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Title: Memoirs of a Midget
Author: De la Mare, Walter, 1873-1956 [Adapter]
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Memoirs of a Midget


BY THE SAME AUTHOR

THE THREE MULLA-MULGARS

_Illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop._


"The story concerns the adventures of three monkeys of royal blood ... a
tale of strange creatures and strange landscapes, of adventures and
misadventures in faery forests. One of those rare books that everyone
will love.

"Miss Lathrop's illustrations have placed her, at a bound, in the first
rank of American imaginative illustrators."

--_Chicago Evening Post._

_Boxed, $4.00 net at all bookshops_

_NEW YORK: ALFRED A. KNOPF_



MEMOIRS _of a_ MIDGET

_by_ WALTER _de la_ MARE

[Illustration: Logo]

NEW YORK MCMXXI
ALFRED A. KNOPF


COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
WALTER DE LA MARE

_Published, January, 1922_

_Set up and printed by the Veil-Ballon Co., Binghamton, N. Y._
_Paper furnished by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y._
_Bound by the Plimpton Press, Norwood, Mass._

MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


TO THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER

_A wild beast there is in Ægypt, called orix, which the Ægyptians say,
doth stand full against the dog starre when it riseth, looketh wistly
upon it, and testifieth after a sort by sneesing, a kind of worship...._

Philemon Holland.

'_Did'st thou ever see a lark in a cage? Such is the soul in the body:
this world is like her little turf of grass; and the heaven o'er our
heads, like her looking-glass, only gives us a miserable knowledge of
the small compass of our prison...._'

John Webster.

'_Provoke them not, fair sir, with tempting words; the heavens are
gracious...._'

Thomas Kyd.



Contents


Introduction         13

Lyndsey              19

Beechwood            71

Wanderslore         155

Lyme Regis          239

London              263

Monks' House        355

Wanderslore         399

Lyndsey             433



Memoirs of a Midget



Introduction


A few introductory and explanatory remarks are due, I think, to the
reader of the following Memoirs. The Memoirs themselves will disclose
how I became acquainted with Miss M. They also refer here and there to
the small part I was enabled to take in straightening matters out at
what was a critical juncture in her affairs, and in securing for her
that independence which enabled her to live in the privacy she loved,
without any anxiety as to ways and means. At the time, it is clear that
she considered me a dilatory intermediary. I had not realized how
extreme was her need. But she came at last to take a far too generous
view of these trifling little services--services as generously rewarded,
since they afforded me the opportunity of frequently seeing her, and so
of becoming, as I hope, one of her most devoted friends.

One of the duties devolving on me as her sole executor--certain unusual
legal proceedings having been brought to completion--was the examination
of her letters and papers. Amongst these were her Memoirs--which I found
sealed up with her usual scrupulous neatness in numerous small, square,
brown-paper packages, and laid carefully away in a cupboard in her old
nursery. They were accompanied by a covering letter addressed to myself.

Miss M.'s handwriting was even more minute than one might naturally,
though not perhaps justifiably, have anticipated. Her manuscript would
therefore have been difficult enough for aging eyes to decipher, even if
it had not been almost inextricably interlined, revised and corrected.
Literary composition to this little woman-of-letters was certainly no
"primrose path." The packages were therefore handed over to a
trustworthy typist; and, at my direction, one complete and accurate copy
was made of their contents.

After careful consideration, and after disguising the names of certain
persons and places to preclude every possibility of giving offence--even
Mrs Percy Maudlen, for instance, if she ever scans these pages, may
blush unrecognized!--I concluded that though I was under no absolute
obligation to secure the publication of the Memoirs, this undoubtedly
had been Miss M.'s intention and wish. At the same time, and for similar
reasons, I decided that their publication should not take place until
after my death. Instructions have therefore been left by me to this
effect. Here then my editorial duties begin and end. Nothing has been
altered; nothing suppressed.

Even if such a task were within my province, I should not venture to
make any critical estimate of Miss M.'s work. I am not a writer: and, as
a reader, have an inveterate preference to be allowed to study and enjoy
my authors with as little external intervention as possible. The perusal
of the Memoirs has afforded me the deepest possible pleasure. The
serious-minded may none the less dismiss a midget's lucubrations as
trifling; and no doubt--it could hardly be otherwise--a more practised
taste than mine will discover many faults, crudities, and
inconsistencies in them, though certain little prejudices on Miss M.'s
side may not be so easily detectable. Whatever their merits or
imperfections may be, I should be happy to think that the following
pages may prove as interesting to other readers--however few--as they
have been to myself.

My own prejudices, I confess, are in Miss M.'s favour. Indeed, she
herself assured me in the covering letter to which reference has been
made, that a chance word of mine had been her actual incentive to
composition--the remark, in fact, that "the _truth_ about even the least
of things--_e. g._, your Self, Miss M.!--may be a taper in whose beam
one may peep at the truth about everything." I cannot recall the
occasion, or this little apophthegm. Indeed, only with extreme
reluctance would I have helped to launch my small friend on her gigantic
ordeal. As a matter-of-fact, she had a little way of carrying off scraps
of the conversation of the "common-sized," as a bee carries off a drop
of nectar, and of transforming them into a honey all her own.

As characteristic of her is the fact that during the whole time she was
engaged on her writing (and there is ample evidence in her manuscript
that, whether in fatigue, disinclination, or despair, she sometimes left
it untouched for weeks together) she never made the faintest allusion to
it. Authors, I believe--if I may take the elder Disraeli for my
authority--are seldom so secretive concerning their activities. No less
characteristically, her letter to me was dated February 14th. Her
Memoirs were to be my Valentine.

"'Little drops of water ...' my dear Sir Walter," she wrote; "you know
the rest. Nevertheless, if only I had been given but one sharp spark of
genius, what 'infinite pains' I should have been spared. Yet what is
here concerns only my early days, and chiefly one long year of them. I
might have written on--almost _ad infinitum_. But I did not, because I
feared to weary us both--of myself. The years that have followed my
'coming of age' have been outwardly uneventful; and other people's
thoughts, I find, are not so interesting as their experiences. There's
much to forgive in what I have written--the rawness, the
self-consciousness, the vanity, the folly. I am older now; but am I
wiser--or merely not so young?

"Just as it stands, then, I shall leave my story to, and for, you....
Again and again, as I have pored over the scenes of my memory, I have
asked myself: What can life be about? What does it mean? What was my
true course? Where my compass? How many times, too, have I vainly
speculated what _inward_ difference being a human creature of my
dimensions really makes. What is--deep, deep in--at variance between Man
and Midget? _You_ may discover this; even if _I_ never shall. For after
all, life's beads are all on one string, however loosely threaded they
may seem to be.

"I have tried to tell nothing but the truth about myself. But I realize
that it cannot be the whole truth. For while so engaged (just as when
one peers into a looking-glass in the moonlight) a something has at
times looked out of some secret den or niche in me, and then has
vanished. Supposing, then, my dear Sir W., my story convinces you that
all these years you have unawares been harbouring in your friendship not
a woman, scarcely a human being, but an ASP! Oh dear, and oh dear! Well,
there are three and-thirty ingredients (ingrediments as I used to call
them, when I was a child) in that sovran antidote, Venice Treacle.
Scatter a pennyweight of it upon my tombstone; and so lay my
in-fi-ni-te-si-mal ap-pa-ri-ti-on!

"Maybe though, there are not so very many vital differences between
'midgets' and people of the common size; no more, perhaps, than there
are between them and 'the Great.' Even then it is possible that after
reading my small, endless story you may be very thankful that you are
not a Midget too.

"Whether or not, I have tried to be frank, if not a Warning. Keep or
destroy what I have written, as you will. But please show it to nobody
until nobody would mind. And now, good-bye.

"M."


There was a tacit compact between Miss M. and myself that I should visit
her at Lyndsey about once a month. Business, indisposition, advancing
age, only too frequently made the journey impracticable. But in general,
I would at such intervals find myself in her company at her old house,
Stonecote; drinking tea with her, gossiping, or reading to her, while
she sat in her chair beside my book, embroidering her brilliant tiny
flowers and beetles and butterflies with her tiny needle, listening or
day-dreaming or musing out of the high window at the prospect of Chizzel
Hill.

At times she was an extremely quiet companion. At others she would rain
questions on me, many of them exceedingly unconventional, on a score of
subjects at once, scarcely pausing for answers which I was frequently at
a loss to give. In a mixed company she was, perhaps, exaggeratedly
conscious of her minute stature.

But in these quiet talks--that shrill-sweet voice, those impulsive
little gestures--she forgot it altogether. Not so her visitor, who must
confess to having been continually convicted in her presence of a kind
of clumsiness and gaucherie--and that, I confess, not merely physical.
To a stranger this experience, however wholesome, might be a little
humiliating.

When interested, Miss M. would sit perfectly still, her hands tightly
clasped in her lap, her eyes fixed with a piercing, yet curiously
remote, scrutiny. In complete repose, her features lost this keenness,
and she became an indescribably beautiful little figure, in her
bright-coloured clothes, in the large quiet room. I can think of no
comparison that would not seem fanciful. Her self is to some extent in
her book. And yet that unique volatile presence, so frail, yet so
vigorous, "so very nearly nothing," in her own whimsical phrase, is only
fitfully manifest.

Naturally enough, she loved solitude. But I am inclined to think she
indulged in it to excess. It was, at any rate, in solitude that she
wrote her book; and in solitude apparently that her unknown visitor
found her, in the following mysterious circumstances.

The last of our reunions--and one no less happy than the rest--was
towards the end of the month of March. On the morning of the following
25th of April I received a telegram summoning me to Lyndsey. I arrived
there the same afternoon, and was admitted by Mrs Bowater, Miss M.'s
excellent, but somewhat Dickensian, housekeeper, then already a little
deaf and elderly. I found her in extreme distress. It appeared that the
evening before, about seven o'clock, Mrs Bowater had heard voices in the
house--Miss M.'s and another's. Friendly callers were infrequent;
unfamiliar ones extremely rare; and Mrs Bowater confessed that she had
felt some curiosity, if not concern, as to who this stranger might be,
and how he had gained admission. She blamed herself beyond
measure--though I endeavoured to reassure the good woman--for not
instantly setting her misgivings at rest.

Hearing nothing more, except the rain beating at the basement window, at
half-past seven she went upstairs and knocked at Miss M.'s door. The
large, pleasant room--her old nursery--at the top of the house, was in
its usual scrupulous order, but vacant. Nothing was disarranged, nothing
unusual, except only that a slip of paper had been pinned to the carpet
a little beyond the threshold, with this message: "I have been called
away.--M."

This communication, far from soothing, only increased Mrs Bowater's
anxiety. She searched the minute Sheraton wardrobe, and found that a
garden hat and cape were missing. She waited a while--unlike her usual
self--at a loss what to be doing, and peering out of the window. But as
darkness was coming on, and Miss M. rarely went out in windy or showery
weather, or indeed descended the staircase without assistance, she
became so much alarmed that a little before eight she set out to explore
the garden with a stable lantern, and afterwards hurried off to the
village for assistance.

As the reader will himself discover, this was not the first occasion on
which Miss M. had given her friends anxiety. The house, the garden, the
surrounding district, her old haunts at Wanderslore were repeatedly
submitted at my direction to the most rigorous and protracted search.
Watch was kept on the only gipsy encampment in the neighbourhood, near
the Heath. Advertisement failed to bring me any but false clues. At
length even hope had to be abandoned.

Miss M. had been "called away." By whom? I ask myself: on what errand?
for what purpose? So clear and unhurried was the writing of her last
message as to preclude, I think, the afflicting thought that her visitor
had been the cause of any apprehension or anxiety. An even more tragic
eventuality is out of the question. After the events recorded in her
last chapter not only had she made me a certain promise, but her later
life at Lyndsey had been, apparently, perfectly serene and happy. Only a
day or two before she had laughed up at her housekeeper, "Why, Mrs
Bowater, there's not _room_ enough in me for all that's there!" Nor is
it to be assumed that some "inward" voice--her own frequent term--had
summoned her away; for Mrs Bowater immovably maintains that its tones
reached her ear, though she herself was at the moment engaged in the
kitchen referred to in the first chapter of the Memoirs.

WALTER DADUS POLLACKE.

BRUNSWICK HOUSE,
BEECHWOOD.



Lyndsey



Chapter One


Some few years ago a brief account of me found its way into one or two
country newspapers. I have been told, that it reappeared, later, in
better proportion, in the Metropolitan Press! Fortunately, or
unfortunately, very little of this account was true. It related, among
other things, that I am accustomed to wear shoes with leaden soles to
them to keep me from being blown away like thistledown in the wind, that
as a child I had narrowly escaped being scalded to death in a soup
tureen, that one of my ancestors came from Poland, that I am an expert
painter of miniatures, that I am a changeling and can speak the fairy
tongue. And so on and so forth.

I think I can guess where my ingenuous biographer borrowed these fables.
He meant me no harm; he was earning his living; he made judicious use of
his "no doubts" and "it may be supposed"; and I hope he amused his
readers. But by far the greater part of his account was concerned with
mere _physical_ particulars. He had looked at me in fancy through
spectacles which may or may not have been rosy, but which certainly
minified. I do not deserve his inches and ounces, however flattering his
intentions may have been. It is true that my body is among the smaller
works of God. But I think he paid rather too much attention to this
fact. He spared any reference not only to my soul (and I am not
ungrateful for that), but also to my mind and heart. There may be too
much of all three for some tastes in the following pages, and
especially, perhaps, of the last. That cannot be helped. Finally, my
anonymous journalist stated that I was born in Rutlandshire--because, I
suppose, it is the smallest county in England.

That was truly unkind of him, for, as a matter of fact, and to begin at
the (apparent) beginning, I was born in the village of Lyndsey in
_Kent_--the prettiest country spot, as I believe, in all that county's
million acres. So it remains to this day in spite of the fact that
since my childhood its little church with its decaying stones and
unfading twelfth--or is it thirteenth?--century glass has been
"restored," and the lord of the manor has felled some of its finest
trees, including a grove of sweet chestnuts on Bitchett Heath whose
forefathers came over with the Romans. But he has not yet succeeded in
levelling the barrow on Chizzel Hill. From my window I looked out
(indeed, look out at this moment) to the wave-like crest of this beloved
hill across a long straggling orchard, and pastures in the valley, where
cattle grazed and sheep wandered, and unpolled willows stooped and
silvered in the breeze. I never wearied of the hill, nor ever shall, and
when, in my girlhood, my grandfather, aware of this idle, gazing habit
of mine, sent me from Geneva a diminutive telescope, my day-dreams
multiplied. His gift, as an old Kentish proverb goes, spread butter on
bacon. With his spyglass to my eye I could bring a tapping green
woodpecker as close as if it were actually laughing at me, and could all
but snuff up the faint rich scent of the cowslips--paggles, as we called
them, in meadows a good mile away.

My father's house, Stonecote, has a rather ungainly appearance if viewed
from across the valley. But it is roomy and open and fairly challenges
the winds of the equinoxes. Its main windows are of a shallow bow shape.
One of them is among my first remembrances. I am seated in a bright
tartan frock on a pomatum pot--a coloured picture of Mr Shandy, as I
remember, on its lid--and around me are the brushes, leather cases,
knick-knacks, etc., of my father's dressing table. My father is shaving
himself, his chin and cheeks puffed out with soapsuds. And now I look at
him, and now at his reflection in the great looking-glass, and every
time _that_ happens he makes a pleasant grimace at me over his
spectacles.

This particular moment of my childhood probably fixed itself on my mind
because just as, with razor uplifted, he was about to attack his upper
lip, a jackdaw, attracted maybe by my gay clothes, fluttered down on the
sill outside, and fussing and scrabbling with wing and claw pecked hard
with its beak against the glass. The sound and sight of this bird with
its lively grey-blue eyes, so close and ardent, startled me. I leapt up,
ran across the table, tripped over a hairbrush, and fell sprawling
beside my father's watch. I hear its ticking, and also the little
soothing whistle with which he was wont to comfort his daughter at any
such mishap. Then perhaps I was five or six.

That is a genuine memory. But every family, I suppose, has its little
pet traditions; and one of ours, relating to those early years, is
connected with our kitchen cat, Miaou. She had come by a family of
kittens, and I had crept, so it was said, into her shallow basket with
them. Having, I suppose, been too frequently meddled with, this old
mother cat lugged off her kittens one by one to a dark cupboard. The
last one thus secured, she was discovered in rapt contemplation of
myself, as if in debate whether or not it was her maternal duty to carry
me off too. And there was I grinning up into her face. Such was our
cook's--Mrs Ballard's--story. What I actually remember is different. On
the morning in question I was turning the corner of the brick-floored,
dusky passage that led to the kitchen, when Miaou came trotting along
out of it with her blind, blunt-headed bundle in her mouth. We were
equally surprised at this encounter, and in brushing past she nearly
knocked me over where I stood, casting me at the same moment the
queerest animal look out of her eyes. So truth, in this case, was not so
strange as Mrs Ballard's fiction.


My father was then a rather corpulent man, with a high-coloured face,
and he wore large spectacles. His time was his own, for we were
comfortably off on an income derived from a half-share in the small
fortune amassed by my grandfather and his partner in a paper mill. He
might have been a more successful, though not perhaps a happier, man if
he had done more work and planned to do less. But he only so far
followed his hereditary occupation as to expend large quantities of its
best "handmade" in the composition of a monograph: _The History of Paper
Making_. This entailed a vast accumulation of books and much solitude. I
fancy, too, he believed in the policy of sleeping on one's first
thoughts.

Since he was engaged at the same time on similar compilations with the
Hop and the Cherry for theme, he made indifferent progress in all three.
His papers, alas, were afterwards sold with his books, so I have no
notion of what became of them or of their value. I can only hope that
their purchaser has since won an easy distinction. These pursuits, if
they achieved little else but the keeping of "the man of the house"
quiet and contented, proved my father, at any rate, to be a loyal and
enthusiastic Man of Kent; and I have seen to it that a fine Morello
cherry-tree blossoms, fruits, and flourishes over his grave.

My father was something of a musician too, and could _pizzicato_ so
softly on his muted fiddle as not to jar even my too sensitive ear. He
taught me to play chess on a little board with pygmy men, but he was apt
to lose interest in the game when it went against him. Whereas it was
then that our old friend, Dr Grose, played his hardest. As my father's
hands were rather clumsy in make, he took pains to be gentle and adroit
with me. But even after shaving, his embrace was more of a discipline
than a pleasure--a fact that may partly account for my own
undemonstrativeness in this direction.

His voice, if anything, was small for his size, except when he discussed
politics with Dr Grose; religion or the bringing up of children with my
godmother, Miss Fenne; or money matters with my mother. At such times,
his noise--red face and gesticulations--affected one of his listeners,
as eager as possible to pick up the crumbs, far more than ever thunder
did, which is up in the clouds. My only other discomfort in his company
was his habit of taking snuff. The stench of it almost suffocated me,
and at tap of his finger-nail on the lid of his box, I would scamper off
for shelter like a hare.

By birth he came of an old English family, though no doubt with the
usual admixtures. My mother's mother was French. She was a Daundelyon.
The blood of that "sweet enemy" at times burned in her cheek like a
flag; and my father needed his heaviest guns when the stormy winds did
blow, and those colours were flying. At such moments I preferred to hear
the engagement from a distance, not so much (again) because the mere
discord grieved me, as to escape the din. But usually--and especially
after such little displays--they were like two turtle-doves, and I did
my small best to pipe a decoy.

My father had been a man past forty when he married my mother. She about
fifteen years younger--a slim, nimble, and lovely being, who could slip
round and encircle him in person or mind while he was pondering whether
or not to say Bo to a goose. Seven years afterwards came I. Friends, as
friends will, professed to see a likeness between us. And if my mother
could have been dwindled down to be of my height and figure, perhaps
they would have been justified.

But in hair and complexion, possibly in ways, too, I harked back to an
aunt of hers, Kitilda, who had died of consumption in her early
twenties. I loved to hear stories of my great-aunt Kitilda. She sang
like a bird, twice ran away from her convent school, and was so fond of
water that an old gentleman (a friend of Mr Landor's, the poet) who fell
in love with her, called her "the Naiad."

My mother, in her youth at Tunbridge Wells, had been considered "a
beauty," and had had many admirers--at least so Mrs Ballard, our cook,
told Pollie: "Yes, and we know who might have turned out different if
things hadn't been the same," was a cryptic remark she once made which
filled two "little pitchers" to overflowing. Among these admirers was a
Mr Wagginhorne who now lived at Maidstone. He had pocketed his passion
but not his admiration; and being an artist in the same sense that my
father was an author, he had painted my mother and me and a pot of
azaleas in oils. How well I remember those interminable sittings, with
the old gentleman daubing along, and cracking his beloved jokes and
Kentish cobbs at one and the same time. Whenever he came to see us this
portrait was taken out of a cupboard and hung up in substitution for
another picture in the dining-room. What became of it when Mr
Wagginhorne died I could never discover. My mother would laugh when I
inquired, and archly eye my father. It was clear, at any rate, that
author was not jealous of artist!

My mother was gentle with me, and had need to be; and I was happier in
her company than one might think possible in a world of such
fleetingness. I would sit beside her workbox and she would softly talk
to me, and teach me my lessons and small rhymes to say; while my own
impulse and instinct taught me to sing and dance. What gay hours we
shared. Sewing was at first difficult, for at that time no proportionate
needles could be procured for me, and I hated to cobble up only coarse
work. But she would give me little childish jobs to do, such as
arranging her silks, or sorting her beads, and would rock me to sleep
with her finger to a drone so gentle that it might have been a distant
bee's.

Yet shadows there were, before the darkness came. Child that I was, I
would watch gather over her face at times a kind of absentness, as if
she were dreaming of something to which she could give no name, of some
hope or wish that was now never to be fulfilled. At this I would grow
anxious and silent, doubting, perhaps, that I had displeased her; while,
to judge from her look, I might not have been there at all.

Or again, a mischievousness and mockery would steal into her mood. Then
she would treat me as a mere trivial plaything, talking _small_ things
to me, as if our alphabet consisted of nothing but "little o"--a letter
for which I always felt a sort of pity: but small affection. This habit
saddened my young days, and sometimes enraged me, more than I can say. I
was _always_ of a serious cast of mind--even a little priggish perhaps;
and experience had already taught me that I could share my mother's
thoughts and feelings more easily than she could share mine.



Chapter Two


When precisely I began to speculate _why_ I was despatched into this
world so minute and different I cannot say. Pretty early, I fancy,
though few opportunities for comparison were afforded me, and for some
time I supposed that all young children were of my stature. There was
Adam Waggett, it is true, the bumpkin son of a village friend of Mrs
Ballard's. But he was some years older than I. He would be invited to
tea in the kitchen, and was never at rest unless stuffing himself out
with bread-and-dripping or dough-cake--victuals naturally odious to me;
or pestering me with his coarse fooling and curiosity. He was to prove
useful in due season; but in those days I had a distaste for him almost
as deep-rooted as that for "Hoppy," the village idiot--though I saw poor
Hoppy only once.

Whatever the reason may be, except in extremely desperate moments, I do
not remember much regretting that I was not of the common size. Still,
the realization was gradually borne in on me that I was a disappointment
and mischance to my parents. Yet I never dared to let fall a question
which was to be often in my young thoughts: "Tell me, mamma, are you
_sorry_ that your little daughter is a Midget?" But then, does any one
ask questions like that until they cannot be answered?

Still, cross-examine her I did occasionally.

"Where did I come from, mamma?"

"Why, my dear, I am your mother."

"Just," I replied, "like Pollie's mother is _her_ mother?"

She cast a glance at me from eyes that appeared to be very small, unless
for that instant it was mine that I saw reflected there.

"Yes, my dear," she replied at length. "We come and we go." She seemed
tired with the heat of the day, so I sate quietly, holding her finger,
until she was recovered.

Only, perhaps, on account of my size was there any occasion for me to
be thoroughly ashamed of myself. Otherwise I was, if anything, a rather
precocious child. I could walk a step or two at eleven months, and began
to talk before the Christmas following the first anniversary of my
birthday, August 30th. I learned my letters from the big black capitals
in the Book of Genesis; and to count and cipher from a beautiful little
Abacus strung with beads of silver and garnets. The usual ailments came
my way, but were light come, light go. I was remarkably sinewy and
muscular, strong in the chest, and never suffered from snuffling colds
or from chilblains, though shoes and gloves have always been a
difficulty.

I can perfectly recall my childish figure as I stood with endless
satisfaction surveying my reflection in a looking-glass on the Christmas
morning after my ninth birthday. My frock was of a fine puffed scarlet,
my slippers loose at heel, to match. My hair, demurely parted in the
middle, hung straight on my narrow shoulders (though I had already
learned to plait it) and so framed my face; the eyebrows faintly arched
(eyebrows darker and crookeder now); the nose in proportion; the lips
rather narrow, and of a lively red.

My features wore a penetrating expression in that reflection because my
keen look was searching them pretty close. But if it was a sharp look,
it was not, I think, a bold or defiant; and then I smiled, as if to say,
"So this is to be my companion, then?"

It was winter, and frost was on the window that day. I enjoyed the crisp
air, for I was packed warm in lamb's-wool underneath. There I stood, my
father's round red face beaming on one side of the table, my mother's
smiling but enigmatic, scrutinizing my reflection on the other, and
myself tippeting this way and that--a veritable miniature of Vanity.

Who should be ushered at this moment into the room, where we were so
happy, but my godmother, Miss Fenne, come to bring my father and mother
her Christmas greetings and me a little catechism sewn up in a pink silk
cover. She was a bent-up old lady and a rapid talker, with a voice
which, though small, jangled every nerve in my body, like a pencil on a
slate. Being my godmother, she took great liberties in counselling my
parents on the proper way of "managing" me. The only time, indeed, I
ever heard my father utter an oath was when Miss Fenne was just beyond
hearing. She peered across at me on this Christmas morning like a bird
at a scorpion: "Caroline, Caroline," she cried, "for shame! The Shrimp!
You will turn the child's head."

_Shrimp!_ I had seen the loathsome, doubled-up creatures (in their
boiled state) on a kitchen plate. My blood turned to vinegar; and in
rage and shame I fell all of a heap on the table, hiding from her sight
my face and my hands as best I could under my clothes, and wishing that
I might vanish away from the world altogether.

My father's voice boomed out in protest; my mother took me into her arms
to soothe and scold me; but long after the ruffled old lady had taken
her departure I brooded on this affront. "Away, away!" a voice seemed to
cry within; and I listened to it as if under a spell. All that day I
nursed my wounded vanity, and the same evening, after candle light, I
found myself for a moment alone in the kitchen. Pollie had gone to the
wood-shed to fetch kindling, leaving the door into the garden ajar. The
night air touched my cheek. Half beside myself with desire of I know not
what, I sprang out from the doorstep into an inch or so of snow, and
picking myself up, ran off into the darkness under the huge sky.

It was bitterly cold. Frost had crusted the virgin surface of the snow.
My light footsteps can hardly have shattered its upper crystals. I ran
on and on into the ghostly world, into this stiff, marvelous, gloating
scene of frozen vegetation beneath that immense vacancy. A kind of
stupor must have spread over my young mind. It seemed I was transported
out of myself under the stars, in the mute presence of the Watchman of
Heaven. I stood there lost in wonder in the grey, luminous gloom.

But my escapade was brief and humiliating. The shock of the cold, the
excitement, quickly exhausted me. I threw myself down and covered my
face with my hands, trying in vain to stifle my sobs. What was my
longing? Where its satisfaction? Soft as wool a drowsiness stole over my
senses that might swiftly have wafted me off on the last voyage of
discovery. But I had been missed. A few minutes' search, and Pollie
discovered me lying there by the frozen cabbage stalks. The woeful Mænad
was carried back into the kitchen again--a hot bath, a hot posset, and a
few anxious and thankful tears.

The wonder is, that, being an only child, and a sore problem when any
question of discipline or punishment arose, I was not utterly spoiled.
One person at least came very near to doing so, my grandfather, Monsieur
Pierre de Ronvel. To be exact, he was my step-grandfather, for my
mother's charming mother, with her ringlets and crinoline, after my real
grandfather's death, had married a second time. He crossed the English
Channel to visit my parents when I was in my tenth year--a tall, stiff,
jerky man, with a sallow face, speckled fur-like hair that stood in a
little wall round his forehead, and the liveliest black eyes. His
manners were a felicity to watch even at my age. You would have supposed
he had come _courting_ my mother; and he took a great fancy to me. He
was extremely fond of salad, I remember: and I very proud of my mustard
and cress--which I could gather for him myself with one of my own
table-knives. So copiously he talked, with such a medley of joys and
zests and surprises on his face, that I vowed soon to be mistress of my
stepmother tongue. He could also conjure away reels and thimbles, even
spoons and forks, with a skill that precluded my becoming a materialist
for ever after. I _worshipped_ my grandfather--and yet without a vestige
of fear.

To him, indeed--though I think he was himself of a secular turn of
mind--I owe the story of my birthday saint, St Rosa of Lima in Peru, the
only saint, I believe, of the New World. With myself pinnacled on his
angular knee, and devouring like a sweetmeat every broken English word
as it slipped from his tongue, he told me how pious an infant my Saint
had been; how, when her mother, to beautify her, had twined flowers in
her hair, she had _pinned_ them to her skull; how she had rubbed
quicklime on her fair cheeks to disenchant her lovers ("_ses
prétendants_"), and how it was only veritable showers of roses from
heaven that had at last persuaded Pope Clement to make her a saint.

"Perhaps, _bon papa_," said I, "I shall dig and sow too when I am grown
up, like St Rosa, to support _my_ mamma and papa when _they_ are very
old. Do you think I shall make enough money? Papa has a very good
appetite?" He stared at me, as if in consternation.

"_Dieu vous en garde, ma p'tite_," he cried; and violently blew his
nose.

So closely I took St Rosa's story to heart that, one day, after bidding
my beauty a wistful farewell in the glass, I rubbed my cheek too, but
with the blue flowers of the--_brook_lime. It stained them a little,
but soon washed off. In my case a needless precaution; my _prétendants_
have been few.

It was a mournful day when my grandfather returned to France never to be
seen by me again. Yet he was to remember me always; and at last when I
myself had forgotten even my faith in his fidelity. Nearly all my
personal furnishings and belongings were gifts of his from France, and
many of them of his own making. There was my four-post bed, for
instance; with a flowered silk canopy, a carved tester and half a dozen
changes of linen and valance. There were chairs to match, a wardrobe,
silk mats from Persia, a cheval glass, and clothes and finery in
abundance, china and cutlery, top-boots and sabots. Even a silver-hooped
bath-tub and a crystal toilet set, and scores of articles besides for
use or ornament, which it would be tedious to mention. My grandfather
had my measurements to a nicety, and as the years went by he sagaciously
allowed for growth.

I learned to tell the time from an eight-day clock which played a sacred
tune at matins and vespers; and later, he sent me a watch, the least bit
too large for me to be quite comfortable, but an exquisite piece of
workmanship. As my birthdays (and his) drew near, I could scarcely sleep
for thinking what fresh entrancing novelty the festive morning would
bring. The only one of his gifts--by no means the least ingenious--which
never, after the first flush of excitement, gave me much pleasure, was a
two-chambered thatched summer-house, set up on a pole, and reached by a
wide, shallow ladder. The roof opened, so that on very hot days a block
of ice could be laid within, the water from its slow melting running out
by a gutter. But I loved sunshine. This was a plaything that
ridiculously amused chance visitors; it attracted flies; I felt silly up
in it: and gladly resigned it to the tits, starlings, and sparrows to
quarrel over as they pleased.

My really useful furniture--of plain old Sheraton design--was set out in
my bedroom. In one half of the room slept Pollie, a placid but, before
her marriage, rather slow-witted creature about six years my senior. The
other half was mine and had been made proportionate to my needs by a
cabinet-maker from London. My father had had a low stone balcony built
on beyond my window. This was fenced with fine trellis work to screen it
from the colder winds. With its few extremely dwarf trees set along in
green Nankin tubs, and the view it commanded, I could enjoy this eyrie
for hours--never wearied of it in my youth, nor shall if I live to be a
hundred.


I linger over these early recollections, simply because they are such
very happy things to possess. And now for out-of-doors.

Either because my mother was shy of me, or because she thought vulgar
attention would be bad for me, she seldom took me far abroad. Now and
then Pollie carried me down to the village to tea with _her_ mother, and
once or twice I was taken to church. The last occasion, however,
narrowly escaped being a catastrophe, and the experiment was not
repeated. Instead, we usually held a short evening service, on Sundays,
in the house, when my father read the lessons, "like a miner prophet,"
as I wrote and told Miss Fenne. He certainly dug away at the texts till
the words glittered for me like lumps of coal. On week-days more people
were likely to be about, and in general I was secluded. A mistake, I
think. But fortunately our high, plain house stood up in a delightful
garden, sloping this way and that towards orchard and wood, with a
fine-turfed lawn, few "cultivated" flowers, and ample drifts of shade.
If Kent is the garden of England, then this was the garden of Kent.

I was forbidden to be alone in it. But Pollie would sometimes weary of
her charge (in which I encouraged her) and when out of sight of the
windows she would stray off to gossip with the gardener or with some
friend from the village, leaving me to myself. To judge from the tales
which I have read or have been told about children, I must have been old
for my age. But perhaps the workings of the mind and heart of a girl in
her teens are not of general interest. Let me be brief. A stream of
water ran on the southern side all the length of the garden, under a
high, rocky bank (its boundary) which was densely overhung with ash and
willow, and hedges of brier and bramble looped with bindweed,
goose-grass, and traveller's joy. On the nearer bank of this stream
which had been left to its wild, I would sit among the mossy rocks and
stones and search the green tops of my ambush as if in quest of
Paradise.

When the sun's rays beat down too fiercely on my head I would make
myself an umbrella of wild angelica or water parsnip.

Caring little for playthings, and having my smallest books with me
chiefly for silent company, I would fall into a daydream in a world that
in my solitude became my own. In this fantastic and still world I forgot
the misadventure of my birth, which had now really begun to burden me,
forgot pride, vanity, and chagrin; and was at peace. There I had many
proportionate friends, few enemies. An old carrion crow, that sulked out
a black existence in this beauty, now and then alarmed me with his
attentions; but he was easily scared off. The lesser and least of living
things seemed to accept me as one of themselves. Nor (perhaps because I
never killed them) had I any silly distaste for the caterpillars,
centipedes, and satiny black slugs. Mistress Snail would stoop out at me
like a foster-mother. Even the midges, which to his frenzy would swarm
round my father's head like swifts round a steeple, left me entirely
unmolested. Either I was too dry a prey, or they misliked the flavour of
my blood.

My eyes dazzled in colours. The smallest of the marvels of flowers and
flies and beetles and pebbles, and the radiance that washed over them,
would fill me with a mute, pent-up rapture almost unendurable.
Butterflies would settle quietly on the hot stones beside me as if to
match their raiment against mine. If I proffered my hand, with quivering
wings and horns they would uncoil their delicate tongues and quaff from
it drops of dew or water. A solemn grasshopper would occasionally
straddle across my palm, and with patience I made quite an old friend of
a harvest mouse. They weigh only two to the half-penny. This sharp-nosed
furry morsel would creep swiftly along to share my crumbs and snuggle
itself to sleep in my lap. By-and-by, I suppose, it took to itself a
wife; I saw it no more. Bees would rest there, the panniers of their
thighs laden with pollen: and now and then a wasp, his jaws full of wood
or meat. When sunbeetles or ants drew near, they would seem to pause at
my whisper, as if hearkening. As if in their remote silence pondering
and sharing the world with me. All childish fancy, no doubt; for I
proved far less successful with the humans.

But how, it may be asked, seeing that there must have been a shrill
piping of birds and brawling of water among the stones, how could
Mademoiselle's delicate ear endure _that_ racket? Perhaps it is because
the birds being loose in the hollow of space, it carried away into its
vacancy their cries. It is, too, the harsh, rather than the shrill, that
frets me. As for the noise of the water, it was so full and limpid, yet
made up of such infinitely entangled chimings and drummings, that it
would lull me into a kind of trance, until to a strange eye I must have
appeared like a lifeless waxen mammet on my stone.

What may wholly have been another childish fancy was that apart from the
silvery darting flies and the rainbow-coloured motes in the sunbeams,
fine and airy invisible shapes seemed to haunt and hover around me when
all was still. Most of my fellow creatures to my young nose had an odour
a good deal denser than the fainter scented flowers, and I can fancy
such a fog, if intensified, would be distressing to beings so bodiless
and rare. Whereas the air I disturbed and infected with my presence can
have been of but shallow volume.

Fairies I never saw--I had a kind of fear and distaste for them even in
books. Nor for that matter--perhaps because the stream here was too
tumbling and opaque--a kingfisher. But whatever other company may have
been mine, I had the clouds and the water and the insects and the
stones--while pimpernel, mousetail, tormentil, the wild strawberry, the
feathery grasses seemed to have been made expressly for my delight.
Ego-centric Midget that I was!



Chapter Three


Not that in an existence so passive riddles never came my way. As one
morning I brushed past a bush of lads' love (or maidens' ruin, as some
call it), its fragrance sweeping me from top to toe, I stumbled on the
carcass of a young mole. Curiosity vanquished the first gulp of horror.
Holding my breath, with a stick I slowly edged it up in the dust and
surveyed the white heaving nest of maggots in its belly with a peculiar
and absorbed recognition. "Ah, ha!" a voice cried within me, "so this is
what is in wait; this is how things are"; and I stooped with lips drawn
back over my teeth to examine the stinking mystery more closely. That
was a lesson I have never unlearned.

One of a rather different kind had another effect. I was sitting in the
garden one day watching in the distance a jay huffling and sidling and
preening its feathers on a bit of decrepit fencing. Suddenly there fell
a sharp crack of sound. In a flash, with a derisive chattering, the jay
was flown: and then I saw Adam Waggett, half doubled up, stealing along
towards the place. I lay in wait for him. With catapult dangling in one
hand, the other fist tight shut, he came along like a thief. And I cried
hollowly out of my concealment, "Adam, what have you there?"

Such a picture of foolish shame I have never seen. He was compelled none
the less to exhibit his spoil, an eye-shut, twinkle-tailed,
needle-billed Jenny Wren crumpled up in his great, dirty paw. Fury burnt
up in me like a fire. What I said to him I cannot remember, but it was
nothing sweet; and it was a cowed Adam Waggett that loafed off as
truculently as he could towards the house, his catapult and victim left
behind him. But that was his lesson rather than mine, and one which _he_
never forgot.

When in my serener moods Pollie's voice would be heard slyly hallooing
for me, I would rouse up with a shock to realize again the little cell
of my body into which I had been confined. Then she and I would eat our
luncheon, a few snippets of biscuit, a cherry or two, or slice of apple
for me, and for her a hunch of bread and bacon about half my size in
length and thickness. I would turn my back on her, for I could not
endure to see her gobble her meal, having an abhorrence of cooked flesh,
and a dainty stomach. Still, like most children I could be greedy, and
curious of unfamiliar foods. To a few forbidden black currants which I
reached up and plucked from their rank-smelling bush, and devoured, skin
and all, I owe lesson Number 3. This one, however, had to be repeated.

Childhood quickly fleets away. Those happy, unhappy, far-away days seem
like mere glimpses of a dragon-fly shimmering and darting over my garden
stream, though at the actual time they more closely resembled, perhaps,
a continuous dream broken into bits of vivid awakening.

As I grew older, my skirts grew longer, my desire for independence
sharper, and my wits more inquiring. On my seventeenth birthday I put up
my hair, and was confirmed by a bishop whom my godmother persuaded to
officiate in the house. It was a solemn occasion; but my mother was a
good deal concerned about the lunch, and I with the ballooning lawn
sleeves and the two square episcopal finger-tips disposed upon my head.
The experience cast a peaceful light into my mind and shook my heart,
but it made me for a time a little self-conscious of both my virtue and
my sins. I began to brood not only on the deplorable state of my own
soul, but also on Pollie's and Mrs Ballard's, and became for a time a
diminutive Miss Fenne. I suppose innocence is a precarious bliss. On the
other hand, if one's mind is like a dead mole's belly, it is wise, I
think, to examine it closely but not too often, and to repeat that
confirmation for one's self every morning and evening.

As a young child I had been, of course, as naturally religious as a
savage or an angel. But even then, I think, I never could quite believe
that Paradise was a mere Fenne-land.

Once I remember in the midst of my multiplication table I had broken out
unannounced with, "Then _God_ made the world, mamma?"

"Yes, my dear."

"And all things in the forests and the birds in the sky and--and moles,
and this?" I held down my limp, coral-coloured arithmetic.

"Yes," said she.

I wondered a while, losing myself, as if in wanderings like Ariel's,
between the clouds. "What, mamma, did He make them of?" my voice
interrupted me.

"He made them," said my mother steadily, "of His Power and Love."

Rapidly I slid back into her company. "And can we, can I, make things of
_my_ power and love?"

"I suppose, my dear," replied my mother reflectively and perhaps
thinking of my father in his study, over his Paper and Hops, "it is only
_that_ in life that is really worth doing."

"Then," I said sagely, "I _suspects_ that's how Mullings does the
garden, mamma."

Long before Miss Fenne's and the bishop's visitation my mother had set
about teaching me in earnest. A governess--a Miss Perry--was our first
experiment. Alas, apart from her tendency to quinsy, it was I who was
found wanting. She complained of the strain on her nerves. My mother
feared that quinsy was catching; and Miss Perry had no successor.
Reading was always a difficulty. My father bought me as tiny old books
as could be found, including a dwarf Bible, a midget Pickering
Shakespeare, and a grammar (with a menagerie for frontispiece) from
which I learned that "irony is a figure which intends the reverse of
what it speaks, and under the masque of praise, conceals the most biting
satyr"; and the following stanza:--


     Hail Energeia! hail my native tongue
     Concisely full, and musically strong;
     Thou with the pencil hold'st a glorious strife,
     And paint'st the passions equal to the life.


My mother agreed that _strung_ would be preferable to "_strong_," and
explained that "the passions" did not signify merely ill-temper; while,
if I pecked over-nicely at my food, my father would cry "Hail Energeia!"
a challenge which rarely failed to persuade me to set to.

My grandfather sent me other pygmy books from Paris, including a minute
masterpiece of calligraphy, _Une Anthologie de Chansons pour une
Minuscule Aimante et Bien-aimée par P. de R_. These I could easily carry
about with me. I soon learned to accustom my arms and shoulders to
bulkier and more cumbrous volumes. My usual method with a common-sized
book was to prop it up towards the middle of the table and then to seat
myself at the edge. The page finished, I would walk across and turn over
a fresh leaf. Thus in my solitude I studied my lessons and read again
and again my nursery favourites, some of them, I gather, now
undeservedly out of fashion.

Perhaps even better than fiction or folk-tales, I liked books of
knowledge.

There were two of these in particular, _The Observing Eye; or Lessons to
Children on the Three Lowest Divisions of Animal Life--The Radiated,
Articulated, and Molluscous_, and _The Childhood of the World_. Even at
nine I remarked how nimbly the anonymous author of the former could skip
from St Paul to the lobster; and I never wearied of brooding on Mr
Clodd's frontispiece. This depicts a large-headed and seemingly
one-legged little girl in a flounced frock lying asleep under a wall on
which ivy is sprawling. For pillow for herself and her staring doll
there lies on the ground a full-sized human skull, and in the middle
distance are seen the monoliths of Stonehenge. Beyond these gigantic
stones, and behind the far mountains, rises with spiky rays an enormous
Sun.

_I_ was that child; and mine her sun that burned in heaven, and he a
more obedient luminary than any lamp of man's. I would wonder what she
would do when she awoke from sleep. The skull, in particular, both
terrified and entranced me--the secret of all history seemed to lie
hidden in the shadows beneath its dome. Indeed I needed no reminder from
Mr Clodd that "Children (and some grown-up people too) are apt to think
that things are wonderful only when they are big, which is not true."

I knew already, out of nowhere, that "the bee's waxen cell is more
curious than the chimpanzee's rough hut" (though I should have dearly
liked to see the latter); and that "an ant is more wonderful than the
huge and dull rhinoceros." Such is childishness, however: I pitied the
poor rhinoceros his "dull." Over such small things as a nut, a shell, a
drop of rain-water in a buttercup, a frond of frost (for there were cold
winters at Lyndsey in those days), I would pore and pore, imbibing the
lesson that the eye alone if used in patience will tell its owner far
more about an object than it can merely see.

Among my few framed pictures I cannot resist mentioning one by a painter
of the name of Bosch. Below the middle of it kneeled naked Adam and Eve
with exquisite crimped hair on their shoulders; and between them stood
God. All above and beneath them, roamed the animals, birds, insects, and
infinitesimals of Eden, including a long-tailed monkey on an elephant, a
jerboa, a dancing crocodile, and--who but our cat Miaou, carrying off a
mouse! An astonishing, inexhaustible piece of thoughtfulness. I loved
Mynheer Bosch.

Shameful dunce Miss M. may remain, but she did in her childhood
supremely enjoy any simple book about the things of creation great or
small. But I preferred my own notions of some of them. When my father of
a dark, clear night would perch me up at a window to see the
stars--Charles's Wain and the Chair; and told me that they were huge
boiling suns, roaring their way through the vast pits of space, I would
shake my head to myself. I was grateful for the science, but preferred
to keep them just "stars." And though I loved to lave my hands in a
trickle of light that had been numberless years on its journey to this
earth, that of a candle also filled me with admiration, and I was
unfeignedly grieved that the bleak moon was naught but a sheer hulk,
sans even air or ice or rain or snow.

How much pleasanter it would be to think that her shine was the
reflection of our cherry orchards, and that her shadows were just
Kentish hay-ricks, barns, and oast-houses. It was, too, perhaps rather
tactless of my father to beguile me with full-grown authors' accounts of
the Lives of the Little. Accomplished writers they may be, but--well,
never mind. As for the Lives of the Great, I could easily adjust
Monsieur Bon Papa's spyglass and reduce them to scale.


My father taught me also to swim in his round bath; and on a visit to
Canterbury purchased for me the nimblest little dun Shetland pony, whom
we called Mopsa. I learned to become a fearless rider. But hardy though
her race may be, perhaps I was too light a burden to satisfy Mopsa's
spirit. In a passing fit of temper she broke a leg. Though I had stopped
my ears for an hour before the Vet came, I heard the shot.

My mother's lessons were never very burdensome. She taught me little,
but she taught it well--even a morsel of Latin. I never wearied of the
sweet oboe-like nasal sound of her French poems, and she instilled in me
such a delight in words that to this day I firmly believe that things
are at least twice the better and richer for being called by them. Apart
from a kind of passionate impatience over what was alien to
me--arithmetic, for instance, and "analysis"--and occasional fits of the
sulks, which she allowed to deposit their own sediment at leisure, I was
a willing, and, at times, even a greedy scholar. Apparently from infancy
I was of a firm resolve to match my wits with those of the common-sized
and to be "grown-up" some day.

So much for my education, a thing which it seems to me is likely to
continue--and specially in respect of human nature--as long as I keep
alive. With so little childish company, without rivalry, I was inclined
to swell myself out with conceit and complacency. "It's easy holding
down the latchet when nobody pulls the string." But whatever size we may
be, in soul or body, I have found that the world wields a sharp pin, and
is pitiless to bubbles.

Though inclined to be dreamy and idle when alone, I was, of course, my
own teacher too. My senses were seven in number, however few my wits. In
particular I loved to observe the clustering and gathering of plants,
like families, each of a shape, size, and hue, each in their kind and
season, though tall and lowly were intermingled. Now and then I would
come on some small plant self-sown, shining and flourishing, free and
clear, and even the lovelier for being alone in its kind amid its
greater neighbours. I prized these discoveries, and if any one of them
was dwarfed a little by its surroundings I would cosset it up and help
it against them. How strange, thought I, if men so regarded each other's
intelligence. If from pitying the dull-witted the sharp-witted slid to
mere toleration, and from toleration to despising and loathing. What a
contest would presently begin between the strong-bodied stupid and the
feeble-bodied clever, and how soon there would be no strong-bodied
stupid left in the world! They would dwindle away and disappear into
Time like the mammoth and the woolly bear. And then I began to be sorry
for the woolly bear and to wish I could go and have a look at him.
Perhaps this is putting my old head on those young shoulders, but when
I strive to re-enter the thoughts of those remote days, how like they
seem to the noisy wasting stream beside which they flowed on, and of
whose source and destination I was unaware.

All this egotism recalls a remark that Mrs Ballard once made apropos of
some little smart repartee from Miss M. as she sat beside her pasteboard
and slapped away at a lump of dough, "Well _I_ know a young lady who's
been talking to the young man that rubbed his face with a brass
candlestick."



Chapter Four


In the midst of my eighteenth year fortune began to darken. My mother
had told me little of the world, its chances and changes, cares and
troubles. What I had learned of these came chiefly from books and my own
speculations. We had few visitors and from all but the most familiar I
was quickly packed away. My mother was sensitive of me, for both our
sakes. But I think in this she was mistaken, for when my time came, Life
found me raw, and it rubbed in the salt rather vigorously.

My father had other views. He argued for facing the facts, though
perhaps those relating to fruit and paper are not very intimidating. But
he seldom made his way against my mother, except in matters that
concerned his own comfort. He loved me fondly but throughout my
childhood seems to have regarded me as a kind of animated marionette.
When he came out from his Mills and Pockets it amused him to find me
nibbling a raspberry beside his plate. He'd rub his round stubbly head,
and say, "Well, mamma, and how's Trot done this morning?" or he would
stoop and draw ever so heedfully his left little finger down my nose to
its uttermost tip, and whisper: "And so to Land's End, my love." Now and
then I would find his eyes fixed on me as if in stupefaction that I was
actually his daughter.

But now that I was getting to be a young woman and had put up my hair,
and the future frowned near, this domestic problem began seriously to
concern him. My mother paled at the very mention of it. I remember I had
climbed up on to his writing desk one morning, in search of a pair of
high boots which I had taken off in his study the evening before. We had
been fishing for sticklebacks. Concealed from view, while the wind
whined at the window, I heard a quarrel between my father and mother
about me which I will never repeat to mortal ear. It darkened my mind
for days, and if ... but better not.

At this time anxiety about money matters must have begun its gnawing in
my poor father's brains. And I know what _that_ means. He had
recommended to others and speculated himself in some experiment in the
cultivation of the trees from which the Chinese first made paper, and
had not only been grossly cheated, but laughed at in the press. _The
Kentish Courier_--I see his ears burning now--had referred to him as
"the ingenious Mr Tapa"; and my mother's commiseration had hardly
solaced him: "But, my dear, you couldn't have gone to Canton by
yourself. We must just draw in our horns a little." The ingenious Mr
Tapa patted the hand on his shoulder, but his ears burned on.

"Besides," my mother added, with a long, sighing breath, as she seated
herself again, "there are the books." He plucked his spectacles off, and
gazed vaguely in her direction: "Oh, yes, yes, there are the books."

Nor was he long daunted by this attack. He fell in love with some notion
of so pickling hop-poles that they would last for ever. But the press
was no kinder to his poles than to his mulberries.

And then befell the blackest misfortune of my life. I had been ill; and
for a few days had been sleeping in one of the spare bedrooms in a cot
beside my mother, so that she should be near me if I needed her. This
particular evening, however, I had gone back to my own room. We cannot
change the past, or foresee the future. But if only Pollie had not been
a heavy sleeper; if only I had escaped that trivial ailment--how tangled
is life's skein! It was the May after my eighteenth birthday and full
moonlight.

Troubled in mind by my illness and other worries and mortifications, my
mother, not fully aroused perhaps, got up in the small hours and mounted
the stone staircase in order to look in on me. I was awake, and heard
the rustling of her nightdress and the faint touch of her slippered feet
ascending from stone to stone. I guessed her errand, and in my folly
thought I would pretend to be asleep and give her a "surprise." I drew
my curtains and lay motionless on my back as if I were dead. With eyes
closed, listening, I smilingly waited.

Then suddenly I heard a muffled, gasping cry; and all was utterly,
icily still. I flung aside the silk curtains and leapt out of bed.


The moonlight was streaming in a lean ray across the floor of my room. I
ran down this luminous pathway into the dusk at the open door. At the
stair-head beyond, still and silent, I saw my poor dear. On through the
cold dark air I ran, and stood in her loosened hair beside her head. It
lay unstirring, her cheek colourless, her hand stretched out, palm
upward, on the stone. I called into her ear, first gently and
pleadingly, then loud and shrill. I ran and chafed her fingers, then
back again, and stooped, listening with my cheek to her lips. She
exhaled a trembling sigh. I called and called; but my shrillness was
utterly swallowed up in the vast night-hung house. Then softly in the
silence her lids unsealed and her eyes, as if wonderful with a remote
dream, looked up into my face. "My dear," she whispered, wakefulness
gathering faintly into her gaze, "my dear, is it you?" There was an
accent in her voice that I had never heard before. Perhaps her tranceful
eyes had magnified me. Then once more the lids closed down and I was
alone. I fell on my knees beside her and crouched, praying into her
heedless ear.

It was my first acquaintance with calamity, and physically powerless to
aid her, I could think of nothing for a moment but to persuade her to
speak to me again. Then my senses returned to me. To descend that flight
of stairs--down which hitherto I had always been carried--would waste
more precious time than I could spare. There seemed to be but one
alternative--to waken Pollie. I ran back into my bedroom and tugged
violently at the slack of her bedclothes. A mouse might as well have
striven to ring Great Paul. She breathed on with open mouth, flat on her
back, like a log. Then a thought came to me.

There was a brass-bound box under my bed, a full fifteen inches long,
though shallow, in which my grandfather had lately sent me some gowns
and finery from Paris. With some little difficulty I lugged and pushed
this all across the room, and out on to the staircase. My strength
seemed to be superhuman. One moment I flew to my mother, but now she lay
in a profound sleep indeed, her cheek like marble. With a last effort I
edged my box on its side between the balusters, and at some risk of
falling after it, shoved it over into the moon-silvered dusk below. The
house echoed with its resounding brazen clatter as it pitched from stair
to stair. Then quiet. Clutching with either hand the baluster I leaned
over, listening. Then a voice cried sleepily: "Hah!" then a call,
"Caroline!" and a moment afterwards I discerned my father ascending the
staircase....


For weeks I lay desperately ill. The chill, the anguish, and horror of
that night had come upon a frame already weakened. Life was nothing but
an evil dream, a world of terrifying shadows and phantoms. But our old
friend Dr Grose was familiar with my constitution, and at last I began
to mend. Pollie, stricken with remorse, nursed me night and day, giving
my small bed every hour she could spare in a house stricken and
disordered. I was never told in so many words that my mother was dead.
In my extreme weakness I learned it of the air around me, of every
secret sound and movement in the house.

Morning and evening appeared my father's great face in the doorway, his
eyebrows lifted high above his spectacles. To see his misery I almost
wished that I might die to spare him more. When Dr Grose gave him
permission, he sat down beside my bed and stooping low, told me that my
mother had remembered our last speech together on the staircase, and he
gave me her last message. A thousand and one remembrances of her
patience and impulsiveness, of our long hours of solitude together, of
her fits of new life as if she were a tree blossoming in the Spring, of
her voice, her dignified silence with Miss Fenne, her sallies with my
grandfather, her absent musings--these all return to me.

Alas, that it was never in my power, except perhaps at that last moment,
to be to her a true comfort and companion, anything much better, in
fact, than a familiar and tragic playmate. Worse beyond words; how
little I had done for her that I might have done!

But regret must not lead me into extremes. That is not the whole truth.
There were occasions, I think, when she almost forgot my disabilities,
when we were just two quiet, equal spirits in the world and conversed
together gravely and simply, not as children, but as fellow-women. It is
these I treasure dearest, while thanking her for all. Why, in the
whirligig of time, if my authorities are trustworthy, and my life had
fallen out differently, the problem might now have been reversed! I
myself might have had natural-sized children and they a pygmy mother.
The strangeness of the world.

Out of the listlessness of convalescence my interests began to renew
themselves. Across the gulf that separated us I could still commune with
my mother's quiet spirit. Her peace and the peace of her forgiveness
began to descend on me; and her grave in my imagination has now no more
sorrow than the anticipation of my own. From my windowsill loggia I
could command a full "Hundred" of Kent. Up there on the barrowed
hill-top it was said that on fine days a keen eye could descry the sea
to north and south; though Dr Grose dismissed it as a piece of local
presumption. Now that my mother was gone the clouds were stranger, the
birds more sweetly melancholy, the flowers more fleeting. Something of
youth had passed away to return no more.

Half my thoughts were wasted in futile resentment at my incapacities.
Yet it was a helplessness that in part was forced on me from without.
Still less now could my father take me seriously. We shared our silent
meals together. He would sit moping, pushing his hand over his whitening
hair, or staring over his spectacles out of the window to the low
whistling of some endless, monotonous tune that would haunt him for days
together and fret me to distraction. Now and again he would favour me
with a serious speech, and then, with a glance, perhaps hurry away to
his study before I could answer. To his half-completed dissertations on
Hop, Cherry, and Paper, I learned he had added another, on the Oyster.
Many of his letters were now postmarked Whitstable. He even advertised
in his old enemy, the _Courier_, for information: and would break out
into furious abuse at the stupidity of his correspondents. Meanwhile his
appetite increased; he would nod in his chair; his clothes grew shabby;
his appearance neglected. Poor dear, he missed my mother.

But I made a struggle to take her place. Every morning Pollie would
carry me off to the kitchen for a discussion with Mrs Ballard over the
household affairs of the day. With her fat, floury hand, she would hide
her mouth and gravely nod her head at my instructions. But I knew she
was concealing her amusement. "Oh, these men!" she once exclaimed at
some new caprice of "the master's," "they are never happy unless they
can be where they bain't." With my own hand I printed out for her a list
of my father's favourite dishes. I left off my black and wore bright
colours again, so that he might not be constantly reminded of the past.
But when after long debate I took courage one day to propose myself as
his housekeeper--I shall never forget the facial expression which he
quickly rubbed off with his hand.

He fetched out of his trousers pocket a great bunch of keys, and jangled
them almost ferociously in the air at me for a full minute together with
tears of amusement in his eyes. Then he tossed down the last gulp or two
of his port and went off. A moment after he must have realized how cruel
a blow he had dealt my vanity and my love. He returned, seated himself
heavily in his chair, and looked at me. Then stretching out his hand he
dropped his face on to his arm. A horrible quietness spread over the
room. For the first time I looked with a kind of terror at the hairy
fingers and whitening head, and could not stir.

How oddly chance repeats itself. The door opened and once more,
unannounced, Miss Fenne appeared in our midst. My father hastily rose to
greet her, pretending that nothing was amiss. But when she held out her
clawlike hand to me to be kissed, I merely stared at her. She screwed up
her countenance into a smile; mumbled that I was looking pale and peaked
again; and, with difficulty keeping her eyes from mine, explained that
she had come for a business talk with my father.

A few days afterwards I was standing up at the window of my mother's
little sewing-room--always a favourite refuge of mine, for there the
afternoon sun and the colours of evening used to beat into the corner.
And I saw a small-sized woman with a large black bonnet come waddling up
the drive. She was followed by a boy wheeling a square box on a
two-wheeled trolley. It was Mrs Sheppey come to be housekeeper to the
widower and his daughter.

Mrs Sheppey proved to be a harassed and muddling woman, and she came to
a harassed home. My father's affairs had gone from bad to worse. He was
gloomy and morose. A hunted look sometimes gleamed in his eyes, and the
spectacled nose seemed to grow the smaller the more solemn its
surroundings were. He spent most of the day in his dressing-gown now,
had quarrelled with Dr Grose, and dismissed Mrs Ballard. The rooms were
dirty and neglected. Pollie would maunder about with a broom, or stand
idly staring out of the window. She was in love. At least, so I realize
now. At the time I thought she was merely lumpish and stupid.

Only once in my recollection did Mrs Sheppey pay my own quarters a
visit. I was kneeling on my balcony and out of sight, and could watch
her unseen. She stood there--tub-shaped, a knob of dingy hair sticking
out from her head, her skirts suspended round her boots--passively
examining my bed, my wardrobe, and my other belongings. Her scrutiny
over, she threw up her hands and the whites of her eyes as if in
expostulation to heaven, turned about in her cloth boots, and waddled
out again. Pollie told me, poor thing, that her children had been thorns
in her side. I brooded over this. Had I not myself, however
involuntarily, been a thorn in _my_ mother's side? I despised and yet
pitied Mrs Sheppey.

She was, if anything, frightened of me, and of my tongue, and would
address me as "little lady" in a cringing, pursed-up fashion. But I am
thankful to say she never attempted to touch me or to lift me from the
floor. Her memory is inextricably bound up with a brown, round pudding
with a slimy treacle sauce which she used to send to table every
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. My father would look at it with his
nose rather than with his eyes; and after perhaps its fiftieth
appearance, he summoned Mrs Sheppey with a violent tug at the bell. She
thrust her head in at the door. "Take it away," he said, "take it away.
Eat it. Devour it. Hide it from God's sight, good woman. Don't gibber.
Take it away!"

His tone frightened me out of my wits and Mrs Sheppey out of the house.
Then came the end. At the beginning of August in my twentieth year, my
father, who had daily become stranger in appearance and habits, though
steadfastly refusing to call in his old friend, Dr Grose, was found dead
in his bed. He was like a boy who never can quite succeed in pleasing
himself or his masters. He had gone to bed and shut his eyes, never in
this world to open them again.



Chapter Five


Am I sorry that almost beside myself with this new affliction, and
bewildered and frightened by the incessant coming and going of strangers
in the house, I refused to be carried down to bid that unanswering face
good-bye? No, I have no regret on that score. The older I grow the more
closely I seem to understand him. If phantoms of memory have any
reality--and it is wiser, I think, to remember the face of the living
rather than the stony peace of the dead--he has not forgotten his only
daughter.

Double-minded creature I was and ever shall be; now puffed up with
arrogance at the differences between myself and gross, common-sized
humanity; now stupidly sensitive to the pangs to which by reason of
these differences I have to submit. At times I have been tempted to
blame my parents for my shortcomings. What wicked folly--they did not
choose their only child. After all, too, fellow creatures of any size
seem much alike. They rarely have _nothing_ to blame Providence for--the
length of their noses or the size of their feet, their bones or their
corpulence, the imbecilities of their minds or their bodies, the
"accidents" of birth, breeding, station, or circumstance. Yet how secure
and perhaps wholesome is Man's self-satisfaction. To what ideal does he
compare himself but to a self-perfected abstraction of his own image?
Even his Venus and Apollo are mere flattering reflections of his own he-
or she-shapes. And what of his anthropomorphic soul?

As for myself, Dame Nature may some day take a fancy to the dwarf. "What
a pretty play it would be"--I have clean forgotten where I chanced on
this amusing passage--"What a pretty play it would be if, from the next
generation onwards, the only humans born into the world should be of
mere pygmy stature. Fifty years hence there would remain but few of the
normal-sized in the land. Imagine these aged few, miserably stalking
through the dwarfed streets, picking up a scanty livelihood in city or
country-side, where their very boots would be a public danger, their
very tread would set the bells in the steeples ringing, and their
appetites would be a national incubus. House, shop, church, high road,
furniture, vehicles abandoned or sunken to the pygmy size; wars and
ceremonies, ambitions and enterprises, everything but prayers, dwindled
to the petty. Would great-grandfather be venerated, cherished, admired,
a welcome guest, a lamented emigrant? Would there be as many mourners as
sextons at his funeral, as many wreaths as congratulations at his
grave?" And so on and so forth--like Jonathan Swift.

But I must beware. Partly from fatigue and partly from dislike of the
version of Miss M. that stared out of his picture at me, I had begun, I
remember, to be a little fretful when old Mr Wagginhorne was painting my
portrait. And I complained pertly that I thought there were far too many
azaleas on the potted bush.

"Ah, little Miss Finical," he said, "take care, if you please. Once
there was a Diogenes whom the gods shut up in a tub and fed on his own
spleen. He died.... He died," he repeated, drawing his brush slowly
along the canvas, "of dyspepsia."

He popped round, "Think of that."

I can think of that to better purpose now, and if there is one thing in
the world whose company I shall deplore in my coffin, that thing is a
Cynic. That is why I am trying as fast as I can to put down my
experiences in black and white before the black predominates.

But I must get back to my story. My poor father had left his affairs in
the utmost disorder. His chief mourners were his creditors. Apart from
these, one or two old country friends and distant relatives, I believe,
attended his funeral, but none even of them can have been profoundly
interested in the Hop, the Oyster, or the Cherry, at least in the
abstract. Dr Grose, owing to ill-health, had given up his practice and
was gone abroad. But though possibly inquiry was made after the small
creature that had been left behind, I stubbornly shut myself away in my
room under the roof, listening in a fever of apprehension to every
sinister movement in the house beneath.

Yet if a friend in need is a friend indeed, then I must confess that my
treatment of Miss Fenne was the height of ingratitude.

In my grief and desolation, the future seemed to be only a veil beyond
the immediate present, which I had neither the wish nor the power to
withdraw. Miss Fenne had no such illusions. I begged Pollie to make any
excuse she could think of to prevent her from seeing me. But at last she
pushed her way up, and doubtless, the news and the advice she brought
were the best tonic that could have been prescribed for me.

As a child I had always associated my godmother with the crocodile
(though not with Mr Bosch's charming conception of it, in his picture of
the Creation). Yet there were no tears in her faded eyes when she
explained that of my father's modest fortune not a pittance remained. In
a few days the house, with everything in it except my own small sticks
of furniture, was to be sold by auction. I must keep my door locked
against intruders. All that would be left to me was a small income of
about £110 per annum, derived from money bequeathed to me by a relative
of my mother's whom I had never seen.

"I fancy your father knew nothing about it," she concluded, "at least so
your dear _mother_ seemed to imply. But there! it's a sad business, a
sad business. And that Tapa scandal; a lamentable affair." Having thus
prepared the way, my godmother proposed that I should take up my
residence in her house, and commit my future entirely to her charge.

"You cannot be an expensive guest," she explained, "and I am sure you
will try to be a grateful one. No truly _conscientious_ godparent, my
dear child, _ever_ relinquishes the soul committed to her care. I
sometimes wonder whether your poor dear mother realized this."

But it was my soul, if that is brother to the spirit and can be
neighbour to pride, that revolted against her proposition. I had to shut
my eyes at the very remembrance of Miss Fenne's prim and musty
drawing-room. Every intimation, every jerk of her trembling head, every
pounce of her jewelled fingers only hardened my heart. Poor Miss Fenne.
Her resentment at my refusal seemed to increase her shortness of sight.
Looking in on her from my balcony, I had the advantage of her, as she
faced me in the full light in her chair, dressed up in her old lady's
clothes like a kind of human Alp among my pygmy belongings. I tried to
be polite, but this only increased her vexation. One smart tap of the
ivory ball that topped her umbrella would have been my _coup de grâce_.
She eyed me, but never administered it.

At last she drew in her lips and fell silent. Then, as may happen at
such moments, her ill-temper and chagrin, even the sense of her own
dignity drooped away, and for a while in the quietness we were simply
two ill-assorted human beings, helpless in the coils of circumstance.
She composed her mouth, adjusted her bonnet strings, peered a moment
from dim old eyes out of the window, then once more looked at me.

"It must be, then, as God wills," she said in a trembling voice. "The
spirit of your poor dear mother must be judge between us. She has, we
may trust, gone to a better world."

For a moment my resolution seemed to flow away like water, and I all but
surrendered. But a rook cawed close overhead, and I bit my lip. Little
more was said, except that she would consider it her duty to find me a
comfortable and God-fearing home. But she admonished me of the future,
warned me that the world was a network of temptations, and assured me of
her prayers. So we parted. I bowed her out of my domain. It was the last
time we met. Two days afterwards I received her promised letter:--


     "MY DEAR GODCHILD,--Mr Ambrose Pellew, an old _clergyman_ friend of
     mine, in whose discretion and knowledge of the world I have every
     confidence, has spoken for you to an old married, respectable
     servant of his now living a few miles from London--a Mrs Bowater.
     For the charge of thirty shillings a week she has consented to give
     you board, lodging, and _reasonable_ attendance. In all the
     circumstances this seems to me to be a moderate sum. Mr Pellew
     assures me that Mrs B. is clean, honest, and a _practising_
     Christian. When this dreadful Sale is over, I have arranged that
     Pollie shall conduct you safely to what will in future be your
     _home_. I trust that you will be as happy there as Providence
     permits, though I cannot doubt that your poor dear mother and your
     poor father, too, for that matter, would have wished
     otherwise--that the roof of her old friend who was present at your
     Baptism and _insisted_ on your Confirmation, should have been your
     refuge and asylum now that you are absolutely alone in the world.

     "However, you have rejected this proposal, and have _chosen your
     own path_. I am not your legal guardian, and I am too deeply
     _pained_ to refer again to your obstinacy and ingratitude. Rest
     assured that, in spite of all, I shall remember you in my prayers,
     and I trust, D. V., that you will escape the temptations of this
     wicked world--a world in which it has pleased God, in spite of
     self-sacrificing and anxious friends, to place you at so
     distressing a disadvantage. But in His Sight all men are equal. Let
     that be your continual consolation. See Amos vii. 2; Prov. xxxi.
     24-28; Eccles. xii. 1.

     "I remain, your affectionate godmother,

     "EMMA E. FENNE.

     "PS.--I reopen this letter to explain that your _financial_ affairs
     are in the hands of Messrs Harris, Harris, and Harris, respectable
     solicitors of Gray's Inn. They will remit you on every quarter
     day--Christmas Day, Lady Day, June 25th and September 29th--the sum
     of £28 10s. 0d. Of this you will pay £19 10s. _at once_ to Mrs
     Bowater, who, I have no doubt, will advise you on the expenditure
     of what remains on wearing apparel, self-improvement, missions,
     charity, and so on. It _grieves_ me that from the wreckage of your
     father's affairs you must not anticipate a further straw of
     assistance. All his money and property will be swallowed up in the
     dreadful storm that has broken over what we can only _trust_ is a
     tranquil resting place. R. I. P.--E. E. F."


So sprawling and straggling was my godmother's penmanship that I spelled
her letter out at last with a minifying glass, though rather for forlorn
amusement's sake than by necessity. Not that this diminishment of her
handwriting in any sense lessened the effect upon me of the sentiments
it conveyed. They at once daunted me and gave me courage. For a little I
hesitated, then at last I thought _out_ in my heart that God might be
kinder to me than Miss Fenne wished. Indeed I was so invigorated by the
anticipation of the "wicked world," that I all but called her a
crocodile to her phantasmal face. Couldn't I--didn't I--myself "mean
well" too? What pictures and prospects of the future, of my journey, of
Mrs Bowater and the "network" pursued each other through my brain. And
what a darkness oppressed me when a voice kept repeating over in my
mind--_Harris and Harris and Harris_, as if it were a refrain to one of
my grandfather's _chansons_. _Messrs Harris and Harris and Harris_--I
_saw_ all three of them (dark men with whiskers), but trusted profoundly
they would never come to see _me_.

Nor from that day to this, through all my giddying "ups" and sobering
"downs" have I ever for a moment regretted my decision--though I might
have conveyed it with a little better grace. My body, perhaps also my
soul, would have been safer in the seclusion of my godmother's house.
But my spirit? I think it would have beaten itself to death there like a
wasp on a window-pane. Whereas--well, here I am.



Chapter Six


Those last few days of August dragged on--days of a burning, windless
heat. Yet, as days, I enjoyed them. On some upper branch of my family
tree must have flourished the salamander. Indeed I think I should have
been a denizen of Venus rather than of this colder, darker planet. I sat
on my balcony, basking in the hot sunshine, my thoughts darting hither
and thither like flies under a ceiling--those strange, winged creatures
that ever seem to be attempting to trace out in their flittings the
starry "Square of Pegasus." In spite of my troubles and forebodings, and
fleeting panics, my inward mind was calm. I carefully packed away my few
little valuables. The very notion of food gave me nausea, but that I
determined to conquer, since of course to become, at either extreme, a
slave to one's stomach, is a folly.

The noise and tramplings of the men in the rooms beneath never ceased,
until Night brought quiet. The Sale lasted for two days. A stale and
clouded air ascended even into my locked bedroom from the human beings
(with their dust and tobacco and perfumes and natural presences)
collected together in the heat of the great dining-room. A hum, a
murmur, the scuffling of feet toiling downstairs with some heavy and
cumbrous burden, the cries of the auctioneer, the coarse voices and
laughter, the tinkle of glass--the stretching hours seemed endless; and
every minute of them knelled the fate of some beloved and familiar
object. I was glad my father couldn't hear the bidding, and sorry that
perhaps he did not know that the most valuable of his curios--_how_
valuable I was to learn later--was safely hidden away in an upper room.
So passed my birthday--the twentieth--nor tapped me on the shoulder
with, "Ah, but, my dear, just you wait till I come again!"

None the less I thought a good deal about birthdays that afternoon, and
wondered how it was that we human beings can bear even to go on living
between two such mysteries as the beginning and the end of life. Where
was my mother now? Where was I but two-and-twenty years ago? What was
all this "Past," this "History," of which I had heard so much and knew
so little? Just a story? Better brains than mine have puzzled over these
questions, and perhaps if I had studied the philosophers I should know
the answers. In the evenings, wrapped up in a shawl, Pollie carried me
downstairs, and we took a sober whispering walk in the hush and perfumes
of the deserted garden. Loud rang the tongues of the water over the
stones. The moths were fluttering to their trysts, and from some dark
little coign the cricket strummed me a solo. Standing up there in the
starry night the great house looked down on me like an elder brother,
mute but compassionate.

By the second day after the conclusion of the Sale, the removers' vans
and carts should have gutted the rooms and be gone. It had, therefore,
been arranged that Pollie should as usual share my bedroom the last
night, and that next day we should set off on our journey. After
luncheon--the flavour of its sliced nectarine (or is it of one that came
later?) is on my tongue at this moment--all the rest of the house being
now hollow and vacant, Pollie put on her hat, thrust the large door key
into her pocket, and went off to visit her mother in the village and to
fetch a clean nightdress. She promised to return before dark. Her shoes
clattered down the stone stairs, the outer door boomed like a gun. I
spread out my hands in the air, and as if my four-poster could bear
witness, cried softly, "I am alone." Marvel of marvels, even as I sit
here to-day gazing at my inkpot, there in its original corner stands
that same old four-poster. Pollie is living down in the village with her
husband and her two babies; and once more: I am alone. Is there anything
in life so fascinating, so astonishing, as these queer, common little
repetitions? Perhaps on the Last Day--but I anticipate.

I read a little; wrote on the flyleaf of my diminutive Johnson,
"September 1st, Lyndsey for the last time.--M."; arranged my morrow's
clothes on a chair, then sat down in my balcony to do nothing, to be
nothing, merely to dream. But nature decreed otherwise. Soon after six
by my grandfather's clock--it struck the hour out of its case, as if out
of a sepulchre--a storm, which all the afternoon had been steadily
piling its leaden vapours into space, began to break. Chizzel Hill with
its prehistoric barrow was sunk to a green mound beneath those lowering
cloudy heights, pooling so placid and lovely a blue between them. The
very air seemed to thicken, and every tree stood up as if carved out of
metal. Of a sudden a great wind, with heavy plashing drops of rain,
swept roaring round the house, thick with dust and green leaves torn
from the dishevelled summer trees. There was a hush. The darkness
intensified, and then a vast sheet of lightning seemed to picture all
Kent in my eyes, and the air was full of water.

One glance into the obscure vacancy of the room behind me persuaded me
to remain where I was, though the rain drove me further and further into
the corner of my balcony. Cold, and a little scared by the glare and
din, yet not unhappy, I cowered close up against the glass, and, shading
my eyes as best I could from the flames of the lightning, I watched the
storm. How long I sat there I cannot say. The clamour lulled and
benumbed my brain into a kind of trance. My only company was a blackbird
which had flown or been blown into my refuge, and with draggled feathers
stared black-eyed out of the greenery at me. It was gathering towards
dark when the rain and lightning began to abate, and the sullen thunder
drew away into the distance, echoing hollowly along the furthest
horizons. At last, with teeth chattering, and stiff to my bones, I made
my way into the room again, and the benighted blackbird went squawking
to his nest.

Slipping off my gown and shoes, and huddling myself in the blankets and
counterpane of my bed, I sat there pondering what next was to be done.
It would soon be night; and Pollie seemed unlikely to appear until all
this turmoil was over. I was not only alone, but forsaken and infinitely
solitary, a mere sentient living speck in the quiet sea of light that
washed ever and again into the gloomiest recesses of the room. And that
familiar room itself seemed now almost as cold and inhospitable as a
neglected church. I could hear the dark, vacant house beneath echoing
and murmuring at every prolonged reverberation of thunder, and sighing
through all its crannies and keyholes. My bedhangings softly shook in
the air. Gone beyond recovery were my father and mother: and I now
realized how irrevocably. I was no longer a child; and the
responsibilities of life were now wholly on my own shoulders.

Yet I was not utterly forlorn. The great scene comforted me, and now and
then I prayed, almost without thinking and without words, just as a
little tune will keep recurring in the mind. And now, darkness being
spread over the garden, in the east the moon was rising. Moreover, a
curious sight met my eyes; for as the storm settled, heavy rain in
travelling showers was still occasionally skirting the house; and when,
between the heaped-up masses of cloud, the distant lightning gleamed a
faint vaporous lilac, I saw motionless in the air, and as if suspended
in their falling between earth and sky, the multitudinous glass-clear,
pear-shaped drops of water. At sight of these jewels thus crystalling
the dark air I was filled with such a rapture that I actually clapped my
hands. And presently the moon herself appeared, as if to be my
companion. Serene, remote, she glided at last from cover of an enormous
bluff of cloud into the faint-starred vault of space, seemed to pause
for an instant in contemplation of the dark scene, then went musing on
her way. Beneath her silver all seemed at peace, and it was then that I
fell asleep.

And while I slept, I dreamed a dream. My dreams often commit me to a
quiet and radiant life, as if of a reality less strange to me than that
of waking. Others are a mere uneasiness and folly. In the old days I
would sometimes tell my dreams to Mrs Ballard; and she would look them
up in a frowsy book she kept in the dresser drawer, a brown,
grease-stained volume entitled _Napoleon's Book of Fate_. Then she would
promise me a prince for a husband, or that I would be a great traveller
across the sea, or that I must beware of a red-haired woman, and
nonsense of that kind. But this particular dream remains more vividly in
my memory than any.

Well, I dreamed that I was walking in a strange garden--an orchard. And,
as it seemed, I was either of the common human size, or this was a world
wherein of human beings I was myself of the usual stature. The night was
still, like the darkest picture, yet there must have been light there,
since I could see as I walked. The grasses were coarse and deep, but
they did not encumber my feet, and presently I found myself standing
beneath a tree whose branches in their towering sombre heaviness seemed
to be made of iron. Dangling here and there amid the pendulous leaves
hung enormous fruits--pears stagnant and heavy as shaped lumps of lead
or of stone. Why the sight of these fruits in the obscure luminosity of
the air around them laid such a spell upon me, I cannot say. I stood
there in the dew-cold grass, gazing up and up into those monstrous
branches as if enchanted, and then of a sudden the ground under my feet
seemed faintly to tremble as if at a muffled blow. One of the fruits in
my dream, now come to ripeness, had fallen stone-like from above. Then
again--thud! Realization of the dreadful danger in which I stood swept
over me. I turned to escape, and awoke, shivering and in a suffocating
heat, to discover in the moonlight that now flooded my room where in
actuality I was.

Yet still, as it seemed, the dying rumour of the sound persisted, and
surely, I thought, it must be poor, careless Pollie, her key forgotten,
come back in the darkness after the storm, and hammering with the great
knocker on the door below. Hardly a minute had passed indeed before the
whole house resounded again with her thumping. One seldom finds Courage
keeping tryst on the outskirts of sleep, and there was a vehemence in
the knocking as if Pollie was in an extremity of fear at finding herself
under the vacant house alone in the night. The thought of going to her
rescue set my teeth chattering. I threw back the bedclothes and gazed at
the moon, and the longer I sat there the more clearly I realized that I
must somehow descend the stairs, convey to her that I was safe, and, if
possible, let her in.

Three steep stone flights separated us, stairs which I had very rarely
ascended or descended except in her arms. I thrust my foot out; all was
still; I must go at once. But what of light? The moon was on this side
of the house. It might be pitch dark on the lower landings and in the
hall. On the stool by her bedside stood Pollie's copper candlestick,
with an inch or two of candle in it and a box of matches. It was a
thick-set tallow candle and none too convenient for me to grasp. With
this alight in my hand, the stick being too cumbersome, I set out on my
errand. The air was cool; the moon shone lustily. Just waked from sleep
my mind was curiously exalted. I sallied out into the empty corridor. A
pace or two beyond the threshold my heart seemed to swell up in my body,
for it seemed that at the head of the staircase lay stretched the still
form of my mother as I had found her in the cold midnight hours long
ago. It was but a play of light, a trick of fantasy. I recovered my
breath and went on.

To leap from stair to stair was far too formidable a means of
progression. I should certainly have dashed out my brains. So I must
sit, and jump sitting, manipulating my candle as best I could. In this
sidling, undignified fashion, my eyes fixed only on the stair beneath
me, I mastered the first flight, and paused to rest. What a medley of
furtive sounds ascended to my ear from the desolate rooms below: the
heavy plash of raindrop from the eaves, scurry and squeak of mouse,
rustle of straw, a stirring--light as the settling of dust, crack of
timber, an infinitely faint whisper; and from without, the whistle of
bat, the stony murmur of the garden stream, the hunting screech of some
predatory night-fowl over the soaked and tranquil harvest fields. And
who, Who?--that shape?... I turned sharply, and the melted tallow of the
guttering candle welled over and smartly burned the hand that held it.
The pain gave me confidence. But better than that, a voice from below
suddenly broke out, not Pollie's but Adam Waggett's, hollaing in the
porch. Adam--the wren-slaughterer--prove me a coward? No, indeed. All
misgiving gone, I girded my dressing-gown tighter around me, and
continued the descent.

It was a jolting and arduous business, and as I paused on the next
landing, I now looked into the moon-bathed vacancy of my father's
bedroom. Dismantled, littered with paper and the fragments of wood and
glass of a picture my mother had given him, a great hole in the plaster,
a broken chair straddling in the midst--a hideous spectacle it was. An
immense moth with greenly glowing eyes, lured out of its roosting place,
came fluttering round my candle, fanning my cheek with its plumy wings.
I shaded the flame and smiled up at the creature which, not being of a
kind that is bent on self-slaughter, presently wafted away. The lower I
descended the filthier grew my journey. My stub of candle was fast
wasting; and what use should I be to Pollie's messenger? When indeed in
the muck and refuse left by the Sale, I reached the door, it was too
late. He was now beating with his fists at the rear of the house; and I
must needs climb down the last flight of the back wooden staircase used
by the servants. When at last the great stagnant kitchen came into
view, it was my whole inward self that cried out in me. Its stone flags
were swarming with cockroaches.

These shelled, nocturnal, sour-smelling creatures are among the few
insects that fill me with horror. By comparison the devil's coachman may
be worse-tempered, but he is a gentleman. The very thought of one of
them rearing itself against my slippered foot filled me with disgust;
and the males were winged. They went scurrying away into hiding, infants
seemingly to their mothers, whisper, whisper--I felt sick at the sight.
There came a noise at the window. Peering from round my candle flame I
perceived Adam's dusky face, with its long nose, staring in at me
through the glass. At sight of the plight I was in, he burst into a
prolonged guffaw of laughter. This enraged me beyond measure. I stamped
my foot, and at last he sobered down enough to yell through the glass
that Pollie's mother had sent him to see that I was safe and had
forgotten to give him the house-key. Pollie herself would be with me
next morning.

I waved my candle at him in token that I understood. At this the melted
grease once more trickled over and ran scalding up my arm. The candle
fell to the floor, went out; the pale moonshine spread through the air.
I could see Adam's conical head outlined against the soft light of the
sky; though he could no longer see me. Horror of the cockroaches
returned on me. Instantly I turned tail, leaving the lump of tallow for
their spoil.

How, in that dark, high house, I managed to remount those stairs, I
cannot conceive. Youth and persistency, I suppose. I doubt if I could do
it now. Utterly exhausted and bedraggled I regained my bedroom at last
without further misadventure. I sponged the smoke and grime from face
and hands in my washbowl, hung my dressing-gown where the morning air
might refresh it, and was soon in a dead sleep, from which I think even
the Angel Gabriel would have failed to arouse me.



Chapter Seven


When I awoke, the morning sky was gay with sunshine, there was a lisping
and gurgling of starlings on the roof, the roar of the little river in
flood after the rains shook the air at my window, and there sat Pollie,
in her outdoor clothes, the rest of the packing done and she awaiting
breakfast. Unstirringly from my pillow I scrutinized the plump,
red-cheeked face with its pale-blue prominent eyes dreaming out of the
window; and sorrow welled up in me at the thought of the past and of how
near drew our separation. She heard me move, and kneeling and stooping
low over my bed, with her work-roughened finger she stroked the hand
that lay on my coverlet. A pretty sight I must have looked--after my
night's experiences. We whispered a little together. She was now a
sedater young woman, but still my Pollie of the apples and novelettes.
And whether or not it is because early custom is second nature, she is
still the only person whom my skin does not a little creep against when
necessity calls for a beast of burden.

Her desertion of me the night before had been caused by the untimely
death of one of her father's three Alderney cows--a mild, horned
creature, which I had myself often seen in the meadows cropping among
the buttercups, and whose rich-breathed nose I had once had the courage
to ask to stroke with my hand. This ill-fated beast at first threat of
the storm, had taken shelter with her companions under an oak. Scarcely
had the lightnings begun to play when she was struck down by a
"thunderbolt." It was a tragedy after Pollie's heart. She had (she said)
fainted dead off at news of it--and we bemoaned the event in concert. In
return I told her my dream of the garden. Nothing would then content her
but she must fetch from under her mattress _Napoleon's Book of Fate_, a
legacy from Mrs Ballard.

"But, Pollie," I demurred; "a dream is only a dream."

"Honest, miss," she replied, thumbing over the pages, "there's some of
'em means what happens and comes true, and they'll tell secrets too if
they be searched about. More'n a month before Mrs Ballard fell out with
master she dreamed that one of the speckled hens had laid an egg in the
kitchen dresser. There it was clucking among the crockery. And to dream
of eggs, the book says, is to be certain sure of getting the place you
are after, and which she wrote off to a friend in London and is there
now!"

What more was there to say? So presently Pollie succeeded in turning to
"Pears" in the grease-grimed book, and spelled out slowly:--


     "PEARS.--To dream of pears is in-di-ca-tive of great wealth (which
     means riches, miss); and that you will rise to a much higher spear
     than the one you at present occupy. To a woman they denote that she
     will marry a person far above her in rank (lords and suchlike,
     miss, if you please), and that she will live in great state. To
     persons in trade they denote success and future prosperity and
     eleviation. They also indi- indicate constancy in love and
     happiness in the marriage state."


Her red cheeks grew redder with this exertion of scholarship, and I
burst out laughing. "Ah, miss," she cried in confusion, "laugh you may,
and that's what Sarah said to the Angel. But mark my words if something
of it don't hap out like what the book says."

"Then, Pollie," said I, "there's nothing for it but to open a butcher's
shop. For live in great state I can't and won't, not if the Prince of
Wales himself was to ask me in marriage."

"Lor, miss," retorted Pollie in shocked accents, "and him a married man
with grown-up sons and all." But she forgave me my mockery. As for the
Dream Book, doubtless young Bonaparte must often have dreamed of Pears
in Corsica; and no less indubitably have I lived in "great
state"--though without much eleviation.

But the day was hasting on. My toilet must be made, and the preparations
for our journey completed. Now that the dawn of my new fortunes was
risen, expectancy filled my mind, and the rain-freshened skies and
leaves of the morning renewed my spirits. Our train--the first in my
experience--was timed to leave our country railway station at 3.3 p.m.
By one o'clock, all the personal luggage that I was to take with me had
been sewn up in a square of canvas, and corded. The rest of my
belongings--my four-poster, etc.--were to be stowed in a large
packing-case and sent after me. First impressions endure. No great store
of sagacity was needed to tell me that. So I had chosen my clothes
carefully, determined to show my landlady that I meant to have my own
way and not be trifled with. My dear Mrs Bowater!--she would be amused
to hear that.

Pollie bustled downstairs. I stood in the midst of the sunlit,
dismantled room, light and shadow at play upon ceiling and walls, the
sun-pierced air a silvery haze of dust. A host of memories and thoughts,
like a procession in a dream, traversed my mind. A strangeness, too--as
if even this novel experience of farewell was a vague recollection
beyond defined recall. Pollie returned with the new hat in the paper bag
in which she had brought it from home: and I was her looking-glass when
she had put it on. Then from top to basement she carried me through
every room in the house, and there on the kitchen floor, mute witness of
the past, lay the beetle-gnawn remnant of my candle-stub. We wandered
through the garden, glinting green in the cool flocking sunbeams after
the rain; and already vaunting its escape from Man. Pollie was returning
to Lyndsey--I not! My heart was too full to let me linger by the water.
I gazed at the stones and the wild flowers in a sorrowful hunger of
farewell. Trifles, soon to be dying, how lovely they were. The thought
of it swallowed me up. What was the future but an emptiness? Would that
I might vanish away and be but a portion of the sweetness of the
morning. Even Pollie's imperturbable face wore the appearance of
make-believe; for an instant I surprised the whole image of me reflected
in her round blue eye.

The Waggetts' wagonette was at the door, but not--and I was
thankful--not _my_ Adam, but the old Adam, his father. My luggage was
pushed under the seat. I was set up, to be screened as far as possible
from the wind, beside Pollie and behind Mr Waggett--no stranger to me
with his neat, dark whiskers, for in the old days, at dinner parties, he
would wait at table. I see him now--as gentlemanlike as a Devil's
Coachhorse--entering the kitchen with his little black bag. Only once I
swiftly turned my head over my shoulder toward the house. Then we were
outside the iron gates, and bumping along through the puddles between
the bowery hedges towards the station.

I thought of my father and mother lying side by side, beyond the sullen
drift of nettles, under the churchyard wall. Miss Fenne had taken me
there many weeks before in her faded barouche with the gaunt white mare.
Not a word had I breathed to her of my anguish at sight of the
churchyard. The whole afternoon was a nightmare. She regaled the journey
with sentiments on death and the grave. Throughout it, I was in danger
of slipping out of her sight; for the buttons on the sage-green leather
seat were not only a discomfort but had failed to aid me to sit upright;
and nothing would have induced me to catch at the trimmings of her
dolman to save myself from actually falling off into the pit of her
carriage. There sat her ancient coachman; clutter-clutter plodded the
hoofs; what a monstrous, monstrous world--and she cackling on and
on--like a hen over its egg.

But now the novelty of this present experience, the flowery cottages, Mr
Waggett's square, sorrel nag, the ballooning northwesterly clouds, the
aromatic rusty hedgerows, the rooks in the cornfields--all these sights
and sounds called joy into my mind, and far too soon the bright-painted
railway station at the hill-bottom hove into sight, and our drive was
over. I was lifted down into Pollie's arms again. Then followed a
foolish chaffering over the tickets, which Mr Waggett had volunteered to
purchase for us at the rounded window. The looming face beyond had
caught sight of me, and the last words I heard bawled through for any to
hear were: "Lor, Mr Waggett, I'd make it a _quarter_ for 'ee if it was
within regulations. But 'tain't so, the young lady's full natural size
in the eye of the law, and I couldn't give in to 'ee not even if 'twas a
honeymooning you was after." No doubt it was wholesome to learn as
quickly as possible how easy a butt I was to be for the jests of the
good-humoured. On that occasion it was a bitter pill. I felt even Pollie
choke down a laugh into her bosom. My cheek whitened, but I said
nothing.

An enormous din at the moment shattered around me, ten thousand times
harsher to my nerves than any mere witticism could be. My first
"steam-monster" was entering the station. All but stunned by its
clatter, I barely had the presence of mind to thank Mr Waggett for the
little straw basket of three greengages, and the nosegay of cherry-pie
which he had thrust into my arms. My canvas-wrapped package was pushed
in under the seat, the door was slammed to, the guard waved his green
flag, Mr Waggett touched his hat: and our journey was begun.

Fortunately Pollie and I found ourselves in an empty carriage. The
scream of the whistle, the grinding jar of the wheels, the oppressive
odour of Mr Waggett's bouquet--I leaned back on her to recover my wits.
But the cool air blowing in on my face and a far-away sniff from a
little glass bottle with which her mother had fortified her for the
journey, quickly revived me, and I was free to enjoy the novelties of
steam-travel. My eyes dizzied at the wide revolving scene that was now
spread out beneath the feathery vapours. How strange it was to see the
green country world--meadow and stream and wooded hill--thus wheel
softly by. If Pollie and I could have shared it alone, it would have
been among my pleasantest memories.

But at the next stopping places other passengers climbed into the
carriage; and five complete strangers soon shared the grained wood box
in which we were enclosed. There was a lady in black, with her hair
smoothed up under her bonnet, and a long pale nose; and up against her
sat her little boy, a fine fair, staring child of about five years of
age. A black-clothed, fat little man with a rusty leather bag, over the
lock of which he kept clasped his finger and thumb, quietly seated
himself. He cast but one dark glance about him and immediately shut his
eyes. In the corner was an older man with a beard under his chin,
gaiters, and a hard, wide-brimmed hat. Besides these, there was a fat
countrywoman on the same side as Pollie and I, whom I could hear
breathing and could not see, and a dried-up, bird-eyed woman opposite in
a check shawl, with heavy metal ear-rings dangling at her ears. She sat
staring blankly and bleakly at things close as if they were at a
distance.

My spirit drank in this company. So rapt was I that I might have been a
stock of wood. Gathered together in this small space they had the
appearance of animals, and, if they had not been human, what very
alarming ones. As long as I merely sat and watched their habits I
remained unnoticed. But the afternoon sun streamed hot on roof and
windows: and the confined air was soon so dense with a variety of
odours, that once more my brain dizzied, and I must clutch at Pollie's
arm for support. At this movement the little boy, who had more than once
furtively glanced at me, crouched wriggling back against his mother,
and, edging his face aside, piped up into her ear, "Mamma, is that
alive?"

The train now stood motionless, a fine array of hollyhocks and
sunflowers flared beyond the window, and his voice rang out shrill as a
bird in the quiet of afternoon. Tiny points of heat broke out all over
me, as one by one my fellow passengers turned their astonished faces in
my direction. Even the man with the leather bag heard the question. The
small, bead-brown eyes wheeled from under their white lids and fixed me
with their stare.

"Hush, my dear," said the lady, no less intent but less open in her
survey; "hush, look at the pretty cows!"

"But she _is_, mamma. It moved. I saw that move," he asseverated,
looking along cornerwise at me out of his uptilted face.

Those blue eyes! a mingling of delight, horror, incredulity, even greed
swam in their shallow deeps. I stood leaning close to Pollie's bosom,
breathless and helpless, a fascinating object, no doubt. Never before
had I been transfixed like this in one congregated stare. I felt myself
gasp like a fish. It was the old farmer in the corner who at last came
to my rescue. "Alive! _I_ warrant. Eh, ma'am?" he appealed to poor
Pollie. "And an uncommon neat-fashioned young lady, too. Off to Whipham
Fair, I'll be bound."

The bag-man turned with a creeping grin on his tallowy features and
muttered some inaudible jest out of the corner of his mouth to the
gipsy. She eyed him fiercely, drawing her lips from her bright teeth in
a grimace more of contempt than laughter. Once more the engine hooted
and we glided on our way.

"I _want_ that, mamma," whispered the child. "I _want_ that dear little
lady. Give that teeny tiny lady a biscuit."

At this new sally universal merriment filled the carriage. We were
jogging along in fine style. This, then, was Miss Fenne's "network." A
helpless misery and bitterness swept through me, the heavy air swirled;
and then--whence, from whom, I know not--self-possession returned to me.
Why, I had _chosen_ my fate: I must hold my own.

My young admirer, much against his mother's inclination, had managed to
fetch out a biscuit from her reticule--a star-shaped thing, graced with
a cone of rose-tinted sugar. Still crouching back like a chick under her
wing, he stretched his bribe out at arm's length towards me, in a pink,
sweat-sparked hand. All this while Pollie had sat like a lump beside me,
clutching her basket, a vacant, flushed smile on her round face. I drew
myself up, and supporting myself by her wicker basket, advanced with all
the dignity at my command to the peak of her knees, and, stretching out
my hand in return, accepted the gift. I even managed to make him an
indulgent little bow, feigned a nibble at the lump of food, then planted
it on the dusty ledge beneath the carriage window.

A peculiar silence followed. With a long sigh the child hid his face in
his mother's sleeve. She drew him closer and smiled carefully into
nothingness. "There," she murmured, "now mother's treasure must sit
still and be a good boy. I can't think why papa didn't
take--second-class tickets."

"But nor did that kind little lady's papa," returned the child stoutly.

The kindly old farmer continued to gloat on me, gnarled hands on knees.
But I could not bear it. I quietly surveyed him until he was compelled
to rub his face with his fingers, and so cover its retreat to his own
window. The gipsy woman kept her ferocious, birdlike stare on me, with
an occasional stealthy glance at Pollie. The bag-man's lids closed down.
For the rest of the journey--though passengers came and went--I kept
well back, and was left in peace. It was my first real taste of the
world's curiosity, mockery, aversion, and flattery. One practical lesson
it taught me. From that day forward I never set out on any such journey
unless thickly veiled. For then, though the inquisitive may see me, they
cannot tell whether or not I see them, or what my feelings may be. It is
a real comfort; though, from what I have read, it appears to be the
condition rather of a ghost than of a normal young lady.

But now the sun had begun to descend and the rays of evening to stain
the fields. We loitered on from station to station. To my relief Pollie
had at last munched her way through the pasties and sweetmeats stowed in
her basket. My nosegay of cherry-pie was fainting for want of water. In
heavy sleep the bag-man and gipsy sat woodenly nodding and jerking side
by side. The lady had delicately composed her face and shut her eyes.
The little boy slumbered serenely with his small red mouth wide open.
Languid and heavy, I dared not relax my vigilance. But in the desolation
that gathered over me I almost forgot my human company, and returned to
the empty house which seemingly I had left for ever--the shadows of yet
another nightfall already lengthening over its flowers and sward.

Could I not hear the silken rustle of the evening primrose unfolding her
petals? Soon the cool dews would be falling on the stones where I was
wont to sit in reverie beside the flowing water. It seemed indeed that
my self had slipped from my body, and hovered entranced amid the
thousand jargonings of its tangled lullaby. Was there, in truth, a
wraith in me that could so steal out; and were the invisible inhabitants
in their fortresses beside my stream conscious of its presence among
them, and as happy in my spectral company as I in theirs?

I floated up out of these ruminations to find that my young pasha had
softly awakened and was gazing at me in utter incredulity from
sleep-gilded eyes. We exchanged a still, protracted, dwelling smile, and
for the only time in my life I actually _saw_ a fellow-creature fall in
love!

"Oh, but mamma, mamma, I do _beseech_ you," he called up at her from the
platform where he was taking his last look at me through the dingy
oblong window, "please, please, I want her for mine; I want her for
mine!"

I held up his biscuit in my hand, laughing and nodding. The whistle
knelled, our narrow box drew slowly out of the station. As if
heartbroken, he took his last look at me, petulantly flinging aside his
mother's hand. He had lost me for ever, and Pollie and I were alone
again.



Beechwood



Chapter Eight


Still the slow train bumped on, loath to drag itself away from the happy
harvest fields. Darkness was near when we ourselves alighted at our
destination, mounted into a four-wheeled cab, and once more were in
motion in the rain-laid dust. On and on rolled Pollie and I and our
luggage together, in such ease and concealment after the hard wooden
seats and garish light that our journey began to seem--as indeed I
wished for the moment it might prove--interminable. One after another
the high street lamps approached, flung their radiance into our musty
velvet cabin, and went gliding by. Ever and again the luminous square of
a window beyond the outspread branches of a tree would float on. Then
suddenly our narrow solitude was invaded by the bright continuous flare
flung into it from a row of shops.

Never before had I been out after nightfall. I gazed enthralled at the
splendours of fruit and cakes, silks and sweetmeats packed high behind
the glass fronts. Wasn't I myself the heiress of £110 a year? Indeed I
was drinking in Romance, and never traveller surveyed golden Moscow or
the steeps of Tibet with keener relish than I the liquid amber, ruby,
and emerald that summoned its customers to a wayside chemist's shop.
Twenty--what a child I was! I smile now at these recollections with an
indulgence not unmixed with envy. It is Moscow survives, not the artless
traveller.

After climbing a long hill--the wayside houses steadily thinning out as
we ascended--the cab came to a standstill. The immense, shapeless old
man who had so miraculously found our way for us, and who on this mild
August evening was muffled up to his eyes in a thick ulster, climbed
down backwards from his box and opened the door. At the same moment, as
if by clockwork, opened another door--that of the last house on the
hill. I was peering out of the cab, then, at my home; and framed in
that lighted oblong stood Mrs Bowater. All utterly different from what I
had foreseen: this much smaller house, this much taller landlady,
and--dear me, how fondly I had trusted that she would not for the first
time set eyes on her lodger being _carried_ into her house. I had in
fancy pictured myself bowing a composed and impressive greeting to her
from her own hearthrug. But it was not to be.

Pollie lifted me out, settled me on her arm, and my feet did not touch
_terra firma_ again until she had ascended the five stone steps and we
were within the passage.

"Lor, miss; then here we are," she sighed breathlessly, then returned to
the cabman to pay him his fare. Even dwarfed a little perhaps by my
mourning, there I stood, breathed upon by the warm air of the house, in
the midst of a prickly doormat, on the edge of the shiny patterned
oilcloth that glossed away into the obscurity from under the gaslight in
front of me; and there stood my future landlady. For the first time,
with head thrown back, I scanned a countenance that was soon to become
so familiar and so endeared. Mrs Bowater's was a stiff and angular
figure. She, too, was in black, with a long, springside boot. The bony
hands hung down in their peculiar fashion from her elbows. A large cameo
brooch adorned the flat chest. A scanty velvet patch of cap failed to
conceal the thin hair sleekly parted in the middle over the high narrow
temples. The long dark face with its black, set eyes, was almost without
expression, except that of a placid severity. She gazed down at me, as I
up at her, steadily, silently.

"So this is the young lady," she mused at last, as if addressing a
hidden and distant listener. "I hope you are not over-fatigued by your
journey, miss. Please to step in."


To my ear, Mrs Bowater's was what I should describe as a low, roaring
voice, like falling water out of a black cloven rock in a hill-side; but
what a balm was its sound in my ear, and how solacing this dignified
address to jaded nerves still smarting a little after my victory on the
London, Chatham, and Dover Railway. Making my way around a grandfather's
clock that ticked hollowly beside the door, I followed her into a room
on the left of the passage, from either wall of which a pair of
enormous antlers threatened each other under the discoloured ceiling.
For a moment the glare within and the vista of furniture legs confused
my eyes. But Mrs Bowater came to my rescue.

"Food was never mentioned," she remarked reflectively, "being as I see
nothing to be considered except as food so-called. But you will find
everything clean and comfortable; and I am sure, miss, what with your
sad bereavements and all, as I have heard from Mr Pellew, I hope it will
be a home to you. There being nothing else as I suppose that we may
expect."

My mind ran about in a hasty attempt to explore these sentiments. They
soothed away many misgivings, though it was clear that Mrs Bowater's
lodger was even less in dimensions than Mrs Bowater had supposed.
_Clean_: after so many months of Mrs Sheppey's habits, it was this word
that sang in my head. Wood, glass, metal flattered the light of gas and
coal, and for the first time I heard my own voice float up into my new
"apartment": "It looks _very_ comfortable, thank you, Mrs Bowater; and I
am quite sure I shall be happy in my new abode." There was nothing
intentionally affected in this formal little speech.

"Which being so," replied Mrs Bowater, "there seems to be trouble with
the cabman, and the day's drawing in, perhaps you will take a seat by
the fire."

A stool nicely to my height stood by the steel fender, the flames played
in the chimney; and for a moment I was left alone. "Thank God," said I,
and took off my hat, and pushed back my hair.... Alone. Only for a
moment, though. Its mistress gone, as fine a black cat as ever I have
seen appeared in the doorway and stood, green-eyed, regarding me. To
judge from its countenance, this must have been a remarkable experience.

I cried seductively, "Puss."

But with a blink of one eye and a shake of its forepaw, as if
inadvertently it had trodden in water, it turned itself about again and
disappeared. In spite of all my cajoleries, Henry and I were never to be
friends.

Whatever Pollie's trouble with the cabman may have been, Mrs Bowater
made short work of it. Pollie was shown to the room in which she was to
sleep that night. I took off my bodice and bathed face, hands, and arms
to the elbow in the shallow bowl Mrs Bowater had provided for me. And
soon, wonderfully refreshed and talkative, Pollie and I were seated over
the last meal we were to share together for many a long day.

There were snippets of bread and butter for me, a little omelette, two
sizes too large, a sugared cherry or two sprinkled with "hundreds and
thousands," and a gay little bumper of milk gilded with the enwreathed
letters, "A Present from Dover." Alack-a-day for that omelette! I must
have kept a whole family of bantams steadily engaged for weeks together.
But I was often at my wits' end to dispose of their produce. Fortunately
Mrs Bowater kept merry fires burning in the evening--"Ladies of some
sizes can't warm the air as much as most," as she put it. So at some
little risk to myself among the steel fire-irons, the boiled became the
roast. At last I made a clean breast of my horror of eggs, and since by
that time my landlady and I were the best of friends, no harm came of
it. She merely bestowed on me a grim smile of unadulterated amusement,
and the bantams patronized some less fastidious stomach.

My landlady was a heavy thinker, and not a copious--though a
leisurely--talker. Minutes would pass, while with dish or duster in hand
she pondered a speech; then perhaps her long thin lips would only shut a
little tighter, or a slow, convulsive rub of her lean forefinger along
the side of her nose would indicate the upshot. But I soon learned to
interpret these mute signs. She was a woman who disapproved of most
things, for excellent, if nebulous, reasons; and her silences were due
not to the fact that she had nothing to say, but too much.

Pollie and I talked long and earnestly that first evening at Beechwood.
She promised to write to me, to send me all the gossip of the village,
and to come and see me when she could. The next morning, after a
sorrowful breakfast, we parted. Standing on the table in the parlour
window, with eyes a little wilder than usual, I watched her pass out of
sight. A last wave of her handkerchief, and the plump-cheeked,
fair-skinned face was gone. The strangeness and solitude of my situation
flooded over me.

For a few days, strive as she might, Mrs Bowater's lodger moped. It was
not merely that she had become more helpless, but of far less
importance. This may, in part, be accounted for by the fact that, having
been accustomed at Lyndsey to live at the top of a high house and to
look down on the world, when I found myself foot to foot with it, so to
speak, on Beechwood Hill, it alarmingly intensified the _sense_ of my
small stature. Use and habit however. The relative merits of myself and
of the passing scene gradually readjusted themselves with a proper
respect for the former. Soon, too, as if from heaven, the packing-case
containing my furniture arrived. Mrs Bowater shared a whole morning over
its unpacking, ever and again standing in engrossed consideration of
some of my minute treasures, and, quite unaware of it, heaving a great
sigh. But how to arrange them there in a room already over-occupied?



Chapter Nine


A carpenter of the name of Bates was called in, so distant a relative of
Mrs Bowater's apparently that she never by nod, word, or look
acknowledged the bond. Mr Bates held my landlady in almost speechless
respect. "A woman in a thousand," he repeatedly assured me, when we were
grown a little accustomed to one another; "a woman in _ten_ thousand.
And if things hadn't been what they was, you may understand, they might
have turned out different. Ah, miss, there's one looking down on us
could tell a tale." I looked up past his oblong head at the ceiling, but
only a few flies were angling round the chandelier.

Mrs Bowater's compliments were less indirect. "That _Bates_," she would
say, surveying his day's handiwork after he was gone, "is all thumbs."

He was certainly rather snail-like in his movements, and spent most of
his time slowly rubbing his hands on the stiff apron that encased him.
But I minded his thumbs far less than his gluepot.

Many years have passed, yet at the very whisper of his name, that
inexpressible odour clouds up into my nose. It now occurs to me for the
first time that he never sent in his bill. Either his memory failed him,
or he carpentered for love. Level with the wide table in the window
recess, strewn over with my small Persian mats, whereon I sat, sewed,
read, and took my meals, Mr Bates constructed a broad shelf, curtained
off on three sides from the rest of the room. On this wooden stage stood
my four-poster, wardrobe, and other belongings. It was my bedchamber.
From table to floor he made a staircase, so that I could easily descend
and roam the room at large. The latter would have been more commodious
if I could have persuaded Mrs Bowater to empty it a little. If I had
_kept on_ looking at the things in it I am sure I should have gone mad.
Even tact was unavailing. If only there had been the merest tinge of a
Cromwell in my character, the baubles that would have been removed!

There were two simpering plaster figures--a Shepherd and
Shepherdess--nearly half my height on the chimney-piece, whom I
particularly detested; also an enlarged photograph in a discoloured
frame on the wall--that of a thick-necked, formidable man, with a bush
of whisker on either cheek, and a high, quarrelsome stare. He made me
feel intensely self-conscious. It was like a wolf looking all day into a
sheep-fold. So when I had my meals, I invariably turned my back on his
portrait.

I went early to bed. But now that the autumnal dusks were shortening, an
hour or two of artificial light was necessary. The flare of the gas
dazzled and stupefied me, and gave me a kind of hunted feeling; so Mrs
Bowater procured for me a couple of fine little glass candlesticks. In
bed I sometimes burned a wax-light in a saucer, a companionable thing
for night-thoughts in a strange place. Often enough I sat through the
evening with no other illumination than that of the smouldering coals,
so that I could see out of the window. It was an endless source of
amusement to withdraw the muslin curtains, gaze out over the darkened
fields beyond the roadway, and let my day-dreams wander at will.

At nine o'clock Mrs Bowater would bring me my supper--some fragments of
rusk, or of bread, and milk. My food was her constant anxiety. The
difficulty, as she explained, was to supply me with _little_ enough to
eat--at least of cooked food: "It dries up in the winking of an eye." So
her cat, Henry, fared more sumptuously than ever, though the jealous
creature continued to reject all my advances, and as far as possible
ignored my existence. "Simple victuals, by all means, miss," Mrs Bowater
would admit. "But if it don't enjoy, the inside languishes; and you are
not yet of an age that can fall back on skin and bone."

The question of food presently introduced that of money. She insisted on
reducing her charges to twenty shillings a week. "There's the lodging,
and there's the board, the last being as you might say all but
unmentionable; and honesty the best policy though I have never tried the
reverse." So, in spite of all my protestations, it was agreed. And I
thus found myself mistress of a round fifty-eight pounds a year over
and above what I paid to Mrs Bowater. Messrs Harris, Harris, and Harris
were punctual as quarter-day: and so was I. I "_at once_" paid over to
my landlady £13 and whatever other sum was needful. The "charity" my
godmother had recommended began, and, alas, remained at home. I stowed
the rest under lock and key in one of my grandfather's boxes which I
kept under my bed. This was an imprudent habit, perhaps. Mrs Bowater
advocated the Penny Bank. But the thought of my money being so handy and
_palpable_ reassured me. I would count it over in my mind, as if it were
a means to salvation; and became, in consequence, near and parsimonious.

Occasionally when she had "business" to transact, Mrs Bowater would be
off to London. There she would purchase for me any little trifle
required for the replenishment of my wardrobe. Needing so little, I
could afford the finest materials; my sovereign was worth at least sixty
shillings. Rather than "fine," Mrs Bowater preferred things "good"; and
for this "goodness," I must confess, she sometimes made rather alarming
sacrifices of appearance. Still, I was already possessed of a
serviceable stock of clothes, and by aid of one of my dear mother's last
presents to me, a shiny Swiss miniature workbox with an inlaid picture
of the Lake of Geneva on the lid, I soon became a passable needlewoman.

I love bright, pure colours, and, my sweeping and dusting and bedmaking
over, and my external mourning for my father at an end, a remarkably
festive figure would confront me in my cheval glass of an afternoon. The
hours I spent in dressing my hair and matching this bit of colour with
that. I would talk to myself in the glass, too, for company's sake, and
make believe I was a dozen different characters. I was young. I pined
for life and companionship, and having only my own--for Mrs Bowater was
rather a faithful feature of the landscape than a fellow being--I made
as much, and as many, of myself as possible.

Another question that deeply engaged my landlady was my health. She
mistrusted open windows, but strongly recommended "air." What insidious
maladies she spied around me! Indeed that September was unusually hot. I
sat on my table in the window like a cricket in an oven, sorely missing
my high open balcony, the garden, and the stream. Once and again Mrs
Bowater would take me for a little walk after sunset. Discretion to her
was much the better part of valour; nor had I quite recovered from my
experiences in the train. But such walks--though solitary enough at that
hour of the day--were straggly and irksome. Pollie's arm had been a kind
of second nature to me; but Mrs Bowater, I think, had almost as
fastidious a disinclination to carrying me as I have to being carried. I
languished for liberty. Being a light sleeper, I would often awake at
daybreak and the first call of the birds. Then the hill--which led to
Tyddlesdon End and Love (or Loose) Lane--was deserted. Thought of the
beyond haunted me like a passion. At a convenient moment I intimated to
Mrs Bowater how secure was the street at this early hour, how fresh the
meadows, and how thirsty for independent outings her lodger. "Besides,
Mrs Bowater, I am not a child, and who could see me?"

After anxious and arduous discussion, Mr Bates was once more consulted.
He wrapped himself in a veritable blanket of reflection, and all but
became unconscious before he proposed a most ingenious device. With Mrs
Bowater's consent, she being her own landlady and amused at the idea, he
cut out of one of the lower panels of her parlour door a round-headed
opening just of an easy size to suit me. In this aperture he hung a
delicious little door that precisely fitted it. So also with the door
into the street--to which he added a Brahmah lock. By cementing a small
square stone into the corner of each of the steps down from the porch,
he eased _that_ little difficulty. May Heaven bless Mr Bates! With his
key round my neck, stoop once, stoop twice, a scamper down his steps,
and I was free--as completely mistress of my goings-out and of my
comings-in as every self-respecting person should be.

"That's what my father would have called a good job, Mr Bates," said I
cordially.

He looked yearningly at me, as if about to impart a profound secret; but
thought better of it. "Well, miss, what I say is, a job's a _job_; and
if it _is_ a job, it's a job that should be made a job _of_."

As I dot the i's and cross the t's of this manuscript, I often think--a
little ruefully--of Mr Bates.

As soon as daybreak was piercing into my region of the sky, and before
Mrs Bowater or the rest of the world was stirring, I would rise, make my
candlelit toilet, and hasten out into the forsaken sweet of the morning.
If it broke wet or windy, I could turn over and go to sleep again. A few
hundred yards up the hill, the road turned off, as I have said, towards
Tyddlesdon End and Loose Lane--very stony and steep. On the left, and
before the fork, a wicket gate led into the woods and the park of empty
"Wanderslore." To the verge of these deserted woods made a comfortable
walk for me.

If, as might happen, any other wayfarer was early abroad, I could
conceal myself in the tussocks of grass and bushes that bordered the
path. In my thick veil, with my stout green parasol and inconspicuous
shawl, I made a queer and surprising figure no doubt. Indeed, from what
I have heard, the ill fame of Wanderslore acquired a still more piquant
flavour in the town by reports that elf-folk had been descried on its
outskirts. But if I sometimes skipped and capered in these early
outings, it was for exercise as well as suppressed high spirits. To be
prepared, too, for the want of such facilities in the future, I had the
foresight to accustom myself to Mrs Bowater's steep steps as well as to
my cemented-in "Bateses," as I called them. My only difficulty was to
decide whether to practice on them when I was fresh at the outset of my
walk, or fatigued at the end of it. Naturally people grow "peculiar"
when much alone: self plays with self, and the mimicry fades.

These little expeditions, of course, had their spice of danger, and it
made them the more agreeable. A strange dog might give me a fright.
There was an old vixen which once or twice exchanged glances with me at
a distance. But with my parasol I was a match for most of the creatures
which humanity has left unslaughtered. My sudden appearance might
startle or perplex them. But if few were curious, fewer far were
unfriendly. Boys I feared most. A hulking booby once stoned me through
the grass, but fortunately he was both a coward and a poor marksman.
Until winter came, I doubt if a single sunshine morning was wasted. Many
a rainy one, too, found me splashing along, though then I must be a
careful walker to avoid a sousing.

The birds renewed their autumn song, the last flowers were blossoming.
Concealed by scattered tufts of bracken where an enormous beech forked
its roots and cast a golden light from its withering leaves, I would
spend many a solitary hour. Above the eastern tree-tops my Kent
stretched into the distance beneath the early skies. Far to my left and
a little behind me rose the chimneys of gloomy Wanderslore. Breathing in
the gentle air, the dreamer within would stray at will. There I kept the
anniversary of my mother's birthday; twined a wreath for her of
ivy-flowers and winter green; and hid it secretly in a forsaken
blackbird's nest in the woods.

Still I longed for my old home again. Mrs Bowater's was a stuffy and
meagre little house, and when meals were in preparation, none too sweet
to the nose. Especially low I felt, when a scrawling letter was now and
then delivered by the postman from Pollie. Her spelling and grammar
intensified my homesickness. Miss Fenne, too, had not forgotten me. I
pored over her spidery epistles till my head ached. Why, if I had been
so rash and undutiful, was she so uneasy? Even the texts she chose had a
parched look. The thought of her spectacling my minute handwriting and
examining the proof that I was still a child of wrath, gave my pride a
silly qualm. So Mrs Bowater came to my rescue, and between us we
concocted replies to her which, I am afraid, were not more intelligible
for a tendency on my landlady's part to express my sentiments in the
third person.

This little service set her thinking of Sunday and church. She was not,
she told me, "what you might call a religious woman," having been
compelled "to keep her head up in the world, and all not being gold that
glitters." She was none the less a regular attendant at St Peter's--a
church a mile or so away in the valley, whose five bells of a Sabbath
evening never failed to recall my thoughts to Lyndsey and to dip me into
the waters of melancholy. I loved their mellow clanging in the lap of
the wind, yet it was rather doleful to be left alone with my candles,
and only Henry sullenly squatting in the passage awaiting his mistress's
return.

"Not that you need making any _better_, miss," Mrs Bowater assured me.
"Even a buttercup--or a retriever dog, for that matter--being no fuller
than it can hold of what it is, in a manner of speaking. But there's the
next world to be accounted for, and hopes of reunion on another shore,
where, so I understand, mere size, body or station, will not be
noticeable in the sight of the Lamb. _Not_ that I hold with the notion
that only the good so-called will be there."

This speech, I must confess, made me exceedingly uncomfortable.

"Wherever I go, Mrs Bowater," I replied hastily, "I shall not be happy
unless you are there."

"D. V.," said Mrs Bowater, grimly, "I will."

Still, I remained unconverted to St Peter's. Why, I hardly know: perhaps
it was her reference to its pew rents, or her description of the vicar's
daughters (who were now nursing their father at Tunbridge Wells), or
maybe even it was a stare from her husband which I happened at that
precise moment to intercept from the wall. Possibly if I myself had
taken a "sitting," this aura of formality would have faded away. Mrs
Bowater was a little reassured, however, to hear that my father and
mother, in spite of Miss Fenne, had seldom taken me to church. They had
concluded that my absence was best both for me and for the congregation.
And I told her of our little evening services in the drawing-room, with
Mrs Ballard, the parlourmaid, Pollie, and the Boy on the sofa, just as
it happened to be their respective "Sundays in."

This set her mind at rest. Turn and turn about, on one Sunday evening
she went to St Peter's and brought back with her the text and crucial
fragments of Mr Crimble's sermon, and on the next we read the lessons
together and sang a hymn. Once, indeed, I embarked upon a solo, "As
pants the hart," one of my mother's favourite airs. But I got a little
shaky at "O for the wings," and there was no rambling, rumbling chorus
from my father. But Sunday was not my favourite day on Beechwood Hill.
Mrs Bowater looked a little formal with stiff white "frilling" round her
neck. She reminded me of a leg of mutton. To judge from the gloom and
absentmindedness into which they sometimes plunged her, quotations from
Mr Crimble could be double-edged. My real joy was to hear her views on
the fashions and manners of her fellow-worshippers.

Well, so the months went by. Winter came with its mists and rains and
frosts, and a fire in the polished grate was no longer an evening luxury
but a daily need. As often as possible I went out walking. When the
weather was too inclement, I danced for an hour or so, for joy and
exercise, and went swimming on a chair. I would entertain myself also in
watching through the muslin curtains the few passers-by; sorting out
their gaits, and noses, and clothes, and acquaintances, and guessing
their characters, occupations, and circumstances. Certain little looks
and movements led me to suppose that, even though I was perfectly
concealed, the more sensitive among them were vaguely uneasy under this
secret scrutiny. In such cases (though very reluctantly) I always drew
my eyes away: first because I did not like the thought of encroaching on
their privacy, and next, because I was afraid their uneasiness might
prevent them coming again. But this microscopic examination of mankind
must cease with dusk, and the candle-hours passed rather heavily at
times. The few books I had brought away from Lyndsey were mine now
nearly by heart. So my eye would often wander up to a small bookcase
that hung out of reach on the other side of the chimney-piece.



Chapter Ten


One supper-time I ventured to ask Mrs Bowater if she would hand me down
a tall, thin, dark-green volume, whose appearance had particularly taken
my fancy. A simple enough request, but surprisingly received. She
stiffened all over and eyed the bookcase with a singular intensity. "The
books there," she said, "are what they call the dead past burying its
dead."

Spoon in hand, I paused, looking now at Mrs Bowater and now at the
coveted book. "_Mr_ Bowater," she added from deep down in herself,
"followed the sea." This was, in fact, Mr Bowater's début in our
conversation, and her remark, uttered in so hollow yet poignant a tone,
produced a romantic expectancy in my mind.

"Is----" I managed to whisper at last: "I hope Mr Bowater isn't _dead_?"

Mrs Bowater's eyes were like lead in her long, dark-skinned face. She
opened her mouth, her gaze travelled slowly until, as I realized, it had
fixed itself on the large yellowing photograph behind my back.

"Dead, no"; she echoed sepulchrally. "Worse than."

By which I understood that, far from being dead, Mr Bowater was still
actively alive. And yet, apparently, not much the happier for that.
Instantaneously I caught sight of a rocky, storm-strewn shore, such as I
had seen in my _Robinson Crusoe_, and _there_ Mr Bowater, still
"following the sea."

"Never, never," continued Mrs Bowater in her Bible voice, "never to
darken these doors again!" I stole an anxious glance over my shoulder.
There was such a brassy boldness in the responsive stare that I was
compelled to shut my eyes.

But Mrs Bowater had caught my expression. "He was, as some would say,"
she explained with gloomy pride, "a handsome man. _Do_ handsome he did
never. But there, miss, things being as they must be, and you in the
green of your youth--though hearing the worst may be a wholesome physic
if taken with care, as I have told Fanny many a time...." She paused to
breathe. "What I was saying is, there can be no harm in your looking at
the book if that's all there's to it." With that she withdrew the
dry-looking volume from the shelf and laid it on the table beside my
chair.

I got down, opened it in the middle (as my father had taught me, in
order to spare the binding), opened it on a page inky black as night all
over, but starred with a design as familiar to me as the lines on the
palm of my hand.

"But oh! Mrs Bowater!" I cried, all in a breath, running across,
dragging back the curtain, and pointing out into the night; "look, look,
it's there! It's Orion!"

There, indeed, in the heavens beyond my window, straddling the dark,
star for star the same as those in the book, stood the Giant, shaking
his wondrous fires upon the air. Even Mrs Bowater was moved by my
enthusiasm. She came to the table, compared at my direction chart with
sky, and was compelled rather grudgingly to admit that her husband's
book was at least true to the facts. Stooping low, I read out a brief
passage. She listened. And it seemed a look of girlhood came into the
shadowy face uplifted towards the window. So the stars came into my
life, and faithful friends they have remained to this day.

Mrs Bowater's little house being towards the crest of the hill, with
sunrise a little to the left across the meadows, my window commanded
about three-fifths of the southern and eastern skies. By day I would
kneel down and study for hours the charts, and thus be prepared for the
dark. Night after night, when the weather was fair, or the windy clouds
made mock of man's celestial patternings, I would sit in the glow of the
firelight and summon these magic shiners each by name--Bellatrix, huge
Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and the rest. I would look at one, and, while so
doing, watch another. This not only isolated the smaller stars, but
gradually I became aware that they were one and all furtively signalling
to _me_! About a fortnight later my old Lyndsey friend, the Dogstar,
topped the horizon fringe of woodland. I heard myself shout at him
across the world. His sudden molten bursts of crimson betwixt his
emeralds and sapphires filled me with an almost ridiculous delight.

By the middle of December I had mastered all the greater stars in my
region, and with my spyglass a few even of the Gammas and Deltas. But
much of the zenith and all the north was closed to me, and--such is
human greed--I began to pine beyond measure for a sight of Deneb, Vega,
and the Chair. This desire grew unendurable, and led me into a piece of
genuine foolhardiness. I determined to await the first clear still night
and then to sally out and make my way, by hook or crook, up to my
beech-roots, from which I should be able to command a fair stretch of
the northern heavens. A quiet spell favoured me.

I waited until Mrs Bowater had gone to her bedroom, then muffled myself
up in my thickest clothes and stole out into the porch. At my first
attempt, one glance into the stooping dark was enough. At the second, a
furtive sighing breath of wind, as I breasted the hill, suddenly flapped
my mantle and called in my ear. I turned tail and fled. But never faint
heart won fair constellation. At the third I pressed on.

The road was deserted. No earthly light showed anywhere except from a
lamp-post this side of the curve of the hill. I frisked along, listening
and peering, and brimming over with painful delight. The dark waned; and
my eyes grew accustomed to the thin starlight. I gained the woods
unharmed. Rich was my reward. There and then I begged the glimmering
Polestar to be true to Mr Bowater. Fear, indeed, if in a friendly
humour, is enlivening company. Instead of my parasol I had brought out a
curved foreign knife (in a sheath at least five inches long) which I had
discovered on my parlour what-not.

The whisperings of space, the calls of indetectable birds in the wastes
of the sky, the sudden appearance of menacing or sinister shapes which
vanished or melted themselves into mere stocks or stones as I drew
near--my heart gave many an anguished jump. But quiet, and the
magnificence of night, vanquished all folly at last. It seemed to me
that a Being whom one may call Silence was brooding in solitude where
living and human visitants are rare, and that in his company a harmless
spirit may be at peace. Oblivious of my ungainly knife, yet keeping a
firm arm on it, self seemed to be the whole scene there, and my body
being so small I was perhaps less a disturber than were most intruders
of that solemn repose.

Why I kept these night-walks secret, I cannot say. It was not
apprehension of Mrs Bowater. She would have questioned my discretion,
but would not, I think, have attempted to dissuade me from them against
my will. No. It may be that every true astronomer is a miser at heart,
and keeps some Lambda or Mu or lost nebula his eternal friend, named
with his name, but unrecorded on any chart. For my part I hoarded the
complete north for a while.

A fright I got one night, however, kept me indoors for the better part
of a week. In my going out the little house door had been carelessly
left unlatched. Algol and the red planet Mars had been my quarry among
the floating woolpack clouds. The wind was lightly blowing from the
north-west after the calm. I drew down my veil and set off briskly and
lightheartedly for home.

The sight of the dark-looking hole in the door quickly sobered me down.
All was quiet, however, but on entering my room, there was a strangeness
in the air, and that not due to my landlady's forlorn trumpetings from
above. Through the floating vaporous light I trod across to my staircase
and was soon in bed. Hardly had my eyes closed when there broke out of
the gloom around me a dismal, appalling cry. I soon realized that the
creeping horror this caused in me was as nothing compared with that of
the poor beast, lured, no doubt, into the house by Henry, at finding
itself beneath a strange roof.

"Puss, puss," I pleaded shakenly; and again broke out that heart-sick
cry.

Knife in hand, I descended my staircase and edging as far as possible
from the baleful globes greenly burning beneath a mahogany chair, I
threw open both doors and besought my unwelcome visitor to take his
departure. The night wind came fluttering; there was the blur of a
scuttering, shapeless form, and in the flash of an eye I was sprawling
on the floor. A good deal shaken, with a nasty scratch on my thigh, but
otherwise unharmed, I waved my hand after the fugitive and returned to
bed.

The blood soon ceased to flow. Not daring to send my blood-stained
nightgown to the wash, I concealed it behind my dresses in the wardrobe,
and the next fine morning carried it off with me and buried it as deeply
as I could in a deserted rabbit-burrow in the woods. Such is an evil
conscience that, first, I had the fancy that during my digging a twig
had inexplicably snapped in the undergrowth; and next, for "burnt
offering," I made Mrs Bowater the present of an oval handglass set in
garnets (one of my grandfather's gifts). This she took down to a local
jeweller's to be mounted with a pin, and wore it on Sundays in place of
her usual cameo depicting the Three Graces disporting themselves under a
Palm-tree beside a Fountain.

Meanwhile I had heard a little more about the "Fanny" whom Mrs Bowater
had mentioned. My landlady was indeed a slow confider. Fanny, I
gathered, had a post as mistress at a school some forty miles away. She
taught the little boys "English." The fleeting Miss Perry returned to
mind, and with a faint dismay I heard that Fanny would soon be returning
home for the Christmas holidays. Mrs Bowater's allusions to her were the
more formidable for being veiled. I dreaded the invasion. Would she not
come "between us"?

Then by chance I found hidden in my star-book the photograph of an
infant in arms and of a pensive, ringleted woman, who, in spite of this
morsel in her lap, seemed in her gaze out of nowhere to be vaguely
afraid. On the back was scrawled in pencil: "F.: six weeks"--and an
extremely cross six weeks "F." looked. For some inexplicable reason I
pushed back this lady's photograph into the book, and said nothing about
it. The suspicion had entered my mind that Fanny was only a daughter by
marriage. I sank into a kind of twilight reflection at this. It seemed,
in an odd fashion, to make Mrs Bowater more admirable, her husband more
formidable, and the unknown Fanny more mysterious and enigmatical. At
the first opportunity I crept my way to the subject and asked my
landlady if she could show me a portrait of her daughter.

The photograph she produced from upstairs had in fading almost become a
caricature. It had both blackened and greyed. It depicted herself many
years younger but hardly less grim in appearance in full flounced
skirts, Fanny as a child of about five or six standing at her knee, and
Mr Bowater leaning with singular amenity behind her richly-carved chair,
the fingers of his left hand resting disposedly on her right shoulder. I
looked anxiously at the child. It was certainly crosspatch "F.", and a
far from prepossessing little creature with that fixed, level gaze. Mr
Bowater, on the other hand, had not yet adopted the wild and rigid stare
which dominated the small parlour.

Mrs Bowater surveyed the group with a lackadaisical detachment.
"Fractious!--you can see the tears on her cheeks for all what the young
man could do with his woolly lamb and grimaces. It was the heyday."

_What_ was the heyday, I wondered. "Was Mr Bowater--attached to her?"
seemed a less intrusive question.

"Doted," she replied, polishing the glass with her apron. "But not to
much purpose--with an eye for every petticoat."

This seemed a difficult conversation to maintain. "Don't you think, Mrs
Bowater," I returned zealously, "there is just the faintest tinge of
_Mr_ Bowater in the _chin_? I don't," I added candidly, "see the
faintest glimpse of _you_."

Mrs Bowater merely tightened her lips.

"And is she like that now?" I asked presently.

Mrs Bowater re-wrapped frame and photograph in their piece of newspaper.
"It's _looks_, miss, that are my constant anxiety: and you may be
thankful for being as you might say preserved from the world. What's
more, the father will out, I suppose, from now till Day of Judgment."

How strangely her sentiments at times resembled my godmother's, and yet
how different they were in effect. My thoughts after this often drifted
to Mrs Bowater's early married life. And so peculiar are the workings of
the mind that her husband's star-chart, his sleek appearance as a young
father, the mysterious reference to the petticoats, awoke in me an
almost romantic interest in him. To such a degree that it gradually
became my custom to cast his portrait a satirical little bow of greeting
when I emerged from my bedroom in the morning, and even to kiss my hand
to his invisible stare when I retired for the night. To all of which
advances he made no reply.


My next bout of star-gazing presaged disaster. I say star-gazing, for it
is true that I stole out after honest folk are abed only when the
heavens were swept and garnished. But, as a matter of fact, my real
tryst was with another Self. Had my lot been different, I might have
sought that self in Terra del Fuego or Malay, or in a fine marriage.
Mine was a smaller world. Bo-peep I would play with shadow and dew-bead.
And if Ulysses, as my father had read me, stopped his ears against the
Sirens, I contrariwise unsealed mine to the ethereal airs of that bare
wintry solitude.

The spectral rattle of the parched beechleaves on the saplings, the
faintest whisper in the skeleton bracken set me peeping, peering,
tippeting; and the Invisibles, if they heeded me, merely smiled on me
from their grave, all-seeing eyes. As for the first crystal sparking of
frost, I remember in my folly I sat down (bunched up, fortunately, in
honest lamb's-wool) and remained, minute by minute, unstirring,
unwinking, watching as if in my own mind the exquisite small fires
kindle and flit from point to point of lichen and bark, until--out of
this engrossment--little but a burning icicle was left to trudge along
home.

It was December 23rd. I remember that date, and even now hardly
understand the meaning or intention of what it brought me. Love for the
frosty, star-roofed woods, that was easy. And yet what if--though
easy--it is not enough? I had lingered on, talking in my childish
fashion--a habit never to leave me--to every sudden lovely morsel in
turn, when, to my dismay, I heard St Peter's clock toll midnight. Was it
my fancy that at the stroke, and as peacefully as a mother when she is
alone with her sleeping children, the giant tree sighed, and the whole
night stilled as if at the opening of a door? I don't know, for I would
sometimes pretend to be afraid merely to enjoy the pretending. And even
my small Bowater astronomy had taught me that as the earth has her poles
and equator, so these are in relation to the ecliptic and the
equinoctial. So too, then, each one of us--even a mammet like
myself--must live in a world of the imagination which is in everlasting
relation to its heavens. But I must keep my feet.

I waved adieu to the woods and unseen Wanderslore. As if out of the
duskiness a kind of reflex of me waved back; and I was soon hastening
along down the hill, the only thing stirring in the cold, white,
luminous dust. Instinctively, in drawing near, I raised my eyes to the
upper windows of Mrs Bowater's crouching house. To my utter confusion.
For one of them was wide open, and seated there, as if in wait for me,
was a muffled figure--and that not my landlady's--looking out. All my
fine boldness and excitement died in me. I may have had no apprehension
of telling Mrs Bowater of my pilgrimages, but, not having told her, I
had a lively distaste of being "found out."

Stiff as a post, I gazed up through the shadowed air at the vague,
motionless figure--to all appearance completely unaware of my presence.
But there is a commerce between minds as well as between eyes. I was
perfectly certain that I was being _thought_ about, up there.

For a while my mind faltered. The old childish desire gathered in me--to
fly, to be gone, to pass myself away. There was a door in the woods.
Better sense, and perhaps a creeping curiosity, prevailed, however. With
a bold front, and as if my stay in the street had been of my own
choosing, I entered the gate, ascended my "Bateses," and so into the
house. Then I listened. Faintly at last sounded a stealthy footfall
overhead; the window was furtively closed. Doubt vanished. In
preparation for the night's expedition I had lain down in the early
evening for a nap. Evidently while I had been asleep, Fanny had come
home. The English mistress had caught her mother's lodger playing
truant!



Chapter Eleven


If it was the child of wrath in me that hungered at times after the
night, woods, and solitude to such a degree that my very breast seemed
empty within me; it was now the child of grace that prevailed. With
girlish exaggeration I began torturing myself in my bed with remorse at
the deceit I had been practising. Now Conscience told me that I must
make a full confession the first thing in the morning; and now that it
would be more decent to let Fanny "tell on me." At length thought
tangled with dream, and a grisly night was mine.

What was that? It was day; Mrs Bowater was herself softly calling me
beyond my curtains, and her eye peeped in. Always before I had been up
and dressed when she brought in my breakfast. Through a violent headache
I surveyed the stooping face. Something in my appearance convinced her
that I was ill, and she insisted on my staying in bed.

"But, Mrs Bowater...." I expostulated.

"No, no, miss; it was in a _butt_ they drowned the sexton. Here you
stay; and its being Christmas Eve, you must rest and keep quiet. What
with those old books and all, you have been burning the candle at both
ends."

Early in the afternoon on finding that her patient was little better, my
landlady went off to the chemist's to get me some physic; I could bear
inactivity no longer, and rose and dressed. The fire was low, the room
sluggish, when in the dusk, as I sat dismally brooding in my chair, the
door opened, and a stranger came in with my tea. She was dressed in
black, and was carrying a light. With that raised in one hand, and my
tea-tray held between finger and thumb of the other, she looked at me
with face a little sidelong. Her hair was dark above her clear pale
skin, and drawn, without a fringe, smoothly over her brows. Her eyes
were almost unnaturally light in colour. I looked at her in
astonishment; she was new in my world. She put the tray on my table,
poked the fire into a blaze, blew out her candle at a single puff from
her pursed lips, and seating herself on the hearthrug, clasped her hands
round her knees.

"Mother told me you were in bed, _ill_," she said, "I hope you are
better."

I assured her in a voice scarcely above a whisper that I was quite well
again.

She nestled her chin down and broke into a little laugh: "My! how you
startled me!"

"Then it _was_ you," I managed to say.

"Oh, yes; it was me, it was me." The words were uttered as if to
herself. She stooped her cheek over her knees again, and smiled round at
me. "I'm not _telling_," she added softly.

Her tone, her expression, filled me with confusion. "But please do not
suppose," I began angrily, "that I am not my own mistress here. I have
my own key----"

"Oh, yes, your own mistress," she interrupted suavely, "but you see
that's just what I'm _not_. And the key! why, it's just envy that's
gnawing at the roots. I've never, never in my life seen anything so
queer." She suddenly raised her strange eyes on me. "What were you doing
out there?"

A lie perched on my lip; but the wide, light eyes searched me through.
"I went," said I, "to be in the woods--to see the stars"; then added in
a rather pompous voice, "only the southern and eastern constellations
are visible from _this_ poky little window."

There was no change in the expression of the two eyes that drank me in.
"_I_ see; and you want them all. That's odd, now," she went on
reflectively, stabbing again at the fire; "they have never attracted me
very much--angels' tin-tacks, as they say in the Sunday Schools. Fanny
Bowater was looking for the moon."

She turned once more, opened her lips, showing the firm row of teeth
beneath them, and sang in a low voice the first words, I suppose, of
some old madrigal: "'_She enchants me._' And if _I_ had my little key,
and my little secret door.... But never mind. 'Tell-tale Tit, her tongue
shall be slit.' It's safe with me. I'm no sneak. But you might like to
know, Miss M., that my mother thinks the very world of you. And so do I,
for that matter; though perhaps for different reasons."

The calm, insolent words infuriated me, and yet her very accents, with
a curious sweet rasp in them, like that in a skylark's song when he
slides his last twenty feet from the clouds, were an enchantment. Ever
and always there seemed to be two Fannies; one visible, her face; the
other audible, her voice. But the enchantment was merely fuel for the
flames.

"Will you please remember," I broke out peremptorily, "that neither
myself nor what I choose to do is any affair of yours. Mrs Bowater is an
excellent landlady; you can tell her precisely what you please;
and--and" (I seemed to be choking) "I am accustomed to take my meals
alone."

The sidelong face grew hard and solemn in the firelight, then slowly
turned, and once more the eyes surveyed me under lifted brows--like the
eyes of an angel, empty of mockery or astonishment or of any meaning but
that of their beauty. "There you are," she said. "One talks like one
human being to another, and I should have thought you'd be grateful for
that; and this is the result. Facts are facts; and I'm not sorry for
them, good or bad. If you wish to see the last of me, here it is. I
don't thrust myself on people--there's no need. But still; I'm not
telling."

She rose, and with one light foot on my fender, surveyed herself for a
moment with infinite composure in the large looking-glass that spanned
the chimney-piece.

And I?--I was exceedingly tired. My head was burning like a coal; my
thoughts in confusion. Suddenly I lost control of myself and broke into
an angry, ridiculous sobbing. I simply sat there, my face hidden in my
dry, hot hands, miserable and defeated. And strange Fanny Bowater, what
did she do?

"Heavens!" she muttered scornfully, "I gave up snivelling when I was a
baby." Then voice, manner, even attitude suddenly changed--"And there's
mother!"

When Mrs Bowater knocked at my door, though still in my day-clothes, I
was in bed again, and my tea lay untasted on a chair beside it.

"Dear, dear," she said, leaning anxiously over me, "your poor cheeks are
red as a firebrand, miss. Those chemists daren't put a nose outside
their soaps and tooth powders. It must be Dr Phelps to-morrow if you are
no better. And as plump a little Christmas pudding boiling for you in
the pot as ever you could see! Tell me, now; there's no _pain_
anywhere--throat, limbs, or elsewhere?"

I shook my head. She sprinkled a drop or two of eau de Cologne on my
sheet and pillow, gently bathed my temples and hands, kindled a
night-light, and left me once more to my own reflections.

They were none too comfortable. One thing only was in my mind--Fanny
Bowater, her face, her voice, every glance and intonation, smile, and
gesture. That few minutes' talk seemed now as remote and incredible as a
nightmare. The stars, the woods, my solitary delights in learning and
thinking were all suddenly become empty and meaningless. She despised
me: and I hated her with a passion I cannot describe.

Yet in the midst of my hatred I longed for her company again,
distracting myself with the sharp and clever speeches I might have made
to her, and picturing her confounded by my contempt and indifference.
But should I ever see her alone again? At every sound and movement in
the house, which before had so little concerned me, I lay listening,
with held breath. I might have been a mummy in a Pyramid hearkening
after the fluttering pinions of its spirit come back to bring it life.
But no tidings came of the stranger.

When my door opened again, it was only to admit Mrs Bowater with my
supper--a bowl of infant's gruel, not the customary old lady's rusk and
milk. I laughed angrily within to think that her daughter must have
witnessed its preparation. Even at twenty, then, I had not grown used to
being of so little consequence in other people's eyes. Yet, after all,
who ever quite succeeds in being that? My real rage was not that Fanny
had taken me as a midget, but as _such_ a midget. Yet can I honestly say
that I have _ever_ taken her as mere Fanny, and not as _such_ a Fanny?

The truth is she had wounded my vanity, and vanity may be a more
fractious nursling even than a wounded heart. Tired and fretful, I had
hardly realized the flattering candour of her advances. Even her
promises not to "tell" of my night-wanderings, implied that she trusted
in my honour not to tell of her promise. I thought and thought of her.
She remained an enigma. Cold and hard--no one had ever spoken to me like
that before. Yet her voice--it was as if it had run about in my blood,
and made my eyes shine. A mere human sound to set me sobbing! More
dangerous yet, I began to think of what Miss Bowater must be thinking of
me, until, exhausted, I fell asleep, to dream that I was a child again
and shut up in one of Mrs Ballard's glass jars, and that a hairy woman
who was a kind of mixture of Mrs Bowater and Miss Fenne, was tapping
with a thimbled finger on its side to increase my terror.

Next morning, thank Heaven, admitted me to my right mind again. I got
out of bed and peered through the window. It was Christmas Day. A thin
scatter of snow was powdering down out of the grey sky. The fields were
calm and frozen. I felt, as I might say, the hunger in my face, looking
out. There was something astonishingly new in my life. Everything
familiar had become a little strange.

Over night, too, some one--and with mingled feelings I guessed who--must
have stolen into my room while I lay asleep. Laid out on a bedside chair
was a crimson padded dressing-jacket, threaded with gold, a delicate
piece of needlework that would have gladdened my grandfather. Rolled up
on the floor beside it was a thick woollen mat, lozenged in green and
scarlet, and just of a size to spread beside my bed. These gifts
multiplied my self-reproaches and made me acutely homesick.

What should I do? Beneath these thoughts was a quiet fizz of expectation
and delight, like water under a boat. Pride and common sense fought out
their battle in my mind. It was pride that lost the day. When Mrs
Bowater brought in my breakfast, she found her invalid sitting up in
Fanny's handsome jacket, and the mat laid over the bedrail for my
constant contemplation. Nor had I forgotten Mrs Bowater. By a little
ruse I had found out the name and address of a chemist in the town, and
on the tray beside my breakfast was the fine bottle of lavender water
which I had myself ordered him to send by the Christmas Eve post.

"Well there, miss, you did take me in that time," she assured me. "And
more like a Valentine than a Christmas present; and its being the only
scent so-called that I've any nose for."

Clearly this was no occasion for the confessional, even if I had had a
mind to it. But I made at least half a vow never to go star-gazing again
without her knowledge. My looks pleased her better, too, though not so
much better as to persuade her to countermand Dr Phelps. Her yellowish
long hand with its worn wedding-ring was smoothing my counterpane. I
clutched at it, and, shame-stricken, smiled up into her face.

"You have made me very happy," I said. At this small remark, the heavy
eyelids trembled, but she made no reply.

"Did," I managed to inquire at last, "did she have any breakfast before
she went for the doctor?"

"A cup of tea," said Mrs Bowater shortly. A curious happiness took
possession of me.

"She is very young to be teaching; not much older than I am."

"The danger was to keep her back," was the obscure reply. "We don't
always see eye to eye."

For an instant the dark, cavernous face above me was mated by that other
of birdlike lightness and beauty. "Isn't it funny?" I observed, "I had
made quite, quite a different picture of her."

"Looks are looks, and brains are brains; and between them you must tread
very wary."


About eleven o'clock a solemn-looking young man of about thirty, with a
large pair of reddish leather gloves in his hand, entered the room. For
a moment he did not see my bed, then, remarking circumspectly in a
cheerful, hollow voice, "So this is our patient," he bade me
good-morning, and took a seat beside my bed. A deep blush mounted up
into the fair, smooth-downed cheeks as he returned my scrutiny and asked
me to exhibit my tongue. I put it out, and he blushed even deeper.

"And the pulse, please," he murmured, rising. I drew back the crimson
sleeve of Fanny's jacket, and with extreme nicety he placed the tip of a
square, icy forefinger on my wrist. Once more his fair-lashed eyelids
began to blink. He extracted a fine gold watch from his waistcoat
pocket, compared beat with beat, frowned, and turned to Mrs Bowater.

"You are not, I assume, aware of the--the young lady's _normal_ pulse?"

"There being no cause before to consider it, I am not," Mrs Bowater
returned.

"Any _pain_?" said Dr Phelps.

"Headache," replied Mrs Bowater on my behalf, "and shoots in the limbs."

At that Dr Phelps took a metal case out of his waistcoat, glanced at
it, glanced at me, and put it back again. He leaned over so close to
catch the whisper of my breathing that there seemed a danger of my
losing myself in the labyrinth of his downy ear.

"H'm, a little fever," he said musingly. "Have we any reason to suppose
that we can have taken a chill?"

The head on the pillow stirred gently to and fro, and I think its cheek
was dyed with an even sprightlier red than had coloured his. After one
or two further questions, and a low colloquy with Mrs Bowater in the
passage, Dr Phelps withdrew, and his carriage rolled away.

"A painstaking young man," Mrs Bowater summed him up in the doorway,
"but not the kind I should choose to die under. You are to keep quiet
and warm, miss; have plenty of light nourishment; and physic to follow.
Which, except for the last-mentioned, and that mainly water, one don't
have to ride in a carriage to know for one's self."

But "peace and goodwill": I liked Dr Phelps, and felt so much better for
his skill that before his wheels had rolled out of hearing I had leapt
out of bed, dragged out the trunk that lay beneath it, and fetched out
from it a treasured ivory box. On removal of the lid, this ingenious
work disclosed an Oriental Temple, with a spreading tree, a pool, a
long-legged bird, and a mountain. And all these exquisitely tinted in
their natural colours. It had come from China, and had belonged to my
mother's brother, Andrew, who was an officer in the Navy and had died at
sea. This I wrapped up in a square of silk and tied with a green thread.
During the whole of his visit my head had been so hotly in chase of this
one stratagem that it is a marvel Dr Phelps had not deciphered it in my
pulse.

When Mrs Bowater brought in my Christmas dinner--little but bread sauce
and a sprig of holly!--I dipped in the spoon, and, as innocently as I
knew how, inquired if her daughter would like to see some really fine
sewing.

The black eyes stood fast, then the ghost of a smile vanished over her
features; "I'll be bound she would, miss. I'll give her your message."
Alone again, I turned over on my pillow and laughed until tears all but
came into my eyes.

All that afternoon I waited on, the coals of fire that I had prepared
for my enemy's head the night before now ashes of penitence on my own.
A dense smell of cooking pervaded the house; and it was not until the
evening that Fanny Bowater appeared.

She was dressed in a white muslin gown with a wreath of pale green
leaves in her hair. "I am going to a party," she said, "so I can't waste
much time."

"Mrs Bowater thought you would like to see some _really_ beautiful
needlework," I replied suavely.

"Well," she said, "where is it?"

"Won't you come a little closer?"

That figure, as nearly like the silver slip of the new moon as ever I
have seen, seemed to float in my direction. I held my breath and looked
up into the light, dwelling eyes. "It is this," I whispered, drawing my
two hands down the bosom of her crimson dressing-jacket. "It is only,
Thank you, I wanted to say."

In a flash her lips broke into a low clear laughter. "Why, _that's_
nothing. Really and truly I hate that kind of work; but mother often
wrote of you; there was nothing better to do; and the smallness of the
thing amused me."

I nodded humbly. "Yes, yes," I muttered, "Midget is as Midget wears. I
know that. And--and here, Miss Bowater, is a little Christmas present
from me."

Voraciously I watched her smooth face as she untied the thread. "A
little ivory box!" she exclaimed, pushing back the lid, "and a Buddhist
temple, how very pretty. Thank you."

"Yes, Miss Bowater, and, do you see, in the corner there? a moon. 'She
enchants' you."

"So it is," she laughed, closing the box. "I was supposing," she went on
solemnly, "that I had been put in the corner in positively everlasting
disgrace."

"Please don't say that," I entreated. "We _may_ be friends, mayn't we? I
am better now."

Her eyes wandered over my bed, my wardrobe, and all my possessions. "But
yes," she said, "of course"; and laughed again.

"And you believe me?"

"Believe you?"

"That it was the stars? I thought Mrs Bowater might be anxious if she
knew. It was quite, quite safe, really; and I'm _going_ to tell her."

"Oh, dear," she replied in a cold, small voice, "so you are still
worrying about that. I--I envied you." With a glance over her shoulder,
she leaned closer. "Next time you go," she breathed out to me, "we'll go
together."

My heart gave a furious leap; my lips closed tight. "I could tell you
the names of some of the stars now," I said, in a last wrestle with
conscience.

"No, no," said Fanny Bowater, "it isn't the stars I'm after. The first
fine night we'll go to the woods. You shall wait for me till everything
is quiet. It will be good practise in _practical_ astronomy." She
watched my face, and began silently laughing as if she were reading my
thoughts. "That's a bargain, then. What is life, Miss M., but
experience? And what is experience, but knowing thyself? And what's
knowing thyself but the very apex of wisdom? Anyhow it's a good deal
more interesting than the Prince of Denmark."

"Yes", I agreed. "And there's still all but a full moon."

"Aha!" said she. "But _what_ a world with only one! Jupiter has scores,
hasn't he? Just think of _his_ Love Lanes!" She rose to her feet with a
sigh of boredom, and smoothed out her skirts with her long, narrow
hands. I stared at her beauty in amazement.

"I hate these parties here," she said. "They are not worth while."

"You look lov--you look all right."

"H'm; but what's that when there's no one to see."

"But you see yourself. You _live_ in it."

The reflected face in the glass, which, craning forward, I could just
distinguish, knitted its placid brows. "Why, if that were enough, we
should all be hermits. I rather think, you know, that God made man
almost solely in the hope of his two-legged appreciation. But perhaps
you disapprove of incense?"

"Why should I, Miss Bowater? My Aunt Kitilda was a Catholic: and so was
my mother's family right back."

"_That's_ right," said Miss Bowater. She kissed her hand to
looking-glass and four-poster, flung me a last fervid smile, and was
gone. And the little box I had given her lay on the table, beside my
bed.

I was aroused much later by the sound of voices drawing nearer.
Instinctively I sat up, my senses fastened on the sound like a vampire.
The voices seemed to be in argument, then the footsteps ceased and clear
on the night air came the words:--

"But you made me promise _not_ to write. Oh, Fanny, and you have broken
your own!"

"Then you must confess," was the cautious reply, "that I am consistent.
As for the promises, you are quite, quite welcome to the pieces."

"You mean that?" was the muffled retort.

"That," cried the other softly, "depends entirely on what you mean by
'mean.' Please look happy! You'd soon grow old and uglier if there was
only that scrap of moon to light your face."

"Oh, Fanny. Will you never be serious?"--the misery in the words seemed
to creep about in my own mind for shelter. They were answered by a
sparkling gush of laughter, followed by a crisp, emphatic knock at the
door. Fanny had returned from her party, and the eavesdropper buried her
face in her pillow. So she enjoyed hurting people. And yet....



Chapter Twelve


The next afternoon Mrs Bowater was out when Dr Phelps made his call. It
was Fanny who ushered him into the room. He felt my pulse again, held up
the phial of medicine to the light, left unconsulted my tongue, and
pronounced that "we are doing very nicely." As indeed I was. While this
professional inquiry was in progress Fanny stood silently watching us,
then exclaimed that it was half-past four, and that I must have my tea.
She was standing behind Dr Phelps, and for a few seconds I watched with
extreme interest but slow understanding a series of mute little
movements of brows and lips which she was directing at me while he was
jotting down a note in a leather pocket-book. At length I found myself
repeating--as if at her dictation--a polite little invitation to him to
take tea with me. The startled blue eyes lifted themselves above the
pocket-book, the square, fair head was bowing a polite refusal, when,
"But, of course, Dr Phelps," Fanny broke in like one inspired, "how very
thoughtless of me!"

"Thank you, thank you, Miss Bowater, but----" cried Dr Phelps, with a
smooth uplifted hand, and almost statuesque in his pose. His refusal was
too late. Miss Bowater had hastened from the room.

His panic passed. He reseated himself, and remarking that it was a very
cold afternoon, predicted that if the frost continued, skating might be
expected. Conversation of this kind is apt so soon to faint away like a
breeze in hot weather, that I kept wondering what to say next. Besides,
whenever Dr Phelps seemed impelled to look at me, he far more quickly
looked away, and the sound of his voice suggested that he was uncertain
if he was not all but talking to himself. To put him more at his ease I
inquired boldly if he had many other midgets among his patients.

The long lashes swept his cheeks; he pondered a while on my landlady's
window curtains. "As a matter of fact perhaps _not_," he replied at
last, as if giving me the result of a mathematical calculation.

"I suppose, Dr Phelps," I then inquired, "there _might_ be more, at any
time, might there not?" Our glances this time met. He blinked.

"My father and mother, I mean," I explained in some confusion, "were
just of the com--of the ordinary size. And what I was wondering is,
whether you yourself would be sorry--in quite a general way, of
course--if you found your practice going down like that."

"Going down?"

"I mean the _patients_ coming smaller. I never had the opportunity of
asking our own doctor, Dr Grose. At Lyndsey, you know. Besides, I was a
child then. Now, first of all, it is true, isn't it, that giants are
usually rather dull-witted people? So nobody would deliberately choose
_that_ kind of change. If, then, quality does vary with quantity,
mightn't there be an improvement in the other direction? You will think
I am being extremely ego--egotistical. But one must take Jack's side,
mustn't one?--even if one's Jill?"

"Jack?"

"The Giant Killer."

He looked at me curiously, and his finger and thumb once more strayed up
towards the waistcoat pocket in which he kept his thermometer. But
instead of taking it out, he coughed.

"There is a norm----" he began in a voice not quite his own.

"Ah," I cried, interrupting him, and throwing up my hands, "there is
indeed. But why, I ask myself, so vast a number of examples of it!"

It was as if a voice within were prompting me. Perhaps the excitement of
Fanny's homecoming was partly to blame. "I sit at my window here and
watch the passers-by. Norms, in mere size, Dr Phelps, every one of them,
if you allow for the few little defects in the--the moulding, you know.
And just think what London must be like. Why, _nobody_ can be
noticeable, there."

"But surely," Dr Phelps smiled indulgently, though his eyelashes seemed
to be in the way, "surely variety is possible, without--er--excess.
Indeed there must be variety in order to arrive at our norm, mustn't
there?"

"You'd be astonished," I assured him, "how slight the differences
really are. A few inches or ounces; red or black or fawn; and age, and
sex, of course; that's all. Now, isn't it true, Dr Phelps, that almost
any twenty women--unselected, you know--would weigh about a ton? And
surely there's no particular reason why just human shells should weigh
as much as that. We are not lobsters. And yet, do you know, I have
watched, and they really seem to enjoy being the same as one another.
One would think they tried to be--manners and habits, knowledge and
victuals, hats and boots, everything. And if on the outside, I suppose
on the inside, too. What a mysterious thing it seems. All of them
_thinking_ pretty much the same: Norm-_Thoughts_, you know; just
five-foot-fivers. After all, one wouldn't so much mind the monotonous
packages, if the contents were different. 'Forty feeding like one'--who
said that? Now, truly, Dr Phelps, don't you feel?---- It would, of
course, be very serious at first for their mothers and fathers if all
the little human babies here came midgets, but it would be amusing, too,
wouldn't it?... And it isn't quite my own idea, either."

Dr Phelps cleared his throat, and looked at his watch. "But surely," he
said, with a peculiar emphasis which I have noticed men are apt to make
when my sex asks intelligent or unintelligent questions: "Surely you and
I are understanding one another. _I_ try to make myself clear to _you_.
So extremes _can_ meet; at least I hope so." He gave me a charming
little awkward bow. "Tell me, then, what is this peculiar difference you
are so anxious about? You wouldn't like a pygmy England, a pygmy
Universe, now, would you, Miss M.?"


It was a great pity. A pygmy England--the thought dazzled me. In a few
minutes Dr Phelps would perhaps have set all my doubts at rest. But at
that moment Miss Bowater came in with the tea, and the talk took quite
another turn. She just made it Fanny's size. Even Dr Phelps looked a
great deal handsomer in her company. More sociable. Nor were we to
remain "three's none." She had finished but one slice of toast over my
fire, and inflamed but one cheek, when a more protracted but far less
vigorous knock than Dr Phelps's on the door summoned her out of the room
again. And a minute or two afterwards our tea-party became one of four,
and its sexes (in number, at any rate) equally matched.

By a happy coincidence, just as Good King Wenceslas had looked out on
the Feast of Stephen, so Mr Crimble, the curate-in-charge at St Peter's,
had looked in. By his "Ah, Phelps!" it was evident that our guests were
well acquainted with one another; and Fanny and I were soon enjoying a
tea enriched by the cream of local society. Mr Crimble had mild dark
eyes, gold spectacles, rather full red lips, and a voice that reminded
me of raspberries. I think he had heard of me, for he was very
attentive, and handled my small cup and saucer with remarkable, if
rather conspicuous, ingenuity.

Candles were lit. The talk soon became animated. From the weather of
this Christmas we passed to the weather of last, to Dr Phelps's
prospects of skating, and thence to the good old times, to Mr Pickwick,
to our respective childish beliefs in Santa Claus, stockings, and to
credulous parents. Fanny repeated some of the naïve remarks made by her
pupils, and Mr Crimble capped them with a collection of biblical _bons
mots_ culled in his Sunday School. I couldn't glance fast enough from
one to the other. Dr Phelps steadily munched and watched Mr Crimble. He
in turn told us of a patient of his, a Mrs Hall, who, poor old creature,
was 101, and enjoyed nothing better than playing at "Old Soldier" with a
small grandson.

"Literally, second childhood. Senile decay," he said, passing his cup.

From Mrs Hall we naturally turned to parochial affairs; and then Mr
Crimble, without more ado, bolted his mouthful of toast, in order to
explain the inmost purpose of his visit.

He was anxious to persuade Miss Bowater to sing at the annual Parish
Concert, which was to be given on New Year's Eve. Try as he might, he
had been unable to persuade his vicar of the efficacy of Watch Night
Services. So a concert was to be given instead. Now, would Miss Bowater,
as ever, be ever so kind, and would I add my entreaties to his? As he
looked at Fanny and I did too--with one of those odd turns of the mind,
I was conscious that the peculiar leaning angle of his head was exactly
the same as my own. Whereupon I glanced at Dr Phelps, but he sat fair
and foursquare, one feeding like forty. Fanny remaining hesitant, appeal
was made to him. With almost more cordiality than Mr Crimble appeared
to relish, he agreed that the musical talent available was not so
abundant as it might be, and he promised to take as many of the
expensive tickets as Miss Bowater would sing songs.

"I don't pretend to be musical, not like you, Crimble. But I don't mind
a pleasant voice--in moderation; and I assure you, Miss Bowater, I am an
excellent listener--given a fair chance, you know."

"But then," said Fanny, "so am I. I believe now really--and one can
judge from one's speaking voice, can't one, Mr Crimble?--I believe you
sing yourself."

"Sing, Miss Bowater," interjected Mr Crimble, tipping back his chair.
"'The wedding guest here beat his chest, for he heard the loud bassoon.'
Now, conjuring tricks, eh, Phelps? With a stethoscope and a clinical
thermometer; and I'll hold the hat and make the omelette. It would bring
down the house."

"It was his _breast_ he beat; not his _chest_," I broke in.

The six eyes slid round, as if at a voice out of the clouds. There was a
pause.

"Why, exactly," cried Mr Crimble, slapping his leg.

"But I wish Dr Phelps _would_ sing," said Fanny in a small voice,
passing him the sugar.

"He must, he shall," said Mr Crimble, in extreme jubilation. "So that's
settled. _Thank_ you, Miss Bowater," his eyes seemed to melt in his head
at his success, "the programme is complete."

He drew a slip of paper from his inside pocket and brandished a silver
pencil-case. "Mrs Browning, 'The Better Land'--better and better every
year. 'Caller Herrin'' to follow--though what kind of herrings caller
herrings are I've never been able to discover." He beamed on me. "Miss
Finch--she is sending me the names of her songs this evening. Miss
Willett and Mr Bangor--'O that we two,' and a queer pair they'd look;
and 'My luv is like.' Hardy annuals. Mrs Bullace--recitations, 'Abt
Vogler,' and no doubt a Lord Tennyson. Flute, Mr Piper; 'Cello, Miss
Oran, a niece of Lady Pollacke's; and for comic relief, Tom Sturgess, of
course; though I hope he will be a little more--er--eclectic this year.
And you and I," again he turned his boyish brow on me, "will sit with
Mrs Bowater in the front row of the gallery--a claque, Phelps, eh?"

He seemed to be in the topmost height of good spirits. Well, thought I,
if social badinage and _bonhomie_ were as pleasant and easy as this, why
hadn't my mother----?

"But why in the gallery?" drawled Fanny suddenly from the hearthrug,
with the little steel poker ready poised; "Miss M. _dances_."

The clear voice rasped on the word. A peculiar silence followed the
lingering accents. The two gentlemen's faces smoothed themselves out,
and both, I knew, though I gave them no heed, sat gazing, _not_ at their
hostess. But Fanny herself was looking at me now, her light eyes quite
still in the flame of the candles, which, with their reflections in Mrs
Bowater's pier glass were not two, but four. It was into those eyes I
gazed, yet not into, only at.

All day my thoughts had remained on her, like bubbles in wine. All day
hope of the coming night and of our expedition to the woods had been, as
it were, a palace in which my girlish fancy had wandered, and now,
though only a few minutes ago I had been cheeping my small extemporary
philosophy into the ear of Dr Phelps, the fires of self-contempt and
hatred burned up in me hotter than ever.

I forgot even the dainty dressing-jacket on my back. "Miss Bowater is
pleased to be satirical," I said, my hand clenched in my lap.

"Now _was_ I?" cried Fanny, appealing to Dr Phelps, "be just to me." Dr
Phelps opened his mouth, swallowed, and shut it again.

"I really think not, you know," said Mr Crimble persuasively, coming to
her rescue. "Indeed it would be extremely kind and--er--entertaining;
though dancing--er--and--unless, perhaps, so many strangers.... We can
count in any case on your being _present_, can we not, Miss M.?" He
leaned over seductively, finger and thumb twitching at the plain gold
cross suspended from his watch-chain on his black waistcoat.

"Oh, yes," I replied, "you can count on me for the claque."

The room had sunk into a stillness. Constraint was in the air. "Then
that's settled. On New Year's Eve we--we all meet again. Unless, Miss
Bowater, there is any hope of seeing you meanwhile--just to arrange the
_titles_ and so on of your songs on the programme."

"No," smiled Fanny, "I see no hope whatever. You forget, Mr Crimble,
there are dishes to wash. And hadn't you better see Miss Finch first?"

Mr Crimble cast a strange look at her face. He was close to her, and it
was almost as if he had whispered, "Fanny." But there was no time for
further discussion. Dr Phelps, gloved and buttoned, was already at the
door.

Fanny returned into the room when our guests had taken their departure.
I heard their male voices in vivacious talk as they marched off in the
cold dark air beneath my window.

"I thought they were never going," said Fanny lightly, twisting up into
her hair an escaped ringlet. "I think, do you know, we had better say
nothing to mother about the tea--at least not yet a while. They are dull
creatures: it's pottering about so dull and sleepy a place, I suppose.
What _could_ have inspired you to invite Dr Phelps to tea? Really,
really, Miss M., you are rather astonishing. Aren't you, now?"

What right had she to speak to me like this, as if we had met again
after another life? She paused in her swift collection of the remnants
of our feast. "Sulking?" she inquired sweetly.

With an effort I kept my self-possession. "You meant what you said,
then? You really think I would sink to that?"

"'Sink!' To what? Oh, the dancing, you mean. How funny you should still
be fretting about that. Still, you look quite entertaining when you are
cross: 'Diaphenia like the daffadowndilly,' you know. Good Heavens!
Surely we shouldn't hide any kind of lights under bushels, should we?
I'm sure the Reverend Harold would agree to that. Isn't it being the
least bit pedantic?"

"I should think," I retorted, "Mr Crimble would say anything pleasant to
_any_ young woman."

"I have no doubt he would," she agreed. "The other cheek also, you know.
But the real question is what the young woman would say in reply. You
are too sensitive, Miss M."

"Perhaps I am." Oh that I could escape from this horrible net between
us. "I know this, anyhow--that I lay awake till midnight because you had
made a kind of promise to come in. Then I--I 'counted the pieces.'"

Her face whitened beneath the clear skin. "Oh, so we list----" she
began, turning on me, then checked herself. "I tell you this," she said,
her hand trembling, "I'm sick of it all. Those--those fools! Ph! I
thought that you, being as you are--snippeting along out of the
night--might understand. There's such a thing as friendship on false
pretences, Miss M."

Was she, too, addressing, as she supposed, a confidant hardly more
external to herself than that inward being whom we engage in such
endless talk and argument? Her violence shocked me; still more her
"fools." For the word was still next-door neighbour in my mind to the
dreadful "_Raca_."

"'Understand,'" I said, "I do, if you would only let me. You just hide
in your--in your own outside. You think because I am as I am that I'm
only of that much account. It's you are the--foolish. Oh, don't let us
quarrel. You just came. I never knew. Every hour, every minute...."
Inarticulate my tongue might be, but my face told its tale. She must
have heard many similar confessions, yet an almost childish incredulity
lightened in hers.

"Keep there," she said; "keep there! I won't be a moment."

She hastened out of the room with the tea things, poising an instant
like a bird on a branch as she pushed open the door with her foot. The
slave left behind her listened to her footsteps dying away in a mingling
of shame, sorrow, and of a happiness beyond words. I know now that it is
not when we are near people that we reach themselves, not, I mean, in
their looks and words, but only by following their thoughts to where the
spirit within plays and has its being. Perhaps if I had realized this
earlier, I shouldn't have fallen so easy a prey to Fanny Bowater. I
waited--but that particular exchange of confidences was never to be
completed. A key sounded in the latch. Fanny had but time to show
herself with stooping, almost serpent-like head, in the doorway.
"To-night!" she whispered. "And not a word, not a word!"



Chapter Thirteen


Was there suspicion in the face of Mrs Bowater that evening? Our usual
familiar talk dwindled to a few words this supper-time. The old conflict
was raging in my mind--hatred of my deceit, horror at betraying an
accomplice, and longing for the solemn quiet and solitude of the dark. I
crushed my doubtings down and cast a dismal, hostile look at the long
face, so yellow of skin and sombre in expression. When would she be gone
and leave me in peace? The packed little parlour hung stagnant in the
candlelight. It seemed impossible that Mrs Bowater could not hear the
thoughts in my mind. Apparently not. She tidied up my few belongings,
which, contrary to my usual neat habits, I had left scattered over the
table. She bade me good-night; but paused in the doorway to look back at
me. But what intimacy she had meant to share with me was put aside.
"Good-night, miss," she repeated; "and I'm sure, God bless you." It was
the dark, quiet look that whelmed over me. I gazed mutely, without
response, and the silence was broken by a clear voice like that of a
cautious mocking-bird out of a wood.

It called softly on two honeyed notes, "Mo--ther!"

The house draped itself in quiet. Until ten had struck, and footsteps
had ascended to the rooms overhead, I kept close in my bedchamber. Then
I hastily put on my outdoor clothes, shivering not with cold, but with
expectation, and sat down by the fire, prepared for the least sound that
would prove that Fanny had not forgotten our assignation. But I waited
in vain. The cold gathered. The vaporous light of the waning moon
brightened in the room. The cinders fainted to a darker glow. I heard
the kitchen clock with its cracked, cantankerous stroke beat out eleven.
Its solemn mate outside, who had seemingly lost his voice, ticked on.

Hope died out in me, leaving an almost physical nausea, a profound
hatred of myself and even of being alive. "Well," a cold voice said in
my ear, "that's how we are treated; that comes of those eyes we cannot
forget. Cheated, cheated again, my friend."

In those young days disappointment set my heart aching with a bitterness
less easy to bear than it is now. No doubt I was steeped in
sentimentality and folly. It was the vehemence of this new feeling that
almost terrified me. But my mind was my world; it is my only excuse. I
could not get out of _that_ by merely turning a tiny key in a Brahma
lock. Nor could I betake myself to bed. How sleep in such an inward
storm of reproaches, humiliation, and despised love?

I drew down my veil, wrapped my shawl closer round my shoulders,
descended my staircase, and presently stood in the porch in
confrontation of the night. Low on the horizon, at evens with me across
space, and burning with a limpid fire, hung my chosen--Sirius. The
sudden sight of him pouring his brilliance into my eyes brought a
revulsion of feeling. He was "cutting me dead." I brazened him down. I
trod with exquisite caution down the steps, daring but one fleeting
glance, as I turned, at Fanny's window. It was blinded, empty. Toiling
on heavily up the hill, I sourly comforted myself with the vow that she
should realize how little I cared, that her room had been sweeter than
her company. Never more would I put trust in "any child of man."

Gradually, however, the quiet night received me into its peace (just as,
poor soul, did the Moor Desdemona), and its influence stole into my
darkened mind. The smooth, columnar boughs of the beeches lifted
themselves archingly into the sky. Soon I was climbing over the
moss-bound roots of my customary observatory. But this night the stars
were left for a while unsignalled and unadmired. The crisped,
frost-lined leaves scattered between the snake-like roots sparkled
faintly. Years seemed to have passed away, dwindled in Time's
hour-glass, since my previous visit. That Miss M. had ghosted herself
away for ever. In my reverie the vision of Fanny re-arose into my
imagination--that secret still fountain--of herself. Asleep now.... I
could no more free myself from her sorcery than I could disclaim the two
hands that lay in my lap. She was indeed more closely mine than
they--and nearer in actuality than I had imagined.

A faint stir in the woods suddenly caught my attention. The sound
neared. I pressed my hand to my breast, torn now between two incentives,
two desires--to fly, to stay. And on the path by which I had come,
appeared, some yards distant, in the faint trickling light, the dark
figure of my dreams.

She was dressed in a black cloak, its peaked old-fashioned hood drawn
over her head. The moonbeams struck its folds as she moved. Her face was
bowed down a little, her hand from within clutching her cloak together.
And I realized instinctively and with joy that the silence and solitude
of the woods alarmed her. It was I who was calm and self-contained. She
paused and looked around her--stood listening with lips divided that yet
could not persuade themselves to call me by name. For my part, I softly
gathered myself closer together and continued to gloat. And suddenly out
of the far-away of the woods a nightbird loosed its cry: "A-hoo....
Ahoo-oo-oo-hooh!"


There is a hunter in us all. I laughed inwardly as I watched. A few
months more and I was to watch a lion-tamer ... but let me keep to one
thing at a time. I needled myself in, and, almost hooting the sound
through my mouth, as if in echo of the bird, I heard myself call
stealthily across the air, "Fanny!--Fanny Bowater!"

The cloaked figure recoiled, with lifted head, like the picture of a
fawn I have seen, and gazed in my direction. Seeing nothing of me amidst
the leaves and shadows, she was about to flee, when I called again:--

"It is I, Fanny. Here: here!"

Instantly she woke to herself, came near, and looked down on me. No
movement welcomed her. "I was tired of waiting," I yawned. "There is
nothing to be frightened about."

Many of her fellow creatures, I fancy, have in their day wearied of
waiting for Fanny Bowater, but few have had the courage or sagacity to
tell her so. She had not recovered her equanimity fully enough to
refrain from excuses.

"Surely you did not expect me while mother was moving? I am not
accustomed, Miss M., to midnight wanderings."

"I gave up expecting you, and was glad to be alone."

The barb fell short. She looked stilly around her. The solemn beeches
were like mute giants overarching with their starry, sky-hung boughs
the dark, slim figure. What consciousness had they, I wonder, of those
odd humans at their roots?

"Alone! Here!" she returned. "But no wonder. It's what you are all
about."

A peculiar elation sprang up in me at this none too intelligible remark.

"I wonder, though," she added, "you are not frozen like--like a pebble,
sitting there."

"But I am," I said, laughing softly. "It doesn't matter in me, because
I'm so easy to thaw. You ought to know that. Oh, Miss Bowater, think if
this were summer time and the dew and the first burning heat! Are you
wrapped up? And shall we sit here, just--just for one dance of the
Sisters: thou lost dove, Merope?"

For there on high--and I had murmured the last words all but inaudibly
to myself--there played the spangling Pleiads, clear above her head in
the twig-swept sky.

"What sisters?" she inquired, merely humouring me, perhaps.

"The Six, Fanny, look! You cannot see their Seventh--yet she is all that
_that_ is about." South to north I swept my hand across the powdery
firmament. "And I myself trudge along down Watling Street; that's the
Milky Way. I don't think, Fanny, I shall ever, ever be weaned. Please,
may I call you that?"

She frowned up a moment into the emptiness, hesitated, then--just like a
white peacock I had once seen when a child from my godmother's ancient
carriage as we rolled by an old low house with terraces smooth as velvet
beneath its cedars--she disposed her black draperies upon the ground at
a little distance, disclosing, in so doing, beneath their folds the
moon-blanched flounces of her party gown. I gazed spellbound. I looked
at the white and black, and thought of what there was within their
folds, and of the heart within that, and of the spirit of man. Such was
my foolish fashion, following idly like a butterfly the scents of the
air, flitting on from thought to thought, and so missing the full
richness of the one blossom on which I might have hovered.

"Tell me some more," broke suddenly the curious voice into the midst of
this reverie.

"Well, there," I cried, "is fickle Algol; the Demon. And over there
where the Crab crawls, is the little Beehive between the Roses."

"Præsepe," drawled Fanny.

"Yes," said I, unabashed, "the Beehive. And crane back your neck,
Fanny--there's little Jack-by-the-Middle-Horse; and far down, oh, far
down, Berenice's Hair, which would have been Fanny Bowater's Hair, if
you had been she."

Even as I looked, a remote film of mist blotted out the infinitesimal
cluster. "And see, beyond the Chair," I went on, laughing, and yet
exalted with my theme, "that dim in the Girdle is the Great
Nebula--s-sh! And on, on, that chirruping Invisible, _that_, Fanny, is
the Midget. Perhaps you cannot even dream of her: but she watches."

"Never even heard of her," said Fanny good-humouredly, withdrawing the
angle of her chin from the Ecliptic.

"Say not so, Horatia," I mocked, "there are more things...."

"Oh, yes, I know all about that. And these cold, monotonous old things
really please you? Personally, I'd give the whole meaningless scramble
of them for another moon."

"But your old glutton has gobbled up half of them already."

"Then my old glutton can gobble up what's left. Who taught you about
them? And why," she scanned me closely, "why did you pick out the
faintest; do you see them the best?"

"I picked out the faintest because they were meant especially for me so
that I could give them to you. My father taught me a little about them;
and _your_ father the rest."

"_My_ father," echoed Fanny, her face suddenly intent.

"His book. Do you miss him? Mine is dead."

"Oh, yes, I miss him," was the serene retort, "and so, I fancy, does
mother."

"Oh, Fanny, I am sorry. She told me--something like that."

"You need not be. I suppose God chooses one's parents quite
deliberately. Praise Him from Whom all blessings flow!" She smoothed out
her black cloak over her ankles, raised her face again into the
dwindling moonlight, and gently smiled at me. "I am glad I came,
Midgetina, though it's suicidally cold. '_Pardi! on sent Dieu bien à son
aise ici._' We are going to be great friends, aren't we?" Her eyes swept
over me. "Would you like that?"

"Friends," indeed! and as if she had offered me a lump of sugar.

I gravely nodded. "But I must come to you. You can't come to me. No one
has; except, perhaps, my mother--a little."

"Oh, yes," she replied cautiously, piercing her eyes at me, "that _is_ a
riddle. You must tell me about your childhood. Not that I love children,
or my own childhood either. I had enough of that to last me a lifetime.
I shan't pass it on; though I promise you, Midgetina, if I ever _do_
have a baby, I will anoint its little backbone with the grease of moles,
bats, and dormice, and make it like you. Was your mother----" she began
again, after a pause of reflection. "Are _you_ sorry, I mean, you
aren't--you aren't----?"

Her look supplied the missing words. "Sorry that I am a midget, Fanny?
People think I must be. But why? It is all I am, all I ever was. I am
myself, inside; like everybody else; and yet, you know, not quite like
everybody else. I sometimes think"--I laughed at the memory--"I was
asking Dr Phelps about that. Besides, would _you_ be--alone?"

"Not when I was alone, perhaps. Still, it must be rather odd, Miss
Needle-in-a-Haystack. As for being alone"--once again our owl, if owl it
was, much nearer now, screeched its screech in the wintry woods--"I hate
it!"

"But surely," expostulated the wiseacre in me, "that's what we cannot
help being. We even die alone, Fanny."

"Oh, but I'm going to help it. I'm not dead yet. Do you ever think of
the future?"

For an instant its great black hole yawned close, but I shook my head.

"Well, that," replied she, "is what Fanny Bowater is doing all the time.
There's nothing," she added satirically, "so important, so imperative
for teachers as learning. And you must learn your lesson, my dear,
before you are heard it--if you want to escape a slapping. Every little
donkey knows that."

"I suppose the truth is," said I, as if seized with a bright idea,
"there are two kinds of ambitions, of wants, I mean. We are all like
those Chinese boxes; and some of us want to live in the biggest, the
outsidest we can possibly manage; and some in the inmost one of all. The
one," I added a little drearily, "no one can share."

"Quite, quite true," said Fanny, mimicking my sententiousness, "the
teeniest, tiniest, ickiest one, which no mortal ingenuity has ever been
able to open--and so discover the nothing inside. I know your Chinese
Boxes!"

"Poor Fanny," I cried, rising up and kneeling beside the ice-cold hand
that lay on the frosty leaves. "All that I have shall help you."

Infatuated thing; I stooped low as I knelt, and stroked softly with my
own the outstretched fingers on which she was leaning.

I might have been a pet animal for all the heed she paid to my caress.
"Fanny," I whispered tragically, "will you please sing to me--if you are
not frozenly cold? You remember--the Moon Song: I have never forgotten
it; and only three notes, yet it sometimes wakes me at night. It's
queer, isn't it, being you and me?"

She laughed, tilting her chin; and her voice began at once to sing, as
if at the scarcely opened door of her throat, and a tune so plain it
seemed but the words speaking:--


     "Twas a Cuckoo, cried 'cuck-oo'
     In the youth of the year;
     And the timid things nesting,
     Crouched, ruffled in fear;
     And the Cuckoo cried, 'cuck-oo,'
     For the honest to hear.

     One--two notes: a bell sound
     In the blue and the green;
     'Cuck-oo: cuck-oo: cuck-oo!'
     And a silence between.

     Ay, mistress, have a care, lest
     Harsh love, he hie by,
     And for kindness a monster
     To nourish you try--
     In your bosom to lie:
     'Cuck-oo,' and a 'cuck-oo,'
     And 'cuck-oo!'"


The sounds fell like beads into the quiet--as if a small child had come
up out of her heart and gone down again; and she callous and unmoved. I
cannot say why the clear, muted notes saddened and thrilled me so. Was
_she_ the monster?

I had drawn back, and stayed eyeing her pale face, the high cheek, the
delicate straight nose, the darkened lips, the slim black eyebrows, the
light, clear, unfathomable eyes reflecting the solitude and the thin
brilliance of the wood. Yet the secret of herself remained her own. She
tried in vain not to be disturbed at my scrutiny.

"Well," she inquired at last, with motionless glance fixed on the
distance. "Do you think you could honestly give me a testimonial, Miss
Midget?"

It is strange. The Sphinx had spoken, yet without much enlightenment.
"Now look at me," I commanded. "If I went away, you couldn't follow.
When you go away, you cannot escape from me. I can go back and--and _be_
where I was." My own meaning was half-concealed from me; but a startled
something that had not been there before peeped out of those eyes so
close to mine.

"If," she said, "I could care like that too, yet wanted nothing, then I
should be free too."

"What do you mean?" said I, lifting my hand from the unanswering
fingers.

"I mean," she exclaimed, leaping to her feet, "that I'm sick to death of
the stars and am going home to bed. Hateful, listening old woods!"

I turned sharp round, as if in apprehension that some secret hearer
might have caught her remark. But Fanny stretched out her arms, and,
laughing a foolish tune, in affected abandonment began softly to dance
in the crisp leaves, quite lost to me again. So twirling, she set off
down the path by which she had come trespassing. A physical exhaustion
came over me. I watched her no more, but stumbled along, with unheeding
eyes, in her wake. What had I not given, I thought bitterly, and this my
reward. Thus solitary, I had gone only a little distance, and had
reached the outskirts of the woods, when a far from indifferent Fanny
came hastening back to intercept me.

And no wonder. She had remembered to attire herself becomingly for her
moonlight tryst, but had forgotten the door key. We stood looking at one
another aghast, as, from eternity, I suppose, have all
fellow-conspirators in danger of discovery. It was I who first awoke to
action. There was but one thing to be done, and, warning Fanny that I
had never before attempted to unlatch the big front door of her mother's
house, I set off resolutely down the hill.

"You walk so slowly!" she said suddenly, turning back on me. "I will
carry you."

Again we paused. I looked up at her with an inextricable medley of
emotions struggling together in my mind, and shook my head.

"But why, why?" she repeated impatiently. "We could get there in half
the time."

"If you could _fly_, Fanny, I'd walk," I replied stubbornly.

"You mean----" and her cold anger distorted her face. "Oh, pride! What
childish nonsense! And you said we were to be friends. Do you suppose I
care whether...?" But the question remained unfinished.

"I _am_ your friend," said I, "and that is why I will not, I _will_ not
give way to you." It was hardly friendship that gleamed out of the wide
eyes then. But mine the victory--a victory in which only a tithe of the
spoils, unrecognized by the vanquished, had fallen to the victor.

Without another word she turned on her heel, and for the rest of our
dejected journey she might have been mistaken for a cross nurse trailing
on pace for pace beside a rebellious child. My dignity was less ruffled
than hers, however, and for a brief while I had earned my freedom.

Arrived at the house, dumbly hostile in the luminous night, Fanny
concealed herself as best she could behind the gate-post and kept watch
on the windows. Far away in the stillness we heard a footfall echoing on
the hill. "There is some one coming," she whispered, "you must hurry."
She might, I think, have serpented her way in by my own little door.
Where the _head_ leads, the heart may follow. But she did not suggest
it. Nor did I.

I tugged and pushed as best I could, but the umbrella with which from a
chair I at last managed to draw the upper bolt of the door was extremely
cumbersome. The latch for a while resisted my efforts. And the knowledge
that Fanny was fretting and fuming behind the gatepost hardly increased
my skill. The house was sunken in quiet; Mrs Bowater apparently was
sleeping without her usual accompaniment; only Henry shared my labours,
and he sat moodily at the foot of the stairs, refusing to draw near
until at the same moment Fanny entered, and he leapt out.

Once safely within, and the door closed and bolted again, Fanny stood
for a few moments listening. Then with a sigh and a curious gesture she
bent herself and kissed the black veil that concealed my fair hair.

"I am sorry, Midgetina," she whispered into its folds, "I was impatient.
Mother wouldn't have liked the astronomy, you know. That was all. And I
am truly sorry for--for----"

"My dear," I replied in firm, elderly tones, whose echo is in my ear to
this very day; "My dear, it was my mind you hurt, not my feelings." With
that piece of sententiousness I scrambled blindly through my Bates's
doorway, shut the door behind me, and more disturbed at heart than I can
tell, soon sank into the thronging slumber of the guilty and the
obsessed.



Chapter Fourteen


When my eyes opened next morning, a strange, still glare lay over the
ceiling, and I looked out of my window on a world mantled and cold with
snow. For a while I forgot the fever of the last few days in watching
the birds hopping and twittering among the crumbs that Mrs Bowater
scattered out on the windowsill for my pleasure. And yet--their every
virtue, every grace, Fanny Bowater, all were thine! The very snow, in my
girlish fantasy, was the fairness beneath which the unknown Self in her
must, as I fondly believed, lie slumbering; a beauty that hid also from
me for a while the restless, self-centred mind. How believe that such
beauty is any the less a gift to its possessor than its bespeckled
breast and song to a thrush, its sheen to a starling? It is a riddle
that still baffles me. If we are all shut up in our bodies as the poets
and the Scriptures say we are, then how is it that many of the loveliest
seem to be all but uninhabited, or to harbour such dingy tenants; while
quite plain faces may throng with animated ghosts?

Fanny did not come to share my delight in the snow that morning. And as
I looked out on it, waiting on in vain, hope flagged, and a sadness
stole over its beauty. Probably she had not given the fantastic lodger a
thought. She slid through life, it seemed, as easily as a seal through
water. But I was not the only friend who survived her caprices. In spite
of her warning about the dish-washing, Mr Crimble came to see her that
afternoon. She was out. With a little bundle of papers in his hand he
paused at the gate-post to push his spectacles more firmly on to his
nose and cast a kind of homeless look over the fields before turning his
face towards St Peter's. Next day, Holy Innocents', he came again; but
this time with more determination, for he asked to see me.

To rid myself, as far as possible, of one piece of duplicity, I at once
took the bull by the horns, and in the presence of Mrs Bowater boldly
invited him to stay to tea. With a flurried glance of the eye in her
direction he accepted my invitation.

"A cold afternoon, Mrs Bowater," he intoned. "The cup that cheers, the
cup that cheers."

My landlady left the conventions to take care of themselves; and
presently he and I found ourselves positively _tête-à-tête_ over her
seed cake and thin bread and butter.

But though we both set to work to make conversation, an absent
intentness in his manner, a listening turn of his head, hinted that his
thoughts were not wholly with me.

"Are you long with us?" he inquired, stirring his tea.

"I am quite, quite happy here," I replied, with a sigh.

"Ah!" he replied, a little wistfully, taking a sip, "how few of us have
the courage to confess that. Perhaps it flatters us to suppose we are
miserable. It is this pessimism--of a mechanical, a scientific
age--which we have chiefly to contend against. We don't often see you at
St Peter's, I think?"

"You wouldn't see _very_ much of me, if I did come," I replied a little
tartly. Possibly it was his "we" that had fretted me. It seemed
needlessly egotistical. "On the other hand," I added, "wouldn't there be
a risk of the congregation seeing nothing else?"

Mr Crimble opened his mouth and laughed. "I wish," he said, with a
gallant little bow, "there were more like you."

"More like _me_, Mr Crimble?"

"I mean," he explained, darting a glance at the furniture of my bedroom,
whose curtains, to my annoyance, hung withdrawn, "I mean that--that
you--that so many of us refuse to see the facts of life. To look them in
the face, Miss M. There is nothing to fear."

We were getting along famously, and I begged him to take some of Mrs
Bowater's black currant jam.

"But then, I have plenty of time," I said agreeably. "And the real
difficulty is to get the facts to face me. Dear me, if only, now, I had
some of Miss Bowater's brains."

A veil seemed suddenly to lift from his face and as suddenly to descend
again. So, too, he had for a moment stopped eating, then as suddenly
begun eating again.

"Ah, Miss Bowater! She is indeed clever; a--a brilliant young lady. The
very life of a party, I assure you. And, yet, do you know, in parochial
gatherings, try as I may, I occasionally find it very difficult to get
people to mix. The little social formulas, the prejudices. Yet, surely,
Miss M., religion _should_ be the great solvent. At least, that is my
view."

He munched away more vigorously, and gazed through his spectacles out
through my window-blinds.

"Mixing people must be very wearisome," I suggested, examining his face.

"'Wearisome,'" he repeated blandly. "I am sometimes at my wits' end. No.
A curate's life is not a happy one." Yet he confessed it almost with
joy.

"And the visiting!" I said. And then, alas! my tongue began to run away
with me. He was falling back again into what I may call his company
voice, and I pined to talk to the real Mr Crimble, little dreaming how
soon that want was to be satiated.

"I sometimes wonder, do you know, if religion is made difficult enough."

"But I assure you," he replied, politely but firmly, "a true religion is
exceedingly difficult. 'The eye of a needle'--we mustn't forget that."

"Ah, yes," said I warmly; "that 'eye' will be narrow enough even for a
person with my little advantages. I remember my mother's cook telling
me, when I was a child, that in the old days, really wicked people if
they wanted to return to the Church, had to do so in a sheet, with ashes
on their heads, you know, and carrying a long lighted candle. She said
that if the door was shut against them, they died in torment, and went
to Hell. But she was a Roman Catholic, like my grandmother."

Mr Crimble peered at me as if over a wall.

"I remember, too," I went on, "one summer's day as a very little girl I
was taken to the evening service. And the singing--bursting out like
that, you know, with the panting and the yowling of the organ, made me
faint and sick; and I jumped right out of the window."

"Jumped out of the window!" cried my visitor in consternation.

"Yes, we were at the back. Pollie, my nursemaid, had put me up in the
niche, you see; and I dragged her hand away. But I didn't hurt myself.
The grass was thick in the churchyard; I fell light, and I had plenty
of clothes on. I rather enjoyed it--the air and the tombstones. And
though I had my gasps, the 'eye' seemed big enough when I was a child.
But afterwards--when I was confirmed--I thought of Hell a good deal. I
can't _see_ it so plainly now. Wide, low, and black, with a few demons.
_That_ can't be right."

"My dear young lady!" cried Mr Crimble, as if shocked, "is it wise to
attempt it? It must be admitted, of course, that if we do not take
advantage of the benefits bestowed upon us by Providence in a Christian
community, we cannot escape His displeasure. The absence from His Love."

"Yes," I said, looking at him in sudden intimacy, "I believe that." And
I pondered a while, following up my own thoughts. "Have you ever read Mr
Clodd's _Childhood of the World_, Mr Crimble?"

By the momentary confusion of his face I gathered that he had not. "Mr
Clodd?... Ah, yes, the writer on Primitive Man."

"This was only a little book, for the young, you know. But in it Mr
Clodd says, I remember, that even the most shocking old forms of
religion were not invented by devils. They were 'Man's struggles from
darkness to twilight.' What he meant was that no man _loves_ darkness.
At least," I added, with a sudden gush of remembrances, "not without the
stars."

"That is exceedingly true," replied Mr Crimble. "And, talking of stars,
what a wonderful sight it was the night before last, the whole heavens
one spangle of diamonds! I was returning from visiting a sick
parishioner, Mr Hubbins." Then it was _his_ foot that Fanny and I had
heard reverberating on the hill! I hastily hid my face in my cup, but he
appeared not to have noticed my confusion. He took another slice of
bread and butter; folded it carefully in two, then peered up out of the
corner of his round eye at me, and added solemnly: "Sick, I regret to
say, no longer."

"Dead?" I cried from the bottom of my heart, and again looked at him.

Then my eyes strayed to the silent scene beyond the window, silent, it
seemed, with the very presence of poor Mr Hubbins. "I should not like to
go to Hell in the snow," I said ruminatingly. Out of the past welled
into memory an old ballad my mother had taught me:--


     "This ae nighte, this ae nighte
       --_Every nighte and alle_,
     Fire and sleet and candle-lighte,
       _And Christe receive thy saule_!"


"Beautiful, beautiful," murmured Mr Crimble, yet not without a trace of
alarm in his dark eyes. "But believe me, I am not suggesting that Mr
Hubbins---- His was, I am told, a wonderfully peaceful end."

"Peaceful! Oh, but surely not in his mind, Mr Crimble. Surely one must
be more alive in that last hour than ever--just when one's going away.
At any rate," and I couldn't refrain a sigh, almost of envy, "I hope _I_
shall be. Was Mr Hubbins a good man?"

"He was a most regular church-goer," replied my visitor a little
unsteadily; "a family-man, one of our Sidesmen, in fact. He will be
greatly missed. You may remember what Mr Ruskin wrote of his father:
'Here lies an entirely honest merchant.' Mr Ruskin, senior, was, as a
matter of fact, in the wine trade. Mr Hubbins, I believe, was in linen,
though, of course, it amounts to the same thing. But haven't we," and he
cleared his throat, "haven't we--er--strayed into a rather lugubrious
subject?"

"We have strayed into a rather lugubrious world," said I.

"Of course, of course; but, believe me, we mustn't always _think_ too
closely. 'Days and moments quickly flying,' true enough, though hardly
appropriate, as a matter of fact, at this particular season in the
Christian year. But, on the other hand, 'we may make our lives sublime.'
Does not yet another poet tell us that? Although, perhaps, Mr Hub----"

"Yes," I interposed eagerly, the lover of books in me at once rising to
the bait, "but what do you think Longfellow absolutely _meant_ by his
'sailor on the main' of life being comforted, you remember, by somebody
else having been shipwrecked and just leaving _footprints_ in the sand?
I used to wonder and wonder. Does the poem imply, Mr Crimble, that
merely to be born is to be shipwrecked? I don't think that can be so,
because Longfellow was quite a cheerful man, wasn't he?--at least for a
poet. For my part," I ran on, now thoroughly at home with my visitor,
and on familiar ground, "I am sure I prefer poor Friday. Do you remember
how Robinson Crusoe described him soon after the rescue from the
savages as 'without Passions, Sullenness, or Designs,' even though he
did, poor thing, 'have a hankering stomach after some of the Flesh'? Not
that I mean to suggest," I added hastily, "that Mr Hubbins was in any
sense a cannibal."

"By no means," said Mr Crimble helplessly. "But there," and he brushed
his knees with his handkerchief, "I fear you are too much of a reader
for me, and--and critic. For that very reason I do hope, Miss M., you
will sometimes contrive to pay a visit to St Peter's. Mother Church has
room for all, you know, in her--about her footstool." He smiled at me
very kindly. "And our organist, Mr Temple, has been treating us to some
charmingly quaint old carols--at least the words seem a little quaint to
a modern ear. But I cannot boast of being a _student_ of poetry.
Parochial work leaves little time even for the classics:--


     "Odi profanum vulgus, et arceo.
     Favete linguis...."


He almost chirped the delightful words in a high, pleasant voice, but
except for the first three of them, they were too many for my small
Latin, and I afterwards forgot to test the aptness of his quotation. I
was just about to ask him (with some little unwillingness) to translate
the whole ode for me, when I heard Fanny's step at the door. I desisted.

At her entry the whole of our conversation, as it hung about in Mrs
Bowater's firelit little parlour, seemed to have become threadbare and
meaningless. My visitor and I turned away from each other almost with
relief--like Longfellow's shipwrecked sailors, perhaps, at sight of a
ship.

Fanny's pale cheeks beneath her round beaver hat and veil were bright
with the cold--for frost had followed the snow. She eyed us slowly, with
less even than a smile in her eyes, facing my candles softly, as if she
had come out of a dream. Whatever class of the community Mr Crimble may
have meant to include in his _Odi_, the celerity with which he rose to
greet her made it perfectly clear that it was not Miss Bowater's. She
smiled at the black sleeve, cuff, and signet ring outstretched towards
her, but made no further advance. She brought him, too, a sad
disappointment, simply that she would be unable to sing at his concert
on the last night of the year. At this blow Mr Crimble instinctively
folded his hands. He looked helpless and distressed.

"But, Miss Bowater," he pleaded, "the printer has been waiting nearly
two days for the names of your songs. The time is very short now."

"Yes," said Fanny, seating herself on a stool by the fire and slowly
removing her gloves. "It is annoying. I hadn't a vestige of a cold last
night."

"But indeed, indeed," he began, "is it wise in this severe weather----?"

"Oh, it isn't the weather I mind," was the serene retort, "it's the
croaking like a frog in public."

"'A frog!'" cried Mr Crimble beguilingly, "oh, no!"

But all his protestations and cajoleries were unavailing. Even to a
long, silent glance so private in appearance that it seemed more
courteous to turn away from it, Fanny made no discernible response. His
shoulders humped. He caught up his soft hat, made his adieu--a little
formal, and hasty--and hurried off through the door to the printer.

When his muffled footsteps had passed away, I looked at Fanny.

"Oh, yes," she agreed, shrugging her shoulders, "it was a lie. I said it
like a lie, so that it shouldn't deceive him. I detest all that
wheedling. To come here two days running, after.... And why, may I ask,
if it is beneath your dignity to dance to the parish, is it not beneath
mine to sing? Let the silly sheep amuse _themselves_ with their
bleating. I have done with it all."

She rose, folded her gloves into a ball and her veil over her hat, and
once more faced her reflection in her mother's looking-glass. I had not
the courage to tell her that the expression she wore on other occasions
suited her best.

"But surely," I argued uneasily, "things are different. If I were to
dance, stuck up there on a platform, you know very well it would not be
the dancing that would amuse them, but--just me. Would you care for that
if you were--well, what I am?"

"Ah, you don't know," a low voice replied bitterly, "you don't know. The
snobs they are! I have soaked in it for years, like a pig in brine.
Boxed up here in your pretty little doll's house, you suppose that all
that matters is what you think of other people. But to be perfectly
frank, you are out of the running, my dear. _I_ have to get my own
living, and all that matters is not what I think of other people but
what other people think of me. Do you suppose I don't know what _he_, in
his heart, thinks of me--and all the rest of them? Well, I say, wait!"

And she left me to my doll's house--a more helpless slave than ever.


Not only one "star" the fewer, then, dazzled St Peter's parish that New
Year's Eve, but Fanny and I never again shared an hour's practical
astronomy. Still, she would often sit and talk to me, and the chain of
my devotion grew heavy. Perhaps she, on her side, merely basked in the
flattery of my imagination. It was for her a new variety of a familiar
experience. Perhaps a curious and condescending fondness for me for a
while sprang up in her--as far as that was possible, for, apart from her
instinctive heartlessness, she never really accustomed herself to my
physical shortcomings. I believe they attracted yet repelled her. To my
lonely spirit she was a dream that remained a dream in spite of its
intensifying resemblance to a nightmare.

I realize now that she was desperately capricious, of a cat-like cruelty
by nature, and so evasive and elusive that frequently I could not
distinguish her soft, furry pads from her claws. But whatever her mood,
or her treatment of me, or her lapses into a kind of commonness to which
I deliberately shut my eyes, her beauty remained. Whomsoever we love
becomes unique in that love, and I suppose we are responsible for what
we give as well as for what we accept. The very memory of her beauty,
when I was alone, haunted me as intensely as if she were present. Yet in
her actual company, it made her in a sense unreal. So, often, it was
only the ghost of her with whom I sat and talked. How sharply it would
have incensed her to know it. When she came to me in my sleep, she was
both paradise and seraph, and never fiddle entranced a Paganini as did
her liquid lapsing voice my small fastidious ear. Yet, however much she
loved to watch herself in looking-glass or in her mind, and to observe
her effects on others, she was not vain.

But the constant, unbanishable thought of anything wearies the mind and
weakens the body. In my infatuation, I, too, was scarcely more than a
ghost--a very childish ghost perhaps. I think if I could call him for
witness, my small pasha in the train from Lyndsey would bear me out in
this. As for what is called passion, the only burning of it I ever felt
was for an outcast with whom I never shared so much as glance or word.
Alas, Fanny, I suppose, was merely a brazen image.

Long before the dark day of her departure--a day which stood in my
thoughts like a barrier at the world's end--I had very foolishly poured
out most of my memories for her profit and amusement, though so immobile
was she when seated in a chair beside my table, or standing foot on
fender at the chimney-piece, that it was difficult at times to decide
whether she was listening to me or not. What is more important, she told
me in return in her curious tortuous and contradictory fashion, a good
deal about herself, and of her childhood, which--because of the endless
violent roarings of her nautical father, and the taciturn discipline of
poor Mrs Bowater--filled me with compassion and heaped fuel on my love.
And not least of these bonds was the secret which, in spite of endless
temptation, I managed to withhold from her in a last instinctive loyalty
to Mrs Bowater--the discovery that her own mother was long since dead
and gone.

She possessed more brains than she cared to exhibit to visitors like Dr
Phelps and Mr Crimble. Even to this day I cannot believe that Mr Crimble
even so much as guessed how clever she was. It was just part of herself,
like the bloom on a plum. Hers was not one of those gesticulating minds.
Her efforts only intensified her Fannyishness. Oh dear, how simple
things are if only you leave them unexplained. Her very knowledge, too
(which for the most part she kept to herself) was to me like finding
chain armour when one is in search of a beating heart. She could shed it
all, and her cleverness too, as easily as a swan water-drops. What could
she not shed, and yet remain Fanny? And with all her confidences, she
was extremely reticent. A lift of the light shoulders, or of the flat
arched eyebrows, a sarcasm, a far-away smile, at the same time
illuminated and obscured her talk. These are feminine gifts, and yet
past my mastery. Perhaps for this reason I admired them the more in
Fanny--just as, in reading my childhood's beloved volume, _The Observing
Eye_, I had admired the crab's cuirass and the scorpion's horny
rings--because, being, after all, myself a woman, I faintly understood
their purpose.

Thus, when Fanny told me of the school she taught in; and of the
smooth-haired drawing-master who attended it with his skill, on Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays; and of the vivacious and saturnine "Monsieur
Crapaud," who, poked up in a room under the gables, lived in the house;
or of that other parish curate who was a nephew of the head-mistress's,
the implacable Miss Stebbings, and who, apparently, preached Sunday
after Sunday, with peculiar pertinacity, on such texts as "God is
love"--when Fanny recounted to me these afflictions, graces, and
mockeries of her daily routine as "literature" mistress, I could as
easily bestow on her the vivifying particulars she left out, as a
painter can send his portraits to be framed.

Once and again--just as I have seen a blackbird drop plumb from the
upper boughs of a tree on a worm disporting itself in the dewy
mould--once I did ask a question which produced in her one of those
curious reactions which made her, rather than immaterial, an exceedingly
vigilant image of her very self. "What will you do, Fanny, when you
_can't_ mock at him?"

"Him?" she inquired in a breath.

"_The_ him!" I said.

"What him?" she replied.

"Well," I said, stumbling along down what was a rather black and
unfamiliar alley to me, "my father was not, I suppose, particularly wise
in anything, but my mother loved him very much."

"And _my_ father," she retorted, in words so carefully pronounced that I
knew they must be dangerous, "my father was a first mate in the
mercantile marine when he married your landlady."

"Well," I repeated, "what would you do, if--if _you_ fell in love?"

Fanny sat quite still, all the light at the window gently beating on her
face, with its half-closed eyes. Her foot stirred, and with an almost
imperceptible movement of her shoulder, she replied, "I shall go blind."

I looked at her, dumbfounded. All the days of her company were
shrivelled up in that small sentence. "Oh, Fanny," I whispered
hopelessly, "then you know?"

"'Know'?" echoed the smooth lips.

"Why, I mean," I expostulated, rushing for shelter fully as rapidly as
my old friend the lobster must have done when it was time to change his
shell, "I mean that's what that absurd little Frenchman is--'Monsieur
Crapaud.'"

"Oh, no," said Fanny calmly, "_he_ is not blind, he only has his eyes
shut. Mine," she added, as if the whole light of the wintry sky she
faced were the mirror of her prediction, "mine will be wide open."

How did I know that for once the serene, theatrical creature was being
mortally serious?



Chapter Fifteen


I grew a little weary of the beautiful snow in the days that followed my
first talk with Mr Crimble, and fretted at the close air of the house.
The last day of the year the wind was still in the north. It perplexed
me that the pride which from my seed had sprung up in Fanny, and had
prevented her from taking part in the parish concert, yet allowed her to
attend it. She set off thickly veiled. Not even Mr Crimble's spectacles
were likely to pierce her disguise. I had written a little letter the
afternoon before and had myself handed it to Mrs Bowater with a large
fork of mistletoe from my Christmas bunch. It was an invitation to
herself and Fanny to sit with me and "see in" the New Year. She smiled
at me over it--still her tranquil, though neglected self--and I was
half-satisfied.

Her best black dress was donned for the occasion. She had purchased a
bottle of ginger wine, which she brought in with some glasses and placed
in the middle of the red and black tablecloth. Its white-lettered,
dark-green label "haunts me still." The hours drew on. Fanny returned
from the concert--entering the room like a cloud of beauty. She beguiled
the dwindling minutes of the year with mocking echoes of it.

In a rich falsetto she repeated Mr Crimble's "few words" of sympathetic
apology for her absence: "'I must ask your indulgence, ladies and
gentlemen, for a lamentable hiatus in our programme.'" She gave us Miss
Willett's and Mr Bangor's spirited rendering of "Oh, that we two"; and
of the recitation which rather easily, it appeared, Mrs Bullace had been
prevailed upon to give as an encore after her "Abt Vogler": "The Lady's
'Yes,'" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And what a glance of light and
fire she cast me when she came to stanza six of the poem:--


     "Lead her from the festive boards,
     Point her to the starry skies!..."


And she imitated Lady Pollacke's niece's--Miss Oran's--'cello obligato
to "The Lost Chord," with a plangency that stirred even the soul of
Henry as he lay curled up in my landlady's lap. The black head split
like a pomegranate as he yawned his disgust.

At this Mrs Bowater turned her bony face on me, her hands on her knees,
and with a lift of her eyes disclosed the fact that she was amused, and
that she hoped her amusement would remain a confidence between us. She
got up and put the cat out: and on her return had regained her
solemnity.

"I suppose," she said stiffly, staring into the sparkling fire that was
our only illumination, "I suppose, poor creatures, they did their best:
and it isn't so many years ago, Fanny, since you were as put-about to be
allowed to sing at one of the church concerts as a bird is to hop out of
its cage."

"Yes," said Fanny, "but in this world birds merely hop out of one cage
into another; though I suppose the larger are the more comfortable."
This retort set Mrs Bowater's countenance in an impassive mask--so
impassive that every fitfully-lit photograph in the room seemed to have
imitated her stare. "And, mother," added Fanny seductively, "who
_taught_ me to sing?"

"The Lord knows," cried Mrs Bowater, with conviction, "_I_ never did."

"Yes," muttered Fanny in a low voice, for my information, "but does He
care?" I hastily asked Mrs Bowater if she was glad of to-morrow's New
Year. As if in reply the kitchen clock, always ten minutes fast, began
to chime twelve, half-choking at every stroke. And once more the soul of
poor Mr Hubbins sorrowfully took shape in a gaze at me out of vacancy.

"To them going downhill, miss," my landlady was replying to my question,
"it is not the milestones are the pleasantest company--nor that the
journey's then of much account until it is over. By which I don't mean
to suggest there need be _gloom_. But to you and Fanny here--well, I
expect the little that's the present for you is mostly wasted on the
future." With that, she rose, and poured out the syrupy brown wine from
the green bottle, reserving a remarkably little glass which she had
rummaged out of her years' hoardings for me.

Fanny herself, with musing head--her mockings over--was sitting drawn-up
on a stool by the fire. I doubt if she was thinking. Whether or not, to
my enchanted eyes some phantom within her seemed content merely to be
her beauty. And in rest, there was a grace in her body--the smooth
shoulder, the poised head that, because, perhaps, it was so transitory,
seemed to resemble the never-changing--that mimicry of the unknown which
may be seen in a flower, in a green hill, even in an animal. It is as
though, I do think, what we love most in this life must of necessity
share two worlds.

Faintly out of the frosty air was wafted the knelling of midnight. I
rose, stepped back from the firelight, drew the curtain, and stole a
look into space. Away on the right flashed Sirius, and to east of him
came gliding flat-headed Hydra with Alphard, the Red Bird, in his coil.
So, for a moment in our history, I and the terrestrial globe were alone
together. It seemed indeed that an intenser silence drew over reality as
the earth faced yet one more fleeting revolution round her invisible
lord and master. But no moon was risen yet.

I turned towards the shape by the fire, and without her perceiving it,
wafted kiss and prayer in her direction. Cold, careless Fanny--further
than Uranus. We were alone, for at first stroke of St Peter's Mrs
Bowater had left the room and had opened the front door. She was
smiling; but _was_ she smiling, or was that vague bewitchingness in her
face merely an unmeaning guile of which she was unaware? It might have
been a mermaid sitting there in the firelight.

The bells broke in on our stillness; and fortunately, since there was no
dark man in the house to bring us luck, Henry, already disgusted with
the snow and blacker in hue than any whiskered human I have ever seen,
seized his opportunity, and was the first living creature to cross our
threshold from one year into another.

This auspicious event renewed our spirits which, in waiting, had begun
to flag. From far away came a jangling murmur of shouting and
instruments and bells, which showed that the rest of the parish was
sharing our solemn vigil; and then, with me on my table between them, a
hand of each clasping mine, Mrs Bowater, Fanny, and I, after sipping
each other's health, raised the strains of "Auld Lang Syne." There must
have been Scottish blood in Mrs Bowater; she certainly made up for some
little variation from the tune by a heartfelt pronunciation of the
words. Hardly had we completed this rite than the grandfather's clock in
the narrow passage staidly protested its own rendering of eternity; and
we all--even Mrs Bowater--burst out laughing.

"Good-night, Midgetina; an immense happy New Year to you," whispered a
voice to me about half an hour afterwards. I jumped out of bed, and
peeped through my curtains. On some little errand Fanny had come down
from her bedroom, and with a Paisley shawl over her shoulders stood with
head and candle thrust in at the door. I gazed at her fairness. "Oh,
Fanny!" I cried. "Oh, Fanny!"


New Year's Day brought a change of weather. A slight mist rose over the
fields, it began to thaw. A kind of listlessness now came over Fanny,
which I tried in vain to dispel. Yet she seemed to seek my company;
often to remain silent, and occasionally to ask me curious questions as
if testing one answer against another. And one discovery I made in my
efforts to keep her near me: that she liked being read to. Most of the
volumes in Mrs Bowater's small library were of a nautical character, and
though one of them, on the winds and tides and seas and coasts of the
world, was to console me later in Fanny's absence, the majority defied
even my obstinacy. Fanny hated stories of the sea, seemed to detest
Crusoe; and smiled her slow, mysterious smile while she examined my own
small literary treasures. By a flighty stroke of fortune, tacked up by
an unskilled hand in the stained brown binding of a volume on Disorders
of the Nerves, we discovered among her father's books a copy of
_Wuthering Heights_, by Emily Brontë.

The very first sentence of this strange, dwelling book, was a spell:
"1801.--I have just returned from a visit to my landlord--the solitary
neighbour that I shall be troubled with."... And when, a few lines
farther on, I read: "He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him
when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their
brows"--the apparition of who but Mr Crumble blinked at me out of the
print, and the enchantment was complete. It was not only gaunt enormous
Yorkshire with its fells and wastes of snow that seized on my
imagination, not only that vast kitchen with its flagstones, green
chairs, and firearms, but the mere music and aroma of the words, "I
beheld his black eyes"; "a range of gaunt thorns"; "a wilderness of
crumbling griffins"; "a huge, liver-coloured bitch pointer"--they rang
in my mind, echoed on in my dreams.

And though in the wet and windy afternoons and evenings which Fanny and
I thus shared, she, much more than poor Mr Crimble, resembled Heathcliff
in being "rather morose," and in frequently expressing "an aversion to
showing displays of feeling," she was more attracted by my discovery
than she condescended to confess. _Jane Eyre_, she said, was a better
story, "though Jane herself was a fool." What cared I? To me this book
was like the kindling of a light in a strange house; and that house my
mind. I gazed, watched, marvelled, and recognized, as I kneeled before
its pages. But though my heart was torn, and my feelings were a little
deranged by the scenes of violence, and my fancy was haunted by that
stalking wolfish spectre, I took no part. I surveyed all with just that
sense of aloofness and absorption with which as children Cathy and
Heathcliff, barefoot in the darkness of the garden, had looked in that
Sunday evening on the Lintons' crimson taper-lit drawing-room.

If, in February, you put a newly gathered sprig of budding thorn into
the fire; instantaneously, in the influence of the heat, it will break
into bright-green tiny leaf. That is what Emily Brontë did for me. Not
so for Fanny. In her "vapid listlessness" she often pretended to yawn
over _Wuthering Heights_, and would shock me with mocking criticism, or
cry "Ah!" at the poignant passages. But I believe it was pure
concealment. She was really playing a part in the story. I have, at any
rate, never seen her face so transfigured as when once she suddenly
looked up in the firelight and caught my eye fixed on her over the book.

It was at the passage where Cathy--in her grand plaid silk frock, white
trousers, and burnished shoes--returns to the dreadful Grange; and,
"dismally beclouded," Heathcliff stares out at her from his
hiding-place. "'He might,'" I read on, "'well skulk behind the settle,
at beholding such a bright, graceful damsel enter the house. "Is
Heathcliff not here?" she demanded, pulling off her gloves, and
displaying fingers wonderfully whitened with doing nothing and staying
indoors.'"

It was at this point that our eyes, as I say, Fanny's and mine, met.
But she, bright, graceful damsel, was not thinking of me.

"Do you like that kind of character, Fanny?" I inquired.

My candle's flames gleamed lean and tiny in her eyes. "Whose?" she
asked.

"Why, Heathcliff's."

She turned slowly away. "You take things so seriously, Midgetina. It's
merely a story. He only wanted taming. You'll see by-and-by." But at
that moment my ear caught the sound of footsteps, and when Mrs Bowater
opened the door to contemplate idle Fanny, the book was under my bed.


As the day drew near for Fanny's return to her "duties," her mood
brightened. She displayed before me in all their stages, the new clothes
which Mrs Bowater lavished on her--to a degree that, amateur though I
was in domestic economy, filled me with astonishment. I had to feign
delight in these fineries--"Ah!" whispered I to each, "when she wears
_you_ she will be far, far away." I envied the very buttons, and indeed
pestered her with entreaties. I implored her to think of me at certain
hours; to say good-night to herself for me; to write day by day in the
first of the evening; to share the moon: "If we both look at her at the
same moment," I argued, "it will be next to looking at one another. You
_cannot_ be utterly gone: and if you see even a flower, or hear the
wind.... Oh, I hope and hope you will be happy."

She promised everything with smiling ease, and would have sealed the
compact in blood if I had thought to cut my thumb for it. Thursday in
Holy Week--_then_ she would be home again. I stared at the blessed day
across the centuries as a condemned man stares in fancy at the scaffold
awaiting him; but on mine hung all my hopes. Long evenings I never saw
her at all; and voices in the kitchen, when she came in late, suggested
that my landlady had also missed her. But Fanny never lost her
self-control even when she lost her temper; and I dared not tax her with
neglecting me. Her cold looks almost suffocated me. I besought her to
spend one last hour of the eve of her departure alone with me and with
the stars in the woods. She promised. At eleven she came home, and went
straight up into her bedroom. I heard her footsteps. She was packing.
Then silence.

I waited on until sick at heart I flung myself on my knees beside my bed
and prayed that God would comfort her. Heathcliff had acquired a feeble
pupil. The next afternoon she was gone.



Chapter Sixteen


For many days my mind was an empty husk, yet in a constant torment of
longing, daydream, despair, and self-reproaches. Everything I looked at
had but one meaning--that she was not there. I did not dare to admit
into my heart a hope of the future, since it would be treason to the
absent. There was an ecstatic mournfulness even in the sight of the
January sun, the greening fields, the first scarcely perceptible signals
of a new year. And when one morning I awoke early and heard, still half
in dream, a thrush in all but darkness singing of spring, it seemed it
was a voice pealing in the empty courts of paradise. What ridiculous
care I took to conceal my misery from Mrs Bowater. Hardly a morning
passed but that I carried out in a bag the food I couldn't eat the day
before, to hide it away or bury it. But such journeys were brief.

I have read somewhere that love is a disease. Or is it that Life piles
up the fuel, a chance stranger darts a spark, and the whole world goes
up in smoke? Was I happier in that fever than I am in this literary
calm? Why did love for things without jealousy or envy fill me with
delight, pour happiness into me, and love for Fanny parch me up, suck
every other interest from my mind, and all but blind my eyes? Is that
true? I cannot be sure: for to remember her ravages is as difficult as
to re-assemble the dismal phantoms that flock into a delirious brain.
And still to be honest--there's another chance: Was she to blame? Would
my mind have been at peace even in its solitary woe if she had dealt
truly with me? Would any one believe it?--it never occurred to me to
remind myself that it might be a question merely of size. Simply because
I loved, I deemed myself lovable. Yet in my heart of hearts that
afternoon I had been twitting Mr Crimble for saying his prayers!

But even the heart is Phoenix-like. The outer world began to break into
my desolation, not least successfully when after a week or two of
absence there came a post card from Fanny to her mother with a mere
"love to M." scrawled in its top right-hand corner. It was as if a
wine-glass of cold water had been poured down my back. It was followed
by yet another little "shock." One evening, when she had carefully set
down my bowl of rusk and milk, Mrs Bowater took up her stand opposite to
me, black as an image in wood. "You haven't been after your stars, miss,
of late. It's moping you are. I suffered myself from the same greensick
fantasticalities, when _I_ was a girl. Not that a good result's any the
better for a poor cause; but it was courting danger with your frail
frame; it was indeed."

I smile in remembrance of the picture presented by that
conscience-stricken face of mine upturned to that stark monitor--a
monitor no less stark at this very moment though we are both many years
older.

"Yes, yes," she continued, and even the dun, fading photograph over her
head might have paled at her accents. "I'm soliciting no divulgements;
she wouldn't have gone alone, and if she did, would have heard of it
from me. But you must please remember, miss, I am her mother. And you
will remember, miss, also," she added, with upper lip drawn even
tighter, "that your care is my care, and always will be while you are
under my roof--and after, please God."

She soundlessly closed the door behind her, as if in so doing she were
shutting up the whole matter in her mind for ever, as indeed she was,
for she never referred to it again. Thunderbolts fall quietly at times.
I sat stupefied. But as I examine that distant conscience, I am aware,
first, of a faint flitting of the problem through my mind as to why a
freedom which Mrs Bowater would have denied to Fanny should have held no
dangers for me, and next, I realize that of all the emotions in conflict
within me, humiliation stood head and shoulders above the rest. Indeed I
flushed all over, at the thought that never for one moment--then or
since--had I paused to consider how, on that fateful midnight, Fanny
could have left the house-door _bolted_ behind her. My utter stupidity:
and Fanny's! All these weeks my landlady had known, and said nothing.
The green gooseberries of my childhood were a far less effective tonic.
But I lost no love for Mrs Bowater in this prodigious increase of
respect.

A far pleasanter interruption of my sick longings for the absent one
occurred the next morning. At a loss what to be reading (for Fanny had
abstracted my _Wuthering Heights_ and taken it away with her), once more
shudderingly pushing aside my breakfast, I turned over the dusty, faded
pile of Bowater books. And in one of them I discovered a chapter on
knots. Our minds are cleverer than we think them, and not only cats have
an instinct for physicking themselves. I took out a piece of silk twine
from my drawer and--with Fanny's phantom sulking a while in neglect--set
myself to the mastery of "the ship boy's" science. I had learned for
ever to distinguish between the granny and the reef (such is fate, this
knot was also called the true lover's!), and was setting about the
fisherman's bend, when there came a knock on the door--and then a head.

It was Pollie. Until I saw her round, red, country cheek, and stiff
Sunday hat, thus unexpectedly appear, I had almost forgotten how much I
loved and had missed her. No doubt my landlady had been the _dea ex
machinâ_ that had produced her on this fine sunshine morning. Anyhow she
was from heaven. Besides butter, a posy of winter jasmine, a crochet
bedspread, and a varnished arbour chair made especially for me during
the winter evenings by her father, Mr Muggeridge, she brought startling
news. There suddenly fell a pause in our excited talk. She drew out her
handkerchief and a slow crimson mounted up over neck, cheek, ears, and
brow. I couldn't look quite away from this delicious sight, so my eyes
wandered up in admiration of the artificial cornflowers and daisies in
her hat.

Whereupon she softly blew her nose and, with a gliding glance at the
shut door, she breathed out her secret. She was engaged to be married. A
trying, romantic vapour seemed instantly to gather about us, in whose
hush I was curiously aware not only of Pollie thus suffused, sitting
with her hands loosely folded in her lap, but of myself also, perched
opposite to her with eyes in which curiosity, incredulity, and even a
remote consternation played upon her homely features. Time melted away,
and there once more sat the old Pollie--a gawk of a girl in a pinafore,
munching up green apples and re-plaiting her dull brown hair.

Then, of course, I was bashfully challenged to name the happy man. I
guessed and guessed to Pollie's ever-increasing gusto, and at last I
dared my first unuttered choice: "Well, then, it _must_ be Adam
Waggett!"

"Adam Waggett! Oh, miss, him! a nose like a winebottle."

It was undeniable. I apologized, and Pollie surrendered her future into
my hands. "It's Bob Halibut, miss," she whispered hoarsely.

And instantaneously Bob Halibut's red head loomed louringly out at me.
But I know little about husbands; and premonitions only impress us when
they come true. Time was to prove that Pollie and her mother had made a
prudent choice. Am I not now Mr Halibut's god-sister, so to speak?

The wedding, said Pollie, was to be in the summer. "And oh, miss"--would
I come?

The scheming that followed! The sensitive draping of difficulties on
either side, the old homesick longing on mine--to flee away now, at
once, from this scene of my afflicted adoration. I almost hated Fanny
for giving me so much pain. Mrs Bowater was summoned to our council; my
promise was given; and it was she who suggested that its being "a nice
bright afternoon," Pollie should take me for a walk.

But whither? It seemed a sheer waste of Pollie to take her to the woods.
Thoughts of St Peter's, the nocturnal splendour in the cab, a hunger for
novelty, the itch to spend money, and maybe a tinge of
dare-devilry--without a moment's hesitation I chose the shops and the
"town." Once more in my black, with two thicknesses of veil canopying my
head, as if I were a joint of meat in the Dog Days, I settled myself on
Pollie's arm, and--in the full publicity of three o'clock in the
afternoon--off we went.

We chattered; we laughed; we sniggled together like schoolgirls in
amusement at the passers-by, in the strange, busy High Street. I
devoured the entrancing wares in the shop windows--milliner, hairdresser
and perfumer, confectioner; even the pyramids of jam jars and
sugar-cones in the grocer's, and the soaps, syrups, and sponges of Mr
Simpkins--Beechwood's pharmaceutical chemist. Out of the sovereign which
I had brought with me from my treasure-chest Pollie made purchases on my
behalf. For Mrs Bowater, a muslin tie for the neck; for herself--after
heated controversy--a pair of kid gloves and a bottle of frangipani; and
for me a novel.

This last necessitated a visit to Mrs Stocks's Circulating Library. My
hopes had been set on _Jane Eyre_. Mrs Stocks regretted that the demand
for this novel had always exceeded her supply: "What may be called the
sensational style of fiction" (or was it friction?) "never lays much on
our hands." She produced, instead, and very tactfully, a comparatively
diminutive copy of Miss Austen's _Sense and Sensibility_. It was a
little shop-soiled; "But books keep, miss"; and she let me have it at a
reduced price. Her great shears severed the string. Pollie and I once
more set clanging the sonorous bell at the door, and emerged into the
sunlight. "Oh, Pollie," I whispered, "if only you could stay with me for
ever!"

This taste of "life" had so elated me that after fevered and silent
debate I at last laughed out, and explained to Pollie that I wished to
be "put down." Her breathless arguments against this foolhardy
experiment only increased my obstinacy. She was compelled to obey.
Bidding her keep some little distance behind me, I settled my veil,
clasped tight my Miss Austen in my arms and set my face in the direction
from which we had come. One after another the wide paving-stones
stretched out in front of me. It was an extraordinary experience. I was
openly alone now, not with the skulking, deceitful shades and
appearances of night, or the quiet flowers and trees in the enormous
vacancy of nature; but in the midst of a town of men in their
height--and walking along there: by myself. It was as if I had suddenly
realized what astonishingly active and domineering and multitudinous
creatures we humans are. I can't explain. The High Street, to use a good
old phrase, "got up into my head." My mind was in such a whirl of
excitement that full consciousness of what followed eludes me.


The sun poured wintry bright into the house-walled gulf of a street that
in my isolation seemed immeasurably vast and empty. I think my senses
distorted the scene. There was the terrific glitter of glass, the
clatter of traffic. A puff of wind whirled dust and grit and particles
of straw into the air. The shapes of advancing pedestrians towered close
above me, then, stiff with sudden attention, passed me by. My legs grew
a little numb and my brain confused. The strident whistling of a
butcher's boy, with an empty, blood-stained tray over his shoulder,
suddenly ceased. Saucer-eyed, he stood stock still, gulped and gaped. I
kept on my course. A yelp of astonishment rent the air. Whereupon, as it
seemed, from divers angles, similar boys seemed to leap out of the
ground and came whooping and revolving across the street in my
direction. And now the blood so hummed in my head that it was rather my
nerves than my ears which informed me of a steadily increasing murmur
and trampling behind me.

With extraordinary vividness I recall the vision of a gigantic barouche
gliding along towards me in the shine and the dust; and seated up in it
a high, pompous lady who at one moment with rigid urbanity inclined her
head apparently in my direction, and at the next, her face displeased as
if at an offensive odour, had sunk back into her cushions, oblivious not
only of Beechwood but of the whole habitable globe. Simultaneously, I
was aware, even as I hastened on, first that the acquaintance whose
salute she had acknowledged was Mr Crimble, and next, that with
incredible rapidity he had wheeled himself about and had instantaneously
transfixed his entire attention on some object in the window of a
hatter's.

Until this moment, as I say, a confused but blackening elation had
filled my mind. But at sight of Mr Crimble's rook-like stooping
shoulders I began to be afraid. My shoe stumbled against a jutting
paving-stone. I almost fell. Whereupon the mute concourse at my
heels--spreading tail of me, the Comet--burst into a prolonged squealing
roar of delight. The next moment Pollie was at my side, stooping to my
rescue. It was too late. One glance over my shoulder--and terror and
hatred of the whole human race engulfed me like a sea. I struck savagely
at Pollie's cotton-gloved hand. Shivering, with clenched, sticky teeth,
I began to run.

Why this panic? Who would have harmed me? And yet on the thronging faces
which I had flyingly caught sight of through my veil there lay an
expression that was not solely curiosity--a kind of hunger, a dog-like
gleam. I remember one thin-legged, ferrety, red-haired lad in
particular. Well, no matter. The comedy was brief, and it was Mrs Stocks
who lowered the curtain. Attracted by all this racket and hubbub in the
street, she was protruding her round head out of her precincts. Like fox
to its hole, I scrambled over her wooden doorstep, whisked round her
person, and fled for sanctuary into her shop. She hustled poor Pollie in
after me, wheeled round on my pursuers, slammed the door in their faces,
slipped its bolt, and drew down its dark blue blind.

In the sudden quiet and torpor of this musty gloom I turned my hunted
eyes and stared at the dark strip of holland that hid me from my
pursuers. So too did Mrs Stocks. The round creature stood like a stone
out of reach of the surf. Then she snorted.

"Them!" said she, with a flick of her duster. "A parcel of idle herrand
boys. _I_ know them: and no more decency than if you was Royalty, my
dear, or a pickpocket, or a corpse run over in the street. You rest a
bit, pore young thing, and compose yourself. They'll soon grow tired of
themselves."

She retired into the back part of her shop beyond the muslined door and
returned with a tumbler of water. I shook my head. My sight pulsed with
my heartbeats. As if congealed into a drop of poison, I stared and
stared at the blind.

"Open the door," I said. "I'd like to go out again."

"Oh, miss! oh, miss!" cried Pollie.

But Mrs Stocks was of a more practical turn. After surveying my enemies
from an upper window she had sent a neighbour's little girl for a cab.
By the time this vehicle arrived, with a half-hearted "Boo!" of
disappointment, the concourse in the street had all but melted away, and
Mrs Stocks's check duster scattered the rest. The cab-door slammed, the
wheels ground on the kerbstone, my début was over. I had been but a nine
minutes' wonder.



Chapter Seventeen


We jogged on sluggishly up the hill, and at last, in our velvety quiet,
as if at a preconcerted signal, Pollie and I turned and looked at one
another, and broke into a long, mirthless peal of laughter--a laughter
that on her side presently threatened to end in tears. I left her to
recover herself, fixing my festering attention on her engagement
ring--two hearts in silver encircled by six sky-blue turquoises. And in
the silly, helpless fashion of one against the world, I plotted revenge.

The cab stopped. There stood the little brick house, wholly unaffected
by the tragic hours which had passed since we had so gaily set out from
it. I eyed it with malice and disgust as I reascended my Bateses and
preceded Pollie into the passage. Once safely within, I shrugged my
shoulders and explained to Mrs Bowater the phenomenon of the cab with
such success that I verily believe she was for the moment convinced that
her lodger was one of those persons who prosper in the attentions of the
mob--Royalty, that is, rather than pickpockets or corpses run over in
the street.

With my new muslin tie adorning her neck, Mrs Bowater took tea with us
that afternoon, but even Pollie's imaginative version of our adventures
made no reference to the lady in the carriage, nor did she share my
intense conjecture on what Mr Crimble can have found of such engrossing
interest in the hatter's. _Was_ it that the lady had feigned not to have
seen me entirely for my sake; and that Mr Crimble had feigned not to
have seen me entirely for _his_? I was still poring over this problem in
bed that night when there came a tap at my door. It was Pollie. She had
made her way downstairs to assure herself that I was safe and
comfortable. "And oh, miss," she whispered, as she bade me a final
good-night, "you never see such a lovely little bedroom as Mrs Bowater
have put me into--fit for a princess, and yet just quite plain! Bob's
been thinking about furniture too."

So I was left alone again with forgotten Fanny, and that night I
dreamed of her. Nothing to be seen but black boiling waves flinging
their yeasty, curdling crests into the clouds, and every crest the face
of my ferrety "herrand-boy." And afloat in the midst of the welter
beneath, a beloved shape whiter than the foam, with shut eyes, under the
gigantic stoop of the water. Who hangs these tragic veils in the
sleeping mind? Who was this I that looked out on them? I awoke,
shuddering, breathed a blessing--disjointed, nameless; turned over, and
soon was once more asleep.

My day's experiences in the High Street had added at least twenty-four
hours to my life. So much a woman of the world was I becoming that when,
after Pollie's departure, a knock announced Mr Crimble, I greeted him
with a countenance guileless and self-possessed. With spectacles fixed
on me, he stood nervously twitching a small bunch of snowdrops which he
assured me were the first of the New Year. I thanked him, remarked that
our Lyndsey snowdrops were shorter in the stalk than these, and had he
noticed the pale green hieroglyphs on the petals?

"In the white, dead nettle you have to look underneath for them: tiny
black oblongs; you can't think how secret it looks!"

But Mr Crimble had not come to botanize. After answering my inquiry
after the health of Mrs Hubbins, he suddenly sat down and announced that
the object of his visit was to cast himself on my generosity. The
proposal made me uncomfortable, but my timid attempt to return to Mrs
Hubbins was unavailing.

"I speak," he said, "of yesterday's atrocity. There is no other word for
it, and inasmuch as it occurred within two hundred yards of my own
church, indeed of my mother's house, I cannot disclaim all
responsibility for it."

Nor could I. But I wished very heartily that he had not come to talk
about _his_ share. "Oh," said I, as airily as I could, "you mean, Mr
Crimble, my little experience in the High Street. That was nothing. My
attention was so much taken up with other things that I did not get even
so much as a glimpse of St Peter's. So you see----"

"You are kindness itself," he interrupted, with a rapid insertion of his
forefinger between his neck and his clerical collar, "but the fact is,"
and he cast a glance at me as if with the whites of his eyes, "the fact
is, I was myself a scandalized witness of the occurrence. Believe me, it
cannot have hurt your sensitive feelings more than--than it hurt mine."

"But honestly, Mr Crimble," I replied, glancing rather helplessly round
the room, "it didn't hurt my feelings at all. You don't feel much, you
know, when you are angry. It was just as I should have foreseen. It is
important to know where we are, isn't it; and where other people are?
And boys will be boys, as Mrs Bowater says, and particularly, I suppose,
errand boys. What else could I expect? It has just taught me a very
useful lesson--even though I didn't much enjoy learning it. If I am ever
to get used to the world (and that _is_ a kind of duty, Mr Crimble,
isn't it?), the world must get used to me. Perhaps if we all knew each
other's insides--our thoughts and feelings, I mean--everybody would be
as peculiar there--inside, you know--as I am, outside. I'm afraid this
is not making myself very clear."

And only a few weeks ago I had been bombarding Dr Phelps with precisely
the opposite argument. That, I suppose, is what is meant by being
"deceitful on the weights."

Mr Crimble opened his mouth, but I continued rapidly, "You see, I must
be candid about such things to myself and try not to--to be silly. And
you were merely going to be very kind, weren't you? I am a midget, and
it's no good denying it. The people that hooted me were not. That's all;
and if there hadn't been so many of them, perhaps I might have been just
as much amused, if not even shocked at them, as they at me. We _think_
our own size, that's all, and I'm perfectly certain," I nodded at him
emphatically, "I'm perfectly certain if poor Mr Hubbins were here now,
he'd--he'd bear me out."

Bear me out--the words lingered on in my mind so distinctly, and
conveyed so peculiar a picture of Mr Hubbins's spirit and myself, that I
missed the beginning of my visitor's reply.

"But I assure you," he was saying, "it is not merely that." The glint of
perspiration was on his forehead. "In the Almighty's sight all men are
equal. Appearances are nothing. And some of us perhaps are far more
precious by very reason of--of passing afflictions, and----"

"My godmother," I interposed, "said exactly that in a letter to me a few
months ago. Not that I accept the _word_, Mr Crimble, the
'afflictions,' I mean. And as for appearances, why they are
_everything_, aren't they?" I gave him as cordial an imitation of a
smile as I could.

"No, no, no; yes, yes, yes," said Mr Crimble rapidly. "But it was not of
that, not of that in a sense that I was speaking. What I came to say
this afternoon is this. I grant it; I freely confess it; I played the
coward; morally rather than physically, perhaps, but still the coward.
The--the hideous barbarity of the proceeding." He had forgotten me. His
eyes were fixed on the scene in his memory. He was once more at the
hatter's window. There fell a painful pause.

I rose and sat down again. "But quite, quite honestly," I interposed
faintly, "they did me no harm. They were only inquisitive. What could
you have done? Why, really and truly," I laughed feebly, "they might
have had to pay, you know. It was getting--getting me cheap!"

His head was thrown back, so that he looked _under_ his spectacles at
me, as he cried hollowly: "They might have stoned you."

"Not with those pavements."

"But I was there. I turned aside. You _saw_ me?"

What persuaded me to be guilty of such a ridiculous quibble, I cannot
think. Anything, perhaps, to ease his agitation: "But honestly,
honestly, Mr Crimble," I murmured out at him, "I didn't _see_ you see
me."

"Oh, ah! a woman's way!" he adjured me desperately, turning his head
from one side to the other. "But you must have known that I knew you
knew I had seen you, you _must_ confess _that_. And, well ... as I say,
I can only appeal to your generosity."

"But what can I _do_? I'm not hurt. If it had been the other way
round--_you_ scuttling along, I mean; I really do believe _I_ might have
looked into the hatter's. Besides, when we were safe in the cab.... I
mean, I'm glad! It was experience: oh, and past. I loved it and the
streets, and the shops, and all those grinning, gnashing faces, and even
you.... It was wildly _exciting_, Mr Crimble, can't you _see_? And
now"--I ended triumphantly--"and now I have another novel!"

At this, suddenly overcome, I jumped up from my chair and ran off into
my bedroom as if in search of the book. The curtains composed
themselves behind me. In this inner quietness, this momentary release, I
stood there, erect beside the bed--without a thought in my head. And I
began slowly, silently--to laugh. Handkerchief to my lips, I laughed and
laughed--not exactly like Pollie in the cab, but because apparently some
infinitely minute being within me had risen up at remembrance of the
strange human creature beyond the curtains who had suddenly before my
very eyes seemed to have expanded and swollen out to double his size.
Oh, what extraordinary things life was doing to me. How can I express
myself? For that pip of a moment I was just an exquisite icicle of
solitude--as if I had never been born. Yet there, under my very nose,
was my bed, my glass, my hair-brushes and bottles--"Here we all are,
Miss M."--and on the other side of the curtains.... And how contemptuous
I had been of Pollie's little lapse into the hysterical! I brushed my
handkerchief over my eyes, tranquillized my features, and sallied out
once more into the world.

"Ah, here it is," I exclaimed ingenuously, and lifting my _Sense and
Sensibility_ from where it lay on the floor beside my table, I placed it
almost ceremoniously in Mr Crimble's hands. A visible mist of
disconcertion gathered over his face. He looked at the book, he opened
it, his eye strayed down the title-page.

"Yes, yes," he murmured, "Jane Austen--a pocket edition. Macaulay, I
remember...." He closed-to the covers again, drew finger and thumb
slowly down the margin, and then leaned forward. "But you were asking me
a question. What could I have _done_? Frankly I don't quite know. But I
might have protected you, driven the rabble off, taken you---- The Good
Shepherd. But there, in short," and the sun of relief peered through the
glooms of conscience, "I did nothing. That was my failure. And absurd
though it may seem, I could not rest until, as a matter of fact, I had
unbosomed myself, confessed, knowing you would understand." His tongue
came to a standstill. "And when," he continued in a small, constrained
voice, and with a searching, almost appealing glance, "when Miss
_Bowater_ returns, you will, I hope, allow me to make amends, to
prove---- She would never--for--forgive...."

The fog that had been his became mine. In an extravagance of attention
to every syllable of his speech as it died away uncompleted in the
little listening room I mutely surveyed him. Then I began to
understand, to realize where my poor little "generosity" was to come in.

"Ah," I replied at last, forlornly, our eyes in close communion, "she
won't be back for months and months. And anyhow, she wouldn't, I am
sure, much _mind_, Mr Crimble."

"Easter," he whispered. "Well, you will write, I suppose," and his eye
wandered off as if in search of the inkpot, "and no doubt you will share
our--your secret." There was no vestige of interrogation in his voice,
and yet it was clear that what he was suggesting I should do was only
and exactly what he had come that afternoon to ask me not to do. Why,
surely, I thought, examining him none too complimentarily, I am afraid,
he was merely playing for a kind of stalemate. What funny, blind alleys
love leads us into.

"No," I said solemnly. "I shall say nothing. But that, I suppose, is
because I am not so brave as you are. Really and truly, I think she
would only be amused. Everything amuses her."

It seemed that we had suddenly reassumed our natural dimensions, for at
that he looked at me _tinily_ again, and with the suggestion, to which I
was long accustomed, that he would rather not be observed while so
looking.

On the whole, ours had been a gloomy talk. Nevertheless, _there_, not on
my generosity, but I hope on my understanding, he reposed himself, and
so reposes to this day. When the door had closed behind him, I felt far
more friendly towards Mr Crimble than I had felt before. Even apart from
the Almighty, he had made us as nearly as he could--equals. I tossed a
pleasant little bow to his snowdrops, and, catching sight of Mr
Bowater's fixed stare on me, hastily included _him_ within its range.

Mr Crimble, Mrs Bowater informed me the following Sunday evening, lived
with an aged mother, and in spite of his sociability and his "fun," was
a lonely young man. He hadn't, my landlady thought, yet seen enough of
the world to be of much service to those who had. "They," and I think
she meant clergymen in general, as well as Mr Crimble in particular,
"live a shut-in, complimentary life, and people treat them according.
Though, of course, there's those who have seen a bit of trouble and
cheeseparing themselves, and the Church is the Church when all's said
and done."

And all in a moment I caught my first real glimpse of the Church--no
more just a number of St Peterses than I was so many "organs," or
Beechwood was so many errand boys, or, for that matter, England so many
counties. It was an idea; my attention wandered.

"But he was very anxious about the concert," I ventured to protest.

"I've no doubt," said Mrs Bowater shortly.

"But then," I remarked with a sigh, "Fanny seems to make friends
wherever she goes."

"It isn't the making," replied her mother, "but the keeping."

The heavy weeks dragged slowly by, and a one-sided correspondence is
like posting letters into a dream. My progress with Miss Austen was
slow, because she made me think and argue with her. Apart from her, I
devoured every fragment of print I could lay hands on. For when fiction
palled I turned to facts, mastered the _sheepshank_, the _running
bowline_, and the _figure-of-eight_; and wrestled on with my sea-craft.
It was a hard task, and I thought it fair progress if in _that_ I
covered half a knot a day.

Besides which, Mrs Bowater sometimes played with me at solitaire,
draughts, or cards. In these she was a martinet, and would appropriate a
fat pack at _Beggar-my-neighbour_ with infinite gusto. How silent stood
the little room, with just the click of the cards, the simmering of the
kettle on the hob, and Mrs Bowater's occasional gruff "Four to pay." We
might have been on a desert island. I must confess this particular game
soon grew a little wearisome; but I played on, thinking to please my
partner, and that she had chosen it for her own sake. Until one evening,
with a stifled sigh, she murmured the word, Cribbage! I was shuffling my
own small pack at the moment, and paused, my eyes on their backs, in a
rather wry amusement. But Fate has pretty frequently so turned the
tables on me; and after that, "One for his nob," sepulchrally broke the
night-silence of Beechwood far more often than "Four to pay."

Not all my letters to Fanny went into the post. My landlady looked a
little askance at them, and many of the unposted ones were scrawled, if
possible in moonlight, after she had gone to bed. To judge from my
recollection of other letters written in my young days, I may be
thankful that Fanny was one of those practical people who do not hoard
the valueless. I can still recall the poignancy of my postscripts. On
the one hand: "I beseech you to write to me, Fanny, I live to hear. Last
night was full moon again. I saw you--you only in her glass." On the
other: "Henry has been fighting. There is a chip out of his ear. Nine
centuries nearer now! And how is 'Monsieur Crapaud'?"



Wanderslore



Chapter Eighteen


At last there came a post which brought me, not a sermon from Miss
Fenne, nor gossip from Pollie, but a message from the Islands of the
Blest. All that evening and night it lay unopened under my pillow. I was
saving it up. And never have I passed hours so studious yet so barren of
result. It was the end of February. A sudden burst of light and sunshine
had fallen on the world. There were green shining grass and new-fallen
lambs in the meadows, and the almond tree beyond my window was in full,
leafless bloom. As for the larks, they were singing of Fanny. The next
morning early, about seven o'clock, her letter folded up in its small
envelope in the bosom of my cloak, I was out of the house and making my
way to the woods. It was the clear air of daybreak and only the large
stars shook faint and silvery in the brightening sky.

Frost powdered the ground and edged the grasses. But now tufts of
primroses were in blow among the withered mist of leaves. I came to my
"observatory" just as the first beams of sunrise smote on its upper
boughs. Yet even now I deferred the longed-for moment and hastened on
between the trees, beech and brooding yew, by what seemed a faint
foot-track, and at last came out on a kind of rising on the edge of the
woods. From this green eminence for the first time I looked straight
across its desolate garden to Wanderslore.

It was a long, dark, many-windowed house. It gloomed sullenly back at me
beneath the last of night. From the alarm calls of the blackbirds it
seemed that even so harmless a trespasser as I was a rare spectacle. A
tangle of brier and bramble bushed frostily over its grey stone
terraces. Nearer at hand in the hollow stood an angled house, also of
stone--and as small compared with Wanderslore as a little child compared
with its mother. It had been shattered at one corner by a falling tree,
whose bole still lay among the undergrowth. The faint track I was
following led on, and apparently past it. Breathless and triumphant, I
presently found myself seated on a low mossy stone beside it, monarch of
all I surveyed. With a profound sigh I opened my letter:--


     "BURN THIS LETTER, AND SHOW THE OTHER TO M.

     "DEAR MIDGETINA,--Don't suppose, because I have not written, that
     Fanny is a monster, though, in fact, she is. I have often thought
     of you--with your stars and knick-knacks. And of course your
     letters have come. My thanks. I can't really answer them now
     because I am trying at the same time to scribble this note and to
     correct 'composition' papers under the very eyes of Miss
     Stebbings--the abhorred daughter of Argus and the eldest Gorgon.
     Dear me, I almost envy you, Midgetina. It _must_ be fun to be like
     a tiny, round-headed pin in a pin-cushion and just mock at the
     Workbox. But all things in moderation.

     "When the full moon came last I remembered our _vow_. She was so
     dazzling, poor old wreck. And I wondered, as I blinked up at her,
     if you would not some day vanish away altogether--unless you make a
     fortune by being looked at. I wish I could. Only would they pay
     enough? That is the question.

     "What I am writing about now is not the moon, but--don't be
     amused!--a Man. Not Monsieur Crapaud, who is more absurd than ever;
     but some one you know, Mr Crimble. He has sent me the most alarming
     letter and wants me to marry him. It is not for the first time of
     asking, but still a solemn occasion. Mother once said that he was
     like a coquette--all attention and no intention. Sad to say, it is
     the other way round. M., you see, always judges by what she fears.
     _I_ by what this Heart tells me.

     "Now I daren't write back to him direct (_a_) because I wish just
     now to say neither Yes nor No; (_b_) because a little delay will
     benefit his family pride; (_c_) because it is safer not to--he's
     very careless and I might soon want to change my mind; (_d_)
     because that's how my fancy takes me; and (_e_) because I love you
     exceedingly and know you will help me.

     "When no answer comes to his letter, he will probably dare another
     pilgrimage to Beechwood Hill, if only to make sure that I am not in
     my grave. So I want you to tell him _secretly_ that _I have
     received his letter and that I am giving it my earnest
     attention_--let alone my prayers. Tell me exactly how he takes this
     answer; then I will write to you again. I am sure, Midgetina, in
     some previous life you must have lived in the tiny rooms in the
     Palace at Mantua--you are a born _intrigante_.


     "_In my bedroom, 11 p.m._--A scheme is in my mind, but it is not
     yet in bloom, and you may infer from all this that I don't _care_.
     Often I wish this were so. I sat in front of my eight inches of
     grained looking-glass last night till it seemed some god(dess)
     _must_ intervene. But no. My head was dark and empty. I could hear
     Mr Oliphant cajoling with his violin in the distance--as if music
     had charms. Oh, dear, they give you life, and leave you to ask,
     Why. You seem to be perfectly contented in your queer little prim
     way with merely asking. But Fanny Bowater wants an answer, or she
     will make one up. Meanwhile, search for a scrap of magic mushroom,
     little sister, and come nearer! Some day I will tell you even more
     about myself! Meanwhile, believe me, petitissimost M., your
     affec.--F.

     "PS.--_Burn this._

     "PPS.--What I mean is, that he must be _made_ to realize that I
     will not and cannot give him an answer before I come home--unless
     he hears meanwhile.

     "Burn this: the _other_ letter is for show purposes."


Fanny's "other" was more brief:--


     "DEAR MIDGETINA,--It is delightful to have your letters, and I am
     ashamed of myself for not answering them before. But I will do so
     the very moment there is a free hour. Would you please ask mother
     with my love to send me some handkerchiefs, some stockings, and
     some soap? My first are worn with weeping, my second with sitting
     still, and my third is mottled--and similarly affects the
     complexion. But Easter draws near, and I am sure I must long to be
     home. Did you tell mother by any chance of your midnight astronomy
     lesson? It has been most useful when all other baits and threats
     have failed to teach the young idea how to shoot. Truly a poet's
     way of putting it. Is Mr Crimble still visiting his charming
     parishioner?

     "I remain,

     "Yours affec'ly,

     "FANNY BOWATER."


Slowly, self-conscious word by word, lingering here and there, I read
these letters through--then through again. Then I lifted my eyes and
stared for a while over my left shoulder at empty Wanderslore. A medley
of emotions strove for mastery, and as if to reassure herself the "tiny,
round-headed pin" kissed the signature, whispering languishingly to
herself in the great garden: "I love you exceedingly. Oh, Fanny, I love
you exceedingly," and hid her eyes in her hands. The note-paper was very
faintly scented. My imagination wandered off I know not where; and
returned, elated and dejected. Which the more I know not. Then I folded
up the secret letter into as small a compass as I could, dragged back a
loose, flat stone, hid it away in the dry crevice beneath, and replaced
the stone. The other I put into my silk bag.

I emerged from these labours to see in my mind Mrs Bowater steadfastly
regarding me, and behind her the shadowy shape of Mr Crimble, with I
know not what of entreaty in his magnified dark eyes. I smiled a little
ruefully to myself to think that my life was become like a pool of deep
water in which I was slowly sinking down and down. As if, in sober fact,
there were stones in my pocket, or leaden soles to my shoes. It was more
like reading a story about myself, than _being_ myself, and what was to
be the end of it all? I thought of Fanny married to Mr Crimble, as my
mother was married to my father. How dark and uncomfortable a creature
he looked beside Fanny's grace and fairness. And would Mrs Crimble sit
in an arm-chair and watch Fanny as Fanny had watched me? And should I be
asked to tea? I was surprised into a shudder. Yet I don't think there
would have been any _wild_ jealousy in my heart--even if Fanny should
say, Yes. I could love her better, perhaps, if she would give me a
little time. And what was really keeping her back? Why did every word
she said or wrote only hide what she truly meant?

So, far from mocking at the Workbox, I was only helplessly examining its
tangled skeins. Nor was I criticizing Fanny. To help her--that was my
one burning desire, to give all I had, take nothing. In a vague, and
possibly priggish, fashion, I knew, too, that I wanted to help her
against herself. Her letter (and perhaps the long waiting for it) had
smoothed out my old excitements. In the midst of these musings memory
suddenly alighted on the question in the letter which was to be shown to
Mrs Bowater: about the star-gazing. There was no need for that now. But
the point was, had not Fanny extorted a promise from me _not_ to tell
her mother of our midnight adventure? It seemed as though without a
shred of warning the fair face had drawn close in my consciousness and
was looking at me low and fixedly, like a snake in a picture. Why, it
was like cheating at cards! Fascinated and repelled, I sank again into
reverie.

"No, no, it's cowardly, Fanny," cried aloud a voice in the midst of this
inward argument, as startling as if a stranger had addressed me. The
morning was intensely still. Sunbeams out of the sky now silvered the
clustered chimney shafts of Wanderslore. Where shadow lay, the frost
gloomed wondrously blue on the dishevelled terraces; where sun, a thin
smoke of vapour was ascending into the air. The plants and bushes around
me were knobbed all over with wax-green buds. The enormous trees were
faintly coloured in their twigs. A sun-beetle staggered, out among the
pebbles at my feet. I glanced at my hands; they were coral pink with the
cold. "I love you exceedingly--exceedingly," I repeated, though this
time I knew not to whom.


So saying, and, even as I said it, realizing that the _exceedingly_ was
not my own, and that I must be intelligent even if I was sentimental, I
rose from my stone, and turned to go back. I thus faced the worn, small,
stone house again. Instantly I was all attention. A curious feeling came
over me, familiar, yet eluding remembrance. It meant that I must be
vigilant. Cautiously I edged round to the other side of the angled wall,
where lay the fallen tree. Hard, dark buds showed on its yet living
fringes. Rather than clamber over its sodden bole, I skirted it until I
could walk beneath a lank, upthrust bough. At every few steps I shrank
in and glanced around me, then fixed my eyes--as I had learned to do by
my stream-side or when star-gazing--on a single object, in order to mark
what was passing on the outskirts of my field of vision. Nothing. I was
alone in the garden. A robin, with a light flutter of wing, perched to
eye me. A string of rooks cawed across the sky. Wanderslore emptily
stared. If, indeed, I was being watched, then my watcher was no less
circumspect than I. Soon I was skirting the woods again, and had climbed
the green knoll by which I had descended into the garden. I wheeled
sharply, searching the whole course of my retreat. Nothing.

When I opened my door, Mrs Bowater and Henry seemed to be awaiting me.
Was it my fancy that both of them looked censorious? Absently she stood
aside to let me pass to my room, then followed me in.

"Such a lovely morning, Mrs Bowater," I called pleasantly down from my
bedroom, as I stood taking off my cloak in front of the glass, "and not
a soul to be seen--though" (and my voice was better under command with a
hairpin between my teeth); "I wouldn't have minded if there had been.
Not now."

"Ah," came the reply, "but you must be cautious, miss. Boys will be
boys; and," the sound tailed away, "men, men." I heard the door open and
close, and paused, with hands still lifted to my hair, prickling cold
all over at this strange behaviour. What could I have been found out in
now?

Then a voice sounded seemingly out of nowhere. "What I was going to say,
miss, is--A letter's come."

With that I drew aside the curtain. The explanation was simple. Having
let Henry out of my room, in which he was never at ease, Mrs Bowater was
still standing, like a figure in waxwork, in front of her chiffonier,
her eyes fixed on the window. They then wheeled on me. "_Mr_ Bowater,"
she said.

I was conscious of an inexpressible relief and of the profoundest
interest. I glanced at the great portrait. "Mr Bowater?" I repeated.

"Yes," she replied. "Buenos Ayres. He's broken a leg; and so's fixed
there for the time being."

"Oh, Mrs Bowater," I said, "I _am_ sorry. And how terribly sudden."

"Believe me, my young friend," she replied musingly, "it's never in my
experience what's unprepared for that finds us least expecting it. Not
that it was actually his _leg_ was in my mind."

What was chiefly in _my_ selfish mind was the happy conviction that I
had better not give her Fanny's letter just then.

"I do hope he's not in great pain," was all I found to say.

She continued to muse at me in her queer, sightless fashion, almost as
if she were looking for help.

"Oh, dear me, miss," the poor thing cried brokenly, "how should your
young mind feel what an old woman feels: just grovelling in the past?"

She was gone; and, feeling very uncomfortable in my humiliation, I sat
down and stared--at "the workbox." Why, why indeed, I thought angrily,
why should I be responsible? Well, I suppose it's only when the poor
fish--sturgeon or stickleback--struggles, that he really knows he's in
the net.



Chapter Nineteen


One of the many perplexing problems that now hemmed me in was brushed
away by Fortune that afternoon. Between gloomy bursts of reflection on
Fanny's, Mr Crimble's, Mrs Bowater's, and my own account, I had been
reading Miss Austen; and at about four o'clock was sharing Chapter
XXIII. with poor Elinor:--


     "The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind her to
     everything but her beauty and good nature, but the four succeeding
     years--years which, if rationally spent, give such improvements to
     the understanding--must have opened her eyes to her defects of
     Education, which the same period of time, spent on her side in
     inferior society and more frivolous pursuits...."


I say I was reading this passage, and had come to the words--"and more
frivolous pursuits," when an unusually imperative _rat-tat-tat_ fell
upon the outer door, and I emerged from my book to discover that an
impressive white-horsed barouche was drawn up in the street beyond my
window. The horse tossed its head and chawed its frothy bit; and the
coachman sat up beside his whip in the sparkling frosty afternoon air.
My heart gave a thump, and I was still seeking vaguely to connect this
event with myself or with Mr Bowater in Buenos Ayres, when the door
opened and a lady entered whose plumed and purple bonnet was as much too
small for her head as she herself was too large for the room. Yet in
sheer dimensions this was not a very large lady. It was her "presence"
that augmented her.

She seemed, too, to be perfectly accustomed to these special
proportions, and with a rather haughty, "Thank you," to Mrs Bowater,
winningly announced that she was Lady Pollacke, "a friend, a mutual
friend, as I understand, of dear Mr Crimble's."

Though a mauvish pink in complexion, Lady Pollacke was so like her own
white horse that _whinnyingly_ rather than _winningly_ would perhaps
have been the apter word. I have read somewhere that this human
resemblance to horses sometimes accompanies unusual intelligence. The
poet, William Wordsworth, was like a horse; I have seen his portrait.
And I should like to see Dean Swift's. Whether or not, the unexpected
arrival of this visitor betrayed me into some little gaucherie, and for
a moment I still sat on, as she had discovered me, literally "floored"
by my novel. Then I scrambled with what dignity I could to my feet, and
chased after my manners.

"And not merely that," continued my visitor, seating herself on a
horsehair easy-chair, "but among my still older friends is Mr Pellew. So
you see--you see," she repeated, apparently a little dazzled by the
light of my window, "that we need no introduction, and that I know
all--all the circumstances." She lowered a plump, white-kidded hand to
her lap, as if, providentially, _there_ all the circumstances lay.

Unlike Mr Crimble, Lady Pollacke had not come to make excuses, but to
bring me an invitation--nothing less than to take tea with her on the
following Thursday afternoon. But first she hoped--she was sure, in
fact, and she satisfied herself with a candid gaze round my
apartment--that I was comfortable with Mrs Bowater; "a thoroughly
trustworthy and sagacious woman, though, perhaps, a little eccentric in
address."

I assured her that I was so comfortable that some of my happiest hours
were spent gossiping with my landlady over my supper.

"Ah, yes," she said, "that class of person tells us such very
interesting things occasionally, do they not? Yet I am convinced that
the crying need in these days is for discrimination. Uplift, by all
means, but we mustn't confuse. What does the old proverb say: _Festina
lente_: there's still truth in that. Now, had I known your father--but
there; we must not rake in old ashes. We are clean, I see; and quiet and
secluded."

Her equine glance made a rapid circuit of the photographs and ornaments
that diversified the walls, and I simply couldn't help thinking what a
queer little cage they adorned for so large and handsome a bird, the
kind of bird, as one might say, that is less weight than magnitude.

I was still casting my eye up and down her silk and laces when she
abruptly turned upon me with a direct question: "You seldom, I suppose,
go _out_?"

Possibly if Lady Pollacke had not at this so composedly turned her full
face on me--with its exceedingly handsome nose--her bonnet might have
remained only vaguely familiar. Now as I looked at her, it was as if the
full moon had risen. She was, without the least doubt in the world, the
lady who had bowed to Mr Crimble from her carriage that fateful
afternoon. A little countenance is not, perhaps, so tell-tale as a large
one. (I remember, at any rate, the horrid shock I once experienced when
my father set me up on his hand one day to show me my own face, many
times magnified, in his dressing-room shaving-glass.) But my eyes must
have narrowed a little, for Lady Pollacke's at once seemed to set a
little harder. And she was still awaiting an answer to her question.

"'Go out'!" I repeated meditatively, "not very much, Lady Pollacke; at
least not in crowded places. The boys, you know."

"Ah, yes, the boys." It was Mr Crimble's little dilemma all over again:
Lady Pollacke was evidently wondering whether I knew she knew I knew.

"But still," I continued cheerfully, "it is the looker-on that sees most
of the game, isn't it?"

Her eyelids descended, though her face was still lifted up. "Well, so
the proverb says," she agreed, with the utmost cordiality. It was at
this moment--as I have said--that she invited me to tea.

She would come for me herself, she promised. "Now wouldn't that be very
nice for us both--quite a little adventure?"

I was not perfectly certain of the niceness, but might not Mr Crimble be
a fellow-guest; and hadn't I an urgent and anxious mission with him? I
smiled and murmured; and, as if her life had been a series of such
little social triumphs, my visitor immediately rose; and, I must
confess, in so doing seemed rather a waste of space.

"Then _that's_ settled: Thursday afternoon. We must wrap up," she called
gaily through her descending veil. "This treacherous month! It has come
in like a lamb, but"--and she tugged at her gloves, still scrutinizing
me fixedly beneath her eyelids, "but it will probably go out like a
lion." As if to illustrate this prediction, she swept away to the door,
leaving Mrs Bowater's little parlour and myself to gather our scattered
wits together as best we could, while her carriage rolled away.

Alas, though I love talking and watching and exploring, how could I be,
even at that age, a really social creature? Though Lady Pollacke had
been politeness itself, the remembrance of her bonnet in less
favourable surroundings was still in my mind's eye. If anything, then,
her invitation slightly depressed me. Besides, Thursday never was a
favourite day of mine. It is said to have only one lucky hour--the last
before dawn. But this is not tea-time. Worse still, the coming Thursday
seemed to have sucked all the virtue out of the Wednesday in between. I
prefer to see the future stretching out boundless and empty in front of
me--like the savannas of Robinson Crusoe's island. Visitors, and I am
quite sure _he_ would have agreed with me, are hardly at times to be
distinguished from visitations.

All this merely means that I was a rather green and backward young
woman, and, far worse, unashamed of being so. Here was one of the
greatest ladies of Beechwood lavishing attentions upon me, and all I was
thinking was how splendid an appearance she would have made a few days
before if she had borrowed his whip from her coachman and dispersed my
little mob with it, as had Mrs Stocks with her duster. But _noblesse
oblige_; Mr Crimble had been compelled to consider my feelings, and no
doubt Lady Pollacke had been compelled to consider his.

The next day was fine, but I overslept myself and was robbed of my
morning walk. For many hours I was alone. Mrs Bowater had departed on
one of her shopping bouts. So, whoever knocked, knocked in vain; and I
listened to such efforts in secret and unmannerly amusement. I wonder if
ever ghosts come knocking like that on the doors of the mind; and it
isn't that one won't hear, but can't. My afternoon was spent in an
anxious examination of my wardrobe. Four o'clock punctually arrived,
and, almost as punctually, Lady Pollacke. Soon, under Mrs Bowater's
contemplative gaze, I was mounted up on a pile of cushions, and we were
bowling along in most inspiriting fashion through the fresh March air.
Strangely enough, when during our progress, eyes were now bent in my
direction, Lady Pollacke seemed copiously to enjoy their interest. This
was especially the case when she was acquainted with their owners; and
bowed her bow in return.

"Quite a little reception for you," she beamed at me, after a
particularly respectable carriage had cast its occupants' scarcely
modulated glances in my direction. How strange is human character! To an
intelligent onlooker, my other little reception must have been
infinitely more inspiring; and yet she had almost wantonly refused to
take any part in it. Now, supposing I _had_ been Royalty or a corpse run
over in the street.... But we were come to our journey's end.

Brunswick House was a fine, square, stone-edged edifice, dominating its
own "grounds." Regiments of crocuses stood with mouths wide open in its
rich loam. Its gateposts were surmounted by white balls of stone; and
the gravel was of so lively a colour that it must have been new laid.
Wherever I looked, my eyes were impressed by the best things in the best
order. This was as true of Lady Pollacke's clothes, as of her features,
of her gateposts, and her drawing-room. And the next most important
thing in the last was its light.

Light simply _poured_ in upon its gilt and brass and pale maroon from
two high wide windows staring each other down from between their rich
silk damask curtains. It was like entering an enormous bath, and it made
me timid. In the midst of a large animal's skin, beneath a fine white
marble chimney-piece, and under an ormolu clock, the parlour-maid was
directed to place a cherry-coloured stool for me. Here I seated myself.
With a fine, encouraging smile my hostess left me for a few minutes to
myself. Maybe because an embroidered fire-screen that stood near
reminded me of Miss Fenne, I pulled myself together. "Don't be a ninny,"
I heard myself murmur. My one hope and desire in this luxurious solitude
was for the opportunity to deliver my message to Mr Crimble. This was
not only a visit, it was an adventure. I looked about the flashing room;
and it rather stared back at me.

The first visitor to appear was none but Miss Bullace, whose recitation
of "The Lady's 'Yes'" had so peculiarly inspirited Fanny. She sat square
and dark with her broad lap in front of her, and scrutinized me as if
_no_ emergency ever daunted her. And Lady Pollacke recounted the
complexity of ties that had brought us together. Miss Bullace, alas,
knew neither Mr Ambrose Pellew, nor my godmother, nor even my
godmother's sister, Augusta Fenne. Indeed I seemed to have no claim at
all on her recognition until she inquired whether it was not Augusta
Fenne's cousin, Dr Julius Fenne, who had died suddenly while on a visit
to the Bermudas. Apparently it was. We all at once fell into better
spirits, which were still more refreshed when Lady Pollacke remarked
that Augusta had also "gone off like that," and that Fennes were a
doomed family.

But merely to smile and smile is not to partake; so I ventured to
suggest that to judge from my last letter from my godmother she, at any
rate, was in her usual health; and I added, rather more cheerfully
perhaps than the fact warranted, that my family seemed to be doomed too,
since, so far as I was aware, I myself was the last of it left alive.

At this a sudden gush of shame welled up in me at the thought that
through all my troubles I had never once remembered the kindnesses of my
step-grandfather; that he, too, might be dead. I was so rapt away by the
thought that I caught only the last three words of Miss Bullace's
murmured aside to Lady Pollacke, _viz._, "not blush unseen."

Lady Pollacke raised her eyebrows and nodded vigorously; and then to my
joy Mr Crimble and a venerable old lady with silver curls clustering out
of her bonnet were shown into the room. He looked pale and absent as he
bent himself down to take my hand. It was almost as if in secret
collusion we had breathed the word Fanny together. Mrs Crimble was
supplied with a tea-cup, and her front teeth were soon unusually busy
with a slice of thin bread and butter. Eating or drinking, her intense
old eyes dwelt distantly but assiduously on my small shape; and she at
last entered into a long story of how, as a girl, she had been taken to
a circus--a circus: and there had seen.... But _what_ she had seen Mr
Crimble refused to let her divulge. He jerked forward so hastily that
his fragment of toasted scone rolled off his plate into the wild beast's
skin, and while, with some little difficulty, he was retrieving it, he
assured us that his mother's memory was little short of miraculous, and
particularly in relation to the past.

"I have noticed," he remarked, in what I thought a rather hollow voice,
"that the more advanced in years we--er--happily become, the more
closely we return to childhood."

"Senile...." I began timidly, remembering Dr Phelps's phrase.

But Mr Crimble hastened on. "Why, mother," he appealed to her, with an
indulgent laugh, "I suppose to you I am still nothing but a small boy
about that height?" He stretched out a ringless left hand about
twenty-four inches above the rose-patterned carpet.

The old lady was not to be so easily smoothed over. "You interrupted me,
Harold," she retorted, with some little show of indignation, "in what I
was telling Lady Pollacke. Even a child of that size would have been a
perfect monstrosity."

A lightning grimace swept over Miss Bullace's square features.

"Ah, ah, ah!" laughed Mr Crimble, "I am rebuked, I am in the corner!
Another scone, Lady Pollacke?" Mrs Crimble was a beautiful old lady; but
it was with a rather unfriendly and feline eye that she continued to
regard me; and I wondered earnestly if Fanny had ever noticed this
characteristic.

"The fact of the matter is," said Lady Pollacke, with conviction, "our
memories _rust_ for want of exercise. Where, physically speaking, would
you be, Mr Crimble, if you hadn't the parish to tramp over? Precisely
the same with the mind. Every day I make a personal effort to commit
some salient fact to memory--such a fact, for a _trivial_ example, as
the date of the Norman Conquest. The consequence is, my husband tells
me, I am a veritable encyclopædia. My father took after me. Alexander
the Great, I have read somewhere, could address by name--though one may
assume _not_ Christian name--every soldier in his army. Thomas Babington
Macaulay, a great genius, poor man, knew by heart every book he had ever
read. A veritable _mine_ of memory. On the other hand, I once had a
parlour-maid, Sarah Jakes, who couldn't remember even the simplest of
her duties, and if it hadn't been for my constant supervision would have
given us port with the soup."

"Perfectly, perfectly true," assented Miss Bullace. "Now mine is a
verbal memory. My mind is a positive magnet for _words_. Method, of
course, is everything. I weld. Let us say that a line of a poem
terminates with the word _bower_, and the next line commences with
_she_, I commit these to memory as one word--_Bowershee_--and so master
the sequence. My old friend, Lady Bovill Porter--we were
schoolfellows--recommended this method. It was Edmund Kean's, I fancy,
or some other well-known actor's. How else indeed, could a great actor
_realize_ what he was doing? Word-perfect, you see, he is free."

"Exactly, exactly," sagely nodded Mr Crimble, but with a countenance so
colourless and sad that it called back to my remembrance the picture of
a martyr--of St Sebastian, I think--that used to hang up in my mother's
room.

"And you?"--I discovered Lady Pollacke was rather shrilly inquiring of
me. "Is yours a verbal memory like Miss Bullace's; or are you in my
camp?"

"Ah, there," cried Mr Crimble, tilting back his chair in sudden
enthusiasm. "Miss M. positively puts me to shame. And poetry, Miss
Bullace; even your wonderful repertory!"

"You mean Miss M. _recites_?" inquired Miss Bullace, leaning forward
over her lap. "But how entrancing! It is we, then, who are birds of a
feather. And how I should adore to hear a fellow-enthusiast. Now, won't
you, Lady Pollacke, join your entreaties to mine? Just a _stanza_ or
two!"

A chill crept through my bones. I had accepted Lady Pollacke's
invitation, thinking my mere presence would be entertainment enough, and
because I knew it was important to see life, and immensely important to
see Mr Crimble. In actual fact it seemed I had hopped for a moment not
_out_ of my cage, but merely, as Fanny had said, into another
compartment of it.

"But Mr Crimble and I were only talking," I managed to utter.

"Oh, now, but do! Delicious!" pleaded a trio of voices.

Their faces had suddenly become a little strained and unnatural. The
threat of further persuasion lifted me almost automatically to my feet.
With hunted eyes fixed at last on a small marble bust with stooping head
and winged brow that stood on a narrow table under the window, I recited
the first thing that sprang to remembrance--an old poem my mother had
taught me, _Tom o' Bedlam_.


     "The moon's my constant mistress,
       And the lovely owl my marrow;
         The flaming drake,
         And the night-crow, make
       Me music to my sorrow.

     I know more than Apollo;
       For oft when he lies sleeping,
         I behold the stars
         At mortal wars,
       And the rounded welkin weeping.

     The moon embraces her shepherd,
       And the Queen of Love her warrior;
         While the first does horn
         The stars of the morn,
       And the next the heavenly farrier...."


Throughout these first three stanzas all went well. So rapt was my
audience that I seemed to be breaking the silence of the seas beyond
their furthest Hebrides. But at the first line of the fourth--at "With a
heart"--my glance unfortunately wandered off from the unheeding face of
the image and swam through the air, to be caught, as it were, like fly
by spider, by Miss Bullace's dark, fixed gaze, that lay on me from under
her flat hat.

"'With a heart,'" I began; and failed. Some ghost within had risen in
rebellion, sealed my tongue. It seemed to my irrational heart that I
had--how shall I say it?--betrayed my "stars," betrayed Fanny, that she
and they and I could never be of the same far, quiet company again. So
the "furious fancies" were never shared. The blood ran out of my cheek;
I stuck fast; and shook my head.

At which quite a little tempest of applause spent itself against the
walls of Lady Pollacke's drawing-room, an applause reinforced by that of
a little round old gentleman, who, unnoticed, had entered the room by a
farther door, and was now advancing to greet his guest. He was promptly
presented to me on the beast-skin, and with the gentlest courtesy begged
me to continue.

"'With a heart,' now; 'with a heart ...'" he prompted me, "a most
important organ, though less in use nowadays than when _I_ was a boy."

But it was in vain. Even if he had asked me only to whisper the rest of
the poem into his long, pink ear, for his sake alone, I could not have
done so. Moreover, Mr Crimble was still nodding his head at his mother
in confirmation of his applause; and Miss Bullace was assuring me that
mine was a poem entirely unknown to her, that, "with a few little
_excisions_," it should be instantly enshrined in her repertory--"though
perhaps a little bizarre!" and that if I made trial of Lady Bovill
Porter's _Bowershee_ method, my memory would never again play me false.

"The enunciation--am I not right, Sir Walter?--as distinct from the
elocution--was flawless. And really, quite remarkable vocal power!"

Amidst these smiles and delights, and what with the brassy heat of the
fire and the scent of the skin, I thought I should presently faint, and
caught, as if at a straw, at the bust in the window.

"How lovely!" I cried, with pointing finger....

At that, silence fell, but only for a moment. Lady Pollacke managed to
follow the unexpected allusion, and led me off for a closer inspection.
In the hushed course of our progress thither I caught out of the
distance two quavering words uttered as if in expostulation, "apparent
intelligence." It was Mrs Crimble addressing Sir Walter Pollacke.

"Classical, you know," Lady Pollacke was sonorously informing me, as we
stood together before the marble head. "Charming pose, don't you think?
Though, as we see, only a fragment--one of Sir Walter's little hobbies."

I looked up at the serene, winged, sightless face, and a whisper sounded
on and on in my mind in its mute presence, "I know more than Apollo; I
know more than Apollo." How strange that this mere deaf-and-dumbness
should seem more real, more human even, than anything or any one else in
Lady Pollacke's elegant drawing-room. But self-possession was creeping
back. "Who," I asked, "_is_ he? And who sculped him?"

"Scalped him?" cried Lady Pollacke, poring down on me in dismay.

"Cut him out?"

"Ah, my dear young lady," said a quiet voice, "that I cannot tell you.
It is the head of Hypnos, Sleep, you know, the son of Night and brother
of Death. One wing, as you see, has been broken away in preparation for
this more active age, and yet ... only a replica, of course"; the voice
trembled into richness, "but an exceedingly pleasant example. It gives
me rare pleasure, rare pleasure," he stood softly rocking, hands under
coat-tails, eyes drinking me in, "to--to have your companionship."

What pleasure his words gave _me_, I could not--can never--express. Then
and there I was his slave for ever.

"Walter," murmured Lady Pollacke, as if fondly, smiling down on the
rotund old gentleman, "you are a positive peacock over your little toys;
is he not, Mr Crimble? Did you ever hear of a _woman_ wasting her
affections on the inanimate? Even a doll, I am told, is an infant in
disguise."

But Mr Crimble had approached us not to discuss infants or woman, but
to tell Lady Pollacke that her carriage was awaiting me.

"Then pity 'tis, 'tis true," cried she, as if in Miss Bullace's words.
"But _please_, Miss M., it must be the briefest of adieus. There are so
many of my friends who would enjoy your company--and those delightful
recitations. Walter, will you see that everything's
quite--er--convenient?"

I am sure Lady Pollacke's was a flawless _savoir faire_, yet, when I
held out my hand in farewell, her cheek crimsoned, it seemed, from some
other cause than stooping. The crucial moment had arrived. If one
private word was to be mine with Mr Crimble, it must be now or never. To
my relief both gentlemen accompanied me out of the room, addressing
their steps to mine. Urgency gave me initiative. I came to a standstill
on the tesselated marble of the hall, and this time proffered my hand to
Sir Walter. He stooped himself double over it; and I tried in vain to
dismiss from remembrance a favourite reference of Pollie's to the
guinea-pig held up by its tail.

I wonder now what Sir W. would have said of _me_ in _his_ autobiography:
"And _there_ stood a flaxen spelican in the midst of the hearthrug;
blushing, poor tiny thing, over her little piece like some little
bread-and-butter miss fresh from school." Something to that effect? I
wonder still more who taught him so lovable a skill in handling that
spelican?

"There; good-bye," said he, "and the blessing, my dear young lady, of a
fellow fanatic."

He turned about and ascended the staircase. Except for the parlour-maid
who was awaiting me in the porch, Mr Crimble and I were alone.



Chapter Twenty


"Mr Crimble," I whispered, "I have a message."

A tense excitement seized him. His face turned a dusky yellow. How
curious it is to see others as they must sometimes see ourselves. Should
_I_ have gasped like that, if Mr Crimble had been Fanny's Mercury?

"A letter from Miss Bowater," I whispered, "and I am to say," the
cadaverous face was close above me, its sombre melting eyes almost
bulging behind their glasses, "I am to say that she is giving yours
'_her earnest attention, let alone her prayers_.'"

I remember once, when Adam Waggett as a noisy little boy was playing in
the garden at home, the string of his toy bow suddenly snapped: Mr
Crimble drew back as straight and as swiftly as that. His eyes rained
unanswerable questions. But the parlourmaid had turned to meet me, and
the next moment she and I were side by side in Lady Pollacke's springy
carriage _en route_ for my lodgings. I had given my message, but never
for an instant had I anticipated it would have so overwhelming an
effect.

There must have been something inebriating in Lady Pollacke's tea. My
mind was still simmering with excitement. And yet, during the whole of
that journey, I spent not a moment on Mr Crimble's or Fanny's affairs,
or even on Brunswick House, but on the dreadful problem whether or not I
ought to "tip" the parlourmaid, and if so, with how much. Where had I
picked this enigma up? Possibly from some chance reference of my
father's. It made me absent and harassed. I saw not a face or a flower;
and even when the parlourmaid was actually waiting at my request in Mrs
Bowater's passage, I stood over my money-chest, still incapable of
coming to a decision.

Instinct prevailed. Just as I could not bring myself to complete _Tom o'
Bedlam_ with Miss Bullace looking out of her eyes at me, so I could not
bring myself to offer money to Lady Pollacke's nice prim parlourmaid.
Instead I hastily scrabbled up in tissue paper a large flat brooch--a
bloodstone set in pinchbeck--a thing of no intrinsic value, alas, but
precious to me because it had been the gift of an old servant of my
mother's. I hastened out and lifting it over my head, pushed it into her
hand.

Dear me, how ashamed of this impulsive action I felt when I had regained
my solitude. Should I not now be the jest of the Pollacke kitchen and
drawing-room alike?--for even in my anxiety to attain Mr Crimble's
private ear, I had half-consciously noticed what a cascade of talk had
gushed forth when Mr Crimble had closed the door of the latter behind
him.

That evening I shared with Mrs Bowater my experiences at Brunswick
House. So absorbed was I in my own affairs that I deliberately evaded
any reference to hers. Yet her pallid face, seemingly an inch longer and
many shades more austere these last two days, touched my heart.

"You won't think," I pleaded at last, "that I don't infinitely prefer
being here, with you? Isn't it, Mrs Bowater, that you and I haven't
quite so many things to _pretend_ about? It is easy thinking of others
when there are only one or two of them. But whole drawing-roomsful!
While here; well, there is only just you and me."

"Why, miss," she replied, "as for pretending, the world's full of
shadows, though substantial enough when it comes to close quarters. If
we were all to look at things just bare in a manner of speaking, it
would have to be the Garden of Eden over again. It can't be done. And
it's just that that what's called the gentry know so well. We must make
the best use of the mess we can."

I was tired. The thin, sweet air of spring, wafted in at my window after
the precocious heat of the day, breathed a faint, reviving fragrance. A
curious excitement was in me. Yet her words, or perhaps the tone of her
voice, coloured my fancy with vague forebodings. I pushed aside my
supper, slipped off my fine visiting clothes, and put on my
dressing-gown. With lights extinguished, I drew the blind, and strove
for a while to puzzle out life's riddle for myself. Not for the first or
the last time did wandering wits cheat me of the goal, for presently in
the quiet out of my thoughts, stole into my imagination the vision of
that dreaming head my eyes had sheltered on.

"Hypnos," I sighed the word; and--another face, Fanny's, seemed to melt
into and mingle with the visionary features. Why, why, was my desperate
thought, why needed _she_ allow the world to come to such close
quarters? Why, with so many plausible reasons given in her letter for
keeping poor Mr Crimble waiting, had she withheld the one that counted
for most? And what was it? I knew in my heart that _that_ could not be
"making the best use of the mess." Surely, if one just told only the
truth, there wasn't anything else to tell. It had taken me some time to
learn this lesson.

A low, rumbling voice shook up from the kitchen. Mrs Bowater was talking
to herself. Dejection drew over me again at the thought of the deceit I
was in, and I looked at my love for Fanny as I suppose Abraham at the
altar of stones looked at his son Isaac. Then suddenly a thought far
more matter-of-fact chilled through my mind. I saw again Mr Crimble
huddling down towards me in that echoing hall, heard my voice delivering
Fanny's message, and realized that half of what I had said had been
written in mockery. It had been intended for my eye only--"_Let alone my
prayers_." In the solitude of the darkness the words had a sound far
more sinister than even Fanny can have intended.

Mr Crimble, however, had accepted them apparently in good faith--to
judge at least from the letter which reached me the following morning:--


     "DEAR MISS M.,--Thank you. I write with a mind so overburdened that
     words fail me. But I realize that Miss Bowater has no truer friend
     than yourself, and shall be frank. After that _terrible_ morning
     you might well have refused to help me. I cannot believe that you
     will--for her sake. This long concealment, believe me, is not of my
     own seeking. It cannot, it must not, continue, a moment beyond the
     necessity. For weeks, nay, months, I have been tortured with doubts
     and misgivings. Her pride, her impenetrable heedlessness; oh,
     indeed, I realize the difficulties of her situation. I dare not
     speak till she gives consent. Yet silence puts me in a false
     position, and tongues, as perhaps even you may be aware, begin to
     wag. Nor is this my first attempt, and--to be more frank than I
     feel is discreet--there is my mother (quite apart from _hers_) now,
     alas, aged and more dependent on my affection and care than ever.
     To make a change now--the talk, the absence of Christian _charity_,
     my own temperament and calling! I pray for counsel to guide my
     stumbling bark on this sea of _darkest_ tempest.

     "Can F. decide that her affections are such as could justify her
     in committing her future to me? Am I justified in asking her? You,
     too, must have many anxieties--anxieties perhaps unguessed at by
     those of coarser fibre. And though I cannot venture to ask your
     confidences, I do ask for your feminine intuition--even though this
     may seem an _intrusion_ after my sad discomfiture the other day.
     And yet, I assure you, it was not corporeal fear--are not we
     priests the police of the City Beautiful? Might I not have
     succeeded merely in making us _both_ ridiculous? But that is past,
     and the dead past must bury its dead: there is no gentler sexton.

     "Need I say that this letter is not the fruit of any mere
     _impulse_. The thought, the very image of her never leaves my
     consciousness night or day; and I get no rest. I am almost afraid
     at the power she has of imprinting herself on the mind. I implore
     you to be discreet, without needless deception. I will wait
     patiently. My last desire is to _hasten_ an answer--unless, dear
     Miss M., one in the affirmative. And would it be possible--indeed
     the chief purpose of this letter was to make this small
     request--would it be possible to give me one hour--no tea--this
     afternoon? There was a phrase in your whispered message--probably
     because of the peculiar acoustic properties of Brunswick
     House--that was but half-caught. We must not risk the faintest
     shadow of misunderstanding.

     "Believe me, yours most gratefully, though 'perplexed in the
     extreme,'

     "HAROLD CRIMBLE.

     "PS.--I feel at times that it is incumbent on one to burn one's
     boats; even though out of sight the further shore.

     "And the letter: would it be even possible to share a glance at
     _that_?"


My old habit of hunting in the crannies of what I read had ample
opportunity here. Two things stood out in my mind: a kind of
astonishment at Mr Crimble's "stumbling bark" which he was asking _me_
to help to steer, and inexpressible relief that Fanny's letter was
buried beyond hope of recovery before he could call that afternoon. The
more I pitied and understood his state of mind, the more helpless and
anxious I felt. Then, in my foolish fashion, I began again picturing in
fancy the ceremony that would bring Mr Crimble and my landlady into so
close a relationship. Why did he fear the wagging of tongues so much? I
didn't. Would Miss Bullace be a bridesmaid? Would I? I searched in my
drawer and read over the "Form of Solemnization of Matrimony." I came to
"the dreadful day of judgment," and to "serve" and "obey," and
shivered. I was not sure that I cared for the way human beings had
managed these things. But at least, bridesmaids _said_ nothing, and if
I----

While I was thus engaged Mrs Bowater entered the room. I smuggled my
prayer-book aside and gave her Fanny's letter. She was always a woman of
few words. She folded it reflectively; took off her spectacles, replaced
them in their leather case, and that in her pocket.

"'Soap, handkerchiefs, stockings,'" she mused, "though why in the world
she didn't _say_ 'silk' is merely Fanny's way. And I am sure, miss," she
added, "she must have had one peculiar moment when the thought occurred
to her of the bolt."

"But, Mrs Bowater," I cried in snake-like accents, "you _said_ you were
'soliciting no divulgements.'"

Mrs Bowater's mouth opened in silent laughter. "Between you----" she
began, and broke off. "Gracious goodness, but here's that young man, Mr
Crimble, calling again."


Mr Crimble drank tea with me, though he ate nothing. And now, his
darkest tempest being long since stilled, I completely absolve myself
for amending the message which Lady Pollacke's tesselated hall had
mercifully left obscure. He sat there, almost like a goldfish--though
black in effect beyond description--gaping for the crumb that never
comes. "She bade me," I muttered my falsehood, "she bade me say secretly
that she has had your letter, that she is giving it her earnest
attention, her earnest attention, _alone, and in her prayers_."

The dark liquid pupils appeared for one sheer instant to rotate, then he
turned away, and, as if quite helplessly, stifled an unsheltered yawn.

"'Alone,'" he cried desperately. "I see myself, I see myself in her
young imagination!"

I think he guessed that my words were false, that his ear had not been
as treacherous as all that. Whether or not, no human utterance have I
ever heard so humble, tragic, final. It knelled in my ear like the
surrender of all hope. And yet it brought me, personally, some
enlightenment. It was with Mr Crimble's eyes that I now scanned not only
his phantom presence in Fanny's imagination, but my own, standing beside
him--a "knick-knack" figure of fun, pygmied beneath the flappets of his
clerical coat, like a sun-beetle by a rook. The spectacle strengthened
me without much affecting Fanny. She was no longer the absolute sultana
of my being. I could _think_ now, as well as adore.

How strange it is that when our minds are needled to a sharp focus mere
"things" swarm so close. There was not a single ornament or book or
fading photograph in Mrs Bowater's parlour that in this queer privacy
did not mutely seem to cry, "Yes, here am I. This is how things go."

I leant forward and looked at him. "We mustn't care what she sees, what
she thinks, if only we can go on loving her."

"'Can, can'?" echoed Mr Crimble, "I have prayed on my knees _not_ to."

This was a sharp ray on my thoughts of love. "But why?" I said. "Even
when I was a child, I knew by my mother's face that I must go on, and
should go on, loving her, Mr Crimble, whether she loved me or not. One
can't make a bad mistake in giving, can one? And yet--well, you must
remember that I cannot but have been a--a disappointment; that as long
as I live I can't expect any great affection, any disproportionate one,
I mean."

"But, but," he stumbled on, "a daughter's affection--it's different. I
mustn't brood on my trouble. It unhinges me. Why, the clock stops. But
nevertheless may God bless you for that."

"But surely," I persisted, smiling as cheerfully as I could, "_Nil
desperandum_, Mr Crimble. And you know what they say about fish in the
sea."

His eye rolled round on me as if a serpent had spoken. "I am sorry, I am
sorry," he repeated rapidly, in the same low, unemphatic undertone as if
to himself. "I must just wait. You have never seen a sheep--a bullock,
shall we call him?--being driven to the slaughter-house. On, on--from
despair to despair. That's my position." His face was emptied of
expression, his eyes fixed.

These words, his air, his look, this awful private thing--I can't
say--it shocked and frightened me beyond words. But I answered him
steadily none the less. "Listen, Mr Crimble," I said, "look at _me_,
here, what I am. I have had my desperate moments too--more alone in the
world than you can ever be! And I swear before God that I will never,
never be _not_ myself." I wonder what the listener thought of this
little challenge, not perhaps what Mr Crimble did.

"Well," he replied, with sudden calm, "that's the courage of the
martyrs, and not all of them perhaps have been Christians, if history is
to be credited. Yes, and in sober truth, I assure you, _you_, that I
would go to the stake for--for Miss Bowater."

He rose, and in that instant of dignity I foresaw what was never to
be--lawn sleeves encasing those loose, black arms. He had somehow wafted
me back to my Confirmation.

"And the letter? I have no wish to intrude. But her actual words. I
mayn't see _that_?"

"You will please forgive me," I entreated helplessly, "it is buried;
because, you see, Fanny--you see, Mrs Bowater----"

"Ah," he said. "It is this deception which dismays, scandalizes me most.
But you will keep me informed?"

He seized his soft round hat, and it was on this cold word we parted. I
stood by the window, with hand stretched out to summon him back. But no
word of comfort or hope came to my aid, and I watched him out of sight.



Chapter Twenty-One


That night I wrote to Fanny, copying out my letter from the scrawling
draft from which I am copying it now:--


     "DEAR FANNY,--I have given Mr Crimble your message; first, exactly
     in your own words, though he did not quite hear them, and then,
     leaving out a little. You may be angry at what I am going to
     say--but I am quite sure you ought to answer him at _once_. Fanny,
     he's _dreadfully_ fond of you. I never even dreamed people were
     like that--in such torture for what can't be, unless you mean you
     _do_ care, but are too proud to tell him so. If he knows you have
     no heart for him, he may soon be better. This sounds hateful. But I
     am not such a pin in a pincushion as not to know that even the
     greatest sorrows and disappointments wear out. Why, isn't that
     beech-tree we sat under a kind of cannibal of its own dead leaves?

     "Your private letter is quite safe; though I prefer not to burn
     it--indeed, _cannot_ burn it. You know how I have longed for it.
     But please, if possible, don't send me two in future. It doesn't
     seem fair; and your mother knew already about our star-gazing. You
     see, how else could the door have been bolted!! But it's best to
     have been found out--next, I mean, to telling oneself.

     "What day are you coming home? I look at it, as if it were a
     lighthouse--even though it is out of sight. Shall we go on with
     _Wuthering Heights_ when you do come? I saw the 'dazzling'
     moon--but there, Fanny, what I want most to beg of you is to write
     to Mr. Crimble--all that you feel, even if not all that you think.
     No, perhaps I mean the reverse. He must have been wondering about
     you long before I began to. And there it was, all sunken in; no one
     could have guessed his longing by looking at him. I am afraid it
     must affect his health.

     "And now good-bye. I have made a vow to myself not to think into
     things too much. Your affectionate friend (as much of her as there
     is)--

     "MIDGETINA.

     "PS.--Please tell me the _day_ you are coming; and that shall be my
     birthday."


Fanny was prompt in reply:--


     "DEAR MIDGETINA,--It's a strange fact, but while, to judge from
     your letter, _you_ seem to be growing smaller, I (in spite of Miss
     Stebbings's water porridge) am growing fatter. Now, which is the
     tragedy? I _may_ come home on the 30th. If so, kill the fatted
     calf; I will supply the birthday-cake. How foolish of you to keep
     letters. I never do, lest I should remember the answers. Anyhow, I
     shall not write again. But if, by any chance, Mr Crimble should
     make another call, will you explain that my chief motive in not
     singing at the concert was because I should have been a second
     mezzo-soprano. One of two in one concert _must_ be superfluous.
     Perhaps I did not explain this clearly; nor did I say how charming
     I thought my double was.

     "I am tired--of overwork. I have finished _Wuthering Heights_. It
     is a mad, untrue book. The world is not like Emily Brontë's
     conception of it. It is neither dream nor nightmare, Midgetina, but
     wide, wide awake. And I am convinced that the poets are only
     cherubs with sugar-sticks to their little rosebud mouths. I
     abominate whitewash. As for 'putting people out of their misery,'
     and cannibal beech-trees: no, fretful midge! If you could see me
     sitting here looking down on rows and rows of vacant and hostile
     faces--though one or two are infatuated enough--you would realize
     that such a practice would lead me into miscellaneous infanticide.

     "Personally, I never did think into things too painfully; though as
     regards 'telling,' the reverse is _certainly_ the wiser course. So
     you will forgive so short, and perhaps none too sweet, a letter
     from your affec.--F."


Enclosed with this was a narrow slip of paper:--


     "I shall _not_ write to you know who. Think, if you like, but don't
     _feel_ like a microscope. He is only in love. And however
     punctilious your own practice may be, pray, Miss M., do not
     preach--at any rate to your affecte. but unregenerate friend.--F."


I believe I drafted and destroyed three answers to this letter. It broke
down my defences far more easily than had the errand boys. It shamed me
for a prig, a false friend, a sentimentalist. And the "fretful midge"
rankled like salt in a wounded heart. Yet Fanny was faithless even to
her postscript. A sheaf of narcissuses hooded in blue tissue paper was
left at the house a day or two afterwards. It was accompanied by Mr
Crimble's card in a little envelope tied in with the stalks:--


     "I am given a ray of hope."


Mrs Bowater had laid this offering on my table with a peculiar grimace,
whether scornful or humorous, it was impossible to detect. "From Mr
Crimble, miss. Why, one might think he had two irons in the fire!"

I sat gazing at this thank-offering long after she had gone--the waxy
wings, the crimson-rimmed corona, the pale-green cluster of pistil and
stamen. The heavy perfume stole over my senses, bringing only weariness
and self-distaste to my mind. Fly that I was, caught in a web--once more
I began a letter to Fanny, imploring her to write to her mother, to tell
her everything. But that letter, too, was torn up into tiny pieces and
burnt in the fire.

Next morning, heavily laden with my parasol, a biscuit or two in my bag,
my _Sense and Sensibility_ and a rug in my arms, I set off very early
for Wanderslore, having arranged with Mrs Bowater over night that she
should meet me under my beech at a quarter to one.

Under the flat, bud-pointed branches, I pressed on between clusters of
primrose, celandine, and wild wood anemone, breathing in the earthy
freshness of grass and moss. And presently I came out between the stones
and jutting roots in sight of the vacant windows. I stood for a moment
confronting their black regard, then descended the knoll and was soon
making myself comfortable beside the garden house. But first I managed
to clamber up on a fragment of the fallen masonry and peep in at its low
windows. A few dead, last-year's flies lay dry on their backs; dusty,
derelict spider-webs; a litter of straw, and a few potsherds--the place
was empty. But it was mine, and the very remembrance of which it
whispered to me--the picture of my poor father's bedroom that night of
the storm--only increased my sense of possession.

What was wrong with me just then, what I had sallied out in hope to be
delivered from, was the unhappy conviction that my life was worthless,
and I of no use in the world. I had taught myself to make knots in
strings, but actual experience seemed to have proved that most human
fumblings resulted only in "grannies" and not in the true lover's
variety. They secured nothing, only tangled and jammed. I was young
then, and yet as heavily burdened with other people's responsibilities
as was poor Christian with the bundle of his sins. But my bundle, too,
in that lovely, desolate loneliness at last fell off my shoulders.

Could I not still be loyal in heart and mind to Fanny, even though now I
knew how little she cared whether I was loyal or not? I even climbed up
behind Mr Crimble's thick spectacles and looked down again at myself
from that point of vantage. Whether or not I was his affair, I could try
to make him mine--perhaps even persuade Fanny to love him.

Oh, dear; was not every singing bird in that wilderness, every unfolding
flower and sunlit March leaf welcoming the spirit within me to their
quiet habitation? As if in response to this naïve thought, welled up in
my memory the two last stanzas of my _Tom o' Bedlam_, which, either for
pride or shame, had stuck in my throat on the skin mat in Lady
Pollacke's sky-lit drawing-room:----


     "With a heart of furious fancies,
       Whereof I am commander:
         With a burning spear,
         And a horse of air,
       To the wilderness I wander.

     With a knight of ghosts and shadows,
       I summoned am to tourney:
         Ten leagues beyond
         The wide world's end;
       Methinks it is no journey."


Parasol for spear, the youngest Miss Shanks's pony for horse of air,
there was I (even though common-sized boots might reckon it a mere mile
or so), ten leagues at least beyond--Mrs Bowater's. Nor, like her
husband, had I broken my leg; nor had Fanny broken my heart. All would
come right again. Why, what a waste of Fanny it would be to make her Mrs
Crimble. My bishop, according to Miss Fenne, had had quite a homely
helpmate, "little short of a frump, Caroline, as I remember her thirty
years ago." Perhaps if I left off my fine colours and bought a nice
brown stuff dress and a bonnet, might not Mr Crimble change his mind...?
I have noticed that as soon as I begin to laugh at myself, the whole
world seems to smile in return.

Absurd, contrary, volatile creature that I was--a kind of thankfulness
spread over my mind. I turned on to my knees where I sat and repeated
the prayers which in my haste to be off I had neglected before coming
out. And thus kneeling, I opened my eyes on the garden again, bathed
delicately in the eastern sunshine. There was my old friend, Mr Clodd's
_Nature_, pranking herself under the nimble fingers of spring; and in
her sight as well as in the sight of my godmother's God, and Mr
Crimble's Almighty, and, possibly, of Dr Phelps's Norm, were not, in
deed and in truth, all men equal? How mysterious and how entrancing! If
"sight," then _eyes_: but whose? where? I gazed round me dazzledly, and
if wings had been mine, would have darted through the thin, blue-green
veil and been out into the morning.

Poor she-knight! romantical Miss Midge! she had no desire to hunt Big
Game, or turn steeplejack; her fancies were not dangerously "furious";
but, as she knelt there, environed about by that untended garden, and
not so ridiculously pygmy either, even in the ladder of the world's
proportion--saw-edged blade of grass, gold-cupped moss, starry
stonecrop, green musky moschatel, close-packed pebble, wax-winged
fly--well, I know not how to complete the sentence except by remarking
that I am exceedingly glad I began to write my Life.

I realized too that it is less flattering to compare oneself with the
very little things of the world than with the great. Given time, I might
scale an Alp; I could only _kill_ an ant. Besides, I am beginning to
think that one of the pleasantest ways of living is in one's memory. How
much less afflicting at times would my present have been if I had had
the foresight to remind myself how beguiling it would appear as the
past. Even my old sharpest sorrows have now hushed themselves to sleep,
and those for whom I have sorrowed are as quiet.

Having come to a pause in my reflections, I opened my _Sense and
Sensibility_ at Chapter XXXV. Yet attend to Miss Austen I could not. She
is one of those compact and cautious writers that will not feed a
wandering mind; and at last, after three times re-reading the same
paragraph, an uneasy conviction began to steal over me. There was no
doubt now in my mind. I was being watched. Softly, stealthily, I raised
my eyes from my book and with not the least motion of head or body,
glanced around me. Whereupon, as if it had been playing sentinel out of
the thicket near at hand, a blackbird suddenly jangled its challenge,
and with warning cries fled away on its wings towards the house.



Chapter Twenty-Two


Then instantly I discovered the cause of the bird's alarm. At first I
fancied that this strange figure was at some little distance. Then I
realized that his stature had misled me, and that he could not be more
than twenty or thirty yards away. Standing there, with fixed, white face
and black hair, under a flowering blackthorn, he remained as motionless
and as intent as I. He was not more than a few inches, apparently,
superior in height to myself.

"So," I seemed to whisper, as gaze met gaze, "there!" hardly certain the
while if he was real or an illusion. Indeed, if, even then before my
eyes, he had faded out into the tangle of thorn, twig, and thin-spun
blossom above and around him, it would not have greatly astonished,
though it would have deeply disappointed me. With a peculiar, trembling
curiosity, I held him with my gaze. If he would not disclose himself,
then must I.

Slowly and deliberately my cold hand crept out and grasped my parasol.
Without for a moment removing my eyes from this interloper's face, I
pushed its ribbed silk tent taut into the air. Click! went the tiny
spring; and at that he stirred.

"Who are you: watching me?" I cried in a low, steady voice across the
space that divided us. His head stooped a little. I fancied--and
feared--that he was about to withdraw. But after a pause he drew himself
up and came nearer, casting, as he approached, his crooked shadow away
from the sun on the close-cropped turf beside him.

To this day I sometimes strive in vain to see, quite clearly in my mind,
that face, as it appeared at that first meeting. A different memory of
it obtrudes itself; yet how many, many times have I searched his
features for news of himself, and looked passingly--and once with final
intensity--into those living eyes. But I recollect that his clothes
looked slightly out of keeping and grotesque amid the green things of
early spring. It seemed he had wasted in them. So, too, the cheek had
wasted over its bone, and seemed parched; the thin lips, the ears
slightly pointed. And then broke out his low, hollow voice. Scarcely
rising or falling, the mere sound of it seemed to be as full of meaning
as the words.

He looked at me, and at all I possessed, as if piece by piece--as if he
had been a long time searching for them all. Yet he now seemed to avoid
my eyes, though they were serenely awaiting his. Indeed from this moment
almost to the last, I was never at a loss or distressed in his company.
He never called me out of myself beyond an easy and happy return, though
he was to creep into my imagination as easily as a single bee creeps
into the thousand-celled darkness of its hive.

Whenever I parted from him, his remembrance was like that of one of
those strange figures which thrust themselves as if out of the
sleep-world into the mind's wakefulness; vividly, darkly, impress
themselves upon consciousness, and then are gone. So I sometimes wonder
if I ever really knew him, if he was ever perfectly real to me; like
Fanny, for instance. Yet he made no pretence to be mysterious, and we
were soon talking together almost as naturally as if we were playmates
of childhood who had met again after a long separation.

He confessed that, quite unknown to me, he had watched me come and go in
the cold mornings of winter, when frost had soon driven me home again
out of the bare, frozen woods. He had even been present, I think, when
Fanny and I had shared--or divided--the stars between us. A faint
distaste at any rate showed itself on his face when he admitted that he
had seen me not alone. I was unaccustomed to that kind of interest, and
hardly knew whether to be pleased or angry.

"But you know I come here to be alone," I said as courteously as
possible.

"Yes," he answered, with face turned away. "That's how I saw you."

Without my being aware of it, too, he played a kind of chess with me,
seizing each answer in turn for hook on which to hang another question.
What had I to conceal? Of my short history, though not of myself, I told
him freely; yet asked him few questions in return. Nor at that time did
I even consider how strange a chance had brought two such human beings
as he and I to this place of meeting. Yet, after all, whales are but
little creatures by comparison with the ocean in which they roam, and
glow-worm will keep tryst with glow-worm in forests black as night.

Through all he said was woven a thread of secrecy. So low and monotonous
was his voice (not lifting itself much, but only increasing in resonance
when any thought angered or darkened his mind); so few were his gestures
that he might have been talking in his sleep. Not once that long morning
did he laugh, not even when I mischievously proffered him my parasol (as
he sat a few paces away) to screen him from the March sun! Solemnly he
shared Mrs Bowater's biscuits with me, scattering the crumbs to a robin
that hopped up between us, as if he had been invited to our breakfast.

His head hung so low between his heavy shoulders that it reminded me of
a flower stooping for want of water. Not that there was anything limp or
fragile or gentle in his looks. He was, far rather, clumsy and ugly in
appearance, yet with a grace in his look like that of an old, haggled
thorn-tree when the wind moves its branches. And anyhow, he was come to
be my friend--out of the unknown. And when I looked around at the serene
wild loveliness of the garden, it seemed to be no less happy a place
because it was no longer quite a solitude.

"You read," he said, glancing reflectively, but none too
complimentarily, at my book.

"It isn't wise to think too much." I replied solemnly, shutting Miss
Austen up. "Besides, as I haven't the opportunity of seeing many people
in the flesh, you know, the next best thing is to meet them in
books--specially in this kind of book. If only I were Jane Austen; my
gracious, I would enjoy myself! Her people are just the same as people
are now--inside. I doubt if leopards really want to change their spots.
But of course"--I added, since he did not seem inclined to express any
opinion--"I read other kinds of books as well. That's the best of being
a dunce--there's so much to learn! Just lately I have been learning to
tie knots."

I laughed, and discovered that I was blushing.

He raised his eyes slowly to my face, then looked so long and earnestly
at my hands, that I was forced to hide them away under my bag. Long
before I had noticed that his own hands were rather large and powerful
for his size. Fanny's face I had loved to watch for its fairness and
beauty--it would have been as lovely if she had not been within. To
watch Mrs Bowater's was like spelling out bits of a peculiar language. I
often found out what she was feeling or thinking by imitating her
expression, and then translating it, after she was gone. This young
man's kept me engrossed because of the self that brooded in it--its dark
melancholy, too; and because even then, perhaps, I may have remotely and
vaguely realized that flesh and spirit could not be long of one company.
He himself was, as it were, a foreigner to me, and I felt I must make
the best and most of him before he went off again.

Perhaps memory reads into this experience more than in those green salad
days I actually found there. But of this at least I am certain--that the
morning sped on unheeded in his company, and I was even unconscious of
how cold I was until he suddenly glanced anxiously into my face and told
me so. So now we wandered off together towards the great house--which
hitherto I had left unapproached. We climbed the green-stained scaling
steps from terrace to terrace, tufted with wallflower and snapdragon
amongst the weeds, cushioned with bright moss, fretted with lichen.
Standing there, side by side with him, looking up--our two figures
alone, on the wide flowerless weed-grown terrace--hale, sour weeds some
of them, shoulder-high--I scrutinized the dark, shut windows.

What was the secret that had kept it so long vacant, I inquired. Mrs
Bowater had never given me any coherent answer to this question. My
words dropped into the silence, like a pebble into a vast, black pool of
water.

"There was a tale about," he replied indifferently, and yet, as I
fancied, not so indifferently as he intended, "that many years ago a
woman"--he pronounced the word almost as if it had reference to a
different species from ourselves--"that a woman had hanged herself in
one of its upper rooms."

"Hanged herself!" It was the kind of fable Mrs Ballard used to share
with Adam Waggett's mother over their tea and shrimps. Frowning in
horror and curiosity, I scanned his face. Was this the water I could dip
for in his well? Alas, how familiar I was to become with the bucket.

He made a movement with his hands; at which I saw the poor creature up
there in the darkness, suspended lifeless, poor, poor human, with head
awry.

"Why?" I asked him, pondering childishly over this picture.

"It was mere gossip," he replied, "and true or not, such as 'they' make
up to explain their own silly superstitions. Just thinking long enough
and hard enough would soon invite an evil spirit into any old empty
house. Human beings are no better than sheep, though they don't always
see the dogs and shepherds that drive them."

"And does it," I faltered, glancing covertly up the walls, and conscious
of a novel vein of interest in this strangely inexhaustible world, "does
the evil spirit ever look out of the windows?"

He turned his face to me, smiling; and inquired if I had ever heard the
phrase, "the eyelids of the dawn." "There's Night, too," he said.

"But whose spirit? Whose?" I persisted. "When I am here alone in the
garden, why, it is just peace. How could that be, if an evil spirit
haunted here?"

"Yes," he said, "but a selfish, solitary peace. Dead birds don't sing.
Don't come when you can't get back; or the clouds are down."

"You are trying to frighten me," I said, in a louder voice. "And I have
been too much alone for that. Of course things must look after
themselves. Don't _we_? And you said an _evil_ spirit. What is the good
of dreaming when you are wide awake?"

"Then," said he, almost coldly, "do you deny that Man is an evil spirit?
He distorts and destroys."

But with that the words of my mother came back to me out of a far-away
morning: "He made us of His Power and Love." Yet I could not answer him,
could only wait, as if expectant that by mere silence I should be able
to share the thoughts he was thinking. And, all the while, my eyes were
brooding in some dark chamber of my mind on Fanny, and not, as they well
might have, on the dark bark of Mr Crimble tossing in jeopardy beneath
its fleeting ray of hope.

Truly this stranger was making life very interesting, even if he was
only prodding over its dead moles. And truly I was an incorrigibly
romantic young lady; for when, with a glance at my grandfather's watch,
I discovered that it was long past noon, and told him I must be gone;
without a single moment's hesitation, I promised to come again to meet
him on the very first fine morning that showed. So strong within me was
the desire to do so, that a profound dismay chilled my mind when, on
turning about at the end of the terrace--for he had shown no inclination
to accompany me--I found that he was already out of sight. I formally
waved my hand towards where he had vanished in case he should be
watching; sighed, and went on.

It was colder under the high, sunless trees. I gathered my cloak closer
around me, and at that discovered not only that Miss Austen had been
left behind, but that Fanny's letter still lay in undisturbed
concealment beneath its stone. It was too late to return for them now,
and a vague misgiving that had sprung up in me amid the tree-trunks was
quieted by the assurance that for these--rather than for any other
reason--I must return to Wanderslore as soon as I could. So, in
remarkably gay spirits, I hastened light-heeled on my way in the
direction of civilized society, of nefarious Man, and of my
never-to-be-blessed-too-much Mrs Bowater.



Chapter Twenty-Three


My landlady was already awaiting me at the place appointed, and we
walked off together towards the house. It had been a prudent
arrangement, for we met and passed at least half a dozen strangers
before we arrived there, and one and all by the unfeigned astonishment
with which they turned to watch our two figures out of sight (for I
stooped once or twice, as if to tie my shoelace, in order to see),
clearly proved themselves to belong to that type of humanity to which my
new acquaintance had referred frigidly as THEY. Vanity of vanities, when
one old loitering gentleman did not so much as lift an eyelid at me--he
was so absorbed in own thoughts--I felt a pang of annoyance.

As soon as I was safely installed in my own room again, I confided in
Mrs Bowater a full account of my morning's adventure. Not so much
because I wished to keep free of any further deceit, as because I simply
couldn't contain myself, and must talk of my Stranger. She heard me to
the end without question, but with an unusual rigidity of features. She
compressed her lips even tighter before beginning her catechism.

"What was the young man's name," she inquired; "and where did he live?"

My hope had been that she herself would be able to supply these little
particulars. With a blank face, I shook my head: "We just talked of
things in general."

"I see," she said, and glanced at me, as if over her spectacles. Her
next question was even less manageable. "Was the young fellow a
gentleman?"

Alas! she had fastened on a flaw in my education. This was a problem
absolutely new to me. I thought of my father, of Mr Waggett, Dr Grose,
Dr Phelps, the old farmer in the railway train, of Sir Walter Pollacke,
my bishop, Heathcliff, Mr Bowater, Mr Clodd, even Henry--or rather all
these male phantoms went whisking across the back of my mind, calling
up every other two-legged creature of the same gender within sight or
hearing. Meanwhile, Mrs Bowater stood like Patience on her Brussels
carpet, or rather like Thomas de Torquemada, watching these intellectual
contortions.

"Well, really, do you know, Mrs Bowater," I was forced to acknowledge at
last, with a sigh and a smile, "I simply can't say. I didn't think of
it. That seems rather on _his_ side, doesn't it? But to be quite, quite
candid, perhaps _not_ a gentleman; not _exactly_, I mean."

"Which is no more than I supposed," was her comment, "and if _not_--and
any kind of not, miss--what was he, then? And _if_ not, why, you can
never go there again!"

"Indeed, but I must," I said, as if to myself.

"With your small knowledge of the world," she retorted unmovedly, "you
must, if you please, be guided by those with more. Who isn't a gentleman
couldn't be desirable company if chanced on like a stranger in a young
lady's lonely rambles. And _how_ tall did you say? And what's more," she
continued, not pausing for an answer, and gathering momentum on her way,
"if he _is_ a gentleman, I'd better come along with you, miss, and see
for myself."

A rebellious and horrified glance followed her retreating figure out of
the room. So this was the reward for being open and above-board. What a
ridiculous figure I should cut, tippeting along behind my landlady. What
would my stranger think of me? What would she think of him? _Was_ he a
"gentleman"? To decide whether or not the Spirit of Man is an evil
spirit had been an easy problem by comparison. _Gentle man_--why, of
course, self muttered in shame to self convicted of yet another mean
little snobbery. He had been almost absurdly gentle--had treated me as
if I were an angel rather than a young woman.

But the nettlerash produced by Mrs Bowater's bigotry was not to be so
easily allayed as all that. It had invited yet another kind of THEM in.
An old, green, rotting board hung over the wicket gate that led up the
stony path into Wanderslore--"Trespassers will be prosecuted." Why
couldn't one put boards up in the Wanderslore of one's mind? My landlady
had never inquired if Lady Pollacke was a gentlewoman. How mechanical
things were in their unexpectedness. That morning I had gone out to free
myself from the Crimble tangle, merely to return with a few more knots
in the skein.

A dead calm descended on me. I was adrift in the Sargasso Sea--in the
Doldrums, and had dropped my sextant overboard. Even a long stare at the
master-mariner on the wall gave me no help. Yet I must confess that
these foolish reflections made me happy. I would share them with
Fanny--perhaps with the "gentleman" himself, some day. I leaned over the
side of my small vessel, more deeply interested in the voyage than I had
been since Pollie had carried me out of my girlhood into the Waggetts'
wagonette. And as I sat there, simmering over these novelties, a voice,
clear as a cockcrow, exclaimed in my mind, "If father hadn't died, I'd
have had nothing of all this." My hands clenched damp in my lap at this
monstrosity. But I kept my wits and managed to face it. "If father
hadn't died," I answered myself, "you don't know _what_ would have
happened. And if you think that, because I am happy now, anything could
make me _not_ wish him back, it's a lie." But I remained a little less
comfortable in mind.


The evening post brought me a letter and a registered parcel. I turned
them over and over, examining the unfamiliar handwriting, the bright red
seals; but all in vain. In spite of my hard-won knotlore, I was still
kneeling over the package and wrestling with string and wax, when Mrs
Bowater, folding _her_ letter away in its envelope, announced baldly:
"She's not coming home, it seems, at all these holidays, having been
invited by some school friend into the country--Merriden, or some such
place. Not that you might expect Fanny to write plain, when she doesn't
_mean_ plain."

"Oh, Mrs Bowater! Not at all?"

Cold fogs of disappointment swept in, blotting out my fool's paradise.
That inward light without which life is dark indeed died in eclipse. The
one thought and desire which I now realized I had been feeding on from
hour to hour, had been snatched away. To think that they had been
nothing but waste. "Oh, Fanny," I whispered bitterly to myself, "oh,
Fanny!" But the face I lifted to her mother showed only defiance.

"Well," I muttered, "who cares? Let's hope she will enjoy herself
better than mooning about in this dingy old place."

Mrs Bowater merely continued to look quietly over the envelope at me.

"Oh, but you know, Mrs Bowater," I quaked miserably, "it's not dingy to
_me_. Surely a promise is a promise, whoever you make it to!"

With that I stooped my face over the stuffy-smelling brown paper, and
attacked the last knot with my teeth. With eyes still a little asquint
with resentment I smoothed away the wrappings from the shape within.
Then every thought evaporated in a sigh. For there, of a delicate veined
fairness against the white paper, lay a minute copy in ivory of none but
lovely Hypnos. Half-blindly I stared at it--lost in a serenity beyond
all hope of my poor, foolish life--then lifted it with both hands away
from my face: "A present--to me! Look!" I cried, "look!"

Mrs Bowater settled her face over the image as if it had been some
tropical and noxious insect I was offering for her inspection. But I
thrust it into her hand and opened my letter:--


     "MY DEAR YOUNG LADY,--I am no poet, and therefore cannot hope to
     share with you the music of 'the flaming drake,' but we did share
     my Hypnos. Only a replica, as I told you, but none the less one of
     the most beautiful things I possess. Will you, then, give me the
     pleasure of accepting the contents of the little package I am
     having posted with this--as a small token of the delight your
     enthusiasm gave Yours most sincerely,--

     "WALTER POLLACKE.

     "PS.--Lady Pollacke tells me that we may perhaps again look forward
     to your company to tea in a few days, please do not think, then, of
     acknowledging this little message by post."


But I did acknowledge it, not with that guardedness of the feelings
which Miss Austen seemed to recommend, but from the very depths of my
heart. Next morning came Lady Pollacke's invitation:--


     "DEAR MISS M.,--I hasten to renew my invitation of last Thursday.
     Will you give us the pleasure of your company at tea on Friday
     afternoon? Mrs Monnerie--the younger daughter, as you will
     remember, of Lord B.--has expressed an exceedingly warm wish to
     make your acquaintance, and Mr. Pellew, who is giving us a course
     of sermons at St. Peter's during Holy Week, will also be with us.
     May we, perhaps, share yet another of those _delightful_
     recitations?

     "Believe me,

     "Yours sincerely,

     "LYDIA PRESTON POLLACKE."


I searched my memory for memorial of Lord B.; alas, in vain. This lapse
made the thought of meeting his younger daughter a little alarming. Yet
I must confess to having been pleasantly flattered by these attentions.
Even the black draught administered by Fanny, who had not even thought
it worth her while to send me a word of excuse or explanation, lost much
of its bitterness. I asked Mrs Bowater if she supposed I might make Sir
Walter a little present in return for his. Would it be a proper thing to
do, would it be _lady_like?

"What's meant kindly," she assured me, after a moment's reflection,
"even if taken amiss, which, to judge from his letter, it won't be, is
nothing to be thought of but only _felt_."

This advice decided me, and early on my Friday morning I trimmed and
freshened up as well as I could one of my grandfather's dwarf
cedar-trees which, in the old days, had stood on my window balcony. Its
branches were now a little dishevelled, but it was still a fresh and
pretty thing in its grey-green pot.



Chapter Twenty-Four


With this dwarf tree in my arms, when came the auspicious afternoon, I
followed Lady Pollacke's parlourmaid--her neat little bonnet tied with a
bow under her ear--down my Bateses, and was lifted by Mrs Bowater into
the carriage. How demure a greeting we exchanged when, the maid and I
having seated ourselves together under its hood, my glance fell upon the
bloodstone brooch pinned conspicuously for the occasion near the topmost
button of her trim, outdoor jacket. It gave me so much confidence that
even the sudden clatter of conversation that gushed out over me in the
doorway of Lady Pollacke's drawing-room failed to be disconcerting. The
long, flowery room was thronged with company, and everybody was talking
to everybody else. On my entry, as if a seraph had spoken, the busy
tongues sank instantly to a hush. I stood stilettoed by a score of eyes.
But Sir Walter had been keeping good watch for me, and I at once
delivered my great pot into his pink, outstretched hands.

"My dear, dear young lady," he cried, stooping plumply over me, "the
pleasure you give me! A little masterpiece: and real old Nankin. Alas,
my poor Hypnos!"

"But it is me, _me_," I cried. "If I could only tell you!"

A murmur of admiration rippled across the room, in which I distinctly
heard a quavering, nasal voice exclaim, "Touching, touching!"

The words--as if a pleasant sheep had bleated--came, I fancied, from a
rather less fashionable lady with a lorgnette, who was sitting almost
alone on the outskirts of the room, and who I afterwards discovered was
only a widowed sister of Lady Pollacke's. But I could spare her but one
startled glance, for, at the same moment, I was being presented to the
younger daughter of Lord B. Mrs Monnerie sat amply reclining in an
immense gilded chair--a lady with a large and surprising countenance.
Lady Pollacke's "_younger_" had misled my fancy. Far from being the
slim, fair, sylphlike thing of my expectations, Mrs Monnerie cannot have
been many years the junior of my godmother, Miss Fenne.

Her skin had fallen into the queerest folds and puckers. Her black
swimming eye under a thick eyebrow gazed down her fine, drooping nose at
me with a dwelling expression at once indulgent, engrossed, and amused.
With a gracious sweep of her hand she drew aside her voluminous silk
skirts so that I could at once install myself by her side in a small,
cane-seated chair that had once, I should fancy, accommodated a baby
Pollacke, and had been brought down from the nursery for this occasion.

Thus, then, I found myself--the exquisitely self-conscious centre of
attention--striving to nibble a biscuit, nurse my child-size handleless
tea-cup, and respond to her advances at one and the same time.

Lady Pollacke hung like a cloud at sunset over us both, her cheek
flushed with the effort to be amused at every sentence which Mrs
Monnerie uttered and to share it as far as possible with the rest of her
guests.

"A little pale, eh?" mused Mrs Monnerie, brooding at me with her great
eye. "She wants sea-air; sea-air--just to _tinge_ that rose-leaf
porcelain. I must arrange it."

I assured her that I was in the best of health.

"Not at all," she replied. "All young people boast of their health. When
I was your age every thought of illness was as black as a visitation of
the devil. _That's_ the door where we must lay all such evils, isn't it,
Mr Pellew?"

A lean, tall, birdlike figure, the hair on his head still showing traces
of auburn, disengaged itself from a knot of charmed spectators.

"Ah," he said. "But I doubt, now," he continued, with a little
deprecating wave of his tea-cup at me, "if Miss M. can remember me. When
we first met we were precisely one week old, precisely one week old."

Why, like Dr Phelps, Mr Pellew referred to me as _we_ I had not time to
consider, for he was already confiding to Mrs Monnerie that he had never
baptized an infant who more strenuously objected to Holy Water than had
I. I looked at his long, fair eyelashes and the smile-line on his cheek
as he bent with a sort of jocular urbanity over her chair, but could
not recall his younger face, though during my christening I must, of
course, have gazed at him even more absorbedly.

"'Remember' you--I'll be bound she did," cried Mrs Monnerie with
enthusiasm, "or was it the bachelor thumb? The mercy is you didn't drop
her into the font. Can you swim, my dear?"

"I couldn't at a week," I replied as archly as possible. "But I _can_
swim; my father taught me."

"But how wonderful!" broke our listeners into chorus.

"There we are, then," asserted Mrs Monnerie; "sea-bathing! And are _we_
a swimmer, Mr Pellew?"

Mr Pellew seemed not to have caught her question. He was assuring me
that Miss Fenne had kept him well informed--well informed of all my
doings. He trusted I was comfortable with the excellent Mrs Bowater, and
hoped that some day I should be able to pay a visit to his rectory in
Devonshire. "Mrs Pellew, he knew...." What he knew about Mrs Pellew,
however, was never divulged, for Mrs Monnerie swallowed him up:--

"Devonshire, my dear Mr Pellew! no, indeed. Penthouse lanes, redhot
fields, staring cows. Imagine it! She would be dried up like a leaf.
What she wants is a mild but bracing sea-air. It shall be arranged. And
who is this Mrs Bowater?"

At this precise moment, among the strange faces far above me, I descried
that of Mr Crimble, modestly peering out of the background. He coughed,
and in a voice I should scarcely have recognized as his, informed Mrs
Monnerie that my landlady was "a most res--an admirable woman." He
paused, coughed again, swept my soul with his glance--"I assure you, Mrs
Monnerie, in view of--of all the circumstances, one couldn't be in
better hands. Indeed the house is on the crest of the hill, well out of
the town, yet not a quarter of an hour's walk from my mother's."

"Hah!" remarked Mrs Monnerie, with an inflection that I am sure need not
have brought a warmth to my cheek, or a duskier pallor to Mr Crimble's.

"You have perhaps heard the tragic story of Wanderslore," persisted Mr
Crimble; "Miss M.'s--er--lodgings are immediately adjacent to the park."

"Hah!" repeated Mrs Monnerie, even more emphatically. "Mrs Bowater, eh?
Well, I must see for myself. And I'm told, Miss M.," she swept down at
me, "that you have a beautiful gift for recitation." She looked round,
patted her lap imperiously, and cried, "Come, now, who's to break the
ice?"

In _fact_, no doubt, Mrs Monnerie was not so arbitrary a mistress of
Lady Pollacke's little ceremony as this account of it may suggest. But
that is how she impressed me at the time. She the sun, and I the
least--but I hope not the least grateful--of her obsequious planets.
Lady Pollacke at any rate set immediately to breaking the ice. She
prevailed upon a Miss Templemaine to sing. And we all sat mute.

I liked Miss Templemaine's appearance--brown hair, straight nose, dark
eyelashes, pretty fringe beneath her peak-brimmed hat. But I was a
little distressed by her song, which, so far as I could gather, was
about two persons with more or less broken hearts who were compelled to
part and said, "Ah" for a long time. Only physically distressed,
however, for though I seemed to be shaken in its strains like a linnet
in the wind, its adieux were protracted enough to enable me to examine
the rest of the company at my leisure. Their eyes, I found, were far
more politely engaged the while in gazing composedly down at the carpet
or up at the ceiling. And when I did happen to intercept a gliding
glance in my direction, it was almost as if with a tiny explosion that
it collided with mine and broke away.

Mrs Monnerie's eyelids, on the other hand, with a faintly fluttering
motion, remained closed from the first bar to the last--a method of
appreciation I experimented with for a moment but quickly abandoned;
while at the first clash of the keys, Sir Walter had dexterously
contrived to slide himself out of the room by the door at which he had
unexpectedly entered it on my first visit. Such was the social situation
when, after murmurs of gratitude and applause, Miss Templemaine took up
her gloves and rose from the piano, and Mrs Monnerie reopened herself to
the outer world with the ejaculation, "That's right. _Now_, my dear!"

The summons was to me. My moment had come, but I was prepared for it. In
my last ordeal I had broken down because I had chosen a poem that was a
kind of secret thing in my mind. So, after receiving Lady Pollacke's
letter, I had hunted about for a recitation as short, but less personal:
one, I mean, whose sentiments I didn't mind. And since Mrs Bullace had
chosen two of Mrs Browning's pieces for her triumph on New Year's Eve, I
argued that she knew the parish taste, and that I could do no better.
Of course, too, composure over what I was going to do was far more
important than the composition.

"Prepared for it," I said just now, but I meant it only in the sense
that one prepares for a cold bath. There was still the plunge. I clasped
my hands, stood up. Ceiling and floor gently rocked a little. There
seemed to be faces--faces everywhere, and every eye in them was fixed on
me. Thus completely encompassed, I could find no refuge from them, for
unfortunately my Hypnos was completely obliterated from view by the lady
with the lorgnette. So I fixed my attention, instead, on the window,
where showed a blank break of clear, fair, blue sky between the
rain-clouds of afternoon. A nervous cough from Lady Pollacke plunged me
over, and I announced my title: "The Weakest Thing," by Elizabeth
Barrett Browning:--


     "Which is the weakest thing of all
       Mine heart can ponder?
     The sun, a little cloud can pall
       With darkness yonder!
     The cloud, a little wind can move
       Where'er it listeth;
     The wind, a little leaf above,
       Though sere, resisteth!

     What time that yellow leaf was green,
       My days were gladder:
     Now on its branch each summer-sheen
       May find me sadder!
     Ah, me! a _leaf_ with sighs can wring
       My lips asunder--
     Then is my heart the weakest thing
       Itself can ponder.

     Yet, Heart, when sun and cloud are pined
       And drop together;
     And at a blast which is not wind,
       The forests wither,
     Thou, from the darkening, deathly curse
       To glory breakest,--
     The Strongest of the Universe
       Guarding the weakest."


The applause, in which Miss Templemaine generously joined, was this
time quite unconcealed, and Lady Pollacke's sister's last "Touching" had
hardly died away when Mrs Monnerie added _her_ approbation.

"Charming, perfectly charming," she murmured, eyeing me like a
turtle-dove. "But tell me, my dear, why that particular poem? It seemed
to have even less sense than usual."

"No-o; ye-es," breathed Lady Pollacke, and many heads nodded in discreet
accord.

"Doesn't--er--perhaps, Mrs Browning dwell rather assiduously on the
tragic side of life?" Mr Crimble ventured to inquire.

Lady Pollacke jerked her head, either in the affirmative or in the
negative, and looked inquiringly at Mrs Monnerie, who merely drooped her
eyes a little closer towards me and smiled, almost as if she and I were
in a little plot together.

"What do _you_ say, Miss M.?"

"Well, Mrs Monnerie," I replied a little nervously, for all eyes were
turned on me, "I don't think I know myself what _exactly_ the poem
means--the who's and what's--and what the blast was which was not wind.
But I thought it was a poem which every one would understand as much as
_possible_ of."

To judge from the way she quivered in her chair, though quite inaudibly,
Mrs Monnerie was extremely amused at this criticism.

"And that is why you chose it?"

"Well, yes," said I, "you see, when one is listening to poetry, not
reading it to oneself, I mean, one hasn't time to pry about for all its
bits of meaning, but only just to get the general--general--"

"Aroma?" suggested Mrs Monnerie.

"Yes--aroma."

"And the moral?"

The silence that hung over this little exchange was growing more and
more dense. Luckless Miss M.! She only plunged herself deeper into it by
her reply that, "Oh, there's nothing very much in the moral, Mrs
Monnerie. That's quite ordinary. At least I read about that in _prose_,
why, before I was seven!"

"Touch--" began that further voice, but was silenced by a testy lift of
Mrs Monnerie's eyelid. "Indeed!" she said, "and couldn't you, wouldn't
you, now, give me the prose version? That's more my mark."

"It was in a little nursery lesson-book of mine, called _The Observing
Eye_; letters about snails and coral insects and spiders and things----"
I paused. "A book, rather, you know, for Sundays. But my--my family and
I----"

"Oh, but do," cried Lady Pollacke in a voice I should hardly have
recognized, "I _adore_ snails."

Once more I was cornered. So I steeled myself anew, and stumbled through
the brief passage in the squat, blue book. It tells how,--


     "The history of each one of the animals we have now considered,
     teaches us that our kind God watches over the wants and the
     pleasures of the meanest of His creatures. We see that He gives to
     them, not only the sagacity and the instruments which they need for
     catching their food, but that He also provides them with some means
     of defending themselves. We learn by their history that the
     gracious Eye watches under the mighty waters, as well as over the
     earth, and that no creature can stop doing His will without His eye
     seeing it."



Chapter Twenty-Five


Once more I sat down, but this time in the midst of what seemed to me a
rather unpleasant silence, as if the room had grown colder: a silence
which was broken only by the distant whistlings of a thrush. At one and
the same moment both Mr Pellew and Mr Crimble returned to tea-cups which
I should have supposed must have, by this time, been empty, and Lady
Pollacke's widowed sister folded up her lorgnette.

"My dear Miss M.," said Mrs Monnerie dryly, with an almost wicked ray of
amusement in her deep-set eyes, "wherever the top of Beechwood Hill may
be, and whatever supplies of food may be caught on its crest, there is
no doubt that _you_ have been provided with the means of defending
yourself. But tell me now, what do you think, perhaps, Mr _Pellew's_
little 'instruments' are? Or, better still--mine? Am I a mollusc with a
hard shell, or a scorpion with a sting?"

Lady Pollacke rose to her feet and stood looking down on me like a hen,
though not exactly a motherly one. But this was a serious question over
which I must not be flustered, so I took my time. I folded my hands, and
fixed a long, long look on Mrs Monnerie. Even after all these years, I
confess it moves me to recall it.

"Of course, really and truly," I said at last, as deferentially as I
could, "I haven't known you long enough to say. But I should think, Mrs
Monnerie, you always knew the truth."

I was glad I had not been too impetuous. My reply evidently pleased her.
She chuckled all over.

"Ah," she said reposefully, "the truth. And that is why, I suppose, like
Sleeping Beauty, I am so thickly hedged in with the thorns and briers of
affection. Well, well, there's one little truth we'll share alone, you
and I." She raised herself in her chair and stooped her great face close
to my ear: "We must know more of one another, my dear," she whispered.
"I have taken a great fancy to you. We must meet again." She hoisted
herself up. Sir Walter Pollacke had hastened in and stood smiling, with
arm hooked, and genial, beaming countenance in front of her. Mr Crimble
had already vanished. Mr Pellew was talking earnestly with Lady
Pollacke. Conversation broke out, like a storm-shower, on every side.
For a while I was extraordinarily alone.

Into this derelict moment a fair-cheeked, breathless lady descended, and
surreptitiously thrusting a crimson padded birthday book and a miniature
pencil into my lap, entreated my autograph--"Just your signature, you
know--for my small daughter. How she would have _loved_ to be here!"

This lady cannot have been many years older than I, and one of those
instantaneous, fleeting affections sprang up in me as I looked up at her
for the first and only time, and seemed to see that small daughter
smiling at me out of her face.

Alas, such is vanity. I turned over the leaves to August 30th and found
printed there, for motto, a passage from Shakespeare:--


     "He that has had a little tiny wit,--
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,--
     Must make content with his fortunes fit,
     For the rain it raineth every day."


The 29th was little less depressing, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge:--


     "He prayeth best who loveth best
     All creatures great and small."


This would never do. I bent double over the volume, turned back hastily
three or four leaves, and scrawled in my name under August 25th on a
leaf that bore the quotation:--


     "Fie on't; ah, fie! 'tis an unweeded garden,
     That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
     Possess it merely. That it should come to this!"


and beneath the quotation, the signature of Josephine Mildred Spratte.

"Thank you, _thank_ you, she will be overjoyed," blushed the
fair-haired lady. A sudden hunger for solitude seized upon me. I rose
hastily, conscious for the first time of a headache, caused, no doubt,
by the expensive and fumey perfumes in the air. Threading my way between
the trains and flounces and trouser-legs around me, at last my adieux
were over. I was in the porch--in the carriage. The breezes of heaven
were on my cheek. My blessed parlourmaid was once more installed beside
me. Yet even now the Pollacke faces were still flocking in my mind. The
outside world was very sluggishly welling in. Looking up so long had
stiffened my neck. I fixed my eyes on the crested back buttons of Lady
Pollacke's stiff-looking coachman, and committed myself to my thoughts.

It was to a Miss M., with one of her own handkerchiefs laid over her
brows, and sprinkled with vinegar and lavender water, that Mrs Bowater
brought in supper that evening. We had one of our broken talks together,
none the less. But she persisted in desultory accounts of Fanny's
ailments in her infancy; and I had to drag in Brunswick House by myself.
At which she poked the fire and was mum. It was unamiable of her. I
longed to share my little difficulties and triumphs. Surely she was
showing rather too much of that discrimination which Lady Pollacke had
recommended.

She snorted at Mr Pellew, she snorted at my friendly parlourmaid and
even at Mrs Monnerie. Even when I repeated for her ear alone my nursery
passage from _The Observing Eye_, her only comment was that to judge
from _some_ fine folk she knew of, there was no doubt at all that God
watched closely over the pleasures of the meanest of His creatures, but
as for their doing His will, she hadn't much noticed it.

To my sigh of regret that Fanny had not been at home to accompany me,
she retorted with yet another onslaught on the fire, and the apophthegm,
that the world would be a far better place if people kept themselves
_to_ themselves.

"But Mrs Bowater," I argued fretfully, "if I did that, I should
just--distil, as you might say, quite away. Besides, Fanny would have
been far, far the--the gracefullest person there. Mrs Monnerie would
have taken a fancy to _her_, now, if you like."

Mrs Bowater drew in her lips and rubbed her nose. "God forbid," she
said.

But it was her indifference to the impression that I myself had made on
Mrs Monnerie that nettled me the most. "Why, then, who _is_ Lord B.?" I
inquired impatiently at last, pushing back the bandage that had fallen
over my eyes.

"From what I've heard of Lord B.," said Mrs Bowater shortly, "he was a
gentleman of whom the less heard of's the better."

"But surely," I protested, "that isn't Mrs Monnerie's fault any more
than Fanny's being so lovely--I mean, than I being a midget was my
father's fault? Anyhow," I hurried on, "Mrs Monnerie says I look pale,
and must go to the sea."

Mrs Bowater was still kneeling by the fire, just as Fanny used to kneel.
And, like Fanny, when one most expected an answer, she remained silent;
though, unlike Fanny, it seemed to be not because she was dreaming of
something else. How shall I express it?--there fell a kind of loneliness
between us. The severe face made no sign.

"Would you--would you miss me?" some silly self within piped out
pathetically.

"Why, for the matter of that," was her sardonic reply, "there's not very
much of you to miss."

I rose from my bed, flung down the bandage, and ran down my little
staircase. "Oh, Mrs Bowater," I said, burying my face in her camphory
skirts, "be kind to me; be kind to me! I've nobody but you."

The magnanimous creature stroked my vinegar-sodden hair with the tips of
her horny fingers. "Why there, miss. I meant no harm. Isn't all the
gentry and nobility just gaping to snatch you up? You won't want your
old Mrs Bowater very long. What's more, you mustn't get carried away by
yourself. You never know where that journey ends. If sea it is, sea it
must be. Though, Lord preserve us, the word's no favourite of mine."

"But suppose, suppose, Mrs Bowater," I cried, starting up and smiling
enrapturedly into her face, "suppose we could go together!"

"That," said she, with a look of astonishing benignity, "would be just
what I was being led to suppose was the heighth of the impossible."

At which, of course, we at once began discussing ways and means. But,
delicious though this prospect seemed, I determined that nothing should
persuade me to go unless all hope of Fanny's coming home proved vain.
Naturally, from Fanny memory darted to Wanderslore. I laughed up at my
landlady, holding her finger, and suggested demurely that we should go
off together on the morrow to see if my stranger were true to his word.

"We have kept him a very long time, and if, as you seem to think, Mrs
Monnerie isn't such a wonderful lady, you may decide that after all _he_
is a gentleman."

She enjoyed my little joke, was pleased that I had been won over, but
refused to accept my reasoning, though the topic itself was after her
heart.

"The point is, miss, not whether your last conquest is a wonderful lady,
or a grand lady, or even a perfect lady for the matter of that, but,
well, a _lady_. It's that's the kind in my experience that comes nearest
to being as uncommon a sort as any sort of a good woman."

This was a wholly unexpected vista for me, and I peered down its smooth,
green, aristocratic sward with some little awe.

"As for the young fellow who made himself so free in his manners," she
went on placidly, so that I had to scamper back to pick her up again, "I
have no doubt seeing will be believing."

"But what is the story of Wanderslore?" I pressed her none too honestly.

The story--and this time Mrs Bowater poured it out quite freely--was
precisely what I had been told already, but with the addition that the
young woman who had hanged herself in one of its attics had done so for
jealousy.

"Jealousy! But of whom?" I inquired.

"Her husband's, not her own: driven wild by his."

"You really mean," I persisted, "that she couldn't endure to live any
longer because her husband loved her so much that he couldn't bear
anybody else to love her too?"

"In some such measure," replied Mrs Bowater, "though I don't say he
didn't help the other way round. But she was a wild, scattering
creature. It was just her way. The less she cared, the more they
flocked. She couldn't _collect_ herself, and say, 'Here I am; who are
you?' so to speak. Ah, miss, it's a sickly and dangerous thing to be too
much admired."

"But you said 'scattering': was she mad a little?"

"No. Peculiar, perhaps, with her sidelong, startled look. A lovelier
I've never seen."

"You've seen her!"

"Thirty years ago, perhaps. Alive _and_ dead."

"Oh, Mrs Bowater, poor thing, poor thing."

"That you may well say, for lovely in the latter finding she was not."

My eyes were fixed on the fire, but the picture conjured up was dark
even amidst the red-hot coals. "And he? did he die too? At least his
jealousy was broken away."

"And I'm not so sure of that," said Mrs Bowater. "It's like the men to
go on wanting, even when it comes to scrabbling at a grave. And there's
a trashy sort of creature, though well-set-up enough from the outside,
that a spark will put in a blaze. I've no doubt he was that kind."

I thought of my own sparks, but questioned on: "Then there's nothing
else but--but her ghost there now?"

"Lor, _ghosts_, miss, it's an hour, I see, when bed's the proper place
for you and me. I look to be scared by that kind of gentry when they
come true."

"You don't believe, then, in _Destroyers_, Mrs Bowater?"

"Miss, it's those queer books you are reading," was the evasive reply.
"'Destroyers'! Why, wasn't it cruel enough to drive that poor
feather-brained creature into a noose!"

Candle and I and drowsing cinders kept company until St Peter's bell had
told only the sleepless that midnight was over the world. It seemed to
my young mind that there was not a day, scarcely an hour, I lived, but
that Life was unfolding itself in ever new and ravishing disguises. I
had not begun to be in the least tired or afraid of it. Smallest of
bubbles I might be, tossing on the great waters, but I reflected the
universe. What need of courage when no danger was apparent? Surely one
need not mind being different if that difference added to one's share in
the wonderful Banquet. Even Wanderslore's story was only of what
happened when the tangle was so harshly knotted that no mortal fingers
could unravel it. And though my own private existence now had Mrs
Monnerie--and all that _she_ might do and mean and be--to cope with, as
well as my stranger who was yet another queer story and as yet mine
alone, these complications were enticing. One must just keep control of
them; that was all. At which I thought a little unsteadily of Fanny's
"pin," and remembered that that pin was helping to keep her and Mr
Crimble from being torn apart.

He had seemed so peering a guest at Brunswick House. Mrs Monnerie hadn't
so much as glanced at him when he had commented on Mrs Browning's poems.
There seemed to be a shadow over whatever he did. It was as though there
could be a sadness in the very coursing of one's blood. How thankful I
felt that mine hadn't been a really flattering reply to Mrs Monnerie's
question. She was extremely arrogant, even for a younger daughter of a
lord. On the other hand, though, of course, the sheer novelty of me had
had something to do with it, she had certainly singled me out afterwards
to know what I _thought_, and in thoughts there is no particular size,
only effusiveness--no, _piercingness_. I smiled to myself at the word,
pitied my godmother for living so sequestered a life, and wondered how
and why it was that my father and mother had so obstinately shut me away
from the world. If only Fanny was coming home--what a difference she
would find in her fretful Midge! And with that, I discovered that my
feet were cold and that my headache had ached itself away.



Chapter Twenty-Six


There had been no need to reserve the small hours for these ruminations.
The next few days were wet and windy; every glance at the streaming
panes cast my mind into a sort of vacancy. The wind trumpeted smoke into
the room; I could fix my mind on nothing. Then the weather faired. There
came "a red sky at night," and Spica flashing secrets to me across the
darkness; and that supper-time I referred as casually as possible to Mr
Anon.

"I suppose one _must_ keep one's promises, Mrs Bowater, even to a
stranger. Would half-past six be too early to keep mine, do you think?
Would it look too--forward? Of course he may have forgotten all about me
by this time."

Mrs Bowater eyed me like an owl as I bent my cheeks over my bowl of
bread and milk, and proceeded to preach me yet another little sermon on
the ways of the world. Nevertheless, the next morning saw us setting out
together in the crisp, sparkling air to my tryst, with the tacit
understanding that she accompanied me rather in the cause of propriety
than romance.

Owing, I fancy, to a bunion, she was so leisurely a walker that it was I
who must set my pace to hers. But the day promised to be warm, and we
could take our ease. As we wandered on among the early flowers and
bright, green grass, and under the beeches, a mildness lightened into
her face. Over her long features lay a vacant yet happy smile, of which
she seemed to be unaware. This set me off thinking in the old, old
fashion; comparing my lot with that of ordinary human beings. How
fortunate I was. If only she could have seen the lowlier plants as I
could--scarcely looking down on any, and of the same stature as some
among the taller of them, so that the air around me was dyed and
illumined with their clear colours, and burthened with their breath.

The least and humblest of them--not merely crisp-edged lichen,
speckle-seed whitlow-grass and hyssop in the wall--are so close to
earth, the wonder, indeed, is that common-sized people ever see them at
all. They must, at any rate, I thought, commit themselves to their
stomachs, or go down on their knees to see them _properly_. So, on we
went, Mrs Bowater and I, she pursuing her private musings, and I mine.

I smiled to myself at remembrance of Dr Phelps and his blushes. After
all, if humanity should "dwindle into a delicate littleness," it would
make a good deal more difference than he had supposed. What a
destruction would ensue, among all the lesser creatures of the earth,
the squirrels, moles, voles, hedgehogs, and the birds, not to mention
the bees and hornets. _They_ would be the enemies then--the traps and
poisons and the nets! No more billowy cornfields a good yard high, no
more fine nine-foot hedges flinging their blossoms into the air. And all
the long-legged, "doubled," bloated garden flowers, gone clean out of
favour. It would be a little world, would it be a happier? The dwarfed
Mrs Bowaters, Dr Phelpses, Miss Bullaces, Lady Pollackes.

But there was little chance of such an eventuality--at least in my
lifetime. It was far likelier that the Miss M.'s of the world would
continue to be a by-play. Yet, as I glanced up at my companion, and
called to mind other such "Lapland Giants" of mine, I can truthfully
avouch that I did not much envy their extra inches. So much more
thin-skinned surface to be kept warm and unscratched. The cumbersome
bones, the curious distance from foot and fingertip to brain, too; and
those quarts and quarts of blood. I shuddered. It was little short of a
miracle that they escaped continual injury; and what an extended body in
which to die.

On the other hand, what real loss was mine--with so much to my
advantage? These great spreading beech-trees were no less shady and
companionable to me than to them. Nor, thought I, could moon or sun or
star or ocean or mountain be any the less silvery, hot, lustrous, and
remote, forlorn in beauty, or vast in strangeness, one way or the other,
than they are to ordinary people. Could there be any doubt at all, too,
that men had always coveted to make much finer and more delicate things
than their clumsiness allowed?

What fantastic creatures they were!--with their vast mansions,
pyramids, palaces, scores of sizes too large either for carcass or mind.
Their Satan a monster on whose wrist the vulture of the Andes could
perch like an aphis on my thumb; yet their Death but skeleton-high, and
their Saviour of such a stature that wellnigh without stooping He could
have laid His fingers on my head.

Time's sands had been trickling fast while I thought these small
thoughts that bright spring daybreak. So, though we had loitered on our
way, it seemed we had reached our destination on the wings of the
morning. Alas, Mrs Bowater's smile can have been only skin-deep; for,
when, lifting my eyes from the ground I stopped all of a sudden, spread
out my hands, and cried in triumph, "There! Mrs Bowater"; she hardly
shared my rapture.

She disapproved of the vast, blank "barn of a place," with its blackshot
windows and cold chimneys. The waste and ruination of the garden
displeased her so much that I grew a little ashamed of my barbarism.

"It's all going to wrack and ruin," she exclaimed, snorting at my stone
summer-house no less emphatically than she had snorted at Mrs Monnerie.
"Not a walkable walk, nor the trace of a border; and was there ever such
a miggle-maggle of weeds! A fine house in its prime, miss, but now,
money melting away like butter in the sun."

"But," said I, standing before her in the lovely light amid the dwelling
dewdrops, "really and truly, Mrs Bowater, it is only going back to its
own again. What you call a miggle-maggle is what these things were made
to be. They are growing up now by themselves; and if you could look as
close as I can, you'd see they breathe only what each can spare. They
are just racing along to live as wildly as they possibly can. It's the
tameness," I expostulated, flinging back my hood, "that would be
shocking to _me_."

Mrs Bowater looked down at me, listening to this high-piped recitative
with an unusual inquisitiveness.

"Well, that's as it may be," she retorted, "but what _I'm_ asking is,
Where's the young fellow? He don't seem to be as punctual as they were
when I was a girl."

My own eyes had long been busy, but as yet in vain.

"I did not come particularly to see him," was my airy reply. "Besides,
we said no time--_any_ fine day. Shall we sit down?"

With a secretive smile Mrs Bowater spread a square of waterproof
sheeting over a flat stone that had fallen out of the coping of the
house, unfolded a newspaper over the grass, and we began our breakfast.
Neither of us betrayed much appetite for it; she, I fancy, having
already fortified herself out of her brown teapot before leaving the
house, and I because of the odour of india-rubber and newspaper--an
odour presently intensified by the moisture and the sun. Paying no heed
to my fastidious nibblings, she munched on reflectively, while I grew
more and more ill at ease, first because the "young fellow" was almost
visibly sinking in my old friend's esteem, and next because her
cloth-booted foot lay within a few inches of the stone beneath which was
hidden Fanny's letter.

"It'll do you good, the sea," she remarked presently, after sweeping yet
one more comprehensive glance around her, "and we can only hope Mrs
Monnerie will be as good as her word. A spot like this--trespassing or
not--is good for neither man nor beast. And when you are young the more
human company you get, with proper supervising, the better."

"Were _you_ happy as a girl, Mrs Bowater?" I inquired after a pause.

Our voices went up and up into the still, mild air. "Happy enough--for
my own good," she said, neatly screwing up her remaining biscuits in
their paper bag. "In my days children were brought up. Taught to make
themselves useful. I would as soon have lifted a hand against my mother
as answer her back."

"You mean she--she whipped you?"

"If need be," my landlady replied complacently, folding her
thread-gloved hands on her lap and contemplating the shiny toecaps of
her boots. "She had large hands, my mother; and plenty of temper kept
well under control. What's more, if life isn't a continual punishment
for the stoopidities and wickedness of others, not to mention ourselves,
then it must be even a darker story than was ever told me."

"And was, Mrs Bowater, Mr Bowater your--your first----" I looked
steadily at a flower at my foot in case she might be affected at so
intimate a question, and not wish me to see her face.

"If Mr Bowater was not the first," was her easy response, "he may well
live to boast of being the last. Which is neither here nor there, for we
may be sure he's enjoying attentive nursing. Broken bones are soon
mended. It's when things are disjointed from the root that the wrench
comes."

The storm-felled bole lay there beside us, as if for picture to her
parable. I began to think rather more earnestly than I had intended to
that morning. In my present state of conscience, it was never an easy
matter to decide whether Mrs Bowater's comments on life referred openly
to things in general or covertly to me in particular. How fortunate that
the scent of Fanny's notepaper was not potent enough to escape from its
tomb. And whether or not, speech seemed less dangerous than silence.

"It seems to me, Mrs Bowater," I began rather hastily, "at least to
judge from my own father and mother, that a man _depends_ very much on a
woman. Men don't seem to grow up in the same way, though I suppose they
are practical enough as men."

"If it were one female," was the reply, "there'd be less to be found
fault with. That poor young creature over there took her life for no
better reason, even though the reason was turned inside out as you may
say."

I met the frightful, louring stare of the house. "What was her name?" I
whispered--but into nothing, for, bolt upright as she was, Mrs Bowater
had shut her eyes, as if in preparation for a nap.


A thread-like tangle of song netted the air. We were, indeed,
trespassers. I darted my glance this way and that, in and out of the
pale green whispering shadows in this wild haunt. Then, realizing by
some faint stir in my mind that the stiff, still, shut-away figure
beside me was only feigning to be asleep, I opened the rain-warped
covers of my _Sense and Sensibility_, and began plotting how to be rid
of her for a while, so that my solitude might summon my stranger, and I
might recover Fanny's letter.

Then once more I knew. Raising my eyes, I looked straight across at him,
scowling there beneath his stunted thorn in a drift of flowers like
fool's parsley. He was making signs, too, with his hands. I watched him
pensively, in secret amusement. Then swifter than Daphne into her
laurel, instantaneously _he_ vanished, and _I_ became aware that its
black eyes were staring out from the long face of the motionless figure
beside me, as might an owl's into an aviary.

"Did you hear a bird, Mrs Bowater?" I inquired innocently.

"When I was a girl," said the mouth, "sparrowhawks were a common sight,
but I never heard one sing."

"But isn't a sparrowhawk quite a large bird?"

"We must judge," said Mrs Bowater, "not by the size, but the kind.
Elseways, miss, your old friend might have been found sleeping, as they
say, at her box." She pretended to yawn, gathered her legs under her,
and rose up and up. "I'll be taking a little walk round. And you shall
tell your young acquaintance that I mean him no harm, but that I mean
you the reverse; and if show himself he won't, well, here I sit till the
Day of Judgment."

An angry speech curled the tip of my tongue. But the simple-faced
flowers were slowly making obeisance to Mrs Bowater's black, dragging
skirts, and when she was nearly out of sight I sallied out to confront
my stranger.

His face was black with rage and contempt. "_That_ contaminating
scarecrow; who's she?" was his greeting. "The days I have waited!"

The resentment that had simmered up in me on his behalf now boiled over
against him. I looked at him in silence.

"That contaminating scarecrow, as you are pleased to call her, is the
best friend I have in the world. I need no other."

"And I," he said harshly, "have no friend in _this_ world, and need
you."

"Then," said I, "you have lost your opportunity. Do you suppose I am a
child--to be insulted and domineered over only because I am alone?
Possibly," and my lips so trembled that I could hardly frame the words,
"it is _your_ face I shall see when I think of those windows."

I was speaking wiselier than I knew. He turned sharply, and by a play of
light it seemed that at one of them there stood looking down on us out
of the distance a shape that so had watched for ever, leering darkly out
of the void. And there awoke in me the sense of this stranger's
extremity of solitude, of his unhappy disguise, of his animal-like
patience.

"Why," I said, "Mrs Bowater! You might far rather be _thanking_ her
for--for----"

"Curses on her," he choked, turning away. "There was everything to tell
you."

"What everything?"

"Call her back now," he muttered furiously.

"That," I said smoothly, "is easily done. But, forgive me, I don't know
your name."

His eyes wandered over the turf beneath me, mounted slowly up, my foot
to my head, and looked into mine. In their intense regard I seemed to be
but a bubble floating away into the air. I shivered, and turned my back
on him, without waiting for an answer. He followed me as quietly as a
sheep.

Mrs Bowater had already come sauntering back to our breakfast table, and
with gaze impassively fixed on the horizon, pretended not to be aware of
our approach.

I smiled back at my companion as we drew near. "This, Mrs Bowater," said
I, "is Mr Anon. Would you please present him to Miss Thomasina of
Bedlam?"

For a moment or two they stood facing one another, just as I have seen
two insects stand--motionless, regardful, exchanging each other's
presences. Then, after one lightning snap at him from her eye, she rose
to my bait like a fish. "A pleasant morning, sir," she remarked affably,
though in her Bible voice. "My young lady and I were enjoying the spring
air."

Back to memory comes the darkness of a theatre, and Mrs Monnerie
breathing and sighing beside me, and there on the limelit green of the
stage lolls ass-headed Bottom the Weaver cracking jokes with the
Fairies.

My Oberon addressed Mrs Bowater as urbanely as St George must have
addressed the Dragon--or any other customary monster.

He seemed to pass muster, none the less, for she rose, patted her sheet,
pushed forward her bonnet on to her rounded temples, and bade him a
composed good-morning. She would be awaiting me, she announced, in an
hour's time under my beech tree.

"I think, perhaps, _two_, Mrs Bowater," I said firmly.

She gave me a look--all our long slow evening firelit talks together
seemed to be swimming in its smile; and withdrew.

The air eddied into quiet again. The stretched-out blue of the sky was
as bland and solitary as if a seraph sat dreaming on its Eastern
outskirts. Mr Anon and I seated ourselves three or four feet apart, and
I watched the sidelong face, so delicately carved against the green;
yet sunken in so sullen a stare.

Standing up on his feet against the background of Mrs Bowater's
ink-black flounces, with his rather humped shoulders and straight hair,
he had looked an eccentric, and, even to my view, a stunted figure. Now
the whole scene around us seemed to be sorting itself into a different
proportion before my eyes. He it was who was become the unit of space,
the yard-stick of the universe. The flowers, their roots glintily netted
with spider-webs, nodded serenely over his long hands. A peacock
butterfly with folded colours sipped of the sunshine on a tuft nearly at
evens with his cheek. The very birds sang to his size, and every rift
between the woodlands awaited the cuckoo. Only his clothes were
grotesque, but less so than in my parlour Mr Crimble's skirts, or even
Lady Pollacke's treacherous bonnet.

I folded my white silk gloves into a ball. A wren began tweeting in a
bush near by. "I am going away soon," I said, "to the sea."

The wren glided away out of sight amongst its thorns. I knew by his
sudden stillness that this had been unwelcome news. "That will be very
pleasant for me, won't it?" I said.

"The sea?" he returned coldly, with averted head. "Well, _I_ am bound
still further."

The reply fretted me. I wanted bare facts just then. "Why are you so
angry? What is your name? And where do you live?" It was my turn to ask
questions, and I popped them out as if from a _Little by Little_.

And then, with his queer, croaking, yet captivating voice, he broke into
a long, low monologue. He gave me his name--and "Mr Anon" describes him
no worse. He waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the house he
lived in. But instead of apologizing for his ill-temper, he accused me
of deceiving and humiliating him; of being, so I gathered, a toy of my
landlady's, of betraying and soiling myself.

Why all this wild stuff only seemed to flatter me, I cannot say. I
listened and laughed, pressing flat with both hands the sorry covers of
my book, and laughed also low in my heart.

"Oh, contempt!" he cried. "I am used to that."

The words curdled on his tongue as he expressed his loathing of poor Mrs
Bowater and her kind--mere Humanity--that ate and drank in musty houses
stuck up out of the happy earth like warts on the skin, that battened
on meat, stalked its puddled streets and vile, stifling towns, spread
its rank odours on the air, increased and multiplied. Monstrous in
shape, automatic, blinded by habit, abandoned by instinct, monkey-like,
degraded!

What an unjust tirade! He barked it all out at me as if the blame were
mine; as if _I_ had nibbled the Apple. I turned my face away, smiling,
but listening. Did I realize, he asked me, what a divine fortune it was
to be so little, and in this to be All. On and on he raved: I breathed
air "a dewdrop could chill"; I was as near lovely naught made visible as
the passing of a flower; the mere mattering of a dream. And when I died
my body would be but a perishing flake of manna, and my bones....

"Yes, a wren's picking," I rudely interrupted. "And what of my soul,
please? Why, you talk like--like a poet. Besides, you tell me nothing
new. I was thinking all that and more on my way here with my landlady.
What has _size_ to do with it? Why, when I thought of my mother after
she was dead, and peered down in the place of my imagination into her
grave, I saw her spirit--young, younger than I, and bodiless, and
infinitely more beautiful even than she had been in my dreams, floating
up out of it, free, sweet, and happy, like a flame--though shadowy.
Besides, I don't see how you can help _pitying_ men and women. They seem
to fly to one another for company; and half their comfort is in their
numbers."

Never in all my life had I put my thoughts into words like this; and
he--a stranger.

There fell a silence between us. The natural quietude of the garden was
softly settling down and down like infinitesimal grains of sand in a
pool of water. It had forgotten that humans were harbouring in its
solitude. And still he maintained that his words were not untrue, that
he knew mankind better than I, that to fall into their ways and follow
their opinions and strivings was to deafen my ears, and seal up my eyes,
and lose my very self. "The Self everywhere," he said.

And he told me, whether in time or space I know not, of a country whose
people were of my stature and slenderness. This was a land, he said,
walled in by enormous, ice-capped mountains couching the furnace of the
rising sun, and yet set at the ocean's edge. Its sand-dunes ring like
dulcimers in the heat. Its valleys of swift rivers were of a green so
pale and vivid and so flower-encrusted that an English--even a
Kentish--spring is but a coarse and rustic prettiness by comparison.
Vine and orange and trees of outlandish names gave their fruits there;
yet there also willows swept the winds, and palms spiked the blue with
their fans, and the cactus flourished with the tamarisk. Geese, of dark
green and snow, were on its inland waters, and a bird clocked the hours
of the night, and the conformation of its stars would be strange to my
eyes. And such was the lowliness and simplicity of this people's
habitations that the most powerful sea-glass, turned upon and searching
their secret haunts from a ship becalmed on the ocean, would spy out
nothing--nothing there, only world wilderness of snow-dazzling
mountain-top and green valley, ravine, and condor, and what might just
be Nature's small ingenuities--mounds and traceries. Yet within all was
quiet loveliness, feet light as goldfinches', silks fine as gossamer,
voices as of a watery beading of silence. And their life being all
happiness they have no name for their God. And it seems--according to Mr
Anon's account of it--that such was the ancient history of the world,
that Man was so once, but had swollen to his present shape, of which he
had lost the true spring and mastery, and had sunk deeper and deeper
into a kind of oblivion of the mind, suffocating his past, and now all
but insane with pride in his own monstrosities.

All this my new friend (and yet not so _very_ new, it seemed)--all this
he poured out to me in the garden, though I can only faintly recall his
actual words, as if, like Moses, I had smitten the rock. And I listened
weariedly, with little hope of understanding him, and with the suspicion
that it was nothing but a Tom o' Bedlam's dream he was recounting. Yet,
as if in disproof of my own incredulity, there sat I; and over the trees
yonder stood Mrs Bowater's ugly little brick house; and beyond that, the
stony, tapering spire of St Peter's, the High Street. And I looked at
him without any affection in my thoughts, and wished fretfully to be
gone. What use to be lulled with fantastic pictures of Paradise when I
might have died of fear and hatred on Mrs Stocks's doorstep; when
everything I said was "touching, touching"?

"Well," I mockingly interposed at last, "the farthing dip's guttering.
And what if it's all true, and there _is_ such a place, what then? How
am I going to get there, pray? Would you like to mummy me and shut me up
in a box and _carry_ me there, as they used to in Basman? Years and
years ago my father told me of the pygmy men and horses--the same size
as yours, I suppose--who lived in caves on the banks of the Nile. But I
doubt if I believed in them much, even then. I am not so ignorant as all
that."

The life died out of his face, just as, because of a cloud carried up
into the sky, the sunlight at that moment fled from Wanderslore. He
coughed, leaning on his hands, and looked in a scared, empty, hunted
fashion to right and left. "Only that you might stay," he scarcely
whispered. " ... I love you."

Instinctively I drew away, lips dry, and heart numbly, heavily beating.
An influence more secret than the shadow of a cloud had suddenly chilled
and darkened the garden and robbed it of its beauty. I shrank into
myself, cold and awkward, and did not dare even to glance at my
companion.

"A fine thing," was all I found to reply, "for a toy, as you call me. I
don't know what you mean."

Miserable enough that memory is when I think of what came after, for now
my only dread was that he might really be out of his wits, and might
make my beloved, solitary garden for ever hateful to me. I drew close my
cape, and lifted my book.

"There is a private letter of mine hidden under that stone," I said
coldly. "Will you please be so good as to fetch it out for me? And you
are never, never to say that again."

The poor thing looked so desperately ill and forsaken with his humped
shoulders--and that fine, fantastic story still ringing in my
ears!--that a kind of sadness came over me, and I hid my face in my
hands.

"The letter is not there," said his voice.

I drew my fingers from my face, and glared at him from between them;
then scrambled to my feet. Out swam the sun again, drenching all around
us with its light and heat.

"Next time I come," I shrilled at him, "the letter _will_ be there. The
thief will have put it back again! Oh, how unhappy you have made me!"



Chapter Twenty-Seven


I stumbled off, feeling smaller and smaller as I went, more and more
ridiculous and insignificant, as indeed I must have appeared; for
distance can hardly lend enchantment to any view of _me_. Not one single
look did I cast behind; but now that my feelings began to quiet down, I
began also to think. And a pretty muddle of mind it was. What had
enraged and embittered me so? If only I had remained calm. Was it that
my pride, my vanity, had in some vague fashion been a punishment of him
for Fanny's unkindness to me?

"But he stole, he _stole_ my letter," I said aloud, stamping my foot on
a budding violet; and--there was Mrs Bowater. Evidently she had been
watching my approach, and now smiled benignly.

"Why, you are quite out of breath, miss; and your cheeks!... I hope you
haven't been having words. A better-spoken young fellow than I had
fancied; and I'm sure I ask his pardon for the 'gentleman.'"

"Ach," I swept up at my beech-tree, now cautiously unsheathing its first
green buds in the lower branches, "I think he must be light in his
head."

"And that often comes," replied Mrs Bowater, with undisguised
_bonhomie_, "from being heavy at the heart. Why, miss, he may be a young
nobleman in disguise. There's unlikelier things even than that, to judge
from that trash of Fanny's. While, as for fish in the sea--it's
sometimes wise to be contented with what we can catch."

Who had been talking to me about fish in the sea--quite lately? I
thought contemptuously of Pollie and the Dream Book. "I am sorry," I
replied, nose in air, "but I cannot follow the allusion."

The charge of vulgarity was the very last, I think, which Mrs Bowater
would have lifted a finger to refute. My cheeks flamed hotter to know
that she was quietly smiling up there. We walked on in silence.

That night I could not sleep. I was afraid. Life was blackening my mind
like the mould of a graveyard. I could think of nothing but one face,
one voice--that scorn and longing, thought and fantasy. What if he did
love me a little? I might at least have been kind to him. Had I so many
friends that I could afford to be harsh and ungrateful? How dreadfully
ill he had looked when I scoffed at him. And now what might _not_ have
happened to him? I seemed lost to myself. No wonder Fanny.... My body
grew cold at a thought; the palms of my hands began to ache.

Half-stifled, I leapt out of bed, and without the least notion of what I
was doing, hastily dressed myself, and fled out into the night. I must
find him, talk to him, plead with him, before it was too late. And in
the trickling starlight, pressed against my own gatepost--there he was.

"Oh," I whispered at him in a fever of relief and shame and
apprehensiveness, "what are you doing here? You must go away at once, at
once. I forgive you. Yes, yes; I forgive you. But--at once. Keep the
letter for me till I come again." His hand was wet with the dew. "Oh,
and never say it again. Please, please, if you care for me the least bit
in the world, never, never say what you did again." I poured out the
heedless words in the sweet-scented quiet of midnight. "Now--now go"; I
entreated. "And indeed, indeed I am your friend."

The dark eyes shone quietly close to mine. He sighed. He lifted my
fingers, and put them to my breast again. He whispered unintelligible
words between us, and was gone. No more stars for me that night. I slept
sound until long after dawn....


Softly as thistledown the days floated into eternity; yet they were days
of expectation and action. April was her fickle self; not so Mrs
Monnerie. Her letter to Mrs Bowater must have been a marvel of tact.
Apartments had been engaged for us at a little watering-place in
Dorsetshire, called Lyme Regis. Mrs Bowater and I were to spend at least
a fortnight there alone together, and after our return Mrs Monnerie
herself was to pay me a visit, and see with her own eyes if her
prescription had been successful. After that, perhaps, if I were so
inclined, and my landlady agreed with Mr Pellew that it would be good
for me, I might spend a week or two with her in London. What a twist of
the kaleidoscope. I had sown never a pinch of seed, yet here was
everything laughing and blossoming around me, like the wilderness in
Isaiah.

Indeed my own looking-glass told me how wan and languishing a Miss M.
was pining for change of scene and air. She rejoiced that Fanny was
enjoying herself, rejoiced that she was going to enjoy herself too. I
searched Mrs Bowater's library for views of the sea, but without much
reward. So I read over Mr Bowater's Captain Maury--on the winds and
monsoons and tide-rips and hurricanes, freshened up my _Robinson
Crusoe_, and dreamed of the Angels with the Vials. In the midst of my
packing (and I spread it out for sheer amusement's sake), Mr Crimble
called again. He looked nervous, gloomy, and hollow-eyed.

I was fast becoming a mistress in affairs of the sensibilities. Yet,
when, kneeling over my open trunk, I heard him in the porch, I mimicked
Fanny's "Dash!" and wished to goodness he had postponed his visit until
only echo could have answered his knock. It fretted me to be bothered
with him. And now? What would I not give to be able to say I had done my
best and utmost to help him when he wanted it? Here is a riddle I can
find no answer to, however long I live: How is it that our eyes cannot
foresee, our very hearts cannot forefeel, the future? And how should we
act if that future were plain before us? Yet, even then, what could I
have said to him to comfort him? Really and truly I had no candle with
which to see into that dark mind.

In actual fact my task was difficult and delicate enough. In spite of
her vow not to write again, yet another letter had meanwhile come from
Fanny. If Mr Crimble's had afforded "a ray of hope," this had shut it
clean away. It was full of temporizings, wheedlings, evasions--and
brimming over with Fanny.

It suggested, too, that Mrs Bowater must have misread the name of her
holiday place. The half-legible printing of the postmark on the
envelope--fortunately I had intercepted the postman--did not even begin
with an M. And no address was given within. I was to tell Mr Crimble
that Fanny was over-tired and depressed by the term's work, that she
simply couldn't set her "weary mind" to anything, and as for
decisions:--


     "He seems to think only of himself. You couldn't believe,
     Midgetina, what nonsense the man talks. He can't _see_ that all
     poor Fanny's future is at stake, body and soul. Tell him if he
     _wants_ her to smile, he must sit in patience on a pedestal, and
     smile too. One simply can't trust the poor creature with cold,
     sober facts. His mother, now--why, I could read it in your own
     polite little description of her at your Grand Reception--she
     smiles and smiles. So did the Cheshire Cat.

     "'But oh, dear Fanny, time and your own true self, God helping,
     would win her over.' So writes H. C. That's candid enough, if you
     look into it; but it isn't sense. Once hostile, old ladies are
     _not_ won over. They don't care much for mind in the young. Anyhow,
     one look at me was enough for her--and it was followed by a sharp
     little peer at poor Harold! She guessed. So you see, my dear, even
     for youthful things, like you and me, time gathers roses a jolly
     sight faster than we can, and it would have to be the _fait
     accompli_, before a word is breathed to her. That is, if I could
     take a deep breath and say, Yes.

     "But I can't. I ask you: Can you _see_ Fanny Bowater a Right
     Reverendissima? No, nor can I. And not even gaiters or an apron
     here and now would settle the question off-hand. Why I confide all
     this in you (why, for that matter, it has all been confided in
     _me_), I know not. You want nothing, and if you did, you wouldn't
     want it long. Now, would you? Perhaps that is the secret. But Fanny
     wants a good deal. She cannot even guess how much. So, while Miss
     Stebbings and Beechwood Hill for ever and ever would be hell before
     purgatory, H. C. and St Peter's would be merely the same thing,
     with the fires _out_. And I am quite sure that, given a chance,
     heaven is our home.

     "Oh, Midgetina, I listen to all this; mumbling my heart like a dog
     a bone. What the devil has it got to do with _me_, I ask myself?
     Who set the infernal trap? If only I could stop thinking and
     mocking and find some one--not 'to love me' (between ourselves,
     there are far too many of _them_ already), but capable of making me
     love him. They say a woman can't be driven. I disagree. She _can_
     be driven--mad. And apart from that, though twenty men only succeed
     in giving me hydrophobia, one could persuade me to drink, if only
     his name was Mr Right, as mother succinctly puts it.

     "But first and last, I am having a real, if not a particularly
     sagacious, holiday, and can take care of myself. And next and last,
     play, I _beseech_ you, the tiny good Samaritan between me and
     poor, plodding, blinded H. C.--even if he does eventually have to
     go on to Jericho.

     "And I shall ever remain, your most affec.--F."


How all this baffled me. I tried, but dismally failed, to pour a trickle
of wine and oil into Mr Crimble's wounded heart, for his sake and for
mine, not for Fanny's, for I knew in myself that his "Jericho" was
already within view.

"I don't understand her; I don't understand her," he kept repeating,
crushing his soft hat in his small, square hands. "I cannot reach her; I
am not in touch with her."

Out of the fount of my womanly wisdom I reminded him how young she was,
how clever, and how much flattered.

"You know, then, there are--others?" he gulped, darkly meeting me.

"That, surely, is what makes her so precious," I falsely insinuated.

He gazed at me, his eyes like an immense, empty shop-window. "That
thought puts---- I can't," and he twisted his head on his shoulders as if
shadows were around him; "I can't bear to think of her
and--with--_others_. It unbalances me. But how can you understand?... A
sealed book. Last night I sat at my window. It was raining. I know not
the hour: and Spring!" He clutched at his knees, stooping forward. "I
repudiated myself, thrust myself out. Oh, believe me, we are not alone.
And there and then I resolved to lay the whole matter before"--his
glance groped towards the door--"before, in fact, her _mother_. She is a
woman of sagacity, of proper feeling in her station, though how she came
to be the mother of---- But that's neither here nor there. We mustn't
probe. Probably she thinks--but what use to consider it? One word to
her--and Fanny would be lost to me for ever." For a moment it seemed his
eyes closed on me. "How can I bring myself to speak of it?" a remote
voice murmured from beneath them.

I looked at the figure seated there in its long black coat; and far away
in my mind whistled an ecstatic bird--"The sea! the sea! You are going
away--out, out of all this."

So, too, was Mr Crimble, if only I had known it. It was my weak and
cowardly acquiescence in Fanny's deceits that was speeding him on his
dreadful journey. None the less, a wretched heartless impatience fretted
me at being thus helplessly hemmed in by my fellow creatures. How
clumsily they groped on. Why couldn't they be happy in just living free
from the clouds and trammels of each other and of themselves? The
selfish helplessness of it all. It was, indeed, as though the strange
fires which Fanny had burnt me in--which any sudden thought of her could
still fan into a flickering blaze--had utterly died down. Whether or
not, I was hardened; a poor little earthenware pot fresh from the
furnace. And with what elixir was it brimmed.

I rose from my chair, walked away from my visitor, and peered through my
muslin curtains at the green and shine and blue. A nursemaid was lagging
along with a sleeping infant--its mild face to the sky--in a
perambulator. A faint drift of dandelions showed in the stretching
meadow. Kent's blue hems lay calm; my thoughts drew far away.

"Mr Crimble," I cried in a low voice: "is she _worth_ all our care for
her?"

"'Our'--'our'?" he expostulated.

"Mine, then. When I gave her, just to be friends, because--because I
loved her, a little ivory box, nothing of any value, of course, but
which I have loved and treasured since childhood, she left it without a
thought. It's in my wardrobe drawer--shall I show it to you? I _say_ it
was nothing in itself; but what I mean is that she just makes use of me,
and with far less generosity than--than other people do. Her eyes, her
voice, when she moves her hand, turns her head, looks back--oh, I know!
But," and I turned on him in the light, "does it mean anything? Let us
just help her all we can, and--keep away."

It was a treachery past all forgiveness: I see that now. If only I had
said, "Love on, love on: ask nothing." But I did not say it. A contempt
of all this slow folly was in my brain that afternoon. Why couldn't the
black cowering creature take himself off? What concern of mine was his
sick, sheepish look? What particle of a fig did he care for Me? Had he
lifted a little finger when I myself bitterly needed it? I seemed to be
struggling in a net of hatred.

He raised himself in his chair, his spectacles still fixed on me; as if
some foul insect had erected its blunt head at him.

"Then _you_ are against her too," he uttered, under his breath. "I might
have known it, I might have known it. I am a lost man."

It was pitiful. "Lost fiddlesticks!" I snapped back at him, with bared
teeth. "I wouldn't--I've never harmed a fly. Who, I should like to know,
came to _my_ help when...?" But I choked down the words. Silence fell
between us. The idiot clock chimed five. He turned his face away to
conceal the aversion that had suddenly overwhelmed him at sight of me.

"I see," he said, in a hollow, low voice, with his old wooden,
artificial dignity. "There's nothing more to say. I can only thank you,
and be gone. I had not realized. You misjudge her. You haven't the----
How could it be expected? But there! thinking's impossible."

How often had I seen my poor father in his last heavy days draw his hand
across his eyes like that? Already my fickle mind was struggling to find
words with which to retract, to explain away that venomous outbreak. But
I let him go. The stooping, hatted figure hastened past my window; and I
was never to see him again.



Chapter Twenty-Eight


Yet, in spite of misgivings, no very dark foreboding companioned me that
evening. With infinite labour I concocted two letters:--


     "DEAR MR CRIMBLE,--I regret my words this afternoon. Bitterly.
     Indeed I do. But still truth is important, isn't it? _One we know_
     hasn't been too kind to either of us. I still say that. And if it
     seems inconsiderate, please remember Shakespeare's lines about the
     beetle (which I came across in a Birthday Book the other day)--a
     creature I detest. Besides, we can return good for evil--I can't
     help this sounding like hypocrisy--even though it is an extremely
     tiring exchange. I _feel_ small enough just now, but would do
     anything in the world that would help in the way we both want. I
     hope that you will believe this and that you will forgive my
     miserable tongue. Believe me, ever yours sincerely,--M. M."


My second letter was addressed to Fanny's school, "c/o Miss
Stebbings":--


     "DEAR FANNY,--He came again to-day and looks like a corpse. I can
     do no more. You must know how utterly miserable you are making him;
     that I can't, and won't, go on being so doublefaced. I don't call
     _that_ being the good Samaritan. Throw the stone one way or the
     other, however many birds it may kill. That's the bravest thing to
     do. A horrid boy I knew as a child once aimed at a jay and
     killed--a wren. Well, there's only one wren that I know of--your M.

     "PS.--I hope this doesn't sound an angry letter. I thought only the
     other day how difficult it must be being as fascinating as you are.
     And, of course, we are _what_ we are, aren't we, and cannot, I
     suppose, help acting like that? You can't think how he looked, and
     talked. Besides, I am sure you will enjoy your holiday much more
     when you have made up your mind. Oh, Fanny, I can't say what's in
     mine. Every day there's something else to dread. And all that I do
     seems only to make things worse. _Do_ write: and, though, of
     course, it isn't my affair, do have a '_sagacious_' holiday, too."


Mrs Bowater almost squinted at my two small envelopes when she licked
the stamps for me. "We can only hope," was her one remark, "that when
the secrets of all hearts are opened, they'll excuse some of the letters
we reach ourselves to write." But I did not ask her to explain.

Lyme Regis was but a few days distant when, not for the first time since
our meeting at Mrs Bowater's gatepost, I set off to meet Mr Anon--this
time to share with him my wonderful news. When showers drifted across
the sun-shafted sky we took refuge under the shelter of the
garden-house. As soon as the hot beams set the raindrops smouldering, so
that every bush was hung with coloured lights, we returned to my smoking
stone. And we watched a rainbow arch and fade in the windy blue.

He was gloomy at first; grudged me, I think, every moment that was to be
mine at Lyme Regis. So I tempted him into talking about the books he had
read; and about his childhood--far from as happy as mine. It hurt me to
hear him speak of his mother. Then I asked him small questions about
that wonderful country he had told me of, which, whether it had any real
existence or not, filled me with delight as he painted it in his
imagination. He was doing his best to keep his word to me, and I to keep
our talk from becoming personal.

If I would trust myself to him, friend to friend--he suddenly broke out
in a thick, low voice, when I least expected it--the whole world was
open to us; and he knew the way.

"What way?" said I. "And how about poor Mrs Bowater? How strange you
are. Where do you live? May I know?"

There was an old farm-house, he told me, on the other side of the park,
and near it a few cottages--at the far end of Loose Lane. He lodged in
one of these. Against my wiser inclinations he persuaded me to set off
thither at once and see the farm for myself.

On the further side of Wanderslore, sprouting their pallid green
frondlets like beads at the very tips of their black, were more yews
than beeches. We loitered on, along the neglected bridle-path. Cuckoos
were now in the woods, and we talked and talked, as if their voices
alone were not seductive enough to enchant us onwards. Sometimes I
spelled out incantations in the water; and sometimes I looked out
happily across the wet, wayside flowers; and sometimes a robin
flittered out to observe the intruders. How was it that human company so
often made me uneasy and self-conscious, and nature's always brought
peace?

"Now, you said," I began again, "that they have a God, and that they are
so simple He hasn't a name. What did you mean by that? There can't be
one God for the common-sized, and one for--for me; now, can there? My
mother never taught me that; and I have thought for myself." Indeed I
had.

"'God'!" he cried; "why, what is all this?"

All this at that moment was a clearing in the woods, softly shimmering
with a misty, transparent green, in whose sunbeams a thousand flies
darted and zigzagged like motes of light, and the year's first
butterflies fluttered and languished.

"But if I speak," I said, "listen, now, my voice is just swallowed up.
Out of just a something it faints into a nothing--dies. No, no;" (I
suppose I was arguing only to draw him out), "all this cares no more for
me than--than a looking-glass. Yet it is mine. Can you see Jesus Christ
in these woods? Do you believe we are sinners and that He came to save
us? I do. But I can see Him only as a little boy, you know, smiling,
crystal, intangible: and yet I do not _like_ children much."

He paused and stared at me fixedly. "_My_ size?" he coughed.

"Oh, size," I exclaimed, "how you harp on that!"--as if _I_ never had.
"Did you not say yourself that the smaller the body is, the happier the
ghost in it? Bodies, indeed!"

He plunged on, hands in pockets, frowning, clumsy. And up there in the
north-west a huge cloud poured its reflected lights on his strange face.
Inwardly--with all my wits in a pleasant scatter--I laughed; and
outwardly (all but) danced. Solemnly taking me at my word, and as if he
were reading out of one of his dry old books, he began to tell me his
views about religion, and about what we are, qualities, consciousness,
ideas, and that kind of thing. As if you could be anything at any moment
but just that moment's whole self. At least, so it seemed then: I was
happy. But since in his earnestness his voice became almost as false to
itself as was Mr Crimble's when he had conversed with me about Hell, my
eyes stole my ears from him, and only a few scattered sentences reached
my mind.

Nevertheless I enjoyed hearing him talk, and encouraged him with bits of
questions and exclamations. Did he believe, perhaps, in the pagan
Gods?--Mars and all that? Was there, even at this very moment, cramped
up among the moss and the roots, a crazy, brutal Pan in the woods? And
those delicious Nymphs and Naiads! What would he do if one beckoned to
him?--or Pan's pipes began wheedling?

"Nymphs!" he grunted, "aren't you----"

"Oh," I cried, coming to a pause beside a holly-tree so marvellously
sparkling with waterdrops on every curved spine of it that it took my
breath away: "let's talk no more thoughts. They are only mice gnawing. I
can hear _them_ at night."

"You cannot sleep?" he inquired, with so grave a concern that I laughed
outright.

"Sleep! with that Mr Crimble on my nerves?" I gave a little nod in my
mind to my holly, and we went on.

"Crimble?" he repeated. His eyes, greenish at that moment, shot an angry
glance at me from under their lids. "Who is he?"

"A friend, a friend," I replied, "and, poor man, as they say, in love.
Calm yourself, Mr Jealousy; not with me. I am three sizes too small.
With Miss Bowater. But there," I went on, in dismay that mere vanity
should have let this cat out of its bag, "that's not my secret. We
mustn't talk of that either. What I really want to tell you is that we
haven't much time. I am going away. Let's talk of Me. Oh, Mr Anon, shall
I ever be born again, and belong to my own world?"

It seemed a kind of mournful serenity came over his face. "You say you
are going away"; he whispered, pointing with his finger, "and yet you
expect me to talk about _that_."

We were come to the brink of a clear rain-puddle, perhaps three or four
feet wide, in the moss-greened, stony path, and "_that_" was the image
of myself which lay on its surface against the far blue of the sky--the
under-scarlet of my cape, my face, fair hair, eyes. I trembled a little.
His own reflection troubled me more than he did himself.

"Come," I said, laying a hand on his sleeve, "the time's so short, and
indeed I _must_ see your house, you know: you have seen mine. Ah, but
you should see Lyndsey and Chizzel Hill, and the stream in my father's
garden. I often hear _that_ at night, Mr Anon. I would like to have died
a child, however long I must live."

But now the cloud had completely swallowed up the sun; a cold gust of
wind swept hooting down on us, and I clung to his arm. We pushed on,
emerged at last from the rusty gates, its eagles green and scaling, and
came to the farm. But not in time. A cloud of hail had swirled down;
beating on our heads and shoulders. It all but swept me up into the air.
Catching hands, we breasted and edged on up the rough, miry lane towards
a thatched barn, open on one side and roofing a red and blue wagon.
Under this we scrambled, and tingling all over with the buffetings of
the wind and the pelting of hailstones, I sat laughing and secure,
watching, over my sodden skirts and shoes, the sweeping, pattering
drifts paling the green.

Around us in the short straw and dust stalked the farmer's fowls,
cackling, with red-eyed glances askew at our intrusion. Ducks were
quacking. Doves flew in with whir of wing. I thought I should boil over
with delight. And presently a sheep-dog, ears down and tail between its
legs, slid round the beam of the barn door. Half in, half out, it stood
bristling, eyes fixed, head thrust out. My companion drew himself up and
with a large stone in his hand, edged, stooping and stealthily--and very
much, I must confess, like the picture of a Fuegian I have seen in a
book--between the gaudy wheels of the wagon, and faced the low-growling
beast. I watched him, enthralled. For a moment or two he and the
sheep-dog confronted each other without stirring. Then with one sharp
bark, the animal flung back its head, and with whitened eye, turned and
disappeared.

"Oh, _bravissimo_!" said I, mocking up at Mr Anon from under my hood.
"He was cowed, poor thing. _I_ would have made friends with him."

We sate on in the sweet, dusty scent of the stormy air. The hail turned
to rain. The wind rose higher. I began to be uneasy. So heavily streamed
the water out of the clouds that walking back by the way we had come
would be utterly impossible for me. What's to be done now?--I thought to
myself. Yet the liquid song of the rain, the gurgling sighs and
trumpetings of the wind entranced me; and I turned softly to glance at
my stranger. He sat, chin on large-boned hands, his lank hair plastered
on his hollow temples by the rain, his eyes glassy in profile.

"I am glad of this," he muttered dreamily, as if in response to my
scrutiny. "We are here."

A scatter of green leaf-sheaths from a hawthorn over against the barn
was borne in by the wind.

"I am glad too," I answered, "because when you are at peace, so I can
be; for that marvellous land you tell me of is very far away. Why,
who----?" But he broke in so earnestly that I was compelled to listen,
confiding in me some queer wisdom he had dug up out of his books--of how
I might approach nearer and nearer to the brink between life and
reality, and see all things as they are, in truth, in their very selves.
All things visible are only a veil, he said. A veil that withdraws
itself when the mind is empty of all thoughts and desires, and the heart
at one with itself. That is divine happiness, he said. And he told me,
too, out of his far-fetched learning, a secret about myself.

It was cold in the barn now. The fowls huddled close. Rain and wind ever
and again drowned the low, alluring, far-away voice wandering on as if
out of a trance. Dreams, maybe; yet I have learned since that one half
of his tale is true; that at need even an afflicted spirit, winged for
an instant with serenity, may leave the body and, perhaps, if lost in
the enchantments beyond, never turn back. But I swore to keep his words
secret between us. I had no will to say otherwise, and assured him of my
trust in him.

"My very dear," he said, softly touching my hand, but I could make no
answer.

He scrambled to his feet and peered down on me. "It is not my peace. All
the days you are away...." He gulped forlornly and turned away his head.
"But that is what I mean. Just nothing, all this"--he made a gesture
with his hands as if giving himself up a captive to authority--"nothing
but a sop to a dog."

Then stooping, he drew my cape around me, banked the loose hay at my
feet and shoulders, smiled into my face, and bidding me wait in patience
a while, but not sleep, was gone.

The warmth and odour stole over my senses. I was neither hungry nor
thirsty, but drugged with fatigue. With a fixed smile on my face (a
smile betokening, as I believe now, little but feminine vanity and
satisfaction after feeding on that strange heart), my thoughts went
wandering. The sounds of skies and earth drowsed my senses, and I nodded
off into a nap. The grinding of wheels awoke me. From a welter of dreams
I gazed out through the opening of the barn at a little battered cart
and a shaggy pony. And behold, on the chopped straw and hay beside me,
lay stretched out, nose on paw, our enemy, the sheep-dog. He thumped a
friendly tail at me, while he growled at my deliverer.

Thoughtful Mr Anon. He had not only fetched the pony-cart, but had
brought me a bottle of hot milk and a few raisins. They warmed and
revived me. A little light-witted after my sleep in the hay, I clambered
up with his help into the cart and tucked myself in as snugly as I could
with my draggled petticoats and muddy shoes. So with myself screened
well out of sight of prying eyes, we drove off.

All this long while I had not given a thought to Mrs Bowater. We stood
before her at last in her oil-cloth passage, like Adam and Eve in the
Garden. Her oldest bonnet on her head, she was just about to set off to
the police station. And instead of showing her gratitude that her
anxieties on my account were over, Mrs Bowater cast us the blackest of
looks. Leaving Mr Anon to make our peace with her, I ran off to change
my clothes. As I emerged from my bedroom, he entered at the door, in an
old trailing pilot coat many sizes too large for him, and I found to my
astonishment that he and my landlady had become the best of friends. I
marvelled. This little achievement of Mr Anon's made me _like_ him--all
of a burst--ten times as much, I believe, as he would have been
contented that I should _love_ him.

Indeed the "high tea" Mrs Bowater presided over that afternoon, sitting
above her cups and saucers just like a clergyman, is one of the gayest
memories of my life. And yet--she had left the room for a moment to
fetch something from the kitchen, and as, in a self-conscious hush, Mr
Anon and I sat alone together, I caught a glimpse of her on her return
pausing in the doorway, her capped head almost touching the lintel--and
looking in on us with a quizzical, benign, foolish expression on her
face, like that of a grown-up peeping into a child's dolls' house. So
swirling a gust of hatred and disillusionment swept over me at sight of
her, that for some little while I dared not raise my eyes and look at Mr
Anon. All affection and gratitude fled away. Miss M. was once more an
Ishmael!



Lyme Regis



Chapter Twenty-Nine


Out of a cab from a livery stable Mrs Bowater and I alighted at our
London terminus next morning, to find positively awaiting us beside the
wooden platform a first-class railway carriage--a palatial apartment.
Swept and garnished, padded and varnished--a miracle of wealth! At this
very moment I seem to be looking up in awe at the orange-rimmed (I think
it was orange) label stuck on the glass whose inscription I afterwards
spelled out backwards from within: "Mrs Bywater and Party." As soon as
we and our luggage were safely settled, an extremely polite and fatherly
guard locked the door on us. At this Mrs Bowater was a little troubled
by the thought of how we should fare in the event of an accident. But he
reassured her.

"Never fear, ma'am: accidents are strictly forbidden on this line.
Besides _which_," he added, with a solemn, turtle-like stare, "if I turn
the key on the young lady, none of them young a-ogling Don Jooans can
force their way in. Strict orders, ma'am."

To make assurance doubly sure, Mrs Bowater pulled down the blinds at
every stopping-place. We admired the scenery. We read the warning
against pickpockets, and I translated it out of the French. After
examining the enormous hotels depicted in the advertisements, we agreed
there was nothing like home comforts. Mrs Bowater continued to lose and
find in turn our tickets, her purse, her spectacle-case, her cambric
pocket-handkerchief, not to mention a mysterious little screw of paper,
containing lozenges I think. She scrutinized our luxury with grim
determination. And we giggled like two school-girls as we peeped
together through the crevices of the blinded windows at the rich, furry
passengers who ever and again hurried along, casting angry glances at
our shrouded windows.

It being so early in the year--but how mild and sweet a day--there were
few occupants of the coach at Axminster. As I had once made a
(frequently broken) vow to do at once what scared me, I asked to be
perched up on the box beside the lean, brick-faced driver. Thus giddily
exalted above his three cantering roan horses, we bowled merrily along.
With his whip he pointed out to me every "object of interest" as it went
floating by--church and inn, farm and mansion.

"Them's peewits," he would bawl. "And that's the selfsame cottage where
lived the little old 'ooman what lived in a shoe." He stooped over me,
reins in fist, with his seamed red face and fiery little eye, as if I
were a small child home for the holidays. Evening sunlight on the
hill-tops and shadowy in the valleys. And presently the three stepping
horses--vapour jetting from their nostrils, their sides panting like
bellows--dragged the coach up a hill steeper than ever. "And that
there," said the driver, as we surmounted the crest--and as if for
emphasis he gave a prodigious tug at an iron bar beside him, "that
there's the Sea."

The Sea. Flat, bow-shaped, hazed, remote, and of a blue stilling my eyes
as with a dream--I verily believe the saltest tears I ever shed in my
life smarted on my lids as the spirit in me fled away, to be alone with
that far loveliness. A desire almost beyond endurance devoured me.
"Yes," cried hidden self to self, "I can never, never love him; but he
shall take me away--away--away. Oh, how I have wasted my days, sick for
home."

But small opportunity was given me for these sentimental reflections.
Nearly at the foot of even another hill, and one so precipitous that
during its rattling descent I had to cling like a spider to the driver's
strap, we came to a standstill; and in face of a gaping knot of
strangers I was lifted down--with a "There! Miss Nantuckety," from the
driver--from my perch to the pavement.

The lodgings Mrs Monnerie had taken for us proved to be the sea rooms in
a small, white, bow-windowed house on the front, commanding the
fishing-boats, the harbour, and the stone Cobb. I tasted my lips,
snuffed softly with my nose, stole a look over the Bay, and glanced at
Mrs Bowater. Was she, too, half-demented with this peculiar and
ravishing experience? I began to shiver; but not with cold, with
delight. Face creased up in a smile (the wind had stiffened the skin),
cheeks tingling, and ravenously hungry, I watched the ceremonious
civilities that were passing between landlady and landlady: Mrs Bowater
angular and spare; Mrs Petrie round, dumpy, smooth, and a little bald.
My friend Mrs Monnerie was evidently a lady whose lightest word was
Sesame. Every delicacy and luxury that Lyme out of its natural resources
can have squandered on King George III. was ours without the asking.

Mrs Bowater, it is true, at our sea-fish breakfast next morning,
referred in the first place to the smell of drains; next to fleas; and
last to greasy cooking. But who should have the privilege of calling the
Kettle black unless the Pot? Moreover, we were "first-class" visitors,
and _had_ to complain of something. I say "we"; but since, in the first
place, all the human houses that I have ever entered have been less
sweet to the nose than mere country out-of-doors; since next (as I
discovered when I was a child) there must be some ichor or acid in my
body unpleasing to man's parasites; and since, last, I cannot bear
cooked animals; these little inconveniences, even if they had not
existed solely in Mrs Bowater's fancy, would not have troubled me.

The days melted away. We would sally out early, while yet many of Lyme's
kitchen chimneys were smokeless, and would return with the shadows of
evening. How Mrs Bowater managed to sustain so large a frame for so many
hours together on a few hard biscuits and a bottle of cold tea, I cannot
discover. Her mood, like our weather that April, was almost always "set
fair," and her temper never above a comfortable sixty degrees. We hired
a goat-chaise, and with my flaxen hair down my back under a sunbonnet, I
drove Reuben up and down the Esplanade--both of us passable
ten-year-olds to a careless observer. My cheeks and hands were scorched
by the sun; Mrs Bowater added more and more lilac and white to her
outdoor attire; and Mrs Petrie lent her a striped, and once handsome
parasol with a stork's head for handle, which had been left behind by a
visitor--otherwise unendeared.

On warm mornings we would choose some secluded spot on the beach, or on
the fragrant, green-turfed cliffs, or in the Uplyme meadows. Though I
could never persuade Mrs Bowater to join me, I sometimes dabbled in the
sun in some ice-cold, shallow, seaweedy pool between the rocks. Then,
while she read the newspaper, or crocheted, I also, over book or
needle, indulged in endless reverie. For hours together, with eyes
fixed on the glass-green, tumbling water, I would listen to its
enormous, far, phantom bells and voices, happier than words can tell.
And I would lie at full length, basking in the heat, for it was a hot
May, almost wishing that the huge furnace of the sun would melt me away
into a little bit of glass: and what colour would that have been, I
wonder? If a small heart can fall in love with the whole world, that
heart was mine. But the very intensity of this greed and delight--and
the tiniest shell or pebble on the beach seemed to be all but exploding
with it--was a severe test of my strength.

One late twilight, I remember, as we idled homeward, the planet Venus
floating like a luminous water-drop in the primrose of the western sky,
we passed by a low white-walled house beneath trees. And from an open
window came into the quiet the music of a fiddle. What secret decoy was
in that air I cannot say. I stopped dead, looking about me as if for
refuge, and drinking in the while the gliding, lamenting sounds.

Curiously perturbed, I caught at Mrs Bowater's skirt. Sky and darkening
headland seemed to be spinning around me--melting out into a dream. "Oh,
Mrs Bowater," I whispered, as if I were drowning, "it is strange for us
to be here."

She dropped herself on the grass beside me, brushing with her dress the
scent of wild thyme into the dewy air, and caught my hands in hers. Her
long face close to mine, she gently shook me; "Now, now; now, now!" she
called. "Come back, my pretty one. See! It's me, me, Mrs Bowater.... The
love she's been to me!"

I smiled, groped with my hand, opened my eyes in the dimness to answer
her. But a black cloud came over them; and the next thing I recall is
waking to find myself being carried along in her arms, cold and half
lifeless; and she actually breaking ever and again into a shambling run,
as she searched my face in what seemed, even to my scarcely conscious
brain, an extravagant anxiety.


Four days afterwards--and I completely restored--we found on the
breakfast table of our quiet sea-room an unusually bountiful post: a
broad, impressive-looking letter and a newspaper for Mrs Bowater, and a
parcel, from Fanny, for me. Time and distance had divided me from the
past more than I had supposed. The very sight of her handwriting gave
me a qualm. "Fanny! Oh, my Heavens," cried a voice in me, "what's wrong
now?"

But removing the brown paper I found only a book, and it being near to
my size as books go, I opened it with profound relief. My joy was
premature. The book Fanny had sent me was by Bishop Jeremy Taylor, _Holy
Living and Dying: with Prayers containing the Whole Duty of a
Christian_. I read over and over this title with a creeping misgiving
and dismay, and almost in the same instant, detected, lightly fastened
between its fly-leaves, and above its inscription--"To Midgetina: In
Memoriam"--an inch or two of paper, pencilled over in Fanny's minutest
characters.

A slow, furtive glance discovered Mrs Bowater far too deeply absorbed to
have noticed my small movements. She was sitting bolt upright, her
forehead drawn crooked in an unusual frown. An open letter lay beside
her plate. She was staring into, rather than at, her newspaper. With
infinite stealth I slipped Fanny's scrap of paper under the tablecloth,
folded it small, and pushed it into my skirt pocket. "A present from
Fanny," I cried in a clear voice at last.

But Mrs Bowater, with drooping, pallid face, and gaze now fixed deep on
a glass-case containing three stuffed, aquatic birds, had not heard me.
I waited, watching her. She folded the newspaper and removed her
spectacles. "On our return," she began inconsequently, "the honourable
Mrs Monnerie has invited you to stay in her London house--not for a week
or two; for good. That's all as it should be, I suppose, seeing that
pay's pay and mine is no other call on you."

The automatic voice ceased with a gasp. Her thoughts appeared to be
astray. She pushed her knotted fingers up her cheeks almost to her eyes.

"It's said," she added with long, straight mouth, "that that unfortunate
young man, Mr Crimble--is ill." She gave a glance at me without
appearing to see me, and left the room.

What was amiss? Oh, this world! I sat trembling in empty dread,
listening to her heavy, muffled footfall in the room above. The
newspaper, with a scrawling cross on its margin, lay beside Mrs
Monnerie's large, rough-edged envelope. I could bear the suspense no
longer. On hands and knees I craned soundlessly forward over the white
tablecloth, across the rank dish of coagulating bacon fat, and stole one
or two of the last few lines of grey-black print at the foot of the
column: "The reverend gentleman leaves a widowed mother. He was an only
son, and was in his twenty-ninth year."

"Leaves"; "was"--the dingy letters blurred my sight. Footsteps were
approaching. I huddled back to my carpet stool on the chair. Mrs Petrie
had come to clear away the breakfast things. Stonily I listened while
she cheerfully informed me that the glass was still rising, that she
didn't recollect such weather not for the month for ten years or more.
"You must be what I've heard called an 'alcyon, miss." She nodded her
congratulations at me, and squinnied at the untasted bacon.

"I am going for a breath of air, Mrs Petrie," came Mrs Bowater's voice
through the crack of the door. "Will you kindly be ready for your walk,
miss, in half an hour?"

Left once more to myself, I heard the "alarm" clock on the mantelpiece
ticking as if every beat were being forced out of its works, and might
be its last. An early fly or two--my strange, familiar friends--darted
soundlessly beneath the ceiling. The sea was shimmering like an immense
looking-glass. More pungent than I had ever remembered it, the
refreshing smell of seaweed eddied in at the open window.

With dry mouth and a heart that jerked my body with its beatings, I
unfolded Fanny's scrap of paper:--


     "WISE M.,--I have thrown the stone. And now I am fey for my own
     poor head. Could you--and--will you absolutely secretly send me any
     money you can spare? £15 if possible. I'm in a hole--full fathom
     five--but mean to get out of it. I ask _you_, rather than mother,
     because I remember you said once you were putting money by out of
     that young lady's independence of yours. Notes would be best: if
     not, a Post Office Order to this address, _somehow_. I must trust
     to luck, and to your wonderful enterprise, if you would be truly a
     dear. It's only until my next salary. If you can't--or won't--help
     me, damnation is over my head: but I bequeathe you a kiss all honey
     and roses none the less, and am, _pro tem._, your desperate F.

     "PS.--Be sure not to give M. this address: and in a week or two we
     shall all be laughing and weeping together over the Prodigal
     Daughter."


Fanny, then, had not heard our morning news. I read her scribble again
and again for the least inkling of it, my thoughts in disorder. That
sprawling cross on the newspaper; this gibbering and dancing as of a
skeleton before my eyes; and "the stone," "the stone." What did it mean?
The word echoed on in my head as if it had been shouted in a vault. I
was deadly frightened and sick, stood up as if to escape, and found only
my own distorted face in Mrs Petrie's flower-and-butterfly-painted
chimney glass.

"You, you!" my eyes cried out on me. And a furious storm--remorse,
grief, horror-broke within. I knew the whole awful truth. Like a Shade
in the bright light, Mr Crimble stood there beyond the table, not
looking at me, its face turned away. Unspeakable misery bowed my
shoulders, chilled my skin.

"But you said 'ill,'" I whispered angrily up at last at Mrs Bowater's
bonneted figure in the doorway. "I have looked where the cross is. He is
dead!"

She closed the door with both hands and seated herself on a chair beside
it.

"I've trapsed that Front, miss--striving to pick up the ends. It doesn't
bear thinking of: that poor, misguided young man. It's hid away...."

"What did he die of, Mrs Bowater?" I demanded.

She caught at the newspaper, folded it close, nodded, shook her head.
"Four nights ago," she said. And still, some one last shred of
devotion--not of fidelity, not of fear, for I longed to pour out my
heart to her--sealed my lips. _Holy Living and Dying: Holy Living and
Dying:_ I read over and over the faded gilt letters on the cover of
Fanny's gift, and she in her mockery, desperate, too. "Damnation"--the
word echoed on in my brain.

But poor Mrs Bowater was awaiting no confession from me. She had
out-trapsed her strength. When next I looked round at her, the bonneted
head lay back against the rose-garlanded wallpaper, the mouth ajar, the
eyelids fluttering. It was my turn now--to implore her to "come back":
and failing to do so, I managed at last to clamber up and tug at the
bell-pull.



Chapter Thirty


I surveyed with horror the recumbent, angular figure stretched out on
the long, narrow, horsehair sofa. The shut eyes--it was selfish to leave
me like this.

"There, miss, don't take on," Mrs Petrie was saying. "The poor thing's
coming round now. Slipping dead off out of things--many's the time I've
wished I could--even though you _have_ come down for a bit of
pleasuring."

But it was Lyme Regis's solemn, round-shouldered doctor who reassured
me. At first sight of him I knew Mrs Bowater was not going to die. He
looked down on her, politely protesting that she must not attempt to get
up. "This unseasonable heat, perhaps. The heart, of course, not so
strong as it might be." He ordered her complete rest in bed for a few
days--light nourishment, no worry, and he would look in again. Me he had
not detected under the serge window-curtain, though he cast an uneasy
glance around him, I fancied, on leaving the room.

After remaining alone under the still, sunshiny window until I could
endure it no longer, I climbed up the steep, narrow stairs to Mrs
Bowater's bedroom, and sat a while clasping the hand that hung down from
the bed. The blind gently ballooned in the breeze. Raying lights circled
across the ceiling, as carriage and cart glided by on the esplanade.
Fearful lest even my finger-tips should betray me to the flat shape
beneath the counterpane, I tried hard to think. My mind was in a whirl
of fears and forebodings; but there was but one thing, supremely urgent,
facing me now. I must forget my own miseries, and somehow contrive to
send Fanny the money she needed.

_Somehow_; but how? The poor little hoard which I had saved from my
quarterly allowances lay locked up on Beechwood Hill in my box beneath
my bed. By what conceivable means could I regain possession of it,
unknown to Mrs Bowater?

Conscience muttered harsh words in my ear as I sat there holding that
cold, limp hand with mine, while these inward schemings shuttled softly
to and fro.

When my patient had fallen asleep, I got downstairs again--a more
resolute, if not a better woman. Removing latch and box keys from their
ribbon round my neck, I enclosed them in an envelope with a letter:--


     "DEAR MR. ANON,--I want you, please, to help me. The large one of
     these two keys unlocks my little house door: the smaller one a box
     under my bed. Would you please let yourself in at Mrs Bowater's
     to-morrow evening when it's dark--there will be nobody there--take
     out Twenty Pounds which you will find in the box, and send them to
     _Miss Fanny Bowater, the Crown and Anchor Hotel, B----_. I will
     thank you when I come.

     "Believe me, yours very sincerely,

     "M. M."


It is curious. Many a false, pandering word had sprung to my tongue when
I was concocting this letter in my mind beside Mrs Bowater's bed, and
even with Mrs Petrie's stubby, ink-corroded pen in my hand. Yet some
last shred of honesty compelled me to be brief and frigid. I was simply
determined to be utterly open with _him_, even though I seemed to myself
like the dark picture of a man in a bog struggling to grope his way out.
I dipped my fingers into a vase of wallflowers, wetted the gum, sealed
down the envelope, and wrote on it this address: Mr ----, Lodging at a
cottage near the Farm, North-west of Wanderslore, Beechwood, Kent. And I
prayed heaven for its safe delivery.

For Fanny no words would come--nothing but a mere bare promise that I
would help her as soon as I could--an idiot's message. The next three
days were an almost insupportable solitude. From Mr Anon no answer could
be expected, since in my haste I had forgotten to give him Mrs Petrie's
address. I brooded in horror of what the failure of my letter to reach
him might entail. I shared Fanny's damnation. Wherever I went, a silent
Mr Crimble dogged my footsteps. Meanwhile, Mrs Bowater's newspaper, I
discovered, lay concealed beneath her pillow.

At length I could bear myself no longer, and standing beside her bed,
asked if I might read it. Until that moment we had neither of us even
referred to the subject. Propped up on her pillows, her long face
looking a strange colour against their whiteness, she considered my
request.

"Well, miss," she said at last, "you know too much to know no more."

I spread out the creased sheets on the worn carpet, and read slowly the
smudged, matter-of-fact account from beginning to end. There were
passages in it that imprinted themselves on my memory like a photograph.
Mr Crimble had taken the evening Service that last day looking "ill and
worn, though never in what may be described as robust health, owing to
his indefatigable devotion to his ecclesiastical and parochial duties."
The Service over, and the scanty congregation dispersed, he had sate
alone in the vestry for so unusual a time that the verger of St Peter's,
a Mr Soames, anxious to get home to his supper, had at length looked in
on him at the door, to ask if his services were required any further. Mr
Crimble had "raised his head as if startled," and "had smiled in the
negative," and then, "closing the eastern door behind him," had
"hastened" out of the church. No other human eye had encountered him
until he was found at 11.27 p.m. in an outhouse at the foot of his
mother's garden. "The head of the unfortunate gentleman was wellnigh
severed from the body." "He was an only son, and was in his twenty-ninth
year. Universal sympathy will be extended by all to the aged lady who is
prostrated by this tragic occurrence."

Propped on my hands and knees, fearful that Mrs Bowater might interrupt
me before I was prepared, I stared fixedly at the newspaper. I
understood all that it said, yet it was as strange to me as if it had
been written in Hebrew. I had seen, I had known, Mr Crimble. Who, then,
was this? My throat drew together as I turned my head a little and
managed to inquire, "What is an inquest, Mrs Bowater?"

"Fretting out the why's and wherefore's," came the response, muffled by
a handkerchief pressed close to her mouth.

"And--_this_ 'why'?" I whispered, stooping low.

"That's between him and his Maker," said the voice. "The poor young man
had set his heart on we know where. As we make our bed so we must lie on
it, miss. It's for nobody to judge: though it may be a lesson."

"Oh, Mrs Bowater, then you knew I knew."

"No, no. Not _your_ lesson, miss. I didn't mean that. It's not for you
to fret yourself, though I must say---- I have always made it a habit,
though without prying, please God, to be aware of more than interference
could set right. Fanny and I have talked the affair over till we
couldn't look in each other's faces for fear of what we might say. But
she's _Mr_ Bowater's child, through and through, and my firm hand was
not firm enough, maybe. You did what you could. It's not in human
conscience to ask more than the natural frame can bear."

Did what I could.... I cowered, staring at my knuckles, and it seemed
that a little concourse of strangers, heads close together, were talking
in my mind. My eyes were dry; I think the spectre of a smile had dragged
up my lips. Mrs Bowater raised herself in her bed, and peered over at
me.

"It's the letters," she whispered at me. "If he hasn't destroyed them,
they'll be read to the whole parish."

I crouched lower. "You'll be thankful to be rid of me. I shall be
thankful to be rid of myself, Mrs Bowater."

She thrust a long, skinny arm clean out of the bed. "Come away, there;
come away," she cried.

"Oh," I said, "take me away, take me away. I can't bear it, Mrs Bowater.
I don't _want_ to be alive."

"There, miss, rest now, and think no more." She smoothed my hair,
clucked a little low, whistling tune, as if for lullaby. "Why, there
now," she muttered sardonically, "you might almost suppose I had been a
mother myself!"

There was silence between us for a while, then, quietly raising herself,
she looked down at me on the pillow, and, finding me to be still awake,
a long smile spread over her face: "Why, we don't seem neither of us to
be much good at daytime sleeping."



Chapter Thirty-One


A morning or two afterwards we set out on our homeward journey--the sea
curdling softly into foam on its stones, a solitary ship in the distance
on its dim, blue horizon. We were a dejected pair of travellers, keeping
each a solemn face turned aside at the window, thinking our thoughts,
and avoiding, as far as we could, any interchange of looks that might
betray them one to the other. For the first time in our friendship Mrs
Bowater was a little short and impatient with me over difficulties and
inconveniences which I could not avoid, owing to my size.

Her key in the lock of the door, she looked down on me in the porch, a
thin smile between nose and cheek. "No place like home there mayn't be,
miss," she began, "but----" The dark passage was certainly uninviting;
the clock had stopped. "I think I'll be calling round for Henry," she
added abruptly.

I entered the stagnant room, ran up my stairs, my heart with me--and
paused. Not merely my own ghost was there to meet me; but a past that
seemed to mutter, Never again, never again, from every object on shelf
and wall. Yet a faint, sweet, unfamiliar odour lay on the chilly air. I
drew aside the curtain and looked in. Fading on the coverlet of my bed
lay a few limp violets, ivory white and faintly rosy.

I was alone in the house, concealed now even from Mr Bowater's frigid
stare. Yet at sight of these flowers a slight vertigo came over me, and
I had to sit on my bed for a moment to recover myself.

Then I knelt down, my heart knocking against my side, and dragged from
out its hiding-place the box in which I kept my money. Gritty with the
undisturbed dust of our absence, it was locked. I drew back, my hand on
my mouth. What could be the meaning of this? My stranger had come and
gone. Had he been so stupidly punctilious that, having taken out the
twenty pounds, he had relocked an almost empty box?

Or had he, at the last moment...? This riddle distressed me so much
that instantly I was seized with a violent headache. But nothing could
be done for the present. I laid by the violets in a drawer, pushed back
the box, and, making as good a pretence at eating my supper as I could,
prepared for the night.

One by one the clocks in hall and kitchen struck out the hours, and, the
wind being in the East, borne on it came the chimes of St Peter's.
Automatically I counted the strokes, turning this way and that, as if my
life depended on this foolish arithmetic, yet ready, like Job, to curse
the day I was born. What had my existence been but a blind futility, my
thought for others but a mask of egotism and selfishness? Yet, in all
this turmoil of mind, I must have slept, for suddenly I found myself
stiff, drawn-up, and wideawake--listening to a cautious, reiterated
tapping against my window-pane. A tallow night-light burned beside me in
a saucer of water. For the first time in my life--at least since
childhood--I had been afraid to face the dark. Why, I know not; but I at
once leapt out of bed and blew out that light. The night was moonless,
but high and starry. I peered through the curtains, and a shrouded
figure became visible in the garden--Fanny's.

Curtain withdrawn, we looked each at each through the cold, dividing
glass in the gloom--her eyes, in the night-spread pallor of her skin, as
if congealed. The dark lips, with an exaggerated attempt at
articulation, murmured words, but I could catch no meaning. The face
looked almost idiotic in these contortions. I shuddered, shook my head
violently. She drew back.

Terrified that she would be gone--in my dressing-gown and slippers I
groped my way across the room and was soon, with my door open, in the
night air. She had heard me, and with a beckon of her finger, turned as
if to lead me on.

"No, no," I signalled, "I have no key." With a gesture, she drew close,
stooped, and we talked there together, muttering in the porch.

"Midgetina," she whispered, smiling bleakly, "it's this wretched money.
I must explain. I'm at my wit's end--in awful trouble--without it."

Huddled close, I wasted no time in asking questions. She must come in.
But this she flatly refused to do. Yet money, money was her one cry:
and that she must have before she saw her mother again. Not daring to
tell her that I was in doubt whether or not my savings were still in my
possession, I pushed her hand away as she knelt before me on the
uppermost step. "I must fetch it," I said.

By good fortune my money-box was not the weightiest of my grandfather's
French trunks--not the brass-bound friend-in-need of my younger days,
and it contained little but paper. I hoisted it on to my bed, and, as I
had lately seen the porters do at the railway station, contrived to push
under it and raise it on to my shoulder. Its edge drove in on my
collar-bone till I thought it must snap. Thus laden, I staggered
cautiously down the staircase, pushed slowly across the room, and, so,
out into the passage and towards the rounded and dusky oblong of the
open door.

On the threshold Fanny met me, gasping under this burden, and at sight
of me some blessed spirit within her seemed to give her pause. "No, no,"
she muttered, and drew back as if suddenly ashamed of her errand. On I
came, however, and prudence prevailed. With a sound that might have been
sigh or sob she snatched the load from me and gathered it in, as best
she could, under her cloak.

"Oh, Midgetina!" she whispered meaninglessly. "Now we must talk." And
having wedged back the catch of my door, we moved quickly and cautiously
in the direction of Wanderslore.


We climbed on up the quiet hill. The cool, fragrant, night seemed to be
luring us on and on, to swallow us up. Yet, _there_ shone the customary
stars; there, indeed, to my amazement, as if the heavenly clock of the
universe had set back its hands on my behalf, straddled the
constellation of Orion.

Come to our beech-tree, now a vast indistinguishable tent of whispering,
silky leaves, Fanny seated herself upon a jutting root, and I stood
panting before her.

"Well?" she said, with a light, desolate laugh.

"Oh, Fanny, 'well'!" I cried.

"Can't you trust me?"

"Trust you?"

"Oh, oh, mocking-bird!--with all these riches?"

I cast a glance up into the leafy branches, and seated myself opposite
to her.

"Fanny, Fanny. Have you heard?"

"'Heard,' she says!" It was her turn to play the parrot. "What am I here
for, but to hear more? But never mind; that's all over. Has mother----"

"'All over,' Fanny!" I interrupted her. "All over? But, the letters?"

"What letters?" She stared at me, and added, looking away, "Oh, mine?"
She gave out the word with a long, inexhaustible sigh. "That was all
right. He did not hide, he burned.... Neither to nor from; not even to
his mother. Every paper destroyed. I envy _her_ feelings! He just gave
up, went out, _Exit_. I envy that, too."

"Not even to you, Fanny? Not a word even to you?"

The figure before me crouched a little closer together. "They said," was
her evasive reply, "that there is melancholia in the family."

I think the word frightened me even more than its meaning.
"Melancholia," I repeated the melodious syllables. "Oh, Fanny!"

"Listen, Midgetina," her voice broke out coldly. "I can guess easily
enough what's saving up for me when I come home--which won't be yet a
while, I can assure you. I can guess, too, what your friends, Lady
Pollacke and Co., are saying about me. _Let_ them rave. That can't be
helped. I shall bear it, and try to grin. Maybe there would be worse
still, if worse were known. But your worse I won't have, not even from
you. I was not his keeper. I did _not_ play him false. I deny it. Could
I prevent him--caring for me? Was he man enough to come openly? Did he
say to his mother, 'Take her or leave her, I mean to have her'--as _I_
would have done? No, he blew hot and cold. He temporized; he--he was a
coward. Oh, this everlasting dog-fight between body and mind! Ages
before you ever crept upon the scene he pestered and pestered me--until
I have almost retched at the sound of church bells. What was it, I ask
you, but sheer dread of what the man might go and _do_ that kept me
shilly-shallying? And what's more, Miss Wren, who told me to throw the
stone? Pff, it sickens me, this paltering world. I can't and won't see
things but with my reason. My reason, I tell you. What else is a
schoolma'am for? Did he want me for _my_ sake? Who begged and begged
that his beautiful love should be kept secret? There was once a
philosopher called Plato, my dear. He poisoned Man's soul."

Flesh and spirit, Fanny must have been very tired. Her voice fluttered
on like a ragged flag.

"But listen, listen!" I entreated her. "I haven't blamed you for that,
Fanny. I swear it. I mean, you can't help _not_ loving. I know that. But
perhaps if only we had---- It's a dreadful thing to think of him sitting
there alone--the vestry--and then looking up 'with a smile.' Oh, Fanny,
with a smile! I dare hardly go into his mind--and the verger looking in.
I think of him all day."

"And I all night," came the reply, barked out in the gloom. "Wasn't the
man a Christian, then?"

"Fanny," I covered my eyes. "Don't say that. We shall both of us just
suffocate in the bog if you won't even let yourself listen to what you
are saying."

"Well," she said doggedly, "be sure you shall suffocate last, Miss
Midge. There's ample perch-room for you on Fanny's shoulder." I felt,
rather than saw, the glance almost of hatred that she cast at me from
under her brows.

"Mock as you like at me," was my miserable answer, "I have kept my word
to you--all but: and it was I who helped--Oh yes, I know that."

"Ah! 'all but,'" her agile tongue caught up the words. "And what else,
may I ask?"

I took a deep breath, with almost sightless eyes fixed on the beautiful,
mysterious glades stretching beneath us. "He came again. Why, it was not
very many days ago. And we talked and talked, and I grew tired, yes, and
angry at last. I told him you were only making use of me. You were. I
said that all we could do was just to go on loving you--and keep away. I
know, Fanny, I cannot be of any account; I don't understand very much.
But that is true."


She leaned nearer, as if incredulous, her face as tranquil in its
absorption as the planet that hung in the russet-black sky in a rift of
the leaves.

"Candid, and candid," she scoffed brokenly, and all in a gasp.

The voice trailed off. Her mouth relaxed. And suddenly my old love for
her seemed to gush back into my heart. A burning, inarticulate pity rose
up in me.

"Listen, Midgetina," she went on. "That was honest. And I can be honest,
too. I don't care _what_ you said. If you had called me the vilest word
they can set their tongue to, I'd still have forgiven you. But would you
have me give in? Go under? Have you ever _seen_ Mother Grundy? I tell
you, he haunts me--the blackness, the deadness. That outhouse! Do you
suppose I can't see inside that? He sits by my bed. I eat his shadow
with my food. At every corner in the street his black felt hat bobs and
disappears. If even he hadn't been so solemn, so insignificant!..." Her
low, torturing laugh shook under the beechen hollow.

"And I say this"--she went on slowly, as if I sat at a distance, "if
he's not very careful I shall go the same way. I can't bear that--_that_
kind of spying on me. Don't you suppose you can sin _after_ death? If
only he had given me away--betrayed me! We should at least have been
square. But that," she jerked back her head. "That's only one thing. I
had not meant to humble myself like this. You seem not to care what
humiliations I have to endure. You sit there, oh, how absurd for me,
watching and watching me, null and void and meaningless. Yet you are
human: you feel. You said you loved me--oh, yes. But touch me, come
here"--she laid her hand almost fondly on her breast--"and be humanly
generous, no. That's no more your nature than--than a changeling's.
Contamination, perhaps!"

Her eyes fretted round her, as if she had lost her sense of direction.

"And now there's this tongueless, staring ghost." She shuddered, hiding
her face in her hands. "The misery of it all."

"Fanny, Fanny," I besought her. "You know I love you." But the words
sounded cold and distant, and some deadly disinclination held me where I
was, though I longed to comfort her. "And at times, I confess it, I have
hated you too. You haven't always been very kind to me. I was trying to
cure myself. You were curing me. But still I go on--a little."

"It's useless, useless," she replied, dropping her hands into her lap
and gazing vacantly on the ground. "I can't care; I can't even cry. And
all you say is only pity. I don't want that. Would you still pity me, I
wonder, if you knew that even though I had come to take this wretched
money from you, I meant to taunt you, to accuse you of lying to me?"

"Taunt," "lying." My cheek grew hot. I drew back my head with a jerk and
stared at her. "I don't understand you."

"There. What did I say! She doesn't understand me," she cried with a
sob, as if calling on the angels to bear witness to her amazement.
"Well, then, let Fanny tell you, Miss M., whoever and whatever you may
be, that she, yes, even she, can understand that unearthliness, too. Oh,
these last days! I have had my fill of them. Take all: give nothing.
There's no other means of grace in a world like this."

"But you said 'taunt' me," I insisted, with eyes fixed on the box that
lay between the blunt-headed fronds of the springing bracken. "What did
you mean by that? I did my best. Your mother was ill. She fainted,
Fanny, when the newspaper came. I couldn't come back a single hour
earlier. So I wrote to--to a friend, sending him my keys, and asking him
to find the money for you. I know my letter reached him. Perhaps," I
hesitated, in dread of what might be hanging over our heads, "perhaps
the box is empty."

But I need not have wasted myself. The puzzle was not quite
inexplicable. For the moment Fanny's miseries seemed to have vanished.
Animation came into her face and voice and movements as she told me how,
the night before, thinking that her mother and I might have returned
from Lyme Regis, she had come tapping. And suddenly as she stood in the
garden, her face close to the glass, an utterly strange one had thrust
itself into view, and the figure of "a ghastly gloating little dwarfish
creature" had appeared in the porch.

At first she had supposed--but only for an instant--that it was myself.
"Of course, mother had mentioned him in her letters, but"--and Fanny
opened her eyes at me--"I never guessed he was, well, like _that_."

Then in her folly, and without giving him the least opportunity to
explain his presence there, she had begun railing at him, and had
accused him of forcing his way in to rob the house: "And he stood
there, hunched up, looking at me--out of my own house." The very picture
of Fanny helplessly standing there at her own door, and of these two
facing each other like that in the porch--this ridiculous end to my fine
stratagem, filled me with a miserable amusement. I leaned back my head
where I sat, shrilly and dismally laughing and laughing, until tears
sprang pricklingly into my eyes. If any listener had been abroad in the
woods that night, he would, I think, have hastened his departure.

But Fanny seemed to be shocked at my levity. She peered anxiously into
the clear night-glooms around us.

"And what!" I said, still striving to regain command over myself. "What
happened then? Oh, Fanny, not a policeman?"

But her memory of what had followed was confused, or perhaps she had no
wish to be too exact. All that I could win from her for certain was that
after an angry and bitter talk between herself and Mr Anon, he had
simply slammed my door behind him and dared her to do her worst.

"That was pretty brave of him," I remarked.

"Oh," said Fanny amiably, "I am not blaming your friend, Midgetina. He
seemed to be perfectly _competent_."

Yet even now I remained unsatisfied. If Fanny had come secretly to
Beechwood, as she had suggested, and had spent the night with a friend,
solely to hear the last tidings of Mr Crimble, what was this other
trouble, so desperate that she had lost both her wits and her temper at
finding Mr Anon there? Supposing the house had been empty? My curiosity
overcame me, and the none too ingenuous question slipped from my tongue:
"Did you want some of the money for mourning, then, Fanny?"

Her dark, pale face, above the black, enveloping cloak, met my look with
astonishment.

"Mourning!" she cried, "why, that would be the very---- No, not mourning,
Midgetina. I owe a little to a friend--and not money only," she added
with peculiar intensity. "Of course, if you have any doubts about
lending it----"

"Give, not lend," said I.

"Yes, but how are we to get at it? I can't lug _that_ thing about, and
you say _he_ has the key. Shall we _smash_ it open?"

The question came so hurriedly that I had no time to consider what,
besides money--and of course friendship--could be owed to a friend, and
especially to a friend that made her clench her teeth on the word.

"Yes, smash it open," I nodded. "It's only a box."

"But such a pretty little box!"

With knees drawn up, and shivering now after my outburst of merriment, I
watched her labours. My beloved chest might keep out moth and rust, it
was no match for Fanny. She wound up a large stone in her silk scarf. A
few heavy and muffled blows, the lock surrendered, and the starlight
dripped in like milk from heaven upon my hoard.

"Why, Midgetina," whispered Fanny, delicately counting the notes over
between her long, white fingers, "you are richer than I supposed--a
female Croesus. Wasn't it a great risk? I mean," she continued,
receiving no answer, "no wonder he was so cautious. And how much may I
take?"

It seemed as if an empty space, not of yards but of miles, had suddenly
separated us. "All you want," said I.

"But I didn't--I _didn't_ taunt you, now, did I?" she smiled at me, with
head inclined to her slim shoulder, as if in mimicry of my ivory Hypnos.

"There was nothing to taunt me about. Mayn't _I_ have a friend?"

"Why," she retorted lightly, mechanically re-counting the bits of paper,
"friend indeed! What about all those Pollackes and Monneries mother's so
full of? You will soon be flitting to quite another sphere. It's the
_old_ friends that then will be left mourning. You won't sit moon-gazing
then, my dear."

"No, Fanny," I said stubbornly, "I've had enough of that, just for the
present."

"Sst!" she whispered swiftly, raising her head and clasping the notes to
her breast beneath her cloak, "what was that?"

We listened. I heard nothing--nothing but sigh of new-born leaf, or
falling of dead twig cast off from the parent tree. It was early yet for
the nightingale.

"Only the wind," said she.

"Only the wind," I echoed scornfully, "or perhaps a weasel."

She hurriedly divided my savings and thrust my share into my lap. I
pushed it in under my arm.

"Good heavens, Midgetina!" she cried, aghast. "You are almost naked.
How on earth was I to know?"

I clutched close my dressing-gown and stumbled to my feet, trying in
vain to restrain my silly teeth from chattering. "Never mind about me,
Fanny," I muttered. "They don't waste inquests on changelings."

"My God!" was her vindictive comment, "how she harps on the word. As if
I had nothing else to worry about." With a contemptuous foot she pushed
my empty box under cover of a low-growing yew. Seemingly Wanderslore was
fated to entomb one by one all my discarded possessions.

Turning, she stifled a yawn with a sound very like a groan. "Then it's
_au revoir_, Midgetina. Give me five minutes' start.... You know I am
grateful?"

"Yes, Fanny," I said obediently, smiling up into her face.

"Won't you kiss me?" she said. "_Tout comprendre_, you know, _c'est tout
pardonner_."

"Why, Fanny," I replied; "no, thank you. I prefer plain English."

But scarcely a minute had separated us when I sprang up and pursued her
a few paces into the shadows, into which she had disappeared. To forgive
all--how piteously easy now that she was gone. She had tried to conceal
it, brazen it out, but unutterable wretchedness had lurked in every fold
of her cloak, in the accents of her voice, in every fatigued gesture.
Her very eyes had shone the more lustrously in the starlight for the
dark shadows around them. But understand her--I could not even guess
what horrible secret trouble she had been concealing from me. And beyond
that, too--a hideous, selfish dread--my guilty mind was haunted by the
fear of what she might do in her extremity.

"Fanny, Fanny," I called falsely into the silence. "Oh, come back! I
love you; indeed I love you."

How little blessed it is at times even to give. No answer came. I threw
myself on the ground. And I strove with myself in the darkness, crushing
out every thought as it floated into my mind, and sinking on and on into
the depths of unconsciousness.

"Oh, my dear, my dear," came the whisper of a tender, guttural voice in
my ear. "You are deathly cold. Why do you grieve so? She is gone.
Listen, listen. They have neither love nor pity. And I--I cannot live
without you."

I sat up, black with rage. My stranger's face glimmered obscurely in the
gloom.

"Oh, if you spy on me again!" I rasped at him, "'live without me,' what
do I care?--you can go and----"

But, thank God, the _die without me_ was never uttered. I haven't _that_
to haunt me. Some hidden strength that had been mine these few days
melted away like water. "Not now; not now!" I entreated him. I hastened
away.



London



Chapter Thirty-Two


And then--well, life plays strange tricks. In a week or two London had
swallowed me up. How many times, I wonder, had I tried in fancy to
picture Mrs Monnerie's town house. How romantic an edifice fancy had
made of it. Impressive in its own fashion, it fell far short of these
ignorant dreams. It was No. 2 of about forty, set side by side, their
pillared porticoes fronting a prodigious square. Its only "garden,"
chiefly the resort of cats, children, nursemaids, an old whiskered
gentleman in a bath chair, and sparrows, was visible to every passer-by
through a spear-headed palisade of railings. Broad paving-stones skirted
its areas, and over each descent of steps hung a bell-pull.

On cloudless days the sun filled this square like a tank with a dry
glare and heat in which even my salamanderish body sometimes gasped like
a fish out of water. When rain fell out of the low, grey skies, and the
scaling plane-trees hissed and the sparrows chirped, my spirits seemed
to sink into my shoes. And fair or foul, London soot and dust were
enemies alike to my eyes, my fingers, and my nose.

Even my beloved cloud-burdened north-west wind was never quite free of
smuts and grit; and when blew the east! But it must be remembered how
ignorant and local I was. In my long carriage journey to Mrs Monnerie's
through those miles and miles of grimed, huddling houses, those shops
and hoardings and steeples, I had realized for the first time that its
capital is not a part of _England_, only a sprawling human growth in it;
and though I soon learned to respect it as _that_, I could never see
without a sigh some skimpy weed struggling for life in its bricked-up
crevices. It was nearly all dead, except for human beings, and that
could not be said of Lyndsey, or even of Beechwood Hill.

Maybe my imagination had already been prejudiced by a coloured drawing
which Mr Wagginhorne had sent me once for a Valentine when I was a
child. It hangs up now in that child's nursery for a memento that I have
been nearly dead. In the midst of it on a hill, in gold and faded
carmine, encircled with great five-pointed blue stars, and with green,
grooved valleys radiating from its castellated towers, is a
city--_Hierusalem_. A city surmounted by a narrow wreathing pennon on
which, inscribed in silver, are the words: "Who heareth the Voice of My
Spirit? And how shall they who deceive themselves resort unto Me?"

Scattered far and near about this central piece, and connected with it
by thin lines like wandering paths radiating from its gates across
mountain, valley, and forest, lie, like round web-like smudges, if seen
at a distance, the other chief cities of the world, Rome, Venice,
Constantinople, Paris, and the rest. London sprawls low in the left-hand
corner. The strongest glass cannot exhaust the skill and ingenuity of
the maker of this drawing (an artist who, Mr Wagginhorne told me, was
mad, poor thing--a man in a frenzy distemper--his very words). For when
you peer close into this London, it takes the shape of a tusked, black,
hairy boar, sprawling with hoofs outspread, fast asleep. And between
them, and even actually diapering the carcass of the creature, is a
perfect labyrinth of life--a high crowned king and queen, honey-hiving
bees, an old man with a beard as if in a swoon, robbers with swords,
travellers with beasts and torches, inns, a cluster of sharp-coloured
butterflies (of the same proportion) fluttering over what looks like a
clot of dung, a winding river, ships, trees, tombs, wasted unburied
bodies, a child issuing from an egg, a phoenix taking flight: and so on.
There is no end to this poor man's devices. The longer you look, the
more strange things you discover. Yet at distance of a pace or two, his
pig appears to fade into nothing but a cloudy-coloured cobweb--one of
the many around his bright-dyed _Hierusalem_.

Now I cannot help wondering if this peculiar picture may not already
have tinged a young mind with a curious horror of London; even though my
aversion may have needed no artificial aid.

Still I must not be ungrateful. These were vague impressions; and as an
actual fact, Mrs Monnerie had transported me into the very midst of the
world of rank and fashion. Her No. 2 was now my home. The spaciousness,
the unnatural solitude, the servants who never so much as glanced at me
until after my back was turned, the hushed _opulency_, the formality! It
was impossible to be just my everyday Miss M. My feet never found
themselves twirling me round before their mistress was aware of it. I
all but gave up gossiping with myself as I went about my little
self-services.

Parochial creature that I was--I missed Mrs Bowater's "homeliness." To
have things out of proportion to my body was an old story. To that,
needless to say, I was perfectly accustomed. But here things were at
first out of all proportion to my taste and habits, a very different
thing. It is, in fact, extremely difficult in retrospect to get side by
side again with those new experiences--with a self that was at one
moment intoxicated and engrossed, and the next humiliated and
desperately ill at ease, at the novelty of her surroundings.

I had a maid, too, Fleming, with a pointed face and greenish eyes, who,
unlike Mrs Bowater, did not snort, but sniffed at things. Whether I
retired for the night or rose in the morning, it was always to the
accompaniment of a half-audible sniff. And I was never perfectly certain
whether that sniff was one of the mind, or of the body, or of both. I
found it hard to learn to do _little_ enough for myself. Fleming
despised me--at least so I felt--even for emptying my wash-basin, or
folding my nightgown. Worse, I was never sure of being alone: she stole
about so softly on her duties. And then the "company."

Not that the last black days at Beechwood were not even blacker for the
change. At first I tried to think them quietly over, to ravel out my
mistakes, and to get straight with my past. But I couldn't in all that
splendour. I had to spend much more time in bewaring of _faux pas_, and
in growing accustomed to being a kind of tame, petted animal--tame even
to itself, I mean. So Mrs Bowater's went floating off into the past like
a dingy little house on the edge of a muddy river. Amid that old horror
and anxiety, even my dear Pollie's wedding day had slipped by unheeded.
How often my thoughts went back to her now. If only _she_ could have
been my Fleming.

I tried to make amends for my forgetfulness--even to the extent of
pocketing my pride, and commissioning Fleming to purchase for me (out of
the little stock of money left me by Fanny) a cradle, as a wedding
present for Pollie, and a chest of tools for her husband. Oddly enough,
she did not sniff at this request. Her green eyes almost sparkled. At
the very word, wedding, she seemed to revive into a new woman. And
Pollie completely forgave me:--


     "DEAR MISS M.,--We was mother and all very sorry and grieved you
     couldn't come though it passed off very satisfactory. As for
     forgetting please don't mention the word, Lyndsey have never been
     the same since the old house was empty. It all passed off very
     satisfactory though with such torrents of rain there was a great
     pool in the churchyard which made everybody in high spirits. And
     William and I can't thank you enough for those beautiful gifts you
     have sent us. Will have been a carpenter since he was a boy but
     there's things there miss he says he never heard on in his born
     days but will be extreamly useful when he comes to know what for.
     And Mother says it was just like your good kind heart to think of
     what you sent me. You can't think how handsome it looks in the
     new-papered room and I'm sure I hope if I may say so it may be
     quite as useful as Will's tools, and its being pretty late to marry
     it isn't as if I was a slip of a girl. And of course I have mother.
     Though if any does come you may be sure it will be a Sunday treat
     being too fine for ordinary.

     "Please God miss I hope you are keeping well and happy in your new
     suroundings and that dream will come true. It was a dreadful moment
     that day by the shops but I'm thankful all came well. If you ever
     writes to Mrs. B. I trust you will mention me to her kindly not
     being much of a letter writer. If you could have heard the things
     she said of you your ears would burn miss you were such a treasure
     and to judge from her appearance she must have seen her troubles.
     And being a married woman helps to see into things though thank God
     I'm well and happy and William hopes to keep me so.

     "Well I must close now trusting that you are in the best of health.
     Your old Pollie.

     "Miss Fenne have been very poorly of late so I've heard though not
     yet took to her bed--more peculiar than ever about Church and such
     like. Adam Waggett being W's oldest friend though not my choice was
     to have been Best Man but he's in service in London and couldn't
     come."


But if I pined for Pollie's company, how can I express what the absence
of Mrs Bowater meant to me? Even when I had grown used to my new
quarters, I would sometimes wake myself calling her name in a dream. She
had been almost unendurably kind to me that last May morning in
Wanderslore, when she had come to fetch me from yet another long
adieu--to Mr Anon. After he had gone, she and I had sat on for a while
in that fresh spring beauty, a sober and miserable pair. Miserable on my
side for miserable reasons. Then, if ever, had been the moment wherein
to clear my breast and be in spirit as well as heart at one with her.
Yet part for honesty and part for shame, I had remained silent. I could
only comfort myself with remembering that we should soon meet again, and
that the future might be kinder. Well, sometimes the future is kinder,
but it is never the same thing as the past.

"They may perhaps talk about that unfortunate ... about that poor young
Mr Crimble, miss," was one of my landlady's last remarks, as she sat
staring rigidly at the great, empty house. "We all take good care to
spread about each other's horrors; and what else is a newspaper for? If
so; well, I shouldn't ask it, I suppose. But I've been thinking maybe my
Fanny wasn't _everything_ to blame. We've had it out together, she and
I, though only by letter. She was frightened of me as much as anything,
though goodness knows I tried to bring her up a God-fearing child. She
had no one, as she thought, to go to--and him a weak creature for all
his obstinacy and, as you might say, penned in by his mother and his
cloth. They say the Cartholics don't marry, and there's nothing much to
be wondered at in that. Poor young fellow, he won't bear much thinking
on, even when he's gone out of mind. I'm fearing now that what's come
about may make her wilder and harder. Help her all you can, if only in
your thoughts, miss: she sets more store by you than you might guess."

"Indeed, indeed, I will," I said.

"You see, miss," Mrs Bowater monotoned on, "I'm nothing much better than
an aunt for Fanny, with no children of my own for guidance; and him
there helpless with his broken leg in Buenos Ayres." The long, bonneted
face moved round towards me. "Do you feel _any_ smouldering affections
for the young gentleman that's just gone?"

This was an unexpected twist to our talk, but, in some little confusion,
I met it as candidly as I could.

"I am fonder of Fanny--and, of course, of you, Mrs Bowater; oh, far,
far. But--I don't quite know how to express it--I am, as you might say,
in my own _mind_ with him. I think he knows a little what I am, in
myself I mean. And besides, oh, well, it isn't a miserable thing to feel
that just one's company makes _anybody_ happy."

Mrs Bowater considered this reply for some little time.

"He didn't _look_ any too happy just now, to judge from his back view,"
she remarked oracularly. "And when I was.... But there, miss, I'm
thinking only of your comfort, and I'm not quite as comfortable as might
be over that there Mrs Monnerie. Generous she may be, though not
noticing it much perhaps from a purse with no bottom to it, judging from
what I've seen. God bless you, one way or the other. And perhaps you'll
sometimes remember the bits of Sundays we've shared up there--you and
the old Dragon."

A smile and a tear battled for the dark eye that looked down on me.
Indeed, seldom after came a Sunday evening with its clanking bells and
empty, London hush, but it brought back to me with a pang my hymns and
talks with "the old Dragon." Not that any one I ever saw at Mrs
Monnerie's appeared to work so hard as to _need_ a day of rest. There
was merely a peculiar empty sensation on Sundays of there being nothing
"to do."


A flight of stone steps and a pillared porch led up to her great
ornamental door. Beyond was a hall compared with which the marbles of
Brunswick House were mere mosaic. An alabaster fountain, its jet
springing lightly from a gilded torch held by a crouching faun, cooled,
and discreetly murmured a ceaseless Hush! in the air. On either hand, a
wide, shallow staircase ascended to an enormous gilded drawing-room,
with its chairs and pictures; and to the library. The dining-room stood
opposite the portico. When Mrs Monnerie and I were alone, we usually
shared a smaller room with her parrot, Chakka; her little Chinese dog,
Cherry--whose whimper had a most uncomfortable resemblance to the wild
and homesick cry of my seagulls at Lyme Regis--and her collections of
the world's smaller rarities. It is only, I suppose, one more proof of
how volatile a creature I used to be that I took an intense interest in
the contents of these cabinets for a few days, and then found them
nothing but a vexation. No doubt this was because of an uneasy suspicion
that Mrs Monnerie had also collected _me_.

She could be extremely tactful in her private designs, yet she "showed
me off" in a fashion that might have turned a far less giddy head than
her _protégée's_, and perhaps cannot have been in the best of taste.

So sure had she been of me that, when I arrived, a room on the first
floor of No. 2 had already been prepared for my reception. A wonderful
piece of fantasticalness--like a miniature fairy palace, but without a
vestige of any _real_ make-believe in it. It was panelled and screened
with carvings in wood, inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl--dwarfs
and apes and misshapen gods and goddesses leering and gaping out at one
from amidst leafy branches, flowers, and fruits, and birds, and
butterflies. The faintest sniff of that Indian wood--whatever it
was--recalls to this day that nightmare scenery. Its hangings were of a
silk so rich that they might have stood on edge on the floor. These
screens and tapestries guarded a privacy that rarely, alas, contained a
Miss M. worth being in private _with_.

The one piece of chagrin exhibited by Mrs Monnerie in those early days
of our acquaintance was at my insistence on bringing at least a few of
my familiar sticks of furniture and chattels with me from Mrs Bowater's.
Their plain Sheraton design, she thought, was barbarously out of keeping
with the rest. It was; but I had my way.

Not the least precious of these old possessions, though dismal for its
memories, was the broken money chest which Fanny had pushed in under the
yew in the garden at Wanderslore. Tacked up in canvas, its hinges and
lock repaired, it had been sent on to me a week or two after my
farewells to Beechwood, by Mr Anon. Inside it I found the nightgown I
had buried in the rabbit's hole, Fanny's letter from under its stone, my
_Sense and Sensibility_, and last, pinned on to a scrap of kingfisher
coloured silk, a pair of ear-rings made out of two old gold coins. Apart
from a few withered flowers, they are the only thing I possess that came
from Wanderslore. Long afterwards, I showed these ear-rings to Sir W. P.
He told me they were quarter Rose Nobles of Edward III.'s reign, and
only a quarter of a quarter of an ounce in weight. They weigh pretty
heavy for me now, however.

My arrangement with Mrs Monnerie had been that, however long I might
stay with her, I should still be in the nature of a visitor; that No. 2,
in fact, should be my town house, and Mrs Bowater's my country. But I
was soon to realize that she intended Mrs Bowater to have a very small
share in me. She pretended to be jealous of me, to love me for my own
sweet sake; and even while I knew it was mere pretence, it left its
flattery on my mind; and for the first time in my life I feigned to be
even smaller than I was; would mince my speeches, affect to be clever,
even ogle the old lady, until it might be supposed we were a pair of
queerly-assorted characters in a charade.

Nevertheless, I had had the obstinacy to insist that I should be at
liberty to stay with Mrs Bowater whenever I wished to do so; and I was
free to invite any friend to visit me I chose. "And especially, my dear,
any one an eighth as exquisite," Mrs Monnerie had kindly put it. It may
seem a little strange that all these obligations should have been on her
side. But Mrs Monnerie's whims were far more vigorous than most people's
principles. The dews of her loving kindness descended on me in a shower,
and it was some little time before I began to feel a chill.

Not the least remarkable feature of No. 2 was its back view. The window
of my room came down almost to the floor. It "commanded" an immense zinc
cistern--George, by name--a Virginia Creeper groping along a brick wall,
similar cisterns smalling into the distance, other brick walls and
scores of back windows. Once, after contemplating this odd landscape for
some little time, it occurred to me to speculate what the back view from
the House of Life was like; but I failed to conceive the smallest notion
of it. I rarely drew my curtains, and, oddly enough, when I did so, was
usually in a vacant or dismal mood. My lights were electric. One simply
twisted a tiny ivory button. At first their clear and coloured globes,
set like tiny tulips in a candelabra, charmed my fancy. But, such is
custom, I soon wearied of them, and pined for the slim, _living_ flame
of candles--even for my coarse old night-light swimming in its grease in
a chipped blue and white saucer.



Chapter Thirty-Three


Mrs Monnerie had rifled her collections for my use--pygmy Venetian
glass, a silver-gilt breakfast and tea service, pygmy porcelain. There
were absurd little _mechanical_ knick-knacks--piping birds, a maddening
little operatic clock of which I at last managed to break the
mainspring, a musical chair, and so on. My bath was of jade; my table a
long one of ebony inlaid with ivory, with puffing cherub faces at each
corner representing the four winds. My own few possessions, I must
confess, looked not only worn but provincial by comparison. But I never
surprised myself actually talking to any of Mrs Monnerie's exquisite
novelties as to my other dumb, old, wooden friends. She delighted in
them far more than I.

I suppose, really to enjoy such pomp and luxury, one should be
positively born in the purple; and then, I suppose, one must be careful
that the dye does not go to the bone. Whether or not, I have long since
come to the conclusion that I am vulgar by nature--like my mother
tongue. And at times, in spite of my relief at being free of the
blackness that had craped in my last days at Beechwood, I often found
myself hungering for my Bowater parlour--even for its smell. Another
thing I learned gradually at No. 2 was that I had been desperately
old-fashioned; and that is, to some extent, to belong to the dead.

Mrs Monnerie's chief desire, no doubt, was to give her new knick-knack a
suitable setting. But it may also have reminded her childlessness--for
she, too, like Mrs Bowater, was "nothing much better than an aunt"--of
her childhood. Of course I affected as much pleasure in it as I could,
and was really grateful. But she greatly disliked being thanked for
anything, and would blandly shut her eyes at the least manifestation of
gratitude. "Humour me, humour me, humour me," she once petulantly nodded
at me; "there are at least a hundred prayers in the Prayer Book, my pet,
to one thanksgiving, and that's human nature all over." It was what my
frame must have _cost_ that scandalized me. When, one day, after
rhapsodizing (not without a shudder) over a cape and hat, which she had
given me, composed solely of the shimmering emerald feathers of the
humming-bird, I rather tactlessly reminded her of my £110 a year, and of
my determination to live within it, her eyelids pinched me a glance as
if I had explained in public that I had been bitten by a flea.

Yet as time went on, a peculiar affection sprang up in me for this
crowded and lonely old woman. It has survived sore trials. She was by
turns generous and mean, honeyed and cantankerous, impulsive and
scheming. Like Mrs Bowater, she disapproved of the world in general, and
yet with how different a result. A restless, darting mind lay hidden
behind the great mask of her countenance, with its heavy-lidded eyes and
tower of hair. She loved to sit indolently peering, musing, and
gossiping, twiddling the while perhaps some little antique toy in her
capacious lap. I can boast, at any rate, that I was a spellbound
listener, and devoured her peculiar wandering, satirical talk as if it
had been manna from heaven.

It was the old, old story. Talking to me was the next most private thing
to talking to herself; and I think she enjoyed for a while the company
of so queer a confessor. Once, I remember, she confided to me the whole
story of a girlish love affair, at least forty years old. I could hardly
believe my eyes as I watched her; she looked so freshened and demure and
spirited. It was as if she were her own twenties just dressed up. But
she had a dry and acrid tongue, and spared nothing and nobody. To her
and to Mrs Bowater I owe nearly all my stock of worldly wisdom. And now
I shall never have time, I suppose, to sort it out.

Mr Monnerie, as Fleming confided in me one day--and the aristocracy was
this extremely reticent and contemptuous creature's favourite topic of
conversation--Mr Monnerie had been a banker, and had made a late and
dazzling marriage; for Mrs Monnerie's blood was as blue as Caddis Bay on
a cloudless morning. I asked Fleming if she had ever seen "Lord B.," and
what kind of man he was. She never had; but remarked obscurely that he
must have lived mainly on porridge, he had sown so many wild oats.

This information reminded me of an old rhyme I had once learned as a
child, and used to shout about the house:--


     "Come all you young men, with your wicked ways;
     Sow your wild, wild oats in your youthful days;
     That we may live happy when we grow old--
     Happy, and happy, when we grow old:
     The day is far spent, the night's coming on;
     So give us your arm, and we'll joggle along--joggle
          and joggle and joggle along."


Fleming herself, I learned, had come from Ash, and was therefore, I
suppose, of an Anglo-Saxon family, though she was far from stupid and
rather elegant in shape. Because, I suppose, I did not like her, I was
rather aggrieved she had been born in Kent. Mr and Mrs Monnerie, she
told me, had had no children. The fair young man, Percy Maudlen, with
the tired smile and beautiful shoes, who came to tea or luncheon at No.
2 at least once a week, was Mrs Monnerie's only nephew by blood; and the
still fairer Susan Monnerie, who used to float into my room ever and
anon like a Zephyr, was the only one Mrs Monnerie cared to see of her
three nieces by marriage. And yet the other two, when they were invited
to luncheon, were far more docile and considerate in the opinions and
sentiments they expressed. _That_ seemed so curious to me: there was no
doubt that Mrs Monnerie belonged to the aristocracy, and yet there
always appeared to be quarrels going on in the family--apart, of course,
from births, deaths, and marriages, which seemed of little consequence.
She enjoyed relatives in every county in England and Scotland; while I
had not one, now, so far as I knew, not even in Kent.

Marvell, the butler--he had formerly been Mr Monnerie's valet--was
another familiar object of my speculations. His rather solemn,
clean-shaven countenance and steady grey eyes suggested a severe critic
of mankind. Yet he seemed bent only on giving pleasure and smoothing
things over, and stooped my dish of sliced cherries or apricots over my
shoulder with a gesture that was in itself the cream of flattery. It
astonished me to hear that he had a grown-up son in India; and though I
never met Mrs Marvell, I felt a prodigious respect for her.

I would look up and see him standing so smooth and benevolent behind
Mrs Monnerie's chair that he reminded me of my bishop, and I doubt if
ever she crisply uttered his delightful name but it recalled the
pleasant chime of a poem which my mother had taught me: _The Nymph
Complaining of the Death of her Fawn_. I should have liked to have a
long talk with Mr Marvell--any time of the day when he wasn't a butler,
I mean--but the opportunity never came.

One day, when he had left us to ourselves, I ventured to quote a stanza
of this poem to Mrs Monnerie:--


     "With sweetest milk and sugar first
     I it at my own fingers nursed;
     And as it grew, so every day
     It waxed more white and sweet than they--
     It had so sweet a breath! and oft
     I blushed to see its foot more soft
     And white--shall I say?--than my hand,
     Nay, any lady's in the land...."


"Charming, charming, Poppet," she cooed, much amused, pushing in a nut
for Chakka. "Many shades whiter than _your_ wrinkled old claw, you old
wretch. _Another_ sagacious old bird, my dear, though past blushing, I
fear, at any lady's hand."

Nothing would content her but that I must recite my _bon mot_ again when
her nephew Percy dandled in to tea that afternoon. He sneered down on me
with his pale eyes, and with finger and thumb exposed yet another inch
of his silk sock, but made no comment.

"Manners, my dear Percy, maketh man," said his aunt. "Congratulate Miss
M."

If Percy Maudlen had had no manners at all, I think I should at that
moment have seen the pink tip of his tongue; for if ever any human being
detested my small person it was he. For very good reasons, probably,
though I never troubled to inquire into them, I disliked him, too,
beyond expression. He was, of course, a superior young man with a great
many similar ancestors looking out of his face, yet he resembled a
weasel. But Susan Monnerie--the very moment I saw her I loved her; just
as one loves a field of buttercups or a bush of may. For some little
time she seemed to regard me as I suppose a linnet regards a young
cuckoo that has been hatched out in her nest (though, of course, a squab
cuckoo is of much the same size as its fostermother). But she gradually
grew accustomed to me, and even realized at last that I was something a
little more--and also perhaps less--human than either Chakka or Cherry
or a Dresden china shepherdess.

I would look at her just for pleasure's sake. Her hair was of the colour
of undyed silk, with darker strands in it; her skin pale; and she had an
odd little stutter in her light young voice when she was excited. I
would often compare her with Fanny. What curious differences there were
between them. She was graceful, but as if she had been taught to be.
Unlike Fanny, she was not so fascinatingly just a beautiful body--with
that sometimes awful Someone looking out of its windows. There was a
lovely delicacy in her, as if, absurd though it may sound, every bit of
her had been selected, actually picked out, from the finest materials.
Perhaps it was her food and drink that had helped to make her so; for I
don't think Miss Stebbings's diet was more than wholesome, or that
following the sea in early life makes a man rich enough to afford many
dainties for his children. Anyhow, there was nothing man-made in Fanny;
and if there are women-shaped mermaids I know what looks will be seen in
their faces.

However that may be, a keen, roving spirit dwelt in Susan's clear, blue
eyes. I never discovered in her any malice or vanity, and this, I think,
frequently irritated Mrs Monnerie. Susan, too, used to ask me perfectly
sane and ordinary questions; and I cannot describe what a flattery it
was. I had always supposed that men and women were _intended_ to talk
openly to one another in this world; but it was an uncommonly rare
luxury for me at Mrs Monnerie's. I could talk freely enough to Susan,
and told her a good deal about my early days, though I kept my life at
Beechwood Hill more or less to myself.

And that reminds me that Mrs Bowater proved to have been a good prophet.
It was one day at luncheon. Mrs Monnerie happened to cast a glance at
the _Morning Post_ newspaper which lay open on a chair near by, showing
in tall type at the top of the column, "Sudden Death of Sir Jasper
Goodge." Sir Jasper Goodge, whose family history, it seemed, was an open
book to her, reminded her whimsically of another tragedy. She put back
her head and, surveying me blandly as I sat up beside her, inquired if I
had known at all intimately that unfortunate young man, Mr Crimble.

"I remember him bobbing and sidling at me that delightful afternoon
when--what do you think of it, Susan?--Poppet and I discovered in each
other an unfashionable taste for the truth! A bazaar in aid of the
Pollacke Blanket Fund, or something of the kind."

The recollection seemed to have amused her so much that for the moment I
held my breath and ignored her question.

"But why was Mr Crimble unfortunate?" inquired Susan, attempting to make
Cherry beg for a bread-crumb. I glanced in consternation at Marvell, who
at the moment was bringing the coffee things into the room. But he
appeared to be uninterested in Mr Crimble.

"Mr Crimble was unfortunate, my dear," said Mrs Monnerie complacently,
"because he cut his throat."

"Ach! how horrible. How can you say such things! Get down, you little
silly! Please, Aunt Alice, there must be something pleasanter to talk
about than that? Everybody knows about the hideous old Sir Jasper
Goodge; so it doesn't much matter what one says of him. But...." In
spite of her command the little dog still gloated on her fingers.

"There may be things pleasanter, my dear Susan," returned Mrs Monnerie
complacently, "but there are few so illuminating. In Greek tragedy, I
used to be told, all such horrors have the effect of what is called a
purgation. Did Mr Crimble _seem_ that kind of young man, my dear? And
why was he so impetuous?"

"I think, Mrs Monnerie," said I, "he was in trouble."

"H'm," said she. "He had a very sallow look, I remember. So he discussed
his troubles? But not with _you_, my fairy?"

"Surely, Aunt Alice," exclaimed Susan hotly, "it isn't quite fair or
nice to bring back such ghastly memories. Why," she touched my hand with
the tips of her light fingers, "she is quite cold already."

"Poppet's hands are always cold," replied her aunt imperturbably. "And I
suspect that she and I know more about this wicked world than has
brought shadows to your young brow. We'll return to Mr Crimble, my dear,
when Susan is butterflying elsewhere. She is so shockingly easily
shocked."

But it was Susan herself who returned to the subject. She came into my
room where I sat reading--a collection of the tiniest little books in
the most sumptuous gilt morocco had been yet another of Mrs Monnerie's
kindnesses--and she stood for a moment musing out through my silk window
blinds at the vast zinc tank on the roof.

"Was that true?" she said at last. "Did you really know some one who
killed himself? Who was he? What was he like?"

"He was a young man--in his twenty-ninth year," I replied automatically,
"dark, short, with gold spectacles, a clergyman. He was the curate at St
Peter's--Beechwood, you know." I was speaking in a low voice, as if I
might be overheard.

It was extraordinary how swiftly Mr Crimble had faded into a vanishing
shadow. From the very instant of his death the world had begun to adjust
itself to his absence. And now nothing but a memory--a black, sad
memory.

But Susan's voice interrupted these faint musings. "A clergyman!" she
was repeating. "But why--why did he--do that?"

"They said, melancholia. I suppose it was just impossible--or _seemed_
impossible--for him to go on living."

"But what made him melancholy? How awful. And how can Aunt Alice have
said it like that?"

"But surely," argued I, in my old contradictory fashion, and spying
about for a path of evasion, "it's better to call things by their proper
names. What is the body, after all? Not that I mean one has any right
to--to _not_ die in one's own bed."

"And do you really think like that?--the body of no importance? You?
Why, Miss M., Aunt Alice calls you her 'pocket Venus,' and she means it,
too, in her own sly way."

"It's very kind of her," said I, breathing more freely. "Some one I know
always calls me Midgetina, or Miss Midge, anything of that sort. I don't
mean, Miss Monnerie, that it doesn't _matter_ what we are called. Why,
if that were so, there wouldn't be any Society at all, would there? We
should all be--well--anonymous." Deep inside I felt myself smile. "Not
that that makes much difference to good poetry."

Susan sighed. "How zigzaggedly you talk. What has poetry to do with Mr
Crimble?--that was his name, wasn't it?"

"Well, it hasn't very much," I confessed. "He hadn't the time for it."

Susan seated herself on a cushion on the floor--and with how sharp a
stab reminded me of Fanny and the old, care-free days of _Wuthering
Heights_.

Surely--in spite of Fanny--life had definitely taken a tinge of Miss
Brontë's imagination since then. But it was only the languor of Susan's
movements, and that because she seemed a little tired, rather than
merely indolent. And if from Fanny's eyes had now stooped a serpent and
now a blinded angel; from these clear blue ones looked only a human
being like myself. Even as I write that "like myself," I ponder. But let
it stay.

"So you really did know him?" Susan persisted. "And it doesn't seem a
nightmare even to think of him? And who, I say, made it impossible for
him to go on living?" So intense was her absorption in these questions
that when they ceased her hands tightened round her knees, and her small
mouth remained ajar.

"You said '_what_' just now," I prevaricated, looking up at her.

At this her blue eyes opened so wide I broke into a little laugh.

"No, no, no, Miss Monnerie," I hastened to explain, "not _me_. It isn't
my story, though I was in it--and to blame. But please, if you would be
so kind, don't mention it again to Mrs Monnerie, and don't think about
it any more."

"Not think about it! _You_ must. Besides, thoughts sometimes think
themselves. I always supposed that things like that only happened to
quite--to different people, you know. Was _he_?"

"_Different?_" I couldn't follow her. "He was the curate of St
Peter's--a friend of the Pollackes."

"Oh, yes, the Pollackes," said she; and having glanced at me again, said
no more.

The smallest confidence, I find, is a short cut to friendship. And after
this little conversation there was no ice to break between Susan
Monnerie and myself, and she often championed me in my little
difficulties--even if only by her silence.



Chapter Thirty-Four


Miss Monnerie's visits were less punctual though more frequent than
Percy Maudlen's. "And where is the toadlet?" I heard him drawl one
afternoon as I was being carried downstairs by the light-footed Fleming,
on the padded tray which Mrs Monnerie had had made for the purpose.

"The toadlet, my dear Percy, is about to take a little gentle exercise
with me in the garden, and you shall accompany us. If you were the kind
of fairy-tale hero I used to read of in my nursery, you would discover
the charm, and live happy ever after. But I see nothing of the heroic in
you, and little of the hereafter. Miss M. is a feast of mercies."

"H'm. Providence packs his mercies into precious small quarters at
times," he yawned.

"Which suggests an uncivil speculation," replied his aunt, "on the size
of your hat."

"But candidly, Aunt Alice," he retorted, "is your little _attachée_
quite all there--I mean, all of her that there is? Personally I wouldn't
touch her, if I could help it, with a pair of tongs.... A nasty trick!"

Then, "Hah!" cried Mrs Monnerie in a large, pleasant voice, "here is
Miss M. Percy has been exposing a wounded heart, precious one. He is
hurt because you look at him as if there were positively nothing more of
him than what is there to see."

"Not at all, Aunt Alice," Percy drawled, with a jerk of his cane. "It
was for precisely the opposite reason. Who knows you ain't a witch, Miss
M.? Distilled? Heavens, Aunt Alice! you are not bringing Cherry _too_?"

Yes, Cherry was coming too, with his globular eye and sneering nose. And
so poor Percy, with a cold little smile on his fine pale features, had
to accommodate himself to Mrs Monnerie's leisurely pace, and she to
mine, while Cherry disdainfully shuffled in our rear. We were a singular
quartette, though there were only two or three small children in the
palisaded garden to enjoy the spectacle; and they, after a few polite
and muffled giggles, returned to their dolls.

It was a stifling afternoon. As I trod the yellow gravel the quivering
atmosphere all but blinded me with its reflected glare. The only sounds
to be heard were the clang of a milkman's hand-cart, and the pirouettes
of a distant piano.

"And what," Mrs Monnerie suddenly inquired, looking down on me, with
mauve-tinted cheek, from under her beribanded, long-handled parasol,
"what is Miss M. thinking about?"

As a matter of fact I was walking at that moment in imagination with Mrs
Bowater at Lyme Regis, but I seized the opportunity of hastening round
from between aunt and nephew so that I could screen myself from the sun
in Mrs Monnerie's ample shadow, and inquired why London gardeners were
so much attached to geraniums, lobelias, calceolarias, and ice-plants?
Mightn't one just as well _paint_ the border, Mrs Monnerie, red, yellow,
and blue? Then it would last--rain, snow, anything.

"Now I'll wager, Percy, you hadn't noticed _that_," said Mrs Monnerie in
triumph.

"I make it a practice," he replied, "never to notice the obvious. It is
merely a kind of least common denominator, as I believe you call 'em,
and," he wafted away a yawn with his glove, "I take no interest in
vulgar fractions."

I took a little look at him out of the corner of my eye, and wished that
as a child I had paid more heed to my arithmetic lessons. "Look, Mrs
Monnerie," I cried piteously, "poor Cherry's tongue is dangling right
out of his head. He looks _so_ hot and tired."

She swept me a radiant, if contorted, gleam. "Percy, would you take pity
on poor dear Cherry? Twice round, I think, will be as much as I can
comfortably manage."

So Percy had to take poor dear Cherry into his arms, just like a baby;
and the quartette to all appearance became a trio.

But my existence at No. 2 was not always so monotonous as that. Mrs
Monnerie, in spite of her age, her ebony cane, and a tendency to
breathlessness, was extremely active and alert. If life is a fountain,
she preferred to be one of the larger bubbles as near as possible to its
summit. She almost succeeded in making me a minute replica of herself.
We shared the same manicurist, milliner, modiste, and coiffeur. And
since it was not always practicable for Mahometta to be carried off to
these delectable mountains, they were persuaded to attend upon her, and
that as punctually as the fawn-faced man, Mr Godde, who came to wind the
clocks.

Whole mornings were spent in conclave in Mrs Monnerie's boudoir--Susan
sometimes of our company. Julius Cæsar, so my little Roman history told
me, had hesitated over the crossing of one Rubicon. Mrs Monnerie and I
confabulated over the fording of a dozen of its tributaries a day. A
specialist--a singularly bald man in a long black coat--was called in.
He eyed me this way, he eyed me that--with far more deference than I
imagine Mr Pellew can have paid me at my christening. He assured Mrs
Monnerie of his confirmed belief that the mode of the moment was not of
the smallest consequence so far as I was concerned. "The hard, small
hat," he smiled; "the tight-fitting sleeve!" And yet, to judge by the
clothes he did recommend, I must have been beginning to look a pretty
dowd at Mrs Bowater's.

"But even if Madam prefers to dress in a style of her own choice," he
explained, "the difference, if she will understand, must still be _in_
the fashion."

But he himself--though Mrs Monnerie, I discovered after he was gone, had
not even noticed that he was bald--he himself interested me far more
than his excellent advice; and not least when he drew some papers out of
a pocket-book, and happened to let fall on the carpet the photograph of
a fat little boy with an immense mop of curls. So men--quite elderly,
practical men, can blush, I thought to myself; for Dr Phelps had rather
flushed than blushed; and my father used only to get red.

Since nothing, perhaps, could make me more exceptional in appearance
than I had been made by Providence, I fell in with all Mrs Monnerie's
fancies, and wore what she pleased--pushing out of mind as well as I
could all thought of bills. I did more than that. I really began to
enjoy dressing myself up as if I were my own doll, and when alone I
would sit sometimes in a luxurious trance, like a lily in a pot. Yet I
did not entirely abandon my old little Bowater habit of indoor exercise.
When I was alone in my room I would sometimes skip. And on one of
Fleming's afternoons "out" I even furbished up what I could remember of
my four kinds of Kentish hopscotch, with a slab of jade for dump. But in
the very midst of such recreations I would surprise myself lost in a
kind of vacancy. Apart from its humans and its furniture, No. 2 was an
empty house.

I do not mean that Mrs Monnerie was concerned only with externals. Sir
William Forbes-Smith advised that a little white meat should enrich my
usual diet of milk and fruit, and that I should have sea-salt baths. The
latter were more enjoyable than the former, though both, no doubt,
helped to bring back the strength sapped out of me by the West End.

My cheekbones gradually rounded their angles; a livelier colour came to
lip and skin, and I began to be as self-conscious as a genuine beauty.
One twilight, I remember, I had slipped across from out of my bath for a
pinch of the "crystals" which Mrs Monnerie had presented me with that
afternoon; for my nose, also, was accustoming itself to an artificial
life. An immense cheval looking-glass stood there, and at one and the
same instant I saw not only my own slim, naked, hastening figure
reflected in its placid deeps, but, behind me, that of Fleming,
shadowily engrossed. With a shock I came to a standstill, helplessly
meeting her peculiar stare. Only seven yards or so of dusky air divided
us. Caught back by this unexpected encounter, for one immeasurable
moment I stood thus, as if she and I were mere shapes in a picture, and
reality but a thought.

Then suddenly she recovered herself, and with a murmur of apology was
gone. Huddled up in my towel, I sat motionless, shrunken for a while
almost to nothing in the dense sense of shame that had swept over me.
Then suddenly I flung myself on my knees, and prayed--though what about
and to whom I cannot say. After which I went back and bathed myself
again.

The extravagances of Youth! No doubt, the worst pang was that though
vaguely I knew that my most secret solitude had been for a while
destroyed, that long intercepted glance of half-derisive admiration had
filled me with something sweeter than distress. If only I knew what
common-sized people really feel like in similar circumstances.
Biographies tell me little; and can one trust what is said in novels?
The only _practical_ result of this encounter was that I emptied all Mrs
Monnerie's priceless crystals forthwith into my bath, and vowed never,
never again to desert plain water. So, for one evening, my room smelt
like a garden in Damascus.

As for Fleming, she never, of course, referred to this incident, but our
small talk was even smaller than before. If, indeed, to Percy, "toadlet"
was the aptest tag for me; for Fleming, I fancy, "stuck-up" sufficed.
Instinct told her that she was only by courtesy a _lady's_-maid.


Less for her own sake than for mine, Mrs Monnerie and I scoured London
for amusement, even though she was irritated a little by my preference
for the kind which may be called instructive. The truth is, that in all
this smooth idleness and luxury a hunger for knowledge had seized on me;
as if (cat to grass) my mind were in search of an antidote.

Mrs Monnerie had little difficulty in securing "private views." She must
have known everybody that is anybody--as I once read of a Countess in a
book. And I suppose there is not a very large number of this kind of
person. Whenever our social engagements permitted, we visited the show
places, galleries, and museums. Unlike the rest of London, I gazed at
Amenhotep's Mummy in the late dusk of a summer evening; and we had much
to say to one another; though but one whiff of the huge round library
gave me a violent headache. When the streets had to be faced, Fleming
came with us in the carriage, and I was disguised to look as much like a
child as possible--a process that made me feel at least twenty years
older. The Tower of London, the Zoo, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's--each
in turn fell an early prey to my hunger for learning and experience. As
for the Thames; the very sight of it seemed to wash my small knowledge
of English history clear as crystal.

Mrs Monnerie yawned her way on--though my comments on these marvels of
human enterprise occasionally amused her. I made amends, too, by
accompanying her to less well-advertised show-places, and patiently sat
with her while she fondled unset and antique gems in a jeweller's, or
inspected the china, miniatures, and embroideries in private
collections. If the mere look of the books in the British Museum gave me
a headache, it is curious that the Chamber of Horrors at Madame
Tussaud's Wax Works did not. And yet I don't know; life itself had
initiated me into this freemasonry. I surveyed the guillotine without a
shudder, and eyed Mr Hare and Charles Peace with far less discomposure
than General Tom Thumb, or even Robert Burns in the respectable gallery
above. My one misfortune was that I could look at no murderer without
instantly recomposing the imaginary scene of his crime within my mind.
And as after a while Mrs Monnerie decided to rest on a chair set for her
by the polite attendant under the scaffold, and we had the Chamber
nearly to ourselves, I wandered on alone, and perhaps supped rather too
full of horrors for one evening.

Mrs Monnerie would often question me. "Well, what do you think of that,
Mammetinka?" or, "Now, then, my inexhaustible little Miss Aristotle,
discourse on that."

And like a bullfinch I piped up in response to the best of my ability.
My answers, I fear, were usually evasive. For I had begun to see that
she was making experiments on my mind and senses, as well as on my
manners and body. She was a "fancier." And one day I ogled up at her
with the pert remark that she now possessed a pocket barometer which
would do its very utmost to remain at 31°, if that was possible without
being "Very Dry."

She received this little joke with extraordinary good humour. "When I
come down in the world, my dear," she said, "and these horrid anarchists
are doing their best to send us all sky-high first, we'll visit the
Courts of Europe together, like Count Boruwlaski. Do you think you could
bring yourself to support your old friend in her declining years in a
declining age?"

I smiled and touched her glove. "Where thou goest, I will go," I
replied; and then could have bitten off my tongue in remorse. "Pah,"
gasped a secret voice, "so that's going the same way too, is it?"

Yet heaven knows I was not a Puritan--and never shall be. I just adored
things bright and beautiful. Music, too, in moderation, was my delight;
and Susan Monnerie with her small, sweet voice would sometimes sing to
me in one room while--in an almost unbearable homesickness--I listened
in another. Concerts in general, however, left every muscle of my body
as stiff with rheumatism as it was after my visit to Mr Moss's
farm-house. The unexpected blare of a brass band simply froze my spine;
and a really fine performance on the piano was sheer torture. Once,
indeed, when Mrs Monnerie's carriage was one of a mellay clustered
together while the Queen drove by, in the appalling clamour of the
Lancers' trombones and kettledrums, I fell prostrate in a kind of fit.
So it was my silly nerves that cheated me of my one and only chance to
huzza a Crowned Head not, if I may say so without disrespect, so very
many sizes larger than my own.

Alas, Mrs Monnerie was an enthusiast for all the pleasures of the
senses. I verily believe that it was only my vanity which prevented me
from becoming as inordinately fat as Sir William Forbes-Smith's white
meat threatened to make me.

Brightest novelty of all was my first visit to a theatre--the London
night, the glare and clamour of the streets, the packed white rows of
faces, the sea-like noise of talk, the glitter, shimmer, dazzle--it
filled my veins with quicksilver; my heart seemed to be throbbing in my
breast as fast as Mrs Monnerie's watch. Fortunately she had remembered
to take our seats on the farther side from the brass and drums of the
orchestra. I restrained my shivers; the lights went out; and in the
congregated gloom softly stole up the curtain on the ballet.

Perched up there in the velvet obscurity of our box, I surveyed a
woodland scene, ruins, distant mountains, a rocky stream on which an
enormous moon shone, and actually moved in the theatrical heavens. And
when an exquisite figure floated, pale, gauzy, and a-tiptoe, into those
artificial solitudes, drenched with filmy light; with a far cry of
"Fanny!" my heart suddenly stood still; and all the old stubborn
infatuation flooded heavily back upon me once more.

Susan sat ghostlike, serenely smiling. Percy's narrow jaws were working
on their hinges like those of a rabbit I had seen through my
grandfather's spyglass nibbling a root of dandelion. Mrs Monnerie
reclined in her chair, hands on lap, with pursed-up mouth and weary
eyes. There was nobody to confide in, then. But when from either side of
the brightening stage flocked in winged creatures with lackadaisical
arms and waxlike smilings, whose paint and powder caught back my mind
rather than my feelings, my first light-of-foot was hovering beneath us
close to the flaring footlights; and she was now no more Fanny than the
circle of illuminated parchment over her head was the enchanting moon.
What a complicated world it was with all these _layers_! The experience
filled me with a hundred disquieting desires, and yet again, chiefest
of them was that which made sensitive the stumps where, if I turned into
a bird, my wings would grow, and which bade me "escape."

"She's getting devilish old and creaky on her pins," yawned Percy, when
the curtain had descended, and I had sighingly shrunk back into my own
tasselled nook from the noise and emptiness of actuality.

"No," said Mrs Monnerie, "it is you, Percy, who are getting old. You
were born blasé. You'll be positively yawning your head off at the Last
Trump."

"Dear Aunt Alice," said Percy, squinting through his opera-glasses,
"nothing of the kind. I shall be helping you to find the mislaid
knucklebones. Besides, it's better to be born----"

But the rest of his sentence--and I listened to him only because I hated
him--passed unheeded, for all my attention had been drawn to Susan. The
hand beside me had suddenly clutched at her silk skirt, and a flush, gay
as the Queen's Union Jacks in Bond Street, had mounted into her clear,
pale cheek, as with averted chin she sat looking down upon some one in
the stalls. At sight of her blushing, a richer fondness for her
lightened my mind. I followed her eye to its goal, and gazed enthralled,
now up, now down, stringing all kinds of little beads of thoughts
together; until, perhaps conscious that she was being watched, she
turned and caught me. Flamed up her cheeks yet hotter; and now mine too;
for my spirits had suddenly sunk into my shoes at the remembrance of
Wanderslore and my "ghostly, gloating little dwarfish creature." Then
once more darkness stole over the vast, quieting house, and the curtain
re-ascended upon Romance.



Chapter Thirty-Five


Instead of its being a month as had been arranged, it was over six weeks
before I was deposited again with my elegant dressing-case--a mere
flying visitor--on Mrs Bowater's doorstep. A waft of cooked air floated
out into the June sunshine through the letter-box. Then, in the open
door, just as of old, flushed and hot in her black clothes, there stood
my old friend, indescribably the same, indescribably different. She
knelt down on her own doormat, and we exchanged loving greetings. Once
more I trod beneath the wreathing, guardian horns, circumnavigated the
age-stained eight-day clock, and so into my parlour.

Nothing was changed. There stood the shepherdess ogling the shepherd;
there hung Mr Bowater; there dangled the chandelier; there angled the
same half-dozen flies. Not a leg, caster, or antimacassar was out of
place. Yet how steadfastly I had to keep my back turned on my landlady
lest she should witness my discomfiture. Faded, dingy, crowded,
shrunken--it seemed unbelievable, as I glanced around me, that here I
could have lived and breathed so many months, and been so ridiculously
miserable, so tragically happy. All that bygone happiness and
wretchedness seemed, for the moment, mere waste and folly. And not only
that--"common." I climbed Mr Bates's clumsy staircase, put down my
dressing-case, and slowly removing my gloves, faced dimly the curtained
window. Beyond it lay the distant hills, misty in the morning sunbeams,
the familiar meadows all but chin-high with buttercups.

"Oh, Mrs Bowater," I turned at last, "here I am. You and the quiet
sky--I wish I had never gone away. What is the use of being one's self,
if one is always changing?"

"There comes a time, miss, when we don't change; only the outer walls
crumble away morsel by morsel, so to speak. But that's not for you yet.
Still, that's the reason. Me and the old sticks are just what we were,
at least to the eye; and you--well, there!--the house has been like a
cage with the bird gone."

She stood looking at me with one long finger stretching bonily out on
the black and crimson tablecloth, a shining sea of loving kindness in
her eyes. "I can see they have taken good care of you and all, preened
the pretty feathers. Why, you are a bit plumper in figure, miss; only
the voice a little different, perhaps." The last words were uttered
almost beneath her breath.

"My voice, Mrs Bowater; oh, they cannot have altered _that_."

"Indeed they have, miss; neater-twisted, as you might say; but not
scarcely to be noticed by any but a very old friend. Maybe you are a
little tired with your long drive and those two solemnities on the box.
I remember the same thing--the change of voice--when Fanny came back
from her first term at Miss Stebbings'."

"How is she?" I inquired in even tones. "She has never written to me.
Not a word."

But, strange to say, as Mrs Bowater explained, and not without a symptom
of triumph, that's just what Fanny _had_ done. Her letter was awaiting
me on the mantelpiece, tucked in behind a plush-framed photograph.

"Now, let me see," she went on, "there's hot water in your basin,
miss--I heard the carriage on the hill; a pair of slippers to ease your
feet, in case in the hurry of packing they'd been forgot; and your
strawberries and cream are out there icing themselves on the tray. So we
shan't be no time, though disturbing news has come from Mr Bowater, his
leg not mending as it might have been foreseen--but that can wait."

An unfamiliar Miss M. brushed her hair in front of me in the familiar
looking-glass. It was not that her Monnerie raiment was particularly
flattering, or she, indeed, pleasanter to look at--rather the contrary:
and I gazed long and earnestly into the glass. But art has furtive and
bewitching fingers. While in my home-made clothes I had looked just
myself, in these I looked like one or other of my guardian angels, or
perhaps, as an unprejudiced Fleming would have expressed it--the perfect
lady. How gradual must have been the change in me to have passed thus
unnoticed. But I didn't want to think. I felt dulled and dispirited.
Even Mrs Bowater had not been so entranced to see me as I had
anticipated. It was tiresome to be disappointed. I rummaged in a bottom
drawer, got out an old gown, made a grimace at myself in my mind, and
sat down to Fanny's letter. But then again, what are externals? Who was
this cool-tempered Miss M. who was now scanning the once heartrending
handwriting?


     "DEAR MIDGETINA,--When this will reach you, I don't know. But
     somehow I cannot, or rather I can, imagine you the cynosure of the
     complete peerage, and prefer that my poor little letter should not
     uprear its modest head in the midst of all that Granjer. You may
     not agree--but if a few weeks of a High Life that may possibly
     continue into infinity has made _no_ difference to you, then Fanny
     is not among the prophets.

     "We have not met since--we parted. But did you ever know a "dead
     past" bury itself with such ingratiating rapidity? Have you in your
     sublime passion for Nature ever watched a Sexton Beetle? But, mind
     you, I have helped. The further all that slips away, the less I can
     see I was to blame for it. What's in your blood needs little help
     from outside. Cynical it may sound; but imagine the situation if I
     _had_ married him! What could existence have been but a
     Nightmare-Life-in-Death? (_Vide_ S. T. Coleridge). Now the Dream
     continues--for us both.

     "Oh, yes, I can see your little face needling up at this. But you
     must remember, dear Midgetina, that you will never, never be able
     to see things in a truly human perspective. Few people, of course,
     try to. You do. But though your view may be delicate as gossamer
     and clear as a glass marble, it can't be full-size. Boil a thing
     down, it isn't the _same_. What remains has the virtues of an
     essence, but not the volume of its origin. This sounds horribly
     _school-booky_; but I am quite convinced you are too concentrated.
     And I being what I am, only the full volume can be my salvation.
     Enough. The text is as good as the sermon--far better, in fact.

     "Now I am going to be still more callous. My own little private
     worries have come right--been made to. I'm tit for tat, that is,
     and wiser for it beyond words. Some day, when Society has taught
     you all its lessons, I will explain further. Anyhow, first I send
     you back £3 of what I owe you. And thank you. Next I want you to
     find out from Mrs Mummery (as mother calls her--or did), if among
     her distinguished acquaintance she knows any one with one or two,
     or at most three, small and adorable children who need an excellent
     governess. Things have made it undesirable for me to stay on here
     much longer. It shall be I who give notice, or, shall we say,
     terminate the engagement.

     "Be an angel, then. First, wake up. Candidly, to think me better
     than I am is more grossly unfair than if I thought you taller than
     you are. Next, sweet cynosure, find me a sinecure. Don't trouble
     about salary. (You _wouldn't_, you positive acorn of quixoticism,
     not if I owed you half a million.) But remember: _Wanted by the end
     of August at latest, a Lady, wealthy, amiable, with two Cherubic
     Doves in family, boys preferred_. The simple, naked fact being that
     after this last bout of life's fitful fever, I pine for a nap.

     "Of course mother can see this letter if she wishes to, and you
     don't mind. But personally I should prefer to have the bird
     actually fluttering in my hand before she contemplates it in the
     bush.

     "I said _pine_ just now. Do you ever find a word suddenly so
     crammed with meaning that at any moment it threatens to explode?
     Well, Midgetina, them's my sentiments. Penitent I shall never be,
     until I take the veil. But I have once or twice lately awoke in a
     kind of glassy darkness--beyond all moonshine--alone. Then, if I
     hadn't been born just thick-ribbed, unmeltable ice--well....
     Vulgar, vulgar Fanny!

     "Fare thee well, Midgetina. 'One cried, "God bless us," and "Amen,"
     the other.' Prostituted though he may have been for scholastic
     purposes, W. S. knew something of Life.

     "Yours,--F."


What was the alluring and horrifying charm for me of Fanny's letters?
This one set my mind, as always, wandering off into a maze. There was a
sour taste in it, and yet--it was all really and truly Fanny. I could
see her unhappy eyes glittering through the mask. She saw
_herself_--perhaps more plainly than one should. "Vulgar Fanny." As for
its effect on me; it was as if I had fallen into a bed of nettles, and
she herself, picking me up, had scoffed, "Poor little Midgekin," and
supplied the dock. Her cynicism was its own antidote, I suppose. The
selfishness, the vanity, and impenetrable hardness--even love had never
been so blind as to ignore all that, and now what love remained for her
had the sharpest of sharp eyes.

And yet, though my little Bowater parlour looked cheap and dingy after
the splendours of No. 2, Fanny somehow survived every odious comparison.
She was very _intelligent_, I whispered to myself. Mrs Monnerie would
certainly approve of that. And I prickled at the thought. And I--I was
too "concentrated." In spite of my plumping "figure," I could never,
never be full-size. If only Fanny had meant that as a compliment, or
even as a kind of explanation to go on with. No, she had meant it for
the truth. And it must be far easier for a leopard to change his spots
than his inside. The accusation set all the machinery of my mind emptily
whirring.

My glance fell on my Paris frock, left in a shimmering slovenly ring on
the floor. It wandered off to Fanny's postal order, spread over my lap
like an expensive antimacassar. She had worked for that money; while I
had never been anything more useful than "an angel." In fancy I saw her
blooming in a house as sumptuous as Mrs Monnerie's. Bloom indeed! I
hated the thought, yet realized, too, that it was safer--even if for the
time being not so profitable--to be life-size. And, as if out of the
listening air, a cold dart pierced me through. Suppose my Messrs Harris
and Harris and Harris might not be such honest trustees as Miss Fenne
had vouched for. Suppose they decamped with my £110 per annum!--I caught
a horrifying glimpse of the wolf that was always sniffing at Fanny's
door.

Mrs Bowater brought in my luncheon, and--as I insisted--her own, too.
The ice from Mr Tidy, the fishmonger's, had given a slightly marine
flavour to the cream, and I had to keep my face averted as much as
possible from the scorched red chop sprawling and oozing on her plate.
How could she bring herself to eat it? We are such stuff as dreams are
made on, said Hamlet. So then was Mrs Bowater. What a mystery then was
this mutton fat! But chop or no chop, it was a happy meal.

Having waved my extremely "Fannyish" letter at her, I rapidly dammed
that current of her thoughts by explaining that I had changed my clothes
not (as a gleam from her eye had seemed to suspect) because I was afraid
of spoiling my London finery, but in order to be really at home. For the
first time I surprised her muttering a grace over the bone on her plate.
Then she removed the tray, accepted a strawberry, folded her hands in
her lap, and we began to talk. She asked a hundred and one questions
concerning my health and happiness, but never once mentioned Mrs
Monnerie; and at last, after a small pause, filled by us both with the
same thought, she remarked that "that young Mr Anon was nothing if not
persistent."

Since I had gone, not a week had passed, she told me, but he had come
rapping at the door after dusk to inquire after me. "Though why he
should scowl like a pitchpot to hear that you are enjoying the lap of
luxury----" The angular shoulders achieved a shrug at least as Parisian
as my discarded gown.

"Why doesn't he write to me, then? Twice in ten weeks!"

"Well it's _six_, miss, I've counted, though _seemingly_ sixty. But that
being the question, he is there to answer it, at any time this evening,
or at six to-morrow morning, if London ways haven't cured you of
early-rising."

So we went off together, Mrs Bowater and I, in the cool of the evening
about half an hour after sunset--she, alas, a little ruffled because I
had refused to change back again into my Monnerie finery. "But Mrs
Bowater, imagine such a thing in a real wild garden!" I protested, but
without mollifying her, and without further explaining--how could I do
that?--that the gown which Miss Sentimentality (or Miss Coquette) was
actually wearing was that in which she had first met Mr Anon.



Chapter Thirty-Six


I trod close in Mrs Bowater's track as she convoyed me through a sea of
greenery breaking here and there to my waist and even above my hat.
Summer had been busy in Wanderslore. Honeysuckle and acid-sweet brier
were in bloom; sleeping bindweed and pimpernel. The air was liquidly
sweet with uncountable odours. And the fading skies dyed bright the
frowning front of the house, about which the new-come swifts shrieked in
their play over my wilderness. Mr Anon looked peculiar, standing alone
there.

Having bidden him a gracious good-evening, Mrs Bowater after a long,
ruminating glance at us, decided that she would "take a stroll through
the grounds." We watched her black figure trail slowly away up the
overgrown terraces towards the house. Then he turned. His clear,
dwelling eyes, with that darker line encircling the grey-black iris,
fixed themselves on me, his mouth tight-shut.

"Well," he said at last, almost wearily. "It has been a long waiting."

I was unprepared for this sighing. "It has indeed," I replied. "But it
is exceedingly pleasant to see Beechwood Hill again. I wrote; but you
did not answer my letter, at least not the last."

My voice dropped away; every one of the fine little speeches I had
thought to make, forgotten.

"And now you are here."

"Yes," I said quickly, a little timid of any silence between us, "and
that's pleasant too. You can have no notion what a stiff, glaring garden
it is up there--geraniums and gravel, you know, and windows, windows,
windows. They are wonderfully kind to me--but I don't much love it."

"Then why stay?" he smiled. "Still, you are, at least, safely out of
_her_ clutches."

"Clutches!" I hated the way we were talking. "Thank you very much. You
forget you are speaking of one of my friends. Besides, I can take care
of myself." He made no answer.

"You are so gloomy," I continued. "So--oh, I don't know--about
everything. It's because you are always cooped up in one place, I
suppose. One must take the world--a little--as it is, you know. Why
don't you go away; travel; _see_ things? Oh, if I were a man."

His eyes watched my lips. Everything seemed to have turned sour. To have
waited and dreamed; to have actually changed my clothes and come
scuttling out in a silly longing excitement--for this. Why, I felt more
lonely and helpless under Wanderslore's evening sky than ever I had been
in my cedar-wood privacy in No. 2.

"I mean it, I mean it," I broke out suddenly. "You domineer over me. You
pamper me up with silly stories--'trailing clouds of glory,' I suppose.
They are not true. It's every one for himself in this world, I can tell
you; and in future, please understand, I intend to be my own mistress.
Simply because in a little private difficulty I asked you to help
me----"

He turned irresolutely. "They have dipped you pretty deep in the
dye-pot."

"And what, may I ask, do you mean by that?"

"I mean," and he faced me, "that I am precisely what your friend, Miss
Bowater, called me. What more is there to say?"

"And pray, am I responsible for everything my friends say? And to have
dragged up _that_ wretched fiasco after we had talked it out to the very
dregs! Oh, how I have been longing and longing to come home. And this is
what you make of it."

He turned his face towards the west, and its vast light irradiated his
sharp-boned features, the sloping forehead beneath the straight, black
hair. Fume as I might, resentment fainted away in me.

"You don't seem to understand," I went on; "it's the waste--the waste of
it all. Why do you make it so that I can't talk naturally to you, as
friends talk? If I am alone in the world, so are you. Surely we can tell
the truth to one another. I am utterly wretched."

"There is only one truth that matters: you do not love me. Why should
you? But that's the barrier. And the charm of it is that not only the
Gods, but the miserable Humans, if only they knew it, would enjoy the
sport."

"Love! I detest the very sound of the word. What has it ever meant to
me, I should like to know, in this--this cage?"

"Scarcely a streak of gilding on the bars," he sneered miserably. "Still
we are sharing the same language now."

The same language. Self-pitying tears pricked into my eyes; I turned my
head away. And in the silence, stealthily, out of a dark woody hollow
nearer the house, as if at an incantation, broke a low, sinister,
protracted rattle, like the croaking of a toad. I knew that sound; it
came straight out of Lyndsey--called me back.

"S-sh!" I whispered, caught up with delight. "A nightjar! Listen. Let's
go and look."

I held out my hand. His sent a shiver down my spine. It was clammy cold,
as if he had just come out of the sea. Thrusting our way between the
denser clumps of weeds, we pushed on cautiously until we actually stood
under the creature's enormous oak. So elusive and deceitful was the
throbbing croon of sound that it was impossible to detect on which naked
branch in the black leafiness the bird sat churring. The wafted
fragrances, the placid dusky air, and far, far above, the delicate,
shallowing deepening of the faint-starred blue--how I longed to sip but
one drop of drowsy mandragora and forget this fretting, inconstant self.

We stood, listening; and an old story I had read somewhere floated back
into memory. "Once, did you ever hear it?" I whispered close to him,
"there was a ghost came to a house near Cirencester. I read of it in a
book. And when it was asked, 'Are you a good spirit or a bad?' it made
no answer, but vanished, the book said--I remember the very words--'with
a curious perfume and most melodious twang.' With a curious perfume," I
repeated, "and most melodious twang. There now, would you like _me_ to
go like that? Oh, if I were a moth, I would flit in there and ask that
old Death-thing to catch me. Even if _I_ cannot love you, you are part
of all this. You feed my very self. Mayn't that be enough?"

His grip tightened round my fingers; the entrancing, toneless dulcimer
thrummed on.

I leaned nearer, as if to raise the shadowed lids above the brooding
eyes. "What can I give you--only to be your peace? I do assure you it is
yours. But I haven't the secret of knowing what half the world means.
Look at me. Is it not _all_ a mystery? Oh, I know it, even though they
jeer and laugh at me. I beseech you be merciful, and keep me what I am."

So I pleaded and argued, scarcely heeding the words I said. Yet I
realize now that it was only my mind that wrestled with him there. It
was what came after that took the heart out of me. There came a clap of
wings, and the bird swooped out of its secrecy into the air above us, a
moment showed his white-splashed, cinder-coloured feathers in the dusk,
seemed to tumble as if broken-winged upon the air, squawked, and was
gone. The interruption only hastened me on.

"Still, still listen," I implored: "if Time would but cease a while and
let me breathe."

"There, there," he muttered. "I was unkind. A filthy jealousy."

"But think! There may never come another hour like this. Know, know now,
that you have made me happy. I can never be so alone again. I share my
secretest thoughts--my imagination, with you; isn't that a kind of love?
I assure you that it is. Once I heard my mother talking, and sometimes I
have wondered myself, if I am quite like--oh, you know what they say: a
freak of Nature. Tell me; if by some enchantment I were really and
indeed come from those snow mountains of yours, and that sea, would you
recognize me? Would you? No, no; it's only a story--why, even all this
green and loveliness is only skin deep. If the Old World were just to
shrug its shoulders, Mr Anon, we should all, big and little, be clean
gone."

My words seemed merely to be like drops of water dripping upon a sponge.
"Wake!" I tugged at his hand. "Look!" Kneeling down sidelong, I stooped
my cheek up at him from a cool, green mat of grass, amid which a
glow-worm burned: "Is this a--a _Stranger's_ face?"

He came no nearer; surveyed me with a long, quiet smile of infinitely
sorrowful indulgence. "A Stranger's? How else could it be, if I love
you?"

Intoxicated in that earthy fragrance, washed about with the colours of
the motionless flowers, it seemed I was merely talking to some one who
could assure me that I was still in life, still myself. A strand of my
hair had fallen loose, and smiling, its gold pin between my lips, I
looped it back. "Oh, but you see--haven't I told you?--I can't love you.
Perhaps; I don't know.... What shall I do? What shall I say? Now
suppose," I went on, "I like myself _that_ much," and I held my thumb
and finger just ajar, "then I like _you_, think of you, hope for you,
why, that!"--and I swept my hand clean across the empty zenith. "_Now_
do you understand?"

"Oh, my dear, my dear," he said, and smiled into my eyes.

I laughed out in triumph at the success of my device. And he laughed
too, as if in a conspiracy with me--and with Misery, I could see,
sitting like an old hag at the door from which the sound came. And out
of the distance the nightjar set again to its churring.

"Then I have made you a little--a little less unhappy?" I asked him, and
hid my face in my hands in a desolate peace and solitude.

He knelt beside me, held out his hand as if to touch me, withdrew it
again. All presence of him distanced and vanished away in that small
darkness. I prayed not to think any more, not to be exiled again
into--how can I explain my meaning except by saying--Myself? Would some
further world have withdrawn its veils and have let me in then and for
ever if that lightless quiet could have continued a little longer? Is it
the experience of every human being seemingly to trespass at times so
close upon the confines of existence as that?

It was his own harsh voice that broke the spell.

"Wake, wake!" it called in my ear. "The woman is looking for you. We
must go."

My hands slipped from my face. A slow, sobbing breath drew itself into
my body. And there beneath evening's vacancy of twilight showed the
transfigured scene of the garden, and, near me, the anxious, suffering
face of this stranger, faintly greened by the light of the worm.

"Wake!" he bade me, rapping softly with his bony finger on my hand. I
stared at him out of a dream.



Chapter Thirty-Seven


Time and circumstance have strangely divided me from the Miss M. of
those days. I look back on her, not with shame, but with a shrug of my
shoulders, a sort of incredulous tolerance--almost as if she too were a
stranger. Perhaps a few years hence I shall be looking back with an
equal detachment on the Miss M. seated here at this moment with her
books and her pen in the solitude of her thoughts, vainly endeavouring
to fret out and spin together mere memories that nobody will ever have
the patience to read. Shall I then be able to tell myself what I want
now, give words to the vague desires that still haunt me? Shall I still
be waiting on for some unconceived eventuality?

There is, too, another small riddle of a different kind, which I cannot
answer. In memory and imagination, as I steadily gaze out of this
familiar room recalling the past, I am that very self in that distant
garden of Wanderslore. But even as I look, I am not only _within_ myself
there, but also outside of myself. I seem, I mean, actually to be
contemplating, as if with my own eyes, those two queer, silent figures
returning through the drowsying, moth-haunted flowers and grasses to the
black, vigilant woman awaiting them beside the garden house. "Alas, you
poor, blind thing," I seem, like a ghost, to warn the one small
creature, "have a care; seize your happiness; it is vanishing!"

All that I write, then, is an attempt only to tell, not to explain. I
realize that sometimes I was pretending things, yet did not know that I
was pretending; that often I acted with no more conscience or
consciousness, maybe, than has a carrion crow that picks out the eyes of
a lamb, or a flower that draws in its petals at noon. Yet I know--know
absolutely, that I was, and am, responsible not only for myself, but for
everything. For my whole world. And I cannot explain this either. At
times, as if to free myself, I had to stare at what appalled me. I am
sure, for instance, that Mrs Monnerie never dreamed that her mention of
Mr Crimble sent me off in fancy at the first opportunity to that woeful
outhouse in his mother's garden to look in on him there--again. But I
did so look at him, and was a little more at peace with him after that.
Why, then, cannot I be at peace with one who loved me?

Maybe if I could have foreseen how I was to come to Wanderslore again, I
should have been a less selfish, showy, and capricious companion to him
that June evening. But I was soon lapped back into my life in London;
and thought only of Mr Anon, as I am apt to think of God: namely, when I
needed his presence and his help. As a matter of fact, I had small time
to think. Even the doubts and misgivings that occasionally woke me in
the night melted like dreams in the morning. Every morrow blotted out
its yesterday--as faded flowers are flung away out of a vase.

In that vortex of visits and visitors, that endless vista of amusements
and eating and drinking--some hidden spring of life in me began to fail.
What a little self-conscious affected donkey I became, shrilly
hee-hawing away; the centre of a simpering throng plying me with
flattery. What airs I put on.

If this Life of mine had been a Biography, the author of it would have
had the satisfaction of copying out from a pygmy blue morocco diary the
names of all the celebrated and distinguished people I met at No. 2. A
few of them underlined in red! The amusing thing is that, like my
father, I was still a Radical at heart and preferred low life--flea-bane
and chickweed--to the fine flowers of culture; which only means, of
course, that in this I am a snob inside out. Nevertheless, the attention
I had shunned I now began to covet, and, like a famous artist or dancer,
would go sulky to bed, if I had been left to blush at being unseen. I
forced myself to be more and more fastidious: and tried to admire as
little as possible. I would even imitate and affect languid
pretentiousnesses and effronteries; and learned to be downright rude to
people in a cultivated way. As for small talk, I soon accumulated a
repertory of that, and could use the fashionable slang and current
"conversations" like a native. All this intensely amused Mrs Monnerie.
For, of course, the more like the general run of these high livers I
was, the more conspicuous I became.

The truth is, the Lioness's head was in peril of being turned, and,
like a blind kitten in a bucket of water, I came very near to being
drowned in the social cream-bowl. For what little I gained in public by
all this silly vanity I paid a heavy price when alone. I began to be
fretful and utterly useless to myself--just lived on from excitement to
excitement. And Fleming soon had better reasons for detesting me than
merely because I was horribly undersized.

Perhaps I am exaggerating; but the truth is I find it extremely
difficult to keep patience with Mrs Monnerie's pampered _protégée_. She
was weak and stupid. Yet learning had not lost its charm. My mind
persisted in being hungry, however much satiated were my senses and fine
feelings. I even infected Susan with my enthusiasm for indigestible
knowledge. For since Mrs Monnerie had begun to find my passion for
shells, fossils, flints, butterflies, and stuffed animals a little
wearisome, it was her niece who now accompanied me to my many Meccas in
her stead. By a happy chance we often met on these pilgrimages the dark,
straight-nosed young man whom I had looked down upon at my first ballet,
and who also apparently was a fanatic.

However deeply engrossed in mementoes of the Dark or Stone Ages he might
be, he never failed to see us the moment we entered his echoing gallery.
He would lift his eyebrows; his monocle would drop out; and he would
come sauntering over to meet us, looking as fresh as apples cold with
dew. I liked Captain Valentine. So much so that I sent an almost
rapturous description of him to Mr Anon.

He did not seem in the least to mind being seen in my company. We had
our little private jokes together. We both enjoyed the company of Susan.
He was so crisp and easy and quick-witted, and yet--to my unpractised
eye--looked delightfully domesticatable. Even the crustiest old
caretaker, at a word and a smile from Captain Valentine, would allow me
to seat myself on the glass cases. So I could gloat on their contents at
leisure. And certainly of the three of us I was by far the most diligent
student.

Long hours, too, of the none too many which will make up my life would
melt away like snow in Mrs Monnerie's library. A button specially fixed
for me in the wainscot would summon a manservant. Having ranged round
the lofty walls, I would point up at what books I wanted. They would be
strewn around me on the floor--gilded and leathery volumes, some of
them almost of my own height, and many times my weight. I would open the
lid, turn the great pages, and carefully sprawling on my elbows between
them, would pore for hours together on their coloured pictures of birds
and flowers, gems and glass, ruins, palaces, mountains--hunting,
cock-fighting, fashions, fine ladies, and foreign marvels. And I dipped
into novels so like the unpleasanter parts of my own life that they
might just as well have been autobiographies.

The secret charm of all this was that I was alone; and while I was
reading I ceased to worry. I just drugged my mind with books. I would go
rooting and rummaging in Mrs Monnerie's library, like a little pig after
truffles. There was hardly a subject I left untasted--old plays, and
street ballads; Johnson's enormous dictionary, that extraordinary book
on Melancholy with its borage and hellebore and the hatted young man in
love; _Bel and the Dragon_, the _Newgate Calendar_. I even nibbled at
Debrett--and clean through all its "M's." The more I read, the more
ignorant I seemed to become; and quite apart from this smattering jumble
of knowledge, I pushed my way through memoirs and romances at the very
sight of which my poor godmother would have fainted dead off.

They may have been harmful; but I certainly can't say that I regret
having read them--which may be part of the harm. You could tell the
really bad ones almost at a sniff. They had bad smells, like a beetle
cupboard or a scented old man. I read on of witchcraft and devils, yet
hated the cloud they cast over me--like some horrible treacle in the
mind. But as for the authors who just reasoned about Time and God and
Miracles, and so on, I poked about in them willingly enough; but my
imagination went off the other way--with my heart in its pocket.
Possibly without knowing it. But I do know this: that never to my dying
day shall I learn what a common-sized person with a pen or a pencil, can
_not_ make shocking, or be shocked at. It seemed to me that to some of
these authors the whole universe was nothing better than a Squid, and a
very much scandalized young woman would attempt to replace their works
on the shelves.

When in good faith I occasionally ventured to share (or possibly to
show off) some curious scrap of information with Mrs Monnerie, I thought
her eyes would goggle out of her head. It was perhaps my old _mole_
habit that prevented me from dividing things up into the mentionable and
unmentionable. Possibly I carried this habit to excess; and yet, of
course, remained the slave of my own small pruderies. Still, I don't
think it was either Mrs Monnerie's or Percy's pruderies that I had to be
careful about. To make _him_ laugh was one of the most hateful of my
experiences at No. 2.

I have read somewhere that the human instincts are "unlike Apollyon,
since they always degrade themselves by their disguises. They dress
themselves up as Apes and Mandrils; he as a ringed, supple,
self-flattering, seductive serpent." Possibly that has something to do
with it. Or is it that my instincts are also on a petty scale? I don't
know. I hate and fear pain even more than most people, and have fought
pretty hard in the cause of self-preservation. On the other hand, I
haven't the faintest wish in the world to "perpetuate my species." Not
that I might not have been happy in a husband and in my children. I
suppose that kind of thing comes on one just as naturally as breathing.
Nevertheless, I suspect I was born to be an Old Maid. Calling up Spirits
from the vasty deep has always seemed to me to be a far more dreadful
mystery than Death. It is not, indeed, the ghosts of the dead and the
past which I think should oppress the people I see around me, but those
of the children to come. I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the
happiness and misery of having been alive, but my small mind reels when
I brood on what the gift of it implies.

Well, well, well; of one burden at least I can absolve Mrs
Monnerie--that of making me so sententious. Somehow or other, but ever
more sluggishly, those few crowded summer months of my twentieth year
wore away. It is more of a mercy than a curse, I suppose, that Time
never stands still.

Meanwhile two events occurred which, for the time being, sobered and
alarmed me. A few days before I had actually planned to pay a second
visit to Mrs Bowater's, the almost incredible news reached me that she
was sailing for South America. It would hardly have surprised me more to
hear that she was sailing for Sirius. She came to bid me good-bye. It
was _Mr_ Bowater, she told me. She had been too confident of the "good
nursing." Far from mending in this world, his leg threatened "to carry
him off into the next." At these tidings Shame thrust out a very ugly
head at me from her retreat. I had utterly forgotten the anxiety my poor
old friend was in.

She put on her spectacles with trembling fingers, and pushed her
husband's letter across to me. The handwriting was bold and thick, yet I
fancied it looked a little weak in the loops:--


     "DEAR EMILY,--The leg's giving me the devil in this hole of a
     place. It looks as if I shouldn't get through with it. I should be
     greatly obliged if you would come out to me. They'll give you all
     the necessary information at the shipping office. Ask for Pullen.
     My love to Fanny. What's she looking like now? I should like to see
     her before I go; but better say nothing about it. You've got about
     a month or three weeks, I should think; if that.

     "I remain, your affec. husband,

     "JOSEPH BOWATER."


"Easy enough in _appearance_," was Mrs Bowater's comment, as she folded
up this stained and flimsy letter again, and stuffed it into her purse,
"but it's past even Mr Bowater to control what can be read between the
lines."

She looked at me dumbly; the skin seemed to hang more loosely on her
face. In vain I tried to think of a comforting speech. The tune of
"Eternal Father," one of the hymns we used to sing on windy winter
Sunday evenings together, had begun droning in my head. The thought,
too, was worrying me, though I did not put it into words, that Mr
Bowater, far rather than in Buenos Ayres, would have preferred to find
his last resting-place in Nero Deep or the Virgin's Trough--those
enormous pits of blue in the oceans which I myself had so often gloated
on in his Atlas. We were old friends now, he and I. He was Fanny's
father. The very ferocity of his look had become a secret understanding
between us. And now--at this very moment perhaps--he was dying. The
jaunty "_devil_" in his letter, I am afraid, affected me far more than
Mrs Bowater's troubled face or even her courage.

Without a moment's hesitation she had made up her mind to face the
Atlantic's thousands of miles of wind and water to join the husband she
had told me had long been "worse than" dead. The very tone in which she
uttered the word "steamer," was even more lugubrious than the enormous,
mocking hoot of a vessel that had once alarmed me out of the sea one
still evening at Lyme Regis. It was a horrifying prospect, yet she just
quietly said, "steamer," and looked at me over her spectacles.

While she was away, the little house on Beechwood Hill, "bought, thank
God, with my own money," was to be shut up, but it was mine if I cared
to return to it, and would ask a neighbour of hers, Mrs Chantry, for the
key. It would be Fanny's if anything "happened" to herself. So dismal
was all this that Mrs Bowater seemed already lost to me, and _I_ twice
an orphan. We talked on together in low, cautious voices. After a single
sharp, cold glance at my visitor, Fleming had left us to ourselves over
an enormous silver teapot. I grew so nervous at last, watching Mrs
Bowater's slow glances of disapproval at her surroundings; her hot,
tired face; and listening to her long drawn sighs, that again and again
I lost the thread of what she was saying, and could answer Yes, or No,
only by instinct.

What with an antiquated time-table, a mislaid railway ticket, and an
impudent 'bus-conductor, her journey had been a trying experience. I
discovered, too, that Mrs Bowater disliked the West End. She had first
knocked at No. 4 by mistake. Its butler had known nothing whatever at
all about any Miss M., and Mrs Bowater had been too considerate to
specify my dimensions. She had then shared a few hot moments in the
porch of No. 2 with a more fashionable visitor--to neither's
satisfaction. A manservant had admitted her to Mrs Monnerie's marble
halls and "barefaced" statuary, and had apparently thought the large
parcel she carried in her arms should have been delivered in the area.

She bore no resentment, though I myself felt a little uneasy. Life was
like that, she seemed to imply, and she had been no party to it. There
was no doubt a better world where things would be different--it was
extraordinary what a number of conflicting sentiments she could convey
in a pause or a shut of her mouth. Black and erect, she sat glooming
over that alien teapot, sipping Mrs Monnerie's colourless China tea,
firmly declining to grimace at its insipidity, until she had told me
all there was to tell.

At last, having gathered herself together, she exhorted me to write to
that young Mr Anon. "I see a fidelity one might almost say dog-like,
miss, on that face, apart, as I have reasons for supposing, from a
sufficiency in his pocket. Though, the Lord knows, you are young yet and
seemingly in no need of a home."

Parcel, reticule, umbrella--she bent over me with closed eyes, and
muttered shamefacedly that she had remembered me in her Will, "and may
God bless you, miss, I'm sure."

I clutched the gloved hand in a sudden helpless paroxysm of grief and
foreboding. "Oh, Mrs Bowater, you forgive----" I choked, and still no
words would come.

She was gone, past recall; and all the love and gratitude and remorse I
had longed to express flooded up in me. Yet, stuck up there in my chair,
my chief apprehension had been that Fleming might come in again, and
cast yet another veiled, sneering glance at my visitor.

Peering between the gilded balusters, I watched my old friend droop away
stiffly down the mild, lustrous staircase, bow to the man who opened the
door for her, and emerge into the sunny emptiness.

Maybe the thought had drifted across her mind that I had indeed been
dipped in the dye-pot. But now--these many years afterwards--there is no
more risk of misunderstanding. It is eight o'clock; the light is fading.
Chizzel Hill glows green. I hear her feebling step on the stairs. She
will peer at me over spectacles that now always straddle her nose. I
must put my pen and papers away; and I, too, have made my Will.



Chapter Thirty-Eight


Mrs Bowater's departure from England--and it seemed as if its very map
in my mind had become dismally empty--was not my only anxiety. My
solicitors had hitherto been prompt; their remittances almost
monotonously identical in amount. But my quarterly allowance on
Midsummer Day, had been followed by a letter a week or two after her
good-bye. It seemed to be in excellent English, and yet it was all but
unintelligible to me. Every re-reading of it--the paper had apparently
been dipped in water and dried--increased its obscurity and my alarm. I
knew nothing about money matters, and the encyclopædia I consulted only
made me more dejected and confused. I remembered with remorse my poor
father's last troubles. To answer the Harrises was impossible, and
further study of their letter soon became unnecessary, for I had learned
it by heart.

The one thing certain was that Fanny's wolf had begun scratching at my
door: that my income was in imminent danger. I had long since squandered
the greater part of what remained out of my savings (after Fanny had
helped herself) on presents and fal-lals; merely, I am afraid, to show
Mrs Monnerie that I, too, could be extravagant. How much I owed her I
could not even conjecture, and had not dared to inquire. To ask her
counsel was equally impossible. She was almost as remote from me in this
respect as Mrs Bowater, now in the centre of the Atlantic. As for Fanny,
I had returned her postal orders and had heard no more.

For days and days gloom hung over me like a thundercloud. Wherever I
went I was followed by the spectres of the Harrises. Then, for a time,
as do all things, foreboding and anxiety gradually faded off. I plunged
back into the cream-bowl with the deliberate intention of drowning
trouble.

Meanwhile, I had not forgotten Fanny's "sinecure." One mackerel-skied
afternoon, Mrs Monnerie and I and Susan were returning across the Park
from an "At Home"--"to meet Miss M." A small child of the house had
richly entertained the company by howling with terror at sight of me,
until he had been removed by his nurse. I bear him no grudge; he made a
peg on which to hang Fanny's proposal.

"And what can Miss Bowater do? What are her qualifications?" Mrs
Monnerie inquired pleasantly.

"She is--dark and--pale," I replied, staring a little giddily out of the
carriage at the sheep munching their way over the London grass.

"Dark and pale?" mused Mrs Monnerie. "Well, that goes nearer the bone,
perhaps, than medals and certificates and that sort of thing. Still, a
rather Jane Eyreish kind of governess, eh, Susan?"

Unfortunately I was acquainted with only one of the Miss Brontës, and
that not Charlotte.

"Miss Bowater is immensely _clever_, Mrs Monnerie," I hurried on, "and
extremely popular with--with the other mistresses, and that sort of
thing. She's not a bit what you might guess from what you might
suppose."

"Which means, I gather," commented Mrs Monnerie affably, "that Miss
Bowater is the typical landlady's daughter. A perfect angel in--or out
of--the house, eh, Miss Innocent?"

"No," said I, "I don't think Miss Bowater is an angel. She is so
interesting, so _herselfish_, you know. She simply couldn't be happy at
Miss Stebbings's--the school where she's teaching now. It's not salary,
Mrs Monnerie, she is thinking of--just two nice children and their
mother, that's all."

This vindication of Fanny left me uncomfortably hot; I continued to gaze
fixedly into the green distances of the park.

Yet all was well. Mrs Monnerie appeared to be satisfied with my
testimonial. "You shall give me her address, little Binbin; and we'll
have a look at the young lady," she decided.

Yet I was none too happy at my success. Those familiar old friends of
mine--motives--began worrying me. Would the change be really good for
Fanny? Would it--and I had better confess that this troubled me the
most--would it be really good for me? I wanted to help her; I wanted
also to show her off. And what a joy it would be if she should change
into the Fanny of my dreams. On the other hand, supposing she didn't On
the whole, I rather dreaded the thought of her appearance at No. 2.


Susan followed me into my room. "Who _is_ this Miss Bowater?" she
inquired, "besides, I mean, being your landlady's daughter, and that
kind of thing?"

But my further little confidences failed to satisfy her.

"But why is she so _not_ an angel, then? Clever and lovely--it's a
rather unusual combination, you know. And yet"--she reflectively smiled
at me, all candour and gentleness--"well not unique."

I ran away as fast as ever I could with so endearing a compliment--and
tossed it back again over my shoulder: "You don't mean, Susan, that
_you_ are not clever?"

"I do, my dear; indeed I do. I am so stupid that unless things are as
plain and open as the nose on my face, I feel like suffocating. I'm
dreadfully out of the fashion--a horrible discredit to my sex. As for
Miss Bowater, I was merely being odious, that was all. To be quite
honest and hateful--I didn't like the sound of her. And Aunt Alice is so
easily carried away by any new scent. If a thing's a novelty, or just
good to look at, or what they call a work of art--why, the hunt's up.
There wouldn't have been any use for the Serpent in _her_ Eden. Mere
things, of course, don't matter much: except that they rather lumber up
one's rooms; and I prefer not to live in a museum. It's when it comes to
persons. Still, it isn't as if Miss Bowater was coming here."

I remained silent, thinking this speech over. Had it, I speculated,
"come to" being a "person" in my own case?

"Did you meet any other interesting people there?" Miss Monnerie went
on, as if casually, turning off and on the while the little cluster of
coloured electric globes that was on my table. "I mean besides Miss
Bowater and that poor, dreadful--you know?"

"No," I said bluntly, "not many."

"You don't mind my asking these questions? And just in exchange, you
solemn thing, I'll tell _you_ a secret. It will be like shutting it up
in the delightfullest, delicatest little rosebud of a box!" In that
instant's pause, it was as if a dream had passed swiftly, entrancingly,
across the grave, smiling face.

"Look!" she said, stooping low, and laying her slim left hand, palm
downwards, across my table. I did look; and the first thing I noticed
was how like herself that hand was, and how much less vigorous and
formidable than Fanny's. And then I caught her meaning.

"Oh, Susan," I cried in a woeful voice, gazing at the smouldering stones
ringing that long slim third finger, "wherever I turn, I hear that."

"Hear what?"

"Why, of love, I mean."

"But why, why?" the narrow brows lifted in faint distress, "I am going
to be ever so happy."

"Ah, yes, I know, I know. But why can't you be happy alone?"

She looked at me, and a faint red dusked the delicate cheek. "Not _so_
happy. Not _me_, I mean."

"You do love him, then?" the words jerked out.

"Why, you strange thing, how curiously you speak to me. Of course I love
him. I am going to marry him."

"But how do you know?" I persisted. "Does it mean more to
you--well--than the secret of everything? I mean, what comes when one is
almost nothing? Does it make you more yourself? or just break you in
two? or melt you away?--oh, like a mist that is gone, and to every petal
and blade of grass its drop of burning water?"

A shade of dismay, almost of fear--the look a timid animal gives when
startled--stole into her eyes. "You ask such odd questions! How can I
answer them? I know this--I would rather die than _not_. Is that what
you mean?"

"Oh," my voice fainted away--disappointment, darkness, ennui; "only
that!"

"But what do you mean? What are you saying? Have you been told all this?
It disturbs me; your face is like----"

"Yes! what is it like?" I cried in distress, myself sinking back into
myself, as if hiding in a lair.

"I can't say," she faltered. "I didn't know...."

We talked on. But though I tried to blur over and withdraw what I had
said, she remained dissatisfied. A thin edge of formality had for the
moment pushed in between us.

That night I addressed a belated letter to Wanderslore, reproaching Mr
Anon for not writing to me, telling him of Mrs Bowater's voyage, and
begging him to assure the garden-house and the fading summer flowers
that they had not been deserted in my dreams.


At a quarter to twelve one morning, soon after this, I was sitting with
Mrs Monnerie on a stool beneath Chakka's cage, and Susan was just about
to leave us--was actually smoothing on the thumb of her glove; when
Marvell announced that a Miss Bowater had called. I turned cold all over
and held my breath.

"Ah," whispered Mrs Monnerie, "your future Mrs Rochester, my pet."

Every thought scuttled out of my head; my needle jerked and pricked my
thumb. I gazed at the door. Never had I seen anything so untransparent.
Then it opened; and--there was Fanny. She was in dark gray--a gown I had
never seen before. A tight little hat was set demurely on her hair. In
that first moment, she had not noticed me, and I could steal a long,
steady look at the still, light, vigilant eyes, drinking in at one
steady draught their new surroundings. Her features wore the thinnest,
unfamiliar mask, like a flower seen in an artificial light. What wonder
I had loved her. My hands went numb, and a sudden fatigue came over me.

Then her quiet, travelling glance descended and hovered in secret
colloquy with mine. She dropped me a little smiling, formal nod,
moistened her lips, and composed herself for Mrs Monnerie. And it was
then I became conscious that Susan had quietly slipped out of the room.

It was a peculiar experience to listen to the catechism that followed.
From the absorption of her attitude, the large, sidelong head, the
motionless hands, it was clear that Mrs Monnerie found a good deal to
interest her in the dark, attentive figure that stood before her. If
Fanny had been Joan of Arc, she could not have had a more single-minded
reception. Yet I was enjoying a duel: a duel not of wits, but of
intuitions, between the sagacious, sardonic, watchful old lady, soaked
in knowledge of humanity but, as far as I could discover, with
extraordinarily small respect for it, and--Fanny. And it seemed to me
that Fanny easily held her own; just by being herself, without revealing
herself. Face, figure, voice; that was all. I could not take my eyes
away. If only, I thought, my own ghost would keep as quiet and hidden as
that in the presence of others.

Perhaps I exaggerate. Love, living or dying, even if it is not blind,
cannot, I suppose, focus objects very precisely. It sees only itself or
disillusionment. Whether or not, the duel was interrupted. In the full
light of the window, Fanny turned softly at the opening of the door.
Marvell was announcing another caller. At his name my heart leapt up
like William Wordsworth's at the rainbow. It was Sir Walter Pollacke.

"This is _your_ visitor, Poppet," Mrs Monnerie waggishly assured me,
"you shall have half an hour's _tête-à-tête_."



Chapter Thirty-Nine


So it was with a deep sigh--half of regret at being called away, and all
of joy at the thought of seeing my old friend again--that I followed
Marvell's coat-tails over the threshold. With a silly, animal-like
affection I brushed purposely against Fanny's skirts as I passed her by;
and even smirked in a kind of secret triumph at Percy Maudlen, who
happened to be idling on the staircase as I hastened from room to room.

The door of the library closed gently behind me, as if with a breath of
peace. I paused--looked across. Sir Walter was standing at the further
end of its high, daylit, solemn spaciousness. He was deep in
contemplation of a white marble bust that graced the lofty
chimney-piece--so rapt, indeed, that until I had walked up into the full
stream of sunshine from a nearer window and had announced my approach
with a cough, he did not notice my entrance. Then he flicked round with
an exclamation of welcome.

"My dear, dear young lady," he cried, beaming down on me from between
his peaked collar-tips, over his little black bow, the gold rim of his
large eye-glasses pressed to his lip, "a far--far more refreshing sight!
Would you believe it, it was the pleasing little hobby of that oiled and
curled monstrosity up there--Heliogabalus--to smother his guests in
roses--literally, smother them? Now," and he looked at me quizzically as
if through a microscope, "the one question is how have _you_ survived
what I imagine must have been a similar ordeal? Not quite at the last
gasp, I hope? _Comparatively_ happy? It's all we can hope for, my dear,
in this world."

I nodded, hungrily viewing him, meeting as best I could the bright blue
eyes, and realizing all in a moment the dark inward of my mind.

Those other eyes began thinking as well as looking. "Well, well, that's
right. And now we must have a little quiet talk before his Eminence
reappears. So our old friend Mrs Bowater has gone husband-hunting?
Gallant soul: she came to see me."

Squatted up on a crimson leather stool, I must have looked the picture
of astonishment.

"Yes," he assured me, "there are divinities that shape our ends; and Mrs
Bowater is one of them. If anything can hasten her husband's
recovery---- But never mind that. She has left me in charge. And here I
am. The question is, can we have too many trustees, guardians? Perhaps
not. Look at the Koh-i-Noor, now."

I much preferred to continue to look at Sir Walter, even though, from
the moment I had entered the room, at least five or six voices had begun
arguing in my mind. And here, as if positively in answer to them, was
his very word--_trustee_. I pounced on it like a wasp on a plum. It was
a piece of temerity that saved me from--well, as I sit thinking things
over in quiet and leisure in my old Stonecote, the house of my
childhood, I don't know what it hasn't saved me from.

"Too many trustees, Sir Walter?" I breathed. "I suppose, not--if they
are _honest_."

"But bless me, my dear young lady," his face seemed to be shining like
the sun's in mist; "whose heresies are these? Have they given you a
French maid?"

"Fleming; oh, no," I replied, laughing out, "she's a Woman of Kent, all
_but_. What I was really thinking is, that I would, if I may--and please
forgive me--very much like to show you a letter. I simply can't make
head or tail of it. But it's dreadfully--suggestive."

"My dear, I came in certain hope of being shown nothing less vital than
your heart," he retorted gallantly.

So off I went--with my visitor all encouraging smiles as he opened the
door for me--to fetch my lawyer's bombshell.

Glasses on tip of his small, hawklike nose, Sir Walter's glittering eyes
seemed to master this obscure document at one swoop.

"H'm," he said cautiously, and once more communed with the bust of
Heliogabalus. "Now what did you think of it all? Was it _worth_ six and
eightpence, do you think?"

"I couldn't think. It frightened me. 'The Shares,' you know. Whose
Shares? Of what? I'm terribly, terribly ignorant."

"Ah," he echoed, "the Shares--as the blackbird said to the Cherry Tree.
And there was nobody, you thought, to discuss the letter with? You
didn't answer it?"

"Nobody," said I, with a shake of my head, and smoothing my silk skirts
over my knees.

"Why, of course not," he sparkled. "You see how admirably things work
out. Miss Fenne, Mr Pellew, Mrs Bowater, my wife, Tom o' Bedlam, Hypnos,
Mrs Monnerie, Mr Bowater, Mrs Bowater, the Harrises, _Me_. 'Pon my word,
you'd think it was a plot. Now, supposing I keep this letter--could you
trust it with me for a while?--and supposing I see these gentlemen, and
make a few inquiries; and that in the meantime--we--we bottle the
Cherries? But first, I must have a little more information. Your father,
my dear. Let's just unbosom ourselves of all this horrible old
money-grubbing, and see exactly how we stand."

I needed no second invitation, and poured out helter-skelter all (how
very little, in my girlish folly) that I knew about my father's affairs,
and of how I had been "left."

"And Miss Fenne, now?" he peered out, as if at my godmother herself.
"Why didn't she send word to France? Where is this providential
step-grandfather, Monsieur Pierre de Ronvel, all this time? Not dead
too?"

Shamefully I had to confess that I did not know; had not even inquired.
"It is my miserable ingratitude. I just blow hot and cold; that is my
nature."

"Well, well, it may be so." He smiled at me, as if out of the distance,
with the serenest kindliness. "But you and I are going to share the
temperate zone--a cool, steady, Trade Wind."

"If only," I smiled, taking him up on this familiar ground, "if only I
could keep clear of the Tropics--and that Sargasso Sea!"

At this little sally he gleamed at me as goldenly as the spade guinea
that dangled on his waistcoat. Then he rose and surveyed one by one a
row of silent, sumptuous tomes in their glazed retreat: "The Sargasso
Sea; h'm, h'm, h'm; and one might suppose," he cast a comprehensive
glance at the taciturn shelves around and above us, "one might suppose
the tuppenny box would afford some of these a more sociable haven."

But this was Greek to me. "Mrs Monnerie is generous?" he went on,
"indulgent? Groundsel, seed, sugar, _and_ a Fleming. Yet perhaps the
door might be pushed just an inch or two farther open, eh? What I'm
meaning, my dear, is, will you perhaps wait in patience a little? And if
anything should go amiss, will you make me a promise to send just a wisp
of a word and a penny stamp to an old friend who will be doing his best?
The first lawyer, you know, was a waif that was adopted by a tortoise
and a fox. Now _I_'m going to be a mole--with its fur on the bias, as
Miss Rossetti happened to notice--and burrow. So you see, all will come
well!"

I must have been sitting very straight and awkward on my stool, and not
heeding what my face was telling.

"Is there anything else distressing you, my dear?" he asked anxiously,
almost timidly.

"Only myself," I muttered. "There doesn't seem to be any end to it all.
I grope on and on, and--the kindness only makes it worse. _Can_ there be
a riddle, Sir Walter, that hasn't any answer? I remember reading in a
book that was given me that Man 'comes into the world like morning
mushrooms.' Don't you think that's true; even, I mean, of--everybody?"


But his views on this subject were not to be shared with me for many a
long day. Our half-hour was over; and there stood Mrs Monnerie,
mushroom-shaped, it is true, but suggesting nothing of the evanescent,
as she looked in on us from the mahogany doorway.

"How d'ye do, Sir Walter," she greeted him. "If it hadn't been for an
exceedingly interesting young creature disguised, I understand, as a
Miss Bowater, I should have had the happiness of seeing you earlier. And
how is our Peri looking, do you think?"

"How is our Peri looking?" he repeated musingly, poising himself, and
eyeing me, on his flat, gleaming boots; "why, Mrs Monnerie, as I suppose
a Peri _should_ be looking--into Paradise."

"Then, my Peri," said Mrs Monnerie blandly, "ask Sir Walter to be a
complete angel, and stay to luncheon."

Mrs Monnerie, I remember, was in an unusually vivacious humour at that
meal; and devoured immense quantities of salmon mayonnaise. One might
have supposed that Fanny's influence had added a slim crescent of
silvery light to her habitual earthshine. None the less, when our guest
was gone, she seemed to subside into a shallow dejection; and I into a
much deeper. We sate on together in an uneasy silence, she pushing out
her lips, restlessly prodding Cherry with her foot, and occasionally
uttering some inarticulate sound that was certainly not intended as
conversation.

I think Mrs Monnerie was in secret a more remarkable woman than she
affected to be. However thronged a room might be, you could never be
unaware that she was in it. And in the gentle syllabub of polite
conversation her silence was like that of an ancient rock with the
whispering of the wavelets on the sands at its base. I remember once
seeing a comic picture of an old lady with a large feather in her bonnet
placidly sitting on a camp-stool beneath a pollard willow on one side of
a stream, while a furious, frothing bull stood snorting and rampaging on
the other. I think the old lady in the picture was meant to be
Britannia; but, whoever or whatever the bull might represent, Mrs
Monnerie reminded me of her. She sat more heavily, more passively, in
her chair than any one I have ever seen.

Of course--quite apart from intelligence--there must be many, many
_layers_ in society, and I cannot say at all how far Mrs Monnerie was
from the topmost. But I am sure she was able to look down on a good many
of them; while I was born always to be "looking up." I was looking up at
Mrs Monnerie now from my stool. Widespread in her chair, she had closed
her eyes, and to judge from her face, she was dreaming. It looked more
faded than usual. The puckers gave it a prunish look. Queer, contorting
expressions were floating across her features. Her soul seemed gently to
rock in them, like an empty boat at night on a dark river. In the pride
of my youth--and a little uneasy over my confidences with Sir Walter--I
examined my patroness with a slight stirring of dismay.

"Oh, no, no! never to grow old, not me," a voice was saying in me. Yet,
after all, I reminded myself, I was looking only at Mrs Monnerie's
outer case. But then, after all, _was_ it only that? "The Resurrection
of the body." One may see day at a little hole; says an old proverb--I
hope a Kentish proverb. And from Mrs Monnerie, my thoughts drifted away
to Fanny. She would grow old too. Should we know one another then?
Should we understand, and remember what it was to be young? We had had
our secrets.

I came out of these reflections to find Mrs Monnerie's sleepy eyes fixed
full upon me; and herself marvellously cheered up by her nap. She had
thought very well of Miss Bowater, she told me. So well that she not
only very soon found her a charming engagement as a morning governess to
the two little girls of a rich fashionable widow--just Fanny's
"sinecure"--but invited her to stay at No. 2 as a "companion" to
herself, until a more permanent post offered itself.

"You and I want more company," she assured me; "otherwise the flint will
use up all the tinder, or vice versa, my dear. A pretty creature and no
fool. She sings a little, too, she tells me. So we shall have music
wherever she goes."

That afternoon both flint and tinder--whichever of us was which--were
kept very busy. Mrs Monnerie fell into one of her long monologues,
broken only by Chakka's griding on his bars, and Cherry's whimpering in
his dreams. It was another kind of "white meat" for me: and though, no
doubt, I was incapable of digesting _all_ Mrs Monnerie's views on life,
society, and the world at large, I realized that if in the course of
time it might be my fate to wither and wizen away, I should still have
my own company and plenty of internal entertainment. I actually saw
myself a little bent-up, old, midget woman creeping down some stone
steps out of a porch, with a fanlight, under a street lamp. It curdled
my blood, that picture. And yet, I thought, what must be, must be. I
will _endure_ to be a little, bent-up, old, midget woman, creeping down
stone steps out of a porch with a fanlight. And I even nodded up at the
street lamp.

In response to a high-spirited scrawl from Fanny, I sent her all that
was left of my savings to purchase "those horrible little etceteras that
just feather down the scales, Midgetina. It would be saintlike of you,
and you won't miss it _there_." It was a desperate wrench to me to see
the last of my money disappear. I knew no more than the Man in the Moon
where the next was to come from.

I counted the days to Fanny's coming; and dressed myself for the
occasion in the most expensive gold and blue afternoon gown I possessed.
It must have been with a queer, mixed motive in my head. I sat waiting
for her, while beyond the gloom-hung window raged a London thunderstorm,
with dense torrents of rain. My little silver clock struck three, and
she entered my room like a black swan, tossing from her small, velveted
head, as she did so, a few beads of rain. From top to toe in deadest
black. She must have noticed my glance of wonderment.

"When you want to make a favourable impression on your social superiors,
Midgetina, the meeker you look the better," she said.

But this was not the only reason for her black. Only a day or two
before, she told me, a letter had come from her mother.... "My father is
dead." The words dropped out as if they were quite accustomed to one
another's company. But those which followed--"blood-poisoning,"
"mortification," hung up in my mind--in that interminable gallery--a
hideous picture. I could only sit and stare at the motionless figure
outlined against the sepulchral window.

"It is awful, awful, Fanny!" I managed to whisper at last. "It never
stops. One after another they all go. Think how he must have longed to
be home. And now to be buried--out there--nothing but strangers."

A vacancy came over my mind in which I seemed to see the dead Mr Bowater
of my photograph rising like Lazarus in his grave-cloths out of his
foreign tomb, and looking incredulously around him.

"And your mother, Fanny! Out there, too--those miles and miles of sea
away!"

Fanny made no movement, though I fancied that her eyes wandered uneasily
towards the door. "I quite agree, Midgetina; it's awful!" she said. "But
really and truly, it's worse for me. I think I am like my father in some
ways. Mother never really understood him. You can't _talk_ a man
different; and for that matter holding your tongue at him is not much
good either. You must just lie in wait for him with--well, with your
charms, I suppose."

The word sounded like a sneer. "Still, I don't mean to say that it was
all pure filial bliss for me when he _was_ at home, until, at least, I
grew up. Then he and I quarrelled too; but that's pleasure itself by
comparison with listening to other people at it. He did his best to
spoil me, I suppose. He wanted to make a lady of me." She turned and
smiled out of the window; her under-lip quivering and casting a faint
shadow on the smooth skin beneath. "So here I am; though I fear you
can't make ladies of _quite_ the correct consistency out of dressmaker's
clothes and a smatter of Latin. The salt will out. But there," she flung
a little gesture with her glove, "as I say, here I am."

And as if for welcome, a gleam of lightning danced at the window,
illumining us there, and a crackling peal of thunder rolled hollowly off
over the roof-tops of the square. We listened until the sound had
emptied itself into quiet; and only the rain in the gutters gurgled and
babbled.

"Do you know," she went on, with a far-away challenging thrill in her
low, mournful voice, "I don't think I have a solitary relation left in
the world now--except mother. 'They are all gone into a world of
light'--though I've now and then suspected that a few of the
disreputable ones have been buried alive. There's nothing very dreadful
in that. Life consists, of course, in shedding various kinds of
skin--and tanning the remainder."

Fanny, then, _was_ unaware that Mrs Bowater was not her real mother. And
I think she never guessed it.

"Nor have I," I said, "not one." As I looked at it there, it seemed a
fact more curious than tragic. Besides, in the brooding darkness of that
room it was Fanny and I who were strange, external beings, not the
memoried phantoms of my mother and father. We had still to go on, to
live things out. "So you see, Fanny," I continued, after a pause, "I do
know what it means--a little; and we must try more than ever to be
really one another's friend, mustn't we? I mean, if you think I can be."

"Why, I owe you pounds and pounds," cried Fanny gaily, pushing back her
handkerchief into her bodice. "Here we are--not quite in the same box,
perhaps; still strangers and pilgrims. Of course we must help one
another.... Just think of this house! The servants! The folly of it, and
all for Madame Monnerie--though I wouldn't mind being in her shoes, even
for one season. Socialism, my dear, is all a question of shoes. And this
is Poppetkin's little boudoir? A pygmy palace, my dear, and if only the
lightning would last a little longer I might get a real glimpse of that
elfin little exquisite over there in her beautiful blue brocade. But
then; it will be roses all the way with you, Miss M. You are
independent, and valued for yourself alone."

"How different people are, Fanny. You always think first of the use of a
thing, and I, stupidly, just of it--itself."

"Do we?" she said indifferently, and rose from her chair. "Anyhow I'm
here to be of use. And who," she remarked, with a little yawn, as she
came to a pause again beside the streaming window. "Who was that prim,
colourless girl with the pale blue eyes? Engaged to be married."

"But Fanny, she had her gloves on that morning, I remember it as clearly
as--as I always remember everything where you are: how could you
possibly tell that Susan Monnerie was engaged?"

It was quite a simple problem, Fanny tranquilly assured me: "The ring
bulged under the suède."

Her scornfulness piqued me a little. "Anyhow," I retorted, "Susan's eyes
are not _pale_ blue. They are almost cornflower--chicory colour; like
the root of a candle-flame."

"Please, Midgetina," Fanny begged me, "don't let me canker your new
adoration. Perhaps you preened your pretty feathers in them when they
were fixed on the demigod. 'Susan'! I thought all the Susans perished in
the 'sixties, or had fled down the area. And who is _he_?" But she did
not follow up her question. All things come to him who waits, she had
rambled on inconsequently, if he waits long enough; and no doubt God
would temper the wind to the shorn orphan even if she did look a perfect
frump in mourning.

"You know you could never look a frump," I replied indignantly, "even if
you hadn't a rag on."

Fanny shrugged her dainty shoulders. "Alas!" she said.

But her "orphan" had brought me back with a guilty shock to what, no
doubt, was an extremely fantastic panorama of Buenos Ayres; and that
swiftly back again to Mr Crimble. For an instant or two I looked away.
Perhaps it was my caution that betrayed me.

"It's no use, Midgetina," she sang across at me from her window.
"Whether it's because the chemical reactions of your pat little brain
are more intense than ordinary people's, or because you and I are _en
rapport_, I can't say. But there's one thing we must agree upon at once:
never, never again to mention his name--at least in _this_ house. The
Crimble chapter is closed."

Closed indeed. But so sharp were her tones I hadn't the courage to warn
her that even Susan had read most of it. Fanny came near, and, stooping
as Susan had stooped, began fidgeting with the button of my electric
chandelier. The little lamps shone wanly in our faces in the
cloud-darkened room.

"You see, my dear," she said playfully, "you think me all mockery and
heartlessness. And no doubt you are right. But I want ease and security:
just like that--as if I were writing an essay--'ease and security.' I
don't care a dash about affection--at least without the aforesaid E. and
S. I intend to please Mrs Monnerie, and she is going to be grateful to
me. Don't think I am being 'candid.' I should have no objection to
saying just the same thing to Mrs Monnerie herself: she'd enjoy it.
Wait, you precious inchy image--wait until you need a sup of fatted
calf's-foot jelly, not because you are sick of husks, but because you
are deadly poor. Then you will understand. These sumptuosities! Wait
till they haven't a ha'penny in their pockets, real or moral, for their
next meal. They only look at things--if that; they can't know what they
are. Even to be decently charitable one must have been a beggar--and
cursed the philanthropists. Oh, I know: and Fanny's race is for
Success."

"But surely, Fanny, a thing is its looks, if only you look long enough.
And I should just like to hear you talking if you were in my place.
Besides, what is the use of success--in the end, I mean? You should see
some of the actresses and singers and authors and that kind of thing Mrs
Monnerie knows? You wouldn't have realized the actresses were even
beautiful unless you had been told so. Why, you couldn't even say the
_World_ is a success, except in the country. What is truly the use of
it, then?" I had grown so eager in my argument that I had got up from
my chair.

"The use, you poor thing?" laughed Fanny; "why, only as a kind of
face-cream to one's natural pride."

The day was lightening now; but at that the whole darkness of my own
situation drew close about me. Success, indeed. What was I? Nothing but
a halfpennyless, tame pet in No. 2. What salve could restore to me _my_
natural pride?



Chapter Forty


In happier circumstances, the next morning's post might have reassured
me. Two letters straddled my breakfast tray, for I always had this meal
in my own room. One of them was from Wanderslore--a long, crooked,
roundabout letter, that seemed to taunt, upbraid, and entreat me, turn
and turn about. It ended with a proposal of marriage.

In most of the novels I have read, the heroine simply basks in such a
proposal, even though scarcely her finger-tips are warmed by its rays.
For my part, this letter, far from making me happy or even complacent,
produced nothing but a feeling of fretfulness and shame. Thrusting it
back into its envelope, I listened a while as if an eavesdropper might
have overheard my silent reading of it--as if I must hide. Then, with
eyes fixed on my small coffeepot, I sank into a low, empty reverie.

The world had not been so tender to my feelings as to refrain from
introducing me to General Tom Thumb and Miss Mercy Lavinia Bump Warren.

"A pair of them! how quaint! how romantic! how _touching_!" I saw
myself--gossamer veil, dwarfed orange-blossom, and gypsophila bouquet,
all complete. Perhaps Mr. Pellew--perhaps even Miss Fenne's bishop,
would officiate. Possibly Percy would be persuaded to "give me away."
And what a gay little sniggling note in the _Morning Post_.

I came out of these sardonic thoughts with cold hands and a sneer on my
lips, and the thought that I had seen quite as conspicuously paired
human mates even though their size was beyond reproach. Thank goodness,
when I read my letter again, slightly better feelings prevailed. After
all, the merest cinder of love would have made my darkness light. I
shouldn't have cared for a thousand "touching's" then. I was still
myself, a light-headed, light-hearted, young woman, for all my troubles
and follies. If I had loved him, the rest of the world--much truer and
sweeter within than it looks from without--would have vanished like a
puff of smoke. But not even love's ashes were in my heart, except,
perhaps, those in which Fanny had scrawled her name.

I beat about, bruising wings and breast, hating life, hating the friend
who had suddenly slammed-to another door in my gilded cage. "You can
never, never go back to Wanderslore now," muttered my romantic heart.
Friends we could have remained--only the closer for adversity. Now all
that was over; and two human beings who might have been a refuge and
reconciliation to one another, amused--as well as amusing--observers of
the world at large, had been by this one piece of foolish excess divided
for ever. I simply couldn't bear to look ridiculous in my own eyes.

My other letter was from Sir W. P. He had seen the Harrises. Those foxy
tortoises had advanced a ridiculous £1 19s. 7d. of my September
allowance--the price of a pair of Monnerie bedroom slippers! It was
enclosed--and Sir Walter begged me not to worry. Might he be my bank?
Would I be so kind as to break it as soon as ever I wished? Meanwhile he
would be making further inquires into my affairs.

Perhaps because Sir W. P. was a business man, he was less persuasive
with his pen than with his tongue. I thought he was merely humouring me,
fell into a violent rage, and tore up not only his letter, but--noodle
that I was--the Harris Order too--into the tiniest pieces, and heaped
them up, like a soufflé, on my tray. Mr Anon's I locked up in my old
money-box, with the nightgown and the Miss Austen. Both letters wore
like acid into my mind. From that day on--except for a few half-stifled
or excited hours--they were never out of remembrance.


Even the most valuable and expensive pet may become a vexation if it is
continually showing ill-temper and fractiousness. Mrs Monnerie merely
puckered her lips or shrugged her shoulders at my outbursts of vanity
and insolence. But drops of water will wear away a stone. From being
Court Favourite I gradually sank to being Court Fool. In sheer ennui and
desperation I waggled my bells and brandished my bladder. A cat may look
at a Queen, but it should, I am sure, make faces only at her
Ladies-in-waiting.

Fanny inherited yet another sinecure; and it was not envy on my side
that helped her to shine in it, though I had my fits of jealousy. She
was determined to please; and when Fanny made up her mind, circumstances
seemed just to fawn at her feet. Life became a continuous game of chess,
the moves of which at times kept me awake and brooding in a far from
wholesome fashion in my bed. Pawn of pawns, and one at the point of
being sacrificed, I could only squint at the board. Indeed, I
deliberately shut my eyes to my own insignificance, strutted about,
sulked, sharpened my tongue like a serpent, and became a perfect pest to
myself when alone. Yet I knew in my heart that those whom I hoped to
wound merely laughed at me behind my back, that I was once more proving
to the world that the smaller one is the greater is one's vanity.

In the midst of this nightmare, by a curious coincidence rose like a
Jack-in-the-box from out of my past the queerest of phantoms--and proved
himself real.

I was sullenly stewing in my thoughts in the library one morning over a
book which to this day I never weary of reading; Gilbert White's
_Natural History of Selborne_. It was the nearest I could get to the
country. The whim took me to try and become a little better acquainted
with "William Markwick, Esq., F.L.S.," who had himself seen the _sphinx
stellatarum_ inserting its proboscis into the nectary of a flower while
"keeping constantly on the wing." There seemed to be something in
common, just then, between myself and the _Sphinx_.

I pressed my wainscot bell. After an unusual delay in a drastically
regulated household, the door behind me gently opened. I began simpering
directions over my shoulder in the Percy way with servants--and
presently realized that all was not quite as it should be. I turned to
look, and saw thrust in at the doorway an apparently bodiless,
protuberant head, with black, buttony eyes on either side a long, long
nose. Then the remainder of this figure squeezed reluctantly in. It was
Adam Waggett.

Guy Fawkes himself, caught lantern in hand among his powder barrels,
must have looked like Adam Waggett at this moment. For a while I could
only return his stare from the midst of a vortex of memories. When at
last I found my tongue and inquired peremptorily how he came there, and
what he was doing in the house, he broke into a long, gurgling,
strangulated guffaw of laughter. I was already in a sour temper--in
spite of the sweetness of Selborne. As a boy he had been my acute
aversion; and here he was a grown man and as doltish and ludicrous as
when he had roared at me in the moonlight from outside the kitchen
window at Stonecote. His stupidity and disrespect made me almost
inarticulate with rage.

Maybe the foolish creature, feeling as strange as a cat in a new house,
was only expressing his joy and affection at sight of a familiar face.
But I had no time to consider motives. In a fever of apprehension that
his noise might be overheard, my one thought now was to bring him to his
senses. I shook my fists at him! and stamped my foot on the Turkey
carpet--as if in snow. He watched me in a stupefaction of admiration,
but at length his face solemnified, and he realized that my angry
gestures were not intended for his amusement.

His mouth stood open, he shook his head, and, unless my eyes deceived
me, set back his immense ears.

"Beg pardon, miss, I'm sure," he stuttered, "it was the sc-hock, and you
inside the book there, and the old times like; and even though they was
telling me that there was such a--such a young lady in the house.... But
I won't utter a word, miss, not me. Only," he stared round at the closed
door and lowered his voice to an even huskier whisper, "except to tell
you that Pollie's doing very nicely, and whenever I sees her--well,
miss, that thunderstorm and the old cow!"

At this his features gathered together for another outburst, which I
succeeded in stifling only by warning him that so long as he remained at
Mrs Monnerie's he must completely forget the old cow and the
thunderstorm, and never address me in company, or even glance in my
direction if we happened to be together in the same room.

"Mrs Monnerie would be extremely angry, Adam, to hear you laughing in
the library; and I am anxious that you should be a credit to Lyndsey in
your new situation."

"But you rang, miss--at least the library did," he replied, now
thoroughly contrite, "and Mr Marvell said, 'You go along, there,
Waggett, second door right, first staircase,' so I come."

"Yes," I said, "but it was a mistake. A mistake, you understand. Now go
away; and remember!"

A few minutes afterwards, Marvell himself discreetly entered the room;
merely, as it would appear, to adjust the angles of a copy of the
_Spectator_ that lay on the table.

"It's very close this morning," I remarked, with as much dignity as I
could muster.

"It is indeed, miss," said Marvell, stooping sedately to examine my
bell-push. He rose and brushed his fingers.

"They say, miss, the electricity gets into the wires, when thunder's in
the air. A wonderful invention, but not, as I am told, entirely
independent of changes in the weather. I hope, miss, you haven't been
disturbed...."


When Susan, even paler and quieter than usual, presently looked into the
library, she found its occupant still on the floor and brooding over the
browns and greys, the roses and ochres, of a complete congregation of
_Sphingidæ_. She stooped over me, sprawling in so ungainly a fashion
across my book.

"Moths, this morning? What a very learned person you will become." Her
voice was a little flat, yet tender; but I was still in the sulks, and
made no answer.

"I suppose," she began again, as if listlessly, and straying over to the
window, "I suppose it is very pleasant for you, seeing so much of your
friend, Miss Bowater?"

Caution whispered a warning, and I tried to wriggle out of an answer by
remarking that Fanny's mother was the kindest woman in the whole world.

"Where is she now?"

"In Buenos Ayres."

"Really? How curious family traits are. The very moment I saw Miss
Bowater I was quite certain that she was intended for an adventurous
life; and didn't you say that her father was an officer in the merchant
service? What is he like?"

"Mr Bowater? He died--out there, only a week or two ago."

"How very, very sad," breathed Susan. "And for Miss Bowater. I never
even guessed from her manner that she was in trouble of that kind. And
that, I suppose, shows a sort of courage. You were perfectly right; she
is lovely and clever. The face a little hard, don't you think, but
_very_ clever. She seems to be prepared for what Aunt Alice is going to
say long before she says it. And I, you know, sometimes don't notice
even the sting till--till the buzzing is over." She paused. "And you
were able to make a real friend of her?"

Susan had not the patience to wait until I could sort out an answer to
this question. "I don't want to be intrusive," she went on hurriedly,
"to--to ask horrid questions; but is it true, you dear thing, that you
may some day be leaving us?"

"Leaving you?" I echoed, my thoughts crouching together like chicks
under a hen.

The reply came softly and reluctantly in that great cistern of air.

"Why, I understood--to be married."

I leant heavily on my hands, seeing not the plumes and colours of the
Sphinxes that swam up at me from the page, but, as if in a mist between
them and me, the softly smiling face of Fanny. At last I managed to
overcome the slight physical sickness that had swept over me. "Susan"; I
said, "if a friend betrayed the very soul out of your body, what would
you do? where would you go?"

"Betray! I, my dear?" and she broke into a confused explanation.

It was a remark of Percy's she had been referring to, a silly, trivial
remark, not, she was sure, intended maliciously. Why, every one teased
every one. Didn't she know it? And especially about the things that were
most personal, "and, well, sacred." It was nothing. Just that; and she
should not have repeated it.

"Tell me exactly, please," said I.

"Well, Aunt Alice was talking of marriage; and Miss Bowater smiled. And
Aunt Alice--you know her mocking way--asked how, at her age--Miss
Bowater's--she had learned to look at the same time both charming and
cynical. 'Don't forget, my dear,' they were her very words, 'that the
cynicism wears the longer.' But Miss Bowater laughed, and changed the
subject by asking if she could do anything for your headache. It was the
afternoon, you remember, when you were lying down. That was all."

"And Mr Maudlen?"

The fair cheek reddened. "Oh, Percy made a joke--about you. Just one of
his usual horrid jokes. My dear"--she came and knelt down beside me and
laid her gentle hand on my shoulder; "don't look so--so awful. It's only
how things go."

I drew the hand down. It smelled as fresh and sweet as jessamine.

"Don't bother about me, Susan," I said coldly. "Just leave me to my
moths. I could show you scorpions and hornets ten times more dangerous
than a mere Death's Head. You don't suppose I care? Why, as you say,
even God has His little joke with some of us. I'm quite used to it."

"Don't, don't," she implored me. "You are over-tired, you poor little
thing. You go on reading and reading. Why, your teeth are chattering."

A faint brazen reverberation from out of the distance increased in
intensity and died away. It was Adam performing on the gong. Susan had
tried to be kind to me, to treat me as if I were a normal fellow-being.
I pressed the cool fingers to my lips.

"There, Susan," I said, with cheerful mockery, "except for my father and
mother, I do believe you are the first life-size or any-size person I
have ever kissed. A midget's gratitude!"

Ever so slightly the fingers constricted beneath my touch. No doubt
there was a sensation of the spidery in my embrace.



Chapter Forty-One


But a devil of defiance had entered into me. With a face as snakily
sweet as I could make it, I made my daintiest bow to Mrs Monnerie's
guests--to Lord Chiltern, a tall, stiffish man, who blinked at our
introduction almost as solemnly and distastefully as had Mrs Bowater's
Henry, and to Lady Diana Templeton. A glance at this lady reminded me
spitefully of an old suspicion of mine that Mrs Monnerie usually invited
her duller friends to luncheon and the clever to dinner. Not that she
failed to enjoy the dull ones, but it was in a different way.

A long, gilded Queen Anne mirror hung opposite my high chair, so that
whenever I glanced across I caught sight not only of myself with cheeks
like carnations above my puffed blue gown, but also of Adam Waggett.
Ever and again his red hand was thrust over my shoulder--the hand that
had held the wren. And I was so sick at heart--on yet another wren's
behalf--that I could hardly repress a shudder. Poor Adam; whenever I
think of him it is of a good, yet weak and silly man. He has found his
Eden, so I have heard, in New Zealand now, and I hope he has forgiven my
little share in his life.

Throughout that dull luncheon my tongue went mincing on and on--in sheer
desperation lest any one should detect the state of mind I was in. With
pale eyes Percy sniggered over his soup. Susan was silent and
self-conscious. Captain Valentine frowned and nibbled his small
moustache. Lady Diana Templeton smiled like a mauve-pink snapdragon, and
Mrs Monnerie led me on. It was my last little success. Luncheon over, I
was helped down from my chair, and allowed "to run away."

What was it Lord Chiltern was saying? I paused on the threshold: "An
exquisite little performance. But isn't it a little selfish to hide her
light under your admirable bushel, Mrs Monnerie? The stage, now?"

"The stage!" exclaimed Mrs Monnerie in consternation. "The child's as
proud as Lucifer. She would faint at the very suggestion. You have heard
her deliciously sharp little tongue, but her tantrums! Still, she's a
friendly and docile little creature, and I am very well satisfied with
her."

"And not merely that"; paced on the rather official voice. "I was
noticing that something in the eyes. Almost disconcertingly absent yet
penetrating. She thinks. She comes and goes in them. I noticed the same
peculiarity in poor Willie Arbuthnot's. And this little creature is
scarcely more than a child."

"I think it is _perfectly_ sad, Lord Chiltern," broke in a reedy,
vibrating voice. "In some circumstances it would be _tragic_. It's a
mercy she does not realize ... _habit_, you know...."

Listeners seldom hear such good things of themselves. Why, then, was it
so furious an eavesdropper that hastened away with a face and gesture
worthy of a Sarah Siddons!

No: my box remained locked. Yet, thought I, as I examined its contents,
any dexterous finger could have opened that tiny lock--with a hairpin.
And how else could my secret have been discovered? Fleming or Fanny--or
both of them: it maddened me to think of them in collusion. I would take
no more risks. I tore Mr Anon's letter into fragments, and these again
into bits yet smaller, until they were almost like chaff. These I
collected together and put into an envelope, which I addressed in
sprawling capitals to Miss Fanny Bowater, at No. 2.

Then for a sombre half-hour I communed intensely at the window with my
Tank. It was hot and taciturn company--not a breath of air stirred my
silk window-blind--yet it managed to convey a few home truths, and even
to increase the light a little in which I could look at the "bushel."
There _were_ "mercies," I suppose. Out of the distance rolled the vague
reverberation of the enormous city. I watched the sparrows, and they me.
When the time came for my afternoon walk, I put on my hat, with eyes
fixed on my letter, and, finally--left it behind me.

Was it for discretion's sake, or in shame? I cannot say, but I remember
that during my slow descent to the empty hall I kept my eyes fixed with
peculiar malignity on the milk-white figure of a Venus (not life-size,
thank Heaven), who had been surprised apparently in the very act of
entering the water for a bathe. Why I singled her out for contempt I
cannot say; for she certainly looked a good deal more natural and
modest than many of the fine ladies who heedlessly passed her by. It was
merely my old problem of the Social Layers over again. And my mind was
in such a state of humiliation and discomfort that I hadn't the energy
even to smile at a marble goddess.


Fanny was awaiting me on my return. A strand of hair was looped demurely
and old-fashionedly round each small ear; her clear, unpowdered skin had
the faint sheen of a rose. She stood, still and shimmering, in the
height of pleasant spirits, yet, I thought, watchful and furtive through
it all. She had come, she said, to congratulate me on my "latest
conquest."

Mrs Monnerie, she told me, had been pleased with my entertainment of the
late First Commissioner of--was it Good Works? But I must beware. "Once
a coquette, Midgetina, soon _quite_ heartless," she twitted me.

To which I called sourly, as I stood drying my hands, that pretty
compliments must be judged by where they come from.

"Come from, indeed," laughed Fanny. "He's a positive Peer of the Realm,
and baths, my dear, every morning in the Fount of Honours. You wouldn't
be so flippant if ... hallo! what's this? A letter--addressed to Me!
Where on earth did this come from?"

Heels to head, a sudden heat swept over me. "Oh," said I hollowly,
"that's nothing, Fanny. Only a little joke. And now you are here---- But
surely," I hurried on, "you don't really like that starched-up
creature?"

But Fanny was holding up my envelope between both her thumbs and
forefingers, and steadily smiling at me, over its margin. "A joke,
Midgetina; and one of your very own. How exciting. And how bulgy. May I
open it? I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Please, Fanny, I have changed my mind. Let me have it. I don't feel
like jokes now."

"But honestly, _I_ do. Some jokes have such a deliciously serious side.
Besides, as you have just come in, why didn't this go out with you?" To
which I replied stubbornly that it was not her letter; that I had
thought better of it; and that she had no right to question me if I
didn't want to answer.

"I see." Her voice had glided steadily up the scale of suavity. "It's a
bit more of the dead past, is it? And you don't like the--the
fragrance. But surely, if we are really talking about rights--and,
according to my experience, there are none too many of them knocking
about in this world--surely I have the right to ask what pulpy mysteries
are enclosed in an envelope addressed to me in what appears to be a
feigned ca--calligraphy? Look. I am putting the thing on the floor so
that we shall be on--well--fairly equal terms. Even your sensitive Sukie
could not be more considerate than that, could she? All I want to know
is, what's inside that envelope? If you refuse to say, well and good. I
shall retire to my maidenly couch and feed on the blackest
suppositions."

It was a cul-de-sac; and the only thing to do was to turn back boldly
and get out of it.

"Well, Fanny; I have told you that I thought better of sending it. But I
am not ashamed. Even if I am wrong, I suppose you are at liberty to have
your little jokes too, and so is Percy Maudlen. It's a letter, torn up;
that's all."

"A letter--so I guessed. Who from?"

I gazed at her silently.

"Yes?"

"It's hateful of you, Fanny.... From the hunchback."

Her astonishment, surely, could not have been pretence. "And what the
devil, you dear, stammering little midgelet, has your miserable little
hunchback to do with me? Why send his scrawls to _me_--and in bits?"

"Because," said I, "I thought you had been making fun of him and me
to--the others."

The light hands lifted themselves; the dark head tilted a little back
and askew. "_What_ a roundabout route," she sighed. But her face was
false to the smooth, scornful accents. "So you suspected me of spying on
you? _I_ see. And gentle Susan Monnerie was kind enough to smear a
little poison on the fangs. Well, Midgetina love, I tell you this. It's
safer sometimes to lose your reputation than your temper. But there's a
limit----"

"Hush," I whispered, for I had sharper ears than Fanny even when rage
had not deafened her own. I pounced on the envelope--but only just in
time.

"It's Mr Percy, miss," announced Fleming, "and may he come in?"

"Hallo!" said that young man, lounging greyly into view, "a bad penny,
Miss M. I happened to be passing Buszard's just now, and there was the
very thing! Miss Bowater says you have a sweet tooth, and they really
are rather neat." He had brought me the daintiest little box of French
doll bonbons. I glared at it; I glared at him--hardly in the mood for
any more of his little jokes--not even one tied up with pale-blue
ribbon.

"There's another thing," he went on. "Susan told us that your birthday
was coming along--August 25th, isn't it? And I have proposed a Grand
Birthday Party, sort of general rag. Miss M. in the Chair. Don't you
think it's a ripping idea of mine, Miss Bowater?"

"_Most_ ripping," said Fanny, meeting his long, slow, sneaking glance
with a slight and seemingly involuntary lift of her narrow shoulder. A
long look I could not share passed between them; I might have been a toy
on the floor.

"But you don't look positively in the pink," he turned to me. "Now, does
she? Late hours, eh? You look crumpled, doesn't she? Cherry, too: we
must have in another Vet." The laugh died on his long lips. His eyes
roved stealthily from point to point of the basking afternoon room, then
once more sluggishly refastened on Fanny. I sat motionless, watching his
every turn and twist, and repeating rapidly to myself, "Go away, my
friend; go away, go away." Some nerve in him must have taken the message
at last, or he found Fanny's silence uneasy. He squinnied a glinting,
curious look at me, and as jauntily as self-consciousness permitted,
took his departure.

The door shut. His presence fainted out into a phantasm, and that into
nothing at all. And for sole evidence of him basked on my table, beneath
a thread of sunlight, his blue-ribboned box.

"_Is_n't he a ninny?" sighed Fanny. "And yet, my dear: there--but for
the grace of God--goes Mr Fanny Bowater."

Her anger had evaporated. There stood my familiar Fanny again, slim as a
mast, her light eyes coldly shining, her bearing, even the set of her
foot showing already a faint gilding of Mrs Monnerie. She
laughed--looking straight across at me, as if with a challenge.

"Yes, my dear, it's quite true. I'm not a bit cross now. Milk and Honey.
So you see even a fool may be a lightning conductor. I forgive," she
pouted a kiss from the tips of her fingers, "I forget."

And then she was gone too, and I alone. What an easy, consoling
thing--not to care. But though Fanny might forgive, she must have found
it unamusing to forget. The next evening's post brought me an
exquisitely written little fable, signed "F. B.," and entitled
_Asteroida and the Yellow Dwarf_. I couldn't enjoy it very much; though
no doubt it must have been exceedingly entertaining when read aloud.

Still Fanny did not _care_. While I myself was like those railway lines
under the green bank I had seen on my journey to Lyme Regis. A day's
neglect, a night's dews, and I was stained thick with rust. A dull and
heedless wretchedness took possession of me. The one thought that kept
recurring in every instant of solitude, and most sharply in those
instants which pounced on me in the midst of strangers, was, how to
escape.

I put away the envelope and its contents into my box again. And late
that night, when I was secure from interruption, I wrote to Wanderslore.
Nibbling a pen is no novelty to me, but never in all my life have I
spent so blank and hideous an hour merely in the effort to say No to one
simple question so that it should sound almost as pleasant as Yes, and
far more unselfish. "Throw the stone," indeed; when my only desire was
to heal the wound it might make.

Thank goodness my letter was kinder than I felt. My candelabra burned
stilly on. Cold, in the blues, I stood in my dressing-gown and
spectacling my eyes with my hands, looked out of the chill glass into
the London night. Only one high garret window shone out in the dark face
of the houses.... Who, where, was Willie Arbuthnot with the peculiar
eyes? Had Lord Chiltern a tank on his roof--his back-yard? What a fool I
had been to abandon myself and come here. If they only knew how I
despised them. And the whole house asleep. So much I despised them that
not until I was dressing the following morning did I stoop into my
Indian mirror to see if I could discover what Lord Chiltern had meant.

During the next few weeks Mrs Monnerie--with ample provocation--almost
yawned at sight of me. In a bitter instant of rebellion our eyes met.
She detected the "ill-wish" in mine, and was so much taken aback by it
that I should hardly have recognized the set face that glared at me as
hers at all. Well, the fancier had wearied of her fancy--that was all.
If I had been just an ordinary visitor, she would soon have washed her
hands of me. But I was notorious, and not so easily exchanged as
bronchitic Cherry had been for her new Pekinese, Plum.

Possibly, too, the kind of aversion she now felt against me was a closer
bond than even virtuosity or affection. She would sit with a sullen
stare under her heavy eyelids watching me grow more and more heated and
clumsy over my scrap of embroidery or my game of Patience. Meanwhile
Chakka would crack his nut, and with stagnant eye sidle thievishly up
and down the bars of his cage; while Plum gobbled up dainties or snored
on his crimson cushion. We three.

Usually I was left pretty much alone; and what plans Mrs Monnerie was
turning over to dispose of me were known only to herself. What to do;
where to hide; how to "make myself small" during those torpid August
days, I hardly knew. My one desire was to keep out of sight. One
afternoon, I remember, after brooding for some hours under a dusty lilac
bush in the Square garden, I strayed off--my eyes idly glancing from
straw to hairpin to dead match in the dust--down a narrow deserted side
street that led to a Mews. A string of washing hung in the sunlight from
the windows. Skirting a small public house, from which the smell of beer
and spirits vapoured into the sunshine, I presently found myself in a
black-green churchyard among tombstones.

A clear shadow slanted across the porch, the door of the church stood
open, and after pausing for a moment on its flagstones, I went in. It
was empty. Stone faces gazed sightlessly from its walls. Two red
sanctuary lamps hung like faint rubies in the distant chancel. I dragged
out a cushion and sat down under the font. The thin, cloudy fragrance
that hung in the gloom of the coloured windows stole in through my
nostrils, drugged my senses. Propping my chin on my hands, I looked up
through the air into the dark roof. A pendulum ticked slowly from on
high. Quiet began to steal over me--long centuries of solitude had
filled this vacancy as with a dream.

It was as if some self within me were listening to the unknown--but to
whom? I could not answer; I might as well have been born a pagan. Was
this church merely the house of a God? There were gods and temples all
over the world. Was it a house of _the_ God? Or only of "their" God? In
a sense I knew it was also _my_ God's, but how much more happily
confident of His secret presence I had been in wild-grown Wanderslore.
Did this mean that I was actually so much alone in my world as to be
different from all other human beings?

A fluttering panic swept through my mind at the muffled thumping of the
invisible pendulum. I had forgotten that time never ceased to be
wasting. And the past stretched its panorama before my eyes: No. 2; the
public house with the solitary thinking man I had seen, pot in hand,
staring into the sawdust; and this empty, cavernous silence. Then back
and back--Lyme Regis, Mrs Bowater's--and Fanny, Lyndsey, my mother and
father, the garden. No sylphs of the air, no trancing music out of the
waters now! It was as if the past were surrounded with a great wall; and
the future clear and hard as glass. You might explore the past in
memory: you couldn't scale its invisible walls.

And there was Mr Crimble--an immeasurable distance away; yet he had
still the strange power to arrest me, to look out on me in my path. Must
the future be all of its piece? I stopped thinking again, and my eyes
wandered over my silk skirt and shoes.

My ghost! there was no doubt I was an exceedingly small human being. It
may sound absurd, but I had never _vividly_ realized it before. And how
solemnly sitting there--like a spider in wait for flies. "For goodness'
sake, Miss M.," I said to myself, "cheer up. You are being deadly dull
company--always half afraid. They daren't really do anything to you, you
know. Face it out." And even while I was muttering, I was reading the
words cut into a worn tombstone at my feet: "Jenetta Parker"--only
two-and-twenty, a year older than I. Yet she had lain here for two whole
centuries and more. And beneath her name I spelled out her epitaph:--


     "Ah, Stranger, breathe a sigh:
        For, where I lie,
     Is but a handful of bright Beauty cast:
        It was; and now is past."


I repeated the words mechanically again and again; and, as if in
obedience to her whisper, a much more niggardly handful of none too
bright a beauty did breathe a sigh and a prayer--part pity, part
melancholy, and all happiness and relief. I kissed my hand to Jenetta;
crossed myself and bowed to the altar--dulled gems of light the
glass--and emerged into the graveyard. A lamp had been lit. An old man
was shuffling along behind me; he had come to lock up the church. For an
instant I debated whether or not to scuttle off down the green-bladed
cobbles of the Mews and--trust my luck. No: the sight of a Punch and
Judy man gobbling some food out of a newspaper at the further corner
scared me out of _that_ little enterprise. Dusk was settling; and I
edged back as fast as I could to No. 2.

But it did me good--that visit. It was as if I had been looking back and
up at my own small skull on a high shelf in some tranquil and dingy old
laboratory--a few bottles, a spider's web, and an occasional glint of
moonlight. How very brief the animation for so protracted a peace.



Chapter Forty-Two


Susan's visits to her aunt were now less frequent. Percy's multiplied.
Duty seemed to have become a pleasure to him. Mrs Monnerie's gaze would
rest on him with a drowsy vigilance which it was almost impossible to
distinguish from mere vacancy of mind. He was fortunate in being her
only nephew; unfortunate in being himself, and the son of a sister to
whom Mrs Monnerie seemed very little attached. Still, he appeared to be
doing his best to cultivate his aunt's graces, would meander "in
attendance" round and round the Square's square garden, while Fanny's
arm had now almost supplanted Mrs Monnerie's ebony cane. When Mrs
Monnerie was too much fatigued for this mild exercise, or otherwise
engaged, there was still my health to consider. At least Fanny seemed to
think so. But since Percy's conversation had small attractions for me,
it was far rather he who enjoyed the experience; while I sat and stared
at nothing under a tree.

At less than nothing--for I was staring, as usual, chiefly at myself. I
seemed to have lost the secret of day-dreaming. And if the quantity of
aversion that looked out of my eyes had matched its quality, those
piebald plane-trees and poisonous laburnums would have been scorched as
if with fire. I shall never forget those interminable August days,
besieged by the roar and glare and soot and splendour and stare of
London. All but friendless, absolutely penniless, I had nothing but bits
of clothes for bribes to keep Fleming from mutiny. I shrank from making
her an open enemy; though I knew, as time went on, that she disrelished
me more and more. She would even keep her nose averted from my clothes.

As for Fanny, to judge from her animation when Susan and Captain
Valentine broke in upon us, I doubt if anybody less complacent than
Percy would not have realized that she was often bored. She would look
at him with head on one side, as if she had been painted like that for
ever and ever in a picture. She could idly hide behind her beauty, and
Percy might as well have gone hunting Echo or a rainbow. She could make
corrosive remarks in so seducing a voice that the poor creature hardly
knew where the smart came from. He would exclaim, "Oh, I say, Miss
Bowater!" and gape like a goldfish. Solely, perhaps, to have some one to
discuss herself with, Fanny so far forgave and forgot my shortcomings as
to pay me an occasional visit, and had yawned how hideously expensive
she found it to live with the rich. But the only promise of help I could
make was beyond any possibility of performance. I promised, none the
less, for my one dread was that she should guess what straits I was in
for money.

It is all very well to accuse Percy Maudlen of goldfishiness. What kind
of fish was I? During the few months of my life at Mrs
Monnerie's--until, that is, Fanny's arrival--she had transported her
"Queen Bee," as she sometimes called me, to every conceivable social
function and ceremony, except a deathbed and a funeral. Why had I not
played my cards a little more skilfully? Had not Messrs de la Rue
designed a pack as if expressly for me, and for my own particular little
game of Patience? If perhaps I had shown more sense and less
sensibility; and had not been, as I suppose, in spite of all my airs and
flauntings, such an inward young woman, what altitudes I might have
scaled. Mrs Monnerie, indeed, had once made me a promise to present me
at Court in the coming May. It is true that this was a distinction that
had been enjoyed by many of my predecessors in my own particular
"line"--but I don't think my patroness would have dished me up in a Pie.

That being so, my proud bosom might at this very moment be heaving
beneath a locket adorned with the royal monogram in seed pearls, and
inscribed, "To the Least of her Subjects from the Greatest of Queens."
Why, I might have been the most talked-of and photographed débutante of
the season. But I must beware of sour grapes. "There was once a Diogenes
whom the gods shut up in a tub."--Poor Mr Wagginhorne, he had been,
after all, comparatively frugal with his azaleas.

In all seriousness I profited far too little by Mrs Monnerie's
generosities, by my "chances," while I was with her. I just grew
hostile, and so half-blind. Many of her friends, of course, were merely
wealthy or fashionable, but others were just natural human beings. As
Fanny had discovered, she not only delighted in people that were
pleasant to look at. She enjoyed also what, I suppose, is almost as
rare, intelligence.

The society "Beauties," now? To be quite candid, and I hope without the
least tinge of jealousy, I think they liked the look of me--well, no
better than I liked the look of excessively handsome men. These exotics
of either sex reminded me of petunias--the headachy kind, that are
neither red nor blue, but a mixture. I always felt when I looked at them
that they knew they were making me dizzy. Yet, as a matter of fact, I
could hardly see their beauty for their clothes. It must, of course, be
extremely difficult to endure _pure_ admiration. True, I never remember
even the most tactful person examining me for the first time without
showing some little symptom of discomposure. But that's a very different
thing.

There was, however, another kind of beauty which I loved with all my
heart. It is difficult to express what I mean, but to see a woman whose
face seemed to be the picture of a dream of herself, or a man whose face
was absolutely the showing of his own mind--I never wearied of that. Or,
at any rate, I do not now; in looking back.

So much for outsides. Humanity, our old cook, Mrs Ballard, used to say,
is very like a veal and ham pie: its least digestible part is usually
the crust. I am only an amateur veal and ham Pieist; and the fact
remains that I experienced just as much difficulty with what are called
"clever" people. They were like Adam Waggett in his Sunday clothes--a
little too much of something to be quite all there. I firmly believe
that what one means is the best thing to say, and the very last thing,
however unaffected, most of these clever people said was seemingly what
they meant. Their conversation rarely had more than an intellectual
interest. You asked for a penny, and they gave you what only looked like
a threepenny bit.

Perhaps this is nothing but prejudice, but I have certainly always got
on very much better with stupid people. Chiefly, perhaps, because I
could share experiences with them; and the latest thoughts did not
matter so much. Clever men's--and women's--experiences all seem to be
in their heads; and when I have seen a rich man clamber through the eye
of a needle, as poor Mr Crimble used to say, I shall keep my eyes open
for a clever one attempting the same feat. It had been one of my absurd
little amusements at Mrs Bowater's to imagine myself in strange
places--keeping company with a dishevelled Comet in the cold wilds of
space, or walking about in the furnaces of the Sun, like Shadrach and
Abednego. Not so now. Yet if I had had the patience, and the far better
sense, to fix my attention on any one I disliked at Mrs Monnerie's so as
to enter _in;_ no doubt I should so much have enlarged my inward self as
to make it a match at last even for poor Mr Daniel Lambert.

On the other hand, I sometimes met people at No. 2, or when I was taken
out by Mrs Monnerie, whose faces looked as if they had been on an almost
unbelievably long journey--and one not merely through this world, though
that helps. I did try to explore _those_ eyes, and mouths, and wrinkles;
and solitudes, stranger than any comet's, I would find myself in at
times. Alas, they paid me extremely little attention; though I wonder
they did not see in my eyes how hungry I was for it. They were as
mysterious as what is called genius. And what would I not give to have
set eyes on Sir Isaac Newton, or Nelson, or John Keats--all three of
them comparatively little men.

However absurdly pranked up with conceit I might be, I knew in my heart
that outwardly, at any rate, I was nothing much better than a curio. To
care for me was therefore a really difficult feat. And apart from there
being very little time for anything at Mrs Monnerie's, I never caught
any one making the attempt. When the novelty of me had worn off, I used
to amuse myself by listening to Mrs Monnerie's friends talking to one
another--discussing plays and pictures and music and so on--anything
that was new, and, of course, each other. Often on these occasions I
hardly knew whether I was on my head or my heels.

Books had always been to me just a part of my life; and music very
nearly my death. However much I forgot of it, I wove what I could
remember of my small reading round myself, so to speak; and I am sure it
made the cocoon more comfortable. As often as not these talkers argued
about books as if their authors had made them--certainly not "out of
their power and love"--but merely for their readers to pick to pieces;
and about "beauty," too, as if it were something you could eat with a
spoon. As for poetry, one might have guessed from what they said that it
meant no more than--well, its "meaning." As if a butterfly were a
chrysalis. I have sometimes all but laughed out. It was so contrary to
my own little old-fashioned notions. Certainly it was not my mother's
way.

But there, what presumption this all is. I had never been to school,
never been out of Kent, had never "done" anything, nor "been" anything,
except--and that half-heartedly--myself. No wonder I was censorious.

If I could have foreseen how interminably difficult a task it would
prove to tack these memoirs together, I am sure I should have profited a
little more by the roarings of my fellow lions. As a matter of fact I
used merely to watch them sipping their tea, and devouring their cake
amid a languishing circle of admirers, and to wonder if they found the
cage as tedious as I did. If they noticed me at all, they were usually
polite enough; but--like the Beauties--inclined to be absent and
restless in my company. So the odds were against me. I had one advantage
over them, however, for when I was no longer a novelty, I could
occasionally slip in, unperceived, behind an immense marquetry bureau.
There in the dust I could sit at peace, comparing its back with its
front, and could enjoy at leisure the conversation beyond.

Nevertheless, there was one old gentleman, with whom I really made
friends. He was a bachelor, and was not only the author of numbers of
books, but when he was a little boy had been presented by Charles
Dickens himself with a copy of _David Copperfield_, and had actually sat
on the young novelist's knee. No matter who it was he might be talking
to, he used to snap his fingers at me in the most exciting fashion
whenever we saw each other in the distance, and we often shared a quiet
little talk together (I standing on a highish chair, perhaps, and he
squatting beside me, his hands on his knees) in some corner of Mrs
Monnerie's enormous drawing-room, well out of the mob.

I once ventured to ask him how to write.

His face grew very solemn. "Lord have mercy upon me," he said, "_to
write_, my dear young lady. Well, there is only one recipe I have ever
heard of: Take a quart or more of life-blood; mix it with a bottle of
ink, and a teaspoonful of tears; and ask God to forgive the blots." Then
he laughed at me, and polished his eyeglasses with his silk pocket
handkerchief.

I surveyed this grisly mixture without flinching, and laughed too, and
said, tapping his arm with my fan: "But, dear Mr ----, would you have me
die of anæmia?"

And he said I was a dear, valuable creature, and, when next "Black
Pudding Day" tempted us, we would collaborate.

Having heard _his_ views, I was tempted to push on, and inquired as
flatteringly as possible of a young portrait painter how he mixed his
paints: "So as to get exactly the colours you want, you know?"

He gently rubbed one long-fingered hand over the other until there fell
a lull in the conversation around us. "What I mix my paints with, Miss
M.? Why--merely with brains," he replied. My old novelist had forgotten
the brains. But I discovered in some book or other long afterwards that
a still more celebrated artist had said that too; so I suppose the _mot_
is traditional.

And last, how to "act": for some mysterious reason I never asked any
theatrical celebrity, male or female, how to do that?

More or less intelligent questions, I am afraid, are not the only
short-cut to good, or even to polite, conversation. And I was such a
dunce that I never really learned what topics are respectable, and what
not. In consequence, I often amused Mrs Monnerie's friends without
knowing why. They would exchange a kind of little ogling glance, or with
a silvery peal of laughter like bells, cry, "How naïve!"

How I detested the word. Naïve--it was simply my ill-bred earnestness.
Still, I made one valuable discovery: that you could safely laugh or
even titter at things which it was extremely bad manners to be serious
about. What you _could_ be serious about, without letting skeletons out
of the cupboard--that was the riddle. I had been brought up too
privately ever to be able to answer it.

How engrossing it all would have been if only the Harrises could have
trebled my income, and if Fanny had not known me so well. There was even
a joy in the ladies who shook their lorgnettes at me as if I were deaf,
or looked at me with their noses, as one might say, as if I were a bad
or unsavoury joke. On my part, I could never succeed in forgetting that,
in spite of appearances, they must be of flesh and blood, and therefore
the prey of them, and of the World, and the Devil. So I used to amuse
myself by imagining how they would look in their bones, or in rags, or
in heaven, or as when they were children. Or again, by an effort of
fancy I would reduce them, clothes and all, to _my_ proportions; or even
a little less. And though these little inward exercises made me
absent-minded, it made them ever so much more interesting and
entertaining.

How I managed not to expire in what, for a country mouse, was extremely
like living in a bottle of champagne, I don't know. And if my silly
little preferences suggest cynicism--well, I may be smug enough, but I
don't, and won't, believe I am a cynic. Remember I was young. Besides I
love human beings, especially when they are very human, and I have even
tried to forgive Miss M. her Miss M-ishness. How can I be a cynic if I
have tried to do that? It is a far more difficult task than to make
allowances for the poor, wretched, immortal waxwork creatures in Madame
Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, or even for the gentleman naturalist who
shot and stuffed Kent's last golden oriole.

Nor have I ever, for more than a moment, shared with Lemuel Gulliver his
none too nice disgust at the people of Brobdingnag, even at kind-hearted
Glumdalclitch. Am I not myself--not one of the quarrelsome "Fair Folks
of the Woods"--but a Yahoo? Gulliver, of course, was purposely made
unaccustomed to the gigantic; while I was born and bred, though not to
such an extreme, in its midst. And habit is second nature, or, as an old
Lyndsey proverb goes, "There's nowt like eels for eeliness."

I am, none the less, ever so thankful that neither my ears, nose, nor
eyes, positively magnify, so to speak. I may be a little more sensitive
to noises and smells than some people are, but that again is probably
only because I was brought up so fresh and quiet and privately. I am far
more backward than can be excused, and in some things abominably
slow-witted. Whether or not my feelings are pretty much of the usual
size, I cannot say. What is more to the point is that in some of my
happiest moments my inward self seems to be as remote from my body as
the Moon is from Greenland; and, at others,--even though that body
weighs me down to the earth like a stone--it is as if memory and
consciousness stretched away into the ages, far, far beyond my green and
dwindling Barrow on Chizzel Hill, and had shaken to the solitary
night-cry of Creation, "Let there be Light."

But enough and to spare of all this egotism. I must get back to my
story.



Chapter Forty-Three


The fact is, Miss M.'s connection with good society was rapidly drawing
to a close. My smoky little candle had long since begun to gutter and
sputter and enwreathe itself in a winding sheet. It went out at last in
a blaze of light. For once in his life Percy had conceived a notion of
which his aunt cordially approved--my Birthday Banquet. Heart and soul,
all my follies and misdemeanours forgotten, she entered into this new
device to give her _Snippety_, her _Moppet_, her _Pusskinetta_, her
little _Binbin_, her _Fairy_, her _Petite Sereine_, an exquisite
setting.

Invitations were sent out to the elect on inch-square cards embossed
with my family crest and motto--a giant, head and shoulders, brandishing
a club, and _Non Omnis Moriar_.[1] She not only postponed her annual
departure from town, but, as did the great man in the parable,
_compelled_ her friends to come in. She exhausted her ingenuity on the
menu. The great, on this occasion, were to feast on the tiny. A copy of
it lies beside me now, though, unfortunately, I did not examine it when
I sat down to dinner. Last, but not least, Percy's pastry-cooks, Messrs
Buszard, designed a seven-tiered birthday-cake, surrounded on its
lowermost plateau by one-and-twenty sugar-figures, about a quarter
life-size, and each of them bearing on high a silver torch.

Their names were inscribed on their sugar pediments: Lady Morgan (the
Windsor Fairy); Queen Elizabeth's Mrs Tomysen; the Empress Julia's
Andromeda; the great little, little great Miss Billing of Tilbury; Anne
Rouse and poor Ann Colling; the Sicilian Mlle Caroline Crachami (who
went to the anatomists); Nannette Stocker (33 inches, 33 lbs.
avoirdupois at 33); the blessed and tender Anastasia Boruwlaski;
Gaganini; the gentle Miss Selby of Bath; Alethea (the Guernsey Nymph);
Madame Teresa (the Corsican Fairy); Mrs Jeykll Skinner; the appalling
Nono; Mrs Anne Gibson (_née_ Shepherd); and the rest.

It was a joke, none the worse, maybe, for being old; and Peter the Great
must have turned in his grave in envy of Mrs Monnerie's ingenuity.

It may scarcely be believed, but I had become so hardened to such little
waggeries that under the genial eye of Mrs Monnerie I made the circuit
of this cake with a smile; and even scolded her for omitting the
redoubtable Mrs Bellamy with her life-size family of nine. I criticized
the images too, as not to be compared, even as sugar, with the alabaster
William of Windsor and Blanche, in the Tower.

The truth is, when real revulsions of body and soul come, they come in a
gush, all at once. Fleming, on the Night, was actually putting the last
touches to my coiffure when suddenly, with a wicked curse, I turned from
the great glass and announced my decision. Tiny tortoiseshell comb
uplifted, she stood in the clear lustrousness looking in at my
reflection, queer thoughts darting about in her eyes. At first she
supposed it was but another fit of petulance. Then her hatred and
disgust of me all but overcame her.

She quietly argued. I insisted. But she was mortally afraid of Mrs
Monnerie, and rather than deliver my message to her, sought out Susan.
Poor Susan. She, too, was afraid: and it was her face rather than her
love that won me over at last. Then she had to rush away to make what
excuse she could for my unpunctuality. It thus came about that Mrs
Monnerie's guests had already sat down to table, and were one and all
being extremely amused by some story she was entertaining them with,
when Marvell threw open the great mahogany doors for me, and I made my
solitary entry.

In primrose silk, _à la Pompadour_, a wreath of tight-shut pimpernels in
my hair--it is just possible that Mrs Monnerie suspected I had chosen to
come in late like this merely for effect. But that would have been an
even feebler exhibition of vanity than _I_ was capable of. All her
guests were known to me, even though only one of them was of my
choosing; for Mrs Bowater was in the Argentine, Sir Walter in France,
Miss Fenne on her deathbed, Mr Pellew in retreat, and Mr Crimble in his
grave. Fanny was my all.

She was sitting four or five chairs away from me on my left, between
Percy (who had on his right hand a beautiful long-faced girl in
turquoise green) and Captain Valentine. Further down, and on the other
side of the table, sat Lady Maudlen--a seal-like lady, who, according to
Fanny, disapproved of me on religious grounds--while I was on Mrs
Monnerie's left, and next to Lord Chiltern. Alas, even my old friend the
"Black Pudding" was too far distant to do more than twinkle "Courage!"
at me, when our eyes met.

Recollections of that disastrous evening are clouded. So evil with
dreams my nights had been that I hardly knew whether I was awake or
asleep. But I recall the long perspective of the table, the beards, the
busts, the pearls, the camellias and gardenias, the cornucopias, and
that glistening Folly Castle, my Birthday Cake. Marvell is behind me,
and Adam Waggett is ducketing in the luminous distance. The clatter of
many tongues beats on my ear. Mrs Monnerie murmurs and gently rocks. The
great silver dishes dip and withdraw. Corks pop, and the fumes of meat
and wine cloud into the air. In memory it is as if I myself were far
away, as if I had read of the scene in a book.

But two moments stand vividly out of its unreality--and each of them to
my shame. A small, wreathed, silver-gilt dish was placed before me.
Automatically I thrust my spoon into its jelly, and pecked at the
flavourless morsels. Sheer nervousness had deprived me of my sense of
taste. But there was something in Mrs Monnerie's sly silence, and Lord
Chiltern's solemn monocle, and Percy's snigger, that set me speculating.

"Angelic Tomtitiska!" sighed Mrs Monnerie, "I wager when she returns to
Paradise, she will sit in a corner and forget to tune her harp."

There was no shade of vexation in her voice, only amiable amusement; but
those sitting near had overheard her little pleasantry, and smilingly
watched me as, casting my eye down the menu--_Consommé aux Nids
d'Hirondelles_, _Filets de Blanchailles à la Diable_, _Ailes de Caille
aux petits pois Minnie Stratton_, _Sauterelles aux Caroubes Saint Jean_,
it was caught at last by a pretty gilt flourishing around the words,
_Suprême de Langues de Rossignols_. This, then, was the dainty jest,
the _clou du repas_. The faint gold words shimmered back at me. In an
instant I was a child again at Lyndsey, lulling to sleep on my pillow
amid the echoing songs of the nightingales that used to nest in its
pleasant lanes. I sat flaming, my tongue clotted with disgust. I simply
couldn't swallow; and didn't. But never mind.


This was my first mishap. Though her own appetite was capricious,
ranging from an almost incredible voracity to a scrap of dry toast,
nothing vexed Mrs Monnerie so much as to see my poor, squeamish stomach
revolting at the sight of meat. She drew up a naked shoulder against me,
and the feast proceeded with its chief guest in the shade. Once I could
soon have regained my composure. Now I languished, careless even of the
expression on my face. Not even the little mincing smile Fanny always
reserved for me in company could restore me, and it was at her whisper
that Percy stole down and filled my acorn glass with a translucent green
liquid which he had himself secured from the sideboard. I watched the
slow, green flow of it from the lip of the decanter without a thought in
my head. Lord Chiltern endeavoured to restore my drooping spirits. I had
outrageously misjudged him. He was _not_ one of Mrs Monnerie's stupid
friends, and he really did his utmost to be kind to me. If he should
ever read these words, may he be sure that Miss M. is grateful. But his
kindness fell on stony ground. And when, at length, he rose to propose
my health, I crouched beneath him shameful, haggard, and woebegone.

It was as minute a speech as was she whom it flattered, and far more
graceful. Nothing, of course, would satisfy its audience when the toast
had been honoured, but that Miss M. should reply. One single, desperate
glance I cast at Mrs Monnerie. She sat immovable as the Sphinx. There
was no help for it. Knees knocking together, utterly tongue-tied, I
stood up in my chair, and surveyed the two converging rows of smiling,
curious faces. Despair gave me counsel. I stooped, raised my glass, and
half in dread, half in bravado, tossed down its burning contents at a
gulp.

The green syrup coursed along vein and artery like molten lead. A
horrifying transparency began to spread over my mind. It seemed it had
become in that instant empty and radiant as a dome of glass. All sounds
hushed away. Things near faded into an infinite distance. Every face,
glossed with light as if varnished, became lifeless, brutal, and
inhuman, the grotesque caricature of a shadowy countenance that hung
somewhere remote in memory, yet was invisible and irrevocable. In this
dead moment--the whole blazing scene like a nowhere of the
imagination--my wandering eyes met Fanny's. She was softly languishing
up at Captain Valentine, her fingers toying with a rose. And it seemed
as though her once loved spirit cried homelessly out at me from space,
as if for refuge and recognition; and a long-hidden flood broke bounds
in my heart. All else forgotten, and obeying mechanically the force of
long habit, I stepped up from my chair on to the table, and staggered
towards her, upsetting, as I went, a shallow glass of bubbling wine. It
reeked up in the air around me.

"Fanny, Fanny," I called to her out of my swoon, "Ah, Fanny. Holy Dying,
Holy Dying! _Sauve qui peut!_" With empty, shocking face, she started
back, appalled, like a wounded snake.

"Oh!" she cried in horror into the sleep that was now mounting my body
like a cloud, "oh!" Her hand swept out blindly in my direction as if to
fend me off. At best my balance was insecure; and though the velvet
petals of her rose scarcely grazed my cheek, the insane glaze of my mind
was already darkening, I toppled and fell in a heap beside her plate.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] To be truthful, this is not my family motto (_nor_ crest); but the
real motto seemed a little too satirical to share with Mrs Monnerie; and
however overweening its substitute may appear, I have now hopes, and now
misgivings, that it is true.



Monk's House



Chapter Forty-Four


Thus then I came of age, though not on St Rosa's day. However dramatic
and memorable, I grant it was not a courteous method of acknowledging
Lord Chiltern's courtesy. In the good old days the drunken dwarf would
have been jovially tossed from hand to hand. From mind to mind was my
much milder penalty. And yet this poor little _contretemps_ was of a
sort that required "hushing up"; so it kept tongues wagging for many a
day. It was little comfort that Percy shared my disgrace, and even
Susan, for "giving way."

She it was who had lifted my body from the table and carried it up into
darkness and quiet. In the half light of my bedroom I remember I opened
my eyes for a moment--eyes which refused to stay still in their sockets,
but were yet capable of noticing that the left hand which clasped mine
had lost its ring. I tried to point it out to her. She was crying.

Philippina sober was awakened the next morning by the fingers of Mrs
Monnerie herself. She must have withdrawn the kindly sheet from my face,
and, with nightmare still babbling on my lips, I looked up into the
familiar features, a little grey and anxious, but creased up into every
appearance of goodwill.

"Not so excessively unwisely, then," she rallied me, "and only the least
little thought too well. We have been quite anxious about Bébé, haven't
we, Fleming?"

"Quite, madam. A little indigestion, that's all."

"Yes, yes; a little indigestion, that's all," Mrs Monnerie agreed: "and
I am sure Poppet doesn't want those tiresome doctors with their horrid
physic."

I sat up, blinking from one to the other. "I think it was the green
stuff," I muttered, tongue and throat as dry as paper. I could scarcely
see out of my eyes for the racking stabs of pain beneath my skull.

"Yes, yes," was the soothing response. "But you mustn't agitate
yourself, silly child. Don't open your eyes like that. The heat of the
room, the excitement, some little obstinate dainty. Now, one of those
darling little pills, and a cooling draught, perhaps. Thank you,
Fleming."

The door closed, we were left alone. Mrs Monnerie's scrutiny drifted
away. Their shutters all but closed down on the black-brown pupils. My
head pined for its pillows, my shoulders for some vestige of defence,
but pined in vain. For the first time I felt afraid of Mrs Monnerie. She
was thinking so densely and heavily.

Yet, as if out of a cloud of pure absentmindedness, dropped softly her
next remark. "Does pretty Pusskin remember what she _said_ to Miss
Bowater?... No?... Well, then, if she can't, it's quite certain nobody
else can--or wishes to. I inquired merely because the poor thing, who
has been really nobly devoting herself to her duties, seems so hurt.
Well, it shall be a little lesson--to us all. Though one swallow does
not make a summer, my child, one hornet can make things extremely
unpleasant. Not that I----" A vast shrug of the shoulders completed the
sentence. "A little talk and tact will soon set _that_ right; and I am
perfectly satisfied, perfectly satisfied with things as they are. So
that's settled. Some day you must tell me a little more about your
family history. Meanwhile, rest and quiet. No more excitement, no more
company, and no more"--she bent low over me with wagging head--"no more
_green stuff_. And then"--her eyes rested on me with a peculiar zest
rather than with any actual animosity--"then we must see what can be
done for you."

There came a tap--and Percy showed in the doorway.

"I thought, Aunt Alice, I thought----" he began, but at sight of the
morose, heavy countenance lifted up to him, he shut his mouth.

"Thank you," said Mrs Monnerie, "thank you, Sir Galahad; you did nothing
of the kind."

Whereupon her nephew wheeled himself out of the room so swiftly that I
could not detect what kind of exotics he was carrying in a little posy
in his hand.

So the invalid, now a burden on the mind of her caretaker many times her
own weight, was exiled for ever from No. 2. Poor Fleming, sniffier and
more disgusted than ever, was deputed to carry me off to the smaller of
Mrs Monnerie's country retreats, a long, low-roofed, shallow-staired
house lying in the green under the downs at Croomham. There I was to
vegetate for a time and repent of my sins.

Percy's fiery syrup took longer to withdraw its sweet influences than
might have been foreseen. Indeed, whenever I think of him, its effects
are faintly renewed, though not, I trust, to the detriment of my style!
None too strong physically, the Miss M. that sat up at her latticed
window at Monk's House during those few last interminable August days,
was very busy with her thoughts. As she looked down for hours together
on the gnarled, thick-leafed old mulberry-tree in the corner of the lawn
that swept up to the very stones of the house, and on the walled,
sun-drugged garden beyond, she was for ever debating that old, old
problem; what could be done _by_ herself _with_ herself?

The doves crooned; the cawing rooks flapped black into the blue above
the neighbouring woods; the earth drowsed on. It was a scene of peace
and decay. But I seemed to have lost the charm that could have made it
mine. I was an Ishmael. And worse--I was still a prisoner. No criminal
at death's door can have brooded more laboriously on his chances of
escape. No wonder the voices of childhood had whispered, Away!

There came a long night of rain. I lay listening to the whisper and
clucking of its waters. Far away the lapwings called: Ee-ooeet!
Ee-ooeet! What follies I had been guilty of. How wilily circumstance had
connived at them. Yet I was no true penitent. My heart was empty, so
parched up that neither love nor remorse had any place in it. Revenge
seemed far sweeter. Driven into this corner, I sent a desperate word to
Sir W. It remained unanswered, and this friend followed the rest into
the wilderness of my ingratitude.

But that brought me no relief. For of all the sins I have ever
committed, envy and hatred seem to me the most unpleasant to practise. I
was to learn also that "he who sows hatred shall gather rue," and "bed
with thistles." With eyes at last as anxious as Jezebel's, I resumed my
watch at the window. But even if Percy had ridden from London solely to
order Fleming to throw me down, she would not have "demeaned" herself to
set hands on me. She might be bold, but she, too, was fastidious.

Then Fleming herself one afternoon softly and suddenly vanished
away--on her summer's holiday. Poor thing; so acute was the chronic
indigestion caused by _her_ obstinate little dainty that she did not
even bid me good-bye.

She left me in charge of the housekeeper, Mrs French, a stout, flushed,
horse-faced woman, who now and then came in and bawled good-humouredly
at me as if I were deaf, but otherwise ignored me altogether. I now
spent most of my time in the garden, listlessly wandering out of sight
of the windows (and gardeners), along its lank-flowered, rose-petalled
walks, hating its beauty. Or I would sit where I could hear the
waterdrops in a well. The very thought of company was detestable. I sat
there half-dead, without book or needle, with scarcely a thought in my
head. In my library days at No. 2 I had become a perfect slave to
pleasures of the intellect. But now dyspepsia had set in there too.

My nights were pestered with dreams and my days with their vanishing
spectres; and I had no Pollie to tell me what they forecast. I suppose
one must be more miserable and hunted in mind even than I was, _never_
to be a little sentimental when alone. I would lean over the cold mouth
of the well, just able to discern in the cold mirror of water, far
beneath, the face I was almost astonished to find reflected there.
"Shall I come too?" I would morbidly whisper, and dart away.

Still, just as with a weed in winter, life was beginning to renew the
sap within me; and Monk's House was not only drowsy with age but gentle
with whispers. Once at least in every twenty-four hours I would make a
pilgrimage to its wrought-iron gates beside the square white lodge, to
gloat out between the metal floriations at the dusty country lane
beyond--with its swallows and wagtails and dragon-flies beneath the
heat-parched tranquil elms. A slim, stilted greyhound on one such visit
stalked out from the lodge. Quite unaware of his company, I turned about
suddenly and stared clean down his arched throat--white teeth and
lolling tongue. It was as if I had glanced into the jaws of destiny. He
turned his head, whiningly yawned, and stalked back into the shade.

A day or two afterwards I made the acquaintance of the lodge-keeper's
daughter, a child named Rose, about five years of age, with a mop of
copper-coloured curls bound up with a pale blue bow. At first glimpse
of me she had hopped back as if on springs into the house. A moment
after, her white-aproned mother appeared in the porch, and with a
pleasant nod at me bade the child smile at the pretty little lady.
Finger in mouth, Rose wriggled and stared. In a few days she grew
accustomed to my small figure. And though I would sometimes discover her
saucer-blue eyes fixed on me with a peculiar intensity, we almost came
to be friends. She was not a very bright little girl; yet I found myself
wooing her with all the arts I knew--in a scarcely conscious attempt, I
suppose, to creep back by this small lane into the world's and my own
esteem.

I made her wristlets of little flowers, hacked her out cockle boats from
the acorns, told her half-forgotten stories, and once had to trespass
into the kitchen at the back of the lodge to tell her mother that she
was fallen asleep. Was it mere fancy that read in the scared face she
twisted round on the pretty little lady from over her saucepan, "Avaunt,
Evil Eye!"? I had become abominably self-conscious.



Chapter Forty-Five


One such afternoon Rose and I were sitting quietly together in the
sunshine on the green grass bank when a smart, short step sounded in the
lane, and who should come springily pacing out of the country through
the gates but Adam Waggett--red hands, black boots, and Londonish
billycock hat all complete. Adam must have been born in a fit of
astonishment; and when he dies, so he will enter Paradise. He halted
abruptly, a ring of shifting sunshine through the leaves playing on his
purple face, and, after one long glance of theatrical astonishment, he
burst into his familiar guffaw.

This time the roar of him in the open air was nothing but a pleasure,
and the mere sound and sight of him set Rose off laughing, too. Her pink
mouth was as clustered about with milk-teeth as a fragment of honeycomb
is with cells.

"Well, there I never, miss," he said at last, with a slow, friendly wink
at the child, "Where shall us three meet again, I wonder." He flicked
the dust off his black button boots with his pocket-handkerchief, mopped
his high, bald forehead, and then positively exploded into fragments of
information--like my father's fireworks on Guy Fawkes' Day.

He talked of young Mr Percy's "goings-on," of the august Mr Marvell, of
life at No. 2. "That Miss Bowater, now, she's a bit of all right, she's
toffee, she is." But, his hat! there _had_ been a row. And the captain,
too. Not that there was anything in that; "just a bit of silly jealousy;
_like_ the women!" He could make a better guess than that. He didn't
know what "the old lady" would do without that Miss Bowater--the old
lady whose carriage would in a few days be rolling in between these very
gates. And then--he began whistling a Highland Reel.

The country air had evidently got into his head. Hand over hand he was
swarming up the ladder of success. His "_joie de vivre_" gleamed at
every pore. And I?--I just sat there, passively drinking in this
kitchen-talk, without attempting to stop him. After all, he was out of
my past; we were children of Israel in a strange land; and that hot
face, with its violent pantomime, and hair-plastered temples, was as
good as a play.

He was once more settling his hat on his head and opening his mouth in
preparation for a last bray of farewell, when suddenly in the sunny
afternoon hush a peculiar, melancholy, whining cry rose over the
treetops, and slowly stilled away. As if shot from a bow, Rose's
greyhound leapt out of the lodge and was gone. With head twisted over
his shoulder, Adam stood listening. Somewhere--where? when?--that sound
had stirred the shadows of my imagination. The day seemed to gather
itself about me, as if in a plot.

In the silence that followed I heard the dust-muffled grinding of heavy
wheels approaching, and the low, refreshing talk of homely, Kentish,
country voices. Adam stepped to the gate. I clutched Rose's soft, cool
fingers. And spongily, ponderously, there, beyond the bars, debouched
into view a huge-shouldered, mole-coloured elephant, its trunk sagging
towards the dust, its small, lash-fringed eye gleaming in the sun, its
bald, stumpy, tufted tail stiff and still behind it.

On and on, one after another, in the elm-shaded beams of the first of
evening, the outlandish animals, the wheeled dens, the gaudy, piled-up
vans of pasteboard scenery, the horses and ponies and riff-raff of a
travelling circus wound into, and out of, view before my eyes. It was as
if the lane itself were moving, and all the rest of the world, with Rose
and myself clutched hand in hand on our green bank, had remained stark
still. Probably the staring child supposed that this was one of my
fairy-tales come true. My own mind was humming with a thought far more
fantastic. Ever and again a swarthy face had glanced in on our quiet
garden. The lion had glared into Africa beyond my head. But I was partly
screened from view by Rose, and it was a woman, and she all but the last
of the dusty, bedraggled company, that alone caught a full, clear sight
of me.

One flash of eye to eye--we knew each other. She was the bird-eyed,
ear-ringed gipsy of my railway journey with Pollie from Lyndsey to
Beechwood. Even more hawklike, bonier, striding along now like a man in
the dust and heat in her dingy coloured petticoats and great boots,
with one steel-grey dart of remembrance, she swallowed me up, like flame
a moth. Her mouth relaxed into a foxy smile while her gaze tightened on
me. She turned herself about and shrilled out a strange word or two to
some one who had gone before. A sudden alarm leapt up in me. In an
instant I had whisked into hiding, and found myself, half-suffocated
with excitement, peeping out of a bush in watch for what was to happen
next.

So swift had been my disappearance she seemed doubtful of her own
senses. A cage of leopards, with a fair-skinned, gold-haired girl in
white stockings lolling asleep on the chained-up tail-board, trundled
by; and then my gipsy was joined by a thick-set, scowling man. His face
was bold and square, and far more lowering than that of the famous
pugilist, Mr Sayers--to whose coloured portrait I had become almost
romantically attached in the library at No. 2. This dangerous-looking
individual filled me with a tremulous excitement and admiration. If, as
in a dream, my past seemed to have been waiting for that solitary
elephant; then my future was all of a simmer with _him_.

He drew his thick hand out of his stomach-pocket and scratched his
cheek. The afternoon hung so quiet that I heard the rasp of his finger
nail against his sprouting beard. He turned to mutter a sullen word or
two at the woman beside him. Then, more civilly, and with a jerk of his
squat thumb in my direction, he addressed himself to Adam. Adam
listened, his red ears erect on either side of his hat. But his only
answer was so violent a wag of his head that it seemed in danger of
toppling off his body. Softly I laughed to myself. The woman yelped at
him. The man bade her ferociously "shut her gob." Adam clanged-to the
gates. They moved on. Beast, cage, and men were vanished like a
daydream. A fitful breeze rustled the dry elm-leaves. The swifts coursed
on in the shade.


When the last faint murmur had died away, I came out from behind my
bush. "A country circus," I remarked unconcernedly. "What did the man
want, Adam?"

"That hairy cat frowned at Rosie," whispered the child, turning from me
to catch at Adam's coat-tails. "Not _eat_ Rosie?"

Adam bent himself double, and with an almost motherly tenderness
stroked her bright red hair. He straightened himself up, spat modestly
in the dust, and, with face still mottled by our recent experience,
expressed the opinion that the man was "one of them low
blackguards--excusing plain English, miss--who'd steal your chickens out
of the very saucepan." As for the woman--words failed him.

I waited until his small, round eye had rolled back in my direction.
"Yes, Adam," I said, "but what did he _say_? You mean she told him about
_me_?"

"Well, miss, to speak equal-like, that was about the size of it. The old
liar said she had seen you before, that you were--well, there you
are!--a gold mine, a--a blessed gold mine. Her very words nearabout." At
that, in an insuppressible gush of happiness I laughed out with him,
like a flageolet in a concourse of bassoons.

"But he didn't see me, Adam. I took good care of that."

"That's just," said Adam, with a tug at his black cravat, "what's going
to give the pair of them a mighty unpleasant afternoon."

I dismissed him, smiled at the whimpering greyhound, smiled at Rose,
whose shyness at me had unaccountably whelmed over her again, and
followed in Adam's wake towards the house. But not to enter it. "A
blessed"--oh, most blessed "_Gold Mine_!" The word so sang in me that
the whole garden--espaliered wall, and bird, and flower--leapt into life
and beauty before my eyes. Then my prayer (_what_ prayer?) had been
answered. I squared my shoulders, shuddered--a Lazarus come to life.
Away I went, and seating myself in a sunny corner, a few paces from a
hive of bees, plucked a nectarine, and surrendered myself to the
intoxication of an idea. Not "Your Master is dead," but "Your mistress
is come to life again!" I whispered to the bees. And if I had been
wearing a scarlet garter I would have tied it round their skep.

Money! Money!--a few even of my handfuls of that, and I was free. I
would teach "them" a lesson. I would redeem myself. Ah, if only I had
had a fraction of Fanny's courage, should I so long have remained
wilting and festering at No. 2? The sweet, sharp juices of the clumsy
fruit quenched my thirst. To and fro swept the bees along their airy
highway. A spiked tree of late-blooming bugloss streamed its blue and
purple into my eyes. A year ago, the very thought of exhibiting myself
for filthy (or any kind of) lucre would have filled me with unspeakable
shame. But what else had I been doing those long, dragging months? What
had Miss M. hired herself out to be but a pot of caviare to the
gourmets? Puffed up with conceit and complacency, I had been merely
feeding on the world's contempt sauced up as flattery. Nonsensical
child.

"Ah, I can make honey, too," I nodded at the bees; whereupon a wasp
pounced out of nowhere upon my oozy fruit, and I thrust it away into the
weeds. But how refreshing a draught is the thought of action, how
comforting the first returning trickle of self-esteem. My body sank into
motionlessness. The shadows lengthened. The August sun slid down the
sky.

Dusk was abroad in the colder garden, and the last bee home, when, with
plans resolved on, I stretched my stiffened limbs and made my way into
the house. Excellent augury--so easy had been my daily habits that no
one had noticed my absence. Supper was awaiting me. I was ravenous. Up
and down I stumped, gnawing my biscuit and sipping my sweet country
milk. I had suddenly realized what the world meant to Fanny--an oyster
for her sword. Somewhere I have read that every man of genius hides a
woman in his breast. Well, perhaps in mine a _man_ was now stirring--the
man that had occupied my Aunt Kitilda's skirts. It was high time.

A moon just past its quarter was sinking in the heavens and silvering
the jessamine at my window. My bosom swelled with longing at the breath
of the slow night airs. Monk's House--I, too, had my ghosts and would
face them down, would vanquish fate with the very weapons it had forged
for my discomfiture. In that sheltered half-light I stood myself before
a down-tilted looking-glass. If I had been malshapen, limbless,
contorted, I would have drowned myself in mud rather than feed man's
hunger for the monstrous and obscene. No, I was a beautiful thing, even
if God had been idly at play when He had shaped me, and had then flung
away the mould; even if to Mrs Monnerie I was nothing much better than a
disreputable marionette. So I boasted myself. Percy's Chartreuse had
been mere whey compared with the fleeting glimpse of a tame circus
elephant.


I tossed out on to the floor the old Lyndsey finery which some homesick
impulse had persuaded me to bring away in my trunk. Seated there with
busy needle under the window, sewing in every gewgaw and scrap of tinsel
and finery I could lay hands on, I prepared for the morrow. How happy I
was. Bats in the dewy dusk-light cast faint, flitting shadows on the
casements. A large dark moth hawked to and fro above my head. It seemed
I could spend eternity in this gentle ardent busyness. To think that God
had given me what might have been so dreadful a thing as solitude, but
which in reality, while my thoughts and fingers were thus placidly
occupied, could be so sweet. When at length I leaned out on the cold
sill, my work done, wrists and shoulders aching with fatigue, Croomham
clock struck two. The moon was set. But there, as if in my own happy
mind, away to the East shone Orion. Why, Sirius, then, must be in hiding
under that quiet shoulder of the downs. A dwindling meteor silvered
across space; I breathed a wish, shivered, and drew in.

And there came that night a curious dream. I dreamt that I was a great
soldier, and had won an enormous unparalleled battle. Glaring light
streamed obliquely across a flat plain, humped and hummocked with the
bodies of the dead lying in disorder. I was standing in arrogant reverie
alone, a few paces distant--though leagues away in being--from a group
of other officers, who were looking at me. And I suffered the streaming
light to fall upon me, as I gazed into my joy and triumph with a kind of
severe nonchalance. But though my face under my three-cornered hat can
have expressed only calmness and resolution, I knew in my heart that my
thoughts were merely a thin wisp of smoke above the crater of a
suppressed volcano. Lest I should be detected in this weakness, I turned
out of the glare, and without premeditation, began to step lightly and
abstractedly from huddling mound to mound. And, as these heaps of the
dead increased in size in the gloom after the white western light was
gone, so I diminished, until I was but a kind of infinitesimal
will-o'-the-wisp gliding from peak to peak of an infernal mausoleum of
which every eye, though dead, was watching me. But there was _one_
Eye....

And that is all of the dream that I could remember. For then I awoke,
looking into the dark. A pencil ray of moonlight was creeping across my
bed. Peace unutterable. Over my drowsy eyes once more the clouds
descended, and once more I fell asleep.



Chapter Forty-Six


Next day, after a long lying-in-wait, I intercepted Adam Waggett and
beckoned him into the shrubbery. First I questioned him. A bill of the
circus, he told me, had already been left at the lodge. Its tents and
booths and Aunt Sallies were even now being pitched in a meadow three or
four miles distant and this side the neighbouring town. So far, so good.
I told him my plan. He could do nothing but look at me like a fish, with
his little black eyes, as I sat on a tree stump and marshalled my
instructions.

But my first crucial battle had been fought with Adam Waggett in the
garden at Lyndsey. He had neither the courage nor even the cowardice to
gainsay me. After a tedious siege of his sluggish wits, greed for the
reward I promised him, the assurance that if we were discovered the
guilt should rest on me, and maybe some soupçon of old sake's sake won
him over. The branches of the trees swayed and creaked above us in the
sunshine; and at last, looking down on me with a wry face, Adam promised
to do my bidding.

Six had but just struck that evening when there came the rap of his
knuckles on my bedroom door. He found me impatiently striding up and
down in a scintillating bodice and skirts of scarlet, lemon, and
silver--as gay and gaudy an object as the waxen Russian Princess I had
seen in one of Mrs Monnerie's cabinets. My flaxen hair was plaited
German-wise, and tied in two thumping pigtails with a green ribbon; I
stood and looked at him. He fumblingly folded his hands in front of him
as he stood and looked back at me. I was quivering like a flame in a
lamp. And never have I been so much flattered as by the silly, stupefied
stare on his face.

How I was to be carried to the circus had been one of our most difficult
problems. This cunning creature had routed out from some lumber-room in
the old house a capacious old cage--now rusty, but stout and solidly
made--that must once have housed the aged Chakka.

"There, miss," he whispered triumphantly; "that's the ticket, and right
to a hinch."

I confess I winced at his "ticket." But Adam had cushioned and padded it
for me, and had hooded it over with a stout piece of sacking, leaving
the ring free. Apart from our furtive preparations, evening quiet
pervaded the house. The maids were out sweethearting, he explained. Mrs
French had retired as usual to her own sitting-room; Fortune seemed to
be smiling upon me.

"Then, Adam," I whispered, "the time has come. Jerk me as little as
possible; and if questions are asked, you are taking the cage to be
mended, you understand? And when we get there, see no one but the man or
the woman who spoke to you at the gates."

"Well, miss, it's a rum go," said Adam, eyeing me with a grotesque
grimace of anxiety.

I looked up at him from the floor of the cage. "The rummer the go is,
Adam, the quicker we ought to be about it."

He lowered the wiry dome over my head; I bunched in my skirts; and with
the twist of a few hooks I was secure. The faint squeak of his boots
told me that he had stolen to the door to listen.

"All serene," he whispered hoarsely through the sacking. I felt myself
lifted up and up. We were on our way. Then, like flies, a cloud of
misgivings settled upon my mind. As best I could I drove them away, and
to give myself confidence began to count. A shrill false whistling broke
the silence. Adam was approaching the lodge; a mocking screech of its
gates, and we were through. After that, apart from the occasional beat
of hoofs or shoes, a country "good-night," or a husky cough of
encouragement from Adam, I heard nothing more. The gloom deepened. The
heat was oppressive; I became a little seasick, and pressing my mouth to
a small slit between the bars, sucked in what fresh air I could.

Midway on our journey Adam climbed over a stile to rest a while, and,
pushing back a corner of the sacking, he asked me how I did.

"Fine, Adam," said I, panting. "We are getting along famously."

The fields were sweet and dusky. It was a clear evening, and
refreshingly cool.

"You may smoke a pipe, Adam, if you wish," I called softly. And while he
puffed, and I listened to the chirping of a cricket, he told me of a
young housemaid that was always chaffing and ridiculing him at No. 2.
"It may be that she has taken a passing fancy to you," said I, looking
up into the silent oak tree under which we were sitting. "On the other
hand, you may deserve it. What is she like, Adam?"

"Black eyebrows," said Adam. "Shows her teeth when she laughs. But
that's no reason why she should make a fool of a fellow."

"The real question is, is she a nice modest girl?" said I, and my
bangles jangled as I raised my hand to my hair. "Come, Adam, there's no
time to waste; are you ready?"

He grunted, his mind still far away. "She's a fair sneak," he said,
rapping his pipe-bowl on a stone. And so, up and on.

Time seemed to have ceased to be, in this jolting monotony, unbroken
except by an occasional giddying swing of my universe as Adam
transferred the cage from hand to hand. Swelteringly hot without, but a
little cold within, I was startled by a far-away blare of music. I
clutched tight the slender bars; the music ceased, and out of the quiet
that followed rose the moaning roar of a wild beast.

My tongue pressed itself against my teeth; the sacking trembled, and a
faint luminousness began to creep through its hempen strands. Shouting
and screaming, catcalls and laughter swelled near. And now by the medley
of smells and voices, and the glint of naked lights floating in on me, I
realized that we had reached our goal.

Adam came to a standstill. "Where's the boss?" The tones were thick and
muffled. A feeble smile swept over my face: I discovered I was holding
my breath.

A few paces now, the din distanced a little and the glare diminished.
Then sounded another voice hoarse and violent, high above my head.


The cage bumped to the ground. And I heard Adam cringingly explain:
"I've got a bird here for you, mister."

"A bird," rang the jeer, "who wants your bloody bird? Be off."

"Ay, but it won't be a bloody bird," gasped Adam cajolingly, "when
you've seen her pretty feathers."

At this, apparently, recollection of Adam's face or voice returned to
the showman. He remained silent while with palsied fingers Adam
unlatched my bolts and bars. Bent almost double and half-stifled, I sat
there in sight, my clothes spread brightly out about me. The cool air
swirled in, and for a while my eyes dazzled at the bubbling blaze of a
naphtha lamp suspended from the pole of the tent above the criss-cross
green-bladed grass at my feet. I lifted my head.

There stood Adam, in his black tail-coat rubbing his arm; and there the
showman. Still to the tips of my fingers, I sat motionless, gazing up
into the hard, high-boned, narrow-browed face with its small restless
eyes voraciously taking me in. Fortunately the choked beating of my
heart was too small a sound for his ear; and he was the first to
withdraw from the encounter.

"My God," he muttered, and spat into a corner of the canvas booth--with
its one dripping lamp, its rough table and chair, and a few oddments of
his trade.

"And what, my handsome young lady," he went on in a low, carneying tone,
and fidgeting with his hands, "what might be your little imbroglio?"

In a gush, presence of mind returned to me, and fear passed away. I
quietly listened to myself explaining without any concealment precisely
what was my little imbroglio. He burst out laughing.

"Stage-struck, eh? There's a young lady now! Well, who's to blame 'ee?"

He asked me my age, my name, where I came from, if I could dance, sing,
ride; and stared so roundly at me that I seemed to see my garish colours
reflected in the metallic grey of his eyes.

All this was on his side of the bargain. Now came mine. I folded tight
my hands in my lap, glanced up at the flaming lamp. How much would he
pay me?

It was as if a shutter had descended over his face. "Drat me," said he,
"when a young lady comes selling anything, she _asks_ her price."

So I asked mine--fifteen guineas for four nights' hire.... To look at
that human animal you might have supposed the actual guineas had lodged
in his throat. It may be that Shylock's was a more modest bargain. I
cannot say.

At first thought it had seemed to me a monstrous sum, but at that time I
was ignorant of what a really fine midget fetched. It was but half my
old quarterly allowance, with £2 over for Adam. I should need every
penny of it. And I had not come selling my soul without having first
decided on its value. The showman fumed and blustered. But I sat close
on Chakka's abandoned stage, perfectly still, making no answer; finding,
moreover, in Adam an unexpected stronghold, for the wider gawked his
frightened eyes at the showman's noise and gesticulations, the more
resolved I became. With a last dreadful oath, the showman all but kicked
a hole in my cage.

"Take me away, Adam," I cried quaveringly; "we are wasting this
gentleman's time."

I smiled to myself, in spite of the cold tremors that were shaking me
all over; with every nerve and sinew of his corpulent body he was
coveting me: and with a curse he at last accepted my terms. I shrugged
my shoulders, but still refused to stir a finger until our contract had
been written down in black and white. Maybe some tiny love-bird of
courage roosts beneath every human skull, maybe my mother's fine French
blood had rilled to the surface. However that may be, there could be no
turning back.

He drew out a stump of pencil and a dirty envelope. "That, my fine
cock," he said to Adam, as he wrote, "that's a woman; and you make no
mistake about it. To hell with your fine ladies."

It remains, if not the most delicate, certainly one of the most
substantial compliments I ever earned in my life.

"That's that," he pretended to groan, presenting me with his scrawl.
"Ask a shark for a stamp, and if ruined I must be--ruined I am."

I leapt to my feet, shook out my tumbled finery, smiled into his
stooping face, and tucked the contract into my bodice. "Thank you,
sir," I said, "and I promise you shan't be ruined if _I_ can help it."
Whereupon Adam became exceedingly merry, the danger now over.


Such are the facts concerning this little transaction, so far as I can
recall them; yet I confess to being a little incredulous. Have I,
perhaps, gilded my side of the bargaining? If so, I am sure my showman
would be the last person to quarrel with me. I am inclined to think he
had taken a fancy to me. Anyhow I had won--what is, perhaps, even
better--his respect. And though the pay came late, when it was no longer
needed, and though it was the blackest money that ever touched my
fingers, it came. And if anybody was the defaulter, it was I.

There was no time to lose. My gipsy woman was sent for from the shooting
gallery. I shook hands with her; she shook hands with Adam, who was then
told to go about his business and to return to the tent when the circus
was over. The three of us, showman, woman, and I, conferred together,
and with extreme cordiality agreed what should be my little part in the
performance. The booth in which we had made our bargain was hastily
prepared for my "reception." Its table was to be my daïs. A loose flap
of canvas was hung to one side of it to screen me off from prying eyes
when I was not on show. My only dangerous rival, it appeared, was the
Spotted Boy.

There followed a deafening pealing of panpipes, drumming of drum, and
yelling of voices. In that monstrous din I was past thinking, just
_being_; and I bridled to myself like a schoolgirl caught in a delicious
naughtiness, to hear the fine things--the charms and marvels--which my
showman was bawling about me. Then one by one, at first a little
owlishly, the Great Public, at the charge of 6d. per adult and half
price for children (or "full-growns under 3 foot") were admitted to the
presence of the "_Signorina Donna Angélique, the Fairy Princess of
Andalusia in Spain_." So at any rate declares the printed handbill.

In the attitude of Madame Recamier in the picture, I reclined on a
lustrous spread of crimson satin and rabbit-skin draped over a small
lump of wood for bolster to give support to my elbow. And out of my
paint and powder, from amid this oasis--and with repeated warnings "not
to touch" screamed by my gipsy--I met as pleasantly and steadily as I
could the eyes of the grinning, smirking, awestruck faces--townsfolk and
village folk, all agape and all sound Kentish stock.

"That isn't real, she's a doll," lisped a crêpe-bonneted little girl who
with skimpy legs dangling out of her petticoat had been hoisted up under
her armpits for a clearer view. I let a little pause come, then turned
my head on my hand and smiled, leaned over and eased my tinselled
slipper. An audible sigh, sweet as incense, went up under the hollow of
the booth. I looked on softly from face to face--another dream. Some
captive beast mewed and brushed against the sides of a cage drawn up a
yard or two from where I lay. The lamp poured flame and smoke. The
canvas quietly flapped, and was still. Wild ramped the merry-go-round
with its bells and hootings; and the panpipes sobbed their liquid decoy.
The Signorina's first reception was over.

News of her spread like wildfire. I could hear the showman bellowing at
the press of people. His guineas were fructifying. And a peculiar
rapturous gravity spread over me. When one's very self is wrapt in the
ordeal of the passing moment, is lost like that, out of time and space,
it seems, well--another presence had stolen into my mind, had taken
possession. I cannot explain. But in this, it may be, all men _are_
equal, whatever their lot. So, I suppose, a flower breaks out of the
bud, and butterflies put off the mask of the chrysalis, and rainbows
mount the skies. But I must try not to rhapsodize. All I know is that
even in that low self-surrender, some tiny spark of life in me could not
be content to let my body remain a mere mute stock for the ignorant
wonder of those curious eyes.

The actual impulse, however, came from a young woman who, when next the
people had streamed in, chanced to be standing close beside me. She was
a weak-looking thing, yet reminded me in a sorrowful fashion of Fanny.
Caught back by her melancholy, empty eyes, I seemed to lose myself in
their darkness; to realize that she, too, was in trouble. I craned up
from my wooden bolster and whispered in her hair: "Patience, patience.
There shall be a happy issue, my dear, out of all your afflictions."

Only she herself and a weedy, sallow young man in her company could
have heard these words. A glint of fright and desperation sprang into
her large-pupilled eyes. But I smiled, and we exchanged kindness. She
moistened her lips, turned from me, and clutching at the young man's
arm, edged her way out of the throng and vanished.

"And what sort be this un?" roared an ox-faced, red-haired man from the
back. "This un" hung on his shoulder, tiptoe, fair, young, and blowsy.

"She'll _coin_ you money," I cried pleasantly, "and spend it. The hand
that rocks the cradle rules the world."

"And him, and him? the toad!" cried the girl half-angrily at the shout
of merriment that had shaken the tent.

"Why, pretty maid," piped I, "the nearer the wine the sweeter the cork;
the plumper the pig the fatter the pork." The yell that followed was a
better advertisement than drum or panpipes. The showman had discovered
an oracle! For the next half-hour my booth was a mass of
"Sixpennies"--the squirming Threepennies were told to wait. It filled
and emptied again and again like a black bottle in the Dog Days. And
when the spirit moved me, I singled out a tell-tale face and told its
fortune--not less shrewdly on the whole, I think, than Mrs Ballard's
_Book of Fate_.

But it was a strangely exhausting experience. I was inexpressibly
relieved when it was over; when the tent-flap descended for the last
time, and I could rest from my labours, puffed up, no doubt, with far
too rich a conceit of myself, but immeasurably grateful and happy.
Comparative quiet descended on the meadows. From a neighbouring tent
broke shattering bursts of music, clapping and thumping, the fretful
growling of the beasts, the elephant's trumpeting, the firing of guns,
whoops, caterwauling, and the jangling of harness. The Grand Circus was
in progress, and fantasy made a picture for me of every sound.

Presently my showman reappeared, leading in a pacing, smooth-skinned,
cinnamon-and-milk-dappled pony, bridled and saddled with silver and
scarlet, his silky mane daintily plaited, his tail a sweeping plume. He
stood, I should guess, about half a hand higher than my childhood's
Mopsa--the prettiest pygmy creature, though obviously morose and
unsettled in temper. I took a good long look at his pink Albino eye. But
a knack once acquired is quickly recovered. I mounted him. The stirrup
was adjusted, one of my German plaits was dandled over my shoulder, and
after a leisurely turn or two in the open, I nodded that the highborn
Angélique was ready.

The showman, leering avariciously at me out of his shifty eyes, led us
on towards the huge ballooning tent, its pennon fluttering darkly
against the stars. I believe if in that spirituous moment he had
muttered, "Fly with me, fairest!" all cares forgotten, I'd have been
gone. He held his peace.

The brass band within wrenched and blared into the tune of "The Girl I
Left behind Me." Chafing, pawing, snorting, my steed, with its rider,
paused in the entry. Then with a last smirk of encouragement from the
gipsy woman, the rein was loosed, I bowed my head, and the next moment,
as if in a floating vat of light, I found myself cantering wellnigh
soundlessly round the ring, its circumference thronged tier above tier
in the smoke-laden air with ghost-white rings of faces.

I smiled fixedly, tossing my fingers. A piebald clown came wambling in
to meet me, struck his hand on his foolish heart, and fell flat in the
tan. Love at first sight. Over his prostrate body we ambled, the
ill-tempered little beast naggling at its bit, and doing his utmost to
unseat me. The music ceased. The cloud of witnesses loured. Come Night,
come Nero, I didn't care! Edging the furious little creature into the
centre of the ring, I mastered him, wheeled him, in a series of
obeisances--North, South, East, West. A hurricane--such as even Mr
Bowater can never have outridden--a hurricane of applause burst bounds
and all but swept me out of the saddle. "Good-bye, Sweetheart,
Good-bye!" sang cornet and trombone. With a toss, I swept my plaits
starwards, brandished my whip at the faces, and galloped out into the
night.

My _début_ was over. I confess it--the very memory of it carries me away
even now. And even now I would maintain that it was at least a little
more successful than that other less professional _début_ which poor Mr
Crimble and Lady Pollacke had left unacclaimed in Beechwood High Street.



Chapter Forty-Seven


My showman, his hard face sleek with sweat, insisted on counting out
three huge platelike crown pieces into my lap--for a douceur. I brushed
them off on to the ground. "Only to clinch the bargain," he said. His
teeth grinned at me as if he would gladly have swallowed me whole.

"Pick up the money," said I coldly, determined once and for all to keep
him in his place. "It's early days yet." But when my back was turned,
covetous Adam took charge of it.

While we trudged along homeward--for in the deserted night the cage was
unnecessary, until I was too tired to go further--I listened to the
coins clanking softly together in Adam's pocket It was an intoxicating
lullaby. But such are the revulsions of success, for hours and hours
that night I lay sleepless. Once I got up and put my hand in where the
crowns were, to assure myself I was awake. But the dream which visited
me--between the watches of remorse--I shall keep to myself.

With next day's sun, the Signorina had become the talk of the
country-side, and Adam's vacant face must have stood him in good stead.
She had been such "a draw," he told me, that the showman had decided to
stay two more nights on the same pitch: which was fortunate for us both.
Especially as on the third afternoon heavy rain fell, converting the
green field into a morass. With evening the clouds lifted, and a fulling
moon glazed the puddles, and dimmed the glow-worm lamps. Impulse is a
capricious master. I did my best, for even when intuition fails my sex,
there's obstinacy to fall back upon; but all that I had formerly
achieved with ease had to be forced out of me that night with endless
effort. The Oracle was unwilling. When a genteel yet foxy looking man,
with whiskers and a high stiff collar under his chin, sneakishly invited
me to tell his fortune, and I replied that "Prudent chickens roost
high," the thrust was a little too deft. My audience was amused, but
nobody laughed.

He seemed to be well known, and the green look he cast me proved that
the truth is not always palatable or discreet. Unseduced by the lumps of
sugar which I had pilfered for him, my peevish mount jibbed and bucked
and all but flung the Princess of Andalusia into the sodden ring. He
succeeded in giving a painful wrench to her wrist, which doubled the
applause.

A strange thing happened to me, too, that night. When for the second or
third time the crowd was flocking in to view me, my eyes chanced to fall
on a figure standing in the clouded light a little apart. He was dressed
in a high-peaked hat and a long and seemingly brown cassock-like
garment, with buttoned tunic and silver-buckled leather belt. Spurs were
on his boots, a light whip in his hand. Aloof, his head a little bowed
down, his face in profile, he stood there, framed in the opening, dusky,
level-featured, deep-eyed--a Stranger.

What in me rushed as if on wings into his silent company? A passionate
longing beyond words burned in me. I seemed to be carried away into a
boundless wilderness--stunted trees, salt in the air, a low, enormous
stretch of night sky, space; and this man, master of soul and solitude.

He never heeded me; raised not an eyelid to glance into my tent. If he
had, what then? I was a nothing. When next, after the press of people, I
looked, he was gone; I saw him no more. Yet the girlish remembrance
remains, consoling this superannuated heart like a goblet of flowers in
that secret chamber of the mind we call the imagination.

The fall from that giddy moment into this practical world was abrupt.
Sulky, tired with the rain and the cumbersome cage and the showman's
insults, on our arrival at Monk's House Adam was completely unnerved
when he found our usual entry locked and bolted.

He gibbered at me like a mountebank in the windy moonlight, his conical
head blotting out half the cloud-wracked sky. These gallivantings were
as much as his place was worth. He would wring the showman's neck. He
had a nail in his shoe. He had been respectable all his life; and what
was I going to do about it? A nice kettle of fish. Oh, yes, he had had
"a lick or two of the old lady's tongue" already, and he didn't want
another. What's more, there was the mealy-mouthed Marvell to reckon
with.

Once free of the cage, I faced him and desired to know whether he would
be happier if I wrote at once to Mrs Monnerie and absolved him there and
then. "Look at yourself in your own mind," I bade him. "What a sight is
a coward!" And I fixed him with none too friendly an eye under the moon.

His clumsiness in opening a window disturbed Mrs French. She came to the
head of the staircase and leaned over, while we crouched in a recess
beneath. But while the beams of the candle she carried were too feeble
to pierce the well of darkness between us, by twisting round my head I
could see every movement and changing expression of the shape above
me--the frilled, red-flannel dressing-gown, the shawl over her head, and
her inflamed peering face surmounted with a "front" of hair in pins. She
was talking to herself in peculiar guttural mutterings. But soon, either
because she was too sleepy or too indolent to search further, she
withdrew again; and Adam and I were free to creep up the glooming
shallow staircase into safety.

Last but not least, when I came to undress, I found that my
grandfather's little watch was gone. In a fever I tumbled my clothes
over again and again. Then I sat down and in memory went over the events
of the evening, and came at last to the thief. There was no doubt of
him--a small-headed, puny man, who almost with tears in his eyes had
besought me to give him one of my buttons to take home to his crippled
little daughter. He had pressed close: my thoughts had been far away. I
confess this loss unnerved me--a haggard face looked out of my glass. I
scrambled into bed, and sought refuge as quickly as possible from these
heart-burnings.

After such depressing experiences Adam's resolution was at an even lower
ebb next morning. We met together under the sunny whispering pine-trees.
I wheedled, argued, adjured him in vain. Almost at my wits' end at last,
I solemnly warned him that if we failed the showman the following
evening, he would assuredly have the law against us. "A pretty pair we
shall look, Adam, standing up there in the dock--with the black cap and
the wigs and the policemen and everything. And not a penny for our
pains."

He squinted at me in unfeigned alarm at this; the lump in his throat
went up and down; and though possibly I had painted the picture in
rather sombre colours, this settled the matter. I hope it taught Adam
to fight shy ever afterwards of adventuresses. It certainly taught
_this_ adventuress that the mind may be "subdued to what it works in,
like the dyer's hand." I cast a look of hatred after the weak, silly man
as he disappeared between the trees.

The circus, so the showman had warned me, was moving on that day to
another market town, Whippington--six miles or so from its present
pitch, though not more than four miles further away from Croomham. This
would mean a long and wearisome trudge for us the next evening, as I
found on consulting an immense map of Kent. Yet my heart sighed with
delight at the discovery that, as the dove flies, we should be a full
five miles nearer to Beechwood. If this little church on the map was St
Peter's, and this faint shading the woody contour of the Hill, why,
then, that square dot was Wanderslore. I sprawled over the outspread
county with sublime content. My very "last appearance" was at hand;
liberty but a few hollow hours away.

It is true I had promised my showman to think over his invitation to me
to "sign on" as a permanent member of his troupe of clowns, acrobats,
wild beasts, and monstrosities. He had engaged in return to pay me in
full, "with a bit over," at the close of the last performance. But I had
merely laughed and nodded. Not that I was in any true sense ashamed of
what I had done. Not _ashamed_.

But you cannot swallow your pride and your niceness without any
discomfort. I was conscious of a hardening of the skin, of a grimness
stealing over my mouth, and of a tendency to stare at the world rather
more boldly than modesty should. At least, so it seemed. In reality it
may have been that Life was merely scraping off the "cream." Quite a
wholesome experience.

On the practical side, all was well. Two pounds to Adam, which I had
promised to make three if he earned it, would leave me with thirteen or
twelve pounds odd, apart from my clumsy "douceur." I thirsted for my
wages. With that sum--two five-pound notes and say, four
half-sovereigns--sewn up, if possible, in my petticoat, I should once
more be my own mistress; and I asked no more for the moment. The future
must take care of itself. On one thing I was utterly resolved--never,
never to return to Monk's House, or to No. 2--to that old squalid
luxury, dissembling and humiliation.

No: my Monnerie days were over; even though it had taken a full pound
of their servile honey to secrete this ounce of rebellious wax.

How oddly chance events knit themselves together. That very morning I
had received a belated and re-addressed letter which smote like sunbeams
on my hopes and plans. It was from Mrs Bowater:--


     "DEAR MISS M.,--I send this line to say that I am still in the land
     of the living. I have buried my poor husband but have hopes some
     day of bringing him home. England is England when all's said and
     done, and I can't say I much approve of foreign parts. It's a fine
     town and not what you might call foreign to look at the buildings,
     but moist and flat and the streets like a draughtboard. And the
     thought of the cattle upsets me. Everything topsy-turvy too with
     Spring coming along and breaking out and we here on the brink of
     September. It has been an afflicting time though considering all
     things he made a peaceful end, with a smile on his face as you
     would hardly consider possible.

     "The next fortnight will see me on board the steamer again, which I
     can scarcely support the thought of, though, please God, I shall
     see it through. I have spent many days alone here and the
     strangeness of it all and the foreign faces bring up memories which
     are happier forgotten. But I'm often thinking what fine things you
     must be doing in that fine place. Not as I think riches will buy
     everything in this world--and a mercy too--or that I'm not anxious
     at times you don't come to harm with that delicate frame and all.
     Wrap up warm, miss, be watchful of your victuals and keep early
     hours. Such being so, I'm still hoping when I come home, if I'm
     spared, you may be of a mind to come to Beechwood Hill again and
     maybe settle down.

     "I may say that I had my suspicions for some time that that young
     Mr Anon was consumptive in the lungs. But from what I gathered he
     isn't, only suffering from a stomach cough--bad cooking and
     exposing himself in all weathers. I will say nothing nearer. I
     shall be easier off as money goes, but you and me needn't think of
     that. Fanny doesn't write much and which I didn't much expect. She
     is of an age now which must reap as it has sown, though even
     allowing for the accident of birth, as they say, a mother's a
     mother till the end of the chapter. I must now close. May the Lord
     bless you, miss, wherever you may be.

     Yours truly,

     "E. BOWATER (MRS)."


Surely this letter was a good omen. It cheered me, and yet it was
disquieting, too. That afternoon I spent in the garden, wandering
irresolutely up and down under the blue sky, and fretting at the
impenetrable wall of time that separated me from the longed-for hour of
freedom. On a sunny stone near a foresty bed of asparagus I sat down at
last, tired, and a little dispirited. I was angry with myself for the
last night's failure, and for a kind of weakness that had come over me.
Yet how different a creature was here to-day from that of only a week
ago. From the darkened soil the stalks sprang up, stiffened and green
with rain. A snail reared up her horns beneath my stone. An azure
butterfly alighted on my knee, slowly fanning its turquoise wings,
patterned with a delicate narrow black band on the one side, and spots
of black and orange like a Paisley shawl beneath. Between silver-knobbed
antennæ its furry perplexed face and shining eyes looked out at me,
sharing my warmth. I watched it idly. How long we had been strangers.
And surely the closer one looked at anything that was not of man's
making.... My thoughts drifted away. I began day-dreaming again.

And it seemed that life was a thing that had neither any plan nor any
purpose; that I was sunk, as if in a bog, in ignorance of why or where
or who I truly was. The days melted on, to be lost or remembered, the
Spring into Summer, and then Winter and death. What was the meaning of
it all--this enormous ocean of time and space in which I was lost? Never
else than a stranger. That couldn't be true of the men and women who
really keep the world's "pot boiling." All _I_ could pray for was to sit
like this for a while, undisturbed and at peace with my own heart.
Peace--did I so much as know the meaning of the word? How dingy a
patchwork I had made of everything. And how customary were becoming
these little passing fits of repining and remorse. The one sole thing
that comforted me--apart from my blue butterfly--was an echo in my head
of those clapping hands, whoops and catcalls--and the white staring
faces in the glare. And a few months ago this would have seemed an
incredible degradation.

There stole into memory that last evening at Wanderslore. What would he
think of me now? I had done worse than forget him, had learned in one
single instant that for ever and ever, however dearly I liked and valued
him and delighted in his company, I could not be "in love" with him. I
hid my face in my hands. Yet a curious quiet wish for his company sprang
up in me. How stiff-necked and affected I had been. Love was nothing but
cheating. Let me but confess, explain, ask forgiveness, unburden myself.
Those hollow temples, that jutting jaw, the way he stooped on his hands
and coughed. My great-aunt, Kitilda, had died in her youth of
consumption. A sudden dread, like a skeleton out of the sky, stood up in
my mind. There was no time to delay. To-morrow night, Adam or no Adam, I
would set off to find him: all would be well.

As if in response to my thought, a shadow stole over the stones beside
me. I looked up and--aghast--saw Fanny.



Chapter Forty-Eight


Her head was turned away from me, a striped parasol leaned over her
shoulder. With a faintly defiant tilt of her beautiful head, as if
exclaiming, "See, Strangeness, I come!" she stepped firmly on over the
turf. A breath of some delicate indoor perfume was wafted across to my
nostrils. I clung to my stone, watching her.

Simply because it seemed a meanness to play the spy on her in her
solitude, I called her name. But her start of surprise was mere
feigning. The silk of her parasol encircled her shoulders like an
immense nimbus. Her eyes dwelt on me, as if gathering up the strands of
an unpleasing memory.

"Ah, Midgetina," she called softly, "it is you, is it, on your little
stone? Are you better?" The very voice seemed conscious of its own
cadences. "What a delicious old garden. The contrast!"

The contrast. With a cold gathering apprehension at my heart I glanced
around me. Why was it that of all people only Fanny could so shrink me
up like this into my body? And there floated back to remembrance the
vast, dazzling room, the flower-clotted table, and, in that hideous
vertigo, a face frenzied with disgust and rage, a hand flung out to cast
me off. But I entered her trap none the less.

"Contrast, Fanny?"

"No, _no_, now, my dear! Not quite so disingenuous as all that,
_please_. You can't have quite forgotten the last time we met."

"There was nothing in that, Fanny. Only that the midge was drunk. You
should see the wasps over there in the nectarines."

"Only?" she echoed lightly, raising her eyebrows. "I am not sure that
every one would put it quite like that. You couldn't see yourself, you
see. They call you little Miss Cassandra now. Woe! Woe! you know. Mrs
Monnerie asked me if I thought you were--you know--'all there,' as they
say."

"I don't care what they say."

"If I weren't an old friend," she returned with crooked lip, "you might
be made to care. I have brought the money you were kind enough to lend
me; I'll give it you when I have unpacked--to-morrow night."

My body sank into a stillness that might well have betrayed its mind's
confusion to a close observer. _Had_ she lingered satirically,
meaningly, on those two last words? "I don't want the money, Fanny:
aren't you generous enough to accept a gift?"

"Well," said she, "it needs a good deal of generosity sometimes. Surely,
a gift depends upon the spirit in which it is given. That last little
message, now--was that, shall we say, an acceptable gift?" Her tones
lost their silkiness. "See here, Midgetina," she went on harshly, "you
and I are going to talk all this out. But I'm thirsty. I hate this
spawning sun. Where are the nectarines?"

Much against my will I turned my back on her, and led her off to the
beehives.

"One for you," she said, stooping forward, balancing the sheeny toe of
her shoe on the brown mould, "and the rest for me. Catch!" She dropped a
wasp-bitten, pulpy fruit into my hands. "Now then. It's shadier here. No
eavesdroppers. Just you and me and God. _Please_ sit down?"

There was no choice. Down I sat; and she on a low wooden seat opposite
me in the shade, her folded parasol beside her, the leaf-hung wall
behind. She bit daintily into the juicy nectarine poised between finger
and thumb, and watched me with a peculiar fixed smile, as if of
admiration, on her pale face.

"Tell me, pretty Binbin," she began again, "what is the name of that
spiked red and blue and violet thing behind your back? It colours the
edges of your delicate china cheeks. Most becoming!"

It was viper's bugloss--a stray, I told her, shifting my head uneasily
beneath her scrutiny.

"Ah, yes, _viper's_ bugloss. Personally I prefer the common variety.
Though no doubt that may stray, too. But fie, fie! You naughty thing,"
she sprang up and plucked another nectarine, "you have been blacking
your eyebrows. I shouldn't have dreamt it of you. What would mother
say?"

"Listen, Fanny," I said, pronouncing the words as best I could with a
tongue that seemed to be sticking to the roof of my mouth; "I am tired
of the garden. What do you really want to say to me? I don't much care
for your--your fun."

"And I just beginning to enjoy it! There's contrariness!--To _say_?
Well, now, a good deal, my dear. I thought of writing. But it's
better--safer to talk. The first thing is this. While you have been
malingering down here I have had to face the whole Monnerie orchestra.
It hasn't been playing quite in tune; and you know why. That lovesick
Susan, now, and her nice young man. But since you seem to be quite
yourself again--more of yourself than ever, in fact: listen." I gazed,
almost hypnotized, through the sunshine into her shady face.

"What I am going to suggest," she went on smoothly, "concerns only you
and me. If you and I are to go on living in the same house--which heaven
forbid--I give you fair warning that we shall have nothing more to do
with one another than is absolutely inevitable. I am not so forgiving as
I ought to be, Midgetina, and insults rankle. Treachery, still more."
The low voice trembled.

"Oh, yes, you may roll your innocent little eyes and look as harmless as
a Chinese god, but answer me this: Am _I_ a hypocrite? Am I? And while
you are thinking it over, hadn't you better tumble that absurd little
pumpkin off your knee? It's staining your charming frock."

"I never said you were a hypocrite," I choked.

"No?" The light gleamed on the whites of her eyes as they roved to and
fro. "Then I say, _you_ are. Fair to face, false to back. Who first
trapped me out star-gazing in the small hours, then played informer? Who
wheedled her way on with her mincing humbug--poof! _naïveté!_--and set
my own mother against me? Who told some one--_you_ know who--that I was
not to be trusted, and far better cast-off? Who stuffed that
lackadaisical idiot of a Sukie Monnerie with all _those_ old horrors?
Who warned that miserable little piece of deformity that I might
come--borrowing? Who hoped to betray me by sending an envelope through
the post packed with mousey bits of paper? Who made me a guy, a
laughing-stock and poisoned---- Oh, it's a long score, Miss M. When I
think of it all, what I've endured--well, honestly when a wasp crawls
out of my jam, I remind myself that it's stinged."

The light smouldering eyes held me fast. "You mean, I suppose, Fanny,
that you'd just kill it," I mumbled, looking up into her distorted face.
"I don't think I should much mind even that. But it's no use. It would
take hours to answer your questions. You have only put them your own
way. They may sound true. But in your heart you know they are false. Why
should you bother to hurt me? You know--you know how idiotically I loved
you."

"_Loved me, false, kill_," echoed Fanny scornfully, with a leer which
transformed her beauty into a mere vulgar grimace. "Is there any end to
the deceits of the little gaby? Do you really suppose that to be loved
is a new experience for me; that I'm not smeared with it wherever I go;
that I care a snap of my fingers whether I'm loved or not; that I
couldn't win through without that? Is that what you suppose? Well, then,
here's one more secret. Open your ears. I am going to marry Percy
Maudlen. Yes, _that_ weed of a creature. You may remember my little
prophecy when he brought his Aunt Alice's manikin some lollipops. Well,
the grace of God is too leisurely, and since you and I are both, I
suppose, of the same sex, I tell you I care no more for him than
that----" She flung the nectarine stone at the beehive. "And I _defy_
you, defy you to utter a word. I am glad I was born what I am. All your
pretty little triumphs, first to last, what are they?--accidents and
insults. Isn't half the world kicking down the faces of those beneath
them on the ladder? _I_ have had to fight for a place. And I tell you
this: I am going to teach these supercilious money-smelling ladies a
lesson. I am going to climb till I can sneer down on _them_. And Mrs
Monnerie is going to help me. She doesn't care a jot for God or man. But
she enjoys intelligence, and loves a fighter. Is that candour? Is it
now?"

"I detest Percy Maudlen," I replied faintly. "And as for sneering, that
only makes another wall. Oh, Fanny, do listen to yourself, to what you
are. I swear I'm not the sneak you think me. I'd help you, if I could,
to my last breath. Indeed, I would. Yes, and soon I _can_."

"Thank you: and I'd rather suffocate than accept your help--now. Listen
to myself, indeed! That's just the pious hypocrite all over. Well,
declarations of love you know quite enough about for your--for your age.
Now you shall hear one of a different kind. I tell you, Midgetina, I
hate you: I can't endure the sight or sound or creep or thought of you
any longer. Why? Because of your unspeakable masquerade. You play the
pygmy; pygmy you are: carried about, cosseted, smirked at, fattened on
nightingales' tongues--the last, though, you'll ever eat. But where have
you come from? What are you in your past--in your mind? I ask you that:
a thing more everywhere, more thief-like, more detestable than a
conscience. Look at me, as we sit here now. _I_ am the monstrosity. You
see it, you think it, you hate even to touch me. From first moment to
last you have secretly despised me--me! I'm not accusing you. You
weren't your own maker. As often as not you don't know what you are
saying. You are just an automaton. But these last nights I have lain
awake and thought of it all. It came on me as if my life had been
nothing but a filthy, aimless nightmare; and chiefly because of you.
I've worked, I've thought, I've contrived and forced my way. Oh, that
house, the wranglings, the sermons. Did I make myself what I am, ask to
be born? No, it's all a devilish plot. And I say this, that while things
are as they are, and this life is life, and this world _my_ world, I
refuse to be watched and taunted and goaded and defamed."

Her face stooped closer, fascinating, chilling me like a cold cloud with
its bright, hunted, malevolent stare. She stretched out a hand and wrung
my shoulder. "Listen, I say. Come out of that trance! I loathe you, you
holy imp. You haunt me!"

My eyes shut. I sat shivering, empty of self, listening, as if lost in a
fog in a place desperately strange to me; and only a distant sea
breaking and chafing on its stones far below. Then once more I became
conscious of the steady and resolute droning of the bees; felt the
breathing of actuality on my hair, on my cheek. My eyes opened on a
garden sucked dry of colour and reality, and sought her out. She had
left me, was standing a few paces distant now, looking back, as if
dazed, her lips pale, her eyes dark-ringed.

"Perhaps you didn't quite hear all that, Midgetina. You led me on. You
force things out of me till I am sick. But some day, when you are as
desperate as I have been, it will come back to you. Then you'll know
what it is to be human. But there can't be any misunderstanding left
now, can there?"

I shook my head. "No, Fanny. I shall know you hate me."

"And I am free?"

What could she mean? I nodded.

She turned, pushed up her parasol. "What a talk! But better done with."

"Yes, Fanny," said I obediently. "Much better done with."

She gave me an odd glance out of the corner of her eye. "The queer thing
is," she went on, "what I wanted to say was something quite, quite
different. To give you a friendly word of warning, entirely on your own
account.... You have a rival, Midgetina."

The words glided away into silence. The doves crooned on the housetop.
The sky was empty above the distant hills. I did not stir, and am
thankful I had the cowardice to ask no questions.

"Her name is Angélique. She lives in a Castle in Spain"; sighed the
calm, silky voice, with the odd break or rasp in it I knew so well. "Oh,
I agree a circus-rider is nothing better than a mongrel, a pariah, worse
probably. Yet this one has her little advantages. As Midgets go, she
beats you by at least four inches, and rides, sings, dances, tells
fortunes. Quite a little Woman of the World. The only really troublesome
thing about it is that she makes you jiltable, my dear. They are so very
seductive, these flounced up, painted things. _No_ principle! And, oh,
my dear; all this just as dear Mrs Monnerie has set her heart on finding
her Queen Bee a nice little adequate drone for a husband!"

It was her last taunt. It was over. I had heard the worst. The arrow I
had been waiting for had sprung true to its mark. Its barb was sticking
there in my side. And yet, as I mutely looked up at her, I knew there
was a word between us which neither could utter. The empty air had
swallowed up the sound of our voices. Its enormous looking-glass
remained placid and indifferent. It was as if all that we had said, or,
for that matter, suffered, was of no account, simply because we were not
alone. For the first instant in the intimacy of my love and hatred,
Fanny seemed to be just any young woman standing there, spiteful,
meaningless. The virtue had gone out of her. She made up her mouth,
glanced uneasily over her shoulder and turned away.

We were never again to be alone together, except in remembrance.


I sat on in the garden till the last thin ray of sunlight was gone.
Then, in dread that my enemy might be looking down from the windows of
the house, I slipped and shuffled from bush to bush in the dusk, and so
at last made my way into the house, and climbed the dark polished
staircase. As, stealthily, I passed a bedroom door ajar, my look pierced
through the crevice. It was a long, stretching, shallow room, and at the
end of it, in the crystal quiet, stood Fanny, her arms laid on the
chimney-piece, her shoulder blades sticking out of her muslin gown, her
face hidden in her hands.

Why did I not venture in to speak to her? I had never seen a figure so
desolate and forsaken. Could things ever be so far gone as to say No to
that? I hesitated; turned away: she would think I had come only to beg
for mercy.

For hours I sat dully brooding. What a trap I was in. In my rummagings
in the Monnerie library I had once chanced on a few yellow
cardboard-covered novels tucked away in a cupboard, and had paddled in
one or two of them. Now I realized that my life also was nothing but "a
Shocker." So people actually suffered and endured the horrible things
written about in cheap, common books.

One by one I faced Fanny's charges in my mind. None was true, yet none
was wholly false. And none was of any consequence beside the fact that
she execrated the very self in me of which I could not be conscious. And
what would she do? What did all those covert threats and insinuations
mean? A "husband"--why had that such a dreadful power to wound me? I
heard my teeth begin to chatter again. There was no defence, no refuge
anywhere. If I could get no quiet, I should go mad. I looked up from my
stool. It was dark. It was a scene made for me. I could watch the
miserable little occupant of its stage roving to and fro like one of my
showman's cowed, mangy beasts.

The thought of the day still ahead of me, through which I must somehow
press on, keep alive, half stupefied me with dread. We can shut our eyes
and our mouths and our hearts; why cannot we stop thinking? The awful
passive order of life: its mechanicalness. All that I could see was the
blank white face of its clock--but no more of the wheels than of the
Winder. No haste, no intervention, no stretching-out beyond one's finger
tips. So the world wore away; life decayed; the dunghill smoked. Mrs
Monnerie there; stepping into her brougham, ebony cane in hand, Marvell
at her elbow; Mrs Bowater languishing on board ship, limp head in stiff
frilling; Sir Walter dumb; the showman cursing his wretched men; the
bills being posted, the implacable future mutely yawning, the past
unutterable. Everything in its orbit. Was there no help, no refuge?

The door opened and the skimpy little country girl who waited on me in
Fleming's absence, brought in my supper. She bobbed me a scared curtsey,
and withdrew. Then she, too, had been poisoned against me. I flung
myself down on the floor, crushing my hands against my ears. Yet,
through all this dazed helplessness, in one resolve I never faltered. I
would keep my word to the showman, and this night that was now in my
room should be the last I would spend alive in Monk's House. Fanny must
do her worst. Thoughts of her, of my unhappy love and of her cruelty,
could bring no good. Yet I thought of her no less. Her very presence in
the house lurked in the air, in the silence, like an apparition's.

Still stretched on the floor, I woke to find the September
constellations faintly silvering the pale blue crystal of the Northern
Lights; and the earth sighing as if for refuge from the rising moon. My
fears and troubles had fallen to rest beneath my dreams, and I prepared
myself for the morrow's flight.



Chapter Forty-Nine


When next Fanny and I met, it was in the cool grey-green summery
drawing-room at Monk's House, and Mrs Monnerie and Susan shared tea with
us. One covert glance at Mrs Monnerie's face had reassured me. That
strange mask was as vigilant and secretive, but as serene, as when it
had first smiled on me in the mauves and gildings of Brunswick House.
She had set her world right again and was at peace with mankind. As
complacently as ever she stretched me out her finger. She had not even
taken the trouble to forgive me for my little "scene"; had let it perish
of its own insignificance. Oh, I thought, if I could be as life-size as
that! I did not learn till many days afterwards, however, that she had
had news of me from France. _Good_ news, which Sir W., trusting in my
patience and commonsense, had kept back from me until he could deliver
it in person and we could enjoy it together.

Only one topic of conversation was ours that afternoon--that "amazing
Prodigy of Nature," the Spanish Princess; Mrs Monnerie's one regret that
she herself had not discovered a star of such ineffably minute
magnitude. Yet her teasing and sarcasm were so nimble and good-humoured;
she insinuated so pleasantly her little drolleries and innuendoes; that
even if Miss M. had had true cause for envy and malice, she could have
taken no offence. Far from it.

I looked out of the long open windows at the dipping, flittering
wagtails on the lawn; shrugged my shoulders; made little mouths at her
with every appearance of wounded vanity. Did she really think, I
inquired earnestly, that that shameless creature was as lovely as the
showman's bills made her out to be? Mightn't it all be a cheat, a trick?
Didn't they always exaggerate--just to make money? The more jovially she
enjoyed my discomfiture, nodding her head, swaying in her chair, the
more I enjoyed my duplicity. The real danger was that I should be a
little too clever, over-act my part, and arouse her suspicions.

"Ah, you little know, you little know," I muttered to myself, sharply
conscious the while of the still, threatening presence of Fanny. But she
meant to let me go--that was enough. It was to be good riddance to bad
rubbish. There was nothing to fear from her--yet. Her eyes lightly
dwelling on me over her Chelsea teacup, she sat drinking us in. Well,
she should never taunt me with not having played up to her conception of
me.


"Well, well," Mrs Monnerie concluded, "all it means, my dear, is that
you are not quite such a rarity as we supposed. Who is? There's nothing
unique in this old world; though character, even bad character, never
fails to make its mark. Ask Mr Pellew."

"But, surely, Mrs Monnerie," said I, "it isn't character to sell
yourself at twopence a look."

"Mere scruples, Poppet," she retorted. "Think of it. If only you could
have pocketed that pretty little fastidiousness of yours, the newspapers
would now be ringing with your fame. And the fortune! You are too
pernickety. Aren't we all of us on show? And aren't nine out of ten of
us striving to be more on show than we are entitled to be? If man's
first disobedience and the rest of it doesn't mean that, then what, I
ask you, Mademoiselle _Bas Bleu_, was the sour old Puritan so concerned
about? Assist me, Susan, if I stumble."

"I wish I could, Aunt Alice," said Susan sweetly, cutting the cake. "You
must ask Miss Bowater."

"_Please_, Miss Monnerie," drawled Fanny.

"Whether or not," said Mrs Monnerie crisply, "I beseech you, children,
don't quarrel about it. There is our beloved Sovereign on her throne;
and there the last innocent little victim in its cradle; and there's the
old sun waggishly illuminating the whole creaking stage. Blind beggar
and dog, Toby, artists, authors, parsons, statesmen--heart and
everything else, or everything else but heart, on sleeve--and all on
show--every one of them--at _something_ a look. No, my dear, there's
only one private life, the next: and, according to some accounts, that
will be more public than ever. And so twirls the Merry-go-Round."

Her voice relapsed, as it were, into herself again, and she drew in her
lips. She looked about her as if in faint surprise; and in returning to
its usual expression, it seemed to me that her countenance had paused an
instant in an exceedingly melancholy condition. Perhaps she had caught
the glint of sympathy in my eye.

"But isn't that all choice, Mrs Monnerie?" I leaned forward to ask. "And
aren't some people what one might call conspicuous, simply because they
are really and truly, as it were, superior to other people? I don't mean
better--just superior."

"I _think_, Mrs Monnerie," murmured Fanny deprecatingly, "she's
referring to that '_ad infinitum_' jingle--about the fleas, you know. Or
was it Dr Watts, Midgetina?"

"Never mind about Dr Watts," said Mrs Monnerie flatly. "The point from
which we have strayed, my dear, is that even if you were not born great,
you were born exquisite; and now here's this Angélique rigmarole----"
Her face creased up into its old good-humoured facetiousness: "Was it
three inches, Miss Bowater?"

"Four, Mrs Monnerie," lipped Fanny suavely.

"Four! pooh! Still, that's what they say; half a head or more, my dear,
more exquisite! Perfect nonsense, of course. It's physically impossible.
These Radical newspapers! And the absinthe, too." Her small black-brown
eyes roamed round a little emptily. Absinthe! was that a Fanny story?
"But there, my child," she added easily, "you shall see for yourself. We
dine with the Padgwick-Steggals; and then go on together. So that's
settled. It will be my first travelling circus since I was a child. Most
amusing: if the lion doesn't get out, and there's none of those horrible
accidents on the trapeze one goes in hope to see. By the way, Miss
Bowater, your letter was posted?"

"Oh, yes, Mrs Monnerie--this afternoon; but, as you know, I was a little
doubtful about the address." She hastened to pass me a plate of
button-sized ratafias; and Mrs Monnerie slowly turned a smiling but not
quite ingenuous face aside.

"What a curious experience the circus will be for you, Midgetina," Fanny
was murmuring softly, glancing back over her shoulder towards the
tea-table. "Personally, I believe the Signorina Angélique and the rest
of it is only one of those horrible twisted up prodigies with all the
bones out of place. Mightn't it, Mrs Monnerie, be a sort of shock, you
know, for Miss M.? She's still a little pale and peaky."

"She shall come, I say, and see for herself," replied Mrs Monnerie
petulantly.

There was a pause. Mrs Monnerie gazed vacantly at the tiers of hot-house
flowers that decorated the window-recess. Susan sate with a little
forked frown between her brows. She never seemed to derive the least
enjoyment from this amiable, harmless midget-baiting. Not at any rate
one hundredth part as much as I did. Fanny set Plum begging for yet
another ratafia. And then, after a long, deep breath, my skin all
"gooseflesh," I looked straight across at my old friend.

"I don't think, Mrs Monnerie," I said, "if you don't mind--I don't think
I really _wish_ to go."

As if Joshua had spoken, the world stood still.

Mrs Monnerie slowly turned her head. "Another headache?"

"No, I'm perfectly well, thank you. But, whatever I may have said, I
don't approve of that poor creature showing herself for--for money. She
is selling herself. It _must_ be because there's no other way out."

Finger and thumb outstretched above the cringing little dog, Fanny was
steadily watching me. With a jerk of my whole body I turned on her. "You
agreed with me, Fanny, didn't you, in the garden yesterday afternoon?"

Placidly drooped her lids: "Trust, Plum, trust!"

"What!" croaked Mrs Monnerie, "you, Miss Bowater! Guilty of that silly
punctilio! She was merely humouring you, child. It will be a most
valuable experience. You shall be perfectly protected. Pride, eh? Or is
it jealousy? Now what would you say if I promise to try and ransom the
poor creature?--buy her out? pension her off? Would _that_ be a nice
charitable little thing to do? She might make you quite a pleasant
companion."

"Ah, Mrs Monnerie, please let _me_ buy her out. Let me be the
intermediary!" I found myself, hands clasped in lap, yearningly stooping
towards her, just like a passionate young lady in a novel.

She replied ominously, knitting her thick, dark eyebrows. "And how's
that to be done, pray, if you sulk here at home?"

"I think, Aunt Alice, it's an excellent plan," cried Susan, "much, much
more considerate. She could write. Think of all those horrible people!
The poor thing may have been kidnapped, forced to do her silly tricks
like one of those wretched, little barbered-up French poodles. Anyhow, I
don't suppose she's there--or anywhere else, for that matter--for
_fun_!"

Even Susan's sympathy had its sting.

"Thank you, Susan," was Mrs Monnerie's acid retort. "_Your_ delicate
soul can always be counted on. But advice, my child, is much the more
valuable when asked for."

"Of course I mustn't interfere, Mrs Monnerie," interposed Fanny sweetly;
"but wouldn't it perhaps be as well for you to see the poor thing first?
She mayn't be quite--quite a proper kind of person, may she? At least
that's what the newspapers seem to suggest. Not, of course, that Miss M.
wouldn't soon teach her better manners."

Mrs Monnerie's head wagged gently in time to her shoe. "H'm. There's
something in that, Miss Worldly-Wise. Reports don't seem to flatter her.
But still, I like my own way best. Poppet must _come and see_. After
all, she should be the better judge."

Never before had Mrs Monnerie so closely resembled a puffed-out tawny
owl.

I looked at her fixedly: shook my head. "No: no judge," I spluttered.
"I'm sorry, Mrs Monnerie, but I _won't_ go."

There was no misdoubting her anger now. The brows forked. The
loose-skinned hands twitched. She lifted herself in her chair,
"_Won't_," she said. "You vex me, child. And pray don't wriggle at me in
that hysterical fashion. You are beside yourself; trembling like a
mouse. You have been mooning alone too much, I can see. Run away and
nurse that silly head, and at the same time thank heaven that you have
more time and less need of the luxury than some one else we know of. It
may be a low life, but it needs courage. I'll say _that_ for her."

She swept her hands to her knees over her silken lap, and turned upon
Susan.



Wanderslore



Chapter Fifty


I had been dismissed. But Mrs Monnerie's anger had a curious potency.
For a moment I could scarcely see out of my eyes, and the floor swayed
under me as I scrambled down from my chair. It took me at least a
minute, even with the help of a stool, to open the door.

Like a naughty child I had been put in the corner and then sent to bed.
Good. There could be no going back now. I could count on Fanny--the one
thing she asked was to be free of me. As for Mrs Monnerie, her flushed
and sullen countenance convinced me that my respite would be
undisturbed. There was only impulsive Susan to think of. And as if in
answer, there came a faint tap, and the door softly opened to admit her
gentle head and shoulders.

"Ah, my dear," she whispered across at me. "I'm _so_ sorry; and so
helpless. Don't take it too hardly. I have been having my turn, too."

I twisted round, wet face and hands, as I stood stooping over my
washbowl on its stool, scrutinized her speechlessly, and shook a dizzy
head. The door shut. Dearest Susan: as I think of her I seem to see one
of those tiny, tiny "building rotifers" collecting out of reality its
exquisite house. Grace, courage, loving-kindness. If I had been the
merest Miss Hop-o'-my-Thumb, I should still have been the coarsest
little monster by comparison.

Scarce three safe hours remained to me; I must be off at once. To go
looking for Adam was out of the question. Even if I could find him, I
dared not risk him. Would it be possible for me to cover my six miles or
more across undiscovered country in a hundred and eighty minutes? In my
Bowater days, perhaps; but there had been months of idle, fatted, indoor
No. 2 in between. A last forlorn dishonest project, banished already
more than once from my mind, again thrust itself up--to creep off to the
nearest Post Office and with one of my crown pieces for a telegram,
cast myself on the generosity of Mr Anon. No, no: I couldn't cheat
myself like that.

I was ready. I pinned to the carpet a message for Adam, in case he
should dare to be faithful to me--just four scribbled uncompromising
words: "The Bird is flown." With eyes fixed on a starry knot of wood at
the threshold, I stood for a while, with head bent, listening at my
door. I might have been pausing between two worlds. The house was quiet.
No voice cried "Stay." I bowed solemnly to the gentle, silent room
behind me, and, with a prayer between my teeth, bundle in hand, stepped
out into the future.

Unchallenged, unobserved, I slipped along the blue-carpeted corridor,
down the wide stairs and out of the porch. After dodging from tree to
tree, from shrub to shrub, along the meandering drive, I turned off,
and, skirting the lodge through a seeding forest of weeds and grasses,
squeezed through the railings and was in the lane. From my map of Kent I
had traced out a rough little sketch of the route I must follow. With
the sun on my left hand I set off almost due north. How still the world
was. In that silk-blue sky with its placid, mountainous clouds there was
no heed of human doings.

The shoes I had chosen were good sound Bowaters, and as I trudged on my
spirits rose high. I breathed in deep draughts of the sweet September
air. Thomasina of Bedlam had been "summoned to tourney." "The wide
world's end.... No journey!" In sober fact, it was a sorry little wretch
of a young female, scarcely more than a girl, that went panting along in
the dust and stones, scrambling into cover of ditch and hedge at every
sound or sight of life. I look at her now, and smile. Poor thing; it
needed at any rate a pinch of "courage."

Cottages came into sight. At an open door I heard the clatter of
crockery, and a woman scolding a child. Two gates beyond, motionless as
a block of wood, an old, old man stood leaning out of his garden of
dahlias and tarnishing golden-rod. In an instant in the dumb dust I was
under his nose. His clay pipe shattered on the stone. Like a wagtail I
flitted and scampered all in a breath. That little danger was safely
over; but it was not ruminating old gentlemen who caused me
apprehension. Youthful Adam Waggetts were my dread.

At the foot of the slope there came a stile, and a footpath winding off
NW. but still curving in my direction. I hesitated. Any risk seemed
better than the hedged-in publicity of this dusty lane. Ducking under
the stile, I climbed the hill and presently found myself clambering
across an immense hummocky field, part stubble, part fresh plough. Then
a meadow and cows. Then once more downhill, a drowsy farm-yard, with its
stacks and calves and chickens, to the left, and at bottom of the slope
a filthy quagmire where an immense sow wallowed, giving suck to her
squalling piglets. Her glinting, amorous eyes took me in. Stone on to
stone, I skipped across a brook, dowsing one leg to the thigh in its
bubbling water. It was balm in Gilead, for I was in a perfect fume of
heat, and my lungs were panting like bellows.

I sat down for a breathing space on the sunset side of a haystack. In
the shade of the hazels, on the verge of the green descending field,
rabbits were feeding and playing. And I began to think. Supposing I did
reach the new pitch in time: the wreck I should be. Then Mrs
Monnerie--and Fanny: my thoughts skimmed hastily on. What then? As soon
as my showman had paid me I must creep away by myself out of sight _at
once_; that was certain. I must tell him that Adam was waiting for me.
And then? Well, after a few hours' rest in some shed or under a
haystack, somehow or other I should have to find out the way, and press
on to Wanderslore. There'd be a full moon. That would be a comfort. I
knew the night. Once safely there, with money in my pocket, I could with
a perfectly free conscience ask Mr Anon to find me a lodging, perhaps
not very far from his own. A laughable situation. But we would be the
best of friends; now that all that--that nonsense was over. A deep sigh,
drawn, as it were, from the depths of my bowels, rose up and subsided.
What a strange thing that one must fall in love, couldn't jump into it.
And then? Well, Mrs Bowater would soon be home, and perhaps Sir Walter
had circumvented the Harrises. Suppose not. Well, even at the very
worst, at say ten, say even fifteen shillings a week, my thirteen pounds
would last me for months and months.... Say _four_.

And as I said "four," a gate clacked-to not many yards distant and a
slow footfall sounded. Fortunately for me, the path I had been
following skirted the other side of my haystack. Gathering myself close
under the hay, I peeped out. A tall, spare man, in a low, peaked cap and
leather leggings, came cautiously swinging along. His face was long,
lean, severe. His eyes were fixed in a steady gaze as if he were a human
automaton stalking on. And the black barrel of a gun sloped down from
under his arm. I drew in closer. His footsteps passed; died away; the
evening breeze blew chill. A few moments afterwards a shattering report
came echoing on from wood to wood, seeming to knock on my very
breastbone. This was no place for me. With one scared glance at the
huddling wood, I took to my heels, nor paused until the path through the
spinney became so rutted that I was compelled to pick my way.

A cold gloom had closed in on my mind. I cursed clod-hopping shoes and
bundle; envied the dead rabbit that had danced its airy dance and was
done. As likely as not, I had already lost my way. And I plodded on
along the stony paths, pausing only to quench my thirst with the rough
juice of the blackberries that straggled at the wayside. I wonder if the
"Knight of Furious Fancies" was as volatile!

But yet another shock was awaiting me. The footpath dipped, there came a
hedge and another stile, and I scuffled down the bank into the very lane
which I had left more than an hour ago. I knew that white house on the
hill; had seen it with Adam under the moon. It stood not much more than
a mile from the lodge gates. My short cut had been a detour; and now the
sun was down.

I drew back and examined my scribble of map. There was no help for it.
Henceforward I must keep to the road. My thick shoes beat up the dust,
one of my heels had blistered, my bundle grew heavier with every step.
But fear had left me. Some other master cracked his whip at me as I
shambled on, as doggedly and devil-may-care as a tramp.

I was stooping in the wayside ditch in one more attempt to ease my foot,
when once again I heard hoofs approaching. With head pushed between the
dusty tussocks, I stared along the flat, white road. A small and
seemingly empty cart was bowling along in the dust. As it drew near, my
ears began to sing, my heart stood still. I knew that battered cart,
that rough-haired, thick-legged pony. Suddenly I craned up in horror,
for it seemed that the face peering low over the splashboard in my
direction was that of a death's-head, grinning at me out of its gloom.
Then with a cry of joy I was up and out into the road. "Hi, hi!" I
screamed up at him.

It was Mr Anon. The pony was reined back on to its haunches; the cart
stood still. And my stranger and I were incredulously gazing at one
another as if across eternity, as if all the world beside were a dream
that asked no awakening.

Half dragged and half lifted into the cart, by what signs I could, for
speech was impossible, I bade him turn back. It unmanned me to see the
quiet and love in his face. Without a word he wheeled the rearing pony
round under the elm-boughs, and for many minutes we swung on together at
an ungainly gallop, swaying from this side to that, the astonishment of
every wayfarer we met or overtook on our way. At length he turned into a
grass-track under a rusting hedge festooned with woodbine and feathery
travellers' joy; and we smiled at one another as if in all history there
had never been anything quite so strange as this.

"You are ill," he said. "Oh, my dear, what have they done to you?"

I denied it emphatically, wiping my cheeks and forehead with the hem of
my skirt--for my handkerchief was stuffed into my shoe. "Look at me!" I
smiled up at him, confident and happy. Was my face lying about me? Oh, I
knew what a dreadful object I must be, but then, "I've been tramping for
hours and hours in the dust; and why!--haven't you come to meet me; to
give me a _lift_?"

What foolish speeches makes a happy heart. Indeed Mr Anon _had_ come to
meet me, but not exactly there and then. He fetched out of his pocket
the minute note that had summoned him. Here it is, still faintly
scented:--


     "Mrs Monnerie sends her compliments, and would Miss M.'s friend
     very kindly call at Monk's House, Croomham, at three o'clock on
     Friday afternoon. Mrs Monnerie is anxious about Miss M.'s health."


Oh, Fanny, Fanny! Precisely how far she had taken Mrs Monnerie's name in
vain in this letter I have never inquired. And now, I suppose, Mrs Percy
Maudlen would not trouble to tell me. But I can vow that in spite of
the grime on my face the happiest smile shone through as I stuffed it
into my bodice. So this was all that her harrowing "husband" had come
to--a summoning of friend to friend. If every little malicious plot
ended like this, what a paradise the world would be. All tiredness
passed away, though perhaps it continued to effervesce in my head a
little. It seemed that I had been climbing on and on; and now suddenly
the mist had vanished, and mountain and snow lay spread out around me in
eternal peace and solitude. If Susan Monnerie's was my first stranger's
kiss, Mr Anon's were my quietest tears.

His crazy cart seemed more magical than all the carpets of Arabia. I
poured out my story--though not quite to its dregs. "This very
afternoon," I told him, "I was writing to you--in my mind. And you see,
you have come." The shaggy pony tugged at the coarse grass. I could hear
the trickling sands in the great hour glass, and chattered on in vain
hope to hold them back.

"You are not listening, only watching," I blamed him.

His lips moved; he glanced away. Yet I had already foreseen the conflict
awaiting me. And all his arguments and entreaties that I should throw
over the showman, and drive straight on with him into the gathering
evening towards Wanderslore, were in vain.

"Look," he said, as if for straw to break the camel's back, and drew out
by its ribbon my Bowater latchkey.

"No," said I, "not even that. I sleep out to-night." And surely, surely
I kept repeating, he must understand. How could I possibly be at rest
with a broken promise? What cared I now for what was past and gone?
Think what a joy, what sheer fun it would be to face Mrs Monnerie for
the last time, and she unaware of it! Nothing, nothing could amuse her
more when she hears of it. He should come and see; hear the crowd yell.
He mustn't be so solemn about things. "Do try and see the humour of it,"
I besought him.

But the money--that little incentive--I kept to myself.

He stared heavily into the silvery copse that bordered the track.
Motionless in their bright, withering leaves, its trees hung down their
tasselled branches beneath the darkening sky. Then, much against his
will, he turned his pony towards the high road. The wheel gridded on a
stone, he raised his whip.

"Hst!" I whispered, clutching at the arm that held the rein. Crouching
low, we watched the great Monnerie carriage, with its stiff-necked,
blinkered, stepping greys and gleaming lamps sweep by.

"There," I laughed up at him, lifting myself, one hand upon his knee,
"there but for the Grace of God goes Miss M."

The queer creature frowned into my smiling face and flicked the pony
with his whip. "And here," he muttered moodily, "who knows but by the
Grace of God go I?"


Anxiety gone now, and responsibility but a light thing, my tongue
rattled on quite as noisily as the cart. Kent's rich cornfields were
around us, their stubble a pale washed-out gold in the last light of
evening. Here and there on the hills a row or two of ungarnered stooks
stood solemnly carved out against the sky. Most of the hop-gardens, too,
had been dismantled, though a few we passed, with their slow-twirling
dusky vistas and labyrinths, were still wreathed with bines. Their scent
drifted headily on the stillness. And as with eyes peeping over the edge
of the cart I watched these beloved, homelike hills and fields and
orchards glide by, I shrilled joyfully at my companion every thought and
fancy that came into my head, many of them, no doubt, recent deposits
from the library at No. 2.

I told him, I remember, how tired I was of the pernicketiness of my
life; and amused him with a description of my Tank. "You would hardly
believe it, but I have never once heard the least faint whisper of water
in it, and if I had been a nice, simple savage, I dare say I should have
prayed to it. Instead of which, when one night I saw a star over the
housetop I merely shrugged my shoulders. My mind was so rancid I hated
it. I was so shut in; that's what it was."

He stroked the little, thick-coated horse with the lash of his whip, and
smiled round at me.

On I went. Shouldn't life be a High Road, didn't he think; surely not a
hot, silly zigzag of short cuts leading back to the place you started
from, and you too old or stupid, perhaps, to begin again? Didn't he
hunger, too, to see the _great_ things of the world, the ruins of
Babylon, the Wall of China, the Himalayas, and the Pyramids--at
night--black; and sand?

"My ghost!" said I, had he ever thought of the enormous solitudes of
the Sahara, or those remote places where gigantic images stare blindly
through the centuries at the stars--their builders just a pinch of dust?
Some day, I promised him out of the abandonment of my heart, we would
sail away, he and I, to his Pygmy Land. Surf and snow and singing
sand-dunes, and fruits on the trees and birds in the air: we would
live--"Oh, happy as all this!" (and I swept my hands across hill and
dale), "ever, ever afterwards. As they do, Mr Anon, in those absurd,
incredible fairy-tales, you know."

He smiled again, cast a look into the distance, touched my hand.

Perhaps he was wishing the while that that piercing, pining voice of
mine would keep silence, so that my presence might not disturb his own
brooding thoughts. I could only guess at pleasing him. Yet I felt, still
feel, that he was glad of my company and never for a moment sorry we had
met.



Chapter Fifty-One


But our brief hour was drawing to an end. We were now passing little
groups of country people and children in the quiet evening. We ourselves
talked no more. The old pony plodded up yet another hill; we went
clattering down its deep descent; and there, in the green bowl of a
meadow sloping down from its woody fringes above, lay scattered the
bellying booths, the gaudy wagons and cages of the circus. All but
hidden in the trees above them, a crooked, tarnished weather-cock
glinted in the sunset afterglow. Lights twinkled against the dying
daylight. The bright-painted merry-go-round with its staring,
motionless, galloping horses was bathed in the shine of its flares, a
thin plume of steam softly ascending from its brass-rimmed funnel.

A knot of country boys, gabbling at one another like starlings, shrilled
a cheer as we came rattling over a stone bridge beneath which a stream
shallowly washed its bank of osiers. I laughed at them, waved my hand.
At this they yelled, danced in the road, threw dust into the air. Not,
perhaps, a very friendly return; but how happy I was, all anxiety and
responsibility gone now.

The faint, rank smell of the wild beasts mingling with the evening air,
was instilling its intoxication in my brain. I longed for darkness, the
din and glare; longed for my tent and the gaping faces, for the smoky
wind to fan my cheek as I bobbed cantering round the ring. It must have
been a ridiculously childish face that ever and again scrutinized my
companion's. Nothing for me in _that_ looking-glass! How slow a face his
was; he was refusing to look at me. It dismayed and fretted me to find
him so sombre and dour.

His glance shifted to and fro under a frown that expressed a restless
anxiety. His silence seemed to reproach me. Oh, well, when the day was
over, and Mademoiselle's finery packed up in its bundle again, and the
paint washed off, and the last echo of applause from the crowded
benches had died away, and my pay was safe in my pocket, then he would
know that the stake I had played for had been my freedom, my very self.
Then surely his heart would lighten, and he would praise me, and we
could go in peace. Would he not realize, too, that even my small body
had its value, and was admired in a dismal world that cared not a jot
for the spirit that inhabited it?

The showman stood by the tent, a gaudy silk scarf knotted round his
neck. My lean-breasted gipsy woman spangled there beside him, with her
black hair looped round her narrow bony head, and her loose, dusty,
puckered boots showing beneath her skirts. There was a clear lustre in
the lamp-starred air; and the spectacle of man and woman, of resting
wheel and cropping horse, meadow and hill, poured a livelong blessing
into my heart. Even the cowed, enfeebled lion with the mange of age and
captivity in his skin, seemed to drowse content, and the satin-skinned
leopards--almost within pat of paw of the flaxen-haired girl in the
white stockings who leaned idly against the wheel--paced their den as if
in pride. It was the same old story: my heart could not contain it all.
Yet to whom tell its secrets?

A roomier tent had been prepared for me. We were ushered into it by the
showman with a mock obeisance that swelled the veins on his forehead
almost to bursting. The gipsy's birdlike eyes pierced and darted from
one to the other of us, her skinny hand concealing her mouth. I felt as
light as a feather, and thankful that my mud-caked shoes and petticoats
were hardly discernible as none too elegantly I scrambled down from the
cart.

The showman watched me with that sly, covetous grin about his mouth that
I knew so well, though the stare with which he had greeted Mr Anon had
been more insolent than friendly. I had cut the time rather close, he
told me, but better late than never! As for that long-nosed rat with the
cage, he hadn't been much smitten with the looks of him; and he was not
the man to ask questions of a lady, not he. Here I was, and he hoped I
had come for good. A rough life but a merry. Up with the lark until down
under the daisies; and every man jack of them ready to kiss the ground I
walked on. And the Fat Woman--just pining good money away she was, with
longing to mother the little stranger!

I nodded my head at him with a smile as worldly-wise as I could make
it. "It's the last taste that counts, Mr Showman," I said politely.
"Every one has been exceedingly kind to me; and my love, please, to the
Fat Woman. This is my friend, Mr Anon. He has come to take care of me.
We shall go back--go on together."

The showman broke into a laugh, but his face hardened again, as,
grinding one jaw slowly on the other, he turned to Mr Anon. Maybe "the
young gentleman" was anxious to enjoy a taste of the life on his own
account, he asked me. Could he ride? A bit of steeplechasing? There was
plenty of horseflesh--a double turn: Beauty and the Beast, now? Or
perhaps another Spotted Boy? Love or money; just name the figure. Treat
him fair and square, and he wouldn't refuse a genuine offer; though,
naturally, every inch made a difference, and a foot twelve times as
much. And looks were looks.

There was little enough to enjoy in the sound of all this. Apparently
the mere sight of Mr Anon had soured the showman. Many of his words were
Greek to me, and to judge from the woman's yelps of laughter their
meaning was none of the daintiest. I shrugged my shoulders, smiled,
spread out my hands, and with a word or two fenced him off, pretending
to be flattered. He looked at the woman as if to say, There's manners
for you! She made a sudden, ferocious grimace. We were a singular four
in the tent.

But it would be false to profess that I hadn't a sneaking admiration for
the man; and I kept glancing uneasily at the "young gentleman" who was
so blackly ignoring his advances. To say the least of it, it was a
little unintelligent of Mr Anon not to take things as they came, if only
for my sake.

"But you must please try and help me a little," I pleaded, when the
showman and the gipsy had left us to ourselves for a moment. "It's only
his fun. He's really not a bad sort of man underneath. You can't say
there's a Spirit of Evil in that great hulking creature, now can you? I
am not the least bit afraid of him."

He glanced at me without turning his head. Involuntarily I sighed.
Things never were so easy as one supposed or hoped they would be.

Already my fingers were busy at the knots of my bundle, and for a while,
simply because what Mr Anon was saying was so monstrous and incredible,
I continued to fumble at them without attempting to answer him. He was
forbidding me to keep my word; forbidding me to show myself; just
ordering me to come away. No, no; he must be crazy; I had never
understood him. There must be some old worm in his mind. He was telling
me in so many words that to lie a prey to the mob's curiosity had been a
disgrace--soiling me for ever.


The cruel stupidity of it! With head bent low and burning cheek I heard
his harsh voice knell on and on--not persuading or conciliating, or
pleading with me--I could have forgiven him that easily enough; but
flatly commanding me to listen and obey.

"For mercy's sake," I broke in hurriedly at last, "that's enough of
that. If just sitting here and talking to one's fellow-creatures has
smeared me over, as you say it has, why, I must wait till Jordan to be
clean. You should have seen that great wallowing sow this evening. _She_
wasn't ashamed of herself. Can't you understand that I simply had to get
free? You'd see it was for your sake, too, perhaps, if you had had the
patience to listen. But there; never mind. I understand. You can't
endure my company any longer. That's what it means. Well, then, if that
is so, there's no help for it. You must just go. And I must be alone
again."

But no: there was a difference, he stubbornly maintained. What was done,
was done. He was not speaking of the past. I knew nothing about the
world. It was my very innocence that had kept me safe; "and--well, the
courage." My innocence! and the "courage" thrown in! But couldn't I,
wouldn't I _see_? he argued. The need was over now; he was with me;
there was nothing to be afraid of; he would protect me. "Surely--oh, you
know in your heart you couldn't have enjoyed all that!"

"Oh," said I poisonously, "so you don't think that to cheat the
blackguard, as you call him, at the last moment--and please don't
suppose I have forgotten what you have called other friends of mine--you
don't think that to break every promise I have made wouldn't be
wallowing worse than---- Oh, thank you for the _wallowing_, I shall
remember that."

"But, my dear, my dear," he began, "I never--"

"I say I am _not_ your dear," I broke in furiously. "One moment you
dictate to me as if I were a child, and the next---- As if I hadn't
been used to that pretence, that wheedling all my life long. As if I had
ever been treated like an ordinary human being--coddled up, smuggled
about, whispered at! Why, a scullery maid's is Paradise compared with
the life _I've_ led. And as for the vile mob and the rest of it, I tell
you I've enjoyed every minute of them. I _make_ them clap their great
ugly hands: I _make_ them ashamed of themselves; they can't help
themselves; they just---- And I've comforted some of them too. What's
more, I tell you I love them. They are my own people; and I'd die for
them if they would only forget what's between us and--and share it all.
You be careful; maybe I shall stay here for good. _They_ don't wince at
my company; _they_ don't come creeping and crawling. Why! aren't we all
on show? Who set the world spinning? I tell you I hate that--that
hypocrisy. What does it amount to, pray, but that you'd like the pretty,
simpering doll all to yourself?"

A hooting screech broke the quiet that followed. The merry-go-round had
set to its evening's labours. Faster and faster jangled the pipes and
chiming:--


     "I dreampt that I dwe-elt in mar-ar-ble halls,
     With vassals and serfs by my si-i-ide...."


And at the sound, anger and pride died down in me. I lifted my face from
the ground.

"I'm sorry," I muttered. "But you don't know what I have gone through
these last weeks. And even if I were a hundred times as ashamed of
myself as you think I ought to be, I couldn't--I can't go back. I have
promised. It's written down. Only once more--this one night, and I swear
it shall be the last." My mouth crooked itself into a smile. "You shall
pray for me on the hill," I said, "then lead me off to a Nunnery
yourself."

And still I could not whisper--Money. The word stuck in my throat.

He seemed not to have heard the miserable things I had been saying.
Without a syllable of retaliation, he came a little nearer, and stood
over me. We were all but in darkness now, though lights were beating on
the canvas of our tent. It was quite, quite simple, he said. The showman
was no fool. He couldn't compel me to exhibit myself against my will. A
contract was a contract, of course, but what if both parties to it
agreed to break it? And supposing the showman refused to agree--what
then? There was a far better plan, if only I would listen. As soon as
he had been made to realize that nothing on earth could persuade me to
show myself again, he would accept any alternative: "I'll take your
place," smiled Mr Anon.

Take my place!

So this was the plan he had been brooding over on our journey. No wonder
he had been absent-minded. Cold with dread I gazed at him in the
obscurity of the tent. A glimpse of Adam's rabbit face as he had stood
brazening out his fears of the showman on that first night of adventure
had darted through my mind. And this man--dwarfed, shrunken, emaciated.

A terrifying compassion gushed up into my heart, breaking down barriers
that I never knew were there. It was the instant in my life, I think,
when I came nearest to being a mother.

"S-sh," I implored him. "You don't understand. You can have no notion of
what you are saying. I am a woman. They daren't harm me. But you!
They--and besides," the craftier argument floated into my mind,
"besides, Mrs Monnerie...."

But the sentence remained unfinished. The flap of the tent had lifted.
The figure of the showman loomed up in the entry against the lights and
the darkening sky. He was in excellent humour. He rattled the money in
his pocket and breathed the smell of whisky into the tent, peering into
it as if he were uncertain whether it was occupied or not.

"That's right, then," he began huskily, "that's as it should be. Ten
minutes, your ladyship! And maybe the young gentleman would give a hand
with the drum outside, while you get through with the titivating."

His shape was only vaguely discernible as he stood gently rocking there.
It was Mr Anon who answered him. For a little while the showman seemed
to be too much astounded to reply. Then he lost control of himself. A
torrent of imprecations spouted out of his mouth. He threatened to call
in the police, the mob. He shook his brass-ringed whip in our faces. I
had never seen a man of his kind really angry before. He looked like a
beast, like the Apollyon straddling the path in my _Pilgrim's Progress_.
His roaring all but stunned me, swept over me, as if I were nothing--a
leaf in the wind. I think I could have listened to him all but in mere
curiosity--as to an equinoctial gale when one is safe in bed--if he had
not been so near, and the tent so small and gloomy, and if Mr Anon had
not been standing in silence within reach of his hands. But his fury
spent itself at last. Slowly his head turned on his heavy shoulders. He
seemed suddenly to have forgotten his rage and became coaxing and
conciliatory. He had a sounding, calf-like voice, and it rose up and
down. An eavesdropper outside the tent would have supposed he was on the
verge of tears.

He was sure the young lady had no intention of cheating him, of "doing
the dirty." Why he'd as lief send off there and then to the great house
for the flunkey and the cage. What had I to complain of? Wasn't it
private enough? Should he make it a level bob-a-nob, and no thruppenies?
There was nothing to be afraid of. "God bless you, sir, she wouldn't
cheat an honest man, not she."

People were swarming into the Fair from miles around, and real gentry in
their carriages amongst them, like as had never been seen before. Did we
want to ruin him? What should we think now, if we had paid down good
money to come and see the neatest little piece of female shape as ever
God Almighty smuggled out of heaven; and in we went, and stuck up there
was a gent.--"a nice-spoken, respectable gent," he agreed, with a
contemptuous heave of his massive shoulders, "but a gent no less, and
him gowked up on the table, there, why, half as big again, and mouthing,
mouthing like a...?" The hideous words poured on.

His great body gently rocked above me; his thumbs hooked-in under his
armpits, his whip dangling. Till that moment I had scarcely realized
that the scene in which I sat was real, I had been so harassed and
stupefied by his noise. But now he had begun to think of what he was
saying. In those last words an unnameable insult lurked. He was looking
at us, _seeing_ us, approaching us as if in a dream.

A horror of the spirit came over me, and, as if rapt away from myself, I
stared sheer up at him.

"Beware, my friend," I cried up at him. "Have a care. I see a rope
around your neck."

It was the truth. In the gloom, actually with my own eyes, I saw a noose
loosely dangling there over his round, heavy shoulders.

So to this day I see my showman. His circus, I believe, continues to
roam the English country-side, and by the mercy of heaven he will die
in his bed, or, better still, in the bracken. But I suppose, like most
of us, he was a slave to his own superstitions, or perhaps it was my
very littleness, combined with the memory of some old story he had heard
as a boy, that intimidated him. His mouth opened; his whip shook; the
grin of a wild beast swept over his face. But he said no more.

Yet his, none the less, was half the victory. Nothing on earth could now
have dissuaded me from keeping my bargain. His words had bitterly
frightened me. No one else should be "gowked" up there. I turned my back
on him. He could go; I was ready.

But if I could be obstinate, so too could Mr Anon. And when at last our
argument was over, I in sheer weariness had agreed to a compromise. It
was that I should show myself; and he take my place in the circus. The
showman's money was safe; that was all _he_ cared about. If "Humpty"
liked to petticoat himself up like a doxy and take my "turn" in the
ring--why, it was a rank smelling robbery, but let him--let him. He
bawled for the woman, flung a last curse at us, and withdrew.

We were alone--only the vacancy of the tent between us. Beyond the
narrow slit I could see the merry jostling crowds, hoydens and
hobbledehoys, with their penny squirts and pasteboard noses and tin
trumpets. A strange luminousness bathed their faces and clothes,
beautifying them with light and shadow, carpeting with its soft radiance
the rough grey-green grass. The harvest moon was brightening. I went
near to him and touched his sleeve. His lips contracted, his shoulder
drew in from my touch.

"Listen," I pleaded. "One hour--that is all. That evening in
Wanderslore--do you remember? All my troubles over. Yes, I know. I have
brought you to this. But then we can talk. Then you shall forgive me."

He stretched out his hand. A shuffling step, a light were approaching. I
fled back, snatched up my bundle, and climbed up into the darkness
behind my canvas curtain. The next moment gigantic shadows rushed
furiously into hiding, the tent was swamped with the flaring of the
naphtha-lamp which the gipsy-woman had come to hang to the tent-pole to
light my last séance.

A few hasty minutes, and, stealing out, I bade Mr Anon look. All
Angélique's fair hair had been tied into a bob and draped
mantilla-fashion with a thick black veil. A black, coarse fringe torn
from the head of a doll which I had found in the bottom of my trunk,
dangled over her forehead. Her eyebrows were angled up like a
Chinaman's. Her cheeks were chalk-white, except for a dab of red on the
bone, and she was dressed in a flounced gown, jet black and yellow,
which I had cobbled up overnight and had padded out, bust, hips, and
shoulders to nearly double my natural size. A spreading topaz brooch was
on her breast, chains of beads and coral dangled to her waist, and a
silk fan lay on her arm.

I swept him a curtsey. "I dreamt that I dwe-elt in mar-arble halls," I
piped out in a quavering falsetto. The folly of taking things so
solemnly. What was humanity but a dressed-up ape? Had not my fair saint,
Isobel de Flores, painted her cheeks, and garlanded her hair? And all
his answer was to clench his teeth. He turned away with a shudder.

The drum reverberated, the panpipes squealed. I signed to him to hide
himself in the recess among my discarded clothes, out of sight of
peeping eyes, and arranged my person on the satin and rabbit-skins.

The tent flap lifted and the mob pressed in. Stretching out in a queue
like a serpent, I caught a glimpse in the pale saffron moonlight of the
crowd beyond. The sixpences danced in the tray. Once more the flap
descended; my audience stilled. I looked from one to the other, smiling,
defiant.

"Why, Bob said she was a pale, pinched-up snippet of a thing with golden
hair," whispered a slip of a girl to a smooth little woman at her side.

"Ay, my Goff! And a waist like a wedding-ring," responded a wide mouth
in a large red face, peering over.

"Ah, lady," warbled the Signorina, "fair to-day and foul to-morrow.
'Believe what you are told,' clanked the bell in the churchyard.
Stuffing, my pretty; ask the goose!"

So went the Signorina's last little orgy. It would be a lie to profess
that she, or rather some black hidden ghost in her, did not enjoy it. My
monstrous disguise, that ferment of humanity, those owlish faces, the
lurking shame, the danger, the poisonous excitement swept me clean out
of myself. Anything to be free for a while from "pernickety" Miss M. But
that, I suppose, is the experience of every gambler and wastrel and
jezebel in the world, every one of his kind. One must not open the door
too wide.

But this was not all. On other nights I had been alone. Now I was
fervidly conscious of unseen, hungering eyes, watching every turn, and
glance, and gesture. My dingy daïs was no longer in actuality. I lived
in that one watcher's mind--in his imagination. And deep beneath this
insane excitement lay a gentle, longing happiness. Oh, when this vile
tinsel show was over, and these swarming faces had melted into thin air,
and the moonlit empty night was ours, what would I not pour out for his
peace and comfort. What gratitude and tenderness for all that he had
been to me, and done, and said. Why, we seemed never even to have spoken
to each other--not self to self, and there was all the world to tell.

Hotter, ranker grew the fetid atmosphere. I could scarcely breathe in my
monstrous mummery. But clearly, the showman was making a rich bargain of
me, and rumour of a Midget that was golden as Aphrodite one night, and
black as pitch the next, only thickened the swarm. At length--long
expected--there came a pause. Yet another country urchin flat on his
stomach in the grass, with head goggling up at me from the hem of the
canvas, was dragged out, screeching and laughing, by his breeches. But I
had caught the accents of a well-known voice, and, crouching, with head
wrenched aside to listen, I heard the gipsy's whining reply.

My moment had come. A pulse began its tattoo in my head. To remain
helplessly lying there was impossible. I thrust myself on to my feet
and, drawing back a pace or two, stood hunched up on the crimson spread
of satin beside my wooden bolster. The canvas lifted, and one by one,
the little party of "gentry" stooped and filed in.



Chapter Fifty-Two


Mrs Monnerie had paid for elbow room. It was the last "Private View" in
this world we were to share together. The sight of her capacious figure
with its great bonnet and the broad, dark face beneath, now suddenly
become strange and hostile, filled me with a vague sense of desolation.
Yet I know she has forgiven me. Had I not pocketed my "pretty little
fastidiousness"?

What Fanny had planned to do if Miss M., plain and simple, had occupied
the Signorina's table I cannot even guess. For the spectacle of the
squat, black, gloating guy she actually found there, she was utterly
unprepared. It seemed, as I looked at her, that myself had fainted--had
withdrawn out of my body--like the spirit in sleep. Or, maybe, not to be
too nice about it, I merely "became" my disguise. With mind emptied of
every thought, I sank into an almost lifeless stagnancy, and with a
heavy settled stare out of my black and yellow, from under the coarse
fringe that brushed my brows, I met her eyes. Out of time and place, in
a lightless, vacant solitude, we wrestled for mastery. At length the
sneering, incredulous smile slowly faded from the pale, lovely face,
leaving it twisted up as if after a nauseous draught of physic. Her gaze
faltered, and fell. Her bosom rose; she coughed and turned away.

"Hideous! monstrous!" murmured Mrs Monnerie to the tall, expressionless
figure that stood beside her. "The abject evil of the creature!"

Her dark, appraising glance travelled over me--feet, hands, body,
lace-draped head. It swept across my eyes as if they were less
significant than bits of china stuck in a cocoanut.

"No, Miss Bowater," she turned massively round on her, "you were
perfectly right, it seems. As usual--but a dangerous habit, my dear. My
little ransoming scheme must wait a bit. Just as well, perhaps, that our
patient's dainty nerves should have been spared this particular little
initiation----. Could one have imagined it?"

Mr Padgwick-Steggall merely raised his eyebrows. "I shouldn't have cared
to try," he drawled. And the lady beside him made a little mouth and
laid her gloved hand on his arm.

"But, Madame is forgetting," whined the Signorina in a broken nosy
English over her outspread fan, "Madame is forgetting. It's alive! Oh,
truly!" and I clasped my arms even tighter across my padded chest, my
body involuntarily rocking to and fro, though not with amusement.

"Madame is forgetting nothing of the kind," retorted Mrs Monnerie
heartily. "The princess is an angel--Angélique--adorable." She turned to
the gipsy woman and slipped a coin into the claw-like fingers. "Well,
good-night," she nodded at me. "We are perfectly satisfied."

"La, la, Madame," my stuttering voice called after her, the words
leaping out from some old hiding-place in my mind. "_Je vous remercie,
madame. Rien ne va plus.... Noir gagne!_"

Her ebony stick shook beneath her hand. "Unspeakable," she angrily
ejaculated, stumping her way out. "A positive outrage against humanity."

I shut my eyes, but the silent laughter that had once overtaken me in my
bedroom at Mrs Bowater's scarcely sounded in my head. And Mrs Monnerie
could more easily survive the little exchange than I. My body was dull
and aching as if after a severe fall. The booth was filling for the last
time.

Little life was left in the inert figure that faced this new assortment
of her fellow-creatures: how strangely dissimilar one from another; how
horrifyingly alike. A faint premonition bade me be on my guard. Under
the wavering flame of the lamp, my glance moved slowly on from face to
face, eye on to eye; and behind every one a watcher whom now I dared not
wait to challenge. Empty or cynical, disgusted, malevolent, or blankly
curious, they met me: none pitiful; none saddened or afflicted. On
former nights---- Why had they grown so hostile? This, then, was to
smother in the bog.

But one face there was known to me, and that known well. Hoping,
perhaps, to take me unaware, or may it have been to snatch a secret word
with me; Fanny had slipped back into the tent again, and was now
steadily regarding me from behind the throng. A throng so densely packed
together that the canvas walls bulged behind them, and the tent-pole
bent beneath the strain. Yet so much alone were she and I in that last
infinite moment that we might have been whispering together after death.
And this time, suddenly overwhelmed with self-loathing, it was I who
turned away.

When, stretching my cramped limbs, I drew back, exhausted and shivering,
from the empty tent, I thought for an instant that the figure which sat
crouching in the corner of the recess was asleep. But no: with head
averted, sweat gleaming on his forehead, he rose to his feet. His
consciousness had been my theatre in a degree past even my realization.

"Then, that is over," was all he said. "Now it is my turn."

The voice was flat and indifferent, but he could not conceal his disgust
of what had passed, nor his dread of what was to come. Why, I thought
angrily once more as I looked at him, why did he exaggerate things like
this? Even a drowning man can sink three times, and still cheat the
water. What cared I?--the night was nearly over. We should have won
release. Why consider it so deeply? But even while I pleaded with him to
let me finish the wretched business--every savour of adventure and
daring and romance gone from it now--I was conscious of the trussed-up
monstrosity that confronted him. He could not endure even a glance at my
painted face. I stepped back from him with a hidden grimace. Past even
praying for, then. So be it.

I heard the nimble stepping of the pony's hoofs on the worn turf. A
sullen malice smouldered in its reddish, luminous eyes. When I clutched
at its bridle it jerked back its sensitive head as if teased with a
gadfly. The gipsy daubed vermilion on my friend's sallow cheeks. She
shook out the tarnished finery she had brought with her and hung it
round the stooping shoulders. She plastered down his black hair above
his eyes, and thrust a riding-whip into his hand.

"There, my fine pretty gentleman," she smirked at him. "King of the
Carrots! I lay even your own mammie wouldn't know you now, not even if
you tried it straddle-legs. Tug at the knot, lovey; it's fast, but it
won't strangle you. As for you, you----!" she suddenly flamed at me,
"all very fly and cunning, but if I'd had the fixing of it, you
wouldn't have diddled me: not you. I know _your_ shop. Slick off double
quick, I warn you, or you'll have the mob at your heels. Now then,
master!"

She grasped at the bridle, slapped the tooth-bared sensitive muzzle with
her hand. I drew back, cowed and speechless. The sour thought died in my
mind--Better, perhaps, if we had missed each other on the road. The pony
jerked and snatched back its head.


He was gone, and now I was quite alone. What was there to fear? Only his
contempt, his loathing of this last humiliation? But that, too, would
soon be nothing but a memory. As always, the present would glide into
the past. Yet a dreadful foreboding daunted me. Coarse canvas, walls and
roof, table, beaten grass, my very hands and clothes had become menacing
and unreal. The lamp hissed and bubbled as if at any moment it would
burst asunder. Alone, afraid, ashamed, in the foulness of the tent, I
looked around me in the silence; and beyond, above--the Universe of
night and space. All my life but the feeble rustlings of a mouse in
straw.

As I stripped off my miserable gewgaws I discovered myself talking into
my solitude; weeping, beseeching, though eyes were dry and tongue
silent. I scoured away the chalk and paint: and cleansed as far as
possible my travel-stained clothes. From my bit of looking-glass a
scared and shining face looked out. "Oh, my dear," I whispered, but not
to its reflection, "it is as clean now and for ever as I can make it." I
tied up my bundle.

It was impossible to cheat away the moments any longer. I sat down and
listened. A distant roar of welcome, like that of a wave breaking over a
wreck, had been borne across as the band broke into its welcoming tune.
I saw the ring, its tall, lank-cheeked "master" in his white shirt and
coat-tails, the lights, the sidling, squalling clown, and the slim,
exquisite creature with its ungainly rider ambling on and on. Where sat
Fanny amidst that rabble? What were her thoughts? Was Mrs Monnerie
already yawning over the low, beggarly scene? A few minutes now. I began
to count. A scream, human or animal, rose faint and awful in the
distance, and died away.

I climbed down the ladder and looked out of the tent. Far-spread the
fields and wooded hills lay, as if in a swoon beneath the blazing
moonlight. The scattered lamps on the slope shone dim as glow-worms.
Only a few figures loitered in the gleam of the side-shows, and so
engrossed and still sat the watching multitude beneath the enormous
mushroom of the tent, so thinly floated out its strains of music, that
the hollow clucking of the stream over its pebbles beneath the
wan-stoned bridge was audible. A few isolated stars glittered faintly in
the heights of the sky. What was happening now? Why did he not hasten? I
was ready: my life prepared. I could bear no more waiting. A whip
cracked. The music ceased: silence. One moment now.

Again the whip cracked. And then, as if at a signal, a vast, protracted,
unanimous bawl poured up into space, a spout of sound, like a gigantic,
invisible flower. "That wasn't applause. But, you know, that wasn't
applause," I heard myself muttering. There can be no mistaking the sound
of human mockery. There can be no mistaking that brutal wrench at the
heart, under one's very ribs. I leapt round where I stood, in a kind of
giddiness.

The shout died away. An indiscriminate clamour broke out--clapping of
hands, beating of feet, whistling, hootings, booings, catcalls, and
these all but drowned by cymbal, drum, trombone: "Good-bye, Sweetheart,
Good-bye." It was over. Unlike Mrs Monnerie, the mob was imperfectly
satisfied. But all was well. The elephant, massive, imperturbable--the
sagacious elephant with the hurdy-gurdy, must now be swinging into the
ring.

I ran out over the trampled grass to meet the approaching
group--showman, gipsy, trembling, sweating pony. Its rider stooped
forward on the saddle, clutching its pommel, as if afraid of falling. He
pushed himself off, lurched unsteadily, lifted and let fall his arm in
an attempt to stroke the milk-white snapping muzzle. The strings of his
cloak were already broken. He edged from beneath it, and with his left
hand clumsily brushed the dust and damp from his face.

"He hadn't quite the knack of it," the showman was explaining. "Stirrup
a morsel too short, maybe. All the strength, lady, and the ginger, by
God, but not the knack, you understand. And we offered him a quieter
little animal too. But what I say is, a bargain's a bargain, that's what
I say. A bit dazed-like, sir, eh? My, you did come a cropper."

"Sst! are you hurt?" I whispered.

The head shook; his moon-washed face smiled at me.

"Come now, come _now_," I implored him, tugging at his arm, "before the
crowd...."

He recoiled as if my touch had scalded him.

"We go----" I turned to the showman.

Hands thrust under his leathern belt, he looked fixedly at me, and then
at the woman. Her eyes glittered glassily back at him.

"That's it. The young lady knows best. He's twisted his shoulder, lady;
wrenched it; more weight than size, as you might say. She'll know where
to make her friend comfortable. Trust the ladies. Never you be afraid of
that. Now, then, Mary, fetch up the gentleman's cart."

The woman, with one wolfish glance into his face, obeyed.

"There, sir! Is that easier? Push the rags in there behind his back.
It'll save the jolts. Lord love you, I wouldn't split on the pair of
you, not me. I know the old, old story. There, that's it! Now, then,
your ladyship. No more weight in the hand than a mushroom! All serene,
Mary. Home sweet home; that's the tune, sir, ain't it? Drive easy now:
and off we go."



Chapter Fifty-Three


Noiselessly turned the wheels in the grass. We were descending the hill.
A jolt, and we were in the road. A hedgerow shut us out from the two
shrouded watchers by the tent. The braying music fainted away; and apart
from the trotting hoofs and the grinding of the wheels in the dust, the
only sound I heard was an occasional lofty crackle in space, as a
rocket--our last greeting from the circus--stooping on its fiery course,
strewed its coloured stars into the moonlight. Then the rearing
hill-side shut us out.

Speechlessly, from the floor of the cart, I watched the stooping figure
above me. Ever and again, at any sudden lurch against a stone, he shrank
down, then slowly lifted himself, turned his head and smiled.

"That's the tune, sir; that's the tune, sir." The words aimlessly
repeated themselves in my brain, as if bringing me a message I could not
grasp or understand. "What was I thinking about?" a voice kept asking
me. A strange, sluggish look dwelt in the dilated pupils under the
drooping lids when the moonbeams struck in on us from between the
branches. His right hand hung loosely down. I clasped it--stone-cold.

"Listen, tell me," I entreated, "you fell? I heard them calling,
and--and the clapping, what then?" I could speak no louder, but he
seemed scarcely able to hear me.

"My shoulder," he answered thickly, as if the words came sluggishly and
were half-strange to him. "I fell.... Nothing: nothing. Only that I love
you."

The breath sighed itself away. I leaned my cheek against the unanswering
hand, and chafed it with mine. Where now? Where now?

"We must keep awake," I called beguilingly into the slumbrous face,
after a long silence, as if to a child. "Awake!"

A sigh, as he smiled in answer, shook him from head to foot.

"You are thirsty? What's this on your coat? Look, there is a gate. I'll
creep through and get help." I scrambled up, endeavouring in vain to
clutch at the reins.

But no; his head stirred its No; the left hand still held them fast.
"Only ... wait."

_Was_ it "wait"--that last faint word? It fell into my mind like a leaf
into a torrent, and before I could be sure of it, the sound was gone.

Instinct, neither his nor mine, guided us on through the winding lanes,
up hill and down, along the margin of sleeping wood and light-dappled
stream, over a level crossing whose dew-rusted rails gleamed in the
moon, then up once more, the retreating hill-side hollowly echoing to
every clap of hoof against stone. There was no strength or will left in
me, only thoughts which in the dark within, between waking and sleeping,
seemed like hovering flies to veer and dart--fantasies, fragments of
dream, rather than thoughts.

I realized how sorely he was hurt, yet not then in my stupidity and
horror--or is it that I refused to confess it to myself?--that his hurt
was mortal. Morning would come soon. I grasped tight the hand in mine.
Then help. In this monotony and weariness of mind and body, the passing
trees seemed to dance and gesticulate before my eyes. A torturing
drowsiness crept over me which in vain, thrusting up my eyelids with my
fingers, beating my senseless feet on the floor of the cart, I tried to
dispel. Once, I remember, I rose and threw my cape over his shoulder. At
last I must have slept.

For the next thing I became conscious of was that the cart was at a
standstill, and that the pony stood cropping the thyme-sweet turf by the
wayside. I touched the cold dark hand. "Hush, my dear, we are here!"

But I expected no answer. The head was sunken between the heavy
shoulders; the pallid features were set in an empty stare. There wasn't
a sound in the whole world, far or near. "Oh, but you haven't said a
single word to me!" It was the only speech in my mind--a reproach. It
died on my lips; I drew away. What was this?--a dreadful fear plucked at
my sleeve, fear of the company I was in, of a solitude never so much as
tasted before. I leapt out of the cart, stood up in the dust, and in the
creeping light stared about me.

Every window of the creeper-hung cottage was shrouded, its gate
latched. I struggled to climb the fence, to fling a stone through the
casement. The moon shone glassily in the cold skies, but daybreak was in
the east; I must wait till morning. With eyes fixed on the motionless
head I sat down in the grass by the wayside. Ever and again, after
solemnly turning to survey me, the pony dragged the cart on a foot or
two under the willows, nibbling the dewy grass.

Roused suddenly from stupor by the howling of a dog, I leapt up. Who
called? Where was I? What had I forgotten? In renewed and dreadful
recognition I looked vacantly around me. A strangeness had come. His
company was mine no longer.

Dawn brightened. The voice of a thrush pealed out of the orchard beyond
the stone wall--wild and sweet as in Spring. I crouched on the ground,
elbows on knees, and now kept steady watch upon those night-hung upper
windows. At last a curtain was drawn aside. An invisible face within
must have looked down upon us in the lane. The casement was unlatched
and thrust open, and a grey, tousled head pushed out as if in alarm into
the keen morning. At sight of it a violent hiccoughing seized me, so
that when an old woman appeared at her door and hobbled out to the cart,
I could not make myself understood. Her sleep-bleared, faded eyes
surveyed me with horror and suspicion--as if in my smallness there I
looked scarcely human. She shook her crooked fingers at me, to scare me
off; then stooping, put her head into the cart. I cried out, and ran----



Chapter Fifty-Four


The sun had burned for some hours in the heavens, when bleeding with
thorns and on fire with nettles and stinking mayweed, I dragged myself
out of the undergrowth into a low-lying corner of the desolate garden.
Near by lay a pool of water under an old ruinous wall, swept by the
foliage of an ash. On a flat, shelving stone at its brink I knelt down,
bathed my face, and drank.

All that day I spent in the neighbourhood of the water, overhung with
the colourless trumpets of convolvulus. Occasionally I edged on, but
only to keep pace with the sunbeams, for I was deathly cold, and as soon
as shadow drew over me, fits of shivering returned. For some hours I
slept, but so shallowly that I heard my own voice gabbling in dreams.

When I awoke, the western sky was an ocean of saffron and gold. Amidst
its haze, stood up the distant clustered chimneys of Wanderslore: and I
realized I must be in an outlying hollow of the park--farthest from
Beechwood Hill. I sat up, bound back my hair, and, bathing my swollen
feet in the dark, ice-cold water, I watched the splendour fade.

While there was still light in the sky I set out for the cottage again,
but soon found myself in such distress amongst the tangled weeds and
grasses, which at every movement flung their stifling dust and seeds and
pollen over me, that I was compelled to give up the attempt. With
senseless tears dropping down my cheeks, I returned to the pool, and
made my bed in the withered bracken.

So passed the next days. When once more the cloudless heat of the sun
had diminished, I made another attempt to press back by the way I had
come, if only to look up at those windows again. But I was dazed and
exhausted; lost my way; and, keeping watch until daybreak, I returned
again to the pool. Sitting there, I tried to control my misery and be
calm. "Wait, wait; I am coming," was my one inarticulate thought.
Surely that other solitude must be the easier to bear. But it was in
vain. He was dead; and I had killed him--pride, vanity, greed,
obstinacy, lovelessness. Every flower and fading leaf bore witness
against me.

Now and again I quenched my thirst and rambled off a little way in
search of a few fallen hazel nuts and blackberries, and attempted to
ease the pain and distress I was in. But I knew in my heart that a few
such days must see the last of me, and I had no other desire. Evening
came with its faint stars. My mind at last seemed to empty itself of
thought; and until dark fell, a self sat at the windows of my eyes
gazing heedlessly out over that peace and beauty without consciousness
even of grief and despair. Nocturnal creatures began to stir in weed and
thicket; a thin mist to rise. For a while I kept watch until sense left
me, and I slept.

A waning misshapen moon hung over the garden when I awoke, my mind
still, clear, empty. So empty that I might but just have re-entered the
world after the lapse of ages. In this silvery hush of night, winged
shapes were wheeling around and above me, piercing the air with mad,
strident cries. With sight strangely sharpened and powerful, I gazed
tranquilly up, and supposed for a while these birds were swallows. Idly
I watched them, scarcely conscious whether they were real or creatures
of the imagination.

Darting, swooping in the mild blaze of the moonlight, with gaping beaks
and whirring wings, they swept, wavered, tumbled above their motionless
pastures; ghostly-fluttering, feathery-plumed moths their prey. At last,
a continuous churring, like the noise of a rattle, near at hand,
betrayed them. I lay in my solitude in the midst of a whirling flock of
nightjars, few in number, but beside themselves with joy, on the eve of
their autumnal flight.

I can only grope my way now through vague and baffling memories. Maybe
it was the frenzied excitement of these madly happy birds that shed
itself into my defenceless mind, after rousing me into the night I knew
too well. With full, vigilant eyes I am standing again a few paces from
the brink of the pool, looking up into a moonlit bush of deadly
nightshade, its noxious flowering over, and hung with its black,
gleaming, cherry-like fruit. I cannot recall having ever given a thought
to this poisonous plant in Wanderslore during my waking hours, though
in my old happy reconnoitrings of the garden I had sometimes chanced on
the coral-red clusters of the woody nightshade--the bittersweet, and had
afterwards seen it in blossom.

It may be that only a part of my mind was fully awake, while the rest
dreamed on. Yet, as I strive to return in imagination to that solitary
hour, I am certain that a complete realization was mine of the power
distilled into those alluring light-glossed berries; and, slave of my
drowsy senses, I fixed gaze and appetite on them as though, from
childhood up, they had been my one greed and desire. Even then, as if
for proof that they were real, my eyes wandered; recognized, low in the
west, glaring Altair amid the faint outspread wings of Aquila; pondered
on the spark-like radiance struck out by the moonbeams from the
fragments of tile that protruded here and there from the crumbling wall
beyond the pool; and softly returned once more to the evil bush.

Then, for an instant, I fancied that out of the nearer shadows a
half-seen form had stolen up close behind me, and was watching me. Fancy
or not, it caused me no fear. I turned about where I stood, and from
this gentle eminence scanned the immense autumnal garden with its
coursing night-birds and distant motionless woods. No; I was alone; by
my Self; conscious only of an unfathomable quiet; and I stooped and took
up one of the ripe fruits that had fallen to the ground. "Ah, ah!"
called a far-away voice within me. "Ah, ah! What are you at now?"--a
voice like none I had ever heard in the world until that moment. Yet I
raised the fruit to my lips.

Its bitter juices jetted out upon cheek, mouth, and tongue, for ever
staining me with their dye. Their very rancour shocked my body wide
awake. Struck suddenly through with frightful cold and terror, I flung
the vile thing down, and scoured my mouth with the draggled hem of my
skirt. "Oh God! oh God!" I cried; then turned, ran a few steps, tripped,
turned back and cast myself down, crushing my eyes with my hands; and in
helpless confusion began to pray.

Minutes, hours, passed--I know not. But at last, with throat parched and
swollen, and hands and cheeks and scalp throbbing with an unnatural
heat, I raised my eyes. Two moons were in the sky, hideously revolving
amid interwoven arcs of coloured light, and running backward and
forward. I called out in the silence. A gigantic nightjar swirled on me,
plucking at my hair. A maddening vertigo seized me. I went stumbling and
staggering down to my stone and drenched head and breast in the flashing
black and silver water.

It was a momentary refreshment, and in its influence memory began
droning of the past. Confused abhorrent images mocked my helpless
dreamings. There was a place--beyond--out of these shadows,
unattainable. A piercing, vindictive voice was calling me. No hope now.
I was damned. In senseless hallucination I began systematically,
laboriously, a frenzied search. Leaf, pebble, crawling
night-creature--with slow, animal-like care, I turned them over one by
one, seeking and seeking.



Lyndsey



Chapter Fifty-Five and Last


And yet again I pause--long after these last words were written--to look
back across the intervening years at that young woman. What, indeed, was
her insane mind seeking: what assurance, reconciliation? I know not, but
there she herself was found, nails worn to the quick, feet shoeless, a
hunted anatomy. Her fret and fever were to pass away; but what has all
this experience done for me?--that wildest, happiest, cruellest,
dearest, blackest twelve-month of my life? One more unanswerable
question. But, thank God, I live on; have even finished the task I set
myself; and in spite of fits and moods of depression, distaste, and
weariness, have been happy in it. Even when most contemptuous and
ashamed of myself, I have still found comfort in the belief that truth
is a wholesome medicine, though in essence it be humanly unattainable.
And my work has taught me this too--not to fret so foolishly as once I
did, at being small and insignificant in body; to fear a great deal more
remaining pygmy-minded, and pygmy-spirited. I used to try to set myself
against the World--but no need to enter further into that. We _cannot_
see ourselves as others see us, but that is no excuse for not wearing
spectacles; and even up here, in my peaceful lonely old Stonecote, I
must beware of a mind swept and garnished. Moreover my hour must come
again: and his.

That being so, of this I am certain; that it will be impossible to free
myself, to escape from this world, unless in peace and amity I can take
every shred of it, every friend and every enemy, all that these eyes
have seen, these senses discovered with me. I _know_ that. And perhaps
for that very reason, in spite of the loving gratitude that overcomes me
at the thought of what my existence might have been, I sometimes dread
the ease and quiet and seclusion in which I live. And this tale itself?
As Mrs Monnerie had said, what is it but once more to have drifted into
being on show again--in a book? That is so; and so I must leave it,
hoping against hope that one friend at any rate will consent in his love
and wisdom to take me seriously, and to remember me, not with scorn or
even with pity, but as if, life for life, we had shared the world on
equal terms.

M.





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