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THIS IS THE END
BY STELLA BENSON
This is the end, for the moment, of all my thinking, this is my
unfinal conclusion. There is no reason in tangible things, and no
system in the ordinary ways of the world. Hands were made to grope,
and feet to stumble, and the only things you may count on are the
unaccountable things. System is a fairy and a dream, you never find
system where or when you expect it. There are no reasons except
reasons you and I don't know.
I should not be really surprised if the policeman across the way grew
wings, or if the deep sea rose and washed out the chaos of the land. I
should not raise my eyebrows if the daily press became the Little Sunbeam
of the Home, or if Cabinet Ministers struck for a decrease of wages. I
feel no security in facts, precedent seems no protection to me. The
wisdom you can find in an Encyclopedia, or in Selfridge's Information
Bureau, seems to me just a transitory adaptation to quicksand
But if the things which I know in spite of my education were false, if
the eyes of the sea forgot their secret, or if the accent of the steep
woods became vulgar, if the fairy adventures that happen in my heart fell
flat, if the good friends my eyes have never seen failed me,--then indeed
should I know emptiness, and an astonishment that would kill.
I want to introduce you to Jay, a 'bus-conductor and an idealist. She is
not the heroine, but the most constantly apparent woman in this book. I
cannot introduce you to a heroine because I have never met one.
She was a person who took nothing in the world for granted, but as she
had only a slight connection with the world, that is not saying very
much. Her answer to everything was "Why?" The fundamental facts that you
and I accept from our youth upwards, like Be Good and You Will Be Happy,
or Change Your Boots When You Come In Out Of The Wet, or Respect Your
Elders, or Love Your Neighbour, or Never Cross Your Legs Above The Knee,
did not impress Jay.
I never knew her as a baby, but I am sure she must have been born a
propounder of questions, and a smiler at the answers she received. I
daresay she used to ask questions--without result--long before she could
talk, but I am quite sure she was not embittered by the lack of result.
Nothing ever embittered Jay, not even her own pessimism. There is a
finality about bitterness, and Jay was never final. Her last word was
always on a questioning note. Her mind was always open, waiting for more.
"Oh no," she would tell her pillow at night, "there must be a better
answer than that ..."
Perhaps it is hardly necessary to add that she had quarrelled with her
Family, and run away from home. Her Family knew neither what she was
doing nor where she was doing it. Families are incurably conceited, and
this one supposed that, having broken away from it, Jay was going to
the bad. On the contrary, she was a 'bus-conductor, but I only tell you
this in confidence. I repeat the Family did not know it, and does not
know it yet.
The Family sometimes said that Jay was an idealist, but it did not really
think so. The Family sometimes said that she was rather mad, but it did
not know how mad she was, or it would have sent her away to live in a
doctor's establishment at Margate. It never realised that it had only
come in contact with about one-fifth of its young relation, and that the
other four-fifths were shut away from it. Shut away in a shining bubble
world with only room in it for one--for One, and a shining bubble Story.
I do not know how universal an experience a Secret Story and a Secret
Friend may be. Perhaps this wonder is a commonplace to you, only you are
more reticent about it than Jay or I. But to me, even after twenty years'
intimacy with what I can only describe as a supplementary life that I
cannot describe, it still seems so very wonderful that I cannot believe I
share it with every man and woman in the street.
The great advantage of a Secret Story over other stories is that you
cannot put it into print. So I can only show you the initial letter,
and you may if you choose look upon it as an imaginary hieroglyphic. Or
you may not.
Just this, that a bubble world can contain a round and russet horizon of
high woods which you can attain, and from the horizon a long view of an
unending sea. You can run down across the dappled fields, you can run
down into the cove and stroke the sea and hear the intimate minor singing
of it. And when you feel as strong as the morning, you can shout and run
against the wind, against the flying sand that never blows above your
knees. And when you feel as tired as the night, you can climb slowly up
the cliff path and go into the House, the House you know much better than
any house your ordinary eyes have seen, and there you will find your
Secret Friends. The best part about Secret Friends is that they will
never weary you by knowing you. You share their House, your passing hand
helps to polish the base of that wooden figure that ends the banisters,
you know the childish delight of that wide short chimney in the big
turret room, a chimney so wide and so short that you can stand inside the
great crooked fireplace and whisper to the birds that look down from the
edge of the chimney only a yard or two above you. You know how comfy
those big beds are, you sit at the long clothless table in the brown
dining-room. With all these things you are intimate, and yet you pass
through the place as a ghost, your bubble enchantment encloses you, your
Secret Friends have no knowledge of you, their story runs without you.
Your unnecessary identity is tactfully ignored, and you know the heaven
of being dispassionate and detached among things you love.
All these things can a bubble world contain. You have to get inside
things to find out how limitless they are. And I think if you don't
believe it all, it is none the less true for that, because in that case
you are the sort of person who believes a thing less the truer it is.
If Jay's Family did not know she was a 'bus-conductor, and did not know
she was a story-possessor, what did it know about her? It knew she
disliked the smell of bananas, and that she had not taken advantage of an
expensive education, and that she was Stock Size (Small Ladies'), and
that she was christened Jane Elizabeth, and that she took after her
father to an excessive extent, and that she was rather too apt to swallow
this Socialist nonsense. As Families go, it was fairly well informed
The Family was a rather promiscuous one. It had more tortuous
relationships than most families have, although there were only four in
it, not counting Mr. Russell.
I might as well introduce you to the Family before I settle down to the
story. From careful study of the press reviews I gather that a story is
considered a necessary thing in a novel, so this time I am going to try
and include one.
You may, if you please, meet the Family after breakfast at Mr. Russell's
house in Kensington, about three months after Jay had run away. There
were four people in the room. They were Cousin Gustus, Mrs. Gustus, Kew,
and Mr. Russell.
It behoves me to try and tell you very simply about Mrs. Gustus,
because she prided herself on simplicity. Spelt with a capital S, it
constituted her Deity; her heaven was a severe and shadowless
eternity, and plain words were the flowers that grew in her Elysian
fields. She had simplified her life and her looks. Even her smile was
shorn of all accessories like dimples or twinkles. Her hair, which
was not abundant, was the colour of corn, straight and shining. Her
eyes were a cold dark grey.
Now to be simple is all very well, but turn it into an active verb and
you spoil the whole idea. To simplify seems forced, and I think Mrs.
Gustus struck harder on the note of simplification than that of
simplicity. I should not dare to criticise her, however, and Cousin
Gustus was satisfied, so criticism in any case would be intrusive. It is
just possible that he occasionally wished that she would dress herself in
a more human way--patronise in winter the humble Viyella stripe, for
instance, or in summer the flippant sprig. But a large proportion of Mrs.
Gustus's faith was founded on simple strong colours in wide expanses,
introduced, as it were, one to another by judicious black. Anybody but
Mrs. Gustus would have been drowned in her clothes. But she was conceived
on a generous scale, she was almost gorgeous, she barely missed
exaggeration. In her manner I think she did not miss it. She had
therefore the gift of coping with colour. It remains for me to add that
her age was five-and-forty, and that she was a novelist. The recording
angel had probably noted the fact of her novelism among her virtues, but
she had an imperceptible earthly public. She wrote laborious books, full
of short peevish sentences, of such very pure construction that they were
extremely difficult to understand. She wore spectacles with aggressive
tortoise-shell rims. She said, "I am short-sighted. I am obliged to wear
spectacles. Why should I try to conceal the fact? I will not have a pair
of rimless ghosts haunting my face. I will wear spectacles without
shame." But the real truth was that the tortoise-shell rims were more
becoming to her. Mrs. Gustus was known to her husband's family as
Anonyma. The origin of this habit was an old joke, and I have forgotten
the point of it.
Cousin Gustus was second cousin once removed to Kew and Kew's sister
Jay, and had kindly brought them up from childhood. He was now at the
further end of the sixties, and embittered by many things: an unsuitable
marriage, the approach of the psalmist's age-limit, incurably modern
surroundings, an internal complaint, and a haunting wish to relieve the
Government of the management of the War. These drawbacks were to a
certain extent linked, they accounted for each other. The complaint
hindered him from offering his services as Secretary of State; it made
of him a slave, so he could not pretend to be a master. He cherished his
slavery, for it happened to be painless, and supplied him with a certain
dignity which would otherwise have been difficult to secure. During the
summer the complaint hibernated, and ceased to interest either doctors
or relations, which was naturally hard to bear. To these trials you may
add the disgraceful behaviour of his young cousin Jay, and admit that
Cousin Gustus had every excuse for encouraging pessimism of the most
Jay's brother Kew was twenty-five, and from this it follows that he had
already drunk the surprising beverage of War. His military history
included a little splinter of hate in the left shoulder, followed by a
depressing period almost entirely spent in the society of medical boards,
three months of light duty consisting of weary instruction of fools in an
East coast town, and now an interval of leave at the end of which the
battalion to which he had lately been attached hoped to go to France. In
one way it was a pity he ever joined the Army, for khaki clashed badly
with most of Mrs. Gustus's colour theories. But he had never noticed
that: his eye and his ear and his mind were all equally slow to
appreciate clashings of any kind. He was rather aloof from comparison and
criticism, but not on principle. He had no principles--at least no
original ones, just the ordinary stuffy old principles of decency and all
that. He never turned his eyes inward, as far as the passer-by could see;
he lived a breezy life outside himself. He never tried to make a fine Kew
of himself; he never propounded riddles to his Creator, which is the way
most of us make our reputations.
Mr. Russell, the host and adopted member of the Family, was fifty-two. He
did not know Jay, having only lately been culled by Mrs. Gustus--that
assiduous collector--and placed in the bosom of the Family. She had found
him blossoming unloved in the wilderness of a War Work Committee. He was
well informed, yet a good listener; perhaps he possessed both these
virtues to excess. At any rate Mrs. Gustus had decided that he was worthy
of Family friendship, and, being naturally extravagant, she conferred it
upon him with both hands. Mr. Russell was married to a woman who had not
properly realised the fact that she was Mrs. Russell. She spent her life
in distant lands, helping the world to become better. At present she was
understood to be propagating peace in the United States, and was never
mentioned by or to her husband. My first impression of Mr. Russell was
that he was rather fat, but I never could trace this impression to its
origin. He had not exactly a double chin, but rather a chin and a half,
and the rest of him followed this moderate example. His grey hair retired
in a pronounced estuary over each temple, leaving a beautifully brushed
peninsula between. He had no sense of humour, but hid this deformity
skillfully. Hardly anybody knew that he was a poet, except presumably his
dog. He often talked to his dog; he told it every speakable thought that
he had. This was his only bad habit. Occasionally his dog was heard to
reply in a small curious voice proceeding also from Mr. Russell.
These four people looked out at Kensington Gardens, which were rejoicing
in the very babyhood of the year. The naked trees were like pillars in
the mist, the grass was grey and whitened to the distance, the world had
mislaid its horizon, and one's eye slid up without check between the
trees to where the last word of a daylight moon whispered in the sky.
"I glory in a view that dispenses with colour," said Mrs. Gustus
severely. She always spoke as though she were sure of the whole of what
she intended to say. When she did hesitate, it only meant that she was
seeking for the simplest word, and she would cap her pause with a
monosyllable as curt as an explosion.
But glory is the right word, I think, for London in some moods. Do you
know the feeling of a heart beating too high, when you see the great
cliffs of London under rain or vague sunshine, or rising out of yellow
air? Do you ever want, as I do, to stand with arms out against the
London wind, and shout your own unmade poetry on the top of a 'bus?
With this sort of grotesque glorying does London inspire me, so that I
spend whole days together feeling that the essential _I_ is too big for
what encloses it.
Anonyma never felt like this. She often spoke the right word, but she
nearly always spoke it coldly.
"This morning," said Kew, "when I looked out, I felt the futility of bed,
so I made an assignation with the Hound when I met it trooping along with
Russ in single file to the bathroom. Why does your Hound always accompany
you there, Russ? Dogs must think us awfully irrational beasts, and
yet--does that Hound really think you could elope for ever and be no more
seen, with nothing on but pyjamas and a towel? I suppose he thinks 'You
can't be too careful.' It makes one humble to live with a dog. I always
blush when I see a dog dreaming, because I'm afraid they give us an
undignified place in their dreams. Your Hound, Russ, dreams of you
plunging into the Serpentine after a Canadian Goose, with your topper
floating behind you, or Anonyma with her tongue hanging out, scratching
at a little mousehole in Piccadilly. It is humiliating, isn't it? Anyway,
before breakfast, Russ's Hound and I went and jumped over things in the
Gardens. The park-keeper mistook us for young lambs."
Russell's Hound was called so by courtesy, in order to lend him a dignity
which he lacked. He may have been twelve inches high at the shoulder, and
he thought that he was exactly like a lion, except for a trifling
difference in size. Dignity is not, of course, incompatible with small
stature, but I think it was the twinkling gait of Mr. Russell's Hound
that robbed him of moral weight, and prevented you from attaching great
importance to his views.
"Young lambs!" exclaimed Mrs. Gustus. "Really, my good Kew, had you
nothing better to do?"
"Not at that time," replied Kew. "You weren't up." And he sang to drown
her sigh. Kew was the only person I ever knew who really sang to the tune
of his moods. He sang Albert Hall sort of music very loudly when he was
happy, and when he was extremely happy he roared so that his voice broke
out of tune. When he was silent it was almost always because he was
asleep, or because some other member of the Family was talking. When, by
some accident, the whole Family was simultaneously silent, you could not
help noticing what an oppressively still place London was. The sound of
Russell's Hound sneezing in the hall was like a bomb.
But at the present moment Kew only sang a few bars of Beethoven in a
small voice. He was rather sad, because of Jay. He had not realised
till he came home how very thoroughly Jay had disappeared. He led
the conversation to Jay. It often happened that Kew led conversations,
because conversations, like the public, generally follow the loudest
"Why so sudden?" asked Kew, apparently of the Round Pond, so loud was his
voice. "That's what I can't make out. She used to be such a human sort,
and anybody with half an ear could hear the decisions bubbling about
under the lid for weeks before they boiled over."
Everybody--even Cousin Gustus--knew that he was talking of Jay. Kew said
so much that he might be excused for forgetting occasionally what he had
not said. Besides, he had talked of little else but Jay since he rejoined
his Family two days before.
"She used to be a good girl," sighed Cousin Gustus. "So few girls
Cousin Gustus is an expert pessimist. Vice, accidents, and terrible ends
are his speciality. All virtue is to him an exception, and by him is
immediately forgotten. In sudden deaths you cannot catch him out. If you
were tossed from the horns of a bull into the jaws of a crocodile, and
died of pneumonia contracted during the flight, you would not surprise
Cousin Gustus. He is never at a loss for a precedent. The only way you
could really astonish him would be by living a blameless life without
adventure, and dying of old age in your bed.
"There were warnings," said Anonyma. "Little disagreements with Gustus."
"She wanted to bring vermin into the house," mourned Cousin Gustus.
Kew suggested: "White mice?"
"Not vermin unattended," Anonyma explained. "She wanted to adopt Brown
Borough babies. She had been working desultorily in the Brown Borough
since War broke out."
"That might explain the peculiar and un-Jay-like remark in her letter to
you--that she would settle in no home except the Perfect Home. I hate
things in capital letters."
"Why didn't she get married?" grumbled Cousin Gustus. "She was engaged
for nearly three weeks to young William Morgan, a most respectable young
man. So few young men--"
"She wrote to me that she couldn't keep up that engagement," said Kew.
"Not even by looking upon it as War Work. She called him a 'Surface young
man,' and that again seemed unlike her. She usen't to mind surfaceness.
The War seems to have turned her upside down. But then, of course, the
War has turned us all upside down, and in that position you generally get
a rush of brains to the head. We're all feverish, that's what's the
matter with us. When I was in hospital I lived for three weeks on the top
of a high temperature, laughing. I want to laugh now.... It's a damn
"I once knew a man who died of apoplexy while swearing," sniffed
"You have been damned unlucky in your friends, Cousin Gustus," said Kew.
He paused, and then added: "Besides, I hardly ever say Damn without
saying Un-damn to myself afterwards. It seems a pity to waste a precious
word on an inadequate cause, and I always retrieve it if I can."
"Before you came down to breakfast this morning, Kew," said Anonyma, "we
had an idea."
"Only one between you in all that time?" said Kew. "I was half an
"Now, Kew, be an angel and agree with the idea. I've set my heart on it,"
said Mrs. Gustus.
When Mrs. Gustus talked in a womanly way like this, the change was always
unmistakable. She was naturally an unnatural talker, and when she
mentioned such natural things as angels, you knew she was resorting
deliberately to womanly charm in order to attain her end. There was
something very cold-blooded about Anonyma's womanly charm.
"Good Lord," said Kew, "I wish angels had never been invented. I never
am one, only people always tell me to be one. I never get officially
recognised in heaven. What is the plan?"
"There is Russell's car doing nothing," began Mrs. Gustus.
"Do you mean Christina?" interrupted Kew, shocked at such formality.
"Don't call her Russell's car, it sounds so cold."
"There is Russell's Christina doing nothing," compromised Anonyma. "And
petrol isn't so bad as it will be. And it's a beautiful time of year. And
you are not strong yet, really. And we want Jay back."
"A procession of facts doesn't make a plan," objected Kew.
"It may lead to one, eventually," said Mrs. Gustus. "Oh, Kew, I want to
go out into the country, I want to thread the pale Spring air, and hear
the lambs cry. I want to brush my face against the grass, and wade in a
wave of bluebells. I want to forget blood and Belgians and kiss Nature."
"Take a twenty-eight 'bus, and kiss Hampstead Heath," suggested Kew.
"The Spring has got there all right."
Anonyma, behind the coffee-pot, was jotting down in a notebook the
salient points in her outburst. She always placed her literary calling
first. And anyway, I should be rather proud if I could talk like that
about the Spring without any preparation.
"The idea originally," began Mr. Russell tentatively, "was not only
formed to allow Mrs. Gustus to enjoy the Spring, but also to make you
quite strong before you go back to work. And, again, not only that, but
also to try and trace your sister Jay."
Will you please imagine that continual intercourse with very talkative
people had made Mr. Russell an adept at vocal compression. He had now
almost lost the use of his vowels, and if I wrote as he spoke, the effect
would be like an advertisement for a housemaid during the shortage of
wood-pulp. I spare you this.
"There are three objections to the plan," said Kew. "First, that
Anonyma doesn't really want to kiss the Spring; second, that I don't
really want convalescent treatment; third, that Jay doesn't really want
to be traced."
When Mrs. Gustus did not know the answer to an objection she left
it unanswered. This is, of course, the simplest way. She snapped
"Oh, Kew," she said, "you promised you'd be an angel." The double row of
semi-detached buttons down her breast trembled with eagerness.
"Angeller and angeller," sighed Kew, "I never committed myself so far."
"I have a clue with which to trace Jay," said Mrs. Gustus. "I had a
letter from her this morning."
Kew was a satisfactory person to surprise. He is never supercilious.
"You heard from Jay!" he said, in a voice as high as his eyebrows.
The letter which Mrs. Gustus showed to Kew may be quoted here:
"This place has stood since the year twelve something, and its windows
look down without even the interruption of a sill at the coming and going
of the tides. It has hardly any garden, and immediately to the right and
the left of it the green down brims over the top of the cliff like the
froth of ale over a silver goblet. To-night the tide is low, the sea is
golden where the shallow waves break upon the sand, and ghostly green in
the distance. When the tide is high, the sound and the sight of it seem
to meet and make one thing. The waves press up the cliff then, and fall
back on each other. Do you know the lines that are written on the face of
a disappointed wave? To-night the clouds are like castles built on the
plain of the sea. There is an aeroplane at this moment--dim as a little
thought--coming between two turrets of cloud. I suppose it is that I can
hear, but it sounds like the distant singing of the moon. I have come
here to count up my theories, to count them and pile them up like money,
in heaps, according to their value. Theories are such beautiful things,
there must be some use in them. Or perhaps they are like money from a
distant country, and not in currency here. Yet just as sheer metal, they
must have some value.... It is wonderful that such happiness should come
to me, and that it should last. I have the Sea and a Friend; there is
nothing in the world I lack, and nothing that I regret...."
"What better clue could you want?" asked Mrs. Gustus. "We will take
Christina round the sea-coast."
"Looking for silver cliffs and a golden sea," sighed Kew.
I don't know if I have mentioned or conveyed to you that Mrs. Gustus was
a determined woman. At any rate she was, and it would therefore be waste
of time to describe the gradual defeat of Kew. The final stage was the
despatch of Kew to call on Nana in the Brown Borough. Jay's letter had
the Brown Borough postmark, so it had apparently been sent to Nana to
post. Nana might be described as the Second Clue in the pursuit of Jay.
She was the Family's only link with Jay. The one drawback of Nana as a
clue was that she was never to be found. Mrs. Gustus had called six
times, but had been repulsed on each occasion by a totally dumb front
door. But then Nana never had liked Anonyma. Nana was simple herself in
an amateurish, unconscious sort of way, and I expect she disliked
Anonyma's professional rivalry in the matter of simplicity. But Kew was
always a favourite.
The 'bus roared up the canyons of the City, and its voice accompanied Kew
in his tuneful meditations. A 'bus is not really well adapted for
meditation. On my feet I can stride across unseen miles musing on love,
in a taxi I can think about to-morrow's dinner, but on a 'bus my thoughts
will go no further than my eyes can see. So Kew, although he thought he
was thinking of Jay, was really considering the words in front of him--To
Stop O'Bus strike Bell at Rear.[Footnote: He must have changed at the
Bank into a Tilling 'bus.] He deduced from this that it was an Irish
'bus, and supposed that this accounted for its rather head-long
behaviour. He spent some moments in imagining the MacBus, child of a
sterner race, which would run gutturally without skids, and wear a
different cut of bonnet.
He dismounted into a faint yellow fog diluted with a faint twilight, in
the Brown Borough. The air was vague, making it not so much an
impossibility to decipher the features of people approaching as a
surprise to find it possible. A few rather premature bar row-flares
adapted Scripture to modern conditions by hiding their light under tin
substitutes for bushels, in the hope of protecting such valuables as
cat's meat and bananas from aerial outrage. Kew pranced over prostrate
children, and curved about the pavement to avoid artificially vivacious
passers-by, who emerged from the public-houses.
Nana lived in a little alley which was like a fiord of peace running in
from the shrill storm of the Brown Borough. Here little cottages shrank
together, passive resisters of the twentieth century. Low crooked windows
blinked through a mask of dirty creepers. Each little front garden
contained a shrub, and was guarded by a low railing, although there would
have been no room for a trespasser in addition to the shrub. Nana's
house, at the end of the alley, looked along it to the far turmoil of the
Kew insulted the gate, as usual, by stepping over it, and knocked at the
door. He held his breath, so that he might more keenly hear the first
whisperings of the floor upstairs, which would show that Nana was astir.
A gardenful of cats came and told him that his hopes were vain. Cats only
exist, I think, for the chastening of man. They never come to me except
to tell me the worst, and to crush me with quiet sarcasm should my
optimism survive their warning.
But before the cats had finished speaking, there was a most un-Nana-like
sound of bounding within, and Jay appeared. She threw herself out of the
darkness of the door on to the twilit Kew.
The cats were ashamed to be seen watching this almost canine display, and
"I didn't know you weren't in France," said Jay to Kew.
"I didn't know you weren't in Heaven," said Kew to Jay. "What's all this
about golden seas and aeroplanes snarling around?"
"Oh, snarling.... That's just what they do," said Jay. "Let's pretend I
It seemed as if childhood turned its face to them again after a thousand
years. These roaring months of War run like a sea between us and our
peaceful beginnings, so that a catchword flashed across out of our past
is as beautiful and as incredible as the light in a dream.
When they were little they used to bargain for expressive words. Their
childhood was full of such hair-splittings as: "If you tell how we said
Wank-wank to the milkman, you must let me have the old lady who had a
palpitation and puffocated running after the 'bus."
They were not spontaneous people. They were born with too great a love of
words, a passion for drama at the expense of truth, and a habit of
overweighting common life with romance. It was perhaps good for them to
have acquired such a very simple relation by marriage as Anonyma.
"About the sea," said Jay, "I'll tell you later."
"Well, tell me first why you found home so suddenly unbearable. You've
stood it for eighteen years."
"I've been a child all through those eighteen years. And to a child just
the fact of grown-upness is so admirable. I wonder why. But under the
fierce light that beats from the eye of a woman suddenly and violently
grown old, Cousin Gustus and Anonyma don't--well, Kew, do they?"
The dusk filled the room as water fills a cup, and to look up at the
light of an outside lamp on the ceiling was like looking up through water
at the surface. Jay wore a dress of the same colour of the dusk, and her
round face, faint as a bubble, seemed to float on its background
"Didn't you think about adopting a baby?" suggested Kew. "That evidently
put Cousin Gustus's back up."
"I didn't put Cousin Gustus's back up so high as he put mine," answered
Jay. "Oh, Kew, what are the old that they should check us? What's the use
of this war of one generation against another? Old people and young
people reach a deadlock that's as bad as marriage without the possibility
of divorce. Isn't all forced fidelity wrong?"
"What did you do, tell me, and what are you going to do?"
"Oh well, I felt something like frost in the air, and I couldn't define
it. Really, it was work waiting to be done. Not work for the poor, but
work with the poor. At home I talked about work, and Anonyma wrote about
it, and Cousin Gustus shuddered at it. You were doing it all right, but
where was I? Three days a week with soldiers' wives. My brow never
sweated a drop. I thought there must be something better than a
bird's-eye view of work. So I took a job at a bolster place.... Oh well,
it doesn't matter now. I earned ten shillings a week, and paid
half-a-crown for a little basement back. On Saturdays I got my Sunday
clothes out of pawn, and came to tea with Nana. Do you remember the
scones and the Welsh Rarebit that Nana used to make? I believe those
things were worth the terror of the pawnshop. Oh, Kew, those pawnshops!
Those little secret stalls that put shame into you where none was before.
The pawn man--why is it that when you're already frightened is the moment
that men choose to frighten you? Because weakness is the worst crime.
That I have proved. My work was putting fluff into bolsters. There was a
big bright grocers' calendar--the Death of Nelson--and if I could see it
through the fog of fluff I felt that was a lucky day. I had to eat my
lunch there, raspberry jam sandwiches--not fruit jam, you know, but
raspberry flavour. It wasn't nice, and it used to get fluffy in that air.
The others sat round and munched and picked their teeth and read Jew
newspapers. Have you ever noticed that whichever way up you look at a Jew
newspaper, you always feel as if you could read it better if you were
standing on your head? My governor was a Jew too. He wasn't bad, but he
looked wet, and his hair was a horror to me. His voice was tired of
dealing with fluff--though he didn't deal with it so intimately as we
did--and it only allowed him to whisper. The forewoman was always cross,
but always as if she would rather not be so, as if she were being cross
for a bet, and as if some one were watching her to see she was not kind
by mistake. She looked terribly ill, because she had worked there for
three months, which was a record. I stood it five weeks, and then I had a
hemorrhage--only from the throat, the doctor said. I wanted to go to
bed, but you can't, because the panel doctors in these parts will not
come to you. My doctor was half an enormous mile away, and it seemed he
only existed between seven and nine in the evenings. So I stayed up, so
as not to get too weak to walk. I went and asked the governor for my
stamps. I had only five stamps due to me, only five valuable threepences
had been stopped out of my wages. But I had a silly conviction at that
time that the Insurance Act was invented to help working people. What an
absurd idea of mine! I went to the Jew for my card. He said mine was a
hard case, but I was not entitled to a card; nobody under thirty, he
said, was allowed by law to have a card. So I said it was only fair to
tell him I was going to the Factory and Insurance Inspectors about him. I
told him lots of things, and I was so angry that I cried. He was very
angry too, and made me feel sick by splashing his wet hair about. He said
it was unfair for ladies to interfere in things they knew nothing about.
I said I interfered because I knew nothing about it, but that now I knew.
I said that ladies and women had exactly the same kind of inside, and it
was a kind that never thrived on fluff instead of food. I told him how I
spent my ten shillings. He couldn't interrupt really, because he had no
voice. Then I fainted, and a friend I have there, called Mrs. Love, came
in. She had been listening at the door. She was very good to me.
"Then, when I was well again, I found another job, but I shan't tell you
what it is. As for the Inspectors, I complained, but--what's the use? So
long as you must put fluff of that pernicious kind into bolsters, just so
long will you kill the strength and the beauty of women. It looked so
like a deadlock that it frightened me, and now in this wonderful life I
lead, my Friend won't let me think of it. A deadlock is a dreadful
accident, isn't it? because in theory it doesn't exist. I am working for
a new end now. Isn't it splendid that there is really no Place Called
Stop? There is always an end beyond the end, always something to love and
look forward to. Life is a luxury, isn't it? there's no use in it--but
"You haven't told me about the sea yet," said Kew.
"Because I don't think you'd believe me. We were always liars, weren't
we? That's because we're romantic, or if it's not romance, the symptoms
of the disease are very like. Why can't we get rid of it all as Anonyma
does? She has no gift except the gift of being able to get rid of
superfluous romance. She takes that great ease impersonally, her pose
is, 'It's a gift from Heaven, and an infernal bore.' But I never get
nearer to joy than I do in this Secret World of mine, and with my
"But what is it? What is he like?"
"I should be guilty of the murder of a secret if I told you. He isn't
particularly romantic. I have seen him in a poor light; I have watched
him in a most undignified temper; I have known him when he wanted a
shave. I don't exist in this World of mine. I am just a column of thin
air, watching with my soul."
"Then you're really telling lies to Anonyma when you write about it all?
I'm not reproaching you of course, I only want to get my mind clear."
"I suppose they're lies," assented Jay ruefully, "though it seems
sacrilege to say so, for I know these things better than I know myself.
But Truth--or Untruth, what's the use of words like that when miracles
are in question?"
"Oh, damn this What's the Use Trick," said Kew. "I suppose you
picked that up in this private Heaven of yours. The whole thing's
absolutely--My dear little Jay, am I offending you?"
"Yes," said Jay.
Chloris sighed too. Chloris had played the thankless part of third in
this interview. She was Jay's friend, a terrier with a black eye. She
shared Jay's burning desire to be of use, and, like most embryo
reformers, she had a poor taste in dress. She wore her tail at an aimless
angle, without chic; her markings were all lopsided. But her soul was
ardent, and her life was always directed by some rather inscrutable
theory or other. As a puppy she had been an inspired optimist, with legs
like strips of elastic clumsily attached to a winged spirit. Later she
had adopted a vigorous anarchist policy, and had inaugurated what was
probably known in her set as the "Bite at Sight Campaign." Cured of this,
she had become a gentle Socialist, and embraced the belief that all
property--especially edible property--should be shared. Appetites, she
argued, were meant to be appeased, and the preservation of game--or
anything else--in the larder was an offence against the community. Now,
at the age of five or so, she affected cynicism, pretended temporarily
that life had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and sighed frequently.
"Kew," said Jay presently, "will you promise not to tell the Family you
saw me? I don't want it to know about me. After all, theories are driving
me, and theories don't concern that Family of ours. What's the use of a
Family? (I'm saying this just to exasperate you.) A Family's just a
little knot of not necessarily congenial people, with Fate rubbing their
heads together so as to strike sparks of love. Love--what's the use of
Love? I'd like to catch that Love and box his ears, making such a fool of
the world. What's the use?"
"God knows," said Kew. "Cheer up, my friend, I promise I won't tell the
Family I've seen you, or anything about you." At the same moment he
remembered the motor tour.
"It's a lovely word faithful, isn't it?" she said, wriggling in her
chair. "Yours faithfully is a most beautiful ending to a letter. Why is
it that faith with a little F is such a perfect thing, and yet Faith,
grown-up Faith in Church, is so tiring?"
"Perhaps one is overworked and the other isn't," suggested Kew.
As he went out into the darkness the noise of London sprang into his
ears, and the remote brown room where he had left Jay seemed to become
divided from him by great distances. The town was like a garden, and he,
an insect, pressed through its undergrowth. The rare lamps and the stars
flowered above him.
My yesterday has gone, has gone, and left me tired;
And now to-morrow comes and beats upon the door;
So I have built to-day, the day that I desired,
Lest joy come not again, lest peace return no more,
Lest comfort come no more.
So I have built to-day, a proud and perfect day,
And I have built the towers of cliffs upon the sands.
The foxgloves and the gorse I planted on my way.
The thyme, the velvet thyme, grew up beneath my hands,
Grew pink beneath my hands.
So I have built to-day, more precious than a dream;
And I have painted peace upon the sky above;
And I have made immense and misty seas that seem
More kind to me than life, more fair to me than love,
More beautiful than love.
And I have built a House, a House upon the brink
Of high and twisted cliffs,--the sea's low singing fills it.
And there my Secret Friend abides, and there I think
I'll hide my heart away before to-morrow kills it,
A cold to-morrow kills it.
Yes, I have built to-day, a wall against to-morrow,
So let to-morrow knock, I shall not be afraid,
For none shall give me death, and none shall give me sorrow,
And none shall spoil this darling day that I have made.
No storm shall stir my sea. No night but mine shall shade
This day that I have made.
"We will start on our quest to-morrow," said Anonyma. "To-day I
Nobody in Anonyma's circle was ever allowed to forget that she spent
four hours a week in the service of her country. You would never guess
how much insight into the souls of the poor, four hours a week can give
to a person like Anonyma. She had written two books about the Brown
Borough since the outbreak of War. The provincial Press had been much
impressed by their vivid picture of slum realities. Anonyma's poor were
always yearning, yearning to be understood and loved by a ministering
upper class, yearning for light, for art, for self-expression, for
novels by high-souled ladies. The atmosphere of Anonyma's fiction was
thick with yearning.
Anonyma always came home from her Work with what she called
"word-vignettes" in her notebook. She gave her Family the benefit of
these during the rest of the week, besides fitting them into her books.
So that although Cousin Gustus always conscientiously bought a dozen
copies of each novel as it came out, he really wasted his money, for he
was obliged to know all his wife's copy by heart before it got into
print. By speaking each thought as well as writing it, Anonyma rather
unfairly won a reputation twice over with the same material.
Anonyma produced a vignette now, in order to show how necessary it was
that she should hurry to her yearning flock.
"I came into the room of one of my sailors' wives last week, and I found
her with a baby sobbing on her breast, and an empty hearth at her feet. I
thought of the eternal tragedy of womanhood. I said, 'Will my love help,
There was a pause, and Cousin Gustus sighed.
"What did she say?" asked Kew, without expecting an answer from the
artist. After all, a word-vignette is not intended to have a sequel. It
is supposed to fall complete with a little splash into your silent
understanding. I must say Kew was rather tiresome in refusing to be
content with the splash.
"So few women really understand how to stop a child crying," said Cousin
Gustus, speaking from bitter and universal experience.
"That's the point," said Kew. "The child had probably swallowed a pin."
It generally breaks my heart to hear a story spoilt, but with Anonyma's
word-vignettes I did not mind, because they were told as true, and yet
they did not ring true. I must tell you that Anonyma had married into a
family of accomplished white liars, and to them the ring of truth was as
unmistakable as the dinner-bell. Few people could lie successfully to Kew
or Jay, they knew that art from the inside. White lies are easily
justified, but almost any lie can be whitewashed. Apart from the mutual
attitude of Kew and Jay, who possessed something between them that might
be called good faith, there was hardly any trust included in that family
relationship. Cousin Gustus distrusted youth. He thought young people
were always either lying to him or laughing at him, and indeed they often
were. Only not so often as he thought. He was no prop on which to repose
confidence, and it was very easy both to tell him lies and not to tell
Mrs. Gustus had no gift of intimacy. She was reserved about everything
except herself, or what she believed to be herself. The self that she
shared so generously with others was, however, not founded on fact, but
modelled on the heroine of all her books. She killed her heroine whenever
possible--I think she only once married her,--yet still the creature
remained immortal in Mrs. Gustus's public personality. She concealed or
transformed everything that did not seem artistic. Her notebook was a
tangle of self-deceptions. The rest of the Family knew this. They never
pretended to believe her.
Kew and Jay were skilled romancers, fact was clay in their hands.
Nobody had ever taught them such a dull lesson as exact truthfulness.
If they built the bare bones of their structures fairly accurately,
they placed the whole in an artificial light, altering in some
effective way the spirit of the facts. Education had impressed the
importance of technical truthfulness on Kew. But he was a quick
talker, and in order to keep him in line with his tongue, nature had
made him quick of wit, quick in argument, and unconsciously quick in
making and seeing loopholes for escape.
He was at present perfectly comfortable in his anomalous position
regarding a search round the sea-coast for a Jay he knew to be in the
"If I am going to work, I must go," said Anonyma. "Russ and I will go
together as far as the Underground."
She looked at herself in the glass. The scarlet bird in her hat had an
arresting expression. As she was putting on her gloves she said, "I'm
sorry, Kew, about your disappointment, not finding Nana at home last
night. But I told you so."
She had no fear of this much-shunned phrase.
"Never mind," said Kew mildly. "We'll put Christina on the track
Mr. Russell said a polite Good-bye to his Hound, and accompanied
his friend Anonyma to the Underground. That was a fateful little
journey for him.
As he turned from Anonyma's side at the bookstall, he noticed a 'bus
positively beckoning to him. It had a lady conductor, and she was poised
expectantly, one hand on the bell and the other beckoning to Mr. Russell.
His nature was docile, and the 'bus was bound for Chancery Lane, his
destination. He mounted the 'bus.
I need hardly tell you that a 'bus that makes deliberate advances to the
public is the rarest sight in London. The self-respecting 'bus looks upon
the public as dust beneath its tyres. Even a Brigadier-General with red
tabs, on his way to Whitehall, looks pathetically humble waggling his
cane at a 'bus. All 'bus-drivers have a kingly look; it comes from their
proud position. The rest of the world is only worthy to communicate with
that noble race by means of nods and becks and wreathed smiles.
"Chancery Lane, please," said Mr. Russell. "But why did you stop
specially for me?"
"I thought your wife hailed me, sir," lied the 'bus-conductor.
Any allusion to his wife mildly annoyed Mr. Russell. "Not my wife," he
said. "Merely a friend."
"Oh, I _beg_ your pardon, sir," said the 'bus-conductor, and underlined
the "beg" with the ting of her ticket-puncher. She was rather a darling
'bus-conductor, because she was also Jay. She had a short, though not a
fat face, soft eyes, and very soft hair cut short to just below the lobes
of her ears.
A gentleman with dingy but elaborate boot-uppers hailed and mounted the
'bus. "Shufftesbury Uvvenue?" he asked. He said it that way, of course,
because he was a Shakespearian actor. The 'bus-conductor gave him his
ticket, and then took her stand upon her platform, more or less unaware
that Mr. Russell and the actor, both next to the door and opposite to
each other, were looking at her with a pleased look.
Mr. Russell thought for some time, and then he said, "'T's a
"That's what it is," replied the 'bus-conductor. "I wonder if it's wrong
to enjoy being a 'bus-conductor?"
"I shouldn't think so," said Mr. Russell cautiously. "Why?"
The 'bus-conductor waved her hand towards a State hint that shouted in
letters six foot high from an opposite wall: "DON'T USE A MOTOR CAR FOR
PLEASURE." Mr. Russell read it very carefully and said nothing.
"This is a motor car," observed the 'bus-conductor, glancing at her
inaccessible chauffeur. "And as for pleasure ..."
The high houses rose out of the earth like Alps, and the roar in the
morning was like large music. She knew she had been an Olympian in a
recent life, because she found herself familiar with greater and more
gorgeous speed than any 'bus attains, and with the divine discords that
high mountains and high cities sing.
"I hope it's not wrong, because I'm going on a motor tour to-morrow,"
said Mr. Russell. "On business of a sort, and yet also on pleasure. On a
search, as a matter of fact."
"Oh, any search is pleasure," said the bus-conductor. "Especially if it's
an abstract search."
"'Tisn't," said Mr. Russell. "'T's a search for a person."
The 'bus-conductor looked at the sky. "And are Anonyma and Kew going
too?" she thought. You must bear in mind that she had deliberately
plucked him from the side of Anonyma.
"Perhaps any pleasure is wrong in these days," she said.
"Come, come," said the actor. "Whut's wrung with these days? A German
ship sunk yesterday. Thut's pleasurable enough."
The 'bus-conductor turned a cold eye upon him.
"I can cheer, but not laugh over such news as that," she said pompously.
"Doesn't even a German find the sea bitter to drown in? An English woman
or a German butcher, isn't it all the same when it comes to a Me, with a
throat full of water? Hasn't a German got a Me?"
The actor looked at his boot-uppers. Mr. Russell thought. Shufftesbury
Uvvenue arrived soon, and the actor alighted with some relief.
When the 'bus started again, the bus-conductor said, "Don't you think the
only way you can get pleasure out of it all is by treating life as a bead
upon a string?"
"That's a sufficient way, surely," said Mr. Russell. "If you can truly
In the Strand he asked, "May I come in this 'bus again?"
"This is a public 'bus," observed the 'bus-conductor.
"This is Monday," said Mr. Russell. "May I gather that during this
week your 'bus will be passing Kensington Church at half-past eleven
The 'bus-conductor did not answer. She went to the top of the 'bus to
say, "Fezz plizz."
Mr. Russell thought so furiously that he was only roused by the sound of
St. Paul's striking apparently several dozen in his immediate vicinity.
"This is Ludgate Hill. I only paid you as far as Chancery Lane. I owe you
another halfpenny," said Mr. Russell.
"A penny," said the 'bus-conductor.
As he disappeared she thought, "There is something remarkable about that
man. I wish I hadn't been so prosy. I wonder where and why Anonyma
picked him up."
When Mr. Russell came home that evening, he said, "I met--"
"Isn't it wonderful--the people and the things one meets?" said Mrs.
Gustus. "I met to-day a child with nothing but one garment on, rolling
like a sparrow in the dust. The one garment, I thought, was the only
drawback in the scene. Why can't we get back to simplicity?"
Mr. Russell, on second thoughts, was glad he had been interrupted. He did
not feel discouraged, only he decided not to try again. His Hound jumped
on to his knee and put a paw into his hand.
"I also persuaded a woman to give up drink," continued Mrs. Gustus. "I
put it to her on the ground of simplicity. She was in bed, having been
drunk the night before, and I sat on her bed with my hand on hers. I
said, 'Dear fellow-woman, there are no essentials in life but bread and
water and love. Everything else is a sort of skin-disease which has
appeared on the surface of Nature, a disease which we call civilization.'
She cried bitterly, and I gathered that she was lacking in all three
essentials. I went and bought her four loaves of bread, on condition she
would promise never to touch intoxicants again. I said I would not go
away until she promised. She promised. I left her still crying."
Cousin Gustus sighed. He never went about himself, and only saw the world
through his wife's eyes. This did not tend to cure his pessimism.
"It is wonderful how one can reach the bed-rock of life in two hours
among the poor and simple," said Mrs. Gustus. "By the way, I only put in
two hours to-day, because I think I can do better work in two hours
twice a week than in four hours once. So I shall come up for the
afternoon one day this week from wherever we are by then, and leave you
three men prostrate on some shore, with your ears to Nature, like a
child's ear to a shell."
She groped for her notebook.
"I must come up now and then too," said Mr. Russell, and poked his Hound
secretly in the ribs.
* * * * *
I can't tell you what countless miles away his 'bus-conductor was by now.
A certain fraction of her, to be sure, was sitting in the dark room at
Number Eighteen Mabel Place, Brown Borough, with fierce hands pinching
the table-cloth, and a hot forehead on the table. All day long the thirst
for a secret journey had been in her throat. All day long the elaborate
tangle of London had made difficult her way, but she had kicked aside the
snare now, and her free feet were on the step of the House by the Sea.
No voices met her at the door, the hall was empty. The firelight
pencilled in gold the edges of the wooden figure that presided over the
stairs. I think I told you about that figure. I never knew whose it
was--a saint's I think, but her virtuous expression was marred by her
broken nose, and the finger with which she had once pointed to Heaven was
also broken. Her figure was rather stiff, and so were her draperies,
which fell in straight folds to her blocklike feet. Her right hand was
raised high, and her left was held alertly away from her side and had
unseparated fingers. She had seen a great procession of generations pass
her pedestal, but she never saw Jay. Of course not, for Jay was not
there. Only a column of thin watching air haunted the House.
There are many ghosts that haunt the House by the Sea. Jay is, of
course, one of them, and for this reason she knows more about ghosts than
any one I know. Fragments of untold stories are familiar to her. She
knows how you may hear in the dark a movement by your bed, and fling out
your hand and feel it grasped, and then feel the grasp slide up from your
hand to your shoulder, from your shoulder to your throat, from your
throat to your heart. She knows how you may go between trees in the
moonlight to meet your friend, and find suddenly that some one is keeping
pace with you, and how you, mistaking this companion for your friend, may
say some silly greeting that only your friend understands. And how your
heart drops as you hear the first breath of the reply. She knows how,
walking in the mid-day streets of London, you may cross the path of some
Great One who had a prior right by many thousand years to walk beside the
Thames. These are the ghost stories that never get told. Few people can
read them between the lines of press accounts of inquests, or in the
dignified announcements of the failure of hearts, on the front page of
the _Morning Post_. But Jay knows, because of her intimacy with the House
by the Sea. There she meets her fellow-ghosts.
The House, as I told you, has hardly any garden; having the sea, it
doesn't need one. But there is a little formal place about twenty paces
across, set, as it were, in the heart of the House. A small prim square,
bounded on the north, south and east by the House itself, and on the west
by the cliff and the sea. There is a stone balustrade to divide the
garden from space. In the middle of the square is a stone basin with
becalmed water-lilies and of course goldfish. Round the basin the orderly
ranks of little clipped box hedges manoeuvre. The untamed elements in the
garden are the climbing things, they sing in gold and yellow and orange
and red from the walls. The only official way into the garden is a door
from the House, a bald door without eyebrows, so to speak, like all the
doors and windows in the House. But there is an unofficial way into the
garden, and Jay found her Secret Friend there. This is the short cut to
the sea. In other words, it is a wriggly ladder, one end of which you
attach to a hook in the wall, and the other you throw over the balustrade
down the cliff to the sea. It is a long way to walk round the House and
along the cliff and down to the sea by the path. And just as the
house-agents always want to be one minute and a half from the church and
the post-office, so we in the Secret House cannot afford to be more than
a minute and a half from the sea.
The Secret Friend was there, and he was gazing so earnestly down the
cliff that his hair was hanging forward most unbeautifully, and he was
rather red in the face. He was looking at a little boat which was on its
way towards the foot of the wriggly ladder. A schooner with the low sun
climbing down her rigging breathed on the breathing sea not far away. The
tide was high.
The oars of the little boat suddenly wavered and were paralysed. One of
the rowers made a quick movement with his hand.
"It's the Law," said the Secret Friend, and he tried spasmodically to
extinguish the sun with his hand. "It's the Law. The man with the tall
and dewy brow."
The Law, in a fat officious-looking boat, came sneaking round the near
point of the cliff. The air was so still, and the sea so calm, that you
could hear the sides of the boat grate against the cliff. And the air was
so clear that you could see the tall and dewy brow of the Law, as he
stood up and discovered the wriggly ladder.
"To have a face like that," said the Secret Friend, "is to challenge
fate. It makes me sick."
"What is this?" asked the Law, although there seemed little doubt that
the thing was a wriggly ladder. No one answered; so the Law rowed to the
foot of the thing in question. The Secret Friend jerked it up about six
feet, and secured it so.
The Law cleared its throat, and looked nervously at the schooner, and at
the sun, and at the other boat, and at the Secret Friend. The Law likes
to be argued with. Take away words and where is the Law? Silence always
Yet there was no silence in the Secret World. I remember how the roses
sang, and how the sea mourned over the confusion of its gentle dreams.
The knocking of the slow sea upon the cliff seemed like the ticking of
the great clock that is our world. It was a night when every horizon had
heaven calling from the other side.
The Story went on....
* * * * *
It was Chloris who brought Jay back to Number Eighteen Mabel Place, Brown
Borough. Chloris gave an unromantic snort and sat with unnecessary
clumsiness upon Jay's toe. So Jay returned, falling suddenly out of the
music of the sea into the band-of-hopeful music of distant Boy Scouts on
Number Eighteen Mabel Place is not, as a rule, a hopeful place to return
to. Jay and I know quite well what Satan felt like when he was expelled
So Jay, whose refuge from most ills was talk, went to see a friend. She
had many friends in the Brown Borough, and most of them were what Mrs.
Gustus would call "undeserving." Mrs. Gustus has a very high mind; she
and the C.O.S. are dreadfully grown-up institutions, I think; they forget
what it feels like to have a good rampageous kick against the pricks.
Nearly everybody in the Brown Borough enjoys a kick once a week (on
pay-day)--and some of us go on kicking all our lives. At any rate, the
Brown Borough is peopled with babies young and old, and high minds and
grown-up institutions are apt to look over heads. Jay had a low mind and
walked about on the Brown Borough level.
"I have got neuralgia," said Jay to Chloris, "my hat feels too tight.
My head feels like _tete de veau farcie_. I shall go and talk to Mrs.
And so she did, and found that Mrs. 'Ero Edwards had been wanting to
see her to tell her that the war would be over in June, and that the
Edwards's nephew knew on the best authority that the Kaser couldn't get
no kipper to his breakfast any more because Preserdink Wilson was
a-holding of them up upon the high seas, and that Jimmy Wragge was
"wanted" for "helping himself," and that young Dusty Morgan, the
lodger, had gone for a soldier, and his wife had taken his job as
driver of a van.
"There's only two jobs now," said Mrs. 'Ero Edwards, "wot you never see
a woman doin', and one's a burglar, an' the other's a scarecrow."
Jay said, "The lady burglars would be so clever they'd never get into the
papers, and the lady scarecrows would be so attractive that they'd
fascinate the birds."
And then Mrs. 'Ero Edwards considered what she would say to an 'Un if she
had him here, and Jay was called upon to provide 'Unnish replies in the
'Unnish lingo. Her German was so patriotically rusty that she could think
of no better retorts than "Nicht hinauslehnen," or "Bitte nicht zu
rauchen," or "Heisses Wasser, bitte," or "Wacht am Rhein," or "Streng
verboten." Yet the dramatic effect of the interview was very good indeed,
and Mrs. 'Ero Edwards's arguments were unanswerable in any tongue.
And then they thought they would make a surprise for young Mrs. Dusty
Morgan, the lodger, against she come back from work, because she was that
down'earted. So they went and bought some ribbon to tie up the curtains,
and some flowers for the table, and put the chairs in happy and new
attitudes of expectancy, and cleaned the windows, putting a piece of
white paper on the broken pane instead of the rag, which was rather weary
of its job. And then Mrs. 'Ero Edwards confided to Jay that young Mrs.
Dusty wanted very much to find the picture of a real tip-top soldier, so
that she might look at it and remember how this business was going to
make a man of young Dusty. And Jay went all the way to the City and could
find no picture of a tip-top soldier, and then she came back to the Brown
Borough, and because of the intervention of Providence, found Albrecht
Duerer's "St. George" second-hand in a Jew-shop. And they hung it up over
the mantelpiece, and decided that it was rather like Dusty, if it wasn't
for the uniform. And the general effect was so superb that Jay nearly
spoilt it all by jumping a hole in the floor, so as to jog Time's elbow
and bring Mrs. Dusty home quickly to see it all. It was a very delicate
floor. Jay always jumped when she was impatient. She did everything with
double fervour, and where you or I would have stamped one foot, she
stamped two at once.
Mrs. Dusty Morgan came back a little bit drunk. When she saw the Saint
over the mantelpiece she cried, and blasted the war that made it
necessary to wear them ... respirators all over (the Saint is in
armour),--and when she saw the flowers, she laughed, and said it seemed
like Nothing-on-Earth to have Dusty away.
Oh, bend your eyes, nor send your glance about.
Oh, watch your feet, nor stray beyond the kerb.
Oh, bind your heart lest it find secrets out.
For thus no punishment
Of magic shall disturb
Your very great content.
Oh, shut your lips to words that are forbidden.
Oh, throw away your sword, nor think to fight.
Seek not the best, the best is better hidden.
Thus need you have no fear,
No terrible delight
Shall cross your path, my dear.
Call no man foe, but never love a stranger.
Build up no plan, nor any star pursue.
Go forth with crowds; in loneliness is danger.
Thus nothing Fate can send,
And nothing Fate can do
Shall pierce your peace, my friend.
Christina the motor car started next morning. She set her tyres on the
road to the Secret World. For all the clues that Jay provided pointed to
"Here is another letter from Jay," said Mrs. Gustus as they started,
bristling with clues. Odd, under the circumstances, that she writes to
me so often and so freely. I will read you some of it, but not all, until
I have thought my suspicions over. She writes:
"... A collision with the Law to-night, under a great sunset. It would
have been rather silly by common daylight, but under a yellow sky with
stars in it, I think nothing can live but romance. The tide was coming
up, and the Law--a man with a tall and dewy brow--rowed up to the foot of
our little ladder that leads to the sea.... You know those round stone
balls that sit on the balustrades of formal gardens such as this ... we
only meant to frighten the Law, a splash was all that we intended, but
the sun was in my Friend's eyes as he dropped the ball. It struck the bow
of the boat, which went under like a frightened porpoise. There were two
men in it, besides the Law itself, and they all came up spitting and
spouting, and stood up to their necks in water. Oaths bubbled up to us.
The boat came up badly perforated, and I expect we shall get into
trouble. It was funny, but the War has rather pacified us peace-time
belligerents, and made people like me unused to collisions with
authority. I felt very nervous, but it was all right because ..."
"I will read you no more, but in that much there should be several clues.
We must keep the western sun in our eyes to begin with."
"We must look out for a householder of irregular--not to say
murderous--habits," said Cousin Gustus. "Juggling with stone balls is a
trick that is frequently fatal. Nobody but Jay would encourage it."
"We must comb out all western seaside resorts for local police with tall
and dewy brows," said Kew.
But Mr. Russell, who preferred not to speak and drive Christina at the
same time, drew up to the kerb, and removed his gloves, preparatory to
saying something of importance.
Mr. Russell was at his best in a car, or, to put it another way, he
was at his worst everywhere else. When he and Christina went out
together they were only one entity. They were a centaur on wheels; Mr.
Russell could feel the rushing of the road beneath his tyres, and I
think if you had stuck a pin into the back seat, Mr. Russell would have
known it. You could feel now the puzzled growl of Christina's engines
as Mr. Russell pondered.
"But I remember ..." said Mr. Russell. "Now, did I see it in the
paper...? I remember.... Half a minute, it is coming back."
"Here's to-day's paper," said Kew, who was getting a little confused. You
will feel the same when you set out to follow the western sun in search
of something you know you have left behind you.
Mr. Russell and Christina lingered beside the kerb for quite a minute,
and then shrugged their shoulders and started again.
So the Family set their faces towards the Secret World, with Mr. Russell
as their guide, and the morning sun behind them.
London is a friend whom I can leave knowing without doubt that she will
be the same to me when I return, to-morrow or forty years hence, and
that, if I do not return, she will sing the same song to inheritors of my
happy lot in future generations. Always, whether sleeping or waking, I
shall know that in Spring the sun rides over the silver streets of
Kensington, and that in the Gardens the shorn sheep find very green
pasture. Always the plaited threads of traffic will wind about the reel
of London; always as you go up Regent Street from Pall Mall and look
back, Westminster will rise with you like a dim sun over the horizon of
Whitehall. That dive down Fleet Street and up to the black and white
cliffs of St. Paul's will for ever bring to mind some rumour of romance.
There is always a romance that we leave behind in London, and always
London enlocks that flower for us, and keeps it fresh, so that when we
come back we have our romance again.
Mr. Russell was a lover of London, and that is why he liked his new-found
'bus-conductor. He was an uncalculating sort of man, and he only thought
that he had found a flower in London, a very London flower, and he hoped
that London would show it to him again. He had no instinct either for the
past or the future. He never looked back over the road he had trod,
unless he was obliged to, and he never tried to look forward to the end
of the road he was treading.
Mrs. Gustus, with an iron expression about her chin, kept time to the
beat of Christina's engine with the throbbing of disagreeable thoughts.
There was one thing very plain to her in the matter of Jay--that Jay was
living a life that in a novel is called free, but in a Family--well--you
know what ... Mrs. Gustus knew all about these Friends with capital F's,
Friends with hair flopping over their foreheads, Friends who might drop
stone balls on the Law and still retain their capital F's. She had, in
fact, written about them with much daring and freedom. But one's young
relations may never share the privileges of one's heroines. Sympathy with
such goings on must be confined to the printed page.
"I will keep these things from the others," thought Mrs. Gustus. "They
have no suspicions, and if we can find Jay I may be able to save her
Really she was thinking as much of her own good name as of Jay's. For
there was a most irritating similarity between Jay's present apparent
practices and Mrs. Gustus's own much-expressed theories. The beauty of a
free life of simplicity had filled pages of Anonyma's notebooks, and
also, to the annoyance of Cousin Gustus, had overflowed into her
conversation. Cousin Gustus's memory had been constantly busy extracting
from the past moral tales concerning the disasters attendant on excessive
simplicity in human relationships. For a time it had seemed as if Cousin
Gustus's lot had been cast entirely with the matrimonially unorthodox.
And now Mrs. Gustus, for one impatient minute, wished that the children
would pay more attention to their elderly and experienced guardian. It
was too much to ask her--a professional theory-maker--to adapt her
theories to the young and literal. That was the worst of Jay, she was so
literal, so unimaginative, so lacking in the simple unpractical quality
of poetry. However, not a word to the others. Jay's reputation and
Anonyma's dignity might yet be saved.
"I don't know where we are going," said Anonyma presently. "I have no
bump of locality."
She always spoke proudly of her failings, as though there were a
rapt press interviewer at her elbow, anxious to make a word-vignette
Mr. Russell was thinking, and Kew was singing, so between them they
forgot to shape the course of Christina due west. When they got outside
London, they found themselves going south.
To go out of London was like going out of doors. The beauty of London is
a dim beauty, and while you are in the middle of it you forget what it is
like to see things clearly. In London every hour is a hill of adventure,
and in the country every hour is a dimple in a quiet expanse of time.
The Family went out over the hills of Surrey, and between roadside
trees they saw the crowned heads of the seaward downs. The horizon
sank lower around them, the fields and woods circled and squared the
ribs of the land.
Before sunset they had reached the little town that guards the gate
in the wall of the Sussex downs. They were welcomed by a thunderstorm,
and by passionate rain that drove them to the inn. Christina, torn
between her pride of soul and her pride of paint, was obliged to edge
herself into a shed which was already occupied by two cows and a red
and blue waggon.
When the pursuers of Jay set their feet on the uneven floor of the inn,
they recognised the place immediately as ideal. Its windows squinted, its
floor made you feel as though you were drunk, its banisters reeled, its
flights of stairs looked frequently round in an angular way at their own
"How Arcadian!" said Mrs. Gustus, as she splashed her signature into the
visitor's book. "One could be content to vegetate for ever here. Isn't it
pathetic how one spends one's life collecting heart's desires, until one
suddenly discovers that in having nothing and in desiring nothing lies
But when they had been shown their sitting-room, and had ordered their
supper--lamb and early peas and gooseberry tart with _tons_ of
cream--Mrs. Gustus saw the Ring, that great green breast of the country,
against the broken evening sky, and said, "Now I see heights, and I
shall never be happy or hungry till I have climbed them. The Lord made
me so that I am never content until I am as near the sky as possible.
Silly, no doubt. But what a sky! Blood-red and pale pink, what a unique
chord of colour."
"Same chord as the livery of the Bank or England," said Kew, who was
hungry, and had an aching shoulder. He hated beauty talked, just as he
hated poetry forced into print apropos of nothing. Even to hear the
Psalms read aloud used to make him blush, before his honest orthodoxy
Mrs. Gustus asked the lamb and gooseberry tart to delay their coming; she
placed Cousin Gustus in an arm-chair, first wrapping him up because he
felt cold, and then unwrapping him again because he felt hot; she kissed
"We shan't be more than an hour," she said. When Mrs. Gustus said an
hour, she meant two. If she had meant an hour, she would have said
twenty minutes. "You must watch for us to appear on the highest point
of the Ring."
"Don't watch, but pray," murmured Kew. "There's that thunderstorm just
working up to another display."
And so it was, but when they reached the ridge of down that led to the
Ring, they were glad they had come. They were half-drowned, and
half-blinded, and half-deafened, but there is a reward to every effort.
There was an enormous sky, and the sunlight spilled between the clouds to
fall in pools upon the world. There was a chord made by many larks in the
sky; the valleys held joy as a cup holds water. From the down the
chalk-pits took great bites; the crinolined trees curtseyed down the
slopes. The happy-coloured sea cut the world in half; the sight of a
distant town at the corner of the river and the coast made one laugh for
pleasure. There was a boat with sunlit sails creeping across the sea. I
never see a boat on an utterly lonely sea without thinking of the secret
stories that it carries, of the sun moving round that private world, of
the shadows upon the deck that I cannot see, of the song of passing seas
that I cannot hear, of the night coming across a great horizon to devour
it when I shall have forgotten it. Further off and more suggestive than a
star, it seems to me.
A gust of sunlight struck the watchers, and passed: they each ran a few
steps towards the sight that pleased them most. And then they stood so
long that Mr. Russell's Hound had time to make himself acquainted with
every smell within twenty yards. He turned over a snail that sat--round
and striped like a peppermint bull's-eye--on the short grass, he patted a
little beetle that pushed its way across a world of disproportionate
size, and then, by peevishly pulling the end of his whip which hung from
Mr. Russell's pensive hand, he suggested that the pursuit should
continue. So they walked to the crest of wood that stands at the top of
the Ring, a compressed tabloid forest, fifty yards from side to side, as
round as a florin piece.
The slopes rushed away from every side of it. There was a dark secret
beneath those trees, there was a hint of very ancient love and still more
ancient hatred. You could feel things beyond understanding, you left
fact outside under the sky, and went in with a naked soul.
They walked across it in silence, well apart from each other. When they
came out the other side, Mrs. Gustus said, "We must stay for a little
while within reach of this. It has something ..."
Mr. Russell swallowed something that he had thought of saying, and
instead drew his Hound's attention to a yellow square of mustard-field
which made brilliant the distance.
Kew said nothing, but he felt choked with a lost remembrance of a very
old childhood. He seemed to taste the quiet taste of youth here, there
was even a feeling of going home through a damp evening to a nursery tea.
It was the nursery of all Secret Worlds. Gods had been born there. No
surprise could live there now, no wonder, no protest. The years like
minutes fled between those trees, dynasties might fall during the singing
of a bird. I think the thing that haunted the wood was a thing exactly as
old and as romantic as the first child that tracked its Secret Friend
across the floor of a forest.
Oh, friend of childlike mind, what is it that these two years have taken
from us, what is it that we have lost, oh friend, besides contentment?
All the way home Kew sang very loudly the first tune he ever knew.
When the Family (including Mr. Russell) got back to the inn, the lamb and
the gooseberry tart and Cousin Gustus were all waiting for them. But they
were delayed in the hall. A stout young woman with a pleasant face of
small vocabulary turned from the visitors' book and stopped Mrs. Gustus.
"Are you THE Mrs. Augustus Martin?" she asked.
"I am she," replied Anonyma. Her grammar in moments of emergency always
I cannot say that Mrs. Gustus seemed surprised. She was the sort of
person to hide even from herself the fact that this thing had never
happened before. She remained perfectly calm as if repeating a hackneyed
experience. Kew was astonished. Mr. Russell shared this feeling. Having a
certain personal admiration for Mrs. Gustus, he had tried on more than
one occasion to find pleasure in her books, but without success.
The stout young lady said nothing more than "Oh" for the moment, but she
breathed it in such a manner that Mrs. Gustus saw at once the duty of
asking her to dine with the Family.
When the admirer was introduced to Cousin Gustus, she said, "Oh, so this
is your husband ..." and gazed on that melancholy man with eagerness.
When she saw Mr. Russell's Hound she said, "And this is your dog," and
was about to crown him with a corresponding halo when Mrs. Gustus
disclaimed the connection.
"It is wonderful to meet you, of all people, in this romantic place,"
said the admirer as she pursued her peas. "Do you know, whenever I finish
one of your books, I feel so romantic I want to kiss everybody I meet.
Oh, those courtly heroes of yours!"
A heavy silence fell for a moment.
"And your descriptions of nature," continued the admirer. "That sunset
seen from the west coast of Ireland that you describe in _The Courtship
of Hartley Casey_. You must know Ireland very well."
"I have never been there," said Mrs. Gustus. "I evolve my scenery. After
all, Nature lives in the heart of each one of us. I think we all have a
sort of Secret World of our own, out of which all that is best in us
comes. One does not need to see with one's outward eyes."
"Oh, goodness me, how true that is," said the admirer. "But you
must write a book about the downs, won't you? Do you take notes on
"My notebook is never out of my hand," answered Mrs. Gustus. "I jot down
whatever occurs to me, wherever I may be. I write by moonlight in the
night, I have had to pause in the middle of my prayers in Church, I have
stood transfixed in the full flow of a London street. I always hope that
people will think I am suddenly remembering that I forgot to order
But really she knew that no one could ever be deceived in the purpose of
"Oh, mustn't it be wonderful!" breathed the admirer, and Cousin Gustus,
who was always properly impressed by his wife when the example was set by
strangers, nodded with a proprietary smile. "And are you writing now?"
"I am always writing," said Mrs. Gustus, who had seldom enjoyed herself
so much, "my pen never rests. A lifetime is too short to allow of rest.
But I am not here primarily for inspiration. We are on a quest."
"Oh, how romantic," moaned the admirer.
"It is a quest with a certain amount of romance in it," agreed Anonyma.
"We are seeking a House By The Sea. We know very little about it except
that it exists. We know that its windows look west, and that the sun sets
over the sea. We know that it stands ungardened on the cliff and has a
great view. We know that it is seven hundred years old, and full of
"We know," continued Kew, "that you can--and often do--drop a
fishing-line out of the window into the sea when you are tired of playing
the goldfish in the water-butt. We know that the owner of the house is a
rotten shot, and that the stone balls from the balustrade are not at this
moment where they ought to be. We know that aeroplanes as well as
seagulls nest in those cliffs...."
"We know--" began Mr. Russell, but this was too much for Mrs. Gustus.
After all, the lady was her admirer.
"What's all this?" said Mrs. Gustus. "What do you people know about it?"
"I just thought I would talk a little now," said Kew. "I get quickly
tired of hearing other people giving information without help from me."
"At any rate, Russ," continued Mrs. Gustus, "you can't know anything
whatever about the matter. You have hardly listened when I read
"I told you that I remembered," said Mr. Russell. "I don't know how. I
remember sitting on a high cliff and seeing three black birds swim in a
row, and dive in a row, and in a row come up again after I had counted
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Gustus, trying not to appear cross before the
visitor, "you're thinking of something else. You can see such a sight as
that at the Zoo any day."
"You all seem to know quite a lot about the place," said the admirer,
"yet not much of a very practical nature, if I may say so."
"Everything practical is unromantic," said Mrs. Gustus. "There is
nothing true or beautiful in the world but poetry. If we seek in real
simplicity of mind, we shall find what we seek, for simplicity is poetry,
and poetry is truth."
"Also, of course, England has only one west coast," added Kew, "and if we
don't find the place we shall have found a good many other things by the
time we have finished."
"It may be in Ireland," suggested the admirer.
"No, because she answers our letters so quickly."
"My young cousin, the object of our search."
"Did she run away?" asked the admirer, in a voice strangled with
To admit that a young relation of Anonyma's should run away from her
would be undignified.
"You mustn't take us too seriously," said Mrs. Gustus lightly. "It isn't
a case of an elopement, or anything like that. Just an excuse for a
tour, and a rest from wearisome war work. A wild-goose chase, nothing but
fun in it."
"Wild goose is a good description of Jay," said Cousin Gustus. It
Next morning the admirer, twittering with excitement, came in upon the
Family while it was having its breakfast.
"Oh, I had such an idea in the night," she said. "I couldn't sleep, of
course, after such an exciting day. I believe I have been fated to help
you in your quest. I know of a house near here, and the more I think of
it the more sure I feel that it is the place you want."
"Who lives there?"
"A young man with his mother. I forget the name."
"Place we want's west," objected Mr. Russell.
"You never can tell," said Anonyma. "This place may stand on a salient,
facing west. Our search must be thorough."
"It's such a lovely walk," said the admirer. "I should be so much
honoured if you would let me show you the way. Oh, I say, do you think me
Her self-consciousness took the form of a constant repentance. In the
night she would go over her day and probe it for tender points. "Oh, that
was a dreadful thing to say," was a refrain that would keep her awake for
hours, wriggling and giggling in her bed over the dreadfulness of it. She
had too little egoism. The lack gave her face a look of littleness. A
lack of altruism has the same outward effect. A complete face should be
full of something, of gentleness, of vigour, of humour, of wickedness.
The admirer's face was only half full of anything. All the same there was
charm about her, the fact that she was an admirer was charming. Mrs.
Gustus reassured her.
"We shall be most grateful for a guide."
"We should be even more grateful for an excuse to call on this
inoffensive young man and his mother at eleven o'clock in the morning,"
"He ought to be at the Front," was the excuse provided by Cousin Gustus.
"So ought I," sighed Kew.
"Oh, but you're a wounded, aren't you?" asked the admirer. There were
signs of a possible transfer of admiration, and Mrs. Gustus interposed
with presence of mind.
"We'll start," she said. "Don't let's be hampered in the beginning of our
quest by social littleness."
She was conscious that she looked handsome enough for any breach of
convention. She wore an unusual shaped dress the colour of vanilla ice.
Instead of doing her hair as usual in one severe penny bun at the back,
she had constructed a halfpenny bun, so to speak, over each ear. This is
a very literary way of doing the hair, and the remembrance of the
admirer, haunting Anonyma's waking thoughts, had inspired the change.
Their way lay through the beechwood that embroiders the hem of the down's
cloak. There are only two colours in a beechwood after rain, lilac and
green. A bank of violets is not more pure in colour than a beech trunk
shining in the sun. The two colours answered one another, fainter and
fainter, away and away, to the end of one's sight, and there were two
cuckoos, hidden in the dream, mocking each other in velvet voices. The
view between the trees was made up of horizons that tilted one's chin.
The bracken, very young, on an opposite slope, was like a cloud of green
wings alighting. But the look of their destination disappointed them.
"This house faces south," said Kew.
"I feel sure--" began Mr. Russell, but Mrs. Gustus said:
"As we are here, we might ask. To be sure, the cliff is rather tame."
"But there is an aeroplane," persisted the admirer.
"Now pause, Anonyma," Kew warned her. "Pause and consider what you are
going to say."
"Consideration only unearths difficulties," laughed Anonyma. "Best go
forward in faith and fearlessness."
She was under the impression that she constantly laughed in a nicely
naughty way at Kew's excessive conventionality.
As they drew nearer to the cliff, it grew tamer and tamer. The house,
too, became dangerously like a villa; a super-villa, to be sure, and
not in its first offensive youth, but still closely connected with the
villa tribe. Its complexion was a bilious yellow, and it had
red-rimmed windows. It was close to the sea, however, and its windows,
with their blinds drawn down against the sun, looked like eyes downcast
towards the beach.
There was no lodge, and the Family walked in silence through the gate.
Mr. Russell's Hound went first with a defiant expression about his tail.
That expression cost him dear. Inside the gate there stood a large vulgar
dog, without a tail to speak of. Its parting was crooked, its hair was in
its eyes. All these personal disadvantages the Family had time to note,
while the dog gazed incredulously at Mr. Russell's Hound.
A Pekinese dog never wears country clothes. It always looks as if it had
its silk hat and spats on. If I were a country dog, who had never even
smelt a Piccadilly smell, I should certainly bite all dogs of the type of
Mr. Russell's Hound.
I could hardly describe what followed as a fight. Although I have always
loved stories of giant-killers, from David downwards, and should much
like to write one, I cannot in this case pretend that Mr. Russell's Hound
did anything but call for help. Anonyma's umbrella, Kew's cane, and Mr.
Russell's stick did all they could towards making peace, but the big dog
seemed to have set itself the unkind task of mopping up a puddle with Mr.
Russell's Hound. The process took a considerable time. And it was never
finished, for the mistress of the house interrupted it.
She was rather a fat person, apparently possessing the gift of authority,
for the sound of her call reached her dog through the noise of battle. He
saw that his aim was not one to achieve in the presence of an audience.
He disengaged his teeth from the mane of Mr. Russell's Hound.
"Is your dog much hurt?" asked the mistress of the house, and handed
Anonyma a slate.
Anonyma scanned this unexpected gift nervously. She was much more used to
taking other people aback than to being taken aback herself. But Kew was
more ready. He dived for the pencil and wrote, "Only a bit punctured," on
"You'd better bring it in and bathe it," suggested the lady, when she had
They followed her in silent single file. Anonyma noticed that her hair
was apparently done in imitation of a pigeon's nest, also that many hooks
at the back of her dress had lost their grip of the situation.
The bathroom, whither Mr. Russell's Hound was carried, was suggestive of
another presence in the house. A boat, called _Golden Mary,_ was
navigating the bath. There were some prostrate soldiers and chessmen in a
little heap on the ledge, apparently waiting for a passage.
"I'm getting out my son's things because he is coming home," said the
Mr. Russell was bathing his bleeding Hound in the basin, and Anonyma was
at the window, ostentatiously drinking in the view. Kew took the slate
and wrote politely on it: "From school?"
"From the War," said the lady.
Kew donned a pleased and interested expression. It seemed to him better
to do this than to write, "Really!" on the slate.
"He wrote about a fortnight ago," the lady's harsh voice continued, "to
say he would come to-day. He said he was sick of being grown-up, he told
me to get out the soldiers and the _Golden Mary_. He wants to launch
them on the pond again."
Kew nodded. "I have felt like that," he murmured, and the lady seemed to
see the sense of his words.
"I should think you are six years older than Murray," she said, "and very
different. Come out into the garden, and I'll show you."
Kew followed her, and Anonyma, after a moment's hesitation, went too. But
Mr. Russell, who had finished his work of mercy, seemed to think it
better to linger in the bathroom, explaining to his Hound the subject of
a Biblical picture which hung over the bath.
"You might think I was rather too old to play things well," the mother
said to Kew. "But you should see me with Murray. Even my deafness never
hindered me with him, I could always see what he said. Look, we made this
road for the soldiers coming down to the wharf. Do you see the way we
helped nature, by tampering with the roots of the beech. It is a perfect
wharf, this little flat bit, it is just level with the deck of the boat
at high tide. The lower wharf is for low tide, but of course we have to
pretend the tides. That round place is the bandstand, and there the
pipers play when there is a troop-ship starting. Sometimes only the
Favourite Piper plays, striding up and down the little bowling-green at
the top here, but not often, because the work of keeping him going
interferes with the disembarkation. We never let the Highlanders go
abroad, because Murray loves them so. He is afraid lest something should
happen to them. Were the Highlanders your favourites?"
Kew wrote on the slate: "No, the Egyptian Camel Corps."
The lady nodded. "We loved them too, but of course they lived on the
other side of the pond, and sometimes they and the Sepoys and the
Soudanese had to insurrect. Somebody had to, you know, but we regretted
the Egyptian Camel Corps awfully. I hope you don't think us silly....
Murray was always a childish person. I hope I am too. The bowling-green
gave us a lot of trouble to make; it is nice and flat, isn't it? We trim
it with nail-scissors."
It was a good bowling-green, about twelve inches by six. There were some
marbles on it.
"It has historical associations," said the mother of Murray. "It was
here that Drake played when the Armada was sighted. Of course that was
before our time, but sometimes, on a moonlit summer night, we used to lie
down on our fronts and see his little ghost haunting the green. We used
to bring our young sailors here, and inspire them with stories about
Drake. The sailors used to stand on the green, and we put up railings
made of matches all round, and civilians used to stand in great
breathless crowds outside the railings watching. Chessmen, of course.
Murray used to make the civilians arrive in motors, so as to make ruts in
the road. Somehow it was always rather splendid and real to have ruts in
There was a long pause.
"Later on, of course, things got more grown-up. The last time we played
before the War--when War was already in sight--we shipped an
unprecedented mass of troops to that peninsula, and had a wonderful
battle. You can still see the trenches and gun emplacements; I cleared
them out yesterday. Murray joined the Army in that first August, and
whenever he came home after that he was somehow ashamed of these things.
I quite understood that. When I am having tea with the Vicar's wife, or
cutting out shirts for the soldiers, I sometimes blush a little to think
how old I am, and to think of the things I do at home with Murray. I am
sure he felt just the same when he was with other men. But his last
letter was young again. He wrote that the War should cease the moment he
set foot inside this gate, and we would have a civilian game, an alpine
expedition up the mountains. You see the beech-root mountains. There is
the cave where we put up for the night. There is a wonderful view from
Bumpy Peak, over the sea, and right away to far-off lands. Murray thought
that when the expedition had caught a chamois it might turn into
engineers prospecting for the building of a road up to Bumpy Peak, so
that the soldiers might march up, and look out over the sea, and
see--very far off--the fringes of the East that they had conquered, when
they were young and not tired of War...."
She broke off and looked at Kew.
Anonyma stood a few paces away, gazing at her vanilla-ice reflection
in the pond.
"I dare say you think us silly," said the lady. "I dare say you would
think Murray a rotter if you met him. It doesn't matter much. It doesn't
matter at all. Nothing matters, because he will come home to-night."
Kew fidgeted a moment, and then took the slate and wrote: "I am very much
afraid that all leave from abroad has been stopped this week."
"Yes, I know," said the mother, "I have been unhappy about that for some
days. But it doesn't make any difference to Murray now. You see, I heard
last night that he was killed on Tuesday. That's why I know he will come,
and I shall be waiting here. Can't you imagine them shouting as they get
through, as they get through with being grown-up, shouting to each other
as they run back to their childhood and their old pretences...."
After a moment she added, "That is the only sound that I shall ever hear
now,--the shouting of Murray to me as he runs home."
It was in a sort of dream that Kew watched Anonyma go forward and take
both the hands of the mother. I suppose he knew that all that was
superfluous, and that Murray would come home.
Anonyma said, "I am so sorry. I am so sorry that we intruded. You must
The mother of Murray did not hear, but she saw that sympathy was
intended, and she nodded awkwardly, and a little severely. I don't think
she had known that Anonyma was there.
Kew was not sorry that he had intruded.
At sunset, when the high sea span
About the rocks a web of foam,
I saw the ghost of a Cornishman
I saw the ghost of a Cornishman
Run from the weariness of War,
I heard him laughing as he ran
Across his unforgotten shore.
The great cliff, gilded by the west,
Received him as an honoured guest.
The green sea, shining in the bay,
Did drown his dreadful yesterday.
Come home, come home, you million ghosts,
The honest years shall make amends,
The sun and moon shall be your hosts,
The everlasting hills your friends.
And some shall seek their mothers' faces,
And some shall run to trysting-places,
And some to towns, and others yet
Shall find great forests in their debt.
Oh, I would siege the golden coasts
Of space, and climb high heaven's dome,
So I might see those million ghosts
Next day all the Family, including Mr. Russell and excepting Cousin
Gustus, came to breakfast with the intention of announcing that he or
she must go up to London by the next train. Mrs. Gustus, as ever,
"My conscience is pricking me. My work is calling me. I must go up
and see my old darlings in the Brown Borough. There is, I see, a
train at ten."
"I was just going to say something quite different to the same effect,"
said Kew. "I want to go up and whisper some secrets into the ear of
Cox. I want to have my hair cut. I want to buy this week's _Punch_. I
want some brown bootlaces. Life is empty for me unless I go up to town
Mr. Russell, although he had tried the effect of all his excuses on his
Hound while dressing, was silent.
Mrs. Gustus was never less than half an hour too early for trains. This
might account for the excellence of her general information. She had
spent a large portion of her life at railway stations, which are, I
think, the centre of much wisdom. She and Kew started for the station
with mouths burnt by hurried coffee and toast-crumbs still unbrushed on
their waistcoats, forty minutes before the train was due. The protests of
Kew could be heard almost as far as the station, which was reached by a
walk of five minutes.
Cousin Gustus, Mr. Russell, and the convalescent Hound went to lie upon
the downs which climbed up straight from the back doorstep of the inn.
They were accompanied by a rug, a scarf, a sunshade, an overcoat, the
blessings of the landlady, and Cousin Gustus's diary. Nobody ever knew
what sort of matter filled Cousin Gustus's diary, nobody ever wanted to
know. It gave him grounds for claiming literary tastes, and his literary
tastes presumably made him marry a literary wife. So the diary had a
They spread out the rug in a little hollow, like a giant's footprint in
the downs, and sheep and various small flowers looked over their
For the first ten minutes Mr. Russell lay on his back listening to the
busy sound of the bees filling their honeybags, and the sheep filling
themselves, and Cousin Gustus filling his diary. He watched the rooks
travel across the varied country of the sky. He watched a little black
and white bird that danced in the air to the tune of its own very high
and flippant song. He watched the sun ford a deep and foaming cloud. And
all the time he remembered many reasons why it would have been nice to go
up to London. Oddly enough, a 'bus-conductor seemed to stand quite apart
from these reasons in the back of his mind for several minutes. One would
hardly have believed that a bus-conductor could have held her own so long
in the mind of a person like Mr. Russell.
And Providence finally ordained that he should feel in his cigarette case
and find it empty.
"No cigarettes," said Mr. Russell, after pondering for a moment on this
"You smoke too much," said Cousin Gustus. "I once knew a man who
over-smoked all his life, and when he got a bullet in his lung in the
Zulu War he died, simply as the result of his foolishness. No
recuperative power. They said his lungs were simply leather."
"Should have thought that would've been a protection," said Mr. Russell.
"The train is not even signalled yet," said Cousin Gustus. "You would
have time to go to the station and tell Kew to get you some cigarettes."
But this was not Providence's intention, as interpreted by Mr.
Russell. "D'you know, I half believe I'll go up too," he said. "Would
you be lonely?"
"Not in the least," said Cousin Gustus pathetically; "I'm used to being
As the signals dropped Mr. Russell sprang to his feet and ran down the
slope. He had country clothes on, and some thistledown and a sprig or two
of clover were sticking to them. He reached the station in time, and fell
over a crate of hens. The hens were furious about it, and said so. Mr.
Russell said nothing, but he felt hurt when the porter who opened the
door for him asked if the hens were his. After the train had started he
wished he had had time to tell the porter how impossible it was that a
man who owned a crate full of hens should fall over it. And then he
thought that would have been neither witty nor convincing. He was one of
those lucky people who say so little that they rarely have need to regret
what they have said.
The business that dragged him so precipitately from the country must, I
suppose, have been very urgent. It chanced that it lay at Ludgate Circus,
and it also chanced--not in the least unnaturally--that at half-past
eleven he was standing at Kensington Church waiting to be beckoned to
once more by a 'bus-conductor. The only unnatural thing was that several
'buses bound for Ludgate Circus passed without winning the patronage of
The conductor came. Mr. Russell saw her round face and squared hair
appear out of the confusion of the street. He noticed with surprise that
he had not borne in mind the pleasing way in which the strap of her hat
tilted her already tilted chin.
Jay had been thinking a little about Mr. Russell, not much. She had been
wondering who he was. The Family's friends and relations were always much
talked of in the Family, and much invited, and much met. Mr. Russell had
not been among them when Jay had last known the Family. An idea was in
her mind that he might be a private detective, engaged by the Family to
seek out their fugitive young relation. Mr. Russell had plainly alluded
to a search. Jay had no experience of private detectives, but she thought
it quite possible that they might disguise themselves with rather low
foreheads, and rather frowning eyes, and shut thin mouths, and shut thin
expressions. She hoped that she would see him to-day. An hour ago a young
man with a spotty complexion and bulging eyes like a rabbit's had handed
her a note with his threepence, asking for a "two-and-a-half" in a
lovelorn voice. She handed him back his halfpenny and his unopened note
at once, saying, "Your change, sir," in a kind, absent-minded voice. I am
afraid an incident like this is always a little exciting, though I admit
it ought to be insulting. That suggestive fare made Jay hope more and
more that she would meet Mr. Russell to-day. I don't exactly know why,
except that sentimentality is an infectious complaint.
Mr. Russell got happily into the 'bus. He made the worst entrance
possible. His hat slipped crooked, he left one leg behind on the road,
and only retrieved it with the help of the conductor. Jay welcomed him
with a nod that was almost a bow, a remnant of her unprofessional past.
"Told you I'd come in this 'bus again," said Mr. Russell, sitting down in