Part 4 out of 5
"I say," he said, putting in his head again, "there's just one thing
I'd like to say."
She made an eager step towards him. "Do say it my darling--say all
that is in your heart."
"Oh it's not much--it's only God help poor Tuss." And that was the
last of him. She heard him chuckling all down the passage; but long
before his fly had reached Ullerton he had left off doing that and was
It rained that day in Somersetshire, a steady, hopeless rain that
soaked many a leaf off the trees before its time and made the year
look suddenly quite old. From the windows of Creeper Cottage you could
see the water running in rivulets down the hill into the deserted
village, and wreaths of mist hanging about the downs beyond. The
dripping tombstone that blocked Priscilla's window grew danker and
blacker as the day went by. The fires in the cottage burnt badly, for
the wood had somehow got wet. The oilcloth and the wall-papers looked
very dismal in the grey daylight. Rain came in underneath the two
front doors and made puddles that nobody wiped away.
Priscilla had got up very late, after a night spent staring into the
darkness, and then had sent for Fritzing and told him what Robin had
done. The unhappy man's horror will be easily imagined. She was in bed
the night before when he came in, quite cured of her hunger and only
wanting to be alone with her wrath. Fritzing had found no one in the
parlour but Tussie clasping an immense biscuit-tin in his arms, with a
face so tragic that Fritzing thought something terrible must have
happened. Tussie had returned joyfully, laden with biscuits and
sardines, to find the girl standing straight and speechless by the
table, her face rigid, her eyes ablaze. She had not so much as glanced
at the biscuits; she had not said a single word; her look rested on
him a moment as though she did not see him and then she went into the
next room and upstairs to bed. He knew she went upstairs to bed for in
Creeper Cottage you could hear everything.
Fritzing coming in a few minutes later without the cook he had hoped
to find, was glad enough of Tussie's sardines and biscuits--they were
ginger biscuits--and while he ate them, abstractedly and together,
Tussie looked on and wondered in spite of his wretchedness what the
combination could possibly taste like. Then, after a late breakfast
on the Wednesday morning, Priscilla sent for Fritzing and told him
what Robin had done. The burdened man, so full already of anxieties
and worries, was shattered by the blow. "I have always held duelling
in extreme contempt," he said when at last he could speak, "but now I
shall certainly fight."
"Fight? You? Fritzi, I've only told you because I--I feel so
unprotected here and you must keep him off if he ever tries to come
again. But you shall not fight. What, first he is to insult me and
then hurt or kill my Fritzi? Besides, nobody ever fights duels in
"That remains to be seen. I shall now go to his house and insult him
steadily for half an hour. At the expiration of that time he will
probably be himself anxious to fight. We might go to France--"
"Oh Fritzi don't be so dreadful. Don't go to him--leave him
alone--nobody must ever know--"
"I shall now go and insult him," repeated Fritzing with an
inflexibility that silenced her.
And she saw him a minute later pass her window under his umbrella,
splashing indifferently through all the puddles, battle and
destruction in his face.
Robin, however, was at Ullerton by the time Fritzing got to the
vicarage. He waved the servant aside when she told him he had gone,
and insisted on penetrating into the presence of the young man's
father. He waved Mrs. Morrison aside too when she tried to substitute
herself for the vicar, and did at last by his stony persistency get
into the good man's presence. Not until the vicar himself told him
that Robin had gone would Fritzing believe it. "The villain has fled,"
he told Priscilla, coming back drenched in body but unquenchable in
spirit. "Your chastisement, ma'am, was very effectual."
"If he's gone, then don't let us think about him any more."
"Nay, ma'am, I now set out for Cambridge. If I may not meet him fairly
in duel and have my chance of honourably removing him from a world
that has had enough of him, I would fain in my turn box his ears."
But Priscilla caught him by both arms. "Why, Fritzi," she cried, "he
might remove you and not you him--and from a world that hasn't had
nearly enough of you. Fritzi, you cannot leave me. I won't let you go.
I wish I had never told you. Don't let us talk of it ever again. It is
hateful to me. I--I can't bear it." And she looked into his face with
something very like tears in her eyes.
Of course Fritzing stayed. How could he go away even for one hour,
even in search of a cook, when such dreadful things happened? He was
bowed down by the burden of his responsibilities. He went into his
sitting-room and spent the morning striding up and down it between the
street door and the door into the kitchen,--a stride and a half one
way, and a stride and a half back back again,--doing what all
evildoers have to do sooner or later, cudgelling his brains for a way
out of life's complications: and every now and then the terribleness
of what had happened to his Princess, his guarded Princess, his
unapproachable one, came over him with a fresh wave of horror and he
In the kitchen sat the Shuttleworth kitchenmaid, a most accomplished
young person, listening to the groans and wondering what next. Tussie
had sent her, with fearful threats of what sort of character she would
get if she refused to go. She had at once given notice, but had been
forced all the same to go, being driven over in a dog-cart in the
early morning rain by a groom who made laboured pleasantries at her
expense. She could cook very well, almost as well as that great
personage the Shuttleworth cook, but she could only cook if there were
things to be cooked; and what she found at Creeper Cottage was the
rest of the ginger biscuits and sardines. Well, I will not linger over
that. Priscilla did get breakfast somehow, the girl, after trying
vainly to strike sparks of helpfulness out of Annalise, going to the
store and ordering what was necessary. Then she washed up, while
Annalise tripped in and out for the express purpose, so it seemed, of
turning up her nose; then she sat and waited and wondered what next.
For a long time she supposed somebody would send for her to come and
talk about luncheon; but nobody did. She heard the ceaseless
stridings in the next room, and every now and then the groans. The
rain on the kitchen window did not patter more ceaselessly than the
footsteps strode up and down, and the groans got very much on to the
girl's nerves. At last she decided that no person who was groaning
like that would ever want to order luncheon, and she had better go to
the young lady. She went out accordingly and knocked at Priscilla's
door. Priscilla was in her chair by the fire, lost in troublous
thought. She looked vaguely at the kitchenmaid for a moment, and then
asked her to go away. "I'm busy," explained Priscilla, whose hands
were folded in her lap.
"Please miss, what do you wish for luncheon?"
"Who are you?"
"I'm the--assistant cook at the 'All, miss. Lady Shuttleworth's
assistant cook. Sir Augustus desired me to cook for you to-day."
"Then please do it."
"Yes miss. What do you wish for luncheon?"
"Yes miss. And the gentleman--don't he want nothing neither?"
"He'll probably tell you when he does."
"Yes miss. It's as well to know a little beforehand, ain't it, miss.
There's nothing in the--a-hem--'ouse, and I suppose I'd have to buy
"Yes miss. Perhaps if you'd tell me what the gentleman likes I could
go out and get it."
"But I don't know what he likes. And wouldn't you get wet? Send
"Yes miss. Who?"
Priscilla gazed at her a moment. "Ah yes--" she said, "I forgot. I'm
afraid there isn't anybody. I think you had better ask my uncle what
he wants, and then if you would--I'm very sorry you should have such
bad weather--but if you don't mind, would you go and buy the things?"
The girl went away, and Priscilla began for the first time to consider
the probability of her having in the near future to think of and order
three meals every day of her life; and not only three meals, but she
dimly perceived there would be a multitude of other dreary things to
think of and order,--their linen, for instance, must be washed, and
how did one set about that? And would not Fritzing's buttons presently
come off and have to be sewn on again? His socks, when they went into
holes, could be thrown out of the window and new ones bought, but even
Priscilla saw that you could not throw a whole coat out of a window
because its buttons had come off. There would, then, have to be some
mending done for Fritzing, and Annalise would certainly not be the one
to do it. Was the simple life a sordid life as well? Did it only look
simple from outside and far away? And was it, close, mere drudging? A
fear came over her that her soul, her precious soul, for whose sake
she had dared everything, instead of being able to spread its wings in
the light of a glorious clear life was going to be choked out of
existence by weeds just as completely as at Kunitz.
The Shuttleworth kitchenmaid meanwhile, who was not hindered at every
turn by a regard for her soul, made her way to Fritzing as she had
been told and inquired of him what she should cook for his dinner. No
man likes to be interrupted in his groanings; and Fritzing, who was
not hungry and was startled by the sudden appearance of a stranger in
his room asking him intimate questions, a person of whose presence in
the cottage he had been unaware, flew at her. "Woman, what have I to
do with you?" he cried, stopping in his walk and confronting her with
surprising fierceness. "Is it seemly to burst in on a man like this?
Have you no decency? No respect for another's privacy? Begone, I
command you--begone! Begone!" And he made the same movements with his
hands that persons do when they shoo away fowls or other animals in
This was too much for the Shuttleworth kitchenmaid. The obligations,
she considered, were all on the side of Creeper Cottage, and she
retreated in amazement and anger to the kitchen, put on her hat and
mackintosh, and at once departed, regardless of the rain and the
consequences, through two miles of dripping lanes to Symford Hall.
What would have happened to her there if she had been discovered by
Tussie I do not know, but I imagine it would have been something bad.
She was saved, however, by his being in bed, clutched by the throat by
a violent cold; and there he lay helpless, burning and shivering and
throbbing, the pains of his body increased a hundredfold by the
distraction of his mind about Priscilla. Why, Tussie asked himself
over and over again, had she looked so strange the night before? Why
had she gone starving to bed? What was she doing to-day? Was the
kitchenmaid taking proper care of her? Was she keeping warm and dry
this shocking weather? Had she slept comfortably the first night in
her little home? Poor Tussie. It is a grievous thing to love any one
too much; a grievous, wasteful, paralyzing thing; a tumbling of the
universe out of focus, a bringing of the whole world down to the mean
level of one desire, a shutting out of wider, more beautiful feelings,
a wrapping of one's self in a thick garment of selfishness, outside
which all the dear, tender, modest, everyday affections and
friendships, the wholesome, ordinary loves, the precious loves of use
and wont, are left to shiver and grow cold. Tussie's mother sat
outside growing very cold indeed. Her heart was stricken within her.
She, most orderly of women, did not in the least mind, so occupied was
she with deeper cares, that her household was in rebellion, her cook
who had been with her practically all her life leaving because she had
been commanded by Tussie, before he had to fall back on the
kitchenmaid, to proceed forthwith to Creeper Cottage and stay there
indefinitely; her kitchenmaid, also a valued functionary, leaving;
Bryce, Tussie's servant who took such care of him and was so clever in
sickness, gone suddenly in his indignation at having to go at
all,--all these things no longer mattered. Nor did it matter that the
coming of age festivities were thrown into hopeless confusion by
Tussie's illness, that the guests must all be telegraphed to and put
off, that the whole village would be aghast at such a disappointment,
that all her plans and preparations had been wasted. As the first day
and night of illness dragged slowly past she grew to be nothing but
one great ache of yearning over her sick boy, a most soul-rending
yearning to do what she knew was for ever impossible, to put her arms
so close round him, so close, so carefully, so tenderly, that nothing,
no evil, no pain, could get through that clasp of love to hurt him any
"Why don't you take better care of your only son?" said the doctor
grimly after he had seen Tussie that evening, who by that time was in
a very pitiable condition.
Lady Shuttleworth stared at him, wide-eyed and speechless.
"It's absurd, you know, to let him get into this state. I've often
warned you. He can't be allowed to play ducks and drakes with himself
like other young men. He's got no strength to fall back upon. I
consider you are directly responsible for this illness. Why do you
let him go out at night this time of year? Why do you let him
over-exert himself? I suppose," said the doctor, who had brought
Tussie into the world and was as brutal as he was clever, besides
being at that moment extremely angry, "I suppose you want to lose him,
How could she explain to him what she knew to be true, that the one
person responsible for Tussie's illness was Priscilla? She therefore
only stared, wide-eyed and speechless; and indeed her heart was very
About three o'clock that afternoon Priscilla saw quite clearly what
she had dimly perceived in the morning, that if there was to be
domestic peace in Creeper Cottage she must bestir herself. She did not
like bestirring herself; at least, not in such directions. She would
go out and help the poor, talk to them, cheer them, nurse their babies
even and stir their porridge, but she had not up to this point
realized her own needs, and how urgent they could be and how
importunate. It was hunger that cleared her vision. The first time she
was hungry she had been amused. Now when it happened again she was
both surprised and indignant. "Can one's wretched body _never_ keep
quiet?" she thought impatiently, when the first twinges dragged her
relentlessly out of her dejected dreaming by the fire. She remembered
the cold tremblings of the night before, and felt that that state
would certainly be reached again quite soon if she did not stop it at
once. She rang for Annalise. "Tell the cook I will have some luncheon
after all," she said.
"The cook is gone," said Annalise, whose eyes were more aggressively
swollen than they had yet been.
"Gone away. Gone for ever."
"But why?" asked Priscilla, really dismayed.
"The Herr Geheimrath insulted her. I heard him doing it. No woman of
decency can permit such a tone. She at once left. There has been no
dinner to-day. There will be, I greatly fear, n--o--o--supp--pper."
And Annalise gave a loud sob and covered her face with her apron.
Then Priscilla saw that if life was to roll along at all it was her
shoulder that would have to be put to the wheel. Fritzing's shoulder
was evidently not a popular one among the lower classes. The vision of
her own doing anything with wheels was sufficiently amazing, but she
did not stop to gaze upon it. "Annalise," she said, getting up quickly
and giving herself a little shake, "fetch me my hat and coat. I'm
Annalise let her apron drop far enough to enable her to point to the
deluge going on out of doors. "Not in this weather?" she faltered,
images of garments soaked in mud and needing much drying and brushing
"Get me the things," said Priscilla.
"Your Grand Ducal Highness will be wet through."
"Get me the things. And don't cry quite so much. Crying really is the
most shocking waste of time."
Annalise withdrew, and Priscilla went round to Fritzing. It was the
first time she had been round to him. He was sitting at his table, his
head in his hands, staring at the furnisher's bill, and he started to
see her coming in unexpectedly through the kitchen, and shut the bill
hastily in a drawer.
"Fritzi, have you had anything to eat to-day?"
"Certainly. I had an excellent breakfast."
"I have not yet felt the need."
"You know the cook Lady Shuttleworth sent has gone again?"
"What, that woman who burst in upon me was Lady Shuttleworth's cook?"
"Yes. And you frightened her so she ran home."
"Ma'am, she overstepped the limits of my patience."
"Dear Fritzi, I often wonder where exactly the limits of your patience
are. With me they have withdrawn into infinite space--I've never been
able to reach them. But every one else seems to have a knack--well,
somebody must cook. You tell me Annalise won't. Perhaps she really
can't. Anyhow I cannot mention it to her, because it would be too
horrible to have her flatly refusing to do something I told her to do
and yet not be able to send her away. But somebody must cook, and I'm
going out to get the somebody. Hush"--she put up her hand as he opened
his mouth to speak--"I know it's raining. I know I'll get wet. Don't
let us waste time protesting. I'm going."
Fritzing was conscience-stricken. "Ma'am," he said, "you must forgive
me for unwittingly bringing this bother upon you. Had I had time for
reflection I would not have been so sharp. But the woman burst upon
me. I knew not who she was. Sooner than offend her I would have cut
out my tongue, could I have foreseen you would yourself go in search
in the rain of a substitute. Permit me to seek another."
"No, no--you have no luck with cooks," said Priscilla smiling. "I'm
going. Why I feel more cheerful already--just getting out of that
chair makes me feel better."
"Were you not cheerful before?" inquired Fritzing anxiously.
"Not very," admitted Priscilla. "But then neither were you. Don't
suppose I didn't see you with your head in your hands when I came in.
Cheerful people never seize their heads in that way. Now Fritzi I know
what's worrying you--it's that absurd affair last night. I've left off
thinking about it. I'm going to be very happy again, and so must you
be. We won't let one mad young man turn all our beautiful life sour,
He bent down and kissed her hand. "Permit me to accompany you at
least," he begged. "I cannot endure--"
But she shook her head; and as she presently walked through the rain
holding Fritzing's umbrella,--none had been bought to replace hers,
broken on the journey--getting muddier and more draggled every
minute, she felt that now indeed she had got down to elementary
conditions, climbed right down out of the clouds to the place where
life lies unvarnished and uncomfortable, where Necessity spends her
time forcing you to do all the things you don't like, where the whole
world seems hungry and muddy and wet. It was an extraordinary
experience for her, this slopping through the mud with soaking shoes,
no prospect of a meal, and a heart that insisted on sinking in spite
of her attempts to persuade herself that the situation was amusing. It
did not amuse her. It might have amused somebody else,--the Grand
Duke, for instance, if he could have watched her now (from, say, a
Gothic window, himself dry and fed and taken care of), being punished
so naturally and inevitably by the weapons Providence never allows to
rust, those weapons that save parents and guardians so much personal
exertion if only they will let things take their course, those sharp,
swift consequences that attend the actions of the impetuous. I might,
indeed, if this were a sermon and there were a congregation unable to
get away, expatiate on the habit these weapons have of smiting with
equal fury the just and the unjust; how you only need to be a little
foolish, quite a little foolish, under conditions that seem to force
it upon you, and down they come, sure and relentless, and you are
smitten with a thoroughness that leaves you lame for years; how
motives are nothing, circumstances are nothing; how the motives may
have been aflame with goodness, the circumstances such that any other
course was impossible; how all these things don't matter in the
least,--you are and shall be smitten. But this is not a sermon. I have
no congregation. And why should I preach to a reader who meanwhile has
It comforted Priscilla to find that almost the whole village wanted to
come and cook for her, or as the women put it "do" for her. Their
cooking powers were strictly limited, and they proposed to make up for
this by doing for her very completely in other ways; they would scrub,
sweep, clean windows, wash,--anything and everything they would do.
Would they also sew buttons on her uncle's clothes? Priscilla asked
anxiously. And they were ready to sew buttons all over Fritzing if
buttons would make him happy. This eagerness was very gratifying, but
it was embarrassing as well. The extremely aged and the extremely
young were the only ones that refrained from offering their services.
Some of the girls were excluded as too weedy; some of the mothers
because their babies were too new; some of the wives because their
husbands were too exacting; but when Priscilla counted up the names
she had written down she found there were twenty-five. For a moment
she was staggered. Then she rose to the occasion and got out of the
difficulty with what she thought great skill, arranging, as it was
impossible to disappoint twenty-four of these, that they should take
it in turn, each coming for one day until all had had a day and then
beginning again with the first one. It seemed a brilliant plan. Life
at Creeper Cottage promised to be very varied. She gathered them
together in the village shop to talk it over. She asked them if they
thought ten shillings a day and food would be enough. She asked it
hesitatingly, afraid lest she were making them an impossibly frugal
offer. She was relieved at the cry of assent; but it was followed
after a moment by murmurs from the married women, when they had had
time to reflect, that it was unfair to pay the raw young ones at the
same rate as themselves. Priscilla however turned a deaf ear to their
murmurings. "The girls may not," she said, raising her hand to impose
silence, "be able to get through as much as you do in a day, but
they'll be just as tired when evening comes. Certainly I shall give
them the same wages." She made them draw lots as to who should begin,
and took the winner home with her then and there; she too, though the
day was far spent, was to have her ten shillings. "What, have you
forgotten your New Testaments?" Priscilla cried, when more murmurs
greeted this announcement. "Don't you remember the people who came at
the eleventh hour to labour in the vineyard and got just the same as
the others? Why should I try to improve on parables?" And there was
something about Priscilla, an air, an authority, that twisted the
women of Symford into any shape of agreement she chose. The
twenty-four went their several ways. The twenty-fifth ran home to put
on a clean apron, and got back to the shop in time to carry the eggs
and butter and bread Priscilla had bought. "I forgot to bring any
money," said Priscilla when the postmistress--it was she who kept the
village shop--told her how much it came to. "Does it matter?"
"Oh don't mention it, Miss Neumann-Schultz," was the pleasant answer
of that genteel and trustful lady; and she suggested that Priscilla
should take with her a well-recommended leg of mutton she had that
day for sale as well. Priscilla shuddered at the sight of it and
determined never to eat legs of mutton again. The bacon, too, piled up
on the counter, revolted her. The only things that looked as decent
raw as when they were cooked were eggs; and on eggs she decided she
and Fritzing would in future live. She broke off a piece of the crust
of the bread Mrs. Vickerton was wrapping up and ate it, putting great
pressure on herself to do it carelessly, with a becoming indifference.
"It's good bread," said Mrs. Vickerton, doing up her parcel.
"Where in the world do you get it from?" asked Priscilla
enthusiastically. "The man must be a genius."
"The carrier brings it every day," said Mrs. Vickerton, pleased and
touched by such appreciation. "It's a Minehead baker's."
"He ought to be given an order, if ever man ought."
"An order? For you regular, Miss Neumann-Schultz?"
"No, no,--the sort you pin on your breast," said Priscilla.
"Ho," smiled Mrs. Vickerton vaguely, who did not follow; she was so
genteel that she could never have enough of aspirates. And Priscilla,
giving the parcel to her breathless new help, hurried back to Creeper
Now this help, or char-girl--you could not call her a charwoman she
was manifestly still so very young--was that Emma who had been obliged
to tell the vicar's wife about Priscilla's children's treat and who
did not punctually return books. I will not go so far as to say that
not to return books punctually is sinful, though deep down in my soul
I think it is, but anyhow it is a symptom of moral slackness. Emma was
quite good so long as she was left alone. She could walk quite
straight so long as there were no stones in the way and nobody to pull
her aside. If there were stones, she instantly stumbled; if somebody
pulled, she instantly went. She was weak, amiable, well-intentioned.
She had a widowed father who was unpleasant and who sometimes beat her
on Saturday nights, and on Sunday mornings sometimes, if the fumes of
the Cock and Hens still hung about him, threw things at her before she
went to church. A widowed father in Emma's class is an ill being to
live with. The vicar did his best to comfort her. Mrs. Morrison talked
of the commandments and of honouring one's father and mother and of
how the less there was to honour the greater the glory of doing it;
and Emma was so amiable that she actually did manage to honour him six
days out of the seven. At the same time she could not help thinking it
would be nice to go away to a place where he wasn't. They were
extremely poor; almost the poorest family in the village, and the
vision of possessing ten shillings of her very own was a dizzy one.
She had a sweetheart, and she had sent him word by a younger sister of
the good fortune that had befallen her and begged him to come up to
Creeper Cottage that evening and help her carry the precious wages
safely home; and at nine o'clock when her work was done she presented
herself all blushes and smiles before Priscilla and shyly asked her
Priscilla was alone in her parlour reading. She referred her, as her
habit was, to Fritzing; but Fritzing had gone out for a little air,
the rain having cleared off, and when the girl told her so Priscilla
bade her come round in the morning and fetch the money.
Emma's face fell so woefully at this--was not her John at that moment
all expectant round the corner?--that Priscilla smiled and got up to
see if she could find some money herself. In the first drawer she
opened in Fritzing's sitting-room was a pocket-book, and in this
pocket-book Fritzing's last five-pound note. There was nothing else
except the furnisher's bill. She pushed that on one side without
looking at it; what did bills matter? Bills never yet had mattered to
Priscilla. She pushed it on one side and searched for silver, but
found none. "Perhaps you can change this?" she said, holding out the
"The shop's shut now, miss," said Laura, gazing with round eyes at the
"Well then take it, and bring me the change in the morning."
Emma took it with trembling fingers--she had not in her life touched
so much money--and ran out into the darkness to where her John was
waiting. Symford never saw either of them again. Priscilla never saw
her change. Emma went to perdition. Priscilla went back to her chair
by the fire. She was under the distinct and comfortable impression
that she had been the means of making the girl happy. "How easy it is,
making people happy," thought Priscilla placidly, the sweetest smile
on her charming mouth.
Bad luck, it will be seen, dogged the footsteps of Priscilla. Never
indeed for a single hour after she entered Creeper Cottage did the
gloomy lady cease from her attentions. The place was pervaded by her
thick and evil atmosphere. Fritzing could not go out for an airing
without something of far-reaching consequence happening while he was
away. It was of course Bad Luck that made the one girl in Symford who
was easily swayed by passing winds of temptation draw the lot that put
the five-pound note into her hands; if she had come to the cottage
just one day later, or if the rain had gone on just half an hour
longer and kept Fritzing indoors, she would, I have no doubt whatever,
be still in Symford practising every feeble virtue either on her
father or on her John, by this time probably her very own John. As it
was she was a thief, a lost soul, a banished face for ever from the
ways of grace.
Thus are we all the sport of circumstance. Thus was all Symford the
sport of Priscilla. Fritzing knew nothing of his loss. He had not told
Priscilla a word of his money difficulties, his idea being to keep
every cloud from her life as long and as completely as possible.
Besides, how idle to talk of these things to some one who could in no
way help him with counsel or suggestions. He had put the money in his
drawer, and the thought that it was still unchanged and safe comforted
him a little in the watches of the sleepless nights.
Nothing particular happened on the Thursday morning, except that the
second of the twenty-five kept on breaking things, and Priscilla who
was helping Fritzing arrange the books he had ordered from London
remarked at the fifth terrific smash, a smash so terrific as to cause
Creeper Cottage to tremble all over, that more crockery had better be
"Yes," said Fritzing, glancing swiftly at her with almost a guilty
He felt very keenly his want of resourcefulness in this matter of
getting the money over from Germany, but he clung to the hope that a
few more wakeful nights would clear his brain and show him the way;
and meanwhile there was always the five-pound note in the drawer.
"And Fritzi, I shall have to get some clothes soon," Priscilla went
on, dusting the books as he handed them to her.
"Clothes, ma'am?" repeated Fritzing, straightening himself to stare at
"Those things you bought for me in Gerstein--they're delicious,
they're curiosities, but they're not clothes. I mean always to keep
them. I'll have them put in a glass case, and they shall always be
near me when we're happy again."
"Happy again, ma'am?"
"Settled again, I mean," quickly amended Priscilla.
She dusted in silence for a little, and began to put the books she had
dusted in the shelves. "I'd better write to Paris," she said
Fritzing jumped. "Paris, ma'am?"
"They've got my measurements. This dress can't stand much more. It's
the one I've worn all the time. The soaking it got yesterday was very
bad for it. You don't see such things, but if you did you'd probably
get a tremendous shock."
"Ma'am, if you write to Paris you must give your own name, which of
course is impossible. They will send nothing to an unknown customer in
England called Neumann-Schultz."
"Oh but we'd send the money with the order. That's quite easy, isn't
"Perfectly easy," said Fritzing in an oddly exasperated voice; at once
adding, still more snappily, "Might I request your Grand Ducal
Highness to have the goodness not to put my AEschylus--a most valuable
edition--head downwards on the shelf? It is a manner of treating books
often to be observed in housemaids and similar ignorants. But you,
ma'am, have been trained by me I trust in other and more reverent ways
of handling what is left to us of the mighty spirits of the past."
"I'm sorry," said Priscilla, hastily turning the AEschylus right side
up again; and by launching forth into a long and extremely bitter
dissertation on the various ways persons of no intellectual
conscience have of ill-treating books, he got rid of some of his
agitation and fixed her attention for the time on questions less
fraught with complications than clothes from Paris.
About half-past two they were still sitting over the eggs and bread
and butter that Priscilla ordered three times a day and that Fritzing
ate with unquestioning obedience, when the Shuttleworth victoria
stopped in front of the cottage and Lady Shuttleworth got out.
Fritzing, polite man, hastened to meet her, pushing aside the footman
and offering his arm. She looked at him vaguely, and asked if his
niece were at home.
"Certainly," said Fritzing, leading her into Priscilla's parlour.
"Shall I inquire if she will receive you?"
"Do," said Lady Shuttleworth, taking no apparent notice of the odd
wording of this question. "Tussie isn't well," she said the moment
Priscilla appeared, fixing her eyes on her face but looking as though
she hardly saw her, as though she saw past her, through her, to
something beyond, while she said a lesson learned by rote.
"Isn't he? Oh I'm sorry," said Priscilla.
"He caught cold last Sunday at your treat. He oughtn't to have run
those races with the boys. He can't--stand--much."
Priscilla looked at her questioningly. The old lady's face was quite
set and calm, but there had been a queer catch in her voice at the
"Why does he do such things, then?" asked Priscilla, feeling vaguely
"Ah yes, my dear--why? That is a question for you to answer, is it
"On Tuesday night," continued Lady Shuttleworth, "he was ill when he
left home to come here. He would come. It was a terrible night for a
delicate boy to go out. And he didn't stay here, I understand. He went
out to buy something after closing time, and stood a long while trying
to wake the people up."
"Yes," said Priscilla, feeling guilty, "I--that was my fault. He went
"Yes my dear. Since then he has been ill. I've come to ask you if
you'll drive back with me and see if--if you cannot persuade him that
you are happy. He seems to be much--troubled."
"He seems to be afraid you are not happy. You know," she added with a
little quavering smile, "Tussie is very kind. He is very unselfish. He
takes everybody's burdens on his shoulders. He seems to be quite
haunted by the idea that your life here is unendurably uncomfortable,
and it worries him dreadfully that he can't get to you to set things
straight. I think if he were to see you, and you were very cheerful,
and--and smiled, my dear, it might help to get him over this."
"Get him over this?" echoed Priscilla. "Is he so ill?"
Lady Shuttleworth looked at her and said nothing.
"Of course I'll come," said Priscilla, hastily ringing the bell.
"But you must not look unhappy," said Lady Shuttleworth, laying her
hand on the girl's arm, "that would make matters ten times worse. You
must promise to be as gay as possible."
"Yes, yes--I'll be gay," promised Priscilla, while her heart became as
lead within her at the thought that she was the cause of poor Tussie's
sufferings. But was she really, she asked herself during the drive?
What had she done but accept help eagerly offered? Surely it was very
innocent to do that? It was what she had been doing all her life, and
people had been delighted when she let them be kind to her, and
certainly had not got ill immediately afterwards. Were you never to
let anybody do anything for you lest while they were doing it they
should get wet feet and things, and then their colds would be upon
your head? She was very sorry Tussie should be ill, dreadfully sorry.
He was so kind and good that it was impossible not to like him. She
did like him. She liked him quite as well as most young men and much
better than many. "I'm afraid you are very unhappy," she said suddenly
to Lady Shuttleworth, struck by the look on her face as she leaned
back, silent, in her corner.
"I do feel rather at my wits' end," said Lady Shuttleworth. "For
instance, I'm wondering whether what I'm doing now isn't a great
"What you are doing now?"
"Taking you to see Tussie."
"Oh but I promise to be cheerful. I'll tell him how comfortable we
are. He'll see I look well taken care of."
"But for all that I'm afraid he may--he may--"
"Why, we're going to be tremendously taken care of. Even he will see
that. Only think--I've engaged twenty-five cooks."
"Twenty-five cooks?" echoed Lady Shuttleworth, staring in spite of her
sorrows. "But isn't my kitchenmaid--?"
"Oh she left us almost at once. She couldn't stand my uncle. He is
rather difficult to stand at first. You have to know him quite a long
while before you can begin to like him. And I don't think kitchenmaids
ever would begin."
"But my dear, twenty-five cooks?"
And Priscilla explained how and why she had come by them; and though
Lady Shuttleworth, remembering the order till now prevailing in the
village and the lowness of the wages, could not help thinking that
here was a girl more potent for mischief than any girl she had ever
met, yet a feeble gleam of amusement did, as she listened, slant
across the inky blackness of her soul.
Tussie was sitting up in bed with a great many pillows behind him,
finding immense difficulty in breathing, when his mother, her bonnet
off and every trace of having been out removed, came in and said Miss
Neumann-Schultz was downstairs.
"Downstairs? Here? In this house?" gasped Tussie, his eyes round with
wonder and joy.
"Yes. She--called. Would you like her to come up and see you?"
Lady Shuttleworth hurried out. How could she bear this, she thought,
stumbling a little as though she did not see very well. She went
downstairs with the sound of that Oh mother throbbing in her ears.
Tussie's temperature, high already, went up by leaps during the few
minutes of waiting. He gave feverish directions to the nurse about a
comfortable chair being put exactly in the right place, about his
pillows being smoothed, his medicine bottles hidden, and was very
anxious that the flannel garment he was made to wear when ill, a
garment his mother called a nightingale--not after the bird but the
lady--and that was the bluest flannel garment ever seen, should be
arranged neatly over his narrow chest.
The nurse looked disapproving. She did not like her patients to be
happy. Perhaps she was right. It is always better, I believe, to be
cautious and careful, to husband your strength, to be deadly prudent
and deadly dull. As you would poison, so should you avoid doing what
the poet calls living too much in your large hours. The truly prudent
never have large hours; nor should you, if you want to be comfortable.
And you get your reward, I am told, in living longer; in having, that
is, a few more of those years that cluster round the end, during which
you are fed and carried and washed by persons who generally grumble.
Who wants to be a flame, doomed to be blown out by the same gust of
wind that has first fanned it to its very brightest? If you are not a
flame you cannot, of course, be blown out. Gusts no longer shake you.
Tempests pass you by untouched. And if besides you have the additional
advantage of being extremely smug, extremely thick-skinned, you shall
go on living till ninety, and not during the whole of that time be
stirred by so much as a single draught.
Priscilla came up determined to be so cheerful that she began to smile
almost before she got to the door. "I've come to tell you how
splendidly we're getting on at the cottage," she said taking Tussie's
lean hot hand, the shell of her smile remaining but the heart and
substance gone out of it, he looked so pitiful and strange.
"Really? Really?" choked Tussie, putting the other lean hot hand over
hers and burning all the coolness out of it.
The nurse looked still more disapproving. She had not heard Sir
Augustus had a _fiancee_, and even if he had this was no time for
philandering. She too had noticed the voice in which he had said Oh
mother, and she saw by his eyes that his temperature had gone up. Who
was this shabby young lady? She felt sure that no one so shabby could
be his _fiancee_, and she could only conclude that Lady Shuttleworth
must be mad.
"Nurse, I'm going to stay here a little," said Lady Shuttleworth.
"I'll call you when I want you."
"I think, madam, Sir Augustus ought not--" began the nurse.
"No, no, he shall not. Go and have forty winks, nurse."
And the nurse had to go; people generally did when Lady Shuttleworth
"Sit down--no don't--stay a moment like this," said Tussie, his breath
coming in little jerks,--"unless you are tired? Did you walk?"
"I'm afraid you are very ill," said Priscilla, leaving her hand in his
and looking down at him with a face that all her efforts could not
induce to smile.
"Oh I'll be all right soon. How good of you to come. You've not been
"No, no," said Priscilla, stroking his hands with her free hand and
giving them soothing pats as one would to a sick child.
"Really not? I've thought of that ever since. I've never got your face
that night out of my head. What had happened? While I was away--what
"Nothing--nothing had happened," said Priscilla hastily. "I was tired.
I had a mood. I get them, you know. I get angry easily. Then I like
to be alone till I'm sorry."
"But what had made you angry? Had I--?"
"No, never. You have never been anything but good and kind. You've
been our protecting spirit since we came here."
Tussie laughed shrilly, and immediately was seized by a coughing fit.
Lady Shuttleworth stood at the foot of the bed watching him with a
face from which happiness seemed to have fled for ever. Priscilla grew
more and more wretched, caught, obliged to stand there, distractedly
stroking his hands in her utter inability to think of anything else to
"A nice protecting spirit," gasped Tussie derisively, when he could
speak. "Look at me here, tied down to this bed for heaven knows how
long, and not able to do a thing for you."
"But there's nothing now to do. We're quite comfortable. We are
really. Do, do believe it."
"Are you only comfortable, or are you happy as well?"
"Oh, we're _very_ happy," said Priscilla with all the emphasis she
could get into her voice; and again she tried, quite unsuccessfully,
to wrench her mouth into a smile.
"Then, if you're happy, why do you look so miserable?"
He was gazing up into her face with eyes whose piercing brightness
would have frightened the nurse. There was no shyness now about
Tussie. There never is about persons whose temperature is 102.
"Miserable?" repeated Priscilla. She tried to smile; looked helplessly
at Lady Shuttleworth; looked down again at Tussie; and stammering
"Because you are so ill and it's all my fault," to her horror, to her
boundless indignation at herself, two tears, big and not to be hidden,
rolled down her face and dropped on to Tussie's and her clasped hands.
Tussie struggled to sit up straight. "Look, mother, look--" he cried,
gasping, "my beautiful one--my dear and lovely one--my darling--she's
crying--I've made her cry--now never tell me I'm not a brute
again--see, see what I've done!"
"Oh"--murmured Priscilla, in great distress and amazement. Was the
poor dear delirious? And she tried to get her hands away.
But Tussie would not let them go. He held them in a clutch that seemed
like hot iron in both his, and dragging himself nearer to them covered
them with wild kisses.
Lady Shuttleworth was appalled. "Tussie," she said in a very even
voice, "you must let Miss Neumann-Schultz go now. You must be quiet
again now. Let her go, dear. Perhaps she'll--come again."
"Oh mother, leave me alone," cried Tussie, lying right across his
pillows, his face on Priscilla's hands. "What do you know of these
things? This is my darling--this is my wife--dream of my spirit--star
of my soul--"
"Never in this world!" cried Lady Shuttleworth, coming round to the
head of the bed as quickly as her shaking limbs would take her.
"Yes, yes, come here if you like, mother--come close--listen while I
tell her how I love her. I don't care who hears. Why should I? If I
weren't ill I'd care. I'd be tongue-tied--I'd have gone on being
tongue-tied for ever. Oh I bless being ill, I bless being ill--I can
say anything, anything--"
"Tussie, don't say it," entreated his mother. "The less you say now
the more grateful you'll be later on. Let her go."
"Listen to her!" cried Tussie, interrupting his kissing of her hands
to look up at Priscilla and smile with a sort of pitying wonder, "Let
you go? Does one let one's life go? One's hope of salvation go? One's
little precious minute of perfect happiness go? When I'm well again I
shall be just as dull and stupid as ever, just such a shy fool, not
able to speak--"
"But it's a gracious state"--stammered poor Priscilla.
"Loving you? Loving you?"
"No, no--not being able to speak. It's always best--"
"It isn't. It's best to be true to one's self, to show honestly what
one feels, as I am now--as I am now--" And he fell to kissing her
"Tussie, this isn't being honest," said Lady Shuttleworth sternly,
"it's being feverish."
"Listen to her! Was ever a man interrupted like this in the act of
asking a girl to marry him?"
"Tussie!" cried Lady Shuttleworth.
"Ethel, will you marry me? Because I love you so? It's an absurd
reason--the most magnificently absurd reason, but I know there's no
other why you should--"
Priscilla was shaken and stricken as she had never yet been; shaken
with pity, stricken with remorse. She looked down at him in dismay
while he kissed her hands with desperate, overwhelming love. What was
she to do? Lady Shuttleworth tried to draw her away. What was she to
do? If Tussie was overwhelmed with love, she was overwhelmed with
"Ethel--Ethel--" gasped Tussie, kissing her hands, looking up at her,
kissing them again.
Pity overcame her, engulfed her. She bent her head down to his and
laid her cheek an instant on the absurd flannel nightingale, tenderly,
"Ethel--Ethel," choked Tussie, "will you marry me?"
"Dear Tussie," she whispered in a shaky whisper, "I promise to answer
you when you are well. Not yet. Not now. Get quite well, and then if
you still want an answer I promise to give you one. Now let me go."
"Ethel," implored Tussie, looking at her with a wild entreaty in his
eyes, "will you kiss me? Just once--to help me to live--"
And in her desire to comfort him she stooped down again and did kiss
him, soberly, almost gingerly, on the forehead.
He let her hands slide away from between his and lay back on his
pillows in a state for the moment of absolute beatitude. He shut his
eyes, and did not move while she crept softly out of the room.
"What have you done?" asked Lady Shuttleworth trembling, when they
were safely in the passage and the door shut behind them.
"I can't think--I can't think," groaned Priscilla, wringing her hands.
And, leaning against the balusters, then and there in that most
public situation she began very bitterly to cry.
Priscilla went home dazed. All her suitors hitherto had approached her
ceremoniously, timidly, through the Grand Duke; and we know they had
not approached very near. But here was one, timid enough in health,
who was positively reckless under circumstances that made most people
meek. He had proposed to her arrayed in a blue flannel nightingale,
and Priscilla felt that headlong self-effacement could go no further.
"He must have a great soul," she said to herself over and over again
during the drive home, "a great, _great_ soul." And it seemed of
little use wiping her tears away, so many fresh ones immediately took
She ached over Tussie and Tussie's mother. What had she done? She felt
she had done wrong; yet how, except by just existing? and she did feel
she couldn't help doing that. Certainly she had made two kind hearts
extremely miserable,--one was miserable now, and the other didn't yet
know how miserable it was going to be. She ought to have known, she
ought to have thought, she ought to have foreseen. She of all persons
in the world ought to have been careful with young men who believed
her to be of their own class. Contrition and woe took possession of
Priscilla's soul. She knew it was true that she could not help
existing, but she knew besides, far back in a remote and seldom
investigated corner of her mind, a corner on which she did not care to
turn the light of careful criticism, that she ought not to be existing
in Symford. It was because she was there, out of her proper sphere, in
a place she had no business to be in at all, that these strange and
heart-wringing scenes with young men occurred. And Fritzing would
notice her red eyes and ask what had happened; and here within two
days was a second story to be told of a young man unintentionally
hurried to his doom. Would Fritzing be angry? She never knew
beforehand. Would he, only remembering she was grand ducal, regard it
as an insult and want to fight Tussie? The vision of poor Tussie,
weak, fevered, embedded in pillows, swathed in flannel, receiving
bloodthirsty messages of defiance from Fritzing upset her into more
tears. Fritzing, she felt at that moment, was a trial. He burdened her
with his gigantic efforts to keep her from burdens. He burdened her
with his inflated notions of how burdenless she ought to be. He was
admirable, unselfish, devoted; but she felt it was possible to be too
admirable, too unselfish, too devoted. In a word Priscilla's mind
was in a state of upheaval, and the only ray of light she saw
anywhere--and never was ray more watery--was that Tussie, for the
moment at least, was content. The attitude of his mother, on the
other hand, was distressing and disturbing. There had been no more My
dears and other kind ways. She had watched her crying on the stairs in
stony silence, had gone down with her to the door in stony silence,
and just at the last had said in an unmistakably stony voice, "All
this is very cruel."
Priscilla was overwhelmed by the difficulties of life. The world was
too much with her, she felt, a very great deal too much. She sent the
Shuttleworth carriage away at the entrance to the village and went in
to sit with Mrs. Jones a little, so that her eyes might lose their
redness before she faced Fritzing; and Mrs. Jones was so glad to see
her, so full of praises of her unselfish goodness in coming in, that
once again Priscilla was forced to be ashamed of herself and of
everything she did.
"I'm not unselfish, and I'm not good," she said, smoothing the old
Mrs. Jones chuckled faintly. "Pretty dear," was her only comment.
"I don't think I'm pretty and I know I'm not a dear," said Priscilla,
"Ain't you then, deary," murmured Mrs. Jones soothingly.
Priscilla saw it was no use arguing, and taking up the Bible that
always lay on the table by the bed began to read aloud. She read and
read till both were quieted,--Mrs. Jones into an evidently sweet
sleep, she herself into peace. Then she left off and sat for some time
watching the old lady, the open Bible in-her lap, her soul filled
with calm words and consolations, wondering what it could be like
being so near death. Must it not be beautiful, thought Priscilla, to
slip away so quietly in that sunny room, with no sound to break the
peace but the ticking of the clock that marked off the last minutes,
and outside the occasional footstep of a passer-by still hurrying on
life's business? Wonderful to have done with everything, to have it
all behind one, settled, lived through, endured. The troublous joys
as well as the pains, all finished; the griefs and the stinging
happinesses, all alike lived down; and now evening, and sleep. In the
few days Priscilla had known her the old lady had drawn visibly nearer
death. Lying there on the pillow, so little and light that she hardly
pressed it down at all, she looked very near it indeed. And how kind
Death was, rubbing away the traces of what must have been a sordid
existence, set about years back with the usual coarse pleasures and
selfish hopes,--how kind Death was, letting all there was of spirit
shine out so sweetly at the end. There was an enlarged photograph of
Mrs. Jones and her husband over the fireplace, a photograph taken for
their silver wedding; she must have been about forty-five; how kind
Death was, thought Priscilla, looking from the picture to the figure
on the bed. She sighed a little, and got up. Life lay before her, an
endless ladder up each of whose steep rungs she would have to clamber;
in every sort of weather she would have to clamber, getting more
battered, more blistered with every rung.... She looked wistfully at
the figure on the bed, and sighed a little. Then she crept out, and
softly shut the door.
She walked home lost in thought. As she was going up the hill to her
cottage Fritzing suddenly emerged from it and indulged in movements so
strange and complicated that they looked like nothing less than a
desperate dancing on the doorstep. Priscilla walked faster, staring in
astonishment. He made strange gestures, his face was pale, his hair
rubbed up into a kind of infuriated mop.
"Why, what in the world--" began the amazed Priscilla, as soon as she
was near enough.
"Ma'am, I've been robbed," shouted Fritzing; and all Symford might
have heard if it had happened to be listening.
"Robbed?" repeated Priscilla. "What of?"
"Of all my money, ma'am. Of all I had--of all we had--to live on."
"Nonsense, Fritzi," said Priscilla; but she did turn a little paler.
"Don't let us stand out here," she added; and she got him in and shut
the street door.
He would have left it open and would have shouted his woes through
it as through a trumpet down the street, oblivious of all things
under heaven but his misfortune. He tore open the drawer of the
writing-table. "In this drawer--in the pocket-book you see in this
drawer--in this now empty pocket-book, did I leave it. It was there
yesterday. It was there last night. Now it is gone. Miscreants from
without have visited us. Or perhaps, viler still, miscreants from
within. A miscreant, I do believe, capable of anything--Annalise--"
"Fritzi, I took a five-pound note out of that last night, if that's
what you miss."
"To pay the girl who worked here her wages. You weren't here. I
couldn't find anything smaller."
"_Gott sei Dank! Gott sei Dank_!" cried Fritzing, going back to German
in his joy. "Oh ma'am, if you had told me earlier you would have
spared me great anguish. Have you the change?"
"Didn't she bring it?"
"Bring it, ma'am?"
"I gave it to her last night to change. She was to bring it round this
morning. Didn't she?"
Fritzing stared aghast. Then he disappeared into the kitchen. In a
moment he was back again. "She has not been here," he said, in a voice
packed once more with torment.
"Perhaps she has forgotten."
"Ma'am, how came you--"
"Now you're going to scold me."
"No, no--but how is it possible that you should have trusted--"
"Fritzi, you _are_ going to scold me, and I'm so tired. What else has
been taken? You said all your money--"
He snatched up his hat. "Nothing else, ma'am, nothing else. I will go
and seek the girl." And he clapped it down over his eyes as he always
did in moments of great mental stress.
"What a fuss," thought Priscilla wearily. Aloud she said, "The girl
here to-day will tell you where she lives. Of course she has
forgotten, or not been able to change it yet." And she left him, and
went out to get into her own half of the house.
Yes, Fritzi really was a trial. Why such a fuss and such big words
about five pounds? If it were lost and the girl afraid to come and say
so, it didn't matter much; anyhow nothing like so much as having one's
peace upset. How foolish to be so agitated and talk of having been
robbed of everything. Fritzing's mind, she feared, that large,
enlightened mind on whose breadth and serenity she had gazed
admiringly ever since she could remember gazing at all, was shrinking
to dimensions that would presently exactly match the dimensions of
Creeper Cottage. She went upstairs disheartened and tired, and
dropping down full length on her sofa desired Annalise to wash her
"Your Grand Ducal Highness has been weeping," said Annalise, whisking
the sponge in and out of corners with a skill surprising in one who
had only practised the process during the last ten days.
Priscilla opened her eyes to stare at her in frankest surprise, for
never yet had Annalise dared make a remark unrequested. Annalise, by
beginning to wash them, forced her to shut them again.
Priscilla then opened her mouth to tell her what she thought of her.
Immediately Annalise's swift sponge stopped it up.
"Your Grand Ducal Highness," said Annalise, washing Priscilla's mouth
with a thoroughness and an amount of water suggestive of its not
having been washed for months, "told me only yesterday that weeping
was a terrible--_schreckliche_--waste of time. Therefore, since your
Grand Ducal Highness knows that and yet herself weeps, it is easy to
see that there exists a reason for weeping which makes weeping
"Will you--" began Priscilla, only to be stopped instantly by the
"Your Grand Ducal Highness is unhappy. 'Tis not to be wondered at.
Trust a faithful servant, one whose life-blood is at your Grand Ducal
Highness's disposal, and tell her if it is not then true that the Herr
Geheimrath has decoyed you from your home and your Grossherzoglicher
Again the pouncing sponge.
"My heart bleeds--indeed it bleeds--to think of the Herr Papa's
sufferings, his fears, his anxieties. It is a picture on which I
cannot calmly look. Day and night--for at night I lie sleepless on my
bed--I am inquiring of myself what it can be, the spell that the Herr
Geheimrath has cast over your Grand Ducal--"
Again the pouncing sponge; but this time Priscilla caught the girl's
hand, and holding it at arm's length sat up. "Are you mad?" she asked,
looking at Annalise as though she saw her for the first time.
Annalise dropped the sponge and clasped her hands. "Not mad," she
said, "only very, very devoted."
"No. Mad. Give me a towel."
Priscilla was so angry that she did not dare say more. If she had said
a part even of what she wanted to say all would have been over between
herself and Annalise; so she dried her face in silence, declining to
allow it to be touched. "You can go," she said, glancing at the door,
her face pale with suppressed wrath but also, it must be confessed,
very clean; and when she was alone she dropped once again on to the
sofa and buried her head in the cushion. How dared Annalise? How dared
she? How dared she? Priscilla asked herself over and over again,
wincing, furious. Why had she not thought of this, known that she
would be in the power of any servant they chose to bring? Surely there
was no limit, positively none, to what the girl might do or say? How
was she going to bear her about her, endure the sight and sound of
that veiled impertinence? She buried her head very deep in the
cushion, vainly striving to blot out the world and Annalise in its
feathers, but even there there was no peace, for suddenly a great
noise of doors going and legs striding penetrated through its
stuffiness and she heard Fritzing's voice very loud and near--all
sounds in Creeper Cottage were loud and near--ordering Annalise to ask
her Grand Ducal Highness to descend.
"I won't," thought Priscilla, burying her head deeper. "That poor Emma
has lost the note and he's going to fuss. I won't descend."
Then came Annalise's tap at her door. Priscilla did not answer.
Annalise tapped again. Priscilla did not answer, but turning her head
face upwards composed herself to an appearance of sleep.
Annalise tapped a third time. "The Herr Geheimrath wishes to speak to
your Grand Ducal Highness," she called through the door; and after a
pause opened it and peeped in. "Her Grand Ducal Highness sleeps," she
informed Fritzing down the stairs, her nose at the angle in the air it
always took when she spoke to him.
"Then wake her! Wake her!" cried Fritzing.
"Is it possible something has happened?" thought Annalise joyfully,
her eyes gleaming as she willingly flew back to Priscilla's
door,--anything, anything, she thought, sooner than the life she was
Priscilla heard Fritzing's order and sat up at once, surprised at such
an unprecedented indifference to her comfort. Her heart began to beat
faster; a swift fear that Kunitz was at her heels seized her; she
jumped up and ran out.
Fritzing was standing at the foot of the stairs.
"Come down, ma'am," he said; "I must speak to you at once."
"What's the matter?" asked Priscilla, getting down the steep little
stairs as quickly as was possible without tumbling.
"Hateful English tongue," thought Annalise, to whom the habit the
Princess and Fritzing had got into of talking English together was a
constant annoyance and disappointment.
Fritzing preceded Priscilla into her parlour, and when she was in he
shut the door behind her. Then he leaned his hands on the table to
steady himself and confronted her with a twitching face. Priscilla
looked at him appalled. Was the Grand Duke round the corner?
Lingering, perhaps, among the very tombs just outside her window?
"What is it?" she asked faintly.
"Ma'am, the five pounds has disappeared for ever."
"Really Fritzi, you are too absurd about that wretched five pounds,"
cried Priscilla, blazing into anger.
"But it was all we had."
"Ma'am, it was positively our last penny."
He made her understand. With paper and pencil, with the bills and his
own calculations, he made her understand. His hands shook, but he
went through with it item by item, through everything they had spent
from the moment they left Kunitz. They were in such a corner, so
tightly jammed, that all efforts to hide it and pretend there was no
corner seemed to him folly. He now saw that such efforts always had
been folly, and that he ought to have seen to it that her mind on this
important point was from the first perfectly clear; then nothing would
have happened. "You have had the misfortune, ma'am, to choose a fool
for your protector in this adventure," he said bitterly, pushing the
papers from him as though he loathed the sight of them.
Priscilla sat dumfoundered. She was looking quite straight for the
first time at certain pitiless aspects of life. For the first time she
was face to face with the sternness, the hardness, the relentlessness
of everything that has to do with money so soon as one has not got
any. It seemed almost incredible to her that she who had given so
lavishly to anybody and everybody, who had been so glad to give, who
had thought of money when she thought of it at all as a thing to be
passed on, as a thing that soiled one unless it was passed on, but
that, passed on, became strangely glorified and powerful for good--it
seemed incredible that she should be in need of it herself, and unable
to think of a single person who would give her some. And what a little
she needed: just to tide them over the next week or two till they had
got theirs from home; yet even that little, the merest nothing
compared to what she had flung about in the village, was as
unattainable as though it had been a fortune. "Can we--can we not
borrow?" she said at last.
"Yes ma'am, we can and we must. I will proceed this evening to Symford
Hall and borrow of Augustus."
"No," said Priscilla; so suddenly and so energetically that Fritzing
"No, ma'am?" he repeated, astonished. "Why, he is the very person. In
fact he is our only hope. He must and shall help us."
"No," repeated Priscilla, still more energetically.
"Pray ma'am," said Fritzing, shrugging his shoulders, "are these
women's whims--I never comprehended them rightly and doubt if I ever
shall--are they to be allowed to lead us even in dangerous crises? To
lead us to certain shipwreck, ma'am? The alternatives in this case are
three. Permit me to point them out. Either we return to Kunitz--"
"Oh," shivered Priscilla, shrinking as from a blow.
"Or, after a brief period of starvation and other violent discomfort,
we are cast into gaol for debt--"
"Oh?" shivered Priscilla, in tones of terrified inquiry.
"Or, I borrow of Augustus."
"No," said Priscilla, just as energetically as before.
"Augustus is wealthy. Augustus is willing. Ma'am, I would stake my
soul that he is willing."
"You shall not borrow of him," said Priscilla. "He--he's too ill."
"Well then, ma'am," said Fritzing with a gesture of extreme
exasperation, "since you cannot be allowed to be cast into gaol there
remains but Kunitz. Like the dogs of the Scriptures we will return--"
"Why not borrow of the vicar?" interrupted Priscilla. "Surely he would
be glad to help any one in difficulties?"
"Of the vicar? What, of the father of the young man who insulted your
Grand Ducal Highness and whom I propose to kill in duel my first
leisure moment? Ma'am, there are depths of infamy to which even a
desperate man will not descend."
Priscilla dug holes in the tablecloth with the point of the pencil. "I
can't conceive," she said, "why you gave Annalise all that money. So
"Why, ma'am, she refused, unless I did, to prepare your Grand Ducal
"Oh Fritzi!" Priscilla looked up at him, shaking her head and smiling
through all her troubles. Was ever so much love and so much folly
united in one wise old man? Was ever, for that matter, so expensive a
"I admit I permitted the immediate, the passing, moment to blot out
the future from my clearer vision on that occasion."
"On that occasion? Oh Fritzi. What about all the other occasions?
When you gave me all I asked for--for the poor people, for my party.
You must have suffered tortures of anxiety. And all by yourself. Oh
Fritzi. It was dear of you--perfectly, wonderfully, dear. But you
ought to have been different with me from the beginning--treated me
exactly as you would have treated a real niece--"
"Ma'am," cried Fritzing, jumping up, "this is waste of time. Our case
is very urgent. Money must be obtained. You must allow me to judge in
this matter, however ill I have acquitted myself up to now. I shall
start at once for Symford Hall and obtain a loan of Augustus."
Priscilla pushed back her chair and got up too. "My dear Fritzi,
please leave that unfortunate young man out of the question," she
said, flushing. "How can you worry a person who is ill in bed with
"His mother is not ill in bed and will do quite as well. I am
"You are not going. I won't have you ask his mother. I--forbid you to
do anything of the sort. Oh Fritzi," she added in despair, for he had
picked up the hat and stick he had flung down on coming in and was
evidently not going to take the least notice of her commands--"oh
Fritzi, you can't ask Tussie for money. It would kill him to know we
were in difficulties."
"Kill him, ma'am? Why should it kill him?" shouted Fritzing,
exasperated by such a picture of softness.
"It wouldn't only kill him--it would be simply too dreadful besides,"
said Priscilla, greatly distressed. "Why, he asked me this
afternoon--wasn't going to tell you, but you force me to--he asked me
this very afternoon to marry him, and the dreadful part is that I'm
afraid he thinks--he hopes--that I'm going to."
The only inhabitant of Creeper Cottage who slept that night was
Annalise. Priscilla spent it walking up and down her bedroom, and
Fritzing on the other side of the wall spent it walking up and down
his. They could hear each other doing it; it was a melancholy sound.
Once Priscilla was seized with laughter--a not very genial mirth, but
still laughter--and had to fling herself on her bed and bury her face
in the pillows lest Fritzing should hear so blood-curdling a noise. It
was when their steps had fallen steadily together for several turns
and the church clock, just as she was noticing this, had struck three.
Not for this, to tramp up and down their rooms all night, not for this
had they left Kunitz. The thought of all they had dreamed life in
Creeper Cottage was going to be, of all they had never doubted it was
going to be, of peaceful nights passed in wholesome slumber, of days
laden with fruitful works, of evenings with the poets, came into her
head and made this tormented marching suddenly seem intensely droll.
She laughed into her pillow till the tears rolled down her face, and
the pains she had to take to keep all sounds from reaching Fritzing
only made her laugh more.
It was a windy night, and the wind sighed round the cottage and
rattled the casements and rose every now and then to a howl very
dreary to hear. While Priscilla was laughing a great gust shook the
house, and involuntarily she raised her head to listen. It died away,
and her head dropped back on to her arms again, but the laughter was
gone. She lay solemn enough, listening to Fritzing's creakings, and
thought of the past day and of the days to come till her soul grew
cold. Surely she was a sort of poisonous weed, fatal to every one
about her? Fritzing, Tussie, the poor girl Emma--oh, it could not be
true about Emma. She had lost the money, and was trying to gather
courage to come and say so; or she had simply not been able to change
it yet. Fritzing had jumped to the conclusion, because nothing had
been heard of her all day at home, that she had run away with it.
Priscilla twisted herself about uneasily. It was not the loss of the
five pounds that made her twist, bad though that loss was in their
utter poverty; it was the thought that if Emma had really run away
she, by her careless folly, had driven the girl to ruin. And then
Tussie. How dreadful that was. At three in the morning, with the
wailing wind rising and falling and the room black with the inky
blackness of a moonless October night, the Tussie complication seemed
to be gigantic, of a quite appalling size, threatening to choke her,
to crush all the spring and youth out of her. If Tussie got well she
was going to break his heart; if Tussie died it would be her fault.
No one but herself was responsible for his illness, her own selfish,
hateful self. Yes, she was a poisonous weed; a baleful, fatal thing,
not fit for great undertakings, not fit for a noble life, too foolish
to depart successfully from the lines laid down for her by other
people; wickedly careless; shamefully shortsighted; spoiling, ruining,
everything she touched. Priscilla writhed. Nobody likes being forced
to recognize that they are poisonous weeds. Even to be a plain weed is
grievous to one's vanity, but to be a weed and poisonous as well is a
very desperate thing to be. She passed a dreadful night. It was the
worst she could remember.
And the evening too--how bad it had been; though contrary to her
expectations Fritzing showed no desire to fight Tussie. He was not so
unreasonable as she had supposed; and besides, he was too completely
beaten down by the ever-increasing weight and number of his
responsibilities to do anything in regard to that unfortunate youth
but be sorry for him. More than once that evening he looked at
Priscilla in silent wonder at the amount of trouble one young woman
could give. How necessary, he thought, and how wise was that plan at
which he used in his ignorance to rail, of setting an elderly female
like the Disthal to control the actions and dog the footsteps of the
Priscillas of this world. He hated the Disthal and all women like her,
women with mountainous bodies and minimal brains--bodies self-indulged
into shapelessness, brains neglected into disappearance; but the
nobler and simpler and the more generous the girl the more did she
need some such mixture of fleshliness and cunning constantly with her.
It seemed absurd, and it seemed all wrong; yet surely it was so. He
pondered over it long in dejected musings, the fighting tendency gone
out of him completely for the time, so dark was his spirit with the
shadows of the future.
They had borrowed the wages--it was a dreadful moment--for that day's
cook from Annalise. For their food they decided to run up a bill at
the store; but every day each fresh cook would have to be paid, and
every day her wages would have to be lent by Annalise. Annalise lent
superbly; with an air as of giving freely, with joy. All she required
was the Princess's signature to a memorandum drawn up by herself by
which she was promised the money back, doubled, within three months.
Priscilla read this, flushed to her hair, signed, and ordered her out
of the room. Annalise, who was beginning to enjoy herself, went
upstairs singing. In the parlour Priscilla broke the pen she had
signed with into quite small pieces and flung them on to the fire,--a
useless demonstration, but then she was a quick-tempered young lady.
In the attic Annalise sat down and wrote a letter breathing lofty
sentiments to the Countess Disthal in Kunitz, telling her she could no
longer keep silence in the face of a royal parent's anxieties and she
was willing to reveal the address of the Princess Priscilla and so
staunch the bleeding of a noble heart if the Grand Duke would forward
her or forward to her parents on her behalf the sum of twenty thousand
marks. Gladly would she render this service, which was at the same
time her duty, for nothing, if she had not the future to consider and
an infirm father. Meanwhile she gave the Symford post-office as an
address, assuring the Countess that it was at least fifty miles from
the Princess's present hiding-place, the address of which would only
be sent on the conditions named. Then, immensely proud of her
cleverness, she trotted down to the post-office, bought stamps, and
put the letter herself in the box.
That evening she sang in the kitchen, she sang in the bath-room, she
sang in the attic and on the stairs to the attic. What she sang,
persistently, over and over again, and loudest outside Fritzing's
door, was a German song about how beautiful it is at evening when the
bells ring one to rest, and the refrain at the end of each verse was
ding-dong twice repeated. Priscilla rang her own bell, unable to
endure it, but Annalise did not consider this to be one of those that
are beautiful and did not answer it till it had been rung three times.
"Do not sing," said Priscilla, when she appeared.
"Your Grand Ducal Highness objects?"
Priscilla turned red. "I'll give no reasons," she said icily. "Do not
"Yet it is a sign of a light heart. Your Grand Ducal Highness did not
like to see me weep--she should the more like to hear me rejoice."
"You can go."
"My heart to-night is light, because I am the means of being of use
to your Grand Ducal Highness, of showing my devotion, of being of
"Do me the service of being quiet."
Annalise curtseyed and withdrew, and spent the rest of the evening
bursting into spasmodic and immediately interrupted song,--breaking
off after a few bars with a cough of remembrance and apology. When
this happened Fritzing and Priscilla looked at each other with grave
and meditative eyes; they knew how completely they were in her power.
Fritzing wrote that night to the friend in London who had engaged the
rooms for him at Baker's Farm, and asked him to lend him fifty pounds
for a week,--preferably three hundred (this would cover the
furnisher's bill), but if he could lend neither five would do. The
friend, a teacher of German, could as easily have lent the three
hundred as the five, so poor was he, so fit an object for a loan
himself; but long before his letter explaining this in words eloquent
of regret (for he was a loyal friend) reached Fritzing, many things
had happened to that bewildered man to whom so many things had
happened already, and caused him to forget both his friend and his
This, then, was how the afternoon and evening of Thursday were
passed; and on Friday morning, quite unstrung by their sleepless
night, Priscilla and Fritzing were proposing to go up together on
to the moor, there to seek width and freshness, be blown upon by
moist winds, and forget for a little the crushing narrowness and
perplexities of Creeper Cottage, when Mrs. Morrison walked in. She
opened the door first and then, when half of her was inside, knocked
with her knuckles, which were the only things to knock with on
Priscilla's simple door.
Priscilla was standing by the fire dressed to go out, waiting for
Fritzing, and she stared at this apparition in great and unconcealed
surprise. What business, said Priscilla's look more plainly than any
words, what business had people to walk into other people's cottages
in such a manner? She stood quite still, and scrutinized Mrs. Morrison
with the questioning expression she used to find so effective in
Kunitz days when confronted by a person inclined to forget which,
exactly, was his proper place. But Mrs. Morrison knew nothing of
Kunitz, and the look lost half its potency without its impressive
background. Besides, the lady was not one to notice things so slight
as looks; to keep her in her proper place you would have needed
sledge-hammers. She came in without thinking it necessary to wait to
be asked to, nodded something that might perhaps have represented a
greeting and of which Priscilla took no notice, and her face was the
face of somebody who is angry.
"How wearing for the vicar," thought Priscilla, "to have a wife who
is angry at ten o'clock in the morning."
"I've come in the interests--" began Mrs. Morrison, whose voice was
quite as angry as her face.
"I'm just going out," said Priscilla.
"--Of religion and morality."
"Are they distinct?" asked Priscilla, drawing on her gloves.
"You can imagine that nothing would make me pay you a visit but the
strongest sense of the duty I owe to my position in the parish."
"Why should I imagine it?"
"Of course I expect impertinence."
"I'm afraid you've come here to be rude."
"I shall not be daunted by anything you may say from doing my duty."
"Will you please do it, then, and get it over?"
"The duties of a clergyman's wife are often very disagreeable."
"Probably you've got hold of a perfectly wrong idea of what yours
"It is a new experience for me to be told so by a girl of your age."
"I am not telling you. I only suggest."
"I was prepared for rudeness."
"Then why did you come?"
"How long are you going to stay in this parish?"
"You don't expect me to answer that?"
"You've not been in it a fortnight, and you have done more harm than
most people in a lifetime."
"I'm afraid you exaggerate."
"You have taught it to drink."
"I gave a dying old woman what she most longed for."
"You've taught it to break the Sabbath."
"I made a great many little children very happy."
"You have ruined the habits of thrift we have been at such pains to
teach and encourage for twenty-five years."
"I helped the poor when they asked me to."
"And now what I want to know is, what has become of the Hancock girl?"
"Pray who, exactly, is the Hancock girl?"
"That unfortunate creature who worked here for you on Wednesday."
Priscilla's face changed. "Emma?" she asked.
"Emma. At this hour the day before yesterday she was as good a girl as
any in the village. She was good, and dutiful, and honest. Now what is
she and where is she?"
"Has she--isn't she in her home?"
"She never went home."
"Then she did lose the money?"
"Lose it? She has stolen it. Do you not see you have deliberately made
a thief out of an honest girl?"
Priscilla gazed in dismay at the avenging vicar's wife. It was true
then, and she had the fatal gift of spoiling all she touched.
"And worse than that--you have brought a good girl to ruin. He'll
never marry her now."
"Do you not know the person she was engaged to has gone with her?"
"I don't know anything."
"They walked from here to Ullerton and went to London. Her father came
round to us yesterday after your uncle had been to him making
inquiries, and it is all as clear as day. Till your uncle told him, he
did not know about the money, and had been too--not well enough that
day to notice Emma's not having come home. Your uncle's visit sobered
him. We telegraphed to the police. They've been traced to London.
That's all. Except," and she glared at Priscilla with all the wrath of
a prophet whose denunciations have been justified, "except that one
more life is ruined."
"I'm very sorry--very, very sorry," said Priscilla, so earnestly, so
abjectly even, that her eyes filled with tears. "I see now how
thoughtless it was of me."
"It was inexcusably thoughtless."
"Thoughtless!" cried Mrs. Morrison again.
"If you like, it was criminally thoughtless."
"Thoughtless!" cried Mrs. Morrison a third time.
"But it wasn't more than thoughtless. I'd give anything to be able to
set it right. I am most truly grieved. But isn't it a little hard to
make me responsible?"
Mrs. Morrison stared at her as one who eyes some strange new monster.
"How amazingly selfish you are," she said at last, in tones almost of
"Selfish?" faltered Priscilla, who began to wonder what she was not.
"In the face of such total ruin, such utter shipwreck, to be thinking
of what is hard on you. You! Why, here you are with a safe skin, free
from the bitter anxieties and temptations poor people have to fight
with, with so much time unoccupied that you fill it up with mischief,
with more money than you know what to do with"--Priscilla pressed her
hands together--"sheltered, free from every care"--Priscilla opened
her lips but shut them again--"and there is that miserable Emma,
hopeless, branded, for ever an outcast because of you,--only because
of you, and you think of yourself and talk of its being hard."
Priscilla looked at Mrs. Morrison, opened her mouth to say something,
shut it, opened it again, and remarked very lamely that the heart
alone knows its own bitterness.
"Psha," said Mrs. Morrison, greatly incensed at having the Scriptures,
her own speciality, quoted at her. "I'd like to know what bitterness
yours has known, unless it's the bitterness of a bad conscience. Now
I've come here to-day"--she raised her voice to a note of warning--"to
give you a chance. To make you think, by pointing out the path you
are treading. You are young, and it is my duty to let no young person
go downhill without one warning word. You have brought much evil on
our village--why you, a stranger, should be bent on making us all
unhappy I can't imagine. You hypocritically try to pretend that what
plain people call evil is really good. But your last action, forcing
Emma Hancock to be a thief and worse, even you cannot possibly defend.
You have much on your conscience--far, far more than I should care to
have on mine. How wicked to give all that money to Mrs. Jones. Don't
you see you are tempting people who know she is defenceless to steal
it from her? Perhaps even murder her? I saved her from that--you did
not reckon with me, you see. Take my advice--leave Symford, and go
back to where you came from"--Priscilla started--"and get something to
do that will keep you fully occupied. If you don't, you'll be laying
up a wretched, perhaps a degraded future for yourself. Don't
suppose,"--her voice grew very loud--"don't suppose we are fools here
and are not all of us aware of the way you have tried to lure young
men on"--Priscilla started again--"in the hope, of course, of getting
one of them to marry you. But your intentions have been frustrated
luckily, in the one case by Providence flinging your victim on a bed
of sickness and in the other by your having altogether mistaken the
sort of young fellow you were dealing with."
Mrs. Morrison paused for breath. This last part of her speech had been
made with an ever accumulating rage. Priscilla stood looking at her,
her eyebrows drawn down very level over her eyes.
"My son is much too steady and conscientious, besides being too much
accustomed to first-rate society, to stoop to anything so vulgar--"
"As myself?" inquired Priscilla.
"As a love-affair with the first stray girl he picks up."
"Do you mean me?"
"He saw through your intentions, laughed at them, and calmly returned
to his studies at Cambridge."
"I boxed his ears."
"I boxed his ears."
"I boxed his ears. That's why he went. He didn't go calmly. It wasn't
"How dare you box--oh, this is too horrible--and you stand there and
tell me so to my face?"
"I'm afraid I must. The tone of your remarks positively demands it.
Your son's conduct positively demanded that I should box his ears. So
"Of all the shameless--"
"I'm afraid you're becoming like him--altogether impossible."
"You first lure him on, and then--oh, it is shameful!"
"Have you finished what you came for?"
"You are the most brazen--"
"Hush. Do be careful. Suppose my uncle were to hear you? If you've
finished won't you go?"
"Go? I shall not go till I have said my say. I shall send the vicar to
you about Robin--such conduct is so--so infamous that I can't--I
"I'm sorry if it has distressed you."
"Distressed me? You are the most--"
"Really I think we've done, haven't we?" said Priscilla hurriedly,
dreadfully afraid lest Fritzing should come in and hear her being
"To think that you dared--to think that my--my noble boy--"
"He wasn't very noble. Mothers don't ever really know their sons, I
"Shameless girl!" cried Mrs. Morrison, so loud, so completely beside
herself, that Priscilla hastily rang her bell, certain that Fritzing
must hear and would plunge in to her rescue; and of all things she had
learned to dread Fritzing's plunging to her rescue. "Open the door for
this lady," she said to Annalise, who appeared with a marvellous
promptitude; and as Mrs. Morrison still stood her ground and refused
to see either Annalise or the door Priscilla ended the interview by
walking out herself, with great dignity, into the bathroom.
And now I have come to a part of my story that I would much rather not
write. Always my inclination if left alone is to sit in the sun and
sing of things like crocuses, of nothing less fresh and clean than
crocuses. The engaging sprightliness of crocuses; their dear little
smell, not to be smelled except by the privileged few; their luminous
transparency--I am thinking of the white and the purple; their kind
way of not keeping hearts sick for Spring waiting longer than they can
just bear; how pleasant to sit with a friend in the sun, a friend who
like myself likes to babble of green fields, and talk together about
all things flowery. But Priscilla's story has taken such a hold on me,
it seemed when first I heard it to be so full of lessons, that I feel
bound to set it down from beginning to end for the use and warning of
all persons, princesses and others, who think that by searching, by
going far afield, they will find happiness, and do not see that it is
lying all the while at their feet. They do not see it because it is so
close. It is so close that there is a danger of its being trodden on
or kicked away. And it is shy, and waits to be picked up. Priscilla,
we know, went very far afield in search of hers, and having
undertaken to tell of what befell her I must not now, only because I
would rather, suppress any portion of the story. Besides, it is a
portion vital to the catastrophe.
In Minehead, then, there lived at this time a murderer. He had not
been found out yet and he was not a murderer by profession, for he was
a bricklayer; but in his heart he was, and that is just as bad. He had
had a varied career into the details of which I do not propose to go,
had come three or four years before to live in the West of England
because it was so far from all the other places he had lived in, had
got work in Minehead, settled there respectably, married, and was a
friend of that carrier who brought the bread and other parcels every
day to the Symford store. At this time he was in money difficulties
and his wife, of whom he was fond, was in an expensive state of
health. The accounts of Priscilla's generosity and wealth had reached
Minehead as I said some time ago, and had got even into the local
papers. The carrier was the chief transmitter of news, for he saw Mrs.
Vickerton every day and she was a woman who loved to talk; but those
of the Shuttleworth servants who were often in Minehead on divers
errands ratified and added to all he said, and embellished the tale
besides with what was to them the most interesting part, the
unmistakable signs their Augustus showed of intending to marry the
young woman. This did not interest the murderer. Sir Augustus and the
lady he meant to marry were outside his sphere altogether; too well
protected, too powerful. What he liked to hear about was the money
Priscilla had scattered among the cottagers, how much each woman had
got, whether it had been spent or not, whether she had a husband, or
grown-up children; and best of all he liked to hear about the money
Mrs. Jones had got. All the village, and therefore Mrs. Vickerton and
the carrier, knew of it, knew even the exact spot beneath the bolster
where it was kept, knew it was kept there for safety from the
depredations of the vicar's wife, knew the vicar's wife had taken away
Priscilla's first present. The carrier knew too of Mrs. Jones's age,
her weakness, her nearness to death. He remarked that such a sum
wasn't of much use to an old woman certain to die in a few days, and
that it might just as well not be hers at all for all the spending it
got. The murderer, whose reputation in Minehead was so immaculate that
not a single fly had ever dared blow on it, said kindly that no doubt
just to have it in her possession was cheering and that one should not
grudge the old their little bits of comfort; and he walked over to
Symford that night, and getting there about one o'clock murdered Mrs.
Jones. I will not enter into details. I believe it was quite simple.
He was back by six next morning with the five pounds in his pocket,
and his wife that day had meat for dinner.
That is all I shall say about the murderer, except that he was never
found out; and nothing shall induce me to dwell upon the murder. But
what about the effect it had on Priscilla? Well, it absolutely crushed
The day before, after Mrs. Morrison's visit, she had been wretched
enough, spending most of it walking very fast, as driven spirits do,
with Fritzing for miles across the bleak and blowy moor, by turns
contrite and rebellious, one moment ready to admit she was a miserable
sinner, the next indignantly repudiating Mrs. Morrison's and her own
conscience's accusations, her soul much beaten and bent by winds of
misgiving but still on its feet, still defiant, still sheltering
itself when it could behind plain common sense which whispered at
intervals that all that had happened was only bad luck. They walked
miles that day; often in silence, sometimes in gusty talk--talk gusty
with the swift changes of Priscilla's mood scudding across the leaden
background of Fritzing's steadier despair--and they got back tired,
hungry, their clothes splashed with mud, their minds no nearer light
than when they started. She had, I say, been wretched enough; but what
was this wretchedness to that which followed? In her ignorance she
thought it the worst day she had ever had, the most tormented; and
when she went to bed she sought comfort in its very badness by telling
herself that it was over and could never come again. It could not. But
Time is prolific of surprises; and on Saturday morning Symford woke
with a shudder to the murder of Mrs. Jones.
Now such a thing as this had not happened in that part of
Somersetshire within the memory of living man, and though Symford
shuddered it was also proud and pleased. The mixed feeling of horror,
pleasure, and pride was a thrilling one. It felt itself at once raised
to a position of lurid conspicuousness in the county, its name would
be in every mouth, the papers, perhaps even the London papers, would
talk about it. At all times, in spite of the care and guidance it had
had from the clergy and gentry, the account of a murder gave Symford
more pure pleasure than any other form of entertainment; and now here
was one, not at second-hand, not to be viewed through the cooling
medium of print and pictures, but in its midst, before its eyes, at
its very doors. Mrs. Jones went up strangely in its estimation. The
general feeling was that it was an honour to have known her. Nobody
worked that day. The school was deserted. Dinners were not cooked.
Babies shrieked uncomforted. All Symford was gathered in groups
outside Mrs. Jones's cottage, and as the day wore on and the news
spread, visitors from the neighbouring villages, from Minehead and
from Ullerton, arrived with sandwiches and swelled them.
Priscilla saw these groups from her windows. The fatal cottage was at
the foot of the hill in full view both of her bedroom and her parlour.
Only by sitting in the bathroom would she be able to get away from it.
When the news was brought her, breathlessly, pallidly, by Annalise in
the early morning with her hot water, she refused to believe it.
Annalise knew no English and must have got hold of a horrible wrong
tale. The old lady was dead no doubt, had died quietly in her sleep as
had been expected, but what folly was all this about a murder? Yet she
sat up in bed and felt rather cold as she looked at Annalise, for
Annalise was very pallid. And then at last she had to believe it.
Annalise had had it told her from beginning to end, with the help of
signs, by the charwoman. She had learned more English in those few
crimson minutes than in the whole of the time she had been in England.
The charwoman had begun her demonstration by slowly drawing her finger
across her throat from one ear to the other, and Annalise repeated the
action for Priscilla's clearer comprehension. How Priscilla got up
that day and dressed she never knew. Once at least during the process
she stumbled back on to the bed and lay with her face on her arms,
shaken by a most desperate weeping. That fatal charity; those fatal
five-pound notes. Annalise, panic-stricken lest she who possessed so
many should be the next victim, poured out the tale of the missing
money, of the plain motive for the murder, with a convincingness, a
naked truth, that stabbed Priscilla to the heart with each clinching
"They say the old woman must have cried out--must have been awakened,
or the man would have taken the money without--"
"Oh don't--oh leave me--" moaned Priscilla.
She did not go downstairs that day. Every time Annalise tried to come
in she sent her away. When she was talked to of food, she felt sick.
Once she began to pace about the room, but the sight of those eager
black knots of people down the street, of policemen and other
important and official-looking persons going in and out of the
cottage, drove her back to her bed and its sheltering, world-deadening
pillow. Indeed the waters of life had gone over her head and swallowed
her up in hopeless blackness. She acknowledged herself wrong. She gave
in utterly. Every word Mrs. Morrison--a dreadful woman, yet dreadful
as she was still a thousand times better than herself--every word she
had said, every one of those bitter words at which she had been so
indignant the morning before, was true, was justified. That day
Priscilla tore the last shreds of self-satisfaction from her soul and
sat staring at it with horrified eyes as at a thing wholly repulsive,
dangerous, blighting. What was to become of her, and of poor Fritzing,
dragged down by her to an equal misery? About one o'clock she heard
Mrs. Morrison's voice below, in altercation apparently with him. At
this time she was crying again; bitter, burning tears; those scorching
tears that follow in the wake of destroyed illusions, that drop, hot
and withering, on to the fragments of what was once the guiding glory