Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Mary Olivier: A Life by May Sinclair

Part 5 out of 9

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

would do; she had always known. She would make poems. They couldn't hear
you making poems. They couldn't see your thoughts falling into sound
patterns.

Only part of the pattern would appear at once while the rest of it went
on sounding from somewhere a long way off. When all the parts came
together the poem was made. You felt as if you had made it long ago, and
had forgotten it and remembered.

III.

The room held her close, cold and white, a nun's cell. If you counted the
window-place it was shaped like a cross. The door at the foot, the window
at the head, bookshelves at the end of each arm. A kitchen lamp with a
tin reflector, on a table, stood in the breast of the cross. Its flame
was so small that she had to turn it on to her work like a lantern.

"Dumpetty, dumpetty dum. Tell them that Bion is dead; he is dead, young
Bion, the shepherd. And with him music is dead and Dorian poetry
perished--"

She had the conceited, exciting thought: "I am translating Moschus, the
Funeral Song for Bion."

Moschus was Bion's friend. She wondered whether he had been happy or
unhappy, making his funeral song.

If you could translate it all: if you could only make patterns out of
English sounds that had the hardness and stillness of the Greek.

"'Archet', Sikelikai, to pentheos, archet' Moisai,
adones hai pukinoisin oduramenai poti phullois.'"

The wind picked at the pane. Through her thick tweed coat she could feel
the air of the room soak like cold water to her skin. She curved her
aching hands over the hot globe of the lamp.

--Oduromenai. Mourning? No. You thought of black crape, bunched up
weepers, red faces.

The wick spluttered; the flame leaned from the burner, gave a skip and
went out.

Oduromenai--Grieving; perhaps.

Suddenly she thought of Maurice Jourdain.

She saw him standing in the field path. She heard him say "Talk to _me_.
I'm alive. I'm here. I'll listen. I'll never misunderstand." She saw his
worn eyelids; his narrow, yellowish teeth.

Supposing he was dead--

She would forget about him for months together; then suddenly she would
remember him like that. Being happy and excited made you remember. She
tried not to see his eyelids and his teeth. They didn't matter.

IV.

The season of ungovernable laughter had begun.

"Roddy, they'll hear us. We m-m-mustn't."

"I'm not. I'm blowing my nose."

"I wish _I_ could make it sound like that."

They stood on the Kendals' doorstep, in the dark, under the snow. Snow
powdered the flagstone path swept ready for the New Year's party.

"Think," she said, "their poor party. It would be awful of us."

Roddy rang. As they waited they began to laugh again. Helpless, ruinous,
agonising laughter.

"Oh--oh--I can hear Martha coming. _Do_ something. You might be
unbuckling my snow-shoes."

The party was waiting for them in the drawing-room. Dr. Charles. Miss
Louisa Wright, stiff fragility. A child's face blurred and delicately
weathered; features in innocent, low relief. Pale hair rolled into an
insubstantial puff above each ear. Speedwell eyes, fading milkily. Hurt
eyes, disappointed eyes. Dr. Charles had disappointed her.

Dorsy Heron, tall and straight. Shy hare's face trying to look austere.

Norman Waugh, sulky and superior, in a corner.

As Roddy came in everybody but Norman Waugh turned round and stared at
him with sudden, happy smiles. He was so beautiful that it made people
happy to look at him. His very name, Rodney Olivier, sounded more
beautiful than other people's names.

Dorsy Heron's shy hare's eyes tried to look away and couldn't. Her little
high, red nose got redder.

And every now and then Dr. Charles looked at Rodney, a grave, considering
look, as if he knew something about him that Rodney didn't know.

V.

"She shall play what she likes," Mr. Sutcliffe said. He had come in late,
without his wife.

She was going to play to them. They always asked you to play.

She thought: "It'll be all right. They won't listen; they'll go on
talking. I'll play something so soft and slow that they won't hear it. I
shall be alone, listening to myself."

She played the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata. A beating heart, a
grieving voice; beautiful, quiet grief; it couldn't disturb them.

Suddenly they all left off talking. They were listening. Each note
sounded pure and sweet, as if it went out into an empty room. They came
close up, one by one, on tiptoe, with slight creakings and rustlings,
Miss Kendal, Louisa Wright, Dorsy Heron. Their eyes were soft and quiet
like the music.

Mr. Sutcliffe sat where he could see her. He was far away from the place
where she heard herself playing, but she could feel his face turned on
her like a light.

The first movement died on its two chords. Somebody was saying "How
beautifully she plays." Life and warmth flowed into her. Exquisite,
tingling life and warmth. "Go on. Go on." Mr. Sutcliffe's voice sounded
miles away beyond the music.

She went on into the lovely _Allegretto_. She could see their hushed
faces leaning nearer. You could make them happy by playing to them. They
loved you because you made them happy.

Mr. Sutcliffe had got up; he had come closer.

She was playing the _Presto agitato_. It flowed smoothly under her
fingers, at an incredible pace, with an incredible certainty.

Something seemed to be happening over there, outside the place where she
heard the music. Martha came in and whispered to the Doctor. The Doctor
whispered to Roddy. Roddy started up and they went out together.

She thought: "Papa again." But she was too happy to care. Nothing
mattered so long as she could listen to herself playing the Moonlight
Sonata.

Under the music she was aware of Miss Kendal stooping over her, pressing
her shoulder, saying something. She stood up. Everybody was standing up,
looking frightened.

Outside, in the hall, she saw Catty, crying. She went past her over the
open threshold where the snow lay like a light. She couldn't stay to find
her snow-shoes and her coat.

The track across the Green struck hard and cold under her slippers. The
tickling and trickling of the snow felt like the play of cold light
fingers on her skin. Her fear was a body inside her body; it ached and
dragged, stone cold and still.

VI.

The basin kept on slipping from the bed. She could see its
pattern--reddish flowers and green leaves and curlykews--under the
splashings of mustard and water. She felt as if it must slip from her
fingers and be broken. When she pressed it tighter to the edge of the
mattress the rim struck against Papa's breast.

He lay stretched out on the big yellow birchwood bed. The curtains were
drawn back, holding the sour smell of sickness in their fluted folds.

Papa's body made an enormous mound under the green eiderdown. It didn't
move. A little fluff of down that had pricked its way through the cover
still lay where it had settled; Papa's head still lay where it had
dropped; the forefinger still pointed at the fluff of down.

Papa's head was thrown stiffly back on the high pillows; it sank in,
weighted with the blood that flushed his face. Around it on the white
linen there was a spatter and splash of mustard and water. His beard
clung to his chin, soaked in the yellowish stain. He breathed with a
loud, grating and groaning noise.

Her ears were so tired with listening to this noise that sometimes they
would go to sleep for a minute or two. Then it would wake them suddenly
and she would begin to cry again.

You could stop crying if you looked steadily at the little fluff of down.
At each groaning breath it quivered and sank and quivered.

Roddy sat by the dressing-table. He stared, now at his clenched hands,
now at his face in the glass, as if he hated it, as if he hated himself.

Mamma was still dressed. She had got up on the bed beside Papa and
crouched on the bolster. She had left off crying. Every now and then she
stroked his hair with tender, desperate fingers. It struck out between
the white ears of the pillow-slip in a thin, pointed crest.

Papa's hair. His poor hair. These alterations of the familiar person, the
blood-red flush, the wet, clinging beard, the pointed hair, stirred in
her a rising hysteria of pity.

Mamma had given him the mustard and water. She could see the dregs in the
tumbler on the night-table, and the brown hen's feather they had tickled
his throat with.

They oughtn't to have done it. Dr. Charles would not have let them do it
if he had been there. They should have waited. They might have known the
choking and the retching would kill him. Catty ought to have known.
Somewhere behind his eyes his life was leaking away through the torn net
of the blood vessels, bleeding away over his brain, under his hair, under
the tender, desperate fingers.

She fixed her eyes on the pattern of the wall-paper. A purplish rose-bud
in a white oval on a lavender ground. She clung to it as to some firm,
safe centre of being.

VII.

The first day. The first evening.

She went on hushed feet down the passage to let Dan in. The squeak of the
latch picked at her taut nerves.

She was glad of the cold air that rushed into the shut-up, soundless
house, the sweet, cold air that hung about Dan's face and tingled in the
curling frieze of his overcoat.

She took him into the lighted dining-room where Roddy and Mamma waited
for him. The callous fire crackled and spurted brightness. The table was
set for Dan's supper.

Dan knew that Papa was dead. He betrayed his knowledge by the cramped
stare of his heavy, gentle eyes and by the shamed, furtive movements of
his hands towards the fire. But that was all. His senses were still
uncontaminated by _their_ knowledge. He had not seen Papa. He had not
heard him.

"What was it?"

"Apoplexy."

His eyes widened. Innocent, vague eyes that didn't see.

Their minds fastened on Dan, to get immunity for themselves out of his
unconsciousness. As long as they could keep him downstairs, in his
innocence, their misery receded from them a little way.

But Mamma would not have it so. She looked at Dan. Her eyes were dull and
had no more thought in them. Her mouth quivered. They knew that she was
going to say something. Their thread of safety tightened. In another
minute it would snap.

"Would you like to see him?" she said.

They waited for Dan to come down from the room. He would not be the same
Dan. He would have seen the white sheet raised by the high mound of the
body and by the stiff, upturned feet, and he would have lifted the
handkerchief from the face. He would be like them, and his consciousness
would put a sharper edge on theirs. He would be afraid to look at them,
as they were afraid to look at each other, because of what he had seen.

VIII.

She lay beside her mother in the strange spare room.

She had got into bed straight from her undressing. On the other side of
the mattress she had seen her mother's kneeling body like a dwarfed thing
trailed there from the floor, and her hands propped up on the edge of the
eiderdown, ivory-white against the red and yellow pattern, and her
darling bird's head bowed to her finger-tips.

The wet eyelids had lifted and the drowned eyes had come to life again in
a brief glance of horror. Mamma had expected her to kneel down and pray.
In bed they had turned their backs on each other, and she had the feeling
that her mother shrank from her as from somebody unclean who had omitted
to wash herself with prayer. She wanted to take her mother in her arms
and hold her tight. But she couldn't. She couldn't.

Suddenly her throat began to jerk with a hysterical spasm. She thought:
"I wish I had died instead of Papa."

She forced back the jerk of her hysteria and lay still, listening to her
mother's sad, obstructed breathing and her soft, secret blowing of her
nose.

Presently these sounds became a meaningless rhythm and ceased. She was a
child, dreaming. She stood on the nursery staircase at Five Elms; the
coffin came round the turn and crushed her against the banisters; only
this time she was not afraid of it; she made herself wake because of
something that would happen next. The flagstones of the passage were hard
and cold to her naked feet; that was how you could tell you were awake.
The door of the Morfe drawing-room opened into Mamma's old bedroom at
Five Elms, and when she came to the foot of the bed she saw her father
standing there. He looked at her with a mocking, ironic animosity, so
that she knew he was alive. She thought:

"It's all right. I only dreamed he was dead. I shall tell Mamma."

When she really woke, two entities, two different and discordant
memories, came together with a shock.

Her mother was up and dressed. She leaned over her, tucking the blankets
round her shoulders and saying, "Lie still and go to sleep again, there's
a good girl."

Her memory cleared and settled, filtering, as the light filtered through
the drawn blinds. Mamma and she had slept together because Papa was dead.

IX.

"Mary, do you know why you're crying?"

Roddy's face was fixed in a look of anger and resentment, and of anxiety
as if he were afraid that at any minute he would be asked to do something
that he couldn't do.

They had come down together from the locked room, and gone into the
drawing-room where the yellow blinds let in the same repulsive, greyish,
ochreish light.

Her tears did not fall. They covered her eyes each with a shaking lens;
the chairs and tables floated up to her as if she stood in an aquarium of
thick, greyish, ochreish light.

"You think it's because you care," he said. "But it's because you don't
care.... You're not as bad as I am. I don't care a bit."

"Yes, you do, or you wouldn't think you didn't."

"No. None of us really cares. Except Mamma. And even she doesn't as much
as she thinks she does. If we cared we'd be glad to sit in there, doing
nothing, thinking about him.... That's why we keep on going upstairs to
look at him, to make ourselves feel as if we cared."

She wondered. Was that really why they did it? She thought it was because
they couldn't bear to leave him there, four days and four nights, alone.
She said so. But Roddy went on in his hard, flat voice, beating out his
truth.

"We never did anything to make him happy."

"He _was_ happy," she said. "When Mark went. He had Mamma."

"Yes, but he must have known about us. He must have known about us all
the time."

"What did he know about us?"

"That we didn't care.

"Don't you remember," he said, "the things we used to say about him?"

She remembered. She could see Dan in the nursery at Five Elms, scowling
and swearing he would kill Papa. She could see Roddy, and Mark with his
red tight face, laughing at him. She could see herself, a baby, kicking
and screaming when he took her in his arms. For months she hadn't thought
about him except to wish he wasn't there so that she could go on playing.
When he was in the fit she had been playing on the Kendals' piano,
conceited and happy, not caring.

Supposing all the time, deep down, in his secret mysterious life, _he_
had cared?

"We must leave off thinking about him," Roddy said. "If we keep on
thinking we shall go off our heads."

"We _are_ off our heads," she said.

Their hatred of themselves was a biting, aching madness. She hated the
conceited, happy self that hadn't cared. The piano, gleaming sombrely in
the hushed light, reminded her of it.

She hated the piano.

They dragged themselves back into the dining-room where Mamma and Dan sat
doing nothing, hiding their faces from each other. The afternoon went on.
Utter callousness, utter weariness came over them.

Their mother kept looking at the clock. "Uncle Victor will have got to
Durlingham," she said. An hour ago she had said, "Uncle Victor will have
got to York." Their minds clung to Uncle Victor as they had clung, four
days ago, to Dan, because of his unconsciousness.

X.

Uncle Victor had put his arm on her shoulder. He was leaning rather
heavily.

He saw what she saw: the immense coffin set up on trestles at the foot of
the bed; the sheeted body packed tight in the padded white lining, the
hands, curling a little, smooth and stiff, the hands of a wax figure; the
firm, sallowish white face; the brown stains, like iodine, about the
nostrils; the pale under lip pushed out, proudly.

A cold, thick smell, like earth damped with stagnant water, came up to
them, mixed with the sharp, piercing smell of the coffin. The vigilant,
upright coffin-lid leaned with its sloping shoulders against the
chimney-piece, ready.

In spite of his heavy hand she was aware that Uncle Victor's
consciousness of these things was different from hers. He did not appear
to be in the least sorry for Papa. On his face, wistful, absorbed, there
was a faint, incongruous smile. He might have been watching a child
playing some mysterious game.

He sighed. His eyes turned from the coffin to the coffin-lid. He stared
at the black letters on the shining brass plate.

Emilius Olivier.
Born November 13th, 1827.
Died January 2nd, 1881.

The grip on her shoulder tightened.

"He was faithful, Mary."

He said it as if he were telling her something she couldn't possibly have
known.

XI.

The funeral woke her. A line of light slid through the chink of the door,
crooked itself and staggered across the ceiling, a blond triangle
throwing the shadows askew. That was Catty, carrying the lamp for the
bearers.

It came again. There was a shuffling of feet in the passage, a secret
muttering at the head of the stairs, the crack of a banister, a thud as
the shoulder of the coffin butted against the wall at the turn. Then the
grinding scream of the brakes on the hill, the long "Shr-issh" of the
checked wheels ploughing through the snow.

She could see her mother's face on the pillow, glimmering, with shut
eyes. At each sound she could hear her draw a shaking, sobbing breath.
She turned to her and took her in her arms. The small, stiff body yielded
to her, helpless, like a child's.

"Oh Mary, what shall I do? To send him away like that--in a train--all
the way.... Your Grandmamma Olivier tried to keep him from me, and now
he's gone back to her."

"You've got Mark."

"What's that you say?"

"Mark. Mark. Nobody can keep Mark from you. He'll never want anybody but
you. He said so."

How small she was. You could feel her little shoulder-blades, weak and
fine under your fingers, like a child's; you could break them. To be
happy with her either you or she had to be broken, to be helpless and
little like a child. It was a sort of happiness to lie there, holding
her, hiding her from the dreadful funeral dawn.

Five o'clock.

The funeral would last till three, going along the road to Reyburn
Station, going in the train from Reyburn to Durlingham, from Durlingham
to King's Cross. She wondered whether Dan and Roddy would keep on feeling
the funeral all the time. The train was part of it. Not the worst part.
Not so bad as going through the East End to the City of London Cemetery.

When it came to the City of London Cemetery her mind stopped with a jerk
and refused to follow the funeral any further.

Ten o'clock. Eleven.

They had shut themselves up in the dining-room, in the yellow-ochreish
light. Mamma sat in her arm-chair, tired and patient, holding her Bible
and her Church Service on her knees, ready. Every now and then she dozed.
When this happened Mary took the Bible from her and read where it opened:
"And he made the candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work made he the
candlestick; his shaft, and his branch, his bowls, his knops, and his
flowers, were of the same.... And in the candlestick were four bowls made
like almonds, his knops and his flowers: And a knop under two branches of
the same, and a knop under two branches of the same, and a knop under two
branches of the same, according to the six branches going out of it.
Their knops and their branches were of the same: all of it was one beaten
work of pure gold."

At two o'clock the bell of Renton Church began to toll. Her mother sat up
in a stiff, self-conscious attitude and opened the Church Service. The
bell went on tolling. For Papa.

It stopped. Her mother was saying something.

"Mary--I can't see with the blind down. Do you think you could read it to
me?"

* * * * *

"'I am the Resurrection and the Life--'"

A queer, jarring voice burst out violently in the dark quiet of the room.
It carried each sentence with a rush, making itself steady and hard.

"'...He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live....

"'I said, I will take heed to my ways: that I offend not with my
tongue--'"

"Not that one," her mother said.

"'O Lord, Thou hast been our refuge; from one generation to another.

"'Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the
world were made--'"

(Too fast. Much too fast. You were supposed to be following Mr. Propart;
but if you kept up that pace you would have finished the Service before
he had got through the Psalm.)

"'Lord God most holy--'"

"I can't _hear_ you, Mary."

"I'm sorry. 'O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour,
deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

"'Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts: shut not Thy merciful
ears to our prayers: but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most Mighty, O
holy and merciful Saviour--'"

(Prayers, abject prayers for themselves. None for him. Not one word. They
were cowards, afraid for themselves, afraid of death; their funk had made
them forget him. It was as if they didn't believe that he was there. And,
after all, it was _his_ funeral.)

"'Suffer us not, at our last hour--'"

The hard voice staggered and dropped, picked itself and continued on a
note of defiance.

"'...For on pains of death, to fall from Thee....'"

(They would have come to the grave now, by the black pointed cypresses.
There would be a long pit of yellow clay instead of the green grass and
the white curb. Dan and Roddy would be standing by it.)

"'Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His mercy to take unto
Himself the soul of our dear brother--'"

The queer, violent voice stopped.

"I can't--I can't."

Mamma seemed gratified by her inability to finish the Order for the
Burial of the Dead.

XII.

"You can say _that_, with your poor father lying in this grave--"

It was the third evening after the funeral. A minute ago they were at
perfect peace, and now the everlasting dispute about religion had begun
again. There had been no Prayers since Papa died, because Mamma couldn't
trust herself to read them without breaking down. At the same time, it
was inconceivable to her that there should be no Prayers.

"I should have thought, if you could read the Burial Service--"

"I only did it because you asked me to."

"Then you might do this because I ask you."

"It isn't the same thing. You haven't got to believe in the Burial
Service. But either you believe in Prayers or you don't believe in them.
If you don't you oughtn't to read them. You oughtn't to be asked to read
them."

"How are we going on, I should like to know? Supposing I was to be laid
aside, are there to be no Prayers, ever, in this house because you've set
yourself up in your silly self-conceit against the truth?"

The truth. The truth about God. As if anybody really knew it; as if it
mattered; as if anything mattered except Mamma.

Yet it did matter. It mattered more than anything in the whole world, the
truth about God, the truth about anything; just the truth. Papa's death
had nothing to do with it. It wasn't fair of Mamma to talk as if it had;
to bring it up against you like that.

"Let's go to bed," she said.

Her mother took no notice of the suggestion. She sat bolt upright in her
chair; her face had lost its look of bored, weary patience; it flushed
and flickered with resentment.

"I shall send for Aunt Bella," she said.

"Why Aunt Bella?"

"Because I must have someone. Someone of my own."

XIII.

It was three weeks now since the funeral.

Mamma and Aunt Bella sat in the dining-room, one on each side of the
fireplace. Mamma looked strange and sunken and rather yellow in a widow's
cap and a black knitted shawl, but Aunt Bella had turned herself into a
large, comfortable sheep by means of a fleece of white shawl and an
ice-wool hood peaked over her cap.

There was a sweet, inky smell of black things dyed at Pullar's. Mary
picked out the white threads and pretended to listen while Aunt Bella
talked to Mamma in a woolly voice about Aunt Lavvy's friendship with the
Unitarian minister, and Uncle Edward's lumbago, and the unreasonableness
of the working classes.

She thought how clever it was of Aunt Bella to be able to keep it up like
that. "I couldn't do it to save my life. As long as I live I shall never
be any good to Mamma."

The dining-room looked like Mr. Metcalfe, the undertaker. Funereal
hypocrisy. She wondered whether Roddy would see the likeness.

She thought of Roddy's nervous laugh when Catty brought in the first
Yorkshire cakes. His eyes had stared at her steadily as he bit into his
piece. They had said: "You don't care. You don't care. If you really
cared you couldn't eat."

There were no more threads to pick.

She wondered whether she would be thought unfeeling if she were to take a
book and read.

Aunt Bella began to talk about Roddy. Uncle Edward said Roddy ought to go
away and get something to do.

If Roddy went away there would be no one. No one.

She got up suddenly and left them.

XIV.

The air of the drawing-room braced her like the rigour of a cold bath.
Her heartache loosened and lost itself in the long shiver of chilled
flesh.

The stone walls were clammy with the sweat of the thaw; they gave out a
sour, sickly smell. Grey smears of damp dulled the polished lid of the
piano.

They hadn't used the drawing-room since Papa died. It was so bright, so
heartlessly cheerful compared with the other rooms, you could see that
Mamma would think you unfeeling if you wanted to sit in it when Papa was
dead. She had told Catty not to light the fire and to keep the door shut,
for fear you should be tempted to sit in it and forget.

The piano. Under the lid the keys were stiffening with the damp. The
hammers were swelling, sticking together. She tried not to think of the
piano.

She turned her back on it and stood by the side window that looked out on
to the garden. Mamma's garden. It mouldered between the high walls
blackened by the thaw. On the grass-plot the snow had sunk to a thin
crust, black-pitted. The earth was a black ooze through ulcers of grey
snow.

She had a sudden terrifying sense of desolation.

Her mind clutched at this feeling and referred it to her father. It sent
out towards him, wherever he might be, a convulsive emotional cry.

"You were wrong. I do care. Can't you see that I can never be happy
again? Yet, if you could come back I would be happy. I wouldn't mind
your--your little funny ways."

It wasn't true. She _would_ mind them. If he were really there he would
know it wasn't true.

She turned and looked again at the piano. She went to it. She opened the
lid and sat down before it. Her fingers crept along the keyboard; they
flickered over the notes of the Sonata _Appassionata_, a ghostly, furtive
playing, without pressure, without sound.

And she was ashamed as if the piano were tempting her to some cruel,
abominable sin.

XXII

I.

The consultation had lasted more than an hour.

From the cobbled square outside you could see them through the window,
Mamma, Uncle Edward, Uncle Victor and Farmer Alderson, sitting round the
dining-room table and talking, talking, talking about Roddy.

It was awful to think that things--things that concerned you--could go on
and be settled over your head without your knowing anything about it. She
only knew that Papa had made Uncle Victor and Uncle Edward the trustees
and guardians of his children who should be under age at his death (she
and Roddy were under age), and that Mamma had put the idea of farming in
Canada into Uncle Edward's head, and that Uncle Victor had said he
wouldn't hear of letting Roddy go out by himself, and that the landlord
of the Buck Hotel had told Victor that Farmer Alderson's brother Ben had
a big farm somewhere near Montreal and young Jem Alderson was going out
to him in March and they might come to some arrangement.

They were coming to it now.

Roddy and she, crouching beside each other on the hearthrug in the
drawing-room, waited till it should be over. Through the shut doors they
could still distinguish Uncle Edward's smooth, fat voice from Uncle
Victor's thin one. The booming and baying were the noises made by Farmer
Alderson.

"I can't think what they want to drag _him_ in for," Roddy said. "It'll
only make it more unpleasant for them."

Roddy's eyes had lost their fear; they were fixed in a wise, mournful
stare. He stared at his fate.

"They don't know yet quite _how_ imbecile I am. If I could have gone out
quietly by myself they never need have known. Now they'll _have_ to.
Alderson'll tell them. He'll tell everybody.... I don't care. It's their
own look-out. They'll soon see I was right."

"Listen," she said.

The dining-room door had opened. Uncle Edward's voice came out first,
sounding with a sort of complacent finality. They must have settled it.
You could hear Farmer Alderson stumping his way to the front door. His
voice boomed from the step.

"Ah doan't saay, look ye, 'e'll mak mooch out of en t' farst ye-ear--"

"Damn him, you can hear his beastly voice all over the place."

"Ef yore yoong mon's dead set to larn fa-armin', an' ef 'e've got a head
on 'is shoulders our Jem can larn 'en. Ef 'e '_aven't_, ah tall yo
stra-aight, Mr. Ollyveer, ye med joost's well tak yore mooney and trow it
in t' mistal."

Roddy laughed. "_I_ could have told them that," he said.

"Money?"

"Rather. They can't do it under two hundred pounds. I suppose Victor'll
stump up as usual."

"Poor Victor."

"Victor won't mind. He'll do anything for Mamma. They can call it a
premium if it makes them any happier, but it simply means that they're
paying Alderson to get rid of me."

"No. They've got it into their heads that it's bad for you sticking here
doing nothing."

"So it is. But being made to do what I can't do's worse.... I'm not
likely to do it any better with that young beast Alderson looking at me
all the time and thinking what a bloody fool I am.... They ought to have
left it to me. It would have come a lot cheaper. I was going anyhow. I
only stayed because of Papa. But I can't tell _them_ that. After all, I
was the only one who looked after him. If I'd gone you'd have had to."

"Yes."

"It would even come cheaper," he said, "if I stayed. I can prove it."

He produced his pocket sketch-book. The leaves were scribbled over with
sums, sums desperately begun and left unfinished, sums that were not
quite sure of themselves, sums scratched out and begun again. He crossed
them all out and started on a fresh page.

"Premium, two hundred. Passage, twenty. Outfit, say thirty. Two hundred
and fifty.

"Land cheap, lumber cheap. Labour expensive. Still, Alderson would be so
pleased he might do the job himself for a nominal sum and only charge you
for the wood. Funeral expenses, say ten dollars.

"How much does it cost to keep me here?"

"I haven't an idea."

"No, but think."

"I can't think."

"Well, say I eat ten shillings' worth of food per week, that's twenty-six
pounds a year. Say thirty. Clothes, five. Thirty-five. Sundries, perhaps
five. Forty. But I do the garden. What's a gardener's wages? Twenty?
Fifteen?

"Say fifteen. Fifteen from forty, fifteen from forty--twenty-five. How
much did Papa's funeral come to?"

"Oh--Roddy--I don't know."

"Say thirty. Twenty-five from two hundred and fifty, two hundred and
twenty-five. Deduct funeral. One hundred and ninety-five.

"There you are. One hundred and ninety-five pounds for carting me to
Canada."

"If you feel like that about it you ought to tell them. They can't make
you go if you don't want to."

"They're not making me go. I'm going. I couldn't possibly stay after the
beastly things they've said."

"What sort of things?"

"About my keep and my being no good and making work in the house."

"They didn't--they couldn't."

"Edward did. He said if it wasn't for me Mamma wouldn't have to have
Maggie. Catty could do all the work. And when Victor sat on him and said
Mamma was to have Maggie whatever happened, he jawed back and said she
couldn't afford both Maggie and me."

"Catty could do Maggie's work and I could do Catty's, if you'd stop. It
would be only cleaning things. That's nothing. I'd rather clean the whole
house and _have_ you."

"You wouldn't. You only think you would."

"I would, really. I'll tell them."

"It's no use," he said. "They won't let you."

"I'll make them. I'll go and tell Edward and Victor now."

She had shot up from the floor with sudden energy, and stood looking down
at Roddy as he still crouched there. Her heart ached for him. He didn't
want to go to Canada; he wanted to stay with Mamma, and Mamma was driving
him away from her, for no reason except that Uncle Edward said he ought
to go.

She could hear the dining-room door open and shut again. They were
coming.

Roddy rose from the floor. He drew himself up, stretching out his arms in
a crucified attitude, and grinned at her.

"Do you suppose," he said, "I'd let you?"

He grinned at Uncle Edward and Uncle Victor as they came in.

"Uncle Victor," she said, "Why should Roddy go away? If it's Maggie, we
don't really want her. I'll do Catty's work and he'll do the garden. So
he can stay, can't he?"

"He _can_, Mary, but I don't think he will."

"Of course I won't. If you hadn't waited to mix me up with Alderson I
could have cleared out and got there by this time. You don't suppose I
was going to sponge on my mother for ever, do you?"

He stood there, defying Uncle Edward and Uncle Victor, defying their
thoughts of him. She wondered whether he had forgotten the two hundred
pounds and whether they were thinking of it. They didn't answer, and
Roddy, after fixing on them a look they couldn't meet, strode out of the
room.

She thought: How like Mark he is, with his tight, squared shoulders,
holding his head high. His hair was like Mark's hair, golden brown, close
clipped to the nape of his neck. When he had gone it would be like Mark's
going.

"It's better he should go," Uncle Victor said. "For his own sake."

Uncle Edward said, "Of course it is."

His little blue eyes glanced up from the side of his nose, twinkling. His
mouth stretched from white whisker to white whisker in a smile of
righteous benevolence. But Uncle Victor's eyes slunk away as if he were
ashamed of himself.

It was Uncle Victor who had paid the two hundred pounds.

II.

"Supposing there's something the matter with him, will he still have to
go?"

"I don't see why you should suppose there's anything the matter with
him," her mother said. "Is it likely your Uncle Victor would be paying
all that money to send him out if he wasn't fit to go?"

It didn't seem likely that Victor would have done anything of the sort;
any more than Uncle Edward would have let Aunt Bella give him an overcoat
lined with black jennet.

They were waiting for Roddy to come back from the doctor's. Before Uncle
Victor left Morfe he had made Roddy promise that for Mamma's satisfaction
he would go and be overhauled. And it was as if he had said "You'll see
then how much need there is to worry."

You might have kept on hoping that something would happen to prevent
Roddy's going but for the size and solidity and expensiveness of the
preparations. You might forget that his passage was booked for the first
Saturday in March, that to-day was the first Wednesday, that Victor's two
hundred pounds had been paid to Jem Alderson's account at the bank in
Montreal, and still the black jennet lining of the overcoat shouted at
you that nothing _could_ stop Roddy's going now. Uncle Victor might be
reckless, but Uncle Edward and Aunt Bella took no risks.

Unless, after all, Dr. Kendal stopped it--if he said Roddy mustn't go.

She could hear Roddy's feet coming back. They sounded like Mark's feet on
the flagged path outside.

He came into the room quickly. His eyes shone, he looked pleased and
excited.

Mamma stirred in her chair.

"That's a bright face. We needn't ask if you've got your passport," she
said.

He looked at her, a light, unresting look.

"How right you are," he said. "And wise."

"Well, I didn't suppose there was much the matter with you."

"There isn't."

He went to the bookshelf where he kept his drawing-blocks.

"I wouldn't sit down and draw if I were you. There isn't time."

"There'll be less after Saturday."

He sat down and began to draw. He was as absorbed and happy as if none of
them had ever heard of Canada.

He chanted:

"'Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered.'"

The pencil moved excitedly. Volumes of smoke curled and rolled and
writhed on the left-hand side of the sheet. The guns of Balaclava.

"'Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
Rode the six hundred.'"

A rush of hoofs and heads and lifted blades on the right hand. The horses
and swords of the Light Brigade.

"'Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die'"--

"You ought to be a soldier, Roddy, like Mark, not a farmer."

"Oh wise! Oh right!

"'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.'"

III.

She was going up the schoolhouse lane towards Karva, because Roddy and
she had gone that way together on Friday, his last evening.

It was Sunday now; six o'clock: the time he used to bring Papa home. His
ship would have left Queenstown, it would be steering to the west.

She wondered how much he had really minded going. Perhaps he had only
been afraid he wouldn't be strong enough; for after he had seen the
doctor he had been different. Pleased and excited. Perhaps he didn't
mind so very much.

If she could only remember how he had looked and what he had said. He had
talked about the big Atlantic liner, and the Canadian forests. With luck
the voyage might last eleven or twelve clear days. You could shoot moose
and wapiti. Wapiti and elk. Elk. With his eyes shining. He was not quite
sure about the elk. He wished he had written to the High Commissioner for
Canada about the elk. That was what the Commissioner was there for, to
answer questions, to encourage you to go to his beastly country.

She could hear Roddy's voice saying these things as they walked over
Karva. He was turning it all into an adventure, his imagination playing
round and round it. And on Saturday morning he had been sick and couldn't
eat his breakfast. Mamma had been sorry, and at the same time vexed and
irritable as if she were afraid that the arrangements might, after all,
be upset. But in the end he had gone off, pleased and excited, with Jem
Alderson in the train.

She could see Jem's wide shoulders pushing through the carriage door
after Roddy. He had a gentle, reddish face and long, hanging moustaches
like a dying Gladiator. Little eyes that screwed up to look at you. He
would be good to Roddy.

It would be all right.

She stood still in the dark lane. A disturbing memory gnawed its way
through her thoughts that covered it: the way Roddy had looked at Mamma,
that Wednesday, the way he had spoken to her. "Oh wise. Oh right!"

That was because he believed she wanted him to go away. He couldn't
believe that she really cared for him; that Mamma really cared for
anybody but Mark; he couldn't believe that anybody cared for him.

"'Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
Rode the six hundred.'"

Roddy's chant pursued her up the lane.

The gate at the top fell to behind her. Moor grass showed grey among
black heather. She half saw, half felt her way along the sheep tracks.
There, where the edge of the round pit broke away, was the place where
Roddy had stopped suddenly in front of her.

"I wouldn't mind a bit if I hadn't been such a brute to little Mamma. Why
_are_ we such brutes to her?" He had turned in the narrow moor-track and
faced her with his question: "Why?"

"'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered'"--

Hunderd--blundered. Did Tennyson really call hundred hunderd?

The grey curve of the high road glimmered alongside the moor. From the
point where her track joined it she could see three lights, two moving,
one still. The still light at the turn came from the Aldersons' house.
The moving lights went with the klomp-klomp of hoofs on the road.

Down in the darkness beyond the fields Garthdale lay like a ditch under
the immense wall of Greffington Edge. Roddy hated Greffington Edge. He
hated Morfe. He _wanted_ to get away.

It would be all right.

The klomp-klomping sounded close behind her. Two shafts of light shot out
in front, white on the grey road. Dr. Kendal drove past in his dog-cart.
He leaned out over the side, peering. She heard him say something to
himself.

The wheels slowed down with a grating noise. The lights stood still. He
had pulled up. He was waiting for her.

She turned suddenly and went back up the moor by the way she had come.
She didn't want to see Dr. Kendal. She was afraid he would say something
about Roddy.

XXIII

I.

The books stood piled on the table by her window, the books Miss Wray of
Clevehead had procured for her, had given and lent her. Now Roddy had
gone she had time enough to read them: Hume's _Essays_, the fat maroon
Schwegler, the two volumes of Kant in the hedgesparrow-green paper
covers.

"_Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Kritik der reinen Vernunft_." She said it
over and over to herself. It sounded nicer than "_The Critique of Pure
Reason_." At the sight of the thick black letters on the
hedgesparrow-green ground her heart jumped up and down with excitement.
Lucky it was in German, so that Mamma couldn't find out what Kant was
driving at. The secret was hidden behind the thick black bars of the
letters.

In Schwegler, as you went on you went deeper. You saw thought folding and
unfolding, thought moving on and on, thought drawing the universe to
itself, pushing the universe away from itself to draw it back again,
closer than close.

Space and Time were forms of thought. They were infinite. So thought was
infinite; it went on and on for ever, carrying Space, carrying Time.

If only you knew what the Thing-in-itself was.

II.

"Mamma--"

The letter lay between them on the hall table by the study door. Her
mother put her hand over it, quick. A black, long-tailed M showed between
her forefinger and her thumb.

They looked at each other, and her mother's mouth began to pout and smile
as it used to when Papa said something improper. She took the letter and
went, with soft feet and swinging haunches like a cat carrying a mouse,
into the study. Mary stared at the shut door.

Maurice Jourdain. Maurice Jourdain. What on earth was he writing to Mamma
for?

Five minutes ago she had been quiet and happy, reading Kant's _Critique
of Pure Reason_. Now her heart beat like a hammer, staggering with its
own blows. The blood raced in her brain.

III.

"Mamma, if you don't tell me I shall write and ask him." Her mother
looked up, frightened.

"You wouldn't do that, Mary?"

"Oh, wouldn't I though! I'd do it like a shot."

She wondered why she hadn't thought of it an hour ago.

"Well--If there's no other way to stop you--"

Her mother gave her the letter, picking it up by one corner, as though it
had been a dirty pocket-handkerchief.

"It'll show you," she said, "the sort of man he is."

Mary held the letter in both her hands, gently. Her heart beat gently now
with a quiet feeling of happiness and satisfaction. She looked a long
time at the characters, the long-tailed M's, the close, sharp v's, the
t's crossed with a savage, downward stab. She was quiet as long as she
only looked. When she read the blood in her brain raced faster and
confused her. She stopped at the bottom of the first page.

"I can't think what he means."

"It's pretty plain what he means," her mother said.

"About all those letters. What letters?"

"Letters he's been writing to your father and me and your Uncle Victor."

"When?"

"Ever since you left school. You were sent to school to keep you out of
his way; and you weren't back before he began his persecuting. If you
want to know why we left Ilford, _that's_ why. He persecuted your poor
father. He persecuted your Uncle Victor. And now he's persecuting me."

"Persecuting?"

"What is it but persecuting? Threatening that he won't answer for the
consequences if he doesn't get what he wants. He's mistaken if he thinks
that's the way to get it."

"What--_does_ he want?"

"I suppose," her mother said, "he thinks he wants to marry you."

"Me? He doesn't say that. He only says he wants to come and see me. Why
shouldn't he?"

"Because your father didn't wish it, and your uncle and I don't wish it."

"You don't like him."

"Do _you_?"

"I--love him."

"Nonsense. You don't know what you're talking about. You'd have forgotten
all about him if you hadn't seen that letter."

"I thought he'd forgotten me. You ought to have told me. It was cruel not
to tell me. He must have loved me all the time. He said I was to wait
three years and I didn't know what he meant. He must have loved me then
and I didn't know it."

The sound of her voice surprised her. It came from her whole body; it
vibrated like a violin.

"How could he love you? You were a child then."

"I'm not a child now. You'll have to let him marry me."

"I'd rather see you in your coffin. I'd rather see you married to poor
Norman Waugh. And goodness knows I wouldn't like that."

"Your mother didn't like your marrying Papa."

"You surely don't compare Maurice Jourdain with your father?"

"He's faithful. Papa was faithful. I'm faithful too."

"Faithful! To a horrid man like that!"

"He isn't horrid. He's kind and clever and good. He's brave, like Mark.
He'd have been a soldier if he hadn't had to help his mother. And he's
honourable. He said he wouldn't see me or write to me unless you let him.
And he hasn't seen me and he hasn't written. You can't say he isn't
honourable."

"I suppose," her mother said, "he's honourable enough."

"You'll have to let him come. If you don't, I _shall go to him_."

"I declare if you're not as bad as your Aunt Charlotte."

IV.

Incredible; impossible; but it had happened.

And it was as if she had known it--all the time, known that she would
come downstairs that morning and see Maurice Jourdain's letter lying on
the table. She always had known that something, some wonderful,
beautiful, tremendous thing would happen to her. This was it.

It had been hidden in all her happiness. Her happiness was it. Maurice
Jourdain.

When she said "Maurice Jourdain" she could feel her voice throb in her
body like the string of a violin. When she thought of Maurice Jourdain
the stir renewed itself in a vague, exquisite vibration. The edges of her
mouth curled out with faint throbbing movements, suddenly sensitive, like
eyelids, like finger-tips.

Odd memories darted out at her. The plantation at Ilford. Jimmy's mouth
crushing her face. Jimmy's arms crushing her chest. A scarlet frock. The
white bridge-rail by the ford. Bertha Mitchison, saying things, things
you wouldn't think of if you could help it. But she was mainly aware of a
surpassing tenderness and a desire to immolate herself, in some
remarkable and noble fashion, for Maurice Jourdain. If only she could see
him, for ten minutes, five minutes, and tell him that she hadn't
forgotten him. He belonged to her real life. Her self had a secret place
where people couldn't get at it, where its real life went on. He was the
only person she could think of as having a real life at all like her own.
She had thought of him as mixed up for ever with her real life, so that
whether she saw him or not, whether she remembered him or not, he would
be there. He was in the songs she made, he was in the Sonata
_Appassionata_; he was in the solemn beauty of Karva under the moon. In
the _Critique of Pure Reason_ she caught the bright passing of his mind.

Perhaps she had forgotten a little what he looked like. Smoky black eyes.
Tired eyelids. A crystal mind, shining and flashing. A mind like a big
room, filled from end to end with light. Maurice Jourdain.

V.

"I don't think I should have known you, Mary."

Maurice Jourdain had come. In the end Uncle Victor had let him. He was
sitting there, all by himself, on the sofa in the middle of the room.

It was his third evening. She had thought it was going to pass exactly
like the other two, and then her mother had got up, with an incredible
suddenness, and left them.

Through the open window you could hear the rain falling in the garden;
you could see the garden grey and wet with rain.

She sat on the edge of the fender, and without looking up she knew that
he was watching her from under half-shut eyelids.

His eyelids were so old, so tired, so very tired and old.

"What did you cut it all off for?"

"Oh, just for fun."

Without looking at him she knew that he had moved, that his chin had
dropped to his chest; there would be a sort of puffiness in his cheeks
and about his jaw under the black, close-clipped beard. When she saw it
she felt a little creeping chill at her heart.

But that was unfaithfulness, that was cruelty. If he knew it--poor
thing--how it would hurt him! But he never would know. She would behave
as though she hadn't seen any difference in him at all.

If only she could set his mind moving; turn the crystal about; make it
flash and shine.

"What have they been doing to you?" he said. "You used to be clever. I
wonder if you're clever still."

"I don't think I am, very."

She thought: "I'm stupid. I'm as stupid as an owl. I never felt so stupid
in all my life. If only I could _think_ of something to say to him."

"Did they tell you what I've come for?"

"Yes."

"Are you glad?"

"Very glad."

"Why do you sit on the fender?"

"I'm cold."

"Cold and glad."

A long pause.

"Do you know why your mother hates me, Mary?"

"She doesn't. She only thought you'd killed Papa."

"I didn't kill him. It wasn't my fault if he couldn't control his
temper.... That isn't what she hates me for.... Do you know why you were
sent to school--the school my aunt found for you?"

"Well--to keep me from seeing you."

"Yes. And because I asked your father to let me educate you, since he
wasn't doing it himself. I wanted to send you to a school in Paris for
two years."

"I didn't know. They never told me. What made you want to do all that for
me?"

"It wasn't for you. It was for the little girl who used to go for walks
with me.... She was the nicest little girl. She said the jolliest things
in the dearest little voice. 'How can a man like _you_ care to talk to a
child like _me_?'"

"Did I say that? I don't remember."

"_She_ said it."

"It sounds rather silly of her."

"She wasn't silly. She was clever as they make them. And she was pretty
too. She had lots of hair, hanging down her back. Curling.... And they
take her away from me and I wait three years for her. She knew I was
waiting. And when I come back to her she won't look at me. She sits on
the fender and stares at the fire. She wears horrible black clothes."

"Because Papa's dead."

"She goes and cuts her hair all off. That isn't because your father's
dead."

"It'll grow again."

"Not for another three years. And I believe I hear your mother coming
back."

His chin dropped to his chest again. He brooded morosely. Presently Catty
came in with the coffee.

The next day he was gone.

VI.

"It seems to me," her mother said, "you only care for him when he isn't
there."

He had come again, twice, in July, in August. Each time her mother had
said, "Are you sure you want him to come again? You know you weren't very
happy the last time." And she had answered, "I know I'm going to be this
time."

"You see," she said, "when he _isn't_ there you remember, and when he
_is_ there he makes you forget."

"Forget what?"

"What it used to feel like."

Mamma had smiled a funny, contented smile. Mamma was different. Her face
had left off being reproachful and disapproving. It had got back the
tender, adorable look it used to have when you were little. She hated
Maurice Jourdain, yet you felt that in some queer way she loved you
because of him. You loved her more because of Maurice Jourdain.

The engagement happened suddenly at the end of August. You knew it would
happen some day; but you thought of it as happening to-morrow or the day
after rather than to-day. At three o'clock you started for a walk, never
knowing how you might come back, and at five you found yourself sitting
at tea in the orchard, safe. He would slouch along beside you, for miles,
morosely. You thought of his mind swinging off by itself, shining where
you couldn't see it. You broke loose from him to run tearing along the
road, to jump water-courses, to climb trees and grin down at him through
the branches. Then he would wake up from his sulking. Sometimes he would
be pleased and sometimes he wouldn't. The engagement happened just after
he had not been pleased at all.

She could still hear his voice saying "What do you _do_ it for?" and her
own answering.

"You must do _something_."

"You needn't dance jigs on the parapets of bridges."

They slid through the gap into the fields. In the narrow path he stopped
suddenly and turned.

"How can a child like _you_ care for a man like _me_?" Mocking her
sing-song.

He stooped and kissed her. She shut her eyes so as not to see the
puffiness.

"Will you marry me, Mary?"

VII.

After the engagement, the quarrel. It lasted all the way up the
schoolhouse lane.

"I _do_ care for you, I do, really."

"You don't know what you're talking about. You may care for me as a child
cares. You don't care as a woman does. No woman who cared for a man would
write the letters you do. I ask you to tell me about yourself--what
you're feeling and thinking--and you send me some ghastly screed about
Spinoza or Kant. Do you suppose any man wants to hear what his sweetheart
thinks about Space and Time and the Ding-an-sich?"

"You used to like it."

"I don't like it now. No woman would wear those horrible clothes if she
cared for a man and wanted him to care for her. She wouldn't cut her hair
off."

"How was I to know you'd mind so awfully? And how do you know what women
do or don't do?"

"Has it never occurred to you that I might know more women than you know
men? That I might have women friends?"

"I don't think I've thought about it very much."

"Haven't you? Men don't live to be thirty-seven without getting to know
women; they can't go about the world without meeting them.... There's a
little girl down in Sussex. A dear little girl. She's everything a man
wants a woman to be."

"Lots of hair?"

"Lots of hair. Stacks of it. And she's clever. She can cook and sew and
make her own clothes and her sisters'. She's kept her father's house
since she was fifteen. Without a servant."

"How awful for her. And you like her?"

"Yes, Mary."

"I'm glad you like her. Who else?"

"A Frenchwoman in Paris. And a German woman in Hamburg. And an
Englishwoman in London; the cleverest woman I know. She's unhappy, Mary.
Her husband behaves to her like a perfect brute."

"Poor thing. I hope you're nice to her."

"She thinks I am."

Silence. He peered into her face.

"Are you jealous of her, Mary?"

"I'm not jealous of any of them. You can marry them all if you want to."

"I was going to marry one of them."

"Then why didn't you?"

"Because the little girl in Essex wouldn't let me."

"Little beast!"

"So you're jealous of _her_, are you? You needn't be. She's gone. She
tried to swallow the _Kritik der reinen Vernunft_ and it disagreed with
her and she died.

"'Nur einmal doch maecht' ich dich sehen,
Und sinken vor dir auf's Knie,
Und sterbend zu dir sprechen,
Madam, ich liebe Sie!'"

"What's that? Oh, what's that?"

"_That_--Madam--is Heine."

VIII.

"My dearest Maurice--"

It was her turn for writing. She wondered whether he would like to hear
about the tennis party at the Vicarage. Mr. Spencer Rollitt's nephew,
Harry Craven, had been there, and the two Acroyd girls from Renton Lodge,
and Norman Waugh.

Harry Craven's fawn face with pointed chin; dust-white face with black
accents. Small fawn's mouth lifting upwards. Narrow nostrils slanting
upwards. Two lobes of white forehead. Half-moons of parted, brushed-back
hair.

He smiled: a blunt V opening suddenly on white teeth, black eyes
fluttering. He laughed: all his features made sudden, upward movements
like raised wings.

The Acroyds. Plump girls with pink, blown cheeks and sulky mouths. You
thought of sullen, milk-fed babies, of trumpeting cherubs disgusted with
their trumpets. They were showing their racquets to Harry Craven, bending
their heads. You could see the backs of their privet-white necks, fat,
with no groove in the nape, where their hair curled in springy wires,
Minna's dark, Sophy's golden. They turned their backs when you spoke and
pretended not to hear you.

She thought she would like Maurice to know that Harry Craven and she had
beaten Minna Ackroyd and Norman Waugh. A love set.

Afterwards--Harry Craven playing hide-and-seek in the dark. The tennis
net, coiled like a grey snake on the black lawn. "Let's hide together."
Harry Craven, hiding, crouching beside you under the currant bushes. The
scramble together up the water-butt and along the scullery roof. The last
rush across the lawn.

"I say, you run like the wind."

He took your hand. You ran faster and faster. You stood together, under
the ash tree, panting, and laughing, safe. He still held your hand.

Funny that you should remember it when you hadn't noticed it at the time.
Hands were funny things. His hand had felt like Mark's hand, or Roddy's.
You didn't think of it as belonging to him. It made you want to have Mark
and Roddy back again. To play with them.

Perhaps, after all, it wouldn't be kind to tell Maurice about the tennis
party. He couldn't have played like that. He couldn't have scrambled up
the water-butt and run with you along the scullery roof.

"My dearest Maurice: Nothing has happened since you left, except that
there was a tennis party at the Vicarage yesterday. You know what tennis
parties are like. You'll be shocked to hear that I wore my old black
jersey--the one you hated so--"

IX.

"'Mein Kind, wir waren Kinder.'"

She shut her eyes. She wanted nothing but his voice. His voice was alive.
It remembered. It hadn't grown old and tired. "My child, we once were
children, two children happy and small; we crept in the little hen-house
and hid ourselves under the straw."

"Kikerikueh! sie glaubten
Es waere Hahnen geschrei."

"...It's all very well, Mary, I can't go on reading Heine to you for
ever. And--_apres_?"

He had taken her on his knees. That happened sometimes. She kept one foot
on the floor so as not to press on him with her whole weight. And she
played with his watch chain. She liked to touch the things he wore. It
made her feel that she cared for him; it staved off the creeping,
sickening fear that came when their hands and faces touched.

"Do you know," he said, "what it will be like--afterwards?"

She began, slowly, to count the buttons of his waistcoat.

"Have you ever tried to think what it will be like?"

"Yes."

Last night, lying awake in the dark, she had tried to think. She had
thought of shoulders heaving over her, of arms holding her, of a face
looking into hers, a honey-white, beardless face, blue eyes, black
eyebrows drawn close down on to the blue. Jimmy's face, not Maurice
Jourdain's.

That was in September. October passed. She began to wonder when he would
come again.

He came on the last day of November.

X.

"Maurice, you're keeping something from me. Something's happened.
Something's made you unhappy."

"Yes. Something's made me unhappy."

The Garthdale road. Before them, on the rise, the white highway showed
like a sickle curving into the moor. At the horn of the sickle a tall ash
tree in the wall of the Aldersons' farm. Where the road dipped they
turned.

He slouched slowly, his head hung forward, loosening the fold of flesh
about his jaw. His eyes blinked in the soft November sunshine. His
eyelids were tight as though they had been tied with string.

"Supposing I asked you to release me from our engagement?"

"For always?"

"Perhaps for always. Perhaps only for a short time. Till I've settled
something. Till I've found out something I want to know. Would you,
Mary?"

"Of course I would. Like a shot."

"And supposing--I never settled it?"

"That would be all right. I can go on being engaged to you; but you
needn't be engaged to me."

"You dear little thing.... I'm afraid, I'm afraid that wouldn't do."

"It would do beautifully. Unless you're really keeping something back
from me."

"I am keeping something back from you.... I've no right to worry you with
my unpleasant affairs. I was fairly well off when I asked you to marry
me, but, the fact is, it looks as if my business was going to bits. I may
be able to pull it together again. I may not--"

"Is _that_ all? I'm glad you've told me. If you'd told me before it would
have saved a lot of bother."

"What sort of bother?"

"Well, you see, I wasn't quite sure whether I really wanted to marry
you--just yet. Sometimes I thought I did, sometimes I thought I didn't.
And now I know I do."

"That's it. I may not be in a position to marry you. I can't ask you to
share my poverty."

"I shan't mind that. I'm used to it."

"I may not be able to keep a wife at all."

"Of course you will. You're keeping a housekeeper now. And a cook and a
housemaid."

"I may have to send two of them away."

"Send them all away. I'll work for you all my life. I shall never want to
do anything else. It's what I always wanted. When I was a child I used to
imagine myself doing it for you. It was a sort of game I played."

"It's a sort of game you're playing now, my poor Mary.... No. No. It
won't do."

"What do you think I'm made of? No woman who cared for a man could give
him up for a thing like that."

"There are other things. Complications.... I think I'd better write to
your mother. Or your brother."

"Write to them--write to them. They won't care a rap about your business.
We're not like that, Maurice."

XI.

"You'd better let me see what he says, Mamma."

Her mother had called to her to come into the study. She had Maurice
Jourdain's letter in her hand. She looked sad and at the same time happy.

"My darling, he doesn't want you to see it."

"Is it as bad as all that?"

"Yes. If I'd had my way you should never have had anything to do with
him. I'd have forbidden him the house if your Uncle Victor hadn't said
that was the way to make you mad about him. He seemed to think that
seeing him would cure you. And so it ought to have done....

"He says you know he wants to break off the engagement, but he doesn't
think he has made you understand why."

"Oh, yes, he did. It's because of his business."

"He doesn't say a word about his business. I'm to break it to you that he
doesn't care for you as he thought he cared. As if he wasn't old enough
to know what he wanted. He might have made up his mind before he drove
your father into his grave."

"Tell me what he says."

"He just says that. He says he's in an awful position, and whatever he
does he must behave dishonourably.... I admit he's sorry enough. And he's
doing the only honourable thing."

"He _would_ do that."

She fixed her mind on his honour. You could love that. You could love
that always.

"He _says_ he asked you to release him. Did he?"

"Yes."

"Then why on earth didn't you?"

"I did. But I couldn't release myself."

"But that's what you ought to have done. Instead of leaving him to do
it."

"Oh, no. That would have been dishonourable to myself."

"You'd rather be jilted?"

"Much rather. It's more honourable to be jilted than to jilt."

"That's not the world's idea of honour."

"It's my idea of it.... And, after all, he _was_ Maurice Jourdain."

XII.

The pain hung on to the left side of her head, clawing. When she left off
reading she could feel it beat like a hammer, driving in a warm nail.

Aunt Lavvy sat on the parrot chair, with her feet on the fender. Her
fingers had left off embroidering brown birds on drab linen.

In the dying light of the room things showed fuzzy, headachy outlines. It
made you feel sick to look at them.

Mamma had left her alone with Aunt Lavvy.

"I suppose you think that nobody was ever so unhappy as you are," Aunt
Lavvy said.

"I hope nobody is. I hope nobody ever will be."

"Should you say _I_ was unhappy?"

"You don't look it. I hope you're not."

"Thirty-three years ago I was miserable, because I couldn't have my own
way. I couldn't marry the man I cared for."

"Oh--_that_. Why didn't you?"

"My mother and your father and your Uncle Victor wouldn't let me."

"I suppose he was a Unitarian?"

"Yes. He was a Unitarian. But whatever he'd been I couldn't have married
him. I couldn't do anything I liked. I couldn't go where I liked or stay
where I liked. I wanted to be a teacher, but I had to give it up."

"_Why_?"

"Because your Uncle Victor and I had to look after your Aunt Charlotte."

"You could have got somebody else to look after Aunt Charlotte. Somebody
else has to look after her now."

"Your Grandmamma made us promise never to send her away as long as it was
possible to keep her. That's why your Uncle Victor never married."

"And all the time Aunt Charlotte would have been better and happier with
Dr. Draper. Aunt Lavvy--t's too horrible."

"It wasn't as bad as you think. Your Uncle Victor couldn't have married
in any case."

"Didn't he love anybody?"

"Yes, Mary; he loved your mother."

"I see. And she didn't love him."

"He wouldn't have married her if she had loved him. He was afraid."

"Afraid?"

"Afraid of going like your Aunt Charlotte. Afraid of what he might hand
on to his children."

"Papa wasn't afraid. He grabbed. It was poor little Victor and you who
got nothing."

"Victor has got a great deal."

"And you--you?"

"I've got all I want. I've got all there is. When everything's taken
away, then God's there."

"If he's there, he's there anyhow."

"Until everything's taken away there isn't room to _see_ that he's
there."

When Catty came in with the lamp Aunt Lavvy went out quickly.

Mary got up and stretched herself. The pain had left off hammering. She
could think.

Aunt Lavvy--to live like that for thirty-three years and to be happy at
the end. She wondered what happiness there could be in that dull
surrender and acquiescence, that cold, meek love of God.

"Kikerikueh! sie glaubten
Es waere Hahnen geschrei."

XXIV

I.

Everybody in the village knew you had been jilted. Mrs. Waugh and Miss
Frewin knew it, and Mr. Horn, the grocer, and Mr. Oldshaw at the bank.
And Mr. Belk, the Justice of the Peace--little pink and flaxen gentleman,
carrying himself with an air of pompous levity--eyes slewing round as you
passed; and Mrs. Belk--hard, tight rotundity, little iron-grey eyes
twinkling busily in a snub face, putty-skinned with a bilious gleam;
curious eyes, busy eyes saying, "I'd like to know what she did to be
jilted."

Minna and Sophy Acroyd, with their blown faces and small, disgusted
mouths: you could see them look at each other; they were saying, "Here's
that awful girl again." They were glad you were jilted.

Mr. Spencer Rollitt looked at you with his hard, blue eyes. His mouth
closed tight with a snap when he saw you coming. He had disapproved of
you ever since you played hide-and-seek in his garden with his nephew. He
thought it served you right to be jilted.

And there was Dr. Charles's kind look under his savage, shaggy eyebrows,
and Miss Kendal's squeeze of your hand when you left her, and the sudden
start in Dorsy Heron's black hare's eyes. They were sorry for you because
you had been jilted.

Miss Louisa Wright was sorry for you. She would ask you to tea in her
little green-dark drawing-room; she lived in the ivy house next door to
Mrs. Waugh; the piano would be open, the yellow keys shining; from the
white title page enormous black letters would call to you across the
room: "Cleansing Fires." That was the song she sang when she was thinking
about Dr. Charles. First you played for her the Moonlight Sonata, and
then she sang for you with a feverish exaltation:

"For as gold is refined in the _fi_-yer,
So a heart is tried by pain."

She sang it to comfort you.

Her head quivered slightly as she shook the notes out of her throat in
ecstasy.

She was sorry for you; but she was like Aunt Lavvy; she thought it was a
good thing to be jilted; for then you were purified; your soul was set
free; it went up, writhing and aspiring, in a white flame to God.

II.

"Mary, why are you always admiring yourself in the glass?"

"I'm not admiring myself. I only wanted to see if I was better-looking
than last time."

"Why are you worrying about it? You never used to."

"Because I used to think I was pretty."

Her mother smiled. "You were pretty." And took back her smile. "You'd be
pretty always if you were happy, and you'd be happy if you were good.
There's no happiness for any of us without Christ."

She ignored the dexterous application.

"Do you mean I'm not, then, really, so very ugly?"

"Nobody said you were ugly."

"Maurice Jourdain did."

"You don't mean to say you're still thinking of that man?"

"Not thinking exactly. Only wondering. Wondering what it was he hated
so."

"You wouldn't wonder if you knew the sort of man he is. A man who could
threaten you with his infidelity."

"He never threatened me."

"I suppose it was me he threatened, then."

"What did he say?"

"He said that if his wife didn't take care to please him there were other
women who would."

"He ought to have said that to me. It was horrible of him to say it to
you."

She didn't know why she felt that it was horrible.

"I can tell you _one_ thing," said her mother, as if she had not told her
anything. "It was those books you read. That everlasting philosophy. He
said it was answerable for the whole thing."

"Then it was the--_the whole thing_ he hated."

"I suppose so," her mother said, dismissing a matter of small interest.
"You'd better change that skirt if you're going with me to Mrs. Waugh's."

"Do you mind if I go for a walk instead?"

"Not if it makes you any more contented."

"It might. Are you sure you don't mind?"

"Oh, go along with you!"

Her mother was pleased. She was always pleased when she scored a point
against philosophy.

III.

Mr. and Mrs. Belk were coming along High Row. She avoided them by turning
down the narrow passage into Mr. Horn's yard and the Back Lane. From the
Back Lane you could get up through the fields to the school-house lane
without seeing people.

She hated seeing them. They all thought the same thing: that you wanted
Maurice Jourdain and that you were unhappy because you hadn't got him.
They thought it was awful of you. Mamma thought it was awful, like--like
Aunt Charlotte wanting to marry the piano-tuner, or poor Jenny wanting to
marry Mr. Spall.

Maurice Jourdain knew better than that. He knew you didn't want to marry
him any more than he wanted to marry you. He nagged at you about your
hair, about philosophy--she could hear his voice nag-nagging now as she
went up the lane--he could nag worse than a woman, but he knew. _She_
knew. As far as she could see through the working of his dark mind, first
he had cared for her, cared violently. Then he had not cared.

That would be because he cared for some other woman. There were two
of them. The girl and the married woman. She felt no jealousy and no
interest in them beyond wondering which of them it would be and what
they would be like. There had been two Mary Oliviers; long-haired--
short-haired, and she had been jealous of the long-haired one. Jealous
of herself.

There had been two Maurice Jourdains, the one who said, "I'll understand.
I'll never lose my temper"; the one with the crystal mind, shining and
flashing, the mind like a big room filled from end to end with light. But
he had never existed.

Maurice Jourdain was only a name. A name for intellectual beauty. You
could love that. Love was "the cle-eansing _fi_-yer!" There was the love
of the body and the love of the soul. Perhaps she had loved Maurice
Jourdain with her soul and not with her body. No. She had _not_ loved him
with her soul, either. Body and soul; soul and body. Spinoza said they
were two aspects of the same thing. _What_ thing? Perhaps it was silly to
ask what thing; it would be just body _and_ soul. Somebody talked about a
soul dragging a corpse. Her body wasn't a corpse; it was strong and
active; it could play games and jump; it could pick Dan up and carry him
round the table; it could run a mile straight on end. It could excite
itself with its own activity and strength. It dragged a corpse-like soul,
dull and heavy; a soul that would never be excited again, never lift
itself up again in any ecstasy.

If only he had let her alone. If only she could go back to her real life.
But she couldn't. She couldn't feel any more her sudden, secret
happiness. Maurice Jourdain had driven it away. It had nothing to do with
Maurice Jourdain. He ought not to have been able to take it from you.

She might go up to Karva Hill to look for it; but it would not be there.

Book of the day: