There was "any God's quantity of rabbits," but dogs starve on rabbits. Billy himself, the royal one, afterwards admitted the fact, and Billy was a truthful potentate. He had seen his dog do it--take the meat out of the boiling water by a corner that stuck up, and from over the lee of the blazing fire, just as described as a lie once by one of the Bulletin's contributors, and just as I saw it done when a boy, and describe it here as a fact.
Billy said that the other Billy sat down along a prop when he saw the dog do that. Billy the royal one said he believed his dog belong-it the devil, and he bin borrow poison along-a rabbit poisoner's camp, and bin kill-it. He showed the scalp, for like all truthful men, black or white, he believed truth to be no good at all without undoubted material or written evidence behind it. They carried Billy under the patchy "shade" of some gidgea, and laid him down and watered him till the grateful ground ceased to steam, and was much darker than the shade.
Billy sat up and told them that this was what they call the Four Lanes, and yonder straight ahead was Shepperton-on-Tems, and over there was Halliford and Sunbury-on-Tems, and that was a backwater of the Tems, with the willers an' watercress an' ole mill and rustic bridge, an', twisting himself round, "there was Shawlton Charlton jest round the corner, with Bob Howe's farm first, and the Farmers' Arms, and then the village, with Shawlton House opposite, where yer see them poplers over the hedge, and then Harry Leonard's farm, with Upper Sunbury further on, an' the London Road leadin' to Stains an' Windser Castle an' Hampton Court--an'--an' London and everywheere else for all he know'd.
Little "God Forgive Billy," the greenest of New Chum Jackeroos, had been sent up by the Government, or Labour Bureau--that is he was given a pass and some rations, and sent away almost from the ship into the disc of Australia, of which he knew absolutely nothing except the awful blaze and dust of it--the blasting reason-shaking contrast from the green lanes of England--which was driving him mad. He had learned potato-peeling and rough cooking aboard the ship, and was liked here because of his fresh innocence, mild and obliging disposition, his gentle nursing and attention to Bogan when he had a touch o' the sun, and his smile, which was dimples deepened and lengthened a bit, hardened and fixed.
Besides, he could play both mouth-organ and tin whistle. And he had one surprising gift altogether out of keeping with his appearance and character or nature. A gift that astonished all who saw an exhibition of it for the first time--and startled some. He could act the drunken man. That is a certain type of him. And the type was Australian, and not English. He was a perfect face-maker in this respect--for it was a silent part. He'd half turn away and damp his hair and moustache swiftly, by a quick pass or sleight of hand, and his hair would be dank, his moustache slobbered, and his hand would pass drunkenly over it to fling the surplus beers away, and his limbs would go, and his left eyelid keep dropping, like a lid, and--and he'd be Billy very drunk, who had never been drunk in his life.
They never grew tired of seeing Billy do it, and "Come and see Bill the cook drunk" was a common invitation to strangers and new-comers. They intended to use him for practical jokes on the boss, etc. One-Eyed Bogan was left in camp that afternoon to mutual satisfaction, to look after poor Little Billy and his dry horrors, because Bogan was the most casual, easy-going, and pipe-lighting, and water-bag-seeking worker in that hell's vineyard--as well as the strongest and least nervous man in camp. Besides, he said he had experience with lunatics, and besides he owed a debt of gratitude to Billy, and they reckoned he would be kinder to the little fellow on that account.
But I'm cunnin' enough, I reckon, 'n' strong enough too for pore little Billy. One-Eyed Bogan had a naturally sinister expression, and had been otherwise damaged about the face in many gambling and drinking rows, and his green patch and glaring eye must have been very soothing indeed to a mild little new chum going mad through heat, trouble and loneliness in a strange and fearful land. Bogan said at tea that he'd fixed Billy with his eye all right, which was very apparent, for Billy was much worse, and had to be kept sitting on the rough stool between two of them--who humoured and watched him as a little child--because he only wanted to go down that lane and have a dip in the Thames backwater now it was dusk, and no one was about.
Bogan reckoned he was safe enough for the night, with any one to watch him, turn about, and quite harmless. But he saw the thing in another light, later on, when Billy confessed tearfully to Jack Moonlight that he thought he was going mad, because he kept craving to peel Bogan's head with the chopper, like a big pumpkin, and quarter it. He said the Voices were urging him all the time to do it--he could hear them all the time he was speaking. And he wanted to be tied up. Just before dark a solitary swagman, or "traveller," came along--on his way from a shearing shed to the coach-road, he said--and seeing and hearing how things stood, he volunteered to look after Billy first part of the night, as he'd only made a short stage, and rest over next day, if they liked, with an eye to Billy and the cooking.
He said he'd had to do with such cases before, and understood. He was a likely looking chap for the job--tall, with saddish brown eyes--so they washed a tin plate, knife and fork, and pint pot for him, with an audible breath of relief. But afterwards One-Eyed Bogan carefully collected the chopper, knives and forks, and all edged tools about camp and lashed them together in a bundle with bagging, a spare tent fly, and bits of clothes-line and wire--for general safety, he said.
He said, "Yer couldn't be too careful in these here cases. But he was seen, when they all were down, save Billy and his new warder, sitting up against the rising moon, and not like a "Queen of Night palm" either, and passing his hand nervously over his "pumpkin" and glancing, apprehensively, it seemed, from Billy and his new mate to the wood-heap--perhaps he was thinking of mashed raw pumpkin. Then he was seen no more, and in the morning, just as they were reckoning that he'd "gone off too," and worse calamity of all!
He said, "Yer could never be too careful in these here cases. They was so--cunnin', and allers turned agin them as was nearest an' dearest to 'em. That was a sure sign. Look more like a sign of returning, or temporary, sanity, the more I think of it. Next evening Billy was better, though he feared it coming on with the night. He had taken a great liking to the new man, whom he persisted in recognizing as a long-lost village school-mate. The swagman said he had been taken to England as a child, but remembered very little of it, and nothing of Billy. Billy showed no inclination to peel his potatoes, however, and during the evening, the It and the Voices not coming on, he told him all about it.
How he had left home and run to London first, because it was gloomy at home, and there was always trouble. There was big trouble, not his, but he should 'a'stayed an' shared it. He had a right in it. He hoped, with a momentary loss of himself and a fluttering raising of uncertain fingers to his temples, that "Bob," the new man, wouldn't mention a word of it in Shepparton or anywheres. He was sick an' weak, or he wouldn't have talked on it Left poor mother dyin' broken-hearted on it, and Tom t' fight it out.
Poor old Tom! Good old Tom as he was allers havin' 'dry' words with--an' all his own fault The stranger, who treated him as a perfectly rational being, listened with seeming interest, sympathized, soothed, and assured Billy over and over again, with astonishing patience, that it was all going to be mended and fixed up, and that Billy was going home almost directly the job was done.
About here there came what some writers call a "diversion. It diverted Jack Moonlight in his quiet way, and was probably a relief to the new-- comer. He heard some one, or something, coming through the scrub, then a silence he heard that too , as if the man or animal had stopped, or was moving quietly. Then he fancied a shadow was bending over Bogan, but before he was sure there was a yell, and sounds like the sudden getting up of a dray horse that has been stumbled over in his sleep by a blundering old working bullock, and badly frightened.
The shadows blended and went down; then one rose, and then the other, and there was bad language, then presently one shadow settled down again, and the language grumbled out on the night breeze. Bob was just going across with Billy to see, when he met Jack Moonlight, who seemed to have a "hiccup," or a catch, in his stomach. I was coming from the fires, and I only bent over him and rubbed his head with my pipe bowl, to see if he was awake, and I told him to keep an eye out for God Forgive Billy.
Billy had a strong objection, connected with the earth's 'lectricity, to sleeping on his usual bed of boughs and blanket on the ground, and he had a horror of the tent. He said he'd got too much 'lectricity coming round the world, and that was what was the matter with him. He said he should never have come halfway round the world, which was correct, and having come so far he should have gone the other half and finished it--which was sane enough.
So Bob made Bill's bed on the rough sapling bench or table, under the dead-bough shed, and persuaded him to lie down. The posts had been "puddled," or clay rammed, down hard round them, and the cavities kept filled with water, to keep the ants off the table, so Billy was isolated from them, if not from the earth's electricity. His friend told him he was, that the water and clay acted as perfect world insulator, and he seemed satisfied.
Almost before Bob was aware, he had commenced that long, quiet, calm, deceptive sleep, which so often cruelly raises hopes in the hearts of relatives and friends of such "cases" in the earliest stages, but which never deceives mental doctors or nurses. Bob sat on the sapling seat bench with his back against a corner upright, and commenced his watch of Billy--and of other things Childhood: Rows and scenes and scenes and rows, violent rows that frightened; father and mother separated; home a hell.
Boy slavery and freedom. Cheap boarding house, pretty, but hysterical, daughter; mother, step-father, and sisters; rows and scenes more violent than at home. Tale of ill-treatment. Last big row. Cab, box, and hurried, mad marriage at a "matrimonial bureau. Police court. Summons for desertion, and maintenance. Summons, summons, summons, Darlinghurst. And the full knowledge of what sort of woman she was. He shook it off, or lifted his mind from under it. He had gone through so much that he had this power: that he could do this at will almost.
The moon rose over the scrub, and all things softened. It was cool, and even growing chilly, as drought nights do grow, and he drew the blanket up over Billy, who never stirred. Then he leaned back against the corner sapling, when he heard his voice called; the close, yet far away call, very distinct.
Then, clear and distinct: "Read, Robert--read! At the first start he thrust out his hand towards Billy, and his hand touched Billy's hand, which lay, palm up, on the saplings; he was drawing back with a momentary sense of shame at his fear when Billy's fingers closed over his, as a sleeping child's might.
Then he looked up, and across, and set his mind to read. Then gradually the "Four Lanes" took shape, and he saw the cool green, peaceful English scene, as Billy had. The ground mist was "coming up," and dusk coming on-- dusking the moonlight at first--and he saw two figures coming, or seeming more to float toward him from the direction of Shepperton-on- Thames--as in a picture from the dawn of memory. Then suddenly the figures were close to him and plain--save the faces.
The girl wore a dark jacket, such as worn in England five or six years ago, and a dark hat with much forward brim, held down to hide the face, which always gives a girl a more hang-dog and guilty look than any slouch hat worn any way can give a man. And to Bob it seemed his wife, as he last saw her--under cross-examination.
And who was the man? He seemed to have had both arms round the woman--or girl--in the first part of the vision, now he had only one, the left, and the right was risen as though to hide his face, shut out of sight, or ward off a blow. The attitude chilled Bob with a strange fear. Who was the man? What was Bob to do? What would Bob do? He seemed to be lying against the outside of a ditch with eyes just above the grass.
Should he attack the man as "all the world" would expect him to do, or slip down and along the bottom of the ditch quietly? There was no "world" to see, so he was just sinking down, with that strange, calm, easy "will power," or whatever it is, which makes all the difference between hypnotic influence and "nightmare" when, with a sudden upheaval, as of a wave, he was beside the girl. He was the man with one arm round her and the other up to ward off. He was struggling and grappling with Billy, the little scrub cutter's lunatic cook, while watching whom he had fallen asleep, and--with the sudden, violent, half dislocating jerk of all the limbs and body that often accompanies an awakening from hypnotic trance, he was awake, and standing up, in his proper senses, cool and collected.
It was as though nightmare, with its violent awakening, had come to the rescue from hypnotism. And Billy lay as he had fallen asleep, still sleeping peacefully. The awful hot, ghostly daylight was over the scrub, looking the same as drought nightfall. Billy woke at his usual time, and in his usual manner, save for saying cheerily, "Oh! I'm all right now, mates! Next day, the last of the job, Billy was worse, and they had to run him down or round him up several times, but the drays came out and the men cleared up without loss of time, and went into the station for their cheques, taking Billy with them.
And leaving the King Billy monarch of all he surveyed--just think of it, for hundreds of miles-- and sixteen dogs and two gins. They took Billy with them--and a trusted, sober, station hand, sent by the super--to the coach road, where Poisonous Jimmy kept a pub-store and post office, and there was a "police camp" a brick and iron one handy. Billy had a pleasant ride--through English lanes--to Poisonous Jimmy's--though he rode and walked with devils most of the time.
He pointed out all the features of the imaginary panorama--to propitiate them perhaps. Poisonous Jimmy's was like a deserted and dried-up slaughter yard, with the offal shed only left and cleaned up a bit, and set in big dust and sand patch in the blazing scrub desert. Here the stranger got a packet of dusty letters and a lot of copies of a Sydney paper. Then he began to act peculiar. He got the loan of the private parlour from the landlady, and, after much hunting, borrowed some scraps of brown paper. Then he got on the right side of the girl to make him some paste.
Then he went through his bundle of papers and marked many paragraphs, some verse, and other matter with the stump of a blue pencil. Then he cut out all the marked pieces carefully with his penknife, and pasted them on strips of brown paper; then he borrowed a carpenter's rule, measured the strips carefully, and entered the result in a pocket-book!
The girl noticed first, of course. Then she whispered to the landlady, who went and had an indifferent look, as also had Poisonous Jimmy. They'd seen too many drink and drought "looneys" to take much notice. Then One-Eyed Bogan went to see for himself, and glared in quite awhile with his one eye. Blowed if he ain't took it from Billy! Lunatic-doctors an' lunatic- nurses all get it more or less themselves if they stick to the game long enough. Who the blazes next, I wonder? Then the new lunatic wanted a piece of white paper, and the landlady humoured him--as she had done the others--to "save trouble and for the sake of peace and quietness.
Then he wrapped the brown paper with the slips pasted on, folded it, tied it neatly with twine, addressed, stamped--and posted it to a newspaper! You chaps had better give the policeman a hint--what goes in the coach with your mate. T'other looney's goin' too. But just a little rite had to be performed that belongs to the Bushman's Creed in another man's trouble--be he Bushman or--or Chinaman--and which is usually performed on the quiet, mysteriously, furtively, and looks more like a low class conspiracy, or better class robbery being planned than anything else.
But in Billy's case it didn't matter. Bogan collected the men in the bar, and took off his old black slouch calico crowned straw hat. But Jack Moonlight objected jocularly that there were edges of straw inside under which coins might slip in a hat held by experienced hands he was a noted gambler--and so was One-Eyed Bogan.
So One-Eyed Bogan borrowed Moonlight's hat, "chucked" "half-a-caser" in it for a send-off, and passed it round. In a shearing shed in full swing in a good season it would have been quids, half-quids, casers, and at the lowest half-casers permitted. But scrub-cutting is low down and "red hot" in a bad season. He sang "Home, Sweet Home! And at the last moment, Bogan told the policeman in charge of Billy, for his comfort on a thirty-mile dry stretch, that "he'd better keep his eye on the other fellow too! So perhaps the inspector thought himself lucky to have no more than three looneys on hand--and one of them he knew.
Better the lunatic you know than the one you don't. Then they went their various ways through their common hells to their private ones, sober, drunken and domestic. What lark was he up to when he took your lug? Which satisfied the constable at once that it was only another little practical joke attempted on the police, whereas Bob might have talked to him till Sydney, and never convinced him that his new and previous mates had been in earnest, but mistaken. Bob now became Billy's brother Tom, and was told all about it again-- about Billy's troubles in Australia--and so on through all the freaks of a disordered brain to Redfern Terminus.
Billy was taken to the Receiving House, where Bob went to see him, and they saved him from Callan Park. Some weeks later a boat of the Bright Star Line wanted a fourth or fifth cook and as many shillings a month firemen as they could get , and Billy went as cook, and the other lunatic saw him off with a supply of tobacco and a parcel of clean things. In Robert Cleaves went to London with great hopes--and deep fears--as a writer, and struck a period of "mental dismay," as I heard it called by another who went to London with great hopes as a young poet, and came back grey.
But it was more than "mental dismay" with Bob, it was mental horror--or horrors--most of the time, for he had heavy private trouble on him, and no funds, relatives or friends. In the lowest depth of the dismay, and on the verge of rags and starvation, he thought of "Shawlton" and "God Forgive Billy. I arrived on Saturday, and started out exploring on Monday morning from No. London has more sameness and monotony, for its size, than the Bush. Somewhere in the wilds between St.
Pancras a rather dirty, dusty and immoral Saint and High Holborn, I inquired of a tall man leaning comfortably against a post outside a tavern--a beerhouse--for the way to Waterloo Station. He thought, rubbed well behind his ear with the ball of his palm, and asked, as an afterthought, or last chance They sell good ale here: an' a comfortable parlour. You might drop in for awhile an' have a rest, and by that time me or some one might be able to direct yer. No, I don't want any. I'll jest watch here in case a likely director comes along.
Or, wait a minute, I could direct where you'll find a policeman! There's one on point just round the corner. However, I found High Holborn. Or, rather, it found me, and swung me in, and there I bumped against a buck youth with a vacantly inquiring expression, prominent pale eyes, and very large and prominent buck teeth.
Otherwise he was just the kind of new chum we set grubbing about the Homestead until we can trust him alone beyond the first fence. He was examining and picking his teeth with great attention in a grotesque mirror on one side of a shop window--a fat woman with a shawl was fixing her hair and hat in the other, which was concave-- hairpins and hatpins between her teeth.
I passed behind them, and before the reflections several times, but not the ghost of a ghost of a sign of a smile on either of their screamingly distorted features-- their sweet counterfeits. So I concluded there was no frivolity here though I wondered if these were of the people for whom my agent advised me to write humorous stuff , and I tapped the youth and inquired the way to the Strand. Oh, yes--the Strained. Take the first turn round that there half-corner, where you see them green buses going round.
That Chawnchery Lane. Foller them green buses--they'll take yer right into the Strained. Don't take no notice of them there courts. I thanked him and went on, but felt that he had hesitated. Then he was at my shoulders again, rather vaguely in the rush and rattle, but with the air of a man who had, on second thought, decided to tell me of something, of no particular importance, but which might be worth my while to know, which had happened, or occurred to him, since we last met.
Go on as I tell yer. Foller them green buses, and don't take no notice of them bloody courts. As if there was a deadly feud of long standing between his tribe and the courts. It must have been deadly, and of considerable previousness, for they don't, as a rule, hint of private or family quarrels to outsiders in England. They say that such and such is "no class" in North London--and that's about all.
Also there were many tram and bus routes, and different colours to each one, and different shades for each section and branch, and they were covered with advertisements with "grounds" of all colour, so the wanderer might just as well be colour blind. Cross Waterloo Bridge and take train from a big grimy station there on the right-hand side--up the river by train to Shepperton-on-"Tems. You might stroll round by pleasant brooks, within sound of the river; and by some brickfields, that cannot spoil the scene, and come into the story towards the end, and little unsuspected "hamlets"--that's the word--lying in wait, half-hidden in side pockets, nooks and corners of the hedges--like shy children who want to give you a pleasant surprise--and you'll come to either Halliford, Sunbury, Upper Sunbury, or Sunbury-on-Thames.
But I want to get you to Charlton, and you'll be lost in English lanes. But you'll be directed. You'll meet a fresh, peachy-bloomed-faced, clear- eyed youth, with the bulk limbs and plod of an English farm labourer, a detached and shelving underlip, which might do if it were trimmed and shored or braced up--were it not for a vague chin, which is hopeless--and a general expression like a blank note of interrogation--if such a thing could be.
But he'll direct you according to the best of his lights. Oh, yes, sir! You take that lane wot yer see there, sir, and foller it till yer come to a bridge goin' across the water, sir. No, sir, that's not the 'Tems,' sir--that's only a backwater runnin' inter the Tems, sir. Git through the fence to the right jest before yer come to the bridge, sir; don't cross the bridge. Don't cross the bridge, sir.
Git through a panel jist at the foot of the bridge where yer see a path worn, sir. Don't take no notice of that lane on the other side, sir. When yer git through yer'll see medder in front of yer, sir--yer'll be in the medder, in fact, sir. Go right across the medder till yer comes to a gate with a turnstile and another stile on either side, sir. Yer can take whichever yer like, sir. Go right through by the house, and it'll bring yer right inter the road agenst Chawlton, sir.
Mind and don't take no notice of that there lane I told yer of, sir. The farmhouse stands, or rather squats, low, in dark, damp-looking greenery, just inside the orchard--this is on low-lying Tems gravel flats--with a heavy roof of red tiles--stained like iron rust, and some of them glass--that comes down so low behind that you could scratch your shoulders against the eaves. But there are rooms in the roof that hid the mysteries of the births of great, great grandfathers.
The old farmhouse, as is the case of many others, looks as if it were taller at one time--higher and lighter at one time, but had settled down, like a big rusty old hen, over ceaseless generations of chickens. Stable, barn, and one big outhouse of wideinch-- weather-boards, tarred. Big trees along the lane to the road-- "hellums," or beeches, or something--it doesn't matter--and "hashes" at the hend of it, "agenst the road.
The short lane runs from the back of the house into the road, and from the road to the kitchen door, or, to be precise, to the outer kitchen, or slush-house, door. As seems the case with most farmhouses round here. The front approach and front door is either a mystery or a legend--a vague bucolic superstition.
Maybe there was a front entrance, and visitors, and light--in other days. Farmer's wife dead--the village people never talk of her to new- comers--perhaps not amongst themselves. Leonard took another woman, with a baby girl--his or some one else's--as housekeeper. Baby grown to fresh, pretty little English village beauty--"fresh" as a half- broken filly--"Miss Leonard. Leonard, who has a little to do with the story, stands smoking--hand to pipe, casually--in the front back-side, or whatever it is, gateway, leading into the road.
He is a stoutish man, calm, contented in the gloaming, with a calmness and content that he has made for himself, or rather has made his farm hands make for him for he owns them body and soul --with a smile that is watch-dog like, and not altogether bland at any time. Something suggestive of the mastiff with nothing on his mind and stroked by passers-by--or a dog of lesser degree succeeding in being, or seeming, unconscious under certain circumstances.
Something saturnine. Two youths in their Sunday clothes, crouched behind a heap of metal a bit along to the right, and whom the blackberry overgrowth had prevented from diving into the ditch in time. They have been coming to see the girls, up at the house, under the impression that Mr. Leonard was gone to Shepperton on club business. Another young fellow, who was up at the house, slips down and out desperately--out past Leonard, bending obsequiously, and an apologetic and propitiatory hat held vertically, parallel to his ear-- as if Leonard were a stationary funeral and the boy were forced by haste, and much against his will, to disobey the last injunction of the deceased, and pass the corpse.
A little man, who has been busy about the stable, passes out. A little man in corduroys, and that heavily seamed, double-fronted, calico- lined, monkey-jacket sort of coat they wear. A little man with pale blue eyes and a smile--a fixed smile. I've seen big men with it. It is as though there were deep merry dimples once, and they extended into the care and age lines, down the cheeks and into a fixed smile.
I've wondered how such men manage at a funeral. But sudden and deep sorrow affects such expressions painfully; more so than in ordinary or seldom smiling men. You've seen the ghastly attempt at a smile of the smileless. But the reverse--well, in ordinary circumstances, liken it to a big goodnatured dog, sitting smiling his twelve-inch smile, and his master putting on a severe or mocking expression and persisting in catching his eye. And Mr. Leonard says, "Good evenin', Billy as the sayin' is ," and something about the morning's work, perhaps.
He passes and is passed by a tall, oldish man oldish is the word with a bend--or--stay--by an elderly man--an elderly labouring man, who would be tall but for the bend. An elderly labouring man with a squarish face--oblong, but features square, rather. Gladstonian face without the politics, and a dirty-looking grey frill beard, like the hair of a white Scotch terrier that's been in the ashes and wants washing.
We don't notice that they nod or speak to each other in passing, but something makes us feel that it's just the same as if they did. The old man is bent from the hips up, and carries his arms with his hands clasped behind--on a lower rear gable as it were--or the end of the rain slope. He wears no coat, of course, but generally a calico-backed waistcoat hanging open in front, and a red speckled handkerchief round his neck, knotted under his frill. One fancies that his running on some improbable village occasion would be a question of his legs keeping up, perforce, indignantly, and with breathless difficulty, with the forward top-heavy weight of his body.
He is the farm and village handy man, "Jack-of-all-trades," but wait a minute-- "Jack" doesn't fit him--say Old-George-of-all-trades. And his name is George, too. Old George Higgins; and he is, or, rather was, father-in- law to the little man with a smile. Leonard says, "Well, George as the sayin' is , ain't yer fixed them pipes at the Bow Winders yet? And old George says, "Not yet, sir.
I'm jist going up for somethin' fer a bit more 'roddin'. Charlton is a name on a big grained and varnished gate in a high brick wall, much higher in one place, where there is a tennis ground or something behind it. Glimpses through the gate, when it opens to the carriage--opens reluctantly and shuts quickly--jealously and indignantly behind it--reveal an oblong two-storied house, partly end on, very fresh and clean, painted in light colour with French grey about the windows, and splashed and sprayed with ivy. Six square, two storied cottages, or rather hutches, of dirty, smoky-looking brown brick, with dirty, smoky-looking tiles, but why I don't know, for this is far from London's smoke and grit.
Perhaps it was soiled or inferior material from the kilns. Gable roofs all running the same way, and the houses in a straight row and exactly alike. Two or three-foot hawthorn hedge in front, and no division whatever, save an old batten here and there--and the footpaths running up to the back fence--between the vegetable gardens behind. The cottages are double, yet square; four pigeon-hole rooms aside; kitchen-dining-and-general-living-room, with the narrowest and steepest of little stairs running up through it--sort of dirty little ladder with the rungs boxed in.
Inevitable dark little parlour in front, with the pitiful little useless toy "suite" on time payment, which is never used. They draw the blind and open the front door sometimes, like the dusty lid of a chest on end, to let some one see the suite, who hasn't seen it before. Two bedrooms upstairs. I haven't seen them, so I don't know what they're like. There must be a spare room for Granny, or Aunt Emma, when she comes for her annual holiday. Some of the family, if there is one, sleep on made-up beds downstairs on such occasions. But opposite the gate with "Charlton" on it is a double cottage of a much better class, with bow or bay windows--"fitted up like London.
Five rooms; one extended above the wash-house, coal-house and convenience. Sewage runs into a mysterious hole somewhere at the bottom of the orchard. The sewage of the labourers' cottages is buried at the back of the gardens, mostly by moonlight or lantern light. The people of Charlton paid the farmer the difference in the expense of building a better class cottage opposite their gate, so that a square brick hutch wouldn't blink in, with its little sore eyes, as it were, when the carriage came out.
Hence the Bow Winders. English village owners and builders seem to have a fixed idea that English families--each of its own class--are born in couples, or twos, or twins, to live together as twins, and grow up, and down, together as twins, for in modern villages round London the hutches or houses are twins, with, even in the better class, or week-end village, seldom a dividing hedge or fence more than breast high. Perhaps this was to save extra walls and space. Maybe it is conducive to morality, and mitigates curiosity, speculation, gossiping and mischief making, where people see pretty well what's going on and what the next door people are doing, all the time.
But it helps build up those awful things called "respectability" and "keeping up appearances," and the awful better-class English Silence. The 3s. And the common people pull their forelock harder and squirm lower the higher the rent a man pays per quarter for his house. This twin-villaed, paling-fenceless style does very well in conservative, cast-iron-customed, own-business-minding and necessarily polite, trades-entranced English better class villages, as also in twin-hutched, spiritless, farm slave villages, where all the women have to go out and take their chance at the butcher's cart; but it would never do in wide, free, democratic Australia, where your neighbour, if so built and constituted, is free to loom up over the shrubbery and curse and criticize, and tradespeople and carters to fling things on the front verandah and smoke in their fellow- countrymen's or women's faces--whether they smoke or not, as many union barbers do now in Sydney, where Mrs.
Liberty-Freedom is free to forget, as painfully, frequently, and freely as she dares, that she is a lady--or ought to be one. I had my fences raised three or four feet in Harpenden, a day-end village, but that was nothing. We were Australians, and therefore unconventional. Also we were used to living alone and privately in the Bush. I only had one suit at a time, but that was nothing. I was an Australian, and therefore had money. I fled to London for the first winter, where there were lights, privacy and humanity.
Fate sent a friend and an Australian to me in a high flat in Clovelly Mansions in Gray's Inn Road where an "old maid" once "lived a life of woe" , in London. And, in order to escape from London and high rent for the second summer I sent my friend scouting. Fate sent him, in a circle almost, to Chawlton, at a time when one of the "Winders" was vacant.
And I took it and got some blinds and things from Stains, and we were accepted at once as writin' gents or something from London, who wanted to have a lark or somethin', and do as they liked. Had we gone in bags and barefoot it would have been the same. We didn't work and therefore we were gents. Leonard had "some things" on the beams in the tarred shed. A double bedstead, washstand, etc. The things were good, much better than was generally found in the cottages, and I took them, and started to get the Winder ready for the family. Higgins was told off to carry the things down and fix them up for me, for "being gents" we were supposed to be incapable.
Higgins carried them all down on his head, and, looking at it now in an Australian Bush, and not from an English farm-labouring-village light, I think it was one of the cruellest loads that a man ever was called upon to carry. There was, next the Bow Winders, on the outside, an old house of brick set in criss-cross beams, with rooms in the steep tiled roof, of course, and let to a painter, which house was older than the oldest inhabitant knew, and had been occupied by the Higginses in other and far better days.
Before the Higginses were labourers to the Leonards.
Days that have long gone out of England for ever. Along towards Shepperton, some hundred yards or so from the end hutch of the village, was the village beerhouse--"beer-shop" they call it in London they call things by their names --with a low door that you stumbled in through, on to sanded floors, and under a low dark old ceiling, with the inevitable great beam, anywhere but in the centre. I stood outside that door late one night, after returning from London, and rapped at family bedroom window above--in the roof--and scared them all, and shook hands with the landlord afterwards--when he put his head out--to soothe him, and said I only wanted to borrow some matches.
But that was nothing, for was not I a gent? I still see the Gypsies dropping in, calling to each other on fine days, and calling for their ale, the hags demanding the funnel-shaped warmer from over the bar, pouring their half-pint into it, and sticking it down amongst the coals.
And then hurrying out and on after the caravans. And old Higgins in the cold sunlight standing outside the door, his bend rather more pronounced than usual, and hands held half hanging, well out and forward--in the attitude of an exhausted pelican, and asking for arf-a-pint to be brought out to him. And also, on Sunday morning, the brightest time, between church and dinner, a memory glimpse of a bright fair-haired little maid in charge of her jolly, good-natured and rather irresponsible young dad, and her extremely neat and clean but rather "fresh" and equally irresponsible old grandfather.
There's two bottles at home. The parlour with a long table piano at one end and a small-paned window at the other--like one of our narrower ones laid on its side to fit the inn. A model of a ship over the mantel and above it a portrait of the landlord's own ship. For he was a youngish man-o'-warsman, retired on rheumatism, and his wife a youngish woman with reddish hair, the last and only surviving child of a long line of village publicans.
They were childless, and during his rheumatic attacks she referred to him to gentlemen customers as "her baby. Clients, for whom the landlord refused to "slate it" further until settled with, made grumbling and nasty comments about babies. The long side parlour, sacred to Leonard and his equals and one or two of the elders, and doubly sacred on Club or meeting nights when births, deaths, accidents and widows and orphans were provided against, or arranged for, or disposed of.
Then the solemn conclave would relax. Leonard, who always said "As the sayin' is," and would be indicated, particularized and disposed of right off and at once and for ever in the Bush by some variation of his habitual expression. He would like to say a few words, as the sayin' is. He had heard, as the sayin' is, all as had been said, as the sayin' is, here this afternoon, as the sayin' is.
Now, gentlemen, as the sayin'--He started to tell me a yarn once as the sayin' is , and after about half an hour, introductory, mostly "as the sayin' is," an' so to make it short, as the sayin' is, he went to Australia, as the sayin' is, and kept an hotel, as the sayin' is, but, anyhows, as the sayin' is-- Another as the sayin' is--or whatever you call them places, as the sayin' is--I was never up in geography, as the sayin' is, but, anyhows, as the sayin' is--Another tall good-natured sawney arose occasionally to say he "'ad a happy thought.
This was in the House of Lords--with a gentleman or two--walking tourists or cyclists, occasionally at the lower side table by the window, when the lords of the village would edge further along the table and lower their voices in respect to strangers who were or might be gents. Or a motor would break down, and the folk come in out of the rain. Then the lords of the village would sidle out and home with all expedition, despite a polite protest from one of the gents, and a footman or two would drop in for a glass in the bar, amongst the British commons, who'd make room, but were never so impressed as the lords.
The British commons sat round on narrowest of stools, and by narrowest of tables, boxed in with narrowest of settees, with the window, by the fireplace, in the little, low, saw-dusted bar-room: one generally in front of the fire in a position favourable for holding forth on opportunities, or leaning against the mantel, hooked on to it with one elbow, the other arm hanging loosely, and hanging himself, rather forward seemingly--either somewhat exhausted with the last effort, or in half unconscious acknowledgment of applause or approbation, imaginary on his part or otherwise.
They passed the big pewter on Saturday nights, and the old homely, good-humoured greeting jokes about, or at the old changeless, good-humoured butts, and the sly three-cornered, homely digs at each other. And discussed interesting and important little trivial events of their work day. And joked about the ever convenient scandal about Bob So-and-so and Mrs. Men talk goodhumoredly and leniently about these things--and bigger scandals, be they social or political, because they recognize that they are sinners themselves--which women never do--and are mute, inglorious and inactive swindlers, by necessity or the dead hopeless weight of circumstances.
And they'd talk of old yarns, and men who told them--"Bill Stubbins, wot used to tell that there yarn about, etc. I've never heard no one as could tell it like him, poor Bill"; or "That chap as come to work in the brickfields one year; I never could remember that man's name--as used t' sing that song about, etc. And they'd talk of men who left their village and went to London or "abroad"--which is everywhere else--and more of men who went abroad and wrote back, and still more of men who came back, and, which was equally frequent in such cases, went abroad again.
And of men of whose deaths, fortunes, entrance into high society, or the gaol, or accessions to fame--or the gallows--they had heard rumours of. In undoubted cases the fireplace ornament But old Higgins was a refreshing change--for the first time at least-- when they could get him past a certain point in drinking, which happy circumstance had to be brought about very delicately, with much guile, great circumspection and carefully veiled diplomacy.
If there happened to be a strange, unobtrusive face or two present, it was so much the easier. They feigned to be careless of his presence, and greatly and warmly interested in a conversation or argument amongst themselves, which was full of carefully "blinded" little traps for Higgins.
Long association and practice, and many tacitly understood mental rehearsals had made them perfect. They'd pass the pewter to him, out of his turn, and leave it longer in his hand, in an absent-minded way. Then, presently, he'd begin to get uneasy, and edge and shuffle on his seat, and move his bend towards the fireplace--and one would nudge me respectfully. Higgins had possessed and studied from boyhood an old elementary book of Euclid--the only thing he ever read, except an occasional newspaper, which he studied for the same reason that "free thinkers" study the Bible.
Circles is made up of triangles, and made with triangles, if you consider the legs of the compass the sides, and the lines between the points the bases. Squares is double triangles when you run a line to opposite corners. Oblongs, the same way, is hobtuse or haycute angles--an' both. An' a right hangle is a right hangle, no matter which side you might lay it on. It's a right angle if you lay it flat, but all sorts of angles if you run lines from the corners to the bases--which yer can't in wot I call the equell try hangles of life.
We can't come no nearer for a right hangle try-hangle is rigid. We might change corners, but that would make no difference between me and the missus, but one of us, if we could agree about it, or to take turn 'en turn about, might change corners with Lizzie--which might do her some good--but we'd be just as far from each other as ever. And if we laid the triangle flat we'd be just as far off as ever, and it would do none of us any good. An' if we was to put hinges on it it wouldn't make no difference.
My ole woman is fore-seein'. I know where Billy would be--where I left--for a while at least. And anyways, supposin' I didn't die. I know who'd be at the happix, especially if it was a girl. An' so on with the triangles of life; children, and more children, allus crowdin' the happexes, an' the old people bustin' themselves to death shorin' up the legs or bases of the ekel try hangles of life, till they give out of old age, and then summon comes down as often as not.
You're right there, Higgins, and you and me and the rest of us in hundreds of English villages are shoring up the props. And they're comin' down, Higgins! They stared at one another, and "Wot's come over Brennan to-night," they grumbled. Poor old Higgins! Pausing for wind in the dusty field in a sweltering mid-afternoon, with a hoe, or other handy implement--or a piece of "roddin'" of suitable length, at the Winders--one end planted between his hob-nailed boots, and his hands resting on or grasping the other end--and his frilled chin on the uppermost hand--he formed an eloquent triangle of life, that only needed the last life blow to knock sideways, backways, frontways, or anyways, and have it over.
The village had its stale mysteries--two of them. When the old cottage had been some time empty, on account of the Higginses being unable to pay the rent charged for the home of their ancestors, there came an unknown but respectable looking woman in black to Leonard, who said she was an invalid with an only daughter, and needed country air, and she persuaded Leonard to let her have the place at the ordinary rental. By and by a man came round, a short stout man, like a cross between an old Maori chief and an English labourer.
Leonard spoke to her about it, and she said he was her husband. He became the village and roundabouts house-painter. They had lots of books, bound volumes of old magazines, London journals, etc. I talked to the girl, who seemed peculiar, and was a bit deaf, and we exchanged books. They were from Hindia, she said. She told me some of her history, and wrote the rest.
It seemed she was entitled to estates in Scotland from a dead uncle, but there had been a lot of trouble, and she had lost them but there was a big law-suit coming on between her lawyers and the others. The painter and his wife were faithful old servants of her uncle's estates, who had thrown in their lot with her, and were sticking to her. Her poor faithful servants! She was hengaged to a hofficer in Hindia, but had given him up when she came home and found she'd been robbed of her fortune. He wrote frantic letters, but she had made up her mind for his sake, and he would never find her, not until she came into her hown.
If never, then never. She was a curious lunatic, but hardly to be wondered at, being the only girl in that village, alone and apart, with some common mystery or disgrace over her, and some tons of London Journal literature. He might have been a librarian, book-worm, book-dealer, thief, receiver of stolen property, fugitive from India--or anything.
She went to Shepperton three nights a week with an old fiddle case which she called her violin , and--and came back again; as thousands of sane girls do from other towns. She said she was taking lessons--as thousands of other girls do. The other mystery was a Scotchman, who lived alone in a barred and barricaded house, that looked as if it had been built for a bakery I don't know why I thought so , along about the middle of the big cabbage field, and kept about twenty extremely optimistic and friendly dogs.
Some said he had to keep them or lose a legacy. Others said that he had a big fortune and estates in the north, and preferred to live alone, but was bound by the will to keep up five carriages, and so many pairs of horses, and so many coachmen, butlers, stewards, footmen, maid servants, gardeners, etc. With a man with a likely eye to look after them, too, I should think. No one had been inside. He was a pleasant man; had been a gentleman; was certainly educated and intelligent, and seemed well read, and he never washed so far as I could see--save perhaps when he sweated and used his handkerchief.
But he was never seen to sweat, and no one had ever "seed no handkercher. He used to run round and across fields with his dogs, early mornings. He paid cash, and publican and tradespeople were scandalized when I called him "Scotty. Morton, and all treated him with respect. He might have been a lunatic, a coiner, or forger, a ruined author--or publisher--or an ordinary dirty eccentric refugee from society.
So the Scotch hermits seem to be settling in England, as well as Scotch doctors, publishers and general imposters. It was a sad day for the English when England was annexed by Scotland. The English people have been against the alleged union from the very first, I believe.
Have you noticed that our hatters, or hermits, are, as a rule, scrupulously clean about their persons, tents and caves? Perhaps they are hermits to be clean and fresh, while the others are to be dirty. I never saw the parson at or near the village, though he had a bike, and was a well knit, active man, quite young--an athlete, in fact, and a keen sportsman.
He had a tombstone in the churchyard, sacred to the memory of his third wife--or was it his fourth? He seemed an improvement on "The Private Secretary. He might have been more useful out here in an English eleven. There was that something of the "sullen, silent" atmosphere--without the "half-devil and half-child" business about the village which had struck me forcibly while school teaching a pair of low-class Maories at the other side of the world a year or two before.
Men and women worked in the fields for, the men from fifteen shillings to a pound a week, and the women seven to eleven shillings. I used to hear them calling each other in the dark, on bitter cold mornings. Those who had children, and no old granny capable of looking after them, used to club together and pay one of their number to look after the children while they were in the fields. Some had to pay to have old granny looked after, too. The children who were old enough to do so worked in the fields. The woman with the hoe was there, plenty of her--not twenty miles from London--bag aprons and the hoes.
There was an old solitary couple I noticed often in the big cabbage field. They lived in one hole in the end of an old hovel, but were clean on Sundays. I've often seen them plod home, bent, in the rain, with sacks tied on and their hoes on their shoulders--bags heavy with wet, and hobnailed boots--they both wore them--heavy with clay. End of a "good" week they'd come into the beerhouse for their pints, or half-pints.
Their philosophy was grim--practical--they talked--or drivelled, or doted, or cackled, about "them as 'as it," sometimes: not resentfully, discontentedly, enviously, or covetously, but from habit, as other old couples had done before them for generations. She treated him as a rather useless overgrown child with whom she "had no patience," and he defended himself, or rather took it all with grumbling humour or sarcasm--as other old couples have done for generations.
It seemed as though they had been only children of old couples right back to the beginning of 'em, and it had ended, or was ending, without a child. In bad weeks they sometimes "wished as they 'ad it"--but you couldn't conceive them as being in earnest about it. If they had "it" suddenly and survived the shock, there would probably be no old couple on earth--or young couple either--who would know less what to do with it.
The fear of "they lawyers," and "they banks," and "they thieves" would probably drive them to bury it, and sleep on it, and fight about it, and shift it to a new place every night, and sleep on it there, and end by not sleeping at all, because of watching each other all night. And it might end by one poisoning--or hoeing--the other. Or they'd turn misers and die in dirt and starvation. There were no village beauties, nor dancing on the village green in that village. I wonder if there ever had been in England. Because there was no green, and an utter absence of girls.
They had to go to service before they were old enough. Or to a factory. Girls prefer the factory in England, both in this and "better-class" villages. Because, after factory hours, long as they be, the girl's time is her own. And because English middle class mistresses are seldom human beings where "maids" are concerned, and "keeping up appearances" is a fetish, a religion--very life to them.
The farm hands on Saturday nights sometimes went home three or four arm-in-arm, singing "Comrades--comrades--since the days where we were boys--sharin'--each other's--sorrers--sharin'--each other's joys. They shared their joys on a bank outside the Winders one night, and I complained on the grounds of the sleeping children. I never heard them share each other's joys after that, and have always been remorseful and sorry about it. The men--as I mentioned before--got from fifteen shillings to twenty shillings per week, and the women from seven shillings to eleven shillings in the season.
They paid three shillings for their hutches-- deducted from their wages--twopence a pint for their ale, and anything from threepence to one shilling per week on the suites that were never used. Besides club fees for births, illness and burials which seemed the only things that ever happened there.
Don't bother, I am in a hurry," she said, articulating clearly. Deprived of her tennis racquet she felt weaponless. He started to saunter along the path; he was not nervous at all now, he seemed completely at ease. She was well aware that her accent was wretched. Give me my racquet, please. She made a lunge and got a grip on her racquet; after a brief tug of war it came free. It was like walking away from a growling dog: you shouldn't let on you were frightened. Why should she be frightened anyway? He was only half her size and she had the tennis racquet, there was nothing he could do to her.
Although she did not look back she could tell he was still following. Let there be a streetcar, she thought, and there was one, but it was far down the line, stuck behind a red light. He appeared at her side, breathing audibly, a mo-ment after she reached the stop. She gazed ahead, rigid. Christine relented: he hadn't been trying to pick her up after all, he was a stranger, he just wanted to meet some of the local people; in his place she would have wanted the same thing.
His hand clamped on her arm above the elbow. She detached his hand—his hold was quite feeble and could not compete with her tennis biceps— and leapt off the curb and up the streetcar steps, hearing with relief the doors grind shut behind her. Inside the car and a block away she permitted herself a glance out a side window.
He was standing where she had left him; he seemed to be writing something on his little pad of paper. When she reached home she had only time for a snack, and even then she was almost late for the Debating Society. Christine came out of her last examination feeling de-pressed. It was not the exam that depressed her but the fact that it was the last one: it meant the end of the school year.
She dropped into the coffee shop as usual, then went home early because there didn't seem to be anything else to do. She must have heard the front door close. Christine went in and flopped on the sofa, disturbing the neat pattern of cushions. It had been fine; she had passed.
She was not a brilliant student, she knew that, but she was conscientious. She was taking Political Science and Eco-nomics, and hoped for a job with the Government after she graduated; with her father's connections she had a good chance. She was arranging gladioli in a vase; she had rubber gloves on to protect her hands as she always did when engaged in what she called "house-work.
Sometimes she cooked, elegantly and with chafing-dishes, but she thought of it as a hobby. The girl did everything else. Christine thought it faintly sinful to have a girl. The only ones available now were either foreign or pregnant; their expressions usually suggested they were being taken advantage of somehow. But her mother asked what they would do otherwise; they'd either have to go into a Home or stay in their own countries, and Christine had to agree this was probably true.
It was hard, anyway, to argue with her mother. She was so delicate, so preserved-looking, a harsh breath would scratch the finish. She had finished the gladioli and was taking off her rubber gloves. You didn't tell me about him, dear. She knew a lot of young men but they didn't often call her; they con-ducted their business with her in the coffee shop or after meetings. He said he would call back later. She was vaguely ac-quainted with several people from other cultures, Britain mostly; they belonged to the Debating Society.
Her mother had taken off her glasses again and was poking absent-mindedly at a bent gladiolus. She had two other daughters, both of whom took after her. They were beauti-ful; one was well married already and the other would clearly have no trouble. Her friends consoled her about Christine by saying, "She's not fat, she's just big-boned, it's the father's side," and "Christine is so healthy.
Christine's mother tried to encourage her interests whenever possible. Christine could tell when she was mak-ing an extra effort, there was a reproachful edge to her voice. She knew her mother expected enthusiasm but she could not supply it. She was not prone to fantasy but when she was in the bathtub she often pretended she was a dolphin, a game left over from one of the girls who used to bathe her when she was small. Her mother was being bell-voiced and gracious in the hall; then there was a tap at the door. I don't think he'd understand.
She heaved herself out of the bathtub, swathed her pink bulk in a towel and splattered to the phone. At a distance he was not pa-thetic, he was a nuisance.
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She could not imagine how he had tracked her down: most likely he went through the phone book, calling all the numbers with her last name until he hit on the right one. Then he said, "I hope you also are very fine. She wasn't going to participate. This took Christine by surprise.
I come Thursday, four o'clock. Christine set down the phone and went along the hall. Her mother was in her study, sitting innocently at her writ-ing desk. Four o'clock. I do think you might try to be a little more co-operative. I don't want to be left making nice gestures all by myself.
And it was a nice gesture. When the cakes her mother had ordered arrived from The Patisserie on Thursday morning she began to feel slightly festive; she even resolved to put on a dress, a good one, instead of a skirt and blouse. After all, she had nothing against him, ex-cept the memory of the way he had grabbed her tennis racquet and then her arm. She suppressed a quick impossi-ble vision of herself pursued around the livingroom, fending him off with thrown sofa cushions and vases of gladioli; nevertheless she told the girl they would have tea in the garden. It would be a treat for him, and there was more space outdoors.
She had suspected her mother would dodge the tea, would contrive to be going out just as he was arriving: that way she could size him up and then leave them alone to-gether. She had done things like that to Christine before; the excuse this time was the Symphony Committee. Sure enough, her mother carefully mislaid her gloves and located them with a faked murmur of joy when the doorbell rang.
Christine relished for weeks afterwards the image of her mother's dropped jaw and flawless recovery when he was introduced: he wasn't quite the foreign potentate her opti-mistic, veil-fragile mind had concocted. He was prepared for celebration. He had slicked on so much hair cream that his head seemed to be covered with a tight black patent-leather cap, and he had cut the threads off his jacket sleeves.
His orange tie was overpoweringly splendid. Christine noticed, however, as he shook her mother's suddenly-braced white glove that the ballpoint ink on his fingers was indelible. His face had broken out, possi-bly in anticipation of the delights in store for him; he had a tiny camera slung over his shoulder and was smoking an exotic-smelling cigarette.
Christine led him through the cool flowery softly-pad-ded livingroom and out by the French doors into the gar-den. Christine's parents had been enraptured with her when they were down at Christmas and had brought her back with them. Since that time she had become pregnant, but Christine's mother had not dismissed her. She said she was slightly disappointed but what could you expect, and she didn't see any real dif-ference between a girl who was pregnant before you hired her and one who got that way afterwards.
She prided herself on her tolerance; also there was a scarcity of girls. Strangely enough, the girl became progressively less easy to get along with. Either she did not share Christine's mother's view of her own generosity, or she felt she had gotten away with something and was therefore free to indulge in contempt. At first Christine had tried to treat her as an equal. They had begun to have brief, surly arguments in the kitchen, which Christine decided were like the arguments between one servant and an-other.
Her mother's attitude towards each of them was similar; they were not altogether satisfactory but they would have to do. The cakes, glossy with icing, were set out on a plate and the teapot was standing ready; on the counter the electric kettle boiled. Christine headed for it, but the girl, till then sitting with her elbows on the kitchen table and watching her expressionlessly, made a dash and intercepted her. Christine waited until she had poured the water into the pot.
Then, "I'll carry it out, Elvira," she said. She had just decided she didn't want the girl to see her visitor's orange tie; already, she knew, her position in the girl's eyes had suffered because no one had yet attempted to get her preg-nant. She swung towards the garden with the tray; Christine trailed her, feeling lumpish and awkward. The girl was at least as big as she was but in a different way. The girl departed without a word, casting a dis-dainful backwards glance at the frayed jacket sleeves, the stained fingers. Christine was now determined to be espe-cially kind to him.
Christine set his cup of tea in front of him. She wasn't in the habit of paying much attention to the house or the garden; they were nothing special, far from being the largest on the street; other people took care of them. But now she looked where he was looking, seeing it all as though from a different height: the long expanses, the border flowers blaz-ing in the early-summer sunlight, the flagged patio and walks, the high walls and the silence. He came back to her face, sighing a little. He took sips of his tea, quickly and tenderly as though afraid of injuring the cup.
He took only one, mak-ing a slight face as he ate it; but he had several more cups of tea while she finished the cakes. She managed to find out from him that he had come over on a church fellowship— she could not decode the denomination—and was studying Philosophy or Theology, or possibly both. She was feeling well-disposed towards him: he had behaved himself, he had caused her no inconvenience. The teapot was at last empty. He sat up straight in his chair, as though alerted by a soundless gong. Christine saw that he had placed his miniature camera on the stone sundial her mother had shipped back from England two years before.
He wanted to take her picture. She was flattered, and settled herself to pose, smiling evenly. He took off his glasses and laid them beside his plate. For a moment she saw his myopic, unprotected eyes turned towards her, with something tremulous and confiding in them she wanted to close herself off from knowing about. Then he went over and did something to the camera, his back to her.
The next instant he was crouched beside her, his arm around her waist as far as it could reach, his other hand covering her own hands which she had folded in her lap, his cheek jammed up against hers. She was too startled to move. The camera clicked. He stood up at once and replaced his glasses, which glittered now with a sad triumph. She had been afraid he would attack her, she could admit it now, and he had; but not in the usual way. He had raped, rapeo, rapere, rapui, to seize and carry off, not herself but her celluloid image, and inci-dentally that of the silver tea service, which glinted mock-ingly at her as the girl bore it away, carrying it regally, the insignia, the official jewels.
Christine spent the summer as she had for the past three years: she was the sailing instruc-tress at an expensive all-girls camp near Algonquin Park. She had been a camper there, everything was familiar to her; she sailed almost better than she played tennis. The second week she got a letter from him, post-marked Montreal and forwarded from her home address.
It was printed in block letters on a piece of the green paper, two or three sentences. It began, "I hope you are well," then described the weather in monosyllables and ended, "I am fine. In one of them a colour print was enclosed: himself, slightly cross-eyed and grinning hilariously, even more spindly than she remembered him against her billowing draperies, flowers exploding around them like firecrackers, one of his hands an equivocal blur in her lap, the other out of sight; on her own face, astonishment and outrage, as though he was sticking her in the behind with his hidden thumb.
She answered the first letter, but after that the seniors were in training for the races. At the end of the summer, packing to go home, she threw all the letters away. When she had been back for several weeks she received an-other of the green letters. This time there was a return ad-dress printed at the top which Christine noted with foreboding was in her own city.
Every day she waited for the phone to ring; she was so certain his first attempt at contact would be a disembodied voice that when he came upon her abruptly in mid-campus she was unprepared. He was, if possible, thinner; his jacket sleeves had sprouted a lush new crop of threads, as though to conceal hands now so badly bitten they appeared to have been gnawed by rodents. His hair fell over his eyes, uncut, ungreased; his eyes in the hollowed face, a delicate triangle of skin stretched on bone, jumped behind his glasses like hooked fish.
He had the end of a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and as they walked he lit a new one from it. She was thinking, I'm not going to get involved again, enough is enough, I've done my bit for internationalism. They were outside the Political Science building. Afterwards she decided it had been stupid of her to let him find out where her class was. Though a timetable was posted in each of the colleges: all he had to do was look her up and record her every probable movement in block letters on his green notepad.
After that day he never left her alone. Initially he waited outside the lecture rooms for her to come out. She said hello to him curtly at first and kept on going, but this didn't work; he followed her at a distance, smiling his changeless smile. Then she stopped speaking al-together and pretended to ignore him, but it made no differ-ence, he followed her anyway.
The fact that she was in some way afraid of him—or was it just embarrassment? Her friends started to no-tice, asking her who he was and why he was tagging along behind her; she could hardly answer because she hardly knew. As the weekdays passed and he showed no signs of let-ting up, she began to jog-trot between classes, finally to run. He was tireless, and had an amazing wind for one who smoked so heavily: he would speed along behind her, keep-ing the distance between them the same, as though he were a pull-toy attached to her by a string.
She was aware of the ridiculous spectacle they must make, galloping across cam-pus, something out of a cartoon short, a lumbering elephant stampeded by a smiling, emaciated mouse, both of them locked in the classic pattern of comic pursuit and flight; but she found that to race made her less nervous than to walk sedately, the skin on the back of her neck crawling with the feel of his eyes on it.
See a Problem?
At least she could use her muscles. She worked out routines, escapes: she would dash in the front door of the Ladies' Room in the coffee shop and out the back door, and he would lose the trail, until he discovered the other entrance. She would try to shake him by detours through baffling archways and corridors, but he seemed as familiar with the architectural mazes as she was herself. As a last refuge she could head for the women's dormitory and watch from safety as he was skidded to a halt by the recep-tionist's austere voice: men were not allowed past the en-trance.
Lunch became difficult. She would be sitting, usually with other members of the Debating Society, just digging nicely into a sandwich, when he would appear suddenly as though he'd come up through an unseen manhole. She then had the choice of barging out through the crowded cafete-ria, sandwich half-eaten, or finishing her lunch with him standing behind her chair, everyone at the table acutely aware of him, the conversation stilting and dwindling. Her friends learned to spot him from a distance; they posted lookouts. Several times she got tired of running and turned to confront him.
Annoying and tedious though it was, his pursuit of her had an odd result: mysterious in itself, it rendered her equally mysterious. No one had ever found Christine mys-terious before. To her parents she was a beefy heavyweight, a plodder, lacking in flair, ordinary as bread. To her sisters she was the plain one, treated with an indulgence they did not give to each other: they did not fear her as a rival.
To her male friends she was the one who could be relied on. She was helpful and a hard worker, always good for a game of tennis with the athletes among them. They invited her along to drink beer with them so they could get into the cleaner, more desirable Ladies and Escorts side of the beer parlour, taking it for granted she would buy her share of the rounds. In moments of stress they confided to her their problems with women. There was nothing devious about her and nothing interesting.
Christine had always agreed with these estimates of herself. In childhood she had identified with the false bride or the ugly sister; whenever a story had begun, "Once there was a maiden as beautiful as she was good," she had known it wasn't her. That was just how it was, but it wasn't so bad. Her parents never expected her to be a brilliant social suc-cess and weren't overly disappointed when she wasn't. She was spared the manoeuvring and anxiety she witnessed among others her age, and she even had a kind of special position among men: she was an exception, she fitted none of the categories they commonly used when talking about girls; she wasn't a cock-teaser, a cold fish, an easy lay or a snarky bitch; she was an honorary person.
She had grown to share their contempt for most women. Now, however, there was something about her that could not be explained. A man was chasing her, a peculiar sort of man, granted, but still a man, and he was without doubt attracted to her, he couldn't leave her alone. Other men examined her more closely than they ever had, apprais-ing her, trying to find out what it was those twitching be-spectacled eyes saw in her.
They started to ask her out, though they returned from these excursions with their curi-osity unsatisfied, the secret of her charm still intact. Her opaque dumpling face, her solid bear-shaped body became for them parts of a riddle no one could solve. Christine sensed this.
In the bathtub she no longer imagined she was a dolphin; instead she imagined she was an elusive water-nixie, or sometimes, in moments of audacity, Marilyn Monroe. The daily chase was becoming a habit; she even looked forward to it. In addition to its other benefits she was losing weight. All these weeks he had never phoned her or turned up at the house. He must have decided however that his tactics were not having the desired result, or perhaps he sensed she was becoming bored. The phone began to ring in the early morning or late at night when he could be sure she would be there.
Sometimes he would simply breathe she could recognize, or thought she could, the quality of his breathing , in which case she would hang up. Occasionally he would say again that he wanted to talk to her, but even when she gave him lots of time nothing else would follow. Then he extended his range: she would see him on her streetcar, smiling at her silently from a seat never closer than three away; she could feel him tracking her down her own street, though when she would break her resolve to pay no attention and would glance back he would be invisi-ble or in the act of hiding behind a tree or hedge.
Among crowds of people and in daylight she had not really been afraid of him; she was stronger than he was and he had made no recent attempt to touch her. But the days were growing shorter and colder, it was almost November, often she was arriving home in twilight or a darkness bro-ken only by the feeble orange streetlamps. She brooded over the possibility of razors, knives, guns; by acquiring a weapon he could quickly turn the odds against her. She avoided wearing scarves, remembering the newspaper sto-ries about girls who had been strangled by them.
Putting on her nylons in the morning gave her a funny feeling. Her body seemed to have diminished, to have become smaller than his. Was he deranged, was he a sex maniac? He seemed so harmless, yet it was that kind who often went berserk in the end. She pictured those ragged fingers at her throat, tearing at her clothes, though she could not think of herself as screaming. Parked cars, the shrubberies near her house, the driveways on either side of it, changed as she passed them from unnoticed background to sinister shadowed fore-ground, every detail distinct and harsh: they were places a man might crouch, leap out from.
Yet every time she saw him in the clear light of morning or afternoon for he still continued his old methods of pursuit , his aging jacket and jittery eyes convinced her that it was she herself who was the tormentor, the persecutor. She was in some sense re-sponsible; from the folds and crevices of the body she had treated for so long as a reliable machine was emanating, against her will, some potent invisible odour, like a dog's in heat or a female moth's, that made him unable to stop fol-lowing her.
Her mother, who had been too preoccupied with the unavoidable fall entertaining to pay much attention to the number of phone calls Christine was getting or to the hired girl's complaints of a man who hung up without speaking, announced that she was flying down to New York for the weekend; her father decided to go too.
Christine panicked: she saw herself in the bathtub with her throat slit, the blood drooling out of her neck and running in a little spiral down the drain for by this time she believed he could walk through walls, could be everywhere at once. The girl would do nothing to help; she might even stand in the bath-room door with her arms folded, watching. Christine ar-ranged to spend the weekend at her married sister's.
When she arrived back Sunday evening she found the girl close to hysterics. She said that on Saturday she had gone to pull the curtains across the French doors at dusk and had found a strangely contorted face, a man's face, pressed against the glass, staring at her from the garden. She claimed she had fainted and had almost had her baby a month too early right there on the livingroom carpet. Then she had called the police. He was gone by the time they got there but she had recognized him from the afternoon of the tea; she had informed them he was a friend of Christine's.
They called Monday evening to investigate, two of them. They were very polite, they knew who Christine's father was. Her father greeted them heartily; her mother hovered in the background, fidgeting with her porcelain hands, letting them see how frail and worried she was. She didn't like having them in the livingroom but they were necessary.
Christine had to admit he'd been following her around. She was relieved he'd been discovered, relieved also that she hadn't been the one to tell, though if he'd been a citizen of the country she would have called the police a long time ago. She insisted he was not dangerous, he had never hurt her. You're lucky you aren't dead. Her mother volunteered that the thing about people from another culture was that you could never tell whether they were insane or not because their ways were so differ-ent. The policeman agreed with her, deferential but also condescending, as though she was a royal halfwit who had to be humoured.
Christine had long ago torn up the letter with his address on it; she shook her head. The girl, clearing away the coffee cups, said if they didn't lock him up she was leaving, she wasn't going to be scared half out of her skin like that again. Next day when Christine came out of her Modern His-tory lecture he was there, right on schedule. He seemed puzzled when she did not begin to run.
She approached him, her heart thumping with treachery and the prospect of freedom. Her body was back to its usual size; she felt her-self a giantess, self-controlled, invulnerable. He looked at her with distrust. His own perennial smile faded; he took a step back from her. The other po-liceman lounged in the background; force would not be re-quired. They nodded and grinned, respectful, scornful. He seemed to know perfectly well who they were and what they wanted.
The first policeman phoned that evening to make his report. Her father talked with him, jovial and managing. She herself was now out of the picture; she had been protected, her function was over. She was not sure what went on in police stations. But it's not worth a court case: he's got a visa that says he's only allowed in the country as long as he studies in Montreal, so I told them to just ship him down there. If he turns up here again they'll deport him. They went around to his rooming house, his rent's two weeks overdue; the landlady said she was on the point of kicking him out.
He seems happy enough to be getting his back rent paid and a free train ticket to Montreal. Pretended he didn't understand English. He understood well enough, but he wasn't answer-ing. He didn't wait for her to hang up.
Golden Rule Stories
Now that he was no longer an embarrassing present re-ality, he could be talked about, he could become an amusing story. In fact, he was the only amusing story Christine had to tell, and telling it preserved both for herself and for oth-ers the aura of her strange allure. Her friends and the men who continued to ask her out speculated about his motives.
One suggested he had wanted to marry her so he could remain in the country; another said that oriental men were fond of well-built women: "It's your Rubens quality. She had not been attracted to him, rather the reverse, but as an idea only he was a romantic figure, the one man who had found her irre-sistible; though she often wondered, inspecting her un-changed pink face and hefty body in her full-length mirror, just what it was about her that had done it.
She avoided whenever it was proposed the theory of his insanity: it was only that there was more than one way of being sane. But a new acquaintance, hearing the story for the first time, had a different explanation. He fol-lowed all the girls like that. A short guy, Japanese or something, glasses, smiling all the time.
This was a pretty weird guy. But if they paid any attention to him at first, if they were nice to him or anything, he was unshakeable. He was a bit of a pest, but harmless. She had been one among many, then. She went back to playing tennis, she had been neglecting her game. A few months later the policeman who had been in charge of the case telephoned her again. They don't stand for things like that in Quebec—had him out of here before he knew what happened. I guess he'll be better off in his own place. She was almost crying when she put down the phone.
What had he wanted from her then? A Mother Superior. Did she really look sixty, did she look like a mother? What did convents mean? Comfort, charity? Was it that something had happened to him, some intolerable strain just from being in this country; her tennis dress and ex-posed legs too much for him, flesh and money seemingly available everywhere but withheld from him wherever he turned, the nun the symbol of some final distortion, the robe and veil reminiscent to his near-sighted eyes of the women of his homeland, the ones he was able to under-stand?
But he was back in his own country, remote from her as another planet; she would never know. He hadn't forgotten her though. In the spring she got a postcard with a foreign stamp and the familiar block-letter writing. On the front was a picture of a temple. He was fine, he hoped she was fine also, he was her friend. A month later another print of the picture he had taken in the garden arrived, in a sealed manila envelope otherwise empty. Christine's aura of mystery soon faded; anyway, she herself no longer believed in it. Life became again what she had always expected.
She graduated with mediocre grades and went into the Department of Health and Welfare; she did a good job, and was seldom discriminated against for being a woman because nobody thought of her as one. She could afford a pleasant-sized apartment, though she did not put much energy into decorating it. She played less and less ten-nis; what had been muscle with a light coating of fat turned gradually into fat with a thin substratum of muscle.
She began to get headaches. As the years were used up and the war began to fill the newspapers and magazines, she realized which eastern country he had actually been from. She had known the name but it hadn't registered at the time, it was such a mi-nor place; she could never keep them separate in her mind.
But though she tried, she couldn't remember the name of the city, and the postcard was long gone—had he been from the North or the South, was he near the battle zone or safely far from it? Obsessively she bought magazines and pored over the available photographs, dead villagers, soldiers on the march, colour blowups of frightened or an-gry faces, spies being executed; she studied maps, she watched the late-night newscasts, the distant country and terrain becoming almost more familiar to her than her own. Once or twice she thought she could recognize him but it was no use, they all looked like him.
Finally she had to stop looking at the pictures. It both-ered her too much, it was bad for her; she was beginning to have nightmares in which he was coming through the French doors of her mother's house in his shabby jacket, carrying a packsack and a rifle and a huge bouquet of richly coloured flowers. He was smiling in the same way but with blood streaked over his face, partly blotting out the fea-tures. She gave her television set away and took to reading nineteenth-century novels instead; Trollope and Galsworthy were her favourites.
When, despite herself, she would think about him, she would tell herself that he had been crafty and agile-minded enough to survive, more or less, in her country, so surely he would be able to do it in his own, where he knew the language. She could not see him in the army, on either side; he wasn't the type; and to her knowl-edge he had not believed in any particular ideology. He would be something nondescript, something in the back-ground, like herself. Perhaps he had become an interpreter.
Polarities Gentle and just pleasure It is, being human, to have won from space This unchill, habitable interior She had a little packsack in which she carried around her books and notebooks. To Morrison, whose mind shambled from one thing to another, picking up, fin-gering, setting down, she was a small model of the kind of efficiency he ought to be displaying more of.
Perhaps that was why he had never wanted to touch her: he liked women who were not necessarily more stupid but lazier than him-self. Sloth aroused him: a girl's unwashed dishes were an invitation to laxity and indulgence. She marched beside him along the corridor and down the stairs, her short clipped steps syncopating with his own lank strides. As they descended, the smell of straw, drop-pings and formaldehyde grew stronger: a colony of over-flow experimental mice from the science building lived in the cellar.
When- he saw that she was leaving the building too and probably going home, he offered her a lift. When he'd asked her if she wanted to take in a film with him she said, "Only if you let me pay for my own ticket. It was colder, the weak red sun almost down, the snow purpling and creaky. She jumped up and down beside the car till he got the plug-in engine heater untangled and the door opened, her head coming out of the enormous second-hand fur coat she wore like a gopher's out of its burrow.
He had seen a lot of gophers on the drive across, many of them dead; one he had killed himself, an accident, it had dived practically under the car wheels. The car itself hadn't held up either: by the time he'd made it to the outskirts—though later he realized that this was in fact the city—a fender had come off and the ignition was failing.
He'd had to junk it, and had decided stoically to do without a car until he found he couldn't. He swung the car onto the driveway that led from the university. It bumped as though crossing a metal-plated bridge: the tires were angular from the cold, the motor slug-gish.
He should take the car for long drives more often; it was getting stale. Louise was talking more than she nor-mally did; she was excited about something. Two of her students had been giving her a hassle, but she told them they didn't have to come to class. Morrison was not up on the theories of group dynamics. He liked the old way: you taught the subject and forgot about them as people. It disconcerted him when they slouched into his office and mumbled at him, fidgeting and self-conscious, about their fathers or their love lives.
He didn't tell them about his father or his love life and he wished they would observe the same reticence, though they seemed to think they had to do it in order to get extensions on their term papers. At the beginning of the year one of his students had wanted the class to sit in a circle but luckily the rest of them preferred straight lines. He crunched the car to a halt, fender against the rockbank, snowbank. Here they did not take the snow away; they spread sand on it, layer by layer as it fell, confident there would be no thaw.
He hadn't been paying at-tention.
Looking for a Childhood Book? Here's How.
My place, my apartment, that's what I've been working on. It was stuccoed with a greyish gravel Morrison found spiritually depleting. There were a few older houses, but they were quickly being torn down by developers; soon the city would have no visible past at all. Everything else was highrises, or worse, low barrack-shaped multiple housing units, cheaply tacked together. Sometimes the rows of flimsy buildings—snow on their roofs, rootless white faces peering suspiciously out through their windows, kids' toys scattered like trash on the Walks—reminded him of old photographs he had seen of mining camps.
They were the houses of people who did not expect to be living in them for long. Her apartment was in the basement. As they went around to the back and down the stairs, avoiding on the landing a newspaper spread with the overshoes and boots of the family living upstairs, Morrison remembered vividly and with a recurrence of panic his own search for a place, a roof, a container, his trudges from address to address, his tours of clammy, binlike cellars hastily done up by the owners in vinyl tile and sheets of cheap panelling to take advantage of the student inflow and, the housing squeeze.
He'd known he would never survive a winter buried like that or closed in one of the glass-sided cardboard-carton apartment buildings. Were there no real ones, mellowed, in-teresting, possible? Finally he had come upon an available second storey; the house was pink gravel instead of grey, the filth was daunting and the landlady querulous, but he had taken it immediately just to be able to open a window and look out.
He had not known what to expect of Louise's room. He had never visualized her as living anywhere, even though he had collected her and dropped her off outside the house a number of times. He swivelled, sur-veying, comparing it with the kind of interior he thought of himself as inhabiting but never got around to assembling. She had obviously put a lot of energy into it, but the result was less like a room than like several rooms, pieces of which had been cut out and pasted onto one another. He could not decide what created this effect: it was the same unity in diversity he had found in the motels on the way across, the modernish furniture, the conventional framed northern landscapes on the walls.
But her table was ersatz Victorian and the prints Picasso. The bed was concealed be-hind a partly drawn dyed burlap curtain at the end of the room, but visible on the bedside rug were two light blue fuzzy slippers that startled, almost shocked him: they were so unlike her. Louise brought the cocoa and sat down opposite him on the floor. They talked as usual about the city: they were both still looking for things to do, a quest based on their shared eastern assumption that cities ought to be entertain-ing.
It was this rather than mutual attraction which led them to spend as much time together as they did; most of the others were married or had been here too long and had given up. The films changed slowly; the one theatre, with its out-dated popular comedies, they had sneered at. They had gone to the opera together when it had come, though: local chorus and imported stars—Lucia, it had been, and really quite well done, considering.
At intermission Morrison had glanced around at the silent, chunky audience in the lobby, some of the women still in early-sixties pointed-toe spike heels, and murmured to Louise that it was like tourist bro-chures from Russia. One Sunday before the snow came they had gone for an impromptu drive; at her suggestion they had aimed for the zoo twenty miles from the city. After they made it through the oil derricks there had been trees; not the right kind of trees—he had felt, as he had on the way across, that the land was keeping itself apart from him, not letting him in, there had to be more to it than this repetitive, non-committal drabness—but still trees; and the zoo once they reached it was spacious, the animals kept in enclosures large enough for them to run in and even hide in if they wanted to.
Louise had been there before—how, since she had no car, he didn't ask—and showed him around. They don't even know they're in a zoo. Morrison didn't as a rule like any animal bigger and wilder than a cat, but these kept far enough away to be tolerable. That day she had told him a little about herself, a departure: mostly she talked about her work. She had travelled in Europe, she told him, and had spent a year studying in England. She shrugged. It wasn't the draft; he was really over-age, though here they kept wanting to think he was a dodger, it made his presence more acceptable to them.
The job market had been tight back in the States and also, when he tried later, in what they called here the East. But in all fairness it hadn't been only the money or the dismalness of the situation back home. He had wanted something else, some adventure; he felt he might learn something new. He had thought the city would be near the mountains. But except for the raw gully through which the brownish river curved, it was flat. She laughed. I'm not typical, I'm all-inclusive. He ought to approach someone or something; he was beginning to feel isolated inside his clothes and skin. His students were out of the question.
Besides, they were so thick, so impermeable; the girls, even the more slender ones, made him think of slabs of substance white and congealed, like lard. And the other single women on staff were much older than he was: in them Louise's briskness had degenerated into a pinpoint-ing, impaling quality. There must be a place where he could meet someone, some nice loosely structured girl with ungroomed, seedy breasts, more thing than idea, slovenly and gratuitous. They existed, he was familiar with them from what he had begun to think of as his previous life, but he had not kept in touch with any of them.
They had all been good at first but even the sloppiest had in time come to require something from him he thought he was not yet ready to give: they wanted him to be in love with them, an exertion of the mind too strenuous for him to undertake. His mind, he felt, was needed for other things, though he wasn't quite sure what they were. He was tasting, exploring: goals would come later. Louise wasn't at all like them; she would never lend him her body for nothing, even temporarily, though she had the fur spread out around her now like a rug and had raised one corduroy-trousered knee, letting him see in profile the taut bulge of her somewhat muscular thigh.
She probably went skiing and ice skating. He imagined his long body locked in that athletic, chilly grip, his eyes darkened by fur. Not yet, he thought, raising his half-full cocoa cup between them. I can do without, I don't need it yet. It was the weekend and Morrison was painting his apart-ment as he habitually did on weekends; he had been at it off and on since he moved in.
This was the third coat. Morrison's vision of wall-painting had been drawn from the paint ads—spot-free housewives gliding it on, one-handed and smiling—but it wasn't easy. The paint got on the floor, on the furniture, in his hair. Before he could even begin he had to cart out the accumulated discards of several generations of previous tenants: baby clothes, old snap-shots, an inner tube, heaps of empty liquor bottles, and intriguingly a silk parachute. Messiness interested him only in women; he could not live surrounded by it himself.
One wall of the livingroom had been pink, one green, one orange and one black. He was painting them white. The last tenants, a group of Nigerian students, had left weird magic-looking murals on the walls: a sort of swamp, in black on the orange wall, and an upright shape, in pink on the green wall, was either a very poorly done Christ Child or—could it be? Mor-rison painted these two walls first, but it made him uneasy to know the pictures were still there underneath the paint. Sometimes as he rollered his way around the room he won-dered what the Nigerians had thought the first time it hit forty below.
The landlady seemed to prefer foreign students, proba-bly because they were afraid to complain: she had been ag-grieved when Morrison had demanded a real lock for his door. The cellar was a warren of cubbyholes; he was not sure yet exactly who lived in them. Soon after he had moved in a Korean had appeared at his door, hopefully smiling. He wanted to talk about income tax. I have a lot of work to do. He felt picayune about it later when he discovered the Korean had a wife and child down in his cubbyhole with him; often in the fall they had put fishes out to dry, stringing them on the clotheslines where they twirled in the wind like plastic gas-station decorations.
He was doing the ceiling, craning his neck, with the latex oozing down the handle of the roller onto his arm, when the buzzer went. He almost hoped it was the Korean, he seldom saw anyone on the weekends. But it was Louise. What would she demand from him? He knew she would be better at it than he was. He made tea in the kitchen and she sat at the table and watched him. Blake wasn't his field. He didn't mind the earlier lyrics but the prophecies bored him and the extravagant letters in which Blake called his friends angels of light and vilified his ene-mies he found in bad taste.
I'm supposed to do the 'Nurse's Song. I've been trying to get through to them but they're all doing the one-up thing, they don't know what's happening. They sit there and pull each other's pa-pers apart, I mean, they don't know what poetry's supposed to be for. But I'm not going to do it, not the way they want. I'm giving them one of my own poems. That says it all. I mean, if they have to read one right there in the class they'll get what Blake was trying to do with cadences. I'm getting it xeroxed.
He hadn't thought of Lou-ise as the poetry-writing type. If they don't get what I mean though I'll know they're all phonies and I can just walk out. Morrison felt his loyalties were being divided; also he didn't want her to cry, that would involve dangerous com-forting pats, even an arm around her shoulder.
He tried to shut out an involuntary quick image of himself on top of her in the middle of the kitchen floor, getting white latex all over her fur. Not today, his mind commanded, pleaded. As if in answer the reverberations of an organ boomed from beneath their feet, accompanied by a high quavering voice: Rock of a-ges, cleft for me Louise took it as a signal. She got up and went out as abruptly as she had come, thanking him perfunctorily for the tea she hadn't drunk. The organ was a Hammond, owned by the woman downstairs, a native.
When her husband and nubile child were home she shouted at them. The rest of the time she ran the vacuum cleaner or picked out hymn tunes and old fa-vourites on the organ with two fingers, singing to herself. The organ was to Morrison the most annoying. At first he tried to ignore it; then he put on opera records, attempting to drown it out. Finally he recorded it with his tape re-corder.
When the noise got too aggravating he would aim the speakers down the hot air register and run the tape through as loudly as possible. It gave him a sense of partici-pation, of control. He did this now, admiring the way the tape clashed with what she was currently playing: "Whispering Hope" with an overlay of "Annie Laurie"; "The Last Rose of Sum-mer" counterpointing "Come to the Church in the Wild-wood.
Her husband was supposed to keep the walk shovelled but didn't. Louise came back the next day before Morrison was up. He was awake but he could tell by the chill in the room—his breath was visible—and by the faint smell of oil that some-thing had gone wrong with the furnace again. It was less trouble to stay in bed, at least till the sun was well risen, then to get up and try the various ways of keeping warm. When the buzzer went he pulled a blanket around him-self and stumbled to the door. She was in the door before he could fend her off. I don't use the phone any more.
You should have yours taken out. There was a thick crust of frost on the insides of the windows; he lit the gas fireplace. Louise stalked impatiently around the uncarpeted floor. He looked out obedi-ently at her from his blanket. I mean, why is it? No city should be here, this far north: it isn't even on a lake or an important river, even. Why is it here? Morrison, standing on one bare foot, reflected that he had often since his arrival asked himself the same question. It doesn't look like any-thing, it doesn't have anything, it could be anywhere.
Morrison shied away. That room's all right," she said. Contrary to his fear she made no attempt to follow him in. When he was dressed he returned to find her sitting on the floor with a piece of paper. But instead she sat on the floor, jabbing at the paper with the pencil point. She raised her head. Oh," she said, reverting to her office voice, "you mean a shrink. I saw one earlier. He said I was very sane and a genius. He took a reading of my head: he said the patterns in my brain are the same as Julius Caesar's, only his were military and mine are creative. It did not occur to him until months later when he was re-membering it to ask himself how anyone could have known about the patterns in Julius Caesar's brain.
At the moment he was wondering whether Louise might not in fact be a genius. He felt helpless because of his own inability to re-spond; she would think him as obtuse as the others, who-ever they were. At first she did not want him to go into the kitchen: she knew the telephone was in there. But he promised not to use it.
When he came out again with a piece of bread on which he had spread with difficulty the gelid peanut butter, she was curled inside her coat in front of the fire, sleeping. He laid the bread gently beside her as if leaving crumbs on a stump for unseen animals. Then he changed his mind, re-trieved it, took it on tiptoe into the kitchen and ate it him-self. He turned on the oven, opened the oven door, wrapped himself in a blanket from the bedroom and read Marvell. She slept for nearly three hours; he didn't hear her get up.
She appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking much better, though a greyish-green pallor still lingered around her mouth and eyes. The steps were icy, he didn't keep them cleared properly. His landlady was afraid someone would slip on them and sue her. At the bottom Louise turned and waved at him. The air was thickening with ice fog, frozen water particles held in suspension; if you ran a horse in it, they'd told him, the ice pierced its lungs and it bled to death. But they hadn't told him that till after he'd trotted to the university in it one morning when the car wouldn't start and complained aloud in the coffee room about the sharp pains in his chest.
He watched her out of sight around the corner of the house. Then he went back to the livingroom with a sense of recapturing lost territory. Her pencil and the paper she had used, covered with dots and slashing marks, an un-deciphered code, were still by the fireplace. He started to crumple the paper up, but instead folded it carefully and put it on the mantelpiece where he kept his unanswered letters. After that he paced the apartment, conscious of his own work awaiting him but feeling as though he had nothing to do. Half an hour later she was back again; he discovered he had been expecting her.
Her face was mournful, all its lines led downwards as though tiny hands were pulling at the jawline skin. That would be easier to handle. Maybe she'd been into something, if that was all it was he could wait it out. He'd been cautious himself; it was a small place and the local pusher was likely to be one of your own students; also he had no desire to reduce his mind to oatmeal mush.
It's wrong. You have to come out. She was right, he didn't get enough exercise. He pulled on his heavy boots and went to find his coat. As they creaked and slid along the street Louise was pleased with herself, triumphant; she walked slightly ahead of him as if determined to keep the lead. The ice fog sur-rounded them, deadened their voices, it was crystallizing like a growth of spruce needles on the telephone wires and the branches of the few trees which he could not help thinking of as stunted, though to the natives, he supposed, they must represent the normal size for trees.
He took care not to breathe too deeply. A flock of grosbeaks whirred and shrilled up ahead, picking the last few red berries from a mountain ash. The sun was up there somewhere, marked by a pale spot in the otherwise evenly spread grey. He checked an impulse to shield his eyes and thereby protect his brain cells: he realized it was an attempt to suppress the undesired knowledge that Louise was dis-turbed or, out with it, she was crazy.
I'm glad I have them; I think I have more than you, Morrison. I have more than most people. That's what I said to myself when I moved here. She had taken him west, along a street he was not familiar with, or was it the fog? She stopped in front of a medium-tall highrise. Morrison went towards the front door, but she tugged at his arm. It's the wrong door. It might be the wrong door and the longer he looked at it, plate glass and shining evilly, the more he saw what she meant , but it was the only one. The city is polarized north and south; the river splits it in two; the poles are the gas plant and the power plant.
Haven't you ever noticed the bridge joins them together? That's how the current gets across. We have to keep the poles in our brains lined up with the poles of the city, that's what Blake's po-etry is all about. You can't break the current. She sat down in the snow; he was afraid again she was going to cry. You won't have to go through the door at all. Who are they? When he recognized the name he was elated: she wasn't insane after all, the people were real, she had a purpose and a plan.
This was probably just an elaborate way of arranging to see her friends. They were the Jamiesons. Dave was one of those with whom Morrison had exchanged pleasantries in the hallways but nothing further. His wife had a recent baby. Morrison found them in their Saturday shirts and jeans.