Part 4 out of 4
"Oh, later on will do!" said Hammond.
"But then we'd get it over," said Janey. "And I'd first have time to--"
"Oh, I needn't go down!" explained Hammond. "I'll just ring and give the
order...you don't want to send me away, do you?"
Janey shook her head and smiled.
"But you're thinking of something else. You're worrying about something,"
said Hammond. "What is it? Come and sit here--come and sit on my knee
before the fire."
"I'll just unpin my hat," said Janey, and she went over to the dressing-
table. "A-ah!" She gave a little cry.
"What is it?"
"Nothing, darling. I've just found the children's letters. That's all
right! They will keep. No hurry now!" She turned to him, clasping them.
She tucked them into her frilled blouse. She cried quickly, gaily: "Oh,
how typical this dressing-table is of you!"
"Why? What's the matter with it?" said Hammond.
"If it were floating in eternity I should say 'John!'" laughed Janey,
staring at the big bottle of hair tonic, the wicker bottle of eau-de-
Cologne, the two hair-brushes, and a dozen new collars tied with pink tape.
"Is this all your luggage?"
"Hang my luggage!" said Hammond; but all the same he liked being laughed at
by Janey. "Let's talk. Let's get down to things. Tell me"--and as Janey
perched on his knees he leaned back and drew her into the deep, ugly chair-
-"tell me you're really glad to be back, Janey."
"Yes, darling, I am glad," she said.
But just as when he embraced her he felt she would fly away, so Hammond
never knew--never knew for dead certain that she was as glad as he was.
How could he know? Would he ever know? Would he always have this craving-
-this pang like hunger, somehow, to make Janey so much part of him that
there wasn't any of her to escape? He wanted to blot out everybody,
everything. He wished now he'd turned off the light. That might have
brought her nearer. And now those letters from the children rustled in her
blouse. He could have chucked them into the fire.
"Janey," he whispered.
"Yes, dear?" She lay on his breast, but so lightly, so remotely. Their
breathing rose and fell together.
"What is it?"
"Turn to me," he whispered. A slow, deep flush flowed into his forehead.
"Kiss me, Janey! You kiss me!"
It seemed to him there was a tiny pause--but long enough for him to suffer
torture--before her lips touched his, firmly, lightly--kissing them as she
always kissed him, as though the kiss--how could he describe it?--confirmed
what they were saying, signed the contract. But that wasn't what he
wanted; that wasn't at all what he thirsted for. He felt suddenly,
"If you knew," he said, opening his eyes, "what it's been like--waiting to-
day. I thought the boat never would come in. There we were, hanging
about. What kept you so long?"
She made no answer. She was looking away from him at the fire. The flames
hurried--hurried over the coals, flickered, fell.
"Not asleep, are you?" said Hammond, and he jumped her up and down.
"No," she said. And then: "Don't do that, dear. No, I was thinking. As
a matter of fact," she said, "one of the passengers died last night--a man.
That's what held us up. We brought him in--I mean, he wasn't buried at
sea. So, of course, the ship's doctor and the shore doctor--"
"What was it?" asked Hammond uneasily. He hated to hear of death. He
hated this to have happened. It was, in some queer way, as though he and
Janey had met a funeral on their way to the hotel.
"Oh, it wasn't anything in the least infectious!" said Janey. She was
speaking scarcely above her breath. "It was heart." A pause. "Poor
fellow!" she said. "Quite young." And she watched the fire flicker and
fall. "He died in my arms," said Janey.
The blow was so sudden that Hammond thought he would faint. He couldn't
move; he couldn't breathe. He felt all his strength flowing--flowing into
the big dark chair, and the big dark chair held him fast, gripped him,
forced him to bear it.
"What?" he said dully. "What's that you say?"
"The end was quite peaceful," said the small voice. "He just"--and Hammond
saw her lift her gentle hand--"breathed his life away at the end." And her
"Who--else was there?" Hammond managed to ask.
"Nobody. I was alone with him."
Ah, my God, what was she saying! What was she doing to him! This would
kill him! And all the while she spoke:
"I saw the change coming and I sent the steward for the doctor, but the
doctor was too late. He couldn't have done anything, anyway."
"But--why you, why you?" moaned Hammond.
At that Janey turned quickly, quickly searched his face.
"You don't mind, John, do you?" she asked. "You don't--It's nothing to do
with you and me."
Somehow or other he managed to shake some sort of smile at her. Somehow or
other he stammered: "No--go--on, go on! I want you to tell me."
"But, John darling--"
"Tell me, Janey!"
"There's nothing to tell," she said, wondering. "He was one of the first-
class passengers. I saw he was very ill when he came on board...But he
seemed to be so much better until yesterday. He had a severe attack in the
afternoon--excitement--nervousness, I think, about arriving. And after
that he never recovered."
"But why didn't the stewardess--"
"Oh, my dear--the stewardess!" said Janey. "What would he have felt? And
besides...he might have wanted to leave a message...to--"
"Didn't he?" muttered Hammond. "Didn't he say anything?"
"No, darling, not a word!" She shook her head softly. "All the time I was
with him he was too weak...he was too weak even to move a finger..."
Janey was silent. But her words, so light, so soft, so chill, seemed to
hover in the air, to rain into his breast like snow.
The fire had gone red. Now it fell in with a sharp sound and the room was
colder. Cold crept up his arms. The room was huge, immense, glittering.
It filled his whole world. There was the great blind bed, with his coat
flung across it like some headless man saying his prayers. There was the
luggage, ready to be carried away again, anywhere, tossed into trains,
carted on to boats.
..."He was too weak. He was too weak to move a finger." And yet he died
in Janey's arms. She--who'd never--never once in all these years--never on
one single solitary occasion--
No; he mustn't think of it. Madness lay in thinking of it. No, he
wouldn't face it. He couldn't stand it. It was too much to bear!
And now Janey touched his tie with her fingers. She pinched the edges of
the tie together.
"You're not--sorry I told you, John darling? It hasn't made you sad? It
hasn't spoilt our evening--our being alone together?"
But at that he had to hide his face. He put his face into her bosom and
his arms enfolded her.
Spoilt their evening! Spoilt their being alone together! They would never
be alone together again.
13. BANK HOLIDAY.
A stout man with a pink face wears dingy white flannel trousers, a blue
coat with a pink handkerchief showing, and a straw hat much too small for
him, perched at the back of his head. He plays the guitar. A little chap
in white canvas shoes, his face hidden under a felt hat like a broken wing,
breathes into a flute; and a tall thin fellow, with bursting over-ripe
button boots, draws ribbons--long, twisted, streaming ribbons--of tune out
of a fiddle. They stand, unsmiling, but not serious, in the broad sunlight
opposite the fruit-shop; the pink spider of a hand beats the guitar, the
little squat hand, with a brass-and-turquoise ring, forces the reluctant
flute, and the fiddler's arm tries to saw the fiddle in two.
A crowd collects, eating oranges and bananas, tearing off the skins,
dividing, sharing. One young girl has even a basket of strawberries, but
she does not eat them. "Aren't they dear!" She stares at the tiny pointed
fruits as if she were afraid of them. The Australian soldier laughs.
"Here, go on, there's not more than a mouthful." But he doesn't want her
to eat them, either. He likes to watch her little frightened face, and her
puzzled eyes lifted to his: "Aren't they a price!" He pushes out his
chest and grins. Old fat women in velvet bodices--old dusty pin-cushions--
lean old hags like worn umbrellas with a quivering bonnet on top; young
women, in muslins, with hats that might have grown on hedges, and high
pointed shoes; men in khaki, sailors, shabby clerks, young Jews in fine
cloth suits with padded shoulders and wide trousers, "hospital boys" in
blue--the sun discovers them--the loud, bold music holds them together in
one big knot for a moment. The young ones are larking, pushing each other
on and off the pavement, dodging, nudging; the old ones are talking: "So I
said to 'im, if you wants the doctor to yourself, fetch 'im, says I."
"An' by the time they was cooked there wasn't so much as you could put in
the palm of me 'and!"
The only ones who are quiet are the ragged children. They stand, as close
up to the musicians as they can get, their hands behind their backs, their
eyes big. Occasionally a leg hops, an arm wags. A tiny staggerer,
overcome, turns round twice, sits down solemn, and then gets up again.
"Ain't it lovely?" whispers a small girl behind her hand.
And the music breaks into bright pieces, and joins together again, and
again breaks, and is dissolved, and the crowd scatters, moving slowly up
At the corner of the road the stalls begin.
"Ticklers! Tuppence a tickler! 'Ool 'ave a tickler? Tickle 'em up,
boys." Little soft brooms on wire handles. They are eagerly bought by the
"Buy a golliwog! Tuppence a golliwog!"
"Buy a jumping donkey! All alive-oh!"
"Su-perior chewing gum. Buy something to do, boys."
"Buy a rose. Give 'er a rose, boy. Roses, lady?"
"Fevvers! Fevvers!" They are hard to resist. Lovely, streaming feathers,
emerald green, scarlet, bright blue, canary yellow. Even the babies wear
feathers threaded through their bonnets.
And an old woman in a three-cornered paper hat cries as if it were her
final parting advice, the only way of saving yourself or of bringing him to
his senses: "Buy a three-cornered 'at, my dear, an' put it on!"
It is a flying day, half sun, half wind. When the sun goes in a shadow
flies over; when it comes out again it is fiery. The men and women feel it
burning their backs, their breasts and their arms; they feel their bodies
expanding, coming alive...so that they make large embracing gestures, lift
up their arms, for nothing, swoop down on a girl, blurt into laughter.
Lemonade! A whole tank of it stands on a table covered with a cloth; and
lemons like blunted fishes blob in the yellow water. It looks solid, like
a jelly, in the thick glasses. Why can't they drink it without spilling
it? Everybody spills it, and before the glass is handed back the last
drops are thrown in a ring.
Round the ice-cream cart, with its striped awning and bright brass cover,
the children cluster. Little tongues lick, lick round the cream trumpets,
round the squares. The cover is lifted, the wooden spoon plunges in; one
shuts one's eyes to feel it, silently scrunching.
"Let these little birds tell you your future!" She stands beside the cage,
a shrivelled ageless Italian, clasping and unclasping her dark claws. Her
face, a treasure of delicate carving, is tied in a green-and-gold scarf.
And inside their prison the love-birds flutter towards the papers in the
"You have great strength of character. You will marry a red-haired man and
have three children. Beware of a blonde woman." Look out! Look out! A
motor-car driven by a fat chauffeur comes rushing down the hill. Inside
there a blonde woman, pouting, leaning forward--rushing through your life--
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am an auctioneer by profession, and if what I tell
you is not the truth I am liable to have my licence taken away from me and
a heavy imprisonment." He holds the licence across his chest; the sweat
pours down his face into his paper collar; his eyes look glazed. When he
takes off his hat there is a deep pucker of angry flesh on his forehead.
Nobody buys a watch.
Look out again! A huge barouche comes swinging down the hill with two old,
old babies inside. She holds up a lace parasol; he sucks the knob of his
cane, and the fat old bodies roll together as the cradle rocks, and the
steaming horse leaves a trail of manure as it ambles down the hill.
Under a tree, Professor Leonard, in cap and gown, stands beside his banner.
He is here "for one day," from the London, Paris and Brussels Exhibition,
to tell your fortune from your face. And he stands, smiling encouragement,
like a clumsy dentist. When the big men, romping and swearing a moment
before, hand across their sixpence, and stand before him, they are suddenly
serious, dumb, timid, almost blushing as the Professor's quick hand notches
the printed card. They are like little children caught playing in a
forbidden garden by the owner, stepping from behind a tree.
The top of the hill is reached. How hot it is! How fine it is! The
public-house is open, and the crowd presses in. The mother sits on the
pavement edge with her baby, and the father brings her out a glass of dark,
brownish stuff, and then savagely elbows his way in again. A reek of beer
floats from the public-house, and a loud clatter and rattle of voices.
The wind has dropped, and the sun burns more fiercely than ever. Outside
the two swing-doors there is a thick mass of children like flies at the
mouth of a sweet-jar.
And up, up the hill come the people, with ticklers and golliwogs, and roses
and feathers. Up, up they thrust into the light and heat, shouting,
laughing, squealing, as though they were being pushed by something, far
below, and by the sun, far ahead of them--drawn up into the full, bright,
dazzling radiance to...what?
14. AN IDEAL FAMILY.
That evening for the first time in his life, as he pressed through the
swing door and descended the three broad steps to the pavement, old Mr.
Neave felt he was too old for the spring. Spring--warm, eager, restless--
was there, waiting for him in the golden light, ready in front of everybody
to run up, to blow in his white beard, to drag sweetly on his arm. And he
couldn't meet her, no; he couldn't square up once more and stride off,
jaunty as a young man. He was tired and, although the late sun was still
shining, curiously cold, with a numbed feeling all over. Quite suddenly he
hadn't the energy, he hadn't the heart to stand this gaiety and bright
movement any longer; it confused him. He wanted to stand still, to wave it
away with his stick, to say, "Be off with you!" Suddenly it was a terrible
effort to greet as usual--tipping his wide-awake with his stick--all the
people whom he knew, the friends, acquaintances, shopkeepers, postmen,
drivers. But the gay glance that went with the gesture, the kindly twinkle
that seemed to say, "I'm a match and more for any of you"--that old Mr.
Neave could not manage at all. He stumped along, lifting his knees high as
if he were walking through air that had somehow grown heavy and solid like
water. And the homeward-looking crowd hurried by, the trams clanked, the
light carts clattered, the big swinging cabs bowled along with that
reckless, defiant indifference that one knows only in dreams...
It had been a day like other days at the office. Nothing special had
happened. Harold hadn't come back from lunch until close on four. Where
had he been? What had he been up to? He wasn't going to let his father
know. Old Mr. Neave had happened to be in the vestibule, saying good-bye
to a caller, when Harold sauntered in, perfectly turned out as usual, cool,
suave, smiling that peculiar little half-smile that women found so
Ah, Harold was too handsome, too handsome by far; that had been the trouble
all along. No man had a right to such eyes, such lashes, and such lips; it
was uncanny. As for his mother, his sisters, and the servants, it was not
too much to say they made a young god of him; they worshipped Harold, they
forgave him everything; and he had needed some forgiving ever since the
time when he was thirteen and he had stolen his mother's purse, taken the
money, and hidden the purse in the cook's bedroom. Old Mr. Neave struck
sharply with his stick upon the pavement edge. But it wasn't only his
family who spoiled Harold, he reflected, it was everybody; he had only to
look and to smile, and down they went before him. So perhaps it wasn't to
be wondered at that he expected the office to carry on the tradition. H'm,
h'm! But it couldn't be done. No business--not even a successful,
established, big paying concern--could be played with. A man had either to
put his whole heart and soul into it, or it went all to pieces before his
And then Charlotte and the girls were always at him to make the whole thing
over to Harold, to retire, and to spend his time enjoying himself.
Enjoying himself! Old Mr. Neave stopped dead under a group of ancient
cabbage palms outside the Government buildings! Enjoying himself! The
wind of evening shook the dark leaves to a thin airy cackle. Sitting at
home, twiddling his thumbs, conscious all the while that his life's work
was slipping away, dissolving, disappearing through Harold's fine fingers,
while Harold smiled...
"Why will you be so unreasonable, father? There's absolutely no need for
you to go to the office. It only makes it very awkward for us when people
persist in saying how tired you're looking. Here's this huge house and
garden. Surely you could be happy in--in--appreciating it for a change.
Or you could take up some hobby."
And Lola the baby had chimed in loftily, "All men ought to have hobbies.
It makes life impossible if they haven't."
Well, well! He couldn't help a grim smile as painfully he began to climb
the hill that led into Harcourt Avenue. Where would Lola and her sisters
and Charlotte be if he'd gone in for hobbies, he'd like to know? Hobbies
couldn't pay for the town house and the seaside bungalow, and their horses,
and their golf, and the sixty-guinea gramophone in the music-room for them
to dance to. Not that he grudged them these things. No, they were smart,
good-looking girls, and Charlotte was a remarkable woman; it was natural
for them to be in the swim. As a matter of fact, no other house in the
town was as popular as theirs; no other family entertained so much. And
how many times old Mr. Neave, pushing the cigar box across the smoking-room
table, had listened to praises of his wife, his girls, of himself even.
"You're an ideal family, sir, an ideal family. It's like something one
reads about or sees on the stage."
"That's all right, my boy," old Mr. Neave would reply. "Try one of those;
I think you'll like them. And if you care to smoke in the garden, you'll
find the girls on the lawn, I dare say."
That was why the girls had never married, so people said. They could have
married anybody. But they had too good a time at home. They were too
happy together, the girls and Charlotte. H'm, h'm! Well, well. Perhaps
By this time he had walked the length of fashionable Harcourt Avenue; he
had reached the corner house, their house. The carriage gates were pushed
back; there were fresh marks of wheels on the drive. And then he faced the
big white-painted house, with its wide-open windows, its tulle curtains
floating outwards, its blue jars of hyacinths on the broad sills. On
either side of the carriage porch their hydrangeas--famous in the town--
were coming into flower; the pinkish, bluish masses of flower lay like
light among the spreading leaves. And somehow, it seemed to old Mr. Neave
that the house and the flowers, and even the fresh marks on the drive, were
saying, "There is young life here. There are girls--"
The hall, as always, was dusky with wraps, parasols, gloves, piled on the
oak chests. From the music-room sounded the piano, quick, loud and
impatient. Through the drawing-room door that was ajar voices floated.
"And were there ices?" came from Charlotte. Then the creak, creak of her
"Ices!" cried Ethel. "My dear mother, you never saw such ices. Only two
kinds. And one a common little strawberry shop ice, in a sopping wet
"The food altogether was too appalling," came from Marion.
"Still, it's rather early for ices," said Charlotte easily.
"But why, if one has them at all ..." began Ethel.
"Oh, quite so, darling," crooned Charlotte.
Suddenly the music-room door opened and Lola dashed out. She started, she
nearly screamed, at the sight of old Mr. Neave.
"Gracious, father! What a fright you gave me! Have you just come home?
Why isn't Charles here to help you off with your coat?"
Her cheeks were crimson from playing, her eyes glittered, the hair fell
over her forehead. And she breathed as though she had come running through
the dark and was frightened. Old Mr. Neave stared at his youngest
daughter; he felt he had never seen her before. So that was Lola, was it?
But she seemed to have forgotten her father; it was not for him that she
was waiting there. Now she put the tip of her crumpled handkerchief
between her teeth and tugged at it angrily. The telephone rang. A-ah!
Lola gave a cry like a sob and dashed past him. The door of the telephone-
room slammed, and at the same moment Charlotte called, "Is that you,
"You're tired again," said Charlotte reproachfully, and she stopped the
rocker and offered her warm plum-like cheek. Bright-haired Ethel pecked
his beard, Marion's lips brushed his ear.
"Did you walk back, father?" asked Charlotte.
"Yes, I walked home," said old Mr. Neave, and he sank into one of the
immense drawing-room chairs.
"But why didn't you take a cab?" said Ethel. "There are hundred of cabs
about at that time."
"My dear Ethel," cried Marion, "if father prefers to tire himself out, I
really don't see what business of ours it is to interfere."
"Children, children?" coaxed Charlotte.
But Marion wouldn't be stopped. "No, mother, you spoil father, and it's
not right. You ought to be stricter with him. He's very naughty." She
laughed her hard, bright laugh and patted her hair in a mirror. Strange!
When she was a little girl she had such a soft, hesitating voice; she had
even stuttered, and now, whatever she said--even if it was only "Jam,
please, father"--it rang out as though she were on the stage.
"Did Harold leave the office before you, dear?" asked Charlotte, beginning
to rock again.
"I'm not sure," said Old Mr. Neave. "I'm not sure. I didn't see him after
"He said--" began Charlotte.
But at that moment Ethel, who was twitching over the leaves of some paper
or other, ran to her mother and sank down beside her chair.
"There, you see," she cried. "That's what I mean, mummy. Yellow, with
touches of silver. Don't you agree?"
"Give it to me, love," said Charlotte. She fumbled for her tortoise-shell
spectacles and put them on, gave the page a little dab with her plump small
fingers, and pursed up her lips. "Very sweet!" she crooned vaguely; she
looked at Ethel over her spectacles. "But I shouldn't have the train."
"Not the train!" wailed Ethel tragically. "But the train's the whole
"Here, mother, let me decide." Marion snatched the paper playfully from
Charlotte. "I agree with mother," she cried triumphantly. "The train
Old Mr. Neave, forgotten, sank into the broad lap of his chair, and,
dozing, heard them as though he dreamed. There was no doubt about it, he
was tired out; he had lost his hold. Even Charlotte and the girls were too
much for him to-night. They were too...too...But all his drowsing brain
could think of was--too rich for him. And somewhere at the back of
everything he was watching a little withered ancient man climbing up
endless flights of stairs. Who was he?
"I shan't dress to-night," he muttered.
"What do you say, father?"
"Eh, what, what?" Old Mr. Neave woke with a start and stared across at
them. "I shan't dress to-night," he repeated.
"But, father, we've got Lucile coming, and Henry Davenport, and Mrs. Teddie
"It will look so very out of the picture."
"Don't you feel well, dear?"
"You needn't make any effort. What is Charles for?"
"But if you're really not up to it," Charlotte wavered.
"Very well! Very well!" Old Mr. Neave got up and went to join that little
old climbing fellow just as far as his dressing-room...
There young Charles was waiting for him. Carefully, as though everything
depended on it, he was tucking a towel round the hot-water can. Young
Charles had been a favourite of his ever since as a little red-faced boy he
had come into the house to look after the fires. Old Mr. Neave lowered
himself into the cane lounge by the window, stretched out his legs, and
made his little evening joke, "Dress him up, Charles!" And Charles,
breathing intensely and frowning, bent forward to take the pin out of his
H'm, h'm! Well, well! It was pleasant by the open window, very pleasant--
a fine mild evening. They were cutting the grass on the tennis court
below; he heard the soft churr of the mower. Soon the girls would begin
their tennis parties again. And at the thought he seemed to hear Marion's
voice ring out, "Good for you, partner...Oh, played, partner...Oh, very
nice indeed." Then Charlotte calling from the veranda, "Where is Harold?"
And Ethel, "He's certainly not here, mother." And Charlotte's vague, "He
Old Mr. Neave sighed, got up, and putting one hand under his beard, he took
the comb from young Charles, and carefully combed the white beard over.
Charles gave him a folded handkerchief, his watch and seals, and spectacle
"That will do, my lad." The door shut, he sank back, he was alone...
And now that little ancient fellow was climbing down endless flights that
led to a glittering, gay dining-room. What legs he had! They were like a
"You're an ideal family, sir, an ideal family."
But if that were true, why didn't Charlotte or the girls stop him? Why was
he all alone, climbing up and down? Where was Harold? Ah, it was no good
expecting anything from Harold. Down, down went the little old spider, and
then, to his horror, old Mr. Neave saw him slip past the dining-room and
make for the porch, the dark drive, the carriage gates, the office. Stop
him, stop him, somebody!
Old Mr. Neave started up. It was dark in his dressing-room; the window
shone pale. How long had he been asleep? He listened, and through the
big, airy, darkened house there floated far-away voices, far-away sounds.
Perhaps, he thought vaguely, he had been asleep for a long time. He'd been
forgotten. What had all this to do with him--this house and Charlotte, the
girls and Harold--what did he know about them? They were strangers to him.
Life had passed him by. Charlotte was not his wife. His wife!
...A dark porch, half hidden by a passion-vine, that drooped sorrowful,
mournful, as though it understood. Small, warm arms were round his neck.
A face, little and pale, lifted to his, and a voice breathed, "Good-bye, my
My treasure! "Good-bye, my treasure!" Which of them had spoken? Why had
they said good-bye? There had been some terrible mistake. She was his
wife, that little pale girl, and all the rest of his life had been a dream.
Then the door opened, and young Charles, standing in the light, put his
hands by his side and shouted like a young soldier, "Dinner is on the
"I'm coming, I'm coming," said old Mr. Neave.
15. THE LADY'S MAID.
Eleven o'clock. A knock at the door...I hope I haven't disturbed you,
madam. You weren't asleep--were you? But I've just given my lady her tea,
and there was such a nice cup over, I thought, perhaps...
...Not at all, madam. I always make a cup of tea last thing. She drinks
it in bed after her prayers to warm her up. I put the kettle on when she
kneels down and I say to it, "Now you needn't be in too much of a hurry to
say your prayers." But it's always boiling before my lady is half through.
You see, madam, we know such a lot of people, and they've all got to be
prayed for--every one. My lady keeps a list of the names in a little red
book. Oh dear! whenever some one new has been to see us and my lady says
afterwards, "Ellen, give me my little red book," I feel quite wild, I do.
"There's another," I think, "keeping her out of her bed in all weathers."
And she won't have a cushion, you know, madam; she kneels on the hard
carpet. It fidgets me something dreadful to see her, knowing her as I do.
I've tried to cheat her; I've spread out the eiderdown. But the first time
I did it--oh, she gave me such a look--holy it was, madam. "Did our Lord
have an eiderdown, Ellen?" she said. But--I was younger at the time--I
felt inclined to say, "No, but our Lord wasn't your age, and he didn't know
what it was to have your lumbago." Wicked--wasn't it? But she's too good,
you know, madam. When I tucked her up just now and seen--saw her lying
back, her hands outside and her head on the pillow--so pretty--I couldn't
help thinking, "Now you look just like your dear mother when I laid her
...Yes, madam, it was all left to me. Oh, she did look sweet. I did her
hair, soft-like, round her forehead, all in dainty curls, and just to one
side of her neck I put a bunch of most beautiful purple pansies. Those
pansies made a picture of her, madam! I shall never forget them. I
thought to-night, when I looked at my lady, "Now, if only the pansies was
there no one could tell the difference."
...Only the last year, madam. Only after she'd got a little--well--feeble
as you might say. Of course, she was never dangerous; she was the sweetest
old lady. But how it took her was--she thought she'd lost something. She
couldn't keep still, she couldn't settle. All day long she'd be up and
down, up and down; you'd meet her everywhere,--on the stairs, in the porch,
making for the kitchen. And she'd look up at you, and she'd say--just like
a child, "I've lost it, I've lost it." "Come along," I'd say, "come along,
and I'll lay out your patience for you." But she'd catch me by the hand--I
was a favourite of hers--and whisper, "Find it for me, Ellen. Find it for
me." Sad, wasn't it?
...No, she never recovered, madam. She had a stroke at the end. Last
words she ever said was--very slow, "Look in--the--Look--in--" And then
she was gone.
...No, madam, I can't say I noticed it. Perhaps some girls. But you see,
it's like this, I've got nobody but my lady. My mother died of consumption
when I was four, and I lived with my grandfather, who kept a hair-dresser's
shop. I used to spend all my time in the shop under a table dressing my
doll's hair--copying the assistants, I suppose. They were ever so kind to
me. Used to make me little wigs, all colours, the latest fashions and all.
And there I'd sit all day, quiet as quiet--the customers never knew. Only
now and again I'd take my peep from under the table-cloth.
...But one day I managed to get a pair of scissors and--would you believe
it, madam? I cut off all my hair; snipped it off all in bits, like the
little monkey I was. Grandfather was furious! He caught hold of the
tongs--I shall never forget it--grabbed me by the hand and shut my fingers
in them. "That'll teach you!" he said. It was a fearful burn. I've got
the mark of it to-day.
...Well, you see, madam, he'd taken such pride in my hair. He used to sit
me up on the counter, before the customers came, and do it something
beautiful--big, soft curls and waved over the top. I remember the
assistants standing round, and me ever so solemn with the penny grandfather
gave me to hold while it was being done...But he always took the penny back
afterwards. Poor grandfather! Wild, he was, at the fright I'd made of
myself. But he frightened me that time. Do you know what I did, madam? I
ran away. Yes, I did, round the corners, in and out, I don't know how far
I didn't run. Oh, dear, I must have looked a sight, with my hand rolled up
in my pinny and my hair sticking out. People must have laughed when they
...No, madam, grandfather never got over it. He couldn't bear the sight of
me after. Couldn't eat his dinner, even, if I was there. So my aunt took
me. She was a cripple, an upholstress. Tiny! She had to stand on the
sofas when she wanted to cut out the backs. And it was helping her I met
...Not so very, madam. I was thirteen, turned. And I don't remember ever
feeling--well--a child, as you might say. You see there was my uniform,
and one thing and another. My lady put me into collars and cuffs from the
first. Oh yes--once I did! That was--funny! It was like this. My lady
had her two little nieces staying with her--we were at Sheldon at the time-
-and there was a fair on the common.
"Now, Ellen," she said, "I want you to take the two young ladies for a ride
on the donkeys." Off we went; solemn little loves they were; each had a
hand. But when we came to the donkeys they were too shy to go on. So we
stood and watched instead. Beautiful those donkeys were! They were the
first I'd seen out of a cart--for pleasure as you might say. They were a
lovely silver-grey, with little red saddles and blue bridles and bells
jing-a-jingling on their ears. And quite big girls--older than me, even--
were riding them, ever so gay. Not at all common, I don't mean, madam,
just enjoying themselves. And I don't know what it was, but the way the
little feet went, and the eyes--so gentle--and the soft ears--made me want
to go on a donkey more than anything in the world!
...Of course, I couldn't. I had my young ladies. And what would I have
looked like perched up there in my uniform? But all the rest of the day it
was donkeys--donkeys on the brain with me. I felt I should have burst if I
didn't tell some one; and who was there to tell? But when I went to bed--I
was sleeping in Mrs. James's bedroom, our cook that was, at the time--as
soon as the lights was out, there they were, my donkeys, jingling along,
with their neat little feet and sad eyes...Well, madam, would you believe
it, I waited for a long time and pretended to be asleep, and then suddenly
I sat up and called out as loud as I could, "I do want to go on a donkey.
I do want a donkey-ride!" You see, I had to say it, and I thought they
wouldn't laugh at me if they knew I was only dreaming. Artful--wasn't it?
Just what a silly child would think...
...No, madam, never now. Of course, I did think of it at one time. But it
wasn't to be. He had a little flower-shop just down the road and across
from where we was living. Funny--wasn't it? And me such a one for
flowers. We were having a lot of company at the time, and I was in and out
of the shop more often than not, as the saying is. And Harry and I (his
name was Harry) got to quarrelling about how things ought to be arranged--
and that began it. Flowers! you wouldn't believe it, madam, the flowers he
used to bring me. He'd stop at nothing. It was lilies-of-the-valley more
than once, and I'm not exaggerating! Well, of course, we were going to be
married and live over the shop, and it was all going to be just so, and I
was to have the window to arrange...Oh, how I've done that window of a
Saturday! Not really, of course, madam, just dreaming, as you might say.
I've done it for Christmas--motto in holly, and all--and I've had my Easter
lilies with a gorgeous star all daffodils in the middle. I've hung--well,
that's enough of that. The day came he was to call for me to choose the
furniture. Shall I ever forget it? It was a Tuesday. My lady wasn't
quite herself that afternoon. Not that she'd said anything, of course; she
never does or will. But I knew by the way that she kept wrapping herself
up and asking me if it was cold--and her little nose looked...pinched. I
didn't like leaving her; I knew I'd be worrying all the time. At last I
asked her if she'd rather I put it off. "Oh no, Ellen," she said, "you
mustn't mind about me. You mustn't disappoint your young man." And so
cheerful, you know, madam, never thinking about herself. It made me feel
worse than ever. I began to wonder...then she dropped her handkerchief and
began to stoop down to pick it up herself--a thing she never did.
"Whatever are you doing!" I cried, running to stop her. "Well," she said,
smiling, you know, madam, "I shall have to begin to practise." Oh, it was
all I could do not to burst out crying. I went over to the dressing-table
and made believe to rub up the silver, and I couldn't keep myself in, and I
asked her if she'd rather I...didn't get married. "No, Ellen," she said--
that was her voice, madam, like I'm giving you--"No, Ellen, not for the
wide world!" But while she said it, madam--I was looking in her glass; of
course, she didn't know I could see her--she put her little hand on her
heart just like her dear mother used to, and lifted her eyes...Oh, madam!
When Harry came I had his letters all ready, and the ring and a ducky
little brooch he'd given me--a silver bird it was, with a chain in its
beak, and on the end of the chain a heart with a dagger. Quite the thing!
I opened the door to him. I never gave him time for a word. "There you
are," I said. "Take them all back," I said, "it's all over. I'm not going
to marry you," I said, "I can't leave my lady." White! he turned as white
as a woman. I had to slam the door, and there I stood, all of a tremble,
till I knew he had gone. When I opened the door--believe me or not, madam-
-that man was gone! I ran out into the road just as I was, in my apron and
my house-shoes, and there I stayed in the middle of the road...staring.
People must have laughed if they saw me...
...Goodness gracious!--What's that? It's the clock striking! And here
I've been keeping you awake. Oh, madam, you ought to have stopped me...Can
I tuck in your feet? I always tuck in my lady's feet, every night, just
the same. And she says, "Good night, Ellen. Sleep sound and wake early!"
I don't know what I should do if she didn't say that, now.
...Oh dear, I sometimes think...whatever should I do if anything were
to...But, there, thinking's no good to any one--is it, madam? Thinking
won't help. Not that I do it often. And if ever I do I pull myself up
sharp, "Now, then, Ellen. At it again--you silly girl! If you can't find
anything better to do than to start thinking!..."