Mary Olivier: A Life by May Sinclair

Produced by Suzanne Shell, Beth Trapaga and PG Distributed Proofreaders MARY OLIVIER: A LIFE BY MAY SINCLAIR 1919 CONTENTS BOOK ONE INFANCY (1865-1869) BOOK TWO CHILDHOOD (1869-1875) BOOK THREE ADOLESCENCE (1876-1879) BOOK FOUR MATURITY (1879-1900) BOOK FIVE MIDDLE AGE (1900-1910) BOOK ONE INFANCY (1865-1869) I I. The curtain of the big bed hung down beside
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Produced by Suzanne Shell, Beth Trapaga and PG Distributed Proofreaders







BOOK ONE INFANCY (1865-1869)





INFANCY (1865-1869)



The curtain of the big bed hung down beside the cot.

When old Jenny shook it the wooden rings rattled on the pole and grey men with pointed heads and squat, bulging bodies came out of the folds on to the flat green ground. If you looked at them they turned into squab faces smeared with green.

Every night, when Jenny had gone away with the doll and the donkey, you hunched up the blanket and the stiff white counterpane to hide the curtain and you played with the knob in the green painted iron railing of the cot. It stuck out close to your face, winking and grinning at you in a friendly way. You poked it till it left off and turned grey and went back into the railing. Then you had to feel for it with your finger. It fitted the hollow of your hand, cool and hard, with a blunt nose that pushed agreeably into the palm.

In the dark you could go tip-finger along the slender, lashing flourishes of the ironwork. By stretching your arm out tight you could reach the curlykew at the end. The short, steep flourish took you to the top of the railing and on behind your head.

Tip-fingering backwards that way you got into the grey lane where the prickly stones were and the hedge of little biting trees. When the door in the hedge opened you saw the man in the night-shirt. He had only half a face. From his nose and his cheek-bones downwards his beard hung straight like a dark cloth. You opened your mouth, but before you could scream you were back in the cot; the room was light; the green knob winked and grinned at you from the railing, and behind the curtain Papa and Mamma were lying in the big bed.

One night she came back out of the lane as the door in the hedge was opening. The man stood in the room by the washstand, scratching his long thigh. He was turned slantwise from the nightlight on the washstand so that it showed his yellowish skin under the lifted shirt. The white half-face hung by itself on the darkness. When he left off scratching and moved towards the cot she screamed.

Mamma took her into the big bed. She curled up there under the shelter of the raised hip and shoulder. Mamma’s face was dry and warm and smelt sweet like Jenny’s powder-puff. Mamma’s mouth moved over her wet cheeks, nipping her tears.

Her cry changed to a whimper and a soft, ebbing sob.

Mamma’s breast: a smooth, cool, round thing that hung to your hands and slipped from them when they tried to hold it. You could feel the little ridges of the stiff nipple as your finger pushed it back into the breast.

Her sobs shook in her throat and ceased suddenly.


The big white globes hung in a ring above the dinner table. At first, when she came into the room, carried high in Jenny’s arms, she could see nothing but the hanging, shining globes. Each had a light inside it that made it shine.

Mamma was sitting at the far end of the table. Her face and neck shone white above the pile of oranges on the dark blue dish. She was dipping her fingers in a dark blue glass bowl.

When Mary saw her she strained towards her, leaning dangerously out of Jenny’s arms. Old Jenny said “Tchit-tchit!” and made her arms tight and hard and put her on Papa’s knee.

Papa sat up, broad and tall above the table, all by himself. He was dressed in black. One long brown beard hung down in front of him and one short beard covered his mouth. You knew he was smiling because his cheeks swelled high up his face so that his eyes were squeezed into narrow, shining slits. When they came out again you saw scarlet specks and smears in their corners.

Papa’s big white hand was on the table, holding a glass filled with some red stuff that was both dark and shining and had a queer, sharp smell.

“Porty-worty winey-piney,” said Papa.

The same queer, sharp smell came from between his two beards when he spoke.

Mark was sitting up beside Mamma a long way off. She could see them looking at each other. Roddy and Dank were with them.

They were making flowers out of orange peel and floating them in the finger bowls. Mamma’s fingers were blue and sharp-pointed in the water behind the dark blue glass of her bowl. The floating orange-peel flowers were blue. She could see Mamma smiling as she stirred them about with the tips of her blue fingers.

Her underlip pouted and shook. She didn’t want to sit by herself on Papa’s knee. She wanted to sit in Mamma’s lap beside Mark. She wanted Mark to make orange-peel flowers for her. She wanted Mamma to look down at her and smile.

Papa was spreading butter on biscuit and powdered sugar on the butter.

“Sugary–Buttery–Bippery,” said Papa.

She shook her head. “I want to go to Mamma. I want to go to Mark.”

She pushed away the biscuit. “No. No. Mamma give Mary. Mark give Mary.”

“Drinky–winky,” said Papa.

He put his glass to her shaking mouth. She turned her head away, and he took it between his thumb and finger and turned it back again. Her neck moved stiffly. Her head felt small and brittle under the weight and pinch of the big hand. The smell and the sour, burning taste of the wine made her cry.

“Don’t tease Baby, Emilius,” said Mamma.

“I never tease anybody.”

He lifted her up. She could feel her body swell and tighten under the bands and drawstrings of her clothes, as she struggled and choked, straining against the immense clamp of his arms. When his wet red lips pushed out between his beards to kiss her she kicked. Her toes drummed against something stiff and thin that gave way and sprang out again with a cracking and popping sound.

He put her on the floor. She stood there all by herself, crying, till Mark came and took her by the hand.

“Naughty Baby. Naughty Mary,” said Mamma. “Don’t kiss her, Mark.”

“No, Mamma.”

He knelt on the floor beside her and smiled into her face and wiped it with his pocket-handkerchief. She put out her mouth and kissed him and stopped crying.

“Jenny must come,” Mamma said, “and take Mary away.”

“No. Mark take Mary.”

“Let the little beast take her,” said Papa. “If he does he shan’t come back again. Do you hear that, sir?”

Mark said, “Yes, Papa.”

They went out of the room hand in hand. He carried her upstairs pickaback. As they went she rested her chin on the nape of his neck where his brown hair thinned off into shiny, golden down.


Old Jenny sat in the rocking-chair by the fireguard in the nursery. She wore a black net cap with purple rosettes above her ears. You could look through the black net and see the top of her head laid out in stripes of grey hair and pinky skin.

She had a grey face, flattened and wide-open like her eyes. She held it tilted slightly backwards out of your way, and seemed to be always staring at something just above your head. Jenny’s face had tiny creases and crinkles all over it. When you kissed it you could feel the loose flesh crumpling and sliding softly over the bone. There was always about her a faint smell of sour milk.

No use trying to talk to Jenny. She was too tired to listen. You climbed on to her lap and stroked her face, and said “Poor Jenny. Dear Jenny. Poor Jenny-Wee so tired,” and her face shut up and went to sleep. Her broad flat nose drooped; her eyelids drooped; her long, grey bands of hair drooped; she was like the white donkey that lived in the back lane and slept standing on three legs with his ears lying down.

Mary loved old Jenny next to Mamma and Mark; and she loved the white donkey. She wondered why Jenny was always cross when you stroked her grey face and called her “Donkey-Jenny.” It was not as if she minded being stroked; because when Mark or Dank did it her face woke up suddenly and smoothed out its creases. And when Roddy climbed up with his long legs into her lap she hugged him tight and rocked him, singing Mamma’s song, and called him her baby.

He wasn’t. _She_ was the baby; and while you were the baby you could sit in people’s laps. But old Jenny didn’t want her to be the baby.

The nursery had shiny, slippery yellow walls and a brown floor, and a black hearthrug with a centre of brown and yellow flowers. The greyish chintz curtains were spotted with small brown leaves and crimson berries. There were dark-brown cupboards and chests of drawers, and chairs that were brown frames for the yellow network of the cane. Soft bits of you squeezed through the holes and came out on the other side. That hurt and made a red pattern on you where you sat down.

The tall green fireguard was a cage. When Jenny poked the fire you peeped through and saw it fluttering inside. If you sat still you could sometimes hear it say “teck-teck,” and sometimes the fire would fly out suddenly with a soft hiss.

High above your head you could just see the gleaming edge of the brass rail.

“Jenny–where’s yesterday and where’s to-morrow?”


When you had run a thousand hundred times round the table you came to the blue house. It stood behind Jenny’s rocking-chair, where Jenny couldn’t see it, in a blue garden. The walls and ceilings were blue; the doors and staircases were blue; everything in all the rooms was blue.

Mary ran round and round. She loved the padding of her feet on the floor and the sound of her sing-song:

“The pussies are blue, the beds are blue, the matches are blue and the mousetraps and all the litty mouses!”

Mamma was always there dressed in a blue gown; and Jenny was there, all in blue, with a blue cap; and Mark and Dank and Roddy were there, all in blue. But Papa was not allowed in the blue house.

Mamma came in and looked at her as she ran. She stood in the doorway with her finger on her mouth, and she was smiling. Her brown hair was parted in two sleek bands, looped and puffed out softly round her ears, and plaited in one plait that stood up on its edge above her forehead. She wore a wide brown silk gown with falling sleeves.

“Pretty Mamma,” said Mary. “In a blue dress.”


Every morning Mark and Dank and Roddy knocked at Mamma’s door, and if Papa was there he called out, “Go away, you little beasts!” If he was not there she said, “Come in, darlings!” and they climbed up the big bed into Papa’s place and said “Good morning, Mamma!”

When Papa was away the lifted curtain spread like a tent over Mary’s cot, shutting her in with Mamma. When he was there the drawn curtain hung straight down from the head of the bed.



White patterns on the window, sharp spikes, feathers, sprigs with furled edges, stuck flat on to the glass; white webs, crinkled like the skin of boiled milk, stretched across the corner of the pane; crisp, sticky stuff that bit your fingers.

Out of doors, black twigs thickened with a white fur; white powder sprinkled over the garden walk. The white, ruffled grass stood out stiffly and gave under your feet with a pleasant crunching. The air smelt good; you opened your mouth and drank it in gulps. It went down like cold, tingling water.


You saw the sun for the first time, a red ball that hung by itself on the yellowish white sky. Mamma said, “Yes, of course it would fall if God wasn’t there to hold it up in his hands.”

Supposing God dropped the sun–


The yellowish white sky had come close up to the house, a dirty blanket let down outside the window. The tree made a black pattern on it. Clear glass beads hung in a row from the black branch, each black twig was tipped with a glass bead. When Jenny opened the window there was a queer cold smell like the smell of the black water in the butt.

Thin white powder fluttered out of the blanket and fell. A thick powder. A white fluff that piled itself in a ridge on the window-sill and curved softly in the corner of the sash. It was cold, and melted on your tongue with a taste of window-pane.

In the garden Mark and Dank and Roddy were making the snow man.

Mamma stood at the nursery window with her back to the room. She called to Mary to come and look at the snow man.

Mary was tired of the snow man. She was making a tower with Roddy’s bricks while Roddy wasn’t there. She had to build it quick before he could come back and take his bricks away, and the quicker you built it the sooner it fell down. Mamma was not to look until it was finished.

“Look–look, Mamma! M-m-mary’s m-m-made a tar. And it’s _not_ falled down!”

The tower reached above Jenny’s knee.

“Come and look, Mamma–” But Mamma wouldn’t even turn her head.

“I’m looking at the snow man,” she said.

Something swelled up, hot and tight, in Mary’s body and in her face. She had a big bursting face and a big bursting body. She struck the tower, and it fell down. Her violence made her feel light and small again and happy.

“Where’s the tower, Mary?” said Mamma.

“There isn’t any tar. I’ve knocked it down. It was a nashty tar.”


Aunt Charlotte–

Aunt Charlotte had sent the Isle of Skye terrier to Dank.

There was a picture of Aunt Charlotte in Mamma’s Album. She stood on a strip of carpet, supported by the hoops of her crinoline; her black lace shawl made a pattern on the light gown. She wore a little hat with a white sweeping feather, and under the hat two long black curls hung down straight on each shoulder.

The other people in the Album were sulky, and wouldn’t look at you. The gentlemen made cross faces at somebody who wasn’t there; the ladies hung their heads and looked down at their crinolines. Aunt Charlotte hung her head too, but her eyes, tilted up straight under her forehead, pointed at you. And between her stiff black curls she was smiling–smiling. When Mamma came to Aunt Charlotte’s picture she tried to turn over the page of the Album quick.

Aunt Charlotte sent things. She sent the fat valentine with the lace paper border and black letters printed on sweet-smelling white satin that Papa threw into the fire, and the white china doll with black hair and blue eyes and no clothes on that Jenny hid in the nursery cupboard.

The Skye terrier brought a message tied under his chin: “Tib. For my dear little nephew Dan with Aunt Charlotte’s fond love.” He had high-peaked, tufted ears and a blackish grey coat that trailed on the floor like a shawl that was too big for him. When you tried to stroke him the shawl swept and trailed away under the table. You saw nothing but shawl and ears until Papa began to tease Tib. Papa snapped his finger and thumb at him, and Tib showed little angry eyes and white teeth set in a black snarl.

Mamma said, “Please don’t do that again, Emilius.”

And Papa did it again.


“What are you looking at, Master Daniel?” said Jenny.


“Then what are you looking like that for? You didn’t ought to.”

Papa had sent Mark and Dank to the nursery in disgrace. Mark leaned over the back of Jenny’s chair and rocked her. His face was red but tight; and as he rocked he smiled because of his punishment.

Dank lay on the floor on his stomach, his shoulders hunched, raised on his elbows, his chin supported by his clenched fists. He was a dark and white boy with dusty eyelashes and rough, doggy hair. He had puckered up his mouth and made it small; under the scowl of his twisted eyebrows he was looking at nothing.

“It’s no worse for you than it is for Master Mark,” said Jenny.

“_Isn’t_ it? Tib was my dog. If he hadn’t been my dog Papa wouldn’t have teased him, and Mamma wouldn’t have sent him back to Aunt Charlotte, and Aunt Charlotte wouldn’t have let him be run over.”

“Yes. But what did you say to your Papa?”

“I said I wish Tib _had_ bitten him. So I do. And Mark said it would have served him jolly well right.”

“So it would,” said Mark.

Roddy had turned his back on them. Nobody was taking any notice of him; so he sang aloud to himself the song he was forbidden to sing:

“John Brown’s body lies a-rotting in his grave, John Brown’s body lies a-rotting in his grave–“

The song seemed to burst out of Roddy’s beautiful white face; his pink lips twirled and tilted; his golden curls bobbed and nodded to the tune.

“John Brown’s body lies a-rotting in his grave, As we go marching on!”

“When I grow up,” said Dank, “I’ll kill Papa for killing Tibby. I’ll bore holes in his face with Mark’s gimlet. I’ll cut pieces out of him. I’ll get the matches and set fire to his beard. I’ll–I’ll _hurt_ him.”

“I don’t think _I_ shall,” said Mark. “But if I do I shan’t kick up a silly row about it first.”

“It’s all very well for you. You’d kick up a row if Tibby was your dog.”

Mary had forgotten Tibby. Now she remembered.

“Where’s Tibby? I want him.”

“Tibby’s dead,” said Jenny.

“What’s ‘dead’?”

“Never you mind.”

Roddy was singing:

“‘And _from_ his nose and _to_ his chin The worms crawled out and the worms crawled in’–

“_That’s_ dead,” said Roddy.


You never knew when Aunt Charlotte mightn’t send something. She forgot your birthday and sometimes Christmas; but, to make up for that, she remembered in between. Every time she was going to be married she remembered.

Sarah the cat came too long after Mark’s twelfth birthday to be his birthday present. There was no message with her except that Aunt Charlotte was going to be married and didn’t want her any more. Whenever Aunt Charlotte was going to be married she sent you something she didn’t want.

Sarah was a white cat with a pink nose and pink lips and pink pads under her paws. Her tabby hood came down in a peak between her green eyes. Her tabby cape went on along the back of her tail, tapering to the tip. Sarah crouched against the fireguard, her haunches raised, her head sunk back on her shoulders, and her paws tucked in under her white, pouting breast.

Mark stooped over her; his mouth smiled its small, firm smile; his eyes shone as he stroked her. Sarah raised her haunches under the caressing hand.

Mary’s body was still. Something stirred and tightened in it when she looked at Sarah.

“I want Sarah,” she said.

“You can’t have her,” said Jenny. “She’s Master Mark’s cat.”

She wanted her more than Roddy’s bricks and Dank’s animal book or Mark’s soldiers. She trembled when she held her in her arms and kissed her and smelt the warm, sweet, sleepy smell that came from the top of her head.

“Little girls can’t have everything they want,” said Jenny.

“I wanted her before you did,” said Dank. “You’re too little to have a cat at all.”

He sat on the table swinging his legs. His dark, mournful eyes watched Mark under their doggy scowl. He looked like Tibby, the terrier that Mamma sent away because Papa teased him.

“Sarah isn’t your cat either, Master Daniel. Your Aunt Charlotte gave her to your Mamma, and your Mamma gave her to Master Mark.”

“She ought to have given her to me. She took my dog away.”

“_I_ gave her to you,” said Mark.

“And I gave her to you back again.”

“Well then, she’s half our cat.”

“I want her,” said Mary. She said it again and again.

Mamma came and took her into the room with the big bed.

The gas blazed in the white globes. Lovely white lights washed like water over the polished yellow furniture: the bed, the great high wardrobe, the chests of drawers, the twisted poles of the looking-glass. There were soft rounds and edges of blond light on the white marble chimney-piece and the white marble washstand. The drawn curtains were covered with shining silver patterns on a sleek green ground that shone. All these things showed again in the long, flashing mirrors.

Mary looked round the room and wondered why the squat grey men had gone out of the curtains.

“Don’t look about you,” said Mamma. “Look at me. Why do you want Sarah?”

She had forgotten Sarah.

“Because,” she said, “Sarah is so sweet.”

“Mamma gave Sarah to Mark. Mary mustn’t want what isn’t given her. Mark doesn’t say, ‘I want Mary’s dollies.’ Papa doesn’t say, ‘I want Mamma’s workbox.'”

“But _I_ want Sarah.”

“And that’s selfish and self-willed.”

Mamma sat down on the low chair at the foot of the bed.

“God,” she said, “hates selfishness and self-will. God is grieved every time Mary is self-willed and selfish. He wants her to give up her will.”

When Mamma talked about God she took you on her lap and you played with the gold tassel on her watch chain. Her face was solemn and tender. She spoke softly. She was afraid that God might hear her talking about him and wouldn’t like it.

Mary knelt in Mamma’s lap and said “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” and “Our Father,” and played with the gold tassel. Every day began and ended with “Our Father” and “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”

“What’s hallowed?”

“Holy,” said Mamma. “What God is. Sacred and holy.”

Mary twisted the gold tassel and made it dance and run through the loop of the chain. Mamma took it out of her hands and pressed them together and stooped her head to them and kissed them. She could feel the kiss tingling through her body from her finger-tips, and she was suddenly docile and appeased.

When she lay in her cot behind the curtain she prayed: “Please God keep me from wanting Sarah.”

In the morning she remembered. When she looked at Sarah she thought: “Sarah is Mark’s cat and Dank’s cat.”

She touched her with the tips of her fingers. Sarah’s eyes were reproachful and unhappy. She ran away and crept under the chest of drawers.

“Mamma gave Sarah to Mark.”

Mamma was sacred and holy. Mark was sacred and holy. Sarah was sacred and holy, crouching under the chest of drawers with her eyes gleaming in the darkness.


It was a good and happy day.

She lay on the big bed. Her head rested on Mamma’s arm. Mamma’s face was close to her. Water trickled into her eyes out of the wet pad of pocket-handkerchief. Under the cold pad a hot, grinding pain came from the hole in her forehead. Jenny stood beside the bed. Her face had waked up and she was busy squeezing something out of a red sponge into a basin of pink water.

When Mamma pressed the pocket-handkerchief tight the pain ground harder, when she loosened it blood ran out of the hole and the pocket-handkerchief was warm again. Then Jenny put on the sponge.

She could hear Jenny say, “It was the Master’s fault. She didn’t ought to have been left in the room with him.”

She remembered. The dining-room and the sharp spike on the fender and Papa’s legs stretched out. He had told her not to run so fast and she had run faster and faster. It wasn’t Papa’s fault.

She remembered tripping over Papa’s legs. Then falling on the spike. Then nothing.

Then waking in Mamma’s room.

She wasn’t crying. The pain made her feel good and happy; and Mamma was calling her her darling and her little lamb. Mamma loved her. Jenny loved her.

Mark and Dank and Roddy came in. Mark carried Sarah in his arms. They stood by the bed and looked at her; their faces pressed close. Roddy had been crying; but Mark and Dank were excited. They climbed on to the bed and kissed her. They made Sarah crouch down close beside her and held her there. They spoke very fast, one after the other.

“We’ve brought you Sarah.”

“We’ve given you Sarah.”

“She’s your cat.”

“To keep for ever.”

She was glad that she had tripped over Papa’s legs. It was a good and happy day.


The sun shone. The polished green blades of the grass glittered. The gravel walk and the nasturtium bed together made a broad orange blaze. Specks like glass sparkled in the hot grey earth. On the grey flagstone the red poppy you picked yesterday was a black thread, a purple stain.

She was happy sitting on the grass, drawing the fine, sharp blades between her fingers, sniffing the smell of the mignonette that tingled like sweet pepper, opening and shutting the yellow mouths of the snap-dragon.

The garden flowers stood still, straight up in the grey earth. They were as tall as you were. You could look at them a long time without being tired.

The garden flowers were not like the animals. The cat Sarah bumped her sleek head under your chin; you could feel her purr throbbing under her ribs and crackling in her throat. The white rabbit pushed out his nose to you and drew it in again, quivering, and breathed his sweet breath into your mouth.

The garden flowers wouldn’t let you love them. They stood still in their beauty, quiet, arrogant, reproachful. They put you in the wrong. When you stroked them they shook and swayed from you; when you held them tight their heads dropped, their backs broke, they shrivelled up in your hands. All the flowers in the garden were Mamma’s; they were sacred and holy.

You loved best the flowers that you stooped down to look at and the flowers that were not Mamma’s: the small crumpled poppy by the edge of the field, and the ears of the wild rye that ran up your sleeve and tickled you, and the speedwell, striped like the blue eyes of Meta, the wax doll.

When you smelt mignonette you thought of Mamma.

It was her birthday. Mark had given her a little sumach tree in a red pot. They took it out of the pot and dug a hole by the front door steps outside the pantry window and planted it there.

Papa came out on to the steps and watched them.

“I suppose,” he said, “you think it’ll _grow_?”

Mamma never turned to look at him. She smiled because it was her birthday. She said, “Of course it’ll grow.”

She spread out its roots and pressed it down and padded up the earth about it with her hands. It held out its tiny branches, stiffly, like a toy tree, standing no higher than the mignonette. Papa looked at Mamma and Mark, busy and happy with their heads together, taking no notice of him. He laughed out of his big beard and went back into the house suddenly and slammed the door. You knew that he disliked the sumach tree and that he was angry with Mark for giving it to Mamma.

When you smelt mignonette you thought of Mamma and Mark and the sumach tree, and Papa standing on the steps, and the queer laugh that came out of his beard.

When it rained you were naughty and unhappy because you couldn’t go out of doors. Then Mamma stood at the window and looked into the front garden. She smiled at the rain. She said, “It will be good for my sumach tree.”

Every day you went out on to the steps to see if the sumach tree had grown.


The white lamb stood on the table beside her cot.

Mamma put it there every night so that she could see it first thing in the morning when she woke.

She had had a birthday. Suddenly in the middle of the night she was five years old.

She had kept on waking up with the excitement of it. Then, in the dark twilight of the room, she had seen a bulky thing inside the cot, leaning up against the rail. It stuck out queerly and its weight dragged the counterpane tight over her feet.

The birthday present. What she saw was not its real shape. When she poked it, stiff paper bent in and crackled; and she could feel something big and solid underneath. She lay quiet and happy, trying to guess what it could be, and fell asleep again.

It was the white lamb. It stood on a green stand. It smelt of dried hay and gum and paint like the other toy animals, but its white coat had a dull, woolly smell, and that was the real smell of the lamb. Its large, slanting eyes stared off over its ears into the far corners of the room, so that it never looked at you. This made her feel sometimes that the lamb didn’t love her, and sometimes that it was frightened and wanted to be comforted.

She trembled when first she stroked it and held it to her face, and sniffed its lamby smell.

Papa looked down at her. He was smiling; and when she looked up at him she was not afraid. She had the same feeling that came sometimes when she sat in Mamma’s lap and Mamma talked about God and Jesus. Papa was sacred and holy.

He had given her the lamb.

It was the end of her birthday; Mamma and Jenny were putting her to bed. She felt weak and tired, and sad because it was all over.

“Come to that,” said Jenny, “your birthday was over at five minutes past twelve this morning.”

“When will it come again?”

“Not for a whole year,” said Mamma.

“I wish it would come to-morrow.”

Mamma shook her head at her. “You want to be spoiled and petted every day.”

“No. No. I want–I want–“

“She doesn’t know what she wants,” said Jenny.

“Yes. I do. I _do_.”


“I want to love Papa every day. ‘Cause he gave me my lamb.”

“Oh,” said Mamma, “if you only love people because they give you birthday presents–“

“But I don’t–I don’t–really and truly–“

“You didn’t ought to have no more birthdays,” said Jenny, “if they make you cry.”

Why couldn’t they see that crying meant that she wanted Papa to be sacred and holy every day?

The day after the birthday when Papa went about the same as ever, looking big and frightening, when he “Baa’d” into her face and called out, “Mary had a little lamb!” and “Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” she looked after him sorrowfully and thought: “Papa gave me my lamb.”


One day Uncle Edward and Aunt Bella came over from Chadwell Grange. They were talking to Mamma a long time in the drawing-room, and when she came in they stopped and whispered.

Roddy told her the secret. Uncle Edward was going to give her a live lamb.

Mark and Dank said it couldn’t be true. Uncle Edward was not a real uncle; he was only Aunt Bella’s husband, and he never gave you anything. And anyhow the lamb wasn’t born yet and couldn’t come for weeks and weeks.

Every morning she asked, “Has my new lamb come? When is it coming? Do you think it will come to-day?”

She could keep on sitting still quite a long time by merely thinking about the new lamb. It would run beside her when she played in the garden. It would eat grass out of her hand. She would tie a ribbon round its neck and lead it up and down the lane. At these moments she forgot the toy lamb. It stood on the chest of drawers in the nursery, looking off into the corners of the room, neglected.

By the time Uncle Edward and Aunt Bella sent for her to come and see the lamb, she knew exactly what it would be like and what would happen. She saw it looking like the lambs in the Bible Picture Book, fat, and covered with thick, pure white wool. She saw Uncle Edward, with his yellow face and big nose and black whiskers, coming to her across the lawn at Chadwell Grange, carrying the lamb over his shoulder like Jesus.

It was a cold morning. They drove a long time in Uncle Edward’s carriage, over the hard, loud roads, between fields white with frost, and Uncle Edward was not on his lawn.

Aunt Bella stood in the big hall, waiting for them. She looked much larger and more important than Mamma.

“Aunt Bella, have you got my new lamb?”

She tried not to shriek it out, because Aunt Bella was nearly always poorly, and Mamma told her that if you shrieked at her she would be ill.

Mamma said “Sh-sh-sh!” And Aunt Bella whispered something and she heard Mamma answer, “Better not.”

“If she _sees_ it,” said Aunt Bella, “she’ll understand.”

Mamma shook her head at Aunt Bella.

“Edward would like it,” said Aunt Bella. “He wanted to give it her himself. It’s _his_ present.”

Mamma took her hand and they followed Aunt Bella through the servants’ hall into the kitchen. The servants were all there, Rose and Annie and Cook, and Mrs. Fisher, the housekeeper, and Giles, the young footman. They all stared at her in a queer, kind way as she came in.

A low screen was drawn close round one corner of the fireplace; Uncle Edward and Pidgeon, the bailiff, were doing something to it with a yellow horse-cloth.

Uncle Edward came to her, looking down the side of his big nose. He led her to the screen and drew it away.

Something lay on the floor wrapped in a piece of dirty blanket. When Uncle Edward pushed back the blanket a bad smell came out. He said, “Here’s your lamb, Mary. You’re just in time.”

She saw a brownish grey animal with a queer, hammer-shaped head and long black legs. Its body was drawn out and knotted like an enormous maggot. It lay twisted to one side and its eyes were shut.

“That isn’t my lamb.”

“It’s the lamb I always said Miss Mary was to have, isn’t it, Pidgeon?”

“Yes, Squoire, it’s the lamb you bid me set asoide for little Missy.”

“Then,” said Mary, “why does it look like that?”

“It’s very ill,” Mamma said gently. “Poor Uncle Edward thought you’d like to see it before it died. You _are_ glad you’ve seen it, aren’t you?”


Just then the lamb stirred in its blanket; it opened its eyes and looked at her.

She thought: “It’s my lamb. It looked at me. It’s _my_ lamb and it’s dying. My _lamb’s_ dying.”

The bad smell came again out of the blanket. She tried not to think of it. She wanted to sit down on the floor beside the lamb and lift it out of its blanket and nurse it; but Mamma wouldn’t let her.

When she got home Mamma took down the toy lamb from the chest of drawers and brought it to her.

She sat quiet a long time holding it in her lap and stroking it.

The stiff eyes of the toy lamb stared away over its ears.



Jenny was cross and tugged at your hair when she dressed you to go to Chadwell Grange.

“Jenny-Wee, Mamma says if I’m not good Aunt Bella will be ill. Do you think it’s really true?”

Jenny tugged. “I’d thank you for some of your Aunt Bella’s illness,” she said.

“I mean,” Mary said, “like Papa was in the night. Every time I get ‘cited and jump about I think she’ll open her mouth and begin.”

“Well, if she was to you’d oughter be sorry for her.”

“I _am_ sorry for her. But I’m frightened too.”

“That’s not being good,” said Jenny. But she left off tugging.

Somehow you knew she was pleased to think you were not really good at Aunt Bella’s, where Mrs. Fisher dressed and undressed you and you were allowed to talk to Pidgeon.

Roddy and Dank said you ought to hate Uncle Edward and Pidgeon and Mrs. Fisher, and not to like Aunt Bella very much, even if she was Mamma’s sister. Mamma didn’t really like Uncle Edward; she only pretended because of Aunt Bella.

Uncle Edward had an ugly nose and a yellow face widened by his black whiskers; his mouth stretched from one whisker to the other, and his black hair curled in large tufts above his ears. But he had no beard; you could see the whole of his mouth at once; and when Aunt Bella came into the room his little blue eyes looked up off the side of his nose and he smiled at her between his tufts of hair. It was dreadful to think that Mark and Dank and Roddy didn’t like him. It might hurt him so much that he would never be happy again.

About Pidgeon she was not quite sure. Pidgeon was very ugly. He had long stiff legs, and a long stiff face finished off with a fringe of red whiskers that went on under his chin. Still, it was not nice to think of Pidgeon being unhappy either. But Mrs. Fisher was large and rather like Aunt Bella, only softer and more bulging. Her round face had a high red polish on it always, and when she saw you coming her eyes twinkled, and her red forehead and her big cheeks and her mouth smiled all together a fat, simmering smile. When you got to the black and white marble tiles you saw her waiting for you at the foot of the stairs.

She wanted to ask Mrs. Fisher if it was true that Aunt Bella would be ill if she were naughty; but a squeezing and dragging came under her waist whenever she thought about it, and that made her shy and ashamed. It went when they left her to play by herself on the lawn in front of the house.

Aunt Bella’s house was enormous. Two long rows of windows stared out at you, their dark green storm shutters folded back on the yellow brick walls. A third row of little squeezed-up windows and little squeezed-up shutters blinked in the narrow space under the roof. All summer a sweet smell came from that side of the house where cream-coloured roses hung on the yellow walls between the green shutters. There was a cedar tree on the lawn and a sun-dial and a stone fountain. Goldfish swam in the clear greenish water. The flowers in the round beds were stiff and shining, as if they had been cut out of tin and freshly painted. When you thought of Aunt Bella’s garden you saw calceolarias, brown velvet purses with yellow spots.

She could always get away from Aunt Bella by going down the dark walk between the yew hedge and the window of Mrs. Fisher’s room, and through the stable-yard into the plantation. The cocks and hens had their black timber house there in the clearing, and Ponto, the Newfoundland, lived all by himself in his kennel under the little ragged fir trees.

When Ponto saw her coming he danced on his hind legs and strained at his chain and called to her with his loud, barking howl. He played with her, crawling on his stomach, crouching, raising first one big paw and then the other. She put out her foot, and he caught it and held it between his big paws, and looked at it with his head on one side, smiling. She squealed with delight, and Ponto barked again.

The stable bell would ring while they played in the plantation, and Uncle Edward or Pidgeon or Mrs. Fisher would come out and find her and take her back into the house. Ponto lifted up his head and howled after her as she went.

At lunch Mary sat quivering between Mamma and Aunt Bella. The squeezing and dragging under her waist had begun again. There was a pattern of green ivy round the dinner plates and a pattern of goats round the silver napkin rings. She tried to fix her mind on the ivy and the goats instead of looking at Aunt Bella to see whether she were going to be ill. She _would_ be if you left mud in the hall on the black and white marble tiles. Or if you took Ponto off the chain and let him get into the house. Or if you spilled the gravy.

Aunt Bella’s face was much pinker and richer and more important than Mamma’s face. She thought she wouldn’t have minded quite so much if Aunt Bella had been white and brown and pretty, like Mamma.

There–she had spilled the gravy.

Little knots came in Aunt Bella’s pink forehead. Her face loosened and swelled with a red flush; her mouth pouted and drew itself in again, pulled out of shape by something that darted up the side of her nose and made her blink.

She thought: “I know–I know–I _know_ it’s going to happen.”

It didn’t. Aunt Bella only said, “You should look at your plate and spoon, dear.”

After lunch, when they were resting, you could feel naughtiness coming on. Then Pidgeon carried you on his back to the calf-shed; or Mrs. Fisher took you up into her bedroom to see her dress.

In Mrs. Fisher’s bedroom a smell of rotten apples oozed through the rosebud pattern on the walls. There were no doors inside, only places in the wall-paper that opened. Behind one of these places there was a cupboard where Mrs. Fisher kept her clothes. Sometimes she would take the lid off the big box covered with wall-paper and show you her Sunday bonnet. You sat on the bed, and she gave you peppermint balls to suck while she peeled off her black merino and squeezed herself into her black silk. You watched for the moment when the brooch with the black tomb and the weeping willow on it was undone and Mrs. Fisher’s chin came out first by the open collar and Mrs. Fisher began to swell. When she stood up in her petticoat and bodice she was enormous; her breasts and hips and her great arms shook as she walked about the room.

Mary was sorry when she said good-bye to Uncle Edward and Aunt Bella and Mrs. Fisher.

For, always, as soon as she got home, Roddy rushed at her with the same questions.

“Did you let Uncle Edward kiss you?”


“Did you talk to Pidgeon?”


“Did you kiss Mrs. Fisher?”


And Dank said, “Have they taken Ponto off the chain yet?”


“Well, then, that shows you what pigs they are.”

And when she saw Mark looking at her she felt small and silly and ashamed.


It was the last week of the midsummer holidays. Mark and Dank had gone to stay for three days at Aunt Bella’s, and on the second day they had been sent home.

Mamma and Roddy were in the garden when they came. They were killing snails in a flower-pot by putting salt on them. The snails turned over and over on each other and spat out a green foam that covered them like soapsuds as they died.

Mark’s face was red and he was smiling. Even Dank looked proud of himself and happy. They called out together, “We’ve been sent home.”

Mamma looked up from her flower-pot.

“What did you _do_?” she said.

“We took Ponto off the chain,” said Dank.

“Did he get into the house?”

“Of course he did,” said Mark. “Like a shot. He got into Aunt Bella’s bedroom, and Aunt Bella was in bed.”

“Oh, _Mark_!”

“Uncle Edward came up just as we were getting him out. He was in an awful wax.”

“I’m afraid,” Dank said, “I cheeked him.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him he wasn’t fit to have a dog. And he said we weren’t to come again; and Mark said that was all we _had_ come for–to let Ponto loose.”

Mamma put another snail into the flower-pot, very gently. She was smiling and at the same time trying not to smile.

“He went back,” said Mark, “and raked it up again about our chasing his sheep, ages ago.”

“_Did_ you chase the sheep?”

“No. Of course we didn’t. They started to run because they saw Pidgeon coming, and Roddy ran after them till we told him not to. The mean beast said we’d made Mary’s lamb die by frightening its mother. When he only gave it her because he knew it wouldn’t live. _Then_ he said we’d frightened Aunt Bella.”

Mary stared at them, fascinated.

“Oh, Mark, was Aunt Bella ill?”

“Of course she wasn’t. She only says she’s going to be to keep you quiet.”

“Well,” said Mamma, “she won’t be frightened any more. He’ll not ask you again.”

“We don’t care. He’s not a bit of good. He won’t let us ride his horses or climb his trees or fish in his stinking pond.”

“Let Mary go there,” said Dank. “_She_ likes it. She kisses Pidgeon.”

“I don’t,” she cried. “I hate Pidgeon. I hate Uncle Edward and Aunt Bella. I hate Mrs. Fisher.”

Mamma looked up from her flower-pot, and, suddenly, she was angry.

“For shame! They’re kind to _you_,” she said. “You little naughty, ungrateful girl.”

“They’re _not_ kind to Mark and Dank. That’s why I hate them.”

She wondered why Mamma was not angry with Mark and Dank, who had let Ponto loose and frightened Aunt Bella.



That year when Christmas came Papa gave her a red book with a gold holly wreath on the cover. The wreath was made out of three words: _The Children’s Prize_, printed in letters that pretended to be holly sprigs. Inside the holly wreath was the number of the year, in fat gold letters: 1869.

Soon after Christmas she had another birthday. She was six years old. She could write in capitals and count up to a hundred if she were left to do it by herself. Besides “Gentle Jesus,” she could say “Cock-Robin” and “The House that Jack Built,” and “The Lord is my Shepherd” and “The Slave in the Dismal Swamp.” And she could read all her own story books, picking out the words she knew and making up the rest. Roddy never made up. He was a big boy, he was eight years old.

The morning after her birthday Roddy and she were sent into the drawing-room to Mamma. A strange lady was there. She had chosen the high-backed chair in the middle of the room with the Berlin wool-work parrot on it. She sat very upright, stiff and thin between the twisted rosewood pillars of the chair. She was dressed in a black gown made of a great many little bands of rough crape and a few smooth stretches of merino. Her crape veil, folded back over her hat, hung behind her head in a stiff square. A jet necklace lay flat and heavy on her small chest. When you had seen all these black things she showed you, suddenly, her white, wounded face.

Mamma called her Miss Thompson.

Miss Thompson’s face was so light and thin that you thought it would break if you squeezed it. The skin was drawn tight over her jaw and the bridge of her nose and the sharp naked arches of her eye-bones. She looked at you with mournful, startled eyes that were too large for their lids; and her flat chin trembled slightly as she talked.

“This is Rodney,” she said, as if she were repeating a lesson after Mamma.

Rodney leaned up against Mamma and looked proud and handsome. She had her arm round him, and every now and then she pressed it tighter to draw him to herself.

Miss Thompson said after Mamma, “And this is Mary.”

Her mournful eyes moved and sparkled as if she had suddenly thought of something for herself.

“I am sure,” she said, “they will be very good.”

Mamma shook her head, as much as to say Miss Thompson must not build on it.

Every weekday from ten to twelve Miss Thompson came and taught them reading, writing and arithmetic. Every Wednesday at half-past eleven the boys’ tutor, Mr. Sippett, looked in and taught Rodney “_Mensa_: a table.”

Mamma told them they must never be naughty with Miss Thompson because her mother was dead.

They went away and talked about her among the gooseberry bushes at the bottom of the garden.

“I don’t know how we’re going to manage,” Rodney said. “There’s no sense in saying we mustn’t be naughty because her mother’s dead.”

“I suppose,” Mary said, “it would make her think she’s deader.”

“We can’t help that. We’ve got to be naughty some time.”

“We mustn’t begin,” Mary said. “If we begin we shall have to finish.”

They were good for four days, from ten to twelve. And at a quarter past twelve on the fifth day Mamma found Mary crying in the dining-room.

“Oh, Mary, have you been naughty?”

“No; but I shall be to-morrow. I’ve been so good that I can’t keep on any longer.”

Mamma took her in her lap. She lowered her head to you, holding it straight and still, ready to pounce if you said the wrong thing.

“Being good when it pleases you isn’t being good,” she said. “It’s not what Jesus means by being good. God wants us to be good all the time, like Jesus.”

“But–Jesus and me is different. He wasn’t able to be naughty. And I’m not able to be good. Not _all_ the time.”

“You’re not able to be good of your own will and in your own strength. You’re not good till God makes you good.”

“Did God make me naughty?”

“No. God couldn’t make anybody naughty.”

“Not if he tried _hard_?”

“No. But,” said Mamma, speaking very fast, “he’ll make you good if you ask him.”

“Will he make me good if I don’t ask him?”

“No,” said Mamma.


Miss Thompson–

She was always sure you would be good. And Mamma was sure you wouldn’t be, or that if you were it would be for some bad reason like being sorry for Miss Thompson.

As long as Roddy was in the room Mary was sorry for Miss Thompson. And when she was left alone with her she was frightened. The squeezing and dragging under her waist began when Miss Thompson pushed her gentle, mournful face close up to see what she was doing.

She was afraid of Miss Thompson because her mother was dead.

She kept on thinking about Miss Thompson’s mother. Miss Thompson’s mother would be like Jenny in bed with her cap off; and she would be like the dead field mouse that Roddy found in the lane. She would lie on the bed with her back bent and her head hanging loose like the dear little field mouse; and her legs would be turned up over her stomach like his, toes and fingers clawing together. When you touched her she would be cold and stiff, like the field mouse. They had wrapped her up in a white sheet. Roddy said dead people were always wrapped up in white sheets. And Mr. Chapman had put her into a coffin like the one he was making when he gave Dank the wood for the rabbit’s house.

Every time Miss Thompson came near her she saw the white sheet and smelt the sharp, bitter smell of the coffin.

If she was naughty Miss Thompson (who seemed to have forgotten) would remember that her mother was dead. It might happen any minute.

It never did. For Miss Thompson said you were good if you knew your lessons; and at the same time you were not naughty if you didn’t know them. You might not know them to-day; but you would know them to-morrow or the next day.

By midsummer Mary could read the books that Dank read. If it had not been for Mr. Sippett and “_Mensa_: a table,” she would have known as much as Roddy.

Almost before they had time to be naughty Miss Thompson had gone. Mamma said that Roddy was not getting on fast enough.



The book that Aunt Bella had brought her was called _The Triumph Over Midian_, and Aunt Bella said that if she was a good girl it would interest her. But it did not interest her. That was how she heard Aunt Bella and Mamma talking together.

Mamma’s foot was tapping on the footstool, which showed that she was annoyed.

“They’re coming to-morrow,” she said, “to look at that house at Ilford.”

“To live?” Aunt Bella said.

“To live,” Mamma said.

“And is Emilius going to allow it? What’s Victor thinking of, bringing her down here?”

“They want to be near Emilius. They think he’ll look after her.”

“It was Victor who _would_ have her at home, and Victor might look after her himself. She was his favourite sister.”

“He doesn’t want to be too responsible. They think Emilius ought to take his share.”

Aunt Bella whispered something. And Mamma said, “Stuff and nonsense! No more than you or I. Only you never know what queer thing she’ll do next.”

Aunt Bella said, “She was always queer as long as I remember her.”

Mamma’s foot went tap, tap again.

“She’s been sending away things worse than ever. Dolls. Those naked ones.”

Aunt Bella gave herself a shake and said something that sounded like “Goo-oo-sh!” And then, “Going to be married?”

Mamma said, “Going to be married.”

And Aunt Bella said “T-t-t.”

They were talking about Aunt Charlotte.

Mamma went on: “She’s packed off all her clothes. Her new ones. Sent them to Matilda. Thinks she won’t have to wear them any more.”

“You mustn’t expect me to have Charlotte Olivier in my house,” Aunt Bella said. “If anybody came to call it would be most unpleasant.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Mamma said, tap-tapping, “if it was only Charlotte. But there’s Lavvy and her Opinions.”

Aunt Bella said “Pfoo-oof!” and waved her hands as if she were clearing the air.

“All I can say is,” Mamma said, “that if Lavvy Olivier brings her Opinions into this house Emilius and I will walk out of it.”

To-morrow–they were coming to-morrow, Uncle Victor and Aunt Lavvy and Aunt Charlotte.


They were coming to lunch, and everybody was excited.

Mark and Dank were in their trousers and Eton jackets, and Roddy in his new black velvet suit. The drawing-room was dressed out in its green summer chintzes that shone and crackled with glaze. Mamma had moved the big Chinese bowl from the cabinet to the round mahogany table and filled it with white roses. You could see them again in the polish; blurred white faces swimming on the dark, wine-coloured pool. You held out your face to be washed in the clear, cool scent of the white roses.

When Mark opened the door a smell of roast chicken came up the kitchen stairs.

It was like Sunday, except that you were excited.

“Look at Papa,” Roddy whispered. “Papa’s excited.”

Papa had come home early from the office. He stood by the fireplace in the long tight frock-coat that made him look enormous. He had twirled back his moustache to show his rich red mouth. He had put something on his beard that smelt sweet. You noticed for the first time how the frizzed, red-brown mass sprang from a peak of silky golden hair under his pouting lower lip. He was letting himself gently up and down with the tips of his toes, and he was smiling, secretly, as if he had just thought of something that he couldn’t tell Mamma. Whenever he looked at Mamma she put her hand up to her hair and patted it.

Mamma had done her hair a new way. The brown plait stood up farther back on the edge of the sloping chignon. She wore her new lavender and white striped muslin. Lavender ribbon streamed from the pointed opening of her bodice. A black velvet ribbon was tied tight round her neck; a jet cross hung from it and a diamond star twinkled in the middle of the cross. She pushed out her mouth and drew it in again, like Roddy’s rabbit, and the tip of her nose trembled as if it knew all the time what Papa was thinking.

She was so soft and pretty that you could hardly bear it. Mark stood behind her chair and when Papa was not looking he kissed her. The behaviour of her mouth and nose gave you a delicious feeling that with Aunt Lavvy and Aunt Charlotte you wouldn’t have to be so very good.

The front door bell rang. Papa and Mamma looked at each other, as much as to say, “_Now_ it’s going to begin.” And suddenly Mamma looked small and frightened. She took Mark’s hand.

“Emilius,” she said, “what am I to say to Lavinia?”

“You don’t say anything,” Papa said. “Mary can talk to Lavinia.”

Mary jumped up and down with excitement. She knew how it would be. In another minute Aunt Charlotte would come in, dressed in her black lace shawl and crinoline, and Aunt Lavvy would bring her Opinions. And something, something that you didn’t know, would happen.


Aunt Charlotte came in first with a tight, dancing run. You knew her by the long black curls on her shoulders. She was smiling as she smiled in the album. She bent her head as she bent it in the album, and her eyes looked up close under her black eyebrows and pointed at you. Pretty–pretty blue eyes, and something frightening that made you look at them. And something queer about her narrow jaw. It thrust itself forward, jerking up her smile.

No black lace shawl and no crinoline. Aunt Charlotte wore a blue and black striped satin dress, bunched up behind, and a little hat perched on the top of her chignon and tied underneath it with blue ribbons.

She had got in and was kissing everybody while Aunt Lavvy and Uncle Victor were fumbling with the hat stand in the hall.

Aunt Lavvy came next. A long grey face. Black bands of hair parted on her broad forehead. Black eyebrows; blue eyes that stuck out wide, that didn’t point at you. A grey bonnet, a grey dress, a little white shawl with a narrow fringe, drooping.

She walked slowly–slowly, as if she were still thinking of something that was not in the room, as if she came into a quiet, empty room.

You thought at first she was never going to kiss you, she was so tall and her face and eyes held themselves so still.

Uncle Victor. Dark and white; smaller than Papa, smaller than Aunt Lavvy; thin in his loose frock-coat. His forehead and black eyebrows were twisted above his blue, beautiful eyes. He had a small dark brown moustache and a small dark brown beard, trimmed close and shaped prettily to a point. He looked like something, like somebody; like Dank when he was mournful, like Dank’s dog, Tibby, when he hid from Papa. He said, “Well, Caroline. Well, Emilius.”

Aunt Charlotte gave out sharp cries of “Dear!” and “Darling!” and smothered them against your face in a sort of moan.

When she came to Roddy she put up her hands.

“Roddy–yellow hair. No. No. What have you done with the blue eyes and black hair, Emilius? That comes of letting your beard grow so long.”

Then they all went into the dining-room.

It was like a birthday. There was to be real blancmange, and preserved ginger, and you drank raspberry vinegar out of the silver christening cups the aunts and uncles gave you when you were born. Uncle Victor had given Mary hers. She held it up and read her own name on it.


They were all telling their names. Mary took them up and chanted them: “Mark Emilius Olivier; Daniel Olivier; Rodney Olivier; Victor Justus Olivier; Lavinia Mary Olivier; Charlotte Louisa Olivier.” She liked the sound of them.

She sat between Uncle Victor and Aunt Lavvy. Roddy was squeezed into the corner between Mamma and Mark. Aunt Charlotte sat opposite her between Mark and Daniel. She _had_ to look at Aunt Charlotte’s face. There were faint grey smears on it as if somebody had scribbled all over it with pencil.

A remarkable conversation.

“Aunt Lavvy! Aunt Lavvy! Have you brought your Opinions?”

“No, my dear, they were not invited. So I left them at home.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Papa said.

“Will you bring them next time?”

“No. Not next time, nor any other time,” Aunt Lavvy said, looking straight at Papa.

“Did you shut them up in the stair cupboard?”

“No, but I may have to some day.”

“Then,” Mary said, “if there are any little ones, may I have one?”

“May she, Emilius?”

“Certainly not,” Papa said. “She’s got too many little opinions of her own.”

“What do you know about opinions?” Uncle Victor said.

Mary was excited and happy. She had never been allowed to talk so much. She tried to eat her roast chicken in a business-like, grown-up manner, while she talked.

“I’ve read about them,” she said. “They are dear little animals with long furry tails, much bigger than Sarah’s tail, and they climb up trees.”

“Oh, they climb up trees, do they?” Uncle Victor was very polite and attentive.

“Yes. There’s their picture in Bank’s Natural History Book. Next to the Ornythrincus or Duck-billed Plat-i-pus. If they came into the house Mamma would be frightened. But I would not be frightened. I should stroke them.”

“Do you think,” Uncle Victor said, still politely, “you _quite_ know what you mean?”

“_I_ know,” Daniel said, “she means opossums.”

“Yes,” Mary said. “Opossums.”

“What _are_ opinions?”

“Opinions,” Papa said, “are things that people put in other people’s heads. Nasty, dangerous things, opinions.”

She thought: “That was why Mamma and Papa were frightened.”

“You won’t put them into Mamma’s head, will you, Aunt Lavvy?”

Mamma said, “Get on with your dinner. Papa’s only teasing.”

Aunt Lavvy’s face flushed slowly, and she held her mouth tight, as if she were trying not to cry. Papa was teasing Aunt Lavvy.

“How do you like that Ilford house, Charlotte?” Mamma asked suddenly.

“It’s the nicest little house you ever saw,” Aunt Charlotte said. “But it’s too far away. I’d rather have any ugly, poky old den that was next door. I want to see all I can of you and Emilius and Dan and little darling Mary. Before I go away.”

“You aren’t thinking of going away when you’ve only just come?”

“That’s what Victor and Lavinia say. But you don’t suppose I’m going to stay an old maid all my life to please Victor and Lavinia.”

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Mamma said.

“_They_ have. _I_ know what they’re thinking. But it’s all settled. I’m going to Marshall and Snelgrove’s for my things. There’s a silver-grey poplin in their window. If I decide on it, Caroline, you shall have my grey watered silk.”

“You needn’t waggle your big beard at me, Emilius,” Aunt Charlotte said.

Papa pretended that he hadn’t heard her and began to talk to Uncle Victor.

“Did you read John Bright’s speech in Parliament last night?”

Uncle Victor said, “I did.”

“What did you think of it?”

Uncle Victor raised his shoulders and his eyebrows and spread out his thin, small hands.

“A man with a face like that,” Aunt Charlotte said, “oughtn’t to _be_ in Parliament.”

“He’s the man who saved England,” said Papa.

“What’s the good of that if he can’t save himself? Where does he expect to go to with the hats he wears?”

“Where does Emilius expect to go to,” Uncle Victor said, “when his John Bright and his Gladstone get their way?”

Suddenly Aunt Charlotte left off smiling.

“Emilius,” she said, “do you uphold Gladstone?”

“Of course I uphold Gladstone. There’s nobody in this country fit to black his boots.”

“I know nothing about his boots. But he’s an infidel. He wants to pull down the Church. I thought you were a Churchman?”

“So I am,” Papa said. “I’ve too good an opinion of the Church to imagine that it can’t stand alone.”

“You’re a nice one to talk about opinions.”

“At any rate I know what I’m talking about.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Aunt Charlotte.

Aunt Lavvy smiled gently at the pattern of the tablecloth.

“Do you agree with him, Lavvy?” Mamma had found something to say.

“I agree with him better than he agrees with himself.”

A long conversation about things that interested Papa. Blanc-mange going round the table, quivering and shaking and squelching under the spoon.

“There’s a silver-grey poplin,” said Aunt Charlotte, “at Marshall and Snelgrove’s.”

The blanc-mange was still going round. Mamma watched it as it went. She was fascinated by the shivering, white blanc-mange.

“If there was only one man in the world,” Aunt Charlotte said in a loud voice, “and he had a flowing beard, I wouldn’t marry him.”

Papa drew himself up. He looked at Mark and Daniel and Roddy as if he were saying, “Whoever takes notice leaves the room.”

Roddy laughed first. He was sent out of the room.

Papa looked at Mark. Mark clenched his teeth, holding his laugh down tight. He seemed to think that as long as it didn’t come out of his mouth he was safe. It came out through his nose like a loud, tearing sneeze. Mark was sent out of the room.

Daniel threw down his spoon and fork.

“If he goes, I go,” Daniel said, and followed him.

Papa looked at Mary.

“What are _you_ grinning at, you young monkey?”

“Emilius,” said Aunt Charlotte, “if you send another child out of the room, I go too.”

Mary squealed, “Tee-he-he-he-he-_hee_! Te-_hee_!” and was sent out of the room.

She and Aunt Charlotte sat on the stairs outside the dining-room door. Aunt Charlotte’s arm was round her; every now and then it gave her a sudden, loving squeeze.

“Darling Mary. Little darling Mary. Love Aunt Charlotte,” she said.

Mark and Dank and Roddy watched them over the banisters.

Aunt Charlotte put her hand deep down in her pocket and brought out a little parcel wrapped in white paper. She whispered:

“If I give you something to keep, will you promise not to show it to anybody and not to tell?”

Mary promised.

Inside the paper wrapper there was a match-box, and inside the match-box there was a china doll no bigger than your finger. It had blue eyes and black hair and no clothes on. Aunt Charlotte held it in her hand and smiled at it.

“That’s Aunt Charlotte’s little baby,” she said. “I’m going to be married and I shan’t want it any more.

“There–take it, and cover it up, quick!”

Mamma had come out of the dining-room. She shut the door behind her.

“What have you given to Mary?” she said.

“Butter-Scotch,” said Aunt Charlotte.


All afternoon till tea-time Papa and Uncle Victor walked up and down the garden path, talking to each other. Every now and then Mark and Mary looked at them from the nursery window.

That night she dreamed that she saw Aunt Charlotte standing at the foot of the kitchen stairs taking off her clothes and wrapping them in white paper; first, her black lace shawl; then her chemise. She stood up without anything on. Her body was polished and shining like an enormous white china doll. She lowered her head and pointed at you with her eyes.

When you opened the stair cupboard door to catch the opossum, you found a white china doll lying in it, no bigger than your finger. That was Aunt Charlotte.

In the dream there was no break between the end and the beginning. But when she remembered it afterwards it split into two pieces with a dark gap between. She knew she had only dreamed about the cupboard; but Aunt Charlotte at the foot of the stairs was so clear and solid that she thought she had really seen her.

Mamma had told Aunt Bella all about it when they talked together that day, in the drawing-room. She knew because she could still see them sitting, bent forward with their heads touching, Aunt Bella in the big arm-chair by the hearth-rug, and Mamma on the parrot chair.


CHILDHOOD (1869-1875)



When Christmas came Papa gave her another _Children’s Prize_. This time the cover was blue and the number on it was 1870. Eighteen-seventy was the name of the New Year that was coming after Christmas. It meant that the world had gone on for one thousand eight hundred and seventy years since Jesus was born. Every year she was to have a _Children’s Prize_ with the name of the New Year on it.

Eighteen-seventy was a beautiful number. It sounded nice, and there was a seven in it. Seven was a sacred and holy number; so was three, because of the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and because of the seven stars and the seven golden candlesticks. When you said good-night to Mamma you kissed her either three times or seven times. If you went past three you had to go on to seven, because something dreadful would happen if you didn’t. Sometimes Mamma stopped you; then you stooped down and finished up on the hem of her dress, quick, before she could see you.

She was glad that the _Children’s Prize_ had a blue cover, because blue was a sacred and holy colour. It was the colour of the ceiling in St. Mary’s Chapel at Ilford, and it was the colour of the Virgin Mary’s dress.

There were golden stars all over the ceiling of St. Mary’s Chapel. Roddy and she were sent there after they had had chicken-pox and when their whooping-cough was getting better. They were not allowed to go to the church at Barkingside for fear of giving whooping-cough to the children in Dr. Barnardo’s Homes; and they were not allowed to go to Aldborough Hatch Church because of Mr. Propart’s pupils. But they had to go to church somewhere, whooping-cough or no whooping-cough, in order to get to Heaven; so Mark took them to the Chapel of Ease at Ilford, where the Virgin Mary in a blue dress stood on a sort of step over the door. Mamma said you were not to worship her, though you might look at her. She was a graven image. Only Roman Catholics worshipped graven images; they were heretics; that meant that they were shut outside the Church of England, which was God’s Church, and couldn’t get in. And they had only half a Sunday. In Roman Catholic countries Sunday was all over at twelve o’clock, and for the rest of the day the Roman Catholics could do just what they pleased; they danced and went to theatres and played games, as if Sunday was one of their own days and not God’s day.

She wished she had been born in a Roman Catholic country.

Every night she took the _Children’s Prize_ to bed with her to keep her safe. It had Bible Puzzles in it, and among them there was a picture of the Name of God. A shining white light, shaped like Mamma’s vinaigrette, with black marks in the middle. Mamma said the light was the light that shone above the Ark of the Covenant, and the black marks were letters and the word was the real name of God. She said he was sometimes called Jehovah, but that was not his real name. His real name was a secret name which nobody but the High Priest was allowed to say.

When you lay in the dark and shut your eyes tight and waited, you could see the light, shaped like the vinaigrette, in front of you. It quivered and shone brighter, and you saw in the middle, first, a dark blue colour, and then the black marks that were the real name of God. She was glad she couldn’t read it, for she would have been certain to let it out some day when she wasn’t thinking.

Perhaps Mamma knew, and was not allowed to say it. Supposing she forgot?

At church they sang “Praise Him in His name Jah and rejoice before Him.” Jah was God’s pet-name, short for Jehovah. It was a silly name–Jah. Somehow you couldn’t help thinking of God as a silly person; he was always flying into tempers, and he was jealous. He was like Papa. Dank said Papa was jealous of Mark because Mamma was so fond of him. There was a picture of God in the night nursery. He had a big flowing beard, and a very straight nose, like Papa, and he was lying on a sort of sofa that was a cloud. Little Jesus stood underneath him, between the Virgin Mary and Joseph, and the Holy Ghost was descending on him in the form of a dove. His real name was Jesus Christ, but they called him Emmanuel.

“There is a fountain filled with blood Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains.”

That was another frightening thing. It would be like the fountain in Aunt Bella’s garden, with blood in it instead of water. The goldfishes would die.

Mark was pleased when she said that Sarah wouldn’t be allowed to go to Heaven because she would try to catch the Holy Ghost.

Jesus was not like God. He was good and kind. When he grew up he was always dressed in pink and blue, and he had sad dark eyes and a little, close, tidy beard like Uncle Victor. You could love Jesus.

Jenny loved him. She was a Wesleyan; and her niece Catty was a Wesleyan. Catty marched round and round the kitchen table with the dish-cloth, drying the plates and singing:

“‘I love Jesus, yes, I do,
_For_ the Bible tells me _to_!'”


“‘I am so glad that my Father in Heaven Tells of His love in the book He has given– I am so glad that Jesus loves me,
Jesus loves me,
Jesus loves even me!'”

On New Year’s Eve Jenny and Catty went to the Wesleyan Chapel at Ilford to sing the New Year in. Catty talked about the Old Year as if it was horrid and the New Year as if it was nice. She said that at twelve o’clock you ought to open the window wide and let the Old Year go out and the New Year come in. If you didn’t something dreadful would happen.

Downstairs there was a party. Uncle Victor and Aunt Lavvy and Aunt Charlotte were there, and the big boys from Vinings and the Vicarage at Aldborough Hatch. Mark and Dank and Roddy were sitting up, and Roddy had promised to wake her when the New Year was coming.

He left the door open so that she could hear the clock strike twelve. She got up and opened the windows ready. There were three in Mamma’s room. She opened them all.

The air outside was like clear black water and very cold. You couldn’t see the garden wall; the dark fields were close–close against the house. One–Two–Three.

Seven–When the last stroke sounded the New Year would have come in.


The bells rang out; the bells of Ilford, the bells of Barkingside, and far beyond the flats and the cemetery there would be Bow bells, and beyond that the bells of the City of London. They clanged together and she trembled. The sounds closed over her; they left off and began again, not very loud, but tight–tight, crushing her heart, crushing tears out of her eyelids. When the bells stopped there was a faint whirring sound. That was the Old Year, that was eighteen sixty-nine, going out by itself in the dark, going away over the fields.

Mamma was not pleased when she came to bed and found the door and windows open and Mary awake in the cot.


At the end of January she was seven years old. Something was bound to happen when you were seven.

She was moved out of Mamma’s room to sleep by herself on the top floor in the night nursery. And the day nursery was turned into the boys’ schoolroom.

When you were little and slept in the cot behind the curtain Mamma would sometimes come and read you to sleep with the bits you wanted: “The Lord is my Shepherd,” and “Or ever the silver cord be loosed or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain or the wheel broken at the cistern,” and “the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”

When you were frightened she taught you to say, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…. He shall cover thee with His feathers and under His wings shalt thou trust…. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night.” And you were allowed to have a night-light.

Now it was all different. You went to bed half an hour later, while Mamma was dressing for dinner, and when she came to tuck you up the bell rang and she had to run downstairs, quick, so as not to keep Papa waiting. You hung on to her neck and untucked yourself, and she always got away before you could kiss her seven times. And there was no night-light. You had to read the Bible in the morning, and it always had to be the bits Mamma wanted, out of Genesis and the Gospel of St. John.

You had to learn about the one God and the three Persons. The one God was the nice, clever, happy God who made Mamma and Mark and Jenny and the sun and Sarah and the kittens. He was the God you really believed in.

At night when you lay on your back in the dark you thought about being born and about arithmetic and God. The sacred number three went into eighteen sixty-nine and didn’t come out again; so did seven. She liked numbers that fitted like that with no loose ends left over. Mr. Sippett said there were things you could do with the loose ends of numbers to make them fit. That was fractions. Supposing there was somewhere in the world a number that simply wouldn’t fit? Mr. Sippett said there was no such number. But queer things happened. You were seven years old, yet you had had eight birthdays. There was the day you were born, January the twenty-fourth, eighteen sixty-three, at five o’clock in the morning. When you were born you weren’t any age at all, not a minute old, not a second, not half a second. But there was eighteen sixty-two and there was January the twenty-third and the minute just before you were born. You couldn’t really tell when the twenty-third ended and the twenty-fourth began; because when you counted sixty minutes for the hour and sixty seconds for the minute, there was still the half second and the half of that, and so on for ever and ever.

You couldn’t tell when you were really born. And nobody could tell you what being born was. Perhaps nobody knew. Jenny said being born was just being born. Sarah’s grandchildren were born in the garden under the wall where the jasmine grew. Roddy shouted at the back door, and when you ran to look he stretched out his arms across the doorway and wouldn’t let you through. Roddy was excited and frightened; and Mamma said he had been very good because he stood across the door.

There was being born and there was dying. If you died this minute there would be the minute after. Then, if you were good, your soul was in Heaven and your body was cold and stiff like Miss Thompson’s mother. And there was Lazarus. “He hath been in the grave four days and by this time he stinketh.” That was dreadfully frightening; but they had to say it to show that Lazarus was really dead. That was how you could tell.

“‘Lord, if thou hadst been here our brother had not died.'”

That was beautiful. When you thought of it you wanted to cry.

Supposing Mamma died? Supposing Mark died? Or Dank or Roddy? Or even Uncle Victor? Even Papa?

They couldn’t. Jesus wouldn’t let them.

When you were frightened in the big dark room you thought about God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost. They didn’t leave you alone a single minute. God and Jesus stood beside the bed, and Jesus kept God in a good temper, and the Holy Ghost flew about the room and perched on the top of the linen cupboard, and bowed and bowed, and said, “Rook-ke-heroo-oo! Rook-ke-keroo-oo!”

And there was the parroquet.

Mark had given her the stuffed parroquet on her birthday, and Mamma had given her the Bible and the two grey china vases to make up, with a bird painted on each. A black bird with a red beak and red legs. She had set them up on the chimney-piece under the picture of the Holy Family. She put the Bible in the middle and the parroquet on the top of the Bible and the vases one on each side.

She worshipped them, because of Mamma and Mark.

She said to herself: “God won’t like _that_, but I can’t help it. The kind, clever God won’t mind a bit. He’s much too busy making things. And it’s not as if they were graven images.”


Jenny had taken her for a walk to Ilford and they were going home to the house in Ley Street.

There were only two walks that Jenny liked to go: down Ley Street to Barkingside where the little shops were; and up Ley Street to Ilford and Mr. Spall’s, the cobbler’s. She liked Ilford best because of Mr. Spall. She carried your boots to Mr. Spall just as they were getting comfortable; she was always ferreting in Sarah’s cupboard for a pair to take to him. Mr. Spall was very tall and lean; he had thick black eyebrows rumpled up the wrong way and a long nose with a red knob at the end of it. A dirty grey beard hung under his chin, and his long, shaved lips curled over in a disagreeable way when he smiled at you.

When Jenny and Catty went to sing the New Year in at the Wesleyan Chapel he brought them home. Jenny liked him because his wife was dead, and because he was a Wesleyan and Deputy Grand Master of the Independent Order of Good Templars. You had to shake hands with him to say good-bye. He always said the same thing: “Next time you come, little Missy, I’ll show you the Deputy Regalia.” But he never did.

To-day Jenny had made her stand outside in the shop, among the old boots and the sheets of leather, while she and Mr. Spall went into the back parlour to talk about Jesus. The shop smelt of leather and feet and onions and of Mr. Spall, so that she was glad when they got out again. She wondered how Jenny could bear to sit in the back parlour with Mr. Spall.