Pointed Roofs (Pilgrimage 1)
Part 2 out of 4
The Martins' guffaws led the laughter.
"Mademoisellekin with her hair done like the Kaiser Wilhelm," pealed
Only Clara remained grave in wrath.
"Einfach," she quoted bitterly, "Simple--says Lily, so simple!"
"I make no change, not at all," smiled Minna from behind her nose. "For
this Ulrica it is quite something other. . . . She has yes truly so
charming a little head."
She spoke quietly and unenviously.
"I too, indeed. Lily may go and play the flute."
"Brave girls," said Gertrude, getting up. "Come on, Kinder, clearing
time. You'll excuse us, Miss Henderson? There's your pudding in the
lift. Do you mind having your coffee _mit?_"
The girls began to clear up.
_"Leelly, Leely,_ Leely Pfaff," muttered Clara as she helped, "so
einfach und niedlich," she mimicked, "ach _was!_ Schwarmerei--das
find' ich abscheulich! I find it disgusting!"
So that was it. It was the new girl. Lily, was Fraulein Pfaff. So the
new girl wore her hair in a classic knot. How lovely. Without her hat
she had "a charming little head," Minna had said. And that face. Minna
had seen how lovely she was and had not minded. Clara was jealous. Her
head with a classic knot and no fringe, her worn-looking sallow face. .
. . She would look like a "prisoner at the bar" in some newspaper. How
they hated Fraulein Pfaff. The Germans at least. Fancy calling her
Lily--Miriam did not like it, she had known at once. None of the
teachers at school had been called by their Christian names--there had
been old Quagmire, the Elfkin, and dear Donnikin, Stroodie, and good old
Kingie and all of them--but no Christian names. Oh yes--Sally--so there
had--Sally--but then Sally was--couldn't have been anything else--never
could have held a position of any sort. They ought not to call Fraulein
Pfaff that. It was, somehow, nasty. Did the English girls do it?
Ought she to have said anything? Mademoiselle did not seem at all
shocked. Where was Fraulein Pfaff all this time? Perhaps somewhere
hidden away, in her rooms, being "done" by Frau Krause. Fancy telling
them all to alter the way they did their hair.
Everyone was writing Saturday letters--Mademoiselle and the Germans with
compressed lips and fine careful evenly moving pen-points; the English
scrawling and scraping and dashing, their pens at all angles and
careless, eager faces. An almost unbroken silence seemed the order of
the earlier part of a Saturday afternoon. To-day the room was very
still, save for the slight movements of the writers. At intervals
nothing was to be heard but the little chorus of pens. Clara, still
smouldering, sitting at the window end of the room looked now and again
gloomily out into the garden. Miriam did not want to write letters.
She sat, pen in hand, and note-paper in front of her, feeling that she
loved the atmosphere of these Saturday afternoons. This was her second.
She had been in the school a fortnight--the first Saturday she had
spent writing to her mother--a long letter for everyone to read, full of
first impressions and enclosing a slangy almost affectionate little note
for Harriett. In her general letter she had said, "If you want to think
of something jolly, think of me, here." She had hesitated over that
sentence when she considered meal-times, especially the midday meal, but
on the whole she had decided to let it stand--this afternoon she felt it
was truer. She was beginning to belong to the house--she did not want
to write letters--but just to sit revelling in the sense of this room
full of quietly occupied girls--in the first hours of the weekly
holiday. She thought of strange Ulrica somewhere upstairs and felt
quite one of the old gang. "Ages" she had known all these girls. She
was not afraid of them at all. She would not be afraid of them any
more. Emma Bergmann across the table raised a careworn face from her
two lines of large neat lettering and caught her eye. She put up her
hands on either side of her mouth as if for shouting.
"_Hendchen,_" she articulated silently, in her curious lipless way,
"mein liebes, liebes, Hendchen."
Miriam smiled timidly and sternly began fumbling at her week's
letters--one from Eve, full of congratulations and
recommendations--"Keep up your music, my dear," said the conclusion,
"and don't mind that little German girl being fond of you. It is
impossible to be too fond of people if you keep it all on a high level,"
and a scrawl from Harriett, pure slang from beginning to end. Both
these letters and an earlier one from her mother had moved her to tears
and longing when they came. She re-read them now unmoved and felt aloof
from the things they suggested. It did not seem imperative to respond
to them at once. She folded them together. If only she could bring
them all for a minute into this room, the wonderful Germany that she had
achieved. If they could even come to the door and look in. She did not
in the least want to go back. She wanted them to come to her and taste
Germany--to see all that went on in this wonderful house, to see pretty,
German Emma, adoring her--to hear the music that was everywhere all the
week, that went, like a garland, in and out of everything, to hear her
play, by accident, and acknowledge the difference in her playing. Oh
yes, besides seeing them all she wanted them to hear her play. . . . She
must stay . . . she glanced round the room. It was here, somehow,
somewhere, in this roomful of girls, centring in the Germans at her end
of the table, reflected on to the English group, something of that
influence that had made her play. It was in the sheen on Minna's hair,
in Emma's long-plaited schoolgirlishness, somehow in Clara's anger. It
was here, here, and she was in it. . . . She must pretend to be writing
letters or someone might speak to her. She would hate anyone who
challenged her at this moment. Jimmie might. It was just the kind of
thing Jimmie would do. Her eyes were always roving round. . . . There
were a lot of people like that. . . . It was all right when you wanted
anything or to--to--"create a diversion"--when everybody was
quarrelling. But at the wrong times it was awful. . . . The Radnors and
Pooles were like that. She could have killed them often. "Hullo, Mim,"
they would say. "Wake up!" or "What's the row!" and if you asked why,
they would laugh and tell you you looked like a dying duck in a
thunderstorm. . . . It was all right. No one had noticed her--or if
either of the Germans had they would not think like that--they would
understand--she believed in a way, they would understand. At the worst
they would look at you as if they were somehow with you and say
something sentimental. "Sie hat Heimweh" or something like that. Minna
would. Minna's forget-me-not blue eyes behind her pink nose would be
quite real and alive. . . . Ein Blatt--she dipped her pen and wrote Ein
Blatt . . . aus . . . Ein Blatt aus sommerlichen Tagen that thing they
had begun last Saturday afternoon and gone on and on with until she had
hated the sound of the words. How did it go on? "Ein Blatt aus
sommerlichen Tagen," she breathed in a half whisper. Minna heard--and
without looking up from her writing quietly repeated the verse. Her
voice rose and trembled slightly on the last line.
"Oh, chuck it, Minna," groaned Bertha Martin.
"Tchookitt," repeated Minna absently, and went on with her writing.
Miriam was scribbling down the words as quickly as she could--
"Ein Blatt aus sommerlichen Tagen
Ich nahm es so im Wandern mit
Auf dass es einst mir moge sagen
Wie laut die Nachtigall geschlagen
Wie grun der Wald den ich--durchtritt--"
durchtritt--durchschritt--she was not sure. It was perfectly
lovely--she read it through translating stumblingly--
"A leaf from summery days
I took it with me on my way,
So that it might remind me
How loud the nightingale had sung,
How green the wood I had passed through."
With a pang she felt it was true that summer ended in dead leaves.
But she had no leaf, nothing to remind her of her summer days. They
were all past and she had nothing--not the smallest thing. The two
little bunches of flowers she had put away in her desk had all crumbled
together, and she could not tell which was which. . . . There was
nothing else but the things she had told Eve--and perhaps Eve had
forgotten . . . there was nothing. There were the names in her birthday
book! She had forgotten them. She would look at them. She flushed.
She would look at them to-morrow, sometime when Mademoiselle was not
there. . . . The room was waking up from its letter-writing. People
were moving about. She would not write to-day. It was not worth while
beginning. She took a fresh sheet of note-paper and copied her verse,
spacing it carefully with a wide margin all round so that it came
exactly in the middle of the page. It would soon be tea-time. "Wie
grun der Wald." She remembered one wood--the only one she could
remember--there were no woods at Barnes or at the seaside--only that
wood, at the very beginning, someone carrying Harriett--and green green,
the brightest she had ever seen, and anemones everywhere, she could see
them distinctly at this moment--she wanted to put her face down into the
green among the anemones. She could not remember how she got there or
the going home, but just standing there--the green and the flowers and
something in her ear buzzing and frightening her and making her cry, and
somebody poking a large finger into the buzzing ear and making it very
hot and sore.
The afternoon sitting had broken up. The table was empty.
Emma, in raptures--near the window, was calling to the other Germans.
Minna came and chirruped too--there was a sound of dull scratching on
the window--then a little burst of admiration from Emma and Minna
together. Miriam looked round--in Emma's hand shone a small antique
watch encrusted with jewels; at her side was the new girl. Miriam saw a
filmy black dress, and above it a pallid face. What was it like? It
was like--like--like jasmine--that was it--jasmine--and out of the
jasmine face the great gaze she had met in the morning turned
half-puzzled, half-disappointed upon the growing group of girls
examining the watch.
Miriam paid her first visit to a German church the next day, her third
Sunday. Of the first Sunday, now so far off, she could remember nothing
but sitting in a low-backed chair in the saal trying to read "Les
Travailleurs de la Mer" . . . seas . . . and a sunburnt youth striding
down a desolate lane in a storm . . . and the beginning of tea-time.
They had been kept indoors all day by the rain.
The second Sunday they had all gone in the evening to the English church
with Fraulein Pfaff . . . rush-seated chairs with a ledge for books,
placed very close together and scrooping on the stone floor with the
movements of the congregation . . . a little gathering of English
people. They seemed very dear for a moment . . . what was it about them
that was so attractive . . . that gave them their air of "refinement"? .
Then as she watched their faces as they sang she felt that she knew all
these women, the way, with little personal differences, they would talk,
the way they would smile and take things for granted.
And the men, standing there in their overcoats. . . . Why were they
there? What were they doing? What were their thoughts?
She pressed as against a barrier. Nothing came to her from these
They seemed so untroubled. . . . Probably they were all Conservatives. .
. . That was part of their "refinement." They would all disapprove of
Mr. Gladstone. . . . Get up into the pulpit and say "Gladstone" very
loud . . . and watch the result. Gladstone was a Radical . . . "pull
everything up by the roots." . . . Pater was always angry and sneery
about him. . . . Where were the Radicals? Somewhere very far away . . .
tub-thumping . . . the Conservatives made them thump tubs . . . no
She decided she must be a Radical. Certainly she did not belong to
these "refined" English--women or men. She was quite sure of that,
seeing them gathered together, English Church-people in this foreign
But then Radicals were probably chapel?
It would be best to stay with the Germans. Yes. . . . she would stay.
There was a woman sitting in the endmost chair just across the aisle in
line with them. She had a pale face and looked worn and middle-aged.
The effect of "refinement" made on Miriam by the congregation seemed to
radiate from her. There was a large ostrich feather fastened by a
gleaming buckle against the side of her silky beaver hat. It swept,
Miriam found the word during the Psalms, back over her hair. Miriam
glancing at her again and again felt that she would like to be near her,
watch her and touch her and find out the secret of her effect. But not
talk to her, never talk to her.
She, too, sad and alone though Miriam knew her to be, would have her way
of smiling and taking things for granted. The sermon came. Miriam sat,
chafing, through it. One angry glance towards the pulpit had shown her
a pale, black-moustached face. She checked her thoughts. She felt they
would be too savage; would rend her unendurably. She tried not to
listen. She felt the preacher was dealing out "pastoral platitudes."
She tried to give her mind elsewhere; but the sound of the voice,
unconvinced and unconvincing threatened her again and again with a tide
of furious resentment. She fidgeted and felt for thoughts and tried to
compose her face to a semblance of serenity. It would not do to sit
scowling here amongst her pupils with Fraulein Pfaff's eye commanding
her profile from the end of the pew just behind. . . . The air was gassy
and close, her feet were cold. The gentle figure across the aisle was
sitting very still, with folded hands and grave eyes fixed in the
direction of the pulpit. Of course. Miriam had known it. She would
"think over" the sermon afterwards. . . . The voice in the pulpit had
dropped. Miriam glanced up. The figure faced about and intoned
rapidly, the congregation rose for a moment rustling, and rustling
subsided again. A hymn was given out. They rose again and sang. It
was "Lead, Kindly Light." Chilly and feverish and weary Miriam listened
. . . "the encircling glooo--om" . . . Cardinal Newman coming back from
Italy in a ship . . . in the end he had gone over to Rome . . . high
altars . . . candles . . . incense . . . safety and warmth.
From far away a radiance seemed to approach and to send out a breath
that touched and stirred the stuffy air . . . the imploring voices sang
on . . . poor cold English things . . . Miriam suddenly became aware of
Emma Bergmann standing at her side with open hymn-book shaking with
laughter. She glanced sternly at her, mastering a sympathetic
Emma looked so sweet standing there shaking and suffused. Her blue eyes
were full of tears. Miriam wanted to giggle too. She longed to know
what had amused her . . . just the fact of their all standing suddenly
there together. She dared not join her . . . no more giggling as she
and Harriett had giggled. She would not even be able afterwards to ask
her what it was.
Sitting on this third Sunday morning in the dim Schloss Kirche--the
Waldstrasse pew was in one of its darkest spaces and immediately under
the shadow of a deeply overhanging gallery--Miriam understood poor
Emma's confessed hysteria over the abruptly alternating kneelings and
standings, risings and sittings of an Anglican congregation. Here,
there was no need to be on the watch for the next move. The service
droned quietly and slowly on. Miriam paid no heed to it. She sat in
the comforting darkness. The unobserving Germans were all round her,
the English girls tailed away invisibly into the distant obscurity.
Fraulein Pfaff was not there, nor Mademoiselle. She was alone with the
school. She felt safe for a while and derived solace from the
reflection that there would always be church. If she were a governess
all her life there would be church. There was a little sting of guilt
in the thought. It would be practising deception. . . . To despise it
all, to hate the minister and the choir and the congregation and yet to
come--running--she could imagine herself all her life running, at least
in her mind, weekly to some church--working her fingers into their
gloves and pretending to take everything for granted and to be just like
everybody else and really thinking only of getting into a quiet pew and
ceasing to pretend. It was wrong to use church like that. She was
wrong--all wrong. It couldn't be helped. Who was there who could help
her? She imagined herself going to a clergyman and saying she was bad
and wanted to be good--even crying. He would be kind and would pray and
smile--and she would be told to listen to sermons in the right spirit.
She could never do that. . . . There she felt she was on solid ground.
Listening to sermons was wrong . . . people ought to refuse to be
preached at by these men. Trying to listen to them made her more
furious than anything she could think of, more base in submitting . . .
those men's sermons were worse than women's smiles . . . just as
insincere at any rate . . . and you could get away from the smiles, make
it plain you did not agree and that things were not simple and settled .
. . but you could not stop a sermon. It was so unfair. The service
might be lovely, if you did not listen to the words; and then the man
got up and went on and on from unsound premises until your brain was
sick . . . droning on and on and getting more and more pleased with
himself and emphatic . . . and nothing behind it. As often as not you
could pick out the logical fallacy if you took the trouble. . . .
Preachers knew no more than anyone else . . . you could see by their
faces . . . sheeps' faces. . . . What a terrible life . . . and wives
and children in the homes taking them for granted. . . .
Certainly it was wrong to listen to sermons . . . stultifying . . .
unless they were intellectual . . . lectures like Mr. Brough's . . .
that was as bad, because they were not sermons. . . . either kind was
bad and ought not to be allowed . . . a homily . . . sermons . . .
homilies . . . a quiet homily might be something rather nice . . . and
have not _Charity_--sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. . . .
Caritas . . . I have _none_ I am sure. . . . Fraulein Pfaff would
listen. She would smile afterwards and talk about a "schone
Predigt"--certainly. . . . If she should ask about the sermon?
Everything would come out then.
What would be the good? Fraulein would not understand. It would be
better to pretend. She could not think of any woman who would
understand. And she would be obliged to live somewhere. She must
pretend to somebody. She wanted to go on, to see the spring. But must
she always be pretending? Would it always be that . . . living with
exasperating women who did not understand . . . pretending . . .
grimacing? . . . Were German women the same? She wished she could tell
Eve the things she was beginning to feel about women. These English
girls were just the same. Millie . . . sweet lovely Millie. . . . How
she wished she had never spoken to her. Never said, "Are you fond of
crochet?" . . . Millie saying, "You must know all my people," and then
telling her a list of names and describing all her family. She had been
so pleased for the first moment. It had made her feel suddenly happy to
hear an English voice talking familiarly to her in the saal. And then
at the end of a few moments she had known she never wanted to hear
anything more of Millie and her people. It seemed strange that this
girl talking about her brothers' hobbies and the colour of her sister's
hair was the Millie she had first seen the night of the Vorspielen with
the "Madonna" face and no feet. Millie was smug. Millie would smile
when she was a little older--and she would go respectfully to church all
her life--Miriam had felt a horror even of the work-basket Millie had
been tidying during their conversation--and Millie had gone upstairs,
she knew, feeling that they had "begun to be friends" and would be
different the next time they met. It was her own fault. What had made
her speak to her? She was like that. . . . Eve had told her. She got
excited and interested in people and then wanted to throw them up. It
was not true. She did not want to throw them up. She wanted them to
leave her alone. . . . She had not been excited about Millie. It was
Ulrica . . . Ulrica . . . Ulrica . . . Ulrica . . . sitting up at
breakfast with her lovely head and her great eyes--her thin fingers
peeling an egg. . . . She had made them all look so "common." Ulrica
was different. Was she? Yes, Ulrica was different . . . Ulrica peeling
an egg and she, afterwards like a mad thing had gone into the saal and
talked to Millie in a vulgar, familiar way, no doubt.
And that had led to that dreadful talk with Gertrude. Gertrude's voice
sounding suddenly behind her as she stood looking out of the saal window
and their talk. She wished Gertrude had not told her about Hugo Wieland
and the skating. She was sure she would not have liked Erica Wieland.
She was glad she had left. "She was my chum," Gertrude had said, "and
he taught us all the outside edge and taught me figure-skating."
It was funny--improper--that these schoolgirls should go skating with
other girls' brothers. She had been so afraid of Gertrude that she had
pretended to be interested and had joked with her--she, Miss Henderson,
the governess had said--knowingly, "Let's see, he's the clean-shaven
one, isn't he?"
"_Rather_," Gertrude had said with a sort of winking grimace. . . .
They were singing a hymn. The people near her had not moved. Nobody
had moved. The whole church was sitting down, singing a hymn. What
wonderful people. . . . Like a sort of tea-party . . . everybody sitting
about--not sitting up to the table . . . happy and comfortable.
Emma had found her place and handed her a big hymn-book with the score.
There was time for Miriam to read the first line and recognise the
original of "Now thank we all our God',' before the singing had reached
the third syllable. She hung over the book.
"Nun--dank--et--Al--le--Gott." Now--thank--all--God. She read that
first line again and felt how much better the thing was without the "we"
and the "our." What a perfect phrase. . . . The hymn rolled on and she
recognised that it was the tune she knew--the hard square tune she and
Eve had called it--and Harriett used to mark time to it in jerks, a jerk
to each syllable, with a twisted glove-finger tip just under the book
ledge with her left hand, towards Miriam. But sung as these Germans
sang it, it did not jerk at all. It did not sound like a "proclamation"
or an order. It was . . . somehow . . . everyday. The notes seemed to
hold her up. This was--Luther--Germany--the Reformation--solid and
quiet. She glanced up and then hung more closely over her book. It was
the stained-glass windows that made the Schloss Kirche so dark. One
movement of her head showed her that all the windows within sight were
dark with rich colour, and there was oak everywhere--great shelves and
galleries and juttings of dark wood, great carved masses and a high dim
roof, and strange spaces of light; twilight, and light like moonlight
and people, not many people, a troop, a little army under the high roof,
with the great shadows all about them. "Nun danket alle Gott." There
was nothing to object to in that. Everybody could say that.
Everybody--Fraulein, Gertrude, all these little figures in the church,
the whole world. "Now thank, all, God!" . . . Emma and Marie were
chanting on either side of her. Immediately behind her sounded the
quavering voice of an old woman. They all felt it. She must remember
that. . . . Think of it every day.
During those early days Miriam realised that school-routine, as she knew
it--the planned days--the regular unvarying succession of lessons and
preparations, had no place in this new world. Even the masters'
lessons, coming in from outside and making a kind of framework of
appointments over the otherwise fortuitously occupied days, were, she
soon found, not always securely calculable. Herr Kapellmeister
Bossenberger would be heard booming and intoning in the hall
unexpectedly at all hours. He could be heard all over the house.
Miriam had never seen him, but she noticed that great haste was always
made to get a pupil to the saal and that he taught impatiently. He
shouted and corrected and mimicked. Only Millie's singing, apparently,
he left untouched. You could hear her lilting away through her little
high songs as serenely as she did at Vorspielen.
Miriam was at once sure that he found his task of teaching these girls
an extremely tiresome one.
Probably most teachers found teaching tiresome. But there was something
peculiar and new to her in Herr Bossenberger's attitude. She tried to
account for it . . . German men despised women. Why did they teach them
anything at all?
The same impression, the sense of a half-impatient, half-exasperated
tuition came to her from the lectures of Herr Winter and Herr Schraub.
Herr Winter, a thin tall withered-looking man with shabby hair and bony
hands whose veins stood up in knots, drummed on the table as he taught
botany and geography. The girls sat round bookless and politely
attentive and seemed, the Germans at least, to remember all the facts
for which he appealed during the last few minutes of his hour. Miriam
could never recall anything but his weary withered face.
Herr Schraub, the teacher of history, was, she felt, almost openly
contemptuous of his class. He would begin lecturing, almost before he
was inside the door. He taught from a book, sitting with downcast eyes,
his round red mass of face--expressionless save for the bristling spikes
of his tiny straw-coloured moustache and the rapid movements of his
tight rounded little lips--persistently averted from his pupils. For
the last few minutes of his time he would, ironically, his eyes fixed
ahead of him at a point on the table, snap questions--indicating his aim
with a tapping finger, going round the table like a dealer at cards.
Surely the girls must detest him. . . . The Germans made no modification
of their polite attentiveness. Amongst the English only Gertrude and
the Martins found any answers for him. Miriam, proud of sixth-form
history essays and the full marks she had generally claimed for them,
had no memory for facts and dates; but she made up her mind that were
she ever so prepared with a correct reply, nothing should drag from her
any response to these military tappings. Fraulein presided over these
lectures from the corner of the sofa out of range of the eye of the
teacher and horrified Miriam by voicelessly prompting the girls whenever
she could. There was no kind of preparation for these lessons.
Miriam mused over the difference between the bearing of these men and
that of the masters she remembered and tried to find words. What was
it? Had her masters been more--respectful than these Germans were? She
felt they had. But it was not only that. She recalled the men she
remembered teaching week by week through all the years she had known
them . . . the little bolster-like literature master, an albino, a
friend of Browning, reading, reading to them as if it were worth while,
as if they were equals . . . interested friends--that had never struck
her at the time. . . . But it was true--she could not remember ever
having felt a schoolgirl . . . or being "talked down" to . . . dear
Stroodie, the music-master, and Monsieur--old whitehaired Monsieur,
dearest of all, she could hear his gentle voice pleading with them on
behalf of his treasures . . . the drilling-master with his keen,
friendly blue eye . . . the briefless barrister who had taught them
arithmetic in a baritone voice, laughing all the time but really wanting
them to get on.
What was it she missed? Was it that her old teachers were "gentlemen"
and these Germans were not? She pondered over this and came to the
conclusion that the whole attitude of the Englishman and of Monsieur,
her one Frenchman, towards her sex was different from that of these
Germans. It occurred to her once in a flash during these puzzled
musings that the lessons she had had at school would not have been given
more zestfully, more as if it were worth while, had she and her
schoolfellows been boys. Here she could not feel that. The teaching
was grave enough. The masters felt the importance of what they taught .
. . she felt that they were formal, reverently formal, "pompous" she
called it, towards the facts that they flung out down the long
schoolroom table, but that the relationship of their pupils to these
facts seemed a matter of less indifference to them.
She began to recognise now with a glow of gratitude that her own
teachers, those who were enthusiastic about their subjects--the albino,
her dear Monsieur with his classic French prose, a young woman who had
taught them logic and the beginning of psychology--that strange, new
subject--were at least as enthusiastic about getting her and her mates
awake and into relationship with something. They cared somehow.
She recalled the albino, his face and voice generally separated from his
class by a book held vertically, close to his left eye, while he blocked
the right eye with his free hand--his faintly wheezy tones bleating
triumphantly out at the end of a passage from "The Ring and the Book,"
as he lowered his volume and bent beaming towards them all, his right
eye still blocked, for response. Miss Donne, her skimpy skirt powdered
with chalk, explaining a syllogism from the blackboard, turning quietly
to them, her face all aglow, her chalky hands gently pressed together,
"Do you _see?_ Does anyone _see?"_ Monsieur, spoiling them,
sharpening their pencils, letting them cheat over their pages of rules,
knowing quite well that each learned only one and directing his
questioning accordingly, Monsieur dreaming over the things he read to
them, repeating passages, wandering from his subject, making allusions
here and there--and all of them, she, at any rate, and Lilla--she knew,
often--in paradise. How rich and friendly and helpful they all seemed.
She began to wonder whether hers had been in some way a specially good
school. Things had mattered there. Somehow the girls had been made to
feel they mattered. She remembered even old Stroodie--the least
attached member of the staff--asking her suddenly, once, in the middle
of a music-lesson what she was going to do with her life and a day when
the artistic vice-principal--who was a connection by marriage of Holman
Hunt's and had met Ruskin, Miriam knew, several times--had gone from
girl to girl round the collected fifth and sixth forms asking them each
what they would best like to do in life. Miriam had answered at once
with a conviction born that moment that she wanted to "write a book."
It irritated her when she remembered during these reflections that she
had not been able to give to Fraulein Pfaff's public questioning any
intelligible account of the school. She might at least have told her of
the connection with Ruskin and Browning and Holman Hunt, whereas her
muddled replies had led Fraulein to decide that her school had been "a
kind of high school." She knew it had not been this. She felt there
was something questionable about a high school. She was beginning to
think that her school had been very good. Pater had seen to that--that
was one of the things he had steered and seen to. There had been a
school they might have gone to higher up the hill where one learned
needlework even in the "first class" as they called it instead of the
sixth form as at her school, and "Calisthenics" instead of drilling--and
something called elocution--where the girls were "finished." It was an
expensive school. Had the teachers there taught the girls . . . as if
they had no minds? Perhaps that school was more like the one she found
herself in now? She wondered and wondered. What was she going to do
with her life after all these years at the good school? She began bit
by bit to understand her agony on the day of leaving. It was there she
belonged. She ought to go back and go on.
One day she lay twisted and convulsed, face downwards on her bed at the
thought that she could never go back and begin. If only she could
really begin now, knowing what she wanted. . . . She would talk now with
those teachers. . . . Isn't it all wonderful! Aren't things wonderful!
Tell me some more. . . . She felt sure that if she could go back, things
would get clear. She would talk and think and understand. . . . She did
not linger over that. It threatened a storm whose results would be
visible. She wondered what the other girls were doing--Lilla? She had
heard nothing of her since that last term. She would write to her one
day, perhaps. Perhaps not. . . . She would have to tell her that she
was a governess. Lilla would think that very funny and would not care
for her now that she was so old and worried. . . .
Woven through her retrospective appreciations came a doubt. She
wondered whether, after all, her school had been right. Whether it
ought to have treated them all so seriously. If she had gone to the
other school she was sure she would never have heard of the Aesthetic
Movement or felt troubled about the state of Ireland and India. Perhaps
she would have grown up a Churchwoman . . . and "ladylike." Never.
She could only think that somehow she must be "different"; that a
sprinkling of the girls collected in that school were different, too.
The school she decided was new--modern--Ruskin. Most of the girls
perhaps had not been affected by it. But some had. She had. The
thought stirred her. She had. It was mysterious. Was it the school or
herself? Herself to begin with. If she had been brought up
differently, it could not, she felt sure, have made her very
different--for long--nor taught her to be affable--to smile that smile
she hated so. The school had done something to her. It had not gone
against the things she found in herself. She wondered once or twice
during these early weeks what she would have been like if she had been
brought up with these German girls. What they were going to do with
their lives was only too plain. All but Emma, she had been astounded to
discover, had already a complete outfit of house-linen to which they
were now adding fine embroideries and laces. All could cook. Minna had
startled her one day by exclaiming with lit face, "Ach, ich koche so
_schrecklich_ gern!" Oh, I am so frightfully fond of cooking. . .
. And they were placid and serene, secure in a kind of security Miriam
had never met before. They did not seem to be in the least afraid of
the future. She envied that. Their eyes and their hands were serene. .
. . They would have houses and things they could do and understand,
always. . . . How they must want to begin, she mused. . . . What a
prison school must seem.
She thought of their comfortable German homes, of ruling and shopping
and directing and being looked up to. . . . German husbands.
That thought she shirked. Emma in particular she could not contemplate
in relation to a German husband.
In any case one day these girls would be middle-aged . . . as Clara
looked now . . . they would look like the German women on the boulevards
and in the shops.
In the end she ceased to wonder that the German masters dealt out their
wares to these girls so superciliously.
And yet . . . German music, a line of German poetry, a sudden light on
Clara's face. . . .
There was one other teacher, a Swiss and some sort of minister she
supposed as everyone called him the Herr Pastor. She wondered whether
he was in any sense the spiritual adviser of the school and regarded him
with provisional suspicion. She had seen him once, sitting short and
very black and white at the head of the schoolroom table. His black
beard and dark eyes as he sat with his back to the window made his face
gleam like a mask. He had spoken very rapidly as he told the girls the
life-story of some poet.
The time that was not taken up by the masters and the regular succession
of rich and savoury meals--wastefully plentiful they seemed to
Miriam--was filled in by Fraulein Pfaff with occupations devised
apparently from hour to hour. On a master's morning the girls collected
in the schoolroom one by one as they finished their bed-making and
dusting. On other days the time immediately after breakfast was full of
uncertainty and surmise. Judging from the interchange between the four
first-floor bedrooms whose doors were always open during this bustling
interval, Miriam, listening apprehensively as she did her share of work
on the top floor, gathered that the lack of any planned programme was a
standing annoyance to the English girls. Millie, still imperfectly
acclimatised, carrying out her duties in a large bibbed apron, was
plaintive about it in her conscientious German nearly every morning.
The Martins, when the sense of Fraulein as providence was strong upon
them made their beds vindictively, rapping out sarcasms to be
alternately mocked and giggled at by Jimmie who was generally heard, as
the gusts subsided, dispensing the comforting assurance that it wouldn't
last for ever. Miriam once heard even Judy grumbling to herself in a
mumbling undertone as she carried the lower landing's collective
"wasche" upstairs to the back attic to await the quarterly waschfrau.
The German side of the landing was uncritical. On free mornings the
Germans had one preoccupation. It was generally betrayed by Emma in a
loud excited whisper, aimed across the landing: "Gehen wir zu Kreipe?
Do we go to Kreipe's?" "Kreipe, Kreipe," Minna and Clara would chorus
devoutly from their respective rooms. Gertrude on these occasions
always had an air of knowledge and would sometimes prophesy. To what
extent Fraulein did confide in the girl and how much was due to her
experience of the elder woman's habit of mind Miriam could never
determine. But her prophecies were always fulfilled.
Fraulein, who generally went to the basement kitchen from the
breakfast-table, would be heard on the landing towards the end of the
busy half-hour, rallying and criticising the housemaids in her gentle
caustic voice. She never came to the top floor. Miriam and
Mademoiselle, who agreed in accomplishing their duties with great
despatch and spending any spare time sitting in their jackets on their
respective beds reading or talking, would listen for her departure.
There was always a moment when they knew that the excitement was over
and the landing stricken into certainty. Then Mademoiselle would flit
to the top of the stairs and demand, leaning over the balustrade, "Eh
bien! Eh bien!" and someone would retail directions.
Sometimes Anna would appear in her short, chequered cotton dress,
shawled and with her market basket on her arm, and would summon Gertrude
alone or with Solomon Martin to Fraulein's room opposite the saal on the
ground floor. The appearance of Anna was the signal for bounding
anticipations. It nearly always meant a holiday and an expedition.
During the cold weeks after Miriam's arrival there were no expeditions;
and very commonly uncertainty was prolonged by a provisional
distribution of the ten girls between the kitchen and the five pianos.
In this case neither she nor Mademoiselle received any instructions.
Mademoiselle would go to the saal with needlework, generally the lighter
household mending. The saal piano at practising time was allotted to
the pupil to whom the next music lesson was due, and Mademoiselle spent
the greater part of her time installed, either awaiting the possible
arrival of Herr Bossenberger or presiding over his lessons when he came.
Miriam, unprovided for, sitting in the schoolroom with a book, awaiting
events, would watch her disappear unconcernedly through the folding
doors, every time with fresh wonder. She did not want to take her
place, though it would have meant listening to Herr Bossenberger's
teaching and a quiet alcove of freedom from the apprehensive uncertainty
that hung over so many of her hours. It seemed to her odd, not quite
the thing, to have a third person in the room at a music lesson. She
tried to imagine a lesson being given to herself under these conditions.
The thought was abhorrent. And Mademoiselle, of all people. Miriam
could see her sitting in the saal, wrapped in all the coolness of her
complete insensibility to music, her eyes bent on her work, the quick
movements of her small, thin hands, the darting gleam of her thimble,
the dry way she had of clearing her throat, a gesture that was an
accentuation of the slightly metallic quality of her voice, and
expressed, for Miriam, in sound, that curious sense of circumspect
frugality she was growing to realise as characteristic of Mademoiselle's
face in repose.
The saal doors closed, the little door leading into the hall became the
centre of Miriam's attention. Before long, sometimes at the end of ten
minutes, this door would open and the day become eventful. She had
already taken Clara, with Emma, to make a third, three times to her
masseuse, sitting for half an hour in a room above a chemist's shop so
stuffy beyond anything in her experience that she had carried away
nothing but the sense of its closely-interwoven odours, a dim picture of
Clara in a saffron-coloured wrapper and the shocked impression of the
resounding thwackings undergone by her. Emma was paying a series of
visits to the dentist and might appear at the schoolroom door with
frightened eyes, holding it open--"Hendchen! Ich muss zum Zahnarzt."
Miriam dreaded these excursions. The first time Miriam had accompanied
her Emma had had "gas." Miriam, assailed by a loud scream followed by
the peremptory voices of two white-coated, fiercely moustached
operators, one of whom seemed to be holding Emma in the chair, had
started from her sofa in the background. "Brutes!" she had declared and
reached the chair-side voluble in unintelligible German to find Emma
serenely emerging from unconsciousness. Once she had taken Gertrude to
the dentist--another dentist, an elderly man, practising in a frock-coat
in a heavily-furnished room with high sash windows, the lower sashes
filled with stained glass. There had been a driving March wind and
Gertrude with a shawl round her face had battled gallantly along
shouting through her shawl. Miriam had made out nothing clearly, but
the fact that the dentist's wife had a title in her own right. Gertrude
had gone through her trial, prolonged by some slight complication,
without an anesthetic, in alternations of tense silence and great gusts
of her hacking laughter. Miriam, sitting strained in the far background
near a screen covered with a mass of strange embroideries, wondered how
she really felt. That, she realised with a vision of Gertrude going on
through life in smart costumes, one would never know.
The thing Miriam dreaded most acutely was a visit with Minna to her
aurist. She learned with horror that Minna was obliged every few months
to submit to a series of small operations at the hands of the tall,
scholarly-looking man, with large, clear, impersonal eyes, who carried
on his practice high up in a great block of buildings in a small faded
room with coarse coffee-coloured curtains at its smudgy windows. The
character of his surroundings added a great deal to her abhorrence of
his attentions to Minna.
The room was densely saturated with an odour which she guessed to be
that of stale cigar-smoke. It seemed so tangible in the room that she
looked about at first for visible signs of its presence. It was like an
invisible fog and seemed to affect her breathing.
Coming and going upon the dense staleness of the room and pervading the
immediate premises was a strange savoury pungency. Miriam could not at
first identify it. But as the visits multiplied and she noticed the
same odour standing in faint patches here and there about the stairways
and corridors of the block, it dawned upon her that it must be
onions--onions freshly frying but with a quality of accumulated richness
that she could not explain. But the fact of the dominating kitchen side
by side with the consulting-room made her speculate. She imagined the
doctor's wife, probably in that kitchen, a hard-browed bony North German
woman. She saw the clear-eyed man at his meals; and imagined his
slippers. There were dingy books in the room where Minna started and
She compared this entourage with her recollection of her one visit to an
oculist in Harley Street. His stately house, the exquisite freshness of
his appointments and his person stood out now. The English she assured
herself were more refined than the Germans. Even the local doctor at
Barnes whose effect upon her mother's perpetual ill-health, upon Eve's
nerves and Sarah's mysterious indigestion was so impermanent that the
very sound of his name exasperated her, had something about him that she
failed entirely to find in this German--something she could respect.
She wondered whether the professional classes in Germany were all like
this specialist and living in this way. Minna's parents she knew were
paying large fees.
These dreaded expeditions brought a compensation.
Her liking for Minna grew with each visit. She wondered at her. Here
she was with her nose and her ear--she was subject to rheumatism too--it
would always, Miriam reflected, be doctor's treatment for her. She
wondered at her perpetual cheerfulness. She saw her with a pang of
pity, going through life with her illnesses, capped in defiance of all
the care she bestowed on her person, with her disconcerting nose, a nose
she reflected, that would do splendidly for charades.
On several occasions a little contingent selected from the pianos and
kitchen had appeared in the schoolroom and settled down to read German
with Fraulein. Miriam had been despatched to a piano. After these
readings the mid-morning lunching-plates of sweet custard-like soup or
chocolate soup or perhaps glasses of sweet syrup and biscuits--were, if
Fraulein were safely out of earshot, voluble indignation meetings. If
she were known to be in the room beyond the little schoolroom, lunch was
taken in silence except for Gertrude's sallies, cheerful generalisations
from Minna or Jimmie, and grudging murmurs of response.
On the mornings of Fraulein's German readings the school never went to
Kreipe's. Going to Kreipe's Miriam perceived was a sign of fair
They had been twice since her coming. Sitting at a little marble-topped
table with the Bergmanns near the window and overlooking the full flood
of the Georgstrasse Miriam felt a keen renewal of the sense of being
abroad. Here she sat, in the little enclosure of this upper room above
a shopful of strange Delikatessen, securely adrift. Behind her she
felt, not home but the German school where she belonged. Here they all
sat, free. Germany was all around them. They were in the midst of it.
Fraulein Pfaff seemed far away. . . . How strange of her to send them
there. . . . She glanced towards the two tables of English girls in the
centre of the room wondering whether they felt as she did. . . . They
had come to Germany. They were sharing it with her. It must he
changing them. They must be different for having come. They would all
go back she supposed. But they would not be the same as those who had
never come. She was sure they felt something of this. They were
sitting about in easy attitudes. How English they all looked . . . for
a moment she wanted to go and sit with them--just sit with them, rejoice
in being abroad; in having got away. She imagined all their people
looking in and seeing them so thoroughly at home in this little German
restaurant free from home influences, in a little world of their own.
She felt a pang of response as she heard their confidently raised
voices. She could see they were all, even Judy, a little excited. They
chaffed each other.
Gertrude had taken everyone's choice between coffee and chocolate and
given an order.
Orders for schocolade were heard from all over the room. There were
only women there--wonderful German women in twos and threes--ladies out
shopping, Miriam supposed. She managed intermittently to watch three or
four of them and wondered what kind of conversation made them so
emphatic--whether it was because they held themselves so well and "spoke
out" that everything they said seemed so important. She had never seen
women with so much decision in their bearing. She found herself drawing
She heard German laughter about the room. The sounds excited her and
she watched eagerly for laughing faces. . . . They were different. . . .
The laughter sounded differently and the laughing faces were different.
The eyes were expressionless as they laughed--or evil . . . they had
that same knowing way of laughing as though everything were settled--but
they did not pretend to be refined as Englishwomen did . . . they had
the same horridness . . . but they were . . . jolly. . . . They could
shout if they liked.
Three cups of thick-looking chocolate, each supporting a little hillock
of solid cream arrived at her table. Clara ordered cakes.
At the first sip, taken with lips that slid helplessly on the
surprisingly thick rim of her cup Miriam renounced all the beverages she
had ever known as unworthy.
She chose a familiar-looking eclair--Clara and Emma ate cakes that
seemed to be alternate slices of cream and very spongy coffee-coloured
cake and then followed Emma's lead with an open tartlet on which plump
green gooseberries stood in a thick brown syrup.
During dinner Fraulein Pfaff went the round of the table with questions
as to what had been consumed at Kreipe's. The whole of the table on her
right confessed to one Kuchen with their chocolate. In each case she
smiled gravely and required the cake to be described. The meaning of
the pilgrimage of enquiry came to Miriam when Fraulein reached Gertrude
and beamed affectionately in response to her careless "Schokolade und
ein Biskuit." Miriam and the Bergmanns were alone in their excesses.
Even walks were incalculable excepting on Saturdays, when at noon Anna
turned out the schoolrooms. Then--unless to Miriam's great satisfaction
it rained and they had a little festival shut in in holiday mood in the
saal, the girls playing and singing, Anna loudly obliterating the
week-days next door and the secure harbour of Sunday ahead--they went
methodically out and promenaded the streets of Hanover for an hour.
These Saturday walks were a recurring humiliation. If they had occurred
daily, some crisis, she felt sure would have arisen for her.
The little party would file out under the leadership of
Gertrude--Fraulein Pfaff smiling parting directions adjuring them to
come back safe and happy to the beehive and stabbing at them all the
while, Miriam felt, with her keen eye--through the high doorway that
pierced the high wall and then--charge down the street. Gertrude alone,
having been in Hanover and under Fraulein Pfaff's care since her ninth
year, was instructed as to the detail of their tour and she swung
striding on ahead, the ends of her long fur boa flying out in the March
wind, making a flourishing scrollwork round her hounding tailor-clad
form--the Martins, short-skirted and thick-booted, with hard cloth
jackets and hard felt hats, and short thick pelerines almost running on
either side, Jimmie, Millie and Judy hard behind. Miriam's
ever-recurring joyous sense of emergence and her longing to go leisurely
and alone along these wonderful streets, to go on and on at first and
presently to look, had to give way to the necessity of keeping Gertrude
and her companions in sight. On they went relentlessly through the
Saturday throng along the great Georgstrasse--a foreign paradise, with
its great bright cafes and the strange promising detail of its
shops--tantalisingly half seen.
She hated, too, the discomfort of walking thus at this pace through
streets along pavements in her winter clothes. They hampered her
horribly. Her heavy three-quarter length coat made her too warm and
bumped against her as she hurried along--the little fur pelerine which
redeemed its plainness tickled her neck and she felt the outline of her
stiff hat like a board against her uneasy forehead. Her inflexible
boots soon tired her. . . . But these things she could have endured.
They were not the main source of her trouble. She could have renounced
the delights all round her, made terms with the discomforts and looked
for alleviations. But it was during these walks that she began to
perceive that she was making, in a way she had not at all anticipated, a
complete failure of her r™le of English teacher. The three weeks'
haphazard curriculum had brought only one repetition of her English
lesson in the smaller schoolroom; and excepting at meals, when whatever
conversation there was was general and polyglot, she was never, in the
house, alone with her German pupils. The cessation of the fixed
readings arranged with her that first day by Fraulein Pfaff did not, in
face of the general absence of method, at all disturb her.
Mademoiselle's classes had, she discovered, except for the weekly
mending, long since lapsed altogether. These walks, she soon realised,
were supposed to be her and her pupils' opportunity. No doubt Fraulein
Pfaff believed that they represented so many hours of English
conversation--and they did not. It was cheating, pure and simple. She
thought of fee-paying parents, of the probable prospectus. "French and
Her growing conviction and the distress of it were confirmed each week
by a spectacle she could not escape and was rapidly growing to hate.
Just in front of her and considerably behind the flying van, her full
wincey skirt billowing out beneath what seemed to Miriam a dreadfully
thin little close-fitting stockinette jacket, trotted Mademoiselle--one
hand to the plain brim of her large French hat, and obviously
conversational with either Minna and Elsa or Clara and Emma on either
side of her. Generally it was Minna and Elsa, Minna brisk and trim and
decorous as to her neat plaid skirt, however hurried, and Elsa showing
her distress by the frequent twisting of one or other of her ankles
which looked, to Miriam, like sticks above her high-heeled shoes.
Mademoiselle's broad hat-brim flapped as her head turned from one
companion to the other. Sometimes Miriam caught the mocking tinkle of
her laughter. That all three were interested, too, Miriam gathered from
the fact that they could not always be relied upon to follow Gertrude.
The little party had returned one day in two separate groups,
fortunately meeting before the Waldstrasse gate was reached, owing to
Mademoiselle's failure to keep Gertrude in sight. There was no doubt,
too, that the medium of their intercourse was French, for Mademoiselle's
knowledge of German had not, for all her six months at the school, got
beyond a few simple and badly managed words and phrases. Miriam felt
that this French girl was perfectly carrying out Fraulein Pfaff's
design. She talked to her pupils, made them talk; the girls were amused
and happy and were picking up French. It was admirable and it was
wonderful to Miriam because she felt quite sure that Mademoiselle had no
clear idea in her own mind that she was carrying out any design at all.
That irritated Miriam. Mademoiselle liked talking to her girls. Miriam
was beginning to know that she did not want to talk to her girls.
Almost from the first she had begun to know it. She felt sure that if
Fraulein Pfaff had been invisibly present at any one of her solitary
conversational encounters with these German girls she would have been
judged and condemned. Elsa Speier had been the worst. Miriam could see
as she thought of her, the angle of the high garden wall of a corner
house in Waldstrasse and above it a blossoming almond tree. "How lovely
that tree is," she had said. She remembered trying hard to talk and to
make her talk and making no impression upon the girl. She remembered
monosyllables and the pallid averted face and Elsa's dreadful ankles.
She had walked along intent and indifferent and presently she had felt a
sort of irritation rise through her struggling. And then further on in
the walk, she could not remember how it had arisen, there was a moment
when Elsa had said with unmoved, averted face hurriedly, "My fazzer is
offitser"--and it seemed to Miriam as if this were the answer to
everything she had tried to say, to her remark about the almond-tree and
everything else; and then she felt that there was nothing more to be
said between them. They were both quite silent. Everything seemed
settled. Miriam's mind called up a picture of a middle-aged man in a
Saxon blue uniform--all voice and no brains--and going to take to
gardening in his old age--and longed to tell Elsa of her contempt for
all military men. Clearly she felt Elsa's and Elsa's mother's feeling
towards herself. Elsa's mother had thin ankles, too, and was like Elsa
intent and cold and dead. She could imagine Elsa in society now--hard
and thin and glittery--she would be stylish--military men's women always
were. The girl had avoided being with her during walks since then, and
they never voluntarily addressed one another. Minna and the Bergmanns
had talked to her. Minna responded to everything she said in her eager
husky voice--not because she was interested Miriam felt, but because she
was polite, and it had tired her once or twice dreadfully to go on
"making conversation" with Minna. She had wanted to like being with
these three. She felt she could give them something. It made her full
of solicitude to glance at either of them at her side. She had longed
to feel at home with them and to teach them things worth teaching; they
seemed pitiful in some way, like children in her hands. She did not
know how to begin. All her efforts and their efforts left them just as
Each occasion left her more puzzled and helpless. Now and again she
thought there was going to he a change. She would feel a stirring of
animation in her companions. Then she would discover that someone was
being discussed, generally one of the girls; or perhaps they were
beginning to tell her something about Fraulein Pfaff, or talking about
food. These topics made her feel ill at ease at once. Things were
going wrong. It was not to discuss such things that they were together
out in the air in the wonderful streets and boulevards of Hanover. She
would grow cold and constrained, and the conversation would drop.
And then, suddenly, within a day or so of each other, dreadful things
The first had come on the second occasion of her going with Minna to see
Dr. Dieckel. Minna, as they were walking quietly along together had
suddenly begun in a broken English which soon turned to shy, fluent,
animated German, to tell about a friend, an _apotheker,_ a man,
Miriam gathered--missing many links in her amazement--in a shop, the
chemist's shop where her parents dealt, in the little country town in
Pomerania which was her home. Minna was so altered, looked so radiantly
happy whilst she talked about this man that Miriam had wanted to put out
a hand and touch her. Afterwards she could recall the sound of her
voice as it was at that moment with its yearning and its promise and its
absolute confidence. Minna was so certain of her happiness--at the end
of each hurried little phrase her voice sounded like a chord--like three
strings sounding at once on some strange instrument.
And soon afterwards Emma had told her very gravely, with Clara walking a
little aloof, her doglike eyes shining as she gazed into the distance,
of a "most beautiful man" with a brown moustache, with whom Clara was in
love. He was there in the town, in Hanover, a hair-specialist, treating
Clara's thin short hair.
Even Emma had a "jungling." He had a very vulgar surname, too vulgar to
be spoken; it was breathed against Miriam's shoulder in the half-light.
Miriam was begged to forget it at once and to remember only the
beautiful little name that preceded it.
At the time she had timidly responded to all these stories and had felt
glad that the confidences had come to her.
Mademoiselle, she knew, had never received them.
But after these confidences there were no more serious attempts at
Miriam felt ashamed of her share in the hairdresser and the chemist.
Emma's jungling might possibly be a student. . . . She grieved over the
things that she felt were lying neglected, "things in general" she felt
sure she ought to discuss with the girls . . . improving the world . . .
leaving it better than you found it . . . the importance of life . . .
sleeping and dreaming that life was beauty and waking and finding it was
duty . . . making things better, reforming . . . being a reformer. . . .
Pater always said young people always wanted to reform the universe . .
. perhaps it was so . . . and nothing could be done. Clearly she was
not the one to do anything. She could do nothing even with these girls
and she was nearly eighteen.
Once or twice she wondered whether they ever had thoughts about things .
. . she felt they must; if only she were not shy, if she had a different
manner, she would find out. She knew she despised them as they were.
She could do nothing. Her fine ideas were no good. She did less than
silly little Mademoiselle. And all the time Fraulein thinking she was
talking and influencing them was keeping her . . . in Germany.
Fraulein Pfaff came to the breakfast-table a little late in a grey stuff
dress with a cream-coloured ruching about the collar-band and ruchings
against her long brown wrists. The girls were already in their places,
and as soon as grace was said she began talking in a gentle decisive
"Martins' sponge-bags"--her face creased for her cavernous smile--"are
both large and strong--beautiful gummi-bags, each large enough to
contain a family of sponges."
The table listened intently. Miriam tried to remember the condition of
her side of the garret. She saw Judy's scarlet flush across the table.
"Millie," went on Fraulein, "is the owner of a damp-proof hold-all for
the bath which is a veritable monument."
"Monument?" laughed a German voice apprehensively.
"Fancy a monument on your washstand," tittered Jimmie.
Fraulein raised her voice slightly, still smiling. Miriam heard her own
name and stiffened. "Miss Henderson is an Englishwoman too--and our
little Ulrica joins the English party." Fraulein's voice had thickened
and grown caressing. Perhaps no one was in trouble. Ulrica bowed. Her
wide-open startled eyes and the outline of her pale face remained
unchanged. Still gentle and tender-voiced Fraulein reached Judy and the
Germans. All was well. Soaps and sponges could go in the English bags.
Judy's downcast crimson face began to recover its normal clear flush,
and the Germans joined in the general rejoicing. They were to go,
Miriam gathered, in the afternoon to the baths. . . . She had never been
to a public baths. . . . She wished Fraulein could know there were two
bathrooms in the house at Barnes, and then wondered whether in German
baths one was left to oneself or whether there, too, there would be some
Fraulein jested softly on about her children and their bath. Gertrude
and Jimmie recalled incidents of former bathings--the stories went on
until breakfast had prolonged itself into a sitting of happy
adventurers. The room was very warm, and coffee-scented. Clara at her
corner sat with an outstretched arm nearly touching Fraulein Pfaff who
was sitting forward glowing and shedding the light of her dark young
eyes on each in turn. There were many elbows on the table. Judy's head
was raised and easy. Miriam noticed that the whiteness of her neck was
whiter than those strange bright patches where her eyelashes shone.
Ulrica's eyes went from face to face as she listened and Miriam fed upon
the outlines of her head.
She wished she could place her hands on either side of its slenderness
and feel the delicate skull and gaze undisturbed into the eyes.
Fraulein Pfaff rose at last from the table.
"Na, Kinder," she smiled, holding her arms out to them all.
She turned to the nearest window.
"Die Fenster auf!" she cried, in quivering tones, "Die Herzen auf!" "Up
with windows! Up with hearts!"
Her hands struggled with the hasp of the long-closed outer frame. The
girls crowded round as the lattices swung wide. The air poured in.
Miriam stood in a vague crowd seeing nothing. She felt the movement of
her own breathing and the cool streaming of the air through her
nostrils. She felt comely and strong.
"That's a thrush," she heard Bertha Martin say as a chattering flew
across a distant garden--and Fraulein's half-singing reply, "Know you,
children, what the thrush says? Know you?" and Minna's eager voice
sounding out into the open, "D'ja, d'ja, ich, weiss--Ritzifizier, sagt
sie, Ritzifizier, das vierundzwanzigste Jahr!" and voices imitating.
"Spring! Spring! Spring!" breathed Clara, in a low sing-song.
Miriam found herself with her hands on the doors leading into the saal,
pushing them gently. Why not? Everything had changed. Everything was
good. The great doors gave, the sunlight streamed from behind her into
the quiet saal. She went along the pathway it made and stood in the
middle of the room. The voices from the schoolroom came softly, far
away. She went to the centre window and pushing aside its heavy
curtains saw for the first time that it had no second pane like the
others, but led directly into a sort of summer-house, open in front and
leading by a wooden stairway down to the garden plot. Up the railing of
the stairway and over the entrance of the summer-house a creeping plant
was putting out tiny leaves. It was in shadow, but the sun caught the
sharply peaked gable of the summer-house and on the left, the tops of
the high shrubs lining the pathway leading to the wooden door and the
great balls finishing the high stone gateway shone yellow with sunlit
lichen. She heard the schoolroom windows close and the girls clearing
away the breakfast things and escaped upstairs singing.
Before she had finished her duties a summons came. Jimmie brought the
message, panting as she reached the top of the stairs.
"Hurry up, Hendy!" she gasped. "You're one of the distinguished ones,
"What do you mean?" Miriam began apprehensively as she turned to go.
"Oh, Jimmie----" she tried to laugh ingratiatingly. "_Do_ tell me
what you mean?" Jimmie turned and raised a plump hand with a
sharply-quirked little finger and a dangle of lace-edged handkerchief.
"You're a _swell,_ my dear. You're in with the specials and the
"What do you mean?"
"You're going to read--Gerty, or something--no idiots admitted. You're
going it, Hendy. Ta-ta. Fly! Don't stick in the mud, old slowcoach."
"I'll come in a second," said Miriam, adjusting hairpins.
She was to read Goethe . . . with Fraulein Pfaff. . . . Fraulein knew
she would be one of the few who would do for a Goethe reading. She
reached the little room smiling with happiness.
"Here she is," was Fraulein's greeting. The little group--Ulrica, Minna
and Solomon Martin were sitting about informally in the sunlit window
space, Minna and Solomon had needlework--Ulrica was gazing out into the
garden. Miriam sank into the remaining low-seated wicker chair and gave
herself up. Fraulein began to read, as she did at prayers, slowly,
almost below her breath, but so clearly that Miriam could distinguish
each word and her face shone as she bent over her book. It was a poem
in blank verse with long undulating lines. Miriam paid no heed to the
sense. She heard nothing but the even swing, the slight rising and
falling of the clear low tones. She felt once more the opening of the
schoolroom window--she saw the little brown summer-house and the sun
shining on the woodwork of its porch. Summer coming. Summer coming in
Germany. She drew a long breath. The poem was telling of someone
getting away out of a room, out of "narrow conversation" to a
meadow-covered plain--of a white pathway winding through the green.
Minna put down her sewing and turned her kind blue eyes to Fraulein
Ulrica sat drooping, her head bent, her great eyes veiled, her hands
entwined on her lap. . . . The little pathway led to a wood. The wide
landscape disappeared. Fraulein's voice ceased.
She handed the book to Ulrica, indicating the place and Ulrica read.
Her voice sounded a higher pitch than Fraulein's. It sounded out rich
and full and liquid, and seemed to shake her slight body and echo
against the walls of her face. It filled the room with a despairing
ululation. Fraulein seemed by contrast to have been whispering piously
in a corner.
Listening to the beseeching tones, hearing no words, Miriam wished that
the eyes could be raised, when the reading ceased, to hers and that she
could go and put her hands about the beautiful head, scarcely touching
it and say, "It is all right. I will stay with you always."
She watched the little hand that was not engaged with the book and lay
abandoned, outstretched, listless and shining on her knee. Solomon's
needle snapped. She frowned and roused herself heavily to secure
another from the basket on the floor at her side. Miriam, flashing
hatred at her, caught Fraulein's fascinating gaze fixed on Ulrica; and
saw it hastily turn to an indulgent smile as the eyes became conscious,
moving for a moment without reaching her in the direction of her own low
chair. A tap came at the door and Anna's flat tones, like a voluble
mechanical doll, announced a postal official waiting in the hall for
Ulrica--with a package. "Ein Packet . . . a-a-ach," wailed Ulrica,
rising, her hands trembling, her great eyes radiant. Fraulein sent her
off with Solomon to superintend the signing and payments and give help
with the unpacking.
"The little heiress," she said devoutly, with her wide smile as she
returned from the door.
"Oh . . ." said Miriam politely.
"Sie, nun, Miss Henderson," concluded Fraulein, handing her the book and
indicating the passage Ulrica had just read. "Nun, Sie," she repeated
brightly, and Minna drew her chair a little nearer making a small group.
"Schiller" she saw at the top of the page and the title of the poem "Der
Spaziergang." Miriam laid the book on the end of her knee, and leaning
over it, read nervously. Her tones reassured her. She noticed that she
read very slowly, breaking up the rhythm into sentences--and
authoritatively as if she were recounting an experience of her own. She
knew at first that she was reading like a cultured person and that
Fraulein would recognise this at once, she knew that the perfect
assurance of her pronunciation would make it seem that she understood
every word, but soon these feelings gave way to the sense half grasped
of the serpentine path winding and mounting through a wood, of a glimpse
of a distant valley, of flocks and villages, and of her unity with
Fraulein and Minna seeing and feeling all these things together. She
finished the passage--Fraulein quietly commended her reading and Minna
said something about her earnestness.
"Miss Henderson is always a little earnest," said Fraulein
"Are you dressed, Hendy?"
Miriam, who had sat up in her bath when the drumming came at the door,
answered sleepily, "No, I shan't be a minute."
"Don't you want to see the diving?"
All Jimmie's fingers seemed to be playing exercises against the panels.
Miriam wished she would restrain them and leave her alone. She did not
in the least wish to see the diving.
"I shan't be a minute," she shouted crossly, and let her shoulders sink
once more under the comforting water. It was the first warm water she
had encountered since that night when Mademoiselle had carried the jugs
upstairs. Her soap, so characterless in the chilly morning basin
lathered freely in the warmth and was fragrant in the steamy air. When
Jimmie's knocking came she was dreaming blissfully of baths with
Harriett--the dissipated baths of the last six months between tea and
dinner with a theatre or a dance ahead. Harriett, her hair strained
tightly into a white crocheted net, her snub face shining through the
thick steam, tubbing and jesting at the wide end of the huge porcelain
bath, herself at the narrow end commanding the taps under the
steam-dimmed beams of the red-globed gasjets . . . sponge-fights . . .
and those wonderful summer bathings when they had come in from long
tennis-playing in the sun, filled the bath with cold water and sat in
the silence of broad daylight immersed to the neck, confronting each
Seeing no sign of anything she could recognise as a towel, she pulled at
a huge drapery hanging like a counterpane in front of a coil of pipes
extending half-way to the ceiling. The pipes were too hot to touch and
the heavy drapery was more than warm and obviously meant for drying
purposes. Sitting wrapped in its folds, dizzy and oppressed, she longed
for the flourish of a rough towel and a window open at the top. She
could see no ventilation of any kind in her white cell. By the time her
heavy outdoor things were on she was faint with exhaustion, and hurried
down the corridor towards the shouts and splashings echoing in the
great, open, glass-roofed swimming-bath. She was just in time to see a
figure in scarlet and white, standing out on the high gallery at the end
of a projecting board which broke the little white balustrade, throw up
its arms and leap out and flash--its joined hands pointed downwards
towards the water, its white feet sweeping up like the tail of a
swooping bird--cleave the green water and disappear. The huge bath was
empty of bathers and smoothly rippling save where the flying body had
cleaved it and left wavelets and bubbles. The girls--most of them in
their outdoor things--were gathered in a little group near the marble
steps leading down into the water farthest from where the diver had
dropped, stirring and exclaiming. As Miriam was approaching them a
red-capped head came cleanly up out of the water near the steps and she
recognised the strong jaw and gleaming teeth of Gertrude. She neither
spluttered nor shook her head. Her eyes were wide and smiling, and her
raucous laugh rang out above the applause of the group of girls.
Miriam paused under the overhanging gallery. Her eyes went,
incredulously, up to the spring-board. It seemed impossible . . . and
all that distance above the water. . . . Her gaze was drawn to the
flicking of the curtain of one of the little compartments lining the
"Hullo, Hendy, let me get into my cubicle." Gertrude stood before her
dripping and smiling.
"However on earth did you do it?" said Miriam, gazing incredulously at
the ruddy wet face.
Gertrude's smile broadened. "Go on," she said, shaking the drops from
her chin, "it's all in the day's work."
In the hard clear light Miriam saw that the teeth that looked so
gleaming and strong in the distance were slightly ribbed and fluted and
had serrated edges. Large stoppings showed like shadows behind the thin
shells of the upper front ones. Even Gertrude might be ill one day; but
she would never be ill and sad and helpless. That was clear from the
neat way she plunged in through her curtains. . . .
Miriam's eyes went back to the row of little curtained recesses in the
gallery. The drapery that had flapped was now half withdrawn, the light
from the glass roof fell upon the top of a head flung back and shaking
its mane of hair. The profile was invisible, but the sheeny hair
rippled in thick gilded waves almost to the floor. . . . How hateful of
her, thought Miriam. . . . How beautiful. I should be just the same if
I had hair like that . . . that's Germany. . . . Lohengrin. . . . She
stood adoring. "Stay and talk while I get on my togs," came Gertrude's
voice from behind her curtains.
Miriam glanced towards the marble steps. The little group had
disappeared. She turned helplessly towards Gertrude's curtains. She
could not think of anything to say to her. She was filled with
apprehension. "I wonder what we shall do to-morrow," she presently
"I don't," gasped Gertrude, towelling.
Miriam waited for the prophecy.
"Old Lahmann's back from Geneva," came the harsh panting voice.
"Pastor Lahmann?" repeated Miriam.
"None other, Madame."
"Have you seen him?" went on Miriam dimly, wishing that she might be
"Scots wha hae, no! But I saw Lily's frills."
The billows of gold hair in the gallery were being piled up by two
little hands--white and plump like Eve's, but with quick clever
irritating movements, and a thin sweet self-conscious voice began
singing "Du, meine _Seele._" Miriam lost interest in the vision. .
. . They were all the same. Men liked creatures like that. She could
imagine that girl married.
"Lily and his wife were great friends," Gertrude was saying. "She's
dead, you know."
"_Is_ she," said Miriam emphatically.
"She used to be always coming when I first came over, Scots
wha--blow--got a pin, Hendy? We shan't have his . . . thanks, you're a
saint . . . his boys in the schoolroom any more now."
"Are those Pastor Lahmann's boys?" said Miriam, noticing Gertrude's hair
was coarse, each hair a separate thread. "She's the wiry plucky kind.
How she must despise me," said her mind.
"Well," said Gertrude, switching back her curtain to lace her boots.
"Long may Lily beam. I like summer weather myself."
Miriam turned away. Gertrude half-dressed behind the curtains was too
clever for her. She could not face her unveiled with vacant eyes.
"The summer is jolly, isn't it?" she said uneasily.
"You're right, my friend. Hullo! There's Emmchen looking for you. I
expect the Germans have just finished their annual. They never come
into the Schwimmbad, they're always too late. I should think you'd
better toddle them home, Hendy--the darlings might catch cold."
"Don't we all go together?"
"We go as we are ready, from this establishment, just anyhow as long as
we're not in ones or twos--Lily won't have twos, as I dare say you've
observed. Be good, my che-hild," she said heartily, drawing on her
second boot, "and you'll be happy--sehr sehr happy, I hope, Hendy."
"Thank you," laughed Miriam. Emma's hands were on her muff, stroking it
eagerly. "Hendchen, Hendchen," she cooed in her consoling tones, "to
house to house, I am so angry--hangry."
"Hungry, yes, and Minna and Clara is ready. Kom!"
The child linked arms with her and pulled Miriam towards the corridor.
Once out of sight under the gallery she slipped her arm round Miriam's
waist. "Oh, Hendchen, my darling beautiful, you have so lovely teint
after your badth--oh, I am zo hangry, oh Hendchen, I luff you zo, I am
zo haypie, kiss me one small, small kiss."
"What a baby you are," said Miriam, half turning as the girl's warm lips
brushed the angle of her jaw. "Yes, we'll go home, come along."
The corridor was almost airless. She longed to get out into the open.
They found Minna at a table in the entrance hall her head propped on her
hand, snoring gently. Clara sat near her with closed eyes.
As the little party of four making its way home, cleansed and hungry,
united and happy, stood for a moment on a tree-planted island half-way
across a wide open space, Minna with her eager smile said, gazing, "Oh,
I would like a glass Bier." Miriam saw very distinctly the clear
sunlight on the boles of the trees showing every ridge and shade of
colour as it had done on the peaked summer-house porch in the morning.
The girls closed in on her during the moment of disgust which postponed
"Dear Hendchen! We are alone! Just we nice four! Just only one most
little small glass! Just one! Kind best, Hendchen!" she heard. She
pushed her way through the little group pretending to ignore their
pleadings and to look for obstacles to their passage to the opposite
curb. She felt her disgust was absurd and was asking herself why the
girls should not have their beer. She would like to watch them, she
knew; these little German Fraus-to-be serenely happy at their bier table
on this bright afternoon. They closed in on her again. Emma in the
gutter in front of her. She felt arms and hands, and the pleading
voices besieged her again. Emma's upturned tragic face, her usually
motionless lips a beseeching tunnel, her chin and throat moving to her
ardent words made Miriam laugh. It _was_ disgusting. "No, no,"
she said hastily, backing away from them to the end of the island. "Of
course not. Come along. Don't be silly." The elder girls gave in.
Emma kept up a little solo of reproach hanging on Miriam's arm. "Very
strict. Cold English. No bier. I want to home. I have bier to home"
until they were in sight of the high walls of Waldstrasse.
Pastor Lahmann gave a French lesson the next afternoon.
"Sur l'eau, si beau!"
This refrain threatening for the third time, three or four of the girls
led by Bertha Martin, supplied it in a subdued singsong without waiting
for Pastor Lahmann's slow voice. Miriam had scarcely attended to his
discourse. He had begun in flat easy tones, describing his visit to
Geneva, the snowclad mountains, the quiet lake, the spring flowers. His
words brought her no vision and her mind wandered, half tethered. But
when he began reading the poem she sank into the rhythm and turned
towards him and fixed expectant eyes upon his face. His expression
disturbed her. Why did he read with that half-smile? She felt sure
that he felt they were "young ladies," "demoiselles," "jeunes filles."
She wanted to tell him she was nothing of the kind and take the book
from him and show him how to read. His eyes, soft and brown, were the
eyes of a child. She noticed that the lower portion of his flat white
cheeks looked broader than the upper without giving an effect of
squareness of jaw. Then the rhythm took her again and with the second
"sur l'eau, si beau," she saw a very blue lake and a little boat with
lateen sails, and during the third verse began to forget the lifeless
voice. As the murmured refrain came from the girls there was a slight
movement in Fraulein's sofa-corner. Miriam did not turn her eyes from
Pastor Lahmann's face to look at her, but half expected that at the end
of the next verse her low clear devout tones would be heard joining in.
Part way through the verse with a startling sweep of draperies against
the leather covering of the sofa, Fraulein stood up and towered
extraordinarily tall at Pastor Lahmann's right hand. Her eyes were
wide. Miriam thought she had never seen anyone look so pale. She was
speaking very quickly in German. Pastor Lahmann rose and faced her.
Miriam had just grasped the fact that she was taking the French master
to task for reading poetry to his pupils and heard Pastor Lahmann slowly
and politely enquire of her whether she or he were conducting the lesson
when the two voices broke out together. Fraulein's fiercely voluble and
the Herr Pastor's voluble and mocking and polite. The two voices
continued as he made his way, bowing gravely, down the far side of the
table to the saal doors. Here he turned for a moment and his face shone
black and white against the dark panelling. "Na, Kinder," crooned
Fraulein gently, when he had disappeared, "a walk--a walk in the
beautiful sunshine. Make ready quickly."
"My sainted uncle," laughed Bertha as they trooped down the basement
stairs. "Oh--my stars!"
"_Did_ you see her eyes?"
"I wonder the poor little man wasn't burnt up."
"Hurry up, madshuns, we'll have a ripping walk. We'll see if we can go
"Does this sort of thing often happen?" asked Miriam, finding herself
bending over a boot-box at Gertrude's side.
Gertrude turned and winked at her. "Only sometimes."
"What an awful temper she must have," pursued Miriam.
Breakfast the next morning was a gay feast. The mood which had seized
the girls at the lavishly decked tea-table awaiting them on their return
from their momentous walk the day before, still held them. They all had
come in feeling a little apprehensive, and Fraulein behind her tea-urn
had met them with the fullest expansion of smiling indulgence Miriam had
yet seen. After tea she had suggested an evening's entertainment and
had permitted the English girls to act charades.
For Miriam it was an evening of pure delight. At the end of the first
charade, when the girls were standing at a loss in the dimly-lit hall,
she made a timid suggestion. It was enthusiastically welcomed and for
the rest of the evening she was allowed to take the lead. She found
herself making up scene after scene surrounded by eager faces. She
wondered whether her raised voice, as she disposed of proffered
suggestions--"no, that wouldn't be clear, _this_ is the thing we've
got to bring out"--could be heard by Fraulein sitting waiting with the
Germans under the lowered lights in the saal, and she felt Fraulein's
eye on her as she plunged from the hall into the dim schoolroom rapidly
arranging effects in the open space in front of the long table which had
been turned round and pushed alongside the windows.
Towards the end of the evening, dreaming alone in the schoolroom near
the closed door of the little room whence the scenes were lit, she felt
herself in a vast space. The ceilings and walls seemed to disappear.
She wanted a big scene, something quiet and serious--quite different
from the fussy little absurdities they had been rushing through all the
evening. A statue . . . one of the Germans. "You think of something
this time," she said, pushing the group of girls out into the hall.
Ulrica. She must manage to bring in Ulrica without giving her anything
to do. Just to have her to look at. The height of darkened room above
her rose to a sky. An animated discussion, led by Bertha Martin, was
going on in the hall.
They had chosen "beehive." It would be a catch. Fraulein was always
calling them her Bienenkorb and the girls would guess Bienenkorb and not
discover that they were meant to say the English word.
"The old things can't possibly get it. It'll be a lark, just for the
end," said Jimmie.
"No." Miriam announced radiantly. "They'd hate a sell. We'll have
"That'll be awfully long. Four bits altogether, if they don't guess
from the syllables," objected Solomon wearily.
Rapidly planning farcical scenes for the syllables she carried her tired
troupe to a vague appreciation of the final tableau for Ulrica.
Shrouding the last syllable beyond recognition, she sent a messenger to
the audience through the hall door of the saal to beg for Ulrica.
Ulrica came, serenely wondering, her great eyes alight with her
evening's enjoyment and was induced by Miriam.
"You've only to stand and look down-nothing else." To mount the
schoolroom table in the dimness and standing with her hands on the back
of a draped chair to gaze down at Romeo's upturned face.
Bertha Martin's pale profile, with her fair hair drawn back and tied at
the nape of her neck and a loose cloak round her shoulders would, it was
agreed, make the best presentation of a youth they could contrive, and
Miriam arranged her, turning her upturned face so that the audience
would catch its clear outline. But at the last minute, urged by
Solomon's disapproval of the scene, Bertha withdrew. Miriam put on the
cloak, lifted its collar to hide her hair and standing with her back to
the audience flung up her hands towards Ulrica as the gas behind the
little schoolroom door was turned slowly up. Standing motionless,
gazing at the pale oval face bending gravely towards her from the gloom,
she felt for a moment the radiance of stars above her and heard the
rustle of leaves. Then the guessing voices broke from the saal. "Ach!
ach! Wie schon! Romeo! That is beautifoll. Romeo! Who is our
Romeo?" and Fraulein's smiling, singing, affectionate voice, "Who is
Romeo! The rascal!"
Taking the top flight three stairs at a time Miriam reached the garret
first and began running about the room at a quick trot with her fists
closed, arms doubled and elbows back. The high garret looked
wonderfully friendly and warm in the light of her single candle. It
seemed full of approving voices. Perhaps one day she would go on the
stage. Eve always said so.
People always liked her if she let herself go. She would let herself go
more in future at Waldstrasse.
It was so jolly being at Waldstrasse.
"Qu'est-ce que vous avez?" appealed Mademoiselle, laughing at the door
with open face. Miriam continued her trot. Mademoiselle put the candle
down on the dressing-table and began to run, too, in little quick
dancing steps, her wincey skirt bellowing out all round her. Their
shadows bobbed and darted, swelling and shrinking on the plaster walls.
Soon breathless, Mademoiselle sank down on the side of her bed, panting
and volleying raillery and broken tinkles of laughter at Miriam standing
goosestepping on the strip of matting with an open. umbrella held high
over her head. Recovering breath, she began to lament. . . . Miriam had
not during the whole evening of dressing up seen the Martins' summer
hats. . . . They were wonderful. Shutting her umbrella Miriam went to
her dressing-table drawer. . . . It would be impossible, absolutely
impossible . . . to imagine hats more beautiful. . . . Miriam sat on her
own bed punctuating through a paper-covered comb. . . . Mademoiselle
persisted . . . non, ecoutez--figurez-vous--the hats were of a pale
straw . . . the colour of pepper . . . "Bee . . ." responded the comb on
a short low wheeze. "And the trimmings--ah, of a charm that no one
could describe." . . . "Beem!" squeaked the comb . . . "stalks of
barley" . . . "beem-beem" . . . "of a perfect naturalness" . . . "and
the flowers, poppies, of a beauty"--"bee-eeem--beeem" . . . "oh, oh,
vraiment"--Mademoiselle buried her face in her pillow and put her
fingers to her ears.
Miriam began playing very softly "The March of the Men of Harlech," and
got to her feet and went marching gently round the room near the walls.
Sitting up, Mademoiselle listened. Presently she rounded her eyes and
pointed with one finger to the dim roof of the attic.
"Les toiles, d'araignees auront peur!" she whispered.
Miriam ceased playing and her eyes went up to the little window frames
high in the wall, farthest away from the island made by their two little
beds and the matting and toilet chests and scarcely visible in the
flickering candle-light, and came back to Mademoiselle's face.
"Les toiles d'araignees," she breathed, straining her eyes to their
utmost size. They gazed at each other. "Les toiles . . ."
Mademoiselle's laughter came first. They sat holding each other's eyes,
shaken with laughter, until Mademoiselle said, sighing brokenly, "Et
c'est la cloche qui va sonner immediatement." As they undressed, she
went on talking--"the night comes the black night . . . we must sleep .
. . we must sleep in peace . . . we are safe . . . we are protected . .
. nous craignons Dieu, n'est ce pas?" Miriam was shocked to find her at
her elbow, in her nightgown, speaking very gravely. She looked for a
moment into the serious eyes challenging her own. The mouth was
frugally compressed. "Oh yes," said Miriam stiffly.
They blew out the candle when the bell sounded and got into bed. Miriam
imagined the Martins' regular features under their barley and poppy
trimmed hats. She knew exactly the kind of English hat it would be.
They were certainly not pretty hats--she wondered at Mademoiselle's
French eyes being so impressed. She knew they must be hats with very
narrow brims, the trimming coming nearly to the edge and Solomon's she
felt sure inclined to be boat-shaped. Mademoiselle was talking about
translated English books she had read. Miriam was glad of her thin
voice piercing the darkness--she did not want to sleep. She loved the
day that had gone; and the one that was coming. She saw the room again
as it had been when Mademoiselle had looked up towards the toiles
d'araignees. She had never thought of there being cobwebs up there.
Now she saw them dangling in corners, high up near those mysterious
windows unnoticed, looking down on her and Mademoiselle . . . Fraulein
Pfaff's cobwebs. They were hers now, had been hers through cold dark
nights. . . . Mademoiselle was asking her if she knew a most charming
English book . . . "La Premiere Priere de Jessica"?
"Oh, the most beautiful book it would be possible to read." An indrawn
breath, "Le Secret de Lady Audley."
"Yes," responded Miriam sleepily.
After the gay breakfast Miriam found herself alone in the schoolroom.
listening inadvertently to a conversation going on apparently in
Fraulein Pfaff's room beyond the little schoolroom. The voices were
low, but she knew neither of them, nor could she distinguish words. The
sound of the voices, boxed in, filling a little space shut off from the
great empty hall made the house seem very still. The saal was empty,
the girls were upstairs at their housework. Miriam restlessly rising
early had done her share before breakfast. She took Harriett's last
letter from her pocket and fumbled the disarranged leaves for the
"We are sending you out two blouses. Don't you think you're lucky?"
Miriam glanced out at the young chestnut leaves drooping in tight pleats
from black twigs . . . "real grand proper blouses the first you've ever
had, and a skirt to wear them with . . . won't you be within an inch of
your life! Mother got them at Grigg's--one is squashed strawberry with
a sort of little catherine-wheely design in black going over it but not
too much, awfully smart; and the other is a sort of buffy; one zephyr,
the other cotton, and the skirt is a sort of mixey pepper and salt with
lumps in the weaving--you know how I mean, something like our prawn
dresses only lighter and much more refined. The duffer is going to join
the tennis-club--he was at the Pooles' dance. I was simply
flabbergasted. He's a duffer."
The little German garden was disappearing from Miriam's eyes. . . . It
was cruel, cruel that she was not going to wear her blouses at home, at
the tennis-club . . . with Harriett. . . . It was all beginning again,
after all--the spring and tennis and presently boating--things were
going on . . . the smash had not come . . . why had she not stayed . . .
just one more spring? . . . how silly and hurried she had been, and
there at home in the garden lilac was quietly coming out and syringa and
guelder roses and May and laburnum and . . . everything . . . and she
had run away, proud of herself, despising them all, and had turned
herself into Miss Henderson, . . . and no one would ever know who she
was. . . . Perhaps the blouses would make a difference--it must be
extraordinary to have blouses. . . . Slommucky . . . untidy and
slommucky Lilla's mother had called them . . . and perhaps they would
not fit her. . . .
One of the voices rose to a sawing like the shrill whir of wood being
cut by machinery. . . . A derisive laugh broke into the strange sound.
It was Fraulein Pfaff's laughter and was followed by her voice thinner
and shriller and higher than the other. Miriam listened. What could be
going on? . . . both voices were almost screaming . . . together . . .
one against the other . . . it was like mad women. . . . A door broke
open on a shriek. Miriam bounded to the schoolroom door and opened it
in time to see Anna lurch, shouting and screaming, part way down the
basement stairs. She turned, leaning with her back against the wall,
her eyes half-closed, sawing with fists in the direction of Fraulein,
who stood laughing in her doorway. After one glance Miriam recoiled.
They had not seen her.
"Ja," screamed Fraulein--"Sie konnen ihre paar Groschen haben!--Ihre
paar Groschen! Ihre paar Groschen!" and then the two voices shrieked
incoherently together until Fraulein's door slammed to and Anna's voice,
shouting and swearing, died away towards the basement.
Miriam had crept back to the schoolroom window. She stood shivering,
trying to forget the taunting words, and the cruel laughter. "You can
have your ha'pence!" Poor Anna. Her poor wages. Her bony face. . .
Gertrude looked in.
"I say, Henderson, come on down and help me pack up lunch. We're all
going to Hoddenheim for the day, the whole family, come on."
"For the day?"
"The day, ja. Lily's restless."
Miriam stood looking at her laughing face and listening to her hoarse,
whispering voice. Gertrude turned and went downstairs.
Miriam followed her, cold and sick and shivering, and presently glad to
be her assistant as she bustled about the empty kitchen,
Upstairs the other girls were getting ready for the outing.
Starting out along the dusty field-girt roadway leading from the railway
station to the little town of Hoddenheim through the hot sunshine,
Miriam was already weary and fearful of the hours that lay ahead. They
would bring tests; and opportunities for Fraulein to see all her
incapability. Fraulein had thrown her thick gauze veil back over her
large hat and was walking with short footsteps, quickly along the centre
of the roadway throwing out exclamations of delight, calling to the
girls in a singing voice to cast away the winter, to fill their lungs,
fill their hearts with spring.
She rallied them to observation.
Miriam could not remember having seen men working in fields. They
troubled her. They looked up with strange eyes. She wished they were
not there. She wanted the fields to be still--and smaller. Still green
fields and orchards . . . woods. . . .
They passed a farmyard and stopped in a cluster at the gate.
There was a moment of relief for her here. She could look easily at the
scatter of poultry and the little pigs trotting and grunting about the
She talked to the nearest German girl, of these and of the calves
standing in the shelter of a rick, carefully repeating the English
names. As her eyes reached the rick she found that she did not know
what to say. Was it hay or straw? What was the difference? She
dreaded the day more and more.
Fraulein passed on leading the way, down the road hand-in-hand with
Emma. The girls straggled after her.
Making some remark to Minna, Miriam secured her companionship and
dropped a little behind the group. Minna gave her one eager beam from
behind her nose, which was shining rosily in the clear air, and they
walked silently along side by side bringing up the rear.
Voices and the scrabble of feet along the roadway sounded ahead.
Miriam noticed large rounded puffs of white cloud standing up sharp and
still upon the horizon. Cottages began to appear at the roadside.
Standing and moving in the soft air was the strong sour smell of baking
schwarzbrot. A big bony-browed woman came from a dark cottage and stood
motionless in the low doorway, watching them with kindly body. Miriam
glanced at her face--her eyes were small and expressionless, like Anna's
. . . evil-looking.
Presently they were in a narrow street. Miriam's footsteps hurried.
She almost cried aloud. The faŤades of the dwellings passing slowly on
either hand were higher, here and there one rose to a high peak, pierced
geometrically with tiny windows. The street widening out ahead showed
an open cobbled space and cross-roads. At every angle stood high quiet
peaked houses, their faces shining warm cream and milk-white, patterned
They overtook the others drawn up in the roadway before a long low
wooden house. Miriam had time to see little gilded figures standing out
in niches in rows all along the faŤade and rows of scrollwork dimly
painted, as she stood still a moment with beating heart behind the
group. She heard Fraulein talking in English of councillors and
centuries and assumed for a moment as Fraulein's eye passed her a look
of intelligence; then they had all moved on together deeper into the
town. She clung to Minna, talking at random . . . did she like
Hoddenheim . . . and Minna responded to the full, helping her, talking
earnestly and emphatically about food and the sunshine, isolating the
two of them; and they all reached the cobbled open space and stood still
and the peaked houses stood all round them.
"You like old-time Germany, Miss Henderson?"
Miriam turned a radiant face to Fraulein Pfaff's table and made some
movement with her lips.
"I think you have something of the German in you."
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