Part 2 out of 9
Coming home at first she had to keep close by Jenny's side. Jenny was
tired and went slowly; but by taking high prancing and dancing steps she
could pretend that they were rushing along; and once they had turned the
crook of Ley Street she ran on a little way in front of Jenny. Then,
walking very fast and never looking back, she pretended that she had gone
out by herself.
When she had passed the row of elms and the farm, and the small brown
brick cottages fenced off with putty-coloured palings, she came to the
low ditches and the flat fields on either side and saw on her left the
bare, brown brick, pointed end of the tall house. It was called Five
Further down the road the green and gold sign of The Green Man and the
scarlet and gold sign of the Horns Tavern hung high on white standards
set up in the road. Further down still, where Ley Street swerved slightly
towards Barkingside, three tall poplars stood in the slant of the swerve.
A queer white light everywhere, like water thin and clear. Wide fields,
flat and still, like water, flooded with the thin, clear light; grey
earth, shot delicately with green blades, shimmering. Ley Street, a grey
road, whitening suddenly where it crossed open country, a hard causeway
thrown over the flood. The high trees, the small, scattered cottages, the
two taverns, the one tall house had the look of standing up in water.
She saw the queer white light for the first time and drew in her breath
with a sharp check. She knew that the fields were beautiful.
She saw Five Elms for the first time: the long line of its old red-tiled
roof, its flat brown face; the three rows of narrow windows, four at the
bottom, with the front door at the end of the row, five at the top, five
in the middle; their red brick eye-brows; their black glassy stare
between the drawn-back curtains. She noticed how high and big the house
looked on its slender plot of grass behind the brick wall that held up
the low white-painted iron railing.
A tall iron gate between brown brick pillars, topped by stone balls. A
flagged path to the front door. Crocuses, yellow, white, white and
purple, growing in the border of the grass plot. She saw them for the
The front door stood open. She went in.
The drawing-room at the back was full of the queer white light. Things
stood out in it, sharp and suddenly strange, like the trees and houses in
the light outside: the wine-red satin stripes in the grey damask curtains
at the three windows; the rings of wine-red roses on the grey carpet; the
tarnished pattern on the grey wall-paper; the furniture shining like dark
wine; the fluted emerald green silk in the panel of the piano and the
hanging bag of the work-table; the small wine-red flowers on the pale
green chintz; the green Chinese bowls in the rosewood cabinet; the blue
and red parrot on the chair.
Her mother sat at the far end of the room. She was sorting beads into
trays in a box lined with sandal wood.
Mary stood at the doorway looking in, swinging her hat in her hand.
Suddenly, without any reason, she was so happy that she could hardly bear
Mamma looked up. She said, "What are you doing standing there?"
She ran to her and hid her face in her lap. She caught Mamma's hands and
kissed them. They smelt of sandal wood. They moved over her hair with
slight quick strokes that didn't stay, that didn't care.
Mamma said, "There. That'll do. That'll do."
She climbed up on a chair and looked out of the window. She could see
Mamma's small beautiful nose bending over the tray of beads, and her
bright eyes that slid slantwise to look at her. And under the window she
saw the brown twigs of the lilac bush tipped with green.
Her happiness was sharp and still like the white light.
Mamma said, "What did you see when you were out with Jenny to-day?"
"Nothing? And what are you looking at?"
"Then go upstairs and take your things off. Quick!"
She went very slowly, holding herself with care, lest she should jar her
happiness and spill it.
One of the windows of her room was open. She stood a little while looking
Beyond the rose-red wall of the garden she saw the flat furrowed field,
stripes of grey earth and vivid green. In the middle of the field the
five elms in a row, high and slender; four standing close together, one
apart. Each held up a small rounded top, fine as a tuft of feathers.
On her left towards Ilford, a very long row of high elms screened off the
bare flats from the village. Where it ended she saw Drake's Farm; black
timbered barns and sallow haystacks beside a clump of trees. Behind the
five elms, on the edge of the earth, a flying line of trees set wide
apart, small, thin trees, flying away low down under the sky.
She looked and looked. Her happiness mixed itself up with the queer light
and with the flat fields and the tall, bare trees.
She turned from the window and saw the vases that Mamma had given her
standing on the chimney-piece. The black birds with red beaks and red
legs looked at her. She threw herself on the bed and pressed her face
into the pillow and cried "Mamma! Mamma!"
Passion Week. It gave you an awful feeling of something going to happen.
In the long narrow dining-room the sunlight through the three windows
made a strange and solemn blue colour in the dark curtains. Mamma sat up
at the mahogany table, looking sad and serious, with the Prayer Book open
before her at the Litany. When you went in you knew that you would have
to read about the Crucifixion. Nothing could save you.
Still you did find out things about God. In the Epistle it said:
"'Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel and thy garments like him that
treadeth the wine-fat? I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the
people there was none with me: for I will tread them in my anger, and
trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my
garments, and I will stain all my raiment.'"
The Passion meant that God had flown into another temper and that Jesus
was crucified to make him good again. Mark said you mustn't say that to
Mamma; but he owned that it looked like it. Anyhow it was easier to think
of it that way than to think that God sent Jesus down to be crucified
because you were naughty.
There were no verses in the Prayer-Book Bible, only long grey slabs like
tombstones. You kept on looking for the last tombstone. When you came to
the one with the big black letters, THE KING OF THE JEWS, you knew that
it would soon be over.
"'They clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns and put it
on his head....'" She read obediently: "'And when the sixth hour was
come ... and when the sixth hour was come there was darkness over the whole
land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a
loud voice.... And Jesus cried with a loud voice ... with a loud voice,
and gave up the ghost.'"
Mamma was saying that the least you could do was to pay attention. But
you couldn't pay attention every time. The first time it was beautiful
and terrible; but after many times the beauty went and you were only
frightened. When she tried to think about the crown of thorns she thought
of the new hat Catty had bought for Easter Sunday and what Mr. Spall did
when he ate the parsnips.
Through the barred windows of the basement she could hear Catty singing
in the pantry:
"'I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
Jesus loves me,
Jesus loves me....'"
Catty was happy when she sang and danced round and round with the
dish-cloth. And Jenny and Mr. Spall were happy when they talked about
Jesus. But Mamma was not happy. She had had to read the Morning Prayer
and the Psalms and the Lessons and the Litany to herself every morning;
and by Thursday she was tired and cross.
Passion Week gave you an awful feeling.
Good Friday would be the worst. It was the real day that Jesus died.
There would be the sixth hour and the ninth hour. Perhaps there would be
But when Good Friday came you found a smoking hot-cross bun on
everybody's plate at breakfast, tasting of spice and butter. And you went
to Aldborough Hatch for Service. She thought: "If the darkness does come
it won't be so bad to bear at Aldborough Hatch." She liked the new
white-washed church with the clear windows, where you could stand on the
hassock and look out at the green hill framed in the white arch. That was
"'There is a green hill far a-a-way
Without a city wall--'"
The green hill hadn't got any city wall. Epping Forest and Hainault
Forest were there. You could think of them, or you could look at Mr.
Propart's nice clean-shaved face while he read about the Crucifixion and
preached about God's mercy and his justice. He did it all in a soothing,
inattentive voice; and when he had finished he went quick into the vestry
as if he were glad it was all over. And when you met him at the gate he
didn't look as if Good Friday mattered very much.
In the afternoon she forgot all about the sixth hour and the ninth hour.
Just as she was going to think about them Mark and Dank put her in the
dirty clothes-basket and rolled her down the back stairs to make her
happy. They shut themselves up in the pantry till she had stopped
laughing, and when Catty opened the door the clock struck and Mark said
that was the ninth hour.
It was all over. And nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
Only, when you thought of what had been done to Jesus, it didn't seem
right, somehow, to have eaten the hot-cross buns.
Grandmamma and Grandpapa Olivier were buried in the City of London
Cemetery. A long time ago, so long that even Mark couldn't remember it,
Uncle Victor had brought Grandmamma in a coffin all the way from
Liverpool to London in the train.
On Saturday afternoon Mamma had to put flowers on the grave for Easter
Sunday, because of Uncle Victor and Aunt Lavvy. She took Roddy and Mary
with her. They drove in Mr. Parish's wagonette, and called for Aunt Lavvy
at Uncle Victor's tall white house at the bottom of Ilford High Street.
Aunt Lavvy was on the steps, waiting for them, holding a big cross of
white flowers. You could see Aunt Charlotte's face at the dining-room
window looking out over the top of the brown wire blind. She had her hat
on, as if she had expected to be taken too. Her eyes were sharp and
angry, and Uncle Victor stood behind her with his hand on her shoulder.
Aunt Lavvy gave Mary the flower cross and climbed stiffly into the
wagonette. Mary felt grown up and important holding the big cross on her
knee. The white flowers gave out a thick, sweet smell.
As they drove away she kept on thinking about Aunt Charlotte, and about
Uncle Victor bringing Grandmamma in a coffin in the train. It was very,
very brave of him. She was sorry for Aunt Charlotte. Aunt Charlotte had
wanted to go to the cemetery and they hadn't let her go. Perhaps she was
still looking over the blind, sharp and angry because they wouldn't let
Aunt Lavvy said, "We couldn't take Charlotte. It excited her too much
last time." As if she knew what you were thinking.
The wagonette stopped by the railway-crossing at Manor Park, and they got
out. Mamma told Mr. Parish to drive round to the Leytonstone side and
wait for them there at the big gates. They wanted to walk through the
cemetery and see what was to be seen.
Beyond the railway-crossing a muddy lane went along a field of coarse
grass under a hedge of thorns and ended at a paling. Roddy whispered
excitedly that they were in Wanstead Flats. The hedge shut off the
cemetery from the flats; through thin places in the thorn bushes you
could see tombstones, very white tombstones against very dark trees.
There was a black wooden door in the hedge for you to go in by. The lane
and the thorn bushes and the black door reminded Mary of something she
had seen before somewhere. Something frightening.
When they got through the black door there were no tombstones. What
showed through the hedge were the tops of high white pillars standing up
among trees a long way off. They had come into a dreadful, bare,
clay-coloured plain, furrowed into low mounds, as if a plough had gone
criss-cross over it.
You saw nothing but mounds. Some of them were made of loose earth; some
were patched over with rough sods that gaped in a horrible way. Perhaps
if you looked through the cracks you would see down into the grave where
the coffin was. The mounds had a fresh, raw look, as if all the people in
the City of London had died and been buried hurriedly the night before.
And there were no stones with names, only small, flat sticks at one end
of each grave to show where the heads were.
Roddy said, "We've got to go all through this to get to the other side."
They could see Mamma and Aunt Lavvy a long way on in front picking their
way gingerly among the furrows. If only Mark had been there instead of
Roddy. Roddy _would_ keep on saying: "The great plague of London. The
great plague of London," to frighten himself. He pointed to a heap of
earth and said it was the first plague pit.
In the middle of the ploughed-up plain she saw people in black walking
slowly and crookedly behind a coffin that went staggering on black legs
under a black pall. She tried not to look at them.
When she looked again they had stopped beside a heap that Roddy said was
the second plague pit. Men in black crawled out from under the coffin as
they put it down. She could see the bulk of it flattened out under the
black pall. Against the raw, ochreish ground the figures of two mutes
stood up, black and distinct in their high hats tied in the bunched out,
streaming weepers. There was something filthy and frightful about the
figures of the mutes. And when they dragged the pall from the coffin
there was something filthy and frightful about the action.
"Roddy," she said, "I'm frightened."
Roddy said, "So am I. I say, supposing we went back? By ourselves. Across
Wanstead Flats." He was excited.
"We mustn't. That would frighten Mamma."
"Well, then, we'll have to go straight through."
They went, slowly, between the rows of mounds, along a narrow path of
yellow clay that squeaked as their boots went in and out. Roddy held her
hand. They took care not to tread on the graves. Every step brought them
nearer to the funeral. They hadn't pointed it out to each other. They had
pretended it wasn't there. Now it was no use pretending; they could see
"Roddy--I can't--I can't go past the funeral."
"We've got to."
He looked at her with solemn eyes, wide open in his beautiful face. He
was not really frightened, he was only trying to be because he liked it.
They went on. The tight feeling under her waist had gone; her body felt
loose and light as if it didn't belong to her; her knees were soft and
sank under her. Suddenly she let go Roddy's hand. She stared at the
funeral, paralysed with fright.
At the end of the path Mamma and Aunt Lavvy stood and beckoned to them.
Aunt Lavvy was coming towards them, carrying her white flower cross. They
broke into a stumbling, nightmare run.
The bare clay plain stretched on past the place where Mamma and Aunt
Lavvy had turned. The mounds here were big and high. They found Mamma and
Aunt Lavvy standing by a very deep and narrow pit. A man was climbing up
out of the pit on a ladder. You could see a pool of water shining far
down at the bottom.
Mamma was smiling gently and kindly at the man and asking him why the
grave was dug so deep. He said, "Why, because this 'ere lot and that
there what you've come acrost is the pauper buryin' ground. We shovel 'em
in five at a time this end."
Roddy said, "Like they did in the great plague of London."
"I don't know about no plague. But there's five coffins in each of these
here graves, piled one atop of the other."
Mamma seemed inclined to say more to the grave-digger; but Aunt Lavvy
frowned and shook her head at her, and they went on to where a path of
coarse grass divided the pauper burying ground from the rest. They were
now quite horribly near the funeral. And going down the grass path they
saw another that came towards them; the palled coffin swaying on headless
shoulders. They turned from it into a furrow between the huddled mounds.
The white marble columns gleamed nearer among the black trees.
They crossed a smooth gravel walk into a crowded town of dead people.
Tombstones as far as you could see; upright stones, flat slabs, rounded
slabs, slabs like coffins, stone boxes with flat tops, broken columns;
pointed pillars. Rows of tall black trees. Here and there a single tree
sticking up stiffly among the tombstones. Very little trees that were
queer and terrifying. People in black moving about the tombstones. A
broad road and a grey chapel with pointed gables. Under a black tree a
square plot enclosed by iron railings.
Grandmamma and Grandpapa Olivier were buried in one half of the plot
under a white marble slab. In the other half, on the bare grass, a white
marble curb marked out a place for another grave.
Roddy said, "Who's buried there?"
Mamma said, "Nobody. Yet. That's for--"
Mary saw Aunt Lavvy frown again and put her finger to her mouth.
She said, "Who? For who?" An appalling curiosity and fear possessed her.
And when Aunt Lavvy took her hand she knew that the empty place was
marked out for Mamma and Papa.
Outside the cemetery gates, in the white road, the black funeral horses
tossed their heads and neighed, and the black plumes quivered on the
hearses. In the wagonette she sat close beside Aunt Lavvy, with Aunt
Lavvy's shawl over her eyes.
She wondered how she knew that you were frightened when Mamma didn't.
Mamma couldn't, because she was brave. She wasn't afraid of the funeral.
When Roddy said, "She oughtn't to have taken us, she ought to have known
it would frighten us," Mark was angry with him. He said, "She thought
you'd like it, you little beast. Because of the wagonette."
Darling Mamma. She had taken them because she thought they would like it.
Because of the wagonette. Because she was brave, like Mark.
Dead people really did rise. Supposing all the dead people in the City of
London Cemetery rose and came out of their graves and went about the
city? Supposing they walked out as far as Ilford? Crowds and crowds of
them, in white sheets? Supposing they got into the garden?
"Please, God, keep me from thinking about the Resurrection. Please God,
keep me from dreaming about coffins and funerals and ghosts and skeletons
and corpses." She said it last, after the blessings, so that God couldn't
forget. But it was no use.
If you said texts: "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night."
"Yea, though I walk through the City of London Cemetery." It was no use.
"The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall arise ... Incorruptible."
That was beautiful. Like a bright light shining. But you couldn't think
about it long enough. And the dreams went on just the same: the dream of
the ghost in the passage, the dream of the black coffin coming round the
turn of the staircase and squeezing you against the banister; the dream
of the corpse that came to your bed. She could see the round back and the
curled arms under the white sheet.
The dreams woke her with a sort of burst. Her heart was jumping about and
thumping; her face and hair were wet with water that came out of her
The grey light in the passage was like the ghost-light of the dreams.
Gas light was a good light; but when you turned it on Jenny came up and
put it out again. She said, "Goodness knows when you'll get to sleep with
_that_ light flaring."
There was never anybody about at bedtime. Jenny was dishing up the
dinner. Harriet was waiting. Catty only ran up for a minute to undo the
hooks and brush your hair.
When Mamma sent her to bed she came creeping back into the dining-room.
Everybody was eating dinner. She sickened with fright in the steam and
smell of dinner. She leaned her head against Mamma and whimpered, and
Mamma said in her soft voice, "Big girls don't cry because it's bed-time.
Only silly baby girls are afraid of ghosts."
Mamma wasn't afraid.
When she cried Mark left his dinner and carried her upstairs, past the
place where the ghost was, and stayed with her till Catty came.
"Minx! Minx! Minx!"
Mark had come in from the garden with Mamma. He was calling to Mary. Minx
was the name he had given her. Minx was a pretty name and she loved it
because he had given it her. Whenever she heard him call she left what
she was doing and ran to him.
Papa came out of the library with Boag's Dictionary open in his hand.
"'Minx: A pert, wanton girl. A she-puppy.' Do you hear that, Caroline? He
calls his sister a wanton she-puppy." But Mamma had gone back into the
Mark stood at the foot of the stairs and Mary stood at the turn. She had
one hand on the rail of the banister, the other pressed hard against the
wall. She leaned forward on tiptoe, measuring her distance. When she
looked at the stairs they fell from under her in a grey dizziness, so
that Mark looked very far away.
They waited till Papa had gone back into the library--Mark held out his
"Jump, Minky! Jump!"
She let go the rail and drew herself up. A delicious thrill of danger
went through her and out at her fingers. She flung herself into space and
Mark caught her. His body felt hard and strong as it received her. They
did it again and again.
That was the "faith-jump." You knew that you would be killed if Mark
didn't catch you, but you had faith that he would catch you; and he
Mark and Dan were going to school at Chelmsted on the thirteenth of
September, and it was the last week in August now. Mark and Mamma were
always looking for each other. Mamma would come running up to the
schoolroom and say, "Where's Mark? Tell Mark I want him"; and Mark would
go into the garden and say, "Where's Mamma? I want her." And Mamma would
put away her trowel and gardening gloves and go walks with him which she
hated; and Mark would leave Napoleon Buonaparte and the plan of the
Battle of Austerlitz to dig in the garden (and he loathed digging) with
This afternoon he had called to Mary to come out brook-jumping. Mark
could jump all the brooks in the fields between Ilford and Barkingside,
and in the plantations beyond Drake's Farm; he could jump the Pool of
Siloam where the water from the plantations runs into the lake below
Vinings. Where there was no place for a little girl of seven to cross he
carried her in his arms and jumped. He would stand outside in the lane
and put his hands on the wall and turn heels over head into the garden.
She said to herself: "In six years and five months I shall be fourteen. I
shall jump the Pool of Siloam and come into the garden head over heels."
And Mamma called her a little humbug when she said she was afraid to go
for a walk with Jenny lest a funeral should be coming along the road.
The five elm trees held up their skirts above the high corn. The flat
surface of the corn-tops was still. Hot glassy air quivered like a thin
steam over the brimming field.
The glazed yellow walls of the old nursery gave out a strong light and
heat. The air indoors was dry and smelt dusty like the hot, crackling air
above the corn. The children had come in from their play in the fields;
they leaned out of the windows and talked about what they were going to
Mary said, "I shall paint pictures and play the piano and ride in a
circus. I shall go out to the countries where the sand is and tame
zebras; and I shall marry Mark and have thirteen children with blue eyes
Roddy was going to be the captain of a cruiser. Dan was going to Texas,
or some place where Papa couldn't get at him, to farm. Mark was going to
be a soldier like Marshal McMahon.
It was Grandpapa and Grandmamma's fault that he was not a soldier now.
"If," he said, "they'd let Papa marry Mamma when he wanted to, I might
have been born in eighteen fifty-two. I'd be eighteen by this time. I
should have gone into the French Army and I should have been with McMahon
at Sedan now."
"You might have been killed," Mary said.
"That wouldn't have mattered a bit. I should have been at Sedan. Nothing
matters, Minky, as long as you get what you want."
"If you were killed Mamma and me would die, too, the same minute. Papa
would be sorry, then; but not enough to kill him, so that we should go to
heaven together without him and be happy."
"Mamma wouldn't be happy without him. We couldn't shut him out."
"No," Mary said; "but we could pray to God not to let him come up too
Papa came out into the garden where Mamma was pulling weeds out of the
hot dry soil. He flapped the newspaper and read about the Battle of
Sedan. Mamma left off pulling weeds out and listened.
Mark had stuck the picture of Marshal McMahon over the schoolroom
chimney-piece. Papa had pinned the war-map to the library door. Mark was
restless. He kept on going into the library to look at the war-map and
Papa kept on turning him out again. He was in a sort of mysterious
disgrace because of Sedan. Roddy was excited about Sedan. Dan followed
Mark as he went in and out; he was furious with Papa because of Mark.
Mamma had been a long time in the library talking to Papa. They sent for
Mark just before dinner-time. When Mary ran in to say good-night she
found him there.
Mark was saying, "You needn't think I want your beastly money. I shall
Mamma said, "If he enlists, Emilius, it'll kill me."
And Papa, "You hear what your mother says, sir. Isn't that enough for
Mark loved Mamma; but he was not going to do what she wanted. He was
going to do something that would kill her.
Papa walked in the garden in the cool of the evening, like the Lord God.
And he was always alone. When you thought of him you thought of Jehovah.
There was something funny about other people's fathers. Mr. Manisty, of
Vinings, who rode along Ley Street with his two tall, thin sons, as if he
were actually proud of them; Mr. Batty, the Vicar of Barkingside, who
called his daughter Isabel his "pretty one"; Mr. Farmer, the curate of
St. Mary's Chapel, who walked up and down the room all night with the
baby; and Mr. Propart, who went about the public roads with Humphrey and
Arthur positively hanging on him. Dan said Humphrey and Arthur were tame
and domestic because they were always going about with Mr. Propart and
talking to him as if they liked it. Mark had once seen Mr. Propart trying
to jump a ditch on the Aldborough Road. It was ridiculous. Humphrey and
Arthur had to grab him by the arms and pull him over. Mary was sorry for
the Propart boys because they hadn't got a mother who was sweet and
pretty like Mamma and a father called Emilius Olivier. Emilius couldn't
jump ditches any more than Mr. Propart; but then he knew he couldn't, and
as Mark said, he had the jolly good sense not to try. You couldn't be
Jehovah and jump ditches.
Emilius Olivier was everything a father ought to be.
Then suddenly, for no reason at all, he left off being Jehovah and began
trying to behave like Mr. Batty.
It was at dinner, the last Sunday before the thirteenth. Mamma had moved
Roddy and Mary from their places so that Mark and Dan could sit beside
her. Mary was sitting at the right hand of Papa in the glory of the
Father. The pudding had come in; blanc-mange, and Mark's pudding with
whipped cream hiding the raspberry jam. It was Roddy's turn to be helped;
his eyes were fixed on the snow-white, pure blanc-mange shuddering in the
glass dish, and Mamma had just asked him which he would have when Papa
sent Mark and Dan out of the room. You couldn't think why he had done it
this time unless it was because Mark laughed when Roddy said in his
proud, dignified voice, "I'll have a little piece of the Virgin's womb,
please, first." Or it may have been because of Mark's pudding. He never
liked it when they had Mark's pudding. Anyhow, Mark and Dan had to go,
and as they went he drew Mary's chair closer to him and heaped her plate
with cream and jam, looking very straight at Mamma as he did it.
"You might have left them alone," Mamma said, "on their last Sunday. They
won't be here to annoy you so very long."
Papa said, "There are three days yet till the thirteenth."
"Three days! You'll count the hours and the minutes till you've got what
"What I want is peace and quiet in my house and to get a word in
edgeways, sometimes, with my own wife."
"You've no business to have a wife if you can't put up with your own
"It isn't my business to have a wife," Papa said. "It's my pleasure. My
business is to insure ships. And you see me putting up with Mary very
well. I suppose she's my own child."
"Mark and Dan are your own children first."
"_Are_ they? To judge by your infatuation I should have said they
weren't. 'Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Silver
bells and cockle shells, and chocolate creams all in a row.'"
He took a large, flat box of chocolates out of his pocket and laid it
beside her plate. And he looked straight at Mamma again.
"If those are the chocolates I reminded you to get for--for the hamper, I
won't have them opened."
"They are _not_ the chocolates you reminded me to get for--the hamper. I
suppose Mark's stomach _is_ a hamper. They are the chocolates I reminded
myself to get for Mary."
Then Mamma said a peculiar thing.
"Are you trying to show me that you're not jealous of Mary?"
"I'm not trying to show you anything. You know I'm not jealous of Mary.
And you know there's no reason why I should be."
"To hear you, Emilius, anybody would think I wasn't fond of my own
daughter. Mary darling, you'd better run away."
"And Mary darling," he mocked her, "you'd better take your chocolates
Mary said: "I don't want any chocolates, Papa."
"Is that her contrariness, or just her Mariness?"
"Whatever it is it's all the thanks _you_ get, and serve you right, too,"
She went upstairs to persuade Dan that Papa didn't mean it. It was just
his way, and they'd see he would be different to-morrow.
But to-morrow and the next day and the next he was the same. He didn't
actually send Mark and Dan out of the room again, but he tried to pretend
to himself that they weren't there by refusing to speak to them.
"Do you think," Mark said, "he'll keep it up till the last minute?"
He did; even when he heard the sound of Mr. Parish's wagonette in the
road, coming to take Mark and Dan away. They were sitting at breakfast,
trying not to look at him for fear they should laugh, or at Mamma for
fear they should cry, trying not to look at each other. Catty brought in
the cakes, the hot buttered Yorkshire cakes that were never served for
breakfast except on Christmas Day and birthdays. Mary wondered whether
Papa would say or do anything. He couldn't. Everybody knew those cakes
were sacred. Catty set them on the table with a sort of crash and ran out
of the room, crying. Mamma's mouth quivered.
Papa looked at the cakes; he looked at Mamma; he looked at Mark. Mark was
staring at nothing with a firm grin on his face.
"The assuagers of grief," Papa said. "Pass round the assuagers."
The holy cakes were passed round. Everybody took a piece except Dan.
Papa pressed him. "Try an assuager. Do."
And Mamma pleaded, "Yes, Dank."
"Do you hear what your mother says?"
Dan's eyes were red-rimmed. He took a double section of cake and tried to
bite his way through.
At the first taste tears came out of his eyes and fell on his cake. And
when Mamma saw that she burst out crying.
Mary put her piece down untasted and bit back her sobs. Roddy pushed his
piece away; and Mark began to eat his, suddenly, bowing over it with an
affectation of enjoyment.
Outside in the road Mr. Parish was descending from the box of his
wagonette. Papa looked at his watch. He was going with them to Chelmsted.
And Mamma whispered to Mark and Dan with her last kiss, "He'll be all
right in the train."
It was all over. Mary and Roddy sat in the dining-room where Mamma had
left them. They had shut their eyes so as not to see the empty chairs
pushed back and the pieces of the sacred cakes, bitten and abandoned.
They had stopped their ears so as not to hear the wheels of Mr. Parish's
wagonette taking Mark and Dan away.
Hours afterwards Mamma came upon Mary huddled up in a corner of the
"Mamma--Mamma--I _can't_ bear it. I can't live without Mark. And Dan."
Mamma sat down and took her in her arms and rocked her, rocked her
without a word, soothing her own grief.
Papa found them like that when he came back from Chelmsted. He stood in
the doorway looking at them for a moment, then slunk out of the room as
if he were ashamed of himself. When Mamma sent Mary out to say good-bye
to him, he was standing beside the little sumach tree that Mark gave
Mamma on her birthday. He was smiling at the sumach tree as if he loved
it and was sorry for it.
And Mamma got a letter from Mark in the morning to say she was right.
Papa had been quite decent in the train.
After Mark and Dan had gone a great and very remarkable change came over
Papa and Mamma. Mamma left off saying the funny things that Mary could
not understand, and Papa left off teasing and flying into tempers and
looking like Jehovah and walking by himself in the cool of the evening.
He followed Mamma about the garden. He hung over her chair, like Mark, as
she sat sewing. You came upon him suddenly on the stairs and in the
passages, and he would look at you as if you were not there, and say,
"Where's your mother? Go and tell her I want her." And Mamma would put
away her trowel and her big leather gloves and go to him. She would sit
for hours in the library while he flapped the newspaper and read to her
in a loud voice about Mr. Gladstone whom she hated.
Sometimes he would come home early from the office, and Mamma and Mary
would be ready for him, and they would all go together to call at Vinings
or Barkingside Vicarage or on the Proparts.
Or Mr. Parish's wagonette would be ordered, and Mamma and Mary would put
on their best clothes very quick and go up to London with him, and he
would take them to St. Paul's or Maskelyne and Cooke's, or the National
Gallery or the British Museum. Or they would walk slowly, very slowly, up
Regent Street, stopping at the windows of the bonnet shops while Mamma
picked out the bonnet she would buy if she could afford it. And perhaps
the next day a bonnet would come in a bandbox, a bonnet that frightened
her when she put it on and looked at herself in the glass. She would
pretend it was one of the bonnets she had wanted; and when Papa had
forgotten about it she would pull all the trimming off and put it all on
again a different way, and Papa would say it was an even more beautiful
bonnet than he had thought.
You might have supposed that he was sorry because he was thinking about
Mark and Dan and trying to make up for having been unkind to them. But he
was not sorry. He was glad. Glad about something that Mamma had done. He
would go about whistling some gay tune, or you caught him stroking his
moustache and parting it over his rich lips that smiled as if he were
thinking of what Mamma had done to make him happy. The red specks and
smears had gone from his eyes, they were clear and blue, and they looked
at you with a kind, gentle look, like Uncle Victor's. His very beard was
"You may not know it, but your father is the handsomest man in Essex,"
Perhaps it wasn't anything that Mamma had done. Perhaps he was only happy
because he was being good. Every Sunday he went to church at Barkingside
with Mamma, kneeling close to her in the big pew and praying in a great,
ghostly voice, "Good Lord, deliver us!" When the psalms and hymns began
he rose over the pew-ledge, yards and yards of him, as if he stood on
many hassocks, and he lifted up his beard and sang. All these times the
air fairly tingled with him; he seemed to beat out of himself and spread
around him the throb of violent and overpowering life. And in the
evenings towards sunset they walked together in the fields, and Mary
followed them, lagging behind in the borders where the sharlock and wild
rye and poppies grew. When she caught up with them she heard them
Once Mamma said, "Why can't you always be like this, Emilius?"
And Papa said, "Why, indeed!"
And when Christmas came and Mark and Dan were back again he was as cruel
and teasing as he had ever been.
One cold day Roddy walked into the Pool of Siloam to recover his sailing
boat which had drifted under the long arch of the bridge.
There was no Passion Week and no Good Friday and no Easter that spring,
only Roddy's rheumatic fever. Roddy in bed, lying on his back, his face
white and sharp, his hair darkened and glued with the sweat that poured
from his hair and soaked into the bed. Roddy crying out with pain when
they moved him. Mamma and Jenny always in Roddy's room, Mr. Spall's
sister in the kitchen. Mary going up and down, tiptoe, on messages,
trying not to touch Roddy's bed.
Dr. Draper calling, talking in a low voice to Mamma, and Mamma crying.
Dr. Draper looking at you through his spectacles and putting a thing like
a trumpet to your chest and listening through it.
"You're quite right, Mrs. Olivier. There's nothing wrong with the little
girl's heart. She's as sound as a bell."
A dreadful feeling that you had no business to be as sound as a bell. It
wasn't fair to Roddy.
Something she didn't notice at the time and remembered afterwards when
Roddy was well again. Jenny saying to Mamma, "If it had to be one of them
it had ought to have been Miss Mary."
And Mamma saying to Jenny, "It wouldn't have mattered so much if it had
been the girl."
You knew that Catty loved you. There was never the smallest uncertainty
about it. Her big black eyes shone when she saw you coming. You kissed
her smooth cool cheeks, and she hugged you tight and kissed you back
again at once; her big lips made a noise like a pop-gun. When she tucked
you up at night she said, "I love you so much I could eat you."
And she would play any game you liked. You had only to say, "Let's play
the going-away game," and she was off. You began: "I went away to the big
hot river where the rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses are"; or: "I went
away to the desert where the sand is, to catch zebras. I rode on a
dromedary, flump-flumping through the sand," and Catty would follow it up
with: "I went away with the Good Templars. We went in a row-boat on a
lake, and we landed on an island where there was daffodillies growing. We
had milk and cake; and it blew such a cool breeze."
Catty was full of love. She loved her father and mother and her little
sister Amelia better than anything in the whole world. Her home was in
Wales. Tears came into her eyes when she thought about her home and her
little sister Amelia.
"Catty--how much do you love me?"
"Armfuls and armfuls."
"As much as your mother?"
"Very near as much."
"As much as Amelia?"
"Every bit as much."
"How much do you think Jenny loves me?"
"Ever so much."
"No. Jenny loves Roddy best; then Mark; then Dank; then Mamma; then Papa;
then me. That isn't ever so much."
Catty was vexed. "You didn't oughter go measuring people's love, Miss
Still, that was what you did do. With Catty and Jenny you could measure
till you knew exactly where you were.
Mamma was different.
You knew _when_ she loved you. You could almost count the times: the time
when Papa frightened you; the time when you cut your forehead; the time
the lamb died; all the whooping-cough and chicken-pox times, and when
Meta, the wax doll, fell off the schoolroom table and broke her head; and
when Mark went away to school. Or when you were good and said every word
of your lessons right; when you watched Mamma working in the garden,
planting and transplanting the flowers with her clever hands; and when
you were quiet and sat beside her on the footstool, learning to knit and
sew. On Sunday afternoons when she played the hymns and you sang:
"There's a Friend for little children
Above the bright blue sky,"
quite horribly out of tune, and when you listened while she sang herself,
"Lead, kindly light," or "Abide with me," and her voice was so sweet and
gentle that it made you cry. Then you knew.
Sometimes, when it was not Sunday, she played the Hungarian March, that
went, with loud, noble noises:
Droom rer-room-room droom-room-room
It was wonderful. Mamma was wonderful. She swayed and bowed to the beat
of the music, as if she shook it out of her body and not out of the
piano. She smiled to herself when she saw that you were listening. You
said "Oh--Mamma! Play it again," and she played it again. When she had
finished she stooped suddenly and kissed you. And you knew.
But she wouldn't say it. You couldn't make her.
"Say it, Mamma. Say it like you used to."
Mamma shook her head.
"I want to hear you say it."
"Well, I'm not going to."
"I love you. I ache with loving you. I love you so much that it hurts me
to say it."
"Why do you do it, then?"
"Because it hurts me more not to. Just once. 'I love you.' Just a weeny
"You're going to be like your father, tease, tease, tease, all day long,
till I'm worn out."
"I'm not going to be like Papa. I don't tease. It's you that's teasing.
How'm I to know you love me if you won't say it?"
Mamma said, "Can't you see what I'm doing?"
She was not interested in the thin white stuff and the lace--Mamma's
"Well, then, look in the basket."
The basket was full of tiny garments made of the white stuff, petticoats,
drawers and nightgown, sewn with minute tucks and edged with lace. Mamma
"New clothes," she said, "for your new dolly."
"Oh--oh--oh--I love you so much that I can't bear it; you little holy
Mamma said, "I'm not holy, and I won't be called holy. I want deeds, not
words. If you love me you'll learn your lessons properly the night
before, not just gabble them over hot from the pan."
"I will, Mamma, I will. Won't you say it?"
"No," Mamma said, "I won't."
She sat there with a sort of triumph on her beautiful face, as if she
were pleased with herself because she hadn't said it. And Mary would
bring the long sheet that dragged on her wrist, and the needle that
pricked her fingers, and sit at Mamma's knee and sew, making a thin trail
of blood all along the hem.
"Why do you look at me so kindly when I'm sewing?"
"Because I like to see you behaving like a little girl, instead of
tearing about and trying to do what boys do."
And Mamma would tell her a story, always the same story, going on and on,
about the family of ten children who lived in the farm by the forest.
There were seven boys and three girls. The six youngest boys worked on
the farm with their father--yes, he was a _very_ nice father--and the
eldest boy worked in the garden with his mother, and the three girls
worked in the house. They could cook and make butter and cheese, and bake
bread; and even the youngest little girl could knit and sew.
"Had they any children?"
"No, they were too busy to think about having children. They were all
very, very happy together, just as they were."
The story was like the hem, there was never any end to it, for Mamma was
always finding something else for the three girls to do. She smiled as
she told it, as if she saw something that pleased her.
Mary felt that she could go on sewing at the hem and pricking her finger
for ever if Mamma would only keep that look on her face.
"I can't, Jenny, I can't. I know there's a funeral coming."
Mary stood on the flagstone inside the arch of the open gate. She looked
up and down the road and drew back again into the garden. Jenny, tired
and patient, waited outside.
"I've told you, Miss Mary, there isn't any funeral."
"If there isn't there will be. There! I can see it."
"You see Mr. Parish's high 'at a driving in his wagonette."
It _was_ Mr. Parish's high hat. When he put the black top on his
wagonette it looked like a hearse.
They started up Ley Street towards Mr. Spall's cottage.
Jenny said, "I thought you was going to be such a good girl when Master
Roddy went to school. But I declare if you're not twice as tiresome."
Roddy had gone to Chelmsted after midsummer. She had to go for walks on
the roads with Jenny now at the risk of meeting funerals.
This week they had been every day to Ilford to call at Mr. Spall's
cottage or at Benny's, the draper's shop in the High Street.
Jenny didn't believe that a big girl, nine next birthday, could really be
afraid of funerals. She thought you were only trying to be tiresome. She
said you could stop thinking about funerals well enough when you wanted.
You did forget sometimes when nice things happened; when you went to see
Mrs. Farmer's baby undressed, and when Isabel Batty came to tea. Isabel
was almost a baby. It felt nice to lift her and curl up her stiff,
barley-sugar hair and sponge her weak, pink silk hands. And there were
things that you could do. You could pretend that you were not Mary
Olivier but somebody else, that you were grown-up and that the baby and
Isabel belonged to you and were there when they were not there. But all
the time you knew there would be a funeral on the road somewhere, and
that some day you would see it.
When they got into the High Street the funeral was coming along the
Barking Road. She saw, before Jenny could see anything at all, the mutes,
sitting high, and their black, bunched-up weepers. She turned and ran out
of the High Street and back over the railway bridge. Jenny called after
her, "Come back!" and a man on the bridge shouted "Hi, Missy! Stop!" as
she ran down Ley Street. Her legs shook and gave way under her. Once she
fell. She ran, staggering, but she ran. People came out of their cottages
to look at her. She thought they had come out to look at the funeral.
After that she refused to go outside the front door or to look through
the front windows for fear she should see a funeral.
They couldn't take her and carry her out; so they let her go for walks in
the back garden. When Papa came home she was sent up to the schoolroom to
play with the doll's house. You could see the road through the high bars
of the window at the end of the passage, so that even when Catty lit the
gas the top floor was queer and horrible.
Sometimes doubts came with her terror. She thought: "Nobody loves me
except Mark. And Mark isn't here." Mark's image haunted her. She shut her
eyes and it slid forward on to the darkness, the strong body, the brave,
straight up and down face, the steady, light brown eyes, shining; the
firm, sweet mouth; the sparrow-brown hair with feathery golden tips. She
could hear Mark's voice calling to her: "Minx! Minky!"
And there was something that Mamma said. It was unkind to be afraid of
the poor dead people. Mamma said, "Would you run away from Isabel if you
saw her lying in her little coffin?"
Jenny's new dress had come.
It was made of grey silk trimmed with black lace, and it lay spread out
on the bed in the spare room. Mamma and Aunt Bella stood and looked at
it, and shook their heads as if they thought that Jenny had no business
to wear a silk dress.
Aunt Bella said, "She's a silly woman to go and leave a good home. At her
And Mamma said, "I'd rather see her in her coffin. It would be less
undignified. She meant to do it at Easter; she was only waiting till
Roddy went to school. She's waiting now till after the Christmas
Jenny was going to do something dreadful.
She was going to be married. The grey silk dress was her wedding-dress.
She was going to marry Mr. Spall. Even Catty thought it was rather
But Jenny was happy because she was going to wear the grey silk dress and
live in Mr. Spall's cottage and talk to him about Jesus. Only one half of
her face drooped sleepily; the other half had waked up, and looked
excited; there was a flush on it as bright as paint.
Mary's bed stood in a corner of the night nursery, and beside it was the
high yellow linen cupboard. When the doors were opened there was a faint
india-rubbery smell from the mackintosh sheet that had been put away on
the top shelf.
One night she was wakened by Catty coming into the room and opening the
cupboard doors. Catty climbed on a chair and took something from the top
shelf. She didn't answer when Mary asked what she was doing, but hurried
away, leaving the door on the latch. Her feet made quick thuds along the
passage. A door opened and shut, and there was a sound of Papa going
downstairs. Somebody came up softly and pulled the door to, and Mary went
to sleep again.
When she woke the room was full of the grey light that frightened her.
But she was not frightened. She woke sitting up on her pillow, staring
into the grey light, and saying to herself, "Jenny is dead."
But she was not afraid of Jenny. The stillness in her heart spread into
the grey light of the room. She lay back waiting for seven o'clock when
Catty would come and call her.
At seven o'clock Mamma came. She wore the dress she had worn last night,
and she was crying.
Mary said, "You haven't got to say it. I know Jenny is dead."
The blinds were drawn in all the windows when she and Mark went into the
front garden to look for snowdrops in the border by the kitchen area. She
knew that Jenny's dead body lay on the sofa under the kitchen window
behind the blind and the white painted iron bars. She hoped that she
would not have to see it; but she was not afraid of Jenny's dead body. It
was sacred and holy.
She wondered why Mamma sent her to Uncle Edward and Aunt Bella. From the
top-storey windows of Chadwell Grange you could look beyond Aldborough
Hatch towards Wanstead Flats and the City of London Cemetery. They were
going to bury Jenny there. She stood looking out, quiet, not crying. She
only cried at night when she thought of Jenny, sitting in the low nursery
chair, tired and patient, drawing back from her violent caresses, and of
the grey silk dress laid out on the bed in the spare room.
She was not even afraid of the City of London Cemetery when Mark took her
to see Jenny's grave. Jenny's grave was sacred and holy.
You had to endure hardness after you were nine. You learnt out of Mrs.
Markham's "History of England," and you were not allowed to read the
conversations between Richard and Mary and Mrs. Markham because they made
history too amusing and too easy to remember. For the same reason you
translated only the tight, dismal pages of your French Reader, and
anything that looked like an interesting story was forbidden. You were to
learn for the sake of the lesson and not for pleasure's sake. Mamma said
you had enough pleasure in play-time. She put it to your honour not to
skip on to the more exciting parts.
When you had finished Mrs. Markham you began Dr. Smith's "History of
England." Honour was safe with Dr. Smith. He made history very hard to
read and impossible to remember.
The Bible got harder, too. You knew all the best Psalms by heart, and the
stories about Noah's ark and Joseph and his coat of many colours, and
David, and Daniel in the lions' den. You had to go straight through the
Bible now, skipping Leviticus because it was full of things you couldn't
understand. When you had done with Moses lifting up the serpent in the
wilderness you had to read about Aaron and the sons of Levi, and the
wave-offerings, and the tabernacle, and the ark of the covenant where
they kept the five golden emerods. Mamma didn't know what emerods were,
but Mark said they were a kind of white mice.
You learnt Old Testament history, too, out of a little book that was all
grey slabs of print and dark pictures showing the earth swallowing up
Korah, Dathan and Abiram, and Aaron and the sons of Levi with their long
beards and high hats and their petticoats, swinging incense in fits of
temper. You found out queerer and queerer things about God. God made the
earth swallow up Korah, Dathan and Abiram. He killed poor Uzzah because
he put out his hand to prevent the ark of the covenant falling out of the
cart. Even David said he didn't know how on earth he was to get the ark
along at that rate. And there were the Moabites and the Midianites and
all the animals: the bullocks and the he-goats and the little lambs and
kids. When you asked Mamma why God killed people, she said it was because
he was just as well as merciful, and (it was the old story) he hated sin.
Disobedience was sin, and Uzzah had been disobedient.
As for the lambs and the he-goats, Jesus had done away with all that. He
was God's son, and he had propitiated God's anger and satisfied his
justice when he shed his own blood on the cross to save sinners. Without
shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. You were not to bother
about the blood.
But you couldn't help bothering about it. You couldn't help being sorry
for Uzzah and the Midianites and the lambs and the he-goats.
Perhaps you had to sort things out and keep them separate. Here was the
world, here were Mamma and Mark and kittens and rabbits, and all the
things you really cared about: drawing pictures, and playing the
Hungarian March and getting excited in the Easter holidays when the white
evenings came and Mark raced you from the Green Man to the Horns Tavern.
Here was the sudden, secret happiness you felt when you were by yourself
and the fields looked beautiful. It was always coming now, with a sort of
rush and flash, when you least expected it.
And _there_ was God and religion and duty. The nicest part of religion
was music, and knowing how the world was made, and the beautiful sounding
bits of the Bible. You could like religion. But duty was doing all the
things you didn't like because you didn't like them. And you couldn't
honestly say you liked God. God had to be propitiated; your righteousness
was filthy rags; so you couldn't propitiate him. Jesus had to do it for
you. All you had to do was to believe, really believe that he had done
But supposing you hadn't got to believe it, supposing you hadn't got to
believe anything at all, it would be easier to think about. The things
you cared for belonged to each other, but God didn't belong to them. He
didn't fit in anywhere. You couldn't help feeling that if God was love,
and if he was everywhere, he ought to have fitted in. Perhaps, after all,
there were two Gods; one who made things and loved them, and one who
didn't; who looked on sulking and finding fault with what the clever kind
God had made.
When the midsummer holidays came and brook-jumping began she left off
thinking about God.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"--
The picture in the _Sunday At Home_ showed the old King in bed and Prince
Hal trying on his crown. But the words were not the _Sunday At Home_;
they were taken out of Shakespeare. Mark showed her the place.
Mark was in the schoolroom chanting his home-lessons:
"'Yet once more, oh ye laurels, and once more,
Ye myrtles brown with ivy never sere'"--
That sounded nice. "Say it again, Mark, say it again." Mark said it
again. He also said:
"'Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess, sing!'"
The three books stood on the bookshelf in the schoolroom, the thin
Shakespeare in diamond print, the small brown leather Milton, the very
small fat Pope's _Iliad_ in the red cover. Mark gave them to her for her
She made Catty put her bed between the two windows, and Mark made a
bookshelf out of a piece of wood and some picture cord, and hung it
within reach. She had a happy, excited feeling when she thought of the
three books; it made her wake early. She read from five o'clock till
Catty called her at seven, and again after Catty had tucked her up and
left her, till the white light in the room was grey.
She learnt _Lycidas_ by heart, and
"I thought I saw my late espoused wife
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,"--
and the bits about Satan in _Paradise Lost_. The sound of the lines gave
her the same nice feeling that she had when Mrs. Propart played the March
in Scipio after Evening Service. She tried to make lines of her own that
went the same way as the lines in Milton and Shakespeare and Pope's
_Iliad_. She found out that there was nothing she liked so much as making
these lines. It was nicer even than playing the Hungarian March. She
thought it was funny that the lines like Pope's _Iliad_ came easiest,
though they had to rhyme.
"Silent he wandered by the sounding sea," was good, but the Greek line
that Mark showed her went: "Be d'akeon para thina poluphloisboio
thalasses"; that was better. "Don't you think so, Mark?"
"Clever Minx. Much better."
"Mark--if God knew how happy I am writing poetry he'd make the earth open
and swallow me up."
Mark only said, "You mustn't say that to Mamma. Play 'Violetta.'"
Of all hateful and disgusting tunes the most disgusting and the most
hateful was "Violetta," which Mr. Sippett's sister taught her. But if
Mark would promise to make Mamma let her learn Greek she would play it to
him twenty times running.
When Mark went to Chelmsted that autumn he left her his brown _Greek
Accidence_ and Smith's _Classical Dictionary_, besides Macaulay's _Lays
of Ancient Rome_. She taught herself Greek in the hour after breakfast
before Miss Sippett came to give her her music lesson. She was always
careful to leave the Accidence open where Miss Sippett could see it and
realise that she was not a stupid little girl.
But whether Miss Sippett saw the Accidence or not she always behaved as
if it wasn't there.
When Mamma saw the Accidence open on the drawing-room table she shut it
and told you to put it in its proper place. If you talked about it her
mouth buttoned up tight, and her eyes blinked, and she began tapping with
There was something queer about learning Greek. Mamma did not actually
forbid it; but she said it must not be done in lesson time or sewing
time, or when people could see you doing it, lest they should think you
were showing off. You could see that she didn't believe you _could_ learn
Greek and that she wouldn't like it if you did. But when lessons were
over she let you read Shakespeare or Pope's _Iliad_ aloud to her while
she sewed. And when you could say:
"Lars Porsena of Clusium
By the nine Gods he swore"--
straight through without stopping she went into London with Papa and
brought back the _Child's First History of Rome_. A Pinnock's _Catechism
of Mythology_ in a blue paper cover went with the history to tell you all
about the gods and goddesses. What Pinnock didn't tell you you found out
from Smith's _Classical Dictionary_. It had pictures in it so beautiful
that you were happy just sitting still and looking at them. There was
such a lot of gods and goddesses that at first they were rather hard to
remember. But you couldn't forget Apollo and Hermes and Aphrodite and
Pallas Athene and Diana. They were not like Jehovah. They quarrelled
sometimes, but they didn't hate each other; not as Jehovah hated all the
other gods. They fitted in somehow. They cared for all the things you
liked best: trees and animals and poetry and music and running races and
playing games. Even Zeus was nicer than Jehovah, though he reminded you
of him now and then. He liked sacrifices. But then he was honest about
it. He didn't pretend that he was good and that he _had_ to have them
because of your sins. And you hadn't got to believe in him. That was the
nicest thing of all.
Mary was ten in eighteen seventy-three.
Aunt Charlotte was ill, and nobody was being kind to her. She had given
her Sunday bonnet to Harriet and her Sunday gown to Catty; so you knew
she was going to be married again. She said it was prophesied that she
should be married in eighteen seventy-three.
The illness had something to do with being married and going continually
to Mr. Marriott's church and calling on Mr. Marriott and writing letters
to him about religion. You couldn't say Aunt Charlotte was not religious.
But Papa said he would believe in her religion if she went to Mr. Batty's
church or Mr. Farmer's or Mr. Propart's. They had all got wives and Mr.
Marriott hadn't. Papa had forbidden Aunt Charlotte to go any more to Mr.
Mr. Marriott had written a nice letter to Uncle Victor, and Uncle Victor
had taken Papa to see him, and the doctor had come to see Aunt Charlotte
and she had been sent to bed.
Aunt Charlotte's room was at the top of the tall, thin white house in the
High Street. There was whispering on the stairs. Mamma and Aunt Lavvy
stood at the turn; you could see their vexed faces. Aunt Charlotte called
to them to let Mary come to her. Mary was told she might go if she were
Aunt Charlotte was all by herself sitting up in a large white bed. A
Bible propped itself open, leaves downwards, against the mound she made.
There was something startling about the lengths of white curtain and the
stretches of white pillow and counterpane, and Aunt Charlotte's very
black eyebrows and hair and the cover of the Bible, very black, and her
blue eyes glittering.
She was writing letters. Every now and then she took up the Bible and
picked out a text and wrote it down. She wrote very fast, and as she
finished each sheet she hid it under the bed-clothes, and made a sign to
show that what she was doing was a secret.
"Love God and you'll be happy. Love God and you'll be happy," she said.
Her eyes pointed at you. They looked wise and solemn and excited.
A wide flat piece of counterpane was left over from Aunt Charlotte. Mary
climbed up and sat in it with her back against the foot-rail and looked
at her. Looking at Aunt Charlotte made you think of being born.
"Aunt Charlotte, do _you_ know what being born is?"
Aunt Charlotte looked up under her eyebrows, and hid another sheet of
paper. "What's put that in your head all of a sudden?"
"It's because of my babies. Catty says I couldn't have thirteen all under
three years old. But I could, couldn't I?"
"I'm afraid I don't think you could," Aunt Charlotte said.
"Why not? Catty _won't_ say why."
Aunt Charlotte shook her head, but she was smiling and looking wiser and
more solemn than ever. "You mustn't ask too many questions," she said.
"But you haven't told me what being born is. I know it's got something to
do with the Virgin Mary."
Aunt Charlotte said, "Sh-sh-sh! You mustn't say that. Nice little girls
don't think about those things."
Her tilted eyes had turned down and her mouth had stopped smiling. So you
knew that being born was not frightening. It had something to do with the
things you didn't talk about.
And ye--how could it? There was the Virgin Mary.
"Aunt Charlotte, don't you _wish_ you had a baby?"
Aunt Charlotte looked frightened, suddenly, and began to cry.
"You mustn't say it, Mary, you mustn't say it. Don't tell them you said
it. They'll think I've been talking about the babies. The little babies.
Don't tell them. Promise me you won't tell."
"Aunt Lavvy--I wish I knew what you thought about Jehovah?"
When Aunt Lavvy stayed with you Mamma made you promise not to ask her
about her opinions. But sometimes you forgot. Aunt Lavvy looked more than
ever as if she was by herself in a quiet empty room, thinking of
something that wasn't there. You couldn't help feeling that she knew
things. Mamma said she had always been the clever one, just as Aunt
Charlotte had always been the queer one; but Aunt Bella said she was no
better than an unbeliever, because she was a Unitarian at heart.
"Why Jehovah in particular?" Aunt Lavvy was like Uncle Victor; she
listened politely when you talked to her, as if you were saying something
"Because he's the one you've got to believe in. Do you really think he is
so very good?"
"I don't think anything. I don't know anything, except that God is love."
"Jehovah--" Aunt Lavvy stopped herself. "I mustn't talk to you about
it--because I promised your mother I wouldn't."
It was very queer. Aunt Lavvy's opinions had something to do with
religion, yet Mamma said you mustn't talk about them.
"I promised, too. I shall have to confess and ask her to forgive me."
"Then," said Aunt Lavvy, "be sure you tell her that I didn't talk to you.
Promise me you'll tell her."
That was what Aunt Charlotte had said. Talking about religion was like
talking about being born.
Nobody has any innate ideas. Children and savages and idiots haven't any,
so grown-up people can't have, Mr. Locke says.
But how did he know? You might have them and forget about them, and only
remember again after you were grown up.
She sat up in the drawing-room till nine o'clock now, because she was
eleven years old. She had taken the doll's clothes out of the old wooden
box and filled it with books: the Bible, Milton, and Pope's Homer, the
Greek Accidence, and _Plutarch's Lives_, and the Comedies from Papa's
illustrated Shakespeare in seven volumes, which he never read, and two
volumes of _Pepys' Diary_, and Locke _On the Human Understanding_. She
wished the Bible had been bound in pink calf like Pepys instead of the
shiny black leather that made you think of wet goloshes. Then it would
have looked new and exciting like the other books.
She sat on a footstool with her box beside her in the corner behind
Mamma's chair. She had to hide there because Mamma didn't believe you
really liked reading. She thought you were only shamming and showing off.
Sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Farmer would come in, and Mr. Farmer would play
chess with Papa while Mrs. Farmer talked to Mamma about how troublesome
and independent the tradespeople were, and how hard it was to get
servants and to keep them. Mamma listened to Mrs. Farmer as if she were
saying something wonderful and exciting. Sometimes it would be the
Proparts; or Mr. Batty would come in alone. And sometimes they would all
come together with the aunts and uncles, and there would be a party.
Mary always hoped that Uncle Victor would notice her and say, "Mary is
reading Locke _On the Human Understanding_," or that Mr. Propart would
come and turn over the books and make some interesting remark. But they
At half-past eight Catty would bring in the tea-tray; the white and grey
and gold tea-cups would be set out round the bulging silver tea-pot that
lifted up its spout with a foolish, pompous expression, like a hen. Mamma
would move about the table in her mauve silk gown, and there would be a
scent of cream and strong tea. Every now and then the shimmering silk and
the rich scent would come between her and the grey, tight-pressed,
"'The senses at first let in particular ideas and furnish the yet empty
cabinet: and the mind growing by degrees familiar with some of them, they
are lodged in the memory and names got to them.'
"Then how--Then how?--"
The thought she thought was coming wouldn't come, and Mamma was telling
her to get up and hand round the bread and butter.
"Mr. Ponsonby, do you remember your innate ideas?"
"My _how_ much?" said Mr. Ponsonby.
"The ideas you had before you were born?"
Mr. Ponsonby said, "Before I was born? Well--" He really seemed to be
Mamma's chair, pushed further along the hearthrug, had driven her back
and back, till the box was hidden behind the curtain.
Mr. Ponsonby was Mark's friend. Mark was at the Royal Military Academy at
Woolwich now. Every Saturday Mr. Ponsonby came home with Mark and stayed
till Sunday evening. You knew that sooner or later he would find you out
behind Mamma's chair.
"I mean," she said, "the ideas you were born with."
"Seems to me," said Mr. Ponsonby, "I was born with precious few. Anyhow I
can't say I remember them."
"I was afraid you'd say that. It's what Mr. Locke says."
"Mr. how much?"
"Mr. Locke. You can look at him if you like."
She thought: "He won't. He won't. They never, never do."
But Mr. Ponsonby did. He looked at Mr. Locke, and he looked at Mary, and
he said, "By Gum!" He even read the bits about the baby and the empty
"You don't mean to say you _like_ this sort of thing?"
"I like it most awfully. Of course I don't mean as much as brook-jumping,
but almost as much."
And Mr. Ponsonby said, "Well--I must say--of _all_--you _are_--by Gum!"
He made it sound like the most delicious praise.
Mr. Ponsonby was taller and older than Mark. He was nineteen. She thought
he was the nicest looking person she had ever seen.
His face was the colour of thick white honey; his hair was very dark, and
he had long blue eyes and long black eyebrows like bars, drawn close down
on to the blue. His nose would have been hooky if it hadn't been so
straight, and his mouth was quiet and serious. When he talked to you his
mouth and eyes looked as if they liked it.
Mark came and said, "Minky, if you stodge like that you'll get all
It wasn't nice of Mark to say that before Mr. Ponsonby, when he knew
perfectly well that she could jump her own height.
"_Me_ flabby? Feel my muscle."
It rose up hard under her soft skin.
"Feel it, Mr. Ponsonby."
"I say--_what_ a biceps!"
"Yes, but," Mark said, "you should feel his."
His was even bigger and harder than Mark's. "Mine," she said sorrowfully,
"will never be as good as his."
Then Mamma came and told her it was bed-time, and Mr. Ponsonby said, "Oh,
Mrs. Olivier, _not_ yet."
"Five minutes more, then."
But the five minutes were never any good. You just sat counting them.
And when it was all over and Mr. Ponsonby strode across the drawing-room
and opened the door for her she went laughing; she stood in the doorway
and laughed. When you were sent to bed at nine the only dignified thing
was to pretend you didn't care.
And Mr. Ponsonby, holding the door so that Mamma couldn't see him, looked
at her and shook his head, as much as to say, "You and I know it isn't a
joke for either of us, this unrighteous banishment."
"What on earth are you doing?"
She might have known that some day Mamma would come up and find her
putting the children to bed.
She had seven. There was Isabel Batty, and Mrs. Farmer's red-haired baby,
and Mark in the blue frock in the picture when he was four, and Dank in
his white frock and blue sash, and the three very little babies you made
up out of your head. Six o'clock was their bed-time.
"You'd no business to touch those baby-clothes," Mamma said.
The baby-clothes were real. Every evening she took them from the drawer
in the linen cupboard; and when she had sung the children to sleep she
shook out the little frocks and petticoats and folded them in a neat pile
at the foot of the bed.
"I thought you were in the schoolroom learning your lessons?"
"So I was, Mamma. But--you know--six o'clock is their bed-time."
"Oh Mary! you told me you'd given up that silly game."
"So I did. But they won't let me. They don't want me to give them up."
Mamma sat down, as if it was too much for her.
"I hope," she said, "you don't talk to Catty or anybody about it."
"No, Mamma. I couldn't. They're my secret."
"That was all very well when you were a little thing. But a great girl of
twelve--You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Mamma had gone. She had taken away the baby-clothes. Mary lay face
downwards on her bed.
Shame burned through her body like fire. Hot tears scalded her eyelids.
She thought: "How was I to know you mustn't have babies?" Still, she
couldn't give them all up. She _must_ keep Isabel and the red-haired
But what would Mr. Ponsonby think of her if he knew?
"Mr. Ponsonby. Mr. Ponsonby! Stay where you are and look!"
From the window at the end of the top corridor the side of the house went
sheer down into the lane. Mary was at the window. Mr. Ponsonby was in the
She climbed on to the ledge and knelt there. Grasping the bottom of the
window frame firmly with both hands and letting her knees slide from the
ledge, she lowered herself, and hung for one ecstatic moment, and drew
herself up again by her arms.
"What did you do it for, Mary?"
Mr. Ponsonby had rushed up the stairs and they were sitting there. He was
so tall that he hung over her when he leaned.
"It's nothing. You ought to be able to pull up your own weight."
"You mustn't do it from top-storey windows. It's dangerous."
"Not if you've practised on the banisters first. Where's Mark?"
"With your Mater. I say, supposing you and I go for a walk."
"We must be back at six o'clock," she said.
When you went for walks with Mark or Mr. Ponsonby they always raced you
down Ley Street and over the ford at the bottom. They both gave you the
same start to the Horn's Tavern; the only difference was that with Mr.
Ponsonby you were over the ford first.
They turned at the ford into the field path that led to Drake's Farm and
the plantation. He jumped all the stiles and she vaulted them. She could
see that he respected her. And so they came to the big water jump into
the plantation. Mr. Ponsonby went over first and held out his arms. She
hurled herself forward and he caught her. And this time, instead of
putting her down instantly, he lifted her up in his arms and held her
tight and kissed her. Her heart thumped violently and she had a sudden
happy feeling. Neither spoke.
Humphrey Propart had kissed her once for a forfeit. And she had boxed his
ears. Mr. Ponsonby's was a different sort of kiss.
They tore through the plantation as if nothing had happened, clearing all
the brooks in a business-like way. Mr. Ponsonby took brook-jumping as the
serious and delightful thing it was.
Going home across the fields they held each other's hands, like children.
"Minky," he said, "I don't like to think of you hanging out of top-storey
"But it's so jolly to feel your body come squirming up after your arms."
"It is. It is. All the same, promise me you won't do it any more."
"Because I'm going to India when I've passed out, and I want to find you
alive when I come back. Promise me, Minky."
"I will, if you're really going. But you're the only person I allow to
call me Minky, except Mark."
"Am I? I'm glad I'm the only person."
They went on.
"I'm afraid," she said, "my hand is getting very hot and horrid."
He held it tighter. "I don't care how hot and horrid it gets. And I think
you might call me Jimmy."
It was long after six o'clock. She had forgotten the children and their
bed-time. After that day she never played with them again.
"If I were you," Mamma said, "I should put away that box of books. You'll
be no use if you read--read--read all day long."
"You oughtn't to say that, Mamma. I _am_ of use. You know I can make the
sewing-machine go when you can't."
Mamma smiled. She knew it.
"And which would you rather took you over the crossing at the Bank? Me or
Mamma smiled again. She knew she was safer with Mary at a crossing,
because Papa teased her and frightened her before he dragged her over.
But Mary led her gently, holding back the noses of the horses.
"There's that Locke on the human understanding," said Mamma. "Poor Jimmy
was frightened when he found you reading it."
"He wasn't. He was most awfully pleased and excited."
"He was laughing at you."
"He wasn't. He wasn't."
"Of course he was laughing at you. What did you think he was doing?"
"I thought he was interested."
"He wasn't, then. Men," Mamma said, "are _not_ interested in little
book-worms. He told me it was very bad for you."
Shame again. Hot, burning and scalding shame. He was only laughing at
"Mark doesn't laugh at me," she said. The thought of Mark and of his love
for her healed her wound.
"A precious deal," Mamma said, "you know about Mark."
Mamma was safe. Oh, she was safe. She knew that Mark loved her best.
On the cover of Pinnock's Catechism there was a small black picture of
the Parthenon. And under it was written:
"Abode of gods whose shrines no longer burn."
Supposing the candles in St. Mary's Chapel no longer burned?
Supposing Barkingside church and Aldborough Hatch church fell to bits and
there were no more clergymen? And you only read in history books about
people like Mr. Batty and Mr. Propart and their surplices and the things
they wore round their necks?
Supposing the Christian religion passed away?
It excited you to think these things. But when you heard the "Magnificat"
in church, or when you thought of Christ hanging so bravely on the cross
you were sorry and you stopped thinking.
What a pity you couldn't ever go on without having to stop.
END OF BOOK TWO
Mary went slowly up the lane between the garden wall and the thorn hedge.
The air, streaming towards her from the flat fields, had the tang of
cold, glittering water; the sweet, grassy smell of the green corn blades
swam on it. The young thorn leaves smelt of almonds and of their own
The five trees stood up, thin and black, in an archway of golden white
fire. The green of their young leaves hung about them like an emanation.
A skylark swung himself up, a small grey ball, spinning over the tree
tops to the arch of the sunset. His song pierced and shook, like the
golden white light. With each throb of his wings he shrank, smaller and
greyer, a moth, a midge, whirling in the luminous air. A grey ball
dropped spinning down.
By the gate of the field her sudden, secret happiness came to her.
She could never tell when it was coming, nor what it would come from. It
had something to do with the trees standing up in the golden white light.
It had come before with a certain sharp white light flooding the fields,
flooding the room.
It had happened so often that she received it now with a shock of
recognition; and when it was over she wanted it to happen again. She
would go back and back to the places where it had come, looking for it,
thinking that any minute it might happen again. But it never came twice
to the same place in the same way.
Catty was calling to her from the bottom of the lane. She stood still by
the gate, not heeding Catty, holding her happiness. When she had turned
from the quiet fields it would be gone.
Sometimes she had queer glimpses of the persons that were called Mary
Olivier. There was Mrs. Olivier's only daughter, proud of her power over
the sewing-machine. When she brought the pile of hemmed sheets to her
mother her heart swelled with joy in her own goodness. There was Mark
Olivier's sister, who rejoiced in the movements of her body, the strain
of the taut muscles throbbing on their own leash, the bound forwards, the
push of the wind on her knees and breast, the hard feel of the ground
under her padding feet. And there was Mary Olivier, the little girl of
thirteen whom her mother and Aunt Bella whispered about to each other
with mysterious references to her age.
Her secret happiness had nothing to do with any of these Mary Oliviers.
It was not like any other happiness. It had nothing to do with Mamma or
Dan or Roddy, or even Mark. It had nothing to do with Jimmy.
She had cried when Jimmy went away, and she would cry again to-night when
she thought about him. Jimmy's going away was worse than anything that
had happened yet or could happen till Mark went to India. That would be
the worst thing.
Jimmy had not gone to India as he had said. He had had to leave Woolwich
because of something he had done, and his father had sent him to
Australia. He had gone without saying good-bye, and he was never coming
back. She would never in all her life see Jimmy again.
Jimmy had done something dreadful.
Nobody but Mamma and Papa and Mark knew what he had done; but from the
way they talked you could see that it was one of those things you mustn't
talk about. Only Mark said he didn't believe he really had done it.
Last Sunday she had written a letter to him which Mark posted:
"Dear Jimmy,--I think you might have come to say good-bye to us, even if
Papa and Mamma do think you've done something you oughtn't to. I want you
to know that Mark and I don't believe you did it, and even if you did it
won't make any difference. I shall always love you just the same, next
best to Mark. You can't expect me to love you really best, because he
will always come first as long as I live. I hope you will be very happy
in Australia. I shall keep my promise just the same, though it's
Australia and not India you've gone to.
"With love, ever your loving
"P.S. No. 1.--I'm reading a new poet--Byron. There was a silly woman who
said she'd rather have the fame of Childe Harold than the immortality of
Don Juan. But I'd rather have the immortality, wouldn't you?
"P.S. No. 2.--Do you think that you will keep Kangaroos? They might help
to make you happy."
Mary was picking French beans in the kitchen garden when Mamma and Aunt
Bella came along the path, talking together. The thick green walls of the
runners hid her.
"Mary is getting very precocious," said Mamma.
"That comes from being brought up with boys," said Aunt Bella. "She ought
to see more girls of her own age."
"She doesn't like them."
Mary shouted "Cuckoo!" to warn them, but they wouldn't stop.
"It's high time," Aunt Bella said, "that she should learn to like them.
The Draper girls are too old. But there's that little Bertha Mitchison."
"I haven't called on Mrs. Mitchison for two years."
"And why haven't you, Caroline?"
"Because I can't afford to be always hiring wagonettes to go to Woodford
"Caroline--do you think she could have heard?"
"Cuckoo, Aunt Bella! Cuckoo!"
On the high road the white dust had a clear, sharp, exciting smell. At
the wet edges of the ford it thickened.
When you shut your eyes you could still see Bertha's scarlet frock on the
white bridge path and smell the wet earth at the edges of the ford.
You were leaning over the white painted railing of the bridge when she
began. The water flowed from under the little tunnel across the road into
the field beyond. Deep brown under the tunnel, tawny in the shallow ford,
golden patches where the pebbles showed through, and the water itself, a
sheet of thin crystal, running over the colours, sliding through them,
running and sliding on and on.
There was nothing in the world so beautiful as water, unless it was
light. But water was another sort of light.
Bertha pushed her soft sallow face into yours. Her big black eyes bulged
out under her square fringe. Her wide red mouth curled and glistened.
There were yellowish stains about the roots of her black hair. Her mouth
and eyes teased you, mocked you, wouldn't let you alone.
Bertha began: "I know something you don't know."
You listened. You couldn't help listening. You simply had to know. It was
no use to say you didn't believe a word of it. Inside you, secretly, you
knew it was true. You were frightened. You trembled and went hot and cold
by turns, and somehow that was how you knew it was true; almost as if you
had known all the time.
"Oh, shut up! I don't _want_ to hear about it."
"Oh, don't you? You did a minute ago."
"Of course I did, when I didn't know. Who wouldn't? I don't want to know
"I like that. After I've told you everything. What's the good of putting
your fingers in your ears _now_?"
There was that day; and there was the next day when she was sick of
Bertha. On the third day Bertha went back to Woodford Bridge.
It was dreadful and at the same time funny when you thought of Mr. Batty
and Mr. Propart with their little round hats and their black coats and
their stiff, dignified faces. And there was Uncle Edward and his
whiskers. It couldn't be true.
Yet all true things came like that, with a queer feeling, as if you
Jenny's wedding dress. It would be true even of Jenny. Mamma had said she
would rather see her in her coffin than married to Mr. Spall. That was