Pointed Roofs (Pilgrimage 1)
Part 4 out of 4
could have brought help and comfort to all of them if he had seen them
and stopped. Pastor Lahmann--Lahmann--perhaps she would not see him
again. Perhaps he could tell her what she ought to do.
"Oh, my dear," Jimmie was saying, "didn't you know?--a fearful row."
Mademoiselle's laughter tinkled out from the rear.
"Fearful!" Jimmie's face came round, round-eyed under her white sailor
hat that sat slightly tilted on the peak of her hair.
"Something about a letter or something, or some letters or something--I
don't know. Something she took out of the letter-box, it was unlocked
or something and Ulrica saw her _and told Lily!"_
"Goodness!" breathed Miriam.
"Yes, and Lily had her in her room and Ulrica and poor little Petite
couldn't deny it. Ulrica said she did nothing but cry and cry. She's
been crying all the morning, poor little pig."
"Why did she want to take anything out of the box?"
"Oh, I don't know. There was a fearful row anyhow. Ulrica said Lily
talked like a clergyman--wie ein Pfarrer. . . . I don't know. Ulrica
said she was _opening_ a letter. _I_ don't know."
"But she can't read German or English."
"_I_ don't know. Ask me another."
"It is _extraordinary."_
"What's extraordinary?" asked Bertha from the far side of Jimmie.
"Petite and that letter."
"What did the Kiddy _want?"_
"Oh, my dear, don't ask me to explain the peculiarities of the French
"Yes, but all the letters in the letter-box would be English or German,
as Hendy says."
Bertha glanced at Miriam. Miriam flushed. She could not discuss
Mademoiselle with two of the girls at once.
"Rum go," said Bertha.
"You're right, my son. It's rum. It's all over now, anyhow. There's
no accounting for tastes. Poor old Petite."
Miriam woke in the moonlight. She saw Mademoiselle's face as it had
looked at tea-time, pale and cruel, silent and very old. Someone had
said she had been in Fraulein's room again all the afternoon. . . .
Fraulein had spoken to her once or twice during tea. She had answered
coolly and eagerly . . . disgusting . . . like a child that had been
whipped and forgiven. . . . How could Fraulein dare to forgive anybody?
She lay motionless. The night was cool. The screens had not been
moved. She felt that the door was shut. After a while she began in
imagination a conversation with Eve.
"You see the trouble _was,"_ she said and saw Eve's downcast
believing admiring sympathetic face, "Fraulein talked to me about
manner, she simply wanted me to grimace, _simply._ _You_
know--be like other people."
Eve laughed. "Yes, I know."
"You see? _Simply."_
"Well, if you wanted to stay, why couldn't you?"
"I simply couldn't; you know how people are."
"But you can act so splendidly."
"But you can't keep it up."
_"Eve._ There you are, you see, you always go back."
"I mean I think it would be simply lovely. If I were clever like you I
should do it all the time, be simply always gushing and 'charming'."
Then she reminded Eve of the day they had walked up the lane to the
Heath talking over all the manners they would like to have--and how
Sarah suddenly in the middle of supper had caricatured the one they had
chosen. "Of course you overdid it," she concluded, and Eve crimsoned
and said, "Oh yes, I know it was my fault. But you could have begun all
over again in Germany and been quite different."
"Yes, I know I thought about that. . . . But if you knew as much of the
world as I do. . . ."
Eve stared, showing a faint resentment.
Miriam thought of Eve's many suitors, of her six months' betrothal, of
her lifelong peacemaking, her experiment in being governess to the two
children of an artist--a little green-robed boy threatening her with a
"Yes, but I mean if you had been about."
"I know," smiled Eve confidently. "You mean if I were you. Go on. I
know. Explain, old thing."
"Well, I mean of course if you are a governess in a school you
_can't_ be jolly and charming. You can't be idiotic or anything. .
. . I did think about it. Don't tell anybody. But I thought for a
little while I might go into a family--one of the girls' families--the
German girls, and begin having a German manner. Two of the girls asked
me. One of them was ill and went away--that Pomeranian one I told you
about. Well, then, I didn't tell you about that little one and her
sister--they asked me to go to them for the holidays. The youngest
said--it was _so_ absurd--'you shall marry my bruzzer--he is
_"Not_ absurd--you probably _would_ have, away from that
"D'you think so?"
"Yes, you would have been a regular German, fat and jolly and laughing."
"I know. My dear, I thought about it. You may imagine. I wondered if
"Why didn't you try?"
Why not? Why was she not going to try? Eve would, she was sure in her
place. . . .
Why not grimace and be very "bright" and "animated" until the end of the
term and then go and stay with the Bergmanns for two months and be as
charming as she could? . . . Her heart sank. . . . She imagined a house,
everyone kind and blond and smiling. Emma's big tall brother smiling
and joking and liking her. She would laugh and pretend and flirt like
the Pooles and make up to him--and it would be lovely for a little
while. Then she would offend someone. She would offend everyone but
Emma--and get tired and cross and lose her temper. Stare at them all as
they said the things everybody said, the things she hated; and she would
sit glowering, and suddenly refuse to allow the women to be familiar
with her. . . . She tried to see the brother more clearly. She looked
at the screen. The Bergmanns' house would be full of German furniture.
. . . At the end of a week every bit of it would reproach her.
She tried to imagine him without the house and the family, not talking
or joking or pretending . . . alone and sad . . . despising his family .
. . needing her. He loved forests and music. He had a great strong
solid voice and was strong and sure about everything and she need never
worry any more.
"Seit ich ihn gesehen
Glaub' ich blind zu sein."
There would be a garden and German springs and summers and sunsets and
strong kind arms and a shoulder. She would grow so happy. No one would
recognise her as the same person. She would wear a band of
turquoise-blue velvet ribbon round her hair and look at the mountains. .
. . No good. She could never get out to that. Never. She could not
pretend long enough. Everything would be at an end long before there
was any chance of her turning into a happy German woman.
Certainly with a German man she would be angry at once. She thought of
the men she had seen--in the streets, in cafes and gardens, the masters
in the school, photographs in the girls' albums. They had all offended
her at once. Something in their bearing and manner. . . . Blind and
impudent. . . . She thought of the interview she had witnessed between
Ulrica and her cousin--the cousin coming up from the estate in Erfurth,
arriving in a carriage, Fraulein's manner, her smiles and hints; Ulrica
standing in the saal in her sprigged saffron muslin dress curtseying . .
. with bent head, the cousin's condescending laughing voice. It would
never do for her to go into a German home. She must not say anything
about the chance of going to the Bergmanns'--even to Eve.
She imagined Eve sitting listening in the window space in the bow that
was carpeted with linoleum to look like parquet flooring. Beyond them
lay the length of the Turkey carpet darkening away under the long table.
She could see each object on the shining sideboard. The silver
biscuit-box and the large epergne made her feel guilty and shifting,
guilty from the beginning of things.
"You see, Eve, I thought counting it all up that if I came home it would
cost less than going to Norderney and that all the expense of my going
to Germany and coming back is less than what it would have cost to keep
me at home for the five months I've been there--I wish you'd tell
She turned about in bed; her head was growing fevered.
She conjured up a vision of the backs of the books in the bookcase in
the dining-room at home. . . . Iliad and Odyssey . . . people going over
the sea in boats and someone doing embroidery . . . that little picture
of Hector and Andromache in the corner of a page . . . he in armour . .
. she, in a trailing dress, holding up her baby. Both, silly. . . . She
wished she had read more carefully. She could not remember anything in
Lecky or Darwin that would tell her what to do . . . Hudibras . . . The
Atomic Theory . . . Ballads and Poems, D. G. Rossetti . . . Kinglake's
Crimea . . . Palgrave's Arabia . . . Crimea. . . . The Crimea. . . .
Florence Nightingale; a picture somewhere; a refined face, with cap and
strings. . . . She must have smiled. . . . Motley's Rise of . . . Rise
of . . . Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic. . . . Motley's Rise of the
Dutch Republic and the Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta family. She
held to the memory of these two books. Something was coming from them
to her. She handled the shiny brown gold-tooled back of Motley's Rise
and felt the hard graining of the red-bound Chronicles. . . . There were
green trees outside in the moonlight . . . in Luther's Germany . . .
trees and fields and German towns and then Holland. She breathed more
easily. Her eyes opened serenely. Tranquil moonlight lay across the
room. It surprised her like a sudden hand stroking her brow. It seemed
to feel for her heart. If she gave way to it her thoughts would go.
Perhaps she ought to watch it and let her thoughts go. It passed over
her trouble like her mother did when she said, "Don't go so deeply into
everything, chickie. You must learn to take life as it comes. Ah-eh if
I were strong I could show you how to enjoy life. . . ." Delicate
little mother, running quickly downstairs clearing her throat to sing.
But mother did not know. She had no reasoning power. She could not
help because she did not know. The moonlight was sad and hesitating.
Miriam closed her eyes again. Luther . . . pinning up that notice on a
church door. . . . (Why is Luther like a dyspeptic blackbird? Because
the Diet of Worms did not agree with him) . . . and then leaving the
notice on the church door and going home to tea . . . coffee . . . some
evening meal . . . Kathe . . . Kathe . . . happy Kathe. . . . They
pinned up that notice on a Roman Catholic church . . . and all the
priests looked at them . . . and behind the priests were torture and
dark places . . . Luther looking up to God . . . saying you couldn't get
away from your sins by paying money . . . standing out in the world and
Kathe making the meal at home . . . Luther was fat and German. Perhaps
his face perspired . . . Eine feste Burg; a firm fortress . . . a round
tower made of old brown bricks and no windows. . . . No need for Kathe
to smile. . . . She had been a nun . . . and then making a lamplit meal
for Lather in a wooden German house . . . and Rome waiting to kill them.
Darwin had come since then. There were people . . . distinguished
minds, who thought Darwin was true.
No God. No Creation. The struggle for existence. Fighting. . . .
Fighting. . . . Fighting. . . . Everybody groping and fighting. . . .
Fraulein. . . . Some said it was true . . . some not. They could not
both be right. It was probably true . . . only old-fashioned people
thought it was not. It was true. Just that--monkeys fighting. But who
began it? Who made Fraulein? Tough leathery monkey. . . .
Then nothing matters. Just one little short life. . . .
"A few more years shall roll . . .
A few more seasons pass. . . ."
There was a better one than that . . . not so organ-grindery.
"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories fade away;
Change and decay in all around I see."
Wow-wow-wow-whiney-caterwauley. . . .
Mr. Brough quoted Milton in a sermon and said he was a materialist. . .
. Pater said it was a bold thing to say. . . . Mr. Brough was a
clear-headed man. She couldn't imagine how he stayed in the Church. . .
. She hoped he hated that sickening, sickening, idiot humbug, Eve . . .
meek . . . with silly long hair . . . "divinely smiling" . . . Adam was
like a German . . . English too. . . . Impudent bombastic creature . . .
a sort of man who would call his wife "my dear." There was a hymn that
even Pater liked . . . the tune was like a garden in the autumn. . . .
O . . . Strengthen _Stay_--up-- . . . Holding--all
Cre--ay--ay--tion. . . . Who . . . ever Dost Thy . . . self--un . . .
Moved--a--Bide. . . . Thyself unmoved abide . . . Thyself unmoved abide
. . . Unmoved abide . . .
Unmoved abide. . . . Unmoved Abide . . .
. . . Flights of shining steps, shallow and very wide--going up and up
and growing fainter and fainter, and far away at the top a faint old
face with great rays shooting out all round it . . . the picture in the
large "Pilgrim's Progress." . . . God in heaven. . . . I belong to
Apollyon . . . a horror with expressionless eyes . . . darting out
little spiky flames . . . if only it would come now . . . instead of
waiting until the end. . . .
She clasped her hands closely one in the other. They felt large and
strong. She stopped her thoughts and stared for a long while at the
faint light in the room . . . "It's physically impossible" someone had
said . . . the only hell thinkable is remorse . . . remorse. . . .
Sighing impatiently she turned about . . . and sighed again, breathing
deeply and rattling and feeling very hungry. . . . There will be
breakfast, even for me. . . . If they knew me they would not give me
breakfast. . . . no one would . . . I should be in a little room and one
after another would come and be reproachful and shocked . . . and then
they would go away and be happy and forget. . . .
Sarah would come. Whatever it was, Sarah would come. She read the
Bible and marked pieces. . . . But she would rush in without saying
anything, with a red face and bang down a plate of melon. . . . What did
God do about people like Sarah? Perhaps Apollyon could be made to come
at once--sweeping in like a large bat--be torn to bits--those men at
that college said he had come to them. They swore--one after the other
and the devil came in through one of the carved windows and carried one
of them away. . . . I have my doubts . . . Pater's face laughing--I have
my doubts, ooof--P-ooof. She flung off the outer covering and felt the
strong movements of her limbs. Hang! Hang! _Hang!_ DAMN. . . .
If there's no God, there's no Devil . . . and everything goes on. . . .
Fraulein goes on having her school. . . . What does she really think? .
. . Out in the world people don't think. . . . They grimace. . . . Is
there anywhere where there are no people? . . . be a gipsy. . . . There
are always people. . . .
"What a perfect morning . . . what a perfect morning," Miriam kept
telling herself, trying to see into the garden. There was a bowl of
irises on the breakfast-table--it made everything seem strange. There
had never been flowers on the table before. There was also a great dish
of pumpernickel besides the usual food. Fraulein had enjoined silence.
The silence made the impression of the irises stay. She hoped it might
be a new rule. She glanced at Fraulein two or three times. She was
pallid white. Her face looked thinner than usual and her eyes larger
and keener. She did not seem to notice anyone. Miriam wondered whether
she were thinking about cancer. Her face looked as it had done when
once or twice she had said, "Ich bin so bange vor Krebs." She hoped
not. Perhaps it was the problem of evil. Perhaps she had thought of it
when she put the irises on the table.
She gazed at them, half-feeling the flummery petals against the palm of
her hand. Fraulein seemed cancelled. There was no need to feel
self-conscious. She was not thinking of any of them. Miriam found
herself looking at high grey stone basins with ornamental stems like
wine-glasses and large square fluted pedestals, filled with geraniums
and calceolarias. They had stood in the sunshine at the corners of the
lawn in her grandmother's garden. She could remember nothing else but
the scent of a greenhouse and its steamy panes over her head . . . lemon
thyme and scented geranium.
How lovely it would be to-day at the end of the day. Fraulein would
feel happy then . . . or did elderly people fear cancer all the time. .
. . It was a great mistake. You should leave things to Nature. . . .
You were more likely to have things if you thought about them. But
Fraulein would think and worry . . . alone with herself . . . with her
great dark eyes and bony forehead and thin pale cheeks . . . always
alone, and just cancer coming . . . I shall be like that one day . . .
an old teacher and cancer coming. It was silly to forget all about it
and see Granny's calceolarias in the sun . . . all that had to come to
an end. . . . To forget was like putting off repentance. Those who did
not put it off saw when the great waters came, a shining figure coming
to them through the flood. . . . If they did not they were like the man
in a night-cap, his mouth hanging open--no teeth--and skinny hands,
playing cards on his death-bed.
After bed-making, Fraulein settled a mending party at the window-end of
the schoolroom table. She sent no emissary but was waiting herself in
the schoolroom when they came down. She hovered about putting them into
their places and enquiring about the work of each one.
She arranged Miriam and the Germans at the saal end of the table for an
English lesson. Mademoiselle was not there. Fraulein herself took the
head of the table. Once more she enjoined silence--the whole table
seemed waiting for Miriam to begin her lesson.
The three or four readings they had done during the term alone in the
little room had brought them through about a third of the blue-bound
volume. Hoarsely whispering, then violently clearing her throat and
speaking suddenly in a very loud tone Miriam bade them resume the story.
They read and she corrected them in hoarse whispers. No one appeared
to be noticing. A steady breeze coming through the open door of the
summer-house flowed past them and along the table, but Miriam sat
stifling, with beating temples. She had no thoughts. Now and again in
correcting a simple word she was not sure that she had given the right
English rendering. Behind her distress two impressions went to and
fro--Fraulein and the raccommodage party sitting in judgment and the
whole roomful waiting for cancer.
Very gently at the end of half an hour Fraulein dismissed the Germans to
Herr Schraub was coming at eleven. Miriam supposed she was free until
then and went upstairs.
On the landing she met Mademoiselle coming downstairs with mending.
"Bossy coming?" she said feverishly in French; "are you going to the
Mademoiselle stood contemplating her.
"I've just been giving an English lesson, oh, Mon Dieu," she proceeded.
Mademoiselle still looked gravely and quietly.
Miriam was passing on. Mademoiselle turned and said hurriedly in a low
voice. "Elsa says you are a fool at lessons."
"Oh," smiled Miriam.
"You think they do not speak of you, hein? Well, I tell you they speak
of you. Jimmie says you are as fat as any German. She laughed in
saying that. Gertrude, too, thinks you are a fool. Oh, they say
things. If I should tell you all the things they say you would not
"I dare say," said Miriam heavily, moving on.
"Everyone, all say things, I tell you," whispered Mademoiselle turning
her head as she went on downstairs.
Miriam ran into the empty summer-house tearing open a well-filled
envelope. There was a long letter from Eve, a folded half-sheet from
mother. Her heart beat rapidly. Thick straight rain was seething down
into the garden.
"Come and say good-bye to Mademoiselle, Hendy."
"Is she _going?"_
"Poor little beast!"
"Seems like it--she's been packing all the morning."
"Because of that letter business?"
"Oh, I dunno. Anyhow there's some story of some friend of Fraulein's
travelling through to Besan¨on today and Mademoiselle's going with her
and we're all to take solemn leave and she's not coming back next term.
Mademoiselle, radiantly rosy under her large black French hat, wearing
her stockinette jacket and grey dress, was standing at the end of the
schoolroom table--the girls were all assembled and the door into the
hall was open.
The housekeeper was laughing and shouting and imitating the puffing of a
train. Mademoiselle stood smiling beside her with downcast eyes.
Opposite them was Gertrude with thin white face, blue lips and hotly
blazing eyes fixed on Mademoiselle. She stood easily with her hands
clasped behind her.
She must have an appalling headache thought Miriam. Mademoiselle began
"I say, Mademoiselle," began Jimmie quietly and hurriedly in her lame
French, as she took her hand. "Have you got another place?"
"I mean what are you going to do next term, petite?"
"We want to know about your plans."
"But I remain now with my parents till my marriage."
"Petite!!! Fancy never telling us."
Exclamations clustered round from all over the room.
"Why should I tell?"
"We didn't even know you were engaged!"
"But of course. Certainly I marry. I know quite well who is to marry
The room was taking leave of Mademoiselle almost in silence. The
English were standing together. Miriam heard their voices. "'Dieu,
m'selle, 'dieu, m'selle," one after the other and saw hands and wrists
move vigorously up and down. The Germans were commenting, "Ah, she is
engaged--ah, what--_en-gaged._ Ah, the rascal! Hor mal--"
Miriam dreaded her turn. Mademoiselle was coming near . . . so cheap
and common-looking with her hard grey dress and her cheap jacket with
the hat hiding her hair and making her look skinny and old. She was a
more dreadful stranger than she had been at first . . . Miriam wished
she could stay. She could not let anyone go away like this. They would
not meet again and Mademoiselle was going away detesting her and them
all, going away in disgrace and not minding and going to be married.
All the time there had been that waiting for her. She was smiling now
and showing her babyish teeth. How could Jimmie hold her by the
"Venez mon enfant, venez a l'instant," called Fraulein from the hall.
Mademoiselle made her hard little sound with her throat.
"Why doesn't she go?" thought Miriam as Mademoiselle ran down the room.
"Adieu, adieu evaireeboddie--alla----"
"Are all here?"
Jimmie answered and Fraulein came to the table and stood leaning for a
moment upon one hand.
The door opened and the housekeeper shone hard and bright in the
"Na, gut," responded Fraulein quietly.
The housekeeper disappeared.
"Fraulein looks like a dead body," thought Miriam.
Apprehension overtook her . . . "there's going to be some silly fuss."
"I shall speak in English, because the most that I shall say concerns
the English members of this household and its heavy seriousness will be
by those who are not English, sufficiently understood."
Miriam flushed, struggling for self-possession. She determined not to
listen. . . . Damn . . . Devil . . ." she exhorted herself . . .
"humbugging creature . . ." She felt the blood throbbing in her face
and her eyes and looked at no one. She was conscious that little
movements and sounds came from the Germans, but she heard nothing but
Fraulein's voice which had ceased. It had been the clear-cut
low-breathing tone she used at prayers. "Oh, Lord, bother, damnation,"
she reiterated in her discomfiture. The words echoing through her mind
seemed to cut a way of escape. . . .
"That dear child," smiled Fraulein's voice, "who has just left us, came
under this roof . . . nearly a year ago.
"She came, a tender girl (Mademoiselle--Mademoiselle, oh, goodness!)
from the house of her pious parents, fromme Eltern, fromme Eltern."
Fraulein breathed these words slowly out and a deep sigh came from one
of the Germans, "to reside with us. She came in the most perfect
confidence with the aim to complete her own simple education, the pious
and simple nurture of a Protestant French girl, and with the aim also to
remove for a period something of the burden lying upon the shoulders of
those dear parents in the upbringing of herself and her brothers and
sisters" (And then to leave home and be married--how easy, how easy!)
"Honourably--honourably she has fulfilled each and every duty laid upon
her as institutrice in this establishment.
"Sufficient to indicate this fulfilment of duty is the fact that she was
happy and that she made happy others----"
Fraulein's voice dropped to its lowest note and grew fuller in tone.
"Would that I could here complete what I have to say of the sojourn of
little Aline Ducorroy under this roof. . . . But that I cannot do.
"That I cannot do.
"It has been the experience of this pure and gentle soul to come, under
this roof, in contact with things not pure."
Fraulein's voice had become breathless and shaking. Both her hands
sought the support of the table.
"This poor child has had unwillingly to suffer the fact of associating
with those not pure."
"Ach, Fraulein! What you say!" ejaculated Clara.
In the silence the leaves of the chestnut tree tapped one against the
other. Miriam listened to them . . . there must be a little breeze
blowing across the garden. Why had she not noticed it before? Were
they all hearing it?
"Here, in this my school."
Miriam's heart began to beat angrily.
"She has been forced, here, in this school, to hear talking"--Fraulein's
voice thickened--"of men . . . ."
_"Manner--geschichten . . . here!"_
_"Manner--geschichten."_ Fraulein's voice rang out down the table.
She bent forward so that the light from both the windows behind her fell
sharply across her grey-clad shoulders and along the top of her head.
There was no condemnation Miriam felt in those broad grey
shoulders--they were innocent. But the head shining and flat, the wide
parting, the sleekness of the hair falling thinly and flatly away from
it--angry, dreadful skull. She writhed away from it. She would not
look any more. She felt her neck was swelling her collar-band.
Fraulein whispered low.
"Here in my school, here standing round this table are those who talk
"Young girls . . . who talk . . . of men."
While Fraulein waited, trembling, several of the girls began to snuffle
"Is there, can there be in the world anything that is more base, more
vile, more impure? Is there? Is there?"
Miriam wished she knew who was crying. She tried to fix her thoughts on
a hole in the table-cover. "It could be darned. . . . It could he
"You are brought here together, each and all of you here together in the
time of your youth. It is, it should be for you the most beautiful
occasion. Can you find anything more terrible than that such occasion
where all may work and influence each other--for all life--in purity and
goodness--that such occasion should he used--impurely? Like a dawn,
like a dawn for purity should be the life of a maiden. Calm, and pure
and with holy prayer."
Miriam repeated these words in her mind trying to dwell on the beauty of
Fraulein's middle tones. "And the day shall come, I shall wish, for all
of you, that the sanctity of a home shall be within your hands. What
then shall be the shame, what the regret of those who before the coming
of that sacred time did think thoughts of men, did speak of them?
_Shame, shame,"_ whispered Fraulein amidst the sobbing girls.
"With the thoughts of those who have this impure nature I can do
nothing. For them it is freely to acknowledge this evil in the heart
and to pray that the heart may be changed and made clean.
"But a thing I can do and I do. . . . I will have no more of this
talking. In my school I will have no more. . . . Do you hear, all? Do
She struck the table with both fists and brandished them in mid-air.
"Eh-h," she sneered. "I know, _I_ know who are the culprits. I
have always known." She gasped. "It shall cease--these talks--this
vile talk of men. Do you understand? It shall cease.
I--will--not--have it. . . . The school shall be clean . . . from pupil
to pupil . . . from room to room. . . . Every day . . . every hour. . .
. Shameless!" she screamed. "Shameless. Ah! I know. I know you."
She stood with her arms folded, swaying, and gave a little laugh. "You
think to deceive me. You do not deceive me. I know. I have known and
I shall know. This school is mine. Mine! My place! I will have it as
I will have it. That is clear and plain, and you all shall help me. I
shall say no more. But I shall know what to do."
Mechanically Miriam went downstairs with the rest of the party. With
the full force of her nerves she resisted the echoes of Fraulein's
onslaught, refusing to think of anything she had said and blotting out
her image every time it rose. The essential was that she would be
dismissed as Mademoiselle had been dismissed. That was the upshot of it
all for her. Fraulein was a mad, silly, pious female who would send her
away and go on glowering over the Bible. She would have to go, go,
_go_ in a sort of disgrace.
The girls were talking all round her, excitedly. She despised them for
showing that they were disturbed by Fraulein's despotic nonsense. As
they reached the basement she remembered the letter crushed in her hand
and sat down on the last step to glance through it.
"Dearest Mim. I have a wonderful piece of news for you. I wonder what
you will say? It is about Harriett. She has asked me to tell you as
she does not like to write about it herself."
With steady hands Miriam turned the closely-written sheets reading a
phrase here and there . . . "regularly in the seat behind us at All
Saints' for months--saw her with the Pooles at a concert at the Assembly
Rooms and made up his mind then--the moment he saw her--joined the
tennis-club--they won the double handicap--a beautiful Slazenger
racquet--only just over sixteen--for years--of course Mother says it's
just a little foolish nonsense--but I am not sure that she really thinks
so--Gerald took me into his confidence--made a solemn
call--_admirably_ suited to each other--rather a long melancholy
good-looking face--they look such a contrast--the big Canadian
Railway--not exactly a clerk--something rather above that, to do with
making drafts of things and so on. Very sweet and charming--my own
young days--that I have reached the great age of twenty-three--resident
post in the country--two little girls--we think it very good pay--I
shall go in September--plenty of time--that you should come home for the
long holidays. We are all looking forward to it--the tennis-club--your
name as a holiday member--the American tournament in August--Harry was
the youngest lady member like you--of course Harry could not let you
come without knowing--find somebody travelling through--Fraulein
Pfaff--expect to see you looking like a flour-sack with a string tied
round its waist--all the dwarf roses in bloom--hardly any
strawberries--we shall see you soon--everybody sends."
Miriam got up and swung the half-read letter above her head like a
She looked about her like a stranger--everything was as it had been the
day she came--the little cramped basement hall--the strange German
girls--small and old looking, poking about amongst the baskets. She
hardly knew them. She passed half-blindly amongst them with her eyes
wide. The little dressing-room seemed full of bright light. She saw
everyone at once clearly. All the English girls were there. She knew
every line of each of them. They were her old friends. They knew her.
Looking at none of them she felt she embraced them all, closely, and
that they knew it. They shone. They were beautiful. She wanted to cry
aloud. She was English and free. She had nothing to do with this
German school. Baskets at her feet made her pick her way. Solomon was
kneeling at one, sorting and handing out. At a little table under the
window Millie stood jotting pencil notes on a pocket-book. Judy was at
her side. The others were grouped about the piano. Gertrude sat on the
keyboard her legs dangling.
Miriam plumped down on a full basket.
"Hullo, Hendy, old chap, _you_ look all right!"
Miriam looked fearlessly up at the faces that were turned towards her.
Again she seemed to see all of them at once. The circle of her vision
seemed huge. It was as if the confining rim of her glasses were gone
and she saw equally from eyes that seemed to fill her face. She drew
all their eyes to her. They were waiting for her to speak. For a
moment it seemed as if they stood there lifeless. She had drawn all
their meaning and all their happiness into herself. She could do as she
wished with them--their poor little lives.
They stood waiting for some word from her. She dropped her eyes and
caught the flash of Gertrude's swinging steel buckles.
"Wasn't Fraulein angry?" she said carelessly.
Someone pushed the door to.
"Sly old bird."
"Fancy imagining we shouldn't see through Mademoiselle leaving."
"H'm," said Miriam.
"I knew Mademoiselle _would_ sneak if she had half a chance."
"Yes, ever since she got so thick with Elsa."
"You bet Fraulein looks down on the two of them in her heart of hearts."
"M'm--she's fairly sick, Jemima, with the lot of us this time."
"Mademoiselle told her some pretty things," laughed Gertrude. "Lily
thinks we're lost souls--nearly all of us."
"Onny swaw, my dears, onny swaw."
"It's all very well. But there's no knowing what Mademoiselle would
make her believe. She'd got reams about you, Hendy--nothing bad
"H'm," said Miriam, "I can imagine----"
Her thoughts brought back a day when she had shown Mademoiselle the
names in her birthday-book and dwelt on one page and let Mademoiselle
understand that it was the page--brown eyes--les yeux brunes foncees.
Why did Mademoiselle and Fraulein think that bad--want to spoil it for
her? She had said nothing about the confidences of the German girls to
anyone. Elsa must have found that out from Clara.
"Oh, well it's all over now. Let's be thankful and think no more about
"All very fine, Jemima. You're going home."
"And not coming back. Lucky Pigleinchen."
"Well, so am I," said Miriam, "and I'm not coming back."
"I say! Aren't you coming to Norderney?" Gertrude flashed dark eyes at
"Can't you come to Norderney?" said Judy thickly, at her elbow.
"Well, you see there are all sorts of things happening at home. I must
go. One of my sisters is engaged and another going away. I _must_
go home for a while. Of course I _might_ come back."
"Think it over, Henderson, and see if you can't decide in our favour."
"We shall have another Miss Owen."
Miriam struggled up out of her basket. "But I thought you all
_liked_ Miss Owen!"
"Ho! Goodness! Too simple for words."
"You never told us you had any sisters, Hendy," said Jimmie, tapping her
on the wrist.
"What a pity you're going just as we're getting to know you," Judy
smiled shyly and looked on the floor.
"Well--I'm off with my bundle," announced Gertrude. "To be continued in
our next. Think it over, Hendy. Don't desert us. Hurry up, my room.
It'll be tea-time before we're straight. Come on, Jim."
Miriam moved, with Judy following at her elbow, across the room to
Millie. She looked up with her little plaintive frown. Miriam could
not remember what her plans were. "Let's see," she said, "you're going
to Norderney, aren't you?"
"I'm not going to Norderney," said Nellie almost tearfully. "I only
wish I were. I don't even know I'm coming back next term."
"Aren't you looking forward to the holidays?"
"I don't know. I'd rather be staying here if I'm not coming back
"To stay in Germany? You'd rather do that than anything?"
"Here, with Fraulein Pfaff?"
"Of course, here with Fraulein Pfaff. I'd rather be in Germany than
Millie stood staring with her pout and her slightly raised eyebrows at
the frosted window.
"Would you stay here in the school for the holidays if Fraulein were
"I'd do anything," said Millie, "to stay in Germany."
"You know," said Miriam gazing at her, "so would I--any mortal thing."
Millie's eyes had filled with tears.
"Then why don't ye stay?" said Judy, with gentle gruffness.
The house was shut up for the night.
Miriam looked up at the clock dizzily as she drank the last of her
coffee. It marked half-past eleven. Fraulein had told her to be ready
at a quarter to twelve. Her hands felt large and shaky and her feet
were cold. The room was stifling--bare and brown in the gaslight. She
left it and crept through the hall where her trunk stood and up the
creaking stairs. She turned up the gas. Emma lay asleep with red
eyelids and cheeks. Miriam did not look at Ulrica. Hurriedly and
desolately she packed her bag. She was going home empty-handed. She
had achieved nothing. Fraulein had made not the slightest effort to
keep her. She was just nothing again--with her Saratoga trunk and her
hand-bag. Harriett had achieved. Harriett. She was just going home
with nothing to say for herself.
"The carriage is here, my child. Make haste."
Miriam pushed things hurriedly into her bag. Fraulein had gone
She was ready. She looked numbly round the room. Emma looked very far
away. She turned out the gas. The dim light from the landing shone
into the room. She stood for a moment in the doorway looking back. The
room seemed to be empty. There seemed to be nothing in it but the black
screen standing round the bed that was no longer hers.
"Good-bye," she murmured and hurried downstairs.
In the hall Fraulein began to talk at once, talking until they were
seated side by side in the dark cab.
Then Miriam gazed freely at the pale profile shining at her side. Poor
Fraulein Pfaff, getting old.
Fraulein began to ask about Miriam's plans for the future. Miriam
answered as to an equal, elaborating a little account of circumstances
at home, and the doings of her sisters. As she spoke she felt that
Fraulein envied her her youth and her family at home in England--and she
raised her voice a little and laughed easily and moved, crossing her
knees in the cab.
She used sentimental German words about Harriett--a description of her
that might have applied to Emma--little emphatic tender epithets came to
her from the conversations of the girls. Fraulein praised her German
warmly and asked question after question about the house and garden at
Barnes and presently of her mother.
"I can't talk about her," said Miriam shortly.
"That is English," murmured Fraulein.
"She's such a little thing," said Miriam, "smaller than any of us."
Presently Fraulein laid her gloved hand on Miriam's gloved one. "You
and I have, I think, much in common."
Miriam froze--and looked at the gas-lamps slowly swinging by along the
boulevard. "Much will have happened in England whilst you have been
here with us," said Fraulein eagerly.
They reached a street--shuttered darkness where the shops were, and here
and there the yellow flare of a cafe. She strained her eyes to see the
faces and forms of men and women--breathing more quickly as she watched
the characteristic German gait.
There was the station.
Her trunk was weighed and registered. There was something to pay. She
handed her purse to Fraulein and stood gazing at the uniformed
man--ruddy and clear-eyed--clear hard blue eyes and hard clean clear
yellow moustaches--decisive untroubled movements. Passengers were
walking briskly about and laughing and shouting remarks to each other.
The train stood waiting for her. The ringing of an enormous bell
brought her hands to her ears. Fraulein gently propelled her up the
three steps into a compartment marked Damen--Coupe. It smelt of
biscuits and wine.
A man with a booming voice came to examine her ticket. He stood bending
under the central light, uttering sturdy German words. Miriam drank
them in without understanding. He left the carriage very empty. The
great bell was ringing again. Fraulein standing on the top step pressed
both her hands and murmured words of farewell.
"Leb' wohl, mein Kind, Gott segne dich."
"Good-bye, Fraulein," she said stiffly, shaking hands.
The door was shut with a slam--the light seemed to go down. Miriam
glanced at it--half the dull green muslin shade had slipped over the
gas-globe. The carriage seemed dark. The platform outside was very
bright. Fraulein had disappeared. The train was high above the
platform. Politely smiling Miriam scrambled to the window. The
platform was moving, the large bright station moving away. Fraulein's
wide smile was creasing and caverning under her hat from which the veil
was thrown back.
Standing at the window Miriam smiled sharply. Fraulein's form flowed
slowly away with the platform.
Groups passed by smiling and waving.
Miriam sat down.
She leaped up to lean from the window.
The platform had disappeared.
NOTE.--The next instalment of "Pilgrimage," is entitled "Backwater."
Back to Full Books