PILGRIMAGE, Volume 1
By Dorothy Richardson
Miriam left the gaslit hall and went slowly upstairs. The March twilight lay upon the landings, but the staircase was almost dark. The top landing was quite dark and silent. There was no one about. It would be quiet in her room. She could sit by the fire and be quiet and think things over until Eve and Harriett came back with the parcels. She would have time to think about the journey and decide what she was going to say to the Fraulein.
Her new Saratoga trunk stood solid and gleaming in the firelight. To-morrow it would be taken away and she would be gone. The room would be altogether Harriett's. It would never have its old look again. She evaded the thought and moved clumsily to the nearest window. The outline of the round bed and the shapes of the may-trees on either side of the bend of the drive were just visible. There was no escape for her thoughts in this direction. The sense of all she was leaving stirred uncontrollably as she stood looking down into the well-known garden.
Out in the road beyond the invisible lime-trees came the rumble of wheels. The gate creaked and the wheels crunched up the drive, slurring and stopping under the dining-room window.
It was the Thursday afternoon piano-organ, the one that was always in tune. It was early to-day.
She drew back from the window as the bass chords began thumping gently in the darkness. It was better that it should come now than later on, at dinnertime. She could get over it alone up here.
She went down the length of the room and knelt by the fireside with one hand on the mantel-shelf so that she could get up noiselessly and be lighting the gas if anyone came in.
The organ was playing "The Wearin' o' the Green."
It had begun that tune during the last term at school, in the summer. It made her think of rounders in the hot school garden, singing-classes in the large green room, all the class shouting "Gather roses while ye may," hot afternoons in the shady north room, the sound of turning pages, the hum of the garden beyond the sun-blinds, meetings in the sixth form study.... Lilla, with her black hair and the specks of bright amber in the brown of her eyes, talking about free-will.
She stirred the fire. The windows were quite dark. The flames shot up and shadows darted.
That summer, which still seemed near to her, was going to fade and desert her, leaving nothing behind. To-morrow it would belong to a world which would go on without her, taking no heed. There would still be blissful days. But she would not be in them.
There would be no more silent sunny mornings with all the day ahead and nothing to do and no end anywhere to anything; no more sitting at the open window in the dining-room, reading Lecky and Darwin and bound "Contemporary Reviews" with roses waiting in the garden to be worn in the afternoon, and Eve and Harriett somewhere about, washing blouses or copying waltzes from the library packet... no more Harriett looking in at the end of the morning, rushing her off to the new grand piano to play the "Mikado" and the "Holy Family" duets. The tennis-club would go on, but she would not be there. It would begin in May. Again there would be a white twinkling figure coming quickly along the pathway between the rows of holly-hocks every Saturday afternoon.
Why had he come to tea every Sunday—never missing a single Sunday—all the winter? Why did he say, "Play 'Abide with me,'" "Play 'Abide with me'" yesterday, if he didn't care? What was the good of being so quiet and saying nothing? Why didn't he say "Don't go" or "When are you coming back?" Eve said he looked perfectly miserable.
There was nothing to look forward to now but governessing and old age. Perhaps Miss Gilkes was right.... Get rid of men and muddles and have things just ordinary and be happy. "Make up your mind to be happy. You can be perfectly happy without anyone to think about...." Wearing that large cameo brooch—long, white, flat-fingered hands and that quiet little laugh.... The piano-organ had reached its last tune. In the midst of the final flourish of notes the door flew open. Miriam got quickly to her feet and felt for matches.
Harriett came in waggling a thin brown paper parcel.
"Did you hear the Intermezzo? What a dim religious! We got your old collars."
Miriam took the parcel and subsided on to the hearthrug, looking with a new curiosity at Harriett's little, round, firelit face, smiling tightly beneath the rim of her hard felt hat and the bright silk bow beneath her chin.
A footstep sounded on the landing and there was a gentle tap on the open door.
"Oh, come in, Eve—bring some matches. Are the collars piquet, Harry?"
"No, they hadn't got piquet, but they're the plain shape you like. You may thank us they didn't send you things with little rujabiba frills."
Eve came slenderly down the room and Miriam saw with relief that her outdoor things were off. As the gas flared up she drew comfort from her scarlet serge dress, and the soft crimson cheek and white brow of the profile raised towards the flaring jet.
"What are things like downstairs?" she said, staring into the fire.
"I don't know," said Eve. She sighed thoughtfully and sank into a carpet chair under the gas bracket. Miriam glanced at her troubled eyes.
"Pater's only just come in. I think things are pretty rotten," declared Harriett from the hearthrug.
"Isn't it ghastly—for all of us?" Miriam felt treacherously outspoken. It was a relief to be going away. She knew that this sense of relief made her able to speak. "It's never knowing that's so awful. Perhaps he'll get some more money presently and things'll go on again. Fancy mother having it always, ever since we were babies."
"All right. I won't tell you the words he said, how he put it about the difficulty of getting the money for my things."
Miriam's mind went back to the phrase and her mother's agonised face. She felt utterly desolate in the warm room.
"I wish I'd got brains," chirped Harriett, poking the fire with the toe of her boot.
"So you have—more than me."
"You know, I know girls, that things are as absolutely ghastly this time as they can possibly be and that something must be done.... But you know it's perfectly fearful to face that old school when it comes to the point."
"Oh, my dear, it'll be lovely," said Eve; "all new and jolly, and think how you will enjoy those lectures, you'll simply love them."
"It's all very well to say that. You know you'd feel ill with fright."
"It'll be all right—for you—once you're there."
Miriam stared into the fire and began to murmur shamefacedly.
"No more all day bezique.... No more days in the West End.... No more matinees... no more exhibitions... no more A.B.C. teas... no more insane times... no more anything."
"What about holidays? You'll enjoy them all the more."
"I shall be staid and governessy."
"You mustn't. You must be frivolous."
Two deeply-burrowing dimples fastened the clean skin tightly over the bulge of Miriam's smile.
"And marry a German professor," she intoned blithely.
"Don't—don't for goodney say that before mother, Miriam."
"D'you mean she minds me going?"
Why did Eve use her cross voice?—stupid... "for goodness' sake," not "for goodney." Silly of Eve to talk slang....
"All right. I won't."
"Won't marry a German professor, or won't tell mother, do you mean?... Oo—Crumbs! My old cake in the oven!" Harriett hopped to the door.
"Funny Harriett taking to cookery. It doesn't seem a bit like her."
"She'll have to do something—so shall I, I s'pose."
"It seems awful."
"We shall simply have to."
"It's awful," said Miriam, shivering.
"Poor old girl. I expect you feel horrid because you're tired with all the packing and excitement."
"Oh well, anyhow, it's simply ghastly."
"You'll feel better to-morrow."
"D'you think I shall?"
"Yes—you're so strong," said Eve, flushing and examining her nails.
"How d'you mean?"
"Oh—all sorts of ways."
"Oh—well—you arranging all this—I mean answering the advertisement and settling it all."
"Oh well, you know you backed me up."
"Oh yes, but other things...."
"Oh, I was thinking about you having no religion."
"You must have such splendid principles to keep you straight," said Eve, and cleared her throat, "I mean, you must have such a lot in you."
"Yes, of course."
"I don't know where it comes in. What have I done?"
"Oh, well, it isn't so much what you've done—you have such a good time. ... Everybody admires you and all that... you know what I mean—you're so clever.... You're always in the right."
"That's just what everybody hates!"
"Well, my dear, I wish I had your mind."
"You needn't," said Miriam.
"You're all right—you'll come out all right. You're one of those strong-minded people who have to go through a period of doubt."
"But, my dear," said Miriam grateful and proud, "I feel such a humbug. You know when I wrote that letter to the Fraulein I said I was a member of the Church. I know what it will be, I shall have to take the English girls to church."
"Oh, well, you won't mind that."
"It will make me simply ill—I could never describe to you," said Miriam, with her face aglow, "what it is to me to hear some silly man drone away with an undistributed middle term."
"They're not all like that."
"Oh, well, then it will be ignoratio elenchi or argumentum ad hominem—"
"Oh, yes, but they're not the service."
"The service I can't make head or tail of—think of the Athanasian."
"Yes." Eve stirred uneasily and began to execute a gentle scale with her tiny tightly-knit blue and white hand upon her knee.
"It'll be ghastly," continued Miriam, "not having anyone to pour out to—I've told you such a lot these last few days."
"Yes, hasn't it been funny? I seem to know you all at once so much better."
"Well—don't you think I'm perfectly hateful?"
"No. I admire you more than ever. I think you're simply splendid."
"Then you simply don't know me."
"Yes I do. And you'll be able to write to me."
Eve, easily weeping, hugged her and whispered, "You mustn't. I can't see you break down—don't—don't—don't. We can't be blue your last night.... Think of nice things.... There will be nice things again... there will, will, will, will."
Miriam pursed her lips to a tight bunch and sat twisting her long thickish fingers. Eve stood up in her tears. Her smile and the curves of her mouth were unchanged by her weeping, and the crimson had spread and deepened a little in the long oval of her face. Miriam watched the changing crimson. Her eyes went to and fro between it and the neatly pinned masses of brown hair.
"I'm going to get some hot water," said Eve, "and we'll make ourselves glorious."
Miriam watched her as she went down the long room—the great oval of dark hair, the narrow neck, the narrow back, tight, plump little hands hanging in profile, white, with a purple pad near the wrist.
When Miriam woke the next morning she lay still with closed eyes. She had dreamed that she had been standing in a room in the German school and the staff had crowded round her, looking at her. They had dreadful eyes—eyes like the eyes of hostesses she remembered, eyes she had seen in trains and 'buses, eyes from the old school. They came and stood and looked at her, and saw her as she was, without courage, without funds or good clothes or beauty, without charm or interest, without even the skill to play a part. They looked at her with loathing. "Board and lodging—privilege to attend Masters' lectures and laundry (body-linen only)." That was all she had thought of and clutched at—all along, since first she read the Fraulein's letter. Her keep and the chance of learning... and Germany—Germany, das deutsche Vaterland—Germany, all woods and mountains and tenderness—Hermann and Dorothea in the dusk of a happy village.
And it would really be those women, expecting things of her. They would be so affable at first. She had been through it a million times—all her life—all eternity. They would smile those hateful women's smiles—smirks—self-satisfied smiles as if everybody were agreed about everything. She loathed women. They always smiled. All the teachers had at school, all the girls, but Lilla. Eve did... maddeningly sometimes... Mother... it was the only funny horrid thing about her. Harriett didn't.... Harriett laughed. She was strong and hard somehow....
Pater knew how hateful all the world of women were and despised them.
He never included her with them; or only sometimes when she pretended, or he didn't understand....
Someone was saying "Hi!" a gurgling muffled shout, a long way off.
She opened her eyes. It was bright morning. She saw the twist of Harriett's body lying across the edge of the bed. With a gasp she flung herself over her own side. Harry, old Harry, jolly old Harry had remembered the Grand Ceremonial. In a moment her own head hung, her long hair flinging back on to the floor, her eyes gazing across the bed at the reversed snub of Harriett's face. It was flushed in the midst of the wiry hair which stuck out all round it but did not reach the floor. "Hi!" they gurgled solemnly, "Hi.... Hi!" shaking their heads from side to side. Then their four frilled hands came down and they flumped out of the high bed.
They performed an uproarious toilet. It seemed so safe up there in the bright bare room. Miriam's luggage had been removed. It was away somewhere in the house; far away and unreal and unfelt as her parents somewhere downstairs, and the servants away in the basement getting breakfast and Sarah and Eve always incredible, getting quietly up in the next room. Nothing was real but getting up with old Harriett in this old room.
She revelled in Harriett's delicate buffoonery ("voluntary incongruity" she quoted to herself as she watched her)—the titles of some of the books on Harriett's shelf, "Ungava; a Tale of the North," "Grimm's Fairy Tales," "John Halifax," "Swiss Family Robinson" made her laugh. The curtained recesses of the long room stretched away into space.
She went about dimpling and responding, singing and masquerading as her large hands did their work.
She intoned the titles on her own shelf—as a response to the quiet swearing and jesting accompanying Harriett's occupations. "The Voyage of the Beeeeeeagle," she sang "Scott's Poetical Works." Villette—Longfellow—Holy Bible with Apocrypha—Egmont—
"Binks!" squealed Harriett daintily. "Yink grink binks."
"Books!" she responded in a low tone, and flushed as if she had given Harriett an affectionate hug. "My rotten books...." She would come back, and read all her books more carefully. She had packed some. She could not remember which and why.
"Binks," she said, and it was quite easy for them to crowd together at the little dressing-table. Harriett was standing in her little faded red moirette petticoat and a blue flannelette dressing-jacket brushing her wiry hair. Miriam reflected that she need no longer hate her for the set of her clothes round her hips. She caught sight of her own faded jersey and stiff, shapeless black petticoat in the mirror. Harriett's "Hinde's" lay on the dressing-table, her own still lifted the skin of her forehead in suffused puckerings against the shank of each pin.
Unperceived, she eyed the tiny stiff plait of hair which stuck out almost horizontally from the nape of Harriett's neck, and watched her combing out the tightly-curled fringe standing stubbily out along her forehead and extending like a thickset hedge midway across the crown of her head, where it stopped abruptly against the sleekly-brushed longer strands which strained over her poll and disappeared into the plait.
"Your old wool'll be just right in Germany," remarked Harriett.
"You ought to do it in basket plaits like Sarah."
"I wish I could. I can't think how she does it."
"Ike spect it's easy enough."
"But you're all right, anyhow."
"Anyhow, it's no good bothering when you're plain."
"You're not plain."
Miriam looked sharply round.
"Go on, Gooby."
"You're not. You don't know. Granny said you'll be a bonny woman, and Sarah thinks you've got the best shape face and the best complexion of any of us, and cook was simply crying her eyes out last night and said you were the light of the house with your happy, pretty face, and mother said you're much too attractive to go about alone, and that's partly why Pater's going with you to Hanover, silly.... You're not plain," she gasped.
Miriam's amazement silenced her. She stood back from the mirror. She could not look into it until Harriett had gone. The phrases she had just heard rang in her head without meaning. But she knew she would remember all of them. She went on doing her hair with downcast eyes. She had seen Harriett vividly, and had longed to crush her in her arms and kiss her little round cheeks and the snub of her nose. Then she wanted her to be gone.
Presently Harriett took up a brooch and skated down the room, "Ta-ra-ra-la-eee-tee!" she carolled, "don't be long," and disappeared.
"I'm pretty," murmured Miriam, planting herself in front of the dressing-table. "I'm pretty—they like me—they like me. Why didn't I know?" She did not look into the mirror. "They all like me, me."
The sound of the breakfast-bell came clanging up through the house. She hurried to her side of the curtained recess. Hanging there were her old red stockinette jersey and her blue skirt... never again... just once more... she could change afterwards. Her brown, heavy best dress with puffed and gauged sleeves and thick gauged and gathered boned bodice was in her hand. She hung it once more on its peg and quickly put on her old things. The jersey was shiny with wear. "You darling old things," she muttered as her arms slipped down the sleeves.
The door of the next room opened quietly and she heard Sarah and Eve go decorously downstairs. She waited until their footsteps had died away and then went very slowly down the first flight, fastening her belt. She stopped at the landing window, tucking the frayed end of the petersham under the frame of the buckle... they were all downstairs, liking her. She could not face them. She was too excited and too shy. ... She had never once thought of their "feeling" her going away... saying goodbye to each one... all minding and sorry—even the servants. She glanced fearfully out into the garden, seeing nothing. Someone called up from the breakfast-room doorway, "Mim—my!" How surprised Mr. Bart had been when he discovered that they themselves never knew whose voice it was of all four of them unless you saw the person, "but yours is really richer"... it was cheek to say that.
Suddenly she longed to be gone—to have it all over and be gone.
She heard the kak-kak of Harriett's wooden heeled slippers across the tiled hall. She glanced down the well of the staircase. Harriett was mightily swinging the bell, scattering a little spray of notes at each end of her swing.
With a frightened face Miriam crept back up the stairs. Violently slamming the bedroom door, "I'm a-comin'—I'm a-comin'," she shouted and ran downstairs.
The crossing was over. They were arriving. The movement of the little steamer that had collected the passengers from the packet-boat drove the raw air against Miriam's face. In her tired brain the grey river and the flat misty shores slid constantly into a vision of the gaslit dining-room at home... the large clear glowing fire, the sounds of the family voices. Every effort to obliterate the picture brought back again the moment that had come at the dinner-table as they all sat silent for an instant with downcast eyes and she had suddenly longed to go on for ever just sitting there with them all.
Now, in the boat she wanted to be free for the strange grey river and the grey shores. But the home scenes recurred relentlessly. Again and again she went through the last moments... the goodbyes, the unexpected convulsive force of her mother's arms, her own dreadful inability to give any answering embrace. She could not remember saying a single word. There had been a feeling that came like a tide carrying her away. Eager and dumb and remorseful she had gone out of the house and into the cab with Sarah, and then had come the long sitting in the loop-line train... "talk about something"... Sarah sitting opposite and her unchanged voice saying "What shall we talk about?" And then a long waiting, and the brown leather strap swinging against the yellow grained door, the smell of dust and the dirty wooden flooring, with the noise of the wheels underneath going to the swinging tune of one of Heller's "Sleepless Nights." The train had made her sway with its movements. How still Sarah seemed to sit, fixed in the old life. Nothing had come but strange cruel emotions.
After the suburban train nothing was distinct until the warm snowflakes were drifting against her face through the cold darkness on Harwich quay. Then, after what seemed like a great loop of time spent going helplessly up a gangway towards "the world" she had stood, face to face with the pale polite stewardess in her cabin. "I had better have a lemon, cut in two," she had said, feeling suddenly stifled with fear. For hours she had lain despairing, watching the slowly swaying walls of her cabin or sinking with closed eyes through invertebrate dipping spaces. Before each releasing paroxysm she told herself "this is like death; one day I shall die, it will be like this."
She supposed there would be breakfast soon on shore, a firm room and a teapot and cups and saucers. Cold and exhaustion would come to an end. She would be talking to her father.
He was standing near her with the Dutchman who had helped her off the boat and looked after her luggage. The Dutchman was listening, deferentially. Miriam saw the strong dark blue beam of his eyes.
"Very good, very good," she heard him say, "fine education in German schools."
Both men were smoking cigars.
She wanted to draw herself upright and shake out her clothes.
"Select," she heard, "excellent staff of masters... daughters of gentlemen."
"Pater is trying to make the Dutchman think I am being taken as a pupil to a finishing school in Germany." She thought of her lonely pilgrimage to the West End agency, of her humiliating interview, of her heart-sinking acceptance of the post, the excitements and misgivings she had had, of her sudden challenge of them all that evening after dinner, and their dismay and remonstrance and reproaches—of her fear and determination in insisting and carrying her point and making them begin to be interested in her plan.
But she shared her father's satisfaction in impressing the Dutchman. She knew that she was at one with him in that. She glanced at him. There could be no doubt that he was playing the role of the English gentleman. Poor dear. It was what he had always wanted to be. He had sacrificed everything to the idea of being a "person of leisure and cultivation." Well, after all, it was true in a way. He was—and he had, she knew, always wanted her to be the same and she was going to finish her education abroad... in Germany.... They were nearing a little low quay backed by a tremendous saffron-coloured hoarding announcing in black letters "Sunlight Zeep."
"Did you see, Pater; did you see?"
They were walking rapidly along the quay.
"Did you see? Sunlight Zeep!"
She listened to his slightly scuffling stride at her side.
Glancing up she saw his face excited and important. He was not listening. He was being an English gentleman, "emerging" from the Dutch railway station.
"Sunlight Zeep," she shouted. "Zeep, Pater!"
He glanced down at her and smiled condescendingly.
"Ah, yes," he admitted with a laugh.
There were Dutch faces for Miriam—men, women and children coming towards her with sturdy gait.
"They're talking Dutch! They're all talking Dutch!"
The foreign voices, the echoes in the little narrow street, the flat waterside effect of the sounds, the bright clearness she had read of, brought tears to her eyes.
"The others must come here," she told herself, pitying them all.
They had an English breakfast at the Victoria Hotel and went out and hurried about the little streets. They bought cigars and rode through the town on a little tramway. Presently they were in a train watching the Dutch landscape go by. One level stretch succeeded another. Miriam wanted to go out alone under the grey sky and walk over the flat fields shut in by poplars.
She looked at the dykes and the windmills with indifferent eyes, but her desire for the flat meadows grew.
Late at night, seated wide-awake opposite her sleeping companion, rushing towards the German city, she began to think.
It was a fool's errand.... To undertake to go to the German school and teach... to be going there... with nothing to give. The moment would come when there would be a class sitting round a table waiting for her to speak. She imagined one of the rooms at the old school, full of scornful girls.... How was English taught? How did you begin? English grammar... in German? Her heart beat in her throat. She had never thought of that... the rules of English grammar? Parsing and analysis.... Anglo-Saxon prefixes and suffixes ... gerundial infinitive.... It was too late to look anything up. Perhaps there would be a class to-morrow.... The German lessons at school had been dreadfully good.... Fraulein's grave face... her perfect knowledge of every rule... her clear explanations in English ... her examples.... All these things were there, in English grammar.... And she had undertaken to teach them and could not even speak German.
Monsieur... had talked French all the time... dictees... lectures... Le Conscrit... Waterloo... La Maison Deserte... his careful voice reading on and on... until the room disappeared.. .. She must do that for her German girls. Read English to them and make them happy.... But first there must be verbs... there had been cahiers of them... first, second, third conjugation.... It was impudence, an impudent invasion... the dreadful clever, foreign school.... They would laugh at her.... She began to repeat the English alphabet.... She doubted whether, faced with a class, she could reach the end without a mistake.... She reached Z and went on to the parts of speech.
There would be a moment when she must have an explanation with the Fraulein. Perhaps she could tell her that she found the teaching was beyond her scope and then find a place somewhere as a servant. She remembered things she had heard about German servants—that whenever they even dusted a room they cleaned the windows and on Sundays they waited at lunch in muslin dresses and afterwards went to balls. She feared even the German servants would despise her. They had never been allowed into the kitchen at home except when there was jam-making... she had never made a bed in her life.... A shop? But that would mean knowing German and being quick at giving change. Impossible. Perhaps she could find some English people in Hanover who would help her. There was an English colony she knew, and an English church. But that would be like going back. That must not happen. She would rather stay abroad on any terms—away from England—English people. She had scented something, a sort of confidence, everywhere, in her hours in Holland, the brisk manner of the German railway officials and the serene assurance of the travelling Germans she had seen, confirmed her impression. Away out here, the sense of imminent catastrophe that had shadowed all her life so far, had disappeared. Even here in this dim carriage, with disgrace ahead she felt that there was freedom somewhere at hand. Whatever happened she would hold to that.
She glanced up at her small leather handbag lying in the rack and thought of the solid money in her purse. Twenty-five shillings. It was a large sum and she was to have more as she needed.
She glanced across at the pale face with its point of reddish beard, the long white hands laid one upon the other on the crossed knees. He had given her twenty-five shillings and there was her fare and his, and his return fare and her new trunk and all the things she had needed. It must be the end of taking money from him. She was grown up. She was the strong-minded one. She must manage. With a false position ahead and after a short space, disaster, she must get along.
The peaceful Dutch fields came to her mind. They looked so secure. They had passed by too soon. We have always been in a false position, she pondered. Always lying and pretending and keeping up a show—never daring to tell anybody.... Did she want to tell anybody? To come out into the open and be helped and have things arranged for her and do things like other people? No.... No.... "Miriam always likes to be different"—"Society is no boon to those not sociable." Dreadful things... and the girls laughing together about them. What did they really mean?
"Society is no boon to those not sociable"—on her birthday-page in Ellen Sharpe's birthday-book. Ellen handed it to her going upstairs and had chanted the words out to the others and smiled her smile... she had not asked her to write her name... was it unsociable to dislike so many of the girls.... Ellen's people were in the Indian... her thoughts hesitated.... Sivvle... something grand—All the grand girls were horrid... somehow mean and sly... Sivvle... Sivvle ... Civil! Of course! Civil what?
Miriam groaned. She was a governess now. Someone would ask her that question. She would ask Pater before he went.... No, she would not. ... If only he would answer a question simply, and not with a superior air as if he had invented the thing he was telling about. She felt she had a right to all the knowledge there was, without fuss... oh, without fuss—without fuss and—emotion.... I am unsociable, I suppose—she mused. She could not think of anyone who did not offend her. I don't like men and I loathe women. I am a misanthrope. So's Pater. He despises women and can't get on with men. We are different—it's us, him and me. He's failed us because he's different and if he weren't we should be like other people. Everything in the railway responded and agreed. Like other people... horrible.... She thought of the fathers of girls she knew—the Poole girls, for instance, they were to be "independent" trained and certificated—she envied that—but her envy vanished when she remembered how heartily she had agreed when Sarah called them "sharp" and "knowing."
Mr. Poole was a business man... common... trade.... If Pater had kept to Grandpa's business they would be trade, too—well-off, now—all married. Perhaps as it was he had thought they would marry.
She thought sleepily of her Wesleyan grandparents, gravely reading the "Wesleyan Methodist Recorder," the shop at Babington, her father's discontent, his solitary fishing and reading, his discovery of music... science... classical music in the first Novello editions... Faraday... speaking to Faraday after lectures. Marriage... the new house... the red brick wall at the end of the garden where young peach-trees were planted... running up and downstairs and singing.. . both of them singing in the rooms and the garden... she sometimes with her hair down and then when visitors were expected pinned in coils under a little cap and wearing a small hoop... the garden and lawns and shrubbery and the long kitchen-garden and the summer-house under the oaks beyond and the pretty old gabled "town" on the river and the woods all along the river valley and the hills shining up out of the mist. The snow man they both made in the winter—the birth of Sarah and then Eve... his studies and book-buying—and after five years her own disappointing birth as the third girl, and the coming of Harriett just over a year later... her mother's illness, money troubles—their two years at the sea to retrieve... the disappearance of the sunlit red-walled garden always in full summer sunshine with the sound of bees in it or dark from windows... the narrowing of the house-life down to the Marine Villa—with the sea creeping in—wading out through the green shallows, out and out till you were more than waist deep—shrimping and prawning hour after hour for weeks together... poking in the rock pools, watching the sun and the colours in the strange afternoons... then the sudden large house at Barnes with the "drive" winding to the door.... He used to come home from the City and the Constitutional Club and sometimes instead of reading "The Times" or the "Globe" or the "Proceedings of the British Association" or Herbert Spencer, play Pope Joan or Jacoby with them all, or Table Billiards and laugh and be "silly" and take his turn at being "bumped" by Timmy going the round of the long dining-room table, tail in the air; he had taken Sarah and Eve to see "Don Giovanni" and "Winter's Tale" and the new piece, "Lohengrin." No one at the tennis-club had seen that. He had good taste. No one else had been to Madame Schumann's Farewell... sitting at the piano with her curtains of hair and her dreamy smile... and the Philharmonic Concerts. No one else knew about the lectures at the Royal Institution, beginning at nine on Fridays.... No one else's father went with a party of scientific men "for the advancement of science" to Norway or America, seeing the Falls and the Yosemite Valley. No one else took his children as far as Dawli travelling all day, from eight until seven... no esplanade, the old stone jetty and coves and cowrie shells....
Miriam was practising on the piano in the larger of the two English bedrooms. Two other pianos were sounding in the house, one across the landing and the other in the saal where Herr Kapellmeister Bossenberger was giving a music-lesson. The rest of the girls were gathered in the large schoolroom under the care of Mademoiselle for Saturday's raccommodage. It was the last hour of the week's work. Presently there would be a great gonging, the pianos would cease, Fraulein's voice would sound up through the house "Anziehen zum Aus-geh-hen!"
There would be the walk, dinner, the Saturday afternoon home-letters to be written and then, until Monday, holiday, freedom to read and to talk English and idle. And there was a new arrival in the house. Ulrica Hesse had come. Miriam had seen her. There had been three large leather trunks in the hall and a girl with a smooth pure oval of pale face standing wrapped in dark furs, gazing about her with eyes for which Miriam had no word, liquid—limpid—great-saucers, no—pools... great round deeps.... She had felt about for something to express them as she went upstairs with her roll of music. Fraulein Pfaff who had seemed to hover and smile about the girl as if half afraid to speak to her, had put out a hand for Miriam and said almost deprecatingly, "Ach, mm, dies' ist unser Ulrica."
The girl's thin fingers had come out of her furs and fastened convulsively—like cold, throbbing claws on to the breadth of Miriam's hand.
"Unsere englische Lehrerin—our teacher from England," smiled Fraulein.
"Lehrerin!" breathed the girl. Something flinched behind her great eyes. The fingers relaxed, and Miriam feeling within her a beginning of response, had gone upstairs.
As she reached the upper landing she began to distinguish against the clangour of chromatic passages assailing the house from the echoing saal, the gentle tones of the nearer piano, the one in the larger German bedroom opposite the front room for which she was bound. She paused for a moment at the top of the stairs and listened. A little swaying melody came out to her, muted by the closed door. Her grasp on the roll of music slackened. A radiance came for a moment behind the gravity of her face. Then the careful unstumbling repetition of a difficult passage drew her attention to the performer, her arms dropped to her sides and she passed on. It was little Bergmann, the youngest girl in the school. Her playing, on the bad old piano in the dark dressing-room in the basement, had prepared Miriam for the difference between the performance of these German girls and nearly all the piano-playing she had heard. It was the morning after her arrival. She had been unpacking and had taken, on the advice of Mademoiselle, her heavy boots and outdoor things down to the basement room. She had opened the door on Emma sitting at the piano in her blue and buff check ribbon-knotted stuff dress. Miriam had expected her to turn her head and stop playing. But as, arms full, she closed the door with her shoulders, the child's profile remained unconcerned. She noticed the firmly-poised head, the thick creamy neck that seemed bare with its absence of collar-band and the soft frill of tucker stitched right on to the dress, the thick cable of string-coloured hair reaching just beyond the rim of the leather-covered music stool, the steel-headed points of the little slippers gleaming as they worked the pedals, the serene eyes steadily following the music. She played on and Miriam recognised a quality she had only heard occasionally at concerts, and in the playing of one of the music teachers at school.
She had stood amazed, pretending to be fumbling for empty pegs as this round-faced child of fourteen went her way to the end of her page. Then Miriam had ventured to interrupt and to ask her about the hanging arrangements, and the child had risen and speaking soft South German had suggested and poked tip-toeing about amongst the thickly-hung garments and shown a motherly solicitude over the disposal of Miriam's things. Miriam noted the easy range of the child's voice, how smoothly it slid from birdlike queries and chirpings, to the consoling tones of the lower register. It seemed to leave undisturbed the softly-rounded, faintly-mottled chin and cheeks and the full unpouting lips that lay quietly one upon the other before she spoke, and opened flexibly but somehow hardly moved to her speech and afterwards closed again gradually until they lay softly blossoming as before.
Emma had gathered up her music when the clothes were arranged, sighing and lamenting gently, "Ware ich nur zu Hause"—how happy one was at home—her little voice filled with tears and her cheeks flushed, "haypie, haypie to home," she complained as she slid her music into its case, "where all so good, so nice, so beautiful," and they had gone, side by side, up the dark uncarpeted stone stairs leading from the basement to the hall. Half-way up, Emma had given Miriam a shy firm hug and then gone decorously up the remainder of the flight.
The sense of that sudden little embrace recurred often to Miriam during the course of the first day.
It was unlike any contact she had known—more motherly than her mother's. Neither of her sisters could have embraced her like that. She did not know that a human form could bring such a sense of warm nearness, that human contours could be eloquent—or anyone so sweetly daring.
That first evening at Waldstrasse there had been a performance that had completed the transformation of Miriam's English ideas of "music." She had caught the word "Vorspielen" being bandied about the long tea-table, and had gathered that there was to be an informal playing of "pieces" before Fraulein Pfaff. She welcomed the event. It relieved her from the burden of being in high focus—the relief had come as soon as she took her place at the gaslit table. No eye seemed to notice her. The English girls having sat out two meal-times with her, had ceased the hard-eyed observation which had made the long silence of the earlier repasts only less embarrassing than Fraulein's questions about England. The four Germans who had neither stared nor even appeared aware of her existence, talked cheerfully across the table in a general exchange that included tall Fraulein Pfaff smiling her horse-smile—Miriam provisionally called it—behind the tea-urn, as chairman. The six English-speaking girls, grouped as it were towards their chief, a dark-skinned, athletic looking Australian with hot, brown, slightly blood-shot eyes sitting as vice-president opposite Fraulein, joined occasionally, in solo and chorus, and Miriam noted with relief a unanimous atrocity of accent in their enviable fluency. Rapid sotto voce commentary and half-suppressed wordless by-play located still more clearly the English quarter. Animation flowed and flowed. Miriam safely ignored, scarcely heeding, but warmed and almost happy, basked. She munched her black bread and butter, liberally smeared with the rich savoury paste of liver sausage, and drank her sweet weak tea and knew that she was very tired, sleepy and tired. She glanced, from her place next to Emma Bergmann and on Fraulein's left hand, down the table to where Mademoiselle sat next the Martins in similar relation to the vice-president. Mademoiselle, preceding her up through the quiet house carrying the jugs of hot water, had been her first impression on her arrival the previous night. She had turned when they reached the candle-lit attic with its high uncurtained windows and red-covered box beds, and standing on the one strip of matting in her full-skirted grey wincey dress with its neat triple row of black ribbon velvet near the hem, had shown Miriam steel-blue eyes smiling from a little triangular sprite-like face under a high-standing pouf of soft dark hair, and said, "Voila!" Miriam had never imagined anything in the least like her. She had said, "Oh, thank you," and taken the jug and had hurriedly and silently got to bed, weighed down by wonders. They had begun to talk in the dark. Miriam had reaped sweet comfort in learning that this seemingly unreal creature who was, she soon perceived, not educated—as she understood education—was the resident French governess, was seventeen years old and a Protestant. Such close quarters with a French girl was bewildering enough—had she been a Roman Catholic, Miriam felt she could not have endured her proximity. She was evidently a special kind of French girl—a Protestant from East France—Besanon—Besanon—Miriam had tried the pretty word over until unexpectedly she had fallen asleep.
They had risen hurriedly in the cold March gloom and Miriam had not spoken to her since. There she sat, dainty and quiet and fresh. White frillings shone now at the neck and sleeves of her little grey dress. She looked a clean and clear miniature against the general dauby effect of the English girls—poor though, Miriam was sure; perhaps as poor as she. She felt glad as she watched her gentle sprite-like wistfulness that she would be upstairs in that great bare attic again to-night. In repose her face looked pinched. There was something about the nose and mouth—Miriam mused... frugal—John Gilpin's wife—how sleepy she was.
The conversation was growing boisterous. She took courage to raise her head towards the range of girls opposite to her. Those quite near to her she could not scrutinise. Some influence coming to her from these German girls prevented her risking with them any meeting of the eyes that was not brought about by direct speech. But she felt them. She felt Emma Bergmann's warm plump presence close at her side and liked to take food handed by her. She was conscious of the pink bulb of Minna Blum's nose shining just opposite to her, and of the way the light caught the blond sheen of her exquisitely coiled hair as she turned her always smiling face and responded to the louder remarks with, "Oh, thou dear God!" or "Is it possible!" "How charming, charming," or "What in life dost thou say, rascal!"
Next to her was the faint glare of Elsa Speier's silent sallowness. Her clear-threaded nimbus of pallid hair was the lowest point in the range of figures across the table. She darted quick glances at one and another without moving her head, and Miriam felt that her pale eyes fully met would be cunning and malicious.
After Elsa the "English" began with Judy. Miriam guessed when she heard her ask for Brodchen that she was Scotch. She sat slightly askew and ate eagerly, stooping over her plate with smiling mouth and downcast heavily-freckled face. Unless spoken to she did not speak, but she laughed often, a harsh involuntary laugh immediately followed by a drowning flush. When she was not flushed her eyelashes shone bright black against the unstained white above her cheek-bones. She had coarse fuzzy red-brown hair.
Miriam decided that she was negligible.
Next to Judy were the Martins. They were as English as they could be. She felt she must have noticed them a good deal at breakfast and dinner-time without knowing it. Her eyes after one glance at the claret-coloured merino dresses with hard white collars and cuffs, came back to her plate as from a familiar picture. She still saw them sitting very upright, side by side, with the front strands of their hair strained smoothly back, tied just on the crest of the head with brown ribbon and going down in "rats'-tails" to join the rest of their hair which hung straight and flat half-way down their backs. The elder was dark with thick shoulders and heavy features. Her large expressionless rich brown eyes flashed slowly and reflected the light. They gave Miriam a slight feeling of nausea. She felt she knew what her hands were like without looking at them. The younger was thin and pale and slightly hollow-cheeked. She had pale eyes, cold, like a fish, thought Miriam. They both had deep hollow voices.
When she glanced again they were watching the Australian with their four strange eyes and laughing German phrases at her, "Go on, Gertrude!" "Are you sure, Gertrude?" "How do you know!"
Miriam had not yet dared to glance in the direction of the Australian. Her eyes at dinner-time had cut like sharp steel. Turning, however, towards the danger zone, without risking the coming of its presiding genius within the focus of her glasses she caught a glimpse of "Jimmie" sitting back in her chair tall and plump and neat, and shaking with wide-mouthed giggles. Miriam wondered at the high peak of hair on the top of her head and stared at her pearly little teeth. There was something funny about her mouth. Even when she strained it wide it was narrow and tiny—rabbity. She raised a short arm and began patting her peak of hair with a tiny hand which showed a small onyx seal ring on the little finger. "Ask Judy!" she giggled, in a fruity squeak.
"Ask Judy!" they all chorused, laughing.
Judy cast an appealing flash of her eyes sideways at nothing, flushed furiously and mumbled, "Ik weiss nik—I don't know."
In the outcries and laughter which followed, Miriam noticed only the hoarse hacking laugh of the Australian. Her eyes flew up the table and fixed her as she sat laughing, her chair drawn back, her knees crossed—tea was drawing to an end. The detail of her terrifyingly stylish ruddy-brown frieze dress with its Norfolk jacket bodice and its shiny black leather belt was hardly distinguishable from the dark background made by the folding doors. But the dreadful outline of her shoulders was visible, the squarish oval of her face shone out—the wide forehead from which the wiry black hair was combed to a high puff, the red eyes, black now, the long straight nose, the wide laughing mouth with the enormous teeth.
Her voice conquered easily.
"Nein," she tromboned, through the din.
Mademoiselle's little finger stuck up sharply like a steeple, her mouth said, "Oh—Oh——"
Fraulein's smile was at its widest, waiting the issue.
"Nein," triumphed the Australian, causing a lull.
"Leise, Kinder, leise, doucement, gentlay," chided Fraulein, still smiling.
"Hermann, yes," proceeded the Australian, "aber Hugo—ne!"
Miriam heard it agreed in the end that someone named Hugo did not wear a moustache, though someone named Hermann did. She was vaguely shocked and interested.
After tea the great doors were thrown open and the girls filed into the saal. It was a large high room furnished like a drawing-room—enough settees and easy chairs to accommodate more than all the girls. The polished floor was uncarpeted save for an archipelago of mats and rugs in the wide circle of light thrown by the four-armed chandelier. A grand piano was pushed against the wall in the far corner of the room, between the farthest of the three high French windows and the shining pillar of porcelain stove.
The high room, the bright light, the plentiful mirrors, the long sweep of lace curtains, the many faces—the girls seemed so much more numerous scattered here than they had when collected in the schoolroom—brought Miriam the sense of the misery of social occasions. She wondered whether the girls were nervous. She was glad that music lessons were no part of her remuneration. She thought of dreadful experiences of playing before people. The very first time, at home, when she had played a duet with Eve—Eve playing a little running melody in the treble—her own part a page of minims. The minims had swollen until she could not see whether they were lines or spaces, and her fingers had been so weak after the first unexpectedly loud note that she could hardly make any sound. Eve had said "louder" and her fingers had suddenly stiffened and she had worked them from her elbows like sticks at the end of her trembling wrists and hands. Eve had noticed her dreadful movements and resented being elbowed. She had heard nothing then but her hard loud minims till the end, and then as she stood dizzily up someone had said she had a nice firm touch, and she had pushed her angry way from the piano across the hearthrug. She should always remember the clear red-hot mass of the fire and the bottle of green Chartreuse warming on the blue and cream tiles. There were probably only two or three guests, but the room had seemed full of people, stupid people who had made her play. How angry she had been with Eve for noticing her discomfiture and with the forgotten guest for her silly remark. She knew she had simply poked the piano. Then there had been the annual school concert, all the girls almost unrecognisable with fear. She had learnt her pieces by heart for those occasions and played them through with trembling limbs and burning eyes—alternately thumping with stiff fingers and feeling her whole hand faint from the wrist on to the notes which fumbled and slurred into each other almost soundlessly until the thumping began again. At the musical evenings, organised by Eve as a winter set-off to the tennis-club, she had both played and sung, hoping each time afresh to be able to reproduce the effects which came so easily when she was alone or only with Eve. But she could not discover the secret of getting rid of her nervousness. Only twice had she succeeded—at the last school concert when she had been too miserable to be nervous and Mr. Strood had told her she did him credit and, once she had sung "Chanson de Florian" in a way that had astonished her own listening ear—the notes had laughed and thrilled out into the air and come back to her from the wall behind the piano.... The day before the tennis tournament.
The girls were all settling down to fancy work, the white-cuffed hands of the Martins were already jerking crochet needles, faces were bending over fine embroideries and Minna Blum had trundled a mounted lace-pillow into the brighter light.
Miriam went to the schoolroom and fetched from her work-basket the piece of canvas partly covered with red and black wool in diamond pattern that was her utmost experience of fancy work.
As she returned she half saw Fraulein Pfaff, sitting as if enthroned on a high-backed chair in front of the centremost of the mirrors filling the wall spaces between the long French windows, signal to her, to come to that side of the room.
Timorously ignoring the signal she got herself into a little low chair in the shadow of the half-closed swing door and was spreading out her wool-work on her knee when the Vorspielen began.
Emma Bergmann was playing. The single notes of the opening motif of Chopin's Fifteenth Nocturne fell pensively into the waiting room. Miriam, her fatigue forgotten, slid to a featureless freedom. It seemed to her that the light with which the room was filled grew brighter and clearer. She felt that she was looking at nothing and yet was aware of the whole room like a picture in a dream. Fear left her. The human forms all round her lost their power. They grew suffused and dim.... The pensive swing of the music changed to urgency and emphasis.... It came nearer and nearer. It did not come from the candlelit corner where the piano was.... It came from everywhere. It carried her out of the house, out of the world.
It hastened with her, on and on towards great brightness.... Everything was growing brighter and brighter....
Gertrude Goldring, the Australian, was making noises with her hands like inflated paper bags being popped. Miriam clutched her wool-needle and threaded it. She drew the wool through her canvas, one, three, five, three, one and longed for the piano to begin again.
Clara Bergmann followed. Miriam watched her as she took her place at the piano—how square and stout she looked and old, careworn, like a woman of forty. She had high square shoulders and high square hips—-her brow was low and her face thin and broad and flat. Her eyes were like the eyes of a dog and her thin-lipped mouth long and straight until it went steadily down at the corners. She wore a large fringe like Harriett's—and a thin coil of hair filled the nape of her neck. She played, without music, her face lifted boldly. The notes rang out in a prelude of unfinished phrases—the kind, Miriam noted, that had so annoyed her father in what he called new-fangled music—she felt it was going to be a brilliant piece—fireworks—execution—style—and sat up self-consciously and fixed her eyes on Clara's hands. "Can you see the hands?" she remembered having heard someone say at a concert. How easily they moved. Clara still sat back, her face raised to the light. The notes rang out like trumpet-calls as her hands dropped with an easy fling and sprang back and dropped again. What loose wrists she must have, thought Miriam. The clarion notes ceased. There was a pause. Clara threw back her head, a faint smile flickered over her face, her hands fell gently and the music came again, pianissimo, swinging in an even rhythm. It flowed from those clever hands, a half-indicated theme with a gentle, steady, throbbing undertow. Miriam dropped her eyes—she seemed to have been listening long—that wonderful light was coming again—she had forgotten her sewing—when presently she saw, slowly circling, fading and clearing, first its edge, and then, for a moment the whole thing, dripping, dripping as it circled, a weed-grown mill-wheel.... She recognised it instantly. She had seen it somewhere as a child—in Devonshire—and never thought of it since—and there it was. She heard the soft swish and drip of the water and the low humming of the wheel. How beautiful... it was fading.... She held it—it returned—clearer this time and she could feel the cool breeze it made, and sniff the fresh earthy scent of it, the scent of the moss and the weeds shining and dripping on its huge rim. Her heart filled. She felt a little tremor in her throat. All at once she knew that if she went on listening to that humming wheel and feeling the freshness of the air, she would cry. She pulled herself together, and for a while saw only a vague radiance in the room and the dim forms grouped about. She could not remember which was which. All seemed good and dear to her. The trumpet notes had come back, and in a few moments the music ceased.... Someone was closing the great doors from inside the schoolroom. As the side behind which she was sitting swung slowly to, she caught a glimpse, through the crack, of four boys with close-cropped heads, sitting at the long table. The gas was out and the room was dim, but a reading-lamp in the centre of the table cast its light on their bowed heads.
The playing of the two Martins brought back the familiar feeling of English self-consciousness. Solomon, the elder one, sat at her Beethoven sonata, an adagio movement, with a patch of dull crimson on the pallor of the cheek she presented to the room, but she played with a heavy fervour, preserving throughout the characteristic marching staccato of the bass, and gave unstinted value to the shading of each phrase. She made Miriam feel nervous at first and then—as she went triumphantly forward and let herself go so tremendously—traction-engine, thought Miriam—in the heavy fortissimos,—a little ashamed of such expression coming from English hands. The feeling of shame lingered as the younger sister followed with a spirited vivace. Her hollow-cheeked pallor remained unstained, but her thin lips were set and her hard eyes were harder. She played with determined nonchalance and an extraordinarily facile rapidity, and Miriam's uneasiness changed insensibly to the conviction that these girls were learning in Germany not to be ashamed of "playing with expression." All the things she had heard Mr. Strood—who had, as the school prospectus declared, been "educated in Leipzig"—preach and implore, "style," "expression," "phrasing," "light and shade," these girls were learning, picking up from these wonderful Germans. They did not do it quite like them though. They did not think only about the music, they thought about themselves too. Miriam believed she could do it as the Germans did. She wanted to get her own music and play it as she had always dimly known it ought to be played and hardly ever dared. Perhaps that was how it was with the English. They knew, but they did not dare. No. The two she had just heard playing were, she felt sure, imitating something—but hers would be no imitation. She would play as she wanted to one day in this German atmosphere. She wished now she were going to have lessons. She had in fact had a lesson. But she wanted to be alone and to play—or perhaps with someone in the next room listening. Perhaps she would not have even the chance of practising.
Minna rippled through a Chopin valse that made Miriam think of an apple orchard in bloom against a blue sky, and was followed by Jimmie who played the Spring Song with slightly swaying body and little hands that rose and fell one against the other, and reminded Miriam of the finger game of her childhood—"Fly away Jack, fly away Jill." She played very sweetly and surely except that now and again it was as if the music caught its breath.
Jimmie's Lied brought the piano solos to an end, and Fraulein Pfaff after a little speech of criticism and general encouragement asked, to Miriam's intense delight, for the singing. "Millie" was called for. Millie came out of a corner. She was out of Miriam's range at meal-times and appeared to her now for the first time as a tall child-girl in a high-waisted, blue serge frock, plainly made with long plain sleeves, at the end of which appeared two large hands shining red and shapeless with chilblains. She attracted Miriam at once with the shell-white and shell-pink of her complexion, her firm chubby baby-mouth and her wide gaze. Her face shone in the room, even her hair—done just like the Martins', but fluffy where theirs was flat and shiny—seemed to give out light, shadowy-dark though it was. Her figure was straight and flat, and she moved, thought Miriam, as though she had no feet.
She sang, with careful precision as to the accents of her German, in a high breathy effortless soprano, a little song about a child and a bouquet of garden flowers.
The younger Martin in a strong hard jolting voice sang of a love-sick Linden tree, her pale thin cheeks pink-flushed.
"Herr Kapellmeister chooses well," smiled Fraulein at the end of this performance.
The Vorspielen was brought to an end by Gertrude Goldring's song. Clara Bergmann sat down to accompany her, and Miriam roused herself for a double listening. There would be Clara's' opening and Clara's accompaniment and some wonderful song. The Australian stood well away from the piano, her shoulders thrown back and her eyes upon the wall opposite her. There was no prelude. Piano and voice rang out together—single notes which the voice took and sustained with an expressive power which was beyond anything in Miriam's experience. Not a note was quite true.... The unerring falseness of pitch was as startling as the quality of the voice. The great wavering shouts slurring now above, now below the mark amazed Miriam out of all shyness. She sat up, frankly gazing—"How dare she? She hasn't an atom of ear—how ghastly"—her thoughts exclaimed as the shouts went on. The longer sustained notes presently reminded her of something. It was like something she had heard—in the interval between the verses—while the sounds echoed in the mind she remembered the cry, hand to mouth, of a London dustman.
Then she lost everything in the story of the Sultan's daughter and the young Asra, and when the fullest applause of the evening was going to Gertrude's song, she did not withhold her share.
Anna, the only servant Miriam had seen so far—an enormous woman whose face, apart from the small eyes, seemed all "bony structure," Miriam noted in a phrase borrowed from some unremembered reading—brought in a tray filled with cups of milk, a basket of white rolls and a pile of little plates. Gertrude took the tray and handed it about the room. As Miriam took her cup, chose a roll, deposited it on a plate and succeeded in abstracting the plate from the pile neatly, without fumbling, she felt that for the moment Gertrude was prepared to tolerate her. She did not desire this in the least, but when the deep harsh voice fell against her from the bending Australian, she responded to the "Wie gefallt's Ihnen?" with an upturned smile and a warm "sehr gut!" It gratified her to discover that she could, at the end of this one day, understand or at the worst gather the drift of, all she heard, both of German and French her English was all right—at least, if she chose.... Pater had always been worrying about slang and careless pronunciation. None of them ever said "cut in half" or "very unique" or "ho'sale" or "phodygraff." She was awfully slangy herself—she and Harriett were, in their thoughts as well as their words—but she had no provincialisms, no Londonisms—she could be the purest Oxford English. There was something at any rate to give her German girls.... She could say, "There are no rules for English pronunciation, but what is usual at the University of Oxford is decisive for cultured people"—"decisive for cultured people." She must remember that for the class.
"Na, was sticken Sie da Miss Henderson?"
It was Fraulein Pfaff.
Miriam who had as yet hardly spoken to her, did not know whether to stand or to remain seated. She half rose and then Fraulein Pfaff took the chair near her and Miriam sat down, stiff with fear. She could not remember the name of the thing she was making. She flushed and fumbled—thought of dressing-tables and the little objects of which she had made so many hanging to the mirror by ribbons; "toilet-tidies" haunted her—but that was not it—she smoothed out her work as if to show it to Fraulein—"Na, na," came the delicate caustic voice. "Was wird das wohl sein?" Then she remembered. "It's for a pin-cushion," she said. Surely she need, not venture on German with Fraulein yet.
"Ein Nadelkissen," corrected Fraulein, "das wird niedlich aussehen," she remarked quietly, and then in English, "You like music, Miss Henderson?"
"Oh, yes," said Miriam, with a pounce in her voice.
"You play the piano?"
"You must keep up your practice then, while you are with us—you must have time for practice."
Fraulein Pfaff rose and moved away. The girls were arranging the chairs in two rows—plates and cups were collected and carried away. It dawned on Miriam that they were going to have prayers. What a wet-blanket on her evening. Everything had been so bright and exciting so far. Obviously they had prayers every night. She felt exceedingly uncomfortable. She had never seen prayers in a sitting-room. It had been nothing at school—all the girls standing in the drill-room, rows of voices saying "adsum," then a Collect and the Lord's Prayer.
A huge Bible appeared on a table in front of Fraulein's high-backed chair. Miriam found herself ranged with the girls, sitting in an attentive hush. There was a quiet, slow turning of pages, and then a long indrawn sigh and Fraulein's clear, low, even voice, very gentle, not caustic now but with something child-like about it, "Und da kamen die Apostel zu Ihm...." Miriam had a moment of revolt. She would not sit there and let a woman read the Bible at her... and in that "smarmy" way.... in spirit she rose and marched out of the room. As the English pupil-teacher bound to suffer all things or go home, she sat on. Presently her ear was charmed by Fraulein's slow clear enunciation, her pure unaspirated North German. It seemed to suit the narrative—and the narrative was new, vivid and real in this new tongue. She saw presently the little group of figures talking by the lake and was sorry when Fraulein's voice ceased.
Solomon Martin was at the piano. Someone handed Miriam a shabby little paper-backed hymnbook. She fluttered the leaves. All the hymns appeared to have a little short-lined verse, under each ordinary verse, in small print. It was in English—she read. She fumbled for the title-page and then her cheeks flamed with shame, "Moody and Sankey." She was incredulous, but there it was, clearly enough. What was such a thing doing here?... Finishing school for the daughters of gentlemen.... She had never had such a thing in her hands before.... Fraulein could not know.... She glanced at her, but Fraulein's cavernous mouth was serenely open and the voices of the girls sang heartily, "Whenhy—cometh. Whenhy—cometh, to make up his jewels——" These girls, Germany, that piano.... What did the English girls think? Had anyone said anything? Were they chapel? Fearfully, she told them over. No. Judy might be, and the Martins perhaps, but not Gertrude, nor Jimmie, nor Millie. How did it happen? What was the German Church? Luther—Lutheran.
She longed for the end.
She glanced through the book—frightful, frightful words and choruses.
The girls were getting on to their knees.
Oh dear, every night. Her elbows sank into soft red plush.
She was to have time for practising—and that English lesson—the first—Oxford, decisive for—educated people....
Fraulein's calm voice came almost in a whisper, "Vater unser... der Du bist im Himmel," and the murmuring voices of the girls followed her.
Miriam went to bed content, wrapped in music. The theme of Carlo's solo recurred again and again; and every time it brought something of the wonderful light—the sense of going forward and forward through space. She fell asleep somewhere outside the world. No sooner was she asleep than a voice was saying, "Bonjour, Meece," and her eyes opened on daylight and Mademoiselle's little night-gowned form minuetting towards her down the single strip of matting. Her hair, hanging in short ringlets when released, fell forward round her neck as she bowed—the slightest dainty inclination, from side to side against the swaying of her dance. She was smiling her down-glancing, little sprite smile. Miriam loved her....
A great plaque of sunlight lay across the breakfast-table. Miriam was too happy to trouble about her imminent trial. She reflected that it was quite possible to-day and to-morrow would be free. None of the visiting masters came, except, sometimes, Herr Bossenberger for music-lessons—that much she had learned from Mademoiselle. And, after all, the class she had so dreaded had dwindled to just these four girls, little Emma and the three grown-up girls. They probably knew all the rules and beginnings. It would be just reading and so on. It would not be so terrible—four sensible girls; and besides they had accepted her. It did not seem anything extraordinary to them that she should teach them; and they did not dislike her. Of that she felt sure. She could not say this for even one of the English girls. But the German girls did not dislike her. She felt at ease sitting amongst them and was glad she was there and not at the English end of the table. Down here, hemmed in by the Bergmanns with Emma's little form, her sounds, movements and warmth, her little quiet friendliness planted between herself and the English, with the apparently unobservant Minna and Elsa across the way she felt safe. She felt fairly sure those German eyes did not criticise her. Perhaps, she suggested to herself, they thought a good deal of English people in general; and then they were in the minority, only four of them; it was evidently a school for English girls as much as anything... strange—what an adventure for all those English girls—to be just boarders—Miriam wondered how she would feel sitting there as an English boarder among the Martins and Gertrude, Millie, Jimmie and Judy? It would mean being friendly with them. Finally she ensconced herself amongst her Germans, feeling additionally secure.... Fraulein had spent many years in England. Perhaps that explained the breakfast of oatmeal porridge—piled plates of thick stirabout thickly sprinkled with pale, very sweet powdery brown sugar—and the eggs to follow with rolls and butter.
Miriam wondered how Fraulein felt towards the English girls.
She wondered whether Fraulein liked the English girls best.... She paid no attention to the little spurts of conversation that came at intervals as the table grew more and more dismantled. She was there, safely there—what a perfectly stupendous thing—"weird and stupendous" she told herself. The sunlight poured over her and her companions from the great windows behind Fraulein Pfaff....
When breakfast was over and the girls were clearing the table, Fraulein went to one of the great windows and stood for a moment with her hands on the hasp of the innermost of the double frames. "Balde, balde," Miriam heard her murmur, "werden wir offnen konnen." Soon, soon we may open. Obviously then they had had the windows shut all the winter. Miriam, standing in the corner near the companion window, wondering what she was supposed to do and watching the girls with an air—as nearly as she could manage—of indulgent condescension—saw, without turning, the figure at the window, gracefully tall, with a curious dignified pannier-like effect about the skirt that swept from the small tightly-fitting pointed bodice, reminding her of illustrations of heroines of serials in old numbers of the "Girls' Own Paper." The dress was of dark blue velvet—very much rubbed and faded. Miriam liked the effect, liked something about the clear profile, the sallow, hollow cheeks, the same heavy bonyness that Anna the servant had, but finer and redeemed by the wide eye that was so strange. She glanced fearfully, at its unconsciousness, and tried to find words for the quick youthfulness of those steady eyes.
Fraulein moved away into the little room opening from the schoolroom, and some of the girls joined her there. Miriam turned to the window. She looked down into a little square of high-walled garden. It was gravelled nearly all over. Not a blade of grass was to be seen. A narrow little border of bare brown mould joined the gravel to the high walls. In the centre was a little domed patch of earth and there a chestnut tree stood. Great bulging brown-varnished buds were shining whitely from each twig. The girls seemed to be gathering in the room behind her—settling down round the table—Mademoiselle's voice sounded from the head of the table where Fraulein had lately been. It must be raccommodage thought Miriam—the weekly mending Mademoiselle had told her of. Mademoiselle was superintending. Miriam listened. This was a sort of French lesson. They all sat round and did their mending together in French—darning must be quite different done like that, she reflected.
Jimmie's voice came, rounded and giggling, "Oh, Mademoiselle! j'ai une potato, pardong, pum de terre, je mean." She poked three fingers through the toe of her stocking. "Veux dire, veux dire—Qu'est-ce-que vous me racontez la?" scolded Mademoiselle. Miriam envied her air of authority.
"Ah-ho! La-la—Boum—Bong!" came Gertrude's great voice from the door.
"Taisez-vous, taisez-vous, Jair-trude," rebuked Mademoiselle.
"How dare she?" thought Miriam, with a picture before her eyes of the little grey-gowned thing with the wistful, frugal mouth and nose.
It was Fraulein's voice from within the little room. Minna was holding the door open.
At the end of twenty minutes, dismissed by Fraulein with a smiling recommendation to go and practise in the saal, Miriam had run upstairs for her music.
"It's all right. I'm all right. I shall be able to do it," she said to herself as she ran. The ordeal was past. She was, she had learned, to talk English with the German girls, at table, during walks, whenever she found herself with them, excepting on Saturdays and Sundays—and she was to read with the four—for an hour, three times a week. There had been no mention of grammar or study in any sense she understood.
She had had a moment of tremor when Fraulein had said in her slow clear English, "I leave you to your pupils, Miss Henderson," and with that had gone out and shut the door. The moment she had dreaded had come. This was Germany. There was no escape. Her desperate eyes caught sight of a solid-looking volume on the table, bound in brilliant blue cloth. She got it into her shaking hands. It was "Misunderstood." She felt she could have shouted in her relief. A treatise on the Morse code would not have surprised her. She had heard that such things were studied at school abroad and that German children knew the names and, worse than that, the meaning of the names of the streets in the city of London. But this book that she and Harriett had banished and wanted to burn in their early teens together with "Sandford and Merton."...
"You are reading 'Misunderstood'?" she faltered, glancing at the four politely waiting girls.
It was Minna who answered her in her husky, eager voice.
"D'ja, d'ja," she responded, "na, ich meine, yace, yace we read—so sweet and beautiful book—not?"
"Oh," said Miriam, "yes..." and then eagerly, "you all like it, do you?"
Clara and Elsa agreed unenthusiastically. Emma, at her elbow, made a little despairing gesture, "I can't English," she moaned gently, "too deeficult."
Miriam tested their reading. The class had begun. Nothing had happened. It was all right. They each, dutifully and with extreme carefulness read a short passage. Miriam sat blissfully back. It was incredible. The class was going on. The chestnut tree budded approval from the garden. She gravely corrected their accents. The girls were respectful. They appeared to be interested. They vied with each other to get exact sounds; and they presently delighted Miriam by telling her they could understand her English much better than that of her predecessor. "So cleare, so cleare," they chimed, "Voonderfoll." And then they all five seemed to be talking at once. The little room was full of broken English, of Miriam's interpolated corrections. It was going—succeeding. This was her class. She hoped Fraulein was listening outside. She probably was. Heads of foreign schools did. She remembered Madame Beck in "Villette." But if she was not, she hoped they would tell her about being able to understand the new English teacher so well. "Oh, I am haypie," Emma was saying, with adoring eyes on Miriam and her two arms outflung on the table. Miriam recoiled. This would not do—they must not all talk at once and go on like this. Minna's whole face was aflame. She sat up stiffly—adjusted her pince-nez—and desperately ordered the reading to begin again—at Minna. They all subsided and Minna's carefu blissfully-smiling face. The others sat back and attended. Miriam watched Minna judicially, and hoped she looked like a teacher. She knew her pince-nez disguised her and none of these girls knew she was only seventeen and a half. "Sorrowg," Minna was saying, hesitating. Miriam had not heard the preceding word. "Once more the whole sentence," she said, with quiet gravity, and then as Minna reached the word "thorough" she corrected and spent five minutes showing her how to get over the redoubtable "th." They all experimented and exclaimed. They had never been shown that it was just a matter of getting the tongue between the teeth. Miriam herself had only just discovered it. She speculated as to how long it would take her to deliver them up to Fraulein Pfaff with this notorious stumbling-block removed. She was astonished herself at the mechanical simplicity of the cure. How stupid people must be not to discover these things. Minna's voice went on. She would let her read a page. She began to wonder rather blankly what she was to do to fill up the hour after they had all read a page. She had just reached the conclusion that they must do some sort of writing when Fraulein Pfaff came, and still affable and smiling had ushered the girls to their mending and sent Miriam off to the saal.
As she flew upstairs for her music, saying, "I'm all right. I can do it all right," she was half-conscious that her provisional success with her class had very little to do with her bounding joy. That success had not so much given her anything to be glad about—it had rather removed an obstacle of gladness which was waiting to break forth. She was going to stay on. That was the point. She would stay in this wonderful place.. .. She came singing down through the quiet house—the sunlight poured from bedroom windows through open doors. She reached the quiet saal. Here stood the great piano, its keyboard open under the light of the French window opposite the door through which she came. Behind the great closed swing doors the girls were talking over their raccommodage. Miriam paid not even need to try to ignore them. She felt strong and independent. She would play, to herself. She would play something she knew perfectly, a Grieg lyric or a movement from a Beethoven Sonata... on this gorgeous piano... and let herself go, and listen. That was music... not playing things, but listening to Beethoven.... It must be Beethoven... Grieg was different... acquired... like those strange green figs Pater had brought from Tarring... Beethoven had always been real.
It was all growing clearer and clearer.... She chose the first part of the first movement of the Sonata Pathetique. That she knew she could play faultlessly. It was the last thing she had learned, and she had never grown weary of practising slowly through its long bars of chords. She had played it at her last music-lesson... dear old Stroodie walking up and down the long drilling-room.... "Steady the bass"; "grip the chords," then standing at her side and saying in the thin light sneery part of his voice, "You can... you've got hands like umbrellas"... and showing her how easily she could stretch two notes beyond his own span. And then marching away as she played and crying out to her standing under the high windows at the far end of the room, "Let it go! Let it go!"
And she had almost forgotten her wretched self, almost heard the music....
She felt for the pedals, lifted her hands a span above the piano as Clara had done and came down, true and clean, on to the opening chord. The full rich tones of the piano echoed from all over the room; and some metal object far away from her hummed the dominant. She held the chord for its full term.... Should she play any more?
She had confessed herself... just that minor chord... anyone hearing it would know more than she could ever tell them... her whole being beat out the rhythm as she waited for the end of the phrase to insist on what already had been said. As it came, she found herself sitting back, slackening the muscles of her arms and of her whole body, and ready to swing forward into the rising storm of her page. She did not need to follow the notes on the music stand. Her fingers knew them. Grave and happy she sat with unseeing eyes, listening, for the first time.
At the end of the page she was sitting with her eyes full of tears, aware of Fraulein standing between the open swing doors with Gertrude's face showing over her shoulder—its amazement changing to a large-toothed smile as Fraulein's quietly repeated "Prachtvoll, prachtvoll" came across the room. Miriam, after a hasty smile, sat straining her eyes as widely as possible, so that the tears should not fall. She glared at the volume in front of her, turning the pages. She was glad that the heavy sun-blinds cast a deep shadow over the room. She blinked. She thought they would not notice. Only one tear fell and that was from the left eye, towards the wall. "You are a real musician, Miss Henderson," said Fraulein, advancing.
Every other day or so Miriam found she could get an hour on a bedroom piano; and always on a Saturday morning during raccommodage. She rediscovered all the pieces she had already learned.
She went through them one by one, eagerly, slurring over difficulties, pressing on, getting their effect, listening and discovering. "It's technique I want," she told herself, when she had reached the end of her collection, beginning to attach a meaning to the familiar word. Then she set to work. She restricted herself to the Pathetique, always omitting the first page, which she knew so well and practised mechanically, slowly, meaninglessly, with neither pedalling nor expression, page by page until a movement was perfect. Then when the mood came, she played... and listened. She soon discovered she could not always "play"—even the things she knew perfectly—and she began to understand the fury that had seized her when her mother and a woman here and there had taken for granted one should "play when asked," and coldly treated her refusal as showing lack of courtesy. "Ah!" she said aloud, as this realisation came, "Women."
"Of course you can only 'play when you can,'" said she to herself, "like a bird singing."
She sang once or twice, very quietly, in those early weeks. But she gave that up. She had a whole sheaf of songs with her. But after that first Vorspielen they seemed to have lost their meaning. One by one she looked them through. Her dear old Venetian song, "Beauty's Eyes," "An Old Garden"—she hesitated over that, and hummed it through—"Best of All"—"In Old Madrid"—the vocal score of the "Mikado"—her little "Chanson de Florian," and a score of others. She blushed at her collection. The "Chanson de Florian" might perhaps hold its own at a Vorspielen—sung by Bertha Martin—perhaps.... The remainder of her songs, excepting a little bound volume of Sterndale Bennett, she put away at the bottom of her Saratoga trunk. Meanwhile, there were songs being learned by Herr Bossenberger's pupils for which she listened hungrily; Schubert, Grieg, Brahms. She would always, during those early weeks, sacrifice her practising to listen from the schoolroom to a pupil singing in the saal.
The morning of Ulrica Hesse's arrival was one of the mornings when she could "play." She was sitting, happy, in the large English bedroom, listening. It was late. She was beginning to wonder why the gonging did not come when the door opened. It was Millie in her dressing-gown, with her hair loose and a towel over her arm.
"Oh, bitte, Miss Henderson, will you please go down to Frau Krause, Fraulein Pfaff says," she said, her baby face full of responsibility.
Miriam rose uneasily. What might this be? "Frau Krause?" she asked.
"Oh yes, it's Haarwaschen," said Millie anxiously, evidently determined to wait until Miriam recognised her duty.
"Where?" said Miriam aghast.
"Oh, in the basement. I must go. Frau Krause's waiting. Will you come?"
"Oh well, I suppose so," mumbled Miriam, coming to the door as the child turned to go.
"All right," said Millie, "I'm going down. Do make haste, Miss Henderson, will you?"
"All right," said Miriam, going back into the room.
Collecting her music she went incredulously upstairs. This was school with a vengeance. This was boarding-school. It was abominable. Fraulein Pfaff indeed! Ordering her, Miriam, to go downstairs and have her hair washed... by Frau Krause... off-hand, without any warning ... someone should have told her—and let her choose. Her hair was clean. Sarah had always done it. Miriam's throat contracted. She would not go down. Frau Krause should not touch her. She reached the attics. Their door was open and there was Mademoiselle in her little alpaca dressing-jacket, towelling her head.
Her face came up, flushed and gay. Miriam was too angry to note till afterwards how pretty she had looked with her hair like that.
"Ah!... c'est le grand lavage!" sang Mademoiselle.
"Oui," said Miriam surlily.
What could she do? She imagined the whole school waiting downstairs to see her come down to be done. Should she go down and decline, explain to Fraulein Pfaff. She hated her vindictively—her "calm" message—"treating me like a child." She saw the horse smile and heard the caustic voice.
"It's sickening," she muttered, whisking her dressing-gown from its nail and seizing a towel. Mademoiselle was piling up her damp hair before the little mirror.
Slowly Miriam made her journey to the basement.
Minna and Elsa were brushing out their long hair with their door open. A strong sweet perfume came from the room.
The basement hall was dark save for the patch of light coming from the open kitchen door. In the patch stood a low table and a kitchen chair. On the table which was shining wet and smeary with soap, stood a huge basin. Out over the basin flew a long tail of hair and Miriam's anxious eyes found Millie standing in the further gloom twisting and wringing.
No one else was to be seen. Perhaps it was all over. She was too late. Then a second basin held in coarse red hands appeared round the kitchen door and in a moment a woman, large and coarse, with the sleeves of her large-checked blue and white cotton dress rolled back and a great "teapot" of pale nasturtium coloured hair shining above the third of Miriam's "bony" German faces had emerged and plumped her steaming basin down upon the table.
Soap? and horrid pudding basins of steaming water. Miriam's hair had never been washed with anything but cantharides and rose-water on a tiny special sponge.
In full horror, "Oh," she said, in a low vague voice, "It doesn't matter about me."
"Gun' Tak' Fr'n," snapped the woman briskly.
Miriam gave herself up.
"Gooten Mawgen, Frau Krause," said Millie's polite departing voice.
Miriam's outraged head hung over the steaming basin—her hair spread round it like a tent frilling out over the table.
For a moment she thought that the nausea which had seized her as she surrendered would, the next instant, make flight imperative. Then her amazed ears caught the sharp bump—crack—of an eggshell against the rim of the basin, followed by a further brisk crackling just above her. She shuddered from head to foot as the egg descended with a cold slither upon her incredulous skull. Tears came to her eyes as she gave beneath the onslaught of two hugely enveloping, vigorously drubbing hands—"sh—ham—poo" gasped her mind.
The drubbing went relentlessly on. Miriam steadied her head against it and gradually warmth and ease began to return to her shivering, clenched body. Her hair was gathered into the steaming basin—dipped and rinsed and spread, a comforting compress, warm with the water, over her egg-sodden head. There was more drubbing, more dipping and rinsing. The second basin was re-filled from the kitchen, and after a final rinse in its fresh warm water, Miriam found herself standing up—with a twisted tail of wet hair hanging down over her cape of damp towel—glowing and hungry.
"Thank you," she said timidly to Frau Krause's bustling presence.
"Gun' Tak Fr'n," said Frau Krause, disappearing into the kitchen.
Miriam gave her hair a preliminary drying, gathered her dressing-gown together and went upstairs. From the schoolroom came unmistakable sounds. They were evidently at dinner. She hurried to her attic. What was she to do with her hair? She rubbed it desperately—fancy being landed with hair like that, in the middle of the day! She could not possibly go down.... She must. Fraulein Pfaff would expect her to—and would be disgusted if she were not quick—she towelled frantically at the short strands round her forehead, despairingly screwed them into Hinde's and towelled at the rest. What had the other girls done? If only she could look into the schoolroom before going down—it was awful—what should she do?... She caught sight of a sodden-looking brush on Mademoiselle's bed. Mademoiselle had put hers up—she had seen her... of course... easy enough for her little fluffy clouds—she could do nothing with her straight, wet lumps—she began to brush it out—it separated into thin tails which flipped tiny drops of moisture against her hands as she brushed. Her arms ached; her face flared with her exertions. She was ravenous—she must manage somehow and go down. She braided the long strands and fastened their cold mass with extra hairpins. Then she unfastened the Hinde's—two tendrils flopped limply against her forehead. She combed them out. They fell in a curtain of streaks to her nose. Feverishly she divided them, draped them somehow back into the rest of her hair and fastened them.