Part 3 out of 5
"But what?" asked Priscilla.
"If it's not the custom of the country for a girl to go I'll send Mr.
Morrison," said Priscilla.
"Send Mr. Morrison?" gasped the vicar's wife.
"What, the vicar?" exclaimed Lady Shuttleworth.
"No, no," said Priscilla smiling, "young Mr. Morrison. I see him over
there tying up my creepers. He's so kind. He'll go. I'll ask him."
And nodding good-bye she hurried out of the garden and over to her
cottage, almost running in her desire not to keep Mrs. Jones any
longer in suspense.
The two women, rooted to the ground, watched her as if fascinated, saw
her speak to Robin on his ladder, saw how he started and dropped his
nails, saw how nimbly he clambered down, and how after the shortest
parley the infatuated youth rushed away at once in the direction of
the Cock and Hens. The only thing they did not see from where they
stood was the twinkle in his eye.
"I don't think," murmured Lady Shuttleworth, "I don't think, my dear,
that I quite care to go in to Mrs. Jones to-day. I--I think I'll go
"So shall I," said Mrs. Morrison, biting her lips to keep them steady.
"I shall go and speak to the vicar."
What she meant by speaking to the vicar was a vigorous stirring of him
up to wrath; but you cannot stir up vicars if they are truly good. The
vicar was a pious and patient old man, practiced in forgiveness, in
overlooking, in waiting, in trying again. Always slow to anger, as the
years drew him more and more apart into the shadows of old age and he
watched from their clear coolness with an ever larger comprehension
the younger generations striving together in the heat, he grew at last
unable to be angered at all. The scriptural injunction not to let the
sun go down upon your wrath had no uses for him, for he possessed no
wrath for the sun to go down upon. He had that lovable nature that
sees the best in everything first, and then prefers to look no
further. He took for granted that people were at bottom good and
noble, and the assumption went a long way towards making them so.
Robin, for instance, was probably saved by his father's unclouded
faith in him. Mrs. Morrison, a woman who had much trouble with
herself, having come into the world with the wings of the angel in her
well glued down and prevented from spreading by a multitude of little
defects, had been helped without her knowing it by his example out of
many a pit of peevishness and passion. Who shall measure the influence
of one kind and blameless life? His wife, in her gustier moments,
thought it sheer weakness, this persistent turning away from evil,
this refusal to investigate and dissect, to take sides, to wrestle.
The evil was there, and it was making an ostrich or a vegetable of
one's self to go on being calm in the face of it. With the blindness
of wives, who are prevented from seeing clearly by the very closeness
of the object--the same remark exactly applies to husbands--she did
not see that the vicar was the candle shining in a naughty world, that
he was the leaven that leaveneth the whole lump. And just as leaven
leavens by its mere presence in the lump, by merely passively being
there, and will go on doing it so long as there is a lump to leaven,
so had the vicar, more than his hardworking wife, more than the
untiring Lady Shuttleworth, more than any district visitor, parish
nurse, or other holy person, influenced Symford by simply living in it
in a way that would have surprised him had he known. There is a great
virtue in sweeping out one's own house and trimming its lamps before
starting on the house and lamps of a neighbour; and since new dust
settles every day, and lamps, I believe, need constant trimming, I
know not when the truly tidy soul will have attained so perfect a
spotlessness as to justify its issuing forth to attack the private
dust of other people. And if it ever did, lo, it would find the
necessity no longer there. Its bright untiringness would
unconsciously have done its work, and every dimmer soul within sight
of that cheerful shining been strengthened and inspired to go and do
But Mrs. Morrison, who saw things differently, was constantly trying
to stir up storms in the calm waters of the vicar's mind; and after
the episode in Mrs. Jones's front garden she made a very determined
effort to get him to rebuke Priscilla. Her own indignation was poured
out passionately. The vicar was surprised at her heat, he who was so
beautifully cool himself, and though he shook his head over Mrs.
Jones's rum he also smiled as he shook it. Nor was he more reasonable
about Robin. On the contrary, he declared that he would think mightily
little of a young man who did not immediately fall head over ears in
love with such a pretty girl.
"You don't mind our boy's heart being broken, then?" questioned his
wife bitterly; of her plans for Netta she had never cared to speak.
"My dear, if it is to be broken there is no young lady I would sooner
entrust with the job."
"You don't mind his marrying an adventuress, then?"
"My dear, I know of no adventuress."
"You rather like our old people to be tempted to drink, to have it
thrust upon them on their very dying beds?"
"Kate, are you not bitter?"
"Psha," said his wife, drumming her foot.
"Psha, Kate?" inquired the vicar mildly; and it is not always that
the saintly produce a soothing effect on their wives.
It really seemed as if the girl were to have her own way in Symford,
unchecked even by Lady Shuttleworth, whose attitude was entirely
incomprehensible. She was to be allowed to corrupt the little hamlet
that had always been so good, to lead it astray, to lure it down paths
of forbidden indulgence, to turn it topsy turvy to an extent not even
reached by the Dissenting family that had given so much trouble a few
years before. It was on the Sunday morning as the church bells were
ringing, that Mrs. Morrison, prayer-book in hand, looked in at Mrs.
Jones's on her way to service and discovered the five-pound note.
The old lady was propped up in bed with her open Bible on her lap and
her spectacles lying in it, and as usual presented to her visitor the
perfect realization of her ideal as to the looks and manners most
appropriate to ailing Christians. There was nowhere a trace of rum,
and the only glass in the room was innocently filled with the china
roses that flowered so profusely in the garden at Baker's Farm. But
Mrs. Morrison could not for all that dissemble the disappointment and
sternness of her heart, and the old lady glanced up at her as she came
in with a kind of quavering fearfulness, like that of a little child
who is afraid it may be going to be whipped, or of a conscientious dog
who has lapsed unaccountably from rectitude.
"I have come to read the gospel for the day to you," said Mrs.
Morrison, sitting down firmly beside her.
"Thank you mum," said Mrs. Jones with meekness.
"My prayer-book has such small print--give me your Bible."
A look of great anxiety came into Mrs. Jones's eyes, but the Bible was
drawn from between her trembling old hands, and Mrs. Morrison began to
turn its pages. She had not turned many before she came to the
five-pound note. "What is this?" she asked, in extreme surprise.
Mrs. Jones gave a little gasp, and twisted her fingers about.
"A five-pound note?" exclaimed Mrs. Morrison, holding it up. "How did
it come here?"
"It's mine, mum," quavered Mrs. Jones.
"Yours? Do you mean to say you have money hidden away and yet allow
Lady Shuttleworth to pay everything for you?"
"It's the first I ever 'ad, mum," faintly murmured the old lady, her
eyes following every movement of Mrs. Morrison's hands with a look of
almost animal anxiety.
"Where did it come from?"
"The young lady give it me yesterday, mum."
"The young lady?" Mrs. Morrison's voice grew very loud. "Do you mean
the person staying at the Pearces'?"
Mrs. Jones gulped, and feebly nodded.
"Most improper. Most wrong. Most dangerous. You cannot tell how she
came by it, and I must say I'm surprised at you, Mrs. Jones. It
probably is not a real one. It is unlikely a chit like that should be
able to give so large a sum away--" And Mrs. Morrison held up the note
to the light and turned it round and round, scrutinizing it from every
point of view, upside down, back to front, sideways, with one eye
shut; but it refused to look like anything but a good five-pound note,
and she could only repeat grimly "Most dangerous."
The old lady watched her, a terrible anxiety in her eyes. Her worst
fears were fulfilled when the vicar's wife folded it up and said
decidedly, "For the present I shall take care of it for you. You
cannot lie here with so much money loose about the place. Why, if it
got round the village you might have some one in who'd murder you.
People have been murdered before now for less than this. I shall speak
to the vicar about it." And she put it in her purse, shut it with a
snap, and took up the Bible again.
Mrs. Jones made a little sound between a gasp and a sob. Her head
rolled back on the pillow, and two tears dropped helplessly down the
furrows of her face. In that moment she felt the whole crushing misery
of being weak, and sick, and old,--so old that you have outlived your
claims to everything but the despotic care of charitable ladies, so
old that you are a mere hurdy-gurdy, expected each time any one in
search of edification chooses to turn your handle to quaver out tunes
of immortality. It is a bad thing to be very old. Of all the bad
things life forces upon us as we pass along it is the last and
worst--the bitterness at the bottom of the cup, the dregs of what for
many was after all always only medicine. Mrs. Jones had just enough of
the strength of fear left to keep quite still while the vicar's wife
read the Gospel in a voice that anger made harsh; but when she had
gone, after a parting admonition and a dreadful assurance that she
would come again soon, the tears rolled unchecked and piteous, and it
was a mercy that Priscilla also took it into her head to look in on
her way to church, for if she had not I don't know who would have
dried them for this poor baby of eighty-five. And I regret to say that
Priscilla's ideas of doing good were in such a state of crudeness that
she had no sooner mastered the facts brokenly sobbed out than she ran
to the cupboard and gave Mrs. Jones a tablespoonful of rum for the
strengthening of her body and then took out her purse and gave her
another five-pound note for the comforting of her soul. And then she
wiped her eyes, and patted her, and begged her not to mind. Such
conduct was, I suppose, what is called indiscriminate charity and
therefore blameworthy, but its effect was great. Priscilla went to
church with the reflection of the old lady's wonder and joy shining in
her own face. "Hide it," had been her last words at the door, her
finger on her lips, her head nodding expressively in the direction of
the vicarage; and by this advice she ranged herself once and for all
on the opposite side to Mrs. Morrison and the followers of obedience
and order. Mrs. Jones would certainly have taken her for an angel
working miracles with five-pound notes and an inexhaustible pocket if
it had not been for the rum; even in her rapture she did feel that a
genuine angel would be incapable of any really harmonious combination
with rum. But so far had she fallen from the kind of thinking that the
vicar's wife thought proper in a person so near her end that she
boldly told herself she preferred Priscilla.
Now this was the day of Priscilla's children's party, and though all
Symford had been talking of it for twenty-four hours the news of it
had not yet reached Mrs. Morrison's ears. The reason was that Symford
talked in whispers, only too sure that the authorities would consider
it wrong for it to send its children a-merrymaking on a Sunday, and
desperately afraid lest the forbidden cup should be snatched from its
longing lips. But the news did get to Mrs. Morrison's ears, and it got
to them in the porch of the church as she was passing in to prayer.
She had it from an overgrown girl who was waiting outside for her
father, and who was really much too big for children's parties but had
got an invitation by looking wistful at the right moment.
"Emma," said Mrs. Morrison in passing, "you have not returned the
book I lent you. Bring it up this afternoon."
"Please mum, I'll bring it to-morrow, mum," said the girl, curtseying
and turning red.
"No, Emma, you will do as I direct. One can never be too particular
about returning books. You have kept it an unconscionable time. You
will bring it to the vicarage at four o'clock."
"Please mum, I--I can't at four o'clock."
"And pray, Emma, what is to prevent you?"
"I--I'm going to Baker's, mum."
"Going to Baker's? Why are you going to Baker's, Emma?"
So it all came out.
The bells were just stopping, and Mrs. Morrison, who played the organ,
was forced to hurry in without having told Emma her whole opinion of
those who gave and those who attended Sunday parties, but the prelude
she played that day expressed the tumult of her mind very well, and
struck Tussie Shuttleworth, who had sensitive ears, quite cold. He was
the only person in the church acutely sensitive to sound, and it was
very afflicting to him, this plunging among the pedals, this angry
shrieking of stops no man ever yet had heard together. The very blower
seemed frightened, and blew in gasps; and the startled Tussie,
comparing the sounds to the clamourings of a fiend in pain, could not
possibly guess they were merely the musical expression of the state of
a just woman's soul.
Mrs. Morrison's anger was perfectly proper. It had been the
conscientious endeavour of twenty-five solid years of her life to make
of Symford a model parish, and working under Lady Shuttleworth, whose
power was great since all the cottages were her son's and were lived
in by his own labourers, it had been kept in a state of order so
nearly perfect as to raise it to the position of an example to the
adjoining parishes. The church was full, the Sunday-school well
attended, the Sabbath was kept holy, the women were one and all sober
and thrifty, the men were fairly satisfactory except on Saturday
nights, there was no want, little sickness, and very seldom downright
sin. The expression downright sin is Mrs. Morrison's own,--heaven
forbid that I should have anything to do with such an expression--and
I suppose she meant by it thieving, murder, and other grossnesses that
would bring the sinner, as she often told her awe-struck Dorcas class,
to infallible gallows, and the sinner's parents' grey hairs to
sorrowful graves. "Please mum, will the parents go too?" asked a girl
one day who had listened breathlessly, an inquiring-minded girl who
liked to get to the root of things.
"Go where, Bessie?"
"With the grey hairs, mum."
Mrs. Morrison paused a moment and fixed a searching gaze on Bessie's
face. Then she said with much dignity, "The parents, Bessie, will
naturally follow the hairs." And to a girl bred in the near
neighbourhood of Exmoor it sounded very sporting.
Into this innocent, frugal, well-managed hamlet Priscilla dropped
suddenly from nowhere, trailing with her thunder-clouds of impulsive
and childish ideas about doing good, and holding in her hands the
dangerous weapon of wealth. It is hard to stand by and see one's
life-work broken up before one's eyes by an irresponsible stranger, a
foreigner, a girl, a young girl, a pretty girl; especially hard if one
was born with an unbending character, tough and determined, ambitious
and vain. These are not reproaches being piled up on the vicar's wife;
who shall dare reproach another? And how could she help being born so?
We would all if we could be born good and amiable and beautiful, and
remain so perpetually during our lives; and she too was one of God's
children, and inside her soul, behind the crust of failings that
hindered it during these years from coming out, sat her bright angel,
waiting. Meanwhile she was not a person to watch the destruction of
her hopes without making violent efforts to stop it; and immediately
she had played the vicar into the vestry after service that Sunday she
left the congregation organless and hurried away into the churchyard.
There she stood and waited for the villagers to question them about
this unheard of thing; and it was bad to see how they melted away in
other directions,--out at unused gates, making detours over the grass,
visiting the long-neglected graves of relatives, anywhere rather than
along the ordinary way, which was the path where the vicar's wife
stood. At last came Mrs. Vickerton the postmistress. She was deep in
conversation with the innkeeper's wife, and did not see the figure on
the path in time to melt away herself. If she had she certainly would
have melted, for though she had no children but her grown-up son she
felt very guilty; for it was her son who had been sent the afternoon
before to Minehead by Priscilla with a list as long as his arm of the
cakes and things to be ordered for the party. "Oh Mrs. Morrison, I
didn't see you," she exclaimed, starting and smiling and turning red.
She was a genteel woman who called no one mum.
The innkeeper's wife slipped deftly away among graves.
"Is it true that the children are going to Baker's Farm this
afternoon?" asked Mrs. Morrison, turning and walking grimly by Mrs.
"I did hear something about it, Mrs. Morrison," said Mrs. Vickerton,
hiding her agitation behind a series of smiles with sudden endings.
"I did hear they pretty well all thought of it," said Mrs. Vickerton,
coughing. "Beautiful weather, isn't it, Mrs. Morrison."
"They are to have tea there?"
Mrs. Vickerton gazed pleasantly at the clouds and the tree-tops. "I
should think there might be tea, Mrs. Morrison," she said; and the
vision of that mighty list of cakes rising before her eyes made her
put up her hand and cough again.
"Have the parents lost their senses?"
"I couldn't say--I really couldn't say, Mrs. Morrison."
"Have they forgotten the commandments?"
"Oh I 'ope not, Mrs. Morrison."
"And the vicar's teaching? And the good habits of years?"
"Oh, Mrs. Morrison."
"I never heard of anything more disgraceful. Disgraceful to the giver
and to those who accept. Wicked, scandalous, and unscriptural."
"We all 'oped you'd see no harm in it, Mrs. Morrison. It's a fine day,
and they'll just have tea, and perhaps--sing a little, and they don't
get treats often this time of year."
"Why, it's disgraceful--disgraceful anywhere to have a treat on a
Sunday; but in a parish like this it is scandalous. When Lady
Shuttleworth hears of it I quite expect she'll give everybody notice
"Notice to quit? Oh I hope not, Mrs. Morrison. And she do know about
it. She heard it last night. And Sir Augustus himself has promised the
young lady to go and help."
"And we all think it so kind of him, and so kind of the young lady
too," said Mrs. Vickerton, gathering courage.
"Sir Augustus?" repeated Mrs. Morrison. Then a horrid presentiment
laid cold fingers on her heart. "Is any one else going to help?" she
"Only the young lady's uncle, and--"
Mrs. Vickerton hesitated, and looked at the vicar's wife with a
slightly puzzled air.
"Of course Mr. Robin."
It is the practice of Providence often to ignore the claims of poetic
justice. Properly, the Symford children ought to have been choked by
Priscilla's cakes; and if they had been, the parents who had sent them
merrymaking on a Sunday would have been well punished by the
undeniable awfulness of possessing choked children. But nobody was
choked; and when in the early days of the following week there were in
nearly every cottage pangs being assuaged, they were so naturally the
consequence of the strange things that had been eaten that only Mrs.
Morrison was able to see in them weapons being wielded by Providence
in the cause of eternal right. She, however, saw it so plainly that
each time during the next few days that a worried mother came and
asked advice, she left her work or her meals without a murmur, and
went to the castor-oil cupboard with an alacrity that was almost
cheerful; and seldom, I suppose, have such big doses been supplied and
administered as the ones she prescribed for suffering Symford.
But on this dark side of the picture I do not care to look; the
party, anyhow, had been a great success, and Priscilla became at
one stroke as popular among the poor of Symford as she had been in
Lothen-Kunitz. Its success it is true was chiefly owing to the
immense variety of things to eat she had provided; for the
conjuror, merry-go-round, and cocoa-nuts to be shied at that she
had told young Vickerton to bring with him from Minehead, had all
been abandoned on Tussie's earnest advice, who instructed her
innocent German mind that these amusements, undoubtedly admirable
in themselves and on week days, were looked upon askance in England
"Why?" asked Priscilla, in great surprise.
"It's not keeping the day holy," said Tussie, blushing.
"How funny," said Priscilla.
"Oh, I don't know."
"Why," said Priscilla, "in Kun--" but she pulled herself up just as
she was about to give him a description of the varied nature of Sunday
afternoons in Kunitz.
"You must have noticed," said Tussie, "as you have lived so long in
London, that everything's shut on Sundays. There are no theatres and
things--certainly no cocoa-nuts."
"No, I don't remember any cocoa-nuts," mused Priscilla, her memory
going over those past Sundays she had spent in England.
Tussie tried to make amends for having obstructed her plans by
exerting himself to the utmost to entertain the children as far as
decorum allowed. He encouraged them to sing, he who felt every
ugliness in sound like a blow; he urged them to recite for prizes of
sixpences, he on whose soul Casabianca and Excelsior had much the
effect of scourges on a tender skin; he led them out into a field
between tea and supper and made them run races, himself setting the
example, he who caught cold so easily that he knew it probably meant a
week in bed. Robin helped too, but his exertions were confined to the
near neighbourhood of Priscilla. His mother had been very angry with
him, and he had been very angry with his mother for being angry, and
he had come away from the vicarage with a bad taste in his mouth and a
great defiance in his heart. It was the first time he had said hard
things to her, and it had been a shocking moment,--a moment sometimes
inevitable in the lives of parents and children of strong character
and opposed desires. He had found himself quite unable in his anger to
clothe his hard sayings in forms of speech that would have hidden
their brutal force, and he had turned his back at last on her
answering bitterness and fled to Baker's, thankful to find when he got
there that Priscilla's beauty and the interest of the mystery that
hung about her wiped out every other remembrance.
Priscilla was in the big farm kitchen, looking on at the children
having tea. That was all she did at her party, except go round every
now and then saying pleasant little things to each child; but this
going round was done in so accomplished a manner, she seemed so used
to it, was so well provided with an apparently endless supply of
appropriate remarks, was so kind, and yet so--what was the word?
could it be mechanical?--that Robin for the hundredth time found
himself pondering over something odd, half-remembered, elusive about
the girl. Then there was the uncle; manifestly a man who had never
before been required to assist at a school-treat, manifestly on this
occasion an unhappy man, yet look how he worked while she sat idly
watching, look how he laboured round with cakes and bread-and-butter,
clumsily, strenuously, with all the heat and anxiety of one eager to
please and obey. Yes, that was what he did; Robin had hit on it at
last. This extraordinary uncle obeyed his niece; and Robin knew very
well that Germany was the last country in the world to produce men who
did that. Had he not a cousin who had married a German officer? A
whilom gay and sprightly cousin, who spent her time, as she dolefully
wrote, having her mind weeded of its green growth of little opinions
and gravelled and rolled and stamped with the opinions of her male
relations-in-law. "And I'd rather have weeds than gravel," she wrote
at the beginning of this process when she was still restive under the
roller, "for they at least are green." But long ago she had left off
complaining, long ago she too had entered into the rest that remaineth
for him who has given up, who has become what men praise as reasonable
and gods deplore as dull, who is tired of bothering, tired of trying,
tired of everything but sleep. Then there was the girl's maid. This
was the first time Robin had seen her; and while she was helping Mrs.
Pearce pour out cups of chocolate and put a heaped spoonful of whipped
cream on the top of each cup in the fashion familiar to Germans and
altogether lovely in the eyes of the children of Symford, Robin went
to her and offered help.
Annalise looked at him with heavy eyes, and shook her head.
"She don't speak no English, sir," explained Mrs. Pearce. "This one's
"No English," echoed Annalise drearily, who had at least learned that
much, "no English, no English."
Robin gathered up his crumbs of German and presented them to her with
a smile. Immediately on hearing her own tongue she flared into life,
and whipping out a little pocket-book and pencil asked him eagerly
where she was.
"Where you are?" repeated Robin, astonished.
"_Ja, Ja_. The address. This address. What is it? Where am I?"
"What, don't you know?"
"Tell me--quick," begged Annalise.
"But why--I don't understand. You must know you are in England?"
"England! Naturally I know it is England. But this--where is it? What
is its address? For letters to reach me? Quick--tell me quick!"
Robin, however, would not be quick. "Why has no one told you?" he
asked, with an immense curiosity.
"_Ach_, I have not been told. I know nothing. I am kept in the dark
like--like a prisoner." And Annalise dragged her handkerchief out of
her pocket, and put it to her eyes just in time to stop her ready
tears from falling into the whipped cream and spoiling it.
"There she goes again," sniffed Mrs. Pearce. "It's cry, cry, from
morning till night, and nothing good enough for her. It's a mercy she
goes out of this to-morrow. I never see such an image."
"Tell me," implored Annalise, "tell me quick, before my mistress--"
"I'll write it for you," said Robin, taking the note-book from her.
"You know you go into a cottage next week, so I'll put your new
address." And he wrote it in a large round hand and gave it to her
quickly, for Mrs. Pearce was listening to all this German and watching
him write with a look that made him feel cheap. So cheap did it make
him feel that he resisted for the present his desire to go on
questioning Annalise, and putting his hands in his pockets sauntered
away to the other end of the kitchen where Priscilla sat looking on.
"I'm afraid that really was cheap of me," he thought ruefully, when he
came once more into Priscilla's sweet presence; but he comforted
himself with the reflection that no girl ought to be mysterious,
and if this one chose to be so it was fair to cross her plans
occasionally. Yet he went on feeling cheap; and when Tussie who was
hurrying along with a cup of chocolate in each hand ran into him and
spilt some on his sleeve the sudden rage with which he said "Confound
you, Tussie," had little to do with the hot stuff soaking through to
his skin and a great deal with the conviction that Tussie, despised
from their common childhood for his weakness, smallness and ugliness,
would never have done what he had just done and betrayed what the girl
had chosen to keep secret from her maid.
"But why secret? Why? Why?" asked Robin, torn with desire to find out
all about Priscilla.
"I'm going to do this often," said Priscilla, looking up at him with a
pleased smile. "I never saw such easily amused little creatures. Don't
you think it is beautiful, to give poor people a few happy moments
"Very beautiful," said Robin, his eyes on her face.
"It is what I mean to do in future," she said dreamily, her chin on
"It will be expensive," remarked Robin; for there were nearly two
hundred children, and Priscilla had collected the strangest things in
food on the long tables as a result of her method, when inviting, of
asking each mother what her child best liked to eat and then ordering
it with the lavishness of ignorance from Minehead.
"Oh, we shall live so simply ourselves that there will be enough left
to do all I want. And it will be the most blessed change and
refreshment, living simply. Fritzi hated the fuss and luxury quite as
much as I did."
"Did he?" said Robin, holding his breath. The girl was evidently off
her guard. He had not heard her call her uncle baldly Fritzi before;
and what fuss and luxury could a German teacher's life have known?
"He it was who first made me see that the body is more than meat and
the soul than raiment," mused Priscilla.
"He pulled my soul out of the flesh-pots. I'm a sort of Israel come
out of Egypt, but an Egypt that was altogether too comfortable."
"Too comfortable? Can one be too comfortable?"
"I was. I couldn't move or see or breathe for comfort. It was like a
feather bed all over me."
"I wouldn't call that comfort," said Robin, for she paused, and he was
afraid she was not going on. "It sounds much more like torture."
"So it was at last. And Fritzi helped me to shake it off. If he hadn't
I'd have smothered slowly, and perhaps if I'd never known him I'd have
done it as gracefully as my sisters did. Why, they don't know to this
day that they are dead."
Robin was silent. He was afraid to speak lest anything he said should
remind her of the part she ought to be playing. He had no doubt now
at all that she was keeping a secret. A hundred questions were burning
on his lips. He hated himself for wanting to ask them, for being so
inquisitive, for taking advantage of the girl's being off her guard,
but what are you to do with your inherited failings? Robin's mother
was inquisitive and it had got into his blood, and I know of no moral
magnesia that will purify these things away. "You said the other day,"
he burst out at last, quite unable to stop himself, "that you only had
your uncle in the world. Are your sisters--are they in London?"
"In London?" Priscilla gazed at him a moment with a vague surprise.
Then fright flashed into her eyes. "Did I not tell you they were dead?
Smothered?" she said, getting up quickly, her face setting into the
frown that had so chilled Tussie on the heath.
"But I took that as a parable."
"How can I help how you took it?"
And she instantly left him and went away round the tables, beginning
those little pleasant observations to the children again that struck
him as so strange.
Well did he know the sort of thing. He had seen Lady Shuttleworth do
it fifty times to the tenants, to the cottagers, at flower-shows,
bazaars, on all occasions of public hospitality or ceremony; but
practised and old as Lady Shuttleworth was this girl seemed yet more
practised. She was a finished artist in the work, he said to himself
as he leaned against the wall, his handsome face flushed, his eyes
sulky, watching her. It was enough to make any good-looking young
man sulky, the mixture of mystery and aloofness about Miss
Neumann-Schultz. Extraordinary as it seemed, up to this point he had
found it quite impossible to indulge with her in that form of more or
less illustrated dialogue known to Symford youths and maidens as
billing and cooing. Very fain would Robin have billed and have cooed.
It was a practice he excelled in. And yet though he had devoted
himself for three whole days, stood on ladders, nailed up creepers,
bought and carried rum, had a horrible scene with his mother because
of her, he had not got an inch nearer things personal and cosy. Miss
Neumann-Schultz thanked him quite kindly and graciously for his
pains--oh, she was very gracious; gracious in the sort of way Lady
Shuttleworth used to be when he came home for the holidays and she
patted his head and uttered benignities--and having thanked,
apparently forgot him till the next time she wanted anything.
"Fritzi," said Priscilla, when in the course of her progress down the
room she met that burdened man, "I'm dreadfully afraid I've said some
Fritzing put the plate of cake he was carrying down on a dresser and
wiped his forehead. "Ma'am," he said looking worried, "I cannot watch
you and administer food to these barbarians simultaneously. If your
tongue is so unruly I would recommend complete silence."
"I've said something about my sisters."
"Sisters, ma'am?" said Fritzing anxiously.
"Does it matter?"
"Matter? I have carefully instructed the woman Pearce, who has
certainly informed, as I intended she should inform, the entire
village, that you were my brother's only child. Consequently, ma'am,
you have no sisters."
Priscilla made a gesture of despair. "How fearfully difficult it is
not to be straightforward," she said.
"Yes, ma'am, it is. Since we started on this adventure the whole race
of rogues has become the object of my sincerest admiration. What wits,
what quickness, what gifts--so varied and so deftly used--what skill
in deception, what resourcefulness in danger, what self-command--"
"Yes but Fritzi what are we to do?"
"Do, ma'am? About your royal sisters? Would to heaven I had been born
"Yes, but as you were not--ought I to go back and say they're only
half-sisters? Or step-sisters? Or sisters in law? Wouldn't that do?"
"With whom were you speaking?"
"Ma'am, let me beg you to be more prudent with that youth than with
any one. Our young friend Caesar Augustus is I believe harmlessness
itself compared with him. Be on your guard, ma'am. Curb that fatal
feminine appendage, your tongue. I have remarked that he watches us.
But a short time since I saw him eagerly conversing with your Grand
Ducal Highness's maid. For me he has already laid several traps that I
have only just escaped falling into by an extraordinary presence of
mind and a nimbleness in dialectic almost worthy of a born rogue."
"Oh Fritzi," said the frightened Priscilla, laying her hand on his
sleeve, "do go and tell him I didn't mean what I said."
Fritzing wiped his brow again. "I fail to understand," he said,
looking at Priscilla with worried eyes, "what there is about us that
can possibly attract any one's attention."
"Why, there isn't anything," said Priscilla, with conviction. "We've
been most careful and clever. But just now--I don't know why--I began
to think aloud."
"Think aloud?" exclaimed Fritzing, horrified. "Oh ma'am let me beseech
you never again to do that. Better a thousand times not to think at
all. What was it that your Grand Ducal Highness thought aloud?"
And Priscilla, shamefaced, told him as well as she could remember.
"I will endeavour to remedy it," said poor Fritzing, running an
agitated hand through his hair.
Priscilla sighed, and stood drooping and penitent by the dresser while
he went down the room to where Robin still leaned against the wall.
"Sir," said Fritzing--he never called Robin young man, as he did
Tussie--"my niece tells me you are unable to distinguish truth from
"What?" said Robin staring.
"You are not, sir, to suppose that when my niece described her sisters
as dead that they are not really so."
"All right sir," said Robin, his eyes beginning to twinkle.
"The only portion of the story in which my niece used allegory was
when she described them as having been smothered. These young ladies,
sir, died in the ordinary way, in their beds."
"Feather beds, sir?" asked Robin briskly.
"Sir, I have not inquired into the nature of the beds," said Fritzing
"Is it not rather unusual," asked Robin, "for two young ladies in one
family to die at once? Were they unhealthy young ladies?"
"Sir, they did not die at once, nor were they unhealthy. They were
perfectly healthy until they--until they began to die."
"Indeed," said Robin, with an interest properly tinged with regret.
"At least, sir," he added politely, after a pause in which he and
Fritzing stared very hard at each other, "I trust I may be permitted
to express my sympathy."
"Sir, you may." And bowing stiffly Fritzing returned to Priscilla, and
with a sigh of relief informed her that he had made things right
"Dear Fritzi," said Priscilla looking at him with love and admiration,
"how clever you are."
It was on the Tuesday, the day Priscilla and Fritzing left Baker's and
moved into Creeper Cottage, that the fickle goddess who had let them
nestle for more than a week beneath her wing got tired of them and
shook them out. Perhaps she was vexed by their clumsiness at
pretending, perhaps she thought she had done more than enough for
them, perhaps she was an epicure in words and did not like a cottage
called Creeper; anyhow she shook them out. And if they had had eyes to
see they would not have walked into their new home with such sighs of
satisfaction and such a comfortable feeling that now at last the era
of systematic serenity and self-realization, beautifully combined with
the daily exercise of charity, had begun; for waiting for them in
Priscilla's parlour, established indeed in her easy-chair by the fire
and warming her miserable toes on the very hob, sat grey Ill Luck
Creeper Cottage, it will be remembered, consisted of two cottages,
each with two rooms, an attic, and a kitchen, and in the back yard the
further accommodation of a coal-hole, a pig-stye, and a pump. Thanks
to Tussie's efforts more furniture had been got from Minehead. Tussie
had gone in himself, after a skilful questioning of Fritzing had made
him realize how little had been ordered, and had, with Fritzing's
permission, put the whole thing into the hands of a Minehead firm.
Thus there was a bed for Annalise and sheets for everybody, and the
place was as decent as it could be made in the time. It was so tiny
that it got done, after a great deal of urging from Tussie, by the
Tuesday at midday, and Tussie himself had superintended the storing of
wood in the coal-hole and the lighting of the fire that was to warm
his divine lady and that Ill Luck found so comforting to her toes. The
Shuttleworth horses had a busy time on the Friday, Saturday, and
Monday, trotting up and down between Symford and Minehead; and the
Shuttleworth servants and tenants, not being more blind than other
people, saw very well that their Augustus had lost his heart to the
lady from nowhere. As for Lady Shuttleworth, she only smiled a rueful
smile and stroked her poor Tussie's hair in silence when, having
murmured something about the horses being tired, he reproved her by
telling her that it was everybody's duty to do what they could for
strangers in difficulties.
Priscilla's side of Creeper Cottage was the end abutting on the
churchyard, and her parlour had one latticed window looking south down
the village street, and one looking west opening directly on to the
churchyard. The long grass of the churchyard, its dandelions and
daisies, grew right up beneath this window to her wall, and a tall
tombstone half-blocked her view of the elm-trees and the church. Over
this room, with the same romantic and gloomy outlook, was her bedroom.
Behind her parlour was what had been the shoemaker's kitchen, but it
had been turned into a temporary bathroom. True no water was laid on
as yet, but the pump was just outside, and nobody thought there would
be any difficulty about filling the bath every morning by means of the
pump combined with buckets. Over the bathroom was the attic. This was
Annalise's bedroom. Nobody thought there would be any difficulty about
that either; nobody, in fact, thought anything about anything. It was
a simple place, after the manner of attics, with a window in its
sloping ceiling through which stars might be studied with great
comfort as one lay in bed. A frugal mind, an earnest soul, would have
liked the attic, would have found a healthy enjoyment in a place so
plain and fresh, so swept in windy weather by the airs of heaven. A
poet, too, would certainly have flooded any parts of it that seemed
dark with the splendour of his own inner light; a nature-lover, again,
would have quickly discovered the spiders that dwelt in its corners,
and spent profitable hours on all fours observing them. But an
Annalise--what was she to make of such a place? Is it not true that
the less a person has inside him of culture and imagination the more
he wants outside him of the upholstery of life? I think it is true;
and if it is, then the vacancy of Annalise's mind may be measured by
the fact that what she demanded of life in return for the negative
services of not crying and wringing her hands was nothing less filled
with food and sofas and servants than a grand ducal palace.
But neither Priscilla nor Fritzing knew anything of Annalise's mind,
and if they had they would instantly have forgotten it again, of such
extreme unimportance would it have seemed. Nor would I dwell on it
myself if it were not that its very vacancy and smallness was the
cause of huge upheavals in Creeper Cottage, and the stone that the
builders ignored if they did not actually reject behaved as such
stones sometimes do and came down upon the builders' heads and crushed
them. Annalise, you see, was unable to appreciate peace, yet on the
other hand she was very able to destroy the peace of other people; and
Priscilla meant her cottage to be so peaceful--a temple, a holy place,
within whose quiet walls sacred years were going to be spent in doing
justly, in loving mercy, in walking humbly. True she had not as yet
made a nearer acquaintance with its inconveniences, but anyhow she
held the theory that inconveniences were things to be laughed at
and somehow circumvented, and that they do not enter into the
consideration of persons whose thoughts are absorbed by the burning
desire to live out their ideals. "You can be happy in any place
whatever," she remarked to Tussie on the Monday, when he was
expressing fears as to her future comfort; "absolutely any place will
do--a tub, a dingle, the top of a pillar--any place at all, if only
your soul is on fire."
"Of course you can," cried Tussie, ready to kiss her feet.
"And look how comfortable my cottage seems," said Priscilla, "directly
one compares it with things like tubs."
"Yes, yes," agreed Tussie, "I do see that it's enough for free spirits
to live in. I was only wondering whether--whether bodies would find it
"Oh bother bodies," said Priscilla airily.
But Tussie could not bring himself to bother bodies if they included
her own; on the contrary, the infatuated young man thought it would be
difficult sufficiently to cherish a thing so supremely precious and
sweet. And each time he went home after having been in the frugal
baldness of Creeper Cottage he hated the superfluities of his own
house more and more, he accused himself louder and louder of being
mean-spirited, effeminate, soft, vulgar, he loathed himself for living
embedded in such luxury while she, the dear and lovely one, was ready
cheerfully to pack her beauty into a tub if needs be, or let it be
weather-beaten on a pillar for thirty years if by so doing she could
save her soul alive. Tussie at this time became unable to see a sleek
servant dart to help him take off his coat without saying something
sharp to him, could not sit through a meal without making bitter
comparisons between what they were eating and what the poor were
probably eating, could not walk up his spacious staircase and along
his lofty corridors without scowling; they, indeed, roused his
contemptuous wrath in quite a special degree, the reason being that
Priscilla's stairs, the stairs up and down which her little feet would
have to clamber daily, were like a ladder, and she possessed no
passages at all. But what of that? Priscilla could not see that it
mattered, when Tussie drew her attention to it.
Both Fritzing's and her front door opened straight into their
sitting-rooms; both their staircases walked straight from the kitchens
up into the rooms above. They had meant to have a door knocked in the
dividing wall downstairs, but had been so anxious to get away from
Baker's that there was no time. In order therefore to get to Fritzing
Priscilla would have either to go out into the street and in again at
his front door, or go out at her back door and in again at his. Any
meals, too, she might choose to have served alone would have to be
carried round to her from the kitchen in Fritzing's half, either
through the backyard or through the street.
Tussie thought of this each time he sat at his own meals, surrounded
by deft menials, lapped as he told himself in luxury,--oh, thought
Tussie writhing, it was base. His much-tried mother had to listen to
many a cross and cryptic remark flung across the table from the dear
boy who had always been so gentle; and more than that, he put his
foot down once and for all and refused with a flatness that silenced
her to eat any more patent foods. "Absurd," cried Tussie. "No wonder
I'm such an idiot. Who could be anything else with his stomach full of
starch? Why, I believe the stuff has filled my veins with milk instead
of good honest blood."
"Dearest, I'll have it thrown out of the nearest window," said Lady
Shuttleworth, smiling bravely in her poor Tussie's small cross face.
"But what shall I give you instead? You know you won't eat meat."
"Give me lentils," cried Tussie. "They're cheap."
"Mother, I do think it offensive to spend much on what goes into or
onto one's body. Why not have fewer things, and give the rest to the
"But I do give the rest to the poor; I'm always doing it. And there's
quite enough for us and for the poor too."
"Give them more, then. Why," fumed Tussie, "can't we live decently?
Hasn't it struck you that we're very vulgar?"
"No, dearest, I can't say that it has."
"Well, we are. Everything we have that is beyond bare necessaries
makes us vulgar. And surely, mother, you do see that that's not a nice
thing to be."
"It's a horrid thing to be," said his mother, arranging his tie with
an immense and lingering tenderness.
"It's a difficult thing not to be," said Tussie, "if one is rich.
Hasn't it struck you that this ridiculous big house, and the masses of
things in it, and the whole place and all the money will inevitably
end by crushing us both out of heaven?"
"No, I can't say it has. I expect you've been thinking of things like
the eyes of needles and camels having to go through them," said his
mother, still patting and stroking his tie.
"Well, that's terrifically true," mused Tussie, reflecting ruefully on
the size and weight of the money-bags that were dragging him down into
darkness. Then he added suddenly, "Will you have a small bed--a little
iron one--put in my bedroom?"
"A small bed? But there's a bed there already, dear."
"That big thing's only fit for a sick woman. I won't wallow in it any
"But dearest, all your forefathers wallowed, as you call it, in it.
Doesn't it seem rather--a pity not to carry on traditions?"
"Well mother be kind and dear, and let me depart in peace from them. A
camp bed,--that's what I'd like. Shall I order it, or will you? And
did I tell you I've given Bryce the sack?"
"Bryce? Why, what has he done?"
"Oh he hasn't done anything that I know of, except make a sort of doll
or baby of me. Why should I be put into my clothes and taken out of
them again as though I hadn't been weaned yet?"
Now all this was very bad, but the greatest blow for Lady Shuttleworth
fell when Tussie declared that he would not come of age. The cheerful
face with which his mother had managed to listen to his other
defiances went very blank at that; do what she would she could not
prevent its falling. "Not come of age?" she repeated stupidly. "But my
darling, you can't help yourself--you must come of age."
"Oh I know I can't help being twenty-one and coming into all
this"--and he waved contemptuous arms--"but I won't do it blatantly."
"I--I don't understand," faltered Lady Shuttleworth.
"There mustn't be any fuss, mother."
"Do you mean no one is to come?"
"No one at all, except the tenants and people. Of course they are to
have their fun--I'll see that they have a jolly good time. But I won't
have our own set and the relations."
"Tussie, they've all accepted."
"Send round circulars."
"Tussie, you are putting me in a most painful position."
"Dear mother, I'm very sorry for that. I wish I'd thought like this
sooner. But really the idea is so revolting to me--it's so sickening
to think of all these people coming to pretend to rejoice over a worm
"Tussle, you are not a worm."
"And then the expense and waste of entertaining them--the dreariness,
the boredom--oh, I wish I only possessed a tub--one single tub--or had
the pluck to live like Lavengro in a dingle."
"It's quite impossible to stop it now," interrupted Lady Shuttleworth
in the greatest distress; of Lavengro she had never heard.
"Yes you can, mother. Write and put it off."
"Write? What could I write? To-day is Tuesday, and they all arrive on
Friday. What excuse can I make at the last moment? And how can a
birthday be put off? My dearest boy, I simply can't." And Lady
Shuttleworth, the sensible, the cheery, the resourceful, the
perennially brave, wrung her hands and began quite helplessly to cry.
This unusual and pitiful sight at once conquered Tussie. For a moment
he stood aghast; then his arms were round his mother, and he promised
everything she wanted. What he said to her besides and what she sobbed
back to him I shall not tell. They never spoke of it again; but for
years they both looked back to it, that precious moment of clinging
together with bursting hearts, her old cheek against his young one,
her tears on his face, as to one of the most acutely sweet, acutely,
painfully, tender experiences of their joint lives.
It will be conceded that Priscilla had achieved a good deal in the one
week that had passed since she laid aside her high estate and stepped
down among ordinary people for the purpose of being and doing good.
She had brought violent discord into a hitherto peaceful vicarage,
thwarted the hopes of a mother, been the cause of a bitter quarrel
between her and her son, brought out by her mysteriousness a prying
tendency in the son that might have gone on sleeping for ever,
entirely upset the amiable Tussie's life by rending him asunder with a
love as strong as it was necessarily hopeless, made his mother anxious
and unhappy, and, what was perhaps the greatest achievement of all,
actually succeeded in making that mother cry. For of course Priscilla
was the ultimate cause of these unusual tears, as Lady Shuttleworth
very well knew. Lady Shuttleworth was the deceased Sir Augustus's
second wife, had married him when she was over forty and well out of
the crying stage, which in the busy does not last beyond childhood,
had lost him soon after Tussie's birth, had cried copiously and most
properly at his funeral, and had not cried since. It was then
undoubtedly a great achievement on the part of the young lady from
nowhere, this wringing of tears out of eyes that had been dry for one
and twenty years. But the list of what Priscilla had done does not end
with this havoc among mothers. Had she not interrupted the decent
course of Mrs. Jones's dying, and snatched her back to a hankering
after the unfit? Had she not taught the entire village to break the
Sabbath? Had she not made all its children either sick or cross under
the pretence of giving them a treat? On the Monday she did something
else that was equally well-meaning, and yet, as I shall presently
relate, of disastrous consequences: she went round the village from
cottage to cottage making friends with the children's mothers and
leaving behind her, wherever she went, little presents of money. She
had found money so extraordinarily efficacious in the comforting of
Mrs. Jones that before she started she told Fritzing to fill her purse
well, and in each cottage it was made somehow so clear how badly
different things were wanted that the purse was empty before she was
half round the village and she had to go back for a fresh supply. She
was extremely happy that afternoon, and so were the visited mothers.
They, indeed, talked of nothing else for the rest of the day,
discussed it over their garden hedges, looked in on each other to
compare notes, hurried to meet their husbands on their return from
work to tell them about it, and were made at one stroke into something
very like a colony of eager beggars. And in spite of Priscilla's
injunction to Mrs. Jones to hide her five-pound note all Symford knew
of that as well, and also of the five-pound note Mrs. Morrison had
taken away. Nothing was talked of in Symford but Priscilla. She had in
one week created quite a number of disturbances of a nature fruitful
for evil in that orderly village; and when on the Tuesday she and
Fritzing moved into Creeper Cottage they were objects of the intensest
interest to the entire country side, and the report of their riches,
their recklessness, and their eccentric choice of a dwelling had
rolled over the intervening hills as far as Minehead, where it was the
subject of many interesting comments in the local papers.
They got into their cottage about tea time; and the first thing
Priscilla did was to exclaim at the pleasant sight of the wood fire
and sit down in the easy-chair to warm herself. We know who was
sitting in it already; and thus she was received by Bad Luck at once
into her very lap, and clutched about securely by that unpleasant
lady's cold and skinny arms. She looked up at Fritzing with a shiver
to remark wonderingly that the room, in spite of its big fire and its
smallness, was like ice, but her lips fell apart in a frozen stare and
she gazed blankly past him at the wall behind his head. "Look," she
whispered, pointing with a horrified forefinger. And Fritzing, turning
quickly, was just in time to snatch a row of cheap coloured portraits
from the wall and fling them face downwards under the table before
Tussie came in to ask if he could do anything.
The portraits were those of all the reigning princes of Germany and
had been put up as a delicate compliment by the representative of the
Minehead furnishers, while Priscilla and Fritzing were taking leave of
Baker's Farm; and the print Priscilla's eye had lighted on was the
portrait of her august parent, smiling at her. He was splendid in
state robes and orders, and there was a charger, and an obviously
expensive looped-up curtain, and much smoke as of nations furiously
raging together in the background, and outside this magnificence
meandered the unmeaning rosebuds of Priscilla's cheap wallpaper. His
smile seemed very terrible under the circumstances. Fritzing felt
this, and seized him and flung him with a desperate energy under the
table, where he went on smiling, as Priscilla remembered with a guilty
shudder, at nothing but oilcloth. "I don't believe I'll sleep if I
know he--he's got nothing he'd like better than oilcloth to look at,"
she whispered with an awestruck face to Fritzing as Tussie came in.
"I will cause them all to be returned," Fritzing assured her.
"What, have those people sent wrong things?" asked Tussie anxiously,
who felt that the entire responsibility of this _menage_ was on his
"Oh, only some cheap prints," said Priscilla hastily. "I think they're
called oleographs or something."
"What impertinence," said Tussie hotly.
"I expect it was kindly meant, but I--I like my cottage quite plain."
"I'll have them sent back, sir," Tussie said to Fritzing, who was
rubbing his hands nervously through his hair; for the sight of his
grand ducal master's face smiling at him on whom he would surely never
wish to smile again, and doing it, too, from the walls of Creeper
Cottage, had given him a shock.
"You are ever helpful, young man," he said, bowing abstractedly and
going away to put down his hat and umbrella; and Priscilla, with a
cold feeling that she had had a bad omen, rang the handbell Tussie's
thoughtfulness had placed on her table and ordered Annalise to bring
Now Annalise had been standing on the threshold of her attic staring
at it in an amazement too deep for words when the bell fetched her
down. She appeared, however, before her mistress with a composed face,
received the order with her customary respectfulness, and sought out
Fritzing to inquire of him where the servants were to be found. "Her
Grand Ducal Highness desires tea," announced Annalise, appearing in
Fritzing's sitting-room, where he was standing absorbed in the bill
from the furnishers that he had found lying on his table.
"Then take it in," said Fritzing impatiently, without looking up.
"To whom shall I give the order?" inquired Annalise.
"To whom shall you give the order?" repeated Fritzing, pausing
in his study to stare at her, the bill in one hand and his
pocket-handkerchief, with which he was mopping his forehead, in
"Where," asked Annalise, "shall I find the cook?"
"Where shall you find the cook?" repeated Fritzing, staring still
harder. "This house is so gigantic is it not," he said with an
enormous sarcasm, "that no doubt the cook has lost himself. Have you
perhaps omitted to investigate the coal-hole?"
"Herr Geheimrath, where shall I find the cook?" asked Annalise tossing
"Fraeulein, is there a mirror in your bedroom?"
"The smallest I ever saw. Only one-half of my face can I see reflected
in it at a time."
"Fraeulein, the half of that face you see reflected in it is the half
of the face of the cook."
"I do not understand," said Annalise.
"Yet it is as clear as shining after rain. You, _mein liebes Kind_,
are the cook."
It was now Annalise's turn to stare, and she stood for a moment doing
it, her face changing from white to red while Fritzing turned his back
and taking out a pencil made little sums on the margin of the bill.
"Herr Geheimrath, I am not a cook," she said at last, swallowing her
"What, still there?" he exclaimed, looking up sharply. "Unworthy one,
get thee quickly to the kitchen. Is it seemly to keep the Princess
"I am not a cook," said Annalise defiantly. "I was not engaged as a
cook, I never was a cook, and I will not be a cook."
Fritzing flung down the bill and came and glared close into
Annalise's face. "Not a cook?" he cried. "You, a German girl, the
daughter of poor parents, you are not ashamed to say it? You do not
hide your head for shame? No--a being so useful, so necessary, so
worthy of respect as a cook you are not and never will be. I'll tell
you what you are,--I've told you once already, and I repeat it--you
are a knave, my Fraeulein, a knave, I say. And in those parts of your
miserable nature where you are not a knave--for I willingly concede
that no man or woman is bad all through--in those parts, I say, where
your knavishness is intermittent, you are an absolute, unmitigated
"I will not bear this," cried Annalise.
"Will not! Cannot! Shall not! Inept Negation, get thee to thy kitchen
and seek wisdom among the pots."
"I am no one's slave," cried Annalise, "I am no one's prisoner."
"Hark at her! Who said you were? Have I not told you the only two
things you are?"
"But I am treated as a prisoner, I am treated as a slave," sobbed
"Unmannerly one, how dare you linger talking follies when your royal
mistress is waiting for her tea? Run--run! Or must I show you how?"
"Her Grand Ducal Highness," said Annalise, not budging, "told me also
to prepare the bath for her this evening."
"Well, what of that?" cried Fritzing, snatching up the bill again and
adding up furiously. "Prepare it, then."
"I see no water-taps."
"Woman, there are none."
"How can I prepare a bath without water-taps?"
"O thou Inefficiency! Ineptitude garbed as woman! Must I then teach
thee the elements of thy business? Hast thou not observed the pump? Go
to it, and draw water. Cause the water to flow into buckets. Carry
these buckets--need I go on? Will not Nature herself teach thee what
to do with buckets?"
Annalise flushed scarlet. "I will not go to the pump," she said.
"What, you will not carry out her Grand Ducal Highness's orders?"
"I will not go to the pump."
"You refuse to prepare the bath?"
"I will not go to the pump."
"You refuse to prepare the tea?"
"I will not be a cook."
"You are rankly rebellious?"
"I will not sleep in the attic."
"I will not eat the food."
"I will not do the work."
"I will go."
"_Go_," repeated Annalise, stamping her foot. "I demand my wages, the
increased wages that were promised me, and I will go."
"And where, Impudence past believing, will you go, in a country whose
tongue you most luckily do not understand?"
Annalise looked up into Fritzing's furious eyes with the challenge
of him who flings down his trump card. "Go?" she cried, with a
defiance that was blood-curdling in one so small and hitherto so
silent, "I will first go to that young gentleman who speaks my
language and I will tell him all, and then, with his assistance, I
will go straight--but _straight_, do you hear?"--and she stamped
her foot again--"to Lothen-Kunitz."
Early in this story I pointed out what to the intelligent must have
been from the beginning apparent, that Annalise held Priscilla and
Fritzing in the hollow of her hand. In the first excitement of the
start she had not noticed it, but during those woeful days of
disillusionment at Baker's she saw it with an ever-growing clearness;
and since Sunday, since the day she found a smiling young gentleman
ready to talk German to her and answer questions, she was perfectly
aware that she had only to close her hand and her victims would
squeeze into any shape she liked. She proposed to do this closing at
the first moment of sheer intolerableness, and that moment seemed well
reached when she entered Creeper Cottage and realized what the attic,
the kitchen, and the pump really meant.
It is always a shock to find one's self in the company of a worm that
turns, always a shock and an amazement; a spectacle one never,
somehow, gets used to. But how dreadful does it become when one is in
the power of the worm, and the worm is resentful, and ready to squeeze
to any extent. Fritzing reflected bitterly that Annalise might quite
well have been left at home. Quite well? A thousand times better.
What had she done but whine during her passive period? And now that
she was active, a volcano in full activity hurling forth hot streams
of treachery on two most harmless heads, she, the insignificant, the
base-born, the empty-brained, was actually going to be able to ruin
the plans of the noblest woman on earth.
Thus thought Fritzing, mopping his forehead. Annalise had rushed away
to her attic after flinging her defiance at him, her spirit ready to
dare anything but her body too small, she felt, to risk staying within
reach of a man who looked more like somebody who meant to shake her
than any one she had ever seen. Fritzing mopped his forehead, and
mopped and mopped again. He stood where she had left him, his eyes
fixed on the ground, his distress so extreme that he was quite near
crying. What was he to do? What was he to say to his Princess? How was
he to stop the girl's going back to Kunitz? How was he to stop her
going even so far as young Morrison? That she should tell young
Morrison who Priscilla was would indeed be a terrible thing. It would
end their being able to live in Symford. It would end their being able
to live in England. The Grand Duke would be after them, and there
would have to be another flight to another country, another start
there, another search for a home, another set of explanations,
pretences, fears, lies,--things of which he was so weary. But there
was something else, something worse than any of these things, that
made Fritzing mop his forehead with so extreme a desperation: Annalise
had demanded the money due to her, and Fritzing had no money.
I am afraid Fritzing was never meant for a conspirator. Nature never
meant him to be a plotter, an arranger of unpleasant surprises for
parents. She never meant him to run away. She meant him, probably,
to spend his days communing with the past in a lofty room with
distempered walls and busts round them. That he should be forced to
act, to decide, to be artful, to wrangle with maids, to make ends
meet, to squeeze his long frame and explosive disposition into a
Creeper Cottage where only an ill-fitting door separated him from the
noise and fumes of the kitchen, was surely a cruel trick of Fate, and
not less cruel because he had brought it on himself. That he should
have thought he could run away as well as any man is merely a proof of
his singleness of soul. A man who does that successfully is always,
among a great many other things, a man who takes plenty of money with
him and knows exactly where to put his hand on more when it is wanted.
Fritzing had thought it better to get away quickly with little money
than to wait and get away with more. He had seized all he could of his
own that was not invested, and Priscilla had drawn her loose cash from
the Kunitz bank; but what he took hidden in his gaiters after paying
for Priscilla's outfit and bribing Annalise was not more than three
hundred pounds; and what is three hundred pounds to a person who buys
and furnishes cottages and scatters five-pound notes among the poor?
The cottages were paid for. He had insisted on doing that at once,
chiefly in order to close his dealings with Mr. Dawson; but Mr. Dawson
had not let them go for less than a hundred and fifty for the two, in
spite of Tussie's having said a hundred was enough. When Fritzing told
Mr. Dawson what Tussie had said Mr. Dawson soon proved that Tussie
could not possibly have meant it; and Fritzing, knowing how rich
Priscilla really was and what vast savings he had himself lying over
in Germany in comfortable securities, paid him without arguing and
hastened from the hated presence. Then the journey for the three from
Kunitz had been expensive; the stay at Baker's Farm had been, strange
to say, expensive; Mrs. Jones's comforting had been expensive; the
village mothers had twice emptied Priscilla's purse of ten pounds; and
the treat to the Symford children had not been cheap. After paying for
this--the Minehead confectioner turned out to be a man of little faith
in unknown foreigners, and insisted on being paid at once--Fritzing
had about forty pounds left. This, he had thought, would do for food
and lights and things for a long while,--certainly till he had hit on
a plan by which he would be able to get hold of the Princess's money
and his own without betraying where they were; and here on his table,
the second unpleasant surprise that greeted him on entering his new
home (the first had been his late master's dreadful smile) was the
bill for the furnishing of it. To a man possessed of only forty pounds
any bill will seem tremendous. This one was for nearly two hundred;
and at the end of the long list of items, the biggest of which was
that bathroom without water that had sent Annalise out on strike, was
the information that a remittance would oblige. A remittance! Poor
Fritzing. He crushed the paper in his hand and made caustic mental
comments on the indecency of these people, clamouring for their money
almost before the last workman was out of the place, certainly before
the smell of paint was out of it, and clamouring, too, in the face of
the Shuttleworth countenance and support. He had not been a week yet
in Symford, and had been so busy, so rushed, that he had put off
thinking out a plan for getting his money over from Germany until he
should be settled. Never had he imagined people would demand payment
in this manner. Never, either, had he imagined the Princess would want
so much money for the poor; and never, of course, had he imagined that
there would be a children's treat within three days of their arrival.
Least of all had he dreamed that Annalise would so soon need more
bribing; for that was clearly the only thing to do. He saw it was the
only thing, after he had stood for some time thinking and wiping the
cold sweat from his forehead. She must be bribed, silenced, given in
to. He must part with as much as he possibly could of that last forty
pounds; as much, also, as he possibly could of his pride, and submit
to have the hussy's foot on his neck. Some day, some day, thought
Fritzing grinding his teeth, he would be even with her; and when that
day came he promised himself that it should certainly begin with a
sound shaking. "Truly," he reflected, "the foolish things of the world
confound the wise, and the weak things of the world confound the
things that are mighty." And he went out, and standing in the back
yard beneath Annalise's window softly called to her. "Fraeulein,"
called Fritzing, softly as a dove wooing its mate.
"Aha," thought Annalise, sitting on her bed, quick to mark the change;
but she did not move.
"Fraeulein," called Fritzing again; and it was hardly a call so much as
a melodious murmur.
Annalise did not move, but she grinned.
"Fraeulein, come down one moment," cooed Fritzing, whose head was quite
near the attic window so low was Creeper Cottage. "I wish to speak to
you. I wish to give you something."
Annalise did not move, but she stuffed her handkerchief into her
mouth; for the first time since she left Calais she was enjoying
"If," went on Fritzing after an anxious pause, "I was sharp with you
just now--and I fear I may have been hasty--you should not take it
amiss from one who, like Brutus, is sick of many griefs. Come down,
Fraeulein, and let me make amends."
The Princess's bell rang. At once habit impelled Annalise to that
which Fritzing's pleadings would never have effected; she scrambled
down the ladder, and leaving him still under her window presented
herself before her mistress with her usual face of meek respect.
"I said tea," said Priscilla very distinctly, looking at her with
slightly lifted eyebrows.
Annalise curtseyed and disappeared.
"How fearfully polite German maids are," remarked Tussie.
"In what way?" asked Priscilla.
"Those curtseys. They're magnificent."
"Don't English maids curtsey?"
"None that I've ever seen. Perhaps they do to royalties."
"Oh?" said Priscilla with a little jump. She was still so much
unnerved by the unexpected meeting with her father on the wall of
Creeper Cottage that she could not prevent the little jump.
"What would German maids do, I wonder, in dealing with royalties,"
said Tussie, "if they curtsey so beautifully to ordinary mistresses?
They'd have to go down on their knees to a princess, wouldn't they?"
"How should I know?" said Priscilla, irritably, alarmed to feel she
was turning red; and with great determination she began to talk
Fritzing was lying in wait for Annalise, and caught her as she came
into the bathroom.
"Fraeulein," said the miserable man trying to screw his face into
persuasiveness, "you cannot let the Princess go without tea."
"Yes I can," said Annalise.
He thrust his hands into his pockets to keep them off her shoulders.
"Make it this once, Fraeulein, and I will hire a woman of the village
to make it in future. And see, you must not leave the Princess's
service, a service of such great honour to yourself, because I chanced
to be perhaps a little--hasty. I will give you two hundred marks to
console you for the slight though undoubted difference in the mode of
living, and I will, as I said, hire a woman to come each day and cook.
Will it not be well so?"
"No," said Annalise.
Annalise put her hands on her hips, and swaying lightly from side to
side began to sing softly. Fritzing gazed at this fresh development in
her manners in silent astonishment. "_Jedermann macht mir die Cour,
c'est l'amour, c'est l'amour_," sang Annalise, her head one side, her
eyes on the ceiling.
"_Liebes Kind_, are your promises of no value? Did you not promise to
keep your mouth shut, and not betray the Princess's confidence? Did
she not seek you out from all the others for the honour of keeping her
secrets? And you will, after one week, divulge them to a stranger? You
will leave her service? You will return to Kunitz? Is it well so?"
"_C'est l'amour, c'est l'amour_," sang Annalise, swaying.
"Is it well so, Fraeulein?" repeated Fritzing, strangling a furious
desire to slap her.
"Did you speak?" inquired Annalise, pausing in her song.
"I am speaking all the time. I asked if it were well to betray the
secrets of your royal mistress."
"I have been starved," said Annalise.
"You have had the same fare as ourselves."
"I have been called names."
"Have I not expressed--regret?"
"I have been treated as dirt."
"Well, well, I have apologized."
"If you had behaved to me as a maid of a royal lady should be behaved
to, I would have faithfully done my part and kept silence. Now give me
my money and I will go."
"I will give you your money--certainly, _liebes Kind_. It is what I am
most desirous of doing. But only on condition that you stay. If you
go, you go without it. If you stay, I will do as I said about the cook
and will--" Fritzing paused--"I will endeavour to refrain from calling
you anything hasty."
"Two hundred marks," said Annalise gazing at the ceiling, "is
"Nothing?" cried Fritzing. "You know very well that it is, for you, a
"It is nothing. I require a thousand."
"A thousand? What, fifty English sovereigns? Nay, then, but there is
no reasoning with you," cried Fritzing in tones of real despair.
She caught the conviction in them and hesitated. "Eight hundred,
then," she said.
"Impossible. And besides it would be a sin. I will give you twenty."
"Twenty? Twenty marks?" Annalise stared at him a moment then resumed
her swaying and her song--"_Jedermann macht mir die Cour_"--sang
Annalise with redoubled conviction.
"No, no, not marks--twenty pounds," said Fritzing, interrupting what
was to him a most maddening music. "Four hundred marks. As much as
many a German girl can only earn by labouring two years you will
receive for doing nothing but hold your tongue."
Annalise closed her lips tightly and shook her head. "My tongue cannot
be held for that," she said, beginning to sway again and hum.
Adjectives foamed on Fritzing's own, but he kept them back.
"_Maedchen_," he said with the gentleness of a pastor in a confirmation
class, "do you not remember that the love of money is the root of all
evil? I do not recognize you. Since when have you become thus greedy
"Give me eight hundred and I will stop."
"I will give you six hundred," said Fritzing, fighting for each of his
last precious pounds.
"I said eight," said Annalise, stopping and looking at him with lifted
eye-brows and exactly imitating the distinctness with which the
Princess had just said "I said tea."
"Six is an enormous sum. Why, what would you do with it?"
"That is my affair. Perhaps buy food," she said with a malicious
"I tell you there shall be a cook."
"A cook," said Annalise counting on her fingers,--"and a good cook,
observe--not a cook like the Frau Pearce--a cook, then, no more rude
names, and eight hundred marks. Then I stop. I suffer. I am silent."
"It cannot be done. I cannot give you eight."
"_C'est l'amour, c'est l'amour_.... The Princess waits for her tea. I
will prepare it for her this once. I am good, you see, at heart. But I
must have eight hundred marks. _Cest l'amo-o-o-o-o-our_."
"I will give you seven," said Fritzing, doing rapid sums in his head.
Seven hundred was something under thirty-five pounds. He would still
have five pounds left for housekeeping. How long that would last he
admitted to himself that probably only heaven knew, but he hoped that
with economy it might be made to carry them over a fortnight; and
surely by the end of a fortnight he would have hit on a way of getting
fresh supplies from Germany? "I will give you seven hundred. That is
the utter-most. I can give no more till I have written home for money.
I have only a little more than that here altogether. See, I treat you
like a reasonable being--I set the truth plainly before you. More
than seven hundred I could not give if I would."
"Good," said Annalise, breaking off her music suddenly. "I will take
that now and guarantee to be silent for fourteen days. At the end of
that time the Herr Geheimrath will have plenty more money and will, if
he still desires my services and my silence, give me the three hundred
still due to me on the thousand I demand. If the Herr Geheimrath
prefers not to, then I depart to my native country. While the
fortnight lasts I will suffer all there is to suffer in silence. Is
the Herr Geheimrath agreed?"
"Shameless one!" mentally shrieked Fritzing, "Wait and see what will
happen to thee when my turn comes!" But aloud he only agreed. "It is
well, Fraeulein," he said. "Take in the Princess's tea, and then come
to my sitting-room and I will give you the money. The fire burns in
the kitchen. Utensils, I believe, are ready to hand. It should not
prove a task too difficult."
"Perhaps the Herr Geheimrath will show me where the tea and milk is?
And also the sugar, and the bread and butter if any?" suggested
Annalise in a small meek voice as she tripped before him into the
What could he do but follow? Her foot was well on his neck; and it
occurred to him as he rummaged miserably among canisters that if the
creature should take it into her head to marry him he might
conceivably have to let her do it. As it was it was he and not
Annalise who took the kettle out to the pump to fill it, and her face
while he was doing it would have rejoiced her parents or other persons
to whom she was presumably dear, it was wide with so enormous a
satisfaction. Thus terrible is it to be in the power of an Annalise.
The first evening in Creeper Cottage was unpleasant. There was a
blazing wood fire, the curtains were drawn, the lamp shone rosily
through its red shade, and when Priscilla stood up her hair dusted the
oak beams of the ceiling, it was so low. The background, you see, was
perfectly satisfactory; exactly what a cottage background should be on
an autumn night when outside a wet mist is hanging like a grey curtain
across the window panes; and Tussie arriving at nine o'clock to help
consecrate the new life with Shakespeare felt, as he opened the door
and walked out of the darkness into the rosy, cosy little room, that
he need not after all worry himself with doubts as to the divine
girl's being comfortable. Never did place appear more comfortable. It
did not occur to him that a lamp with a red shade and the blaze of a
wood fire will make any place appear comfortable so long as they go on
shining, and he looked up at Priscilla--I am afraid he had to look up
at her when they were both standing--with the broadest smile of
genuine pleasure. "It _does_ look jolly," he said heartily.
His pleasure was doomed to an immediate wiping out. Priscilla smiled,
but with a reservation behind her smile that his sensitive spirit felt
at once. She was alone, and there was no sign whatever either of her
uncle or of preparations for the reading of Shakespeare.
"Is anything not quite right?" Tussie asked, his face falling at once
to an anxious pucker.
Priscilla looked at him and smiled again, but this time the smile was
real, in her eyes as well as on her lips, dancing in them together
with the flickering firelight. "It's rather funny," she said. "It has
never happened to me before. What do you think? I'm hungry."
Tussie stared, arrested in the unwinding of his comforter.
"Really hungry. _Dreadfully_ hungry. So hungry that I hate
"I know. You're going to say why not eat? It does seem simple. But
you've no idea how difficult it really is. I'm afraid my uncle and I
have rather heaps to learn. We forgot to get a cook."
"A cook? But I thought--I understood that curtseying maid of yours was
going to do all that?"
"So did I. So did he. But she won't."
Priscilla flushed, for since Tussie left after tea she had had
grievous surprises, of a kind that made her first indignant and then
inclined to wince. Fritzing had not been able to hide from her that
Annalise had rebelled and refused to cook, and Priscilla had not been
able to follow her immediate impulse and dismiss her. It was at this
point, when she realized this, that the wincing began. She felt
perfectly sick at the thought, flashed upon her for the first time,
that she was in the power of a servant.
"Do you mean to say," said Tussie in a voice hollow with
consternation, "that you've had no dinner?"
"Dinner? In a cottage? Why of course there was no dinner. There never
will be any dinner--at night, at least. But the tragic thing is there
was no supper. We didn't think of it till we began to get hungry.
Annalise began first. She got hungry at six o'clock, and said
something to Fritz--my uncle about it, but he wasn't hungry himself
then and so he snubbed her. Now he is hungry himself, and he's gone
out to see if he can't find a cook. It's very stupid. There's nothing
in the house. Annalise ate the bread and things she found. She's
upstairs now, crying." And Priscilla's lips twitched as she looked at
Tussie's concerned face, and she began to laugh.
He seized his hat. "I'll go and get you something," he said, dashing
at the door.
"I can't think what, at this time of the night. The only shop shuts at
"I'll make them open it."
"They go to bed at nine."
"I'll get them out of bed if I have to shie stones at their windows
"Don't go without your coat--you'll catch a most frightful cold."
He put his arm through the door to take it, and vanished in the fog.
He did not put on the coat in his agitation, but kept it over his arm.
His comforter stayed in Priscilla's parlour, on the chair where he had
flung it. He was in evening dress, and his throat was sore already
with the cold that was coming on and that he had caught, as he
expected, running races on the Sunday at Priscilla's children's party.
Priscilla went back to her seat by the fire, and thought very hard
about things like bread. It would of course be impossible that she
should have reached this state of famine only because one meal had
been missed; but she had eaten nothing all day,--disliked the Baker's
Farm breakfast too much even to look at it, forgotten the Baker's Farm
dinner because she was just moving into her cottage, and at tea had
been too greatly upset by the unexpected appearance of her father on
the wall to care to eat the bread and butter Annalise brought in. Now
she was in that state when you tremble and feel cold. She had told
Annalise, about half-past seven, to bring her the bread left from tea,
but Annalise had eaten it. At half-past eight she had told Annalise to
bring her the sugar, for she had read somewhere that if you eat enough
sugar it takes away the desire even of the hungriest for other food,
but Annalise, who had eaten the sugar as well, said that the Herr
Geheimrath must have eaten it. It certainly was not there, and neither
was the Herr Geheimrath to defend himself; since half-past seven he
had been out looking for a cook, his mind pervaded by the idea that if
only he could get a cook food would follow in her wake as naturally as
flowers follow after rain. Priscilla fretting in her chair that he
should stay away so long saw very clearly that no cook could help
them. What is the use of a cook in a house where there is nothing to
cook? If only Fritzing would come back quickly with a great many
loaves of bread! The door was opened a little way and somebody's
knuckles knocked. She thought it was Tussie, quick and clever as ever,
and in a voice full of welcome told him to come in; upon which in
stepped Robin Morrison very briskly, delighted by the warmth of the
invitation. "Why now this _is_ nice," said Robin, all smiles.
Priscilla did not move and did not offer to shake hands, so he stood
on the hearthrug and spread out his own to the blaze, looking down at
her with bright, audacious eyes. He thought he had not yet seen her so
beautiful. There was an extraordinary depth and mystery in her look,
he thought, as it rested for a moment on his face, and she had never
yet dropped her eyelashes as she now did when her eyes met his. We
know she was very hungry, and there was no strength in her at all.
Not only did her eyelashes drop, but her head as well, and her hands
hung helplessly, like drooping white flowers, one over each arm of the
"I came in to ask Mr. Neumann-Schultz if there's anything I can do for
you," said Robin.
"Did you? He lives next door."
"I know. I knocked there first, but he didn't answer so I thought he
must be here."
Priscilla said nothing. At any other time she would have snubbed Robin
and got rid of him. Now she merely sat and drooped.
"Has he gone out?"
Her voice was very low, hardly more than a whisper. Those who know the
faintness of hunger at this stage will also know the pathos that
steals into the voice of the sufferer when he is unwillingly made to
speak; it becomes plaintive, melodious with yearning, the yearning for
food. But if you do not know this, if you have yourself just come from
dinner, if you are half in love and want the other person to be quite
in love, if you are full of faith in your own fascinations, you are
apt to fall into Robin's error and mistake the nature of the yearning.
Tussie in Robin's place would have doubted the evidence of his senses,
but then Tussie was very modest. Robin doubted nothing. He saw, he
heard, and he thrilled; and underneath his thrilling, which was real
enough to make him flush to the roots of his hair, far down underneath
it was the swift contemptuous comment, "They're all alike."
Priscilla shut her eyes. She was listening for the first sound of
Tussie's or Fritzing's footfall, the glad sound heralding the approach
of something to eat, and wishing Robin would go away. He was kind at
times and obliging, but on the whole a nuisance. It was a great pity
there were so many people in the world who were nuisances and did not
know it. Somebody ought to tell them,--their mothers, or other useful
persons of that sort. She vaguely decided that the next time she met
Robin and was strengthened properly by food she would say a few things
to him from which recovery would take a long while.
"Are you--not well?" Robin asked, after a silence during which his
eyes never left her and hers were shut; and even to himself his voice
sounded deeper, more intense than usual.
"Oh yes," murmured Priscilla with a little sigh.
Happy? Can anybody who is supperless, dinnerless, breakfastless, be
happy, Priscilla wondered? But the question struck her as funny, and
the vibrating tones in which it was asked struck her as rather funny
too, and she opened her eyes for a moment to look up at Robin with a
smile of amusement--a smile that she could not guess was turned by the
hunger within her into something wistful and tremulous. "Yes," said
Priscilla in that strange pathetic voice, "I--think so." And after a
brief glance at him down went her weary eyelids again.
The next thing that happened was that Robin, who was trembling,
kissed her hand. This she let him do with perfect placidity. Every
German woman is used to having her hand kissed. It is kissed on
meeting, it is kissed on parting, it is kissed at a great many odd
times in between; she holds it up mechanically when she comes
across a male acquaintance; she is never surprised at the ceremony;
the only thing that surprises her is if it is left out. Priscilla
then simply thought Robin was going. "What a mercy," she said to
herself, glancing at him a moment through her eyelashes. But Robin
was not used to hand-kissing and saw things in a very different
light. He felt she made no attempt to draw her hand away, he heard
her murmuring something inarticulate--it was merely Good-bye--he
was hurled along to his doom; and stooping over her the unfortunate
young man kissed her hair.
Priscilla opened her eyes suddenly and very wide. I don't know what
folly he would have perpetrated next, or what sillinesses were on the
tip of his tongue, or what meaning he still chose to read in her look,
but an instant afterwards he was brought down for ever from the giddy
heights of his illusions: Priscilla boxed his ears.
I am sorry to have to record it. It is always sweeter if a woman does
not box ears. The action is shrewish, benighted, mediaeval, nay,
barbarous; and this box was a very hard one indeed, extraordinarily
hard for so little a hand and so fasting a girl. But we know she had
twice already been on the verge of doing it; and the pent-up vigour of
what the policeman had not got and what the mother in the train had
not got was added I imagine to what Robin got. Anyhow it was
efficacious. There was an exclamation--I think of surprise, for surely
a young man would not have minded the pain?--and he put his hand up
quickly to his face. Priscilla got up just as quickly out of her chair
and rang the handbell furiously, her eyes on his, her face ablaze.
Annalise must have thrown herself down the ladder, for they hardly
seemed to have been standing there an instant face to face, their eyes
on a level, he scarlet, she white, both deadly silent, before the maid
was in the room.
"This person has insulted me," said Priscilla, turning to her and
pointing at Robin. "He never comes here again. Don't let me find you
forgetting that," she added, frowning at the girl; for she remembered
they had been seen talking eagerly together at the children's treat.
"I never"--began Robin.
"Will you go?"
Annalise opened the door for him. He went out, and she shut it behind
him. Then she walked sedately across the room again, looking sideways
at the Princess, who took no notice of her but stood motionless by the
table gazing straight before her, her lips compressed, her face set
in a kind of frozen white rage, and having got into the bathroom
Annalise began to run. She ran out at the back door, in again at
Fritzing's back door, out at his front door into the street, and
caught up Robin as he was turning down the lane to the vicarage. "What
have you done?" she asked him breathlessly, in German.
"Done?" Robin threw back his head and laughed quite loud.
"Sh--sh," said Annalise, glancing back fearfully over her shoulder.
"Done?" said Robin, subduing his bitter mirth. "What do you suppose
I've done? I've done what any man would have in my place--encouraged,
almost asked to do it. I kissed your young lady, _liebes Fraeulein_,
and she pretended not to like it. Now isn't that what a sensible girl
like you would call absurd?"
But Annalise started back from the hand he held out to her in genuine
horror. "What?" she cried, "What?"
"What? What?" mocked Robin. "Well then, what? Are you all such prudes
in Germany? Even you pretending, you little hypocrite?"
"Oh," cried Annalise hysterically, pushing him away with both her
hands, "what have you done? _Elender Junge_, what have you done?"
"I think you must all be mad," said Robin angrily. "You can't persuade
me that nobody ever kisses anybody over in Germany."
"Oh yes they do--oh yes they do," cried Annalise, wringing her hands,
"but neither there nor anywhere else--in England, anywhere in the
world--do the sons of pastors--the sons of pastors--" She seemed to
struggle for breath, and twisted and untwisted her apron round her
hands in a storm of agitation while Robin, utterly astonished, stared
at her--"Neither there nor anywhere else do they--the sons of
pastors--kiss--kiss royal princesses."
It was now Robin's turn to say "What?"
He went up to Cambridge the next morning. Term had not begun, but he
went; a Robin with all the briskness gone out of him, and if still
with something of the bird left only of a bird that is moulting. His
father was mildly surprised, but applauded the apparent desire for
solitary study. His mother was violently surprised, and tried hard
to get at his true reasons. She saw with the piercing eye of a
relation--that eye from which hardly anything can ever be hidden--that
something had happened and that the something was sobering and
unpleasant. She could not imagine what it was, for she did not know he
had been to Creeper Cottage the night before and all the afternoon and
at dinner he had talked and behaved as usual. Now he did not talk at
all, and his behaviour was limited to a hasty packing of portmanteaus.
Determined to question him she called him into the study just before
he started, and shut the door.
"I must go mater," he said, pulling out his watch; he had carefully
avoided her since breakfast though she had laid many traps for him.
"Robin, I want to tell you that I think you splendid."
"Splendid? What on earth for? You were telling me a very different
sort of thing a day or two ago."
"I am sorry now for what I said on Sunday."
"I don't think a mother ought ever to say she's sorry," said Robin
"Not if she is?"
"She oughtn't to say so."
"Well dear let us be friends. Don't go away angry with me. I do
appreciate you so much for going. You are my own dear boy." And she
put her hands on his shoulders.
He took out his watch again. "I say, I must be off."
"Don't suppose a mother doesn't see and understand."
"Oh I don't suppose anything. Good-bye mater."
"I think it so splendid of you to go, to turn your back on temptation,
to unwind yourself from that wretched girl's coils."
"My Robin"--she stroked his cheek, the same cheek, as it happened,
Priscilla had smitten--"my Robin must not throw himself away. I am
ambitious where you are concerned, my darling. It would have broken my
heart for you to have married a nobody--perhaps a worse than nobody."
Robin, who was staring at her with an indescribable expression on his
face, took her hands off his shoulders. "Look here mater," he
said--and he was seized by a desire to laugh terrifically--"there is
nothing in the world quite so amusing as the way people will talk
wisely of things they don't in the faintest degree understand. They
seem to feel wise in proportion to their ignorance. I expect you think
that's a funny speech for me to make. I can tell you I don't think it
half as funny as yours was. Good-bye. I shall miss my train you know
if you keep me, and then I'd be exposed again to those--what was the
word? ah, yes--coils. Coils!" He burst into loud laughter. "Good-bye
She was staring at him blankly. He hastily brushed her forehead with
his moustache and hurried to the door, his face full of strange mirth.