THIS IS THE END
BY STELLA BENSON
This is the end, for the moment, of all my thinking, this is my
unfinal conclusion. There is no reason in tangible things, and no
system in the ordinary ways of the world. Hands were made to grope,
and feet to stumble, and the only things you may count on are the
unaccountable things. System is a fairy and a dream, you never find
system where or when you expect it. There are no reasons except
reasons you and I don't know.
I should not be really surprised if the policeman across the way grew
wings, or if the deep sea rose and washed out the chaos of the land. I
should not raise my eyebrows if the daily press became the Little Sunbeam
of the Home, or if Cabinet Ministers struck for a decrease of wages. I
feel no security in facts, precedent seems no protection to me. The
wisdom you can find in an Encyclopedia, or in Selfridge's Information
Bureau, seems to me just a transitory adaptation to quicksand
But if the things which I know in spite of my education were false, if
the eyes of the sea forgot their secret, or if the accent of the steep
woods became vulgar, if the fairy adventures that happen in my heart fell
flat, if the good friends my eyes have never seen failed me,—then indeed
should I know emptiness, and an astonishment that would kill.
I want to introduce you to Jay, a 'bus-conductor and an idealist. She is
not the heroine, but the most constantly apparent woman in this book. I
cannot introduce you to a heroine because I have never met one.
She was a person who took nothing in the world for granted, but as she
had only a slight connection with the world, that is not saying very
much. Her answer to everything was "Why?" The fundamental facts that you
and I accept from our youth upwards, like Be Good and You Will Be Happy,
or Change Your Boots When You Come In Out Of The Wet, or Respect Your
Elders, or Love Your Neighbour, or Never Cross Your Legs Above The Knee,
did not impress Jay.
I never knew her as a baby, but I am sure she must have been born a
propounder of questions, and a smiler at the answers she received. I
daresay she used to ask questions—without result—long before she could
talk, but I am quite sure she was not embittered by the lack of result.
Nothing ever embittered Jay, not even her own pessimism. There is a
finality about bitterness, and Jay was never final. Her last word was
always on a questioning note. Her mind was always open, waiting for more.
"Oh no," she would tell her pillow at night, "there must be a better
answer than that …"
Perhaps it is hardly necessary to add that she had quarrelled with her
Family, and run away from home. Her Family knew neither what she was
doing nor where she was doing it. Families are incurably conceited, and
this one supposed that, having broken away from it, Jay was going to
the bad. On the contrary, she was a 'bus-conductor, but I only tell you
this in confidence. I repeat the Family did not know it, and does not
know it yet.
The Family sometimes said that Jay was an idealist, but it did not really
think so. The Family sometimes said that she was rather mad, but it did
not know how mad she was, or it would have sent her away to live in a
doctor's establishment at Margate. It never realised that it had only
come in contact with about one-fifth of its young relation, and that the
other four-fifths were shut away from it. Shut away in a shining bubble
world with only room in it for one—for One, and a shining bubble Story.
I do not know how universal an experience a Secret Story and a Secret
Friend may be. Perhaps this wonder is a commonplace to you, only you are
more reticent about it than Jay or I. But to me, even after twenty years'
intimacy with what I can only describe as a supplementary life that I
cannot describe, it still seems so very wonderful that I cannot believe I
share it with every man and woman in the street.
The great advantage of a Secret Story over other stories is that you
cannot put it into print. So I can only show you the initial letter,
and you may if you choose look upon it as an imaginary hieroglyphic. Or
you may not.
Just this, that a bubble world can contain a round and russet horizon of
high woods which you can attain, and from the horizon a long view of an
unending sea. You can run down across the dappled fields, you can run
down into the cove and stroke the sea and hear the intimate minor singing
of it. And when you feel as strong as the morning, you can shout and run
against the wind, against the flying sand that never blows above your
knees. And when you feel as tired as the night, you can climb slowly up
the cliff path and go into the House, the House you know much better than
any house your ordinary eyes have seen, and there you will find your
Secret Friends. The best part about Secret Friends is that they will
never weary you by knowing you. You share their House, your passing hand
helps to polish the base of that wooden figure that ends the banisters,
you know the childish delight of that wide short chimney in the big
turret room, a chimney so wide and so short that you can stand inside the
great crooked fireplace and whisper to the birds that look down from the
edge of the chimney only a yard or two above you. You know how comfy
those big beds are, you sit at the long clothless table in the brown
dining-room. With all these things you are intimate, and yet you pass
through the place as a ghost, your bubble enchantment encloses you, your
Secret Friends have no knowledge of you, their story runs without you.
Your unnecessary identity is tactfully ignored, and you know the heaven
of being dispassionate and detached among things you love.
All these things can a bubble world contain. You have to get inside
things to find out how limitless they are. And I think if you don't
believe it all, it is none the less true for that, because in that case
you are the sort of person who believes a thing less the truer it is.
If Jay's Family did not know she was a 'bus-conductor, and did not know
she was a story-possessor, what did it know about her? It knew she
disliked the smell of bananas, and that she had not taken advantage of an
expensive education, and that she was Stock Size (Small Ladies'), and
that she was christened Jane Elizabeth, and that she took after her
father to an excessive extent, and that she was rather too apt to swallow
this Socialist nonsense. As Families go, it was fairly well informed
The Family was a rather promiscuous one. It had more tortuous
relationships than most families have, although there were only four in
it, not counting Mr. Russell.
I might as well introduce you to the Family before I settle down to the
story. From careful study of the press reviews I gather that a story is
considered a necessary thing in a novel, so this time I am going to try
and include one.
You may, if you please, meet the Family after breakfast at Mr. Russell's
house in Kensington, about three months after Jay had run away. There
were four people in the room. They were Cousin Gustus, Mrs. Gustus, Kew,
and Mr. Russell.
It behoves me to try and tell you very simply about Mrs. Gustus,
because she prided herself on simplicity. Spelt with a capital S, it
constituted her Deity; her heaven was a severe and shadowless
eternity, and plain words were the flowers that grew in her Elysian
fields. She had simplified her life and her looks. Even her smile was
shorn of all accessories like dimples or twinkles. Her hair, which
was not abundant, was the colour of corn, straight and shining. Her
eyes were a cold dark grey.
Now to be simple is all very well, but turn it into an active verb and
you spoil the whole idea. To simplify seems forced, and I think Mrs.
Gustus struck harder on the note of simplification than that of
simplicity. I should not dare to criticise her, however, and Cousin
Gustus was satisfied, so criticism in any case would be intrusive. It is
just possible that he occasionally wished that she would dress herself in
a more human way—patronise in winter the humble Viyella stripe, for
instance, or in summer the flippant sprig. But a large proportion of Mrs.
Gustus's faith was founded on simple strong colours in wide expanses,
introduced, as it were, one to another by judicious black. Anybody but
Mrs. Gustus would have been drowned in her clothes. But she was conceived
on a generous scale, she was almost gorgeous, she barely missed
exaggeration. In her manner I think she did not miss it. She had
therefore the gift of coping with colour. It remains for me to add that
her age was five-and-forty, and that she was a novelist. The recording
angel had probably noted the fact of her novelism among her virtues, but
she had an imperceptible earthly public. She wrote laborious books, full
of short peevish sentences, of such very pure construction that they were
extremely difficult to understand. She wore spectacles with aggressive
tortoise-shell rims. She said, "I am short-sighted. I am obliged to wear
spectacles. Why should I try to conceal the fact? I will not have a pair
of rimless ghosts haunting my face. I will wear spectacles without
shame." But the real truth was that the tortoise-shell rims were more
becoming to her. Mrs. Gustus was known to her husband's family as
Anonyma. The origin of this habit was an old joke, and I have forgotten
the point of it.
Cousin Gustus was second cousin once removed to Kew and Kew's sister
Jay, and had kindly brought them up from childhood. He was now at the
further end of the sixties, and embittered by many things: an unsuitable
marriage, the approach of the psalmist's age-limit, incurably modern
surroundings, an internal complaint, and a haunting wish to relieve the
Government of the management of the War. These drawbacks were to a
certain extent linked, they accounted for each other. The complaint
hindered him from offering his services as Secretary of State; it made
of him a slave, so he could not pretend to be a master. He cherished his
slavery, for it happened to be painless, and supplied him with a certain
dignity which would otherwise have been difficult to secure. During the
summer the complaint hibernated, and ceased to interest either doctors
or relations, which was naturally hard to bear. To these trials you may
add the disgraceful behaviour of his young cousin Jay, and admit that
Cousin Gustus had every excuse for encouraging pessimism of the most
Jay's brother Kew was twenty-five, and from this it follows that he had
already drunk the surprising beverage of War. His military history
included a little splinter of hate in the left shoulder, followed by a
depressing period almost entirely spent in the society of medical boards,
three months of light duty consisting of weary instruction of fools in an
East coast town, and now an interval of leave at the end of which the
battalion to which he had lately been attached hoped to go to France. In
one way it was a pity he ever joined the Army, for khaki clashed badly
with most of Mrs. Gustus's colour theories. But he had never noticed
that: his eye and his ear and his mind were all equally slow to
appreciate clashings of any kind. He was rather aloof from comparison and
criticism, but not on principle. He had no principles—at least no
original ones, just the ordinary stuffy old principles of decency and all
that. He never turned his eyes inward, as far as the passer-by could see;
he lived a breezy life outside himself. He never tried to make a fine Kew
of himself; he never propounded riddles to his Creator, which is the way
most of us make our reputations.
Mr. Russell, the host and adopted member of the Family, was fifty-two. He
did not know Jay, having only lately been culled by Mrs. Gustus—that
assiduous collector—and placed in the bosom of the Family. She had found
him blossoming unloved in the wilderness of a War Work Committee. He was
well informed, yet a good listener; perhaps he possessed both these
virtues to excess. At any rate Mrs. Gustus had decided that he was worthy
of Family friendship, and, being naturally extravagant, she conferred it
upon him with both hands. Mr. Russell was married to a woman who had not
properly realised the fact that she was Mrs. Russell. She spent her life
in distant lands, helping the world to become better. At present she was
understood to be propagating peace in the United States, and was never
mentioned by or to her husband. My first impression of Mr. Russell was
that he was rather fat, but I never could trace this impression to its
origin. He had not exactly a double chin, but rather a chin and a half,
and the rest of him followed this moderate example. His grey hair retired
in a pronounced estuary over each temple, leaving a beautifully brushed
peninsula between. He had no sense of humour, but hid this deformity
skillfully. Hardly anybody knew that he was a poet, except presumably his
dog. He often talked to his dog; he told it every speakable thought that
he had. This was his only bad habit. Occasionally his dog was heard to
reply in a small curious voice proceeding also from Mr. Russell.
These four people looked out at Kensington Gardens, which were rejoicing
in the very babyhood of the year. The naked trees were like pillars in
the mist, the grass was grey and whitened to the distance, the world had
mislaid its horizon, and one's eye slid up without check between the
trees to where the last word of a daylight moon whispered in the sky.
"I glory in a view that dispenses with colour," said Mrs. Gustus
severely. She always spoke as though she were sure of the whole of what
she intended to say. When she did hesitate, it only meant that she was
seeking for the simplest word, and she would cap her pause with a
monosyllable as curt as an explosion.
But glory is the right word, I think, for London in some moods. Do you
know the feeling of a heart beating too high, when you see the great
cliffs of London under rain or vague sunshine, or rising out of yellow
air? Do you ever want, as I do, to stand with arms out against the
London wind, and shout your own unmade poetry on the top of a 'bus?
With this sort of grotesque glorying does London inspire me, so that I
spend whole days together feeling that the essential I is too big for
what encloses it.
Anonyma never felt like this. She often spoke the right word, but she
nearly always spoke it coldly.
"This morning," said Kew, "when I looked out, I felt the futility of bed,
so I made an assignation with the Hound when I met it trooping along with
Russ in single file to the bathroom. Why does your Hound always accompany
you there, Russ? Dogs must think us awfully irrational beasts, and
yet—does that Hound really think you could elope for ever and be no more
seen, with nothing on but pyjamas and a towel? I suppose he thinks 'You
can't be too careful.' It makes one humble to live with a dog. I always
blush when I see a dog dreaming, because I'm afraid they give us an
undignified place in their dreams. Your Hound, Russ, dreams of you
plunging into the Serpentine after a Canadian Goose, with your topper
floating behind you, or Anonyma with her tongue hanging out, scratching
at a little mousehole in Piccadilly. It is humiliating, isn't it? Anyway,
before breakfast, Russ's Hound and I went and jumped over things in the
Gardens. The park-keeper mistook us for young lambs."
Russell's Hound was called so by courtesy, in order to lend him a dignity
which he lacked. He may have been twelve inches high at the shoulder, and
he thought that he was exactly like a lion, except for a trifling
difference in size. Dignity is not, of course, incompatible with small
stature, but I think it was the twinkling gait of Mr. Russell's Hound
that robbed him of moral weight, and prevented you from attaching great
importance to his views.
"Young lambs!" exclaimed Mrs. Gustus. "Really, my good Kew, had you
nothing better to do?"
"Not at that time," replied Kew. "You weren't up." And he sang to drown
her sigh. Kew was the only person I ever knew who really sang to the tune
of his moods. He sang Albert Hall sort of music very loudly when he was
happy, and when he was extremely happy he roared so that his voice broke
out of tune. When he was silent it was almost always because he was
asleep, or because some other member of the Family was talking. When, by
some accident, the whole Family was simultaneously silent, you could not
help noticing what an oppressively still place London was. The sound of
Russell's Hound sneezing in the hall was like a bomb.
But at the present moment Kew only sang a few bars of Beethoven in a
small voice. He was rather sad, because of Jay. He had not realised
till he came home how very thoroughly Jay had disappeared. He led
the conversation to Jay. It often happened that Kew led conversations,
because conversations, like the public, generally follow the loudest
"Why so sudden?" asked Kew, apparently of the Round Pond, so loud was his
voice. "That's what I can't make out. She used to be such a human sort,
and anybody with half an ear could hear the decisions bubbling about
under the lid for weeks before they boiled over."
Everybody—even Cousin Gustus—knew that he was talking of Jay. Kew said
so much that he might be excused for forgetting occasionally what he had
not said. Besides, he had talked of little else but Jay since he rejoined
his Family two days before.
"She used to be a good girl," sighed Cousin Gustus. "So few girls
Cousin Gustus is an expert pessimist. Vice, accidents, and terrible ends
are his speciality. All virtue is to him an exception, and by him is
immediately forgotten. In sudden deaths you cannot catch him out. If you
were tossed from the horns of a bull into the jaws of a crocodile, and
died of pneumonia contracted during the flight, you would not surprise
Cousin Gustus. He is never at a loss for a precedent. The only way you
could really astonish him would be by living a blameless life without
adventure, and dying of old age in your bed.
"There were warnings," said Anonyma. "Little disagreements with Gustus."
"She wanted to bring vermin into the house," mourned Cousin Gustus.
Kew suggested: "White mice?"
"Not vermin unattended," Anonyma explained. "She wanted to adopt Brown
Borough babies. She had been working desultorily in the Brown Borough
since War broke out."
"That might explain the peculiar and un-Jay-like remark in her letter to
you—that she would settle in no home except the Perfect Home. I hate
things in capital letters."
"Why didn't she get married?" grumbled Cousin Gustus. "She was engaged
for nearly three weeks to young William Morgan, a most respectable young
man. So few young men—"
"She wrote to me that she couldn't keep up that engagement," said Kew.
"Not even by looking upon it as War Work. She called him a 'Surface young
man,' and that again seemed unlike her. She usen't to mind surfaceness.
The War seems to have turned her upside down. But then, of course, the
War has turned us all upside down, and in that position you generally get
a rush of brains to the head. We're all feverish, that's what's the
matter with us. When I was in hospital I lived for three weeks on the top
of a high temperature, laughing. I want to laugh now…. It's a damn
"I once knew a man who died of apoplexy while swearing," sniffed
"You have been damned unlucky in your friends, Cousin Gustus," said Kew.
He paused, and then added: "Besides, I hardly ever say Damn without
saying Un-damn to myself afterwards. It seems a pity to waste a precious
word on an inadequate cause, and I always retrieve it if I can."
"Before you came down to breakfast this morning, Kew," said Anonyma, "we
had an idea."
"Only one between you in all that time?" said Kew. "I was half an
"Now, Kew, be an angel and agree with the idea. I've set my heart on it,"
said Mrs. Gustus.
When Mrs. Gustus talked in a womanly way like this, the change was always
unmistakable. She was naturally an unnatural talker, and when she
mentioned such natural things as angels, you knew she was resorting
deliberately to womanly charm in order to attain her end. There was
something very cold-blooded about Anonyma's womanly charm.
"Good Lord," said Kew, "I wish angels had never been invented. I never
am one, only people always tell me to be one. I never get officially
recognised in heaven. What is the plan?"
"There is Russell's car doing nothing," began Mrs. Gustus.
"Do you mean Christina?" interrupted Kew, shocked at such formality.
"Don't call her Russell's car, it sounds so cold."
"There is Russell's Christina doing nothing," compromised Anonyma. "And
petrol isn't so bad as it will be. And it's a beautiful time of year. And
you are not strong yet, really. And we want Jay back."
"A procession of facts doesn't make a plan," objected Kew.
"It may lead to one, eventually," said Mrs. Gustus. "Oh, Kew, I want to
go out into the country, I want to thread the pale Spring air, and hear
the lambs cry. I want to brush my face against the grass, and wade in a
wave of bluebells. I want to forget blood and Belgians and kiss Nature."
"Take a twenty-eight 'bus, and kiss Hampstead Heath," suggested Kew.
"The Spring has got there all right."
Anonyma, behind the coffee-pot, was jotting down in a notebook the
salient points in her outburst. She always placed her literary calling
first. And anyway, I should be rather proud if I could talk like that
about the Spring without any preparation.
"The idea originally," began Mr. Russell tentatively, "was not only
formed to allow Mrs. Gustus to enjoy the Spring, but also to make you
quite strong before you go back to work. And, again, not only that, but
also to try and trace your sister Jay."
Will you please imagine that continual intercourse with very talkative
people had made Mr. Russell an adept at vocal compression. He had now
almost lost the use of his vowels, and if I wrote as he spoke, the effect
would be like an advertisement for a housemaid during the shortage of
wood-pulp. I spare you this.
"There are three objections to the plan," said Kew. "First, that
Anonyma doesn't really want to kiss the Spring; second, that I don't
really want convalescent treatment; third, that Jay doesn't really want
to be traced."
When Mrs. Gustus did not know the answer to an objection she left
it unanswered. This is, of course, the simplest way. She snapped
"Oh, Kew," she said, "you promised you'd be an angel." The double row of
semi-detached buttons down her breast trembled with eagerness.
"Angeller and angeller," sighed Kew, "I never committed myself so far."
"I have a clue with which to trace Jay," said Mrs. Gustus. "I had a
letter from her this morning."
Kew was a satisfactory person to surprise. He is never supercilious.
"You heard from Jay!" he said, in a voice as high as his eyebrows.
The letter which Mrs. Gustus showed to Kew may be quoted here:
"This place has stood since the year twelve something, and its windows
look down without even the interruption of a sill at the coming and going
of the tides. It has hardly any garden, and immediately to the right and
the left of it the green down brims over the top of the cliff like the
froth of ale over a silver goblet. To-night the tide is low, the sea is
golden where the shallow waves break upon the sand, and ghostly green in
the distance. When the tide is high, the sound and the sight of it seem
to meet and make one thing. The waves press up the cliff then, and fall
back on each other. Do you know the lines that are written on the face of
a disappointed wave? To-night the clouds are like castles built on the
plain of the sea. There is an aeroplane at this moment—dim as a little
thought—coming between two turrets of cloud. I suppose it is that I can
hear, but it sounds like the distant singing of the moon. I have come
here to count up my theories, to count them and pile them up like money,
in heaps, according to their value. Theories are such beautiful things,
there must be some use in them. Or perhaps they are like money from a
distant country, and not in currency here. Yet just as sheer metal, they
must have some value…. It is wonderful that such happiness should come
to me, and that it should last. I have the Sea and a Friend; there is
nothing in the world I lack, and nothing that I regret…."
"What better clue could you want?" asked Mrs. Gustus. "We will take
Christina round the sea-coast."
"Looking for silver cliffs and a golden sea," sighed Kew.
I don't know if I have mentioned or conveyed to you that Mrs. Gustus was
a determined woman. At any rate she was, and it would therefore be waste
of time to describe the gradual defeat of Kew. The final stage was the
despatch of Kew to call on Nana in the Brown Borough. Jay's letter had
the Brown Borough postmark, so it had apparently been sent to Nana to
post. Nana might be described as the Second Clue in the pursuit of Jay.
She was the Family's only link with Jay. The one drawback of Nana as a
clue was that she was never to be found. Mrs. Gustus had called six
times, but had been repulsed on each occasion by a totally dumb front
door. But then Nana never had liked Anonyma. Nana was simple herself in
an amateurish, unconscious sort of way, and I expect she disliked
Anonyma's professional rivalry in the matter of simplicity. But Kew was
always a favourite.
The 'bus roared up the canyons of the City, and its voice accompanied Kew
in his tuneful meditations. A 'bus is not really well adapted for
meditation. On my feet I can stride across unseen miles musing on love,
in a taxi I can think about to-morrow's dinner, but on a 'bus my thoughts
will go no further than my eyes can see. So Kew, although he thought he
was thinking of Jay, was really considering the words in front of him—To
Stop O'Bus strike Bell at Rear.[Footnote: He must have changed at the
Bank into a Tilling 'bus.] He deduced from this that it was an Irish
'bus, and supposed that this accounted for its rather head-long
behaviour. He spent some moments in imagining the MacBus, child of a
sterner race, which would run gutturally without skids, and wear a
different cut of bonnet.
He dismounted into a faint yellow fog diluted with a faint twilight, in
the Brown Borough. The air was vague, making it not so much an
impossibility to decipher the features of people approaching as a
surprise to find it possible. A few rather premature bar row-flares
adapted Scripture to modern conditions by hiding their light under tin
substitutes for bushels, in the hope of protecting such valuables as
cat's meat and bananas from aerial outrage. Kew pranced over prostrate
children, and curved about the pavement to avoid artificially vivacious
passers-by, who emerged from the public-houses.
Nana lived in a little alley which was like a fiord of peace running in
from the shrill storm of the Brown Borough. Here little cottages shrank
together, passive resisters of the twentieth century. Low crooked windows
blinked through a mask of dirty creepers. Each little front garden
contained a shrub, and was guarded by a low railing, although there would
have been no room for a trespasser in addition to the shrub. Nana's
house, at the end of the alley, looked along it to the far turmoil of the
Kew insulted the gate, as usual, by stepping over it, and knocked at the
door. He held his breath, so that he might more keenly hear the first
whisperings of the floor upstairs, which would show that Nana was astir.
A gardenful of cats came and told him that his hopes were vain. Cats only
exist, I think, for the chastening of man. They never come to me except
to tell me the worst, and to crush me with quiet sarcasm should my
optimism survive their warning.
But before the cats had finished speaking, there was a most un-Nana-like
sound of bounding within, and Jay appeared. She threw herself out of the
darkness of the door on to the twilit Kew.
The cats were ashamed to be seen watching this almost canine display, and
"I didn't know you weren't in France," said Jay to Kew.
"I didn't know you weren't in Heaven," said Kew to Jay. "What's all this
about golden seas and aeroplanes snarling around?"
"Oh, snarling…. That's just what they do," said Jay. "Let's pretend I
It seemed as if childhood turned its face to them again after a thousand
years. These roaring months of War run like a sea between us and our
peaceful beginnings, so that a catchword flashed across out of our past
is as beautiful and as incredible as the light in a dream.
When they were little they used to bargain for expressive words. Their
childhood was full of such hair-splittings as: "If you tell how we said
Wank-wank to the milkman, you must let me have the old lady who had a
palpitation and puffocated running after the 'bus."
They were not spontaneous people. They were born with too great a love of
words, a passion for drama at the expense of truth, and a habit of
overweighting common life with romance. It was perhaps good for them to
have acquired such a very simple relation by marriage as Anonyma.
"About the sea," said Jay, "I'll tell you later."
"Well, tell me first why you found home so suddenly unbearable. You've
stood it for eighteen years."
"I've been a child all through those eighteen years. And to a child just
the fact of grown-upness is so admirable. I wonder why. But under the
fierce light that beats from the eye of a woman suddenly and violently
grown old, Cousin Gustus and Anonyma don't—well, Kew, do they?"
The dusk filled the room as water fills a cup, and to look up at the
light of an outside lamp on the ceiling was like looking up through water
at the surface. Jay wore a dress of the same colour of the dusk, and her
round face, faint as a bubble, seemed to float on its background
"Didn't you think about adopting a baby?" suggested Kew. "That evidently
put Cousin Gustus's back up."
"I didn't put Cousin Gustus's back up so high as he put mine," answered
Jay. "Oh, Kew, what are the old that they should check us? What's the use
of this war of one generation against another? Old people and young
people reach a deadlock that's as bad as marriage without the possibility
of divorce. Isn't all forced fidelity wrong?"
"What did you do, tell me, and what are you going to do?"
"Oh well, I felt something like frost in the air, and I couldn't define
it. Really, it was work waiting to be done. Not work for the poor, but
work with the poor. At home I talked about work, and Anonyma wrote about
it, and Cousin Gustus shuddered at it. You were doing it all right, but
where was I? Three days a week with soldiers' wives. My brow never
sweated a drop. I thought there must be something better than a
bird's-eye view of work. So I took a job at a bolster place…. Oh well,
it doesn't matter now. I earned ten shillings a week, and paid
half-a-crown for a little basement back. On Saturdays I got my Sunday
clothes out of pawn, and came to tea with Nana. Do you remember the
scones and the Welsh Rarebit that Nana used to make? I believe those
things were worth the terror of the pawnshop. Oh, Kew, those pawnshops!
Those little secret stalls that put shame into you where none was before.
The pawn man—why is it that when you're already frightened is the moment
that men choose to frighten you? Because weakness is the worst crime.
That I have proved. My work was putting fluff into bolsters. There was a
big bright grocers' calendar—the Death of Nelson—and if I could see it
through the fog of fluff I felt that was a lucky day. I had to eat my
lunch there, raspberry jam sandwiches—not fruit jam, you know, but
raspberry flavour. It wasn't nice, and it used to get fluffy in that air.
The others sat round and munched and picked their teeth and read Jew
newspapers. Have you ever noticed that whichever way up you look at a Jew
newspaper, you always feel as if you could read it better if you were
standing on your head? My governor was a Jew too. He wasn't bad, but he
looked wet, and his hair was a horror to me. His voice was tired of
dealing with fluff—though he didn't deal with it so intimately as we
did—and it only allowed him to whisper. The forewoman was always cross,
but always as if she would rather not be so, as if she were being cross
for a bet, and as if some one were watching her to see she was not kind
by mistake. She looked terribly ill, because she had worked there for
three months, which was a record. I stood it five weeks, and then I had a
hemorrhage—only from the throat, the doctor said. I wanted to go to
bed, but you can't, because the panel doctors in these parts will not
come to you. My doctor was half an enormous mile away, and it seemed he
only existed between seven and nine in the evenings. So I stayed up, so
as not to get too weak to walk. I went and asked the governor for my
stamps. I had only five stamps due to me, only five valuable threepences
had been stopped out of my wages. But I had a silly conviction at that
time that the Insurance Act was invented to help working people. What an
absurd idea of mine! I went to the Jew for my card. He said mine was a
hard case, but I was not entitled to a card; nobody under thirty, he
said, was allowed by law to have a card. So I said it was only fair to
tell him I was going to the Factory and Insurance Inspectors about him. I
told him lots of things, and I was so angry that I cried. He was very
angry too, and made me feel sick by splashing his wet hair about. He said
it was unfair for ladies to interfere in things they knew nothing about.
I said I interfered because I knew nothing about it, but that now I knew.
I said that ladies and women had exactly the same kind of inside, and it
was a kind that never thrived on fluff instead of food. I told him how I
spent my ten shillings. He couldn't interrupt really, because he had no
voice. Then I fainted, and a friend I have there, called Mrs. Love, came
in. She had been listening at the door. She was very good to me.
"Then, when I was well again, I found another job, but I shan't tell you
what it is. As for the Inspectors, I complained, but—what's the use? So
long as you must put fluff of that pernicious kind into bolsters, just so
long will you kill the strength and the beauty of women. It looked so
like a deadlock that it frightened me, and now in this wonderful life I
lead, my Friend won't let me think of it. A deadlock is a dreadful
accident, isn't it? because in theory it doesn't exist. I am working for
a new end now. Isn't it splendid that there is really no Place Called
Stop? There is always an end beyond the end, always something to love and
look forward to. Life is a luxury, isn't it? there's no use in it—but
"You haven't told me about the sea yet," said Kew.
"Because I don't think you'd believe me. We were always liars, weren't
we? That's because we're romantic, or if it's not romance, the symptoms
of the disease are very like. Why can't we get rid of it all as Anonyma
does? She has no gift except the gift of being able to get rid of
superfluous romance. She takes that great ease impersonally, her pose
is, 'It's a gift from Heaven, and an infernal bore.' But I never get
nearer to joy than I do in this Secret World of mine, and with my
"But what is it? What is he like?"
"I should be guilty of the murder of a secret if I told you. He isn't
particularly romantic. I have seen him in a poor light; I have watched
him in a most undignified temper; I have known him when he wanted a
shave. I don't exist in this World of mine. I am just a column of thin
air, watching with my soul."
"Then you're really telling lies to Anonyma when you write about it all?
I'm not reproaching you of course, I only want to get my mind clear."
"I suppose they're lies," assented Jay ruefully, "though it seems
sacrilege to say so, for I know these things better than I know myself.
But Truth—or Untruth, what's the use of words like that when miracles
are in question?"
"Oh, damn this What's the Use Trick," said Kew. "I suppose you
picked that up in this private Heaven of yours. The whole thing's
absolutely—My dear little Jay, am I offending you?"
"Yes," said Jay.
Chloris sighed too. Chloris had played the thankless part of third in
this interview. She was Jay's friend, a terrier with a black eye. She
shared Jay's burning desire to be of use, and, like most embryo
reformers, she had a poor taste in dress. She wore her tail at an aimless
angle, without chic; her markings were all lopsided. But her soul was
ardent, and her life was always directed by some rather inscrutable
theory or other. As a puppy she had been an inspired optimist, with legs
like strips of elastic clumsily attached to a winged spirit. Later she
had adopted a vigorous anarchist policy, and had inaugurated what was
probably known in her set as the "Bite at Sight Campaign." Cured of this,
she had become a gentle Socialist, and embraced the belief that all
property—especially edible property—should be shared. Appetites, she
argued, were meant to be appeased, and the preservation of game—or
anything else—in the larder was an offence against the community. Now,
at the age of five or so, she affected cynicism, pretended temporarily
that life had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and sighed frequently.
"Kew," said Jay presently, "will you promise not to tell the Family you
saw me? I don't want it to know about me. After all, theories are driving
me, and theories don't concern that Family of ours. What's the use of a
Family? (I'm saying this just to exasperate you.) A Family's just a
little knot of not necessarily congenial people, with Fate rubbing their
heads together so as to strike sparks of love. Love—what's the use of
Love? I'd like to catch that Love and box his ears, making such a fool of
the world. What's the use?"
"God knows," said Kew. "Cheer up, my friend, I promise I won't tell the
Family I've seen you, or anything about you." At the same moment he
remembered the motor tour.
"It's a lovely word faithful, isn't it?" she said, wriggling in her
chair. "Yours faithfully is a most beautiful ending to a letter. Why is
it that faith with a little F is such a perfect thing, and yet Faith,
grown-up Faith in Church, is so tiring?"
"Perhaps one is overworked and the other isn't," suggested Kew.
As he went out into the darkness the noise of London sprang into his
ears, and the remote brown room where he had left Jay seemed to become
divided from him by great distances. The town was like a garden, and he,
an insect, pressed through its undergrowth. The rare lamps and the stars
flowered above him.
My yesterday has gone, has gone, and left me tired;
And now to-morrow comes and beats upon the door;
So I have built to-day, the day that I desired,
Lest joy come not again, lest peace return no more,
Lest comfort come no more.
So I have built to-day, a proud and perfect day,
And I have built the towers of cliffs upon the sands.
The foxgloves and the gorse I planted on my way.
The thyme, the velvet thyme, grew up beneath my hands,
Grew pink beneath my hands.
So I have built to-day, more precious than a dream;
And I have painted peace upon the sky above;
And I have made immense and misty seas that seem
More kind to me than life, more fair to me than love,
More beautiful than love.
And I have built a House, a House upon the brink
Of high and twisted cliffs,—the sea's low singing fills it.
And there my Secret Friend abides, and there I think
I'll hide my heart away before to-morrow kills it,
A cold to-morrow kills it.
Yes, I have built to-day, a wall against to-morrow,
So let to-morrow knock, I shall not be afraid,
For none shall give me death, and none shall give me sorrow,
And none shall spoil this darling day that I have made.
No storm shall stir my sea. No night but mine shall shade
This day that I have made.
"We will start on our quest to-morrow," said Anonyma. "To-day I
Nobody in Anonyma's circle was ever allowed to forget that she spent
four hours a week in the service of her country. You would never guess
how much insight into the souls of the poor, four hours a week can give
to a person like Anonyma. She had written two books about the Brown
Borough since the outbreak of War. The provincial Press had been much
impressed by their vivid picture of slum realities. Anonyma's poor were
always yearning, yearning to be understood and loved by a ministering
upper class, yearning for light, for art, for self-expression, for
novels by high-souled ladies. The atmosphere of Anonyma's fiction was
thick with yearning.
Anonyma always came home from her Work with what she called
"word-vignettes" in her notebook. She gave her Family the benefit of
these during the rest of the week, besides fitting them into her books.
So that although Cousin Gustus always conscientiously bought a dozen
copies of each novel as it came out, he really wasted his money, for he
was obliged to know all his wife's copy by heart before it got into
print. By speaking each thought as well as writing it, Anonyma rather
unfairly won a reputation twice over with the same material.
Anonyma produced a vignette now, in order to show how necessary it was
that she should hurry to her yearning flock.
"I came into the room of one of my sailors' wives last week, and I found
her with a baby sobbing on her breast, and an empty hearth at her feet. I
thought of the eternal tragedy of womanhood. I said, 'Will my love help,
There was a pause, and Cousin Gustus sighed.
"What did she say?" asked Kew, without expecting an answer from the
artist. After all, a word-vignette is not intended to have a sequel. It
is supposed to fall complete with a little splash into your silent
understanding. I must say Kew was rather tiresome in refusing to be
content with the splash.
"So few women really understand how to stop a child crying," said Cousin
Gustus, speaking from bitter and universal experience.
"That's the point," said Kew. "The child had probably swallowed a pin."
It generally breaks my heart to hear a story spoilt, but with Anonyma's
word-vignettes I did not mind, because they were told as true, and yet
they did not ring true. I must tell you that Anonyma had married into a
family of accomplished white liars, and to them the ring of truth was as
unmistakable as the dinner-bell. Few people could lie successfully to Kew
or Jay, they knew that art from the inside. White lies are easily
justified, but almost any lie can be whitewashed. Apart from the mutual
attitude of Kew and Jay, who possessed something between them that might
be called good faith, there was hardly any trust included in that family
relationship. Cousin Gustus distrusted youth. He thought young people
were always either lying to him or laughing at him, and indeed they often
were. Only not so often as he thought. He was no prop on which to repose
confidence, and it was very easy both to tell him lies and not to tell
Mrs. Gustus had no gift of intimacy. She was reserved about everything
except herself, or what she believed to be herself. The self that she
shared so generously with others was, however, not founded on fact, but
modelled on the heroine of all her books. She killed her heroine whenever
possible—I think she only once married her,—yet still the creature
remained immortal in Mrs. Gustus's public personality. She concealed or
transformed everything that did not seem artistic. Her notebook was a
tangle of self-deceptions. The rest of the Family knew this. They never
pretended to believe her.
Kew and Jay were skilled romancers, fact was clay in their hands.
Nobody had ever taught them such a dull lesson as exact truthfulness.
If they built the bare bones of their structures fairly accurately,
they placed the whole in an artificial light, altering in some
effective way the spirit of the facts. Education had impressed the
importance of technical truthfulness on Kew. But he was a quick
talker, and in order to keep him in line with his tongue, nature had
made him quick of wit, quick in argument, and unconsciously quick in
making and seeing loopholes for escape.
He was at present perfectly comfortable in his anomalous position
regarding a search round the sea-coast for a Jay he knew to be in the
"If I am going to work, I must go," said Anonyma. "Russ and I will go
together as far as the Underground."
She looked at herself in the glass. The scarlet bird in her hat had an
arresting expression. As she was putting on her gloves she said, "I'm
sorry, Kew, about your disappointment, not finding Nana at home last
night. But I told you so."
She had no fear of this much-shunned phrase.
"Never mind," said Kew mildly. "We'll put Christina on the track
Mr. Russell said a polite Good-bye to his Hound, and accompanied
his friend Anonyma to the Underground. That was a fateful little
journey for him.
As he turned from Anonyma's side at the bookstall, he noticed a 'bus
positively beckoning to him. It had a lady conductor, and she was poised
expectantly, one hand on the bell and the other beckoning to Mr. Russell.
His nature was docile, and the 'bus was bound for Chancery Lane, his
destination. He mounted the 'bus.
I need hardly tell you that a 'bus that makes deliberate advances to the
public is the rarest sight in London. The self-respecting 'bus looks upon
the public as dust beneath its tyres. Even a Brigadier-General with red
tabs, on his way to Whitehall, looks pathetically humble waggling his
cane at a 'bus. All 'bus-drivers have a kingly look; it comes from their
proud position. The rest of the world is only worthy to communicate with
that noble race by means of nods and becks and wreathed smiles.
"Chancery Lane, please," said Mr. Russell. "But why did you stop
specially for me?"
"I thought your wife hailed me, sir," lied the 'bus-conductor.
Any allusion to his wife mildly annoyed Mr. Russell. "Not my wife," he
said. "Merely a friend."
"Oh, I beg your pardon, sir," said the 'bus-conductor, and underlined
the "beg" with the ting of her ticket-puncher. She was rather a darling
'bus-conductor, because she was also Jay. She had a short, though not a
fat face, soft eyes, and very soft hair cut short to just below the lobes
of her ears.
A gentleman with dingy but elaborate boot-uppers hailed and mounted the
'bus. "Shufftesbury Uvvenue?" he asked. He said it that way, of course,
because he was a Shakespearian actor. The 'bus-conductor gave him his
ticket, and then took her stand upon her platform, more or less unaware
that Mr. Russell and the actor, both next to the door and opposite to
each other, were looking at her with a pleased look.
Mr. Russell thought for some time, and then he said, "'T's a
"That's what it is," replied the 'bus-conductor. "I wonder if it's wrong
to enjoy being a 'bus-conductor?"
"I shouldn't think so," said Mr. Russell cautiously. "Why?"
The 'bus-conductor waved her hand towards a State hint that shouted in
letters six foot high from an opposite wall: "DON'T USE A MOTOR CAR FOR
PLEASURE." Mr. Russell read it very carefully and said nothing.
"This is a motor car," observed the 'bus-conductor, glancing at her
inaccessible chauffeur. "And as for pleasure …"
The high houses rose out of the earth like Alps, and the roar in the
morning was like large music. She knew she had been an Olympian in a
recent life, because she found herself familiar with greater and more
gorgeous speed than any 'bus attains, and with the divine discords that
high mountains and high cities sing.
"I hope it's not wrong, because I'm going on a motor tour to-morrow,"
said Mr. Russell. "On business of a sort, and yet also on pleasure. On a
search, as a matter of fact."
"Oh, any search is pleasure," said the bus-conductor. "Especially if it's
an abstract search."
"'Tisn't," said Mr. Russell. "'T's a search for a person."
The 'bus-conductor looked at the sky. "And are Anonyma and Kew going
too?" she thought. You must bear in mind that she had deliberately
plucked him from the side of Anonyma.
"Perhaps any pleasure is wrong in these days," she said.
"Come, come," said the actor. "Whut's wrung with these days? A German
ship sunk yesterday. Thut's pleasurable enough."
The 'bus-conductor turned a cold eye upon him.
"I can cheer, but not laugh over such news as that," she said pompously.
"Doesn't even a German find the sea bitter to drown in? An English woman
or a German butcher, isn't it all the same when it comes to a Me, with a
throat full of water? Hasn't a German got a Me?"
The actor looked at his boot-uppers. Mr. Russell thought. Shufftesbury
Uvvenue arrived soon, and the actor alighted with some relief.
When the 'bus started again, the bus-conductor said, "Don't you think the
only way you can get pleasure out of it all is by treating life as a bead
upon a string?"
"That's a sufficient way, surely," said Mr. Russell. "If you can truly
In the Strand he asked, "May I come in this 'bus again?"
"This is a public 'bus," observed the 'bus-conductor.
"This is Monday," said Mr. Russell. "May I gather that during this
week your 'bus will be passing Kensington Church at half-past eleven
The 'bus-conductor did not answer. She went to the top of the 'bus to
say, "Fezz plizz."
Mr. Russell thought so furiously that he was only roused by the sound of
St. Paul's striking apparently several dozen in his immediate vicinity.
"This is Ludgate Hill. I only paid you as far as Chancery Lane. I owe you
another halfpenny," said Mr. Russell.
"A penny," said the 'bus-conductor.
As he disappeared she thought, "There is something remarkable about that
man. I wish I hadn't been so prosy. I wonder where and why Anonyma
picked him up."
When Mr. Russell came home that evening, he said, "I met—"
"Isn't it wonderful—the people and the things one meets?" said Mrs.
Gustus. "I met to-day a child with nothing but one garment on, rolling
like a sparrow in the dust. The one garment, I thought, was the only
drawback in the scene. Why can't we get back to simplicity?"
Mr. Russell, on second thoughts, was glad he had been interrupted. He did
not feel discouraged, only he decided not to try again. His Hound jumped
on to his knee and put a paw into his hand.
"I also persuaded a woman to give up drink," continued Mrs. Gustus. "I
put it to her on the ground of simplicity. She was in bed, having been
drunk the night before, and I sat on her bed with my hand on hers. I
said, 'Dear fellow-woman, there are no essentials in life but bread and
water and love. Everything else is a sort of skin-disease which has
appeared on the surface of Nature, a disease which we call civilization.'
She cried bitterly, and I gathered that she was lacking in all three
essentials. I went and bought her four loaves of bread, on condition she
would promise never to touch intoxicants again. I said I would not go
away until she promised. She promised. I left her still crying."
Cousin Gustus sighed. He never went about himself, and only saw the world
through his wife's eyes. This did not tend to cure his pessimism.
"It is wonderful how one can reach the bed-rock of life in two hours
among the poor and simple," said Mrs. Gustus. "By the way, I only put in
two hours to-day, because I think I can do better work in two hours
twice a week than in four hours once. So I shall come up for the
afternoon one day this week from wherever we are by then, and leave you
three men prostrate on some shore, with your ears to Nature, like a
child's ear to a shell."
She groped for her notebook.
"I must come up now and then too," said Mr. Russell, and poked his Hound
secretly in the ribs.
* * * * *
I can't tell you what countless miles away his 'bus-conductor was by now.
A certain fraction of her, to be sure, was sitting in the dark room at
Number Eighteen Mabel Place, Brown Borough, with fierce hands pinching
the table-cloth, and a hot forehead on the table. All day long the thirst
for a secret journey had been in her throat. All day long the elaborate
tangle of London had made difficult her way, but she had kicked aside the
snare now, and her free feet were on the step of the House by the Sea.
No voices met her at the door, the hall was empty. The firelight
pencilled in gold the edges of the wooden figure that presided over the
stairs. I think I told you about that figure. I never knew whose it
was—a saint's I think, but her virtuous expression was marred by her
broken nose, and the finger with which she had once pointed to Heaven was
also broken. Her figure was rather stiff, and so were her draperies,
which fell in straight folds to her blocklike feet. Her right hand was
raised high, and her left was held alertly away from her side and had
unseparated fingers. She had seen a great procession of generations pass
her pedestal, but she never saw Jay. Of course not, for Jay was not
there. Only a column of thin watching air haunted the House.
There are many ghosts that haunt the House by the Sea. Jay is, of
course, one of them, and for this reason she knows more about ghosts than
any one I know. Fragments of untold stories are familiar to her. She
knows how you may hear in the dark a movement by your bed, and fling out
your hand and feel it grasped, and then feel the grasp slide up from your
hand to your shoulder, from your shoulder to your throat, from your
throat to your heart. She knows how you may go between trees in the
moonlight to meet your friend, and find suddenly that some one is keeping
pace with you, and how you, mistaking this companion for your friend, may
say some silly greeting that only your friend understands. And how your
heart drops as you hear the first breath of the reply. She knows how,
walking in the mid-day streets of London, you may cross the path of some
Great One who had a prior right by many thousand years to walk beside the
Thames. These are the ghost stories that never get told. Few people can
read them between the lines of press accounts of inquests, or in the
dignified announcements of the failure of hearts, on the front page of
the Morning Post. But Jay knows, because of her intimacy with the House
by the Sea. There she meets her fellow-ghosts.
The House, as I told you, has hardly any garden; having the sea, it
doesn't need one. But there is a little formal place about twenty paces
across, set, as it were, in the heart of the House. A small prim square,
bounded on the north, south and east by the House itself, and on the west
by the cliff and the sea. There is a stone balustrade to divide the
garden from space. In the middle of the square is a stone basin with
becalmed water-lilies and of course goldfish. Round the basin the orderly
ranks of little clipped box hedges manoeuvre. The untamed elements in the
garden are the climbing things, they sing in gold and yellow and orange
and red from the walls. The only official way into the garden is a door
from the House, a bald door without eyebrows, so to speak, like all the
doors and windows in the House. But there is an unofficial way into the
garden, and Jay found her Secret Friend there. This is the short cut to
the sea. In other words, it is a wriggly ladder, one end of which you
attach to a hook in the wall, and the other you throw over the balustrade
down the cliff to the sea. It is a long way to walk round the House and
along the cliff and down to the sea by the path. And just as the
house-agents always want to be one minute and a half from the church and
the post-office, so we in the Secret House cannot afford to be more than
a minute and a half from the sea.
The Secret Friend was there, and he was gazing so earnestly down the
cliff that his hair was hanging forward most unbeautifully, and he was
rather red in the face. He was looking at a little boat which was on its
way towards the foot of the wriggly ladder. A schooner with the low sun
climbing down her rigging breathed on the breathing sea not far away. The
tide was high.
The oars of the little boat suddenly wavered and were paralysed. One of
the rowers made a quick movement with his hand.
"It's the Law," said the Secret Friend, and he tried spasmodically to
extinguish the sun with his hand. "It's the Law. The man with the tall
and dewy brow."
The Law, in a fat officious-looking boat, came sneaking round the near
point of the cliff. The air was so still, and the sea so calm, that you
could hear the sides of the boat grate against the cliff. And the air was
so clear that you could see the tall and dewy brow of the Law, as he
stood up and discovered the wriggly ladder.
"To have a face like that," said the Secret Friend, "is to challenge
fate. It makes me sick."
"What is this?" asked the Law, although there seemed little doubt that
the thing was a wriggly ladder. No one answered; so the Law rowed to the
foot of the thing in question. The Secret Friend jerked it up about six
feet, and secured it so.
The Law cleared its throat, and looked nervously at the schooner, and at
the sun, and at the other boat, and at the Secret Friend. The Law likes
to be argued with. Take away words and where is the Law? Silence always
Yet there was no silence in the Secret World. I remember how the roses
sang, and how the sea mourned over the confusion of its gentle dreams.
The knocking of the slow sea upon the cliff seemed like the ticking of
the great clock that is our world. It was a night when every horizon had
heaven calling from the other side.
The Story went on….
* * * * *
It was Chloris who brought Jay back to Number Eighteen Mabel Place, Brown
Borough. Chloris gave an unromantic snort and sat with unnecessary
clumsiness upon Jay's toe. So Jay returned, falling suddenly out of the
music of the sea into the band-of-hopeful music of distant Boy Scouts on
Number Eighteen Mabel Place is not, as a rule, a hopeful place to return
to. Jay and I know quite well what Satan felt like when he was expelled
So Jay, whose refuge from most ills was talk, went to see a friend. She
had many friends in the Brown Borough, and most of them were what Mrs.
Gustus would call "undeserving." Mrs. Gustus has a very high mind; she
and the C.O.S. are dreadfully grown-up institutions, I think; they forget
what it feels like to have a good rampageous kick against the pricks.
Nearly everybody in the Brown Borough enjoys a kick once a week (on
pay-day)—and some of us go on kicking all our lives. At any rate, the
Brown Borough is peopled with babies young and old, and high minds and
grown-up institutions are apt to look over heads. Jay had a low mind and
walked about on the Brown Borough level.
"I have got neuralgia," said Jay to Chloris, "my hat feels too tight.
My head feels like tête de veau farcie. I shall go and talk to Mrs.
And so she did, and found that Mrs. 'Ero Edwards had been wanting to
see her to tell her that the war would be over in June, and that the
Edwards's nephew knew on the best authority that the Kaser couldn't get
no kipper to his breakfast any more because Preserdink Wilson was
a-holding of them up upon the high seas, and that Jimmy Wragge was
"wanted" for "helping himself," and that young Dusty Morgan, the
lodger, had gone for a soldier, and his wife had taken his job as
driver of a van.
"There's only two jobs now," said Mrs. 'Ero Edwards, "wot you never see
a woman doin', and one's a burglar, an' the other's a scarecrow."
Jay said, "The lady burglars would be so clever they'd never get into the
papers, and the lady scarecrows would be so attractive that they'd
fascinate the birds."
And then Mrs. 'Ero Edwards considered what she would say to an 'Un if she
had him here, and Jay was called upon to provide 'Unnish replies in the
'Unnish lingo. Her German was so patriotically rusty that she could think
of no better retorts than "Nicht hinauslehnen," or "Bitte nicht zu
rauchen," or "Heisses Wasser, bitte," or "Wacht am Rhein," or "Streng
verboten." Yet the dramatic effect of the interview was very good indeed,
and Mrs. 'Ero Edwards's arguments were unanswerable in any tongue.
And then they thought they would make a surprise for young Mrs. Dusty
Morgan, the lodger, against she come back from work, because she was that
down'earted. So they went and bought some ribbon to tie up the curtains,
and some flowers for the table, and put the chairs in happy and new
attitudes of expectancy, and cleaned the windows, putting a piece of
white paper on the broken pane instead of the rag, which was rather weary
of its job. And then Mrs. 'Ero Edwards confided to Jay that young Mrs.
Dusty wanted very much to find the picture of a real tip-top soldier, so
that she might look at it and remember how this business was going to
make a man of young Dusty. And Jay went all the way to the City and could
find no picture of a tip-top soldier, and then she came back to the Brown
Borough, and because of the intervention of Providence, found Albrecht
Dürer's "St. George" second-hand in a Jew-shop. And they hung it up over
the mantelpiece, and decided that it was rather like Dusty, if it wasn't
for the uniform. And the general effect was so superb that Jay nearly
spoilt it all by jumping a hole in the floor, so as to jog Time's elbow
and bring Mrs. Dusty home quickly to see it all. It was a very delicate
floor. Jay always jumped when she was impatient. She did everything with
double fervour, and where you or I would have stamped one foot, she
stamped two at once.
Mrs. Dusty Morgan came back a little bit drunk. When she saw the Saint
over the mantelpiece she cried, and blasted the war that made it
necessary to wear them … respirators all over (the Saint is in
armour),—and when she saw the flowers, she laughed, and said it seemed
like Nothing-on-Earth to have Dusty away.
Oh, bend your eyes, nor send your glance about.
Oh, watch your feet, nor stray beyond the kerb.
Oh, bind your heart lest it find secrets out.
For thus no punishment
Of magic shall disturb
Your very great content.
Oh, shut your lips to words that are forbidden.
Oh, throw away your sword, nor think to fight.
Seek not the best, the best is better hidden.
Thus need you have no fear,
No terrible delight
Shall cross your path, my dear.
Call no man foe, but never love a stranger.
Build up no plan, nor any star pursue.
Go forth with crowds; in loneliness is danger.
Thus nothing Fate can send,
And nothing Fate can do
Shall pierce your peace, my friend.
Christina the motor car started next morning. She set her tyres on the
road to the Secret World. For all the clues that Jay provided pointed to
"Here is another letter from Jay," said Mrs. Gustus as they started,
bristling with clues. Odd, under the circumstances, that she writes to
me so often and so freely. I will read you some of it, but not all, until
I have thought my suspicions over. She writes:
"… A collision with the Law to-night, under a great sunset. It would
have been rather silly by common daylight, but under a yellow sky with
stars in it, I think nothing can live but romance. The tide was coming
up, and the Law—a man with a tall and dewy brow—rowed up to the foot of
our little ladder that leads to the sea…. You know those round stone
balls that sit on the balustrades of formal gardens such as this … we
only meant to frighten the Law, a splash was all that we intended, but
the sun was in my Friend's eyes as he dropped the ball. It struck the bow
of the boat, which went under like a frightened porpoise. There were two
men in it, besides the Law itself, and they all came up spitting and
spouting, and stood up to their necks in water. Oaths bubbled up to us.
The boat came up badly perforated, and I expect we shall get into
trouble. It was funny, but the War has rather pacified us peace-time
belligerents, and made people like me unused to collisions with
authority. I felt very nervous, but it was all right because …"
"I will read you no more, but in that much there should be several clues.
We must keep the western sun in our eyes to begin with."
"We must look out for a householder of irregular—not to say
murderous—habits," said Cousin Gustus. "Juggling with stone balls is a
trick that is frequently fatal. Nobody but Jay would encourage it."
"We must comb out all western seaside resorts for local police with tall
and dewy brows," said Kew.
But Mr. Russell, who preferred not to speak and drive Christina at the
same time, drew up to the kerb, and removed his gloves, preparatory to
saying something of importance.
Mr. Russell was at his best in a car, or, to put it another way, he
was at his worst everywhere else. When he and Christina went out
together they were only one entity. They were a centaur on wheels; Mr.
Russell could feel the rushing of the road beneath his tyres, and I
think if you had stuck a pin into the back seat, Mr. Russell would have
known it. You could feel now the puzzled growl of Christina's engines
as Mr. Russell pondered.
"But I remember …" said Mr. Russell. "Now, did I see it in the
paper…? I remember…. Half a minute, it is coming back."
"Here's to-day's paper," said Kew, who was getting a little confused. You
will feel the same when you set out to follow the western sun in search
of something you know you have left behind you.
Mr. Russell and Christina lingered beside the kerb for quite a minute,
and then shrugged their shoulders and started again.
So the Family set their faces towards the Secret World, with Mr. Russell
as their guide, and the morning sun behind them.
London is a friend whom I can leave knowing without doubt that she will
be the same to me when I return, to-morrow or forty years hence, and
that, if I do not return, she will sing the same song to inheritors of my
happy lot in future generations. Always, whether sleeping or waking, I
shall know that in Spring the sun rides over the silver streets of
Kensington, and that in the Gardens the shorn sheep find very green
pasture. Always the plaited threads of traffic will wind about the reel
of London; always as you go up Regent Street from Pall Mall and look
back, Westminster will rise with you like a dim sun over the horizon of
Whitehall. That dive down Fleet Street and up to the black and white
cliffs of St. Paul's will for ever bring to mind some rumour of romance.
There is always a romance that we leave behind in London, and always
London enlocks that flower for us, and keeps it fresh, so that when we
come back we have our romance again.
Mr. Russell was a lover of London, and that is why he liked his new-found
'bus-conductor. He was an uncalculating sort of man, and he only thought
that he had found a flower in London, a very London flower, and he hoped
that London would show it to him again. He had no instinct either for the
past or the future. He never looked back over the road he had trod,
unless he was obliged to, and he never tried to look forward to the end
of the road he was treading.
Mrs. Gustus, with an iron expression about her chin, kept time to the
beat of Christina's engine with the throbbing of disagreeable thoughts.
There was one thing very plain to her in the matter of Jay—that Jay was
living a life that in a novel is called free, but in a Family—well—you
know what … Mrs. Gustus knew all about these Friends with capital F's,
Friends with hair flopping over their foreheads, Friends who might drop
stone balls on the Law and still retain their capital F's. She had, in
fact, written about them with much daring and freedom. But one's young
relations may never share the privileges of one's heroines. Sympathy with
such goings on must be confined to the printed page.
"I will keep these things from the others," thought Mrs. Gustus. "They
have no suspicions, and if we can find Jay I may be able to save her
Really she was thinking as much of her own good name as of Jay's. For
there was a most irritating similarity between Jay's present apparent
practices and Mrs. Gustus's own much-expressed theories. The beauty of a
free life of simplicity had filled pages of Anonyma's notebooks, and
also, to the annoyance of Cousin Gustus, had overflowed into her
conversation. Cousin Gustus's memory had been constantly busy extracting
from the past moral tales concerning the disasters attendant on excessive
simplicity in human relationships. For a time it had seemed as if Cousin
Gustus's lot had been cast entirely with the matrimonially unorthodox.
And now Mrs. Gustus, for one impatient minute, wished that the children
would pay more attention to their elderly and experienced guardian. It
was too much to ask her—a professional theory-maker—to adapt her
theories to the young and literal. That was the worst of Jay, she was so
literal, so unimaginative, so lacking in the simple unpractical quality
of poetry. However, not a word to the others. Jay's reputation and
Anonyma's dignity might yet be saved.
"I don't know where we are going," said Anonyma presently. "I have no
bump of locality."
She always spoke proudly of her failings, as though there were a
rapt press interviewer at her elbow, anxious to make a word-vignette
Mr. Russell was thinking, and Kew was singing, so between them they
forgot to shape the course of Christina due west. When they got outside
London, they found themselves going south.
To go out of London was like going out of doors. The beauty of London is
a dim beauty, and while you are in the middle of it you forget what it is
like to see things clearly. In London every hour is a hill of adventure,
and in the country every hour is a dimple in a quiet expanse of time.
The Family went out over the hills of Surrey, and between roadside
trees they saw the crowned heads of the seaward downs. The horizon
sank lower around them, the fields and woods circled and squared the
ribs of the land.
Before sunset they had reached the little town that guards the gate
in the wall of the Sussex downs. They were welcomed by a thunderstorm,
and by passionate rain that drove them to the inn. Christina, torn
between her pride of soul and her pride of paint, was obliged to edge
herself into a shed which was already occupied by two cows and a red
and blue waggon.
When the pursuers of Jay set their feet on the uneven floor of the inn,
they recognised the place immediately as ideal. Its windows squinted, its
floor made you feel as though you were drunk, its banisters reeled, its
flights of stairs looked frequently round in an angular way at their own
"How Arcadian!" said Mrs. Gustus, as she splashed her signature into the
visitor's book. "One could be content to vegetate for ever here. Isn't it
pathetic how one spends one's life collecting heart's desires, until one
suddenly discovers that in having nothing and in desiring nothing lies
But when they had been shown their sitting-room, and had ordered their
supper—lamb and early peas and gooseberry tart with tons of
cream—Mrs. Gustus saw the Ring, that great green breast of the country,
against the broken evening sky, and said, "Now I see heights, and I
shall never be happy or hungry till I have climbed them. The Lord made
me so that I am never content until I am as near the sky as possible.
Silly, no doubt. But what a sky! Blood-red and pale pink, what a unique
chord of colour."
"Same chord as the livery of the Bank or England," said Kew, who was
hungry, and had an aching shoulder. He hated beauty talked, just as he
hated poetry forced into print apropos of nothing. Even to hear the
Psalms read aloud used to make him blush, before his honest orthodoxy
Mrs. Gustus asked the lamb and gooseberry tart to delay their coming; she
placed Cousin Gustus in an arm-chair, first wrapping him up because he
felt cold, and then unwrapping him again because he felt hot; she kissed
"We shan't be more than an hour," she said. When Mrs. Gustus said an
hour, she meant two. If she had meant an hour, she would have said
twenty minutes. "You must watch for us to appear on the highest point
of the Ring."
"Don't watch, but pray," murmured Kew. "There's that thunderstorm just
working up to another display."
And so it was, but when they reached the ridge of down that led to the
Ring, they were glad they had come. They were half-drowned, and
half-blinded, and half-deafened, but there is a reward to every effort.
There was an enormous sky, and the sunlight spilled between the clouds to
fall in pools upon the world. There was a chord made by many larks in the
sky; the valleys held joy as a cup holds water. From the down the
chalk-pits took great bites; the crinolined trees curtseyed down the
slopes. The happy-coloured sea cut the world in half; the sight of a
distant town at the corner of the river and the coast made one laugh for
pleasure. There was a boat with sunlit sails creeping across the sea. I
never see a boat on an utterly lonely sea without thinking of the secret
stories that it carries, of the sun moving round that private world, of
the shadows upon the deck that I cannot see, of the song of passing seas
that I cannot hear, of the night coming across a great horizon to devour
it when I shall have forgotten it. Further off and more suggestive than a
star, it seems to me.
A gust of sunlight struck the watchers, and passed: they each ran a few
steps towards the sight that pleased them most. And then they stood so
long that Mr. Russell's Hound had time to make himself acquainted with
every smell within twenty yards. He turned over a snail that sat—round
and striped like a peppermint bull's-eye—on the short grass, he patted a
little beetle that pushed its way across a world of disproportionate
size, and then, by peevishly pulling the end of his whip which hung from
Mr. Russell's pensive hand, he suggested that the pursuit should
continue. So they walked to the crest of wood that stands at the top of
the Ring, a compressed tabloid forest, fifty yards from side to side, as
round as a florin piece.
The slopes rushed away from every side of it. There was a dark secret
beneath those trees, there was a hint of very ancient love and still more
ancient hatred. You could feel things beyond understanding, you left
fact outside under the sky, and went in with a naked soul.
They walked across it in silence, well apart from each other. When they
came out the other side, Mrs. Gustus said, "We must stay for a little
while within reach of this. It has something …"
Mr. Russell swallowed something that he had thought of saying, and
instead drew his Hound's attention to a yellow square of mustard-field
which made brilliant the distance.
Kew said nothing, but he felt choked with a lost remembrance of a very
old childhood. He seemed to taste the quiet taste of youth here, there
was even a feeling of going home through a damp evening to a nursery tea.
It was the nursery of all Secret Worlds. Gods had been born there. No
surprise could live there now, no wonder, no protest. The years like
minutes fled between those trees, dynasties might fall during the singing
of a bird. I think the thing that haunted the wood was a thing exactly as
old and as romantic as the first child that tracked its Secret Friend
across the floor of a forest.
Oh, friend of childlike mind, what is it that these two years have taken
from us, what is it that we have lost, oh friend, besides contentment?
All the way home Kew sang very loudly the first tune he ever knew.
When the Family (including Mr. Russell) got back to the inn, the lamb and
the gooseberry tart and Cousin Gustus were all waiting for them. But they
were delayed in the hall. A stout young woman with a pleasant face of
small vocabulary turned from the visitors' book and stopped Mrs. Gustus.
"Are you THE Mrs. Augustus Martin?" she asked.
"I am she," replied Anonyma. Her grammar in moments of emergency always
I cannot say that Mrs. Gustus seemed surprised. She was the sort of
person to hide even from herself the fact that this thing had never
happened before. She remained perfectly calm as if repeating a hackneyed
experience. Kew was astonished. Mr. Russell shared this feeling. Having a
certain personal admiration for Mrs. Gustus, he had tried on more than
one occasion to find pleasure in her books, but without success.
The stout young lady said nothing more than "Oh" for the moment, but she
breathed it in such a manner that Mrs. Gustus saw at once the duty of
asking her to dine with the Family.
When the admirer was introduced to Cousin Gustus, she said, "Oh, so this
is your husband …" and gazed on that melancholy man with eagerness.
When she saw Mr. Russell's Hound she said, "And this is your dog," and
was about to crown him with a corresponding halo when Mrs. Gustus
disclaimed the connection.
"It is wonderful to meet you, of all people, in this romantic place,"
said the admirer as she pursued her peas. "Do you know, whenever I finish
one of your books, I feel so romantic I want to kiss everybody I meet.
Oh, those courtly heroes of yours!"
A heavy silence fell for a moment.
"And your descriptions of nature," continued the admirer. "That sunset
seen from the west coast of Ireland that you describe in The Courtship
of Hartley Casey. You must know Ireland very well."
"I have never been there," said Mrs. Gustus. "I evolve my scenery. After
all, Nature lives in the heart of each one of us. I think we all have a
sort of Secret World of our own, out of which all that is best in us
comes. One does not need to see with one's outward eyes."
"Oh, goodness me, how true that is," said the admirer. "But you
must write a book about the downs, won't you? Do you take notes on
"My notebook is never out of my hand," answered Mrs. Gustus. "I jot down
whatever occurs to me, wherever I may be. I write by moonlight in the
night, I have had to pause in the middle of my prayers in Church, I have
stood transfixed in the full flow of a London street. I always hope that
people will think I am suddenly remembering that I forgot to order
But really she knew that no one could ever be deceived in the purpose of
"Oh, mustn't it be wonderful!" breathed the admirer, and Cousin Gustus,
who was always properly impressed by his wife when the example was set by
strangers, nodded with a proprietary smile. "And are you writing now?"
"I am always writing," said Mrs. Gustus, who had seldom enjoyed herself
so much, "my pen never rests. A lifetime is too short to allow of rest.
But I am not here primarily for inspiration. We are on a quest."
"Oh, how romantic," moaned the admirer.
"It is a quest with a certain amount of romance in it," agreed Anonyma.
"We are seeking a House By The Sea. We know very little about it except
that it exists. We know that its windows look west, and that the sun sets
over the sea. We know that it stands ungardened on the cliff and has a
great view. We know that it is seven hundred years old, and full of
"We know," continued Kew, "that you can—and often do—drop a
fishing-line out of the window into the sea when you are tired of playing
the goldfish in the water-butt. We know that the owner of the house is a
rotten shot, and that the stone balls from the balustrade are not at this
moment where they ought to be. We know that aeroplanes as well as
seagulls nest in those cliffs…."
"We know—" began Mr. Russell, but this was too much for Mrs. Gustus.
After all, the lady was her admirer.
"What's all this?" said Mrs. Gustus. "What do you people know about it?"
"I just thought I would talk a little now," said Kew. "I get quickly
tired of hearing other people giving information without help from me."
"At any rate, Russ," continued Mrs. Gustus, "you can't know anything
whatever about the matter. You have hardly listened when I read
"I told you that I remembered," said Mr. Russell. "I don't know how. I
remember sitting on a high cliff and seeing three black birds swim in a
row, and dive in a row, and in a row come up again after I had counted
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Gustus, trying not to appear cross before the
visitor, "you're thinking of something else. You can see such a sight as
that at the Zoo any day."
"You all seem to know quite a lot about the place," said the admirer,
"yet not much of a very practical nature, if I may say so."
"Everything practical is unromantic," said Mrs. Gustus. "There is
nothing true or beautiful in the world but poetry. If we seek in real
simplicity of mind, we shall find what we seek, for simplicity is poetry,
and poetry is truth."
"Also, of course, England has only one west coast," added Kew, "and if we
don't find the place we shall have found a good many other things by the
time we have finished."
"It may be in Ireland," suggested the admirer.
"No, because she answers our letters so quickly."
"My young cousin, the object of our search."
"Did she run away?" asked the admirer, in a voice strangled with
To admit that a young relation of Anonyma's should run away from her
would be undignified.
"You mustn't take us too seriously," said Mrs. Gustus lightly. "It isn't
a case of an elopement, or anything like that. Just an excuse for a
tour, and a rest from wearisome war work. A wild-goose chase, nothing but
fun in it."
"Wild goose is a good description of Jay," said Cousin Gustus. It
Next morning the admirer, twittering with excitement, came in upon the
Family while it was having its breakfast.
"Oh, I had such an idea in the night," she said. "I couldn't sleep, of
course, after such an exciting day. I believe I have been fated to help
you in your quest. I know of a house near here, and the more I think of
it the more sure I feel that it is the place you want."
"Who lives there?"
"A young man with his mother. I forget the name."
"Place we want's west," objected Mr. Russell.
"You never can tell," said Anonyma. "This place may stand on a salient,
facing west. Our search must be thorough."
"It's such a lovely walk," said the admirer. "I should be so much
honoured if you would let me show you the way. Oh, I say, do you think me
Her self-consciousness took the form of a constant repentance. In the
night she would go over her day and probe it for tender points. "Oh, that
was a dreadful thing to say," was a refrain that would keep her awake for
hours, wriggling and giggling in her bed over the dreadfulness of it. She
had too little egoism. The lack gave her face a look of littleness. A
lack of altruism has the same outward effect. A complete face should be
full of something, of gentleness, of vigour, of humour, of wickedness.
The admirer's face was only half full of anything. All the same there was
charm about her, the fact that she was an admirer was charming. Mrs.
Gustus reassured her.
"We shall be most grateful for a guide."
"We should be even more grateful for an excuse to call on this
inoffensive young man and his mother at eleven o'clock in the morning,"
"He ought to be at the Front," was the excuse provided by Cousin Gustus.
"So ought I," sighed Kew.
"Oh, but you're a wounded, aren't you?" asked the admirer. There were
signs of a possible transfer of admiration, and Mrs. Gustus interposed
with presence of mind.
"We'll start," she said. "Don't let's be hampered in the beginning of our
quest by social littleness."
She was conscious that she looked handsome enough for any breach of
convention. She wore an unusual shaped dress the colour of vanilla ice.
Instead of doing her hair as usual in one severe penny bun at the back,
she had constructed a halfpenny bun, so to speak, over each ear. This is
a very literary way of doing the hair, and the remembrance of the
admirer, haunting Anonyma's waking thoughts, had inspired the change.
Their way lay through the beechwood that embroiders the hem of the down's
cloak. There are only two colours in a beechwood after rain, lilac and
green. A bank of violets is not more pure in colour than a beech trunk
shining in the sun. The two colours answered one another, fainter and
fainter, away and away, to the end of one's sight, and there were two
cuckoos, hidden in the dream, mocking each other in velvet voices. The
view between the trees was made up of horizons that tilted one's chin.
The bracken, very young, on an opposite slope, was like a cloud of green
wings alighting. But the look of their destination disappointed them.
"This house faces south," said Kew.
"I feel sure—" began Mr. Russell, but Mrs. Gustus said:
"As we are here, we might ask. To be sure, the cliff is rather tame."
"But there is an aeroplane," persisted the admirer.
"Now pause, Anonyma," Kew warned her. "Pause and consider what you are
going to say."
"Consideration only unearths difficulties," laughed Anonyma. "Best go
forward in faith and fearlessness."
She was under the impression that she constantly laughed in a nicely
naughty way at Kew's excessive conventionality.
As they drew nearer to the cliff, it grew tamer and tamer. The house,
too, became dangerously like a villa; a super-villa, to be sure, and
not in its first offensive youth, but still closely connected with the
villa tribe. Its complexion was a bilious yellow, and it had
red-rimmed windows. It was close to the sea, however, and its windows,
with their blinds drawn down against the sun, looked like eyes downcast
towards the beach.
There was no lodge, and the Family walked in silence through the gate.
Mr. Russell's Hound went first with a defiant expression about his tail.
That expression cost him dear. Inside the gate there stood a large vulgar
dog, without a tail to speak of. Its parting was crooked, its hair was in
its eyes. All these personal disadvantages the Family had time to note,
while the dog gazed incredulously at Mr. Russell's Hound.
A Pekinese dog never wears country clothes. It always looks as if it had
its silk hat and spats on. If I were a country dog, who had never even
smelt a Piccadilly smell, I should certainly bite all dogs of the type of
Mr. Russell's Hound.
I could hardly describe what followed as a fight. Although I have always
loved stories of giant-killers, from David downwards, and should much
like to write one, I cannot in this case pretend that Mr. Russell's Hound
did anything but call for help. Anonyma's umbrella, Kew's cane, and Mr.
Russell's stick did all they could towards making peace, but the big dog
seemed to have set itself the unkind task of mopping up a puddle with Mr.
Russell's Hound. The process took a considerable time. And it was never
finished, for the mistress of the house interrupted it.
She was rather a fat person, apparently possessing the gift of authority,
for the sound of her call reached her dog through the noise of battle. He
saw that his aim was not one to achieve in the presence of an audience.
He disengaged his teeth from the mane of Mr. Russell's Hound.
"Is your dog much hurt?" asked the mistress of the house, and handed
Anonyma a slate.
Anonyma scanned this unexpected gift nervously. She was much more used to
taking other people aback than to being taken aback herself. But Kew was
more ready. He dived for the pencil and wrote, "Only a bit punctured," on
"You'd better bring it in and bathe it," suggested the lady, when she had
They followed her in silent single file. Anonyma noticed that her hair
was apparently done in imitation of a pigeon's nest, also that many hooks
at the back of her dress had lost their grip of the situation.
The bathroom, whither Mr. Russell's Hound was carried, was suggestive of
another presence in the house. A boat, called Golden Mary, was
navigating the bath. There were some prostrate soldiers and chessmen in a
little heap on the ledge, apparently waiting for a passage.
"I'm getting out my son's things because he is coming home," said the
Mr. Russell was bathing his bleeding Hound in the basin, and Anonyma was
at the window, ostentatiously drinking in the view. Kew took the slate
and wrote politely on it: "From school?"
"From the War," said the lady.
Kew donned a pleased and interested expression. It seemed to him better
to do this than to write, "Really!" on the slate.
"He wrote about a fortnight ago," the lady's harsh voice continued, "to
say he would come to-day. He said he was sick of being grown-up, he told
me to get out the soldiers and the Golden Mary. He wants to launch
them on the pond again."
Kew nodded. "I have felt like that," he murmured, and the lady seemed to
see the sense of his words.
"I should think you are six years older than Murray," she said, "and very
different. Come out into the garden, and I'll show you."
Kew followed her, and Anonyma, after a moment's hesitation, went too. But
Mr. Russell, who had finished his work of mercy, seemed to think it
better to linger in the bathroom, explaining to his Hound the subject of
a Biblical picture which hung over the bath.
"You might think I was rather too old to play things well," the mother
said to Kew. "But you should see me with Murray. Even my deafness never
hindered me with him, I could always see what he said. Look, we made this
road for the soldiers coming down to the wharf. Do you see the way we
helped nature, by tampering with the roots of the beech. It is a perfect
wharf, this little flat bit, it is just level with the deck of the boat
at high tide. The lower wharf is for low tide, but of course we have to
pretend the tides. That round place is the bandstand, and there the
pipers play when there is a troop-ship starting. Sometimes only the
Favourite Piper plays, striding up and down the little bowling-green at
the top here, but not often, because the work of keeping him going
interferes with the disembarkation. We never let the Highlanders go
abroad, because Murray loves them so. He is afraid lest something should
happen to them. Were the Highlanders your favourites?"
Kew wrote on the slate: "No, the Egyptian Camel Corps."
The lady nodded. "We loved them too, but of course they lived on the
other side of the pond, and sometimes they and the Sepoys and the
Soudanese had to insurrect. Somebody had to, you know, but we regretted
the Egyptian Camel Corps awfully. I hope you don't think us silly….
Murray was always a childish person. I hope I am too. The bowling-green
gave us a lot of trouble to make; it is nice and flat, isn't it? We trim
it with nail-scissors."
It was a good bowling-green, about twelve inches by six. There were some
marbles on it.
"It has historical associations," said the mother of Murray. "It was
here that Drake played when the Armada was sighted. Of course that was
before our time, but sometimes, on a moonlit summer night, we used to lie
down on our fronts and see his little ghost haunting the green. We used
to bring our young sailors here, and inspire them with stories about
Drake. The sailors used to stand on the green, and we put up railings
made of matches all round, and civilians used to stand in great
breathless crowds outside the railings watching. Chessmen, of course.
Murray used to make the civilians arrive in motors, so as to make ruts in
the road. Somehow it was always rather splendid and real to have ruts in
There was a long pause.
"Later on, of course, things got more grown-up. The last time we played
before the War—when War was already in sight—we shipped an
unprecedented mass of troops to that peninsula, and had a wonderful
battle. You can still see the trenches and gun emplacements; I cleared
them out yesterday. Murray joined the Army in that first August, and
whenever he came home after that he was somehow ashamed of these things.
I quite understood that. When I am having tea with the Vicar's wife, or
cutting out shirts for the soldiers, I sometimes blush a little to think
how old I am, and to think of the things I do at home with Murray. I am
sure he felt just the same when he was with other men. But his last
letter was young again. He wrote that the War should cease the moment he
set foot inside this gate, and we would have a civilian game, an alpine
expedition up the mountains. You see the beech-root mountains. There is
the cave where we put up for the night. There is a wonderful view from
Bumpy Peak, over the sea, and right away to far-off lands. Murray thought
that when the expedition had caught a chamois it might turn into
engineers prospecting for the building of a road up to Bumpy Peak, so
that the soldiers might march up, and look out over the sea, and
see—very far off—the fringes of the East that they had conquered, when
they were young and not tired of War…."
She broke off and looked at Kew.
Anonyma stood a few paces away, gazing at her vanilla-ice reflection
in the pond.
"I dare say you think us silly," said the lady. "I dare say you would
think Murray a rotter if you met him. It doesn't matter much. It doesn't
matter at all. Nothing matters, because he will come home to-night."
Kew fidgeted a moment, and then took the slate and wrote: "I am very much
afraid that all leave from abroad has been stopped this week."
"Yes, I know," said the mother, "I have been unhappy about that for some
days. But it doesn't make any difference to Murray now. You see, I heard
last night that he was killed on Tuesday. That's why I know he will come,
and I shall be waiting here. Can't you imagine them shouting as they get
through, as they get through with being grown-up, shouting to each other
as they run back to their childhood and their old pretences…."
After a moment she added, "That is the only sound that I shall ever hear
now,—the shouting of Murray to me as he runs home."
It was in a sort of dream that Kew watched Anonyma go forward and take
both the hands of the mother. I suppose he knew that all that was
superfluous, and that Murray would come home.
Anonyma said, "I am so sorry. I am so sorry that we intruded. You must
The mother of Murray did not hear, but she saw that sympathy was
intended, and she nodded awkwardly, and a little severely. I don't think
she had known that Anonyma was there.
Kew was not sorry that he had intruded.
At sunset, when the high sea span
About the rocks a web of foam,
I saw the ghost of a Cornishman
I saw the ghost of a Cornishman
Run from the weariness of War,
I heard him laughing as he ran
Across his unforgotten shore.
The great cliff, gilded by the west,
Received him as an honoured guest.
The green sea, shining in the bay,
Did drown his dreadful yesterday.
Come home, come home, you million ghosts,
The honest years shall make amends,
The sun and moon shall be your hosts,
The everlasting hills your friends.
And some shall seek their mothers' faces,
And some shall run to trysting-places,
And some to towns, and others yet
Shall find great forests in their debt.
Oh, I would siege the golden coasts
Of space, and climb high heaven's dome,
So I might see those million ghosts
Next day all the Family, including Mr. Russell and excepting Cousin
Gustus, came to breakfast with the intention of announcing that he or
she must go up to London by the next train. Mrs. Gustus, as ever,
"My conscience is pricking me. My work is calling me. I must go up
and see my old darlings in the Brown Borough. There is, I see, a
train at ten."
"I was just going to say something quite different to the same effect,"
said Kew. "I want to go up and whisper some secrets into the ear of
Cox. I want to have my hair cut. I want to buy this week's Punch. I
want some brown bootlaces. Life is empty for me unless I go up to town
Mr. Russell, although he had tried the effect of all his excuses on his
Hound while dressing, was silent.
Mrs. Gustus was never less than half an hour too early for trains. This
might account for the excellence of her general information. She had
spent a large portion of her life at railway stations, which are, I
think, the centre of much wisdom. She and Kew started for the station
with mouths burnt by hurried coffee and toast-crumbs still unbrushed on
their waistcoats, forty minutes before the train was due. The protests of
Kew could be heard almost as far as the station, which was reached by a
walk of five minutes.
Cousin Gustus, Mr. Russell, and the convalescent Hound went to lie upon
the downs which climbed up straight from the back doorstep of the inn.
They were accompanied by a rug, a scarf, a sunshade, an overcoat, the
blessings of the landlady, and Cousin Gustus's diary. Nobody ever knew
what sort of matter filled Cousin Gustus's diary, nobody ever wanted to
know. It gave him grounds for claiming literary tastes, and his literary
tastes presumably made him marry a literary wife. So the diary had a
They spread out the rug in a little hollow, like a giant's footprint in
the downs, and sheep and various small flowers looked over their
For the first ten minutes Mr. Russell lay on his back listening to the
busy sound of the bees filling their honeybags, and the sheep filling
themselves, and Cousin Gustus filling his diary. He watched the rooks
travel across the varied country of the sky. He watched a little black
and white bird that danced in the air to the tune of its own very high
and flippant song. He watched the sun ford a deep and foaming cloud. And
all the time he remembered many reasons why it would have been nice to go
up to London. Oddly enough, a 'bus-conductor seemed to stand quite apart
from these reasons in the back of his mind for several minutes. One would
hardly have believed that a bus-conductor could have held her own so long
in the mind of a person like Mr. Russell.
And Providence finally ordained that he should feel in his cigarette case
and find it empty.
"No cigarettes," said Mr. Russell, after pondering for a moment on this
"You smoke too much," said Cousin Gustus. "I once knew a man who
over-smoked all his life, and when he got a bullet in his lung in the
Zulu War he died, simply as the result of his foolishness. No
recuperative power. They said his lungs were simply leather."
"Should have thought that would've been a protection," said Mr. Russell.
"The train is not even signalled yet," said Cousin Gustus. "You would
have time to go to the station and tell Kew to get you some cigarettes."
But this was not Providence's intention, as interpreted by Mr.
Russell. "D'you know, I half believe I'll go up too," he said. "Would
you be lonely?"
"Not in the least," said Cousin Gustus pathetically; "I'm used to being
As the signals dropped Mr. Russell sprang to his feet and ran down the
slope. He had country clothes on, and some thistledown and a sprig or two
of clover were sticking to them. He reached the station in time, and fell
over a crate of hens. The hens were furious about it, and said so. Mr.
Russell said nothing, but he felt hurt when the porter who opened the
door for him asked if the hens were his. After the train had started he
wished he had had time to tell the porter how impossible it was that a
man who owned a crate full of hens should fall over it. And then he
thought that would have been neither witty nor convincing. He was one of
those lucky people who say so little that they rarely have need to regret
what they have said.
The business that dragged him so precipitately from the country must, I
suppose, have been very urgent. It chanced that it lay at Ludgate Circus,
and it also chanced—not in the least unnaturally—that at half-past
eleven he was standing at Kensington Church waiting to be beckoned to
once more by a 'bus-conductor. The only unnatural thing was that several
'buses bound for Ludgate Circus passed without winning the patronage of
The conductor came. Mr. Russell saw her round face and squared hair
appear out of the confusion of the street. He noticed with surprise that
he had not borne in mind the pleasing way in which the strap of her hat
tilted her already tilted chin.
Jay had been thinking a little about Mr. Russell, not much. She had been
wondering who he was. The Family's friends and relations were always much
talked of in the Family, and much invited, and much met. Mr. Russell had
not been among them when Jay had last known the Family. An idea was in
her mind that he might be a private detective, engaged by the Family to
seek out their fugitive young relation. Mr. Russell had plainly alluded
to a search. Jay had no experience of private detectives, but she thought
it quite possible that they might disguise themselves with rather low
foreheads, and rather frowning eyes, and shut thin mouths, and shut thin
expressions. She hoped that she would see him to-day. An hour ago a young
man with a spotty complexion and bulging eyes like a rabbit's had handed
her a note with his threepence, asking for a "two-and-a-half" in a
lovelorn voice. She handed him back his halfpenny and his unopened note
at once, saying, "Your change, sir," in a kind, absent-minded voice. I am
afraid an incident like this is always a little exciting, though I admit
it ought to be insulting. That suggestive fare made Jay hope more and
more that she would meet Mr. Russell to-day. I don't exactly know why,
except that sentimentality is an infectious complaint.
Mr. Russell got happily into the 'bus. He made the worst entrance
possible. His hat slipped crooked, he left one leg behind on the road,
and only retrieved it with the help of the conductor. Jay welcomed him
with a nod that was almost a bow, a remnant of her unprofessional past.
"Told you I'd come in this 'bus again," said Mr. Russell, sitting down in
the left-hand seat next to the door. I really don't know what would have
happened if that seat had been occupied. I suppose Mr. Russell would have
sat upon the occupier.
"A good many people like this service," said Jay; "it is considered very
convenient. How is your search going?"
"It hasn't begun yet," said Mr. Russell. "We haven't got within three
hundred miles of the House we're looking for."
"You know more or less where it is, then?" asked Jay, who sometimes
wanted to know this herself.
"I do know, but I don't know how I know, nor what I know."
"How funny that you—an Older and Wiser Man—should feel that sort of
knowledge," said Jay. As an afterthought she called him Sir.
The 'bus grew fuller, and only Jay's bell punctured the silence that
followed. A lady asked Jay to "set her down at Charing Cross Post
Office." "The 'bus stops there automatically, Madam," said Jay, and the
lady told her not to be impertinent.
Jay seemed a little subdued after this, and it was only after she had
stood for a minute or two on her platform in silence that she said to Mr.
Russell, "London seems dead to-day, doesn't it? Not even fog, only a
lifeless light. What's the use of daylight in London to-day? You know, I
don't live in London."
"No," said Mr. Russell, "where do you live?"
"London," replied Jay. "I mean my heart doesn't live in London mostly. I
think it lives very far away in the same sort of place as the place you
know without knowing how you know it. The happy shore of God Knows Where
must have a great population of hearts. To-day I hate London so that I
could tear it into pieces like a rag."
"You ought to start your 'bus on the search for the happy shore," said
Mr. Russell. "You'd find the track of my tyres before you. I b'lieve
you'd find the place."
"Well, that would be the only perfect Service," said Jay. "But I don't
believe the public would use the route much. I would go on and on, and
leave all old ruts behind. I would stop for no fares, even the sea should
not stop me. I would go on to the horizon to see if that secret look just
after sunset really means that the stars are just over the brink. Why do
people end themselves on a note of despair? I would choose that way of
perpetuating my Perfect Day. The police would see the top seats of the
'bus sticking out at low tide, and the verdict would be, 'Suicide while
of even more than usually unsound mind.'"
A 'bus has an unromantic voice. The bass is a snarl, and the treble is
made up of a shrill rattle. It was curious how this 'bus managed to
retain withal its fantastic atmosphere.
Mr. Russell asked presently, "Why are you a 'bus-conductor?"
"To get some money," replied the conductor baldly. "I want to find out
what is the attraction of money. Besides, if one talks such a lot as I
do, to do anything—however small—saves one from being utterly futile.
When I get to Heaven, the angels won't be able to say, 'Tush tush, you
lived on the charity of God.' That's what unearned money is, isn't it?
And what's the use of charity?"
"Do you ever get a day off?" asked Mr. Russell.
"Will you meet me on the steps of St. Paul's next Sunday at ten?"
"No, because I shall be at work next Sunday."
"Will you meet me the Sunday after that?"
"Yes," said Jay. The Family's theories on the bringing up of girls had
evidently been wasted on her.
"What's the use of looking for this girl?" she asked, after a round of
duty. "Why not leave her on her happy shore? Do you know, sir, I
sympathise enormously with that girl."
"I don't expect you would if you knew her," said Mr. Russell. "She must
be quite different from you, by what I hear from her relations. I think
she must be an aggressive, suffragetty sort of girl. Girls nowadays seem
to find running away from home a sufficient profession."
"You say that because you are so dreadfully much Older and Wiser," said
Jay. "Why are you looking for her, then?"
"I'm not," said Mr. Russell. "She is just a trespasser. I'm looking for
the place because I know I know it."
"I hope you'll never find it," said Jay crossly. She announced Ludgate
Circus in a startling voice, and ended the conversation.
She was tired because she had been up all night among distressed friends
in the Brown Borough. There had been a fight in Tann Street. Mrs.
O'Rourke had broken the face of little Mrs. Love. Mrs. Love had never
fought before; her fists were like lamb cutlets, and she had had a good
mother with non-combatant principles. All these things are drawbacks in
a Brown Borough argument. But Mrs. Love was a friend of Jay's, and I
don't think she had found that a drawback. Feverish discussions with
dreadfully impartial policemen, feverish drying of feverish tears,
feverish extracting of medicaments from closed chemists, and finally a
feverish triumph of words with which Jay capped Mrs. O'Rourke's triumph
of fists were the items in the sum of a feverish night. So Jay was tired.
* * * * *
Mr. Russell was too early for his business, and he went into St. Paul's
and sat on a seat far back.
St. Paul was an anti-saint, I think, who very badly needed to get married
and be answered back now and then. I believe it is possible that he was
unworthy of that great house called by his name. The gospel of a very
splendid detachment speaks within its walls, its windows turn inward, its
music sings to itself. Tossed City sinners go in and out, and pass, and
penetrate, but still the music dreams, and still the dim gold blinks
above their heads. A muffled God walks the aisles, and you, in the
bristling wilderness of chairs, can clutch at His skirts and never see
His eyes. Nothing comes forward from that altar to meet you. It is as if
He walked talking to Himself, and as if even His speech were lost in
those devouring spaces.
Mr. Russell sat near the door, and found only his thoughts and the
shuffle of seeking feet to keep him company.
"An Older and Wiser Man …" he thought. "God forgive me for
letting it pass."
If he had thought it worth while to profess an "ism" at all, he would
have been a fatalist. He was the victim of an unwitty cynicism, and of a
heavy irresponsibility. He applied either "It isn't worth while" or "It
doesn't matter" to everything. He never expressed his thoughts to
himself—it was not worth while,—but I think he knew within himself
that life was made of paper, and thrown together in a crackling chaos.
There was no depth in anything, and a mere thought could slay the
highest thing in the world. The only thing that ever made his heart
laugh was the idea of fineness finding place in himself. A dream of
himself in a heroic light sometimes made him poke himself in the ribs,
and mock the farce of human vanity. He was like a man in a world that
lacked mirrors, a man who sees his dark deformed shadow on the sands,
and thinks it represents him fairly.
He was without self-consciousness, knowing that he was not worth his own
recognition. At home he often recited little confused poems of his own
composition to his Hound, and never noticed the surprise of the servants.
He never knew that in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Gustus and Kew he was
hardly allowed to utter three consecutive words, although, when he was
away from them, and especially when he was with the 'bus-conductor, he
felt a delightful lack of restraint.
As he sat down and looked at the far unanswering altar, he had two dim
thoughts. One was that a man might get Older and Wiser, without getting
old enough or wise enough to choose his road. The other was a question as
to whether it is ever really worth while to read what the signpost says.
From the moment when Mr. Russell left her 'bus, Jay became stupefied by
an invasion of the Secret World.
She gave the tickets and change with accuracy, she kept count of the
stream of climbers on to the top of the 'bus, she stilled the angry
whirlpool of people on the pavement for whom there was no room, she
dislodged passengers at the corners of their own streets—even that
gentleman (almost always to be found in an obscure corner of an
east-going 'bus) who had sunk into a sudden and pathetic sleep just when
his pennyworth of ride was coming to an end,—she received an unexpected
inspector with the smile that comes of knowing every passenger to be
properly ticketed; she even laughed at his joke. She weeded out the
Whitechapel Jewesses at the Bank, and introduced them to the Mile End
'buses. She handed out to them their sombre and insolent-looking babies,
and when one mother thanked her profusely in Yiddish, she replied,
"Bitte, bitte…." Yet all the while the wind blew to her old
remembrances of the low chimneys and the bending roofs of the House by
the Sea, and the smell of the high curving fields, and the shouting of
the sea. And all the while her hands must grope for the handle of the
heavy door, and her eyes must fill with blindness because of the
wonderful promise of distant cliffs with the sun on them, and because the
sea was so shining. And all the while her ears must strain to hear a
voice within the house….
It is a very great honour to be given two lives to live.
The monotonous journeys trod on each other's heels. Slowly the day
consumed itself. It grew dimmer and dimmer for Jay, though I have no
doubt that habit protected her, and that she behaved herself throughout
with commonplace correctness.
She found presently that the great weight of copper money was gone from
her shoulder, and that it was evening, and that Chloris was coming down
Mabel Place to meet her. Chloris was wagging her whole person from the
shoulder-blades backwards; she never found adequate the tail that had
originally been provided for that purpose. Jay stumbled up the step of
Eighteen Mabel Place, and found at last the path she wanted.
The path was one that had never been touched by a professional
pathmaker. Feet, not hands, had made it. The rocks impatiently thrust it
aside every little way, and here and there were steps up and down for no
reason except that the rock would have it so. The path chose its way so
that you might see the sea from every inch of it. The thundering
headlands sprang from Jay's left hand, and she could see the cliffs
written over with strange lines, and the shadow that they cast upon deep
water. It was the colour of a great passion, and against that colour pink
foxgloves bowed dramatically upon the fringe of space. The white gulls
were in the valleys of the sea. I wish colour could be built by words. I
wish I could speak colour to myself in the dark. I can never fill my eyes
full enough of the colour of the sea, nor my ears of the crying of the
seagulls. I am most greedy of these things, and take no thought for the
morrow, so that if my morrow dawns darkly I have nothing stored away to
The path joins the more civilised road almost at the door of the House by
the Sea. You tumble over a great round rock that still bears the marks
of the sea's fingers, and you are at the door.
The house was full of sunlight. Great panels of sunlight lay across the
air. The fingers of the honeysuckle in the rough painted bowl by the
window caught and held sunlight. In every room of the house you can
always hear the eternal march of the sea up and down the shore. Nothing
ever drowns that measured confusion. Sometimes the voices of friends
thread in and out of it, sometimes the dogs bark, or a coming meal clinks
in the stone passage, or you can catch the squealing of the children in
their baths, sometimes your heart stops beating to listen to the speech
of the ghosts that haunt the house, but no sound ever usurps the throne
of the sea.
They were all on the stairs, the Secret Friend and the children. They all
wore untidy clothes, and hard-boiled eggs bulged from their pockets. The
Secret Friend has red hair, you might call its colour vulgar. But Jay
likes it very much. He hardly ever sits still, you can never see him
think, he has a way of answering you almost before you have finished
speaking. His mind always seems to be exploring among words, and
sometimes you can hear him telling himself splendid sentences without
meaning. For this reason everything connected with him has a name, from
his dog, which is called Trelawney, to the last cigarette he smokes at
night, which is called Isobel. This trick Jay has imported into her own
establishment: she has an umbrella called Macdonald, and a little
occasional pleurisy pain under one rib, which she introduces to the
Family as Julia.
The children in the house were just those very children that every woman
hopes, or has hoped, to have for her own.
They were just starting for a walk, and the Secret Friend was
finishing a story.
"How can you remember things that happened—I suppose—squillions of
years ago," said the eldest child. "You tell them as if they happened
yesterday. Doesn't it seem as if all the happiest things happened
"To me it seems that they will happen to-morrow," said the Secret Friend.
"But then there is so little difference between yesterday and to-morrow.
How can you tell which is which? Only clocks and calendars are silly
enough to tread on the tail of a little space between sunrise and sunset
and call it to-day. How do you know which way up time is happening?"
"Because yesterday the sun set, and we went to bed," said the
"I think to-morrow is a little person in dark clothes watching and
listening," said the eldest child. "And to-day is Cinderella, all shiny
and beautiful until twelve o'clock strikes."
"All yesterdays and all to-morrows are in this house listening," said the
Secret Friend. "This is the place where time is without a name. Here the
beginning comes after the end. To-morrow we shall be born. Yesterday we
died. To-day was just a little passage built of twenty-four odd hours.
And now we will sing the Loud Song."
They were on the rocky path now, and they sang the Loud Song. Both
that path and that song go on for ever, and the words of the song are
There is no house like our house
Even in Heaven.
There is no family like our family
Even in Heaven.
There is no Country like our Country
Even in Heaven.
There is no sea like our sea
Even in Heaven.
Most families sing this song, more or less, but few could sing it so
loudly as this family did.
The dog Trelawney ran after the shadows of the seagulls.
There is the track my feet have worn
By which my fate may find me:
From that dim place where I was born
Those footprints run behind me.
Uncertain was the trail I left,
For—oh, the way was stormy;
But now this splendid sea has cleft
My journey from before me.
Three things the sea shall never end,
Three things shall mock its power:
My singing soul, my Secret Friend,
And this my perfect hour.
And you shall seek me till you reach
The tangled tide advancing,
And you shall find upon the beach
The traces of my dancing,
And in the air the happy speech
Of Secret Friends romancing.
For some minutes some one had been knocking on the door. The sound was
like an intruder in the Secret World, beckoning insistently to Jay. But
she took no notice of it until a loud voice said: "You need not think you
are paddling in golden seas and inaccessible to your relations, because
you are here, and I can see you through the window."
After a moment's confusion, Jay found that this was so, and she got up
and let Kew in.
"I will just ask you how you are," he said hurriedly. "And how things are
going in the Other World, and all that. But you needn't answer, because I
haven't much time, and I want very badly to talk about myself. I never
get a chance when Anonyma is there, and when I return to France (which is
likely to happen soon), I shan't find much chance to talk there. I am so
glad I am going back, I am so sick of hearing other people talk about
things that are not worth mentioning. Poor dear Anonyma, she meant all
this recent gaiety as a reward to me for war work dutifully done. But if
this be jam, give me my next pill unadorned. A motor tour combined with
Anonyma is tiring. If I were alone with Russ I might enjoy it."
"Who is Russ?"
"The owner of Christina, and Christina is the vehicle which contains us
during the search for you."
He became aware of the velvet face of Chloris, gazing at him from between
"What does Chloris do while you are week-ending in Heaven. Do you take
her with you?"
"There is already a dog there, called Trelawney."
"By Jove, that would make a nice little clue for Anonyma. There can be
only one dog on the sea-coast called Trelawney. We could stop and ask
every dog we met what its name was. Besides, the name suggests
Cornwall. What breed is the dog? Look here, will you write the Family
a letter giving it a few neat clues for Anonyma? After all, we ought to
give her all the pleasure we can, I sometimes think we are a
disappointing family for her to have married. We lie to her, she lies
to us, her enthusiasms make us smile behind our hands, ours make her
yawn behind her notebook. Send us a good encouraging letter, addressed
to the house in Kensington. We always wire our address there as we
move. Give us details about Trelawney, and, if possible, the name of
the nearest post town. If we must lie, let us give all the pleasure we
can by doing so. Poor old Anonyma.
"It's getting dark, I must go back to the Family. I am as a babe in the
hands of Anonyma, and like a babe I promised her I would be back before
dark. Do you remember how we used to long to be lost after nightfall,
just for the dramatic effect? Yet we were awfully frightened of the dark.
Do you remember how we used to dare each other to get out of bed and run
three times round the night nursery? I have never felt so brave since, as
I used to feel as I jumped into bed conscious of an ordeal creditably
over. Why is bed such a safe place? I am not half so brave as I used to
be. I remember at the age of ten doing a thing that I have never dared to
do since. I sat in the bath with my back to the taps. Do you suppose the
innocent designer of baths meant everybody to sit like that, with a tap
looking over each shoulder? Taps are known to be savage brutes, and it is
everybody's instinct to sit the other way round, and keep an eye on the
danger. If I were as brave now as I was at ten, I could probably win the
War. Oh, Jay, I can't stop talking, I am so pleased to be nearly out of
the clutches of my relations."
"Are you sure you won't be killed?" asked Jay suddenly.
"I can't be," said Kew. "How could I be? I'm me. I'm not brave, and I
don't go to France with one eye on duty and the other on the
possibility of never coming back. I go because the crowd goes, and the
crowd—a rather shrunken crowd—will come back safe. I'm too average a
man to get killed."
"Don't you think all those million ghosts are thinking, 'What business
had Death to choose me?'" suggested Jay.
"No," said Kew. "I'm sure they know."
After a few seconds' pause he said, "By Jove, are you in fancy dress?"
"Why indeed. Why a kilt and yards of gaiters? Why a hat like a Colonial
"Oh, this is the uniform of a bus-conductor," replied Jay.
Kew scanned it with distaste. Presently he said, "Don't you think
you'd better give it up? Buy a new hat with a day's earnings, and get
"I can't quarrel with my bread and butter," said Jay.
"Surely this is only jam," said Kew. "You've got plenty of money of your
own for bread and butter."
"I haven't now," answered Jay. "I gave up having money when the
War started. Perhaps I chucked it into the Serpentine. Perhaps
not. I forget."
Kew got up slowly. "Well," he said, "sure you're all right? I must be
going. I don't know when the last train goes."
In London it is impossible to ignore the fact that you are late. The
self-righteous hands of clocks point out your guilt whichever way you
look. Your eye and your ear are accused on every side. You long for the
courteous clocklessness of the country; there, mercifully, the sun
neither ticks nor strikes, nor cavils at the minutes.
There was a crowd of home-goers at Brown Borough Church, and each 'bus as
it arrived was like the angel troubling the waters of Bethesda. There was
no hope for the old or timid. Kew was an expert in the small sciences of
London. He knew not only how to mount a 'bus, while others of his like
were trying four abreast to do the same, but also how to stand on a space
exactly half the size of his boot soles, without holding on. (This is
done, as you probably know too, by not looking out of the window.)
Kew had given up taxis and cigars in war-time. It was his pretence
never to do anything on principle, so he would have blushed if anybody
had commented on this ingenuous economy. The fact that he had joined
the Army the first day of the War was also, I think, a tender spot in
the conscience of Kew. A Victoria Cross would have been practically
unbearable, and even to be mentioned in despatches would have been a
most upsetting contradiction of that commonplace and unprincipled past
of which he boasted. He thought he was such a simple soul that he had
no motives or principles in anything that he did, but really he was
simpler than that. He was so simple that he did his best without
thinking about it. It certainly sounds rather a curious way to live in
the twentieth century.
"'Ere, you're seven standin' inside," said the gentleman 'bus—conductor,
when, after long sojourn in upper regions, he came down to his basement
floor. "Five standin' is all I'm supposed to 'ave, an' five standin' is
all I'll allow. Why should I get myself into trouble for 'avin' more'n
five standin', if five standin' is all I'm allowed to 'ave?"
In spite of a chorus of nervous assent from all his flock, and the
blushing disappearance of the two superfluous standers, the
'bus-conductor continued his lament in this strain. To the man with a
small but loud grievance, sympathy is a fatal offering.
The 'bus-conductor had a round red nose, and very defective teeth. Kew
studied him in a new light, for this was Jay's fellow-worker. Somehow it
seemed very regrettable.
"I wish I hadn't promised not to tell the Family," he thought.
He and Jay never broke their promises to each other, and there was a
tacit agreement that when they found it necessary to lie to each other,
they always gave each other warning. Where the rest of the world was
concerned, I am afraid they used their discretion in this matter.
"It ought to be stopped. The tactful foot of Family authority ought to
step on it."
He presented his penny angrily to the 'bus-conductor.
"I expect this sort of man asks Jay to walk out with him," he thought,
and with a cold glance took the ticket offered to him.
"Lucky I'm so utterly selfish," he thought, "or I should be
His train was one which boasted a restaurant car, and Kew patronised
this institution. But when he was in the middle of cold meat, he thought:
"She is probably trying to live on twopence-halfpenny a week. Continual
tripe and onions."
So he refused pudding. The pudding, persistent as only a railway pudding
can be, came back incredulously three times. But Kew pushed it away.
"If I could get anybody outside the Family to use their influence, I
should be within the letter of the law. But I mostly know subalterns, and
nobody below a Brigadier would be likely to have much influence with Jay.
She'd probably talk down even a sergeant-major."
It seems curious that he should deplore the fact that Jay had turned into
a bus-conductor more deeply than he had deplored her experiments in
sweated employment. I think that a uniformed sister or wife is almost
unbearable to most men, except, perhaps, one in the nurse's uniform, of
which even St. Paul might have approved. The gaiters of the
'bus-conductor had shaken Kew to his foundations. The thought of the
skirt still brought his heart into his mouth. He was so lacking in the
modern mind that he still considered himself a gentleman. No Socialist,
speaking between clenched teeth in a strangled voice of largely
groundless protest, had ever gained the ear of Kew. He had never joined a
society of any sort. He had never attended a public meeting since he gave
up being a Salvationist at the age of ten.
"It must be stopped," he said, as he got out of the train. "I'll think of
a way in my bath to-morrow." This was always the moment he looked forward
to for inspirations.
Anonyma was observable as he walked from the station to the inn, craning
extravagantly from the sitting-room window. She came downstairs, and met
him at the door.
"Such a disaster," she said, and handed him a telegram.
Kew stood aghast, as she meant him to. No disaster is ever so great as it
is before you know what it is. But Kew ought to have known Anonyma's
disasters by experience.
"Russ's wife has appeared."
"Why should she be introduced as a disaster?" asked Kew, with a sigh of
relief. "Is she a maniac, or a suffragette, or a Mormon, or just some one
who has never read any of your books?"
He opened the telegram. It called upon him to rejoin his battalion next
day at noon.
"Russ went to his house to fetch something this morning and found his
wife there. He looks quite ill. She insisted on coming here with him, and
now she wishes to go on the tour with us. As I hear the car is hers, we
can hardly refuse."
"I don't pretend to understand the subtleties of this disaster," said
Kew. "But as you evidently don't intend me to, I will not try. Notice,
however, that I am keeping my head. I have always wondered how I should
behave in a disaster."
"Wait till you meet her," said Anonyma.
Kew heard Mrs. Russell's melodramatic laughter as he approached the
sitting-room door, and he trembled. She laughed "Ha-ha-ha" in a concise
way, and the sound was constant.
"That is her ready sense of fun that you can hear," said Anonyma
bitterly. "She is teaching Gustus to see the humorous side."
They entered to find poor Cousin Gustus bending like a reed before a
perfect gale of "Ha-ha-ha's." Mrs. Russell was so much interested in what
she was saying that she left Kew on her leeward side for the moment,
hardly looking at him as she shook hands.
"It's enough to make the gods laugh on Olympus," she said, but it did not
make Cousin Gustus laugh. Noticing this, Mrs. Russell turned to Kew.
"I was telling your cousin about my pacificist efforts in the
States," she said. "Yes, I can see your eye twinkling; I know a pacifist
is a funny thing to be. But I'm not one of the—what I call
dumpy-toad-in-the-hole ones. I do it all joyously. I was telling your
cousin how very small was the chance that robbed us of success in Ohio."
"What sort of success?" asked Kew.
"Peace," said Mrs. Russell.
"But is Ohio at war?"
Mrs. Russell laughed heartily. Her unnecessarily frank laughter showed
her gums as well as her teeth, and made one wish that her sense of
humour were not quite so keen.
"I see you are one of us," she said. "What I call one of the Jolly
Fraternity. No, Ohio is still enjoying peace. But—if you follow me—from
the States peace will come; there we must fix our hopes. If we can get
those millions of brothers and sisters of ours 'across the duck-pond'—as
I call it—to see its urgency, peace must come. For brothers and sisters
they are, you know; patriotism will come in time to be considered a vice.
How can one's soul—if you take my meaning—be affected by the latitude
and longitude in which one's body was born? From the States the truth
shall come, salvation shall dawn in the west. Listen to me trying to be
poetic, it makes me laugh."
One noticed that it did.
"War is so reasonless as to be funny," she said.
"But you haven't told me yet about the little chance that you thought
would tickle Olympus," said Kew.
"You're laughing at me," said Mrs. Russell. "But I don't mind, for I
laugh at myself. I like you. Shake."
Kew immediately thought her a nice woman, though peculiar.
Mr. Russell looked in and saw the Shake in progress. He murmured
something and withdrew hurriedly. For a moment they could hear his
agitated voice in the passage reciting Milton to his Hound.
"Do listen to my husband, never silent," said Mrs. Russell. "Did you ever
see a man like him?"
There is no real answer to this sort of question, so Kew said "Yo," which
is always safe. Then he added, "Do tell me about the little chance."
"This was the little chance," smiled Mrs. Russell. "We ought to have had
a tremendously successful peace-meeting in a certain town in Ohio. We had
every reason to expect three thousand people, and we thought of proposing
the re-naming of the town—calling it Peace. But the little chance was a
printer's error—the advertisement gave the date wrong. A crowd turned up
at the empty hall, and two days later, when we arrived, they were so
tired of us that they booed our demonstration. Just the stupidity of an
inky printer between us and success."
"Do you mean to say that but for that we should have had peace by now?"
asked Kew in a reverent voice.
"You never know," said Mrs. Russell. "That meeting might have been the
match to light the flame of peace all over the world. It's bitterly and
satirically funny, isn't it, what Fate will do. Ha-ha-ha."
Cousin Gustus laughed hysterically in chorus, and then said that his
head ached, and that he thought he would go to bed early. Anonyma
led him away.
"Please don't make peace for a week or two yet," begged Kew. "Let me see
what I can do first. I am going to-morrow."
"How foolish of you," said Mrs. Russell. "If you like, I believe I have
enough influence to get you to America instead."
"I think I like France best," said Kew. "I don't feel as if I could be
content anywhere short of France just now."
"Surely you won't be content anywhere, murdering your fellow-men," said
Mrs. Russell. "You won't mind my incurable flippancy, will you? I can't
help treating things lightly."
"Not at all," replied Kew. "But I am often content in the intervals of
murdering my fellow-men. I play the penny whistle in my dug-out."
"Now tell me," said Mrs. Russell, "what are you all doing here? What
mischief are you leading my Herbert into?"
When Kew had recovered from a foolish astonishment at hearing that Mr.
Russell was known to others as Herbert, he said, "We're looking—not very
seriously—for my sister, who seems to have eloped by herself to the west
coast, without leaving us her address."
"I know. Herbert told me that much. A place on the sea-front, isn't it?
But you know, I feel a certain responsibility for Herbert, I have
neglected him so long. I cannot bear that he should waste his time in
what I call these stirring days. You mustn't think because I treat life
as one huge joke that I can never be serious. One can wear a gay mask,
but—you understand me, don't you? You are one of us."
There was a pause, and then she said, "Ha-ha. Doesn't it seem funny.
We've only known each other an hour, and here we are intimate…."
Kew obediently allowed himself for a moment to see the humorous side, and
then said, "What are your plans then, yours and Mr. Russell's?"
"I have neglected him too long, poor old thing," said Mrs. Russell. "I
must stay with him now, and cheer him up. A cheery heart can bridge any
gulf, don't you think? You know, I was just what I call a jolly girl when
I married him, and afterwards I forgot to grow up, I think. Perhaps my
treatment of him has been rather irresponsible. I must try and make
up—what I call 'kiss and be friends,' like two jolly little kiddies."
"Then why not join the motor tour?"
"I would rather take Herbert back to our little nest in London. There's
no place like home, as I always say. From there we might work together
for the great cause of Peace—what I call 'My Grail.'"
She had crimped hair and a long nose, the tip of which moved when she
spoke. You would never have given her credit for such influence as she
claimed in the world's affairs. Only her Homeric laughter, and a pair of
lorgnettes, reminded you of her greatness.
When Kew finally disentangled himself from the company of this jolly
creature, it was very late. But the voice of Anonyma arrested him on his
way to bed. Her face, with a corn-coloured plait on each side of it,
looked at him cautiously from a dark doorway.
"Kew," said Anonyma, "I won't stand it. We must be rescued."
"Nobody can remove her now without also removing Russ and Christina,"
said Kew. "The reconciliation has gone too far."
"Then Russ must be sacrificed, and even the car," said Anonyma firmly.
"Gustus and I can hire if we must. That woman must be removed. The
Kew began to see light. "I'll rescue you, then," he replied. "I'll think
of a way in my bath."
* * * * *
Next morning a great noise, centring in the bathroom, overflowed through
the inn. It was the noise of Kew singing joyful extracts from Peer
Gynt. Do you remember the beginning of the end of the Hall of the
Mountain King? It goes:
Tootle—tootle—tootle—tootle—tootle—tootle-tee…. Bomp-chink, …"
The way in which Kew rendered this passage, notoriously a difficult one
for a solo voice, would have conveyed to any one who knew him that he had
solved both his problems.
Anonyma knocked on the bathroom door, and said, "Cousin Gustus's headache
is still bad."
Kew therefore broke into Anitra's Dance, which is more subdued.
Before breakfast he and Mr. Russell and the Hound walked to the downs.
The motor tour seemed to have come to a standstill. Cousin Gustus's
headache could be felt all over the house.
The moment Mr. Russell and Kew were out of earshot of the inn, Kew made
such a violent resolve to speak that he nearly broke a tooth.
"Russ," he said, "I want to get off my chest for your benefit something
that has been worrying me awfully."
Mr. Russell made no answer. He had got out of the habit of answering.
"It's about Jay," continued Kew. "I must break to you first that Jay's
'house on the sea-front,' with all its accessories—gulls, ghosts,
turrets, aeroplanes, and Friends—is one large and elaborate lie. She and
I are very much alike. The only difference between us used to be her
skirt, and now she has gone a good way towards discarding that. She is
nowhere near the sea. She is in London. Now you, Russ, are what she and I
used to call an 'Older and Wiser—'"
Mr. Russell jumped violently, but uttered nothing except a little curse
to his dog, which was almost under his feet.
"—And you are about the only person I could trust, in my absence, to get
Jay out of an uncommonly silly position. I can't bear her present pose.
It must stop at once, and if I had time I would stop it myself. I have
unfortunately sworn not to give her away to the Family, so I come to you.
She is a 'bus-conductor."
Mr. Russell refrained from jumping. I believe he had expected it. But he
said, "It would be too funny."
Kew looked at him nervously, fearing for a moment lest Mrs. Russell's
sense of humour had proved infectious.
Mr. Russell was thinking how funny it would be if the finger of desirable
coincidence had touched his life. How funny if a nice piece of
six-shilling fiction should have taken upon itself to make of him its
hero. Too funny to be true.
But you, I hope, will remember that the coincidence was not so funny as
he thought, since Jay had beckoned to it with her eyes open.
"Now, I have a prejudice against 'bus-conductors," said Kew.
"Why?" asked Mr. Russell rather indignantly.
"I can't explain it. If I could, it wouldn't be a prejudice, it would be
an opinion. But—well—just think…. The trousered 'bus-conductors
probably ask her to walk out with them in Victoria Park on Sundays."
"I see your point," said Mr. Russell.
"You are about double as old as she is—if I may say so—and you are not
one of the Family, two great advantages. You know, Jay has suffered from
not meeting enough Older and Wiser people. She has had to worry out
things too much by herself; she has never been talked to by grown-ups
whom she could respect. Anonyma never talked with us, though she
occasionally 'Had a Good Talk.' She never played, but sometimes suggested
'Having a Good Game.' It's different, somehow. You, Older and Wiser
without being too old or too wise, might impress Jay a lot, I think,
because you don't say overmuch. And I want you to tell her something of
what I feel about it too."
"I never realised before that from your point of view there was any
advantage in being Older and Wiser," said Mr. Russell.
"You don't mind my saying all this?" said Kew. It was an assumption
rather than a question.
"Not at all. But I don't understand exactly what you want me to do."
"To give up this idiotic motor tour," said Kew. "And go back to London,
and talk Jay out of her 'bus-ism. I want her to leave it off, and let
the Family discover her romantically enjoying some passable imitation of
her Secret World. I want the Family never to know of all that lay
between. I do want it all to come right. I'm going off to-day, and I may
not see her again. And I know hardly any trustable person but you."
"Right," said Mr. Russell.
He thought: It's too funny to be true, but if it isn't true, I shall be
Kew enlarged to him on the details of his mission.
On the breakfast table, when they returned, they found a letter from Jay,
evidently written for private circulation in the Family.
Dear Kew—I have just come in from a walk almost as exciting as it was
beautiful. We walked through our village, which clings to both sides of
a crack-like harbour that might just contain a carefully navigated
walnut-shell. The village is grey and white, all its walls are
whitewashed, all its roofs are slate with cushions of stone-crop
clinging to them. Sea-thistles grow outside its doors, seagulls are its
only birds. The slope on which it stands is so steep that the main road
is on a level with the roofs on one side, and if you were absentminded,
you might walk on to a roof and fall down a chimney before you became
aware that you had strayed from the street. But we were not
absent-minded. We sang Loud Songs all the way. We ran across the grass
after the shadows of the round clouds that bowled across the sky. In
single file we followed the dog Trelawney after the seagulls. Everything
was so clear that we could see the little rare island that keeps itself
to itself on our horizon. I don't know its name; they say it bears a
town and a post-office and a parson, but I don't think this is true. I
think that island is an intermittent dream of ours. When you get beyond
the village, the cliff leaves off indulging in coves and harbours and
such frivolities, and decides to look upon itself seriously as a giant
wall against a giant sea. Only it occasionally defeats its own object,
because it stands up so straight that the sea finds it easier to knock
down. On a point of cliff there was a Lorelei seagull standing, with its
eye on Trelawney. It had pale eyes, and a red drop on its beak. And
Trelawney, being a man-dog, did what the seagull meant him to do. He ran
for it, he ran too far, and fell over the edge. Well, this is not a
tragic incident, only an exciting one. Trelawney fell on to a ledge
about ten foot below the top of the cliff, and sat there in perfect
safety, shrieking for help. My Friend said: "This is a case of 'Bite my
teeth and Go.'" It is a saying in this family, dating from the Spartan
childhood of my Friend, that everything is possible to one who bites
his teeth and goes. The less you like it, the harder you bite your
teeth, and it certainly helps. My Friend said: "If we never meet again,
remember to catch and hang that seagull for wilful murder. It would look
rather nice stuffed in the hall." The cliff overhangs rather just there,
and when he got over the edge, not being a fly or used to walking upside
down, he missed his footing. We heard a yelp from Trelawney. But the
seagull's conscience is still free of murder, my Friend only fell on to
Trelawney's ledge. So it was all right, and we ate our hard-boiled eggs
on the scene of the incident.
"I remember—" said Mr. Russell.
"That letter," said Anonyma, "ought to help us a bit."
She was quite bright, because Kew had conveyed to her the hope that the
plot for the rescue of the Family was doing well. Cousin Gustus also,
with no traces of a headache except a faint smell of Eau-de-Cologne, had
come down hopefully to breakfast.
"Obviously the North coast of Cornwall," said Mrs. Russell. "The village
might be Boscastle, and the island is surely Lundy…. Such an intensely
funny name, Lundy, isn't it? Ha-ha! For some reason it amuses me more
and more every time I hear it. It reminds me of learning geography with
the taste of ink and bitten pen in my mouth. I used to catch my sister's
eye—just as I'm catching yours now—and laugh ever so much, over Lundy.
I used to be a terror to my governesses."
"I'm very much afraid that I can't spare much more time for the motor
tour," said Mr. Russell, and Anonyma was so anxious for the first signs
of rescue that she actually let him speak. "Business in London. I dare
say I could get you to Cornwall within the next few days, but some time
this week I must get back to town."
"I'll come with you," said his wife. "You can't shake me off so easily,
my dear. Ha-ha!"
"It's too rainy to start to-day," said Cousin Gustus. "I have known
people drowned by swollen rivers and such while trying to travel in just
such a deluge as this. We will start to-morrow."
"Wet or fine," added Anonyma.
"The fact remains," said Kew, "that I must leave you by the ten
something. I must leave you to sniff without my help, like bloodhounds,
along the trail of the elusive Jay. But I won't bid any one a fervent
good-bye, because I daresay I shall be back again on leave for lack of
anything else to do in three weeks' time, if we can't get across the
Channel. In that case I'll meet you one day next month—say at Land's End
or the Firth of Forth. Otherwise—say forty years hence in Heaven."
"It is very wrong to joke about Death," said Cousin Gustus. "I once knew
a man who died with just such a joke on his lips."
"I hope it was a better joke than that," said Kew. "It can't be wrong to
laugh at Death. Death is such a silly, cynical thing that a little
wholesome leg-pulling by an impartial observer ought to do it good."
Mr. Russell was heard asking his Hound in a low voice for the truth about
Death and Immortality.
So Kew went away, and left the Family gazing at the rain. Mrs. Russell
was conducting a mysterious process known as writing up notes. It was
hardly possible, by the way, that Anonyma could have loved the possessor
of a rival notebook.
It rained very earnestly. There was no hole in the sky for hope to look
through. The puddles in the village street jumped into the air with the
force of the rain. You will, without difficulty, remember that it rained
several times in the Spring of 1916. But this day was a most perfect
example of its kind.
Cousin Gustus was both depressed and depressing. I am afraid I have not
given you a very flattering portrait of Cousin Gustus. I ought to have
told you that he was very well provided with human affections, and that
he loved Kew better than any one else in the world. I might say that the
departure of Kew let loose Cousin Gustus's intense grievance against the
Germans, except that I could hardly describe a grievance as let loose
that had never been pent up.
Cousin Gustus was always angry with the Germans whatever they did, but
the thing that made him more angry than ever was to read in his paper
some report admitting courageous or gracious behaviour in a German.
"The partings and the troubles that these Germans have caused ought to
hang like mill-stones round their necks for ever," said Cousin Gustus.
"Talk about Iron Crosses—Pish! I should like to have a German here for
ten minutes. I should say to him: 'My Kew was a good boy, I would almost
say a clever boy, doing well in his profession: no more thought than that
dog has of being a soldier till War broke out. Does that look as if we
were prepared for War?' I should say. 'Doesn't that show where the blame
lies?' What could he answer?"
Mr. Russell and his Hound were apparently listening, but they could offer
"Kew's going has upset me so that my headache has returned, and I cannot
get any Aspirin here," continued Cousin Gustus. "I know a man who was
very much addicted to these neuralgic headaches, who committed suicide by
throwing himself from the bathroom window, solely owing to neuralgia. And
the rain does nothing towards improving matters. They say the German guns
bring on the rain. I tell you there is no limit to their guilt. Look at
this morning's paper: 'The enemy bombarded this section of our front with
increasing intensity during the day….' I ask you, IS THAT WAR?"
"Yes," said Mr. Russell absently.
"Nonsense," said Cousin Gustus. "What we ought to do is to shoot every
German we can catch. Shooting's too good for them. Hang them. That would
teach them. Any Government but ours would have thought of it long ago.
Iron Crosses, indeed, Pish!"
Cousin Gustus finds the Iron Cross very useful for the filling up of
crannies in his edifice of wrath.
Anonyma said: "When I think of those old fairy-like German songs, I feel
as if I had lost a bit of my heart and shall never find it again. That is
what I regret most about this War. It is bad art."
"Art, indeed," said Cousin Gustus. "Why, every time they steal a picture
they get an Iron Cross. I know a man who saw a German wearing a perfect
rosary of Iron Crosses; the fellow was boasting of having bayoneted more
babies than any other man in the regiment. Listen to this: 'The enemy
attacked the outskirts of the village of What D'you Call'em, and engaged
our troops in hand-to-hand fighting.' Think of it, and we used to say
they were a civilised race. At the point of the bayonet, it says—isn't
it atrocious? 'The enemy were finally repulsed at the point of the
bay—' oh well, of course that may be different. I don't pretend to be
a military expert…."
"I hate the Germans," said Anonyma, "because they have spoilt my own idea
of them. I hate having a mistake brought home to me."
"I hate the Germans," began Mr. Russell, "because—"
"I'm going for a walk," said Anonyma. "I am sick of sitting here and
hearing you two old fogies argue about the War. If War is bad art, it is
vulgar to refer to it."
I know exactly what Mr. Russell was going to say. He had a vague culinary
metaphor in his mind. I hate the Germans because they are underdone, they
are red meat. Their vices and their virtues and their music, and their
greed and their fairyism and their militarism, all seem to have been
roasted in a hurry, and to contain, like red meat, the natural juices to
an extent that seems to us excessive. The reason why some of us dislike
red meat is that it reminds us too much of what our food originally was.
As we ourselves, possibly, are rather overcooked by the fire of
civilisation, this vulgar deficiency in our enemy is very apparent to us.
This is an elaborate, but not a pleasing analogy, and it was fortunate
that Mr. Russell was interrupted. Otherwise, I think he might have been
trying to this day to explain it to an exasperated Cousin Gustus. He
spoke of it to his Hound, and the idea interested that animal very much.
Mr. Russell, unfortunately, had a cold, and was therefore unable on such
a wet day to leave the house or Cousin Gustus. But Anonyma went out in a
mackintosh that gave her the "silhouette" of a Cossack, and a beautiful
little tarpaulin sou'wester, and high boots, and a skirt short enough to
give the boots every chance of advertisement. The notebook was safe in a
She covered with great speed and enthusiasm the few miles to the sea. She
reached it at a point where the cliff dwindled into flatness, where the
gentle tide rattled on pebbles instead of on sand, where the tall
breakwaters contradicted the line of the shore. The furthest breakwater
had seaweed like hair waving on the water. At intervals it would seem to
be thrust up between two glassy waves, like a victim beckoning for
deliverance from the grip of some monster. And then the sea's lips would
close on it again. The sea was freckled by the rain, the waves were
beaten into submission. The tide was rather low, and not very far away a
great company of porpoises bowed each other through the mazes of a slow
quadrille. There were a few rocks spotted like leopards, and on one of
these a young brown seagull rested, and allowed itself occasionally to be
washed gracefully away.
"Lazy Nature!" said Anonyma reprovingly. "To sketch such a scheme in a
few careless lines."
For the whole world was rain-colour. There was no horizon to the sea, the
downs were blotted out, the wet shingle reflected its surroundings, the
waves broke unmarked by foam or shadow. There was nothing but the
porpoises and the breakwaters and the rocks, and a little bald sand
dune, sketched on the canvas of that pale day.
Anonyma perpetuated in her notebook her opinion of Nature as an artist.
On the whole, it was a flattering opinion. Then she sat on the
breakwater, and thought how fortunate she was to be able to think such
interesting thoughts about what she saw. How fortunate to enjoy thought
and to cause thought! How fortunate to feel oneself a member of the
comforting fellowship of intelligence! "It is much more delightful,"
Anonyma informed the sea, "to be intelligent than to be beautiful. Why do
we all try to make our outsides beautiful? There is competition in
beauty, but there is brotherhood in intelligence. To be clever is to
share a secret and a smile with all clever people." A vision of the coast
of the United Kingdom encircled by a ring of consciously clever Anonymas
sitting on breakwaters, sharing each with all a secret and a smile, came
vaguely to her.
She put all that she could of her soliloquy into her notebook.
And then she noticed the face of a man, with its eyes upon her,
appearing stealthily over a breakwater. The face wore the grin that some
people wear when they are doing anything with great caution. This gave it
a very empty, bright expression, like the mask that represents comedy in
a theatre decoration. The face dropped down behind the breakwater, after
meeting Anonyma's surprised eye for a second or two.
Anonyma kept her head.
First she thought it was the face of a bather, the path to whose clothes
she was unwittingly barring.
Then she thought it was the face of a picnicker, resentful of her
Then she thought it was the face of a German spy.
The first two of these three thoughts she rejected because the weather
reduced their possibility to a minimum. The third she instinctively
adopted as a certainty. The face at once became obviously German in her
eyes. It was broader about the chin than about the forehead, it was pink,
the architecture of the nose was painfully un-English.
She scanned the sea for the periscope of a submarine.
Anonyma remembered that she had written in her notebook, a day or two
before, an intimate description of the coast as seen from the Ring. She
also remembered distinctly seeing in the bar of the inn a notice warning
her to the effect that walls—and probably breakwaters—have ears and
eyes in these days, and that the German Government has a persistent wish
to possess itself of private diaries and notebooks.
"I am having an adventure," said Mrs. Gustus. "I must keep cool."
She got up from her breakwater, holding her notebook very tightly, and
began to walk away. When she looked back, she saw the top of the man's
head moving behind the breakwater, in a parallel direction to her own
course. When he reached the point where the breakwater ended and denied
him cover, he wavered for a moment, and then, with an expression of
elaborate indifference, followed her.
"I must keep even cooler than this," thought Anonyma. "I must try and
catch the spy."
She walked across some waste land sown with memories of picnics, and
reached the main road. The man crossed the waste land behind her. He
tried in a futile way to look as if he were not doing so.
On the main road, Anonyma turned and waited for him. It seemed useless in
that empty landscape to sustain the pretence that they were unaware of
"Did you wish to speak to me?" she asked, as well as she could for the
great lump of excitement that beat in her throat. Before her eyes visions
of headlines danced: "LADY NOVELIST'S PLUCKY CAPTURE OF A SPY."
The man became dark red as she spoke. "Yes," he said. "I wanted to ask
you what you were writing in that notebook?"
Anonyma paused for a moment, as she decided what she ought to do. Then
she said in a hoarse voice: "I have detailed military information about
this coast for twenty miles round in my notebook, with accurate reports
as to the depth of the water. If you come to my lodgings in D——, I can
show you a map that I have made."
A tremor ran through the stranger.
"A map?" he repeated.
"Yes, a map," said Anonyma; and then, as he did not move, she added on
the spur of the moment, "Also a design for a new kind of bomb which I
bought from a man in London."
"A bomb?" he said.
Anonyma thought that he was evidently a foreigner, though his accent was
English. He seemed to find English rather difficult to understand.
"Why do you tell me all this?" he asked finally.
"Because I recognise your face as that of a sp—I mean a fellow-worker
in the great brotherhood of espionage," said Anonyma.
"Come on, then," said the man.
So they walked off together.
"Why did you take up this—calling?" asked the man presently. "Are you
"Well, more or less," said Anonyma. "At least, I have never been a
Christian. I believe that one must take either War or Christianity
seriously. Hardly both."
It was a good opportunity for a monologue. Obviously the stranger was
not one who would resent a monopoly of the conversation.
"After all, men are only minor gods," said Anonyma, "and War is what gods
were born for. Germany knows that. That's why, under the present
circumstances, I'd rather take German money than English."
"Are we anywhere near D—— yet?"
Anonyma hoped that he still had no suspicions. His voice was distinctly
nervous. To reassure him, she said, "Why did you take up espionage
"Why, indeed?" said the stranger in an ardent voice. "Of course the pay
was enormous. Twenty thousand francs if I could get an exact chart of the
"Why francs?" asked Anonyma.
"Not francs. I find these various currencies so confusing, don't you? Of
course I mean pfennigs."
"Twenty thousand pfennigs?" said Anonyma. "Look here, are you trying to
"Far from it," said the man. "To tell you the truth, I am awfully
"Yes. No. I mean of discovery."
"You don't seem to be absolutely cut out for your job," said Anonyma.
They walked in silence for a while. Anonyma sought through her mind to
find something she could say in keeping with her part. She decided
finally on a rather ambiguous though imposing attitude.
"The Germans have discovered the truth that anything good is belligerent,
love included. You can't fight properly with any weapon but your life.
Death is not the only thing that passes by the peace-man. He remains
alive, but he also remains ignorant. All peace-men are really women in
disguise, and all women are utterly superfluous to-day. We only know men.
People who disapprove of War shall have no part in peace. The peace shall
be ours who suffered for it, and only we have earned it. The only decent
thing left for the Americans and Quakers to do now is to hold their
tongues when peace comes. They haven't earned the right to rejoice."
"I am a Quaker," said the stranger.
"I didn't know the Germans allowed Quakers at large."
"I am not a German," said the stranger.
"Then what has happened?" asked Anonyma, standing suddenly still at the
top of the main street of D——. "Why did you want my notebook?"
"Because I could plainly see you taking notes in it."
"You thought me a spy?"
"You don't leave me much room for doubt."
They guided each other to the gate of the police-station. There they
"This is where I was bringing you," said Anonyma, as their eyes fell
simultaneously on the label over the door: "Sussex County Police."
"It seems to me that honours are easy," she added after a pause. "Don't
you see what has happened?"
The stranger thought for a moment with a look of dawning relief on his
pink face. "But you couldn't have made up all those dreadful
opinions," he said.
"I didn't," said Anonyma. "I meant them all—as applied to England."
"Don't you think we'd better take each other in to make sure?" suggested
her companion. "The Inspector's quite a good sort. I know him well…."
"You may read my notebook if you like to make quite sure," said Anonyma.
"I'm almost sure the Inspector would have either too much or too little
sense of humour for the situation."
She was conscious of a certain disappointment. Her adventure had fallen
flat, she felt no pleasure in the idea of painting a vivid word-vignette
for the people at home. Even her notebook must never hear of this
"How foolish of you," she said irritably. "Do I look like a spy?"
She felt impelled to be angry with him, and seized upon another pretext.
"You are a conscientious objector, I suppose. And what business has a
conscientious objector to be spy-hunting? Do I understand that you will
only help your country when you can do it vicariously, through the
police, with no risk to yourself? It isn't very dignified."
"A spy is outside every pale," said the stranger. "My conscience objects
to the shedding of blood. Yet it is an English conscience all the same."
"English?" said Anonyma. "If you won't die for England, England isn't
yours to love. You shall not have that honour."
"If dying for England is the test of a patriot," said the pink Quaker,
"what about you?"
"I would die for England. I work for England," said Anonyma.
(Four hours a week.)
She went on: "I have told you already that women—in either sex—are
superfluous to-day. But after all, real women were born to their burden,
women were born to put up with second bests. And also posterity is mostly
a woman's job. But you were born a man, with a great heritage of honour.
You have kicked that honour away. You have sold your birthright."
The Quaker was the sort of man in whose face and mind one could see
exactly what his mother was like. Some men are like that, and others,
one would say, could never have been so intimate with a woman as to be
born of her.
"My soul is greater than I am," said the stranger. "There is no command
that drowns the command of the soul. I cannot possibly be wrong."
"You could not possibly be right," said Anonyma. "Good-morning."
Anonyma, on her return to the inn, was very generous with
"word-vignettes" dealing with Nature. Her Family during supper was not
left in ignorance as to the Peace and Meaning of the Sea, and the
Parallel between Waves and Generations, and the Miracles of the Mist, and
the Tranquil Musing of the Beaches, and the Unseen Imminence of the
Downs. "It would make a wonderful background to a short story," said
Anonyma, and then she stopped rather abruptly. Her silence after that
might have struck the Family as strange, had it not coincided with the
arrival of the evening paper, which turned the listeners' thoughts to
less beautiful matters.
"Air raid," said Cousin Gustus. "I prophesied quite a long time ago that
we should have another raid, but nobody ever listens to what I say. Two
horses killed somewhere in the Eastern Counties."
"I thought Somewhere was a town in France, ha-ha," said Mrs. Russell.
"Was London attacked?" asked Mr. Russell. "I'm rather anxious about—St.
Anonyma rose to the surface again. "I had such a wonderful talk with a
'bus-conductor once about his experiences during a raid. Such an
intelligent man. I dearly love 'bus conductors, such an interesting and
vivacious class. I should feel it an honour to be intimate with one. He
told me in the most vivid terms how a bomb fell in the street in front
of his 'bus, blowing the preceding 'bus to atoms. He told me how his
driver turned the 'bus in what he called 'The spice of 'arf a crown,'
and plunged into a side street. He said that he could see the Zeppelin
balanced on its searchlights like 'a sausage on stilts,' and when it was
directly above them, the top of his 'bus was suddenly cleared of people
as if by magic, except for one man who put up an umbrella and 'sat
tight.' I pitied the conductor, it must have been a terrible
experience, his eyes were starting from his head,—bulging like a
rabbit's,—he said he had a wife and baby up Leyton way, and that he was
so worried about them that he frequently called out his list of
destinations the wrong way round."
"Look here," said Mr. Russell, "I think I'd better go up and see
"Nonsense," said his wife. "I refuse to go to London until the moon is
there to protect me, as it were. So comic to look upon a heavenly body as
a practical protection. I will not allow you to run needlessly into
danger. Only this morning you were making plans to go to Cornwall,
"Darling, I insist," said Mrs. Russell. "Cornwall it is for the
present. If you say another word I shall smack you and put you in the
Cornwall it was.
The Family drew near to its destination on a misty day. The sun shone not
at all, but occasionally showed its bare pale outline through a veil of
cloud. The road in front of Christina was so dim that Mr. Russell could
people it for himself with imaginations. Now a knight in armour stood at
the next corner, now a phantom sea gleamed over the curve of the road,
now he saw great slim ghosts beckoning him on.
There were real sheep every few hundred yards, for a sheep fair was
taking place somewhere near by. The sheep came out of the mist like
armies of giants, and shrank as they grew clearer. The roads were rippled
with the footprints of many sheep. Even when there were no sheep in
sight, the mist filled their places with ghostly flocks.
Each sheep as it passed examined the wheels of Christina as long as the
dogs allowed it to do so. Each flock was followed by two men, and
sometimes a child in ill-fitting clothes on a pony, and sometimes a woman
with a shawl over her head.
Anonyma's notebook became very restless, and finally Mr. Russell was
obliged to drive the Family to the point whither the sheep were bound.
So they went to the little town, through which the excitement of the fair
thrilled like the blast from a trumpet. Bewildered sheep looked in at
its shop windows; farmers in dog-carts shouted affectionate remarks to
each other across its village green, and introduced dear friends at a
great distance to other dear friends with much formality. Dogs argued in
a professional way about the merits of their sheep. Mr. Russell's Hound,
who had never before heard the suggestion that dogs were intended for any
purpose but ornament, looked on breathless with surprise. His morals were
affected for life by the revolutionary sight of a dog biting the tail of
a disobedient sheep. "I'll try it in Kensington Gardens," thought Mr.
Russell's Hound, as he looked nervously at his master.
Christina, the motor-car, found her way to the centre of this activity.
There the sheep bleated in tight confinement, and to each pen was
attached the appropriate dog, looking very self-conscious. Dogs who had
come from great distances to buy sheep were anxiously sniffing up the
smell of their purchases, so that no mistake might be made on the way
home. Over the line of pens a two-plank viaduct ran, and it was bent
continually by the weight of large shepherds balancing their way along
to take a bird's-eye view of possible bargains. A facetious auctioneer
with the village policeman's arm round his neck was sitting on the wall
at the end of the field, addressing everybody very frequently as
"Gentlemen." Sheep arrived and sheep departed constantly.
"Isn't it terribly slavish, somehow?" said Anonyma. "The sheep
never being consulted at all. Bought and sold and smelt and spat
upon as if they had no heart beating beneath that wool. No 'Me,' as
Jay used to say."
Mr. Russell heard and remembered. There were few doubts left in him as to
the truth of his too-funny miracle.
He had a little tune, the scaffolding of a poem, in his head, and to the
sound of it he lived that day, although I don't expect he ever got the
poem into words.
If you start your idea along an uncertain course, you have to stop and
start afresh to get it straight. You can never finish it when once it has
a crooked swing. I gather that motor cyclists occasionally have much the
same experience with their machines.
But Mr. Russell, with a mind steering a tangled course, asked for
nothing better. He was very nearly sure of romance for the first time
in his life.
I hope that the feeling of making poetry is not confined to the people
who write it down. There is no luxury like it, and I hope we all share
it. I think perhaps the same thrill that goes through Mr. Russell and me
when the ghost of a completed thing begins to be seen, also delights the
khaki coster who writes his first—and very likely last—love-letter from
France; and the little old country mother who lies awake composing the In
Memoriam of her son for a local paper; and the burglar "down 'Oxton" who
takes off his cap as a child's funeral goes by. The feeling is: "This is
a thing out of my heart that I am showing. This is my best confession,
and nobody knew there was this within me." I am sure that that great
glory of poetry in one's heart does not wait on achievement. If it did,
what centuries would die unglorified. It is just perfection appearing, to
your equal pride and shame, a perfection that never taunts you with your
Mr. Russell and Christina knew well their road through the mist that
afternoon. There was no difficulty in the world, and no need to see or to
think. The sign-posts all spoke the names of fated places. It was useless
for Anonyma to study the map, she found no mention there of the enchanted
way on which their course was set.
"We will not go through Launceston," said Anonyma. "There must be a
quicker way to the sea than that."
Mr. Russell cared not for her and cared not for Launceston. The spell was
cast upon Christina's wheels. There was no escaping the appointed way.
Launceston reached out its net and caught them. Almost as far as the post
office, Anonyma was protesting: "We will NOT go through Launceston."
"Launceston was determined to get us," laughed Mrs. Russell. "Ha-ha!
isn't it humorous the way things happen?"
The sun was setting as they first saw the Cornish sea. The sky was swept
suddenly clear of mist. The seagulls against the sky were like little
The road ran to the shore.
The sun had little delicate clouds across its face, like the islands in
a Japanese painting. The wet rocks that lay in the sun's path were plated
with gold, and the tall waves with shadowed faces made of that path a
ladder. The fields of foam on the sea looked very blue in the pale light.
The sun was like an angel with a flaming sword. The angel dipped his feet
into the sea.
The sun was like a flaming stage for the comedies of gods. A ship passed
dramatically across it. One's dazzled eyes saw great phantom ships all
over the sea.
The sun was like a monster with horns of fire that pierced one's two
eyes. And gradually it sank.
The sun was like a word written between the sea and the sky, a word that
was swallowed up by the sea before any man had time to read it. There was
suddenly no sun. The little forsaken clouds were like flames for a
moment, and then they were blown out.
Mr. Russell waved his right hand towards great cliffs like the towers of
kings behind the village.
"This is the place," he said.
If I have dared to surrender some imitation of splendour,
Something I knew that was tender, something I loved that was brave,
If in my singing I shewed songs that I heard on my road,
Were they not debts that I owed rather than gifts that I gave?
If certain hours on their climb up the long ladder of time
Turned my confusion to rhyme, drove me to dare an attempt,
If by fair chance I might seem sometimes abreast of my theme,
Was I translating a dream? Was it a dream that you dreamt?
High and miraculous skies bless and astonish my eyes;
All my dead secrets arise, all my dead stories come true.
Here is the Gate to the Sea. Once you unlocked it for me;
Now, since you gave me the key, shall I unlock it for you?
Man ought to feel humble when he reflects upon the fact that he can
survive, and even thrive on, any distress except distress of the body.
God can wither his soul, and still he lives. Grief can swallow his heart,
and still he lives. But his stomach can kill him.
"All is apparently over between me and Peace," thought Jay. "But there
must be something to take the place of Peace."
There is only one thing that can adequately usurp the place of Peace. But
its name did not occur to Jay.
She did not know what had happened to her. She felt constantly a little
mad. Irresponsible wants clamoured in her breast from morning till night,
and all night the company of her Secret Friend was more glorious than
ever. She ran to her world as you perhaps run to church, yet even there
she felt expectant.
When a tall tough thundercloud bends across the sky I watch for the
first flash, and listen for the first roar, and in my heart stillness
seems impossible and at the same time imperative.
So Jay waited, feeling all the time that she could not wait
You shall not hear whence comes my fear.
You shall not know the name of it.
But out of strife it came to life,
And only striving came of it.
Though for its sake my heart may break,
Yet worse would I endure for it.
This thing shall be a God to me,
I will not seek a cure for it.
She thought a good deal about Mr. Russell. I am sure that he would have
laughed painfully could he have seen the picture of himself that remained
with the 'bus-conductor. The picture made him thinner, and his eyes more
intelligent, and the line of his mouth happier, but it did not make him
look younger, because Jay liked him to be Older and Wiser. He never came
into the Secret World; several times she tried to drag him thither, but
always at the critical moment he got left outside. Yet I cannot say that
in her Secret World she missed him; the point of the bubble enchantment
is that there is nothing lacking in it.
'Bus-conducting is a profession that does not engross the mind unduly.
The eye and the ear and the hand work by themselves. Charing Cross
whispered in a conductor's ear at the Bank produces a white ticket from
her hand without any calculation on her part. She becomes a
penny-in-the-slot machine, with her human brain free for other matters.
She grows a great hatred for all fares above fourpence, because they need
Jay filled her day with unsatisfactory thinking. She found to her
surprise that one may love life and yet also think lovingly of death. To
live is most interesting in an uneasy way, but to die is to forget at
once all these trivial turbulences, to forget equally the people you have
loved and the people you have hated, to forget everything you ever knew,
to be alone, and to be no longer disturbed by unceasing voices.
At this time I think Jay felt more hatred of everybody than love of any
one person. But then, of course, she had vowed to Chloris after the
affair with young William Morgan that she would never fall in love again.
She said, "I have been through love. It is not a sea, as people say. It
is only a river, and I have waded through it."
"Yet there is certainly something very remarkable about that man," she
thought. "I don't believe I like him much, I don't want to know him
better, though I should like him to know me. I believe he is my real next
of kin. I believe he has a Secret World too."
She was on her last homeward journey, and it was one of her early days.
The hours of a conductor move up and down the day. Sometimes Jay
punctured her first ticket at a time when you and I are asleep, and when
the coster-barrows, waving with ferns and fuchsias, move up the Strand
like Birnam Wood moving to Dunsinane. On those days she was due home at
half-past four or so. On other days she was able to have a late
breakfast and to darn her stockings after it, but that meant that she
did not get home till very late. Some 'buses, I gather, are called
"single 'buses," but in this case the word does not imply celibacy
alone. The single 'bus is occupied by one conductor all day Jong for a
fortnight. The "double 'bus" is shared by two conductors, one presiding
in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The double state also
lasts a fortnight; it is arranged as an opportunity for lady
'bus-conductors to recuperate after the rigours (the more remunerative
rigours) of service on a single 'bus. These statements of mine are open
to extensive correction. Jay's hours always struck me as so very
confusing that it is unlikely I should be able to retail the information
correctly. However, it doesn't matter very much.
This was one of the early days on a double 'bus, and Jay was on her last
journey, with several restless waking hours between her and possible
sleep. Her 'bus was full, but not pressed down and running over. For the
moment everybody in it was provided with a ticket. Jay was laboriously
thinking small thoughts because she was tired of thinking of Love and
Life and other things with capital letters.
She thought of the various indignities to which the public submits its
'bus-tickets. Some people use the ticket as a toothpick, some put
spectacles on and read it without understanding, some decorate
outstanding features of the 'bus with it. But I myself tear it gradually
into small strips, and grind the strips by means of massage into fine
powder. If the inspector comes, I am perfectly willing to pour the powder
into his hand, and yet he often seems annoyed.
Jay reviewed the perspective of faces that lined her 'bus. They were all
ugly, and not one of them was eager. The British public as a whole
considers a deaf, dumb, and blind expression the only decent one to wear
in a public conveyance. We roar through a wonderful and exciting world,
and all the while we sit with glazed eyes and cotton-wool in our ears,
and think about ourselves. They were mostly men in Jay's 'bus at that
moment; they were almost all alike, and all insignificant, but not one of
them knew it. Such a lot of men could never be loved by women, only found
But there was a sailor, a simple sub-lieutenant, sitting by the door.
Sailors are a race apart. They have twisty faces, their boots and
gloves look curiously accidental. In London they are rarely seen
without a London Mail or a London Opinion in their grasp. There is
something about a sailor that conduces to sentiment in every passer-by,
and Jay, who was fleeing from that very feeling, looked hastily at some
one else. Her seeking eye lit on a lady who had a complete skunk
climbing up the nape of her neck, and a hat of the approximate size of
a five-shilling piece worn over her right eyebrow. She looked such a
fool that Jay concluded that the look was intentional, and indeed I
suppose it must be, for the worst insult you can offer to young ladies
of this type is to suggest that they have brains. Jay pondered on this,
and then turned elsewhere for inspiration. All roads of thought at that
time led to one destination, so she only allowed herself to go a little
way along each road.
And presently she reached the end of her journey. She walked home, and
Chloris was as usual waiting for her just outside the rocking-horse
factory at the corner. Jay, as she passed that factory every day, watched
with interest the progress of the grey ghost rocking-horses, eyeless,
maneless, and tailless, as they ripened hourly into a form more like that
of the friend of youth.
She smelt the little smell that is always astray in Mabel Place, she
heard outside in the damp afternoon two rival barrow-men howling a cry
that sounded like "One pound hoo-ray!" A neighbour in the garden was
exchanging repartee with a gentleman caller. "Biby, siy Naughty Man,
Biby, tell 'im what a caution 'e is." But there seemed little hope that
the baby would. These sounds were provided with the constant Brown
Borough background of shouts and quarrels and laughter and children
crying and innumerable noises of work.
"Something has happened," said Jay to Chloris, as they went in. "I feel
as if I had no friends to-night. Not even a Secret Friend."
Chloris lay on her lap in her usual attitude, bent into a circle like a
tinned tongue. Chloris knew it was no use worrying about these things.
"Funny," thought Jay. "King David was a healthy man of ruddy countenance,
and presumably he never lived in the Brown Borough, yet he knew very
well what it feels like to have a temperature, and a sore heart, and to
be alone in lodgings. Whenever I am very tired, it is funny how my heart
quotes those tired Psalms of his, without my brain remembering the words.
I wonder how David knew."
The little house was empty but for her. I ought perhaps to have told you
before that Nana had been taken ill a month or so ago, and had gone away
at Jay's expense to a South Coast Home.
"I'll go round and see Mrs. 'Ero Edwards," said Jay, when she had changed
into mufti. "Neither Chloris nor David is adequate to the moment."
The ground-floor back room of Mrs. 'Ero Edwards was crowded. The Chap
from the Top Floor was there, and Mrs. Dusty Morgan, and little Mrs. Love
from Tann Street, and Mrs. 'Ero Edwards's daughter, Queenie, and several
people's children. Conversation never wavered as Jay knocked and came in.
When you find that your entrance no longer fills a Brown Borough room
with sudden silence, you may be glad and know that you have ceased to be
a lidy or a toff.
The Chap from the Top Floor was talking, and everybody else was there to
hear him do it, except Mrs. 'Ero Edwards who could hardly bear it,
because she only liked listening to herself. Jay sat modestly in a corner
and listened, like the other representatives of her generation.
The Chap from the Top Floor was an Older and Wiser Man. His wife could
not live with him, but he was very kind and fatherly to every one else,
and Jay was rather fond of him. He was about fifty, and anything but
beautiful. Also the C.O.S. would not have admired him. But I believe he
did a good deal of thinking inside that bristly head of his.
"Ow my dear," said Mrs. 'Ero Edwards, laying a fat hand on Jay's knee.
"We're all so 'appy. Dusty's wrote to siy 'e's got the sack from the Army
becos of 'is rheumatics. We're 'avin' a bit of a beano becos of it."
Everybody smiled at Jay, and her heart grew warmer. Some one handed her a
cup of tea sweetened with half an inch of sugar at the bottom of the
cup. The spoon had been plunged to its hilt in condensed milk. What
vulgar tastes she had!
"You can never mike a pal of a woman," said the Chap from the Top Floor,
continuing an argument for the benefit of an audience of women. "One
feller an' another—well—a pal's a pal. But women are all either wives
or—, there ain't no manner of palliness in them."
"'Tain't gentlemanly to talk so, Elbert," said Mrs. 'Ero Edwards. "Yore
mother was a woman, an' from 'er comes all you know, I'm thinkin', an'
all you are. Women is pals with women, an' men is pals with men. It's
only when men an' women gets assorted-like that palliness drops out."
"'Usbinds an' wives can be pals," said Mrs. Dusty. "Me an' Dusty useter
'ave a drop an' a jaw together every night for three months after we
married. Never 'ad a thought apart, we didn't."
"If I ars't Dusty," said the Top Floor Chap, "I don't know but what 'e
wouldn't tell a different tile."
"'Ere, 'bus-conductor, you can talk, an' you're a suffragette," said
Mrs. Dusty. "Ain't bein' a pal just as much a woman's job as a man's?"
"What is bein' a pal?" asked Mrs. Love bitterly. "'Avin' some one 'oo
drinks wiv you until she's sick, and then blacks your eye for you. There
ain't no pals, men or women."
"I think they're rare," said Jay. "Isn't being a pal just refusing to
admit a limit? Some people draw the line at a murderer, and some at a
suffragette, and some at a vegetarian, and some at a lady who wears the
same dress Sundays and week-days, but a real pal draws no line. Women and
dogs as well as men can be faithful beyond limit, I think, but it's very
rare in anybody."
"'Bus-conductors don't know nothink," said the Chap from the Top Floor in
a loud belligerent voice, illuminated by an amiable smile. "I orfen look
at 'bus-conductors, an' think, 'Pore devils, they don't know 'arf of
life, not even a quarter. They only meets the harisocracy wot 'as pennies
to frow about, they never passes the time of day with a plain walkin'
feller like me wot ses 'is mind an' never puts on no frills.
'Bus-conducting oughter be done by belted earls an' suchlike, it ain't a
real man's job. Pore devils,' I ses, lookin' at 'em bouncin' along, doin'
the pretty to all the nobs, wivout so much as puttin' their toe in the
mud. 'Pore devils.'"
"'Ere Elbert, 'old your jaw," said the tactful Mrs. 'Ero Edwards, nervous
lest Jay should resent this insult to her calling. "Let's all go roun' to
the Cross'n Beetle, an' see whether that won't stop 'is noise."
"After all, it's Dusty's birfdiy," said Mrs. Dusty with alacrity.
The day was evidently growing in importance every minute.
"You come along too," said little Mrs. Love, suddenly putting her
hand in Jay's.
"No treatin' nowadiys," said the Top Floor Chap amiably. "But I don't
mind 'andin' around the price of a drink before we start."
He only extended half-hearted generosity to Jay, because she was, after
all, a 'bus-conductor, and to that extent a nob. She shook her head and
laughed, when he held out to her the Law-circumventing coin.
Mrs. 'Ero Edwards only really found scope for her voice out of doors.
No sooner was she in the street than she seized the arm of the Chap
from the Top Floor and shouted him down, as she led him towards the
Mrs. Dusty and young Queenie walked arm in arm behind them, and whenever
they saw a soldier they squeaked loudly, and addressed him invariably as
Jay and little Mrs. Love, both rather confused and unhappy people, walked
hand in hand a little way behind.
"We needn't go as fur as the Cross'n Beetle, if we don't like," said Mrs.
Love. "They'll never notice if we 'ook it."
"I don't want to 'ook it," said Jay. "I want to keep very busy listening
to noisy people. I don't want to hear myself think."
"You're mopey, eh?" asked Mrs. Love gently.
"I'm cold," said Jay. "I believe I've lost something. I believe I've lost
a friend of mine."
"Friends is always gettin' lost," said Mrs. Love. "I told you so. Let's
go an' 'ave a look at the pictures. They've got the 'Curse of a Crook' on
up the street. Fairly mike yer 'air curl."
"I want noise," said Jay, "a much louder noise than that old piano. The
pictures are so horribly quiet. Just an underfed man turning a handle,
and an underfed woman hitting an underfed piano. At a play you can at
least pretend that the actors are having a little fun too, but the
pictures—there's only two sad people without smiles at the bottom of it
all. I won't go to the pictures, I'll go and get drunk."
"Come on then," said Mrs. Love. "You won't find no lost friends there,
but come on. I'll be yer pal for to-night. You've been a pal to me before
now. We're temp'ary pals right enough, there' ain't no permanent kind.
You won't find no shivers straying around in the ole Cross'n Beetle.
Let's 'urry, an' get drunk, and keep 'and in 'and all the time. That's
wot pals oughter do."
Jay suddenly saw the whole world as a thing running away from its
thoughts. The crowd that filled the pavement was fugitive, and every man
felt the hot breath of fear on the back of his neck. One only used one's
voice for the drowning of one's thoughts; one only used one's feet for
running away. The whole world was in flight along the endless streets,
and the lucky ones were in trams and donkey carts that they might flee
"Hurry, hurry," said Jay. And she and little Mrs. Love ran hand in hand.
The Chap from the Top Floor and Mrs. 'Ero Edwards were already leading
society in the Cross'n Beetle when Jay and Mrs. Love reached it. The
barman knew Mrs. Edwards too well to think that she was drunk already,
but you or I, transported suddenly thither, would have supposed that her
beano was over instead of yet to come.
"'Elbert," said Mrs. 'Ero Edwards, "yo're an 'Un, yo're an internal
alien, thet's what's the metter with you. I wonder I 'aven't blacked yer
eye for you many a time and oft."
There was almost enough noise even for Jay, and she and Mrs. Love, each
armed with a generously topped glass, sat in the background, on the
shiny seat that lined the wall.
To Jay this evening was an experiment, an experiment born of weariness of
a well-worn road. She watched Mrs. Love blow some of the superfluous
froth on to the floor, and did likewise. Directly she had put her lips to
the thick brim of her glass she knew that here was the stuff of which
certain dreams are made.
She had, I suppose, the weakest head in the world, and in three minutes
she was giddy and much comforted. The noise seemed to clothe itself in a
veil of music, there was hope in the shining brightness that shone from
the bar. The placards that looked like texts and were advertisements of
various drinks, seemed like jokes to Jay.
"There are only dreams," she thought very lucidly, "to keep our
souls alive. We are lucky if we get good dreams. We'll never get
Through the glass between the patriotic posters that darkened the windows
she could see the morbid colour of London air.
"Apart from dreams," thought this busconducting Omar Khayyám, "there is
nothing but disappointment. We expected too much. We expected
satisfaction. There is nothing in the world but second bests, but dreams
are an excellent second best. Our last attitude must be 'How interesting,
but how very far from what I wanted….'"
The speed of time, and the hurry of life suddenly rushed upon her again.
"I must hurry," she said. "Or I shan't have lived before I die. I
"No 'urry, Jine," said Mrs. Love. "Let's keep in the light for a bit."
"Is this the only light left us, after a deluge of War?" thought Jay. "It
doesn't matter, because of course War is hurrying too. Rushing over our
heads like the sea over drowned sailors. But it will be over in a minute;
this new kind of death must be a temporary death for temporary soldiers.
What do fifty years without friends matter? You can hardly breathe before
She was dazzled and deafened. She had emptied her glass, and she did not
know what steps she took to fill it again. Only she found it was
And in a minute she was on the path to the House by the Sea. She had
come by a new way.
There was less colour than usual about the sea, a certain air of guilt
seemed to haunt the path. And it was extraordinarily lonely, there seemed
to be no promise of a Friend waiting at the other end of the path.
She sang the Loud Song to encourage herself, but she did not sing it
There is no dream like my dream,
Even in Heaven.
There is no Friend like my Friend,
Even in Heaven.
There is no life like my life,
Even in Heaven.
A voice said, "For 'eaven's sike, Jine, don't begin to sing."
Jay laughed. "Treating me as if I were drunk …" she thought. She did
not feel giddy any more. She could see the familiar outline of the House
against an unpretentious sky, and that calm shape steadied her.
No breath of sound came from the House. The sky was grey, the sea was
grey, there was no hint of sunlight. As Jay came to the door she noticed
that the honeysuckle in the bowl at the hall window was still there, but
dead. The wind had strewn the doorstep with leaves and straws and twigs,
little refugees of the air.
In the hall there was an old woman, dressed in a black dress patterned
with big red flowers. She was knitting. Her stiff skirts spread out in
angular folds round her. Jay knew she was a fellow-ghost, because
their eyes met.
Jay felt swallowed up by the silence. She could not speak, even to
think, she felt, would be too noisy. The stiff skirt of the old lady
made no rustle, the knitting needles made no click. But Jay could see
that she was counting. The House seemed to be full of unmoving time.
Outside the rain began to fall, and that grey sound enclosed the silence
of the House.
After a very long time Jay spoke. "Where is my Friend?" she asked.
"Gone to the War," answered the old woman.
"There is no War in this world," said Jay.
"On the contrary," the fellow-ghost replied, "war is, even here, where
Time is not. War is like air, in every house, in every land, on every
sea. For ever."
Between her sentences she counted. Unpausing numbers moved her lips.
"On these shores," she said, "time and Life and the sea go up and down.
Eternity has no logic. There are no reasons, there is no explanation. But
there is always War. There are fighting sea men in the caves on the
beach. Haven't you seen them, the dark sea people? Haven't you heard
their high voices that were tuned to cut through the voice of the sea?
Haven't you found their very wide, long-toed footprints in the sand? Have
you walked blind through this world?"
"No," said Jay, "I remember. The women decorate their hair with seaweed,
pink and green. I have watched them catch fish with their hands. I have
watched them put their babies to play in the pools among the rocks…."
"On the cliffs," said the fellow-ghost, "men clad in armour share the
camps of the Englishmen who fought at Cressy, and at Waterloo, and at
the Marne. On these seas the most ancient pirates sing and laugh in
chorus with Nelson's drowned sailors, and with men from the North Sea,
men whose mothers still cry in the night for them. Did you think there
was any seniority in Eternity?"
"But I don't understand," said Jay. "Time seems to leave itself behind so
"There is nothing to understand," said the old woman. "There is no
explanation. Time does not move. Men move." The noise of the rain seemed
to wash out everything but remembrance, and there was no feeling in Jay
but a terrible longing to have her Secret Friend with her again, and that
long secret childhood of theirs, and to wipe out half her days and all
her knowledge, and to hear once more those songs upon the sands of the
cove, and to feel the tingling ground of the sunny hills.
"My Friend has never forsaken me before," she said.
She felt a hand press her hand, and she met the eyes of little Mrs. Love.
"Yo're a mousey sort of kid," said Mrs. Love, "sittin' there as if you
was in church. Shall we go 'ome? The rine's gettin' worse an' worse, an'
it's no good wytin'. I'll see you 'ome."
When Jay, very wet and dazed, reached Eighteen Mabel Place, she found a
card pushed under the door. The name on it was Mr. Herbert Russell's, and
there was a suggestion in a beautiful little handwriting on the back of
it that she should ring him up next morning and tell him when to come and
see her, as he had a message from her brother.
"This is the sort of thing that couldn't possibly happen in real life,"
said Jay. "I must be drunk after all. On no doorstep except Heaven's
could one find a message so romantic."
She was instinctively disobedient to Older and Wiser people. She never
entertained the idea of telephoning. She could imagine Mr. Russell
answering the telephone in a prosaic voice like a double bass. She wrote
the following letter:
DEAR SIR—Don't you remember, I was to meet you anyway on the steps of
St. Paul's at ten o'clock next Sunday? I will wait till then for the
JANE ELIZABETH MARTIN, 'Bus-conductor.
"That letter ought to put two and two together for him," she thought, "if
he hasn't done it already. It's a complicated little sum, and the result
She felt hot and feverish when she wrote the letter. And directly she had
posted it she regretted having done so.
"I forget what I wrote," she said. "It is dangerous to post letters to
Older and Wiser Men when drunk."
All that night she lay awake and mourned the desertion of her
You promised War and Thunder and Romance.
You promised true, but we were very blind,
And very young, and in our ignorance
We never called to mind
That truth is seldom kind.
You promised love, immortal as a star.
You promised true, yet how the truth can lie!
For now we grope for hands where no hands are,
And, deathless, still we cry,
Nor hope for a reply.
You promised harvest and a perfect yield.
You promised true, for on the harvest morn,
Behold a reaper strode across the field,
And man of woman born
Was gathered in as corn.
You promised honour and ordeal by flame.
You promised true. In joy we trembled lest
We should be found unworthy when it came;
But—oh—we never guessed
The fury of the test.
You promised friends and songs and festivals.
You promised true. Our friends, who still are young,
Assemble for their feasting in those halls
Where speaks no human tongue.
And thus our songs are sung.
I have very rarely found Sunday in London a successful day. I hate
idleness without peace, and festivity without beauty, and noise without
music. I hate to see London people in unnatural clothes. I hate to see a
city holding its breath.
Jay waited ten minutes on the steps of St. Paul's for Mr. Russell. This
was not because he was late, but because she was early; and this again
was not because she was indecently eager, but because she had hit on an
unexpectedly non-stop 'bus. She felt a fool for ten minutes. And when you
have waited ten minutes on those enormous steps under the eye of the
pigeons, you will know why she felt a fool.
Mr. Russell arrived in Christina the motor car, and simultaneously a
shower fell. From the first moment Jay felt unsuccess in the air of that
much-anticipated day. She was introduced to Christina, and said, "But we
can't take that thing into the Cathedral."
"We don't want to," said Mr. Russell, although, as he was a born driver,
the challenge made him instinctively measure with his eye the depth of
the steps, and the width of the doorway, from Christina's point of view.
"We don't want to pray. We want to talk."
Anonyma would have been astonished to hear him say this.
"As a matter of fact," said Jay, "I brought Chloris for the same reason."
Chloris was eating the bread which a kind but short-sighted old lady
believed herself to be giving to the pigeons.
Mr. Russell had hardly been able to imagine his 'bus-conductor in any
dress but that of her calling. Now that he saw her in unambitious
London-coloured things, he was glad to notice that her clothes were not
Sunday clothes, but the sort that you forget about directly you look away
This was the sort of day that breaks up delusions, and as Christina the
motor car started away, Jay discovered that her hat was not adequately
attached to her head. There are few discoveries more depressing than
this at the beginning of a day of movement.
The bells of St. Paul's began to sing. Little fairy bells dodged behind
and about the great notes. But Christina soon swept the sound into the
forgotten air behind her.
"I've got a lot to talk to you about," said Mr. Russell as he headed
Christina Hackney-way. He was conscious that he was taking his miracle
curiously for granted. I don't think he really believed in it yet. For
Mr. Russell all truth was haunted by the ghost of a clanking lie. He
discerned deceit on the part of Providence where no deceit was. "I'll
give you your brother's message first, because it interests me personally
least. He is gone. There was a sudden move across the Channel last week,
and he went—I suppose—ten days ago now. The message he hadn't time to
give you was an appeal to give up 'bus-conducting. He had an absurd idea
that you walked out with men-conductors in Victoria Park."
"Not at all absurd," said Jay. "Not half so absurd as the idea of driving
out with a casual fare. I know some delightful conductors and drivers;
we joke together when the traffic sticks. There is one perfect darling
called Edward; his only fault is that he drives a mere Steamer. But we
always bow, and once when a horse fell down and we got hung up for twenty
minutes in the Strand, he sang me a little song about a star."
Mr. Russell listened to all this very attentively, and then continued:
"Your brother wants you to go back to your Family. His last words to me
about it were that if you could manage to be ladylike for three years or
the duration of War, at the end of that time he and you would go and live
by your two selves in New Zealand, and if you liked you need wear no
skirts at all there, but riding breeches all the time."
"Ladylike!" snorted Jay. "What's the use of ladyliquity even for five
minutes? So Kew sent you as an antidote? I suppose he didn't know you
were one of my fares?"
"A fare," said Mr. Russell sententiously, "may, I suppose, be a wonderful
revelation, because you only see your fare's eyes for a second, and the
things you may see have no limit, and you never know the silly little
truth about him. Yet even so, there is more than a ticket and a look
between you and me, and you know it."
"Possibly there is a Secret World between you and me," said Jay. "But
that's a pretty big thing to divide us."
"Supposing it doesn't divide us?" said Mr. Russell, looking fiercely at
the road in front of him. "Supposing it showed me how much I love you?"
"How disappointing!" said Jay in the worst of possible taste. (She was
like that to-day.) "You're ceasing to be an Older and Wiser, and trying
to become an ordinary Nearah and Dearah."
("Oh, curse," she thought in brackets. "I shall kick myself to-night.")
"That's a horrid thing to say," said Mr. Russell. "But still I do
"It sounds very Victorian and nice," said Jay, wondering if he could
still see her through her veil of bad temper. "But, you know, in spite of
Secret Worlds, and secret souls, and centuries of secret knowledge, we
still have to keep up this 1916 farce, and leave something of ourselves
in sensible London. How do I know you're not married?"
Mr. Russell thought for a very long time indeed, and then said, "I am."
Jay was not very well brought up. She did not stop the car and step
out with dignity into respectable Hackney. She was just silent for a
"As you were," she said to herself, when she found herself able to think
again. "This is a bad day, but it will be over in something less than a
"You drive well," she said presently, looking with relief from Mr.
Russell's face to his hands. Christina the motor car and two 'buses were
just then indulging in a figure like the opening steps of the Grand
Chain. "You drive as though driving were poetry and every mile a verse."
"After all," she told herself, "the man loves me, and I must at least
take an intelligent interest in him."
"Are you a poet?" she added.
Nobody had ever asked Mr. Russell this question before, and not knowing
the answer to it, he did not answer.
"I have never written a line of poetry," said Jay. "Or rather, I have
several times written a line, but never another line to fit it. Yet
because I have a Friend,—I know in what curious and extended order the
verses come, and how the tunes come first, and the various voices next,
and the words last, and how a good rhyme warms you like a fire, and how
the tunes fall away when the thing is finished, and how ready-made it all
is really, and yet how tired you feel…."
To Mr. Russell it all seemed true, and part of the miracle. He had
nothing to add, and therefore added nothing.
"Obviously you are a poet," said Jay. "You have a poetic look."
"What look is that?" asked Mr. Russell, much pleased. It was twenty years
since he had even remembered that he possessed a look of his own.
"A silly sullen look," said Jay. Presently she added: "But it must have
been disappointing to find yourself a poet in Victorian times. I always
think of you Olders and Wisers as coming out of your stuffy nineteenth
century into our nice new age with a sigh of relief."
"Oh no," said Mr. Russell. "You must remember that when we were born
into it, it became our nice new age, and therefore to us there is no
age like it."
"It seems incredible," said Jay. "Did Older and Wiser people ever live
violently, ever work—work hard—until their brains were blind and they
cried because they were so tired? Did they ever get drowned in seas full
of foaming ambitions? Did they ever fight without dignity but with joy
for a cause? Did they ever shout and jump with joy in their pyjamas in
the moonlight? Did they ever feel just drunk with being young, and in at
the start? And were Older and Wiser people's jokes ever funny?"
"We were fools often," said Mr. Russell. "Once, when I was fifteen, I bit
my hand—and here is the scar—because I thought I had found a new thing
in life, and I thought I was the first discoverer. But as to jokes, you
are on very dangerous ground there. One's sense of humour is a more
tender point than one's heart, especially an Older and Wiser sense of
humour. You know, we think the jokes of your nice new age not half so
funny as ours. But as neither you nor I make jokes, that obstacle need
not come between us."
"Oh, I think difference of date is never in itself an obstacle," said
Jay. "Time is not important enough to be an obstacle."
"You and I know that," said Mr. Russell.
A little unnoticed knot of Salvationists surprised Jay at a distance by
singing the tune of a sentimental song popular five years ago, and then
they surprised her again, as she passed them, and heard the words to
which the tune was being sung. Brimstone had usurped the place of the
roses in that song, and the love left in it was not apparently the kind
of love that Hackney understands.
"Why don't they sing the old hymn tunes?" asked Jay. "Or tunes like
'Abide with Me'—not very old or very good, but worn down with
devotion like the steps of an old church? Why do they take the drama
out of it all?"
Chloris at that moment introduced drama into the drive by jumping out of
the back seat of Christina. I must, I suppose, admit that Chloris was not
Really Quite a Lady. On the contrary, motor 'buses were the only motors
she knew. She mistook the estimable Christina for a deformed motor 'bus,
and when she smelt Victoria Park, she jumped out. Even for Chloris this
was an unsuccessful day. A flash of yelping lightning caught the tail of
Jay's eye, and she looked round to see her dignified dog, upside down,
skid violently down a steep place into the gutter, and there disappear
beneath the skirt of a female stranger who was poised upon the kerb.
Unhurt, but probably blushing furiously beneath her fur over her own
vulgarity, Chloris was retrieved, and spent the rest of the drive in
wiping all traces of the accident off her ribs on to the cushions of
Christina. I am glad that Mr. Russell's Hound was not there to witness
poor Chloris's unsophisticated confession of caste.
"Where are we going?" asked Jay, when she was calm again.
"God knows where …" said Mr. Russell.
"I'm always coming across districts of that name," said Jay severely. "I
often direct my enquiring fares to the region of God Knows Where. It is
most unsatisfying. Where are we going?"
"On for ever," said Mr. Russell. "Out of the world. To the House
by the Sea."
"Then will you please set me down at Baker's Arms?" said Jay. "Do you
know, by the way, that Anonyma always says 'Stay' to a 'bus, if she
remembers in time not to say 'Hi, stop,' like a common person."
She was talking desperately against failure, but it seemed a doomed day,
and nothing she could think of seemed worth saying.
"I want to talk to you about your House by the Sea," said Mr. Russell.
"You know I found it."
"Don't tell me any facts," implored Jay. "Don't tell me you pressed half
a crown into the palm of the oldest and wisest inhabitant, and found out
facts about some nasty young man who was born in seventeen something, and
lived in a place called Atlantic View, and wore curls and a choky stock,
and fought at Waterloo, and lies in the village church under a stone
monstrosity. Don't tell me facts, because I know they will bar me for
ever out of my House by the Sea. Facts are contraband there."
"There is no House by that Sea now," said Mr. Russell. "A slate quarry
has devoured the headland on which it used to stand. Where the House used
to be there is air now. I daresay the ghosts you knew still trace out the
shape of the House in the air."
"The ghosts I know," corrected Jay. "Don't put it in the past."
"It's all in the past," said Mr. Russell. "It's all a dream, and an echo,
and the ghost of the day before yesterday."
"How do you know?" asked Jay. "How can you tell it's not 1916 that's
She had been taught by her Friend to take very few things for granted,
and time least of all.
"I asked you to tell me no facts," she added.
"I'll only tell you two," persisted Mr. Russell. "One is that they have
in the church near the quarry a dark wooden figure of a saint, with the
raised arm broken, and straight draperies. I saw it, and they told me
what I knew already, that it came out of the hall of a house that was
drowned in the sea. The other fact is a story that the tobacconist told
me, about a wriggly ladder, and stone balls, and the Law. In the
tobacconist's childhood they found the stone balls at the foot of the
cliff in the sand. That story, too, I knew already. Quite apart from
your letters, you little secret friend, I knew the face of that sea
directly I saw it."
"But how did you know? How dared you know?"
"Oh well," said Mr. Russell, "you asked me to tell you no facts."
Mr. Russell was not observant. He was not sufficiently alive to be
observant. He was much occupied in remembering phantom yesterdays, and I
do not think he listened very much to what the 'bus-conductor said. He
only enjoyed the sound of her voice, which he remembered. So he did not
know that she was unhappy.
They came presently to a separate part of the forest, which is impaled
upon a straight white road. The earth beneath the trees was caught in a
mesh of shadows. The trees are high and vaulted there, but the forest is
very reticent. The detail of its making is so small that you can only
see it if you lie down on your face. Do this and you can see the green
threads of the earth's material woven across the skeletons of last year's
leaves. You can see the little lawns of moss and weeds, too small to
name, that make the way brilliant for the ants. You can watch the heroic
armoured beetles defying their world. You can cover with a leaf the great
open-air public meeting-places of six-legged things. You can see the
spiders at work on their silver cranes, you can watch the bold elevated
activities of the caterpillars. You can feel the scattered grasses stroke
your eyelids, you can hear the low songs of fairies among the roots of
the trees. All these things you may enjoy if you lie down, but the forest
does not show them to you. The forest pays you the great compliment of
ignoring you, and it does not care whether you see its intimate
possessions or not. I think perhaps no day is really unsuccessful that
gives you forest earth against your forehead, and forest grass between
your fingers, and high forest trees to stand between you and the ultimate
confession of failure.
Jay and Mr. Russell boarded out Christina the motor car for the day at
an inn, and then they sat and gradually introduced themselves to the
forest. Showers fell on their hatless heads, and they did not notice. A
mole rose like a submarine from the waves of the forest earth, and they
did not notice. The butterflies danced like little tunes in the sunlit
clearing, and they did not notice. And from a long way off, near the
swings, holiday shrieks trailed along the wind, and they did not notice.
Jay told Mr. Russell, one by one, small unmattering things that she
remembered out of her Secret World, and each time when she had told him
he wondered with regret why he had not remembered it by himself. He had
never thought it worth while to remember before; his imagination was
crippled, and needed crutches. He had not thought it worth while to think
much about the time when he was young, the time when his past had been as
big and shining as his future. The longer we live, it seems, the less we
remember, and no men and few women normally possess a secret story after
thirty. It would not matter so much if you only lost your story, a worse
fate than loss befalls it—you laugh at it. It is curious how the world
draws in as one gets older and wiser. The past catches one up, the future
burns away like a candle. I used to think that growing up was like
walking from one end of a meadow to the other, I thought that the meadow
would remain, and one had only to turn one's head to see it all again.
But now I know that growing up is like going through a door into a little
room, and the door shuts behind one.
I think Mr. Russell's point of difference from most older and wiser
people was that he had not forgotten the excitement of writing down
snatches of his secret story as it came to him, and the passion of
tearing up the thing that he wrote, and the delight of finding that he
could not tear it out of his heart. He was a silent person, and a
rather neglected person, and unbusinesslike, and unsuccessful, and
uncultured, and unsociable, and unbeautiful. So there was nothing
worse than emptiness where his secret story used to be. He had not
found it worth while to fill the space. He had not found it worth
while to shut the door.
"Do you remember that Christmas," said Jay, "when there was a blizzard,
and a great sea, and the foam blinded the western windows of the House,
and the children went out to sing 'Love and joy come to you'? (Those
aren't real words any more now, are they? only pretty caricatures.) And
when the children came in with snow and foam plastered up their windward
sides, do you remember that one of them said, 'Is this what Lot's wife
"I can just remember Love and Joy mixed up with the wind at the window,"
said Mr. Russell. "But always best of all I can remember the way you
looked on …"
"Me?" said Jay. "I wasn't there."
"Oh yes you were, and that's what you forget. You were there always, and
when I was looking for the House I believe it was always you I was
expecting to find there."
"Me! Me, with this same old face?" gasped Jay. "Oh, excuse me, but you
lie. You never recognised me in my 'bus."
"I knew without knowing I knew. I remembered without remembering that I
remembered. We haven't made a psychical discovery, Jay, we have done
nothing to write a book about. Only you remember so well that you have
"I don't believe that can be true," said Jay. "I know I wasn't there."
"Why can't you see the truth of it?" asked Mr. Russell, sighing for
so many words wasted. "In that House by the Sea, who was your
"My Friend," said Jay, "is young and very full of youth. He is like a
baby who knows life and yet finds it very amusing, and very new. He is
without the gift of rest, but then he does not need it, the world in
which he lives is not so tired and not so muddling as our world. In him
my only belief and my only colour and my last dregs of romance, and
certainly my youth survive. We never bother about reserve, and we never
mind being sentimental in my Secret World. We just live, and we are never
tortured by the futility of knowledge."
"Well," said Mr. Russell, "I had a Secret Friend in my House, and she was
wonderful because she was so young that she knew nothing. She never
asked questions, but she thought questions. She knew nothing, she was
waiting to grow up. She had little colour, only peace and promise. I knew
she would grow up, but I also knew she would never grow old. I knew she
would learn much, but I also knew she would never become complete and ask
no more questions. That voice of hers would always end on a questioning
note. You see, I have found my Secret Friend, grown-up, grown old enough
to enjoy and understand a new and more vital youth."
"Shall I find my Friend?" asked Jay.
"Yes," said Mr. Russell in a very low voice. "You can find him if you
look. You can find him, grown very old and ugly and tired. There are
different ways of growing up, and your Secret Friend was rash in using up
too great a share of his sum of life in the House by the Sea."
Then Jay was suddenly enormously happy, and the veil of failure fell away
from the day and from her life. She held in her hand incredible
coincidences. The angle of the forest, the upright trees upon the sloping
earth, the bend of the sky, the round bubble shapes of the clouds upon
their appointed way, the agreement of the young leaves one with another,
the unfailing pulse of the spring,—all these things seemed to her a
chance, an unlikely and perfect consummation, that had been reached only
by the extraordinary cleverness of God. All love and all success were
pressed into a hair's-breadth, and yet the target was never missed.
"You shall go down to the House by the Sea," said Jay. "You shall go when
the moon is next full over the sea that drowned our house. You shall come
from the east, along the rocky path, as you used to come, between the
foxgloves; you shall play at being a god, coming between the stars and
the sea. And I will play at being a goddess, as I used to play at being a
ghost, and I will run to meet you from the west, and the high grasses and
the ferns shall whip my knees, and the thistles shall bow to me, and the
sea shall be very calm and say no word, and there shall be no ship in
sight. And we will go down the steep path to the shore, and we will stand
where the sand is wet, and look up to where our drowned House used to
be. And there shall be no facts any more, only the ghosts, and the
dreams. Oh, surely it has never happened before—this meeting of Secret
Friends—and surely no friend ever loved her friend as I love you, and
surely there never was so little room for sin and disappointment in any
love as there is in ours. Surely there are no tears in the world any
more, and no Brown Borough, and no War. I don't care if I go hungry every
day till we meet, I don't care if I have nothing but hated clothes to
wear in my Secret World. I don't care if there are six changes on the
journey to the sea, and at every change I miss my connection. I don't
care if the end lasts only a minute, because the minute will last for
ever, there are no facts any more. Because of you the little bothers of
the world are gone, and the big bothers never did exist, because of you.
Oh, I can say what I mean at last, and if it's nonsense—I don't care,
because of you…."
Presently she said, "And now I wonder if I am very proud or very much
ashamed of having spoken."
"You said once," Mr. Russell reminded her, "that life was just a bead
upon a string. Well, does it much matter whether one bead is the colour
of pride or the colour of shame? Does one successful bead more or less
matter, my dear? I think it's all a succession of explanations, more or
less lucid, and all different and all confusing. A string of beads more
or less beautiful, and all unvalued. We don't know that any of the
explanations are true, we don't know that any of the beads have any
worth. We only know that they are ours…."
"I don't care if I trample my beads in the mud," said Jay. "Now let's go
home and think."
When she and Chloris got home that evening to Eighteen Mabel Place,
Chloris barked at a man who was waiting outside the door. He was a young
man in khaki, with one star; he looked very white, and was reading
something from his pocket-book.
"Great Scott, Bill," said Jay. "I thought you were busy sapping in
France. Were you anywhere near Kew?"
I do not know if you will remember the name of young William Morgan. I
think I have only mentioned him once or twice.
"I got back on leave two hours ago," said Mr. Morgan. "I have been
waiting here thirty-two minutes. I saw Kew every day last week, and I was
with him when he died, three hours before I came away yesterday."
Jay was silent. She opened the door, and in the sitting-room she
placed—very carefully—two chairs looking at each other across
"Jay," said William Morgan, "I am deadly afraid of doing this badly. Kew
and I talked a good deal before it happened, and there was a good deal he
wanted me to tell you. All the way back in the train and on the boat I
have been writing notes to remind me what I had to say to you. I hope you
don't mind. I hope you don't think it callous."
"No," said Jay.
"He was very anxious you should know the truth about it, because he said
he had never lied to you. He was always sure that if he were shot it
would be in the back while he was lacing his boots, or at some other
unromantic moment. And in that case he said he could lie to Anonyma and
your cousin vicariously through the War Office, which would write to
them about Glory, and Duty, and Thanks Due. But he wanted me to write to
you, and tell you how it happened, and tell you that death was just an
ordinary old thing, no more romantic than anything else, without a
capital letter, and that one died as one had lived—in a little ordinary
way—and that there was no such thing as Glory between people who didn't
lie to each other. I am telling you all this from my notes. I should
never have thought of any of it for myself, as you know. I hope you
"No," said Jay. She heard what he said, yet she was not listening. Her
mind was listening to things heard a very long time ago. She heard
herself and Kew in confidential chorus, saying those laboriously simple
prayers that Anonyma used to teach them. She heard again the swishing
that their feet used to make in the leaves of Kensington Gardens. Kew's
was the louder swish by right. She thought of him as an admirable big
brother of eight, with a round face and blunt feet and very hard hands.
She heard the comfortable roar of the nursery fire, and the comfortable
sound of autumn rain baffled by the window; she saw the early winter
breakfast by lamplight, and the red nursery carpet that had an oblong
track worn away round the table by the frequent game of "Little Men
Jumping." She heard the voice of Kew clamouring against the voice of Nana
because he would not eat his bacon-fat. On those days there was a horrid
resurrection at luncheon of the bacon-fat uneaten at breakfast.
"As it happened," continued Mr. Morgan, no longer white, but very red,
"he wasn't killed in an advance, or anything grand. He told me to tell
you, so I am telling you. He was killed by a sniper while he was setting
a trap of his own invention to catch the rats as they came over the
parapet. He was shot in the chest very early yesterday morning, and he
lived about four hours. He was not in much pain, he even laughed a little
once or twice to think he should have lived and died so consistently. He
told me that he had never seen a moment's real romantic fighting; he had
never once felt patriotic or dramatic or dutiful, he said. He wandered a
little, I think, because he seemed worried about the rats that might be
caught in the trap he had set. He seemed to mix up the rats and the
Boches. He said that these creatures didn't know they were vermin, they
just thought they were honest average animals doing their bit, and then
suddenly killed by a malignant chaos. My notes are very hurried. I am
afraid I am repeating myself."
Jay remembered the mouse they once caught, and kept in a bottle for a
day, and the palace they made for it out of stones and mud and moss, and
the sun-bath of patted mud they made by the door of the palace. But the
mouse, when it was installed, flashed straight out of the front door, and
jumped the sun-bath, and knocked down a daisy, and was never seen again.
But Jay and Kew used to believe that on moonlit nights it came back to
the palace, and brought its wife and children, and was grateful to the
"A few days before he was killed," said Mr. Morgan, "he told me that he
had lied so successfully all his life that quite a lot of people thought
him a most admirable young man. He said Anonyma once brought him into a
book, and when he read that book he saw how lying paid, as long as one
didn't lie to absolutely everybody. He said if he died Anonyma would
write something very nice upon his memorial brass about a pure heart or
everlasting life, and he thought you would smile a little at that. He
said that he remembered going home with you in a 'bus and seeing on the
window of the 'bus a text that promised everlasting life on certain
conditions. He said the remembrance of that text tired him still. He said
he had had too much of himself, he had known himself too well, and when
death came, he wanted it to be an honest little death with no frills, and
after that an everlasting sleep with no dreams. I am putting it all in
the wrong order. I shall make you despise me. You talk so well yourself."
Jay was remembering the "Coos" they used to have in the big armchair in
the nursery. When they found that they suddenly loved each other
unbearably, they had a Coo, they tied themselves up in a little tangle
together, and sang Coo in soft voices. And then they felt relieved. Jay
remembered the last Coo. It happened when Kew's voice was breaking ten
years ago, and he found that he could no longer coo except in a funny
falsetto. So, rather than become farcical, the Coos ceased.
"I don't know quite why Kew wanted me to tell you all this," said Mr.
Morgan, "except that he said you knew so much about him that you might as
well get as near as possible to knowing everything. He never thought he
would be killed, in fact I gave him a lot of messages of my own to give
to my mother in case I went. But at the last, when he knew he was dying,
he was desperately anxious you should know that he did not die a
'Stranger's death,' as he said. He thought any hint of drama about his
death would spoil your friendship. He said you knew more than most people
about friends, and he thought that in this way you could find for him a
certain 'secret immortality' which would make the soil of France comfier
for him to sleep in. And then he said, 'If I'm too poetic—like a
swan—don't report me too accurately.' He seemed to go to sleep for some
time after that, and every now and then he laughed very faintly in his
sleep. I had to leave him for a bit, and when I came back he was still
asleep. The only thing he said after that was: 'This is awfully
exciting.' He said that about ten minutes before he died. I hope I'm not
making it too painful for you, dear little Jay.'"
"No," said Jay. Quite irrelevantly, she had found her Secret Friend. She
found a little dark wood, burnt and broken by fire, in a grey light, and
there was a wet ditch that skirted the edge of it. She saw the hopeless
and regretful sky, there was neither night nor morning in it, there was
neither sun nor moon. These things she noticed, but more than all she saw
her Secret Friend, lying crouched upon his side close to the ditch, with
his arms about his face. She saw the slow leaves fall upon him from the
ruined trees, she saw the damp air settle in beads upon his clothes. His
feet were in the undergrowth, and above them the dripping net of the
spider was flung. She had never seen her Friend quite still before. All
her life her Secret Friend and her Secret Sea had kept her soul awake
with movement. But her Friend was dead, and there was no more sea. The
very fine rain blew across her Secret World, and blotted it out. The very
distant sound of guns—which was not so much a sound as an indescribable
vacuum of sound—shattered the walls of her bubble enchantment.
"Oh, darling Jay," said Mr. William Morgan, "I wish I could help you. I
can't go away and leave you like this. I wish I could help you."
She found she had her forehead on the table, and her hands were knotted
in her lap. And where once the Gate to the House had been, there was only
London now. No more would the drum of the sea beat in her heart, there
was nothing left but the throbbing of distant trams.
"So it's all lies …" she said quietly. "There really is a thing called
death after all. People die…."
"Jay, darling, don't," sobbed Mr. Morgan. "For God's sake marry me, and
I'll comfort you. I won't die—I swear I won't. And after all, it's
Spring. There's no real death in the Spring. Kew can't have died."
"Oh, what's the use of these eternal seasons?" said Jay. "There is
a thing called death. And death has no romance and no reason. The
rats died, and Kew died, and the secret world died, and there is
It was young David, lord of sheep and cattle,
Pursued his Fate, the April fields among,
Singing a song of solitary battle,
A loud mad song, for he was very young.
Vivid the air—and something more than vivid,—
Tall clouds were in the sky—and something more,—
The light horizon of the spring was livid
With a steel smile that showed the teeth of War.
It was young David mocked the Philistine.
It was young David laughed beside the river.
There came his mother—his and yours and mine—
With five smooth stones, and dropped them in his quiver.
You never saw so green-and-gold a fairy.
You never saw such very April eyes.
She sang him sorrow's song to make him wary,
She gave him five smooth stones to make him wise.
The first stone is love, and that shall fail you.
The second stone is hate, and that shall fail you.
The third stone is knowledge, and that shall fail you.
The fourth stone is prayer, and that shall fail you.
The fifth stone shall not fail you.
For what is love, O lovers of my tribe?
And what is love, O women of my day?
Love is a farthing piece, a bloody bribe
Pressed in the palm of God, and thrown away.
And what is hate, O fierce and unforgiving?
And what shall hate achieve, when all is said?
A silly joke, that cannot reach the living,
A spitting in the faces of the dead.
And what is knowledge, O young men who tasted
The reddest fruit on that forbidden tree?
Knowledge is but a painful effort wasted,
A bitter drowning in a bitter sea.
And what is prayer, O waiters for the answer?
And what is prayer, O seekers of the cause?
Prayer is the weary soul of Herod's dancer,
Dancing before blind kings without applause.
The fifth stone is a magic stone, my David,
Made up of fear and failure, lies and loss.
Its heart is lead, and on its face is graved
A crooked cross, my son, a crooked cross.
It has no dignity to lend it value;
No purity—alas—it bears a stain.
You shall not give it gratitude, nor shall you
Recall it all your days except with pain.
Oh, bless your blindness, glory in your groping!
Mock at your betters with an upward chin!
And, when the moment has gone by for hoping,
Sling your fifth stone, O son of mine, and win.
Grief do I give you—grief and dreadful laughter.
Sackcloth for banner, ashes in your wine.
Go forth, go forth, nor ask me what comes after.
The fifth stone shall not fail you, son of mine.
GO FORTH, GO FORTH, AND SLAY THE PHILISTINE!
There were a few very warm days and nights in the west last spring. It
was at the time of the full moon.
There were so few clouds in the sky that when the sun went down it found
no canvas on which to paint its picture. So it went down unpictured into
a bank of grey heat that hid the horizon of the sea, and no one thought
it worth watching except a man coming alone along the cliff from the
northeast. The moon came up and filled the quarry with ghosts, and with
confused and blinded memories. The sea advanced in armies of great smooth
waves, but under the moon the wind went down, and the waves went down,
and there was less and less sound in the air.
One man watched the dwindling waves troop into the cove near the quarry.
There was only one pair of eyes in the whole world that tried that night
to trace in the air the shape of a drowned house. There was only one
shadow by the quarry for the moon to cast upon the thyme. There was no
voice but the voice of the sea. No passing but the peaceful passing of
the lambs disturbed the thistles and the foxgloves.
The sea rose like a wall across the night, a wall that shut half of life
away. The sky fell like a curtain on the land, but there was no piece to
be played, so the curtain was never raised.
One man waited all the night through, like a child waiting for the
fairies. The sea grew calmer and calmer, the tide went down, and the cove
spread out its long sands like fingers into the sea. There was a shadow
on the sands below the quarry, and it may have been the shadow of a
house. And perhaps when the tide came up at dawn it devoured old
footprints upon the shore, the prints of feet that will never come back.
I think that when the moon fled away into oblivion, it was not only the
moon that fled, but also a bubble world, full of dead secrets.
How foolish to wait for the culmination of a secret story! How foolish
of a man to wait all night for the redemption of an old promise, for the
resurrection of a forgotten romance! There are no secret stories, there
is no secret world, there are no secret friends. The House by the Sea has
been drowned, and even its ghosts have forgotten it. After all, there was
nothing to remember. The gate to the House is barred, not by a lock but
by a laugh. Reality and not adversity has blown the bubble away.
I remember the moment when Jay found four-fifths of her life proved
false. I remember that she besieged the world with tears; I remember that
she bruised her hands against the iron gate. How foolish to bruise one's
hands against nothingness!
"It is well," sighed Anonyma, "that our little Jay has at last found
Romance. Since first she came to my arms—a toddling sceptic of four—I
have seen what she lacked, I have prayed that I—who possessed it—might
perhaps be inspired to give her the Clue…. Yet to young Bill Morgan it
was given to show her the way … to unlock the door…. Oh! Russ, we
grow older and wiser and are left behind. The young reap where we have
sown…. Is this always to be the end of our youth?"
Mr. Russell laughed a little. "Yes," he said. "This is the end."
The finest fruit God ever made
Hangs from the Tree of Heaven blue.
It hangs above the steel sea blade
That cuts the world's great globe in two.
The keenest eye that ever saw
Stares out of Heaven into mine,
Spins out my heart, and seems to draw
My soul's elastic very fine.
The greatest beacon ever fired
Stands up on Heaven's Hill to show
The limit of the thing desired
Beyond which man may never go.
* * * * *
At midnight, when the night did dance
Along the hours that led to morning,
I saw a little boat advance
Towards the great moon's beacon warning.
(The moon, God's Slave, who lights the torch,
Lest men should slip between the bars,
And run aground on Heav'n and scorch
To death upon a bank of stars.)
The little boat, on leaning keel,
Sang up the mountains of the sea,
Bearing a man who hoped to steal
God's Slave from out eternity.
My love, I see you through my tears.
No pity in your face I see.
I have sailed far across the years:
Stretch out, stretch out your arms to me.
My love, I have an island seen,
So shadowed, God's most piercing star
Shall never see where we have been,
Shall never whisper where we are.
There we will wander, you and I,
Down guilty and delightful ways,
While palm-trees plait their fingers high
Against your God's enormous gaze.
For oh—the joy of two and two,
Your Paradise shall never see
The ecstasy of me and you,
The white delight of you and me.
I know the penalty—the clutch
Of God's great rocks upon my keel.
Drowned in the ocean of Too Much—
So ends your thief—yet let me steal….
The Slave of God she froze her face,
The Slave of God she paid no heed,
And thund'ring down high Heaven's space
Loud angels mocked the sailor's greed.
The diamond sun arose, and tossed
A billion gems across the sea.
"The Slave of God is lost, is lost,
The Slave of God is lost to me…."
He grounded on the common beach,
He trod the little towns of men,
And God removed from his reach
The cup of Heaven's passion then,
And gave him vulgar love and speech,
And gave him threescore years and ten.