- BOOK III THE CHINA SHOP
- CHAPTER XIV
|<< chapter 13||< chapter 12||colophon >|
IT was one of the oldest houses in Littlehampton, away from the town, in a narrow street of dignified, bow-windowed dwellings. It was like one of the old streets in Brighton, going towards Kemp Town, and that was one reason—of many—why Angelina liked it. She was a creature of touching allegiances. It was a corner house, and the bottom part had been turned into a shop many years ago. Outside she had hung a sign, brightly painted and swinging from a wrought iron arm. Over the shop was painted her own name:
She had lived here five years, she had settled down, and, in a way, was contented. As for the shop, she could hardly help loving a bow-windowed, little-paned place, which reminded her so strongly of the shop in St. Paul's Churchyard. The interior was filled with beautiful things, such as, when she lived in Normandy as Antony's wife, she had been the proud mistress of. Sometimes the fact that nowadays she bought these things and sold them, in order to get a living, seemed merely accidental. She had turned into an excellent business woman, with an absolute genius for bartering. She attended auction sales all over Sussex and beyond. She bought judiciously and sold at a handsome profit. Even Antony, disposed to criticise, was bound to admit this.
Antony was sort of propped and put together in his specially constructed chair in the room above the shop. The bowwindow commanded a view of the sea. This was a winter day, with a high wind and a snarling rain. The tide was far out, and the wet, grey, trembling sand seemed to him like the sensitive hide of a great animal. He turned his glance inland and towards the east. He saw the sails of the mill near Rustington, and he knew that, a mile or two beyond that, stretched the bit of beach where Angelina and Julius had loved, through that time when he had been deserted by one and betrayed by the other.| | 306
He looked into the room and towards the fire. Julius was sitting by it in a chair, not indeed specially constructed, but extremely comfortable and suited to an invalid. What a pair of lovers they were nowadays, for a beautiful woman! Antony's eyes, brightly blue and sharp to see, became gently blank, as they regarded the blind man. There had been a time when, as he sat, helpless, and staring at Julius in this room, his eyes had darkened with pure venom. How he had itched and chafed and fretted in those days to get up from his chair and just choke that little blind scoundrel sitting by the fire. There was generally a fire, for they were both cold. Hate, however, was over. Antony did not exactly love Julius, yet certainly he no longer hated him. He did not even resent him. He had no very definite feeling left for any one. He began to talk:
"I suppose," he said, "that Angelina will be back soon. Wonder if she'll buy anything much. It was a good catalogue. Whatever is worth while she'll get, we may be sure of that."
"She has a diabolical cleverness in buying and selling. It is in her blood. Her trading side we profit by."
He instilled a scoffing patronage into this. Julius, sitting motionless and with the patient, waiting air of the blind, darkly flushed.
"I loathe her to go to sales," he said vigorously. "Good God! What an end for such a grand creature! We can't help it, yet it breaks me up."
His head dropped, chin sinking into breast.
"Fancy Angelina amidst a crowd of rag-picking vultures," he continued.
"It is natural to her, for see how well she does it," returned Antony coolly. "Success is the proof. I muddled. I didn't even insure my stuff, yet some of this is mine."
His restless, brilliant eyes went round the room, looking at the few bits of china, at one good cabinet, and a couple of fine chairs. These things would never be sold. They had been saved from the fire at the house in Normandy.
"I was able to help her at the start by my knowledge," he said. "With that, and by her inheritance from Mrs. | | 307 Chope, to make a nucleus of stock, she was able to start business. Angelina is never grateful, she is always cold. Of course I would never consent to have my name up over a shop—fancy a ffinch as a shopkeeper! Yet it would have been graceful in her to suggest it. ffinch and Peachey would have sounded well."
He was in his most detestable mood. Julius could only writhe, say nothing, and charitably suppose that this was one of Antony's bad days. He suffered pain. These two men, each disabled, were developing a certain invalid sympathy. It was a quality apart from their feeling for and their tradition with Angelina.
They heard feet upon the stairs. Julius started and warmed. Antony hardened his face. Yet he looked eager; for this was Angelina, and he wanted to know all about the sale. And he wanted to see the things she had bought. He hoped that she had them with her.
He had never lost his collecting ardour, and it hurt him bitterly that certain cherished things she had picked up from time to time should ever come to be sold.
She came in, dowdily dressed, looking handsome, but a little hard and fagged. Her first glance shot, fleetly—and yet with the air of taking a stolen aim—towards Julius. Antony saw; he missed nothing. Yet he was not jealous. Why should either of them be jealous, since she belonged to neither! Moreover, when men are blind or paralysed, what on earth do they want with a wife!
Antony argued in this way, and never had he got to the soul of Angelina, nor near the heart of a real Love. This, at least, was what she would always believe of him.
She sat down in the middle of the big room and between the two, selecting her spot with a certain deliberation; as if attitude had been painfully considered and decided upon in many poignant secret hours of thought.
She sat with a manner of stolid weariness, taking off her gloves. The room was growing dark, on this short winter day. Antony could no longer see the sulky tremble of that grey sand. Julius had his blind face turned wistfully towards Angelina, and, by his very silence, seemed to be trying to impel her nearer.| | 308
"You've got back early," said Antony.
His voice had the grating quality that got upon Angelina's nerves when she was tired. It occurred to her, as she tried to conceal her bodily flinching, that Antony never nowadays complained that people got upon his nerves; he had become dryly philosophical, and seemed to divest himself of most human impressions.
"Yes," she said, "it was a short sale, and the things I wanted came early."
"You got them? That Worcester tea-service? And the pewter stuff, a Queen Anne coffee set they called it in the catalogue. Was it any good?"
"It was beautiful," Angelina laughed; a mirthless, commercial sound, and queer from her throat—to Julius, who was acutely listening, and who remembered other laughs of other days and finer moods.
"But," she added, "it had been electro-plated by some fool. It didn't even get a bid. The Worcester went for very little. I'm having it packed and sent with the furniture."
"Nothing much. Six of those rush-seated, ladder-back chairs. I can always sell those at a good price; in fact, two customers have commissioned me for a set. Then there was a barometer; rather nice, and it went for half a guinea. I've never fathomed the mysteries of a sale. It was a long time before anybody even troubled to bid; yet I can always sell barometers. There are some things," a certain indolent bitterness showed in her voice, " that simple people with a rage for what they call the antique must have."
"I know." Antony interrupting, sounded more grating than before, yet he was looking at her admiringly. "A grandfather clock, a warming-pan, a barometer and rushbottomed chairs. You've done well, then, to-day. What's in that parcel?"
"A tambour scarf." She unrolled it and fluttered it out; a length of filmy muslin, delicately worked, darned beautifully here and there, grown yellow with lying by.
"But that wasn't in the catalogue. Bring it here." She took it to Antony.
"You won't have any difficulty with that," he said.| | 309
"Not a bit; in fact Mrs. Chant will buy it. I will write to her to-night. I must carefully think out what price to ask. Wonder how much she would go to? She is enthusiastic, and she knows nothing."
Angelina stood with her handsome head on one side, looking sharply reflective, and with a mocking smile upon her mouth. Julius could not see her, but he could hear, and he could imagine the bitterness of that smile. He turned towards the fire, shivering petulantly. His mouth drew down to an expression of disgust and intense hopelessness. The sad sea outside was not so sad as he. Antony, who could see Angelina, and who no longer rejoiced in her beauty, was looking at her masses of hair and thinking casually, when he saw the white streaks in it:
"How black it was once; black, burnished, almost blue—a bird's wing. It made her white skin look delicately uncanny."
He said nothing of this. Why talk! Then, again, there always was blind Julius sitting by the fire.
"I got it in an odd way." Angelina took the scarf from him and carefully folded it. "You know my way of poking about, and always with an eye to business."
"I know you've got an inherited sharpness."
"That is it, no doubt." She was equable—yet she did not miss that angry jump which helpless Julius gave. "I got into conversation with the old woman's nurse. The things sold belonged to a rich spinster. She was nearly ninety, and she was conservative; a miser for hoarding up old clothes; a collector of personal odds and ends."
Angelina was eloquent and impassive.
"We had a long talk, the nurse and I. She has been left the wardrobe. I am to go and see her next week, and make her an offer for the lot. I shall get lace of all sorts, embroidered shawls, pelerines, night-caps, old poke bonnets, funny parasols of seventy years ago—all sorts of treasures. I shall make on that deal. You look tired, Antony. Have you been in pain to-day?"
"No, thanks." He sounded almost blithe. "I'm getting so numb that soon I shall feel nothing at all."
He looked out of the window at the darkening day, at the sea whose movement was becoming invisible. Angelina's | | 310 glance followed his. Julius, at their silence, turned round, and his blank face was convulsively shown. A cushion from his chair fell to the floor. Angelina moved to pick it up, walking stiffly, because she knew that Antony watched. She was always nervous of provoking his jealousy; but she need not have troubled, for he felt none. Yet to torture her and to torture Julius had become his mild diversion. He did not do it very much, did not spend himself upon it. All his energies were modified.
Before she reached Julius, a little bell rang in the room. It was the one from the shop, which summoned her to any particular customer with whom the assistants could not deal. Hers was a flourishing concern. She had three assistants at the counter, and in her workshop, where the furniture which she bought was renovated, she had skilled men. On Antony's good days he had himself taken to that shop, so that he could criticise and advise. The men welcomed him; they were enthusiasts, and his judgment was good. As a connoisseur Antony was faultless. Angelina had certainly done things on a grand scale. She had succeeded.
"There is the bell, I must go." She sounded full of common sense, as she always was upon business matters.
She tucked the fallen cushion in at Julius's neck. His head rested against it, and, falling back in this way, the lines of suffering about his mouth, and running upwards and downwards from the corners of his sightless eyes, were emphasised. He touched Angelina's hand as it withdrew from the cushion.
"Are you wet?" he whispered. "Hasn't it been raining hard to-day?"
He felt along her sleeve.
"Yes, but I had a waterproof. I kept dry," she said coldly.
The whole thing was a pose and unreal. She knew it. They longed to pelt each other with bright-hued, fragrant flowers: the words of worship which they had once gathered together and dispersed.
Angelina's face, which he would never see again, evinced, as he touched her, a glorious change. She flushed, she was generous and soft. The look of commerce and haggling died out, and her pale eyes blazed with the beautiful fires which | | 311 Julius had once rejoiced in. That was five years ago, and just a mile or two away along the coast. Tamarisks waved there; in the dark light and the cold wind this afternoon, breakwaters would look ghostly. Angelina turned towards the window. Antony was staring out, she saw his sharp, wide shoulder, the fine outline of his great head, and the tip of his curling, bright beard. To-day, in the pinched January dusk, no man marked her loveliness and her still living desire.
Antony, who had never seen, was passively gazing at the fast-shrouding Channel, Julius was blind.
With one swift, fully conscious spasm of real pain, she jerked her face back into its normal expression of positive business. She went to the door, and not only her expression, but her very footfall sobered. She seemed middle-aged. Antony asked, turning to look at her:
"Who do you suppose is in the shop? Why do they want you? Can't we have tea?"
"Yes, quite soon. I won't be a minute longer than I can help. Perhaps it is Lady Beale about the banner screen. They told me, as I came through the shop, that she called this morning and said she would come back with a friend at half-past three. I expect she'll buy it, Antony. What shall I ask?"
"Ten pounds," he said, with a scornful grin.
"She won't pay that. It isn't a very good pole, and the work on the banner is coarse; Berlin wool-work in its dregs."
"I know," he nodded, "the late samplers are like that too. Yet these idiots never perceive. Tell her it is early-Victorian tent stitch. She'll believe you, and she's rich. Make it guineas, not pounds. The thing is worth thirty shillings at the outside."
He laughed as Angelina went out of the room.
"She'll get it," he said to Julius. "You see how clever she is! No other dealer would have had the wit to get hold of that nurse at the sale. I wish she hadn't folded the tambour scarf up and put it out of my reach. I can't move and you can't see."
Julius did not speak. He was huddled by the fire. The back of his head expressed every bitterness. Antony could guess that he was suffering, and felt glad. Was it not natural| | 312
to feel glad? He was still man enough for that. Yet, by and by, he would not be; for every morning when he woke he fancied himself more numb than he had been the day before: numb of limb and dulled of soul.
"She didn't even make the mistake when she started of having young lady assistants in art pinafores," he continued.
"That would have been fatal. You don't want the air of a fancy workshop. Collectors would have sheered off—I should have done in my day. Angelina, down there, has everything strong and masculine, yet a woman's brain controls. She is really marvellous, and I never expected it of her, did you? In the old days, I mean."
"Don't know what I expected," said Julius absently.
Antony looked at him, sitting so mute over there; mute and mum he always was; not by any means a gay companion.
"It is queer," he said. "You hardly ever talk; I do the talking. Yet in the old days I was curmudgeon and you were chatterbox."
"My tongue went out with my eyes," said Julius.
"I suppose you talk to Angelina?" Antony asked pointedly.
"Yes," the blind face flickered instantly, "we talk."
"When you go for walks by the sea and I sit in the workshop watching the men? Don't think I mind her taking you for walks. I don't. For what, my dear fellow, is she to us any more—a nurse to both, a wife to neither? We each wished in our turn to quell, possess and enslave her, but she has slipped through our fingers and we are left sexless, you and I."
"That's true enough." Julius leaned forward, peaking his face towards the window "to-day we are at the mercy of her bountiful affection and her perfect, cold tenderness."
They both believed her cold, because they had become so cold themselves.
"She is confoundedly clever, she gets her own way. I believe that this is what she would have chosen from the first if she could have seen the future; not exactly to have me paralysed and you blind, but, nevertheless, to get her own way with us both."
Antony, speaking and snapping, looked gloomily out of the window; he could now see nothing but blurred outlines.| | 313
Julius crept to the fire. Something had come to a full stop with Julius, for he did not talk. He, who had been a macaw, now brooded as an owl.
"Angelina," said Antony cuttingly, after silence, " is heartless. If you would only believe that of her you would no longer suffer. It is an inherited coldness, a constant passing on of the heart, so that faithfulness, as it is generally known to women, she simply does not understand. She would stare if you called her an artist, yet she has all the inherent fickleness of one. Angelina, old fellow, would have left you in the end as she left me."
"I don't agree; but what is the good of dwelling on it?" asked Julius, sounding stupid.
Yet, again, He turned from the fire and shot his face nearer to Antony's chair, seeming to feel for direction.
"We may as well talk about it, for it is our main subject, and will be," Antony said. "We may all three live together twenty years longer. What a farcical trio! The position can't change for you and me; yet it is rather speculative to imagine that she will remain as she is."
"I won't hear her attacked."
"She isn't; only dissected, and I have every right to do it. If one of us died she would, yet only from duty, marry the other. Yet I am sure that, already, she barely sorts us out in her head as separate entities. We are merely one Idea. We are Love—to her. We are no longer two inimical individualities; Antony ffinch and Julius Pole; men who hated each other. We've lost even that."
Antony ceased. He turned from the window and sat looking through the dusk and the firelight at that blank countenance across the hearth.
"See how she juggled to get us here, under one roof, dependent upon one bounty, at the beginning," he broke out again. "It was a ticklish business, yet she carried it through. Angelina will go far. If we both die before her, and I suppose we shall, she will make some grand marriage, she will be ultraconventional. Or she may be religious and renounce the world. Impossible to say."
"How the devil do you know what she'll do?" Julius, asking this, seemed about to spring from his chair, then, | | 314 remembering, dropped back. His out-flung hand and tilted head expressed a groan.
"You are feeling, for once in a way," Antony studied him, "as I felt all the time when first she brought us here. You felt nothing then; for you were new to the long darkness, and you were stunned. We have changed places. Nowadays it is I who am strong and voluble; you are the weak churl. Being always with you, as I am doomed to be, I constantly see myself as I was in Normandy. The curious thing is that I am only strong in my emotions now—when it is too late. That is the jest of life; things come too late. If I could have felt towards Angelina all the violence which I felt for you when first we found ourselves imprisoned here together, I should have kept her. Strength is the one thing her kind of woman will have. Angelina has never found it. She's had a bully and she's had a slave, but she's never had the man who will be master and comrade. See how wise I am getting to be, with so much time for thinking. Yet, when first we came here, I didn't want to think, but to act. I would have killed you if I could have got at you. I couldn't, and it was maddening. I wanted to howl like a wild beast. There you sat, blind and small, waiting to be choked—and you deserved it. I couldn't move an inch."
Julius said impassively:
"I couldn't have escaped you. Perhaps I did deserve it. I hadn't learnt to be deft. I was hideously afraid of failing over things. Now I can dress myself and go up and downstairs."
He spoke transparently, as a child speaks, and he seemed gently gay because he had learned to do things.
"You can grovel about under tables and find a footstool for Angelina. I can't even do that, but I don't want to. You are welcome to any joy you can get. I don't hate you any more," said Antony, and he sounded transparent too.
It was hard to believe them grown men—Antony, indeed, was well over forty. They sounded like children, and they might have been two small boys sitting on the floor, gravely discussing some game.
Yet the timbre of Antony's voice when next he spoke was fully masculine:
"After all," he said, "what did you have of her through | | 315 those few months? Just a mad love-time, just a few blistering kisses. I had the sane, domestic living, the long, unbroken days and nights, the little marriedy squabbles. All of it is dear to dwell upon. My dreams are richer than yours. They are more healthy and virtuous."
Julius turned to the fire, and its light played upon freshsprung agonies in his grey face. He was remembering.
He began after a long time:
"That day when we three went to the sale in Derbyshire——"
"I remember, yet perhaps with less delicious reason for memory."
"Never mind that." Julius sounded sharply beseeching. "She was such a queen of beauty that you sent her away. She would have spoiled the thing; she was a jewel in a mudpie."
"That sounds rather like Julius as he used to be. Yes, I sent her away; into a wood with you. I can see her, I shall always see her as she was then. Do you suppose I forget? Yet I choose to picture her as she is now, going about alone to sales, jostling with frowsy people, nodding to oily dealers—as an equal."
"I tell you, Antony, it is all too horrible. That beautiful, rare woman! And we sit here, we live upon her."
The blind man sounded in some hopeless frenzy.
"We sit here, true; yet she does better at the sales than we should, and she has the sense nowadays not to look what you call rare. That is part of her commercial equipment, to look commonplace, I mean. Her good looks she can't help, but she wears serviceable clothes; poor-cut and dingy shades: it pays to look shabby."
"She was all glory and glamour that day in Derbyshire," said Julius, with a tremble in his voice. "Do you remember how they stared—the other women?"
"Console yourself. I don't suppose they stare now, and as to the men, she has useful business relations with the lot. They are all so keen upon a bargain that I doubt if her good looks even count. They may not notice. Remember that Angelina is merely one of them. She is a dealer. Look here, Julius"—Antony's face flushed and then fell heavily— | | 316 "if we allowed ourselves to think too much we should go mad. This house would turn into a lunatic asylum; we should all smash china and each other."
He laughed dreadfully.
"It isn't pleasant living on the woman you've loved," he said more softly, and Julius sensitively felt that the fine head had fallen. "What else can we do? We haven't a penny. When I wrote to my Aunt Philippa she never answered the letter."
"When Bob wrote to me, saying our father was dead and without leaving me a penny, I never answered that," returned Julius. "If I must be dependent let it be upon Angelina."
"We've all three come to a pretty pass." Antony's voice now appeared to travel; so he was perhaps looking round the room. "You spoke just now of the Derbyshire sale. What pots and pipkins I had in those days! What delicate cabinets! I can see the inlay of those cabinets now: ivory some and silver others. Then I had an ebony one; gorgeous. My chairs and tables! Their dear, bandy legs! Angelina, nowadays, talks correctly of 'cabriole legs.' She's picked up all the patter. You and she between you have lost me Normandy, for I don't count the epileptic idiot who put a match to the place. If Angelina had married me when our child was born, everything would have gone well. And that's another thing," his voice rang. "Remember that we had a child, she and I. It is all gone. We have lost everything, the three of us. I think of Normandy and the stateliness of all that was mine. Then I look round this room. I have one cabinet—by no means my best—two chairs and a couple of Nankin jars left. The rest of the furniture is solid enough and harmless enough. You'd think twice before you burned it. I said that to Angelina while I was lying in Harley Street. I said it of the few bits of stuff saved from my fire. I repeat myself; perhaps you have noticed that. It is a speedy token of general decay to repeat yourself."
He left off talking and there was silence. Then he added, in a grating voice:
"Dwell on the humour of our situation and leave pathos alone. Whenever you do get a sharp feeling, dismiss it instantly as sentimental. Be flippant, for all of this is merely | | 317 a jest. We are walking through the figure of a dance. Think of it in that way. If I could move, if you could see, we'd set to partners, old chap."
The door opened suddenly and Angelina came in. She shut it after her briskly, yet softly: with no eagerness, but merely her judicious air of business, which was sometimes strange even to Antony, and which would have broken Julius's heart could lie have seen. She looked sedate and completely obsessed by the spirit of commerce. Not even glancing towards the chair by the fire and the tender, blind face that turned instantly towards her, she advanced to Antony, saying crisply—rapping out every word:
"She has bought the banner screen. Ten pounds, she would not rise to guineas. And she wants to see the tambour scarf. I shall not trouble to save it for Mrs. Chant. Also I have told her that I have been offered the old lady's wardrobe. She will come to see it when I've got it here."
"That's good." Antony looked at her intently. "It was a good sale for us."
The one I went to this morning? Yes. They do vary. I must go down into the shop again."
She hastily picked up the tambour scarf.
"Do you remember that one we went to in Derbyshire, Angelina?" Antony asked this, and his blue eyes winked and slittered on her composed, pale face. She was looking weary in the hard winter light. The squalid life was telling on her, and, indeed, apart from her commercial days, what did any one know of her nights? She might suffer agonies when she lay alone in the dark. Probably the three of them did, and, subtly, this would wear them out one by one.
Antony was thinking this and staring at her. He was waiting for her answer. Her pause tantalised him. She said, turning as she spoke:
"But I never go so far as Derbyshire to any sale. I wonder what I'd better ask for the scarf?"
Antony could not pierce that quiet composure. Perhaps she did not, since she was in her business mood, even remember that sale, nor remember the wood.
Yet he observed that she refrained to look at Julius. Standing at the open door, seeming grey, she added:| | 318
"Lady Beale and her friend will keep me a long time, so don't wait tea. Ring for it at once. I would rather have mine in my own room later on. I'm tired."
She slipped out. Antony remained mischievously pondering, and he was devising new tests and tortures. Angelina had lost a great deal of her delicacy. She had grown old enough and had suffered enough to have her beauty swayed by moods. He thought that, standing by the door just now, she had looked merely commercial and quite middle-aged. Once she had been like some splendid star: she had been unassailable in her radiating loveliness.
He thought of the house at Horsham, and thought of Leggatt Court, with its stately gardens and its stately mistress. He regretted his Aunt Philippa, but he had alienated her beyond remedy. He looked contemptuously across the room at Julius in the big chair. He was settled far back in that chair, and perhaps lie was asleep. They both dropped off sometimes out of sheer boredom.
Angelina was also losing her perception. Was it possible that she had forgotten the sale in Derbyshire? She could never forget; no doubt she still deliriously dwelt upon it in her hidden moments. It had become her remedy for much, that memory. Oh, he knew! Yet when she was possessed by the idea of buying and selling she forgot everything. The spirit of barter in her was remarkably strong, and perhaps this instinct—to trade—was her dominant instinct after all.
Yet! Had she forgotten! Or did she, standing there by the door just now, merely bluff? He could not be sure, and the uncertainty teased him. As for caring! What the dickens did he care nowadays either for sales or for the sitting in a wood that came after sales!| | 319
ST. MARY OF EGYPT,
LETTER TO ST. MARY OF EGYPT
WHEN, as a child, I wrote my first letter, my belief in you was young and splendid, when I wrote my second, perhaps I did not believe at all; this afternoon I sit here writing, and, dear Saint, I do not know! Yet there is around me that sense of loving, brooding and protection. It emanates from you, and I feel that you are really you; that, perhaps, you are very near me now, and that, without doubt, you understand. So then! Well, I do believe in you and in all that belief implies.
I sit, this winter afternoon, in a room at the back of my shop writing by candlelight. There is a glass upper half to the door, and if I look through I see rich furniture, stacked thick. How deeply in my heart I hate it all. It is so dreary going to sales, to buy and sell, to haggle and plot and plan; I never get any delight in it as Antony still does. When I come home, when I show him new things, his face lights up, and that is the only time that it ever does. It hurts him more to lose those things that I first buy and then sell than it hurt him years ago to lose me. He is usually heavy, he grows more haggard, grey lights lie in the deepening furrows of his face. My compassion for Antony is the strongest and the most constant feeling that I have left. Because I cannot love him, because I never did, there is distilled for him a finer feeling than Julius ever had.
Yet Julius is the man that I have loved, he is the man I love still. He is my man. When he was blind and came back I gave myself to him once and entirely, for his slightest touch is a caress comprising all caresses. I was sorry afterwards, yet penitence has no place with Julius.
He stands by himself and he always will, whether he lives or dies. He is delicately distinguished from all others. He is part of the mysterious sea, he is one with tamarisk trees and golden shingle. He is meteoric and has always been. My life with him was magically rapt, and, in a sense, it still | | 320 is. Sometimes, when he is strong enough, we walk by the sea towards Rustington. We go as far as the mill, and I look beyond towards the beach where we loved. He holds my hand tight and I tell him how the sea is looking. As I gave him my heart long ago, so I give hint my eyes now. I feel with a wild throb of the pulse that if once we went beyond the mill, if we returned to that bit of beach which is ours, then we should stay there for ever. I could not forget Antony, yet I might again ignore him. I should be tangled up in golden veils, so how could my feet ever get back to Littlehampton and this sane shop?
When the tide is out you could walk along the sands for miles, and we should come, Julius and I, to the pretty places where we sat together. It all looks lonely and most heavenly wild, it certainly beckons me. I said this to him, for I can talk to him and write to you; otherwise I am silent and certainly practical. Julius smiled rather vaguely, distantly, perhaps, and he leaned at my shoulder. There was patience on his poor face. I saw tenderness, understanding—and no desire. Of the three, I am the only one left with primitive desire, and still there is strong in me a sense of life, oh, and such a definite longing. Do you understand, St. Mary of Egypt? Of course you do. It stills me to sit here and write to you, to say to you one thing that I cannot say even to Julius. For he and Antony move through a twilight of the emotions; they are placable, they are almost brotherly. No sharp sunlight of a conflict beats upon either of them any more, otherwise this position could not be. Their dead amity breaks my heart. Yet, do I regret? Do I look back to those days of leaping fire with Julius?
How eloquent I am when I sit down and write to you, and how candid. The words that tumble out, perhaps they come from you and not from me; perhaps they express the things that you felt and suffered. Is it that? Am I, after centuries, merely a reflection of you, my Saint and my Friend?
I stand with Julius by the sea, I describe to him exactly how the beach looks and how the sky looks, with the sails of the mill against it; I watch his patient face—no passion on it any more, but an inexpressible tenderness. His great love makes me humble. I long for him to pull my hand, not | | 321 clutch at it in that helpless, timid way that lie still has after years of blindness. But he never does and he never will; nevertheless I am glad that he has not asked me to take him along those sands. Perhaps this proves that he is half afraid to go. He also may feel, if only in a diluted way, that there might for us be no return.
This love between a man and a woman, how complex it is—and not merely a matter of getting married and living happy ever after. That may be, but there is more than that. When we all three get to heaven—for of course I devoutly believe in heaven and in you—Julius and Antony and I will laugh out loud. We shall say of all these things, "Do you remember?" We shall pelt each other with agonising incidents: yet we shall be free of pain. We shall be amazed when we find how large Love is, for it will have grown in a hundred ways that we cannot even dream of yet. Here we clutch at only a little corner. In heaven we will feel all this and say all this and laugh and be gay; but meanwhile we are upon earth and I am a woman, strong and not old. Very often I wish—it is such sharp wishing and it hurts—that Julius would pull me along those pretty sands to the bit of the beach which is ours.
I feel this, however, less than I did, for as we become older we are certainly more elaborate, and the straight, brutal course is no longer for us. Only the very young or the utterly brutal take what they themselves want and leave the rest. You even waver as to what you do want. I find that already.
I sometimes stand at the open door of that room upstairs where Antony and Julius sit: Antony by the window, Julius by the fire. They are up there now and having their tea without me, for to-night, degraded by the sale, as I always am by sales, I felt I must be alone. I felt that I could not, for once in a way, endure our ghastly travesty of family life. And Antony spoke of the Derbyshire sale.
What am I to those two men any more? And once I meant so much. What shall I ever be? Sometimes I am possessed by a sense of adventure; that is the Grandmamma Peachey side of me, and it seems diabolical. I feel that I may live long after they are dead, and that the real fruition of my living is still to come. It stands beyond and | | 322 without any influence either of Antony or Julius. For I am only thirty-five, and I am like the little girl in the poem that Blanche and I learnt at Miss Hopkins's. I "feel my life in every limb." This is my sense of joyful adventure.
I stand, as I said, at the door of the room where they sit, and I study them. Antony has grown handsome, there is a calculated dignity to his pose as he sits in his cripple's chair. It is most impressive. Julius has lost what looks he ever had, but I love him, and he is Julius. So what is there to say? That domed, dark head, growing bald and getting grey, those little, sightless eyes, those neat, small limbs, they may express an ugly man to the world; to me there is magic in every outline, and all his movements flash. It sounds childish to say this, but you will understand, as I do. Without doubt you felt the same—and not perhaps towards one man only: there, to me, is the flaw in Love. It can be too diffusive. What does it really mean—this Love?
This house where we all three live, and where I so ingeniously trade and earn our bread, is built of flint stone, with warm chimneys and window-framings of mellow, red brick. In just such a house Julius plotted that we should live our married life. In such a house as this, yet farther inland and away from a town, I should have been his wife and borne his children. The very irony of this strikes at my sense of humour now and then. Yet I haven't much humour, that is true; Antony says no humour at all—but he is always wrong, with me. We are fundamentally diverse.
I begin to feel that words are running out, that the spell is broken, that you understand completely, that no more needs to be said. So I shall, my Saint, put away this letter in the shell box with the other two, and I will not write to you again; unless they die, those two dear men. Then my sense of adventure will not only awake, but take action, and there will be new sides to show. For certainly no jeweller ever cut a precious stone so cunningly as God Himself cuts a woman's heart.
When I sign a letter to you next, if ever I sign, will it again beANGELINA PEACHEY
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