 weeks, and is still putting
And then the egg-cup of ink would come off the dresser and the letter would
be written, and Ma would buy a postal order on her way to work next
morning. But it was no use. Nothing made little Lennie put it on. Taking
him to the cemetery, even, never gave him a colour; a nice shake-up in the
bus never improved his appetite.
But he was gran's boy from the first...
"Whose boy are you?" said old Ma Parker, straightening up from the stove
and going over to the smudgy window. And a little voice, so warm, so
close, it half stifled her--it seemed to be in her breast under her heart--
laughed out, and said, "I'm gran's boy!"
At that moment there was a sound of steps, and the literary gentleman
appeared, dressed for walking.
"Oh, Mrs. Parker, I'm going out."
"Very good, sir."
"And you'll find your half-crown in the tray of the inkstand."
"Thank you, sir."
"Oh, by the way, Mrs. Parker," said the literary gentleman quickly, "you
didn't throw away any cocoa last time you were here--did you?"
"Very strange. I could have sworn I left a teaspoonful of cocoa in the
tin." He broke off. He said softly and firmly, "You'll always tell me
when you throw things away--won't you, Mrs. Parker?" And he walked off
very well pleased with himself, convinced, in fact, he'd shown Mrs. Parker
that under his apparent carelessness he was as vigilant as a woman.
The door banged. She took her brushes and cloths into the bedroom. But
when she began to make the bed, smoothing, tucking, patting, the thought of
little Lennie was unbearable. Why did he have to suffer so? That's what
she couldn't understand. Why should a little angel child have to arsk for
his breath and fight for it? There was no sense in making a child suffer
...From Lennie's little box of a chest there came a sound as though
something was boiling. There was a great lump of something bubbling in his
chest that he couldn't get rid of. When he coughed the sweat sprang out on
his head; his eyes bulged, his hands waved, and the great lump bubbled as a
potato knocks in a saucepan. But what was more awful than all was when he
didn't cough he sat against the pillow and never spoke or answered, or even
made as if he heard. Only he looked offended.
"It's not your poor old gran's doing it, my lovey," said old Ma Parker,
patting back the damp hair from his little scarlet ears. But Lennie moved
his head and edged away. Dreadfully offended with her he looked--and
solemn. He bent his head and looked at her sideways as though he couldn't
have believed it of his gran.
But at the last...Ma Parker threw the counterpane over the bed. No, she
simply couldn't think about it. It was too much--she'd had too much in her
life to bear. She'd borne it up till now, she'd kept herself to herself,
and never once had she been seen to cry. Never by a living soul. Not even
her own children had seen Ma break down. She'd kept a proud face always.
But now! Lennie gone--what had she? She had nothing. He was all she'd
got from life, and now he was took too. Why must it all have happened to
me? she wondered. "What have I done?" said old Ma Parker. "What have I
As she said those words she suddenly let fall her brush. She found herself
in the kitchen. Her misery was so terrible that she pinned on her hat, put
on her jacket and walked out of the flat like a person in a dream. She did
not know what she was doing. She was like a person so dazed by the horror
of what has happened that he walks away--anywhere, as though by walking
away he could escape...
It was cold in the street. There was a wind like ice. People went
flitting by, very fast; the men walked like scissors; the women trod like
cats. And nobody knew--nobody cared. Even if she broke down, if at last,
after all these years, she were to cry, she'd find herself in the lock-up
as like as not.
But at the thought of crying it was as though little Lennie leapt in his
gran's arms. Ah, that's what she wants to do, my dove. Gran wants to cry.
If she could only cry now, cry for a long time, over everything, beginning
with her first place and the cruel cook, going on to the doctor's, and then
the seven little ones, death of her husband, the children's leaving her,
and all the years of misery that led up to Lennie. But to have a proper
cry over all these things would take a long time. All the same, the time
for it had come. She must do it. She couldn't put it off any longer; she
couldn't wait any more...Where could she go?
"She's had a hard life, has Ma Parker." Yes, a hard life, indeed! Her
chin began to tremble; there was no time to lose. But where? Where?
She couldn't go home; Ethel was there. It would frighten Ethel out of her
life. She couldn't sit on a bench anywhere; people would come arsking her
questions. She couldn't possibly go back to the gentleman's flat; she had
no right to cry in strangers' houses. If she sat on some steps a policeman
would speak to her.
Oh, wasn't there anywhere where she could hide and keep herself to herself
and stay as long as she liked, not disturbing anybody, and nobody worrying
her? Wasn't there anywhere in the world where she could have her cry out--
Ma Parker stood, looking up and down. The icy wind blew out her apron into
a balloon. And now it began to rain. There was nowhere.
7. MARRIAGE A LA MODE.
On his way to the station William remembered with a fresh pang of
disappointment that he was taking nothing down to the kiddies. Poor little
chaps! It was hard lines on them. Their first words always were as they
ran to greet him, "What have you got for me, daddy?" and he had nothing.
He would have to buy them some sweets at the station. But that was what he
had done for the past four Saturdays; their faces had fallen last time when
they saw the same old boxes produced again.
And Paddy had said, "I had red ribbing on mine bee-fore!"
And Johnny had said, "It's always pink on mine. I hate pink."
But what was William to do? The affair wasn't so easily settled. In the
old days, of course, he would have taken a taxi off to a decent toyshop and
chosen them something in five minutes. But nowadays they had Russian toys,
French toys, Serbian toys--toys from God knows where. It was over a year
since Isabel had scrapped the old donkeys and engines and so on because
they were so "dreadfully sentimental" and "so appallingly bad for the
babies' sense of form."
"It's so important," the new Isabel had explained, "that they should like
the right things from the very beginning. It saves so much time later on.
Really, if the poor pets have to spend their infant years staring at these
horrors, one can imagine them growing up and asking to be taken to the
And she spoke as though a visit to the Royal Academy was certain immediate
death to any one...
"Well, I don't know," said William slowly. "When I was their age I used to
go to bed hugging an old towel with a knot in it."
The new Isabel looked at him, her eyes narrowed, her lips apart.
"Dear William! I'm sure you did!" She laughed in the new way.
Sweets it would have to be, however, thought William gloomily, fishing in
his pocket for change for the taxi-man. And he saw the kiddies handing the
boxes round--they were awfully generous little chaps--while Isabel's
precious friends didn't hesitate to help themselves...
What about fruit? William hovered before a stall just inside the station.
What about a melon each? Would they have to share that, too? Or a
pineapple, for Pad, and a melon for Johnny? Isabel's friends could hardly
go sneaking up to the nursery at the children's meal-times. All the same,
as he bought the melon William had a horrible vision of one of Isabel's
young poets lapping up a slice, for some reason, behind the nursery door.
With his two very awkward parcels he strode off to his train. The platform
was crowded, the train was in. Doors banged open and shut. There came
such a loud hissing from the engine that people looked dazed as they
scurried to and fro. William made straight for a first-class smoker,
stowed away his suit-case and parcels, and taking a huge wad of papers out
of his inner pocket, he flung down in the corner and began to read.
"Our client moreover is positive...We are inclined to reconsider...in the
event of--" Ah, that was better. William pressed back his flattened hair
and stretched his legs across the carriage floor. The familiar dull
gnawing in his breast quietened down. "With regard to our decision--" He
took out a blue pencil and scored a paragraph slowly.
Two men came in, stepped across him, and made for the farther corner. A
young fellow swung his golf clubs into the rack and sat down opposite. The
train gave a gentle lurch, they were off. William glanced up and saw the
hot, bright station slipping away. A red-faced girl raced along by the
carriages, there was something strained and almost desperate in the way she
waved and called. "Hysterical!" thought William dully. Then a greasy,
black-faced workman at the end of the platform grinned at the passing
train. And William thought, "A filthy life!" and went back to his papers.
When he looked up again there were fields, and beasts standing for shelter
under the dark trees. A wide river, with naked children splashing in the
shallows, glided into sight and was gone again. The sky shone pale, and
one bird drifted high like a dark fleck in a jewel.
"We have examined our client's correspondence files..." The last sentence
he had read echoed in his mind. "We have examined ..." William hung on to
that sentence, but it was no good; it snapped in the middle, and the
fields, the sky, the sailing bird, the water, all said, "Isabel." The same
thing happened every Saturday afternoon. When he was on his way to meet
Isabel there began those countless imaginary meetings. She was at the
station, standing just a little apart from everybody else; she was sitting
in the open taxi outside; she was at the garden gate; walking across the
parched grass; at the door, or just inside the hall.
And her clear, light voice said, "It's William," or "Hillo, William!" or
"So William has come!" He touched her cool hand, her cool cheek.
The exquisite freshness of Isabel! When he had been a little boy, it was
his delight to run into the garden after a shower of rain and shake the
rose-bush over him. Isabel was that rose-bush, petal-soft, sparkling and
cool. And he was still that little boy. But there was no running into the
garden now, no laughing and shaking. The dull, persistent gnawing in his
breast started again. He drew up his legs, tossed the papers aside, and
shut his eyes.
"What is it, Isabel? What is it?" he said tenderly. They were in their
bedroom in the new house. Isabel sat on a painted stool before the
dressing-table that was strewn with little black and green boxes.
"What is what, William?" And she bent forward, and her fine light hair
fell over her cheeks.
"Ah, you know!" He stood in the middle of the room and he felt a stranger.
At that Isabel wheeled round quickly and faced him.
"Oh, William!" she cried imploringly, and she held up the hair-brush:
"Please! Please don't be so dreadfully stuffy and--tragic. You're always
saying or looking or hinting that I've changed. Just because I've got to
know really congenial people, and go about more, and am frightfully keen
on--on everything, you behave as though I'd--" Isabel tossed back her hair
and laughed--"killed our love or something. It's so awfully absurd"--she
bit her lip--"and it's so maddening, William. Even this new house and the
servants you grudge me."
"Yes, yes, it's true in a way," said Isabel quickly. "You think they are
another bad sign. Oh, I know you do. I feel it," she said softly, "every
time you come up the stairs. But we couldn't have gone on living in that
other poky little hole, William. Be practical, at least! Why, there
wasn't enough room for the babies even."
No, it was true. Every morning when he came back from chambers it was to
find the babies with Isabel in the back drawing-room. They were having
rides on the leopard skin thrown over the sofa back, or they were playing
shops with Isabel's desk for a counter, or Pad was sitting on the hearthrug
rowing away for dear life with a little brass fire shovel, while Johnny
shot at pirates with the tongs. Every evening they each had a pick-a-back
up the narrow stairs to their fat old Nanny.
Yes, he supposed it was a poky little house. A little white house with
blue curtains and a window-box of petunias. William met their friends at
the door with "Seen our petunias? Pretty terrific for London, don't you
But the imbecile thing, the absolutely extraordinary thing was that he
hadn't the slightest idea that Isabel wasn't as happy as he. God, what
blindness! He hadn't the remotest notion in those days that she really
hated that inconvenient little house, that she thought the fat Nanny was
ruining the babies, that she was desperately lonely, pining for new people
and new music and pictures and so on. If they hadn't gone to that studio
party at Moira Morrison's--if Moira Morrison hadn't said as they were
leaving, "I'm going to rescue your wife, selfish man. She's like an
exquisite little Titania"--if Isabel hadn't gone with Moira to Paris--if--
The train stopped at another station. Bettingford. Good heavens! They'd
be there in ten minutes. William stuffed that papers back into his
pockets; the young man opposite had long since disappeared. Now the other
two got out. The late afternoon sun shone on women in cotton frocks and
little sunburnt, barefoot children. It blazed on a silky yellow flower
with coarse leaves which sprawled over a bank of rock. The air ruffling
through the window smelled of the sea. Had Isabel the same crowd with her
this week-end, wondered William?
And he remembered the holidays they used to have, the four of them, with a
little farm girl, Rose, to look after the babies. Isabel wore a jersey and
her hair in a plait; she looked about fourteen. Lord! how his nose used to
peel! And the amount they ate, and the amount they slept in that immense
feather bed with their feet locked together...William couldn't help a grim
smile as he thought of Isabel's horror if she knew the full extent of his
"Hillo, William!" She was at the station after all, standing just as he
had imagined, apart from the others, and--William's heart leapt--she was
"Hallo, Isabel!" William stared. He thought she looked so beautiful that
he had to say something, "You look very cool."
"Do I?" said Isabel. "I don't feel very cool. Come along, your horrid old
train is late. The taxi's outside." She put her hand lightly on his arm
as they passed the ticket collector. "We've all come to meet you," she
said. "But we've left Bobby Kane at the sweet shop, to be called for."
"Oh!" said William. It was all he could say for the moment.
There in the glare waited the taxi, with Bill Hunt and Dennis Green
sprawling on one side, their hats tilted over their faces, while on the
other, Moira Morrison, in a bonnet like a huge strawberry, jumped up and
"No ice! No ice! No ice!" she shouted gaily.
And Dennis chimed in from under his hat. "Only to be had from the
And Bill Hunt, emerging, added, "With whole fish in it."
"Oh, what a bore!" wailed Isabel. And she explained to William how they
had been chasing round the town for ice while she waited for him. "Simply
everything is running down the steep cliffs into the sea, beginning with
"We shall have to anoint ourselves with butter," said Dennis. "May thy
head, William, lack not ointment."
"Look here," said William, "how are we going to sit? I'd better get up by
"No, Bobby Kane's by the driver," said Isabel. "You're to sit between
Moira and me." The taxi started. "What have you got in those mysterious
"De-cap-it-ated heads!" said Bill Hunt, shuddering beneath his hat.
"Oh, fruit!" Isabel sounded very pleased. "Wise William! A melon and a
pineapple. How too nice!"
"No, wait a bit," said William, smiling. But he really was anxious. "I
brought them down for the kiddies."
"Oh, my dear!" Isabel laughed, and slipped her hand through his arm.
"They'd be rolling in agonies if they were to eat them. No"--she patted
his hand--"you must bring them something next time. I refuse to part with
"Cruel Isabel! Do let me smell it!" said Moira. She flung her arms across
William appealingly. "Oh!" The strawberry bonnet fell forward: she
sounded quite faint.
"A Lady in Love with a Pineapple," said Dennis, as the taxi drew up before
a little shop with a striped blind. Out came Bobby Kane, his arms full of
"I do hope they'll be good. I've chosen them because of the colours.
There are some round things which really look too divine. And just look at
this nougat," he cried ecstatically, "just look at it! It's a perfect
But at that moment the shopman appeared. "Oh, I forgot. They're none of
them paid for," said Bobby, looking frightened. Isabel gave the shopman a
note, and Bobby was radiant again. "Hallo, William! I'm sitting by the
driver." And bareheaded, all in white, with his sleeves rolled up to the
shoulders, he leapt into his place. "Avanti!" he cried...
After tea the others went off to bathe, while William stayed and made his
peace with the kiddies. But Johnny and Paddy were asleep, the rose-red
glow had paled, bats were flying, and still the bathers had not returned.
As William wandered downstairs, the maid crossed the hall carrying a lamp.
He followed her into the sitting-room. It was a long room, coloured
yellow. On the wall opposite William some one had painted a young man,
over life-size, with very wobbly legs, offering a wide-eyed daisy to a
young woman who had one very short arm and one very long, thin one. Over
the chairs and sofa there hung strips of black material, covered with big
splashes like broken eggs, and everywhere one looked there seemed to be an
ash-tray full of cigarette ends. William sat down in one of the arm-
chairs. Nowadays, when one felt with one hand down the sides, it wasn't to
come upon a sheep with three legs or a cow that had lost one horn, or a
very fat dove out of the Noah's Ark. One fished up yet another little
paper-covered book of smudged-looking poems...He thought of the wad of
papers in his pocket, but he was too hungry and tired to read. The door
was open; sounds came from the kitchen. The servants were talking as if
they were alone in the house. Suddenly there came a loud screech of
laughter and an equally loud "Sh!" They had remembered him. William got
up and went through the French windows into the garden, and as he stood
there in the shadow he heard the bathers coming up the sandy road; their
voices rang through the quiet.
"I think its up to Moira to use her little arts and wiles."
A tragic moan from Moira.
"We ought to have a gramophone for the weekends that played 'The Maid of
"Oh no! Oh no!" cried Isabel's voice. "That's not fair to William. Be
nice to him, my children! He's only staying until to-morrow evening."
"Leave him to me," cried Bobby Kane. "I'm awfully good at looking after
The gate swung open and shut. William moved on the terrace; they had seen
him. "Hallo, William!" And Bobby Kane, flapping his towel, began to leap
and pirouette on the parched lawn. "Pity you didn't come, William. The
water was divine. And we all went to a little pub afterwards and had sloe
The others had reached the house. "I say, Isabel," called Bobby, "would
you like me to wear my Nijinsky dress to-night?"
"No," said Isabel, "nobody's going to dress. We're all starving.
William's starving, too. Come along, mes amis, let's begin with sardines."
"I've found the sardines," said Moira, and she ran into the hall, holding a
box high in the air.
"A Lady with a Box of Sardines," said Dennis gravely.
"Well, William, and how's London?" asked Bill Hunt, drawing the cork out of
a bottle of whisky.
"Oh, London's not much changed," answered William.
"Good old London," said Bobby, very hearty, spearing a sardine.
But a moment later William was forgotten. Moira Morrison began wondering
what colour one's legs really were under water.
"Mine are the palest, palest mushroom colour."
Bill and Dennis ate enormously. And Isabel filled glasses, and changed
plates, and found matches, smiling blissfully. At one moment, she said, "I
do wish, Bill, you'd paint it."
"Paint what?" said Bill loudly, stuffing his mouth with bread.
"Us," said Isabel, "round the table. It would be so fascinating in twenty
Bill screwed up his eyes and chewed. "Light's wrong," he said rudely, "far
too much yellow"; and went on eating. And that seemed to charm Isabel,
But after supper they were all so tired they could do nothing but yawn
until it was late enough to go to bed...
It was not until William was waiting for his taxi the next afternoon that
he found himself alone with Isabel. When he brought his suit-case down
into the hall, Isabel left the others and went over to him. She stooped
down and picked up the suit-case. "What a weight!" she said, and she gave
a little awkward laugh. "Let me carry it! To the gate."
"No, why should you?" said William. "Of course, not. Give it to me."
"Oh, please, do let me," said Isabel. "I want to, really." They walked
together silently. William felt there was nothing to say now.
"There," said Isabel triumphantly, setting the suit-case down, and she
looked anxiously along the sandy road. "I hardly seem to have seen you
this time," she said breathlessly. "It's so short, isn't it? I feel
you've only just come. Next time--" The taxi came into sight. "I hope
they look after you properly in London. I'm so sorry the babies have been
out all day, but Miss Neil had arranged it. They'll hate missing you.
Poor William, going back to London." The taxi turned. "Good-bye!" She
gave him a little hurried kiss; she was gone.
Fields, trees, hedges streamed by. They shook through the empty, blind-
looking little town, ground up the steep pull to the station.
The train was in. William made straight for a first-class smoker, flung
back into the corner, but this time he let the papers alone. He folded his
arms against the dull, persistent gnawing, and began in his mind to write a
letter to Isabel.
The post was late as usual. They sat outside the house in long chairs
under coloured parasols. Only Bobby Kane lay on the turf at Isabel's feet.
It was dull, stifling; the day drooped like a flag.
"Do you think there will be Mondays in Heaven?" asked Bobby childishly.
And Dennis murmured, "Heaven will be one long Monday."
But Isabel couldn't help wondering what had happened to the salmon they had
for supper last night. She had meant to have fish mayonnaise for lunch and
Moira was asleep. Sleeping was her latest discovery. "It's so wonderful.
One simply shuts one's eyes, that's all. It's so delicious."
When the old ruddy postman came beating along the sandy road on his
tricycle one felt the handle-bars ought to have been oars.
Bill Hunt put down his book. "Letters," he said complacently, and they all
waited. But, heartless postman--O malignant world! There was only one, a
fat one for Isabel. Not even a paper.
"And mine's only from William," said Isabel mournfully.
"He's sending you back your marriage lines as a gentle reminder."
"Does everybody have marriage lines? I thought they were only for
"Pages and pages! Look at her! A Lady reading a Letter," said Dennis.
"My darling, precious Isabel." Pages and pages there were. As Isabel read
on her feeling of astonishment changed to a stifled feeling. What on earth
had induced William ...? How extraordinary it was...What could have made
him ...? She felt confused, more and more excited, even frightened. It
was just like William. Was it? It was absurd, of course, it must be
absurd, ridiculous. "Ha, ha, ha! Oh dear!" What was she to do? Isabel
flung back in her chair and laughed till she couldn't stop laughing.
"Do, do tell us," said the others. "You must tell us."
"I'm longing to," gurgled Isabel. She sat up, gathered the letter, and
waved it at them. "Gather round," she said. "Listen, it's too marvellous.
"A love-letter! But how divine!" "Darling, precious Isabel." But she had
hardly begun before their laughter interrupted her.
"Go on, Isabel, it's perfect."
"It's the most marvellous find."
"Oh, do go on, Isabel!"
"God forbid, my darling, that I should be a drag on your happiness."
"Oh! oh! oh!"
"Sh! sh! sh!"
And Isabel went on. When she reached the end they were hysterical: Bobby
rolled on the turf and almost sobbed.
"You must let me have it just as it is, entire, for my new book," said
Dennis firmly. "I shall give it a whole chapter."
"Oh, Isabel," moaned Moira, "that wonderful bit about holding you in his
"I always thought those letters in divorce cases were made up. But they
pale before this."
"Let me hold it. Let me read it, mine own self," said Bobby Kane.
But, to their surprise, Isabel crushed the letter in her hand. She was
laughing no longer. She glanced quickly at them all; she looked exhausted.
"No, not just now. Not just now," she stammered.
And before they could recover she had run into the house, through the hall,
up the stairs into her bedroom. Down she sat on the side of the bed. "How
vile, odious, abominable, vulgar," muttered Isabel. She pressed her eyes
with her knuckles and rocked to and fro. And again she saw them, but not
four, more like forty, laughing, sneering, jeering, stretching out their
hands while she read them William's letter. Oh, what a loathsome thing to
have done. How could she have done it! "God forbid, my darling, that I
should be a drag on your happiness." William! Isabel pressed her face
into the pillow. But she felt that even the grave bedroom knew her for
what she was, shallow, tinkling, vain...
Presently from the garden below there came voices.
"Isabel, we're all going for a bathe. Do come!"
"Come, thou wife of William!"
"Call her once before you go, call once yet!"
Isabel sat up. Now was the moment, now she must decide. Would she go with
them, or stay here and write to William. Which, which should it be? "I
must make up my mind." Oh, but how could there be any question? Of course
she would stay here and write.
"Titania!" piped Moira.
No, it was too difficult. "I'll--I'll go with them, and write to William
later. Some other time. Later. Not now. But I shall certainly write,"
thought Isabel hurriedly.
And, laughing, in the new way, she ran down the stairs.
8. THE VOYAGE.
The Picton boat was due to leave at half-past eleven. It was a beautiful
night, mild, starry, only when they got out of the cab and started to walk
down the Old Wharf that jutted out into the harbour, a faint wind blowing
off the water ruffled under Fenella's hat, and she put up her hand to keep
it on. It was dark on the Old Wharf, very dark; the wool sheds, the cattle
trucks, the cranes standing up so high, the little squat railway engine,
all seemed carved out of solid darkness. Here and there on a rounded wood-
pile, that was like the stalk of a huge black mushroom, there hung a
lantern, but it seemed afraid to unfurl its timid, quivering light in all
that blackness; it burned softly, as if for itself.
Fenella's father pushed on with quick, nervous strides. Beside him her
grandma bustled along in her crackling black ulster; they went so fast that
she had now and again to give an undignified little skip to keep up with
them. As well as her luggage strapped into a neat sausage, Fenella carried
clasped to her her grandma's umbrella, and the handle, which was a swan's
head, kept giving her shoulder a sharp little peck as if it too wanted her
to hurry...Men, their caps pulled down, their collars turned up, swung by;
a few women all muffled scurried along; and one tiny boy, only his little
black arms and legs showing out of a white woolly shawl, was jerked along
angrily between his father and mother; he looked like a baby fly that had
fallen into the cream.
Then suddenly, so suddenly that Fenella and her grandma both leapt, there
sounded from behind the largest wool shed, that had a trail of smoke
hanging over it, "Mia-oo-oo-O-O!"
"First whistle," said her father briefly, and at that moment they came in
sight of the Picton boat. Lying beside the dark wharf, all strung, all
beaded with round golden lights, the Picton boat looked as if she was more
ready to sail among stars than out into the cold sea. People pressed along
the gangway. First went her grandma, then her father, then Fenella. There
was a high step down on to the deck, and an old sailor in a jersey standing
by gave her his dry, hard hand. They were there; they stepped out of the
way of the hurrying people, and standing under a little iron stairway that
led to the upper deck they began to say good-bye.
"There, mother, there's your luggage!" said Fenella's father, giving
grandma another strapped-up sausage.
"Thank you, Frank."
"And you've got your cabin tickets safe?"
"And your other tickets?"
Grandma felt for them inside her glove and showed him the tips.
He sounded stern, but Fenella, eagerly watching him, saw that he looked
tired and sad. "Mia-oo-oo-O-O!" The second whistle blared just above
their heads, and a voice like a cry shouted, "Any more for the gangway?"
"You'll give my love to father," Fenella saw her father's lips say. And
her grandma, very agitated, answered, "Of course I will, dear. Go now.
You'll be left. Go now, Frank. Go now."
"It's all right, mother. I've got another three minutes." To her surprise
Fenella saw her father take off his hat. He clasped grandma in his arms
and pressed her to him. "God bless you, mother!" she heard him say.
And grandma put her hand, with the black thread glove that was worn through
on her ring finger, against his cheek, and she sobbed, "God bless you, my
own brave son!"
This was so awful that Fenella quickly turned her back on them, swallowed
once, twice, and frowned terribly at a little green star on a mast head.
But she had to turn round again; her father was going.
"Good-bye, Fenella. Be a good girl." His cold, wet moustache brushed her
cheek. But Fenella caught hold of the lapels of his coat.
"How long am I going to stay?" she whispered anxiously. He wouldn't look
at her. He shook her off gently, and gently said, "We'll see about that.
Here! Where's your hand?" He pressed something into her palm. "Here's a
shilling in case you should need it."
A shilling! She must be going away for ever! "Father!" cried Fenella.
But he was gone. He was the last off the ship. The sailors put their
shoulders to the gangway. A huge coil of dark rope went flying through the
air and fell "thump" on the wharf. A bell rang; a whistle shrilled.
Silently the dark wharf began to slip, to slide, to edge away from them.
Now there was a rush of water between. Fenella strained to see with all
her might. "Was that father turning round?"--or waving?--or standing
alone?--or walking off by himself? The strip of water grew broader,
darker. Now the Picton boat began to swing round steady, pointing out to
sea. It was no good looking any longer. There was nothing to be seen but
a few lights, the face of the town clock hanging in the air, and more
lights, little patches of them, on the dark hills.
The freshening wind tugged at Fenella's skirts; she went back to her
grandma. To her relief grandma seemed no longer sad. She had put the two
sausages of luggage one on top of the other, and she was sitting on them,
her hands folded, her head a little on one side. There was an intent,
bright look on her face. Then Fenella saw that her lips were moving and
guessed that she was praying. But the old woman gave her a bright nod as
if to say the prayer was nearly over. She unclasped her hands, sighed,
clasped them again, bent forward, and at last gave herself a soft shake.
"And now, child," she said, fingering the bow of her bonnet-strings, "I
think we ought to see about our cabins. Keep close to me, and mind you
"And be careful the umbrellas aren't caught in the stair rail. I saw a
beautiful umbrella broken in half like that on my way over."
Dark figures of men lounged against the rails. In the glow of their pipes
a nose shone out, or the peak of a cap, or a pair of surprised-looking
eyebrows. Fenella glanced up. High in the air, a little figure, his hands
thrust in his short jacket pockets, stood staring out to sea. The ship
rocked ever so little, and she thought the stars rocked too. And now a
pale steward in a linen coat, holding a tray high in the palm of his hand,
stepped out of a lighted doorway and skimmed past them. They went through
that doorway. Carefully over the high brass-bound step on to the rubber
mat and then down such a terribly steep flight of stairs that grandma had
to put both feet on each step, and Fenella clutched the clammy brass rail
and forgot all about the swan-necked umbrella.
At the bottom grandma stopped; Fenella was rather afraid she was going to
pray again. But no, it was only to get out the cabin tickets. They were
in the saloon. It was glaring bright and stifling; the air smelled of
paint and burnt chop-bones and indiarubber. Fenella wished her grandma
would go on, but the old woman was not to be hurried. An immense basket of
ham sandwiches caught her eye. She went up to them and touched the top one
delicately with her finger.
"How much are the sandwiches?" she asked.
"Tuppence!" bawled a rude steward, slamming down a knife and fork.
Grandma could hardly believe it.
"Twopence each?" she asked.
"That's right," said the steward, and he winked at his companion.
Grandma made a small, astonished face. Then she whispered primly to
Fenella. "What wickedness!" And they sailed out at the further door and
along a passage that had cabins on either side. Such a very nice
stewardess came to meet them. She was dressed all in blue, and her collar
and cuffs were fastened with large brass buttons. She seemed to know
"Well, Mrs. Crane," said she, unlocking their washstand. "We've got you
back again. It's not often you give yourself a cabin."
"No," said grandma. "But this time my dear son's thoughtfulness--"
"I hope--" began the stewardess. Then she turned round and took a long,
mournful look at grandma's blackness and at Fenella's black coat and skirt,
black blouse, and hat with a crape rose.
Grandma nodded. "It was God's will," said she.
The stewardess shut her lips and, taking a deep breath, she seemed to
"What I always say is," she said, as though it was her own discovery,
"sooner or later each of us has to go, and that's a certingty." She
paused. "Now, can I bring you anything, Mrs Crane? A cup of tea? I know
it's no good offering you a little something to keep the cold out."
Grandma shook her head. "Nothing, thank you. We've got a few wine
biscuits, and Fenella has a very nice banana."
"Then I'll give you a look later on," said the stewardess, and she went
out, shutting the door.
What a very small cabin it was! It was like being shut up in a box with
grandma. The dark round eye above the washstand gleamed at them dully.
Fenella felt shy. She stood against the door, still clasping her luggage
and the umbrella. Were they going to get undressed in here? Already her
grandma had taken off her bonnet, and, rolling up the strings, she fixed
each with a pin to the lining before she hung the bonnet up. Her white
hair shone like silk; the little bun at the back was covered with a black
net. Fenella hardly ever saw her grandma with her head uncovered; she
"I shall put on the woollen fascinator your dear mother crocheted for me,"
said grandma, and, unstrapping the sausage, she took it out and wound it
round her head; the fringe of grey bobbles danced at her eyebrows as she
smiled tenderly and mournfully at Fenella. Then she undid her bodice, and
something under that, and something else underneath that. Then there
seemed a short, sharp tussle, and grandma flushed faintly. Snip! Snap!
She had undone her stays. She breathed a sigh of relief, and sitting on
the plush couch, she slowly and carefully pulled off her elastic-sided
boots and stood them side by side.
By the time Fenella had taken off her coat and skirt and put on her flannel
dressing-gown grandma was quite ready.
"Must I take off my boots, grandma? They're lace."
Grandma gave them a moment's deep consideration. "You'd feel a great deal
more comfortable if you did, child," said she. She kissed Fenella. "Don't
forget to say your prayers. Our dear Lord is with us when we are at sea
even more than when we are on dry land. And because I am an experienced
traveller," said grandma briskly, "I shall take the upper berth."
"But, grandma, however will you get up there?"
Three little spider-like steps were all Fenella saw. The old woman gave a
small silent laugh before she mounted them nimbly, and she peered over the
high bunk at the astonished Fenella.
"You didn't think your grandma could do that, did you?" said she. And as
she sank back Fenella heard her light laugh again.
The hard square of brown soap would not lather, and the water in the bottle
was like a kind of blue jelly. How hard it was, too, to turn down those
stiff sheets; you simply had to tear your way in. If everything had been
different, Fenella might have got the giggles...At last she was inside, and
while she lay there panting, there sounded from above a long, soft
whispering, as though some one was gently, gently rustling among tissue
paper to find something. It was grandma saying her prayers...
A long time passed. Then the stewardess came in; she trod softly and
leaned her hand on grandma's bunk.
"We're just entering the Straits," she said.
"It's a fine night, but we're rather empty. We may pitch a little."
And indeed at that moment the Picton Boat rose and rose and hung in the air
just long enough to give a shiver before she swung down again, and there
was the sound of heavy water slapping against her sides. Fenella
remembered she had left the swan-necked umbrella standing up on the little
couch. If it fell over, would it break? But grandma remembered too, at
the same time.
"I wonder if you'd mind, stewardess, laying down my umbrella," she
"Not at all, Mrs. Crane." And the stewardess, coming back to grandma,
breathed, "Your little granddaughter's in such a beautiful sleep."
"God be praised for that!" said grandma.
"Poor little motherless mite!" said the stewardess. And grandma was still
telling the stewardess all about what happened when Fenella fell asleep.
But she hadn't been asleep long enough to dream before she woke up again to
see something waving in the air above her head. What was it? What could
it be? It was a small grey foot. Now another joined it. They seemed to
be feeling about for something; there came a sigh.
"I'm awake, grandma," said Fenella.
"Oh, dear, am I near the ladder?" asked grandma. "I thought it was this
"No, grandma, it's the other. I'll put your foot on it. Are we there?"
"In the harbour," said grandma. "We must get up, child. You'd better have
a biscuit to steady yourself before you move."
But Fenella had hopped out of her bunk. The lamp was still burning, but
night was over, and it was cold. Peering through that round eye she could
see far off some rocks. Now they were scattered over with foam; now a gull
flipped by; and now there came a long piece of real land.
"It's land, grandma," said Fenella, wonderingly, as though they had been at
sea for weeks together. She hugged herself; she stood on one leg and
rubbed it with the toes of the other foot; she was trembling. Oh, it had
all been so sad lately. Was it going to change? But all her grandma said
was, "Make haste, child. I should leave your nice banana for the
stewardess as you haven't eaten it." And Fenella put on her black clothes
again and a button sprang off one of her gloves and rolled to where she
couldn't reach it. They went up on deck.
But if it had been cold in the cabin, on deck it was like ice. The sun was
not up yet, but the stars were dim, and the cold pale sky was the same
colour as the cold pale sea. On the land a white mist rose and fell. Now
they could see quite plainly dark bush. Even the shapes of the umbrella
ferns showed, and those strange silvery withered trees that are like
skeletons...Now they could see the landing-stage and some little houses,
pale too, clustered together, like shells on the lid of a box. The other
passengers tramped up and down, but more slowly than they had the night
before, and they looked gloomy.
And now the landing-stage came out to meet them. Slowly it swam towards
the Picton boat, and a man holding a coil of rope, and a cart with a small
drooping horse and another man sitting on the step, came too.
"It's Mr. Penreddy, Fenella, come for us," said grandma. She sounded
pleased. Her white waxen cheeks were blue with cold, her chin trembled,
and she had to keep wiping her eyes and her little pink nose.
"You've got my--"
"Yes, grandma." Fenella showed it to her.
The rope came flying through the air, and "smack" it fell on to the deck.
The gangway was lowered. Again Fenella followed her grandma on to the
wharf over to the little cart, and a moment later they were bowling away.
The hooves of the little horse drummed over the wooden piles, then sank
softly into the sandy road. Not a soul was to be seen; there was not even
a feather of smoke. The mist rose and fell and the sea still sounded
asleep as slowly it turned on the beach.
"I seen Mr. Crane yestiddy," said Mr. Penreddy. "He looked himself then.
Missus knocked him up a batch of scones last week."
And now the little horse pulled up before one of the shell-like houses.
They got down. Fenella put her hand on the gate, and the big, trembling
dew-drops soaked through her glove-tips. Up a little path of round white
pebbles they went, with drenched sleeping flowers on either side.
Grandma's delicate white picotees were so heavy with dew that they were
fallen, but their sweet smell was part of the cold morning. The blinds
were down in the little house; they mounted the steps on to the veranda. A
pair of old bluchers was on one side of the door, and a large red watering-
can on the other.
"Tut! tut! Your grandpa," said grandma. She turned the handle. Not a
sound. She called, "Walter!" And immediately a deep voice that sounded
half stifled called back, "Is that you, Mary?"
"Wait, dear," said grandma. "Go in there." She pushed Fenella gently into
a small dusky sitting-room.
On the table a white cat, that had been folded up like a camel, rose,
stretched itself, yawned, and then sprang on to the tips of its toes.
Fenella buried one cold little hand in the white, warm fur, and smiled
timidly while she stroked and listened to grandma's gentle voice and the
rolling tones of grandpa.
A door creaked. "Come in, dear." The old woman beckoned, Fenella
followed. There, lying to one side on an immense bed, lay grandpa. Just
his head with a white tuft and his rosy face and long silver beard showed
over the quilt. He was like a very old wide-awake bird.
"Well, my girl!" said grandpa. "Give us a kiss!" Fenella kissed him.
"Ugh!" said grandpa. "Her little nose is as cold as a button. What's that
she's holding? Her grandma's umbrella?"
Fenella smiled again, and crooked the swan neck over the bed-rail. Above
the bed there was a big text in a deep black frame:--
"Lost! One Golden Hour
Set with Sixty Diamond Minutes.
No Reward Is Offered
For It Is Gone For Ever!"
"Yer grandma painted that," said grandpa. And he ruffled his white tuft
and looked at Fenella so merrily she almost thought he winked at her.
9. MISS BRILL.
Although it was so brilliantly fine--the blue sky powdered with gold and
great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques--
Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur. The air was
motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill,
like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and again a
leaf came drifting--from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand
and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was nice to feel it again.
She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-powder,
given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes.
"What has been happening to me?" said the sad little eyes. Oh, how sweet
it was to see them snap at her again from the red eiderdown!...But the
nose, which was of some black composition, wasn't at all firm. It must
have had a knock, somehow. Never mind--a little dab of black sealing-wax
when the time came--when it was absolutely necessary...Little rogue! Yes,
she really felt like that about it. Little rogue biting its tail just by
her left ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and
stroked it. She felt a tingling in her hands and arms, but that came from
walking, she supposed. And when she breathed, something light and sad--no,
not sad, exactly--something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.
There were a number of people out this afternoon, far more than last
Sunday. And the band sounded louder and gayer. That was because the
Season had begun. For although the band played all the year round on
Sundays, out of season it was never the same. It was like some one playing
with only the family to listen; it didn't care how it played if there
weren't any strangers present. Wasn't the conductor wearing a new coat,
too? She was sure it was new. He scraped with his foot and flapped his
arms like a rooster about to crow, and the bandsmen sitting in the green
rotunda blew out their cheeks and glared at the music. Now there came a
little "flutey" bit--very pretty!--a little chain of bright drops. She was
sure it would be repeated. It was; she lifted her head and smiled.
Only two people shared her "special" seat: a fine old man in a velvet
coat, his hands clasped over a huge carved walking-stick, and a big old
woman, sitting upright, with a roll of knitting on her embroidered apron.
They did not speak. This was disappointing, for Miss Brill always looked
forward to the conversation. She had become really quite expert, she
thought, at listening as though she didn't listen, at sitting in other
people's lives just for a minute while they talked round her.
She glanced, sideways, at the old couple. Perhaps they would go soon.
Last Sunday, too, hadn't been as interesting as usual. An Englishman and
his wife, he wearing a dreadful Panama hat and she button boots. And she'd
gone on the whole time about how she ought to wear spectacles; she knew she
needed them; but that it was no good getting any; they'd be sure to break
and they'd never keep on. And he'd been so patient. He'd suggested
everything--gold rims, the kind that curved round your ears, little pads
inside the bridge. No, nothing would please her. "They'll always be
sliding down my nose!" Miss Brill had wanted to shake her.
The old people sat on the bench, still as statues. Never mind, there was
always the crowd to watch. To and fro, in front of the flower-beds and the
band rotunda, the couples and groups paraded, stopped to talk, to greet, to
buy a handful of flowers from the old beggar who had his tray fixed to the
railings. Little children ran among them, swooping and laughing; little
boys with big white silk bows under their chins, little girls, little
French dolls, dressed up in velvet and lace. And sometimes a tiny
staggerer came suddenly rocking into the open from under the trees,
stopped, stared, as suddenly sat down "flop," until its small high-stepping
mother, like a young hen, rushed scolding to its rescue. Other people sat
on the benches and green chairs, but they were nearly always the same,
Sunday after Sunday, and--Miss Brill had often noticed--there was something
funny about nearly all of them. They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and
from the way they stared they looked as though they'd just come from dark
little rooms or even--even cupboards!
Behind the rotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down drooping, and
through them just a line of sea, and beyond the blue sky with gold-veined
Tum-tum-tum tiddle-um! tiddle-um! tum tiddley-um tum ta! blew the band.
Two young girls in red came by and two young soldiers in blue met them, and
they laughed and paired and went off arm-in-arm. Two peasant women with
funny straw hats passed, gravely, leading beautiful smoke-coloured donkeys.
A cold, pale nun hurried by. A beautiful woman came along and dropped her
bunch of violets, and a little boy ran after to hand them to her, and she
took them and threw them away as if they'd been poisoned. Dear me! Miss
Brill didn't know whether to admire that or not! And now an ermine toque
and a gentleman in grey met just in front of her. He was tall, stiff,
dignified, and she was wearing the ermine toque she'd bought when her hair
was yellow. Now everything, her hair, her face, even her eyes, was the
same colour as the shabby ermine, and her hand, in its cleaned glove,
lifted to dab her lips, was a tiny yellowish paw. Oh, she was so pleased
to see him--delighted! She rather thought they were going to meet that
afternoon. She described where she'd been--everywhere, here, there, along
by the sea. The day was so charming--didn't he agree? And wouldn't he,
perhaps?...But he shook his head, lighted a cigarette, slowly breathed a
great deep puff into her face, and even while she was still talking and
laughing, flicked the match away and walked on. The ermine toque was
alone; she smiled more brightly than ever. But even the band seemed to
know what she was feeling and played more softly, played tenderly, and the
drum beat, "The Brute! The Brute!" over and over. What would she do?
What was going to happen now? But as Miss Brill wondered, the ermine toque
turned, raised her hand as though she'd seen some one else, much nicer,
just over there, and pattered away. And the band changed again and played
more quickly, more gayly than ever, and the old couple on Miss Brill's seat
got up and marched away, and such a funny old man with long whiskers
hobbled along in time to the music and was nearly knocked over by four
girls walking abreast.
Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she loved sitting
here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was exactly like a play.
Who could believe the sky at the back wasn't painted? But it wasn't till a
little brown dog trotted on solemn and then slowly trotted off, like a
little "theatre" dog, a little dog that had been drugged, that Miss Brill
discovered what it was that made it so exciting. They were all on the
stage. They weren't only the audience, not only looking on; they were
acting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody
would have noticed if she hadn't been there; she was part of the
performance after all. How strange she'd never thought of it like that
before! And yet it explained why she made such a point of starting from
home at just the same time each week--so as not to be late for the
performance--and it also explained why she had quite a queer, shy feeling
at telling her English pupils how she spent her Sunday afternoons. No
wonder! Miss Brill nearly laughed out loud. She was on the stage. She
thought of the old invalid gentleman to whom she read the newspaper four
afternoons a week while he slept in the garden. She had got quite used to
the frail head on the cotton pillow, the hollowed eyes, the open mouth and
the high pinched nose. If he'd been dead she mightn't have noticed for
weeks; she wouldn't have minded. But suddenly he knew he was having the
paper read to him by an actress! "An actress!" The old head lifted; two
points of light quivered in the old eyes. "An actress--are ye?" And Miss
Brill smoothed the newspaper as though it were the manuscript of her part
and said gently; "Yes, I have been an actress for a long time."
The band had been having a rest. Now they started again. And what they
played was warm, sunny, yet there was just a faint chill--a something, what
was it?--not sadness--no, not sadness--a something that made you want to
sing. The tune lifted, lifted, the light shone; and it seemed to Miss
Brill that in another moment all of them, all the whole company, would
begin singing. The young ones, the laughing ones who were moving together,
they would begin, and the men's voices, very resolute and brave, would join
them. And then she too, she too, and the others on the benches--they would
come in with a kind of accompaniment--something low, that scarcely rose or
fell, something so beautiful--moving...And Miss Brill's eyes filled with
tears and she looked smiling at all the other members of the company. Yes,
we understand, we understand, she thought--though what they understood she
Just at that moment a boy and girl came and sat down where the old couple
had been. They were beautifully dressed; they were in love. The hero and
heroine, of course, just arrived from his father's yacht. And still
soundlessly singing, still with that trembling smile, Miss Brill prepared
"No, not now," said the girl. "Not here, I can't."
"But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there?" asked the
boy. "Why does she come here at all--who wants her? Why doesn't she keep
her silly old mug at home?"
"It's her fu-ur which is so funny," giggled the girl. "It's exactly like a
"Ah, be off with you!" said the boy in an angry whisper. Then: "Tell me,
ma petite chere--"
"No, not here," said the girl. "Not yet."
On her way home she usually bought a slice of honey-cake at the baker's.
It was her Sunday treat. Sometimes there was an almond in her slice,
sometimes not. It made a great difference. If there was an almond it was
like carrying home a tiny present--a surprise--something that might very
well not have been there. She hurried on the almond Sundays and struck the
match for the kettle in quite a dashing way.
But to-day she passed the baker's by, climbed the stairs, went into the
little dark room--her room like a cupboard--and sat down on the red
eiderdown. She sat there for a long time. The box that the fur came out
of was on the bed. She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly, without
looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard
10. HER FIRST BALL.
Exactly when the ball began Leila would have found it hard to say. Perhaps
her first real partner was the cab. It did not matter that she shared the
cab with the Sheridan girls and their brother. She sat back in her own
little corner of it, and the bolster on which her hand rested felt like the
sleeve of an unknown young man's dress suit; and away they bowled, past
waltzing lamp-posts and houses and fences and trees.
"Have you really never been to a ball before, Leila? But, my child, how
too weird--" cried the Sheridan girls.
"Our nearest neighbour was fifteen miles," said Leila softly, gently
opening and shutting her fan.
Oh dear, how hard it was to be indifferent like the others! She tried not
to smile too much; she tried not to care. But every single thing was so
new and exciting ...Meg's tuberoses, Jose's long loop of amber, Laura's
little dark head, pushing above her white fur like a flower through snow.
She would remember for ever. It even gave her a pang to see her cousin
Laurie throw away the wisps of tissue paper he pulled from the fastenings
of his new gloves. She would like to have kept those wisps as a keepsake,
as a remembrance. Laurie leaned forward and put his hand on Laura's knee.
"Look here, darling," he said. "The third and the ninth as usual. Twig?"
Oh, how marvellous to have a brother! In her excitement Leila felt that if
there had been time, if it hadn't been impossible, she couldn't have helped
crying because she was an only child, and no brother had ever said "Twig?"
to her; no sister would ever say, as Meg said to Jose that moment, "I've
never known your hair go up more successfully than it has to-night!"
But, of course, there was no time. They were at the drill hall already;
there were cabs in front of them and cabs behind. The road was bright on
either side with moving fan-like lights, and on the pavement gay couples
seemed to float through the air; little satin shoes chased each other like
"Hold on to me, Leila; you'll get lost," said Laura.
"Come on, girls, let's make a dash for it," said Laurie.
Leila put two fingers on Laura's pink velvet cloak, and they were somehow
lifted past the big golden lantern, carried along the passage, and pushed
into the little room marked "Ladies." Here the crowd was so great there
was hardly space to take off their things; the noise was deafening. Two
benches on either side were stacked high with wraps. Two old women in
white aprons ran up and down tossing fresh armfuls. And everybody was
pressing forward trying to get at the little dressing-table and mirror at
the far end.
A great quivering jet of gas lighted the ladies' room. It couldn't wait;
it was dancing already. When the door opened again and there came a burst
of tuning from the drill hall, it leaped almost to the ceiling.
Dark girls, fair girls were patting their hair, tying ribbons again,
tucking handkerchiefs down the fronts of their bodices, smoothing marble-
white gloves. And because they were all laughing it seemed to Leila that
they were all lovely.
"Aren't there any invisible hair-pins?" cried a voice. "How most
extraordinary! I can't see a single invisible hair-pin."
"Powder my back, there's a darling," cried some one else.
"But I must have a needle and cotton. I've torn simply miles and miles of
the frill," wailed a third.
Then, "Pass them along, pass them along!" The straw basket of programmes
was tossed from arm to arm. Darling little pink-and-silver programmes,
with pink pencils and fluffy tassels. Leila's fingers shook as she took
one out of the basket. She wanted to ask some one, "Am I meant to have one
too?" but she had just time to read: "Waltz 3. 'Two, Two in a Canoe.'
Polka 4. 'Making the Feathers Fly,'" when Meg cried, "Ready, Leila?" and
they pressed their way through the crush in the passage towards the big
double doors of the drill hall.
Dancing had not begun yet, but the band had stopped tuning, and the noise
was so great it seemed that when it did begin to play it would never be
heard. Leila, pressing close to Meg, looking over Meg's shoulder, felt
that even the little quivering coloured flags strung across the ceiling
were talking. She quite forgot to be shy; she forgot how in the middle of
dressing she had sat down on the bed with one shoe off and one shoe on and
begged her mother to ring up her cousins and say she couldn't go after all.
And the rush of longing she had had to be sitting on the veranda of their
forsaken up-country home, listening to the baby owls crying "More pork" in
the moonlight, was changed to a rush of joy so sweet that it was hard to
bear alone. She clutched her fan, and, gazing at the gleaming, golden
floor, the azaleas, the lanterns, the stage at one end with its red carpet
and gilt chairs and the band in a corner, she thought breathlessly, "How
heavenly; how simply heavenly!"
All the girls stood grouped together at one side of the doors, the men at
the other, and the chaperones in dark dresses, smiling rather foolishly,
walked with little careful steps over the polished floor towards the stage.
"This is my little country cousin Leila. Be nice to her. Find her
partners; she's under my wing," said Meg, going up to one girl after
Strange faces smiled at Leila--sweetly, vaguely. Strange voices answered,
"Of course, my dear." But Leila felt the girls didn't really see her.
They were looking towards the men. Why didn't the men begin? What were
they waiting for? There they stood, smoothing their gloves, patting their
glossy hair and smiling among themselves. Then, quite suddenly, as if they
had only just made up their minds that that was what they had to do, the
men came gliding over the parquet. There was a joyful flutter among the
girls. A tall, fair man flew up to Meg, seized her programme, scribbled
something; Meg passed him on to Leila. "May I have the pleasure?" He
ducked and smiled. There came a dark man wearing an eyeglass, then cousin
Laurie with a friend, and Laura with a little freckled fellow whose tie was
crooked. Then quite an old man--fat, with a big bald patch on his head--
took her programme and murmured, "Let me see, let me see!" And he was a
long time comparing his programme, which looked black with names, with
hers. It seemed to give him so much trouble that Leila was ashamed. "Oh,
please don't bother," she said eagerly. But instead of replying the fat
man wrote something, glanced at her again. "Do I remember this bright
little face?" he said softly. "Is it known to me of yore?" At that moment
the band began playing; the fat man disappeared. He was tossed away on a
great wave of music that came flying over the gleaming floor, breaking the
groups up into couples, scattering them, sending them spinning...
Leila had learned to dance at boarding school. Every Saturday afternoon
the boarders were hurried off to a little corrugated iron mission hall
where Miss Eccles (of London) held her "select" classes. But the
difference between that dusty-smelling hall--with calico texts on the
walls, the poor terrified little woman in a brown velvet toque with
rabbit's ears thumping the cold piano, Miss Eccles poking the girls' feet
with her long white wand--and this was so tremendous that Leila was sure if
her partner didn't come and she had to listen to that marvellous music and
to watch the others sliding, gliding over the golden floor, she would die
at least, or faint, or lift her arms and fly out of one of those dark
windows that showed the stars.
"Ours, I think--" Some one bowed, smiled, and offered her his arm; she
hadn't to die after all. Some one's hand pressed her waist, and she
floated away like a flower that is tossed into a pool.
"Quite a good floor, isn't it?" drawled a faint voice close to her ear.
"I think it's most beautifully slippery," said Leila.
"Pardon!" The faint voice sounded surprised. Leila said it again. And
there was a tiny pause before the voice echoed, "Oh, quite!" and she was
swung round again.
He steered so beautifully. That was the great difference between dancing
with girls and men, Leila decided. Girls banged into each other, and
stamped on each other's feet; the girl who was gentleman always clutched
The azaleas were separate flowers no longer; they were pink and white flags
"Were you at the Bells' last week?" the voice came again. It sounded
tired. Leila wondered whether she ought to ask him if he would like to
"No, this is my first dance," said she.
Her partner gave a little gasping laugh. "Oh, I say," he protested.
"Yes, it is really the first dance I've ever been to." Leila was most
fervent. It was such a relief to be able to tell somebody. "You see, I've
lived in the country all my life up till now..."
At that moment the music stopped, and they went to sit on two chairs
against the wall. Leila tucked her pink satin feet under and fanned
herself, while she blissfully watched the other couples passing and
disappearing through the swing doors.
"Enjoying yourself, Leila?" asked Jose, nodding her golden head.
Laura passed and gave her the faintest little wink; it made Leila wonder
for a moment whether she was quite grown up after all. Certainly her
partner did not say very much. He coughed, tucked his handkerchief away,
pulled down his waistcoat, took a minute thread off his sleeve. But it
didn't matter. Almost immediately the band started and her second partner
seemed to spring from the ceiling.
"Floor's not bad," said the new voice. Did one always begin with the
floor? And then, "Were you at the Neaves' on Tuesday?" And again Leila
explained. Perhaps it was a little strange that her partners were not more
interested. For it was thrilling. Her first ball! She was only at the
beginning of everything. It seemed to her that she had never known what
the night was like before. Up till now it had been dark, silent, beautiful
very often--oh yes--but mournful somehow. Solemn. And now it would never
be like that again--it had opened dazzling bright.
"Care for an ice?" said her partner. And they went through the swing
doors, down the passage, to the supper room. Her cheeks burned, she was
fearfully thirsty. How sweet the ices looked on little glass plates and
how cold the frosted spoon was, iced too! And when they came back to the
hall there was the fat man waiting for her by the door. It gave her quite
a shock again to see how old he was; he ought to have been on the stage
with the fathers and mothers. And when Leila compared him with her other
partners he looked shabby. His waistcoat was creased, there was a button
off his glove, his coat looked as if it was dusty with French chalk.
"Come along, little lady," said the fat man. He scarcely troubled to clasp
her, and they moved away so gently, it was more like walking than dancing.
But he said not a word about the floor. "Your first dance, isn't it?" he
"How did you know?"
"Ah," said the fat man, "that's what it is to be old!" He wheezed faintly
as he steered her past an awkward couple. "You see, I've been doing this
kind of thing for the last thirty years."
"Thirty years?" cried Leila. Twelve years before she was born!
"It hardly bears thinking about, does it?" said the fat man gloomily.
Leila looked at his bald head, and she felt quite sorry for him.
"I think it's marvellous to be still going on," she said kindly.
"Kind little lady," said the fat man, and he pressed her a little closer,
and hummed a bar of the waltz. "Of course," he said, "you can't hope to
last anything like as long as that. No-o," said the fat man, "long before
that you'll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice
black velvet. And these pretty arms will have turned into little short fat
ones, and you'll beat time with such a different kind of fan--a black bony
one." The fat man seemed to shudder. "And you'll smile away like the poor
old dears up there, and point to your daughter, and tell the elderly lady
next to you how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club ball. And
your heart will ache, ache"--the fat man squeezed her closer still, as if
he really was sorry for that poor heart--"because no one wants to kiss you
now. And you'll say how unpleasant these polished floors are to walk on,
how dangerous they are. Eh, Mademoiselle Twinkletoes?" said the fat man
Leila gave a light little laugh, but she did not feel like laughing. Was
it--could it all be true? It sounded terribly true. Was this first ball
only the beginning of her last ball, after all? At that the music seemed
to change; it sounded sad, sad; it rose upon a great sigh. Oh, how quickly
things changed! Why didn't happiness last for ever? For ever wasn't a bit
"I want to stop," she said in a breathless voice. The fat man led her to
"No," she said, "I won't go outside. I won't sit down. I'll just stand
here, thank you." She leaned against the wall, tapping with her foot,
pulling up her gloves and trying to smile. But deep inside her a little
girl threw her pinafore over her head and sobbed. Why had he spoiled it
"I say, you know," said the fat man, "you mustn't take me seriously, little
"As if I should!" said Leila, tossing her small dark head and sucking her
Again the couples paraded. The swing doors opened and shut. Now new music
was given out by the bandmaster. But Leila didn't want to dance any more.
She wanted to be home, or sitting on the veranda listening to those baby
owls. When she looked through the dark windows at the stars, they had long
beams like wings...
But presently a soft, melting, ravishing tune began, and a young man with
curly hair bowed before her. She would have to dance, out of politeness,
until she could find Meg. Very stiffly she walked into the middle; very
haughtily she put her hand on his sleeve. But in one minute, in one turn,
her feet glided, glided. The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink
faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel. And when
her next partner bumped her into the fat man and he said, "Pardon," she
smiled at him more radiantly than ever. She didn't even recognise him
11. THE SINGING LESSON.
With despair--cold, sharp despair--buried deep in her heart like a wicked
knife, Miss Meadows, in cap and gown and carrying a little baton, trod the
cold corridors that led to the music hall. Girls of all ages, rosy from
the air, and bubbling over with that gleeful excitement that comes from
running to school on a fine autumn morning, hurried, skipped, fluttered by;
from the hollow class-rooms came a quick drumming of voices; a bell rang; a
voice like a bird cried, "Muriel." And then there came from the staircase
a tremendous knock-knock-knocking. Some one had dropped her dumbbells.
The Science Mistress stopped Miss Meadows.
"Good mor-ning," she cried, in her sweet, affected drawl. "Isn't it cold?
It might be win-ter."
Miss Meadows, hugging the knife, stared in hatred at the Science Mistress.
Everything about her was sweet, pale, like honey. You wold not have been
surprised to see a bee caught in the tangles of that yellow hair.
"It is rather sharp," said Miss Meadows, grimly.
The other smiled her sugary smile.
"You look fro-zen," said she. Her blue eyes opened wide; there came a
mocking light in them. (Had she noticed anything?)
"Oh, not quite as bad as that," said Miss Meadows, and she gave the Science
Mistress, in exchange for her smile, a quick grimace and passed on...
Forms Four, Five, and Six were assembled in the music hall. The noise was
deafening. On the platform, by the piano, stood Mary Beazley, Miss
Meadows' favourite, who played accompaniments. She was turning the music
stool. When she saw Miss Meadows she gave a loud, warning "Sh-sh! girls!"
and Miss Meadows, her hands thrust in her sleeves, the baton under her arm,
strode down the centre aisle, mounted the steps, turned sharply, seized the
brass music stand, planted it in front of her, and gave two sharp taps with
her baton for silence.
"Silence, please! Immediately!" and, looking at nobody, her glance swept
over that sea of coloured flannel blouses, with bobbing pink faces and
hands, quivering butterfly hair-bows, and music-books outspread. She knew
perfectly well what they were thinking. "Meady is in a wax." Well, let
them think it! Her eyelids quivered; she tossed her head, defying them.
What could the thoughts of those creatures matter to some one who stood
there bleeding to death, pierced to the heart, to the heart, by such a
..."I feel more and more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake.
Not that I do not love you. I love you as much as it is possible for me to
love any woman, but, truth to tell, I have come to the conclusion that I am
not a marrying man, and the idea of settling down fills me with nothing
but--" and the word "disgust" was scratched out lightly and "regret"
written over the top.
Basil! Miss Meadows stalked over to the piano. And Mary Beazley, who was
waiting for this moment, bent forward; her curls fell over her cheeks while
she breathed, "Good morning, Miss Meadows," and she motioned towards rather
than handed to her mistress a beautiful yellow chrysanthemum. This little
ritual of the flower had been gone through for ages and ages, quite a term
and a half. It was as much part of the lesson as opening the piano. But
this morning, instead of taking it up, instead of tucking it into her belt
while she leant over Mary and said, "Thank you, Mary. How very nice! Turn
to page thirty-two," what was Mary's horror when Miss Meadows totally
ignored the chrysanthemum, made no reply to her greeting, but said in a
voice of ice, "Page fourteen, please, and mark the accents well."
Staggering moment! Mary blushed until the tears stood in her eyes, but
Miss Meadows was gone back to the music stand; her voice rang through the
"Page fourteen. We will begin with page fourteen. 'A Lament.' Now,
girls, you ought to know it by this time. We shall take it all together;
not in parts, all together. And without expression. Sing it, though,
quite simply, beating time with the left hand."
She raised the baton; she tapped the music stand twice. Down came Mary on
the opening chord; down came all those left hands, beating the air, and in
chimed those young, mournful voices:--
"Fast! Ah, too Fast Fade the Ro-o-ses of Pleasure;
Soon Autumn yields unto Wi-i-nter Drear.
Fleetly! Ah, Fleetly Mu-u-sic's Gay Measure
Passes away from the Listening Ear."
Good Heavens, what could be more tragic than that lament! Every note was a
sigh, a sob, a groan of awful mournfulness. Miss Meadows lifted her arms
in the wide gown and began conducting with both hands. "...I feel more and
more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake..." she beat. And the
voices cried: "Fleetly! Ah, Fleetly." What could have possessed him to
write such a letter! What could have led up to it! It came out of
nothing. His last letter had been all about a fumed-oak bookcase he had
bought for "our" books, and a "natty little hall-stand" he had seen, "a
very neat affair with a carved owl on a bracket, holding three hat-brushes
in its claws." How she had smiled at that! So like a man to think one
needed three hat-brushes! "From the Listening Ear," sang the voices.
"Once again," said Miss Meadows. "But this time in parts. Still without
expression." "Fast! Ah, too Fast." With the gloom of the contraltos
added, one could scarcely help shuddering. "Fade the Roses of Pleasure."
Last time he had come to see her, Basil had worn a rose in his buttonhole.
How handsome he had looked in that bright blue suit, with that dark red
rose! And he knew it, too. He couldn't help knowing it. First he stroked
his hair, then his moustache; his teeth gleamed when he smiled.
"The headmaster's wife keeps on asking me to dinner. It's a perfect
nuisance. I never get an evening to myself in that place."
"But can't you refuse?"
"Oh, well, it doesn't do for a man in my position to be unpopular."
"Music's Gay Measure," wailed the voices. The willow trees, outside the
high, narrow windows, waved in the wind. They had lost half their leaves.
The tiny ones that clung wriggled like fishes caught on a line. "...I am
not a marrying man..." The voices were silent; the piano waited.
"Quite good," said Miss Meadows, but still in such a strange, stony tone
that the younger girls began to feel positively frightened. "But now that
we know it, we shall take it with expression. As much expression as you
can put into it. Think of the words, girls. Use your imaginations.
'Fast! Ah, too Fast,'" cried Miss Meadows. "That ought to break out--a
loud, strong forte--a lament. And then in the second line, 'Winter Drear,'
make that 'Drear' sound as if a cold wind were blowing through it. 'Dre-
ear!'" said she so awfully that Mary Beazley, on the music stool, wriggled
her spine. "The third line should be one crescendo. 'Fleetly! Ah,
Fleetly Music's Gay Measure.' Breaking on the first word of the last line,
Passes.' And then on the word, 'Away,' you must begin to die...to
fade...until 'The Listening Ear' is nothing more than a faint whisper...You
can slow down as much as you like almost on the last line. Now, please."
Again the two light taps; she lifted her arms again. 'Fast! Ah, too
Fast.' "...and the idea of settling down fills me with nothing but
disgust--" Disgust was what he had written. That was as good as to say
their engagement was definitely broken off. Broken off! Their engagement!
People had been surprised enough that she had got engaged. The Science
Mistress would not believe it at first. But nobody had been as surprised
as she. She was thirty. Basil was twenty-five. It had been a miracle,
simply a miracle, to hear him say, as they walked home from church that
very dark night, "You know, somehow or other, I've got fond of you." And
he had taken hold of the end of her ostrich feather boa. "Passes away from
the Listening Ear."
"Repeat! Repeat!" said Miss Meadows. "More expression, girls! Once
"Fast! Ah, too Fast." The older girls were crimson; some of the younger
ones began to cry. Big spots of rain blew against the windows, and one
could hear the willows whispering, "...not that I do not love you..."
"But, my darling, if you love me," thought Miss Meadows, "I don't mind how
much it is. Love me as little as you like." But she knew he didn't love
her. Not to have cared enough to scratch out that word "disgust," so that
she couldn't read it! "Soon Autumn yields unto Winter Drear." She would
have to leave the school, too. She could never face the Science Mistress
or the girls after it got known. She would have to disappear somewhere.
"Passes away." The voices began to die, to fade, to whisper...to vanish...
Suddenly the door opened. A little girl in blue walked fussily up the
aisle, hanging her head, biting her lips, and twisting the silver bangle on
her red little wrist. She came up the steps and stood before Miss Meadows.
"Well, Monica, what is it?"
"Oh, if you please, Miss Meadows," said the little girl, gasping, "Miss
Wyatt wants to see you in the mistress's room."
"Very well," said Miss Meadows. And she called to the girls, "I shall put
you on your honour to talk quietly while I am away." But they were too
subdued to do anything else. Most of them were blowing their noses.
The corridors were silent and cold; they echoed to Miss Meadows' steps.
The head mistress sat at her desk. For a moment she did not look up. She
was as usual disentangling her eyeglasses, which had got caught in her lace
tie. "Sit down, Miss Meadows," she said very kindly. And then she picked
up a pink envelope from the blotting-pad. "I sent for you just now because
this telegram has come for you."
"A telegram for me, Miss Wyatt?"
Basil! He had committed suicide, decided Miss Meadows. Her hand flew out,
but Miss Wyatt held the telegram back a moment. "I hope it's not bad
news," she said, so more than kindly. And Miss Meadows tore it open.
"Pay no attention to letter, must have been mad, bought hat-stand to-day--
Basil," she read. She couldn't take her eyes off the telegram.
"I do hope it's nothing very serious," said Miss Wyatt, leaning forward.
"Oh, no, thank you, Miss Wyatt," blushed Miss Meadows. "It's nothing bad
at all. It's"--and she gave an apologetic little laugh--"it's from my
fiance saying that...saying that--" There was a pause. "I see," said Miss
Wyatt. And another pause. Then--"You've fifteen minutes more of your
class, Miss Meadows, haven't you?"
"Yes, Miss Wyatt." She got up. She half ran towards the door.
"Oh, just one minute, Miss Meadows," said Miss Wyatt. "I must say I don't
approve of my teachers having telegrams sent to them in school hours,
unless in case of very bad news, such as death," explained Miss Wyatt, "or
a very serious accident, or something to that effect. Good news, Miss
Meadows, will always keep, you know."
On the wings of hope, of love, of joy, Miss Meadows sped back to the music
hall, up the aisle, up the steps, over to the piano.
"Page thirty-two, Mary," she said, "page thirty-two," and, picking up the
yellow chrysanthemum, she held it to her lips to hide her smile. Then she
turned to the girls, rapped with her baton: "Page thirty-two, girls. Page
"We come here To-day with Flowers o'erladen,
With Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot,
"Stop! Stop!" cried Miss Meadows. "This is awful. This is dreadful."
And she beamed at her girls. "What's the matter with you all? Think,
girls, think of what you're singing. Use your imaginations. 'With Flowers
o'erladen. Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot.' And 'Congratulate.'"
Miss Meadows broke off. "Don't look so doleful, girls. It ought to sound
warm, joyful, eager. 'Congratulate.' Once more. Quickly. All together.
And this time Miss Meadows' voice sounded over all the other voices--full,
deep, glowing with expression.
12. THE STRANGER
It seemed to the little crowd on the wharf that she was never going to move
again. There she lay, immense, motionless on the grey crinkled water, a
loop of smoke above her, an immense flock of gulls screaming and diving
after the galley droppings at the stern. You could just see little couples
parading--little flies walking up and down the dish on the grey crinkled
tablecloth. Other flies clustered and swarmed at the edge. Now there was
a gleam of white on the lower deck--the cook's apron or the stewardess
perhaps. Now a tiny black spider raced up the ladder on to the bridge.
In the front of the crowd a strong-looking, middle-aged man, dressed very
well, very snugly in a grey overcoat, grey silk scarf, thick gloves and
dark felt hat, marched up and down, twirling his folded umbrella. He
seemed to be the leader of the little crowd on the wharf and at the same
time to keep them together. He was something between the sheep-dog and the
But what a fool--what a fool he had been not to bring any glasses! There
wasn't a pair of glasses between the whole lot of them.
"Curious thing, Mr. Scott, that none of us thought of glasses. We might
have been able to stir 'em up a bit. We might have managed a little
signalling. 'Don't hesitate to land. Natives harmless.' Or: 'A welcome
awaits you. All is forgiven.' What? Eh?"
Mr. Hammond's quick, eager glance, so nervous and yet so friendly and
confiding, took in everybody on the wharf, roped in even those old chaps
lounging against the gangways. They knew, every man-jack of them, that
Mrs. Hammond was on that boat, and that he was so tremendously excited it
never entered his head not to believe that this marvellous fact meant
something to them too. It warmed his heart towards them. They were, he
decided, as decent a crowd of people--Those old chaps over by the gangways,
too--fine, solid old chaps. What chests--by Jove! And he squared his own,
plunged his thick-gloved hands into his pockets, rocked from heel to toe.
"Yes, my wife's been in Europe for the last ten months. On a visit to our
eldest girl, who was married last year. I brought her up here, as far as
Salisbury, myself. So I thought I'd better come and fetch her back. Yes,
yes, yes." The shrewd grey eyes narrowed again and searched anxiously,
quickly, the motionless liner. Again his overcoat was unbuttoned. Out
came the thin, butter-yellow watch again, and for the twentieth--fiftieth--
hundredth time he made the calculation.
"Let me see now. It was two fifteen when the doctor's launch went off.
Two fifteen. It is now exactly twenty-eight minutes past four. That is to
say, the doctor's been gone two hours and thirteen minutes. Two hours and
thirteen minutes! Whee-ooh!" He gave a queer little half-whistle and
snapped his watch to again. "But I think we should have been told if there
was anything up--don't you, Mr. Gaven?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Hammond! I don't think there's anything to--anything to
worry about," said Mr. Gaven, knocking out his pipe against the heel of his
shoe. "At the same time--"
"Quite so! Quite so!" cried Mr. Hammond. "Dashed annoying!" He paced
quickly up and down and came back again to his stand between Mr. and Mrs.
Scott and Mr. Gaven. "It's getting quite dark, too," and he waved his
folded umbrella as though the dusk at least might have had the decency to
keep off for a bit. But the dusk came slowly, spreading like a slow stain
over the water. Little Jean Scott dragged at her mother's hand.
"I wan' my tea, mammy!" she wailed.
"I expect you do," said Mr. Hammond. "I expect all these ladies want their
tea." And his kind, flushed, almost pitiful glance roped them all in
again. He wondered whether Janey was having a final cup of tea in the
saloon out there. He hoped so; he thought not. It would be just like her
not to leave the deck. In that case perhaps the deck steward would bring
her up a cup. If he'd been there he'd have got it for her--somehow. And
for a moment he was on deck, standing over her, watching her little hand
fold round the cup in the way she had, while she drank the only cup of tea
to be got on board...But now he was back here, and the Lord only knew when
that cursed Captain would stop hanging about in the stream. He took
another turn, up and down, up and down. He walked as far as the cab-stand
to make sure his driver hadn't disappeared; back he swerved again to the
little flock huddled in the shelter of the banana crates. Little Jean
Scott was still wanting her tea. Poor little beggar! He wished he had a
bit of chocolate on him.
"Here, Jean!" he said. "Like a lift up?" And easily, gently, he swung
the little girl on to a higher barrel. The movement of holding her,
steadying her, relieved him wonderfully, lightened his heart.
"Hold on," he said, keeping an arm round her.
"Oh, don't worry about Jean, Mr. Hammond!" said Mrs. Scott.
"That's all right, Mrs. Scott. No trouble. It's a pleasure. Jean's a
little pal of mine, aren't you, Jean?"
"Yes, Mr. Hammond," said Jean, and she ran her finger down the dent of his
But suddenly she caught him by the ear and gave a loud scream. "Lo-ok, Mr.
Hammond! She's moving! Look, she's coming in!"
By Jove! So she was. At last! She was slowly, slowly turning round. A
bell sounded far over the water and a great spout of steam gushed into the
air. The gulls rose; they fluttered away like bits of white paper. And
whether that deep throbbing was her engines or his heart Mr. Hammond
couldn't say. He had to nerve himself to bear it, whatever it was. At
that moment old Captain Johnson, the harbour-master, came striding down the
wharf, a leather portfolio under his arm.
"Jean'll be all right," said Mr. Scott. "I'll hold her." He was just in
time. Mr. Hammond had forgotten about Jean. He sprang away to greet old
"Well, Captain," the eager, nervous voice rang out again, "you've taken
pity on us at last."
"It's no good blaming me, Mr. Hammond," wheezed old Captain Johnson,
staring at the liner. "You got Mrs. Hammond on board, ain't yer?"
"Yes, yes!" said Hammond, and he kept by the harbour-master's side. "Mrs.
Hammond's there. Hul-lo! We shan't be long now!"
With her telephone ring-ringing, the thrum of her screw filling the air,
the big liner bore down on them, cutting sharp through the dark water so
that big white shavings curled to either side. Hammond and the harbour-
master kept in front of the rest. Hammond took off his hat; he raked the
decks--they were crammed with passengers; he waved his hat and bawled a
loud, strange "Hul-lo!" across the water; and then turned round and burst
out laughing and said something--nothing--to old Captain Johnson.
"Seen her?" asked the harbour-master.
"No, not yet. Steady--wait a bit!" And suddenly, between two great clumsy
idiots--"Get out of the way there!" he signed with his umbrella--he saw a
hand raised--a white glove shaking a handkerchief. Another moment, and--
thank God, thank God!--there she was. There was Janey. There was Mrs.
Hammond, yes, yes, yes--standing by the rail and smiling and nodding and
waving her handkerchief.
"Well that's first class--first class! Well, well, well!" He positively
stamped. Like lightning he drew out his cigar-case and offered it to old
Captain Johnson. "Have a cigar, Captain! They're pretty good. Have a
couple! Here"--and he pressed all the cigars in the case on the harbour-
master--"I've a couple of boxes up at the hotel."
"Thenks, Mr. Hammond!" wheezed old Captain Johnson.
Hammond stuffed the cigar-case back. His hands were shaking, but he'd got
hold of himself again. He was able to face Janey. There she was, leaning
on the rail, talking to some woman and at the same time watching him, ready
for him. It struck him, as the gulf of water closed, how small she looked
on that huge ship. His heart was wrung with such a spasm that he could
have cried out. How little she looked to have come all that long way and
back by herself! Just like her, though. Just like Janey. She had the
courage of a--And now the crew had come forward and parted the passengers;
they had lowered the rails for the gangways.
The voices on shore and the voices on board flew to greet each other.
"Hillo, Aun' Emily!"
"Had a good voyage?"
"Shan't be long now!"
"Not long now."
The engines stopped. Slowly she edged to the wharf-side.
"Make way there--make way--make way!" And the wharf hands brought the
heavy gangways along at a sweeping run. Hammond signed to Janey to stay
where she was. The old harbour-master stepped forward; he followed. As to
"ladies first," or any rot like that, it never entered his head.
"After you, Captain!" he cried genially. And, treading on the old man's
heels, he strode up the gangway on to the deck in a bee-line to Janey, and
Janey was clasped in his arms.
"Well, well, well! Yes, yes! Here we are at last!" he stammered. It was
all he could say. And Janey emerged, and her cool little voice--the only
voice in the world for him--said,
"Well, darling! Have you been waiting long?"
No; not long. Or, at any rate, it didn't matter. It was over now. But
the point was, he had a cab waiting at the end of the wharf. Was she ready
to go off. Was her luggage ready? In that case they could cut off sharp
with her cabin luggage and let the rest go hang until to-morrow. He bent
over her and she looked up with her familiar half-smile. She was just the
same. Not a day changed. Just as he'd always known her. She laid her
small hand on his sleeve.
"How are the children, John?" she asked.
(Hang the children!) "Perfectly well. Never better in their lives."
"Haven't they sent me letters?"
"Yes, yes--of course! I've left them at the hotel for you to digest later
"We can't go quite so fast," said she. "I've got people to say good-bye
to--and then there's the Captain." As his face fell she gave his arm a
small understanding squeeze. "If the Captain comes off the bridge I want
you to thank him for having looked after your wife so beautifully." Well,
he'd got her. If she wanted another ten minutes--As he gave way she was
surrounded. The whole first-class seemed to want to say good-bye to Janey.
"Good-bye, dear Mrs. Hammond! And next time you're in Sydney I'll expect
"Darling Mrs. Hammond! You won't forget to write to me, will you?"
"Well, Mrs. Hammond, what this boat would have been without you!"
It was as plain as a pikestaff that she was by far the most popular woman
on board. And she took it all--just as usual. Absolutely composed. Just
her little self--just Janey all over; standing there with her veil thrown
back. Hammond never noticed what his wife had on. It was all the same to
him whatever she wore. But to-day he did notice that she wore a black
"costume"--didn't they call it?--with white frills, trimmings he supposed
they were, at the neck and sleeves. All this while Janey handed him round.
"John, dear!" And then: "I want to introduce you to--"
Finally they did escape, and she led the way to her state-room. To follow
Janey down the passage that she knew so well--that was so strange to him;
to part the green curtains after her and to step into the cabin that had
been hers gave him exquisite happiness. But--confound it!--the stewardess
was there on the floor, strapping up the rugs.
"That's the last, Mrs. Hammond," said the stewardess, rising and pulling
down her cuffs.
He was introduced again, and then Janey and the stewardess disappeared into
the passage. He heard whisperings. She was getting the tipping business
over, he supposed. He sat down on the striped sofa and took his hat off.
There were the rugs she had taken with her; they looked good as new. All
her luggage looked fresh, perfect. The labels were written in her
beautiful little clear hand--"Mrs. John Hammond."
"Mrs. John Hammond!" He gave a long sigh of content and leaned back,
crossing his arms. The strain was over. He felt he could have sat there
for ever sighing his relief--the relief at being rid of that horrible tug,
pull, grip on his heart. The danger was over. That was the feeling. They
were on dry land again.
But at that moment Janey's head came round the corner.
"Darling--do you mind? I just want to go and say good-bye to the doctor."
Hammond started up. "I'll come with you."
"No, no!" she said. "Don't bother. I'd rather not. I'll not be a
And before he could answer she was gone. He had half a mind to run after
her; but instead he sat down again.
Would she really not be long? What was the time now? Out came the watch;
he stared at nothing. That was rather queer of Janey, wasn't it? Why
couldn't she have told the stewardess to say good-bye for her? Why did she
have to go chasing after the ship's doctor? She could have sent a note
from the hotel even if the affair had been urgent. Urgent? Did it--could
it mean that she had been ill on the voyage--she was keeping something from
him? That was it! He seized his hat. He was going off to find that
fellow and to wring the truth out of him at all costs. He thought he'd
noticed just something. She was just a touch too calm--too steady. From
the very first moment--
The curtains rang. Janey was back. He jumped to his feet.
"Janey, have you been ill on this voyage? You have!"
"Ill?" Her airy little voice mocked him. She stepped over the rugs, and
came up close, touched his breast, and looked up at him.
"Darling," she said, "don't frighten me. Of course I haven't! Whatever
makes you think I have? Do I look ill?"
But Hammond didn't see her. He only felt that she was looking at him and
that there was no need to worry about anything. She was here to look after
things. It was all right. Everything was.
The gentle pressure of her hand was so calming that he put his over hers to
hold it there. And she said:
"Stand still. I want to look at you. I haven't seen you yet. You've had
your beard beautifully trimmed, and you look--younger, I think, and
decidedly thinner! Bachelor life agrees with you."
"Agrees with me!" He groaned for love and caught her close again. And
again, as always, he had the feeling that he was holding something that
never was quite his--his. Something too delicate, too precious, that would
fly away once he let go.
"For God's sake let's get off to the hotel so that we can be by ourselves!"
And he rang the bell hard for some one to look sharp with the luggage.
Walking down the wharf together she took his arm. He had her on his arm
again. And the difference it made to get into the cab after Janey--to
throw the red-and-yellow striped blanket round them both--to tell the
driver to hurry because neither of them had had any tea. No more going
without his tea or pouring out his own. She was back. He turned to her,
squeezed her hand, and said gently, teasingly, in the "special" voice he
had for her: "Glad to be home again, dearie?" She smiled; she didn't even
bother to answer, but gently she drew his hand away as they came to the
"We've got the best room in the hotel," he said. "I wouldn't be put off
with another. And I asked the chambermaid to put in a bit of a fire in
case you felt chilly. She's a nice, attentive girl. And I thought now we
were here we wouldn't bother to go home to-morrow, but spend the day
looking round and leave the morning after. Does that suit you? There's no
hurry, is there? The children will have you soon enough...I thought a
day's sight-seeing might make a nice break in your journey--eh, Janey?"
"Have you taken the tickets for the day after?" she asked.
"I should think I have!" He unbuttoned his overcoat and took out his
bulging pocket-book. "Here we are! I reserved a first-class carriage to
Cooktown. There it is--'Mr. and Mrs. John Hammond.' I thought we might as
well do ourselves comfortably, and we don't want other people butting in,
do we? But if you'd like to stop here a bit longer--?"
"Oh, no!" said Janey quickly. "Not for the world! The day after to-
morrow, then. And the children--"
But they had reached the hotel. The manager was standing in the broad,
brilliantly-lighted porch. He came down to greet them. A porter ran from
the hall for their boxes.
"Well, Mr. Arnold, here's Mrs. Hammond at last!"
The manager led them through the hall himself and pressed the elevator-
bell. Hammond knew there were business pals of his sitting at the little
hall tables having a drink before dinner. But he wasn't going to risk
interruption; he looked neither to the right nor the left. They could
think what they pleased. If they didn't understand, the more fools they--
and he stepped out of the lift, unlocked the door of their room, and
shepherded Janey in. The door shut. Now, at last, they were alone
together. He turned up the light. The curtains were drawn; the fire
blazed. He flung his hat on to the huge bed and went towards her.
But--would you believe it!--again they were interrupted. This time it was
the porter with the luggage. He made two journeys of it, leaving the door
open in between, taking his time, whistling through his teeth in the
corridor. Hammond paced up and down the room, tearing off his gloves,
tearing off his scarf. Finally he flung his overcoat on to the bedside.
At last the fool was gone. The door clicked. Now they were alone. Said
Hammond: "I feel I'll never have you to myself again. These cursed
people! Janey"--and he bent his flushed, eager gaze upon her--"let's have
dinner up here. If we go down to the restaurant we'll be interrupted, and
then there's the confounded music" (the music he'd praised so highly,
applauded so loudly last night!). "We shan't be able to hear each other
speak. Let's have something up here in front of the fire. It's too late
for tea. I'll order a little supper, shall I? How does that idea strike
"Do, darling!" said Janey. "And while you're away--the children's