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Bliss, and Other Stories written by Katherine Mansfield who was a prominent New Zealand modernist short story writer. This book was published in 1920. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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Bliss, and Other Stories
JE NE PARLE PAS FRANÇAIS
THE WIND BLOWS
THE MAN WITHOUT A TEMPERAMENT
MR. REGINALD PEACOCK’S DAY
SUN AND MOON
A DILL PICKLE
THE LITTLE GOVERNESS
Bliss, and Other Stories
“. . . but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”
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 by 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 the buggy.
“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 her.
“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,” she wheezed.
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 a 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 against 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 creaking came 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, too.
“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 red.
“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, 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 a sheep?”
“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 tired?”
“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 whip lash, 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 verandah 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 a 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 verandah 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 verandah 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 another step.
“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 wall-paper) 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 the 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, Linda darling?”
“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 steam.
“I had meat for my supper,” said Isabel, still combing gently.
“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 tooth-pick 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 good sign.
“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 bed.
“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, tip-toed among the bushes, and gathered the flowers into a big bouquet, and shipped 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 her own.
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 the 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 . . . 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 again.
“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 wash-stand. 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 even waving.
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 clouds.
“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 arms.
“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 energetic.”
“Yes, yes, I suppose that’s true,” said he, comforted for the hundredth time, and taking a pearl pen-knife 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 her hair.
“Everything we left on the verandah 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 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 verandah of their 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 comer. 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, very satisfactory.
“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 ebony frame.
“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 up on 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 are here?”
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