THERE was not an inch of room for Lottie and Kezia in the buggy.
When Pat swung them on top of the luggage they wobbled; the grandmother's
lap was full and Linda Burnell could not possibly have held a lump
of a child on hers for any distance. Isabel, very superior, was
perched beside the new handy-man on the driver's seat. Hold-alls,
bags and boxes were piled upon the floor. "These are absolute
necessities that I will not let out of my sight for one instant,"
said Linda Burnell, her voice trembling with fatigue and excitement.
Lottie and Kezia stood on the patch of lawn just inside the gate
all ready for the fray in their coats with brass anchor buttons
and little round caps with battleship ribbons. Hand in hand, they
stared with round solemn eyes, first at the absolute necessities
and then at their mother.
"We shall simply have to leave them. That is all. We shall
simply have to cast them off," said Linda Burnell. A strange
little laugh flew from her lips; she leaned back against the buttoned
leather cushions and shut her eyes, her lips trembling
with laughter. Happily at that moment Mrs. Samuel Josephs, who had
been watching the scene from behind her drawing-room blind, waddled
down the garden path.
"Why nod leave the chudren with be for the afterdoon, Brs.
Burnell? They could go on the dray with the storeban when he comes
in the eveding. Those thigs on the path have to go, dod't they?"
"Yes, everything outside the house is supposed to go,"
said Linda Burnell, and she waved a white hand at the tables and
chairs standing on their heads on the front lawn. How absurd they
looked! Either they ought to be the other way up, or Lottie and
Kezia ought to stand on their heads, too. And she longed to say:
"Stand on your heads, children, and wait for the store-man."
It seemed to her that would be so exquisitely funny that she could
not attend to Mrs. Samuel Josephs.
The fat creaking body leaned across the gate, and the big jelly
of a face smiled. "Dod't you worry, Brs. Burnell. Loddie and
Kezia can have tea with my chudren in the dursery, and I'll see
theb on the dray afterwards."
The grandmother considered. "Yes, it really is quite the best
plan. We are very obliged to you, Mrs. Samuel Josephs. Children,
say 'thank you' to Mrs. Samuel Josephs."
Two subdued chirrups: "Thank you, Mrs. Samuel Josephs."
"And be good little girls, and–come closer–"
they advanced, "don't forget to tell Mrs. Samuel Josephs when
you want to. . . . "
"Dod't worry, Brs. Burnell."
At the last moment Kezia let go Lottie's hand and darted towards
"I want to kiss my granma good-bye again."
But she was too late. The buggy rolled off up the road, Isabel
bursting with pride, her nose turned up at all the world, Linda
Burnell prostrated, and the grandmother rummaging among the very
curious oddments she had had put in her black silk reticule at the
last moment, for something to give her daughter. The buggy twinkled
away in the sunlight and fine golden dust up the hill and over.
Kezia bit her lip, but Lottie, carefully finding her handkerchief
first, set up a wail.
Mrs. Samuel Josephs, like a huge warm black silk tea cosy, enveloped
"It's all right, by dear. Be a brave child. You come and blay
in the dursery!"
She put her arm round weeping Lottie and led her away. Kezia followed,
making a face at Mrs. Samuel Josephs' placket, which was undone
as usual, with two long pink corset laces hanging out of it. . .
Lottie's weeping died down as she mounted the stairs, but the sight
of her at the nursery door with swollen eyes and a blob
of a nose gave great satisfaction to the S.J.'s, who sat on two
benches before a long table covered with American cloth and set
out with immense plates of bread and dripping and two brown jugs
that faintly steamed.
"Hullo! You've been crying!"
"Ooh! Your eyes have gone right in."
"Doesn't her nose look funny."
"You're all red-and-patchy."
Lottie was quite a success. She felt it and swelled, smiling timidly.
"Go and sit by Zaidee, ducky," said Mrs. Samuel Josephs,
"and Kezia, you sid ad the end by Boses."
Moses grinned and gave her a nip as she sat down; but she pretended
not to notice. She did hate boys.
"Which will you have?" asked Stanley, leaning across
the table very politely, and smiling at her. "Which will you
have to begin with–strawberries and cream or bread and dripping?"
"Strawberries and cream, please," said she.
"Ah-h-h-h." How they all laughed and beat the table with
their teaspoons. Wasn't that a take-in! Wasn't it now! Didn't he
fox her! Good old Stan!
"Ma! She thought it was real."
Even Mrs. Samuel Josephs, pouring out the milk and water, could
not help smiling. "You bustn't tease theb on their last day,"
But Kezia bit a big piece out of her bread and dripping, and then
stood the piece up on her plate. With the bite out it made a dear
little sort of gate. Pooh! She didn't care! A tear rolled down her
cheek, but she wasn't crying. She couldn't have cried in front of
those awful Samuel Josephs. She sat with her head bent, and as the
tear dripped slowly down, she caught it with a neat little whisk
of her tongue and ate it before any of them had seen
After tea Kezia wandered back to their own house. Slowly she walked
up the back steps, and through the scullery into the kitchen. Nothing
was left in it but a lump of gritty yellow soap in one corner of
the kitchen window-sill and a piece of flannel stained with a blue
bag in another. The fireplace was choked up with rubbish. She poked
among it but found nothing except a hair-tidy with a heart painted
on it that had belonged to the servant girl. Even that she left
lying, and she trailed through the narrow passage into the drawing-room.
The Venetian blind was pulled down but not drawn close. Long pencil
rays of sunlight shone through and the wavy shadow of a bush outside
danced on the gold lines. Now it was still, now it began to flutter
again, and now it came almost as far as her feet. Zoom! Zoom! a
blue-bottle knocked against the ceiling; the carpet-tacks had little
bits of red fluff sticking to them.
The dining-room window had a square of coloured glass at each corner.
One was blue and one was yellow. Kezia bent down to have one more
look at a blue lawn with blue arum lilies growing at the gate, and
then at a yellow lawn with yellow lilies and a yellow fence. As
she looked a little Chinese Lottie came out on to the lawn and began
to dust the tables and chairs with a corner of her pinafore. Was
that really Lottie? Kezia was not quite sure until she had looked
through the ordinary window.
Upstairs in her father's and mother's room she found a pill box
black and shiny outside and red in, holding a blob of cotton wool.
"I could keep a bird's egg in that," she decided.
In the servant girl's room there was a stay-button stuck in a crack
of the floor, and in another crack some beads and a long needle.
She knew there was nothing in her grandmother's room; she had watched
her pack. She went over to the window and leaned against it, pressing
her hands to the pane.
Kezia liked to stand so before the window. She liked the feeling
of the cold shining glass against her hot palms, and she liked to
watch the funny white tops that came on her fingers when she pressed
them hard against the pane. As she stood there, the day flickered
out and dark came. With the dark crept the wind snuffling and howling.
The windows of the empty house shook, a creakingcame from the walls
and floors, a piece of loose iron on the roof banged forlornly.
Kezia was suddenly quite, quite still, with wide open eyes and knees
pressed together. She was frightened. She wanted to call Lottie
and to go on calling all the while she ran downstairs and out of
the house. But IT was just behind her, waiting at the door, at the
head of the stairs, at the bottom of the stairs, hiding in the passage,
ready to dart out at the back door. But Lottie was at the back door,
"Kezia!" she called cheerfully. "The storeman's
here. Everything is on the dray and three horses, Kezia. Mrs. Samuel
Josephs has given us a big shawl to wear round us, and she says
to button up your coat. She won't come out because of asthma."
Lottie was very important.
"Now then, you kids," called the storeman. He hooked
his big thumbs under their arms and up they swung. Lottie arranged
the shawl "most beautifully" and the storeman tucked up
their feet in a piece of old blanket.
"Lift up. Easy does it."
They might have been a couple of young ponies. The storeman felt
over the cords holding his load, unhooked the brakechain from the
wheel, and whistling, he swung up beside them.
"Keep close to me," said Lottie, "because otherwise
you pull the shawl away from my side, Kezia."
But Kezia edged up to the storeman. He towered beside her big as
a giant and he smelled of nuts and new wooden boxes.
It was the first time that Lottie and Kezia had ever been out so
late. Everything looked different–the painted wooden houses
far smaller than they did by day, the gardens far bigger and wilder.
Bright stars speckled the sky and the moon hung over the harbour
dabbling the waves with gold. They could see the lighthouse shining
on Quarantine Island, and the green lights on the old coal hulks.
"There comes the Picton boat," said the storeman, pointing
to a little steamer all hung with bright beads.
But when they reached the top of the hill and began to go down
the other side the harbour disappeared, and although they were still
in the town they were quite lost. Other carts rattled past. Everybody
knew the storeman.
"Night O," he shouted.
Kezia liked very much to hear him. Whenever a cart appeared in
the distance she looked up and waited for his voice. He was an old
friend; and she and her grandmother had often been to his place
to buy grapes. The storeman lived alone in a cottage that had a
glasshouse against one wall built by himself. All the glasshouse
was spanned and arched over with one beautiful vine. He took her
brown basket from her, lined it with three large leaves, and then
he felt in his belt for a little horn knife, reached up and snapped
off a big blue cluster and laid it on the leaves so tenderly that
Kezia held her breath to watch. He was a very big man. He wore brown
velvet trousers, and he had a long brown beard. But he never wore
a collar, not even on Sunday. The back of his neck was burnt bright
"Where are we now?" Every few minutes one of the children
asked him the question.
"Why, this is Hawk Street, or Charlotte Crescent."
"Of course it is," Lottie pricked up her ears at the
last name; she always felt that Charlotte Crescent belonged specially
to her. Very few people had streets with the same name as theirs.
"Look, Kezia, there is Charlotte Crescent. Doesn't it look
different?" Now everything familiar was left behind. Now the
big dray rattled into unknown country, along new roads with high
clay banks on either side, up steep hills, down into bushy valleys,
through wide shallow rivers. Further and further. Lottie's head
wagged; she drooped, she slipped half into Kezia's lap and lay there.
But Kezia could not open her eyes wide enough. The wind blew and
she shivered; but her cheeks and ears burned.
"Do stars ever blow about?" she asked.
"Not to notice," said the storeman.
"We've got a nuncle and a naunt living near our new house,"
said Kezia. "They have got two children, Pip, the eldest is
called, and the youngest's name is Rags. He's got a ram. He has
to feed it with a nenamuel teapot and a glove top over the spout.
He's going to show us. What is the difference between a ram and
"Well, a ram has horns and runs for you."
Kezia considered. "I don't want to see it frightfully,"
she said. "I hate rushing animals like dogs and parrots. I
often dream that animals rush at me–even camels–and
while they are rushing, their heads swell e-enormous."
The storeman said nothing. Kezia peered up at him, screwing up
her eyes. Then she put her finger out and stroked his sleeve; it
felt hairy. "Are we near?" she asked.
"Not far off, now," answered the storeman. "Getting
"Well, I'm not an atom bit sleepy," said Kezia. "But
my eyes keep curling up in such a funny sort of way." She gave
a long sigh, and to stop her eyes from curling she shut them. .
. . When she opened them again they were clanking through a drive
that cut through the garden like a whiplash, looping suddenly an
island of green, and behind the island, but out of sight until you
came upon it, was the house. It was long and low built, with a pillared
veranda and balcony all the way round. The soft white bulk of it
lay stretched upon the green garden like a sleeping beast. And now
one and now another of the windows leaped into light. Someone was
walking through the empty rooms carrying a lamp. From the window
downstairs the light of a fire flickered. A strange beautiful excitement
seemed to stream from the house in quivering ripples.
"Where are we?" said Lottie, sitting up. Her reefer cap
was all on one side and on her cheek there was the print of an anchor
button she had pressed against while sleeping. Tenderly the storeman
lifted her, set her cap straight, and pulled down her crumpled clothes.
She stood blinking on the lowest veranda step watching Kezia who
seemed to come flying through the air to her feet.
"Ooh!" cried Kezia, flinging up her arms. The grandmother
came out of the dark hall carrying a little lamp. She was smiling.
"You found your way in the dark?" said she.
But Lottie staggered on the lowest veranda step like a bird fallen
out of the nest. If she stood still for a moment she fell asleep;
if she leaned against anything her eyes closed. She could not walk
"Kezia," said the grandmother, "can I trust you
to carry the lamp?"
"Yes, my granma."
The old woman bent down and gave the bright breathing thing into
her hands and then she caught up drunken Lottie. "This way."
Through a square hall filled with bales and hundreds of parrots
(but the parrots were only on the wallpaper) down a narrow passage
where the parrots persisted in flying past Kezia with her lamp.
"Be very quiet," warned the grandmother, putting down
Lottie and opening the dining-room door. "Poor little mother
has got such a headache."
Linda Burnell, in a long cane chair, with her feet on a hassock
and a plaid over her knees, lay before a crackling fire. Burnell
and Beryl sat at the table in the middle of the room eating a dish
of fried chops and drinking tea out of a brown china teapot. Over
the back of her mother's chair leaned Isabel. She had a comb in
her fingers and in a gentle absorbed fashion she was combing the
curls from her mother's forehead. Outside the pool of lamp and firelight
the room stretched dark and bare to the hollow windows.
"Are those the children?" But Linda did not really care;
she did not even open her eyes to see.
"Put down the lamp, Kezia," said Aunt Beryl, "or
we shall have the house on fire before we are out of packing cases.
More tea, Stanley?"
"Well, you might just give me five-eighths of a cup,"
said Burnell, leaning across the table. "Have another chop,
Beryl. Tip-top meat, isn't it? Not too lean and not too fat."
He turned to his wife. "You're sure you won't change your mind,
"The very thought of it is enough." She raised one eyebrow
in the way she had. The grandmother brought the children bread and
milk and they sat up to table, flushed and sleepy behind the wavy
"I had meat for my supper," said Isabel, still combing
"I had a whole chop for my supper, the bone and all and Worcester
sauce. Didn't I father?"
"Oh, don't boast, Isabel," said Aunt Beryl.
Isabel looked astounded. "I wasn't boasting, was I, Mummy?
I never thought of boasting. I thought they would like to know.
I only meant to tell them."
"Very well. That's enough," said Burnell. He pushed back
his plate, took a toothpick out of his pocket and began picking
his strong white teeth.
"You might see that Fred has a bite of something in the kitchen
before he goes, will you, mother?"
"Yes, Stanley." The old woman turned to go.
"Oh, hold on half a jiffy. I suppose nobody knows where my
slippers were put? I suppose I shall not be able to get at them
for a month or two–what?"
"Yes," came from Linda. "In the top of the canvas
hold-all marked 'urgent necessities.'"
"Well, you might get them for me, will you, mother?"
Burnell got up, stretched himself, and going over to the fire he
turned his back to it and lifted up his coat tails.
"By Jove, this is a pretty pickle. Eh, Beryl?"
Beryl, sipping tea, her elbows on the table, smiled over the cup
at him. She wore an unfamiliar pink pinafore; the sleeves of her
blouse were rolled up to her shoulders showing her lovely freckled
arms, and she had let her hair fall down her back in a long pig-tail.
"How long do you think it will take to get straight–couple
of weeks–eh?" he chaffed.
"Good heavens, no," said Beryl airily. "The worst
is over already. The servant girl and I have simply slaved all day,
and ever since mother came she has worked like a horse, too. We
have never sat down for a moment. We have had a day."
Stanley scented a rebuke.
"Well, I suppose you did not expect me to rush away from the
office and nail carpets–did you?"
"Certainly not," laughed Beryl. She put down her cup
and ran out of the dining-room.
"What the hell does she expect us to do?" asked Stanley.
"Sit down and fan herself with a palm-leaf fan while I have
a gang of professionals to do the job? By Jove, if she can't do
a hand's turn occasionally without shouting about it in return for
. . . "
And he gloomed as the chops began to fight the tea in his sensitive
stomach. But Linda put up a hand and dragged him down to the side
of her long chair.
"This is a wretched time for you, old boy," she said.
Her cheeks were very white, but she smiled and curled her fingers
into the big red hand she held. Burnell became quiet. Suddenly he
began to whistle "Pure as a lily, joyous and free"–a
"Think you're going to like it?" he asked.
"I don't want to tell you, but I think I ought to, mother,"
said Isabel. "Kezia is drinking tea out of Aunt Beryl's cup."
They were taken off to bed by the grandmother. She went first with
a candle; the stairs rang to their climbing feet. Isabel and Lottie
lay in a room to themselves, Kezia curled in her grandmother's soft
"Aren't there going to be any sheets, my granma?"
"No, not to-night."
"It's tickly," said Kezia, "but it's like Indians."
She dragged her grandmother down to her and kissed her under the
chin. "Come to bed soon and be my Indian brave."
"What a silly you are," said the old woman, tucking her
in as she loved to be tucked.
"Aren't you going to leave me a candle?"
"No. Sh–h. Go to sleep."
"Well, can I have the door left open?"
She rolled herself up into a round but she did not go to sleep.
From all over the house came the sound of steps. The house itself
creaked and popped. Loud whispering voices came from downstairs.
Once she heard Aunt Beryl's rush of high laughter, and once she
heard a loud trumpeting from Burnell blowing his nose. Outside the
window hundreds of black cats with yellow eyes sat in the sky watching
her–but she was not frightened. Lottie was saying to Isabel:
"I'm going to say my prayers in bed to-night."
"No, you can't, Lottie." Isabel was very firm. "God
only excuses you saying your prayers in bed if you've got a temperature."
So Lottie yielded:
Gentle Jesus meek anmile,
Look pon a little chile.
Pity me, simple Lizzie,
Suffer me to come to thee.
And then they lay down back to back, their little behinds just
touching, and fell asleep.
Standing in a pool of moonlight Beryl Fairfield undressed herself.
She was tired, but she pretended to be more tired than she really
was–letting her clothes fall, pushing back with a languid
gesture her warm, heavy hair.
"Oh, how tired I am–very tired."
She shut her eyes a moment, but her lips smiled. Her breath rose
and fell in her breast like two fanning wings. The window was wide
open; it was warm, and somewhere out there in the garden a young
man, dark and slender, with mocking eyes, tiptoed among the bushes,
and gathered the flowers into a big bouquet, and slipped under her
window and held it up to her. She saw herself bending forward. He
thrust his head among the bright waxy flowers, sly and laughing.
"No, no," said Beryl. She turned from the window and dropped
her nightgown over her head.
"How frightfully unreasonable Stanley is sometimes,"
she thought, buttoning. And then as she lay down, there came the
old thought, the cruel thought–ah, if only she had money of
A young man, immensely rich, has just arrived from England. He
meets her quite by chance . . . . The new governor is unmarried.
. . . There is a ball at Government house . . . . Who is that exquisite
creature in eau de nil satin? Beryl Fairfield. . . .
"The thing that pleases me," said Stanley, leaning against
the side of the bed and giving himself a good scratch on his shoulders
and back before turning in, "is that I've got the place dirt
cheap, Linda. I was talking about it to little Wally Bell to-day
and he said he simply could not understand why they had accepted
my figure. You see land about here is bound to become more and more
valuable . . . in about ten years' time. . . of course we shall
have to go very slow and cut down expenses as fine as possible.
Not asleep–are you?"
"No, dear, I've heard every word," said Linda.
He sprang into bed, leaned over her and blew out the candle. "Good
night, Mr. Business Man," said she, and she took hold of his
head by the ears and gave him a quick kiss. Her faint far-away voice
seemed to come from a deep well.
"Good night, darling." He slipped his arm under her neck
and drew her to him.
"Yes, clasp me," said the faint voice from the deep well.
Pat the handy-man sprawled in his little room behind the kitchen.
His sponge-bag, coat and trousers hung from the door-peg like a
hanged man. From the edge of the blanket his twisted toes protruded,
and on the floor beside him there was an empty cane bird-cage. He
looked like a comic picture.
"Honk, honk," came from the servant girl. She had adenoids.
Last to go to bed was the grandmother.
"What. Not asleep yet?"
"No, I'm waiting for you," said Kezia. The old woman
sighed and lay down beside her. Kezia thrust her head under her
grandmother's arm and gave a little squeak. But the old woman only
pressed her faintly, and sighed again, took out her teeth, and put
them in a glass of water beside her on the floor.
In the garden some tiny owls, perched on the branches of a lace-bark
tree, called: "More pork; more pork." And far away in
the bush there sounded a harsh rapid chatter: "Ha-ha-ha . .
Dawn came sharp and chill with red clouds on a faint green sky and
drops of water on every leaf and blade. A breeze blew over the garden,
dropping dew and dropping petals, shivered over the drenched paddocks,
and was lost in the sombre bush. In the sky some tiny stars floated
for a moment and then they were gone–they were dissolved like
bubbles. And plain to be heard in the early quiet was the sound
of the creek in the paddock running over the brown stones, running
in and out of the sandy hollows, hiding under clumps of dark berry
bushes, spilling into a swamp of yellow water flowers and cresses.
And then at the first beam of sun the birds began. Big cheeky birds,
starlings and mynahs, whistled on the lawns, the little birds, the
goldfinches and linnets and fan-tails, flicked from bough to bough.
A lovely kingfisher perched on the paddock fence preening his rich
beauty, and a tui sang his three notes and laughed and sang them
"How loud the birds are," said Linda in her dream. She
was walking with her father through a green paddock sprinkled with
daisies. Suddenly he bent down and parted the grasses and showed
her a tiny ball of fluff just at her feet. "Oh, Papa, the darling."
She made a cup of her hands and caught the tiny bird and stroked
its head with her finger. It was quite tame. But a funny thing happened.
As she stroked it began to swell, it ruffled and pouched, it grew
bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at
her. Now her arms were hardly wide enough to hold it and she dropped
it into her apron. It had become a baby with a big naked head and
a gaping bird-mouth, opening and shutting. Her father broke into
a loud clattering laugh and she woke to see Burnell standing by
the windows rattling the Venetian blind up to the very top.
"Hullo," he said. "Didn't wake you, did I? Nothing
much wrong with the weather this morning."
He was enormously pleased. Weather like this set a final seal on
his bargain. He felt, somehow, that he had bought the lovely day,
too–got it chucked in dirt cheap with the house and ground.
He dashed off to his bath and Linda turned over and raised herself
on one elbow to see the room by daylight. All the furniture had
found a place–all the old paraphernalia, as she expressed
it. Even the photographs were on the mantelpiece and the medicine
bottles on the shelf above the washstand. Her clothes lay across
a chair–her outdoor things, a purple cape and a round hat
with a plume in it. Looking at them she wished that she was going
away from this house, too. And she saw herself driving away from
them all in a little buggy, driving away from everybody and not
Back came Stanley girt with a towel, glowing and slapping his thighs.
He pitched the wet towel on top of her hat and cape, and standing
firm in the exact centre of a square of sunlight he began to do
his exercises. Deep breathing, bending and squatting like a frog
and shooting out his legs. He was so delighted with his firm, obedient
body that he hit himself on the chest and gave a loud "Ah."
But this amazing vigour seemed to set him worlds away from Linda.
She lay on the white tumbled bed and watched him as if from the
"Oh, damn! Oh, blast!" said Stanley, who had butted into
a crisp white shirt only to find that some idiot had fastened the
neck-band and he was caught. He stalked over to Linda waving his
"You look like a big fat turkey," said she.
"Fat. I like that," said Stanley. "I haven't a square
inch of fat on me. Feel that."
"It's rock–it's iron," mocked she.
"You'd be surprised," said Stanley, as though this were
intensely interesting, "at the number of chaps at the club
who have got a corporation. Young chaps, you know–men of my
age." He ] began parting his bushy ginger hair, his blue eyes
fixed and round in the glass, his knees bent, because the dressing-table
was always–confound it–a bit too low for him. "Little
Wally Bell, for instance," and he straightened, describing
upon himself an enormous curve with the hairbrush. "I must
say I've a perfect horror . . . "
"My dear, don't worry. You'll never be fat. You are far too
"Yes, yes, I suppose that's true," said he, comforted
for the hundredth time, and taking a pearl penknife out of his pocket
he began to pare his nails.
"Breakfast, Stanley." Beryl was at the door. "Oh,
Linda, mother says you are not to get up yet." She popped her
head in at the door. She had a big piece of syringa stuck through
"Everything we left on the veranda last night is simply sopping
this morning. You should see poor dear mother wringing out the tables
and the chairs. However, there is no harm done–" this
with the faintest glance at Stanley.
"Have you told Pat to have the buggy round in time? It's a
good six and a half miles to the office."
"I can imagine what this early start for the office will be
like," thought Linda. "It will be very high pressure indeed."
"Pat, Pat." She heard the servant girl calling. But Pat
was evidently hard to find; the silly voice went baa–baaing
through the garden.
Linda did not rest again until the final slam of the front door
told her that Stanley was really gone.
Later she heard her children playing in the garden. Lottie's stolid,
compact little voice cried: "Ke–zia. Isa–bel."
She was always getting lost or losing people only to find them again,
to her great surprise, round the next tree or the next corner. "Oh,
there you are after all." They had been turned out after breakfast
and told not to come back to the house until they were called. Isabel
wheeled a neat pramload of prim dolls and Lottie was allowed for
a great treat to walk beside her holding the doll's parasol over
the face of the wax one.
"Where are you going to, Kezia?" asked Isabel, who longed
to find some light and menial duty that Kezia might perform and
so be roped in under her government.
"Oh, just away," said Kezia. . . .
Then she did not hear them any more. What a glare there was in
the room. She hated blinds pulled up to the top at any time, but
in the morning it was intolerable. She turned over to the wall and
idly, with one finger, she traced a poppy on the wall-paper with
a leaf and a stem and a fat bursting bud. In the quiet, and under
her tracing finger, the poppy seemed to come alive. She could feel
the sticky, silky petals, the stem, hairy like a gooseberry skin,
the rough leaf and the tight glazed bud. Things had a habit of coming
alive like that. Not only large substantial things like furniture
but curtains and the patterns of stuffs and the fringes of quilts
and cushions. How often she had seen the tassel fringe of her quilt
change into a funny procession of dancers with priests attending.
. . . For there were some tassels that did not dance at all but
walked stately, bent forward as if praying or chanting. How often
the medicine bottles had turned into a row of little men with brown
top-hats on; and the washstand jug had a way of sitting in the basin
like a fat bird in a round nest.
"I dreamed about birds last night," thought Linda. What
was it? She had forgotten. But the strangest part of this coming
alive of things was what they did. They listened, they seemed to
swell out with some mysterious important content, and when they
were full she felt that they smiled. But it was not for her, only,
their sly secret smile; they were members of a secret society and
they smiled among themselves. Sometimes, when she had fallen asleep
in the daytime, she woke and could not lift a finger, could not
even turn her eyes to left or right because THEY were there; sometimes
when she went out of a room and left it empty, she knew as she clicked
the door to that THEY were filling it. And there were times in the
evenings when she was upstairs, perhaps, and everybody else was
down, when she could hardly escape from them. Then she could not
hurry, she could not hum a tune; if she tried to say ever so carelessly–"Bother
that old thimble"–THEY were not deceived. THEY knew how
frightened she was; THEY saw how she turned her head away as she
passed the mirror. What Linda always felt was that THEY wanted something
of her, and she knew that if she gave herself up and was quiet,
more than quiet, silent, motionless, something would really happen.
"It's very quiet now," she thought. She opened her eyes
wide, and she heard the silence spinning its soft endless web. How
lightly she breathed; she scarcely had to breathe at all.
Yes, everything had come alive down to the minutest, tiniest particle,
and she did not feel her bed, she floated, held up in the air. Only
she seemed to be listening with her wide open watchful eyes, waiting
for someone to come who just did not come, watching for something
to happen that just did not happen.
In the kitchen at the long deal table under the two windows old
Mrs. Fairfield was washing the breakfast dishes. The kitchen window
looked out on to a big grass patch that led down to the vegetable
garden and the rhubarb beds. On one side the grass patch was bordered
by the scullery and wash-house and over this whitewashed lean-to
there grew a knotted vine. She had noticed yesterday that a 25] few tiny corkscrew tendrils had come right through some cracks
in the scullery ceiling and all the windows of the lean-to had a
thick frill of ruffled green.
"I am very fond of a grape vine," declared Mrs. Fairfield,
"but I do not think that the grapes will ripen here. It takes
Australian sun." And she remembered how Beryl when she was
a baby had been picking some white grapes from the vine on the back
veranda of the Tasmanian house and she had been stung on the leg
by a huge red ant. She saw Beryl in a little plaid dress with red
ribbon tie-ups on the shoulders screaming so dreadfully that half
the street rushed in. And how the child's leg had swelled! "T–t–t–t!"
Mrs. Fairfield caught her breath remembering. "Poor child,
how terrifying it was." And she set her lips tight and went
over to the stove for some more hot water. The water frothed up
in the big soapy bowl with pink and blue bubbles on top of the foam.
Old Mrs. Fairfield's arms were bare to the elbow and stained a bright
pink. She wore a grey foulard dress patterned with large purple
pansies, a white linen apron and a high cap shaped like a jelly
mould of white muslin. At her throat there was a silver crescent
moon with five little owls seated on it, and round her neck she
wore a watch-guard made of black beads.
It was hard to believe that she had not been in that kitchen for
years; she was so much a part of it. She put the crocks
away with a sure, precise touch, moving leisurely and ample from
the stove to the dresser, looking into the pantry and the larder
as though there were not an unfamiliar corner. When she had finished,
everything in the kitchen had become part of a series of patterns.
She stood in the middle of the room wiping her hands on a check
cloth; a smile beamed on her lips; she thought it looked very nice,
"Mother! Mother! Are you there?" called Beryl.
"Yes, dear. Do you want me?"
"No. I'm coming," and Beryl rushed in, very flushed,
dragging with her two big pictures.
"Mother, whatever can I do with these awful hideous Chinese
paintings that Chung Wah gave Stanley when he went bankrupt? It's
absurd to say that they are valuable, because they were hanging
in Chung Wah's fruit shop for months before. I can't make out why
Stanley wants them kept. I'm sure he thinks them just as hideous
as we do, but it's because of the frames," she said spitefully.
"I suppose he thinks the frames might fetch something some
day or other."
"Why don't you hang them in the passage?" suggested Mrs.
Fairfield; "they would not be much seen there."
"I can't. There is no room. I've hung all the photographs
of his office there before and after building, and the signed photos
of his business friends, and that awful enlargement of
Isabel lying on the mat in her singlet." Her angry glance swept
the placid kitchen. "I know what I'll do. I'll hang them here.
I will tell Stanley they got a little damp in the moving so I have
put them in here for the time being."
She dragged a chair forward, jumped on it, took a hammer and a
big nail out of her pinafore pocket and banged away.
"There! That is enough! Hand me the picture, mother."
"One moment, child." Her mother was wiping over the carved
"Oh, mother, really you need not dust them. It would take
years to dust all those little holes." And she frowned at the
top of her mother's head and bit her lip with impatience. Mother's
deliberate way of doing things was simply maddening. It was old
age, she supposed, loftily.
At last the two pictures were hung side by side. She jumped off
the chair, stowing away the little hammer.
"They don't look so bad there, do they?" said she. "And
at any rate nobody need gaze at them except Pat and the servant
girl–have I got a spider's web on my face, mother? I've been
poking into that cupboard under the stairs and now something keeps
tickling my nose.
But before Mrs. Fairfield had time to look Beryl had turned away.
Someone tapped on the window: Linda was there, nodding
and smiling. They heard the latch of the scullery door lift and
she came in. She had no hat on; her hair stood upon her head in
curling rings and she was wrapped up in an old cashmere shawl.
"I'm so hungry," said Linda: "where can I get something
to eat, mother? This is the first time I've been in the kitchen.
It says 'mother' all over; everything is in pairs."
"I will make you some tea," said Mrs. Fairfield, spreading
a clean napkin over a corner of the table, "and Beryl can have
a cup with you."
"Beryl, do you want half my gingerbread?" Linda waved
the knife at her. "Beryl, do you like the house now that we
"Oh yes, I like the house immensely and the garden is beautiful,
but it feels very far away from everything to me. I can't imagine
people coming out from town to see us in that dreadful jolting bus,
and I am sure there is not anyone here to come and call. Of course
it does not matter to you because–"
"But there's the buggy," said Linda. "Pat can drive
you into town whenever you like."
That was a consolation, certainly, but there was something at the
back of Beryl's mind, something she did not even put into words
"Oh, well, at any rate it won't kill us," she said dryly,
putting down her empty cup and standing up and stretching.
"I am going to hang curtains." And she ran away singing:
"How many thousand birds I see
That sing aloud from every tree . . .
" . . . birds I see That sing aloud from every tree . . . "
But when she reached the dining-room she stopped singing, her face
changed; it became gloomy and sullen.
"One may as well rot here as anywhere else," she muttered
savagely, digging the stiff brass safety-pins into the red serge
The two left in the kitchen were quiet for a little. Linda leaned
her cheek on her fingers and watched her mother. She thought her
mother looked wonderfully beautiful with her back to the leafy window.
There was something comforting in the sight of her that Linda felt
she could never do without. She needed the sweet smell of her flesh,
and the soft feel of her cheeks and her arms and shoulders still
softer. She loved the way her hair curled, silver at her forehead,
lighter at her neck and bright brown still in the big coil under
the muslin cap. Exquisite were her mother's hands, and the two rings
she wore seemed to melt into her creamy skin. And she was always
so fresh, so delicious. The old woman could bear nothing but linen
next to her body and she bathed in cold water winter and summer.
"Isn't there anything for me to do?" asked Linda.
"No, darling. I wish you would go into the garden and give
an eye to your children; but that I know you will not do."
"Of course I will, but you know Isabel is much more grown
up than any of us."
"Yes, but Kezia is not," said Mrs. Fairfield.
"Oh, Kezia has been tossed by a bull hours ago," said
Linda, winding herself up in her shawl again.
But no, Kezia had seen a bull through a hole in a knot of wood
in the paling that separated the tennis lawn from the paddock. But
she had not liked the bull frightfully, so she had walked away back
through the orchard, up the grassy slope, along the path by the
lace-bark tree and so into the spread tangled garden. She did not
believe that she would ever not get lost in this garden. Twice she
had found her way back to the big iron gates they had driven through
the night before, and then had turned to walk up the drive that
led to the house, but there were so many little paths on either
side. On one side they all led into a tangle of tall dark trees
and strange bushes with flat velvet leaves and feathery cream flowers
that buzzed with flies when you shook them–this was the frightening
side, and no garden at all. The little paths here were wet and clayey
with tree roots spanned across them like the marks of big fowls'
But on the other side of the drive there was a high box border
and the paths had box edges and all of them led into a deeper and
deeper tangle of flowers. The camellias were in bloom, white and
crimson and pink and white striped with flashing leaves. You could
not see a leaf on the syringa bushes for the white clusters. The
roses were in flower–gentlemen's button-hole roses, little
white ones, but far too full of insects to hold under anyone's nose,
pink monthly roses with a ring of fallen petals round the bushes,
cabbage roses on thick stalks, moss roses, always in bud, pink smooth
beauties opening curl on curl, red ones so dark they seemed to turn
black as they fell, and a certain exquisite cream kind with a slender
red stem and bright scarlet leaves.
There were clumps of fairy bells, and all kinds of geraniums, and
there were little trees of verbena and bluish lavender bushes and
a bed of pelargoniums with velvet eyes and leaves like moths' wings.
There was a bed of nothing but mignonette and another of nothing
but pansies–borders of double and single daisies and all kinds
of little tufty plants she had never seen before.
The red-hot pokers were taller than she; the Japanese sunflowers
grew in a tiny jungle. She sat down on one of the box borders. By
pressing hard at first it made a nice seat. But how dusty it was
inside! Kezia bent down to look and sneezed and rubbed her nose.
And then she found herself at the top of the rolling grassy slope
that led down to the orchard . . . . She looked down at the slope
a moment; then she lay down on her back, gave a squeak and rolled
over and over into the thick flowery orchard grass. As she lay waiting
for things to stop spinning, she decided to go up to the house and
ask the servant girl for an empty matchbox. She wanted to make a
surprise for the grandmother. . . . First she would put a leaf inside
with a big violet lying on it, then she would put a very small white
picotee, perhaps, on each side of the violet, and then she would
sprinkle some lavender on the top, but not to cover their heads.
She often made these surprises for the grandmother, and they were
always most successful.
"Do you want a match, my granny?"
"Why, yes, child, I believe a match is just what I'm looking
for." The grandmother slowly opened the box and came upon the
"Good gracious, child! How you astonished me!"
"I can make her one every day here," she thought, scrambling
up the grass on her slippery shoes.
But on her way back to the house she came to that island that lay
in the middle of the drive, dividing the drive into two arms that
met in front of the house. The island was made of grass banked up high. Nothing grew on the top except one huge plant with
thick, grey-green, thorny leaves, and out of the middle there sprang
up a tall stout stem. Some of the leaves of the plant were so old
that they curled up in the air no longer; they turned back, they
were split and broken; some of them lay flat and withered on the
Whatever could it be? She had never seen anything like it before.
She stood and stared. And then she saw her mother coming down the
"Mother, what is it?" asked Kezia.
Linda looked up at the fat swelling plant with its cruel leaves
and fleshy stem. High above them, as though becalmed in the air,
and yet holding so fast to the earth it grew from, it might have
had claws instead of roots. The curving leaves seemed to be hiding
something; the blind stem cut into the air as if no wind could ever
"That is an aloe, Kezia," said her mother.
"Does it ever have any flowers?"
"Yes, Kezia," and Linda smiled down at her, and half
shut her eyes. "Once every hundred years."
On his way home from the office Stanley Burnell stopped the buggy
at the Bodega, got out and bought a large bottle of oysters. At
the Chinaman's shop next door he bought a pineapple in the pink
of condition, and noticing a basket of fresh black cherries
he told John to put him a pound of those as well. The oysters and
the pine he stowed away in the box under the front seat, but the
cherries he kept in his hand.
Pat, the handy-man, leapt off the box and tucked him up again in
the brown rug.
"Lift yer feet, Mr. Burnell, while I give yer a fold under,"
"Right! Right! First rate!" said Stanley. "You can
make straight for home now."
Pat gave the grey mare a touch and the buggy sprang forward.
"I believe this man is a first-rate chap," thought Stanley.
He liked the look of him sitting up there in his neat brown coat
and brown bowler. He liked the way Pat had tucked him in, and he
liked his eyes. There was nothing servile about him–and if
there was one thing he hated more than another it was servility.
And he looked as if he was pleased with his job–happy and
The grey mare went very well; Burnell was impatient to be out of
the town. He wanted to be home. Ah, it was splendid to live in the
country–to get right out of that hole of a town once the office
was closed; and this drive in the fresh warm air, knowing all the
while that his own house was at the other end, with its garden and
paddocks, its three tip-top cows and enough fowls and ducks to keep
them in poultry, was splendid too.
As they left the town finally and bowled away up the
deserted road his heart beat hard for joy. He rooted in the bag
and began to eat the cherries, three or four at a time, chucking
the stones over the side of the buggy. They were delicious, so plump
and cold, without a spot or bruise on them.
Look at those two, now–black one side and white the other–perfect!
A perfect little pair of Siamese twins. And he stuck them in his
button-hole. . . . By Jove, he wouldn't mind giving that chap up
there a handful–but no, better not. Better wait until he had
been with him a bit longer.
He began to plan what he would do with his Saturday afternoons
and his Sundays. He wouldn't go to the club for lunch on Saturday.
No, cut away from the office as soon as possible and get them to
give him a couple of slices of cold meat and half lettuce when he
got home. And then he'd get a few chaps out from town to play tennis
in the afternoon. Not too many–three at most. Beryl was a
good player, too. . . . He stretched out his right arm and slowly
bent it, feeling the muscle . . . . A bath, a good rub-down, a cigar
on the veranda after dinner. . . .
On Sunday morning they would go to church–children and all.
Which reminded him that he must hire a pew, in the sun if possible
and well forward so as to be out of the draught from the door. In
fancy he heard himself intoning extremely well: "When thou
did overcome the Sharpness of Death Thou didst open the Kingdom
of Heaven to all Believers." And he saw the neat
brass-edged card on the corner of the pew–Mr. Stanley Burnell
and family. . . . The rest of the day he'd loaf about with Linda.
. . . Now they were walking about the garden; she was on his arm,
and he was explaining to her at length what he intended doing at
the office the week following. He heard her saying: "My dear,
I think that is most wise. . . . " Talking things over with
Linda was a wonderful help even though they were apt to drift away
from the point.
Hang it all! They weren't getting along very fast. Pat had put
the brake on again. Ugh! What a brute of a thing it was. He could
feel it in the pit of his stomach.
A sort of panic overtook Burnell whenever he approached near home.
Before he was well inside the gate he would shout to anyone within
sight: "Is everything all right?" And then he did not
believe it was until he heard Linda say: "Hullo! Are you home
again?" That was the worst of living in the country–it
took the deuce of a long time to get back. . . . But now they weren't
far off. They were on the top of the last hill; it was a gentle
slope all the way now and not more than half a mile.
Pat trailed the whip over the mare's back and he coaxed her: "Goop
now. Goop now."
It wanted a few minutes to sunset. Everything stood motionless
bathed in bright, metallic light and from the paddocks
on either side there streamed the milky scent of ripe grass. The
iron gates were open. They dashed through and up the drive and round
the island, stopping at the exact middle of the veranda.
"Did she satisfy yer, sir?" said Pat, getting off the
box and grinning at his master.
"Very well indeed, Pat," said Stanley.
Linda came out of the glass door; her voice rang in the shadowy
quiet. "Hullo! Are you home again?"
At the sound of her his heart beat so hard that he could hardly
stop himself dashing up the steps and catching her in his arms.
"Yes, I'm home again. Is everything all right?"
Pat began to lead the buggy round to the side gate that opened
into the courtyard.
"Here, half a moment," said Burnell. "Hand me those
two parcels." And he said to Linda, "I've brought you
back a bottle of oysters and a pineapple," as though he had
brought her back all the harvest of the earth.
They all went into the hall; Linda carried the oysters in one hand
and the pineapple in the other. Burnell shut the glass door, threw
his hat down, put his arms round her and strained her to him, kissing
the top of her head, her ears, her lips, her eyes.
"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" said she. "Wait a moment.
Let me put down these silly things," and she put
the bottle of oysters and the pine on a little carved chair. "What
have you got in your button-hole–cherries?" She took
them out and hung them over his ear.
"Don't do that, darling. They are for you."
So she took them off his ear again. "You don't mind if I save
them. They'd spoil my appetite for dinner. Come and see your children.
They are having tea."
The lamp was lighted on the nursery table. Mrs. Fairfield was cutting
and spreading bread and butter. The three little girls sat up to
table wearing large bibs embroidered with their names. They wiped
their mouths as their father came in ready to be kissed. The windows
were open; a jar of wild flowers stood on the mantelpiece, and the
lamp made a big soft bubble of light on the ceiling.
"You seem pretty snug, mother," said Burnell, blinking
at the light. Isabel and Lottie sat one on either side of the table,
Kezia at the bottom–the place at the top was empty.
"That's where my boy ought to sit," thought Stanley.
He tightened his arm round Linda's shoulder. By God, he was a perfect
fool to feel as happy as this!
"We are, Stanley. We are very snug," said Mrs. Fairfield,
cutting Kezia's bread into fingers.
"Like it better than town–eh, children?" asked
"Oh, yes," said the three little girls, and Isabel added as an afterthought: "Thank you very much indeed,
"Come upstairs," said Linda. "I'll bring your slippers."
But the stairs were too narrow for them to go up arm in arm. It
was quite dark in the room. He heard her ring tapping on the marble
mantelpiece as she felt for the matches.
"I've got some, darling. I'll light the candles."
But instead he came up behind her and again he put his arms round
her and pressed her head into his shoulder.
"I'm so confoundedly happy," he said.
"Are you?" She turned and put her hands on his breast
and looked up at him.
"I don't know what has come over me," he protested.
It was quite dark outside now and heavy dew was falling. When Linda
shut the window the cold dew touched her finger tips. Far away a
dog barked. "I believe there is going to be a moon," she
At the words, and with the cold wet dew on her fingers, she felt
as though the moon had risen–that she was being strangely
discovered in a flood of cold light. She shivered; she came away
from the window and sat down upon the box ottoman beside Stanley.
. . . . .
In the dining-room, by the flicker of a wood fire, Beryl sat on
a hassock playing the guitar. She had bathed and changed all her
clothes. Now she wore a white muslin dress with black
spots on it and in her hair she had pinned a black silk rose.
Nature has gone to her rest, love,
See, we are alone.
Give me your hand to press, love,
Lightly within my own.
She played and sang half to herself, for she was watching herself
playing and singing. The firelight gleamed on her shoes, on the
ruddy belly of the guitar, and on her white fingers . . . .
"If I were outside the window and looked in and saw myself
I really would be rather struck," thought she. Still more softly
she played the accompaniment–not singing now but listening.
. . . . "The first time that I ever saw you, little girl–oh,
you had no idea that you were not alone–you were sitting with
your little feet upon a hassock, playing the guitar. God, I can
never forget. . . . " Beryl flung up her head and began to
Even the moon is aweary . . .
But there came a loud bang at the door. The servant girl's crimson
face popped through.
"Please, Miss Beryl, I've got to come and lay."
"Certainly, Alice," said Beryl, in a voice of ice. She
put the guitar in a corner. Alice lunged in with a heavy black iron
"Well, I have had a job with that oving," said she. "I
can't get nothing to brown."
"Really!" said Beryl.
But no, she could not stand that fool of a girl. She ran into the
dark drawing-room and began walking up and down. . . . Oh, she was
restless, restless. There was a mirror over the mantel. She leaned
her arms along and looked at her pale shadow in it. How beautiful
she looked, but there was nobody to see, nobody.
"Why must you suffer so?" said the face in the mirror.
"You were not made for suffering. . . . Smile!"
Beryl smiled, and really her smile was so adorable that she smiled
again–but this time because she could not help it.
"Good morning, Mrs. Jones."
"Oh, good morning, Mrs. Smith. I'm so glad to see you. Have
you brought your children?"
"Yes, I've brought both my twins. I have had another baby
since I saw you last, but she came so suddenly that I haven't had
time to make her any clothes yet. So I left her. . . . How is your
"Oh, he is very well, thank you. At least he had an awful
cold but Queen Victoria–she's my godmother, you know–sent
him a case of pineapples and that cured it im–mediately. Is
that your new servant?"
"Yes, her name's Gwen. I've only had her two days. Oh, Gwen,
this is my friend, Mrs. Smith."
"Good morning, Mrs. Smith. Dinner won't be ready for about
"I don't think you ought to introduce me to the servant. I
think I ought to just begin talking to her."
"Well, she's more of a lady-help than a servant and you do
introduce lady-helps, I know, because Mrs. Samuel Josephs had one."
"Oh, well, it doesn't matter," said the servant carelessly,
beating up a chocolate custard with half a broken clothes peg. The
dinner was baking beautifully on a concrete step. She began to lay
the cloth on a pink garden seat. In front of each person she put
two geranium leaf plates, a pine needle fork and a twig knife. There
were three daisy heads on a laurel leaf for poached eggs, some slices
of fuchsia petal cold beef, some lovely little rissoles made of
earth and water and dandelion seeds, and the chocolate custard which
she had decided to serve in the pawa shell she had cooked it in.
"You needn't trouble about my children," said Mrs. Smith
graciously. "If you'll just take this bottle and fill it at
the tap–I mean at the dairy."
"Oh, all right," said Gwen, and she whispered to Mrs.
Jones: "Shall I go and ask Alice for a little bit of real milk?"
But someone called from the front of the house and the luncheon
party melted away, leaving the charming table, leaving the rissoles
and the poached eggs to the ants and to an old snail who
pushed his quivering horns over the edge of the garden seat and
began to nibble a geranium plate.
"Come round to the front, children. Pip and Rags have come."
The Trout boys were the cousins Kezia had mentioned to the storeman.
They lived about a mile away in a house called Monkey Tree Cottage.
Pip was tall for his age, with lank black hair and a white face,
but Rags was very small and so thin that when he was undressed his
shoulder blades stuck out like two little wings. They had a mongrel
dog with pale blue eyes and a long tail turned up at the end who
followed them everywhere; he was called Snooker. They spent half
their time combing and brushing Snooker and dosing him with various
awful mixtures concocted by Pip, and kept secretly by him in a broken
jug covered with an old kettle lid. Even faithful little Rags was
not allowed to know the full secret of these mixtures.. .. Take
some carbolic tooth powder and a pinch of sulphur powdered up fine,
and perhaps a bit of starch to stiffen up Snooker's coat. . . .
But that was not all; Rags privately thought that the rest was gun-powder.
. . . And he never was allowed to help with the mixing because of
the danger. . . . "Why, if a spot of this flew in your eye,
you would be blinded for life," Pip would say, stirring the
mixture with an iron spoon. "And there's always the chance–just
the chance, mind you–of it exploding if you whack
it hard enough. . . . Two spoons of this in a kerosene tin will
be enough to kill thousands of fleas." But Snooker spent all
his spare time biting and snuffling, and he stank abominably.
"It's because he is such a grand fighting dog," Pip would
say. "All fighting dogs smell."
The Trout boys had often spent the day with the Burnells in town,
but now that they lived in this fine house and boncer garden they
were inclined to be very friendly. Besides, both of them liked playing
with girls–Pip, because he could fox them so, and because
Lottie was so easily frightened, and Rags for a shameful reason.
He adored dolls. How he would look at a doll as it lay asleep, speaking
in a whisper and smiling timidly, and what a treat it was to him
to be allowed to hold one. . . .
"Curve your arms round her. Don't keep them stiff like that.
You'll drop her," Isabel would say sternly.
Now they were standing on the veranda and holding back Snooker,
who wanted to go into the house but wasn't allowed to because Aunt
Linda hated decent dogs.
"We came over in the bus with mum," they said, "and
we're going to spend the afternoon with you. We brought over a batch
of our gingerbread for Aunt Linda. Our Minnie made it. It's all
"I skinned the almonds," said Pip. "I just stuck
my hand into a saucepan of boiling water and grabbed them out and
gave them a kind of pinch and the nuts flew out of the skins, some
of them as high as the ceiling. Didn't they, Rags?"
Rags nodded. "When they make cakes at our place," said
Pip, "we always stay in the kitchen, Rags and me, and I get
the bowl and he gets the spoon and the egg-beater. Sponge cake's
the best. It's all frothy stuff, then."
He ran down the veranda steps to the lawn, planted his hands on
the grass, bent forward, and just did not stand on his head.
"That lawn's all bumpy," he said. "You have to have
a flat place for standing on your head. I can walk round the monkey
tree on my head at our place. Can't I, Rags?"
"Nearly," said Rags faintly.
"Stand on your head on the veranda. That's quite flat,"
"No, smarty," said Pip. "You have to do it on something
soft. Because if you give a jerk and fall over, something in your
neck goes click, and it breaks off. Dad told me."
"Oh, do let's play something," said Kezia.
"Very well," said Isabel quickly, "we'll play hospitals.
I will be the nurse and Pip can be the doctor and you and Lottie
and Rags can be the sick people."
Lottie didn't want to play that, because last time Pip
had squeezed something down her throat and it hurt awfully.
"Pooh," scoffed Pip. "It was only the juice out
of a bit of mandarin peel."
"Well, let's play ladies," said Isabel. "Pip can
be the father and you can be all our dear little children."
"I hate playing ladies," said Kezia. "You always
make us go to church hand in hand and come home and go to bed."
Suddenly Pip took a filthy handkerchief out of his pocket. "Snooker!
Here, sir," he called. But Snooker, as usual, tried to sneak
away, his tail between his legs. Pip leapt on top of him, and pressed
him between his knees.
"Keep his head firm, Rags," he said, and he tied the
handkerchief round Snooker's head with a funny knot sticking up
at the top.
"Whatever is that for?" asked Lottie.
"It's to train his ears to grow more close to his head–see?"
said Pip. "All fighting dogs have ears that lie back. But Snooker's
ears are a bit too soft."
"I know," said Kezia. "They are always turning inside
out. I hate that."
Snooker lay down, made one feeble effort with his paw to get the
handkerchief off, but finding he could not, trailed after the children,
shivering with misery.
Pat came swinging along; in his hand he held a little tomahawk that
winked in the sun.
"Come with me," he said to the children, "and I'll
show you how the kings of Ireland chop the head off a duck."
They drew back–they didn't believe him, and besides, the
Trout boys had never seen Pat before.
"Come on now," he coaxed, smiling and holding out his
hand to Kezia.
"Is it a real duck's head? One from the paddock?"
"It is," said Pat. She put her hand in his hard dry one,
and he stuck the tomahawk in his belt and held out the other to
Rags. He loved little children.
"I'd better keep hold of Snooker's head if there's going to
be any blood about," said Pip, "because the sight of blood
makes him awfully wild." He ran ahead dragging Snooker by the
"Do you think we ought to go?" whispered Isabel. "We
haven't asked or anything. Have we?"
At the bottom of the orchard a gate was set in the paling fence.
On the other side a steep bank led down to a bridge that spanned
the creek, and once up the bank on the other side you were on the
fringe of the paddocks. A little old stable in the first paddock
had been turned into a fowl-house. The fowls had strayed far away
across the paddock down to a dumping ground in a hollow,
but the ducks kept close to that part of the creek that flowed under
Tall bushes overhung the stream with red leaves and yellow flowers
and clusters of blackberries. At some places the stream was wide
and shallow, but at others it tumbled into deep little pools with
foam at the edges and quivering bubbles. It was in these pools that
the big white ducks had made themselves at home, swimming and guzzling
along the weedy banks.
Up and down they swam, preening their dazzling breasts, and other
ducks with the same dazzling breasts and yellow bills swam upside
down with them.
"There is the little Irish navy," said Pat, "and
look at the old admiral there with the green neck and the grand
little flagstaff on his tail."
He pulled a handful of grain from his pocket and began to walk
towards the fowl-house, lazy, his straw hat with the broken crown
pulled over his eyes.
"Lid. Lid–lid–lid–lid–" he called.
"Qua. Qua–qua–qua–qua–" answered
the ducks, making for land, and flapping and scrambling up the bank
they streamed after him in a long waddling line. He coaxed them,
pretending to throw the grain, shaking it in his hands and calling
to them until they swept round him in a white ring.
From far away the fowls heard the clamour and they too came running
across the paddock, their heads thrust forward, their wings spread,
turning in their feet in the silly way fowls run and scolding as
Then Pat scattered the grain and the greedy ducks began to gobble.
Quickly he stooped, seized two, one under each arm, and strode across
to the children. Their darting heads and round eyes frightened the
children–all except Pip.
"Come on, sillies," he cried, "they can't bite.
They haven't any teeth. They've only got those two little holes
in their beaks for breathing through."
"Will you hold one while I finish with the other?" asked
Pat. Pip let go of Snooker. "Won't I? Won't I? Give us one.
I don't mind how much he kicks."
He nearly sobbed with delight when Pat gave the white lump into
There was an old stump beside the door of the fowl-house. Pat grabbed
the duck by the legs, laid it flat across the stump, and almost
at the same moment down came the little tomahawk and the duck's
head flew off the stump. Up the blood spurted over the white feathers
and over his hand.
When the children saw the blood they were frightened no longer.
They crowded round him and began to scream. Even Isabel leaped about
crying: "The blood! The blood!" Pip forgot all about his
duck. He simply threw it away from him and shouted, "I
saw it. I saw it," and jumped round the wood block.
Rags, with cheeks as white as paper, ran up to the little head,
put out a finger as if he wanted to touch it, shrank back again
and then again put out a finger. He was shivering all over.
Even Lottie, frightened little Lottie, began to laugh and pointed
at the duck and shrieked: "Look, Kezia, look."
"Watch it!" shouted Pat. He put down the body and it
began to waddle–with only a long spurt of blood where the
head had been; it began to pad away without a sound towards the
steep bank that led to the stream . . . . That was the crowning
"Do you see that? Do you see that?" yelled Pip. He ran
among the little girls tugging at their pinafores.
"It's like a little engine. It's like a funny little railway
engine," squealed Isabel.
But Kezia suddenly rushed at Pat and flung her arms round his legs
and butted her head as hard as she could against his knees.
"Put head back! Put head back!" she screamed.
When he stooped to move her she would not let go or take her head
away. She held on as hard as she could and sobbed: "Head back!
Head back!" until it sounded like a loud strange hiccup.
"It's stopped. It's tumbled over. It's dead," said Pip.
Pat dragged Kezia up into his arms. Her sun-bonnet had fallen back,
but she would not let him look at her face. No, she pressed her
face into a bone in his shoulder and clasped her arms round his
The children stopped screaming as suddenly as they had begun. They
stood round the dead duck. Rags was not frightened of the head any
more. He knelt down and stroked it now.
"I don't think the head is quite dead yet," he said.
"Do you think it would keep alive if I gave it something to
But Pip got very cross: "Bah! You baby." He whistled
to Snooker and went off.
When Isabel went up to Lottie, Lottie snatched away.
"What are you always touching me for, Isabel?"
"There now," said Pat to Kezia. "There's the grand
She put up her hands and touched his ears. She felt something.
Slowly she raised her quivering face and looked. Pat wore little
round gold ear-rings. She never knew that men wore ear-rings. She
was very much surprised.
"Do they come on and off?" she asked huskily.
Up in the house, in the warm tidy kitchen, Alice, the servant girl,
was getting the afternoon tea. She was "dressed." She
had on a black stuff dress that smelt under the arms,
a white apron like a large sheet of paper, and a lace bow pinned
on to her hair with two jetty pins. Also her comfortable carpet
slippers were changed for a pair of black leather ones that pinched
her corn on her little toe something dreadful. . . .
It was warm in the kitchen. A blow-fly buzzed, a fan of whity steam
came out of the kettle, and the lid kept up a rattling jig as the
water bubbled. The clock ticked in the warm air, slow and deliberate,
like the click of an old woman's knitting needle, and sometimes–for
no reason at all, for there wasn't any breeze–the blind swung
out and back, tapping the window.
Alice was making water-cress sandwiches. She had a lump of butter
on the table, a barracouta loaf, and the cresses tumbled in a white
But propped against the butter dish there was a dirty, greasy little
book, half unstitched, with curled edges, and while she mashed the
butter she read:
"To dream of black-beetles drawing a hearse is bad. Signifies
death of one you hold near or dear, either father, husband, brother,
son, or intended. If beetles crawl backwards as you watch them it
means death from fire or from great height such as flight of stairs,
"Spiders. To dream of spiders creeping over you is good. Signifies
large sum of money in near future. Should party be in family way
an easy confinement may be expected. But care should be
taken in sixth month to avoid eating of probable present of shell
fish. . . . "
How many thousand birds I see.
Oh, life. There was Miss Beryl. Alice dropped the knife and slipped
the Dream Book under the butter dish. But she hadn't time to hide
it quite, for Beryl ran into the kitchen and up to the table, and
the first thing her eye lighted on were those greasy edges. Alice
saw Miss Beryl's meaning little smile and the way she raised her
eyebrows and screwed up her eyes as though she were not quite sure
what that could be. She decided to answer if Miss Beryl should ask
her: "Nothing as belongs to you, Miss." But she knew Miss
Beryl would not ask her.
Alice was a mild creature in reality, but she had the most marvellous
retorts ready for questions that she knew would never be put to
her. The composing of them and the turning of them over and over
in her mind comforted her just as much as if they'd been expressed.
Really, they kept her alive in places where she'd been that chivvied
she'd been afraid to go to bed at night with a box of matches on
the chair in case she bit the tops off in her sleep, as you might
"Oh, Alice," said Miss Beryl. "There's one extra
to tea, so heat a plate of yesterday's scones, please. And put on
the Victoria sandwich as well as the coffee cake. And don't forget
to put little doyleys under the plates–will you?
You did yesterday, you know, and the tea looked so ugly and common.
And, Alice, don't put on that dreadful old pink and green cosy on
the afternoon teapot again. That is only for the mornings. Really,
I think it ought to be kept for the kitchen–it's so shabby,
and quite smelly. Put on the Japanese one. You quite understand,
Miss Beryl had finished.
That sing aloud from every tree . . .
she sang as she left the kitchen, very pleased with her firm handling
Oh, Alice was wild. She wasn't one to mind being told, but there
was something in the way Miss Beryl had of speaking to her that
she couldn't stand. Oh, that she couldn't. It made her curl up inside,
as you might say, and she fair trembled. But what Alice really hated
Miss Beryl for was that she made her feel low. She talked to Alice
in a special voice as though she wasn't quite all there; and she
never lost her temper with her–never. Even when Alice dropped
anything or forgot anything important Miss Beryl seemed to have
expected it to happen.
"If you please, Mrs. Burnell," said an imaginary Alice,
as she buttered the scones, "I'd rather not take my orders
from Miss Beryl. I may be only a common servant girl as doesn't
know how to play the guitar, but . . . "
This last thrust pleased her so much that she quite recovered her
"The only thing to do," she heard, as she opened the
dining-room door, "is to cut the sleeves out entirely and just
have a broad band of black velvet over the shoulders instead. .
. . "
The white duck did not look as if it had ever had a head when Alice
placed it in front of Stanley Burnell that night. It lay, in beautifully
basted resignation, on a blue dish–its legs tied together
with a piece of string and a wreath of little balls of stuffing
It was hard to say which of the two, Alice or the duck, looked
the better basted; they were both such a rich colour and they both
had the same air of gloss and strain. But Alice was fiery red and
the duck a Spanish mahogany.
Burnell ran his eye along the edge of the carving knife. He prided
himself very much upon his carving, upon making a first-class job
of it. He hated seeing a woman carve; they were always too slow
and they never seemed to care what the meat looked like afterwards.
Now he did; he took a real pride in cutting delicate shaves of cold
beef, little wads of mutton, just the right thickness, and in dividing
a chicken or a duck with nice precision . . . .
"Is this the first of the home products?" he asked, knowing
perfectly well that it was.
"Yes, the butcher did not come. We have found out that he
only calls twice a week."
But there was no need to apologise. It was a superb bird. It wasn't
meat at all, but a kind of very superior jelly. "My father
would say," said Burnell, "this must have been one of
those birds whose mother played to it in infancy upon the German
flute. And the sweet strains of the dulcet instrument acted with
such effect upon the infant mind . . . Have some more, Beryl? You
and I are the only ones in this house with a real feeling for food.
I'm perfectly willing to state, in a court of law, if necessary,
that I love good food."
Tea was served in the drawing-room, and Beryl, who for some reason
had been very charming to Stanley ever since he came home, suggested
a game of crib. They sat at a little table near one of the open
windows. Mrs. Fairfield disappeared, and Linda lay in a rocking-chair,
her arms above her head, rocking to and fro.
"You don't want the light–do you, Linda?" said
Beryl. She moved the tall lamp so that she sat under its soft light.
How remote they looked, those two, from where Linda sat and rocked.
The green table, the polished cards, Stanley's big hands and Beryl's
tiny ones, all seemed to be part of one mysterious movement. Stanley
himself, big and solid, in his dark suit, took his ease,
and Beryl tossed her bright head and pouted. Round her throat she
wore an unfamiliar velvet ribbon. It changed her, somehow–altered
the shape of her face–but it was charming, Linda decided.
The room smelled of lilies; there were two big jars of arums in
"Fifteen two–fifteen four–and a pair is six and
a run of three is nine," said Stanley, so deliberately, he
might have been counting sheep.
"I've nothing but two pairs," said Beryl, exaggerating
her woe because she knew how he loved winning.
The cribbage pegs were like two little people going up the road
together, turning round the sharp corner, and coming down the road
again. They were pursuing each other. They did not so much want
to get ahead as to keep near enough to talk–to keep near,
perhaps that was all.
But no, there was always one who was impatient and hopped away
as the other came up, and would not listen. Perhaps the white peg
was frightened of the red one, or perhaps he was cruel and would
not give the red one a chance to speak. . . .
In the front of her dress Beryl wore a bunch of pansies, and once
when the little pegs were side by side, she bent over and the pansies
dropped out and covered them.
"What a shame," said she, picking up the pansies. "Just
as they had a chance to fly into each other's arms."
"Farewell, my girl," laughed Stanley, and away the red
The drawing-room was long and narrow with glass doors that gave
on to the veranda. It had a cream paper with a pattern of gilt roses,
and the furniture, which had belonged to old Mrs. Fairfield, was
dark and plain. A little piano stood against the wall with yellow
pleated silk let into the carved front. Above it hung an oil painting
by Beryl of a large cluster of surprised-looking clematis. Each
flower was the size of a small saucer, with a centre like an astonished
eye fringed in black. But the room was not finished yet. Stanley
had set his heart on a Chesterfield and two decent chairs. Linda
liked it best as it was. . . .
Two big moths flew in through the window and round and round the
circle of lamplight.
"Fly away before it is too late. Fly out again."
Round and round flew; they seemed to bring the silence and the
moonlight in with them on their silent wings. . . .
"I've two kings," said Stanley. "Any good?"
"Quite good," said Beryl.
Linda stopped rocking and got up. Stanley looked across. "Anything
the matter, darling?"
"No, nothing. I'm going to find mother."
She went out of the room and standing at the foot of the stairs
she called, but her mother's voice answered her from the veranda.
The moon that Lottie and Kezia had seen from the storeman's
wagon was full, and the house, the garden, the old woman and Linda–all
were bathed in dazzling light.
"I have been looking at the aloe," said Mrs. Fairfield.
"I believe it is going to flower this year. Look at the top
there. Are those buds, or is it only an effect of light?"
As they stood on the steps, the high grassy bank on which the aloe
rested rose up like a wave, and the aloe seemed to ride upon it
like a ship with the oars lifted. Bright moonlight hung upon the
lifted oars like water, and on the green wave glittered the dew.
"Do you feel it, too," said Linda, and she spoke to her
mother with the special voice that women use at night to each other
as though they spoke in their sleep or from some hollow cave–"Don't
you feel that it is coming towards us?"
She dreamed that she was caught up out of the cold water into the
ship with the lifted oars and the budding mast. Now the oars fell
striking quickly, quickly. They rowed far away over the top of the
garden trees, the paddocks and the dark bush beyond. Ah, she heard
herself cry: "Faster! Faster!" to those who were rowing.
How much more real this dream was than that they should go back
to the house where the sleeping children lay and where Stanley and
Beryl played cribbage.
"I believe those are buds," said she. "Let us go
down into the garden, mother. I like that aloe. I like
it more than anything here. And I am sure I shall remember it long
after I've forgotten all the other things."
She put her hand on her mother's arm and they walked down the steps,
round the island and on to the main drive that led to the front
Looking at it from below she could see the long sharp thorns that
edged the aloe leaves, and at the sight of them her heart grew hard.
. . . She particularly liked the long sharp thorns. . . . Nobody
would dare to come near the ship or to follow after.
"Not even my Newfoundland dog," thought she, "that
I'm so fond of in the daytime."
For she really was fond of him; she loved and admired and respected
him tremendously. Oh, better than anyone else in the world. She
knew him through and through. He was the soul of truth and decency,
and for all his practical experience he was awfully simple, easily
pleased and easily hurt. . . .
If only he wouldn't jump at her so, and bark so loudly, and watch
her with such eager, loving eyes. He was too strong for her; she
had always hated things that rush at her, from a child. There were
times when he was frightening–really frightening. When she
just had not screamed at the top of her voice: "You are killing
me." And at those times she had longed to say the most coarse,
hateful things. . . .
"You know I'm very delicate. You know as well as I do that
my heart is affected, and the doctor has told you I may die any
moment. I have had three great lumps of children already. . . .
Yes, yes, it was true. Linda snatched her hand from mother's arm.
For all her love and respect and admiration she hated him. And how
tender he always was after times like those, how submissive, how
thoughtful. He would do anything for her; he longed to serve her.
. . . Linda heard herself saying in a weak voice:
"Stanley, would you light a candle?"
And she heard his joyful voice answer: "Of course I will,
my darling." And he leapt out of bed as though he were going
to leap at the moon for her.
It had never been so plain to her as it was as this moment. There
were all her feelings for him, sharp and defined, one as true as
the other. And there was this other, this hatred, just as real as
the rest. She could have done her feelings up in little packets
and given them to Stanley. She longed to hand him that last one,
for a surprise. She could see his eyes as he opened that. . . .
She hugged her folded arms and began to laugh silently. How absurd
life was–it was laughable, simply laughable. And why this
mania of hers to keep alive at all? For it really was a mania, she
thought, mocking and laughing.
"What am I guarding myself for so preciously? I shall go on
having children and Stanley will go on making money and
the children and the gardens will grow bigger and bigger, with whole
fleets of aloes in them for me to choose from."
She had been walking with her head bent, looking at nothing. Now
she looked up and about her. They were standing by the red and white
camellia trees. Beautiful were the rich dark leaves spangled with
light and the round flowers that perch among them like red and white
birds. Linda pulled a piece of verbena and crumpled it, and held
her hands to her mother.
"Delicious," said the old woman. "Are you cold,
child? Are you trembling? Yes, your hands are cold. We had better
go back to the house."
"What have you been thinking about?" said Linda. "Tell
"I haven't really been thinking of anything. I wondered as
we passed the orchard what the fruit trees were like and whether
we should be able to make much jam this autumn. There are splendid
healthy currant bushes in the vegetable garden. I noticed them to-day.
I should like to see those pantry shelves thoroughly well stocked
with our own jam. . . . "
"My DARLING NAN,
Don't think me a piggy wig because I haven't written before. I
haven't had a moment, dear, and even now I feel so exhausted that
I can hardly hold a pen.
Well, the dreadful deed is done. We have actually left the giddy
whirl of town, and I can't see how we shall ever go back again,
for my brother-in-law has bought this house 'lock, stock and barrel,'
to use his own words.
In a way, or course, it is an awful relief, for he has been threatening
to take a place in the country ever since I've lived with them–and
I must say the house and garden are awfully nice–a million
times better than that awful cubby-hole in town.
But buried, my dear. Buried isn't the word.
We have got neighbours, but they are only farmers–big louts
of boys who seem to be milking all day, and two dreadful females
with rabbit teeth who brought us some scones when we were moving
and said they would be pleased to help. But my sister who lives
a mile away doesn't know a soul here, so I am sure we never shall.
It's pretty certain nobody will ever come out from town to see us,
because though there is a bus it's an awful old rattling thing with
black leather sides that any decent person would rather die than
ride in for six miles.
Such a life. It's a sad ending for poor little B. I'll get to be
a most awful frump in a year or two and come and see you in a mackintosh
and a sailor hat tied on with a white china silk motor veil. So
Stanley says that now we are settled–for after the most awful
week of my life we really are settled–he is going to bring
out a couple of men from the club on Saturday afternoons for tennis.
In fact, two are promised as a great treat to-day. But, my dear,
if you could see Stanley's men from the club . . . rather fattish,
the type who look frighfully indecent without waistcoats–always
with toes that turn in rather–so conspicuous when you are
walking about a court in white shoes. And they are pulling up their
trousers every minute–don't you know–and whacking at
imaginary things with their rackets.
I used to play with them at the club last summer, and I am sure
you will know the type when I tell you that after I'd been there
about three times they all called me Miss Beryl. It's a dreary world.
Of course mother simply loves the place, but then I suppose when
I am mother's age I shall be content to sit in the sun and shell
peas into a basin. But I'm not–not–not.
What Linda thinks about the whole affair, per usual, I haven't
the slightest idea. Mysterious as ever. . . .
My dear, you know that white satin dress of mine. I have taken
the sleeves out entirely, put bands of black velvet across the shoulders
and two big red poppies off my dear sister's chapeau. It is a great
success, though when I shall wear it I do not know."
Beryl sat writing this letter at a little table in her room. In
a way, of course, it was all perfectly true, but in another way
it was all the greatest rubbish and she didn't believe a word of
it. No, that wasn't true. She felt all those things, but she didn't
really feel them like that.
It was her other self who had written that letter. It not only
bored, it rather disgusted her real self.
"Flippant and silly," said her real self. Yet she knew
that she'd send it and she'd always write that kind of twaddle to
Nan Pym. In fact, it was a very mild example of the kind of letter
she generally wrote.
Beryl leaned her elbows on the table and read it through again.
The voice of the letter seemed to come up to her from the page.
It was faint already, like a voice heard over the telephone, high,
gushing, with something bitter in the sound. Oh, she detested it
"You've always got so much animation," said Nan Pym.
"That's why men are so keen on you." And she had added,
rather mournfully, for men were not at all keen on Nan, who was
a solid kind of girl, with fat hips and a high colour–"I
can't understand how you can keep it up. But it is your nature,
What rot. What nonsense. It wasn't her nature at all. Good heavens,
if she had ever been her real self with Nan Pym, Nannie would have
jumped out of the window with surprise. . . . My dear, you
know that white satin of mine. . . . Beryl slammed the letter-case
She jumped up and half unconsciously, half consciously she drifted
over to the looking-glass.
There stood a slim girl in white–a white serge skirt, a white
silk blouse, and a leather belt drawn in very tightly at her tiny
Her face was heart-shaped, wide at the brows and with a pointed
chin–but not too pointed. Her eyes, her eyes were perhaps
her best feature; they were such a strange uncommon colour–greeny
blue with little gold points in them.
She had fine black eyebrows and long lashes–so long, that
when they lay on her cheeks you positively caught the light in them,
someone or other had told her.
Her mouth was rather large. Too large? No, not really. Her underlip
protruded a little; she had a way of sucking it in that somebody
else had told her was awfully fascinating.
Her nose was her least satisfactory feature. Not that it was really
ugly. But it was not half as fine as Linda's. Linda really had a
perfect little nose. Hers spread rather–not badly. And in
all probability she exaggerated the spreadiness of it just because
it was her nose, and she was so awfully critical of herself. She
pinched it with a thumb and first finger and made a little face.
. . .
Lovely, lovely hair. And such a mass of it. It had the colour of
fresh fallen leaves, brown and red with a glint of yellow.
When she did it in a long plait she felt it on her backbone like
a long snake. She loved to feel the weight of it dragging her head
back, and she loved to feel it loose, covering her bare arms. "Yes,
my dear, there is no doubt about it, you really are a lovely little
At the words her bosom lifted; she took a long breath of delight,
half closing her eyes.
But even as she looked the smile faded from her lips and eyes.
Oh, God, there she was, back again, playing the same old game. False–false
as ever. False as when she'd written to Nan Pym. False even when
she was alone with herself, now.
What had that creature in the glass to do with her, and why was
she staring? She dropped down to one side of her bed and buried
her face in her arms.
"Oh," she cried, "I am so miserable–so frightfully
miserable. I know that I'm silly and spiteful and vain; I'm always
acting a part. I'm never my real self for a moment." And plainly,
plainly, she saw her false self running up and down the stairs,
laughing a special trilling laugh if they had visitors, standing
under the lamp if a man came to dinner, so that he should see the
light on her hair, pouting and pretending to be a little girl when
she was asked to play the guitar. Why? She even kept it up for Stanley's
benefit. Only last night when he was reading the paper her false
self had stood beside him and leaned against his shoulder on pur-
pose. Hadn't she put her hand over his, pointing out something
so that he should see how white her hand was beside his brown one.
How despicable! Despicable! Her heart was cold with rage. "It's
marvellous how you keep it up," said she to the false self.
But then it was only because she was so miserable–so miserable.
If she had been happy and leading her own life, her false life would
cease to be. She saw the real Beryl–a shadow . . . a shadow.
Faint and unsubstantial she shone. What was there of her except
the radiance? And for what tiny moments she was really she. Beryl
could almost remember every one of them. At those times she had
felt: "Life is rich and mysterious and good, and I am rich
and mysterious and good, too." Shall I ever be that Beryl for
ever? Shall I? How can I? And was there ever a time when I did not
have a false self? . . . But just as she had got that far she heard
the sound of little steps running along the passage; the door handle
rattled. Kezia came in.
"Aunt Beryl, mother says will you please come down? Father
is home with a man and lunch is ready."
Botheration! How she had crumpled her skirt, kneeling in that idiotic
"Very well, Kezia." She went over to the dressing-table
and powdered her nose.
Kezia crossed too, and unscrewed a little pot of cream
and sniffed it. Under her arm she carried a very dirty calico cat.
When Aunt Beryl ran out of the room she sat the cat up on the dressing-table
and stuck the top of the cream jar over its ear.
"Now look at yourself," she said sternly.
The calico cat was so overcome by the sight that it toppled over
backwards and bumped and bumped on to the floor. And the top of
the cream jar flew through the air and rolled like a penny in a
round on the linoleum–and did not break.
But for Kezia it had broken the moment it flew through the air,
and she picked it up, hot all over, and put it back on the dressing-table.
Then she tiptoed away, far too quickly and airily. . . .