by Katherine Mansfield
Put into Basic English by Roza Khachaturyan
AND after all the weather was great. They could not have had a better day for a garden-meeting if they had ordered it, it was all that was desired. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was kept from view with a mist of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since the start of the day, cutting the grass and cleaning them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine. As for the roses, you could not help feeling they were certain that roses are the only flowers that have strong effect on mind of people at garden-meetings; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing. Hundreds, yes, truly hundreds, had come out in a single night; the green plants bent down as though they had been seen by archangels.
Breakfast was not yet over before the men came to put up the canvas house.
"Where do you want it put, mother?"
"My dear child, it's no use asking me. I've made up my mind to give everything to you children this year. Put out of mind I am your mother. Give attention to me as a respected guest."
But Meg could not possibly go and oversee the men. She had washed her hair before breakfast, and she sat drinking her coffee in a green turban, with a dark wet curl stamped on each cheek. Jose, the butterfly, always came down in a silk petticoat and a kimono jacket.
"You'll have to go, Laura; you're the artistic one."
Away Laura flew, still holding her piece of bread-and-butter. It's with so good a taste to have let it be overlooked for eating out of doors, and besides, she loved having to put things in order; she always felt she could do it so much better than anybody else.
Four men in their shirt-arm part of the clothes stood grouped together on the garden footway. They took sticks covered with rolls of canvas, and they had big tool-bags put over their backs. They had a deep effect on mind. Laura desired now that she was not holding that piece of bread-and-butter, but there was nowhere to put it, and she couldn't possibly let it fall. She became red and attempted to look cruel and even a little bit of a person seeing near as she came up to them.
"Good morning," she said, copying her mother's voice. But that sounded so fearfully not natural that she was feeling shame, and talked with stops like a little girl, "Oh–er–have you come–is it about the canvas house?"
"That's right, miss," said the tallest of the men, a tall and thin, sun-marked fellow, and he changed his tool-bag in position, gave a blow at his straw hat and smiled down at her. "That's about it."
His smile was so simple, so friendly, that Laura got over her state. What nice eyes he had, small, but such a dark blue! And now she looked at the others, they were smiling too. "Cheer up (a cry of approval), we won't bite," their smile seemed to say. How very nice workmen were! And what a beautiful morning! She mustn't say anything about the morning; she must be business-like. The canvas house.
"Well, what about the lily-space with grass? Would that do?"
And she pointed to the lily-space with grass with the hand that didn't keep grip of the bread-and-butter. They turned, they looked fixedly in the direction. A little fat boy pushed out his under-lip, and the tall man looked troubled.
"I don't have an idea of it," said he. "Not readily seen enough. You see, with a thing like a canvas house," and he turned to Laura in his simple way, "you want to put it somewhere where it'll give you a sudden blow in the eye, if you go after me."
Laura's training made her surprise for a moment whether it was quite respectful of a workman to talk to her of sudden blow in the eye. But she did quite go after him.
"An angle of the place for playing tennis," she made a suggestion. "But the band's going to be in one angle."
"H'm, going to have a band, are you?" said another of the workmen. His face was white. He had a tired look as his dark eyes looked at either part of the place for playing tennis. What did he have in mind?
"Only a very small band," said Laura gently. Perhaps he wouldn't mind so much if the band was quite small. But the tall boy put a stop to it.
"Look here, miss, that's the place. Against those trees. Over there. That'll do fine."
Against the karakas ( a kind of the tree.) Then the karaka-trees would be put out of the way. And they were so lovely, with their wide, leaves giving light, and their mass of yellow fruit. They were like trees you had an idea of growing on a island of the waste of sand, having a very high opinion and being by themselves, lifting their leaves and fruits to the sun in a kind of quiet beauty. Must they be put out of the way by a canvas house?
They have to. Up to now the men had burned their sticks and were making for the place. Only the tall boy didn’t go. He bent down, gripped a small branch of lavender, put his thumb and forefinger to his nose and smelled them. When Laura saw that motion of hand as a sign she put out of mind all about the karakas in her wonder at him caring for things like that–caring for the smell of lavender. How many men that she knew would have done such a thing? Oh, how surprisingly nice workmen were, she had thoughts in mind. Why couldn't she have workmen for her friends rather than the foolish boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night last meal of the day? She would get on much better with men like these.
It's a complete fault, she came to a decision, as the tall boy pulled something on the back of a cover of the letter, something that was to be circled up or left to hang, of these foolish different points in class. Well, for her part, she wasn’t conscious of them. Not a bit, not an atom. . . . And now there came the chock-chock of wooden hammers. Someone whistled, someone sang out, "Are you right there, matey?" "Matey!" The friendliness of it, the–the–Just to make certain how happy she was, just to make clear for the tall boy how at home she was, and how she hated stupid forms of common behaviour, Laura took a big bite of her bread-and-butter as she looked fixedly at the little picture. She was conscious of being just like a work-girl.
"Laura, Laura, where are you? Telephone, Laura!" a voice cried from the house.
"Coming!" Away she went quickly, over the space of grass, up the footway, up the steps, across the railed walk outside a window, and into the roofed doorway. In the hall her father and Laurie were brushing their hats ready to go to the office.
"I say, Laura," said Laurie very quickly, "you might just give a tight grip at my coat before this afternoon. See if it needs ironing."
"I will," said she. Suddenly she couldn't stop herself. She ran at Laurie and gave him a small, quick tight grip. "Oh, I do love meeting of friends, don't you?" Laura took quick, short breath.
"Ra-ther," said Laurie's warm, voice like that of the boy, and he gripped tightly his sister too, and gave her a quiet push. "Go quickly to the telephone, old girl."
The telephone. "Yes, yes; oh yes. Kitty? Good morning, dear. Come to lunch? Do, dear. Pleased of course. It will only be a very little meal–just the sandwich and broken meringue-shells and what's left over. Yes, isn't it a complete morning? Your white? Oh, I certainly should. One moment–keep the ear part of the telephone. Mother's calling." And Laura took a seat back. "What, mother? Can't get you."
Mrs. Sheridan's voice went down the stairs. "Tell her to put on that sweet hat she had on last Sunday."
"Mother says you're to put on that sweet hat you had on last Sunday. Good. One o'clock. Bye-bye."
Laura put back the ear part of the telephone, put her arms over her head, took a deep breath, stretched and let them fall. "Huh," she breathed deeply, and the moment after the breath she sat up quickly. She was quiet, giving her ear to everything. All the doors in the house seemed to be open. The house was living with soft, quick steps and running voices. The green baize door that led to the kitchen regions went from side to side open and shut with a soft sound. And now there came a long, laughing absurd sound. It was the piano of great weight being moved on its stiff small wheels on the legs. But the air! If you stopped to see, was the air always like this? Little feeble winds were playing an attempt to overtake in at the tops of the windows, out at the doors. And there were two very small marks of sun, one on the inkpot, one on a silver photograph frame, playing too. Dear little marks. Specially the one on the inkpot cover. It was quite warm. A warm little silver star. She could have kissed it.
The front door bell sounded, and Sadie's print skirt on the stairs gave a sound as if in the wind. A man's voice said in a low voice; Sadie answered, careless, "I'm certain I have no knowledge. Wait. I'll put a question to Mrs. Sheridan."
"What is it, Sadie?" Laura came into the room where there was a front door.
"It's the person keeping flower store , Miss Laura."
It was, indeed. There, just inside the door, was a wide, not deep tray full of pots of pink lilies. No other kind. Nothing but lilies – Canna lilies, big pink flowers, wide open, very bright, on bright crimson stems alive to the degree that it could give fear.
"O-oh, Sadie!" said Laura, and the sound was like a little cry of pain. She bent down as if to warm herself at that bright flame of lilies; she felt they were in her fingers, on her lips, growing in her chest.
"It's some error," she said feebly. "Nobody ever ordered so many. Sadie, go and see mother."
But at that moment Mrs. Sheridan joined them.
"It's quite right," she said quietly. "Yes, I ordered them. Aren't they lovely?" She gripped Laura's arm. "I was going through the shop yesterday, and I saw them in the window. And it suddenly came to my mind for once in my life I shall have enough Canna lilies. The garden-meeting will be a good reason."
"But I believed you said you didn't have as purpose to come between," said Laura. Sadie had gone. The florist's man was still outside at his van. She put her arm round her mother's neck and gently, very gently, she bit her mother's ear.
"My dear child, you wouldn't like a mother with power of reasoning rightly, would you? Don't do that. Here's the man."
He took more lilies still, another whole tray.
"Support them, just inside the door, on both sides of the roofed doorway, please," said Mrs. Sheridan. "Don't you give agreement, Laura?"
"Oh, I do, mother."
In the room where guests were let into the house Meg, Jose and good little Hans had at last did well in moving the piano.
"Now, if we put this Chesterfield against the wall and move everything out of the room except the chairs, don't you have that opinion?"
"Hans, move these tables into the smoking-room, and bring a brush to take these marks off the carpet and–one moment, Hans -–" Jose loved giving orders to the servants, and they loved to do as she ordered. She always made them be conscious of their taking part in some drama. "Tell mother and Miss Laura to come here at once.
"Very good, Miss Jose."
She turned to Meg. "I want to hear what the piano sounds like, just in case I'm requested to sing this afternoon. Let's try over 'This life is Tired.'"
Pom! Ta-ta-ta Tee -ta! The piano burst out so moved by passion that Jose's face changed. She gave loud approval. She looked regretfully and unclearly at her mother and Laura as they came in.
This Life is Wee -ary,
But at the word "Good-bye," and although the piano sounded more without hope than ever, her face had into a very bright, shockingly unkind smile.
A Tear–a Sigh.
A Love that Chan -ges,
This Life is Wee -ary,
A Tear–a Sigh.
A Love that Chan -ges,
And then . . . Good-bye!
"Aren't I in good voice, mummy?" she gave bright smile.
This Life is Wee -ary,
Hope comes to an end.
A Dream–a Wa -kening.
But now Sadie put a word in. "What is it, Sadie?"
"If you please, m'm, cook says have you got the flags for the slices of bread with meat between?"
"The flags for the slices of bread, Sadie?" said again Mrs. Sheridan thoughtfully. And the children were conscious by her face that she hadn't got them. "Let me see." And she said to Sadie hard, "Tell cook I'll let her have them in ten minutes.
"Now, Laura," said her mother quickly, "come with me into the smoking-room. I've got the names somewhere on the back of a cover for letter. You'll have to write them out for me. Meg, go upstairs this minute and take that wet thing off your head. Jose, run and finish dressing this instant. Do you give an ear to me, children, or shall I have to tell your father when he comes home tonight? And-–and, Jose, make cook quiet if you do go into the kitchen, will you? I'm shocked of her this morning."
The cover for letter was found at last at the back of the clock in the room where guests were let in, though how it had got there Mrs. Sheridan could not have an idea of.
"One of you son or daughter must have taken property of it out of my bag, because I have in memory clearly–white cheese made of milk and soft solid made of milk and lemon. Have you done that?"
"Egg and –-" Mrs. Sheridan kept grip of the cover for letter away from her. "It looks like small rat-like animals. It can't be them, can it?"
"Olive, dear," said Laura, looking over her top of arm.
"Yes, of course, olive. What a horrible group it sounds. Egg and olive."
They were ended at last, and Laura took them off to the room where they cooked. She found Jose there making the cook quiet, who did not look at all full of fear.
"I have never seen such delicate meat between bread as a quick meal," said Jose's greatly pleased voice. "How many kinds did you say there were, cook? Fifteen?"
"Fifteen, Miss Jose."
"Well, cook, I am pleased with this for you."
Cook cleaned hard covers of the bread with the long knife for cutting bread and butter and smiled widely.
"Godber's has come," said Sadie, coming out of the food-room. She had seen the man went by the window.
That had the sense that the cake made with eggs and milk had come. Godber's were famous for such cakes. Nobody ever had an idea of making them at home.
"Take them in and put them on the table, my girl," ordered cook.
Sadie took them in and went back to the door. Of course Laura and Jose were far too grown-up to really care about such things. All the same, they couldn't help coming to an agreement that the cakes looked very pleasing. Very. Cook began putting them in order, shaking off the additional icing sugar.
"Don't they take one back to all one's gathering?" said Laura.
"I have an idea they do," said common-sense Jose, who never liked to be taken back. "They look beautifully light and feathery, I must say."
"Have one each, my dears," said cook in her voice which was able to comfort. "Yer ma won't have knowledge."
Oh, not possible. Ornamented cakes so soon after breakfast. The very idea made one shake All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were touching their fingers with tongue with that taken up inside look that only comes from whipped milk.
"Let's go into the garden, out by the back way," Laura made suggestion. "I want to see how the men are getting on with the canvas house. They're such a very nice men."
But the cook got in the way at the back door, Sadie, Godber's man and Hans.
Something had taken place.
"Tuk-tuk-tuk," cook made a noise like a troubled hen. Sadie had her hand clapped to her cheek as though she had toothache. Hans' face was screwed up in the effort to understand. Only Godber's man seemed to be enjoying himself; it was his story.
“What's wrong. What’s taken place?"
"There's been an unpleasing event," said Cook. "A man put to death."
"A man put to death! Where? How? When?"
But Godber's man wasn't going to have his story taken from under his nose.
"Have knowledge of those little small country houses just below here, miss?" Have knowledge of them? Of course, she had knowledge of them. "Well, there's a young boy living there, name of Scott, a carter. His horse gave a sudden jump from fear at a engine with the power to pull, corner of Hawke Street this morning, and he was made fall on the back of his head. Put to death."
"Dead!" Laura looked fixedly at Godber's man.
"Dead when they took him up," said Godber's man with pleasure. "They were taking the body home as I come up here." And he said to the cook, "He has a wife and five little ones."
"Jose, come here." Laura took possession of her sister's arm part of the clothing and moved her by pulling through the room where they cooked to the other side of the green baize door. There she stopped for a time and was supported against it. "Jose!" she said, with fear, "however are we going to stop everything?"
"Stop everything, Laura!" cried Jose in surprise. "What do you have as purpose?"
"Stop the garden-gathering, of course." Why did Jose make him seem what he wasn’t?
But Jose was still more surprised. "Stop the garden-gathering? My dear Laura, don't be so foolish. Of course we can't do anything of the kind. Nobody is of opinion that we should. Don't be so wasting."
"But we can't possibly have a garden-gathering with a man dead just outside the front door."
That really was wasting, for the little country houses were in a narrow street to themselves at the very bottom of a sloping place higher than the rest that led up to the house. A wide road ran between. True, they were far too near. They were the greatest unpleasing something to see, and they had no right to be in the same part of town at all. They were little houses of poor quality painted a chocolate brown. In the garden bits of land there was nothing but sticks of round green food plants, ill female fowls and tins of soft red (yellow) fruit for food. The very smoke coming out of their smoke holes was overcome by the state of being poor. Little bits of smoke, so unlike the great silvery feathers that came from the Sheridans' smoke holes. Washerwomen lived in the narrow street and cleaner of smoke outlets and a shoemaker, and a man whose house-front was full of small bird-houses. There were a great number of children. When the Sheridans were little they were given orders against going there because of the disgusting language and of what they might take. But since they were grown up, Laura and Laurie sometimes walked through secretly. It was disgusting and dirty. They came out with a shake. But still one must go everywhere; one must see everything. So through they went.
"And just think of what the band would sound like to that poor woman," said Laura.
"Oh, Laura!" Jose made a start to be seriously troubled. "If you're going to stop a band playing every time someone has an chance, you'll lead a very hard life. I'm every bit as feeling regret about it as you. I feel just as kind." Her eyes hardened. She looked at her sister just as she used to when they were little and fighting together. "You won't take a drunken workman back to life by having soft feelings," she said softly.
"Drunk! Who said he was drunk?" Laura turned very angrily on Jose. She said just as they had used to say on those events, "I'm going straight up to tell mother."
"Do, dear," said Jose with soft, loving voice.
"Mother, can I come into your room?" Laura turned the big glass hand part of the door.
"Of course, child. Why, what has taken place? What's given you such a colour?" And Mrs. Sheridan turned round from her dressing-table. She was putting on a new hat.
"Mother, a man's been put to death," Laura started.
"Not in the garden?" her mother put a word in.
"Oh, what a fear you gave me!" Mrs. Sheridan breathed deeply with comfort, and took off the big hat and put it on her knees.
"But give ear, mother," said Laura. Breathless, half stopping breathing, she told the shocking story. "Of course, we can't have our gathering, can we?" she made a request. "The band and everybody coming. They'd hear us, mother; they're nearly people living near!"
To Laura's surprise her mother acted just like Jose; it was harder to put up with because she seemed to be given amusement. She didn’t to take Laura seriously.
"But, dear child, use your common sense. It's only by chance we've heard of it. If someone had been dead there normally–and I can't have knowledge of how they keep alive in those narrow little holes-we should still be having our gathering, shouldn't we?"
Laura had to say "yes" to that, but she was conscious of its being all wrong. She sat down on her mother's sofa and gripped the cushion ornament.
"Mother, isn't it very unkind of us?" she put a question.
"Dear!" Mrs. Sheridan got up and came over to her, taking the hat. Before Laura could stop her she had put it on quickly. "My child!" said her mother, "the hat is yours. It's made for you. It's much too young for me. I have never seen you look such a picture. Look at yourself!" And she took up her hand looking glass.
"But, mother," Laura started again. She couldn't look at herself; she turned on one side.
This time Mrs. Sheridan couldn’t keep power of putting up with things just as Jose had done.
"You are being very foolish, Laura," she said coldly. "People like that don't wait offering from us. And it's not very kind to have bad effect on everybody's pleasure as you're doing now."
"I don't get clearly," said Laura, and she walked quickly out of the room into her own bedroom. There, quite by chance, the first thing she saw was this good looking girl in the looking glass, in her black hat ornamented with gold daisies, and a long black velvet narrow silk band. Never had she an idea that she could look like that. Is mother right? she had this idea in mind. And now she hoped her mother was right. Am I being over free with money? Perhaps it was being over-free with money. Just for a moment she had another quick view of that poor woman and those little children, and the body being taken into the house. But it all seemed unclear, unreal, like a picture in the newspaper. I'll keep it in mind again after the friends’ meeting is over, she came to a decision. And somehow that seemed quite the best idea. . . .
Lunch was over by half-past one. By half-past two they were all ready for the fight. The green-coated band had come and was put up in an angle of the place where tennis is played.
"My dear!" Kitty Maitland pronounced letter 'r' with shaking, "aren't they too like small jumping animal for words? You ought to have ordered them round the small stretch of water with the guide in the middle on a leaf."
Laurie came and said 'Hello' to them on his way to dress. On seeing him the accident came to Laura’s mind again. She wanted to tell him. If Laurie agreed with the others, then it was bound to be all right. And she followed him into the hall.
"Hallo!" he was half-way upstairs, but when he turned round and saw Laura he suddenly breathed air into his cheeks and opened his eyes widely at her. "My word, Laura! You do look beautiful," said Laurie. "What a completely topping hat!"
Laura said feebly "Is it?" and smiled up at Laurie, and didn't tell him after all.
Soon after that people started coming in groups. The band started playing; the waiters taken for money ran from the house to the canvas house. Wherever you looked there were couples walking, bending to the flowers, saying ‘hello’, moving on over the space of grass. They were like bright birds that had got off in the Sheridans' garden for this one day, on their way to–where? Ah, what feeling of pleasure it is to be with people who all are happy, to give a push to hands and cheeks, smile into eyes.
"Darling Laura, how well you look!"
"What a becoming hat, child!"
"Laura, you look quite Spanish. I've never seen you look so nice."
And Laura, moved by that, answered softly, "Have you had tea? Won't you have an ice? The passion-fruit ices,(sort of a dessert) really are rather special." She ran to her father and made a request of him.
"Daddy dear, may the band have something to drink?"
And the perfect afternoon slowly got to the right stage of development, slowly sloped down, slowly its flower-leaves shut.
"Never a more delightful garden–meeting of friends. . . " "The greatest outcome . . . " "Quite the most . . . "
Laura helped her mother with the good-byes. They were side by side in the roofed doorway till it was all over.
"All over, all over, thank God," said Mrs. Sheridan. "Round up the others, Laura. Let's go and have some coffee. I'm every tired. Yes, it's been turning out very well. But oh, these meetings with friends, these meetings with friends! Why will you children put having meetings of friends for pleasure as important?" And they all of them seated in the canvas house without people.
"Have a meat with bread as a snack, Daddy (loving word for 'father') dear. I wrote the flag."
"Thanks." Mr. Sheridan took a bite and the meat with bread was gone. He took another. "I take as probable you didn't hear of a bad event that took place today?" he said.
"My dear," said Mrs. Sheridan, lifting her hand, "we did. It nearly ruined the meeting. Laura put our putting it off as important."
"Oh, mother!" Laura didn't want to be made sport of because of that.
"It was an unpleasing business all the same," said Mr. Sheridan. "The boy was married too. Lived just down in the narrow road, and has a wife and six sons and daughters, so they say."
An uncertain little quiet state fell. Mrs. Sheridan played with her cup. Really, it was very without a delicate sense of father. . . .
Suddenly she looked up. There on the table were all those bread-and-butter quick meals, cakes, cakes with cream, food not yet taken, all going to be wasted. She had one of her brilliant ideas.
"I have knowledge," she said. "Let's make up a basket. Let's send that poor person some of this completely good food. At any rate, it will be the greatest pleasure for the boys and girls. Don't you have the same opinion? And she's certain to have people living near coming in and so on. What a point to have it all ready. Laura!" She jumped up. "Get me the big basket out of the cupboard on the flights of steps."
"But, mother, do you really have an opinion it's a good idea?" said Laura.
Again, how strange, she seemed to be different from them all. To take waste from their party. Would the poor woman really like that?
"Of course! What's came about with you today? An hour or two ago you were saying our being kind as important, and now–"
Oh well! Laura ran for the basket. It was full, it was massed by her mother.
"Take it yourself, dear," said she. "Run down just as you are. No, wait, take the arum lilies too. Arum lilies have a strong effect on the mind of the people of this class."
"The stems will damage her lace dress," said common-sense Jose.
So they would. Just in time. "Only the basket, then. And, Laura!"–her mother went after her out of the canvas house-–"don't on any account–-"
No, better not put such ideas into the child's head! "Nothing! Run along."
It was just growing dark as Laura shut their garden opening door. A big dog ran very quickly. The roads had a feeble white light, and down in the hollow the little country houses were in deep shade. How quiet it seemed after the middle of the day. Here she was going down the small mountains to somewhere where a man lay dead, and she couldn't get it clearly. Why couldn't she? She stopped a minute. And it seemed to her that kisses, voices, spoons making noise, laughing, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her. She had no room for anything else. How strange! She looked up at the white sky, and all she had in mind was, "Yes, it was the party that turned well."
Now the wide road was crossed. The narrow road started, smoky and dark. Women in coverings for head and men's tweed caps, hats made of thick wool cloth, moved quickly. Men hung over the pointed sticks; the children played in the doorways. A low noise came from the little country houses of poor quality. In some of them there wasn’t a bright light, and a shade, crab-like, moved across the window. Laura bent her head and moved quickly on. She had a desire now she had put on a coat. How her dress gave a light! And the big hat with the dark red narrow bit of cloth–if only it was another hat! Were the people looking at her? They must be. It was an error to have come; she knew all along it was an error. Should she go back even now?
No, too late. This was the house. It must be. A dark knot of people were outside. Near the door opening an old, old woman with a support put under arm sat in a chair, watching. She had her feet on a newspaper. The voices stopped as Laura came near. The group parted. It was as though they were waiting for her, as though they had a knowledge she was coming here.
Laura was very nervous. Sending the red ribbon over her shoulder, she said to a woman who was by, "Is this Mrs. Scott's house?" and the woman, smiling strangely, said, "It is, my lad."
Oh, to be away from this! In fact she said, "Help me, God," as she walked up the very small footway and gave a blow. To be away from those fixedly looking eyes, or be covered up in anything, one of those women's head covers even. I'll just give the basket and go, she made a decision. I shan't even wait for it to be with nothing in.
Then the door opened. A little woman in black came into view in the dark.
Laura said, "Are you Mrs. Scott?" But to her great fear the woman answered, "Walk in, please, miss," and she was shut in the way-through.
"No," said Laura, "I don't have a desire to come in. I only want to give this basket. Mother sent –"
The little woman in the dark walk-through seemed not to have heard her. "Step this way, please, miss," she said in an oily voice, and Laura came after her.
She found herself in a bad little low room where they cooked, lighted by a smoky lamp. There was a woman seated before the fire.
"Em," said the little person who had let her in. "Em! It's a young woman of good birth." She turned to Laura. She said with a sense, "I'm 'er sister, miss. You won’t be angry with me 'er, won't you?"
"Oh, but of course!" said Laura. "Please, please don't give her trouble. I–I only want to leave–-"
But at that moment the woman at the fire turned round. Her face, got bigger up, red, with eyes and lips made greater, looked bad. She seemed as though she couldn't get why Laura was there. What was the sense of it? Why was this stranger standing in the kitchen with a basket? What was it all about? And the poor face got into folds again.
"All right, my dear," said the other. "I'll tell the young lady she has been kind."
And again she started, "You won’t be angry with her, miss, I'm certain about it," and her face, got greater too, tried an oily smile.
Laura only had a desire to get out, to get away. She was back in the way-through. The door opened. She walked straight through into the bedroom where the dead man was at rest.
"You'd like a look at 'im, wouldn't you?" said Em's sister, and she went quickly past Laura over to the bed. "Don't be in fear, my girl,"–and now her voice sounded loving and not straightforward, and with love she gave a pull to the bit of paper –" 'e looks a picture. There's nothing to view. Come along, my dear."
There was a young man, sleeping deeply -– sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he was far, far away from them both. Oh, so far way, so peaceful. He had a seeing. Never get him awake again. His head went down in the cushion, his eyes were closed; they were unable to see under the closed eyelids. He was given up to his seeing. What did garden-meetings for friends and baskets and cord dresses had a sense to him? He was far from all those things. He was great, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this beauty had come to the narrow road. Happy . . . happy . . . All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am pleased.
But all the same you had to cry, and she couldn't go out of the room without saying something to him. Laura gave a loud childish sound of crying.
"Is it all right that I am in the hat?” she put a question.
And this time she didn't wait for Em's sister. She got her way out of the door, down the footway, past all those dark people. At the corner of the narrow road she met Laurie.
He stepped out of the shade. "Is that you, Laura?"
"Mother was getting troubled. Was it all right?"
"Yes, quite. Oh, Laurie!" She took his arm, she pushed strongly against him.
"I say, you're not crying, are you?" her brother put a question.
Laura shook her head. She was.
Laurie put his arm round her top of arm. "Don't cry," he said in his warm, loving voice. "Was it very bad?"
"No," cried Laura. "It was simply beautiful. But Laurie-–" She stopped, she looked at her brother. "Isn't life," she have trouble getting out words , "isn't life –-" But what life was she couldn't make clear. No matter. He was quite clear about it.
"Isn't it, dear?" said Laurie.
Back to: books or readings