- BOOK I A SENSE OF SPELLS
- CHAPTER II
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THE four Misses Hopkins who kept school in St. Bartholomew Close were just as delightfully and erratically out of their period as were Angelina's Papa and Mamma living above the old-fashioned chemist's shop. Every morning Alice the housemaid took the children to school, where they stayed to lunch. She fetched them home again at four o'clock in the afternoon. On some days Alice could not be spared, and then Blanche and Angelina went alone. This gave the chance for digressions by the way: for example, you need not go straight down St. Martin's le Grand, along Aldersgate Street and through St. Bartholomew's Buildings at all. This was the way Alice always went. You could go down Newgate Street and round by Christ's Church, where the figure of the Bluecoat Boy was over the gate. Or you could cross over on to the other side of Aldersgate Street and dive into Maidenhead Court, where there was a sweet-shop. One day there was a funeral at a house in the Court, and Angelina, for the first time in her life and the last, saw that decaying functionary, a mute. He was standing outside the door of the house, holding a tall staff bound with crape, and weepers of crape hung from his tall black hat. She never forgot him; nor did she forget the hearse with its bunches of feathers and the long-tailed funeral horses, feathered also. She and Blanche were late at school that morning. Blanche received Miss Sophia Hopkins's reproof and searching questions with a giggle and a manner of mystery; Angelina was composed and took her punishment—of writing out the "Burial of Sir John Moore"—five times on her slate after school hours, with composure: for, certainly, the mute had been worth it.
Or, instead of going down Maidenhead Court to buy sweets, you could go along Aldersgate Street and past that house which had a notice on the wall saying: "SHAKESPEARE DWELT HERE." You came to Barbican. Here there was a shop where they sold dolls who could shut their eyes and squeak "Papa" and "Mamma." Dolls of this kind were new in 1876. | | 32 Also there was a shop where they sold gold and silver lace; in fact, all the equipments for military and court dress. Angelina was fascinated by it. She was fascinated, too, by the sad mien of a woman, in a faded Paisley shawl and a flat bonnet, who stood at the corner selling oranges. She grew to compare her to St. Mary of Egypt.
It was delightful to go to school without Alice the housemaid, and the most charming time that Angelina ever had—since it gave her a chance of exercising power—was one day when there was a new boy at school and Miss Sophia asked her and Blanche to see him home. His father was a dentist in King Edward Street; and the Misses Peachey, so Miss Sophia said, could go home that way quite nicely.
Neither Blanche nor Angelina cared for the new boy. They were agreed, for once in a way. His name was Rupert Meech, and he was both furtive and ill-favoured. He looked as if he listened to every word you said. Now he was a new boy, and not yet received into the select company of The Misses Hopkins's Academy. It would be a long time, if ever—it would certainly be the best part of a quarter—before Angelina granted Rupert Meech any of the minor privileges bestowed upon Arthur Rogers and the defaulting George Conisbee. She doubted if she could ever take to him, although, for reasons of diplomacy, she wished to; for he would have further inflamed Arthur and reclaimed George. Already, in her grave way, Angelina was skilful as a coquette, and she experienced all the embryonic flutters of conquest, caprice, intrigue and despair.
On the day when she and Blanche were deputed to see the new boy home, she made him walk in front of them; for she and her sister were disposed to be friendly as it happened, and wished to talk what they called secrets. If Rupert Meech showed any disposition to lag behind and make a third at conference, Angelina prodded him neatly in the back with the ferrule of her parasol. It was a hot day when this happened, and she and Blanche were dressed alike: in checked gingham frocks of snuff-brown and little mantles made of tussore silk. These were called burnouses, and they were trimmed with ball fringe. Their parasols were of bottle-green silk, with a pinked frill at the edge and handles that doubled up. They | | 33 were unduly proud of them. The Peachey girls were always beautifully dressed, thanks to their mother's money and to the instinctive good taste of her close friend, Mrs. Chope, the music mistress.
Angelina merely prodded wretched young Meech in the small of the back, but Blanche, who had a touch of clown and hoyden, darted in and picked up a flaxen curl of shavings from the floor of the carpenter's shop at the corner of Great Britain and pinned it rakishly to the ribbon of Rupert's Glengarry cap. The children very often lingered outside the carpenter's shop watching the man in the white paper cap work, listening to his cheerful whistle and to the sound of the saw. His floor was scattered with curls, as if a hundred lovely flaxen heads had fallen. One day he had been cheerfully making a coffin.
Angelina watched Rupert Meech as he looked round, the yellow shaving bobbing, and Blanche, giggling, said to him:
"Now, don't you dare take that off."
His face expressed all the masculine essences; it was devoted and afraid. He was a puny boy who had never been to school before. Up till now his Mamma had taught him his lessons. He was dazzled by the beautiful splendour of Angelina and Blanche. He would have died for them. So he docilely left the carpenter's curl where it was and they continued, a queer enough procession, to go on towards Prince Edward Street.
The sisters felt a buoyant sense of power, and Victory for once united them. There was no distracting rivalry; for they did not want Rupert Meech as a possession. He was their mutual butt.
When they went to bed that night they lay together in the deep feathers quite amicably and talked the matter over and decided, with smothered bursts of laughter, what they would do with him next time. But there was never any next time, for his Mamma complained to the Misses Hopkins, and a genteel note of remonstrance was sent to Mrs. Peachey. Angelina and Blanche were whipped upon their bare arms until they smarted. They had neither cake nor pudding for a week, and they were told that if such a thing ever happened again they should have nothing but bread and water. Worse | | 34 than anything else (at least to Angelina), they were called "foolish little girls." She was turned ten, and considered herself nearly grown up. Next quarter she was going into the first class at Miss Hopkins's.
Blanche, who had a certain small cunning, which, when she was a woman, would make her a social success, actually managed to turn this unworthy incident of the Meech boy to her own and Angelina's advantage. She cornered her Papa, whose pet she was, and managed to persuade him that if she and Angelina were always allowed to go to school alone they' would behave better, since there would be no novelty in freedom. Mr. Peachey was tickled by her skilful ethics. He was proud of Blanche, although he knew her to be possessed of only half Angelina's brains. He was proud of her and sure of her. She was stolid, as her mother was. There were no backwaters to Blanche. When she grew up she would marry early, turn into an excellent wife and mother, and go to her grave without history. Angelina was altogether different. She was like her grandmother, and she stood for qualities which he dreaded and which he detested—perhaps all the more fervently because he knew that they might so easily have been his own. But he had taken the safe course and allied himself to a peevish fool. His life held nothing more distracting than constant nagging. He told Blanche that they might go to school alone, and he told her mother that he had given the permission. This led to the usual marital squabble, but he was used to that. When he was alone in the dim room full of shelves and bottles that led out from the cheerful shop, he sat staring blankly. Finally, he got a medicine glass and swallowed a certain dose. Grandmamma Peachey was not the only one in the family who knew her panacea and went to it. In her case it was sleeping powders; in her son's it was a drug legitimately prescribed by the doctor to ease pain. Mr. Peachey grinned wryly as he drank. Not only was it bitter; but Knowledge was more bitter. He need not worry about Angelina. He would be dead before she started on her destructive campaign. He wondered what form it would take. She struck him as being at once more fiery and more pure than her grandmother; a finer and more vibrant type altogether. She would be an | | 35 idealist: that dangerous order of woman who makes the men, and herself, suffer most. Grandmamma Peachey had never suffered at all while she was sinning; her grandchild would suffer clean through. She would get tangled up between good and bad: the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge would have stinging juices from the first. She might end as a nun. Sometimes those women did, and it was best for them. It was the only way of peace for such. Nuns, he thought, were of two orders. There was the born celibate and mystic, such as his mother's maid, Kitty. And there was the other sort. To this company his mother and his Angelina belonged. He could get fond of that child if he let himself go. He knew that she adored him, and that, so far, he stood to her as chief idol. They must have a dominant passion; yet only one at a time!
Mr. Peachey sat staring at the bottles and trying to get the crude roughness of the medicine he had swallowed off his palate. Through the door behind him was his pretty, perfumed shop, with the courtly young men assistants moving behind the counter and suavely making up packages with white paper and sealing-wax.
As to good and evil, as to the beliefs of nuns and priests, what was that to him? It was all humbug. He had accepted the rationalistic conclusions of the great thinkers of his time. He was up to date. In this year, 1876, he was the fervid exponent of that materialistic Gospel which now is dead as a door nail. It has given place to other things. The old Faith remains. Angelina's Papa was so keen on his philosophy that he would have preached out of doors about it, as people did at that time, but his doctor forbade any excitement.
Blanche and Angelina loved to go to school alone. It was freedom; you could linger at any shop you liked. You could spend your money if you had it. You could vary your route, sometimes making it almost wholly solitary, by going round Paternoster Row and through Panyer Alley and then across Newgate Street and by Christ's Church. Or you could cross Cheapside and go down Foster Lane. That was another way. You passed the church of St. Vedast and Foster, where the bell was always ringing for service. People talked a great deal about this church in 1876. Angelina's Mamma | | 36 said that it was Popish. This, with the other word Papist, she employed with relish. They were an assault upon Grandmamma and her religion. Mrs. Peachey said frequently to Mrs. Chope that she thought it a wife's duty to be of the same religion as her husband. They differed on this matter, since Mr. Chope was a Quaker; and this form of expression made no appeal to his wife. Mrs. Peachey, while pretending to nothing in particular, robustly declared herself Protestant, and taught her children to say their prayers. She had expected some opposition to this from their father, and in her mind, which was nervously combative, she had rehearsed her retorts in the squabble that there would be. But he merely laughed and said that lie liked to see their little white toes sticking out from the edge of their nightgowns. This had been when they were small. Now that they were big they knelt down by themselves, one on each side of the bed with the heavy white quilt.
Blanche, in a whispered parrot-patter, hurried over the prayers that had been taught her. Angelina was stirred by wordless upliftings, and every night and every morning she opened her heart for God to fill. It was all very real to Angelina; yet it was astonishingly vague, and the only religion she knew was the bliss that filled her when they sang the anthem at St. Paul's Cathedral on Sunday afternoons, and the tendency to happy tears when Kitty read to her about the blessed saints. She had her own saint now. Many times a day she called upon St. Mary of Egypt.
You could go slowly down Aldersgate to school, starting early and getting there a little late. There was so much to see. On St. Valentine's Day you could not tear yourself away from the big stationer's. When Twelfth Night was near, there were the cakes in the confectioner's. And, apart from shops altogether, the streets in themselves were exciting. On Guy Fawkes' Day you saw carts full of Guys going slowly along, and the same thing happened in May, when there were Jack-o'-the-Greens. Down Bull and Mouth Street, they once saw a tumbler spread his carpet and turn somersaults, and on August I, which was Grotto Day (why they never knew), little girls sat at the corners and by the kerbstones with neatly built piles of oyster shells. They kept saying, | | 37 "Please to remember the Grotto." Angelina gave away a whole sixpence once, and dimly felt that she was making a votive offering.
In 1876 the streets were still fanciful, and people did things merely because they were traditional; not exactly for profit, although profit came. To-day w e are laboriously philanthropic, and in place of the delightful Grotto, a Hospital Box is jangled under your nose. Angelina, in the City, when she was only ten; trod upon the fringe of all these pretty things that have now departed.
You turned out from Aldersgate Street, up steps and through iron gates on your way to Miss Hopkins's; that is, if you went that way and not by Prince Edward Street. Since the unpleasantness with Rupert Meech they rather eschewed that street. Blanche said, with her uncontrollable giggle, that his Papa might lure them in and pull out all their teeth. In the paved court that you went through after passing the gateway, provision shops were upon either side. There was the fishmonger's with beautiful pink salmon, where, also, they boiled poor lobsters alive. Once, so Blanche declared, she heard them screaming. There were red lobsters; these were dead. There were live black ones, feebly crawling on the marble slab. "They look better when they are dead," said Blanche. Angelina returned with her manner of blissful faith:
"Well, of course, after death we do look better."
She applied her curious theories of a future life, instilled by Kitty, even to poor lobsters ready for the pot.
The fishmonger's was beautiful, but their own fishmonger, Sweeting in Cheapside, was better. He was famous and all the world knew of him, just as all the world knew of Peachey and Balles. Not only did Angelina's Papa go to Sweeting's every day at eleven for stout and a sandwich, but, when they happened to be on good terms, he now and then took his wife to have a fish dinner there. She would describe the courses to Mrs. Chope.
As well as the fishmonger's, there was a fruiterer's, and in summertime women sat outside shelling peas. There was also a small shop where you could buy sheets of coloured tissue-paper to make table mats.| | 38
Angelina remembered it so well when she grew up and when it had passed away. She even remembered that once she had bought an orange of the woman at the corner of Barbican, and had not paid for it. There was not a halfpenny in her pocket as it happened. She had quarrelled with Blanche that morning, so they went their different ways to Miss Hopkins's. She said to the orange woman, "I will pay you to-morrow," but very soon after that Grandmamma Peachey was ill, and in the early morning of St. Valentine's Day she died. That, with the funeral and being fitted for black, put everything else out of your head.
When Angelina was a woman, she went one day to look for the orange seller, who had stood at the corner of Barbican and who had reminded her of St. Mary of Egypt. She still stood there, and she seemed to be the only thing that had not changed. Angelina said gravely:
"Years ago I bought an orange and didn't pay for it. I forgot. Do you remember? I must pay for it now, and with interest."
She gave the woman a shilling and a dazzling smile. St. Mary of Egypt took both apathetically, and when Angelina went on down Barbican (it was to look for the doll shop) she stared after her, with her eyes bolting. She remarked to another orange woman that "the person" was certainly cracked. And she thoughtfully bit the shilling.
The great excitement and joy of the whole year was the breaking-up soiré which the Misses Hopkins gave just before Christmas. When Angelina was ill with her little feverish attack she had been afraid she would not be well enough to go, but she recovered completely a couple of weeks before.
When the evening came, there was a delicious perturbation in the Peachey household, and Mrs. Chope, the music mistress, came over to help the children dress. She suggested the last touches; for she had a genius for dress and was mysteriously supposed to have seen "better days"; Angelina wondered what this meant. Her second husband, Chope, was merely a warehouseman at the wholesale place in Cheapside, where the young men practised on summer evenings with a fire escape. But her first husband had been, as she frequently | | 39 said, lowering her voice and shaking her head, a gentleman. He had lost his money by horse-racing; so now she was just Chope's wife and also housekeeper to the young men in the wholesale shop. She lived at the top of the house: on the south side of Cheapside and a few doors from the furrier's, where the stuffed polar bear was in the window. She had a sunny parlour at the back, with window-boxes full of nasturtiums, musk and canary creeper. For she had lived in the country all her life before her misfortunes came, and in what, again darkly, she described as "her own place." Angelina and Blanche had been with their mother to take tea with Mrs. Chope, although Mrs. Peachey felt this to be a condescension. Mrs. Chope was her great friend and mentor; but to the children she was merely the vehicle for tiresome new pieces. The one mitigation was that she usually gave them dance music, with a picture on the cover. Angelina's new piece was the Just Out Galop, with a picture of newlyhatched golden chickens and a few broken eggshells. Mrs. Chope had lots of music pupils, and she also played sometimes at evening parties. She was received on a semi-friendly footing in houses where Mr. Chope would not have been allowed to show his face.
She came across on the night of the soirée to help with their hair: to admire their dresses, and, with tact, to suggest. Mrs. Peachey was sensitive.
Blanche's flaxen curls were a joy to behold, but Angelina's hair merely made her mother groan, for it was useless to curl or even to crimp those silky black masses. At the slightest damp they fell out of curl again and merely hung in unworthy straggles upon her bare shoulders. As ill-luck would have it, this was a pouring wet night. You could hear rain dashing vixenishly against the window-panes as you dressed in the warm, big bedroom, where a roaring fire had been lighted.
"It's no good touching it, not even with the tongs," said Mrs. Peachey to her friend, and she plaited Angelina's hair rather vixenishly into two thick, very long tails, and tied ribbon bows at the end. Mrs. Chope, after a modest pause (the seemly pause of a poor friend), produced a little darling wreath of artificial lilac, dyed coral colour.| | 40
"I remembered that Angelina was going to wear cerise," she said. "So I brought this."
She made a crown of it to set upon the black hair, and Angelina, looking in the cheval glass and delighted with herself, at once and for ever forgave Mrs. Chope the many new pieces of music that she had imposed.
She was just as much ashamed of her straggly black tails as her mother was: for it seems to be the fate of dark, straight-haired little girls to feverishly envy pink-and-white blondes. She went to bed every night with her hair merely plaited to keep it out of her eyes, but Blanche's head bristled with curl papers. She used to toss about on the pillow trying to find an easy place, and she made a horrid crackling. This was one of her noisy ways. Angelina would say irritably:
"Why doesn't Kitty curl your hair in something quiet?"
They wore for the soirée this year white frocks of the finest book muslin that money could buy. The skirts were full and flounced to the waist. Angelina had cerise bows and a sash; Blanche had sky-blue. When Mrs. Chope brought out the coral-coloured flower wreath for Angelina, Mrs. Peachey, blushing, for Blanche was her favourite child, just as she was her father's—Angelina coming nowhere, with either of them—went to a drawer of the dressing-table and rummaged about until she found a fillet of imitation turquoises, with a black velvet bow. This she fastened into Blanche's yellow curls.
At the last it was suggested that they should go downstairs to Grandmamma's apartments and show themselves off. She would sulk if they did not and snub them if they did. They went with a certain trembling, but she received them graciously. For Angelina, she produced a string of coral beads that accorded excellently with her bright bows and her flower wreath. She kissed her as she fastened it round the thin throat, and, looking at her oddly, said:
"You are going to be a pretty thing, some day. I am sorry for that."
Blanche looked on. She wore a silver filagree pendant and chain which was her mother's. Grandmamma took no notice of her whatever.
When they started off, Angelina hoarded the sweet social | | 41 sense of that drive in the four-wheeler from St. Paul's Churchyard to St. Bartholomew Close. It was a cold and wretched night, with the rain coming down in torrents. But inside the cab it was beautifully warm, for they had opera cloaks, one blue and one white, lined and trimmed with swansdown. They had hot-water bottles, too, to keep their legs in the openwork stockings and bronze slippers nice and warm. They had also their luxurious atmosphere of crisp muslin frocks and laceedged pocket-handkerchiefs, that were delicately sprinkled with the very best scent. Angelina, sitting still, was inwardly radiant, and she forgot all about St. Mary of Egypt, with her piteous penance and her long privations. Ever since she had taken her for her patron saint she had thought of her almost constantly and petitioned her very often. But St. Mary of Egypt would not understand to-night's joy. They turned the corner into St. Martin's le Grand. The fire escape near Sweeting's shop looked unusually red, and there was a regular tumble of City men and boys going helter-skelter towards the General Post Office to catch the country post. The soirée started at six, and ended at ten.
Kitty was in the cab, and when it stopped at the Misses Hopkins, she carried them across the muddy pavements to the bright house so that their bronze shoes should not get dirty. They were big girls, but Kitty was strong. Then she drove back to put Grandmamma Peachey to bed, and she would call for them in another cab at ten. Angelina was sorry for Kitty, who had no fun and whose Patrick had been drowned by floods in Australia.
The four Misses Hopkins lived in a dingy house built in the first year of Queen Anne. A staid row of these red houses stood on the east side of the Close in 1876; all of them are swept away now, and even when Angelina was only ten and went there to school ugly new warehouses were springing up. But there was a great deal of peaceful feeling left: a sort of sweet mouldiness of the past. On sunny afternoons when you sat at plain needlework with the four narrow windows open, the distant buzz of City traffic out there in Aldersgate might have been only swarming bees or busy starlings. The "young ladies" did plain needlework every afternoon, sitting in demure rows at long tables. There were three | | 42 tables, with an observant Miss Hopkins at the head of each one. The Misses Hopkins "fixed" your work for you and made you unpick it if not nicely done. The "young ladies" made nothing but fine underclothing.
The fourth Miss Hopkins, although the youngest sister, was really not a Miss Hopkins at all. She was a widow, Mrs. Bauble, and had seen a great deal of sorrow. Angelina had heard Miss Sophia Hopkins say this once to her mother. It was when Mrs. Peachey brought her and Blanche as new girls and was received in the drawing-room by Miss Sophia, who was the moving spirit of the school. The remark made a great impression upon Angelina, and she anxiously studied Mrs. Bauble, who was a massive woman, with a woebegone expression and a large nose which she powdered constantly and badly. Mrs. Bauble taught the little boys in a schoolroom at the back, and to Angelina there was a certain resemblance between her and Mrs. Chope: but the music mistress appeared to have a sorrow merely of the pocket, while Mrs. Bauble's was of the soul.
The children were received on the night of the soirée by Miss Sophia and Miss Fanny in the front drawing-room. There were three, one opening out of the other and each one smaller than the one you went through before; so that the last was only a powder closet. The Misses Hopkins kept their beautiful china there. They were the daughters, "orphaned daughters" they were fond of calling themselves, of an army doctor who, when young, had been abroad a great deal and had brought back many beautiful things. When he married, he started a practice in this very house, and here the Misses Hopkins had been born and here they had lived all their lives. When their Mamma and their Papa died, leaving them beautiful china, some curios and very little else, they stayed on in the spacious City house and started an Academy for Young Ladies. Miss Sophia, the eldest, was now over sixty; so that their residence went back a long time. They had seen many changes in the Close, and these they deplored.
Angelina was never impressed with the interior. She did not like the old furniture. It was even more shabby than Grandmamma Peachey's. She loved her own drawing-room at home, where they had everything of the latest and best. | | 43 Spindle-legged chairs covered with needlework; small oval mirrors in faint gilt frames; stacks of Oriental china and a tall Broadwood piano with delicate pillars and carved acanthus foliage made no appeal to her. But to-night everything looked different. A great fire burned in the flashing steel grate, and the Misses Hopkins wore dresses of shot silk, and were quite human in their manner. They were really genial. When Angelina and Blanche entered, making a curtsey at the door, Miss Sophia rustled up and kissed them. She called them by their Christian Dames. In term-time the whole manner of the school was rigidly formal. They were then the Misses Peachey. Every one was called "Miss," both by the mistresses and their fellow-pupils, and on entering the room they were required to make deep curtseys, turning to every Miss Hopkins with a "Good-morning, Miss Sophia"; "Good-morning, Miss Fanny"; "Good-morning, Miss Grace." If they met gloomy Mrs. Bauble on the stairs or in the passages they curtseyed more deeply than ever, for her grim air frightened them, and said, "Good-morning, Mrs. Bauble." You did not call the other young ladies by their Christian names unless you became great friends; for example, Louisa Roof remained "Miss Roof" to Angelina from first to last.
After they had been received in the drawing-room, they went with beating hearts upstairs into the schoolroom, which was transformed into a place of freedom and beauty, and from which the sounds of a fiddle and a piano came. Miss Grace, in a brown silk dress with golden stars, and Mrs. Bauble, in stiff black silk and a Honiton fichu, received them at the door.
Angelina made her sweeping curtsey and then looked fleetly round her and saw everything at a glance. She saw that Miss Roof has a Prince of Wales's plume of three white ostrich feathers in her head; which was absurd.
George Conisbee, looking quite grown up in a fancy waistcoat and a black suit, was talking to her. She was giggling and swinging her head to make the feathers nod. Idiot! But the important thing was, and in fact the only thing of importance, that Angelina saw nothing of Arthur Rogers. Presently Blanche came up looking excited and pink—she had left her sister to talk to her clearest friend, Miss Drummond—and said:| | 44
"Isn't it awful, Angy? They say that Arthur Rogers has something wrong with his brain; a long word, I can't remember. But he won't live, and his mother is watching by his bedside day and night. It came on quite suddenly, only the day before yesterday."
This made the soirée black for Angelina. She did not know before how fond she was of Arthur, and she despised herself because, even through her grief, she was thrilled by a ghoulish sense of drama and was even possessed not so much by the thought of his suffering as to what her own feelings would be if he died. She said passionately to her saint:
"St. Mary of Egypt, pray for me. Don't let me be heartless."
She was afraid; seeing, so she supposed, a fiendish and hitherto unsuspected quality in her nature.
With a vague sense of doing penance and of so purging herself, she danced three times with ill-favoured Rupert Meech. She recognised in him another victim, but it gave her no elation. She was thinking of Arthur Rogers, lying with iced bandages upon his head. Blanche came up again in the middle of the evening and, with lugubrious relish, told her about the bandages; for the Drummonds lived next door to Mrs. Rogers. Rupert Meech squeezed Angelina's hand when they danced, and it was clammy even through his kid glove. At least, she thought so; he was one of those people she never could get used to. He said at last with a regular leer—he was certainly an ill-bred boy:
"If I asked my mother to ask you to tea would you come, Miss Peachey?"
This was uncanny; it seemed the last outrage. Poor Arthur Rogers, whose brain was gone, had asked her exactly the same thing. But that had been a thrilling moment. They had held hands when he said it; moreover, his nice blue eyes had said a great deal more. Angelina, her own eyes dangerously flashing, surveyed the smirking countenance of the new boy, Rupert Meech:
"No, I wouldn't!" she said passionately. "I'd die first, so there! Anything I ate in your house would choke me, Master Meech."
She twisted herself away from his arm in the middle of the | | 45 dance, and went and sat on a form by herself. The forms were arranged all round the room and covered with crimson cushions to look like rout seats.
She did not dance any more, and she was enormously relieved when the "Misses Peachey's carriage" was announced. For her heart was broken, and she would never be happy any more.
She wondered if it would be possible to wear black for the rest of her life; to begin, say, with a black hair-ribbon. She would like to do this without any one suspecting why she did it, but she knew that her mother would ask awkward questions. She did not expect delicacy of her Mamma.
When she and Blanche got home they went straight into the drawing-room. Their father and mother sat there alone together, as they always did in the evenings. There was a prickly air of silent irritation in the room. This expressed it; and Angelina, although she could not put it into words, was always conscious of this air when her father and mother were together. United by the closest human tie, these two were yet far divided.
She looked round the drawing-room and its solid elegance consoled her; for she admired very much the big, round table with carved legs and an inlaid top. The cold, imposing ugliness of a marble mantelpiece with pink glass lustres at each end and a gilt clock in the middle struck her as sumptuous; and sumptuous also was the cabinet with glass doors and ormolu ornamentation. Mrs. Peachey had no beautiful china, so the glass doors had fluted curtains of grass-green sarsnet inside. This drawing-room had been redecorated for her when she married. The walls were papered: satiny paper with bunches of most life-like flowers. Flowers also were on the pile carpet. It seemed cruel to tread upon them. A case of wax fruit stood on the top of the china cabinet. It was also most life-like fruit, and there was even a tiny, pearlhandled knife with which to cut it. Those glistening fat grapes made your mouth water.
Angelina, in one of her rapid glances, absorbed afresh these well-known and deeply-admired objects. She was fortified by them. Blanche began to talk at once: saying who she had danced with and what she had for supper. It had been | | 46 a beautiful supper: but, for Angelina, the dainty sandwiches might have been spread with so much sawdust. She had been wretched about Arthur Rogers, and possessed by the imagination of what her incurable grief would be if he died.
Mr. Peachey, sitting quietly upon the horsehair sofa, with his head back against one wool antimacassar and another one rolled round his knees, surveyed his girls curiously. He had not seen them before they went to the soirée. He had been lying down, as he often did. Sometimes, so their mother upon these occasions told the children, business affairs exhausted him.
She looked up now from the table where she sat filling in a Berlin wool footstool cover with claret colour, and said sharply, through Blanche's patter:
"Tim! I do wish you wouldn't twist the antimacassar round your legs like that."
She was particular about the antimacassars. In summertime, cotton ones hung over the backs of the chairs, and in winter, as now, there were wool ones, of double Berlin wool and made in shaded colours. They looked, so Angelina thought, beautifully rich.
"Nonsense! I must keep my knees warm. Come here Angelina. Come at once, when I tell you."
She was standing in the middle of the room, perfectly still and quite silent. He had stared from one child to the other. Blanche was so flushed that her cheeks looked coarsened and even painted. That girl was tawdry and utterly cheap; she was like her mother. In this scornful way, he dismissed her, although, hitherto, she had been his pet. Angelina he had scolded or ignored; once—but he was ill then, and he now, with shame, recalled that occasion—he had boxed her ears, although she had done nothing to deserve it.
He remembered, and it was clear that she had not forgotten; for when he said "Come here, Angelina," she appeared to cower. Poor little soul, with her fragile loveliness and her curious, proud manner of solitary sorrow—odd in a child! Timothy Peachey hated himself.
"Come along," he said, and smiled.
When he smiled, it wasn't often, all the Irish charm which lay perdu in the man burst through. The husk of him, | | 47 which was bearing with his arid domestic affairs and trying to stun himself by the application of an even more arid and hopeless philosophy, dropped apart and showed the clean, sweet kernel. Angelina went slowly up, fixing him with her blue eyes. She sat, not speaking, on the sofa. Blanche was saying shrilly to her mother:
"I danced every dance. I was much admired. Mamma, I couldn't help hearing people say so. Mrs. Drummond said—there were lots of parents there and I wish you had gone too—'What is the name of that little fairy with the blue sash who is dancing with Basil?'—her boy, Basil Drummond, you know. I couldn't help hearing."
Mrs. Peachey, kissing her, said:
"S—sh, darling, don't make too much noise. Grandmamma has been ill since you went to the party and we had to send for the doctor. She is asleep now."
Timothy Peachey, with a funny gruff sound that might have been a moan, was cuddling Angelina close up to him, and for the first time since she had been small.
"You are a little dark beauty and a darling," lie said, delicately touching the coral wreath.
It had slipped forward and curved above her straight, fine brows that were so black.
The caressing charm of his voice—that South Irish voice which was Kitty's too, and also Grandmamma's—allured her. With an intense response to this new tenderness, she put both bare arms deliberately round his neck. There was nothing birdlike and quick about Angelina's gestures, although thoughts flew and eyes darted. In movement, wings kept folded.
He wondered what those arms were saying as they tightly clasped him: what asking, what saying!
For Angelina's part, those words of his, "You are a little dark beauty and a darling," wiped out every sense of injury, and for ever. She had always adored, and now she canonised him. She superbly swept clean out of recollection everything! For, never, did she do anything by halves. He had not been kind. He had ignored her; looked over her head and beyond her at Blanche. Sometimes, with a more active enmity, he had gibed at her and made her seem ridiculous in her own | | 48 eyes and in the eyes of other people. Once he had struck her. Many times he had brutally told her to get out of his sight. Certainly he had hated her.
But that was gone. Her head was at his cheek. She was tickled and scrubbed by those plentiful whiskers: men were hairy in the 'seventies.
They might have stayed there for ever so long; both were oblivious. But Mrs. Peachey said quite crossly:
"Come along up to bed, Angelina. You are a great big girl. Don't behave like a baby; besides, your Papa is tired. Why do you let her be so silly, Tim?"
Angelina stood up. She kissed him gravely. With equal gravity he returned her kiss.
She went up to bed in the wake of her mother and whispering Blanche. When she looked in the long glass of the wardrobe, as Kitty unhooked her frock and untied that beautiful sash with the knotted fringe, she considered that her dark head with the coral-coloured wreath was, beyond compare, lovely. She no longer envied Blanche, and she never would again.
Blanche said, when Kitty had gone and the night-light burned faintly and floated in its saucer of water:
"I shan't say any prayers to-night. I'm too tired. I'm sure it can't matter for once."
She jumped into bed and looked at the shadows which the night-light made upon the walls.
They were big girls, but their mother was old-fashioned and still they had a night-light, as if they were babies. Blanche stared glitteringly about her. Her cheeks burned and her head felt luxuriously easy because, to-night, Kitty had not troubled to put it into papers. She was not going to school to-morrow. They had broken up. Presently she said fretfully, "Oh, do come to bed!"
For Angelina had been kneeling motionless a long time and looked nothing but a little statue in her long nightgown.
"You are only showing off," continued Blanche. " Get into bed, can't you? I shall tell Mamma in the morning if you don't come."
So Angelina arose from her knees, and, climbing into the high bed, sunk herself into the soothing feathers. She had | | 49 been bursting with thanksgiving and she could not pray enough. Her father's caress had made her happy, and she thought that, for all her life, she would certainly continue to I,e just as joyful as she felt now. As for Arthur Rogers, she had clean forgotten him. She seemed to stand at the foot of the ladder of life, ready to climb, looking up at stars and sunlight. This was paradoxical, but she had thought of it, and she would neither dismiss nor disturb it. She fell asleep saying "Stars and sunlight." She saw the rungs of her fairy ladder. Life had changed.
But the sorrowful thing happened next day. Timothy Peachey was in a state of anguished shyness, and in this he, continued. He more deeply regretted his tender outburst to Angelina than he did the box on the ears that he had given her. Henceforth, her very presence reproached him and she stood, as a feminine thing, for everything that he detested. She was reminiscent of his mother in her worst phases, and he brooded to morbidity upon all the misery of that big house at Putney, where his father had lived and where he had faithfully covered up the faults of a light woman because she was his wife. Timothy Peachey was unhappy in his womankind: in the mother which Nature had bestowed upon him and in the wife to whom, in Puritan self-defence, he had early bound himself.
Of his two girls, give him Blanche, with her fresh face, already too deeply pink, and her cheerful barmaid ways! Blanche would be straight. She would be merely vulgar as her mother was. He preferred that. Vulgarity got upon your nerves, perhaps, yet it made no assault upon your soul. He liked what, vaguely, he called "a good woman": meaning those who are stupid and safe.
After that revealing night of the soirée he was not unkind to Angelina. He was worse. He glazed himself over and became, to her, a man in a coating of frozen glass. His eyes said "I detest you."
Christmas and the winter passed away. The children went to school every day, except sometimes when the fog was too thick for any one to go out unless they were obliged to. Angelina loved the inner yellow warmth of those secluded days, lamps in the house and queer silence; out of doors, slow | | 50 movement, fitful torches and a sense of the husky whisper. The very bell of the Cathedral was muted. Among other differences in these fog days was the fact that Mr. Peachey did not go across to Sweeting's for his sandwich and stout. His wife was afraid that he would get run over. Curiously, he yielded to her upon this nervous point and stayed rigidly either in the shop or in his little sanctum at the back of it. The shop was warm and softly lighted, and very fragrant. Fog hung in it, as an amber mist. Angelina loved the shop. But she only saw it through peeps in at the door as they went to school or came home. They were never allowed into the shop. She was not even a customer and could not buy a bottle of scent or have a medicine made up.
Grandmamma was ill through that winter and they had to keep quiet. It was certainly a serious illness, for the doctor came. Also her confessor, Father Cole, came. Every morning after Angelina had made her stately curtseys at the schoolroom door Miss Sophia would say:
"And how is your Grandmamma, Miss Peachey?"
Arthur Rogers had not returned to school, but they understood that he was not going to die. One day Miss Drummond told Blanche that he had been allowed to sit up for half an hour, and later on came the bulletin that he was to be moved to the seaside. He would probably, when he got quite strong, go to a school at the seaside: one for delicate boys. The City was bad for him. Angelina heard all this without emotion. She did not care for Arthur any more. She had done with him, and as a sensation he no longer existed. If he had died she would have devoted the rest of her life to his memory. Of this she felt sure. To get better and to go on living was so tame.
George Conisbee had also left. His Papa, who was a musician, had got an appointment as organist at a church in Manchester, and the Misses Hopkins were given a quarter's fee in lieu of notice. Miss Roof had letters from George. She used to read them on the sly during school hours, looking across the long table at Angelina in a knowing way. But Angelina did not care, and she told herself that her heart must be dead. There really was not any one in whom she took a particular interest. Now and then she cast a speculative eye upon | | 51 Basil Drummond, who was one of Mrs. Bauble's pupils and the same age as Arthur Rogers, and better looking; but it was too much trouble to take the initiative, and Basil was a studious boy, with a very imperfect imagination. As for Rupert Meech, he was at home with mumps and would not return until the half-quarter. The New Year had brought, for Angelina, several changes.
On St. Valentine's Day, to her own amazement, for she had been feeling dull and sad for weeks, she woke up early and lay quivering with excitement in the big bed. Blanche was curled like a hedgehog and breathing peacefully at her side. Angelina listened for the postman. When he came, he lingered a long time at the door, and she heard the soft thud upon the mat of several packages. In those days St. Valentine was properly regarded, and his Festival brought you valentines of lace paper and of satin pincushions shaped as hearts: perfumed inside and printed with delightful sentiments. Sometimes, in the more expensive valentines, there was even a tiny bottle of scent or a little locket.
Angelina slid out of bed, dug her feet into her warm slippers, and put on her wadded silk dressing-gown. She always had expensive things, for Mrs. Peachey's one delight was to go down -the Churchyard with Mrs. Chope and buy clothing either for herself or her girls.
Angelina went downstairs. The house was dim. She held on to the massive hand-rail, which was painted maroon. The delicately twisted balustrades were painted putty-colour. This had been done in the agreeable days when a Peachey and a Balles lived together here in amity. She had heard her father say so; and he added that it was a great pity, since the staircase was oak. He had a taste, rather unusual at that time, for domestic antiquity.
There upon the mat was heaped up delight. Angelina, in the strengthening dawn and the bitter cold, sorted out her own valentines from Blanche's. There were nine envelopes and four flat parcels addressed to Miss Angelina Peachey. With delicately exact honour she would not even count Blanche's. Anything not for herself she pushed aside at once, making her mind as much of a blank for numbers as she could.
She was going back to bed, with her letters in one hand | | 52 and the boxes in her looped-together nightgown, when she heard a door shut above. At once she knew it for some eloquent closing, and stood still. She was between the drawing-room floor and the floor above, which was Grandmamma Peachey's. Above this was her father and mother's bedroom and the guest-rooms. But they never had any one come to stay. Both Mr. Peachey and his wife were only children, so that Angelina and Blanche had no cousins. When the Misses Hopkins's young ladies were counting up Christmas-parties and Christmas presents, Angelina and Blanche had suffered some sense of indignity; yes, even Blanche. For it seemed incomplete—it was a social slur upon you—not to have cousins and not to have a breezy Uncle James. Miss Roof bragged of her Uncle James.
Angelina heard the door shut and then she heard her father burst out crying. Yes, he was just blubbering, as you might yourself. In fact, thought Angelina, trembling with excitement and lovely motherly compassion for him, you were too big to blubber like that at all. He was just a great baby. For one awful second she imagined that his brain had gone, as Arthur's had threatened to go. It had only been arrested in its flight by iced bandages and utter quiet. They had laid down straw before the Rogerses' house and this had struck her as dramatic. She and Blanche had gone home that way, and walked softly in this straw and looked up at the window of the room where Arthur lay.
She heard her father cry. By looking up the staircase she could see him, and she saw her mother too. Both of them wore dressing-gowns. Mrs. Peachey was a meagre woman, and in daytime not even puffed panniers and bell sleeves and her hair done in French puffs saved her from this impression. This morning, in a flat dressing-gown which clung to her in a helpless, hopeless way, the spare ugliness of her body showed relentlessly. Both Angelina, the child, watching, and Timothy Peachey, the man, half-consciously noticing, were aware of this and were diverted from her.
"She is ugly," thought Angelina viciously, for she did not love her mother in the least, and you could not wonder.
Mrs. Peachey would take Angelina's sweets to give them to Blanche, who always gobbled her own things up in a hurry. | | 53 Once, when the children were much smaller and had been left alone in the nursery, they had played with the fire and Blanche got burned upon the arm. Her mother insisted that Angelina, although two years younger, had either deliberately done this or was, at least, responsible. Diabolically, she heated the handles of the nail scissors in the candle flame and burned Angelia upon the arm. The child never forgot. Nor did she forget that her father had indignantly taken her part. He had said to her mother: "You are a mean devil. If you have a soul at all, it's the size of a monkey nut; yes, and rotten in the shell."
She could not remember nearly all the words, but she knew he had been very angry. And he had carried her downstairs in his arms into the room behind the shop, and given her a beautiful little naked baby doll made of pink soap.
She looked up at him now. She could see him standing outside Grandmamma Peachey's bedroom door. This was the door that they had shut so softly. He had taken his handkerchief out of his pocket and was frankly wiping his eyes. He looked at her mother, and although Angelina did not know it, he also was thinking "She is ugly."
Those flat-hipped women; yes, and flat chested too, how they alienated you! Timothy Peachey, uncontrollably, whimsically, in the midst of his violent grief, was thinking this. He looked at the hair which once was golden and now was mousey brown. What a little she had when the pads were taken out! These blondes! They did not last. He could notice all this; and yet his whole nature was in a tempest not of grief, but of something more harrowing. His mother was dead. To lose a good mother, that is bad enough, and rending enough for any man. But to lose a bad one! To think of all the tenderness of the relationship and of all the poetry that has been woven about it—and then to remember her reckless, faithless youth and middle life—that, and her hopeless old age. He was Catholic as she had been; the Faith was in his blood, although he had forsworn it. Standing here upon the landing; just blubbering, just cynically studying his ugly wife, he thought naturally and devoutly of the Mother of God, who is pattern for all mothers.
It was very awful to see a man cry. It turned you to | | 54 stone. Angelina, until now, had never realised that they ever did cry or could. She hoped that, never, would she see this sight again, for she could not bear it. She crouched upon the stairs so that her parents should not see her. She knew that if her father knew she had seen him cry he would not only never forgive her, but he would not wish to see her again. He would send her away to boarding school. If a man put his wife away he could put away his daughter. She reflected upon this.
When she and Blanche were naughty, they were threatened with boarding school. Angelina realised now, but only in a dim way, why her father had been ashamed after the night of the soirée and why he had been so brutal to her ever since. She respected him. Early, the conviction came to her that it is a criminal exposure: this too-frequent showing of your soul. For he had done a great deal more than kiss her. He had betrayed his most guarded reserves. You could only be perfectly frank with the blessed Saints. They fully understood, and you did not feel ashamed afterwards.
He had his handkerchief in his hand. Angelina watched him. The landing grew perceptibly lighter. She did hope and pray that they would go upstairs and not come down. If her mother saw her, she would whip her, send her to bed, put her on bread and water. She would impose all the punishments. But Angelina did not care for that; she only wished to spare her father's delicacy. Regally, she dismissed any thought' of her own suffering.
He sobbed out, "My mother, my mother. She is dead."
He seemed to cast about for comfort, to look for something upon which to pillow his poor head.
But Angelina's mother was standing rigid, and her thin face was ghastly to look at. She was pale. Upon her chin was one of those red pimples or heat spots to which Cook weeks back had so rudely alluded. Presently she spoke. It was the cracking of whips.
"Thank God she is dead. Yes, thank God. I'm sure I've prayed for it. A wicked old wretch, Timothy. I don't care if she was your mother. A woman who wasn't fit to—oh, you know what I mean and I will speak! I don't care. Think what it has been for a respectable wife and mother, a girl | | 55 who was brought up good, if ever a girl was, to stand the tantrums of a woman like that. As bad as she can be; born bad, some are. I know all about it. You can't stop me. I don't mean to be stopped. I'll have my say, just for this once, if it kills you, yes, kills you. I've had to be so careful, never saying a word, never getting all that I feel off my mind; for fear of killing her and for fear of killing you. But I don't care what it does. I'll say my say this morning."
She stamped. She was trembling. Angelina loathed her.
"You have said it;" he spoke quietly, and he put his handkerchief back into his dressing-gown pocket. His face was calm. It was even affectionate. One noble spasm passed across it. That was all.
"Yes, I suppose you have suffered with her. We all did," he said thoughtfully. "Come back to bed, there's a dear girl. Kitty"—he looked back at the closed door—" will lay her out and do everything. I am glad that the priest came and confessed her. It means nothing to you, but——"
"It means less to you, Timothy."
Angelina's mother spoke gently too. Her outburst had spent itself. The worst of it was that her outbursts were never really spent. She had by his mother's death (he knew this perfectly well) attained to a new topic for nagging. It would be a deep well; constantly would she draw from it. Such an industrious bucket! He would have very little peace after this.
"I don't know what anything means to me this morning," he returned. "I shall get my sense of reason back in time. I'm sentimental and maudlin; it takes a lifetime to drive these traditional domestic and religious ideas out of your head, and even then you haven't done it."
He was speaking fast. He was declaiming. Angelina did not understand half that he meant, nor could she hear all the words. His wife was standing close up to him with that hard, unheeding look upon her face. She stared at the panel of the closed door; she cast at it the regular vixenish look of the thoroughly virtuous woman.
Angelina saw the look, but she did not understand. She was mystified throughout. But certain facts were clear: | | 56 she loved her father, she hated her mother, and Grandmamma Peachey was dead. Of this last she was glad. How could you help being glad? Grandmamma had been unkind, she had been half mad. Yet she, too, had been charming once or twice. Angelina remembered the string of beads on the night of the soirée. That was a night to make history. So much had happened then.
She remained upon the stairs, sitting on her bare legs and looking cautiously up through the twisty banisters. Her father went on talking.
"It is inevitable. A man only loses his mother once and I repeat, although it means nothing to me and will mean nothing to me when my own time comes, that I'm glad Father Cole gave her the last Sacraments."
He looked feebly defiant. Angelina's mother confronted him with a faint smile. How ugly she was and how cruel! She was merciless. That woman was a devil.
"I hate you!" whispered Angelina, looking up; and she liked to feel that she hissed these words.
"Let's get back to bed," her father was speaking with a weary toleration. "I'm very cold and you know the doctor says I must not be. We don't want any more trouble in the house just yet."
"We want to have a little peace, at last," said Angelina's mother. (If you had not hated her so much, you might have felt, perhaps, sorry for her.) They both moved along the landing. He was speaking again, and now with the most ravishing tenderness and just as he had spoken on the night of the soirée. Angelina could no longer see his face as he went cautiously up the stairs with her thin mother behind him. But she could imagine that he was smiling. He spoke in that beautiful voice which you could not resist, and he said
"We don't want to wake the children yet; dear, innocent, happy little souls. Let them sleep as long as they can."
They went away. Angelina could no longer see them, but only heard the steady pad of their four feet. She was saved, and they would not find her. She heard their bedroom door shut. Then she stood up, feeling stiff, feeling frightened to death. To slip past Grandmamma Peachey's door was a grisly | | 57 ordeal, but she accomplished it. As she passed her parents', she heard her mother's fretful sentences inside the room. She was certainly scolding him.
The valentines seemed to have grown heavier, as if they also were dead.
This morning Angelina had heard a great deal which she did not understand. She had looked through the window of Life and seen a new picture. It was grim.
Her own bedroom was warm and quiet. Blanche, looking lovely, all pink and yellow, lay fast asleep still. Angelina, softly turning back the bedclothes, saw the impress of her own body, hollow, at her sister's side. It seemed ghastly, yet why she could not say. She was full of terrors, perceptions and odd ideas.
She put her valentines on the chair beside the bed. They did not interest her. They had become trivial. She altered her mind and put them in her top drawer. Getting into bed and lying, straight, beside voluptuously curled up Blanche, she besought her patron saint for the repose of Grandmamma Peachey.
When she had exhausted her store of petition, she turned gingerly to look at Blanche. She would have something worth while to tell her sister later on. She would make her eyes start out of her head. This really was something of a secret. She would whisper to Blanche that Grandmamma Peachey was dead. Angelina was enchained by her own feelings as usual. Everything radiated around her and ministered.
She fell asleep, for it was still early. When Kitty came in with their hot water, it was broad daylight and there was a high tide of traffic outside. Kitty's eyes were red and she said softly, standing by the bed:
"Grandma's dead, my darlings. It is nearly nine o'clock, but you won't go to school to-day."
Blanche, directly she was fully awake and had realised, sat up in bed like a clockwork doll. She started crying; for she was a correct little girl and had heard that whenever there was a death in the family you "burst into tears."
Angelina was lying still. She looked disdainful. Kitty had spoiled the secret. She had meant to tell Blanche herself| | 58
DEAR ST. MARY OF EGYPT,
LETTER TO ST. MARY OF EGYPT
If I write to you, putting things down when I think of them, it seems to bring you near and make you understand better than if I only kneel down and ask your prayers. But I will do that too, of course, at night and in the mornings. Before Kitty went away she gave me three things to keep and to remember her by, because I shall never see her again. She is what they call an enclosed nun, and her life is spent in praying for people who are still out in the world and who are unhappy, or who are sinners and despise the true Faith. This is more useful than feeding or clothing them; but only a saint would understand. I think it is a beautiful idea, to take the sins of other people on your shoulders. It is, Kitty said, following in the steps of the Lord Jesus. There is a long word to describe what the nuns are doing for the world, but I cannot remember, except that it begins with V, and even Kitty, who told me, could not pronounce it properly. But you will know the word, my own dear St. Mary. You are such a comfort to me, because I'm so unhappy and I always shall be. I may keep a bright face before the world, just for pride's sake and because I am a Peachey.
Sometimes I think that when I grow up I would like to be a nun like Kitty; but there are things you would rather do first. I said it to Kitty and she seemed shocked; she kissed me and said she felt afraid of me. But you will understand. We had long talks before she went away and after Grandmamma Peachey died.
You know, already, what trouble we have had as a family; I have told you when I asked your prayers. Still, I will write it down later on, for it makes it more real. We used to talk a great deal, Kitty and I, because there was no one else for me to talk to. I despise Blanche and hate Mamma. You won't mind me saying so? You know how horrid they are. I said to Kitty that I should be glad to be grown up and that I would get married as soon as ever I could. She was shocked again; sometimes her getting shocked so easily was | | 59 a nuisance. But her face sparkled and winked, like little drops of water with the sun in them, and she talked of Patrick, who was drowned in Australia. And she made me promise that I would never marry any man unless I felt as she felt about Patrick. She said "You will understand when you grow up, Miss Angelina." Mamma says that. But I understand now. I am not nearly such a baby as she thinks. Besides, I heard her tell Cook once, when I was in bed ill, that the touch of Patrick's little finger was like quicksilver. She said that marriage could be the most lovely thing in the world or it could be the most awful, and that there was no getting out of it once you were in. It was a trap and you kept on biting your tail. So I promised her solemnly that I would be very careful, and I mean to be. I do know a little, dear saint, already; but not so much as you and Kitty. I know that to be with Arthur Rogers made me happy, and the palms of my hands would tingle if I saw him coming; and I know too, that only to touch Master Meech made me feel sick. George Conisbee came between these two boys. I did not like him very much, but I did not hate him. He didn't make me feel crawly if he touched me, but then he didn't make me tingle. He was a betwixt-and-between sort of boy. I told Kitty something about these three, but only a little, not nearly so much as I tell you. I am not shy with you or proud. She said most solemnly that the betwixt-and-between sort of person would never do—not to get married to. So I shall be careful when the time comes; I shall do nothing in a hurry. I mean always to go my own way. But I must get free of Mamma and Blanche as soon as possible.
I said to Kitty at the last, on the day that she was going back to Ireland—and her nunnery is in County Kerry, where she comes from—"What would you do if the floods didn't drown Patrick after all, and if he came back and if, somehow, you heard about it? Suppose," I said, "that he planned to get into the nunnery and found you, would you go away with him? Or if he just sent a letter would you run away? "Her face twisted, as if she was taking a powder—you know what it is, St. Mary, when you get to the bowl of the spoon and all the jam is gone. At first she just said "Don't, Miss Angelina." Then when I laughed, for it does seem funny to think of | | 60 Patrick deceiving all those good nuns and getting Kitty away with him to be his wife, she was very angry. I've never seen her so angry. She shook me, which she had no business to do, and said I was a wicked little thing and that she didn't know what would become of me when I grew up. Kitty was funny in some ways, but she was a regular dear, and oh, I do miss her. What I should do without you I really do not know. If you could be a real, living woman, my St. Mary, and not a lovely shining saint, and come and tuck me in at night and give me a kiss, I should be glad. Sometimes I put my hand out of bed; I stick it out in the dark and pretend that you are holding it. But it only gets cold, and if it touches Blanche's back she kicks me. You can't wonder. Everything seems so much harder to bear now Papa is dead; for you know he only pretended to hate me. Really, in his inside heart he loved me. I feel sure of it. It was the best love.
The day he died was dreadful. I told you at the time. He had always had heart disease; for many years, at least. Kitty knew and Grandmamma Peachey and Mamma; and the doctor, of course. Nobody else had the least idea. Blanche and I were kept quite in the dark and never knew that at any moment we might be left fatherless, as we are now. That does not seem fair. He would have attacks of pain without any warning and fall down sometimes. That was why Mamma was never easy if he went out alone, and why she would not let him go across to Sweeting's for his eleven o'clock lunch when there was a fog. But the day he was run over by that hansom cab just outside here, near the statue, it was sunny and bright: quite a spring day. You see he had the pain and fell down, and the horse kicked him in the stomach dreadfully. He lingered for ten days. We didn't have straw outside the house as Arthur Rogers had when he was ill. This made me rather angry, for, of course, I loved my own father better than Arthur Rogers. When Arthur got better I didn't care a bit and I don't care now. I shall never really truly love any other man but my father, so I suppose I shall never get married when I grow up. You, who understand love more than some of the blessed Saints, for Kitty told me so, and I have read about you myself in the book, will sympathise. What a blessing you are to me!| | 61
He lay there moaning and the doctor kept coming. At the last he sent for Blanche and had her sit on the bed, and kissed her and told her always to be a good girl. He didn't send for me. I sat out on the stairs listening near the door.
At the very last he told Mamma to send for Father Cole, and although he was really dying, they quarrelled about that; for Mamma hates all Popish ways and they always quarrelled. But Kitty defied her and sent for the priest. Only my father was dead when he came. But Kitty says he is absolved all right, so that's a comfort.
I saw him lying dead. He was in our drawing-room, which is a very beautiful room with lovely things in it, and he was beautiful too. The room was full of white flowers, lots of people sent them, for he was highly respected in the City. Mrs. Chope said that she had never seen a man more handsome in his coffin. There were three coffins, one lead and one they called a shell and one of polished elm. Mamma took us in. She was crying, so was Blanche. I didn't cry—not then, for I can't do things if people expect you to. My mouth felt as if it wanted to laugh. But the next day, when Mamma and Blanche and Mrs. Chope were shut in Grandmamma Peachey's rooms with the dressmaker who came with the ready-made black, I went down myself and looked at him, my poor, handsome dear. I stayed a long time, crying as if my heart would break. I slid aside the lid of the coffin by myself. Kitty found me; if ever you were in any trouble Kitty always came. She was lovely in her ways. It was Wednesday when he died and half-past seven in the morning. I made a vow that for all my life at that time and on that day of the week I would be by myself and pray for his soul. I told Kitty, but she said it was a mistake to make vows unless a priest told you to, and that no vow was binding unless the priest laid it on you and you took it solemnly before the altar. She knows about those things, and she cares for nothing but what she calls Holy Church. I could care for it too, and I do, but I am like you were, and that is why I love you so, and why I tell you everything. I want to live my life first, and sort of taste the world when I grow up. If you said anything like that to Kitty she would look so dreadfully afraid. But you, St. Mary, are different and sometimes I think of you, beautiful as you must | | 62 have been once, and not old and wasted and nearly naked in the desert, as you are in the picture.
We have been in a great muddle since she went away and since Papa died. She went the day after the funeral. Mamma had always disliked her, but Papa wouldn't have her sent away. So Grandmamma Peachey's drawing-room, directly after Grandmamma died, was turned into a sewing-room and Kitty did needlework for us all. She was a most beautiful needlewoman; and she could take a pattern of anything if you just described it to her. And she could trim bonnets better than a milliner. Mrs. Chope, who understands, said to Mamma one day, "That woman is a genius. She would make her fortune." They used to stroll, Mamma and Mrs. Chope, down the Churchyard and notice new fashions in the shop windows, and tell Kitty when they came back.
And wasn't it funny, well, funny isn't the word, but wasn't it odd, St. Mary of Egypt, that Mr. Chope should die a week after Papa? Not that they ever knew each other, naturally, for my Papa was the head of PEACHEY AND BALLES, which is a famous business, and poor Chope was only a warehouseman at the wholesale shop. He had something the matter with his chest and went off quite suddenly. So there are two widows, Mamma and Mrs. Chope, going down the Churchyard for a walk in the afternoons. I sit and watch them through the window, and they do look black. Blanche and I have left the Misses Hopkins, because we are going out of town for good.
There was a great fuss about our mourning, and I can't tell you what it cost. Our Sunday frocks have crape on the skirts to the knees, and our hats are all crape with just one lovely black silk flower at the side: a quiet flower but expensive. Mamma's bonnet is crape with a long veil at the back, and she dare not go out when there is the least rain or even a mist, else it would go limp. Mrs. Chope has a crape bonnet too, but the tail is not so crisp. Mamma has a little weeny white tucker, and the rest of her is as black as night. She has a veil over her face, with a crape border to the nose. You can just see her nose and her eyes.
Mamma has sold the business to our head assistant, Mr. Barber, who was with Papa for many years, and, so I heard Mrs. | | 63 Chope say, has feathered his nest. I think lie was with Grand papa too; he is quite old. Of course he will keep the name of PEACHEY AND BALLES over the door, because it is so famous. When I grow up and have money of my own I shall buy all my soaps and scents in the shop. I shall have creams for my face, and powders. I shall have all sorts of bottles and jars upon my dressing-table, as Grandmamma had. Mamma is much more simple. She only has a china pot of violet powder to powder the backs of her hands if they get chapped, and then she has a stick of black sort of grease stuff in a case, and she rubs it on her hair to keep it smooth in front. It is very smooth hair in front, and behind she does it in French rolls. Everybody has French rolls. Mrs. Chope has a curl hanging down over her shoulder, at least, she did before she was a widow. I think she is rather glad to be a widow; you see she has been through it before. It is settled that when we leave this house Mrs. Chope will live with us for a time. She will be Mamma's companion and our music mistress, just as she is now. This will be doing her a kindness.
Mamma is so glad to get away from the shop, but I am sorry, for I love it. And I love the house and love going up and down stairs. They are beautiful.
When I grow up and am rich I shall have a house like this if I can get it; or perhaps Mr. Barber, unless he wants it for his own family, will let me come here. I might have part. I might have Grandmamma Peachey's apartments. I am not afraid of her, and I don't dislike her now she is dead. She was a very pretty old lady. And if I don't marry I must have an establishment of my own.
Have you come across Grandmamma yet in the other world? I said this to Kitty, and she burst out laughing, as if the idea tickled her. Kitty had fun sometimes. When she laughed, her eyes crinkled up. She said that it would be many a long day before Grandmamma got into the company of the Saints. I was angry, for it seemed a slur upon our family. But I could never be angry with you. It is so lovely to have a friend, as you are to me. One who could never be unkind or not understand every word. Do you know my thoughts too? I suppose not; and yet I'm not quite sure, Kitty never said. But even if you did, I should like to write to you as I am doing now. | | 64 And I am using a lot of paper. I bought it myself on the sly, that day I went to school alone when Blanche had a sick headache and Alice couldn't be spared. With all this mourning in the house and two deaths and two funerals, we haven't known which way to turn. And some of the things are to be sold—Mr. Barber is taking over Grandmamma's furniture—and some we take with us when we go.
I spent every penny I had in paper, but when I grow up I shall be rich. Papa was rich. He has left most of his money to Mamma, until she dies or unless she gets married again. I heard her tell Mrs. Chope, who said something about its being a shame, and then something more about a young and handsome woman. But that is absurd, for Mamma is as ugly as sin and Blanche will be like her later on. A little while ago I used to admire Blanche; I don't a bit now. She is coarse.
When I grow up, I was beginning to tell you, only I think so fast and I put things down as they come, well then, when I grow up I shall be rich. Papa has left me a house. I forget where it is, a long name and a place just out of London. But there are two houses. I am to have one and Blanche is to have the other. Grandpapa Peachey bought them with some of the money he had when he sold his place at Putney.
I shall have this house and I shall have money. I will buy what I like and do what I like.
Dear St. Mary of Egypt, my own loved saint, this is the last sheet but two of the paper, and I must write small.
It is very lonely here in Grandmamma's drawing-room; with all her furniture covered in dust-sheets and with the long kitchen table in the middle of the room, where Kitty used to cut out and sew, after Grandmamma died. Next month we are going to live at the seaside, Mamma and Mrs. Chope and Blanche and I. We may go to boarding school, as weekly boarders, but nothing is settled.
In our own drawing-room I can hear Blanche practising. I did my practise directly after dinner. This is just before tea, and they send me up here for an hour alone every day to lie flat on the floor, because I am supposed to be growing round-shouldered. Mamma is very particular about our appearance. I don't wish to be deceitful, oh, you know that, but it is awfully cold lying on the floor, flat. The | | 65 draught comes under the door. And when it begins to get dark and when the Cathedral bell rings, then you think of those who are dead. So I had to get up and sit on the window seat and write to you, for I felt creepy and I seemed to hear Grandmamma tap her stick. Pray for me, dear saint, and pray for those who are gone, and pray for Kitty.
I want when I grow up—and I don't care how soon it is—to be good, if I can, but I mean to be happy. You will help me, so that I can be both.
At the beginning of this letter, I told you that Kitty gave me three things to keep for her sake. One was the book of Saints, another was a crucifix, and the last was a pretty box covered all over with shells and with a little looking-glass inside the lid. There is a lock to the box. She had that put on. She bought it at Brighton once when she was down there with Grandmamma Peachey. I never saw prettier shells in my life.
She used to keep Patrick's letters in that box; not very many, for you see he was drowned soon after he got to Australia. The day before she left us to go to the nunnery she burned those letters, in front of me, without any fuss—as if they were only bills, or as if they were Blanche's curl papers, which she throws on the fire every morning. You see she had made herself not care for him any more; or, at least, she pretended not to care. I think she was trying to feel that love-making was wicked.
I shall fold this letter up small and run my thumb along the creases to keep it flat, and then I shall lock it in the box. The key I shall hide somewhere. I can't think of a safe place yet, but I will.
The box shall stand on the mantelpiece in my bedroom. When we go to Brighton, Blanche and I are to have a bedroom each, as we are getting big girls; and it will be a big house too. Above the mantelpiece, I will hang the crucifix, which is beautiful, yet I don't like it so much as the box. It was Grandmamma's, and she left it in her will to Kitty. It is made of tortoise-shell, and the Christ is ivory. He looks so sad and you want to break your heart.
You know, I told you at the time, how mad Mamma was at my having the crucifix. She is afraid of it. But I said I | | 66 would have it. I flew into a regular rage and stamped my foot. No doubt it was wicked, but she is enough to provoke a saint. My own St. Mary, I believe that even you would be angry sometimes if you had to live with her. It would have been dreadful for you if, when you voyaged to the church at Jerusalem, there had been bad-tempered women on board. Sailors are kind and altogether different persons. I shall see plenty when I go to live at the sea. I shall make friends with them and think of you.
She gave in. She let me keep my crucifix. She is afraid of me, just as she was of Grandmamma Peachey. It is just as well to know that; although why she is, goodness knows.
I suppose I had better go into the middle of the room and lie flat for a bit until the tea-bell rings.I am always your Devoted and Affectionate little Friend, ANGELINA.
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