- BOOK I A SENSE OF SPELLS
- CHAPTER I
|chapter 2 >|
ANGELINA lay wide-eyed and candidly listening in the wide bed. She was recovering from a feverish chill and had reached that charming stage of convalescence when you look forward with greed—yet of the most ethereal sort—to the milky luxury of your frequent meals; when any movement of your limbs as you lie in the soft sheets is delicious ease; when the very sounds of the household, muted, and for your sake, are merely music which, sleepily and with a quite regal tolerance, you barely apprehend. She felt to-night, listening to those two maidservants as they sat by the fire, light as air, strong as a strand of silk, smooth as a rose petal: scented too, as roses, for an hour ago Kitty had got her out of bed and given her a hot bath, with a generous foam of the best scented soap. In the Peachey household they used nothing but the most expensive and beautiful soaps. Beautiful, too, was the array of cosmetics upon Grandmamma Peachey's big dressingtable. Things of that kind came easy to them as a family.
Angelina's brain as she listened, and as she became more and more piqued, absorbed and amazed, was active. She told herself, lying here quite still and tingling sweetly to her very toes, that to-night, for her, was making history. Never would she be quite the same Angelina Peachey any more after this. For although she was only ten years old she took herself with immense seriousness. Moreover, she understood something of this matter upon which they sat discoursing. She had experience. Only the day before yesterday, coming out of school, Arthur Rogers had squeezed her hand just round the corner of the Close before you turned into Prince Edward Street. There was a beautiful look in his blue eyes when he said:
"Angelina, I shall ask my mother to ask you to tea."
4awkward questions. "When you are older, Angelina, you will understand everything my dear, and now run away."
It was provoking to be put off in this fashion, although with a promise of perfect wisdom to come. Yet there was a certain truth in the phrase. Angelina, lying here and not understanding quite what Kitty and the cook were talking about, was prepared to grant this. Already, she knew a great deal.
She was, for example, not in the same world, with knowledge, as her sister Blanche, although Blanche was two years older. Yet she cared only for lessons, and you cannot learn the world through them: not the world of the heart which is the sole kingdom that matters. Blanche was clever with sums and a dullard at history—remembering only the dates. Angelina was exactly the reverse.
To-night she was glad to have not only the bed, but the room to herself, for Blanche would certainly have destroyed this occasion of delicate knowledge. She would have considered it very wrong to listen. She was no sophist, and by this she missed many things.
In addition, Blanche was an uncomfortable bed-fellow, for she turned over and over many times before she fell asleep, and even when she was asleep she very often cried out, waking you with a big jump and making you feel afraid. Everything about Blanche, sleeping or waking, was noisy and uncomfortable to Angelina. It was even ugly; and beyond everything upon this earth she hated ugly things. Blanche was a pretty girl, pink and white; her uncomeliness, for her only sister, lay deeper than this. They had no common foothold. Yet, so far, they were doomed to be together night and day. Angelina felt the fret of this companionship very much, and it really was worth while being ill if it gave you the soft bed all to yourself. She moved, yet cautiously, in her nest of goose-down, feeling spacious, holy and quiet.
Those were the days of double beds and of deep feathers, when sisters slept together and married people also. There was no proper family life else. When Angelina, ten years old, lay listening to Kitty and the cook, it was the Vigil of St. Andrew, 1876.
5posts and the bed had no hangings, which was rather unusual. The headboard and footboard were thick, and the whole bedstead was painted a pretty, cool, putty colour, with stringings of apple-green paint and, at each corner, true lovers' knots of apple green, finishing with just a point of bright pink, meant for moss-rose bud. The double chest of drawers, which she could see by the faint light of the fire, was painted in the same way, and so was the dressing-table and the big oval mirror which stood on top of it. There was a kind of cumbrous prettiness to the whole idea of this bedroom furniture, and it accorded excellently with the panelled walls, which were also painted putty colour.
The room was old and dignified. Damask curtains, also green, and faded by merciful agency of sun and time to just the true shade of apple demanded by the furniture, hung, close drawn, before the high windows. By day, when these damask hangings were looped back by tassels and long cords, the windows stood revealed in short muslin petticoats, very frill, inordinately dainty, although the house stood in the middle of the City of London, and finished at the head by a flashing band of metal.
The room expressed the mind of Angelina's mother; for she was a prim, clean woman without a touch of imagination, and yet not unpleasing, in her starved, dry way. All the charm that accrued to her, or, at rare intervals, radiated from her, was quite accidental: just as the harmony of her faded green curtains with her apple-outlined bedroom furniture was accidental. And, to prove how obtuse she was, she had placed in this reposeful room a jug and ewer with maroon stripes and a dreadful yellow flower occurring here and there. The jug and basin, she did not know why, sometimes made Angelina feel sick.
"Well, I only hope she'll be happy," Cook said, and she had already said this twice before. "Here's her letter. She sounds happy, don't she? She ought to be. He's a grainer by trade, and you know how that pays. That man can grain a door to look like bird's-eye maple. You never saw! It's better than the real wood and it's almost as expensive. Oh yes, her Albert draws good money. What was the bit I read? Oh, it's here, where she says: 'We was married at
6the registry office off the Marylebone Road and a very enjoyable time we spent.
'Me and Albert have got,' " Cook went on reading in droning undertones, " 'a very nice and comfortable home, and I hope and trust that we shall get on in life and prosper, and be able to bring up a family and put by a bit for old age.' "
"There's a lot more," she slipped the letter in her pocket, "about a real China tea service what his brother, the sailor, sent. I envies my sister Loo. And this letter makes me think that it wouldn't be bad to settle; not if you could find a steady man that made good money. I couldn't put up with your drinking, out-at-elbows fellow; it's better to be in a good situation by far, and this is one, or it would be if there wasn't such a blessed lot of nagging and squabbling. But I don't know," she leaned forward in her chair and stuck her elbows on her fat knees, "a situation's safe and a man ain't. The master and the missus, their quarrels don't concern you. Sixteen pounds a year and everything found isn't to be lightly cast away. The wages they do go up. When I started out in life you might think yourself lucky to get ten. And even then you had to find your own tea or else take the swillings of their teapot. And that's a thing I never would do."
Angelina noiselessly shuffled in her bed, for conversation was taking too practical a turn and she felt intolerant. She was early learning that love cannot continue at high pressure; and certainly there seemed very little true romance to Cook's sister Loo and the prosperous grainer. Was it graining that destroyed it?
Before this, Kitty had been talking of love, in her beautiful Irish voice of the South country. She had decked it with faith, draped it with the most touching mysticism that this world knows: for Kitty was Irish and a devout Catholic. It was Kitty saying, or rather cooing, for this was the quality of her enthralling voice:
"The last time Patrick wrote to me from Australia it was of big floods he spoke, and I heard not a word more. They must have swept him away, my sweetheart. God rest his soul," which first enchained Angelina and made her listen.
7already had for the child a significance. It wore a little nimbus. Cook had also watched Kitty make the devout sign upon her breast; and the big jolly face of this woman who went to chapel regularly on Sundays had expressed contempt, a certain traditional terror of Popery, and, most, a shrewd suspicion. For she did not believe that Kitty's betrothed, who had migrated to Australia fifteen years before, promising to send for her later on, had remained faithful, nor did she give any credence to the theory of floods. He had of course married some other girl and had lacked courage to write like a man and say so. "Just like a man," thought Cook, who distrusted the lot of them: and she may have been both philosopher and seer.
"Funny sort of floods! A wife and family by now, I'll warrant;" she was thinking and surveying quizzically Kitty's ugly, tender face. What a simpleton the woman was!
Kitty was certainly ugly. Angelina, who loved her, was forced to allow this. And it seemed odd to the child that such a beautiful religion as the Catholic religion should have such an uncomely exponent. Yet this, really, proved its perfect triumph. When on Sundays Kitty returned from Mass, she looked glorified; and her expression was victorious almost, yet never quite, over the comicality of an amazing turn-up nose, dusted well with the homeliest of freckles.
To Angelina, going to Mass meant invoking some incantation, for in her blood was a sense of spells. She was a funny mixture, by inheritance, of Philosophy and the true Faith. Yet it was an undeniable fact that Grandmamma Peachey, also Irish, also a Catholic and also in the habit of going to Mass upon Sundays and days of obligation, returned more horribly disagreeable than before.
Kitty was Grandmamma Peachey's maid, really; yet, by favour only, she attended to Angelina and her sister Blanche now and then. For the Peacheys all lived together, not in amity at all, but in continual warfare of nature, in this stately big house at the corner of St. Paul's Churchyard. There was Grandmamma Peachey with Kitty, and they had the first floor to themselves. Then there was Grandmamma's son, Tim and his wife, who were Angelina's father and mother.
8There was her elder sister Blanche, and there were the three servants.
"There was a man," Cook went on, "in a good way of business who regularly pestered my life out to marry him. He really did. But he was a widower, and that doesn't seem the proper thing to start with; not unless you're a widow yourself, which makes everything different, as we know. And he had a grown-up daughter just my age. I thought it over, and I felt I was better as I was. 'Tain't my idea of marriage, that sort of thing. What's yours?"
Angelina, wriggling continually, yet with care so as not to be noticed, through this mundane speech of Cook's, now lay still; for she knew that when Kitty spoke you would get something worth listening to; if not for the thing she said, then for the music of the voice which said it. Kitty could endow any sentiment.
"Mine is it!" she, lifting her sandy head, seemed to laugh in her throat. "To be Pat's wife, what that would have been now! The touch of his little finger was quicksilver. It ran into my shoes. It ran through my heart and trickled through to my immortal soul."
"You do talk queer;" the English maid seemed shocked. "Besides, you can't keep that sort of thing up. Look at them two downstairs, the master and missus, I mean;" she lowered her voice and twisted her head towards the painted bed. Angelina lay in it rigid as a little corpse.
"I'll lay," said Cook more boldly, "that when they was courting they felt as you feel, though they wouldn't say the same things. Heathenish it seems to me—well, wicked if you don't mind my saying so—this mixing up your shoes and your soul and a common thing like quicksilver."
She spoke seriously, for constant chapel-going was a serious thing. Kitty, with her Irish humour, twinkled. When she half-closed her little sharp blue eyes like that she looked roguish. Angelina watched the fire play pranks upon her face.
"The master would have said that and more if he'd found the right woman. I know him," she said. "Isn't he my own countryman?"
9Well, I never. Ain't he married to her after all? You Papists are a queer lot. You don't seem to know what morals mean."
"We are the only ones who understand marriage or morals," Kitty returned superbly. "We know what a big thing it means, getting married. It's heaven or hell. Right woman! How can she be? No faith and——"
"Well, he's an infidel, come now. And she takes the two children to the Cathedral on Sundays. What more do you want?"
"And married at a registry office," Kitty proceeded unheeding.
"Yes, I don't like that, I must say. Why did they do it? People in their position."
"Because the master knew that he was missing the whole thing, I tell you. He's been taught the Faith. He'll come back on his death-bed, you see."
"I shan't see, no more won't you. He's good for eighty, that man. I've never seen a finer man, and it seems a pity that he should be behind a counter. He isn't often there, that's true; still, it is a shop, after all, although a superior one, and them rolling in money. I went to the Horse Show once; he took me, that widower I was telling you about, for that man couldn't spend enough on me, I assure you, Kitty. Beautiful animals, the horses, and I've never forgotten them. When I look out of the kitchen window and see the master crossing Cheapside to Sweeting's for his eleven o'clock sandwich and glass of stout, his figure reminds me of them; and I regularly go all over, if you know what I mean. The look of his limbs and the way he walks and holds up his head—what, with a horse, you'd call his action. It's his action what takes me."
Angelina, through the lengthy enthusiasm of this speech, lay still, yet quite on fire. For, since she was destined by the complexity of her inherited nature always to love one man very much, so her father, Timothy Peachey, was the first of them: once she loved, she never left off; yet she involuntarily widened her borders. Already she was faithful to her nature, and the early unfoldings of all that was going to be had begun. She was a pocket romanticist in very short, stiff skirts; for in those days the frocks of little
10girls were lined with stiff muslin and flounced to the waist, every flounce having at its edge what was called a French hem. This gave a rolled effect.
She loved her father, and for the same reason that the cook loved him, because he was fine to behold. They were captured by his action: it was an equine enslavement. Yet, so far, she had little asides, for although Angelina was serious from first to last, with not a touch of the accustomed coquette, with no caprice and very little humour, she preserved a grave sense of cat-like joy in playing with men. You would never expect it of this beautiful child with the grave face and queer dignity, yet there it was. The small boys with whom she came in contact felt it at once. Had not Arthur Rogers said only a few days ago that his mother should be made to ask her to tea? They knew that this would be difficult, since he had no little sisters; yet it would be accomplished. Their two pairs of eyes had said this when they turned the corner of the Close and went into Prince Edward Street. There was another boy at the school in St. Bartholomew Close to which she and Blanche were sent (for the four Misses Hopkins, who kept it, admitted boys to the age of eleven), and he also had a regard for Angelina. Bluntly, he had avowed it and declared that when he was fifteen he would marry her. She did not care for him, yet he, George Conisbee, was useful. He was more downright than Arthur Rogers, yet lacking his delicate fidelity. Later on, he transferred his allegiance to Louisa Roof, who was a plain, clinging girl, and Angelina suffered very much at this defection: for she never liked to lose her mouse!
As for her romantic love for Timothy Peachey, that was deepened because he was so utterly indifferent to her, and of his two girls preferred Blanche. Angelina he distrusted, for she was too much like her grandmother. Blanche was intelligent. She already played chess quite nicely, and could readily absorb the philosophic and scientific tit-bits lie held out. Mr. Peachey's mind, partly by native bent, but more by harsh resolve, was wholly philosophic, and this Irishman, his life soured and misgrown from the first, had purposely put away all mystic and passionate expression: a great deal of which would have been natural to him, as his
11countrywoman, Kitty, knew. At an early age he flung aside the Faith in which he had been reared, since he was in daily contact with a fragile example of it, and this affected his sense of logic. At an early age, as early as a man could consistently marry, he had allied himself to a plain and a prose woman. He wanted as a wife, and a mother for his children should they come, an entirely different specimen from his own mother. All his young life had been marked by that air of tense, quiet misery which prevails in households when the wife is avowedly unfaithful, either by actual act or by the more subtle treachery of the heart, and where the husband is doggedly enduring and nobly blind.
This had been the case with his father and mother, and before he was fifteen he had solemnly decided that he would run no risk of a similar mottled domestic ménage. He must marry, since something told him so: yet it should be to a stolid woman.
To-day, he had his widowed mother under his roof. He was courtly to her and he even loved her, as imaginative creatures do sadly love the things that might have been so beautiful and are so marred. Yet he was heartily sorry that Angelina had inherited the beauty and the air of her maternal grandmother. Fortunately he, this he very well knew, would be in his grave long before Angelina made much mischief with the hearts of men. He wouldn't be asked to look on for a second time. So he ignored the child as a rule and, if he broke silence, he scolded her. Once, for a little fault, he even struck her. Yet, stubbornly, she kept on loving this implacable, magnificently built man and weaving veils about him. This is the way in which women of her sort begin. It is happening all the time with a certain type of imaginative little girl who is also very tender and pure. It is for ever being instanced and it is trite—this ideal love of daughter for father. People say impatiently, "Oh, I've heard all this before." Just for once, perhaps, they hardly like to be reminded of what they know so well.
It has happened and is happening and will happen again and again—the steady worship of certain little daughters for a father. It will continue to be instanced; unless the world grows in time wholly prose and quite mechanical; unless people
12forget how to make love and only mate when they must—suppressing a yawn!
So far as Angelina was concerned, when her full time came, many years after the Vigil of St. Andrew, 1876, and not in St. Paul's Churchyard or any great town, but deep in the green placidity of a wood; well, when her true time came to love the right man, fully, she traced in him some tender resemblance to her first idol, Timothy Peachey, although they were not alike to ordinary vision. It was just a posture now and then that made likeness—to her eyes, anyway: the turn of a leg, as a man stands at ease; the movement of a hand; the moulding and gesture of thumbs; just how his eyes are set and how his lids lock in repose. In this way, when the time came, did her father and her one love look alike.
"He'll live to be eighty, that man," repeated Cook, speaking as if she evolved a new theory.
Kitty did not answer. She only sat and screwed her blue eyes. Yet now she did not look roguish, and Angelina innocently wondered why. The reason was that Kitty knew the secret of her master's health. His wife knew, his mother knew and she knew. She was perfectly loyal, and she kept this grim reason of just why the rich Peacheys lived above their shop to herself. Always she prayed about it, and sometimes at Mass she would make Timothy Peachey, with his fine body and his poor soul that had gone astray, her special intention. Kitty was a lovely instance of your natural mystic. She was one of those souls that God sends now and then, scattering them as white petals before a warm spring wind, through the airs of all the ages, to convince us, to assure us, to bring us into safety. When Kitty, as she did when she dared, talked to Angelina about the blessed saints, Angelina's heart would flutter first and then be solemnly, blissfully still. She forgot all about her sums, which she could never do and which troubled her intensely; she forgot also Arthur Rogers, George Conisbee and the other little boys who were her mice. For nothing of this was real. The saints were real and all that they implied.
13only Peachey. The last Mr. Balles had died in 1857, but the name was kept because PEACHEY AND BALLES was quite a household phrase, particularly in old-fashioned families. Many wives and mothers, scattered all over the country, would never dream of having a prescription made up unless by Peachey and Balles of the Churchyard.
Angelina loved the paternal shop, with its curved steps leading up to the handsome door, with its bowed, small-paned windows where the great coloured bottles burned in fires of green, of amber and of crimson. All her life had been spent in the spacious house above the shop. It had, so people said, stood the Great Fire of London, but this was probably merely a picturesque figment of history, in common with Queen Elizabeth's many progresses, Clarence and his wasteful butt of Malmsey, Rosamund's bower and things of that sort. Angelina knew these legends, for she adored history, and the Kings and Queens were palpitating, living creatures to her still.
Grandpapa Peachey had not lived above the shop, but had occupied a big country house at Putney. He drove up to the City every morning, so Angelina was informed, in his own coach and pair, stopping to pay toll upon the bridges. This progress appealed to her imaginative sense, and she for ever regretted that Grandpapa Peachey died before she was born. And never had she seen nor would see his beautiful house at Putney, for it was pulled down and built over. Grandmamma Peachey, when she was in a good temper, which was seldom, would tell you about the row of Lombardy poplars in front of the house. They waved afresh for Angelina, these stricken, quite departed trees. But Grandmamma, in common with the rest of the family, distrusted Angelina for a very good reason of her own. She preferred Blanche, except in moments when Blanche looked like her mother. Then Grandmamma, who had a temper amounting almost to lunacy, would hit out at the child with her stick (she was rheumatic). She would use words that sounded uncommonly like swearing. On these occasions, and they happened not infrequently, Blanche would rush screaming to her mother, and the younger Mrs. Peachey would repair to the elder Mrs. Peachey, and there was a royal row. They were certainly a disjointed household.
Yet the old house distilled nothing but a large, gentle dignity. It was calm itself, and Angelina, very young, yet unduly alert of the emotions, had one perfect moment every day. She had, in fact, many perfect moments, yet this one stood out and, for all the years of her life, she remembered it. It was when you came in out of the noisy streets and shut the big front door and went up those shallow stairs of uncarpeted oak, with their carved balustrades. It was a holy quiet that she drank in then; and holiness made some invincible appeal. The contrast between the clatter of the streets and the cool silence of the house was certainly marked; for in those days they had not put down the wood pavement in Cheapside. This came later, and Angelina revelled in the pungent smell of tar: the smell and the thick, blue-black look of it. She thought of a wicked bird with a great wing.
She adored the house where she had been born, and had already decided that she must certainly both live and die in it. Nowhere else could her proper fate be fulfilled. She would live here alone with Kitty when all the others were dead. For even her father must die. Yet she would never die, not she, herself, Angelina. When she read the Bible, she seriously pondered upon the possibility of becoming a female Elijah. If God did it once He could do it again. Life was strong in her. The world was wonderful.
These large rooms, with panelled walls and rich ceilings; with long narrow windows set in delicate frames, enclosed the immature and silent ardours of her soul and always should.
The Peachey household, here in 1876, with their generous domestic mode, their social aloofness (for they knew no other shopkeepers), their intellectuality—Mr. Peachey was intellectual: his wife was a fool and his mother an exhausted coquette—were leading the life of merchants in the eighteenth century. It was lovely to feel, Angelina frequently meditated on this, that several generations of Peacheys had lived here. The business was founded in 1690 and had gone on without a break. Only Grandpapa Peachey had turned his back upon family tradition and gone to live at Putney, in a new house built for him by Malachi Pocock, who was a fashionable architect of that time.
Up to Grandpapa's reign, the Peacheys had lived above their shop, and at one time, so Angelina had heard, Peacheys and Balleses had lived there together, dividing the rooms with justice and amity. A certain door which still shut off the two upper floors bore witness to this.
She thought of Peachey and Balles quite as a dynasty, and it had lived for generations in this dear, beautiful house. The shop underneath was just a Hall of Justice.
So, take it altogether, in spite of frequent squabblings between Grandmamma Peachey and Angelina's mother, there was yet left, in 1876, a certain traditional stateliness to the household—living in such dignified aloofness in the family dwelling and not mixing with other shops. Angelina would have hated that. It was not possible, for all the other tradesmen went home after business hours; the furrier and the other shop that sold lace odds and ends, beautiful handkerchiefs and ribbons; the fishmonger's across the way and the tailor; the man who sold cheap jewellery and the big draper just down the Churchyard. They all went home to their pepper-pot villas exactly as their successors do to-day. They knew nor cared nothing for eighteenth-century tradition; as for Peachey, they were sorry for him, from all they had heard. His wife nagged him.
At night it was very quiet in the City, and in summer-time, often Angelina and Blanche would look out from the nursery window—you could just see by screwing your head—and watch the young men at the big wholesale place, who did live above the shop, practising with a fire escape. It was nothing but a long canvas bolster. Blanche longed to dive down it, but the mystery of the thing and its harsh confines terrified Angelina. "I could never stand compression of any sort," she once said.
Compression was a new word. Miss Sophy Hopkins had just put her into three-syllable words. She spoke gravely, and she was expressing ultimate truth.
Blanche merely said, "You are a silly, Angelina."
"And he deserves "—Cook, speaking still, was still aflame for her big, handsome master—" a better, well, a finer woman than he's got. She may be good enough, disagreeable people often are, but she's a skinagalee and not healthy. There's
16always a heat spot or a regular pimple on that woman's face, in one place or the other."
She referred to Angelina's mother, and Angelina lay queerly still. For it is odd to hear your own parents spoken of as just common, very fallible persons.
"And a temper, Kitty; good gracious, how she nags! A working man would be up with his fist and serve her jolly well right. I heard them rowing the other day and certain things caught my ear. I heard him say to her, and you could tell he was strung up, 'Silence, woman. I won't bear any more. You've been the curse of my life for thirteen years.' "
Angelina was trembling now, and the tears stood in her eyes. She did not cry for her mother, because she did not love her. She cried for what, had she been older, she would have expressed as a lost ideal.
"S—sh, s—sh," cooed Kitty, glancing towards the bed.
"Bless you, that child's fast asleep. I tell you it's a queer family to take service with. You know that well enough. You've been with them for years. Then there's the old woman. What sort of a marriage was that? I've heard several things."
So Grandmamma Peachey was also in process of spoiling. More tears came into Angelina's eyes. They were not lachrymose drops, but burningly dramatic ones. For she was feverishly interested, and she told herself over and over again that, never after to-night, would she be the same careless, innocent Angelina Peachey. As to her mother and her grandmother, she cared little for them. She was not one to disperse herself in general affections.
"My mistress was once in mortal sin. She has told me," Kitty returned with candid simplicity, "but she has confessed her sins and been absolved. You don't understand that."
"No, I don't. Once a bad woman always a bad woman," Cook said, and laughed disagreeably.
She got up, adding:
"Well, I must go down and look after the supper. You're always on the go."
"And I must get my mistress to bed." Kitty stood up too, and she spoke with gentle dignity; but the implied reproof was quite lost upon Cook, who was a downright person, dealing in definite terms.
Kitty blew out the candles, hung a wire guard before the fire, and lighted a night-light. As she and Cook went to the door she glanced affectionately at Angelina, who saw her, faintly, through half-closed lids.
"She won't want anything more, the dear lamb, until nine o'clock, and then I'll give her a cup of arrowroot," said Kitty.
Cook had one of her healthy red fists doubled round the putty-painted post at the foot of the bed.
"What a pretty child she is, ain't she? Looks a regular little queen. You'd never think such a face come out of a shop. And she's as like the old lady as two pins, but only in the face, let us hope. For she's a wicked old cat if ever there was one, and I wouldn't like Miss Angelina to be that sort of woman."
Cook spoke with bluntness and warmth. Kitty kept her lips compressed and said nothing. They went out of the room.
Angelina lay alone. She had learnt so much. The flickering night-light, standing there upon the washstand in a saucer of water, almost terrified her.
Grandmamma Peachey was a wicked woman, and your own father had cursed your own mother. These two facts were hard of digestion, and her little soul was sick.
Lying there alone in the bob-about-flicker of night-light and failing fire, she decided that she would never marry any man. This was absolutely final, and directly she was well enough to go back to Miss Hopkins's she would tell Arthur Rogers so. When his mother asked her to tea she wouldn't accept; for this was not fair to him, poor boy. You must be firm, yet always tender; and spare an adorer's feelings if you possibly could.
She would not be a nun; the idea of being shut in and kept away, either from sensations, places or people, filled her with terror. It was compression. But she would be for ever virgin. It was really safer; since, if you married, you were disagreeable or wicked; or you were both. The growth of Virtue was clearly impossible in the married soil.
"If when I grow up men fall in love with me," she reflected, rolling in the deeply delicious feathers, "that's not my fault. But I will warn them first."
Then she fell asleep.
The next day she was well enough to be dressed after the early dinner, and settled on the horsehair sofa, with plenty of cushions, near the window. There were three tall windows in this room. To-morrow, so her mother said, she would be well enough to go into the drawing-room and have her music lesson. Also she would be fitted for her party frock. The Misses Hopkins in December, just before the breaking up, gave a full dress soirée to pupils and their parents.
While Grandmamma Peachey was having her afternoon nap, Kitty brought her sewing and sat with Angelina. At the bottom of Kitty's big workbasket, of wickerwork lined with rose-pink sateen, was a shabby book, and it was her greatest, dearest treasure. Angelina loved it also, for it told you about the blessed saints, who were so consoling. In the middle of darning a stocking or between the darning of a pair of stockings, when you had finished one and forbore to thrust your doubled fist into the heel and the toe of another, Kitty, since Angelina had not been well, would read aloud to her in snatches. Angelina loved this. To listen to the chronicles of beautiful lives, told in a beautiful voice; to lie, high up, and looking out at the gay London street, what could be more delightful! She was dreading the time when she would have to return to school in Bartholomew Close! and not even the naughty, dear idea of Arthur Rogers and his declarations could reconcile her to the prospect. But it would not be until next quarter.
She lay amidst the pillows looking in at Kitty and the coolly tinted, lofty room, then out at the moving joyousness of Cheapside. It was a delicious December day, with only a hint of fog; just a pretty pout of an atmosphere and no more. High up in the sky was an elusive amber sun. Angelina had only one wish: that she could see the dome of St. Paul's, for she loved it. She loved too the sound of the bell for service, and it rang, these winter days, just as the bedroom grew consolingly dark and while you waited for the door to open and for Alice, the housemaid, to bring in the tea-tray, all set out with an amplitude of invalid dainties. It was certainly nice to be ill—when you were rapidly getting better!
19nor could you look down at the narrow jostle of shoppers in the Churchyard. Angelina, instead, looked up Cheapside and, as it was only half-past two, she marked a steady procession of eager women come down. This procession would look odd to-day, as we shall look odd to-morrow. The streets have changed since 1876. To Angelina, short yachting jackets of black velvet, bright, bunchy skirts and little flat hats tilted over the eyes were not only usual, but admirable and abiding. She did not conceive that anything could change. She watched the women, who had come for their Christmas shopping in St. Paul's Churchyard, from the north and the east suburbs. She rejoiced in the green-and-yellow omnibuses, crowded with men upon the box seat and upon the knifeboard tops. Hansoms gave a rakish look, and when office boys ducked right under the very heads of the horses you gave a quick swallow in your throat. Angelina knew' Cheapside so far as the Guildhall. She reverenced Gog and Magog, who struck each quarter of each hour above Sir John Bennett's beautiful shop. Beyond the Bank of England she had never penetrated. Going the other way, she had not been farther than Temple Bar, but sometimes on fine Saturdays, Kitty, if Grandmamma Peachey could do without her, took both Angelina and Blanche for a walk along the Thames Embankment. Once Angelina, with her mother and her music mistress Mrs. Chope, who was her mother's particular female friend, had been taken over London Bridge to a mysterious region which they called the Borough. In a very small shop, to which you descended by steps, her mother bought a pale-blue bonnet with the most lovely feathers. Tips, the milliner had called them. Wearing this bonnet, Mrs. Peachey had gone with her husband to the Derby that year, and the children had been warned not to tell their Grandmamma. You did not tell her more than you could help at any time. It was better.
To-day, if Angelina looked from the gay, delightful movement going on down there in Cheapside into the room where she lay, she saw Kitty, with her largely luminous face and her yellow-brown head upon which was pinned a piece of coarse white crochet-work about the size of a man's palm. Servants called these their caps in 1876; and untidy servants dropped
20them upon the kitchen stairs often enough when they ran up to answer the parlour bell. Alice the housemaid was untidy, and her proneness to this sort of thing gave her mistress an opportunity for frequent nagging. Angelina's mother would nag upon the slightest provocation, just as Grandmamma would fly into a violent temper over nothing at all.
Kitty had her cap pinned between two lengthwise sausages of hair. In 1876 they all wore pads quite frankly. The coiffure was not in the least suited to her sweetly sensible countenance, which was at once so ugly and so radiantly devout. Kitty looked a large lay sister. She was daintily darning one of Grandmamma's white stockings when Angelina said imperiously:
"Put that down and read to me about the saints. I don't want to hear about St. Ursula, who is my name saint. I don't care for her, although I suppose I ought to. It was dreadful to be martyred, of course, but I don't care for so many little girls. There are twenty-six of us at Miss Hopkins's, and St. Ursula had more."
"She protected eleven thousand young virgins," said Kitty, who never doubted anything.
"Finish reading about St. Cecilia; you began yesterday. She was married, wasn't she?"
Angelina's voice betrayed an eagerness, and she was thinking that it would be charming to hear about a married saint who did not nag, who was not, as Cook said last night of Grandmamma Peachey, once a bad woman and always a bad woman; moreover, one whose husband did not curse her. Yet Angelina was not angry with her father for cursing her mother. Nothing that he did could ever make her angry; where she really loved, she preserved this perfect quality. Her love for a man was already worth while, since it was wholly comprehensive.
"Yes, she was married to St. Valerian;" Kitty showed a certain reserve, and she poked her finger vigorously into the heel of Grandmamma's stocking; it resisted the attack, "but you'd better lay down and have a doze until tea-time. Your little face is quite flushed."
21roughened and browned with much sewing; yet the caressing sweep of it and the tender smile upon her face rendered it softer than silk. Angelina kissed it.
"Kitty, you are an old dear," she said. "No, we won't have St. Cecilia, but somebody quite new. I would like a saint that I could take to my heart of hearts; some one I could invoke, don't you call it that? I should like to ask the saints' advice upon every blessed thing."
"You couldn't do better, my dearie. It stands to reason that them saints what have had their ups and downs, poor souls, just like us, must know what to advise. You can have your own saint, Miss Angelina."
"My very own? And not St. Ursula? For she's too much like Miss Hopkins. One who would take a particular interest in me; and only me, mind."
"One who would intercede for you at the throne of God. The prayers of the saints," said Kitty beautifully, and the stocking dropped idly into her big lap, "ascend as incense before the altar."
"How lovely!" Angelina let out a sigh of rapture.
"Of course it is, my lambkin (Kitty had a store of deliciously nonsensical names for you when she chose); "the loveliest thing on earth. When Patrick died, he was my sweetheart, I should have died too if I hadn't invoked St. Agnes."
"You said your prayers to her and she helped you?"
"I asked for her prayers, darling. We don't pray to the saints, not even to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I asked for her prayers, Miss Angelina, and the Lord Jesus, He helped me."
"It is lovely," repeated Angelina, "but it does not last."
"What doesn't last?" asked Kitty quickly.
"Oh, religion and the saints and being here alone with you. But while it does last I'll make the most of it. Give me a saint for my very own and be quick. For some one may come in and bother us. Blanche will be back from school, or Mamma may come up, or Grandmamma will ring. Just take the book and read the names out, and I will tell you to stop when I come to the one I want."
22took out the book and opened it at the index, were intent upon Angelina's mass of perfectly straight and quite black hair; upon her small face with the thin, high-bridged nose and fine lips, so deeply scarlet; upon the white lids of her large blue eyes. They were pale eyes, very bright and sharp, not languishing a bit—large and bright and beautifully set. Angelina's face, in brief, was already near perfection.
"I think," she said seriously, "that I must have a woman saint. I would prefer a man, just as I like boys better than girls and naturally."
She spoke with conviction. She was always sure, and yet you could hardly call her conceited.
"You see," she confided, "there are things, or there may be in my later life, which you could not tell so easily to a man. Men, yes, even saints, are more thick-headed."
Kitty screwed her little eyes, then her good-tempered mouth widened.
"Miss Angelina! You are a funny little thing. You don't know what you are talking about."
"No, I'm not, a bit: and yes, I do. What I say is perfectly true. When Patrick died, didn't you invoke—is that the right word?—St. Agnes? Begin with the women saints."
"Shall I go alphibically?" asked Kitty indulgently. She could just read. Long words outwitted her.
"No, no. Dodge them and be quick. I shall know at once when I come to the right one."
"St. Dorothea, St. Perpetua, St. Eugenia, St. Agnes, St. Catherine, St. Margaret, St. Veronica, St. Mary the Penitent—and not to be confounded with St. Mary of Egypt, St. Prisca, St. Lucy, St.——," read Kitty, in a breathless, muddled patter, as she stumbled bravely over the names of the saints.
"Wait a bit. St. Mary of Egypt. That's the one. We are learning about Egypt at Miss Hopkins's just now, so it makes her more real. Read about her. What's the page?"
"292." Kitty gave the number with a certain reluctance.
She knew the lives of the saints by heart, and she wished that Angelina had made a more simple choice.
She found page 292. "I'll read bits here and there and tell you the rest," she said.
23positive enjoyment, "but I've decided on her, and nothing will change me."
The room was quiet and warm, yet daintily cool of colour. It was fragrant too; in Angelina's radius, that is. For Kitty had that morning presented her with a bunch of lavender enclosed in a bag of white net and tied at the top with true emerald-green ribbon.
That was so exactly like Kitty; she did for you charming, unexpected things. Angelina looked at her; the shabby book in a green calico cover open upon her knee. Next to her father, she loved Kitty, who was so good and so tender. And strangely, not knowing why, she felt pitiful towards her; for she seemed to have missed most things. Her Patrick had been washed away by floods in Australia, and Grandmamma Peachey was hard to live with.
"Yes, I must have a woman saint, and she shall be St. Mary of Egypt," she said softly. "When Patrick died, Kitty, you did not ask the prayers of St. Jerome—I love that picture of him with a mouse at the side peeping into an empty cup."
"That's because he was so self-denying. He thought nothing for himself," said Kitty, looking pleased.
She loved Angelina to remember, just as Angelina loved to flaunt her remembrance.
"Nor St. Theodosius, with his dreadful temper—he ought to be Grandmamma's saint; nor St. John Chrysostom of the Golden Mouth. You chose a woman: St. Agnes. So will I."
"It was a woman, St. Barbara, who was Patrick's saint," Kitty's plain face rippled, as it did when she spoke of her lover. "Here is a picture of her," she turned the pages of the book. "She is always in a tower, because she made her father's workmen put three windows into a tower they were building: for Father, Son and Holy Ghost"; Kitty crossed herself.
"And then her head was cut off, poor thing. I remember. Why was she Patrick's saint?" asked Angelina.
"Because he was a gunsmith, my poppet, and she is the Patroness of Firearms and against sudden death. I'll never believe that Patrick was drowned by floods without proper preparation, Miss Angelina. Them who devote theirselves
24to St. Barbara never die impenitent nor without the last Sacraments."
"That is beautiful. But don't try to make me change my mind and take St. Barbara instead of St. Mary of Egypt. I hate to change my mind. It is so very despicable. Now who was St. Mary of Egypt, and what did she do and when did she live?"
"She lived in the sixth century," returned Kitty, reading aloud in her patient, distinct way, "in a desert of Palestine, near the river Jordan, where she bewailed her sins in solitude for many years."
"That sounds nice. I should like that."
Kitty looked up with a flash of intuition. Her face was unusually intelligent; it was more, for it seemed lighted with prophecy.
"Would you really, Miss Angelina? Would you rather be an anchoress than get married? St. Mary was what they call an anchoress."
"I don't mean to get married, so far as I can see at present, and if I sinned I should like to do penance. What else about my St. Mary?"
"For seventeen years, and before she went into the desert," continued Kitty, letting her sharp, small eye rove down the pages, and translating at discretion into language that Angelina might understand, "she was a very wicked woman——"
Angelina started. Here was another patron saint for Grandmamma Peachey; one who was perhaps more suitable than St. Theodosius with his violent ways!
"And one day she saw a large ship all ready to sail and a lot of people going on board. She asked where they were going and they said to Jerusalem, to celebrate the feast o f the true cross. She went with them, and on the voyage," Kitty's caressing voice vibrated, "she was more wicked than ever before. At Jerusalem she joined the crowd o f all the faithful and tried to get into the church, but her attempts to pass the threshold were in vain, and whenever she thought to enter the porch an angel barred the way and drove her back. Then she remembered all her sins and was full of penitence and humbled herself and prayed for help. Then the angel stood aside and St. Mary entered the church of God crawling upon her knees. Thenceforward, she renounced her 25
25wicked life, and at a baker's shop close by she bought three little loaves, and then wandered into solitude and never stopped or reposed until she had penetrated into the deserts beyond Jordan, where she remained in severest penance, living on roots and fruits and drinking water only. Her garments dropped away in rags, piecemeal, leaving her unclothed, and she prayed fervently not to be left exposed. Suddenly, her hair grew so long as to form a covering for her whole person; though some say that an angel brought her a garment from heaven. Thus she dwelt in the wilderness in prayer and penance, supported only by her three small loaves which, like the widow's meal, failed her not until after the lapse of forty-seven years she was discovered by a priest named Zosimus. Of him she requested silence and that he would return at the end of a year and bring with him the elements of the most Holy Sacrament, that she might confess and communicate before she was released from earth. Zosimus obeyed her and returned after a year; but not being able to pass Jordan, the penitent, by angels assisted, passed over the water to him, and having received the Sacrament with tears, she desired the priest to leave her once more to her solitude and to return in a year from that time. When he returned, he found her dead, her hands crossed upon her bosom. And he wept greatly, and looking round he saw written in the sand, 'O Father Zosimus, bury the body o f the poor sinner, Mary of Egypt. Give earth to earth and dust to dust for Christ's sake.'
"He endeavoured to obey this last command, but being full of years and troubled and weak, his strength failing him, he presently saw a lion, who came out o f a wood and aided him, digging the grave with his paws until the grave was large enough to receive the body of the saint, which, being committed to earth, the lion retired gently, and the old man returned home praising God who had shown mercy to the penitent."
Kitty shut the book. She turned round to the sofa and saw Angelina lying back, tears running down her cheeks.
"Yes, yes," she sobbed, "I will have St. Mary of Egypt."
"Well then, my darling, wipe up your pretty eyes. St. Mary of Egypt keeps you from all harm from this hour, Miss Angelina. Here's your handkerchief under the cushion."
26sooner done this than the door burst open and Blanche came in like a desert whirlwind. Her cheeks, always pink and perhaps already a little coarse of texture, were flushed to furious purple. Her eyes, vaguely blue, and not in the least like Angelina's, were also full of tears. Her hair, worn in flaxen curls upon her shoulders, was disordered.
"I shall tell Mamma directly she comes home. She has only gone down the Churchyard with Mrs. Chope to look at the show of those new polonaises in Hitchcock and Williams's window. She will be back directly."
Blanche's voice, with every word, rose in fury. It became a peacock scream: and she addressed not those in the room, but somebody upon the stairs.
Angelina, with the arrogance of an invalid, said languidly:
"What is the matter, Blanche, and don't make such a horrid noise! It may upset me, it may throw me back." She was adaptable in all ways and had already adopted, with perfect triumph, an easy invalid jargon.
"It may throw you where it likes," responded Blanche readily and glaring; "I tell you, Grandmamma is a beast. I just went up to show her a new book on Geology that Papa gave me, and she hit me right across the arm with her horrible stick. She is a devil," concluded Blanche softly, with a sudden collapse to very gentle venom. "I am sure of it. Look here. There is a regular weal and it won't go down for hours. She caught me by my hair and pulled some out."
She shot out her arm. Girls up to ten or twelve wore low-necked dresses and short puffed sleeves in 1876. This chilly fashion was beginning to wane, but the younger Mrs. Peachey was conservative in her ideas of dress. Mrs. Chope, only that afternoon, had found some difficulty in making her take kindly to the idea of a grey homespun polonaise with large mother-of-pearl buttons. Polonaises were to be all the rage, and you really could not, you dared not, ignore them.
Blanche's arm was lily white; she was a very fair child. Grandmamma's cruel blow made a bright red ridge along it.
"Poor little angel!" said Kitty caressingly, and moved forward. But Blanche confronted her like a savage.
"Go away, Kitty. You are as bad as she is. You are nothing but heathen Papists," she shouted.
Angelina, lying back, content to be detached, heard the first stroke of the Cathedral bell for Evensong. She heard also the front door shut. Mamma had come back. Now there would be the usual quarrel downstairs between her and Grandmamma Peachey. Papa would come from his room behind the shop and make peace. He would banter and coax the two of them.
Blanche also heard her mother arrive, and she flashed out of the room as she had flashed in. Kitty shut her book of saints. She hid it under a heap of stockings in the basket. Angelina had her eyes shut and more tears were running down her cheeks. She was still weak and Blanche's entrance had been an onslaught. You had been dragged too violently from the piety of the desert.
Lying so, she heard the door open again, but gently this time, and lifting her lids she saw Grandmamma Peachey herself.
Grandmamma was as cool as a lily and as faintly perfumed. She was that rarity: a perfectly beautiful old woman. Age had just taken her between the tenderest fingers and crumpled her up. It might have been the finest mesh of ancient lace, that network of wrinkles on her pallid, oval countenance. Her dark hair, hardly touched with white, merely the most coquettish dusting, showed at the sides where it hung in little bunches of corkscrew ringlets, kept in place by tortoiseshell sidecombs. On her head was a black lace cap, with heliotrope sprigs of artificial cherry pie. She had a black silk dress, the stiffest, most costly silk you may imagine, worn regally over a crinoline. Black velvet bows went at intervals all down the front of it, from the neck of the tightly fitted bodice to the hem of the skirt, which was banded with black velvet. She had openwork black silk mittens on her beautiful hands, and upon her fingers were several flashing rings. She walked stiffly, and helped herself with an ebony stick. She was actually smiling, just as a child smiles when it is beginning to walk. She appeared urbane and roguish; for it was an achievement, this getting unaided up two flights of stairs.
Kitty jumped to her feet with an expression of alarm. She advanced with an air of protection. Grandmamma waved her back:
"Keep where you are, my good Kitty. Don't go away. I shall want you in a moment to take me down again. And how is my little Angelina?"
She bent over the sofa. Kitty was staring. She seemed almost terrified at the striking likeness between those two faces: one merely caressed by age, the other untouched. Angelina looked into Grandmamma's roguish blue eyes gravely and with coldness. She disliked Blanche, yet Blanche was a sister. She had been smacked and had her hair pulled out for doing nothing.
"I had to come down and see you, my sweet," said Grandmamma, who was Irish too, and who could be as caressing as Kitty herself when she chose." I wanted to kiss a little face that was like my own. There is nothing, Kitty," she straightened herself and turned to her observant maid, "of that woman about Miss Angelina."
"That woman" was Angelina's Mamma.
"But"—Grandmamma's mood changed suddenly; it always did; she was nothing but a wind-rippled lake: those shadows over her eyes, those trembles at the corner of her mouth!—"I should be just as likely to beat this child if she reminded me of myself too much. Look here, Angelina," she wheeled round, "don't you resemble me too faithfully when you are a woman or I'll come and haunt you as sure as my name's Kathleen Peachey. I should, by right, have had many names," she laughed with a kind of weary craziness, "but it will be Kathleen Peachey they'll carve above my head at the last. I shall lie quiet with my husband—just him."
Angelina, frozen with all sorts of feelings, trembling and cold with fright, as a little mouse, lay flat upon her back, with the wadded coverlid close up to her chin. She was upon her guard, for you did not know what Grandmamma might do next. To-day she was evidently under the influence of one of her powders. She took them to make her sleep, and when she woke up her head was funny. Angelina had heard her mother say to Mrs. Chope one day that Grandmamma Peachey was certainly mad. She had once, after a powder, tried to hang herself behind her bedroom door.
"Come along, I'll take you back to your own rooms, dear," said Kitty, speaking gently, but looking grim.
She could do anything she chose with Grandmamma. She was invaluable. Angelina had heard her Papa use this word many times and it impressed her.
Kitty had full knowledge, which gave wisdom. Through wakeful nights, or in those moods when conscience tweaks you sharpest, Grandmamma had told Kitty everything. Her maid, perhaps, knew even more of her past life than her father-confessor did. She knew everything and was extra pitiful. Her religion taught her unfailing compassion, and her nature was one which responded to any touch of religion. Kitty was an instrument tuned and stringed for the sweet sounding of the Catholic Faith.
She now led Grandmamma Peachey to the door.
"Don't let that woman," said the old voice, "come near me, or you shall have a month's notice. Stand at the door between her and me when we get downstairs. She won't be up from the drawing-room yet. She's in there with Blanche. Take me away. And you remember, Angelina, what I say. If you are not a good woman when you grow up Grandmamma will haunt you. A ghost," she laughed, showing her teeth, which were false and the only flaw about her, "can do far worse than a rheumatic old woman. Remember that. I be at your sister Blanche with my stick and I pulled her hair till she squeaked, because she's like her wretched, whining mother. You and I are alike," she lifted her stick and shook it towards the sofa and the trembling, white-faced child, "but only to look at. Mind your life isn't like mine. Tell her about my life when she's old enough, Kitty; not for her own sake, but for mine. I want to lie in my grave, and be faithful at last beside poor dear Grandpapa. Angelina, your grandfather was a good man and your grandmother is a bad woman. Remember that when you grow up."
She was led away towards the end of this harangue. Kitty, throughout, had kept up a recitative of "there," "there's," and "sh's, sh's, sh's," and "you shouldn't say that's."
Angelina, alone, listened to the bell of the Cathedral, listened to angry voices in the room beneath, which was her father and mother's bedroom, and where they were evidently quarrelling at this moment. Presently she listened to steps upon the
30stairs and along the passages. There was certainly a commotion in the house, and she knew what it meant. Grandmamma had an attack. Those powders upset her badly. Sometimes the doctor had to come.
"St. Mary of Egypt, pray for us," whispered Angelina brokenly to the pillow and the darkening room.
This was her first invocation.
|chapter 2 >|