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Title: Adam & Eve & Pinch Me
Author: Coppard, Alfred Edgar (A. E.)
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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Transcriber’s Notes:

Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

Additional Transcriber’s Notes are at the end.

       *       *       *       *       *

ADAM & EVE & PINCH ME

       *       *       *       *       *

_NEW BORZOI NOVELS_

_SPRING, 1922_

  WANDERERS
  _Knut Hamsun_

  MEN OF AFFAIRS
  _Roland Pertwee_

  THE FAIR REWARDS
  _Thomas Beer_

  I WALKED IN ARDEN
  _Jack Crawford_

  GUEST THE ONE-EYED
  _Gunnar Gunnarsson_

  THE LONGEST JOURNEY
  _E. M. Forster_

  CYTHEREA
  _Joseph Hergesheimer_

  EXPLORERS OF THE DAWN
  _Mazo de la Roche_

  THE WHITE KAMI
  _Edward Alden Jewell_

       *       *       *       *       *



ADAM & EVE & PINCH ME


  TALES BY A. E. COPPARD

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK ALFRED · A · KNOPF MCMXXII

       *       *       *       *       *

COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY A. E. COPPARD

_Published, May, 1922_

  _Set up and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., Binghamton, N. Y.
  Paper furnished by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y.
  Bound by the H. Wolff Estate, New York, N. Y._

MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

       *       *       *       *       *

To LILY ANNE

       *       *       *       *       *

I record my acknowledgements to the Editors of the following journals
in which a few of these tales first appeared: _Westminster Gazette_,
_Pearson’s Magazine_, _Voices_, _English Review_. A. E. C.



CONTENTS


  MARCHING TO ZION                9

  DUSKY RUTH                     29

  WEEP NOT MY WANTON             45

  PIFFINGCAP                     53

  THE KING OF THE WORLD          71

  ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME      83

  THE PRINCESS OF KINGDOM GONE  101

  COMMUNION                     111

  THE QUIET WOMAN               119

  THE TRUMPETERS                141

  THE ANGEL AND THE SWEEP       151

  ARABESQUE                     163

  FELIX TINCLER                 175

  THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH           191

  THE CHERRY TREE               207

  CLORINDA WALKS IN HEAVEN      215

  CRAVEN ARMS                   225

  COTTON                        267

  A BROADSHEET BALLAD           283

  POMONA’S BABE                 295

  THE HURLY-BURLY               319

       *       *       *       *       *

MARCHING TO ZION

       *       *       *       *       *



MARCHING TO ZION


In the great days that are gone I was walking the Journey upon its easy
smiling roads and came one morning of windy spring to the side of a
wood. I had but just rested to eat my crusts and suck a drink from the
pool when a fat woman appeared and sat down before me. I gave her the
grace of the morning.

“And how many miles is it now?” I asked of her.

“What!” said she, “you’re not going the journey?”

“Sure, ma’am,” said I, “I’m going, and you’re going, and we’re all
going ... aren’t we?”

“Not,” said she, looking at me very archly, “not while there are
well-looking young fellers sitting in the woods.”

“Well, deliver me!” said I, “d’ye take me for the Angel Gabriel or the
duke of the world!”

“It’s not anything I’m taking you to be, young man ... give me a chew
of that bread.”

She came and sat beside me and took it from my hands.

“Little woman ...” I began it to her; but at that she flung the crust
back in my face, laughing and choking and screaming.

“Me ... that’s fat as a ewe in January!”

“Fat, woman!” says I, “you’re no fat at all.”

But, I declare it, she’d a bosom like a bolster. I lay on my back
beside her. She was a rag of a woman. I looked up through the tree
branches at the end of the shaw; they were bare, spring was late that
year. The sky was that blue ... there wasn’t a cloud within a million
miles ... but up through the boughs it looked hard and steely like a
storm sky. I took my hat from her, for she had put it on her own head,
and I stood on my feet.

“Fat, ma’am!” says I ... and she looked up at me, grinning like a
stuffed fox.... “Oh no, ma’am, you’re slim as the queen of Egypt!”

At that she called out to another man who was passing us by, and I went
to walk on with him. He had a furuncle on one side of his chin; his
garments were very old, both in fashion and in use; he was lean as a
mountain cow.

I greeted him but he gave me glances that were surly, like a man would
be grinding scissors or setting a saw--for you never met one of that
kind that didn’t have the woe of the world upon him.

“How many miles is it now, sir?” I asked, very respectful then. He did
not heed me. He put his hand to his ear signifying deafness. I shouted
and I shouted, so you could have heard me in the four kingdoms, but I
might just have been blowing in a sack for all the reason I got from
him.

I went on alone and in the course of the days I fell in with many
persons, stupid persons, great persons, jaunty ones. An ass passes
me by, its cart burdened with a few dead sprays of larch and a log
for the firing. An old man toils at the side urging the ass onwards.
They give me no direction and I wonder whether I am at all like the
ass, or the man, or the cart, or the log for the firing. I cannot say.
There was the lad McGlosky, who had the fine hound that would even
catch birds; the philosopher who had two minds; the widow with one
leg; Slatterby Chough, the pugfoot man, and Grafton. I passed a little
time with them all, and made poems about them that they did not like,
but I was ever for walking on from them. None of them could give me a
direction for the thing that was urging me except that it was “away on,
away on.”

Walk I did, and it was full summer when I met Monk, the fat fellow as
big as two men with but the clothes of a small one squeezing the joints
of him together. Would you look at the hair of him--it was light as a
stook of rye; or the face of him and the neck of him--the hue of a new
brick. He had the mind of a grasshopper, the strength of a dray horse,
the tenderness of a bush of reeds, and was light on his limbs as a deer.

“Look ye’re,” he said to me; he had a stiff sort of talk, and fat
thumbs like a mason that he jiggled in the corners of his pockets;
“look ye’re, my friend, my name is Monk.”

“I am Michael Fionnguisa,” said I.

“Well I never struck fist with a lad like you; your conversation is
agreeable to me, you have a stride on you would beat the world for
greatness.”

“I could beat you,” said I, “even if you wore the boots of Hercules
that had wings on ’em.”

“It is what I like,” said he, and he made a great mess of my boasting
before we were through. “Look ye’re, my friend, we needn’t brag our
little eye-blink of the world; but take my general character and you’ll
find I’m better than my ... inferiors. I accomplish my ridiculous
destiny without any ridiculous effort. I’m the man to go a-travelling
with.”

He had that stiff way of his talk, like a man lecturing on a stool,
but my mercy, he’d a tongue of silk that could twist a meal out of the
pantry of Jews and strange hard people; fat landladies, the wives of
the street, the widows in their villas, they would feed him until he
groaned, loving him for his blitheness and his tales. He could not know
the meaning of want though he had never a coin in the world. Yet he did
not love towns; he would walk wide-eyed through them counting the seams
in the pavements. He liked most to be staring at the gallant fishes in
the streams, and gasping when he saw a great one.

I met him in the hills and we were gone together. And it was not a
great while before he was doing and doing, for we came and saw a man
committing a crime, a grave crime to be done in a bad world leave alone
a good one like this, in a very lonely lovely place. So Monk rose up
and slew him, and the woman ran blushing into the woods.

I looked at Mr. Monk, and the dead man on the road, and then at Mr.
Monk again.

“Well,” I said, “we’d ... we’d better bury this feller.”

But Monk went and sat upon a bank and wiped his neck. The other lay
upon his face as if he were sniffing at the road; I could see his ear
was full of blood, it slipped over the lobe drip by drip as neat as a
clock would tick.

And Monk, he said: “Look ye’re, my friend, there are dirtier things
than dirt, and I would not like to mix this with the earth of our
country.”

So we slung him into an old well with a stone upon his loins.

And a time after that we saw another man committing crime, a mean crime
that you might do and welcome in America or some such region, but was
not fitting to be done in our country.

So Monk rose up and slew him. Awful it was to see what Monk did to him.
He was a great killer and fighter; Hector himself was but a bit of a
page boy to Mr. Monk.

“Shall we give him an interment?” I asked him. He stood wiping his
neck--he was always wiping his neck--and Monk he said:

“Look ye’re, my friend, he was a beast; a man needn’t live in a sty
in order to become a pig, and we won’t give him an interment.” So we
heaved him into a slag pit among rats and ravels of iron.

And would you believe it, again we saw a man committing crime, crime
indeed and a very bad crime.

There was no withstanding Monk; he rose up and slew the man as dead as
the poor beast he had tortured.

“God-a-mercy!” I said to him, “it’s a lot of life you’re taking, Mr.
Monk.”

And Monk he said: “Life, Michael dear, is the thing we perish by.” He
had the most terrible angers and yet was kind, kind; nothing could
exceed the greatness of his mind or the vigour of his limbs.

Those were the three combats of Monk, but he was changed from that
out. Whenever we came to any habitations now he would not call at back
doors, nor go stravaiging in yards for odd pieces to eat, but he would
go gallantly into an inn and offer his payment for the things we would
like. I could not understand it at all, but he was a great man and a
kind.

“Where did you get that treasure?” said I to him after days of it. “Has
some noble person given you a gift?”

He did not answer me so I asked him over again. “Eh!”

And Monk he said, “Oh well then, there was a lot of coin in the fob of
that feller we chucked in the well.”

I looked very straight at Mr. Monk, very straight at that, but I
could not speak the things my mind wanted me to say, and he said very
artfully: “Don’t distress yourself, Michael dear, over a little contest
between sense and sentiment.”

“But that was the dirty man,” said I.

“And why not?” said he. “If his deed was dirty, his money was clean:
don’t be deethery, man.”

“’Tis not fitting nor honourable,” said I, “for men the like of us to
grow fat on his filth. It’s grass I’d be eating sooner.”

“That’s all bombazine, Michael, bombazine! I got two dollars more from
the feller we chucked in the pit!”

“Mr. Monk, that was the pig!” said I.

“And why not?” said he. “If his life was bad then his end must be good;
don’t be deethery.”

“You can’t touch pitch,” I said....

“Who’s touching pitch?” he cried. “Amn’t I entitled to the spoils of
the valiant, the rewards of the conqueror....”

“Bombazine!” says I to him.

“O begod!” he says, “I never struck fist on a lad the like of you, with
your bombazine O! I grant you it doesn’t come affable like, but what
costs you nothing can’t be dear; as for compunctions, you’ll see, I
fatten on ’em!”

He laughed outright at me.

“Don’t be deethery, Michael, there was a good purse in the last man’s
trousers!”

I could no more complain to him; how could I under the Lord! Dear me,
it never was seen, a man with the skin of that man; he’d the mind of a
grasshopper, but there was greatness in him, and Mary herself loved him
for a friend.

What do I say about Mary! Ah, there was never in anything that had the
aspects of a world a girl with her loveliness, I tell you, handsome as
a lily, the jewel of the world; and the thing that happened between
us was strange above all reckoning. We gave her the good will of the
evening in a place that would be as grand as Eden itself, though the
bushes had grown dim on the hills and the sod was darkening beside the
white water of the streams.

“And are you going the Journey?” we asked of her.

“I am going,” said she, “everybody is going, why not me too?”

“Will you go along with us?” I asked of her.

She turned her eyes upon me like two sparks out of the blowing dusk
that was already upon us.

“Yes, I will go with you.”

At that she rested her hand upon my arm and we turned upon the road
together.

She was barefooted and bareheaded, dressed in a yellow gown that had
buttons of ivory upon it.

And we asked her as we went along the streams: Had she no fear of the
night time?

“When the four ends of the world drop on you like death?” says I.

“... and the fogs rise up on you like moving grief?” says he.

“... and you hear the hoofs of the half god whisking behind the
hedges,” says I.

“... and there are bad things like bats troubling the air!” says he.

“... or the twig of a tree comes and touches you like a finger!” says I.

“... the finger of some meditating doom!” says he.

“No, I am not,” cried Mary, “but I am glad to be going with you.”

Her hand was again resting upon my arm.

I lay down among the sheaves of wheat that night with no sleep coming
to me, for the stars were spilling all out of the sky and it seemed the
richness of heaven was flowing down upon us all.

“Michael!” Monk whispered, “she’s a holy-minded girl: look, look, she’s
praying!”

Sure enough I could see her a little way off, standing like a saint, as
still as a monument.

Fresh as a bird was our gentle comrade in the dawn and ready to be
going. And we asked her as we went by the roads together: What was it
made her to come the Journey alone?

“Sure there is no loneliness in the world,” she said.

“Is there not?” asked Monk.

“I take my soul with me upon this Journey,” said Mary.

“Your what!”

“My soul,” she said gravely, “it is what keeps loneliness from me.”

He mused upon that a little. “Look ye’re, Mary, soul is just but the
chain of eternal mortality, that is what I think it; but you speak as
if it were something you pick up and carry about with you, something
made of gutta-percha, like a tobacco pouch.”

She smiled upon him: “It is what covers me from loneliness ... it’s ...
it’s the little garment which sometime God will take upon him--being
God.”

Seven days only and seven little nights we were together and I made
scores of poems about her that were different from any poems that have
come into the world, but I could never sing them now. In the mornings
she would go wash herself in the pools, and Monk and I would walk a
little way off from her. Monk was very delicate about that, but I would
turn and see the white-armed girl rolling up her dark hair, and her
white feet travelling to the water as she pulled the gown from her
beauty. She was made like the down of doves and the bloom of bees. It’s
like enough she did love me in a very frail and delicate sort of way,
like a bush of lavendie might love the wind that would be snaring it
from its root in the garden, but never won a petal of it, nor a bloom,
only a little of its kind kind air.

We asked her as we went upon the hills: Had she no fear of getting her
death?

“Not if I make a wise use of it.”

“A use of your death--and how would you do that, tell me,” says I.

And she told us grand things about death, in her soft wonderful voice;
strange talk to be giving the likes of him and me.

“I’d give the heart out of my skin,” said I, “not to be growing
old--the sin and sorrow of the world, with no hope of life and despair
in its conclusion.”

But Monk was full of laughter at me.

“Ha! ha! better a last hope than a hopeless conclusion,” says Mr. Monk;
“so try hope with another lozenge, Michael, and give a free drink to
despair.”

“Have _you_ no fear of death?” Mary asked of him.

And Monk, he said: “I have no unreasonable regard for him; I may bow
before the inevitable, but I decline to grovel before it, and if I
burn with the best of ’em--well, I’d rather be torrid than torpid.”

“It would be well,” said Mary, “to praise God for such courage.”

“Is that what _you_ praise him for?” we asked her.

“I praise God for Jesus,” Mary said to us: strange talk to be giving
the likes of him and me.

We found the finest sleeping nooks, and she could not have rested
better if there had been acres of silk; Monk, God-a-mercy, spent his
money like a baron. One night in the little darkness he said:

“Look ye’re, Mary, tell us why you pray!”

“I pray because of a dream I had.”

“A dream! That’s strange, Mary; I could understand a person dreaming
because of a prayer she has prayed, but not praying because of a dream
she has dreamed.”

“Not even supposing,” I said to him, “you had dreamed you were praying
prayers?”

“If I did,” said he, “I might pray not to dream such dreams.”

“I pray,” said Mary, “that my dream may come true.”

And Monk, he said, “So you build your life on a prayer and a dream!”

“I do not build my life at all,” said Mary; “it’s my death I am
building, in a wonderful world of mountains....”

“... that can never be climbed,” cried Monk.

“... and grand rivers....”

“... that stand still and do not flow,” says he.

“... and bright shining fields....”

“... that will never come to the reaping,” says he again.

“... and if the climbing and the flowing and the reaping are illusions
here, they are real in the dreams of God.”

And Monk, he said: “If God himself is the illusion, Mary, there’s
little enough reward for a life of that kind, or the death of it
either. The recompense for living is Life--not in the future or merely
in the present, but life in the past where all our intuitions had their
mould, and all our joys their eternal fountain.”

“Yes, yes,” I added to him, “beauty walks in the track of the mortal
world, and her light is behind you.”

She was silent. “Mary,” said I, “won’t you tell me now that dream of
yours?”

“I will not tell you yet, Michael,” said she.

But on a day after that we came to a plain, in it a great mountain; and
we went away on to the mountain and commenced to climb. Near the top
it was as if part of the cone of the mountain had been blown out by
the side and a sweet lake of water left winking in the scoop. We came
suddenly upon it; all the cloven cliffs that hung round three sides of
the lake were of white marble, blazing with a lustre that crashed upon
our eyes; the floor of the lake, easy to be seen, was of white marble
too, and the water was that clear you could see the big black hole in
the middle where it bubbled from the abyss. There were beds of heather
around us with white quoins of marble, like chapels or shrines, sunk
amid them; this, and the great golden plain rolling below, far from
us, on every side, almost as far away as the sky. When we came to this
place Monk touched my arm; we both looked at Mary, walking beside the
lake like a person who knew well the marvel that _we_ were but just
seeing. She was speaking strange words--we could not understand.

“Let us leave her to herself awhile,” said Monk.

And we climbed round behind the white cliffs until we left each other.
I went back alone and found her lying in the heather beside a stone
shaped like an altar, sleeping. I knelt down beside her with a love in
my heart that was greater than the mere life beating in it. She lay
very still and beautiful, and I put into her hand a sprig of the red
rowan which I had found. I watched the wind just hoisting the strands
of her hair that was twisted in the heather.

The glister was gone from the cliffs, they were softly white like
magnolia flowers; the lake water splashed its little words in the
quarries. Her lips were red as the rowan buds, the balm of lilies was
in the touch of them.

She opened her eyes on me kneeling beside her.

“Mary,” said I, “I will tell you what I’m thinking. There is a great
doubt in my mind, Mary, and I’m in fear that you’ll be gone from me.”

For answer she drew me down to her side until my face was resting
against her heart; I could hear its little thunder in her breast. And I
leaned up until I was looking deeply in her eyes.

“You are like the dreaming dawn,” I said, “beautiful and silent. You’re
the daughter of all the dawns that ever were, and I’d perish if you’d
be gone from me.”

“It’s beautiful to be in the world with you, Michael, and to feel your
strength about me.”

“It’s lonely to be in the world with you, Mary, and no hope in my
heart, but doubt filling it.”

“I will bring you into my heaven, Michael.”

“Mary, it’s in a little thicket of cedar I would sit with you, hearing
the wild bee’s hymn; beautiful grapes I would give you, and apples rich
as the moon.”

We were silent for a while and then she told me what I have written
here of her own fine words as I remember them. We were sitting against
the white altar stone, the sun was setting; there was one great gulf of
brightness in the west of the sky, and pieces of fiery cloud, little
flukes of flame shaped like fishes, swimming there. In the hinder part
of the sky a great bush-tailed animal had sprung into its dying fields,
a purple fox.

“I dreamed,” said Mary, “that I was in marriage with a carpenter. His
name was Joseph and he was older than I by many years. He left me at
the marriage and went away to Liverpool; there was a great strike on
in that place, but what he was to do there or why he was gone I do not
know. It was at Easter, and when I woke in my bed on the first morning
there was bright wind blowing in the curtains, and sun upon the bed
linen. Some cattle were lowing and I heard the very first cuckoo of the
year. I can remember the round looking glass with a brass frame upon
the table, and the queer little alabaster jar of scented oil. There was
a picture of some cranes flying on the wall, and a china figure of a
man called O’Connell on the shelf above the fire-place. My white veil
was blown from its hook down on the floor, and it was strewed over with
daffodils I had carried to my marriage.

“And at that a figure was in the room--I don’t know how--he just came,
dressed in strange clothes, a dark handsome young man with black long
hair and smiling eyes, full of every grace, and I loved him on the
moment. But he took up some of my daffodils only--and vanished. Then I
remember getting up, and after breakfast I walked about the fields very
happy. There was a letter at the post office from my husband: I took
it home and dropped it into the fire unopened. I put the little house
into its order and set the daffodils in a bowl close upon the bedroom
window. And at night in the darkness, when I could not see him, the
dark man came to my bed, but was gone before the morning, taking more
of my daffodils with him. And this happened night upon night until all
my flowers were gone, and then he came no more.

“It was a long time before my husband came home from Liverpool but he
came at last and we lived very happily until Christmas when I had a
little child.”

“And _did_ you have a child?” I asked her.

“No,” she said, “this was all my dream. Michael, O Michael, you are
like that lover of the darkness.”

And just then Monk came back among us roaring for food.

I gave him the bag I had carried and he helped himself.

“I do not feel the need of it,” said Mary.

“I do not feel the need of it,” said I.

When he had told us his tales and the darkness was come we went to rest
among the heather.

The wild stars were flowing over the sky, for it was the time of the
year when they do fall. Three of them dropped together into the plain
near the foot of the mountain, but I lay with the bride of dreams in
my arms and if the lake and the mountain itself had been heaped with
immortal stars I would not have stirred. Yet in the morning when I
awoke I was alone. There was a new sprig of the rowan in my hand; the
grand sun was warm on the rocks and the heather. I stood up and could
hear a few birds in the thickets below, little showers of faint music.
Mary and Monk were conversing on a ridge under the bank of the lake. I
went to them, and Monk touched my arm again as if to give me a warning
but I had no eyes for him, Mary was speaking and pointing.

“Do you see, Michael, that green place at the foot of the mountain?”

“I do, I see a fine green ring.”

“Do you see what is in it?”

“Nothing is in it,” I said, and indeed it was a bare open spot in the
ring of a fence, a green slant in the stubbles.

She stared at me with strangely troubled eyes.

“It’s a little green terrace, a little sacred terrace; do you not see
what is on it?” she asked of Monk.

“There is nothing in it, Mary, but maybe a hare.”

“O look again,” she cried out quickly, “Michael, there are three
golden crosses there, the crosses of Calvary, only they are empty now!”

“There are no crosses there?” I said to Monk.

“There are no crosses there,” he said.

I turned to the girl; she took me in her arms and I shall feel her cold
cold lips till the fall of doom.

“Michael, dear, it has been so beautiful....”

She seemed to be making a little farewell and growing vague like a
ghost would be.

“O lovely lovely jewel of the world, my heart is losing you!... Monk!
Monk!” I screamed, but he could not help us. She was gone in a twink,
and left me and Monk very lonely in the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

DUSKY RUTH

       *       *       *       *       *



DUSKY RUTH


At the close of an April day, chilly and wet, the traveller came to a
country town. In the Cotswolds, though the towns are small and sweet
and the inns snug, the general habit of the land is bleak and bare. He
had newly come upon upland roads so void of human affairs, so lonely,
that they might have been made for some forgotten uses by departed men,
and left to the unwitting passage of such strangers as himself. Even
the unending walls, built of old rough laminated rock, that detailed
the far-spreading fields, had grown very old again in their courses;
there were dabs of darkness, buttons of moss, and fossils on every
stone. He had passed a few neighbourhoods, sometimes at the crook of
a stream, or at the cross of debouching roads, where old habitations,
their gangrenated thatch riddled with bird holes, had not been so much
erected as just spattered about the places. Beyond these signs an odd
lark or blackbird, the ruckle of partridges, or the nifty gallop of a
hare, had been the only mitigation of the living loneliness that was
almost as profound by day as by night. But the traveller had a care for
such times and places.

There are men who love to gaze with the mind at things that can
never be seen, feel at least the throb of a beauty that will never
be known, and hear over immense bleak reaches the echo of that which
is not celestial music, but only their own hearts’ vain cries; and
though his garments clung to him like clay it was with deliberate
questing step that the traveller trod the single street of the town,
and at last entered the inn, shuffling his shoes in the doorway for a
moment and striking the raindrops from his hat. Then he turned into a
small smoking-room. Leather-lined benches, much worn, were fixed to
the wall under the window and in other odd corners and nooks behind
mahogany tables. One wall was furnished with all the congenial gear of
a bar, but without any intervening counter. Opposite a bright fire was
burning, and a neatly-dressed young woman sat before it in a Windsor
chair, staring at the flames. There was no other inmate of the room,
and as he entered the girl rose up and greeted him. He found that he
could be accommodated for the night, and in a few moments his hat and
scarf were removed and placed inside the fender, his wet overcoat was
taken to the kitchen, the landlord, an old fellow, was lending him a
roomy pair of slippers, and a maid was setting supper in an adjoining
room.

He sat while this was doing and talked to the barmaid. She had a
beautiful, but rather mournful, face as it was lit by the firelight,
and when her glance was turned away from it her eyes had a piercing
brightness. Friendly and well-spoken as she was, the melancholy in
her aspect was noticeable--perhaps it was the dim room, or the wet
day, or the long hours ministering a multitude of cocktails to thirsty
gallantry.

When he went to his supper he found cheering food and drink, with
pleasant garniture of silver and mahogany. There were no other
visitors, he was to be alone; blinds were drawn, lamps lit, and the
fire at his back was comforting. So he sat long about his meal until a
white-faced maid came to clear the table, discoursing to him of country
things as she busied about the room. It was a long narrow room, with
a sideboard and the door at one end and the fireplace at the other. A
bookshelf, almost devoid of books, contained a number of plates; the
long wall that faced the windows was almost destitute of pictures, but
there were hung upon it, for some inscrutable but doubtless sufficient
reason, many dish-covers, solidly shaped, of the kind held in such
mysterious regard and known as “willow pattern”; one was even hung upon
the face of a map. Two musty prints were mixed with them, presentments
of horses having a stilted, extravagant physique and bestridden by
images of inhuman and incommunicable dignity, clothed in whiskers,
coloured jackets, and tight white breeches.

He took down the books from the shelf, but his interest was speedily
exhausted, and the almanacs, the county directory, and various
guide-books were exchanged for the _Cotswold Chronicle_. With this,
having drawn the deep chair to the hearth, he whiled away the time.
The newspaper amused him with its advertisements of stock shows, farm
auctions, travelling quacks and conjurers, and there was a lengthy
account of the execution of a local felon, one Timothy Bridger, who
had murdered an infant in some shameful circumstances. This dazzling
crescendo proved rather trying to the traveller; he threw down the
paper.

The town was all quiet as the hills, and he could hear no sounds in
the house. He got up and went across the hall to the smoke-room. The
door was shut, but there was light within, and he entered. The girl
sat there much as he had seen her on his arrival, still alone, with
feet on fender. He shut the door behind him, sat down, and crossing his
legs puffed at his pipe, admired the snug little room and the pretty
figure of the girl, which he could do without embarrassment as her
meditative head, slightly bowed, was turned away from him. He could
see something of her, too, in the mirror at the bar, which repeated
also the agreeable contours of bottles of coloured wines and rich
liqueurs--so entrancing in form and aspect that they seemed destined
to charming histories, even in disuse--and those of familiar outline
containing mere spirits or small beer, for which are reserved the
harsher destinies of base oils, horse medicines, disinfectants, and
cold tea. There were coloured glasses for bitter wines, white glasses
for sweet, a tiny leaden sink beneath them, and the four black handles
of the beer engine.

The girl wore a light blouse of silk, a short skirt of black velvet,
and a pair of very thin silk stockings that showed the flesh of instep
and shin so plainly that he could see they were reddened by the warmth
of the fire. She had on a pair of dainty cloth shoes with high heels,
but what was wonderful about her was the heap of rich black hair piled
at the back of her head and shadowing the dusky neck. He sat puffing
his pipe and letting the loud tick of the clock fill the quiet room.
She did not stir and he could move no muscle. It was as if he had been
willed to come there and wait silently. That, he felt now, had been
his desire all the evening; and here, in her presence, he was more
strangely stirred than by any event he could remember.

In youth he had viewed women as futile pitiable things that grew long
hair, wore stays and garters, and prayed incomprehensible prayers.
Viewing them in the stalls of the theatre from his vantage-point in the
gallery, he always disliked the articulation of their naked shoulders.
But still, there was a god in the sky, a god with flowing hair and
exquisite eyes, whose one stride with an ardour grandly rendered took
him across the whole round hemisphere to which his buoyant limbs were
bound like spokes to the eternal rim and axle, his bright hair burning
in the pity of the sunsets and tossing in the anger of the dawns.

Master traveller had indeed come into this room to be with this woman:
she as surely desired him, and for all its accidental occasion it
was as if he, walking the ways of the world, had suddenly come upon
... what so imaginable with all permitted reverence as, well, just a
shrine; and he, admirably humble, bowed the instant head.

Were there no other people within? The clock indicated a few minutes to
nine. He sat on, still as stone, and the woman might have been of wax
for all the movement or sound she made. There was allurement in the air
between them; he had forborne his smoking, the pipe grew cold between
his teeth. He waited for a look from her, a movement to break the
trance of silence. No footfall in street or house, no voice in the inn
but the clock beating away as if pronouncing a doom. Suddenly it rasped
out nine large notes, a bell in the town repeated them dolefully, and a
cuckoo no further than the kitchen mocked them with three times three.
After that came the weak steps of the old landlord along the hall,
the slam of doors, the clatter of lock and bolt, and then the silence
returning unendurably upon them.

He arose and stood behind her; he touched the black hair. She made
no movement or sign. He pulled out two or three combs, and dropping
them into her lap let the whole mass tumble about his hands. It had a
curious harsh touch in the unravelling, but was so full and shining;
black as a rook’s wings it was. He slid his palms through it. His
fingers searched it and fought with its fine strangeness; into his mind
there travelled a serious thought, stilling his wayward fancy--this was
no wayward fancy, but a rite accomplishing itself! (_Run, run, silly
man, y’are lost._) But having got so far he burnt his boats, leaned
over, and drew her face back to him. And at that, seizing his wrists,
she gave him back ardour for ardour, pressing his hands to her bosom,
while the kiss was sealed and sealed again. Then she sprang up and
picking his hat and scarf from the fender said:

“I have been drying them for you, but the hat has shrunk a bit, I’m
sure--I tried it on.”

He took them from her and put them behind him; he leaned lightly back
upon the table, holding it with both his hands behind him; he could not
speak.

“Aren’t you going to thank me for drying them?” she asked, picking her
combs from the rug and repinning her hair.

“I wonder why we did that?” he asked, shamedly.

“It is what I’m thinking too,” she said.

“You were so beautiful about ... about it, you know.”

She made no rejoinder, but continued to bind her hair, looking brightly
at him under her brows. When she had finished she went close to him.

“Will that do?”

“I’ll take it down again.”

“No, no, the old man or the old woman will be coming in.”

“What of that?” he said, taking her into his arms, “tell me your name.”

She shook her head, but she returned his kisses and stroked his hair
and shoulders with beautifully melting gestures.

“What is your name, I want to call you by your name?” he said; “I can’t
keep calling you Lovely Woman, Lovely Woman.”

Again she shook her head and was dumb.

“I’ll call you Ruth then, Dusky Ruth, Ruth of the black, beautiful
hair.”

“That is a nice-sounding name--I knew a deaf and dumb girl named Ruth;
she went to Nottingham and married an organ-grinder--but I should like
it for my name.”

“Then I give it to you.”

“Mine is so ugly.”

“What is it?”

Again the shaken head and the burning caress.

“Then you shall be Ruth; will you keep that name?”

“Yes, if you give me the name I will keep it for you.”

Time had indeed taken them by the forelock, and they looked upon a
ruddled world.

“I stake my one talent,” he said jestingly, “and behold it returns me
fortyfold; I feel like the boy who catches three mice with one piece of
cheese.”

At ten o’clock the girl said:

“I must go and see how _they_ are getting on,” and she went to the door.

“Are we keeping them up?”

She nodded.

“Are you tired?”

“No, I am not tired.”

She looked at him doubtfully.

“We ought not to stay in here; go into the coffee-room and I’ll come
there in a few minutes.”

“Right,” he whispered gaily, “we’ll sit up all night.”

She stood at the door for him to pass out, and he crossed the hall to
the other room. It was in darkness except for the flash of the fire.
Standing at the hearth he lit a match for the lamp, but paused at the
globe; then he extinguished the match.

“No, it’s better to sit in the firelight.”

He heard voices at the other end of the house that seemed to have a
chiding note in them.

“Lord,” he thought, “she is getting into a row?”

Then her steps came echoing over the stone floors of the hall; she
opened the door and stood there with a lighted candle in her hand; he
stood at the other end of the room, smiling.

“Good night,” she said.

“Oh no, no! come along,” he protested, but not moving from the hearth.

“Got to go to bed,” she answered.

“Are they angry with you?”

“No.”

“Well, then, come over here and sit down.”

“Got to go to bed,” she said again, but she had meanwhile put her
candlestick upon the little sideboard and was trimming the wick with a
burnt match.

“Oh, come along, just half an hour,” he protested. She did not answer
but went on prodding the wick of the candle.

“Ten minutes, then,” he said, still not going towards her.

“Five minutes,” he begged.

She shook her head, and picking up the candlestick turned to the door.
He did not move, he just called her name: “Ruth!”

She came back then, put down the candlestick and tiptoed across the
room until he met her. The bliss of the embrace was so poignant that
he was almost glad when she stood up again and said with affected
steadiness, though he heard the tremor in her voice:

“I must get you your candle.”

She brought one from the hall, set it on the table in front of him, and
struck the match.

“What is my number?” he asked.

“Number six room,” she answered, prodding the wick vaguely with her
match, while a slip of white wax dropped over the shoulder of the new
candle. “Number six ... next to mine.”

The match burnt out; she said abruptly “Good-night,” took up her own
candle and left him there.

In a few moments he ascended the stairs and went into his room. He
fastened the door, removed his coat, collar, and slippers, but the rack
of passion had seized him and he moved about with no inclination to
sleep. He sat down, but there was no medium of distraction. He tried
to read the newspaper which he had carried up with him, and without
realizing a single phrase he forced himself to read again the whole
account of the execution of the miscreant Bridger. When he had finished
this he carefully folded the paper and stood up, listening. He went to
the parting wall and tapped thereon with his finger tips. He waited
half a minute, one minute, two minutes; there was no answering sign.
He tapped again, more loudly, with his knuckles, but there was no
response, and he tapped many times. He opened his door as noiselessly
as possible; along the dark passage there were slips of light under the
other doors, the one next his own, and the one beyond that. He stood
in the corridor listening to the rumble of old voices in the farther
room, the old man and his wife going to their rest. Holding his breath
fearfully, he stepped to _her_ door and tapped gently upon it. There
was no answer, but he could somehow divine her awareness of him; he
tapped again; she moved to the door and whispered “No, no, go away.” He
turned the handle, the door was locked.

“Let me in,” he pleaded. He knew she was standing there an inch or two
beyond him.

“Hush,” she called softly. “Go away, the old woman has ears like a fox.”

He stood silent for a moment.

“Unlock it,” he urged; but he got no further reply, and feeling foolish
and baffled he moved back to his own room, cast his clothes from
him, doused the candle and crept into the bed with soul as wild as
a storm-swept forest, his heart beating a vagrant summons. The room
filled with strange heat, there was no composure for mind or limb,
nothing but flaming visions and furious embraces.

“Morality ... what is it but agreement with your own soul?”

So he lay for two hours--the clocks chimed twelve--listening with
foolish persistency for _her_ step along the corridor, fancying every
light sound--and the night was full of them--was her hand upon the door.

Suddenly,--and then it seemed as if his very heart would abash the
house with its thunder--he could hear distinctly someone knocking on
the wall. He got quickly from his bed and stood at the door, listening.
Again the knocking was heard, and having half-clothed himself he
crept into the passage, which was now in utter darkness, trailing his
hand along the wall until he felt her door; it was standing open. He
entered her room and closed the door behind him. There was not the
faintest gleam of light, he could see nothing. He whispered “Ruth!” and
she was standing there. She touched him, but not speaking. He put out
his hands, and they met round her neck; her hair was flowing in its
great wave about her; he put his lips to her face and found that her
eyes were streaming with tears, salt and strange and disturbing. In the
close darkness he put his arms about her with no thought but to comfort
her; one hand had plunged through the long harsh tresses and the other
across her hips before he realized that she was ungowned; then he was
aware of the softness of her breasts and the cold naked sleekness of
her shoulders. But she was crying there, crying silently with great
tears, her strange sorrow stifling his desire.

“Ruth, Ruth, my beautiful dear!” he murmured soothingly. He felt for
the bed with one hand, and turning back the quilt and sheets he lifted
her in as easily as a mother does her child, replaced the bedding, and,
in his clothes, he lay stretched beside her comforting her. They lay
so, innocent as children, for an hour, when she seemed to have gone to
sleep. He rose then and went silently to his room, full of weariness.

In the morning he breakfasted without seeing her, but as he had
business in the world that gave him just an hour longer at the Inn
before he left it for good and all, he went into the smoke-room and
found her. She greeted him with curious gaze, but merrily enough, for
there were other men there now, farmers, a butcher, a registrar, an
old, old man. The hour passed, but not these men, and at length he
donned his coat, took up his stick, and said good-bye. Her shining
glances followed him to the door, and from the window as far as they
could view him.

       *       *       *       *       *

WEEP NOT MY WANTON

       *       *       *       *       *



WEEP NOT MY WANTON


Air and light on Sack Down at summer sunset were soft as ointment and
sweet as milk; at least, that is the notion the down might give to
a mind that bloomed within its calm horizons, some happy victim of
romance it might be, watching the silken barley moving in its lower
fields with the slow movement of summer sea, reaching no harbour,
having no end. The toilers had mostly given over; their ploughs and
harrows were left to the abandoned fields; they had taken their wages
and gone, or were going, home; but at the crown of the hill a black
barn stood by the roadside, and in its yard, amid sounds of anguish,
a score of young boar pigs were being gelded by two brown lads and a
gipsy fellow. Not half a mile of distance here could enclose you the
compass of their cries. If a man desired peace he would step fast down
the hill towards Arwall with finger in ear until he came to quiet at a
bank overlooking slopes of barley, and could perceive the fogs of June
being born in the standing grass beyond.

Four figures, a labourer and his family, travelled slowly up the
road proceeding across the hill, a sound mingling dully with their
steps--the voice of the man. You could not tell if it were noise of
voice or of footsteps that first came into your ear, but it could be
defined on their advance as the voice of a man upbraiding his little
son.

“You’re a naughty, naughty--you’re a vurry, _vurry_ naughty boy! Oi
can’t think what’s comen tyeh!”

The father towered above the tiny figure shuffling under his elbow,
and kept his eyes stupidly fixed upon him. He saw a thin boy, a spare
boy, a very shrunken boy of seven or eight years, crying quietly. He
let no grief out of his lips, but his white face was streaming with
dirty tears. He wore a man’s cap, an unclean sailor jacket, large
knickerbockers that made a mockery of his lean joints, a pair of
women’s button boots, and he looked straight ahead.

“The idear! To go and lose a sixpence like that then! Where d’ye think
yer’ll land yerself, ay? Where’d I be if I kept on losing sixpences,
ay? A creature like you, ay!” and lifting his heavy hand the man struck
the boy a blow behind with shock enough to disturb a heifer. They
went on, the child with sobs that you could feel rather than hear. As
they passed the black barn the gipsy bawled encouragingly: “S’elp me,
father, that’s a good ’un, wallop his trousers!”

But the man ignored him, as he ignored the yell of the pig and the
voice of the lark rioting above them all; he continued his litany:

“You’re a naughty, naughty _boy_, an’ I dunno what’s comen tyeh!”

The woman, a poor slip of a woman she was, walked behind them with a
smaller child: she seemed to have no desire to shield the boy or to
placate the man. She did not seem to notice them, and led the toddling
babe, to whom she gabbled, some paces in the rear of the man of anger.
He was a great figure with a bronzed face; his trousers were tied at
the knee, his wicker bag was slung over his shoulder. With his free and
massive hand he held the hand of the boy. He was slightly drunk, and
walked with his legs somewhat wide, at the beginning of each stride
lifting his heel higher than was required, and at the end of it placing
his foot firmly but obliquely inwards. There were two bright medals
on the breast of his waistcoat, presumably for valour; he was perhaps
a man who would stand upon his rights and his dignities, such as they
were--but then he was drunk. His language, oddly unprofane, gave a
subtle and mean point to his decline from the heroic standard. He only
ceased his complaining to gaze swayingly at the boy; then he struck
him. The boy, crying quietly, made no effort to avoid or resist him.

“You understand me, you bad boy! As long as you’re with me you got to
come under collar. And wher’ll you be next I _dunno_, a bad creature
like you, ay! An’ then to turn roun’ an’ answer me! _I dunno!_ I dunno
_what’s_ comen tyeh. Ye know ye lost that sixpence through glammering
about. Wher’ d’ye lose it, ay? Wher’ d’ye lose it, ay?”

At these questions be seized the boy by the neck and shook him as a
child does a bottle of water. The baby behind them was taken with
little gusts of laughter at the sight, and the woman cooed back
playfully at her.

“George, George!” yelled the woman.

The man turned round.

“Look after Annie!” she yelled again.

“What’s up?” he called.

Her only answer was a giggle of laughter as she disappeared behind a
hedge. The child toddled up to its father and took his hand, while the
quiet boy took her other hand with relief. She laughed up into their
faces, and the man resumed his homily.

“He’s a bad, bad boy. He’s a vurry _naughty_ bad boy!”

By-and-by the woman came shuffling after them; the boy looked furtively
around and dropped his sister’s hand.

“Carm on, me beauty!” cried the man, lifting the girl to his shoulder.
“He’s a bad boy; you ’ave a ride on your daddy.” They went on alone,
and the woman joined the boy. He looked up at her with a sad face.

“O, my Christ, Johnny!” she said, putting her arms round the boy,
“what’s ’e bin doin’ to yeh? Yer face is all blood!”

“It’s only me nose, mother. Here,” he whispered, “here’s the tanner.”

They went together down the hill towards the inn, which had already a
light in its windows. The screams from the barn had ceased, and a cart
passed them full of young pigs, bloody and subdued. The hill began to
resume its old dominion of soft sounds. It was nearly nine o’clock, and
one anxious farmer still made hay although, on this side of the down,
day had declined, and with a greyness that came not from the sky, but
crept up from the world. From the quiet hill, as the last skein of
cocks was carted to the stack, you could hear dimly men’s voices and
the rattle of their gear.

       *       *       *       *       *

PIFFINGCAP

       *       *       *       *       *



PIFFINGCAP


Piffingcap had the cup from an old friend, a queer-minded man. He had
given it to him just before he had gone out of this continent, not for
the first but for the last time--a cup of lead with an inscription upon
it in decent letters but strange words.

“Here, Elmer,” said his old friend to the barber of Bagwood, “have
this--there’s the doom of half a million beards in it!”

Piffingcap laughed, but without any joy, for his heart was heavy to
lose his friend.

“There is in it too,” continued Grafton, offering the pot and tapping
it with his forefinger, “a true test of virtue--a rare thing, as you
know, in these parts. Secondly, there is in it a choice of fortunes;
and thirdly, it may be, a triple calamity and--and--and very serious,
you know, but there you are.” He gave it into the barber’s hand with a
slight sigh. While his friend duly admired the dull gift the traveller
picked up his walking stick and winked at himself in the mirror.

And Elmer Piffingcap, the barber of Bagwood, took his friend’s cup, set
it in a conspicuous place upon the shelf of his shop, and bade that
friend good-bye, a little knot rolling into his lungs as they shook
their two hands together.

“It is true then,” said he, staring at the shining baldness of his
friend who stood with hat and stick in hand--for as Piffingcap dared
not look into his friend’s eyes, the gleam of the skull took his gaze,
as a bright thing will seize the mind of a gnat--“it is true, then, I
shall see you no more?”

“No more again,” said the wanderer affably, replacing his
hat--disliking that pliant will-less stare of the barber’s mournful
eyes. This wandering man had a heart full of bravery though he could
not walk with pride, for the corns and bunkles he suffered would have
crippled a creature of four feet, leave alone two. But--would you
believe it--he was going now to walk himself for all his days round and
round the world. O, he was such a man as could put a deceit upon the
slyest, with his tall hat and his jokes, living as easy as a bird in
the softness and sweetness of the year.

“And if it rains, it rains,” he declared to Polly, “and I squat like
a hare in the hedge and keep the blessed bones of me dry and my feet
warm--it’s not three weeks since it happened to me; my neck as damp
as the inside of an onion, and my curly locks caught in blackberry
bushes--stint your laughing, Polly!--the end of my nose as cold as a
piece of dead pork, and the place very inconvenient with its sharp
thorns and nettles--and no dockleaf left in the whole parish. But there
was young barley wagging in the field, and clover to be smelling, and
rooks to be watching, and doves, and the rain heaving its long sigh in
the greyness--I declare to my God it was a fine handsome day I had that
day, Polly!”

In the winter he would be sleeping in decent nooks, eating his food in
quiet inns, drying his coat at the forge; and so he goes now into the
corners of the world--the little husky fat man, with large spectacles
and fox-coloured beard and tough boots that had slits and gouts in
them--gone seeking the feathers out of Priam’s peacock. And let him go;
we take no more concern of him or his shining skull or his tra-la-la in
the highways.

The barber, who had a romantic drift of mind, went into his saloon,
and taking up the two cracked china lather mugs he flung them from
the open window into his back garden, putting the fear of some evil
into the mind of his drowsy cat, and a great anticipation in the
brains of his two dusty hens, who were lurking there for anything that
could be devoured. Mr. Piffingcap placed the pot made of lead upon
his convenient shelf, laid therein his brush, lit the small gas stove
under the copper urn, and when Polly, the child from the dairy, arrived
with her small can for the barber’s large jug she found him engaged in
shaving the chin of Timmy James the butcher, what time Mr. James was
engaged in a somewhat stilted conversation with Gregory Barnes about
the carnal women of Bagwood.

Polly was a little lean girl, eight or nine years old, with a face that
was soft and rosy and fresh as the bud of gum on the black branches of
the orchard. She wore a pretty dimity frock and had gay flowers in her
hat. This was her last house of call, and, sitting down to watch Mr.
Piffingcap, the town’s one barber, shaving friends and enemies alike,
she would be the butt of their agreeable chaff because of her pleasant
country jargon--as rich as nutmeg in a homely cake--or her yellow
scattered hair, or her sweet eyes that were soft as remembered twilight.

“Your razor is roaring, Mr. Piffingcap!”--peeping round the chair at
him. “Oh, it’s that Mr. James!” she would say in pretended surprise.
Mr. James had a gruff beard, and the act of removing it occasioned a
noise resembling that of her mother scraping the new potatoes.

“What have you got this pot for?” she chattered; “I don’t like it, it’s
ugly.”

“Don’t say that now,” said Mr. Piffingcap, pausing with his hand on the
butcher’s throttle, “it was Mr. Grafton’s parting gift to me; I shall
never see him again, nor will you neither; he’s gone round the world
for ever more this time!”

“Oh!” gurgled the child in a manner that hung between pain and delight,
“has he gone to Rinjigoffer land?”

“Gone where?” roared Timothy James, lifting his large red neck from the
rest.

“He’s told me all about it,” said the child, ignoring him.

“Well, he’s not gone there,” interrupted the barber.

And the child continued, “It’s where the doves and the partridges
are so fat that they break down the branches of the trees where they
roost....”

“Garn with yer!” said Mr. James.

“... and the hares are as big as foxes....”

“God a mercy!” said Mr. James.

“... yes, and a fox was big and brown and white like a skewbald
donkey--he! he! he! And oo yes,” continued Polly, shrilling with
excitement, “there was a king badger as would stop your eyes from
winking if you met him walking in the dawn!”

“Lord, what should the man be doing telling you them lies,” ejaculated
Timothy, now wiping his chin on the napkin. “Did he give you that cup,
Piff?”

“Yes,” replied the barber, “and if what he says is true there’s a power
o’ miracle in it.”

The butcher surveyed it cautiously and read the inscription:

  NE SAMBRA DIVORNAK

“That’s a bit o’ Roosian, I should say,” he remarked as he and Gregory
left the saloon.

Polly picked up her empty can and looked at Mr. P.

“Won’t he come back no more?”

“No, Polly, my pigeon, he won’t come back.”

“Didn’t he like us?” asked the child.

The barber stood dumb before her bright searching eyes.

“He was better than my father,” said the child, “or me uncle, or the
schoolmaster.”

“He’s the goodest man alive, Polly,” said Mr. P.

“Didn’t he like us?” again she asked; and as Mr. P. could only look
vaguely about the room she went out and closed the latch of the door
very softly behind her.

In the succeeding days the barber lathered and cut or sat smoking
meditatively in his saloon; the doom began to work its will, and
business, which for a quarter of a century had flourished like a plant,
as indeed it was, of constant and assured growth, suddenly declined.
On weekdays the barber cleaned up the chins of his fellow townsmen
alone, but on Sunday mornings he would seek the aid of a neighbour,
a youngster whom he called Charleyboy, when four men would be seated
at one time upon his shaving-chairs, towel upon breast and neck bared
for the sacrifice, while Charleyboy dabbed and pounded their crops
into foam. Mr. Piffingcap would follow him, plying his weapon like the
genius he was, while Charleyboy again in turn followed _him_, drying
with linen, cooling with rhum, or soothing with splendid unguent. “Next
gent, please!” he would cry out, and the last shorn man would rise
and turn away, dabbing his right hand into the depths of his breeches
pocket and elevating that with his left before producing the customary
tribute.

But the genius of Piffingcap and the neat hand of Charley languished in
distress. There was no gradual cessation, the thing completely stopped,
and Piffingcap did not realize until too late, until, indeed, the truth
of it was current in the little town everywhere but in his own shop,
that the beards once shaven by him out of Grafton’s pot grew no more
in Bagwood; and there came the space of a week or so when not a soul
entered the saloon but two schoolboys for the cutting of hair, and a
little housemaid for a fringe net.

Then he knew, and one day, having sat in the place the whole morning
like a beleaguered rat, with ruin and damnation a hands-breath only
from him, he rushed from his shop across to the hardware merchant’s and
bought two white china mugs, delicately lined with gold and embossed
with vague lumps, and took them back to the saloon.

At dinner time he put the cup of lead into his coat pocket and walked
down the street in an anxious kind of way until he came to the bridge
at the end of the town. It was an angular stone bridge, crossing a
deep and leisurely flowing river, along whose parapet boys had dared a
million times, wearing smooth, with their adventuring feet, its soft
yellow stone. He stared at the water and saw the shining flank of a
tench as it turned over. All beyond the bridge were meads thick with
ripe unmown grass and sweet with scabious bloom. But the barber’s mind
was harsh with the rancour of noon heats and the misfortunes of life.
He stood with one hand resting upon the hot stone and one upon the
heavy evil thing in his pocket. The bridge was deserted at this hour,
its little traffic having paused for the meal. He took, at length,
the cup from his pocket, and whispering to himself “God forgive you,
Grafton,” he let it fall from his fingers into the water; then he
walked sharply home to his three daughters and told them what he had
done.

“You poor loon!” said Bersa.

“O man! man!” moaned Grue.

“You’re the ruin of us all!” cried Mavie.

Three fine women were Grue and Mavie and Bersa, in spite of the clamour
of the outlandish Piffingcap names, and their father had respect for
them and admired their handsomeness. But they had for their father, all
three of them, the principal filial emotion of compassion, and they
showed that his action had been a foolish action, that there were other
towns in the world besides Bagwood, and that thousands and millions of
men would pay a good price to be quit of a beard, and be shaved from a
pot that would complete the destruction of all the unwanted hairiness
of the world. And they were very angry with him.

“Let us go and see to it ... what is to be done now ... bring us to the
place, father!”

He took them down to the river, and when they peered over the side of
the bridge they could see the pot lying half sunk in some white sand in
more than a fathom of water.

“Let us instruct the waterman,” they said, “he will secure it for us.”

In the afternoon Grue met the waterman, who was a sly young fellow, and
she instructed him, but at tea-time word was brought to Piffingcap that
the young waterman was fallen into the river and drowned. Then there
was grief in his mind, for he remembered the calamity which Grafton had
foretold, and he was for giving up all notions of re-taking the cup;
but his daughter Bersa went in a few days to a man was an angler and
instructed him; and he took a crooked pole and leaned over the bridge
to probe for the cup. In the afternoon word was brought to Piffingcap
that the parapet had given way, and the young angler in falling through
had dashed out his brains on the abutment of the bridge. And the young
gaffer whom Mavie instructed was took of a sunstroke and died on the
bank.

The barber was in great grief at these calamities; he had tremors
of guilt in his mind, no money in his coffers, and the chins of the
Bagwood men were still as smooth as children’s; but it came to him one
day that he need not fear any more calamities, and that a thing which
had so much tricks in it should perhaps be cured by trickery.

“I will go,” he said, “to the Widow Buckland and ask her to assist me.”

The Widow Buckland was a wild strange woman who lived on a heath a
few miles away from Bagwood; so he went over one very hot day to the
Widow and found her cottage in the corner of the heath. There was a
caravan beside the cottage--it was a red caravan with yellow wheels.
A blackbird hung in a wicker cage at the door, and on the side of the
roof board was painted

  FEATS & GALIAS ATENDED
  AGLAURA BUCKLAND

There was nobody in the caravan so he knocked at the cottage door; the
Widow Buckland led him into her dim little parlour.

“It ’ull cost you half a James!” says she when Mr. Piffingcap had given
her his requirements.

“Half a what?” cried he.

“You are _not_,” said the gipsy, “a man of a mean heart, are you?” She
said it very persuasively, and he felt he could not annoy her for she
was a very large woman with sharp glances.

“No,” said Piffingcap.

“And you’ll believe what I’m telling you, won’t you?”

“Yes,” said Piffingcap.

“It ’ull maybe some time before my words come true, but come true they
will, I can take my oath.”

“Yes,” again said Piffingcap.

“George!” she bawled to someone from the doorway, “wher’d yer put my
box?”

There was an indistinct reply but she bawled out again, “Well, _fetch_
it off the rabbit hutch.”

“And a man like you,” she continued, turning again to the barber,
“doesn’t think twice about half a sovereign, and me putting you in the
way of what you want to know, _I’m_ sure.”

And Piffingcap mumbled dubiously “No,” producing with difficulty some
shillings, some coppers, and a postal order for one and threepence
which a credulous customer had that morning sent him for a bottle of
hairwash.

“Let’s look at your ’and,” she said; taking it she reflected gravely:

“You’re a man that’s ’ad your share o’ trouble, aint you?”

Piffingcap bowed meekly.

“And you’ve ’ad your ’appy days, aint you?”

A nod.

“Well listen to me; you’ve got more fortune in store for you if you
know how to pluck it ... you understand my meaning, don’t you?... than
any man in the town this bleedun minute. Right, George,” she exclaimed,
turning to a very ugly little hunchbacked fellow--truly he was a
mere squint of a man, there was such a little bit of him for so much
uncomeliness. The Widow Buckland took the box from the hunchback and,
thrusting him out of the room, she shut fast the door and turned the
key in the lock. Then she drew up a bit of a table to the window, and
taking out of the box a small brass vessel and two bottles she set them
before her.

“Sit down there, young feller,” she said, and Piffingcap sat down at
the end of the table facing the window. The Widow turned to the window,
which was a small square, the only one in the room, and closed over it
a shutter. The room was clapped in darkness except for a small ray in
the middle of the shutter, coming through a round hole about as large
as a guinea. She pulled Mr. Piffingcap’s shoulder until the ray was
shining on the middle of his forehead; she took up the brass vessel,
and holding it in the light of the ray polished it for some time with
her forefinger. All her fingers, even her thumbs, were covered with
rich sinister rings, but there were no good looks in those fingers
for the nails had been munched almost away, and dirty skin hid up the
whites. The polished vessel was then placed on the table directly
beneath the ray; drops from the two phials were poured into it, a green
liquid and a black liquid; mixing together they melted into a pillar
of smoke which rose and was seen only as it flowed through the beam of
light, twisting and veering and spinning in strange waves.

The Widow Buckland said not a word for a time, but contemplated the
twisting shapes as they poured through the ray, breathing heavily all
the while or suffering a slight sigh to pass out of her breast. But
shortly the smoke played the barber a trick in his nose and heaving
up his chin he rent the room with a great sneeze. When he recovered
himself she was speaking certain words:

“Fire and water I see and a white virgin’s skin. The triple gouts of
blood I see and the doom given over. Fire and water I see and a white
virgin’s skin.”

She threw open the shutter, letting in the light; smoke had ceased to
rise but it filled the parlour with a sweet smell.

“Well ...” said Mr. Piffingcap dubiously.

And the Widow Buckland spoke over to him plainly and slowly, patting
his shoulder at each syllable,

“Fire and water and a white virgin’s skin.”

Unlatching the door she thrust him out of the house into the sunlight.
He tramped away across the heath meditating her words, and coming to
the end of it he sat down in the shade of a bush by the side of the
road, for he felt sure he was about to capture the full meaning of her
words. But just then he heard a strange voice speaking, and speaking
very vigorously. He looked up and observed a man on a bicycle, riding
along towards him, talking to himself in a great way.

“He is a political fellow rehearsing a speech,” said Mr. Piffingcap to
himself, “or perhaps he is some holy-minded person devising a sermon.”

It was a very bald man and he had a long face hung with glasses; he
had no coat and rode in his shirt and knickerbockers, with hot thick
stockings and white shoes. The barber watched him after he had passed
and noted how his knees turned angularly outwards at each upward
movement, and how his saddle bag hung at the bottom of his back like
some ironical label.

“Fool!” exclaimed Mr. Piffingcap, rising angrily, for the man’s chatter
had driven his mind clean away from the Widow Buckland’s meaning. But
it was only for a short while, and when he got home he called one of
his daughters into the saloon.

“My child,” said Piffingcap, “you know the great trouble which is come
on me?” and he told Bersa his difficulty and requested her aid, that
is to say: would she go down in the early morning in her skin only and
recover the pot?

“Indeed no, father!” said his daughter Bersa, “it is a very evil thing
and I will not do your request.”

“You will not?” says he.

“No!” says she, but it was not in the fear of her getting her death
that she refused him.

So he called to another of his daughters.

“My child,” said he, “you know the great trouble that is come on me,”
and he told Mavie his desire and asked for her aid.

“Why, my father,” says she, “this is a thing which a black hag has
put on us all and I will get my death. I love you as I love my life,
father, but I won’t do this!”

“You will not?” says he.

“No!” says she, but it was not for fear of her death she refused him.

And he went to his third daughter Grue and tried her with the same
thing. “My child, you know the trouble that’s come on me?”

“Oh, will you let me alone!” she says, “I’ve a greater trouble on me
than your mouldy pot.” And it is true what she said of her trouble, for
she was a girl of a loose habit. So the barber said no more to them and
went to his bed.

Two days later, it being Saturday, he opened in the morning his saloon
and sat down there. And while he read his newspaper in the empty place
footsteps scampered into his doorway, and the door itself was pushed
open just an inch or two.

“Come in,” he said, rising.

The door opened fully.

“Zennybody here?” whispered Polly walking in very mysteriously, out of
breath, and dressed in a long mackintosh.

“What is the matter, my little one?” he asked, putting his arm around
her shoulders, for he had a fondness for her. “Ach, your hair’s all
wet, what’s the matter?”

The little girl put her hand under the macintosh and drew out the
leaden pot, handing it to the barber and smiling at him with
inarticulate but intense happiness. She said not a word as he stared
his surprise and joy.

“Why Polly, my _dear_, how _did_ you get it?”

“I dived in and got it.”

“You never ... you princess ... you!”

“I just bin and come straight here with it.”

She opened and shut the mackintosh quickly, displaying for a brief
glance her little white naked figure with the slightest tremulous crook
at the sharp knees.

“Ah, my darling,” exclaimed the enraptured barber, “and you’re
shivering with not a rag on you but them shoes ... run away home,
Polly, and get some things on, Polly ... and ... Polly, Polly!” as she
darted away, “come back quick, won’t you?”

She nodded brightly back at him as she sprang through the doorway. He
went to the entrance and watched her taking her twinkling leaps, as
bonny as a young foal, along the pavement.

And there came into the barber’s mind the notion that this was all
again a piece of fancy tricks; but there was the dark pot, and he
examined it. Thoughtfully he took it into his backyard and busied
himself there for a while, not telling his daughters of its recovery.
When, later, Polly joined him in the garden he had already raised a big
fire in an old iron brazier which had lain there.

“Ah, Polly my dear, I’m overjoyed to get it back, but I dasn’t keep it
... it’s a bad thing. Take it in your fingers now, my dear little girl,
and just chuck it in that fire. Ah, we must melt the wickedness out
of it,” he said, observing her disappointment, “it’s been the death of
three men and we dasn’t keep it.”

They watched it among the coals until it had begun to perish drop by
drop through the grating of the brazier.

Later in the day Mr. Piffingcap drove Polly in a little trap to a
neighbouring town to see a circus, and the pair of them had a roaring
dinner at the Green Dragon. Next morning when Polly brought the milk to
the saloon there were Timmy James and Gregory Barnes being shaved, for
beards had grown again in Bagwood.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE KING OF THE WORLD

       *       *       *       *       *



THE KING OF THE WORLD


Once upon a time, yes, in the days of King Sennacherib, a young
Assyrian captain, valiant and desirable, but more hapless than either,
fleeing in that strange rout of the armies against Judah, was driven
into the desert. Daily his company perished from him until he alone,
astride a camel, was left searching desperately through a boundless
desert for the loved plains of Shinar, sweet with flocks and rich with
glittering cities. The desolation of ironic horizons that he could
never live to pierce hung hopelessly in remote unattainable distances,
endless as the blue sky. The fate of his comrades had left upon him a
small pack of figs and wine, but in that uncharted wilderness it was
but a pitiable parrying of death’s last keen stroke. There was no balm
or succour in that empty sky; blue it was as sapphires, but savage with
rays that scourged like flaming brass. Earth itself was not less empty,
and the loneliness of his days was an increasing bitterness. He was so
deeply forgotten of men, and so removed from the savour of life, from
his lost country, the men he knew, the women he loved, their temples,
their markets and their homes, that it seemed the gods had drawn that
sweet and easy world away from his entangled feet.

But at last upon a day he was astonished and cheered by the sight of a
black butterfly flickering in the air before him, and towards evening
he espied a giant mound lying lonely in the east. He drove his camel
to it, but found only a hill of sand whirled up by strange winds of
the desert. He cast himself from the camel’s back and lay miserably in
the dust. His grief was extreme, but in time he tended his tired beast
and camped in the shadow of the hill. When he gave himself up to sleep
the night covering them was very calm and beautiful, the sky soft and
streaming with stars; it seemed to his saddened mind that the desert
and the deep earth were indeed dead, and life and love only in that
calm enduring sky. But at midnight a storm arose with quickening furies
that smote the desert to its unseen limits, and the ten thousand stars
were flung into oblivion; winds flashed upon him with a passion more
bitter than a million waves, a terror greater than hosts of immediate
enemies. They grasped and plunged him into gulfs of darkness, heaped
mountains upon him, lashed him with thongs of snakes and scattered him
with scimitars of unspeakable fear. His soul was tossed in the void
like a crushed star and his body beaten into the dust with no breath
left him to bemoan his fate. Nevertheless by a miracle his soul and
body lived on.

It was again day when he recovered, day in the likeness of yesterday,
the horizons still infinitely far. Long past noon, the sun had turned
in the sky; he was alone. The camel was doubtless buried in the
fathoms he himself had escaped, but a surprising wonder greeted his
half-blinded eyes; the hill of sand was gone, utterly, blown into the
eternal waste of the desert, and in its track stood a strange thing--a
shrine. There was a great unroofed pavement of onyx and blue jasper,
large enough for the floor of a temple, with many life-size figures,
both men and women, standing upon it all carved in rock and facing,
at the sacred end, a giant pillared in black basalt, seven times the
height of a man. The sad captain divined at once that this was the lost
shrine of Namu-Sarkkon, the dead god of whom tradition spoke in the
ancient litanies of his country. He heaved himself painfully from the
grave of sand in which he had lain half-buried, and staggering to the
pavement leaned in the shade of one of those figures fronting the dead
god. In a little time he recovered and ate some figs which he carried
in a leather bag at his hip, and plucked the sand from his eyes and
ears and loosened his sandals and gear. Then he bowed himself for a
moment before the black immobile idol, knowing that he would tarry here
now until he died.

Namu-Sarkkon, the priestless god, had been praised of old time above
all for his gifts of joy. Worshippers had gathered from the cities of
Assyria at this his only shrine, offering their souls for a gift to him
who, in his time and wisdom, granted their desires. But Namu-Sarkkon,
like other gods, was a jealous god, and, because the hearts of mankind
are vain and destined to betrayal, he turned the bodies of his devotees
into rock and kept them pinioned in stone for a hundred years, or for
a thousand years, according to the nature of their desires. Then if the
consummation were worthy and just, the rock became a living fire, the
blood of eternity quickened the limbs, and the god released the body
full of youth and joy. But what god lives for ever? Not Namu-Sarkkon.
He grew old and forgetful; his oracle was defamed. Stronger gods
supplanted him and at last all power departed save only from one of his
eyes. That eye possessed the favour of eternity, but only so faintly
that the worshipper when released from his trap of stone lived at the
longest but a day, some said even but an hour. None could then be found
to exchange the endurances of the world for so brief a happiness. His
worship ceased, Namu-Sarkkon was dead, and the remote shrine being lost
to man’s heart was lost to man’s eyes. Even the tradition of its time
and place had become a mere fantasy, but the whirlwinds of uncounted
years sowing their sands about the shrine had left it blameless and
unperishable, if impotent.

Recollecting this, the soldier gazed long at the dead idol. Its smooth
huge bulk, carved wonderfully, was still without blemish and utterly
cleansed of the sand. The strange squat body with the benign face
stood on stout legs, one advanced as if about to stride forward to the
worshipper, and one arm outstretched offered the sacred symbol. Then in
a moment the Assyrian’s heart leaped within him; he had been staring at
the mild eyes of the god--surely there was a movement in one of the
eyes! He stood erect, trembling, then flung himself prostrate before
Namu-Sarkkon, the living god! He lay long, waiting for his doom to
eclipse him, the flaming swords of the sun scathing his weary limbs,
the sweat from his temples dripping in tiny pools beside his eyes. At
last he moved, he knelt up, and shielding his stricken eyes with one
arm he gazed at the god, and saw now quite clearly a black butterfly
resting on the lid of one of Sarkkon’s eyes, inflecting its wings. He
gave a grunt of comprehension and relief. He got up and went among the
other figures. Close at hand they seemed fashioned of soft material,
like camphor or wax, that was slowly dissolving, leaving them little
more than stooks of clay, rough clod-like shapes of people, all but
one figure which seemed fixed in coloured marble, a woman of beauty so
wondrous to behold that the Assyrian bent his head in praise before
her, though but an image of stone. When he looked again at it the
black butterfly from the eyelid of the god fluttered between them and
settled upon the girl’s delicately carved lips for a moment, and then
away. Amazedly watching it travel back to the idol he heard a movement
and a sigh behind him. He leaped away, with his muscles distended, his
fingers outstretched, and fear bursting in his eyes. The beautiful
figure had moved a step towards him, holding out a caressing hand,
calling him by his name, his name!

“Talakku! Talakku!”

She stood thus almost as if again turned to stone, until his fear left
him and he saw only her beauty, and knew only her living loveliness
in a tunic of the sacred purple fringed with tinkling discs, that
was clipped to her waist with a zone of gold and veiled, even in the
stone, her secret hips and knees. The slender feet were guarded with
pantoffles of crimson hide. Green agates in strings of silver hung
beside her brows, depending from a fillet of gems that crowned and
confined the black locks tightly curled. Buds of amber and coral were
bound to her dusky wrists with threads of copper, and between the
delicacy of her brown breasts an amulet of beryl, like a blue and
gentle star, hung from a necklace made of balls of opal linked with
amethysts.

“Wonder of god! who are you?” whispered the warrior; but while he was
speaking she ran past him sweetly as an antelope to the dark god. He
heard the clicking of her beads and gems as she bent in reverence
kissing the huge stone feet of Sarkkon. He did not dare to approach her
although her presence filled him with rapture; he watched her obeisant
at the shrine and saw that one of her crimson shoes had slipped from
the clinging heel. What was she--girl or goddess, phantom or spirit of
the stone, or just some lunatic of the desert? But whatever she was it
was marvellous, and the marvel of it shocked him; time seemed to seethe
in every channel of his blood. He heard her again call out his name as
if from very far away.

“Talakku!”

He hastened to lift her from the pavement, and conquering his tremors
he grasped and lifted her roughly, as a victor might hale a captive.

“Pretty antelope, who are you?”

She turned her eyes slowly upon his--this was no captive, no
phantom--his intrepid arms fell back weakly to his sides.

“You will not know me, O brave Assyrian captain,” said the girl
gravely. “I was a weaver in the city of Eridu....”

“Eridu!” It was an ancient city heard of only in the old poems of his
country, as fabulous as snow in Canaan.

“Ai ... it is long since riven into dust. I was a slave in Eridu, not
... not a slave in spirit....”

“Beauty so rare is nobility enough,” he said shyly.

“I worshipped god Namu-Sarkkon--behold his shrine. Who loves
Namu-Sarkkon becomes what he wishes to become, gains what he wishes to
gain.”

“I have heard of these things,” exclaimed the Assyrian. “What did you
gain, what did you wish to become?”

“I worshipped here desiring in my heart to be loved by the King of the
World.”

“Who is he?”

She dropped her proud glances to the earth before him.

“Who was this King of the World?”

Still she made no reply nor lifted her eyes.

“Who are these figures that stand with us here?” he asked.

“Dead, all dead,” she sighed, “their destinies have closed. Only I
renew the destiny.”

She took his hand and led him among the wasting images.

“Merchants and poets, dead; princesses and slaves, dead; soldiers and
kings, they look on us with eyes of dust, dead, all dead. I alone of
Sarkkon’s worshippers live on enduringly; I desired only love. I feed
my spirit with new desire. I am the beam of his eye.”

“Come,” said the Assyrian suddenly, “I will carry you to Shinar; set
but my foot to that lost track ... will you?”

She shook her head gravely; “All roads lead to Sarkkon.”

“Why do we tarry here? Come.”

“Talakku, there is no way hence, no way for you, no way for me. We have
wandered into the boundless. What star returns from the sky, what drop
from the deep?”

Talakku looked at her with wonder, until the longing in his heart
lightened the shadow of his doom.

“Tell me what I must do,” he said.

She turned her eyes towards the dark god. “He knows,” she cried,
seizing his hands and drawing him towards the idol, “Come, Talakku.”

“No, no!” he said in awe, “I cannot worship there. Who can deny the
gods of his home and escape vengeance? In Shinar, beloved land, goes
not one bee unhived nor a bird without a bower. Shall I slip my
allegiance at every gust of the desert?”

For a moment a look of anguish appeared in her eyes.

“But if you will not leave this place,” he continued gently, “suffer me
to stay.”

“Talakku, in a while I must sink again into the stone.”

“By all the gods I will keep you till I die,” he said. “One day at
least I will walk in Paradise.”

“Talakku, not a day, not an hour; moments, moments, there are but
moments now.”

“Then, I am but dead,” he cried, “for in that stone your sleeping heart
will never dream of me.”

“O, you whip me with rods of lilies. Quick, Talakku.” He knew in her
urgent voice the divining hope with which she wooed him. Alas for the
Assyrian, he was but a man whose dying lips are slaked with wise honey.
He embraced her as in a dream under the knees of towering Sarkkon.
Her kisses, wrapt in the delicate veils of love, not the harsh brief
glister of passion, were more lulling than a thousand songs of lost
Shinar, but the time’s sweet swiftness pursued them. Her momentary life
had flown like a rushing star, swift and delighting but doomed. From
the heel of the god a beetle of green lustre began to creep towards
them.

“Farewell, Talakku,” cried the girl. She stood again in her place
before Namu-Sarkkon. “Have no fear, Talakku, prince of my heart. I will
lock up in your breast all my soft unsundering years. Like the bird of
fire they will surely spring again.”

He waited, dumb, beside her, and suddenly her limbs compacted into
stone once more. At the touch of his awed fingers her breast burned
with the heat of the sun instead of the wooing blood. Then the vast
silence of the world returned upon him; he looked in trembling
loneliness at the stark sky, the unending desert, at the black god
whose eye seemed to flicker balefully at him. Talakku turned to the
lovely girl, but once more amazement gathered in all his veins. No
longer stood her figure there--in its place he beheld only a stone
image of himself.

“This is the hour, O beauteous one!” murmured the Assyrian, and,
turning again towards the giant, he knelt in humility. His body
wavered, faltered, suddenly stiffened, and then dissolved into a little
heap of sand.

The same wind that unsealed Namu-Sarkkon and his shrine returning again
at eve covered anew the idol and its figures, and the dust of the
Assyrian captain became part of the desert for evermore.

       *       *       *       *       *

ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME

       *       *       *       *       *



ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME


... and in the whole of his days, vividly at the end of the
afternoon--he repeated it again and again to himself--the kind country
spaces had _never_ absorbed _quite_ so rich a glamour of light, so
miraculous a bloom of clarity. He could feel streaming in his own mind,
in his bones, the same crystalline brightness that lay upon the land.
Thoughts and images went flowing through him as easily and amiably as
fish swim in their pools; and as idly, too, for one of his speculations
took up the theme of his family name. There was such an agreeable
oddness about it, just as there was about all the luminous sky today,
that it touched him as just a little remarkable. What _did_ such a name
connote, signify, or symbolize? It was a rann of a name, but it had
euphony! Then again, like the fish, his ambulating fancy flashed into
other shallows, and he giggled as he paused, peering at the buds in the
brake. Turning back towards his house again he could see, beyond its
roofs, the spire of the Church tinctured richly as the vane: all round
him was a new grandeur upon the grass of the fields, and the spare
trees had shadows below that seemed to support them in the manner of a
plinth, more real than themselves, and the dykes and any chance heave
of the level fields were underlined, as if for special emphasis, with
long shades of mysterious blackness.

With a little drift of emotion that had at other times assailed him in
the wonder and ecstasy of pure light, Jaffa Codling pushed through the
slit in the back hedge and stood within his own garden. The gardener
was at work. He could hear the voices of the children about the lawn
at the other side of the house. He was very happy, and the place was
beautiful, a fine white many-windowed house rising from a lawn bowered
with plots of mould, turretted with shrubs, and overset with a vast
walnut tree. This house had deep clean eaves, a roof of faint coloured
slates that, after rain, glowed dully, like onyx or jade, under the
red chimneys, and half-way up at one end was a balcony set with black
balusters. He went to a French window that stood open and stepped into
the dining room. There was no-one within, and, on that lonely instant,
a strange feeling of emptiness dropped upon him. The clock ticked
almost as if it had been caught in some indecent act; the air was dim
and troubled after that glory outside. Well, now, he would go up at
once to his study and write down for his new book the ideas and images
he had accumulated--beautiful rich thoughts they were--during that
wonderful afternoon. He went to mount the stairs and he was passed by
one of the maids; humming a silly song she brushed past him rudely, but
he was an easy-going man--maids were unteachably tiresome--and reaching
the landing he sauntered towards his room. The door stood slightly
open and he could hear voices within. He put his hand upon the door
... it would not open any further. What the devil ... he pushed--like
the bear in the tale--and he pushed, and he pushed--was there something
against it on the other side? He put his shoulder to it ... some
wedge must be there, and _that_ was extraordinary. Then his whole
apprehension was swept up and whirled as by an avalanche--Mildred, his
wife, was in there; he could hear her speaking to a man in fair soft
tones and the rich phrases that could be used only by a woman yielding
a deep affection to him. Codling kept still. Her words burned on his
mind and thrilled him as if spoken to himself. There was a movement in
the room, then utter silence. He again thrust savagely at the partly
open door, but he could not stir it. The silence within continued. He
beat upon the door with his fists, crying; “Mildred, Mildred!” There
was no response, but he could hear the rocking arm chair commence to
swing to and fro. Pushing his hand round the edge of the door he tried
to thrust his head between the opening. There was not space for this,
but he could just peer into the corner of a mirror hung near, and this
is what he saw: the chair at one end of its swing, a man sitting in
it, and upon one arm of it Mildred, the beloved woman, with her lips
upon the man’s face, caressing him with her hands. Codling made another
effort to get into the room--as vain as it was violent. “Do you hear
me, Mildred?” he shouted. Apparently neither of them heard him; they
rocked to and fro while he gazed stupefied. What, in the name of God,
... What this ... was she bewitched ... were there such things after
all as magic, devilry!

He drew back and held himself quite steadily. The chair stopped
swaying, and the room grew awfully still. The sharp ticking of
the clock in the hall rose upon the house like the tongue of some
perfunctory mocker. Couldn’t they hear the clock? ... Couldn’t they
hear his heart? He had to put his hand upon his heart, for, surely,
in that great silence inside there, they would hear its beat, growing
so loud now that it seemed almost to stun him! Then in a queer way
he found himself reflecting, observing, analysing his own actions
and intentions. He found some of them to be just a little spurious,
counterfeit. He felt it would be easy, so perfectly easy to flash in
one blast of anger and annihilate the two. He would do nothing of
the kind. There was no occasion for it. People didn’t really do that
sort of thing, or, at least, not with a genuine passion. There was
no need for anger. His curiosity was satisfied, quite satisfied, he
was certain, he had not the remotest interest in the man. A welter of
unexpected thoughts swept upon his mind as he stood there. As a writer
of books he was often stimulated by the emotions and impulses of other
people, and now his own surprise was beginning to intrigue him, leaving
him, O, quite unstirred emotionally, but interesting him profoundly.

He heard the maid come stepping up the stairway again, humming her
silly song. He did not want a scene, or to be caught eavesdropping,
and so turned quickly to another door. It was locked. He sprang to
one beyond it; the handle would not turn. “Bah! what’s _up_ with ’em?”
But the girl was now upon him, carrying a tray of coffee things. “O,
Mary!” he exclaimed casually, “I....” To his astonishment the girl
stepped past him as if she did not hear or see him, tapped upon the
door of his study, entered, and closed the door behind her. Jaffa
Codling then got really angry. “Hell! were the blasted servants in it!”
He dashed to the door again and tore at the handle. It would not even
turn, and, though he wrenched with fury at it, the room was utterly
sealed against him. He went away for a chair with which to smash the
effrontery of that door. No, he wasn’t angry, either with his wife or
this fellow--Gilbert, she had called him--who had a strangely familiar
aspect as far as he had been able to take it in; but when one’s
servants ... faugh!

The door opened and Mary came forth smiling demurely. He was a few
yards further along the corridor at that moment. “Mary!” he shouted,
“leave the door open!” Mary carefully closed it and turned her back on
him. He sprang after her with bad words bursting from him as she went
towards the stairs and flitted lightly down, humming all the way as
if in derision. He leaped downwards after her three steps at a time,
but she trotted with amazing swiftness into the kitchen and slammed
the door in his face. Codling stood, but kept his hands carefully away
from the door, kept them behind him. “No, no,” he whispered cunningly,
“there’s something fiendish about door handles today, I’ll go and get a
bar, or a butt of timber,” and, jumping out into the garden for some
such thing, the miracle happened to him. For it was nothing else than
a miracle, the unbelievable, the impossible, simple and laughable if
you will, but having as much validity as any miracle can ever invoke.
It was simple and laughable because by all the known physical laws
he should have collided with his gardener, who happened to pass the
window with his wheelbarrow as Codling jumped out on to the path. And
it was unbelievable that they should not, and impossible that they
_did_ not collide; and it was miraculous, because Codling stood for
a brief moment in the garden path and the wheelbarrow of Bond, its
contents, and Bond himself passed apparently through the figure of
Codling as if he were so much air, as if he were not a living breathing
man but just a common ghost. There was no impact, just a momentary
breathlessness. Codling stood and looked at the retreating figure going
on utterly unaware of him. It is interesting to record that Codling’s
first feelings were mirthful. He giggled. He was jocular. He ran along
in front of the gardener, and let him pass through him once more;
then after him again; he scrambled into the man’s barrow, and was
wheeled about by this incomprehensible thick-headed gardener who was
dead to all his master’s efforts to engage his attention. Presently
he dropped the wheelbarrow and went away, leaving Codling to cogitate
upon the occurrence. There was no room for doubt, some essential part
of him had become detached from the obviously not less vital part. He
felt he was essential because he was responding to the experience,
he was re-acting in the normal way to normal stimuli, although he
happened for the time being to be invisible to his fellows and unable
to communicate with them. How had it come about--this queer thing? How
could he discover what part of him had cut loose, as it were? There
was no question of this being death; death wasn’t funny, it wasn’t
a joke; he had still all his human instincts. You didn’t get angry
with a faithless wife or joke with a fool of a gardener if you were
dead, certainly not! He had realized enough of himself to know he was
the usual man of instincts, desires, and prohibitions, complex and
contradictory; his family history for a million or two years would have
denoted that, not explicitly--obviously impossible--but suggestively.
He had found himself doing things he had no desire to do, doing things
he had a desire not to do, thinking thoughts that had no contiguous
meanings, no meanings that could be related to his general experience.
At odd times he had been chilled--aye, and even agreeably surprised--at
the immense potential evil in himself. But still, this was no mere
Jekyl and Hyde affair, that a man and his own ghost should separately
inhabit the same world was a horse of quite another colour. The other
part of him was alive and active somewhere ... as alive ... as alive
... yes, as _he_ was, but dashed if he knew where! What a lark when
they got back to each other and compared notes! In his tales he had
brooded over so many imagined personalities, followed in the track of
so many psychological enigmas that he _had_ felt at times a stranger
to himself. What if, after all, that brooding had given him the faculty
of projecting this figment of himself into the world of men. Or was he
some unrealized latent element of being without its natural integument,
doomed now to drift over the ridge of the world for ever. Was it his
personality, his spirit? Then how was the dashed thing working? Here
was he with the most wonderful happening in human experience, and he
couldn’t differentiate or disinter things. He was like a new Adam flung
into some old Eden.

There was Bond tinkering about with some plants a dozen yards in front
of him. Suddenly his three children came round from the other side of
the house, the youngest boy leading them, carrying in his hand a small
sword which was made, not of steel, but of some more brightly shining
material; indeed it seemed at one moment to be of gold, and then again
of flame, transmuting everything in its neighbourhood into the likeness
of flame, the hair of the little girl Eve, a part of Adam’s tunic; and
the fingers of the boy Gabriel as he held the sword were like pale
tongues of fire. Gabriel, the youngest boy, went up to the gardener
and gave the sword into his hands, saying: “Bond, is this sword any
good?” Codling saw the gardener take the weapon and examine it with
a careful sort of smile; his great gnarled hands became immediately
transparent, the blood could be seen moving diligently about the veins.
Codling was so interested in the sight that he did not gather in the
gardener’s reply. The little boy was dissatisfied and repeated his
question, “No, but Bond, _is_ this sword any good?” Codling rose, and
stood by invisible. The three beautiful children were grouped about the
great angular figure of the gardener in his soiled clothes, looking
up now into his face, and now at the sword, with anxiety in all their
puckered eyes. “Well, Marse Gabriel,” Codling could hear him reply, “as
far as a sword goes, it may be a good un, or it may be a bad un, but,
good as it is, it can never be anything but a bad thing.” He then gave
it back to them; the boy Adam held the haft of it, and the girl Eve
rubbed the blade with curious fingers. The younger boy stood looking
up at the gardener with unsatisfied gaze. “But, Bond, _can’t_ you say
if this sword’s any _good_?” Bond turned to his spade and trowels.
“Mebbe the shape of it’s wrong, Marse Gabriel, though it seems a pretty
handy size.” Saying this he moved off across the lawn. Gabriel turned
to his brother and sister and took the sword from them; they all
followed after the gardener and once more Gabriel made enquiry: “Bond,
is this sword any _good_?” The gardener again took it and made a few
passes in the air like a valiant soldier at exercise. Turning then, he
lifted a bright curl from the head of Eve and cut it off with a sweep
of the weapon. He held it up to look at it critically and then let it
fall to the ground. Codling sneaked behind him and, picking it up,
stood stupidly looking at it. “Mebbe, Marse Gabriel,” the gardener was
saying, “it ud be better made of steel, but it has a smartish edge on
it.” He went to pick up the barrow but Gabriel seized it with a spasm
of anger, and cried out: “No, no, Bond, will you say, just yes or no,
Bond, is this sword any _good_?” The gardener stood still, and looked
down at the little boy, who repeated his question--“just yes or no,
Bond!” “No, Marse Gabriel!” “Thank you, Bond!” replied the child with
dignity, “that’s all we wanted to know,” and, calling to his mates to
follow him, he ran away to the other side of the house.

Codling stared again at the beautiful lock of hair in his hand, and
felt himself grow so angry that he picked up a strange looking flower
pot at his feet and hurled it at the retreating gardener. It struck
Bond in the middle of the back and, passing clean through him, broke on
the wheel of his barrow, but Bond seemed to be quite unaware of this
catastrophe. Codling rushed after, and, taking the gardener by the
throat, he yelled, “Damn you, will you tell me what all this means?”
But Bond proceeded calmly about his work un-noticing, carrying his
master about as if he were a clinging vapour, or a scarf hung upon
his neck. In a few moments, Codling dropped exhausted to the ground.
“What.... O Hell ... what, what am I to do?” he groaned, “What has
happened to me? What shall I _do_? What _can_ I do?” He looked at the
broken flowerpot. “Did I invent that?” He pulled out his watch. “That’s
a real watch, I hear it ticking, and it’s six o’clock.” Was he dead or
disembodied or mad? What was this infernal lapse of identity? And who
the devil, yes, who was it upstairs with Mildred? He jumped to his feet
and hurried to the window; it was shut; to the door, it was fastened;
he was powerless to open either. Well! well! this was experimental
psychology with a vengeance, and he began to chuckle again. He’d have
to write to McDougall about it. Then he turned and saw Bond wheeling
across the lawn towards him again. “_Why_ is that fellow always shoving
that infernal green barrow around?” he asked, and, the fit of fury
seizing him again, he rushed towards Bond, but, before he reached him,
the three children danced into the garden again, crying, with great
excitement, “Bond, O, Bond!” The gardener stopped and set down the
terrifying barrow; the children crowded about him, and Gabriel held
out another shining thing, asking: “Bond, is this box any _good_?” The
gardener took the box and at once his eyes lit up with interest and
delight. “O, Marse Gabriel, where’d ye get it? Where’d ye get it?”
“Bond,” said the boy impatiently, “Is the box any _good_?” “Any good?”
echoed the man, “Why, Marse Gabriel, Marse Adam, Miss Eve, look yere!”
Holding it down in front of them, he lifted the lid from the box and a
bright coloured bird flashed out and flew round and round above their
heads. “O,” screamed Gabriel with delight, “It’s a kingfisher!” “That’s
what it is,” said Bond, “a kingfisher!” “Where?” asked Adam. “Where?”
asked Eve. “There it flies--round the fountain--see it? see it!” “No,”
said Adam. “No,” said Eve.

“O, do, do, see it,” cried Gabriel, “here it comes, it’s coming!” and,
holding his hands on high, and standing on his toes, the child cried
out as happy as the bird which Codling saw flying above them.

“I can’t see it,” said Adam.

“Where is it, Gaby?” asked Eve.

“O, you stupids,” cried the boy, “_There_ it goes. There it goes ...
there ... it’s gone!”

He stood looking brightly at Bond, who replaced the lid.

“What shall we do now?” he exclaimed eagerly. For reply, the gardener
gave the box into his hand, and walked off with the barrow. Gabriel
took the box over to the fountain. Codling, unseen, went after him,
almost as excited as the boy; Eve and her brother followed. They sat
upon the stone tank that held the falling water. It was difficult for
the child to unfasten the lid; Codling attempted to help him, but he
was powerless. Gabriel looked up into his father’s face and smiled.
Then he stood up and said to the others:

“Now, _do_ watch it this time.”

They all knelt carefully beside the water. He lifted the lid and,
behold, a fish like a gold carp, but made wholly of fire, leaped from
the box into the fountain. The man saw it dart down into the water, he
saw the water bubble up behind it, he heard the hiss that the junction
of fire and water produces, and saw a little track of steam follow the
bubbles about the tank until the figure of the fish was consumed and
disappeared. Gabriel, in ecstasies, turned to his sister with blazing
happy eyes, exclaiming:

“There! Evey!”

“What was it?” asked Eve, nonchalantly, “I didn’t see anything.”

“More didn’t I,” said Adam.

“Didn’t you see that lovely fish?”

“No,” said Adam.

“No,” said Eve.

“O, stupids,” cried Gabriel, “it went right past the bottom of the
water.”

“Let’s get a fishin’ hook,” said Adam.

“No, no, no,” said Gabriel, replacing the lid of the box. “O no.”

Jaffa Codling had remained on his knees staring at the water so long
that, when he looked around him again, the children had gone away.
He got up and went to the door, and that was closed; the windows,
fastened. He went moodily to a garden bench and sat on it with folded
arms. Dusk had begun to fall into the shrubs and trees, the grass
to grow dull, the air chill, the sky to muster its gloom. Bond had
overturned his barrow, stalled his tools in the lodge, and gone to his
home in the village. A curious cat came round the house and surveyed
the man who sat chained to his seven-horned dilemma. It grew dark and
fearfully silent. Was the world empty now? Some small thing, a snail
perhaps, crept among the dead leaves in the hedge, with a sharp,
irritating noise. A strange flood of mixed thoughts poured through his
mind until at last one idea disentangled itself, and he began thinking
with tremendous fixity of little Gabriel. He wondered if he could brood
or meditate, or “will” with sufficient power to bring him into the
garden again. The child had just vaguely recognized him for a moment
at the waterside. He’d try that dodge, telepathy was a mild kind of a
trick after so much of the miraculous. If he’d lost his blessed body,
at least the part that ate and smoked and talked to Mildred.... He
stopped as his mind stumbled on a strange recognition.... What a joke,
of course ... idiot ... not to have seen _that_. He stood up in the
garden with joy ... of course, _he_ was upstairs with Mildred, it was
himself, the other bit of him, that Mildred had been talking to. What a
howling fool he’d been.

He found himself concentrating his mind on the purpose of getting the
child Gabriel into the garden once more, but it was with a curious
mood that he endeavoured to establish this relationship. He could not
fix his will into any calm intensity of power, or fixity of purpose,
or pleasurable mental ecstasy. The utmost force seemed to come with a
malicious threatening splenetic “entreaty.” That damned snail in the
hedge broke the thread of his meditation; a dog began to bark sturdily
from a distant farm; the faculties of his mind became joggled up like
a child’s picture puzzle, and he brooded unintelligibly upon such
things as skating and steam engines, and Elizabethan drama so lapped
about with themes like jealousy and chastity. Really now, Shakespeare’s
Isabella was the most consummate snob in.... He looked up quickly to
his wife’s room and saw Gabriel step from the window to the balcony
as if he were fearful of being seen. The boy lifted up his hands and
placed the bright box on the rail of the balcony. He looked up at the
faint stars for a moment or two, and then carefully released the lid of
the box. What came out of it and rose into the air appeared to Codling
to be just a piece of floating light, but as it soared above the roof
he saw it grow to be a little ancient ship, with its hull and fully
set sails and its three masts all of faint primrose flame colour. It
cleaved through the air, rolling slightly as a ship through the wave,
in widening circles above the house, making a curving ascent until it
lost the shape of a vessel and became only a moving light hurrying to
some sidereal shrine. Codling glanced at the boy on the balcony, but
in that brief instant something had happened, the ship had burst like
a rocket and released three coloured drops of fire which came falling
slowly, leaving beautiful grey furrows of smoke in their track. Gabriel
leaned over the rail with outstretched palms, and, catching the green
star and the blue one as they drifted down to him, he ran with a rill
of laughter back into the house. Codling sprang forward just in time
to catch the red star; it lay vividly blasting his own palm for a
monstrous second, and then, slipping through, was gone. He stared at
the ground, at the balcony, the sky, and then heard an exclamation ...
his wife stood at his side.

“Gilbert! How you frightened me!” she cried, “I thought you were in
your room; come along in to dinner.” She took his arm and they walked
up the steps into the dining room together. “Just a moment,” said her
husband, turning to the door of the room. His hand was upon the handle,
which turned easily in his grasp, and he ran upstairs to his own room.
He opened the door. The light was on, the fire was burning brightly,
a smell of cigarette smoke about, pen and paper upon his desk, the
Japanese book-knife, the gilt matchbox, everything all right, no
one there. He picked up a book from his desk.... _Monna Vanna._ His
bookplate was in it--_Ex Libris_--_Gilbert Cannister_. He put it down
beside the green dish; two yellow oranges were in the green dish, and
two most deliberately green Canadian apples rested by their side. He
went to the door and swung it backwards and forwards quite easily. He
sat on his desk trying to piece the thing together, glaring at the
print and the book-knife and the smart matchbox, until his wife came up
behind him exclaiming: “Come along, Gilbert!”

“Where are the kids, old man?” he asked her, and, before she replied,
he had gone along to the nursery. He saw the two cots, his boy in one,
his girl in the other. He turned whimsically to Mildred, saying, “There
_are_ only two, _are_ there?” Such a question did not call for reply,
but he confronted her as if expecting some assuring answer. She was
staring at him with her bright beautiful eyes.

“Are there?” he repeated.

“How strange you should ask me that now!” she said.... “If you’re a
very good man ... perhaps....”

“Mildred!”

She nodded brightly.

He sat down in the rocking chair, but got up again saying to her
gently--“We’ll call him Gabriel.”

“But, suppose--”

“No, no,” he said, stopping her lovely lips, “I know all about him.”
And he told her a pleasant little tale.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE PRINCESS OF KINGDOM GONE

       *       *       *       *       *



THE PRINCESS OF KINGDOM GONE


Long ago a princess ruled over a very tiny kingdom, too small, indeed,
for ambition. Had it been larger she might have been a queen, and had
it been seven times larger, so people said, she would certainly have
been an empress. As it was, the barbarians referred to her country
as “that field!” or put other indignities upon it which, as she was
high-minded, the princess did not heed, or, if she did heed, had too
much pride to acknowledge.

In other realms her mansion, her beautiful mansion, would have been
called a castle, or even a palace, so high was the wall, crowned with
pink tiles, that enclosed and protected it from evil. The common gaze
was warded from the door by a grove of thorns and trees, through which
an avenue curved a long way round from the house to the big gate.
The gate was of knotted oak, but it had been painted and grained
most cleverly to represent some other fabulous wood. There was this
inscription upon it: NO HAWKERS, NO CIRCULARS, NO GRATUITIES. Everybody
knew the princess had not got any of these things, but it was because
they also knew the mansion had no throne in it that people sneered,
really--but how unreasonable; you might just as well grumble at a
chime that hadn’t got a clock! As the princess herself remarked--“What
_is_ a throne without highmindedness!”--hinting, of course, at certain
people whom I dare not name. Behind the mansion lay a wondrous garden,
like the princess herself above everything in beauty. A very private
bower was in the midst of it, guarded with corridors of shaven yew and
a half-circle hedge of arbutus and holly. A slim river flowed, not by
dispensation, but by accident, through the bower, and the bed and bank
of it, screened by cypresses, had been lined, not by accident but by
design--so strange are the workings of destiny--with tiles and elegant
steps for a bathing pool. Here the princess, when the blazon of the sun
was enticing, used to take off her robes of silk and her garments of
linen and walk about the turf of the bower around the squinancy tree
before slipping into the dark velvet water.

One day when she stepped out from the pool she discovered a lot of
crimson flower petals clinging to her white skin. “How beautiful
they are,” she cried, picking up her mirror, “and where do they come
from?” As soon as convenient she enquired upon this matter of her Lord
Chancellor, a man named Smith who had got on very well in life but was
a bit of a smudge.

“Crimson petals in the bath!”

“Yes, they have floated down with the stream.”

“How disgusting! Very! I’ll make instant enquiries!”

He searched and he searched--he was very thorough was Smith--but though
his researches took no end of time, and he issued a bulky dossier
commanding all and sundry to attach the defiant person of the miscreant
or miscreants who had defiled the princess’s bath stream or pool with
refuse detritus or scum, offering, too, rewards for information leading
to his, her or their detection, conviction, and ultimate damnation,
they availed him not. The princess continued to bathe and to emerge
joyfully from the stream covered with petals and looking as wonderful
as a crimson leopard. She caught some of the petals with a silver net;
she dried them upon the sunlight and hid them in the lining of her
bed, for they were full of acrid but pleasing odours. So she herself
early one morning walked abroad, early indeed, and passed along the
river until she came to the field adjoining the mansion. Very sweet and
strange the world seemed in the quiet after dawn. She stopped beside a
half-used rick to look about her; there was a rush of surprised wings
behind the stack and a thousand starlings fled up into the air. She
heard their wings beating the air until they had crossed the river
and dropped gradually into an elm tree like a black shower. Then she
perceived a tall tree shining with crimson blooms and long dark boughs
bending low upon the river. Near it a tiny red cottage stood in the
field like a painted box, surrounded by green triangular bushes. It was
a respectable looking cottage, named _River View_. On her approach the
door suddenly opened, and a youth with a towel, just that and nothing
more, emerged. He took flying rejoicing leaps towards the flaming
tree, sprung upon its lowest limb and flung himself into the stream.
He glided there like a rod of ivory, but a crimson shower fell from
the quivering tree and veiled the pleasing boy until he climbed out
upon the opposite bank and stood covered, like a leopard, with splendid
crimson scars. The princess dared peer no longer; she retraced her
steps, musing homewards to breakfast, and was rude to Smith because he
was such a fool not to have discovered the young man who lived next
door under the mysterious tree.

At the earliest opportunity she left a card at _River View_. Narcissus
was the subject’s name, and in due time he came to dinner, and they
had green grapes and black figs, nuts like sweet wax and wine like
melted amethysts. The princess loved him so much that he visited her
very often and stayed very late. He was only a poet and she a princess,
so she could not possibly marry him although this was what she very
quickly longed to do; but as she was only a princess, and he a poet
clinking his golden spurs, he did not want to be married to her. He had
thick curling locks of hair red as copper, the mild eyes of a child,
and a voice that could outsing a thousand delightful birds. When she
heard his soft laughter in the dim delaying eve he grew strange and
alluring to the princess. She knew it was because he was so beautiful
that everybody loved him and wanted to win and keep him, but he had no
inclination for anything but his art--which was to express himself.
That was very sad for the princess; to be able to retain nothing of him
but his poems, his fading images, while he himself eluded her as the
wind eludes all detaining arms, forest and feather, briar and down of
a bird. He did not seem to be a man at all but just a fairy image that
slipped from her arms, gone, like brief music in the moonlight, before
she was aware.

When he fell sick she watched by his bed.

“Tell me,” she murmured, her wooing palms caressing his flaming hair,
“tell me you love me.”

All he would answer was: “I dream of loving you, and I love dreaming of
you, but how can I tell if I love you?”

Very tremulous but arrogant she demanded of him: “Shall I not know if
you love me at all?”

“Ask the fox in your brake, the hart upon your mountain. I can never
know if you love _me_.”

“I have given you my deepest vows, Narcissus; love like this is wider
than the world.”

“The same wind blows in desert as in grove.”

“You do not love at all.”

“Words are vain, princess, but when I die, put these white hands like
flowers about my heart; if I dream the unsleeping dream I will tell you
there.”

“My beloved,” she said, “if you die I will put upon your grave a shrine
of silver, and in it an ark of gold jewelled with green garnets and
pink sapphires. My spirit should dwell in it alone and wait for you;
until you came back again I could not live.”

The poet died.

The princess was wild with grief, but she commanded her Lord Chancellor
and he arranged magnificent obsequies. The shrine of silver and the ark
of jewelled gold were ordered, a grave dug in a new planted garden
more wonderful than the princess’s bower, and a _To Let_ bill appeared
in the window of _River View_. At last Narcissus, with great pomp, was
buried, the shrine and the ark of gold were clapped down upon him,
and the princess in blackest robes was led away weeping on the arm of
Smith--Smith was wonderful.

The sun that evening did not set--it mildly died out of the sky.
Darkness came into the meadows, the fogs came out of them and hovered
over the river and the familiar night sounds began. The princess sat in
the mansion with a lonely heart from which all hopes were receding; no,
not receding, she could see only the emptiness from which all her hopes
had gone.

At midnight the spirit of Narcissus in its cerecloth rose up out of the
grave, frail as a reed; rose out of its grave and stood in the cloudy
moonlight beside the shrine and the glittering ark. He tapped upon the
jewels with his fingers but there was no sound came from it, no fire,
no voice. “O holy love,” sighed the ghost, “it is true what I feared,
it is true, alas, it is true!” And lifting again his vague arm he
crossed out the inscription on his tomb and wrote there instead with a
grey and crumbling finger his last poem:

  _Pride and grief in your heart,
  Love and grief in mine._

Then he crept away until he came to the bower in the princess’s garden.
It was all silent and cold; the moon was touching with brief beam the
paps of the plaster Diana. The ghost laid himself down to rest for
ever beneath the squinancy tree, to rest and to wait; he wanted to
forestall time’s inscrutable awards. He sank slowly into the earth as
a knot of foam slips through the beach of the seashore. Deep down he
rested and waited.

Day after day, month after month, the constant princess went to her
new grove of lamentation. The grave garden was magnificent with holy
flowers, the shrine polished and glistening, the inscription crisp and
clear--the ghost’s erasure being vain for mortal eyes. In the ark she
knew her spirit brooded and yearned, she fancied she could see its tiny
flame behind the garnets and sapphires, and in a way this gave her
happiness. Meanwhile her own once happy bower was left to neglect. The
bolt rusted in its gate, the shrubs rioted, tree trunks were crusted
with oozy fungus, their boughs cracked to decay, the rose fell rotten,
and toads and vermin lurked in the desolation of the glades. ’Twas
pitiful; ’twas as if the heart of the princess had left its pleasant
bower and had indeed gone to live in her costly shrine.

In the course of time she was forced to go away on business of state
and travelled for many months; on her return the face of the Lord
Chancellor was gloomy with misery. The golden ark had been stolen.
Alarm and chagrin filled the princess. She went to the grave. It too
had now grown weedy and looked forlorn. It was as if her own heart had
been stolen away from her. “Oh,” she moaned, “what does it matter!”
and, turning away, went home to her bower. There, among that sad
sight, she saw a strange new tree almost in bloom. She gave orders for
the pool to be cleansed and the bower restored to its former beauty.
This was done, and on a bright day when the blazon of the sun was kind
she went into the bower again, flung her black robes from her, and
slipped like a rod of ivory into the velvet water. There were no blooms
to gather now, though she searched with her silver net, but as she
walked from the pool her long hair caught in the boughs of the strange
tall squinancy tree, and in the disentangling it showered upon her
beautiful crimson blooms that as they fell lingered upon her hips, her
sweet shoulders, and kissed her shining knees.

       *       *       *       *       *

COMMUNION

       *       *       *       *       *



COMMUNION


He was of years calendared in unreflecting minds as tender years, and
he was clothed in tough corduroy knickerbockers, once the habiliments
of a huger being, reaching to the tops of some boots shod with
tremendous nails and fastened by bits of fugitive string. His jacket
was certainly the jacket of a child--possibly some dead one, for it
was not his own--and in lieu of a collar behold a twist of uncoloured,
unclean flannel. Pink face, pink hands, yellow hair, a quite
unredeemable dampness about his small nose--altogether he was a country
boy.

“What are you doing there, Tom Prowse?” asked Grainger, the sexton,
entering to him suddenly one Saturday afternoon. The boy was sitting on
a bench in the empty nave, hands on knees, looking towards the altar.
He rose to his feet and went timidly through the doorway under the
stern glance of that tall tall man, whose height enabled him to look
around out of a grave when it was completely dug. “You pop on out of
’ere,” said Grainger, threateningly, but to himself, when the boy had
gone.

Walking into the vestry Grainger emptied his pockets of a number of
small discarded bottles and pots of various shapes and uses--ink
bottles, bottles for gum and meat extract, fish-paste pots, and tins
which had contained candy. He left them there. The boy, after he had
watched him go away, came back and resumed his seat behind one of the
round piers.

A lady dressed in black entered and, walking to the front stall under
the pulpit, knelt down. The boy stared at the motionless figure for a
long time until his eyes ached and the intense silence made him cough
a little. He was surprised at the booming hollow echo and coughed
again. The lady continued bowed in her place; he could hear her lips
whispering sibilantly: the wind came into the porch with sudden gust
and lifted the arras at the door. Turning he knocked his clumsy boots
against the bench. After that the intense silence came back again,
humming in his ears and almost stopping his breath, until he heard
footsteps on the gravel path. The vicar’s maid entered and went towards
the vestry. She wished to walk softly when she observed the kneeling
lady but her left shoe squeaked stubbornly as she moved, and both heels
and soles echoed in sharp tones along the tiles of the chancel. The
boy heard the rattle of a bucket handle and saw the maid place the
bucket beside the altar and fetch flowers and bottles and pots from
the vestry. Some she stood upon the table of the altar; others, tied
by pieces of string, she hung in unique positions upon the front and
sides, filling them with water from the pail as she did so; and because
the string was white, and the altar was white, and the ugly bottles
were hidden in nooks of moss, it looked as if the very cloth of the
altar sprouted with casual bloom.

Not until the maid had departed did the lady who had been bowed so long
lift up her head adoringly towards the brass cross; the boy overheard
her deep sigh; then she, too, went away, and in a few moments more the
boy followed and walked clumsily, thoughtfully, to his home.

His father was the village cobbler. He was a widower, and he was a
freethinker too; no mere passive rejector of creeds, but an active
opponent with a creed of his own, which if less violent was not less
bigoted than those he so witheringly decried. The child Tom had never
been allowed to attend church; until today, thus furtively, he had
never even entered one, and in the day school religious instruction had
been forbidden by his atheistic father. But while faith goes on working
its miracles the whirligigs of unfaith bring on revenges. The boy now
began to pay many secret visits to the church. He would walk under
the western tower and slip his enclosing palms up and down the woolly
rope handles, listen to the slow beat of the clock, and rub with his
wristband the mouldings of the brass lectern with the ugly bird on a
ball and the three singular chubby animals at the foot, half ox, half
dog, displaying monstrous teeth. He scrutinized the florid Georgian
memorial fixed up the wall, recording the virtues, which he could not
read, of a departed Rodney Giles; made of marble, there were two naked
fat little boys with wings; they pointed each with one hand towards
the name, and with the other held a handkerchief each to one tearful
eye. This was very agreeable to young Prowse, but most he loved to
sit beside one of the pillars--the stone posties, he called them--and
look at the window above the altar where for ever half a dozen angels
postured rhythmically upon the ladder of Jacob.

One midsummer evening, after evensong, he entered for his usual
meditation. He had no liking for any service or ritual; he had no
apprehension of the spiritual symbols embodied in the building; he
only liked to sit there in the quiet, gazing at things in a dumb sort
of way, taking, as it were, a bath of holiness. He sat a long time;
indeed, so still was he, he might have been dozing as the legions of
dead parishioners had dozed during interminable dead sermons. When he
went to the door--the light having grown dim--he found it was locked.
He was not at all alarmed at his situation: he went and sat down again.
In ten minutes or so he again approached the door ... it was still
locked. Then he walked up the aisle to the chancel steps and crossed
the choir for the first time. Choristers’ robes were in the vestry, and
soon, arrayed in cassock and surplice, he was walking with a singular
little dignity to his old seat by one of the pillars. He sat there with
folded hands, the church growing gloomier now; he climbed into the
pulpit and turned over the leaves of the holy book; he sat in the choir
stalls, pretended to play the organ, and at last went before the altar
and, kneeling at the rails, clasped his orthodox hands and murmured,
as he had heard others murmuring there, a rigmarole of his scholastic
hours:

  _Thirty days hath September,
  April, June and November.
  All the rest have thirty-one,
  Excepting February alone,
  And leap year coming once in four,
  February then has one day more._

Re-entering the vestry, he observed on a shelf in a niche a small loaf
wrapped in a piece of linen. He felt hungry and commenced to devour the
bread, and from a goblet there he drank a little sip of sweet tasting
wine. He liked the wine very much, and drank more and more of it.

There was nothing else to be done now in the darkness, so he went on
to the soft carpet within the altar rails, and, piling up a few of the
praying mats from the choir--little red cushions they were, stamped
with black fleur-de-lys, which he admired much in the daylight--he fell
asleep.

And he slept long and deeply until out of some wonderful place he began
to hear the word “Ruffian, Ruffian,” shouted with anger and harshness.
He was pulled roughly to his feet, and apprehension was shaken into his
abominable little head.

The morning sunlight was coming through the altar window, and the
vicar’s appearance was many-coloured as a wheelwright’s door; he had a
green face, and his surplice was scaled with pink and purple gouts like
a rash from some dreadful rainbow. And dreadful indeed was the vicar as
he thrust the boy down the altar steps into the vestry, hissing as he
did, “Take off those things!” and darting back to throw the cushions
into proper places to support the knees of the expected devotees.

“Now, how did you get in here?” he demanded, angrily.

The boy hung up the cassock: “Someone locked me in last night, Sir.”

“Who was it?”

“I dunno, Sir, they locked me in all night.”

His interrogator glared at him for a moment in silence, and the boy
could not forbear a yawn. Thereat the vicar seized him by the ear
and, pulling it with such animation as to contort his own features as
well as the child’s, dragged him to the vestry door, gurgling with
uncontrolled vexation, “Get out of this. Get out ... you ... you beast!”

As the boy went blinking down the nave the tenor bell began to ring;
the stone posties looked serene and imperturbable in new clean
sunlight, and that old blackbird was chirping sweetly in the lilac at
the porch.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE QUIET WOMAN

       *       *       *       *       *



THE QUIET WOMAN


It was the loneliest place in the world, Hardross said. A little
cogitation and much experience had given him the fancy that the ark
of the kingdom of solitude was lodged in a lift, any lift, carrying a
charter of mute passengers from the pavement to any sort of Parnassus.
Nothing ever disturbs its velveteen progression; no one ever speaks
to the lift man (unless it happens to be a lift girl). At Hardross’s
place of abode it happened to be a lift boy, sharp and white-faced,
whose tough hair was swept backwards in a stiff lock from his brow,
while his pert nose seemed inclined to pursue it. His name was Brown.
His absences from duty were often coincident with the arrivals and
departures of Mr. Hardross. His hands were brown enough if the beholder
carried some charity in his bosom, but the aspect of his collar or his
shoes engendered a deal of vulgar suspicion, and his conduct was at
once inscrutable and unscrupulous. It may have been for this reason
that Hardross had lately begun walking the whole downward journey from
his high chamber, but it must have been something less capricious that
caused him always to essay the corresponding upward flight. A fancy
for exercise perhaps, for he was a robust musician, unmarried, and of
course, at thirty-three or thirty-four, had come to the years of those
indiscretions which he could with impunity and without reprobation
indulge.

On the second floor, outside the principal door of one set of chambers,
there always stood a small console table; it was just off the landing,
in an alcove that covered two other doors, a little dark angular-limbed
piece of furniture bearing a green lacquer dish of void visiting cards,
a heap that seemed neither to increase nor dwindle but lay there as if
soliciting, so naïvely, some further contributions. Two maiden ladies,
the Misses Pilcher, who kept these rooms, had gone to France for a
summer holiday, but though the flat had for the time being some new
occupants the console table still kept its place, the dish of cards
of course languishing rather unhopefully. The new tenants were also
two ladies, but they were clearly not sisters and just as clearly not
Pilcherly old maids. One of them, Hardross declared, was the loveliest
creature he had ever seen. She was dark, almost tall, about as tall
as Hardross though a little less robust and rather more graceful.
Her mature scarlet lips and charming mature eyes seemed always to be
wanting to speak to him. But she did not speak to him, even when he
modestly tried to overcome, well, not her reserve--no one with such
sparkling eyes could possibly be reserved--but her silence. He often
passed her on the landing but he did not hear her voice, or music, or
speech, or any kind of intercourse within the room. He called her The
Quiet Woman. The other lady, much older, was seldom seen; she was of
great dignity. The younger one walked like a woman conscious and proud
of the beauty underneath her beautiful clothes; the soft slippers she
wore seemed charged with that silent atmosphere. Even the charwoman
who visited them daily and rattled and swept about was sealed of the
conspiracy of silence; at least he never caught--though it must be
confessed that he guiltily tried--the passage of a single word. What
was the mystery of the obstinately silent ménage? Did the elder lady
suffer from sorrow or nerves; was she under a vow; was she a genius
writing a sublime book?

The voiceless character of the intercourse did not prevent Hardross
becoming deeply enamoured and at the same time deeply baffled.
Morning and evening as he went to the great city church of which he
was organist he would often catch a glimpse of his quiet woman on
the stairs. At favourable junctures he had lifted his hat and said
Good-morning or Good-evening, but she had turned away as if overcome by
confusion or an excess of propriety.

“I am a coward,” he would think; “shyness and diffidence rule me, they
curse me, they ruin my life; but she, good heavens! is extraordinarily
retiring. Why, I am just a satyr, a rampant raging satyr, a satyr!” And
he would liken her to Diana, always darting with such fawnlike modesty
from the alcove whenever he approached. He did not even know her name.
He wanted to enquire of the lift boy Brown or the porter, but there
again he lacked the casual touch to bring off the information. The boy
was too young, too cute, too vulgar, and the porter too taciturn, as
difficult for Hardross to approach as an archbishop would have been.
But Miss Barker now, that milliner, down below on the ground floor!
She would know; she knew everybody and everything about the chambers
including, quite familiarly, Hardross himself--she would be sure to
know. But even she would have to be approached with discrimination.

“Evening, Miss Barker!” he cried. The good-looking spinster peered up
from a half-trimmed bonnet. “When do _you_ go for a holiday, then?”

“Holidays,” she sighed, though the corner of her mouth was packed with
pins, “I cannot afford holidays.”

“Ho-ho, you can’t afford!”

Their common fund of repartee lay in his confident assumption that she
was rolling in surplus income and her counter assertion that she was
stricken in poverty; that people--the pigs--would not pay her prices,
or that those who did not flinch at her prices would not pay her bills.

“Astonishing, deplorable, this Mammon-worship!” he declared, leaning
genially upon her table; “you know, it breaks my heart to see you a
slave to it, a woman of a thousand, ten thousand in fact. Give it up,
O,”--he beat the table with his hand--“give it up before it is too
late!”

“Too late for what?” she asked.

“Why, all the delightful things a woman like you could do.”

“As what?”

“O ... travel, glories of nature, you know, friendship, men ... love
itself.”

“Give me all the money I want,”--she was brusque about it, and began
to dab the unwanted pins back into their cushion--“and I’ll buy, yes
_buy_, a sweetheart for each day in the week.”

“Heavens now!” He was chilled by this implication of an experience that
may have been dull, that must have been bitter, but he floundered on:
“What now would you give for me?”

“For you!” She contemplated him with gravity: “To be sure I had not
thought of you, not in that way.”

“O but please _do_ think of me, dear lady, put me in your deepest
regard.”

The ghost of a knowing grin brushed her features. Really a charming
woman, in parts. A little stout, perhaps, and she had fat red hands,
but her heart was a good substantial organ, it was in the right place,
and her features seemed the best for wear.

“You are one of those surprising ladies”--he plunged gaily--“who’ve a
long stocking somewhere, with trunks full of shares and scrip, stocks
at the bank and mortgages at your solicitor’s. O yes, yes,” he cried
out against her protestation, “and you will make a strange will leaving
it all to me!”

She shook her head hopelessly, bending again over the bonnet whose
desperate skeleton she had clothed with a flounce of crimson velvet.
She was very quiet.

“Have I been rude?” he hazarded. “Forgive me.”

“Well, it’s not true,” she insisted.

“Forgive me--I have hurt you--of course it’s not true.”

Apparently she forgave him; he was soon asking if there were any rooms
to let in the building. “Furnished, I mean.” He gave rein to his naïve
strategy: “I have friends who want to come here and stay with me for a
short holiday. I thought you might know of some.”

“In these flats?” She shook her head, but he persisted and played his
artful card:

“The Miss Pilchers, on the second floor, haven’t they gone away?”

She did not know--why not ask the porter.

“Yes, I must ask the porter, but I can never catch the porter, he is so
fugitive, he is always cutting his lucky. I hate that man, don’t you?”

And there, temporarily, he had to leave it.

So many days passed now without a glimpse of his lovely one that
he had almost brought himself to the point of tapping at the door
and enquiring after her welfare, only the mysterious air of the
apartment--how strange, how soundless it was--forbade any such
crudeness. One morning he recklessly took a cigarette from his case and
laid it upon the console table as he passed. When he returned later the
cigarette was gone; it had been replaced by a chocolate cream, just
one, a big one. He snatched it away and rapturously ate it. Later in
the day he was blessed by a deep friendly gaze, as she flitted into her
room. Hardross rejoiced; in the morning he left another cigarette and
was again rewarded.

“But O God help me,” he thought, “I can’t go on like this!”

So he bought a whole box of bonbons, but his courage deserted him as
he approached their door; he left the package upon the console table
and slunk guiltily away. The next morning he observed a whole box of
cigarettes, a well-known exquisite brand, laid temptingly there. He
stretched his eager hand towards it, but paused. Could that be a gift
for him? Heavens above! What were the miraculous gods about to shower
upon him? Was this their delicate symbol? He could not believe it,
no, he could not, he left the box lying there. And it lay there for
hours indeed until he crept down and seized it. Afterwards he walked
trembling into the brighter air and went for a long ride on the top
of an omnibus. There had been no letter, but he fancied that he had
got hold of a clue. “Be very careful, Hardross my boy, this is too too
splendid to spoil.”

An afternoon or so later he met her coming into the hall, a delicious
figure with gay parasol and wide white hat. He delayed her:

“Let me thank you, may I, for those perfect cigarettes?”

The lovely creature did not reply. She just smiled her recognition of
him; she did not speak nor move away, she stood there quite silent and
timid.

“I wonder,” he began again, “if I might”--it sounded dreadfully silly
to him, but having begun he went on--“if I might invite you to my
church this evening, a rather special choral service, very jolly, you
know. I’m the organist; would you come?”

No answer.

“Would you care to come?”

She lifted both her hands and touching her lips and ears with
significant gestures shook her head ever so hopelessly at him.

“Deaf and dumb!” he exclaimed. Perhaps the shock of the revelation
showed too painfully in his face for she turned now sadly away. But
the hall was divinely empty. He caught one of the exquisite hands and
pressed it to his lips.

Thereafter Hardross walked about as if he too were deaf and dumb,
except for a vast effusion of sighs. He could praise that delicacy
of the rarest whereby she had forborne to lure him, as she could so
easily have done, into a relation so shrouded and so vague. But that
did not solve his problem, it only solidified it. He wanted and awaited
the inspiration of a gesture she could admire, something that would
propitiate her delicacy and alarms. He did not want to destroy by
clumsy persistencies the frail net of her regard for him; he was quite
clear about that, the visible fineness of her quality so quelled him.
Applying himself to the task he took lessons in the alphabet language,
that inductile response of fingers and thumbs.

Meanwhile she had marked her sense of the complication by hiding like a
hurt bird, and although the mystery of the quiet rooms was now exposed
she herself remained unseen. He composed a graceful note and left it
upon the console table. The note disappeared but no reply came: she
made no sign and he regretted his ardour.

Such a deadlock of course could not exist for ever, and one evening he
met her walking up the stairs. She stopped mutually with him. He was
carrying his music. He made a vain attempt to communicate with her by
means of his finger alphabet, but she did not understand him although
she delightedly made a reply on her fingers which he was too recently
initiated to interpret. They were again at a standstill: he could think
of nothing to do except to open his book of organ music and show her
the title page. She looked it over very intelligently as he tried by
signs to convey his desire to her, but he was certain she was blank
about it all. He searched his pockets for a pencil--and swore at his
non-success. There he stood like a fool, staring at her smiling face
until to his amazement she took his arm and they descended the stairs,
they were in the street together. He walked to the church on something
vastly less substantial than air, and vastly superior.

Hardross’s church was square and ugly, with large round-headed windows.
Its entrance was up some steps between four Corinthian pillars upon the
bases of which cabmen snoozed when it was warm or coughed and puffed in
the winter cold. There was a pump on the kerb and a stand for hackney
cabs. A jungle of evergreens squatted in a railed corner under the
tower, with a file of iris plants that never flowered. Upon the plinth
of the columns a ribald boy had chalked:

  REMOVE THIS OBSTACLE

Eternally at the porch tired cabhorses drooped and meditated, while the
drivers cut hunches of bread and meat or cheese or onion and swallowed
from their tin bottles the cold tea or other aliment associated with
tin bottles. There was always a smell of dung at the entrance, and an
aroma of shag tobacco from the cabmen’s pipes curled into the nave
whenever the door opened for worshippers. Inside the church Hardross
ushered his friend to a seat that he could watch from his organ loft.
There were few people present. He borrowed a lead pencil from a choir
boy, and while the lesson was being perfunctorily intoned, sounding
like some great voice baffled by its infinitely little mind, he
scribbled on a sheet of paper the questions he was so eager to ask;
what was her name and things like that:

  _How can we communicate? May I write to you? Will you to me? Excuse
  the catechism and scribble but I want so much to know you and grab at
  this opportunity._

  _Yours devotedly
  John Hardross_

When he looked up her place was empty; she had gone away in the middle
of the service. He hurried home at last very perturbed and much
abashed, for it was not so much the perplexities of intercourse, the
torment of his dilemma, that possessed him now as a sense of felicities
forbidden and amenities declined.

But his fickle intelligence received a sharp admonitory nudge on
the following evening when he espied her sitting in the same place
at church for all the world as if she had not deserted it on the
evening before. Then he remembered that of course she couldn’t hear
a thing--idiot he was to have invited her. Again she left the church
before the close of the service. This for several days, the tantalized
lover beholding her figure always hurrying from his grasp.

He pursued the practice of the deaf and dumb alphabet with such
assiduity that he became almost apt in its use; the amount of affection
and devotion that he could transcribe on finger and thumb was
prodigious, he yearned to put it to the test. When at last he met her
again in the hall he at once began spelling out things, absurd things,
like: “May I beg the honour of your acquaintance?” She watched this
with interest, with excitement even, but a shadow of doubt crept into
her lovely eyes. She moved her own fingers before him, but in vain;
he could not interpret a single word, not one. He was a dense fool;
O how dense, how dense! he groaned. But then he searched his pockets
and brought out the note he had scribbled in church. It was a little
the worse for wear but he smoothed it, and standing close by her side
held it for her perusal. Again his hopes were dashed. She shook her
head, not at all conclusively but in a vague uncomprehending way. She
even with a smile indicated her need of a pencil, which he promptly
supplied. To his amazement what she scribbled upon the page were some
meaningless hieroglyphs, not letters, though they were grouped as in
words, but some strange abracadabra. He looked so dismally at her that
she smiled again, folding the paper carefully ere she passed on up the
stairs.

Hardross was now more confounded than ever. A fearful suspicion seized
him: was she an idiot, was it a mild insanity, were those marks just
the notation of a poor diseased mind? He wished he had kept that
letter. God, what a tragedy! But as he walked into the town his doubts
about her intellect were dispelled. Poof! only an imbecile himself
could doubt that beautiful staring intelligence. That was not it; it
was some jugglery, something to do with those rooms. Nothing was solved
yet, nothing at all; how uncanny it was becoming!

He returned in the afternoon full of determination. Behold, like a
favourable augury, the door by the console table stood open, wide
open. It did occur to him that an open door might be a trap for unwary
men but he rapped the brass knocker courageously. Of course there was
no response--how could there be--and he stepped inside the room. His
glance had but just time to take in the small black piano, the dark
carpet, the waxed margins of the floor, the floral dinginess of the
walls brightened by mirrors and softened by gilt and crimson furniture,
when the quiet woman, his Diana, came to him joyfully holding out
both her hands. Well, there was no mystery here after all, nothing at
all, although the elder lady was out and they were apparently alone.
Hardross held her hands for some moments, the intensity of which was
as deeply projected in her own eyes as in the tightness of his clasp.
And there was tea for him! She was at her brightest, in a frock of
figured muslin, and sitting before her he marvelled at the quickness of
her understanding, the vividness of her gestures, the gentleness with
which she touched his sleeve. That criminal suspicion of her sanity
crowned him with infamy. Such communication was deliciously intimate;
there came a moment when Hardross in a wild impulsive ecstasy flung
himself before her, bowing his head in her lap. The quiet woman was
giving him back his embraces, her own ardour was drooping beautifully
upon him, when he heard a strange voice exclaim in the room: “God is my
help! Well then!” A rattle of strange words followed which he could not
comprehend. He turned to confront the elder woman, who surveyed them
with grim amusement. The other stood up, smiling, and the two women
spoke in finger language. The newcomer began to remove her gloves,
saying:

“It is Mr. Hardross then. I am glad to meet. There is a lot of things
to be spoken, eh?”

She was not at all the invalid he had half expected to find. She
removed her hat and came back a competent-looking woman of about
fifty, who had really an overwhelming stream of conversation. She took
tea and, ignoring the girl as if she were a block of uncomprehending
ornament, addressed herself to the interloper.

“You do not know me, Mr. Hardross?”

“It is a pleasure I have but looked forward to,” he replied, in the
formal manner that at times irresistibly seized him, “with the keenest
possible anticipation and....”

“No, I am Madame Peshkov. We are from Odessa, do you know it? We go
back to our Russia tomorrow; yes, it is true.”

His organs of comprehension began to crackle in his skull, but he went
on stirring his fresh cup of tea and continued to do so for quite a
long time.

“No, you ... are ... Russian! I did not know.” Amid his musing
astonishment that fact alone was portentous; it explained so much,
everything in fact, but how he could ever contrive to learn such a
language was the question that agitated him, so fearfully difficult a
language, and on his fingers too! Then that other thunderclap began to
reverberate: they were going, when was it? Tomorrow! All this while
Madame Peshkov ran on with extravagant volubility. She had the habit of
picking one of the hairpins from her hair and gently rubbing her scalp
with the rounded end of it; she would replace the pin with a stylish
tap of her fingers. It was a long time before Hardross extracted the
pith from her remarks, and then only when the hypnotism induced by the
stirring of his tea suddenly lapsed; he became aware of the dumb girl’s
gaze fixed piercingly upon him, while his own was drawn away by the
force of the other’s revelations. What he had already taken in was sad
and strange. Her name was Julia Krasinsky. She was not at all related
to Madame Peshkov, she was an orphan. Madame’s own daughter had been
deaf and dumb, too, and the girls had been inseparable companions
until two years ago, when Natalia Peshkov had died--O, an unspeakable
grief still. He gathered that Madame was a widow, and that since
Natalia’s death the two women had lived and travelled together. Madame
talked on; it was tremendously exciting to Hardross crouching in his
chair, but all that echoed in his mind were the words Julia Krasinsky,
Julia Krasinsky, until she suddenly asked him:

“Do you love her?”

He was startled by this appalling directness; he stammered a little but
he finally brought out:

“I adore her. Beyond everything I deeply deeply love her.” He then
added: “I feel shameful enough now. I rage inwardly. All these many
weeks I have dallied like a boy, I did not understand the situation. I
have wasted our chances, our time, and now you are going.”

“You can’t waste time”; retorted the abrupt lady. “Time deals with you
no matter how you use his hours.”

“I suppose so,” he agreed quite helplessly, “but we might have been
extraordinary friends.”

“O, but you are, eh! She is bewitched, you cannot speak to her, she
cannot speak to you, but yet you love. O, she is vairy vairy fond of
you, Mr. Hardross. Why not? She has the best opinions of you.”

“Ah, she will change her opinion now. A fool like me?”

“No one ever changes an opinion. Your opinions govern and guide and
change you. If they don’t they are not worth holding. And most of them
are not, eh, do you see, we are such fools but God is our help.”

She talked confidently, intimately and quickly, but Hardross wished she
would not do so, or use her hairpins in that absurd distracting way. He
himself had no confidence; he was reserved by nature, irrevocably, and
the mask of deliberation was necessary to him.

“Madame Peshkov, I shall take her out for a walk in the town, now, at
once!” he cried.

“Ah, so?” Madame nodded her head vigorously, even approvingly. He had
sprung up and approached the quiet woman. All her gentle nearness
overcame him and he took her audaciously into his arms. Not less
eagerly she slid to his breast and clung there like a bird to the
shelter of its tree. Julia turned to Madame Peshkov with a smiling
apologetic shrug, as much as to say: “What can one do with such a
fellow, so strong he is, you see!” Madame bade him bring Julia later on
to the café where they always dined.

His happiness was profound. He had never had an experience so moving
as the adorable dumb woman by his side: yet so unsurprising, as if its
possibility had always lain goldenly in his mind like an undreamed
dream, or like music, half-remembered music. There was nothing, of
course, just nothing they could talk about. They could look into shop
windows together rather intimately, and they were a long time in a
shady arcade of the park, full of lime-browsing bees, where they
sat watching a peacock picking the gnats off the shrubs. It was the
pleasantest possible defeat of time. Then there was the handsome girl
crossing the yard of a weaving mill as they passed. She was carrying a
great bale of bright blue wool and had glanced at them with a friendly
smile. Her bare white arms encircled the wool: she had big gilt rings
in her ears, and her fine shining chestnut-coloured hair was disarrayed
and tumbled upon the bale. Julia had pressed his arm with joy. Yes, she
delighted in the things he delighted in; and she felt too that sense of
sorrow that hung in the air about them.

Her appearance in the café stirred everybody like a wave of sweet air.
Hardross was filled with pride. He felt that it was just so that she
would enrich the world wherever she wandered, that things would respond
to her appearance in astonishing mysterious ways. Why, even the empty
wine glasses seemed to behave like large flowers made miraculously out
of water, a marvel of crystal petals blooming but for her; certainly
the glasses on other tables didn’t look at all like these. He drank
four glasses of wine and after dinner they all sat together in the flat
until the half darkness was come. And now Madame Peshkov too was very
silent; she sat smoking or scratching her head with her pins. It was
nine o’clock, but there remained a preposterous glare in the west that
threw lateral beams against the tops of tall buildings, although the
pavements were already dim. It made the fronts of the plastered houses
over the way look like cream cheese. Six scarlet chimney pots stood
stolidly at attention--the torsos of six guardsmen from whom head and
limbs had been unkindly smitten; the roof seemed to be rushing away
from them. Beyond was an echo of the sunset, faint in the northern sky.
How sweet, how sad, to sit so silently in this tremulous gloom. It was
only at the last when they parted at her door that the shadow of their
division became omnipresent. Then it overwhelmed them.

Hardross crept upstairs to his own rooms. In such plights the mind,
careless of time present and time past, full of an anguish that
quenches and refills like a sponge, writhes beyond hope with those
strange lesions of demeanour that confound the chronicler. Tra-la-la,
sang the distracted man, snapping his sweating fingers in time with a
ribald leering ditty, Tra-la-la. He dropped plumb to Atlantean depths
of grief, only to emerge like a spouting whale with the maddening
Tra-la-la tugging him, a hook in his body, from despair to dementia. He
was roused from this vertiginous exercise by a knocking at his door.
The door was thrust open, and Madame Peshkov asked if he was there. He
rose up and switched on a light.

“What is to be done now?” cried the lady. If her silence below had been
complete, as complete as poor Julia’s, she was now fully audible and
not a little agitated. “What is to be done? I cannot believe it of her
but it is true, as true as God!”

Hardross beheld her sink, stricken with some trouble, into an armchair,
beating her hands together.

“I have no influence, gone it is, no power over her, none whatever.
What is to be done? Assist us please. She has been so.... O, for days,
and now it comes, it comes....”

“What has come?” he interrupted sharply.

“I cannot believe it of her, but it is true ... as God. She is like a
vast ... cold ... stone, a mountain.”

“Is this about Julia?”

“She will not go. Of course she will not go! She declines, she will not
come back to Odessa. She says she will not come. I have to tell you
this, Mr. Hardross, I cannot move her. She is like a vast ... cold ...
stone. What then?”

Madame’s appeal seemed pregnant with a significance that he but dimly
savoured. He asked: “What is she going to do then?”

“To stop in this England, here, in this very place! But our passages
are booked, tomorrow it is--pooh, it does not matter!--I am to leave
her here in this place, here she will stay, in a foreign land, without
speech or understanding. But what is to be done, I ask of you?”

He was delirious himself; he kept whispering Julia, Julia, but he
managed to ask with a lugubrious covering of propriety:

“What? I don’t know. Shall I go to her?”

“But can you not see? Do you comprehend, you Hardross? O, it is a
madness, I want to explain it to you but it is all so gross, so swift,
like a vulture. You see it is impossible for me to remain an hour
longer, an hour in England impossible absolutely; there are reasons,
lives perhaps, depending on my return. Yes, it is true; we live in
Russia, do you see, and in Russia ... ah, you understand! But how shall
I leave this woman here?”

Madame stared at him with curious inquisitiveness, beating her hands
upon the arm of the chair as if she expected an answer, a prompt one:

“Of course she will not go away from you now, of course, of course, she
has never had a lover before--how could she, poor thing. I understand
it, she is not a child. And you Mr. Hardross you are a generous man,
you have courage, a good man, a man of his honour, O yes, it is true,
I see it, I feel it, and so she will not be torn away from you now. I
understand that, she is no longer a child.”

Madame rose and took him by the arm. “Marry her, my friend! Do not you
see? I can leave her to you. Marry her at once, marry her!” She stood
as if it were something that could be done on the spot, as easy as
giving one a cup of tea. But he did not hesitate.

“Why, I would give my soul to do it!” he cried, and rushed away down
the stairs to Julia.

And surely she was as wise as she was beautiful, and as rich as she was
wise.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE TRUMPETERS

       *       *       *       *       *



THE TRUMPETERS


They were crossing the Irish Sea. It was night, blowing a moderate
gale, but the moon, aloft on the port bow with a wind, was chock full
of such astounding brightness that the turmoil of the dark waves was
easy and beautiful to see. The boat was crowded with soldiers on leave;
the few civilian passengers--mechanics, labourers, and a miner going
to his home in Wexford, who had got drunk at the harbour inn before
coming aboard--were congregated in the angles on the lee-side of the
saloon bunks and trying to sleep amid the chill seething, roaring,
and thudding. The miner, young, powerful, and very much at his ease,
sprawled among them intoxicated. He sang, and continued to sing at
intervals, a song about “The hat that my father wore,” swaying, with
large dreamy gestures, to and fro, round and about, up and down upon
the unfortunate men sitting to right and left of him. Close at hand sat
another young man, but smaller, who carried a big brass trumpet.

“Throw him in the sea, why not, now!” the trumpeter shouted to the
drunken man’s weary supporters. “Begad I would do it if he put his
pig’s face on e’er a shoulder of me!” He was a small, emphatic young
man: “Give him a crack now, and lay on him, or by the tears of God
we’ll get no repose at all!”

His advice was tendered as constantly and as insistently as the
miner’s song about his parent’s headgear, and he would encourage these
incitements to vicarious violence by putting the brass trumpet to his
lips and blowing some bitter and not very accurate staves. So bitter
and so inaccurate that at length even the drunken miner paused in his
song and directed the trumpeter to “shut up.” The little man sprang to
his feet in fury, and approaching the other he poured a succession of
trumpet calls close into his face. This threw the miner into a deep
sleep, a result so unexpected that the enraged trumpeter slung his
instrument under his arm and pranced belligerently upon the deck.

“Come out o’ that, ye drunken matchbox, and by the Queen of Heaven I’ll
teach ye! Come now!”

The miner momentarily raised himself and recommenced his song: “’Tis
the Hat that me Father wore!” At this the trumpeter fetched him a
mighty slap across the face.

“Ah, go away,” groaned the miner, “or I’ll be sick on ye.”

“Try it, ye rotten gossoon! ye filthy matchbox! Where’s yer khar_kee_?”

The miner could display no khaki; indeed, he was sleeping deeply again.

“I’m a man o’ me principles, ye rotten matchbox!” yelled the trumpeter.
“In the Munsters I was ... seven years ... where’s your khar_kee_?”

He seized the miner by the collar and shook that part of the steamer
into a new commotion until he was collared by the sailors and kicked up
on to the foredeck.

Nothing up there, not even his futile trumpeting, could disturb the
chill rejoicing beauty of the night. The wind increased, but the
moonlight was bland and reassuring. Often the cope of some tall wave
would plunge dully over the bows, filling the deck with water that
floundered foaming with the ship’s movement or dribbled back through
the scuppers into the sea. Yet there was no menace in the dark
wandering water; each wave tossed back from its neck a wreath of foam
that slewed like milk across the breast of its follower.

The trumpeter sat upon a heap of ropes beside a big soldier.

“The rotten matchbox, did ye ever see the like o’ that? I’ll kill him
against the first thing we step ashore, like ye would a flea!”

“Be aisy,” said the soldier; “why are ye making trouble at all? Have ye
hurt your little finger?”

“Trouble, is it? What way would I be making trouble in this world?”
exclaimed the trumpeter. “Isn’t it the world itself as puts trouble on
ye, so it is, like a wild cat sitting under a tub of unction! O, very
pleasant it is, O ay! No, no, my little sojee, that is not it at all.
You can’t let the flaming world rush beyant ye like that....”

“Well, it’s a quiet life I’m seeking,” interjected the soldier,
wrapping his great coat comfortingly across his breast, “and by this
and by that, a quiet night too.”

“Is that so? Quiet, is it? But I say, my little sojee, you’ll not get
it at all and the whole flaming world whickering at ye like a mad
cracker itself. Would ye sleep on that wid yer quiet life and all? It’s
to tame life you’d be doing, like it was a tiger. And it’s no drunken
boozer can tame me as was with the Munsters in the East ... for seven
holy years.”

“Ah, go off wid you, you’ve hurt your little finger.”

“Me little finger, is it?” cried the trumpeter, holding his thin hands
up for inspection in the moonlight, “I have not then.”

“You surprise me,” the soldier said, gazing at him with sleepy
amused tolerance. “Did you never hear of Tobin the smith and Mary of
Cappoquin?”

“I did not then,” snapped the other. “Who was they?”

“He was a roaring, fatal feller, a holy terror, a giant. He lived in
the mountains but he went over the country killing things--a tiger or
two at an odd time, I’m thinking--and destroying the neat condition of
the world. And he had a nasty little bit of a bugle....”

“Was it the like o’ that?” demanded the other, holding out the trumpet
and tapping it with his fingers.

“‘A bugle,’ I said,” replied the soldier sternly, “and every time he
puffed in its tubes the noise of it was so severe the hens in the town
fell dead....”

“The hens!”

“Yes, and the ducks on the ponds were overcome with emotion and sank to
the bottom. One day he was in his forge driving a few nails into the
shoe of an ass when he hit his little finger such a blow, a terrible
blow, that it bled for a day. Then he seared the wound with his searing
iron, but it was no better, and it bled for a night. I will go--says
he--to the physician of Cappoquin and be sewn up with some golden
wire. So he drove into Cappoquin, but when he was in it the physician
was gone to a christening; there was only his daughter Mary left to
attend to him, a bright good girl entirely, and when she saw the finger
she said to Tobin: ‘I declare on my soul if I don’t chop it off it’s
not long till you have your death.’ ‘Chop it off, then,’ says Tobin,
and she did so. He came back the next day and this is how it was; the
physician was gone to a wake. ‘What’s your need?’ asked Mary. He showed
her his hand and it dripping with blood. ‘I declare to my God,’ said
Mary, ‘if I don’t chop it off it’s short till you have your death.’
‘Chop it off,’ says Tobin, and she struck off the hand. The day after
that he drove in again, but the physician was gone to an inquest about
a little matter concerning some remains that had been found. ‘What is
it today, Tobin?’ and he showed her his arm bleeding in great drops.
‘I declare by the saints,’ says she, ‘that unless I chop it off you’ll
die in five minutes.’ ‘Chop it off,’ says Tobin, and she struck off his
arm. The next day he was back again with the stump of his arm worse
than before. ‘Oh, I see what it is,’ said Mary, and going behind him
she struck off his head with one blow of her father’s sharp knife and
gave it to the cat.”

“That is a neat tale,” said the trumpeter. “Did you hear the story of
the dirty soldier and the drummer?”

“No--” The soldier hesitated reflectively. “No, I never heard it.”

“Well, this is how it was....”

But just then the steamer began to approach the harbour, and in the
hurry and scurry of preparations to land the two friends were separated
and the tale was never told.

At the disembarkation passengers and soldiers crowded on the pier
awaiting the boat train. The harbour was full of lights; the moon was
still high in the heavens, but her glory faded as the sun began to
rise. The thick densities of the night sky quivered into frail blues,
violet and silver were mingled in the sea, the buildings on the wharf
looked strange; icily, bitterly grey. The trumpeter ran about in the
bleak air seeking the “rotten matchbox,” but he could not find him.
He comforted himself by executing some castigating blares upon his
instrument. The hollow wharves and the pier staging echoed with acrid
sound that pleased his simple heart. He blew and blew and blew until
he was surrounded by people watching him strain his determined eyes
and inflate his pale cheeks--all of them secretly hoping that the ones
might fall out or the others might crack. Suddenly he caught sight of
the now-sobered miner, quite close to him, almost touching him! The
call he was blowing faded with a stupid squeak. The world began to
flame again ... when an officer burst into the circle, demanding to
know who he was, where from, and what in all the realm of blasphemous
things he meant by tootling in that infernal manner on that infernal
thing.

The trumpeter drew himself proudly to attention and saluted.

“Discharged I am, sir, it’s with the Munsters I was, seven years, sir,
with the Munsters, in the east.”

“You disgrace the Army! If I hear another tootle on that thing, I ...
I’ll have you clapped in irons--I will! And ... and transported ...
damn me if I don’t! You understand?”

The trumpeter meekly saluted as the captain swaggered away. At that
moment the miner laid his hand upon his arm.

“What, my little man,” said he, “have you lost your teeth? Give it me
now!”

And putting the trumpet to his own lips he blew a brilliant and mocking
reveille, whose echoes hurtled far over the harbour and into the
neighbouring hills.

“God save us!” cried the trumpeter with a furtive eye on the captain
at the end of the platform, who did not appear to have heard that
miraculous salvo, “it’s a great grand breath you’ve got, sir.”

       *       *       *       *       *

THE ANGEL AND THE SWEEP

       *       *       *       *       *



THE ANGEL AND THE SWEEP


I’d been sitting in the _Axe & Cleaver_ along of Mrs. Pellegrini for an
hour at least; I hadn’t seen her in five years since she was doing the
roads near Pontypool. An hour at least, for isn’t the _Axe & Cleaver_
the pleasant kind of place? Talking or not talking you can always hear
the water lashing from the outfall above Hinney Lock, the sound of it
making you feel drowsy and kind. And isn’t the old bridge there a thing
to be looking at indeed?

Mrs. Pellegrini had a family of pikeys who traded in horses,
willow-wattles, and rocksalt; she was as cunning as a jacksnipe, and if
she _had_ a deep voice like a man she was full of wisdom. A grand great
woman was Rosa Pellegrini, with a face silky-brown like a beechnut,
and eyes and hair the equal of a rook for darkness. The abundance of
jewellery hooked and threaded upon her was something to be looking at
too. Old man and young Isaac kept going out to look at the horses, or
they’d be coming in to upbraid her for delaying, but she could drink
a sconce of beer without the least sparkle of hilarity, as if it were
a tribute she owed her whole magnificent constitution, or at least a
reward for some part of it. So she kept doing it, while her son and
her husband could do no other and did it with nothing of her inevitable
air.

Well, I was sitting in the _Axe & Cleaver_ along of Mrs. Pellegrini
when who should rove in but Larry McCall, good-looking Larry, bringing
a friend with him, a soft kind of fellow who’d a harsh voice and a
whining voice that we didn’t like the noise of tho’ he had good money
in his purse. Larry gave me the grace of the day directly he entered
the door, and then, letting a cry of joy out of him, he’d kissed Mrs.
Pellegrini many times before she knew what was happening to her. She
got up and punished him with a welt on his chin that would have bruised
an oak-tree, and bade him behave himself. He sat down soothingly beside
her and behaved very well. His companion stood very shy and nervous,
like a kitten might be watching a cockfight.

“Who is this young man?” Mrs. Pellegrini asks.

“That’s Arthur,” said Larry: “I forget what Arthur knocks a living
out of--I’ve known him but these three bits of an hour since we were
walking in the one direction.”

“My dad,” said Arthur slowly and raspingly, “is an undertaker, and he
lets me help him in his business: we bury people.”

“Oh come, young man,” said Mrs. Pellegrini, “that’s no sort of a trade
at all--d’ye think it, Mr. McCall?”

“No, I do not,” replied Larry, “but Arthur does. It don’t seem to be a
trade with very much humour in it. Life ain’t a sad solid chunk.”

“Now that’s just where you’re wrong,” drawled Arthur.

“’Tain’t a life at all,” Rosa interrupted severely, “it’s only
sniffing, having a bad cold! No sort of a life at all--d’ye think it,
Mr. McCall?”

“No, I do not,” said Larry with a chuckle, “but Arthur does!”

“Oh, I know what you’re a deluding on,” commenced the young man again,
“but....”

“Strike me dead if I can see any fun in funerals!” Mrs. Pellegrini said
with finality, taking up her mug. “But if you _will_ have your grief,
young man,” she added, pausing in one of her gulps to gaze at Arthur
until he quivered, “you must have it, and may fortune fall in love with
what we like. Fill up that cup now!”

The young man in agitation obeyed, and while this was doing we all
heard someone come over the bridge singing a song, and that was Jerry
Ogwin, who could tell the neatest tales and sing the littlest songs.
Well, there were great salutations, for we all knew Jerry and loved
Jerry, and he loved some of us. But he was the fiercest looking,
fieriest gipsy man you ever saw, and he had all the gullible prescience
of a cockney.

“My fortune! Where are you from, you cunning little man?”

“I bin doing a bit o’ road down Kent and London way. D’ye know
Lewisham?” commenced Jerry.

“No,” said Larry, grinning at me, “but Arthur does!”

“No, I don’t; I never been there,” chanted Arthur.

“Now what’s the good of talking like that!” said McCall sternly, and
letting a wink at me.

“More I ain’t,” asserted Arthur.

“Then I was at Deptford and Greenwich--know Greenwich?” continued Jerry.

“No,” replied Larry, then adding nonchalantly, “Arthur does.”

“No, I don’t, I don’t,” said Arthur wormily, for Jerry was glaring at
him, and that fighting scar all down his nose, where his wife Katey
once hit him with the spout of a kettle, was very disturbing.

“What’s the good of that?” urged the devilish-minded Larry. “Why don’t
you talk to the gentleman, you don’t want to vex him, do you?”

“You ain’t blooming silly, are you?” queried Jerry.

Without waiting for reply he drifted off again.

“Me and my mate was doing a bit o’ road with oranges and things, you
know--three for a ’eaver--down Mary’s Cray; d’ye know Mary’s Cray?”

But this time Arthur was looking avidly out of the window.

“Well, we was ’avin’ a bit of grub one night, just about dark it was,
you know, with a little fire, we’d bin cookin’ something, when a
blooming sweep come along. I’ll tell it to you; it was just inside a
bit of a wood and we was sleeping rough. My mate was a bit nervous,
you know, ’e kept looking round as if ’e could see something, but it
was that dark you might be looking in a sack. I says to Timmy: what’s
up with you? I dunno, ’e says, something going on, and just as ’e says
that this blooming sweep ’oofs in from nowhere and falls over our
beer. I says to Timmy, ’e’s knocked over our beer; are you going to
fight ’im or shall I? And Timmy shouts: look at ’im, ’e’s laying on the
fire! And s’elp me God so ’e was, ’is legs was in the sticks and ’is
trousers was a-burning. Come out of it, we says, but ’e didn’t move.
No, my oath, ’e layed there like a dead sheep. Well, we pulled ’im off
it, but ’e was like a silly bloke. ’E couldn’t stand up and ’e couldn’t
say anything. ’E got a lot of froth round ’is mouth like a ’orse that’s
going wicked. And ’e wasn’t drunk, neither, but, _you_ know, ’e was
just frightened out of ’is life about something. We sit ’im down with
’is back against a tree and made the fire up again. What’s the matter
with you, we says; you got a fit, we says; what d’ye want coming ’ere,
we says? But we couldn’t get no answer from ’im. ’Is face was that dam
white ’cept where it was smudged with soot, and there was this froth
dribbling on ’im, and what d’yer think, ’e’d got a red rose stuck in
’is button-’ole. ’E was a horrible sight; we couldn’t bear ’im, so we
picks ’im up, and Timmy give ’im a clout in the ear and shoves ’im out
among some bushes where we couldn’t see ’im. Sw’elp me if ’e didn’t
come crawling back on ’is hands and knees where we was sitting round
the fire. Oh, ’e was horrible. Timmy went nearly daft and I thought
’e was going to give ’im one good kick in the mouth and finish ’im.
’Stead of that we picks ’im up again and runs ’im further down the wood
and heaves ’im into some blackberry bushes and tells ’im what we’d do
to ’im if ’e come again. That was no good; in five minutes ’e crawled
back. Timmy was shaking like a dog, and fell on ’im as if ’e was going
to strangle ’im, but we had to let ’im stay, and old Timmy was blacker
than the sweep when ’e’d done with ’im. But the bloke _wouldn’t_ say
nothing or open ’is eyes, _you_ know, he _wouldn’t_ open his eyes, ’e
was like something what had been murdered and wouldn’t die, if you know
what I mean. Blast ’im, I could kill ’im, Timmy says. That’s no good
of, says I, and at last we left ’im ’side the fire, and we went off
somewhere just outside the wood and packed up in a clump of ur-grass.
I went to sleep, but I don’t believe old Timmy did, well, I know ’e
didn’t. Now we hadn’t ’eard nothing all night, nothing at all, but when
I wakes up in the morning the blooming sweep was gone and not a chink
of ’im left anywhere. But,” said Jerry impressively to Arthur, who eyed
him with horror, “we found something else!” There was silence while
Jerry’s face was connected to his mug of beer. Nobody spoke. We eyed
him with eager interest. He vanquished his thirst and smacked his lips
but held the mug in readiness for further libation.

“Not twenty chain away a woman was laying down. Timmy touches me
frightened like and says, Look, what’s that? My eyes was nearly skinned
out of me. I couldn’t speak. We walked quietly up to ’er like two sick
men. She lay there just as if she’d dropped out of the sky, naked as
an angel, not a shift nor a stocking, not a button on ’er.” There was
again silence until Larry struck a match loudly on a jar, his pipe,
hooked tightly in his forefinger, having gone out. Mrs. Pellegrini
stared, and breathed audibly. “And,” said Jerry impressively, “she was
the grandest creature what ever you see. I touched ’er with them two
fingers and she was cold as iron, stiff, gone a bit dull like pearls
look, but the fine build of that lady was the world’s wonder. There was
not a scratch or a wound on ’er or the sign of ’er death anywhere. One
of ’er legs was cocked up at the knee like she’d lay in bed. ’Er two
eyes was just looking at the ground and there was a kind of funny smile
on ’er face. Fine long hair she had, black as a cat’s back and long as
the tail of a horse. And in it there was a red rose, and in one of ’er
hands she was holding a white lily. There was a little bird’s dropping
on ’er stomach. I wiped it off. I says to Timmy: That sweep! And ’e
says to me, Jerry Ogwin, we’re ’aving a share out. What about that
sweep I says to ’im, but all ’e says was: we’re ’aving a share out. ’E
was afraid of getting pulled for this job, _you_ know. I never seen a
man so frightened afore, and ’e was not a chap as renagged ever, not
Timmy.”

“That ’e wasn’t,” said Mrs. Pellegrini, “I seen ’im once half murder
two sojers for beating a deaf and dumb man.”

“Well,” continued Jerry, “I says all right Timmy, and so we ’as a share
out and gits on different roads. My share was a clothes basket and a
pair of spectacles cost tuppence ha’penny, _you_ know, and I walked all
that day as ’ard as ever I could. Then I bushes for the night, and when
I woke up nex’ morning I ’eard some talking going on. I looks under
the ’edge and found I was side a strawberry field, _you_ know, a lot
of strawberries. So I ’ops in and sells my basket to the strawberry
pickers for a shilling. They give me a shilling for it, so that was all
right. ’Ad a shilling and a pair of spectacles for my share out. I goes
on a bit and then I comes across a beanfeast party, and I showed ’em my
pair o’ gold spectacles--I’d just found ’em--_you_ know!”

Larry burst into a peal of laughter that seemed to surprise Jerry and
he said:

“Ain’t you ever met a feller what’s found a pair of gold spectacles?”

Larry couldn’t reply and Jerry continued:

“No, ain’t you really? God, what a laugh! Yes, I sells ’em to a fly
young party for two and fo’ pence and off I goes. Never ’eard no more
of Timmy. Never ’eard no more of anything. I dunno if they found the
girl. I dunno if they found that sweep. They didn’t find _me_.”

He paused for a moment.

“They didn’t find _me_,” he repeated.

There was silence at last; the room was getting dim with evening. Mrs.
Pellegrini spoke:

“And you wiped it off her stomach, did you, Jerry?”

“I did,” said he.

Mrs. Pellegrini turned to Arthur and said in a sharp voice:

“Fill that pot for the gentleman!”

The young man in terror obeyed, he exceedingly obeyed.

When the last pot was emptied Jerry and Larry and the wretched mute
went off along the road together. Rosa Pellegrini said “So long” to me
and drove off with her cavalcade. The inn was empty and quiet again so
you could hear the water at the outfall.

I walked along the bank of the old river until I came to the lock where
the water roaring windily from the lasher streamed like an old man’s
beard; a pair of swans moved in the slack water of the pool. Away there
was a fine lea of timothy grass looking as soft as wool. And at the end
of the lea there was a low long hill covered with trees full of the
arriving darkness; a train that you could not hear the noise of shot
through a grove and poured a long spool of white fume upon the trees
quietly, a thing to be looking at, it was so white and soft. But I was
thinking ... thinking ... thinking of the grand white slim woman who
did not seem dead at all to me, lying with a lily in her hand, a red
rose in her hair. And I could not think it to be true at all; I believe
Jerry was only telling us one of his tales.

       *       *       *       *       *

ARABESQUE

       *       *       *       *       *



ARABESQUE: THE MOUSE


In the main street amongst tall establishments of mart and worship was
a high narrow house pressed between a coffee factory and a bootmaker’s.
It had four flights of long dim echoing stairs, and at the top, in a
room that was full of the smell of dried apples and mice, a man in the
middle age of life had sat reading Russian novels until he thought he
was mad. Late was the hour, the night outside black and freezing, the
pavements below empty and undistinguishable when he closed his book
and sat motionless in front of the glowing but flameless fire. He felt
he was very tired yet he could not rest. He stared at a picture on
the wall until he wanted to cry; it was a colour print by Utamaro of
a suckling child caressing its mother’s breasts as she sits in front
of a blackbound mirror. Very chaste and decorative it was, in spite
of its curious anatomy. The man gazed, empty of sight though not of
mind, until the sighing of the gas jet maddened him. He got up, put out
the light, and sat down again in the darkness trying to compose his
mind before the comfort of the fire. And he was just about to begin
a conversation with himself when a mouse crept from a hole in the
skirting near the fireplace and scurried into the fender. The man had
the crude dislike for such sly nocturnal things, but this mouse was so
small and bright, its antics so pretty, that he drew his feet carefully
from the fender and sat watching it almost with amusement. The mouse
moved along the shadows of the fender, out upon the hearth, and sat
before the glow, rubbing its head, ears, and tiny belly with its paws
as if it were bathing itself with the warmth, until, sharp and sudden,
the fire sank, an ember fell, and the mouse flashed into its hole.

The man reached forward to the mantelpiece and put his hand upon a
pocket lamp. Turning on the beam, he opened the door of a cupboard
beside the fireplace. Upon one of the shelves there was a small trap
baited with cheese, a trap made with a wire spring, one of those that
smashed down to break the back of ingenuous and unwary mice.

“Mean--so mean,” he mused, “to appeal to the hunger of any living thing
just in order to destroy it.”

He picked up the empty trap as if to throw it in the fire.

“I suppose I had better leave it though--the place swarms with them.”
He still hesitated. “I hope that little beastie won’t go and do
anything foolish.” He put the trap back quite carefully, closed the
door of the cupboard, sat down again and extinguished the lamp.

Was there any one else in the world so squeamish and foolish about such
things! Even his mother, mother so bright and beautiful, even she had
laughed at his childish horrors. He recalled how once in his childhood,
not long after his sister Yosine was born, a friendly neighbour
had sent him home with a bundle of dead larks tied by the feet “for
supper.” The pitiful inanimity of the birds had brought a gush of
tears; he had run weeping home and into the kitchen, and there he had
found the strange thing doing. It was dusk; mother was kneeling before
the fire. He dropped the larks.

“Mother!” he exclaimed softly. She looked at his tearful face.

“What’s the matter, Filip?” she asked, smiling too at his astonishment.

“Mother! What you doing?”

Her bodice was open and she was squeezing her breasts; long thin
streams of milk spurted into the fire with a plunging noise.

“Weaning your little sister,” laughed mother. She took his inquisitive
face and pressed it against the delicate warmth of her bosom, and he
forgot the dead birds behind him.

“Let me do it, mother,” he cried, and doing so he discovered the throb
of the heart in his mother’s breast. Wonderful it was for him to
experience it, although she could not explain it to him.

“Why does it do that?”

“If it did not beat, little son, I should die and the Holy Father would
take me from you.”

“God?”

She nodded. He put his hand upon his own breast. “Oh feel it, Mother!”
he cried. Mother unbuttoned his little coat and felt the gentle _tick
tick_ with her warm palm.

“Beautiful!” she said.

“Is it a good one?”

She kissed his upsmiling lips. “It is good if it beats truly. Let it
always beat truly, Filip, let it always beat truly.”

There was the echo of a sigh in her voice, and he had divined some
grief, for he was very wise. He kissed her bosom in his tiny ecstasy
and whispered soothingly: “Little mother! little mother!” In such joys
he forgot his horror of the dead larks; indeed he helped mother to
pluck them and spit them for supper.

It was a black day that succeeded, and full of tragedy for the child.
A great bay horse with a tawny mane had knocked down his mother in the
lane, and a heavy cart had passed over her, crushing both her hands.
She was borne away moaning with anguish to the surgeon who cut off the
two hands. She died in the night. For years the child’s dreams were
filled with the horror of the stumps of arms, bleeding unendingly. Yet
he had never seen them, for he was sleeping when she died.

While this old woe was come vividly before him he again became aware
of the mouse. His nerves stretched upon him in repulsion, but he soon
relaxed to a tolerant interest, for it was really a most engaging
little mouse. It moved with curious staccato scurries, stopping to rub
its head or flicker with its ears; they seemed almost transparent ears.
It spied a red cinder and skipped innocently up to it ... sniffing ...
sniffing ... until it jumped back scorched. It would crouch as a cat
does, blinking in the warmth, or scamper madly as if dancing, and
then roll upon its side rubbing its head with those pliant paws. The
melancholy man watched it until it came at last to rest and squatted
meditatively upon its haunches, hunched up, looking curiously wise, a
pennyworth of philosophy; then once more the coals sank with a rattle
and again the mouse was gone.

The man sat on before the fire and his mind filled again with
unaccountable sadness. He had grown into manhood with a burning
generosity of spirit and rifts of rebellion in him that proved
too exacting for his fellows and seemed mere wantonness to men of
casual rectitudes. “Justice and Sin,” he would cry, “Property and
Virtue--incompatibilities! There can be no sin in a world of justice,
no property in a world of virtue!” With an engaging extravagance and a
certain clear-eyed honesty of mind he had put his two and two together
and seemed then to rejoice, as in some topsy-turvy dream, in having
rendered unto Cæsar, as you might say, the things that were due to
Napoleon! But this kind of thing could not pass unexpiated in a world
of men having an infinite regard for Property and a pride in their
traditions of Virtue and Justice. They could indeed forgive him his
sins but they could not forgive him his compassions. So he had to go
seek for more melodious-minded men and fair unambiguous women. But
rebuffs can deal more deadly blows than daggers; he became timid--a
timidity not of fear but of pride--and grew with the years into
misanthropy, susceptible to trivial griefs and despairs, a vessel of
emotion that emptied as easily as it filled, until he came at last to
know that his griefs were half deliberate, his despairs half unreal,
and to live but for beauty--which is tranquillity--to put her wooing
hand upon him.

Now, while the mouse hunts in the cupboard, one fair recollection stirs
in the man’s mind--of Cassia and the harmony of their only meeting,
Cassia who had such rich red hair, and eyes, yes, her eyes were full
of starry enquiry like the eyes of mice. It was so long ago that he
had forgotten how he came to be in it, that unaccustomed orbit of vain
vivid things--a village festival, all oranges and houp-là. He could not
remember how he came to be there, but at night, in the court hall, he
had danced with Cassia--fair and unambiguous indeed!--who had come like
the wind from among the roses and swept into his heart.

“It is easy to guess,” he had said to her, “what you like most in the
world.”

She laughed; “To dance? Yes, and you...?”

“To find a friend.”

“I know, I know,” she cried, caressing him with recognitions. “Ah, at
times I quite love my friends--until I begin to wonder how much they
hate me!”

He had loved at once that cool pale face, the abundance of her strange
hair as light as the autumn’s clustered bronze, her lilac dress and all
the sweetness about her like a bush of lilies. How they had laughed at
the two old peasants whom they had overheard gabbling of trifles like
sickness and appetite!

“There’s a lot of nature in a parsnip,” said one, a fat person of the
kind that swells grossly when stung by a bee, “a lot of nature when
it’s young, but when it’s old it’s like everything else.”

“True it is.”

“And I’m very fond of vegetables, yes, and I’m very fond of bread.”

“Come out with me,” whispered Cassia to Filip, and they walked out in
the blackness of midnight into what must have been a garden.

“Cool it is here,” she said, “and quiet, but too dark even to see your
face--can you see mine?”

“The moon will not rise until after dawn,” said he, “it will be white
in the sky when the starlings whistle in your chimney.”

They walked silently and warily about until they felt the chill of the
air. A dull echo of the music came to them through the walls, then
stopped, and they heard the bark of a fox away in the woods.

“You are cold,” he whispered, touching her bare neck with timid
fingers. “Quite, quite cold,” drawing his hand tenderly over the curves
of her chin and face. “Let us go in,” he said, moving with discretion
from the rapture he desired. “We will come out again,” said Cassia.

But within the room the ball was just at an end, the musicians were
packing up their instruments and the dancers were flocking out and
homewards, or to the buffet which was on a platform at one end of the
room. The two old peasants were there, munching hugely.

“I tell you,” said one of them, “there’s nothing in the world for it
but the grease of an owl’s liver. That’s it, that’s it! Take something
on your stomach now, just to offset the chill of the dawn!”

Filip and Cassia were beside them, but there were so many people
crowding the platform that Filip had to jump down. He stood then
looking up adoringly at Cassia, who had pulled a purple cloak around
her.

“For Filip, Filip, Filip,” she said, pushing the last bite of her
sandwich into his mouth, and pressing upon him her glass of Loupiac.
Quickly he drank it with a great gesture, and, flinging the glass to
the wall, took Cassia into his arms, shouting: “I’ll carry you home,
the whole way home, yes, I’ll carry you!”

“Put me down!” she cried, beating his head and pulling his ears, as
they passed among the departing dancers. “Put me down, you wild thing!”

Dark, dark was the lane outside, and the night an obsidian net, into
which he walked carrying the girl. But her arms were looped around him,
she discovered paths for him, clinging more tightly as he staggered
against a wall, stumbled upon a gulley, or when her sweet hair was
caught in the boughs of a little lime tree.

“Do not loose me, Filip, will you, do not loose me,” Cassia said,
putting her lips against his temple.

His brain seemed bursting, his heart rocked within him, but he adored
the rich grace of her limbs against his breast. “Here it is,” she
murmured, and he carried her into a path that led to her home in a
little lawned garden where the smell of ripe apples upon the branches
and the heavy lustre of roses stole upon the air. Roses and apples!
Roses and apples! He carried her right into the porch before she slid
down and stood close to him with her hands still upon his shoulders. He
could breathe happily at the release, standing silent and looking round
at the sky sprayed with wondrous stars but without a moon.

“You are stronger than I thought you, stronger than you look, you are
really very strong,” she whispered, nodding her head to him. Opening
the buttons of his coat she put her palm against his breast.

“Oh how your heart does beat: does it beat truly--and for whom?”

He had seized her wrists in a little fury of love, crying: “Little
mother, little mother!”

“What are you saying?” asked the girl, but before he could continue
there came a footstep sounding behind the door, and the clack of a
bolt....

What was that? Was that really a bolt or was it ... was it ... the snap
of the trap? The man sat up in his room intently listening, with nerves
quivering again, waiting for the trap to kill the little philosopher.
When he felt it was all over he reached guardedly in the darkness for
the lantern, turned on the beam, and opened the door of the cupboard.
Focussing the light upon the trap he was amazed to see the mouse
sitting on its haunches before it, uncaught. Its head was bowed, but
its bead-like eyes were full of brightness, and it sat blinking, it did
not flee.

“Shoosh!” said the man, but the mouse did not move. “Why doesn’t it go?
Shoosh!” he said again, and suddenly the reason of the mouse’s strange
behaviour was made clear. The trap had not caught it completely, but
it had broken off both its forefeet, and the thing crouched there
holding out its two bleeding stumps humanly, too stricken to stir.

Horror flooded the man, and conquering his repugnance he plucked the
mouse up quickly by the neck. Immediately the little thing fastened
its teeth in his finger; the touch was no more than the slight prick
of a pin. The man’s impulse then exhausted itself. What should he do
with it? He put his hand behind him, he dared not look, but there was
nothing to be done except kill it at once, quickly, quickly. Oh, how
should he do it? He bent towards the fire as if to drop the mouse into
its quenching glow; but he paused and shuddered, he would hear its
cries, he would have to listen. Should he crush it with finger and
thumb? A glance towards the window decided him. He opened the sash with
one hand and flung the wounded mouse far into the dark street. Closing
the window with a crash he sank into a chair, limp with pity too deep
for tears.

So he sat for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. Anxiety and shame
filled him with heat. He opened the window again, and the freezing air
poured in and cooled him. Seizing his lantern he ran down the echoing
stairs, into the dark empty street, searching long and vainly for the
little philosopher until he had to desist and return to his room,
shivering, frozen to his very bones.

When he had recovered some warmth he took the trap from its shelf. The
two feet dropped into his hand; he cast them into the fire. Then he
once more set the trap and put it back carefully into the cupboard.

       *       *       *       *       *

FELIX TINCLER

       *       *       *       *       *



FELIX TINCLER


The child was to have a birthday tomorrow and was therefore not uneasy
about being late home from school this afternoon. He had lost his
pencil case; a hollow long round thing it was, like a rolling-pin, only
it had green and yellow rings painted upon it. He kept his marbles
in it and so he was often in a trouble about his pencils. He had not
tried very much to find the pencil case because the boys “deludered”
him--that’s what his father always said. He had asked Heber Gleed if
he had seen it--he had strange suspicions of that boy--but Heber Gleed
had sworn so earnestly that the greengrocer opposite the school had
picked it up, he had even “saw him do it,” that Felix Tincler went into
Mr. Gobbit’s shop, and when the greengrocer lady appeared in answer to
the ring of the door bell he enquired politely for his pencil case.
She was tall and terrible with a squint and, what was worse, a large
velvety mole with hairs sprouting from it. She immediately and with
inexplicable fury desired him to flee from her greengrocer shop, with
a threat of alternative castigation in which a flatiron and a red-hot
pick-axe were to figure with unusual and unpleasant prominence. Well he
had run out of Mr. Gobbit’s shop, and there was Heber Gleed standing
in the road giggling derisively at him. Felix walked on alone, looking
in the gutters and areas for his pencil case, until he encountered
another friendly boy who took him to dig in a garden where they grew
castor-oil plants. When he went home it was late; as he ran along under
the high wall of the orphanage that occupied one end of his street its
harsh peevish bell clanged out six notes. He scampered past the great
gateway under the dismal arch that always filled him with uneasiness,
he never passed it without feeling the sad trouble that a prison
might give. He stepped into his own pleasant home, a little mute, and
a little dirty in appearance; but at six years of age in a home so
comfortable and kind the eve of the day that is to turn you into seven
is an occasion great enough to yield an amnesty for peccadilloes. His
father was already in from work, he could hear him singing. He gave
his mother the sprigs he had picked from the castor-oil plant and told
her about the pencil case. The meal was laid upon the table, and while
mother was gone into the kitchen to boil the water for tea he sat down
and tried to smooth out the stiff creases in the white table cloth. His
father was singing gaily in the scullery as he washed and shaved:

  _High cockalorum,
  Charlie ate the spinach...._

He ceased for a moment to give the razor a vigorous stropping and then
continued:

  _High cockalorum,
  High cockalee...._

Felix knew that was not the conclusion of the song. He listened, but
for some moments all that followed was the loud crepitation of a razor
searching a stubborn beard and the sigh of the kettle. Then a new
vigour seized the singer:

  _But mother brought the pandy down
  And bate the gree...._

Again that rasping of chin briefly intervened, but the conclusion of
the cropping was soon denoted by the strong rallentando of the singer:

              _...dy image,
  High cock-alorum,
  High cock-a-lee._

Mrs. Tincler brought in the teapot and her husband followed her with
his chin tightly shaven but blue, crying with mock horror:

“Faylix, my son! that is seven years old tomorrow! look at him, Mary,
the face of him and the hands of him! I didn’t know there was a bog in
this parish; is it creeping in a bog you have been?”

The boy did not blench at his father’s spurious austerity, he knew he
was the soul of kindness and fun.

“Go wash yourself at the sink,” interposed his mother. Kevin Tincler,
taking his son by the hand, continued with mocking admonishment: “All
the fine copybooks of the world that you’ve filled up with that
blather about cleanliness and holiness, the up strokes very thin and
the down strokes very thick! What was it, Mary, he has let it all out
of his mind?”

“Go and wash, Felix, and come quickly and have your tea,” laughed Mary
Tincler.

“Ah, but what was it--in that grand book of yours?”

The boy stood, in his short buff tunic, regarding his father with shy
amusement. The small round clear-skinned face was lovely with its
blushes of faint rose; his eyes were big and blue, and his head was
covered with thick curling locks of rich brown hair.

“Cleanliness comes next to godliness,” he replied.

“Does it so, indeed?” exclaimed his father. “Then you’re putting your
godliness in a pretty low category!”

“What nonsense,” said Mary Tincler as the boy left them.

The Irishman and his dark-eyed Saxon wife sat down at the table waiting
for their son.

“There’s a bit of a randy in the Town Gardens tonight, Mary--dancing on
the green, fireworks! When the boy is put to bed we’ll walk that way.”

Mary expressed her pleasure but then declared she could not leave the
boy alone in his bed.

“He’ll not hurt, Mary, he has no fear in him. Give him the birthday
gift before we go. Whisht, he’s coming!”

The child, now clean and handsome, came to his chair and looked up at
his father sitting opposite to him.

“Holy Mother!” exclaimed the admiring parent, “it’s the neck of a swan
he has. Faylix Tincler, may ye live to be the father of a bishop!”

After tea his father took him up on the down for an hour. As they left
their doorway a group of the tidy but wretched orphans was marching
back into their seminary, little girls moving in double columns
behind a stiff-faced woman. They were all dressed alike in garments
of charity exact as pilchards. Grey capes, worsted stockings, straw
hats with blue bands round them, and hard boots. The boys were coming
in from a different direction, but all of them, even the minutest,
were clad in corduroy trousers and short jackets high throated like
a gaoler’s. This identity of garment was contrary to the will of God
for he had certainly made their pinched bodies diverse enough. Some
were short, some tall, dark, fair, some ugly, others handsome. The
sight of them made Felix unhappy, he shrank into himself, until he and
his father had slipped through a gap in a hedge and were going up the
hill that stretched smoothly and easily almost from their very door.
The top of the down here was quiet and lovely, but a great flank of
it two miles away was scattered over with tiny white figures playing
very deliberately at cricket. Pleasant it was up there in the calm
evening, and still bright, but the intervening valley was full of grey
ungracious houses, allotments, railway arches, churches, graveyards,
and schools. Worst of all was the dull forbidding aspect of the
Orphanage down beyond the roof of their own house.

They played with a ball and had some wrestling matches until the
declining day began to grow dim even on the hill and the fat jumbo
clouds over the town were turning pink. If those elephants fell on
him--what would they do? Why, they’d mix him up like ice-cream! So said
his father.

“Do things ever fall out of the sky?”

“Rain,” said Mr. Tincler.

“Yes, I know.”

“Stars--maybe.”

“Where do they go?”

“O they drop on the hills but ye can never find ’em.”

“Don’t Heaven ever?”

“What, drop down! no,” said Mr. Tincler, “it don’t. I have not heard
of it doing that, but maybe it all just stoops down sometimes, Faylix,
until it’s no higher than the crown of your hat. Let us be going home
now and ye’ll see something this night.”

“What is it?”

“Wait, Faylix, wait!”

As they crossed from the hill Mary drawing down the blinds signalled to
them from the window.

“Come along, Felix,” she cried, and the child ran into the darkened
room. Upon the table was set a little church of purest whiteness. Kevin
had bought it from an Italian hawker. It had a wonderful tall steeple
and a cord that came through a hole and pulled a bell inside. And
that was not all; the church was filled with light that was shining
through a number of tiny arched windows, blue, purple, green, violet,
the wonderful windows were everywhere. Felix was silent with wonder;
how could you get a light in a church that hadn’t got a door! then
Mary lifted the hollow building from the table; it had no floor, and
there was a night-light glowing in one of her patty-pans filled with
water. The church was taken up to bed with him in the small chamber
next his parents’ room and set upon a bureau. Kevin and Mary then went
off to the “bit of devilment” in the town gardens. Felix kept skipping
from his bed, first to gaze at the church, and then to lean out of the
window in his nightshirt, looking for the lamplighter who would come
to the street lamp outside. The house was the very last, and the lamp
was the very last lamp, on one of the roads that led from the town and
thence went poking out into the steady furze-covered downs. And as the
lamp was the very last to be lit darkness was always half-fallen by the
time the old man arrived at his journey’s end. He carried a pole with
a brass tube at one end. There were holes in the brass tube showing
gleams of light. The pole rested upon his shoulders as he trudged along
humming huskily.

“Here he is,” cried Felix, leaning from the window and waving a white
arm. The dull road, empty of traffic and dim as his mother’s pantry by
day, curved slightly, and away at the other end of the curve a jet of
light had sprung suddenly into the gloom like a bright flower bursting
its sheath; a black figure moved along towards him under the Orphanage
wall. Other lamps blossomed with light and the lamplighter, approaching
the Tinclers’ lamp, thrust the end of his pole into the lantern, his
head meanwhile craning back like the head of a horse that has been
pulled violently backwards. He deftly turned the tap; with a tiny dull
explosion that sounded like a doormat being beaten against the wall in
the next street the lamp was lit and the face of the old man sprang
into vague brilliance, for it was not yet utterly dark. Vague as the
light was, the neighbouring hills at once faded out of recognition and
became black bulks of oblivion.

“Oi.... Oi....” cried the child, clapping his hands. The old man’s
features relaxed, he grunted in relief, the pole slid down in his palm.
As the end of it struck the pavement a sharp knock he drew an old pipe
from his pocket and lit it quite easily although one of his hands was
deficient of a thumb and some fingers. He was about to travel back into
the sparkling town when Felix called to him:

“Soloman! Soloman!”

“Goo an to yer bed, my little billycock, or you’ll ketch a fever.”

“No, but what’s this?” Felix was pointing to the ground below him. The
old man peered over the iron railings into the front garden that had
just sufficient earth to cherish four deciduous bushes, two plants of
marigold, and some indeterminate herbs. In the dimness of their shadows
a glowworm beamed clearly.

“That?” exclaimed he. “O s’dripped off the moon, yas, right off, moon’s
wastin’ away, you’ll see later on if you’m watch out fer it, s’dripped
off the moon, right off.” Chuckling, he blew out the light at the end
of his pole, and went away, but turned at intervals to wave his hand
towards the sky, crying “Later on, right off!” and cackling genially
until he came to a tavern.

The child stared at the glowworm and then surveyed the sky, but the
tardy moon was deep behind the hills. He left the open window and
climbed into bed again. The house was empty, but he did not mind,
father and mother had gone to buy him another birthday gift. He did not
mind, the church glowed in its corner on the bureau, the street lamp
shined all over the ceiling and a little bit upon the wall where the
splendid picture of Wexford Harbour was hanging. It was not gloomy at
all although the Orphanage bell once sounded very piercingly. Sometimes
people would stroll by, but not often, and he would hear them mumbling
to each other. He would rather have a Chinese lantern first, and next
to that a little bagpipe, and next to that a cockatoo with a yellow
head, and then a Chinese lantern, and then.... He awoke; he thought he
heard a heavy bang on the door as if somebody had thrown a big stone.
But when he looked out of the window there was nobody to be seen. The
little moon drip was still lying in the dirt, the sky was softly black,
the stars were vivid, only the lamp dazzled his eyes and he could
not see any moon. But as he yawned he saw just over the down a rich
globe of light moving very gradually towards him, swaying and falling,
falling in the still air. To the child’s dazzled eyes the great globe,
dropping towards him as if it would crush the house, was shaped like an
elephant, a fat squat jumbo with a green trunk. Then to his relief it
fell suddenly from the sky right on to the down where he and father
had played. The light was extinguished and black night hid the deflated
fire-balloon.

He scrambled back into bed again but how he wished it was morning so
that he could go out and capture the old elephant--he knew he would
find it! When at last he slept he sank into a world of white churches
that waved their steeples like vast trunks, and danced with elephants
that had bellies full of fire and hidden bells that clanged impetuously
to a courageous pull of each tail. He did not wake again until morning
was bright and birds were singing. It was early but it was his
birthday. There were no noises in the street yet, and he could not hear
his father or mother moving about. He crawled silently from his bed and
dressed himself. The coloured windows in the little white fane gleamed
still, but it looked a little dull now. He took the cake that mother
always left at his bedside and crept down the stairs. There he put on
his shoes and, munching the cake, tiptoed to the front door. It was not
bolted but it was difficult for him to slip back the latch quietly,
and when at last it was done and he stood outside upon the step he was
doubly startled to hear a loud rapping on the knocker of a house a few
doors away. He sidled quickly but warily to the corner of the street,
crushing the cake into his pocket, and then peeped back. It was more
terrible than he had anticipated! A tall policeman stood outside that
house bawling to a woman with her hair in curl papers who was lifting
the sash of an upper window. Felix turned and ran through the gap in
the hedge and onwards up the hill. He did not wait; he thought he heard
the policeman calling out “Tincler!” and he ran faster and faster, then
slower and more slow as the down steepened, until he was able to sink
down breathless behind a clump of the furze, out of sight and out of
hearing. The policeman did not appear to be following him; he moved on
up the hill and through the soft smooth alleys of the furze until he
reached the top of the down, searching always for the white elephant
which he knew must be hidden close there and nowhere else, although
he had no clear idea in his mind of the appearance of his mysterious
quarry. Vain search, the elephant was shy or cunning and eluded him.
Hungry at last and tired he sat down and leaned against a large ant
hill close beside the thick and perfumed furze. Here he ate his cake
and then lolled, a little drowsy, looking at the few clouds in the
sky and listening to birds. A flock of rooks was moving in straggling
flight towards him, a wide flat changing skein, like a curtain of crape
that was being pulled and stretched delicately by invisible fingers.
One of the rooks flapped just over him; it had a small round hole
right through the feathers of one wing--what was that for? Felix was
just falling to sleep, it was so soft and comfortable there, when a
tiny noise, very tiny but sharp and mysterious, went “Ping!” just by
his ear, and something stung him lightly in the neck. He knelt up, a
little startled, but he peered steadily under the furze. “Ping!” went
something again and stung him in the ball of the eye. It made him
blink. He drew back; after staring silently at the furze he said very
softly “Come out!” Nothing came; he beckoned with his forefinger and
called aloud with friendliness “Come on, come out!” At that moment his
nose was almost touching a brown dry sheath of the furze bloom, and
right before his eyes the dried flower burst with the faint noise of
“Ping!” and he felt the shower of tiny black seeds shooting against
his cheek. At once he comprehended the charming mystery of the furze’s
dispersal of its seeds, and he submitted himself to the fairylike
bombardment with great glee, forgetting even the elephant until in one
of the furze alleys he came in sight of a heap of paper that fluttered
a little heavily. He went towards it; it was so large that he could
not make out its shape or meaning. It was a great white bag made of
paper, all crumpled and damp, with an arrangement of wire where the
hole was and some burned tow fixed in it. But at last he was able to
perceive the green trunk, and it also had pink eyes! He had found it
and he was triumphant! There were words in large black letters painted
upon it which he could not read, except one word which was CURE. It
was an advertisement fire-balloon relating to a specific for catarrh.
He rolled the elephant together carefully, and carrying the mass of
it clasped in his two arms he ran back along the hill chuckling to
himself, “I’m carrying the ole elephant.” Advancing down the hill to
his home he was precariously swathed in a drapery of balloon paper. The
door stood open; he walked into the kitchen. No one was in the kitchen
but there were sharp strange voices speaking in the room above. He
thought he must have come into the wrong house but the strange noises
frightened him into silence; he stood quite still listening to them.
He had dropped the balloon and it unfolded upon the floor, partly
revealing the astounding advertisement of

  PEASEGOOD’S PODOPHYLLIN

The voices above were unravelling horror upon horror. He knew by some
divining instinct that tragedy was happening to him, had indeed already
enveloped and crushed him. A mortar had exploded at the fireworks
display, killing and wounding people that he knew.

“She had a great hole of a wound in the soft part of her thigh as you
could put a cokernut in....”

“God a mighty...!”

“Died in five minutes, poor thing.”

“And the husband ... they couldn’t...?”

“No, couldn’t identify ... they could not identify him ... only by some
papers in his pocket.”

“And he’d got a little bagpipe done up in a package ... for their
little boy....”

“Never spoke a word....”

“Never a word, poor creature.”

“May Christ be good to ’em.”

“Yes, yes,” they all said softly.

The child walked quietly up the stairs to his mother’s bedroom. Two
policemen were there making notes in their pocket books, their helmets
lying on the unused bed. There were also three or four friendly women
neighbours. As he entered the room the gossip ceased abruptly. One of
the women gasped “O Jesus!” and they seemed to huddle together eyeing
him as if he had stricken them with terror. With his fingers still upon
the handle of the door he looked up at the tallest policeman and said:

“What’s the matter?”

The policeman did not reply immediately; he folded up his notebook, but
the woman who had gasped came to him with a yearning cry and wrapped
him in her protesting arms with a thousand kisses.

“Ye poor lamb, ye poor little orphan, whatever ’ull become of ye!”

At that moment the bell of the Orphanage burst into a peal of harsh
impetuous clangour, and the policemen picked up their helmets from the
bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH

       *       *       *       *       *



THE ELIXIR OF YOUTH


Since the earth began its twisting, or since very soon after it began,
there have been persons on it who perceived more or less early in
life that it was seldom possible to get something in return for quite
nothing, and that even if you did the delicate situation then arising
was attended often with at least as much personal danger as delight,
and generally with much more. Tom Toole knew all about it, so he was
not going to sell his own little white soul to the devil, though he was
sixty years of age and his soul, he expected, was shrivelled a bit now
like a dried fig. He had no faith in Wishing Hats, or Magic Carpets,
or Herbs of Longevity, and he had not heard of the Philosopher’s
Stone, but he had a belief in an Elixir, somewhere in the world, that
would make you young again. He had heard, too, of the Transmutation of
Metals; indeed, he had associated himself a great many years ago with
a Belfast brassfounder in the production of certain sovereigns. The
brassfounder perished under the rigours of his subsequent incarceration
in gaol, but Tom Toole had been not at all uncomfortable in the lunatic
asylum to which a compassionate retribution had assigned him. It was
in the Asylum that he met the man from Kilsheelan who, if you could
believe him, really had got a “touch” from the fairies and could turn
things he had no wish for into the things he would be wanting. The man
from Kilsheelan first discovered his gift, so he told Tom Toole, when
he caught a turtle dove one day and changed it into a sheep. Then he
turned the sheep into a lather-pot just to make sure, and it was sure.
So he thought he would like to go to the land of the Ever Young which
is in the western country, but he did not know how he could get there
unless he went in a balloon. Sure, he sat down in his cabin and turned
the shaving-pot into a fine balloon, but the balloon was so large it
burst down his house and he was brought to the asylum. Well that was
clear enough to Tom Toole, and after he had got good advice from the
man from Kilsheelan it came into his mind one day to slip out of the
big gates of the asylum, and, believe me, since then he had walked the
roads of Munster singing his ballads and searching for something was
difficult to find, and that was his youth. For Tom Toole was growing
old, a little old creature he was growing, gay enough and a bit of a
philanderer still, but age is certain and puts the black teeth in your
mouth and the whiteness of water on your hair.

One time he met a strange little old quick-talking man who came to him;
he seemed to just bob up in front of him from the road itself.

“Ah, good day t’ye, and phwat part are ye fram?”

“I’m from beyant,” said Tom Toole, nodding back to the Knockmealdown
Mountains where the good monks had lodged him for a night.

“Ah, God deliver ye and indeed I don’t want to know your business at
all but ... but ... where are ye going?”

Between his words he kept spitting, in six or seven little words there
would be at least one spit. There was yellow dust in the flaps of his
ears and neat bushes of hair in the holes. Cranks and wrinkles covered
his nose, and the skull of him was bare but there was a good tuft on
his chin. Tom Toole looked at him straight and queer for he did not
admire the fierce expression of him, and there were smells of brimstone
on him like a farmer had been dipping his ewes, and he almost expected
to see a couple of horns growing out of his brow.

“It’s not meself does be knowing at all, good little man,” said Tom
Toole to him, “and I might go to the fair of Cappoquin, or I might walk
on to Dungarvan, in the harbour now, to see will I buy a couple of
lobsters for me nice supper.”

And he turned away to go off upon his road but the little old man
followed and kept by his side, telling him of a misfortune he had
endured; a chaise of his, a little pony chaise, had been almost
destroyed, but the ruin was not so great for a kind lady of his
acquaintance, a lady of his own denomination, had given him four
pounds, one shilling and ninepence. “Ah, not that I’m needing your
money, ma’am, says I, but damage is damage, I says, and it’s not right,
I says, that I should be at the harm of your coachman.” And there he
was spitting and going on like a clock spilling over its machinery when
he unexpectedly grasped Tom Toole by the hand, wished him Good day, and
Good luck, and that he might meet him again.

Tom Toole walked on for an hour and came to a cross roads, and there
was the same old man sitting in a neat little pony chaise smoking his
pipe.

“Where are ye going?” says he.

“Dungarvan,” said Tom Toole.

“Jump in then,” said the little old man, and they jogged along the road
conversing together; he was sharp as an old goat.

“What is your aspiration?” he said, and Tom Toole told him.

“That’s a good aspiration, indeed. I know what you’re seeking, Tom
Toole; let’s get on now and there’ll be tidings in it.”

When Tom Toole and the little old man entered the public at Dungarvan
there was a gang of strong young fellows, mechanics and people to drive
the traction engines, for there was a circus in it. Getting their fill
of porter, they were, and the nice little white loaves; very decent
boys, but one of them a Scotchman with a large unrejoicing face. And
he had a hooky nose with tussocks of hair in the nostrils and the two
tails of hair to his moustache like an old Chinese man. Peter Mullane
was telling a tale, and there was a sad bit of a man from Bristol, with
a sickness in his breast and a cough that would heave out the side of a
mountain. Peter Mullane waited while Tom Toole and his friend sat down
and then he proceeded with his tale.

“Away with ye! said the devil to Neal Carlin, and away he was gone to
the four corners of the world. And when he came to the first corner he
saw a place where the rivers do be rushing, ...”

“... the only darn thing that does rush then in this country,”
interrupted the Scotchman with a sneer.

“Shut your ...” began the man from Bristol, but he was taken with the
cough, until his cheeks were scarlet and his eyes, fixed angrily upon
the Highland man, were strained to teardrops. “Shut your ...” he began
it again, but he was rent by a large and vexing spasm that rocked him,
while his friends looked at him and wondered would he be long for this
world. He recovered quite suddenly and exclaimed “... dam face” to that
Highland man. And then Peter Mullane went on:

“I am not given to thinking,” said he, “that the Lord would put a
country the like of Ireland in a wee corner of the world and he wanting
the nook of it for thistles and the poor savages that devour them.
Well, Neal Carlin came to a place where the rivers do be rushing ...”
he paused invitingly--“and he saw a little fairy creature with fine
tresses of hair sitting under a rowan tree.”

“A rowan?” exclaimed the Highland man.

Peter nodded.

“A Scottish tree!” declared the other.

“O shut your ...” began the little coughing man, but again his
conversation was broken, and by the time he had recovered from his
spasms the company was mute.

“If,” said Peter Mullane, “you’d wish to observe the rowan in its
pride and beauty just clap your eye upon it in the Galtee Mountains.
How would it thrive, I ask you, in a place was stiff with granite and
sloppy with haggis? And what would ye do, my clever man, what would ye
do if ye met a sweet fairy woman...?”

“I’d kiss the Judy,” said the Highland man spitting a great splash.

Peter Mullane gazed at him for a minute or two as if he did not love
him very much, but then he continued:

“Neal Carlin was attracted by her, she was a sweet creature. Warm! says
she to him with a friendly tone. Begod, ma’am, it is a hot day, he
said, and thinks he, she is a likely person to give me my aspiration.
And sure enough when he sat down beside her she asked him What is your
aspiration, Neal Carlin? and he said, saving your grace, ma’am, it is
but to enjoy the world and to be easy in it. That is a good aspiration,
she said, and she gave him some secret advice. He went home to his
farm, Neal Carlin did, and he followed the advice, and in a month
or two he had grown very wealthy and things were easy with him. But
still he was not satisfied, he had a greedy mind, and his farm looked
a drifty little place that was holding him down from big things. So
he was not satisfied though things were easy with him, and one night
before he went sleeping he made up his mind ‘It’s too small it is.
I’ll go away from it now and a farm twice as big I will have, three
times as big, yes, I will have it ten times as big.’ He went sleeping
on the wildness of his avarice, and when he rolled off the settle in
the morning and stood up to stretch his limbs he hit his head a wallop
against the rafter. He cursed it and had a kind of thought that the
place had got smaller. As he went from the door he struck his brow
against the lintel hard enough to beat down the house. What is come to
me, he roared in his pains; and looking into his field there were his
five cows and his bullock no bigger than sheep--will ye believe that,
then--and his score of ewes no bigger than rabbits, mind it now, and
it was not all, for the very jackdaws were no bigger than chafers and
the neat little wood was no more account than a grove of raspberry
bushes. Away he goes to the surgeon’s to have drops put in his eyes for
he feared the blindness was coming on him, but on his return there was
his bullock no bigger than an old boot, and his cabin had wasted to the
size of a birdcage.”

Peter leaned forward, for the boys were quiet, and consumed a deal of
porter. And the Highland man asked him “Well, what happened?”

“O he just went up to his cabin and kicked it over the hedge as you
might an old can, and then he strolled off to another corner of the
world, Neal Carlin did, whistling ‘The Lanty Girl.’”

Tom Toole’s friend spoke to Peter Mullane. “Did ye say it was in the
Galtee Mountains that the young fellow met the lady?”

“In the Galtee Mountains,” said Peter.

“To the Galtee Mountains let us be going, Tom Toole,” cried the little
old man, “Come on now, there’ll be tidings in it!”

So off they drove; and when they had driven a day and slept a couple of
nights they were there, and they came to a place where the rivers do be
rushing and there was a rowan tree but no lady in it.

“What will we do now, Tom Toole?” says the old man.

“We’ll not stint it,” says he, and they searched by night and by day
looking for a person would give them their youth again. They sold the
chaise for some guineas and the pony for a few more, and they were
walking among the hills for a thousand days but never a dust of fortune
did they discover. Whenever they asked a person to guide them they
would be swearing at them or they would jeer.

“Well, may a good saint stretch your silly old skins for ye!” said one.

“Thinking of your graves and travelling to the priest ye should be!”
said another.

“The nails of your boots will be rusty and rotted searching for the
like of that,” said a third.

“It’s two quarts of black milk from a Kerry cow ye want,” said one,
“take a sup of that and you’ll be young again!”

“Of black milk!” said Tom Toole’s friend; “where would we get that?”

The person said he would get a pull of it in the Comeragh Mountains,
fifty miles away.

“Tom Toole,” said the little old-man, “it’s what I’ll do. I’ll walk on
to the Comeragh Mountains to see what I will see, and do you go on
searching here, for to find that young girl would be better than forty
guineas’ worth of blather. And when I find the cow I’ll take my fill of
a cup and bring you to it.”

So they agreed upon it and the old man went away saying, “I’ll be a
score of days, no more. Good day, Tom Toole, good day!” much as an old
crow might shout it to a sweep.

When he was gone Tom Toole journeyed about the world and the day after
he went walking to a fair. Along the road the little ass carts were
dribbling into town from Fews and Carrigleena, when he saw a young girl
in a field trying to secure an ass.

“Oi.... Oi...!” the girl was calling out to him and he went in the
field and helped her with the ass, which was a devil to capture and it
not wanting. She thanked him; she was a sweet slip of a colleen with a
long fall of hair that the wind was easy with.

“’Tis warm!” she said to Tom Toole. “Begod, ma’am,” says he to her
quickly, taking his cue, “it is a hot day.”

“Where are ye going, Tom Toole?” she asked him, and he said, “I am
seeking a little contrivance, ma’am, that will let me enjoy the world
and live easy in it. That is my aspiration.”

“I’ll give you what you are seeking,” and she gave him a wee bottle
with red juices in it.

“Indeed, ma’am, I’m obliged to ye,” and he took her by the hand and
wished her Good day and Good luck and that he might meet her again.

When he got the elixir of youth he gave over his searching. He hid
the bottle in his breast and went up into the mountains as high as he
could go to bide the coming of the little old man. It is a queer thing
but Tom Toole had never heard the name of him--it would be some foreign
place in the corners of the world like Portugal, that he had come from;
no doubt. Up he went; first there was rough pasture for bullocks, then
fern and burst furze, and then little but heather, and great rocks
strewn about like shells, and sour brown streams coming from the bog.
He wandered about for twenty days and the old man did not return, and
for forty days he was still alone.

“The divil receive him but I’ll die against his return!” And Tom Toole
pulled the wee bottle from his breast. He was often minded to lift the
cork and take a sup of the elixir of youth. “But,” says he, “it would
be an unfriendly deed. Sure if I got me youth sudden I’d be off to
the wonders of the land and leave that old fool roaming till the day
of Judgment.” And he would put the bottle away and wait for scores of
days until he was sick and sorry with grieving. A thousand days he was
on his lonely wanderings, soft days as mellow as cream, and hard days
when it is ribs of iron itself you would want to stiffen you against
the crack of the blast. His skimpy hair grew down to the lappet of his
coat, very ugly he was, but the little stranger sheep of the mountain
were not daunted when he moved by, and even the flibeens had the soft
call for him. A thousand days was in it and then he said:

“Good evening to me good luck. I’ve had my enough of this. Sure I’ll
despise myself for ever more if I wait the tide of another drifting
day. It’s tonight I’ll sleep in a bed with a quilt of down over me
heart, for I’m going to be young again.”

He crept down the mountain to a neat little town and went in a room
in the public to have a cup of porter. A little forlorn old man also
came in from the road and sat down beside, and when they looked at each
other they each let out a groan. “Glory be!” says he. “Glory be,” cried
Tom Toole, “it’s the good little man in the heel of it. Where in hell
are ye from?”

“From the mountains.”

“And what fortune is in it, did ye find the farm?”

“Divil a clod.”

“Nor the Kerry cow?”

“Divil a horn.”

“Nor the good milk?”

“Divil a quart, and I that dry I could be drunk with the smell of it.
Tom Toole, I have traipsed the high and the deep of this realm and
believe you me it is not in it; the long and the wide of this realm ...
not in it.” He kept muttering sadly “not in it.”

“Me good little man,” cried Tom Toole, “don’t be havering like an old
goat. Here it is! the fortune of the world!”

He took the wee bottle from his breast and shook it before his eyes.
“The drops that ’ull give ye your youth as easy as shifting a shirt.
Come, now. I’ve waited the long days to share wid ye, for I couldn’t
bring myself to desart a comrade was ranging the back of the wild
regions for the likes of me. Many’s the time I’ve lifted that cork, and
thinks I: He’s gone, and soon I’ll be going, so here goes. Divil a go
was in it. I could not do it, not for silver and not for gold and not
for all the mad raging mackerel that sleep in the sea.”

The little old stranger took the wee bottle in his two hands. He was
but a quavering stick of a man now; half dead he was, and his name it
is Martin O’Moore.

“Is it the tale stuff, Tom Toole?”

“From herself I got it,” he said, and he let on to him about that
sweet-spoken young girl.

“Did she give you the directions on the head of it?”

“What directions is it?”

“The many drops is a man to drink!”

“No, but a good sup of it will do the little job.”

“A good sup of it, Tom Toole, a good sup of it, ay?” says he
unsqueezing the cork. “The elixir of youth, a good sup of it, says you,
a good sup of it, a great good good sup of it!”

And sticking it into his mouth he drained the wee bottle of its every
red drop. He stood there looking like a man in a fit, holding the empty
bottle in his hand until Tom Toole took it from him with reproaches in
his poor old eyes. But in a moment it was his very eyes he thought were
deceiving him; not an inch of his skin but had the dew of fear on it,
for the little old man began to change his appearance quick like the
sand running through a glass, or as fast as the country changes down
under a flying swan.

“Mother o’ God!” screamed Martin O’Moore, “it’s too fast backward I’m
growing, dizzy I am.”

And indeed his bald head suddenly got the fine black hair grown upon
it, the whiskers flew away from him and his face was young. He began to
wear a strange old suit that suddenly got new, and he had grown down
through a handsome pair of trousers and into the little knickerbockers
of a boy before you could count a score. And he had a bit of a cold
just then, though he was out of it in a twink, and he let a sneeze that
burst a button off his breeches, a little tin button, which was all
that ever was found of him. Smaller and smaller he fell away, like the
dust in an hour glass, till he was no bigger than an acorn and then
devil a bit of him was left there at all.

Tom Toole was frightened at the quiet and the emptiness and he made to
go away, but he turned in the doorway and stretching out his arms to
the empty room he whispered “The greed! the avarice! May hell pour all
its buckets on your bad little heart! May....” But just then he caught
sight of the cup of porter that Martin O’Moore had forgotten to drink,
so he went back to drink his enough and then went out into the great
roaring world where he walked from here to there until one day he came
right back to his old Asylum. He had been away for twenty years, he
was an old man, very old indeed. And there was the man from Kilsheelan
digging potatoes just inside the gates of the sunny garden.

“’Tis warm!” said the traveller staring at him through the railings,
but the man from Kilsheelan only said “Come in, Tom Toole, is it
staying or going ye are?”

       *       *       *       *       *

THE CHERRY TREE

       *       *       *       *       *



THE CHERRY TREE


There was uproar somewhere among the backyards of Australia Street. It
was so alarming that people at their midday meal sat still and stared
at one another. A fortnight before murder had been done in the street,
in broad daylight with a chopper; people were nervous. An upper window
was thrown open and a startled and startling head exposed.

“It’s that young devil, Johnny Flynn, again! Killing rats!” shouted
Mrs. Knatchbole, shaking her fist towards the Flynns’ backyard. Mrs.
Knatchbole was ugly; she had a goitred neck and a sharp skinny nose
with an orb shining at its end, constant as grief.

“You wait, my boy, till your mother comes home, you just wait!” invited
this apparition, but Johnny was gazing sickly at the body of a big rat
slaughtered by the dogs of his friend George. The uproar was caused by
the quarrelling of the dogs, possibly for honours, but more probably,
as is the custom of victors, for loot.

“Bob down!” warned George, but Johnny bobbed up to catch the full anger
of those baleful Knatchbole eyes. The urchin put his fingers promptly
to his nose.

“Look at that for eight years old!” screamed the lady. “Eight years
old ’e is! As true as God’s my maker I’ll....”

The impending vow was stayed and blasted for ever, Mrs. Knatchbole
being taken with a fit of sneezing, whereupon the boys uttered some
derisive “Haw haws!”

So Mrs. Knatchbole met Mrs. Flynn that night as she came from work,
Mrs. Flynn being a widow who toiled daily and dreadfully at a laundry
and perforce left her children, except for their school hours, to their
own devices. The encounter was an emphatic one and the tired widow
promised to admonish her boy.

“But it’s all right, Mrs. Knatchbole, he’s going from me in a week, to
his uncle in London he is going, a person of wealth, and he’ll be no
annoyance to ye then. I’m ashamed that he misbehaves but he’s no bad
boy really.”

At home his mother’s remonstrances reduced Johnny to repentance and
silence; he felt base indeed; he wanted to do something great and
worthy at once to offset it all; he wished he had got some money, he’d
have gone and bought her a bottle of stout--he knew she liked stout.

“Why do ye vex people so, Johnny?” asked Mrs. Flynn wearily. “I work my
fingers to the bone for ye, week in and week out. Why can’t ye behave
like Pomony?”

His sister was a year younger than he; her name was Mona, which
Johnny’s elegant mind had disliked. One day he re-baptized her; Pomona
she became and Pomona she remained. The Flynns sat down to supper.
“Never mind, mum,” said the boy, kissing her as he passed, “talk to
us about the cherry tree!” The cherry tree, luxuriantly blooming, was
the crown of the mother’s memories of her youth and her father’s farm;
around the myth of its wonderful blossoms and fruit she could weave
garlands of romance, and to her own mind as well as to the minds of her
children it became a heavenly symbol of her old lost home, grand with
acres and delightful with orchard and full pantry. What wonder that in
her humorous narration the joys were multiplied and magnified until
even Johnny was obliged to intervene. “Look here, how many horses _did_
your father have, mum ... really, though?” Mrs. Flynn became vague,
cast a furtive glance at this son of hers and then gulped with laughter
until she recovered her ground with “Ah, but there _was_ a cherry
tree!” It was a grand supper--actually a polony and some potatoes.
Johnny knew this was because he was going away. Ever since it was known
that he was to go to London they had been having something special like
this, or sheep’s trotters or a pig’s tail. Mother seemed to grow kinder
and kinder to him. He wished he had some money, he would like to buy
her a bottle of stout--he knew she liked stout.

Well, Johnny went away to live with his uncle, but alas he was only two
months in London before he was returned to his mother and Pomony. Uncle
was an engine-driver who disclosed to his astounded nephew a passion
for gardening. This was incomprehensible to Johnny Flynn. A great
roaring boiling locomotive was the grandest thing in the world. Johnny
had rides on it, so he knew. And it was easy for him to imagine that
every gardener cherished in the darkness of his disappointed soul an
unavailing passion for a steam engine, but how an engine-driver could
immerse himself in the mushiness of gardening was a baffling problem.
However, before he returned home he discovered one important thing from
his uncle’s hobby, and he sent the information to his sister:

  _Dear Pomona--_

  _Uncle Harry has got a alotment and grow veggutables. He says what
  makes the mold is worms. You know we pulled all the worms out off our
  garden and chukked them over Miss Natchbols wall. Well you better get
  some more quick a lot ask George to help you and I bring som seeds
  home when I comes next week by the xcursion on Moms birthday_

  _Your sincerely brother
  John Flynn_

On mother’s birthday Pomona met him at the station. She kissed him
shyly and explained that mother was going to have a half holiday to
celebrate the double occasion and would be home with them at dinner
time.

“Pomony, did you get them worms?”

Pomona was inclined to evade the topic of worms for the garden, but
fortunately her brother’s enthusiasm for another gardening project
tempered the wind of his indignation. When they reached home he
unwrapped two parcels he had brought with him; he explained his scheme
to his sister; he led her into the garden. The Flynns’ backyard, mostly
paved with bricks, was small and so the enclosing walls, truculently
capped by chips of glass, although too low for privacy were yet too
high for the growth of any cherishable plant. Johnny had certainly
once reared a magnificent exhibit of two cowslips, but these had been
mysteriously destroyed by the Knatchbole cat. The dank little enclosure
was charged with sterility; nothing flourished there except a lot of
beetles and a dauntless evergreen bush, as tall as Johnny, displaying
a profusion of thick shiny leaves that you could split on your tongue
and make squeakers with. Pomona showed him how to do this and they then
busied themselves in the garden until the dinner siren warned them that
Mother would be coming home. They hurried into the kitchen and Pomona
quickly spread the cloth and the plates of food upon the table, while
Johnny placed conspicuously in the centre, after laboriously extracting
the stopper with a fork and a hair-pin, a bottle of stout brought from
London. He had been much impressed by numberless advertisements upon
the hoardings respecting this attractive beverage. The children then
ran off to meet their mother and they all came home together with great
hilarity. Mrs. Flynn’s attention having been immediately drawn to the
sinister decoration of her dining table, Pomona was requested to pour
out a glass of the nectar. Johnny handed this gravely to his parent,
saying:

“Many happy returns of the day, Mrs. Flynn!”

“O, dear, dear!” gasped his mother merrily, “you drink first!”

“Excuse me, no, Mrs. Flynn,” rejoined her son, “many happy returns of
the day!”

When the toast had been honoured Pomona and Johnny looked tremendously
at each other.

“Shall we?” exclaimed Pomona.

“O yes,” decided Johnny; “come on, mum, in the garden, something
marvellous!”

She followed her children into that dull little den, and fortuitously
the sun shone there for the occasion. Behold, the dauntless evergreen
bush had been stripped of its leaves and upon its blossomless twigs the
children had hung numerous couples of ripe cherries, white and red and
black.

“What do you think of it, mum?” cried the children, snatching some of
the fruit and pressing it into her hands, “what do you think of it?”

“Beautiful!” said the poor woman in a tremulous voice. They stared
silently at their mother until she could bear it no longer. She turned
and went sobbing into the kitchen.

       *       *       *       *       *

CLORINDA WALKS IN HEAVEN

       *       *       *       *       *



CLORINDA WALKS IN HEAVEN


Miss Smith, Clorinda Smith, desired not to die on a wet day. Her
speculations upon the possibilities of one’s demise were quite
ingenuous and had their mirth, but she shrunk from that figure of her
dim little soul--and it was only dimly that she could figure it at
all--approaching the pathways of the Boundless in a damp, bedraggled
condition.

“But the rain couldn’t harm your spirit,” declared her comforting
friends.

“Why not?” asked Clorinda, “if there is a ghost of me, why not a ghost
of the rain?”

There were other aspects, delectable and illusive, of this imagined
apotheosis, but Clorinda always hoped--against hope be it said--that it
wouldn’t be wet. On three evenings there had been a bow in the sky, and
on the day she died rain poured in fury. With a golden key she unlocked
the life out of her bosom and moved away without fear, as if a great
light had sprung suddenly under her feet in a little dark place, into a
region where things became starkly real and one seemed to live like the
beams rolling on the tasselled corn in windy acres. There was calmness
in those translucent leagues and the undulation amid a vast implacable
light until she drifted, like a feather fallen from an unguessed star,
into a place which was extraordinarily like the noon-day world, so
green and warm was its valley.

A little combe lay between some low hills of turf, and on a green bank
beside a few large rocks was a man mending a ladder of white new-shaven
willow studded with large brass nails, mending it with hard knocks that
sounded clearly. The horizon was terraced only just beyond and above
him, for the hills rolled steeply up. Thin pads of wool hung in the
arch of the ultimate heavens, but towards the end of the valley the
horizon was crowded with clouds torn and disbattled. Two cows, a cow
of white and a cow of tan, squatted where one low hill held up, as it
were, the sunken limits of the sky. There were larks--in such places
the lark sings for ever--and thrushes--the wind vaguely active--seven
white ducks--a farm. Each nook was a flounce of blooms and a bower for
birds. Passing close to the man--he was sad and preoccupied, dressed in
a little blue tunic--she touched his arm as if to enquire a direction,
saying “Jacob!”

She did not know what she would have asked of him, but he gave her no
heed and she again called to him “Jacob!” He did not seem even to see
her, so she went to the large white gates at the end of the valley
and approached a railway crossing. She had to wait a long time for
trains of a vastness and grandeur were passing, passing without sound.
Strange advertisements on the hoardings and curious direction posts
gathered some of her attention. She observed that in every possible
situation, on any available post or stone, people had carved initials,
sometimes a whole name, often with a date, and Clorinda experienced a
doubt of the genuineness of some of these so remote was the antiquity
implied. At last, the trains were all gone by, and as the barriers
swung back she crossed the permanent way.

There was neither ambiguity in her movements nor surprise in her
apprehensions. She just crossed over to a group of twenty or thirty
men who moved to welcome her. They were barelegged, sandal-footed,
lightly clad in beautiful loose tunics of peacock and cinnamon, which
bore not so much the significance of colour as the quality of light;
one of them rushed eagerly forward, crying “Clorinda!” offering to
her a long coloured scarf. Strangely, as he came closer, he grew less
perceivable; Clorinda was aware in a flash that she was viewing him by
some other mechanism than that of her two eyes. In a moment he utterly
disappeared and she felt herself wrapt into his being, caressed with
faint caresses, and troubled with dim faded ecstasies and recognitions
not wholly agreeable. The other men stood grouped around them, glancing
with half-closed cynical eyes. Those who stood farthest away were more
clearly seen: in contiguity a presence could only be divined, resting
only--but how admirably!--in the nurture of one’s mind.

“What is it?” Clorinda asked: and all the voices replied, “Yes, we know
you!”

She felt herself released, and the figure of the man rejoined the
waiting group. “I was your husband Reuben,” said the first man
slowly, and Clorinda, who had been a virgin throughout her short
life, exclaimed “Yes, yes, dear Reuben!” with momentary tremors
and a queer fugitive drift of doubt. She stood there, a spook of
comprehending being, and all the uncharted reefs in the map of her mind
were anxiously engaging her. For a time she was absorbed by this new
knowledge.

Then another voice spoke:

“I was your husband Raphael!”

“I know, I know,” said Clorinda, turning to the speaker, “we lived in
Judea.”

“And we dwelt in the valley of the Nile,” said another, “in the years
that are gone.”

“And I too ... and I too ... and I too,” they all clamoured, turning
angrily upon themselves.

Clorinda pulled the strange scarf from her shoulders where Reuben had
left it, and, handling it so, she became aware of her many fugitive
sojournings upon the earth. It seemed that all of her past had become
knit in the scarf into a compact pattern of beauty and ugliness of
which she was entirely aware; all its multiplexity being immediately
resolved ... the habitations with cave men, and the lesser human unit
of the lesser later day. Patagonian, Indian, Cossack, Polynesian, Jew
... of such stuff the pattern was intimately woven, and there were
little plangent perfect moments of the past that fell into order in
the web. Clorinda watching the great seabird with pink feet louting
above the billows that roared upon Iceland, or Clorinda hanging her
girdle upon the ebony hooks of the image of Tanteelee. She had taken
voyaging drafts upon the whole world, cataract jungle and desert,
ingle and pool and strand, ringing the changes upon a whole gamut of
masculine endeavour ... from a prophet to a haberdasher. She could feel
each little life lying now as in a sarsnet of cameos upon her visible
breasts: thereby for these ... these _men_ ... she was draped in an
eternal wonder. But she could not recall any image of her past life in
_these_ realms, save only that her scarf was given back to her on every
return by a man of these men.

She could remember with humility her transient passions for them all.
None, not one, had ever given her the measure of her own desire, a
strong harsh flame that fashioned and tempered its own body; nothing
but a nebulous glow that was riven into embers before its beam had
sweetened into pride. She had gone from them childless always and much
as a little child.

From the crowd of quarrelling ghosts a new figure detached itself,
and in its approach it subdued that vague vanishing which had been
so perplexing to Clorinda. Out of the crowd it slipped, and loomed
lovingly beside her, took up her thought and the interrogation that
came into her mind.

“No,” it said gravely, “there is none greater than these. The ultimate
reaches of man’s mind produce nothing but images of men.”

“But,” said Clorinda, “do you mean that our ideals, previsions of a
vita-nuova....”

“Just so,” it continued, “a mere intoxication. Even here you cannot
escape the singular dower of dreams ... you can be drunk with dreams
more easily and more permanently than with drugs.”

The group of husbands had ceased their quarrelling to listen; Clorinda
swept them with her glances thoughtfully and doubtfully.

“Could mankind be so poor,” the angel resumed, “as poor as these, if it
housed something greater than itself?”

With a groan the group of outworn husbands drew away. Clorinda turned
to her companion with disappointment and some dismay.... “I hardly
understand yet ... is this all then just....”

“Yes,” it replies, “just the ghost of the world.”

She turned unhappily and looked back across the gateway into the fair
combe with its cattle, its fine grass, and the man working diligently
therein. A sense of bleak loneliness began to possess her; here,
then, was no difference save that there were no correlations, no
consequences; nothing had any effect except to produce the ghost of
a ghost. There was already in the hinterland of her apprehensions a
ghost, a ghost of her new ghostship: she was to be followed by herself,
pursued by figures of her own ceaseless being!

She looked at the one by her side: “Who are you?” she asked, and at the
question the group of men drew again very close to them.

“I am your unrealized desires,” it said: “Did you think that the
dignity of virginhood, rarely and deliberately chosen, could be so
brief and barren? Why, that pure idea was my own immaculate birth, and
I was born, the living mate of you.”

The hungry-eyed men shouted with laughter.

“Go away!” screamed Clorinda to them; “I do not want you.”

Although they went she could hear the echoes of their sneering as she
took the arm of her new lover “Let us go,” she said, pointing to the
man in the combe, “and speak to him.” As they approached the man he
lifted his ladder hugely in the air and dashed it to the ground so
passionately that it broke.

“Angry man! angry man!” mocked Clorinda. He turned towards her
fiercely. Clorinda began to fear him; the muscles and knots of his
limbs were uncouth like the gnarl of old trees; she made a little
pretence of no more observing him.

“Now what is it like,” said she jocularly to the angel at her side, and
speaking of her old home, “what is it like now at Weston-super-Mare?”

At that foolish question the man with the ladder reached forth an ugly
hand and twitched the scarf from her shoulders.

It cannot now be told to what remoteness she had come, or on what roads
her undirected feet had travelled there, but certain it is that in
that moment she was gone.... Why, where, or how cannot be established:
whether she was swung in a blast of annihilation into the uttermost
gulfs, or withdrawn for her beauty into that mysterious Nox, into some
passionate communion with the eternal husbands, or into some eternal
combat with their passionate other wives ... from our scrutiny at least
she passed for ever.

It is true there was a beautiful woman of this name who lay for a
month in a deep trance in the West of England. On her recovery she
was balladed about in the newspapers and upon the halls for quite a
time, and indeed her notoriety brought requests for her autograph from
all parts of the world, and an offer of marriage from a Quaker potato
merchant. But she tenderly refused him and became one of those faded
grey old maids who wear their virginity like antiquated armour.

       *       *       *       *       *

CRAVEN ARMS

       *       *       *       *       *



CRAVEN ARMS


I

The teacher of the sketching class at the evening school was a man
who had no great capacity for enduring affection, but his handsome
appearance often inspired in women those emotions which if not enduring
are deep and disturbing. His own passions may have been deep but they
were undeniably fickle.

The townspeople were proud of their new school for in addition to the
daily curriculum evening instruction of an advanced modern kind was
given. Of course all schools since the beginning of time have been
modern at some period of their existence but this one was modern, so
the vicar declared, because it was so blessedly hygienic. It was built
upon a high tree-arboured slope overlooking the snug small town and
on its western side stared ambiguously at a free upland country that
was neither small nor snug. The seventeen young women and the nine
young men were definitely, indeed articulately, inartistic, they were
as unæsthetic as pork pies, all except Julia Tern, a golden-haired
fine-complexioned fawn of a girl whose talent was already beyond
the reach of any instruction the teacher could give. He could not
understand why she continued to attend his classes.

One evening she brought for his criticism a portrait sketch of himself.

“This is extraordinarily beautiful,” he murmured.

“Yes?” said Julia.

“I mean the execution, the presentation and so on.”

Julia did not reply. He stared at her picture of him, a delicately
modelled face with a suggestion of nobility, an air that was kind as it
was grave. The gravity and nobility which so pleased him were perhaps
the effect of a high brow from which the long brown hair flowed thinly
back to curve in a tidy cluster at his neck. Kindness beamed in the
eyes and played around the thin mouth, sharp nose, and positive chin.
What could have inspired her to make this idealization of himself,
for it was idealization in spite of its fidelity and likeness? He
knew he had little enough nobility of character--too little to show
so finely--and as for that calm gravity of aspect, why gravity simply
was not in him. But there it was on paper, deliberate and authentic,
inscribed with his name--_David Masterman 1910_.

“When, how did you come to do it?”

“I just wanted it, you were a nice piece, I watched you a good deal,
and there you are!” She said it jauntily but there was a pink flush in
her cheeks.

“It’s delicious,” he mused, “I envy you. I can’t touch a decent
head--not even yours. But why have you idealized me so?” He twitted
her lightly about the gravity and nobility.

“But you are like that, you are. That’s how I see you, at this moment.”

She did not give him the drawing as he hoped she would. He did not care
to ask her for it--there was delicious flattery in the thought that
she treasured it so much. Masterman was a rather solitary man of about
thirty, with a modest income which he supplemented with the fees from
these classes. He lived alone in a wooden bungalow away out of the town
and painted numbers of landscapes, rather lifeless imitations, as he
knew, of other men’s masterpieces. They were frequently sold.

Sometimes on summer afternoons he would go into woods or fields with
a few of his pupils to sketch or paint farmhouses, trees, clouds,
stacks, and other rural furniture. He was always hoping to sit alone
with Julia Tern but there were other loyal pupils who never missed
these occasions, among them the two Forrest girls, Ianthe the younger,
and Katharine, daughters of a thriving contractor. Julia remained
inscrutable, she gave him no opportunities at all; he could never
divine her feelings or gather any response to his own, but there could
be no doubt of the feelings of the Forrest girls--they quite certainly
liked him enormously. Except for that, they too, could have no reason
for continuing in his classes for both were as devoid of artistic grace
as an inkstand. They brought fruit or chocolate to the classes and
shared them with him. Their attentions, their mutual attentions, were
manifested in many ways, small but significant and kind. On these
occasions Julia’s eyes seemed to rest upon him with an ironical gaze.
It was absurd. He liked them well enough and sometimes from his shy
wooing of the adorable but enigmatic Julia he would turn for solace to
Ianthe. Yet strangely enough it was Kate, the least alluring to him of
the three girls, who took him to her melancholy heart.

Ianthe was a little bud of womanhood, dark-haired but light-headed,
dressed in cream coloured clothes. She was small and right and tight,
without angularities or rhythms, just one dumpy solid roundness. But
she had an astonishing vulgarity of speech, if not of mind, that
exacerbated him and in the dim corridors of his imagination she did
not linger, she scurried as it were into doorways or upon twisting
staircases or stood briefly where a loop of light fell upon her hair,
her dusky face, her creamy clothes, and her delightful rotundities. She
had eyes of indiscretion and a mind like a hive of bees, it had such a
tiny opening and was so full of a cloying content.

One day he suddenly found himself alone with Ianthe in a glade of larch
trees which they had all been sketching. They had loitered. He had been
naming wild flowers which Ianthe had picked for the purpose and then
thrown wantonly away. She spied a single plant of hellebore growing in
the dimness under the closely planted saplings.

“Don’t! don’t!” he cried. He kept her from plucking it and they knelt
down together to admire the white virginal flower.

His arm fell round Ianthe’s waist in a light casual way. He scarcely
realized its presumption. He had not intended to do it; as far as that
went he did not particularly want to do it, but there his arm was.
Ianthe took no notice of the embrace and he felt foolish, he could not
retreat until they rose to walk on; then Ianthe pressed close to his
side until his arm once more stole round her and they kissed.

“Heavens above!” she said, “you do get away with it quick.”

“Life’s short, there’s no time to lose, I do as I’d be done by.”

“And there are so many of us! But glory,” said the jolly girl, taking
him to her bosom, “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

She did not pick any more flowers and soon they were out of the wood
decorously joining the others. He imagined that Julia’s gaze was full
of irony, and the timid wonder in Kate’s eyes moved him uncomfortably.
There was something idiotic in the whole affair.

Until the end of the summer he met Ianthe often enough in the little
town or the city three miles off. Her uncouthness still repelled him;
sometimes he disliked her completely, but she was always happy to be
with him, charmingly fond and gay with all the endearing alertness of a
pert bird.

Her sister Kate was not just the mere female that Ianthe was; at once
sterner and softer her passions were more strong but their defences
stood solid as a rock. In spite of her reserve she was always on the
brink of her emotions and they, unhappily for her, were often not
transient, but enduring. She was nearly thirty, still unwed. Her dark
beauty, for she, too, was fine, seemed to brood in melancholy over his
attentions to the other two women. She was quiet, she had little to
say, she seemed to stand and wait.

One autumn night at the school after the pupils had gone home he walked
into the dim lobby for his hat and coat. Kate Forrest was there. She
stood with her back to him adjusting her hat. She did not say a word
nor did he address her. They were almost touching each other, there was
a pleasant scent about her. In the classroom behind the caretaker was
walking about the hollow-sounding floor, humming loudly as he clapped
down windows and mounted the six chairs to turn out the six gas lamps.
When the last light through the glazed door was gone and the lobby was
completely dark Kate all at once turned to him, folded him in her arms
and held him to her breast for one startling moment, then let him go,
murmuring O ... O.... It made him strangely happy. He pulled her back
in the gloom, whispering tender words. They walked out of the hall into
the dark road and stopped to confront each other. The road was empty
and dark except for a line of gas lamps that gleamed piercingly bright
in the sharp air and on the polished surface of the road that led back
from the hill down past her father’s villa. There were no lamps in
the opposite direction and the road groped its way out into the dark
country where he lived, a mile beyond the town. It was windy and
some unseen trees behind a wall near them swung and tossed with many
pleasant sounds.

“I will come a little way with you,” Kate said.

“Yes, come a little way,” he whispered, pressing her arm, “I’ll come
back with you.”

She took his arm and they turned towards the country. He could think of
nothing to say, he was utterly subdued by his surprise; Kate was sad,
even moody; but at last she said slowly: “I am unlucky, I always fall
in love with men who can’t love me.”

“O but I can and do, dear Kate,” he cried lightly. “Love me, Kate, go
on loving me, I’m not, well, I’m not very wicked.”

“No, no, you do not.” She shook her head mournfully: after a few
moments she added: “It’s Julia Tern.”

He was astounded. How could she have known this, how could any one have
known--even Julia herself? It was queer that she did not refer to his
friendship with Ianthe; he thought that was much more obvious than his
love for Julia. In a mood that he only half understood he began to deny
her reproachful charge.

“Why, you must think me very fickle indeed. I really love you, dear
Kate, really you.” His arm was around her neck, he smoothed her cheek
fondly against his own. She returned his caresses but he could glimpse
the melancholy doubt in her averted eyes.

“We often talk of you, we often talk of you at night, in bed, often.”

“What do you say about me--in bed? Who?”

“Ianthe and me. She likes you.”

“She likes me! What do you say about me--in bed?”

He hoped Ianthe had not been indiscreet but Kate only said: “She
doesn’t like you as I do--not like this.”

Soon they began to walk back toward the town. He smiled once when, as
their footsteps clattered unregularly upon the hard clean road, she
skipped to adjust the fall of her steps to his.

“Do not come any further,” she begged as they neared the street lamps.
“It doesn’t matter, not at all, what I’ve said to you. It will be all
right. I shall see you again.”

Once more she put her arms around his neck murmuring: “Goodnight,
goodnight, goodnight.”

He watched her tripping away. When he turned homewards his mind was
full of thoughts that were only dubiously pleasant. It was all very
sweet, surprisingly sweet, but it left him uneasy. He managed to light
a cigarette, but the wind blew smoke into his eyes, tore the charred
end into fiery rags and tossed the sparkles across his shoulder. If it
had only been Julia Tern!--or even Ianthe!--he would have been wholly
happy, but this was disturbing. Kate was good-looking but these quietly
passionate advances amazed him. Why had he been so responsive to her?
He excused himself, it was quite simple; you could not let a woman
down, a loving woman like that, not at once, a man should be kind. But
what did she mean when she spoke of always falling in love with men
who did not like her? He tossed the cigarette away and turned up the
collar of his coat for the faintest fall of warm rain blew against his
face like a soft beautiful net. He thrust his hands into his pockets
and walked sharply and forgettingly home.


II

Two miles away from the little town was the big city with tramways,
electric light, factories, canals, and tens of thousands of people,
where a few nights later he met Ianthe. Walking around and away from
the happy lighted streets they came out upon the bank of a canal where
darkness and loneliness were intensified by the silent passage of
black water whose current they could divine but could not see. As they
stepped warily along the unguarded bank he embraced her. Even as he did
so he cursed himself for a fool to be so fond of this wretched imp of
a girl. In his heart he believed he disliked her, but he was not sure.
She was childish, artful, luscious, stupid--this was no gesture for a
man with any standards. Silently clutching each other they approached
an iron bridge with lamps upon it and a lighted factory beyond it. The
softly-moving water could now be seen--the lamps on the bridge let
down thick rods of light into its quiet depths and beyond the arch the
windows of the factory, inverted in the stream, bloomed like baskets of
fire with flaming fringes among the eddies caused by the black pillars.
A boy shuffled across the bridge whistling a tune; there was the
rumble and trot of a cab. Then all sounds melted into a quiet without
one wave of air. The unseen couple had kissed, Ianthe was replying to
him:

“No, no, I like it, I like you.” She put her brow against his breast.
“I like you, I like you.”

His embracing hand could feel the emotion streaming within the girl.

“Do you like me better than her?”

“Than whom?” he asked.

Ianthe was coy. “You know, you know.”

Masterman’s feelings were a mixture of perturbation and delight,
delight at this manifestation of jealousy of her sister which was an
agreeable thing, anyway, for it implied a real depth of regard for him;
but he was perturbed for he did not know what Kate had told this sister
of their last strange meeting. He saluted her again exclaiming: “Never
mind her. This is our outing, isn’t it?”

“I don’t like her,” Ianthe added naïvely, “she is so awfully fond of
you.”

“O confound her,” he cried, and then, “you mustn’t mind me saying that
so, so sharply, you don’t mind, do you?”

Ianthe’s lips were soft and sweet. Sisters were quite unscrupulous,
Masterman had heard of such cases before, but he had tenderness and a
reluctance to wound anybody’s susceptibility, let alone the feelings
of a woman who loved. He was an artist not only in paint, but in
sentiment, and it is possible that he excelled in the less tangible
medium.

“It’s a little awkward,” he ventured. Ianthe didn’t understand, she
didn’t understand that at all.

“The difficulty, you see,” he said with the air of one handling
whimsically a question of perplexity that yet yielded its amusement,
“is ... is Kate.”

“Kate?” said Ianthe.

“She is so--so gone, so absolutely gone.”

“Gone?”

“Well, she’s really really in love, deeply, deeply,” he said looking
away anywhere but at her sister’s eyes.

“With Chris Halton, do you mean?”

“Ho, ho!” he laughed, “Halton! Lord, no, with me, with me, isn’t she?”

“With you!”

But Ianthe was quite positive even a little ironical about that. “She
is not, she rather dislikes you, Mr. Prince Charming, so there. We
speak of you sometimes at night in bed--we sleep together. She knows
what _I_ think of you but she’s quite, well she doesn’t like you at
all--she acts the heavy sister.”

“O,” said Masterman, groping as it were for some light in his darkness.

“She--what do you think--she warns me against you,” Ianthe continued.

“Against me?”

“As if I care. Do you?”

“No, no. I don’t care.”

They left the dark bank where they had been standing and walked along
to the bridge. Halfway up its steps to the road he paused and asked:
“Then who is it that is so fond of me?”

“O you know, you know.” Ianthe nestled blissfully in his arm again.

“No, but who is it, I may be making another howler. I thought you meant
Kate, what did she warn you of, I mean against me?”

They were now in the streets again, walking towards the tram centre.
The shops were darkened and closed, but the cinemas lavished their
unwanted illuminations on the street. There were no hurrying people,
there was just strolling ease; the policemen at corners were chatting
to other policemen now in private clothes. The brilliant trams rumbled
and clanged and stopped, the saloons were full and musical.

“What did she warn you against?” he repeated.

“You,” chuckled Ianthe.

“But what about? What has she got against me?”

“Everything. You know, you know you do.” The archness of Ianthe was
objectively baffling but under it all he read its significance, its
invitation.

He waited beside her for a tram but when it came he pleaded a further
engagement in the city. He had no other engagement, he only wanted to
be alone, to sort out the things she had dangled before his mind, so
he boarded the next car and walked from the Tutsan terminus to his
cottage. Both girls were fond of him, then--Ianthe’s candour left him
no room for doubt--and they were both lying to each other about him.
Well, he didn’t mind that, lies were a kind of protective colouring, he
lied himself whenever it was necessary, or suited him. Not often, but
truth was not always possible to sensitive minded men. Why, after all,
should sympathetic mendacity be a monopoly of polite society? “But it’s
also the trick of thieves and seducers, David Masterman,” he muttered
to himself. “I’m not a thief, no, I’m not a thief. As for the other
thing, well, what is there against me--nothing, nothing at all.” But
a strange voiceless sigh seemed to echo from the trees along the dark
road, “Not as yet, not as yet.”

He walked on more rapidly.

Three women! There was no doubt about the third, Ianthe had thought
of Julia, too, just as Kate had. What a fate for a misogamist! He
felt like a mouse being taken for a ride in a bath chair. He had an
invincible prejudice against marriage not as an institution but because
he was perfectly aware of his incapacity for faithfulness. His emotions
were deep but unprolonged. Love was love, but marriage turned love into
the stone of Sisyphus. At the sound of the marriage bell--a passing
bell--earth at his feet would burst into flame and the sky above would
pour upon him an unquenching profusion of tears. Love was a fine and
ennobling thing, but though he had the will to love he knew beyond the
possibility of doubt that his own capacity for love was a meandering
strengthless thing. Even his loyalty to Julia Tern--and that had the
strongest flavour of any emotion that had ever beset him, no matter how
brief its term--even that was a deviating zigzag loyalty. For he wanted
to go on being jolly and friendly with Ianthe if only Julia did not get
to know. With Kate, too, that tender melancholy woman; she would be
vastly unhappy. Who was this Christopher whom Ianthe fondly imagined
her sister to favour? Whoever he was, poor devil, he would not thank
D. M. for his intervention. But he would drop all this; however had he,
of all men, come to be plunged so suddenly into a state of things for
which he had shown so little fancy in the past? Julia would despise
him, she would be sure to despise him, sure to; and yet if he could
only believe she would not it would be pleasant to go on being friendly
with Ianthe pending ... pending what?

Masterman was a very pliant man, but as things shaped themselves for
him he did not go a step further with Ianthe, and it was not to Julia
at all that he made love.


III

The amour, if it may be described as such, of David Masterman and
Kate Forrest took a course that was devoid of ecstasy, whatever other
qualities may have illuminated their desires. It was an affair in which
the human intentions, which are intellectual, were on both sides strong
enough to subdue the efforts of passion, which are instinctive, to rid
itself of the customary curbs; and to turn the clash of inhibitions
wherein the man proposes and the woman rejects into a conflict not of
ideal but of mere propriety. They were like two negative atoms swinging
in a medium from which the positive flux was withdrawn; for them the
nebulæ did not “cohere into an orb.”

Kate’s fine figure was not so fine as Julia Tern’s; her dusky charms
were excelled by those of Ianthe; but her melancholy immobility,
superficial as it was, had a suggestive emotional appeal that won
Masterman away from her rivals. Those sad eyes had but to rest on
his and their depths submerged him. Her black hair had no special
luxuriance, her stature no unusual grace; the eyes were almost blue and
the thin oval face had always the flush of fine weather in it; but her
strong hands, though not as white as snow, were paler than milk, their
pallor was unnatural. Almost without an effort she drew him away from
the entangling Ianthe, and even the image of Julia became but a fair
cloud seen in moonlight, delicate and desirable but very far away; it
would never return. Julia had observed the relations between them--no
discerning eye could misread Kate’s passion--and she gave up his class,
a secession that had a deep significance for him, and a grief that he
could not conceal from Kate though she was too wise to speak of it.

But in spite of her poignant aspect--for it was in that appearance
she made such a powerful appeal to Masterman; the way she would wait
silently for him on the outside of a crowd of the laughing chattering
students was touching--she was an egotist of extraordinary type. She
believed in herself and in her virtue more strongly than she believed
in him or their mutual love. By midsummer, after months of wooing, she
knew that the man who so passionately moved her and whose own love she
no less powerfully engaged was a man who would never marry, who had a
morbid preposterous horror of the domesticity and devotion that was her
conception of living bliss. “The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the
world,” he said. He, too, knew that the adored woman, for her part,
could not dream of a concession beyond the limits her virginal modesty
prescribed. He had argued and stormed and swore that baffled love turns
irrevocably to hatred. She did not believe him, she even smiled. But he
had behaved grossly towards her, terrified her, and they had parted in
anger.

He did not see her for many weeks. He was surprised and dismayed that
his misery was so profound. He knew he had loved her, he had not
doubted its sincerity but he had doubted its depth. Then one September
evening she had come back to the class and afterwards she had walked
along the road with him towards his home.

“Come to my house,” he said, “you have never been to see it.”

She shook her head, it was getting dark, and they walked on past
his home further into the country. The eve was late but it had come
suddenly without the deliberation of sunset or the tenuity of dusk.
Each tree was a hatful of the arriving blackness. They stood by a white
gate under an elm, but they had little to say to each other.

“Come to my house,” he urged again and again; she shook her head. He
was indignant at her distrust of him. Perhaps she was right but he
would never forgive her. The sky was now darker than the road; the
sighing air was warm, with drifting spots of rain.

“Tell me,” she suddenly said taking his arm, “has anybody else ever
loved you like that.”

He prevaricated: “Like what?” He waited a long time for her answer. She
gave it steadily.

“Like you want me to love you.”

He, too, hesitated. He kissed her. He wanted to tell her that it was
not wise to pry.

“Tell me,” she urged, “tell me.”

“Yes,” he replied. He could not see her plainly in the darkness, but he
knew of the tears that fell from her eyes.

“How unreasonable,” he thought, “how stupid!” He tried to tell the
truth to her--the truth as he conceived it--about his feelings towards
her, and towards those others, and about themselves as he perceived it.

She was almost alarmed, certainly shocked.

“But you don’t believe such things,” she almost shivered, “I’m sure you
don’t, it isn’t right, it is not true.”

“It may not be true,” he declared implacably, “but I believe it. The
real warrant for holding a belief is not that it is true but that it
satisfies you.” She did not seem to understand that; she only answered
irrelevantly. “I’ll make it all up to you some day. I shall not change,
David, toward you. We have got all our lives before us. I shan’t
alter--will you?”

“Not alter!” he began angrily but then subduedly added with a grim
irony that she did not gather in: “No, I shall not alter.”

She flung herself upon his breast murmuring: “I’ll make it all up to
you, some day.”

He felt like a sick-minded man and was glad when they parted. He went
back to his cottage grumbling audibly to himself. Why could he not
take this woman with the loving and constant heart and wed her? He
did not know why, but he knew he never would do that. She was fine
to look upon but she had ideas (if you could call them ideas) which
he disliked. Her instincts and propensities were all wrong, they
were antagonistic to him, just, as he felt, his were antagonistic to
her. What was true, though, was her sorrow at what she called their
misunderstandings and what was profound, what was almost convincing,
was her assumption (which but measured her own love for him) that he
could not cease to love _her_. How vain that was. He had not loved
any woman in the form she thought all love must take. These were not
misunderstandings, they were just simply at opposite ends of a tilted
beam; he the sophisticated, and she the innocent beyond the reach
of his sophistries. But Good Lord, what did it all matter? what did
anything matter? He would not see her again. He undressed, got into
bed. He thought of Julia, of Ianthe, of Kate. He had a dream in which
he lay in a shroud upon a white board and was interrogated by a saint
who carried a reporter’s notebook and a fountain pen.

“What is your desire, sick-minded man?” the saint interrogated him,
“what consummation would exalt your languid eyes?”

“I want the present not to be. It is neither grave nor noble.”

“Then that is your sickness. That mere negation is at once your hope
and end.”

“I do not know.”

“If the present so derides the dignified past surely your desire lies
in a future incarnating beautiful old historic dreams?”

“I do not know.”

“Ideals are not in the past. They do not exist in any future. They rush
on, and away, beyond your immediate activities, beyond the horizons
that are for ever fixed, for ever charging down upon us.”

“I do not know.”

“What is it you do know?” asked the exasperated saint, jerking his
fountain pen to loosen its flow, and Masterman replied like a lunatic:

“I know that sealing wax is a pure and beautiful material and you get
such a lot of it for a penny.”

He woke and slept no more. He cursed Kate, he sneered at Julia, he
anathematized Ianthe, until the bright eye of morning began to gild
once more their broken images.


IV

Between the sisters there grew a feud; Ianthe behaved evilly when she
discovered their mutual infatuation for their one lover. The echoes
of that feud, at first dim, but soon crashingly clear, reached him,
touched him and moved him on Kate’s behalf: all his loyalty belonged
to her. What did it matter if he could not fathom his own desire, that
Ianthe was still his for a word, that Kate’s implacable virtue still
offered its deprecatory hand, when Kate herself came back to him?

They were to spend a picnic day together and she went to him for
breakfast. Her tremors of propriety were fully exercised as she cycled
along to his home; she was too fond of him and he was more than fond of
her; but all her qualms were lulled. He did not appear in any of the
half-expected negligee, he was beautifully and amusingly at home.

“My dear!” he exclaimed in the enjoyment of her presence; she stood
staring at him as she removed her wrap, the morn though bright being
fresh and cool: “Why do I never do you justice! Why do I half forget!
You are marvellously, irresistibly lovely. How do you do it--or how do
I fail so?”

She could only answer him with blushes. His bungalow had but two rooms,
both on the ground floor, one a studio and the other his living and
sleeping room. It was new, built of bricks and unpainted boards. The
interior walls were unplastered and undecorated except for three small
saucepans hung on hooks, a shelf of dusty volumes, and nails, large
rusty nails, projecting everywhere, one holding a discarded collar
and a clothes brush. A tall flat cupboard contained a narrow bed to
be lowered for sleeping, huge portmanteaus and holdalls reposed in a
corner beside a bureau, there was a big brass candle-pan on a chair
beside the round stove. While he prepared breakfast the girl walked
about the room, making shy replies to his hilarious questions. It
was warm in there but to her tidy comfort-loving heart the room was
disordered and bare. She stood looking out of the window: the April
air was bright but chilly, the grass in thin tufts fluttered and
shivered.

“It is very nice,” she said to him once, “but it’s strange and I feel
that I ought not to be here.”

“O, never mind where you ought to be,” he cried, pouring out her
coffee, “that’s where you are, you suit the place, you brighten and
adorn it, it’s your native setting, Kate. No--I know exactly what is
running in your mind, you are going to ask if I suffer loneliness here.
Well, I don’t. A great art in life is the capacity to extract a flavour
from something not obviously flavoured, but here it is all flavour.
Come and look at things.”

He rose and led her from egg and toast to the world outside. Long
fields of pasture and thicket followed a stream that followed other
meadows, soon hidden by the ambulating many folding valleys, and so
on to the sea, a hundred miles away. Into his open door were blown,
in their season, balls of thistledown, crisp leaves, twigs and dried
grass, the reminder, the faint brush, of decay. The airs of wandering
winds came in, odours of herb, the fragrance of viewless flowers. The
land in some directions was now being furrowed where corn was greenly
to thrive, to wave in glimmering gold, to lie in the stook, to pile
on giant stack. Horses were trailing a harrow across an upland below
the park, the wind was flapping the coats of the drivers, the tails
and manes of the horses, and heaving gladly in trees. A boy fired the
heaps of squitch whose smoke wore across the land in dense deliberate
wreaths. Sportsmen’s guns were sounding from the hollow park.

Kate followed Masterman around his cottage; he seemed to be fascinated
by the smoke, the wind, the horses and men.

“Breakfast will be cold.”

How queerly he looked at her before he said: “Yes, of course, breakfast
will be getting cold,” and then added, inconsequently: “Flowers are
like men and women, they either stare brazenly at the sun or they bend
humbly before it, but even the most modest desire the sun.”

When he spoke like that she always felt that the words held a
half-hidden, perhaps libidinous, meaning, which she could not
understand but only guess at; and she was afraid of her guesses. Full
of curious, not to say absurd superstitions about herself and about
him, his strange oblique emotions startled her virginal understanding;
her desire was to be good, very very good, but to be that she could not
but suspect the impulses of most other people, especially the impulses
of men. Well, perhaps she was right: the woman who hasn’t any doubts
must have many illusions.

He carried a bag of lunch and they walked out into the day. Soon the
wind ceased, the brightness grew warm, the warmth was coloured; clouds
lolled in the air like tufts of lilac. At the edge of a spinney they
sat down under a tree. Boughs of wood blown down by the winter gales
were now being hidden by the spring grass. A rabbit, twenty yards away,
sat up and watched the couple, a fat grey creature. “Hoi,” cried Kate,
and the rabbit hopped away. It could not run very fast, it did not seem
much afraid.

“Is it wounded?” she asked.

“No, I think it is a tame one, escaped from a farm or a cottage near
us, I expect.”

Kate crept after it on hands and knees and it let her approach. She
offered it the core of an apple she had just eaten. The rabbit took
it and bit her finger. Then Kate caught it by the ears. It squealed
but Kate held it to her bosom with delight, and the rabbit soon rested
there if not with delight at least with ease. It was warm against her
breast, it was delicious to feel it there, to pull its ears and caress
its fat flanks, but as she was doing this she suddenly saw that its
coat was infested with fleas. She dropped the rabbit with a scream of
disgust and it rushed into the thicket.

“Come here,” said Masterman to her, “let me search you, this is
distressing.”

She knelt down before him and in spite of her wriggling he reassured
her.

“It’s rather a nice blouse,” he said.

“I don’t care for it. I shall not wear it again. I shall sell it to
someone or give it to them.”

“I would love to take it from you stitch by stitch.”

With an awkward movement of her arm she thrust at his face, crying
loudly, “No, how dare you speak to me like that!”

“Is it very daring?” For a moment he saw her clenched hands, detestably
bloodless, a symbol of roused virtue: but at once her anger was gone,
Kate was contrite and tender. She touched his face with her white
fingers softly as the settling of a moth. “O, why did we come here?”

He did not respond to her caresses, he was sullen, they left the
spinney; but as they walked she took his arm murmuring: “Forgive me,
I’ll make it all up to you some day.”

Coyness and cunning, passion and pride, were so much at odds that later
on they quarrelled again. Kate knew that he would neither marry her nor
let her go; she could neither let him go nor keep him. This figure of
her distress amused him, he was callously provoking, and her resentment
flowed out at the touch of his scorn. With Kate there seemed to be no
intermediate stages between docility and fury, or even between love and
hatred.

“Why are you like this?” she cried, beating her pallid hands together,
“I have known you for so long.”

“Ah, we have known each other for so long, but as for really knowing
you--no! I’m not a tame rabbit to be fondled any more.”

She stared for a moment, as if in recollection; then burst into
ironical laughter. He caught her roughly in his arms but she beat him
away.

“O, go to ... go to....”

“Hell?” he suggested.

“Yes,” she burst out tempestuously, “and stop there.”

He was stunned by her unexpected violence. She was coarse like Ianthe
after all. But he said steadily:

“I’m willing to go there if you will only keep out of my way when I
arrive.”

Then he left her standing in a lane, he hurried and ran, clambering
over stiles and brushing through hedges, anything to get away from the
detestable creature. She did not follow him and they were soon out of
sight of each other. Anger and commination swarmed to his lips, he
branded her with frenzied opprobrium and all the beastliness that was
in him. Nothing under heaven should ever persuade him to approach the
filthy beast again, the damned intolerable pimp, never, never again,
never.

But he came to a bridge. On it he rested. And in that bright air, that
sylvan peace, his rancour fell away from him, like sand from a glass,
leaving him dumb and blank at the meanness of his deed. He went back
to the lane as fast as he could go. She was not there. Kate, Kate, my
dove! But he could not find her.

He was lost in the fields until he came at last upon a road and a
lonely tavern thereby. It had a painted sign; a very smudgy fox,
in an inexplicable attitude, destroying a fowl that looked like
a plum-pudding but was intended to depict a snipe. At the stable
door the tiniest black kitten in the world was shaping with timid
belligerency at a young and fluffy goose who, ignoring it, went on
sipping ecstatically from a pan of water. On the door were nailed, in
two semicircles of decoration, sixteen fox pads in various stages of
decay, an entire spiral shaving from the hoof of a horse, and some
chalk jottings:

  2 pads
  3 cruppers
  1 Bellyband
  2 Set britchin

The tavern was long and low and clean, its garden was bare but trim.
There was comfort, he rested, had tea, and then in the bar his
painful musings were broken by a ragged unfortunate old pedlar from
Huddersfield.

“Born and bred in Slatterwick, it’s no lie ah’m speaking, ah were born
and bred Slatterwick, close to Arthur Brinkley’s farm, his sister’s in
Canady, John Orkroyd took farm, Arthur’s dead.”

“Humph!”

“And buried. That iron bridge at Jackamon’s belong to Daniel Cranmer.
He’s dead.”

“Humph!”

“And buried. From th’ iron bridge it’s two miles and a quarter to
Herbert Oddy’s, that’s the ‘Bay Horse,’ am ah right, at Shelmersdyke.
Three miles and three-quarters from dyke to the ‘Cock and Goat’ at
Shapley Fell, am ah right?”

Masterman, never having been within a hundred miles of Yorkshire,
puffed at his cigarette and nodded moodily, “I suppose so” or “Yes,
yes.”

“From Arthur Brinkley’s to th’ iron bridge is one mile and a half and a
bit, and from Arthur Brinkley’s to Jury Cartright’s is just four mile.
He’s dead, sir.”

“Yes.”

“And buried. Is that wrong? Am ah speaking wrong? No. It’s long step
from yon, rough tramp for an old man.”

Masterman--after giving sixpence to the pedlar who, uttering a
benediction, pressed upon him a card of shirt buttons--said “Good
evening” and walked out to be alone upon the road with his once angry
but now penitent mind. Kate, poor dear Kate!

The sun was low down lolling near the horizon but there was an
astonishing light upon the land. Cottage windows were blocks of solid
gold in this lateral brilliance, shafts of shapely shade lay across
leagues of field, he could have counted every leaf among the rumpled
boskage of the sycamores. A vast fan of indurated cloud, shell-like and
pearly, was wavering over the western sky but in the east were snowy
rounded masses like fabulous balloons. At a cross road he stood by an
old sign post, its pillar plastered with the faded bill of a long-ago
circus. He could read every word of it but when he turned away he found
everything had grown dimmer. The wind arose, the forest began to roar
like a heaving beast. All verdurous things leaned one way. A flock of
starlings flew over him with one movement and settled in a rolling
elm. How lonely it was. He took off his hat. His skull was fearfully
tender--he had dabbed it too hard with his hair brush that morning. His
hair was growing thin, like his youth and his desires.

What had become of Kate, where had she hidden? What _would_ become of
her? He would never see her again. He disliked everything about her,
except her self. Her clothes, her speech, her walk, the way she carried
her umbrella, her reticence that was nothing if not conspicuous, her
melancholy, her angular concrete piety, her hands--in particular
he disliked her pale hands. She had a mind that was cultivated as
perfunctorily as a kitchen garden, with ideas like roots or beans,
hostilities like briars, and a fence of prudery that was as tough as
hoops of galvanized iron. And yet he loved her--or almost. He was
ready to love her, he wanted to, he wanted her; her deep but guarded
devotion--it was limited but it was devotion--compelled this return
from him. It was a passionate return. He had tried to mould that
devotion into a form that could delight him--he had failed. He knew
her now, he could peer into her craven soul as one peers into an empty
bottle, with one eye. For her the opportunities afforded by freedom
were but the preludes to misadventure. What a fool she was!

When he reached home Kate stood in darkness at the doorway of his
house. He exclaimed with delight, her surprising presence was the very
centre of his desire, he wanted to embrace her, loving her deeply,
inexplicably again; just in a moment.

“I want my bike,” the girl said sullenly. “I left it inside this
morning.

“Ah, your bicycle! Yes, you did.” He unlocked the door. “Wait, there
should be a candle, there should be.”

She stood in the doorway until he had lit it.

“Come in, Kate,” he said, “let me give you something. I think there is
some milk, certainly I have some cake, come in, Kate, or do you drink
beer, I have beer, come in, I’ll make you something hot.”

But Kate only took her bicycle. “I ought to have been home hours ago,”
she said darkly, wheeling it outside and lighting the lantern. He
watched her silently as she dabbed the wick, the pallor of her hands
had never appeared so marked.

“Let’s be kind to each other,” he said, detaining her, “don’t go, dear
Kate.”

She pushed the bicycle out into the road.

“Won’t you see me again?” he asked as she mounted it.

“I am always seeing you,” she called back, but her meaning was dark to
him.

“Faugh! The devil! The fool!” He gurgled anathemas as he returned to
his cottage. “And me too! What am I?”

But no mortal man could ever love a woman of that kind. She did not
love him at all, had never loved him. Then what was it she did love?
Not her virtue--you might as well be proud of the sole of your foot;
it was some sort of pride, perhaps the test of her virtue that the
conflict between them provoked, the contest itself alone alluring her,
not its aim and end. She was never happier than when having led him on
she thwarted him. But she would find that his metal was as tough as her
own.

Before going to bed he spent an hour in writing very slowly a letter to
Kate, telling her that he felt they would not meet again, that their
notions of love were so unrelated, their standards so different. “My
morals are at least as high as yours though likely enough you regard
me as a rip. Let us recognize then,” he wrote concludingly, “that we
have come to the end of the tether without once having put an ounce
of strain upon its delightful but never tense cord. But the effort
to keep the affair down to the level at which you seem satisfied has
wearied me. The task of living down to that assured me that for you the
effort of living up to mine would be consuming. I congratulate you,
my dear, on coming through scatheless and that the only appropriate
condolences are my own--for myself.”

It was rather pompous, he thought, but then she wouldn’t notice that,
let alone understand it. She suffered not so much from an impediment of
speech--how could she when she spoke so little?--as from an impediment
of intellect, which was worse, much worse, but not so noticeable being
so common a failing. She was, when all was said and done, just a fool.
It was a pity, for bodily she must indeed be a treasure. What a pity!
But she had never had any love for him at all, only compassion and
pity for his bad thoughts about her; he had neither pity for her nor
compunction--only love. Dear, dear, dear. Blow out the candle, lock the
door, Good-night!


V

He did not see her again for a long time. He would have liked to have
seen her, yes, just once more, but of course he was glad, quite glad,
that she did not wish to risk it and drag from dim depths the old
passion to break again in those idiotic bubbles of propriety. She did
not answer his letter--he was amused. Then her long silence vexed him,
until vexation was merged in alarm. She had gone away from Tutsan--of
course--gone away on family affairs--oh, naturally!--she might be gone
for ever. But a real grief came upon him. He had long mocked the girl,
not only the girl but his own vision of her; now she was gone his mind
elaborated her melancholy immobile figure into an image of beauty. Her
absence, her silence, left him wretched. He heard of her from Ianthe
who renewed her blandishments; he was not unwilling to receive them
now--he hoped their intercourse might be reported to Kate.

After many months he did receive a letter from her. It was a tender
letter though ill-expressed, not very wise or informative, but he could
feel that the old affection for him was still there, and he wrote her a
long reply in which penitence and passion and appeal were mingled.

“I know now, yes, I see it all now; solutions are so easy when the
proof of them is passed. We were cold to each other, it was stupid, I
should have _made_ you love me and it would have been well. I see it
now. How stupid, how unlucky; it turned me to anger and you to sorrow.
Now I can think only of you.”

She made no further sign, not immediately, and he grew dull again.
His old disbelief in her returned. Bah! she loved him no more than a
suicide loved the pond it dies in; she had used him for her senseless
egoism, tempting him and fooling him, wantonly, he had not begun it,
and she took a chaste pride in saving herself from him. What was it the
old writer had said?

“Chastity, by nature the gentlest of all affections--give it but its
head--’tis like a ramping and roaring lion.” Saving herself! Yes, she
would save herself for marriage.

He even began to contemplate that outcome.

Her delayed letter, when it came, announced that she was coming home at
once; he was to meet her train in the morning after the morrow.

It was a dull autumnal morning when he met her. Her appearance was not
less charming than he had imagined it, though the charm was almost
inarticulate and there were one or two crude touches that momentarily
distressed him. But he met with a flush of emotion all her glances of
gaiety and love that were somehow, vaguely, different--perhaps there
was a shade less reserve. They went to lunch in the city and at the end
of the meal he asked her:

“Well, why have you come back again?”

She looked at him intently: “Guess!”

“I--well, no--perhaps--tell me, Kate, yourself.”

“You are different now, you look different, David.”

“Am I changed? Better or worse?”

She did not reply and he continued:

“You too, are changed. I can’t tell how it is, or where, but you are.”

“O, I am changed, much changed,” murmured Kate.

“Have you been well?”

“Yes.”

“And happy?”

“Yes.”

“Then how unwise of you to come back.”

“I have come back,” said Kate, “to be happier. But somehow you are
different.”

“You are different, too. Shall we ever be happy again?”

“Why--why not!” said Kate.

“Come on!” he cried hilariously, “let us make a day of it, come along!”

Out in the streets they wandered until rain began to fall.

“Come in here for a while.” They were passing a roomy dull building,
the museum, and they went in together. It was a vast hollow-sounding
flagstone place that had a central brightness fading into dim recesses
and galleries of gloom. They examined a monster skeleton of something
like an elephant, three stuffed apes, and a picture of the dodo. Kate
stood before them without interest or amusement, she just contemplated
them. What did she want with an elephant, an ape, or a dodo? The glass
exhibit cases were leaned upon by them, the pieces of coal neatly
arranged and labelled were stared at besides the pieces of granite or
coloured rock with long names ending in _orite dorite_ and _sorite_
and so on to the precious gems including an imitation, as big as a
bun, of a noted diamond. They leaned over them, repeating the names
on the labels with the quintessence of vacuity. They hated it. There
were beetles and worms of horror, butterflies of beauty, and birds that
had been stuffed so long that they seemed to be intoxicated; their
beaks fitted them as loosely as a drunkard’s hat, their glassy eyes
were pathetically vague. After ascending a flight of stone steps David
and Kate stooped for a long time over a case of sea-anemones that had
been reproduced in gelatine by a German with a fancy for such things.
From the railed balcony they could peer down into the well of the
fusty-smelling museum. No one else was visiting it, they were alone
with all things dead, things that had died millions of years ago and
were yet simulating life. A footfall sounded so harsh in the corridors,
boomed with such clangour, that they took slow diffident steps,
almost tiptoeing, while Kate scarcely spoke at all and he conversed
in murmurs. Whenever he coughed the whole place seemed to shudder. In
the recess, hidden from prying eyes, David clasped her willing body in
his arms. For once she was unshrinking and returned his fervour. The
vastness, the emptiness, the deadness, worked upon their feelings with
intense magic.

“Love me, David,” she murmured, and when they moved away from the
gelatinous sea-urchins she kept both her arms clasped around him as
they walked the length of the empty corridors. He could not understand
her, he could not perceive her intimations, their meaning was dark to
him. She was so altered, this was another Kate.

“I have come home to make it all up to you,” she repeated, and he
scarcely dared to understand her.

They approached a lecture-room; the door was open, the room was empty,
they went in and stood near the platform. The place was arranged like
a tiny theatre, tiers of desks rising in half-circles on three sides
high up towards the ceiling. A small platform with a lecturer’s desk
confronted the rising tiers; on the wall behind it a large white sheet;
a magic lantern on a pedestal was near and a blackboard on an easel.
A pencil of white chalk lay broken on the floor. Behind the easel was
a piano, a new piano with a duster on its lid. The room smelled of
spilled acids. The lovers’ steps upon the wooden floor echoed louder
than ever after their peregrinations upon the flagstones; they were
timid of the sound and stood still, close together, silent. He touched
her bosom and pressed her to his heart, but all her surrender seemed
strange and nerveless. She was almost violently different; he had liked
her old rejections, they were fiery and passionate. He scarce knew
what to do, he understood her less than ever now. Dressed as she was
in thick winter clothes it was like embracing a tree, it tired him.
She lay in his arms waiting, waiting, until he felt almost stifled.
Something like the smell of the acids came from her fur necklet. He was
glad when she stood up, but she was looking at him intently. To cover
his uneasiness he went to the blackboard and picking up a piece of the
chalk he wrote the first inconsequent words that came into his mind.
Kate stood where he had left her, staring at the board as he traced the
words upon it:

  _We are but little children weak_

Laughing softly she strolled towards him.

“What do you write that for? I know what it is.”

“What it is! Well, what is it?”

She took the chalk from his fingers.

“It’s a hymn,” she went on, “it goes....”

“A hymn!” he cried, “I did not know that.”

Underneath the one he had written she was now writing another line on
the board.

  _Nor born to any high estate._

“Of course,” he whispered, “I remember it now. I sang it as a child--at
school--go on, go on.”

But she had thereupon suddenly turned away, silent, dropping her hands
to her side. One of her old black moods had seized her. He let her go
and picking up another fragment of chalk completed the verse.

  _What can we do for Jesu’s sake
  Who is so high and good and great?_

She turned when he had finished and without a word walked loudly to the
piano, fetched the duster and rubbed out the words they had written on
the blackboard. She was glaring angrily at him.

“How absurd you are,”--he was annoyed--“let us go out and get some
tea.” He wandered off to the door, but she did not follow. He stood
just outside gazing vacantly at a stuffed jay that had an indigo eye.
He looked into the room again. She was there still, just as he had left
her; her head bent, her hands hanging clasped before her, the dimness
covering and caressing her--a figure full of sad thoughts. He ran to
her and crushed her in his arms again.

“Kate, my lovely.”

She was saying brokenly: “You know what I said. I’ve come to make it
all up to you. I promised, didn’t I?”

Something shuddered in his very soul--too late, too late, this was no
love for him. The magic lantern looked a stupid childish toy, the smell
of the acid was repulsive. Of all they had written upon the blackboard
one word dimly remained: _Jesu_.

She stirred in his arms. “You are changed, David.”

“Changed, yes, everything is changed.”

“This is just like a theatre, like a play, as if we were acting.”

“Yes, as if we were acting. But we are not acting. Let us go up and sit
in the gallery.”

They ascended the steps to the top ring of desks and looked down to
the tiny platform and the white curtain. She sat fondling his hands,
leaning against him.

“Have you ever acted--you would do it so well?”

“Why do you say that? Am I at all histrionic?”

“Does that mean insincere? O no. But you are the person one expects to
be able to do anything.”

“Nonsense! I’ve never acted. I suppose I could. It isn’t difficult, you
haven’t to be clever, only courageous. I should think it very easy to
be only an ordinary actor, but I’m wrong, no doubt. I thought it was
easy to write--to write a play--until I tried. I once engaged myself
to write a little play for some students to act. I had never done such
a thing before and like other idiots I thought I hadn’t ever done it
simply because I hadn’t ever wanted to. Heavens, how harassed I was
and how ashamed! I could not do it, I got no further than the author’s
speech.”

“Well that was something. Tell me it.”

“It’s nothing to do with the play. It’s what the author says to the
audience when the play is finished.”

She insisted on hearing it whatever it was. “O well,” he said at last,
“let’s do that properly, at least. I’ll go down there and deliver
it from the stage. You must pretend that you are the enthusiastic
audience. Come and sit in the stalls.”

They went down together.

“Now imagine that this curtain goes up and I suddenly appear.”

Kate faintly clapped her hands. He stood upon the platform facing her
and taking off his hat, began:

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

“I am so deeply touched by the warmth of this reception, this utterly
undeserved appreciation, that--forgive me--I have forgotten the
speech I had carefully prepared in anticipation of it. Let me meet
my obligation by telling you a story; I think it is true, I made it
up myself. Once upon a time there was a poor playwright--something
like me--who wrote a play--something like this--and at the end of the
performance the audience, a remarkably handsome well-fed intellectual
audience--something like this--called him before the curtain and
demanded a speech. He protested that he was unprepared and asked
them to allow him to tell them a story--something like this. Well,
that, too, was a remarkably handsome well-fed intellectual audience,
so they didn’t mind and he began again.--Once upon a time a poor
playwright--and was just about to repeat the story I have already twice
told you when suddenly, without a word of warning, without a sound,
without a compunction, the curtain swooped down and chopped him clean
in half.”

Masterman made an elaborate obeisance and stepped off the platform.

“Is that all?” asked Kate.

“That’s all.”

At that moment a loud bell clanged throughout the building signifying
that the museum was about to close.

“Come along!” he cried, but Kate did not move, she still sat in the
stalls.

“Don’t leave me, David, I want to hear the play?” she said archly.

“There _was_ no play. There _is_ no play. Come, or we shall be locked
in for the night.”

She still sat on. He went to her and seized her hands.

“What does it matter!” she whispered, embracing him. “I want to make it
all up to you.”

He was astoundingly moved. She was marvellously changed. If she hadn’t
the beauty of perfection she had some of the perfection of beauty. He
adored her.

“But, no,” he said, “it won’t do, it really won’t. Come, I have got to
buy you something at once, a ring with a diamond in it, as big as a
bun, an engagement ring, quickly, or the shops will be shut.”

He dragged the stammering bewildered girl away, down the stairs and
into the street. The rain had ceased, the sunset sky was bright and
Masterman was intensely happy.

       *       *       *       *       *

COTTON

       *       *       *       *       *



COTTON


At the place where the road from Carnaby Down ends in the main western
highway that goes towards Bath there stands, or once stood, a strongly
built stone cottage confronting, on the opposite side of the highroad,
a large barn and some cattle stalls. A man named Cotton lived with his
wife lonely in this place, their whole horizon bounded by the hedges
and fences of their farm. His Christian name, for some unchristian
reason, was Janifex, people called him Jan, possibly because it rhymed
with his wife’s name, which was Ann. And Ann was a robust managing
woman of five and thirty, childless, full of desolating cleanliness
and kindly tyrannies, with no perceptions that were not determined by
her domestic ambition, and no sympathies that could interfere with her
diurnal energies whatever they might be. Jan was a mild husbandman,
prematurely aged, with large teeth and, since “forty winters had
besieged his brow,” but little hair. Sometimes one of the large teeth
would drop out, leaving terrible gaps when he opened his mouth and
turning his patient smile to a hideous leer. These evacuations, which
were never restored, began with the death of Queen Victoria; throughout
the reign of her successor great events were punctuated by similar
losses until at last Jan could masticate, in his staid old manner, only
in one overworked corner of his mouth.

He would rise of a morning throughout the moving year at five of the
clock; having eaten his bread and drunk a mug of cocoa he would don
a long white jacket and cross the road diagonally to the gate at the
eastern corner of the sheds; these were capped by the bright figure of
a golden cockerel, voiceless but useful, flaunting always to meet the
challenge of the wind. Sometimes in his deliberate way Jan would lift
his forlorn eyes in the direction of the road coming from the east, but
he never turned to the other direction as that would have cost him a
physical effort and bodily flexion had ceased years and years ago. Do
roads ever run backward--leaps not forward the eye? As he unloosed the
gate of the yard his great dog would lift its chained head from some
sacks under a cart, and a peacock would stalk from the belt of pines
that partly encircled the buildings. The man would greet them, saying
“O, ah!” In the rickyard he would pause to release the fowls from their
hut and watch them run to the stubbles or spurn the chaff with their
claws as they ranged between the stacks. If the day were windy the
chaff would fall back in clouds upon their bustling feathers, and that
delighted his simple mind. It is difficult to account for his joy in
this thing for though his heart was empty of cruelty it seemed to be
empty of everything else. Then he would pass into the stalls and with
a rattle of can and churn the labour of the day was begun.

Thus he lived, with no temptations, and few desires except perhaps for
milk puddings, which for some reason concealed in Ann’s thrifty bosom
he was only occasionally permitted to enjoy. Whenever his wife thought
kindly of him she would give him a piece of silver and he would traipse
a mile in the evening, a mile along to the _Huntsman’s Cup_, and take a
tankard of beer. On his return he would tell Ann of the things he had
seen, the people he had met, and other events of his journey.

Once, in the time of spring, when buds were bursting along the hedge
coverts and birds of harmony and swiftness had begun to roost in the
wood, a blue-chinned Spaniard came to lodge at the farm for a few
weeks. He was a labourer working at some particular contract upon the
estate adjoining the Cottons’ holding, and he was accommodated with a
bed and an abundance of room in a clean loft behind the house. With
curious shoes upon his feet, blazing check trousers fitting tightly
upon his thighs, a wrapper of pink silk around his neck, he was an
astonishing figure in that withdrawn corner of the world. When the
season chilled him a long black cloak with a hood for his head added
a further strangeness. Juan da Costa was his name. He was slightly
round-shouldered with an uncongenial squint in his eyes; though he
used but few words of English his ways were beguiling; he sang very
blithely shrill Spanish songs, and had a pleasant courtesy of manner
that presented a deal of attraction to the couple, particularly Ann,
whose casual heart he reduced in a few hours to kindness, and in a few
days, inexplicably perhaps, to a still warmer emotion--yes, even in the
dull blankness of that mind some ghostly star could glimmer. From the
hour of his arrival she was an altered woman although, with primitive
subtlety the transition from passivity to passion was revealed only by
one curious sign, and that was the spirit of her kindness evoked for
the amiable Jan, who now fared mightily upon his favourite dishes.

Sometimes the Spaniard would follow Jan about the farm. “Grande!” he
would say, gesturing with his arm to indicate the wide-rolling hills.

“O, ah!” Jan would reply, “there’s a heap o’ land in the open air.”

The Spaniard does not understand. He asks: “What?”

“O, ah!” Jan would echo.

But it was the cleanly buxom Ann to whom da Costa devoted himself.
He brought home daily, though not ostensibly to her, a bunch of the
primroses, a stick of snowbudded sallow, or a sprig of hazel hung with
catkins, soft caressable things. He would hold the hazel up before
Ann’s uncomprehending gaze and strike the lemon-coloured powder from
the catkins on to the expectant adjacent buds, minute things with stiff
female prongs, red like the eyes of the white rabbit which Ann kept in
the orchard hutch.

One day Juan came home unexpectedly in mid-afternoon. It was a cold
dry day and he wore his black cloak and hood.

“See,” he cried, walking up to Ann, who greeted him with a smile; he
held out to her a posy of white violets tied up with some blades of
thick grass. She smelt them but said nothing. He pressed the violets to
his lips and again held them out, this time to her lips. She took them
from him and touched them with the front of her bodice while he watched
her with delighted eyes.

“You ... give ... me ... something ... for ... los flores?”

“Piece a cake!” said Ann, moving towards the pantry door.

“Ah ... cake...!”

As she pulled open the door, still keeping a demure eye upon him, the
violets fell out and down upon the floor, unseen by her. He rushed
towards them with a cry of pain and a torrent of his strange language;
picking them up he followed her into the pantry, a narrow place almost
surrounded by shelves with pots of pickles and jam, plates, cups and
jugs, a scrap of meat upon a trencher, a white bowl with cob nuts and a
pair of iron crackers.

“See ... lost!” he cried shrilly as she turned to him. She was about to
take them again when he stayed her with a whimsical gesture.

“Me ... me,” he said, and brushing her eyes with their soft perfume
he unfastened the top button of her bodice while the woman stood
motionless; then the second button, then the third. He turned the
corners inwards and tucked the flowers between her flesh and
underlinen. They stood eyeing one another, breathing uneasily, but with
a pretence of nonchalance. “Ah!” he said suddenly; before she could
stop him he had seized a few nuts from the white bowl and holding open
her bodice where the flowers rested he dropped the nuts into her warm
bosom. “One ... two ... three!”

“Oh...!” screamed Ann mirthfully, shrinking from their tickling, but
immediately she checked her laughter--she heard footsteps. Beating
down the grasping arms of the Spaniard she darted out of the doorway
and shut him in the pantry, just in time to meet Jan coming into the
kitchen howling for a chain he required.

“What d’ye want?” said Ann.

“That chain for the well-head, gal, it’s hanging in the pantry.” He
moved to the door.

“Tain’t,” said Ann barring his way. “It’s in the barn. I took it there
yesterday, on the oats it is, you’ll find it, clear off with your dirty
boots.” She “hooshed” him off much as she “hooshed” the hens out of the
garden. Immediately he was gone she pulled open the pantry door and was
confronted by the Spaniard holding a long clasp knife in his raised
hand. On seeing her he just smiled, threw down the knife and took the
bewildered woman into his arms.

“Wait, wait,” she whispered, and breaking from him she seized a chain
from a hook and ran out after her husband with it, holding up a finger
of warning to the Spaniard as she brushed past him. She came back
panting, having made some sort of explanation to Jan; entering the
kitchen quietly she found the Spaniard’s cloak lying upon the table;
the door of the pantry was shut and he had apparently gone back there
to await her. Ann moved on tiptoe round the table; picking up the
cloak she enveloped herself in it and pulled the hood over her head.
Having glanced with caution through the front window to the farmyard,
she coughed and shuffled her feet on the flags. The door of the pantry
moved slowly open; the piercing ardour of his glance did not abash her,
but her curious appearance in his cloak moved his shrill laughter. As
he approached her she seized his wrists and drew him to the door that
led into the orchard at the back of the house; she opened it and pushed
him out, saying, “Go on, go on.” She then locked the door against him.
He walked up and down outside the window making lewd signs to her. He
dared not call out for fear of attracting attention from the farmyard
in front of the house. He stood still, shivered, pretended in dumb show
that he was frozen. She stood at the window in front of him and nestled
provocatively in his cloak. But when he put his lips against the pane
he drew the gleam of her languishing eyes closer and closer to meet his
kiss through the glass. Then she stood up, took off the black cloak,
and putting her hand into her bosom brought out the three nuts, which
she held up to him. She stood there fronting the Spaniard enticingly,
dropped the nuts back into her bosom one ... two ... three ... and then
went and opened the door.

In a few weeks the contract was finished, and one bright morning the
Spaniard bade them each farewell. Neither of them knew, so much was
their intercourse restricted, that he was about to depart, and Ann
watched him with perplexity and unhappiness in her eyes.

“Ah, you Cotton, good-bye I say, and you señora, I say good-bye.”

With a deep bow he kissed the rough hand of the blushing country woman.
“Bueno.” He turned with his kit bag upon his shoulder, waved them an
airy hand and was gone.

On the following Sunday Jan returned from a visit in the evening and
found the house empty; Ann was out, an unusual thing, for their habits
were fixed and deliberate as the stars in the sky. The sunsetting light
was lying in meek patches on the kitchen wall, turning the polished
iron pans to the brightness of silver, reddening the string of onions,
and filling glass jars with solid crystal. He had just sat down to
remove his heavy boots when Ann came in, not at all the workaday Ann
but dressed in her best clothes smelling of scent and swishing her
stiff linen.

“Hullo,” said Jan, surprised at his wife’s pink face and sparkling
eyes, “bin church?”

“Yes, church,” she replied, and sat down in her finery. Her husband
ambled about the room for various purposes and did not notice her
furtive dabbing of her eyes with her handkerchief. Tears from Ann were
inconceivable.

The year moved through its seasons, the lattermath hay was duly mown,
the corn stooked in rows; Ann was with child and the ridge of her
stays was no longer visible behind her plump shoulders. Fruit dropped
from the orchard boughs, the quince was gathered from the wall, the
hunt swept over the field. Christmas came and went, and then a child
was born to the Cottons, a dusky boy, who was shortly christened Juan.

“He was a kind chap, that man,” said Ann, “and we’ve no relations to
please, and it’s like your name--and your name _is_ outlandish!”

Jan’s delight was now to sit and muse upon the child as he had ever
mused upon chickens, lambs and calves. “O, ah!” he would say, popping a
great finger into the babe’s mouth, “O, ah!” But when, as occasionally
happened, the babe squinted at him, a singular fancy would stir in his
mind, only to slide away before it could congeal into the likeness of
suspicion.

Snow, when it falls near spring upon those Cotswold hills, falls deeply
and the lot of the husbandmen is hard. Sickness, when it comes, comes
with a flail and in its hobnailed boots. Contagious and baffling,
disease had stricken the district; in mid March great numbers of the
country folk were sick abed, hospitals were full, and doctors were
harried from one dawn to another. Jan would come in of an evening
and recite the calendar of the day’s dooms gathered from men of the
adjacent fields.

“Amos Green ’ave gone then, pore o’ chap.”

“Pore Amos,” the pitying Ann would say, wrapping her babe more warmly.

“And Buttifant’s coachman.”

“Dear, dear, what ’ull us all come to!”

“Mrs. Jocelyn was worse ’en bad this morning.”

“Never, Jan! Us’ll miss ’er.”

“Ah, and they do say Parson Rudwent won’t last out the night.”

“And whom’s to bury us then?” asked Ann.

The invincible sickness came to the farm. Ann one morning was weary,
sickly, and could not rise from her bed. Jan attended her in his clumsy
way and kept coming in from the snow to give her comforts and food,
but at eve she was in fever and lay helpless in the bed with the child
at her breast. Jan went off for the doctor, not to the nearest village
for he knew that quest to be hopeless, but to a tiny town high on the
wolds two miles away. The moon, large, sharp and round, blazed in the
sky and its light sparkled upon the rolling fields of snow; his boots
were covered at every muffled step; the wind sighed in the hedges and
he shook himself for warmth. He came to the hill at last; halfway up
was a church, its windows glowing with warm-looking light and its bells
pealing cheerfully. He passed on and higher up met a priest trotting
downwards in black cassock and saintly hat, his hands tucked into his
wide sleeves, trotting to keep himself warm and humming as he went. Jan
asked a direction of the priest, who gave it with many circumstances of
detail, and after he had parted he could hear the priest’s voice call
still further instructions after him as long as he was in sight. “O,
ah!” said Jan each time, turning and waving his hand. But after all his
mission was a vain one; the doctor was out and away, it was improbable
that he would be able to come, and the simple man turned home with a
dull heart. When he reached the farm Ann was delirious but still clung
to the dusky child, sleeping snugly at her bosom. The man sat up all
night before the fire waiting vainly for the doctor, and the next day
he himself became ill. And strangely enough as he worked among his
beasts the crude suspicion in his mind about the child took shape and
worked without resistance until he came to suspect and by easy degrees
to apprehend fully the time and occasion of Ann’s duplicity.

“Nasty dirty filthy thing!” he murmured from his sick mind. He was
brushing the dried mud from the hocks of an old bay horse, but it was
not of his horse he was thinking. Later he stood in the rickyard and
stared across the road at the light in their bedroom. Throwing down the
fork with which he had been tossing beds of straw he shook his fist
at the window and cried out: “I hate ’er, I does, nasty dirty filthy
thing!”

When he went into the house he replenished the fire but found he could
take no further care for himself or the sick woman; he just stupidly
doffed his clothes and in utter misery and recklessness stretched
himself in the bed with Ann. He lay for a long while with aching
brows, a snake-strangled feeling in every limb, an unquenchable drouth
in his throat, and his wife’s body burning beside him. Outside the
night was bright, beautiful and still sparkling with frost; quiet, as
if the wind had been wedged tightly in some far corner of the sky,
except for a cracked insulator on the telegraph pole just near the
window, that rattled and hummed with monstrous uncare. That, and the
ticking of the clock! The lighted candle fell from its sconce on the
mantelpiece; he let it remain and it flickered out. The glow from the
coals was thick upon the ceiling and whitened the brown ware of the
teapot on the untidy hearth. Falling asleep at last he began dreaming
at once, so it seemed, of the shrill cry of lambs hailing him out of
wild snow-covered valleys, so wild and prolonged were the cries that
they woke him, and he knew himself to be ill, very ill indeed. The
child was wailing piteously, the room was in darkness, the fire out,
but the man did not stir, he could not care, what could he do with that
flame behind his eyes and the misery of death consuming him? But the
child’s cries were unceasing and moved even his numbed mind to some
effort. “Ann!” he gasped. The poor wife did not reply. “Ann!” He put
his hand out to nudge her; in one instant the blood froze in his veins
and then boiled again. Ann was cold, her body hard as a wall, dead ...
dead. Stupor returned upon him; the child, unhelped, cried on, clasped
to that frozen breast until the man again roused himself to effort.
Putting his great hands across the dead wife he dragged the child from
her arms into the warmth beside him, gasping as he did so, “Nasty ...
dirty ... thing.” It exhausted him but the child was still unpacified
and again he roused himself and felt for a biscuit on the table beside
the bed. He crushed a piece in his mouth and putting the soft pap upon
his finger fed thus the hungry child until it was stilled. By now the
white counterpane spread vast like a sea, heaving and rocking with a
million waves, the framework of the bedstead moving like the tackle
of tossed ships. He knew there was only one way to stem that sickening
movement. “I hate ’er, I does,” rose again upon his lips, and drawing
up his legs that were at once chilly and streaming with sweat, full of
his new hatred he urged with all his might his wife’s cold body to the
edge of the bed and withdrew the bedclothes. Dead Ann toppled and slid
from him and her body clumped upon the floor with a fall that shook the
room; the candle fell from the mantelpiece, bounced from the teapot
and rolled stupidly along the bare boards under the bed. “Hate ’er!”
groaned the man; he hung swaying above the woman and tried to spit upon
her. He sank back again to the pillow and the child, murmuring “O, ah!”
and gathering it clumsily to his breast. He became tranquil then, and
the hollow-sounding clock beat a dull rhythm into his mind, until that
sound faded out with all light and sound, and Jan fell into sleep and
died, with the dusky child clasped in his hard dead arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

A BROADSHEET BALLAD

       *       *       *       *       *



A BROADSHEET BALLAD


At noon the tiler and the mason stepped down from the roof of the
village church which they were repairing and crossed over the road to
the tavern to eat their dinner. It had been a nice little morning, but
there were clouds massing in the south; Sam the tiler remarked that it
looked like thunder. The two men sat in the dim little taproom eating,
Bob the mason at the same time reading from a newspaper an account of a
trial for murder.

“I dunno what thunder looks like,” Bob said, “but I reckon this chap is
going to be hung, though I can’t rightly say for why. To my thinking he
didn’t do it at all: but murder’s a bloody thing and someone ought to
suffer for it.”

“I don’t think,” spluttered Sam as he impaled a flat piece of beetroot
on the point of a pocket-knife and prepared to contemplate it with
patience until his stuffed mouth was ready to receive it, “he ought to
be hung.”

“There can be no other end for him though, with a mob of lawyers
like that, and a judge like that, and a jury too ... why the rope’s
half round his neck this minute; he’ll be in glory within a month,
they only have three Sundays, you know, between the sentence and the
execution. Well, hark at that rain then!”

A shower that began as a playful sprinkle grew to a powerful steady
summer downpour. It splashed in the open window and the dim room grew
more dim and cool.

“Hanging’s a dreadful thing, continued Sam, and ’tis often unjust I’ve
no doubt, I’ve no doubt at all.”

“Unjust! I tell you ... at the majority of trials those who give their
evidence mostly knows nothing at all about the matter; them as knows a
lot--they stays at home and don’t budge, not likely!”

“No? But why?”

“Why? They has their reasons. I know that, I knows it for truth ...
hark at that rain, it’s made the room feel cold.”

They watched the downfall in complete silence for some moments.

“Hanging’s a dreadful thing,” Sam at length repeated, with almost a
sigh.

“I can tell you a tale about that, Sam, in a minute,” said the other.
He began to fill his pipe from Sam’s brass box which was labelled cough
lozenges and smelled of paregoric.

“Just about ten years ago I was working over in Cotswold country.
I remember I’d been in to Gloucester one Saturday afternoon and it
rained. I was jogging along home in a carrier’s van; I never seen
it rain like that afore, no, nor ever afterwards, not like that.
B-r-r-r-r! it came down ... bashing! And we come to a cross roads
where there’s a public house called _The Wheel of Fortune_, very lonely
and onsheltered it is just there. I see’d a young woman standing in
the porch awaiting us, but the carrier was wet and tired and angry or
something and wouldn’t stop. ‘No room’--he bawled out to her--‘full
up, can’t take you!’ and he drove on. ‘For the love o’ God. Mate,’--I
says--‘pull up and take that young creature! She’s ... she’s ... can’t
you see!’ ‘But I’m all behind as ’tis’--he shouts to me--‘you know your
gospel, don’t you: time and tide wait for no man?’ ‘Ah, but dammit all,
they always call for a feller’--I says. With that he turned round and
we drove back for the girl. She clumb in and sat on my knees; I squat
on a tub of vinegar, there was nowhere else and I was right and all,
she was going on for a birth. Well, the old van rattled away for six or
seven miles; whenever it stopped you could hear the rain clattering on
the tarpaulin, or sounding outside on the grass as if it was breathing
hard, and the old horse steamed and shivered with it. I had knowed
the girl once in a friendly way, a pretty young creature, but now she
was white and sorrowful and wouldn’t say much. By and bye we came to
another cross roads near a village, and she got out there. ‘Good day,
my gal’--I says, affable like, and ‘Thank you, sir,’--says she, and
off she popped in the rain with her umbrella up. A rare pretty girl,
quite young, I’d met her before, a girl you could get uncommon fond of,
you know, but I didn’t meet her afterwards, she was mixed up in a bad
business. It all happened in the next six months while I was working
round these parts. Everybody knew of it. This girl’s name was Edith and
she had a younger sister Agnes. Their father was old Harry Mallerton,
kept _The British Oak_ at North Quainy; he stuttered. Well, this Edith
had a love affair with a young chap William, and having a very loving
nature she behaved foolish. Then she couldn’t bring the chap up to the
scratch nohow by herself, and of course she was afraid to tell her
mother or father: you know how girls are after being so pesky natural,
they fear, O they do fear! But soon it couldn’t be hidden any longer
as she was living at home with them all, so she wrote a letter to her
mother. ‘Dear Mother,’ she wrote, and told her all about her trouble.

“By all accounts the mother was angry as an old lion, but Harry took it
calm like and sent for young William, who’d not come at first. He lived
close by in the village so they went down at last and fetched him.

“‘All right, yes,’ he said, ‘I’ll do what’s lawful to be done. There
you are, I can’t say no fairer, that I can’t.’

“‘No,’ they said, ‘you can’t.’

“So he kissed the girl and off he went, promising to call in and settle
affairs in a day or two. The next day Agnes, which was the younger
girl, she also wrote a note to her mother telling her some more strange
news:

“‘God above!’ the mother cried out, ‘can it be true, both of you girls,
my own daughters, and by the same man! whatever were you thinking on,
both of ye! Whatever can be done now!’”

“What!” ejaculated Sam, “both on ’em, both on ’em!”

“As true as God’s my mercy--both on ’em--same chap. Ah! Mrs. Mallerton
was afraid to tell her husband at first, for old Harry was the devil
born again when he were roused up, so she sent for young William
herself, who’d not come again, of course, not likely. But they made him
come, O yes, when they told the girls’ father.

“‘Well, may I go to my d ... d ... d ... damnation at once!’ roared old
Harry--he stuttered, you know--‘at once, if that ain’t a good one!’ So
he took off his coat, he took up a stick, he walked down the street to
William and cut him off his legs. Then he beat him until he howled for
his mercy, and you couldn’t stop old Harry once he were roused up--he
was the devil born again. They do say as he beat him for a solid hour;
I can’t say as to that, but then old Harry picked him up and carried
him off to _The British Oak_ on his own back, and threw him down in
his own kitchen between his own two girls like a dead dog. They do say
that the little one Agnes flew at her father like a raging cat until he
knocked her senseless with a clout over head; rough man he was.”

“Well, a’ called for it, sure,” commented Sam.

“Her did,” agreed Bob, “but she was the quietest known girl for miles
round those parts, very shy and quiet.”

“A shady lane breeds mud,” said Sam.

“What do you say?--O ah!--mud, yes. But pretty girls both, girls you
could get very fond of, skin like apple bloom, and as like as two pinks
they were. They had to decide which of them William was to marry.”

“Of course, ah!”

“‘I’ll marry Agnes’--says he.

“‘You’ll not’--says the old man--‘You’ll marry Edie.’

“‘No, I won’t,’--William says--‘it’s Agnes I love and I’ll be married
to her or I won’t be married to e’er of ’em.’ All the time Edith sat
quiet, dumb as a shovel, never a word, crying a bit; but they do say
the young one went on like a ... a young ... Jew.”

“The jezebel!” commented Sam.

“You may say it; but wait, my man, just wait. Another cup of beer. We
can’t go back to church until this humbugging rain have stopped.”

“No, that we can’t.”

“Its my belief the ’bugging rain won’t stop this side of four o’clock.”

“And if the roof don’t hold it off it ’ull spoil they Lord’s
commandments that’s just done up on the chancel front.”

“O, they be dry by now.” Bob spoke reassuringly and then continued his
tale. “‘I’ll marry Agnes or I won’t marry nobody’--William says--and
they couldn’t budge him. No, old Harry cracked on but he wouldn’t have
it, and at last Harry says: ‘It’s like this.’ He pulls a half crown out
of his pocket and ‘Heads it’s Agnes,’ he says, ‘or tails it’s Edith,’
he says.”

“Never! Ha! Ha!” cried Sam.

“‘Heads it’s Agnes, tails it’s Edie,’ so help me God. And it come down
Agnes, yes, heads it was--Agnes--and so there they were.”

“And they lived happy ever after?”

“Happy! You don’t know your human nature, Sam; wherever was you brought
up? ‘Heads it’s Agnes,’ said old Harry, and at that Agnes flung her
arms round William’s neck and was for going off with him then and
there, ha! But this is how it happened about that. William hadn’t any
kindred, he was a lodger in the village, and his landlady wouldn’t
have him in her house one mortal hour when she heard of it; give him
the rightabout there and then. He couldn’t get lodgings anywhere else,
nobody would have anything to do with him, so of course, for safety’s
sake, old Harry had to take him, and there they all lived together at
_The British Oak_--all in one happy family. But they girls couldn’t
bide the sight of each other, so their father cleaned up an old
outhouse in his yard that was used for carts and hens and put William
and his Agnes out in it. And there they had to bide. They had a couple
of chairs, a sofa, and a bed and that kind of thing, and the young one
made it quite snug.”

“’Twas a hard thing for that other, that Edie, Bob.”

“It was hard, Sam, in a way, and all this was happening just afore
I met her in the carrier’s van. She was very sad and solemn then; a
pretty girl, one you could like. Ah, you may choke me, but there they
lived together. Edie never opened her lips to either of them again, and
her father sided with her, too. What was worse, it came out after the
marriage that Agnes was quite free of trouble--it was only a trumped-up
game between her and this William because he fancied her better than
the other one. And they never had no child, them two, though when poor
Edie’s mischance came along I be damned if Agnes weren’t fonder of it
than its own mother, a jolly sight more fonder, and William--he fair
worshipped it.”

“You don’t say!”

“I do. ’Twas a rum go, that, and Agnes worshipped it, a fact, can prove
it by scores o’ people to this day, scores, in them parts. William and
Agnes worshipped it, and Edie--she just looked on, ’long of it all, in
the same house with them, though she never opened her lips again to her
young sister to the day of her death.”

“Ah, she died? Well, it’s the only way out of such a tangle, poor
woman.”

“You’re sympathizing with the wrong party.” Bob filled his pipe again
from the brass box; he ignited it with deliberation; going to the open
window he spat into a puddle in the road. “The wrong party, Sam; ’twas
Agnes that died. She was found on the sofa one morning stone dead, dead
as a adder.”

“God bless me!” murmured Sam.

“Poisoned!” added Bob, puffing serenely.

“Poisoned!”

Bob repeated the word poisoned. “This was the way of it,” he continued:
“One morning the mother went out in the yard to collect her eggs, and
she began calling out ‘Edie, Edie, here a minute, come and look where
that hen have laid her egg; I would never have believed it,’--she
says. And when Edie went out her mother led her round the back of the
outhouse, and there on the top of a wall this hen had laid an egg. ‘I
would never have believed it, Edie’--she says--‘scooped out a nest
there beautiful, ain’t she? I wondered where her was laying. T’other
morning the dog brought an egg round in his mouth and laid it on the
doormat. There now Aggie, Aggie, here a minute, come and look where the
hen have laid that egg.’ And as Aggie didn’t answer the mother went in
and found her on the sofa in the outhouse, stone dead.”

“How’d they account for it?” asked Sam, after a brief interval.

“That’s what brings me to the point about that young feller that’s
going to be hung,” said Bob, tapping the newspaper that lay upon the
bench. “I don’t know what would lie between two young women in a
wrangle of that sort; some would get over it quick, but some would
never sleep soundly any more not for a minute of their mortal lives.
Edie must have been one of that sort. There’s people living there now
as could tell a lot if they’d a mind to it. Some knowed all about it,
could tell you the very shop where Edie managed to get hold of the
poison, and could describe to me or to you just how she administrated
it in a glass of barley water. Old Harry knew all about it, he knew all
about everything, but he favoured Edith and he never budged a word.
Clever old chap was Harry, and nothing came out against Edie at the
inquest--nor the trial neither.”

“Was there a trial then?”

“There was a kind of a trial. Naturally. A beautiful trial. The police
came and fetched poor William. They took him away and in due course he
was hanged.”

“William! But what had he got to do with it?”

“Nothing. It was rough on him, but he hadn’t played straight and so
nobody struck up for him. They made out a case against him--there was
some onlucky bit of evidence which I’ll take my oath old Harry knew
something about--and William was done for. Ah, when things take a turn
against you it’s as certain as twelve o’clock, when they take a turn;
you get no more chance than a rabbit from a weasel. It’s like dropping
your matches into a stream, you needn’t waste the bending of your back
to pick them out--they’re no good on, they’ll never strike again. And
Edith, she sat in court through it all, very white and trembling and
sorrowful, but when the judge put his black cap on they do say she
blushed and looked across at William and gave a bit of a smile. Well,
she had to suffer for his doings, so why shouldn’t he suffer for hers.
That’s how I look at it....”

“But God-a-mighty...!”

“Yes, God-a-mighty knows. Pretty girls they were, both, and as like as
two pinks.”

There was quiet for some moments while the tiler and the mason emptied
their cups of beer. “I think,” said Sam then, “the rain’s give over
now.”

“Ah, that it has,” cried Bob. “Let’s go and do a bid more on this
’bugging church or she won’t be done afore Christmas.”

       *       *       *       *       *

POMONA’S BABE

       *       *       *       *       *



POMONA’S BABE


Johnny Flynn was then seventeen years old. At that age you could
not call him boy without vexing him, or man without causing him
to blush--his teasing, ruddy and uproarious mother delighted to
produce either or both of these manifestations for her off-spring
was a pale mild creature--but he had given a deal of thought to many
manly questions. Marriage, for instance, was one of these. That was
an institution he admired but whose joys, whatever they were, he
was not anxious to experience; its difficulties and disasters as
ironically outlined by the widow Flynn were the subject of his grossest
scepticism, scepticism in general being not the least prominent
characteristic of Johnny Flynn.

Certainly his sister Pomona was not married; she was only sixteen, an
age too early for such bliss, but all the same she was going to have a
baby; he had quarrelled with his mother about that. He quarrelled with
his mother about most things, she delighted in quarrels, they amused
her very much; but on this occasion she was really very angry, or she
pretended to be so--which was worse, much worse than the real thing.

The Flynns were poor people, quite poor, living in two top-floor rooms
at the house of a shoemaker, also moderately poor, whose pelting and
hammering of soles at evening were a durable grievance to Johnny. He
was fond of the shoemaker, a kind bulky tall man of fifty, though he
did not like the shoemaker’s wife, as bulky as her husband and as
tall but not kind to him or to anything except Johnny himself; nor
did he like any of the other lodgers, of whom there were several, all
without exception beyond the reach of affluence. The Flynn apartments
afforded a bedroom in front for Mrs. Flynn and Pomona, a room where
Johnny seldom intruded, never without a strained sense of sanctity
similar to the feeling he experienced when entering an empty church
as he sometimes did. He slept in the other room, the living room, an
arrangement that also annoyed him. He was easily annoyed, but he could
never go to bed until mother and sister had retired, and for the same
reason he had always to rise before they got up, an exasperating abuse
of domestic privilege.

One night he had just slipped happily into his bed and begun to read a
book called “Rasselas,” which the odd-eyed man at the public library
had commended to him, when his mother returned to the room, first
tapping at the door, for Johnny was a prude as she knew not only from
instinct and observation but from protests which had occasionally been
addressed to her by the indignant boy. She came in now only half clad,
in petticoat and stockinged feet, her arms quite bare. They were
powerful arms as they had need to be, for she was an ironer of linen
at a laundry, but they were nice to look at and sometimes Johnny liked
looking at them, though he did not care for her to run about like that
very often. Mrs. Flynn sat down at the foot of his couch and stared at
her son.

“Johnny,” she began steadily, but paused to rub her forehead with her
thick white shiny fingers. “I don’t know how to tell you, I’m sure, or
what you’ll say....” Johnny shook “Rasselas” rather impatiently and
heaved a protesting sigh. “I can’t think,” continued his mother, “no, I
can’t think that it’s our Pomony, but there she is and it’s got to be
done, I must tell you; besides you’re the only man in our family now,
so it’s only right for you, you see, and she’s going to have a baby.
Our Pomony!”

The boy turned his face to the wall, although his mother was not
looking at him--she was staring at that hole in the carpet near the
fender. At last he said, “Humph ... well?” And as his mother did not
say anything, he added, “What about it, I don’t mind?” Mrs. Flynn was
horrified at his unconcern, or she pretended to be so; Johnny was never
sure about the genuineness of her moods. It was most unfilial, but he
was like that--so was Mrs. Flynn. Now she cried out, “You’ll have to
mind, there, you must. I can’t take everything on my own shoulders.
You’re the only man left in our family now, you must, Johnny. What are
we to do?”

He glared at the wallpaper a foot from his eyes. It had an unbearable
pattern of blue but otherwise indescribable flowers; he had it in his
mind to have some other pattern there--some day.

“Eh?” asked his mother sharply, striking the foot of the bed with her
fist.

“Why ... there’s nothing to be done ... now ... I suppose.” He was
blushing furiously. “How did it happen, when will it be?”

“It’s a man she knows, he got hold of her, his name is Stringer.
Another two months about. Stringer. Hadn’t you noticed anything?
Everybody else has. You are a funny boy, I can’t make you out at all,
Johnny, I can’t make you out. Stringer his name is, but I’ll make him
pay dearly for it, and that’s what I want you--to talk to you about. Of
course he denies of everything, they always do.”

Mrs. Flynn sighed at this disgusting perfidy, brightening however when
her son began to discuss the problem. But she talked so long and he got
so sleepy at last that he was very glad when she went to bed again.
Secretly she was both delighted and disappointed at his easy acceptance
of her dreadful revelation; fearing a terrible outburst of anger she
had kept the knowledge from him for a long time. She was glad to escape
that, it is true, but she rather hungered for some flashing reprobation
of this unknown beast, this Stringer. She swore she would bring him to
book, but she felt old and lonely, and Johnny was a strange son, not
very virile. The mother had told Pomona terrifying prophetic tales of
what Johnny would do, what he would be certain to do; he would, for
instance, murder that Stringer and drive Pomony into the street; of
course he would. Yet here he was, quite calm about it, as if he almost
liked it. Well, she had told him, she could do no more, she would leave
it to him.

In the morning Johnny greeted his sister with tender affection and
at evening, having sent her to bed, he and his mother resumed their
discussion.

“Do you know, mother,” he said, “she is quite handsome, I never noticed
it before.”

Mrs. Flynn regarded him with desperation and then informed him that his
sister was an ugly disgusting little trollop who ought to be birched.

“No, no, you are wrong, mother, it’s bad, but it’s all right.”

“You think you know more about such things than your own mother, I
suppose.” Mrs. Flynn sniffed and glared.

He said it to her gently: “Yes.”

She produced a packet of notepaper and envelopes “_The Monster Packet
for a Penny_,” all complete with a wisp of pink blotting paper and a
penholder without a nib, which she had bought at the Chandler’s on
her way home that evening, along with some sago and some hair oil for
Johnny whose stiff unruly hair provoked such spasms of rage in her
bosom that she declared that she was “sick to death of it.” On the
supper table lay also a platter, a loaf, a basin of mustard pickle, and
a plate with round lengths of cheese shaped like small candles.

“Devil blast him!” muttered Mrs. Flynn as she fetched from a cupboard
shelf a sour-looking bottle labelled _Writing Fluid_, a dissolute pen,
and requested Johnny to compose a letter to Stringer--devil blast
him!--telling him of the plight of her daughter Pomona Flynn, about
whom she desired him to know that she had already consulted her lawyers
and the chief of police and intimating that unless she heard from him
satisfactory by the day after tomorrow the matter would pass out of her
hands.

“That’s no good, it’s not the way,” declared her son thoughtfully; Mrs.
Flynn therefore sat humbly confronting him and awaited the result of
his cogitations. Johnny was not a very robust youth, but he was growing
fast now, since he had taken up with running; he was very fleet, so
Mrs. Flynn understood, and had already won a silver-plated hot water
jug, which they used for the milk. But still he was thin and not tall,
his dark hair was scattered; his white face was a nice face, thought
Mrs. Flynn, very nice, only there was always something strange about
his clothes. She couldn’t help that now, but he had such queer fancies,
there was no other boy in the street whose trousers were so baggy
or of such a colour. His starched collars were all right of course,
beautifully white and shiny, she got them up herself, and they set his
neck off nicely.

“All we need do,” her son broke in, “is just tell him.”

“Tell him?”

“Yes, just tell him about it--it’s very unfortunate--and ask him to
come and see you. I hope, though,” he paused, “I hope they won’t want
to go and get married.”

“He ought to be made to, devil blast him,” cried Mrs. Flynn, “only
she’s frightened, she is; afraid of her mortal life of him! We don’t
want him here, neither, she says he’s a nasty horrible man.”

Johnny sat dumb for some moments. Pomona was a day girl in service at
a restaurant. Stringer was a clerk to an auctioneer. The figure of his
pale little sister shrinking before a ruffian (whom he figured as a fat
man with a red beard) startled and stung him.

“Besides,” continued Mrs. Flynn, “he’s just going to be married to some
woman, some pretty judy, God help her ... in fact, as like as not he’s
married to her already by now. No, I gave up that idea long ago, I did,
before I told you, long ago.”

“We can only tell him about Pomony then, and ask him what he would like
to do.”

“What he would _like_ to do, well, certainly!” protested the widow.

“And if he’s a decent chap,” continued Johnny serenely, “it will be
all right, there won’t be any difficulty. If he ain’t, then we can do
something else.”

His mother was reluctant to concur but the boy had his way. He sat with
his elbows on the table, his head pressed in his hands, but he could
not think out the things he wanted to say to this man. He would look up
and stare around the room as if he were in a strange place, though it
was not strange to him at all for he had lived in it many years. There
was not much furniture in the apartment, yet there was but little
space in it. The big table was covered with American cloth, mottled
and shiny. Two or three chairs full of age and discomfort stood upon a
carpet that was full of holes and stains. There were some shelves in a
recess, an engraving framed in maple of the player scene from “Hamlet,”
and near by on the wall hung a gridiron whose prongs were woven round
with coloured wools and decorated with satin bows. Mrs. Flynn had a
passion for vases, and two of these florid objects bought at a fair
companioned a clock whose once snowy face had long since turned sallow
because of the oil Mrs. Flynn had administered “to make it go properly.”

But he could by no means think out this letter; his mother sat so
patiently watching him that he asked her to go and sit in the other
room. Then he sat on, sniffing, as if thinking with his nose, while
the room began to smell of the smoking lamp. He was remembering how
years ago, when they were little children, he had seen Pomony in her
nightgown and, angered with her for some petty reason, he had punched
her on the side. Pomony had turned white, she could not speak, she
could not breathe. He had been momentarily proud of that blow, it was
a good blow, he had never hit another boy like that. But Pomony had
fallen into a chair, her face tortured with pain, her eyes filled with
tears that somehow would not fall. Then a fear seized him, horrible,
piercing, frantic: she was dying, she would die, and there was nothing
he could do to stop her! In passionate remorse and pity he had flung
himself before her, kissing her feet--they were small and beautiful
though not very clean,--until at last he had felt Pomony’s arms droop
caressingly around him and heard Pomony’s voice speaking lovingly and
forgivingly to him.

After a decent interval his mother returned to him.

“What are we going to do about _her_?” she asked, “she’ll have to go
away.”

“Away! Do you mean go to a home? No, but why go away? I’m not ashamed;
what is there to be ashamed of?”

“Who the deuce is going to look after her? You talk like a
tom-fool--yes, you are,” insisted Mrs. Flynn passionately. “I’m out all
day from one week’s end to the other. She can’t be left alone, and the
people downstairs are none too civil about it as it is. She’ll have to
go to the workhouse, that’s all.”

Johnny was aghast, indignant, and really angry. He would never never
consent to such a thing! Pomony! Into a workhouse! She should not, she
should stop at home, here, like always, and have a nurse.

“Fool!” muttered his mother, with castigating scorn. “Where’s the money
for nurses and doctors to come from? I’ve got no money for such things!”

“I’ll get some!” declared Johnny hotly.

“Where?”

“I’ll sell something.”

“What?”

“I’ll save up.”

“How?”

“And I’ll borrow some.”

“You’d better shut up now or I’ll knock your head off,” cried his
mother. “Fidding and fadding about--you’re daft!”

“She shan’t go to any workhouse!”

“Fool!” repeated his mother, revealing her disgust at his hopeless
imbecility.

“I tell you she shall not go there,” shouted the boy, stung into angry
resentment by her contempt.

“She shall, she must.”

“I say she shan’t!”

“O don’t be such a blasted fool,” cried the distracted woman, rising
from her chair.

Johnny sprang to his feet almost screaming, “You are the blasted fool,
you, you!”

Mrs. Flynn seized a table knife and struck at her son’s face with it.
He leaped away in terror, his startled appearance, glaring eyes and
strained figure so affecting Mrs. Flynn that she dropped the knife,
and, sinking into her chair, burst into peals of hysterical laughter.
Recovering himself the boy hastened to the laughing woman. The
maddening peals continued and increased, shocking him, unnerving him
again; she was dying, she would die. His mother’s laughter had always
been harsh but delicious to him, it was so infectious, but this was
demoniacal, it was horror.

“O, don’t, don’t, mother, don’t,” he cried, fondling her and pressing
her yelling face to his breast. But she pushed him fiercely away and
the terrifying laughter continued to sear his very soul until he could
bear it no longer. He struck at her shoulders with clenched fist and
shook her frenziedly, frantically, crying:

“Stop it, stop, O stop it, she’ll go mad, stop it, stop.”

He was almost exhausted, when suddenly Pomona rushed into the room in
her nightgown. Her long black hair tumbled in lovely locks about her
pale face and her shoulder; her feet were bare.

“O Johnny, what are you doing?” gasped his little pale sister Pomony,
who seemed so suddenly, so unbelievably, turned into a woman. “Let her
alone.”

She pulled the boy away, fondling and soothing their distracted mother
until Mrs. Flynn partially recovered.

“Come to bed now,” commanded Pomona, and Mrs. Flynn thereupon, still
giggling, followed her child. When he was alone trembling Johnny turned
down the lamp flame which had filled the room with smoky fumes. His
glance rested upon the table knife; the room was silent and oppressive
now. He glared at the picture of Hamlet, at the clock with the oily
face, at the notepaper lying white upon the table. They had all turned
into quivering semblances of the things they were; he was crying.


II

A letter, indited in the way he desired, was posted by Johnny on his
way to work next morning. He was clerk in the warehouse of a wholesale
provision merchant and he kept tally, in some underground cellars
carpeted with sawdust, of hundreds of sacks of sugar and cereals, tubs
of butter, of lard, of treacle, chests of tea, a regular promontory
of cheeses, cases of candles, jam, starch, and knife polish, many of
them stamped with the mysterious words “Factory Bulked.” He did not
like those words, they sounded ugly and their meaning was obscure.
Sometimes he took the cheese-tasting implement from the foreman’s
bench and, when no one was looking, pierced it into a fine Cheddar or
Stilton, withdrawing it with a little cylinder of cheese lying like a
small candle in the curved blade. Then he would bite off the piece of
rind, restore it neatly to the body of the cheese, and drop the other
candle-like piece into his pocket. Sometimes his pocket was so full of
cheese that he was reluctant to approach the foreman fearing he would
smell it. He was very fond of cheese. All of them liked cheese.

The Flynns waited several days for a reply to the letter, but none
came. Stringer did not seem to think it called for any reply. At the
end of a week Johnny wrote again to his sister’s seducer. Pomona had
given up her situation at the restaurant; her brother was conspicuously
and unfailingly tender to her. He saved what money he could, spent
none upon himself, and brought home daily an orange or an egg for
the girl. He wrote a third letter to the odious Stringer, not at all
threateningly, but just invitingly, persuasively. And he waited, but
waited in vain. Then in that underground cheese tunnel where he worked
he began to plot an alternate course of action, and as time passed
bringing no recognition from Stringer his plot began to crystallize
and determine itself. It was nothing else than to murder the man;
he would kill him, he had thought it out, it could be done. He would
wait for him near Stringer’s lodgings one dark night and beat out his
brains with a club. All that was necessary then would be to establish
an alibi. For some days Johnny dwelt so gloatingly upon the details
of this retribution that he forgot about the alibi. By this time he
had accumulated from his mother--for he could never once bring himself
to interrogate Pomona personally about her misfortune--sufficient
description of Stringer to recognize him among a thousand, so he
thought. It appeared that he was not a large man with a red beard,
but a small man with glasses, spats, and a slight limp, who always
attended a certain club of which he was the secretary at a certain hour
on certain nights in each week. To Johnny’s mind, the alibi was not
merely important in itself, it was a romantic necessity. And it was
so easy; it would be quite sufficient for Johnny to present himself
at the public library where he was fairly well known. The library was
quite close to Stringer’s lodgings and they, fortunately, were in a
dark quiet little street. He would borrow a book from the odd-eyed man
in the reference department, retire to one of the inner study rooms,
and at half past seven creep out unseen, creep out, creep out with his
thick stick and wait by the house in that dark quiet little street;
it was very quiet, and it would be very dark; wait there for him all
in the dark, just creep quietly out--and wait. But in order to get
that alibi quite perfect he would have to take a friend with him to
the library room, so that the friend could swear that he had really
been there all the time, because it was just possible the odd-eyed man
wouldn’t be prepared to swear to it; he did not seem able to see very
much, but it was hard to tell with people like that.

Johnny Flynn had not told any of his friends about his sister’s
misfortune; in time, time enough, they were bound to hear of it. Of
all his friends he rejected the close ones, those of whom he was very
fond, and chose a stupid lump of a fellow, massive and nasal, named
Donald. Though awkward and fat he had joined Johnny’s running club;
Johnny had trained him for his first race. But he had subjected Donald
to such exhausting exercise, what with skipping, gymnastics, and tiring
jaunts, that though his bulk disappeared his strength went with it; to
Johnny’s great chagrin he grew weak, and failed ignominiously in the
race. Donald thereafter wisely rejected all offers of assistance and
projected a training system of his own. For weeks he tramped miles into
hilly country, in the heaviest of boots to the soles of which he had
nailed some thick pads of lead. When he donned his light running shoes
for his second race he displayed an agility and suppleness, a god-like
ease, that won not only the race, but the admiration and envy of all
the competitors. It was this dull lumpish Donald that Johnny fixed
upon to assist him. He was a great tool and it would not matter if he
did get himself into trouble. Even if he did Johnny could get him out
again, by confessing to the police; so that was all right. He asked
Donald to go to the library with him on a certain evening to read a
book called “Rasselas”--it was a grand book, very exciting--and Donald
said he would go. He did not propose to tell Donald of his homicidal
intention; he would just sit him down in the library with “Rasselas”
while he himself sat at another table behind Donald, yes, behind him;
even if Donald noticed him creeping out he would say he was only going
to the counter to get another book. It was all quite clear, and safe.
He would be able to creep out, creep out, rush up to the dark little
street--yes, he would ask Donald for a piece of that lead and wrap it
round the head of the stick--he would creep out, and in ten minutes or
twenty he would be back in the library again asking for another book or
sitting down by Donald as if he had not been outside the place, as if
nothing had happened as far as he was concerned, nothing at all!

The few intervening days passed with vexing deliberation. Each night
seemed the best of all possible nights for the deed, each hour that
Stringer survived seemed a bad hour for the world. They were bad slow
hours for Johnny, but at last the day dawned, passed, darkness came,
and the hour rushed upon him.

He took his stick and called for Donald.

“Can’t come,” said Donald, limping to the door in answer to Johnny’s
knock. “I been and hurt my leg.”

For a moment Johnny was full of an inward silent blasphemy that flashed
from a sudden tremendous hatred, but he said calmly:

“But still ... no, you haven’t ... what have you hurt it for?”

Donald was not able to deal with such locution. He ignored it and said:

“My knee-cap, my shin, Oo, come and have a look. We was mending a
flue ... it was the old man’s wheelbarrow.... Didn’t I tell him of it
neither!”

“O, you told him of it?”

Johnny listened to his friend’s narration very abstractedly and at last
went off to the library by himself. As he walked away he was conscious
of a great feeling of relief welling up in him. He could not get an
alibi without Donald, not a sure one, so he would not be able to do
anything tonight. He felt relieved, he whistled as he walked, he was
happy again, but he went on to the library. He was going to rehearse
the alibi by himself, that was the wise thing to do, of course,
rehearse it, practise it; it would be perfect next week when Donald was
better. So he did this. He got out a book from the odd-eyed man, who
strangely enough was preoccupied and did not seem to recognize him. It
was disconcerting, that; he specially wanted the man to notice him. He
went into the study room rather uneasily. Ten minutes later he crept
out unseen, carrying his stick--he had forgotten to ask Donald for the
piece of lead--and was soon lurking in the shadow of the dark quiet
little street.

It was a perfect spot, there could not be a better place, not in the
middle of a town. The house had an area entry through an iron gate; at
the end of a brick pathway, over a coalplate, five or six stone steps
led steeply up to a narrow front door with a brass letter box, a brass
knocker, and a glazed fanlight painted 29. The windows too were narrow
and the whole house had a squeezed appearance. A church clock chimed
eight strokes. Johnny began to wonder what he would do, what would
happen, if Stringer were suddenly to come out of that gateway. Should
he--would he--could he...? And then the door at the top of the steps
did open wide and framed there in the lighted space young Flynn saw the
figure of his own mother.

She came down the steps alone and he followed her short jerky footsteps
secretly until she reached the well-lit part of the town, where he
joined her. It was quite simple, she explained to him with an air of
superior understanding: she had just paid Mr. Stringer a visit, waiting
for letters from that humbug had made her “popped.” Had he thought she
would creep on her stomach and beg for a fourpenny piece when she could
put him in jail if all were known, as she would too, if it hadn’t been
for her children, poor little fatherless things? No, middling boxer,
not that! So she had left off work early, had gone and caught him at
his lodgings and taxed him with it. He denied of it; he was that cocky,
it so mortified her, that she had snatched up the clock and thrown it
at him. Yes, his own clock.

“But it was only a little one, though. He was frightened out of his
life and run upstairs. Then his landlady came rushing in. I told her
all about it, everything, and she was that ‘popped’ with him she give
me the name and address of his feons--their banns is been put up. She
made him come downstairs and face me, and his face was as white as the
driven snow. Johnny, it was. He was obliged to own up. The lady said
to him ‘Whatever have you been at, Mr. Stringer,’ she said to him.
‘I can’t believe it, knowing you for ten years, you must have forgot
yourself.’ O, a proper understanding it was,” declared Mrs. Flynn
finally; “his lawyers are going to write to us and put everything in
order; Duckle & Hoole, they are.”

Again a great feeling of relief welled up in the boy’s breast, as if,
having been dragged into a horrible vortex he had been marvellously
cast free again.

The days that followed were blessedly tranquil, though Johnny was
often smitten with awe at the thought of what he had contemplated.
That fool, Donald, too, one evening insisted on accompanying him to
the library where he spent an hour of baffled understanding over the
pages of “Rasselas.” But the lawyers Duckle & Hoole aroused a tumult
of hatred in Mrs. Flynn. They pared down her fond anticipations to
the minimum; they put so much slight upon her family, and such a
gentlemanly decorum and generous forbearance upon the behaviour of
their client, Mr. Stringer, that she became inarticulate. When informed
that that gentleman desired no intercourse whatsoever with any Flynn
or the offspring thereof she became speechless. Shortly, Messrs.
Duckle & Hoole begged to submit for her approval a draft agreement
embodying their client’s terms, one provision of which was that if the
said Flynns violated the agreement by taking any proceedings against
the said Stringer they should thereupon _ipso facto_ willy nilly or
whatever forfeit and pay unto him the said Stringer not by way of
penalty but as damages the sum of £100. Whereupon Mrs. Flynn recovered
her speech and suffered a little tender irony to emerge.

The shoemaker, whose opinion upon this draft agreement was solicited,
confessed himself as much baffled by its phraseology as he was
indignant at its tenor and terms.

“That man,” he declared solemnly to Johnny, “ought to have his brain
knocked out”; and he conveyed by subtle intimations to the boy that
that was the course he would favour were he himself standing in
Johnny’s shoes. “One dark night,” he had roared with a dreadful glare
in his eyes, “with a neat heavy stick!”

The Flynns also consulted a cabman who lodged in the house. His legal
qualifications appeared to lie in the fact that he had driven the
private coach of a major general whose son, now a fruit farmer in
British Columbia, had once been entered for the bar. The cabman was a
very positive and informative cabman. “List and learn,” he would say,
“list and learn”: and he would regale Johnny, or any one else, with an
oration to which you might listen as hard as you liked but from which
you could not learn. He was husky, with a thick red neck and the cheek
bones of a horse. Having perused the agreement with one eye judicially
cocked, the other being screened by a drooping lid adorned with a
glowing nodule, he carefully refolded the folios and returned them to
the boy:

“Any judge--who was up to snuff--would impound that dockyment.”

“What’s that?”

“They would impound it,” repeated the cabman smiling wryly.

“But what’s impound it? What for?”

“I tell you it would be impounded, that dockyment would,” asseverated
the cabman. Once more he took the papers from Johnny, opened them out,
reflected upon them and returned them again without a word. Catechism
notwithstanding, the oracle remained impregnably mystifying.

The boy continued to save his pocket money. His mother went about
her work with a grim air, having returned the draft agreement to the
lawyers with an ungracious acceptance of the terms.

One April evening Johnny went home to an empty room; Pomona was out. He
prepared his tea and afterwards sat reading “Tales of a Grandfather.”
That was a book if anybody wanted a book! When darkness came he
descended the stairs to enquire of the shoemaker’s wife about Pomony,
he was anxious. The shoemaker’s wife was absent too and it was late
when she returned accompanied by his mother.

Pomona’s hour had come--they had taken her to the workhouse--only just
in time--a little boy--they were both all right--he was an uncle.

His mother’s deceit stupified him, he felt shamed, deeply shamed, but
after a while that same recognizable feeling of relief welled up in
his breast and drenched him with satisfactions. After all what could
it matter where a person was born, or where one died, as long as you
had your chance of growing up at all, and, if lucky, of growing up all
right. But this babe had got to bear the whole burden of its father’s
misdeed, though; it had got to behave itself or it would have to pay
its father a hundred pounds as damages. Perhaps that was what that
queer bit of poetry meant, “The child is father of the man.”

His mother swore that they were very good and clean and kind at the
workhouse, everything of the best and most expensive; there was nothing
she would have liked better than to have gone there herself when Johnny
and Pomony were born.

“And if ever I have any more,” Mrs. Flynn sighed, but with profound
conviction, “I will certainly go there.”

Johnny gave her half the packet of peppermints he had bought for
Pomona. With some of his saved money he bought her a bottle of
stout--she looked tired and sad--she was very fond of stout. The rest
of the money he gave her for to buy Pomony something when she visited
her. He would not go himself to visit her, not there. He spent the long
intervening evenings at the library--the odd-eyed man had shown him a
lovely book about birds. He was studying it. On Sundays, in the spring,
he was going out to catch birds himself, out in the country, with a
catapult. The cuckoo was a marvellous bird. So was a titlark. Donald
Gower found a goatsucker’s nest last year.

Then one day he ran from work all the way home, knowing Pomony would at
last be there. He walked slowly up the street to recover his breath.
He stepped up the stairs, humming quite casually, and tapped at the
door of their room--he did not know why he tapped. He heard Pomony’s
voice calling him. A thinner paler Pomony stood by the hearth, nursing
a white-clothed bundle, the fat pink babe.

“O, my dear!” cried her ecstatic brother, “the beauty he is! what larks
we’ll have with him!”

He took Pomona into his arms, crushing the infant against her breast
and his own. But she did not mind. She did not rebuke him, she even let
him dandle her precious babe.

“Look, what is his name to be, Pomony? Let’s call him Rasselas.”

Pomona looked at him very doubtfully.

“Or would you like William Wallace then, or Robert Bruce?”

“I shall call him Johnny,” said Pomona.

“O, that’s silly!” protested her brother. But Pomona was quite positive
about this. He fancied there were tears in her eyes, she was always
tender-hearted.

“I shall call him Johnny, Johnny Flynn.”

       *       *       *       *       *

THE HURLY-BURLY

       *       *       *       *       *



THE HURLY-BURLY


The Weetmans, mother, son, and daughter, lived on a thriving farm. It
was small enough, God knows, but it had always been a turbulent place
of abode. For the servant it was: “Phemy, do this,” or “Phemy, have you
done that?” from dawn to dark, and even from dark to dawn there was
a hovering of unrest. The widow Weetman, a partial invalid, was the
only figure that manifested any semblance of tranquillity, and it was
a misleading one for she sat day after day on her large hams knitting
and nodding and lifting her grey face only to grumble, her spectacled
eyes transfixing the culprit with a basilisk glare. And her daughter
Alice, the housekeeper, who had a large face, a dominating face, in
some respects she was all face, was like a blast in a corridor with her
“Maize for the hens, Phemy!--More firewood, Phemy!--Who has set the
trap in the harness room?--Come along!--Have you scoured the skimming
pans?--Why not!--Where are you idling?--Come along, Phemy, I have no
time to waste this morning, you really must help me.” It was not only
in the house that this cataract of industry flowed; outside there
was activity enough for a regiment. A master-farmer’s work consists
largely of a series of conversations with other master-farmers,
a long-winded way of doing long-headed things, but Glastonbury
Weetman, the son, was not like that at all; he was the incarnation of
energy, always doing and doing, chock-full of orders, adjurations,
objurgatives, blame, and blasphemy, That was the kind of place Phemy
Madigan worked at. No one could rest on laurels there. The farm and
the home possessed everybody, lock, stock, and barrel; work was like a
tiger, it ate you up implacably. The Weetmans did not mind--they liked
being eaten by such a tiger.

After six or seven years of this Alice went back to marry an old
sweetheart in Canada, where the Weetmans had originally come from,
but Phemy’s burden was in no way lessened thereby. There were as many
things to wash and sew and darn; there was always a cart of churns
about to dash for a train it could not possibly catch, or a horse
to shoe that could not possibly be spared. Weetman hated to see his
people merely walking: “Run over to the barn for that hay-fork,” or
“Slip across to the ricks, quick now,” he would cry, and if ever an
unwary hen hampered his own path it did so only once--and no more. His
labourers were mere things of flesh and blood, but they occasionally
resented his ceaseless flagellations. Glas Weetman did not like to
be impeded or controverted; one day in a rage he had smashed that
lumbering loon of a carter called Gathercole. For this he was sent to
jail for a month.

The day after he had been sentenced Phemy Madigan, alone in the house
with Mrs. Weetman, had waked at the usual early hour. It was a foggy
September morning; Sampson and his boy Daniel were clattering pails in
the dairy shed. The girl felt sick and gloomy as she dressed; it was
a wretched house to work in, crickets in the kitchen, cockroaches in
the garret, spiders and mice everywhere. It was an old long low house;
she knew that when she descended the stairs the walls would be stained
with autumnal dampness, the banisters and rails oozing with moisture.
She wished she was a lady and married and living in a palace fifteen
stories high.

It was fortunate that she was big and strong, though she had been only
a charity girl taken from the workhouse by the Weetmans when she was
fourteen years old. That was seven years ago. It was fortunate that she
was fed well at the farm, very well indeed; it was the one virtue of
the place. But her meals did not counterbalance things; that farm ate
up the body and blood of people. And at times the pressure was charged
with a special excitation, as if a taut elastic thong had been plucked
and released with a reverberating ping.

It was so on this morning. Mrs. Weetman was dead in her bed.

At that crisis a new sense descended upon the girl, a sense of
responsibility. She was not in fear, she felt no grief or surprise. It
concerned her in some way, but she herself was unconcerned, and she
slid without effort into the position of mistress of the farm. She
opened a window and looked out of doors. A little way off a boy with a
red scarf stood by an open gate.

“Oi ... oi, kup, kup, kup!” he cried to the cows in that field. Some
of the cows having got up stared amiably at him, others sat on ignoring
his hail, while one or two plodded deliberately towards him. “Oi ...
oi, kup, kup, kup!”

“Lazy rascal, that boy,” remarked Phemy, “we shall have to get rid of
him. Dan’l! Come here, Dan’l!” she screamed, waving her arm wildly.
“Quick!”

She sent him away for police and doctor. At the inquest there were no
relatives in England who could be called upon, no witnesses other than
Phemy. After the funeral she wrote a letter to Glastonbury Weetman in
jail informing him of his bereavement, but to this he made no reply.
Meanwhile the work of the farm was pressed forward under her control,
for though she was revelling in her personal release from the torment
she would not permit others to share her intermission. She had got Mrs.
Weetman’s keys and her box of money. She paid the two men and the boy
their wages week by week. The last of the barley was reaped, the oats
stacked, the roots hoed, the churns sent daily under her supervision.
And always she was bustling the men.

“O dear me, these lazy rogues!” she would complain to the empty rooms,
“they waste time, so it’s robbery, it _is_ robbery. You may wear
yourself to the bone and what does it signify to such as them? All the
responsibility, too!--They would take your skin if they could get it
off you--and they can’t!”

She kept such a sharp eye on the corn and meal and eggs that Sampson
got surly. She placated him by handing him Mr. Weetman’s gun and a few
cartridges, saying: “Just shoot me a couple of rabbits over in the
warren when you got time.” At the end of the day Mr. Sampson had not
succeeded in killing a rabbit so he kept the gun and the cartridges
many more days. Phemy was really happy. The gloom of the farm had
disappeared. The farmhouse and everything about it looked beautiful,
beautiful indeed with its yard full of ricks, the pond full of ducks,
the fields full of sheep and cattle, and the trees still full of leaves
and birds. She flung maize about the yard; the hens scampered towards
it and the young pigs galloped, quarrelling over the grains which they
groped and snuffed for, grinding each one separately in their iron
jaws, while the white pullets stalked delicately among them, picked
up the maize seeds, One, Two, Three, and swallowed them like ladies.
Sometimes on cold mornings she would go outside and give an apple to
the fat bay pony when he galloped back from the station. He would stand
puffing with a kind of rapture, the wind from his nostrils discharging
in the frosty air vague shapes like smoky trumpets. Presently upon his
hide a little ball of liquid mysteriously suspired, grew, slid, dropped
from his flanks into the road. And then drops would begin to come from
all parts of him until the road beneath was dabbled by a shower from
his dew-distilling outline. Phemy would say:

“The wretches! They were so late they drove him near distracted, poor
thing. Lazy rogues, but wait till master comes back, they’d better be
careful!”

And if any friendly person in the village asked her: “How are you
getting on up there, Phemy?” she would reply, “Oh, as well as you
can expect with so much to be done--and such men.” The interlocutor
might hint that there was no occasion in the circumstances to distress
oneself, but then Phemy would be vexed. To her, honesty was as holy
as the sabbath to a little child. Behind her back they jested about
her foolishness; but, after all, wisdom isn’t a process, it’s a
result, it’s the fruit of the tree. One can’t be wise, one can only be
fortunate.

On the last day of her Elysium the workhouse master and the chaplain
had stalked over the farm shooting partridges. In the afternoon she
met them and asked for a couple of birds for Weetman’s return on
the morrow. The workhouse was not far away, it was on a hill facing
west, and at sunset time its windows would often catch the glare
so powerfully that the whole building seemed to burn like a box of
contained and smokeless fire. Very beautiful it looked to Phemy.


II

The men had come to work punctually and Phemy herself found so much
to do that she had no time to give the pony an apple. She cleared the
kitchen once and for all of the pails, guns, harness, and implements
that so hampered its domestic intention, and there were abundant signs
elsewhere of a new impulse at work in the establishment. She did not
know at what hour to expect the prisoner so she often went to the
garden gate and glanced up the road. The night had been wild with windy
rain, but the morn was sparklingly clear though breezy still. Crisp
leaves rustled about the road where the polished chestnuts beside the
parted husks lay in numbers, mixed with coral buds of the yews. The
sycamore leaves were black rags, but the delicate elm foliage fluttered
down like yellow stars. There was a brown field neatly adorned with
white coned heaps of turnips, behind it a small upland of deeply green
lucerne, behind that nothing but blue sky and rolling cloud. The
turnips, washed by the rain, were creamy polished globes.

When at last he appeared she scarcely knew him. Glas Weetman was a big,
though not fleshy, man of thirty with a large boyish face and a flat
bald head. Now he had a thick dark beard. He was hungry, but his first
desire was to be shaved. He stood before the kitchen mirror, first
clipping the beard away with scissors, and as he lathered the remainder
he said:

“Well, it’s a bad state of things this, my sister dead and my mother
gone to America. What shall us do?”

He perceived in the glass that she was smiling.

“There’s naught funny in it, my comic gal,” he bawled indignantly,
“what are you laughing at?”

“I wer’n’t laughing. It’s your mother that’s dead.”

“My mother that’s dead. I know.”

“And Miss Alice that’s gone to America.”

“To America, I know, I know, so you can stop making your bullock’s eyes
and get me something to eat. What’s been going on here?”

She gave him an outline of affairs. He looked at her sternly when he
asked her about his sweetheart.

“Has Rosa Beauchamp been along here?”

“No,” said Phemy, and he was silent. She was surprised at the
question. The Beauchamps were such respectable high-up people that to
Phemy’s simple mind they could not possibly favour an alliance, now,
with a man that had been in prison: it was absurd, but she did not
say so to him. And she was bewildered to find that her conviction was
wrong, for Rosa came along later in the day and everything between her
master and his sweetheart was just as before; Phemy had not divined so
much love and forgiveness in high-up people.

It was the same with everything else. The old harsh rushing life was
resumed, Weetman turned to his farm with an accelerated vigour to make
up for the lost time and the girl’s golden week or two of ease became
an unforgotten dream. The pails, the guns, the harness, crept back into
the kitchen. Spiders, cockroaches, and mice were more noticeable than
ever before, and Weetman himself seemed embittered, harsher. Time alone
could never still him, there was a force in his frame, a buzzing in his
blood. But there was a difference between them now; Phemy no longer
feared him. She obeyed him, it is true, with eagerness, she worked in
the house like a woman and in the fields like a man. They ate their
meals together, and from this dissonant comradeship the girl in a dumb
kind of way began to love him.

One April evening on coming in from the fields he found her lying on
the couch beneath the window, dead plumb fast asleep, with no meal
ready at all. He flung his bundle of harness to the flags and bawled
angrily to her. To his surprise she did not stir. He was somewhat
abashed, he stepped over to look at her. She was lying on her side.
There was a large rent in her bodice between sleeve and shoulder; her
flesh looked soft and agreeable to him. Her shoes had slipped off to
the floor; her lips were folded in a sleepy pout.

“Why, she’s quite a pretty cob,” he murmured. “She’s all right, she’s
just tired, the Lord above knows what for.”

But he could not rouse the sluggard. Then a fancy moved him to lift
her in his arms; he carried her from the kitchen and staggering up the
stairs laid the sleeping girl on her own bed. He then went downstairs
and ate pie and drank beer in the candle-light, guffawing once or
twice, “A pretty cob, rather.” As he stretched himself after the meal a
new notion amused him: he put a plateful of food upon a tray together
with a mug of beer and the candle. Doffing his heavy boots and leggings
he carried the tray into Phemy’s room. And he stopped there.


III

The new circumstance that thus slipped into her life did not effect any
noticeable alteration of its general contour and progress, Weetman did
not change towards her. Phemy accepted his mastership not alone because
she loved him but because her powerful sense of loyalty covered all the
possible opprobrium. She did not seem to mind his continued relations
with Rosa.

Towards midsummer one evening Glastonbury came in in the late
dusk. Phemy was there in the darkened kitchen. “Master,” she said
immediately he entered. He stopped before her. She continued:
“Something’s happened.”

“Huh, while the world goes popping round something shall always happen.”

“It’s me--I’m took--a baby, master,” she said. He stood stock-still.
His face was to the light, she could not see the expression on his
face, perhaps he wanted to embrace her.

“Let’s have a light, sharp,” he said in his brusque way. “The supper
smells good but I can’t see what I’m smelling, and I can only fancy
what I be looking at.”

She lit the candles and they ate supper in silence. Afterwards he sat
away from the table with his legs outstretched and crossed, hands sunk
into pockets, pondering while the girl cleared the table. Soon he put
his powerful arm around her waist and drew her to sit on his knees.

“Are ye sure o’ that?” he demanded.

She was sure.

“Quite?”

She was quite sure.

“Ah, well then,” he sighed conclusively, “we’ll be married.”

The girl sprang to her feet. “No, no, no--how can you be married--you
don’t mean that--not married--there’s Miss Beauchamp!” She paused and
added, a little unsteadily: “She’s your true love, master.”

“Ay, but I’ll not wed her,” he cried sternly. “If there’s no gainsaying
this that’s come on you, I’ll stand to my guns. It’s right and proper
for we to have a marriage.”

His great thick-fingered hands rested upon his knees; the candles threw
a wash of light upon his polished leggings; he stared into the fireless
grate.

“But we do not want to do that,” said the girl, dully and doubtfully.
“You have given your ring to her, you’ve given her your word. I don’t
want you to do this for me. It’s all right, master, it’s all right.”

“Are ye daft?” he cried. “I tell you we’ll wed. Don’t keep clacking
about Rosa.... I’ll stand to my guns.” He paused before adding: “She’d
gimme the rightabout, fine now--don’t you see, stupid--but I’ll not
give her the chance.”

Her eyes were lowered. “She’s your true love, master.”

“What would become of you and your child? Ye couldn’t bide here!”

“No,” said the trembling girl.

“I’m telling you what we must do, modest and proper; there’s naught
else to be done, and I’m middling glad of it, I am. Life’s a see-saw
affair. I’m middling glad of this.”

So, soon, without a warning to any one, least of all to Rosa Beauchamp,
they were married by the registrar. The change in her domestic status
produced no other change; in marrying Weetman she had married all
his ardour, she was swept into its current. She helped to milk cows,
she boiled nauseating messes for pigs, chopped mangolds, mixed meal,
and sometimes drove a harrow in his windy fields. Though they slept
together she was still his servant. Sometimes he called her his
“pretty little cob” and then she knew he was fond of her. But in
general his custom was disillusioning. His way with her was his way
with his beasts; he knew what he wanted, it was easy to get. If for a
brief space a little romantic flower began to bud in her breast it was
frozen as a bud, and the vague longing disappeared at length from her
eyes. And she became aware that Rosa Beauchamp was not yet done with;
somewhere in the darkness of the fields Glastonbury still met her.
Phemy did not mind.

In the new year she bore him a son that died as it came to life. Glas
was angry at that, as angry as if he had lost a horse. He felt that he
had been duped, that the marriage had been a stupid sacrifice, and in
this he was savagely supported by Rosa. And yet Phemy did not mind; the
farm had got its grip upon her, it was consuming her body and blood.

Weetman was just going to drive into town; he sat fuming in the trap
behind the fat bay pony.

“Bring me that whip from the passage,” he shouted; “there’s never a
damn thing handy!”

Phemy appeared with the whip. “Take me with you,” she said.

“God-a-mighty! What for? I be comin’ back in an hour. They ducks want
looking over and you’ve all the taties to grade.”

She stared at him irresolutely.

“And who’s to look after the house? You know it won’t lock up--the
key’s lost. Get up there!”

He cracked his whip in the air as the pony dashed away.

In the summer Phemy fell sick, her arm swelled enormously. The doctor
came again and again. It was blood-poisoning, caught from a diseased
cow that she had milked with a cut finger. A nurse arrived but Phemy
knew she was doomed, and though tortured with pain she was for once
vexed and protestant. For it was a June night, soft and nubile, with
a marvellous moon; a nightingale threw its impetuous garland into the
air. She lay listening to it, and thinking with sad pleasure of the
time when Glastonbury was in prison, how grand she was in her solitude,
ordering everything for the best and working superbly. She wanted to go
on and on for evermore, though she knew she had never known peace in
maidenhood or marriage. The troubled waters of the world never ceased
to flow; in the night there was no rest--only darkness. Nothing could
emerge now. She was leaving it all to Rosa Beauchamp. Glastonbury was
gone out somewhere--perhaps to meet Rosa in the fields. There was the
nightingale, and it was very bright outside.

“Nurse,” moaned the dying girl, “what was I born into the world at all
for?”

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Punctuation has been made consistent.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation were retained as they appear in
the original publication, except that obvious typographical errors have
been corrected.





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