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© 2018 Infilaindiana Edizioni
Via Nuova 43/A – Santa Tecla
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Veste grafica, nota introduttiva e cenni biografici
a cura di Infilaindiana Edizioni.
The novel, first published in 1922, is centered around the life story of Jacob Flanders, the protagonist, and is told mainly through the perspectives of the woman in Jabob’s life. With its experimental forms and style, is an important modernist text.
Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) was born in London and is considered a modernist writer and one of the pioner in the use of stream of consciousness. Her fist novel The voyage Out was publiched in 1915. Mrs Dalloway (1925) is another Woolf’s famouse novel.
“So of course,” wrote Betty Flanders, pressing her heels rather deeper
in the sand, “there was nothing for it but to leave.”
Slowly welling from the point of her gold nib, pale blue ink dissolved
the full stop; for there her pen stuck; her eyes fixed, and tears slowly
filled them. The entire bay quivered; the lighthouse wobbled; and she
had the illusion that the mast of Mr. Connor’s little yacht was bending
like a wax candle in the sun. She winked quickly. Accidents were awful
things. She winked again. The mast was straight; the waves were regular;
the lighthouse was upright; but the blot had spread.
“… nothing for it but to leave,” she read.
“Well, if Jacob doesn’t want to play” (the shadow of Archer, her eldest
son, fell across the notepaper and looked blue on the sand, and she felt
chilly – it was the third of September already), “if Jacob doesn’t want
to play” – what a horrid blot! It must be getting late.
“Where IS that tiresome little boy?” she said. “I don’t see him. Run and
find him. Tell him to come at once.” “… but mercifully,” she
scribbled, ignoring the full stop, “everything seems satisfactorily
arranged, packed though we are like herrings in a barrel, and forced to
stand the perambulator which the landlady quite naturally won’t
Such were Betty Flanders’s letters to Captain Barfoot – many-paged,
tear-stained. Scarborough is seven hundred miles from Cornwall: Captain
Barfoot is in Scarborough: Seabrook is dead. Tears made all the dahlias
in her garden undulate in red waves and flashed the glass house in her
eyes, and spangled the kitchen with bright knives, and made Mrs. Jarvis,
the rector’s wife, think at church, while the hymn-tune played and Mrs.
Flanders bent low over her little boys’ heads, that marriage is a
fortress and widows stray solitary in the open fields, picking up
stones, gleaning a few golden straws, lonely, unprotected, poor
creatures. Mrs. Flanders had been a widow for these two years.
“Ja–cob! Ja–cob!” Archer shouted.
“Scarborough,” Mrs. Flanders wrote on the envelope, and dashed a bold
line beneath; it was her native town; the hub of the universe. But a
stamp? She ferreted in her bag; then held it up mouth downwards; then
fumbled in her lap, all so vigorously that Charles Steele in the Panama
hat suspended his paint-brush.
Like the antennae of some irritable insect it positively trembled. Here
was that woman moving – actually going to get up – confound her! He struck
the canvas a hasty violet-black dab. For the landscape needed it. It was
too pale – greys flowing into lavenders, and one star or a white gull
suspended just so – too pale as usual. The critics would say it was too
pale, for he was an unknown man exhibiting obscurely, a favourite with
his landladies’ children, wearing a cross on his watch chain, and much
gratified if his landladies liked his pictures – which they often did.
“Ja–cob! Ja–cob!” Archer shouted.
Exasperated by the noise, yet loving children, Steele picked nervously
at the dark little coils on his palette.
“I saw your brother – I saw your brother,” he said, nodding his head, as
Archer lagged past him, trailing his spade, and scowling at the old
gentleman in spectacles.
“Over there – by the rock,” Steele muttered, with his brush between his
teeth, squeezing out raw sienna, and keeping his eyes fixed on Betty
“Ja–cob! Ja–cob!” shouted Archer, lagging on after a second.
The voice had an extraordinary sadness. Pure from all body, pure from
all passion, going out into the world, solitary, unanswered, breaking
against rocks – so it sounded.
Steele frowned; but was pleased by the effect of the black – it was just
THAT note which brought the rest together. “Ah, one may learn to paint
at fifty! There’s Titian…” and so, having found the right tint, up he
looked and saw to his horror a cloud over the bay.
Mrs. Flanders rose, slapped her coat this side and that to get the sand
off, and picked up her black parasol.
The rock was one of those tremendously solid brown, or rather black,
rocks which emerge from the sand like something primitive. Rough with
crinkled limpet shells and sparsely strewn with locks of dry seaweed, a
small boy has to stretch his legs far apart, and indeed to feel rather
heroic, before he gets to the top.
But there, on the very top, is a hollow full of water, with a sandy
bottom; with a blob of jelly stuck to the side, and some mussels. A fish
darts across. The fringe of yellow-brown seaweed flutters, and out
pushes an opal-shelled crab.
“Oh, a huge crab,” Jacob murmured – and begins his journey on weakly legs
on the sandy bottom. Now! Jacob plunged his hand. The crab was cool and
very light. But the water was thick with sand, and so, scrambling down,
Jacob was about to jump, holding his bucket in front of him, when he
saw, stretched entirely rigid, side by side, their faces very red, an
enormous man and woman.
An enormous man and woman (it was early-closing day) were stretched
motionless, with their heads on pocket-handkerchiefs, side by side,
within a few feet of the sea, while two or three gulls gracefully
skirted the incoming waves, and settled near their boots.
The large red faces lying on the bandanna handkerchiefs stared up at
Jacob. Jacob stared down at them. Holding his bucket very carefully,
Jacob then jumped deliberately and trotted away very nonchalantly at
first, but faster and faster as the waves came creaming up to him and he
had to swerve to avoid them, and the gulls rose in front of him and
floated out and settled again a little farther on. A large black woman
was sitting on the sand. He ran towards her.
“Nanny! Nanny!” he cried, sobbing the words out on the crest of each
The waves came round her. She was a rock. She was covered with the
seaweed which pops when it is pressed. He was lost.
There he stood. His face composed itself. He was about to roar when,
lying among the black sticks and straw under the cliff, he saw a whole
skull – perhaps a cow’s skull, a skull, perhaps, with the teeth in it.
Sobbing, but absent-mindedly, he ran farther and farther away until he
held the skull in his arms.
“There he is!” cried Mrs. Flanders, coming round the rock and covering
the whole space of the beach in a few seconds. “What has he got hold of?
Put it down, Jacob! Drop it this moment! Something horrid, I know. Why
didn’t you stay with us? Naughty little boy! Now put it down. Now come
along both of you,” and she swept round, holding Archer by one hand and
fumbling for Jacob’s arm with the other. But he ducked down and picked
up the sheep’s jaw, which was loose.
Swinging her bag, clutching her parasol, holding Archer’s hand, and
telling the story of the gunpowder explosion in which poor Mr. Curnow
had lost his eye, Mrs. Flanders hurried up the steep lane, aware all the
time in the depths of her mind of some buried discomfort.
There on the sand not far from the lovers lay the old sheep’s skull
without its jaw. Clean, white, wind-swept, sand-rubbed, a more
unpolluted piece of bone existed nowhere on the coast of Cornwall. The
sea holly would grow through the eye-sockets; it would turn to powder,
or some golfer, hitting his ball one fine day, would disperse a little
dust – No, but not in lodgings, thought Mrs. Flanders. It’s a great
experiment coming so far with young children. There’s no man to help
with the perambulator. And Jacob is such a handful; so obstinate
“Throw it away, dear, do,” she said, as they got into the road; but
Jacob squirmed away from her; and the wind rising, she took out her
bonnet-pin, looked at the sea, and stuck it in afresh. The wind was
rising. The waves showed that uneasiness, like something alive, restive,
expecting the whip, of waves before a storm. The fishing-boats were
leaning to the water’s brim. A pale yellow light shot across the purple
sea; and shut. The lighthouse was lit. “Come along,” said Betty
Flanders. The sun blazed in their faces and gilded the great
blackberries trembling out from the hedge which Archer tried to strip as
“Don’t lag, boys. You’ve got nothing to change into,” said Betty,
pulling them along, and looking with uneasy emotion at the earth
displayed so luridly, with sudden sparks of light from greenhouses in
gardens, with a sort of yellow and black mutability, against this
blazing sunset, this astonishing agitation and vitality of colour, which
stirred Betty Flanders and made her think of responsibility and danger.
She gripped Archer’s hand. On she plodded up the hill.
“What did I ask you to remember?” she said.
“I don’t know,” said Archer.
“Well, I don’t know either,” said Betty, humorously and simply, and who
shall deny that this blankness of mind, when combined with profusion,
mother wit, old wives’ tales, haphazard ways, moments of astonishing
daring, humour, and sentimentality – who shall deny that in these
respects every woman is nicer than any man?
Well, Betty Flanders, to begin with.
She had her hand upon the garden gate.
“The meat!” she exclaimed, striking the latch down.
She had forgotten the meat.
There was Rebecca at the window.
The bareness of Mrs. Pearce’s front room was fully displayed at ten
o’clock at night when a powerful oil lamp stood on the middle of the
table. The harsh light fell on the garden; cut straight across the lawn;
lit up a child’s bucket and a purple aster and reached the hedge. Mrs.
Flanders had left her sewing on the table. There were her large reels of
white cotton and her steel spectacles; her needle-case; her brown wool
wound round an old postcard. There were the bulrushes and the Strand
magazines; and the linoleum sandy from the boys’ boots. A
daddy-long-legs shot from corner to corner and hit the lamp globe. The
wind blew straight dashes of rain across the window, which flashed
silver as they passed through the light. A single leaf tapped hurriedly,
persistently, upon the glass. There was a hurricane out at sea.
Archer could not sleep.
Mrs. Flanders stooped over him. “Think of the fairies,” said Betty
Flanders. “Think of the lovely, lovely birds settling down on their
nests. Now shut your eyes and see the old mother bird with a worm in her
beak. Now turn and shut your eyes,” she murmured, “and shut your eyes.”
The lodging-house seemed full of gurgling and rushing; the cistern
overflowing; water bubbling and squeaking and running along the pipes
and streaming down the windows.
“What’s all that water rushing in?” murmured Archer.
“It’s only the bath water running away,” said Mrs. Flanders.
Something snapped out of doors.
“I say, won’t that steamer sink?” said Archer, opening his eyes.
“Of course it won’t,” said Mrs. Flanders. “The Captain’s in bed long
ago. Shut your eyes, and think of the fairies, fast asleep, under the
“I thought he’d never get off – such a hurricane,” she whispered to
Rebecca, who was bending over a spirit-lamp in the small room next door.
The wind rushed outside, but the small flame of the spirit-lamp burnt
quietly, shaded from the cot by a book stood on edge.
“Did he take his bottle well?” Mrs. Flanders whispered, and Rebecca
nodded and went to the cot and turned down the quilt, and Mrs. Flanders
bent over and looked anxiously at the baby, asleep, but frowning. The
window shook, and Rebecca stole like a cat and wedged it.
The two women murmured over the spirit-lamp, plotting the eternal
conspiracy of hush and clean bottles while the wind raged and gave a
sudden wrench at the cheap fastenings.
Both looked round at the cot. Their lips were pursed. Mrs. Flanders
crossed over to the cot.
“Asleep?” whispered Rebecca, looking at the cot.
Mrs. Flanders nodded.
“Good-night, Rebecca,” Mrs. Flanders murmured, and Rebecca called her
ma’m, though they were conspirators plotting the eternal conspiracy of
hush and clean bottles.
Mrs. Flanders had left the lamp burning in the front room. There were
her spectacles, her sewing; and a letter with the Scarborough postmark.
She had not drawn the curtains either.
The light blazed out across the patch of grass; fell on the child’s
green bucket with the gold line round it, and upon the aster which
trembled violently beside it. For the wind was tearing across the coast,
hurling itself at the hills, and leaping, in sudden gusts, on top of its
own back. How it spread over the town in the hollow! How the lights
seemed to wink and quiver in its fury, lights in the harbour, lights in
bedroom windows high up! And rolling dark waves before it, it raced over
the Atlantic, jerking the stars above the ships this way and that.
There was a click in the front sitting-room. Mr. Pearce had extinguished
the lamp. The garden went out. It was but a dark patch. Every inch was
rained upon. Every blade of grass was bent by rain. Eyelids would have
been fastened down by the rain. Lying on one’s back one would have seen
nothing but muddle and confusion – clouds turning and turning, and
something yellow-tinted and sulphurous in the darkness.
The little boys in the front bedroom had thrown off their blankets and
lay under the sheets. It was hot; rather sticky and steamy. Archer lay
spread out, with one arm striking across the pillow. He was flushed; and
when the heavy curtain blew out a little he turned and half-opened his
eyes. The wind actually stirred the cloth on the chest of drawers, and
let in a little light, so that the sharp edge of the chest of drawers
was visible, running straight up, until a white shape bulged out; and a
silver streak showed in the looking-glass.
In the other bed by the door Jacob lay asleep, fast asleep, profoundly
unconscious. The sheep’s jaw with the big yellow teeth in it lay at his
feet. He had kicked it against the iron bed-rail.
Outside the rain poured down more directly and powerfully as the wind
fell in the early hours of the morning. The aster was beaten to the
earth. The child’s bucket was half-full of rainwater; and the
opal-shelled crab slowly circled round the bottom, trying with its
weakly legs to climb the steep side; trying again and falling back, and
trying again and again.
“MRS. FLANDERS” – “Poor Betty Flanders” – “Dear Betty” – “She’s very
attractive still” – “Odd she don’t marry again!” “There’s Captain Barfoot
to be sure – calls every Wednesday as regular as clockwork, and never
brings his wife.”
“But that’s Ellen Barfoot’s fault,” the ladies of Scarborough said. “She
don’t put herself out for no one.”
“A man likes to have a son – that we know.”
“Some tumours have to be cut; but the sort my mother had you bear with
for years and years, and never even have a cup of tea brought up to you
(Mrs. Barfoot was an invalid.)
Elizabeth Flanders, of whom this and much more than this had been said
and would be said, was, of course, a widow in her prime. She was
half-way between forty and fifty. Years and sorrow between them; the
death of Seabrook, her husband; three boys; poverty; a house on the
outskirts of Scarborough; her brother, poor Morty’s, downfall and
possible demise – for where was he? what was he? Shading her eyes, she
looked along the road for Captain Barfoot – yes, there he was, punctual
as ever; the attentions of the Captain – all ripened Betty Flanders,
enlarged her figure, tinged her face with jollity, and flooded her eyes
for no reason that any one could see perhaps three times a day.
True, there’s no harm in crying for one’s husband, and the tombstone,
though plain, was a solid piece of work, and on summer’s days when the
widow brought her boys to stand there one felt kindly towards her. Hats
were raised higher than usual; wives tugged their husbands’ arms.
Seabrook lay six foot beneath, dead these many years; enclosed in three
shells; the crevices sealed with lead, so that, had earth and wood been
glass, doubtless his very face lay visible beneath, the face of a young
man whiskered, shapely, who had gone out duck-shooting and refused to
change his boots.
“Merchant of this city,” the tombstone said; though why Betty Flanders
had chosen so to call him when, as many still remembered, he had only
sat behind an office window for three months, and before that had broken
horses, ridden to hounds, farmed a few fields, and run a little
wild – well, she had to call him something. An example for the boys.
Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable question, since even if it
weren’t the habit of the undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon
goes out of them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he
had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand white
stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed wreaths, the crosses
of green tin, the narrow yellow paths, and the lilacs that drooped in
April, with a scent like that of an invalid’s bedroom, over the
churchyard wall. Seabrook was now all that; and when, with her skirt
hitched up, feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or
funeral, that was Seabrook’s voice – the voice of the dead.
The rooster had been known to fly on her shoulder and peck her neck, so
that now she carried a stick or took one of the children with her when
she went to feed the fowls.
“Wouldn’t you like my knife, mother?” said Archer.
Sounding at the same moment as the bell, her son’s voice mixed life and
death inextricably, exhilaratingly.
“What a big knife for a small boy!” she said. She took it to please him.
Then the rooster flew out of the hen-house, and, shouting to Archer to
shut the door into the kitchen garden, Mrs. Flanders set her meal down,
clucked for the hens, went bustling about the orchard, and was seen from
over the way by Mrs. Cranch, who, beating her mat against the wall, held
it for a moment suspended while she observed to Mrs. Page next door that
Mrs. Flanders was in the orchard with the chickens.
Mrs. Page, Mrs. Cranch, and Mrs. Garfit could see Mrs. Flanders in the
orchard because the orchard was a piece of Dods Hill enclosed; and Dods
Hill dominated the village. No words can exaggerate the importance of
Dods Hill. It was the earth; the world against the sky; the horizon of
how many glances can best be computed by those who have lived all their
lives in the same village, only leaving it once to fight in the Crimea,
like old George Garfit, leaning over his garden gate smoking his pipe.
The progress of the sun was measured by it; the tint of the day laid
against it to be judged.
“Now she’s going up the hill with little John,” said Mrs. Cranch to Mrs.
Garfit, shaking her mat for the last time, and bustling indoors. Opening
the orchard gate, Mrs. Flanders walked to the top of Dods Hill, holding
John by the hand. Archer and Jacob ran in front or lagged behind; but
they were in the Roman fortress when she came there, and shouting out
what ships were to be seen in the bay. For there was a magnificent view
– moors behind, sea in front, and the whole of Scarborough from one end
to the other laid out flat like a puzzle. Mrs. Flanders, who was growing
stout, sat down in the fortress and looked about her.
The entire gamut of the view’s changes should have been known to her;
its winter aspect, spring, summer and autumn; how storms came up from
the sea; how the moors shuddered and brightened as the clouds went over;
she should have noted the red spot where the villas were building; and
the criss-cross of lines where the allotments were cut; and the diamond
flash of little glass houses in the sun. Or, if details like these
escaped her, she might have let her fancy play upon the gold tint of the
sea at sunset, and thought how it lapped in coins of gold upon the
shingle. Little pleasure boats shoved out into it; the black arm of the
pier hoarded it up. The whole city was pink and gold; domed;
mist-wreathed; resonant; strident. Banjoes strummed; the parade smelt of
tar which stuck to the heels; goats suddenly cantered their carriages
through crowds. It was observed how well the Corporation had laid out
the flower-beds. Sometimes a straw hat was blown away. Tulips burnt in
the sun. Numbers of sponge-bag trousers were stretched in rows. Purple
bonnets fringed soft, pink, querulous faces on pillows in bath chairs.
Triangular hoardings were wheeled along by men in white coats. Captain
George Boase had caught a monster shark. One side of the triangular
hoarding said so in red, blue, and yellow letters; and each line ended
with three differently coloured notes of exclamation.
So that was a reason for going down into the Aquarium, where the sallow
blinds, the stale smell of spirits of salt, the bamboo chairs, the
tables with ash-trays, the revolving fish, the attendant knitting behind
six or seven chocolate boxes (often she was quite alone with the fish
for hours at a time) remained in the mind as part of the monster shark,
he himself being only a flabby yellow receptacle, like an empty
Gladstone bag in a tank. No one had ever been cheered by the Aquarium;
but the faces of those emerging quickly lost their dim, chilled
expression when they perceived that it was only by standing in a queue
that one could be admitted to the pier. Once through the turnstiles,
every one walked for a yard or two very briskly; some flagged at this
stall; others at that.
But it was the band that drew them all to it finally; even the fishermen
on the lower pier taking up their pitch within its range.
The band played in the Moorish kiosk. Number nine went up on the board.
It was a waltz tune. The pale girls, the old widow lady, the three Jews
lodging in the same boarding-house, the dandy, the major, the
horse-dealer, and the gentleman of independent means, all wore the same
blurred, drugged expression, and through the chinks in the planks at
their feet they could see the green summer waves, peacefully, amiably,
swaying round the iron pillars of the pier.
But there was a time when none of this had any existence (thought the
young man leaning against the railings). Fix your eyes upon the lady’s
skirt; the grey one will do – above the pink silk stockings. It changes;
drapes her ankles – the nineties; then it amplifies – the seventies; now
it’s burnished red and stretched above a crinoline – the sixties; a tiny
black foot wearing a white cotton stocking peeps out. Still sitting
there? Yes – she’s still on the pier. The silk now is sprigged with
roses, but somehow one no longer sees so clearly. There’s no pier
beneath us. The heavy chariot may swing along the turnpike road, but
there’s no pier for it to stop at, and how grey and turbulent the sea is
in the seventeenth century! Let’s to the museum. Cannon-balls;
arrow-heads; Roman glass and a forceps green with verdigris. The Rev.
Jaspar Floyd dug them up at his own expense early in the forties in the
Roman camp on Dods Hill – see the little ticket with the faded writing on
And now, what’s the next thing to see in Scarborough?
Mrs. Flanders sat on the raised circle of the Roman camp, patching
Jacob’s breeches; only looking up as she sucked the end of her cotton,
or when some insect dashed at her, boomed in her ear, and was gone.
John kept trotting up and slapping down in her lap grass or dead leaves
which he called “tea,” and she arranged them methodically but
absent-mindedly, laying the flowery heads of the grasses together,
thinking how Archer had been awake again last night; the church clock
was ten or thirteen minutes fast; she wished she could buy Garfit’s
“That’s an orchid leaf, Johnny. Look at the little brown spots. Come, my
dear. We must go home. Ar-cher! Ja-cob!”
“Ar-cher! Ja-cob!” Johnny piped after her, pivoting round on his heel,
and strewing the grass and leaves in his hands as if he were sowing
seed. Archer and Jacob jumped up from behind the mound where they had
been crouching with the intention of springing upon their mother
unexpectedly, and they all began to walk slowly home.
“Who is that?” said Mrs. Flanders, shading her eyes.
“That old man in the road?” said Archer, looking below.
“He’s not an old man,” said Mrs. Flanders. “He’s – no, he’s not – I
thought it was the Captain, but it’s Mr. Floyd. Come along, boys.”
“Oh, bother Mr. Floyd!” said Jacob, switching off a thistle’s head, for
he knew already that Mr. Floyd was going to teach them Latin, as indeed
he did for three years in his spare time, out of kindness, for there was
no other gentleman in the neighbourhood whom Mrs. Flanders could have
asked to do such a thing, and the elder boys were getting beyond her,
and must be got ready for school, and it was more than most clergymen
would have done, coming round after tea, or having them in his own room
– as he could fit it in – for the parish was a very large one, and Mr.
Floyd, like his father before him, visited cottages miles away on the
moors, and, like old Mr. Floyd, was a great scholar, which made it so
unlikely – she had never dreamt of such a thing. Ought she to have
guessed? But let alone being a scholar he was eight years younger than
she was. She knew his mother – old Mrs. Floyd. She had tea there. And it
was that very evening when she came back from having tea with old Mrs.
Floyd that she found the note in the hall and took it into the kitchen
with her when she went to give Rebecca the fish, thinking it must be
something about the boys.
“Mr. Floyd brought it himself, did he? – I think the cheese must be in
the parcel in the hall – oh, in the hall – ” for she was reading. No, it
was not about the boys.
“Yes, enough for fish-cakes to-morrow certainly – Perhaps Captain
Barfoot – ” she had come to the word “love.” She went into the garden and
read, leaning against the walnut tree to steady herself. Up and down
went her breast. Seabrook came so vividly before her. She shook her head
and was looking through her tears at the little shifting leaves against
the yellow sky when three geese, half-running, half-flying, scuttled
across the lawn with Johnny behind them, brandishing a stick.
Mrs. Flanders flushed with anger.
“How many times have I told you?” she cried, and seized him and snatched
his stick away from him.
“But they’d escaped!” he cried, struggling to get free.
“You’re a very naughty boy. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a
thousand times. I won’t have you chasing the geese!” she said, and
crumpling Mr. Floyd’s letter in her hand, she held Johnny fast and
herded the geese back into the orchard.
“How could I think of marriage!” she said to herself bitterly, as she
fastened the gate with a piece of wire. She had always disliked red hair
in men, she thought, thinking of Mr. Floyd’s appearance, that night when
the boys had gone to bed. And pushing her work-box away, she drew the
blotting-paper towards her, and read Mr. Floyd’s letter again, and her
breast went up and down when she came to the word “love,” but not so
fast this time, for she saw Johnny chasing the geese, and knew that it
was impossible for her to marry any one – let alone Mr. Floyd, who was so
much younger than she was, but what a nice man – and such a scholar too.
“Dear Mr. Floyd,” she wrote. – “Did I forget about the cheese?” she
wondered, laying down her pen. No, she had told Rebecca that the cheese
was in the hall. “I am much surprised…” she wrote.
But the letter which Mr. Floyd found on the table when he got up early
next morning did not begin “I am much surprised,” and it was such a
motherly, respectful, inconsequent, regretful letter that he kept it for
many years; long after his marriage with Miss Wimbush, of Andover; long
after he had left the village. For he asked for a parish in Sheffield,
which was given him; and, sending for Archer, Jacob, and John to say
good-bye, he told them to choose whatever they liked in his study to
remember him by. Archer chose a paper-knife, because he did not like to
choose anything too good; Jacob chose the works of Byron in one volume;
John, who was still too young to make a proper choice, chose Mr. Floyd’s
kitten, which his brothers thought an absurd choice, but Mr. Floyd
upheld him when he said: “It has fur like you.” Then Mr. Floyd spoke
about the King’s Navy (to which Archer was going); and about Rugby (to
which Jacob was going); and next day he received a silver salver and
went – first to Sheffield, where he met Miss Wimbush, who was on a visit
to her uncle, then to Hackney – then to Maresfield House, of which he
became the principal, and finally, becoming editor of a well-known
series of Ecclesiastical Biographies, he retired to Hampstead with his
wife and daughter, and is often to be seen feeding the ducks on Leg of
Mutton Pond. As for Mrs. Flanders’s letter – when he looked for it the
other day he could not find it, and did not like to ask his wife whether
she had put it away. Meeting Jacob in Piccadilly lately, he recognized
him after three seconds. But Jacob had grown such a fine young man that
Mr. Floyd did not like to stop him in the street.
“Dear me,” said Mrs. Flanders, when she read in the Scarborough and
Harrogate Courier that the Rev. Andrew Floyd, etc., etc., had been made
Principal of Maresfield House, “that must be our Mr. Floyd.”
A slight gloom fell upon the table. Jacob was helping himself to jam;
the postman was talking to Rebecca in the kitchen; there was a bee
humming at the yellow flower which nodded at the open window. They were
all alive, that is to say, while poor Mr. Floyd was becoming Principal
of Maresfield House.
Mrs. Flanders got up and went over to the fender and stroked Topaz on
the neck behind the ears.
“Poor Topaz,” she said (for Mr. Floyd’s kitten was now a very old cat, a
little mangy behind the ears, and one of these days would have to be
“Poor old Topaz,” said Mrs. Flanders, as he stretched himself out in the
sun, and she smiled, thinking how she had had him gelded, and how she
did not like red hair in men. Smiling, she went into the kitchen.
Jacob drew rather a dirty pocket-handkerchief across his face. He went
upstairs to his room.
The stag-beetle dies slowly (it was John who collected the beetles).
Even on the second day its legs were supple. But the butterflies were
dead. A whiff of rotten eggs had vanquished the pale clouded yellows
which came pelting across the orchard and up Dods Hill and away on to
the moor, now lost behind a furze bush, then off again helter-skelter in
a broiling sun. A fritillary basked on a white stone in the Roman camp.
From the valley came the sound of church bells. They were all eating
roast beef in Scarborough; for it was Sunday when Jacob caught the pale
clouded yellows in the clover field, eight miles from home.
Rebecca had caught the death’s-head moth in the kitchen.
A strong smell of camphor came from the butterfly boxes.
Mixed with the smell of camphor was the unmistakable smell of seaweed.
Tawny ribbons hung on the door. The sun beat straight upon them.
The upper wings of the moth which Jacob held were undoubtedly marked
with kidney-shaped spots of a fulvous hue. But there was no crescent
upon the underwing. The tree had fallen the night he caught it. There
had been a volley of pistol-shots suddenly in the depths of the wood.
And his mother had taken him for a burglar when he came home late. The
only one of her sons who never obeyed her, she said.
Morris called it “an extremely local insect found in damp or marshy
places.” But Morris is sometimes wrong. Sometimes Jacob, choosing a very
fine pen, made a correction in the margin.