England, My England
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Distributed Proofreaders
ENGLAND, MY ENGLAND
D. H. LAWRENCE
ENGLAND, MY ENGLAND
THE BLIND MAN
YOU TOUCHED ME
SAMSON AND DELILAH
THE PRIMROSE PATH
THE HORSE DEALER'S DAUGHTER
FANNY AND ANNIE
_England, My England_
He was working on the edge of the common, beyond the small brook that ran
in the dip at the bottom of the garden, carrying the garden path in
continuation from the plank bridge on to the common. He had cut the rough
turf and bracken, leaving the grey, dryish soil bare. But he was worried
because he could not get the path straight, there was a pleat between his
brows. He had set up his sticks, and taken the sights between the big
pine trees, but for some reason everything seemed wrong. He looked again,
straining his keen blue eyes, that had a touch of the Viking in them,
through the shadowy pine trees as through a doorway, at the green-grassed
garden-path rising from the shadow of alders by the log bridge up to the
sunlit flowers. Tall white and purple columbines, and the butt-end of the
old Hampshire cottage that crouched near the earth amid flowers,
blossoming in the bit of shaggy wildness round about.
There was a sound of children's voices calling and talking: high,
childish, girlish voices, slightly didactic and tinged with domineering:
'If you don't come quick, nurse, I shall run out there to where there are
snakes.' And nobody had the _sangfroid_ to reply: 'Run then, little
fool.' It was always, 'No, darling. Very well, darling. In a moment,
darling. Darling, you _must_ be patient.'
His heart was hard with disillusion: a continual gnawing and resistance.
But he worked on. What was there to do but submit!
The sunlight blazed down upon the earth, there was a vividness of flamy
vegetation, of fierce seclusion amid the savage peace of the commons.
Strange how the savage England lingers in patches: as here, amid these
shaggy gorse commons, and marshy, snake infested places near the foot of
the south downs. The spirit of place lingering on primeval, as when the
Saxons came, so long ago.
Ah, how he had loved it! The green garden path, the tufts of flowers,
purple and white columbines, and great oriental red poppies with their
black chaps and mulleins tall and yellow, this flamy garden which had
been a garden for a thousand years, scooped out in the little hollow
among the snake-infested commons. He had made it flame with flowers, in a
sun cup under its hedges and trees. So old, so old a place! And yet he
had re-created it.
The timbered cottage with its sloping, cloak-like roof was old and
forgotten. It belonged to the old England of hamlets and yeomen. Lost
all alone on the edge of the common, at the end of a wide, grassy,
briar-entangled lane shaded with oak, it had never known the world of
today. Not till Egbert came with his bride. And he had come to fill it
The house was ancient and very uncomfortable. But he did not want to
alter it. Ah, marvellous to sit there in the wide, black, time-old
chimney, at night when the wind roared overhead, and the wood which he
had chopped himself sputtered on the hearth! Himself on one side the
angle, and Winifred on the other.
Ah, how he had wanted her: Winifred! She was young and beautiful and
strong with life, like a flame in sunshine. She moved with a slow grace
of energy like a blossoming, red-flowered bush in motion. She, too,
seemed to come out of the old England, ruddy, strong, with a certain
crude, passionate quiescence and a hawthorn robustness. And he, he was
tall and slim and agile, like an English archer with his long supple legs
and fine movements. Her hair was nut-brown and all in energic curls and
tendrils. Her eyes were nut-brown, too, like a robin's for brightness.
And he was white-skinned with fine, silky hair that had darkened from
fair, and a slightly arched nose of an old country family. They were a
The house was Winifred's. Her father was a man of energy, too. He had
come from the north poor. Now he was moderately rich. He had bought this
fair stretch of inexpensive land, down in Hampshire. Not far from the
tiny church of the almost extinct hamlet stood his own house, a
commodious old farmhouse standing back from the road across a bare
grassed yard. On one side of this quadrangle was the long, long barn or
shed which he had made into a cottage for his youngest daughter
Priscilla. One saw little blue-and-white check curtains at the long
windows, and inside, overhead, the grand old timbers of the high-pitched
shed. This was Prissy's house. Fifty yards away was the pretty little new
cottage which he had built for his daughter Magdalen, with the vegetable
garden stretching away to the oak copse. And then away beyond the lawns
and rose trees of the house-garden went the track across a shaggy, wild
grass space, towards the ridge of tall black pines that grew on a
dyke-bank, through the pines and above the sloping little bog, under the
wide, desolate oak trees, till there was Winifred's cottage crouching
unexpectedly in front, so much alone, and so primitive.
It was Winifred's own house, and the gardens and the bit of common and
the boggy slope were hers: her tiny domain. She had married just at the
time when her father had bought the estate, about ten years before the
war, so she had been able to come to Egbert with this for a marriage
portion. And who was more delighted, he or she, it would be hard to say.
She was only twenty at the time, and he was only twenty-one. He had about
a hundred and fifty pounds a year of his own--and nothing else but his
very considerable personal attractions. He had no profession: he earned
nothing. But he talked of literature and music, he had a passion for
old folk-music, collecting folk-songs and folk-dances, studying the
Morris-dance and the old customs. Of course in time he would make money
in these ways.
Meanwhile youth and health and passion and promise. Winifred's father was
always generous: but still, he was a man from the north with a hard head
and a hard skin too, having received a good many knocks. At home he kept
the hard head out of sight, and played at poetry and romance with his
literary wife and his sturdy, passionate girls. He was a man of courage,
not given to complaining, bearing his burdens by himself. No, he did not
let the world intrude far into his home. He had a delicate, sensitive
wife whose poetry won some fame in the narrow world of letters. He
himself, with his tough old barbarian fighting spirit, had an almost
child-like delight in verse, in sweet poetry, and in the delightful game
of a cultured home. His blood was strong even to coarseness. But that
only made the home more vigorous, more robust and Christmassy. There was
always a touch of Christmas about him, now he was well off. If there was
poetry after dinner, there were also chocolates and nuts, and good little
out-of-the-way things to be munching.
Well then, into this family came Egbert. He was made of quite a different
paste. The girls and the father were strong-limbed, thick-blooded people,
true English, as holly-trees and hawthorn are English. Their culture was
grafted on to them, as one might perhaps graft a common pink rose on to a
thornstem. It flowered oddly enough, but it did not alter their blood.
And Egbert was a born rose. The age-long breeding had left him with a
delightful spontaneous passion. He was not clever, nor even 'literary'.
No, but the intonation of his voice, and the movement of his supple,
handsome body, and the fine texture of his flesh and his hair, the slight
arch of his nose, the quickness of his blue eyes would easily take the
place of poetry. Winifred loved him, loved him, this southerner, as a
higher being. A _higher_ being, mind you. Not a deeper. And as for him,
he loved her in passion with every fibre of him. She was the very warm
stuff of life to him.
Wonderful then, those days at Crockham Cottage, the first days, all alone
save for the woman who came to work in the mornings. Marvellous days,
when she had all his tall, supple, fine-fleshed youth to herself, for
herself, and he had her like a ruddy fire into which he could cast
himself for rejuvenation. Ah, that it might never end, this passion, this
marriage! The flame of their two bodies burnt again into that old
cottage, that was haunted already by so much by-gone, physical desire.
You could not be in the dark room for an hour without the influences
coming over you. The hot blood-desire of by-gone yeomen, there in this
old den where they had lusted and bred for so many generations. The
silent house, dark, with thick, timbered walls and the big black
chimney-place, and the sense of secrecy. Dark, with low, little windows,
sunk into the earth. Dark, like a lair where strong beasts had lurked and
mated, lonely at night and lonely by day, left to themselves and their
own intensity for so many generations. It seemed to cast a spell on the
two young people. They became different. There was a curious secret glow
about them, a certain slumbering flame hard to understand, that enveloped
them both. They too felt that they did not belong to the London world any
more. Crockham had changed their blood: the sense of the snakes that
lived and slept even in their own garden, in the sun, so that he, going
forward with the spade, would see a curious coiled brownish pile on the
black soil, which suddenly would start up, hiss, and dazzle rapidly away,
hissing. One day Winifred heard the strangest scream from the flower-bed
under the low window of the living room: ah, the strangest scream, like
the very soul of the dark past crying aloud. She ran out, and saw a long
brown snake on the flower-bed, and in its flat mouth the one hind leg of
a frog was striving to escape, and screaming its strange, tiny, bellowing
scream. She looked at the snake, and from its sullen flat head it looked
at her, obstinately. She gave a cry, and it released the frog and slid
That was Crockham. The spear of modern invention had not passed through
it, and it lay there secret, primitive, savage as when the Saxons first
came. And Egbert and she were caught there, caught out of the world.
He was not idle, nor was she. There were plenty of things to be done, the
house to be put into final repair after the workmen had gone, cushions
and curtains to sew, the paths to make, the water to fetch and attend to,
and then the slope of the deep-soiled, neglected garden to level, to
terrace with little terraces and paths, and to fill with flowers. He
worked away, in his shirt-sleeves, worked all day intermittently doing
this thing and the other. And she, quiet and rich in herself, seeing him
stooping and labouring away by himself, would come to help him, to be
near him. He of course was an amateur--a born amateur. He worked so hard,
and did so little, and nothing he ever did would hold together for long.
If he terraced the garden, he held up the earth with a couple of long
narrow planks that soon began to bend with the pressure from behind, and
would not need many years to rot through and break and let the soil
slither all down again in a heap towards the stream-bed. But there you
are. He had not been brought up to come to grips with anything, and he
thought it would do. Nay, he did not think there was anything else except
little temporary contrivances possible, he who had such a passion for his
old enduring cottage, and for the old enduring things of the bygone
England. Curious that the sense of permanency in the past had such a hold
over him, whilst in the present he was all amateurish and sketchy.
Winifred could not criticize him. Town-bred, everything seemed to her
splendid, and the very digging and shovelling itself seemed romantic. But
neither Egbert nor she yet realized the difference between work and
Godfrey Marshall, her father, was at first perfectly pleased with the
menage down at Crockham Cottage. He thought Egbert was wonderful, the
many things he accomplished, and he was gratified by the glow of physical
passion between the two young people. To the man who in London still
worked hard to keep steady his modest fortune, the thought of this young
couple digging away and loving one another down at Crockham Cottage,
buried deep among the commons and marshes, near the pale-showing bulk of
the downs, was like a chapter of living romance. And they drew the
sustenance for their fire of passion from him, from the old man. It was
he who fed their flame. He triumphed secretly in the thought. And it was
to her father that Winifred still turned, as the one source of all surety
and life and support. She loved Egbert with passion. But behind her was
the power of her father. It was the power of her father she referred to,
whenever she needed to refer. It never occurred to her to refer to
Egbert, if she were in difficulty or doubt. No, in all the _serious_
matters she depended on her father.
For Egbert had no intention of coming to grips with life. He had no
ambition whatsoever. He came from a decent family, from a pleasant
country home, from delightful surroundings. He should, of course, have
had a profession. He should have studied law or entered business in some
way. But no--that fatal three pounds a week would keep him from starving
as long as he lived, and he did not want to give himself into bondage. It
was not that he was idle. He was always doing something, in his
amateurish way. But he had no desire to give himself to the world, and
still less had he any desire to fight his way in the world. No, no, the
world wasn't worth it. He wanted to ignore it, to go his own way apart,
like a casual pilgrim down the forsaken sidetracks. He loved his wife,
his cottage and garden. He would make his life there, as a sort of
epicurean hermit. He loved the past, the old music and dances and customs
of old England. He would try and live in the spirit of these, not in the
spirit of the world of business.
But often Winifred's father called her to London: for he loved to have
his children round him. So Egbert and she must have a tiny flat in town,
and the young couple must transfer themselves from time to time from the
country to the city. In town Egbert had plenty of friends, of the same
ineffectual sort as himself, tampering with the arts, literature,
painting, sculpture, music. He was not bored.
Three pounds a week, however, would not pay for all this. Winifred's
father paid. He liked paying. He made her only a very small allowance,
but he often gave her ten pounds--or gave Egbert ten pounds. So they both
looked on the old man as the mainstay. Egbert didn't mind being
patronized and paid for. Only when he felt the family was a little _too_
condescending, on account of money, he began to get huffy.
Then of course children came: a lovely little blonde daughter with a head
of thistle-down. Everybody adored the child. It was the first exquisite
blonde thing that had come into the family, a little mite with the white,
slim, beautiful limbs of its father, and as it grew up the dancing,
dainty movement of a wild little daisy-spirit. No wonder the Marshalls
all loved the child: they called her Joyce. They themselves had their own
grace, but it was slow, rather heavy. They had everyone of them strong,
heavy limbs and darkish skins, and they were short in stature. And now
they had for one of their own this light little cowslip child. She was
like a little poem in herself.
But nevertheless, she brought a new difficulty. Winifred must have a
nurse for her. Yes, yes, there must be a nurse. It was the family decree.
Who was to pay for the nurse? The grandfather--seeing the father himself
earned no money. Yes, the grandfather would pay, as he had paid all the
lying-in expenses. There came a slight sense of money-strain. Egbert was
living on his father-in-law.
After the child was born, it was never quite the same between him and
Winifred. The difference was at first hardly perceptible. But it was
there. In the first place Winifred had a new centre of interest. She was
not going to adore her child. But she had what the modern mother so often
has in the place of spontaneous love: a profound sense of duty towards
her child. Winifred appreciated her darling little girl, and felt a deep
sense of duty towards her. Strange, that this sense of duty should go
deeper than the love for her husband. But so it was. And so it often is.
The responsibility of motherhood was the prime responsibility in
Winifred's heart: the responsibility of wifehood came a long way second.
Her child seemed to link her up again in a circuit with her own family.
Her father and mother, herself, and her child, that was the human trinity
for her. Her husband--? Yes, she loved him still. But that was like play.
She had an almost barbaric sense of duty and of family. Till she married,
her first human duty had been towards her father: he was the pillar, the
source of life, the everlasting support. Now another link was added to
the chain of duty: her father, herself, and her child.
Egbert was out of it. Without anything happening, he was gradually,
unconsciously excluded from the circle. His wife still loved him,
physically. But, but--he was _almost_ the unnecessary party in the
affair. He could not complain of Winifred. She still did her duty towards
him. She still had a physical passion for him, that physical passion on
which he had put all his life and soul. But--but--
It was for a long while an ever-recurring _but_. And then, after the
second child, another blonde, winsome touching little thing, not so proud
and flame-like as Joyce--after Annabel came, then Egbert began truly to
realize how it was. His wife still loved him. But--and now the but had
grown enormous--her physical love for him was of secondary importance to
her. It became ever less important. After all, she had had it, this
physical passion, for two years now. It was not this that one lived from.
No, no--something sterner, realer.
She began to resent her own passion for Egbert--just a little she began
to despise it. For after all there he was, he was charming, he was
lovable, he was terribly desirable. But--but--oh, the awful looming cloud
of that _but!_--he did not stand firm in the landscape of her life like a
tower of strength, like a great pillar of significance. No, he was like a
cat one has about the house, which will one day disappear and leave no
trace. He was like a flower in the garden, trembling in the wind of life,
and then gone, leaving nothing to show. As an adjunct, as an accessory,
he was perfect. Many a woman would have adored to have him about her all
her life, the most beautiful and desirable of all her possessions. But
Winifred belonged to another school.
The years went by, and instead of coming more to grips with life, he
relaxed more. He was of a subtle, sensitive, passionate nature. But he
simply _would_ not give himself to what Winifred called life, _Work_. No,
he would not go into the world and work for money. No, he just would not.
If Winifred liked to live beyond their small income--well, it was her
And Winifred did not really want him to go out into the world to work for
money. Money became, alas, a word like a firebrand between them, setting
them both aflame with anger. But that is because we must talk in symbols.
Winifred did not really care about money. She did not care whether he
earned or did not earn anything. Only she knew she was dependent on her
father for three-fourths of the money spent for herself and her children,
that she let that be the _casus belli_, the drawn weapon between herself
What did she want--what did she want? Her mother once said to her, with
that characteristic touch of irony: 'Well, dear, if it is your fate to
consider the lilies, that toil not, neither do they spin, that is one
destiny among many others, and perhaps not so unpleasant as most. Why do
you take it amiss, my child?'
The mother was subtler than her children, they very rarely knew how to
answer her. So Winifred was only more confused. It was not a question of
lilies. At least, if it were a question of lilies, then her children were
the little blossoms. They at least _grew_. Doesn't Jesus say: 'Consider
the lilies _how they grow_.' Good then, she had her growing babies. But
as for that other tall, handsome flower of a father of theirs, he was
full grown already, so she did not want to spend her life considering him
in the flower of his days.
No, it was not that he didn't earn money. It was not that he was idle. He
was _not_ idle. He was always doing something, always working away, down
at Crockham, doing little jobs. But, oh dear, the little jobs--the garden
paths--the gorgeous flowers--the chairs to mend, old chairs to mend!
It was that he stood for nothing. If he had done something
unsuccessfully, and _lost_ what money they had! If he had but striven
with something. Nay, even if he had been wicked, a waster, she would have
been more free. She would have had something to resist, at least. A
waster stands for something, really. He says: 'No, I will not aid and
abet society in this business of increase and hanging together, I will
upset the apple-cart as much as I can, in my small way.' Or else he says:
'No, I will _not_ bother about others. If I have lusts, they are my own,
and I prefer them to other people's virtues.' So, a waster, a scamp,
takes a sort of stand. He exposes himself to opposition and final
castigation: at any rate in story-books.
But Egbert! What are you to do with a man like Egbert? He had no vices.
He was really kind, nay generous. And he was not weak. If he had been
weak Winifred could have been kind to him. But he did not even give her
that consolation. He was not weak, and he did not want her consolation or
her kindness. No, thank you. He was of a fine passionate temper, and of a
rarer steel than she. He knew it, and she knew it. Hence she was only the
more baffled and maddened, poor thing. He, the higher, the finer, in his
way the stronger, played with his garden, and his old folk-songs and
Morris-dances, just played, and let her support the pillars of the future
on her own heart.
And he began to get bitter, and a wicked look began to come on his face.
He did not give in to her; not he. There were seven devils inside his
long, slim, white body. He was healthy, full of restrained life. Yes,
even he himself had to lock up his own vivid life inside himself, now she
would not take it from him. Or rather, now that she only took it
occasionally. For she had to yield at times. She loved him so, she
desired him so, he was so exquisite to her, the fine creature that he
was, finer than herself. Yes, with a groan she had to give in to her own
unquenched passion for him. And he came to her then--ah, terrible, ah,
wonderful, sometimes she wondered how either of them could live after the
terror of the passion that swept between them. It was to her as if pure
lightning, flash after flash, went through every fibre of her, till
But it is the fate of human beings to live on. And it is the fate of
clouds that seem nothing but bits of vapour slowly to pile up, to pile up
and fill the heavens and blacken the sun entirely.
So it was. The love came back, the lightning of passion flashed
tremendously between them. And there was blue sky and gorgeousness for a
little while. And then, as inevitably, as inevitably, slowly the clouds
began to edge up again above the horizon, slowly, slowly to lurk about
the heavens, throwing an occasional cold and hateful shadow: slowly,
slowly to congregate, to fill the empyrean space.
And as the years passed, the lightning cleared the sky more and more
rarely, less and less the blue showed. Gradually the grey lid sank down
upon them, as if it would be permanent.
Why didn't Egbert do something, then? Why didn't he come to grips with
life? Why wasn't he like Winifred's father, a pillar of society, even if
a slender, exquisite column? Why didn't he go into harness of some sort?
Why didn't he take _some_ direction?
Well, you can bring an ass to the water, but you cannot make him drink.
The world was the water and Egbert was the ass. And he wasn't having any.
He couldn't: he just couldn't. Since necessity did not force him to work
for his bread and butter, he would not work for work's sake. You can't
make the columbine flowers nod in January, nor make the cuckoo sing in
England at Christmas. Why? It isn't his season. He doesn't want to. Nay,
he _can't_ want to.
And there it was with Egbert. He couldn't link up with the world's work,
because the basic desire was absent from him. Nay, at the bottom of him
he had an even stronger desire: to hold aloof. To hold aloof. To do
nobody any damage. But to hold aloof. It was not his season.
Perhaps he should not have married and had children. But you can't stop
the waters flowing.
Which held true for Winifred, too. She was not made to endure aloof. Her
family tree was a robust vegetation that had to be stirring and
believing. In one direction or another her life _had_ to go. In her own
home she had known nothing of this diffidence which she found in Egbert,
and which she could not understand, and which threw her into such dismay.
What was she to do, what was she to do, in face of this terrible
It was all so different in her own home. Her father may have had his own
misgivings, but he kept them to himself. Perhaps he had no very profound
belief in this world of ours, this society which we have elaborated with
so much effort, only to find ourselves elaborated to death at last. But
Godfrey Marshall was of tough, rough fibre, not without a vein of
healthy cunning through it all. It was for him a question of winning
through, and leaving the rest to heaven. Without having many illusions
to grace him, he still _did_ believe in heaven. In a dark and
unquestioning way, he had a sort of faith: an acrid faith like the sap of
some not-to-be-exterminated tree. Just a blind acrid faith as sap is
blind and acrid, and yet pushes on in growth and in faith. Perhaps he was
unscrupulous, but only as a striving tree is unscrupulous, pushing its
single way in a jungle of others.
In the end, it is only this robust, sap-like faith which keeps man going.
He may live on for many generations inside the shelter of the social
establishment which he has erected for himself, as pear-trees and currant
bushes would go on bearing fruit for many seasons, inside a walled
garden, even if the race of man were suddenly exterminated. But bit by
bit the wall-fruit-trees would gradually pull down the very walls that
sustained them. Bit by bit every establishment collapses, unless it is
renewed or restored by living hands, all the while.
Egbert could not bring himself to any more of this restoring or renewing
business. He was not aware of the fact: but awareness doesn't help much,
anyhow. He just couldn't. He had the stoic and epicurean quality of his
old, fine breeding. His father-in-law, however, though he was not one bit
more of a fool than Egbert, realized that since we are here we may as
well live. And so he applied himself to his own tiny section of the
social work, and to doing the best for his family, and to leaving the
rest to the ultimate will of heaven. A certain robustness of blood made
him able to go on. But sometimes even from him spurted a sudden gall of
bitterness against the world and its make-up. And yet--he had his own
will-to-succeed, and this carried him through. He refused to ask himself
what the success would amount to. It amounted to the estate down in
Hampshire, and his children lacking for nothing, and himself of some
importance in the world: and _basta!--Basta! Basta!_
Nevertheless do not let us imagine that he was a common pusher. He was
not. He knew as well as Egbert what disillusion meant. Perhaps in his
soul he had the same estimation of success. But he had a certain acrid
courage, and a certain will-to-power. In his own small circle he would
emanate power, the single power of his own blind self. With all his
spoiling of his children, he was still the father of the old English
type. He was too wise to make laws and to domineer in the abstract. But
he had kept, and all honour to him, a certain primitive dominion over the
souls of his children, the old, almost magic prestige of paternity. There
it was, still burning in him, the old smoky torch or paternal godhead.
And in the sacred glare of this torch his children had been brought up.
He had given the girls every liberty, at last. But he had never really
let them go beyond his power. And they, venturing out into the hard white
light of our fatherless world, learned to see with the eyes of the world.
They learned to criticize their father, even, from some effulgence of
worldly white light, to see him as inferior. But this was all very well
in the head. The moment they forgot their tricks of criticism, the old
red glow of his authority came over them again. He was not to be
Let the psycho-analyst talk about father complex. It is just a word
invented. Here was a man who had kept alive the old red flame of
fatherhood, fatherhood that had even the right to sacrifice the child to
God, like Isaac. Fatherhood that had life-and-death authority over the
children: a great natural power. And till his children could be brought
under some other great authority as girls; or could arrive at manhood and
become themselves centres of the same power, continuing the same male
mystery as men; until such time, willy-nilly, Godfrey Marshall would keep
It had seemed as if he might lose Winifred. Winifred had _adored_ her
husband, and looked up to him as to something wonderful. Perhaps she had
expected in him another great authority, a male authority greater, finer
than her father's. For having once known the glow of male power, she
would not easily turn to the cold white light of feminine independence.
She would hunger, hunger all her life for the warmth and shelter of true
And hunger she might, for Egbert's power lay in the abnegation of power.
He was himself the living negative of power. Even of responsibility. For
the negation of power at last means the negation of responsibility. As
far as these things went, he would confine himself to himself. He would
try to confine his own _influence_ even to himself. He would try, as far
as possible, to abstain from influencing his children by assuming any
responsibility for them. 'A little child shall lead them--' His child
should lead, then. He would try not to make it go in any direction
whatever. He would abstain from influencing it. Liberty!--
Poor Winifred was like a fish out of water in this liberty, gasping for
the denser element which should contain her. Till her child came. And
then she knew that she must be responsible for it, that she must have
authority over it.
But here Egbert silently and negatively stepped in. Silently, negatively,
but fatally he neutralized her authority over her children.
There was a third little girl born. And after this Winifred wanted no
more children. Her soul was turning to salt.
So she had charge of the children, they were her responsibility. The
money for them had come from her father. She would do her very best for
them, and have command over their life and death. But no! Egbert would
not take the responsibility. He would not even provide the money. But he
would not let her have her way. Her dark, silent, passionate authority he
would not allow. It was a battle between them, the battle between liberty
and the old blood-power. And of course he won. The little girls loved him
and adored him. 'Daddy! Daddy!' They could do as they liked with him.
Their mother would have ruled them. She would have ruled them
passionately, with indulgence, with the old dark magic of parental
authority, something looming and unquestioned and, after all, divine: if
we believe in divine authority. The Marshalls did, being Catholic.
And Egbert, he turned her old dark, Catholic blood-authority into a sort
of tyranny. He would not leave her her children. He stole them from her,
and yet without assuming responsibility for them. He stole them from her,
in emotion and spirit, and left her only to command their behaviour. A
thankless lot for a mother. And her children adored him, adored him,
little knowing the empty bitterness they were preparing for themselves
when they too grew up to have husbands: husbands such as Egbert, adorable
Joyce, the eldest, was still his favourite. She was now a quicksilver
little thing of six years old. Barbara, the youngest, was a toddler of
two years. They spent most of their time down at Crockham, because he
wanted to be there. And even Winifred loved the place really. But now, in
her frustrated and blinded state, it was full of menace for her children.
The adders, the poison-berries, the brook, the marsh, the water that
might not be pure--one thing and another. From mother and nurse it was a
guerilla gunfire of commands, and blithe, quicksilver disobedience from
the three blonde, never-still little girls. Behind the girls was the
father, against mother and nurse. And so it was.
'If you don't come quick, nurse, I shall run out there to where there are
'Joyce, you _must_ be patient. I'm just changing Annabel.'
There you are. There it was: always the same. Working away on the common
across the brook he heard it. And he worked on, just the same.
Suddenly he heard a shriek, and he flung the spade from him and started
for the bridge, looking up like a startled deer. Ah, there was
Winifred--Joyce had hurt herself. He went on up the garden.
'What is it?'
The child was still screaming--now it was--'Daddy! Daddy! Oh--oh, Daddy!'
And the mother was saying:
'Don't be frightened, darling. Let mother look.'
But the child only cried:
'Oh, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!'
She was terrified by the sight of the blood running from her own knee.
Winifred crouched down, with her child of six in her lap, to examine the
knee. Egbert bent over also.
'Don't make such a noise, Joyce,' he said irritably. 'How did she do it?'
'She fell on that sickle thing which you left lying about after cutting
the grass,' said Winifred, looking into his face with bitter accusation
as he bent near.
He had taken his handkerchief and tied it round the knee. Then he lifted
the still sobbing child in his arms, and carried her into the house and
upstairs to her bed. In his arms she became quiet. But his heart was
burning with pain and with guilt. He had left the sickle there lying on
the edge of the grass, and so his first-born child whom he loved so
dearly had come to hurt. But then it was an accident--it was an accident.
Why should he feel guilty? It would probably be nothing, better in two or
three days. Why take it to heart, why worry? He put it aside.
The child lay on the bed in her little summer frock, her face very white
now after the shock, Nurse had come carrying the youngest child: and
little Annabel stood holding her skirt. Winifred, terribly serious and
wooden-seeming, was bending over the knee, from which she had taken his
blood-soaked handkerchief. Egbert bent forward, too, keeping more
_sangfroid_ in his face than in his heart. Winifred went all of a lump of
seriousness, so he had to keep some reserve. The child moaned and
The knee was still bleeding profusely--it was a deep cut right in the
'You'd better go for the doctor, Egbert,' said Winifred bitterly.
'Oh, no! Oh, no!' cried Joyce in a panic.
'Joyce, my darling, don't cry!' said Winifred, suddenly catching the
little girl to her breast in a strange tragic anguish, the _Mater
Dolorata_. Even the child was frightened into silence. Egbert looked at
the tragic figure of his wife with the child at her breast, and turned
away. Only Annabel started suddenly to cry: 'Joycey, Joycey, don't have
your leg bleeding!'
Egbert rode four miles to the village for the doctor. He could not help
feeling that Winifred was laying it on rather. Surely the knee itself
wasn't hurt! Surely not. It was only a surface cut.
The doctor was out. Egbert left the message and came cycling swiftly
home, his heart pinched with anxiety. He dropped sweating off his bicycle
and went into the house, looking rather small, like a man who is at
fault. Winifred was upstairs sitting by Joyce, who was looking pale and
important in bed, and was eating some tapioca pudding. The pale, small,
scared face of his child went to Egbert's heart.
'Doctor Wing was out. He'll be here about half past two,' said Egbert.
'I don't want him to come,' whimpered Joyce.
'Joyce, dear, you must be patient and quiet,' said Winifred. 'He won't
hurt you. But he will tell us what to do to make your knee better
quickly. That is why he must come.'
Winifred always explained carefully to her little girls: and it always
took the words off their lips for the moment.
'Does it bleed yet?' said Egbert.
Winifred moved the bedclothes carefully aside.
'I think not,' she said.
Egbert stooped also to look.
'No, it doesn't,' she said. Then he stood up with a relieved look on his
face. He turned to the child.
'Eat your pudding, Joyce,' he said. 'It won't be anything. You've only
got to keep still for a few days.'
'You haven't had your dinner, have you, Daddy?'
'Nurse will give it to you,' said Winifred.
'You'll be all right, Joyce,' he said, smiling to the child and pushing
the blonde hair off her brow. She smiled back winsomely into his face.
He went downstairs and ate his meal alone. Nurse served him. She liked
waiting on him. All women liked him and liked to do things for him.
The doctor came--a fat country practitioner, pleasant and kind.
'What, little girl, been tumbling down, have you? There's a thing to be
doing, for a smart little lady like you! What! And cutting your knee!
Tut-tut-tut! That _wasn't_ clever of you, now was it? Never mind, never
mind, soon be better. Let us look at it. Won't hurt you. Not the least in
life. Bring a bowl with a little warm water, nurse. Soon have it all
right again, soon have it all right.'
Joyce smiled at him with a pale smile of faint superiority. This was
_not_ the way in which she was used to being talked to.
He bent down, carefully looking at the little, thin, wounded knee of the
child. Egbert bent over him.
'Oh, dear, oh, dear! Quite a deep little cut. Nasty little cut. Nasty
little cut. But, never mind. Never mind, little lady. We'll soon have it
better. Soon have it better, little lady. What's your name?'
'My name is Joyce,' said the child distinctly.
'Oh, really!' he replied. 'Oh, really! Well, that's a fine name too, in
my opinion. Joyce, eh?--And how old might Miss Joyce be? Can she tell me
'I'm six,' said the child, slightly amused and very condescending.
'Six! There now. Add up and count as far as six, can you? Well, that's a
clever little girl, a clever little girl. And if she has to drink a
spoonful of medicine, she won't make a murmur, I'll be bound. Not like
_some_ little girls. What? Eh?'
'I take it if mother wishes me to,' said Joyce.
'Ah, there now! That's the style! That's what I like to hear from a
little lady in bed because she's cut her knee. That's the style--'
The comfortable and prolix doctor dressed and bandaged the knee and
recommended bed and a light diet for the little lady. He thought
a week or a fortnight would put it right. No bones or ligatures
damaged--fortunately. Only a flesh cut. He would come again in a day or
So Joyce was reassured and stayed in bed and had all her toys up. Her
father often played with her. The doctor came the third day. He was
fairly pleased with the knee. It was healing. It was healing--yes--yes.
Let the child continue in bed. He came again after a day or two. Winifred
was a trifle uneasy. The wound seemed to be healing on the top, but it
hurt the child too much. It didn't look quite right. She said so to
'Egbert, I'm sure Joyce's knee isn't healing properly.'
'I think it is,' he said. 'I think it's all right.'
'I'd rather Doctor Wing came again--I don't feel satisfied.'
'Aren't you trying to imagine it worse than it really is?'
'You would say so, of course. But I shall write a post-card to Doctor
The doctor came next day. He examined the knee. Yes, there was
inflammation. Yes, there _might_ be a little septic poisoning--there
might. There might. Was the child feverish?
So a fortnight passed by, and the child _was_ feverish, and the knee was
more inflamed and grew worse and was painful, painful. She cried in the
night, and her mother had to sit up with her. Egbert still insisted it
was nothing, really--it would pass. But in his heart he was anxious.
Winifred wrote again to her father. On Saturday the elderly man appeared.
And no sooner did Winifred see the thick, rather short figure in its grey
suit than a great yearning came over her.
'Father, I'm not satisfied with Joyce. I'm not satisfied with Doctor
'Well, Winnie, dear, if you're not satisfied we must have further advice,
that is all.'
The sturdy, powerful, elderly man went upstairs, his voice sounding
rather grating through the house, as if it cut upon the tense atmosphere.
'How are you, Joyce, darling?' he said to the child. 'Does your knee hurt
you? Does it hurt you, dear?'
'It does sometimes.' The child was shy of him, cold towards him.
'Well, dear, I'm sorry for that. I hope you try to bear it, and not
trouble mother too much.'
There was no answer. He looked at the knee. It was red and stiff.
'Of course,' he said, 'I think we must have another doctor's opinion. And
if we're going to have it, we had better have it at once. Egbert, do you
think you might cycle in to Bingham for Doctor Wayne? I found him very
satisfactory for Winnie's mother.'
'I can go if you think it necessary,' said Egbert.
'Certainly I think it necessary. Even if there if nothing, we can have
peace of mind. Certainly I think it necessary. I should like Doctor Wayne
to come this evening if possible.'
So Egbert set off on his bicycle through the wind, like a boy sent on an
errand, leaving his father-in-law a pillar of assurance, with Winifred.
Doctor Wayne came, and looked grave. Yes, the knee was certainly taking
the wrong way. The child might be lame for life.
Up went the fire and fear and anger in every heart. Doctor Wayne came
again the next day for a proper examination. And, yes, the knee had
really taken bad ways. It should be X-rayed. It was very important.
Godfrey Marshall walked up and down the lane with the doctor, beside the
standing motor-car: up and down, up and down in one of those
consultations of which he had had so many in his life.
As a result he came indoors to Winifred.
'Well, Winnie, dear, the best thing to do is to take Joyce up to London,
to a nursing home where she can have proper treatment. Of course this
knee has been allowed to go wrong. And apparently there is a risk that
the child may even lose her leg. What do you think, dear? You agree to
our taking her up to town and putting her under the best care?'
'Oh, father, you _know_ I would do anything on earth for her.'
'I know you would, Winnie darling. The pity is that there has been this
unfortunate delay already. I can't think what Doctor Wing was doing.
Apparently the child is in danger of losing her leg. Well then, if you
will have everything ready, we will take her up to town tomorrow. I will
order the large car from Denley's to be here at ten. Egbert, will you
take a telegram at once to Doctor Jackson? It is a small nursing home for
children and for surgical cases, not far from Baker Street. I'm sure
Joyce will be all right there.'
'Oh, father, can't I nurse her myself!'
'Well, darling, if she is to have proper treatment, she had best be in a
home. The X-ray treatment, and the electric treatment, and whatever is
'It will cost a great deal--' said Winifred.
'We can't think of cost, if the child's leg is in danger--or even her
life. No use speaking of cost,' said the elder man impatiently.
And so it was. Poor Joyce, stretched out on a bed in the big closed
motor-car--the mother sitting by her head, the grandfather in his short
grey beard and a bowler hat, sitting by her feet, thick, and implacable
in his responsibility--they rolled slowly away from Crockham, and from
Egbert who stood there bareheaded and a little ignominious, left behind.
He was to shut up the house and bring the rest of the family back to
town, by train, the next day.
Followed a dark and bitter time. The poor child. The poor, poor child,
how she suffered, an agony and a long crucifixion in that nursing home.
It was a bitter six weeks which changed the soul of Winifred for ever. As
she sat by the bed of her poor, tortured little child, tortured with the
agony of the knee, and the still worse agony of these diabolic, but
perhaps necessary modern treatments, she felt her heart killed and going
cold in her breast. Her little Joyce, her frail, brave, wonderful, little
Joyce, frail and small and pale as a white flower! Ah, how had she,
Winifred, dared to be so wicked, so wicked, so careless, so sensual.
'Let my heart die! Let my woman's heart of flesh die! Saviour, let my
heart die. And save my child. Let my heart die from the world and from
the flesh. Oh, destroy my heart that is so wayward. Let my heart of pride
die. Let my heart die.'
So she prayed beside the bed of her child. And like the Mother with the
seven swords in her breast, slowly her heart of pride and passion died in
her breast, bleeding away. Slowly it died, bleeding away, and she turned
to the Church for comfort, to Jesus, to the Mother of God, but most of
all, to that great and enduring institution, the Roman Catholic Church.
She withdrew into the shadow of the Church. She was a mother with three
children. But in her soul she died, her heart of pride and passion and
desire bled to death, her soul belonged to her church, her body belonged
to her duty as a mother.
Her duty as a wife did not enter. As a wife she had no sense of duty:
only a certain bitterness towards the man with whom she had known such
sensuality and distraction. She was purely the _Mater Dolorata_. To the
man she was closed as a tomb.
Egbert came to see his child. But Winifred seemed to be always seated
there, like the tomb of his manhood and his fatherhood. Poor Winifred:
she was still young, still strong and ruddy and beautiful like a ruddy
hard flower of the field. Strange--her ruddy, healthy face, so sombre,
and her strong, heavy, full-blooded body, so still. She, a nun! Never.
And yet the gates of her heart and soul had shut in his face with a slow,
resonant clang, shutting him out for ever. There was no need for her to
go into a convent. Her will had done it.
And between this young mother and this young father lay the crippled
child, like a bit of pale silk floss on the pillow, and a little white
pain-quenched face. He could not bear it. He just could not bear it. He
turned aside. There was nothing to do but to turn aside. He turned aside,
and went hither and thither, desultory. He was still attractive and
desirable. But there was a little frown between his brow as if he had
been cleft there with a hatchet: cleft right in, for ever, and that was
The child's leg was saved: but the knee was locked stiff. The fear now
was lest the lower leg should wither, or cease to grow. There must be
long-continued massage and treatment, daily treatment, even when the
child left the nursing home. And the whole of the expense was borne by
Egbert now had no real home. Winifred with the children and nurse was
tied to the little flat in London. He could not live there: he could not
contain himself. The cottage was shut-up--or lent to friends. He went
down sometimes to work in his garden and keep the place in order. Then
with the empty house around him at night, all the empty rooms, he felt
his heart go wicked. The sense of frustration and futility, like some
slow, torpid snake, slowly bit right through his heart. Futility,
futility: the horrible marsh-poison went through his veins and killed
As he worked in the garden in the silence of day he would listen for a
sound. No sound. No sound of Winifred from the dark inside of the
cottage: no sound of children's voices from the air, from the common,
from the near distance. No sound, nothing but the old dark marsh-venomous
atmosphere of the place. So he worked spasmodically through the day, and
at night made a fire and cooked some food alone.
He was alone. He himself cleaned the cottage and made his bed. But his
mending he did not do. His shirts were slit on the shoulders, when he had
been working, and the white flesh showed through. He would feel the air
and the spots of rain on his exposed flesh. And he would look again
across the common, where the dark, tufted gorse was dying to seed, and
the bits of cat-heather were coming pink in tufts, like a sprinkling of
His heart went back to the savage old spirit of the place: the desire
for old gods, old, lost passions, the passion of the cold-blooded,
darting snakes that hissed and shot away from him, the mystery of
blood-sacrifices, all the lost, intense sensations of the primeval people
of the place, whose passions seethed in the air still, from those long
days before the Romans came. The seethe of a lost, dark passion in the
air. The presence of unseen snakes.
A queer, baffled, half-wicked look came on his face. He could not
stay long at the cottage. Suddenly he must swing on to his bicycle and
go--anywhere. Anywhere, away from the place. He would stay a few days
with his mother in the old home. His mother adored him and grieved as a
mother would. But the little, baffled, half-wicked smile curled on his
face, and he swung away from his mother's solicitude as from everything
Always moving on--from place to place, friend to friend: and always
swinging away from sympathy. As soon as sympathy, like a soft hand, was
reached out to touch him, away he swerved, instinctively, as a harmless
snake swerves and swerves and swerves away from an outstretched hand.
Away he must go. And periodically he went back to Winifred.
He was terrible to her now, like a temptation. She had devoted herself to
her children and her church. Joyce was once more on her feet; but, alas!
lame, with iron supports to her leg, and a little crutch. It was strange
how she had grown into a long, pallid, wild little thing. Strange that
the pain had not made her soft and docile, but had brought out a wild,
almost maenad temper in the child. She was seven, and long and white and
thin, but by no means subdued. Her blonde hair was darkening. She still
had long sufferings to face, and, in her own childish consciousness, the
stigma of her lameness to bear.
And she bore it. An almost maenad courage seemed to possess her, as if
she were a long, thin, young weapon of life. She acknowledged all her
mother's care. She would stand by her mother for ever. But some of her
father's fine-tempered desperation flashed in her.
When Egbert saw his little girl limping horribly--not only limping but
lurching horribly in crippled, childish way, his heart again hardened
with chagrin, like steel that is tempered again. There was a tacit
understanding between him and his little girl: not what we would call
love, but a weapon-like kinship. There was a tiny touch of irony in his
manner towards her, contrasting sharply with Winifred's heavy, unleavened
solicitude and care. The child flickered back to him with an answering
little smile of irony and recklessness: an odd flippancy which made
Winifred only the more sombre and earnest.
The Marshalls took endless thought and trouble for the child, searching
out every means to save her limb and her active freedom. They spared no
effort and no money, they spared no strength of will. With all their
slow, heavy power of will they willed that Joyce should save her liberty
of movement, should win back her wild, free grace. Even if it took a long
time to recover, it should be recovered.
So the situation stood. And Joyce submitted, week after week, month after
month to the tyranny and pain of the treatment. She acknowledged the
honourable effort on her behalf. But her flamy reckless spirit was her
father's. It was he who had all the glamour for her. He and she were like
members of some forbidden secret society who know one another but may not
recognize one another. Knowledge they had in common, the same secret of
life, the father and the child. But the child stayed in the camp of her
mother, honourably, and the father wandered outside like Ishmael, only
coming sometimes to sit in the home for an hour or two, an evening or two
beside the camp fire, like Ishmael, in a curious silence and tension,
with the mocking answer of the desert speaking out of his silence, and
annulling the whole convention of the domestic home.
His presence was almost an anguish to Winifred. She prayed against it.
That little cleft between his brow, that flickering, wicked, little smile
that seemed to haunt his face, and above all, the triumphant loneliness,
the Ishmael quality. And then the erectness of his supple body, like a
symbol. The very way he stood, so quiet, so insidious, like an erect,
supple symbol of life, the living body, confronting her downcast soul,
was torture to her. He was like a supple living idol moving before her
eyes, and she felt if she watched him she was damned.
And he came and made himself at home in her little home. When he was
there, moving in his own quiet way, she felt as if the whole great law of
sacrifice, by which she had elected to live, were annulled. He annulled
by his very presence the laws of her life. And what did he substitute?
Ah, against that question she hardened herself in recoil.
It was awful to her to have to have him about--moving about in his
shirt-sleeves, speaking in his tenor, throaty voice to the children.
Annabel simply adored him, and he teased the little girl. The baby,
Barbara, was not sure of him. She had been born a stranger to him. But
even the nurse, when she saw his white shoulder of flesh through the
slits of his torn shirt, thought it a shame.
Winifred felt it was only another weapon of his against her.
'You have other shirts--why do you wear that old one that is all torn,
Egbert?' she said.
'I may as well wear it out,' he said subtly.
He knew she would not offer to mend it for him. She _could_ not. And no,
she would not. Had she not her own gods to honour? And could she betray
them, submitting to his Baal and Ashtaroth? And it was terrible to her,
his unsheathed presence, that seemed to annul her and her faith, like
another revelation. Like a gleaming idol evoked against her, a vivid
life-idol that might triumph.
He came and he went--and she persisted. And then the great war broke out.
He was a man who could not go to the dogs. He could not dissipate
himself. He was pure-bred in his Englishness, and even when he would have
killed to be vicious, he could not.
So when the war broke out his whole instinct was against it: against war.
He had not the faintest desire to overcome any foreigners or to help in
their death. He had no conception of Imperial England, and Rule Britannia
was just a joke to him. He was a pure-blooded Englishman, perfect in his
race, and when he was truly himself he could no more have been aggressive
on the score of his Englishness than a rose can be aggressive on the
score of its rosiness.
No, he had no desire to defy Germany and to exalt England. The
distinction between German and English was not for him the distinction
between good and bad. It was the distinction between blue water-flowers
and red or white bush-blossoms: just difference. The difference between
the wild boar and the wild bear. And a man was good or bad according to
his nature, not according to his nationality.
Egbert was well-bred, and this was part of his natural understanding. It
was merely unnatural to him to hate a nation _en bloc_. Certain
individuals he disliked, and others he liked, and the mass he knew
nothing about. Certain deeds he disliked, certain deeds seemed natural to
him, and about most deeds he had no particular feeling.
He had, however, the one deepest pure-bred instinct. He recoiled
inevitably from having his feelings dictated to him by the mass feeling.
His feelings were his own, his understanding was his own, and he would
never go back on either, willingly. Shall a man become inferior to his
own true knowledge and self, just because the mob expects it of him?
What Egbert felt subtly and without question, his father-in-law felt also
in a rough, more combative way. Different as the two men were, they were
two real Englishmen, and their instincts were almost the same.
And Godfrey Marshall had the world to reckon with. There was German
military aggression, and the English non-military idea of liberty and the
'conquests of peace'--meaning industrialism. Even if the choice between
militarism and industrialism were a choice of evils, the elderly man
asserted his choice of the latter, perforce. He whose soul was quick with
the instinct of power.
Egbert just refused to reckon with the world. He just refused even to
decide between German militarism and British industrialism. He chose
neither. As for atrocities, he despised the people who committed them as
inferior criminal types. There was nothing national about crime.
And yet, war! War! Just war! Not right or wrong, but just war itself.
Should he join? Should he give himself over to war? The question was in
his mind for some weeks. Not because he thought England was right and
Germany wrong. Probably Germany was wrong, but he refused to make a
choice. Not because he felt inspired. No. But just--war.
The deterrent was, the giving himself over into the power of other men,
and into the power of the mob-spirit of a democratic army. Should he give
himself over? Should he make over his own life and body to the control of
something which he _knew_ was inferior, in spirit, to his own self?
Should he commit himself into the power of an inferior control? Should
he? Should he betray himself?
He was going to put himself into the power of his inferiors, and he knew
it. He was going to subjugate himself. He was going to be ordered about
by petty _canaille_ of non-commissioned officers--and even commissioned
officers. He who was born and bred free. Should he do it?
He went to his wife, to speak to her.
'Shall I join up, Winifred?'
She was silent. Her instinct also was dead against it. And yet a certain
profound resentment made her answer:
'You have three children dependent on you. I don't know whether you have
thought of that.'
It was still only the third month of the war, and the old pre-war ideas
were still alive.
'Of course. But it won't make much difference to them. I shall be earning
a shilling a day, at least.'
'You'd better speak to father, I think,' she replied heavily.
Egbert went to his father-in-law. The elderly man's heart was full of
'I should say,' he said rather sourly, 'it is the best thing you could
Egbert went and joined up immediately, as a private soldier. He was
drafted into the light artillery.
Winifred now had a new duty towards him: the duty of a wife towards a
husband who is himself performing his duty towards the world. She loved
him still. She would always love him, as far as earthly love went. But it
was duty she now lived by. When he came back to her in khaki, a soldier,
she submitted to him as a wife. It was her duty. But to his passion she
could never again fully submit. Something prevented her, for ever: even
her own deepest choice.
He went back again to camp. It did not suit him to be a modern soldier.
In the thick, gritty, hideous khaki his subtle physique was extinguished
as if he had been killed. In the ugly intimacy of the camp his
thoroughbred sensibilities were just degraded. But he had chosen, so he
accepted. An ugly little look came on to his face, of a man who has
accepted his own degradation.
In the early spring Winifred went down to Crockham to be there when
primroses were out, and the tassels hanging on the hazel-bushes. She felt
something like a reconciliation towards Egbert, now he was a prisoner in
camp most of his days. Joyce was wild with delight at seeing the garden
and the common again, after the eight or nine months of London and
misery. She was still lame. She still had the irons up her leg. But she
lurched about with a wild, crippled agility.
Egbert came for a week-end, in his gritty, thick, sand-paper khaki and
puttees and the hideous cap. Nay, he looked terrible. And on his face a
slightly impure look, a little sore on his lip, as if he had eaten too
much or drunk too much or let his blood become a little unclean. He was
almost uglily healthy, with the camp life. It did not suit him.
Winifred waited for him in a little passion of duty and sacrifice,
willing to serve the soldier, if not the man. It only made him feel a
little more ugly inside. The week-end was torment to him: the memory of
the camp, the knowledge of the life he led there; even the sight of his
own legs in that abhorrent khaki. He felt as if the hideous cloth went
into his blood and made it gritty and dirty. Then Winifred so ready to
serve the _soldier_, when she repudiated the man. And this made the grit
worse between his teeth. And the children running around playing and
calling in the rather mincing fashion of children who have nurses and
governesses and literature in the family. And Joyce so lame! It had all
become unreal to him, after the camp. It only set his soul on edge. He
left at dawn on the Monday morning, glad to get back to the realness and
vulgarity of the camp.
Winifred would never meet him again at the cottage--only in London, where
the world was with them. But sometimes he came alone to Crockham perhaps
when friends were staying there. And then he would work awhile in his
garden. This summer still it would flame with blue anchusas and big red
poppies, the mulleins would sway their soft, downy erections in the air:
he loved mulleins: and the honeysuckle would stream out scent like
memory, when the owl was whooing. Then he sat by the fire with the
friends and with Winifred's sisters, and they sang the folk-songs. He put
on thin civilian clothes and his charm and his beauty and the supple
dominancy of his body glowed out again. But Winifred was not there.
At the end of the summer he went to Flanders, into action. He seemed
already to have gone out of life, beyond the pale of life. He hardly
remembered his life any more, being like a man who is going to take a
jump from a height, and is only looking to where he must land.
He was twice slightly wounded, in two months. But not enough to put him
off duty for more than a day or two. They were retiring again, holding
the enemy back. He was in the rear--three machine-guns. The country was
all pleasant, war had not yet trampled it. Only the air seemed shattered,
and the land awaiting death. It was a small, unimportant action in which
he was engaged.
The guns were stationed on a little bushy hillock just outside a village.
But occasionally, it was difficult to say from which direction, came the
sharp crackle of rifle-fire, and beyond, the far-off thud of cannon. The
afternoon was wintry and cold.
A lieutenant stood on a little iron platform at the top of the ladders,
taking the sights and giving the aim, calling in a high, tense,
mechanical voice. Out of the sky came the sharp cry of the directions,
then the warning numbers, then 'Fire!' The shot went, the piston of the
gun sprang back, there was a sharp explosion, and a very faint film of
smoke in the air. Then the other two guns fired, and there was a lull.
The officer was uncertain of the enemy's position. The thick clump of
horse-chestnut trees below was without change. Only in the far distance
the sound of heavy firing continued, so far off as to give a sense of
The gorse bushes on either hand were dark, but a few sparks of flowers
showed yellow. He noticed them almost unconsciously as he waited, in the
lull. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and the air came chill on his arms.
Again his shirt was slit on the shoulders, and the flesh showed through.
He was dirty and unkempt. But his face was quiet. So many things go out
of consciousness before we come to the end of consciousness.
Before him, below, was the highroad, running between high banks of grass
and gorse. He saw the whitish muddy tracks and deep scores in the road,
where the part of the regiment had retired. Now all was still. Sounds
that came, came from the outside. The place where he stood was still
silent, chill, serene: the white church among the trees beyond seemed
like a thought only.
He moved into a lightning-like mechanical response at the sharp cry from
the officer overhead. Mechanism, the pure mechanical action of obedience
at the guns. Pure mechanical action at the guns. It left the soul
unburdened, brooding in dark nakedness. In the end, the soul is alone,
brooding on the face of the uncreated flux, as a bird on a dark sea.
Nothing could be seen but the road, and a crucifix knocked slanting and
the dark, autumnal fields and woods. There appeared three horsemen on a
little eminence, very small, on the crest of a ploughed field. They were
our own men. Of the enemy, nothing.
The lull continued. Then suddenly came sharp orders, and a new direction
of the guns, and an intense, exciting activity. Yet at the centre the
soul remained dark and aloof, alone.
But even so, it was the soul that heard the new sound: the new, deep
'papp!' of a gun that seemed to touch right upon the soul. He kept up the
rapid activity at the machine-gun, sweating. But in his soul was the echo
of the new, deep sound, deeper than life.
And in confirmation came the awful faint whistling of a shell, advancing
almost suddenly into a piercing, tearing shriek that would tear through
the membrane of life. He heard it in his ears, but he heard it also in
his soul, in tension. There was relief when the thing had swung by and
struck, away beyond. He heard the hoarseness of its explosion, and the
voice of the soldier calling to the horses. But he did not turn round to
look. He only noticed a twig of holly with red berries fall like a gift
on to the road below.
Not this time, not this time. Whither thou goest I will go. Did he say it
to the shell, or to whom? Whither thou goest I will go. Then, the faint
whistling of another shell dawned, and his blood became small and still
to receive it. It drew nearer, like some horrible blast of wind; his
blood lost consciousness. But in the second of suspension he saw the
heavy shell swoop to earth, into the rocky bushes on the right, and earth
and stones poured up into the sky. It was as if he heard no sound. The
earth and stones and fragments of bush fell to earth again, and there was
the same unchanging peace. The Germans had got the aim.
Would they move now? Would they retire? Yes. The officer was giving the
last lightning-rapid orders to fire before withdrawing. A shell passed
unnoticed in the rapidity of action. And then, into the silence, into the
suspense where the soul brooded, finally crashed a noise and a darkness
and a moment's flaming agony and horror. Ah, he had seen the dark bird
flying towards him, flying home this time. In one instant life and
eternity went up in a conflagration of agony, then there was a weight of
When faintly something began to struggle in the darkness, a consciousness
of himself, he was aware of a great load and a clanging sound. To have
known the moment of death! And to be forced, before dying, to review it.
So, fate, even in death.
There was a resounding of pain. It seemed to sound from the outside of
his consciousness: like a loud bell clanging very near. Yet he knew it
was himself. He must associate himself with it. After a lapse and a new
effort, he identified a pain in his head, a large pain that clanged and
resounded. So far he could identify himself with himself. Then there was
After a time he seemed to wake up again, and waking, to know that he was
at the front, and that he was killed. He did not open his eyes. Light was
not yet his. The clanging pain in his head rang out the rest of his
consciousness. So he lapsed away from consciousness, in unutterable sick
abandon of life.
Bit by bit, like a doom came the necessity to know. He was hit in the
head. It was only a vague surmise at first. But in the swinging of the
pendulum of pain, swinging ever nearer and nearer, to touch him into an
agony of consciousness and a consciousness of agony, gradually the
knowledge emerged--he must be hit in the head--hit on the left brow; if
so, there would be blood--was there blood?--could he feel blood in his
left eye? Then the clanging seemed to burst the membrane of his brain,
Was there blood on his face? Was hot blood flowing? Or was it dry blood
congealing down his cheek? It took him hours even to ask the question:
time being no more than an agony in darkness, without measurement.
A long time after he had opened his eyes he realized he was seeing
something--something, something, but the effort to recall what was too
great. No, no; no recall!
Were they the stars in the dark sky? Was it possible it was stars in the
dark sky? Stars? The world? Ah, no, he could not know it! Stars and the
world were gone for him, he closed his eyes. No stars, no sky, no world.
No, No! The thick darkness of blood alone. It should be one great lapse
into the thick darkness of blood in agony.
Death, oh, death! The world all blood, and the blood all writhing with
death. The soul like the tiniest little light out on a dark sea, the sea
of blood. And the light guttering, beating, pulsing in a windless storm,
wishing it could go out, yet unable.
There had been life. There had been Winifred and his children. But the
frail death-agony effort to catch at straws of memory, straws of life
from the past, brought on too great a nausea. No, No! No Winifred, no
children. No world, no people. Better the agony of dissolution ahead than
the nausea of the effort backwards. Better the terrible work should go
forward, the dissolving into the black sea of death, in the extremity of
dissolution, than that there should be any reaching back towards life. To
forget! To forget! Utterly, utterly to forget, in the great forgetting of
death. To break the core and the unit of life, and to lapse out on the
great darkness. Only that. To break the clue, and mingle and commingle
with the one darkness, without afterwards or forwards. Let the black sea
of death itself solve the problem of futurity. Let the will of man break
and give up.
What was that? A light! A terrible light! Was it figures? Was it legs of
a horse colossal--colossal above him: huge, huge?
The Germans heard a slight noise, and started. Then, in the glare of a
light-bomb, by the side of the heap of earth thrown up by the shell, they
saw the dead face.
There is in the Midlands a single-line tramway system which boldly
leaves the county town and plunges off into the black, industrial
countryside, up hill and down dale, through the long ugly villages of
workmen's houses, over canals and railways, past churches perched high
and nobly over the smoke and shadows, through stark, grimy cold little
market-places, tilting away in a rush past cinemas and shops down to the
hollow where the collieries are, then up again, past a little rural
church, under the ash trees, on in a rush to the terminus, the last
little ugly place of industry, the cold little town that shivers on the
edge of the wild, gloomy country beyond. There the green and creamy
coloured tram-car seems to pause and purr with curious satisfaction. But
in a few minutes--the clock on the turret of the Co-operative Wholesale
Society's Shops gives the time--away it starts once more on the
adventure. Again there are the reckless swoops downhill, bouncing the
loops: again the chilly wait in the hill-top market-place: again the
breathless slithering round the precipitous drop under the church: again
the patient halts at the loops, waiting for the outcoming car: so on and
on, for two long hours, till at last the city looms beyond the fat
gas-works, the narrow factories draw near, we are in the sordid streets
of the great town, once more we sidle to a standstill at our terminus,
abashed by the great crimson and cream-coloured city cars, but still
perky, jaunty, somewhat dare-devil, green as a jaunty sprig of parsley
out of a black colliery garden.
To ride on these cars is always an adventure. Since we are in war-time,
the drivers are men unfit for active service: cripples and hunchbacks.
So they have the spirit of the devil in them. The ride becomes a
steeple-chase. Hurray! we have leapt in a clear jump over the canal
bridges--now for the four-lane corner. With a shriek and a trail of
sparks we are clear again. To be sure, a tram often leaps the rails--but
what matter! It sits in a ditch till other trams come to haul it out. It
is quite common for a car, packed with one solid mass of living people,
to come to a dead halt in the midst of unbroken blackness, the heart of
nowhere on a dark night, and for the driver and the girl conductor to
call, 'All get off--car's on fire!' Instead, however, of rushing out in a
panic, the passengers stolidly reply: 'Get on--get on! We're not coming
out. We're stopping where we are. Push on, George.' So till flames
The reason for this reluctance to dismount is that the nights are
howlingly cold, black, and windswept, and a car is a haven of refuge.
From village to village the miners travel, for a change of cinema, of
girl, of pub. The trams are desperately packed. Who is going to risk
himself in the black gulf outside, to wait perhaps an hour for another
tram, then to see the forlorn notice 'Depot Only', because there is
something wrong! Or to greet a unit of three bright cars all so tight
with people that they sail past with a howl of derision. Trams that pass
in the night.
This, the most dangerous tram-service in England, as the authorities
themselves declare, with pride, is entirely conducted by girls, and
driven by rash young men, a little crippled, or by delicate young men,
who creep forward in terror. The girls are fearless young hussies. In
their ugly blue uniform, skirts up to their knees, shapeless old
peaked caps on their heads, they have all the _sang-froid_ of an old
non-commissioned officer. With a tram packed with howling colliers,
roaring hymns downstairs and a sort of antiphony of obscenities upstairs,
the lasses are perfectly at their ease. They pounce on the youths who try
to evade their ticket-machine. They push off the men at the end of their
distance. They are not going to be done in the eye--not they. They fear
nobody--and everybody fears them.
'Oh, mind my corn, Miss Stone. It's my belief you've got a heart of
stone, for you've trod on it again.'
'You should keep it in your pocket,' replies Miss Stone, and she goes
sturdily upstairs in her high boots.
She is peremptory, suspicious, and ready to hit first. She can hold her
own against ten thousand. The step of that tram-car is her Thermopylae.
Therefore, there is a certain wild romance aboard these cars--and in the
sturdy bosom of Annie herself. The time for soft romance is in the
morning, between ten o'clock and one, when things are rather slack: that
is, except market-day and Saturday. Thus Annie has time to look about
her. Then she often hops off her car and into a shop where she has spied
something, while the driver chats in the main road. There is very good
feeling between the girls and the drivers. Are they not companions in
peril, shipments aboard this careering vessel of a tram-car, for ever
rocking on the waves of a stormy land?
Then, also, during the easy hours, the inspectors are most in evidence.
For some reason, everybody employed in this tram-service is young: there
are no grey heads. It would not do. Therefore the inspectors are of the
right age, and one, the chief, is also good-looking. See him stand on a
wet, gloomy morning, in his long oil-skin, his peaked cap well down over
his eyes, waiting to board a car. His face is ruddy, his small brown
moustache is weathered, he has a faint impudent smile. Fairly tall and
agile, even in his waterproof, he springs aboard a car and greets Annie.
'Hello, Annie! Keeping the wet out?'
There are only two people in the car. Inspecting is soon over. Then for a
long and impudent chat on the foot-board, a good, easy, twelve-mile chat.
The inspector's name is John Thomas Raynor--always called John Thomas,
except sometimes, in malice, Coddy. His face sets in fury when he is
addressed, from a distance, with this abbreviation. There is considerable
scandal about John Thomas in half a dozen villages. He flirts with the
girl conductors in the morning, and walks out with them in the dark
night, when they leave their tram-car at the depot. Of course, the girls
quit the service frequently. Then he flirts and walks out with the
newcomer: always providing she is sufficiently attractive, and that she
will consent to walk. It is remarkable, however, that most of the girls
are quite comely, they are all young, and this roving life aboard the car
gives them a sailor's dash and recklessness. What matter how they behave
when the ship is in port. Tomorrow they will be aboard again.
Annie, however, was something of a Tartar, and her sharp tongue had kept
John Thomas at arm's length for many months. Perhaps, therefore, she
liked him all the more: for he always came up smiling, with impudence.
She watched him vanquish one girl, then another. She could tell by the
movement of his mouth and eyes, when he flirted with her in the morning,
that he had been walking out with this lass, or the other, the night
before. A fine cock-of-the-walk he was. She could sum him up pretty well.
In this subtle antagonism they knew each other like old friends, they
were as shrewd with one another almost as man and wife. But Annie had
always kept him sufficiently at arm's length. Besides, she had a boy of
The Statutes fair, however, came in November, at Bestwood. It happened
that Annie had the Monday night off. It was a drizzling ugly night, yet
she dressed herself up and went to the fair ground. She was alone, but
she expected soon to find a pal of some sort.
The roundabouts were veering round and grinding out their music, the side
shows were making as much commotion as possible. In the coco-nut shies
there were no coco-nuts, but artificial war-time substitutes, which the
lads declared were fastened into the irons. There was a sad decline in
brilliance and luxury. None the less, the ground was muddy as ever, there
was the same crush, the press of faces lighted up by the flares and the
electric lights, the same smell of naphtha and a few fried potatoes, and
Who should be the first to greet Miss Annie on the showground but John
Thomas? He had a black overcoat buttoned up to his chin, and a tweed cap
pulled down over his brows, his face between was ruddy and smiling and
handy as ever. She knew so well the way his mouth moved.
She was very glad to have a 'boy'. To be at the Statutes without a fellow
was no fun. Instantly, like the gallant he was, he took her on the
dragons, grim-toothed, round-about switchbacks. It was not nearly so
exciting as a tram-car actually. But, then, to be seated in a shaking,
green dragon, uplifted above the sea of bubble faces, careering in a
rickety fashion in the lower heavens, whilst John Thomas leaned over her,
his cigarette in his mouth, was after all the right style. She was a
plump, quick, alive little creature. So she was quite excited and happy.
John Thomas made her stay on for the next round. And therefore she could
hardly for shame repulse him when he put his arm round her and drew her a
little nearer to him, in a very warm and cuddly manner. Besides, he was
fairly discreet, he kept his movement as hidden as possible. She looked
down, and saw that his red, clean hand was out of sight of the crowd. And
they knew each other so well. So they warmed up to the fair.
After the dragons they went on the horses. John Thomas paid each time, so
she could but be complaisant. He, of course, sat astride on the outer
horse--named 'Black Bess'--and she sat sideways, towards him, on the
inner horse--named 'Wildfire'. But of course John Thomas was not going to
sit discreetly on 'Black Bess', holding the brass bar. Round they spun
and heaved, in the light. And round he swung on his wooden steed,
flinging one leg across her mount, and perilously tipping up and down,
across the space, half lying back, laughing at her. He was perfectly
happy; she was afraid her hat was on one side, but she was excited.
He threw quoits on a table, and won for her two large, pale-blue
hat-pins. And then, hearing the noise of the cinemas, announcing another
performance, they climbed the boards and went in.
Of course, during these performances pitch darkness falls from time to
time, when the machine goes wrong. Then there is a wild whooping, and a
loud smacking of simulated kisses. In these moments John Thomas drew
Annie towards him. After all, he had a wonderfully warm, cosy way of
holding a girl with his arm, he seemed to make such a nice fit. And,
after all, it was pleasant to be so held: so very comforting and cosy and
nice. He leaned over her and she felt his breath on her hair; she knew he
wanted to kiss her on the lips. And, after all, he was so warm and she
fitted in to him so softly. After all, she wanted him to touch her lips.
But the light sprang up; she also started electrically, and put her hat
straight. He left his arm lying nonchalantly behind her. Well, it was
fun, it was exciting to be at the Statutes with John Thomas.
When the cinema was over they went for a walk across the dark, damp
fields. He had all the arts of love-making. He was especially good at
holding a girl, when he sat with her on a stile in the black, drizzling
darkness. He seemed to be holding her in space, against his own warmth
and gratification. And his kisses were soft and slow and searching.
So Annie walked out with John Thomas, though she kept her own boy
dangling in the distance. Some of the tram-girls chose to be huffy. But
there, you must take things as you find them, in this life.
There was no mistake about it, Annie liked John Thomas a good deal. She
felt so rich and warm in herself whenever he was near. And John Thomas
really liked Annie, more than usual. The soft, melting way in which she
could flow into a fellow, as if she melted into his very bones, was
something rare and good. He fully appreciated this.
But with a developing acquaintance there began a developing intimacy.
Annie wanted to consider him a person, a man; she wanted to take an
intelligent interest in him, and to have an intelligent response. She did
not want a mere nocturnal presence, which was what he was so far. And she
prided herself that he could not leave her.
Here she made a mistake. John Thomas intended to remain a nocturnal
presence; he had no idea of becoming an all-round individual to her. When
she started to take an intelligent interest in him and his life and his
character, he sheered off. He hated intelligent interest. And he knew
that the only way to stop it was to avoid it. The possessive female was
aroused in Annie. So he left her.
It is no use saying she was not surprised. She was at first startled,
thrown out of her count. For she had been so _very_ sure of holding him.
For a while she was staggered, and everything became uncertain to her.
Then she wept with fury, indignation, desolation, and misery. Then she
had a spasm of despair. And then, when he came, still impudently, on to
her car, still familiar, but letting her see by the movement of his head
that he had gone away to somebody else for the time being, and was
enjoying pastures new, then she determined to have her own back.
She had a very shrewd idea what girls John Thomas had taken out. She went
to Nora Purdy. Nora was a tall, rather pale, but well-built girl, with
beautiful yellow hair. She was rather secretive.
'Hey!' said Annie, accosting her; then softly, 'Who's John Thomas on with
'I don't know,' said Nora.
'Why tha does,' said Annie, ironically lapsing into dialect. 'Tha knows
as well as I do.'
'Well, I do, then,' said Nora. 'It isn't me, so don't bother.'
'It's Cissy Meakin, isn't it?'
'It is, for all I know.'
'Hasn't he got a face on him!' said Annie. 'I don't half like his cheek.
I could knock him off the foot-board when he comes round at me.'
'He'll get dropped-on one of these days,' said Nora.
'Ay, he will, when somebody makes up their mind to drop it on him. I
should like to see him taken down a peg or two, shouldn't you?'
'I shouldn't mind,' said Nora.
'You've got quite as much cause to as I have,' said Annie. 'But we'll
drop on him one of these days, my girl. What? Don't you want to?'
'I don't mind,' said Nora.
But as a matter of fact, Nora was much more vindictive than Annie.
One by one Annie went the round of the old flames. It so happened that
Cissy Meakin left the tramway service in quite a short time. Her mother
made her leave. Then John Thomas was on the _qui-vive_. He cast his eyes
over his old flock. And his eyes lighted on Annie. He thought she would
be safe now. Besides, he liked her.
She arranged to walk home with him on Sunday night. It so happened that
her car would be in the depot at half past nine: the last car would come
in at 10.15. So John Thomas was to wait for her there.
At the depot the girls had a little waiting-room of their own. It was
quite rough, but cosy, with a fire and an oven and a mirror, and table
and wooden chairs. The half dozen girls who knew John Thomas only too
well had arranged to take service this Sunday afternoon. So, as the cars
began to come in, early, the girls dropped into the waiting-room. And
instead of hurrying off home, they sat around the fire and had a cup of
tea. Outside was the darkness and lawlessness of wartime.
John Thomas came on the car after Annie, at about a quarter to ten. He
poked his head easily into the girls' waiting-room.
'Prayer-meeting?' he asked.
'Ay,' said Laura Sharp. 'Ladies only.'
'That's me!' said John Thomas. It was one of his favourite exclamations.
'Shut the door, boy,' said Muriel Baggaley.
'On which side of me?' said John Thomas.
'Which tha likes,' said Polly Birkin.
He had come in and closed the door behind him. The girls moved in their
circle, to make a place for him near the fire. He took off his great-coat
and pushed back his hat.
'Who handles the teapot?' he said.
Nora Purdy silently poured him out a cup of tea.
'Want a bit o' my bread and drippin'?' said Muriel Baggaley to him.
'Ay, give us a bit.'
And he began to eat his piece of bread.
'There's no place like home, girls,' he said.
They all looked at him as he uttered this piece of impudence. He seemed
to be sunning himself in the presence of so many damsels.
'Especially if you're not afraid to go home in the dark,' said Laura
'Me! By myself I am.'
They sat till they heard the last tram come in. In a few minutes Emma
'Come on, my old duck!' cried Polly Birkin.
'It _is_ perishing,' said Emma, holding her fingers to the fire.
'But--I'm afraid to, go home in, the dark,' sang Laura Sharp, the tune
having got into her mind.
'Who're you going with tonight, John Thomas?' asked Muriel Baggaley,
'Tonight?' said John Thomas. 'Oh, I'm going home by myself tonight--all
on my lonely-O.'
'That's me!' said Nora Purdy, using his own ejaculation.
The girls laughed shrilly.
'Me as well, Nora,' said John Thomas.
'Don't know what you mean,' said Laura.
'Yes, I'm toddling,' said he, rising and reaching for his overcoat.
'Nay,' said Polly. 'We're all here waiting for you.'
'We've got to be up in good time in the morning,' he said, in the
benevolent official manner.
They all laughed.
'Nay,' said Muriel. 'Don't leave us all lonely, John Thomas. Take one!'
'I'll take the lot, if you like,' he responded gallantly.
'That you won't either,' said Muriel, 'Two's company; seven's too much of
a good thing.'
'Nay--take one,' said Laura. 'Fair and square, all above board, and say
'Ay,' cried Annie, speaking for the first time. 'Pick, John Thomas; let's
'Nay,' he said. 'I'm going home quiet tonight. Feeling good, for once.'
'Whereabouts?' said Annie. 'Take a good 'un, then. But tha's got to take
one of us!'
'Nay, how can I take one,' he said, laughing uneasily. 'I don't want to
'You'd only make _one_' said Annie.
'The chosen _one_,' added Laura.
'Oh, my! Who said girls!' exclaimed John Thomas, again turning, as if to
'Nay, you've got to make your pick,' said Muriel. 'Turn your face to the
wall, and say which one touches you. Go on--we shall only just touch your
back--one of us. Go on--turn your face to the wall, and don't look, and
say which one touches you.'
He was uneasy, mistrusting them. Yet he had not the courage to break
away. They pushed him to a wall and stood him there with his face to it.
Behind his back they all grimaced, tittering. He looked so comical. He
looked around uneasily.
'Go on!' he cried.
'You're looking--you're looking!' they shouted.
He turned his head away. And suddenly, with a movement like a swift cat,
Annie went forward and fetched him a box on the side of the head that
sent his cap flying and himself staggering. He started round.
But at Annie's signal they all flew at him, slapping him, pinching him,
pulling his hair, though more in fun than in spite or anger. He, however,
saw red. His blue eyes flamed with strange fear as well as fury, and he
butted through the girls to the door. It was locked. He wrenched at it.
Roused, alert, the girls stood round and looked at him. He faced them, at
bay. At that moment they were rather horrifying to him, as they stood in
their short uniforms. He was distinctly afraid.
'Come on, John Thomas! Come on! Choose!' said Annie.
'What are you after? Open the door,' he said.
'We shan't--not till you've chosen!' said Muriel.
'Chosen what?' he said.
'Chosen the one you're going to marry,' she replied.
He hesitated a moment.
'Open the blasted door,' he said, 'and get back to your senses.' He spoke
with official authority.
'You've got to choose!' cried the girls.
'Come on!' cried Annie, looking him in the eye.' Come on! Come on!'
He went forward, rather vaguely. She had taken off her belt, and swinging
it, she fetched him a sharp blow over the head with the buckle end. He
sprang and seized her. But immediately the other girls rushed upon him,
pulling and tearing and beating him. Their blood was now thoroughly up.
He was their sport now. They were going to have their own back, out of
him. Strange, wild creatures, they hung on him and rushed at him to bear
him down. His tunic was torn right up the back, Nora had hold at the back
of his collar, and was actually strangling him. Luckily the button burst.
He struggled in a wild frenzy of fury and terror, almost mad terror. His
tunic was simply torn off his back, his shirt-sleeves were torn away, his
arms were naked. The girls rushed at him, clenched their hands on him and
pulled at him: or they rushed at him and pushed him, butted him with all
their might: or they struck him wild blows. He ducked and cringed and
struck sideways. They became more intense.
At last he was down. They rushed on him, kneeling on him. He had neither
breath nor strength to move. His face was bleeding with a long scratch,
his brow was bruised.
Annie knelt on him, the other girls knelt and hung on to him. Their faces
were flushed, their hair wild, their eyes were all glittering strangely.
He lay at last quite still, with face averted, as an animal lies when it
is defeated and at the mercy of the captor. Sometimes his eye glanced
back at the wild faces of the girls. His breast rose heavily, his wrists
'Now, then, my fellow!' gasped Annie at length. 'Now then--now--'
At the sound of her terrifying, cold triumph, he suddenly started to
struggle as an animal might, but the girls threw themselves upon him with
unnatural strength and power, forcing him down.
'Yes--now, then!' gasped Annie at length.
And there was a dead silence, in which the thud of heart-beating was to
be heard. It was a suspense of pure silence in every soul.
'Now you know where you are,' said Annie.
The sight of his white, bare arm maddened the girls. He lay in a kind of
trance of fear and antagonism. They felt themselves filled with
Suddenly Polly started to laugh--to giggle wildly--helplessly--and Emma
and Muriel joined in. But Annie and Nora and Laura remained the same,
tense, watchful, with gleaming eyes. He winced away from these eyes.
'Yes,' said Annie, in a curious low tone, secret and deadly. 'Yes! You've
got it now! You know what you've done, don't you? You know what you've
He made no sound nor sign, but lay with bright, averted eyes, and
averted, bleeding face.
'You ought to be _killed_, that's what you ought,' said Annie, tensely.
'You ought to be _killed_.' And there was a terrifying lust in her voice.
Polly was ceasing to laugh, and giving long-drawn Oh-h-hs and sighs as
she came to herself.
'He's got to choose,' she said vaguely.
'Oh, yes, he has,' said Laura, with vindictive decision.
'Do you hear--do you hear?' said Annie. And with a sharp movement, that
made him wince, she turned his face to her.
'Do you hear?' she repeated, shaking him.
But he was quite dumb. She fetched him a sharp slap on the face. He
started, and his eyes widened. Then his face darkened with defiance,
'Do you hear?' she repeated.
He only looked at her with hostile eyes.
'Speak!' she said, putting her face devilishly near his.
'What?' he said, almost overcome.
'You've got to _choose_!' she cried, as if it were some terrible menace,
and as if it hurt her that she could not exact more.
'What?' he said, in fear.
'Choose your girl, Coddy. You've got to choose her now. And you'll get
your neck broken if you play any more of your tricks, my boy. You're
There was a pause. Again he averted his face. He was cunning in his
overthrow. He did not give in to them really--no, not if they tore him to
'All right, then,' he said, 'I choose Annie.' His voice was strange and
full of malice. Annie let go of him as if he had been a hot coal.
'He's chosen Annie!' said the girls in chorus.
'Me!' cried Annie. She was still kneeling, but away from him. He was
still lying prostrate, with averted face. The girls grouped uneasily
'Me!' repeated Annie, with a terrible bitter accent.
Then she got up, drawing away from him with strange disgust and
'I wouldn't touch him,' she said.
But her face quivered with a kind of agony, she seemed as if she would
fall. The other girls turned aside. He remained lying on the floor, with
his torn clothes and bleeding, averted face.
'Oh, if he's chosen--' said Polly.
'I don't want him--he can choose again,' said Annie, with the same rather
'Get up,' said Polly, lifting his shoulder. 'Get up.'
He rose slowly, a strange, ragged, dazed creature. The girls eyed him
from a distance, curiously, furtively, dangerously.
'Who wants him?' cried Laura, roughly.
'Nobody,' they answered, with contempt. Yet each one of them waited for
him to look at her, hoped he would look at her. All except Annie, and
something was broken in her.
He, however, kept his face closed and averted from them all. There was a
silence of the end. He picked up the torn pieces of his tunic, without
knowing what to do with them. The girls stood about uneasily, flushed,
panting, tidying their hair and their dress unconsciously, and watching
him. He looked at none of them. He espied his cap in a corner, and went
and picked it up. He put it on his head, and one of the girls burst into
a shrill, hysteric laugh at the sight he presented. He, however, took no
heed, but went straight to where his overcoat hung on a peg. The girls
moved away from contact with him as if he had been an electric wire. He
put on his coat and buttoned it down. Then he rolled his tunic-rags into
a bundle, and stood before the locked door, dumbly.
'Open the door, somebody,' said Laura.
'Annie's got the key,' said one.
Annie silently offered the key to the girls. Nora unlocked the door.
'Tit for tat, old man,' she said. 'Show yourself a man, and don't bear a
But without a word or sign he had opened the door and gone, his face
closed, his head dropped.
'That'll learn him,' said Laura.
'Coddy!' said Nora.
'Shut up, for God's sake!' cried Annie fiercely, as if in torture.
'Well, I'm about ready to go, Polly. Look sharp!' said Muriel.
The girls were all anxious to be off. They were tidying themselves
hurriedly, with mute, stupefied faces.
_The Blind Man_
Isabel Pervin was listening for two sounds--for the sound of wheels on
the drive outside and for the noise of her husband's footsteps in the
hall. Her dearest and oldest friend, a man who seemed almost
indispensable to her living, would drive up in the rainy dusk of the
closing November day. The trap had gone to fetch him from the station.
And her husband, who had been blinded in Flanders, and who had a
disfiguring mark on his brow, would be coming in from the outhouses.
He had been home for a year now. He was totally blind. Yet they had been
very happy. The Grange was Maurice's own place. The back was a farmstead,
and the Wernhams, who occupied the rear premises, acted as farmers.
Isabel lived with her husband in the handsome rooms in front. She and he
had been almost entirely alone together since he was wounded. They talked
and sang and read together in a wonderful and unspeakable intimacy. Then
she reviewed books for a Scottish newspaper, carrying on her old
interest, and he occupied himself a good deal with the farm. Sightless,
he could still discuss everything with Wernham, and he could also do a
good deal of work about the place--menial work, it is true, but it gave
him satisfaction. He milked the cows, carried in the pails, turned the
separator, attended to the pigs and horses. Life was still very full and
strangely serene for the blind man, peaceful with the almost
incomprehensible peace of immediate contact in darkness. With his wife he
had a whole world, rich and real and invisible.
They were newly and remotely happy. He did not even regret the loss of
his sight in these times of dark, palpable joy. A certain exultance
swelled his soul.
But as time wore on, sometimes the rich glamour would leave them.
Sometimes, after months of this intensity, a sense of burden overcame
Isabel, a weariness, a terrible _ennui_, in that silent house approached
between a colonnade of tall-shafted pines. Then she felt she would go
mad, for she could not bear it. And sometimes he had devastating fits of
depression, which seemed to lay waste his whole being. It was worse than
depression--a black misery, when his own life was a torture to him, and
when his presence was unbearable to his wife. The dread went down to the
roots of her soul as these black days recurred. In a kind of panic she
tried to wrap herself up still further in her husband. She forced the old
spontaneous cheerfulness and joy to continue. But the effort it cost her
was almost too much. She knew she could not keep it up. She felt she
would scream with the strain, and would give anything, anything, to
escape. She longed to possess her husband utterly; it gave her inordinate
joy to have him entirely to herself. And yet, when again he was gone in a
black and massive misery, she could not bear him, she could not bear
herself; she wished she could be snatched away off the earth altogether,
anything rather than live at this cost.
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