FROM eight o'clock in the morning until about half past eleven
Monica Tyrell suffered from her nerves, and suffered so terribly
that these hours were–agonizing, simply. It was not as though
she could control them. "Perhaps if I were ten years younger
.. ." she would say. For now that she was thirty-three she
had a queer little way of referring to her age on all occasions,
of looking at her friends with grave, childish eyes and saying:
"Yes, I remember how twenty years ago . . . " or of drawing
Ralph's attention to the girls–real girls–with lovely
youthful arms and throats and swift hesitating movements who sat
near them in restaurants. "Perhaps if I were ten years younger
. . ."
"Why don't you get Marie to sit outside your door and absolutely
forbid anybody to come near your room until you ring your bell?"
"Oh, if it were as simple as that!" She threw her little
gloves down and pressed her eyelids with her fingers in the way
he knew so well. "But in the first place I'd be so conscious
of Marie sitting there, Marie shaking her finger at Rudd and Mrs.
Moon, Marie as a kind of cross between a wardress and a nurse for
mental cases! And then, there's the post. One can't get over the
fact that the post comes, and once it has come, who–who–could
wait until eleven for the letters?"
His eyes grew bright; he quickly, lightly clasped her. "My
"Perhaps," she drawled, softly, and she drew her hand
over his reddish hair, smiling too, but thinking: "Heavens
! What a stupid thing to say!"
But this morning she had been awakened by one great slam of the
front door. Bang. The flat shook. What was it? She jerked up in
bed, clutching at the eiderdown; her heart beat. What could it be?
Then, she heard voices in the passage. Marie knocked, and, as the
door opened, with a sharp tearing rip out flew the blind and the
curtains, stiffening, flapping, jerking. The tassel of the blind
knocked–knocked against the window. "Eh-h, voilà!
" cried Marie, setting down the tray and running. "C'est
le vent, Madame. C'est un vent insupportable."
Up rolled the blind; the window went up with a jerk; a whitey-greyish
light filled the room. Monica caught a glimpse of a huge pale sky
and a cloud like a torn shirt dragging across before she hid her
eyes with her sleeve.
"Marie! the curtains! Quick, the curtains!" Monica fell
back into the bed and then "Ring-ting -a-ping-ping, ring-ting-a-ping-ping."
It was the telephone. The limit of her suffering was reached; she
grew quite calm. "Go and see, Marie."
"It is Monsieur. To know if Madame will lunch at Princes'
at one-thirty to-day." Yes, it was Monsieur himself. Yes, he
had asked that the message be given to Madame immediately. Instead
of replying, Monica put her cup down and asked Marie in a small
wondering voice what time it was. It was half past nine. She lay
still and half closed her eyes. "Tell Monsieur I cannot come,"
she said gently. But as the door shut, anger–anger suddenly
gripped her close, close, violent, half strangling her. How dared
he. How dared Ralph do such a thing when he knew how agonizing her
nerves were in the morning! Hadn't she explained and described and
even–though lightly, of course; she couldn't say such a thing
directly–given him to understand that this was the one unforgivable
And then to choose this frightful windy morning. Did he think it
was just a fad of hers, a little feminine folly to be laughed at
and tossed aside? Why, only last night she had said: "Ah, but
you must take me seriously, too." And he had replied: "My
darling, you'll not believe me, but I know you infinitely better
than you know yourself. Every delicate thought and feeling I bow
to, I treasure. Yes, laugh! I love the way your lip lifts"–and
he had leaned across the table–"I don't care who sees
that I adore all of you. I'd be with you on mountain-top and have
all the searchlights of the world play upon us."
"Heavens!" Monica almost clutched her head. Was it possible
he had really said that? How incredible men were! And she had loved
him–how could she have loved a man who talked like that. What
had she been doing ever since that dinner party months ago, when
he had seen her home and asked if he might come and "see again
that slow Arabian smile"? Oh, what nonsense–what utter
nonsense–and yet she remembered at the time a strange deep
thrill unlike anything she had ever felt before.
"Coal! Coal! Coal! Old iron! Old iron! Old iron!" sounded
from below. It was all over. Understand her? He had understood nothing.
That ringing her up on a windy morning was immensely significant.
Would he understand that? She could almost have laughed. "You
rang me up when the person who understood me simply couldn't have."
It was the end. And when Marie said: "Monsieur replied he would
be in the vestibule in case Madame changed her mind," Monica
said: "No, not verbena, Marie. Carnations. Two handfuls."
A wild white morning, a tearing, rocking wind. Monica sat down
before the mirror. She was pale. The maid combed back her dark hair–combed
it all back–and her face was like a mask, with pointed eyelids
and dark red lips. As she stared at herself in the blueish shadowy
glass she suddenly felt–oh, the strangest, most tremendous
excitement filling her slowly, slowly, until she wanted to fling
out her arms, to laugh, to scatter everything, to shock Marie, to
cry: "I'm free. I'm free. I'm free as the wind." And now
all this vibrating, trembling, exciting, flying world was hers.
It was her kingdom. No, no, she belonged to nobody but Life.
"That will do, Marie," she stammered. "My hat, my
coat, my bag. And now get me a taxi." Where was she going?
Oh, anywhere. She could not stand this silent, flat, noiseless Marie,
this ghostly quiet feminine interior. She must be out; she must
be driving quickly–anywhere, anywhere.
"The taxi is there, Madame." As she pressed open the
big outer doors of the flats the wild wind caught her and floated
her across the pavement. Where to? She got in, and smiling radiantly
at the cross, cold-looking driver, she told him to take her to her
hairdresser's. What would she have done without her hairdresser?
Whenever Monica had nowhere else to go or nothing on earth to do
she drove there. She might just have her hair waved, and by that
time she'd have thought out a plan. The cross, cold driver drove
at a tremendous pace, and she let herself be hurled from side to
side. She wished he would go faster and faster. Oh, to be free of
Princes' at one-thirty, of being the tiny kitten in the swansdown
basket, of being the Arabian, and the grave, delighted child and
the little wild creature. . . . "Never again," she cried
aloud, clenching her small fist. But the cab had stopped, and the
driver was standing holding the door open for her.
The hairdresser's shop was warm and glittering. It smelled of soap
and burnt paper and wallflower brilliantine. There was Madame behind
the counter, round, fat, white, her head like a powder-puff rolling
on a black satin pin-cushion. Monica always had the feeling that
they loved her in this shop and understood her–the real her–far
better than many of her friends did. She was her real self here,
and she and Madame had often talked–quite strangely–together.
Then there was George who did her hair, young, dark, slender George.
She was really fond of him.
But to-day–how curious! Madame hardly greeted her. Her face
was whiter than ever, but rims of bright red showed round her blue
bead eyes, and even the rings on her pudgy fingers did not flash.
They were cold, dead, like chips of glass. When she called through
the wall-telephone to George there was a note in her voice that
had never been there before. But Monica would not believe this.
No, she refused to. It was just her imagination. She sniffed greedily
the warm, scented air, and passed behind the velvet curtain into
the small cubicle.
Her hat and jacket were off and hanging from the peg, and still
George did not come. This was the first time he had ever not been
there to hold the chair for her, to take her hat and hang up her
bag, dangling it in his fingers as though it were something he'd
never seen before–something fairy. And how quiet the shop
was! There was not a sound even from Madame. Only the wind blew,
shaking the old house; the wind hooted, and the portraits of Ladies
of the Pompadour Period looked down and smiled, cunning and sly.
Monica wished she hadn't come. Oh, what a mistake to have come!
Fatal. Fatal. Where was George? If he didn't appear the next moment
she would go away. She took off the white kimono. She didn't want
to look at herself any more. When she opened a big pot of cream
on the glass shelf her fingers trembled. There was a tugging feeling
at her heart as though her happiness–her marvellous happiness–were
trying to get free.
"I'll go. I'll not stay." She took down her hat. But
just at that moment steps sounded, and, looking in the mirror, she
saw George bowing in the doorway. How queerly he smiled! It was
the mirror of course. She turned round quickly. His lips curled
back in a sort of grin, and–wasn't he unshaved?–he looked
almost green in the face.
"Very sorry to have kept you waiting," he mumbled, sliding,
Oh, no, she wasn't going to stay. "I'm afraid," she began.
But he had lighted the gas and laid the tongs across, and was holding
out the kimono.
"It's a wind," he said. Monica submitted. She smelled
his fresh young fingers pinning the jacket under her chin. "Yes,
there is a wind," said she, sinking back into the chair. And
silence fell. George took out the pins in his expert way. Her hair
tumbled back, but he didn't hold it as he usually did, as though
to feel how fine and soft and heavy it was. He didn't say it "was
in a lovely condition." He let it fall, and, taking a brush
out of a drawer, he coughed faintly, cleared his throat, and said
dully: "Yes, it's a pretty strong one, I should say it was."
She had no reply to make. The brush fell on her hair. Oh, oh, how
mournful, how mournful! It fell quick and light, it fell like leaves;
and then it fell heavy, tugging like the tugging at her heart. "That's
enough," she cried, shaking herself free.
"Did I do it too much?" asked George. He crouched over
the tongs. "I'm sorry." There came the smell of burnt
paper–the smell she loved–and he swung the hot tongs
round in his hand, staring before him. "I shouldn't be surprised
if it rained." He took up a piece of her hair, when–she
couldn't bear it any longer–she stopped him. She looked at
him; she saw herself looking at him in the white kimono like a nun.
"Is there something the matter here? Has something happened?"
But George gave a half shrug and a grimace. "Oh, no, Madame.
Just a little occurrence." And he took up the piece of hair
again. But, oh, she wasn't deceived. That was it. Something awful
had happened. The silence–really, the silence seemed to come
drifting down like flakes of snow. She shivered. It was cold in
the little cubicle, all cold and glittering. The nickel taps and
jets and sprays looked somehow almost malignant. The wind rattled
the window-frame; a piece of iron banged, and the young man went
on changing the tongs, crouching over her. Oh, how terrifying Life
was, thought Monica. How dreadful. It is the loneliness which is
so appalling. We whirl along like leaves, and nobody knows–nobody
cares where we fall, in what black river we float away. The tugging
feeling seemed to rise into her throat. It ached, ached; she longed
to cry. "That will do," she whispered. "Give me the
pins." As he stood beside her, so submissive, so silent, she
nearly dropped her arms and sobbed. She couldn't bear any more.
Like a wooden man the gay young George still slid, glided, handed
her her hat and veil, took the note, and brought back the change.
She stuffed it into her bag. Where was she going now? George took
a brush. "There is a little powder on your coat," he murmured.
He brushed it away. And then suddenly he raised himself and, looking
at Monica, gave a strange wave with the brush and said: "The
truth is, Madame, since you are an old customer–my little
daughter died this morning. A first child"–and then his
white face crumpled like paper, and he turned his back on her and
began brushing the cotton kimono. "Oh, oh," Monica began
to cry. She ran out of the shop into the taxi. The driver, looking
furious, swung off the seat and slammed the door again. "Where
to?" "Princes'," she sobbed. And all the way there
she saw nothing but a tiny wax doll with a feather of gold hair,
lying meek, its tiny hands and feet crossed. And then just before
she came to Princes' she saw a flower shop full of white flowers.
Oh, what a perfect thought. Lilies-of-the-valley, and white pansies,
double white violets and white velvet ribbon. . . . From an unknown
friend. . . . From one who understands. . . . For a Little Girl.
. . . She tapped against the window, but the driver did not hear;
and, anyway, they were at Princes' already.