THE WOMAN WHO SAT STILL
By PARRY TRUSCOTT
When he went, when he had to go, he took with him the memory of her
that had become crystallised, set for him in his own frequent words to
her, standing at her side, looking down at her with his keen, restless
eyes—such words as: "It puzzles me how on earth you manage to sit so
Then, enlarging: "It is wonderful to me how you can keep so happy doing
nothing—make of enforced idleness a positive pleasure! I suppose it is
a gift, and I haven't got it—not a bit. It doesn't matter how tired I
am, I have to keep going—people call it industry, but its real name is
nervous energy, run riot. I can't even take a holiday peacefully. I
must be actively playing if I cannot work. I'm just the direct
descendant of the girl in the red shoes—they were red, weren't
they?—who had to dance on and on until she dropped. I shall go on and
on until I drop, and then I shall attempt a few more useless yards on
"Come now," in answer to the way she shook her head at him, smiled at
him from her sofa, "you know very well how I envy you your gift, your
power of sitting still—happily still—your power of contemplation…."
And one day, more intimately still, with a sigh and a look (Oh, a look
she understood!), "To me you are the most restful person in the
* * * * *
Why he went, except that he had to go; why he stayed away so long, so
very long, are not really relevant to this story; the facts, stripped
of conjecture, were simply these: she was married, and he was not, and
there came the time, as it always comes in such relationships as
theirs, when he had to choose between staying without honour and going
quickly. He went. But even the bare facts concerning his protracted
absence are less easily stated because his absence dragged on long
after the period when he might, with impeccable honour, have returned.
The likeliest solution was that setting her aside when he had to,
served so to cut in two his life, so wrenched at his heartstrings, so
burnt and bruised his spirit, that when, in his active fashion he had
lived some of the hurt down, he could not bring himself easily to
reopen the old subject—fresh wounds for him might still lurk in
it—how could he tell? Although it had been at the call, the insistence
of honour, still hadn't he left her—deserted her? Does any woman, even
his own appointed woman, forgive a man who goes speechless away?
Useless, useless speculation! For some reason, some man's reason, when
another's death made her a free woman, yet he lingered and did not
He knew, afterwards, that it was from the first his intention to claim
her. He wanted her—deep down he wanted her as he had always wanted
her; meant to come—some time. Knew all the time that he could not
always keep away. And then, responding to a sudden whim, some turn of
his quickly moving mind—a mind that could forcibly bury a subject and
as forcibly resurrect it—hot-foot and eager he came.
* * * * *
He had left her recovering slowly and surely from a long illness; an
illness that must have proved fatal but for her gift of tranquillity,
her great gift of keeping absolutely, restfully still in body, while
retaining a happily occupied mind. Her books, and her big quiet room,
and the glimpse of the flower-decked garden from her window, with just
these things to help her, she had dug herself into the deep heart of
life where the wells of contentment spring. Bird's song in the early
morn and the long, still day before her in which to find herself—to
take a new, firmer hold on the hidden strength of the world. And, just
to keep her in touch with the surface of things, visits from her
friends. Then later, more tightly gripping actuality, with a new, keen,
sharp, growing pleasure—the visits of a friend.
While those lasted there was nothing she would have changed for her
quiet room, her sofa: the room that he lit with his coming; where she
rested and rested, shut in with the memory of all he said, looked,
thought in her presence—until again he came.
While they lasted! She had been content, never strong, never able to do
very much, with seclusion before. During the time of his visits she
revelled, rejoiced in it, asking nothing further. While they lasted,
sitting still (Oh, so still), hugging her joy, she didn't think,
wouldn't think, how it might end.
Sometimes, just sometimes, by a merciful providence, things do not end.
She lived for months on the bare chance of its not ending.
Yet, as we know, the end came.
At first while the world called her widowed she sat with her unwidowed
heart waiting for him in the old room, in the old way. Surely now he
would come? She had given good measure of fondness and duty and
friendship—that was only that under another name—to the one who until
now had stood between her and her heart's desire, and parting with him,
and all the associations that went with him, had surprisingly hurt her.
Always frail, she was ill—torn with sorrow and pity—and then, very
slowly again, she recovered. And while she recovered, lying still in
the old way, she gave her heart wings—wild, surging wings—at last, at
last. Sped it forth, forth to bring her joy—to compel it.
While she waited in this fashion a sweet, recaptured sense of
familiarity made his coming seem imminent. She had only to wait and he
would be here. She couldn't have mistaken the looks that had never been
translated into words—that hadn't needed words. Though she had longed
and ached for a word—then—she was quite content now. He had wanted
her just as she was, unashamed and untainted. And to preserve her as
she was he had gone away. And now for the very first time she was truly
glad he had gone in that abrupt, speechless fashion—in spite of the
heartache and the long years between them, really and truly glad.
Nothing had been spoilt; they had snatched at no stolen joys. And the
rapture, (what rapture!) of meeting would blot out all that they had
suffered in silence—the separation—all of it!
As she waited, getting well for him, she had no regrets, growing more
and more sure of his coming.
It was not until she was well again, not until the months had piled
themselves on each other, that, growing more frightened than she knew,
she began her new work of preparation.
* * * * *
Suddenly, impulsively, when she had reached the stage of giving him up
for days at a time, when hope had nearly abandoned her, then he came.
He had left a woman so hopeful in outlook, so young and peaceful in
spirit, that with her the advancing years would not matter. On his
journey back to her, visualising her afresh, touching up his memory of
her, he pictured her going a little grey. That would suit her—grey was
her colour—blending to lavender in the clothes she always wore for
him. A little grey, but her clear, pale skin unfaded, her large eyes
full of pure, guarded secrets—secrets soon to unfold for him alone.
A haven—a haven! So he thought of her, and now, ready for her, coming
to her, he craved the rest she would give him—rest more than anything
in all the world. She, with her sweet white hands, when he held them,
kissed them, would unlock the doors of peace for him, drawing him into
her life, letting him potter and linger—linger at her side. Even when
long ago he had insisted to her that for him there was no way of rest,
he had known that she, just she, meant rest for him, when he could
claim her for his own. Other women, other pursuits, offered him
excitement, stimulation—and then a weariness too profound for words.
But rest, bodily, spiritually, was her unique gift for him. She—he
smiled as he thought it—would teach him to sit still.
And tired, so tired, he hurried to her across the world as fast as he
Waiting at her door, the door opened, crossing the threshold—Oh, he
had never thought his luck would be so great as to be taken direct to
the well remembered room upstairs! Yet with only a few short inquiries
he was taken there—she for whom he asked, the mistress of the house,
would be in her sitting-room, he was told, and if he was an old
friend…? He explained that he was a very old friend, following the
maid upstairs. But the maid was mistaken; her mistress was not in her
private sitting-room; not in the house at all—she had gone out, and it
proved on investigation that she had left no word. The maid, returning,
suggested however, that she would not be long. Her mistress had a
meeting this evening; she was expecting some one before dinner; no, she
would certainly not be long, so—so if he would like to wait?
He elected to wait—a little impatiently. He knew it was absurd that
coming, without warning—after how many years was it?—he should yet
have made so sure of finding her at home. Absurd, unreasonable—and yet
he was disappointed. He ought to have written, but he had not waited to
write. He had pictured the meeting—how many times? Times without
number—and always pictured her waiting at home. And then the room?
Left alone in it he paced the room. But the room enshrined in his heart
of hearts was not this room. Was there, surely there was some mistake?
There could be no mistake. There could not be two upstairs rooms in
this comparatively small house, of this size and with this aspect;
westward, and overlooking with two large windows the little walled
garden into which he had so often gazed, standing and talking to her,
saying over his shoulders the things he dare not say face to face—that
would have meant so much more, helped out with look and gesture, face
The garden, as far as he could see, was the same except that he fancied
it less trim, less perfect in order: in the old days it would be for
months at a time all the outside world she saw—there had been object
enough in keeping it trim. Now it looked, to his fancy, like a woman
whose beauty was fading a little because she had lost incentive to be
beautiful. He turned from the garden, his heart amazed, fearful, back
to the room.
The room of the old days—with closed eyes he reproduced it; its white
walls, its few good pictures, its curtains and carpet of deep blue. Her
sofa by the window, the wide armchair on which he always sat, the table
where, in and out of season, roses, his roses, stood. The little old
gilt clock on the mantlepiece that so quickly, cruelly ticked away
their hour. Books, books everywhere, the most important journals and a
medley of the lighter magazines; those, with her work-basket, proving
her feminine and the range of her interests, her inconsistency. A
woman's room, revealing at a glance her individuality, her spirit.
But this room—! He looked for the familiar things—the sofa, the
bookshelves, the little table dedicated to flowers. Yes, the sofa was
there, but pushed away as though seldom used; on the bookshelves new,
strange books were crowding out the old; on the little table drooped a
few faded flowers in an awkward vase. On the mantlepiece, where she
would never have more than one or two good ornaments, and the old gilt
clock, were now stacks of papers, a rack bulging with packing
materials—something like that—an ink-bottle, a candlestick, the candle
trailed over with sealing-wax, and an untidy ball of string. And right
in the centre of the room a great clumsy writing-table, an office
table, piled with papers again, ledgers, a portable typewriter, and—a
litter of cigarette ends.
Like a Mistress on the track of a much-doubted maid he ran his finger
along the edge of a bookcase and then the mantlepiece. He looked at his
fingers; there was no denying the dust he had wiped away.
She must have changed her room—why had she done it? But the maid had
said—in her sitting-room—
He waited now frightened, now fuming. Still she did not come. Should he
not wait—should he go—if this was her room? But he had come so far,
and he needed her so—he must stay. For some dear, foolish woman's
reason she must have lent her room for the use of a feminine busy-body;
a political, higher-thought, pseudo-spiritualistic friend. (He must
weed out her friends!) The trend of the work done in this room now his
quick mind had seized upon—titles of books, papers, it was enough.
Notices stuck in the Venetian Mirror (the desecration!) for meetings of
this and that society, and all of them, so he judged, just excuses for
putting unwanted fingers into unwanted, dangerous pies. He thought of
it like that—he could not help it; he saw too far into motive and
internal action; was too impatient of the little storms, the paltry,
tea-cup things. She, with her unique gift of serenity—her place was
not among the busybodies grinding axes that were better blunt;
interfering with the slow, slow working of the Mills of God. Her gift
was example—rare and delicate; her light the silver light of a soul,
that through 'suffering and patience and contemplation, knows itself
and is unafraid.
For such fussing, unstable work as it was used for now she ought not
even to have lent her room—the room he had looked on as a temple of
quietness; the shrine of a priceless temperament.
He smiled his first smile—she should not lend it again.
Then the door opened. Suddenly, almost noisily, she came in.
She had heard, downstairs, his name. So far she was prepared with her
greeting. She came with hands out-stretched—he took her hands and
When he could interrupt her greeting he said—forcing the words—"So
now you are quite strong—and busy?"
She told him how busy. She told him how, (but not why) she had awakened
from her long, selfish dream. She said she had found so late—but
surely not too late?—the joy of action; constant, unremitting work for
the world's sake. "Do you remember how you used to complain you
couldn't sit still? I am like that now—"
And he listened, listened, each word a deeper stab straight at his
Of all the many things he had done since they met he had nothing to
Having just let her talk (how she talked!) as soon as he decently could
he went. Of all he had come to tell her he said not a word. Tired, so
bitterly tired, he had come seeking rest, and now there was no more a
place of rest for him—anywhere.
Yes, he had come across the world to find himself overdue; to find
himself too late. He went out again—as soon as he decently
could—taking only a picture of her that in sixty over-charged minutes
had wiped out the treasured picture of years.
Sixty minutes! After waiting for years she had kept him an hour,
desperately, by sheer force of will keeping a man too stunned at first
to resist, to break free. (Then at last he broke free of that room and
that woman, and went!) For years he had pictured her sitting still as
no other woman sat still, tranquil and graceful, her hair going a
little grey above her clear, pale skin, her eyes of a dream-ridden
saint. And now he must picture her forced into life, vivaciously,
restlessly eager; full of plans, (futile plans, how he knew those
plans!) for the world's upheaval, adding unrest to unrest. And now he
must picture her with the grey hair outwitted by art, with paint on her
beautiful ravaged face.
At first he had wanted to take her in his arms; with his strength to
still her, with his tears to wash the paint off.
But he couldn't—he couldn't. He knew that his had been a dream of such
supreme sweetness that to awaken was an agony he could never hide; knew
that you can't re-enter dreamland once you wake.
So he went.
He never knew, with the door shut on him, how she fell on her sofa—her
vivacity quenched, her soul spent. He never knew that having failed,
(as she thought) to draw him to her with what she was, she had vainly,
foolishly tried a new model—himself.
He did not know how inartistic love can be when love is desperate.