Part 8 out of 9
parsley: standing high against the stone walls, up and up the green lane.
Down there, where the two dales spread out at the bottom, a tiny Dutch
landscape. Flat pastures. Trees dotted about. A stiff row of trees at the
end. No sky behind them. Trees green on green, not green on blue. The
great flood of the sky dammed off by the hills.
She shut her eyes and saw the flat fields of Ilford, and the low line of
flying trees; a thin, watery mirage against the hill.
Since Mark died she had begun to dream about Ilford. She would struggle
and break through out of some dream about Morfe and find herself in Ley
Street, going to Five Elms. She would get past the corner and see the red
brick gable end. Sometimes, when she came up to the gate, the house would
turn into Greffington Hall. Sometimes it would stand firm with its three
rows of flat windows; she would go up the flagged path and see the sumach
tree growing by the pantry window; and when the door was opening she
Sometimes the door stood open. She would go in. She would go up the
stairs and down the passages, trying to find the schoolroom. She would
know that Mark was in the schoolroom. But she could never find it. She
never saw Mark. The passages led through empty, grey-lit rooms to the
bottom of the kitchen stairs, and she would find a dead baby lying among
the boots and shoes in the cat's cupboard.
Autumn and winter passed. She was thirty-two.
When your mind stopped and stood still it could feel time. Time going
fast, going faster and faster. Every year its rhythm swung on a longer
Your mind stretched to the span of time. There was something exciting
about this stretch, like a new sense growing. But in your dreams your
mind shrank again; you were a child, a child remembering and returning;
haunting old stairs and passages, knocking at shut doors. This child
tried to drag you back, it teased you to make rhymes about it. You were
not happy till you had made the rhymes.
There was something in you that went on, that refused to turn back, to
look for happiness in memory. Your happiness was _now_, in the moment
that you lived, while you made rhymes; while you looked at the white
thorn-trees; while the black-purple cloud passed over Karva.
Yesterday she had said to Dorsy Heron, "What I can't stand is seeing the
same faces every day."
But the hill world had never the same face for five minutes. Its very
form changed as the roads turned. The swing of your stride put in play a
vast, mysterious scene-shifting that disturbed the sky. Moving through it
you stood still in the heart of an immense being that moved. Standing
still you were moved, you were drawn nearer and nearer to its enclosing
She swung off the road beyond the sickle to the last moor-track that led
to the other side of Karva. She came back by the southern slope, down the
twelve fields, past the four farms.
The farm of the thorn-tree, the farm of the ash, the farm of the three
firs and the farm all alone.
Four houses. Four tales to be written.
There was something in you that would go on, whatever happened. Whatever
happened it would still be happy. Its happiness was not like the queer,
sudden, uncertain ecstasy. She had never known _what_ that was. It came
and went; it had gone so long ago that she was sure that whatever it had
been it would never come again. She could only remember its happening as
you remember the faint ecstasies of dreams. She thought of it as
something strange and exciting. Sometimes she wondered whether it had
really happened, whether there wasn't a sort of untruthfulness in
supposing it had.
But that ecstasy and this happiness had one quality in common; they
belonged to some part of you that was free. A you that had no hereditary
destiny; that had got out of the net, or had never been caught in it.
You could stand aside and look on at its happiness with horror, it didn't
care. It was utterly indifferent to your praise or blame, and the praise
or blame of other people; or to your happiness and theirs. It was open to
you to own it as your self or to detach yourself from it in your horror.
It was stronger and saner than you. If you chose to set up that awful
conflict in your soul that was your own affair.
Perhaps not your own. Supposing the conflict in you was the tug of the
generations before you, trying to drag you back to them? Supposing the
horror was _their_ horror, their fear of defeat?
She had left off being afraid of what might happen to her. It might never
happen. And supposing it did, supposing it had to happen when you were
forty-five, you had still thirteen years to write in.
"It shan't happen. I won't let it. I won't let them beat me."
Last year the drawer in the writing-table was full. This year it had
overflowed into the top left-hand drawer of the dressing-table. She had
to turn out all the handkerchiefs and stockings.
Her mother met her as she was carrying them to the wardrobe in the spare
room. You could see she felt that there was something here that must be
"I should have thought," she said, "that writing-table drawer was
"Tt-t--" Mamma nodded her head in a sort of exasperated resignation.
"Do you mean to say you're going to _keep_ all that?"
"All that? You should see what I've burnt."
"I should like to know what you're going to do with it!"
"So should I. That's just it--I don't know."
That night the monstrous thought came to her in bed: Supposing I
published those poems--I always meant to do it some day. Why haven't I?
Because I don't care? Or because I care too much? Because I'm afraid?
Afraid that if somebody reads them the illusion they've created would be
How do I know my writing isn't like my playing?
This is different. There's nothing else. If it's taken from me I shan't
want to go on living.
You didn't want to go on living when Mark died. Yet you went on. As if
Mark had never died.... And if Mamma died you'd go on--in your illusion.
If it is an illusion I'd rather know it.
How _can_ I know? There isn't anybody here who can tell me. Nobody you
could believe if they told you--I can believe _myself_. I've burnt
everything I've written that was bad.
You believe yourself to-day. You believed yesterday. How do you know
you'll believe to-morrow?
Aunt Lavvy had come to stay.
When she came you had the old feeling of something interesting about to
happen. Only you knew now that this was an illusion.
She talked to you as though, instead of being thirty-three, you were
still very small and very young and ignorant of all the things that
really mattered. She was vaguer and greyer, more placid than ever, and
more content with God.
Impossible to believe that Papa used to bully her and that Aunt Lavvy had
"For thirty-three years, Emilius, thirty-three years"--
Sunday supper at Five Elms; on the table James Martineau's _Endeavours
After the Christian Life_.
She wondered why she hadn't thought of Aunt Lavvy. Aunt Lavvy knew Dr.
Martineau. As long as you could remember she had always given a strong
impression of knowing him quite well.
But when Mary had made it clear what she wanted her to ask him to do, it
turned out that Aunt Lavvy didn't know Dr. Martineau at all.
And you could see she thought you presumptuous.
When old Martha brought the message for her to go to tea with Miss
Kendal, Mary slunk out through the orchard into the Back Lane. At that
moment the prospect of talking two hours with Miss Kendal was
And there was no other prospect. As long as she lived in Morfe there
would be nothing--apart from her real, secret life there would be
nothing--to look forward to but that. If it was not Miss Kendal it would
be Miss Louisa or Dorsy or old Mrs. Heron. People talked about dying of
boredom who didn't know that you could really die of it.
If only you didn't keep on wanting somebody--somebody who wasn't there.
If, before it killed you, you could kill the desire to know another mind,
a luminous, fiery crystal, to see it turn, shining and flashing. To talk
to it, to listen to it, to love the human creature it belonged to.
She envied her youth its capacity for day-dreaming, for imagining
interminable communions. Brilliant hallucinations of a mental hunger.
Better than nothing.... If this went on the breaking-point must come.
Suddenly you would go smash. Smash. Your mind would die in a delirium of
"It's a pity we can't go to his lecture," said Miss Kendal.
The train was moving out of Reyburn station. It was awful to think how
nearly they had missed it. If Dr. Charles had stayed another minute at
Miss Kendal sat on the edge of the seat, very upright in her black silk
mantle with the accordion-pleated chiffon frills. She had sat like that
since the train began to pull, ready to get out the instant it stopped at
"I feel sure it's going to be all right," she said.
The white marabou feather nodded.
Her gentle mauve and sallow face was growing old, with soft curdlings and
puckerings of the skin; but she still carried her head high, nodding at
you with her air of gaiety, of ineffable intrigue.
"I wouldn't bring you, Mary, if I didn't feel sure."
If she had not felt sure she wouldn't have put on the grey kid gloves,
the mantle and the bonnet with the white marabou feather. You don't dress
like that to go shopping in Durlingham.
"You mean," Mary said, "that we shall see him."
Her heart beat calmly, stilled by the sheer incredibility of the
"Of course we shall see him. Mrs. Smythe-Caulfield will manage that. It
might have been a little difficult if the Professor had been staying
anywhere else. But I know Mrs. Smythe-Caulfield very well. No doubt she's
arranged for you to have a long talk with him."
"Does she know what I want to see him about?"
"Well--yes--I thought it best, my dear, to tell her just what you told
me, so that she might see how important it is.... There's no knowing what
may come of it.... Did you bring them with you?"
"No, I didn't. If he won't look at them I should feel such an awful
"Perhaps," said Miss Kendal, "it is wiser not to assume beforehand.
Nothing may come of it. Still, I can't help feeling something will....
When you're famous, Mary, I shall think of how we went into Durlingham
"Whatever comes of it I shall think of _you_."
The marabou feather quivered slightly.
"How long have we known each other?"
"Is it so long?... I shall never forget the first day you came with your
mother. I can see you now, Mary, sitting beside my poor father with your
hand on his chair.... And that evening when you played to us, and dear
Mr. Roddy was there...."
She thought: "Why can't I be kind--always? Kindness matters more than
anything. Some day she'll die and she'll never have said or thought one
unkind thing in all her poor, dreadful little life.... Why didn't I go to
tea with her on Wednesday?"
On Wednesday her mind had revolted against its destiny of hunger. She had
hated Morfe. She had felt angry with her mother for making her live in
it, for expecting her to be content, for thinking that Dorsy and Miss
Louisa and Miss Kendal were enough. She had been angry with Aunt Lavvy
for talking about her to Miss Kendal.
Yet if it weren't for Miss Kendal she wouldn't be going into Durlingham
to see Professor Lee Ramsden.
Inconceivable that she should be taken by Miss Kendal to see Professor
Lee Ramsden. Yet this inconceivable thing appeared to be happening.
She tried to remember what she knew about him. He was Professor of
English literature at the University of London. He had edited Anthologies
and written Introductions. He had written a _History of English
Literature_ from Chaucer to Tennyson and a monograph on Shelley.
She thought of his mind as a luminous, fiery crystal, shining.
Posters on the platform at Durlingham announced in red letters that
Professor Lee Ramsden, M.A., F.R.S.L., would lecture in the Town Hall at
8 P.M. She heard Miss Kendal saying, "If it had been at three instead of
eight we could have gone." She had a supreme sense of something about to
Heavenly the long, steep-curved glass roof of the station, the iron
arches and girders, the fanlights. Foreign and beautiful the black canal
between the purplish rose-red walls, the white swans swaying on the black
water, the red shaft of the clock-tower. It shot up high out of the
Market-place, topped with the fantastically large, round, white eye of
She kept on looking up to the clock-tower. At four she would see him.
They walked about the town. They lunched and shopped. They sat in the
Park. They kept on looking at the clock-tower.
At the bookseller's in the Market-place she bought a second-hand copy of
Walt Whitman's _Leaves of Grass_....
A black-grey drive between bushes of smutty laurel and arbutus. A
black-grey house of big cut stones that stuck out. Gables and bow windows
with sharp freestone facings that stuck out. You waited in a drawing-room
stuffed with fragile mahogany and sea-green plush. Immense sea-green
acanthus leaves, shaded in myrtle green, curled out from the walls. A
suggestion of pictures heaved up from their places by this vigorous,
Curtains, cream-coloured net, sea-green plush, veiled the black-grey
walks and smutty lawns of the garden.
While she contemplated these things the long hand of the white marble
tombstone clock moved from the hour to the quarter.
She was reading the inscription, in black letters, on the golden plinth:
"Presented to Thomas Smythe-Caulfield, Esqr., M.P., by the Council and
Teachers of St. Paul's Schools, Durlingham"--"Presented"--when Mrs.
Smythe-Caulfield came in.
A foolish, overblown, conceited face. Grey hair arranged with art and
science, curl on curl. Three-cornered eyelids, hutches for small,
malevolently watching eyes. A sharp, insolent nose. Fish's mouth peering
out above the backward slope of cascading chins.
Mrs. Smythe-Caulfield shook hands at a sidelong arm's-length, not looking
at you, holding Miss Kendal in her sharp pointed stare. They were Kate
and Eleanor: Eleanor and Kate.
"You're going to the lecture?"
"If it had been at three instead of eight--"
"The hour was fixed for the townspeople's convenience."
In five minutes you had gathered that you would not be allowed to see
Professor Lee Ramsden; that Professor Lee Ramsden did not desire to see
or talk to anybody except Mrs. Smythe-Caulfield; that he kept his best
things for her; that _all sorts of people_ were trying to get at him, and
that he trusted her to protect him from invasion; that you had been
admitted in order that Mrs. Smythe-Caulfield might have the pleasure of
telling you these things.
Mary saw that the moment was atrocious; but it didn't matter. A curious
tranquillity possessed her: she felt something there, close to her, like
a person in the room, giving her a sudden security. The moment that was
mattering so abominably to her poor, kind friend belonged to a time that
was not her time.
She heard the tinkle of tea cups outside the hall; then a male voice,
male footsteps. Mrs. Smythe-Caulfield made a large encircling movement
towards the door. Something interceptive took place there.
As they went back down the black-grey drive between the laurel and
arbutus Miss Kendal carried her head higher than ever.
"That is the first time in my life, Mary, that I've asked a favour."
"You did it for me." ("She hated it, but she did it for me.")
"Never mind. We aren't going to mind, are we? We'll do without them....
That's right, my dear. Laugh. I'm glad you can. I dare say I shall laugh
"I don't _want_ to laugh," Mary said. She could have cried when she
looked at the grey gloves and the frilled mantle, and the sad, insulted
face in the bonnet with the white marabou feather. (And that horrible
woman hadn't even given her tea.)
The enormous eye of the town clock pursued them to the station.
As they settled into their seats in the Reyburn train Miss Kendal said,
"It's a pity we couldn't go to the lecture."
She leaned back, tired, in her corner. She closed her eyes.
Mary opened Walt Whitman's _Leaves of Grass_.
The beginning had begun.
"What are you reading, Mary?"
"The New Testament.... Extraordinary how interesting it is."
"You may say what you like, Mary; you'll change your mind some day. I
pray every night that you may come to Christ; and you'll find in the end
you'll have to come...."
No. No. Still, he said, "The Kingdom of God is within you." If the Greek
would bear it--within you.
Did they understand their Christ? Had anybody ever understood him? Their
"Prince of Peace" who said he hadn't come to send peace, but a sword? The
sword of the Self. He said he had come to set a man against his father
and the daughter against her mother, and that because of him a man's foes
should be those of his own household. "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild."
He was not meek and mild. He was only gentle with children and women and
sick people. He was brave and proud and impatient and ironic. He wouldn't
stay with his father and mother. He liked happy people who could amuse
themselves without boring him. He liked to get away from his disciples,
and from Lazarus and Martha and Mary of Bethany, and go to the rich,
cosmopolitan houses and hear the tax-gatherer's talk and see the young
Roman captains swaggering with their swords and making eyes at Mary of
He was the sublimest rebel that ever lived.
He said, "The spirit blows where it wills. You hear the sound of it, but
you can't tell where it comes from or where it goes to. Everybody that is
born from the spirit is like that." The spirit blows where it wants to.
He said it was a good thing for them that he was going away. If he didn't
the Holy Ghost wouldn't come to them; they would never have any real
selves; they would never be free. They would set him up as a god outside
themselves and worship Him, and forget that the Kingdom of God was within
them, that God was their real self.
Their hidden self was God. It was their Saviour. Its existence was the
hushed secret of the world.
Christ knew--he must have known--it was greater than he was.
It was a good thing for them that Christ died. That was how he saved
them. By going away. By a proud, brave, ironic death. Not at all the sort
of death you had been taught to believe in.
And because they couldn't understand a death like that, they went and
made a god of him just the same.
But the Atonement was that--Christ's going away.
February: grey, black-bellied clouds crawling over Greffington Edge, over
Karva, swelling out: swollen bodies crawling and climbing, coming
together, joining. Monstrous bodies ballooning up behind them, mounting
on top of them, flattening them out, pressing them down on to the hills;
going on, up and up the sky, swelling out overhead, coming together.
One cloud, grey as sink water, over all the sky, shredded here and there,
stirred by slight stretchings, and spoutings of thin steam.
Then the whole mass coming down, streaming grey sink water.
She came down the twelve fields on the south slope of Karva: she could
say them by heart: the field with the big gap, the field above the four
firs farm, the field below the farm of the ash-tree, the bare field, the
field with the thorn tree, the field with the sheep's well, the field
with the wild rose bush, the steep field of long grass, the hillocky
field, the haunted field with the ash grove, the field with the big barn,
the last field with the gap to the road.
She thought of her thirty-four years; of the verses she had sent to the
magazines and how they had come back again; of the four farms on the
hill, of the four tales not written.
The wet field grasses swept, cold, round her ankles.
Mamma sat waiting in her chair, in the drawing-room, in the clear, grey,
glassy dusk of the cross-lights. She waited for the fine weather to come
when she would work again in the garden. She waited for you to come to
her. Her forehead unknitted itself; her dove's eyes brightened; she
smiled, and the rough feathers of her eyebrows lay down, appeased.
At the opening of the door she stirred in her chair. She was glad when
Catty brought in the lamp. When she turned up the wick the rising flame
carved Mamma's face out of the dusk. Her pretty face, delicately dinted,
whitened with a powdery down; stained with faint bistres of age. Her
little, high-bridged nose stood up from the softness, clear and young,
firm as ivory.
The globed light showed like a ball of fire, hung out in the garden, on
the black, glassy darkness, behind the pane. Catty drew down the blind
and went. You heard the click of the latch falling to behind her. The
evening had begun.
They took up their books. Mamma hid her face behind Anthony Trollope,
Mary hers behind Thomas Hardy. Presently she would hear Mamma sigh, then
Under the edge of her book she would see Anthony Trollope lying in
Mamma's lap and Mamma's fingers playing with the fringe of her shawl. She
would put Thomas Hardy down and take up Anthony Trollope and read aloud
till Mamma's head began bowing in a doze. Then she would take up Thomas
Hardy. When Mamma waked Hardy would go down under Trollope; when she
dozed he would come to the top again.
After supper Mamma would be wide awake. She would sit straight up in her
chair, waiting, motionless, ready. You would pick up your book but you
would have no heart in it. You knew what she wanted. She knew that you
knew. You could go on trying to read if you chose; but she would still
sit there, waiting. You would know what she was thinking of.
The green box in the cabinet drawer.
The green box. You began to think of it, too, hidden, hidden in the
cabinet drawer. You were disturbed by the thought of the green box, of
the little figures inside it, white and green. You would get up and go to
the cabinet drawer.
Mamma would put out her hands on the table, ready. She smiled with shut
lips, pouting, half ashamed, half delighted. You would set out the green
and white chequer board, the rows of pawns. And the game of halma would
begin. White figures leap-frogging over green, green over white. Your
hand and your eyes playing, your brain hanging inert, remembering,
In the pauses of the game you waited; for the clock to strike ten, for
Catty to bring in the Bible and the Prayer-book, for the evening to end.
Old verses, old unfinished verses, coming and going.
In the long pauses of the game, when Mamma sat stone-still, hypnotised by
the green and white chequers, her curved hand lifted, holding her pawn,
her head quivering with indecision.
_In dreams He has made you wise
With the wisdom of silence and prayer...._
Coming and going, between the leap-frogging of the green figures and the
_God, Who has blinded your eyes
With the dusk of your hair...._
Brown hair, sleek and thin, brown hair that wouldn't go grey.
And the evening would go on, soundless and calm, with soft, annihilating
feet, with the soft, cruel feet of oblivion.
One day, when she came in, she heard the sound of the piano. The knocking
of loose hammers on dead wires, the light, hacking clang of chords
rolling like dead drum taps: Droom--Droom, Droom-era-room.
Alone in the dusk, Mamma was playing the Hungarian March, bowing and
swaying as she played.
When the door opened she started up, turning her back on the piano,
frightened, like a child caught in a play it is ashamed of. The piano
looked mournful and self-conscious.
Then suddenly, all by itself, it shot out a cry like an arrow, a pinging,
stinging, violently vibrating cry.
"I'm afraid," Mamma said, "something's happened to the piano."
They were turning out the cabinet drawer, when they found the bundle of
letters. Mamma had marked it in her sharp, three cornered hand-writing:
"Dear me," she said, "I didn't know I'd kept those letters."
She slipped them from the rubber band and looked at them. You could see
Uncle Victor's on the top, then Maurice Jourdain's. You heard the click
of her tongue that dismissed those useless, unimportant things. The slim,
yellowish letter at the bottom was Miss Lambert's.
"Oh, let me see that."
She looked over her mother's shoulder. They read together.
"We don't want her to go.... She made us love her more in one fortnight
than girls we've had with us for years.... Perhaps some day we may have
The poor, kind woman. The kind, dead woman. Years ago dead; her poor
voice rising up, a ghostlike wail over your "unbelief."
That was only the way she began.
"I say--I say!"
The thin voice was quivering with praise. Incredible, bewildering praise.
"Remarkable.--remarkable".--You would have thought there had never been
such a remarkable child as Mary Olivier.
It came back to her. She could see Miss Lambert talking to her father on
the platform at Victoria. She could see herself, excited, running up the
flagged walk at Five Elms. And Mamma coming down the hall. And what
happened then. The shock and all the misery that came after.
"That was the letter you wouldn't let me read."
"What do you mean?"
"The day I came back. I asked you to let me read it and you wouldn't."
"Really, Mary, you accuse me of the most awful things. I don't believe I
wouldn't let you read it."
"You didn't. I remember. You didn't want me to know--"
"Well," her mother said, giving in suddenly, "if I didn't, it was because
I thought it would make you even more conceited than you were. I don't
suppose I was very well pleased with you at the time."
"Still--you kept it."
But her mother was not even going to admit that she had kept it.
She said, "I must have overlooked it. But we can burn it now."
She carried it across the room to the fire. She didn't want even
now--even now. You saw again the old way of it, her little obstinate,
triumphant smile, the look that paid you out, that said, "See how I've
The violet ashen sheet clung to the furred soot of the chimney: you could
still see the blenched letters.
She couldn't really have thought it would make you conceited. That was
only what she wanted to think she had thought.
"It wasn't easy to make you pleased with me all the time.... Still, I
can't think why on earth you weren't pleased."
She knelt before the fire, watching the violet ashen bit of burnt-out
paper, the cause, the stupid cause of it all.
Her mother had settled again, placidly, in her chair.
"Even if I _was_ a bit conceited.... I don't think I was, really. I only
wanted to know whether I could do things. I wanted people to tell me just
because I didn't know. But even if I was, what did it matter? You must
have known I loved you--desperately--all the time."
"I didn't know it, Mary."
"Then you were stup--"
"Oh, say I was stupid. It's what you think. It's what you always have
"You were--you were, if you didn't see it."
"How I cared--I can remember--when I was a kid--the awful feeling. It
used to make me ill."
"I didn't know that. If you did care you'd a queer way of showing it."
"That was because I thought you didn't."
"Who told you I didn't care for you?"
"I didn't need to be told. I could see the difference."
Her mother sat fixed in a curious stillness. She held her elbows pressed
tight against her sides. Her face was hard and still. Her eyes looked
away across the room.
"You were different," she said. "You weren't like any of the others. I
was afraid of you. You used to look at me with your little bright eyes. I
felt as if you knew everything I was thinking. I never knew what you'd
say or do next."
No. Her face wasn't hard. There was something else. Something clear.
Clear and beautiful.
"I suppose I--I didn't like your being clever. It was the boys I wanted
to do things. Not you."
The stiff, tight body let go its hold of itself. The eyes turned to her
"I was jealous of you, Mary. And I was afraid for my life you'd find it
Eighteen ninety-eight. Eighteen ninety-nine. Nineteen hundred.
Thirty-five--thirty-six--thirty-seven. Three years. Her mind kept on
stretching; it held three years in one span like one year. The large
rhythm of time appeased and exalted her.
In the long summers while Mamma worked in the garden she translated
The _Bacchae_. You could do it after you had read Whitman. If you gave up
the superstition of singing; the little tunes of rhyme. If you left off
that eternal jingling and listened, you could hear what it ought to be.
Something between talking and singing. If you wrote verse that could be
chanted: that could be whispered, shouted, screamed as they moved. Agave
and her Maenads. Verse that would go with a throbbing beat, excited,
exciting; beyond rhyme. That would be nearest to the Greek verse.
* * * * *
September, nineteen hundred.
Across the room she could see the pale buff-coloured magazine, on the
table where, five minutes ago, Mamma had laid it down. She could see the
black letters of its title and the squat column of the table of contents.
The magazine with her poem in it.
And Mamma, sitting very straight, very still.
You would never know what she was thinking. She hadn't said anything. You
couldn't tell whether she was glad or sorry; or whether she was afraid.
The air tingled with the thought of the magazine with your poem in it.
But you would never know what she was thinking.
A long letter from Uncle Edward. Uncle Edward was worrying Mamma.
"He never could get on with your poor father. Or your Uncle Victor. He
did his best to prevent him being made trustee.... And now he comes
meddling, wanting to upset all their arrangements."
"Just because poor Victor's business isn't doing quite so well as it
"Yes, but why's he bothering _you_ about it?"
"Well, he says I ought to make another will, leaving half the boys' money
to you. That would be taking it from Dan. He always had a grudge against
"But you mustn't do anything of the sort."
"Well--he knows your father provided for you. You're to have the Five
Elms money that's in your Uncle Victor's business. You'd suppose, to hear
him talk, that it wasn't safe there."
"Just tell him to mind his own business," Mary said.
"Actually," Mamma went on, "advising me not to pay back any more of
Victor's money. I shall tell him I sent the last of it yesterday."
There would be no more debts to Uncle Victor. Mark had paid back his;
Mamma had paid back Roddy's, scraping and scraping, Mark and Mamma, over
ten years, over twenty.
A long letter from Uncle Victor. Uncle Victor was worrying Mamma.
"Don't imagine that I shall take this money. I have invested it for you,
in sound securities. Not in my own business. That, I am afraid I ought to
tell you, is no longer a sound security."
"It almost looks," Mamma said, "as if Edward might be right."
So right that in his next letter Uncle Victor prepared you for his
"It will not affect you and Mary," he wrote. "I may as well tell you now
that all the Five Elms money has been reinvested, and is safe. As for
myself, I can assure you that, after the appalling anxiety of the last
ten years, the thought of bankruptcy is a relief. A blessed relief,
All through September and October the long letters came from Uncle
Then Aunt Lavvy's short letter that told you of his death.
Then the lawyer's letters.
It seemed that, after all, Uncle Victor had been mistaken. His affairs
were in perfect order.
Only the Five Elms money was gone; and the money Mark and Mamma had paid
back to him. He had taken it all out of his own business, and put it into
the Sheba Mines and Joe's Reef, and the Golconda Company where he thought
it would be safe.
The poor dear. The poor dear.
So that you knew--
Mamma might believe what Aunt Lavvy told her, that he had only gone to
look out of the window and had turned giddy. Aunt Lavvy might believe
that he didn't know what he was doing.
But you knew.
He had been afraid. Afraid. He wouldn't go up to the top-landing after
they took Aunt Charlotte away; because he was afraid.
Then, at last, after all those years, he had gone up. When he knew he was
caught in the net and couldn't get out. He had found that they had moved
the linen cupboard from the window back into the night nursery. And he
had bolted the staircase door on himself. He had shut himself up. And the
great bare, high window was there. And the low sill. And the steep, bare
wall, dropping to the lane below.
END OF BOOK FOUR
MIDDLE AGE (1900-1910)
She must have been sitting there twenty minutes.
She was afraid to look up at the clock, afraid to move an eyelid lest she
should disturb him.
The library had the same nice, leathery, tobaccoey smell. Rough under her
fingers the same little sharp tongue of leather scratched up from the arm
of her chair. The hanging, half-open fans of the ash-tree would be making
the same Japanese pattern in the top left hand pane of the third window.
She wanted to see it again to make sure of the pattern, but she was
afraid to look up.
If she looked up she would see him.
She mustn't. It would disturb him horribly. He couldn't write if he
thought you were looking at him.
It was wonderful that he could go on like that, with somebody in the
room, that he let you sit in it when he was writing. The big man.
She had asked him whether she hadn't better go away and come back again,
and he had said No, he didn't want her to go away. He wouldn't keep her
waiting more than five minutes.
It was unbelievable that she should be sitting there, in that room, as if
nothing had happened; as if _they_ were there; as if they might come in
any minute; as if they had never gone. A week ago she would have said it
was impossible, she couldn't do it, for anybody, no matter how big or how
celebrated he was.
Why, after ten years--it must be ten years--she couldn't even bear to go
past the house while other people were in it. She hated them, the people
who took Greffington Hall for the summer holidays and the autumn
shooting. She would go round to Renton by Jackson's yard and the fields
so as not to see it. But when the brutes were gone and the yellow blinds
were down in the long rows of windows that you saw above the grey garden
wall, she liked to pass it and look up and pretend that the house was
only waiting for them, only sleeping its usual winter sleep, resting till
they came back.
It _was_ ten years since they had gone.
No. If Richard Nicholson hadn't been Mr. Sutcliffe's nephew, she
couldn't, no matter how big and how celebrated he was, or how badly he
wanted her help or she wanted his money.
No matter how wonderful and important it would feel to be Richard
It wasn't really his money that she wanted. It would be worth while
doing it for nothing, for the sake of knowing him. She had read his
She wondered: Supposing he kept her, how long would it last? He was in
the middle of his First Series of _Studies in Greek Literature_; and
there would be two, or even three if he went on.
He had taken Greffington Hall for four months. When he went back to London
he would have to have somebody else.
Perhaps he would tell her that, after thinking it over, he had found he
didn't want her. Then to-day would be the end of it.
If she looked up she would see him.
She knew what she would see: the fine, cross upper lip lifted backwards
by the moustache, the small grizzled brown moustache, turned up, that
made it look crosser. The narrow, pensive lower lip, thrust out by its
light jaw. His nose--quite a young nose--that wouldn't be Roman, wouldn't
be Sutcliffe; it looked out over your head, tilted itself up to sniff the
world, obstinate, alert. His eyes, young too, bright and dark, sheltered,
safe from age under the low straight eyebrows. They would never have
shabby, wrinkled sagging lids. Dark brown hair, grey above his ears,
clipped close to stop its curling like his uncle's. He liked to go
clipped and clean. You felt that he liked his own tall, straight
The big library rustled with the quick, irritable sound of his writing.
It stopped. He had finished. He looked at the clock. She heard a small,
"Forgive me. I really thought it would only take five minutes. How on
earth do you manage to keep so quiet? I should have known if a mouse had
He turned towards her. He leaned back in his chair. "You don't mind my
He was settling himself. Now she would know.
"Well," he said, "if I did keep you waiting forty minutes, it was a good
test, wasn't it?"
"I'm always changing my secretaries because of something. The last one
was admirable, but I couldn't have stood her in the room when I was
writing.... Besides, you work better."
"Can you tell? In a week?"
"Yes. I can tell.... Are you sure you can spare me four months?"
"If you were still here."
"I shan't be. I shall be in London.... Couldn't you come up?"
"I couldn't, possibly."
His cross mouth and brilliant, irritated eyes questioned her.
"I couldn't leave my mother."
Five weeks of the four months gone. And to-morrow he was going up to
Only till Friday. Only for five days. She kept on telling herself he
would stay longer. Once he was there you couldn't tell how many days he
might stay. But say he didn't come back till the middle of July, still
there would be the rest of July and all August and September.
To-day he was walking home with her, carrying the books. She liked
walking with him, she liked to be seen walking with him, as she used to
like being seen walking with Roddy and Mark, because she was proud of
them, proud of belonging to them. She was proud of Richard Nicholson
because of what he had done.
The Morfe people didn't know anything about what he had done; but they
knew he was something wonderful and important; they knew it was wonderful
and important that you should be his secretary. They were proud of you,
glad that they had provided him with you, proud that he should have found
what he was looking for in Morfe.
Mr. Belk, for instance, coming along the road. He used to pass you with a
jaunty, gallant, curious look as if you were seventeen and he were
saying, "There's a girl who ought to be married. Why isn't she?" He had
just sidled past them, abashed and obsequious, a little afraid of the big
man. Even Mrs. Belk was obsequious.
And Mr. Spencer Rollitt. He was proud because Richard Nicholson had asked
him about a secretary and he had recommended you. Funny that people could
go on disapproving of you for twenty years, and then suddenly approve
because of Richard Nicholson.
And Mamma. Mamma thought you wonderful and important, too.
Mamma liked Mr. Nicholson. Ever since that Sunday when he had called and
brought the roses and stayed to tea. She had gone out of the room and
left them abruptly because she was afraid of his "cleverness," afraid
that he would begin to talk about something that she didn't understand.
And he had said, "How beautiful she is--"
After he had gone she had told Mamma that Richard Nicholson had said she
was beautiful; and Mamma had pretended that it didn't matter what he
said; but she had smiled all the same.
He carried himself like Mr. Sutcliffe when he walked, straight and tall
in his clean cut grey suit. Only he was lighter and leaner. His eyes
looked gentle and peaceable now under the shadow of the Panama hat.
The front door stood open. She asked him to come in for tea.
"May I? ... What are you doing afterwards?"
"Going for a walk somewhere."
"Will you let me come too?..."
He was standing by the window looking at the garden. She saw him smile
when he heard Catty say that Mamma had gone over to Mrs. Waugh's and
wouldn't be back for tea. He smiled to himself, a secret, happy smile,
looking out into the garden.... She took him out through the orchard. He
went stooping under the low apple boughs and laughing. Down the Back Lane
and through the gap in the lower fields, along the flagged path to the
Bottom Lane and through the Rathdale fields to the river. Over the
She took the stones at a striding run. He followed, running and laughing.
Up the Rathdale fields to Renton Moor. Not up the schoolhouse lane, or on
the Garthdale Road, or along the fields by the beck. Not up Greffington
Edge or Karva. Because of Lindley Vickers and Maurice Jourdain; and Roddy
No. She was humbugging herself. Not up Karva because of her secret
happiness. She didn't want to mix him up with _that_ or with the self
that had felt it. She wanted to keep him in the clear spaces of her mind,
away from her memories, away from her emotions.
They sat down on the side of the moor in the heather.
Indoors when he was working he was irritable and restless. You would hear
a gentle sighing sound: "D-amn"; and he would start up and walk about the
room. There would be shakings of his head, twistings of his eyebrows,
shruggings of his shoulders, and tormented gestures of his hands. But not
out here. He sat in the heather as quiet, as motionless as you were,
every muscle at rest. His mind was at rest.
The strong sunlight beat on him; it showed up small surface signs.
Perhaps you could see now that he might really be forty, or even
No, you couldn't. You couldn't see or feel anything but the burning,
inextinguishable youth inside him. The little grey streaks and patches
might have been powder put on for fun.
"I want to finish with all my Greek stuff," he said suddenly. "I want to
go on to something else--studies in modern French literature. Then
English. I want to get everything clean and straight in five pages where
other people would take fifty.... I want to go smash through some of the
traditions. The tradition of the long, grey paragraph.... We might learn
things from France. But we're a proud island people. We won't learn....
We're a proud island people, held in too tight, held in till we burst.
That's why we've no aesthetic restraint. No restraint of any sort. Take
our economics. Take our politics. We've had to colonise, to burst out
over continents. When our minds begin moving it's the same thing. They
burst out. All over the place.... When we've learned restraint we shall
take our place inside Europe, not outside it."
"We do restrain our emotions quite a lot."
"We do. We do. That's precisely why we don't restrain our expression of
them. Really unrestrained emotion that forces its way through and breaks
down your intellectual defences and saturates you with itself--it hasn't
any words.... It hasn't any words; or very few."
* * * * *
The mown fields over there, below Greffington Edge, were bleached with
the sun: the grey cliffs quivered in the hot yellow light.
"It might be somewhere in the South of France."
"No. Not Agaye. The limestone country.... I can't think why I never came
here. My uncle used to ask me dozens of times. I suppose I funked it....
What the poor old chap must have felt like shut up in that house all
those years with my aunt--"
"Please don't. I--I liked her."
"You mean you liked him and put up with her because of him. We all did
"She was kind to me."
"Who wouldn't be?"
"Oh, but you don't know how kind."
"Kind? Good Lord, yes. There are millions of kind people in the world.
It's possible to be kind and at the same time not entirely brainless."
"He wouldn't mind that. He wouldn't think she was brainless--"
"He wasn't in love with her--there was another woman--a girl. It was so
like the dear old duffer to put it off till he was forty-five and then
come a cropper over a little girl of seventeen."
"That isn't true. I knew him much better than you do. He never cared for
anybody but her.... Besides, if it was true you shouldn't have told me.
I've no business to know it...."
"Everybody knew it. The poor dear managed so badly that everybody in the
place knew it. She knew, that's why she dragged him away and made him
live abroad. She hated living abroad, but she liked it better than seeing
him going to pieces over the girl."
"I don't believe it. If there was anything in it I'd have been sure to
have heard of it.... Why, there wasn't anybody here but me--"
"It must have been years before your time," he said. "You could hardly
even have come in for the sad end of it."
* * * * *
Dorsy Heron said it was true.
"It was you he was in love with. Everybody saw it but you."
She remembered. His face when she came to him. In the library. And what
he had said.
"A man might be in love with you for ten years and you wouldn't know
about it if he held his tongue."
And _her_ face. Her poor face, so worried when people saw them together.
And that last night when she stroked your arm and when she saw him
looking at it and stopped. And her eyes. Frightened. Frightened.
"How I must have hurt him. How I must have hurt them both."
* * * * *
Mr. Nicholson had come back on Friday as he had said.
He put down his scratching pen and was leaning back in his chair, looking
She wondered what he was thinking. Sometimes the space of the room was
enormous between her table by the first tall window and his by the third;
sometimes it shrank and brought them close. It was bringing them close
"You can't see the text for the footnotes," she said. "The notes must go
in the Appendix."
She wanted to make herself forget that all her own things, the things she
had saved from the last burning, were lying there on his table, staring
at her. She was trying not to look that way, not to let herself imagine
for a moment that he had read them.
"Never mind the notes and the Appendix."
He had got up. He was leaning now against the tall shutter of her window,
looking down at her.
"Why didn't you tell me? Before I let you in for that horrible drudgery?
All that typing and indexing--If I'd only known you were doing anything
like this.... Why couldn't you have told me?"
"Because I wasn't doing it. It was done ages ago."
"It's my fault. I ought to have known. I did know there was something. I
ought to have attended to it and found out what it was."
He began walking up and down the room, turning on her again and again,
making himself more and more excited.
"That translation of the _Bacchae_--what made you think of doing it
"I'd been reading Walt Whitman--It showed me you could do without rhyme.
I knew it must sound as if it was all spoken--chanted--that they mustn't
sing. Then I thought perhaps that was the way to do it."
"Yes. Yes. It is the way to do it. The only way.... You see, that's what
my Euripides book's about. The very thing I've been trying to ram down
people's throats, for years. And all the time you were doing it--down
here--all by yourself--for fun ... I wish I'd known ... What are you
going to do about it?"
"I didn't think anything could be done."
He sat down to consider that part of it.
* * * * *
He was going to get it published for her.
He was going to write the Introduction.
"And--the other things?"
"Oh, well, that's another matter. There's not much of it that'll stand."
He knew. He would never say more or less than he meant.
Not much of it that would stand. Now that she knew, it was extraordinary
how little she minded.
"Still, there are a few things. They must come out first. In the spring.
Then the _Bacchae_ in the autumn. I want it to be clear from the start
that you're a poet translating; not the other way on."
He walked home with her, discussing gravely how it would be done.
It had come without surprise, almost without excitement; the quiet
happening of something secretly foreseen, present to her mind as long as
she could remember.
"I always meant that this should happen: something like this."
Now that it had happened she was afraid, seeing, but not so clearly, what
would come afterwards: something that would make her want to leave Morfe
and Mamma and go away to London and know the people Richard Nicholson had
told her about, the people who would care for what she had done; the
people who were doing the things she cared about. To talk to them; to
hear them talk. She was afraid of wanting that more than anything in the
She saw her fear first in Mamma's eyes when she told her.
And there was something else. Something to do with Richard Nicholson.
Something she didn't want to think about. Not fear exactly, but a sort of
uneasiness when she thought about him.
His mind really was the enormous, perfect crystal she had imagined. It
had been brought close to her; she had turned it in her hand and seen it
flash and shine. She had looked into it and seen beautiful, clear things
in it: nothing that wasn't beautiful and clear. She was afraid of wanting
to look at it again when it wasn't there. Because it had made her happy
she might come to want it more than anything in the world.
In two weeks it would be gone. She would want it and it would not be
When she passed the house and saw the long rows of yellow blinds in the
grey front she thought of him. He would not come back. He had never come
before, so it wasn't likely he would come again.
His being there was one of the things that only happened once. Perhaps
those were the perfect things, the things that would never pass away;
they would stay for ever, beautiful as you had seen them, fixed in their
moment of perfection, wearing the very air and light of it for ever.
You would see them _sub specie ceternitatis_. Under the form of eternity.
So that Richard Nicholson would always be like that, the same whenever
you thought of him.
Look at the others: the ones that hadn't come back and the ones that had.
Jimmy Ponsonby, Harry Craven, Mr. Sutcliffe. And Maurice Jourdain and
Lindley Vickers. If Maurice Jourdain had never come back she would always
have seen him standing in the cornfield. If Lindley Vickers had never
come back she wouldn't have seen him with Nannie Learoyd in the
schoolhouse lane; the moment when he held her hands in the drawing-room,
standing by the piano, would have been their one eternal moment.
Because Jimmy Ponsonby had gone away she had never known the awful thing
he had done. She would go through the Ilford fields for ever and ever
with her hot hand in his; she happy and he innocent; innocent for ever
and ever. Harry Craven, her playmate of two hours, he would always be
playing, always laughing, always holding her hand, like Roddy, without
knowing that he held it.
Suppose Mr. Sutcliffe had come back. She would have hurt them more and
more. Mrs. Sutcliffe would have hated her. They would have been
miserable, all three. All three damned for ever and ever.
She was not sure she wanted Richard Nicholson to come back.
She was not sure he wasn't spoiling it by writing. She hadn't thought he
would do that.
A correspondence? Prolonging the beautiful moment, stretching it thin;
thinner and thinner; stretching it so thin that it would snap? You would
come to identify him with his letters, so that in the end you would lose
what had been real, what had been perfect. You would forget. You would
have another and less real kind of memory.
But his letters were not thin; they were as real as his voice. They
_were_ his voice talking to you; you could tell which words would take
the stress of it. "I don't know how _much_ there is of you, whether this
is all of it or only a little bit. You gave me an impression--you made me
feel that there might be any _amount_ gone under that you can't get at,
that you may _never_ get at if you go on staying where you are. I believe
if you got clean away it might come to the top again.
"But I don't _know_. I don't know whether you're at the end or the
beginning. I could tell better if you were here."
She counted the months till April when her poems would come out. She
counted the days till Tuesday when there might be a letter from Richard
If only he would not keep on telling you you ought to come to London.
That was what made you afraid. He might have seen how impossible it was.
He had seen Mamma.
"Don't try to dig me out of my 'hole.' I _can_ 'go on living in it for
ever' if I'm never taken out. But if I got out once it would be awful
coming back. It isn't awful now. Don't make it awful."
He only wrote: "I'll make it awfuller and _aw_fuller, until out you
Things were happening in the village.
The old people were dying. Mr. James had died in a fit the day after
Christmas Day. Old Mrs. Heron had died of a stroke in the first week of
January. She had left Dorsy her house and furniture and seventy pounds a
year. Mrs. Belk got the rest.
The middle-aged people were growing old. Louisa Wright's hair hung in a
limp white fold over each ear, her face had tight lines in it that pulled
it into grimaces, her eyes had milky white rings like speedwell when it
begins to fade. Dorsy Heron's otter brown hair was striped with grey; her
nose stood up sharp and bleak in her red, withering face; her sharp,
tender mouth drooped at the corners. She was forty-nine.
It was cruel, cruel, cruel; it hurt you to see them. Rather than own it
was cruel they went about pulling faces and pretending they were happy.
Their gestures had become exaggerated, tricks that they would never grow
out of, that gave them the illusion of their youth.
The old people were dying and the middle-aged people were growing old.
Nothing would ever begin for them again.
Each morning when she got out of bed she had the sacred, solemn certainty
that for her everything was beginning. At thirty-nine.
What was thirty-nine? A time-feeling, a feeling she hadn't got. If you
haven't got the feeling you are not thirty-nine. You can be any age you
please, twenty-nine, nineteen.
But she had been horribly old at nineteen. She could remember what it had
felt like, the desperate, middle-aged sadness, the middle-aged certainty
that nothing interesting would ever happen. She had got hold of life at
the wrong end.
And all the time her youth had been waiting for her at the other end, at
the turn of the unknown road, at thirty-nine. All through the autumn and
winter Richard Nicholson had kept on writing. Her poems would be out on
the tenth of April.
On the third the note came.
"Shall I still find you at Morfe if I come down this week-end?--R.N."
"You will never find me anywhere else.--M.O."
"I shall bike from Durlingham. If you've anything to do in Reyburn it
would be nice if you met me at The King's Head about four. We could have
tea there and ride out together.--R.N."
"I'm excited. I've never been to tea in an hotel before."
She was chattering like a fool, saying anything that came into her head,
to break up the silence he made.
She was aware of something underneath it, something that was growing more
and more beautiful every minute. She was trying to smash this thing lest
it should grow more beautiful than she could bear.
"You see how I score by being shut up in Morfe. When I do get out it's no
end of an adventure." (Was there ever such an idiot?)
Suddenly she left off trying to smash the silence.
The silence made everything stand out with a supernatural clearness, the
square, white-clothed table in the bay of the window, the Queen Anne
fluting on the Britannia metal teapot, the cups and saucers and plates,
white with a gentian blue band, The King's Head stamped in gold like a
Sitting there so still he had the queer effect of creating for both of
you a space of your own, more real than the space you had just stepped
out of. There, there and not anywhere else, these supernaturally clear
things had reality, a unique but impermanent reality. It would last as
long as you sat there and would go when you went. You knew that whatever
else you might forget you would remember this.
The rest of the room, the other tables and the people sitting at them
were not quite real. They stood in another space, a different and
inferior kind of space.
"I came first of all," he said, "to bring you _that_."
He took out of his pocket and put down between them the thin, new white
parchment book of her _Poems_.
"Oh ... Poor thing, I wonder what'll happen to it?" Funny--it was the
least real thing. If it existed at all it existed somewhere else, not in
this space, not in this time. If you took it up and looked at it the
clearness, the unique, impermanent reality would be gone, and you would
never get it again.
* * * * *
They had finished the run down Reyburn hill. Their pace was slackening on
He said, "That's a jolly bicycle of yours."
"Isn't it? I'm sure you'll like to know I bought it with the wonderful
cheque you gave me. I should never have had it without that."
"I'm glad you got something out of that awful time."
"Awful? It was one of the nicest times I've ever had.... Nearly all my
nice times have been in that house."
"I know," he said. "My uncle would let you do anything you liked if you
were young enough. He ought to have had children of his own. They'd have
kept him out of mischief."
"I can't think," she said to the surrounding hills, "why people get into
mischief, or why they go and kill themselves. When they can ride bicycles
Mamma was sitting upright and averted, with an air of self-conscious
effacement, holding the thin white book before her like a fan.
Every now and then you could see her face swinging round from behind the
cover and her eyes looking at Richard Nicholson, above the rims of her
glasses. Uneasy, frightened eyes.
The big pink roses of the chintzes and the gold bordered bowls of the
black mirrors looked at you rememberingly.
There was a sort of brutality about it. To come here and be happy, to
come here in order to be happy, when _they_ were gone; when you had hurt
them both so horribly.
"I'm sitting in her chair," she thought.
Richard Nicholson sat, in a purely temporary attitude, by the table in
the window. Against the window-pane she could see his side face drawn in
a brilliant, furred line of light. His moustache twitched under the
shadow of his nose. He was smiling to himself as he wrote the letter to
There was a brutality about that, too. She wondered if he had seen old
Baxter's pinched mouth and sliding eyes when he took the letter. He was
watching him as he went out, waiting for the click of the latch.
"It's all right," he said. "They expect you. They think it's work."
He settled himself (in Mr. Sutcliffe's chair).
"It's the best way," he said. "I want to see you and I don't want to
frighten your mother. She _is_ afraid of me."
"No. She's afraid of the whole thing. She wishes it hadn't happened.
She's afraid of what'll happen next. I can't make her see that nothing
need happen next."
"She's cleverer than you think. She sees that something's got to happen
next. I couldn't stand another evening like the last."
"You couldn't," she agreed. "You couldn't possibly."
"We can't exactly go on like--like this, you know."
"Don't let's think about it. Here we are. Now this minute. It's an hour
and a half till dinner time. Why, even if I go at nine we've got three
"That's not enough.... You talk as though we could think or not think, as
we chose. Even if we left off thinking we should have to go on living.
Your mother knows that."
"I don't think she knows more than we do."
"She knows enough to frighten her. She knows what _I_ want.... I want to
marry you, Mary."
(This then was what she had been afraid of. But Mamma wouldn't have
thought of it.)
"I didn't think you wanted to do that. Why should you?"
"It's the usual thing, isn't it? When you care enough."
"_Do_ you care enough?"
"More than enough. Don't you? ... It's no use saying you don't. I know
"Can you tell?"
"Do I go about showing it?"
"No; there hasn't been time. You only began yesterday."
"In the hotel. When you stopped talking suddenly. And when I gave you
your book. You looked as though you wished I hadn't. As though I'd
dragged you away from somewhere where you were happy."
"Yes.... If it only began yesterday we can stop it. Stop it before it
"I can't. I've been at it longer than that."
"Oh--I don't know. It might have been that first week. After I'd found
out that there was peace when you came into the room; and no peace when
you went out. When you're there peace oozes out of you and soaks into me
all the time."
"Does it feel like that?"
"Just like that."
"But--if it feels like that now, we should spoil it by marrying."
"Oh no we shouldn't."
"Yes.... If it's peace you want. There won't be _any_ peace.... Besides,
you don't know. Do you remember telling me about your uncle?"
"What's he got to do with it?"
"And that girl. You said I couldn't have known anything about it.... You
said I couldn't even have come in for the sad end of it."
"Well.... I did.... I _was_ the sad end of it.... The girl was me."
"But you told me it wasn't true."
...He had got up. He wanted to stand. To stand up high above you.
"You _know_," he said, "you told me it wasn't true."
* * * * *
They would have to go through with it. Dining. Drinking coffee. Talking
politely; talking intelligently; talking. Villiers de L'Isle Adam,
Villiers de L'Isle Adam. "The symbolistes are finished ... Do you know
Jean Richepin? 'Il etait une fois un pauvre gars Qui aimait celle qui ne
l'aimait pas'? ... 'Le coeur de ta mere pour mon chien.'" He thinks I
lied. "You ought to read Henri de Regnier and Remy de Gourmont. You'd
like them." ... Le coeur de ta mere. He thinks I lied. Goodness knows
what he doesn't think.
The end of it would come at nine o'clock.
* * * * *
"Are you still angry?"
He laughed. A dreadful sniffling laugh that came through his nostrils.
"_I_'m not. If I were I should let you go on thinking I lied. You see, I
didn't know it was true. I didn't know I was the girl."
"You didn't _know_?"
"How could I when he never said a word?"
"I can't understand your not seeing it."
"Would you like me better if I had seen it?"
"N-no.... But I wish you hadn't told me. Why did you?"
"I was only trying to break the shock. You thought I couldn't be old
enough to be that girl. I meant you to do a sum in your head: 'If she was
that girl and she was seventeen, then she must be thirty-nine now.'"
"Is _that_ what you smashed up our evening for?"
"I shouldn't care if you were fifty-nine. I'm forty-five."
"You're sorry. You're sorry all the same."
"I'm sorry because there's so little time, Mary. Sorry I'm six years
older than you...."
She stood up. He turned to her. He made a queer sound. A sound like a
deep, tearing sigh.
* * * * *
"If I were twenty I couldn't marry you, because of Mamma. That's one
thing. You can't marry Mamma."
"We can talk about your mother afterwards."
"No. Now. There isn't any afterwards. There's only this minute that
we're in. And perhaps the next.... You haven't thought what it'll be
like. You can't leave London because of your work. I can't leave this
place because of Mamma. She'd be miserable in London. I can't leave
her. She hasn't anybody but me. I promised my brother I'd look after
her.... She'd have to live with me."
"You couldn't live with her."
"I could, Mary."
"Not you. You said you couldn't stand another evening like yesterday....
_All the evenings would be like yesterday_.... Please.... Even if there
wasn't Mamma, you don't want to marry. If you'd wanted to you'd have
done it long ago, instead of waiting till you're forty-five. Think of
two people tied up together for life whether they both like it or not.
It isn't even as if one of them could be happy. How could you if the
other wasn't? Look at the Sutcliffes. Think how he hated it.... And _he_
was a kind, patient man. You know you wouldn't dream of marrying me if
you didn't think it was the only possible way."
"No. The one impossible way. I'd do anything for you but that....
"Would you, Mary? Would you have the courage?"
"It would take infinitely more courage to marry you. We should be risking
more. All the beautiful things. If it wasn't for Mamma.... But there _is_
Mamma. So--you see."
She thought: "He _hasn't_ kissed me. He _hasn't_ held me in his arms.
He'll be all right. It won't hurt him."
That was Catty's white apron.
Catty stood on the cobbled square by the front door, looking for her.
When she saw them coming she ran back into the house.
She was waiting in the passage as Mary came in.
"The mistress is upset about something," she said. "After she got Mr.
"There wasn't anything to upset her in that, Catty."
"P'raps not, Miss Mary; but I thought I'd tell you."
Mamma had been crying all evening. Her pocket-handkerchief lay in her
lap, a wet rag.
"I thought you were never coming back again," she said.
"Why, where did you think I'd gone?"
"Goodness knows where. I believe there's nothing you wouldn't do. I've no
security with you, Mary.... Staying out till all hours of the night....
Sitting up with that man.... You'll be the talk of the place if you don't
(She thought: "I must let her go on. I won't say anything. If I do it'll
"I can't think what possessed you...."
("Why did I do it? _Why_ did I smash it all up? Uncle Victor suicided.
That's what I've done.... I've killed myself.... This isn't me.")
"If that's what comes of your publishing I'd rather your books were sunk
to the bottom of the sea. I'd rather see you in your coffin."
"I _am_ in my coffin."
"I wish I were in mine," her mother said.
* * * * *
Mamma was getting up from her chair, raising herself slowly by her arms.
Mary stooped to pick up the pocket-handkerchief. "Don't, Mamma; I've got
Mamma went on stooping. Sinking, sliding down sideways, clutching at the
edge of the table.
Mary saw terror, bright, animal terror, darting up to her out of Mamma's
eyes, and in a place by themselves the cloth sliding, the lamp rocking
and righting itself.
She was dragging her up by her armpits, holding her up. Mamma's arms were
dangling like dolls' arms.
And like a machine wound up, like a child in a passion, she still
struggled to walk, her knees thrust out, doubled up, giving way, her feet
Not a stroke. Well, only a slight stroke, a threatening, a warning.
"Remember she's getting old, Mary."
Any little worry or excitement would do it.
She was worried and excited about me. Richard worried and excited her.
If I could only stay awake till she sleeps. She's lying there like a
lamb, calling me "dear" and afraid of giving me trouble.... Her little
hands dragged the bedclothes up to her chin when Dr. Charles came. She
looked at him with her bright, terrified eyes.
She isn't old. She can't be when her eyes are so bright.
She thinks it's a stroke. She won't believe him. She thinks she'll die
like Mrs. Heron.
Perhaps she knows.
Perhaps Dr. Charles really thinks she'll die and won't tell me. Richard
thought it. He was sorry and gentle, because he knew. You could see by
his cleared, smoothed face and that dreadfully kind, dreadfully wise
look. He gave into everything--with an air of insincere, provisional
acquiescence, as if he knew it couldn't be for very long. Dr. Charles
must have told him.
Richard wants it to happen.... Richard's wanting it can't make it happen.
It might, though. Richard might get at her. His mind and will might be
getting at her all the time, making her die. He might do it without
knowing he was doing it, because he couldn't help it. He might do it in
But I can stop that.... If Richard's mind and will can make her die, my
mind and will can keep her from dying.... There was something I did
That time I wanted to go away with the Sutcliffes. When Roddy was coming
home. Something happened then.... If it happened then it can happen now.
If I could remember how you do it. Flat on your back with your eyes shut;
not tight shut. You mustn't feel your eyelids. You mustn't feel any part
of you at all. You think of nothing, absolutely nothing; not even think.
You keep on not feeling, not thinking, not seeing things till the
blackness comes in waves, blacker and blacker. That's how it was before.
Then the blackness was perfectly still. You couldn't feel your breathing
or your heart beating.... It's coming all right.... Blacker and blacker.
It wasn't like this before.
_This_ is an awful feeling. Dying must be like this. One thing going
after another. Something holding down your heart, stopping its beat;
something holding down your chest, crushing the breath out of it....
Don't think about the feeling. Don't feel. Think of the blackness....
It isn't the same blackness. There are specks and shreds of light in it;
you can't get the light away.... Don't think about the blackness and the
light. Let everything go except yourself. Hold on to yourself.... But you
felt your self going.
Going and coming back; gathered together; incredibly free; disentangled
from the net of nerves and veins. It didn't move any more with the
movement of the net. It was clear and still in the blackness; intensely
Then it willed. Your self willed. It was free to will. You knew that it
had never been free before except once; it had never willed before except
once. Willing was this. Waves and waves of will, coming on and on, making
your will, driving it through empty time.... "The time of time": that was
the Self.... Time where nothing happens except this. Where nothing
happens except God's will. God's will in your will. Self of your self.
Reality of reality.... It had felt like that.
Mamma had waked up. She was saying she was better.
* * * * *
Mamma was better. She said she felt perfectly well. She could walk across
the room. She could walk without your holding her.
It couldn't have been that. It couldn't, possibly. It was a tiny
haemorrhage and it had dried up. It would have dried up just the same if
you hadn't done anything. Those things _don't happen_.
What did happen was extraordinary enough. The queer dying. The freedom
afterwards. The intense stillness, the intense energy; the certainty.
Something was there.
* * * * *
That horrible dream. Dorsy oughtn't to have made me go and see the old
woman in the workhouse. A body without a mind. That's what made the dream
come. It was Mamma's face; but she was doing what the old woman did.
"Mamma!"--That's the second time I've dreamed Mamma was dead.
The little lamb, lying on her back with her mouth open, making that funny
noise: "Cluck-cluck," like a hen.
Why can't I dream about something I want to happen? Why can't I dream
about Richard? ... Poor Richard, how can he go on believing I shall
come to him?
Dear Dr. Charles, with his head sticking out between the tubes of the
stethoscope, like a ram. His poor old mouth hung loose as he breathed. He
was out late last night; there was white stubble on his chin.
"It won't do it when you want it to."
"It's doing quite enough.... Let me see, it's two years since your mother
had that illness. You must go away, Mary. For a month at least. Dorsy'll
come and take care of your mother."
"Does it matter where I go?"
"N-no. Not so much. Go where you'll get a thorough change, my dear. I
wouldn't stay with relations, if I were you."
"All right, I'll go if you'll tell me what's the matter with me."
"You've got your brother Rodney's heart. But it won't kill you if you'll
take care of yourself."
(Roddy's heart, the net of flesh and blood drawing in a bit of your
Richard had gone up into his own flat and left her to wash and dress and
explore. He had told her she was to have Tiedeman's flat. Not knowing who
Tiedeman was made it more wonderful that God should have put it into his
head to go away for Easter and lend you his flat.
If you wanted anything you could ring and they would come up from the
basement and look after you.
She didn't want them to come up yet. She wanted to lie back among her
cushions where Richard had packed her, and turn over the moments and
remember what they had been like: getting out of the train at King's
Cross and finding Richard there; coming with him out of the thin white
April light into the rich darkness and brilliant colours of the room; the
feeling of Richard's hands as they undid her fur stole and peeled the
sleeves of her coat from her arms; seeing him kneel on the hearthrug and
make tea with an air of doing something intensely interesting, an air of
security and possession. He went about in Tiedeman's rooms as if they
belonged to him.
She liked Tiedeman's flat: the big outer room, curtained with thick
gentian blue and thin violet. There was a bowl of crimson and purple
anemones on the dark oval of the oak table.
Tiedeman's books covered the walls with their coloured bands and stripes
and the illuminated gold of their tooling. The deep bookcases made a
ledge all round half-way up the wall, and the shallow bookcases went on
above it to the ceiling.
But--those white books on the table were Richard's books. _Mary
Olivier--Mary Olivier. My_ books that I gave him.... They're Richard's
She got up and looked about. That long dark thing was her coat and fur
stretched out on the flat couch in the corner where Richard had laid
them; stretched out in an absolute peace and rest.
She picked them up and went into the inner room that showed through the
wide square opening. The small brown oak-panelled room. No furniture but
Richard's writing table and his chair. A tall narrow French window
looking to the backs of houses, and opening on a leaded balcony.
Spindle-wood trees, green balls held up on ramrod stems in green tubs.
Curtains of thin silk, brilliant magenta, letting the light through. The
hanging green bough of a plane tree, high up on the pane, between. A worn
magentaish rug on the dark floor.
She went through the door on the right and found a short, narrow passage.
Another French window opening from it on to the balcony. A bathroom on
the other side; a small white panelled bedroom at the end.
She had no new gown. Nothing but the black chiffon one (black because of
Uncle Victor) she had bought two years ago with Richard's cheque. She had
worn it at Greffington that evening when she dined with him. It had a
long, pointed train. Its thin, open, wide spreading sleeves fell from her
shoulders in long pointed wings. It made her feel slender.
* * * * *
There was no light in the inner room. Clear glassy dark twilight behind
the tall window. She stood there waiting for Richard to come down.
Richard loved all this. He loved beautiful books, beautiful things,
beautiful anemone colours, red and purple with the light coming through
them, thin silk curtains that let the light through like the thin silky
tissues of flowers. He loved the sooty brown London walls, houses
standing back to back, the dark flanks of the back wings jutting out,
almost meeting across the trenches of the gardens, making the colours in
his rooms brilliant as stained glass.
He loved the sound of the street outside, intensifying the quiet of the
It was the backs that were so beautiful at night; the long straight
ranges of the dark walls, the sudden high dark cliffs and peaks of the
walls, hollowed out into long galleries filled with thick, burning light,
rows on rows of oblong casements opening into the light. Here and there a
tree stood up black in the trenches of the gardens.
The tight strain in her mind loosened and melted in the stream of the
pure new light, the pure new darkness, the pure new colours.
Richard came in. They stood together a long time, looking out; they
didn't say a word.
Then, as they turned back to the lighted outer room, "I thought I was to
have had Tiedeman's flat?"
"Well, he's up another flight of stairs and the rain makes a row on the
skylight. It was simpler to take his and give you mine. I want you to
She turned off the electric light and shut her eyes and lay thinking. The
violent motion of the express prolonged itself in a ghostly vibration,
rocking the bed. In still space, unshaken by this tremor, she could see
the other rooms, the quiet, beautiful rooms.
I wonder how Mamma and Dorsy are getting on.... I'm not going to think
about Mamma. It isn't fair to Richard. I shan't think about anybody but
Richard for this fortnight. One evening of it's gone already. It might
have lasted quite another hour if he hadn't got up and gone away so
suddenly. What a fool I was to let him think I was tired.
There will be thirteen evenings more. Thirteen. You can stretch time out
by doing a lot of things in it; doing something different every hour.
When you're with Richard every minute's different from the last, and he