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KatherineMansfield

[KathleenBeauchamp]

THEGARDEN PARTY

 

 

 

 

CONTENTS

1. At the Bay

2. The Garden Party

3. The Daughters of the Late Colonel

4. Mr. and Mrs. Dove

5. The Young Girl

6. Life of Ma Parker

7. Marriage a la Mode

8. The Voyage

9. Miss Brill

10. Her First Ball

11. The Singing Lesson

12. The Stranger

13. Bank Holiday

14. An Ideal Family

15. The Lady's-Maid

 

 

1. AT THE BAY. 1.I.

Very earlymorning.  The sun was not yet risenand the whole of CrescentBay washidden under a white sea-mist.  The big bush-covered hills attheback weresmothered.  You could not see where they ended and the paddocksandbungalows began.  The sandy road was gone and the paddocks andbungalowsthe other side of it; there were no white dunes covered withreddishgrass beyond them; there was nothing to mark which was beach andwhere wasthe sea.  A heavy dew had fallen.  The grass was blue. Big dropshung onthe bushes and just did not fall; the silveryfluffy toi-toi waslimp onits long stalksand all the marigolds and the pinks in thebungalowgardens were bowed to the earth with wetness.  Drenched were thecoldfuchsiasround pearls of dew lay on the flat nasturtium leaves. Itlooked asthough the sea had beaten up softly in the darknessas thoughoneimmense wave had come ripplingrippling--how far?  Perhaps ifyou hadwaked upin the middle of the night you might have seen a big fish flickingin at thewindow and gone again...

Ah-Aah!sounded the sleepy sea.  And from the bush there came the soundoflittlestreams flowingquicklylightlyslipping between the smoothstonesgushing into ferny basins and out again; and there was thesplashingof big drops on large leavesand something else--what was it?--afaintstirring and shakingthe snapping of a twig and then such silencethat itseemed some one was listening.

Round thecorner of Crescent Baybetween the piled-up masses of brokenrockaflock of sheep came pattering.  They were huddled togetherasmalltossingwoolly massand their thinstick-like legs trotted alongquickly asif the cold and the quiet had frightened them.  Behind them anoldsheep-doghis soaking paws covered with sandran along with hisnoseto thegroundbut carelesslyas if thinking of something else.  Andthenin therocky gateway the shepherd himself appeared.  He was a leanuprightold manin a frieze coat that was covered with a web of tiny dropsvelvettrouserstied under the kneeand a wide-awake with a folded bluehandkerchiefround the brim.  One hand was crammed into his beltthe othergrasped abeautifully smooth yellow stick.  And as he walkedtaking histimehekept up a very soft light whistlingan airyfar-away flutingthatsounded mournful and tender.  The old dog cut an ancient caperor twoand thendrew up sharpashamed of his levityand walked a few dignifiedpaces byhis master's side.  The sheep ran forward in little patteringrushes;they began to bleatand ghostly flocks and herds answered themfrom underthe sea.  "Baa!  Baaa!"  For a time theyseemed to be always onthe samepiece of ground.  There ahead was stretched the sandy road withshallowpuddles; the same soaking bushes showed on either side and the sameshadowypalings.  Then something immense came into view; an enormousshock-hairedgiant with his arms stretched out.  It was the big gum-treeoutsideMrs.Stubbs' shopand as they passed by there was a strong whiff ofeucalyptus. And now big spots of light gleamed in the mist.  The shepherdstoppedwhistling; he rubbed his red nose and wet beard on his wet sleeveandscrewing up his eyesglanced in the direction of the sea.  Thesunwasrising.  It was marvellous how quickly the mist thinnedspedawaydissolvedfrom the shallow plainrolled up from the bush and was gone asif in ahurry to escape; big twists and curls jostled and shouldered eachother asthe silvery beams broadened.  The far-away sky--a brightpureblue--wasreflected in the puddlesand the dropsswimming along thetelegraphpolesflashed into points of light.  Now the leapingglitteringsea was sobright it made one's eyes ache to look at it.  The shepherd drewa pipethe bowl as small as an acornout of his breast pocketfumbledfor achunk of speckled tobaccopared off a few shavings and stuffed thebowl. He was a gravefine-looking old man.  As he lit up and the bluesmokewreathed his headthe dogwatchinglooked proud of him.

"Baa! Baaa!"  The sheep spread out into a fan.  They werejust clear ofthe summercolony before the first sleeper turned over and lifted a drowsyhead;their cry sounded in the dreams of little children...who lifted theirarms todrag downto cuddle the darling little woolly lambs of sleep.Then thefirst inhabitant appeared; it was the Burnells' cat Florriesitting onthe gatepostfar too early as usuallooking for their milk-girl. When she saw the old sheep-dog she sprang up quicklyarched herbackdrewin her tabby headand seemed to give a little fastidiousshiver. "Ugh!  What a coarserevolting creature!" saidFlorrie.  But theoldsheep-dognot looking upwaggled pastflinging out his legs fromside toside.  Only one of his ears twitched to prove that he sawandthoughther a silly young female.

The breezeof morning lifted in the bush and the smell of leaves and wetblackearth mingled with the sharp smell of the sea.  Myriads of birdsweresinging. A goldfinch flew over the shepherd's head andperching on thetiptop ofa sprayit turned to the sunruffling its small breastfeathers. And now they had passed the fisherman's hutpassed the charred-lookinglittle whare where Leila the milk-girl lived with her old Gran.The sheepstrayed over a yellow swamp and Wagthe sheep-dogpadded afterroundedthem up and headed them for the steepernarrower rocky pass thatled out ofCrescent Bay and towards Daylight Cove.  "Baa!  Baa!" Faint thecry cameas they rocked along the fast-drying road.  The shepherd putawayhis pipedropping it into his breast-pocket so that the little bowl hungover. And straightway the soft airy whistling began again.  Wag ranoutalong aledge of rock after something that smelledand ran back againdisgusted. Then pushingnudginghurryingthe sheep rounded the bend andtheshepherd followed after out of sight.

 

1.II.

A fewmoments later the back door of one of the bungalows openedand afigure ina broad-striped bathing suit flung down the paddockcleared thestilerushed through the tussock grass into the hollowstaggered up thesandyhillockand raced for dear life over the big porous stonesover thecoldwetpebbleson to the hard sand that gleamed like oil.  Splish-Splosh! Splish-Splosh!  The water bubbled round his legs as StanleyBurnellwaded out exulting.  First man in as usual!  He'd beatenthem allagain. And he swooped down to souse his head and neck.

"Hailbrother!  All hailThou Mighty One!"  A velvety bassvoice cameboomingover the water.

GreatScott!  Damnation take it!  Stanley lifted up to see a darkheadbobbingfar out and an arm lifted.  It was Jonathan Trout--there beforehim! "Glorious morning!" sang the voice.

"Yesvery fine!" said Stanley briefly.  Why the dickens didn'tthe fellowstick tohis part of the sea?  Why should he come barging over to thisexactspot?  Stanley gave a kicka lunge and struck outswimmingoverarm.ButJonathan was a match for him.  Up he camehis black hair sleekon hisforeheadhis short beard sleek.

"Ihad an extraordinary dream last night!" he shouted.

What wasthe matter with the man?  This mania for conversation irritatedStanleybeyond words.  And it was always the same--always some piffleabouta dreamhe'd hador some cranky idea he'd got hold ofor some rot he'dbeenreading.  Stanley turned over on his back and kicked with hislegstill hewas a living waterspout.  But even then..."I dreamed I washangingover aterrifically high cliffshouting to some one below."  Youwould be!thoughtStanley.  He could stick no more of it.  He stoppedsplashing."LookhereTrout" he said"I'm in rather a hurry thismorning."

"You'reWHAT?"  Jonathan was so surprised--or pretended to be--thathe sankunder thewaterthen reappeared again blowing.

"AllI mean is" said Stanley"I've no time to--to--to foolabout.  I wantto getthis over.  I'm in a hurry.  I've work to do thismorning--see?"

Jonathanwas gone before Stanley had finished.  "Passfriend!"said thebass voicegentlyand he slid away through the water with scarcely aripple...Butcurse the fellow!  He'd ruined Stanley's bathe.  What anunpracticalidiot the man was!  Stanley struck out to sea againand thenas quicklyswam in againand away he rushed up the beach.  He feltcheated.

Jonathanstayed a little longer in the water.  He floatedgently movinghis handslike finsand letting the sea rock his longskinny body.  Itwascuriousbut in spite of everything he was fond of Stanley Burnell.Truehehad a fiendish desire to tease him sometimesto poke fun at himbut atbottom he was sorry for the fellow.  There was somethingpathetic inhisdetermination to make a job of everything.  You couldn't helpfeelinghe'd becaught out one dayand then what an almighty cropper he'd come!At thatmoment an immense wave lifted Jonathanrode past himand brokealong thebeach with a joyful sound.  What a beauty!  And now therecameanother. That was the way to live--carelesslyrecklesslyspendingoneself. He got on to his feet and began to wade towards the shorepressinghis toes into the firmwrinkled sand.  To take things easynotto fightagainst the ebb and flow of lifebut to give way to it--that waswhat wasneeded.  It was this tension that was all wrong.  Tolive--tolive! And the perfect morningso fresh and fairbasking in the lightasthoughlaughing at its own beautyseemed to whisper"Why not?"

But now hewas out of the water Jonathan turned blue with cold.  He achedall over;it was as though some one was wringing the blood out of him. Andstalkingup the beachshiveringall his muscles tighthe too felt hisbathe wasspoilt.  He'd stayed in too long.

 

1.III.

Beryl wasalone in the living-room when Stanley appearedwearing a bluesergesuita stiff collar and a spotted tie.  He looked almostuncannilyclean andbrushed; he was going to town for the day.  Dropping into hischairhepulled out his watch and put it beside his plate.

"I'vejust got twenty-five minutes" he said.  "You might goand see if theporridgeis readyBeryl?"

"Mother'sjust gone for it" said Beryl.  She sat down at the tableandpoured outhis tea.

"Thanks!" Stanley took a sip.  "Hallo!" he said in an astonishedvoice"you'veforgotten the sugar."

"Ohsorry!"  But even then Beryl didn't help him; she pushedthe basinacross. What did this mean?  As Stanley helped himself his blue eyeswidened;they seemed to quiver.  He shot a quick glance at his sister-in-law andleaned back.

"Nothingwrongis there?" he asked carelesslyfingering his collar.

Beryl'shead was bent; she turned her plate in her fingers.

"Nothing"said her light voice.  Then she too looked upand smiled atStanley. "Why should there be?"

"O-oh! No reason at all as far as I know.  I thought you seemedrather--"

At thatmoment the door opened and the three little girls appearedeachcarrying aporridge plate.  They were dressed alike in blue jerseys andknickers;their brown legs were bareand each had her hair plaited andpinned upin what was called a horse's tail.  Behind them came Mrs.Fairfieldwith the tray.

"Carefullychildren" she warned.  But they were taking the verygreatestcare. They loved being allowed to carry things.  "Have you saidgoodmorning toyour father?"

"Yesgrandma."  They settled themselves on the bench oppositeStanley andBeryl.

"GoodmorningStanley!"  Old Mrs. Fairfield gave him his plate.

"Morningmother!  How's the boy?"

"Splendid! He only woke up once last night.  What a perfect morning!" Theold womanpausedher hand on the loaf of breadto gaze out of the opendoor intothe garden.  The sea sounded.  Through the wide-open windowstreamedthe sun on to the yellow varnished walls and bare floor.Everythingon the table flashed and glittered.  In the middle there was anold saladbowl filled with yellow and red nasturtiums.  She smiledand alook ofdeep content shone in her eyes.

"Youmight cut me a slice of that breadmother" said Stanley. "I've onlytwelve anda half minutes before the coach passes.  Has anyone given myshoes tothe servant girl?"

"Yesthey're ready for you."  Mrs. Fairfield was quiteunruffled.

"OhKezia!  Why are you such a messy child!" cried Beryldespairingly.

"MeAunt Beryl?"  Kezia stared at her.  What had she donenow?  She hadonly dug ariver down the middle of her porridgefilled itand was eatingthe banksaway.  But she did that every single morningand no one hadsaida word uptill now.

"Whycan't you eat your food properly like Isabel and Lottie?" How unfairgrown-upsare!

"ButLottie always makes a floating islanddon't youLottie?"

"Idon't" said Isabel smartly.  "I just sprinkle minewith sugar and puton themilk and finish it.  Only babies play with their food."

Stanleypushed back his chair and got up.

"Wouldyou get me those shoesmother?  AndBerylif you've finishedIwish you'dcut down to the gate and stop the coach.  Run in to your motherIsabeland ask her where my bowler hat's been put.  Wait a minute--haveyouchildren been playing with my stick?"

"Nofather!"

"ButI put it here."  Stanley began to bluster.  "Iremember distinctlyputting itin this corner.  Nowwho's had it?  There's no time tolose.Looksharp!  The stick's got to be found."

EvenAlicethe servant-girlwas drawn into the chase.  "Youhaven't beenusing itto poke the kitchen fire with by any chance?"

Stanleydashed into the bedroom where Linda was lying.  "Mostextraordinarything. I can't keep a single possession to myself.  They've made awaywithmy sticknow!"

"Stickdear?  What stick?"  Linda's vagueness on theseoccasions could notbe realStanley decided.  Would nobody sympathize with him?

"Coach! CoachStanley!"  Beryl's voice cried from the gate.

Stanleywaved his arm to Linda.  "No time to say good-bye!" hecried.  Andhe meantthat as a punishment to her.

Hesnatched his bowler hatdashed out of the houseand swung down thegardenpath.  Yesthe coach was there waitingand Berylleaning overtheopen gatewas laughing up at somebody or other just as if nothing hadhappened. The heartlessness of women!  The way they took it for granted itwas yourjob to slave away for them while they didn't even take the troubleto seethat your walking-stick wasn't lost.  Kelly trailed his whipacrossthehorses.

"Good-byeStanley" called Berylsweetly and gaily.  It was easyenoughto saygood-bye!  And there she stoodidleshading her eyes with herhand. The worst of it was Stanley had to shout good-bye toofor the sakeofappearances.  Then he saw her turngive a little skip and runback tothehouse.  She was glad to be rid of him!

Yesshewas thankful.  Into the living-room she ran and called "He'sgone!" Linda cried from her room:  "Beryl!  Has Stanleygone?"  Old Mrs.Fairfieldappearedcarrying the boy in his little flannel coatee.

"Gone?"

"Gone!"

Ohthereliefthe difference it made to have the man out of the house.Their veryvoices were changed as they called to one another; they soundedwarm andloving and as if they shared a secret.  Beryl went over to thetable. "Have another cup of teamother.  It's still hot." She wantedsomehowto celebrate the fact that they could do what they liked now.There wasno man to disturb them; the whole perfect day was theirs.

"Nothank youchild" said old Mrs. Fairfieldbut the way at thatmomentshe tossedthe boy up and said "a-goos-a-goos-a-ga!" to him meant thatshefelt thesame.  The little girls ran into the paddock like chickens letoutof a coop.

EvenAlicethe servant-girlwashing up the dishes in the kitchencaughttheinfection and used the precious tank water in a perfectly recklessfashion.

"Ohthese men!" said sheand she plunged the teapot into the bowlandheld itunder the water even after it had stopped bubblingas if it toowas a manand drowning was too good for them.

 

1.IV.

"Waitfor meIsa-bel!  Keziawait for me!"

There waspoor little Lottieleft behind againbecause she found it sofearfullyhard to get over the stile by herself.  When she stood on thefirst stepher knees began to wobble; she grasped the post.  Then you hadto put oneleg over.  But which leg?  She never could decide. And when shedidfinally put one leg over with a sort of stamp of despair--then thefeelingwas awful.  She was half in the paddock still and half in thetussockgrass.  She clutched the post desperately and lifted up hervoice."Waitfor me!"

"Nodon't you wait for herKezia!" said Isabel.  "She'ssuch a littlesilly. She's always making a fuss.  Come on!"  And she tuggedKezia'sjersey. "You can use my bucket if you come with me" she saidkindly."It'sbigger than yours."  But Kezia couldn't leave Lottie all byherself.She ranback to her.  By this time Lottie was very red in the face andbreathingheavily.

"Hereput your other foot over" said Kezia.

"Where?"

Lottielooked down at Kezia as if from a mountain height.

"Herewhere my hand is."  Kezia patted the place.

"Ohthere do you mean!"  Lottie gave a deep sigh and put thesecond footover.

"Now--sortof turn round and sit down and slide" said Kezia.

"Butthere's nothing to sit down onKezia" said Lottie.

Shemanaged it at lastand once it was over she shook herself and begantobeam.

"I'mgetting better at climbing over stilesaren't IKezia?"

Lottie'swas a very hopeful nature.

The pinkand the blue sunbonnet followed Isabel's bright red sunbonnet upthatslidingslipping hill.  At the top they paused to decide whereto goand tohave a good stare at who was there already.  Seen from behindstandingagainst the skylinegesticulating largely with their spadestheylookedlike minute puzzled explorers.

The wholefamily of Samuel Josephs was there already with their lady-helpwho sat ona camp-stool and kept order with a whistle that she wore tiedround herneckand a small cane with which she directed operations.  TheSamuelJosephs never played by themselves or managed their own game. Ifthey didit ended in the boys pouring water down the girls' necks or thegirlstrying to put little black crabs into the boys' pockets.  SoMrs. S.J. and thepoor lady-help drew up what she called a "brogramme" everymorning tokeep them "abused and out of bischief."  It was allcompetitionsor racesor round games.  Everything began with a piercing blast of thelady-help'swhistle and ended with another.  There were even prizes--largeratherdirty paper parcels which the lady-help with a sour little smiledrew outof a bulging string kit.  The Samuel Josephs fought fearfullyforthe prizesand cheated and pinched one another's arms--they were all expertpinchers. The only time the Burnell children ever played with them Keziahad got aprizeand when she undid three bits of paper she found a verysmallrusty button-hook.  She couldn't understand why they made such afuss...

But theynever played with the Samuel Josephs now or even went to theirparties. The Samuel Josephs were always giving children's parties at theBay andthere was always the same food.  A big washhand basin of verybrownfruit-saladbuns cut into four and a washhand jug full of something thelady-helpcalled "Limonadear."  And you went away in the eveningwith halfthe frilltorn off your frock or something spilled all down the front ofyouropen-work pinaforeleaving the Samuel Josephs leaping like savagesontheirlawn.  No!  They were too awful.

On theother side of the beachclose down to the watertwo little boystheirknickers rolled uptwinkled like spiders.  One was diggingtheotherpattered in and out of the waterfilling a small bucket.  Theywerethe TroutboysPip and Rags.  But Pip was so busy digging and Rags was sobusyhelping that they didn't see their little cousins until they werequiteclose.

"Look!"said Pip.  "Look what I've discovered."  And heshowed them an oldwetsquashed-looking boot.  The three little girls stared.

"Whateverare you going to do with it?" asked Kezia.

"Keepitof course!"  Pip was very scornful.  "It's afind--see?"

YesKeziasaw that.  All the same...

"There'slots of things buried in the sand" explained Pip.  "Theygetchucked upfrom wrecks.  Treasure.  Why--you might find--"

"Butwhy does Rags have to keep on pouring water in?" asked Lottie.

"Ohthat's to moisten it" said Pip"to make the work a biteasier.  Keepit upRags."

And goodlittle Rags ran up and downpouring in the water that turnedbrown likecocoa.

"Hereshall I show you what I found yesterday?" said Pip mysteriouslyandhe stuckhis spade into the sand.  "Promise not to tell."

Theypromised.

"Saycross my heart straight dinkum."

The littlegirls said it.

Pip tooksomething out of his pocketrubbed it a long time on the front ofhisjerseythen breathed on it and rubbed it again.

"Nowturn round!" he ordered.

Theyturned round.

"Alllook the same way!  Keep still!  Now!"

And hishand opened; he held up to the light something that flashedthatwinkedthat was a most lovely green.

"It'sa nemeral" said Pip solemnly.

"Isit reallyPip?"  Even Isabel was impressed.

The lovelygreen thing seemed to dance in Pip's fingers.  Aunt Beryl had anemeral ina ringbut it was a very small one.  This one was as big as astar andfar more beautiful.

 

1.V.

As themorning lengthened whole parties appeared over the sand-hills andcame downon the beach to bathe.  It was understood that at eleven o'clockthe womenand children of the summer colony had the sea to themselves.First thewomen undressedpulled on their bathing dresses and coveredtheirheads in hideous caps like sponge bags; then the children wereunbuttoned. The beach was strewn with little heaps of clothes and shoes;the bigsummer hatswith stones on them to keep them from blowing awaylookedlike immense shells.  It was strange that even the sea seemed tosounddifferently when all those leapinglaughing figures ran into thewaves. Old Mrs. Fairfieldin a lilac cotton dress and a black hat tiedunder thechingathered her little brood and got them ready.  The littleTrout boyswhipped their shirts over their headsand away the five spedwhiletheir grandma sat with one hand in her knitting-bag ready to draw outthe ballof wool when she was satisfied they were safely in.

The firmcompact little girls were not half so brave as the tenderdelicate-lookinglittle boys.  Pip and Ragsshiveringcrouching downslappingthe waternever hesitated.  But Isabelwho could swim twelvestrokesand Keziawho could nearly swim eightonly followed on thestrictunderstanding they were not to be splashed.  As for Lottieshedidn'tfollow at all.  She liked to be left to go in her own wayplease.And thatway was to sit down at the edge of the waterher legs straighther kneespressed togetherand to make vague motions with her arms as ifsheexpected to be wafted out to sea.  But when a bigger wave thanusualan oldwhiskery onecame lolloping along in her directionshe scrambledto herfeet with a face of horror and flew up the beach again.

"Heremotherkeep those for mewill you?"

Two ringsand a thin gold chain were dropped into Mrs Fairfield's lap.

"Yesdear.  But aren't you going to bathe here?"

"No-o"Beryl drawled.  She sounded vague.  "I'm undressingfarther along.I'm goingto bathe with Mrs. Harry Kember."

"Verywell."  But Mrs. Fairfield's lips set.  Shedisapproved of Mrs HarryKember. Beryl knew it.

Poor oldmothershe smiledas she skimmed over the stones.  Poor oldmother! Old!  Ohwhat joywhat bliss it was to be young...

"Youlook very pleased" said Mrs. Harry Kember.  She sathunched up on thestonesher arms round her kneessmoking.

"It'ssuch a lovely day" said Berylsmiling down at her.

"Ohmy dear!"  Mrs. Harry Kember's voice sounded as though sheknew betterthanthat.  But then her voice always sounded as though she knewsomethingbetterabout you than you did yourself.  She was a longstrange-lookingwoman withnarrow hands and feet.  Her facetoowas long and narrow andexhausted-looking;even her fair curled fringe looked burnt out andwithered. She was the only woman at the Bay who smokedand she smokedincessantlykeeping the cigarette between her lips while she talkedandonlytaking it out when the ash was so long you could not understand whyitdid notfall.  When she was not playing bridge--she played bridge everydayof herlife--she spent her time lying in the full glare of the sun. Shecouldstand any amount of it; she never had enough.  All the sameitdidnot seemto warm her.  Parchedwitheredcoldshe lay stretched on thestoneslike a piece of tossed-up driftwood.  The women at the Baythoughtshe wasveryvery fast.  Her lack of vanityher slangthe way shetreatedmen as though she was one of themand the fact that she didn'tcaretwopence about her house and called the servant Gladys "Glad-eyes"wasdisgraceful.  Standing on the veranda steps Mrs. Kember wouldcall inherindifferenttired voice"I sayGlad-eyesyou might heave meahandkerchiefif I've got onewill you?"  And Glad-eyesa red bow inherhairinstead of a capand white shoescame running with an impudentsmile. It was an absolute scandal!  Trueshe had no childrenand herhusband...Herethe voices were always raised; they became fervent.  How canhe havemarried her?  How can hehow can he?  It must have beenmoneyofcoursebut even then!

Mrs.Kember's husband was at least ten years younger than she wasand soincrediblyhandsome that he looked like a mask or a most perfectillustrationin an American novel rather than a man.  Black hairdark blueeyesredlipsa slow sleepy smilea fine tennis playera perfectdancerand with it all a mystery.  Harry Kember was like a man walkinginhissleep.  Men couldn't stand himthey couldn't get a word out ofthechap; heignored his wife just as she ignored him.  How did he live? Ofcoursethere were storiesbut such stories!  They simply couldn't betold.The womenhe'd been seen withthe places he'd been seen in...but nothingwas evercertainnothing definite.  Some of the women at the Bayprivatelythoughthe'd commit a murder one day.  Yeseven while they talked toMrs.Kember andtook in the awful concoction she was wearingthey saw herstretchedas she lay on the beach; but coldbloodyand still with acigarettestuck in the corner of her mouth.

Mrs.Kember roseyawnedunsnapped her belt buckleand tugged at thetapeof herblouse.  And Beryl stepped out of her skirt and shed her jerseyandstood upin her short white petticoatand her camisole with ribbon bows ontheshoulders.

"Mercyon us" said Mrs. Harry Kember"what a little beauty youare!"

"Don't!"said Beryl softly; butdrawing off one stocking and then theothershefelt a little beauty.

"Mydear--why not?" said Mrs. Harry Kemberstamping on her ownpetticoat.Really--herunderclothes!  A pair of blue cotton knickers and a linenbodicethat reminded one somehow of a pillow-case..."And you don't wearstaysdoyou?"  She touched Beryl's waistand Beryl sprang awaywith asmallaffected cry.  Then "Never!" she said firmly. 

"Luckylittle creature" sighed Mrs. Kemberunfastening her own.

Berylturned her back and began the complicated movements of some one whois tryingto take off her clothes and to pull on her bathing-dress all atone andthe same time.

"Ohmy dear--don't mind me" said Mrs. Harry Kember.  "Whybe shy?  Ishan't eatyou.  I shan't be shocked like those other ninnies." And shegave herstrange neighing laugh and grimaced at the other women.

But Berylwas shy.  She never undressed in front of anybody.  Wasthatsilly? Mrs. Harry Kember made her feel it was sillyeven something to beashamedof.  Why be shy indeed!  She glanced quickly at her friendstandingso boldlyin her torn chemise and lighting a fresh cigarette; and a quickboldevilfeeling started up in her breast.  Laughing recklesslyshe drewon thelimpsandy-feeling bathing-dress that was not quite dry andfastenedthe twisted buttons.

"That'sbetter" said Mrs. Harry Kember.  They began to go down thebeachtogether. "Reallyit's a sin for you to wear clothesmy dear.Somebody'sgot to tell you some day."

The waterwas quite warm.  It was that marvellous transparent bluefleckedwithsilverbut the sand at the bottom looked gold; when you kicked withyour toesthere rose a little puff of gold-dust.  Now the waves justreachedher breast.  Beryl stoodher arms outstretchedgazing outandaseach wavecame she gave the slightest little jumpso that it seemed it wasthe wavewhich lifted her so gently.

"Ibelieve in pretty girls having a good time" said Mrs. HarryKember."Whynot?  Don't you make a mistakemy dear.  Enjoy yourself." Andsuddenlyshe turned turtledisappearedand swam away quicklyquicklylike arat.  Then she flicked round and began swimming back.  Shewas goingto saysomething else.  Beryl felt that she was being poisoned by thiscoldwomanbutshe longed to hear.  But ohhow strangehow horrible!  AsMrs.HarryKember came up close she lookedin her black waterproof bathing-capwith hersleepy face lifted above the waterjust her chin touchinglike ahorriblecaricature of her husband.

 

1.VI.

In asteamer chairunder a manuka tree that grew in the middle of thefrontgrass patchLinda Burnell dreamed the morning away.  She didnothing. She looked up at the darkclosedry leaves of the manukaatthe chinksof blue betweenand now and again a tiny yellowish flowerdropped onher.  Pretty--yesif you held one of those flowers on the palmof yourhand and looked at it closelyit was an exquisite small thing.Each paleyellow petal shone as if each was the careful work of a lovinghand. The tiny tongue in the centre gave it the shape of a bell.  Andwhenyou turnedit over the outside was a deep bronze colour.  But as soon astheyfloweredthey fell and were scattered.  You brushed them offyourfrock asyou talked; the horrid little things got caught in one's hair.Whythenflower at all?  Who takes the trouble--or the joy--to make allthesethings that are wastedwasted...It was uncanny.

On thegrass beside herlying between two pillowswas the boy.  Soundasleep helayhis head turned away from his mother.  His fine dark hairlookedmore like a shadow than like real hairbut his ear was a brightdeepcoral.  Linda clasped her hands above her head and crossed herfeet.It wasvery pleasant to know that all these bungalows were emptythateverybodywas down on the beachout of sightout of hearing.  She hadthegarden toherself; she was alone.

Dazzlingwhite the picotees shone; the golden-eyed marigold glittered; thenasturtiumswreathed the veranda poles in green and gold flame.  If onlyone hadtime to look at these flowers long enoughtime to get over thesense ofnovelty and strangenesstime to know them!  But as soon as onepaused topart the petalsto discover the under-side of the leafalongcame Lifeand one was swept away.  Andlying in her cane chairLindafeltso light;she felt like a leaf.  Along came Life like a wind and she wasseized andshaken; she had to go.  Oh dearwould it always be so? Wasthere noescape?

...Now shesat on the veranda of their Tasmanian homeleaning against herfather'sknee.  And he promised"As soon as you and I are oldenoughLinnywe'll cut off somewherewe'll escape.  Two boys together. I have afancy I'dlike to sail up a river in China."  Linda saw that riververywidecovered with little rafts and boats.  She saw the yellow hats oftheboatmenand she heard their highthin voices as they called...

"Yespapa."

But justthen a very broad young man with bright ginger hair walked slowlypast theirhouseand slowlysolemnly evenuncovered.  Linda's fatherpulled herear teasinglyin the way he had.

"Linny'sbeau" he whispered.

"Ohpapafancy being married to Stanley Burnell!"

Wellshewas married to him.  And what was more she loved him.  NottheStanleywhom every one sawnot the everyday one; but a timidsensitiveinnocentStanley who knelt down every night to say his prayersand wholonged tobe good.  Stanley was simple.  If he believed in people--ashebelievedin herfor instance--it was with his whole heart.  He could notbedisloyal; he could not tell a lie.  And how terribly he sufferedif hethoughtany one--she--was not being dead straightdead sincere with him!"Thisis too subtle for me!"  He flung out the wordsbut hisopenquiveringdistraught look was like the look of a trapped beast.

But thetrouble was--here Linda felt almost inclined to laughthoughHeavenknows it was no laughing matter--she saw her Stanley so seldom.There wereglimpsesmomentsbreathing spaces of calmbut all the rest ofthe timeit was like living in a house that couldn't be cured of the habitofcatching on fireon a ship that got wrecked every day.  And itwasalwaysStanley who was in the thick of the danger.  Her whole time wasspent inrescuing himand restoring himand calming him downandlisteningto his story.  And what was left of her time was spent in thedread ofhaving children.

Lindafrowned; she sat up quickly in her steamer chair and clasped herankles. Yesthat was her real grudge against life; that was what shecould notunderstand.  That was the question she asked and askedandlistenedin vain for the answer.  It was all very well to say it was thecommon lotof women to bear children.  It wasn't true.  Shefor onecouldprove thatwrong.  She was brokenmade weakher courage was gonethroughchild-bearing. And what made it doubly hard to bear wasshe did not loveherchildren.  It was useless pretending.  Even if she had hadthe strengthshe neverwould have nursed and played with the little girls.  Noit wasas thougha cold breath had chilled her through and through on each ofthoseawful journeys; she had no warmth left to give them.  As to theboy--wellthank Heavenmother had taken him; he was mother'sor Beryl'soranybody'swho wanted him.  She had hardly held him in her arms.  Shewas soindifferentabout him that as he lay there...Linda glanced down.

The boyhad turned over.  He lay facing herand he was no longerasleep.Hisdark-bluebaby eyes were open; he looked as though he was peeping athismother.  And suddenly his face dimpled; it broke into a widetoothlesssmileaperfect beamno less.

"I'mhere!" that happy smile seemed to say.  "Why don't youlike me?"

There wassomething so quaintso unexpected about that smile that Lindasmiledherself.  But she checked herself and said to the boy coldly"Idon't likebabies."

"Don'tlike babies?"  The boy couldn't believe her.  "Don'tlike me?  " Hewaved hisarms foolishly at his mother.

Lindadropped off her chair on to the grass.

"Whydo you keep on smiling?" she said severely.  "If youknew what I wasthinkingaboutyou wouldn't."

But heonly squeezed up his eyesslylyand rolled his head on the pillow.He didn'tbelieve a word she said.

"Weknow all about that!" smiled the boy.

Linda wasso astonished at the confidence of this little creature...Ah nobesincere.  That was not what she felt; it was something fardifferentitwassomething so newso...The tears danced in her eyes; she breathed inasmallwhisper to the boy"Hallomy funny!"

But by nowthe boy had forgotten his mother.  He was serious again.Somethingpinksomething soft waved in front of him.  He made a grab atitand itimmediately disappeared.  But when he lay backanotherlikethefirstappeared.  This time he determined to catch it.  He made atremendouseffort and rolled right over.

 

1.VII.

The tidewas out; the beach was deserted; lazily flopped the warm sea. Thesun beatdownbeat down hot and fiery on the fine sandbaking the greyand blueand black and white-veined pebbles.  It sucked up the littledropof waterthat lay in the hollow of the curved shells; it bleached the pinkconvolvulusthat threaded through and through the sand-hills.  Nothingseemed tomove but the small sand-hoppers.  Pit-pit-pit!  They wereneverstill.

Over thereon the weed-hung rocks that looked at low tide like shaggybeastscome down to the water to drinkthe sunlight seemed to spin like asilvercoin dropped into each of the small rock pools.  They dancedtheyquiveredand minute ripples laved the porous shores.  Looking downbending overeach pool was like a lake with pink and blue housesclusteredon the shores; and oh! the vast mountainous country behind thosehouses--theravinesthe passesthe dangerous creeks and fearful tracksthat ledto the water's edge.  Underneath waved the sea-forest--pinkthread-liketreesvelvet anemonesand orange berry-spotted weeds.  Now astone onthe bottom movedrockedand there was a glimpse of a blackfeeler;now a thread-like creature wavered by and was lost.  Somethingwashappeningto the pinkwaving trees; they were changing to a cold moonlightblue. And now there sounded the faintest "plop."  Who madethat sound?What wasgoing on down there?  And how stronghow damp the seaweed smeltin the hotsun...

The greenblinds were drawn in the bungalows of the summer colony.  Overtheverandasprone on the paddockflung over the fencesthere wereexhausted-lookingbathing-dresses and rough striped towels.  Each backwindowseemed to have a pair of sand-shoes on the sill and some lumps ofrock or abucket or a collection of pawa shells.  The bush quivered in ahaze ofheat; the sandy road was empty except for the Trouts' dog Snookerwho laystretched in the very middle of it.  His blue eye was turned uphis legsstuck out stifflyand he gave an occasional desperate-soundingpuffasmuch as to say he had decided to make an end of it and was onlywaitingfor some kind cart to come along.

"Whatare you looking atmy grandma?  Why do you keep stopping andsort ofstaring atthe wall?"

Kezia andher grandmother were taking their siesta together.  The littlegirlwearing only her short drawers and her under-bodiceher arms andlegs barelay on one of the puffed-up pillows of her grandma's bedandthe oldwomanin a white ruffled dressing-gownsat in a rocker at thewindowwith a long piece of pink knitting in her lap.  This room thattheysharedlike the other rooms of the bungalowwas of light varnished woodand thefloor was bare.  The furniture was of the shabbiestthesimplest.Thedressing-tablefor instancewas a packing-case in a sprigged muslinpetticoatand the mirror above was very strange; it was as though a littlepiece offorked lightning was imprisoned in it.  On the table there stoodajar ofsea-pinkspressed so tightly together they looked more like avelvetpincushionand a special shell which Kezia had given her grandmafor apin-trayand another even more special which she had thought wouldmake avery nice place for a watch to curl up in.

"Tellmegrandma" said Kezia.

The oldwoman sighedwhipped the wool twice round her thumband drew theboneneedle through.  She was casting on.

"Iwas thinking of your Uncle Williamdarling" she said quietly.

"MyAustralian Uncle William?" said Kezia.  She had another. 

"Yesof course."

"Theone I never saw?"

"Thatwas the one."

"Wellwhat happened to him?"  Kezia knew perfectly wellbut shewanted tobe toldagain.

"Hewent to the minesand he got a sunstroke there and died" saidoldMrs.Fairfield.

Keziablinked and considered the picture again...a little man fallen overlike a tinsoldier by the side of a big black hole.

"Doesit make you sad to think about himgrandma?"  She hatedher grandmato be sad.

It was theold woman's turn to consider.  Did it make her sad?  Tolookbackback.  To stare down the yearsas Kezia had seen her doing. To lookafter themas a woman doeslong after they were out of sight.  Did it makeher sad? Nolife was like that.

"NoKezia."

"Butwhy?" asked Kezia.  She lifted one bare arm and began todraw thingsin theair.  "Why did Uncle William have to die?  He wasn'told."

Mrs.Fairfield began counting the stitches in threes.  "It justhappened"she saidin an absorbed voice.

"Doeseverybody have to die?" asked Kezia.

"Everybody!"

"Me?" Kezia sounded fearfully incredulous.

"Somedaymy darling."

"Butgrandma."  Kezia waved her left leg and waggled the toes. They feltsandy. "What if I just won't?"

The oldwoman sighed again and drew a long thread from the ball.

"We'renot askedKezia" she said sadly.  "It happens to allof us sooneror later."

Kezia laystill thinking this over.  She didn't want to die.  Itmeant shewould haveto leave hereleave everywherefor everleave--leave hergrandma. She rolled over quickly.

"Grandma"she said in a startled voice.

"Whatmy pet!"

"You'renot to die."  Kezia was very decided.

"AhKezia"--her grandma looked up and smiled and shook herhead--"don'tlet's talkabout it."

"Butyou're not to.  You couldn't leave me.  You couldn't not bethere."This wasawful.  "Promise me you won't ever do itgrandma"pleaded Kezia.

The oldwoman went on knitting.

"Promiseme!  Say never!"

But stillher grandma was silent.

Keziarolled off her bed; she couldn't bear it any longerand lightly sheleapt onto her grandma's kneesclasped her hands round the old woman'sthroat andbegan kissing herunder the chinbehind the earand blowingdown herneck.

"Saynever...say never...say never--" She gasped between the kisses. Andthen shebeganvery softly and lightlyto tickle her grandma. 

"Kezia!" The old woman dropped her knitting.  She swung back in therocker. She began to tickle Kezia.  "Say neversay neversaynever"gurgledKeziawhile they lay there laughing in each other's arms. "Comethat'senoughmy squirrel!  That's enoughmy wild pony!" saidold Mrs.Fairfieldsetting her cap straight.  "Pick up my knitting."

Both ofthem had forgotten what the "never" was about.

 

1.VIII.

The sunwas still full on the garden when the back door of the Burnells'shut witha bangand a very gay figure walked down the path to the gate.It wasAlicethe servant-girldressed for her afternoon out.  Shewore awhitecotton dress with such large red spots on it and so many that theymade youshudderwhite shoes and a leghorn turned up under the brim withpoppies. Of course she wore gloveswhite onesstained at the fasteningswithiron-mouldand in one hand she carried a very dashed-lookingsunshadewhich shereferred to as her "perishall." 

Berylsitting in the windowfanning her freshly-washed hairthought shehad neverseen such a guy.  If Alice had only blacked her face with apieceof corkbefore she started outthe picture would have been complete. Andwhere dida girl like that go to in a place like this?  The heart-shapedFijian fanbeat scornfully at that lovely bright mane.  She supposed Alicehad pickedup some horrible common larrikin and they'd go off into the bushtogether. Pity to have made herself so conspicuous; they'd have hard workto hidewith Alice in that rig-out.

But noBeryl was unfair.  Alice was going to tea with Mrs Stubbswho'dsent heran "invite" by the little boy who called for orders. She hadtaken eversuch a liking to Mrs. Stubbs ever since the first time she wentto theshop to get something for her mosquitoes.

"Dearheart!"  Mrs. Stubbs had clapped her hand to her side. "I never seenanyone soeaten.  You might have been attacked by canningbals."

Alice didwish there'd been a bit of life on the road though.  Made herfeel soqueerhaving nobody behind her.  Made her feel all weak in thespine. She couldn't believe that some one wasn't watching her.  And yetitwas sillyto turn round; it gave you away.  She pulled up her gloveshummed toherself and said to the distant gum-tree"Shan't be long now."But thatwas hardly company.

Mrs.Stubbs's shop was perched on a little hillock just off the road. Ithad twobig windows for eyesa broad veranda for a hatand the sign onthe roofscrawled MRS. STUBBS'Swas like a little card stuck rakishly inthe hatcrown.

On theveranda there hung a long string of bathing-dressesclingingtogetheras though they'd just been rescued from the sea rather thanwaiting togo inand beside them there hung a cluster of sandshoes soextraordinarilymixed that to get at one pair you had to tear apart andforciblyseparate at least fifty.  Even then it was the rarest thing tofind theleft that belonged to the right.  So many people had lostpatienceand goneoff with one shoe that fitted and one that was a little toobig...Mrs.Stubbs prided herself on keeping something of everything.  Thetwowindowsarranged in the form of precarious pyramidswere crammed sotightpiled so highthat it seemed only a conjurer could prevent themfromtoppling over.  In the left-hand corner of one windowglued tothepane byfour gelatine lozengesthere was--and there had been from timeimmemorial--anotice.

LOST! HANSOME GOLE BROOCHSOLID GOLDON OR NEARBEACHREWARDOFFERED

Alicepressed open the door.  The bell jangledthe red serge curtainspartedand Mrs. Stubbs appeared.  With her broad smile and the longbaconknife inher handshe looked like a friendly brigand.  Alice waswelcomedso warmlythat she found it quite difficult to keep up her "manners." Theyconsistedof persistent little coughs and hemspulls at her glovestweaksat herskirtand a curious difficulty in seeing what was set before her orunderstandingwhat was said.

Tea waslaid on the parlour table--hamsardinesa whole pound of butterand such alarge johnny cake that it looked like an advertisement forsomebody'sbaking-powder.  But the Primus stove roared so loudly that itwasuseless to try to talk above it.  Alice sat down on the edge ofabasket-chairwhile Mrs. Stubbs pumped the stove still higher.  SuddenlyMrs.Stubbs whipped the cushion off a chair and disclosed a large brown-paperparcel.

"I'vejust had some new photers takenmy dear" she shoutedcheerfully toAlice. "Tell me what you think of them."

In a verydaintyrefined way Alice wet her finger and put the tissue backfrom thefirst one.  Life!  How many there were!  There werethree dozzingat least. And she held it up to the light.

Mrs.Stubbs sat in an arm-chairleaning very much to one side. There wasa look ofmild astonishment on her large faceand well there might be.For thoughthe arm-chair stood on a carpetto the left of itmiraculouslyskirtingthe carpet-borderthere was a dashing water-fall.  On her rightstood aGrecian pillar with a giant fern-tree on either side of itand inthebackground towered a gaunt mountainpale with snow.

"Itis a nice styleisn't it?" shouted Mrs. Stubbs; and Alice hadjustscreamed"Sweetly" when the roaring of the Primus stove died downfizzledoutceasedand she said "Pretty" in a silence that wasfrightening.

"Drawup your chairmy dear" said Mrs. Stubbsbeginning to pourout."Yes"she said thoughtfullyas she handed the tea"but I don't careabout thesize.  I'm having an enlargemint.  All very well forChristmascardsbutI never was the one for small photers myself.  You get nocomfortout of them.  To say the truthI find them dis'eartening."

Alicequite saw what she meant.

"Size"said Mrs. Stubbs.  "Give me size.  That was what mypoor dearhusbandwas always saying.  He couldn't stand anything small.  Gavehim thecreeps. Andstrange as it may seemmy dear"--here Mrs. Stubbs creakedand seemedto expand herself at the memory--"it was dropsy that carried himoff at thelarst.  Many's the time they drawn one and a half pints from 'imat the'ospital...It seemed like a judgmint."

Aliceburned to know exactly what it was that was drawn from him.  Sheventured"I suppose it was water."

But Mrs.Stubbs fixed Alice with her eyes and replied meaningly"It wasliquidmydear."

Liquid! Alice jumped away from the word like a cat and came back to itnosing andwary.

"That's'im!" said Mrs. Stubbsand she pointed dramatically to thelife-size headand shoulders of a burly man with a dead white rose in thebuttonholeof his coat that made you think of a curl of cold mutting fat.Justbelowin silver letters on a red cardboard groundwere the words"Benot afraidit is I."

"It'sever such a fine face" said Alice faintly.

Thepale-blue bow on the top of Mrs. Stubbs's fair frizzy hair quivered.She archedher plump neck.  What a neck she had!  It was bright pinkwhereit beganand then it changed to warm apricotand that faded to the colourof a brownegg and then to a deep creamy.

"Allthe samemy dear" she said surprisingly"freedom'sbest!"  Hersoftfatchuckle sounded like a purr.  "Freedom's best" saidMrs. Stubbsagain.

Freedom! Alice gave a loudsilly little titter.  She felt awkward. Hermind flewback to her own kitching.  Ever so queer!  She wanted to bebackin itagain.

 

1.IX.

A strangecompany assembled in the Burnells' washhouse after tea.  Roundthe tablethere sat a bulla roostera donkey that kept forgetting it wasa donkeya sheep and a bee.  The washhouse was the perfect place for sucha meetingbecause they could make as much noise as they likedand nobodyeverinterrupted.  It was a small tin shed standing apart from thebungalow. Against the wall there was a deep trough and in the corner acopperwith a basket of clothes-pegs on top of it.  The little windowspunover withcobwebshad a piece of candle and a mouse-trap on the dustysill. There were clotheslines criss-crossed overhead andhanging from apeg on thewalla very biga hugerusty horseshoe.  The table was in themiddlewith a form at either side.

"Youcan't be a beeKezia.  A bee's not an animal.  It's aninseck."

"Ohbut I do want to be a bee frightfully" wailed Kezia...A tinybeeallyellow-furrywith striped legs.  She drew her legs up under her and leanedover thetable.  She felt she was a bee.

"Aninseck must be an animal" she said stoutly.  "Itmakes a noise.  It'snot like afish."

"I'ma bullI'm a bull!" cried Pip.  And he gave such atremendous bellow--how didhe make that noise?--that Lottie looked quite alarmed.

"I'llbe a sheep" said little Rags.  "A whole lot of sheepwent past thismorning."

"Howdo you know?"

"Dadheard them.  Baa!"  He sounded like the little lambthat trots behindand seemsto wait to be carried.

"Cock-a-doodle-do!"shrilled Isabel.  With her red cheeks and bright eyesshe lookedlike a rooster.

"What'llI be?" Lottie asked everybodyand she sat there smilingwaitingfor themto decide for her.  It had to be an easy one.

"Be adonkeyLottie."  It was Kezia's suggestion. "Hee-haw!  You can'tforgetthat."

"Hee-haw!"said Lottie solemnly.  "When do I have to say it?"

"I'llexplainI'll explain" said the bull.  It was he who hadthe cards.He wavedthem round his head.  "All be quiet!  All listen!" And he waitedfor them. "Look hereLottie."  He turned up a card.  "It'sgot two spotsonit--see?  Nowif you put that card in the middle and somebodyelse hasone withtwo spots as wellyou say 'Hee-haw' and the card's yours."

"Mine?" Lottie was round-eyed.  "To keep?"

"Nosilly.  Just for the gamesee?  Just while we'replaying."  The bullwas verycross with her.

"OhLottieyou are a little silly" said the proud rooster.

Lottielooked at both of them.  Then she hung her head; her lipquivered."Idon't want to play" she whispered.  The others glanced atone anotherlikeconspirators.  All of them knew what that meant.  She wouldgo awayand bediscovered somewhere standing with her pinny thrown over her headin acorneror against a wallor even behind a chair.

"Yesyou doLottie.  It's quite easy" said Kezia.

AndIsabelrepentantsaid exactly like a grown-up"Watch meLottieandyou'llsoon learn."

"CheerupLot" said Pip.  "ThereI know what I'll do. I'll give you thefirstone.  It's minereallybut I'll give it to you.  Here youare."And heslammed the card down in front of Lottie.

Lottierevived at that.  But now she was in another difficulty. "I haven'tgot ahanky" she said; "I want one badlytoo."

"HereLottieyou can use mine."  Rags dipped into his sailorblouse andbrought upa very wet-looking oneknotted together.  "Be verycareful" hewarnedher.  "Only use that corner.  Don't undo it. I've got a littlestarfishinside I'm going to try and tame."

"Ohcome onyou girls" said the bull.  "And mind--you'renot to look atyourcards.  You've got to keep your hands under the table till I say'Go.'"

Smack wentthe cards round the table.  They tried with all their might toseebutPip was too quick for them.  It was very excitingsitting therein thewashhouse; it was all they could do not to burst into a littlechorus ofanimals before Pip had finished dealing.

"NowLottieyou begin."

TimidlyLottie stretched out a handtook the top card off her packhad agood lookat it--it was plain she was counting the spots--and put it down. 

"NoLottieyou can't do that.  You mustn't look first.  Youmust turn itthe otherway over."

"Butthen everybody will see it the same time as me" said Lottie.

The gameproceeded.  Mooe-ooo-er!  The bull was terrible.  Hecharged overthe tableand seemed to eat the cards up.

Bss-ss!said the bee.

Cock-a-doodle-do! Isabel stood up in her excitement and moved her elbowslikewings.

Baa! Little Rags put down the King of Diamonds and Lottie put down the onetheycalled the King of Spain.  She had hardly any cards left.

"Whydon't you call outLottie?"

"I'veforgotten what I am" said the donkey woefully.

"Wellchange!  Be a dog instead!  Bow-wow!"

"Ohyes.  That's much easier."  Lottie smiled again. But when she andKezia bothhad a one Kezia waited on purpose.  The others made signs toLottie andpointed.  Lottie turned very red; she looked bewilderedand atlast shesaid"Hee-haw!  Ke-zia."

"Ss! Wait a minute!"  They were in the very thick of it when thebullstoppedthemholding up his hand.  "What's that?  What's thatnoise?"

"Whatnoise?  What do you mean?" asked the rooster.

"Ss! Shut up!  Listen!"  They were mouse-still.  "Ithought I heard a--asort ofknocking" said the bull.

"Whatwas it like?" asked the sheep faintly.

No answer.

The beegave a shudder.  "Whatever did we shut the door for?"she saidsoftly. Ohwhywhy had they shut the door?

While theywere playingthe day had faded; the gorgeous sunset had blazedand died. And now the quick dark came racing over the seaover the sand-hillsupthe paddock.  You were frightened to look in the corners of thewashhouseand yet you had to look with all your might.  And somewherefarawaygrandma was lighting a lamp.  The blinds were being pulled down;thekitchenfire leapt in the tins on the mantelpiece.

"Itwould be awful now" said the bull"if a spider was tofall from theceiling onto the tablewouldn't it?"

"Spidersdon't fall from ceilings."

"Yesthey do.  Our Min told us she'd seen a spider as big as asaucerwith longhairs on it like a gooseberry."

Quicklyall the little heads were jerked up; all the little bodies drewtogetherpressed together.

"Whydoesn't somebody come and call us?" cried the rooster.

Ohthosegrown-upslaughing and snugsitting in the lamp-lightdrinkingout ofcups!  They'd forgotten about them.  Nonot reallyforgotten.  Thatwas whattheir smile meant.  They had decided to leave them there all bythemselves.

SuddenlyLottie gave such a piercing scream that all of them jumped off theformsallof them screamed too.  "A face--a face looking!"shriekedLottie.

It wastrueit was real.  Pressed against the window was a pale faceblackeyesa black beard.

"Grandma! Mother!  Somebody!"

But theyhad not got to the doortumbling over one anotherbefore itopened forUncle Jonathan.  He had come to take the little boys home.

 

1.X.

He hadmeant to be there beforebut in the front garden he had come uponLindawalking up and down the grassstopping to pick off a dead pink orgive atop-heavy carnation something to lean againstor to take a deepbreath ofsomethingand then walking on againwith her little air ofremoteness. Over her white frock she wore a yellowpink-fringed shawlfrom theChinaman's shop.

"HalloJonathan!" called Linda.  And Jonathan whipped off hisshabbypanamapressed it against his breastdropped on one kneeand kissedLinda'shand.

"Greetingmy Fair One!  Greetingmy Celestial Peach Blossom!" boomedthebass voicegently.  "Where are the other noble dames?"

"Beryl'sout playing bridge and mother's giving the boy his bath...Have youcome toborrow something?"

The Troutswere for ever running out of things and sending across to theBurnells'at the last moment.

ButJonathan only answered"A little lovea little kindness;"and hewalked byhis sister-in-law's side.

Lindadropped into Beryl's hammock under the manuka-treeand Jonathanstretchedhimself on the grass beside herpulled a long stalk and beganchewingit.  They knew each other well.  The voices of childrencried fromthe othergardens.  A fisherman's light cart shook along the sandy roadand fromfar away they heard a dog barking; it was muffled as though thedog hadits head in a sack.  If you listened you could just hear thesoftswish ofthe sea at full tide sweeping the pebbles.  The sun was sinking.

"Andso you go back to the office on Mondaydo youJonathan?" askedLinda.

"OnMonday the cage door opens and clangs to upon the victim for anotherelevenmonths and a week" answered Jonathan.

Lindaswung a little.  "It must be awful" she said slowly.

"Wouldye have me laughmy fair sister?  Would ye have me weep?"

Linda wasso accustomed to Jonathan's way of talking that she paid noattentionto it.

"Isuppose" she said vaguely"one gets used to it.  Onegets used toanything."

"Doesone?  Hum!"  The "Hum" was so deep it seemedto boom from underneaththeground.  "I wonder how it's done" brooded Jonathan;"I've nevermanagedit."

Looking athim as he lay thereLinda thought again how attractive he was.It wasstrange to think that he was only an ordinary clerkthat Stanleyearnedtwice as much money as he.  What was the matter with Jonathan? Hehad noambition; she supposed that was it.  And yet one felt he wasgiftedexceptional. He was passionately fond of music; every spare penny he hadwent onbooks.  He was always full of new ideasschemesplans. Butnothingcame of it all.  The new fire blazed in Jonathan; you almostheardit roaringsoftly as he explaineddescribed and dilated on the new thing;but amoment later it had fallen in and there was nothing but ashesandJonathanwent about with a look like hunger in his black eyes.  At thesetimes heexaggerated his absurd manner of speakingand he sang in church--he was theleader of the choir--with such fearful dramatic intensity thatthemeanest hymn put on an unholy splendour.

"Itseems to me just as imbecilejust as infernalto have to go to theoffice onMonday" said Jonathan"as it always has done and alwayswilldo. To spend all the best years of one's life sitting on a stool fromnineto fivescratching in somebody's ledger!  It's a queer use to make ofone's...oneand only lifeisn't it?  Or do I fondly dream?"  Herolledover onthe grass and looked up at Linda.  "Tell mewhat is thedifferencebetween mylife and that of an ordinary prisoner.  The only difference Ican see isthat I put myself in jail and nobody's ever going to let me out.That's amore intolerable situation than the other.  For if I'd been--pushed inagainst my will--kickingeven--once the door was lockedor atany ratein five years or soI might have accepted the fact and begun totake aninterest in the flight of flies or counting the warder's stepsalong thepassage with particular attention to variations of tread and soon. But as it isI'm like an insect that's flown into a room of its ownaccord. I dash against the wallsdash against the windowsflop againsttheceilingdo everything on God's earthin factexcept fly out again.And allthe while I'm thinkinglike that mothor that butterflyorwhateverit is'The shortness of life!  The shortness of life!' I've onlyone nightor one dayand there's this vast dangerous gardenwaiting outthereundiscoveredunexplored."

"Butif you feel like thatwhy--" began Linda quickly.

"Ah!"cried Jonathan.  And that "ah!" was somehow almostexultant.  "Thereyou haveme.  Why?  Why indeed?  There's the maddeningmysteriousquestion. Why don't I fly out again?  There's the window or the door orwhateverit was I came in by.  It's not hopelessly shut--is it?  Whydon'tI find itand be off?  Answer me thatlittle sister."  But hegave her notime toanswer.

"I'mexactly like that insect again.  For some reason"--Jonathanpausedbetweenthe words--"it's not allowedit's forbiddenit's against theinsectlawto stop banging and flopping and crawling up the pane even foraninstant.  Why don't I leave the office?  Why don't Iseriously considerthismomentfor instancewhat it is that prevents me leaving?  It'snotas thoughI'm tremendously tied.  I've two boys to provide forbutafterallthey're boys.  I could cut off to seaor get a job up-countryor--"Suddenlyhe smiled at Linda and said in a changed voiceas if he wereconfidinga secret"Weak...weak.  No stamina.  No anchor. No guidingprinciplelet us call it."  But then the dark velvety voice rolledout:"

"Wouldye hear the story Howit unfolds itself..."

and theywere silent.

The sunhad set.  In the western sky there were great masses ofcrushed-uprose-colouredclouds.  Broad beams of light shone through the clouds andbeyondthem as if they would cover the whole sky.  Overhead the bluefaded;it turneda pale goldand the bush outlined against it gleamed dark andbrilliantlike metal.  Sometimes when those beams of light show in the skythey arevery awful.  They remind you that up there sits JehovahthejealousGodthe AlmightyWhose eye is upon youever watchfulneverweary. You remember that at His coming the whole earth will shake into oneruinedgraveyard; the coldbright angels will drive you this way and thatand therewill be no time to explain what could be explained sosimply...Butto-night it seemed to Linda there was something infinitelyjoyful andloving in those silver beams.  And now no sound came from thesea. It breathed softly as if it would draw that tenderjoyful beautyinto itsown bosom.

"It'sall wrongit's all wrong" came the shadowy voice of Jonathan."It'snot the sceneit's not the setting for...three stoolsthree desksthreeinkpots and a wire blind."

Linda knewthat he would never changebut she said"Is it too lateevennow?"

"I'mold--I'm old" intoned Jonathan.  He bent towards herhepassed hishand overhis head.  "Look!"  His black hair was speckledall over withsilverlike the breast plumage of a black fowl.

Linda wassurprised.  She had no idea that he was grey.  And yetashestood upbeside her and sighed and stretchedshe saw himfor the firsttimenotresolutenot gallantnot carelessbut touched already withage. He looked very tall on the darkening grassand the thought crossedher mind"He is like a weed."

Jonathanstooped again and kissed her fingers.

"Heavenreward thy sweet patiencelady mine" he murmured.  "Imust goseek thoseheirs to my fame and fortune..."  He was gone.

 

1.XI.

Lightshone in the windows of the bungalow.  Two square patches ofgoldfell uponthe pinks and the peaked marigolds.  Florriethe catcame outon to theverandaand sat on the top stepher white paws close togetherher tailcurled round.  She looked contentas though she had beenwaitingfor thismoment all day.

"Thankgoodnessit's getting late" said Florrie.  "Thankgoodnessthelong dayis over."  Her greengage eyes opened.

Presentlythere sounded the rumble of the coachthe crack of Kelly's whip.It camenear enough for one to hear the voices of the men from towntalkingloudly together.  It stopped at the Burnells' gate.

Stanleywas half-way up the path before he saw Linda.  "Is thatyoudarling?"

"YesStanley."

He leaptacross the flower-bed and seized her in his arms.  She wasenfoldedin that familiareagerstrong embrace.

"Forgivemedarlingforgive me" stammered Stanleyand he put his handunder herchin and lifted her face to him.

"Forgiveyou?" smiled Linda.  "But whatever for?"

"GoodGod!  You can't have forgotten" cried Stanley Burnell. "I'vethought ofnothing else all day.  I've had the hell of a day.  I madeup mymind todash out and telegraphand then I thought the wire mightn't reachyou beforeI did.  I've been in torturesLinda."

"ButStanley" said Linda"what must I forgive you for?"

"Linda!"--Stanleywas very hurt--"didn't you realize--you must haverealized--Iwent away without saying good-bye to you this morning?  I can'timaginehow I can have done such a thing.  My confounded temperofcourse.But--well"--andhe sighed and took her in his arms again--"I've sufferedfor itenough to-day."

"What'sthat you've got in your hand?" asked Linda.  "Newgloves?  Let mesee."

"Ohjust a cheap pair of wash-leather ones" said Stanley humbly. "InoticedBell was wearing some in the coach this morningsoas I waspassingthe shopI dashed in and got myself a pair.  What are yousmilingat? You don't think it was wrong of medo you?"

"Onthe con-trarydarling" said Linda"I think it was mostsensible."

She pulledone of the largepale gloves on her own fingers and looked ather handturning it this way and that.  She was still smiling.

Stanleywanted to say"I was thinking of you the whole time I boughtthem." It was truebut for some reason he couldn't say it.  "Let'sgoin"said he.

 

1.XII.

Why doesone feel so different at night?  Why is it so exciting to beawakewheneverybody else is asleep?  Late--it is very late!  And yeteverymoment youfeel more and more wakefulas though you were slowlyalmostwith everybreathwaking up into a newwonderfulfar more thrilling andexcitingworld than the daylight one.  And what is this queer sensationthatyou're a conspirator?  Lightlystealthily you move about yourroom.You takesomething off the dressing-table and put it down again without asound. And everythingeven the bed-postknows yourespondsshares yoursecret...

You're notvery fond of your room by day.  You never think about it.You're inand outthe door opens and slamsthe cupboard creaks.  You sitdown onthe side of your bedchange your shoes and dash out again.  Adivedown tothe glasstwo pins in your hairpowder your nose and off again.Butnow--it's suddenly dear to you.  It's a darling little funnyroom.It'syours.  Ohwhat a joy it is to own things!  Mine--my own!

"Myvery own for ever?"

"Yes." Their lips met.

Noofcoursethat had nothing to do with it.  That was all nonsenseandrubbish. Butin spite of herselfBeryl saw so plainly two peoplestandingin the middle of her room.  Her arms were round his neck; heheldher. And now he whispered"My beautymy little beauty!" She jumped offher bedran over to the window and kneeled on the window-seatwith herelbows onthe sill.  But the beautiful nightthe gardenevery busheveryleafeventhe white palingseven the starswere conspirators too.  Sobright wasthe moon that the flowers were bright as by day; the shadow ofthenasturtiumsexquisite lily-like leaves and wide-open flowerslayacross thesilvery veranda.  The manuka-treebent by the southerly windswas like abird on one leg stretching out a wing.

But whenBeryl looked at the bushit seemed to her the bush was sad.

"Weare dumb treesreaching up in the nightimploring we know notwhat"said thesorrowful bush.

It is truewhen you are by yourself and you think about lifeit is alwayssad. All that excitement and so on has a way of suddenly leaving youandit's asthoughin the silencesomebody called your nameand you heardyour namefor the first time.  "Beryl!"

"YesI'm here.  I'm Beryl.  Who wants me?"

"Beryl!"

"Letme come."

It islonely living by oneself.  Of coursethere are relationsfriendsheaps ofthem; but that's not what she means.  She wants some one whowillfind theBeryl they none of them knowwho will expect her to be that Berylalways. She wants a lover.

"Takeme away from all these other peoplemy love.  Let us go faraway.Let uslive our lifeall newall oursfrom the very beginning.  Letusmake ourfire.  Let us sit down to eat together.  Let us have longtalks atnight."

And thethought was almost"Save memy love.  Save me!"

..."Ohgo on!  Don't be a prudemy dear.  You enjoy yourselfwhile you'reyoung. That's my advice."  And a high rush of silly laughterjoined Mrs.HarryKember's loudindifferent neigh.

You seeit's so frightfully difficult when you've nobody.  You're so atthe mercyof things.  You can't just be rude.  And you've always thishorror ofseeming inexperienced and stuffy like the other ninnies at theBay. And--and it's fascinating to know you've power over people. Yesthat isfascinating...

Oh whyohwhy doesn't "he" come soon?

If I go onliving herethought Berylanything may happen to me.

"Buthow do you know he is coming at all?" mocked a small voicewithin her.

But Beryldismissed it.  She couldn't be left.  Other peopleperhapsbutnot she. It wasn't possible to think that Beryl Fairfield never marriedthatlovely fascinating girl.

"Doyou remember Beryl Fairfield?"

"Rememberher!  As if I could forget her!  It was one summer at theBaythat I sawher.  She was standing on the beach in a blue"--nopink--"muslinfrockholding on a big cream"--noblack--"straw hat. But it'syears agonow."

"She'sas lovely as evermore so if anything."

Berylsmiledbit her lipand gazed over the garden.  As she gazedshesawsomebodya manleave the roadstep along the paddock beside theirpalings asif he was coming straight towards her.  Her heart beat. Who wasit? Who could it be?  It couldn't be a burglarcertainly not aburglarfor he wassmoking and he strolled lightly.  Beryl's heart leapt; it seemedto turnright overand then to stop.  She recognized him.

"GoodeveningMiss Beryl" said the voice softly.

"Goodevening."

"Won'tyou come for a little walk?" it drawled.

Come for awalk--at that time of night!  "I couldn't. Everybody's in bed.Everybody'sasleep."

"Oh"said the voice lightlyand a whiff of sweet smoke reached her."Whatdoes everybody matter?  Do come!  It's such a fine night. There'snot a soulabout."

Berylshook her head.  But already something stirred in hersomethingreared itshead.

The voicesaid"Frightened?"  It mocked"Poor littlegirl!"

"Notin the least" said she.  As she spoke that weak thingwithin herseemed touncoilto grow suddenly tremendously strong; she longed to go!

And justas if this was quite understood by the otherthe voice saidgently andsoftlybut finally"Come along!"

Berylstepped over her low windowcrossed the verandaran down the grassto thegate.  He was there before her.

"That'sright" breathed the voiceand it teased"You're notfrightenedare you? You're not frightened?"

She was;now she was here she was terrifiedand it seemed to hereverythingwas different.  The moonlight stared and glittered; the shadowswere likebars of iron.  Her hand was taken.

"Notin the least" she said lightly.  "Why should I be?"

Her handwas pulled gentlytugged.  She held back.

"NoI'm not coming any farther" said Beryl.

"Ohrot!"  Harry Kember didn't believe her.  "Comealong!  We'll just goas far asthat fuchsia bush.  Come along!"

Thefuchsia bush was tall.  It fell over the fence in a shower. There wasa littlepit of darkness beneath.

"NoreallyI don't want to" said Beryl.

For amoment Harry Kember didn't answer.  Then he came close to herturnedto hersmiled and said quickly"Don't be silly!  Don't be silly!"

His smilewas something she'd never seen before.  Was he drunk?  Thatbrightblindterrifying smile froze her with horror.  What was shedoing?How hadshe got here? the stern garden asked her as the gate pushed openand quickas a cat Harry Kember came through and snatched her to him.

"Coldlittle devil!  Cold little devil!" said the hateful voice.

But Berylwas strong.  She slippedduckedwrenched free.

"Youare vilevile" said she.

"Thenwhy in God's name did you come?" stammered Harry Kember.

Nobodyanswered him.

 

1.XIII.

A cloudsmallserenefloated across the moon.  In that moment ofdarknessthe sea sounded deeptroubled.  Then the cloud sailed awayandthe soundof the sea was a vague murmuras though it waked out of a darkdream. All was still.

 

2. THE GARDEN PARTY.

And afterall the weather was ideal.  They could not have had a moreperfectday for a garden-party if they had ordered it.  Windlesswarmtheskywithout a cloud.  Only the blue was veiled with a haze of lightgoldas it issometimes in early summer.  The gardener had been up since dawnmowing thelawns and sweeping themuntil the grass and the dark flatrosetteswhere the daisy plants had been seemed to shine.  As for therosesyoucould not help feeling they understood that roses are the onlyflowersthat impress people at garden-parties; the only flowers thateverybodyis certain of knowing.  Hundredsyesliterally hundredshadcome outin a single night; the green bushes bowed down as though they hadbeenvisited by archangels.

Breakfastwas not yet over before the men came to put up the marquee.

"Wheredo you want the marquee putmother?"

"Mydear childit's no use asking me.  I'm determined to leaveeverythingto youchildren this year.  Forget I am your mother.  Treat me asanhonouredguest."

But Megcould not possibly go and supervise the men.  She had washed herhairbefore breakfastand she sat drinking her coffee in a green turbanwith adark wet curl stamped on each cheek.  Josethe butterflyalwayscame downin a silk petticoat and a kimono jacket.

"You'llhave to goLaura; you're the artistic one."

Away Lauraflewstill holding her piece of bread-and-butter.  It's sodeliciousto have an excuse for eating out of doorsand besidesshe lovedhaving toarrange things; she always felt she could do it so much betterthananybody else.

Four menin their shirt-sleeves stood grouped together on the garden path.Theycarried staves covered with rolls of canvasand they had big tool-bags slungon their backs.  They looked impressive.  Laura wished nowthatshe hadnot got the bread-and-butterbut there was nowhere to put itandshecouldn't possibly throw it away.  She blushed and tried to looksevereand even alittle bit short-sighted as she came up to them.

"Goodmorning" she saidcopying her mother's voice.  But thatsounded sofearfullyaffected that she was ashamedand stammered like a little girl"Oh--er--haveyou come--is it about the marquee?"

"That'srightmiss" said the tallest of the mena lankyfreckledfellowand he shifted his tool-bagknocked back his straw hat and smileddown ather.  "That's about it."

His smilewas so easyso friendly that Laura recovered.  What nice eyeshehadsmallbut such a dark blue!  And now she looked at the otherstheyweresmiling too.  "Cheer upwe won't bite" their smileseemed to say.How verynice workmen were!  And what a beautiful morning!  Shemustn'tmentionthe morning; she must be business-like.  The marquee.

"Wellwhat about the lily-lawn?  Would that do?"

And shepointed to the lily-lawn with the hand that didn't hold the bread-and-butter. They turnedthey stared in the direction.  A little fat chapthrust outhis under-lipand the tall fellow frowned.

"Idon't fancy it" said he.  "Not conspicuous enough. You seewith athing likea marquee" and he turned to Laura in his easy way"youwant toput itsomewhere where it'll give you a bang slap in the eyeif you followme."

Laura'supbringing made her wonder for a moment whether it was quiterespectfulof a workman to talk to her of bangs slap in the eye.  But shedid quitefollow him.

"Acorner of the tennis-court" she suggested.  "But theband's going to bein onecorner."

"H'mgoing to have a bandare you?" said another of the workmen. He waspale. He had a haggard look as his dark eyes scanned the tennis-court.What washe thinking?

"Onlya very small band" said Laura gently.  Perhaps he wouldn'tmind somuch ifthe band was quite small.  But the tall fellow interrupted.

"Lookheremissthat's the place.  Against those trees.  Overthere.That'll dofine."

Againstthe karakas.  Then the karaka-trees would be hidden.  Andthey wereso lovelywith their broadgleaming leavesand their clusters of yellowfruit. They were like trees you imagined growing on a desert islandproudsolitarylifting their leaves and fruits to the sun in a kind ofsilentsplendour.  Must they be hidden by a marquee?

Theymust.  Already the men had shouldered their staves and weremaking fortheplace.  Only the tall fellow was left.  He bent downpinched a sprigoflavenderput his thumb and forefinger to his nose and snuffed up thesmell. When Laura saw that gesture she forgot all about the karakas in herwonder athim caring for things like that--caring for the smell oflavender. How many men that she knew would have done such a thing?  Ohhowextraordinarily nice workmen wereshe thought.  Why couldn'tshe haveworkmenfor her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and whocame toSunday night supper?  She would get on much better with men likethese.

It's allthe faultshe decidedas the tall fellow drew something on theback of anenvelopesomething that was to be looped up or left to hangoftheseabsurd class distinctions.  Wellfor her partshe didn't feelthem.Not a bitnot an atom...And now there came the chock-chock of woodenhammers. Some one whistledsome one sang out"Are you right therematey?" "Matey!"  The friendliness of itthe--the--Just toprove howhappy shewasjust to show the tall fellow how at home she feltand howshedespised stupid conventionsLaura took a big bite of her bread-and-butter asshe stared at the little drawing.  She felt just like a work-girl.

"LauraLaurawhere are you?  TelephoneLaura!" a voice criedfrom thehouse.

"Coming!" Away she skimmedover the lawnup the pathup the stepsacross theverandaand into the porch.  In the hall her father and Lauriewerebrushing their hats ready to go to the office.

"IsayLaura" said Laurie very fast"you might just give asquiz at mycoatbefore this afternoon.  See if it wants pressing."

"Iwill" said she.  Suddenly she couldn't stop herself. She ran at Laurieand gavehim a smallquick squeeze.  "OhI do love partiesdon'tyou?"gaspedLaura.

"Ra-ther"said Laurie's warmboyish voiceand he squeezed his sistertooandgave her a gentle push.  "Dash off to the telephoneoldgirl."

Thetelephone.  "Yesyes; oh yes.  Kitty?  Goodmorningdear.  Come tolunch? Dodear.  Delighted of course.  It will only be a veryscratchmeal--justthe sandwich crusts and broken meringue-shells and what's leftover. Yesisn't it a perfect morning?  Your white?  OhIcertainlyshould. One moment--hold the line.  Mother's calling."  AndLaura satback. "Whatmother?  Can't hear."

Mrs.Sheridan's voice floated down the stairs.  "Tell her towear thatsweet hatshe had on last Sunday."

"Mothersays you're to wear that sweet hat you had on last Sunday. Good.Oneo'clock.  Bye-bye."

Laura putback the receiverflung her arms over her headtook a deepbreathstretched and let them fall.  "Huh" she sighedandthe momentafter thesigh she sat up quickly.  She was stilllistening.  Allthedoors inthe house seemed to be open.  The house was alive with softquicksteps andrunning voices.  The green baize door that led to the kitchenregionsswung open and shut with a muffled thud.  And now there came alongchuckling absurd sound.  It was the heavy piano being moved onitsstiffcastors.  But the air!  If you stopped to noticewas theair alwayslikethis?  Little faint winds were playing chasein at the tops ofthewindowsout at the doors.  And there were two tiny spots of sunone ontheinkpotone on a silver photograph frameplaying too.  Darlinglittlespots. Especially the one on the inkpot lid.  It was quite warm. A warmlittlesilver star.  She could have kissed it.

The frontdoor bell pealedand there sounded the rustle of Sadie's printskirt onthe stairs.  A man's voice murmured; Sadie answeredcareless"I'msure I don't know.  Wait.  I'll ask Mrs Sheridan."

"Whatis itSadie?"  Laura came into the hall.

"It'sthe floristMiss Laura."

It wasindeed.  Therejust inside the doorstood a wideshallow trayfull ofpots of pink lilies.  No other kind.  Nothing butlilies--cannaliliesbig pink flowerswide openradiantalmost frighteningly alive onbrightcrimson stems.

"O-ohSadie!" said Lauraand the sound was like a little moan. Shecroucheddown as if to warm herself at that blaze of lilies; she felt theywere inher fingerson her lipsgrowing in her breast.

"It'ssome mistake" she said faintly.  "Nobody ever orderedso many.Sadiegoand find mother."

But atthat moment Mrs. Sheridan joined them.

"It'squite right" she said calmly.  "YesI ordered them. Aren't theylovely?" She pressed Laura's arm.  "I was passing the shopyesterdayandI saw themin the window.  And I suddenly thought for once in my life Ishall haveenough canna lilies.  The garden-party will be a good excuse."

"ButI thought you said you didn't mean to interfere" said Laura. Sadiehad gone. The florist's man was still outside at his van.  She put her armround hermother's neck and gentlyvery gentlyshe bit her mother's ear.

"Mydarling childyou wouldn't like a logical motherwould you? Don't dothat. Here's the man."

He carriedmore lilies stillanother whole tray.

"Bankthem upjust inside the dooron both sides of the porchplease"said Mrs.Sheridan.  "Don't you agreeLaura?"

"OhI domother."

In thedrawing-room MegJose and good little Hans had at last succeeded inmoving thepiano.

"Nowif we put this chesterfield against the wall and move everything outof theroom except the chairsdon't you think?"

"Quite."

"Hansmove these tables into the smoking-roomand bring a sweeper to takethesemarks off the carpet and--one momentHans--" Jose loved givingorders tothe servantsand they loved obeying her.  She always made themfeel theywere taking part in some drama.  "Tell mother and MissLaura tocome hereat once.

"VerygoodMiss Jose."

She turnedto Meg.  "I want to hear what the piano sounds likejustincase I'masked to sing this afternoon.  Let's try over 'This life isWeary.'"

Pom! Ta-ta-ta Tee-ta!  The piano burst out so passionately thatJose'sfacechanged.  She clasped her hands.  She looked mournfully andenigmaticallyat her mother and Laura as they came in.

"ThisLife is Wee-ary ATear--a Sigh. ALove that Chan-ges  This Life is Wee-ary ATear--a Sigh. ALove that Chan-ges Andthen ...Good-bye!"

But at theword "Good-bye" and although the piano sounded moredesperatethan everher face broke into a brilliantdreadfully unsympathetic smile.

"Aren'tI in good voicemummy?" she beamed.

"ThisLife is Wee-ary Hopecomes to Die. ADream--a Wa-kening."

But nowSadie interrupted them.  "What is itSadie?"

"Ifyou pleasem'mcook says have you got the flags for thesandwiches?"

"Theflags for the sandwichesSadie?" echoed Mrs. Sheridandreamily.  Andthechildren knew by her face that she hadn't got them.  "Letme see."  Andshe saidto Sadie firmly"Tell cook I'll let her have them in tenminutes.

Sadiewent.

"NowLaura" said her mother quickly"come with me into thesmoking-room.I've gotthe names somewhere on the back of an envelope.  You'll have towrite themout for me.  Meggo upstairs this minute and take that wetthing offyour head.  Joserun and finish dressing this instant.  Doyouhear mechildrenor shall I have to tell your father when he comes hometo-night? And--andJosepacify cook if you do go into the kitchenwillyou? I'm terrified of her this morning."

Theenvelope was found at last behind the dining-room clockthough howithad gotthere Mrs. Sheridan could not imagine.

"Oneof you children must have stolen it out of my bagbecause I remembervividly--creamcheese and lemon-curd.  Have you done that?"

"Yes."

"Eggand--" Mrs. Sheridan held the envelope away from her.  "Itlooks likemice. It can't be micecan it?"

"Olivepet" said Lauralooking over her shoulder.

"Yesof courseolive.  What a horrible combination it sounds. Egg andolive."

They werefinished at lastand Laura took them off to the kitchen.  Shefound Josethere pacifying the cookwho did not look at all terrifying.

"Ihave never seen such exquisite sandwiches" said Jose'srapturous voice."Howmany kinds did you say there werecook?  Fifteen?"

"FifteenMiss Jose."

"WellcookI congratulate you."

Cook sweptup crusts with the long sandwich knifeand smiled broadly.

"Godber'shas come" announced Sadieissuing out of the pantry.  Shehadseen theman pass the window.

That meantthe cream puffs had come.  Godber's were famous for their creampuffs. Nobody ever thought of making them at home.

"Bringthem in and put them on the tablemy girl" ordered cook.

Sadiebrought them in and went back to the door.  Of course Laura andJosewere fartoo grown-up to really care about such things.  All the sametheycouldn'thelp agreeing that the puffs looked very attractive.  Very. Cookbeganarranging themshaking off the extra icing sugar.

"Don'tthey carry one back to all one's parties?" said Laura.

"Isuppose they do" said practical Josewho never liked to becarriedback. "They look beautifully light and featheryI must say."

"Haveone eachmy dears" said cook in her comfortable voice. "Yer mawon'tknow."

Ohimpossible.  Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast. The very ideamade oneshudder.  All the sametwo minutes later Jose and Laura werelickingtheir fingers with that absorbed inward look that only comes fromwhippedcream.

"Let'sgo into the gardenout by the back way" suggested Laura. "I wantto see howthe men are getting on with the marquee.  They're such awfullynice men."

But theback door was blocked by cookSadieGodber's man and Hans.

Somethinghad happened.

"Tuk-tuk-tuk"clucked cook like an agitated hen.  Sadie had her handclapped toher cheek as though she had toothache.  Hans's face was screwedup in theeffort to understand.  Only Godber's man seemed to be enjoyinghimself;it was his story.

"What'sthe matter?  What's happened?"

"There'sbeen a horrible accident" said Cook.  "A man killed."

"Aman killed!  Where?  How?  When?"

ButGodber's man wasn't going to have his story snatched from under hisvery nose.

"Knowthose little cottages just below heremiss?"  Know them? Of courseshe knewthem.  "Wellthere's a young chap living therename ofScottacarter. His horse shied at a traction-enginecorner of Hawke Street thismorningand he was thrown out on the back of his head.  Killed."

"Dead!" Laura stared at Godber's man.

"Deadwhen they picked him up" said Godber's man with relish. "They weretaking thebody home as I come up here."  And he said to the cook"He'sleft awife and five little ones."

"Josecome here."  Laura caught hold of her sister's sleeve anddraggedherthrough the kitchen to the other side of the green baize door. Thereshe pausedand leaned against it.  "Jose!" she saidhorrified"howeverare wegoing to stop everything?"

"StopeverythingLaura!" cried Jose in astonishment.  "Whatdo you mean?"

"Stopthe garden-partyof course."  Why did Jose pretend?

But Josewas still more amazed.  "Stop the garden-party?  Mydear Lauradon't beso absurd.  Of course we can't do anything of the kind. Nobodyexpects usto.  Don't be so extravagant."

"Butwe can't possibly have a garden-party with a man dead just outsidethefrontgate."

Thatreally was extravagantfor the little cottages were in a lane tothemselvesat the very bottom of a steep rise that led up to the house.  Abroad roadran between.  Truethey were far too near.  They were thegreatestpossible eyesoreand they had no right to be in thatneighbourhoodat all.  They were little mean dwellings painted a chocolatebrown. In the garden patches there was nothing but cabbage stalkssickhens andtomato cans.  The very smoke coming out of their chimneys waspoverty-stricken. Little rags and shreds of smokeso unlike the greatsilveryplumes that uncurled from the Sheridans' chimneys.  Washerwomenlived inthe lane and sweeps and a cobblerand a man whose house-front wasstuddedall over with minute bird-cages.  Children swarmed.  WhentheSheridanswere little they were forbidden to set foot there because of therevoltinglanguage and of what they might catch.  But since they weregrownupLauraand Laurie on their prowls sometimes walked through.  It wasdisgustingand sordid.  They came out with a shudder.  But still onemustgoeverywhere; one must see everything.  So through they went.

"Andjust think of what the band would sound like to that poor woman"saidLaura.

"OhLaura!"  Jose began to be seriously annoyed.  "Ifyou're going to stopa bandplaying every time some one has an accidentyou'll lead a verystrenuouslife.  I'm every bit as sorry about it as you.  I feel justassympathetic." Her eyes hardened.  She looked at her sister just as sheused towhen they were little and fighting together.  "You won'tbring adrunkenworkman back to life by being sentimental" she said softly.

"Drunk! Who said he was drunk?"  Laura turned furiously on Jose. Shesaidjustas they had used to say on those occasions"I'm going straightup to tellmother."

"Dodear" cooed Jose.

"Mothercan I come into your room?"  Laura turned the big glassdoor-knob.

"Ofcoursechild.  Whywhat's the matter?  What's given yousuch acolour?" And Mrs. Sheridan turned round from her dressing-table.  She wastrying ona new hat.

"Mothera man's been killed" began Laura.

"Notin the garden?" interrupted her mother.

"Nono!"

"Ohwhat a fright you gave me!"  Mrs. Sheridan sighed withreliefandtook offthe big hat and held it on her knees.

"Butlistenmother" said Laura.  Breathlesshalf-chokingshetold thedreadfulstory.  "Of coursewe can't have our partycan we?"she pleaded."Theband and everybody arriving.  They'd hear usmother; they'renearlyneighbours!"

To Laura'sastonishment her mother behaved just like Jose; it was harder tobearbecause she seemed amused.  She refused to take Laura seriously.

"Butmy dear childuse your common sense.  It's only by accidentwe'veheard ofit.  If some one had died there normally--and I can't understandhow theykeep alive in those poky little holes--we should still be havingour partyshouldn't we?"

Laura hadto say "yes" to thatbut she felt it was all wrong. She satdown onher mother's sofa and pinched the cushion frill.

"Motherisn't it terribly heartless of us?" she asked.

"Darling!" Mrs. Sheridan got up and came over to hercarrying the hat.BeforeLaura could stop her she had popped it on.  "My child!"said hermother"the hat is yours.  It's made for you.  It's much tooyoung for me.I havenever seen you look such a picture.  Look at yourself!" And sheheld upher hand-mirror.

"Butmother" Laura began again.  She couldn't look at herself;she turnedaside.

This timeMrs. Sheridan lost patience just as Jose had done.

"Youare being very absurdLaura" she said coldly.  "Peoplelike thatdon'texpect sacrifices from us.  And it's not very sympathetic tospoileverybody'senjoyment as you're doing now."

"Idon't understand" said Lauraand she walked quickly out of theroominto herown bedroom.  Therequite by chancethe first thing she sawwasthischarming girl in the mirrorin her black hat trimmed with golddaisiesand a long black velvet ribbon.  Never had she imagined shecouldlook likethat.  Is mother right? she thought.  And now she hoped hermother wasright.  Am I being extravagant?  Perhaps it wasextravagant.Just for amoment she had another glimpse of that poor woman and thoselittlechildrenand the body being carried into the house.  But it allseemedblurredunreallike a picture in the newspaper.  I'll rememberitagainafter the party's overshe decided.  And somehow that seemedquitethe bestplan...

Lunch wasover by half-past one.  By half-past two they were all ready forthe fray. The green-coated band had arrived and was established in acorner ofthe tennis-court.

"Mydear!" trilled Kitty Maitland"aren't they too like frogsfor words?You oughtto have arranged them round the pond with the conductor in themiddle ona leaf."

Lauriearrived and hailed them on his way to dress.  At the sight ofhimLauraremembered the accident again.  She wanted to tell him.  IfLaurieagreedwith the othersthen it was bound to be all right.  And shefollowedhim into the hall.

"Laurie!"

"Hallo!" He was half-way upstairsbut when he turned round and saw Laurahesuddenly puffed out his cheeks and goggled his eyes at her.  "MywordLaura! You do look stunning" said Laurie.  "What anabsolutely toppinghat!"

Laura saidfaintly "Is it?" and smiled up at Laurieand didn't tellhimafter all.

Soon afterthat people began coming in streams.  The band struck up; thehiredwaiters ran from the house to the marquee.  Wherever you lookedtherewerecouples strollingbending to the flowersgreetingmoving on overthe lawn. They were like bright birds that had alighted in the Sheridans'garden forthis one afternoonon their way to--where?  Ahwhat happinessit is tobe with people who all are happyto press handspress cheekssmile intoeyes.

"DarlingLaurahow well you look!"

"Whata becoming hatchild!"

"Laurayou look quite Spanish.  I've never seen you look so striking."

And Lauraglowinganswered softly"Have you had tea?  Won't youhave anice? The passion-fruit ices really are rather special."  She ranto herfather andbegged him.  "Daddy darlingcan't the band have somethingtodrink?"

And theperfect afternoon slowly ripenedslowly fadedslowly its petalsclosed.

"Nevera more delightful garden-party ..."  "The greatestsuccess ...""Quitethe most ..."

Laurahelped her mother with the good-byes.  They stood side by sidein theporch tillit was all over.

"Alloverall overthank heaven" said Mrs. Sheridan.  "Roundup theothersLaura.  Let's go and have some fresh coffee.  I'mexhausted.  Yesit's beenvery successful.  But ohthese partiesthese parties! Why willyouchildren insist on giving parties!"  And they all of themsat down inthedeserted marquee.

"Havea sandwichdaddy dear.  I wrote the flag."

"Thanks." Mr. Sheridan took a bite and the sandwich was gone.  He tookanother. "I suppose you didn't hear of a beastly accident that happenedto-day?"he said.

"Mydear" said Mrs. Sheridanholding up her hand"we did. It nearlyruined theparty.  Laura insisted we should put it off."

"Ohmother!"  Laura didn't want to be teased about it.

"Itwas a horrible affair all the same" said Mr. Sheridan. "The chap wasmarriedtoo.  Lived just below in the laneand leaves a wife and half adozenkiddiesso they say."

An awkwardlittle silence fell.  Mrs. Sheridan fidgeted with her cup.Reallyitwas very tactless of father...

Suddenlyshe looked up.  There on the table were all those sandwichescakespuffsall uneatenall going to be wasted.  She had one of herbrilliantideas.

"Iknow" she said.  "Let's make up a basket.  Let'ssend that poorcreaturesome of this perfectly good food.  At any rateit will be thegreatesttreat for the children.  Don't you agree?  And she's sureto haveneighbourscalling in and so on.  What a point to have it all readyprepared. Laura!"  She jumped up.  "Get me the big basketout of thestairscupboard."

"Butmotherdo you really think it's a good idea?" said Laura.

Againhowcuriousshe seemed to be different from them all.  To takescrapsfrom their party.  Would the poor woman really like that?

"Ofcourse!  What's the matter with you to-day?  An hour or twoago youwereinsisting on us being sympatheticand now--"

Oh well! Laura ran for the basket.  It was filledit was heaped by hermother.

"Takeit yourselfdarling" said she.  "Run down just asyou are.  Nowaittakethe arum lilies too.  People of that class are so impressed byarumlilies."

"Thestems will ruin her lace frock" said practical Jose.

So theywould.  Just in time.  "Only the basketthen. AndLaura!"--hermotherfollowed her out of the marquee--"don't on any account--"

"Whatmother?"

Nobetternot put such ideas into the child's head!  "Nothing! Runalong."

It wasjust growing dusky as Laura shut their garden gates.  A big dogranby like ashadow.  The road gleamed whiteand down below in the hollowthelittlecottages were in deep shade.  How quiet it seemed after theafternoon. Here she was going down the hill to somewhere where a man laydeadandshe couldn't realize it.  Why couldn't she?  She stopped aminute. And it seemed to her that kissesvoicestinkling spoonslaughterthe smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her.  She had noroom foranything else.  How strange!  She looked up at the paleskyandall shethought was"Yesit was the most successful party."

Now thebroad road was crossed.  The lane begansmoky and dark. Women inshawls andmen's tweed caps hurried by.  Men hung over the palings; thechildrenplayed in the doorways.  A low hum came from the mean littlecottages. In some of them there was a flicker of lightand a shadowcrab-likemoved across the window.  Laura bent her head and hurried on.She wishednow she had put on a coat.  How her frock shone!  And thebighat withthe velvet streamer--if only it was another hat!  Were thepeoplelooking ather?  They must be.  It was a mistake to have come; sheknew allalong itwas a mistake.  Should she go back even now?

Notoolate.  This was the house.  It must be.  A dark knotof peoplestoodoutside.  Beside the gate an oldold woman with a crutch sat inachairwatching.  She had her feet on a newspaper.  The voicesstopped asLaura drewnear.  The group parted.  It was as though she wasexpectedasthoughthey had known she was coming here.

Laura wasterribly nervous.  Tossing the velvet ribbon over her shouldershe saidto a woman standing by"Is this Mrs. Scott's house?" andthewomansmiling queerlysaid"It ismy lass."

Ohto beaway from this!  She actually said"Help meGod" asshe walkedup thetiny path and knocked.  To be away from those staring eyesorto becovered upin anythingone of those women's shawls even.  I'll just leavethe basketand goshe decided.  I shan't even wait for it to be emptied.

Then thedoor opened.  A little woman in black showed in the gloom.

Laurasaid"Are you Mrs. Scott?"  But to her horror thewoman answered"Walkin pleasemiss" and she was shut in the passage.

"No"said Laura"I don't want to come in.  I only want to leavethisbasket. Mother sent--"

The littlewoman in the gloomy passage seemed not to have heard her.  "Stepthis waypleasemiss" she said in an oily voiceand Laura followedher.

She foundherself in a wretched little low kitchenlighted by a smokylamp. There was a woman sitting before the fire.

"Em"said the little creature who had let her in.  "Em! It's a younglady." She turned to Laura.  She said meaningly"I'm 'er sistermiss.You'llexcuse 'erwon't you?"

"Ohbut of course!" said Laura.  "Pleaseplease don'tdisturb her.  I--Ionly wantto leave--"

But atthat moment the woman at the fire turned round.  Her facepuffedupredwith swollen eyes and swollen lipslooked terrible.  She seemedas thoughshe couldn't understand why Laura was there.  What did it mean?Why wasthis stranger standing in the kitchen with a basket?  What wasitallabout?  And the poor face puckered up again.

"Allrightmy dear" said the other.  "I'll thenk theyoung lady."

And againshe began"You'll excuse hermissI'm sure" and herfaceswollentootried an oily smile.

Laura onlywanted to get outto get away.  She was back in the passage.The dooropened.  She walked straight through into the bedroomwhere thedead manwas lying.

"You'dlike a look at 'imwouldn't you?" said Em's sisterand shebrushedpast Lauraover to the bed.  "Don't be afraidmy lass"--and nowher voicesoundedfond and slyand fondly she drew down the sheet--"'e looks apicture. There's nothing to show.  Come alongmy dear."

Lauracame.

There laya young manfast asleep--sleeping so soundlyso deeplythat hewas farfar away from them both.  Ohso remoteso peaceful.  Hewasdreaming. Never wake him up again.  His head was sunk in the pillowhiseyes wereclosed; they were blind under the closed eyelids.  He was givenup to hisdream.  What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocksmatter tohim?  He was far from all those things.  He was wonderfulbeautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playingthismarvel hadcome to the lane.  Happy...happy...All is wellsaid thatsleepingface.  This is just as it should be.  I am content.

But allthe same you had to cryand she couldn't go out of the roomwithoutsaying something to him.  Laura gave a loud childish sob.

"Forgivemy hat" she said.

And thistime she didn't wait for Em's sister.  She found her way out ofthe doordown the pathpast all those dark people.  At the corner of thelane shemet Laurie.

He steppedout of the shadow.  "Is that youLaura?"

"Yes."

"Motherwas getting anxious.  Was it all right?"

"Yesquite.  OhLaurie!"  She took his armshe pressed upagainst him.

"Isayyou're not cryingare you?" asked her brother.

Laurashook her head.  She was.

Laurie puthis arm round her shoulder.  "Don't cry" he said inhis warmlovingvoice.  "Was it awful?"

"No"sobbed Laura.  "It was simply marvellous.  ButLaurie--"  Shestoppedshe looked at her brother.  "Isn't life" shestammered"isn'tlife--" But what life was she couldn't explain.  No matter.  Hequiteunderstood.

"Isn'titdarling?" said Laurie.

 

3. THE DAUGHTERS OF THE LATE COLONEL. 3.I.

The weekafter was one of the busiest weeks of their lives.  Even whentheywent tobed it was only their bodies that lay down and rested; their mindswent onthinking things outtalking things overwonderingdecidingtrying toremember where...

Constantialay like a statueher hands by her sidesher feet justoverlappingeach otherthe sheet up to her chin.  She stared at theceiling.

"Doyou think father would mind if we gave his top-hat to the porter?"

"Theporter?" snapped Josephine.  "Why ever the porter? What a veryextraordinaryidea!"

"Because"said Constantia slowly"he must often have to go to funerals.And Inoticed at--at the cemetery that he only had a bowler." She paused."Ithought then how very much he'd appreciate a top-hat.  We oughtto givehim apresenttoo.  He was always very nice to father."

"But"cried Josephineflouncing on her pillow and staring across the darkatConstantia"father's head!"  And suddenlyfor oneawful momentshenearlygiggled.  Notof coursethat she felt in the least likegiggling.It musthave been habit.  Years agowhen they had stayed awake at nighttalkingtheir beds had simply heaved.  And now the porter's headdisappearingpopped outlike a candleunder father's hat...The gigglemountedmounted; she clenched her hands; she fought it down; she frownedfiercelyat the dark and said "Remember" terribly sternly.

"Wecan decide to-morrow" she said.

Constantiahad noticed nothing; she sighed.

"Doyou think we ought to have our dressing-gowns dyed as well?"

"Black?"almost shrieked Josephine.

"Wellwhat else?" said Constantia.  "I was thinking--itdoesn't seem quitesincerein a wayto wear black out of doors and when we're fully dressedand thenwhen we're at home--"

"Butnobody sees us" said Josephine.  She gave the bedclothessuch atwitchthat both her feet became uncoveredand she had to creep up thepillows toget them well under again.

"Katedoes" said Constantia.  "And the postman very wellmight."

Josephinethought of her dark-red slipperswhich matched her dressing-gownandof Constantia's favourite indefinite green ones which went withhers. Black!  Two black dressing-gowns and two pairs of black woollyslipperscreeping off to the bathroom like black cats.

"Idon't think it's absolutely necessary" said she.

Silence. Then Constantia said"We shall have to post the papers with thenotice inthem to-morrow to catch the Ceylon mail...How many letters havewe had uptill now?"

"Twenty-three."

Josephinehad replied to them alland twenty-three times when she came to"Wemiss our dear father so much" she had broken down and had to useherhandkerchiefand on some of them even to soak up a very light-blue tearwith anedge of blotting-paper.  Strange!  She couldn't have put iton--buttwenty-threetimes.  Even nowthoughwhen she said over to herself sadly"Wemiss our dear father so much" she could have cried if she'dwanted to.

"Haveyou got enough stamps?" came from Constantia.

"Ohhow can I tell?" said Josephine crossly.  "What's thegood of askingme thatnow?"

"Iwas just wondering" said Constantia mildly.

Silenceagain.  There came a little rustlea scurrya hop.

"Amouse" said Constantia.

"Itcan't be a mouse because there aren't any crumbs" saidJosephine.

"Butit doesn't know there aren't" said Constantia.

A spasm ofpity squeezed her heart.  Poor little thing!  She wishedshe'dleft atiny piece of biscuit on the dressing-table.  It was awful tothinkof it notfinding anything.  What would it do?

"Ican't think how they manage to live at all" she said slowly.

"Who?"demanded Josephine.

AndConstantia said more loudly than she meant to"Mice."

Josephinewas furious.  "Ohwhat nonsenseCon!" she said. "What havemice gotto do with it?  You're asleep."

"Idon't think I am" said Constantia.  She shut her eyes tomake sure.She was.

Josephinearched her spinepulled up her kneesfolded her arms so thather fistscame under her earsand pressed her cheek hard against thepillow.

 

3.II.

Anotherthing which complicated matters was they had Nurse Andrews stayingon withthem that week.  It was their own fault; they had asked her. ItwasJosephine's idea.  On the morning--wellon the last morningwhen thedoctor hadgoneJosephine had said to Constantia"Don't you think itwould berather nice if we asked Nurse Andrews to stay on for a week as ourguest?"

"Verynice" said Constantia.

"Ithought" went on Josephine quickly"I should just saythis afternoonafter I'vepaid her'My sister and I would be very pleasedafter allyou'vedone for usNurse Andrewsif you would stay on for a week as ourguest.' I'd have to put that in about being our guest in case--"

"Ohbut she could hardly expect to be paid!" cried Constantia.

"Onenever knows" said Josephine sagely.

NurseAndrews hadof coursejumped at the idea.  But it was abother.  Itmeant theyhad to have regular sit-down meals at the proper timeswhereasif they'dbeen alone they could just have asked Kate if she wouldn't havemindedbringing them a tray wherever they were.  And meal-times nowthatthe strainwas over were rather a trial.

NurseAndrews was simply fearful about butter.  Really they couldn'thelpfeelingthat about butterat leastshe took advantage of their kindness.And shehad that maddening habit of asking for just an inch more of breadto finishwhat she had on her plateand thenat the last mouthfulabsent-mindedly--ofcourse it wasn't absent-mindedly--taking anotherhelping. Josephine got very red when this happenedand she fastened hersmallbead-like eyes on the tablecloth as if she saw a minute strangeinsectcreeping through the web of it.  But Constantia's longpalefacelengthenedand setand she gazed away--away--far over the desertto wherethat lineof camels unwound like a thread of wool...

"WhenI was with Lady Tukes" said Nurse Andrews"she had such adaintylittlecontrayvance for the buttah.  It was a silvah Cupid balanced onthe--onthe bordah of a glass dishholding a tayny fork.  And when youwantedsome buttah you simply pressed his foot and he bent down and spearedyou apiece.  It was quite a gayme."

Josephinecould hardly bear that.  But "I think those things are veryextravagant"was all she said.

"Butwhey?" asked Nurse Andrewsbeaming through her eyeglasses. "No onesurelywould take more buttah than one wanted--would one?"

"RingCon" cried Josephine.  She couldn't trust herself toreply.

And proudyoung Katethe enchanted princesscame in to see what the oldtabbieswanted now.  She snatched away their plates of mock something orother andslapped down a whiteterrified blancmange.

"JampleaseKate" said Josephine kindly.

Kate kneltand burst open the sideboardlifted the lid of the jam-potsawit wasemptyput it on the tableand stalked off.

"I'mafraid" said Nurse Andrews a moment later"there isn'tany."

"Ohwhat a bother!" said Josephine.  She bit her lip. "What had we betterdo?"

Constantialooked dubious.  "We can't disturb Kate again" shesaid softly.

NurseAndrews waitedsmiling at them both.  Her eyes wanderedspyingateverythingbehind her eyeglasses.  Constantia in despair went back to hercamels. Josephine frowned heavily--concentrated.  If it hadn't been forthisidiotic woman she and Con wouldof coursehave eaten theirblancmangewithout.  Suddenly the idea came.

"Iknow" she said.  "Marmalade.  There's somemarmalade in the sideboard.Get itCon."

"Ihope" laughed Nurse Andrews--and her laugh was like a spoontinklingagainst amedicine-glass--"I hope it's not very bittah marmalayde."

 

3.III.

Butafterallit was not long nowand then she'd be gone for good.  Andthere wasno getting over the fact that she had been very kind to father.She hadnursed him day and night at the end.  Indeedboth ConstantiaandJosephinefelt privately she had rather overdone the not leaving him at theverylast.  For when they had gone in to say good-bye Nurse Andrewshad satbeside hisbed the whole timeholding his wrist and pretending to look atherwatch.  It couldn't have been necessary.  It was sotactlesstoo.Supposingfather had wanted to say something--something private to them.Not thathe had.  Ohfar from it!  He lay therepurplea darkangrypurple inthe faceand never even looked at them when they came in. Thenas theywere standing therewondering what to dohe had suddenly openedone eye. Ohwhat a difference it would have madewhat a difference totheirmemory of himhow much easier to tell people about itif he hadonlyopened both!  But no--one eye only.  It glared at them amoment andthen...wentout.

 

3.IV.

It hadmade it very awkward for them when Mr. Farollesof St. John'scalled thesame afternoon.

"Theend was quite peacefulI trust?" were the first words he saidas heglidedtowards them through the dark drawing-room.

"Quite"said Josephine faintly.  They both hung their heads.  Bothof themfeltcertain that eye wasn't at all a peaceful eye.

"Won'tyou sit down?" said Josephine.

"ThankyouMiss Pinner" said Mr. Farolles gratefully.  He foldedhiscoat-tailsand began to lower himself into father's arm-chairbut just ashe touchedit he almost sprang up and slid into the next chair instead.

Hecoughed.  Josephine clasped her hands; Constantia looked vague.

"Iwant you to feelMiss Pinner" said Mr. Farolles"andyouMissConstantiathat I'm trying to be helpful.  I want to be helpful to youbothifyou will let me.  These are the times" said Mr Farollesverysimply andearnestly"when God means us to be helpful to one another."

"Thankyou very muchMr. Farolles" said Josephine and Constantia.

"Notat all" said Mr. Farolles gently.  He drew his kid glovesthrough hisfingersand leaned forward.  "And if either of you would like alittleCommunioneither or both of youhere and nowyou have only to tell me.A littleCommunion is often very help--a great comfort" he addedtenderly.

But theidea of a little Communion terrified them.  What!  In thedrawing-room bythemselves--with no--no altar or anything!  The piano would bemuchtoo highthought Constantiaand Mr. Farolles could not possibly lean overit withthe chalice.  And Kate would be sure to come bursting in andinterruptthemthought Josephine.  And supposing the bell rang in themiddle? It might be somebody important--about their mourning.  Wouldtheyget upreverently and go outor would they have to wait...in torture?

"Perhapsyou will send round a note by your good Kate if you would care forit later"said Mr. Farolles.

"Ohyesthank you very much!" they both said.

Mr.Farolles got up and took his black straw hat from the round table.

"Andabout the funeral" he said softly.  "I may arrangethat--as your dearfather'sold friend and yoursMiss Pinner--and Miss Constantia?"

Josephineand Constantia got up too.

"Ishould like it to be quite simple" said Josephine firmly"andnot tooexpensive. At the same timeI should like--"

"Agood one that will last" thought dreamy Constantiaas ifJosephinewerebuying a nightgown.  Butof courseJosephine didn't say that. "Onesuitableto our father's position."  She was very nervous.

"I'llrun round to our good friend Mr. Knight" said Mr. Farollessoothingly. "I will ask him to come and see you.  I am sure you willfindhim veryhelpful indeed."

 

3.V.

Wellatany rateall that part of it was overthough neither of themcouldpossibly believe that father was never coming back.  Josephinehadhad amoment of absolute terror at the cemeterywhile the coffin wasloweredto think that she and Constantia had done this thing withoutasking hispermission.  What would father say when he found out?  Forhewas boundto find out sooner or later.  He always did.  "Buried. You twogirls hadme buried!"  She heard his stick thumping.  Ohwhatwould theysay? What possible excuse could they make?  It sounded such anappallinglyheartlessthing to do.  Such a wicked advantage to take of a personbecausehehappened to be helpless at the moment.  The other people seemedto treatit all asa matter of course.  They were strangers; they couldn't beexpectedto understand that father was the very last person for such athing tohappen to.  Nothe entire blame for it all would fall on herandConstantia. And the expenseshe thoughtstepping into the tight-buttonedcab. When she had to show him the bills.  What would he say then?

She heardhim absolutely roaring.  "And do you expect me to pay forthisgimcrackexcursion of yours?"

"Oh"groaned poor Josephine aloud"we shouldn't have done itCon!"

AndConstantiapale as a lemon in all that blacknesssaid in afrightenedwhisper"Done whatJug?"

"Letthem bu-bury father like that" said Josephinebreaking downandcryinginto her newqueer-smelling mourning handkerchief.

"Butwhat else could we have done?" asked Constantia wonderingly. "Wecouldn'thave kept himJug--we couldn't have kept him unburied.  At anyratenotin a flat that size."

Josephineblew her nose; the cab was dreadfully stuffy.

"Idon't know" she said forlornly.  "It is all sodreadful.  I feel weought tohave tried tojust for a time at least.  To make perfectlysure.Onething's certain"--and her tears sprang out again--"fatherwill neverforgive usfor this--never!"

 

3.VI.

Fatherwould never forgive them.  That was what they felt more thaneverwhentwomornings laterthey went into his room to go through his things.They haddiscussed it quite calmly.  It was even down on Josephine's listof thingsto be done.  "Go through father's things and settle aboutthem."But thatwas a very different matter from saying after breakfast:

"Wellare you readyCon?"

"YesJug--when you are."

"ThenI think we'd better get it over."

It wasdark in the hall.  It had been a rule for years never to disturbfather inthe morningwhatever happened.  And now they were going to openthe doorwithout knocking even...Constantia's eyes were enormous at theidea;Josephine felt weak in the knees.

"You--yougo first" she gaspedpushing Constantia.

ButConstantia saidas she always had said on those occasions"NoJugthat's notfair.  You're the eldest."

Josephinewas just going to say--what at other times she wouldn't haveowned tofor the world--what she kept for her very last weapon"Butyou'rethetallest" when they noticed that the kitchen door was openandtherestoodKate...

"Verystiff" said Josephinegrasping the doorhandle and doing herbest toturn it. As if anything ever deceived Kate!

Itcouldn't be helped.  That girl was...Then the door was shutbehind thembut--butthey weren't in father's room at all.  They might have suddenlywalkedthrough the wall by mistake into a different flat altogether. Wasthe doorjust behind them?  They were too frightened to look. Josephineknew thatif it was it was holding itself tight shut; Constantia felt thatlike thedoors in dreamsit hadn't any handle at all.  It was thecoldnesswhich madeit so awful.  Or the whiteness--which?  Everything wascovered.The blindswere downa cloth hung over the mirrora sheet hid the bed; ahuge fanof white paper filled the fireplace.  Constantia timidly put outher hand;she almost expected a snowflake to fall.  Josephine felt a queertinglingin her noseas if her nose was freezing.  Then a cabklop-kloppedover thecobbles belowand the quiet seemed to shake into little pieces.

"Ihad better pull up a blind" said Josephine bravely.

"Yesit might be a good idea" whispered Constantia.

They onlygave the blind a touchbut it flew up and the cord flew afterrollinground the blind-stickand the little tassel tapped as if trying toget free. That was too much for Constantia.

"Don'tyou think--don't you think we might put it off for another day?"shewhispered.

"Why?"snapped Josephinefeelingas usualmuch better now that she knewforcertain that Constantia was terrified.  "It's got to bedone.  But I dowish youwouldn't whisperCon."

"Ididn't know I was whispering" whispered Constantia.

"Andwhy do you keep staring at the bed?" said Josephineraising hervoicealmostdefiantly.  "There's nothing on the bed."

"OhJugdon't say so!" said poor Connie.  "At any ratenot so loudly."

Josephinefelt herself that she had gone too far.  She took a wide swerveover tothe chest of drawersput out her handbut quickly drew it backagain.

"Connie!"she gaspedand she wheeled round and leaned with her backagainstthe chest of drawers.

"OhJug--what?"

Josephinecould only glare.  She had the most extraordinary feeling thatshe hadjust escaped something simply awful.  But how could she explaintoConstantiathat father was in the chest of drawers?  He was in the topdrawerwith his handkerchiefs and necktiesor in the next with his shirtsandpyjamasor in the lowest of all with his suits.  He waswatchingtherehidden away--just behind the door-handle--ready to spring.

She pulleda funny old-fashioned face at Constantiajust as she used to inthe olddays when she was going to cry.

"Ican't open" she nearly wailed.

"Nodon'tJug" whispered Constantia earnestly.  "It'smuch better notto. Don't let's open anything.  At any ratenot for a long time."

"But--butit seems so weak" said Josephinebreaking down.

"Butwhy not be weak for onceJug?" argued Constantiawhisperingquitefiercely. "If it is weak."  And her pale stare flew from thelockedwriting-table--sosafe--to the huge glittering wardrobeand she began tobreathe ina queerpanting away.  "Why shouldn't we be weak for onceinour livesJug?  It's quite excusable.  Let's be weak--be weakJug. It'smuch nicerto be weak than to be strong."

And thenshe did one of those amazingly bold things that she'd done abouttwicebefore in their lives:  she marched over to the wardrobeturnedthekeyandtook it out of the lock.  Took it out of the lock and held it uptoJosephineshowing Josephine by her extraordinary smile that she knewwhat she'ddone--she'd risked deliberately father being in there among hisovercoats.

If thehuge wardrobe had lurched forwardhad crashed down on ConstantiaJosephinewouldn't have been surprised.  On the contraryshe would havethought itthe only suitable thing to happen.  But nothing happened. Onlythe roomseemed quieter than everand the bigger flakes of cold air fellonJosephine's shoulders and knees.  She began to shiver.

"ComeJug" said Constantiastill with that awful callous smileandJosephinefollowed just as she had that last timewhen Constantia hadpushedBenny into the round pond.

 

3.VII.

But thestrain told on them when they were back in the dining-room. Theysat downvery shakyand looked at each other.

"Idon't feel I can settle to anything" said Josephine"untilI've hadsomething. Do you think we could ask Kate for two cups of hot water?"

"Ireally don't see why we shouldn't" said Constantia carefully. She wasquitenormal again.  "I won't ring.  I'll go to the kitchendoor and askher."

"Yesdo" said Josephinesinking down into a chair.  "Tellherjust twocupsConnothing else--on a tray."

"Sheneedn't even put the jug onneed she?" said ConstantiaasthoughKate mightvery well complain if the jug had been there.

"Ohnocertainly not!  The jug's not at all necessary.  Shecan pour itdirect outof the kettle" cried Josephinefeeling that would be a labour-savingindeed.

Their coldlips quivered at the greenish brims.  Josephine curved her smallred handsround the cup; Constantia sat up and blew on the wavy steammaking itflutter from one side to the other.

"Speakingof Benny" said Josephine.

And thoughBenny hadn't been mentioned Constantia immediately looked asthough hehad.

"He'llexpect us to send him something of father'sof course.  Butit's sodifficultto know what to send to Ceylon."

"Youmean things get unstuck so on the voyage" murmured Constantia.

"Nolost" said Josephine sharply.  "You know there's nopost.  Onlyrunners."

Bothpaused to watch a black man in white linen drawers running throughthepalefields for dear lifewith a large brown-paper parcel in his hands.Josephine'sblack man was tiny; he scurried along glistening like an ant.But therewas something blind and tireless about Constantia's tallthinfellowwhich made himshe decideda very unpleasant person indeed...Ontheverandadressed all in white and wearing a cork helmetstood Benny.His righthand shook up and downas father's did when he was impatient.And behindhimnot in the least interestedsat Hildathe unknown sister-in-law. She swung in a cane rocker and flicked over the leaves of the"Tatler."

"Ithink his watch would be the most suitable present" saidJosephine.

Constantialooked up; she seemed surprised.

"Ohwould you trust a gold watch to a native?"

"Butof courseI'd disguise it" said Josephine.  "No onewould know itwas awatch."  She liked the idea of having to make a parcel sucha curiousshape thatno one could possibly guess what it was.  She even thought for amoment ofhiding the watch in a narrow cardboard corset-box that she'd keptby her fora long timewaiting for it to come in for something.  It wassuchbeautifulfirm cardboard.  Butnoit wouldn't be appropriateforthisoccasion.  It had lettering on it:  "Medium Women's28.  Extra FirmBusks." It would be almost too much of a surprise for Benny to open thatand findfather's watch inside.

"Andof course it isn't as though it would be going--tickingI mean"saidConstantiawho was still thinking of the native love of jewellery.  "Atleast"she added"it would be very strange if after all that time itwas."

 

3.VIII.

Josephinemade no reply.  She had flown off on one of her tangents. Shehadsuddenly thought of Cyril.  Wasn't it more usual for the onlygrandsonto havethe watch?  And then dear Cyril was so appreciativeand a goldwatchmeant so much to a young man.  Bennyin all probabilityhadquitegot out ofthe habit of watches; men so seldom wore waistcoats in those hotclimates. Whereas Cyril in London wore them from year's end to year's end.And itwould be so nice for her and Constantiawhen he came to teatoknow itwas there.  "I see you've got on grandfather's watchCyril."  Itwould besomehow so satisfactory.

Dear boy! What a blow his sweetsympathetic little note had been!  Ofcoursethey quite understood; but it was most unfortunate.

"Itwould have been such a pointhaving him" said Josephine.

"Andhe would have enjoyed it so" said Constantianot thinking whatshewassaying.

Howeveras soon as he got back he was coming to tea with his aunties.Cyril totea was one of their rare treats.

"NowCyrilyou mustn't be frightened of our cakes.  Your Auntie Conand Iboughtthem at Buszard's this morning.  We know what a man's appetiteis.So don'tbe ashamed of making a good tea."

Josephinecut recklessly into the rich dark cake that stood for her wintergloves orthe soling and heeling of Constantia's only respectable shoes.But Cyrilwas most unmanlike in appetite.

"IsayAunt JosephineI simply can't.  I've only just had lunchyouknow."

"OhCyrilthat can't be true!  It's after four" criedJosephine.Constantiasat with her knife poised over the chocolate-roll.

"Itisall the same" said Cyril.  "I had to meet a manat Victoriaandhe kept mehanging about till...there was only time to get lunch and tocome onhere.  And he gave me--phew"--Cyril put his hand to hisforehead--"aterrific blow-out" he said.

It wasdisappointing--to-day of all days.  But still he couldn't beexpectedto know.

"Butyou'll have a meringuewon't youCyril?" said Aunt Josephine."Thesemeringues were bought specially for you.  Your dear father wassofond ofthem.  We were sure you aretoo."

"IamAunt Josephine" cried Cyril ardently.  "Do youmind if I take halfto beginwith?"

"Notat alldear boy; but we mustn't let you off with that."

"Isyour dear father still so fond of meringues?" asked Auntie Congently.She wincedfaintly as she broke through the shell of hers.

"WellI don't quite knowAuntie Con" said Cyril breezily.

At thatthey both looked up.

"Don'tknow?" almost snapped Josephine.  "Don't know a thinglike thatabout yourown fatherCyril?"

"Surely"said Auntie Con softly.

Cyriltried to laugh it off.  "Ohwell" he said"it'ssuch a long timesince--" He faltered.  He stopped.  Their faces were too much forhim.

"Evenso" said Josephine.

And AuntieCon looked.

Cyril putdown his teacup.  "Wait a bit" he cried.  "Waita bitAuntJosephine. What am I thinking of?"

He lookedup.  They were beginning to brighten.  Cyril slapped hisknee.

"Ofcourse" he said"it was meringues.  How could I haveforgotten?  YesAuntJosephineyou're perfectly right.  Father's most frightfullykeen onmeringues."

Theydidn't only beam.  Aunt Josephine went scarlet with pleasure;AuntieCon gave adeepdeep sigh.

"AndnowCyrilyou must come and see father" said Josephine. "He knowsyou werecoming to-day."

"Right"said Cyrilvery firmly and heartily.  He got up from his chair;suddenlyhe glanced at the clock.

"IsayAuntie Conisn't your clock a bit slow?  I've got to meeta manat--atPaddington just after five.  I'm afraid I shan't be able to stayvery longwith grandfather."

"Ohhe won't expect you to stay very long!" said Aunt Josephine.

Constantiawas still gazing at the clock.  She couldn't make up her mind ifit wasfast or slow.  It was one or the othershe felt almost certainofthat. At any rateit had been.

Cyrilstill lingered.  "Aren't you coming alongAuntie Con?"

"Ofcourse" said Josephine"we shall all go.  Come onCon."

 

3.IX.

Theyknocked at the doorand Cyril followed his aunts into grandfather'shotsweetish room.

"Comeon" said Grandfather Pinner.  "Don't hang about. What is it?What'veyou been up to?"

He wassitting in front of a roaring fireclasping his stick.  He hadathick rugover his knees.  On his lap there lay a beautiful pale yellowsilkhandkerchief.

"It'sCyrilfather" said Josephine shyly.  And she took Cyril'shand andled himforward.

"Goodafternoongrandfather" said Cyriltrying to take his hand outofAuntJosephine's.  Grandfather Pinner shot his eyes at Cyril in theway hewas famousfor.  Where was Auntie Con?  She stood on the other side ofAuntJosephine;her long arms hung down in front of her; her hands were clasped.She nevertook her eyes off grandfather.

"Well"said Grandfather Pinnerbeginning to thump"what have you gottotell me?"

What hadhewhat had he got to tell him?  Cyril felt himself smilinglikea perfectimbecile.  The room was stiflingtoo.

But AuntJosephine came to his rescue.  She cried brightly"Cyrilsays hisfather isstill very fond of meringuesfather dear."

"Eh?"said Grandfather Pinnercurving his hand like a purple meringue-shell overone ear.

Josephinerepeated"Cyril says his father is still very fond ofmeringues."

"Can'thear" said old Colonel Pinner.  And he waved Josephineaway withhis stickthen pointed with his stick to Cyril.  "Tell me what she'strying tosay" he said.

(My God!)"Must I?" said Cyrilblushing and staring at AuntJosephine.

"Dodear" she smiled.  "It will please him so much."

"Comeonout with it!" cried Colonel Pinner testilybeginning tothumpagain.

And Cyrilleaned forward and yelled"Father's still very fond ofmeringues."

At thatGrandfather Pinner jumped as though he had been shot.

"Don'tshout!" he cried.  "What's the matter with the boy? Meringues!What about'em?"

"OhAunt Josephinemust we go on?" groaned Cyril desperately.

"It'squite all rightdear boy" said Aunt Josephineas though heand shewere atthe dentist's together.  "He'll understand in a minute." And shewhisperedto Cyril"He's getting a bit deafyou know."  Thenshe leanedforwardand really bawled at Grandfather Pinner"Cyril only wanted totellyoufather dearthat his father is still very fond of meringues."

ColonelPinner heard that timeheard and broodedlooking Cyril up anddown.

"Whatan esstrordinary thing!" said old Grandfather Pinner. "What anesstrordinarything to come all this way here to tell me!"

And Cyrilfelt it was. 

"YesI shall send Cyril the watch" said Josephine.

"Thatwould be very nice" said Constantia.  "I seem toremember last timehe camethere was some little trouble about the time."

 

3.X.

They wereinterrupted by Kate bursting through the door in her usualfashionas though she had discovered some secret panel in the wall.

"Friedor boiled?" asked the bold voice.

Fried orboiled?  Josephine and Constantia were quite bewildered for themoment. They could hardly take it in.

"Friedor boiled whatKate?" asked Josephinetrying to begin toconcentrate.

Kate gavea loud sniff.  "Fish."

"Wellwhy didn't you say so immediately?"  Josephine reproachedhergently. "How could you expect us to understandKate?  There are agreatmanythings in this world you knowwhich are fried or boiled." And aftersuch adisplay of courage she said quite brightly to Constantia"WhichdoyoupreferCon?"

"Ithink it might be nice to have it fried" said Constantia. "On theotherhandof courseboiled fish is very nice.  I think I preferbothequallywell...Unless you...In that case--"

"Ishall fry it" said Kateand she bounced backleaving theirdoor openandslamming the door of her kitchen.

Josephinegazed at Constantia; she raised her pale eyebrows until theyrippledaway into her pale hair.  She got up.  She said in a veryloftyimposingway"Do you mind following me into the drawing-roomConstantia?I've gotsomething of great importance to discuss with you."

For it wasalways to the drawing-room they retired when they wanted to talkover Kate.

Josephineclosed the door meaningly.  "Sit downConstantia"she saidstill verygrand.  She might have been receiving Constantia for the firsttime. And Con looked round vaguely for a chairas though she felt indeedquite astranger.

"Nowthe question is" said Josephinebending forward"whetherwe shallkeep heror not."

"Thatis the question" agreed Constantia.

"Andthis time" said Josephine firmly"we must come to adefinitedecision."

Constantialooked for a moment as though she might begin going over all theothertimesbut she pulled herself together and said"YesJug."

"YouseeCon" explained Josephine"everything is so changednow."Constantialooked up quickly.  "I mean" went on Josephine"we're notdependenton Kate as we were."  And she blushed faintly. "There's notfather tocook for."

"Thatis perfectly true" agreed Constantia.  "Fathercertainly doesn'twant anycooking nowwhatever else--"

Josephinebroke in sharply"You're not sleepyare youCon?"

"SleepyJug?"  Constantia was wide-eyed.

"Wellconcentrate more" said Josephine sharplyand she returned tothesubject. "What it comes to isif we did"--and this she barelybreathedglancingat the door--"give Kate notice"--she raised her voiceagain--"wecouldmanage our own food."

"Whynot?" cried Constantia.  She couldn't help smiling. The idea was soexciting. She clasped her hands.  "What should we live onJug?"

"Oheggs in various forms!" said Juglofty again.  "Andbesidesthereare allthe cooked foods."

"ButI've always heard" said Constantia"they are consideredso veryexpensive."

"Notif one buys them in moderation" said Josephine.  But shetore herselfaway fromthis fascinating bypath and dragged Constantia after her.

"Whatwe've got to decide nowhoweveris whether we really do trust Kateor not."

Constantialeaned back.  Her flat little laugh flew from her lips.

"Isn'tit curiousJug" said she"that just on this one subjectI'venever beenable to quite make up my mind?"

 

3.XI.

She neverhad.  The whole difficulty was to prove anything.  How didoneprovethingshow could one?  Suppose Kate had stood in front of heranddeliberatelymade a face.  Mightn't she very well have been in pain?Wasn't itimpossibleat any rateto ask Kate if she was making a face ather? If Kate answered "No"--andof courseshe would say"No"--what aposition! How undignified!  Then again Constantia suspectedshe wasalmostcertain that Kate went to her chest of drawers when she andJosephinewere outnot to take things but to spy.  Many times she hadcomeback tofind her amethyst cross in the most unlikely placesunder her laceties or ontop of her evening Bertha.  More than once she had laid a trapfor Kate. She had arranged things in a special order and then calledJosephineto witness.

"YouseeJug?"

"QuiteCon."

"Nowwe shall be able to tell."

Butohdearwhen she did go to lookshe was as far off from a proof asever! If anything was displacedit might so very well have happened asshe closedthe drawer; a jolt might have done it so easily.

"YoucomeJugand decide.  I really can't.  It's toodifficult."

But aftera pause and a long glare Josephine would sigh"Now you've putthe doubtinto my mindConI'm sure I can't tell myself."

"Wellwe can't postpone it again" said Josephine.  "If wepostpone itthistime--"

 

3.XII.

But atthat moment in the street below a barrel-organ struck up. JosephineandConstantia sprang to their feet together.

"RunCon" said Josephine.  "Run quickly.  There'ssixpence on the--"

Then theyremembered.  It didn't matter.  They would never have tostop theorgan-grinderagain.  Never again would she and Constantia be told to makethatmonkey take his noise somewhere else.  Never would sound thatloudstrangebellow when father thought they were not hurrying enough.  Theorgan-grindermight play there all day and the stick would not thump.

"Itnever will thump again Itnever will thump again

played thebarrel-organ.

What wasConstantia thinking?  She had such a strange smile; she lookeddifferent. She couldn't be going to cry.

"JugJug" said Constantia softlypressing her hands together. "Do youknow whatday it is?  It's Saturday.  It's a week to-daya wholeweek." "Aweek since father died Aweek since father died"

cried thebarrel-organ.  And Josephinetooforgot to be practical andsensible;she smiled faintlystrangely.  On the Indian carpet there fellasquare ofsunlightpale red; it came and went and came--and stayeddeepened--untilit shone almost golden.

"Thesun's out" said Josephineas though it really mattered.

A perfectfountain of bubbling notes shook from the barrel-organroundbrightnotescarelessly scattered.

Constantialifted her bigcold hands as if to catch themand then herhands fellagain.  She walked over to the mantelpiece to her favouriteBuddha. And the stone and gilt imagewhose smile always gave her such aqueerfeelingalmost a pain and yet a pleasant painseemed to-day to bemore thansmiling.  He knew something; he had a secret.  "I knowsomethingthat youdon't know" said her Buddha.  Ohwhat was itwhat couldit be?And yetshe had always felt there was...something.

Thesunlight pressed through the windowsthieved its way inflashed itslight overthe furniture and the photographs.  Josephine watched it. Whenit came tomother's photographthe enlargement over the pianoit lingeredas thoughpuzzled to find so little remained of motherexcept the earringsshapedlike tiny pagodas and a black feather boa.  Why did thephotographsof deadpeople always fade so? wondered Josephine.  As soon as a personwasdead theirphotograph died too.  Butof coursethis one of mother wasvery old. It was thirty-five years old.  Josephine remembered standing ona chairand pointing out that feather boa to Constantia and telling herthat itwas a snake that had killed their mother in Ceylon...Wouldeverythinghave been different if mother hadn't died?  She didn't see why.AuntFlorence had lived with them until they had left schooland they hadmovedthree times and had their yearly holiday and...and there'd beenchanges ofservantsof course.

Somelittle sparrowsyoung sparrows they soundedchirped on the window-ledge. "Yeep--eyeep--yeep."  But Josephine felt they were notsparrowsnot on thewindow-ledge.  It was inside herthat queer little cryingnoise. "Yeep--eyeep--yeep."  Ahwhat was it cryingso weakand forlorn?

If motherhad livedmight they have married?  But there had been nobodyfor themto marry.  There had been father's Anglo-Indian friends beforehequarrelledwith them.  But after that she and Constantia never met a singleman exceptclergymen.  How did one meet men?  Or even if they'd metthemhow couldthey have got to know men well enough to be more than strangers?One readof people having adventuresbeing followedand so on.  Butnobody hadever followed Constantia and her.  Oh yesthere had been oneyear atEastbourne a mysterious man at their boarding-house who had put anote onthe jug of hot water outside their bedroom door!  But by thetimeConnie hadfound it the steam had made the writing too faint to read; theycouldn'teven make out to which of them it was addressed.  And he hadleftnext day. And that was all.  The rest had been looking after fatherandat thesame time keeping out of father's way.  But now?  But now? Thethievingsun touched Josephine gently.  She lifted her face.  Shewas drawnover tothe window by gentle beams...

Until thebarrel-organ stopped playing Constantia stayed before the Buddhawonderingbut not as usualnot vaguely.  This time her wonder was likelonging. She remembered the times she had come in herecrept out of bedin hernightgown when the moon was fulland lain on the floor with herarmsoutstretchedas though she was crucified.  Why?  The bigpale moonhad madeher do it.  The horrible dancing figures on the carved screenhadleered ather and she hadn't minded.  She remembered too howwhenevertheywere atthe seasideshe had gone off by herself and got as close to thesea as shecouldand sung somethingsomething she had made upwhile shegazed allover that restless water.  There had been this other liferunningoutbringing things home in bagsgetting things on approvaldiscussingthem with Jugand taking them back to get more things onapprovaland arranging father's trays and trying not to annoy father. Butit allseemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel.  It wasn't real. Itwas onlywhen she came out of the tunnel into the moonlight or by the seaor into athunderstorm that she really felt herself.  What did it mean?What wasit she was always wanting?  What did it all lead to?  Now? Now?

She turnedaway from the Buddha with one of her vague gestures.  She wentover towhere Josephine was standing.  She wanted to say something toJosephinesomething frightfully importantabout--about the future andwhat...

"Don'tyou think perhaps--" she began.

ButJosephine interrupted her.  "I was wondering if now--"she murmured.Theystopped; they waited for each other.

"GoonCon" said Josephine.

"NonoJug; after you" said Constantia.

"Nosay what you were going to say.  You began" saidJosephine.

"I...I'drather hear what you were going to say first" said Constantia.

"Don'tbe absurdCon."

"ReallyJug."

"Connie!"

"OhJug!"

A pause. Then Constantia said faintly"I can't say what I was going tosayJugbecause I've forgotten what it was...that I was going to say."

Josephinewas silent for a moment.  She stared at a big cloud where thesunhad been. Then she replied shortly"I've forgotten too."

 

4. MR. AND MRS. DOVE.

Of coursehe knew--no man better--that he hadn't a ghost of a chancehehadn't anearthly.  The very idea of such a thing was preposterous. Sopreposterousthat he'd perfectly understand it if her father--wellwhateverher father chose to do he'd perfectly understand.  In factnothingshort of desperationnothing short of the fact that this waspositivelyhis last day in England for God knows how longwould havescrewedhim up to it.  And even now...He chose a tie out of the chest ofdrawersablue and cream check tieand sat on the side of his bed.Supposingshe replied"What impertinence!" would he be surprised? Not inthe leasthe decidedturning up his soft collar and turning it down overthe tie. He expected her to say something like that.  He didn't seeifhelooked atthe affair dead soberlywhat else she could say.

Here hewas!  And nervously he tied a bow in front of the mirrorjammedhis hairdown with both handspulled out the flaps of his jacket pockets.Makingbetween 500 and 600 pounds a year on a fruit farm in--of all places--Rhodesia. No capital.  Not a penny coming to him.  No chance of hisincomeincreasing for at least four years.  As for looks and all thatsortof thinghe was completely out of the running.  He couldn't even boast oftop-holehealthfor the East Africa business had knocked him out sothoroughlythat he'd had to take six months' leave.  He was still fearfullypale--worseeven than usual this afternoonhe thoughtbending forward andpeeringinto the mirror.  Good heavens!  What had happened? His hairlookedalmost bright green.  Dash it allhe hadn't green hair at allevents. That was a bit too steep.  And then the green light trembled inthe glass;it was the shadow from the tree outside.  Reggie turned awaytook outhis cigarette casebut remembering how the mater hated him tosmoke inhis bedroomput it back again and drifted over to the chest ofdrawers. Nohe was dashed if he could think of one blessed thing in hisfavourwhile she...Ah!...He stopped deadfolded his armsand leaned hardagainstthe chest of drawers.

And inspite of her positionher father's wealththe fact that she was anonly childand far and away the most popular girl in the neighbourhood; inspite ofher beauty and her cleverness--cleverness!--it was a great dealmore thanthatthere was really nothing she couldn't do; he fullybelievedhad it been necessaryshe would have been a genius at anything--in spiteof the fact that her parents adored herand she themand they'das soonlet her go all that way as...In spite of every single thing youcouldthink ofso terrific was his love that he couldn't help hoping.Wellwasit hope?  Or was this queertimid longing to have the chance oflookingafter herof making it his job to see that she had everything shewantedand that nothing came near her that wasn't perfect--just love? Howhe lovedher!  He squeezed hard against the chest of drawers and murmuredto it"Ilove herI love her!"  And just for the moment he was withheron the wayto Umtali.  It was night.  She sat in a corner asleep. Her softchin wastucked into her soft collarher gold-brown lashes lay on hercheeks. He doted on her delicate little noseher perfect lipsher earlike ababy'sand the gold-brown curl that half covered it.  They werepassingthrough the jungle.  It was warm and dark and far away. Then shewoke upand said"Have I been asleep?" and he answered"Yes. Are you allright? Herelet me--"  And he leaned forward to...He bent overher.  Thiswas suchbliss that he could dream no further.  But it gave him thecourageto bounddownstairsto snatch his straw hat from the halland to say ashe closedthe front door"WellI can only try my luckthat's all."

But hisluck gave him a nasty jarto say the leastalmost immediately.Promenadingup and down the garden path with Chinny and Biddythe ancientPekeswasthe mater.  Of course Reginald was fond of the mater and allthat. She--she meant wellshe had no end of gritand so on.  Buttherewas nodenying itshe was rather a grim parent.  And there had beenmomentsmany of themin Reggie's lifebefore Uncle Alick died and lefthim thefruit farmwhen he was convinced that to be a widow's only son wasabout theworst punishment a chap could have.  And what made it rougherthan everwas that she was positively all that he had.  She wasn't only acombinedparentas it werebut she had quarrelled with all her own andthegovernor's relations before Reggie had won his first trouser pockets.So thatwhenever Reggie was homesick out theresitting on his dark verandabystarlightwhile the gramophone cried"Dearwhat is Life butLove?"his onlyvision was of the matertall and stoutrustling down the gardenpathwithChinny and Biddy at her heels...

The materwith her scissors outspread to snap the head of a dead somethingor otherstopped at the sight of Reggie.

"Youare not going outReginald?" she askedseeing that he was.

"I'llbe back for teamater" said Reggie weaklyplunging his handsintohis jacketpockets.

Snip. Off came a head.  Reggie almost jumped.

"Ishould have thought you could have spared your mother your lastafternoon"said she.

Silence. The Pekes stared.  They understood every word of the mater's.Biddy laydown with her tongue poked out; she was so fat and glossy shelookedlike a lump of half-melted toffee.  But Chinny's porcelain eyesgloomed atReginaldand he sniffed faintlyas though the whole world wereoneunpleasant smell.  Snipwent the scissors again.  Poorlittle beggars;they weregetting it!

"Andwhere are you goingif your mother may ask?" asked the mater.

It wasover at lastbut Reggie did not slow down until he was out of sightof thehouse and half-way to Colonel Proctor's.  Then only he noticedwhata top-holeafternoon it was.  It had been raining all the morninglatesummerrainwarmheavyquickand now the sky was clearexcept for along tailof little cloudslike duckingssailing over the forest.  Therewas justenough wind to shake the last drops off the trees; one warm starsplashedon his hand.  Ping!--another drummed on his hat.  The emptyroadgleamedthe hedges smelled of briarand how big and bright the hollyhocksglowed inthe cottage gardens.  And here was Colonel Proctor's--here itwasalready. His hand was on the gatehis elbow jogged the syringa bushesand petalsand pollen scattered over his coat sleeve.  But wait a bit.This wastoo quick altogether.  He'd meant to think the whole thing outagain. Heresteady.  But he was walking up the pathwith the hugerosebushes oneither side.  It can't be done like this.  But his hand hadgraspedthe bellgiven it a pulland started it pealing wildlyas ifhe'd cometo say the house was on fire.  The housemaid must have been inthe halltoofor the front door flashed openand Reggie was shut in theemptydrawing-room before that confounded bell had stopped ringing.Strangelyenoughwhen it didthe big roomshadowywith some one'sparasollying on top of the grand pianobucked him up--or ratherexcitedhim. It was so quietand yet in one moment the door would openand hisfate bedecided.  The feeling was not unlike that of being at thedentist's;he was almost reckless.  But at the same timeto his immensesurpriseReggie heard himself saying"LordThou knowestThou hast notdone muchfor me..."  That pulled him up; that made him realize againhowdeadserious it was.  Too late.  The door handle turned. Anne came incrossedthe shadowy space between themgave him her handand saidin hersmallsoft voice"I'm so sorryfather is out.  And mother ishaving aday intownhat-hunting.  There's only me to entertain youReggie."

Reggiegaspedpressed his own hat to his jacket buttonsand stammeredout"Asa matter of factI've only come...to say good-bye."

"Oh!"cried Anne softly--she stepped back from him and her grey eyesdanced--"whata very short visit!"

Thenwatching himher chin tiltedshe laughed outrighta longsoftpealandwalked away from him over to the pianoand leaned against itplayingwith the tassel of the parasol.

"I'mso sorry" she said"to be laughing like this.  Idon't know why Ido. It's just a bad ha--habit."  And suddenly she stamped hergrey shoeand took apocket-handkerchief out of her white woolly jacket.  "Ireallymustconquer itit's too absurd" said she.

"GoodheavensAnne" cried Reggie"I love to hear youlaughing!  I can'timagineanything more--"

But thetruth wasand they both knew itshe wasn't always laughing; itwasn'treally a habit.  Only ever since the day they'd metever sincethatvery firstmomentfor some strange reason that Reggie wished to God heunderstoodAnne had laughed at him.  Why?  It didn't matter where theywere orwhat they were talking about.  They might begin by being asseriousaspossibledead serious--at any rateas far as he was concerned--butthensuddenlyin the middle of a sentenceAnne would glance at himandalittlequick quiver passed over her face.  Her lips partedher eyesdancedand she began laughing.

Anotherqueer thing about it wasReggie had an idea she didn't herselfknow whyshe laughed.  He had seen her turn awayfrownsuck in hercheekspress her hands together.  But it was no use.  The longsoft pealsoundedeven while she cried"I don't know why I'm laughing." It was amystery...

Now shetucked the handkerchief away.

"Dosit down" said she.  "And smokewon't you? There are cigarettes inthatlittle box beside you.  I'll have one too."  Helighted a match forherandas she bent forward he saw the tiny flame glow in the pearl ringshe wore. "It is to-morrow that you're goingisn't it?" said Anne.

"Yesto-morrow as ever was" said Reggieand he blew a little fan ofsmoke. Why on earth was he so nervous?  Nervous wasn't the word for it.

"It's--it'sfrightfully hard to believe" he added.

"Yes--isn'tit?" said Anne softlyand she leaned forward and rolled thepoint ofher cigarette round the green ash-tray.  How beautiful shelookedlikethat!--simply beautiful--and she was so small in that immense chair.Reginald'sheart swelled with tendernessbut it was her voiceher softvoicethat made him tremble.  "I feel you've been here foryears" shesaid.

Reginaldtook a deep breath of his cigarette.  "It's ghastlythisidea ofgoingback" be said.

"Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo"sounded from the quiet.

"Butyou're fond of being out therearen't you?" said Anne. She hookedher fingerthrough her pearl necklace.  "Father was saying only theothernight howlucky he thought you were to have a life of your own."  Andshelooked upat him.  Reginald's smile was rather wan.  "I don'tfeelfearfullylucky" he said lightly.

"Roo-coo-coo-coo"came again.  And Anne murmured"You mean it's lonely."

"Ohit isn't the loneliness I care about" said Reginaldand hestumpedhiscigarette savagely on the green ash-tray.  "I could standany amount ofitusedto like it even.  It's the idea of--"  Suddenlytohis horrorhefelthimself blushing.

"Roo-coo-coo-coo! Roo-coo-coo-coo!"

Annejumped up.  "Come and say good-bye to my doves" shesaid.  "They'vebeen movedto the side veranda.  You do like dovesdon't youReggie?"

"Awfully"said Reggieso fervently that as he opened the French windowfor herand stood to one sideAnne ran forward and laughed at the dovesinstead.

To andfroto and fro over the fine red sand on the floor of the dovehousewalked the two doves.  One was always in front of the other. Oneranforwarduttering a little cryand the other followedsolemnlybowingandbowing.  "You see" explained Anne"the one infrontshe's Mrs. Dove.She looksat Mr. Dove and gives that little laugh and runs forwardand hefollowsherbowing and bowing.  And that makes her laugh again. Away sherunsandafter her" cried Anneand she sat back on her heels"comespoor Mr.Dovebowing and bowing...and that's their whole life.  Theyneverdoanything elseyou know."  She got up and took some yellowgrains out ofa bag onthe roof of the dove house.  "When you think of themoutinRhodesiaReggieyou can be sure that is what they will be doing..."

Reggiegave no sign of having seen the doves or of having heard a word.For themoment he was conscious only of the immense effort it took to tearhis secretout of himself and offer it to Anne.  "Annedo you thinkyoucould evercare for me?"  It was done.  It was over.  And inthe littlepause thatfollowed Reginald saw the garden open to the lightthe bluequiveringskythe flutter of leaves on the veranda polesand Anne turningover thegrains of maize on her palm with one finger.  Then slowly sheshuther handand the new world faded as she murmured slowly"Nonever inthatway."  But he had scarcely time to feel anything before shewalkedquicklyawayand he followed her down the stepsalong the garden pathunder thepink rose archesacross the lawn.  Therewith the gayherbaceousborder behind herAnne faced Reginald.  "It isn't that I'mnotawfullyfond of you" she said.  "I am.  But"--hereyes widened--"not intheway"--a quiver passed over her face--"one ought to be fondof--"  Herlipspartedand she couldn't stop herself.  She began laughing. "Thereyou seeyou see" she cried"it's your check t-tie.  Even atthis momentwhen onewould think one really would be solemnyour tie reminds mefearfullyof the bow-tie that cats wear in pictures!  Ohplease forgivemefor beingso horridplease!"

Reggiecaught hold of her little warm hand.  "There's no questionofforgivingyou" he said quickly.  "How could there be?  AndI do believe Iknow why Imake you laugh.  It's because you're so far above me in everyway that Iam somehow ridiculous.  I see thatAnne.  But if I wereto--"

"Nono."  Anne squeezed his hand hard.  "It's notthat.  That's all wrong.I'm notfar above you at all.  You're much better than I am. You'remarvellouslyunselfish and...and kind and simple.  I'm none of thosethings. You don't know me.  I'm the most awful character" saidAnne."Pleasedon't interrupt.  And besidesthat's not the point.  Thepointis"--sheshook her head--"I couldn't possibly marry a man I laughed at.Surely yousee that.  The man I marry--" breathed Anne softly. She brokeoff. She drew her hand awayand looking at Reggie she smiled strangelydreamily. "The man I marry--"

And itseemed to Reggie that a tallhandsomebrilliant stranger steppedin frontof him and took his place--the kind of man that Anne and he hadseen oftenat the theatrewalking on to the stage from nowherewithout awordcatching the heroine in his armsand after one longtremendouslookcarryingher off to anywhere...

Reggiebowed to his vision.  "YesI see" he said huskily.

"Doyou?" said Anne.  "OhI do hope you do.  BecauseI feel so horridabout it. It's so hard to explain.  You know I've never--"  Shestopped.Reggielooked at her.  She was smiling.  "Isn't it funny?"she said.  "Ican sayanything to you.  I always have been able to from the verybeginning."

He triedto smileto say "I'm glad."  She went on.  "I'venever known anyone I likeas much as I like you.  I've never felt so happy with any one.But I'msure it's not what people and what books mean when they talk aboutlove. Do you understand?  Ohif you only knew how horrid I feel. Butwe'd belike...like Mr. and Mrs. Dove."

That didit.  That seemed to Reginald finaland so terribly true that hecouldhardly bear it.  "Don't drive it home" he saidandhe turned awayfrom Anneand looked across the lawn.  There was the gardener's cottagewith thedark ilex-tree beside it.  A wetblue thumb of transparentsmokehung abovethe chimney.  It didn't look real.  How his throat ached! Couldhe speak? He had a shot.  "I must be getting along home" hecroakedandhe beganwalking across the lawn.  But Anne ran after him.  "Nodon't.You can'tgo yet" she said imploringly.  "You can't possibly goawayfeelinglike that."  And she stared up at him frowningbiting herlip.

"Ohthat's all right" said Reggiegiving himself a shake. "I'll...I'll--" And he waved his hand as much to say "get over it."

"Butthis is awful" said Anne.  She clasped her hands and stoodin frontof him. "Surely you do see how fatal it would be for us to marrydon'tyou?"

"Ohquitequite" said Reggielooking at her with haggard eyes.

"Howwronghow wickedfeeling as I do.  I meanit's all very wellforMr. andMrs. Dove.  But imagine that in real life--imagine it!"

"Ohabsolutely" said Reggieand he started to walk on.  Butagain Annestoppedhim.  She tugged at his sleeveand to his astonishmentthistimeinstead oflaughingshe looked like a little girl who was going to cry.

"Thenwhyif you understandare you so un-unhappy?" she wailed. "Why doyou mindso fearfully?  Why do you look so aw-awful?"

Reggiegulpedand again he waved something away.  "I can't helpit" hesaid"I've had a blow.  If I cut off nowI'll be able to--"

"Howcan you talk of cutting off now?" said Anne scornfully. She stampedher footat Reggie; she was crimson.  "How can you be so cruel? I can'tlet you gountil I know for certain that you are just as happy as you werebefore youasked me to marry you.  Surely you must see thatit's sosimple."

But it didnot seem at all simple to Reginald.  It seemed impossiblydifficult.

"Evenif I can't marry youhow can I know that you're all that way awaywith onlythat awful mother to write toand that you're miserableandthat it'sall my fault?"

"It'snot your fault.  Don't think that.  It's just fate." Reggie took herhand offhis sleeve and kissed it.  "Don't pity medear littleAnne" hesaidgently.  And this time he nearly ranunder the pink archesalong thegardenpath.

"Roo-coo-coo-coo! Roo-coo-coo-coo!" sounded from the veranda.  "ReggieReggie"from the garden.

Hestoppedhe turned.  But when she saw his timidpuzzled lookshe gavea littlelaugh.

"ComebackMr. Dove" said Anne.  And Reginald came slowlyacross thelawn.

 

5. THE YOUNG GIRL.

In herblue dresswith her cheeks lightly flushedher blueblue eyesand hergold curls pinned up as though for the first time--pinned up to beout of theway for her flight--Mrs. Raddick's daughter might have justdroppedfrom this radiant heaven.  Mrs. Raddick's timidfaintlyastonishedbut deeply admiring glance looked as if she believed ittoo;but thedaughter didn't appear any too pleased--why should she?--to havealightedon the steps of the Casino.  Indeedshe was bored--bored asthoughHeaven had been full of casinos with snuffy old saints for croupiersand crownsto play with.

"Youdon't mind taking Hennie?" said Mrs. Raddick.  "Sureyou don't?There'sthe carand you'll have tea and we'll be back here on this step--righthere--in an hour.  You seeI want her to go in.  She's notbeenbeforeand it's worth seeing.  I feel it wouldn't be fair to her."

"Ohshut upmother" said she wearily.  "Come along. Don't talk so much.And yourbag's open; you'll be losing all your money again."

"I'msorrydarling" said Mrs. Raddick.

"Ohdo come in!  I want to make money" said the impatientvoice.  "It'sall jollywell for you--but I'm broke!"

"Here--takefifty francsdarlingtake a hundred!"  I saw Mrs. Raddickpressingnotes into her hand as they passed through the swing doors.

Hennie andI stood on the steps a minutewatching the people.  He had averybroaddelighted smile.

"Isay" he cried"there's an English bulldog.  Are theyallowed to takedogs inthere?"

"Nothey're not."

"He'sa ripping chapisn't he?  I wish I had one.  They're suchfun.  Theyfrightenpeople soand they're never fierce with their--the people theybelongto."  Suddenly he squeezed my arm.  "I saydolook at that oldwoman. Who is she?  Why does she look like that?  Is she agambler?"

Theancientwithered creaturewearing a green satin dressa blackvelvetcloak anda white hat with purple feathersjerked slowlyslowly up thesteps asthough she were being drawn up on wires.  She stared in front ofhershewas laughing and nodding and cackling to herself; her clawsclutchedround what looked like a dirty boot-bag.

But justat that moment there was Mrs. Raddick again with--her--and anotherladyhovering in the background.  Mrs. Raddick rushed at me. She wasbrightlyflushedgaya different creature.  She was like a woman who issaying"good-bye" to her friends on the station platformwith nota minuteto sparebefore the train starts.

"Ohyou're herestill.  Isn't that lucky!  You've not gone. Isn't thatfine! I've had the most dreadful time with--her" and she waved to herdaughterwho stood absolutely stilldisdainfullooking downtwiddlingher footon the stepmiles away.  "They won't let her in.  Iswore she wastwenty-one. But they won't believe me.  I showed the man my purse; Ididn'tdare to do more.  But it was no use.  He simplyscoffed...And nowI've justmet Mrs. MacEwen from New Yorkand she just won thirteenthousandin the Salle Privee--and she wants me to go back with her whilethe lucklasts.  Of course I can't leave--her.  But if you'd--"

At that"she" looked up; she simply withered her mother.  "Whycan't youleave me?"she said furiously.  "What utter rot!  How dare youmake a scenelikethis?  This is the last time I'll come out with you.  Youreally aretoo awfulfor words."  She looked her mother up and down.  "Calmyourself"she saidsuperbly.

Mrs.Raddick was desperatejust desperate.  She was "wild"to go back withMrs.MacEwenbut at the same time ...

I seizedmy courage.  "Would you--do you care to come to teawith--us?"

"Yesyesshe'll be delighted.  That's just what I wantedisn't itdarling? Mrs. MacEwen...I'll be back here in an hour...or less...I'll--"

Mrs. R.dashed up the steps.  I saw her bag was open again.

So wethree were left.  But really it wasn't my fault.  Hennielookedcrushed tothe earthtoo.  When the car was there she wrapped her darkcoat roundher--to escape contamination.  Even her little feet looked asthoughthey scorned to carry her down the steps to us.

"I amso awfully sorry" I murmured as the car started.

"OhI don't mind" said she.  "I don't want to looktwenty-one.  Whowould--ifthey were seventeen!  It's"--and she gave a faintshudder--"thestupidityI loatheand being stared at by old fat men.  Beasts!"

Henniegave her a quick look and then peered out of the window.

We drew upbefore an immense palace of pink-and-white marble with orange-treesoutside the doors in gold-and-black tubs.

"Wouldyou care to go in?" I suggested.

Shehesitatedglancedbit her lipand resigned herself.  "Ohwellthereseemsnowhere else" said she.  "Get outHennie."

I wentfirst--to find the tableof course--she followed.  But theworst ofit washaving her little brotherwho was only twelvewith us.  Thatwasthe lastfinal straw--having that childtrailing at her heels.

There wasone table.  It had pink carnations and pink plates with littlebluetea-napkins for sails.

"Shallwe sit here?"

She puther hand wearily on the back of a white wicker chair.

"Wemay as well.  Why not?" said she.

Henniesqueezed past her and wriggled on to a stool at the end.  Hefeltawfullyout of it.  She didn't even take her gloves off.  Shelowered hereyes anddrummed on the table.  When a faint violin sounded she wincedandbit herlip again.  Silence.

Thewaitress appeared.  I hardly dared to ask her. "Tea--coffee?  Chinatea--oriced tea with lemon?"

Really shedidn't mind.  It was all the same to her.  She didn'treallywantanything.  Hennie whispered"Chocolate!"

But justas the waitress turned away she cried out carelessly"Ohyoumayas wellbring me a chocolatetoo."

While wewaited she took out a littlegold powder-box with a mirror in thelidshookthe poor little puff as though she loathed itand dabbed herlovelynose.

"Hennie"she said"take those flowers away."  She pointed withher puffto thecarnationsand I heard her murmur"I can't bear flowers on atable." They had evidently been giving her intense painfor shepositivelyclosed her eyes as I moved them away.

Thewaitress came back with the chocolate and the tea.  She put thebigfrothingcups before them and pushed across my clear glass.  Hennieburiedhis noseemergedwithfor one dreadful momenta little trembling blobof creamon the tip.  But he hastily wiped it off like a littlegentleman.I wonderedif I should dare draw her attention to her cup.  She didn'tnoticeit--didn't see it--until suddenlyquite by chanceshe took a sip.I watchedanxiously; she faintly shuddered.

"Dreadfullysweet!" said she.

A tiny boywith a head like a raisin and a chocolate body came round with atray ofpastries--row upon row of little freakslittle inspirationslittlemelting dreams.  He offered them to her.  "OhI'm notat allhungry. Take them away."

He offeredthem to Hennie.  Hennie gave me a swift look--it must have beensatisfactory--forhe took a chocolate creama coffee eclaira meringuestuffedwith chestnut and a tiny horn filled with fresh strawberries. Shecouldhardly bear to watch him.  But just as the boy swerved away sheheldup herplate.

"Ohwellgive me one" said she.

The silvertongs dropped onetwothree--and a cherry tartlet.  "Idon'tknow whyyou're giving me all these" she saidand nearly smiled. "Ishan't eatthem; I couldn't!"

I feltmuch more comfortable.  I sipped my tealeaned backand evenaskedif I mightsmoke.  At that she pausedthe fork in her handopened hereyesandreally did smile.  "Of course" said she.  "Ialways expectpeopleto."

But atthat moment a tragedy happened to Hennie.  He speared his pastryhorn toohardand it flew in twoand one half spilled on the table.Ghastlyaffair!  He turned crimson.  Even his ears flaredand oneashamedhand creptacross the table to take what was left of the body away.

"Youutter little beast!" said she.

Goodheavens!  I had to fly to the rescue.  I cried hastily"Will you beabroadlong?"

But shehad already forgotten Hennie.  I was forgottentoo.  Shewastrying toremember something...She was miles away.

"I--don't--know"she said slowlyfrom that far place.

"Isuppose you prefer it to London.  It's more--more--"

When Ididn't go on she came back and looked at mevery puzzled."More--?"

"Enfin--gayer"I criedwaving my cigarette.

But thattook a whole cake to consider.  Even then"Oh wellthatdepends!"was all she could safely say.

Hennie hadfinished.  He was still very warm.

I seizedthe butterfly list off the table.  "I say--what about aniceHennie? What about tangerine and ginger?  Nosomething cooler. Whatabout afresh pineapple cream?"

Henniestrongly approved.  The waitress had her eye on us.  Theorder wastaken whenshe looked up from her crumbs.

"Didyou say tangerine and ginger?  I like ginger.  You canbring me one."And thenquickly"I wish that orchestra wouldn't play things from theyearOne. We were dancing to that all last Christmas.  It's toosickening!"

But it wasa charming air.  Now that I noticed itit warmed me.

"Ithink this is rather a nice placedon't youHennie?" I said.

Henniesaid:  "Ripping!"  He meant to say it very lowbut it came out veryhigh in akind of squeak.

Nice? This place?  Nice?  For the first time she stared abouthertryingto seewhat there was...She blinked; her lovely eyes wondered.  A verygood-lookingelderly man stared back at her through a monocle on a blackribbon. But him she simply couldn't see.  There was a hole in the airwhere hewas.  She looked through and through him.

Finallythe little flat spoons lay still on the glass plates.  Hennielookedrather exhaustedbut she pulled on her white gloves again.  Shehadsometrouble with her diamond wrist-watch; it got in her way.  Shetuggedatit--tried to break the stupid little thing--it wouldn't break. Finallyshe had todrag her glove over.  I sawafter thatshe couldn't stand thisplace amoment longerandindeedshe jumped up and turned away while Iwentthrough the vulgar act of paying for the tea.

And thenwe were outside again.  It had grown dusky.  The sky wassprinkledwith smallstars; the big lamps glowed.  While we waited for the car tocome upshe stood on the stepjust as beforetwiddling her footlookingdown.

Henniebounded forward to open the door and she got in and sank back with--oh--such asigh!

"Tellhim" she gasped"to drive as fast as he can."

Henniegrinned at his friend the chauffeur.  "Allie veet!"said he.  Thenhecomposed himself and sat on the small seat facing us.

The goldpowder-box came out again.  Again the poor little puff wasshaken;againthere was that swiftdeadly-secret glance between her and themirror.

We torethrough the black-and-gold town like a pair of scissors tearingthroughbrocade.  Hennie had great difficulty not to look as though hewerehanging onto something.

And whenwe reached the Casinoof course Mrs. Raddick wasn't there. Therewasn't asign of her on the steps--not a sign.

"Willyou stay in the car while I go and look?"

Butno--she wouldn't do that.  Good heavensno!  Hennie couldstay.  Shecouldn'tbear sitting in a car.  She'd wait on the steps.

"ButI scarcely like to leave you" I murmured.  "I'd verymuch rather notleave youhere."

At thatshe threw back her coat; she turned and faced me; her lips parted."Goodheavens--why!  I--I don't mind it a bit.  I--I likewaiting."  Andsuddenlyher cheeks crimsonedher eyes grew dark--for a moment I thoughtshe wasgoing to cry.  "L--let meplease" she stammeredina warmeagervoice. "I like it.  I love waiting!  Really--really I do! I'm alwayswaiting--inall kinds of places..."

Her darkcoat fell openand her white throat--all her soft young body inthe bluedress--was like a flower that is just emerging from its dark bud.

 

6. LIFE OF MA PARKER.

When theliterary gentlemanwhose flat old Ma Parker cleaned everyTuesdayopened the door to her that morninghe asked after her grandson.Ma Parkerstood on the doormat inside the dark little halland shestretchedout her hand to help her gentleman shut the door before shereplied. "We buried 'im yesterdaysir" she said quietly.

"Ohdear me!  I'm sorry to hear that" said the literarygentleman in ashockedtone.  He was in the middle of his breakfast.  He wore averyshabbydressing-gown and carried a crumpled newspaper in one hand.  Buthefeltawkward.  He could hardly go back to the warm sitting-roomwithoutsayingsomething--something more.  Then because these people set suchstorebyfunerals he said kindly"I hope the funeral went off allright."

"Begpardingsir?" said old Ma Parker huskily. 

Poor oldbird!  She did look dashed.  "I hope the funeral wasa--a--success"said he.  Ma Parker gave no answer.  She bent her head andhobbledoff to the kitchenclasping the old fish bag that held hercleaningthings and an apron and a pair of felt shoes.  The literarygentlemanraised his eyebrows and went back to his breakfast.

"OvercomeI suppose" he said aloudhelping himself to the marmalade.

Ma Parkerdrew the two jetty spears out of her toque and hung it behind thedoor. She unhooked her worn jacket and hung that up too.  Then shetiedher apronand sat down to take off her boots.  To take off her boots or toput themon was an agony to herbut it had been an agony for years.  Infactshewas so accustomed to the pain that her face was drawn and screwedup readyfor the twinge before she'd so much as untied the laces.  Thatovershesat back with a sigh and softly rubbed her knees...

"Gran! Gran!"  Her little grandson stood on her lap in his buttonboots.He'd justcome in from playing in the street.

"Lookwhat a state you've made your gran's skirt into--you wicked boy!"

But he puthis arms round her neck and rubbed his cheek against hers.

"Grangi' us a penny!" he coaxed.

"Beoff with you; Gran ain't got no pennies."

"Yesyou 'ave."

"NoI ain't."

"Yesyou 'ave.  Gi' us one!"

Alreadyshe was feeling for the oldsquashedblack leather purse.

"Wellwhat'll you give your gran?"

He gave ashy little laugh and pressed closer.  She felt his eyelidquiveringagainst her cheek.  "I ain't got nothing" hemurmured...

The oldwoman sprang upseized the iron kettle off the gas stove and tookit over tothe sink.  The noise of the water drumming in the kettledeadenedher painit seemed.  She filled the pailtooand thewashing-upbowl.

It wouldtake a whole book to describe the state of that kitchen.  Duringthe weekthe literary gentleman "did" for himself.  That is tosayheemptiedthe tea leaves now and again into a jam jar set aside for thatpurposeand if he ran out of clean forks he wiped over one or two on therollertowel.  Otherwiseas he explained to his friendshis "system"wasquitesimpleand he couldn't understand why people made all this fussabouthousekeeping.

"Yousimply dirty everything you've gotget a hag in once a week to cleanupandthe thing's done."

The resultlooked like a gigantic dustbin.  Even the floor was litteredwith toastcrustsenvelopescigarette ends.  But Ma Parker bore him nogrudge. She pitied the poor young gentleman for having no one to lookafterhim.  Out of the smudgy little window you could see an immenseexpanse ofsad-looking skyand whenever there were clouds they looked verywornoldcloudsfrayed at the edgeswith holes in themor dark stainslike tea.

While thewater was heatingMa Parker began sweeping the floor.  "Yes"shethoughtas the broom knocked"what with one thing and anotherI'vehad myshare.  I've had a hard life."

Even theneighbours said that of her.  Many a timehobbling home withherfish bagshe heard themwaiting at the corneror leaning over the arearailingssay among themselves"She's had a hard lifehas Ma Parker."And it wasso true she wasn't in the least proud of it.  It was just as ifyou wereto say she lived in the basement-back at Number 27.  A hardlife!...

At sixteenshe'd left Stratford and come up to London as kitching-maid.Yesshewas born in Stratford-on-Avon.  Shakespearesir?  Nopeople werealwaysarsking her about him.  But she'd never heard his name until shesawit on thetheatres.

Nothingremained of Stratford except that "sitting in the fire-place ofaeveningyou could see the stars through the chimley" and "Motheralways'ad 'erside of bacon'anging from the ceiling."  And there wassomething--a bushthere was--at the front doorthat smelt ever so nice.  But thebush wasvery vague.  She'd only remembered it once or twice in thehospitalwhen she'd been taken bad.

That was adreadful place--her first place.  She was never allowed out.She neverwent upstairs except for prayers morning and evening.  It was afaircellar.  And the cook was a cruel woman.  She used tosnatch away herlettersfrom home before she'd read themand throw them in the rangebecausethey made her dreamy...And the beedles!  Would you believe it?--until shecame to London she'd never seen a black beedle.  Here Ma alwaysgave alittle laughas though--not to have seen a black beedle! Well!  Itwas as ifto say you'd never seen your own feet.

When thatfamily was sold up she went as "help" to a doctor's houseandafter twoyears thereon the run from morning till nightshe married herhusband. He was a baker.

"AbakerMrs. Parker!" the literary gentleman would say.  Foroccasionallyhe laidaside his tomes and lent an earat leastto this product calledLife. "It must be rather nice to be married to a baker!"

Mrs.Parker didn't look so sure.

"Sucha clean trade" said the gentleman.

Mrs.Parker didn't look convinced.

"Anddidn't you like handing the new loaves to the customers?"

"Wellsir" said Mrs. Parker"I wasn't in the shop above a greatdeal.We hadthirteen little ones and buried seven of them.  If it wasn't the'ospitalit was the infirmaryyou might say!"

"YoumightindeedMrs. Parker!"  said the gentlemanshudderingandtaking uphis pen again.

Yessevenhad goneand while the six were still small her husband wastaken illwith consumption.  It was flour on the lungsthe doctor toldherat thetime...Her husband sat up in bed with his shirt pulled over hisheadandthe doctor's finger drew a circle on his back.

"Nowif we were to cut him open hereMrs. Parker" said the doctor"you'dfind his lungs chock-a-block with white powder.  Breathemygoodfellow!" And Mrs. Parker never knew for certain whether she saw or whethershefancied she saw a great fan of white dust come out of her poor deadhusband'slips...

But thestruggle she'd had to bring up those six little children and keepherself toherself.  Terrible it had been!  Thenjust when they wereoldenough togo to school her husband's sister came to stop with them to helpthingsalongand she hadn't been there more than two months when she felldown aflight of steps and hurt her spine.  And for five years MaParkerhadanother baby--and such a one for crying!--to look after.  ThenyoungMaudiewent wrong and took her sister Alice with her; the two boysemigrimatedand young Jim went to India with the armyand Etheltheyoungestmarried a good-for-nothing little waiter who died of ulcers theyearlittle Lennie was born.  And now little Lennie--my grandson...

The pilesof dirty cupsdirty disheswere washed and dried.  The ink-blackknives were cleaned with a piece of potato and finished off with apiece ofcork.  The table was scrubbedand the dresser and the sink thathadsardine tails swimming in it...

He'd neverbeen a strong child--never from the first.  He'd been one ofthose fairbabies that everybody took for a girl.  Silvery fair curls hehadblueeyesand a little freckle like a diamond on one side of hisnose. The trouble she and Ethel had had to rear that child!  Thethingsout of thenewspapers they tried him with!  Every Sunday morning Ethelwould readaloud while Ma Parker did her washing.

"DearSir--Just a line to let you know my little Myrtil was laid out fordead...Afterfour bottils...gained 8 lbs. in 9 weeksand is still puttingit on."

And thenthe egg-cup of ink would come off the dresser and the letter wouldbewrittenand Ma would buy a postal order on her way to work nextmorning. But it was no use.  Nothing made little Lennie put it on. Takinghim to thecemeteryevennever gave him a colour; a nice shake-up in thebus neverimproved his appetite.

But he wasgran's boy from the first...

"Whoseboy are you?" said old Ma Parkerstraightening up from thestoveand goingover to the smudgy window.  And a little voiceso warmsocloseithalf stifled her--it seemed to be in her breast under her heart--laughedoutand said"I'm gran's boy!"

At thatmoment there was a sound of stepsand the literary gentlemanappeareddressed for walking.

"OhMrs. ParkerI'm going out."

"Verygoodsir."

"Andyou'll find your half-crown in the tray of the inkstand."

"Thankyousir."

"Ohby the wayMrs. Parker" said the literary gentleman quickly"youdidn'tthrow away any cocoa last time you were here--did you?"

"Nosir.""Verystrange.  I could have sworn I left a teaspoonful of cocoa inthetin." He broke off.  He said softly and firmly"You'll alwaystell mewhen youthrow things away--won't youMrs. Parker?"  And he walkedoffvery wellpleased with himselfconvincedin facthe'd shown Mrs. Parkerthat underhis apparent carelessness he was as vigilant as a woman.

The doorbanged.  She took her brushes and cloths into the bedroom. Butwhen shebegan to make the bedsmoothingtuckingpattingthe thought oflittleLennie was unbearable.  Why did he have to suffer so? That's whatshecouldn't understand.  Why should a little angel child have toarsk forhis breathand fight for it?  There was no sense in making a child sufferlike that.

...FromLennie's little box of a chest there came a sound as thoughsomethingwas boiling.  There was a great lump of something bubbling inhischest thathe couldn't get rid of.  When he coughed the sweat sprang out onhis head;his eyes bulgedhis hands wavedand the great lump bubbled as apotatoknocks in a saucepan.  But what was more awful than all was whenhedidn'tcough he sat against the pillow and never spoke or answeredor evenmade as ifhe heard.  Only he looked offended.

"It'snot your poor old gran's doing itmy lovey" said old MaParkerpattingback the damp hair from his little scarlet ears.  But Lenniemovedhis headand edged away.  Dreadfully offended with her he looked--andsolemn. He bent his head and looked at her sideways as though he couldn'thavebelieved it of his gran.

But at thelast...Ma Parker threw the counterpane over the bed.  Noshesimplycouldn't think about it.  It was too much--she'd had too much inherlife tobear.  She'd borne it up till nowshe'd kept herself toherselfand neveronce had she been seen to cry.  Never by a living soul. Not evenher ownchildren had seen Ma break down.  She'd kept a proud facealways.But now! Lennie gone--what had she?  She had nothing.  He was allshe'dgot fromlifeand now he was took too.  Why must it all have happened tome? shewondered.  "What have I done?" said old Ma Parker. "What have Idone?"

As shesaid those words she suddenly let fall her brush.  She foundherselfin thekitchen.  Her misery was so terrible that she pinned on her hatputon herjacket and walked out of the flat like a person in a dream.  Shedidnot knowwhat she was doing.  She was like a person so dazed by thehorrorof whathas happened that he walks away--anywhereas though by walkingaway hecould escape...

It wascold in the street.  There was a wind like ice.  Peoplewentflittingbyvery fast; the men walked like scissors; the women trod likecats. And nobody knew--nobody cared.  Even if she broke downif atlastafter allthese yearsshe were to cryshe'd find herself in the lock-upas like asnot.

But at thethought of crying it was as though little Lennie leapt in hisgran'sarms.  Ahthat's what she wants to domy dove.  Granwants to cry.If shecould only cry nowcry for a long timeover everythingbeginningwith herfirst place and the cruel cookgoing on to the doctor'sand thenthe sevenlittle onesdeath of her husbandthe children's leaving herand allthe years of misery that led up to Lennie.  But to have a propercry overall these things would take a long time.  All the samethe timefor it hadcome.  She must do it.  She couldn't put it off any longer;shecouldn'twait any more...Where could she go?

"She'shad a hard lifehas Ma Parker."  Yesa hard lifeindeed!  Herchin beganto tremble; there was no time to lose.  But where?  Where?

Shecouldn't go home; Ethel was there.  It would frighten Ethel outof herlife. She couldn't sit on a bench anywhere; people would come arsking herquestions. She couldn't possibly go back to the gentleman's flat; she hadno rightto cry in strangers' houses.  If she sat on some steps apolicemanwouldspeak to her.

Ohwasn'tthere anywhere where she could hide and keep herself to herselfand stayas long as she likednot disturbing anybodyand nobody worryingher? Wasn't there anywhere in the world where she could have her cry out--at last?

Ma Parkerstoodlooking up and down.  The icy wind blew out her apronintoaballoon.  And now it began to rain.  There was nowhere.

 

7. MARRIAGE A LA MODE.

On his wayto the station William remembered with a fresh pang ofdisappointmentthat he was taking nothing down to the kiddies.  Poor littlechaps! It was hard lines on them.  Their first words always were astheyran togreet him"What have you got for medaddy?" and he hadnothing.He wouldhave to buy them some sweets at the station.  But that was whathehad donefor the past four Saturdays; their faces had fallen last time whenthey sawthe same old boxes produced again. 

And Paddyhad said"I had red ribbing on mine bee-fore!"

And Johnnyhad said"It's always pink on mine.  I hate pink."

But whatwas William to do?  The affair wasn't so easily settled. In theold daysof coursehe would have taken a taxi off to a decent toyshop andchosenthem something in five minutes.  But nowadays they had RussiantoysFrenchtoysSerbian toys--toys from God knows where.  It was over ayearsinceIsabel had scrapped the old donkeys and engines and so on becausethey wereso "dreadfully sentimental" and "so appallingly badfor thebabies'sense of form."

"It'sso important" the new Isabel had explained"that theyshould likethe rightthings from the very beginning.  It saves so much time later on.Reallyifthe poor pets have to spend their infant years staring at thesehorrorsone can imagine them growing up and asking to be taken to theRoyalAcademy."

And shespoke as though a visit to the Royal Academy was certain immediatedeath toany one...

"WellI don't know" said William slowly.  "When I was theirage I used togo to bedhugging an old towel with a knot in it."

The newIsabel looked at himher eyes narrowedher lips apart.

"DearWilliam!  I'm sure you did!"  She laughed in the newway.

Sweets itwould have to behoweverthought William gloomilyfishing inhis pocketfor change for the taxi-man.  And he saw the kiddies handing theboxesround--they were awfully generous little chaps--while Isabel'spreciousfriends didn't hesitate to help themselves...

What aboutfruit?  William hovered before a stall just inside the station.What abouta melon each?  Would they have to share thattoo?  Or apineapplefor Padand a melon for Johnny?  Isabel's friends could hardlygosneaking up to the nursery at the children's meal-times.  Allthe sameas hebought the melon William had a horrible vision of one of Isabel'syoungpoets lapping up a slicefor some reasonbehind the nursery door.

With histwo very awkward parcels he strode off to his train.  Theplatformwascrowdedthe train was in.  Doors banged open and shut. There camesuch aloud hissing from the engine that people looked dazed as theyscurriedto and fro.  William made straight for a first-class smokerstowedaway his suit-case and parcelsand taking a huge wad of papers outof hisinner pockethe flung down in the corner and began to read.

"Ourclient moreover is positive...We are inclined to reconsider...in theeventof--"  Ahthat was better.  William pressed back hisflattened hairandstretched his legs across the carriage floor.  The familiar dullgnawing inhis breast quietened down.  "With regard to ourdecision--"  Hetook out ablue pencil and scored a paragraph slowly.

Two mencame instepped across himand made for the farther corner.  Ayoungfellow swung his golf clubs into the rack and sat down opposite. Thetrain gavea gentle lurchthey were off.  William glanced up and saw thehotbright station slipping away.  A red-faced girl raced along bythecarriagesthere was something strained and almost desperate in the way shewaved andcalled.  "Hysterical!" thought William dully. Then a greasyblack-facedworkman at the end of the platform grinned at the passingtrain. And William thought"A filthy life!" and went back to hispapers.

When helooked up again there were fieldsand beasts standing for shelterunder thedark trees.  A wide riverwith naked children splashing in theshallowsglided into sight and was gone again.  The sky shone paleandone birddrifted high like a dark fleck in a jewel.

"Wehave examined our client's correspondence files..."  Thelast sentencehe hadread echoed in his mind.  "We have examined ..." William hung on tothatsentencebut it was no good; it snapped in the middleand thefieldsthe skythe sailing birdthe waterall said"Isabel." The samethinghappened every Saturday afternoon.  When he was on his way tomeetIsabelthere began those countless imaginary meetings.  She was at thestationstanding just a little apart from everybody else; she was sittingin theopen taxi outside; she was at the garden gate; walking across theparchedgrass; at the dooror just inside the hall.

And herclearlight voice said"It's William" or "HilloWilliam!" or"SoWilliam has come!"  He touched her cool handher coolcheek.

Theexquisite freshness of Isabel!  When he had been a little boyit washisdelight to run into the garden after a shower of rain and shake therose-bushover him.  Isabel was that rose-bushpetal-softsparkling andcool. And he was still that little boy.  But there was no running intothegardennowno laughing and shaking.  The dullpersistent gnawing inhisbreaststarted again.  He drew up his legstossed the papers asideandshut hiseyes.

"Whatis itIsabel?  What is it?" he said tenderly.  Theywere in theirbedroom inthe new house.  Isabel sat on a painted stool before thedressing-tablethat was strewn with little black and green boxes.

"Whatis whatWilliam?"  And she bent forwardand her finelight hairfell overher cheeks.

"Ahyou know!"  He stood in the middle of the room and he felta stranger.At thatIsabel wheeled round quickly and faced him.

"OhWilliam!" she cried imploringlyand she held up thehair-brush: "Please! Please don't be so dreadfully stuffy and--tragic.  You're alwayssaying orlooking or hinting that I've changed.  Just because I've got toknowreally congenial peopleand go about moreand am frightfully keenon--oneverythingyou behave as though I'd--"  Isabel tossed backher hairandlaughed--"killed our love or something.  It's so awfullyabsurd"--shebit herlip--"and it's so maddeningWilliam.  Even this new houseand theservantsyou grudge me."

"Isabel!"

"Yesyesit's true in a way" said Isabel quickly.  "Youthink they areanotherbad sign.  OhI know you do.  I feel it" she saidsoftly"everytime youcome up the stairs.  But we couldn't have gone on living in thatother pokylittle holeWilliam.  Be practicalat least!  Whytherewasn'tenough room for the babies even."

Noit wastrue.  Every morning when he came back from chambers it was tofind thebabies with Isabel in the back drawing-room.  They were havingrides onthe leopard skin thrown over the sofa backor they were playingshops withIsabel's desk for a counteror Pad was sitting on the hearthrugrowingaway for dear life with a little brass fire shovelwhile Johnnyshot atpirates with the tongs.  Every evening they each had apick-a-backup thenarrow stairs to their fat old Nanny.

Yeshesupposed it was a poky little house.  A little white house withbluecurtains and a window-box of petunias.  William met theirfriends atthe doorwith "Seen our petunias?  Pretty terrific for Londondon'tyouthink?"

But theimbecile thingthe absolutely extraordinary thing was that hehadn't theslightest idea that Isabel wasn't as happy as he.  Godwhatblindness! He hadn't the remotest notion in those days that she reallyhated thatinconvenient little housethat she thought the fat Nanny wasruiningthe babiesthat she was desperately lonelypining for new peopleand newmusic and pictures and so on.  If they hadn't gone to thatstudioparty atMoira Morrison's--if Moira Morrison hadn't said as they wereleaving"I'm going to rescue your wifeselfish man.  She's like anexquisitelittle Titania"--if Isabel hadn't gone with Moira to Paris--if--if...

The trainstopped at another station.  Bettingford.  Good heavens! They'dbe therein ten minutes.  William stuffed that papers back into hispockets;the young man opposite had long since disappeared.  Now theothertwo gotout.  The late afternoon sun shone on women in cotton frocks andlittlesunburntbarefoot children.  It blazed on a silky yellow flowerwithcoarse leaves which sprawled over a bank of rock.  The airrufflingthroughthe window smelled of the sea.  Had Isabel the same crowd withherthisweek-endwondered William?

And heremembered the holidays they used to havethe four of themwith alittlefarm girlRoseto look after the babies.  Isabel wore a jerseyandher hairin a plait; she looked about fourteen.  Lord! how his nose usedtopeel! And the amount they ateand the amount they slept in that immensefeatherbed with their feet locked together...William couldn't help a grimsmile ashe thought of Isabel's horror if she knew the full extent of hissentimentality.

...

"HilloWilliam!"  She was at the station after allstanding justas hehadimaginedapart from the othersand--William's heart leapt--she wasalone.

"HalloIsabel!"  William stared.  He thought she looked sobeautiful thathe had tosay something"You look very cool."

"DoI?" said Isabel.  "I don't feel very cool.  Comealongyour horrid oldtrain islate.  The taxi's outside."  She put her hand lightlyon his armas theypassed the ticket collector.  "We've all come to meet you"shesaid. "But we've left Bobby Kane at the sweet shopto be called for."

"Oh!"said William.  It was all he could say for the moment.

There inthe glare waited the taxiwith Bill Hunt and Dennis Greensprawlingon one sidetheir hats tilted over their faceswhile on theotherMoira Morrisonin a bonnet like a huge strawberryjumped up anddown.

"Noice!  No ice!  No ice!" she shouted gaily.

And Dennischimed in from under his hat.  "Only to be had from thefishmonger's."

And BillHuntemergingadded"With whole fish in it."

"Ohwhat a bore!" wailed Isabel.  And she explained to Williamhow theyhad beenchasing round the town for ice while she waited for him. "Simplyeverythingis running down the steep cliffs into the seabeginning withthebutter."

"Weshall have to anoint ourselves with butter" said Dennis. "May thyheadWilliamlack not ointment."

"Lookhere" said William"how are we going to sit?  I'dbetter get up bythedriver."

"NoBobby Kane's by the driver" said Isabel.  "You're tosit betweenMoira andme."  The taxi started.  "What have you got inthose mysteriousparcels?"

"De-cap-it-atedheads!" said Bill Huntshuddering beneath his hat.

"Ohfruit!"  Isabel sounded very pleased.  "WiseWilliam!  A melon and apineapple. How too nice!"

"Nowait a bit" said Williamsmiling.  But he really wasanxious.  "Ibroughtthem down for the kiddies."

"Ohmy dear!"  Isabel laughedand slipped her hand through hisarm."They'dbe rolling in agonies if they were to eat them.  No"--shepattedhishand--"you must bring them something next time.  I refuseto part withmypineapple."

"CruelIsabel!  Do let me smell it!" said Moira.  She flungher arms acrossWilliamappealingly.  "Oh!"  The strawberry bonnet fellforward:  shesoundedquite faint.

"ALady in Love with a Pineapple" said Dennisas the taxi drew upbeforea littleshop with a striped blind.  Out came Bobby Kanehis arms fulloflittlepackets.

"I dohope they'll be good.  I've chosen them because of the colours.There aresome round things which really look too divine.  And just lookatthisnougat" he cried ecstatically"just look at it! It's a perfectlittleballet."

But atthat moment the shopman appeared.  "OhI forgot. They're none ofthem paidfor" said Bobbylooking frightened.  Isabel gave theshopman anoteandBobby was radiant again.  "HalloWilliam!  I'msitting by thedriver." And bareheadedall in whitewith his sleeves rolled up to theshouldershe leapt into his place.  "Avanti!" he cried...

After teathe others went off to bathewhile William stayed and made hispeace withthe kiddies.  But Johnny and Paddy were asleepthe rose-redglow hadpaledbats were flyingand still the bathers had not returned.As Williamwandered downstairsthe maid crossed the hall carrying a lamp.Hefollowed her into the sitting-room.  It was a long roomcolouredyellow. On the wall opposite William some one had painted a young manoverlife-sizewith very wobbly legsoffering a wide-eyed daisy to ayoungwoman who had one very short arm and one very longthin one. Overthe chairsand sofa there hung strips of black materialcovered with bigsplasheslike broken eggsand everywhere one looked there seemed to be anash-trayfull of cigarette ends.  William sat down in one of the arm-chairs. Nowadayswhen one felt with one hand down the sidesit wasn't tocome upona sheep with three legs or a cow that had lost one hornor avery fatdove out of the Noah's Ark.  One fished up yet another littlepaper-coveredbook of smudged-looking poems...He thought of the wad ofpapers inhis pocketbut he was too hungry and tired to read.  The doorwas open;sounds came from the kitchen.  The servants were talking as ifthey werealone in the house.  Suddenly there came a loud screech oflaughterand an equally loud "Sh!"  They had remembered him. William gotup andwent through the French windows into the gardenand as he stoodthere inthe shadow he heard the bathers coming up the sandy road; theirvoicesrang through the quiet.

"Ithink its up to Moira to use her little arts and wiles."

A tragicmoan from Moira.

"Weought to have a gramophone for the weekends that played 'The Maid oftheMountains.'"

"Ohno!  Oh no!" cried Isabel's voice.  "That's notfair to William.  Benice tohimmy children!  He's only staying until to-morrow evening."

"Leavehim to me" cried Bobby Kane.  "I'm awfully good atlooking afterpeople."

The gateswung open and shut.  William moved on the terrace; they hadseenhim. "HalloWilliam!"  And Bobby Kaneflapping his towelbegan to leapandpirouette on the parched lawn.  "Pity you didn't comeWilliam.  Thewater wasdivine.  And we all went to a little pub afterwards and had sloegin."

The othershad reached the house.  "I sayIsabel" called Bobby"wouldyou likeme to wear my Nijinsky dress to-night?"

"No"said Isabel"nobody's going to dress.  We're all starving.William'sstarvingtoo.  Come alongmes amislet's begin withsardines."

"I'vefound the sardines" said Moiraand she ran into the hallholding abox highin the air.

"ALady with a Box of Sardines" said Dennis gravely.

"WellWilliamand how's London?" asked Bill Huntdrawing the corkout ofa bottleof whisky.

"OhLondon's not much changed" answered William.

"Goodold London" said Bobbyvery heartyspearing a sardine.

But amoment later William was forgotten.  Moira Morrison beganwonderingwhatcolour one's legs really were under water.

"Mineare the palestpalest mushroom colour."

Bill andDennis ate enormously.  And Isabel filled glassesand changedplatesand found matchessmiling blissfully.  At one momentshe said"Ido wishBillyou'd paint it."

"Paintwhat?" said Bill loudlystuffing his mouth with bread.

"Us"said Isabel"round the table.  It would be so fascinatingin twentyyears'time."

Billscrewed up his eyes and chewed.  "Light's wrong" hesaid rudely"fartoo muchyellow"; and went on eating.  And that seemed to charmIsabeltoo.

But aftersupper they were all so tired they could do nothing but yawnuntil itwas late enough to go to bed...

It was notuntil William was waiting for his taxi the next afternoon thathe foundhimself alone with Isabel.  When he brought his suit-case downinto thehallIsabel left the others and went over to him.  She stoopeddown andpicked up the suit-case.  "What a weight!" she saidand she gavea littleawkward laugh.  "Let me carry it!  To the gate."

"Nowhy should you?" said William.  "Of coursenot. Give it to me."

"Ohpleasedo let me" said Isabel.  "I want toreally."  They walkedtogethersilently.  William felt there was nothing to say now.

"There"said Isabel triumphantlysetting the suit-case downand shelookedanxiously along the sandy road.  "I hardly seem to haveseen youthistime" she said breathlessly.  "It's so shortisn'tit?  I feelyou'veonly just come.  Next time--"  The taxi came intosight.  "I hopethey lookafter you properly in London.  I'm so sorry the babies have beenout alldaybut Miss Neil had arranged it.  They'll hate missing you.PoorWilliamgoing back to London."  The taxi turned. "Good-bye!"  Shegave him alittle hurried kiss; she was gone.

Fieldstreeshedges streamed by.  They shook through the emptyblind-lookinglittle townground up the steep pull to the station.

The trainwas in.  William made straight for a first-class smokerflungback intothe cornerbut this time he let the papers alone.  He foldedhisarmsagainst the dullpersistent gnawingand began in his mind to writealetter toIsabel.

...

The postwas late as usual.  They sat outside the house in long chairsundercoloured parasols.  Only Bobby Kane lay on the turf at Isabel'sfeet.It wasdullstifling; the day drooped like a flag.

"Doyou think there will be Mondays in Heaven?" asked Bobbychildishly.

And Dennismurmured"Heaven will be one long Monday."

But Isabelcouldn't help wondering what had happened to the salmon they hadfor supperlast night.  She had meant to have fish mayonnaise for lunch andnow...

Moira wasasleep.  Sleeping was her latest discovery.  "It's sowonderful.One simplyshuts one's eyesthat's all.  It's so delicious."

When theold ruddy postman came beating along the sandy road on histricycleone felt the handle-bars ought to have been oars.

Bill Huntput down his book.  "Letters" he said complacentlyand they allwaited. Butheartless postman--O malignant world!  There was only oneafat onefor Isabel.  Not even a paper.

"Andmine's only from William" said Isabel mournfully.

"FromWilliam--already?"

"He'ssending you back your marriage lines as a gentle reminder."

"Doeseverybody have marriage lines?  I thought they were only forservants."

"Pagesand pages!  Look at her!  A Lady reading a Letter"said Dennis.

"Mydarlingprecious Isabel."  Pages and pages there were. As Isabel readon herfeeling of astonishment changed to a stifled feeling.  What onearthhadinduced William ...?  How extraordinary it was...What could havemadehim ...? She felt confusedmore and more excitedeven frightened.  Itwas justlike William.  Was it?  It was absurdof courseit mustbeabsurdridiculous.  "Hahaha!  Oh dear!"  Whatwas she to do?  Isabelflung backin her chair and laughed till she couldn't stop laughing.

"Dodo tell us" said the others.  "You must tell us."

"I'mlonging to" gurgled Isabel.  She sat upgathered theletterandwaved itat them.  "Gather round" she said.  "Listenit's too marvellous.Alove-letter!"

"Alove-letter!  But how divine!"  "Darlingprecious Isabel."  But she hadhardlybegun before their laughter interrupted her.

"GoonIsabelit's perfect."

"It'sthe most marvellous find."

"Ohdo go onIsabel!"

"Godforbidmy darlingthat I should be a drag on your happiness."

"Oh!oh! oh!"

"Sh!sh! sh!"

And Isabelwent on.  When she reached the end they were hysterical: Bobbyrolled onthe turf and almost sobbed.

"Youmust let me have it just as it isentirefor my new book"saidDennisfirmly.  "I shall give it a whole chapter."

"OhIsabel" moaned Moira"that wonderful bit about holdingyou in hisarms!"

"Ialways thought those letters in divorce cases were made up.  Buttheypalebefore this."

"Letme hold it.  Let me read itmine own self" said BobbyKane.

Buttotheir surpriseIsabel crushed the letter in her hand.  She waslaughingno longer.  She glanced quickly at them all; she lookedexhausted."Nonot just now.  Not just now" she stammered.

And beforethey could recover she had run into the housethrough the hallup thestairs into her bedroom.  Down she sat on the side of the bed. "Howvileodiousabominablevulgar" muttered Isabel.  She pressedher eyeswith herknuckles and rocked to and fro.  And again she saw thembut notfourmorelike fortylaughingsneeringjeeringstretching out theirhandswhile she read them William's letter.  Ohwhat a loathsomething tohavedone.  How could she have done it!  "God forbidmydarlingthat Ishould bea drag on your happiness."  William!  Isabel pressedher faceinto thepillow.  But she felt that even the grave bedroom knew her forwhat shewasshallowtinklingvain...

Presentlyfrom the garden below there came voices.

"Isabelwe're all going for a bathe.  Do come!"

"Comethou wife of William!"

"Callher once before you gocall once yet!"

Isabel satup.  Now was the momentnow she must decide.  Would she gowiththemorstay here and write to William.  Whichwhich should it be? "Imust makeup my mind."  Ohbut how could there be any question? Of courseshe wouldstay here and write.

"Titania!"piped Moira.

"Isa-bel?"

Noit wastoo difficult.  "I'll--I'll go with themand write toWilliamlater. Some other time.  Later.  Not now.  But I shallcertainly write"thoughtIsabel hurriedly.

Andlaughingin the new wayshe ran down the stairs.

 

8. THE VOYAGE.

The Pictonboat was due to leave at half-past eleven.  It was a beautifulnightmildstarryonly when they got out of the cab and started to walkdown theOld Wharf that jutted out into the harboura faint wind blowingoff thewater ruffled under Fenella's hatand she put up her hand to keepit on. It was dark on the Old Wharfvery dark; the wool shedsthe cattletrucksthe cranes standing up so highthe little squat railway engineall seemedcarved out of solid darkness.  Here and there on a rounded wood-pilethatwas like the stalk of a huge black mushroomthere hung alanternbut it seemed afraid to unfurl its timidquivering light in allthatblackness; it burned softlyas if for itself.

Fenella'sfather pushed on with quicknervous strides.  Beside him hergrandmabustled along in her crackling black ulster; they went so fast thatshe hadnow and again to give an undignified little skip to keep up withthem. As well as her luggage strapped into a neat sausageFenella carriedclasped toher her grandma's umbrellaand the handlewhich was a swan'sheadkeptgiving her shoulder a sharp little peck as if it too wanted hertohurry...Mentheir caps pulled downtheir collars turned upswungby;a fewwomen all muffled scurried along; and one tiny boyonly his littleblack armsand legs showing out of a white woolly shawlwas jerked alongangrilybetween his father and mother; he looked like a baby fly that hadfalleninto the cream.

Thensuddenlyso suddenly that Fenella and her grandma both leapttheresoundedfrom behind the largest wool shedthat had a trail of smokehangingover it"Mia-oo-oo-O-O!"

"Firstwhistle" said her father brieflyand at that moment they cameinsight ofthe Picton boat.  Lying beside the dark wharfall strungallbeadedwith round golden lightsthe Picton boat looked as if she was moreready tosail among stars than out into the cold sea.  People pressedalongthegangway.  First went her grandmathen her fatherthenFenella.  Therewas a highstep down on to the deckand an old sailor in a jersey standingby gaveher his dryhard hand.  They were there; they stepped out oftheway of thehurrying peopleand standing under a little iron stairway thatled to theupper deck they began to say good-bye.

"Theremotherthere's your luggage!" said Fenella's fathergivinggrandmaanother strapped-up sausage.

"ThankyouFrank."

"Andyou've got your cabin tickets safe?"

"Yesdear."

"Andyour other tickets?"

Grandmafelt for them inside her glove and showed him the tips.

"That'sright."

He soundedsternbut Fenellaeagerly watching himsaw that he lookedtired andsad.  "Mia-oo-oo-O-O!"  The second whistle blaredjust abovetheirheadsand a voice like a cry shouted"Any more for thegangway?"

"You'llgive my love to father" Fenella saw her father's lips say. Andhergrandmavery agitatedanswered"Of course I willdear. Go now.You'll beleft.  Go nowFrank.  Go now."

"It'sall rightmother.  I've got another three minutes." To her surpriseFenellasaw her father take off his hat.  He clasped grandma in his armsandpressed her to him.  "God bless youmother!" sheheard him say.

Andgrandma put her handwith the black thread glove that was wornthroughon herring fingeragainst his cheekand she sobbed"God bless youmyown braveson!"

This wasso awful that Fenella quickly turned her back on themswallowedoncetwiceand frowned terribly at a little green star on a mast head.But shehad to turn round again; her father was going.

"Good-byeFenella.  Be a good girl."  His coldwet moustachebrushed hercheek. But Fenella caught hold of the lapels of his coat.

"Howlong am I going to stay?" she whispered anxiously.  Hewouldn't lookat her. He shook her off gentlyand gently said"We'll see about that.Here! Where's your hand?"  He pressed something into her palm. "Here's ashillingin case you should need it."

Ashilling!  She must be going away for ever!  "Father!"cried Fenella.But he wasgone.  He was the last off the ship.  The sailors put theirshouldersto the gangway.  A huge coil of dark rope went flying throughtheair andfell "thump" on the wharf.  A bell rang; a whistleshrilled.Silentlythe dark wharf began to slipto slideto edge away from them.Now therewas a rush of water between.  Fenella strained to see with allhermight.  "Was that father turning round?"--orwaving?--or standingalone?--orwalking off by himself?  The strip of water grew broaderdarker. Now the Picton boat began to swing round steadypointing out tosea. It was no good looking any longer.  There was nothing to be seenbuta fewlightsthe face of the town clock hanging in the airand morelightslittle patches of themon the dark hills.

Thefreshening wind tugged at Fenella's skirts; she went back to hergrandma. To her relief grandma seemed no longer sad.  She had put the twosausagesof luggage one on top of the otherand she was sitting on themher handsfoldedher head a little on one side.  There was an intentbrightlook on her face.  Then Fenella saw that her lips were movingandguessedthat she was praying.  But the old woman gave her a bright nodasif to saythe prayer was nearly over.  She unclasped her handssighedclaspedthem againbent forwardand at last gave herself a soft shake.

"Andnowchild" she saidfingering the bow of her bonnet-strings"Ithink weought to see about our cabins.  Keep close to meand mind youdon'tslip."

"Yesgrandma!"

"Andbe careful the umbrellas aren't caught in the stair rail.  I sawabeautifulumbrella broken in half like that on my way over."

"Yesgrandma."

Darkfigures of men lounged against the rails.  In the glow of theirpipesa noseshone outor the peak of a capor a pair of surprised-lookingeyebrows. Fenella glanced up.  High in the aira little figurehis handsthrust inhis short jacket pocketsstood staring out to sea.  The shiprockedever so littleand she thought the stars rocked too.  And now apalesteward in a linen coatholding a tray high in the palm of his handsteppedout of a lighted doorway and skimmed past them.  They wentthroughthatdoorway.  Carefully over the high brass-bound step on to therubbermat andthen down such a terribly steep flight of stairs that grandma hadto putboth feet on each stepand Fenella clutched the clammy brass railand forgotall about the swan-necked umbrella.

At thebottom grandma stopped; Fenella was rather afraid she was going toprayagain.  But noit was only to get out the cabin tickets. They werein thesaloon.  It was glaring bright and stifling; the air smelled ofpaint andburnt chop-bones and indiarubber.  Fenella wished her grandmawould goonbut the old woman was not to be hurried.  An immense basketofhamsandwiches caught her eye.  She went up to them and touched thetop onedelicatelywith her finger.

"Howmuch are the sandwiches?" she asked.

"Tuppence!"bawled a rude stewardslamming down a knife and fork.

Grandmacould hardly believe it.

"Twopenceeach?" she asked.

"That'sright" said the stewardand he winked at his companion.

Grandmamade a smallastonished face.  Then she whispered primly toFenella. "What wickedness!"  And they sailed out at the furtherdoor andalong apassage that had cabins on either side.  Such a very nicestewardesscame to meet them.  She was dressed all in blueand her collarand cuffswere fastened with large brass buttons.  She seemed to knowgrandmawell.

"WellMrs. Crane" said sheunlocking their washstand.  "We'vegot youbackagain.  It's not often you give yourself a cabin."

"No"said grandma.  "But this time my dear son'sthoughtfulness--"

"Ihope--" began the stewardess.  Then she turned round andtook a longmournfullook at grandma's blackness and at Fenella's black coat and skirtblackblouseand hat with a crape rose.

Grandmanodded.  "It was God's will" said she.

Thestewardess shut her lips andtaking a deep breathshe seemed toexpand.

"WhatI always say is" she saidas though it was her own discovery"sooneror later each of us has to goand that's a certingty." Shepaused. "Nowcan I bring you anythingMrs Crane?  A cup of tea? I knowit's nogood offering you a little something to keep the cold out."

Grandmashook her head.  "Nothingthank you.  We've got a fewwinebiscuitsand Fenella has a very nice banana."

"ThenI'll give you a look later on" said the stewardessand shewentoutshutting the door.

What avery small cabin it was!  It was like being shut up in a boxwithgrandma. The dark round eye above the washstand gleamed at them dully.Fenellafelt shy.  She stood against the doorstill clasping herluggageand theumbrella.  Were they going to get undressed in here? Already hergrandmahad taken off her bonnetandrolling up the stringsshe fixedeach witha pin to the lining before she hung the bonnet up.  Her whitehair shonelike silk; the little bun at the back was covered with a blacknet. Fenella hardly ever saw her grandma with her head uncovered; shelookedstrange.

"Ishall put on the woollen fascinator your dear mother crocheted forme"saidgrandmaandunstrapping the sausageshe took it out and wound itround herhead; the fringe of grey bobbles danced at her eyebrows as shesmiledtenderly and mournfully at Fenella.  Then she undid her bodiceandsomethingunder thatand something else underneath that.  Then thereseemed ashortsharp tussleand grandma flushed faintly.  Snip! Snap!She hadundone her stays.  She breathed a sigh of reliefand sitting onthe plushcouchshe slowly and carefully pulled off her elastic-sidedboots andstood them side by side.

By thetime Fenella had taken off her coat and skirt and put on her flanneldressing-gowngrandma was quite ready.

"MustI take off my bootsgrandma?  They're lace."

Grandmagave them a moment's deep consideration.  "You'd feel agreat dealmorecomfortable if you didchild" said she.  She kissedFenella.  "Don'tforget tosay your prayers.  Our dear Lord is with us when we are at seaeven morethan when we are on dry land.  And because I am an experiencedtraveller"said grandma briskly"I shall take the upper berth."

"Butgrandmahowever will you get up there?"

Threelittle spider-like steps were all Fenella saw.  The old womangave asmallsilent laugh before she mounted them nimblyand she peered over thehigh bunkat the astonished Fenella.

"Youdidn't think your grandma could do thatdid you?" said she. And asshe sankback Fenella heard her light laugh again.

The hardsquare of brown soap would not latherand the water in the bottlewas like akind of blue jelly.  How hard it wastooto turn down thosestiffsheets; you simply had to tear your way in.  If everything hadbeendifferentFenella might have got the giggles...At last she was insideandwhile shelay there pantingthere sounded from above a longsoftwhisperingas though some one was gentlygently rustling among tissuepaper tofind something.  It was grandma saying her prayers...

A longtime passed.  Then the stewardess came in; she trod softly andleaned herhand on grandma's bunk.

"We'rejust entering the Straits" she said.

"Oh!"

"It'sa fine nightbut we're rather empty.  We may pitch a little."

And indeedat that moment the Picton Boat rose and rose and hung in the airjust longenough to give a shiver before she swung down againand therewas thesound of heavy water slapping against her sides.  Fenellarememberedshe had left the swan-necked umbrella standing up on the littlecouch. If it fell overwould it break?  But grandma remembered tooatthe sametime.

"Iwonder if you'd mindstewardesslaying down my umbrella" shewhispered.

"Notat allMrs. Crane."  And the stewardesscoming back tograndmabreathed"Your little granddaughter's in such a beautiful sleep."

"Godbe praised for that!" said grandma.

"Poorlittle motherless mite!" said the stewardess.  And grandmawas stilltellingthe stewardess all about what happened when Fenella fell asleep.

But shehadn't been asleep long enough to dream before she woke up again toseesomething waving in the air above her head.  What was it? What couldit be? It was a small grey foot.  Now another joined it.  Theyseemed tobe feelingabout for something; there came a sigh.

"I'mawakegrandma" said Fenella.

"Ohdearam I near the ladder?" asked grandma.  "Ithought it was thisend."

"Nograndmait's the other.  I'll put your foot on it.  Are wethere?"askedFenella.

"Inthe harbour" said grandma.  "We must get upchild. You'd better havea biscuitto steady yourself before you move."

ButFenella had hopped out of her bunk.  The lamp was still burningbutnight wasoverand it was cold.  Peering through that round eye she couldsee faroff some rocks.  Now they were scattered over with foam; now agullflippedby; and now there came a long piece of real land.

"It'slandgrandma" said Fenellawonderinglyas though they hadbeen atsea forweeks together.  She hugged herself; she stood on one leg andrubbed itwith the toes of the other foot; she was trembling.  Ohit hadall beenso sad lately.  Was it going to change?  But all hergrandma saidwas"Makehastechild.  I should leave your nice banana for thestewardessas you haven't eaten it."  And Fenella put on her blackclothesagain anda button sprang off one of her gloves and rolled to where shecouldn'treach it.  They went up on deck.

But if ithad been cold in the cabinon deck it was like ice.  The sunwasnot upyetbut the stars were dimand the cold pale sky was the samecolour asthe cold pale sea.  On the land a white mist rose and fell. Nowthey couldsee quite plainly dark bush.  Even the shapes of the umbrellafernsshowedand those strange silvery withered trees that are likeskeletons...Nowthey could see the landing-stage and some little housespale tooclustered togetherlike shells on the lid of a box.  The otherpassengerstramped up and downbut more slowly than they had the nightbeforeand they looked gloomy.

And nowthe landing-stage came out to meet them.  Slowly it swam towardsthe Pictonboatand a man holding a coil of ropeand a cart with a smalldroopinghorse and another man sitting on the stepcame too.

"It'sMr. PenreddyFenellacome for us" said grandma.  Shesoundedpleased. Her white waxen cheeks were blue with coldher chin trembledand shehad to keep wiping her eyes and her little pink nose.

"You'vegot my--"

"Yesgrandma."  Fenella showed it to her.

The ropecame flying through the airand "smack" it fell on to thedeck.Thegangway was lowered.  Again Fenella followed her grandma on tothewharf overto the little cartand a moment later they were bowling away.The hoovesof the little horse drummed over the wooden pilesthen sanksoftlyinto the sandy road.  Not a soul was to be seen; there was notevena featherof smoke.  The mist rose and fell and the sea still soundedasleep asslowly it turned on the beach.

"Iseen Mr. Crane yestiddy" said Mr. Penreddy.  "Helooked himself then.Missusknocked him up a batch of scones last week."

And nowthe little horse pulled up before one of the shell-like houses.They gotdown.  Fenella put her hand on the gateand the bigtremblingdew-dropssoaked through her glove-tips.  Up a little path of round whitepebblesthey wentwith drenched sleeping flowers on either side.Grandma'sdelicate white picotees were so heavy with dew that they werefallenbut their sweet smell was part of the cold morning.  The blindswere downin the little house; they mounted the steps on to the veranda. Apair ofold bluchers was on one side of the doorand a large red watering-can on theother.

"Tut!tut!  Your grandpa" said grandma.  She turned thehandle.  Not asound. She called"Walter!"  And immediately a deep voicethat soundedhalfstifled called back"Is that youMary?"

"Waitdear" said grandma.  "Go in there."  Shepushed Fenella gently intoa smalldusky sitting-room.

On thetable a white catthat had been folded up like a camelrosestretcheditselfyawnedand then sprang on to the tips of its toes.Fenellaburied one cold little hand in the whitewarm furand smiledtimidlywhile she stroked and listened to grandma's gentle voice and therollingtones of grandpa.

A doorcreaked.  "Come indear."  The old womanbeckonedFenellafollowed. Therelying to one side on an immense bedlay grandpa.  Justhis headwith a white tuft and his rosy face and long silver beard showedover thequilt.  He was like a very old wide-awake bird.

"Wellmy girl!" said grandpa.  "Give us a kiss!" Fenella kissed him."Ugh!"said grandpa.  "Her little nose is as cold as a button. What's thatshe'sholding?  Her grandma's umbrella?"

Fenellasmiled againand crooked the swan neck over the bed-rail. Abovethe bedthere was a big text in a deep black frame:--

"Lost! One Golden Hour Setwith Sixty Diamond Minutes. NoReward Is Offered ForIt Is Gone For Ever!"

"Yergrandma painted that" said grandpa.  And he ruffled hiswhite tuftand lookedat Fenella so merrily she almost thought he winked at her.

 

9. MISS BRILL.

Althoughit was so brilliantly fine--the blue sky powdered with gold andgreatspots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques--Miss Brillwas glad that she had decided on her fur.  The air wasmotionlessbut when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chilllike achill from a glass of iced water before you sipand now and again aleaf camedrifting--from nowherefrom the sky.  Miss Brill put up herhandandtouched her fur.  Dear little thing!  It was nice to feelit again.She hadtaken it out of its box that afternoonshaken out the moth-powdergiven it agood brushand rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes."Whathas been happening to me?" said the sad little eyes.  Ohhow sweetit was tosee them snap at her again from the red eiderdown!...But thenosewhich was of some black compositionwasn't at all firm.  Itmusthave had aknocksomehow.  Never mind--a little dab of black sealing-waxwhen thetime came--when it was absolutely necessary...Little rogue! Yesshe reallyfelt like that about it.  Little rogue biting its tail just byher leftear.  She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap andstrokedit.  She felt a tingling in her hands and armsbut that camefromwalkingshe supposed.  And when she breathedsomething light andsad--nonot sadexactly--something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.

There werea number of people out this afternoonfar more than lastSunday. And the band sounded louder and gayer.  That was because theSeason hadbegun.  For although the band played all the year round onSundaysout of season it was never the same.  It was like some oneplayingwith onlythe family to listen; it didn't care how it played if thereweren'tany strangers present.  Wasn't the conductor wearing a new coattoo? She was sure it was new.  He scraped with his foot and flappedhisarms likea rooster about to crowand the bandsmen sitting in the greenrotundablew out their cheeks and glared at the music.  Now there came alittle"flutey" bit--very pretty!--a little chain of brightdrops.  She wassure itwould be repeated.  It was; she lifted her head and smiled.

Only twopeople shared her "special" seat:  a fine old man in avelvetcoathishands clasped over a huge carved walking-stickand a big oldwomansitting uprightwith a roll of knitting on her embroidered apron.They didnot speak.  This was disappointingfor Miss Brill always lookedforward tothe conversation.  She had become really quite expertshethoughtat listening as though she didn't listenat sitting in otherpeople'slives just for a minute while they talked round her.

Sheglancedsidewaysat the old couple.  Perhaps they would gosoon.LastSundaytoohadn't been as interesting as usual.  An Englishmanandhis wifehe wearing a dreadful Panama hat and she button boots.  Andshe'dgone onthe whole time about how she ought to wear spectacles; she knew sheneededthem; but that it was no good getting any; they'd be sure to breakand they'dnever keep on.  And he'd been so patient.  He'd suggestedeverything--goldrimsthe kind that curved round your earslittle padsinside thebridge.  Nonothing would please her.  "They'llalways beslidingdown my nose!"  Miss Brill had wanted to shake her.

The oldpeople sat on the benchstill as statues.  Never mindtherewasalways thecrowd to watch.  To and froin front of the flower-beds and thebandrotundathe couples and groups paradedstopped to talkto greettobuy ahandful of flowers from the old beggar who had his tray fixed to therailings. Little children ran among themswooping and laughing; littleboys withbig white silk bows under their chinslittle girlslittleFrenchdollsdressed up in velvet and lace.  And sometimes a tinystaggerercame suddenly rocking into the open from under the treesstoppedstaredas suddenly sat down "flop" until its smallhigh-steppingmotherlike a young henrushed scolding to its rescue.  Other peoplesaton thebenches and green chairsbut they were nearly always the sameSundayafter Sundayand--Miss Brill had often noticed--there was somethingfunnyabout nearly all of them.  They were oddsilentnearly alloldandfrom theway they stared they looked as though they'd just come from darklittlerooms or even--even cupboards!

Behind therotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down droopingandthroughthem just a line of seaand beyond the blue sky with gold-veinedclouds.

Tum-tum-tumtiddle-um! tiddle-um! tum tiddley-um tum ta! blew the band.

Two younggirls in red came by and two young soldiers in blue met themandtheylaughed and paired and went off arm-in-arm.  Two peasant womenwithfunnystraw hats passedgravelyleading beautiful smoke-coloured donkeys.A coldpale nun hurried by.  A beautiful woman came along and droppedherbunch ofvioletsand a little boy ran after to hand them to herand shetook themand threw them away as if they'd been poisoned.  Dear me! MissBrilldidn't know whether to admire that or not!  And now an erminetoqueand agentleman in grey met just in front of her.  He was tallstiffdignifiedand she was wearing the ermine toque she'd bought when her hairwasyellow.  Now everythingher hairher faceeven her eyeswasthesamecolour as the shabby ermineand her handin its cleaned glovelifted todab her lipswas a tiny yellowish paw.  Ohshe was so pleasedto seehim--delighted!  She rather thought they were going to meet thatafternoon. She described where she'd been--everywhereheretherealongby thesea.  The day was so charming--didn't he agree?  Andwouldn't heperhaps?...Buthe shook his headlighted a cigaretteslowly breathed agreat deeppuff into her faceand even while she was still talking andlaughingflicked the match away and walked on.  The ermine toque wasalone; shesmiled more brightly than ever.  But even the band seemed toknow whatshe was feeling and played more softlyplayed tenderlyand thedrum beat"The Brute!  The Brute!" over and over.  Whatwould she do?What wasgoing to happen now?  But as Miss Brill wonderedthe erminetoqueturnedraised her hand as though she'd seen some one elsemuch nicerjust overthereand pattered away.  And the band changed again and playedmorequicklymore gayly than everand the old couple on Miss Brill'sseatgot up andmarched awayand such a funny old man with long whiskershobbledalong in time to the music and was nearly knocked over by fourgirlswalking abreast.

Ohhowfascinating it was!  How she enjoyed it!  How she lovedsittingherewatching it all!  It was like a play.  It was exactly likea play.Who couldbelieve the sky at the back wasn't painted?  But it wasn't tillalittlebrown dog trotted on solemn and then slowly trotted offlike alittle"theatre" doga little dog that had been druggedthatMiss Brilldiscoveredwhat it was that made it so exciting.  They were all on thestage. They weren't only the audiencenot only looking on; they wereacting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday.  No doubt somebodywould havenoticed if she hadn't been there; she was part of theperformanceafter all.  How strange she'd never thought of it like thatbefore! And yet it explained why she made such a point of starting fromhome atjust the same time each week--so as not to be late for theperformance--andit also explained why she had quite a queershy feelingat tellingher English pupils how she spent her Sunday afternoons.  Nowonder! Miss Brill nearly laughed out loud.  She was on the stage. Shethought ofthe old invalid gentleman to whom she read the newspaper fourafternoonsa week while he slept in the garden.  She had got quite used tothe frailhead on the cotton pillowthe hollowed eyesthe open mouth andthe highpinched nose.  If he'd been dead she mightn't have noticed forweeks; shewouldn't have minded.  But suddenly he knew he was having thepaper readto him by an actress!  "An actress!"  The oldhead lifted; twopoints oflight quivered in the old eyes.  "An actress--are ye?" And MissBrillsmoothed the newspaper as though it were the manuscript of her partand saidgently; "YesI have been an actress for a long time."

The bandhad been having a rest.  Now they started again.  And whattheyplayed waswarmsunnyyet there was just a faint chill--a somethingwhatwasit?--not sadness--nonot sadness--a something that made you want tosing. The tune liftedliftedthe light shone; and it seemed to MissBrill thatin another moment all of themall the whole companywouldbeginsinging.  The young onesthe laughing ones who were movingtogetherthey wouldbeginand the men's voicesvery resolute and bravewould jointhem. And then she tooshe tooand the others on the benches--they wouldcome inwith a kind of accompaniment--something lowthat scarcely rose orfellsomething so beautiful--moving...And Miss Brill's eyes filled withtears andshe looked smiling at all the other members of the company. Yesweunderstandwe understandshe thought--though what they understoodshedidn'tknow.

Just atthat moment a boy and girl came and sat down where the old couplehad been. They were beautifully dressed; they were in love.  The hero andheroineof coursejust arrived from his father's yacht.  And stillsoundlesslysingingstill with that trembling smileMiss Brill preparedto listen.

"Nonot now" said the girl.  "Not hereI can't."

"Butwhy?  Because of that stupid old thing at the end there?"asked theboy. "Why does she come here at all--who wants her?  Why doesn'tshe keepher sillyold mug at home?"

"It'sher fu-ur which is so funny" giggled the girl.  "It'sexactly like afriedwhiting."

"Ahbe off with you!" said the boy in an angry whisper.  Then: "Tell mema petitechere--"

"Nonot here" said the girl.  "Not yet."

...                               On her wayhome she usually bought a slice of honey-cake at the baker's.It was herSunday treat.  Sometimes there was an almond in her slicesometimesnot.  It made a great difference.  If there was an almondit waslikecarrying home a tiny present--a surprise--something that might verywell nothave been there.  She hurried on the almond Sundays and struckthematch forthe kettle in quite a dashing way.

But to-dayshe passed the baker's byclimbed the stairswent into thelittledark room--her room like a cupboard--and sat down on the redeiderdown. She sat there for a long time.  The box that the fur came outof was onthe bed.  She unclasped the necklet quickly; quicklywithoutlookinglaid it inside.  But when she put the lid on she thought sheheardsomethingcrying.

 

10. HER FIRST BALL.

Exactlywhen the ball began Leila would have found it hard to say. Perhapsher firstreal partner was the cab.  It did not matter that she shared thecab withthe Sheridan girls and their brother.  She sat back in her ownlittlecorner of itand the bolster on which her hand rested felt like thesleeve ofan unknown young man's dress suit; and away they bowledpastwaltzinglamp-posts and houses and fences and trees.

"Haveyou really never been to a ball beforeLeila?  Butmy childhowtooweird--" cried the Sheridan girls.

"Ournearest neighbour was fifteen miles" said Leila softlygentlyopeningand shutting her fan.

Oh dearhow hard it was to be indifferent like the others!  She triednotto smiletoo much; she tried not to care.  But every single thing was sonew andexciting ...Meg's tuberosesJose's long loop of amberLaura'slittledark headpushing above her white fur like a flower through snow.She wouldremember for ever.  It even gave her a pang to see her cousinLauriethrow away the wisps of tissue paper he pulled from the fasteningsof his newgloves.  She would like to have kept those wisps as a keepsakeas aremembrance.  Laurie leaned forward and put his hand on Laura'sknee.

"Lookheredarling" he said.  "The third and the ninth asusual.  Twig?"

Ohhowmarvellous to have a brother!  In her excitement Leila felt thatifthere hadbeen timeif it hadn't been impossibleshe couldn't have helpedcryingbecause she was an only childand no brother had ever said "Twig?"to her; nosister would ever sayas Meg said to Jose that moment"I'veneverknown your hair go up more successfully than it has to-night!"

Butofcoursethere was no time.  They were at the drill hall already;there werecabs in front of them and cabs behind.  The road was bright oneitherside with moving fan-like lightsand on the pavement gay couplesseemed tofloat through the air; little satin shoes chased each other likebirds.

"Holdon to meLeila; you'll get lost" said Laura.

"Comeongirlslet's make a dash for it" said Laurie.

Leila puttwo fingers on Laura's pink velvet cloakand they were somehowliftedpast the big golden lanterncarried along the passageand pushedinto thelittle room marked "Ladies."  Here the crowd was sogreat therewas hardlyspace to take off their things; the noise was deafening.  Twobenches oneither side were stacked high with wraps.  Two old women inwhiteaprons ran up and down tossing fresh armfuls.  And everybody waspressingforward trying to get at the little dressing-table and mirror atthe farend.

A greatquivering jet of gas lighted the ladies' room.  It couldn'twait;it wasdancing already.  When the door opened again and there came aburstof tuningfrom the drill hallit leaped almost to the ceiling.

Darkgirlsfair girls were patting their hairtying ribbons againtuckinghandkerchiefs down the fronts of their bodicessmoothing marble-whitegloves.  And because they were all laughing it seemed to Leilathatthey wereall lovely.

"Aren'tthere any invisible hair-pins?" cried a voice.  "Howmostextraordinary! I can't see a single invisible hair-pin."

"Powdermy backthere's a darling" cried some one else.

"ButI must have a needle and cotton.  I've torn simply miles andmiles ofthefrill" wailed a third.

Then"Pass them alongpass them along!"  The straw basketof programmeswas tossedfrom arm to arm.  Darling little pink-and-silver programmeswith pinkpencils and fluffy tassels.  Leila's fingers shook as she tookone out ofthe basket.  She wanted to ask some one"Am I meant tohave onetoo?"but she had just time to read:  "Waltz 3.  'TwoTwoin a Canoe.'Polka 4. 'Making the Feathers Fly'" when Meg cried"ReadyLeila?"andtheypressed their way through the crush in the passage towards the bigdoubledoors of the drill hall.

Dancinghad not begun yetbut the band had stopped tuningand the noisewas sogreat it seemed that when it did begin to play it would never beheard. Leilapressing close to Meglooking over Meg's shoulderfeltthat eventhe little quivering coloured flags strung across the ceilingweretalking.  She quite forgot to be shy; she forgot how in themiddle ofdressingshe had sat down on the bed with one shoe off and one shoe on andbegged hermother to ring up her cousins and say she couldn't go after all.And therush of longing she had had to be sitting on the veranda of theirforsakenup-country homelistening to the baby owls crying "More pork"inthemoonlightwas changed to a rush of joy so sweet that it was hard tobearalone.  She clutched her fanandgazing at the gleaminggoldenfloortheazaleasthe lanternsthe stage at one end with its red carpetand giltchairs and the band in a cornershe thought breathlessly"Howheavenly;how simply heavenly!"

All thegirls stood grouped together at one side of the doorsthe men atthe otherand the chaperones in dark dressessmiling rather foolishlywalkedwith little careful steps over the polished floor towards the stage.

"Thisis my little country cousin Leila.  Be nice to her.  Findherpartners;she's under my wing" said Meggoing up to one girl afteranother.

Strangefaces smiled at Leila--sweetlyvaguely.  Strange voicesanswered"Ofcoursemy dear."  But Leila felt the girls didn't reallysee her.They werelooking towards the men.  Why didn't the men begin?  Whatweretheywaiting for?  There they stoodsmoothing their glovespattingtheirglossyhair and smiling among themselves.  Thenquite suddenlyas iftheyhad onlyjust made up their minds that that was what they had to dothemen camegliding over the parquet.  There was a joyful flutter among thegirls. A tallfair man flew up to Megseized her programmescribbledsomething;Meg passed him on to Leila.  "May I have the pleasure?" Heducked andsmiled.  There came a dark man wearing an eyeglassthen cousinLauriewith a friendand Laura with a little freckled fellow whose tie wascrooked. Then quite an old man--fatwith a big bald patch on his head--took herprogramme and murmured"Let me seelet me see!"  Andhe was along timecomparing his programmewhich looked black with nameswithhers. It seemed to give him so much trouble that Leila was ashamed. "Ohpleasedon't bother" she said eagerly.  But instead of replyingthe fatman wrotesomethingglanced at her again.  "Do I remember thisbrightlittleface?" he said softly.  "Is it known to me of yore?" At that momentthe bandbegan playing; the fat man disappeared.  He was tossed away on agreat waveof music that came flying over the gleaming floorbreaking thegroups upinto couplesscattering themsending them spinning...

Leila hadlearned to dance at boarding school.  Every Saturday afternoontheboarders were hurried off to a little corrugated iron mission hallwhere MissEccles (of London) held her "select" classes.  But thedifferencebetween that dusty-smelling hall--with calico texts on thewallsthepoor terrified little woman in a brown velvet toque withrabbit'sears thumping the cold pianoMiss Eccles poking the girls' feetwith herlong white wand--and this was so tremendous that Leila was sure ifherpartner didn't come and she had to listen to that marvellous musicandto watchthe others slidinggliding over the golden floorshe would dieat leastor faintor lift her arms and fly out of one of those darkwindowsthat showed the stars.

"OursI think--"  Some one bowedsmiledand offered her hisarm; shehadn't todie after all.  Some one's hand pressed her waistand shefloatedaway like a flower that is tossed into a pool.

"Quitea good floorisn't it?" drawled a faint voice close to her ear.

"Ithink it's most beautifully slippery" said Leila.

"Pardon!" The faint voice sounded surprised.  Leila said it again. Andthere wasa tiny pause before the voice echoed"Ohquite!" and shewasswunground again.

He steeredso beautifully.  That was the great difference between dancingwith girlsand menLeila decided.  Girls banged into each otherandstamped oneach other's feet; the girl who was gentleman always clutchedyou so.

Theazaleas were separate flowers no longer; they were pink and whiteflagsstreamingby.

"Wereyou at the Bells' last week?" the voice came again.  Itsoundedtired. Leila wondered whether she ought to ask him if he would like tostop.

"Nothis is my first dance" said she.

Herpartner gave a little gasping laugh.  "OhI say" heprotested.

"Yesit is really the first dance I've ever been to."  Leila wasmostfervent. It was such a relief to be able to tell somebody.  "YouseeI'velived inthe country all my life up till now..."

At thatmoment the music stoppedand they went to sit on two chairsagainstthe wall.  Leila tucked her pink satin feet under and fannedherselfwhile she blissfully watched the other couples passing anddisappearingthrough the swing doors.

"EnjoyingyourselfLeila?" asked Josenodding her golden head.

Laurapassed and gave her the faintest little wink; it made Leila wonderfor amoment whether she was quite grown up after all.  Certainly herpartnerdid not say very much.  He coughedtucked his handkerchiefawaypulleddown his waistcoattook a minute thread off his sleeve.  But itdidn'tmatter.  Almost immediately the band started and her secondpartnerseemed tospring from the ceiling.

"Floor'snot bad" said the new voice.  Did one always begin withthefloor? And then"Were you at the Neaves' on Tuesday?"  Andagain Leilaexplained. Perhaps it was a little strange that her partners were not moreinterested. For it was thrilling.  Her first ball!  She was only at thebeginningof everything.  It seemed to her that she had never known whatthe nightwas like before.  Up till now it had been darksilentbeautifulveryoften--oh yes--but mournful somehow.  Solemn.  And now itwould neverbe likethat again--it had opened dazzling bright.

"Carefor an ice?" said her partner.  And they went through theswingdoorsdown the passageto the supper room.  Her cheeks burnedshewasfearfullythirsty.  How sweet the ices looked on little glass plates andhow coldthe frosted spoon wasiced too!  And when they came back to thehall therewas the fat man waiting for her by the door.  It gave her quitea shockagain to see how old he was; he ought to have been on the stagewith thefathers and mothers.  And when Leila compared him with her otherpartnershe looked shabby.  His waistcoat was creasedthere was a buttonoff hisglovehis coat looked as if it was dusty with French chalk.

"Comealonglittle lady" said the fat man.  He scarcelytroubled to claspherandthey moved away so gentlyit was more like walking than dancing.But hesaid not a word about the floor.  "Your first danceisn'tit?" hemurmured.

"Howdid you know?"

"Ah"said the fat man"that's what it is to be old!"  Hewheezed faintlyas hesteered her past an awkward couple.  "You seeI've beendoing thiskind ofthing for the last thirty years."

"Thirtyyears?" cried Leila.  Twelve years before she was born!

"Ithardly bears thinking aboutdoes it?" said the fat mangloomily.Leilalooked at his bald headand she felt quite sorry for him.

"Ithink it's marvellous to be still going on" she said kindly.

"Kindlittle lady" said the fat manand he pressed her a littlecloserand hummeda bar of the waltz.  "Of course" he said"youcan't hope tolastanything like as long as that.  No-o" said the fat man"long beforethatyou'll be sitting up there on the stagelooking onin your niceblackvelvet.  And these pretty arms will have turned into littleshort fatonesandyou'll beat time with such a different kind of fan--a black bonyone." The fat man seemed to shudder.  "And you'll smile away likethe poorold dearsup thereand point to your daughterand tell the elderly ladynext toyou how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club ball. Andyour heartwill acheache"--the fat man squeezed her closer stillas ifhe reallywas sorry for that poor heart--"because no one wants to kiss younow. And you'll say how unpleasant these polished floors are to walk onhowdangerous they are.  EhMademoiselle Twinkletoes?" saidthe fat mansoftly.

Leila gavea light little laughbut she did not feel like laughing.  Wasit--couldit all be true?  It sounded terribly true.  Was this firstballonly thebeginning of her last ballafter all?  At that the music seemedto change;it sounded sadsad; it rose upon a great sigh.  Ohhow quicklythingschanged!  Why didn't happiness last for ever?  For everwasn't a bittoo long.

"Iwant to stop" she said in a breathless voice.  The fat manled her tothe door.

"No"she said"I won't go outside.  I won't sit down. I'll just standherethank you."  She leaned against the walltapping with herfootpulling upher gloves and trying to smile.  But deep inside her a littlegirl threwher pinafore over her head and sobbed.  Why had he spoiled itall?

"Isayyou know" said the fat man"you mustn't take meseriouslylittlelady."

"Asif I should!" said Leilatossing her small dark head andsucking herunderlip...

Again thecouples paraded.  The swing doors opened and shut.  Now newmusicwas givenout by the bandmaster.  But Leila didn't want to dance any more.She wantedto be homeor sitting on the veranda listening to those babyowls. When she looked through the dark windows at the starsthey had longbeams likewings...

Butpresently a softmeltingravishing tune beganand a young man withcurly hairbowed before her.  She would have to danceout of politenessuntil shecould find Meg.  Very stiffly she walked into the middle; veryhaughtilyshe put her hand on his sleeve.  But in one minutein one turnher feetglidedglided.  The lightsthe azaleasthe dressesthe pinkfacesthevelvet chairsall became one beautiful flying wheel.  And whenher nextpartner bumped her into the fat man and he said"Pardon"shesmiled athim more radiantly than ever.  She didn't even recognise himagain.

 

11. THE SINGING LESSON.

Withdespair--coldsharp despair--buried deep in her heart like a wickedknifeMiss Meadowsin cap and gown and carrying a little batontrod thecoldcorridors that led to the music hall.  Girls of all agesrosyfromthe airand bubbling over with that gleeful excitement that comes fromrunning toschool on a fine autumn morninghurriedskippedfluttered by;from thehollow class-rooms came a quick drumming of voices; a bell rang; avoice likea bird cried"Muriel."  And then there came from thestaircaseatremendous knock-knock-knocking.  Some one had dropped herdumbbells.

TheScience Mistress stopped Miss Meadows.

"Goodmor-ning" she criedin her sweetaffected drawl.  "Isn'tit cold?It mightbe win-ter."

MissMeadowshugging the knifestared in hatred at the Science Mistress.Everythingabout her was sweetpalelike honey.  You wold not have beensurprisedto see a bee caught in the tangles of that yellow hair.

"Itis rather sharp" said Miss Meadowsgrimly.

The othersmiled her sugary smile.

"Youlook fro-zen" said she.  Her blue eyes opened wide; therecame amockinglight in them.  (Had she noticed anything?)

"Ohnot quite as bad as that" said Miss Meadowsand she gave theScienceMistressin exchange for her smilea quick grimace and passed on...

FormsFourFiveand Six were assembled in the music hall.  The noisewasdeafening. On the platformby the pianostood Mary BeazleyMissMeadows'favouritewho played accompaniments.  She was turning the musicstool. When she saw Miss Meadows she gave a loudwarning "Sh-sh!girls!"and MissMeadowsher hands thrust in her sleevesthe baton under her armstrodedown the centre aislemounted the stepsturned sharplyseized thebrassmusic standplanted it in front of herand gave two sharp taps withher batonfor silence.

"Silenceplease!  Immediately!" andlooking at nobodyher glancesweptover thatsea of coloured flannel blouseswith bobbing pink faces andhandsquivering butterfly hair-bowsand music-books outspread.  Sheknewperfectlywell what they were thinking.  "Meady is in a wax." Wellletthem thinkit!  Her eyelids quivered; she tossed her headdefying them.What couldthe thoughts of those creatures matter to some one who stoodtherebleeding to deathpierced to the heartto the heartby such aletter--

..."Ifeel more and more strongly that our marriage would be a mistake.Not that Ido not love you.  I love you as much as it is possible for me tolove anywomanbuttruth to tellI have come to the conclusion that I amnot amarrying manand the idea of settling down fills me with nothingbut--"and the word "disgust" was scratched out lightly and"regret"writtenover the top.

Basil! Miss Meadows stalked over to the piano.  And Mary Beazleywhowaswaitingfor this momentbent forward; her curls fell over her cheeks whileshebreathed"Good morningMiss Meadows" and she motionedtowards ratherthanhanded to her mistress a beautiful yellow chrysanthemum.  Thislittleritual ofthe flower had been gone through for ages and agesquite a termand ahalf.  It was as much part of the lesson as opening the piano. Butthismorninginstead of taking it upinstead of tucking it into her beltwhile sheleant over Mary and said"Thank youMary.  How verynice!  Turnto pagethirty-two" what was Mary's horror when Miss Meadows totallyignoredthe chrysanthemummade no reply to her greetingbut said in avoice ofice"Page fourteenpleaseand mark the accents well."

Staggeringmoment!  Mary blushed until the tears stood in her eyesbutMissMeadows was gone back to the music stand; her voice rang through themusichall.

"Pagefourteen.  We will begin with page fourteen.  'A Lament.' Nowgirlsyouought to know it by this time.  We shall take it all together;not inpartsall together.  And without expression.  Sing itthoughquitesimplybeating time with the left hand."

She raisedthe baton; she tapped the music stand twice.  Down came Mary ontheopening chord; down came all those left handsbeating the airandinchimedthose youngmournful voices:-- "Fast! Ahtoo Fast Fade the Ro-o-ses of Pleasure;  Soon Autumn yields unto Wi-i-nter Drear. Fleetly! AhFleetly Mu-u-sic's Gay Measure  Passes away from the Listening Ear."

GoodHeavenswhat could be more tragic than that lament!  Every notewas asighasoba groan of awful mournfulness.  Miss Meadows lifted herarmsin thewide gown and began conducting with both hands.  "...I feelmore andmorestrongly that our marriage would be a mistake..." she beat. And thevoicescried:  "Fleetly!  AhFleetly."  What couldhave possessed him towrite sucha letter!  What could have led up to it!  It came out ofnothing. His last letter had been all about a fumed-oak bookcase he hadbought for"our" booksand a "natty little hall-stand" hehad seen"avery neataffair with a carved owl on a bracketholding three hat-brushesin itsclaws."  How she had smiled at that!  So like a man tothink oneneededthree hat-brushes!  "From the Listening Ear" sang thevoices.

"Onceagain" said Miss Meadows.  "But this time in parts. Still withoutexpression." "Fast!  Ahtoo Fast."  With the gloom of thecontraltosaddedonecould scarcely help shuddering.  "Fade the Roses ofPleasure."Last timehe had come to see herBasil had worn a rose in his buttonhole.Howhandsome he had looked in that bright blue suitwith that dark redrose! And he knew ittoo.  He couldn't help knowing it.  Firsthe strokedhis hairthen his moustache; his teeth gleamed when he smiled.

"Theheadmaster's wife keeps on asking me to dinner.  It's a perfectnuisance. I never get an evening to myself in that place."

"Butcan't you refuse?"

"Ohwellit doesn't do for a man in my position to be unpopular."

"Music'sGay Measure" wailed the voices.  The willow treesoutsidethehighnarrow windowswaved in the wind.  They had lost half theirleaves.The tinyones that clung wriggled like fishes caught on a line.  "...Iamnot amarrying man..."  The voices were silent; the piano waited.

"Quitegood" said Miss Meadowsbut still in such a strangestonytonethat theyounger girls began to feel positively frightened.  "Butnow thatwe knowitwe shall take it with expression.  As much expression as youcan putinto it.  Think of the wordsgirls.  Use yourimaginations.'Fast! Ahtoo Fast'" cried Miss Meadows.  "That ought tobreak out--aloudstrong forte--a lament.  And then in the second line'WinterDrear'make that'Drear' sound as if a cold wind were blowing through it.  'Dre-ear!'"said she so awfully that Mary Beazleyon the music stoolwriggledherspine.  "The third line should be one crescendo. 'Fleetly!  AhFleetlyMusic's Gay Measure.'  Breaking on the first word of the lastlinePasses.' And then on the word'Away' you must begin to die...tofade...until'The Listening Ear' is nothing more than a faint whisper...Youcan slowdown as much as you like almost on the last line.  Nowplease."

Again thetwo light taps; she lifted her arms again.  'Fast!  AhtooFast.' "...and the idea of settling down fills me with nothing butdisgust--" Disgust was what he had written.  That was as good as to saytheirengagement was definitely broken off.  Broken off!  Theirengagement!People hadbeen surprised enough that she had got engaged.  The ScienceMistresswould not believe it at first.  But nobody had been as surprisedas she. She was thirty.  Basil was twenty-five.  It had been amiraclesimply amiracleto hear him sayas they walked home from church thatvery darknight"You knowsomehow or otherI've got fond of you." Andhe hadtaken hold of the end of her ostrich feather boa.  "Passesaway fromtheListening Ear."

"Repeat! Repeat!" said Miss Meadows.  "More expressiongirls! Oncemore!"

"Fast! Ahtoo Fast."  The older girls were crimson; some of theyoungerones beganto cry.  Big spots of rain blew against the windowsand onecould hearthe willows whispering"...not that I do not love you..."

"Butmy darlingif you love me" thought Miss Meadows"I don'tmind howmuch itis.  Love me as little as you like."  But she knew hedidn't loveher. Not to have cared enough to scratch out that word "disgust"so thatshecouldn't read it!  "Soon Autumn yields unto Winter Drear." She wouldhave toleave the schooltoo.  She could never face the ScienceMistressor thegirls after it got known.  She would have to disappearsomewhere."Passesaway."  The voices began to dieto fadeto whisper...tovanish...

Suddenlythe door opened.  A little girl in blue walked fussily up theaislehanging her headbiting her lipsand twisting the silver bangle onher redlittle wrist.  She came up the steps and stood before MissMeadows.

"WellMonicawhat is it?"

"Ohif you pleaseMiss Meadows" said the little girlgasping"MissWyattwants to see you in the mistress's room."

"Verywell" said Miss Meadows.  And she called to the girls"Ishall putyou onyour honour to talk quietly while I am away."  But theywere toosubdued todo anything else.  Most of them were blowing their noses.

Thecorridors were silent and cold; they echoed to Miss Meadows' steps.The headmistress sat at her desk.  For a moment she did not look up. Shewas asusual disentangling her eyeglasseswhich had got caught in her lacetie. "Sit downMiss Meadows" she said very kindly.  Andthen she pickedup a pinkenvelope from the blotting-pad.  "I sent for you just nowbecausethistelegram has come for you."

"Atelegram for meMiss Wyatt?"

Basil! He had committed suicidedecided Miss Meadows.  Her hand flewoutbut MissWyatt held the telegram back a moment.  "I hope it's notbadnews"she saidso more than kindly.  And Miss Meadows tore it open.

"Payno attention to lettermust have been madbought hat-stand to-day--Basil"she read.  She couldn't take her eyes off the telegram.

"I dohope it's nothing very serious" said Miss Wyattleaningforward.

"Ohnothank youMiss Wyatt" blushed Miss Meadows.  "It'snothing badat all. It's"--and she gave an apologetic little laugh--"it's frommyfiancesaying that...saying that--"  There was a pause.  "Isee" said MissWyatt. And another pause.  Then--"You've fifteen minutes more ofyourclassMiss Meadowshaven't you?"

"YesMiss Wyatt."  She got up.  She half ran towards thedoor.

"Ohjust one minuteMiss Meadows" said Miss Wyatt.  "Imust say I don'tapprove ofmy teachers having telegrams sent to them in school hoursunless incase of very bad newssuch as death" explained Miss Wyatt"ora veryserious accidentor something to that effect.  Good newsMissMeadowswill always keepyou know."

On thewings of hopeof loveof joyMiss Meadows sped back to the musichallupthe aisleup the stepsover to the piano.

"Pagethirty-twoMary" she said"page thirty-two" andpicking up theyellowchrysanthemumshe held it to her lips to hide her smile.  Thensheturned tothe girlsrapped with her baton:  "Page thirty-twogirls.  Pagethirty-two."

"Wecome here To-day with Flowers o'erladen WithBaskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot To-ooCongratulate...

"Stop! Stop!" cried Miss Meadows.  "This is awful.  Thisis dreadful." And shebeamed at her girls.  "What's the matter with you all? Thinkgirlsthink of what you're singing.  Use your imaginations. 'With Flowerso'erladen. Baskets of Fruit and Ribbons to boot.'  And 'Congratulate.'"MissMeadows broke off.  "Don't look so dolefulgirls.  Itought to soundwarmjoyfuleager.  'Congratulate.'  Once more.  Quickly. All together.Now then!"

And thistime Miss Meadows' voice sounded over all the other voices--fulldeepglowing with expression.

 

12. THE STRANGER.

It seemedto the little crowd on the wharf that she was never going to moveagain. There she layimmensemotionless on the grey crinkled wateraloop ofsmoke above heran immense flock of gulls screaming and divingafter thegalley droppings at the stern.  You could just see littlecouplesparading--littleflies walking up and down the dish on the grey crinkledtablecloth. Other flies clustered and swarmed at the edge.  Now there wasa gleam ofwhite on the lower deck--the cook's apron or the stewardessperhaps. Now a tiny black spider raced up the ladder on to the bridge.

In thefront of the crowd a strong-lookingmiddle-aged mandressed verywellverysnugly in a grey overcoatgrey silk scarfthick gloves anddark felthatmarched up and downtwirling his folded umbrella.  Heseemed tobe the leader of the little crowd on the wharf and at the sametime tokeep them together.  He was something between the sheep-dog andtheshepherd.

But what afool--what a fool he had been not to bring any glasses!  Therewasn't apair of glasses between the whole lot of them.

"CuriousthingMr. Scottthat none of us thought of glasses.  We mighthave beenable to stir 'em up a bit.  We might have managed a littlesignalling. 'Don't hesitate to land.  Natives harmless.'  Or:  'Awelcomeawaitsyou.  All is forgiven.'  What?  Eh?"

Mr.Hammond's quickeager glanceso nervous and yet so friendly andconfidingtook in everybody on the wharfroped in even those old chapsloungingagainst the gangways.  They knewevery man-jack of themthatMrs.Hammond was on that boatand that he was so tremendously excited itneverentered his head not to believe that this marvellous fact meantsomethingto them too.  It warmed his heart towards them.  They werehedecidedas decent a crowd of people--Those old chaps over by the gangwaystoo--finesolid old chaps.  What chests--by Jove!  And he squared hisownplungedhis thick-gloved hands into his pocketsrocked from heel to toe. 

"Yesmy wife's been in Europe for the last ten months.  On a visit tooureldestgirlwho was married last year.  I brought her up hereas farasSalisburymyself.  So I thought I'd better come and fetch her back. Yesyesyes."  The shrewd grey eyes narrowed again and searchedanxiouslyquicklythe motionless liner.  Again his overcoat was unbuttoned. Outcame thethinbutter-yellow watch againand for the twentieth--fiftieth--hundredthtime he made the calculation.

"Letme see now.  It was two fifteen when the doctor's launch wentoff.Twofifteen.  It is now exactly twenty-eight minutes past four. That is tosaythedoctor's been gone two hours and thirteen minutes.  Two hoursandthirteenminutes!  Whee-ooh!"  He gave a queer littlehalf-whistle andsnappedhis watch to again.  "But I think we should have been toldif therewasanything up--don't youMr. Gaven?"

"OhyesMr. Hammond!  I don't think there's anything to--anythingtoworryabout" said Mr. Gavenknocking out his pipe against the heelof hisshoe. "At the same time--"

"Quiteso!  Quite so!" cried Mr. Hammond.  "Dashedannoying!"  He pacedquickly upand down and came back again to his stand between Mr. and Mrs.Scott andMr. Gaven.  "It's getting quite darktoo" and hewaved hisfoldedumbrella as though the dusk at least might have had the decency tokeep offfor a bit.  But the dusk came slowlyspreading like a slowstainover thewater.  Little Jean Scott dragged at her mother's hand.

"Iwan' my teamammy!" she wailed.

"Iexpect you do" said Mr. Hammond.  "I expect all theseladies want theirtea." And his kindflushedalmost pitiful glance roped them all inagain. He wondered whether Janey was having a final cup of tea in thesaloon outthere.  He hoped so; he thought not.  It would be just likehernot toleave the deck.  In that case perhaps the deck steward wouldbringher up acup.  If he'd been there he'd have got it for her--somehow. Andfor amoment he was on deckstanding over herwatching her little handfold roundthe cup in the way she hadwhile she drank the only cup of teato be goton board...But now he was back hereand the Lord only knew whenthatcursed Captain would stop hanging about in the stream.  He tookanotherturnup and downup and down.  He walked as far as thecab-standto makesure his driver hadn't disappeared; back he swerved again to thelittleflock huddled in the shelter of the banana crates.  Little JeanScott wasstill wanting her tea.  Poor little beggar!  He wished hehad abit ofchocolate on him.

"HereJean!"  he said.  "Like a lift up?" And easilygentlyhe swungthe littlegirl on to a higher barrel.  The movement of holding hersteadyingherrelieved him wonderfullylightened his heart. 

"Holdon" he saidkeeping an arm round her.

"Ohdon't worry about JeanMr. Hammond!" said Mrs. Scott.

"That'sall rightMrs. Scott.  No trouble.  It's a pleasure. Jean's alittle palof minearen't youJean?"

"YesMr. Hammond" said Jeanand she ran her finger down the dent ofhisfelt hat.

Butsuddenly she caught him by the ear and gave a loud scream. "Lo-okMr.Hammond! She's moving!  Lookshe's coming in!"

By Jove! So she was.  At last!  She was slowlyslowly turninground.  Abellsounded far over the water and a great spout of steam gushed into theair. The gulls rose; they fluttered away like bits of white paper. Andwhetherthat deep throbbing was her engines or his heart Mr. Hammondcouldn'tsay.  He had to nerve himself to bear itwhatever it was. Atthatmoment old Captain Johnsonthe harbour-mastercame striding downthewharfaleather portfolio under his arm.

"Jean'llbe all right" said Mr. Scott.  "I'll hold her." He was just intime. Mr. Hammond had forgotten about Jean.  He sprang away to greetoldCaptainJohnson.

"WellCaptain" the eagernervous voice rang out again"you'vetakenpity on usat last."

"It'sno good blaming meMr. Hammond" wheezed old Captain Johnsonstaring atthe liner.  "You got Mrs. Hammond on boardain't yer?"

"Yesyes!" said Hammondand he kept by the harbour-master's side. "Mrs.Hammond'sthere.  Hul-lo!  We shan't be long now!"

With hertelephone ring-ringingthe thrum of her screw filling the airthe bigliner bore down on themcutting sharp through the dark water sothat bigwhite shavings curled to either side.  Hammond and the harbour-masterkept in front of the rest.  Hammond took off his hat; he rakedthedecks--theywere crammed with passengers; he waved his hat and bawled aloudstrange "Hul-lo!" across the water; and then turned roundand burstoutlaughing and said something--nothing--to old Captain Johnson. 

"Seenher?" asked the harbour-master.

"Nonot yet.  Steady--wait a bit!"  And suddenlybetweentwo great clumsyidiots--"Getout of the way there!" he signed with his umbrella--he saw ahandraised--a white glove shaking a handkerchief.  Another momentand--thank Godthank God!--there she was.  There was Janey.  There wasMrs.Hammondyesyesyes--standing by the rail and smiling and nodding andwaving herhandkerchief.

"Wellthat's first class--first class!  Wellwellwell!" He positivelystamped. Like lightning he drew out his cigar-case and offered it to oldCaptainJohnson.  "Have a cigarCaptain!  They're prettygood.  Have acouple! Here"--and he pressed all the cigars in the case on the harbour-master--"I'vea couple of boxes up at the hotel."

"ThenksMr. Hammond!" wheezed old Captain Johnson.

Hammondstuffed the cigar-case back.  His hands were shakingbut he'dgothold ofhimself again.  He was able to face Janey.  There she wasleaningon therailtalking to some woman and at the same time watching himreadyfor him. It struck himas the gulf of water closedhow small she lookedon thathuge ship.  His heart was wrung with such a spasm that he couldhave criedout.  How little she looked to have come all that long way andback byherself!  Just like herthough.  Just like Janey. She had thecourage ofa--And now the crew had come forward and parted the passengers;they hadlowered the rails for the gangways.

The voiceson shore and the voices on board flew to greet each other.

"Allwell?"

"Allwell."

"How'smother?"

"Muchbetter."

"HulloJean!"

"HilloAun' Emily!"

"Hada good voyage?"

"Splendid!"

"Shan'tbe long now!"

"Notlong now."

Theengines stopped.  Slowly she edged to the wharf-side.

"Makeway there--make way--make way!"  And the wharf handsbrought theheavygangways along at a sweeping run.  Hammond signed to Janey tostaywhere shewas.  The old harbour-master stepped forward; he followed. As to"ladiesfirst" or any rot like thatit never entered his head.

"AfteryouCaptain!" he cried genially.  Andtreading on the oldman'sheelshestrode up the gangway on to the deck in a bee-line to JaneyandJaney wasclasped in his arms.

"Wellwellwell!  Yesyes!  Here we are at last!" hestammered.  It wasall hecould say.  And Janey emergedand her cool little voice--theonlyvoice inthe world for him--said

"Welldarling!  Have you been waiting long?"

No; notlong.  Orat any rateit didn't matter.  It was overnow.  Butthe pointwashe had a cab waiting at the end of the wharf.  Was shereadyto gooff.  Was her luggage ready?  In that case they could cutoff sharpwith hercabin luggage and let the rest go hang until to-morrow.  He bentover herand she looked up with her familiar half-smile.  She was justthesame. Not a day changed.  Just as he'd always known her.  Shelaid hersmall handon his sleeve.

"Howare the childrenJohn?" she asked.

(Hang thechildren!)  "Perfectly well.  Never better in theirlives."

"Haven'tthey sent me letters?"

"Yesyes--of course!  I've left them at the hotel for you to digestlateron."

"Wecan't go quite so fast" said she.  "I've got peopleto say good-byeto--andthen there's the Captain."  As his face fell she gave hisarm asmallunderstanding squeeze.  "If the Captain comes off thebridge I wantyou tothank him for having looked after your wife so beautifully." Wellhe'd gother.  If she wanted another ten minutes--As he gave way she wassurrounded. The whole first-class seemed to want to say good-bye to Janey.

"Good-byedear Mrs. Hammond!  And next time you're in Sydney I'll expectyou."

"DarlingMrs. Hammond!  You won't forget to write to mewill you?"

"WellMrs. Hammondwhat this boat would have been without you!"

It was asplain as a pikestaff that she was by far the most popular womanon board. And she took it all--just as usual.  Absolutely composed. Justher littleself--just Janey all over; standing there with her veil thrownback. Hammond never noticed what his wife had on.  It was all the sametohimwhatever she wore.  But to-day he did notice that she wore ablack"costume"--didn'tthey call it?--with white frillstrimmings he supposedthey wereat the neck and sleeves.  All this while Janey handed him round.

"Johndear!"  And then:  "I want to introduce you to--"

Finallythey did escapeand she led the way to her state-room.  TofollowJaney downthe passage that she knew so well--that was so strange to him;to partthe green curtains after her and to step into the cabin that hadbeen hersgave him exquisite happiness.  But--confound it!--the stewardesswas thereon the floorstrapping up the rugs.

"That'sthe lastMrs. Hammond" said the stewardessrising and pullingdown hercuffs. 

He wasintroduced againand then Janey and the stewardess disappeared intothepassage.  He heard whisperings.  She was getting thetipping businessoverhesupposed.  He sat down on the striped sofa and took his hat off.There werethe rugs she had taken with her; they looked good as new.  Allherluggage looked freshperfect.  The labels were written in herbeautifullittle clear hand--"Mrs. John Hammond."

"Mrs.John Hammond!"  He gave a long sigh of content and leanedbackcrossinghis arms.  The strain was over.  He felt he could have sattherefor eversighing his relief--the relief at being rid of that horrible tugpullgripon his heart.  The danger was over.  That was the feeling. Theywere ondry land again.

But atthat moment Janey's head came round the corner.

"Darling--doyou mind?  I just want to go and say good-bye to the doctor."

Hammondstarted up.  "I'll come with you."

"Nono!" she said.  "Don't bother.  I'd rather not. I'll not be aminute."

And beforehe could answer she was gone.  He had half a mind to run afterher; butinstead he sat down again.

Would shereally not be long?  What was the time now?  Out came thewatch;he staredat nothing.  That was rather queer of Janeywasn't it? Whycouldn'tshe have told the stewardess to say good-bye for her?  Why didshehave to gochasing after the ship's doctor?  She could have sent a notefrom thehotel even if the affair had been urgent.  Urgent?  Didit--couldit meanthat she had been ill on the voyage--she was keeping something fromhim? That was it!  He seized his hat.  He was going off to findthatfellow andto wring the truth out of him at all costs.  He thought he'dnoticedjust something.  She was just a touch too calm--too steady. Fromthe veryfirst moment--

Thecurtains rang.  Janey was back.  He jumped to his feet.

"Janeyhave you been ill on this voyage?  You have!"

"Ill?" Her airy little voice mocked him.  She stepped over the rugsandcame upclosetouched his breastand looked up at him.

"Darling"she said"don't frighten me.  Of course I haven't! Whatevermakes youthink I have?  Do I look ill?"

ButHammond didn't see her.  He only felt that she was looking athim andthat therewas no need to worry about anything.  She was here to look afterthings. It was all right.  Everything was. 

The gentlepressure of her hand was so calming that he put his over hers tohold itthere.  And she said:

"Standstill.  I want to look at you.  I haven't seen you yet. You've hadyour beardbeautifully trimmedand you look--youngerI thinkanddecidedlythinner!  Bachelor life agrees with you."

"Agreeswith me!"  He groaned for love and caught her close again. Andagainasalwayshe had the feeling that he was holding something thatnever wasquite his--his.  Something too delicatetoo preciousthatwouldfly awayonce he let go.

"ForGod's sake let's get off to the hotel so that we can be byourselves!"And herang the bell hard for some one to look sharp with the luggage.

...

Walkingdown the wharf together she took his arm.  He had her on his armagain. And the difference it made to get into the cab after Janey--tothrow thered-and-yellow striped blanket round them both--to tell thedriver tohurry because neither of them had had any tea.  No more goingwithouthis tea or pouring out his own.  She was back.  He turnedto hersqueezedher handand said gentlyteasinglyin the "special"voice hehad forher:  "Glad to be home againdearie?"  Shesmiled; she didn't evenbother toanswerbut gently she drew his hand away as they came to thebrighterstreets.

"We'vegot the best room in the hotel" he said.  "I wouldn'tbe put offwithanother.  And I asked the chambermaid to put in a bit of a fireincase youfelt chilly.  She's a niceattentive girl.  And I thoughtnow wewere herewe wouldn't bother to go home to-morrowbut spend the daylookinground and leave the morning after.  Does that suit you? There's nohurryisthere?  The children will have you soon enough...I thought aday'ssight-seeing might make a nice break in your journey--ehJaney?"

"Haveyou taken the tickets for the day after?" she asked.

"Ishould think I have!"  He unbuttoned his overcoat and tookout hisbulgingpocket-book.  "Here we are!  I reserved a first-classcarriage toCooktown. There it is--'Mr. and Mrs. John Hammond.'  I thought we might aswell doourselves comfortablyand we don't want other people butting indo we? But if you'd like to stop here a bit longer--?"

"Ohno!" said Janey quickly.  "Not for the world! The day after to-morrowthen.  And the children--"

But theyhad reached the hotel.  The manager was standing in the broadbrilliantly-lightedporch.  He came down to greet them.  A porter ran fromthe hallfor their boxes.

"WellMr. Arnoldhere's Mrs. Hammond at last!"

Themanager led them through the hall himself and pressed the elevator-bell. Hammond knew there were business pals of his sitting at the littlehalltables having a drink before dinner.  But he wasn't going toriskinterruption;he looked neither to the right nor the left.  They couldthink whatthey pleased.  If they didn't understandthe more fools they--and hestepped out of the liftunlocked the door of their roomandshepherdedJaney in.  The door shut.  Nowat lastthey were alonetogether. He turned up the light.  The curtains were drawn; the fireblazed. He flung his hat on to the huge bed and went towards her.

But--wouldyou believe it!--again they were interrupted.  This time it wasthe porterwith the luggage.  He made two journeys of itleaving the dooropen inbetweentaking his timewhistling through his teeth in thecorridor. Hammond paced up and down the roomtearing off his glovestearingoff his scarf.  Finally he flung his overcoat on to the bedside.

At lastthe fool was gone.  The door clicked.  Now they werealone.  SaidHammond: "I feel I'll never have you to myself again.  These cursedpeople! Janey"--and he bent his flushedeager gaze upon her--"let'shavedinner uphere.  If we go down to the restaurant we'll be interruptedandthenthere's the confounded music" (the music he'd praised so highlyapplaudedso loudly last night!).  "We shan't be able to hear eachotherspeak. Let's have something up here in front of the fire.  It's toolatefor tea. I'll order a little suppershall I?  How does that idea strikeyou?"

"Dodarling!" said Janey.  "And while you're away--thechildren'sletters--"

"Ohlater on will do!" said Hammond.

"Butthen we'd get it over" said Janey.  "And I'd firsthave time to--"

"OhI needn't go down!" explained Hammond.  "I'll justring and give theorder...youdon't want to send me awaydo you?"

Janeyshook her head and smiled.

"Butyou're thinking of something else.  You're worrying aboutsomething"saidHammond.  "What is it?  Come and sit here--come andsit on my kneebefore thefire."

"I'lljust unpin my hat" said Janeyand she went over to thedressing-table. "A-ah!"  She gave a little cry.

"Whatis it?"

"Nothingdarling.  I've just found the children's letters.  That'sallright! They will keep.  No hurry now!"  She turned to himclasping them.She tuckedthem into her frilled blouse.  She cried quicklygaily: "Ohhowtypical this dressing-table is of you!"

"Why? What's the matter with it?" said Hammond.

"Ifit were floating in eternity I should say 'John!'" laughedJaneystaring atthe big bottle of hair tonicthe wicker bottle of eau-de-Colognethe two hair-brushesand a dozen new collars tied with pink tape."Isthis all your luggage?"

"Hangmy luggage!" said Hammond; but all the same he liked beinglaughed atby Janey. "Let's talk.  Let's get down to things.  Tell me"--andas Janeyperched onhis knees he leaned back and drew her into the deepugly chair--"tellme you're really glad to be backJaney."

"YesdarlingI am glad" she said.

But justas when he embraced her he felt she would fly awayso Hammondneverknew--never knew for dead certain that she was as glad as he was.How couldhe know?  Would he ever know?  Would he always have thiscraving--this panglike hungersomehowto make Janey so much part of him thattherewasn't any of her to escape?  He wanted to blot out everybodyeverything. He wished now he'd turned off the light.  That might havebroughther nearer.  And now those letters from the children rustled inherblouse. He could have chucked them into the fire. 

"Janey"he whispered.

"Yesdear?"  She lay on his breastbut so lightlysoremotely.  Theirbreathingrose and fell together.

"Janey!"

"Whatis it?"

"Turnto me" he whispered.  A slowdeep flush flowed into hisforehead."KissmeJaney!  You kiss me!"

It seemedto him there was a tiny pause--but long enough for him to suffertorture--beforeher lips touched hisfirmlylightly--kissing them as shealwayskissed himas though the kiss--how could he describe it?--confirmedwhat theywere sayingsigned the contract.  But that wasn't what hewanted;that wasn't at all what he thirsted for.  He felt suddenlyhorribletired.

"Ifyou knew" he saidopening his eyes"what it's beenlike--waiting to-day. I thought the boat never would come in.  There we werehangingabout. What kept you so long?"

She madeno answer.  She was looking away from him at the fire.  Theflameshurried--hurriedover the coalsflickeredfell.

"Notasleepare you?" said Hammondand he jumped her up and down.

"No"she said.  And then:  "Don't do thatdear.  NoI was thinking.  Asa matterof fact" she said"one of the passengers died lastnight--a man.That'swhat held us up.  We brought him in--I meanhe wasn't buried atsea. Soof coursethe ship's doctor and the shore doctor--"

"Whatwas it?" asked Hammond uneasily.  He hated to hear ofdeath.  Hehated thisto have happened.  It wasin some queer wayas though he andJaney hadmet a funeral on their way to the hotel. 

"Ohit wasn't anything in the least infectious!" said Janey. She wasspeakingscarcely above her breath.  "It was heart."  Apause.  "Poorfellow!"she said.  "Quite young."  And she watched thefire flicker andfall. "He died in my arms" said Janey.

The blowwas so sudden that Hammond thought he would faint.  He couldn'tmove; hecouldn't breathe.  He felt all his strength flowing--flowingintothe bigdark chairand the big dark chair held him fastgripped himforced himto bear it.

"What?"he said dully.  "What's that you say?"

"Theend was quite peaceful" said the small voice.  "Hejust"--and Hammondsaw herlift her gentle hand--"breathed his life away at the end." And herhand fell.

"Who--elsewas there?" Hammond managed to ask.

"Nobody. I was alone with him."

AhmyGodwhat was she saying!  What was she doing to him!  Thiswouldkill him! And all the while she spoke:

"Isaw the change coming and I sent the steward for the doctorbut thedoctor wastoo late.  He couldn't have done anythinganyway."

"But--whyyouwhy you?" moaned Hammond.

At thatJaney turned quicklyquickly searched his face.

"Youdon't mindJohndo you?" she asked.  "Youdon't--It's nothing to dowith youand me."

Somehow orother he managed to shake some sort of smile at her.  Somehow orother hestammered:  "No--go--ongo on!  I want you to tellme."

"ButJohn darling--"

"TellmeJaney!"

"There'snothing to tell" she saidwondering.  "He was one ofthe first-classpassengers.  I saw he was very ill when he came on board...Butheseemed tobe so much better until yesterday.  He had a severe attack intheafternoon--excitement--nervousnessI thinkabout arriving.  And afterthat henever recovered."

"Butwhy didn't the stewardess--"

"Ohmy dear--the stewardess!" said Janey.  "What would hehave felt?  Andbesides...hemight have wanted to leave a message...to--"

"Didn'the?" muttered Hammond.  "Didn't he say anything?"

"Nodarlingnot a word!"  She shook her head softly. "All the time I waswith himhe was too weak...he was too weak even to move a finger..."

Janey wassilent.  But her wordsso lightso softso chillseemed tohover inthe airto rain into his breast like snow.

The firehad gone red.  Now it fell in with a sharp sound and the roomwascolder. Cold crept up his arms.  The room was hugeimmenseglittering.It filledhis whole world.  There was the great blind bedwith his coatflungacross it like some headless man saying his prayers.  There wastheluggageready to be carried away againanywheretossed into trainscarted onto boats.

..."Hewas too weak.  He was too weak to move a finger."  Andyet he diedin Janey'sarms.  She--who'd never--never once in all these years--never onone singlesolitary occasion--

No; hemustn't think of it.  Madness lay in thinking of it.  Nohewouldn'tface it.  He couldn't stand it.  It was too much to bear!

And nowJaney touched his tie with her fingers.  She pinched the edgesofthe tietogether.

"You'renot--sorry I told youJohn darling?  It hasn't made you sad? Ithasn'tspoilt our evening--our being alone together?"

But atthat he had to hide his face.  He put his face into her bosomandhis armsenfolded her.

Spoilttheir evening!  Spoilt their being alone together!  Theywould neverbe alonetogether again.

 

13. BANK HOLIDAY.

A stoutman with a pink face wears dingy white flannel trousersa bluecoat witha pink handkerchief showingand a straw hat much too small forhimperched at the back of his head.  He plays the guitar.  Alittle chapin whitecanvas shoeshis face hidden under a felt hat like a broken wingbreathesinto a flute; and a tall thin fellowwith bursting over-ripebuttonbootsdraws ribbons--longtwistedstreaming ribbons--of tune outof afiddle.  They standunsmilingbut not seriousin the broadsunlightoppositethe fruit-shop; the pink spider of a hand beats the guitarthelittlesquat handwith a brass-and-turquoise ringforces the reluctantfluteandthe fiddler's arm tries to saw the fiddle in two.

A crowdcollectseating oranges and bananastearing off the skinsdividingsharing.  One young girl has even a basket of strawberriesbutshe doesnot eat them.  "Aren't they dear!"  She stares atthe tiny pointedfruits asif she were afraid of them.  The Australian soldier laughs."Herego onthere's not more than a mouthful."  But he doesn'twant herto eatthemeither.  He likes to watch her little frightened faceandherpuzzledeyes lifted to his:  "Aren't they a price!"  Hepushes out hischest andgrins.  Old fat women in velvet bodices--old dustypin-cushions--lean oldhags like worn umbrellas with a quivering bonnet on top; youngwomeninmuslinswith hats that might have grown on hedgesand highpointedshoes; men in khakisailorsshabby clerksyoung Jews in fineclothsuits with padded shoulders and wide trousers"hospital boys"inblue--thesun discovers them--the loudbold music holds them together inone bigknot for a moment.  The young ones are larkingpushing eachotheron and offthe pavementdodgingnudging; the old ones are talking:  "SoIsaid to'imif you wants the doctor to yourselffetch 'imsays I."

"An'by the time they was cooked there wasn't so much as you could put inthe palmof me 'and!"

The onlyones who are quiet are the ragged children.  They standascloseup to themusicians as they can gettheir hands behind their backstheireyes big. Occasionally a leg hopsan arm wags.  A tiny staggererovercometurns round twicesits down solemnand then gets up again.

"Ain'tit lovely?" whispers a small girl behind her hand.

And themusic breaks into bright piecesand joins together againandagainbreaksand is dissolvedand the crowd scattersmoving slowly upthe hill. 

At thecorner of the road the stalls begin.

"Ticklers! Tuppence a tickler!  'Ool 'ave a tickler?  Tickle 'em upboys." Little soft brooms on wire handles.  They are eagerly bought bythesoldiers.

"Buya golliwog!  Tuppence a golliwog!"

"Buya jumping donkey!  All alive-oh!"

"Su-periorchewing gum.  Buy something to doboys."

"Buya rose.  Give 'er a roseboy.  Roseslady?"

"Fevvers! Fevvers!"  They are hard to resist.  Lovelystreamingfeathersemeraldgreenscarletbright bluecanary yellow.  Even the babieswearfeathersthreaded through their bonnets.

And an oldwoman in a three-cornered paper hat cries as if it were herfinalparting advicethe only way of saving yourself or of bringing him tohissenses:  "Buy a three-cornered 'atmy dearan' put iton!"

It is aflying dayhalf sunhalf wind.  When the sun goes in a shadowfliesover; when it comes out again it is fiery.  The men and womenfeel itburningtheir backstheir breasts and their arms; they feel their bodiesexpandingcoming alive...so that they make large embracing gesturesliftup theirarmsfor nothingswoop down on a girlblurt into laughter.

Lemonade! A whole tank of it stands on a table covered with a cloth; andlemonslike blunted fishes blob in the yellow water.  It looks solidlikea jellyin the thick glasses.  Why can't they drink it without spillingit? Everybody spills itand before the glass is handed back the lastdrops arethrown in a ring.

Round theice-cream cartwith its striped awning and bright brass coverthechildren cluster.  Little tongues licklick round the creamtrumpetsround thesquares.  The cover is liftedthe wooden spoon plunges in; oneshutsone's eyes to feel itsilently scrunching.

"Letthese little birds tell you your future!"  She standsbeside the cageashrivelled ageless Italianclasping and unclasping her dark claws. Herfaceatreasure of delicate carvingis tied in a green-and-gold scarf.And insidetheir prison the love-birds flutter towards the papers in theseed-tray.

"Youhave great strength of character.  You will marry a red-hairedman andhave threechildren.  Beware of a blonde woman."  Look out! Look out!  Amotor-cardriven by a fat chauffeur comes rushing down the hill.  Insidethere ablonde womanpoutingleaning forward--rushing through your life--beware!beware!

"Ladiesand gentlemenI am an auctioneer by professionand if what I tellyou is notthe truth I am liable to have my licence taken away from me anda heavyimprisonment."  He holds the licence across his chest; thesweatpours downhis face into his paper collar; his eyes look glazed.  When hetakes offhis hat there is a deep pucker of angry flesh on his forehead.Nobodybuys a watch.

Look outagain!  A huge barouche comes swinging down the hill with twooldold babiesinside.  She holds up a lace parasol; he sucks the knob of hiscaneandthe fat old bodies roll together as the cradle rocksand thesteaminghorse leaves a trail of manure as it ambles down the hill.

Under atreeProfessor Leonardin cap and gownstands beside his banner.He is here"for one day" from the LondonParis and BrusselsExhibitionto tellyour fortune from your face.  And he standssmilingencouragementlike aclumsy dentist.  When the big menromping and swearing a momentbeforehand across their sixpenceand stand before himthey are suddenlyseriousdumbtimidalmost blushing as the Professor's quick hand notchestheprinted card.  They are like little children caught playing in aforbiddengarden by the ownerstepping from behind a tree.

The top ofthe hill is reached.  How hot it is!  How fine it is! Thepublic-houseis openand the crowd presses in.  The mother sits on thepavementedge with her babyand the father brings her out a glass of darkbrownishstuffand then savagely elbows his way in again.  A reek ofbeerfloatsfrom the public-houseand a loud clatter and rattle of voices.

The windhas droppedand the sun burns more fiercely than ever.  Outsidethe twoswing-doors there is a thick mass of children like flies at themouth of asweet-jar.

And upupthe hill come the peoplewith ticklers and golliwogsand rosesandfeathers.  Upup they thrust into the light and heatshoutinglaughingsquealingas though they were being pushed by somethingfarbelowandby the sunfar ahead of them--drawn up into the fullbrightdazzlingradiance to...what?

 

14. AN IDEAL FAMILY.

Thatevening for the first time in his lifeas he pressed through theswing doorand descended the three broad steps to the pavementold Mr.Neave felthe was too old for the spring.  Spring--warmeagerrestless--was therewaiting for him in the golden lightready in front of everybodyto run upto blow in his white beardto drag sweetly on his arm.  And hecouldn'tmeet herno; he couldn't square up once more and stride offjaunty asa young man.  He was tired andalthough the late sun was stillshiningcuriously coldwith a numbed feeling all over.  Quite suddenlyhehadn't theenergyhe hadn't the heart to stand this gaiety and brightmovementany longer; it confused him.  He wanted to stand stillto waveitaway withhis stickto say"Be off with you!"  Suddenly it wasa terribleeffort togreet as usual--tipping his wide-awake with his stick--all thepeoplewhom he knewthe friendsacquaintancesshopkeeperspostmendrivers. But the gay glance that went with the gesturethe kindly twinklethatseemed to say"I'm a match and more for any of you"--thatold Mr.Neavecould not manage at all.  He stumped alonglifting his kneeshigh asif he werewalking through air that had somehow grown heavy and solid likewater. And the homeward-looking crowd hurried bythe trams clankedthelightcarts clatteredthe big swinging cabs bowled along with thatrecklessdefiant indifference that one knows only in dreams...

It hadbeen a day like other days at the office.  Nothing special hadhappened. Harold hadn't come back from lunch until close on four.  Wherehad hebeen?  What had he been up to?  He wasn't going to let hisfatherknow. Old Mr. Neave had happened to be in the vestibulesaying good-byeto acallerwhen Harold sauntered inperfectly turned out as usualcoolsuavesmiling that peculiar little half-smile that women found sofascinating. 

AhHaroldwas too handsometoo handsome by far; that had been the troubleallalong.  No man had a right to such eyessuch lashesand suchlips; itwasuncanny.  As for his motherhis sistersand the servantsitwas nottoo muchto say they made a young god of him; they worshipped Haroldtheyforgavehim everything; and he had needed some forgiving ever since thetime whenhe was thirteen and he had stolen his mother's pursetaken themoneyandhidden the purse in the cook's bedroom.  Old Mr. Neave strucksharplywith his stick upon the pavement edge.  But it wasn't only hisfamily whospoiled Haroldhe reflectedit was everybody; he had only tolook andto smileand down they went before him.  So perhaps it wasn'ttobewondered at that he expected the office to carry on the tradition. H'mh'm! But it couldn't be done.  No business--not even a successfulestablishedbig paying concern--could be played with.  A man had either toput hiswhole heart and soul into itor it went all to pieces before hiseyes...

And thenCharlotte and the girls were always at him to make the whole thingover toHaroldto retireand to spend his time enjoying himself.Enjoyinghimself!  Old Mr. Neave stopped dead under a group of ancientcabbagepalms outside the Government buildings!  Enjoying himself! Thewind ofevening shook the dark leaves to a thin airy cackle.  Sitting athometwiddling his thumbsconscious all the while that his life's workwasslipping awaydissolvingdisappearing through Harold's finefingerswhileHarold smiled...

"Whywill you be so unreasonablefather?  There's absolutely no needforyou to goto the office.  It only makes it very awkward for us when peoplepersist insaying how tired you're looking.  Here's this huge house andgarden. Surely you could be happy in--in--appreciating it for a change.Or youcould take up some hobby."

And Lolathe baby had chimed in loftily"All men ought to have hobbies.It makeslife impossible if they haven't."

Wellwell!  He couldn't help a grim smile as painfully he began toclimbthe hillthat led into Harcourt Avenue.  Where would Lola and her sistersandCharlotte be if he'd gone in for hobbieshe'd like to know? Hobbiescouldn'tpay for the town house and the seaside bungalowand their horsesand theirgolfand the sixty-guinea gramophone in the music-room for themto danceto.  Not that he grudged them these things.  Nothey weresmartgood-lookinggirlsand Charlotte was a remarkable woman; it was naturalfor themto be in the swim.  As a matter of factno other house in thetown wasas popular as theirs; no other family entertained so much.  Andhow manytimes old Mr. Neavepushing the cigar box across the smoking-roomtablehadlistened to praises of his wifehis girlsof himself even.

"You'rean ideal familysiran ideal family.  It's like something onereadsabout or sees on the stage."

"That'sall rightmy boy" old Mr. Neave would reply.  "Tryone of those;I thinkyou'll like them.  And if you care to smoke in the gardenyou'llfind thegirls on the lawnI dare say."

That waswhy the girls had never marriedso people said.  They couldhavemarriedanybody.  But they had too good a time at home.  They weretoohappytogetherthe girls and Charlotte.  H'mh'm!  Wellwell. Perhapsso...

By thistime he had walked the length of fashionable Harcourt Avenue; hehadreached the corner housetheir house.  The carriage gates werepushedback;there were fresh marks of wheels on the drive.  And then hefaced thebigwhite-painted housewith its wide-open windowsits tulle curtainsfloatingoutwardsits blue jars of hyacinths on the broad sills.  Oneitherside of the carriage porch their hydrangeas--famous in the town--werecoming into flower; the pinkishbluish masses of flower lay likelightamong the spreading leaves.  And somehowit seemed to old Mr.Neavethat thehouse and the flowersand even the fresh marks on the driveweresaying"There is young life here.  There are girls--"

The hallas alwayswas dusky with wrapsparasolsglovespiled on theoakchests.  From the music-room sounded the pianoquickloud andimpatient. Through the drawing-room door that was ajar voices floated.

"Andwere there ices?" came from Charlotte.  Then the creakcreak of herrocker.

"Ices!"cried Ethel.  "My dear motheryou never saw such ices. Only twokinds. And one a common little strawberry shop icein a sopping wetfrill."

"Thefood altogether was too appalling" came from Marion.

"Stillit's rather early for ices" said Charlotte easily.

"Butwhyif one has them at all ..." began Ethel.

"Ohquite sodarling" crooned Charlotte.

Suddenlythe music-room door opened and Lola dashed out.  She startedshenearlyscreamedat the sight of old Mr. Neave.

"Graciousfather!  What a fright you gave me!  Have you just comehome?Why isn'tCharles here to help you off with your coat?"

Her cheekswere crimson from playingher eyes glitteredthe hair fellover herforehead.  And she breathed as though she had come runningthroughthe darkand was frightened.  Old Mr. Neave stared at his youngestdaughter;he felt he had never seen her before.  So that was Lolawas it?But sheseemed to have forgotten her father; it was not for him that shewaswaiting there.  Now she put the tip of her crumpled handkerchiefbetweenher teeth and tugged at it angrily.  The telephone rang. A-ah!Lola gavea cry like a sob and dashed past him.  The door of thetelephone-roomslammedand at the same moment Charlotte called"Is that youfather?"

"You'retired again" said Charlotte reproachfullyand she stopped therocker andoffered her warm plum-like cheek.  Bright-haired Ethel peckedhis beardMarion's lips brushed his ear.

"Didyou walk backfather?" asked Charlotte.

"YesI walked home" said old Mr. Neaveand he sank into one of theimmensedrawing-room chairs.

"Butwhy didn't you take a cab?" said Ethel.  "There arehundred of cabsabout atthat time."

"Mydear Ethel" cried Marion"if father prefers to tirehimself outIreallydon't see what business of ours it is to interfere."

"Childrenchildren?" coaxed Charlotte.

But Marionwouldn't be stopped.  "Nomotheryou spoil fatherandit'snotright.  You ought to be stricter with him.  He's verynaughty."  Shelaughedher hardbright laugh and patted her hair in a mirror. Strange!When shewas a little girl she had such a softhesitating voice; she hadevenstutteredand nowwhatever she said--even if it was only "Jampleasefather"--it rang out as though she were on the stage.

"DidHarold leave the office before youdear?" asked Charlottebeginningto rockagain.

"I'mnot sure" said Old Mr. Neave.  "I'm not sure.  Ididn't see him afterfouro'clock."

"Hesaid--" began Charlotte.

But atthat moment Ethelwho was twitching over the leaves of some paperor otherran to her mother and sank down beside her chair.

"Thereyou see" she cried.  "That's what I meanmummy. Yellowwithtouches ofsilver.  Don't you agree?"

"Giveit to melove" said Charlotte.  She fumbled for hertortoise-shellspectaclesand put them ongave the page a little dab with her plump smallfingersand pursed up her lips.  "Very sweet!" she croonedvaguely; shelooked atEthel over her spectacles.  "But I shouldn't have thetrain."

"Notthe train!" wailed Ethel tragically.  "But the train'sthe wholepoint."

"Heremotherlet me decide."  Marion snatched the paperplayfully fromCharlotte. "I agree with mother" she cried triumphantly.  "Thetrainoverweightsit."

Old Mr.Neaveforgottensank into the broad lap of his chairanddozingheard them as though he dreamed.  There was no doubt about ithewas tiredout; he had lost his hold.  Even Charlotte and the girls weretoomuch forhim to-night.  They were too...too...But all his drowsing braincouldthink of was--too rich for him.  And somewhere at the back ofeverythinghe was watching a little withered ancient man climbing upendlessflights of stairs.  Who was he?

"Ishan't dress to-night" he muttered.

"Whatdo you sayfather?"

"Ehwhatwhat?"  Old Mr. Neave woke with a start and staredacross atthem. "I shan't dress to-night" he repeated.

"Butfatherwe've got Lucile comingand Henry Davenportand Mrs. TeddieWalker."

"Itwill look so very out of the picture."

"Don'tyou feel welldear?"

"Youneedn't make any effort.  What is Charles for?"

"Butif you're really not up to it" Charlotte wavered.

"Verywell!  Very well!"  Old Mr. Neave got up and went tojoin that littleoldclimbing fellow just as far as his dressing-room...

Thereyoung Charles was waiting for him.  Carefullyas thougheverythingdependedon ithe was tucking a towel round the hot-water can.  YoungCharleshad been a favourite of his ever since as a little red-faced boy hehad comeinto the house to look after the fires.  Old Mr. Neave loweredhimselfinto the cane lounge by the windowstretched out his legsandmade hislittle evening joke"Dress him upCharles!"  AndCharlesbreathingintensely and frowningbent forward to take the pin out of histie.

H'mh'm! Wellwell!  It was pleasant by the open windowvery pleasant--a finemild evening.  They were cutting the grass on the tennis courtbelow; heheard the soft churr of the mower.  Soon the girls would begintheirtennis parties again.  And at the thought he seemed to hearMarion'svoice ringout"Good for youpartner...Ohplayedpartner...Ohveryniceindeed."  Then Charlotte calling from the veranda"Whereis Harold?" And Ethel"He's certainly not heremother."  And Charlotte'svague"Hesaid--"

Old Mr.Neave sighedgot upand putting one hand under his beardhe tookthe combfrom young Charlesand carefully combed the white beard over.Charlesgave him a folded handkerchiefhis watch and sealsand spectaclecase.

"Thatwill domy lad."  The door shuthe sank backhe wasalone...

And nowthat little ancient fellow was climbing down endless flights thatled to aglitteringgay dining-room.  What legs he had!  They werelike aspider's--thinwithered.

"You'rean ideal familysiran ideal family."

But ifthat were truewhy didn't Charlotte or the girls stop him?  Whywashe allaloneclimbing up and down?  Where was Harold?  Ahit wasno goodexpectinganything from Harold.  Downdown went the little old spiderandthentohis horrorold Mr. Neave saw him slip past the dining-room andmake forthe porchthe dark drivethe carriage gatesthe office.  Stophimstophimsomebody!

Old Mr.Neave started up.  It was dark in his dressing-room; the windowshonepale.  How long had he been asleep?  He listenedandthrough thebigairydarkened house there floated far-away voicesfar-away sounds.Perhapshe thought vaguelyhe had been asleep for a long time.  He'dbeenforgotten. What had all this to do with him--this house and Charlottethegirls andHarold--what did he know about them?  They were strangers tohim.Life hadpassed him by.  Charlotte was not his wife.  His wife!

...A darkporchhalf hidden by a passion-vinethat drooped sorrowfulmournfulas though it understood.  Smallwarm arms were round his neck.A facelittle and palelifted to hisand a voice breathed"Good-byemytreasure."

Mytreasure!  "Good-byemy treasure!"  Which ofthem had spoken?  Why hadthey saidgood-bye?  There had been some terrible mistake.  She washiswifethatlittle pale girland all the rest of his life had been a dream.

Then thedoor openedand young Charlesstanding in the lightput hishands byhis side and shouted like a young soldier"Dinner is on thetablesir!"

"I'mcomingI'm coming" said old Mr. Neave.

 

15. THE LADY'S MAID.

Eleveno'clock.  A knock at the door...I hope I haven't disturbed youmadam. You weren't asleep--were you?  But I've just given my lady herteaand therewas such a nice cup overI thoughtperhaps...

...Not atallmadam.  I always make a cup of tea last thing.  Shedrinksit in bedafter her prayers to warm her up.  I put the kettle on when shekneelsdown and I say to it"Now you needn't be in too much of a hurrytosay yourprayers."  But it's always boiling before my lady is halfthrough.You seemadamwe know such a lot of peopleand they've all got to beprayedfor--every one.  My lady keeps a list of the names in a littleredbook. Oh dear! whenever some one new has been to see us and my lady saysafterwards"Ellengive me my little red book" I feel quite wildIdo."There'sanother" I think"keeping her out of her bed in allweathers."And shewon't have a cushionyou knowmadam; she kneels on the hardcarpet. It fidgets me something dreadful to see herknowing her as I do.I've triedto cheat her; I've spread out the eiderdown.  But the first timeI didit--ohshe gave me such a look--holy it wasmadam.  "Didour Lordhave aneiderdownEllen?" she said.  But--I was younger at thetime--Ifeltinclined to say"Nobut our Lord wasn't your ageand hedidn't knowwhat itwas to have your lumbago."  Wicked--wasn't it?  Butshe's too goodyou knowmadam.  When I tucked her up just now and seen--saw her lyingbackherhands outside and her head on the pillow--so pretty--I couldn'thelpthinking"Now you look just like your dear mother when I laidherout!"

...Yesmadamit was all left to me.  Ohshe did look sweet.  Idid herhairsoft-likeround her foreheadall in dainty curlsand just to oneside ofher neck I put a bunch of most beautiful purple pansies.  Thosepansiesmade a picture of hermadam!  I shall never forget them. Ithoughtto-nightwhen I looked at my lady"Nowif only the pansieswasthere noone could tell the difference."

...Onlythe last yearmadam.  Only after she'd got alittle--well--feebleas youmight say.  Of courseshe was never dangerous; she was thesweetestold lady. But how it took her was--she thought she'd lost something.  Shecouldn'tkeep stillshe couldn't settle.  All day long she'd be up anddownupand down; you'd meet her everywhere--on the stairsin the porchmaking forthe kitchen.  And she'd look up at youand she'd say--just likea child"I've lost itI've lost it."  "Come along"I'd say"come alongand I'lllay out your patience for you."  But she'd catch me by thehand--Iwas afavourite of hers--and whisper"Find it for meEllen. Find it forme." Sadwasn't it?

...Noshenever recoveredmadam.  She had a stroke at the end.  Lastwords sheever said was--very slow"Look in--the--Look--in--" And thenshe wasgone.

...NomadamI can't say I noticed it.  Perhaps some girls.  Butyou seeit's likethisI've got nobody but my lady.  My mother died ofconsumptionwhen I wasfourand I lived with my grandfatherwho kept a hair-dresser'sshop. I used to spend all my time in the shop under a table dressing mydoll'shair--copying the assistantsI suppose.  They were ever so kindtome. Used to make me little wigsall coloursthe latest fashions andall.And thereI'd sit all dayquiet as quiet--the customers never knew.  Onlynow andagain I'd take my peep from under the table-cloth.

...But oneday I managed to get a pair of scissors and--would you believeitmadam?  I cut off all my hair; snipped it off all in bitslikethelittlemonkey I was.  Grandfather was furious!  He caught hold ofthetongs--Ishall never forget it--grabbed me by the hand and shut my fingersin them. "That'll teach you!" he said.  It was a fearful burn. I've gotthe markof it to-day.

...Wellyou seemadamhe'd taken such pride in my hair.  He used tositme up onthe counterbefore the customers cameand do it somethingbeautiful--bigsoft curls and waved over the top.  I remember theassistantsstanding roundand me ever so solemn with the penny grandfathergave me tohold while it was being done...But he always took the penny backafterwards. Poor grandfather!  Wildhe wasat the fright I'd made ofmyself. But he frightened me that time.  Do you know what I didmadam? Iran away. YesI didround the cornersin and outI don't know how farI didn'trun.  OhdearI must have looked a sightwith my hand rolledupin mypinny and my hair sticking out.  People must have laughed whentheysaw me...

...Nomadamgrandfather never got over it.  He couldn't bear thesight ofme after. Couldn't eat his dinnerevenif I was there.  So my aunt tookme. She was a cripplean upholstress.  Tiny!  She had to standon thesofas whenshe wanted to cut out the backs.  And it was helping her I metmy lady...

...Not soverymadam.  I was thirteenturned.  And I don't remembereverfeeling--well--achildas you might say.  You see there was my uniformand onething and another.  My lady put me into collars and cuffs fromthefirst. Oh yes--once I did!  That was--funny!  It was like this. My ladyhad hertwo little nieces staying with her--we were at Sheldon at the time--and therewas a fair on the common.

"NowEllen" she said"I want you to take the two young ladiesfor a rideon thedonkeys."  Off we went; solemn little loves they were; eachhad ahand. But when we came to the donkeys they were too shy to go on.  Sowestood andwatched instead.  Beautiful those donkeys were!  They werethefirst I'dseen out of a cart--for pleasure as you might say.  They were alovelysilver-greywith little red saddles and blue bridles and bellsjing-a-jinglingon their ears.  And quite big girls--older than meeven--wereriding themever so gay.  Not at all commonI don't meanmadamjustenjoying themselves.  And I don't know what it wasbut the waythelittlefeet wentand the eyes--so gentle--and the soft ears--made me wantto go on adonkey more than anything in the world!

...OfcourseI couldn't.  I had my young ladies.  And what wouldI havelookedlike perched up there in my uniform?  But all the rest of theday itwasdonkeys--donkeys on the brain with me.  I felt I should haveburst if Ididn'ttell some one; and who was there to tell?  But when I went tobed--Iwassleeping in Mrs. James's bedroomour cook that wasat the time--assoon asthe lights was outthere they weremy donkeysjingling alongwith theirneat little feet and sad eyes...Wellmadamwould you believeitIwaited for a long time and pretended to be asleepand then suddenlyI sat upand called out as loud as I could"I do want to go on a donkey.I do wanta donkey-ride!"  You seeI had to say itand I thoughttheywouldn'tlaugh at me if they knew I was only dreaming.  Artful--wasn'tit?Just whata silly child would think...

...Nomadamnever now.  Of courseI did think of it at one time. But itwasn't tobe.  He had a little flower-shop just down the road and acrossfrom wherewe was living.  Funny--wasn't it?  And me such a one forflowers. We were having a lot of company at the timeand I was in and outof theshop more often than notas the saying is.  And Harry and I(hisname wasHarry) got to quarrelling about how things ought to be arranged--and thatbegan it.  Flowers! you wouldn't believe itmadamthe flowersheused tobring me.  He'd stop at nothing.  It waslilies-of-the-valley morethan onceand I'm not exaggerating!  Wellof coursewe were going to bemarriedand live over the shopand it was all going to be just soand Iwas tohave the window to arrange...Ohhow I've done that window of aSaturday! Not reallyof coursemadamjust dreamingas you might say.I've doneit for Christmas--motto in hollyand all--and I've had my Easterlilieswith a gorgeous star all daffodils in the middle.  I'vehung--wellthat'senough of that.  The day came he was to call for me to choosethefurniture. Shall I ever forget it?  It was a Tuesday.  My lady wasn'tquiteherself that afternoon.  Not that she'd said anythingofcourse; shenever doesor will.  But I knew by the way that she kept wrapping herselfup andasking me if it was cold--and her little nose looked...pinched. Ididn'tlike leaving her; I knew I'd be worrying all the time.  At lastIasked herif she'd rather I put it off.  "Oh noEllen" shesaid"youmustn'tmind about me.  You mustn't disappoint your young man." And socheerfulyou knowmadamnever thinking about herself.  It made me feelworse thanever.  I began to wonder...then she dropped her handkerchief andbegan tostoop down to pick it up herself--a thing she never did."Whateverare you doing!" I criedrunning to stop her.  "Well"she saidsmilingyou knowmadam"I shall have to begin to practise." Ohit wasall Icould do not to burst out crying.  I went over to thedressing-tableand madebelieve to rub up the silverand I couldn't keep myself inand Iasked herif she'd rather I...didn't get married.  "NoEllen"she said--that washer voicemadamlike I'm giving you--"NoEllennot for thewideworld!"  But while she said itmadam--I was looking in herglass; ofcourseshe didn't know I could see her--she put her little hand on herheart justlike her dear mother used toand lifted her eyes...Ohmadam!

When Harrycame I had his letters all readyand the ring and a duckylittlebrooch he'd given me--a silver bird it waswith a chain in itsbeakandon the end of the chain a heart with a dagger.  Quite the thing!I openedthe door to him.  I never gave him time for a word.  "Thereyouare"I said.  "Take them all back" I said"it's allover.  I'm not goingto marryyou" I said"I can't leave my lady."  White! heturned as whiteas awoman.  I had to slam the doorand there I stoodall of atrembletill Iknew he had gone.  When I opened the door--believe me or notmadam--that manwas gone!  I ran out into the road just as I wasin my apronandmyhouse-shoesand there I stayed in the middle of the road...staring.Peoplemust have laughed if they saw me...

...Goodnessgracious!--What's that?  It's the clock striking!  And hereI've beenkeeping you awake.  Ohmadamyou ought to have stoppedme...CanI tuck inyour feet?  I always tuck in my lady's feetevery nightjustthe same. And she says"Good nightEllen.  Sleep sound and wakeearly!"I don'tknow what I should do if she didn't say thatnow.

...OhdearI sometimes think...whatever should I do if anything wereto...Buttherethinking's no good to any one--is itmadam?  Thinkingwon'thelp.  Not that I do it often.  And if ever I do I pullmyself upsharp"NowthenEllen.  At it again--you silly girl!  Ifyou can't findanythingbetter to do than to start thinking!..."

 




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