It was his fault, wholly and solely his fault, that they had missed
the train. What if the idiotic hotel people had refused to produce
the bill? Wasn't that simply because he hadn't impressed upon the
waiter at lunch that they must have it by two o'clock? Any other
man would have sat there and refused to move until they handed it
over. But no! His exquisite belief in human nature had allowed him
to get up and expect one of those idiots to bring it to their room.
. . . And then, when the voiture did arrive, while they were still
(Oh, Heavens!) waiting for change, why hadn't he seen to the arrangement
of the boxes so that they could, at least, have started the moment
the money had come? Had he expected her to go outside, to stand
under the awning in the heat, and point with her parasol? Very amusing
picture of English domestic life. Even when the driver had been
told how fast he had to drive he had paid no attention whatsoever–just
smiled. "Oh," she groaned, "if she'd been a driver
she couldn't have stopped smiling herself at the absurd, ridiculous
way he was urged to hurry." And she sat back and imitated his
voice: "Allez, vite, vite "–and begged the driver's
pardon for troubling him. . . .
And then the station–unforgettable–with the sight of
the jaunty little train shuffling away and those hideous children
waving from the windows. "Oh, why am I made to bear these things?
Why am I exposed to them? . . ." The glare, the flies, while
they waited, and he and the stationmaster put their heads together
over the time-table, trying to find this other train, which, of
course, they wouldn't catch. The people who'd gathered round, and
the woman who'd held up that baby with that awful, awful head. .
. . "Oh, to care as I care–to feel as I feel, and never
to be saved anything–never to know for one moment what it
was to . . . to . . . "
Her voice had changed. It was shaking now–crying now. She
fumbled with her bag, and produced from its little maw a scented
handkerchief. She put up her veil and, as though she were doing
it for somebody else, pitifully, as though she were saying to somebody
else: "I know, my darling," she pressed the handkerchief
to her eyes.
The little bag, with its shiny, silvery jaws open, lay on her lap.
He could see her powder-puff, her rouge stick, a bundle of letters,
a phial of tiny black pills like seeds, a broken cigarette, a mirror,
white ivory tablets with lists on them that had been heavily scored
through. He thought: "In Egypt she would be buried with those
They had left the last of the houses, those small straggling houses
with bits of broken pot flung among the flower-beds and half-naked
hens scratching round the doorsteps. Now they were mounting a long
steep road that wound round the hill and over into the next bay.
The horses stumbled, pulling hard. Every five minutes, every two
minutes the driver trailed the whip across them. His stout back
was solid as wood; there were boils on his reddish neck, and he
wore a new, a shining new straw hat. . . .
There was a little wind, just enough wind to blow to satin the
new leaves on the fruit trees, to stroke the fine grass, to turn
to silver the smoky olives–just enough wind to start in front
of the carriage a whirling, twirling snatch of dust that settled
on their clothes like the finest ash. When she took out her powder-puff
the powder came flying over them both.
"Oh, the dust," she breathed, "the disgusting, revolting
dust." And she put down her veil and lay back as if overcome.
"Why don't you put up your parasol?" he suggested. It
was on the front seat, and he leaned forward to hand it to her.
At that she suddenly sat upright and blazed again.
"Please leave my parasol alone! I don't want my parasol! And
anyone who was not utterly insensitive would know that I'm far,
far too exhausted to hold up a parasol. And with a wind like this
tugging at it. . . . Put it down at once," she flashed, and
then snatched the parasol from him, tossed it into the crumpled
hood behind, and subsided, panting.
Another bend of the road, and down the hill there came a troop
of little children, shrieking and giggling, little girls with sun-bleached
hair, little boys in faded soldiers' caps. In their hands they carried
flowers–any kind of flowers–grabbed by the head, and
these they offered, running beside the carriage. Lilac, faded lilac,
greeny-white snowballs, one arum lily, a handful of hyacinths. They
thrust the flowers and their impish faces into the carriage; one
even threw into her lap a bunch of marigolds. Poor little mice!
He had his hand in his trouser pocket before her. "For Heaven's
sake don't give them anything. Oh, how typical of you! Horrid little
monkeys! Now they'll follow us all the way. Don't encourage them;
you would encourage beggars"; and she hurled the bunch out
of the carriage with "Well, do it when I'm not there, please."
He saw the queer shock on the children's faces. They stopped running,
lagged behind, and then they began to shout something, and went
on shouting until the carriage had rounded yet another bend.
"Oh, how many more are there before the top of the hill is
reached? The horses haven't trotted once. Surely it isn't necessary
for them to walk the whole way."
"We shall be there in a minute now," he said, and took
out his cigarette-case. At that she turned round towards him. She
clasped her hands and held them against her breast; her dark eyes
looked immense, imploring, behind her veil; her nostrils quivered,
she bit her lip, and her head shook with a little nervous spasm.
But when she spoke, her voice was quite weak and very, very calm.
"I want to ask you something. I want to beg something of you,"
she said. "I've asked you hundreds and hundreds of times before,
but you've forgotten. It's such a little thing, but if you knew
what it meant to me. . . . " She pressed her hands together.
"But you can't know. No human creature could know and be so
cruel." And then, slowly, deliberately, gazing at him with
those huge, sombre eyes: "I beg and implore you for the last
time that when we are driving together you won't smoke. If you could
imagine," she said, "the anguish I suffer when that smoke
comes floating across my face. . . . "
"Very well," he said. "I won't. I forgot."
And he put the case back.
"Oh, no," said she, and almost began to laugh, and put
the back of her hand across her eyes. "You couldn't have forgotten.
The wind came, blowing stronger. They were at the top of the hill.
"Hoy-yip-yip-yip," cried the driver. They swung down the
road that fell into a small valley, skirted the sea coast at the
bottom of it, and then coiled over a gentle ridge on the other side.
Now there were houses again, blue-shuttered against the heat, with
bright burning gardens, with geranium carpets flung over the pinkish
walls. The coastline was dark; on the edge of the sea a white silky
fringe just stirred. The carriage swung down the hill, bumped, shook.
"Yi-ip," shouted the driver. She clutched the sides of
the seat, she closed her eyes, and he knew she felt this was happening
on purpose; this swinging and bumping, this was all done–and
he was responsible for it, somehow–to spite her because she
had asked if they couldn't go a little faster. But just as they
reached the bottom of the valley there was one tremendous lurch.
The carriage nearly overturned, and he saw her eyes blaze at him,
and she positively hissed, " I suppose you are enjoying this?"
They went on. They reached the bottom of the valley. Suddenly she
stood up. "Cocher! Cocher! Arrêtez-vous! " She turned
round and looked into the crumpled hood behind. "I knew it,"
she exclaimed. "I knew it. I heard it fall, and so did you,
at that last bump."
"My parasol. It's gone. The parasol that belonged to my mother.
The parasol that I prize more than–more than . . . "
She was simply. beside herself. The driver turned round, his gay,
broad face smiling.
"I, too, heard something," said he, simply and gaily.
"But I thought as Monsieur and Madame said nothing . . . "
"There. You hear that. Then you must have heard it too. So
that accounts for the extraordinary smile on your face. . . . "
"Look here," he said, "it can't be gone. If it fell
out it will be there still. Stay where you are. I'll fetch it."
But she saw through that. Oh, how she saw through it! "No,
thank you." And she bent her spiteful, smiling eyes upon him,
regardless of the driver. "I'll go myself. I'll walk back and
find it, and trust you not to follow. For"–knowing the
driver did not understand, she spoke softly, gently–"if
I don't escape from you for a minute I shall go mad."
She stepped out of the carriage. "My bag." He handed
it to her.
"Madame prefers . . . "
But the driver had already swung down from his seat, and was seated
on the parapet reading a small newspaper. The horses stood with
hanging heads. It was still. The man in the carriage stretched himself
out, folded his arms. He felt the sun beat on his knees. His head
was sunk on his breast. "Hish, hish," sounded from the
sea. The wind sighed in the valley and was quiet. He felt himself,
lying there, a hollow man, a parched, withered man, as it were,
of ashes. And the sea sounded, "Hish, hish."
It was then that he saw the tree, that he was conscious of its
presence just inside a garden gate. It was an immense tree with
a round, thick silver stem and a great arc of copper leaves that
gave back the light and yet were sombre. There was something beyond
the tree–a whiteness, a softness, an opaque mass, half-hidden–with
delicate pillars. As he looked at the tree he felt his breathing
die away and he became part of the silence. It seemed to grow, it
seemed to expand in the quivering heat until the great carved leaves
hid the sky, and yet it was motionless. Then from within its depths
or from beyond there came the sound of a woman's voice. A woman
was singing. The warm untroubled voice floated upon the air, and
it was all part of the silence as he was part of it. Suddenly, as
the voice rose, soft, dreaming, gentle, he knew that it would come
floating to him from the hidden leaves and his peace was shattered.
What was happening to him? Something stirred in his breast. Something
dark, something unbearable and dreadful pushed in his bosom, and
like a great weed it floated, rocked . . . it was warm, stifling.
He tried to struggle to tear at it, and at the same moment–all
was over. Deep, deep, he sank into the silence, staring at the tree
and waiting for the voice that came floating, falling, until he
felt himself enfolded.
In the shaking corridor of the train. It was night. The train rushed
and roared through the dark. He held on with both hands to the brass
rail. The door of their carriage was open.
"Do not disturb yourself, Monsieur. He will come in and sit
down when he wants to. He likes–he likes–it is his habit.
. . . Oui, Madame, je suis un peu souffrante. . . . Mes nerfs. Oh,
but my husband is never so happy as when he is travelling. He likes
roughing it. . . . My husband. . . . My husband. . . . "
The voices murmured, murmured. They were never still. But so great
was his heavenly happiness as he stood there he wished he might
live for ever.