Pointed Roofs (Pilgrimage 1)
Part 1 out of 4
NOTE ON THE TEXT
The text of this edition follows the Knopf edition of 1919. The word
"Damn" in section 7 of chapter 10 is in small caps in the original.
Miriam left the gaslit hall and went slowly upstairs. The March
twilight lay upon the landings, but the staircase was almost dark. The
top landing was quite dark and silent. There was no one about. It
would be quiet in her room. She could sit by the fire and be quiet and
think things over until Eve and Harriett came back with the parcels.
She would have time to think about the journey and decide what she was
going to say to the Fraulein.
Her new Saratoga trunk stood solid and gleaming in the firelight.
To-morrow it would be taken away and she would be gone. The room would
be altogether Harriett's. It would never have its old look again. She
evaded the thought and moved clumsily to the nearest window. The
outline of the round bed and the shapes of the may-trees on either side
of the bend of the drive were just visible. There was no escape for her
thoughts in this direction. The sense of all she was leaving stirred
uncontrollably as she stood looking down into the well-known garden.
Out in the road beyond the invisible lime-trees came the rumble of
wheels. The gate creaked and the wheels crunched up the drive, slurring
and stopping under the dining-room window.
It was the Thursday afternoon piano-organ, the one that was always in
tune. It was early to-day.
She drew back from the window as the bass chords began thumping gently
in the darkness. It was better that it should come now than later on,
at dinnertime. She could get over it alone up here.
She went down the length of the room and knelt by the fireside with one
hand on the mantel-shelf so that she could get up noiselessly and be
lighting the gas if anyone came in.
The organ was playing "The Wearin' o' the Green."
It had begun that tune during the last term at school, in the summer.
It made her think of rounders in the hot school garden, singing-classes
in the large green room, all the class shouting "Gather roses while ye
may," hot afternoons in the shady north room, the sound of turning
pages, the hum of the garden beyond the sun-blinds, meetings in the
sixth form study. . . . Lilla, with her black hair and the specks of
bright amber in the brown of her eyes, talking about free-will.
She stirred the fire. The windows were quite dark. The flames shot up
and shadows darted.
That summer, which still seemed near to her, was going to fade and
desert her, leaving nothing behind. To-morrow it would belong to a
world which would go on without her, taking no heed. There would still
be blissful days. But she would not be in them.
There would be no more silent sunny mornings with all the day ahead and
nothing to do and no end anywhere to anything; no more sitting at the
open window in the dining-room, reading Lecky and Darwin and bound
"Contemporary Reviews" with roses waiting in the garden to be worn in
the afternoon, and Eve and Harriett somewhere about, washing blouses or
copying waltzes from the library packet. . . no more Harriett looking in
at the end of the morning, rushing her off to the new grand piano to
play the "Mikado" and the "Holy Family" duets. The tennis-club would go
on, but she would not be there. It would begin in May. Again there
would be a white twinkling figure coming quickly along the pathway
between the rows of holly-hocks every Saturday afternoon.
Why had he come to tea every Sunday--never missing a single Sunday--all
the winter? Why did he say, "Play 'Abide with me,'" "Play 'Abide with
me'" yesterday, if he didn't care? What was the good of being so quiet
and saying nothing? Why didn't he say "Don't go" or "When are you
coming back?" Eve said he looked perfectly miserable.
There was nothing to look forward to now but governessing and old age.
Perhaps Miss Gilkes was right. . . . Get rid of men and muddles and have
things just ordinary and be happy. "Make up your mind to be happy. You
can be _perfectly_ happy without anyone to think about. . . ."
Wearing that large cameo brooch--long, white, flat-fingered hands and
that quiet little laugh. . . . The piano-organ had reached its last
tune. In the midst of the final flourish of notes the door flew open.
Miriam got quickly to her feet and felt for matches.
Harriett came in waggling a thin brown paper parcel.
"Did you hear the Intermezzo? What a dim religious! We got your old
Miriam took the parcel and subsided on to the hearthrug, looking with a
new curiosity at Harriett's little, round, firelit face, smiling tightly
beneath the rim of her hard felt hat and the bright silk bow beneath her
A footstep sounded on the landing and there was a gentle tap on the open
"Oh, come in, Eve--bring some matches. Are the collars piquet, Harry?"
"No, they hadn't got piquet, but they're the plain shape you like. You
may thank us they didn't send you things with little rujabiba frills."
Eve came slenderly down the room and Miriam saw with relief that her
outdoor things were off. As the gas flared up she drew comfort from her
scarlet serge dress, and the soft crimson cheek and white brow of the
profile raised towards the flaring jet.
"What are things like downstairs?" she said, staring into the fire.
"I don't know," said Eve. She sighed thoughtfully and sank into a
carpet chair under the gas bracket. Miriam glanced at her troubled
"Pater's only just come in. I think things are pretty rotten," declared
Harriett from the hearthrug.
"Isn't it ghastly--for all of us?" Miriam felt treacherously outspoken.
It was a relief to be going away. She knew that this sense of relief
made her able to speak. "It's never knowing that's so awful. Perhaps
he'll get some more money presently and things'll go on again. Fancy
mother having it always, ever since we were babies."
"All right. I won't tell you the words he said, how he put it about the
difficulty of getting the money for my things."
Miriam's mind went back to the phrase and her mother's agonised face.
She felt utterly desolate in the warm room.
"I wish _I'd_ got brains," chirped Harriett, poking the fire with
the toe of her boot.
"So you have--more than me."
"You know, I _know_ girls, that things are as absolutely ghastly
this time as they can possibly be and that something must be done. . . .
But you know it's perfectly fearful to face that old school when it
comes to the point."
"Oh, my dear, it'll be lovely," said Eve; "all new and jolly, and think
how you will enjoy those lectures, you'll simply love them."
"It's all very well to say that. You know you'd feel ill with fright."
"It'll be all right--for _you_--once you're there."
Miriam stared into the fire and began to murmur shamefacedly.
"No more all day bezique. . . . No more days in the West End. . . . No
more matinees . . . no more exhibitions . . . no more A.B.C. teas . . .
no more insane times . . . no more anything."
"What about holidays? You'll enjoy them all the more."
"I shall be staid and governessy."
"You mustn't. You must be frivolous."
Two deeply-burrowing dimples fastened the clean skin tightly over the
bulge of Miriam's smile.
"And marry a German professor," she intoned blithely.
"Don't--don't for _goodney_ say that before mother, Miriam."
"D'you mean she minds me going?"
Why did Eve use her cross voice?--stupid . . . "for goodness' sake," not
"for goodney." Silly of Eve to talk slang. . . .
"All right. I won't."
"Won't marry a German professor, or won't tell mother, do you mean? . .
. Oo--Crumbs! My old cake in the oven!" Harriett hopped to the door.
"Funny Harriett taking to cookery. It doesn't seem a bit like her."
"She'll have to do something--so shall I, I s'pose."
"It seems awful."
"We shall simply have to."
"It's awful," said Miriam, shivering.
"Poor old girl. I expect you feel horrid because you're tired with all
the packing and excitement."
"Oh well, anyhow, it's simply ghastly."
"You'll feel better to-morrow."
"D'you think I shall?"
"Yes--you're so strong," said Eve, flushing and examining her nails.
"How d'you mean?"
"Oh--all sorts of ways."
"Oh--well--you arranging all this--I mean answering the advertisement
and settling it all."
"Oh well, you know you backed me up."
"Oh yes, but other things. . . ."
"Oh, I was thinking about you having no religion."
"You must have such splendid principles to keep you straight," said Eve,
and cleared her throat, "I mean, you must have such a lot in you."
"Yes, of course."
"I don't know where it comes in. What have I done?"
"Oh, well, it isn't so much what you've done--you have such a good time.
. . . Everybody admires you and all that . . . you know what I
mean--you're so clever. . . . You're always in the right."
"That's just what everybody hates!"
"Well, my dear, I wish I had your mind."
"You needn't," said Miriam.
"You're all right--you'll come out all right. You're one of those
strong-minded people who have to go through a period of doubt."
"But, my _dear_," said Miriam grateful and proud, "I feel such a
humbug. You know when I wrote that letter to the Fraulein I said I was
a member of the Church. I know what it will be, I shall have to take
the English girls to church."
"Oh, well, you won't mind that."
"It will make me simply ill--I could _never_ describe to you," said
Miriam, with her face aglow, "what it is to me to hear some silly man
drone away with an undistributed middle term."
"They're not all like that."
"Oh, well, then it will be ignoratio elenchi or argumentum ad hominem--"
"Oh, yes, but they're not the _service_."
"The service I can't make head or tail of--think of the Athanasian."
"Yes." Eve stirred uneasily and began to execute a gentle scale with
her tiny tightly-knit blue and white hand upon her knee.
"It'll be ghastly," continued Miriam, "not having anyone to pour out
to--I've told you such a lot these last few days."
"Yes, hasn't it been funny? I seem to know you all at once so much
"Well--don't you think I'm perfectly hateful?"
"No. I admire you more than ever. I think you're simply splendid."
"Then you simply don't know me."
"Yes I do. And you'll be able to write to me."
Eve, easily weeping, hugged her and whispered, "You mustn't. I can't
see you break down--don't--don't--don't. We can't be blue your last
night. . . . Think of nice things. . . . There _will_ be nice
things again . . . there will, will, will, _will_."
Miriam pursed her lips to a tight bunch and sat twisting her long
thickish fingers. Eve stood up in her tears. Her smile and the curves
of her mouth were unchanged by her weeping, and the crimson had spread
and deepened a little in the long oval of her face. Miriam watched the
changing crimson. Her eyes went to and fro between it and the neatly
pinned masses of brown hair.
"I'm going to get some hot water," said Eve, "and we'll make ourselves
Miriam watched her as she went down the long room--the great oval of
dark hair, the narrow neck, the narrow back, tight, plump little hands
hanging in profile, white, with a purple pad near the wrist.
When Miriam woke the next morning she lay still with closed eyes. She
had dreamed that she had been standing in a room in the German school
and the staff had crowded round her, looking at her. They had dreadful
eyes--eyes like the eyes of hostesses she remembered, eyes she had seen
in trains and 'buses, eyes from the old school. They came and stood and
looked at her, and saw her as she was, without courage, without funds or
good clothes or beauty, without charm or interest, without even the
skill to play a part. They looked at her with loathing. "Board and
lodging--privilege to attend Masters' lectures and laundry (body-linen
only)." That was all she had thought of and clutched at--all along,
since first she read the Fraulein's letter. Her keep and the chance of
learning . . . and Germany--Germany, das deutsche Vaterland--Germany,
all woods and mountains and tenderness--Hermann and Dorothea in the dusk
of a happy village.
And it would really be those women, expecting things of her. They would
be so affable at first. She had been through it a million times--all
her life--all eternity. They would smile those hateful women's
smiles--smirks--self-satisfied smiles as if everybody were agreed about
everything. She loathed women. They always smiled. All the teachers
had at school, all the girls, but Lilla. Eve did . . . maddeningly
sometimes . . . Mother . . . it was the only funny horrid thing about
her. Harriett didn't. . . . Harriett laughed. She was strong and hard
somehow. . . .
Pater knew how hateful all the world of women were and despised them.
He never included her with them; or only sometimes when she pretended,
or he didn't understand. . . .
Someone was saying "Hi!" a gurgling muffled shout, a long way off.
She opened her eyes. It was bright morning. She saw the twist of
Harriett's body lying across the edge of the bed. With a gasp she flung
herself over her own side. Harry, old Harry, jolly old Harry had
remembered the Grand Ceremonial. In a moment her own head hung, her
long hair flinging back on to the floor, her eyes gazing across the bed
at the reversed snub of Harriett's face. It was flushed in the midst of
the wiry hair which stuck out all round it but did not reach the floor.
"Hi!" they gurgled solemnly, "Hi. . . . Hi!" shaking their heads from
side to side. Then their four frilled hands came down and they flumped
out of the high bed.
They performed an uproarious toilet. It seemed so safe up there in the
bright bare room. Miriam's luggage had been removed. It was away
somewhere in the house; far away and unreal and unfelt as her parents
somewhere downstairs, and the servants away in the basement getting
breakfast and Sarah and Eve always incredible, getting quietly up in the
next room. Nothing was real but getting up with old Harriett in this
She revelled in Harriett's delicate buffoonery ("voluntary incongruity"
she quoted to herself as she watched her)--the titles of some of the
books on Harriett's shelf, "Ungava; a Tale of the North," "Grimm's Fairy
Tales," "John Halifax," "Swiss Family Robinson" made her laugh. The
curtained recesses of the long room stretched away into space.
She went about dimpling and responding, singing and masquerading as her
large hands did their work.
She intoned the titles on her own shelf--as a response to the quiet
swearing and jesting accompanying Harriett's occupations. "The Voyage
of the Beeeeeeagle," she sang "Scott's Poetical _Works_."
Villette--Longfellow--Holy Bible _with_ Apocrypha--Egmont--
"Binks!" squealed Harriett daintily. "Yink grink binks."
"Books!" she responded in a low tone, and flushed as if she had given
Harriett an affectionate hug. "My rotten books. . . ." She would come
back, and read all her books more carefully. She had packed some. She
could not remember which and why.
"Binks," she said, and it was quite easy for them to crowd together at
the little dressing-table. Harriett was standing in her little faded
red moirette petticoat and a blue flannelette dressing-jacket brushing
her wiry hair. Miriam reflected that she need no longer hate her for
the set of her clothes round her hips. She caught sight of her own
faded jersey and stiff, shapeless black petticoat in the mirror.
Harriett's "Hinde's" lay on the dressing-table, her own still lifted the
skin of her forehead in suffused puckerings against the shank of each
Unperceived, she eyed the tiny stiff plait of hair which stuck out
almost horizontally from the nape of Harriett's neck, and watched her
combing out the tightly-curled fringe standing stubbily out along her
forehead and extending like a thickset hedge midway across the crown of
her head, where it stopped abruptly against the sleekly-brushed longer
strands which strained over her poll and disappeared into the plait.
"Your old wool'll be just right in Germany," remarked Harriett.
"You ought to do it in basket plaits like Sarah."
"I wish I could. I can't think how she does it."
"Ike spect it's easy enough."
"But you're all right, anyhow."
"Anyhow, it's no good bothering when you're plain."
"You're _not_ plain."
Miriam looked sharply round.
"Go on, Gooby."
"You're not. You don't know. Granny said you'll be a bonny woman, and
Sarah thinks you've got the best shape face and the best complexion of
any of us, and cook was simply crying her eyes out last night and said
you were the light of the house with your happy, pretty face, and mother
said you're much too attractive to go about alone, and that's partly why
Pater's going with you to Hanover, silly. . . . You're not plain," she
Miriam's amazement silenced her. She stood back from the mirror. She
could not look into it until Harriett had gone. The phrases she had
just heard rang in her head without meaning. But she knew she would
remember all of them. She went on doing her hair with downcast eyes.
She had seen Harriett vividly, and had longed to crush her in her arms
and kiss her little round cheeks and the snub of her nose. Then she
wanted her to be gone.
Presently Harriett took up a brooch and skated down the room,
"Ta-ra-ra-la-eee-tee!" she carolled, "don't be long," and disappeared.
"I'm pretty," murmured Miriam, planting herself in front of the
dressing-table. "I'm pretty--they like me--they _like_ me. Why didn't
I know?" She did not look into the mirror. "They all like me, _me_."
The sound of the breakfast-bell came clanging up through the house. She
hurried to her side of the curtained recess. Hanging there were her old
red stockinette jersey and her blue skirt . . . never again . . . just
once more . . . she could change afterwards. Her brown, heavy best
dress with puffed and gauged sleeves and thick gauged and gathered boned
bodice was in her hand. She hung it once more on its peg and quickly
put on her old things. The jersey was shiny with wear. "You darling
old things," she muttered as her arms slipped down the sleeves.
The door of the next room opened quietly and she heard Sarah and Eve go
decorously downstairs. She waited until their footsteps had died away
and then went very slowly down the first flight, fastening her belt.
She stopped at the landing window, tucking the frayed end of the
petersham under the frame of the buckle . . . they were all downstairs,
liking her. She could not face them. She was too excited and too shy.
. . . She had never once thought of their "feeling" her going away . . .
saying goodbye to each one . . . all minding and sorry--even the
servants. She glanced fearfully out into the garden, seeing nothing.
Someone called up from the breakfast-room doorway, "Mim--my!" How
surprised Mr. Bart had been when he discovered that they themselves
never knew whose voice it was of all four of them unless you saw the
person, "but yours is really richer" . . . it was cheek to say that.
Suddenly she longed to be gone--to have it all over and be gone.
She heard the kak-kak of Harriett's wooden heeled slippers across the
tiled hall. She glanced down the well of the staircase. Harriett was
mightily swinging the bell, scattering a little spray of notes at each
end of her swing.
With a frightened face Miriam crept back up the stairs. Violently
slamming the bedroom door, "I'm a-comin'--I'm a-comin'," she shouted and
The crossing was over. They were arriving. The movement of the little
steamer that had collected the passengers from the packet-boat drove the
raw air against Miriam's face. In her tired brain the grey river and
the flat misty shores slid constantly into a vision of the gaslit
dining-room at home . . . the large clear glowing fire, the sounds of
the family voices. Every effort to obliterate the picture brought back
again the moment that had come at the dinner-table as they all sat
silent for an instant with downcast eyes and she had suddenly longed to
go on for ever just sitting there with them all.
Now, in the boat she wanted to be free for the strange grey river and
the grey shores. But the home scenes recurred relentlessly. Again and
again she went through the last moments . . . the goodbyes, the
unexpected convulsive force of her mother's arms, her own dreadful
inability to give any answering embrace. She could not remember saying
a single word. There had been a feeling that came like a tide carrying
her away. Eager and dumb and remorseful she had gone out of the house
and into the cab with Sarah, and then had come the long sitting in the
loop-line train . . . "talk about something" . . . Sarah sitting
opposite and her unchanged voice saying "What shall we talk about?" And
then a long waiting, and the brown leather strap swinging against the
yellow grained door, the smell of dust and the dirty wooden flooring,
with the noise of the wheels underneath going to the swinging tune of
one of Heller's "Sleepless Nights." The train had made her sway with
its movements. How still Sarah seemed to sit, fixed in the old life.
Nothing had come but strange cruel emotions.
After the suburban train nothing was distinct until the warm snowflakes
were drifting against her face through the cold darkness on Harwich
quay. Then, after what seemed like a great loop of time spent going
helplessly up a gangway towards "the world" she had stood, face to face
with the pale polite stewardess in her cabin. "I had better have a
lemon, cut in two," she had said, feeling suddenly stifled with fear.
For hours she had lain despairing, watching the slowly swaying walls of
her cabin or sinking with closed eyes through invertebrate dipping
spaces. Before each releasing paroxysm she told herself "this is like
death; one day I shall die, it will be like this."
She supposed there would be breakfast soon on shore, a firm room and a
teapot and cups and saucers. Cold and exhaustion would come to an end.
She would be talking to her father.
He was standing near her with the Dutchman who had helped her off the
boat and looked after her luggage. The Dutchman was listening,
deferentially. Miriam saw the strong dark blue beam of his eyes.
"Very good, very good," she heard him say, "fine education in German
Both men were smoking cigars.
She wanted to draw herself upright and shake out her clothes.
"Select," she heard, "excellent staff of masters . . . daughters of
"Pater is trying to make the Dutchman think I am being taken as a pupil
to a finishing school in Germany." She thought of her lonely pilgrimage
to the West End agency, of her humiliating interview, of her
heart-sinking acceptance of the post, the excitements and misgivings she
had had, of her sudden challenge of them all that evening after dinner,
and their dismay and remonstrance and reproaches--of her fear and
determination in insisting and carrying her point and making them begin
to be interested in her plan.
But she shared her father's satisfaction in impressing the Dutchman.
She knew that she was at one with him in that. She glanced at him.
There could be no doubt that he was playing the r™le of the English
gentleman. Poor dear. It was what he had always wanted to be. He had
sacrificed everything to the idea of being a "person of leisure and
cultivation." Well, after all, it was true in a way. He was--and he
had, she knew, always wanted her to be the same and she _was_ going
to finish her education abroad . . . in Germany. . . . They were nearing
a little low quay backed by a tremendous saffron-coloured hoarding
announcing in black letters "Sunlight Zeep."
"Did you see, Pater; did you _see?_"
They were walking rapidly along the quay.
"Did you see? Sunlight _Zeep!_"
She listened to his slightly scuffling stride at her side.
Glancing up she saw his face excited and important. He was not
listening. He was being an English gentleman, "emerging" from the Dutch
"Sunlight _Zeep_," she shouted. "_Zeep_, Pater!"
He glanced down at her and smiled condescendingly.
"Ah, yes," he admitted with a laugh.
There were Dutch faces for Miriam--men, women and children coming
towards her with sturdy gait.
"They're talking Dutch! They're all talking _Dutch!_"
The foreign voices, the echoes in the little narrow street, the flat
waterside effect of the sounds, the bright clearness she had read of,
brought tears to her eyes.
"The others _must_ come here," she told herself, pitying them all.
They had an English breakfast at the Victoria Hotel and went out and
hurried about the little streets. They bought cigars and rode through
the town on a little tramway. Presently they were in a train watching
the Dutch landscape go by. One level stretch succeeded another. Miriam
wanted to go out alone under the grey sky and walk over the flat fields
shut in by poplars.
She looked at the dykes and the windmills with indifferent eyes, but her
desire for the flat meadows grew.
Late at night, seated wide-awake opposite her sleeping companion,
rushing towards the German city, she began to think.
It was a fool's errand. . . . To undertake to go to the German school
and teach . . . to be going there . . . with nothing to give. The
moment would come when there would be a class sitting round a table
waiting for her to speak. She imagined one of the rooms at the old
school, full of scornful girls. . . . How was English taught? How did
you begin? English grammar . . . in German? Her heart beat in her
throat. She had never thought of that . . . the rules of English
grammar? Parsing and analysis. . . . Anglo-Saxon prefixes and suffixes
. . . gerundial infinitive. . . . It was too late to look anything up.
Perhaps there would be a class to-morrow. . . . The German lessons at
school had been dreadfully good. . . . Fraulein's grave face . . . her
perfect knowledge of every rule . . . her clear explanations in English
. . . her examples. . . . All these things were there, in English
grammar. . . . And she had undertaken to teach them and could not even
Monsieur . . . had talked French all the time . . . dictees . . .
lectures . . . Le Conscrit . . . Waterloo . . . La Maison Deserte . . .
his careful voice reading on and on . . . until the room disappeared. .
. . She must do that for her German girls. Read English to them and
make them happy. . . . But first there must be verbs . . . there had
been cahiers of them . . . first, second, third conjugation. . . . It
was impudence, an impudent invasion . . . the dreadful clever, foreign
school. . . . They would laugh at her. . . . She began to repeat the
English alphabet. . . . She doubted whether, faced with a class, she
could reach the end without a mistake. . . . She reached Z and went on
to the parts of speech.
There would be a moment when she must have an explanation with the
Fraulein. Perhaps she could tell her that she found the teaching was
beyond her scope and then find a place somewhere as a servant. She
remembered things she had heard about German servants--that whenever
they even dusted a room they cleaned the windows and on Sundays they
waited at lunch in muslin dresses and afterwards went to balls. She
feared even the German servants would despise her. They had never been
allowed into the kitchen at home except when there was jam-making . . .
she had never made a bed in her life. . . . A shop? But that would mean
knowing German and being quick at giving change. Impossible. Perhaps
she could find some English people in Hanover who would help her. There
was an English colony she knew, and an English church. But that would
be like going back. That must not happen. She would rather stay abroad
on any terms--away from England--English people. She had scented
something, a sort of confidence, everywhere, in her hours in Holland,
the brisk manner of the German railway officials and the serene
assurance of the travelling Germans she had seen, confirmed her
impression. Away out here, the sense of imminent catastrophe that had
shadowed all her life so far, had disappeared. Even here in this dim
carriage, with disgrace ahead she felt that there was freedom somewhere
at hand. Whatever happened she would hold to that.
She glanced up at her small leather handbag lying in the rack and
thought of the solid money in her purse. Twenty-five shillings. It was
a large sum and she was to have more as she needed.
She glanced across at the pale face with its point of reddish beard, the
long white hands laid one upon the other on the crossed knees. He had
given her twenty-five shillings and there was her fare and his, and his
return fare and her new trunk and all the things she had needed. It
must be the end of taking money from him. She was grown up. She was
the strong-minded one. She must manage. With a false position ahead
and after a short space, disaster, she must get along.
The peaceful Dutch fields came to her mind. They looked so secure.
They had passed by too soon. We have always been in a false position,
she pondered. Always lying and pretending and keeping up a show--never
daring to tell anybody. . . . Did she want to tell anybody? To come out
into the open and be helped and have things arranged for her and do
things like other people? No. . . . No. . . . "Miriam always likes to
be different"--"Society is no boon to those not sociable." Dreadful
things . . . and the girls laughing together about them. What did they
"Society is no boon to those not sociable"--on her birthday-page in
Ellen Sharpe's birthday-book. Ellen handed it to her going upstairs and
had chanted the words out to the others and smiled her smile . . . she
had not asked her to write her name . . . was it unsociable to dislike
so many of the girls. . . . Ellen's people were in the Indian . . . her
thoughts hesitated. . . . Sivvle . . . something grand--All the grand
girls were horrid . . . somehow mean and sly . . . Sivvle . . . _Sivvle_
. . . _Civil!_ Of course! Civil _what?_
Miriam groaned. She was a governess now. Someone would ask her that
question. She would ask Pater before he went. . . . No, she would not.
. . . If only he would answer a question simply, and not with a superior
air as if he had invented the thing he was telling about. She felt she
had a right to all the knowledge there was, without fuss . . . oh,
without fuss--without fuss and--emotion. . . . I _am_ unsociable, I
suppose--she mused. She could not think of anyone who did not offend
her. I don't like men and I loathe women. I am a misanthrope. So's
Pater. He despises women and can't get on with men. We are
different--it's us, him and me. He's failed us because he's different
and if he weren't we should be like other people. Everything in the
railway responded and agreed. Like other people . . . horrible. . . .
She thought of the fathers of girls she knew--the Poole girls, for
instance, they were to be "independent" trained and certificated--she
envied that--but her envy vanished when she remembered how heartily she
had agreed when Sarah called them "sharp" and "knowing."
Mr. Poole was a business man . . . common . . . trade. . . . If Pater
had kept to Grandpa's business they would be trade, too--well-off,
now--all married. Perhaps as it was he had thought they would marry.
She thought sleepily of her Wesleyan grandparents, gravely reading the
"Wesleyan Methodist Recorder," the shop at Babington, her father's
discontent, his solitary fishing and reading, his discovery of music . .
. science . . . classical music in the first Novello editions . . .
Faraday . . . speaking to Faraday after lectures. Marriage . . . the
new house . . . the red brick wall at the end of the garden where young
peach-trees were planted . . . running up and downstairs and singing . .
. both of them singing in the rooms and the garden . . . she sometimes
with her hair down and then when visitors were expected pinned in coils
under a little cap and wearing a small hoop . . . the garden and lawns
and shrubbery and the long kitchen-garden and the summer-house under the
oaks beyond and the pretty old gabled "town" on the river and the woods
all along the river valley and the hills shining up out of the mist.
The snow man they both made in the winter--the birth of Sarah and then
Eve . . . his studies and book-buying--and after five years her own
disappointing birth as the third girl, and the coming of Harriett just
over a year later . . . her mother's illness, money troubles--their two
years at the sea to retrieve . . . the disappearance of the sunlit
red-walled garden always in full summer sunshine with the sound of bees
in it or dark from windows . . . the narrowing of the house-life down to
the Marine Villa--with the sea creeping in--wading out through the green
shallows, out and out till you were more than waist deep--shrimping and
prawning hour after hour for weeks together . . . poking in the rock
pools, watching the sun and the colours in the strange afternoons . . .
then the sudden large house at Barnes with the "drive" winding to the
door. . . . He used to come home from the City and the Constitutional
Club and sometimes instead of reading "The Times" or the "Globe" or the
"Proceedings of the British Association" or Herbert Spencer, play Pope
Joan or Jacoby with them all, or Table Billiards and laugh and be
"silly" and take his turn at being "bumped" by Timmy going the round of
the long dining-room table, tail in the air; he had taken Sarah and Eve
to see "Don Giovanni" and "Winter's Tale" and the new piece,
"Lohengrin." No one at the tennis-club had seen that. He had good
taste. No one else had been to Madame Schumann's Farewell . . . sitting
at the piano with her curtains of hair and her dreamy smile . . . and
the Philharmonic Concerts. No one else knew about the lectures at the
Royal Institution, beginning at nine on Fridays. . . . No one else's
father went with a party of scientific men "for the advancement of
science" to Norway or America, seeing the Falls and the Yosemite Valley.
No one else took his children as far as Dawlish for the holidays,
travelling all day, from eight until seven . . . no esplanade, the old
stone jetty and coves and cowrie shells. . . .
Miriam was practising on the piano in the larger of the two English
bedrooms. Two other pianos were sounding in the house, one across the
landing and the other in the saal where Herr Kapellmeister Bossenberger
was giving a music-lesson. The rest of the girls were gathered in the
large schoolroom under the care of Mademoiselle for Saturday's
_raccommodage_. It was the last hour of the week's work.
Presently there would be a great gonging, the pianos would cease,
Fraulein's voice would sound up through the house "Anziehen zum
There would be the walk, dinner, the Saturday afternoon home-letters to
be written and then, until Monday, holiday, freedom to read and to talk
English and idle. And there was a new arrival in the house. Ulrica
Hesse had come. Miriam had seen her. There had been three large
leather trunks in the hall and a girl with a smooth pure oval of pale
face standing wrapped in dark furs, gazing about her with eyes for which
Miriam had no word, liquid--limpid--great-saucers, no--pools . . . great
round deeps. . . . She had felt about for something to express them as
she went upstairs with her roll of music. Fraulein Pfaff who had seemed
to hover and smile about the girl as if half afraid to speak to her, had
put out a hand for Miriam and said almost deprecatingly, "Ach, mm, dies'
ist unser Ulrica."
The girl's thin fingers had come out of her furs and fastened
convulsively--like cold, throbbing claws on to the breadth of Miriam's
"Unsere englische Lehrerin--our teacher from England," smiled Fraulein.
"Lehrerin!" breathed the girl. Something flinched behind her great
eyes. The fingers relaxed, and Miriam feeling within her a beginning of
response, had gone upstairs.
As she reached the upper landing she began to distinguish against the
clangour of chromatic passages assailing the house from the echoing
saal, the gentle tones of the nearer piano, the one in the larger German
bedroom opposite the front room for which she was bound. She paused for
a moment at the top of the stairs and listened. A little swaying melody
came out to her, muted by the closed door. Her grasp on the roll of
music slackened. A radiance came for a moment behind the gravity of her
face. Then the careful unstumbling repetition of a difficult passage
drew her attention to the performer, her arms dropped to her sides and
she passed on. It was little Bergmann, the youngest girl in the school.
Her playing, on the bad old piano in the dark dressing-room in the
basement, had prepared Miriam for the difference between the performance
of these German girls and nearly all the piano-playing she had heard.
It was the morning after her arrival. She had been unpacking and had
taken, on the advice of Mademoiselle, her heavy boots and outdoor things
down to the basement room. She had opened the door on Emma sitting at
the piano in her blue and buff check ribbon-knotted stuff dress. Miriam
had expected her to turn her head and stop playing. But as, arms full,
she closed the door with her shoulders, the child's profile remained
unconcerned. She noticed the firmly-poised head, the thick creamy neck
that seemed bare with its absence of collar-band and the soft frill of
tucker stitched right on to the dress, the thick cable of
string-coloured hair reaching just beyond the rim of the leather-covered
music stool, the steel-headed points of the little slippers gleaming as
they worked the pedals, the serene eyes steadily following the music.
She played on and Miriam recognised a quality she had only heard
occasionally at concerts, and in the playing of one of the music
teachers at school.
She had stood amazed, pretending to he fumbling for empty pegs as this
round-faced child of fourteen went her way to the end of her page. Then
Miriam had ventured to interrupt and to ask her about the hanging
arrangements, and the child had risen and speaking soft South German had
suggested and poked tip-toeing about amongst the thickly-hung garments
and shown a motherly solicitude over the disposal of Miriam's things.
Miriam noted the easy range of the child's voice, how smoothly it slid
from birdlike queries and chirpings, to the consoling tones of the lower
register. It seemed to leave undisturbed the softly-rounded,
faintly-mottled chin and cheeks and the full unpouting lips that lay
quietly one upon the other before she spoke, and opened flexibly but
somehow hardly moved to her speech and afterwards closed again gradually
until they lay softly blossoming as before.
Emma had gathered up her music when the clothes were arranged, sighing
and lamenting gently, "Ware ich nur zu Hause"--how happy one was at
home--her little voice filled with tears and her cheeks flushed,
"haypie, haypie to home," she complained as she slid her music into its
case, "where all so good, so nice, so beautiful," and they had gone,
side by side, up the dark uncarpeted stone stairs leading from the
basement to the hall. Half-way up, Emma had given Miriam a shy firm hug
and then gone decorously up the remainder of the flight.
The sense of that sudden little embrace recurred often to Miriam during
the course of the first day.
It was unlike any contact she had known--more motherly than her
mother's. Neither of her sisters could have embraced her like that.
She did not know that a human form could bring such a sense of warm
nearness, that human contours could be eloquent--or anyone so sweetly
That first evening at Waldstrasse there had been a performance that had
completed the transformation of Miriam's English ideas of "music." She
had caught the word "Vorspielen" being bandied about the long tea-table,
and had gathered that there was to be an informal playing of "pieces"
before Fraulein Pfaff. She welcomed the event. It relieved her from
the burden of being in high focus--the relief had come as soon as she
took her place at the gaslit table. No eye seemed to notice her. The
English girls having sat out two meal-times with her, had ceased the
hard-eyed observation which had made the long silence of the earlier
repasts only less embarrassing than Fraulein's questions about England.
The four Germans who had neither stared nor even appeared aware of her
existence, talked cheerfully across the table in a general exchange that
included tall Fraulein Pfaff smiling her horse-smile--Miriam
provisionally called it--behind the tea-urn, as chairman. The six
English-speaking girls, grouped as it were towards their chief, a
dark-skinned, athletic looking Australian with hot, brown, slightly
blood-shot eyes sitting as vice-president opposite Fraulein, joined
occasionally, in solo and chorus, and Miriam noted with relief a
unanimous atrocity of accent in their enviable fluency. Rapid _sotto
voce_ commentary and half-suppressed wordless by-play located still
more clearly the English quarter. Animation flowed and flowed. Miriam
safely ignored, scarcely heeding, but warmed and almost happy, basked.
She munched her black bread and butter, liberally smeared with the rich
savoury paste of liver sausage, and drank her sweet weak tea and knew
that she was very tired, sleepy and tired. She glanced, from her place
next to Emma Bergmann and on Fraulein's left hand, down the table to
where Mademoiselle sat next the Martins in similar relation to the
vice-president. Mademoiselle, preceding her up through the quiet house
carrying the jugs of hot water, had been her first impression on her
arrival the previous night. She had turned when they reached the
candle-lit attic with its high uncurtained windows and red-covered box
beds, and standing on the one strip of matting in her full-skirted grey
wincey dress with its neat triple row of black ribbon velvet near the
hem, had shown Miriam steel-blue eyes smiling from a little triangular
sprite-like face under a high-standing pouf of soft dark hair, and said,
"Voila!" Miriam had never imagined anything in the least like her. She
had said, "Oh, thank you," and taken the jug and had hurriedly and
silently got to bed, weighed down by wonders. They had begun to talk in
the dark. Miriam had reaped sweet comfort in learning that this
seemingly unreal creature who was, she soon perceived, not educated--as
she understood education--was the resident French governess, was
seventeen years old and a Protestant. Such close quarters with a French
girl was bewildering enough--had she been a Roman Catholic, Miriam felt
she could not have endured her proximity. She was evidently a special
kind of French girl--a Protestant from East
France--Besan¨on--Besan¨on--Miriam had tried the pretty word over until
unexpectedly she had fallen asleep.
They had risen hurriedly in the cold March gloom and Miriam had not
spoken to her since. There she sat, dainty and quiet and fresh. White
frillings shone now at the neck and sleeves of her little grey dress.
She looked a clean and clear miniature against the general dauby effect
of the English girls--poor though, Miriam was sure; perhaps as poor as
she. She felt glad as she watched her gentle sprite-like wistfulness
that she would be upstairs in that great bare attic again to-night. In
repose her face looked pinched. There was something about the nose and
mouth--Miriam mused . . . _frugal_--John Gilpin's wife--how sleepy
The conversation was growing boisterous. She took courage to raise her
head towards the range of girls opposite to her. Those quite near to
her she could not scrutinise. Some influence coming to her from these
German girls prevented her risking with them any meeting of the eyes
that was not brought about by direct speech. But she felt them. She
felt Emma Bergmann's warm plump presence close at her side and liked to
take food handed by her. She was conscious of the pink bulb of Minna
Blum's nose shining just opposite to her, and of the way the light
caught the blond sheen of her exquisitely coiled hair as she turned her
always smiling face and responded to the louder remarks with, "Oh, thou
_dear_ God!" or "Is it possible!" "How charming, _charming_,"
or "What in life dost thou say, rascal!"
Next to her was the faint glare of Elsa Speier's silent sallowness. Her
clear-threaded nimbus of pallid hair was the lowest point in the range
of figures across the table. She darted quick glances at one and
another without moving her head, and Miriam felt that her pale eyes
fully met would be cunning and malicious.
After Elsa the "English" began with Judy. Miriam guessed when she heard
her ask for Brodchen that she was Scotch. She sat slightly askew and
ate eagerly, stooping over her plate with smiling mouth and downcast
heavily-freckled face. Unless spoken to she did not speak, but she
laughed often, a harsh involuntary laugh immediately followed by a
drowning flush. When she was not flushed her eyelashes shone bright
black against the unstained white above her cheek-bones. She had coarse
fuzzy red-brown hair.
Miriam decided that she was negligible.
Next to Judy were the Martins. They were as English as they could be.
She felt she must have noticed them a good deal at breakfast and
dinner-time without knowing it. Her eyes after one glance at the
claret-coloured merino dresses with hard white collars and cuffs, came
back to her plate as from a familiar picture. She still saw them
sitting very upright, side by side, with the front strands of their hair
strained smoothly back, tied just on the crest of the head with brown
ribbon and going down in "rats'-tails" to join the rest of their hair
which hung straight and flat half-way down their backs. The elder was
dark with thick shoulders and heavy features. Her large expressionless
rich brown eyes flashed slowly and reflected the light. They gave
Miriam a slight feeling of nausea. She felt she knew what her hands
were like without looking at them. The younger was thin and pale and
slightly hollow-cheeked. She had pale eyes, cold, like a fish, thought
Miriam. They both had deep hollow voices.
When she glanced again they were watching the Australian with their four
strange eyes and laughing German phrases at her, "Go on, Gertrude!" "Are
you _sure,_ Gertrude?" "How do you _know!_"
Miriam had not yet dared to glance in the direction of the Australian.
Her eyes at dinner-time had cut like sharp steel. Turning, however,
towards the danger zone, without risking the coming of its presiding
genius within the focus of her glasses she caught a glimpse of "Jimmie"
sitting back in her chair tall and plump and neat, and shaking with
wide-mouthed giggles. Miriam wondered at the high peak of hair on the
top of her head and stared at her pearly little teeth. There was
something funny about her mouth. Even when she strained it wide it was
narrow and tiny--rabbity. She raised a short arm and began patting her
peak of hair with a tiny hand which showed a small onyx seal ring on the
little finger. "Ask Judy!" she giggled, in a fruity squeak.
"Ask Judy!" they all chorused, laughing.
Judy cast an appealing flash of her eyes sideways at nothing, flushed
furiously and mumbled, "Ik weiss nik--I don't know."
In the outcries and laughter which followed, Miriam noticed only the
hoarse hacking laugh of the Australian. Her eyes flew up the table and
fixed her as she sat laughing, her chair drawn back, her knees
crossed--tea was drawing to an end. The detail of her terrifyingly
stylish ruddy-brown frieze dress with its Norfolk jacket bodice and its
shiny black leather belt was hardly distinguishable from the dark
background made by the folding doors. But the dreadful outline of her
shoulders was visible, the squarish oval of her face shone out--the wide
forehead from which the wiry black hair was combed to a high puff, the
red eyes, black now, the long straight nose, the wide laughing mouth
with the enormous teeth.
Her voice conquered easily.
"Nein," she tromboned, through the din.
Mademoiselle's little finger stuck up sharply like a steeple, her mouth
Fraulein's smile was at its widest, waiting the issue.
"Nein," triumphed the Australian, causing a lull.
"Leise, Kinder, leise, doucement, gentlay," chided Fraulein, still
"Hermann, _yes,_" proceeded the Australian, "aber Hugo--_ne!_"
Miriam heard it agreed in the end that someone named Hugo did not wear a
moustache, though someone named Hermann did. She was vaguely shocked
After tea the great doors were thrown open and the girls filed into the
saal. It was a large high room furnished like a drawing-room--enough
settees and easy chairs to accommodate more than all the girls. The
polished floor was uncarpeted save for an archipelago of mats and rugs
in the wide circle of light thrown by the four-armed chandelier. A
grand piano was pushed against the wall in the far corner of the room,
between the farthest of the three high French windows and the shining
pillar of porcelain stove.
The high room, the bright light, the plentiful mirrors, the long sweep
of lace curtains, the many faces--the girls seemed so much more numerous
scattered here than they had when collected in the schoolroom--brought
Miriam the sense of the misery of social occasions. She wondered
whether the girls were nervous. She was glad that music lessons were no
part of her remuneration. She thought of dreadful experiences of
playing before people. The very first time, at home, when she had
played a duet with Eve--Eve playing a little running melody in the
treble--her own part a page of minims. The minims had swollen until she
could not see whether they were lines or spaces, and her fingers had
been so weak after the first unexpectedly loud note that she could
hardly make any sound. Eve had said "louder" and her fingers had
suddenly stiffened and she had worked them from her elbows like sticks
at the end of her trembling wrists and hands. Eve had noticed her
dreadful movements and resented being elbowed. She had heard nothing
then but her hard loud minims till the end, and then as she stood
dizzily up someone had said she had a nice firm touch, and she had
pushed her angry way from the piano across the hearthrug. She should
always remember the clear red-hot mass of the fire and the bottle of
green Chartreuse warming on the blue and cream tiles. There were
probably only two or three guests, but the room had seemed full of
people, stupid people who had made her play. How angry she had been
with Eve for noticing her discomfiture and with the forgotten guest for
her silly remark. She knew she had simply poked the piano. Then there
had been the annual school concert, all the girls almost unrecognisable
with fear. She had learnt her pieces by heart for those occasions and
played them through with trembling limbs and burning eyes--alternately
thumping with stiff fingers and feeling her whole hand faint from the
wrist on to the notes which fumbled and slurred into each other almost
soundlessly until the thumping began again. At the musical evenings,
organised by Eve as a winter set-off to the tennis-club, she had both
played and sung, hoping each time afresh to be able to reproduce the
effects which came so easily when she was alone or only with Eve. But
she could not discover the secret of getting rid of her nervousness.
Only twice had she succeeded--at the last school concert when she had
been too miserable to be nervous and Mr. Strood had told her she did him
credit and, once she had sung "Chanson de Florian" in a way that had
astonished her own listening ear--the notes had laughed and thrilled out
into the air and come back to her from the wall behind the piano. . . .
The day before the tennis tournament.
The girls were all settling down to fancy work, the white-cuffed hands
of the Martins were already jerking crochet needles, faces were bending
over fine embroideries and Minna Blum had trundled a mounted lace-pillow
into the brighter light.
Miriam went to the schoolroom and fetched from her work-basket the piece
of canvas partly covered with red and black wool in diamond pattern that
was her utmost experience of fancy work.
As she returned she half saw Fraulein Pfaff, sitting as if enthroned on
a high-backed chair in front of the centremost of the mirrors filling
the wall spaces between the long French windows, signal to her, to come
to that side of the room.
Timorously ignoring the signal she got herself into a little low chair
in the shadow of the half-closed swing door and was spreading out her
wool-work on her knee when the Vorspielen began.
Emma Bergmann was playing. The single notes of the opening _motif_
of Chopin's Fifteenth Nocturne fell pensively into the waiting room.
Miriam, her fatigue forgotten, slid to a featureless freedom. It seemed
to her that the light with which the room was filled grew brighter and
clearer. She felt that she was looking at nothing and yet was aware of
the whole room like a picture in a dream. Fear left her. The human
forms all round her lost their power. They grew suffused and dim. . . .
The pensive swing of the music changed to urgency and emphasis. . . . It
came nearer and nearer. It did not come from the candlelit corner where
the piano was. . . . It came from everywhere. It carried her out of the
house, out of the world.
It hastened with her, on and on towards great brightness. . . .
Everything was growing brighter and brighter. . . .
Gertrude Goldring, the Australian, was making noises with her hands like
inflated paper bags being popped. Miriam clutched her wool-needle and
threaded it. She drew the wool through her canvas, one, three, five,
three, one and longed for the piano to begin again.
Clara Bergmann followed. Miriam watched her as she took her place at
the piano--how square and stout she looked and old, careworn, like a
woman of forty. She had high square shoulders and high square
hips---her brow was low and her face thin and broad and flat. Her eyes
were like the eyes of a dog and her thin-lipped mouth long and straight
until it went steadily down at the corners. She wore a large fringe
like Harriett's--and a thin coil of hair filled the nape of her neck.
She played, without music, her face lifted boldly. The notes rang out
in a prelude of unfinished phrases--the kind, Miriam noted, that had so
annoyed her father in what he called new-fangled music--she felt it was
going to be a brilliant piece--fireworks--execution--style--and sat up
self-consciously and fixed her eyes on Clara's hands. "Can you see the
hands?" she remembered having heard someone say at a concert. How
easily they moved. Clara still sat back, her face raised to the light.
The notes rang out like trumpet-calls as her hands dropped with an easy
fling and sprang back and dropped again. What loose wrists she must
have, thought Miriam. The clarion notes ceased. There was a pause.
Clara threw back her head, a faint smile flickered over her face, her
hands fell gently and the music came again, pianissimo, swinging in an
even rhythm. It flowed from those clever hands, a half-indicated theme
with a gentle, steady, throbbing undertow. Miriam dropped her eyes--she
seemed to have been listening long--that wonderful light was coming
again--she had forgotten her sewing--when presently she saw, slowly
circling, fading and clearing, first its edge, and then, for a moment
the whole thing, dripping, dripping as it circled, a weed-grown
mill-wheel. . . . She recognised it instantly. She had seen it
somewhere as a child--in Devonshire--and never thought of it since--and
there it was. She heard the soft swish and drip of the water and the
low humming of the wheel. How beautiful . . . it was fading. . . . She
held it--it returned--clearer this time and she could feel the cool
breeze it made, and sniff the fresh earthy scent of it, the scent of the
moss and the weeds shining and dripping on its huge rim. Her heart
filled. She felt a little tremor in her throat. All at once she knew
that if she went on listening to that humming wheel and feeling the
freshness of the air, she would cry. She pulled herself together, and
for a while saw only a vague radiance in the room and the dim forms
grouped about. She could not remember which was which. All seemed good
and dear to her. The trumpet notes had come back, and in a few moments
the music ceased. . . . Someone was closing the great doors from inside
the schoolroom. As the side behind which she was sitting swung slowly
to, she caught a glimpse, through the crack, of four boys with
close-cropped heads, sitting at the long table. The gas was out and the
room was dim, but a reading-lamp in the centre of the table cast its
light on their bowed heads.
The playing of the two Martins brought back the familiar feeling of
English self-consciousness. Solomon, the elder one, sat at her
Beethoven sonata, an adagio movement, with a patch of dull crimson on
the pallor of the cheek she presented to the room, but she played with a
heavy fervour, preserving throughout the characteristic marching
staccato of the bass, and gave unstinted value to the shading of each
phrase. She made Miriam feel nervous at first and then--as she went
triumphantly forward and let herself go so
tremendously--traction-engine, thought Miriam--in the heavy
fortissimos,--a little ashamed of such expression coming from English
hands. The feeling of shame lingered as the younger sister followed
with a spirited vivace. Her hollow-cheeked pallor remained unstained,
but her thin lips were set and her hard eyes were harder. She played
with determined nonchalance and an extraordinarily facile rapidity, and
Miriam's uneasiness changed insensibly to the conviction that these
girls were learning in Germany not to be ashamed of "playing with
expression." All the things she had heard Mr. Strood--who had, as the
school prospectus declared, been "educated in Leipzig"--preach and
implore, "style," "expression," "phrasing," "light and shade," these
girls were learning, picking up from these wonderful Germans. They did
not do it quite like them though. They did not think only about the
music, they thought about themselves too. Miriam believed she could do
it as the Germans did. She wanted to get her own music and play it as
she had always dimly known it ought to be played and hardly ever dared.
Perhaps that was how it was with the English. They knew, but they did
not dare. No. The two she had just heard playing were, she felt sure,
imitating something--but hers would be no imitation. She would play as
she wanted to one day in this German atmosphere. She wished now she
were going to have lessons. She had in fact had a lesson. But she
wanted to be alone and to play--or perhaps with someone in the next room
listening. Perhaps she would not have even the chance of practising.
Minna rippled through a Chopin valse that made Miriam think of an apple
orchard in bloom against a blue sky, and was followed by Jimmie who
played the Spring Song with slightly swaying body and little hands that
rose and fell one against the other, and reminded Miriam of the finger
game of her childhood--"Fly away Jack, fly away Jill." She played very
sweetly and surely except that now and again it was as if the music
caught its breath.
Jimmie's Lied brought the piano solos to an end, and Fraulein Pfaff
after a little speech of criticism and general encouragement asked, to
Miriam's intense delight, for the singing. "Millie" was called for.
Millie came out of a corner. She was out of Miriam's range at
meal-times and appeared to her now for the first time as a tall
child-girl in a high-waisted, blue serge frock, plainly made with long
plain sleeves, at the end of which appeared two large hands shining red
and shapeless with chilblains. She attracted Miriam at once with the
shell-white and shell-pink of her complexion, her firm chubby baby-mouth
and her wide gaze. Her face shone in the room, even her hair--done just
like the Martins', but fluffy where theirs was flat and shiny--seemed to
give out light, shadowy-dark though it was. Her figure was straight and
flat, and she moved, thought Miriam, as though she had no feet.
She sang, with careful precision as to the accents of her German, in a
high breathy effortless soprano, a little song about a child and a
bouquet of garden flowers.
The younger Martin in a strong hard jolting voice sang of a love-sick
Linden tree, her pale thin cheeks pink-flushed.
"Herr Kapellmeister chooses well," smiled Fraulein at the end of this
The Vorspielen was brought to an end by Gertrude Goldring's song. Clara
Bergmann sat down to accompany her, and Miriam roused herself for a
double listening. There would be Clara's' opening and Clara's
accompaniment and some wonderful song. The Australian stood well away
from the piano, her shoulders thrown back and her eyes upon the wall
opposite her. There was no prelude. Piano and voice rang out
together--single notes which the voice took and sustained with an
expressive power which was beyond anything in Miriam's experience. Not
a note was quite true. . . . The unerring falseness of pitch was as
startling as the quality of the voice. The great wavering shouts
slurring now above, now below the mark amazed Miriam out of all shyness.
She sat up, frankly gazing--"How dare she? She hasn't an atom of
ear--how ghastly"--her thoughts exclaimed as the shouts went on. The
longer sustained notes presently reminded her of something. It was like
something she had heard--in the interval between the verses--while the
sounds echoed in the mind she remembered the cry, hand to mouth, of a
Then she lost everything in the story of the Sultan's daughter and the
young Asra, and when the fullest applause of the evening was going to
Gertrude's song, she did not withhold her share.
Anna, the only servant Miriam had seen so far--an enormous woman whose
face, apart from the small eyes, seemed all "bony structure," Miriam
noted in a phrase borrowed from some unremembered reading--brought in a
tray filled with cups of milk, a basket of white rolls and a pile of
little plates. Gertrude took the tray and handed it about the room. As
Miriam took her cup, chose a roll, deposited it on a plate and succeeded
in abstracting the plate from the pile neatly, without fumbling, she
felt that for the moment Gertrude was prepared to tolerate her. She did
not desire this in the least, but when the deep harsh voice fell against
her from the bending Australian, she responded to the "Wie gefallt's
Ihnen?" with an upturned smile and a warm "sehr gut!" It gratified her
to discover that she could, at the end of this one day, understand or at
the worst gather the drift of, all she heard, both of German and French.
Mademoiselle had exclaimed at her French--les mots si bien choisis--un
accent sans faute--it must be ear. She must have a very good ear. And
her English was all right--at least, if she chose. . . . Pater had
always been worrying about slang and careless pronunciation. None of
them ever said "cut in half" or "very unique" or "ho'sale" or
"phodygraff." She was awfully slangy herself--she and Harriett were, in
their thoughts as well as their words--but she had no provincialisms, no
Londonisms--she could be the purest Oxford English. There was something
at any rate to give her German girls. . . . She could say, "There are no
rules for English pronunciation, but what is usual at the University of
Oxford is decisive for cultured people"--"decisive for cultured people."
She must remember that for the class.
"Na, was sticken Sie da Miss Henderson?"
It was Fraulein Pfaff.
Miriam who had as yet hardly spoken to her, did not know whether to
stand or to remain seated. She half rose and then Fraulein Pfaff took
the chair near her and Miriam sat down, stiff with fear. She could not
remember the name of the thing she was making. She flushed and
fumbled--thought of dressing-tables and the little objects of which she
had made so many hanging to the mirror by ribbons; "toilet-tidies"
haunted her--but that was not it--she smoothed out her work as if to
show it to Fraulein--"Na, na," came the delicate caustic voice. "Was
wird das wohl sein?" Then she remembered. "It's for a pin-cushion,"
she said. Surely she need, not venture on German with Fraulein yet.
"Ein Nadelkissen," corrected Fraulein, "das wird niedlich aussehen," she
remarked quietly, and then in English, "You like music, Miss Henderson?"
"Oh, yes," said Miriam, with a pounce in her voice.
"You play the piano?"
"You must keep up your practice then, while you are with us--you must
have time for practice."
Fraulein Pfaff rose and moved away. The girls were arranging the chairs
in two rows--plates and cups were collected and carried away. It dawned
on Miriam that they were going to have prayers. What a wet-blanket on
her evening. Everything had been so bright and exciting so far.
Obviously they had prayers every night. She felt exceedingly
uncomfortable. She had never seen prayers in a sitting-room. It had
been nothing at school--all the girls standing in the drill-room, rows
of voices saying "adsum," then a Collect and the Lord's Prayer.
A huge Bible appeared on a table in front of Fraulein's high-backed
chair. Miriam found herself ranged with the girls, sitting in an
attentive hush. There was a quiet, slow turning of pages, and then a
long indrawn sigh and Fraulein's clear, low, even voice, very gentle,
not caustic now but with something child-like about it, "Und da kamen
die Apostel zu Ihm. . . ." Miriam had a moment of revolt. She would
not sit there and let a woman read the Bible at her . . . and in that
"smarmy" way. . . . in spirit she rose and marched out of the room. As
the English pupil-teacher bound to suffer all things or go home, she sat
on. Presently her ear was charmed by Fraulein's slow clear enunciation,
her pure unaspirated North German. It seemed to suit the narrative--and
the narrative was new, vivid and real in this new tongue. She saw
presently the little group of figures talking by the lake and was sorry
when Fraulein's voice ceased.
Solomon Martin was at the piano. Someone handed Miriam a shabby little
paper-backed hymnbook. She fluttered the leaves. All the hymns
appeared to have a little short-lined verse, under each ordinary verse,
in small print. It was in English--she read. She fumbled for the
title-page and then her cheeks flamed with shame, "Moody and Sankey."
She was incredulous, but there it was, clearly enough. What was such a
thing doing here? . . . Finishing school for the daughters of gentlemen.
. . . She had never had such a thing in her hands before. . . . Fraulein
could not know. . . . She glanced at her, but Fraulein's cavernous mouth
was serenely open and the voices of the girls sang heartily,
'Whenhy--_com_eth. Whenhy--_cometh, to _make_-up his
_jew_els----" These girls, Germany, that piano. . . . What did the
English girls think? Had anyone said anything? Were they chapel?
Fearfully, she told them over. No. Judy might be, and the Martins
perhaps, but not Gertrude, nor Jimmie, nor Millie. How did it happen?
What was the German Church? Luther--Lutheran.
She longed for the end.
She glanced through the book--frightful, frightful words and choruses.
The girls were getting on to their knees.
Oh dear, every night. Her elbows sank into soft red plush.
She was to have time for practising--and that English lesson--the
first--Oxford, decisive for--educated people. . . .
Fraulein's calm voice came almost in a whisper, "Vater unser . . . der
Du bist im Himmel," and the murmuring voices of the girls followed her.
Miriam went to bed content, wrapped in music. The theme of Carlo's solo
recurred again and again; and every time it brought something of the
wonderful light--the sense of going forward and forward through space.
She fell asleep somewhere outside the world. No sooner was she asleep
than a voice was saying, "Bonjour, Meece," and her eyes opened on
daylight and Mademoiselle's little night-gowned form minuetting towards
her down the single strip of matting. Her hair, hanging in short
ringlets when released, fell forward round her neck as she bowed--the
slightest dainty inclination, from side to side against the swaying of
her dance. She was smiling her down-glancing, little sprite smile.
Miriam loved her. . . .
A great plaque of sunlight lay across the breakfast-table. Miriam was
too happy to trouble about her imminent trial. She reflected that it
was quite possible to-day and to-morrow would be free. None of the
visiting masters came, except, sometimes, Herr Bossenberger for
music-lessons--that much she had learned from Mademoiselle. And, after
all, the class she had so dreaded had dwindled to just these four girls,
little Emma and the three grown-up girls. They probably knew all the
rules and beginnings. It would be just reading and so on. It would not
be so terrible--four sensible girls; and besides they had accepted her.
It did not seem anything extraordinary to them that she should teach
them; and they did not dislike her. Of that she felt sure. She could
not say this for even one of the English girls. But the German girls
did not dislike her. She felt at ease sitting amongst them and was glad
she was there and not at the English end of the table. Down here,
hemmed in by the Bergmanns with Emma's little form, her sounds,
movements and warmth, her little quiet friendliness planted between
herself and the English, with the apparently unobservant Minna and Elsa
across the way she felt safe. She felt fairly sure those German eyes
did not criticise her. Perhaps, she suggested to herself, they thought
a good deal of English people in general; and then they were in the
minority, only four of them; it was evidently a school for English girls
as much as anything . . . strange--what an adventure for all those
English girls--to be just boarders--Miriam wondered how she would feel
sitting there as an English boarder among the Martins and Gertrude,
Millie, Jimmie and Judy? It would mean being friendly with them.
Finally she ensconced herself amongst her Germans, feeling additionally
secure. . . . Fraulein had spent many years in England. Perhaps that
explained the breakfast of oatmeal porridge--piled plates of thick
stirabout thickly sprinkled with pale, very sweet powdery brown
sugar--and the eggs to follow with rolls and butter.
Miriam wondered how Fraulein felt towards the English girls.
She wondered whether Fraulein liked the English girls best. . . . She
paid no attention to the little spurts of conversation that came at
intervals as the table grew more and more dismantled. She was there,
safely there--what a perfectly stupendous thing--"weird and stupendous"
she told herself. The sunlight poured over her and her companions from
the great windows behind Fraulein Pfaff. . . .
When breakfast was over and the girls were clearing the table, Fraulein
went to one of the great windows and stood for a moment with her hands
on the hasp of the innermost of the double frames. "Balde, balde,"
Miriam heard her murmur, "werden wir offnen konnen." Soon, soon we may
open. Obviously then they had had the windows shut all the winter.
Miriam, standing in the corner near the companion window, wondering what
she was supposed to do and watching the girls with an air--as nearly as
she could manage--of indulgent condescension--saw, without turning, the
figure at the window, gracefully tall, with a curious dignified
pannier-like effect about the skirt that swept from the small
tightly-fitting pointed bodice, reminding her of illustrations of
heroines of serials in old numbers of the "Girls' Own Paper." The dress
was of dark blue velvet--very much rubbed and faded. Miriam liked the
effect, liked something about the clear profile, the sallow, hollow
cheeks, the same heavy bonyness that Anna the servant had, but finer and
redeemed by the wide eye that was so strange. She glanced fearfully, at
its unconsciousness, and tried to find words for the quick youthfulness
of those steady eyes.
Fraulein moved away into the little room opening from the schoolroom,
and some of the girls joined her there. Miriam turned to the window.
She looked down into a little square of high-walled garden. It was
gravelled nearly all over. Not a blade of grass was to be seen. A
narrow little border of bare brown mould joined the gravel to the high
walls. In the centre was a little domed patch of earth and there a
chestnut tree stood. Great bulging brown-varnished buds were shining
whitely from each twig. The girls seemed to be gathering in the room
behind her--settling down round the table--Mademoiselle's voice sounded
from the head of the table where Fraulein had lately been. It must be
_raccommodage_ thought Miriam--the weekly mending Mademoiselle had
told her of. Mademoiselle was superintending. Miriam listened. This
was a sort of French lesson. They all sat round and did their mending
together in French--darning must be quite different done like that, she
Jimmie's voice came, rounded and giggling, "Oh, Mademoiselle! j'ai une
_potato_, pardong, pum de terre, je mean." She poked three fingers
through the toe of her stocking. "Veux dire, veux dire--Qu'est-ce-que
vous me racontez la?" scolded Mademoiselle. Miriam envied her air of
"Ah-ho! La-la--Boum--Bong!" came Gertrude's great voice from the door.
"Taisez-vous, taisez-vous, Jair-trude," rebuked Mademoiselle.
"How dare she?" thought Miriam, with a picture before her eyes of the
little grey-gowned thing with the wistful, frugal mouth and nose.
It was Fraulein's voice from within the little room. Minna was holding
the door open.
At the end of twenty minutes, dismissed by Fraulein with a smiling
recommendation to go and practise in the saal, Miriam had run upstairs
for her music.
"It's all right. I'm all right. I shall be able to do it," she said to
herself as she ran. The ordeal was past. She was, she had learned, to
talk English with the German girls, at table, during walks, whenever she
found herself with them, excepting on Saturdays and Sundays--and she was
to read with the four--for an hour, three times a week. There had been
no mention of grammar or study in any sense she understood.
She had had a moment of tremor when Fraulein had said in her slow clear
English, "I leave you to your pupils, Miss Henderson," and with that had
gone out and shut the door. The moment she had dreaded had come. This
was Germany. There was no escape. Her desperate eyes caught sight of a
solid-looking volume on the table, bound in brilliant blue cloth. She
got it into her shaking hands. It was "Misunderstood." She felt she
could have shouted in her relief. A treatise on the Morse code would
not have surprised her. She had heard that such things were studied at
school abroad and that German children knew the names and, worse than
that, the meaning of the names of the streets in the city of London.
But this book that she and Harriett had banished and wanted to burn in
their early teens together with "Sandford and Merton." . . .
"You are reading 'Misunderstood'?" she faltered, glancing at the four
politely waiting girls.
It was Minna who answered her in her husky, eager voice.
"D'ja, d'ja," she responded, "na, ich meine, _yace, yace_ we
read--so sweet and beautiful book--not?"
"Oh," said Miriam, "yes . . ." and then eagerly, "you all like it, do
Clara and Elsa agreed unenthusiastically. Emma, at her elbow, made a
little despairing gesture, "I can't English," she moaned gently, "too
Miriam tested their reading. The class had begun. Nothing had
happened. It was all right. They each, dutifully and with extreme
carefulness read a short passage. Miriam sat blissfully back. It was
incredible. The class was going on. The chestnut tree budded approval
from the garden. She gravely corrected their accents. The girls were
respectful. They appeared to be interested. They vied with each other
to get exact sounds; and they presently delighted Miriam by telling her
they could understand her English much better than that of her
predecessor. "So cleare, so cleare," they chimed, "Voonderfoll." And
then they all five seemed to be talking at once. The little room was
full of broken English, of Miriam's interpolated corrections. It was
going--succeeding. This was her class. She hoped Fraulein was
listening outside. She probably was. Heads of foreign schools did.
She remembered Madame Beck in "Villette." But if she was not, she hoped
they would tell her about being able to understand the new English
teacher so well. "Oh, I am haypie," Emma was saying, with adoring eyes
on Miriam and her two arms outflung on the table. Miriam recoiled.
This would not do--they must not all talk at once and go on like this.
Minna's whole face was aflame. She sat up stiffly--adjusted her
pince-nez--and desperately ordered the reading to begin again--at Minna.
They all subsided and Minna's careful husky voice came from her still
blissfully-smiling face. The others sat back and attended. Miriam
watched Minna judicially, and hoped she looked like a teacher. She knew
her pince-nez disguised her and none of these girls knew she was only
seventeen and a half. "Sorrowg," Minna was saying, hesitating. Miriam
had not heard the preceding word. "Once more the whole sentence," she
said, with quiet gravity, and then as Minna reached the word "thorough"
she corrected and spent five minutes showing her how to get over the
redoubtable "th." They all experimented and exclaimed. They had never
been shown that it was just a matter of getting the tongue between the
teeth. Miriam herself had only just discovered it. She speculated as
to how long it would take her to deliver them up to Fraulein Pfaff with
this notorious stumbling-block removed. She was astonished herself at
the mechanical simplicity of the cure. How stupid people must be not to
discover these things. Minna's voice went on. She would let her read a
page. She began to wonder rather blankly what she was to do to fill up
the hour after they had all read a page. She had just reached the
conclusion that they must do some sort of writing when Fraulein Pfaff
came, and still affable and smiling had ushered the girls to their
mending and sent Miriam off to the saal.
As she flew upstairs for her music, saying, "I'm all right. I can do it
all right," she was half-conscious that her provisional success with her
class had very little to do with her bounding joy. That success had not
so much given her anything to be glad about--it had rather removed an
obstacle of gladness which was waiting to break forth. She was going to
stay on. That was the point. She would stay in this wonderful place. .
. . She came singing down through the quiet house--the sunlight poured
from bedroom windows through open doors. She reached the quiet saal.
Here stood the great piano, its keyboard open under the light of the
French window opposite the door through which she came. Behind the
great closed swing doors the girls were talking over their raccommodage.
Miriam paid no attention to them. She would ignore them all. She did
not even need to try to ignore them. She felt strong and independent.
She would play, to herself. She would play something she knew
perfectly, a Grieg lyric or a movement from a Beethoven Sonata . . . on
this gorgeous piano . . . and let herself go, and listen. That was
music . . . not playing things, but listening to Beethoven. . . . It
must be Beethoven . . . Grieg was different . . . acquired . . . like
those strange green figs Pater had brought from Tarring . . . Beethoven
had always been real.
It was all growing clearer and clearer. . . . She chose the first part
of the first movement of the Sonata Pathetique. That she knew she could
play faultlessly. It was the last thing she had learned, and she had
never grown weary of practising slowly through its long bars of chords.
She had played it at her last music-lesson . . . dear old Stroodie
walking up and down the long drilling-room. . . . "Steady the bass";
"grip the chords," then standing at her side and saying in the thin
light sneery part of his voice, "You can . . . you've got hands like
umbrellas" . . . and showing her how easily she could stretch two notes
beyond his own span. And then marching away as she played and crying
out to her standing under the high windows at the far end of the room,
"Let it go! Let it go!"
And she had almost forgotten her wretched self, almost heard the music.
. . .
She felt for the pedals, lifted her hands a span above the piano as
Clara had done and came down, true and clean, on to the opening chord.
The full rich tones of the piano echoed from all over the room; and some
metal object far away from her hummed the dominant. She held the chord
for its full term. . . . Should she play any more?
She had confessed herself . . . just that minor chord . . . anyone
hearing it would know more than she could ever tell them . . . her whole
being beat out the rhythm as she waited for the end of the phrase to
insist on what already had been said. As it came, she found herself
sitting back, slackening the muscles of her arms and of her whole body,
and ready to swing forward into the rising storm of her page. She did
not need to follow the notes on the music stand. Her fingers knew them.
Grave and happy she sat with unseeing eyes, listening, for the first
At the end of the page she was sitting with her eyes full of tears,
aware of Fraulein standing between the open swing doors with Gertrude's
face showing over her shoulder--its amazement changing to a
large-toothed smile as Fraulein's quietly repeated "Prachtvoll,
prachtvoll" came across the room. Miriam, after a hasty smile, sat
straining her eyes as widely as possible, so that the tears should not
fall. She glared at the volume in front of her, turning the pages. She
was glad that the heavy sun-blinds cast a deep shadow over the room.
She blinked. She thought they would not notice. Only one tear fell and
that was from the left eye, towards the wall. "You are a real musician,
Miss Henderson," said Fraulein, advancing.
Every other day or so Miriam found she could get an hour on a bedroom
piano; and always on a Saturday morning during _raccommodage._ She
rediscovered all the pieces she had already learned.
She went through them one by one, eagerly, slurring over difficulties,
pressing on, getting their effect, listening and discovering. "It's
_technique_ I want," she told herself, when she had reached the end
of her collection, beginning to attach a meaning to the familiar word.
Then she set to work. She restricted herself to the Pathetique, always
omitting the first page, which she knew so well and practised
mechanically, slowly, meaninglessly, with neither pedalling nor
expression, page by page until a movement was perfect. Then when the
mood came, she played . . . and listened. She soon discovered she could
not always "play"--even the things she knew perfectly--and she began to
understand the fury that had seized her when her mother and a woman here
and there had taken for granted one should "play when asked," and coldly
treated her refusal as showing lack of courtesy. "Ah!" she said aloud,
as this realisation came, "Women."
"Of course you can only 'play when you _can,_'" said she to
herself, "like a bird singing."
She sang once or twice, very quietly, in those early weeks. But she
gave that up. She had a whole sheaf of songs with her. But after that
first Vorspielen they seemed to have lost their meaning. One by one she
looked them through. Her dear old Venetian song, "Beauty's Eyes," "An
Old Garden"--she hesitated over that, and hummed it through--"Best of
All"--"In Old Madrid"--the vocal score of the "Mikado"--her little
"Chanson de Florian," and a score of others. She blushed at her
collection. The "Chanson de Florian" might perhaps hold its own at a
Vorspielen--sung by Bertha Martin--perhaps. . . . The remainder of her
songs, excepting a little bound volume of Sterndale Bennett, she put
away at the bottom of her Saratoga trunk. Meanwhile, there were songs
being learned by Herr Bossenberger's pupils for which she listened
hungrily; Schubert, Grieg, Brahms. She would always, during those early
weeks, sacrifice her practising to listen from the schoolroom to a pupil
singing in the saal.
The morning of Ulrica Hesse's arrival was one of the mornings when she
could "play." She was sitting, happy, in the large English bedroom,
listening. It was late. She was beginning to wonder why the gonging
did not come when the door opened. It was Millie in her dressing-gown,
with her hair loose and a towel over her arm.
"Oh, bitte, Miss Henderson, will you please go down to Frau Krause,
Fraulein Pfaff says," she said, her baby face full of responsibility.
Miriam rose uneasily. What might this be? "Frau Krause?" she asked.
"Oh yes, it's Haarwaschen," said Millie anxiously, evidently determined
to wait until Miriam recognised her duty.
"Where?" said Miriam aghast.
"Oh, in the basement. I _must_ go. Frau Krause's waiting. Will
"Oh well, I suppose so," mumbled Miriam, coming to the door as the child
turned to go.
"All right," said Millie, "I'm going down. Do make haste, Miss
Henderson, will you?"
"All right," said Miriam, going back into the room.
Collecting her music she went incredulously upstairs. This was school
with a vengeance. This was boarding-school. It was abominable.
Fraulein Pfaff indeed! Ordering her, Miriam, to go downstairs and have
her hair washed . . . by Frau Krause . . . off-hand, without any warning
. . . someone should have told her--and let her choose. Her hair was
clean. Sarah had always done it. Miriam's throat contracted. She
would not go down. Frau Krause should not touch her. She reached the
attics. Their door was open and there was Mademoiselle in her little
alpaca dressing-jacket, towelling her head.
Her face came up, flushed and gay. Miriam was too angry to note till
afterwards how pretty she had looked with her hair like that.
"Ah! . . . c'est le grand lavage!" sang Mademoiselle.
"Oui," said Miriam surlily.
What could she do? She imagined the whole school waiting downstairs to
see her come down to be done. Should she go down and decline, explain
to Fraulein Pfaff. She hated her vindictively--her "calm"
message--"treating me like a child." She saw the horse smile and heard
the caustic voice.
"It's sickening," she muttered, whisking her dressing-gown from its nail
and seizing a towel. Mademoiselle was piling up her damp hair before
the little mirror.
Slowly Miriam made her journey to the basement.
Minna and Elsa were brushing out their long hair with their door open.
A strong sweet perfume came from the room.
The basement hall was dark save for the patch of light coming from the
open kitchen door. In the patch stood a low table and a kitchen chair.
On the table which was shining wet and smeary with soap, stood a huge
basin. Out over the basin flew a long tail of hair and Miriam's anxious
eyes found Millie standing in the further gloom twisting and wringing.
No one else was to be seen. Perhaps it was all over. She was too late.
Then a second basin held in coarse red hands appeared round the kitchen
door and in a moment a woman, large and coarse, with the sleeves of her
large-checked blue and white cotton dress rolled back and a great
"teapot" of pale nasturtium coloured hair shining above the third of
Miriam's "bony" German faces had emerged and plumped her steaming basin
down upon the table.
Soap? and horrid pudding basins of steaming water. Miriam's hair had
never been washed with anything but cantharides and rose-water on a tiny
In full horror, "Oh," she said, in a low vague voice, "It doesn't matter
"Gun' Tak' Fr'n," snapped the woman briskly.
Miriam gave herself up.
"Gooten Mawgen, Frau Krause," said Millie's polite departing voice.
Miriam's outraged head hung over the steaming basin--her hair spread
round it like a tent frilling out over the table.
For a moment she thought that the nausea which had seized her as she
surrendered would, the next instant, make flight imperative. Then her
amazed ears caught the sharp bump--crack--of an eggshell against the rim
of the basin, followed by a further brisk crackling just above her. She
shuddered from head to foot as the egg descended with a cold slither
upon her incredulous skull. Tears came to her eyes as she gave beneath
the onslaught of two hugely enveloping, vigorously drubbing
hands--"sh--ham--poo" gasped her mind.
The drubbing went relentlessly on. Miriam steadied her head against it
and gradually warmth and ease began to return to her shivering, clenched
body. Her hair was gathered into the steaming basin--dipped and rinsed
and spread, a comforting compress, warm with the water, over her
egg-sodden head. There was more drubbing, more dipping and rinsing.
The second basin was re-filled from the kitchen, and after a final rinse
in its fresh warm water, Miriam found herself standing up--with a
twisted tail of wet hair hanging down over her cape of damp
towel--glowing and hungry.
"Thank you," she said timidly to Frau Krause's bustling presence.
"Gun' Tak Fr'n," said Frau Krause, disappearing into the kitchen.
Miriam gave her hair a preliminary drying, gathered her dressing-gown
together and went upstairs. From the schoolroom came unmistakable
sounds. They were evidently at dinner. She hurried to her attic. What
_was_ she to do with her hair? She rubbed it desperately--fancy
being landed with hair like that, in the middle of the day! She could
not possibly go down. . . . She must. Fraulein Pfaff would expect her
to--and would be disgusted if she were not quick--she towelled
frantically at the short strands round her forehead, despairingly
screwed them into Hinde's and towelled at the rest. What had the other
girls done? If only she could look into the schoolroom before going
down--it was awful--what should she do? . . . She caught sight of a
sodden-looking brush on Mademoiselle's bed. Mademoiselle had put hers
up--she had seen her . . . of course . . . easy enough for her little
fluffy clouds--she could do nothing with her straight, wet lumps--she
began to brush it out--it separated into thin tails which flipped tiny
drops of moisture against her hands as she brushed. Her arms ached; her
face flared with her exertions. She was ravenous--she must manage
somehow and go down. She braided the long strands and fastened their
cold mass with extra hairpins. Then she unfastened the Hinde's--two
tendrils flopped limply against her forehead. She combed them out.
They fell in a curtain of streaks to her nose. Feverishly she divided
them, draped them somehow back into the rest of her hair and fastened
"Oh," she breathed, "my _ghastly_ forehead."
It was all she could do--short of gas and curling tongs. Even the
candle was taken away in the daytime.
It was cold and bleak upstairs. Her wet hair lay in a heavy mass
against her burning head. She was painfully hungry. She went down.
The snarling rattle of the coffee mill sounded out into the hall.
Several voices were speaking together as she entered. Fraulein Pfaff
was not there. Gertrude Goldring was grinding the coffee. The girls
were sitting round the table in easy attitudes and had the effect of
holding a council. Emma, her elbows on the table, her little face
bunched with scorn, put out a motherly arm and set a chair for Miriam.
Jimmie had flung some friendly remark as she came in. Miriam did not
hear what she said, but smiled responsively. She wanted to get quietly
to her place and look round. There was evidently something in the air.
They all seemed preoccupied. Perhaps no one would notice how awful she
looked. "You're not the only one, my dear," she said to herself in her
mother's voice. "No," she replied in person, "but no one will be
looking so perfectly frightful as me."
"I say, do they know you're down?" said Gertrude hospitably, as the
boiling water snored on to the coffee.
Emma rushed to the lift and rattled the panel.
"Anna!" she ordered, "Meece Hendshon! Suppe!"
"Oh, thanks," said Miriam, in general. She could not meet anyone's eye.
The coffee cups were being slid up to Gertrude's end of the table and
rapidly filled by her. Gertrude, of course, she noticed had contrived
to look dashing and smart. Her hair, with the exception of some wild
ends that hung round her face was screwed loosely on the top of her head
and transfixed with a dagger-like tortoise-shell hair ornament--like a
Japanese--Indian--no, Maori--that was it, she looked like a New
Zealander. Clara and Minna had fastened up theirs with combs and
ribbons and looked decent--frauish though, thought Miriam. Judy wore a
plait. Without her fuzzy cloud she looked exactly like a country
servant, a farmhouse servant. She drank her coffee noisily and
furtively--she looked extraordinary, thought Miriam, and took comfort.
The Martins' brown bows appeared on their necks instead of cresting
their heads-it improved them, Miriam thought. What regular features
they had. Bertha looked like a youth--like a musician. Her hair was
loosened a little at the sides, shading the corners of her forehead and
adding to its height. It shone like marble, high and straight. Emma's
hair hung round her like a shawl. 'Lisbeth, Gretchen . . . what was
that lovely German name . . . hild . . . Brunhilde. . .
Talk had begun again. Miriam hoped they had not noticed her. Her
"Braten" shot up the lift.
"Lauter Unsinn!" announced Clara.
"We've all got to do our hair in clash . . . clashishsher Knoten, Hendy,
all of us," said Jimmie judicially, sitting forward with her plump hands
clasped on the table. Her pinnacle of hair looked exactly as usual.
"Oh, really." Miriam tried to make a picture of a classic knot in her
"If one have classic head one can have classic knot," scolded Clara.
"Who have classic head?"
"How many classic head in the school of Waldstrasse?"
Elsa gave a little neighing laugh. "Classisch head, classisch Knote."
"That is true what you say, Clarah."
The table paused.
"Dites-moi--qu'est-ce-que ce terrible classique notte? Dites!"
No one seemed prepared to answer Mademoiselle's challenge.
Miriam's mind groped . . . classic--Greece and Rome--Greek knot. . . .
Grecian key . . . a Grecian key pattern on the dresses for the sixth
form tableau--reading Ruskin . . . the strip of glass all along the
window space on the floor in the large room--edged with mosses and
grass--the mirror of Venus. . . .
"Eh bien? Eh bien!"
. . . Only the eldest pretty girls . . . all on their hands and knees
looking into the mirror. . . .
"Classische Form--Griechisch," explained Clara.
"Like a statue, Mademoiselle."
"Comment! Une statue! Je dois arranger mes cheveux comme une statue?
Oh, ciel!" mocked Mademoiselle, collapsing into tinkles of her sprite
laughter. . . . "Oh-la-la! Et quelle statue par exemple?" she trilled,
with ironic eyebrows, "la statue de votre Kaisere Wilhelm der Grosse
Back to Full Books